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Geralt knows he’s strange.

He knows he’s strange even among witchers. The masters said that he was chosen, special, better. A survivor. But he doesn’t think he’s anything good, anything right. He can’t be. Not when he nearly choked to death on his own screams, surrounded by the slowly-fading heartbeats of ten other boys. Not when he spent three days shivering in his own waste and vomit as the trials (the trials so new they don’t even have a name) burned through his veins. Not when he spent the next three weeks curled up in bed, refusing to face the world for anything.

Not when he looked at his hands and saw tiny claws, not when he cut his tongue running it over his teeth, not when the world glowed around him like a dying star, every light brighter, every sound louder.

Not when his hair started to grow in white, when his skin burned like paper under the sunlight because there was no color in it at all.

He isn’t something good.

He isn’t something human, either.

The other witchers, they have a bit of normalcy to them. Sure they have their yellow eyes, their reflexes, their strength. The world’s hatred. But they’re still human at their core.

Geralt isn’t.

His mutations have made him into something other.

So when Eskel’s laughter makes his stomach burn like all the best love stories, it’s just another way in which he’s wrong. Another way the extra mutagens twisted him and warped him into something inhuman.

He smiles back at Eskel, quick and sharp, and forces down the squirming rush of giddiness in his chest, calms his shivering heart. His thousand other pieces of wrongness are impossible to hide. But this. This he can keep to himself.

***

Only he can’t.

He can’t because Eskel is—Eskel is his best friend, the only witcher that willingly spars with him, the only witcher who accepts his touch without flinching (except he should flinch, he should flinch because Geralt is thinking things about him—awful, wrong, horrible things—and if Geralt was a good person he would never speak to Eskel again. But Geralt isn’t a good person. Isn’t a person at all).

And he can’t stop leaning into Eskel’s touch, he can’t stop staring at his lips when he talks, he can’t stop the glow of warmth in his throat when Eskel calls him his friend, calls him good, sweet, kind.

Eskel pins him to the ground when sparring and grins triumphantly, and he feels, not shame at being beaten, but something like excitement. Anticipation. And Eskel’s lips are right there, and he could just lean up and—

He shoves Eskel off of him and stalks away, ears ringing with terror. Eskel calls out behind him, still laughing, something about Geralt being a sore loser. He doesn’t catch his exact words because he’s too focused on getting away.

It happens again. And again and again. Little moments of weakness and warmth and desire for something more.

And of course, eventually, he ruins everything.

They’re wrestling in one of the many fields behind Kaer Morhen, laughing wildly as they trip and kick and yank at each other’s hair. It’s a messy fight, an undisciplined fight, the kind of fight their trainers would box their ears for, if they saw it. But none of the masters are here right now. No one is here but the two of them.

Eskel pins Geralt to the ground, and leans over his face with a wild grin, blocking out the sun.

“Give up yet?” he laughs.

The warm feeling blooms in Geralt’s stomach.

“Maybe,” he mutters.

The smile stays on Eskel’s face, but he stops laughing. His eyes dart between Geralt’s face and his lips, his pupils blown dark and wide with something—hungry. Something that Geralt thinks he recognizes.

Hit sits back, letting go of Geralt’s shoulders, and Geralt sits up. And Eskel is still watching him with that same terrified hunger, and Geralt’s heart sings out for it. Because maybe he isn’t alone. Maybe it isn’t just his mutations.

He leans forward and presses a soft kiss against Eskel’s lips.

Eskel freezes. And then, one of his hands comes up, resting on top of Geralt’s shoulder. A thumb rubs circles into his skin. Eskel kisses back, hesitant, fluttering, and Geralt thinks he’s going to burst with happiness.

And then he’s shoved backward.

“What the fuck?” Eskel snarls.

“I—”

“Why did you do that?”

“I thought—I thought you wanted—”

“You thought I wanted you to—of course I didn’t want that.”

He staggers to his feet but Geralt can’t move. He feels frozen in place, like his skin has sprouted roots and bound him to the ground.

“Eskel—”

“I didn’t want that. I’m not a freak.”

He turns and storms away and Geralt is left shaking on the ground with tears streaming down his face. I’m not a freak, I’m not a freak. His head taunts him with Eskel’s words over and over. I’m not a freak like you.

But his mutagens had tricked him. Had made him think he’d seen something in Eskel that wasn’t there.

He can’t—

He needs them gone.

He picks himself up, scrubs the tears off his face, and runs to the stables, where he knows Vesemir is tending to the horses. Because Vesemir is safe. Vesemir will know what to do. He always knows what to do.

“Geralt?” he says, when Geralt bursts through the door, chest heaving and fingers balled into fists. Concern is laced into his voice, but then, concern is always laced into his voice when he talks to Geralt. Has been since his second round of trials.

“I want them gone,” Geralt gasps.

“Want what gone?”

“The extra mutations, the extra trials, you have to reverse them, I can’t live with them, I—”

Vesemir’s face crumples, and he holds out his arms.

“Come here,” he says and Geralt falls into his embrace.

“I’m so sorry, pup,” he murmurs, drawing a hand between Geralt’s shaking shoulders. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them.”

“It’s fine—I know—you tried—you tried, and they didn’t listen, and—”

“Shh, don’t try to talk. Just breathe.”

Geralt breathes. He shudders and sobs against Vesemir’s chest until he manages to shake himself back into a semi-coherent state, coherent enough to get sentence out.

“You need to reverse them. Please.”

“I can’t. I’m sorry, but—that isn’t how the mutagens work.”

“Please, please, I—I can’t—

“You can. You’re so strong, Geralt. Stronger than I ever was. Stronger than I’ll ever be.”

“But I’m not.”

“You are. I see that you are. And someday you’ll see it too.”

He holds Geralt for a long, long time, just making soothing nonsense noises as Geralt sobs his heart out. And Geralt walks out of those stables knowing one thing and one thing only. He has to be strong enough to fight this on his own.

***

So he holds strong against the mutagens. They can twist his mind against his fellow witchers but they can’t make him befriend them, spend time with them. And if he’s alone, he won’t get that fluttery not-love in his heart, and every moment without it is a victory.

And sure, he’s lonely. Sure, Vesemir is worried about him. Sure, Eskel looks at him like Geralt’s breaking his heart. But it’s better than betraying his fellow wolves.

He can take some pride in his loneliness, knowing that.

***

Three months out of Kaer Morhen, Geralt beds a woman for the first time.

She’s a young farmer that he saves from a pack of ghouls, and unlike so many humans, she’s not terrified of his black eyes and bloody hands. Rather, she looks at him like he’s a challenge, a gleam in her eye that is unmistakably lust.

He feels nothing but a low, coiling dread.

But well. Every first brings a bit of nervousness, doesn’t it? He was shaking like a leaf when he killed his first monster, when he downed his first potion, when he stepped out of Kaer Morhen for the first time. This is no different. And from what he’s heard in taverns and from other witchers, the anxiety will fall away soon enough.

She kisses him.

He kisses back.

They fall into her bed together, and despite the horror curling through his veins, he forces himself to strip off his shirt, to help her out of her skirts. She reaches down for his cock, frowning when she finds it limp.

“Do you want—?” she begins.

No.

“Slower blood circulation,” he lies. Just crest this hill. Just don’t think so hard. Just enjoy it.

Her lips curve into a mischievous smile that on Eskel’s another face he might find charming. But as it is, it just sends another jolt of fear through his stomach.

“Well then, I’ll just have to invest some time in you, won’t I?” she grins, and leans down to kiss along his stomach.

It’s a blur of sensation and heat and skin-crawling disgust, and afterwards she lies asleep, curled up around him and she’s still touching him and he can’t—

He shivers on the bed for hours, until she rolls sleepily away, and then he climbs out, pulling on his clothes with shaking hands. Because that was horrible, it wasn’t anything like all the rowdy songs and dirty stories. He couldn’t turn his mind off for a second, couldn’t lose himself in pleasure, could barely even make himself move.

