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Once Upon a Wine

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Jaskier knows drinking with Yennefer is a terrible idea, but she did supply the wine, and it's very good wine, and Geralt is off hunting a...something-or-other with big teeth that spits poison or something, Jaskier wasn't paying very much attention because Geralt always grumps about Jaskier following him anyhow, so Jaskier and Yennefer really don't have anything to do but drink and snipe at each other. And somehow, three or four or six goblets of wine along, sniping turns into grousing about Geralt, the big emotionally-constipated arse, and how he’s all gruff and grumpy and grumbly and...other things starting with gr...and then he turns around and does something so damn sweet that it takes Jaskier’s breath away. It isn’t fair.

Yennefer blinks at him with the owl-like concentration of the very drunk - this is very good wine - and grins. “You’re in love with him!” she says, pointing vaguely in Jaskier’s direction, finger wobbling a bit as she tries to aim it properly.

“I am not!” Jaskier squawks. “No no no, I am most definitely not in love with him, even if he is ridiculously honorable and good-looking and clever and funny and unrelentingly sweet and - ah fuck, I’m in love with him.”

“Hah!” Yennefer says, and sways. Jaskier reaches out to catch her before she can spill the wine, and ends up sort of toppling over onto her lap. It’s a very nice lap.

“I...can’t be in love with him,” Jaskier slurs. “Nope. Terrible idea. He’s all…” he waves a hand vaguely. “Not interested,” he finishes, a little sadly. “He likes girls. Women. Yes.”

“You’re an idiot, bard,” Yennefer says, and Jaskier thinks she maybe means to shove his head off her lap but she gets distracted and starts petting his hair instead. “He’s fucking gone on you. Always - what’s the word - thing, tree, thing. Pining!”

“Bullshit,” Jaskier mumbles. What the hell was in that wine? And how much has he had anyhow?

“Nope,” Yennefer says. “I’ll - I’ll prove it.”

“Can’t,” Jaskier says, burying his face in the soft fabric of her skirts. “Isn’t true.”

“Is,” Yennefer insists. “An’ you’re pining too, like a - like a maiden! Hah! That’s it! You can be the damsel. Yes.” There’s an odd sparkly feeling happening behind Jaskier’s eyes, all purple and pretty. “Y’ can have - have all the stories - till he kisses you.”

There’s an odd shivery feeling like Jaskier’s just been dipped in ice water, and then Yennefer slumps down and pillows her head on his back, and Jaskier decides that the right thing to do, just now, is probably to pass out. So he does.

*

When Geralt arrives back at the inn he finds two unconscious bodies slumped across one of the long benches against the wall, both snoring gently in their drunkenness. One such figure would have been understandable, the norm really, but both of them in one place? Geralt knows that his two best friends are nothing but trouble on an individual basis and seeing them together (and neither one strangled yet) can only mean one thing: something terrible is about to happen or already has happened. To Geralt, probably.

He breathes deeply and thanks Melitele for the fact that he’d thought to rinse himself, his clothes, and his armor of Archespore guts in the stream before re-entering civilization. The lack of gore on his person means he’s free to scoop Yen over one shoulder and Jaskier over the other. He’s free to haul them both up the rickety stairs to their respective rooms without getting yelled at in the morning for soiling any expensive, already decently rumpled silks (not that Yen couldn’t just magic them clean again but she’d much prefer a good row to start the day, another reason their romance had come to a timely end).

He deposits Jaskier onto the bed of their shared room with gentleness but little ceremony and goes to tuck Yennefer into her separate, slightly larger room across the hall. He takes care in removing her shoes and pulling the blanket up to her shoulders, not wanting to wake her and experience her drunken, magical ire. Once upon a time he may have stayed a moment longer to admire the sorceress’s long, flowing black hair and the way it splays artfully across any given pillow. He may have once noted her gorgeous red lips, the fan of her dark lashes, and her carefully shaped brows; but no longer. As soon as he’s sure that she won’t roll out of bed and go crashing into the wobbly nightstand or onto the floor, he returns to his own room and begins to remove his armor.

