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Footprints Are More Easily Seen in the Snow

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War comes.

Of course it comes, and Jaskier is tempted to go down to the coast, but when he thought about the coast he thought we, and he can’t quite bear to go through with it alone.

Besides, the people will need songs to soothe them and encourage them in the times ahead. He’s known more for his love songs and his humorous ballads—and of course his tales of the White Wolf—but there’s a cycle or two in him yet. The kind that has everyone sitting quietly while he spins an entire story set to the strumming lute, history in a song. That was how he learned, as a child, and then when he had to take his damn history lessons at Oxenfurt. It’s easier to remember what king ruled when and who was married to whom when it was all set to music.

So war comes, and Jaskier stays, and he watches as Nilfgaard carves its way through the Continent. He steals parchment (like everything else, it’s become a scarce commodity) to record what he sees and to spin it into songs he can remember. Even if Nilfgaard does end up chaining them all, you can’t kill an idea, and people will remember this. They will remember.

He hears of Cintra falling. Rumors that the princess escaped. He could chase the rumors, if he wanted. See where they lead. Learn if the White Wolf found his lion cub. There’s an epic ballad in that.

He’s careful to go in the opposite direction.

It wasn’t a djinn wish. But he tries to honor it all the same.

The thing is—the thing is that Geralt never said that they’re friends. Of course he didn’t. Geralt never says anything when he can get away with it. But he would buy rosin when Jaskier was running low, when Jaskier had thought Geralt wouldn’t even notice something like that. He would buy Jaskier dinner more often than not, even though Jaskier made plenty of money off his songs. He would give his own cloak to Jaskier when it got cold, and always insisted on taking the bed closer to the door in case someone tried to attack them. He didn’t complain about Jaskier nearly as much as he could have, as much as most people did, and he let Jaskier patch up his wounds and wash his hair.

Jaskier is stupid but he’s not dumb, and he knew what Geralt was saying. They were friends. Oh, sure, Jaskier has his own ridiculous daydreams of something more, but he’s well aware that’s never going to happen. He falls a little in love with everyone he meets, and then falls out of love with them a week later after saying goodbye. Figures that the one time he falls in love and stays in love, falls right into a pit he can’t climb out of, it’s with a goddamn Witcher—and a goddamn Witcher who doesn’t want him back.

He’s done his crying, his binge drinking, and his wallowing over that, thanks. And he’s learned to shoulder it.

Point is, he knew Geralt thought of them as—as something, even if the man never said it. And he knows… sort of, knows, that Geralt was angrier with the situation, than with Jaskier. He lashed out, because Jaskier is the fool who always stays, who always follows, and he gets it, he does, but he just—

He can’t do this anymore.

Maybe Geralt didn’t really mean it but it still fucking hurt. He’s been chasing after Geralt for… wow, for two decades now. It’s time to move on. And maybe he overestimated their bond. Geralt, for all his protests, has a soft heart. Maybe he just thought of Jaskier as someone he had to indulge, someone he had to take pity on, rather than an equal whose company he enjoyed.

No matter. Jaskier is determined to find a way to etch himself into history, in ways that don’t involve his—the—White Wolf.

He roughs it, roughs it in a way that he rarely did even with Geralt. He grows used to it. He lies about his age, because he knows he looks young and the bard that made the White Wolf famous is in his forties now, not a fresh-faced man in his mid-twenties. He keeps his eyes out for a young girl with blonde hair, just in case, even though he’s not even sure why he’d bother. He writes ballads about the war, sings lullabies that soothe the crying children in the camps, writes tragedies about separated lovers that many widows request, and if his songs are all sad ones nowadays at least they’re true ones, and the people listen.

Her Sweet Kiss is a popular one. He tries not to feel split open every time he sings it.

Autumn is nigh, the first snows are starting to fall, when he’s in a tavern, singing a song he never would dare if he thought a certain someone would hear it. But he ran in the opposite direction, and he ran hard and fast, and nobody here knows what it means. They just think it’s another sad love song, and they love those.

“My lover’s hair is white as snow, my lover’s eyes are fire,” he sings, and there are people humming along, and it’s all going well—and then he sees her.

A child. Well, not a child for much longer. Thirteen or fourteen, he thinks, and oh, oh, she looks just like her mother. He feels like he’s back in court that day, staring at Pavetta as she defies all convention and her mother, and his heart lurches.

He finishes the song, makes an excuse, and then hurries over. If she’s here alone then she’s not safe, not safe at all—

“Bit young for you to be in a tavern alone,” he points out, trying not to scare her. He nods at the bartender. Food’s scarce and so’s alcohol, but they all make do. “Do you have parents?”

She raises her chin up in defiance. She is definitely the granddaughter of the Lioness of Cintra. “I’m not sure it’s your business, bard.”

Oh, she’s delightful. “Believe me or not, little lion—” It shows her he knows who she is without tipping off anyone else by using her name. “—I mean you no harm.”

“Jaskier.”

He freezes.

Cirilla also freezes, her eyes sparking with interest. “Oh, this is Jaskier,” she says, in an oddly knowing tone. She looks at him with new eyes. “You played at my parents’ wedding.”

“I did. You are the spitting image of your mother.” He smiles at her, and when the bartender (Jacob? Something like that) puts the two dinners down, Jaskier nods at them. “On me.”

He looks around—nobody is paying them any mind. He takes Cirilla’s hand, presses it. He does not dare bow, not here. “Best of luck to you, cub.”

As he turns around, he gets a good look at Geralt—how could he not—and sees that Geralt looks… not worse for wear, exactly, but tired. Run ragged. There is a weariness in the set of his shoulders and in his eyes that Jaskier can’t recall seeing before.

There is also a look of surprise.

“Sorry,” Jaskier says. Not that he’s sure why he’s apologizing. “Thought you’d’ve gone the other way.”

He skirts around him, careful not to touch, and makes his way out of the tavern. He’d been hoping to stay here a few more days but needs must. He’s not going to set himself up for more abuse, and he’s not going to sit and ache while Geralt plays happy families, and he’s certainly, one hundred percent, not going to ingratiate himself into Geralt’s life again.

The first clue that Geralt’s followed him outside are the sound of heavy footfalls. “Jaskier.”

“Yes, that’s my name.” He keeps walking. He got his own horse a while ago, Daisy (he thinks it’s funny, his name and hers together), since he knows how to actually name an animal something nice, Geralt.

“Jaskier, wait.”

A firm hand spins him around and he stumbles, nearly falls. “What?” he all but spits, the word shooting out of him with more venom than he’d intended.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving.” He always promised himself, if the time ever came, that he wouldn’t cry. So he doesn’t. “I’m giving you life’s one blessing.”

Geralt looks… pained. “It’s not safe here. And winter’s coming on.”

“I’m aware. I’ll make do. I did survive eighteen years without you, you know.”

“I’m taking Ciri to Kaer Morhen for the winter.”

“Good for you.” Geralt’s gone there every winter while Jaskier would find a court to stay and play in. They’d usually reunite in spring—such as during the djinn fiasco. He turns and starts walking towards the stables again.

“I want you to come with us.”

Jaskier freezes.

He turns back. Geralt is standing there looking like someone’s stabbed him—in pain and annoyed about it. “You’ll be safe there.”

Jaskier strides towards him, anger boiling up in his throat. He’d promised himself that he wouldn’t confront Geralt, that he’d just take his wounded heart and go, but it seems he’s once again weak. “You hurt me. You said things that would deliberately hurt me. You shoved me away and cast me aside after—after all I’d done for you.”

“I know.”

“You were angry at Yennefer and you took it out on me and you treated me like shit and you thought I would just put up with it!”

