“There’s a festival happening tonight.”
Jaskier looked up from where he was working on his latest composition. Geralt was leaning against the doorway to his bedchambers, which Jaskier tended to use as a study as well so that he could reserve the main space for entertaining. He took a moment to set down his quill and wipe his sweaty palm on his trousers. It was almost overly warm in the room, the fire blazing at full height to fight back against the chill of his outward facing chambers. The single, tiny window above his desk ran with moisture, the frost melted away by the heat of the room.
“Yes,” he answered, turning in his plush chair to face Geralt fully, one ankle coming up to cross over his knee. “There’ll be a procession at sunset starting at the main gate, to light the lanterns. And then dancing and such in the main square. Typical Yuletide celebrations.” As he spoke, Jaskier allowed himself to observe Geralt in full, briefly sweeping a glance over his companion. It was exceptionally rare for them to spend winters together; Geralt almost always chose to spend the colder months in Kaer Morhen with his brothers, while Jaskier returned to civilization. This year they had been deep in southern Sodden when the first snows unexpectedly hit, and by the time they’d made it back to Redania they’d received word from Vesemir that the pass to Kaer Morhen was closed. Jaskier had been offered a position teaching for the winter semester, along with a fairly lucrative retainer with a local lordling, so he’d offered Geralt a place to crash while they waited for the witchering season to start up again.
The downtime suited Jaskier’s companion nicely. Geralt’s hair was pulled back into a customary knot behind his head, but it was clean and soft looking, free of dirt and monster guts. His skin shone in the firelight, and the dark circles that always seemed smudged beneath his eyes were faded after weeks of consistent rest and food. He’d taken to walking around without his armor on, content after a few days with the knowledge that Oxenfurt was populated by nothing more threatening than overenthusiastic academics. At the moment he was wearing a pair of old black trousers and a dark blue shirt that stood out against his white skin like a splash of wine on a silk tablecloth. It had cost Jaskier a small fortune, but it was worthwhile to see it clinging to Geralt’s shoulders.
He looked good. Jaskier felt his cheeks heat up as he realised he’d been staring. Snapping back to the conversation at hand, he realized that Geralt had been speaking.
“- if you wanted to.”
“Sorry, what?” Jaskier asked, blinking. Geralt rolled his eyes, used to Jaskier’s lapses in attention. The motion carried annoyance, but when his eyes fell on Jaskier again there was fondness in them.
“I asked if you’d planned on attending. Seems like the kind of thing you’d be working.” Strong arms crossed over a broad chest, stretching the dark fabric across thick biceps. Jaskier swallowed.
“Ah, well, typically I would indeed be regaling the crowds with my sonorous melodies. But considering I had company, I thought it might be better to leave myself, uh.” He cut himself off, feeling suddenly exposed in the admission. While he had taken the time off initially hoping he might be doing something with Geralt, he hadn’t truly expected the witcher to want to do more than maybe get drunk on overpriced Redanian wine. “Well. You’re here, after all,” he finished lamely.
Geralt blinked at that, something odd crossing his face before he looked away. Staring at the fire across from Jaskier, he said, “You could still go.”
Something was off about his tone - overly flat, which he only did when he was trying to muffle some kind of emotion. What it could be, Jaskier had no earthly idea. Confused, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to leave you all by yourself on Yule, Geralt. That wouldn’t make me a very gracious host! I’m entirely content to spend the evening with you here, if that’s what you would prefer.” And he was, truly. While he typically spent Yuletide amongst the people, dancing and singing and visiting with friends, he imagined it would be just as rewarding to spend the evening with Geralt, in the cramped comfort of his quarters. The two of them tipsy on ale and spirits, sitting before the fire, trading stories back and forth like they usually did on the road. Cuddled beneath a blanket, pressed up against each other despite the warmth of the hearth, drink making Geralt’s face flush as it almost never did…
Yes, Jaskier imagined he would be perfectly content to spend the evening right here.
Geralt let out a frustrated huff. “I mean, we could go. If you want. I - We should go. Together.”
It was choppy work, even for Geralt. He still refused to meet Jaskier’s gaze, staring with absolute focus at the fire. His shoulders were braced, tense as if waiting for a blow. It was baffling.
“Well, of course, if you’d like to go I’m amenable to that,” Jaskier agreed. “More than, actually. It’s great fun, you’ll see.”
Geralt finally turned to look Jaskier in the eye. A shiver traveled down his spine at the intensity there, but then again, that was how he often felt under that golden gaze. “Together,” Geralt said again.
