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All through the night, Jaskier plays on.

He plays every song he's ever written, and every song he knows, and songs that he makes up on the spot—Geralt can tell, though the bravado of the bard's performance wavers but a little.

He plays until the skin is flayed from his fingertips, and then, when he must put down his borrowed lute with shaking, bleeding hands, he sings until his voice breaks. He sings broken-voiced, rasping melodically, until the sun comes up. As the sun rises he is on his knees but still making music, beating out a rhythm on the underside of a golden bowl with his palms.

The cold-eyed fairy queen cannot say that Jaskier failed in his side of the compact. Geralt watches as at last she nods, and the pressure in his chest lessens. Fairies are bound to their word. Jaskier is free to leave this wretched hill. Jaskier is free.

"You are talented, for a human," says the queen. "Stay among us and you will live a thousand years."

Somehow, Jaskier makes it back to his feet. Somehow, he sweeps his courtliest of bows. "My lady, I am undeserving of such an honor. Only permit me to sing of your beauty when I return to the realms of men."

Sometimes, Jaskier isn't stupid. She smiles at that—the first smile they've seen from her throughout this unfortunate chain of events. "Very well." She slides a ruby ring worth a castle and a half from her long, slender finger. "Take this with my compliments and go, bard."

Jaskier does not move. It seems to Geralt that no one in the gold-hued fairy ballroom moves then. Geralt, who is lashed down by the most powerful magic he's ever encountered, does not have the luxury of moving.

Jaskier's eyes flick in his direction, and Geralt tries to blink with frantic urgency: Go—go—go, his eyelashes shout. Fairies may be bound to their word, but they are fickle, and hate to lose. Jaskier only has the slimmest window of opportunity to depart before some loophole in his bargain is called to light, and he, too, is trapped without hope of escape.

"Your pardon, gracious queen," Jaskier says. By the way he perspires, Geralt can tell that they're both fucked. If Geralt could groan, he'd groan. "I believe the agreement was that I might have the pick of your treasures to carry off, if I could please you with my little musics until dawn."

She narrows her eyes. Fuck. "Don't be a fool, boy. This ring will bring you fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams."

"Be that—be that as it may," Jaskier says, and squares his shoulders, "I'm afraid I really have my heart quite set on—that." He points, his hand only a little unsteady, and indicates the low wooden footstool upon which Geralt is miserably crouched for the foreseeable future. Gasps from the watching, glittering court of riveted fairies.

"Impossible," snaps the queen, and now Geralt can see the anger in her eyes. "The Witcher knew the conditions when he so callously helped loose its former occupant. I grow tired of bartering with you both."

It's true that Geralt was warned of the price in advance. He and Jaskier had succeeded in helping the duke's son from captivity—in a twist of events, with the aid of the duke's son's fairy paramour—and seen the young couple flee to safety. All that quelled the queen's fury, and prevented her from bringing down the hill's tunnels on their heads, was Geralt's offer to take the prisoner's place, and Jaskier's to play until sunrise.

It's true that Geralt had known what would bind him, but somewhat less true that he knew just how formidable the magics would be. He's done a mental calculus, and altered his initial estimate of being able to break the spell of his own accord in a few months of concentration to several dozen years of concentration.

It's not, perhaps, his best or smartest decision, but he made it, and there's little use in grinding his teeth. There’s no other way out for him, and he’s borne far worse. All that he will be unable to bear is if Jaskier wastes his own chance to leave. So Geralt keeps blinking at him to go, to fucking just go already.

"Many apologies, madam," says Jaskier, bowing elaborately again, "but I really must insist upon the footstool. That is the treasure I ask of you."

The queen narrows her eyes and clenches her fist, and in the distance the ground rumbles as a tunnel hastens to collapse in on itself. She smiles through blindingly white teeth at Jaskier. Her teeth are pointed and sharp.

"As you wish. It cannot, of course, be taken while occupied. You are aware of how it binds. Try, if you like, but know that if you fail, the way back to the realm of men will be closed to your forever. Either way, our contract is void, for I never agreed to relinquish the Witcher."

Geralt cannot yell or properly thrash, but he strains against the magic hard enough that he succeeds in toppling over the footstool, and him upon it. He lands heavily on his shoulder, and is fast righted by a pair of fairy guards. Surely Jaskier, the fool, will register Geralt's rebuttal in this action. Surely even Jaskier will receive the message.

Jaskier looks back at the queen, and the message bounces right off of his thick skull. "I accept these terms," he says.

