Geralt took a risk going hunting past nightfall for the werewolf, but the next night would be a full moon and that would be even worse to chance.
His search for contracts led him to the outskirts of Vizima, to a pricey mark on a lycanthrope terrorizing the countryside for the better part of spring. The only curve ball being thrown in the works is Jaskier insisting on coming along for the story.
The witcher’s had the bard with him for some time now. Slowly, like a glacier, he’s warmed up to the chatter and the company. The more they travel together, the less inclined Geralt is to maintain his strict set of rules and boundaries. It’s ridiculous how many rooms and baths he’s rented over the course of meeting Jaskier. Absolutely unnecessary, and worth it every damn time his muscles melt under steaming hot water.
Geralt is a man disciplined with savings. He prefers sleeping on dirt and eating slightly-undercooked meat over splurging on luxurious treats. The problem with arguing the matter over with Jaskier is that they’re actually making a decent amount of coin with the bard’s busking in taverns and the occasional party performance. And with every ballad he sings about Geralt’s heavily-dramatized heroism, more people reach out to the witcher for a beasty or necrophage pest. On one memorable occasion, they even got to eat and sleep in a fair lodging free of charge.
It’s enough that they can each afford a room every couple of towns should they wish it so, though Geralt always insists a two-bed room works well enough for a lower cost. Disciplined with savings, as always.
Back in Vizima, Jaskier is most probably singing again, working his musical magic to spread the word of the good White Wolf on his most recent composition. He’s safe behind the walls of the capital. The werewolf, meanwhile, prowls east, away from the main roads but every so often, tearing through a farm or an unfortunate traveller.
It was that last tragedy what forced a contract for its life. Going by the signs and the pattern of attack, the beast is either cursed or turned by a bite. Rare as the latter is, Geralt can’t do anything for it other than to put it down. This isn’t the first werewolf that’s been spotted in the region either. A few years back, a fellow witcher made quite the purseful for its head and its claws. This recent one might very well be one of that old beast’s victims. A creature now with no control over its hungry transformations.
The moon is not yet at its fullest, though it shines bright through the canopy of the high trees. Hunting lycanthropes is ideal on the eve of a full moon when, they’re weakened by bone-deep aches, yet unable to shed their human skin.
An ominous, wolfish howl echoes his thoughts in the woods. Well. He might have miscalculated the timing after all.
Quick as a snap, Geralt pulls a phial of Cat out of his pouch of witcher potions and downs it in one gulp. Cold tendrils start to spread out from his tongue up to his nose and his eyes, right under the skin. The darkness of the forest suddenly lifts. Grooves of upturned earth, dozens of feet away, become crisp and clear under his focused gaze. The second potion of Tawny Owl drives a shot of adrenaline straight through his system. Geralt instantly catches the scent of bloody gums and wet fur and—wasting no time for the potions to fade—he sprints onto the beast’s path.
A roar resonates from his right side. Silver catches the brunt of the first strike before it lands true.
The beast rears strong and hard, its powerful blows barely deflected by Geralt’s blade. Struggling under its weight, Geralt pushes off and makes a hasty assessment. Male lycan, wide-shouldered and standing firm on hind legs. Its mouth is stuffed with needle-thin fangs. One bite from those will cut straight through bone.
Geralt twists around his target in a distracting dance of swift cuts, keeping his distance. It’s hide is too thick to slice through in any effective way, so he’ll have to go for a proper stab. That means getting dangerously close to that maw and the wide reach of black claws.
He’s battled worse odds.
The werewolf is quick to lunge for him once it realizes he’s purposely keeping away, and in that moment Geralt signs a blinding wave of Igni straight at its face. The answering wail that comes is more from panic than pain, but there it stands, chest uncovered. His perfect opening.
Metal connects with flesh and fur, piercing between the two protruding ribs that shield a swollen heart. But before he can draw his weapon out, the beast, howling, enraged, grips the witcher by his waist in a last attempt to fend him off. This close, the claws tear through leather like serrated knives.
Geralt snarls through the spike of searing pain over his abdomen. He can feel how his own blood trickles down his sides, how it mixes with the werewolf’s sprayed over his trousers.
They’re locked in place, in each other’s deadly embrace. The werewolf gives in first. It slumps first onto the witcher’s blade, howls weakening to whimpers with each second that passes. Geralt grunts when the claws retract. In one fluid move, he withdraws his sword from the dead monster. With nothing to hold it upright, it falls to the ground in a heap of deformed limbs.
Geralt backs up against a tree just to gather his breath. Carefully, he touches around the torn pieces of armor and winces when the wound beneath pulses in protest.
His fingers draw away with dark blood. “Fuck.” It stings to even utter the word so he says nothing else. Still high-strung by the Tawny Owl, Geralt limps to the clearing out of the woods with surprising speed. The potion dulls some of the stress on his legs but once he’s free of the shadowy woods, his knees give and he collapses.
The fall hurts more than the claws, he thinks in an odd lucid haze. It’s really not that bad. He’s survived worse. What’s troublesome is that on his own, what helped him come out—mostly—unscathed was Swallow. A big helping of Swallow. And he’s had two witcher potions in less than an hour’s time.
