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with all my skin and bone

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Jaskier isn’t talking.

“Are you hurt?” Geralt asks again.

“I’m fine.”

Jaskier is not fine. He’s shaking like a leaf and clutching his stomach and he’s not talking.

”Show me.”

“I’m fine,” he insists, voice hoarse.

He flinches when Geralt reaches over to lift the hem of his shirt, shaking his head. He’s terrified, still — paralyzed in place, radiating fear, heartbeat galloping — even though they’re standing among the headless corpses of those who had done him harm.

Oh. Right. Headless corpses.

Jaskier pitches forward and vomits.

Fuck.

Geralt frowns, growling under his breath. He takes Jaskier by the upper arm, leading him away from the carnage.

“Wait. Oh!” Jaskier coughs, resisting Geralt’s steady drag forward, pulling against him like he wants to go back. “My lute...”

Geralt scans the bloody clearing and sees it leaning against a tree near the shredded remains of a tent, the smooth curves of its case barely visible in the low light as his potion begins to wear off.

Jaskier makes a quiet sound when Geralt lets go of him, but Geralt returns quickly, delivering the lute into Jaskier’s grateful hands.

Jaskier clutches the instrument to his chest as a parent would clutch a child, or a child would clutch a doll, as if being parted from it had been the most grave insult of all — despite the numerous physical wounds.

Once they’re out from under the tight canopy of the forest, it’s easier to see the damage.

At least two of his fingers look to be broken and his wrists are badly bruised and abraded from the ropes that bound him. Although it appears to have stopped now, the wound on his forehead had clearly bled quite a lot; dark red smeared down the side of his face, all over his neck, and soaked into the fabric of his torn shirt. The skin on his lower lip is split, surrounded by dark bruising, more bruising on his neck, and he’s having trouble keeping up with Geralt’s long strides, favoring his left leg.

Geralt is not cruel enough to make Jaskier walk when he’s this badly injured. He lifts him up onto Roach’s back and sits behind him to hold him in place with an arm around his chest.

Before they’ve even started moving, Jaskier tips off to the side to vomit again; Geralt holds him in place and Jaskier sets a hand on Roach’s mane like an apology. He wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt, sniffling.

They’re not very far from the town, thankfully; bandits never venture too deep into the wild. Geralt keeps Roach at an even trot to avoid upsetting Jaskier’s stomach any further. Still, he throws up again when Geralt takes him down outside the pub.

The innkeeper is reluctant to give them a room, looking at Geralt with deeper suspicion than he would normally warrant, even as a Witcher — and then Geralt realizes how this must look: Jaskier trembling behind him, beaten within an inch of his life.

Fifty extra ducats is all it takes to make the man’s concern for Jaskier’s welfare evaporate entirely.

Geralt helps Jaskier up the small flight of stairs and sets him down on the edge of the bed; he gasps and pants, gripping Geralt’s arm tightly. Geralt holds him until his breathing slows and he seems able to keep himself steady.

“Are you hungry?”

Jaskier shakes his head.

Geralt goes down and gets some water. When he returns, there is no sign of Jaskier in the room. Geralt panics; he drops the pitcher, ceramic cracking at his feet, his hand already on the hilt of his sword, drawing it out with a sharp metallic ring.

He can’t lose him again. He can’t.

There is movement in the shadows and Geralt turns to find Jaskier curled up on the floor in the corner, just outside the perimeter of candlelight. His lute is propped up against the wall near his feet and he’s using his folded arm as a pillow.

Geralt breathes out, returning his sword to its sheath.

“Take the bed,” he says.

“I’m fine,” Jaskier repeats and he sounds less convinced every time he says it.

“Jaskier.”

Jaskier is not going to leave the corner, so there is only one thing to do.

“Get up.”

“Geralt...” he protests, clearly put out, but Geralt has trained him well; he is already on his feet, ready on the off chance that there’s some danger that Geralt has perceived first, trusting Geralt’s instincts.

Geralt walks over to the heavy wooden bed and bends down to shove it across the room.

“Geralt!” Jaskier dances back out of the way, snatching up his lute as Geralt pushes the bed into the empty corner where he’d been lying.

“Take the bed,” Geralt says again.

Jaskier doesn’t argue this time.

Geralt spreads out his bedroll on the floor next to the bed and lies down, forming a barrier between Jaskier and the door.

Jaskier hands down a pillow, but when Geralt tries to accept it, Jaskier doesn’t let go, holding his gaze.

Geralt stares back at him and there’s something there, something behind the clear, pure blue of Jaskier's eyes, that Geralt can’t read. It's rare; Jaskier is an extremely expressive person, every emotion reflected twofold in his eyes, and Geralt thought he was familiar with all of them — so it's unsettling to be unable to interpret what he’s feeling.

All the little bard says is a quiet, “Thank you.”

“Mm.”

Geralt tucks the pillow under his head, crumpling and bunching it up until he’s comfortable, although he doesn’t expect he’ll sleep tonight.

Beneath the distant, muffled noise of merrymaking in the tavern below, is the sound of Jaskier crying quietly.