When he pivots toward Geralt, he should look more afraid than he does, Geralt thinks—Jaskier, the clod, is following his own dreamy bullshit into doom. Jaskier strides across the polished marble floor with a sure step. Every gaze in the fairy court is locked on him, while Geralt is trying to glare him into not being a confounded idiot. It doesn't work.

"Right, well," Jaskier says, when he halts before Geralt. Up close, he looks much more nervous. There is sweat on his brow and his collar is damp with it, and his teeth keep catching on his lower lip. "True love's kiss. There's—ah—there's nothing to it." And he bends, the utter imbecile, and kisses Geralt full on the mouth.

Heat surges through Geralt, steals his breath away. Warms magic-numbed limbs all at once. His hand, shocked into finding it has a free range of motion, shoots up and grasps Jaskier's doublet at the throat. Geralt yanks him closer. Jaskier's eyes go wide, but he goes. He puts his bloodied hands on Geralt's shoulders and slips his tongue into Geralt's mouth, the cheeky bastard, and Geralt closes his eyes because they're bathed in blinding white light. He hears fucking bells.

The light fades and the bells stop clanging, and Geralt stands up. Jaskier is red-cheeked, but makes a smart decision for once and falls back behind Geralt's shoulder as they turn to face the outraged queen.

"What sorcery is this?" she demands.

"Only your own," says Geralt shortly. "We'll be going now. Your majesty." The briefest glance back. "Jaskier."

"Fair lady, I will spread word of your beneficence far and wide—" Jaskier starts. The queen summons a noxious ball of red light and hurtles it toward them. Geralt knocks him sideways before it can hit. Jaskier makes a grab for the footstool, tucks it under his arm, turns to the stunned crowd and says, "Erm—thank you—you've been a most attentive audience—" and then they're headed for the tunnel passageway at a dead run.

"Go!" Geralt snarls at him, and this time, Jaskier actually listens, dashing ahead as Geralt turns to deal with the first of the guards sent after them. They're dispatched easily enough, but more of their fellows are poised for action, armed with bows and wicked little poisoned arrows.

Geralt traces the Sign of Quen in the air, and not a moment too soon—a rain of arrows bounces off of the protective barrier. It won't hold them off for long; he's as good as dead here at the mouth of the tunnel. With a final look back at the fairy court in uproar, he plunges into the darkness of the twisted passageway to the surface they'd traversed what feels like years ago. Knowing how time works in the realm of the fairy, it's all too possible that it has been years. Possibly centuries.

The path is steep, rocky, and uneven, and already he can hear the rumbling of the ground as it quakes under the queen's will. Geralt rounds a bend at speed and all but collides with Jaskier, who is waiting there instead of running, but he hasn't the breath to chastise him.

Together they scramble toward the distant light, dodging stalactites that fall like spears, and boulders that hurtle down at speed. The whole tunnel threatens to collapse, and sometimes does, with Geralt only just managing to get them another few feet with bursts from the Sign of Aard. He can't keep this up for long, though, the next rock-fall is sure to—

A torch suddenly blazes ahead, and the ground stills. The duke's son, wielding the torch, is gesturing at them wildly, while the fairy beside him has her hands braced to the wall of the tunnel, face contorted with effort.

"Hurry!" she calls. "I can't hold against her magic for long!"

They hurry. Staggering, panting, and with a worrying sort of wheeze from Jaskier, they all stumble free of the tunnel and out into the blessed open air just as the entire hill seems to convulse and fold in on itself. Where the entrance to the tunnel had stood is naught but green grass and a slope of pretty blue flowers bending in the wind.

Everyone sits down. Jaskier lies down. A good while later, the fairy says, "I'm sorry about my mother. She has a bit of a temper."

"A bit," allows Geralt.

"We were sure we'd seen the last of you," says the duke's son. "My darling insisted that we wait, and I'm glad of it. How did you escape?"

"Interesting story," says Jaskier. He's stretched out on the grass, eyes closed, hands folded on his breast. "Look for the ballad in two to three weeks' time. It’ll be making the rounds at all of the best taverns."

"How can we thank you?" asks the duke's son.

"Pay him what you have," says the fairy, her pointed chin inclined toward Geralt. "Your father is not like to hold up any agreement he has with the Witcher, when you return with me in tow."

"Now, sweetheart, you know that isn't true—"

But they all know that it is true enough. Wordlessly the duke's son hands Geralt the heavy purse from his belt. The fairy goes to Jaskier's side, then kneels beside him. Jaskier struggles to sit up. She shakes her head.

