Jaskier isn’t talking.
“Are you hurt?” Geralt asks again.
Jaskier is not fine. He’s shaking like a leaf and clutching his stomach and he’s not talking.
“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.
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 is not going to leave the corner, so there is only one thing to do.
“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.”
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.
Jaskier must have cried himself to sleep at some point during the night, because he’s sleeping soundly when Geralt gets up in the morning.
Geralt looks down at him, so serene, so peaceful. After three days and two nights without him, just the sight of him has become a benediction. The blood on his cheek is dry and flaky now, the wound along his hairline crusted over. The marks on his face and neck are even more glaring in the light of day, but he is breathing — so Geralt can breathe, too.
The coverlet is tangled loosely around Jaskier’s legs; Geralt pulls it back up over him, tucks it in around his shoulders. Jaskier doesn’t stir.
Geralt leaves to check on Roach, and when she is happily munching hay, he brings up some breakfast for Jaskier: toasted bread, hard cheese, beans with ham, and a ripe, red tomato. Jaskier loves tomatoes; it will make for a nice surprise when he wakes up.
Jaskier is already awake when Geralt returns, though, huddled against the wall on the far corner of the bed, knees folded up to his chest, arms hugging his legs tightly. He’d woken up alone, afraid.
Geralt sits down on the edge of the bed and holds out the plate of food like a peace offering.
Tears in his eyes, Jaskier shakes his head, declining.
It’s too much food, too heavy, too rich, too soon. Jaskier doesn’t feel well enough to eat like this yet; it will be days before he fully recovers. Perhaps weeks. Some of the damage may even be permanent.
Geralt trades him for the small bowl of beef stock and dumplings that he’d brought up for himself. Jaskier can’t hold the spoon with his broken fingers, so he sets it aside and drinks straight from the dish.
Geralt stays there on the side of the bed, keeping an eye on him as they eat together in heavy silence. There is roughly a yard of mattress between them, but it might as well be a yawning chasm, an ocean — Jaskier a tiny island.
The broth stays down, along with most of the dumplings, which is a good sign.
Geralt cuts the tomato into wedges and offers him a piece; Jaskier accepts. When it’s gone, Geralt offers another piece — and again, Jaskier accepts. It feels very much like trying to tame a wild animal, building trust.
Jaskier is not talking, but he eats the whole tomato and that’s something.
“Would you care for a bath?”
Geralt brings up a washtub and puts it by the fire, hauls up water to fill it, bucket by bucket. Jaskier hovers nearby all the while, fussing nervously with the strings on his shirt.
Geralt dumps the last bucket, drops a pat of soap into the water, and waits. The soap bobs and floats. Jaskier makes no move to get undressed.
“Do you need help?” Geralt offers, ready to ease him out of his muddy clothing and into the clean water.
Jaskier shakes his head.
Geralt doesn’t understand. He’s fucked this up, somehow, but Jaskier’s not giving him any hints.
Maybe the bath has not yet been prepared to Jaskier’s standards. The boy likes salts, fragrant oils and petals and other such niceties. Geralt has none of these things, but salt is a good idea; it would help soothe his aching muscles.
“I can find some salt.”
Jaskier shakes his head again, avoiding eye contact.
“I don’t know what you want, Jaskier...” Geralt says, trying to keep the frustration out of his tone and mostly succeeding. “Do you want me to go?”
There’s a pause — and Jaskier nods.
This is a strange, new development.
Jaskier has never been shy about his body, just as bold and joyous naked as he is clothed in frippery. They have lived in close quarters for some time now and, generally speaking, privacy is a luxury they no longer bother with. They often take turns in the bath, bare in front of each other as one steps out and the other steps in — Jaskier first, always, because he’s cleaner. On cold evenings, Jaskier invites Geralt in with him, so they can share the warm water.
Even when they are out on the road and they strip down to wash in the stream, Jaskier thinks it is the height of hilarity to splash him, or skip stones at him, or generally be a nuisance until Geralt, annoyed, finally wrestles him down and dunks his head underwater.
Geralt thought they were comfortable with one another. Still, it would be wrong to insist on being present while he bathes, so he steps out.
Standing in the hall, he can hear the light splash of water as Jaskier steps into the tub, followed by a hiss and a gasp. The sound makes Geralt’s hackles rise, but Jaskier is not in danger, just in pain — and Geralt cannot protect him from that.
Geralt sits down on the floor, resting an arm on his bent knee. Jaskier does not hum like he usually does, nor does he spend any time relaxing; the sound of the water moving is continuous until he steps out with a slap of wet feet on the floor.
When Jaskier opens the door with a towel around his hips, he doesn’t seem at all surprised to find Geralt waiting there, just takes a step back to let him in again. His hair is damp and dark and curling up at the edges. He looks thin, bones too close to the surface. There’s dark bruising on the left side of his ribs, wrapping around to his abdomen, where he’d been kicked — obvious marks from a boot with a steel toe. Raised welts on his back indicate strapping with a belt of some kind and there are some deep, unidentifiable bloody scrapes on his swollen left shoulder... where the strap of his lute would sit.
Geralt is not pleased by any means, but he had expected much worse.
“There’s salve in my pack.”
“I’m fine.” It’s all Jaskier’s willing to say and this time he sounds tired, resigned. Geralt is more inclined to believe him now that he’s seen the wounds for himself, but they still need tending.
Jaskier sits down.
Geralt retrieves the salve and sits beside him on the bed. He starts with Jaskier’s wrists; touching Jaskier makes him tense up, makes his heartbeat stutter and quicken.
It is not Jaskier’s fault, but it is still aggravating. Geralt had earned Jaskier’s trust long ago — and now he must earn it all over again because some useless piss drunk bastards thought they could get 500 gold denar without doing an honest day’s work.
Jaskier is a stubborn little thing, though, and he manages to settle down relatively quickly, remembering Geralt’s broad hands and that he is safe with them against him.
