"Sir? Will this place suit?"
The serving girl is looking at him with wide eyes. That might be because he's glaring at her. He forces his face into an expression he hopes is neutrally pleased.
"Yes. My thanks."
"Is there anything else you require?"
Geralt looks down at the low couch in front of him, heaped with embroidered cushions.
"A drink, if you've got it." She scurries off obediently, leaving Geralt to his fate.
The couch is too low to sit on, of course. It's meant for lounging, and this, this is why he doesn't attend these horseshit parties.
He settles tentatively in the center of it, which is draped with heavy velvet and a large white pelt that looks incredibly expensive. He's got no fucking idea what to do with the cushions, so he pushes them all to one side and crosses his legs in front of him, feeling uncomfortably like a Kaer Morhen trainee listening attentively to his elders. He grimaces and glances around the atrium at the other guests.
The attendees are a particularly fashionable set, Geralt guesses, noting an abundance of strange fabrics and accessories. One of the ladies has a dark tattoo that winds up her arm, bared completely in a daring dress pinned by brooches at her shoulders. Two of the men have sparkling jewels dangling from their ears. Most of the guests are relaxing, leaning back into their piles of opulent cushions like born nobility.
They probably are. The youngest children of wealthy lords who already have an heir and a spare, the spoiled progeny of royal consorts and courtesans. And a witcher, finally bereft of his dignity.
The girl comes back with his drink, and he takes a long swallow without even looking at it, wincing at the tase. It's like nothing he's ever tasted, thick and dark and heavily spiced--truly an odd drink for summer. He examines the chalice as if it will hold some clue to the contents, but it's just as bizarre, some kind of heavy grey metal, with dark gems inlaid around it.
Gods. He can't even have an ale for his trouble. His own fault for not specifying.
Then he sees Jaskier, and his throat is suddenly dry. He tips more of the black liquor into his mouth, tries not to stare.
Jaskier has rings sparkling on most, maybe all of his fingers, and he's only wearing a chemise with his trousers. It's obviously intended as outerwear, since the material is an opalescent purple-blue, but it's still semi-opaque enough to pose a danger to Geralt's sanity. There's sapphire-colored kohl at the outer edges of his eyes, and fuck, Geralt's been looking for too long.
It must have been obvious, from the faint smile on Jaskier's face, which is now turned in his direction. Jaskier begins to stroll toward him, and Geralt can already smell him, sandalwood oil and a whisper of sweat underneath it. He clenches his teeth and blows a breath out through his nose as Jaskier stops beside his couch, almost close enough to touch.
"How did you get here, White Wolf?" He leans down to pick up one of Geralt's abandoned cushions by a tasseled corner, examines it dryly. "And this somehow defective? Or do floral motifs at close proximity interfere with your masculine aesthetic?"
Geralt ignores the second half of the question.
"I have certain friends."
"Of course," Jaskier says, sounding bored. "When they arrive perhaps you can introduce us." He drops the cushion on the floor. "A more illuminating question might be: why are you here?"
"Not because I want to be," Geralt snarls, and this has got to be the worst way to have an argument, sitting in a plush nest of fabric while a bard wearing lingerie towers over him.
"You want to grovel?" Jaskier asks, and Geralt is getting damn close to regretting that he'd come.
Jaskier doesn't wait for him to answer.
"Well, groveling is really all I'll allow, so send for me when it seems agreeable. Kristof?" A boy comes running, his bare feet slapping against the tile floors. Jaskier gestures with rounded fingers like he's holding a glass chalice. "Will you bring this man a more boring drink? He won't like this one."
And with then he wanders away--more accurately, he wanders to the couch of a man with long honey-colored hair, who is sprawled across his cushions wearing no shirt at all. Geralt watches him laugh as Jaskier pushes him over to make enough room for himself and grits his teeth, cursing his own folly.
It's been three moons (almost exactly) since Jaskier had left him in Gors Velen--though, that phrasing places more blame on Jaskier than he deserves. Geralt had scrubbed Jaskier's come and blood off his skin thrice over, found the strange void in his chest gaping larger than before, and attempted to outrun the strangeness of his emotions by taking a contract in the closest thing to the wilderness he could find.
It hadn't worked. (If it had he wouldn't be lying on a fucking couch in public.)
