This is without a question the worst job Geralt’s ever picked up.
He should have known it would go to shit right from the start. The monster bounty pinned on the bulletin board had no telling details, not even a description of the beast. Just a plea for help with something supernatural. The pay would be decent so Geralt took it with a shrug. Better than nothing.
First damn mistake of the evening.
Second mistake was speaking with the person who posted it and bringing Jaskier along for the ride. They’d met on the path a few days ago and, as per usual, the bard refused to part at the crossroads. In fact, he insisted on guiding the witcher to a good place downwind where they’re always complaining of a drowner or two.
Honestly, Geralt didn't mind his company so much. Jaskier could be an annoying little gremlin sometimes but he had a good heart in him. And though he complained at every inconvenience, he was just as eager to help around the campfire and comb Roach when Geralt was busy cleaning his weapons.
What Geralt did mind was Jaskier speaking with the befuddled old farmer of the contract on his behalf.
Sure, the old man was confident in there being a monster, despite the lack of clear signs. Something was eating his calves and his goats and no, he doesn’t have any enemies to speak of. It’s actually quite the opposite. Everyone loves his damned goat cheese and the baskets of fresh produce he gifts to the children at midsummer. It’s why the reward is so generous compared to others he’s seen in the region. Everyone wants to know what’s happening to his beloved goats.
With a long-suffering sigh—and the plaintive condolences of one Jaskier for the old man’s suffering—, Geralt takes the job and goes out to see what kind of trail is left in his plot of land. The animals disappear in the night, well away from the house for the farmer to never get a glimpse of whatever is responsible without possibly risking his life.
It’s good that he didn’t. There’s no indication of a struggle, but Geralt finds a large barbed feather close to the fenced side of the farm.
It’s a griffin's. Young, going by the choice of prey. Goats are easy, lightweights compared to horses and aged cows. The calves would be even smoother to snatch, but they won’t yield as much fat for their growing bellies.
Geralt tells the farmer as much, to his utter shock. A griffin in lowlands. What’s weird—and this Geralt doesn’t share—is that a fledgling griffin so far from their nesting grounds would have gone wild plucking prey from wherever it pleased. This shrewd behavior is more appropriate for an older beast. But if it’s flying rampant and killing with a calculated practice, he has to slay it.
Of course Jaskier follows along for the hunt. He’s absolutely bursting with energy on the walk to the short cliffs Geralt determines a good hiding spot for a still-growing beast.
Killing the griffin is his third and climactic mistake.
It’s startles at his prepared arrival and fights clumsy, like youth still green for battle. Gathering food is a natural instinct, a skill taught gruesomely by their mothers over tall mountain peaks. Griffins are ruthless, intelligent creatures, but for all the careful night raids it committed, the young griffin cries and beats at Geralt’s sword like a cornered pet, not even attempting to fly off.
For a moment, Geralt stops, thinking he’s got the wrong beast. But that can’t be. There’s only one nest. No sign of a mate or a parent.
In its last throes, the griffin gets aggressive, so the witcher throws all doubt aside and cuts a massive gash onto its chest. He does not let it suffer long. A quick stab through the meat of the spine is mercy.
Jaskier, having watched everything from a safe distance, finally crests the hill once the griffin’s shrieks stop. He’s strangely quiet, not at all as cheerful as he was a moment ago. To Geralt’s questioning look he says, “It just looks...kind of sad, really. Alone in forestlands. What was it doing here in the first place?”
Mid-answer, a piercing cry rings out on the hillside’s edge and Geralt pulls the bard behind his arm. It’s a woman, tall and shaking, her face a devastation.
“My Lyssa. My little Lyssa.” She climbs the hill to the cliff rocks where the witcher stands before the griffin corpse. “You. Killed her.”
Geralt directs his gaze at the perplexed bard. “I take it she’s the one who brought the griffin.”
Blue-purple tendrils peak out from her long sleeves. A damned witch. Of course. It’s always a witch with a creature they really shouldn’t have for a pet making a mess wherever they go. And now Geralt’s gone and pissed her off.