As Geralt rubs the cream into Jaskier’s smooth skin, massaging over the tight muscles in his upper back, he can feel how much weight he’s lost, all the places he is lean now where he should be soft. Of all his ills, this will be the hardest to remedy; Jaskier will continue to lose weight until he regains his appetite and there is no telling when that will happen.
Jaskier picks up the jar, handles it with idle interest, holding it close to inspect, smelling it.
Geralt studies the wounds on his shoulder, puzzled; they’re in distinct half-moon pairs, a particularly deep one near his neck.
Geralt doesn’t know of any weapon that would leave a pattern like this; it looks like the bite of animal, but the teeth are too small, the indentations too blunt.
The bandits had bitten Jaskier, dug their teeth into his skin, hard enough to draw blood. There are at least three separate, defined marks.
It’s disgusting. Something in Geralt’s blood ignites, white-hot and ancient, a primal anger flooding him. He growls, low and heavy, gritting his own teeth.
It is beyond disrespectful to bite someone — it’s demeaning, dehumanizing. It was one thing for them to have seen Jaskier as a means to an end; but they hadn’t even seen him as a person, as a living being, worthy of basic decency.
Geralt sets his forehead against Jaskier’s shoulder, closing his eyes as his blood pounds in his ears. If he could turn back time, he would take their limbs before their heads.
“Geralt...” Jaskier whispers and his soft voice is a cooling balm, taking the edge off of his rage. Jaskier is here. He is here.
It is his turn to settle down.
Once Jaskier’s thin fingers have been straightened out and wound up tight with strips of cheesecloth, it is time to find something for him to wear.
Jaskier pulls his spare trousers from the back of his lute case, but his shirts and doublets are gone, along with all but one stocking.
Geralt rifles through his own pack and gives him a pair of his stockings and one of his shirts, steel grey and plain. Jaskier pulls it on over his head; the sleeves are too long, the collar too wide, made for broader shoulders, but it will have to do.
Jaskier reaches for his dirty boots; he thinks they’re heading out now. Before he was taken, they were on their way to another hunt, another adventure. They are already four days behind schedule.
“We’ll stay another night,” Geralt says. “Roach needs a new shoe.”
Roach does need a new shoe, but it is an excuse all the same.
thank you so much for the kind words, everyone!
apologies if the formatting looks wonky — going from iphone notes to the archive rich text is not always a smooth transition. let me know if you catch any errors or weirdness <3
Jaskier wakes up during the night, heart pounding, and crawls off the end of the bed to avoid waking Geralt.
Geralt is not asleep. He watches Jaskier pad over to the window and stare out into the night, illuminated by moonlight.
Another nightmare. It’s the second one tonight. The first hadn’t been so difficult to shake; he’d tossed and turned for a bit, but eventually fallen back to sleep.
Geralt doesn’t get it.
This is not first time Jaskier has been taken captive, nor even the first time he’s taken a beating. Granted, Geralt is usually right there, goading the attacker into dealing him most of the blows; still, outside of the wretched bites, these injuries are no worse than Jaskier has had before. His captors had been human, too, which should have been less frightening and traumatic than the time he’d been drawn into a noonwraith’s circle and had the lifeforce drained out of him.
Jaskier has always recovered from such things fairly quickly. He is usually back in good spirits as soon as they’re a safe distance away — chattering about the experience, excited to put it to music, and just happy to be alive in general.
Three days is a long time, though. Geralt knows this well. Three days of not knowing.
Geralt glances back over; Jaskier is bracing himself against the windowsill now, bent slightly, breathing in rough wheezes.
Geralt frowns, sitting up.
Jaskier sucks in another breath, straining for air.
“What are you doing?”
Jaskier is breathing in tight, short pants, spiraling out of control.
“Jaskier!” Geralt scolds, throwing off his blanket and getting to his feet.
Jaskier’s lashes flutter and he chokes on his next breath.
Jaskier is gasping. His lips are turning white.
“Breathe,” Geralt commands firmly.
“I can’t- ” Jaskier shakes his head, whimpering. His breaths are little more than strained hiccups; he is hysterical. The terror in his voice sends a corresponding streak of panic through Geralt — a part of him bristling instinctively at the tone, awakening a latent protective urge.
There is a threat to Jaskier’s safety. But that threat is Jaskier himself.
Geralt grabs Jaskier roughly by the chin and ducks his head to force eye contact. The bard’s wide eyes are framed with wet lashes, pupils blown.
“Stop it, Jaskier!” he warns.
Jaskier does not stop.
Geralt has had enough of this; he takes Jaskier by his upper arms. Jaskier struggles, squealing and kicking like an overwrought toddler, but his legs are weak and his stockinged feet skid against wood floors polished with age and he weighs next to nothing, so Geralt has no difficulty dragging him bodily across the room and sitting him down on the bed.
Jaskier’s not breathing at all now, just gaping like a fish out of water, clutching his chest. He starts to wilt, fainting away... and Geralt slaps him in the face, hard.
Too hard. Geralt regrets it instantly; the strike reopens the wound on his lip, fresh blood on his chin. But it works — Jaskier is startled into a full breath, coughing, crying.
“What do you want from me?” he sobs, voice thin and childlike, and Geralt is pretty sure Jaskier is not talking to him.
All that was wound tight in Geralt comes loose and he sinks to one knee in front of him, heart aching.
Jaskier makes a soft sound, a kind of broken whine from the back of his throat. But he takes a deliberately long breath in, humming it back out shaky like a sob.
Geralt moves his hand to the side of his head, soft hair and the curve of his ear beneath his fingers.
Jaskier pulls in another slow breath, steady, lets it out. Another breath, another, and then he starts in again with the shallow panting.
Geralt takes one of Jaskier’s hands and places it flat against his own chest, holds it there. He coaches him through a few more breaths this way, exaggerating his own breathing so Jaskier can feel it, deep and slow, filling his lungs completely before steadily releasing the air.
Jaskier follows along, until the color has returned to his face and the tears on his cheeks are dry. He looks worn out. Geralt hooks his thumb into his shirt sleeve and wipes away the blood on Jaskier’s chin.
“Tell me what you need.”