Jaskier is still laying in a pile of limbs atop the thin wool blanket provided by the innkeep, his face half-buried in the bed’s only pillow. What if he can’t breathe properly? The thought crashes into the witcher like fresh snow-melt water into an empty stomach. Geralt pauses the process of disrobing, his armor already piled carefully next to his pack, and crosses the room urgently. He rolls the bard onto his back and tugs him towards the front edge of the bed. The witcher tucks the sheet tightly around his friend’s shoulders and bites back a longing sigh when his fingertips brush against soft, warm skin in the process. Geralt moves a few stray locks of Jaskier’s feathery brown hair away from his closed eyes and lets his fingertips drag ever-so-lightly down the bard’s cheek.

If I were to come across another djinn, I’d only make one wish: that I could touch him like this when he was awake without driving him from my side. Geralt pauses his caresses to shake the thought from his head. He’d never force anyone to stay with him against their will again; there lies the beauty of Jaskier’s presence, after all. The sunny bard has chosen to stay at the witcher’s side. He’s chosen to put himself in danger, to be ridiculed by villagers far below his status, and - and he’s chosen to leave a life of luxury to follow Geralt across the Continent. And Geralt hasn’t even taken him to Kaer Morhen yet, still too afraid to let the kind-hearted human see him at his most free and talkative. Too scared to lose him to one of his brothers, whose lives are just as exciting as his own and whose personalities might meld more brightly with the bard’s than Geralt’s ever had before.

He can picture Jaskier walking the path with Eskel, trading stories in soft voices over the flames of a campfire at night. Perhaps Eskel, the gentlest of the Wolf witchers, will give Jaskier all the horrible details of his kills or offer kind and supportive advice on the lyrics of the bard’s newest ballad. Eskel’s magical prowess is far greater than Geralt’s and maybe that will fascinate the bard more than any Hmm or half-told story. He can see them smiling at each other, caring for one another; his brother has never been one to hold back physical affection when he deems it appropriate.

Lambert’s wit is biting and his tongue is sharp. The two of them could trade insults and witty rebukes day-in and day-out. Would that tire Jaskier out or invigorate him? Geralt wonders, the back of his knuckles dragging feather-light along the pale column of Jaskier’s neck. He tells himself he’s checking for fever or an elevated heartbeat from Yen’s magically-enhanced wine, but he knows it to be a lie. The caress is merely an urge he cannot contain in his exhausted, post-hunt state. He rolls his shoulders and pulls his hand back to his side, admonishing himself for allowing such thoughts to cross his mind at all. Jaskier has always been his bard and Geralt is, despite his status as an outcast and his lack of attachment to most worldly things, a selfish witcher when it comes to Jaskier’s presence in his life.

He sighs again and settles into a comfortable kneel a few feet away, keeping near the fire for warmth. The distance between them is wide enough to stave off any possible odd looks come morning but small enough that Geralt can hear the bard’s heart beating loud and healthy in his frail human chest. The witcher settles in to meditate with that strong, steady beat echoing through his head, thoughts of the bard’s sleeping face and gently parted lips the last thing he acknowledges before sinking into focused darkness.

*

Jaskier wakes up with a head that feels rather as though it’s been used as a kickball by a horde of small children, and a mouth that tastes like a mouse has died in it. He lies quietly, keeping his eyes closed, and thinks baleful thoughts about trying to out-drink sorceresses and their evil magic wine. The next time Yennefer offers to share her evil magic wine with him, Jaskier is going to...to...thank her and take a goblet, probably. Geralt might possibly have a point when he says Jaskier hasn’t got much of a self-preservation instinct.

He cracks one eye open and groans at the light lancing into his brain. Somewhere off to one side, someone chuckles.

“If you sit up, there’s water and willowbark tea,” Geralt says.

Jaskier puts a hand over his eyes and shoves himself slowly and painfully into a sitting position, then reaches out blindly, groping at thin air until Geralt presses the handle of a mug into his hand. He drains the tea in three long gulps, only scalding his mouth a little bit because Geralt knows him very well and has provided lukewarm tea to keep him from hurting himself.

Jaskier would write a song about how considerate and kind the White Wolf is, but a) Geralt would probably kill him, and b) no one would believe him, and c) songs about the White Wolf being soft don’t sell nearly as well as songs of his heroics.