How had he been brought to his knees so easily? (He's dimly aware that returning to Jaskier three months after baldly rejecting him perhaps does not count for easily. All the same.) His sexual encounters have been profoundly unsatisfying, but he could have ignored that. Whatever Jaskier's done to him is something worse, and that's not even taking into account the six songs he can't get out of his head. It's something like hunger, difficult to ignore, impossible to escape.
In the center of the room, beside the shallow pool that collects rainwater from the open skylight, a harpist begins to play, and Geralt is shaken out of his thoughts.
It's the serving boy, Kristof, with a large mug of clear amber liquid. Ale. Right.
Jaskier is fucking intolerable, thinking he knows best. Unfortunate that in this case he does. Geralt takes the mug, grateful for its solidity in his grip and looks up for Jaskier, who is doubtless either gloating or just ignoring him.
The golden-haired man is alone. Shit.
He rises, tries to stroll unobtrusively across the atrium. Enough of the other guests are standing, in small circles of two or three, or indulging in licentious activities on their couches, that he can't possibly be the most eye-catching item, but heads turn to follow him anyway. He catches no glimpses of Jaskier in his shimmering indigo, or of Jaskier at all (since there's a nonzero possibility he's been shedding clothing).
He casts about for the serving-girl who'd brought him in and finds her filling the chalice of a woman wearing more jewelry than clothing from a bronze pitcher. He waits for her to turn and catches her eye, praying to whatever gods exist that she will see him, that people will stop looking at him, that this day will end.
She does, and glides over to him gracefully, looking a little sympathetic. Gods. He's like a lost lamb.
"Sir. Is there anything I can do for you?"
He pauses, because he hasn't fucking thought this through, and her face shifts.
"Oh. Oh! I--of course, sir. Though, I can have other company sent to you! Or if I--if you think me preferable, I can--I'm perfectly willing."
Great, he's scared the shit out of her. Again. He lifts his hand halfway as if to touch her arm comfortingly, then thinks better of that utterly brainless idea.
"Not that," he says. "Will you show me to a privy?"
Her shoulders relax.
"Of course." She sets the pitcher down on a table laden with fruit and meat, and leads him past a variety of potted trees, under a heavy satin curtain, down a hallway paved with patterned tiles.
Her face when she turns is wary, which in retrospect, is because he's just lured her into a deserted hallway. Gods above.
"I want to find the bard Jaskier. Do you know where he is?"
She exhales, smiles gently.
"Are you here to see him?" she asks, like this is a common occurrence, and of course it is, this is Jaskier.
"Yes. I'm an old friend." It's--not completely a lie.
She looks at him skeptically, like she can see the truth on his face, can look into his mind at Jaskier straddling his hips and painting his skin with bloody kisses. He stares back, praying she thinks him stubborn enough to be worth placating.
Her voice drops to a whisper. "Sometimes he goes to see the duke's daughter, but I... I don't think he'll want to be disturbed."
The absolute muttonhead strumpet. He pinches at the bridge of his nose, and maybe this is what convinces her he's on Jaskier's side after all, or maybe she's just given up on getting rid of him.
"I'll point you in the right direction."
The hallway is narrow and grows dustier and dimmer as he walks down it, the lamps sputtering sadly for want of oil. It's not where he expects to find a duke's daughter, and there's a brief moment where he wonders if the serving-girl is a liar, but he can hear the faint sound of voices, and so continues.
At the end of the corridor on the left is a room with wide double doors, both open, and it's from there that the voices grow louder from there as he approaches.
"So you can't attack from the mountains."
"You can, you'll simply have to resign yourself to losing your entire company like the three generals who tried it before you."
Soft, female laughter.
"Perhaps if they'd thought to bring more than a week of rations and sent some cavalry around to divert the opposing forces it wouldn't have gone so badly."
"I think you're missing my point. Three generals, Eline."
It's Jaskier's voice, and the hollow hunger that's been haunting Geralt all these weeks intensifies at the sound of it.
Eline laughs again in reply.
"You ought to be studying grammar instead, you know twice as much history as the steward himself and six times more than you ought to."
"That's less fun, since my father approves of it."
"And that's why you won't learn music either. I'm going to rescind my tutelage."
"Only once you read my rhetoric assignment. It took me at least an hour."
"Gods forbid, an entire hour."
Geralt is at the door now, can get a glimpse of Jaskier from around the edge of it. He's wearing a bronze-colored doublet over his chemise and twirling a long quill pen in his hands.
