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it’s okay to be the light (don’t swim in the shallows)

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“Coming out of my cage and I’ve been doing just fine! Gotta gotta be down because I want it all!”

Geralt presses himself into a corner of the pub, grimacing slightly at the sweat-slicked walls. In front of him, the raucous crowd of first year students continues their merry, drunken sing-along. He brings the pint of beer to his lips, trying desperately to relax.

“It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this? It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss!”

Jesus. It’s only the first day of university, and he already feels wildly out of place. Not even the first day, really. Freshers’ Week. A thinly veiled excuse for the first years to converge on campus a few days earlier to get drunk and mingle before the crushing weight of academia settles in.

Geralt takes another sip of his beer, a lager he picked more because it was cheap and on tap, and less for the taste. He’s never been very good at the mingling thing; never had a knack for finding those easy, common bridges in conversation that people bond over and build upon. That was always Eskel.

Except Eskel’s not here.

Two drunken first years, arms around each other, stumble by Geralt. They’re laughing like they’ve known each other for decades instead of half a day. Geralt frowns, fingers wiping at the moisture gathering on his glass. Not for the first time, he wonders what he’s doing here. Freshers’ Week isn’t mandatory. He could’ve stayed home for the extra week - Vesemir could’ve used the help around the ranch, and he wouldn’t have left Roach so soon -

“I love the way you just stand in the corner and brood.”

It takes two full beats before Geralt even realizes that the brown haired first year with the biggest, bluest eyes he’s ever seen is talking to him. There’s an open, friendly smile on his face, and he’s holding some kind of neon pink drink in one of his hands.

“Not a big fan of the song?” the first year continues, seemingly unbothered by Geralt’s silence. He tilts his head backwards, indicating the crowd of drunken peers, belting out ‘I nevers’ loudly and horribly off key. It jostles the silver teardrop earring hanging from his lobe. “It’s okay if you’re not. I’m not one either, to be honest. I know Mr. Brightside is supposed to be, like, a classic or whatever, but personally, I’m more of a sing along to Call Me Maybe sort of person. What’s your go-to karaoke song?”

“Um,” says Geralt; blinks once or twice. How can one person talk so much, so quickly? Geralt doesn’t think he’s even seen him take a breath. “I don’t - I’m not much of a singer.”

If it’s possible, those blue eyes grow even wider. “Really? Never would’ve guessed, with that lovely, rumbly voice of yours. What is that, a baritone? A bass? I feel like you could probably do a flawless Batman --”

“I’m sorry,” Geralt says, wondering to himself if it’s possible to be bowled over by words. He certainly feels like he’s been knocked sideways. “Who are you?”

Why are you even talking to me? Geralt wonders, but doesn’t ask, because he knows he hasn’t made himself approachable - has made himself the opposite of that, really - parking himself in the most remote corner of the pub, dressing in dark colours, big, but trying to be small. Trying to be invisible.

The first year laughs. He’s loud and friendly and, in contrast to Geralt, dressed in bright, eye-popping patterns and enough jewelry to open up a small shop. Actively taking up space, wanting to be noticed. “Oh my God I can’t believe I did that. That’s so rude of me! I’m Julian, but all my friends call me Jaskier. What’s your name?”

Jaskier stretches out his hand, and Geralt takes it. Jaskier’s palm is warm, even with all the rings on his fingers. “Geralt.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Geralt!” Jaskier continues brightly. He takes a sip of his drink. Geralt notices that the thin, plastic black straw in the cocktail has been gnawed to bits. “Wanna take a shot together? The round’s on me.”

There’s a range of complicated emotions swirling in Geralt’s gut. No, a not insignificant part of him - the part that wants to remain small, unnoticed - wants to say. I’m here to drink alone.

The other part thinks about how Jaskier said friends. Warm. Genuine. Offered so easily, just like that. Could it really be that simple? Geralt wants to find out.

Geralt says, “Sure,” and follows Jaskier through the throng of wasted eighteen-somethings to the bar, doing his best to listen to Jaskier’s aimless chatter.

“Brilliant. We can toast to both not liking Mr. Brightside. I’m kind of in the mood for something strong,” says Jaskier. “Oooh, what do you like, Geralt?”

“Whiskey, for the most part.”

“Great taste. We can do a shot of Jameson, how does that sound?”

Geralt nods. He watches Jaskier lean over the bar, fluttering his fingers in an attempt to catch one of the bartenders’ attention. He succeeds with an ease that surprises Geralt. The bar is crowded, and yet Jaskier seems to have no problem getting noticed. Behind them, the crowd has started singing along to the next song on the DJ’s playlist. Geralt distantly recognizes it as that Chainsmokers’ song that always comes on the radio when he’s running errands for Vesemir in town.

The bartender, a pretty redhead with bright green eyes who looks like a second or third year student, sets a pair of shots down in front of Jaskier. “Enjoy,” she says, sliding a receipt with a flirty wink. Geralt glimpses a phone number scrawled on the bottom.

Jaskier’s smile broadens. “Thank you, darling,” he flirts back. He makes a show of taking the receipt and sliding it in the back pocket of his skinny jeans before handing Geralt one of the shots.

“To our great taste in music,” says Jaskier. “And to finding each other on the first day of Freshers’ Week! Feels a little bit like fate if you ask me.”

Geralt’s not much one for believing in things like fate, but Jaskier’s grin is so sincere, his eyes open with just a hint of vulnerability, and there’s a warmth in Geralt’s chest that prompts him to clink his shot with Jaskier’s.

“To our great taste in music,” he echoes, tapping the bottom of his shot glass on the bar before downing it.

*****

Geralt walks around the giant auditorium, studying the glossy pamphlet in his hands intently. The words Freshers’ Fair are embossed in thick, red lettering on the cover. He’s only interested in joining one of the hundreds of clubs his university purports, but the ridiculously small map included in his pamphlet is proving impossible to decipher.

“Geralt! Hi!” Geralt looks up and blinks in surprise. Jaskier is waving and walking towards him, wearing rainbow dungarees and seafoam green combat boots. There’s a blonde girl with neon pink tips walking with him. “I’m so happy I ran into you! This is my hall neighbour, Essi. We’re both signing up for acapella and the Pride Alliance, and eyeing the French Club too,” Jaskier says, gesturing to the blonde. “Essi, this is Geralt.”

“Hi,” says Geralt. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Essi says, voice high and melodic. She’s idly chewing on a piece of peppermint gum. “Are you signing up for anything, Geralt?”

Geralt lightly thumbs at the pamphlet in his hand. “Uh, yeah. Mixed martial arts.”

“Ooooh, that sounds so fun! I actually think I saw the MMA booth. We can walk you there if you like,” Jaskier offers, already walking deeper into the auditorium and motioning for Geralt and Essi to follow.

The MMA stall is nestled right between the one for kickboxing and dance. A girl with shoulder length brown hair and a partial sidecut is sitting at the booth. She has a sleeve of tattoos on her left arm. There’s a red clipboard on the table.

“Hey. Is there still room to sign up?” Geralt asks, keenly aware that Jaskier and Essi are right behind him and feeling oddly self-conscious as a result.

“Sure is,” the girl says. She uncrosses her arms and straightens. “Any experience with MMA?”

“Some.”

“Are you any good?”

“I can go a couple rounds,” says Geralt, which is an understatement. Vesemir had been a prolific MMA fighter in his youth, and he’d trained Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert voraciously. Provided them with a tool for both self-defense and character building, Vesemir would say.

Geralt says none of this out loud, but the girl’s eyes narrow shrewdly, like she can read between the lines all the same. “Alright, I guess I’ll place you in the intermediate group,” she says, sliding the clipboard towards Geralt. “We train together every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at five. Don’t be late.”

“We?” Geralt echoes, hunching over to scribble his name and his uni email address on the sign-up sheet.

“I’m the group leader for the intermediates this year. My name’s Renfri.” Renfri takes the clipboard and gives it a cursory glance. She grins. “See you on the mat, Geralt.”

“Wow,” says Jaskier once they’re well out of Renfri’s earshot. “She was scary but in a sexy kind of way?”

Geralt lets out a noncommittal hum. Essi, meanwhile, squeezes Jaskier’s elbow. “Don’t take this wrong way, honey,” she says. “But I feel like she would eat you alive.”

“Oh none taken, you’re absolutely right,” Jaskier replies. Geralt chuckles low under his breath. “It’s getting kind of late. The pub crawl’s probably gonna start soon.”

Geralt fishes his phone out of his dark wash jeans. “Fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, fuck. We should probably head down then,” Jaskier says, like he can’t possibly imagine Geralt refusing to tag along. Like Geralt’s presence is a given. Wanted. “Oh! Geralt, I was so drunk yesterday I forgot to ask for your number!” He holds his phone out.

“Uh, sure.” Geralt takes Jaskier’s phone - the case is a giant smiling avocado - and types in his number. Jaskier does the same with his.

“You should grab mine too,” Essi pipes up, snatching Geralt’s phone from Jaskier’s hands. “I’m so excited for this crawl. I heard the first pub sells these absolutely wicked flaming shots.”

Jaskier’s eyebrows rise. “Flaming shots? Oh, ho, ho, ho we’re definitely doing those. The three of us. To christen our first year. It could be like a ritual! Geralt, you’re in, right?”

“Yeah,” Geralt says. “I’m in.”

*****

The flaming shots are only three quid a piece. Jaskier buys them two rounds right away.

The tequila burns as it makes its way down Geralt’s throat. He bites down on a lime to stave off the taste. This is probably a bad idea.

Geralt still volunteers to buy the third round.

*****

Geralt stirs when his phone vibrates on his nightstand. He groans, low and at length. His head feels like it’s split open.

[Jaskier, 11:10 am]: Say something if you’re alive.

Despite the raging hangover he can already feel settling in, Geralt smiles.

[Geralt, 11:11 am]: Something.

[Jaskier, 11:12 am]: -__- very funny!

[Jaskier, 11:12 am]: How’re you feeling?

Geralt gets up with no small amount of difficulty. He takes a cursory sniff underneath his armpit and winces. Christ on a bike, he needs a shower.

[Geralt, 11:14 am]: Like I’ve been run over by a bus. You?

[Jaskier, 11:15 am]: I threw up once this morning and now I don’t feel like I want to crawl in a hole and die!

[Jaskier, 11:16 am]: I’m STARVING though. Wanna go to Maccas?

[Jaskier, 11:16 am]: Proven hangover cure!

As if on cue, Geralt’s stomach rumbles. He licks his lips. He could really use a double quarter pounder with cheese and some fries right now.

He quickly thumbs over his schedule for the day. It’s pretty light. Classes are starting soon, and the activities are winding down.

[Geralt, 11:19 am]: I’ll drive.

*****

The nearest McDonald’s is only a short ten minute drive from campus. Jaskier and Essi are already waiting outside of their hall when Geralt arrives. “Shotgun!” Jaskier calls, and Essi rolls her eyes but slides into the back all the same.

Apparently, other students had the same idea, because the McDonald’s is packed, so they order from the drive through and take their food to a nearby park instead. Geralt has to stifle a moan when he finally sinks his teeth into a glorious, glorious double quarter pounder.

Jaskier has no such reservations, making a whole host of appreciative noises as he polishes off a small cheeseburger and chicken nuggets.

“This was necessary,” Essi says in between bites of her Big Mac. “God, I feel like my soul is coming back.”

Jaskier smiles triumphantly. “I told you! Nothing like Maccas to cure a hangover.”

“It’s probably just the grease,” says Geralt.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, pointing a fry threateningly in Geralt’s direction. Geralt has to bite down on a grin. “Don’t ruin this with logic.” Jaskier takes the fry and dips it into his vanilla shake.

Essi’s face scrunches up in disgust. “What in the ever loving fuck are you doing, Julian?”