Is this what sex is always like or—

Or is it just another part of his mutations?

He swallows back a sob as he stumbles out of the farmer’s house and walks over to Roach on trembling legs. He’s known he’s a freak since he was a child but…but he thought in this, at least, he could be normal. Could bury his feelings for other men and take pleasure in women instead.

But it seems like his fucked-up body has other plans.

He swipes angrily at his tears as he gathers Roach’s tack. No. No, he’s not giving up on normalcy. This was just—it was his first time, and he was still coming down off his potions a bit, and the farmer wasn’t all that pretty anyway.

He’ll try again.

***

By the time Geralt meets Jaskier, he’s learned a few things. First, he hasn’t wanted to fuck a single woman in his entire life. And he’s starting to fear he might never want that, that the mutagens have permanently shattered whatever part of his brain would allow him to take pleasure in sex. Second, he can’t let himself get too close to men. If he does, he gets the same fluttery feeling he got when he looked at Eskel, and there’s nothing down that road but heartbreak.

So when he meets the young, chatty bard in Posada, with his bright eyes and full lips and wiry strength, he reminds himself to stay distant. Keep him at arm’s length and he can stay detached, he can stop his mutagens from taking interest in Jaskier. Keep him at arm’s length and it’ll all be fine.

***

It isn’t fine. Despite his constant reminders to himself that he doesn’t like Jaskier, that he’s not friends with Jaskier, that Jaskier is human and annoying and won’t shut the fuck up and is constantly getting himself into trouble—

Despite all that.

He still can’t stop watching him.

Can’t stop watching the way he carries himself, the way his hands flash in the air as he regales Geralt with some new wild tale. Can’t stop watching his lips as he bites at them, licks them, rubs balm over the dry spots to keep them soft. Can’t stop watching his determination, his bravery, the way he greets the world with open arms and wild laughter.

He’s—

He’s beautiful. And—

It feels like love, is the awful thing, or at least, how he’s been told love should feel. But it can’t be. It can’t be. It’s just a faded reflection of the real thing, a product of the mutagens’ relentless hold on his brain, his damaged hormones, his potion-wracked heart. It isn’t love, and if he lets himself think that it might be, he knows that it will only ruin him.

The worst times are when he thinks Jaskier might love—not love—him back. The moments when Jaskier catches his eyes over a campfire with a shy smile, or leans into him when he’s had too much ale, or untangles his hair with deft and gentle fingers. Geralt’s heart jumps to attention, reaching out for the warmth like a flower to the sun, the mutagens humming hopefully in his brain. But Jaskier isn’t like him. Jaskier isn’t like him and to think he might be, to dirty him like that—it’s the most disgusting thought that Geralt has ever had.

It’s a betrayal.

Just like how he betrayed Eskel.

So he keeps Jaskier at arm’s length. Always reminding him that they aren’t friends, that they can’t be friends, the human and the witcher. There’s a massive gulf between them that neither can hope to cross. Geralt left any chance he had at understanding Jaskier back in a cold, bloodstained room in Kaer Morhen. And he doesn’t want Jaskier to understand him, to know what it’s like in a mind and body that have been utterly ruined. He doesn’t want to poison him.

Jaskier doesn’t seem to understand that.

He gets sad when Geralt brushes him off, pulls away from his touch, scoffs at the notion that they could ever be friends. And Geralt doesn’t want to see Jaskier sad. It ties his stomach into tight knots that make it difficult to eat or talk or even breathe, it floods his chest with hot, unending guilt. Because he could be friends with Jaskier, if it wasn’t for his mutations. He could be friends with him and not want something he can’t have.

He wouldn’t have to be alone, he wouldn’t have to watch Jaskier’s face fall again and again as Geralt disappointed him in a thousand tiny ways, if he could just be normal in this one fucking thing.

***

But they become friends. The years pass and they orbit each other, taking on the world and all its monsters. They share food and clothes and beds, sometimes, and Geralt feels so fucking guilty whenever he wakes up wrapped around Jaskier.

Geralt can’t deny it anymore. They’re friends. And his love-not-love is getting even stronger.

Shit.

***

And then Jaskier writes a love song.

About Geralt.

About how he rescued a maiden fair and swept her into his arms (and his bed). It’s a merry song, a drinking song, a song that gets him appreciative whistles and claps on the back by other tavern-goers as soon as Jaskier starts singing it.

Geralt hates it.

For one because it’s a blatant lie—he swept the woman into his bed, true, but there was no love in it because he couldn’t feel love. It was just another desperate, failed attempt to see if his mutagens would let him feel the right way about a woman. To see if the skin-crawling, nausea-inducing discomfort would finally shake off of him and let him be.

For another, it’s because he can’t stand to watch Jaskier standing up on a table and singing about how noble and romantic he is, sending sly glances and winks his way. It sends his traitorous mind whirling, wondering, hoping, when Jaskier is just trying to build up his reputation (and he doesn’t want a reputation as a kind and considerate lover because then more women would want to—but he wants them to want him, doesn’t he? Shouldn’t he?). Jaskier is trying to help him, and all he can think about is degrading him.

He really is a monster, isn’t he?

It catches his brain in a thousand confusing knots and whirls and loops of logic, and he’s left by the bar trying to wash away the ache in his throat with pint after pint of ale. It doesn’t work.

He storms upstairs before Jaskier can finish the final chorus, heart burning like a firebrand in his chest. He wants to scream, to run, to beat the shit out of something and let this awful feeling flow from him until he doesn’t feel anything at all.

He sits on the bed and tries to meditate. But the pain just keeps rising, sharp and hot behind his eyes, threatening to spill over.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Jaskier will be here any—

The door opens.

—minute.

“Not a fan of that last song?” Jaskier asks, stumbling through the door, cheeks flushed with triumph and ale alike.

Of course he noticed. Of course he noticed, because he was always looking at Geralt, and curious about Geralt, and trying to figure things out about Geralt so he could put them in his songs and—

 “Not a fan of lies,” Geralt says.

“It’s true though, Geralt, I saw how that lady looked at you—"

“Wasn’t in love with her.”

“Oh come on, it’s a bit of artistic embellishment but—”

“It’s more than that,” Geralt snaps.

“What is it then?” Jaskier asks, unintimidated. He crosses his arms and takes a step forward, crowding into Geralt’s space, his eyes burning into Geralt’s like he’s trying to see into his very brain.

Ever since they’ve met, Jaskier has been digging into Geralt, slipping under his skin and into his scars, yanking up as much of his past as he can find. Geralt doesn’t think he’ll stop until he unearths every last piece of him. And now he’s shoveling far too close to his malformed core and—and what if he figures this out too, what if he weaves this into a melody and casts it out into the world? What if everyone who sees him knows how wrong he is?

I’m not a freak, Eskel snarls in his ear.

He can’t let that happen.

“I don’t love,” he says. “Anyone or anything.”

Jaskier scoffs.

“Oh come on, sure you do—”

“I don’t,” Geralt growls, putting more emotion into his voice than he’s ever let himself show around Jaskier. “The trials took that away from me a long time ago.”

“But—”

“Either respect me for what I am,” Geralt says, each word stinging his throat like a flying spark. “Or leave me out of your songs.”

“I—”

“And your life.”

Jaskier freezes, mouth working silently as he stares at Geralt, hurt flickering in his eyes. Geralt wants to snatch the words back. But he can’t. He needs to protect himself.

“Okay. I didn’t—I’m sorry, Geralt, I’ll—I’ll run any songs about you by you before I play them. In the future.”

He shifts from side to side, his hands fidgeting by his sides like they always do when he’s nervous. Geralt swallows. He doesn’t want to leave things like this, with Jaskier’s warmth slowly draining out of him and being replaced by awkward shame.

“Good,” he says. “I—thank you.”

Jaskier smiles at him, tight but relieved. He clears his throat.

“Who you are,” he says.

“What?”

“I’ll respect you for who you are. Not what. You’re a person.”

