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i've been waiting on you (just to say something real)

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“The Child Surprise, the Djinn, all of it. If life could give me one blessing, it would be to take you off my hands.”

Oh.

Jaskier watches Geralt turn away, watches him walk to the edge of the mountain, watches him stand with his shoulders tense, watches him open and close his fists at his sides, watches him take heaving breaths in and watches as hardly any of them come back out.

It breaks Jaskier’s heart.

The words hit like a blow Jaskier has never experienced. They rip his legs out from under him, crush his chest with a force unimaginable, makes his hands shake and heart drop to his knees and he knows, okay?

He gets it.

He gets what it's like to have everything taken away from you, have every single thing in your life turned upside down and inside out and then shoved back at you while the world sits on your shoulders and sneers in your ear don’t you see? This is what you deserve. This is all that you are. This is all that you ever will be.

He’s seen pity in the eyes of people he’s trusted most, seen the look of defiance in the eyes of those that don’t care, heard the whispers that had follow him like shadows as he’d walk through the place he’d thought was safe and home. He’s felt the ache and the pain of people he’s loved and admired as they’d looked at him and told him there’s nothing they could do, that he was alone in every sense of the word, as he’d felt the betrayal settle over his shoulders like a weight he could never even dream to shake off.

He’s felt it and seen it and he’s experienced it as it has bubbled up inside of him and waited and waited as it wanted to overflow in one septic heaving pile of rage and anger and hate.

Just like Geralt has just done.

He’s not naive enough to think this is truly about him. It’s not. This is about more than just the Law of Surprise or the wishes of the Djinn, this is more than Jaskier being there for both those things. Those words are about so much, about years and years of hate and violence and every other little soul-crushing thing that has piled up and up and up on Geralt’s shoulders until finally, finally, he’s crumbled.

He’s crumbled and Jaskier is now standing watching as Geralt is trying so desperately to stay together long enough until he’s left alone to try to pick up the pieces.

And Jaskier could do that. He could turn around right now, accept those words at their face value, accept that Geralt blames him for all the wrong in the world. He could walk all the way down to the bottom of this damned mountain and disappear, never to be seen again. He could do that and it would be so easy, so so easy and part of him desperately wants to because it isn’t his job to make Geralt better.

But then he thinks of the years that have gone by, the moments where Geralt isn’t in as much pain. Where he lets his guard down and lets Jaskier in, where he smiles instead of frowning, where he smothers down laughs even though he can’t stop that small sparkle of joy that twinkles in his eyes, where he makes quips that have Jaskier snorting unattractively and where he sometimes joins Jaskier’s singing in a low voice.

Where he lets the world go by and doesn’t focus on it for just a moment, where he just exists as the man he should be.

Jaskier thinks of that man, thinks of the man his heart aches for in so many ways, and he straightens his shoulders and clears his throat.

“Enough,” he says aloud, keeping his eyes fixed on the closest mountain peak as he hears how shaky his voice is. “That’s enough, Geralt.”

Geralt doesn’t turn to look at him, just stays still and silent up ahead. Jaskier swallows thickly and shakes his head, looks down at his hands and tightens them into fists.

“I’ll wait for you at the camp,” he continues quietly, knowing Geralt will hear him despite the roar of the wind around them. “If you’re not there by sunset, then I’ll understand.”

Once more, Geralt stays quiet, and Jaskier doesn’t expect any different.

 

 

The camp is desolate and quiet.

Jaskier feels uncomfortable as he sits amongst the ruins of what had been a busy and bustling place only hours ago, feels so lonely as he sits and looks at the mountains and thinks that it might be like this for a long time to come if Geralt doesn’t come back.

He so desperately wants to run away now, now that he’s realised that he doesn’t know what's next.

So he ends up breaking what was the dwarves shelter to turn into kindling, thankful and appreciative of the crackling and popping of the wood as the sun falls lower and lower in the sky and the air turns colder and colder.

He’d play his lute if he felt he could, but his fingers fall still on the strings and his throat clogs up. He doesn’t feel any music flowing through him, doesn’t feel the siren call, and he closes his eyes for a long time as he swallows back the cold fear of the lack of what is normally so natural.

It’s much much later when he hears the sound of footsteps thudding across packed dirt and he doesn’t dare to turn around as he hears someone entering the camp. He thinks maybe he should, maybe he should protect himself in case it's not who he hopes, but he’s known Geralt long enough to recognise the man’s gait.

The footsteps stop right behind him, and Jaskier just reaches out with a stick to prod the fire.

“You waited.”

Geralt sounds hoarse, broken, and Jaskier feels something warm in his chest snap and grow cold.

“I said I would,” he manages to say, voice quiet and small. He drops the stick beside him and turns to look up, but Geralt’s face is half shrouded in darkness and he can only see the downward turn of Geralt’s lips.

There’s a tense silence for a long moment, long enough that Jaskier wonders if it will ever be broken, before Geralt finally moves. He sits down on the other side of the fire, taking off his swords to settle beside himself with gentle hands and soft movements.

Jaskier purses his lips and tilts his head to the side, watching as Geralt’s fingers glide along the scabbards the swords are in slowly, almost like he’s thanking them, almost like they push back in a quiet acknowledgement.

Maybe he’s too poetic, but he can see the way Geralt’s eyes fall on his swords and he knows they’re the only things in this world Geralt has as a certainty.

Jaskier looks away, biting his tongue as he picks up the stick and prods it at the fire again, watching as the tip alights from the flames, as smoke slips into the air in a soft white curl. He doesn’t look at Geralt again, doesn’t say a word as time ticks by and the quiet between them grows and grows.

“Why?”

The silence has stretched on for so long that Jaskier jumps at Geralt’s voice, glancing up to see the witcher staring at the flames with an intensity it has no right to be under. He cocks his head to the side as his eyes drift over Geralt, sees the tenseness of his shoulders, the white-knuckled fists resting on a raised knee, the hard set of his jaw.

It makes Jaskier sigh.

“Why what?” he asks, glaring back when Geralt gives him a filthy look.

“You know what, Jaskier.”

He does, of course he does, but he doesn’t know how to answer. He could rip open his chest and bare his soul to Geralt, tell him that he gets it, that he understands as well as he can but he has no idea what it's like to be in Geralt’s shoes, that he did think about heading down this mountain alone but that he’s chosen not to because he’s spent too much time and energy on Geralt and he’s not letting him slip away now just because the world came crashing down around the witcher’s ears.

He could tell him about how hard his heart beats for him and how he will never give on Geralt, no matter what.

“You don’t give up on your friends, Geralt,” he eventually says, his voice soft and quiet, easy enough to disappear with the wind if it weren’t for the witcher’s extraordinary hearing. “No matter how much they give you reason to.”

“We’re not friends.”

Jaskier shakes his head, a small smile on his lips that holds no mirth. “If that's what you want to believe.”

“It’s what I know.”

Geralt’s gaze is hard and Jaskier feels like he could wilt under it. He won’t though, he won’t let Geralt get away with this, and he sighs as he drops the stick in his hands into the fire and moves to lie down on his bedroll beneath him, his back to Geralt.

“Then don’t be here when I wake up,” he says bitterly. “It’s your choice.”

 

 

He doesn’t want to open his eyes in the morning.

The world around him is silent, not even birds chirping in trees or the wind rolling along the canyons surrounding the camp. There’s not a sound of anyone else either, no one else breathing nearby or scratching around the camp. He has to take a long shuddering breath before he rolls onto his back and slowly opens his eyes.

He’s alone.

He sits up with a jolt and realises he truly is alone. There's no sign of Geralt. There’s the dent where his swords lay last night and the ruffled ground from his bedroll on the other side of the smoking fire on his left, but besides that there's nothing.

Oh, Jaskier realises as he draws his knees to his chest and stares at the campfire. Geralt really did leave.

It shouldn’t make his chest ache so painfully but it does, it hurts so much that he presses the palms of his hands to his eyes and closes his mouth firmly against whatever sobs may just come out. It’s awful and harrowing and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do now.

He’d placed so much importance on staying for Geralt, he hadn’t thought of Geralt staying for him.

And he’s always known, okay? He’s always known that he cares more for Geralt than Geralt does him, has felt more for the witcher than any other muse that he’s stumbled across. He’s seen the pitying looks that Yennefer has given him, has seen the way she’s averted his eyes after each night she’d spent with Geralt when he’d caught her sneaking out. It makes his heartache knowing that Geralt hurts so much after each time and yet it happens again and again.

It aches even harder when he knows he’s powerless to stop it.

It feels like hours go by as he sits there holding himself, trying not to let little pieces of himself fall out where he knows he won’t be able to pick them back up again. Everything aches and hurts and he wants so badly to just be at the bottom of this mountain right now, just so he can collect himself and disappear and never have to think of Geralt of Rivia ever again.

“Jaskier.”

He jumps, head popping up from where it'd been bowed to see Geralt standing right in front of him, his pack on his back and swords tied to his hips. There’s something in his hand, a leaf perhaps, and Jaskier quickly scrubs his hands over his face as he tries to hide any red marks that might be on there.

“Oh,” he says as he rubs his nose and looks away. “I thought you’d gone.”