“It’s fries with milkshake! Don’t tell me you’ve never tried it.” Jaskier pops the fry into his mouth. He takes out another fry.

“No, and I’m not interested. Get that away from me or I swear to God,” Essi warns, batting Jaskier’s hand away.

Jaskier pouts. “Spoilsport,” he says. “Geralt, I’m begging you, tell Essi she’s missing out on a culinary revelation.”

Geralt says, “Can’t. Haven’t had that either.”

The face Jaskier makes is enough to pull a grin out of Geralt. He promptly hides it behind a sip of his Coke.

“Okay. I will try to find it in my heart to forgive this horrible, horrible oversight - Geralt don’t laugh, I’m being serious - if you try it right now,” demands Jaskier. He makes a show of swiping a fry through his frothy milkshake.

“Pass.”

Essi snickers.

“Oh come on, Geralt,” Jaskier wheedles. “Please, please, please. For me?” He sticks out his bottom lip and makes his eyes go wide for good measure.

Logically, Geralt knows the pleading face is a gimmick. His eight year old goddaughter uses it against him all the time.

Jaskier puffs out his cheeks.

Fuck.

And just like with Ciri, it works. Geralt finds himself caving. “Fine,” he sighs. “Give me the fry.”

Jaskier’s expression immediately brightens. “You won’t regret it. This is going to rock your world,” Jaskier promises. Geralt extends his hand, but Jaskier bypasses that and pops the milkshake-laden fry directly into Geralt’s mouth.

Geralt’s chest does something funny at Jaskier’s familiarity; the ease with which he slides into Geralt’s space. He thinks about those two students he saw that first night at the pub, hugging like they’ve known each other an entire lifetime. That funny feeling in his chest gets stronger, warmer.

“So?” Jaskier prompts. “What do you think?”

Geralt chews on the fry thoughtfully. “It’s...not bad.”

“Not bad,” Jaskier repeats with a disbelieving rise of his eyebrow. Like he can see right through Geralt. Damn him.

“Fine,” Geralt amends. He can’t find it in himself to be too upset. The combination of flavours currently bursting in his mouth is quite a revelation. “It’s pretty good.”

Essi snorts. “You’re such a sucker, Geralt,” she comments without malice.

Geralt doesn’t answer. Then Jaskier feeds him another fry and Geralt is forced to reevaluate.

Sucker may not be an entirely wrong description.

*****

On the last day of Freshers’ Week, Jaskier hooks up with the manager of the karaoke bar.

“Jaskier, he’s more than twice your age,” Essi protests shortly after Jaskier declares his intentions, still high on his admittedly very good rendition of Wrecking Ball. His boldly patterned neon dress shirt is unbuttoned low enough that Geralt can see the flush building on his chest. He averts his gaze.

Jaskier staggers back to his seat, pressing himself close to Geralt. Geralt can feel Jaskier’s body heat through his clothes. “Exactly! He’s a worldly, experienced man who is going to show me a wonderful time in bed. How could I not?”

He throws a deliberate look across the room where the manager is leaning against the bar. He meets his gaze and flutters his fingers.

Jaskier waves back. “I’m going in.”

“Jask. Jaskier. Listen to me carefully,” Essi says. She presses her hands on either side of Jaskier’s face, squishing it a little. “This is a bad decision. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

“My type is people who are probably going to be bad decisions,” says Jaskier, eyes still tracking the manager. He’s looking at Jaskier, making a show out of smiling slowly and deliberately. There’s heat in his hazel green eyes. Geralt wonders what it would be like, to be wanted with just a look.

Jaskier licks his lips. “Trust me. It’s better you know that now. I tend to, ah, attract a fair bit of trouble.”

“Trouble?” Geralt repeats skeptically, but Jaskier’s focus is gone. His attention is only on the man.

“You’ll see,” Jaskier replies.

*****

You’ll see.

Sometimes, Geralt really could strangle Jaskier. He seems to have absolutely no sense of self-preservation, and a frankly alarming predilection for getting into bed with all the wrong people. Many of them are older. Some are even married or in committed relationships. All of them are clearly emotionally unavailable.

And Jaskier so clearly falls in love with all of them. It’s like he can’t help himself.

Not for the first time, Geralt wishes he’d asked Jaskier to explain exactly what the fuck he meant when he’d said he attracted a fair bit of trouble. It’s without a doubt the biggest fucking understatement he’s ever heard.

“What?” Geralt snaps irritably into his phone at five in the fucking morning on a Sunday.

“Geralt!” Jaskier whispers furiously on the other end. “Oh thank fuck you picked up. Geralt, I uh, I need your help.”

Geralt sort of hates that this has become a regular occurrence. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Where are you?”

The address Jaskier gives him is a good fifteen minute drive from campus. When Geralt gets there, Jaskier is hiding behind bushes. His shirt is entirely unbuttoned and his pants are unzipped, looking like they’re a hair’s breadth away from falling off those slim hips.

“Geralt! Geralt, oh my fucking god, I’m so happy to see you.”

Geralt lifts his eyes skyward and prays for strength. “Get in.”

Jaskier lets out a huge sigh of relief when he slides into the passenger seat. He immediately gets to work zipping up his pants and unbuttoning his shirt.

“What happened?” Geralt grunts, trying hard not to look. He focuses on the road instead; grips the steering wheel so hard his knuckles whiten.

“Erm, well, funny story, actually,” says Jaskier and Geralt rolls his eyes. “You remember that girl Sileny from my acting class? Turns out she’s actually from around here! Isn’t that wild? What are the odds?”

“Jaskier. Cut the bullshit,” Geralt grits out.

Jaskier puffs out his cheeks. They’re pink from being outside for so long, the temperature having already dipped. “I’m getting there! Anyway, when she told me we could go back to her place last night, I didn’t realize she still lived with her parents. They were supposed to be out of town until tomorrow, but guess turned up a little earlier? And also, I guess her dad is kind of strict and doesn’t like her having boys over?”

“Were you caught?”

“No! Had to escape from her bedroom window though. Almost slipped and broke my neck.”

“I wouldn’t get that lucky,” Geralt mutters.

Jaskier doesn’t even flinch. There’s a knowing smile on his face. “You’re just jealous you’re not getting any. I’d be happy to fix that for you, G. What’s your type?”

Geralt stops at a red light and shrugs. “I don’t really have a type. I just need...a connection. With someone.” He stares determinedly straight ahead.

Jaskier stops midway through buttoning his shirt. “Wait. Someone? Are you bi?” His eyes are wide - wider than Geralt ever remembers them being. He seems surprised.

“I’m not very good with labels,” Geralt admits with another shrug. “I know gender doesn’t matter to me. It’s more about...how someone makes me feel. How I make them feel. Chemistry.” He feels oddly vulnerable. Keeping his eyes on the road helps. “I don’t know if I’m making sense.”

“Yes! Yes definitely,” Jaskier assures him quickly and with force. He wraps his hand around Geralt’s wrist. His touch is warm, familiar, comforting. “I just assumed - well, it doesn’t really matter. The point is I shouldn’t have. I’ll help you find that special person, Geralt. You’re - you’re fantastic, really. I know they’re out there.”

Geralt’s mouth feels too dry. Jaskier’s voice had been rough with warmth. Geralt looks at him. There’s a stupidly earnest expression on Jaskier’s face, and his blue eyes are big and filled with so much affection. Jaskier seems to flirt and seduce and charm almost everyone he meets, but he’s never looked at Geralt the way Geralt secretly wants him to.

It hurts.

Geralt turns his eyes back on the road. “Hm,” he says.

The light turns green.

*****

The thing about romancing all the wrong and inappropriate people with the frequency Jaskier does is that he gets his heart broken. Often.

Whenever it happens, he shows up at Geralt’s door with a case of whatever caught his eye at the store and they drink most of it. Usually it’s beer. Sometimes it’s a variety pack of hard seltzer. Geralt’s pretty sure Jaskier goes by whatever packaging pleases him the most in that moment.

It should be impossible to embark on relationships as readily as Jaskier does; to be able to open himself up to heartache time and time again. Geralt wonders if it makes Jaskier foolish or brave, or both. He finds himself oddly envious.

“I’m doomed,” says Jaskier, flopping dramatically on the couch. His feet plant themselves on Geralt’s lap. Geralt doesn’t push him away. “I’m going to die heartbroken and alone.”

“Jaskier. You’re eighteen years old,” Geralt reminds him helpfully.

Jaskier throws an arm over his face. “God, just let me wallow, Geralt.”

Geralt thinks he must be drunker than he feels because the next thing he knows he blurts, “If you’re still single by the time you’re thirty-five, I’ll date you.”

There’s a pause during which Geralt, ears steadily reddening, curses his loosened tongue and wishes for the ground to swallow him up whole.

Finally, Jaskier says, “You think I’ll still be single when I’m thirty-five?”

“What? No, of course not, that’s not what I --” Fuck, fuck, fuck. The temperature ratchets up. Geralt feels hot all over. Even the can of Black Cherry White Claw in his hand feels warm. Is it possible to die from embarrassment? “I just meant --”

Jaskier grins, his first of the night. “Relax, G, I was just kidding! I think it’s really sweet that you want to make a marriage pact with me.”

“Who said anything about marriage?”

“Oh my god, you’d be the one to argue semantics right now,” Jaskier laughs, jabbing Geralt’s shoulder. Geralt feels warm all over again, but in a different way. “Fine, you insufferable mountain man. A dating pact then. I love it. We should make it official.”

“Oh yeah?” says Geralt. “How do we do that?”

Jaskier scoots up closer so that the backs of his thighs press against Geralt’s side. “Duh. A pinky promise.” He holds up his hand.

“Hm.” It feels juvenile. It probably is, a little. Geralt still sets his White Claw down on the stained coffee table he got for next to nothing at a consignment shop.

He hooks his pinky with Jaskier’s. It must be wishful thinking, but Geralt thinks he feels Jaskier’s pulse skip a beat.

*****

Essi smacks him upside the head when she finds out. “Geralt. You are so, so stupid.”

*****

When midterms roll around, Geralt finds himself inundated in even bigger and longer piles of reading and writing assignments. His sleep schedule becomes more and more fucked, until it’s relatively nonexistent, in an effort to keep up. He’s lucky if he gets three uninterrupted hours, followed by sporadic twenty to forty-five minutes naps sprinkled throughout his day.

“Oh my god, my saviour,” says Jaskier when Geralt sets a sixteen-ounce can of diet Red Bull and a bag of Skips’ Prawn and Cocktail crisps in front of him. He immediately pops the tab of the can open and takes one long sip.

Geralt slides into the seat right across from Jaskier. “You should stop drinking all that crap,” he says, taking a sip of his own cup of black coffee and firing up his Mac. The digital clock on the bottom corner reads 1:05 AM and yet, the library is still decently packed with people, cramming for the first set of exams.

Jaskier rolls his eyes. “Okay mum,” he replies with a grin, and takes another pointed sip. “Your concern is noted.”

“I’m not concerned.”

“Liar.”

“Rot your teeth, for all I care.”

“Except you do. Care. All of the time,” Jaskier points out. “Really, it’s quite nice.”

Geralt huffs out a laugh and shakes his head, turning back to his laptop. “Hm.”

His archaeology professor had put up all of the reading assignments on Canvas, and Geralt soon gets engrossed in the pages and pages of text he has to read in order to craft a five thousand word essay on how archaeological records can help find the reason behind the prosperity or decline of a civilization. Fuck.

Jaskier also turns his focus on his laptop and the textbook in front of him. He’s still making noise, tapping teal-polished fingers rhythmically on the wooden table, diving into his bag of Skips, or reading his book low under his breath. Geralt doesn’t think Jaskier is capable of ever being truly quiet. He’s full of life, brimming with it, unable to keep it contained. It’s practically vibrating out of his skin.