“I wouldn’t want to go with anyone else,” Jaskier said with a dismissive wave, laughing a little. It was typical to attend the festivities with a spouse or sweetheart, but he’d not taken a paramour of any kind in several months, and nothing serious in years, if he was honest. His attention was unfortunately captured elsewhere. He spared a single moment to mourn the private evening he’d envisioned with Geralt, but he was already warming to the idea of attending the festivities. He’d already shown the witcher around Oxenfurt, but it was exciting to think of showing the city off again in a new light. Geralt had probably not attended many Yule festivals, he realized, having always spent the winters in the mountains. Something released in his chest even as his stomach dropped in disappointment as he realized Geralt probably didn’t even recognize the romantic implications of his offer.
Geralt, at least, looked relieved. The tension dropped from his shoulders, and he gave Jaskier a soft smile. Jaskier’s traitorous heart skipped in his chest, and Geralt’s grin suggested that it may have been audible. Jaskier wasn’t sure what to do with himself, hands fluttering across his desk to meaninglessly straighten papers and notes. “Good,” Geralt said, the grin softening back into that disorienting smile. “I’m assuming you’ll want to change.”
“Ah, yes, can’t very well go out in this,” Jaskier agreed, still feeling slightly unmoored.
“Of course,” Geralt said seriously, but his eyes danced with mirth. “I’ve got some things to do in the market before the stalls close. Meet you at the gate at sunset?”
“Perfection,” Jaskier said, and Geralt nodded before peeling himself off of the doorframe and disappearing into the other room. A moment later Jaskier heard the telltale sound of the exterior door opening and closing, the rusty hinges creaking. He sat for a moment in the empty room, going over the encounter in his mind and trying to determine what had made it feel so off.
“Strange,” he said to himself, and began packing up his things. He had a festival to prepare for.
Dressed appropriately in his finest woolen tunic and the thick fur lined cloak Geralt had gifted him the previous year, Jaskier set out from his abode to meet Geralt. An hour or so had passed since their conversation, and the sun was lying low and languorous on the edge of the horizon. Its dying light rippled across the Pontar where it split around the island, the light layer of snow that covered the landscape transformed into gold dust. Already he could see the crowd gathering on the far side of the bridge, led by the priestess of Melitele, returning from the temple outside of the city. Jaskier stood inside the city gates, scanning the faces around him for familiar features.
After a few moments he saw him - highlighted against the backdrop of the setting sun, his hair turned to fiery gold in the dying light. Geralt smiled when they made eye contact, and immediately began to push his way through the crowd towards Jaskier. He too had dressed for the weather, his own wool cloak muffling his form. As he stepped into Jaskier’s space, he said, “You ready?”
Jaskier had the feeling that he didn’t know exactly what he should be ready for, but he nodded anyway. “They’re just beginning,” he said, waving towards the group approaching on the bridge. It was slow going, the procession stopping every few meters to wait while the priestess lit the lanterns lined up along the walls. They would be at it for the next hour at least, making their way around the circumference of the city to light the protective lanterns and then returning to the bridge, where the large crowd would release their own floating lanterns to carry their prayers for the new year to Melitele.
“There’s music in the square,” Geralt said, and Jaskier could just barely hear it as well. Normally he would be amongst the performers, but tonight he was there as the audience.
“The flutist is off key, I can tell already,” he said with a grin, though he could hear no such thing from this distance. Geralt huffed out a laugh and took Jaskier’s arm, just above the end of his glove. Geralt’s fingers were bare, his witcher metabolism keeping him warm enough without them, and they were a cold shock against the skin of Jaskier’s wrist. He let himself be led into the square, which was packed with people. Tables had been set up with food and drink around the edges, while the far side was dominated by a low stage. In the center, couples and groups danced, circling each other in common folk movements. The tune was jaunty and fun, a lively song to help fight back against the dark that threatened the edges of the gathering. Defiant in the best of ways.
“I don’t suppose you know any of the local dances?” Jaskier asked, already knowing the answer. Geralt confirmed it with a shake of his head. “Well then be a dear and get us some ales, hmm? We can still watch.”
Geralt, for once, did as he was bid without comment, probably just as interested in the alcohol as Jaskier was. He found them a spot to stand near the mouth of an alley, where he hoped the noise of the crowd would be a bit reduced. Geralt was sometimes bothered by the bustle and murmur of a large group of people.
Geralt rejoined him shortly, offering him a mug of mulled wine. Jaskier took a grateful sip, feeling the hot liquid settle in his gut and warm him from the inside out. It was very good - spicy and strong, just how he liked it. Geralt hummed appreciatively when he took his own drink.