“Look,” Geralt lowers the point of her sword, though he doesn’t dare sheathe it. “Your... Lyssa was eating the livestock. It was—”
“She was harmless!”
“She was a wild beast.” This time Geralt raises his opposite hand, a subduing gesture that could double for a quick witcher sign. “And whatever power you had over her was false security.”
His words do nothing to quell her rage. If anything, it’s kindle to the flames, her magic sprouting outwards and covering the ground at her feet.
“You know not what you speak.” The witch’s voice takes on an echo, ominously deep in the open air. Geralt forgets all his measures of keeping peace and wields his blade high again.
“Um, Geralt,” Jaskier peeps behind him with a delicate hand on his free wrist. “I think you should maybe apologize. She clearly cared for the beast even if it was dangerous to—”
It’s in that second of distraction that the witch strikes him with a full blast of magic. He goes flying back along with Jaskier, tossed close to the edge of the drop but not far enough that he can’t counter with a quick and insistent press of Axii to disorient the witch. It’s not strong enough, still. Not to keep her inhibited for long.
“You know,” she grits through her teeth as her arms sweep in front of her unsteadily. “You should listen to your friend. It would be nice if you showed you cared.” Her fingers join mirrored at the tips and something tugs at Geralt’s own fingertips. His gut is flooded with dread. “Ah, but. I don’t think I’ll forgive you.”
As her hands split apart, Geralt feels one of his own connect with something and sear at the contact. Like a brand.
When he looks down at the aching hand, it’s caught in Jaskier’s in a cinched grip. A wisp of magic burns in the air before it lifts. Geralt hurries to pull back and stand—only to drag the bard up with a yelp.
He flexes his fingers. They’re frozen in the clasped position.
“What the fuck?” he shouts in the witch’s direction.
There’s a portal manifesting down the slope of the hill, the dead griffin floating through with the gentle handling of its master’s will. “Killing you is too quick and merciful. I’ll leave you with a curse instead,” she says, stone-faced and resolute.
This can’t actually be what the witch intends. What kind of curse is this? “And how am I to be involved here?!” Jaskier is quick to react with a forceful yank of his arm which does nothing but slap Geralt’s shoulder onto him. They both swear in tandem.
She offers her last words more for the human’s benefit. “The curse chose how best to manifest. I am done with it.” Then she steps through the portal and pops out of existence, leaving them griffin-less and glued together by the palm.
Geralt grunts. The worst job. Definitely.
At least he gets paid in the end, even if it is a bit awkward to explain to the townsfolk how he’s suddenly gotten physical with his travelling companion.
“I swear I’m not doing it on purpose.”
Jaskier means the fifth time in as many minutes that he’s tried to scratch his face with the hand that’s glued to Geralt’s.
Of all things, he’s cursed with holding someone’s hand.
Of all things.
“Oh Gods above—Geralt, I just thought—how are we supposed to change?”
That’s...actually a good point. This time it’s Geralt who raises his one cursed hand to scratch his cheek and promptly smacks his nose with one of Jaskier’s knuckles.
“Hh, we’ll get to it when we get to it.”
The plan is to find a more agreeable witch to lift the curse before they reach the stage where they’ll have to cut through their clothes just to bathe.
Geralt has already come to terms with the death of his privacy for the remainder of their shared plight. It helps that Jaskier is just as bitter about it, but they take the first day with some stride.
It sort of falls apart the moment they head to bed.
They don’t stop on the road until they stumble into the next town over from the curse ordeal. By the time they reach their goal, the moon has been high in the sky for hours. Jaskier rode with Geralt on his mare making the journey a swift streak of shadows and moonlight.
When they push through to the inn, they’re faced with an unforeseen hurdle. Sleeping in separate rooms is impossible. On double beds pushed close together, it might be a hard strain on their shoulders. In the end, Geralt forgoes renting the usual room for two in exchange for a single.
Explaining the curse raises a few eyebrows, but no one dares question the troubles a witcher gets to. They get their room without a fuss. Jaskier, on the other hand, is quite fussy.