“I know.”

“You never returned my friendship, you as good as took it and spat it back in my face.”

“I know,” Geralt says, again, and is that the only gods damned set of words he knows!? “Jaskier, you’re the White Wolf’s bard. You played at Princess Pavetta’s wedding, at Cirilla’s name day celebration.” (And fuck, how does he know about that?) “You’re not safe.”

Jaskier swallows. “You really want me there? A bard at Kaer Morhen?”

It’s the home of the Witchers, and Witchers guard their secrets.

Geralt gives him a look Jaskier is familiar with. It’s the look that says don’t be an idiot. But then he stops himself, and says, with what is clearly great effort, “Please.”

Well. With such pretty words…

“I am only doing this,” Jaskier informs him, stalking forward and poking his finger into Geralt’s chest, hard as he can, “because where Cirilla is, the story is. I’m recording it for posterity. We are not friends.”

“Hmm,” Geralt says, and Jaskier nearly throws his lute at him.

 


 

The first thing that Geralt notices is the silence.

Well, maybe not the first thing. The first thing he did was surreptitiously inhale a lungful of Jaskier while Jaskier’s back was turned, to smell him, to see—

The thing is, Jaskier was the one person who was never afraid of him. Ciri’s not afraid of him now, but he could smell it on her at first, could tell she trusted him because of Destiny and not because of him. But now she smells like… like hot apple cider, like a fresh hay-stuffed mattress, like a baby bird.

Yennefer’s afraid of him. Not for the usual reasons, but she is.

Jaskier, though? Never.

So he has to check, to make sure, and when he does inhale, there is none of the sour stench of fear. But nor does Jaskier smell like he once did, like chamomile and sweetgrass.

That’s all right, then. He’ll smell better, once they get to safety.

But he doesn’t—Geralt waits for the chattering, waits for the on-the-fly song composing, waits for Jaskier to speak—and he doesn’t. And that sweetgrass smell doesn’t come back, either. Jaskier smells like musk, like rosin, like chamomile, and he always has, but that sweet fresh meadow smell that Geralt used to find soothing (not that he’ll ever admit it)… that’s vanished.

It oppresses the air, unnerves Geralt, in a way that he didn’t expect.

Sometimes—he’ll—once, Geralt woke up with a start, his eyes opening, because something in him knew that Ciri was upset. He saw that she wasn’t next to him on her bedroll and nearly leapt to his feet, but then he heard Jaskier singing, soft and low, and he looked across the fire to see Jaskier with Ciri’s head in his lap, stroking her hair.

Another time, Ciri asked Jaskier to talk about what it was like, the night her parents declared their love and were married, and Jaskier told it to her with all the pomp and fanfare that Geralt never could, dwelling with loving detail on everything from the food to the outfits, and making it sound like a grand, destined affair instead of the fucking mess it actually was.

And another time, while Geralt was hunting food for their dinner, he came back and watched from the shadows as Jaskier taught Ciri how to play the lute.

So sometimes, Jaskier speaks. But it’s never to him. Never to Geralt.

The ruined spires of Kaer Morhen rise up before them, part of the cliff, part of the forest, and Geralt breathes a sigh of relief where the other two can’t see. Ciri will be safe here. Yen will be here, soon, or so her mentor says, the sorceress who informed him she was alive but in critical condition. Ciri can train, Witcher and sorceress both, and Yen will at last be a mother. It’s all settled.

And Jaskier…

Jaskier will be safe, and he can sing his songs and strum his lute, and maybe, despite the snow, a dandelion will yet bloom.

 


 

Despite his misgivings, Jaskier quite likes Kaer Morhen.

For one thing, Vesemir is more than happy to share embarrassing stories from when Geralt was growing up. And if his stories also tell the tale of a boy singled out, a boy with great pressure placed upon his not-always-broad-enough shoulders, a boy who was silent and studious and lonely—Jaskier keeps that part to himself.

The other Witchers are all a rather gruff and silent lot, like Geralt, but they’re comfortable around their own kind. There is quiet laughter, and old rivalries and in-jokes, and none of them seem to mind Jaskier as much as he thought they would. And there are stories, stories galore, stories that would make any bard weep with envy. Other Witchers, it seems, are keen to have their deeds immortalized, if only to preserve a better name than the one that people tend to give them. Jaskier has more song ideas than he knows what to do with.

Yennefer arrives three days into it.

Jaskier… does not dislike Yennefer because she’s stubborn, or foolhardy, or bullheaded, or annoyingly beautiful or annoyingly powerful, or chaotic, or possessed of tunnel vision when she’s got an idea into her head. He is well aware that he dislikes her for a very, very, very selfish reason, and that reason is this: she has Geralt of Rivia’s heart, and she has not the whit to cherish it.

She dislikes Jaskier, as well, so that’s all right, then. They're even.

For once, Yennefer looks less than put together. She is weak and leaning heavily upon a Witcher named Remus for support. He was, apparently, in the area and contracted by Yennefer’s something or other (ex-girlfriend? Jaskier’s not certain on that point) to get Yennefer to Kaer Morhen safely so that Yen can recover and train Ciri.

Ciri’s a darling sparrow, and the moment Yen’s eyes land on her, they light up. Well, at least maybe now someone will stop trying to summon djinn to have a child. Jaskier could’ve told her years ago to just adopt, but then, Yennefer never listens to Geralt, never mind the bard she so openly dislikes.

So he’s surprised, to say the least, when he’s working on some song lyrics in the crumbling library and Yennefer sits down across from him.

It takes her a bit of time to walk places. Her pace is slower. But she’s recovering. Already the color is back in her cheeks, the glint back in her violet eyes.

“I never would’ve thought to see you of all people skulking about,” Yennefer notes. She snatches up a piece of paper, ignoring Jaskier’s perfectly polite protest of don’t fucking touch that, and reads it. “Mmm, the Black Bear, composing about other Witchers now, are we?”

“Vesemir’s a great tutor. He should be remembered.”

“I doubt Geralt will like that.”

“Geralt is welcome to throw himself off the barracks,” Jaskier replies, snippily. He knows he’s being petty, but surely he’s earned that by now? At least a little bit?

Yennefer drums her manicured nails against the tabletop. “Did he ever tell you what happened with the djinn?”

“How you tried to harness it?”

“No. When he brought you to me.”

Jaskier doesn’t remember much after entering the house. He remembers feeling foggy and confused, and aroused, for some reason, and just generally in a fuck ton of pain, and then blissful unconsciousness. “Geralt never tells me anything.”

“Figures, doesn’t it?” Yennefer gives a bitter smile. “He’ll never tell you, I’m sure, not if you put a blade to his throat, but he told me he’d do anything in exchange for my healing you. He didn’t care anything about me, so long as I took care of you. It was only after you were safe that he really even looked at me. He was…” She purses her lips. “Geralt does not truly do fear, does he? But he was, in his own way, scared. He was afraid that you would die, and the last words he would have ever said to you were cruel ones.”

“He sure mucked that up.”

“Geralt mucked up many things. Jaskier, he bound himself to me and vice versa using djinn magic. I think we can safely say he doesn’t know how to do relationships.”

“Is there a point to this?” Jaskier asks, leaning forward on his elbows. “Because I’m right in the middle of inspiration and you’re blocking my light.”

Yennefer gives him a deeply unimpressed look and stands up. “Let me put it this way, bard. It was quite telling, to me, that you seemed to hold more of Geralt’s affections and understand him better than I did, and you never needed djinn magic for it.”

Jaskier pauses, weighs that, then turns in his chair as Yennefer walks away. “Hang on, are you saying you were jealous of me? Is that why you were always making those catty remarks?”

