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Hawthorn not only protects the physical heart in ways that we can objectively measure such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, it also nourishes the soothes the spiritual and emotional heart. Herbalists regularly use hawthorn as a general relaxing nervine as well as for heartbreak and grief.

-Herbal Monograph on Hawthorn, HerbMentor



Cursing mountains doesn’t make them smaller. Cursing regrets doesn’t wipe them clean.

He should never have said those things.

Knew better than to let his anger ride him. And yet...

Jaskier granted his latest wish himself--so drawn and silent, so without malice, that Geralt’s own outburst was a knout by contrast.

He was a week out of the Caingorn Mountains before the thorns of his anger dulled. 

... a week before he realized he hadn’t watched for Jaskier on the trail back to Hengfors. 

... a week before he realized he had no idea where the bard was at all. If he was even alive. 

... before he felt the weight of the marks against his ledger as stones in his chest and set out in search of news. When the inns of Hengfors produced nothing, he took to the road, charting a course through upper Redania. Unnamed hamlets. Small crossroads towns. Had a bard come through?

After several weeks, he heard familiar songs sung under the breath of children and townsfolk, and followed the melody. 

The path led away from the coast--from Blaviken--bringing him closer to Ghelibol. What sleep he got was under the stars, unprotected in the grasslands. Trees signaled settlements, and Geralt urged his horse on as he saw their crowned branches in the distance. 

They entered the crossroads village at a lazy pace so Roach could rest, and Geralt scanned the houses for something that looked like a tavern. Children darted about, squealing and chasing farm animals. Several of the homes belched peat smoke, because the tree cover could not be wasted on firewood. He’d seen even rows on the way in that looked like an orchard--a doubly poor choice for fuel.

A girl stood by one of the whitewashed houses picking flowers from a tended garden. Geralt glanced up the road. Then he heard a hummed tune and half-wrong words and pulled his horse to a stop. 

The girl.

He backed Roach up a few paces, and the girl went silent as their shadow passed over her. She stared up with wide eyes.

Geralt smiled a little at her. “That was a lovely song,” he said. “Where did you hear it?”

She didn’t move. And he could hear her little heart pounding out fear. With an inward sigh, he changed tactics.

Geralt swung himself easily down off his horse and came around. He knelt to bring himself to eye level, and thought gentle non-threatening thoughts.

“Can you tell me where you heard that song?” he tried again. 

The girl rolled her lips over her teeth and then looked up the road. She lifted a hand and pointed to the crossroads.

“The market square?”

She nodded.

“How long ago?”

That was a harder question, and her small face screwed up in thought. She counted off on her fingers and then showed him two.

Two days. Two days was almost nothing. Two days he was practically there .

“Are you a demon?” the girl asked suddenly.

And the jab hit him harder than it should, digging at an old bruise.

“No,” he said, and blinked slowly. “I’m a witcher. I kill demons. And monsters.”

The girl nodded and dropped her gaze, clearly thinking something over. Then she looked at him again, meeting his strange, gold eyes. 

“Do you kill bad men?”

One eyebrow lifted, and Geralt considered his answer. Both the short and long of it came down to this: “Sometimes.” He wasn’t sure the details would matter much to a child. He tilted his head, studying her expression. “Why?”

She stared at him for a long moment. Her fingernails cut into the soft flower stems with a wet crunch. And then she stepped out of the flower bed and leaned toward his ear. She whispered poisoned words that dripped to his gut and curdled. 

His leather gloves creaked as his hands tightened into fists, but otherwise he did not move. Kept his breathing slow and steady as the girl stepped back and lowered her gaze.

“Why would you tell me that?” he said softly. 

She shrugged and spoke at the dirt. “The White Wolf helps people. He’s a hero! And he’s a witcher.” She glanced up, a hope-fire in her eyes. “And you’re a witcher.” 

And that made perfect sense to a child. Geralt sighed, shaking his head. Fuck that stupid song. This was none of his business, and he had a task already. Two days.

“Witchers are also paid for their services,” he said, mostly to stall while he searched for an excuse to go. 

The girl’s expression fell as she considered this. Then she jerked her head up and thrust the handful of flowers she’d picked at him, even as she stood surrounded by dozens more. 

Geralt’s eyebrows lifted, and the girl stared at him stubbornly, waiting.

He swallowed and heaved a sigh, weary of a world in need of heroes. Geralt took the flowers and stood, turning toward his horse. He freed one hand from its glove with his teeth and set to tying the flowers into Roach’s mane. Four red tulips evenly spaced down her neck, their blooms hanging heavy like drops of blood.

“What’s your name?” he asked, turning back.

“Selbrina.”

She clasped her hands together and watched him with wide green eyes. For all practical purposes, she looked very innocent for just hiring an assassin. For all rights of man, she should never feel she had to. Never have to whisper her secrets to a passing stranger because her young life is a graveyard.

Her words played back for him, and he let anger spread from the curdling in his stomach like frost. The cold fury of winter and black and blades. Precision and venom. His body went tight with purpose.

Geralt fit his glove back into place and gave the girl a glance. “Where’s your uncle’s house?”



It wasn’t much of a place to case, just a simple one-story house with slate roofing and thick walls. One door out back led to a garden that abutted the grazing commons. One door out front faced the road. Geralt rolled his shoulders and checked the dagger he’d added to the strap crossing his chest. 

He adopted a scowl as he stalked toward the door. He’d considered downing a potion just for the effect on his eyes, but the aftereffects outweighed the dramatics. So, he slipped on his most fearsome countenance and let his lip curl with a very real sneer. Positioned himself to fill the doorway and beat on the door with a gloved fist.

A moment later, a man, dark-haired and middle-aged, swung the door open, his greeting dying on his lips as he took in armor and swords and anger .

“Are you Selbrina’s uncle?” Geralt ground out the words.

The man blinked, frowning, his instincts moving him away from the threat of the witcher’s presence. 

“Y-Yeah. Why?”

Geralt moved like a viper. He lunged, grabbed the man by the shirt, and barrelled into the house. Screams and curses boiled from his target. The man flailed, struck at him with empty hands, and tried to wrench himself free from the grip. A woman screamed and children wailed, and Geralt drove through the house, toppling furniture.

He hurled the man at the back door. The man hit with a cry and tried to steady himself on his feet. But Geralt was there, gripping his shirt again. He hauled the peasant from the door with one arm, shaking him as he struggled, and opened the door with the other--no need to break it down. The witcher charged through first, hauling his prey behind them.

“--the fuck off me!”

Geralt stopped and flung the man out into the garden. To his credit, Selbrina’s uncle stumbled and kept his feet. Whirled to face his attacker. Geralt threw an aard at him. 

With a cry of pain and surprise, the man’s feet left the ground and he flew several meters back, landing hard on the earth. Geralt strode for him with steady, ground-eating strides and drew the dagger into his right hand. The man groaned and gasped, trying to push himself up. 

Geralt stood over him, gazing down calmly as he loomed. Then he tossed another aard straight down. 

The ground thumped from the pressure, and the man flattened instantly. He spasmed from the wind being knocked out of him and gaped, struggling to breathe. His eyes rolled Geralt’s way, wide and terrified and uncomprehending. He wheezed until he could manage words.

“Wh-what are you doing? Witchers hunt monsters!”

Geralt dropped to one knee and brought the dagger to the man’s throat.

“Oh look,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “I found one.”

The man’s hands went automatically to Geralt’s arm to push him back, wrest him off. But he was immovable. Geralt tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow, inviting a retort.

Selbrina’s uncle’s face twisted. “That little bitch!”

Geralt pressed the dagger and drew blood. “Be very careful what you say to me.”

The man descended into violent shaking and tears leaked from his eyes. “You gonna kill me?”

His grip on Geralt’s arm tightened uselessly, and Geralt studied him like a mildly interesting beetle. His sneer grew when he smelled the man had pissed himself. 

“Surprisingly not,” he said, and eased off the blade. “Because if I did, then two more children in the world would starve. But here’s what’s going to happen. You are never going to touch that girl again. And I will know, because I’m going to come back and check.” He put the point of the dagger under the man’s chin and made him meet his gaze. “Keep in mind, I can smell it when you lie. If I don’t like your answer, then I’ll kill you. Is that clear?”

The man didn’t nod, given the dagger, but he did burst out into sobs, which Geralt took as his answer. He stood, sheathing the dagger, and stared down at the sodden scrap of human with disgust. With a flick of his hand, he tossed down another aard. The man let out a strangled moan of pain as bones broke from the strain--like being rolled over by an ox.

