Siegfried finds himself alone, deep in an unfamiliar wood, crossbow in hand, and his eyes and ears straining against the all-consuming gloom. The greenery is sparce and unnervingly, unnaturally quiet as he makes his way through.
It’s easier than he expects; tracking his airborne quarry, he feels somehow attuned to the task, his eyes catching their movement across the dark sky with an almost inhuman accuracy. It also seems as if, any time he might lose them in the trees, the flock loops back in some graceful aerial manoeuvre and he finds them anew.
It must be scarcely more than an hour into his hunt before he follows their descent into a large clearing in the distance. Slowly, cautiously, he treks over and approaches the edge of it, and finds not a meadow as he expected, but a grand lake. The water is dark, but the surface is shimmering with silver from the bright, full moon.
The flock of swans have already alighted on the water, cutting smoothly through the surface in the ghostly silhouette of an almost-dance. Siegfried, bow in hand, takes aim from his position amongst the trees and, almost by accident, lets loose a shot.
The bolt sails through the air, passing between the birds and missing each by scarcely an inch, before losing its arc and slipping quietly into the water. Each swan races to take to the sky in a flurry of movement, letting loose a cacophony of beating wings, disturbed water, and distressed bird calls.
Yet, instead of pulling away deeper into the woods, to regroup and try again, Siegfried finds himself drawn out from the trees and onto the shoreline, as if by magic. The birds swarm around him, strong, heavy wings beating against him, sharp feathers cutting at his skin, until he falls to his knees, curled in on himself against the onslaught.
Then, almost as swiftly as it began, it’s over. Silence sweeps across the clearing, and cautiously Siegfried unfurls himself to take in the sight of what has caused this sudden stillness.
The scene presented to him is one he could never have prepared for.
The focus of the flock has moved entirely off of him and onto one of their own, its neck outstretched, wings spread wide, thrown up almost as if in pain, though it makes no sound. Something about the display urges Siegfried to his feet, stumbling steps dragging him forward, arm outstretched, toward the agitated creature.
Moonlight shines off the pale feathers, entrancing and pinning Siegfried where he stands. His eyes are glued to the swan as slowly it bows forward, it’s head and body becoming obscured beneath those powerful wings.
For a moment he doesn’t breathe , just caught in the watching and waiting, before that something tugs at him again, once more pulling him forward until he stands before the creature, so close he could touch it, and he almost daren’t.
But… that same sensation drawing him ever closer has him reaching out, stretching forward until his fingertips meet with soft feathers and the hard muscle and bone beneath. The bird shudders slightly under his touch, and Siegfried’s hand curls in a loose grip around the tense, outstretched limb.
Pale, downy feathers come away beneath his touch, revealing smooth, human skin beneath, dusted with dark hair. The limb in Siegfried’s grasp (an arm, a human arm ) is wrenched free and the creature, now a man, throws himself back with a harsh, anguished cry, letting lose a cloud of feathers that hover for a moment, suspended in the air, before falling to the ground around him.
Siegfried stares, taking in the figure kneeling before him. The man has his head thrown back, breathing heavy, gasping breaths, a sheen of sweat from the transformation glittering on the skin of his temple and, exposed line of his throat and collarbone.
He’s clothed in unexpectedly fine garb, a shirt of soft silk in palest purple, delicately embroidered with shining jewels and fine lace, and trousers decorated, perhaps ironically, with stark white swan feathers that shift and shimmer with his every breath.
The man tips his head forward and his dazzlingly blue eyes meet Siegfried’s gaze, and Siegfried can’t help his breath catching at how the light catches his high cheekbones and sharp jaw, his dark, tousled hair, flecked through with white in what might even be more feathers caught in the locks.
He’s beautiful. He’s also enraged.
Siegfried stumbles back, broken from whatever magic kept him pinned to the spot as the man lunges forward to his feet and straight at him, teeth bared in a snarl.
Siegfried has no weapon to defend himself, his bow lies forgotten where he had dropped under the onslaught of attacking swans. He instead catches the man by each wrist, surprised at both his own and his assailant’s strength.
“You tried to kill me,” the man spits, his voice rough and cracking from disuse.
“I did.” Siegfried replies, for what else is there to say? “I’m glad I missed.”
The man’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “I should hope so, Geralt.”
“Geralt?” His brows draw together in confusion. “My name is Siegfried.”
But it’s not, is it? Something inside him whispers. The man’s eyes have widened slightly, perhaps in surprise, or disbelief, the anger slowly leaving him in place of some other, greater tension Siegfried (Geralt?) can’t identify.
“You don’t know me?” The man asks softly, his eyes bright and mournful.
Siegfried’s frown deepens. “Should I?” There is something familiar about him, like from a dream, but his memories remain elusive.
It’s hard so to conjure and hold an image in his mind; whenever he tries to recall any memory of the face of the man before him, it slips through his grasp like smoke. He stares imploringly into those wide blue eyes, looking for some sort of assurance, confirmation, anything.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” The man says instead, which has quite the opposite effect. The furrow between his brows deepens and his forearms flex slightly in Siegfried’s grip, reminding them both of the connection.