Geralt doesn’t respond straight away and Jaskier can’t bring himself to look at him. His chest still hurts even as he tries to let it know that Geralt is still here, can’t it see?

“I thought about it,” Geralt eventually murmurs, and Jaskier bites the inside of his cheek so hard it hurts, feeling the words like a physical blow, “but I decided you might struggle to get down the mountain without some assistance.”

“I’m not incompetent, Geralt.”

He doesn’t expect the witcher to step forward and crouch down in front of him, and it’s enough to make Jaskier glance his way in surprise. Geralt’s face is unreadable, a stony blank slate, and Jaskier follows his gaze as Geralt looks down at his hands that are proffered out to Jaskier.

It’s a leaf in his hand alright, but there’s a small gathering of different types of fruits and berries in the centre of it. Jaskier frowns as he reaches out and takes a small red one, rolling it between his fingers before he looks up to see Geralt staring right back.

“I didn’t say you were,” Geralt says. “But there are monsters up this way that I don’t believe you have a silver sword needed to deter them. I figured that’s-”

Jaskier drops the berry back onto the pile and crosses his arms. “Figured what?” he interrupts, narrowing his eyes. “That that was the real reason I stayed?”

Geralt doesn’t meet his gaze, jaw squared just like last night. Jaskier sighs as he reaches for the leaf and takes it from Geralt’s hands to place gently on the ground. He replaces it with his own hands, gripping Geralt’s fingers tightly against his palms as he shakes them.

“You’re more to me than just a sword, you know,” he says quietly. “You’re so much more.”

He doesn’t expect Geralt to meet his eyes, so when he does he’s surprised to see an emotion there he doesn’t recognise. Geralt just nods his head once though before he clears his throat and steps away, pulling his hands from Jaskier’s grasp as he stands and starts to resettle his backpack on his shoulders.

“Eat your breakfast,” he tells Jaskier curtly, nodding at the leaf filled with the berries. “We have a long day ahead of us.”

That we do, Jaskier thinks a little bitterly as he lowers his hands back down to his lap. He does as he’s told though, picking up the berry he’d dropped before and popping it in his mouth to slowly chew on.

It’s delicious, he thinks, but Geralt doesn’t linger long enough for Jaskier to thank him.

 

 

It’s a slow walk down the mountain.

They silently agree on not taking the shortcut the dwarves had shown them. Jaskier doesn’t like heights and playing with fate, and the way Geralt’s eyes darken and his shoulders tighten when he looks at the entrance makes Jaskier’s chest clench.

He still remembers Borch’s face as he’d fallen, Tea and Vea’s, and he can see by the brief haunted look that glances over Geralt’s face that it sits heavy on his shoulders as well.

It means it's going to add a day or so onto their trip, but Jaskier doesn’t overly mind if it means avoiding near-certain death. He’d rather like to stay alive.

They don’t talk as they walk, the only sounds their boots on the dirt beneath them and the occasional crack of a twig. He sees birds as they dart over the few trees along the summit they’re crossing, but they don’t sing to one another. It’s almost as if they can feel what's wrong, as if they’re respectfully staying quiet.

He thinks of pulling out his lute and maybe starting the birds off, but his fingers stiffen, his throat grows thick, his mind falls blank as he thinks singing isn’t something he can do right now.

Part of him wants to say something to Geralt, to bring up whats happened and maybe figured out just where Geralt’s mind is at, but the other part of him remembers the fear from that morning and that's all it takes to stomp down all thoughts of speaking up.

Geralt finds more berries from nearby trees and shrubs for their lunch, something that Jaskier is actually pleased by. It makes sense that Geralt would know how to survive off the land, but Jaskier has never quite thought Geralt would be the scavenger type considering how often he’s hunted for them instead.

But there’s not much to hunt this far up the mountain so, when Geralt sits down beside him on the fallen log Jaskier found, he takes the food Geralt offers him without complaint.

Of course, Geralt finishes first and tosses his leaf behind him into the undergrowth of the small clump of scrubs lining the back of the log. Jaskier looks down at his own, sees there’s still a handful or so left on his own leaf, and he silently passes them over to Geralt.

Geralt gives him a small surprised look, and Jaskier gives him a half-smile in return. “Go on,” he says as he nudges his hand against Geralt’s, “take them. I’m full.”

“No, you’re not.”

He’s not wrong, but Jaskier just continues to prod his hand against Geralt’s. “Seriously, Geralt.”

Geralt looks torn, and Jaskier knows it's because the witcher is still hungry. It makes sense, Jaskier knows that he’s a bigger man and needs more sustenance than Jaskier needs himself. It’s okay, it really is. He reaches out with his other hand and forces Geralt’s open before he places the leaf gently in his palm, trying not to think of the way his hand tingles as it glides against Geralt’s.

“It’s okay,” he says softly, and he bumps his shoulder against Geralt’s. This feels right, this is more them, him taking care of Geralt despite his utter resistance. “You need them more than I do.”

Geralt is hesitant as he stares down at the berries. “You don’t have to give up your food for me, Jaskier,” he mutters.

Jaskier can hear what he’s really saying, can see it in the way Geralt slumps in on himself. “It’s my food to give,” he responds, hoping that Geralt can see the meaning behind those words too.

Maybe the metaphor has gotten away on them, maybe it was never there to begin with, but Jaskier can’t help the satisfaction that wells in his chest when Geralt sighs and settles the leaf on his knee. He picks up the first berry and pops in his mouth before he nudges Jaskier with his elbow.

“We can at least share,” he says, sounding a little irritated. Sounding like normal.

Jaskier can’t fight back his smile.

 

 

Eventually, the silence does get to Jaskier.

He’s not a creature of it, prefers loud banquet halls with so much music it makes his head dizzy, used to cheering and laughing until his belly hurts, craves the strum of a lute and the catch of a song.

It’s for Geralt’s sake, this long quiet that Jaskier is trying so hard to continue with. He knows that Geralt needs it, needs time to think and mull but not long enough that he gets lost in his own head. When that point is, Jaskier doesn’t know, it changes so often and he’s never been very good at figuring it out.

But it’s nearing sunset when he finally has enough, when he realises that he can’t keep this up. He clears his throat and scratches the back of his neck, taking the opportunity to glance to his left and see Geralt walking beside him. He’s matching Jaskier’s pace, something definitely purposeful since his normal gait is so much faster and longer than Jaskier’s own.

His face is still carefully blank, his eyes set somewhere in front of them, but it truly doesn’t look like he’s really focused on anything.

“Hey,” Jaskier says quietly, his voice a little hoarse, and Geralt’s eyes slide over to him. “I’m guessing it can get pretty lonely in there?”

Geralt just watches him for a moment before he turns his gaze back to that point in front of them. “In where?”

Jaskier shakes his head and reaches out to tap Geralt’s temple, smiling when Geralt leans away from his touch and swats at his hand like it were a fly. “In that big old head of yours,” Jaskier sighs. “Want to tell me what's going on?”

The grunt he gets in response is enough really, but Jaskier doesn’t feel like taking a no for an answer.

“You know,” he starts as he adjusts his pack on his back, his lute case banging into the back of his leg, “you might be surprised how much I get what's happening to you right now”

Geralt lets out a humourless laugh. “You couldn’t dream of it, bard,” he says harshly, and Jaskier has to swallow down the anger that builds in his throat at being dismissed so abruptly.

Patience, he reminds himself, he needs patience.

“I wouldn’t be cruel enough to tell you I know what you’re going through,” he continues regardless, his grip on his pack’s straps white-knuckled tight, “because I don’t, but I do get it.”

“There’s nothing to get,” Geralt mutters as he starts to speed up, and Jaskier grits his teeth as he reaches out and grabs Geralt’s arm, pulling it with all his strength until Geralt stops in his tracks.

He knows that Geralt could shake him off and march on, but there must be something else brewing in that head of his as he just stands still, not even bothering to make Jaskier let go of him. It makes his heart slip into his throat and he feels like he might choke on it if he’s not careful

“Life isn’t easy, Geralt,” he says, stepping forward until he’s right in front of Geralt, not letting go of his arm once. “I know that. I get that.”

“How could you?” Geralt snaps at him, anger hovering behind those eyes of his but Jaskier sees something else, some cold and defeated. “How could you possibly know what it's like to be like me?”

“I don’t,” Jaskier insists, shaking his head, “just as you don’t know what it's like to be like me.”

“Like you?” Geralt laughs, dark and unpleasant. “What? A rich royal human. I know your type, Jaskier, I know what people like you-”

“Half-elf,” Jaskier interrupts, his body cold down to his boots, his hands trembling as he lets go of Geralt’s arm and steps back. “I’m as human as you, Geralt. Always have been.”

The silence is deafening, so much more than it has been ever before. He wants to look away from Geralt’s surprised face, wants to shake him off and walk away, maybe clamber down to the bottom of the mountain now and disappear like he wants to do. Maybe it is time to go, to leave Geralt behind, whatever he feels be damned.

But he can’t and he won’t, he knows that.

“You…” Geralt murmurs, voice quiet as his eyes searching Jaskier’s with a deep frown. “You never told me.”

Jaskier shrugs. “I just assumed you knew,” he admits, “after all, isn’t it your job to know a monster when you see it?”