Geralt left him groaning in the dirt, some of his fury assuaged. The woman in the doorway hurried her children out of his path as he stepped back into the house. But she stood her ground amid her scattered things and stared at him stone-faced and unmoving as he brushed by in the cramped dwelling.

“You should’ve killed him,” she said, barely a whisper as he passed.

He stopped, his gaze sliding to her. “I still might.”

“Did she really hire you?”

He considered his answer, chewing the inside of his lip for a moment. “I have discount rates for certain situations,” he said, then turned to look at the woman more fully. “Did you see a bard come through here a couple days ago?”

She nodded.

“Did he say where he was going?”

A shrug. “Not to me. But he was talking with Greenwitch Zarn before he left. You could ask her.”

Geralt glanced around, catching the stares of terrified children who had just watched him thrash their father. He looked away.

“Where do I find her?”

“House-Under-the-Elm, on the north side.”

Geralt nodded once. “Sorry about the mess.” And strode back out into daylight.



Greenwitch Zarn had given Jaskier several pieces of news to report when he got to Houndstil, the only town between House-Under-the-Elm’s hamlet and Ghelibol. She was sure, she said, that the bard would be there. Geralt had to resist the urge to run Roach ragged. It wasn’t her fault, and she shouldn’t suffer for his stupidities. 

They ambled into Houndstil after dusk the second day. Geralt had dismounted and walked alongside for hours in silent apology for not letting her rest. Most of the buildings and houses looked shuttered for the night, faint streams of moonlit peat smoke spilling up into the air.

One place was alive, though. Light from its open windows beckoned out into the streets, and even from a distance Geralt could hear voices and shouting, whistles and hoots. He glanced up at the sign as he brought Roach around the corner to where he could smell a stable. “The Yellow Brick Toad.” He gave the building a questioning look--neither yellow nor brick--and tied his horse into a stall. He slid his pack of swords from the saddle and turned at an approaching shuffle of feet.

“Mind your horse, sir?” A boy, a teenager, regarded him with widening eyes and a slow gulp.

Geralt glowered at him for good measure and produced a crown from his purse. “Don’t open anything. Most of it will kill you,” he said, and flipped the coin in the boy’s direction. He took his armor pack and potion bag from the saddle himself, setting them where they wouldn’t be stomped, and left the boy to take care of the rest. 

He shouldered the swords and listened as he made his way to the door. Above the shouts and hollers of drunken joy… lute music. Geralt’s slow pulse jumped, and he squeezed a hand on the strap of his bag. 

The Yellow Brick Toad was packed . Ridiculously roiling with humanity. Geralt had to push a few people aside just to shuffle in the door. Sound and smell assaulted him, and he recoiled for a moment, edging along the wall for some place… less .

He didn’t find it, and instead ended up on the far side of a pillar with a terrible view… of Jaskier.

The bard paced on a tabletop, strumming, singing, smiling. Geralt peered at him, as he dipped toward the crowd and encouraged them to join in--a stamp and a skip and a few quick chords. He paused, casting a gaze over the waiting audience, then rolled into a verse that the whole tavern took up. Voices drowned him out, and Jaskier let them, nodding as they sang to the tune he played. 

Geralt had seen him do this before. He got them all singing a familiar song and then surprised them with new verses of his own. A dramatic break to catch their attention and quiet them, before delivering his lyrics. Followed, usually, by laughter and cheers when he came out with something bawdier than before. 

The witcher’s heart quickened watching him. So in his element. Jaskier always played “The Fishmonger’s Daughter” last because most people knew it, and the joy in their own participation freed their purse strings. Geralt had almost missed the night’s performance entirely.

Jaskier finished the tune with a shout and a stamp, echoed by the townsfolk. He held up his lute and bowed to whistles and applause. Geralt felt his heart creeping toward his throat. They loved him. And he was fine. Would be fine. Perhaps he was even as happy as he looked, as he hopped down onto a bench and disappeared into the throng as his feet hit the floor. 

With the performance ended, the audience started to thin. People emptied their tankards and left them strewn on the tables. Geralt found a place to sit that he hoped was far enough to keep him hidden. The tavern bubbled with a cacophony of belches and coarse humor, swooning whispers, and ladies’ chatter, even as those with something to do come dawn went home. 

A small cadre clustered around Jaskier, chatting and making him laugh. Touching his arms, though he never let them go much further, deftly avoiding clear advances with kind smiles and demures of modesty. Geralt couldn’t make out what he was saying over the din, but something about his smiles seemed incomplete. 

Or perhaps, that was simple wishing. 

Eventually, the glad-handers dispersed to their own tables, and Geralt watched Jaskier deposit his earnings in a pouch and pack his lute carefully back into its case. He swung the case over his shoulder and headed for the stairs to the second floor, where a partial balcony provided a view of the hall. Jaskier and his red, rich doublet disappeared into the first door.

Geralt slipped from his hiding spot and followed. 

Even if he hadn’t seen which room Jaskier had gone into, he could have found him. The bard preferred a soap of mint and lavender these days, and it left a trail woven through the ales and cooked meats and unwashed human that brought him right to the door. He stared at it, his heart pounding hard. Weeks of hunting and nights on the road, and he was here. Here.  

Guilt formed a lump in Geralt’s throat and stilled his hand at his side. He had no great speech. Had tried to plan what he would do or say, but his meaning was simple. His yearning exquisite. 

He swallowed hard, steeling himself, and knocked.

“No encores, I’m afraid,” Jaskier’s voice came dulled through the door. 

Geralt scowled and knocked again, harder. 

A moment later the door jerked open.

“What--”

Jaskier froze. His face went slack with surprise and slightly pale before his expression shuttered-- snapped closed as he backed away. 

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t me,” he said, dull. Flat. 

Geralt stepped into the room, frowning as he closed the door. “What?” 

“Whatever you’re here to yell at me about.”

“I’m not--” He moved a step closer, and Jaskier moved another step back. 

The gesture, unconscious or not, struck Geralt like a dagger, and he froze. Considered. Suddenly aware of his posture, his size, his expression.

Slowly, he unslung the swords from his back and set the pack to rest against the wall. He schooled his frowning. Jaskier was… afraid … of him. After so much and all this time… He’d done that. Geralt squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, feeling the weight of it and cutting his fingers on the broken edges.

When he spoke, the sorrow in his tone was a shadow of the true thing. “I’m not here to yell at you.”

Jaskier scoured him with mistrustful eyes, his gaze flicking to the swords and back. The tension drained from his shoulders, and he moved to stare out the window instead. As gestures go, it was poetic in its elegance, combining the physical vulnerability of exposing his undefended back with the emotional chill of turning away.  

Jaskier crossed his arms over his chest. 

“Then why are you here?”

Geralt gazed at him, wishing he would turn around. Wishing he could look him in the eye. He swallowed. Curled and uncurled his fingers, but didn’t think moving any closer would bring either of them more peace.

“To say I’m sorry,” he said gently. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

Several breaths of silence passed.

“I’m not only there when the bad things happen, Geralt,” Jaskier said at last.

“I know. I’m… I’m sorry.” He was terrible at apologies. And whatever effect he had hoped this one would have, it wasn’t having it. 

Words did not mean things. They did not transmit the essence of a soul’s regret. They were not the smell of grass and horse and campfire smoke and the absence of mint and lavender. They knew nothing of chatter and music gone silent. Words were not the ache in his body of grief. Or the stilling calm of a tender touch. Words, so small so ephemeral, were not the fit rendering of a feeling, and so they did not, could not mean .

Instinct told him to reach out, to touch. While touches could tell a lie, they were not lies. Always a present truth. Immutably real. If he could just...

But a turned back was as clear as a slap. 

He had, at least, tried something , even if it was the moon reflected in a pond. “That’s all I wanted to say,” he whispered, lost in his defeat. 

He pressed his lips together, hesitated over another attempt, and then turned to reach for his pack.

Jaskier whirled.

“Are you serious?”

Geralt stopped and straightened, staring at him. He was . He thought he’d made that clear. Let his earnest expression say it a second time.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Jaskier pinched the bridge of his nose, huffed, and spoke like he addressed a child.

“How long have you been trying to find me?” he asked, and met Geralt’s gaze.

“Four weeks.”