"You must have been very brave," she says to him, and gently lays her hands over his. "I've seen few musicians succeed in playing until sunrise, fairy or no." While they watch, the ruined, still-bleeding mangle of Jaskier's fingertips knits slowly back together. The pain must have been agonizing, the healing yet more so, but Jaskier lies quiet and still until his hands are whole again.

"My thanks, gracious lady," Jaskier says, and this time the admiring words have no hollowness in them.

A smattering of farewells, and then the couple is walking to the main road, arm in arm. They do not look back.

Geralt and Jaskier sit in the grass. Jaskier mutilates a number of blue flowers, ripping petals off one by one, scattering them to the breeze.

At last, Jaskier says, "I could eat," and Geralt starts breathing again. The riot in his chest quiets. Momentarily.

"As could I," says Geralt.

"I could really, really drink," says Jaskier.

"As could I," says Geralt.

"Let's get away from this place," says Jaskier, "and not come back."

"Wisdom at last," says Geralt. But he's smiling a little to take the bite from the words. Not that Jaskier is looking at him.

They find Roach where they left her, and mollify her with carrots from the saddle-bag. Geralt swings onto her back. Then he holds out a hand, and lifts Jaskier up behind him. It's an easily-done maneuver they mastered years ago, have executed countless times. This is the only time that Jasker hesitates before his arm steals around Geralt to hold on. Under his other arm, the wooden footstool is tucked.

Roach carries them far away, fast as she's able.

They break for camp at sunset, setting up quietly. Jaskier collects kindling for the fire while Geralt rustles up some rabbits. Then Geralt cleans the rabbits while Jaskier clears the ground and lays the stones for a fire-pit. Then Geralt lays the logs and kindling and starts the fire while Jaskier dresses the rabbits with herbs and digs out the liquor.

They've done this so often that it's like a dance, each taking their parts without complaint. Jaskier used to complain, about tasks that got dirt under his nails, or guts on his best jacket, but that was a long time ago. Neither of them say anything until the meat is well-roasted, and then speech is in regards to logistics:

"Please pass over the salt-bag," says Jaskier.

"Here," says Geralt.

"More vodka?" asks Jaskier.

"Yes," says Geralt.

They're both cradling their second tin cup of spirits when Jaskier lifts something from behind him into the flickering light. He turns the footstool from side to side. "Think it will burn?"

"It's wood," says Geralt.

"Good," says Jaskier. He pitches it into the fire, which crackles with welcome. They watch as the flames slowly crawl over the stool's intricate carvings, then catch.

Geralt clears his throat. This has gone on long enough. He's a Witcher. He shouldn't be so hesitant on uneven ground. Uneven ground—uncertainty—is his forte. Perhaps it's the certainty that's hobbling him. "Listen, Jaskier—"

"Don't worry," Jaskier says. He drains his cup and reaches for the demijohn for a refill. "I'll be gone in the morning. Drink up, Geralt, and go to sleep, and soon enough this will all seem like an unfortunate dream."

Geralt feels it at first like a direct hit, hard enough to crush the air from his lungs. If he were standing, he'd have staggered sideways, or doubled up. He flinches from the bright flash of pain. It's raw, and terrible, and like nothing he's ever felt before—like nothing anyone expects him to be able to feel.

His first instinct is to close himself best he can, so long his default. What else did he expect, save that this would of course be rejected, called a mistake? Unfortunate. But he knows Jaskier well enough to hear the catch in his voice, and his eyes are quick enough to see something like agony flit across Jaskier's face before he masks it.

So Geralt blinks at him. "Why?"

"I never intended you to know," says Jaskier. "When people try and love you, you leave them behind. For their own safety, you say. I didn't want to be left behind, and I won't be. So I'll go of my own accord, thank you very much."

Geralt looks at the fire. The footstool is coming apart, burning merrily. He looks at the empty tin in his hand and sets it down. He looks at Jaskier. He blinks, again, because it's true enough, what Jaskier says, but that's only the half of it this time.

"But I had to try and free you, and I'm not sorry that it worked," Jaskier is saying. "Or else we'd still both be under that hill. And I hope you know I'm going to get a truly epic ballad from this. I know a crowd-pleaser when I'm mentally composing it, and—"

"Jaskier," says Geralt.

Jaskier waves his hand. "I'll change the names."

Geralt is in a dark and twisted tunnel, with stalactites slicing their way towards him. He can stay still and safe and say nothing, and in the morning Jasker will be gone. Yet up ahead there is light.

"Jaskier," Geralt says again. "You know a thousand folktales."