Something plays out on Geralt’s face, anger and revulsion maybe, sadness perhaps. Jaskier feels his heart in his throat as tries to figure it out but he’s tired, his shoulders feel heavy and his head feels like its drooping. He’s tired.

“Jaskier.”

He holds up his hand, suddenly too done to continue this conversation, even if he were the one to start it. “It’s getting late, Geralt. We should probably set up camp.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, just turns around and starts to walk forward. He hears the sharp intake of Geralt’s breath, followed by the thud of his boots as he follows suit, but Jaskier doesn’t look behind himself.

He looks forward and tries to catch his breath, tries to breathe.

 

 

They lie side by side that night.

The fire they built is cracking above their heads, but the wind is savage as the sun finally goes down. Jaskier has enough pride in himself to admit that he’s cold, although Geralt gives him a strange look when he says so before he settles down by Jaskier, tucking him closest to the rock wall they’re beside, acting as a barrier to the harsh wind.

Jaskier would thank him if Geralt would accept it.

He’s listening to the crackle and pop of the wood above his head, trying hard not to think about how close Geralt is and how much that makes his heart race when Geralt speaks up. He was expecting it to an extent, but he still jumps at Geralt’s voice.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jaskier knows exactly what he’s referring too, and he stays lying on his back with his hands twisting together as he stares at the stars. “As I said, I assumed you knew,” he mutters. “Did you not ever wonder why I haven’t aged in the decades we’ve know each other?”

He feels Geralt shrug next to him. “I don’t know enough about humans to know how they age.”

It should be funny, really. It should make Jaskier laugh to now that Geralt is really that clueless about humans, but it doesn’t. It makes Jaskier sad, makes his chest ache to think how much Geralt has been ripped away from what he should’ve known, that Geralt was a human once, would’ve grown older instead of being stuck in this youthfulness while everyone else ages and dies around him.

He thinks of his siblings back home, his parents now long into their old age, thinks how he looks in the mirror beside them and hates who he is.

“One of my parents had me out of wedlock,” he starts to explain quietly, “none of us know which one. It didn’t seem to break them, there have never been any signs of resentment.” He turns his head to see Geralt is looking at him, but he can barely make out his features in only the campfire light. “I’m the oldest, so it didn’t take a long time for us to notice. When we did, when the court did…” He sighs, grips his fingers tightly until they hurt. “I haven’t been home in a long while.”

“Did they chase you out?”

Jaskier pauses for a moment before he shrugs one of his shoulders. “In a way. They were never so… transparent, but it was made well aware that one of my kind was not welcome at court. A short time later, I left for Novigrad. Not even my family’s protection could’ve saved me from what would’ve awaited had I stayed.”

Geralt hums and moves as Jaskier catches the glint of the campfire reflecting in Geralt’s eyes for a moment. “Humans can’t be trusted.”

There’s definitely something more jaded behind those words, and Jaskier just waits as Geralt looks away, turns his head until he’s looking at the stars. Jaskier should too, but he can’t seem to look away from the soft outline of Geralt’s face in the dim light

“I’ll never forget my first monster,” Geralt starts, voice quiet in the night. “Huge, stinking, rotting teeth.” He pauses, and Jaskier reaches across the space between them to press his hand against Geralt’s arm. “It’s had a girl in its grip, readying her to be raped in front of her father. It took two strikes to kill it. They weren’t clean.”

Jaskier doesn’t say a word, just slides his hand across more until his fingers wrap around Geralt’s wrist.

“It was a man,” Geralt continues, and he lets out a sharp bitter noise. “A human. A fucking human.” He huffs loudly. “It’s like Vesemir said once, things used to be simpler. Monsters were bad, humans were good. Now, everything’s all confused.”

“The girl?” Jaskier asks, voice so quiet he wonders for a moment if Geralt even heard him.

“She screamed, threw up, and passed out.” Geralt laughs, it's short and dark and makes Jaskier’s eyes sting at how unhappy it sounds. “Vesemir told us that witcher’s shouldn’t play white knights, that we get paid in coin and that’s all that there is.” He shrugs, and Jaskier holds onto his wrist tight. “I didn’t listen. I thought the world needed me once. I was wrong.”

“No,” Jaskier says, squeezing Geralt’s wrist. “The world does need you, Geralt.” I need you.

Geralt turns his head again, his eyes meeting Jaskier’s in the dark. “People like to invent monsters and monstrosities, Jaskier,” he mutters. “Then they seem less monstrous themselves. They feel better, find it easier to live.”

Jaskier knows what he’s saying, and he shakes his head. “You’re not a monster, Geralt.”

Geralt huffs. “Neither are you,” he says, and Jaskier feels his chest clench at the words, his mouth runs dry and his eyes sting. “Yet, here we are.”

Jaskier looks away, gritting his teeth so painfully tight. “Yet, here we are,” he repeats, the words tasting like ash.

 

 

He’s the first to wake this time.

He doesn’t hesitate in opening his eyes, ignoring the tweak of his back as he shifts on his side. The rock wall is still behind him, his arm is crushed beneath his side, and his neck is on a horrendous angle.

But Geralt is in front of him, sleeping quietly as he’s curled on his side facing Jaskier. Despite the uncomfortableness of his position, Jaskier can’t help but pause for a long moment as he runs his eyes over Geralt’s face. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen the witcher so peaceful, nor has he been this close before. He can almost count the eyelashes sitting softly on each cheek, can see the smaller white hairs lining Geralt’s hairline, can see the pattern on his lips and the hear the small exhales he breathes through his nose.

His fingers itch with the urge to reach out and touch, to trail gently across Geralt’s cheek, twist into the long hair draped over Geralt’s shoulder.

Instead, he clenches his hands into fists and rises from his bedroll. The air is cold and crisp and he shakes in his doublet, wishing he’d brought something warmer. He doesn’t bother to pack his stuff away just yet, not wanting to wake Geralt, and instead, he settles down on the other side of the fire and pulls Geralt’s own bag towards him.

Jaskier remembers that the witcher had stashed away some food yesterday for this morning and he finds it on top of the witcher’s things all neatly rolled up. He pulls it out carefully and he’s just about to close the flap over the bag again when there’s a glint at the top that catches his eye.

Despite knowing he shouldn’t, he reaches back into the bag and pulls out a golden brooch from under a pair of Geralt’s socks. He recognises it as the one that’s normally attached to the hilt of Geralt’s steel sword, but he’s never looked at it more than just a sort of ornament Geralt sometimes carries.

Now, as he runs his fingers over the studded gems, he realises that it's not just an ornament. He thinks his parents would be proud to know that their years of teaching him of the great houses of the Continent have lead to him being able to recognise the symbol of the House Creyden with relative ease.

“What are you doing?”

He looks up to see Geralt sitting up, shaking his head as he rises to his feet as if to shake the left over tiredness from his body. He slowly turns around to look at Jaskier, and Jaskier can see the exact moment Geralt’s attention lands on the brooch as his whole body goes stiff and any sleep left in his eyes is sharpened away.

“This is hers, isn’t it? Renfri’s?” Jaskier just asks in response, holding the brooch out. He’s surprised that Geralt hasn’t moved across to wrench it from his grasp just yet, although it does look like he’s barely holding back from doing so. He knows that Renfri holds a place in Geralt’s heart, something that is hard to acquire.

He tries not to feel jealous and fails miserably.

There’s a battle playing out on Geralt’s face as his eyes dart between Jaskier and the brooch over and over until his shoulders slump and he drags a weary hand over his face.

“Yes,” he says simply, moving to crouch down beside Jaskier. His hand comes out to hover over the brooch, hover over Jaskier’s hand, but he doesn’t close the distance. “How did you know?”

Jaskier shrugs. “Surprisingly, not a lot of Houses on the Continent have symbols.” He raises his hand so that it presses against Geralt’s, feels him flinch at the touch. “This is the sign of House Creyden. It wasn’t hard to figure it out.”

“Creyden is the city.”

“Creyden is her people,” Jaskier retorts, and Geralt’s eyes meet his. “Creyden was Renfri.”

Geralt shakes his head, his hand closing around Jaskier’s, the brooch pressed between them. “Creyden turned its back on Renfri,” he mutters. “It let it’s queen drive her out and turn her into something she was never meant to be. Into a twisted version of what she could have been.”

“You killed her.”

“She left me with no choice.”

Jaskier believes him without a single bit of doubt. He can see the haunted look in Geralt’s eyes, sees the guilt that he can’t shake. He knows only the smallest of details of what happened, only some from Geralt and most from the people of Blaviken when he was playing at a tavern there one time. He’s heard all the stories of the Butcher of Blaviken, yet never once believed that Geralt was the monster they made him out to be.

“I’m sorry,” he says and he nudges forward to press his shoulder against Geralt’s side. “It wasn’t fair.”

Geralt looks at him, and Jaskier is blown away by the sheer vulnerability he sees in his eyes. “No,” he murmurs, “it wasn’t.”

They hold each others gaze for a long moment, Jaskier unable to look away from the sheer fragility that Geralt is showing him, is letting him see, and he feels his hand burn where it's pressed against Geralt’s. He can’t look away, can’t and won’t.

But Geralt clears his throat and the shutters slam down. Jaskier sees nothing but carefully guarded blankness as Geralt pulls his hand away and stands up, taking the brooch with him as he turns to bury it back in his pack.