Jaskier nodded, taking that in. “Four weeks. Four weeks so you could say you’re sorry and then… just… leave?” He swept his hand toward the door.

A frown crept across Geralt’s expression, and while he could tell that yes was the wrong answer. It was still the truest one. He had no right to further expectations--no machinations. He needed Jaskier to know--within whatever bounds the bard was willing to hear it. And that was done now. His shoulders lifted in a small shrug. “Yes.”

Jaskier gawped at him. “That is”--he searched for words--”incredibly sweet… and very stupid.” The bard sighed, shaking his head, and dropped himself on the edge of the bed. “So very you ,” he added, softly. 

He picked at one of his fingernails and kept his gaze on the floor.

“I shouldn’t have taunted you. About Yen. It’s--”

“You don’t like her, I know.”

They were talking. And that was… something. More chances to almost understand one another. Geralt moved a cautious step closer, then two, coming within an arm’s length of the post of the bed. Jaskier shook his head--neither agreement nor denial. And eventually met Geralt’s gaze with a look so lost…

“When she’s around, it’s like you’ve learned to live. You smile. You laugh . You’re a total stranger.” He shrugged. “And then she leaves. And you’re miserable for weeks --intolerable, angry. Nothing I do makes a dent in it.” 

Geralt’s heart squeezed painfully. “That’s not true.” Everything Jaskier did made a dent in it.

The bard looked away. “Well it feels true. Yennefer this. Yennefer that. Even when she’s not here , she’s never really gone.” He stopped picking at his fingers and looked up, holding eye contact. “But I’m here. I’m here for terrible breakfasts and terrible dinners; for brewing stinking potions and slogging through swamps of drowners; for patching you up when you’re bleeding. I’m here, waiting four days while you hunt a cockatrice, wondering if you’re coming back; or stumbling through a graveyard because it’s been two nights when it should’ve been one and I can’t take worrying anymore. Every day.”

Geralt carefully took a seat next to him, mindful of leaving distance... not wanting it to be so far. He hung his head, listening, nodding to show he was listening. He gripped the edge of the bed to have something to do with his hands.

“It’s messy and bloody and terrifying and boring and exhilarating,” Jaskier said. “But you don’t love me.”

Geralt lifted his head to look at him, stung. “That’s not true.” Hadn’t he protected him when needed? Saved his life? Shared meals. Beds. Time. Stories. The stars and a witcher’s secrets. 

“It is.” Jaskier smiled sadly at him, his eyes gone glassy. “And I either have to come to terms with that or walk away.”

“Why are we talking about her?”

“Because we’re talking about us. And that’s the same thing.”

Geralt’s heart pounded, his blood loud in his ears. This danger was so unlike the kind he’d been trained for. No one taught a witcher to guard his heart, because barren fields bore only crows.

He measured his words. Understood the bruises of his neglect. 

“It’s not a competition.”

“It is,” Jaskier said, in gentle sadness. “Only not much of one, because she’s a magically beautiful, powerful, ageless enchantress, and I... play the lute.”

Geralt’s frown deepened, and he squeezed the edge of the bed. “Do you know how many people I traveled with before you decided to make me famous?”

Jaskier shook his head, watching him closely. 

“None. People are intolerable. They’re loud. They smell. They’re stupid, careless, hateful, weak. But you wouldn’t leave it alone.”

Jaskier’s expression closed again, and he looked toward the window. “Annoying and clingy, that’s me.”

Geralt scowled. “Shut up . I’m trying to tell you. I’ve just spent four weeks on the road alone and it felt like being on the road... alone . Seventy years I’ve been on the Path, and it’s never felt like being alone.”

He waited, and Jaskier offered him a sidelong glance and seemed to consider this admission. The silence spun into a fragile thread. Jaskier always filled the silences, but he wasn’t now. And Geralt couldn’t read the expression on his face. He studied the floor and waited. Being alone in the same room might be worse than the searching.

“Can it be repaired?” Geralt asked quietly.

The bard looked at him, sharply, and everything about him shifted. Color crept across his neck and face, and as his eyes grew glassy. He launched to his feet, shaking his head, breathing too quickly and just stood in the corner between the window and dresser animating his hands, shaking his head, and looking, looking everywhere. Then he sucked a breath and pulled himself to stillness. His face was still red when he turned back around. Eyes still glassy. And he spoke over a tight throat.

“You broke my heart ,” he said, tapping at his own chest with each enunciated word. “And you sent me away. And now you want to know if I’ll take you back?” He trembled with pent fury, and Geralt glanced away from the heat of it. “Do you have any idea how unfair that is, you complete horse’s arse?”’ He was shouting.

Geralt didn’t. He hadn’t calculated for fairness. And he did not know what else to say. His fingers clenched hard on the edge of the bed. He swallowed in small fear, watching.

Jaskier pressed his eyes shut. He scrubbed his hands over his face and roared into them, a howl of utter frustration, and then stared at Geralt, shaking his head. 

“You can’t--you can’t ask me that.” He looked away. When he looked back, his face was twisted in pain. His voice came out thick with phlegm. “You can’t ask me that, because if you do… I will say yes.” Tears shimmered in his eyes, and he gestured weakly toward his heart. “I will say yes, because the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life is travel with you, and I will debase myself to have it back.” He glanced to the ceiling, still shaking his head in impotent denial. “I will say yes, knowing how pathetic that makes me.” 

He pressed a hand over his mouth to stop from saying more and turned to the window. A moment and a shiver later, salt and sorrow laced the air. 

Jaskier let his hand fall and cupped an elbow, barring an arm across his chest. He took a few breaths, each steadier and deeper than the last. “It’s going to take me a little while to get over my pride about that,” he said.

Geralt’s hands and arms ached from holding himself pinned in place. His chest might have been gashed open for all it hurt to breathe. He had meant to mend, but this did not look like mending. He stood, thinking to touch Jaskier’s shoulder, turn him around, and find some new way to fix this fresh hurt. Geralt got only a step before-- 

“Please leave,” the bard said, a warble, a whisper. 

--he let his hand fall back to his side and stood staring--yearning still and lost--his heavy breathing the loudest sound in the room. He hesitated, searching for better words, a spell’s tongue--but his was the meager talent of signs. And he had no remedies in the shapes of words, and Jaskier had no need of him.

He retreated slowly, as though time would foster new possibilities. Too soon,  his hand was on the strap of his pack. 

“I’ll see you at breakfast,” Jaskier said, his voice still turned away.

Geralt turned and stared at him. Clocked the way he snuffled and wiped at his eyes.

“Geralt.”

He jerked into motion and finished lifting his swords to his shoulder, the pain in his chest unbinding as he understood.

“Breakfast,” he said, and did not breathe too deeply less it snuff the embers of hope in his palm.

He slipped out of the room and took a moment to lean against the railing and stare down at the humans milling around the tavern below. The knot of tension he’d been holding in his shoulders for weeks eased into something he could stretch. A wave of bone-deep exhaustion swept over him, and he straightened and headed to the stairs.

The innkeeper gave the swords a wary look as Geralt approached and his bag of coins an interested look as he dropped it on the bar with a pointed rattle.

“Need something, witcher?”

“The room next to the bard’s.”

The man nodded once and went to retrieve a key from under the bar. He set the heavy key adorned with a green ribbon down in front Geralt with a weighty tap. 

“Ten crowns a night. Leave your laundry outside before bed if you want it done. Washroom at the end of the hall.”

Geralt counted the fee and nodded his thanks.

“Anything else?” the man asked.

He considered. “Where’s the closest spot for good fishing?”

The innkeeper rolled back on his heels a bit and puffed his cheeks. “Well… nowhere close by, I’m afraid.”

“Where that isn’t close by?”

“Oh… then I’d say the bend in the Nimnar ‘bout an hour’s west. River gets wide and slow, and the fish pool up.”

Geralt offered a small smile--nothing that showed teeth--and picked up the key. “Thank you.”

He collected the rest of his things from Roach’s stall and deposited everything in the room. Potion bag on the dresser. Armor stowed in a lockable trunk. Swords next to the bedside table. 

His wasn’t a canopy bed like the bard’s room, but it was a luxury compared to the nights on the road. He peered out the window at the stars and made a rough calculation of the hours until sunrise, the trip, the time to fish, the hour to get back.

There wouldn’t be much point in sleeping, despite what his exhaustion told him. He threw all his clothes in the hamper and set it outside the door. Then he fished a spare blanket out of the bottom drawer of the dresser and tossed it onto the floor, where he knelt and settled in for a long meditation.