They stood watching for a while, Jaskier making the occasional snide comment about a bad dancer or an overplayed tune if he thought it would make Geralt laugh. And it did, more often than not; Geralt was open and affectionate this evening, leaning down to whisper conspiratorially in Jaskier’s ear as they watched a couple sneak away from the dancefloor. Jaskier laughed into his glove, quickly beginning to feel light and soupy from the drink.
“I know this one,” Geralt said suddenly, drawing his attention back to the band. It was a slightly slower song, a couple’s dance. Bright gold eyes turned in Jaskier’s direction. “Want to dance?”
Jaskier gaped. “With you?”
Geralt’s eyebrow quirked upwards, betraying only exasperation. “Don’t see anyone else here making an offer.”
“Well, you - I - Alright,” he said, finally, swallowing his confusion. Geralt offered a hand, and Jaskier accepted.
They moved out towards the dancers, Jaskier feeling his heart rise in his throat. When they reached the edge of the pack, Geralt turned and gave Jaskier a short bow, overly formal for the setting. With an incredulous laugh, Jaskier returned the motion, and when he raised his head again Geralt was in his space, hands coming up to rest lightly on his waist.
It shouldn’t have been able to take his breath away so easily, but it did.
The motions of the dance were simple, basic circular pathways as they stepped out and back in together. Their hands never parted, but every time the steps pulled them apart Jaskier found himself missing Geralt’s warmth beside him. Slowly, the tempo picked up speed, until they were twisting and whirling around without pause. When the song ended, Jaskier was panting for breath. Geralt looked winded himself, though his chest rose and fell at the same rate it always did.
They made their way off the dance floor once again, ceding their spot to another couple. Geralt’s arm curled around Jaskier’s waist and he leaned into the touch, feeling more drunk than he should be. “You’re good at that, witcher,” he said, accusatorily. “I could have been taking you dancing all this time! How many balls have we been to?”
Geralt flushed faintly, the color staining his ears a fetching red. “The Wolf witchers use techniques that are similar to some dances,” he said. “The pacing, some of the moves, are familiar.”
“I’m never going to let this go,” Jaskier warned as they shuffled back towards the mouth of their alleyway. “You’re going to have to dance with me at every festival, ball, and banquet we ever attend from now on.”
Geralt smirked at him. “I don’t know that I mind.”
And what was that supposed to mean? Jaskier felt a flush spread down his cheeks, his throat, even his chest felt warm. Geralt didn’t mind dancing? Or didn’t mind dancing with Jaskier? Panicked, he said, “I’m going to get us more drinks!”
By the time he returned with more warm wine, he had managed to wrestle his emotions back into place. He passed Geralt one of the mugs, giving him a wide grin that he hoped would cover for his accelerated heartbeat.
As they drank, Jaskier found himself at a loss for words. He was happy to be here, truly. It was always enjoyable to spend time with the object of his affections, but at the same time, he felt something cold settling in his stomach that the wine could not touch. He glanced at Geralt out of the corner of his eye, watching the other man observe the dancers. His hair was in slight disarray from the dancing, his cheeks still slightly flushed, and Jaskier wanted him so badly it felt like a wound. He wished he could lace their fingers together as other couples around the square were. Wished he could sit in Geralt’s lap and feed him sweetmeats and honey cakes as the festivities melted away around them. It was difficult to be so close, and yet so far from what he actually desired.
Geralt glanced over at him, and something in Jaskier’s face must have betrayed his sudden turn into maudlin, because he didn’t look away. “Should we go?” Geralt asked, concern drawing his brow together.
Jaskier cursed himself, plastering on another smile. “No, no, dear heart, I’m enjoying myself plenty. The lanterns will probably be lit soon, don’t you think? Maybe we should go find ourselves a spot before the crowd arrives.”
Geralt nodded, still looking a bit worried. It was flattering, that he was clearly concerned about whether Jaskier was having a good time, but it only made him feel more wistful. Not looking to see if his friend was following, Jaskier began to pick his way out of the square, doing his best not to jostle any of the other partygoers. Geralt dogged him like a shadow, and they both emerged some minutes later in the silvery moonlight of the river walk.
Already Jaskier could see the bridge, some ways away to their left, dotted with lantern lights. The procession had made its way back. He stepped up to the edge of the river, leaning against the low wall that held the city back from its edge. Geralt stayed a step or two behind him, arms crossed against the chill. “This will be a good spot,” Jaskier said, leaning over the railing to point. “They’ll release them there, so we should be able to see them as they go up.”
“They do this every year?” Geralt asked, voice a low rumble. Now away from the noise of the crowd, it shook Jaskier’s bones.
He nodded. “For the last, hmm, thirty years, I think? The lanterns carry wishes, you see, requests for Melitele. They go up into the heavens, and when they come down they carry her blessing. So they say.”