Jaskier has questions, questions that burn under his skin and yearn to be asked, but he thinks that's enough, that he’s pushed Geralt far enough already this morning, that he’s been shown a part of Geralt that no one else ever sees.

It’s enough.

 

 

Had they taken the shortcut, they would’ve probably made it to the ridge where Roach is waiting for them by now.

But they’re nowhere near it, and Jaskier knows that it's because of how slow they’re travelling. After all, Geralt is definitely matching Jaskier’s pace and Jaskier has no desire to walk faster than absolutely necessary.

Part of that is because his legs are genuinely aching and burning from the climb up the mountain, Jaskier used to walking the Continent but not used to the steep inclines nor the pace their group had set to try and beat the Reavers to the dragon. He’s definitely looking forward to flat ground when he gets to the bottom of this monstrosity of a mountain.

However, he’s well aware that getting Geralt like this? One on one with a strange lack of reservations? He hesitates to think whats caused it but knows it's rarer than anything else and is most certainly worth the extra day or two they’re going to take.

In saying that, the wind blowing down from off the other peaks as they descend down into the ridges has Jaskier’s teeth chattering horrendously, his doublet not nearly enough to protect him from the weather. Geralt looks fine as he marches along in his own armour, his jaw set tightly as he goes. Jaskier doubts that's from the cold though and more just Geralt’s natural way of holding himself.

“I hate this,” Jaskier eventually bemoans, unable to hold back his comments anymore. Geralt looks his way, eyebrows raised as his eyes run over Jaskier, clearly noting the way Jaskier has his arms wrapped tightly around himself, his hands clenched under his arms and close to his side.

“It's not that bad,” Geralt says unhelpfully, and Jaskier huffs as he shakes his head.

“Maybe not for you,” he mutters as he shoulders in closer to Geralt, using him as a windbreak as he ignores the surprised noise the witcher makes. “Unfortunately, I’m lacking the amount of natural coating you have.”

Geralt doesn’t dignify him with a response, although he doesn’t move away either. He’s not exactly encouraging Jaskier’s attempts to get some wind protection from him, but he’s not actively trying to get Jaskier to back off.

Which is good, because Geralt is a good windbreak, and Jaskier might not be warming up being so close to him but he’s definitely not getting colder now as the breeze can’t get to him as much. It does make walking a little odd, Geralt clearly unimpressed at the strange sort of hobble Jaskier is doing beside him, but Jaskier doesn’t care.

“Were you always going to be this brawny?” he asks after a moment, tilting his head up to see Geralt’s jaw is clenched again, “or is it a witcher thing?”

Geralt’s eyes flicker to their corners briefly before he huffs and shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he says, voice flat and with no room for more questions.

Unfortunately, that just piques Jaskier’s interest. “You don’t know?” he repeats with a frown. “What do you mean you don’t know? Aren’t all witcher’s like this?”

There’s a long while where Geralt doesn’t answer and Jaskier decides not to push it. He’s already pushed enough so far and, even though there is this strange sort of honesty that’s settled over them, he’s not willing to do anything to pry too much into Geralt’s usually incredibly private thoughts.

Geralt sighs though and comes to a halt, Jaskier stumbling still after a few more steps forward. He turns, frown still on his face as he sees the witcher staring at the ground with shoulders nearly hunched to his ears.

“Witcher’s aren’t all the same,” Geralt says, his voice low enough that Jaskier steps closer to be able to hear him. “We all have the same mutations. Cat eyes, heightened resistance, increased endurance-”

“Completely indestructible?” Jaskier offers, and Geralt looks up to glare at him.

“The Trials affect each witcher in its own way. Mutates our individual genes,” Geralt continues, voice bitter. “Alongside the separate training the different Schools provide, no two witcher’s are the same.”

Jaskier knows the Trials. Geralt had mentioned it offhandedly one time, and when Jaskier was next in Novigrad he’d taken it upon himself to head to the university library to look it up. It’d taken some heavy persuasion and some sneaking into the restricted area to find even one book on the witcher’s, and even then it’d been barely the thickness of Jaskier’s thumb.

It makes sense that witcher secrets wouldn’t leave the Schools, but what Jaskier had managed to find out had left him cold and shaken, teeth clenched tightly together thinking of what Geralt had been through.

“Whether the brawn,” Geralt says, putting a particularly distasteful emphasis on the word, “is from the Trials or inherited from my father, I wouldn’t know.” He shrugs again, and Jaskier doesn’t think he likes how nonchalant he is. “I never knew my father.”

Jaskier uncrosses his arms and reaches up to scratch the back of his head. “You didn’t?”

Geralt looks away again, this time out over the large canyons that surround them. “No. My mother never spoke of him. At least not that I can remember.”

Jaskier knows there’s a story there, knows the next question he wants to know the answer to, and shuffles closer until he reaches out to place a hand on Geralt’s arm. “How did you become a witcher, Geralt?” he asks, feeling the way Geralt flinches under his hand.

He doesn’t push him away though, and Jaskier thinks he’s maybe not imagining Geralt actually leaning into his touch. “My mother abandoned me in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Kaer Morhen,” Geralt explains, although it sounds like each word is being torn from his lips. “I used to think she had just lost me, but Vesemir later told me she’d chosen to give me up.”

“Oh.” Jaskier doesn’t know what to say as his heart aches for Geralt, as his chest burns and his hand tightens around Geralt’s arm. How Geralt is still managing to be so stoic, Jaskier doesn’t think he will ever know.

“He took me in and raised me alongside the other boys.” Geralt’s smile is shaded with something complicated as he looks back at Jaskier. “He’s the closet thing I have to a father.”

Jaskier tries not to think bitterly, to think that a father wouldn’t put their son through the things the witcher’s did to those boys. He can hear real compassion in Geralt’s tone when he talks about Vesemir though, not just now but always, and Jaskier knows that just because it’s his view doesn’t mean that’s the truth.

There’s always more to the story than what meets the eyes. He knows that personally.

To think that an offhanded remark would lead to this, to Geralt picking more of himself open for Jaskier to see, willingly in fact. He squeezes Geralt’s arm as he steps closer, until his hand and Geralt’s arm is brushing against his chest

“Thank you for trusting me with this,” he says sincerely, giving Geralt a small smile. “I know you don’t like to talk about yourself all that often.”

Geralt shrugs and looks away. “Fair is fair,” he mutters.

Jaskier doesn’t leave it at that though. He swallows the small lump in his throat before he reaches up with his other hand and lightly places his fingertips on Geralt’s turned cheek, gently pushing against it until Geralt’s eyes lock with his.

“No, really,” Jaskier murmurs, “thank you.”

Geralt doesn’t look away this time and Jaskier searches his eyes for a long moment. That fragility is back, and Jaskier feels a blooming warmth of tenderness in his chest when he sees it. He can feel the charge in the air, knows how close they are, can hear his heart thumping in his ears as his eyes trail further down Geralt’s face.

A twig snaps, making them both jump, and Jaskier pulls back completely as his eyes dart over to see a rabbit standing very still in the nearby shrubs, it’s whiskers twittering away as it stares at them.

He can feel his heart racing, his cheeks starting to redden, and when he glances back its to see Geralt already walking away.

The wind swells, blowing under his clothes and making him shudder, and the world feels unsteady under his feet.

 

 

“Do you love her?”

The words fall out, Jaskier unable to catch them before they do so. He feels Geralt tense beside him, his whole body rigid and wound tight enough Jaskier wonders what it would be like if he were to snap.

They’re tucked away in a cave they’ve found along their walk. It’d been too early to really call it a day, but it’d been a mutually undiscussed decision to make camp in the provided shelter, away from the wind and the cold that the mountain brings. Jaskier knows why he wanted to stop, why he wants to maybe drag this journey out a bit longer, but why Geralt seems okay to do so as well does perplex him.

The sun is just dipping below the horizon now, both of them having watched it play hide and seek across the mountain peaks around them. Their backs are against the inside cave wall, their sides pressed together from thigh to calf, Jaskier’s left elbow sitting on Geralt’s right hip, and their small campfire crackles in front of them with the makeshift spit overtop now empty and the rabbits that Geralt had hunted them warm in their bellies.

He’d been thinking of the question for a while now, the words floating around and around in his head as he’d played out the moment from before over and over. His fingers tingle with the memory of Geralt beneath them, his cheeks flame hot again and again as he remembers Geralt’s gentle breath gliding over them, of how close they’d been, of the charge that had burned bright and hot in the air.

But each time he thinks of her, of Yennefer, he feels whatever warmth that’s building in him snuff itself out.

Geralt takes a deep breath beside him, his elbow bumping against Jaskier’s chest with the movement, and as he breathes out some of the tension in him seems to follow.

“I don’t know.”

Jaskier truly isn’t expecting that answer, and he looks at Geralt in surprise. He’d anticipated otherwise, had readied himself to hear the confession, to hear the admission that of course he does, Jaskier, can’t you see? He’d expected to see a gentle smile, a sort of faraway look, to see the expression Geralt wears when he watches Yennefer from afar, a soft yearning that Jaskier could only ever dream of.

He’d readied himself for his heart to be broken, but instead, it stutters and falters and he has to force back the sudden hope that rises sweetly in his chest.