***

Dawn broke over Houndstil as Geralt rode his horse through the still-empty streets. He pushed through the Toad’s front door to the protest of a squeaky hinge and trudged into the silence, damp and laden. The innkeeper, up and about his business, spread his hands on the bar and watched him. 

In one hand, Geralt clutched a fishing net that dragged trailing ropes on the floor. In the other, a string hooked through the gills of trout--a lot of trout. He’d looped the string once so nothing hung into the dirt. 

With a grunt, Geralt deposited the slippery spiral of fish on the bar top, and the innkeeper hurried to catch them as they tried to slide off.

“What am I supposed to do with these?” the man said, spreading his arms to stop the flood.

“Make breakfast.”

The innkeeper offered an incredulous look. “For what army?”

“For you, me, and the bard. You can sell the rest.” He shook fish blood and slime from his hand. 

The innkeeper flicked his gaze between Geralt and his newly acquired good fortune and blew out a breath. “Whatever you say, witcher.”

Geralt tipped his head and continued on his way back to his room to swap clothes and maybe take a quick cold bath. Everything smelled like dead fish--which meant he smelled like dead fish. 

Hours later, Geralt sat at a long table under the balcony, an empty plate and full cup nearby. He had his sleeves rolled and worked with quiet distraction at mending the fishing net he’d used that morning. Meditative work, cutting the holes to good squares and then looping the shuttle and twine through, tying knots and creating mesh. Even as the tavern grew livelier with card players and hungry farmers, no one disturbed him.

A clamor on the stairs drew his attention, and he watched Jaskier appear in green trousers and an off-white shirt. He headed straight for the bar. Geralt tied a knot while he watched and listened.

“Good morning,” Jaskier said, cheerful. “I’d like--”

“Just a minute!” The innkeeper cut him off with a raised finger and then disappeared through the kitchen door. 

Jaskier leaned his forearms against the bar and waited, seemingly unperturbed. 

The innkeeper returned with a bowl of fish stew with a large crust of bread sticking up over the rim. He set the bowl down.

“Tea or beer?”

Jaskier looked at the bowl and then back up. “Uh, tea, please.”

That appeared quickly, too. Jaskier reached for his coin purse, but the innkeeper waved him off.

“No need. You just enjoy it.”

Geralt smiled to himself and tied another knot. Measured a length of twine. Jaskier picked up his food and turned, searching the tavern. A tight smile crossed his face when he spotted Geralt in his corner, and he started over, his expression turning to beaming by the time he arrived. Geralt slipped the fishing net off his lap and onto the floor, placing his empty hands on the table. 

“Did you see that?” The bard set his food down and gestured. “Free breakfast! I didn’t think this place had free breakfast, but he wouldn’t take my money.” He sat down across the table and swirled the bread through the stew. “Maybe they don’t.” He took a bite, thought some more. ”Maybe... he liked my singing! I mean... it was quite the performance.”

Geralt grinned mildly. “Maybe so.”

Jaskier nodded, convincing himself more and eating with relish. “Have you had some of this, it’s delicious. I’m having seconds, you want a bowl? On me, if I can swing it?”

Geralt’s smile broadened. “Sure.” 



News of a bard in town traveled quickly, and the Toad could barely contain that evening’s boisterous crowd. Jaskier kept staring at Geralt while he practiced in the hours leading up to it. The bard was thinking something--planning something. Geralt tried not to frown too much and distracted himself with cards. The qualities of the looks shifted, heated to chill. But, the bard never told him to go. 

When the hour came, Jaskier stepped up onto a table so everyone could see him and commenced with a reporting of the news. He then announced that he was going to do something different that night and begged their indulgence.

Geralt watched from his under-balcony corner as Jaskier jumped down off the table and turned his way. Alarm streaked down his spine as the crowd parted to let the bard through. And he scowled when Jaskier reached him and stretched out his hand. 

“Come here,” Jaskier said at a loud whisper.

“No.”

The hopeful expectation in the bard’s eyes snuffed instantly, and Geralt snatched his hand before he could drop it, reminding himself that he was here for mending. And that broken things broke easily twice. He let himself be pulled through the crowd to the table-stage and hoped, hoped that Jaskier wasn’t going to make him stand up there with him. 

Instead, the bard bade him sit on the table’s bench--still in the middle of the room where Hounstil’s attention gathered. Geralt glanced around at curious, wary faces, his shoulders going tense, and tried to keep his focus on Jaskier, wondering what this was about. 

Jaskier looked down at him and started to play. 

He played, but he did not sing. 

For a song, they let him get away with it.

Then, “Sing about the witcher!”

“Isn’t that him? Tell us!”

“The one about the wolf!”

Jaskier raised his voice. “Tomorrow, dear people, I promise I will tell you. I am saving my voice to sing you the sweetest of tales. Just not tonight.” 

He stepped down to stand on the same bench where Geralt sat, and then down again to the floorboards as he struck a chord. He played songs of swift, dramatic movement. Soft and tender laments. Rousing jigs that caused riots of dancing. Emotions of every color filled the space.

He was never more than a few feet away. 

And he held Geralt’s gaze while he played them. For a span Geralt could not name, everything else faded, and he forgot they were not alone.

When Jaskier was done, he hopped back up on the table and thanked everyone for their indulgence, promising a filthy round of jigs the following night on his honor. And then he stepped down and packed away his lute. Geralt stood, watching him and ignoring the stares of the bemused audience who had not gotten exactly what they came for. 

He felt the ache of the laments vibrate still in his ribs. 

“Jaskier--”

“Did you enjoy it?”

He looked exhausted.

Geralt studied him carefully. “Very much.”

A small, strained smile, and then he slipped through the crowd toward the bar. Geralt followed automatically, but stopped when Jaskier picked up his mead and headed for the stairs. He had not been invited. And he could not shake the feeling that Jaskier had painted his heart across the walls for everyone, just so he would see it too.

***

Warm blood dripped down the back of his neck and shoulders, soaking his shirt so it clung to his skin. The brown fabric hid the gore well, unlike that smeared on Geralt’s face and drying into his hair. He shifted the weight across his shoulders and opened the door to the Toad. He had to shuffle through sideways, antlers first; the deer carcass wouldn’t fit otherwise. 

The innkeeper looked up at the sound of his tread, and the man’s eyes widened. Geralt steadied his morning’s kill and trudged for the bar to lay it down. 

“Not on the bar!” The innkeeper put up both hands to stop him. “C’mon now! I just cleaned it!”

Geralt stopped just before heaving off the weight, and stared at the man, waiting.

“Wh--the kitchen !” The innkeeper gestured, exasperated.

It was a sensible request. Geralt grunted, steadied the carcass, and rounded the bar for the kitchen instead. He maneuvered through the door with his burden and stopped dead when he found himself face-to-face with a woman who matched his height and had arms like a blacksmith. She took in Geralt, the carcass, and the innkeeper close at their heels with an implacability worthy of a witcher. 

“Over there,” she said, and pointed with her knife. 

Geralt slogged and heaved the deer onto a long table. The cook appeared beside him and lifted up one of the haunches, peering into the empty cavity.

“Field dressed. Nice.”

He cut her a look. “You’re welcome.”

“Tryin’ to put our hunters out of business?”

Geralt frowned at her. “Not really.”

She dropped the haunch. “Too bad.” And turned to a center table piled with vegetables in the process of being chopped. 

Geralt wiped the blood on his hands on his trousers and faced the innkeeper. 

The man held up a hand to stop him.

“Let me guess. Feed you, feed the bard, sell the rest. Hmm?”

Geralt smirked at him and started for the door. “Make it something nice.”

Behind him, the cook chortled to herself. “Make it nice, he says.”

Geralt stopped and turned a sharp look on her, the blood magnifying the effect.

The innkeeper hissed. “Mayred, don’t piss ‘im off!”

She raised her eyes to the witcher’s gold. “I’ve ideas,” she told him, without a flicker of fear in her pulse.

Geralt lifted an eyebrow and inclined his head in assent. The corner of his mouth twitched into a smile at her, before he gave the innkeeper a flat look. “I need a bath.”

The man’s eyebrows went up. “Too right. I’ll have the girl heat the water,” he said, then left the kitchen and raised his voice in a bellow. “Maribel! Hot water in the bath!”