Jaskier rubs his eyes, slow to respond, and his voice is a thready, tremulous thing.
“Will you lie down next to me?”
There is nothing Geralt would have denied him; in this moment, he could have asked for anything.
Jaskier crawls up into the bed and Geralt climbs in beside him, on the outside — always on the outside.
Jaskier scoots in close, watching Geralt’s face warily as he does so.
Geralt just hums, vaguely approving.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” Jaskier whispers after a moment.
Geralt doesn’t deny that he was scared, saying everything by saying nothing.
“I’m sorry I hit you.”
Jaskier presses his face against Geralt’s bare bicep, closes his eyes with a light brush of his lashes.
They both sleep.
In the morning, Geralt discovers how it feels to wake up next to Jaskier, his quiet warmth against his side, watching him blink his way back into the world in the low light of sunrise.
painfully short update, sorry 😖 more to come soon!
They can’t stay indefinitely. Even if money were not a factor — and it is — the community will only tolerate a mutant in their midst for so long. If they overstay their welcome, they’ll be run out of town with rakes and torches.
Geralt is sitting on an overturned milk crate just outside the stable door, cleaning Jaskier’s boots.
The villagers give him sidelong glances and a wide berth as they pass by. They are still cautiously respectful — but if a child takes ill, or a goat is found dead, or a family heirloom goes missing, he will be their first and only suspect.
A stiff boar bristle brush removes most of the patchy, dry mud around the soles of Jaskier’s little riding boots and a damp rag takes care of the finer dust. With a soft sheepskin cloth, Geralt buffs beeswax into the leather to waterproof and condition it, working in sections to ensure it’s coated evenly.
Jaskier has walked hundreds of miles in these boots; they have held up remarkably well, considering everything they have been through. All told, Jaskier himself has held up pretty well, too.
Jaskier is drying his face at the little washstand when Geralt returns; Geralt shoves his clean boots into his hands, unceremoniously.
Jaskier looks down at them, rubs a thumb over the leather — soft, malleable, good as new. He presses the heel of his palm against his eye, rubbing roughly, breath hitching like he might cry.
Geralt reaches out to close fingers around his forearm, holding him tightly, willing him not to fall apart.
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Geralt says sternly.
“But I threw up on your bedroll...” Jaskier admits, voice small.
It’s not funny; Jaskier was sick, again, and now there’s a mess to clean up, but Geralt is startled into a half-smile.
“It has seen far worse,” he dismisses easily.
They’ve been sharing the bed anyway.
Jaskier spends his days eating small meals and sleeping, mostly sleeping, while his body mends itself. When he’s awake, he occupies his time by folding scraps of parchment into little paper animals; along the edge of the dresser, there is a row of his tiny creatures — a fox with its tail curled around its feet, a raccoon, a bear, a wolf, a running horse, a cockatrice, wings unfurled.
“We’re leaving in the morning,” Geralt states, sitting down on the side of the bed with his stropping block and one of his smaller knives.
Jaskier, leaned against the headboard, shakes his head.
“You’ll ride with me,” Geralt assures, “until you can keep your feet.”
Jaskier shakes his head again.
“I’m not going.”
Geralt’s heart sinks. It hadn’t even occurred to him that Jaskier might not want to go with him; that he doesn’t trust Geralt to protect him anymore; that he doesn’t want any more adventure in his life.
“You’re better off without me.”
Geralt might have agreed with him once, but that was before. That was before, well, a lot of things. The truth is that the world no longer makes sense when Jaskier is not there.
“Don’t be ridiculous...” Geralt says mildly, sliding his knife across the block to hone the blade.
“Is that what I am — ridiculous?” Jaskier is overtired. This is the wrong time to try and have a reasonable conversation; Jaskier is already pulling his hair. His tone is petulant, defiant, but the shape of his little mouth betrays how close he is to crying.
Geralt sighs internally.
“You’re all right, Jaskier,” he reminds.
Jaskier’s fingers tighten in his hair.
“I don’t feel all right...”
“I know,” Geralt replies, inspecting the knife edge. “You’ll just have to trust me.”
Jaskier slowly releases his grip on his hair, watching as Geralt continues to sharpen the small dagger. He slides his feet across the sheet, tucking his cold toes under Geralt’s thigh. Geralt pauses — and then resumes his task.
For long moments, there is nothing but the steady scraping sound.
”I’m not going anywhere without you.”
When the sun rises in the morning, Geralt rolls over to look at Jaskier, still asleep: he sighs, shifting in response to Geralt’s movements, dark hair mussed, pink creases on one cheek from his pillow.
Geralt had intended to get an early start. They should have left before dawn, while the cool night dew was still clinging to the grass, the sun little more than a warm glow on the horizon, birds just beginning to stir. They have a long way to go; they are losing daylight.
But Geralt doesn’t have the heart to wake Jaskier; the boy smells like honey, light and sweet and warm, and all Geralt really wants to do is lie here and breathe him in.
Jaskier is a gift he won’t receive twice — Geralt can’t keep taking him for granted.
When Jaskier finally opens his eyes, there are three words that Geralt should say to him, but the ones that come out are: “Are you hungry?”
Jaskier nods, blinking blearily.
The glares of the townspeople are heavy in the marketplace, their murmurs hushed and suspicious; Geralt wishes Jaskier were around to soften his image — skipping along behind him, grinning at the men and winking at the ladies, tugging on Geralt’s sleeves to get his attention like an overgrown child. It is a strange thing to long for, considering how he’d cursed it at the time.
There is just enough coin left to buy oats for Roach, some herbs that are hard to find growing wild, and a few other sundries for the road ahead.
The sun is high in the sky when Geralt finally secures the saddlebags.
Jaskier looks uneasy as he steps into the busy street; it’s his first time out of their room since the incident and he shies away from passersby, shifting closer to Geralt as he hooks the strap of his lute case over his shoulder.