He reaches out and rests his hand on Geralt’s shoulder, fluttering and hesitant, like he’s expecting Geralt to bat him away. Geralt holds himself as taut as a bowstring.

“You’re a person who’s been through far too much,” Jaskier says. “And yeah, you’ve got some monstery bits, and maybe you feel—a little bit differently than most. But you’re still a person.”

It’s too much, it’s too kind, it’s Jaskier reaching into his coal-hot heart and squeezing it into splintered crystal. Geralt turns his head away, shivering slightly at the light patter of Jaskier’s fingers over his shoulder. And that—that right there is why Jaskier is wrong about him being a person. Because the mutagens are leaping to attention, slithering through his blood and hissing in his ears. He’s touching you, he’s touching you, he’s—

People don’t betray their friends like that. They just don’t.

Geralt grunts, stepping backwards, away from Jaskier’s gentle hands and prying eyes. Jaskier opens his mouth, like he wants to add something else to the conversation, but closes it again at the sight of Geralt’s stormy expression. He walks over to his bag, stripping out of his shirt as he goes. Geralt turns away, shielding Jaskier from his fucked up brain.

He needs to destroy this. Burying it isn’t working anymore, because Jaskier has slipped his way into Geralt’s life and—Geralt can’t cast him out of it, no matter how hard he tries. The mutagens keep trying to convince him that this is love, that he’s in love with Jaskier, that Jaskier could ever love him back, and that’s dangerous.

He’s dangerous.

Vesemir couldn’t reverse the secondary trials but maybe, just maybe, there might be another way.

***

A djinn would fix it. A djinn would solve everything. He could ask to reverse the second set of trials—turn him into a witcher but a normal one, with dark hair and blunt teeth and a heart singing out for the right people. He could ask it to cut out the awful feelings he was having about Jaskier. He could ask it for the ability to kiss a woman without a surge of nausea.

He could ask it for normalcy.

***

Except he doesn’t. He asks it to tear out Jaskier’s throat and turn a man’s head into pulp and save a mage burning with her own kind of pain. His hope at purging himself of the mutagens slips away forever, and he’s left bloody and tired and hating himself.

The mage—Yennefer—is sprawled out on the floor beneath him, looking at him with something like hunger and maybe this could work. Because she’s beautiful, and powerful, and ambitious, and everything that Geralt could want in a lover, so maybe.

He kisses her and it’s nothing but panic again, rising like bile in his throat. Just another reminder that he’d failed, that it hadn’t worked, that he could never be normal, and—

“What’s wrong?” Yennefer asks, putting a hand on his chest and pushing him away from her. He follows her lead willingly, sitting back on his heels, relief and shame echoing through his body in tandem.

“Nothing,” he lies, trying to relax into the portrait of ease. She looks unimpressed.

“I pay attention to my bedfellows,” she says. “And even without dipping into your mind, it’s clear you’re uncomfortable. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says, because it has to be true, he has to be fine with this, he has to want this. He leans down, trying to catch her mouth again, but she puts a finger on his lips.

“I don’t take people to my bed unless they want it,” she says, steady as steel. “Do not make me break that pattern.”

“I want it.”

“Do not presume to lie to me.”

There’s a hiss of her magic at the corner of his mind, catching at the panic there, and he bats it away with a furious growl, because she can’t see his mind.

She frowns.

“Perhaps the near-death situation is a bit of a mood killer,” she says breezily, regarding him like he’s a particularly interesting insect. “I can respect that. And if you really want me, you’ll be happy enough to wait, won’t you?”

She rises to her feet, fastening her dress neatly over her breasts and shaking splinters out of her hair. She snaps her fingers in front of her face and the dust and sweat vanish from her skin. Her expression smooths too, her fear and fury vanishing behind a faint smirk. In an instant, she’s gone from a mad-with-power witch to a composed sorceress. It’s like watching an actor getting ready for a play.

It’s an art, he thinks. He only wishes he could change so easily.

“Come back tonight,” she says, striding over to the door. “And then you can indulge my curiosity. If you want to. Only if you want to.”

He takes a few deep, steady breaths, calming his nerves. Because he had bedded plenty of women over the years, but most of those encounters had been very heat-of-the-moment—girls expressing their gratitude after he saved them from a monster, barmaids tugging him into the back hallways of their taverns with wild grins, prostitutes whistling at him from the steps of their brothels. Quick and unplanned, easy to fall into without thinking too hard.

But now he has to sit with this for hours, knowing that he needs to go to Yennefer and—

He doesn’t need to. He knows he doesn’t need to, he knows that there’s no obligation to make himself hers. She said as much. But if he doesn’t, he’ll always have to sit with the what ifs. What if I liked it? What if I loved her? What if this was the time that made me normal?

So he scrapes himself off the floor and resolves himself to bedding Yennefer that night. It will be fine. It will be good. He will be good.

Jaskier flings himself into Geralt’s arms as soon as he steps out of the house. He’s shaking all over, as trembly as a dried-out leaf in a windstorm, and Geralt catches him without thinking.

“I thought you were dead,” he says. “You couldn’t—the house collapsed and you were up there and—I thought I had just watched you die.”

Geralt breathes Jaskier in, all fear-sweat and blood. The blood that Geralt’s stupid, reckless, careless wish had spilled.

“Me too,” he murmurs. Jaskier laughs, a thin, watery noise that doesn’t sound anything like himself. Geralt holds him tighter. Just once. He can do this just once. Jaskier had almost died, he deserves the comfort. He deserves everything. And even though Geralt shouldn’t be his friend, he is, somehow. So it’s his duty to hold Jaskier, to murmur soothing noises into his ear, to let him cry all over Geralt’s new shirt.

He won’t let his mutations leave Jaskier devoid of kindness when Geralt had almost killed him, had almost silenced him, had almost—He takes a shuddering breath against Jaskier’s shoulder and closes his eyes. It’s okay. Jaskier’s okay.

“I’ve got you,” he says.

“I should almost die more often,” Jaskier says. He laughs again, warmer this time.

“Don’t you dare.”

Jaskier pulls away from him, eyes sparkling, and wrinkles his nose theatrically.

“Ugh,” he says. “For once, I’m the one who needs a bath. Get all this blood and magic off me.” He shudders dramatically at the word ‘magic,’ glancing over his shoulder at Yennefer.

Geralt follows his gaze, and watches Yennefer even when Jaskier turns his back on her. She’s chatting with Chireadan, a look of indulgent humor on her face, but she’s not really paying attention to him. She’s looking right back at Geralt, a slow smile spreading across her lips. Her eyes dart between him and Jaskier and—and there’s a question lingering there, isn’t there?

His stomach drops.

How much of his mind did she see?

***

He waits until Jaskier is fast asleep, clean and warm and safe, before he risks slipping out of the bed. His heart is hammering in his chest, and his throat is so tight he can barely draw a breath, but he still slides his feet into his boots and slips out the door, tiptoeing down the stairs of the inn and out into the cold night air.

He feels oddly guilty at the thought of leaving Jaskier alone.

Examine that later. Or not at all. Right now, he has more important things to worry about. Namely, Yennefer. Part of him thinks he still might be able to distract her—kiss her, love her, press her down into the sheets and make her forget whatever she saw in his head. The bigger part of him knows that she is far too stubborn to give up that easily.

And the tiniest sliver of hope that he still carries in his heart says that maybe she could do what he hadn’t been able to ask of the djinn. Maybe she can heal him.

The half-destroyed mayor’s house is all dark, save for a single window, which spills warm candlelight out into the blackness. Geralt doesn’t bother to knock, just pushes open the doors and lets himself in, slipping through the darkened house and up the staircase.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Yennefer says when he walks into her room, not even looking up to meet his gaze. She’s lounging in an armchair, a large leather-bound book spread across her knees. “You seemed rather preoccupied with your friend.”

“He’s fine,” Geralt says, crossing his arms over his chest.