***

As promised, Jaskier’s performance at the Toad that night was much like the first one Geralt had seen--bawdy songs, jigs and dances. He led the audience in sing-alongs from atop a dining table and wove his way around the room, collecting coins for special requests. He sang of elves and basilisks and witches and White Wolves, while Geralt distracted himself with the gwent players, losing and remaking the same twenty crowns.

Halfway through a game, the inn rattled with thunderous applause and stomping feet, and Geralt winced at the overwhelming noise. He missed an obvious move, and his opponent almost reluctantly cleared him out.

“Sorry, witcher…”

He shrugged it off and made clear there were no hard feelings. He pocketed his cards and slunk for the corner under the balcony where there would be less light and hopefully fewer people. The show ended while he concentrated on the insides of his eyelids, and he only opened his eyes when mint and lavender reached his nose, mingled with cooked meat and alcohol.

Jaskier dropped into the seat across from him and set down a plate. He looked flushed, a little tired, sweating and pleased with himself. Geralt watched him take a cut of meat, chew, and sigh in satisfaction.

“Mead. Braised. Venison,” Jaskier said, gesturing with his fork. “Melting butter potatoes with rosemary.”

Geralt smiled faintly.

“And you”--Jaskier jabbed the fork in his direction--”were going to let me think they liked my singing.”

Annoyance lanced down Geralt’s spine, and he scowled as he sat up straighter. “The innkeeper should keep his mouth shut.”

“The innkeeper didn’t say anything. The cook, however…” He looped the utensil through the air. “Enjoys her work and had no idea what I did not know.”

Geralt pressed his lips together and sagged. He liked the cook and couldn’t find it in him to be angry. 

Jaskier set his fork and knife on the table. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

The bard took a slow and calming breath, pressing his eyes shut for just a moment. “Were you going to let me believe a lie?”

“It wasn’t--” Geralt cut himself off. It wa s, but… “You like it when people like your singing,” he said. “I didn’t see the harm.”

Jaskier watched him closely. “You… thought it would make me happy,” he concluded after a time.

Geralt nodded at him, his heart having quickened as he picked up on the danger. “I’m… sorry, if that was wrong.”

Amusement touched Jaskier’s expression and he picked up the fork, poking at his dinner. “No… it...” He stopped himself and met Geralt’s gaze. “I could do without the lie next time.” He picked up his knife and carved off another slice of meat. “The venison , however. Perfection.”



The lingering crowd got drunker. The gwent players got louder. The dice players angrier. The barmaids more tired. And the carousers silly. Jaskier had locked his lute away in his room for safekeeping and joined those spinning tales. 

Geralt stood watching a tense game of cards, while those around him chanted and called out moves, placing bets with each other on what would happen next. 

“--my wife!” 

Someone on the other side of the tavern shouted, and the ring of menace caught Geralt’s ear. He turned, following the sound, suddenly attuned. 

“You little... fuck!”

Geralt’s stomach tensed, and he knew--he just knew . Quick strides brought him around the central fireplace, and he saw a red-faced man jab a finger in Jaskier’s direction, while the bard backpedaled around chairs.

“I assure you, sir, I--”

“Don’t fuckin’ lie to me!” 

This might actually be the blacksmith by the size of him. Adrenaline pumped into Geralt’s veins, and he made several quick decisions. 

“Hey!” he bellowed and charged across the room. Both men turned to him with looks of surprise, and he aimed a feral snarl at Jaskier. “You thief !”

He was on them in a second, shoving the smith aside. Jaskier’s eyes flashed with real terror before he registered that Geralt had inserted himself between them. 

“I saw you earlier.” He grabbed the bard by the doublet. “And now my coin purse is a little light!”

Jaskier laughed nervously and held up his hands. “I really have no idea--”

“Hey!” The smith gave Geralt’s shoulder a shove. “I was here first!”

He pivoted and bared his teeth. “I don’t care.”

“That little bastard fucked my wife!”

“And?”

The smith blinked at him. “What?”

“And? Was she satisfied?”

“The fuck does that matter?”

“You should ask her that.”

The man gaped at him for a second, unclear on where the conversation had just gone. Geralt took advantage of the brute’s slow wits and pressed Jaskier ahead of him toward the door.

“You’re coming with me,” he growled, loud and menacing.

They burst out the door of the inn and Geralt marched him around the side toward the stables. 

“No! Please! I didn’t, I swear!” Jaskier called, playing along. 

The smith stumbled out after them. “Hey. Hey!” 

They slipped out of his line of sight, and Geralt released his grip. Jaskier threw himself against the side of the inn and let out a cry at the impact. Geralt glanced around, then thumped his fist against one of the posts between the stalls. Jaskier howled and pointed to a sack of oats. It made a good, loud whump when Geralt kicked it, and Jaskier groaned pitifully and loud. 

The smith hadn’t come down the alley.

Geralt held up his hand for stillness and listened.

“Fuckin’ serves ‘im right,” he heard.

He punched the sack of oats, and Jaskier whimpered in mock pain, watching him for direction. 

The smith’s heartbeat grew fainter, and Geralt lowered his hand.

Jaskier stared back at him from the darkness of the unoccupied stall, his pulse rabbit quick and smelling of fear. He started, after a moment, to laugh--a nervous chittering thing that grew stronger by the second. He stumbled out into the moonlight, and Geralt caught him by the upper arm to steady him. 

“I didn’t,” Jaskier said, between heavy breaths. “I swear.”

“What?”

“Screw that man’s wife. I mean I probably should do her the favor. But… I didn’t.” He set his hand on Geralt’s shoulder. Gazed at him. “I promise.” 

He nodded, because it seemed right, even though he couldn’t have cared less. 

Jaskier nodded, too. Something like relief passing over his expression. And joy. And gratitude. He slid his hand from Geralt’s shoulder to the back of his neck, still panting from the fright and adrenaline--still high with excitement. Jaskier reeled him in, kissed him, pressed their bodies together, and smiled against his mouth. 

“We need to go inside,” he breathed. Sucked on Geralt’s lip.

“Can’t go through the front door.” He kissed at Jaskier’s jaw, working toward his neck.

“Back way.” Jaskier swallowed and pressed at Geralt’s chest to separate them. “There’s a back way, through the bath.”

He grabbed Geralt by the hand and hauled him through the alley, passed the stables and around the back. He let go as they mounted the wooden steps to the second story. Reached underneath a plank to fetch a key. Reached back for his hand again as they slipped through the empty washroom and down the hall to Jaskier’s room. Geralt peered down from the open balcony, his gaze trained on the blacksmith, and he waved Jaskier on when it was clear. 

They collided in a tangle of excited hands until Geralt gave way and let Jaskier take the lead.

Jaskier kissed him back toward the bed--ardent presses, blunt teeth on a soft lip--his hands clutching Geralt’s shirt. Geralt’s legs bumped into the mattress and he sat. Jaskier crowded him, fingertips to his jaw, while he kissed, fervent, hungry, dropping moans of pleasure into Geralt’s mouth. And then he stopped suddenly. Breathing hard, he made space between them and pulled at Geralt’s shirt until he got the idea. 

Geralt tossed his shirt aside, his medallion resting cold against his skin, and balanced while Jaskier stripped the rest of him. His own pulse had started to quicken, and the bard had too many clothes on. That could be fixed. 

He started to stand, but Jaskier held a finger up at him, so he stilled. The finger flicked down, and he sat again. A fire burned in those blue eyes, and he could hear Jaskier’s heartbeat tick up in response to… what?

A step and Jaskier crowded him again, reaching for the chain around his neck. He sat motionless as gentle fingers brushed his skin, undoing the clasp, and marked his medallion disappearing into the bard’s pocket. Jaskier nudged him to tip his head forward and started undoing the tie that held his hair. He felt it come free and smiled at the fingers combing along his scalp, though it did not last.

Jaskier moved away, taking his scent and heat with him. Geralt looked up, watching. As naked as he could be and seeing himself assessed. Jaskier tipped his head to the side, raking him with a serious gaze. Geralt lifted an eyebrow, not knowing how to earn another touch.

The bard chewed on a lower lip for a moment.

He came to a decision suddenly, and went to the bottom drawer of the dresser. He tossed a length of rope on the floor behind him, and then turned clutching a handful of fabric that looked like a bleeding heart. He let it unravel into a strip of velvet and returned.

“Hands,” he said.

Geralt frowned up at him, at the velvet strip. His heart did something quick and heavy and muscles in his shoulders twitched, but he offered up his wrists without comment. 

