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Of Feathers and Bone

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Jaskier’s fist slammed into an old cypress tree hard enough to crumble the bark off it and leave a faint dent in the wood, but he was too upset by Geralt’s tirade to notice the imprint he had left.   His eyes were clouded with suppressed tears of rage and sorrow and a broken heart.  He sucked in a painful breath, trying to hold himself together enough to continue down the mountain without stumbling off a ravine or something equally ridiculous and pitiful.

“Fuck,” he breathed out harshly to himself.  Maybe he should take a moment to calm himself before he recommenced trudging down the mountain path.  The tree he had just assaulted proved sturdy enough to take a punch; it could hold him up for a few minutes while he got himself back under control.

But it burned.  By the Gods, did Geralt’s words burn him to the core.  They clung to his insides, shredding and tearing all that he was, all that he’d made himself into, undoing all the work he’d put into leaving his broken and bloody past behind.  It made him wonder if he’d made the right choice, giving up his life from before.

The crux of it all was that Jaskier knew the words hadn’t been meant for him.  Not really.  Geralt had spoken them to him, but when he’d talked about life’s one blessing, he hadn’t been talking about Jaskier.  No, Geralt had been talking about himself.  About having to live with himself and all the things he’d said and done; not just to Jaskier, but to Yennefer, and Renfri, and his Child Surprise.   For all his strength and fortitude, Geralt was a broken man filled with one regret after another, and Jaskier had tried to help.  He had.  But it’d been too little, too late, it seemed.

Or, maybe, Geralt hadn’t wanted to be helped.  Maybe Geralt wanted to wallow in the only emotions he seemed to know; misery and loneliness.  Perhaps, even after all these years of Jaskier showing Geralt he was allowed to have more, to be more, the Wolf just didn’t want to believe it.  Or he had been too scared of his feelings to chase after them and allow them to flourish.

Bitterly, Jaskier wondered why he had even tried.

No, that wasn’t true, he knew why.  He had tried to help because Jaskier had known what it was like to be Geralt.  To have been forced onto a path he had not chosen; a bloody and lonely path filled with longing for something more.  Something that would fill the gaps in his heart during long, cold nights and keep him from breaking every time a villager cursed at him, a lord shortchanged him, or a whorehouse refused his coin.  If he’d been really lucky, all three could happen within the same week, if not the same day.

And something within Jaskier had broken, then.  He just…couldn’t do it anymore.  Nearly fifty years on the Path and he was fractured and flawed.  Beyond repair, he had thought.  It had made him sloppy and slow.  He’d ignored the warning signs and had nearly paid the ultimate price for it.

He reached a hand up to trace along his throat where a scar would have been had he not been wearing such an effective glamor.  Or was it even a glamor when it had changed his whole being?

The point was, he’d nearly let himself die and if it hadn’t been for the timely intervention of a brother from another School he probably wouldn’t be here now.  On this mountain, nursing his heartache and trying to gain some semblance of control over himself.  Perhaps the trade-off wasn’t that great, after all.

No, that wasn’t true.  The witcher that had saved him had been from the Cat school and had made a very practical observation that had led to Jaskier scrimping and saving every last coin he could to buy himself a new life.  He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted, but he was sure he’d figure it out or die in the pursuit of it.  At least his life had a purpose again.

Eventually, Jaskier had found that something for himself.  It had taken a lot of time, money, and favors, and he’d walked away from the Path poor, but in possession of his greatest treasure; a chance to choose his life, to start over.  The glamor he had procured from the sorcerer was strong enough to fool even another witcher, tied to his sense of self and own innate magic so that it would not break until he wished it so.  It was technically more of a curse, repurposed and reworked for a witcher’s wish to experience life as a human.   

It constantly drained his energy, making his senses dull and almost constantly in need of sleep, especially in the first few years.  Over time he had been able to direct where the spell pulled the energy to power itself from first, leaving his five senses and heart rate near human-normal, but keeping some of his old strength and agility so that he did not tire so easily.  One too many run-ins with bandits had facilitated the necessity of such focus.