He takes another step and looks into the room. Jaskier is siting with his heels propped up on a desk in front of him. There's an enormous brown globe on the desk, with an abacus and an astrolabe beside it, and the whole space is filled with shelves and countless stacks of paper, some half-heartedly bound into volumes. A library, maybe, or an archive. Eline is sitting on a table by the one window, surrounded by dusty scrolls and gripping a leather-bound book that looks to be half her weight. She's--very young, maybe fourteen, and wearing the feral grin that makes girls her age positively terrifying.
Feeling suddenly intrusive, he clears his throat.
Jaskier snaps his head toward the door. Eline narrows her eyes and grips her book slightly closer to her chest.
"Oh, it's you." He shoves back the chair and turns to Eline. "It's fine, Eline, Geralt is just an extraordinarily stupid acquaintance of mine. I'll see you to your rooms before I bother with him."
And so Geralt finds himself following Jaskier and the duke's daughter up a tower staircase to what is apparently Eline's chamber. He watches with a strange tightness in his chest as Jaskier opens the door for her, bowing gallantly. She laughs, and he tells her to do her bloody geometry and closes it softly behind her.
He glares at Geralt for a moment before starting down the stairs again, shrugging his way out of his doublet as he goes.
"Don't say anything until I've had a drink," he says, starting across a passage that must lead back to the party (Geralt can hear the sound of the harp, and over it, the buzz of conversation). "I'm not at all happy to see you, though watching you suffer so openly was certainly a balm."
He brushes aside a curtain that Geralt faintly remembers and they're back inside the atrium. It's less distasteful now that everyone's well and truly drunk, and less of them are staring at him. He can almost appreciate the elegance of the space, with its numerous potted plants and the pink light of sunset reflecting up from the pool in the center.
Jaskier drapes his doublet casually over a couch and saunters over to a table to pour himself a goblet of the revolting black liquor. Geralt watches him sip it, frowning. Jaskier snorts a laugh into the drink, and Geralt follows his eyes across the room where the golden-haired man is lying, stark naked and asleep.
"Since I'm sure you want to ask who that is: he's the latest in my string of lovers. Would you like me to wake him up so you can challenge him to a duel?"
"I'm sure that would make a fine song."
"It rather would," Jaskier smirks, shakes his head. "Well, what have you come here to do, Geralt?"
"Talk to you."
"That is certainly a first. I'll indulge you since I'm unable to curb my instinctive magnanimity."
Geralt looks around the atrium. Several other attendees are asleep, and some occupied, but a few meet his eyes with sultry smirks, unabashed. Jaskier seems to hear his thoughts.
"Ah yes, let's go somewhere more private. We've already gathered a bit of interest, but that's only the nature of things when one of the parties is handsome, and the other is uncommonly brawny."
Jaskier strolls back toward the curtain, goblet still in hand, and Geralt trails after him. He winds past what had been Geralt's couch, and bundles the white fur under his arm, winking at the servant girl who catches him at it.
"I suppose the duke's daughter isn't what you were expecting," he says, sweeping back the tapestry that leads out into the hallway.
"No." Geralt ducks under the curtain, and it's mostly unintentional that he brushes Jaskier's shoulder. The touch burns him even through his clothes.
"Her brother's a foolish twat, and a cruel man on top of that. I hope he drinks himself to death before his father dies so she can manage the estate. She'd do a much better job of it even without the lessons."
"Hmm. Back to playing political games?"
Jaskier lowers his voice so fractionally he might not have bothered.
"I'm not going to assassinate him personally, but I'm not above peddling the idea he should be sent on campaign somewhere particularly dangerous."
He's talking treason far too casually for someone strolling up a dim staircase, and Geralt is seized with the urge to clamp a hand over his mouth. Jaskier takes a sharp left off the stairs before he can do it, and they're walking through a room, Jaskier weaving nimbly around furniture in the low light. Halfway through it the ceiling ends, and they're out under the open sky, a warm breeze ruffling Jaskier's hair as he strolls to the edge of the terrace and drapes the fur over the wide stone parapet. Geralt stands beside him and looks down on the courtyard below.
"What if your meddling goes to shit?" It comes out sharper than he'd meant it to.
"Then I've done my best. I've been reflecting and well--better to try for a bit of justice than live like this." Jaskier gestures vaguely with his goblet, then sets it down sharply on the ledge. "The excess is unbearable."
