The solar is visibly glamourous--it's really a pity he can smell it.
The heavy brocade curtain in front of him just smells of dust, and there's nothing untoward about that. But the bed reeks of a perfume so heavy it can almost mask the odors of sweat and sex. On the desk, the sharp, bitter stink of gout remedies emanates from tiny emerald-colored bottles.
Then there's a smell as if someone's rolled a spitted lamb through the entryway, and the baron clears his throat. He's as subtle as a fat pony on cobblestones.
"Witcher!" He spreads puffy, bejeweled hands.
Geralt dips his head minutely enough that it cannot possibly be taken for obeisance.
"I've got you a job. Horrible werewolf problem in the lower town. Many deaths. Incredibly tragic."
The way he chirps the word tragic, it's impossible to think he believes it.
"I'll do it."
"Ah, ah, ah. I'm sure you're capable, of course, of course. This contract is contingent on a smaller, more, ah, personal favor."
Geralt would be out the door if the bulk of the baron's body wasn't blocking it so effectively. Since his escape route is unavailable, he resorts to speech.
"I don't do favors."
"Ah but this one--it's so easy, so very easy. I'm sure a man--er--creature, of your, ah, propensities, would understand perfectly. A delicate little matter. Hardly a minute of work for you, I'm sure."
"If it's a delicate matter and easily done, I can assure you that my propensities are neither useful nor needed."
The baron does not deflate. (Geralt's seen a half-elf witch literally deflate a man before, and he's never hated himself more for being unable to save her.)
"Useful to you, if you'd like the werewolf bounty." The baron still sounds jovial--his is the optimism of a man used to being obeyed. "It's just a bard I'd like disposed of. Julian Alfred Pankratz. Calls himself 'Jaskier', like the flower, but he's rather more of a nuisance, I'm afraid."
Geralt's mind is made up. He shoulders past the baron, ignoring the unpleasant sensation of pudgy fingertips clutching at his arm. He turns at the threshold (well out of reach).
"I'm not a common sellsword, baron. I'll not get human blood on my hands for coin." He adds "good day," in a tone that leaves no doubt he wishes the baron a terrible day. And since the baron lacks discretion and sense, he likely will. Murdering musicians is the plan of a coward, and a clever coward would give the job to a serving girl with powdered poison.
Geralt does not step out into the streets intent on finding the bard. When he does anyway, he wonders if he's done it on some underlying instinct, motivated unconsciously from spite or pure curiosity. (He does not believe in destiny.)
The bard--Julian--Jaskier--is not what he'd expected. He hadn't been sure what to expect a bard with a price on his head to look like, but it isn't this. Jaskier's features are neither particularly elfin nor particularly rugged. In most ways he is unremarkable, except that the combination of his deep green doublet and cold blue eyes is reminiscent of a forest (if the forest was a shining mirage of fae magic meant to drag you down into ruin).
It was this that had drawn Geralt's eye first, and then someone had shouted the bard's name and Geralt had realized that the forest-man was Jaskier. Instead of turning in for the night, he'd shifted further into the shadows with his ale. Let himself observe. It's an odd thing to do, perhaps, but Geralt's always liked forests.
It's hard to see Jaskier from his corner right now, but he can see two girls with cracked, red hands and baskets heaped with linen on their hips staring at him from the bottom of the stairs. Another girl places a cup of ale absently in front of Geralt and trots to join them, grinning. The trio looks utterly smitten. The question of how he has the women fawning is nearly as intriguing as the question of how he has the baron wanting him dead.
He understands a little better (the women, that is) when Jaskier begins to sing. His voice is expressive, cracking and swelling and fading in all the right places. Some of the songs Geralt knows--he likes these best. Some he doesn't, but the people listening seem to know every word, and they sing along (loudly over their mead, or under their breath with soft smiles). He realizes eventually that these are the bard's own songs, that Jaskier must be uncommonly popular.
Nevertheless, it does not explain a baron willing to bribe a witcher. Could be the baron's just stupid. Could be Geralt is too, for letting himself get so intrigued.
He asks for the room right next to the bard's (he guesses, anyway--there's only one room that smells like sandalwood oil and apple wine). His guess is confirmed in an hour, when the sound of a husky feminine voice sobbing the word Jaskier echoes through the thin wall for what seems like an unusually long time. Geralt's lovers have never done this--he'd thought the concept of women gasping a man's name in the throes of passion only a braggart's embellishment. It probably helps to be famous. Could be this girl's been yearning after Jaskier for the better part of a year, humming his songs all day and night.
Geralt is not so honorable as to consider himself above supplying the needs of his body, and jerks himself off with a rough, practiced hand, imagining a pale woman with generous breasts writhing under Jaskier's lithe form. He's careful to make it last, to draw the moment out until the woman shrieks and he lets himself come messily into his hand.
