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time to turn back and descend the stair

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Geralt wakes, suddenly. He sits up, the blankets falling into his lap, and drags a hand down his face. Roach snuffles at him from her self-appointed place near Jaskier’s armoire, but when Geralt doesn’t immediately move to get out of bed, she settles, resting her head back down on her front paws. Sasha, the stray calico who befriended Jaskier as he played outside the bookshop two years ago and refused to be left behind, doesn’t deign to lift her head from where she’s curled by Geralt’s feet. Her tail flicks over her nose, and Geralt shakes his head at her attitude, present even in sleep.

The lurid blue lights of the alarm clock scream 3:42 at him, and he sighs, rubbing both his hands over his eyes. He starts to turn, intending to lean down and brush his lips against Jaskier’s forehead, but a faint glow through the partly-open bedroom door catches his eye. Sure enough, when he looks over his shoulder, Jaskier is not in the bed next to him.

Neither of them are strangers to sleepless nights. They both find it difficult to turn their noisy brains off, to wind down and sink into a restful slumber, so it’s not uncommon for the early morning hours to find Geralt folded in an armchair with a book open against his legs or staring off into space, to find Jaskier sprawled out on any flat surface scribbling away in his lyric notebook or lightly strumming his guitar to work out a chord progression. They’re both used to surfacing from a dream, blinking awake, and turning to see the other side of the bed empty, the rumpled sheets cool to the touch.

The thought of nestling down in the covers and searching for a way back to sleep flits through his mind, but when he focuses, Geralt can hear Jaskier idly plucking at the strings of his violin, and, well, this isn’t the first pre-4:00 a.m. composing session that he’s listened in on, and it certainly won’t be the last. He throws the quilt--handmade by Ciri under Triss’s guidance--off his legs and heads out of their bedroom, detouring to give Roach a quick scratch behind her ears.

He softly pads to the top of the stairs and settles on the third one down, his back against the wall, his knees bent. There’s a hole forming along the seam of the left thigh of his plaid pajama pants, and he worries at a loose thread as he watches and listens.

Jaskier hasn’t noticed him, and Geralt doesn’t intend to make his presence known. From his vantage point on the stairs, and in the light of the two lamps Jaskier has turned on, he can see Jaskier, holding his violin like a ukelele and pacing around the living room in well-practiced circuits, skillfully dodging the ottoman and the coffee table and piles of books and sheet music. His hair is unkempt, as though he’s been running his fingers through it in consternation, and his glasses keep slipping down his nose. His t-shirt, emblazoned with the logo of a Juilliard string quartet, is old and worn and so large that it slides off his shoulder and flat refuses to stay in place.

He’s the most beautiful thing Geralt has ever seen.

Geralt counts himself lucky that he gets to witness these little moments--the genius at work, as the coffee mug that Essi gave Jaskier for his last birthday proclaims--these quiet moments when Jaskier is unguarded, uncaring of how he appears to the world, utterly absorbed in his creative process, weaving notes and harmonies and lyrics and melodies together into a masterpiece. It leaves him in awe, every time, of how Jaskier’s brain can take nothing and turn it into something, something magnificent.

Jaskier’s notebook is open on top of the piano, and he keeps returning to it, occasionally picking up a pen and scrawling something, only to immediately scratch it out with a huff. Mostly, he just stares down at it. His back is to Geralt, but he can read the tension in the line of Jaskier’s shoulders, and he knows that if he could see Jaskier’s face, that furrow between his brows would be present, the one Geralt always wants to reach out and smooth with his thumb.

(He gets to do that. He’s the one who Jaskier lets in, allows to see every facet, every vulnerability, every worry and uncertainty. It’s humbling, honestly, but when he holds Jaskier in his arms and brings him peace, as Jaskier does for him, Geralt thinks of how they’ve leaned on each other for over four years now, and how, fate and destiny and every deity out there willing, he wants them to do it forever more.)