"At low estimate," Jaskier agrees. "When I was at Oxenfurt studying, why, I—"

"True love's kiss," says Geralt. The riot in his chest has become a battle, threatens to break out into war. "Cannot come from one alone."

Jaskier looks up at him, then away. He pokes at the fire with a stick. "Stories, Geralt. Hogwash."

"You were just in a fucking fairy-tale," Geralt says, losing patience. "With fucking fairies. You fucking idiot."

Jaskier smiles. "You're trying to make me feel better. I appreciate it. It's very kind. Unexpected, some might think, but I'm the first to say that you contain multitudes. I always say—"

"True love's kiss," growls Geralt. People tell him—Jaskier tells him—to use his words, and then they never fucking listen. Words are proving useless. He moves, then, crowding into Jaskier's space, pushing him down, crawling over him. "Cannot come from one alone."

Jaskier puts up his hands, as though to deflect a blow that never lands. Geralt cinches fingers around Jaskier's wrists and presses them back into the earth. He kisses Jaskier's shock-parted lips. Then he noses Jaskier's chin up, and kisses the delicate skin of his throat. Then back to Jaskier's mouth, which is waiting for him this time.

Jaskier kisses him back with more focus than Geralt has ever seen him exert—even when Jaskier was playing until his fingers flayed, playing for his life, he wasn't so intent. Jaskier licks into Geralt's mouth, his tongue eager to find Geralt's teeth. Teeth, those are Jaskier's teeth, closing hard on Geralt's lower lip, refusing to let go, not until Geralt's tongue pushes against Jaskier's tongue, thrusts into Jaskier's mouth like he wants to thrust into—

"Fuck," Jaskier pants, breaking away for air. Geralt lets go of his wrists. "Oh, fuck, Geralt."

Geralt raises his eyebrows hopefully. "You want to?"

"Yes, I fucking want to, fuck you. Just—give me a moment here. Gods. Fuck." Jaskier presses on Geralt's immovable shoulders, and Geralt obliges him by sitting back on his haunches.

He doesn't want to: Jaskier's taste is in his mouth, headier than their drink, and Geralt’s cock is astonishingly invested after what amounts to a single kiss, maybe two if he's counting how Jaskier kissed him back. He wants to follow the inferno in his head and heart and blood, bury himself in Jaskier for relief and work the rest of it out later. He wants to fuck Jaskier like he's wanted to fuck Jaskier since—since always, when it was never worth the risk of losing, in the exchange, everything else that Jaskier was. Annoying, and flighty, and chatty, and distracting, and stubborn, and tenacious, and loyal, and clever, and witty, and fun, and adoring—

"Hold on," Jaskier says. He sits up to face Geralt, rakes a hand back through his hair. His lips are kiss-stung. Geralt did that, and now that he’s begun, he needs to do so again. "You’re saying. You’re saying, that is. You’re saying—you—love me?"

"I was also surprised," says Geralt.

Jaskier’s face does something complicated—twists up in half a smile, half a wince. "I’m in an extremely delicate state right now, Witcher," he says, and the half-smile flattens. "If you’re fucking with me, having a go—please, not about this."

"Sorry," says Geralt, and means it. "I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. I’m not—not good at this. Not good at recognizing—love. Wouldn’t have known what to call it. I—" he grits out the words. "—care about what happens to you. I’d die before I’d let anything—I was going to stay under that hill, glad enough, if you got out." He watches Jaskier for reaction. "Does that count?"

"Yeah," says Jaskier. "Yeah, we can work with that." His voice is husky with overuse, barely above a whisper now. "You aren’t fucking with me?"

"No," says Geralt.

"Are you bewitched? Enchanted? Ensorcelled?" Jaskier’s expression darkens as he considers it. "This is the queen’s revenge, isn’t it? She put a spell on you to fuck with us both."

Geralt pauses, and he double-checks, for both their sakes, but there is no foreign aura of power to be found. He knew there would not be. "No."

"That’s exactly what you would say if you were ensorcelled," says Jaskier.

"Jaskier," says Geralt.

Jaskier shakes his head. "You’re too calm. You’re too calm about this. True love’s fucking kiss. You don’t even like me."

The fire snaps as the rest of the footstool is consumed. Jaskier is painted in a wash of orange and gold.

"You know that isn’t true," says Geralt quietly.

"I know," says Jaskier. "Apologies. Old self-deprecation habits of self-preservation have a tendency to linger."

"I’m not calm," Geralt says. "This is how I sound. My heart is racing." He reaches for Jaskier’s hand, and, finding no resistance, touches two of Jaskier’s fingers to the pulse-point on his neck.