“Hmm,” Geralt replied. They stood together in silence as the little pinpricks on the bridge became a sea of candlelight, and slowly, one by one, began lifting up into the air. Soon the sky was awash with golden sparks, hovering above them.
Jaskier leaned against the wall, watching the lanterns make their way skyward. “Wish I’d thought to make one ahead of time,” he said wistfully, watching their lights twinkle in the darkness. “I didn’t know we’d be -” He turned to look at Geralt, who was rummaging around in his bag. “What are you doing?”
With a triumphant huff, Geralt found what he was looking for. He presented it to Jaskier with a sheepish looking grin, an unusually bashful look for the witcher. In his palm was a small square of paper and wood, maybe half the size of the other lanterns being set loose from the bridge. “I found someone selling them earlier,” he said, setting the little thing on the ledge of the wall in front of them. “Thought you might want to join in.”
Jaskier clapped his gloved hands together, delighted. “Oh, it’s just adorable,” he said, feeling his grin pull at his cold cheeks. He picked the thing up, cradling it delicately in his cupped hands. The paper sides were decorated with a floral pattern - tulips, or maybe buttercups. Jaskier reached forward towards Geralt. “Would you light it for me?”
Geralt reached out and snapped, the clean sound cutting through the still air. Immediately the paper in Jaskier’s hands began to warm, the little lantern glowing merrily. Carefully, Jaskier made his way to the edge of the river wall and leaned over the side, letting the lantern rest on his flat hands as it grew lighter. After a moment, it lifted gently off of his palms and started to drift skywards.
Geralt stepped up to join him, their shoulders pressing together as they leaned against the railing, watching their little lantern float up to join the sea of others. A wave of golden light blanketed the city, giving the river an otherworldly glow as it reflected the sky. Jaskier sighed happily, allowing Geralt’s constant warmth to wash over him. He turned to comment on the spectacle, but his words died on his lips as he found Geralt already looking at him. The warmth of the lanterns reflected in his eyes as well, making them glow with their own light in the darkness. Jaskier’s breath caught in his throat, his cheeks warming.
“This was nice,” Geralt said, his voice pitched low. The rumble of it sent a shiver up Jaskier’s spine. They were so close together, and Jaskier found himself turning into Geralt’s heat like a flower to the sun.
“Y-yes,” he stuttered, a beat too late. “It’s always a pleasure to spend an evening with you, my friend.”
Geralt hummed, a distracted noise, and lifted his bare hand up to Jaskier’s jaw. “Oh,” Jaskier said, surprise and confusion and clamouring hope blossoming in his chest, and then Geralt was kissing him.
It was a chaste little thing, but Jaskier felt himself light up at the touch. His own hands came up to grasp Geralt’s hips, the gloves or the shock making him clumsy. Geralt hummed again, a wickedly satisfied sound that made Jaskier shudder embarrassingly. He tasted like mulled wine and cinnamon, the taste lingering on Jaskier’s lips as they pulled away.
He stared at Geralt for a moment before clearing his throat. “What, erm. What was that for?”
Geralt gazed at him fondly, a thumb skating over Jaskier’s cheekbone. He knew it must be warm to the touch. “I wanted to,” he said, shrugging. “And it’s the customary way to end a romantic outing, I’m told.”
Jaskier blinked at him. “Romantic outing?”
Geralt’s head tilted to the side, giving Jaskier a confused look. “What did you think this was?”
“Oh,” Jaskier said again. “Oh!” He pulled a hand away from Geralt’s side to slap over his own forehead, feeling both extraordinarily foolish and giddy. “God’s above, this was a date?”
Geralt’s expression shuttered slightly, and his fingers slipped from Jaskier’s cheek to his shoulder. “You didn’t realize.”
Jaskier leaned forward, desperate to wipe the nervous look from Geralt’s face. He wrapped his own hands around Geralt’s neck, squeezing the base of his skull slightly. “I’m sorry, dearest, I didn’t, but I am delighted. Ecstatic, overjoyed, elated, euphoric, exultant -”
Geralt laughed, cutting him off. “Alright, I get it. You’re happy.”
“More assuredly so,” Jaskier agreed, grinning. He felt lighter than he had in years, floating on a bubble of joy. “Though I will say, we will probably need to go on another ‘romantic outing’ to be sure we do it right. I won’t have our first real date be one I wasn’t even aware of.”
Geralt leaned back in, his lips ghosting over Jaskier’s. The bard shivered, anticipation making his breath come faster. “I don’t know that I would mind that either,” he said, and then his lips found Jaskier’s once again. Jaskier laughed into the kiss, and knew that there would be many more chances for the perfect date to come.