Jaskier had some experience with this. He bound Geralt’s wrists together with care, concentrating on the knotwork. He tested the ties when he was done, tugging to see if they came loose. They didn’t. Neither did they hurt.

Geralt tested them, too. Pressed his wrists apart to see how easily he could break it. Twisted his hands to see if they might slip out. Jaskier watched him with a small, smug smile when the bonds didn’t immediately give way. Unease crept through his stomach, but he bit it down for the gleam in the bard’s eyes.

The rope came next. 

Geralt’s frown deepened as Jaskier looped the rope through the ties and knotted it tight.

“You know what I discovered about this room?” Jaskier said, his voice low and mischievous. 

“No.” And he was starting to suspect he didn’t want to. 

Jaskier found the other end of the rope and tapped on one of the four posts of the canopy bed. Geralt craned to look but couldn’t see anything, so he stood for a better view. There was a hole drilled through the post with worn, smooth edges. Jaskier threaded the rope through and hauled hard. 

Geralt stumbled off balance as his wrists were drawn up and face nearly cracked into the post. Alarm slammed through him as Jaskier tied the other end off on hooks on the bed rail.

“What are you doing?”

His heart hammered, and he started to struggle.

Jaskier straightened and frowned at him. “What does it look like?”

“It looks”--he jerked his hands--”like you’re going to flog me!”

He had been flogged before. For a village’s sudden misfortune, a plague, an ill wind. Stoned and whipped because his kind didn’t mix with honest people. 

Witchers could take so much pain without passing out. Bleed gallons and do it again tomorrow.

Geralt panted, pulled harder, felt his heart against his ribs--

“--not gonna beat you!” Jaskier’s voice sounded distant. Foggy. “Geralt? Right, bad idea.”

In a second he was gone, and then the rope loosened. Geralt’s hands dropped, and he leaned heavily against the post, breathing hard. Confused. 

Why, why would Jaskier want him in restraints? For what… was he afraid, still? Was he this much a monster? Did he not trust--

Geralt stumbled over the word and squeezed his eyes shut. He controlled his breathing. Thought about how it must seem. His showing up with small apologies, paltry gifts--nothing of value. And asking, underneath his words, for Jaskier to trust him again in exchange for that nothing.

He opened his eyes and looked at his bound wrists, new understanding filtering through. That’s what this was--a question, a request.

The panic fled him, and he squared himself with the bed and the post. Turned to look at Jaskier’s worried face, guilty that he had let old memories overwhelm his good sense.

“It’s all right.”

“A second ago, it very much was not.” Jaskier watched him dubiously.

“A second ago, I didn’t understand.” He tipped his head toward the hooks. “It’s all right.” 

Hesitant, Jaskier pulled the rope more steadily this time. He pulled it tight, stretching Geralt’s arms and shoulders, not quite making him lift his heels. Then eased it back, so he wasn’t flush against the post, and tied it off. 

Geralt tested the limits of movement. He took slow, even breaths and relaxed into the tension. Jaskier watched him with a steady intensity, waiting to see what he would do. Geralt lowered his eyes, considering. He wet his lips and swallowed, then bowed his head in submission. A curtain of ashen hair fell around his face as his eyes shut.  

Jaskier moved, and fabric rustled. The door opened, and Geralt’s shoulders tensed, but he did not look. Several heartbeats later, footsteps and the door and the familiar rattling of his potion bag as Jaskier carried it in and set it down. Glass bottles clinked against one another intermittently.

“Hmm,” Jaskier said. “Minty.”

“Not that one!” Geralt’s head jerked up, and he twisted to peer around his arm.  

Jaskier rotated slowly, the bottle in one hand and cap in the other, a query written on his features.

“It’ll burn,” Geralt told him. “And not in a good way.” Not that he was in a position to stop him, if he insisted. 

Jaskier replaced the cap and gingerly set the bottle aside. He found a second one and held it up for inspection--a clear bottle filled with a yellow oil.

“Calendula,” Geralt supplied, and got another quirked eyebrow. “Innocuous.”

Jaskier chose that one. Geralt’s hair obscured his peripheral vision, and in a few steps Jaskier had moved out of sight. He was close. Behind. The witcher’s senses told him that, but he couldn’t see much other than the post, a sliver of the floor, and ash-silver, and somehow this simple tableau clarified for him what was going to happen. Not that he couldn’t have guessed, displayed as he was for the bard’s pleasure. But now, his body understood and flooded with heat in anticipation. He would be fucked at Jaskier’s discretion--a pawn to his whims.

Fabric shifted and swished. Movement caught his attention, and he craned for a better look. The bard’s green doublet lay on the floor by the bed. A second later, his embroidered shirt fell through the air to follow it, just within Geralt’s field of vision. Pants, smallclothes, each discarded one at a time to whet the image in his mind’s eye. Just out of view, the sleek frame and toned muscle waited for him. The dark hair on Jaskier’s chest and abdomen a contrast of color and texture to pale soft skin. 

These things all denied him as he hung in bonds, forced to wait. He was weeks an echo chamber of regret and loneliness. And now, he could be full and feel, and find relief. If only Jaskier would touch him, if--

Calendula flower’s light scent filled the air. Then the slick, sloppy sound of skin and oil. It could have been Jaskier rubbing his hands, but the bard sighed and his pulse quickened. And from the sound and the rhythm, Geralt knew he was stroking himself. Moaning softly on his exhales to excite them both. He could picture it--Jaskier’s cock growing hard and curving; his eyes going dark. 

Touch me, Geralt said through an arch of his back and a cant of his hips. He tugged on the bindings, and heard Jaskier breathe a smile. There was a pause to the rhythm and the oil-slick sound grew sloppier still. Then warm, gliding hands slid onto the globes of his ass.

Geralt made a low rumble of approval as the hands gripped as hard as they could without slipping. Worked in slow circles and came to rest on his hip bones. He could feel body heat but not reach it and huffed at the effort. 

Jaskier held him still with surprisingly strong hands.

“Listen to me,” the bard said, soft but serious. “Do you believe I’ll stop if you say so?”

Geralt frowned. Stop? They hadn’t started . “I won’t.” He deepened his breathing, forcing calm. A witcher could withstand much.

“That’s not what I asked.”

He pressed his eyes shut and touched his forehead to the post. Did he believe? That wasn’t the question. Could he imagine Jaskier abandoning him to howls of pain, delighting in his torment? No. Do you trust me? 

“Geralt.”

“Yes.”

He was sure that was the right answer. 

One of Jaskier’s hands glided from his hip to the cleft of his ass and slipped in, rubbing gently at his tight pucker of muscle. The breath stuttered out of him. Liquid fire warmed his thighs and groin. He swallowed, unable quite to stop himself from rocking with the up-down strokes. 

Clever, skilled hands, quickly replaced by hot, hard cock. Jaskier made a soft sound when their skin touched. He nudged himself, spreading the oil. Geralt tensed at the pressure firm against him, confusion flitting across his face. They had skipped a step. They had... 

Jaskier grabbed his flanks hard and pulled down--penetrating with a surprising snap of his hips. It hurt .

Geralt flinched and grunted. Took quick, shallow breaths to adjust to the pain. Then Jaskier rocked back out of him, unsheathed fully. That shock, too, was rough, and Geralt shivered from the loss of boundaries. 

Another stroke, hard, demanding, and quickly gone. 

He anticipated the next one. Instinctively clenched. He gritted his teeth and tried to curl toward the post, but he was making it worse. He knew that, even as Jaskier shoved into him with an audible slap. He stifled a grunt. It would spiral, the hurt and the shying, and he would make a liar of himself.

He needed--

--a moment to think.

He needed--

A hiss and wince.

To stop fighting. 

Stop anticipating.

With clarity--to... surrender.

With effort, Geralt loosened his shoulders. His belly. Unclenched. 

Jaskier’s grip on his body bit to bruising as he tried to be rough. Slap, slap , punctuated by harsh breaths. But even trying, even angry , the bard had no brutality in him. His strokes slowed and lengthened to the cadence of his heart. And Geralt rocked back into it as the sensation grew familiar, hurt ebbed to pleasure. 

It crept up his spine, a honey glowing mead. The hard slaps eased into rolling hips and a press of flesh. Jaskier sighed and released his fingers. Stroked his palms up Geralt’s back as he buried himself deep and held there. 