"Melitele’s tits," Jaskier breathes. For a long moment they both feel the wild thud of Geralt's heart in his breast. Then Jaskier slips his hand from Geralt’s grasp but doesn’t go far—he brushes the back of his fingers across Geralt’s cheek.

The soft touch goes through Geralt like lightning, nearly undoes him. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s been with nervous, unsure lovers, but Jaskier isn’t that. He’s been with brash, overbearing lovers, but Jaskier isn’t that. He’s never been with someone who—Geralt closes his eyes, and when he opens them, Jaskier is watching him without blinking.

"Do you want me, Geralt?" Jaskier asks.

"Yes," says Geralt.

"Did you just figure that one out today as well?"

"No," says Geralt.

Surprise before it can be buried. "Why didn’t you say someth—no, nevermind, I retract that. Why didn’t you do something, you perfectly oversized bastard?" Jaskier narrows his eyes. "Don’t—do not try and say you didn’t know that I was—amenable."

Geralt doesn’t try. "I knew that you were."

"Well!"

Geralt rests his hands in the grass for grounding. "What you said," he manages at last. "People try and care for me, and I leave them behind. Or they leave me. I didn't—I didn't want to change how we are." Didn't want to lose you, someone more deft with words and emotions might say. Geralt presses his lips together.

Jaskier studies Geralt's face, and Geralt would like to think that he understands: the bard became adept at reading what was underneath Geralt's spoken statements years ago. But Jaskier is also Jaskier, and he won't let Geralt off the hook so easily.

"And you decided, in your infinite wisdom, that I'd fall in love with you after a casual fuck?" Jaskier is kneeling, but Geralt can feel how much he wants to put his hands on his hips.

Geralt isn't exactly known for backing down either. "Fell in love with me without one," he points out.

"Oh, you absolute—" Jaskier launches himself at Geralt. His propulsion isn't enough to push Geralt down, not without Geralt's acquiescence, but Geralt ends up with a lapful of Jaskier, which is a mutually desirable result. Jaskier straddles Geralt's thighs, shoves his hand deep into Geralt's hair, gets a fistful, and pulls hard. Geralt's chin comes up. His eyes flash, he hopes, with encouragement.

"Fuck you," Jaskier says heatedly, and he kisses Geralt. It's not an angry kiss, not quite, but a kiss born of years of frustration, a kiss that plunders Geralt's mouth and leaves him aching. Geralt wraps his arms around Jaskier, learning the weight of him in his lap, trying to push away the lurking fear that he will have to unlearn it.

Jaskier pulls back at last, blue eyes dark as he considers Geralt.

"If you like," Geralt says.

Jaskier's jaw works, but his voice appears to have finally failed him. After some time he rasps, "If I like," mostly to himself. "If I like." He kisses Geralt again, gentler than before, careful about it, tongue stroking Geralt's with slow consideration, the way Jaskier samples a fine wine. Geralt shifts in place, so that Jaskier can feel just how hard Geralt's cock is under such ministrations, and just how much cock there is on offer. Jaskier gives a little gasp into Geralt's mouth, and he rolls his hips in a most promising fashion.

Then Jaskier says against Geralt's lips, "I think that we should wait."

Geralt's overheated brain takes too much time to process the sentence. His blood is elsewhere. "What."

"Your face," Jaskier says, tilting back. He's grinning. "You should see your face."

"Jaskier."

"No, I'm quite serious. Stop frowning. You know I can't bear to be the cause of frowning. I don't mean a long engagement. I just—tell me you still feel the same way tomorrow. Tell me in daylight that you're not ensorcelled, that true love's kiss is real, and I'll show you my entire repertoire in bed. It's as vast and varied as my song catalogue, Geralt."

"I am not ensorcelled," Geralt says, now so painfully hard it's all he can do to push the reply past his teeth, so given over is his entire being to the need to rut.

"The morning. Tell me then." Jaskier gets to his feet. Keeping still as he does so is one of the more difficult trials Geralt has faced. Mutations were simple compared to this.

"You're punishing me," Geralt realizes. "I deserve it."

Jaskier laughs. "Spare us both the martyr routine. I didn't say we couldn't do anything." Geralt looks up at him, brow furrowed, and Jaskier offers his hand. They walk to the far side of the fire, where their bedrolls are spread. Then Jaskier lies down, and draws Geralt in beside him.