"It is. Surprised it was so easy for you to rejoin the high-born."
Jaskier leans over the wall on his forearms, toys absently with the rings on his hands. "Certainly easier than I expected. Apparently a vague association with the overthrowing of a baron is a perfectly forgivable crime as long as one is modestly wealthy and titled. A little scandal is even fashionable, with this sort." He pauses and looks out into the lilac-colored dusk, his face suddenly grim. "Did you know that the baron was gutted in the square? Not much comfort when most of the revolutionaries probably met a similar end, but it's some."
Geralt's chest is tight, tries to fight him as he speaks.
"I left you." That's not right, it was Jaskier who had left, but it's true all the same. "I should have stayed."
"Because you feel responsible for protecting me from my guilt as well as from my enemies?"
He breathes in, slow. Out, slower.
"Because I wanted you to stay."
There's an aching, unbearable pause, and then Jaskier laughs, softly.
"Better groveling than I'd hoped for, though if you'd gone on your knees it might have been more poetic."
"There's still time for you to." Jaskier turns to look at him over his shoulder. His eyes are warm and trusting and so, so bright, and gods, Geralt hadn't realized that Jaskier had been holding back, had been waiting for him to be worthy of what flickers unspoken in that gaze.
The hunger that's been aching in his chest for weeks makes his veins white-hot with want, and before he's conscious of moving he's crowded Jaskier against the parapet, pulled his spine flush against the front of him.
Jaskier lets his head tilt sideways, hair brushing Geralt's nose, and Geralt sets his mouth against the skin where his neck meets his shoulder, bites down until Jaskier groans and turns in his arms to kiss his mouth.
"Always so impatient," he says smugly, hand skimming against Geralt's half-hard cock. "I suppose you can't help yourself. Not quite a hallway, this, but it's nearly as likely someone will see us."
Geralt glances over his shoulder at the room behind him.
"Gods, I'm teasing. It's perfectly improbable that anyone will find us because we aren't supposed to be here. Don't look at me like that. The duke's away, or his cockhead of an heir wouldn't be throwing such extravagant parties, and the hallway sentry owes me a favor. Now hold still."
Geralt complies, watches through half-lidded eyes as Jaskier dips his index finger in his chalice. He presses it into the hollow of Geralt's neck, paints a line up his throat to his lower lip, and then follows it there with his tongue; kisses Geralt on the lips, featherlight.
"See, I'm becoming tainted by affluence," he laughs softly. "Just another lordling, dabbling in debauchery to break up the boredom of my easy existence."
Jaskier presses another whisper of a kiss against his lips, and sighs.
"I'd dearly like to fuck you over this parapet, Geralt, but it's too high to be really practical." He sounds so sincerely disappointed that Geralt almost laughs. (He can't even remember the last time he's wanted to.)
"Settle," Geralt suggests, and Jaskier's eyes sparkle with wickedness.
"It won't be the first sacrifice I've made on your account." He drags the pilfered fur off the parapet and spreads it gracefully over the floor. "Lie down."
Geralt takes off his shirt and boots and stretches out on it obediently. He sinks gratefully into the luxurious softness of the hide as Jaskier follows him down, straddling him with the casual ease of someone who's done so before and will do so again.
"I'm not sure if I should appreciate your foresight or resent your presumption, lordling."
Jaskier is preoccupied with the fastening of his pants and does not answer immediately.
"Geralt of Rivia," he says finally, peeling off his chemise and tossing it aside, "if you can sincerely tell me that you attended willingly attended this party without any hope of sex--"
He pauses, a look of intense concentration crossing his face as he starts on Geralt's laces, "then and only then will I apologize for bringing this fur to fuck you on. Now please get on your knees."
Geralt laughs. (He feels so fucking light).
When they're finally settled beside each other on the fur, sweat cooling on their bodies in the warm night, Geralt turns to Jaskier.
"I heard there might be work in Aedirn."
"That would be the harpy problem in Hoshberg." Jaskier spins the ruby ring on his thumb, studies it shrewdly with his tongue pressed between his lips. "The count ought to have hired a witcher a bit sooner, but he's been using the taxes to pay for his third mansion, so I hear." He looks at Geralt from under his eyelashes.
"Shame if someone were to write a song about it."
"Shame indeed," Jaskier whispers, smiling.