“If life could give me one blessing,” Geralt snarls, “it would be to take you off my hands!”
And, well. That’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever said to Jaskier, but it’s definitely the worst thing Geralt has said, and as willing as he is to cut the emotionally constipated idiot a fair amount of slack, when it comes to this sort of thing, Geralt isn’t the only one who’s had something of a trying week.
“Right,” Jaskier says, and then has to bite back several scalding retorts. No, no, as satisfying as the look on Geralt’s face would be, it would be the nail in the coffin for their friendship, and as Yennefer has also just broken up with him Gods know what he’d do. “Right, then. I’ll make my own way down the mountain — you know where to find me, when you feel like being less of a dick.”
It’s been a year or three, since he last spent any length of time in Oxenfurt. He can collect a full wage for once, actually learn his students’ names, maybe publish a poetry collection he’d be willing to own up to having written.
Geralt doesn’t say anything, of course, just looks at him blankly, so Jaskier nods, and turns away. It’ll be annoying, making his way back to civilisation alone, but he isn’t actually incompetent. He just vastly prefers to make things like hunting Geralt’s problem.
Oxenfurt isn’t the closest thing to a home Jaskier has — to his great dismay, that’s travelling with Geralt — but it is the only place he’s ever bothered to put down roots. He has a room, where he can leave his things, and he can find his way around even when very drunk, and the shopkeep of his favoured bakery gives him sweet tarts free of charge.
It’s always easy, to slip back into the rhythm of the Academy — the lectures, the students, the library. The food is shit, of course, but he’s well enough for coin it doesn’t matter as much. Time passes almost without him noticing, until it’s been over three months since he and Geralt parted ways, and he’s yet to receive so much as a letter.
Which isn’t that unusual, for Geralt, even if Jaskier did make a point to tell him where he’d be. When he’s travelling alone, Geralt tends to forget all about his friends, as if he has all the object permanence of an infant.
It is, however, just a touch worrying, considering what Borsch said about Geralt’s destiny, and the digs Yennefer made about Geralt’s responsibility, and the fall of Cintra.
Jaskier isn’t one to put any real stock in destiny, or fate, or whatever else you use to prop up the flimsy plot of children’s stories, but he does know that the magic in that ballroom was strong enough even he could taste it, and Geralt’s primary reasoning for leaving his Child Surprise unclaimed was the safety Cintra was supposed to guarantee. Cintra isn’t safe if everyone inside it has been slaughtered by brutal fanatics.
There’s very little talk of what, exactly, happened to Cintra’s princess — Calanthe is definitely dead, and by her own hand if the bitter spite of desperate refugees is to be believed, but the best anyone can say for her granddaughter is no one’s seen her. Nilfgaard will pay good money, if you’ve seen her, but no one has.
And Jaskier has a— feeling. He just knows, somehow, that Geralt was in Cintra. That Geralt is looking for the princess. And, as much as he hates the thought of Geralt trying to hold his own against an entire army, he wouldn’t exactly be of much help. Geralt knows where he is, and it’s beyond easy to miss someone if you haven’t agreed on a meeting place, and Geralt won’t be very easy to find, what with the princess-hunt. So he’ll stay, and Geralt will come to him.
He tells himself that for another month.
Then, when even his students are starting to send him concerned looks during lectures, he decides he’s waited long enough.
At least it isn’t winter.
They have to travel off the roads, and stay clear of towns, and even if they did have two coins to rub together it wouldn’t be much good without anywhere to spend them, and Ciri is not used to hard riding. At least, Geralt finds himself thinking once a day at least, they aren’t also trudging through the snow.
They’re making good time, considering the route they’ve had to take, and they’re only a week or so from Kaer Morhen. Geralt’s not sure who will be there, this early in the fall, but he trusts the wards, at least. And the food stores.
Ciri still isn’t saying much. She’s sitting across from him, now, watching as he skins a rabbit. She’s been sleeping better, the further north they get, but he doesn’t know if she’s always this quiet, if he should be trying to draw her out. He’s not a gifted conversationalist himself—
He stills, rests the half-skinned rabbit at his feet, reaches for his sword. Ciri freezes.