There’s a pair of noise-cancelling headphones Geralt has sitting next to his laptop. He can plug them in and pull up his favourite instrumental playlist. He looks over the rim of his laptop.

As if on cue, Jaskier rustles up the bag of Skips and bites into another crisp, washing it down with his Red Bull. He makes a small, appreciative noise in the back of his throat. The multiple delicate gold necklaces around his neck clink together as he moves. Loud. Vibrant.

“We should get Maccas later. I’m not gonna be able to pull an all nighter without fries and chicken nuggets,” Jaskier hums offhandedly. “Wish my music theory professor wasn’t such a cockwaffle.”

Maccas sounds pretty good. “I’ll drive you,” Geralt offers. He smiles to himself and turns back to his work.

He doesn’t put the headphones on.

*****

Geralt turns nineteen on the last day of midterms.

“I’ve never been much of a birthday person,” he tells Essi and Jaskier. The two of them share a look. They practically have the same exact shade of blue eyes. Geralt’s not sure why he hadn’t noticed until now.

“Okay,” says Jaskier slowly. “Does that mean you don’t want to celebrate your birthday or?”

There’s a feeling brewing at the back of his skull. It’s the same one Geralt gets when he senses Lambert is about to pull some sort of half-brained scheme that’s going to get them all in trouble with Vesemir.

“I just - nothing too over the top. I mean it,” Geralt warns.

“Of course,” says Essi.

“Definitely. Makes perfect sense,” Jaskier adds.

It seems way too easy. The feeling at the back of Geralt’s skull intensifies.

In the end, Jaskier and Essi surprise him at his university flat with a twelve-pack of beer, a bottle of Absolut, and a brand new deck of Magic the Gathering cards. It’s Geralt’s favourite game. He thinks he might have mentioned it offhand to Jaskier exactly once. Essi has a playlist ready of all of the songs Geralt enjoys.

They spend the evening drinking the beer, taking shots, and switching between playing Magic and Quiplash on Geralt’s PlayStation.

“I was scared you were going to take me to the pub or a club,” Geralt confesses at one point during the evening.

Jaskier laughs. “What? So you could hate every single second of it? No thank you! We wanted you to actually enjoy your birthday, you know.”

Geralt hums and smiles.

*****

University continues to be unsurprisingly grueling. Geralt’s sleep schedule stays permanently fucked.

There are so many three AM rides to McDonald’s with Jaskier and Essi that they end up knowing the staff who work the graveyard shift by name. Maja always has apple fritters warmed and ready for them as soon as they walk in. Feliks gets their drink orders - a medium Coke for Geralt, no ice, a large black coffee for Essi with just enough room for her to sneak in some cocoa powder, and a large Diet Coke, heavy on the ice, for Jaskier - exactly right, to each of their specifications.

Geralt always drives because Essi doesn’t have a car and Jaskier has declared multiple times that it is his God-given right as a bisexual not to have to drive himself anywhere. Essi always has new TikToks or songs she makes them listen to, and Jaskier comments about each and every one of them loudly while sneaking money into Geralt’s stash for gas when he thinks Geralt isn’t looking.

His car no longer smells only of his MMA gear, but of Essi’s coconut shampoo and Jaskier’s faintly woodsy and floral cologne. And leftover McDonald’s. It’s a mess. Geralt really should buy an air freshener.

He will. Probably. Eventually.

*****

It’s more than three months into term and there’s still no air freshener.

*****

At the end of MMA, Renfri comes up to Geralt. She’s taken her hair out of the tight ponytail it had been in all class. “You were pretty good on the mat,” she tells him.

Geralt wipes at his sweaty brow with a towel and huffs out a laugh. “You laid me down. Twice.”

Renfri grins unrepentantly. “I’m the best for a reason. But you’re pretty good, and you know how to take an L from a girl. Unlike some of these fuckwits,” she says loudly enough that the two guys walking by them hear her. One of them has the decency to flush, ashamed. “Nice job.”

“Thanks,” says Geralt. He throws his towel back into his gym bag and gets out his water bottle. He takes a swig.

“Any plans for this weekend?” Renfri asks, which is the most conversation Geralt’s ever seen Renfri willingly make with a first year.

Geralt shoves his water bottle back inside his gym bag. He hoists it on his shoulder, and wipes the remnants of water on his mouth with the back of his hand. “I don’t think so. Why?”

“My flatmates and I are having a party to celebrate the end of term. You should come,” says Renfri. “Bring your friends.”

“Sure,” Geralt replies, too surprised by the other to say anything else. “Thanks.”

Renfri grabs her own bag, following Geralt out of the makeshift dojo inside the dance studio. “Great. I’ll text you the address.” Almost as an afterthought she adds, “It’s a costume party. Don’t forget to wear one.”

*****

“Oh my god,” says Jaskier, practically leaping off of Essi’s bed. “We should definitely go.”

He snatches Geralt’s phone out of his hands without preamble. Geralt doesn’t even fight him. It’d be an understatement to say that Jaskier does this a lot. Sharing his space. Willingly sharing his space. “Renfri’s flat is so close to the dorms! We probably won’t even need to wear coats. It’s perfect.”

“We’ll definitely need to wear coats, are you kidding? It’s cold as balls,” Essi says, still flopped on her bed, eating gummy bears.

“Bitches don’t freeze,” Jaskier replies, handing Geralt back his phone and joining Essi on the bed once again. “It’s me. I’m bitches. What are we going to wear? We should, like, do a theme.”

“Like matching costumes you mean?”

“Maybe not matching, matching,” Jaskier amends. “More like, we pick an era and all dress up like the people did back then. Geralt, what do you think?”

“Um.” Geralt can’t ever remember a time where any of his friends have asked him to be a part of something like this. He pulls up a chair near the bed. Jaskier’s feet automatically perch on his lap. “I’m fine with that.”

Essi’s eyes brighten and she sits up, sending the bag of gummy bears on her stomach sprawling. Jaskier immediately snatches a couple up. “Oh my god, I just got the best idea. We should totally pick costumes from medieval times.”

“Oooh, I love that, Es! You know I always thought if I was born a few centuries ago, I’d be like a traveling minstrel or something,” says Jaskier. “Find a heroic knight to follow and sing about.” He pops a gummy bear in his mouth and throws another in Geralt’s direction. Geralt opens his mouth and the gummy lands directly on his tongue.

Essi wrinkles her nose. “Seriously, how do you guys even do that?”

“I’m just a good shot.”

“I go where he aims,” Geralt says at the same time. Jaskier throws another gummy bear and Geralt catches it with ease.

“Ugh, it’s gross how in sync you are.”

“Don’t be a hater, Essi. Gimme your laptop. I’m pretty sure there’s a shop in town that sells fab costumes,” says Jaskier, making grabby motions with his hands.

Essi leans over to her desk and grabs her laptop, entirely covered in stickers, and hands it to Jaskier. Jaskier shifts a little, crossing one ankle over another. He doesn’t move his feet from Geralt’s lap.

“Oh wow, looks like you can order for pickup,” Essi says over Jaskier’s shoulder. She points at something on the screen. “Jask, Jask, Jask, get me that one. I definitely want to look like a badass medieval sorceress.”

“Love that for you. Total HBIC vibes,” Jaskier confirms, still scrolling. Geralt’s content to just watch them, idly plucking at a loose string on one of Jaskier’s pineapple-printed socks.

Jaskier’s entire expression starts to change, just like it does whenever he sees anything, or anyone, that he enjoys. His back straightens, his eyebrows rise, his mouth curls, and his eyes start to sparkle. His passion lights him from within. It sends a shot of warmth straight into Geralt’s gut.

“Oh my god, look at this bard costume,” says Jaskier. “It’s perfect. Fuck, I’m definitely gonna get my lute out for this one --”

“You have a lute?” Geralt interjects, half-amused.

“Are you really surprised?”

No. “Hm.”

Jaskier seems to read him all the same. “Ah, yes. Exhaling. That’s what I thought,” he says with a victorious grin, his eyes back on the screen.

“Jaskier,” Essi gasps, gripping his wrist. She points at something on the screen. “Look. Isn’t that so Geralt?”

Jaskier looks. Then his eyes flick over to Geralt. Geralt immediately knows something’s off. He straightens, careful not to jostle Jaskier’s feet. “What?”

“Nothing,” Jaskier replies in a way that most definitely means it’s something. “Essi may or may not have found the most amazing costume for you, that’s all.”

“Can I see it?”

“No!” Essi and Jaskier say at the same time and in the same exact tone. It would be funny if Geralt wasn’t suddenly so concerned. Jaskier moves himself and the laptop away. His feet drop from Geralt’s lap.

Geralt’s lap feels colder all of a sudden.

“Just - trust us. It’s gonna look amazing,” assures Jaskier. “I’m buying these all up now. They are too good.”

“Let us know how much we owe you,” Essi says.

Jaskier waves her off. He takes out a credit card out of his wallet. “This is all courtesy of daddy dearest. He’s not gonna miss this money, trust me.”

He says it nonchalantly, but Geralt hears the briefest hitch of pain in his voice. Jaskier’s eyes remain resolutely on the computer screen as he types in the credit card number.

“Jask,” Geralt protests, even as something heavy settles in his stomach.

Jaskier meets his eyes. There’s no sadness there, and Geralt would’ve thought he dreamt it if he couldn’t see the remnants of it lurking underneath the surface. He doesn’t know why it didn’t occur to him until now that Jaskier’s loudness could’ve been a mask, a show of defiance for something else.

“It’s fine, Geralt,” Jaskier says softly. His eyes look hopelessly fond and Geralt’s throat clogs up. “Promise me you’ll wear it, though. Promise me.”

Anything, Geralt thinks dizzily, surprised by the force of his feelings. I’d promise you anything.

Out loud he says, “I promise.”

*****

Geralt is seriously reconsidering his promise as he shuffles. “I look stupid,” he mumbles. Everything feels too tight, the leather hot on his skin.

“You look amazing,” Jaskier corrects, the very picture of beauty in a deep blue doublet and matching trousers that bring out his eyes. He even managed to get a feather hat that matches the delicate embroidery on his jacket. And the fucking lute.

Jesus Christ.

“Es, tell G he looks amazing.”

Essi is pouring them shots of very cheap whiskey in tiny plastic pink cups. The deep red gown she’s wearing shimmers in the dark lights. “G, you really do.”

“Hm.”

“Like a shining, white-haired knight, all noble and brave and ready to save the grateful masses,” Jaskier adds. He brushes imaginary dust from Geralt’s pauldrons.

The tips of Geralt’s ears grow hot. “Stop talking nonsense.”

“I’m not! It’s the truth! It’s how my bard alter ego would describe you,” Jaskier insists. “Brave and noble and kind and --”

Blessedly, Essi interrupts. Geralt’s weirdly grateful. He knows Jaskier’s propensity for flowery praise. It doesn’t mean anything. He shouldn’t read into it. “Drink up, lads,” Essi says with a grin, handing them each a shot. Her lipstick matches the shade of her dress and her glitter eyeshadow. She looks glorious. “Liquor jacket for the cold.”

They take that shot, and then another, and then, Jaskier loudly declares, “We need some music!” and commandeers Essi’s laptop to blast the dance pop playlist on YouTube. Essi pours them another round of shots right as Ariana Grande finishes playing. The whiskey tastes bad but it’s working - Geralt feels it warming him from the inside out.

Essi sucks in her teeth, her lipstick still somehow miraculously in place. “Selfie for the ‘gram, and then let’s go, lesbians.”

Renfri’s flat is already teeming with people by the time they get there, some spilling out into the sidewalk for a smoke. Everyone is wearing costumes. Geralt spies a girl in a hot dog suit and wishes, very briefly, to be her. His own costume is stifling and somehow not incredibly good at shielding him from the bitter cold. The house is dark save for some disco lights and the music is loud. Geralt feels the bass echoing in his bones.