“Oh.” Jaskier’s voice is quiet in the stillness of the cave. “I thought…” He trails off, unable to finish the sentence, looking away from Geralt and down at his hands as he clasps them in his lap.

Geralt sighs beside him, their shoulders rubbing together at the movement. “I’m sure you thought many things, Jaskier.”

Jaskier tries not to think about his notebook tucked away in his bag, the new song being scrawled across the pages. She’ll destroy with her sweet kiss, it reads, and his fingers itch for his lute even though he knows they’ll only stall on the strings, the music still not flowing in him just yet, the siren call still a distant echo.

“It’s been six years, Geralt,” Jaskier eventually manages to say, twisting his fingers tightly together. “You’ve been with her for six years. That’s a long time in anyone’s book.”

Geralt lets out a hollow huff of a laugh. “That long, huh?” he responds, and Jaskier glances out of the corner of his eye to see Geralt genuinely looks surprised. “When you get to my age, the years all blend into one.”

Jaskier thinks of his own age, how he knows he’s going to live for a lot longer than any of his family will. He wonders if it will be the same for him, if the years will flow into one just like they do for Geralt? He hopes not, but he knows that really, in the end, it won’t be his choice.

He turns away from Geralt again and watches as the last of the sun finally disappears, the sky left that beautiful orange blending into purple as it goes. He’s written poetry about the sun before, about the colours it splashes across the world and the warmth it leaves on his skin. He thinks its easier to count the colours and wait for the stars instead of asking Geralt about Yennefer.

But it seems Geralt wants to as he shuffles beside Jaskier, straightening up and moving his hands to his lap to entwine together, copying Jaskier’s own position. He clears his throat and ducks his head when Jaskier glances back at him.

“I never told you about the Djinn,” he says, and it's his turn to be softly spoken. Jaskier frowns and waits until Geralt looks up to meet his eyes.

“I was there, Geralt,” Jaskier points out, shaking his head minutely. “I know about the-”

“Not all of it,” Geralt interrupts him, Jaskier’s mouth clapping shut in surprise. “I never told you my third wish.”

Jaskier feels his shoulders tense. He always had wondered what Geralt’s final wish had been, a question he’s wondered for six years, but he’s always assumed it was something that Geralt had either found to be too trivial to mention or just another secret he holds close to his chest. In any case, Jaskier had politely respected that it was never something to be brought up and left it as just one of those questions to be stored away in a box, never to be asked.

So for Geralt to bring this up willingly? And now of all times? Jaskier can confidently say that it was definitely the latter option, definitely a secret he was holding close to his chest.

“Djinn’s aren’t the most forgiving of creatures,” Geralt continues, his voice tilted into something that Jaskier can’t quite recognise. “Being trapped in a jar for centuries does something to them, turns them wicked and cruel. More often than not an encounter with one doesn’t end well.”

Jaskier thinks of the roof caving in, of the hellish screams, his own throat swollen and turning against him as he scrabbled against it. It makes him clam up, his hands tremble even as he tries to hold them painfully still.

“She had no protection from it. As it’s master, it could not harm me intentionally but Yennefer… she was fair game and we both knew it. I had to do something to stop it from killing her, and it was the only thing I could think of in that moment.”

“You could’ve let her die,” Jaskier says, no heat or real meaning in his tone. No matter how much he dislikes the woman, he doesn’t truly wish her to be dead. Gone? Out of their lives? Absolutely. But not dead.

Geralt lets out a small huff of a laugh beside him, and Jaskier glances up to see Geralt looking right back with a small smile. “She saved your life, Jaskier,” he points out. “I couldn’t let her die.”

“No,” Jaskier agrees quietly, “I guess you couldn’t.”

Geralt’s expression warps into something unreadable. “I wished for the Djinn to bind our fates, Yennefer’s and my own.”

Jaskier didn’t quite know what to expect, but he’s not surprised. He’d thought that something like this must be the case, that it would explain why after years of walking the Continent that it’s only now that Yennefer keeps appearing in their lives. Perhaps there really is no other real explanation besides magic, or maybe it's just the only one that makes sense?

Even so, hearing those words knocks something loose in Jaskier. He drops his head, pushes his lips together as he closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath he feels all the way to the bottom of his chest. He tries to think of what to say in response and comes up empty as his trembling hands start to shake worse and he suddenly feels very much like he’s falling apart.

Vaguely, he hears Geralt call his name, feels a strong hand settle on his shoulder that gives him a small shake. He thinks he should probably look up, say something witty and roll his eyes, tell Geralt that he’s an absolute idiot for warping his future in this way, but he finds that he can’t muster up the energy to say a word.

He’s just so very very tired.

“She didn’t save me out of the goodness of her heart,” Jaskier murmurs, his limbs feeling heavy as his hands stop shaking and curl in his lap. “She saved me because she thought I was the Djinn’s master, because she thought she needed me to control it. She was fully prepared to kill me if I got in her way.” He bites the inside of his cheek as he takes a deep breath in through his nose, remembers the press of a knife to his throat, the inability to move against her magic no matter how hard he tried, the painful twisting of her hand in places it should never have been. He swallows thickly and shakes his head “You didn’t owe her anything, Geralt.”

Geralt moves beside him, his hand falling from Jaskier’s shoulder. “It was my fault,” he says, voice husky as if there's a curl of emotion in it that he doesn’t know how to hold back. “My first wish nearly killed you and if it hadn’t of been for her-”

“If I hadn’t been so irritating,” Jaskier interjects, finally looking over to see Geralt’s face has dropped into that rare vulnerability again, “then maybe you wouldn’t have wished what you did.”

Geralt huffs and shakes his head, eyes fixed firmly somewhere on Jaskier’s chest. “You’re not to blame, Jaskier.”

He takes a moment and just looks at Geralt, runs his eyes over the curve of his nose, the length of his eyelashes, the downward curl of the corners of his mouth, the cut of his jaw and the freshly grown stubble growing over it. He looks as hard of a man as his reputation but it's his eyes that give him away, the way the skin beneath them rises up, making him squint just enough to notice the small beads of water gathering over his lower lids. It’s enough for Jaskier’s chest to burn and sting all at once.

“She hurt you, Geralt,” he says, voice soft and echoing in the small cave. “She manipulated you and turned you into the one thing that we’ve tried so damn hard to convince the Continent you’re not. She broke your reputation under a night because she wanted revenge on the people she wronged herself. She used you like she used everyone else in that town, like you were no different despite her pretty words.”

“I know.”

Jaskier purses his lips and squeezes his fists so hard that they start to tremble. “They were going to hang you,” he murmurs. “For the things that she made you do, for the damage and destruction that you caused under her spell and she was going to let them.”

Geralt doesn’t say a word this time. Just looks at the ground, the muscles in his jaw tensing and working hard as he grits his teeth in such a way that Jaskier’s own ache in sympathy.

“She didn’t care about you, Geralt,” Jaskier continues, the words harsh and cruel but needing to be said. “She didn’t care about me either. She’s only ever cared about herself.”

“She saved you, Jaskier,” Geralt whispers, clinging so desperately to those words as his eyes slide shut and he shakes his head. “I couldn’t just let her die after that. She saved your life.”

Jaskier’s eyes burn, a prickly hot feeling at the backs as he feels water starting to well up in the corners. He won’t look away from Geralt though, and he leans forward to place a gentle hand on Geralt’s cheek, his chest aching when Geralt leans into it.

“Aye,” he agrees quietly, “but she took yours in the process.”

 

 

He doesn’t sleep that night.

He knows he should, but he just can’t find it in himself to close his eyes and let himself drift away. He does doze on and off, snatching small moments of rest between the thoughts that press themselves uncomfortably to the sides of his head, but it's not enough to be anything more than fitful.

Geralt doesn’t either, something Jaskier notices when they meet each other's eyes in the brisk early hours of the morning. They don’t say a word, just sit side-by-side with their legs outstretched and pressed together as the night draws out longer and longer until Jaskier is desperately wishing the sun would just rise again to make it all end.

And yet, when it finally does peek out above the horizon, Jaskier wishes it would sink back down so he doesn’t have to face the day ahead.

They don’t move for a long time. Jaskier’s eyes feel heavy and scratchy, but he keeps his hands by his sides despite the urge to scrub at them until they sting. He doesn’t want to interrupt this heavy tranquillity stretching out between them, doesn’t want to shatter it into a broken silence that leaves them tense and uncomfortable.

But it seems Geralt doesn’t share the same inclination as he draws himself up from his slump against the wall, nudging Jaskier with his elbow slightly as he moves, causing Jaskier to let out a grumbly displeased noise. He hopes that's it, but when Jaskier glances over it to see that Geralt looks like he’s swallowed something sour as his gaze is fixed on the wall across from them.

“I have something I need to say,” he says, voice thick and heavy from disuse. He clears his throat and shakes his head, and Jaskier leans forward in a mix of surprise and anticipation. “And I don’t want you to interrupt me.”

That makes Jaskier frown, and he blinks slowly as he opens his mouth to respond. He thinks better of it though and closes it with a snap as he just nods in reply, thinking that he’s too darn defeated at the moment to say anything anyway.

His chest is aching and he’s not too sure if it will ever stop.