Without speaking, they're pulled together like lodestones, kissing lips, and necks, and ears, then lips again, kissing for so long with no other impetus that Geralt's confused body is more aroused than it's ever been, confused because there is no promise of release and relief.

"Never thought I’d see you look out of your element," Jaskier murmurs. He thumbs the wet line of Geralt’s mouth. It doesn’t sound judgmental; it sounds wondering, and is spoken softly. "Hasn’t anyone wanted to just—just touch you, and touch you, and…" He’s putting word to deed, hands stroking under Geralt’s shirt, tracing lattice-works of scars, breezing over quick-peaked nipples, learning every hard-earned cut of Geralt’s abdomen. "...touch you some more."

Geralt’s not unused to being touched intimately, of course—but touching as a brief precursor to fucking, which is generally the goal. People have complimented Geralt’s body, admired it, enjoyed it—many people, in fact—but no one’s fingers have waxed rhapsodic over a scarred-over wound to his ribs. No one’s hands have trembled, with nerves and excitement, like Jaskier’s do, simply to explore another inch of him. Geralt shakes his head.

"Fools, they," Jaskier says, scowling at Geralt’s past lovers, then fast brightening. "The better for me, since this is all that I want to do with my life."

Geralt smiles above the racket of his pulse. "False. You want to win the bardic competition at Gulet two years in a row, which has never been done. You want Valdo Marx to grovel for compositional advice at your feet. You want to compose an immortal tri-part epic to be performed at the arena in—"

"Geralt," says Jaskier, expression serious now, though his lit-up eyes belie a deeper, happier emotion that may well be joy. "You know me too well. Allow me to return the favor."

Jaskier’s exploring touch seeks lower, and he finds the fastenings on Geralt’s breeches, which he undoes one-handed. Then his hand dips below the waistline, and those devastatingly practiced fingers wrap around Geralt's cock. Well, as much of Geralt's cock as they can manage.

"And this is all that I intend to worship now," Jaskier says, fervent, as he strokes once from base to tip, "may the Gods forgive me."

Geralt would laugh if his throat wasn't caught on a groan. Luckily, Jaskier seems more than content to do the talking for them both. His grip is firm and sure, just loose enough at the wrist to make every upward pull a breathtaking event.

They lie on their sides, facing each other, eyes locked, and though they're both still clothed, and this act is rudimentary by most standards, Jaskier's enthusiasm, and the fact that it's Jaskier here with him, makes Geralt feel naked and exposed. It's hardly unpleasant, but it's new and rather overwhelming, and before long Geralt is all but panting under Jaskier's hand.

"When I say that I know you," Jaskier is saying, "I've heard you do this. In the dark. In the still of the night when you thought I was asleep. How I longed to join you." His hand tightens, but does not speed. Geralt does not whimper. "Some would assume you'd handle yourself roughly. Jerk this magnificent cock hard and quick. But that isn't what you like. Is it." Geralt reaches for him in turn, palms the growing swell of Jaskier’s cock through cloth, but Jaskier bats him away, clearly enjoying having the stage. His strokes have perfect rhythm. "You like it hard, yes, but thorough, and slow. You like to be teased, don't you, brought up right to the edge and left there. I'm right, aren't I," Jaskier says, demonstrating this technique. "I know you."

"Jaskier," Geralt says. He won't beg. Not yet. "Let me touch you."

"The sight of you is all I need at the moment," Jaskier says, and fuck if that doesn't somehow send yet more blood to Geralt's achingly hard cock. "And your voice. Tell me, Geralt. Did you ever think about me when you took your cock in hand?"

"Yes," says Geralt. What good would suppressing such a truth do now, when speaking it makes Jaskier's eyes flash, and his teeth close over his plush lower lip?

"My hand?"

"Yes."

"My mouth?"

"Yes. Fuck."

"My ass?"

"Yes."

"My cock?"

"Fuck, yes, Jaskier, I'm close—"

"Not quite yet. This is far too much fun. You won't come until I tell you that you can."

Geralt growls low, and tosses his head, his body aflame with need, his skin tight with holding back. He nods, somehow.

"I've thought about you," Jaskier goes on pleasantly, his hand quickening a little, his pressure increasing, "since the day I met you. At first, granted, it was because of the way you looked. I'm terribly shallow, as I'm sure you are aware. This body of yours. Sweet Melitele. I wanted you to tear me apart. I'd have bent over for you if you'd so much as batted an eyelash to indicate it. Your face isn't awful to look at either. I saw you sitting in that tavern, and I thought—they call that man a killer, and I'll let him butcher me. Happily. I thought—I might get a song out of you, and maybe, if I was lucky, a fuck that I'd not soon forget, since I wouldn't be able to walk for a week thereafter."