“Let’s get drinks!” Jaskier says over the music, motioning them towards the kitchen. There’s a table spread out with various bottles of mixers and alcohol. Renfri’s there, mixing herself a drink. She’s dressed like an assassin with fake blood dotting the corners of her lips.

“Geralt, you made it,” she greets, raising her cup. She quirks an eyebrow. “Nice costume.”

Fuck. He feels himself flush and hopes it’s dark enough no one can see it. Geralt’s going to throttle both Jaskier and Essi. “Thanks for the invite,” he says instead. “This is Essi and Jaskier.”

“It’s nice to meet you!” Jaskier says, shaking Renfri’s hand. “You’ve got a lovely place by the way.”

“Thanks. This place is actually a shithole, but my flatmate Triss is super into decorating. She’s the one dressed like a sexy Greek goddess.”

“What makes a Greek goddess sexy?” Essi asks.

Renfri merely quirks an eyebrow and points behind her. There’s a girl with gorgeous golden brown skin and a riotous mess of curls, wearing a flowing white dress and a spiked halo headband.

Essi’s eyes widen. “Wow, okay. I see what you mean. Um, is she single?”

Renfri grins. “Yeah. And also super gay.”

“Okay, well, I’d say I’m not trying to be rude but - you know. See ya.”

“Get it girl!” Jaskier whistles after Essi. She flips him off without even bothering to turn around. Geralt laughs.

Renfri watches, clearly amused. “Gotta love the big dick energy.”

“Essi undoubtedly has the biggest dick energy I’ve ever seen,” Jaskier says cheerfully. “Also do you mind if I make us drinks?”

“Help yourself.”

Jaskier is already grabbing two plastic cups. He chirps, “Don’t mind if I do! G, what do you want?”

“Mm, whatever you’re making is fine.”

He watches Jaskier mix them vodka and ginger beer with practiced efficiency. Their fingers brush when Jaskier hands him the cup. “Cheers!” says Jaskier.

“You two are sickeningly cute,” Renfri says. “How long have you been dating?”

“Oh!” The kitchen is more decently lit than the rest of the flat, so Geralt can clearly see Jaskier turn a very lovely shade of pink. He seems at a loss for words, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly with no sound coming out of it.

He’s probably embarrassed. Geralt’s own cheeks feel a little hot. “We’re just friends,” he mumbles, and downs nearly half of his drink in one go.

Something in Jaskier’s expression shifts. “Yeah. Just friends,” he echoes faintly. His fingers are dancing across the length of his cup nervously, golden rings tapping against the rim. He coughs and then plasters a huge smile on his face. “So! Fun fact! I can actually play all of Thank U, Next on my lute! Wanna hear?”

The music is loud, pounding. Geralt still hears his heartbeat in his ears.

*****

“Hold still.”

Geralt sucks his teeth and flinches in spite of himself. “Ow,” he says for emphasis. He leans back against the plastic chair.

“I told you to hold still,” says Jaskier, adjusting his grip on the makeshift ice pack. “This will sting less if you don’t move.”

Jaskier delicately presses the ice pack underneath Geralt’s eye. It fucking hurts, but the ice is helping cool the oppressing warmth already purpling his skin. This close, Geralt can smell Jaskier’s cologne, and the faint trace of his aftershave. He takes a shuddering breath.

Sweet Jesus, Jaskier smells good. Geralt’s cock goes half hard in his dark jeans.

“Tell me again why you thought sleeping with your TA when he has a boyfriend was a good idea?” Geralt asks, desperately trying to distract himself.

Jaskier’s tongue peeks out from between his lips as he works, the way it always does when he’s deep in concentration. Fuck. It sends another spike of arousal straight to Geralt’s cock. “In my defense, he told me they had broken up. How was I supposed to know it happened in the heat of an argument?”

“You’re supposed to know better than to hook up with someone five seconds after they may or may not have ended a relationship,” Geralt says wryly. He doesn’t miss the way Jaskier presses his lips together to hide a smile. Even under the unflattering fluorescent lights of the washroom, he looks stunning. It makes Geralt’s own mouth curve.

“I’ve never heard of such a rule.”

“I’m shocked.”

Jaskier is grinning openly now. “I’m not sure I like your tone, Geralt.”

“Hm.”

“Anyway,” Jaskier murmurs, voice hopelessly fond, continuing to apply pressure to Geralt’s bruised eye. Geralt inhales sharply, but it’s not because of the pain.“Thanks again. For taking the punch.”

Geralt’s fingers itch at his side. He so badly wants to touch. He doesn’t feel like he’s allowed. Instead, Geralt grips the seat of the uncomfortable plastic chair. “Better you than me.”

“Does it still hurt?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Jaskier says gently. His eyes are soft and filled with the kind of affection Geralt doesn’t think he deserves. “Does it still hurt?” His other hand comes up to cradle Geralt’s chin, anchoring himself as he works the ice pack all over Geralt’s black eye. The touch feels incredibly intimate. It makes Geralt’s heart rabbit in his chest.

Geralt’s throat bobs a little. He can’t stop looking into Jaskier’s eyes. “A little.”

Jaskier removes the ice pack and empties its contents into the sink. Geralt hears a knob turn and then the brief rush of tap water. Jaskier continues to move around the bathroom, setting down the scarf he’d been using and drying his hands with a towel. He’s quiet the whole time - longer than Geralt is accustomed to.

“You don’t have to keep bailing me out, you know,” Jaskier finally says, turning around to face Geralt, leaning against the sink. He’s spinning one of the thousands of rings on his fingers over and over again. His teeth are worrying his bottom lip.

He looks pained. Sad. Geralt never wants Jaskier to look like that again.

“I know,” Geralt says. “I want to.”

*****

[daaaaamndelion to “that 34+35 drive”] *a picture of Jaskier wearing a sparkly Happy New Year headband. His tongue is sticking out. There’s gold and silver glitter around his eyes and on his cheekbones* Happy New Year!!! My resolution is to stop looking for a good dicking in all the wrong places!!!

little-eye replayed the snap!

[little-eye to “that 34+35 drive”] won’t believe it till i see it

[notgerard to “that 34+35 drive”] *a zoomed in picture of a chestnut horse’s face* Roach says x to doubt

[daaaaamndelion to “that 34+35 drive”] >:U haters!!!

*****

Jaskier takes off his fingerless gloves and rubs his hands together. “Fuck, it’s cold,” he says, stomping his boots on the carpet to shake away remanants of snow.

“I thought bitches didn’t freeze,” says Geralt. The heat is on full blast inside the Pret, soothing his cold-stung cheeks and nose.

They join the queue of other similarly tired and frazzled students, recently back from winter break. “Hush,” Jaskier replies smartly. Geralt grins.

“I can take who’s next over here!”

Geralt clocks the exact moment Jaskier notices the petite blonde barista with the huge, dazzling green eyes and long eyelashes who signals them over. Jaskier inhales, quick and sharp, stands a little taller, and passes a quick hand through his brown hair, still dotted with snowflakes.

He leans over the counter and smiles. It’s the smile Geralt knows Jaskier reserves for occasions such as this one; it makes the recipient feel like the only person in the world. It’s wide and charming and made even more devastating by the fact that Jaskier’s lips are still red from the cold.

“Hi!” Jaskier greets brightly. “Could I get a medium takeaway cappuccino and a large takeaway Americano please?”

“Sure thing. What’s the name?” the blonde asks.

Jaskier leans closer, looking conspiratorial, and says, “Julian. But all my friends call me Jaskier.”

The barista’s smile goes from professional to demur. She lowers her eyes. “Are we friends?”

“Not yet, but I would really, really like us to be,” says Jaskier. “What do you say?”

“Is that so?” The barista looks hopelessly charmed. Jaskier nods eagerly.

Geralt’s stomach turns to lead. It’s not because they are very obviously holding up the line.

The barista says, “Well, Jaskier, your order’s gonna be ready for takeaway on the counter over there. I’ll see you around.”

“I hope so,” Jaskier replies.

When their order is ready, Jaskier grabs his takeaway cup. His expression immediately brightens. “Would you look at that Geralt!”

On the side of the cup, written in marker, is the name Priscilla. Underneath it is a phone number.

Geralt takes a sip of his coffee. It burns his tongue. He doesn’t taste a thing.

*****

[Geralt, 2:57 am]: Essi and I are getting Maccas. Wanna come with?

[Jaskier, 2:58 am]: Um, YES. What kind of question is that?

[Jaskier, 2:59 am]: Can I bring Pri? We’re hanging out together rn.

[Geralt, 3:03 am]: Sure.

*****

Jaskier giggles as he stumbles and falls almost neatly into Geralt’s lap. “Geraaaaalt! Geralt, I need to tell you something,” he whispers loudly, looping an arm around Geralt’s shoulders. Jaskier’s glittery Happy Birthday! sash slips down to his elbow. His breath smells of gin and elderflower lemonade.

By all accounts, Geralt should be annoyed. It’s not even midnight yet and Jaskier is absolutely pissed. Jaskier’s eyes are soft and hazy with alcohol, smiling at Geralt like he can’t possibly imagine smiling at anyone else.

Geralt finds himself hopelessly endeared. “What do you need to tell me?” he rumbles.

Jaskier leans in closer, practically nuzzling Geralt’s neck. Geralt closes his eyes, fingers fisting into the sofa cushion. Jaskier always gets a tad affectionate when he’s drunk. Geralt sneaks a hand around Jaskier’s waist to support him and tries not to feel like he’s taking advantage.

“I’m pretty sure,” says Jaskier, only slurring his words a little. “That I lorv - wait - that I’m in love with Priscilla.”

His grin gets dopier when he says her name. Geralt feels a spike of ice run down his spine. “Really?”

Jaskier sighs dreamily. “Really.”

He lowers his head consideringly towards Geralt, so close that their foreheads are nearly touching. “I know what you’re gonna say,” he continues, apparently taking Geralt’s silence as skepticism. “‘But Jaskier, you fall in love with everyone!’”

“You do?” Geralt says, blinking in surprise, and ignoring Jaskier’s rather passable imitation of his lower voice register. His grip around Jaskier’s waist tightens involuntarily. Time stops. The room narrows down to just the two of them.

Jaskier looks as bewildered as Geralt feels. He moves back an inch. “I - what? Of course I do. I fall a little bit in love with everyone I meet, you know that. You have to know that,” Jaskier begs. His fingers are nervously fiddling with Geralt’s collar.

What does that even mean?

“I didn’t. Know,” Geralt replies.

“Yeah, right, yeah.”

Jaskier shifts, moves off of Geralt’s lap, and stumbles. Geralt catches him by the elbow right before Jaskier faceplants on the fucking floor.

“Jaskier. Are you okay?”

“No offense, G,” says Jaskier. He huffs out a laugh, but it sounds pained. Sad. “But you’re so stupid sometimes.”

A blow to the head right now would make more sense. Geralt has no clue what the fuck is happening. “What?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Jaskier leans close again, one hand skirting Geralt’s face. Geralt holds his breath, watching Jaskier tuck an errant lock of silvery white hair behind his ear.

“Do you dye it?” Jaskier had asked what feels like a lifetime ago, during Freshers’ Week. When Geralt couldn’t possibly fathom anyone wanting to be his friend, let alone have what he has now.

It was the first time Jaskier had touched his hair, like it was something precious. The same way he always touches his hair. The same way he touches his hair now. Geralt swallows heavily. “Jaskier --”

“Aren’t you proud of me, Ger-Ger? I’m finally dating someone who’s not a bad decision. You don’t have to come rescue me anymore,” Jaskier murmurs. He still sounds sad.

Geralt feels like he might choke. “Yeah,” he says eventually. “I’m proud of you.”

