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A soft plucking of heartstrings

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Soft plucking of strings. Spots of candlelight give the tavern a soft and homey feel. The patrons sit with rapt attention listening to the bard on stage with the cornflower blue eyes.

His eyes are closed, his voice dancing with the notes from the lute, weaving a tale of longing, heartache and lust. Every eye is fixed on him where he sits on the stage, no one can miss the raw emotion making itself known through music.
Jaskier is lost. Lost deeply in his memories, in his feelings, in the words falling from his tongue and the soft vibration of the instrument in his arms. He loves this song, but it leaves a bittersweet taste. Especially when Geralt is around, as he is tonight, knowing what the price was. Everything is alright now, but the memory is still there. The pain, that hollow space carved out still makes itself known every now and then.
The last tones ring out and Jaskier takes a breath before he opens his eyes and lets them roam over his audience. As soon as his eyes are on them they break into applause, almost as if they were waiting for him to return. He makes a sweeping bow and leaves the stage to sit down with his witcher.
His witcher, yes. Geralt came to him after the disaster of a dragonhunt. It took them awhile to find their way with each other again and if Jaskier is perfectly honest he prefers what they have now. It’s fragile and honest and something entirely new for his whitehaired friend. Their friendship has blossomed into actual friendship now, not the push and pull of wills they had before. Now they see each other, and listen like they didn’t do before.

As soon as Jaskier sits down he gets showered in coins and ale. The patrons share their coins and their stories with him, what his song reminds them of, their own heartache, longing and lust. Geralt says nothing, just sips the ale pushed into his hand.
The night is young and he is asked to sing another set, so he does. And when they finally retire for the night Jaskier finds his coin purse heavier than it’s been for a long, long time. He counts them out in their shared room, Geralt claiming the bed closer to the door and undresses.
It’s entirely unfair of him to expect Jaskier not to sneak a peek as he takes off his shirt. Jaskier absolutely sneaks a peek, because expecting anything else of him would be plain stupid. And of course Geralt notices him staring.
“What?” He asks over his shoulder and yup, time to kickstart the brain.
“I have decided we stay another night.” Jaskier says, gathering the coins and putting them in the leather purse.
“Why would we do that?” Geralt asks as he unlaces his trousers and yes, that's just unfair all over again to expect Jaskier to be able to hold a conversation with this view in front of him. Geralt pulls them down and Jaskier has to look away because Jaskier is many things but he is not cruel to himself. There is only so much he can take. Jaskier is also very good at lying to himself so he watches from the reflection of the small window instead.
“Because today I have earned us more than we have gotten in months and it is time I give myself a- uh. Give us a treat. In the morn we shall go shopping!”
Geralt snorts and lays down on the mattress. Jaskier swiftly undresses too, but takes a long time to fall asleep. He is mapping out all the stands he wants to visit and the sweets he wants to taste. And wants Geralt to taste! And with that image floating through his mind his eyes close and he drifts off.