Geralt opened his eyes as Jaskier leaned full against him. Arms wrapped across his middle, until clever hands gently held the shell of Geralt’s ribs, and the bard made a weak sound as he pressed himself to the witcher’s skin. Geralt smiled, even though all he could do was stand and breathe. He wished he could know what was so intoxicating. Jaskier had described it once in poetic phrase--the thawing back to life of touching him--but that wasn’t knowing . To Geralt, it was a warm embrace, but intimate as sanctuary.

Jaskier’s hands shifted to sweep up and across his chest, and lips touched his shoulder. He tugged against the bonds, wanting to touch--to hold --in reply. Tried to open space near the curve of his neck, but the angle of his arms prevented it. Prevented kissing. And he dropped his head against the post in quiet defeat. 

The hands moved again, tracing up his arms. Jaskier twined their fingers together and squeezed lightly. Geralt gripped him back.

“Good.” A whisper in his ear, though Geralt didn’t know what he had done. 

The word stuck in his chest, full and resonating. 

Gentle hands caressed down his biceps, down his sides, and Jaskier leaned his weight off, taking the comfort of his warmth with him. He withdrew almost fully, held Geralt’s hips to change the angle, and thrust in slow and controlled. And this was the lover he knew. 

The sensation of being filled rolled over him. Geralt let out a groan as Jaskier hit the right spot. His knees wobbled, and the bed rattled as it took his sudden weight. The bindings on his wrists burned tighter, and he huffed at Jaskier’s light laugh. He had barely recovered, before he leaned his head against the post and moaned breathless as Jaskier filled him again. 

Jaskier touched his hair and rubbed at his chest and kissed at his shoulder and tried to drive him mad with small graces before holding him firm. He had learned something wonderful , the bard. He had learned, long ago, what Geralt liked .

The world tipped. 

Long strokes to lightning snaps. Geralt arched and saw stars. His fingers curled around the post. Lungs locked. Nerves screamed--quick, constant friction--until he writhed to make it stop. 

Jaskier withdrew, leaving him panting. Geralt’s own cock hard and throbbing, demanding without any means of relief. He struggled against the restraints in a show of frustration and growled. His heart thundered, and he felt the absence of the bard’s touch keenly. Understood there would be no more until he earned it.

Heaving breaths, Geralt sagged against the post and bowed his head. 

They went through it again. Jaskier chasing his own satisfaction with deep, slow strokes, then riding him to an intolerable pleasure that would neither let him climax nor let him go. This was the bard taking from him, thrusting deep, caressing him everywhere to seep arcane fire from his skin, mouthing at him.

It felt like adoration. Like worship. Too terrifying to contemplate, and if he begged it would be for mercy.

Sweat-slicked and skin-ache wanting. Jaskier’s hands slipped on him. The bard’s breathing went quick and ragged. His pulse spiked. He moaned, clutched Geralt’s hips, buried himself to the hilt, and shuddered. His fingers clenched in time to his spasms. And then, he sighed, and his fingers released.

Unease crept around Geralt’s throat. Jaskier was always so meticulous about the mess of sex. Courtesy, he called it. Now, he had withdrawn, and seed started to creep slowly down the witcher’s skin. It was beyond Geralt’s control, and he swallowed. Courtesy, perhaps, was something he longer had any right to, and despite the ache in his body, his stomach went cold. 

Jaskier touched a hand between his shoulder blades.

“Turn around.”

He obeyed. It felt like presenting his leaking cock for inspection. Only Jaskier wasn’t looking at that. He was looking at him , searching his eyes. Geralt shivered at the sense of exposure, and then Jaskier traced up his arm and played with his fingers again like before. He gripped. Geralt did the same. Only this time, Jaskier saw the confusion written in Geralt’s expression as he pulled away.

“If they’re numb, you won’t squeeze back,” he said, voice low, and touched Geralt’s jaw.

His body throbbed unbearable with each heartbeat as he watched Jaskier retrieve more oil from the bottle on the floor. Calendula flowers layered their scent on the air as the bard spread oil on his hands. He glanced over from his task with a small smile, and Geralt arched towards him, shaking the bed. 

Shh. Jaskier’s mouth only formed the sound. “I know,” he whispered as he came closer. Close enough to kiss.

Geralt wet his lower lip in anticipation of it, but despite the wanting look, the heated nearness, he was denied. Again. And Jaskier wrapped a hand around his cock instead.

That was better, glorious even. He groaned and bucked up into it. Let his eyes close as the quick, hot, tight ignited through his belly and thighs. He pulled against the rope and pressed his back against the post. Wheezed as he felt the coiling start.

And the hand vanished. 

Geralt arched hard, chasing friction. Opened his eyes and met Jaskier’s gaze with a look of pleading. He struggled as the edge of pleasure receded and the ache stabbed. Parted his lips, panting, and swallowed his begging.

Jaskier drew close again and brushed sweat through his hairline with the backs of his fingers. He turned into the gesture, but then it was gone too, and he could only shiver at the tenderness lost. 

The bard switched hands. Stroked him to the edge and left him wanting. He made a weak sound, and knew his control was slipping because he felt no shame. 

The third time his blood rose to boil, and Jaskier’s expert hand left him, Geralt bucked, and a “Please,” cracked out of him, ragged and wanton.

It was the right word. 

Please, I will do anything.

Please, don’t leave me like this.

Please, be what I need. 

Between heartbeats, Jaskier returned. He stroked him long and quick and just right, fanning embers to flash-fire. Geralt came hard, with a strangled cry, pierced with light. Needles spread across his tongue. His fingers clenched and he strained against the bindings through waves of relief. Then collapsed back against them. Panting. Sweating. 

He opened his eyes slowly and saw Jaskier’s hand still on his cock, holding it against his belly for a moment longer before he let go. He had seen to it that Geralt painted himself in his own seed. The thought occurred to him through a haze that he must look like a portrait of debauchery. 

Geralt frowned down at himself, the unease from earlier returning. Perhaps… this… withholding of courtesy was a punishment, an insult. The idea settled in him like a misfit puzzle piece. Sated, his breath slowing, he dropped his head back against the post and watched through hooded eyes as Jaskier turned from him and started pulling on his smallclothes--just enough to be decent.

Jaskier glanced at him with an unreadable expression, his gaze raking the length of Geralt’s body. Then he left, leaving the door to the room unlocked. Alarm rang through Geralt’s sluggish blood, and he stood straighter, shaking off the fatigue. A frown worked its way across his expression as the seconds ticked by and a growing apprehension brought him images of being found by the innkeeper this way. Or having to break the bed post and explain his monstrous destruction. 

The urge to call out swelled in his throat. But he swallowed it down and concentrated on his senses. On assuring himself that this was Jaskier’s room, and he would not just leave .

Eventually, he heard light padding footsteps and aqueous sloshing. And then Jaskier slipped back into the room bearing a basin and an apologetic smile.

“Had to heat the water,” he said.

Geralt blinked at him and relaxed, thinking it was kind of him to bring him something to wash with.

Jaskier set the basin at Geralt’s feet, slung the towels off his shoulder, and sat cross-legged on the floor. 

Geralt stared down at him as a creeping sensation slithered through his veins.

No, he wasn’t--

No…

 Jaskier wet a cloth and started at the top of Geralt’s foot. Nothing had gotten on his foot, but he fought the urge to shake him off--because the water was warm, and Jaskier’s hands were warm. And Geralt had gotten everything wrong earlier. Mortification kept him still. 

The only sound was the lap of water and the spill of drops and the shush of fabric on skin as Jaskier worked his way up the inner thigh, where spilled seed had dried tight and itching. He paused, nudging at Geralt’s knee until he widened his stance, giving Jaskier access to clean everywhere .

Strange shame rushed through him like fever. But Jaskier had not untied him, and so what choices were left but petulant struggling or enduring this gentle care. He had said terrible things in Cairgorn. Things that should cost him such treatment. He had never earned this, not from anyone.

Jaskier switched to a fresh cloth to clean his torso, silent and attentive. And when that was done, a third cloth to dry. If he noticed Geralt’s distress, he gave no sign and got up calmly to put the basin by the door. 

Then, finally, the bonds. He unhooked the rope and lowered Geralt’s arms down slowly. 

Blood rushed into them. He hadn’t gone numb, but everything had started to ache in that direction, and he sighed with genuine relief, rolling his shoulders. Jaskier worked the knots and loosened the velvet strip.

