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what cannot be said

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Geralt isn't sure why Jaskier's looking at him like that until he sees the stream. He's been able to hear it for almost a mile. He hadn't realized Jaskier couldn't hear it.

"I know what you're going to say, but—"

"You're fine."

"That—that is beside the point. Hygiene is one of my top priorities—maybe my top priority, actually. And I'm not sure why it isn't yours, with your incredibly effective Witcher Nose and all that."

Actually, Jaskier has a point. What he can smell right now—he'd prefer not to think about.

"Fine. Be quick."

Jaskier starts stripping enthusiastically, and Geralt leaves him to it, exhaling hard through his nose. He wanders downstream. Whatever nonsensical ablutions Jaskier feels the need to perform are none of his concern.

The stream is shallow and clear, only a few inches of water over a layer of pebbles. He walks into it with his boots on, and splashes water up over his left thigh until he can't smell it anymore. That done, he throws a sheet of water over his face, and scrubs the dust from his forearms. He settles himself on the sunniest patch of the bank to dry, satisfied, and counts what he guesses is the number of minutes it will take Jaskier to finish whatever he's doing.

When he walks back uphill, Jaskier is still. Not. Fucking. Dressed. He's wearing breeches, at least, but his doublet is nowhere in Geralt's field of vision, and the thin linen shirt he's wearing hardly counts as a garment.

"Jaskier."

"I'm—you know what, no. I'm not sorry, and I won't repent the crime of Cleanliness, especially" he gestures emphatically in Geralt's direction, "especially not for someone who is worse at apologizing than anyone I have ever met."

"Mhm."

"Mhm. I just think you should know that about yourself, Geralt. None of us couldn't benefit from a little self-improvement."

Geralt has located the doublet, hanging on a branch, and tosses it at Jaskier.

"Button while you talk."

"Ehh." Jaskier wrinkles his nose. "Too warm for that, now." He stuffs the garment into his bag and winks. As if Geralt's some blushing maiden who'd be affected by the sight of a man's torso. Not fucking likely. 

They make good use of the morning, after that. Geralt isn't unsatisfied with the amount of ground they cover, anyway. Roach has been tethered for two days now; she's probably hungry, and he wants to reach her by nightfall. He thinks they will, if they can maintain their current pace. He skips a few cutbacks anyway, to provide a buffer for any Incidents Jaskier may manage to incite. Even though picking their way down without a path is slower, they gain what he judges to be an hour by going directly down the mountainside.

By afternoon it is genuinely sweltering, and he calls a halt so he can remove his armor. He can see Jaskier out of the corner of his eye as he unbuckles his vambraces—the bard is bent over with his hands on his thighs, breathing heavily. There's a damp patch of sweat sticking the gods-damned handkerchief of a shirt to his back, and his hair is damp and curling at the edges of his face. He's—no. No. Fuck.

He's not doing this. He doesn't need to take care of a child that isn't his, he doesn't need to bend over backwards for Yennefer's bizarre ideas, and most of all, he does not need to feel things for Jaskier. Love and destiny, it's all the same horseshit.

Geralt starts walking again the moment his armor is in his pack, and he doesn't look back to see if Jaskier is following.

The time they gained in the morning is quickly lost in the heat. Geralt's physically capable of more, certainly, but he's carrying enough that it doesn't chafe to slow his pace to what he guesses is Jaskier's limit. When he finally pauses in the shade of a pine to squint at the angle of the sun and calculate whether they'll make it to the base, he realizes that Jaskier is several paces behind.

"Greetings," Jaskier says, as he approaches. "I hate to ruin your plans with my mortality, but—and I must stress the certainty—I am certainly going to die."

He's joking, but there's a flush high on his cheeks, and Geralt realizes they haven't stopped for water in an hour, maybe two. He digs a waterskin grimly out of the packs and hands it to Jaskier, watches intently as he drinks. He's a fucking nuisance, but Geralt doesn't want him dying on his watch. Especially not after—everything. No, no, he's not thinking about it. Fuck.