“For once, I would have preferred the outdoors where the only ones with judgmental stares are the occasional deer—and Roach, always.”
Geralt stops aimlessly fixing the sheet with his free hand. Slowly, he turns to sit, giving the bard enough time to shift around so Geralt could at least bend over to unlace his hunting shoes. “Jaskier, this isn’t on a whim. We need to prioritize removing the curse as soon as possible, and town stops will lead us to neighboring witches. People can’t help but gossip about them.”
“Right.” Jaskier nods once. He sounds off. Not embarrassed, exactly. But like all of his muscles are clenched with tension.
“Come on, you need sleep more than I do.” It’s true that he does. Geralt isn’t even tired, but it’s late enough to be early and while he could run for days fueled by a jug of water and strips of dried jerky, Jaskier cannot. There’s a dark bruise already forming on the edge of his eyes from how long they’ve gone without rest.
“Just take your shoes off and we’ll turn our backs to each other,” he adds, believing Jaskier’s hesitation to be from the discomfort of sleeping so tightly bound to him under the curse’s obligation.
It’s a long pause before Jaskier sighs through his nose and gives him another nod. His fine leather shoes come off at the kick of his heels and it’s another ungainly maneuver until they’re back to back, their locked hands placed on Geralt’s thigh.
With a flick of his unbound wrist, Geralt extinguishes the flame of the one candle left alive in the night. It’s peaceful, which is the strangest thing. He’s bothered by the bard’s morose mood.
Geralt lets his worry fade as he falls into meditation for the night. Whatever Jaskier makes of this whole situation is besides the point. The griffin witch said so herself. The curse chose to manifest this way. It will be better once it’s gone, and then, they can go back to their normal.
The next day, in the late evening of a bigger settlement downriver, Geralt catches his first break. There’s wind of a witch selling her wares of magical solutions. Some people have gone by and judged her too strict with clientele, but well worth the price and the time. Her magic never fails to get the human at her disposal exactly what they wanted.
After those first few blundering hours, Geralt and Jaskier settle into silent agreement that for all purposes, Geralt leads. Whether it be walking, riding, or talking, the witcher takes the initiative anyway. Jaskier simply hangs that one hand limp and chases along. It’s his playing arm, so he can’t really do much to work when they stop in a tavern for a quick bite. Guilt eats away at Geralt’s gut for that, but it only serves to strengthen his determination to fix the curse. To track the local witch and demand her help.
It is just his damned—utterly monumentally damned—luck that he goes into the cabin store on the edge of the woods and sees Yennefer of Vengeberg hunched over an open book, a small bottle pinched between her fingers.
“Ah,” she greets.
“Hmm,” comes Geralt’s own reply.
Jaskier himself looks up at the ceiling as if begging lightning to strike him down then and there. “Of all witches.”
She takes one look at their faces—then at the tight clasp of their hands—and looks to the ceiling herself. The difference is she appears to be holding back laughter.
“Stop,” Yen says before either one of them can open with a hasty explanation, “I can see the curse at work.”
Geralt does still offer the backstory of their current predicament, complete with the clueless old man, the fledgling griffin and the grief-stricken witch. At the end of it, Yen gives him an impressed quirk of her perfect eyebrows. Not only did he piss off a witch, he argued with the woman after killing her pet. Regardless of how truly stupid it was to try to tame a griffin, Geralt should have known how poorly that would go. She tells him as such.
She also tells him she can’t help.
“The only way to lift the curse is get to the root of what it’s about and fix it.”
“Yes,” Jaskier cuts in after throwing a fine assortment of daggers with his eyes, “But we don’t know what the root of the curse is. We don’t even know what powers it other than it’s meant to be Geralt’s. I’m the hapless victim here.”
“Sure you are.” There’s a strange quality in her voice Geralt can’t quite decipher. By the pinch of Jaskier’s lips, whatever she’s insinuating hits its mark.
Great. They are no closer to figuring out what to do about the curse except that it’s mage-proof.