“And you weren’t?” Yennefer shoots back over her shoulder, and well, that’s fair.

 


 

Every day, or near every day, they all do training. They always do it, but part of it this year is for Ciri’s benefit. She joins them and tries to keep up as best she can. It’s hard on her, without the mutagens and with her younger age, but she’s a stubborn cub, and Geralt didn’t know it was possible to be this proud of someone.

Jaskier has watched some of their training, like their sword fighting, in the courtyard but he’s not a part of their hunts, which means he hasn’t seen… well.

Geralt knows what a Witcher looks like after downing certain potions. He was always careful to wait until it left his system before returning to wherever Jaskier was waiting, or to town, so that nobody would be scared of his liquid black eyes, the spidery black veins like poison spreading from the corners out through his dead white skin. He didn’t want to make anyone more afraid of him than they already were, and he definitely didn’t want Jaskier putting this in his songs.

But he completely forgets as he strides back up to the keep, some of the others of his kind with him, until Jaskier exits, evidently waiting for them in his cloak which isn’t nearly warm enough (Geralt makes a mental note to get him another) and his worn down boots and freezes.

Geralt also freezes.

He inhales deeply, focuses on Jaskier’s scent, waits for the horrible cloying tang of fear to reach him—

Except Jaskier simply keeps storming up to him. “You might have warned me, you know, that some of these floorboards are rotten, I nearly fell in and broke my neck!”

Geralt stares down at him, chest still heaving from all his exertion, knowing his eyes look like bottomless pits, knowing his skin looks like that of a drowned corpse, and yet Jaskier is yelling at him as if—as if all is well. As if all is normal.

“I warned you,” he says, running on automatic, “not to go poking around.”

Jaskier huffs, but it’s the most he’s spoken to Geralt in weeks, and he’s not at all afraid of him, and Geralt—he feels something ache inside of him, something terrifying and warm, and he shoves past Jaskier before it makes him do something stupid like pull the bard in and smell his hair.

 


 

He’s not Ciri’s father, or her mother. If anything, he’s her indulging, flamboyant uncle.

But sometimes he’ll be singing quietly to himself, perched on one of the wide windowsills, watching yet another foot of snow fall, and she’ll find him. She’ll put her head in his lap, and he’ll sing her a few songs.

My lover’s hair is white as snow, my lover’s eyes are fire,

For flaming looks I burned myself, all drunk with my desire.

The snow shall melt, the fire feasts,

All living things upon the pyre—

“It’s about him, isn’t it?”

Jaskier nearly drops his lute. “Ah, cub, I didn’t hear you come up.”

“I’m learning how not to be seen.” Ciri walks up to him, sinking to the floor and putting her head in his lap. “I thought maybe, the way he spoke about you—but I wasn’t sure.”

Jaskier’s heart is thudding rather loudly. “Geralt and I were never… ah. You won’t tell him about this song, will you? It’s not even one of my best compositions. The rhymes are rather simple.”

Ciri stares at him with her young, wise eyes. “All right.” She settles herself better. “Will you sing the one about my parents?”

“Of course.” He strums his lute and resists the powerful urge to ask what Ciri means by the way he spoke about you.

 


 

Yen’s feeling better now, well enough to walk along the ramparts with him when he takes his turn on patrol.

He wants to ask how her hands are, the palms burnt and blistered from unleashing her fire. He wants to ask her what happened when she was hunting down Jaskier the other day with a determined but annoyed glint in her eye. He wants to know why she just laughed in a fond sort of way when he told her he needed her to portal him to a particular city, one known for its tailors.

But Geralt is good at a lot of things, and words are not one of them. He’s said far too many words around Yen already, the worst ones the words that bound them together so foolishly, and so he keeps silent and only offers her an arm to steady her when she needs it.

“Jaskier’s quite popular with the others,” Yen notes, which is the last thing Geralt expected her to say.

“Hmm.” It’s true. The other Witchers are glad of some variety, and glad to know that even if they’re a dying breed, they will never be forgotten—not with Jaskier composing whole song cycles about them.

Sometimes, Geralt can hear him babbling, it’ll be a masterwork, truly, they’ll name me a master for this.

If only he’d babble that at Geralt instead, but Jaskier still doesn’t really… not anymore.

“Aren’t you jealous?” Yen’s smirking a little, and if she wasn’t using him for a crutch, Geralt would be tempted to speed up and leave her behind.

“Of what?” He can’t be the only Witcher with stories told about him. He might have been… chosen for extra tests, extra mutations, but he’s hardly the only Witcher of his kind. The others deserve stories, too.

“Don’t be stupid, it doesn’t suit you.”

“I recall you telling me many times how stupid I am…”

“Honestly.” Yen rolls her eyes. “The one kind of nonsense I like about you and you’re refusing to be that way. We can all see it.”

Oh, that’s a terrifying thought. “See what?”

“How the bard talks to everyone but you, sings about everyone but you. He spent two decades being your personal puppy and now he only talks to you to scold you? Ciri once asked him to play Her Sweet Kiss and Jaskier looked so awful she recanted it immediately.”

“Wait—what does that song—”

Yen pats his cheek. “Talk to him, Geralt.”

“About—about what!?”

“You very well know what.”

No he really, really doesn’t.

“I don’t. Know,” he grits out to Vesemir later.

Vesemir snorts. “You know that one of the reasons I picked you all those years ago was your intelligence. Your strategy. And I’ll string you up by your own guts if you repeat this to anyone else, but your heart.”

“My what,” Geralt asks, his tone flat. His mentor had gotten soft—in the heart or the head—in his old age.

“Witchers have a bad enough reputation as it is,” Vesemir explains, continuing to go over his potions as if nothing’s unusual. “Can’t have us being anything but helpful.”

It’s true. Vesemir lectured them about a lot of things as striplings, mostly about how if he ever found out one of them had robbed someone, forced themselves on a partner, or started so much as a tavern brawl, Vesemir would kill them himself. Slowly.

“But you’ve got… what’s the damn word…”

“Nobility?” Geralt offers. He winces immediately. Nobility is one of the words that Jaskier likes to use to describe him. Geralt’s tempted to wash his own mouth out with soap.

“Close enough,” Vesemir grunts. “Point is, people say Witchers don’t feel. Not that they can’t.”

“Is there a fucking point to this conversation?”

“My point is that I’m watching the men I raised be the last of a dying breed, Geralt,” Vesemir says, and there’s pain in his voice, bitterness in his scent. A smoky sort of scent, sad, like dead leaves in autumn. “My goal is no longer to raise the next generation. Now it’s to see you all find some kind of bloody happiness before this damned war and time swallows us all up.”

“And what does any of this have to fucking do with Jaskier?”

Vesemir has that look on his face that means he’s getting a headache. “I’ve never seen someone so allergic to happiness or critical thinking in my life.”

“I thought you said you picked me for my intelligence.”

“Fuck you.”

And everyone wonders where Geralt got his swearing habits.

“I don’t know,” he says that evening, to Ciri, and wonders if the three of them coordinated this attack.

“You do, though,” Ciri replies, bouncing up and down because she’s just a child in some ways, still. She follows him through the cold stone hallways of the keep. They can’t heat up all the rooms and corridors, certainly not worth it with only two dozen of them here at the most, which is why everyone’s wearing furs, even inside.

“I really don’t.”

Ciri grabs his bicep, and he curls it up, lifting his arm so that her feet lift off the ground and she’s swinging free. She giggles, and Geralt feels a swift pang of anger at himself, of regret, because he could’ve done this when she was six and she would’ve shrieked with delight and he missed out on that.

He sets her back down again, and Ciri tucks herself into his side. She’s very tactile. “You know.”