Time starts to move again. The room widens back up; fills with people and music and noise.

*****

[daaaaamndelion added a photo his Story] *Priscilla, holding a cosmopolitan, smiling at the camera* one month with this goober!

*****

Diving into a bag of flaming hot Cheetos - Jaskier’s second of the night - he casually declares, “We should live together next term.”

This seems on par with Jaskier’s other outlandish statements. Geralt doesn’t even lift his eyes from his anthropology assignment. “Hmm,” he says.

Jaskier feigns an offended scoff, lobbing a crisp at Geralt’s head. Geralt manages to duck before it hits him. “I’m being serious, G! Come on, wouldn’t it be perfect if the three of us lived together?”

Someone shushes Jaskier. He rolls his eyes, unbothered, and pops another crisp into his mouth. They’re talking loudly, even for the library’s non-quiet section. Geralt’s fingers stutter briefly over his laptop keys, trying to imagine what it would be like, living with Jaskier and Essi. Seeing Jaskier blinking sleep out of his eyes every morning, having his cologne embedded into the living room couch, sharing a space together --

He realizes he’s been typing a string of nonsensical letters. Geralt stops himself. “I - I guess,” he hedges.

“If we really want to do this, we should start looking now,” says Essi. “Off campus housing tends to go quick.” She lifts her phone up by its Pusheen popsocket. “Oooh, maybe Triss has some ideas.”

“Tell your girlfriend she will have my undying gratitude if she does,” Jaskier says.

“I think she’d just prefer a nice bottle of Cab Sav, Jask.”

Anthropology is suddenly entirely uninteresting. Geralt looks down at his textbook and frowns.

There’s a hand, warm and grounding, on his arm. “We don’t have to, Geralt,” Jaskier murmurs, like he’s able to sense the direction of Geralt’s thoughts, the uncertainty roiling his gut. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

Words have always been harder for Geralt than most. He doesn’t really remember this, but according to Vesemir, he communicated almost entirely in sign language until he was ten. What Geralt does remember is the freedom, the confidence that came from it. Geralt bites the inside of his cheek.

Even if he did try to sign, Geralt doesn’t think he can explain how the riot in his chest isn’t because he doesn’t want to live with Jaskier. It’s because he wants it so much it burns him, wants it in the way he doesn’t think he’s allowed to want anything.

Instead, Geralt whispers, “Thanks.”

Jaskier squeezes his arm. He doesn’t remove his hand.

*****

They sign a lease on a new place three weeks later.

“I brought you all champagne,” says Priscilla.

“You’re the best, babe,” Jaskier says, taking the bottle from her and kissing her on the corner of her mouth. He’s looking at her like there’s no one else he’d rather look at. It feels private. Intimate.

Geralt looks away.

 

*****

There’s a loud and persistent knocking that wakes up Geralt. He squints at his phone and groans. Partly because he forgot the brightness of the screen was all the way up and it’s blinding, but mostly because it’s two in the goddamn morning. He went to bed thirty minutes ago.

Fuck, it’s too early for this shit. One of his flatmates can get it. Geralt’s going back to sleep.

Somehow, the knocking gets louder.

“Geralt?”

Geralt’s eyes immediately snap back open. It’s Jaskier. His voice is thick and trembling, even from behind the door. He sounds - Geralt’s heart clenches - he sounds devastated.

“Geralt? Please, please, please open up.”

Motherfuck --” He trips over his gym bag and a pair of trainers on the way to the door, wrenching it open with more force than necessary. “Jaskier,” says Geralt, and his throat tightens up. He almost doesn’t recognize Jaskier. His hair is a mess, his face red and puffy and streaked with tears. He looks like he left in a hurry; he’s wearing just a threadbare shirt and shorts. The shoes he has on don’t match.

Dread settles in Geralt’s gut. “What happened?” he chokes the words out with great difficulty. His heart is hurting in his chest, wanting desperately to wipe the pain off of Jaskier’s face.

Somehow, he manages to get Jaskier inside and into the common room, guiding him to the couch. Jaskier immediately puts his hand face into his hands. He’s still crying. Geralt tears himself away long enough to get him a glass of water from the kitchen. He hands it to Jaskier, who downs it all in one go. It’s too fast, and Jaskier ends up coughing into the palm of his hand.

“Jaskier,” says Geralt, more gently than he could have ever thought possible. He rubs soothingly at Jaskier's back, feeling the minute tremors going through his body. “What happened?”

There’s only one possible explanation for Jaskier’s current state. Geralt knows this. He still asks.

“Priscilla and I broke up,” Jaskier croaks out. He says it like he can’t quite believe the words yet. His voice is completely shot. He must’ve cried for hours. Fresh tears pool in Jaskier’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t bring --”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to bring anything.” Geralt takes the glass from Jaskier’s shaking fingers and places it gently on the coffee table. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I guess it was always meant to happen since I --” Jaskier cuts himself off abruptly, wiping at his eyes. “It doesn’t matter.”

The room is dark and quiet, too quiet. The only sound is Jaskier’s occasional sniffles; breath hiccuping out of him in short spurts. Geralt’s never seen him like this. Essi would know what to do better than I ever could, a dark, ugly part of him thinks. I’m no good at this.

Jaskier picked you, another part of him whispers to him. It sounds suspiciously like Jaskier’s voice. Something settles inside of Geralt. He feels brave. “How can I help?” he asks.

A tear rolls down Jaskier’s cheek. He doesn’t wipe this one away. It falls down onto his thin, ratty t-shirt, staining it a darker blue. “Just - stay here with me. Please?”

Anything. I’d do anything. “Of course,” says Geralt.

“Is it okay if I --” Jaskier starts to shuffle closer.

“Yeah. Yes.”

Wordlessly, Jaskier lets his head fall on Geralt’s shoulder. Geralt inhales sharply. He can feel Jaskier’s brown hair tickle the underside of his jaw. Jaskier is still trembling quietly with sobs.

Unable to help himself, Geralt dips down and wipes the tears away. He only wishes he could do the same with Jaskier’s pain. Instead, he winds an arm around Jaskier, and hopes it helps.

They don’t speak again, but Geralt’s always been content in silence. He focuses instead on Jaskier’s breathing, soothing him with soft kisses to the top of his head and rubbing his arm.

Eventually, Jaskier quiets. Geralt thinks he’s asleep. It’s - late. Geralt’s own eyelids feel heavy, start to droop -

“Will you still date me when we’re thirty-five?”

It’s asked so quietly that Geralt might have believed he’d dreamt it, if not for Jaskier turning up his head to look at him. There’s a vulnerability in his eyes Geralt’s never seen before. It brings a tightness to his chest.

“Of course I will. I promised you, didn’t I?”

Jaskier hums. His shoulders sag. He looks so tired all of a sudden. “Mmkay,” he whispers. “I’ll wait for you.”

Geralt’s heart jumps to his throat.

The faint rays of sunlight are starting to peek through the window curtains when Jaskier’s breathing finally evens out with sleep. His head is still pressed into the juncture of Geralt’s neck and shoulder, face still stained with tears.

Geralt takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.

*****

The term ends, students packing up their things and leaving in droves for the summer. Campus looks like a deserted wasteland.

Once their own stuff is packed up, Essi and Geralt help Jaskier move into their new flat. Jaskier and Essi are both staying in their university town for the summer and, after some careful consideration, Geralt’s decided to do the same. He’s picked up a bartending gig at one of the pubs.

Geralt tells himself the only reason he’s staying is because he needs the money to get Roach some new stuff. It doesn’t have anything to do with keeping watch over Jaskier. He’s still sad. Jaskier mourns the end of all his romantic entanglements, no matter how short-lived or ill-advised, but Geralt’s never seen him so torn up for so long.

“Triss just invited all of us to this house party some of her friends are throwing,” says Essi. They’re eating Domino’s sitting cross-legged on the carpet. “I think we should all go.”

“Sure,” Geralt says. He’s not working a shift tonight.

Essi tilts her head consideringly. “What do you say, Jask? Wanna come with? Might help - clear your head.”

Usually, it’s not a question that would even need to be asked. But nothing’s been usual these last two weeks. Jaskier sets down his half-eaten pizza and smiles. It’s still brittle around the edges. Geralt’s heart hurts. “I, ah, I think I’ll sit this one out. Watch To All The Boys again instead.”

The idea of Jaskier all by himself makes something deep inside of Geralt react viscerally. “I can stay with you,” he offers.

“No, no, no. You deserve to go out and enjoy yourself, Geralt. I’ll be fine. I swear.”

“Are you sure?”

Jaskier smiles again, and this time it actually reaches his eyes. “Definitely. Don’t worry about little old me.”

That would be impossible. “Okay,” Geralt replies, still doubtful.

Jaskier presses his fingers around Geralt’s wrist. “I’ll see you when you get back. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Geralt cracks a smile. That seemed to be Jaskier’s objective, because he meets it with one of his own. “That list is short.”

“Exactly. Now go have enough fun for the both of us.”

*****

Geralt hasn’t been at this house party for more than five minutes before he decides he wants to leave.

“Absolutely not,” Essi says when he makes vague motions towards the door. “You promised Jaskier.”

“But Es --”

“Don’t want to fucking hear it, G. Here, you need this.”

She hands him her glittery flask. Geralt grimaces when the vodka hits the back of his throat. “Where’s Triss anyway?”

“She’s waiting for her friend. They’ll be here in a few minutes. Now come on,” Essi says, wrapping a hand around his wrist. “Let’s go play some beer pong.”

The table is set up at the far end of the living room, made slightly sticky from spilled beer. There’s already two teams playing. “Shani, hey!” Essi greets one of the players, a girl with waves of burnt orange hair. “Mind if we have next?”

“Sure,” says Shani. “Milo and I are about to kick Fil and Fran’s arses anyway.”

“Heard that Shani,” a boy with blonde curls says from across the table.

Shani blows him a kiss. “You were meant to!”

They do end up dealing them a rather handy defeat. Geralt helps Essi arrange the plastic red cups and pour small amounts of beer into them. Geralt’s never been one for drinking games, but he does have pretty good aim.

“Ready?” Essi asks, grabbing the ping pong ball and dipping it in the water cup off to the side.

As he’ll ever be. Geralt says, “Yeah.”

He’s not sure if it’s a weird mix of beginner’s luck and skill, but they win their first game with ease. Shani pouts. “Boo,” she says.

“Don’t be a sore loser, Shani,” says Essi. “You can play us again.”

Essi is surprisingly good at beer pong. She rarely misses a shot. As he sinks in the winning ball of their second time, Geralt finds he’s not that bad at it either. Hell yeah!” Essi says, turning to high-five him. “This is fun, isn’t it?”

“It’s not bad,” Geralt admits. “Another?”

They’re in the middle of winning their third game against some second years Geralt doesn’t recognize when Triss bounds up to them.

“I’m so sorry I’m late, babe,” she breathes out, giving Essi a quick kiss. “Yenna insisted we stop by Tesco --”

“Don’t blame me, I told you we should’ve gone earlier,” says the girl right behind Triss. She’s gorgeous; black hair falling in soft waves down her shoulders. Her eyes are a bewitching shade of violet. Geralt’s breath catches embarrassingly and he misses the shot, the ping pong ball clattering off the table.

Essi throws him an amused glance like she knows. Geralt can feel his cheeks heat up. “What did you need from Tesco so badly?”

“Apple juice.”

“That explains everything, thank you so much.”

The girl narrows her eyes playfully. Geralt might be staring. He’s never seen anything like them. “It’s the best fucking mixer and these dumb parties never have any.”

“I would never question your judgement,” says Essi, throwing her hands up in mock surrender. “By the way, this is one of my flatmates, Geralt. Geralt, this is Yennefer.”