Geralt shook himself free, the soft material sliding over his hands. He felt strange--dizzy, but free --and surged forward cupping Jaskier’s face in both palms. 

He kissed apologies and ardor. Kissed with soft, desperate hunger on the corner of Jaskier’s mouth; on his lips. Sucked and licked and groaned into him until he was sure that his meaning was clear. Then he slid one hand to the nape of the bard’s neck and the other to the small of his back and pressed his forehead against Jaskier’s temple, nuzzling his nose along his cheek. Just holding, just not letting go.

Jaskier made an amused sound. “Hi,” he said, a smile rounding the word, his hands settling on Geralt’s back.

Geralt inhaled deep and sighed. “Hi.” 

The strangeness lingered--like his limbs were not quite his own. His body was light and floating with nerves too raw for words. He made space between them, examining his own hand.

“Are you all right?” Jaskier asked, brushing his fingers through Geralt’s unbound hair.

“I’m not sure.”

He stepped away, trying to piece through this response. The odd beat of his heart. The disassociation. 

“Geralt.”

His gaze landed on his potion bag and an idea coalesced.

“Geralt.” 

Jaskier’s worry struck him like a bell, and he met the man’s eyes.

“I feel strange,” he said, and then set about putting on his shirt and drawers.

Jaskier hovered, not touching him but clearly wanting to, the way his hands moved. “Can you be more specific?”

He finished tying the knot at his waist as he gave the bard a long, serious look. “No,” he said eventually, and Jaskier’s worry turned exasperated.

Geralt moved to the dresser and picked through his bag, extracting two leather pouches stamped with symbols that had meaning only to him. He started for the door, stopped, and gave Jaskier’s rapidly pounding heart a look before meeting his eyes.

“I’ll be back,” he said, and left to go find the cook. 



If the cook was shocked to find a half-dressed witcher standing barefoot in her kitchen, she did an excellent job of hiding it. She spared him barely a glance and grew even greater in his regard.

“Did you need something, or you come to help?”

“Uh. Hot water and a tea set?”

The cook set her knife down, wiped her hands on her apron, and turned to look at him. “Hot water and a tea set,” she repeated, her hands on her hips. “Keep filling my kitchen like you have been, I’ll toss in a barrel of ale.”

He smiled over the sensation of unsteadiness and waited as she lifted a finger to beg his patience. She produced a tea pot from a cabinet and matching stoneware mugs from under the table. She snatched a kettle off the stove and set it by the rest. 

“Good?” She eyed him.

He bowed his head. “Thank you.” And set about measuring and brewing his herbs. At medicinal strength, the brewing time is long, and Geralt used the wait to find honey as he stayed out of the cook’s way. His fingers trembled as he worked, which he did not like, and his own hand seemed alien. It was a surprise every time it did what he wanted. 

When it was done, he filled the heavy stoneware mugs and returned to the room, one in each hand. Briefly, he considered trying to knock without spilling, but his hands were already suspect.

He settled for, “Jaskier, open the door.”

A second later, the bard did so, staring at him with abject curiosity as he came in. Geralt moved silently to the bed and sat on the foot of it. He held out a cup, and Jaskier quickly joined him, their fingers glancing as he took the offering. Geralt wrapped both hands around the stoneware, settling into the silence. His chest felt tight. Body vulnerable. He could sense Jaskier’s eyes on him.

Geralt took a sip of the tea, feeling the spread of heat relax tension he hadn’t noticed. 

Jaskier sniffed at his own mug. “What is it?”

“Hawthorn and rose.” 

He gazed down at the cup, shifting his fingers against the smooth glaze.

“Is it… ah… for something special?”

Geralt shifted. Pressed his lips together for a moment in indecision and spoke down toward the floor. “The heart,” he admitted. “It’s medicine for the physical heart. But it can help… open… the emotional one. Heal.”

Jaskier was quiet for the span of a breath. “Is this your way of suggesting to me that I get over it?”

“No!” Too sharply. He turned and made it softer, “No…” The stoneware weighed like guilt in his hands, and he stared down at it, unable to look Jaskier in the eye. “I wounded you,” he said, fingers tightening. “But there’s no bone to set. No lacerations to stitch closed.” He took a drink to steady himself. “Untreated wounds fester and don’t heal.”

Jaskier’s pulse ticked up, and he swallowed some of the tea. Geralt glanced at him and found him contemplating his own cup.

“I know it would cost you your pride to travel with me again,” he said, heart heavy. “I don’t know how to make that better.”

Jaskier shrugged and looked over at him, eyes full of candor and innocence. “Never had much pride to begin with.”

“Don’t do that.” Don’t debase himself further. “Jaskier…” He shook his head, unclear on what he wanted to say. He added more tea for courage and truth, and met the bard’s gaze while his heart thundered. “You unman me with your kindness, after I came here to apologize… and… I don’t understand.” 

A sad smile formed on Jaskier’s face. “I know… Kindness has always been harder for you.”

“That’s a strange punishment.”

“Exactly.” Jaskier rocked to nudge him with an elbow. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

Though his understanding was no clearer, he felt the exchange as a warm spot in his chest. The simple conversation so like a campfire at night. He drank a little more of the hawthorn and rose and hummed to himself.

“Tell me,” Jaskier said.

Geralt sighed, thinking of the mountain. The nights on the road. The neglect he heaped upon himself as punishment. The care Jaskier heaped upon him for no reason at all. The scents and sights he craved once they were gone. He thought about how much it hurt to feel so much so constantly. 

“I’ve been on the Path a long time,” he said, shaking his head. “And now, all of a sudden, I can’t do it alone.”

Jaskier made a thoughtful sound. “It’s not really all of a sudden, though, is it?”

Geralt looked at him. Looked at him and ached for what he’d done--for the years he’d nearly sacrificed and the weight of the gathering sorrow. 

He should not feel this. It marked him a terrible witcher. A failure at his profession and a traitor to his kind. They did not have feelings, everyone knew-- 

His hand tightened on the mug, and his face burned. The weightless disconnection to his body dissolved, and he felt a bubble build and burst in his chest. He sucked a breath, exhaled tightly, and to his great dismay began to cry. 

There was no blubbering, nor sobs. This was a silent, well-fought weeping that wrung tears with each harsh breath.

“What--” Jaskier started, so soft, so tentative. “Geralt?” 

He swept Geralt’s hair back over his shoulder for a better look. And Geralt let him look. Did not try to hide as the tears blinked out between thick gasps for air. 

For a moment, the bard stared at him, thunderstruck. “I have never seen you cry,” he said, gentle.

“Because I don’t,” he managed to say. He snarled, though his chest heaved.

“I didn’t think you could, physically.” Jaskier set his cup on the floor and brushed his fingers through Geralt’s hair at the temple. “I thought they took it from you. Is--is this the tea ?”

Geralt shrugged, fighting the sobs into a silent wheezing. “I’m an excellent herbalist.”

He started to curl in on himself. A lifetime of unshed tears is a reservoir of sorrow, and he’d just broken a levee. He felt Jaskier slip the mug from his loose fingers, and went willingly when the bard pulled him into an embrace. Tucked his head against his shoulder. 

He was trying to stop. Kept trying to stop. But everything hurt... everything hurt and he was so tired. The feeble struggle was all he had left. 

Eventually, when the tears had scoured him like a cook’s cauldron, and the jag had gone out like a tide, he relaxed into Jaskier’s unconscious swaying. He gave himself a few moments of that quiet clinging before he sat up and swiped traitorous teartracks from his face. They looked at one another, and Geralt frowned at the bard’s splotchy skin and tear-streaked face.

“Why were you crying?”

Jaskier scowled lightly at him. “Be cause , moron.” And shoved him. 

Geralt smeared the tears, wiping them away. Because that’s what people did. What lovers did, if that’s what they were. 

He wanted to know...

He let his hand settle in his lap and hesitated. He searched Jaskier’s face, the tears clinging to his eyelashes, the color slowly fading from his cheeks, blue eyes bright and unguarded. Geralt swallowed and dropped his gaze. But courage, unlike bravery, is speaking the heart’s truth. So, he glanced back up.

“If I leave here tomorrow, will you come with me?”

Jaskier tipped his head and considered him. He reached out and cupped his palm to Geralt’s cheek. Ran a calloused thumb lightly across his skin. “How about we give this place a few more days,” he said, then paused a beat. “I really like the food.”

And with a duck of his head, unbelievably, Geralt laughed.