“I don’t know Jaskier’s mind. Witchers can’t read minds. Popular myth.”

“You don’t have to read minds to know,” Ciri replies, infuriatingly knowing and calm. “He’s miserable. You’re miserable.”

“I can’t be miserable when I have you.” He wants that to be very clear. He loves his child surprise, and she’s lost enough already.

“You’re sweet,” Ciri says, and nobody’s ever accused him of that before. “But you’re miserable. You should talk to Jaskier about why he’s miserable.”

“I am not fucking miserable!” he shouts after her as she dashes down the corridor, her cloak fluttering thick and puffy like a lion’s mane.

 


 

The snow outside is consistently two feet high, and sometimes higher, when Jaskier is having breakfast in the dining hall and Geralt drops a heavy pile of fabric on the table next to him.

Jaskier jolts and nearly knocks his glass over. “What—”

“So you’ll stop shivering,” Geralt says, his teeth almost but not quite gritted, and then he strides away to talk to Eskel about something.

Jaskier reaches out, his fingers flexing around the soft, thick fabric. It’s heavy to lift, and he realizes belatedly that it’s… a coat. A very warm, fur-lined coat, black as night on the outside but a vibrant blue on the inside lining.

Ciri, who’s scarfing her food down, speaks around a mouthful of bread. “I wondered why they portaled out somewhere yesterday.”

“Who? What?”

“Yen and Geralt.” Ciri’s still chewing and talking at the same time. These Witchers are doing wonders for her fighting skills but horrible things to her manners. “Must’ve been to wherever he got you that coat.”

Jaskier doesn’t want to think about Geralt buying him an extremely nice, extremely warm coat, one that has a bright color on the inside the way he likes but Geralt’s favored black on the outside. He doesn’t want to remember all the times before, when Geralt would buy him something and Jaskier felt warm and safe and cared-for.

He doesn’t want to have hope.

“Chew with your mouth closed,” he tells Ciri. And if he does wear the coat after that, well, it’s only because it is so much warmer and the weather really is terribly freezing here.

 


 

The fire’s all but died in the hearth, and the candles are low, and Geralt is tired and the cold’s starting to get to him, which are the excuses he will hold onto for the next century or so until he finally dies as to why, when Yen looks at him and says in a very tired voice, Geralt, he replies,

“He’s mortal.”

It’s just the two of them in the room. Everyone else has long gone to bed. And he’s so… he’s so tired. They have to come up with a plan to keep Ciri safe, they have to help the sorceresses, they have to stop this war, they have to do so many things and he’s just a monster hunter, he’s just a monster, he’s not meant for this kind of epic thing no matter what Jaskier says and of course Jaskier will want to tag along and Jaskier is mortal.

Yen runs a hand through her hair. “Is that all that’s stopping you? Just because the wineskin will be empty, does that mean you don’t drink?”

He didn’t mean—he was thinking about Jaskier following them into battle, into death, he wasn’t thinking about—he doesn’t think about that. He can’t. There are things more dangerous to a Witcher than monsters. His ill-fated romance with Yen has proven that.

“Yen,” he growls through tight teeth. “He’ll die.”

“We can all die.” Yen tilts her head. “Geralt, Jaskier has followed you for over twenty years. What does he look like?”

“Like a man.” What kind of stupid fucking question is that?

“Geralt. Does he look old to you?”

Geralt opens his mouth to say of course not—and pauses.

Jaskier… Jaskier looks just as he did when he was twenty-seven. Or rather as he did when he was eighteen, but already appeared twenty-seven. Not a gray hair. No crow’s feet, despite Yen’s comments.

And Yen… Yen looks extremely smug.

“What do you know,” he grits out.

“When I healed him, from the djinn,” Yen explains, still with that pleased, arch tone, “I had to alter the magic a bit, seeing as he wasn’t fully human.”

“Jaskier doesn’t have elf blood.” Many people have assumed it.

Yen makes a noise of dismissal, but it’s a pained one. “No, he’s not elvish. He’s fey.”

Geralt wonders if his hearing is going.

“Did Jaskier ever talk to you about his family?” Yen asks.

His family. Geralt knows a few things. It was impossible not to learn a bit, with how much Jaskier rambled, but Jaskier was surprisingly… taciturn about his roots. He’s nobility. Geralt knows that much. Once, Jaskier pestered Geralt about how Witchers recruited until Geralt snapped at him that his mother, a magic user herself, abandoned him to them when he was still a child. To his surprise, Jaskier had responded with a soft, low voice, my father didn’t leave me at the side of the road, but I know he wishes he did.

“Are they dismissive of him? Angry? Do they dislike him? Does he avoid them?” Yen presses.

How should I know? he wants to say, but he does know, he knows from Jaskier’s silence.

“He’s not aware of it,” Yen says, apparently deciding that it doesn’t matter if Geralt answers her or not. “Whoever they are, they paid a pretty penny to make sure his glamour stays on. Or perhaps they did something even more. He’s a changeling.”

If Geralt was drinking something he’d choke on it.

Changelings are… they’re fey but they’re not fey. Well, they are fey. No doubt about it. But they aren’t aware of it. They don’t act like most fey, beyond having fairy instincts such as a love of pretty, shiny things, an inclination towards many lovers, a great fondness for wine, a way of twisting words, and…

Geralt feels rather like bashing his head in against the stone wall.

How did he not notice Jaskier’s lack of ageing? How did he not notice the way people fall under Jaskier’s spell of words, getting him out of more scrapes than logically possible? How did he not notice how Jaskier never tans no matter how much he stands in the sun, the odd brightness in his eyes, the way he gets cold even in the middle of summer?

Gods above, Jaskier’s name—not his birth name, his chosen name—it’s another name for a flower. Dandelion or buttercup or something. The fey love plants and flowers.

He’s been a fucking idiot.

Changelings though, they’re doomed. They are the children born of faerie that fairies did not want. Too human-looking, or too weak, or not adept enough at magic. Something in them is wanting. And so they’re taken, and their memories of their true world forgotten, and swapped out for a human baby, a human that the fairies can amuse themselves with and turn into a slave or a lover or a champion depending on what they fancy. Changelings never know, not until the glamour placed on them fades as they get older and their true red eyes, or sparkling silver skin, or voices like sighing reeds, makes itself known. Then they are outcasts among humanity.

But neither can they return to faerie. They are lost.

Jaskier’s parents must have known. Parents always know. Gerealt’s been contracted, once or twice, to swap the children back, but it doesn’t work like that. He’s always had to say no. Even Witchers must be wary with the likes of the fey.

“I don’t think he knows,” Yen adds, her voice unexpectedly soft. “If it’s any consolation to you.”

But he’ll have to know. When winter becomes summer and then winter again, over and over, and Jaskier doesn’t age, he’ll know. And then what? What do you do when all that you thought you were turns out to be false?

Geralt doesn’t know. He just hopes someone will be there to catch Jaskier, keep him from falling.

“So you see,” Yen goes on, that smug tone back in her voice, “if it’s his mortality you were worried about, don’t. He’ll live another hundred years, Geralt.”

“Hmm.” This time it’s not that he’s deliberately holding back words.

He honestly doesn’t know what the fuck to say.

 


 

Jaskier has no fucking clue what Geralt’s got going on, but he means to find out.

At some point. Eventually. Just—once he gets up the courage.

Once upon a time he said whatever he wanted to at Geralt, and Geralt just took it. Oh, yes, Geralt would be annoyed as all get out half the time but he also listened. And he could be amused, Jaskier knows it—Geralt gets this little… this little uptick in the corners of his mouth and tilts his head and gets this look in his eyes like they’re not golden coins but glowing embers, and Jaskier knows he’s said something right.