That makes her look up, snapping the book closed.

“I’m glad you pulled me away from this,” she says, tossing it on the floor and rising to her feet. “Load of rubbish about how humans aren’t meant to wield magic, how it makes us into cruel, unnatural things.”

“I’ve heard the same.”

“I’m sure you have,” she murmurs, her eyes darting over him as she slips closer. “And worse.”

She hovers in front of him, and he reaches behind her head, cradling it like he’s holding something precious. Because she seems hurt, badly, deeply hurt by whatever had made her who she was. She seems like she deserves kindness, gentleness. And Geralt might not be able to love her, but he can show her that at least.

He smooths a thumb over the sharp blade of her cheekbone and draws her in for a kiss.

It lasts for maybe a second, before she’s tapping a hand on his chest, pulling her head back.

“Why do you keep making yourself kiss me?” she asks.

“I’m not—stop reading my mind.”

“I’m not reading your mind,” she says with a huff. “I’m just keeping an eye on your surface-level emotions. Watching out for discomfort, nervousness, fear. It’s practically instinct.”

“Instincts can be unlearned.”

“This is one I don’t want to unlearn. You want me to kiss someone who doesn’t want it? Fuck someone who doesn’t want it?”

“No, but—”

“Then I don’t see the problem.”

“I told you I want it,” he says, frustration building in his throat. “I told you—”

“And you lied,” she says. “And I want to know why.”

He closes his eyes. This isn’t how this was supposed to go, she wasn’t supposed to see through him in an instant, see his wrongness in a heartbeat. But well. She’s already caught a glimpse. Might as well reveal the whole picture.

“There’s something wrong with me,” he says through gritted teeth. “And I want you to fix it.”

She laughs, covering her mouth quickly when Geralt glares at her.

“Sorry, sorry,” she says. “It’s just that I didn’t expect your reason to be so…mundane. A mechanical issue?”

She drops her eyes towards his crotch and heat rises in his cheeks as he realizes what she’s implying.

“No. It’s not that, it’s—I—”

His words stick in his throat. Because he’s never talked about this before, he’s never tried to explain his love-not-love for men, the nausea he feels when he beds women, the utter surety there’s something wrong with his brain. He doesn’t have the vocabulary for it.

“I went through an extra set of trials,” he says, because he has explained this much before. “After the normal ones. ‘S why I have the fangs and claws and white hair.”

“Okay,” Yennefer murmurs, narrowing her eyes. “And you—what, you don’t like the way you look?”

“No—I mean I don’t but that’s not the problem.”

“What is it then?”

“I—there was another mutation, something worse, and—I can’t—I don’t like bedding women.”

The words rush out of his mouth all at once and it feels like a relief to have them out in the air, despite the anxiety that immediately rushes into his stomach as he waits for Yennefer’s response.

“And you think this is a result of your mutations?” Ice is threaded through every syllable of the question. Geralt takes half a step back.

“What else could it be?” he asks.

“What else—?” She cuts herself off, taking a deep breath in and letting it out through tight lips.

“You don’t like bedding women,” she says. “Is that all?”

The anxiety thrashes against his ribcage, swelling in his lungs like he’s inhaled a lake’s worth of water, clogging up his airways and drowning him from the inside out. He doesn’t think he can speak to answer her question, so he shakes his head, dropping his eyes to the ground so he doesn’t have to watch her reaction.

“What else is there?” she asks, stepping forward. There’s a warmth on his shoulder as she rests a hand on it. Her voice has gone oddly soft. It suits her, he thinks.

It’s a trap. Just like before, with her perfume. She just wants you to admit everything and then she’ll—

“I—when I look at men, I want—I want. It’s not love, I know it’s not, but—I don’t know what it is. I want it gone.”

Silence.

“You want it gone. You want me to get rid of it,” she says, revulsion curling through her voice. He takes another step back, shrugging off her grip on his shoulder. Shit, there was no way that he could fight her if she decided to attack him, she had already taken control of his mind once.

“I was going to wish for it. Wouldn’t have needed to involve you at all, but—”

She wracks her fingers through her hair and turns around, shoulders heaving.

“You were going to wish away—you—I am going to find every single one of your teachers and slaughter them.”

 “It isn’t their fault,” he says, because she sounds like she means it, and he can’t let her hurt Vesemir. “It was an experimental trial, they couldn’t have known—”

“By all the gods in the fucking, shitting sky, it wasn’t a fucking trial.”

She spins back around to face him and her eyes are rimmed with red.

What?

He tilts his head, frowning at her.

“What are you talking about?”

“How old are you?”

“What?”

“How. Old. Are. You? How long have you believed that your love was a fucking mutation?”

“It’s not love, I told you it’s not love.”

“Of fucking course it’s love, I saw how you looked at the bard.”

Her eyes are getting wider and wider, her hands are balling into fists, and she looks almost as furious as she did when she was fighting the djinn for control. But there’s no brush of magic at his mind or his body, no building curse on his skin. And it doesn’t seem like she’s angry at him, strangely enough.

“How old are you?” she asks again, voice dropping from a roar to a simmering fury.

“I don’t know. Ninety, a hundred?”

“A century. A whole century and you didn’t know. They never told you. No one ever told you.”

The anger seems to fall from her shoulders, and when she looks at him, there’s nothing but sadness in her eyes. It makes his hackles rise. She shouldn’t pity him for this.

“Told me what?” he growls

“It isn’t a mutation, or a spell, or anything specific to you and you alone. There are others and—I’m so, so sorry you’ve had to carry this alone for so long. But you’re not a freak. You’re just—Geralt, you’re gay.”

“I—What? What does that even mean?”

“Everything you just told me. You like men. You don’t like women. I’m the same way—well, I like both. But there’s a lot of people like you and me, we just have to stay pretty well hidden.”

There’s a loud ringing in his ears.

She likes women?

There are others like him?

There’s a word for this?

He—

He doesn’t—

“You’re wrong,” he whispers. He shakes his head frantically. “You’re wrong—you’re—it’s the mutations, it has to be the mutations, you just have to fix it—you just—”

“It’s not,” she says. She steps forward and brings up her arms, wrapping them around Geralt’s shoulders and yanking him into a hug. He’s shaking, he realizes, feeling his body trembling against hers. When did he start shaking?

“You can fix this,” he says, and his vision is going blurry. Fuck, he’s crying like a child. “You can fix me, please just fix me.”

“I can’t.” Yennefer tucks her head under his chin and pulls herself closer. “And I wouldn’t even if I could.”

A sob punches out of his chest and she makes a soft, soothing sound, drawing her hand down his back.

“Shhh,” she whispers. “Shh, shh, you’re okay. You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re—”

“I’m not.”

“Yes you are. C’mon, down on the couch, there you go.”

 She lowers them both down to the couch, never letting go of Geralt. When they’re both settled, she shifts him so that his head is resting on her shoulder. He should feel ashamed of himself, crying all over her fine clothes like he’s fourteen and sobbing on Vesemir’s cloak, but she seems so unbothered by it that he relaxes easily into her touch.

“You’ll be fine,” she tells him, rubbing gentle circles into his back. “You’ll be alright, I promise you. You’ll be better than alright, you—you can live now, Geralt.”

He considers that. If she’s telling the truth, if it really isn’t his mutations, if the warmth he feels when he looks at Jaskier really is love, if there are really other people like him…

Then there’s a whole new corner of the world for him to explore. A whole new corner of himself. A corner of himself he’d never had a word for before.

Gay.

It feels—

He doesn’t know how it feels. Bright. Exciting. Terrifying. Because he’s kept this buried for so long, and now he has to unpack it, examine it, figure out if Yennefer is right about him. But with Yennefer murmuring softly in his ear as he sobs out all the broken pieces of himself, he thinks he might be able to shoulder the newness.

***

They don’t talk much for the rest of that night. They can’t really, not with Geralt dissolving into a fresh wave of sobs whenever he tries to speak. But she holds him, and soothes him, and when the morning light filters through the window and the tears dry up, he feels emptied out and clean.