Yennefer finally seems to notice him. Having the full force of her attention makes Geralt’s mouth instantly dry up. He’s never reacted so viscerally to someone before, not really. Except with -

“Hi,” Yennefer says, extending a hand out. Her fingernails are long and coffin-shaped, and painted obsidian black.

“Hi,” Geralt replies. He shakes her hand. Her grip is strong, confident. He feels irrevocably screwed.

Somehow, Essi seems to sense this. “We forfeit, by the way. Someone come take our place,” she says. “Triss, come with me? I wanna make myself a drink.”

The move is ridiculously obvious. Geralt would normally be embarrassed. Instead, he finds himself strangely grateful.

Yennefer tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. She’s wearing huge star-shaped earrings, also black. Geralt senses a theme. “So, Geralt.” Her voice is low and lilting and wonderful. “What do you think about apple juice?”

“Um.” It’s definitely not the question he expected. Geralt has a feeling Yennefer thrives on being unexpected. “I like it mixed with rum.”

There’s an unnerving pause during which Geralt worries he may have said the wrong thing. Then Yennefer smiles, and he feels a little bit like he’s falling under a spell. “Good answer,” she says, and reaches into her purse to pull out not just a bottle of apple juice, but also two airplane-sized bottles of Captain Morgan. “You seem like someone with stories. Want to go up on the roof and get drunk?”

It’s probably a bad idea. The people who own this house may not be thrilled that a pair of strangers they don’t know got up on their roof. Yet, Geralt finds there’s nothing more he wants to do.

“Yeah,” he says. “Let’s go.”

*****

“You’re not going to ask me about the hair? Most people do,” says Geralt, tipsy on the intoxicating cocktail of rum and juice and Yennefer. It’s warm, but not suffocating outside. Geralt leans into the balminess of the air and closes his eyes for a second.

“Most people are boring,” Yennefer says with an eye-roll. “They see an - an oddity - something that doesn’t conform with their narrow-minded view of the world. They can’t resist pointing it out, asking about it, like they’re owed an explanation; trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole instead of simply accepting it as it is.”

There’s so much certainty, conviction in her voice. Underneath it all, Geralt hears the pain. He swallows heavily. “Been a square peg in your life often, Yennefer?”

Yennefer counters knowingly, “Haven’t you?”

“Hm.” Geralt tilts his head up. The sky is beautiful tonight, clear like it never is, and dotted in stars. “I thought it’d be easier if I - if I wasn’t seen. If I didn't want anything. Need anybody.”

Yennefer’s mouth curls. “It made me want.”

“Want what?”

Everything.”

The air thickens with something Geralt can’t name. He turns to look at Yennefer and finds that she’s already looking at him. Seeing him. “Most people don’t want to talk about what makes them different. You just dove right in.”

Yennefer leans in close. “I told you, Geralt. Most people are boring.”

She never asks him about the hair.

Later, Geralt presses Yennefer into her sheets and fucks her. Her hair fans out in a dark halo across her pillow. She rakes her painted nails down his back, hard, egging him on, and Geralt groans into her neck. Everywhere, he smells lilac and gooseberries.

“Harder,” she demands breathlessly, moving against him, setting the rhythm as much as he does. Geralt doesn’t stop even as he moves Yennefer’s long legs higher up around his waist, sliding deeper into her. His fingers flex helplessly in the sheets.

“Fuck,” Geralt spits out, thrusting deeper, harder, just like Yennefer asked. He dips down, kisses the long line of her neck. His brings a hand to fondle one of her breasts, soft and full and perfect. Yennefer gasps and arches her back, her thighs squeezing around Geralt’s waist.

With an ease that takes Geralt by surprise, Yennefer manages to flip them. Somehow he stays inside her. “Like this,” Yennefer murmurs, close to Geralt’s lips. Her nails scratch lightly at Geralt’s chest as she begins to ride him in earnest.

“Like this,” Geralt agrees.

It feels fucking incredible. Geralt never wants it to end.

He bookends Yennefer’s lithe waist with his hands, watching her bounce up and down on his cock with wild abandon. Her hair has started to curl at the end with sweat.

“I’m close,” says Yennefer, voice going up an octave. Geralt reaches between her the soft folds of her legs and encircles her clit.

The face Yennefer makes when she comes is one Geralt knows will be seared into his mind forever.

They lie on their stomachs, Geralt tracing Yennefer’s face with his thumb and index finger, over her shaped brow and across her smudged eyeshadow, and down the curve of her perfect mouth. She closes her eyes and leans into the contact and his throat clogs up. “It’s alright,” she says, like she can read his mind. “You’re allowed.”

Geralt leans over and kisses Yennefer.

He doesn’t ask her about the long, pink scar spanning the length of her back.

*****

It’s almost eleven by the time Geralt leaves Yennefer’s place.

The sun is shining and bright and hot, and he kisses her sweetly at her doorstep. “I’ll, uh, see you later?” Geralt asks hopefully because god help him, he really, really wants to see Yennefer again.

“Here, take my number,” Yennefer says, plucking his phone from the back pocket of his jeans, sliding into his space with the same ease as -

“Text me,” she adds, and presses a kiss to the corner of Geralt’s mouth.

“Okay,” Geralt replies a little dizzily.

He spends the walk back to his flat in a daze. He still feels drunk. It’s definitely not because of the alcohol he drank last night.

The front door is unlocked, which has been the norm for them over the summer, so Geralt let’s himself in. Jaskier is sitting cross-legged on the couch in the living room, looking exactly the same way Geralt left him last night, except there are dark, purple bags under his eyes. His nailpolish is chipped, the nail of his thumb bitten down to the quick. There’s a rumpled blanket to his left. It’s the one Geralt pulls out during the colder months.

“Hey,” says Geralt, watching Jaskier practically leap off the couch. He frowns. “Did you - sleep here last night?”

“Erm,” Jaskier says, blinking repeatedly. He flushes. “Just for a few hours! I got worried when you - when you didn’t come home.” His eyes are wide, concerned.

Geralt’s chest warms, touched. “I’m fine, I, uh.” It’s his turn to flush. “I actually met someone.”

Jaskier’s face does something complicated that Geralt can’t parse. “Oh! Oh. I’m - I’m so happy for you, Geralt! What’s their name?”

“Yennefer. She’s Triss’s friend.”

“Oh! That’s - that’s great,” Jaskier says. He smiles but it seems forced, his fingers tangling up in each other. “Are you gonna see her again?”

The weight of Geralt’s phone in his pocket feels heavier than it usually does. “I hope so.”

*****

missyenven added you on Snapchat!

[missyenven] *a picture of a bottle of red wine and two glasses* want to help me finish off this bottle?

[notgerard] omw

*****

Geralt sits with his back against the headboard, lazily tracing patterns down Yennefer’s bare calf. She’s sprawled on her stomach, nose in a book. Geralt can only see her long black hair stretched out over her spine. “What’re you doing?”

“Studying,” says Yennefer without looking back. Geralt hears the sound of a page being turned.

“It’s the middle of summer,” he feels the need to point out. Perhaps more crucially, “And we just had sex. Yen, am I boring you?”

Yennefer finally deigns to give him a look. She raises an eyebrow, and there’s an amused tilt to her mouth. It makes Geralt grin back. “No such thing as time off if I want to become the best barrister in the country. Even when the sex is...” she lets her voice trail off purposely. Geralt’s grin widens. “Fantastic.”

She turns her head back to her textbook.

“Why a barrister?” Geralt asks.

“Power. Respect. Legacy,” Yennefer rattles off quickly and matter-of-fact. It’s clear she’s thought about this.

“Hm. And that’s what you want?”

“I want everything.”

“Everything?”

There’s a pause. No sound of pages being turned. “I want to do something that matters. Be someone that matters,” says Yennefer finally, turning around to meet Geralt’s gaze. “Matter to someone.”

You matter to me, Geralt thinks. It should be impossible to feel this way with the conviction he does, when he’s only known her for a handful of weeks. And yet -

“You do,” he says.

Yennefer seems to read between the lines, because she smiles and stretches over to press a kiss to his lips. Her lips are soft, her hair tickling Geralt’s nose. Geralt smells lilac and gooseberries. Yennefer turns back to her reading.

There’s a comfortable silence, broken only by the occasional rustle of a page. Geralt trails his hand down to Yennefer’s ankle. Encircles it. It’s so dainty. His fingers nearly close completely around it. He wonders how such a delicate thing can carry such a powerful person.

*****

“You should know,” Yennefer begins one day while they’re sitting on the roof of Geralt’s car, eating frozen yoghurt. “I’m poly.”

The sun is hot. Blistering, really, the way it only is for about two weeks out of the whole fucking year. Geralt’s cup of frozen yoghurt is melting into a goop already, and he dips down and catches some of the bit already dripping down his fingers. “Poly,” he repeats, a little uncertain. “Is that - does that mean you’re seeing other people?”

“Just one other person now, actually.”

“Huh.”

“His name is Istredd,” says Yennefer. “I dated Triss for a bit too, way before her and Essi became a thing.”

Geralt says, “I see.”

“I wanted to tell you now, you know, in case it’s a problem for you,” Yennefer says. Her face is open and vulnerable in a way it isn’t often. “Being poly - it’s who I am. There’s no changing me. You and I could be headed somewhere special, and - well. I want you to walk in with eyes wide open.”

It’s warm, so very warm outside, but it’s nothing compared to the sunlight in Geralt’s chest. He swallows heavily. His heart feels like it’s in his throat, ready to jump out of his mouth and offer itself up to Yennefer.

“I like you the way you are. I don’t want to change you. I just - I just want to be with you, Yen,” Geralt admits, voice rough with emotion. “In whatever way you’ll have me. My eyes are open. I want to do this.”

Yennefer smiles. It’s beautiful. “Great. Okay,” she says. “Me too.”

Geralt links their fingers, sticky with melted frozen yoghurt, together.

*****

[Essi, 10:31 pm]: Jaskier is playing at Posada tonight! Wanna come with to watch?

[Geralt, 12:09 am]: Fuck, I missed this, Yen and I went to dinner. Did he go already?

[Essi, 12:13 am]: Yeah. It’s okay! Come next time. It’s gonna be a regular thing.

*****

Geralt wakes up in the middle of night parched. The small fan he has in his room is only succeeding in spitting dry, hot air back into his face. He wipes his forehead, grimacing when his hand comes back slicked with sweat. He grew up north, where the weather is significantly colder, even in the summer. He’s not used to this kind of unrelenting heat.

Stretching over to turn that poor little sputtering fan off, Geralt walks out of his room and towards the kitchen. Jesus, he’s thirsty. The wooden floorboards creak with his weight.

The light coming out from the corner makes Geralt blink in surprise. He checks the analog clock plastered on the wall across from him.

4:27. Who the fuck is awake right now?

“Jaskier,” says Geralt, rounding the corner.

“Oh. Geralt, hey,” Jaskier greets tentatively. He’s perched on one of the high top chairs, stirring what looks like cereal long gone soft in a bowl of milk. There are heavy, dark circles under his eyes, and his smile seems brittle.

The sight makes Geralt’s heart clench with concern and, incredibly, a rush of affection. When’s the last time he’s even seen Jaskier? Geralt’s mind draws a concerning blank.

“Are you okay?” he asks, walking over to the fridge and taking out the water pitcher.

“Oh, I’m swell,” says Jaskier, but his tone is despondent. It makes Geralt frown. “Just - couldn’t sleep.” He continues swirling the cereal around the bowl, eyebrows scrunched up and lips downturned.

Geralt pours himself a glass of water and sits across from Jaskier. “Yeah. Me neither.”

Jaskier hums. His head is firmly tilted down, looking pointedly at his bowl. For once, he doesn’t seem inclined to fill the silence.

There are so many questions flitting around in Geralt’s head. How are you? What have you been up to this summer? Essi mentioned you took a music gig at that Posada pub. Are you seeing anyone new?