Jaskier used to live for those moments.

But since the… since the dragon and the mountain, he can’t help but be scared. It’s foolish of him, he knows. He’s not scared of Geralt with eyes like ink and skin white as the snow around him (in fact he finds it rather, ah, arousing, and isn’t that just another notch in his belt labeled Stupid Things Jaskier Finds Attractive). He’s not scared of Geralt’s temper, his strength, or his sword.

He’s scared of saying the wrong thing and losing Geralt again.

So no, he hasn’t said anything yet, but he will, because Geralt is being—he’s being odd.

There was the cloak, first of all. Or perhaps it was before that, inviting him to the closest thing Geralt has to a home. And since the cloak—Geralt’s been staring at him. Just. Staring. That’s it. Oh, and giving him a pair of warm winter gloves, and new boots. Jaskier can admit well enough to himself that his own winter gear is not enough to withstand the harsher northern climate here, and he’s been shivering for the past month. He’s got about five blankets piled on top of his bed and tries to keep the fire going all night and he still feels a bit of a chill.

But somehow, the clothes Geralt is giving him work wonders.

Is this Geralt’s way of apologizing? The idiot never did have a way with words although he’s managed to convey entire paragraphs with a single hum. It very well could be.

Well. Perhaps Jaskier is willing to forgive him. It’s more himself that he’s worried about. He can’t let himself get so close again. Not when he knows there’s no chance, no hope. Yennefer’s here, for fuck’s sake, and staying. Geralt has all that he could desire now. Best to keep a bit of distance, otherwise he’ll make a fool of himself and humiliate everyone.

And besides, he should be grateful. It’s not just anyone that Geralt of Rivia would seek out and bring to his home to shelter for the winter. Geralt might never say it, but he cares. Jaskier is seeing that. Geralt is, in his own way, trying to show that they are friends. Jaskier knows how to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

And so if he sometimes monologues to himself as he gets ready for bed, well, what of it? It’s nobody’s business but his own.

He’s tried his best to make his room cozy but he does so hate winter. There are no flowers, there’s no warmth. People have more need for songs in some ways, to be cheered up, but you have to coax them into it. People aren’t just ready to give coin and flirt and dance the way they are in spring and summer.

Still, he lights the fire, piles the blankets next to it so the blankets hopefully absorb the heat, and starts about washing his face.

“Stupid…” He checks his hair for grays, as he always does, and is satisfied to find none. Excellent. His parents might not have given him anything resembling love or warmth but they did, at least, give him good genes. “Stupid fucking stubborn Witchers. Would it kill a man to say I’m sorry? Not that it wouldn’t make it worse…” Oh, there might be a song in that. “Don’t tell me you’re sorry, failed lover, failed lover…” One of those little ditties that people like to hum as they wash their linens.

Where are his pen and ink? He’ll have to write this down before he forgets—

The knock on the door makes him jump and he drops the towel he’d been using to dry his face.

“Yes?” he calls out, scrambling to try and get his room to be less of a mess. Nobody’s ever knocked on his door before, everyone giving him privacy. Ciri shares her room with Yennefer down the hall, and Geralt’s next door on the other side, and the other Witchers are a floor below so that any attackers coming for Ciri have to go through them first, except for Vesemir who sleeps in the one remaining tower.

The door opens without so much as an excuse me, and Geralt steps in.

Typical Witcher. “Would it truly kill you to announce who you are before entering a room?” Jaskier asks, testy and feeling vulnerable, caught out, even if he’s not sure what there is to catch.

This is his room, after all. His room with his paper spilled everywhere, and his pile of blankets warming by the fire, and his precious elven lute sitting on a pillow safely off to the side, and his oils all piled on top of the side table. Moisturizer and proper oil, that’s how he keeps his youthful, soft skin.

It’s him, all over this room, and he’s not sure how much of him he can bear for Geralt to see anymore.

“Hmm,” Geralt says instead of answering, and he closes the door behind him and walks over to Jaskier’s bed. It’s only then that Jaskier realizes Geralt’s got something in his arms—a large warm blanket, made out of some kind of soft-looking midnight blue material on one side and thick white fur on the other.

Geralt drops the blanket onto the bed, where it lands with an oddly heavy thunk. “It’s weighted,” he says. “It’ll be warmer than those.” He nods towards the blankets in front of the fire, then turns to go.

What? A coat, boots, gloves, now a blanket? “For the sake of Destiny, Geralt, you can stop apologizing now. I’ve gotten the message.” Jaskier waves his hand in the air. “You’re sorry, you said things in the heat of the moment that you didn’t mean, I’m truly your bestest friend ever, oh why thank you Geralt it means so much, I am graciously accepting your apology, we can move on from this and never mention that mountain ever again.”

Geralt looks—well, Jaskier would dare to say confused, actually. “You think I’m apologizing to you?”

“Well—yes, Geralt, I do. I can’t see any other reason for why you’d suddenly be obsessed with wrapping me in every layer of fur known to man.”

“Hmm.”

“And frankly I think it’s rather cruel to yourself to keep doing this.” Jaskier feels, for once, annoyingly warm, and he’s only in his chemise and trousers. He’s even barefoot. Why is it so warm? “You’re spending hard-earned coin on me, coin you’ll need come spring. It would’ve saved you quite a lot of trouble just to say I’m sorry.”

“Hmm.”

“And really, I’m doing just fine with—” Jaskier waves at the blankets by the fire. “Not that I don’t appreciate all your gifts. I do. They’re lovely. I’m a little concerned that you know so much about my measurements, but I do appreciate the gifts. I only—I don’t want you going out of your way for me.”

I don’t want to feel hope, even when I know I shouldn’t. It’s me reading into things. It’s my foolish heart. You can’t blame me for wanting to protect it a little.

“Hmm.” Geralt looks like he’s just finished listening to Jaskier explain his incorrect knowledge about a leshen and is about to set him straight about things.

“Not that I want you to take the blanket back,” Jaskier hastily adds. “It, um, it looks very. Yes. Thank you, about that.”

What? The blanket looks soft. He likes soft things.

“You liked it,” Geralt says, his tone impatient like he’s explaining two plus two equals four, “when I gave you things. Dinner. Rosin. More of that face cream.”

“I—well, yes, I did, very much, and thank you.”

“You thought we were friends. Because of that.”

“Well—it was the logical thing to conclude, was it not?” Jaskier gives a laugh that’s not a laugh at all, and in fact sounds almost disconcerting and unnatural. He winces. His mother always used to say his laughs were unnerving. “Seeing as you weren’t paying me for services rendered.”

Geralt raises and eyebrow and Jaskier can feel his face flushing. “Only—you know. The songs. I meant for the songs.”

“Hmm.” Geralt stares at the blanket on the bed, then at the lute sitting on its pillow, then at the fire. “Listen. Jaskier. There’s. There’s not an easy way to say this.”

…all the warm things were preparation for Geralt to kick Jaskier out into the winter woods and the snow. They were so that Jaskier wouldn’t die of cold as he made his way to the nearest village. They—

Geralt blows out a breath rather like Roach when she’s irritated. “Yen told me something, about a week ago. Something—about you.”

Oh. Well. Um. “It’s all lies and slander.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow in both surprise and amusement. “So you’re not fey?”

“I am most definitely—wait, what?”

Geralt’s face looks almost gentle. The way it gets when he has to tell a family that their loved one was indeed killed by a monster. “When Yen saved you from the djinn, she had trouble with the spell. She had to alter it. Because you’re not human. You’re fey.”