“Not how I thought the night would go,” Yennefer laughs softly, twirling a strand of his hair around her finger. “But I’m glad it went this way. I’m glad you talked to me.”

He is too, despite the fear swirling in his stomach.

“What do I do now?” he mutters, staring down at his hands. “I don’t—I don’t even know if you’re right about me.”

She sighs, sitting up and pulling away from him so she can look him in the eyes. He feels more vulnerable like this, shivering under the intensity of her gaze.

“Why don’t you know?” she asks.

“I—you said it was love. You said I felt love, but I don’t even know what love feels like.”

She closes her eyes, pain pinching up her lips and brow.

“I think you do,” she says. “I just think you’ve never let yourself call it love before.”

“But how do you know?”

She bites her lip, considering.

“I’m in love. Shall I tell you how I feel?”

He nods, despite the fact she can hardly tell him anything new. He’s heard a thousand loves songs over the course of his long life, stories of brave knights and maidens fair, of daring adventures and doomed lovers and elegant weddings. Nothing that fits into the framework of his existence.

“I feel warm when I look at her,” she says. “Like a campfire is burning in my stomach and heating me all over. Like I’ve come home from a long day and sunk into a hot bath. When she smiles it’s like everything else falls away. And I would do anything to keep her smiling, keep her safe and bright. I could move mountains for that smile, I think. I could capture lightning and topple armies and make the world stop on its axis. But I don’t have to. She doesn’t need me to. She just wants me to be there, to be gentle and kind. And I’m rarely gentle for anyone but for her—for her I think I could be.”

His heart aches. Because Yennefer’s romance doesn’t sound like any love song he’s heard, but it’s almost more beautiful. More real, stripped of courtly intrigue and dragons and betrayal.

More familiar.

“Why did you try to fuck me, then?” he asks, stopping his brain from drifting too far in that direction. “If your love feels like this.”

She laughs, free and easy, and waves a hand.

“We’re both mages,” she says. “Both off in our own corners of the world, pursuing our own bits of power. Portals help, but we still don’t see each other for months on end, sometimes. So she takes lovers, I take lovers. We compare notes. All in good fun.”

She rises to her feet, tossing her hair behind her shoulder.

“There are many ways to love,” she says. “Some loves are like campfires, some are like hurricanes, some are like birdsong. But if you think you’re in love, you probably are. So next time you see your bard, I want you to think about how you feel. Really think.”

“I’m not in love with Jaskier.”

“But you might be,” she says. “I’m not asking you to admit that, right here and now. I’m just asking you to consider it as an option. Can you do that?”

“…okay.”

***

Jaskier is already awake by the time Geralt gets back to the inn, fluttering nervously about the room like a stressed-out chicken.

“Geralt! Oh thank the gods you’re back, I thought you’d gone on another monster hunt just after this one and—you look exhausted, have you gotten any sleep?”

Geralt looks at Jaskier, watches him as he grabs Geralt by the arm and tugs him towards the bed, and considers.

He considers Jaskier’s immediate surety that Geralt didn’t deserve his reputation, that he deserved coin, kindness, respect. He considers Jaskier’s hands in his hair, his voice in his ear, his feet hitting the ground right beside Geralt’s, their paces perfectly matched. Almost like they were made to walk together. He considers the way his stomach drops when Jaskier’s face fills up with sadness, how it soars when Jaskier smiles, how it dips and twists when Jaskier winks at him across a crowded room.

And Geralt has been a protector his whole life, but when Jaskier is with him he feels safe. Watched over. Like he has someone to pick him up if he stumbles, to worry about him if he falters. Like he has someone to trust.

And it doesn’t feel like a campfire, or a hurricane, or a snatch of birdsong. It feels like shelter. It feels like home.

 He shoves all the love songs out of his mind, all the ideas of princesses and maidens and wives, and focuses on Jaskier. On his hands and lips and boundless heart. On his words and deeds and warmth.

If you think you’re in love, you probably are.

Fuck.

It isn’t a mutation, is it? It isn’t something broken desperately trying to fill in what he can’t feel for women. It isn’t a pale imitation of love.

It is love.

He’s in love with Jaskier.

He freezes and Jaskier stumbles, thrown off by Geralt’s sudden halt.

“Is something wrong?” Jaskier asks, frowning, crowding into Geralt’s space. And he’s close enough to kiss, close enough to touch. Geralt could just—

But he can’t. Because he might feel like this, he might be in love with Jaskier, but there’s no way Jaskier could love him back. Eskel’s horrified face flashes in his mind.  I’m not a freak. He might not be alone, but that doesn’t mean Jaskier is anything like him. It doesn’t mean kissing him won’t ruin their friendship.

And besides, what if he’s wrong? What if he kisses Jaskier, and Jaskier kisses him back, wants more than just kissing (and how would that even work?) and he hates it just as much as he hated bedding women? That would dash any bond that ever existed between them into a thousand pieces.

“No,” Geralt says. “Just had an—illuminating conversation with Yennefer, that’s all.”

Jaskier’s face falls, just for a moment, before it’s painted with a look of righteous indignation.

“Fucking mages,” he hisses. “I swear to all the gods, I am never going to a mage for help again. I don’t care if my guts are on the road Geralt, do not bring me to another mage.”

“You know I can’t promise that,” Geralt chuckles, letting Jaskier shove him onto the bed.

“I know. You look out for me. Even if you use dangerous methods.”

Jaskier pauses, then sits down on the edge of the bed.

“Seriously. You saved my life, Geralt. And my voice. I—thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Geralt says, shame curling in his gut. “It’s my fault you were hurt in the first place.”

“Why, because an asshole djinn heard your honest wish for peace and decided to interpret it in the most dickish way possible?”

Geralt laughs, despite himself. Jaskier gets so loud and flashy when he’s indignant, so passionate.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jaskier says. “You just wanted peace. I want you to have peace. I’m sorry it’s so hard.”

There it is again, that surge of warmth, shelter, home. He doesn’t trust himself to speak, so he just nods.

“Get some sleep,” Jaskier murmurs, getting to his feet. “If you can. I promised the innkeeper a lunchtime set downstairs, but I’ll be back soon.”

“Mmm.”

“You too.”

He grabs his lute and dashes out the door, and minutes later, muffled music drifts up from the lower floor of the inn. Geralt closes his eyes, snuggles deeper into the pillows, and lets himself drift off to sleep to the sound of Jaskier’s voice.

***

He goes back to Yennefer’s house—well, the mayor’s house, but he seems to have no interest in reclaiming it so he supposes it’s Yennefer’s now—the next day, despite Jaskier’s squawks of protest.

“She’s dangerous, Geralt, she tore an entire house down! She nearly cut off my cock!”

“One, that was the djinn and two, I’m sure she was just joking.”

“She was not!” Jaskier sputters. “Believe me, I know joking, and I know a genuine threat to one’s manhood, and this was definitely the latter.”

Geralt snorts.

“I’ll be fine,” he says.

“What do you need to talk to her about anyway?” Jaskier mutters, crossing his arms over his chest.

Just that I think I’m in love with you.

“Magic stuff,” he says, then immediately kicks himself.

“Magic….stuff.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay um. Right.” Jaskier looks distinctly awkward. “I’m just gonna go sing a bit then, I guess.” He fidgets with the strap of his lute case. “Do you um…do you want to travel together for a bit? I know you’ve probably got some contracts lined up, but I don’t have any plans for the next few weeks, so wherever you want to go—”

“Yeah,” Geralt says. He forces himself to smile despite to surge of nervousness in his throat. “I’d like that.”

Jaskier grins at him and bids him goodbye with a jaunty wave. Stress still lingers in the lines of his face, but he’s off before Geralt can question him about it. He’ll have to ask him later.

Yennefer grins at him when she sees him, soft and warm. She seems much more relaxed now, her shoulders dropped and her spine drained of tension.