Jaskier's sly hand slows once more, and Geralt nearly bites off his tongue at the double onslaught of tormenting stroke and the flow of the bard's words. Jaskier says, "Then you had to go on and be you. Noble, and self-sacrificing, and good, kind to small children and animals—what an exquisite cliche you are. Smart, too, aren't you, though you don't like to let on just how much. Gives you the element of surprise. Strong and brave and righteous—there's never been anyone like you and you know it. That's why you survived so many trials that no one else ever passed through. You're special, Geralt, and you were right—I didn't need a casual fuck to fall in love with you. That happened all on its own because I kept scrambling to follow after you, and at some point you let me catch up. I'm in love with you because I know you."

"Please—" It's never been like this. No one has touched him like this, named him like this. He thrums like an instrument come alive under Jaskier's hands. Geralt has the perfectly disconcerting thought that he is being played by a master and too late discovered a better use for his body than fighting. He would be content to stay just like this and learn all the new noises Jaskier can coax from him—only he needs—he needs so badly to—

"Yes," Jaskier says, leaning in so that his mouth presses Geralt's. "Come for me now."

Jaskier's fist gives an exceptionally tight upstroke, and Geralt thrusts into it and gives over, all of his tightly-held control snapping with Jaskier's permission. His cock spills and spills, liquid heat on his stomach and painting Jaskier's fingers, which keep their hold on him, coaxing yet more from his now-slick cock.

Geralt groans, the ecstatic surge of his release rocking him forward to catch Jaskier in a kiss, a kiss made messy with teeth and tongues that doesn't stop, and doesn't stop, even when Jaskier lets go and eases his hand free of Geralt's phenomenally ruined breeches. Then Jaskier does stop kissing him, but only because he brings his fingers to his mouth and licks Geralt's seed from one with a long, sensuous lick, mischievous eyes watching Geralt's eyes as he does so.

"Fuck," says Geralt.

"Mm." Jaskier smiles, licks clean another finger. "Tomorrow."

"Please," Geralt says, since that had worked so nicely, "let me touch—"

Once more, Jaskier moves his reaching hand away. "Told you," he says, and now Geralt can see the pink flush on his cheeks in the glow of the fire's coals. "All I needed was the sight of you. I'm—good."

"Fuck," Geralt says again. Jaskier doesn't stop him when he reaches instead to comb his fingers back through Jaskier's hair. He curls his hand at the base of Jaskier's neck and tugs him into a kiss that he hopes speaks volumes about how that felt, since Geralt's tongue is still attempting to wrap around the right words. He employs his tongue otherwise, and Jaskier seems happy to wind himself in Geralt's limbs, kissing lazily as the exertion of the whole mad adventure catches up with them.

Finally, Jaskier pillows his head on Geralt's arm, throws both an arm and a leg across Geralt's body, and settles in. "Can you sleep like this?"

"Easily," says Geralt. He thinks now—with the dying fire beside them, the heat of satisfaction making them heavy and hazy, and such closeness—now would be the time to speak, to whisper what is so difficult for him to say—yet no longer impossible. He has long struggled to recognize love, but now he knows its face. Its face is turned toward him, blue eyes closed. Perhaps Jaskier is asleep already. Geralt will wait until the morning, and prove that this is real, as he intends to demonstrate all the other ways that he is not ensorcelled. So he only presses a kiss into Jaskier's hair. "Gladly."

And since Geralt does not like to lie, and as a rule, tries not to—he is fast asleep.

He awakens only once, in the dead of night, eyes flying open to assess his status. It's an old habit, deeply ingrained, and Geralt quickly takes stock. The warmth along one side of his body comes from Jaskier. Jaskier is beside him.

Geralt remembers all, and smiles, though no one else is awake to see it. Jaskier's head is still on Geralt's outstretched arm, but he has turned away at some point in the night. Instead his back is flush to Geralt's side. Geralt rolls carefully over to fit in behind him. He curls his body around Jaskier's, and his other arm around Jaskier, a distantly aware part of him noting how well they lock together. Jaskier gives a sleepy murmur of contentment and burrows closer. Geralt's breath stirs the soft hair at the nape of Jaskier's neck. He closes his eyes.

Geralt wakes up cold.

It is before dawn, and the fire has gone out. The morning sky is grey and dark. He is alone.