“I… Ha. Ha, ha, ha, very funny, Geralt. I must say I had been hoping when you developed a sense of humor it wouldn’t be at my expense but—”

“Jas.” Geralt’s voice stays gentle. “Look in the mirror.”

“I do. Every day. I’ve got combination skin, I have to take care of it.” And check for gray hairs.

Geralt blinks at him slowly, silently and excellently conveying the sentiment that Jaskier is an idiot. “You look the same as you did when I met you. You said you were eighteen.”

Granted, he had looked old for an eighteen-year-old. He’d sprung up like a weed, devouring every food in sight, with a special hankering for meat (rawer the better) and, of all blasted things, flowers (he hadn’t told his parents about that one). At sixteen, he’d already looked mid-twenties.

Jaskier, almost as if someone has him on puppet strings, turns and approaches the mirror.

For all Yennefer’s quips about crow’s feet…

He feels something deep inside of him curling up as if it’s been struck, an animal trying to hide a deep and gaping wound. “No.”

“You wouldn’t know.”

“I would know.” He turns back, the room spinning slightly, and Geralt is looking at him with an expression Jaskier has only seen once before, when Borch fell down the mountain.

“Changelings don’t know,” Geralt says. It’s like he’s talking about dragon species, or saying unicorns aren’t real, or debunking false information about vampires. “Not until the glamour falls off. But you—you’ve got human blood too. You look… mostly right.”

“Mostly right!?” Jaskier knows his voice is impressive but he wasn’t aware it could hit that octave.

Geralt shrugs. “Your eyes. Your voice. The fact that you don’t age.”

“So—so—so—” He can’t even find words.

He walks over to the bed, somehow, and collapses onto it. Huh, this is a very soft blanket.

There are many things he could say. Many questions he could ask. But instead what comes out is, “Is this why they always hated me?”

His father was cold, always just on the restrained side of cruel. His mother was distant and drank too much wine.

Geralt, Jaskier knows, also understands something of parental pain. Maybe that’s why he looks the way he does right now, caught in a river and fighting to get upstream. “It wasn’t… it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t have a choice.”

“Changelings—they’re fairy children. They’re given up. So…” He looks down at his hands. “So my other people didn’t want me, either.”

Is this why even his stupidest songs are popular? Because of his innate fey abilities, weak and subtle as they might be?

“Yen thinks perhaps you were the—uh.” Geralt clears his throat. “The child of a fey and a human. That would be why. Your…” It literally sounds like the words are being pried out of Geralt’s throat with a pair of rusty pliers. “…your human parent might not have known. Or had the child forced away from them. The fey parent was probably, ah, executed.”

He should probably feel horrified, but instead he feels numb. Geralt takes a deep inhale, and then grimaces. Jaskier wonders what that’s about—is Geralt sniffing him?

“Thank you,” he manages. “For telling me.”

Geralt nods once, briskly. “I didn’t know. I had… not an inkling. Until Yen said so. I thought you were mortal.”

“Ah.” He’s sure Geralt would’ve told him sooner if he’d suspected.

“So now you understand.”

Jaskier blinks. “Now I understand what?”

“Why I didn’t…” Geralt looks frustrated, his brow creasing, like he wishes Jaskier could just read his mind. “I thought you were mortal.”

“Yes, we’ve established that, Geralt. And I am quite capable of getting injured and dying, as many bruises and injuries will attest. Most of which I earned following you, I might add.”

“That’s exactly the point!” Geralt bursts out, and Jaskier sits up straight at that, surprised at the outburst. “You were mortal, you can die so—so easily, and you would die of age soon anyway. You’re forty-two!”

“Well you don’t have to say it so loudly!” Jaskier snaps. “Others might hear!”

“You’re going to live another fifty years at least, looking just as you do now.”

“That doesn’t mean I want anyone to know!”

Geralt glances over at the washbasin like he’s considering drowning Jaskier in it. “You would—you would age. Your hearing, your sight, your strength. It would all… go.”

“Yes,” Jaskier admits. “If I were mortal, it would. Not for… oh I’d should say another decade or so. I’d start to feel it a bit then. But I should think I had another two decades in me, Geralt, I had no intention of stopping anytime soon.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Geralt mutters. “But you would’ve stopped eventually, all the same.”

“And what does it matter?” Jaskier is starting to suspect they’re having two entirely different conversations here—it wouldn’t be the first time—and he’s still not even sure what this conversation is in the first place. “Why did it matter, then, and not now?”

Geralt stares at him, but Jaskier is still not a mind reader, and still has no idea what Geralt is trying to tell him with his stony-grumpy Witcher face.

Then Geralt takes a very deep breath, one that looks like it’s giving him physical pain, and says, achingly slowly, “Because it meant… I couldn’t keep you.”

Jaskier would feel less confused if Geralt slapped him with a dead fish right now and Yennefer declared her undying love for him. No, scratch that, he’d be less surprised if Vesemir declared his undying love for him.

“Geralt, please understand. You are my dear friend. My best friend. And you are such despite having treated me in a most boorish, rude, and hurtful manner. And I like to think that in our travels I have grown adept, nay, dare I say fluent, in the meanings of your ridiculous humming that you consider a worthwhile substitute for actual conversation. But I confess I am at a complete loss here and so if you could use your infinite and annoyingly attractive strength for forming words instead of strangling selkiemores, and find some way to actually tell me what the fuck you’re talking about, maybe we could end this conversation before dawn!”

It’s a rather impressive speech, if he dares to say so himself, and one that leaves him a little breathless. He’s also standing again, and he’s not aware when that happened.

Geralt huffs a little, and gives another hmm, and then looks—is he looking—nervous?

“I didn’t understand,” he says. “Until after the djinn.”

Understand what, Jaskier wants to shout, but he can acknowledge that this is all very difficult for Geralt and so he stays silent (ha, see, he can manage that) and gives Geralt the time to fumble through whatever it is he’s trying to say.

“You were lying there, nearly dead. Because of me. And I realized—but I couldn’t. So I went for Yen instead and I did something—stupid. I did something that hurt her, and me. And then I was so focused on her… it helped push you out of my mind.”

Jaskier can’t quite believe what he’s hearing. Since the djinn? Since the djinn? He could’ve been choking on what is undoubtedly the finest cock on the Continent since the gods-damned djinn!?

Really, this is offensive.

Geralt still looks like he’s undergoing cranial surgery without anesthetic. “Then the dragon happened. And you were right, why I said those things. At first I—it took time. But I realized what I’d done was wrong. And hurtful. I had—you were a safe place. You would never—leave. So I could get angry with you.”

“You were mistaken about that.” Oh, all right, so he can only be silent for a little bit.

Geralt inclines his head in acknowledgment. “But it did—help me to understand what you—meant to me. And then I realized—but I couldn’t. You have to understand,” he adds suddenly, like the words burst out of him with all the relief and pain of a lanced boil, and Geralt looks, for all his strength, vulnerable. “Yen was…” Geralt makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, like he got his sword stuck in a wyvern corpse again. “…she’s a sorceress. Powerful. Long-living.”

“Like you.” He thinks he sees what Geralt is getting at now, but he can’t dare to think of that, because hope is back in his chest again and he can’t bear it, he can’t bear to have that flickering candle taken away.

“You were mortal,” Geralt says, like it’s the most horrible secret he’s ever confessed. His rumbling voice is barely audible.

"Wait—so you knew this whole time? Is this why Ciri said—" Jaskier points accusingly. "What did you tell her!?"

Geralt looks towards the door like he's considering storming into Ciri's room this instant, damn the late hour, and demanding to know what heinous stories she's been spreading. And oh, no, they are not getting sidetracked now. Not now that Jaskier finally is getting some sort of clarity and communication about this entire thing.