Geralt can’t hear much of what Jaskier is muttering, just little snatches. He thinks he hears eternal like the stars, and he smiles as he leans his head back against the wall. Two semesters ago, Ciri had taken an astronomy class, and her enthusiasm for it had spread to all of them. Jaskier had written an entire album’s worth of songs all referencing stars or planets or nebulae in some way, a mixture of triumphant epics and intimate solo pieces--My own version of The Planets, he had said, a broad grin on his face, before noticing Geralt’s blank look and immediately sitting him down to listen to Holst’s enduring classic--and it has become a recurring motif.

Geralt’s weighing the merits of moving closer when he hears Jaskier say marriage, and all the thoughts in his head abruptly flee. All the thoughts in his head save for one: we’re perfectly in sync, in this, too. He holds himself still, so still. He doesn’t even dare take a breath.

“Or matrimony? Maybe that’ll be a better rhyme scheme,” Jaskier muses, still unaware of Geralt’s presence on the stairs. He plucks each of the strings of his violin in quick succession. “Hmmm. Or maybe work the vows in? Let me be yours, for better and for worse.”

He sings that line several different ways, his voice soft, quiet in the stillness of the early morning. Geralt, having somehow found a way to breathe again, desperately wants to see his face, see the emotion undoubtedly writ large on it.

“Maybe in G,” Jaskier murmurs. He chuckles at that before trying a different set of notes. “Let me be yours, for better and for worse. Our love, husband mine, eternal like the stars. Blazing bright--no. Burning bright? Oh, sweet Jesus,” he says, disgust coloring his tone, “most important song of my fucking life, why can’t I get this right?”

Geralt, heart somewhere up in his throat, finds himself trapped in indecision. Should he head back upstairs? Let Jaskier finish composing and present his latest opus, his proposal, when it’s ready, when he’s ready. Or should he stay put? Run the risk of discovery, yes, but also have the chance to hear more sweet words, Jaskier’s love for him, unfiltered and unfettered.

He looks down, lost in the dilemma, but then a third option presents itself, and this one is the clear winner. He looks down and sees his leather jacket thrown over the back of the loveseat. His leather jacket, which has a box from a jeweler’s in the pocket. He’s been searching for weeks for the right time. Oh, here. Here it is, Geralt. You were hoping the right moment would be obvious; doesn’t get more fucking obvious than this.

He slinks down the rest of the stairs, taking advantage of Jaskier’s distraction over at the piano, and fumbles through his jacket pocket. He moves out from behind the loveseat, ring box in hand, and settles himself on one knee.

“It sounds right to me,” he says, grinning as Jaskier jumps about a foot in the air. Jaskier whirls around, eyes wide and astonished, and he clutches his violin in his hand. He blinks, once, twice, and he shoves his glasses up from where they’ve slid to the end of his nose.

“Geralt, what? You heard that, that drivel?” He abandons his violin to the piano bench and takes a shaky step forward, clearly embarrassed at being caught working through something so personal that he considers subpar. “Yikes and double yikes, may all the songwriting gods have mercy upon me. Ugh. Wait”--and here it is, the moment Geralt’s position dawns on him--”oh god, Geralt. You’re, you’re down on one knee, Geralt--”

Geralt opens the box and he sings, not even close to the right key, his voice a rough approximation of Jaskier’s, nowhere near as beautiful, but somehow just as lovely all the same, the heartfelt emotion making the words the best he’s ever sung, “Let me be yours, for better and for worse.”

He barely gets the lyric out before he has an armful of Jaskier, crying and kissing every part of Geralt his lips can reach and murmuring yes yes yes yes yes of course yes, over and over and over, until they’re tangled in each other’s arms and Geralt’s sliding a ring onto Jaskier’s finger and bringing Jaskier’s hand to his lips for the sweetest kiss he’s ever bestowed.

Neither of them are strangers to sleepless nights. This isn’t the first pre-4:00 a.m. composing session Geralt has listened in on, but it’s certainly the best.