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At the Edge of the World

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Heartsick and tired, Jaskier follows his witcher down the mountain. It would be a good deal more dignified to storm off in a proper snit, but alas there’s really only one road out of here, unless one of them decides to cut through the monster-infested forest with its steep random cliffs that seem explicitly designed for breaking the necks of unwary travelers. Jaskier is heartbroken, not suicidal, so he sticks to the road.

He nearly expects Geralt, who is borderline suicidal on his best days, to strike out on his own rather than suffer Jaskier’s unwanted company any longer, but he doesn’t. So they’re stuck awkwardly ignoring each other for the entire two-day trek. It feels like an idiotic parody of a lover’s quarrel, which would be funnier if they’d ever actually been lovers in the first place. Jaskier always thought they were heading for something, but Jaskier is evidently entirely too skilled at deluding himself.

Thus he’s left feeling rejected and a bit stupid, without even a good morose romantic drama to wallow in. It lacks poetry, in his opinion. Bad composition all around.

Perhaps with some distance he’ll be able to find the humor in it. Right now, it would be easier if he couldn’t see the gleaming silver of Geralt’s hair over Roach’s dusty brown shoulder every time he’s foolish enough to glance that way. It’s like picking at a scab: painful and pointless, but addictive nonetheless.

At the bottom of the mountain, Geralt does glance his way briefly. For a moment, Jaskier imagines that he might approach, that he might, perhaps, even offer some gruff, Witcher-esque apology, so that if they must go their separate ways at least it won’t be with a wound still bleeding between them. Instead, Geralt grunts, and turns his head aside, and leaves without another word. Jaskier dashes a hand over his eyes, but they’re dry. Typical.

He goes north for the winter, charming his way into the household of a small but strategic keep that guards a narrow mountain pass. He’s still a man with desirable skills, whatever Geralt thinks of him, and his long association with Geralt has granted him a measure of fame. It stings to perform songs about a man who’ll probably never speak to him again--how did he never notice how besotted all his lyrics sound?--but Jaskier is a fucking professional, and he manages.

Yennefer is the one who brings word of Nilfgaard’s relentless advance across the southlands. She appears uninvited at the height of the midwinter feast: the huge doors to the hall crashing open untouched to admit her in a swirl of snow and black silk. Tucked into his spot by the fire--close enough to keep his fingers warm and nimble, not so close that the dry heat will ruin his beloved lute--Jaskier rolls his eyes. He plucks out the last bar of his current song, and seques neatly into an uncharacteristically jaunty rendition of ‘Her Sweet Kiss’.

He can nearly feel his skin blistering with the force of the glare she sends his way, and he grins brightly, knowing that she’ll see it even with his face in shadow.

She goes straight for the high table without taking a detour to exchange venomous insults or turn him into a toad. Jaskier watches, annoyed, as she confers with the lord of the keep briefly before withdrawing with him to a private room. Infuriatingly enough, she probably didn’t even need to enchant him for it. Jaskier huffs, and turns his attention back to his music.

He’s resting his fingers and enjoying a well-deserved tankard of ale and an idle flirtation with one of the pretty serving-maids, when they reappear. Lord Windham appears grim, and not at all as though he’s just had a lust-drunk tumble with a pretty sorceress, and Jaskier’s heart sinks.

It’s serious, then.

Yennefer drops onto the bench beside him without warning, like a very elegant omen of death, and fixes poor Molly the serving-maid with a glare.

“Leave,” she says shortly. Molly obeys without so much as a glance at Jaskier, which is insulting but typical.

“Thanks for that,” Jaskier says, reaching for his drink. “Would you like to break my lute, too, while you’re at it?”

“Anyone with ears would thank me.”

“You’re in fine form this evening.”

“I haven’t the time or the patience for you right now, bard,” Yennefer says, her tone turning the title into an insult. She signals for a drink, and swallows half of it down in one go while Jaskier watches, bemused.

“And yet here you are.”

“It’s not my idea, believe me.”

“That, I believe. Whose was it?”

“By all the fucking gods, you are a fool.” She downs the rest of her drink. “Nilfgaard’s forces will be here within the week. Windham at least has the brains to evacuate before then; I’m staying to help defend the pass. You can stay here, and likely die, or you can go with the rest of them and meet your idiot witcher at Tergaron Keep six leagues west of here. It’s your choice.”

Jaskier gapes at her, and even after several moments the only thing he can think of to say is, “Since when is he my idiot witcher?”

“I’ve ceded my claim.”

“So? He doesn’t want to see me. He’s made that very clear.” Jaskier glares down at his beer, wishing there were more of it. “You’re the one he wished for, whether you want him or not.”

“Don’t be stupid, bard,” Yennefer says, almost fondly, and pats his arm with one soft hand edged with lightning. “Get out of here. I have work that needs doing, and I’m sure you do as well.”

She rises before he can retort, and indeed, the feast has devolved into a bustle while Jaskier was distracted, dishes cleared away and tense chatter as the servants begin to herd everyone out of the room.