Jaskier stubbornly ducks Geralt’s attempts to pick him up and put him on Roach’s back — so Geralt has to watch him limp and falter for miles, just a little, just enough for Geralt to notice. Jaskier is not complaining, but he’s not talking at all. There was a time when Geralt had thought he’d never hear the end of the bard’s aimless chatter. The wild seems so quiet without it now. It puts Geralt on edge; Jaskier’s silence used to be a reliable warning sign for danger.
They only cover about fifteen miles before the sky turns dark — and that’s a generous estimate — but it’s a start.
“You should take me back to Posada,” Jaskier says softly, over their evening meal.
Geralt growls at the thought; it’s absurd, even for Jaskier. In Posada, the bard had been living off of whatever rotten or half-eaten food anyone would throw his way, like a stray dog. No amount of coin would make him take Jaskier back there.
“It was a mistake to ever leave; I can see that now,” Jaskier continues, mostly to himself. “I was safe there... Nobody liked me, but nobody hurt me, either.”
”We’re not going back there.”
“Fine. Then... I’ll find my own way.”
“You’re not going back there.”
“Fuck you, Geralt,” Jaskier snaps, his dismal mood swinging to anger all of a sudden. “You can’t stop me!”
Geralt most certainly can stop him, but he doesn’t say it.
“Eat your dinner,” he replies mildly, stoking the fire. “I’m done talking about it.”
Jaskier cries quietly into his stew and throws his bowl at Geralt when it’s empty, frustrated.
Geralt grits his teeth, standing up on instinct to retaliate — but the way that Jaskier shrinks, the way the color drains from his face, makes him sit back down, guilt heavy in his gut.
“Are you warm enough?” Geralt asks, when the bedrolls have been laid out and Jaskier is curled up under his blanket.
There is a slight chill in the night air, but it is not actually cold; Geralt suspects Jaskier is just being obstinate, but he gets up, spreading his own blanket over the little bard.
Jaskier stares up at him, something vulnerable in his expression; he looks like he wants to ask for something, but he doesn’t speak.
“Good night,” Geralt says, lying back down on the other side of the fire.
“Good night,” comes the tiny reply.
Roach steps in closer, angling herself between Jaskier and the open forest, protective.
Jaskier’s not as cross the next day, but he’s still struggling to keep up; it will take time for him to become acclimated to walking again.
Geralt stops for a break much earlier than he would have done if he were traveling alone, because Jaskier is starting to look a bit worn down after only a few hours of trudging.
He dismounts near a small creek and leads Roach into the shallows for a drink.
If Jaskier knows he’s being catered to, he doesn’t acknowledge it, just seizes the opportunity to sit down in the thick grass on the bank and stretch out his legs.
Geralt assumes his idea of running off on his own was a result of how shirty he was last night and not an actual threat, but he can’t be sure. Geralt hands Roach’s lead down to him; Jaskier accepts it, bewildered.
“Stay with Roach.”
Geralt takes the freshly sharpened knife from his saddlebag, along with a small linen sack, and heads into the denser underbrush on the other side of the stream.
When he returns, bag full of wild pears and persimmons and bilberries, Jaskier is white-knuckling the rope lead; he startles terrifically at the sound of Geralt’s approach, jumping to his feet. Roach stands firm behind him as he backs, panicked, into her solid flank.
Geralt eases the lead out of his tight grip, trading him for the strap of the bag and moving away to secure Roach to a nearby tree branch.
Jaskier sits back down in the grass again, tentatively; Geralt sits at his elbow and eats what Jaskier hands him.
Jaskier gives him the ripest fruit, characteristically generous — and, wordlessly, they make a contest out of who can spit the seeds the farthest.
One of Jaskier’s makes it all the way into the creek, hitting the surface of the water with a tiny ripple. Jaskier laughs, victorious; Geralt is pleased enough by the sound to angle him a small smile, accepting defeat.
Jaskier lies back in the soft grass and dozes off under the dappled sunlight, lips stained deep red from the berries, still wearing Geralt’s shirt. He looks truly at peace, in a way that he hasn’t in some time. The air is good for him.
Roach bounces her head. She’s right; they should get going. They really are making horrible time. The ekhidna has probably eaten the entire village by now.
“Let him rest.”
Geralt is content.
Jaskier wakes with a gasp, disoriented; Geralt puts a firm hand on his chest to ground him.
“Time to go?”
Two days later, Jaskier climbs a tree and refuses to come down.
Geralt paces back and forth at the bottom, restlessly. He briefly considers climbing up after him and dragging him down, but all that will do is further upset him.
Roach blusters, unconcerned, wandering off to find some clover.
It’s a test.
If Geralt leaves now, it will confirm what Jaskier already believes to be true: that he is useless, unwanted, a burden best abandoned.
Geralt can relate to the feeling that the world would be better off without him; so he sits down, leans back against the thick trunk of the tree, and whittles at a hollow stick. Locusts hum in the dry grass, songbirds flying low to catch them when they jump.
He’s just blowing away the last curls of shaved wood when Jaskier’s soft boots touch the ground beside him.
Geralt ties a knot in the twine and stands; he doesn’t acknowledge the apology, just hands him the little willow whistle he made.
Jaskier loops the string around his neck and lifts the whistle to his mouth to blow gently. A note rings out of it, high and clear; it will carry farther than his voice. Geralt commits the sound to memory. Jaskier.
Geralt walks with him, leading Roach instead of riding, until the sun goes down.
“I’m a mess, Geralt...” Jaskier says to the darkness.
Geralt doesn’t open his eyes.
“Then you’re my mess. Go to sleep.”
my readers can have a little happiness, as a treat
Jaskier is still not talking, not really. In a way, it feels like Geralt had only rescued part of him that night, like something important had been left behind in the dark woods. He’s getting better, but Jaskier after the incident is a different person: he doesn't carry himself with that familiar relaxed ease, rarely smiles, has trouble making eye contact.
He hasn't played his lute in a fortnight.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get out of there,” Jaskier says, apropos of nothing, as he plucks the leaves off a handful of wild spinach and drops them into the steaming pot.
Geralt angles his gaze towards Jaskier’s defeated posture. It’s the first time he’s spoken about what happened.
“You didn’t think I’d come for you?”