He clamps down on panic, but he's on his feet with his sword in his hand before he's aware of deciding to stand. He sheathes the sword. Reasons that Jaskier has gone to relieve himself and doesn't need to be greeted by a blade. Reasons this for several moments. But the woods are quiet—grey, and dark, and still.

"Jaskier!"

Nothing.

"Jaskier!" Geralt is shouting now, panic struggling in his grip. If this is one of the bard's pranks, he'll surely hear Geralt's tone of voice and stop hiding. He'll come out right now.

"Jaskier!"

Jaskier could be injured. He could have gotten up in the night, gone into the treeline for a piss, fallen, and hurt himself. He could be unconscious. He could have been attacked by an animal, maimed. He could have been attacked by a monster, and—

"Jaskier!"

Geralt searches in a circle a mile-round from their campsite. He finds nothing save startled, wary rabbits. Thankfully, he also finds no blood, no limbs, no garish fabric torn to pieces. He finds nothing.

He trudges back toward the camp, hacking at tall plants and curling vines with his sword. They don't deserve his wrath, but Geralt is in no mood to spare them. The rabbits wisely keep away.

Don't worry. I'll be gone in the morning.

Geralt sits down hard on a rotted log as the words come back. The sun is up now, hot overhead, but he feels plunged into ice—numb, and sick, and sinking.

Jaskier left him after all. That shouldn't be surprising. That was, in fact, the most logical, understandable explanation. He awoke to find himself wrapped up in the Butcher of Blaviken and thought better of it. Anyone would. Or he'd left like he said he would, for both his and Geralt's sakes, left of his own accord before Geralt could leave him behind.

Even if Geralt had no intention of ever doing so again.

The sword thuds to the grass and Geralt puts his head in his hands. He breathes through it, and then he recalls the way Jaskier's face had looked with his hand on Geralt's cock, and how Jaskier's voice had sounded saying I'm in love with you because I know you. And the part of him that knows Jaskier—that loves Jaskier—knows that Jaskier would not leave. Not after what they'd shared. Not after what the morning promised. His heart knows.

Geralt is a master tracker, and Jaskier is incapable of blazing a trail without theatrical stomping about, and there's no sign of him. There are no tracks whatsoever, in fact, save the heavy tread of Geralt's boots. That's alarming, and Geralt's intuition is rising from a whisper to a scream about it, but he pushes away his reaction. Worry will do nothing but drive him to make a mistake. Instead he goes to Roach for confirmation.

He finds her chewing on her feed-bag in the copse of trees they'd tied her in the night before. Her saddle is nearby, and there, still lashed to one saddle-bag, is Jaskier's lute.

Geralt crouches beside it, opens the travel-case. The instrument's wood is sun-warmed, and the strings sing sweetly when Geralt runs his finger across them. Surely Jaskier must now appear to tell him off and tell Geralt to take his ungainly paws off of the true love of his life.

But Jaskier does not appear. And Jaskier would not leave his lute behind of his own volition. Not even if he was stealing away after realizing he’d made a terrible mistake in loving Geralt. He'd come for the lute, first and last.

Geralt closes the case, grabs the saddle, and returns to his horse. "Did you see what took him?" he asks Roach, as he does up buckles. She stomps her foot, ears pinned back. "Yeah. I've a good idea. I don't like them either."

Roach gazes at him reproachfully. It's Jaskier who sneaks her sugar-cubes when he thinks Geralt isn't watching.

He strokes her nose as he adjusts her bridle. "It's all right. We'll get him back."

Geralt tells himself the same as he goes to bury the ashes of the fire, pack their supplies and—his jaw tightens—roll up the bedding. If he thinks too much about the feeling of Jaskier against him, how Jaskier's mouth tastes, he'll lose control, go berserk and help exactly no one in the process. Instead he draws upon all his long years of training to make his body work without his mind.

This is how people think Witchers function—divorced from emotion, hollow shells that kill hated things for coin. His mouth is set in a scowl that only wavers a fraction when he sees what he missed when he woke up in near-darkness: there, near where Jaskier had lain, is a clutch of tiny blue flowers. Geralt rips them from the earth and stuffs the lot into the pouch on his belt.

"Son of a fucking fairy bitch," he says, kicking a stone lining the fire-pit so hard that it shatters against its fellows.

It's good to have confirmation, and that gives him an idea of where to go if his first attempt fails. But the fear he's trying so hard not to feel snakes up his spine. Fairies can sometimes be bargained with—when you have something that they want. They are renowned for refusing to return what they take.

This time, they have what Geralt wants, and he has nothing to offer in exchange. And—of this he has no doubt—they are not in a bargaining mood.