“Come in,” she says, pulling him inside. “Based on the fact you seem half ready to laugh and half ready to cry, I’m assuming you have something to tell me.”

“You seem happy.”

“I have a visitor.”

Geralt freezes. Because it’s one thing to talk about this with Yennefer, but to have another person there—

“Who?” he asks, already stuffing his thoughts back down.

“My lover.”

The campfire.

He smiles with her, exhaling slowly. Perhaps this would be okay, then. If it was another person like Yennefer, like—like him. Maybe.

“Alright then,” he says, following her through the hallway. “Can’t wait to meet—”

They step into the parlor and there, lounging on the couch, is Triss Merigold. Geralt blinks back his surprise. Another mage. Aretuza. Classmates. Right.

“Geralt?” Triss asks, eyes going wide.

“Triss,” he says evenly, crossing the room to settle down in an armchair. “Good to see you again.”

The surprise falls from her face, replaced by a wide smile.

“It’s good to see you too,” she says.

“You two know each other?” Yennefer asks, throwing herself on the couch and curling up next to Triss. Triss lifts her arm and settles it around Yennefer’s shoulders. They mold together like two entwined trees, like they’ve spent a lifetime learning each other’s shapes.

“Remember the striga incident I told you about?” Triss asks. “This is the witcher who saved the princess.”

“Ah, I see. You do enjoy being the hero, don’t you?”

“How’s the princess?” Geralt asks, ignoring Yennefer’s not-question.

“Fine. Good, even. Figuring out that she’s a person. Not trying to claw at her father anymore. She’s learning Temerian slowly but steadily. You should come visit sometime. Give her a chance to meet the man who gave her her life.”

“She doesn’t owe me anything.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean she won’t be curious about you.”

Yennefer snuggles closer into Triss’s side and makes a soft contented sound. Triss smooths her fingers through Yennefer’s hair, and she closes her eyes as she basks in the affection.

“You should tell me the story yourself,” she tells Geralt. “I’ve heard it from Triss often enough, but I’d love to hear your version of the fight.”

This he can do. He can focus on this, and ignore the odd mixture of longing and panic he feels when he sees Yennefer and Triss trading gentle touches and holding each other like wives.

He opens his mouth and gives them his story.

***

Later, after an afternoon of stories and magic demonstrations that had almost made him forget why he came here in the first place, Triss is fast asleep on Yennefer’s lap.

“You seem so relaxed when you’re with her,” Geralt says.

“I am. Less than I’m with her and more that…we’re somewhere where we can be together and safe.”

“What do you mean?”

Yennefer sighs, running a hand through her hair.

“The reason you never knew about people like us is that—the world isn’t safe for us to be open about it. Not yet. Maybe not ever. It’s a crime in most kingdoms. Including this one, I think. We could be killed for it.”

A sick horror gathers in Geralt’s chest. Killed for what? For this gentle, easy love?

“Why?” he asks.

“Who the fuck knows?” Yennefer mutters. “People hate difference. You know that.”

He does.

“That’s one thing I wish I didn’t have to tell you. One piece of advice I wish I didn’t have to give. People like us, we have to be careful. The world doesn’t understand us, so it wants to kill us. And we can’t let it.”

He remembers the sacking of Kaer Morhen. He remembers coming home to a moat full of children’s bones, slaughtered because humans killed that which they didn’t understand. He has to learn so much about this new part of himself. But he doesn’t have to learn the fear that comes with being an outsider. He’s carried that with him since the trials.

“I understand.”

 “Good. So. On a lighter note. Did you think about the bard?”

His stomach twists.

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“I think—I think you were right. I think I might love him. It feels—I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I just—he feels like home. I want him to be my home. But I can’t picture holding him like you’re holding Triss. I can’t picture myself kissing him, not really. I can’t picture myself bedding him. I want to do those things, I think, but I just can’t imagine it.”

“Do you think that maybe it’s because you never saw that as an option for yourself?”

“I don’t know, maybe? But what if I’m wrong?” Geralt hisses. “What if it isn’t love, or lust, or any of that—what if I tell him I’m in love with him, and he likes me back, and he kisses me, and I hate it? What if I’m not actually gay, what if it’s just the mutations fucking with my brain after all?”

He’s left panting after that outburst, all of his anxieties laid bare for Yennefer to pick at. She sighs, biting her lip as she considers the idea.

“Would it help to make sure?”

“I don’t—what do you mean?”

“I have this friend. He has a great…appreciation for beauty, regardless of gender. And sex. He has an appreciation for that too.”

Geralt snorts.

“He has a great appreciation for beauty and you want to send me to him?”

 “You really don’t know what you look like, do you?”

“I do. Better than you.” Because he’s always been a monster, a freak, a hideous thing. He knows he’s not beautiful. He never could be, never can be, not after the trials.

“Eyes like the sun, snow white hair, interesting scars with interesting stories, a face as sharp as glass.” She lists off the pieces of him like she’s inventorying a pretty room. “You’re not the kind of beauty they sing about, true, but you are still beautiful, Geralt. And my friend likes interesting beauty more than anything else.”

Geralt laughs, because if he doesn’t, he thinks he’ll cry.

“I’ll xenovox him, tell him to portal to Rinde, let him know to expect you. If that’s what you want?”

Does he?

Does he want to lay with a powerful, unknown, male mage?

Something builds in his stomach at the thought, but it’s not quite fear, not the same fear he’s known before sex for his entire life. The knowledge that he’s going to hate this. No, it’s more like anticipation. A trembling in the face of something new, something potentially good.

“For what it’s worth, he’s very good with his tongue. I can attest to that.”

“Well with a review like that, how can I refuse?”

She giggles, and taps a hand on Geralt’s shoulder as she slips from the room.

“Wait here,” she says. He obeys, swinging his arms back and forth in an attempt to shake away some of the nervous energy. She’s back within minutes, grinning from ear to ear.

“All I had to say was ‘white wolf’ and he was falling over himself,” she says with a laugh. “Said he saw you at some royal banquet once and that you were the most gorgeous witcher he’d ever seen.”

Geralt ducks his head, feeling his cheeks heat with blood. Is she teasing him?

“He’ll be at the sixth house on Lillian Way tonight,” she says with a smirk. “Go. Have fun. And thank me tomorrow morning.”

“We’ll see.”

***

He spends an entire hour just convincing himself to walk out the door of the inn, another twenty minutes walking as slowly as possible to Lillian Way, and five minutes just hovering in front of the door.

“Well,” the mage says after Geralt finally gets up the nerve to knock, his eyes skimming Geralt from head to toe. “You’re well worth the wait.”

He’s handsome, all bright russet hair and curious green eyes and freckles like stars. He takes Geralt by the hand and pulls him through the door and down the hallway. His skin feels like lightning where the mage is touching it

“I’ve—I’ve never done this before. Not with a man, I mean.”

“I know,” the man says. “It’s okay. We’ll go slow.”

He halts in the door to the bedroom, framing Geralt’s face with warm hands. Geralt’s heart beats as fast as a human’s.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” he says. “Alright?”

Geralt nods, blurrily fast, and the mage leans forward to claim his lips.

It feels—

He feels—

He feels good.

The mage grins against his mouth and steps backwards, towards the bed, pulling Geralt with him. And the anticipation flooding Geralt’s body becomes something like excitement.

They go from there.

Geralt is fumbling and awkward but the mage takes it in stride, brushing kisses over his knuckles like it might soothe the shakiness out of his hands. He’s slow and gentle, telling Geralt everything he’s going to do before he does it, guiding him through the motions like he’s teaching him a dance. And Geralt might have thought that the constant talking would be a mood killer, but it makes something bloom hot and fluttering in his stomach.

And for the first time in his life he doesn’t want to recoil from the lips on his throat, the hands sliding over his abdomen. He doesn’t have to force himself to move, he doesn’t have to pretend that he’s satisfied. Every touch is like fire, like honeyed wine, and he wants more more more.