Jaskier looks down at his hands and is silent for one long moment, biting his lower lip, hesitating, as if he knows Geralt is not going to like the answer.
“Not really...” he whispers, fidgeting idly with a stem.
Jaskier is close enough for Geralt to reach over and pull him into his arms — and something inside of Geralt stretches out towards him, aching.
“I told them you weren’t coming,” Jaskier explains. “I told them you’d know it was a trap and you wouldn’t- you wouldn’t come. I said it so many times, I... I just.”
“You started to believe it.”
Jaskier nods. The fire snaps, wood shifting with a small spray of sparks.
“You don’t need me.”
Jaskier continues to tear off leaves, more aggressively now, tension in his shoulders.
“It’s true,” he says firmly.
Is it true? In the strictest sense, Geralt does not need Jaskier — but then he thinks about the days without him, not knowing if he was dead or alive.
“And I’m the last thing anyone would ever want...”
Geralt growls at this.
Jaskier tosses the remnants of the plants into the fire and stands to leave; Geralt stands, too, catching his hand.
Jaskier turns to look up at him, eyes soulful, pained, face illuminated by the glow of the fire. He swallows hard, a pull of the muscles in his throat. His soft lips part to speak, but the words don’t come.
The way that Geralt feels in this moment is too much to describe, too fragile to put into words, so he pushes his forehead against Jaskier’s, closing his eyes, gripping his hand tight, like a promise — and hoping desperately that he understands.
Jaskier deserves so much more than Geralt even knows how to give him.
Jaskier tilts his face up into the contact, receptive; their noses brush and he sighs, a gentle breath on Geralt’s mouth. He reaches up, delicate fingertips on Geralt’s skin as he slides a hand around the back of Geralt’s neck, holding him there.
It’s heady, being this close, dizzying — like hovering on the edge of something immense. Geralt’s life is not an easy one. It has never been; he does not expect it ever will be. But it is easier with Jaskier in it. More eventful, yes. Still... easier. Lighter.
They spend one long moment there together, sharing a tiny, blind infinity; when Jaskier draws back, he’s unwound again, soothed by the nearness.
They eat in comfortable silence, arms touching.
“I did not choose you,” Geralt says later, when the fire is burning low and a whippoorwill is calling out in the distance, lonely. “Destiny gave you to me. But I choose you now.”
Jaskier rolls over to look at him in the fading light — and gives him a smile.
*tentatively ten chapters... it depends on how well they deal with their feeeeeelings
It has been a long day of travel, much of the journey steep and winding, which Jaskier has borne stoically.
They stop in a small glade, tucked in among the craggy rock formations and pine trees.
It is the perfect place to hunt for sheep.
Jaskier chooses a spot for the campfire, clearing out a shallow bed and building a little ring of rocks around it while Geralt collects wood. Jaskier can’t convince the flint and steel to throw a spark, still, so Geralt does it for him.
Once the fire is stoked up, he goes to fetch his sword from the saddlebag.
“I’ll be back before the moon is up.”
“That’s what you said last time...” Jaskier says, mild, not accusing.
I’ll be right back. Geralt grits his teeth. Try not to get killed while I’m gone. He digs his nails into his palm, hard, harder, until they break the skin. He’d left Jaskier alone that night, defenseless, at the mercy of whoever or whatever happened to find him. He’d lit a fire like a fucking beacon and then left Jaskier behind — and here he is, about to do it again.
Geralt can’t hear anything over the rushing sound in his ears, white noise, like the inside of a seashell.
“Geralt,” Jaskier’s sweet voice cuts in.
Geralt opens his eyes, doesn’t remember having closed them.
“I didn't- ” He bites the inside of his cheek.
“You didn’t know,” Jaskier finishes for him, holding his tight fist in his hands, rubbing gently until Geralt relaxes it, lets it fall open. “It’s not your fault.”
“I should have been there.”
“I’m not a child, Geralt.”
“You had nothing to defend yourself with...” Geralt growls, eyes stinging.
“My sharp wit?” Jaskier tries, his own eyes sparkling with humor like they haven’t in weeks, blue as a late spring sky.
Geralt takes Jaskier’s face in his hands, licks into his soft, wet mouth, smearing blood across his cheek and into his hair as he pulls him in closer, closer; Geralt kisses him roughly, thoroughly, trying to fill in all of their empty, aching spaces with love, and it doesn’t matter if the tears are Geralt’s or Jaskier’s or both.
Jaskier makes a satisfied sound against his lips, opening like an invitation and letting Geralt take the lead. He is patient, relaxed, like he has been waiting for this. His hands are at Geralt’s stomach, gripping the heavy leather there to bring their bodies flush; it makes no sense for a human to trust him like this, to want him near — but Jaskier does not follow the rules.
Three days Geralt had torn apart the Continent looking for him: bribing and threatening and burning bridges and
Jaskier is here.
“I think we’re getting somewhere,” Jaskier says as he bandages Geralt’s hand.
“I don’t know,” Jaskier admits easily. “But we’re getting there.”
When he’s finished wrapping Geralt’s hand, he leads it up to his mouth to kiss the palm, lips against linen.
Geralt smiles, heart full. Again, there are three words that he should say.
“Thank you, Jaskier.”
They eat strips of dried pork and pine nuts instead of fresh mutton.
Jaskier doesn’t mind.
The path grows narrow and precarious, the early morning air dense with mountain mist.
Geralt helps Jaskier up into the saddle and leads Roach through the outcropping of rocks.
Jaskier vocalizes softly, a lilting melody, not quite a song, and his gentle voice makes the fog seem soft and magical.
i set out to whump jaskier but i sort of missed and accidentally whumped geralt instead 🤔 my bad!
here’s a healthy good times filler chapter while i rework the next plot(ish) one for the 17th time....
Jaskier is sitting sideways on the saddle, one leg hanging down, the other folded up so he can rest his chin on his knee.
“Are you sure I can’t help?”
“Enough...” Geralt growls, watching the water. Jaskier has been begging to have a go from the moment Geralt sharpened the stick.