Geralt looks his way briefly, sees his nod, and turns back to glaring at the wall. “I should’ve told you about my third wish six years ago,” he continues hesitantly, as if he’s having to pull each word from his mouth by force. “I shouldn’t have left you in the dark for so long. I did truly believed it wouldn’t matter to you, that you wouldn’t care what that wish was or what it’s done in the years since.” He hangs his head. “I’m not used to people caring about me, Jaskier. Witcher’s aren’t wanted, and when they are it’s only for some purpose before they’re discarded again.”

Oh, how Jaskier wants to say something. He’s nearly fit to burst as feelings bubble and roll inside him, as the urge to lean forward and wrap Geralt up in his arms makes his fingers itch, as the need to find anyone who’s ever made Geralt feel like he’s not wanted makes him shake with barely contained anger. He wants to say so much but he’d promised he wouldn’t, and it takes all of his self-control to hold himself back.

“Maybe that’s why I’ve never looked at the circumstances of how Yennefer and I met as anything more than just business.” Geralt pauses and shakes his head. “Witcher’s were made to kill monsters and get paid for it. Everything in life is a negotiation and nothing comes free.” His lips purse and Jaskier can see the anger spilling out on his face. “All witcher’s only make the mistake of thinking otherwise once, and only some are lucky to survive it.”

He sighs, and Jaskier doesn’t push back the urge this time as he reaches out to curl his fingers around Geralt’s hand. Geralt doesn’t respond, but he doesn’t pull away either, and Jaskier latches on and hopes that somehow this might ground the witcher.

“I saw her actions as payment for saving your life,” Geralt continues, his voice a little less shaky. “She insisted on none but I didn’t believe her. When I woke up in that cell and Chireadan told me what happened, I thought that was it, that was the payment.” He looks up again, but this time he turns and meets Jaskier’s eyes. “But it wasn’t.”

“Geralt…” Jaskier murmurs, trailing off as Geralt shakes his head. He wants to say so much, wants to pull Geralt closer and shield him from the world, shield him from the horrors he’s been through and the ones undoubtedly to come.

“I saved her life, Jaskier, because there is no way I can ever repay her enough for saving yours.”

Jaskier feels something deep tearing in his chest as Geralt won’t look away, as their eyes stayed locked and there are too many things running through Jaskier’s head to make sense of any of it.

“I nearly killed you,” Geralt mutters, “and I will do whatever it takes to repay that debt because…” he trails off and his hand flips and wraps around Jaskier’s. “Because you are my friend, Jaskier. No matter how much I say otherwise, you’re important to me.”

Jaskier’s mouth drops open, shock surging through his veins as Geralt says those words. Not once does he look away, his eyes wide and imploring and so open and vulnerable, and this time Jaskier doesn’t hold back the desperate urges as he lets go of Geralt’s hand to reach out and pull the witcher closer.

Surprisingly, Geralt doesn’t resist, and Jaskier finds it easy to pull him in until Geralt’s cheek is pressed against Jaskier’s shoulder and Jaskier has one arm wrapped around his shoulders and the other buried deep in long striking white hair. It’s surprisingly soft under his fingertips, and Jaskier rests his chin on the crown of Geralt’s head as he sighs.

“Listen to me, Geralt,” he whispers, his voice so soft, “and listen to me good. I forgive you.” He tugs on one of the strands of hair. “Not just for the Djinn, but for everything. I forgive you for everything that you can’t forgive yourself for.”

“I can’t let you do that,” Geralt murmurs against Jaskier’s neck and Jaskier squeezes his arm around him.

“Lucky I’m not asking,” he retorts, and Geralt lets out a huff of a laugh that has Jaskier smiling in response. He tilts his head down until his lips are brushing against the soft white hairs, and he lets out a sigh that ruffles them. Geralt moves slightly, but it's just to pull his legs up to balance himself better where he presses against Jaskier.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, and Jaskier doesn’t hesitate in pressing a soft kiss to Geralt’s hair.

He knows this isn’t their normal, that this is breaking so many of the carefully built barriers that Geralt has been creating for years, even well before Jaskier came on the scene. Somehow though, he just can’t find it in himself to care. Right here, right now? All that matters is Geralt.

“It’s over now,” Geralt suddenly murmurs, “with Yennefer. It’s done.”

Jaskier frowns as he squeezes Geralt’s shoulder. “I heard your fight-”

Geralt shifts against him, cutting him off. “No, it’s not that.” He clears his throat and shakes his head. “Whatever is between us… it’s not real. Even before the Djinn. It was about power to start with, and there’s too much bitterness for it to be anything more.” He pauses for a moment, but when he speaks again his voice is strong and sure. “I don’t love her. I don’t know if I ever did.”

Jaskier struggles with what to say to that. He nods, his chin bumping against the top of Geralt’s head. “Okay,” he murmurs before he smiles just a little to himself. “Is it okay if I say I’m proud of you?”

Geralt just grunts in response, and Jaskier moves to bury his smile in Geralt’s hair. He is, he is proud of Geralt. Maybe he did have something to do with Geralt’s realisation, maybe he didn’t, but at the very least he’s so proud that Geralt is taking control of something that so obviously has been outside of it for so very long.

“We need to get off this rock,” Geralt mutters after a moment, “it’s making us sentimental.”

“Oh shush, Geralt,” Jaskier gently scolds, but theres no heat in his words and neither of them move.

It’s okay, Jaskier thinks as looks out to see the sun still slowly curving up into the sky, trying to lead them into a new day. There’s still plenty of time, the mountain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the feeling of Geralt pressed up against him is such a rare novelty that Jaskier plans on enjoying it for as long as he can. There’s a gentleness to the air that he refuses to break, and he lets out a breath that ruffles Geralt’s hair and has the witcher huffing against him.

Yeah, Jaskier’s happy to just exist together for a little while longer.

 

 

Eventually, they gather their things to start the final leg of their journey.

The cave disappears behind them as they walk, bumping shoulders for a short while as they go. Jaskier finds it comforting until they can’t walk side by side anymore. They’re far away from the cliff-sides now, having moved further enough down the mountain that they’re surrounded by forest and trees once more and the sounds of the birds tweeting above them is strangely relaxing. 

Plus, Jaskier doesn’t miss knowing that death was just a straight plunge on his right.

Somewhere around here is where Roach should be, probably out wandering the woods while she waited the days for them to come back. Jaskier had been a bit worried at first that Geralt was happy to just let her roam about by herself as they ascended the mountain, but realistically he knows that the horse has a few too many wits about her to be classed as ‘just a horse’.

Finding her is something a little harder, but Geralt doesn’t seem overly fazed. Although, Jaskier does see the witcher’s eyes darting out between the trees around them constantly, so he knows that its probably just an act to some extent. Jaskier would look for her too, but the forest floor is an absolute mess of roots and bark that he keeps nearly tripping over and he thinks a blood nose is not something he particularly wants

“So,” he muses after a while of walking though, making sure his voice is loud enough to reach Geralt where he’s on the other side of the tree on Jaskier’s right, “where to next?”

Geralt hums in response but doesn’t saying anything straight away. It doesn’t bother Jaskier, he’s perfectly content to listen to the songs the birds are whistling in the trees above them, delighted that at least someone has a bit of music playing through them. Normally, his fingers itch for his lute to strum alongside them, but still his hands remain idle at his sides and his lute hangs heavy on his shoulder. The music is still gone, and he thinks of his forgot lyric book in his bag and wonders when he will have the words again.

“Cintra,” Geralt says, and Jaskier looks over at him in surprise as they join back to walking side by side. “From here we go to Cintra.”

Part of Jaskier focuses on the inclusive ‘we’, thankful that Geralt clearly has no intentions on leaving him behind, but the other part knows for a fact that Geralt never wanted to step back in Cintra for as long as he lived.

“Why?” Jaskier can’t help but ask, and he sees Geralt’s face twist up into something painful for a moment.

“For the Child Surprise. I need to see them.”

“Her,” Jaskier corrects as Geralt looks his way with a frown. “Her name is Cirilla Fiona Elon Riannon, the Lion Cub of Cintra. Queen Calanthe has raised her since Pavetta and Duny were lost at sea about six years ago.”

Geralt looks uncertain, his hand coming up to wrap around the strap of his bag where it hangs on his shoulder, and Jaskier’s eyes follow it until he dips his gaze to look back at the ground he’s walking on.

“How do you know?” Geralt asks him, voice quiet enough that it nearly gets drowned out by the birds around him.

Jaskier shrugs. “I thought one day you might have questions about her,” he explains gently, dodging around a rather gnarly tree root and almost stumbling right into Geralt. “And I knew you were never going to go back to Cintra so I decided I’d go back for you.”

Geralt hums again beside him. “What… what is she like?” he asks, voice clearly hesitant.

Jaskier smiles to himself, thinking of the energetic young girl who’d bounced around his legs as he’d played her song after song in the great hall, the Queen’s glare keeping anyone present from demanding anything else than what the princess wanted. “Charming,” he says thinking of the bright green eyes that had watched him with nary a blink. “Kind and bright. She’s going to be strong like her grandmother but she has the gentleness of Pavetta in her that is undeniable.”