“So you just—took me home? Bought me presents? As your way of—what, saying you’re sorry but it’ll just never work?” Jaskier isn’t sure if he’s elated or irritated. Both? Both.

“You thought we were friends,” Geralt says, sounding exasperated and helpless, which is an odd and new tone that Jaskier has never heard from him before. After all, Geralt is many things but never helpless. “With… small things. So if I did big things…”

Big things. Like buying him all new winter gear, and a blanket, and bringing him to the safest place on the Continent, bringing him home.

Once, on an oddly cold night in spring, Jaskier’s fingers had been too cramped to play on his lute. Geralt had taken Jaskier’s hands in his and massaged them, blowing on them, and Jaskier had thought wildly, desperately, that if this moment never ended, he could be happy forever.

He feels rather the same way now.

“You idiot,” he announces, and his voice comes out rather more breathless than he’d intended. “You great big lummox.”

He strides across the room to Geralt and pauses right in front of him, still—still unsure if he can cross this last inch. “And now that I’m not mortal?” he asks. “Which—for the record, I am quite offended that your great plan was just to give me things and hope that I would catch on and realize you were declaring your affections without any intention of follow-through on them, honestly Geralt, just because I might have been mortal doesn’t mean that we still couldn’t have—”

Geralt finally does the first damn sensible thing since he walked into this room, and yanks Jaskier in with fistfuls of his undershirt, kissing him.

Jaskier has given many a thought to how Geralt would kiss. Despite being there for a few of Geralt’s run-ins with Yennefer, he never actually saw anything between them, and he was never present when Geralt would find a whore for the night. So it was all up to his imagination—and his imagination is fertile ground indeed. He always pictured Geralt kissing the way he would attack monsters: fiercely, taking no quarter.

Instead, he finds that Geralt kisses the way that he hunts monsters: thoroughly, with a determined end goal, and no intention of ceasing until that goal is reached.

He’s put his hands on Geralt’s body before, plenty of times, stitching him up and easing his aches and pains, but never like this. Never with this intent. And so it feels like a new body, as he runs his palms up Geralt’s chest, spreads his fingers wide over Geralt’s shoulders. Geralt’s hands move down to Jaskier’s hips and squeeze, as if answer, in counterpoint. In a way it’s just an extension of how they always are, two diametrically opposed personalities somehow balancing one another out. Giving and taking.

Jaskier has no intention of his lovely new blanket getting defiled, and so he pulls away when Geralt marches them back towards the bed, and tugs the blanket off, placing it gently to the side.

Geralt lets out a pleased sound that’s almost a purr, and Jaskier files that away to examine later like a shiny bauble.

Right now, he wants Geralt’s tongue back in his mouth.

Geralt is, to exactly nobody’s surprise, rather silent now as he is in everything. But he hums in a pleased way when Jaskier lets him tug his shirt off and undo his pants, and his body speaks volumes in the way it shakes when Jaskier kisses along his jaw, and the way Geralt’s hips thrust forward roughly when Jaskier encourages him to bite his neck, and in the way Grealt’s mouth falls open on a groan when Jaskier tugs on his hair.

Figures Geralt would like it rough, in both giving and taking. Luckily, Jaskier gets bored easily with gentle.

He has no intention of letting Geralt tear his clothes off, not now, not ever, so it takes a minute to get them both properly naked, but once they are—oh holy fuck, he never wants to leave this room, ever.

“I knew it,” Jaskier crows triumphantly. He fucking knew Geralt was hung, ha, someone somewhere owes him money, he knows he bet on this at some point down the line.

Geralt just glares at him. “I will use it to shut you up.”

“You say that like I wouldn’t like that,” Jaskier replies cheekily. Geralt is going to fuck him with that. This is the greatest night of his life. He’s not going to be able to walk straight for a week.

Not that he ever walks straight, but anyway…

Geralt, through one glare, makes it quite clear that he is going to be taking care of Jaskier, thanks very much, and Jaskier hands over the oil, busying himself with kissing Geralt’s various scars. There are quite a lot of them, and Jaskier knows the origin of most of them, taking a perverse satisfaction in setting his tongue to them when he wasn’t allowed to kiss them before, when they were fresh and he’d just sewn Geralt up and he was aching to show him some affection beyond a light pat on the shoulder.

It occurs to him, a bit late in the game, to ask if Geralt’s ever done this with someone other than a woman. Geralt is spreading his thighs, fingers slick and shining in the firelight, and Jaskier pauses around his mouthful of Geralt’s bicep to say, “Hey, Ger—”

That’s as far as he gets before Geralt slowly, twisting, slides a finger inside. It’s deliberate, not too harsh, but just on the side of rough that Jaskier likes, and he makes a rather shameless noise.

A feral, starving smile flits across Geralt’s face for an instant before the concentrated look returns, and he kisses Jaskier to silence him as he works him open with an annoying thoroughness.

Jaskier whines and begs, his nails digging into Geralt’s back, not that they’ll leave much of a mark, the arsehole, one leg hooked over Geralt’s hip and the other pressed down into the mattress by Geralt’s hand, keeping him nice and helplessly open as Geralt keeps going at this damn fucking slow pace that’s going to fucking kill him before he can get properly fucked.

Geralt is as impervious to Jaskier’s pouting and moaning in this as he is to Jaskier’s pouting and moaning in every other situation. He scissors his fingers, getting Jaskier so desperate his cock is leaking everywhere, creating a right mess of both their stomachs as their bodies haphazardly rub together, and has the gall to look satisfied when he adds a third finger and Jaskier nearly sobs with need.

“In me.” Jaskier likes to pride himself on his eloquence in bed, but that’s absolutely beyond him right now, and he suspects Geralt likes his naked want much better than any pretty words. “Fuck me, Geralt, or I’ll do it myself!”

“I’d love to see you try,” Geralt replies, smirking at him, the brute.

Jaskier thumps him on the back, hard as he can.

In response, Geralt thrusts his fingers in hard, right up against Jaskier’s prostate, and Jaskier’s entire body thrashes. For every man he was with, he bedded nine women, so it’s still a rare enough pleasure that it makes this all feel so much more. “Fuck!”

“That’s the idea.”

Jaskier considers kicking Geralt in the face, then thinks better of it. “Geralt please.” He would like that very thick cock inside of him right fucking now, thanks. He’s had two decades of pining. He’s earned this.

Geralt tilts his head at that, and it reminds Jaskier of the banquet in Cintra, the night of Pavetta and Duny’s declaration and all that other shit. Geralt had tilted his head at him, his eyes glowing, an almost-smile on his lips that made him look like he was thinking Jaskier was adorable or some other such nonsense.

Perhaps that was exactly what he was thinking. Perhaps that’s what he’s thinking now.

Geralt withdraws his fingers and shifts them, his nose bumping Jaskier’s. “Tell me if it’s too much.”

Jaskier want to make some kind of smart remark—but he hears the thread of earnestness in Geralt’s voice, and it strikes him suddenly what it must be like as a Witcher, and how many nervous whores Geralt’s had to deal with, and how many times he’s feared hurting his bed partner.

No wonder Yennefer seemed like such a destined lover. Geralt must have figured she was the only one who could handle him, in so many ways.

So Jaskier nods instead. “Of course.”

He runs his hands through Geralt’s hair, wondering if Geralt will let him wash it again. He always liked doing that, although Geralt only allowed him on occasion.

Then Geralt starts to slide inside, and Jaskier’s vision goes white for a moment.

He forgets all the words he knows, all the songs, and sighs into it, makes himself relax, his body arching up and his fingers digging into Geralt’s scalp. It’s so much, almost but not quite too much, and he has no idea how long it takes him to adjust but he’s gasping by the time he’s through.