“Perhaps I could hold the fish while you stab it?” Jaskier suggests, cheeky.
Geralt shoots him a glare.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a shadow slide past his ankle and he strikes swift with the spear.
A small flock of sanderling birds are startled out of the reeds at the sudden movement. Jaskier startles, too, losing his balance and falling backwards off of Roach — and into the shallow bog with a splash.
“Oh, Melitele’s blessed bodice!” Jaskier exclaims, voice pitched high, coughing and sputtering as he sits up.
Geralt lifts the spike; he has indeed skewered a trout. It is just large enough to share, which is lucky, since every fish within a six hundred yard radius has surely been driven away by the disturbance.
Geralt pulls Jaskier to his feet, still gasping, gives him a quick once-over. Jaskier wipes the water out of his eyes, slicking his dripping hair across his forehead.
“I’ll just leave the fishing to you, next time, shall I?”
By the time they get back to their little campsite, Jaskier is shivering, hard.
Geralt is unpleasantly reminded of the night he’d found him in the forest — strung up from a tree by the wrists, feet not touching the ground; when Geralt had first cut him down, he could barely stand at all, weak as a kitten, shaking uncontrollably.
Geralt pushes the painful memory out of his mind, digging through his bags for some dry clothing.
Jaskier stays near, even as he strips down to his bare skin; Geralt is honored by this show of trust — glad to see that the bruising that had painted his upper body has all but disappeared and that some weight has already returned around his ribs and hips, softening the bony angles.
Geralt builds a fire while Jaskier gets dressed. The sun is still shining brightly, but it doesn’t provide the same heat in autumn that it does in the summer, and the last thing either of them need is for Jaskier to fall ill.
Jaskier huddles close to the flames; sitting there, bundled up in Geralt’s old woolen cloak with the fur collar, he looks at once both tiny and regal, a perfect little prince.
While Jaskier warms his hands, Geralt wanders off to search the denser brush for some horseradish leaves to wrap the fish for cooking — and the open meadow means he can venture relatively far from Jaskier without ever leaving his sight.
Roach is standing at Jaskier’s shoulder when Geralt returns and he stops just outside the campsite for a moment to watch them interact; Jaskier is sharing a handful of mint with her, biting off the leaves for himself and passing up the stems.
Mint is one of very few herbs Jaskier can accurately identify, despite Geralt’s continued attempts to educate him — but he’s proud of himself all the same, picking some every time he finds it, collecting little bundles in his lute case.
Roach nibbles at his hair, asking for more, blustering and blowing. Jaskier tilts his head away, flapping a hand at her, but he’s smiling, endeared.
“Now, now... Don’t be greedy,” he chides, motherly, as he gives her another sprig.
The scene is oddly domestic, comforting. Jaskier graces him with a disarmingly tender smile when he notices Geralt standing there, round cheeks flushed with the cold — and a warm, heavy sort of ache settles in Geralt’s chest.
“Well, you’re pleased...” Jaskier says. “What happened?”
You did, Geralt wants to say. You.
“I found turnips,” he answers.
Geralt folds up the trout, the turnips, and some of Jaskier’s precious mint into the wide leaves, placing the finished envelope in the hot coals.
Geralt sits down beside Jaskier to wait, putting an arm around him and pulling him in close to share his body heat; they sit there together, surrounded by tall pink lupine flowers and sweet cicely.
"What would I do without you?" Jaskier asks, wistful, resting his head on Geralt’s shoulder.
"Starve," Geralt replies, kissing his damp hair.
“Are you warm enough?”
Geralt starts to sit up, ready to tuck his own blanket in around Jaskier and go without tonight.
“Geralt...” Jaskier says, soft, hesitant. “Can I come over there?”
Jaskier gets settled, back to Geralt’s front under both of their blankets, and Geralt rests a hand on Jaskier’s waist, thumbing gently over the slight rise of a rib bone through his shirt. He is cold; Geralt presses in closer, touches his forehead and then his nose to the back of Jaskier’s neck, warm breath on his soft skin.
Jaskier lifts Geralt’s hand from his side like a rejection — but he is only pulling it up to tuck against his chest, drawing Geralt’s arm more tightly around himself and lacing their fingers together.
“Better?” Geralt asks.
Jaskier hums a soft confirmation.
“Good night, Jaskier.”
“Good night, Geralt.”
Jaskier falls asleep, untroubled, heart beating strong beneath Geralt’s palm — and Geralt imagines, for a moment, that there is nothing in the world that he cannot protect him from.
sorry for the delay — the good news is that the next chapter is almost finished!
also, quick disclaimer: please do not eat any plants you find in the wild 😅🤭 i am literally making this up as i go along
“Are we getting close?”
“Mm,” Geralt confirms, packing away his bedroll — which, over the past few nights, has become theirs. “If the weather does not turn... three days.”
Jaskier is standing at the edge of the small overlook, staring out over the surrounding mountain range; a linden tree stands next to him, and a gentle tug of the breeze pulls a few of its golden, heart-shaped leaves into the vast expanse.
Jaskier yawns, stretching his arms over his head in a graceful motion.
“It could be done in two, provided we start out before midday,” Geralt says, pointedly, as he saddles Roach.
It’s not entirely Jaskier’s fault; Geralt could have woken him, but he’d enjoyed the weight of Jaskier’s head on his chest.
“I need my beauty sleep,” Jaskier defends, returning to put on his boots.
“No, you don’t.”
Geralt had not intended to say that out loud, but he won’t take it back.
Jaskier turns at the compliment.
"Geralt..." he scolds with a shy smile, his posture midmorning relaxed; Geralt’s shirt is hanging loose on his upper body, front halfway unlaced, slipping off one shoulder.
Jaskier looks like he wouldn't mind being kissed, looks like he wouldn't mind much of anything — so Geralt steps in close, puts a hand on the side of his neck, just there, where it meets his bare shoulder. His skin is warm and smooth beneath Geralt’s calloused fingers.
Jaskier looks up at him and there is something so open in his expression, sincere and unafraid.
Nobody has ever looked at him this way.