Back at the inn, Geralt mulls over the events leading up to the cliffside. There must be something he’s overlooking, something that reflects the intent behind the dark spell. The witch hadn’t said much, but enough to deliver her disdain.
As he turns over her words in his memory, Jaskier crawls around and behind the witcher to catch some sleep. “Maybe...look on the bright side? We’re certainly getting to know each other better.”
Geralt blinks, but otherwise doesn’t say anything in response. It’s easy to follow Jaskier as he lies back in bed, balancing some of his weight with Geralt’s unshakeable grip to a good sleeping arrangement. Back to back again.
“I’ll fix this,” the witcher whispers in the blanket of darkness.
Jaskier sighs, his back curling a bit as he brings his knees higher. “I know you’ll try your best.”
It’s on the fourth day that their curse really becomes a problem.
They’re going north now to meet another of Geralt’s magical friends, a witch in Temeria who might know more about healing curses. He doubts it, Yennefer is one of the most powerful witches he’s met, and what she doesn’t lord over him with total competency, she compensates with a relentless drive for the unattainable. Geralt knows her word is bond.
He’s thinking about the griffin witch again, stuck on her words before the curse sprung to life. ‘I don’t think I’ll forgive you,’ she had jeered. It meant she wasn’t looking for an apology. That left him back to square one with nothing to work with. If the endgame was regret over killing the griffin, Geralt had already come to that conclusion. He could accept it as a necessary deed, but the creature was not at fault for its master’s folly. It did not choose to be dragged to the lowlands to hunt prey in human grounds.
They’ve given Roach a break from carrying their weight across side towns in the flurry of the curse, walking her by the reins at a simple walking pace. Beside him, Jaskier is humming. His fingers twitch every now and then as if plucking strings. Strapped to Roach’s saddle waits his lute, untouched for days. Geralt strongly wishes it doesn’t come to be truly abandoned, all at his expense.
Then a pack of wargs rears ahead on the road and all goes to shit once more.
Roach whinnies in surprise, her legs kicking backwards. She circles to a safe position behind him—behind Jaskier who slips behind Geralt almost naturally if it weren’t for the awkward twist of his wrist at the last second. After days growing used to the constant tug-and-give rhythm, Geralt unsheathes his steel blade as fluidly as he would without the magic bond tying one of his hands down. It is only slightly more difficult to cut down the warg beasts that lunge at him given that he cannot dodge or roll out of their snapping jaws without endangering Jaskier’s life.
Because of that, the two biggest wargs circle and push them back until Jaskier yelps behind him. The sound of feet scuffling on loose dirt alerts him to the reason. To this side, there is a sudden cliff, an edge made of hard rock that tapers off to a ravine. A surprisingly long drop awaits whoever stumbles over the cliff.
“Fuck—” he manages to kill one more ravenous warg and see Roach kick the one nipping at her heels before the last beast leaps at his chest. Fangs catch on his sword. Its weight kicks him right onto Jaskier and they all trip over the unstable earth.
It’s only Jaskier who slips over the edge, and the full-body jerk of his weight on Geralt’s arm pulls a shout out of the witcher. He’s on his back with the warg wrestling with the blade. He can’t hold onto both for long without tearing his muscles asunder.
Geralt knows what he must sacrifice. With one last grunt of pain, his elbow hooks under the warg’s neck. On the upward heave, Geralt lets go of his sword.
The beast goes flying down to the waters below, the steel still clasped in its maw.
Steady, he starts to pull the bard up. The magic of the curse still binds them, but in this moment, it feels impossible to break. As if their bones had fused into one limb. He’s not sure if he should feel grateful or terrified.
Once over the edge, Jaskier hurries to pull himself up. He’s shaking like a leaf and wide-eyed. Geralt’s own shoulder is throbbing something fierce so when Jaskier collapses onto his back on the dirt path, he follows easily.
They lie there for a second just catching their breath.
“Ah,” Jaskier eventually wheezes, sweaty face turned to meet the witcher’s, “Good thing we’re stuck holding hands.”