The mage laughs in his ear, but it’s not a cruel laugh. It’s just delighted, simple and sweet.

“You’re so lovely,” he breathes against Geralt’s jaw. “So handsome.”

And it’s sharp as glass, it’s sharp as life, and he doesn’t want to fall away from any of it. He lets himself bask in the attention of a total stranger like he’s drinking in the rays of the sun, and for once those rays don’t burn his skin.

The mage kisses him and touches him (and touches him and touches him) and Geralt thinks oh. This is what sex is supposed to feel like. Isn’t it?

And then, the mage—the man—pauses in his movements, frowning down at Geralt.

“Are you okay?” he asks, voice low and warm as the smoldering heart of a campfire.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Geralt says, but even as he says it, he can hear the waver in his own voice, the wet crackling around the edges of his words. He lifts a hand from the mattress and brings it up to his cheek. Sure enough, his fingers come away wet.

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” the man says with an amused huff. “Oh. Do you want me to stop?”

Geralt shakes his head frantically because he never wants this to stop, if he can help it. He reaches up and tangles his hand in the mage’s hair, chasing his lips up, up, drinking him in like the last dregs of summer.

“Eager,” the man murmurs against his lips. “Very eager. Alright then, lovely. Onwards.”

***

The next morning he wakes up slowly, drifting in the warm comfort of the mage’s arms. He doesn’t have the desire to twist away, to get up and run. He’s content. It’s a new feeling.

“Morning, lovely,” the mage murmurs, pressing a kiss into the back of his neck. “Sleep well?”

“Mmm. Very.”

“Good,” he sits up, fiddling with Geralt’s hair. “You deserve sweet dreams.”

Geralt hides his face in his arm. It’s too much. This warmth, this kindness, this stranger telling him—showing him—that he deserves sweetness.

The man makes a soft shushing sound, running his fingers through Geralt’s hair.

“Would that I could, I’d stay here with you all day,” he says, and he sounds genuinely regretful. “Take you apart over and over, show you everything you’ve been missing. But The Council demands my attention.”

“Unfortunate,” says Geralt, dry-mouthed at the thought that there could be more.

“But if you ever want me again, you know where to find me. And I will not turn you away if you come to my door.”

Geralt lies there for another moment, relaxing in the warmth, before he pushes the covers off of him and climbs out of bed.

“Thank you,” he tells the mage before he leaves.

“Anytime,” the mage laughs. “And I mean anytime.”

***

He practically sprints to Yennefer’s house, blood singing with joy-fear-warmth. Because he’d been running from this all his life, and now he’s running to it, and he feels so fucking free.

She’s at the door before he even gets there, grinning from ear to ear at whatever she sees on his face.

“Last night went well then?” she asks as he darts past her and into the house. She closes the door behind her and turns to face him.

He nods, breathless not with the run, but with excitement.

“I think I’m—I think I’m that thing that you said,” he stumbles out. She waits, patient and implacable, watching Geralt like his every word is important. He needs to say it. He knows he needs to say it, and she knows he needs to say it.

“I think I’m gay.”

And the word feels fresh and new in his mouth.

She smiles and walks over to him, her steps even and measured. She reaches up and traces her hand over his cheek, tucks a strand of hair behind his ear.

“There you are,” she says.

He laughs, giddiness bubbling up in his throat like sparkling wine. Because yeah. Here he is. Here he finally, finally is.

***

“So,” Yen says a few hours later, pausing in her intense notetaking of Geralt’s signs. “Jaskier.”

Geralt sighs and lets his quen shield drop.

“Jaskier,” he agrees.

***

He thinks he’ll have time to think about it, is the thing. Now that he knows that this is an option, now that he knows that Jaskier could theoretically love him, he can watch for signs. Plan out what he’s going to say. Figure out a way to phrase his feelings in a way that won’t ruin both of them.

Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

***

Jaskier’s evening set is in full swing by the time Geralt stumbles back into the tavern, feeling warm and dazed and incredibly drained. All he really wants to do is sleep for the next two days, and then figure out how to live the rest of his life with this new knowledge of himself.

But first, he finds an unoccupied corner of the room and settles down with a mug of ale, watching as Jaskier sings his way around the room, fingers flying over his lute strings. He thinks he could stay here forever, in this moment, safe and free and watching Jaskier charm the crowd.

Three songs later, Jaskier finally notices him, and a smile breaks over his face, but there’s something else there too. Something like—concern? Fear? Geralt can’t quite tell, but the warm, safe feeling evaporates in an instant, leaving nothing but dread behind. What’s wrong? Did Jaskier somehow see how Geralt feels, read it in his eyes, his face, his body language?

Geralt takes a deep breath and locks away his panic. It’s fine. They’ll be fine. He just needs to be careful about his face, now that he understands his emotions for Jaskier.

He listens to the rest of the set with a tight knot in his stomach, bracing himself for a confrontation. When Jaskier finishes with a rousing rendition of Toss a Coin (which receives more tips than usual—probably because Geralt had beat up a bunch of their dickish council members), Geralt curls his fingers into fists and hoists himself to his feet.

Jaskier comes up to him—still grinning, still not happy—and rests a hand on his elbow to usher him upstairs, clucking all the way about how tired Geralt looked.

“Really, if you’re battling insomnia, you should at least try to get some sleep,” he says. “Lie down. Rest. I know it’s probably frustrating, but at least rest your body if you can’t rest your brain.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you?”

They’ve reached their room at that point and Jaskier opens the door with a bit more force than necessary.

“Because you’ve been having ‘conversations’ with Yennefer all day every day and every time I see you, you just look more and more stressed.”

“This isn’t about Yennefer,” Geralt groans.

“It’s not? Because you’ve been miserable ever since we met her. Like two days ago, when I had that set in the afternoon, right after you’d spent the morning with Yennefer. You looked—fuck, you looked like you were on the verge of tears.”

“I was just thinking,” Geralt stammers, because it wasn’t supposed to go this way, not at all.

“About what?”

And how is he supposed to answer that? I was just thinking about how much I love you, I was just thinking about how I thought I was a monster my whole life, I was just thinking about who the fuck I actually am.

“Nothing important,” he says instead, because he is a shit liar apparently.

Jaskier laughs, sharp and humorless, and shakes his head.

“You know I don’t care if you’re fucking her, right?” he says, and Geralt blinks.

“What?”

“I mean I don’t like her, but I wouldn’t care if she made you happy. But she doesn’t.”

“Jaskier, I’m not—”

“Oh come on, she’s exactly your type. Beautiful, powerful, totally unhinged.”

“She’s not my—”

“Stop lying. Just—we can talk about this, you know. If it’s making you unhappy, we can talk.”

“I’m not fucking her.”

“Then what’s wrong,” Jaskier says. “Talk to me. Is it—did you sell her your soul or something? For my voice.”

“No.”

“Did you offer to kill her a monster, and it’s actually ten monsters, and now you can’t back out because you’re too stupidly noble?”

“No.”

“Is the djinn coming back? Are you dying? Am I dying?”

“No, no, and no, Jaskier. I would tell you if you were in danger.”

Frustration is rising in his throat, because he was supposed to be able to think this through and be careful and cautious, and now Jaskier is interrogating him, and he doesn’t seem keen on dropping the subject. And he’s so fucking exhausted. The constant back and forth between elation and dread, the shifting of the world on its axis, the godsdamned sleeplessness.

He’s tired of secrecy, and he’s tired of walking on glass that could break at any minute, and he’s just tired.

“Then why the fuck are you so upset?!

“Because I’m gay, alright?”

He regrets the words as soon as they’re out of his mouth. If he still had control of the djinn, he would immediately wish them back. But he can’t. So they’re left out in the open air, to fester and rot.

Jaskier’s jaw drops.

“What?” he chokes.

People like us, we have to be careful, Yennefer’s voice murmurs in his ear.

He takes a step backward.

The world doesn’t understand us.

Jaskier looks thunderstruck.