Guilt makes the words die on his tongue. Geralt should know the answers. He should know and he doesn’t.

Geralt says, “I --”

“So,” says Jaskier at the same time, still stirring his spoon. “Yennefer busy tonight?”

His tone is odd. Flat. Bitter, even. Geralt blinks, surprised. “Uh, yeah. Why?”

The stirring stops. Jaskier exhales through his nose. “It just seems like you’ve been spending all your free time with her. So.”

Geralt waits for him to elaborate. Jaskier doesn’t. Only presses his lips into a thin line.

“Jaskier. What are you trying to say?”

“I don’t know I - I’m so happy for you, Geralt,” Jaskier, his voice breaking at the very end. His eyes look wet. “You deserve someone who makes you happy, you really do. And I know I was probably way worse when I was with Pri but I’m not here trying to pretend like I’m not the most selfish bastard in the world --”

“Jaskier, you’re not --”

“I am though, you’re just too...too kind to admit it, but that’s not the point. The point is I miss you.”

It’s harder to breathe all of a sudden. Geralt’s chest feels tight. “Let me fix this,” he croaks out.

Jaskier laughs wetly, wiping at his eyes. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to. We can all hang out. You, me, and Yen,” says Geralt.

“Geralt you don’t - I don’t want to get in the way of a date.”

“You wouldn't. You and Yen should meet anyway. I think - I think you’d like her. You’re very similar,” Geralt says, smiling fondly, because yes, the thought somehow hadn’t occurred to him until now, but it’s true. Confident. Resilient. Ambitious.

Two sides of the same coin.

“So. What do you say?”

Jaskier bites his bottom lip. He still looks hesitant. Finally he sighs, “Okay, yeah. Of course.”

The relief Geralt feels in his bones is better than any water, any cooling breeze in this horrible heat.

“So anyway,” says Jaskier, pushing his cereal to the side and leaning over. “Tell me about Yennefer.”

Geralt takes a sip of his water and starts talking.

*****

Geralt’s phone vibrates while he’s working his shift at the pub. It’s the lunch hour, so the pub’s deserted, with only a handful of customers inside. Geralt usually takes this shift to catch up on some reading.

[Yen, 1:25 pm]: Let me get this right. You want me to meet your boyfriend? Ger, how avant garde.

The pint of beer nearly slips from his hand. Geralt slides it over across the bar and turns his focus back to his phone.

[Geralt, 1:26 pm]: Jaskier is my friend.

[Yen, 1:28 pm]: You don’t meet “friends” one on one at the pub.

[Yen, 1:29 pm]: Jaskier is a *boyfriend*

It’s not warm inside. The air conditioner is working overtime. Geralt still feels his face and neck heat up.

[Geralt, 1:31 pm]: Can you stop?

[Yen, 1:35 pm]: What? It’s not my fault you’re dumb. You’ll thank me later, xoxo.

Jesus fucking Christ. How did he somehow manage to find the two most insufferable people on campus?

*****

[little-eye to “that 34+35 drive”] *slightly blurry selfie of Geralt, Jaskier, and Essi holding flaming shots* Different year, same back to class tradition!

You replayed the snap!

[daaaaamndelion to “that 34+35 drive”] <3 <3 <3

*****

“He’s late,” Yennefer remarks flatly, one arm draped over the back of her chair, the other holding her drink, which has a rather colourful name she’d raised an eyebrow over even as she ordered it. They’d picked Posada to put Jaskier more at ease, and the menu is filled with unusually named cocktails.

Geralt says, “He’ll be here. He’s not...great at being on time.”

“Not great at making a first impression either,” Yennefer adds wryly, sipping her cocktail. Geralt shoots her a look. His eyes shift towards the door.

It’s been ten minutes. Logically, Geralt knows Jaskier’s been later than that. Underneath the table, his fingers pluck at a loose string on his jeans. He’s not feeling quite logical at the moment.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!”

Relief, happiness, and an overwhelming sense of terror all swirl in Geralt’s gut. Jaskier’s a little breathless, cheeks flushed, and hair flopping over his forehead. He looks like he ran here. “I, uh, lost track of time,” Jaskier admits, smoothing down his metallic red dress shirt before taking a seat.

“It’s okay,” says Geralt, reaching under the table to pinch Yennefer’s thigh when she lets out a low scoff.

“Oh, good! Yeah, good, good,” Jaskier says, smiling. It looks strained around the edges. “Erm, you must be Yennefer.” He extends his hand.

Yennefer shakes it. “And you’re Jaskier. Geralt talks a lot about you.”

“All good things, I hope.”

“Depends on your definition of good.”

“The like...normal one?” says Jaskier with an awkward laugh. He flags one of the waitresses. “Hey, Lucia, can I get a White Honey please?”

“Sure thing, Jask,” Lucia says. “See you Thursday?”

The grin on Jaskier’s face is more sincere now. “You bet!”

“What’s happening on Thursday?” Yennefer asks when Lucia leaves, leaning over the table.

Almost immediately, Jaskier’s grin falls. That tightness is back in his eyes. “Oh, I, uh - I play here on Thursdays. Nice crowd. Great way to, uh, practice my music.” He’s spinning the ring on his index finger over and over again.

Yennefer’s eyebrows rise. She shoots Geralt a look. “Really? Geralt didn’t mention that.”

Geralt’s tongue is two sizes too big in his mouth. “I, uh --”

“It’s still pretty new,” Jaskier says quickly, even as Geralt’s blood starts to rush loudly in his ears. “And Geralt’s been so busy lately with --”

“With?”

Yennefer’s tone is pointed. Geralt’s faintly reminded of a predator that’s sniffed out the weakest member of the pack. Jaskier’s eyes go wide.

“W-well, you know - he’s bartending at Lyria, now, like three times a week. And he still goes to his dad’s ranch every other weekend to see Roach and he’s --”

“Hanging out with me,” Yennefer finishes. She’s still leaning on her forearms.

Lucia picks that moment to come back with Jaskier’s order. He hides the beetroot colour of his face behind the drink and chugs half of it. He taps lightly at the glass with a fingernail. Geralt finds himself still oddly tongue-tied.

Finally, Jaskier says ruefully, “I won’t pretend that’s not true.”

Yennefer appraises him for a moment. “Good,” she says. “You look like you’d be a horrible liar.”

“Excuse me?”

“Shots,” says Geralt, having mercifully regained his capacity for speech. “Let’s do them. Now.”

Jaskier nods along like it’s the most brilliant suggestion he’s ever heard. “Yes, good idea. Oh, oh, oh! There’s this shot called Cat that I swear will, like, make your vision go dark for a moment. It’s really good.”

“Let’s get two each,” Yennefer suggests.

The shots are black and smell strongly of licorice. There’s at least two or three different types of liqueurs in there, from what Geralt can tell. He feels briefly and strongly sorry for his liver.

“Should we, like - toast to something?” Jaskier asks uncertainly, one of the shots already in his hand.

Yennefer shrugs. “This has been awkward enough, don’t you think? Let’s just drink.”

Jesus Christ. Geralt nearly chokes on his beer, but Jaskier seems to get a kick out of it. He tips his head back and laughs. It’s warm and sincere. Geralt chuckles in spite of himself.

“Amen,” says Jaskier.

They take both shots in quick succession. The rest of the evening is remarkably less awkward after that.

*****

Instead of going back to their flat right away, Jaskier ends up walking with Geralt and Yennefer back to Yennefer’s place.

Geralt is acutely aware of Jaskier just a few feet behind them as he says goodbye to Yennefer in front of her door. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, yeah?” Yennefer says. She winds a finger around a lock of Geralt’s hair, tugging lightly. He’s got a thing for getting his hair pulled. Yennefer figured that one out pretty quickly.

“Yeah,” says Geralt. “Have fun with Istredd.”

He means that sincerely.

Yennefer steps closer into Geralt’s space. “I will. You have fun with your boyfriend,” she whispers low and teasing in his ear, nibbling his lobe.

“Yen --”

“Alright, alright.”

There’s a press of lips against Geralt’s, and he melts into the kiss, bookending her slender hips between his hands. Yennefer tastes very faintly of that Golden Oriole cocktail she ordered and of licorice. Christ Almighty he loves her.

When she disappears into the lift, Geralt turns back around. Jaskier smiles at him a little, tight-lipped and awkward.

Their walk home is spent largely in silence.

It’s unusual. Jaskier’s not one for silence, preferring to fill empty space with conversation. But he’s curiously quiet. Not even humming. There’s only the sound of their shoes on the pavement between them; the occasional flickering of a street light.

Geralt clears his throat, willing himself not to be nervous. “So. What did you think of Yen?”

Jaskier draws his shoulders up tight, burrowing into his jacket. It’s no longer blistering hot outside, but it’s not cold either. “She’s uh,” he begins, huffing out a laugh. “She’s exactly how you described. Gorgeous and ambitious and, uh, really, really terrifying. I personally wouldn’t want her anywhere near my balls, I don’t think, but I get how that can be sexy for, uh, other people.”

“Yeah.” Something loosens in Geralt’s chest. “She’s definitely something else.”

“It’s clear you love her.”

Geralt looks up at the sky. There’s a faint tinge of purple to it, the way there always is the evening after a storm, when the air is still thick with moisture, sizzling with electricity. It’s the same shade as Yennefer’s eyes. He smiles. “Yeah - yeah I do.”

When he glances back down, Jaskier is already looking at him. There’s a smile on his face, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I’m happy for you, Geralt,” he murmurs.

The words are sincere, but Geralt can’t help but notice that Jaskier sounds sad.

“Yennefer’s poly,” Geralt blurts out, his idiot mouth running ahead of him before his brain can catch up.

Jaskier seems just as taken aback by the outburst. His eyes are saucers. “What?”

“We’re not exclusive. We’re in a serious relationship,” Geralt amends quickly, “But - Yennefer’s poly.”

“Geralt. Why are you telling me this?”

I don’t know. The thought is horrifying. Geralt just looks at Jaskier desperately. Silent.

It’s deafening. Jaskier’s expression crumples and he shakes his head, letting out a broken scoff. “Figures. I need a walk so I’m just - I’m gonna go.”

“Jaskier. We’re almost back --”

Jaskier’s already turned away. “I’ll see you around, Geralt.”

Geralt stays frozen on the sidewalk.

What the fuck just happened?

*****

[little-eye to “that 34+35 drive”] Post-first full week of class celebratory Maccas?

[notgerard to “that 34+35 drive”] I can drive.

[daaaaamndelion to “that 34+35 drive”] I’m pretty tired so I’m just gonna go back home. But enjoy!

*****

A month into the new term, Jaskier becomes a ghost in Geralt’s life.

“Can’t hang out, sorry. Theatre’s taking up all of my time,” says Jaskier once.

“My music professor is an absolute douche nozzle, this assignment really can’t wait,” he says another time.

Study group tonight! Sry!!! Jaskier texts him after Geralt asks if he wants to go to McDonald’s.

Eventually, Geralt stops asking altogether. If they didn’t live in the same flat, Geralt’s pretty sure he wouldn’t see Jaskier at all.

It hurts. He replays that conversation outside of their flat in his mind over and over, furious with himself.

Geralt’s life becomes...quieter. Before Jaskier, Geralt used to revel in the silence. Now, it’s oppressive. He hates it.

“What’s crawled up your arse?” Yennefer drawls, sipping on a venti iced macchiato.

Geralt grunts, eyes focused firmly on his textbook. It’s no use. He re-reads the same paragraph three times and retains exactly nothing.

He hears the chair across from him slide out, followed by the telltale click of Yennefer’s heels as she takes a seat. She doesn’t ask again, but he can feel her gaze burning a hole in his forehead.