Silence lingers between them for a little while again, Jaskier once more focusing on the birds. He taps his fingers along to their music as he waits patiently for Geralt’s next words. As he’d said, he did think that Geralt would want to know about Cirilla one day and that is exactly why he’s played for the court over the years whenever he’s been separate from Geralt, but the sudden interest now is a little strange and out of the blue.

“Why now?” he can’t help but ask. He’s a bit far forward so unless he turns around, he won’t see Geralt’s face and for some reason it makes asking the question a little easier. “What’s changed that you want to go to Cintra?”

Geralt clears his throat. “Nothing,” he mutters, and Jaskier lets out a huff of frustration.

“Well it has to be something,” he snaps irritably. “Going back a few days and you never would’ve even considered bringing up your Child Surprise.” He purses his lips and glances over his shoulder, seeing Geralt’s jaw is set as he glares at the ground. “What did Yennefer say to you?”

That has Geralt glancing up in shock, but Jaskier turns away again to pick his way past some low hanging branches. He’s not stupid. He may not have heard the full conversation that Geralt and Yennefer had, being too far away that he’d only caught the occasional word, but he can gather that whatever it was it had something to do with the Djinn and the Child Surprise.

After all, why would Geralt specifically refer to those, things he’s not spoken to Jaskier about in years, when yelling at him unless they hadn’t just been brought up?

“She… reminded me that I abandoned a child I was responsible for,” Geralt grumbles somewhere behind Jaskier, sounding a little closer than before. “That I can’t just pick and chose destiny when it suits me.”

Jaskier can’t help but snort. “Destiny, huh?” he repeats darkly. “Destiny is just a fancy word that people use to justify their actions, Geralt. I wouldn’t take it to heart.”

He surprised when he feels Geralt’s hand grip his wrist painfully tight, causing him to stumble to a halt as he’s pulled around to faced the confused witcher. He reaches up to grip Geralt’s hand back, glaring as the witcher just shakes his head and won’t let go.

“You believe in destiny more than I do, Jaskier,” Geralt points out with a frown. “You sing enough songs about it to give anyone a headache.”

Jaskier shakes his head, choosing to ignore the slight against his music. “I also write about you defeating Filavandrel, something that never happened as you so delight in reminding me,” he points out. “Just because I sing it, doesn’t mean I believe it.”

Geralt looks more confused than anything else, and Jaskier sighs as he taps Geralt’s hand until he finally lets go. He rubs his wrist where Geralt probably has left a mark, but doesn’t keep walking as he sees this is clearly a conversation that needs to happen.

“Like I said, Geralt,” he says, “destiny is just an excuse. A fine one at times, but an excuse nonetheless.” He shrugs and looks away, chewing the inside of his cheek for a moment before he sighs. “Tell me, when has destiny ever been referred to something that’s not tragic?”

Geralt doesn’t respond. Jaskier isn’t excepting him to as he crosses his arms and toes his boot at the pine nettles covering the forest floor.

“It wasn’t destiny that made Renfri who she was,” he decides on saying first, going straight for the jugular, and he sees Geralt flinch out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve heard the tales, that she was born under a Black Sun and she was always destined to be evil.” He shrugs, looks back to see Geralt staring at him with an unreadable expression. “But it wasn’t the Black Sun that turned her into something so dark. It was the people around her who failed her, the people who were supposed to protect her and love her that cast her out and betrayed her and twisted her into what she became.” He shakes his head and tightens his arms around himself. “It wasn’t destiny that created Renfri. It was something much more human than that.”

“Jaskier…” Geralt says, his voice dipped into something so deeply raw.

He doesn’t stop though, feelings swelling in his chest so fit to burst that he just can’t stop. “It isn’t because of destiny that I’m a half-elf. I’m the result of one of my parents choices, and it wasn’t my destiny that caused me to leave Kerack.” He grits his teeth so hard they ache as he thinks of the sneers from the other nobles, of the horrid whispers that would follow him down the halls, of the pain on his parent’s faces as he’d given them a reassuring goodbye that had fallen flat and hollow. “It was the actions of others, of the people I grew up with and trusted. It was the bigotry and anger that people held towards me because of something that was always outside of my control.” He laughs a little, sounding bitter to his own ears. “But it wasn’t just the failings of the people I believed would always look after me, but also my own choices that have led me to where I am today.”

Geralt doesn’t say a word this time, their eyes fixed on one another so completely that Jaskier doesn’t think there’s a world outside of them. He knows what he’s going to say next, can feel it burning on the tip of his tongue, and the look on Geralt’s face makes Jaskier think that he knows too.

“It wasn’t destiny that turned you into a witcher, Geralt,” he practically whispers as Geralt’s shoulders slump, as Geralt hangs his head while his hands ball into fists at his sides. “It was your mother making the choice to abandon you. It was Vesemir’s choice to raise you as he did. It was their choice to expose you to the Trial’s, to turn you into something that you weren’t born as and that you had no say in the matter. You were a child, Geralt.” He steps forward, reaching out to hover his hands over one Geralt’s clenched fists. “And it was the people who you trusted to look after you, to protect you, that failed to do so.” 

Geralt finally looks away, their gaze breaking with a snap, and Jaskier feels his shoulders sag as he grips Geralt’s fist with one hand and closes the distance between them. He can feel how tightly wound up the witcher is, how he seems to be screaming without saying a word, and Jaskier reaches up with his other hand to cup Geralt’s cheek and gently turn his head back to look at him.

“It’s choices that lead us through life,” he says gently, rubbing his thumb over Geralt’s cheekbone. “Some we make, some others make for us.” He smiles and it feels brittle on his face. “Not something we only believe in when we feel the need to justify our own actions.”

They stand looking at each other for a long moment, Jaskier refusing to look away as he feels Geralt’s fist slowly unclench under his hold and he entwines their fingers together. Despite his heaving chest and the storm of feelings brewing hot under his skin, Jaskier knows that this moment is fragile.

“I left her,” Geralt finally says, voice so quiet that it barely fills up the space between them. “I feel like I should go back.”

Jaskier nods. “Then we go to Cintra,” he agrees, and he taps his fingers on Geralt’s cheek and smiles when Geralt wrinkles his nose at the action. “But we go because you want to go, not because of some misguided sense of duty to some sordid greater power.”

Geralt shakes his head, but there’s a small smile curling onto his face. “Sometimes I forget how strong you are, Jaskier,” he muses, and his fingers briefly wrap back around Jaskier’s and squeeze tightly.

Jaskier shrugs. “You have to know by now how much I care about you, Geralt,” he admits, the words just falling so easily. He tenses when he realises what he’s said, how obviously he’s shown his cards, but he hopes that Geralt won’t notice his momentary slip-up.

However, the witcher just nods his head. “Thank you,” he says honestly.

Jaskier doesn’t quite know what to do with that praise and he just gives Geralt a sheepish smile. He’s not expecting the intense look he gets back though, and he’s a little thrown off by it as Geralt’s hand stays wrapped around his and Geralt leans more into his hand until Jaskier’s thumb grazes the witcher’s lips.

It makes him stop, thinking of the moment a day or so ago further up the mountain when they’d been talking about how Geralt became a witcher. The charged air is back, the tenderness blooming in Jaskier’s chest is even bigger now and he didn’t know that was possible, and he runs his eyes over Geralt’s face, following the scars that mar his skin and the soft pattern of lines across his lips.

His heart aches for this man, so badly that were he not alone in his feelings then Jaskier would not hesitate to use a more defining word.

But he’s sure Geralt doesn’t, so he breaks the moment and takes a step back, clearing his throat as he reaches up to rub the back of his neck.

“Come on,” he says, “we have to find Roach. Goodness knows what mischief she’s gotten up to.”

It’s a thinly veiled attempt to move past the moment, but Jaskier throws himself behind it wholeheartedly as he turns around and moves further through the trees, starting to call out for Roach as he goes.

It means he misses the frown on Geralt’s face followed by the sudden look of realisation before the witcher smiles and follows suit.

 

 

Eventually, they find Roach.

Although, it’s more like she finds them as Jaskier hears a loud whinnying followed by the clomping of hooves as she barrels out from behind a gathering of trees. She looks thrilled to see them, tossing her mane and stamping her feet as she bowls right up into Geralt’s space.

Geralt doesn’t seem to overly care, but Jaskier does catch him scratching her under her chin and bumping his forehead against her cheek when he clearly thinks Jaskier isn’t looking.

They choose not to ride her down the last incline of the mountain. The ground is too unsteady and, while Roach is used to carrying them both sometimes, the idea of her twisting one of her hocks or fetlocks because of the extra weight just isn’t too appealing. Her saddle is back at the nearest town’s tavern in any case, but Geralt had refused to leave her at the stables there.

Somehow, he trusts the wilderness more than local stablehands, but Jaskier knows where that distrust does stem from. Especially now.

However, Geralt does offer her to Jaskier, and Jaskier’s legs are aching and he’s pretty sure he’s worn through the soles of his shoes, but he just waves him away. Flat ground isn’t too far ahead so he just watches as Geralt pulls Roach’s bridle from his bag and fits her with it. She doesn’t seem overly pleased, but she melts when Jaskier reaches up to scratch her ears to distract her from the bit as it fits between her teeth.