One man, making no attempt at stealth, but not making as much noise as someone unused to picking their way through the undergrowth, whistling— Whistling? Wait, he knows that tune—
“You know,” Jaskier calls, just as he steps through the trees lining the clearing, “I appreciate the effort you’re putting into covering your tracks, I really do, but could you not have sent, I don’t know, a note? I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept, they’re very popular nowadays.”
He’s wearing a dark green doublet, and there’s a bag slung over his shoulder as well as his lute. The bags under his eyes are pronounced, but he doesn’t smell of illness or blood, is walking fine, somehow has fresh bread in his bag.
Geralt didn’t realise just how much tension he was carrying until it, abruptly, melts away.
“I’m not cut out for this tracking bullshit,” Jaskier continues, dropping his bag and his lute and standing in front of Geralt, all puffed up with outrage, “I’m a bard. They didn’t teach me how to tell hoofprints from deer tracks at the Academy! I had to sub in Eskel when I couldn’t find Yennefer! Eskel is really annoying!”
Jaskier is not making it very easy for Geralt to think.
He’s stopped talking, though, is looking at Geralt expectantly, and Geralt has no idea where to start.
“I…” Jaskier raises an eyebrow. Geralt really doesn’t feel all this exasperation is deserved. “It would have been too risky,” he says, because it would have been, and “You never signed up to look after a child, that was all my doing—”
Jaskier somehow puffs up even further — holds up a finger and says, in his ‘oh you’ve really done it now’ voice, “Firstly, yes, leave your poor bard defenceless in a war, definitely the better plan, and of course I love to not know if you’re dead or alive when, again, a literal war starts!” Geralt opens his mouth, but Jaskier doesn’t let him get a word in. “Secondly, no shit it would have been risky, you haven’t even cut her hair, did they teach you nothing about stealth! That’s her cloak! Even I know that’s her cloak! And, thirdly,” Jaskier’s voice reaches a pitch that sets alarm bells ringing in Geralt’s head, “when did we ever discuss children! I don’t recall that conversation!”
Geralt blinks. “I didn’t mean— You make it sound like we’re…”
Ciri says, “Wait, aren’t you?”
Jaskier says, at the same time, “I’m forty-two, Geralt, I’m not exactly expecting to find someone else I’d be happy to raise a child with.”
Geralt has absolutely no idea what’s happening.
“You do… know how that sounds,” he says. Jaskier, inexplicably, rolls his eyes.
“Yes, Geralt,” he says, “I am in love with you and have been for, oh, a decade or so — Are you really telling me this is news?”
What. Is happening.
“Oh my god.” Jaskier throws his hands in the air. “I am not done being angry about the other thing! I can only be so mad at once! Is there anything else you’d like to get off your chest while you’re on such a roll!”
“I tried to suicide by ghoul and only survived because destiny saw fit to intervene.”
“FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, ” Jaskier yells, and storms off into the trees again. There’s the distance sound of him kicking something, and more yelling of less coherence.
After a few minutes, during which Ciri just looks at Geralt in a way that makes him seriously consider taking off in a different direction, changing his name, and starting a new life in the desert, Jaskier reappears. He’s noticeably more disheveled. His hair is sticking up in a lot of directions.
“Okay,” he says, calmer but with a very audible edge. “Let’s try that again. Hello, Geralt, I would still appreciate an apology for what you said last time we saw each other, but I’ve decided extenuating circumstances mean I’m not holding my breath about it, and I am coming with you to Kaer Morhen, because the princess needs someone in her life who isn’t batshit insane and/or deeply, deeply repressed. Eskel got me this far but he went on ahead. He says you’re an idiot. Also, I’m in love with you, but that’s really small potatoes compared to, oh, the war and the princess and the stomach ulcer I am developing from stress. How are you?”
Geralt just stares at him.
When something like a minute passes without Geralt managing to say anything, Jaskier huffs, and turns to Ciri. Ciri, who’s got a hand over her mouth like she’s trying to hide a smile, which. Is good.