Fuck. Geralt shuts his textbook with a sigh. “It’s Jaskier. He’s...avoiding me,” he admits.

“Ah, let me guess,” says Yennefer, tapping on the plastic straw of her drink. Her tone is too dry. It makes Geralt frown. “It started right after we all met for drinks at Posada.”

Geralt cringes. “Uh. Yeah. We - we had a talk after it and it...didn’t go well.” A fucking understatement.

“Tell me about it.”

Geralt does.

“Oh my God. And you really don’t know why Jaskier might be avoiding you?” Yennefer insists disbelievingly, like she’s talking to a child who can’t figure out a simple problem. Geralt’s baffled.

“No. Should I?”

Yennefer snorts. “Seriously? Okay - no, you know what? I’m going to let you figure this one out for yourself,” she says. And gets up.

Geralt feels a little bit like when he gets unexpectedly knocked down to the floor during MMA. “Figure what out?”

Yennefer circles the table and places a hand on his shoulder. Squeezes. “This is me, telling you you deserve everything you could ever want to be happy. Stop being an idiot, Geralt.” She leans down to press a brief kiss to his lips.

And leaves.

*****

[Essi, 5:46 pm]: I need to show you something. Meet after class for HH?

[Geralt, 5:47 pm]: Sure. I’ll see you at home.

[Essi, 5:49 pm]: Let’s meet at Posada instead. 7pm.

“Ah, Geralt, there you are,” says Essi, waving him over to the far corner of the bar. She hands him a pint. “I already ordered for you.”

“Thanks,” Geralt says, taking a seat next to her. He watches her take a sip of her cocktail. Her hair is up in a high ponytail. The tips of her hair are dyed aqua now instead of pink. “So. Why are we here?”

“You and Jaskier have been moping in your separate corners for, literally, ages and I’m sick of it,” Essi says pleasantly.

Geralt reddens. “We haven’t been moping --”

“Oh, yes. Yes you have. I’m your flatmate. I’m the authority here,” Essi counters. “Clearly, you’re both beyond helping yourselves. So, in my infinite wisdom, I’m going to speed things along.”

“How nice,” Geralt says, deadpan.

The lights inside the pub start to dim. Essi swivels in her high top chair, leaning her back and both forearms on the bar. “Hush now. I’m speeding things.”

Geralt’s about to retort, but whatever dry quip he’d thought of vanishes out of his mind the second Jaskier steps onto the stage with a guitar. He looks surprisingly nervous, dressed down in grey jeans and a blue dress shirt that brings out his eyes.

“Hello everyone,” Jaskier says into the mic, eyes roaming over the entirety of the pub. Geralt’s suddenly grateful it’s dark. “I’m Jaskier, your MC for the night. But if you’ve been coming to the open mic nights over the summer, you already knew that. And also I feel extremely sorry for you.”

There’s some scattered laughter in the crowd. Geralt finds himself smiling too, even as an ugly pit of guilt forms in his stomach. With all of the awkwardness between them, he hasn’t made it to a single one of Jaskier’s open mic nights the entire summer.

That’s going to change.

Jaskier says, “We’ve got a great lineup for you all tonight. You’re just gonna have to sit through me first.” He sits on the wooden stool right behind him and strums a few warm-up chords on his guitar.

Under the stage lights, the faint circles underneath Jaskier’s eyes become more visible. His tongue is poking out of his lips, the way it always does when he’s trying to concentrate. Geralt finds himself hopelessly endeared all over again.

Jaskier starts playing in earnest. The song is slow and mournful, and Jaskier sings it beautifully, voice breaking over some of the sadder lyrics. His voice is filled with yearning. Geralt recognizes the song almost immediately. It’s a cover of Secret Love Song, Pt. II, which had a steady rotation on Jaskier’s heartbreak playlist, the one he played on loop the first week or two after his breakup with Priscilla.

Watching him play, Geralt is suddenly reminded of putting together puzzles when he was younger. There was always this moment, when he was fitting the pieces together, where he would find one piece, one particular piece, that would allow him to see the bigger picture. The rest of the pieces would follow naturally after that.

“So,” says Essi after Jaskier finishes playing. “Have I sped things up for you?”

Geralt hums.

*****

Essi goes back to Triss’s place after Posada, so Geralt is left alone in their flat to wait for Jaskier.

He distracts himself by taking out his MMA gear and wiping it all down, sitting cross-legged on his bed as he works. He puts on an acoustic playlist that Jaskier had put together for him way back when they first became friends.

Eventually, Geralt hears the telltale sound of their front door creaking open, followed by some quick shuffling. The sound of a cork popping. Wine being poured in a glass. Geralt strains his ears, and waits until he hears Jaskier’s footsteps echo across the hall, towards the bedrooms. Another sound of a door opening and closing.

Geralt takes a quick, steadying breath, trying to calm the sudden rapid beating of his heart. He steels himself, and walks into the hallway. There’s light coming from underneath Jaskier’s door. That sets Geralt’s heart jackrabbiting against his ribs again.

Fuck, he thinks.

You deserve everything you could ever want to be happy, Yennefer’s voice echoes through his head.

Standing straighter, Geralt raps his knuckles on Jaskier’s bedroom door. His pulse in his ears.

“Geralt,” says Jaskier, blinking huge blue eyes over and over again. “What are you --”

“I saw you sing tonight,” Geralt says before he can lose his nerve. He watches Jaskier's face turn pink. “Can I come in?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.”

The diffuser is humming low in the background, enveloping Jaskier’s room with the smell of eucalyptus. Geralt sits on the bed, watching Jaskier spin the rings on his fingers.

“So you were at Posada tonight,” Jaskier murmurs faintly. He looks oddly shy. His cheeks are still pink.

Geralt feels a rush of adoration swell in his chest. “Yeah. I was,” he says, wondering how he’s missed this. How he could have possibly missed this. The signs seem so clear now. Blind, he’s been blind. “You’re so dumb, Jaskier.”

“I - wait, what?” Jaskier asks, indignant. “We haven’t talked in how long, and your first move is to insult me? Do you want a minute to rethink that?”

“No,” says Geralt, grinning madly. He stands up; slides into Jaskier’s space seamlessly, makes himself fit there, the way Jaskier’s done to Geralt so many times.

Even with the diffuser working, Geralt still hears Jaskier’s quick and sharp intake of breath. “Geralt --”

Slowly, so Jaskier can watch his movements, Geralt brings his hands up to cup Jaskier’s face. His throat bobs heavily. “Jaskier,” he murmurs, trying to be brave, unafraid to be seen. “I don’t want to wait until we’re thirty-five.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says. Tears flood his eyes. Geralt kisses them away. “Oh.”

“What do you say?”

“What do I say to what?”

“To not waiting.”

Jaskier huffs out a laugh. “You stupid, stupid man.” He brings his hands to Geralt’s chest and gives him a good-natured shove. Geralt tumbles onto the bed with a chuckle, dragging Jaskier with him. Jaskier’s hands bracket Geralt’s hand. His smile is blinding.

“I’ve wanted this, for so long,” Jaskier admits. He bends down and fits his mouth against Geralt’s. “I just - I didn’t think --”

He sounds sad. Geralt’s heart throbs painfully. “I know,” he says. “Me too.” He kisses Jaskier again. Jaskier kisses so sweetly. Geralt doesn’t know how he’s gone so long without knowing that; he can’t imagine one more second spent without kissing him.

“We really are stupid,” Jaskier says right up against Geralt’s lips. Geralt can feel his smile and chases it, wanting to keep it there, keep it close. He can feel Jaskier’s hands wandering lower, sliding underneath his shirt, touching his skin. His hands are warm. Like sunlight.

Geralt only hums his agreement, uninterested in talking anymore. There’ll be plenty of time for that. They’ve waited long enough.

He unbuttons Jaskier’s shirt, tugging it off of him quickly. He doesn’t break the kiss even as he undoes Jaskier’s belt. Heat is curling in his belly. He wants.

Jaskier, for his part, seems equally if not more desperate than Geralt is to get them both naked, dragging away Geralt’s shirt and pushing his sweats down. “Fuck,” Jaskier pants. “I - I’ve thought about this for --”

“I know,” says Geralt, his voice rough with desire, kicking off his pants. Above him, Jaskier is also finally, blessedly naked. “I know.” He mouths at Jaskier’s neck, sucks at it lightly. He feels the way Jaskier shudders at that and files it away for later.

Later. The thought makes Geralt’s head spin. His skin erupts with gooseflesh. His cock is already hard, brushing up against Jaskier’s thigh. It’s so much and not nearly enough. Geralt wants more.

Jaskier fits himself between Geralt’s legs, kissing down Geralt’s chest, touching every inch of skin he can. “I’d have waited for you,” he says. “Until we were thirty-five - longer even. As long as it took.”

Geralt squeezes his eyes shut, a groan pushing its way past his teeth. His hands fist in Jaskier’s hair, tugging him back. The moan Jaskier lets out goes straight to his cock. “Jaskier --”

“Don’t hide from me, Geralt. Please. Open your eyes. Let me see you,” Jaskier says and Geralt listens, because he’s never been able to refuse Jaskier. He looks into that impossible shade of blue. He doesn’t know how he hadn’t seen it earlier. It’s there in the crinkle of Jaskier’s eyes.

Jaskier thumbs Geralt’s cheek briefly, before his hand snakes down between their bodies. “You’re so beautiful, darling,” he murmurs like it’s a secret. Geralt swallows, overcome with emotion. He doesn’t shy away from Jaskier’s gaze, not now, not when he feels so seen. Probably not ever.

“Jaskier, I --”

“I have you.”

Geralt’s head thumps back on the pillow as Jaskier gets his hand around both their cocks. He thumbs over the heads and uses the moisture gathered there to ease the slide. He fists a hand in the comforter beneath him.

“Beautiful,” Jaskier says again, jerking them both off with strong, confident strokes. Geralt thrusts into the pressure of Jaskier’s fist, heat sizzling on his skin. It feels amazing. He’s not going to last.

There’s time. They have so much time.

When he comes, it feels like a surprise. Geralt sinks his teeth in Jaskier’s shoulder and whispers, “I love you,” into his ear.

Jaskier’s breath stutters and his whole body jerks. He groans into Geralt’s mouth as he comes.

*****

It’s winter. There are thick flurries falling down, blanketing the entire city in snow. Tomorrow, they’ll probably be able to go sledding.

Jaskier’s head is in Geralt’s lap, his feet dangling over the edge of the couch, a book between his hands. Geralt has no idea if he’s actually getting any reading done, sitting the way he is, but he’s long since stopped questioning Jaskier’s ways.

One hand threads through that brown hair, his other hand scrolling half-distractedly through his assignment on Canvas.

Predictably, Jaskier shifts. “Hey, Geralt?” he says.

“Hm?”

“Are you actually doing homework?”

Geralt looks down. Upside down, Jaskier’s eyes somehow look bigger. “Aren’t you?” he says dryly.

“I can’t work on an empty stomach, you know that,” says Jaskier. His grin turns wicked.

Geralt knows where this is going. Of course he does. “Maccas?”he says.

It’s still worth seeing Jaskier’s entire expression light up at the suggestion , like Geralt’s hung the moon. Geralt never wants to get used to the feeling. A year ago, it would have never occurred to him that he could have this. That there could be one person, let alone two people, who saw him and wanted to see him. He’d always been content to blend in, meld into the shadows, be unseen.

He’s working on that. The past few months have been an exercise in being seen. Geralt doesn’t think he could have better teachers than Jaskier and Yennefer. It took some time, but the three of them have found a balance that works. Sometimes, Geralt thinks it should be impossible to be this happy. More often than not, he remembers that Yennefer and Jaskier would be the first to say he deserves it.

Jaskier gets up, grabbing both their coats from the coat rack. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” Geralt says. He smiles. “Let’s go.”