When morning comes, Jaskier is almost bouncing with enthusiasm. It’s been a while since he dared spend coin as he will today and still expect to have some left for later. Geralt is slow out the door so he impatiently grabs him by the wrist and drags him along. If he had looked back at the witcher he would see a small smile curve and his finger flex, but he does not look and so it remains a secret.
The first stall they visit has, surprise, knives. Geralt stops and admires the handiwork as Jaskier studies the rings next to them. The silver work is expertly done, but not what they had in mind. So Jaskier draws him to the next stand. And the next.
They find a woman selling plums, the first of the season. She recognizes him from the tavern, and when they buy a handful of her plums she puts in two apples for them as well. Jaskier gives her the brightest smile and a squeeze of her hand.
They find a stall with hair jewelry. Small beads to put into braids, hairclasps, ribbons and leatherstrips worked with fine details. Jaskier sends Geralt to find… something, anything that makes him go away as Jaskier buys two small beads of carved bone with intricate patterns and one of those worked leather straps. He adds a silver comb adorned with swallows for Ciri and folds it all into a piece of cloth. When Geralt returns he already stands two stalls over, a thick man with a thin mustache selling strings and flutes and for some reason, hats made of straw.
They didn’t mean to, but a young girl on the street next to a barber shop grabs ahold of them as they pass.
“Good sirs, are you not weary from your travels? If you follow me inside my father can offer the best trim of beard and hair this side of the river!”
Geralt gives Jaskier a one-over and firmly nods. The bard needs some taking care of, he seems to decide, and they both walk out of there an hour later with hair newly washed and oiled up. Jaskier will never say it out loud, but he longs for the stubble to return to his witcher's face. The girl sees them outside and gives them a satisfied smirk.
“Did I not say so, good sirs, that he is the best?” They nod their agreement and hand her one of the apples they were given.
When they make it back out to the market Geralt stops by a big stand with tacks and blankets and brushes and many other things Jaskier is not very familiar with, but feels like they are meant for horses. Geralt picks out new reins from soft leather and grease to keep them smooth. He finds a big brush with long strands that looks the perfect amount of firm and soft, if Jaskier is any judge at all. And new saddlebags and, of course, a big bag of treats.
Geralt opens his own money pouch to pay but Jaskier smacks his hands away and enjoys the feeling of giving. He likes that feeling, and all the gods know Geralt has seen too little of that in his life.
“Jaskier, this is going to sound odd.” Geralt says after a good 30 minutes of ogling at a blacksmith stall. “But can I have the leather pouch for a moment, and can you go look at the bookstore?”
Jaskier can only give a crooked smile and oblige, small butterflies making pirouettes in his stomach. And after a while Geralt comes to him, carrying a long wooden casing. Jaskier squints at him suspiciously, but Geralt simply can’t play fair and the smile he shoots him makes Jaskier lose his nerve and look away.
It is a frightening thing, looking at someone you treasure so much without a hope of ever being treasured the same way back. To see them smile towards you as if they actually might.
Jaskier buys a new notebook, Geralt a pair of new leather gloves. They buy a few jars of cherries and other sweets, and by then the sun is hanging low on the sky. The money pouch is very much lighter but not empty, just as he planned.
Geralt walks them out on the fields, past farmers and cows and a cat on a fence, blinking at them with big eyes. Jasker simply cannot walk past the cat, her big eyes and pink nose and tail that is curling, even though cats' tails normally don’t curl. He bends down to pat her, and Geralt stays back.
“Oh no, you big oaf, you come here right now and pet this cat.” Jaskier demands of him, but Geralt stays.
“Cats don’t like me.” He mutters, and looks away when the cat leans against Jaskier’s legs, purring loudly. The bard reaches for his friend, grabbing his wrist and pulling him closer.
“This one doesn’t mind, do you my girl?” Jaskier croons at the cat, and she blinks up at him and then at Geralt. She doesn’t hiss, she doesn’t bite, she just purrs and waits.
“I uh.. I never touched a cat before.” Geralt admits, at loss at what to do. So Jaskier drags him over and places his hand over his. Together they stroke the cat on the back. Geralt's skin is rough and warm under Jaskiers fingers, and the uncertainty radiates from his friend in waves. Jaskier is only a man, and he is a man with a day filled with treats, so he allows himself another one. With his thumb he strokes Geralt's hand before he releases it and sits back a little. He looks at the cat and then back to this big man, this witcher, this old grumpy lump of muscles he calls his friend and his… everything.
He studies the way Geralt's mouth is slightly open in awe, and how the cat blinks at him and how he instinctively blinks back. How his finger lingers on the soft fur, how carefully he scratches behind her ear and under her chin.
And then the cat wanders off, leaving them there to look after her.
They look at her go, and then they keep walking to where Geralt was leading them.

As it turns out, Geralt was aiming for the riverside. They sit down a bit away from the water's edge by a big tree. The grass is tall and tickles his ankles where his trousers ride up. They sit close together and their shoulders bump every now and then. They listen to the water and to the birds as the day slowly settles into night around them.
And then Geralt picks up the wooden casing and puts it in Jaskier’s lap.
“I know it’s your money but I saw you looking at it and…” Geralt opens the casing and inside lies a beautiful rapier, inlaid with dandelions along the hilt and the handguard.
Jaskiers mouth opens and closes and he reaches out a hand to softly touch the cool metal.
“Geralt.” He breathes. “Geralt.” He looks up, looks down, his eyes stinging a little.
“You shouldn’t have” He says when words finally return to him. He did admire it when they stood there, and he did miss the weight of a rapier in his hand at times while on the path.
“In a way, I didn’t. You did. And I wanted you to have it and you have spent so much on me today so it was time you spent some on yourself.” Geralt says to him, and Jaskier can’t remember the last time his friend used so many words and for the simple reason to… to what, really?
He looks up at Geralt, mouth working to find the right words but he can’t.
“Thank you.”
The smile Geralt gives him could buy the moon. It's soft and warm and only for him. And Geralt picks up one of the jars of sweets and opens it. He picks up a small cherry and holds it to Jaskier’s mouth.
Jaskier looks at it, and then into Geralt's eyes. He is watching intently and this doesn’t feel like something friends do anymore. But he opens his mouth and takes the cherry, Geralt's fingers brushing against his lips. A small tingling sensation rushes through him, and down his spine and out to his toes. They are still looking at each other, eyes locked, all smiles gone.
And as the sun slowly sets, Jaskier leans forward, leans into Geralt's space.
Their noses touch when the last rays of sunshine filter through the treetops. Their breaths mingle, eyes fluttering shut and then they share a soft kiss.
Barely a brushing of lips. Jaskier leans over the wooden box, pusing it down on the grass to get onto his knees. Geralt's hand curve around his neck and the tingling explodes to fireworks under his skin.
They press their lips together again, a taste of sweet cherries and sunshine and birdsong. They kiss again and again.
Jaskier will treat himself more often in the future, he thinks as Geralt's arms snake around him to hold him close. Kisses that taste like cherry and pearls to braid into witcher's hair and apples and plums and sunshine.
And when the morning comes he makes sure to give Roach a treat too. And when they make their way out on the path again, that pain, that hollow inside him is filled with feelings and hopes he never allowed himself before.
As a treat.