“I’ve been called Siegfried, but that’s not my name, is it?” He asks, loosening his grasp slightly to brush the pad of his thumb along the inside of the man’s wrist, where he feels the pulse point. “It’s… Geralt?”
He watches the man nod slowly, swallowing past some feeling caught in his throat. His fingers twitch slightly, as if to reach for him, but he’s still caught in Geralt’s grip, pulse jackrabbiting beneath his fingertips.
“Geralt.” The word sounds almost reverential rolling off his tongue, sending a shudder down Geralt’s spine.
“Who are you to me?” Geralt implores, searching intently in those bright blue eyes, fixated on his own, for some answer. A deep hurt darkens his expression, but he pulls away from Geralt’s analysing gaze, and out of his grasp.
“Well, you can’t expect me to give you all the answers, dear Witcher.” His voice is strained with false joviality. He steps back and straightens himself up, looking around warily at their avian audience. “And for free… Would you offer me no reward?”
Geralt contemplates him quietly, fingertips tingling where they now hang empty at his sides. After a beat, he responds, “What would you ask of me?” It comes out softer than Geralt thinks either of them were expecting, and it takes a moment for the man to put up a teasing facade.
“How about a dance?” he asks, with a small, sly smirk.
Geralt expects himself to scoff, but again, whether by some internal or external force Geralt can’t say, something compels him, slowly, gracefully , forward.
The man’s smile broadens, softening into something genuine and just a little bit cheeky as he lithely dances out of Geralt’s reach, the pearls and feathers for his clothes glittering and shining in the moonlight.
Like something unbound, unmoored, the swan-turned-man flits around, twisting, leaping, and bouncing on his toes. And like the tide, Geralt is pulled after him. They fall into an odd dance; a game of cat and mouse, night chasing the day. Every so often they meet, the quarry caught, and each touch they share is a featherlight, barest whisper of a caress.
One turn and Geralt is caught by the soft brush of fingertips down his forearm, another, and his own graze across the nape of his partner’s neck.
One pause, between breaths, between heartbeats, and the warm weight of an arm looped over a shoulder to hold, even just for a moment.
One lift, strong hands grasping firm at the toned muscle hidden beneath softest silk, the moonlight gleaming in eyes both golden and blue.
The steps leave Geralt breathless, and not from exertion, trails of fire cutting across his skin where they made contact. His heart is pounding, slow and steady, but hard , and each time the man twirls away from him it’s harder to let him go.
Until one final turn, and Geralt catches him by the wrist, halting him firmly, but not sharply, and instead of facing resistance, Geralt feels an arm wind itself around his waist, warm and solid against him, even through his shirt.
Geralt mirrors him, his own arm sliding against the purple silk to splay his open palm against the man’s lower back. The wrist held in his grip shifts and twists to thread lithe fingers through his.
Geralt swallows, once again searching those deep blue eyes for some answer to what he’s feeling.
“I’ve upped my price.” The words are half breathless, near whispered into the air between them. If it were any colder Geralt’s sure he would have been able to read them in the air.
“Hm?” Geralt rasps, feeling more than seeing the already scant distance between them closing. “To what?”
Blue eyes flick down and back up to meet his own, indication enough without the murmur of, “A kiss.”
Their lips meet in a kiss that sets Geralt’s every nerve on fire, throwing him completely off balance but for the grounding arm around his waist, and curved spine beneath his palm.
It isn’t rough, but the edge of desperation bruises his very core. It isn’t deep, but it reaches into every part of him.
In the same breath, the same heartbeat, they both pull away and stand, foreheads pressed together, just breathing for a moment.
Geralt leans in for another, but the other man leans back, hesitant, resistant.
“What’s wrong?” Geralt asks, stepping back enough to see his face, but not to let him go.
“Geralt, I can’t.” The man’s tone is tired, resigned. His eyes flick quickly between the swans still surrounding them and the moon hanging high and proud above their heads. When he continues his words fall like stones. “Not long now, I’m afraid.”
Geralt frowns, casting his own glance around the clearing. “What does that mean?”
“ It means we’ve run out of time, Geralt, need I be clearer?” His frustration would be endearing, if it wasn’t so concerning. Geralt lets him pull away from their embrace, though his arms, and heart, ache at the loss.
“Your curse,” Geralt surmises. “How do I break it?”
The expression on his face turns wistful, mouth curling with a dark amusement that isn’t explained by his words. “ I must know the love of one who does not feel ,” He recites, though it doesn’t ring quite like something committed to memory.
Geralt catches him by the arm as he goes to step away again, “Wait, you haven’t even told me your name.”
He gives Geralt a small, sad smile and reaches up to cradle Geralt’s face between his hands, fixing him with a piercing blue stare. “You know it, Geralt. You just have to remember .”
He captures Geralt’s lips in another kiss, every bit as fiery and desperate as the first, and with an added ferocity that once again leaves Geralt breathless.
When he pulls away the clearing is dark, as if the moon has fallen under a shroud, and there’s a chill that trickles down Geralt’s spine. They’re out of time.