Geralt is nuzzling at his neck, inhaling deeply, and Jaskier realizes— “Are you sniffing me, you idiot?”

“Fear smells sour. I had to check.”

Honestly. Sometimes his Witcher (his Witcher, his, his, his) is an absolute fool. “If I wasn’t scared of you any other time, what would make me scared now?”

“Hmm.” Geralt pushes himself up, and braces his hands.

Jaskier nods.

This was something he’d known he would be right about—Witcher stamina. Gods fucking bless. Geralt can’t seem to stop smelling Jaskier, nosing especially at his pulse point but anywhere else he can reach as well, holding Jaskier firmly but not too harshly as he drives into him with a single-minded focus that has Jaskier’s brains leaking out his ears. He can feel it everywhere, and even if he wasn’t in love with Geralt (which he is, he really unfortunately is), he’d be incapable of having sex with anyone else ever again because no one else could press up against every inch of him from the inside, thrust until Jaskier swears he can feel it in his throat, hold him like Jaskier weighs nothing at all.

Geralt does, annoyingly, glance around Jaskier’s prostate and slaps Jaskier’s hands away when Jaskier tries to stroke himself. “Not. Yet.”

Jaskier whines and squirms. He feels so good, so good, he feels like warm butter slathered on bread, he feels how those stolen summer roses would taste when he was sixteen and starving for them and didn’t know why. He wants to come, he wants to come so fucking badly he might choke.

But Geralt looks so magnificent like this, like a thousand songs that Jaskier will never compose because they’re for him alone, that he also can’t quite bear it to be over yet.

So he stops begging and kisses Geralt instead, everywhere he can reach, and thrusts his hips back into Geralt’s as best he can. It’s perfect, and then Geralt speeds up and no, now it’s perfect, and he feels Geralt sink his teeth into his neck and nope, now it’s definitely perfect—and then Geralt tugs on his earlobe with his mouth and whispers a broken Jas into his ear and no, no, now, now it is perfect.

He tucks Geralt’s face into his neck, feels Geralt’s whole chest expand as he inhales his scent, feels his hands sliding as they try to gain purchase through the thick layer of sweat on Geralt’s back, feels Geralt inside of him, stretching him, thorough thrusts that never go far but get in deep, and has a strange moment of clarity. Yes, while in the middle of sex. It’s rather on brand for him. But—if he is fey, if that is his heritage, if that’s why his bones still don’t ache and his eyesight still hasn’t dimmed and his hair is still chestnut, if that’s why his parents as good as tossed him out on his arse and why sometimes his companions would wince at his laugh, or say his teeth looked odd in the moonlight—then he doesn’t give a toss. It means he gets to stay by Geralt’s side, and do this, year after year, winter and summer and all in between, and that is worth the rest. It is more than worth the rest.

Geralt pulls back all at once, a glint in his eye, and Jaskier has the revelation that he’s grown complacent, and that Geralt lured him into it—just in time for Geralt to get up onto his knees and lift Jaskier’s hips clean off the bed. He pulls out almost all the way, a sort of snarl on his lips that probably should look terrifying but is, annoyingly, incredibly hot, and then buries himself back into Jasker until their hips are flush.

The sound he makes at that is probably only audible to dogs.

And Witchers.

Geralt’s face twitches in satisfaction, and he does it again, again, hard and fast, brutally so, the angle just right, no longer avoiding Jaskier’s prostate but striking home like an arrow each time, and Jaskier has never known the true definition of wailing until this moment.

“Fuck’s sake,” Geralt says, but his voice is deeply, beautifully fond as he speaks. “You’ll wake the whole keep.”

His hand closes over Jaskier’s mouth and presses down, muzzling him, and that is so fucking sexy, his hand is the size of Jaskier’s entire lower face for fuck’s sake, and the pressure of it, the sound of his own voice muffled, the power in Geralt’s body, in his strokes—that Jaskier comes all over himself.

Or so he presumes. He doesn’t actually see it happen, seeing as his eyes roll back into his head and he screams, biting down on Geralt’s palm, his entire body vibrating like a plucked lute string. Ecstasy is clearly a word he’s used far too often. He’s described such things as ecstasy before, but never will he do so again unless it’s for this.

Geralt groans, and Jaskier’s eyes peel open in time to see Geralt staring at him, mouth open, looking absolutely wrecked at the sight of him, and Jaskier feels a surge of pride knowing he did that, he made Geralt look like that, feel like that. Him, only him, and only him forevermore.

Geralt falls forward onto all fours, shoving himself in messily, spilling inside, heating Jaskier up, and Jaskier cries out anew at the sensation. He’s a greedy man, and he already knows, he wants this every night.

With what is clearly the last bit of his strength (mental and physical), Geralt rolls over to his side so that he doesn’t crush Jaskier. He pulls Jaskier into him, tangling them up together, and Jaskier finds, for the first time, that he is out of words.

That’s all right. He doesn’t need them.

 


 

Jaskier’s heartbeat is thudding in his ears, and Jaskier’s scent is filling up his nose. Geralt doesn’t even have to make an effort to pick out the smells. There’s the lingering smell of lust, and the scent of himself inside and against Jaskier—which the other Witchers will be sure to smell tomorrow and make many a joke over—and there’s the smell of the oil they used. But there’s also that smell that had been missing, the sweet grass smell, the sun-warmed flower smell, and Geralt wants to breathe it in for the rest of his life.

“Are you still smelling me?” Jaskier murmurs, his voice heavy and drowsy as he falls asleep.

Geralt shifts fully onto his back, and reaches his arm over his head, behind them to the cloth draped over the washbasin. It’s still damp and works well enough for cleaning them up.

“You are,” Jaskier decides. “What do I smell like?”

Geralt’s not sure if he should answer as he tosses the cloth aside and grabs the blanket he got for Jaskier, pulling it up and over them. The fire is low, now. Jaskier will get cold. But then—he’s already said any number of embarrassing things tonight. What’s one more?

“Summer meadow,” Geralt replies. “That’s how you used to smell. You didn’t anymore. Now you do.”

Jaskier tugs on a strand Geralt’s hair, winding it around his finger. “It’s probably because I’m happy, you moron.”

Geralt’s heart beats much more slowly than that of a human, but it picks up nonetheless, and he’s sure that Jaskier must be able to tell, his ear pressed to Geralt’s chest like this. But Jaskier doesn’t comment—he only snuggles in a bit closer, and sighs, and tosses his arm over Geralt’s waist.

Outside, it’s snowing again. Winter will still be in force for another six weeks, at least. They have time to plan, time to prepare. He has time for this.

And Jaskier has time. More time than Geralt thought. He is still terribly fragile. Geralt can feel it in the way Jaskier’s bones press against his, in the hummingbird wingbeats of Jaskier’s heart, in the soft curves of Jaskier’s body. But age will not wither him, and Geralt can take care of the rest. He keeps his own safe. The wolf protects the pack, after all.

Yen never let him hold her like this, but Jaskier is clinging like a limpet, draped all over him. Geralt watches as Jaskier's breathing deepens, evens out, his body staying loose and heavy with contentment. Geralt's fingers brush up and down Jaskier's spine. He never thought of himself as particularly needing the touch of another all night, but he could get used to this.

Since Jaskier is asleep, and therefore can’t tease him about it, Geralt brushes some of his sweat-damp hair back and kisses his forehead. Runs his thumb along the curve of Jaskier’s cheek. Lets something terribly warm and soft and fond rise up in his chest and spread throughout his limbs, gives into it, basks in it.

It feels a lot like bliss.