“Hey girl,” he coos, smiling as she presses happily against him. “We missed you, didn’t we?”

He glances over to see Geralt watching him with a fond look, a look that makes Jaskier’s cheeks heat up, and he quickly drops his head and clears his throat.

He’s thankful that Roach is now a barrier between them as they start to walk. It’s been a heavy few days, and Jaskier feels tired and thankful all at once that they’ve finally had these conversations that have probably needed to be had for a long time. It does mean he feels strung out though, all the feelings he usually keeps tucked deep down just begging to be let out, and if Geralt keeps looking at him like that then Jaskier thinks it won’t be long until they are.

Finally though, the mountain gives way, the last slope easing into such wonderful flat ground that Jaskier nearly sinks to his knees in delight. Clearly, he’s a bit more vocal in his happiness than he thought as Geralt leans around Roach and raises his eyebrow at him.

“Alright there, bard?” he asks, and Jaskier waves his hand in dismissal.

“Leave me alone,” Jaskier grumbles and Geralt smiles. It throws him off a little, but Jaskier smiles back and lets it linger for a while longer even when Geralt disappears back behind Roach.

The silence stretches between them but its pleasant and comfortable. Jaskier listens to the birds twittering over their heads and Roach’s heavy breathing, finds his shoulders relax as he feels more and more at calm the further away from the mountain they go. Maybe soon he’ll be able to write more music, add more to the unfinished songs sitting in his notebook, maybe even sing a few lines while he’s at it.

Somehow, Geralt must’ve heard his thoughts, as the witcher clears his throat on the other side of Roach and glances over her neck at Jaskier.

“You haven’t played in a while,” he says, and Jaskier gives him an odd look. Geralt’s eyes just move to focus pointedly at the lute on Jaskier’s back. “Your music. You haven’t played.”

Jaskier’s hand moves up to grip the strap over his chest, pursing his lips together as he looks away. “No,” he agrees. “I just… haven’t felt like it.”

Geralt harrumphs. “Why not?”

“I just haven’t,” Jaskier grumbles and he looks over to see Geralt giving him a cryptic stare. “I’m surprised you’ve noticed. I thought you didn’t like my show tunes.”

“They’re not show tunes,” Geralt mutters, and that makes Jaskier’s eyebrows raise in disbelief. Geralt finally drops his gaze and it looks like he’s arguing with himself. “Some are, I admit, but others-”

“Have filling in their pies?” Jaskier interrupts with a smile, and Geralt lets out a startled laugh as he shakes his head. Roach rears hers up, blocking Jaskier’s view of the witcher again, and he purses his lips together as he wonders just what Geralt is trying to say.

He doesn’t have to wonder long though as Geralt suddenly halts in his tracks, pulling Roach up beside him despite her displeased noise, and it takes Jaskier a moment before he too comes to a stop and turns around.

Geralt just stands there though, playing with Roach’s reins as he threads them over and over between his fingers. He looks like he’s swallowed something unpleasant, like he’s struggling to find what to say, and Jaskier hitches his lute up his back as he keeps one hand wrapped around the strap on his chest and places his other hand on his hip.

“What’s going on in that big old head of yours, huh?” he asks. Geralt gives him a small irritated look before he drops Roach’s reins completely and takes the few steps forward until they’re standing a little closer.

“I like your music,” Geralt says, his voice strong and certain. It makes Jaskier blink in shock. “I always have.”

“Oh.” Jaskier shakes his head minutely. “Why didn’t you…”

“Ever say anything?” Geralt finishes for him, and Jaskier nods. The witcher just shrugs though and reaches up to scratch the back of his neck. “Every time I said something bad, you seemed to play more in defiance.”

Jaskier laughs. “Geralt,” he scolds, “I would’ve kept playing no matter what you said.” He reaches out and shoves Geralt’s shoulder. “Had you told me you liked it, I probably would’ve even played more.”

His eyes widen as Geralt’s hand reaches up to grip his wrist before he can pull it back. He uses it to tug Jaskier forward a little, and Jaskier goes willingly as he sucks in a breath at the feeling of Geralt’s harsh calloused hands rubbing against the soft sensitive skin of the underside of his wrist.

“Jaskier…” Geralt says quietly, his voice so gentle and meaningful that Jaskier takes a deep breath before he feels the rush of words, the dam breaking at the tenderness of the moment

“Do you know what you do to me?” he whispers, shaking his head. “Do you have any idea how I feel?”

Geralt looks at him, eyes searching Jaskier’s own. “I’m starting to think I do,” he admits honestly, and Jaskier’s heart leaps into his throat as his breath hitches. “I don’t deserve you, Jaskier, and you deserve more than me.”

Jaskier shakes his head and smiles, just the smallest twist of his lips. “That’s not how this works, Geralt,” he says, voice strong even as the witcher looks away.

“You deserve someone who isn’t so broken,” he says bitterly. “Someone who doesn’t hurt you like I do-”

“I’ve forgiven you, haven’t I?” Jaskier interrupts, reaching up to wrap his fingers around Geralt’s hand on his wrist. He thinks of the cave, of their sides pressed together, Geralt’s head on his shoulder and his own lips on that soft white hair. “I’ll forgive you a hundred times if I must.”

Geralt seems to be warring with himself though as he shakes his head. “I can’t promise you anything,” he continues, his hand tightening briefly around Jaskier’s wrist. “I can’t guarantee that I won’t mess this all up.”

Jaskier smiles as he reaches out and tugs on a lock of Geralt’s hair. “It’s okay,” he says. “Life gets boring if it’s too predictable anyway.”

Geralt huffs and shakes his head, smiling just a little. “You’re not making this very easy, bard,” he scolds lightly, and Jaskier laughs.

“When have I ever?” he responds, and Geralt rolls his eyes but the smile doesn’t go away.

They stay locked like that for a moment, just looking into each other's eyes and Jaskier knows, he knows this is almost sickeningly romantic and yet his heart is beating so hard in his chest and his cheeks are burning warm and he never thought this would happen, not with Geralt, not like this.

But maybe is it, and Jaskier drinks in the moment for as long as he can until Geralt clears his throat.

“If I asked now, would you play?” he asks, voice softer than ever before, and Jaskier sucks in a deep breath at the sight of gentleness in Geralt’s eyes.

He wants to say yes, wants to rip his lute off his back and play it until his fingers ache and he loses his voice, until Geralt tells him to be quiet even though he hopes so badly that Geralt never will. Knowing how Geralt feels, that he actually likes Jaskier’s inane singing, likes Jaskier, it makes something so sweet swell up warmly in his chest.

But there’s still something missing, his fingers don’t itch for his lute as they should but Geralt is looking at him with such an endearingly hopeful look that Jaskier can’t say no.

“Ask me,” he says, smiling softly.

Geralt seems nervous for a moment, his eyes flickering away from Jaskier’s briefly before they settle back and Geralt swallows thickly. Jaskier holds his breath, waiting to see what will happen, and he doesn’t once look away from Geralt the entire time.

“Sing for me,” Geralt finally asks, letting go of Jaskier’s wrist as he does so.

It spurs him on, and Jaskier slowly reaches back for his case to pull his lute from out of it. He swings the band around his neck and his hands fall into their natural positions before he pauses for a moment as he taps his fingers on the strings.

“What do you want me to sing?” he asks, and Geralt steps forward a little closer into Jaskier’s space, taking away some of the air from between them as he does so.

“Anything,” he says.

Jaskier feels it then, the sudden surge of his music coming back, the siren call loud in his ears as he feels his fingers already playing on the strings, pressing them down and strumming away as the words start to play out on his tongue.

He knows the perfect song.

It smelled of autumn's breath,” he starts, voice trembling just a little before he straightens his shoulders and shakes them out. “With the cold wind, disappeared words' sense.” He smiles, not looking away from Geralt as he starts to tap his feet. “It has to be so, nothing can be changed by the diamonds on your eyelashes' ends."

Geralt smiles back and Jaskier’s grin widens as he starts to move, twisting around Geralt with each strum of his hand as the witcher spins to keep up with him.

"There, where you live, it's already white from snow,” Jaskier sings, voice loud and strong now. “Are glazed with ice, the lakes and the muds.” He dips his voice as he does a twirl, wrapping himself up in the song as it burns down his arms and flows into the strings. “It has to be so, nothing can be changed anymore by the longing lurking in your eyes."

He can’t stop moving, strumming happily and with excitement. Oh, he’s missed this, missed the music, missed the joy. The song is everything he wants to say, everything and more, and when he looks at Geralt with sparkling eyes it's to see the witcher looking so brightly back while he twists in place over and over as Jaskier refuses to stop whirling around him.

"The spring will return, the rain will flow onto the roads.” He feels the words settle deep in his chest, burning away, yearning to be shared. “With the sun's warmth, the hearts will be warmed.” Geralt’s stopped moving now but Jaskier keeps going. “It has to be so, because a fire keeps smouldering in us.

Geralt’s hand snatches out, gripping Jaskier’s arm and stopping him mid-step as the witcher pulls Jaskier so close that his hands still on his lute where’s its pressed between them, the last of the music fading into the air.

An eternal fire,” Jaskier finishes, his voice quiet as their noses bump, “which is... a hope."

Geralt kisses him.

And Jaskier knows its just the beginning.