When he had first met Geralt, all those years ago in Posada- after he’d left Oxenfurt, but before he’d managed to finely tune the glamor- he’d recognized the look on the other witcher.  It was the look of a man where his best hope was to be left to drink in peace, to soak up human companionship by proximity- but never in actuality- before continuing on the Path alone again.

He had recognized the look, and without really making the decision, approached the man.  He cringed to remember his first words to Geralt- bread in his pants, really? - but the look on the witcher’s face, to have a human approach him fearlessly, had been a thing of beauty.  He had made up a reason to keep talking and watched as, against his obvious better judgement, Geralt reached back out.  Spoke back; took Jaskier’s question seriously though he was obviously bemused at the young bard that invaded his space and asked for his thoughts.

They spent years together, on and off.  And, somewhere along the way, Jaskier had fallen a little in love with Geralt.  He was enamored with the taciturn man that protected him from monsters even as the witcher cursed him for tagging along.  He’d been charmed by the man’s unbeatable will to keep going, no matter how much it pained him.  He became infatuated with Geralt and everything the man stood for, even when the man was threatening to leave him behind on the road.

And it never left.  Every time Jaskier separated himself from Geralt he told himself that this would be the time he’d get over him.  And every time, the love would come right back when he saw the witcher again.  He was in love with Geralt.  Desperately so.

And look where that’s gotten me, Jaskier laughed quietly to himself.  Yelled at and blamed for every bad thing that had ever happened in the other man’s life.  Geralt would probably have blamed him for the tragedy of Renfri, too, even though Jaskier had been nowhere close to Blaviken at the time.  Even though, to Geralt, Jaskier would have been child when Stregobor forced that impossible choice upon the White Wolf.

Coming back to himself, Jaskier realized he’d fallen into a light meditative state while standing; compartmentalizing his emotions with his eyes closed and his fist still pressed into the tree.  Old habits died hard indeed.

Slowly, he pulled back into himself, blinking his eyes clear and standing up straighter.  He winced as he pulled his hand away from tree, splinters embedded in scrapes across his knuckles.  Carefully, he pulled them out, hissing when a particularly deep one drew blood.   

Once he had finished ridding his knuckles of the debris, he took a deep breath, shouldered his lute and the scant few belongings he’d brought up the mountain with him, and continued down the path.  He had a long way to go before he reached the area where they had left Roach and not much daylight left.   If he wanted to beat the group to the horses, he’d likely have to sacrifice his strength for the sight and stamina needed to keep going through the night.

Left behind, shining in the late afternoon sun, was an old cypress tree with a hollow dent and blood drying into it.

*

By late morning the next day, Jaskier had made it back to the corral where they had left Roach and the other horses.  It had exhausted him, but he’d been able to outpace the rest of the party and made it down the mountain first, probably by a good half a day or more.  He thanked Melitele for small favors as he set about gathering his things from the packs left behind with Roach and saying goodbye to the faithful horse.

“It’s not your fault,” he said, feeding her his apple core.  “Geralt has made it clear, several times over, that he does not want for company.  Especially mine.”

He brushed a hand over her soft nose as she nibbled at his hand.  “I didn’t listen before, but I’ve got the message loud and clear now.  It’s time we parted ways, at least for a while.”

With one last rub at her ears and mane, Jaskier took the reins of one of the now abandoned Reavers’ horses he had packed his gear onto and mounted up.  He didn’t look back.

It wouldn’t have mattered even if he had.  There was no one coming for him.

*

Some time later, a white-haired man with two swords slung across his back frowned at an indent in a tree and drops of dried blood on the ground.  Briefly, he wondered what had caused the damage to the old cypress.   He did not stop long, however.  He had more important things ahead of him to look towards.

The man settled his swords a little more comfortably on his shoulder before continuing down the mountain path, the sun setting in the distance.