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If Not Destiny

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Geralt knows that scream.

Normally this is a good thing. He can identify most creatures by the noises they make. The trees here are too dense for him to see far beyond the trail, and sound helps him know his enemy when sight is useless.

This scream is more a distress call than a battle cry, though, and the voice is far too familiar. There are few humans he knows by their shouts, and he’s not sure how he feels about knowing this one.

Jaskier shouts again and someone laughs. Geralt jumps off Roach, sword in hand, and charges into the woods.

***

Geralt finds Jaskier in a clearing, surrounded by three bandits. His jacket is missing and one shirtsleeve is torn, but Geralt doesn’t see any blood. One bandit holds his lute, strums it poorly and laughs when Jaskier cringes.

“Get lost,” Geralt says as he emerges from the trees. The bandits just sneer at him.

“Geralt!” Jaskier exclaims. “Thank—oh!” One bandit punches him in the gut mid-sentence, then forces his knees to the ground.

Geralt surges forward and slams his sword pommel into the nearest bandit’s head. The man crumples, unconscious.

The bandit holding Jaskier’s lute catches sight of Geralt’s eyes. “Bastard’s a witcher!” he cries. He takes two slow steps back, then drops the lute and flees. The remaining bandit follows immediately.

Cruel enough to attack, not confident enough to fight—desperate townsfolk, Geralt reevaluates. Most bandits are dumb enough to fight even after they know what he is.

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, sheathing his sword, “are you hurt?”

Jaskier is wheezing on the ground, but he manages to gasp out, “My lute!”

“Are you hurt?” Geralt repeats. Jaskier coughs and shakes his head no, and Geralt can breathe again.

Geralt reaches out a hand. Jaskier doesn’t flinch away like most people do when Geralt’s near. He joins their hands without hesitation, lets Geralt pull him to his feet, and keeps their hands clasped while he catches his breath.

“Thank you, Geralt,” Jaskier says at last.

And then he smiles.

Geralt never knows what to do when Jaskier gives him one of those full-face smiles. He thinks himself worth a grimace at most, but Jaskier always beams at Geralt like he’s truly happy to see him. Like his day is all the better for Geralt’s presence, even when Geralt isn’t saving his life.

“What’d you do this time?” Geralt asks. His hand feels oddly cold without Jaskier’s.

“Those imbeciles didn’t like my newest song,” Jaskier says—pouts, really.

“Doesn’t look like they’ll hear it again anytime soon.” Geralt picks up the lute from where the bandit had dropped it. It’s in one piece, but most of the strings have been snapped.

Jaskier take the lute, cradles it, and moans, “Why is it always the lute?”

“You can fix the lute easier than your throat,” Geralt reminds him. “Come on.”

“Where are you going?” Jaskier calls. “Geralt!” He stumbles after Geralt regardless. Jaskier always trusts him, and it, like Jaskier’s blinding smiles, constantly leaves Geralt slightly off balance.

“There’s a village about a day from here. They don’t hate me yet. Do you want your strings fixed or not?”

Geralt looks back and sees that Jaskier is smiling again. There’s something more in his eyes, though, something indulgent and knowing, and Geralt can only look for a few seconds before his chest tightens and he has to look away.

He lets Jaskier ride behind him on Roach, reasons that they’ll move faster if they’re both on the horse. Jaskier grips his waist and chatters incessantly, and Geralt listens the whole way.

***

“Do you believe in destiny, Geralt?” Jaskier asks.

It’s dark and Geralt is letting the fire die slowly. He’ll snuff it out completely once Jaskier is asleep—they’ve traveled out of the forest and there aren’t enough trees here to conceal the light—but he knows that Jaskier complains when he has to fall asleep without the fire’s warmth.

For now, though, Jaskier is awake and sitting up, waiting for an answer.

“No,” Geralt says.

“Then what do you call it that, in this whole massive world, we just keep running into each other?”

“Misfortune.”

Jaskier huffs. “I’d prefer to call it good luck.”

“Good luck for you,” Geralt counters. “You get in trouble, but I’m the one getting in a fight.”

“Yes, and I’m forever grateful for all the times you’ve rushed gallantly to my rescue.”

“Hm,” Geralt grunts. Jaskier paints him so easily as a shining knight, and he doesn’t quite know how to respond. “So it’s not destiny and it’s not misfortune.”

“Friendship, perhaps?” Jaskier suggests. He looks at Geralt with wide, vulnerable eyes, and Geralt is reminded of the conundrum that is Jaskier—how he runs from one monster to hide behind another, how he stands close to Geralt and feels completely safe. Geralt doesn’t understand it, but he doesn’t hate it, either.

“Perhaps,” Geralt concedes.

Jaskier beams at him, brighter than the fire. “I knew you cared,” he says, and his voice is rich and warm.

Geralt says, “Shut up,” and tosses a pebble at Jaskier. The stone is too smooth to scratch and the throw is too light to bruise, but, predictably, Jaskier fusses.

“Go to sleep, bard.”

“But of course, dear witcher.”

The fire is almost out by now, and Jaskier shivers audibly as he lays on the cool ground. Silence reigns until Jaskier shivers again.

Geralt sighs. He moves closer, then lays down so their backs are pressed together. “I can’t sleep with your teeth chattering,” he says.

As an excuse, it’s weak; they both know this is more about Jaskier’s comfort than Geralt’s. Still, Jaskier says nothing, doesn’t tease or pontificate. It’s usually Jaskier moving closer in peaceful moments, never Geralt, and he must think that whatever he could say isn’t worth annoying Geralt away. Geralt is glad for the silence—he’s finding himself surprisingly comfortable laying like this.

A minute later, Jaskier shoves his booted feet backwards between Geralt’s legs.

“Jaskier.”

“It’s cold.”

Geralt sighs again but leaves it be, while Jaskier wriggles impossibly closer.

***

When Geralt wakes, Jaskier has relit the fire and is cooking eggs, no doubt scavenged from Geralt’s bag, and he garnishes the eggs with berries from a nearby bush. Geralt waits to say the berries are poisonous until the first bite is inches from Jaskier’s mouth, just to see his face turn the most amusing mix of betrayed and embarrassed. Jaskier hides his blush in Geralt’s shoulder, and Geralt laughs.