The evacuation is a fairly orderly affair, all things considered, mostly because Yennefer got them enough advance warning that they’re not piling what they can carry on their backs and fleeing willy-nilly into the wilderness. Within two days, the keep is packed up, the nonessential staff and all the civilians heading out in a slow-moving train. Mercifully, the deep chill of winter hasn’t yet fully set in and it’s only a day’s journey to their destination, a well-guarded but strategically indifferent keep tucked in between a pair of hills. As long as the pass holds, they’ll be safe; if it doesn’t, they’ll be no worse off there than anywhere else. Jaskier is happy enough to avoid the fighting in any case, but he’s not particularly looking forward to seeing Geralt again, no matter what Yennefer said. No matter what his stupid yearning heart wants. He was hoping to have recovered enough to be coolly aloof when their paths finally crossed again, but the moment he leads his little donkey toward the stables and sees a broad back and an unmistakable spill of silver hair, he knows that won’t happen.

It’s not as though he could ever outdo Geralt when it comes to being coolly aloof, in any case.

He manages to avoid Geralt for most of the rest of the day, but then it’s nightfall, and the hall is filled to the brimming with tired, frightened people, and Jaskier isn’t so hard-hearted as to turn down calls for a cheering tune.

He sees Geralt’s head jerk up when he hops up onto a table, calling, “All right, all right, you’ve convinced me! What shall I play?”

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher!” calls out one voice, predictably, and several others take up the cry.

Jaskier makes a face. He ought to have expected it, really; even this far north his name is well-known. And, well. Let it never be said that Julian Alfred Pankratz could pass by an opportunity to be utterly petty. He strums the familiar introduction, then fixes his eyes on Geralt as he starts to sing.

When a humble bard

Graced a ride along

With Geralt of Rivia

Along came this song—

Geralt slams out of the room before he reaches the chorus. Which was also to be expected, but it makes his stomach knot miserably. He makes it through the end of the song, and the half-dozen that follow, with hard-won professional composure before begging a dry throat and hopping down to cede the table to an elderly cook who turns out to have a lovely acapella voice.

Geralt hasn’t gone far, as it turns out. Jaskier finds him, predictably, in the stables, sitting in Roach’s stall with his long legs stretched out and his head bent. He appears to be repairing his armor, but Jaskier suspects that he’s actually just fiddling with it. He doesn’t look up at Jaskier’s approach.

“You know,” Jaskier says, leaning against the door of the stall. “I find myself at something of a loss, here.”

Geralt, predictably, grunts. Roach leans forward to lip hopefully at Jaskier’s pockets, and Jaskier pats her velvety nose apologetically. “I’m sorry, my love, I haven’t any treats for you. You’ll have to ask Broody over there.”

“What the fuck do you want, Jaskier?” Geralt snaps, glaring down at his armor.

“Ah, there he is,” Jaskier says, tucking his hands into his jacket so that his trembling isn’t so obvious. Geralt finally lifts his head. He looks tired, worn-down in a way that would suggest a long illness if he were anything other than what he is. It does, at least, suggest that he hasn’t been blithely gadding about while Jaskier was nursing a broken heart. Not that Geralt ever does anything blithely. Jaskier’s seen cheerier storm clouds.

It’s utterly infuriating how much he still wants to kiss the bastard.

“So,” he says. “I ran across your sorceress a few days ago. Or rather, she ran across me.”

“She’s not my anything.”

“Mm. Yes, she said something along the same lines.”

“Why are you here?” Geralt asks, but he sounds resigned now, instead of angry.

Jaskier answers him with another question. “How did Yennefer know to find me at Windham Keep?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“She wasn’t there for me, I know that. But she knew I’d be there, and I also know for damn sure that she hasn’t been keeping track of me.” He takes a breath. “But you have, haven’t you?”

“Jaskier…”

“Just answer the question and I’ll leave you alone for good.”

“Not likely,” Geralt mutters.

Jaskier puffs up, indignant. “Of the two of us, I am not the one who said that life would bless him by taking me off his hands, and then went about behind my back to--to keep tabs on me! Did you think I would trail after you like a lost lamb after you’d already made your point so clearly?”

“Have you not?”

“Oh fuck you, Geralt,” Jaskier snaps, nearly nauseous with fury and hurt, and turns on his heel to leave.

What else was he expecting, honestly? How much of his heart is he going to pour out into Geralt’s hands only to watch him toss it aside again and again?

He hears Geralt stand, and expects to feel a hand land on his arm to yank him ungently back. Instead, there’s just a heaving sigh, and Geralt says, much more quietly, “Nilfgaard has taken Cintra.”

“Yes, I know that; I’m not a complete bumpkin, thank you,” Jaskier snaps, but he pauses all the same, a formless suspicion beginning to take shape in his mind. “Your child of surprise.”

“She goes by Fiona these days.”

“So you’ve decided to stop dodging your responsibilities after all; how very noble of you. Where is she?”

“Wintering over at Kaer Morhen. I trust them to keep her safe.”

“Better than you trust yourself?”

“Jaskier,” Geralt sighs, and it sounds so tired and raw that it plucks at Jaskier’s heartstrings despite his better judgement. He knocks his fist lightly against the door frame, then turns.