He should rest, but the thought that the baron's perhaps taken him up on his advice and sent a sellsword to collect Jaskier's head plagues him, and he only half-sleeps, listening for footsteps on the creaking stairs. He starts awake once (it must be past midnight) to the sound of Jaskier fucking someone, again. It's a different girl, Geralt can tell by the voice, muffled through the wooden walls but still easily discernible to his ears. He rolls his eyes, and wraps his head in his cloak.
Then there's nothing until morning, when he hears a knock across the hall, and he sits up, hand already on his dagger. He opens his door enough to see a woman in a velvet gown tap gently one more time at Jaskier's door, and nearly tumble into his arms when he opens it inward.
It's a calculated maneuver, or it's enough like one that Geralt wrenches his own door fully open.
Jaskier's hands still on the woman's waist and he meets Geralt's gaze across the hall. Geralt knows the bard is not dangerous, not to him, no matter what the baron thinks, but there's something fey in those blue eyes.
"Here to join us?" He's very rumpled, so clearly fucked that Geralt almost averts his eyes. Instead, he follows his instinct and grabs the woman's right wrist, twists until the silver blade in her hand clatters to the floor.
"Gods!" Jaskier jumps back, palms raised, and the woman takes a stumbling step into Geralt.
"Your baron is a fucking fool. Tell him the bard was with someone and wouldn't let you in, and get out of here."
She does, velvet swishing on the stairs as she descends them. Geralt crouches to get the dagger and exhales heavily, suddenly exhausted. Intervening never comes without a price, and he's already paid enough by losing the baron's esteem.
"That was truly exceptional," Jaskier says, leaning against the frame of his door. He sounds unnervingly cheery for someone who has recently and narrowly avoided murder. He looks--well, still rumpled, and judging by the satisfied tilt of his lips, smug. (Justifiably, Geralt supposes.)
"Do tell me, what might I do to repay this life-debt?"
"You might forget about it," Geralt says. "And amend whatever you've done to piss off the baron."
"I've pissed the baron off?" Jaskier rubs his hands together in front of him in the most comically delighted gesture Geralt's witnessed in his absurdly long life.
"Yes. And I'm tired of following you, so don't do it again." He realizes what a terrible choice of words this is as it leaves his mouth. He's not accustomed to saying more than he should, and the feeling does not agree with him.
"You followed me?" Jaskier sounds inordinately pleased. "What have you learned?"
"That you're something of a trollop."
Jaskier gets off the doorframe and steps into the hallway. The smell of sandalwood and sex is abruptly more intense, but it's not strictly unpleasant.
"How indelicate of you," Jaskier says. "Though since you already think so, I'm inclined to let you take a few liberties. Maybe more than a few. Maybe as many liberties as you can imagine yourself taking."
Geralt does imagine a few, right then. It's perhaps because he's still not solved the puzzle of why Jaskier is supposed to be dead, or perhaps it's something else, but nothing about Jaskier is as grating as it should be. Jaskier is not well-versed enough in Geralt's habits to take his silence as a compliment.
"Is my promiscuity really a concern?" He sounds exaggeratedly hurt. "I can't imagine a witcher wouldn't be resistant to the pox."
"Can't imagine how you'd know."
"For a talentless wastrel who panders to the masses, I am rather well-studied. I've written several treatises on elements of folklore. And witchers--well, witchers are an excellent bit of folklore."
He traces the edge of Geralt's jaw with his fingers. Geralt allows him to.
"Couple years ago I'd have followed you right out of the town for a story." He taps his thumb on Geralt's chin. Would you have let me, though?"
That's not the question he's asking, and Geralt knows it.
He doesn't sleep with men. He's wanted to before, but never indulged. He'd always assumed the desire to be a side-effect of the mutations that make him too much of everything, too capable of violence, too capable of lust. This doesn't feel the same, though, or maybe he's just never had an opportunity present itself so clearly.
Jaskier's eyes spark like he can see into every grimy, perverted corner of Geralt's soul. He leans forward, whispers into Geralt's ear, "I think I owe you, witcher."
Their bodies are almost touching.
Jaskier reaches out with narrow, beringed fingers, touches the sides of Geralt's neck. Geralt can feel the blue weight of his eyes. If he lowers his brows, or shifts backward even a fraction, Jaskier's hand will move away.
He doesn't even breathe.
Jaskier moves slowly closer, like a hunter stalking a deer. He nips ever so lightly at Geralt's jaw, leans back to examine his face, searching for a reaction. Satisfied by its blankness, he winds his hands underneath the loose linen of Geralt's shirt. His fingers press against Geralt's ribs as he bites into the side of his neck, then drag down to his hips.
"Well? Are you fond of creating a scene in the hallway, or are you going to come in?"