It wants to kill us.

Geralt finds the doorknob behind him and twists it.

So we can’t let it.

“Wait Geralt, don’t—”

He runs.

He sprints down the stairs of the inn and out into the gathering night, panic humming under his skin like the aftershocks of a lightning bolt. He fucked up. He fucked up badly, he just blurted out this new piece of himself at the first hint of confrontation, and now he’s ruined the best part of his life and—

He’ll leave. He will. He’ll pack up all his things, and then Jaskier will never have to see him again, will never have to deal with Geralt’s love for him again. He’ll go to some new town, take a new contract, keep on living. Alone. He’s done it before. He can do it again.

But first he needs some kind of comfort. Someone to cling to, if only for a moment.

So he runs to the stables.

He stumbles through the door and makes a beeline for Roach’s stall. She senses that something’s wrong, shoving her nose forward with a huff and looking at him with her big, dark eyes.

“Hey, Roach,” he says through a clogged-up throat. His eyes burn but he blinks back the tears. He will not cry over his own stupid mistake. “Hey.”

She makes a small snuffling sound as he falls against her, tangling his fingers in her mane and breathing her in. Because she doesn’t know what he feels. She can’t hate him for it. She’ll never hate him, so long as he keeps taking care of her.

He takes a shuddering breath, pain stabbing into his chest and throat.

“We’ll be okay, won’t we girl?” he asks her. “We’ll keep going.”

Breathe, he tells himself, stroking Roach’s neck. Breathe. Breathe.

The world might feel like it’s falling apart but it isn’t. It isn’t. He can carry on, if he can just remember how to breathe. Just calm down and—

The door creaks open. Geralt freezes against Roach. Turns his face further into her neck. Because he can’t let a human see a witcher crying to his horse.

“Thought I’d find you in here.”

Oh no.

“You always want to pet Roach when you’re upset.”

Jaskier’s footsteps halt about ten feet away from Geralt. He smells like salt—from sweat or tears, Geralt doesn’t know, and he doesn’t lift his head to check. He doesn’t want to see how much he’s upset his friend.

"Do you know how I know that?" Jaskier continues. "I know that because I care about you. Because I’ve noticed when you're sad or stressed, I’ve noticed what you do to calm yourself down, I’ve noticed what you want me to do when the world gets to be too much. Which is why I’m standing over here and not touching you until you come to me first. Even though I just want to give you a massive hug right now.”

What? Jaskier still wants to hug him? To touch him at all?

"I’ve noticed all these things about you, Geralt, but I’ve never noticed this. And I’m kicking myself for it because this seems like it's killing you a little, and—and you don't have to be scared, okay? Not around me. Never around me."

Geralt squeezes Roach one last time and straightens up, turning to face Jaskier. He keeps one hand resting on Roach’s neck, the other balled in a fist at his side. No need to let Jaskier see his trembling fingers.

Jaskier’s face crumples when he sees Geralt, and he makes a soft, mournful sound.

“Oh, sweetheart. Did you just figure this out? Is that what you kept going over to Yennefer’s house for?”

Geralt nods.

“…thought it was the mutations, before,” he mumbles. “The extra ones. Didn’t know that…that there were other people like me.”

“Oh gods,” Jaskier whispers. “Oh gods, I can’t imagine, I—Geralt, I’m so sorry. If I’d known, I would’ve—”

“Not your fault. Got pretty good at hiding it.”

Jaskier closes his eyes and pain spasms across his face. Why is he so upset?

“Still,” he says. “I wish I could’ve been there for you. I just—I’m here for you now, okay? Whatever you need, I’m here. Anything.”

The tiny, hopeful part of his mind whispers anything?

And there. He can’t keep his love to himself. Because he’s interpreting a simple offer of friendship as something more. And that’s—he knows it’s not his mutations, but he still feels like he’s defiling Jaskier in his mind.

So.

Time to ruin everything.

“I’m in love with you,” he snarls. “I want to be with you. I want to kiss you. I want to fuck you. You shouldn’t—you shouldn’t offer me anything.”

Jaskier stares at him for a moment, and Geralt braces for—screams, accusations, a swung fist that he won’t try to block. But instead, a slow smile spreads over Jaskier’s face. And there are tears gathering in eyes, and—what? Why?

“Geralt, if you think I’m gonna offer you anything less than the world after hearing that, you are truly the most foolish man on the Continent.”

“What?”

Jaskier starts laughing, bright and warm, even as the tears spill out of his eyes and down his cheeks.

“I’ve been in love with you for ten fucking years,” he gasps. “And I thought—I thought you must have known, I was being so obvious. I thought you knew, and were just ignoring it, to preserve my feelings. But—but you didn’t know it was an option, did you?”

Geralt shakes his head. His heart is thundering in his ears. Jaskier is in love with him? Jaskier. Is in love. With him.

“You’re in love with me,” he says out loud, just to test the feeling of the words in his mouth.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Jaskier says. “Yes. And I’ll show you just how much, oh, I’m gonna pull down the moon for you, I’m gonna write you a thousand songs, I’m gonna take you to every beautiful place in the world, buy you every beautiful thing, I’m—”

“Before you do any of that,” Geralt says, feeling somewhat like a princess in one of those old love songs. “You said you wouldn’t touch me till I asked you to, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’m asking you to.”

Jaskier grins and practically sprints forward, throwing himself into Geralt’s arms. And he feels—right there. Like Geralt’s arms were made to hold him, like Geralt’s heart was made to hold him. Like this is what his whole life, with all its broken pieces and sharp edges, has been leading up to.

And when he lean down to kiss Jaskier, there’s no fear in him at all. Just love, and shocked joy. Jaskier smiles against Geralt’s lips before he deepens the kiss, sliding a hand behind Geralt’s head.

“Love you,” he whispers whenever they break apart for air. “Love you, love you, love you.”

Geralt thinks he’ll carry the sound of those words forever.

“Love you too,” he whispers back. And he can spend the rest of his life saying that to this man.

Jaskier pulls away eventually, resting his forehead against Geralt’s and twining their fingers together.

“As much as I want to keep kissing you,” he says. “I think your horse is starting to judge us. Or me at least. So let’s say we go back to the inn.”

Geralt laughs, drawing up their joined hands to press a kiss into Jaskier’s knuckles.

“Let’s.”

***

They make love in their tiny bed in a shitty inn in a town that Geralt never wants to come back to again, and it feels like flying. It feels like freedom and destiny all at once. And Geralt thinks of all he has yet to learn, all he has yet to be shown, and he thinks of the years and years that he and Jaskier have to learn each other. They feel like a gift.

This feels like a gift.

Neither of them stop smiling the entire time.

***

This is what love isn’t:

Tense bodies and stiff lips and forcing yourself to go through the motions. Nausea and heartache and the vain hope that someday, somehow, you’ll like this. Someday, somehow, you’ll be normal.

This is what love is:

Two men lie twined together in a warm bed as the morning sun filters through the window, caught halfway between wakefulness and sleep. One looks at the other and sees—

Hands that have patched him up a thousand times, that have traced his scars and  named them as threads in the tapestry of his life, that have saved his life more times than he can count.

Lips that have sung a song that has turned him from monster to hero, that have spun a million clever stories and that will spin a million more, that have shouted a challenge at the world.

Eyes that have stared down the world’s response without blinking.

He sees fearlessness.

Grace.

So much beauty.

And more than anything, he sees a love that he wants to bathe in and drink and make his own, a love that he wants to learn and relearn a thousand times over. He sees a love he wants to spend a lifetime cultivating. He wants to let it grow as boundless and colorful as a springtime garden, curling beyond the borders of his heart.

He sees Jaskier.

He sees his home.

 

****

Geralt and Jaskier confess their feelings to each other in a sunlit barn. Geralt has his hand on Roach, while Jaskier gestures animatedly

Thank you so much for the wonderful fanart, Thewonderfulthingaboutfish!! Seriously, I screamed a bit when I saw this