“Princess,” Jaskier says, affecting a more court-appropriate cadence, “I would apologise for that but, quite frankly, it’s about par for the course — I’m sure you understand. I’m Jaskier. I don’t know if Geralt’s mentioned me, but I’m the reason he still sometimes remembers how to speak. Delighted, truly, to make your acquaintance at last.”
Ciri is definitely grinning. “You wrote the song he hates,” she says, sounding delighted.
Jaskier sits down beside Geralt. Not close enough that they’re touching, but Geralt can feel the heat of him anyway. “There are several songs you could mean,” Jaskier says, with a grin of his own, “but I wrote all of them, yes.”
Geralt wants to feel uneasy about the direction this conversation is taking, but he’s still stuck on Jaskier being in love with him. And thinking he knew. And had known for years.
They’re in the woods. They’re two days ride from anything remotely resembling an inn. He can’t let Ciri out his sight.
Jaskier is in love with him.
“No, no,” Jaskier is saying, “That was almost all embellishment. There’s very little actually worth romanticising in monster-hunting, really, it’s just a lot of waiting around and negotiating with cheapskate ungrateful locals and brewing absolutely foul-smelling potions. Ballads are all about feelings, though, and no one wants a ballad about drudgery.”
It’s nothing Geralt hasn’t heard before — he could probably teach one of Jaskier’s classes himself, for all the time he’s spent listening to the bard. It strikes a different chord, this time.
Seeing Jaskier — who was in Oxenfurt, who was safe, who he’d blamed for all things wrong in his life, who heard about Cintra and knew Geralt would have gone. Who knew Geralt would take Ciri to Kaer Morhen — seeing him sitting at Geralt’s side, when he could be anywhere else. Talking to Ciri, who he’s never before met, who he has no reason to care for, who is smiling for the first time since they left that farmer’s house.
“Jaskier,” Geralt says. Jaskier stops, possibly in the middle of a sentence, and turns to him. The look on his face is so fond. All of Geralt’s words dry up again, and Jaskier just keeps looking at him, and what else is he meant to do but lean in and kiss him.
His lips are chapped. He tastes like cheap ale. Geralt never wants to do anything else, as long as he lives.
“Well,” Jaskier says, when they pull apart some immeasurable span of time later, “Not what I was expecting, but can’t exactly complain. You’re an idiot, have I ever mentioned that?”
“Once or twice.”
Jaskier huffs, a breath of happiness, and drops his head to rest on Geralt’s collarbone. Geralt brings a hand up to run through his hair, and cuts his gaze across to Ciri, who looks far too smug.
‘Knew it’, she mouths. Geralt frowns at her. She smiles, small but content, and something else loosens in Geralt’s chest.
“We really should do something about her hair,” Jaskier says, muffled slightly from where he’s still leaning into Geralt. “Maybe not right now, but before we return to civilisation. I’m assuming your plan isn’t to hole away in the mountains until the Nilfgaardian army all die of old age?”
“I haven’t eaten since this morning,” Jaskier adds, as if it’s only just occurred to him. Presumably, he’s capable of surviving on his own, seeing as he’s spent long spans of time that way and he’s yet to die, but Geralt has absolutely no idea how.
“We’ve got a rabbit,” Geralt says. Jaskier makes a happy noise, and doesn’t move. “Need my hands to finish skinning it, Jask.”
Jaskier grumbles, but he moves away. The look on Ciri’s face makes Geralt long for a room he could send her to.
Geralt picks up the rabbit again, and Jaskier shifts so he’s leant up against Geralt’s side. After a while of silence, the comfortable kind Geralt hadn’t known he was missing, he has a thought.
“I— feel the same,” he says, stiltedly.
Jaskier says, fond and warm, “Yes, I know. I’ve a lot more to say on the matter, but I’ll do Ciri the courtesy of getting somewhere she can put several walls between us first before I voice any of it.”
“I appreciate it,” Ciri says, mock-primly. She’s said more in the past hour than she had for the past week. Geralt should have known, that this was the shape of the hole in their lives.
Not that Jaskier’s reappearance has solved every problem – whatever Nilfgaard is planning, and Yennefer disappearing entirely right when they most need her help, those are still rivers Geralt has no idea how to cross. But, somehow, now it all seems easier.