Another risk to bet on.
There’s a full phial left in his pouch. That, he drinks with a slight shake in his hand.
It burns all the way down. Geralt already knows he’s going to regret it. Better to live and regret than die without it.
The effect is instantaneous. Swallow works wonders to keep his heart beating, skin sweltering hot and uncomfortable under the slide of blood against torn leather. He won’t bleed out for as long as it courses through his bloodstream, and by the time the accelerated healing and the toxicity run out, his body would have stitched together the worst of the injuries.
The toxicity is the real issue, and it’s becoming ever so clear as his vision goes spotty. Even lying still, vertigo steers his sight into dark corners. The terrible mix of too-many potions might actually be worse than the werewolf’s claws.
Geralt has a second to curse the gods out loud before he passes out.
When he comes to, it’s daylight.
He’s still in the same patch of grass as he was last night, but his head is tilted in a strange angle. Raised from the ground, and not by his arm.
It goes unnoticed as it causes him no pain. First, Geralt gauges the damage. Besides the irritable itch below his ribs, it seems the wounds have patched closed. They’re not completely healed, but compared to his sorry state on last night's witching hour, he’s practically whole again. It still feels like there’s remnants of potion work in his blood, to a tolerable extent. Not as gods-awful as right after taking Swallow.
He’s relieved further by the familiar beat of his pulse in his ear. Except—the pace is off, too fast for him outside of a battle frenzy.
Then Geralt realizes that his head is lying on the soft, pliant pillow of someone’s thigh and there’s been a quiet, quivery voice just above him all this time. His eyes fly wide open to meet the sun’s rays cresting over the horizon.
“—Geralt I swear, if you’re dying, I will kill you. The ale is awful here. Temerians like their meat under-seasoned. That ham from the evening was terrible and you suggested it. I will never forgive you—”
“It wasn’t that bad,” the witcher croaks, throat rough as sandpaper.
Jaskier jerks all around him like snapped wire. The jostle pulls a grunt out of the witcher.
Nausea tears holes in his empty stomach. He’s going to be absolutely ravenous when he gets up. Jaskier’s hands tug under his chin to prop him high on his thigh again, and he follows with a quieter noise.
Something salty lingers in the air, like seawater. It lands like dewdrop low on his cheek. He has to lift one hand up to run clumsy fingers on the bard’s lowered face.
Jaskier sniffs, but he takes the offered hand without preamble.
“You’re awful.” The bard sounds like he’s been crying for a good while. At the realization, something burns inside Geralt’s chest and it’s nothing to do with the potions. “But you’re hurt so I won’t hold it against you.”
He doesn’t want to worry the bard further so he says, “I’m fine,” completely missing how tense it makes the muscles under his head.
“Fine.” Jaskier’s hand squeezes hard on his gloved one. “When you didn’t come back to the room at dawn, I asked the alderman for you. Then, when he said you still hadn’t returned with the werewolf prize, I jogged brisky to the edge of the farm you mentioned in passing held clues to the werewolf’s grounds and found you in a pool of your own blood.”
“Yes. And now my wounds are healed.”
There’s an edge of panicky desperation in the bard’s voice and Geralt hates it. He never wants to hear that tone again, so he works his free hand on the clasps around the ruined parts of his armor and reveal jagged tears of fresh, scabbed over save for the very ends of it.
“See?” Gingerly so as to not disturb the healing process, he brushes the thinner claw marks with the tip of one finger. “I miscalculated the full moon’s crest. And then the effect of my witcher potions.”
Geralt hopes the bard understands what he’s trying to say. That he hadn’t been purposely careless. He wouldn’t do that. It was just ill luck on his side, the combined force of many unbalanced factors. It won't happen again.
More than anything, he needs to look at the bard to know that he’s alright too.
Of course, right as he turns his head to catch a glimpse of red-rimmed eyes and the faint bloodprint of Geralt’s touch on his cheek, twin arms wrap around his shoulders and Geralt is quite literally smothered under the lacy trappings of Jaskier’s doublet.
“You’re awful,” the bard repeats, his voice muffled against Geralt’s blood-coated hair. “We’re staying another day to rest. And I will have none of the tavern’s meat. No meat at all.”
The hug is stuffy and too-warm. His nose pushes awkwardly under Jaskier’s sharp collarbone and it makes breathing a difficult endeavor. All the same, a knot loosens somewhere in Geralt’s ribs. He covers Jaskier’s back with one lax arm, slaps his shoulder blade a couple of times to let him up when it gets achy against the bridge of his nose.
Jaskier hums down at him, face rubbed pink but looking better with every second that passes and Geralt isn’t dead.
“Right, more food for me then,” Geralt shoots once his mouth isn’t trapped under the folds of a cotton-white chemise.
He’s rewarded with a light smack on his pec.
Later, when they rise with mud stains and bloody imprints, Geralt will lean on Jaskier to help with his limp. He doesn’t need to, but it brings just as much comfort to him as it does the bard.