“What?”

“Had I not put you off in Caingorn, you would have followed me to Cintra.”

“Well, yes, of course I…” he trails off. Then says, with slow-dawning realization, “Oh, you utter bastard.”

“I deserve that,” Geralt says, with a resigned tilt to his head.

“You deserve more than that. You deserve a drink to the face, not that I’d waste the ale.” Jaskier draws himself up, outraged again. But it’s a cleaner feeling than the bruised and baffled hurt of earlier. “You couldn’t have just said that? You couldn’t have told me—” he drops into an insulting mimicry of Geralt’s gruff voice; “Oh, Jaskier, so terribly sorry, I’m about to go do something stupidly dangerous, don’t follow me!?

“When on earth has that ever worked?” Geralt asks, which is an unfairly good point.

“You might have tried.

“I should have.” Geralt’s face twists like he’s been poisoned, and then he adds, reluctantly, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, that looked like it hurt. Did it? Is your tongue smoking from the effort of uttering one single solitary apology to your dearest friend?”

“Do you ever stop?”

“If you think you’re getting out of it that easily, you clearly haven’t met me.”

“Oh, but I have,” Geralt says. A corner of his mouth lifts slightly. He looks fond. Jaskier, fool that he is, still desperately wants to kiss him. “If it makes you feel better, Yennefer shouted at me as well.”

“Good. You could have led with an apology, to start with.”

“I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear it.”

“You vastly underestimate my appreciation for a good grovel. This barely qualifies in any case. If you wanted to do it properly, you’d be on your knees. Possibly weeping.”

“Witchers don’t weep,” Geralt says, sounding offended, which is how Jaskier knows he’s lying. He draws a breath to point that out, then lets it out messily all at once as Geralt sinks to his knees right there on the cold stone floor.

It’s not awkward; Geralt is never anything but perfectly graceful when it comes to physical things. He doesn’t even look particularly apologetic anymore. But there’s something in his golden eyes that’s even better than that: something that looks a lot like a challenge. “Better?”

“It’s a start,” Jaskier manages. His mind has just gone to about six different places, each more inappropriate than the last.

“Are you going to come here, or are you going to gape at me?”

“Now, that didn’t sound at all like an apology,” Jaskier says, but his feet are moving without his conscious direction. Geralt just watches him approach, steady and still though the floor must feel like an ice block and can’t be at all comfortable to kneel on. His chin is tilted up, his eyes unreadable. “What the fuck are you doing, Geralt?”

“Do you not know?” Geralt asks roughly. “You said you were trying to work out what pleased you. Have you?”

“You know I have, you smug bastard,” Jaskier says, and falls to the floor as well instead of tugging Geralt up. It’s as cold as he expected, and he’s less graceful about it than Geralt was, but that doesn’t matter: Geralt’s hair tangles in his fingers, and he comes willingly when Jaskier drags him in.

The kiss is clumsy, badly-angled, too rough. Geralt kisses like a starving man, too hungry for it to bother with making it good, and that sends a giddy heat through Jaskier’s body, his mouth slick, the swallowed noise that Geralt makes against his lips that sounds like a sob. Jaskier kisses him, and kisses him, holding him with one hand in his hair and the other hooked in the armhole of his jerkin, like he’d have any hope of keeping him here should Geralt take it in his head to flee.

Jaskier doesn’t think that’s going to happen this time, though. Not when Geralt is clutching his arm so tightly that he knows he’ll find bruises there the next time he disrobes.

“You have the worst possible choice of both timing and venue,” he mumbles against Geralt’s mouth, and grins, delighted, when Geralt laughs quietly.

“You kissed me,” he points out.

“What exactly did you think was going to happen when you got on your knees for me?” Jaskier asks, although he’s got a suspicion. It’s confirmed when a faint hint of color creeps into Geralt’s pale cheeks, visible only because he’s so close. “By all the gods above, it’s a public stable. Have you no shame?”

“None to speak of,” Geralt admits, and kisses him again. It’s softer this time, sweeter. Jaskier would be able to appreciate it more if it didn’t feel like his knees are about to freeze to the stone floor. “I have a room here.”

“Are you inviting me to your room?” Jaskier asks. He lets go of Geralt to stand awkwardly, knees popping, and offers a hand to Geralt. Geralt takes it and allows Jaskier to pull him upright, much more gracefully, the bastard.

“I am,” he says. “Will you come?”

“In both senses of the word, I suppose,” Jaskier says, and grins when Geralt rolls his eyes. “Of course. You and I both know I haven’t much shame either. And after?”

“After?”

Jaskier takes a breath and hopes desperately that he isn’t about to send this all crashing down about his ears. “I hear that Kaer Morhen is lovely in the spring.”

“It isn’t,” Geralt says, and eyes him with a fond, knowing look. “But you’re welcome to come see for yourself, if you’d like.”

“Fine,” Jaskier says brightly. He can’t stop smiling. “But first, to bed. Priorities, and all that.”

“Naturally,” Geralt says, dry as dust, but when Jaskier reaches for his hand he doesn’t pull away.