Geralt leans down, pulling Jaskier in gently to meet him.
Jaskier had strawberries at breakfast; even if Geralt hadn’t been there, he’d know because the tart sweetness is still clinging to his soft lips. Jaskier kisses back, slow and mellow, humming a tiny, pleased noise as he folds his arms around Geralt’s neck.
They will reach Tarnow, soon. Jaskier will appreciate the opportunity to rest his feet, a hot bath, bread and milk and tomatoes; but Geralt prefers the wild, where it is just the two of them, bathed in sunlight.
It is quiet in the forest at the foot of the mountain, trees blanketed with lichen and soft mosses, sunlight streaming in through the canopy in wide shafts.
Jaskier is uneasy, so Geralt gets down to walk beside him; Jaskier is still uneasy, so Geralt takes his hand, leather glove creaking in the bard’s tight grip.
At midday, they stop in a small clearing — and Geralt trades Jaskier his hand for the hilt of a sword.
He should have done this a long time ago.
Geralt gives Jaskier the sword with the silver blade; thinner and lighter, it will be easier for him to wield; and takes the iron sword for himself.
Geralt demonstrates a few basic moves, angles and posture and footwork, and they go over them together in various combinations.
Jaskier is not very good at it, but Geralt did not expect him to be; he has never held a sword before. Geralt knocks him on his backside multiple times, but Jaskier is nothing if not stubborn.
“Swing from your chest, not your shoulders...” Geralt coaches. “Let the sword move with your body.”
“It’s heavy, Geralt!” Jaskier protests — and Geralt has missed his familiar grousing.
“It wouldn’t feel so heavy if you were holding it correctly,” he says, again. “Test your grip. Let it settle in. You’ll know when it’s right.”
Jaskier sighs, unconvinced, but flexes his fingers and continues. With each blow, each block, Geralt watches the weight of the sword fall into place until finally
Jaskier swings, slicing the blade through the air in a perfect arc and bringing it down with enough focused force to knock Geralt’s sword aside.
“Oh-ho!” Jaskier crows excitedly at this small victory. “Did you see that, Geralt? Did you see me?”
Geralt, who hasn’t taken his eyes off of him all day, just says: “Mm.”
Inevitably, the sun sets, forest growing dark. In the underbrush, there are whispers of small creatures moving, the call of an owl from high in the trees.
The air is cool, but mild; there is no need for a fire tonight. Geralt removes Roach’s saddle and tack, runs his hands over her flanks and down each leg to check for swelling or sores as he does every night. He rewards her for her patience by scratching her forehead and securing her within easy reach of a large gorse bush to graze on.
Jaskier has fallen asleep sitting up against the broad trunk of an oak tree, exhausted, but he’ll be irritable in the morning if he doesn’t eat; so Geralt wakes him up and gives him the last of the smoked mushrooms before putting him to bed.
The sweat has dried Jaskier’s hair into an odd shape, and as they lie there under the blankets together, Geralt pets it back down again — gentle, but thorough.
Geralt just drapes an arm over him and closes his eyes, crickets chirping a steady cadence all around them.
Jaskier is gone in the morning.
Geralt sits up with a visceral jolt of fear, scanning the area in the dim light of dawn. Nothing serious could have happened without him knowing about it; he’s an incredibly light sleeper — and Roach is nearby, swishing her tail, nonchalant.
But not knowing where Jaskier is makes his stomach sink in an uncomfortably familiar way; he remembers returning to camp to find the fire burned down to dying embers, no sign of Jaskier anywhere, calling out his name into the darkness with increasing urgency.
The space between two heartbeats is long and terrifying, and then he hears it: the familiar thrum of catgut strings, a mellow chord.
He turns — and Jaskier is there, only a few yards away, sitting on a fallen log, tuning his lute.
Jaskier doesn't notice Geralt’s gaze on him; or if he does, he doesn't give any indication, just continues adjusting the pegs and strumming until the notes come out right.
This is the first time the lute has left its case since that night.
As Geralt watches him play, he catches a glimpse of the old Jaskier — foolhardy and charming and curious — the Jaskier who sings at the top of his lungs and braids flowers into Roach’s hair and eats all the food and fills Geralt’s life with light.
Geralt would be lying if he said he hadn’t missed him.
Geralt lies back down, settling in to listen as Jaskier plucks an idle tune, humming under his breath. Geralt doesn’t recognize the song; Jaskier pauses, playing a different variation of the same few notes — Jaskier is composing.
The earth is solid against Geralt’s back, the sky endless, cloudless; and Jaskier is making music.
All is as it should be.
but wait — there’s more ‼️
*i am reworking the structure of the last chapters so they will break in the right places... sorry for the mess!
Contrary to Geralt’s prediction, the ekhidna has not eaten the entire village.
It’s late afternoon when they finally arrive; Jaskier has been riding Roach for most of the day and he stays up there, wearing Geralt’s heavy wool cloak again, as Geralt leads them into the crowded market square — tables laden with vegetables fresh from harvest.
The villagers stare and point and chatter when they see Geralt, but the mood is generally favorable; for now, they have a bigger monster than a Witcher to worry about.
A few merchants gladly relate the dramatic tale of the first fishermen being taken, how their boats had washed up on the shore of the lake, destroyed; the hunters they sent out, never to be seen again. It is a story Geralt has heard many times, without much variation — but Jaskier listens as intently as always, jotting down notes in his little book.
No one has actually seen the beast, of course, which is both unhelpful and unsurprising; but the mayor gives Geralt a heavy purse of coin and a promise of much more if he can kill it.
A little girl with dark curls hands him a pear, like an offering, which Geralt accepts graciously and gives to Jaskier as they head towards the inn.
Jaskier slides down from the saddle outside the stables and Geralt gets Roach settled in for the night; she puts her head over the stall door and gives Jaskier a gentle nudge, nickering — he smiles, pets her velvet nose, and feeds her the rest of the pear.
A fire is already burning brightly in the little room at the top of the stairs and Jaskier heads straight to the hearth to warm his hands.