Jaskier narrows his eyes suspiciously, wipes at his mouth. 

"Hypothetically, were I to waste water, would you beat me within an inch of my life?"

"Yes." His heart isn't in it.

"Ah. Look away then."

Geralt rolls his eyes and watches as Jaskier drips water into his palm and smears it across his forehead, the back of his neck. He throws wary glances at Geralt the whole time, like he might actually follow through with the threatened violence. Then they lock eyes and Jaskier licks his lips, and the humid air thickens in Geralt's lungs like he's breathing smoke.

"Let's go." He growls, and he goes.

*

 

Geralt survives the next few hours by striking a careful balance between ignoring Jaskier completely, and channeling the emotions least likely to morph into lust, or worse. Irritation works well. Anger is dangerous, too easily ignited, but tooth-gritting frustration has not failed him yet. He lets himself be annoyed by Jaskier's slowness, by the loudness—perfectly reasonable, by human standards—of his feet on the gravel of the path. It works best when he doesn't have to look at him, sweat-damp and panting, so he sets a hard enough pace to keep Jaskier out of his line of vision.

They reach Roach several hours before sunset.

Jaskier is astonishingly, maddeningly helpful—he hands Geralt the snares, before they unpack anything else, and sends him off to set them like a self-important kitchen steward. When Geralt returns, Roach is grazing peacefully in her hobbles, and Jaskier is sitting beside a small fire, whittling sticks that Geralt can only assume are meant to spit whatever he catches.

He decides to focus his annoyance on the brash display of optimism and the fact that Jaskier has helped himself to Geralt's best knife. He leaves, on pretense of checking the traps, and finds a pair of rabbits. Unbelievable.

 

*

 

Night falls before the meat is edible, and they have to sit close by the fire to have a hope of seeing what they're doing. It's messy, but they're both hungry, and there's a long period of blessed silence when they start eating.

"So," Jaskier finally says, around a bite of food. "Are we going to discuss, or just continue," he makes a little circular gesture with the bone he's holding, "until we reach civilization and you've got an excuse to get rid of me."

Geralt is not taking that bait.

"Discuss what? I hear you ask. Well. Let's start off with the fact that we fucke—"

"That does not count."

"It what? It absolutely does! If someone c—"

"Enough."

"It counts. You don't want it to, but that's really too bad, because you weren't complaining in the moment. And then—oh, right—I openly declared my feelings for you! So I'm giving you the chance to define this, which you can do however you want—no, you do not get to walk away." He leaps to his feet and cuts Geralt off before he can escape into the trees.

"We are not having this conversation now."

"Oh, that's rich. When do you want to have it, exactly?"

"Jaskier."

Jaskier lowers his voice, leans in so that he's speaking almost into Geralt's ear.

"My heart's already broken. Fucking me isn't going to make it any worse."

Things happen in a blur, after that. They're kissing, and Geralt can taste blood, maybe his. Jaskier pushes him down, and they're rutting roughly against each other, Geralt's hair tangled in the grass, and Jaskier's hands undoing buttons at a speed that is quite frankly alarming.

Jaskier fucking talks all through it, because of course he does.

 

yes. yes, yes. ah—h—yes, Geralt!

gods and goddesses, I—yes

 

Geralt can't shut him up, can only interrupt any coherency he attempts with bites to his neck and shoulders.

Then it's over, and they're lying tangled together on the ground, disheveled and panting. Jaskier crawls off him before he can be pushed, fastening his buttons matter-of-factly.

"See," he says, "clean and uncomplicated," and presses a tender kiss to the center of Geralt's palm that proves his words completely false, and goes to stoke the fire.

He falls asleep soon after, leaving Geralt to stare up into the dark sky, wrapped in his cloak.

The White Wolf, howling at the moon, his mind mocks, in Yennefer's voice.

He aches.