Something about the casualness of the words angers him.
“It’s not a good thing, we wouldn’t have nearly fallen off the cliff for it in the first place.”
It bursts through him suddenly. How tired he is of this vexsome curse. How much he wants it to be over with. It’s affecting his work. He can’t hunt or fight properly with one of his hands restrained and his attention divided between saving himself and saving Jaskier.
Roach nickers as she clops to their side, and the witcher takes that opportunity to rise up—dragging the bard with him so much like their first attempts learning to manage the curse together—to check how she’s fairing.
Quietly, as Geralt’s eyes rove over Roach’s hooves and ankles, Jaskier mutters, “I suppose you’re right.”
One day to the curse being a week old, they’re bathing at an inn after finally giving up and tearing part of their clothes at their bound arms. Neither of them is sure how they’re going to put them back on, or if it’s even worth it for the time being. If it comes down to it, Geralt might just go without a shirt and the upper set of his armor until the curse breaks. The bard will surely hate the idea. They’re within Temerian borders so perhaps he will only have to bear it for just a couple more days.
Or weeks. Or months. Or until the curse dies, either by a magical hand or by killing them first.
With every day that’s come to pass, the bard has turned all but mute. Sometimes he’ll quip something, make an observation in his usual, familiar tone and Geralt will look at him tight-lipped, resolved to not ruin the few good moments and still that seems to sour Jaskier’s expression. Damned if he says something, damned if he doesn’t. Now, he’s just hoping the bath grants him some earthly comfort, even at the cost of his dear doublet and undershirt.
They’ve each got one hand literally tied so they pass the soaps to each other, offering a hand at the hard-to-reach spots. Really, he does it at the bard’s brusque, “It will be easier if we help each other.” And it is. Geralt doesn't complain.
Then, as he’s done many times over the course of the week, he tests the clasp of his fingers between Jaskier’s own. Nothing gives.
When he looks up, he sees the crestfallen smile on Jaskier’s face and realizes that he hurts every time Geralt pulls and pushes him away. That, for every slap, bump and puzzling twist of limbs—that if they weren’t tethered together from an ill wish, he might actually enjoy holding Jaskier’s hand.
Jaskier interrupts his contemplative washing with a stifled laugh. “I don’t know if you’re madly driven by guilt, or if you want to get rid of me that badly. I haven’t a clue anymore.”
No, Geralt wants to say, but the word sticks to the back of his throat. If he could reassure him—that the blame lies purely on him, on provoking the witch and now both their freedom has been stolen away. He wouldn’t mind keeping Jaskier’s company, if only it wasn’t—this, this coerced commitment, this ill-begotten magic.
The witch’s words taunt him. ‘You should listen to your friend. It would be nice if you showed you cared.’
He squeezes the hand that’s bonded by force, and Jaskier—face changed to surprise—squeezes back.
The air pops. Geralt jumps at the sound, and he looks where his fingers are tightened around Jaskier’s. Tentatively, he loosens his grip.
Their hands come away like nothing.
For a moment, they both stare at their open palms. “Oh, well,” Jaskier starts, using his newfound liberty to scratch his nose while the other remains limp, bent over the lip of the bath. “It...we just needed to give it a good squeeze? Really?”
With no curse binding them together, no will but his own, Geralt takes Jaskier’s itch-fulfilling hand solely to turn it in his palm the way he was not allowed to before. “No. I just realized that, I wouldn't mind if we were stuck forever. I just hated not being given a choice.”
Jaskier’s face dusts with pink, gaze softening on the witcher. “Oh,” he says suddenly filled with emotion, fingers tapping a wayward beat on Geralt’s knuckles.
“It would suck every time I have to fight, but sure.”
“Oh,” he says less emotionally.
Much later, in the cover of the bed—single again, only chest to back this time—, Geralt hears Jaskier utter giddy under his breath, like a secret meant only for him, “I wouldn’t have minded either, you know. Even with that sweaty hand of yours.”