Geralt crouches down to rummage through the bags, moving potions, a few herbs, and some cured meat into a smaller satchel.
“Are we going out... Witchering tonight?” Jaskier asks, watching Geralt don his leather armor. “Surely one more day won’t doom humanity.”
“We are not going anywhere.”
Jaskier frowns and the atmosphere of the whole room shifts, cooling, like a cloud covering the sun.
Geralt doesn't want to leave him, every instinct rebelling at the thought, but the danger is too great and the thought of losing Jaskier permanently is unspeakable.
“You’re not coming with me, Jaskier,” Geralt answers plainly, cinching down a strap and buckling it in place. “Water creatures move quickly and can be killed only by magic.”
Jaskier’s frown deepens.
“You don’t want me with you.”
There is no way to say this that will not hurt him: “No.”
Jaskier turns, folding his arms. Geralt sighs internally and steps in behind him to set a hand on his shoulder; but Jaskier pulls away like he doesn’t want to be touched and Geralt shouldn’t try it again.
Jaskier moves to sit down on the bed, looking defeated. Geralt had been prepared for righteous anger, but this resigned, empty sadness is much worse.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been- I know I’ve been...” Jaskier shakes his head, lashes fluttering around brimming tears, “inconvenient.”
“Hey.” Geralt feels his own frustration building and tries to pin it down, bury it; if Jaskier hears it in his voice, he'll think it's meant for him — and none of this is his fault, none of it.
“But I’m get- ” Jaskier’s words slip, cracking. When he blinks, the tears spill over. “I’m getting better, Geralt. I am...”
Geralt kneels at his feet.
“I can’t do it without you,” Jaskier says, shaky, like his heart is breaking.
Geralt takes his soft face in both hands, angles it upwards, thumbing away his silent tears; and in this moment, Geralt feels so strongly for him that it causes physical pain — a knife in his gut, twisting.
Everything that Jaskier has been through: with Geralt, for Geralt, because of Geralt, and all he wants is to not be left behind.
Geralt would like nothing more than to crawl into the wide, plush bed with Jaskier and intertwine their bodies and never think about monsters or money again; instead, he brings their foreheads together, noses flush, sharing breath and spirit.
“Not forever, Jaskier...” he promises. “Just for now.”
Jaskier breathes slow and hard for long moments before he finally relaxes; and Geralt draws back to press a kiss to his brow.
He’s almost to the door when Jaskier stops him — taking off the cloak and draping its heavy fabric over Geralt’s shoulders, fastening the leather ties at his neck.
The monster is not an ekhidna, just an old water hag, and Geralt makes quick work of her; he cuts off the head as proof for payment and shoves it in his empty satchel, leaving the dark lake behind him.
All told, it does not take long; but it is nearly sunrise by the time Geralt returns. The shallow cut on his thigh where he’d been snagged by a swift claw is stinging sharply, muscles in his back aching.
“Geralt...” Jaskier sounds wrung out, rushing up to meet Geralt halfway, throwing his arms around him despite the mud caked into his clothes.
Geralt folds his arms around Jaskier, holding him close. Hungry and tired and hurting — still, he could tear the universe in two right now if Jaskier asked him to. Geralt didn’t know he could feel this whole, didn’t know there was anything soft left inside him.
"Are you all right?"
Geralt takes him gently by the waist, pulling him back just far enough to meet his eyes. I am now.
Jaskier breathes out slowly like he’d been holding it the whole time Geralt had been gone. He hooks his fingers in Geralt’s sword strap, where it crosses over his chest.
There's a waver in his voice and his eyes are wet and so, so blue.
“Nothing an ale and a nap won’t fix...” Geralt reassures, petting the bard’s tousled hair. “Don't worry so much.”
"But I do. You're all I have, Geralt."
The words soothe something that's been raw and aching in Geralt’s chest for as long as he can remember, like he has found his way home.
“You still have me.”
“An ale and a nap...” Jaskier says, “but a bath, first.”
Jaskier stands beside the tub, unsure.
Geralt says nothing to encourage nor discourage him, scrubbing the flaky mud off of his forearms in silence; finally, Jaskier drags his shirt off over his head, unties the laces at the back of his trousers and slips out of them.
Geralt folds his legs up to make room as Jaskier steps into the bath, displacing the water as he sits down.
“Can I wash your hair?”
Geralt turns around; the tips of Jaskier’s fingers are firm against his scalp as he lathers the soap, and Geralt closes his eyes, enjoying it.
When Jaskier is finished, he loops his arms around Geralt from behind, resting his cheek against the back of his shoulder.
“I love you...” he says, so softly it's almost like he didn't say it, like Geralt could pretend he didn't hear it, and they wouldn't have to talk about it.
Jaskier loves him; it’s an enormous, fragile, unfathomable truth — and has probably been true for some time now. Geralt takes one of his hands, kissing a bead of water off of the inside of his skinny wrist.
Geralt doesn't know how to respond, all the longing and the need closing up his throat. He swallows hard, a sudden heat behind his eyes because he can't manage to say it back even though he knows that it's true.
It's true, it's true, and it’s easy for Jaskier to say. Jaskier loves everyone, everything.
Three words. Simple.
But they won’t come out.
“Hush, Geralt... Don’t strain yourself,” Jaskier says, fondly. “I already know.”
“How can you? I never...” Geralt growls, frustrated with himself. “All this time- ”
“You said it a million times,” Jaskier replies, “in a million different ways. ”
“Shall I fetch you that ale, then?” Jaskier asks with a crooked grin.
Geralt growls low, pulling Jaskier down into the bed beside him.
Forget the ale.
“You smell nice,” Geralt says quietly.
Jaskier huffs a soft laugh, curling a lock of Geralt’s damp hair around one finger.
“Thank you, Geralt.”
“I’m not good at this... sappy stuff.”
“You’re doing all right without it.”
Geralt settles his hand between Jaskier’s shoulder blades, skin warm through the worn cotton of his shirt; so that when he closes his eyes, he can still feel the rise and fall of Jaskier’s breathing — and it's good.
It's good not being alone.