Jaskier could still write it, of course, and just sing it quietly to himself on the road. Geralt never really listens to Jaskier’s composing, as far as Jaskier can tell - if he did, he’d have long since twigged to how desperately in love with him Jaskier is.

“You’re a blessing, darling,” Jaskier informs his companion, waggling the empty mug until Geralt takes it and replaces it with a cup of cool water. “Oh, all the gods bless you, you wonderful man, I will sing your praises the length and breadth of the continent -”

“You do that already,” Geralt grumbles.

Jaskier takes his hand away from his eyes so he can glare at his witcher. “And it makes you a great deal of money,” he says, as haughtily as he can manage. Geralt just hums. Infuriating, adorable man.

They’re on the road again by midmorning, Yennefer having portaled away, leaving behind the smell of lilacs and gooseberries and a note informing Jaskier that he is a ridiculous lush, an insult he reacts to with all appropriate dignity - by which he means squawking and flailing and stammering indignation just for the pleasure of seeing the tiny quirk at the corner of Geralt’s lips that means as much as a belly laugh from any other man.

Jaskier starts to sing once his headache has properly faded, scales first just to warm up and then a quick little tune that’s been bothering him for weeks. He’s about to segue into a longer work, maybe the next ballad he’s going to write about Geralt’s exploits, when a little brightly-colored bird comes flitting down and lands on the end of his lute.

Jaskier stops singing in surprise, and the bird chirps and flies away again. Odd, certainly, but maybe it thought his doublet was a flower? Which is sort of flattering, when he thinks of it that way! He starts singing again, a little louder than before, and after about a verse, another pair of little birds come down and start flitting about his head.

Well, they’re not doing any harm.

Neither is the rabbit that starts following them, nor the deer which steps out of the woods and begins keeping pace with him in the long grass beside the road, nor the butterflies which decide to come and perch on his hair. Jaskier stops walking and peers up at the fluttering wings he can just barely see - he certainly can’t feel the weight of the tiny insects - and when he looks down again, there are three more rabbits and a family of fieldmice all clustered around his boots, and two more deer peering out of the forest, and half a dozen birds perched on the end of his lute examining the tuning pegs with their beady little eyes.

Geralt reins Roach around and eyes Jaskier with deep suspicion. “What the fuck.”

“You know, I’m not entirely sure,” Jaskier says, and out of a sort of morbid curiosity, launches into a maudlin love ballad which isn’t technically about Geralt but definitely is about a beautiful maiden with skin as white as snow and eyes like molten gold, who denies the singer any sign of her love save for a single kiss as he lies dying at her feet.

The rabbits dance along.

Jaskier and Geralt both stare at the rabbits. Geralt’s eyebrows start to rise, and only keep rising as the birds launch themselves off Jaskier’s lute and begin to flit along with the rabbits, dipping in and out of their dance; when the fieldmice hop onto the rabbits’ backs and begin doing their own little dances, Jaskier decides this has gone quite far enough and brings the tune to a swift conclusion.

About ten seconds after he stops playing, all the animals appear to realize that they’re out on the road with two humans - or, well, human-adjacent people - and flee into the woods and the underbrush again as fast as they can.

“That’s...new,” Geralt says at last.

“Very, very new,” Jaskier agrees fervently. “I have no idea what that was about.”

“Try singing something else,” Geralt suggests.

Jaskier shrugs and starts to play Toss a Coin, because why not, and he hasn’t gotten past humble bard when the birds are back, gamboling about him like they haven’t a care in the world. By silver-tongued devil the rabbits have re-appeared, and by army of elves so have the deer.

Jaskier stops singing, and watches the animals scamper away again. “So,” he says after a moment. “This could be a problem.”

“Could make hunting easier,” Geralt says after a long moment.

“Geralt!” Jaskier gasps. “They’ve come to admire my singing! How could you suggest slaughtering my audience?”

“For dinner?” Geralt’s tone is dry as dust, and he nudges Roach back into motion. Jaskier trots to catch up, falling into step beside the horse while still squawking with indignation - he’s gotten good at that, these past few years - and begins playing something wordless and cheerful. Apparently just playing isn’t enough to bring woodland creatures to play about his feet, so he can practice that at least.

But Jaskier catches Geralt throwing worried glances down at him every few paces, and he can’t blame the witcher: attracting animals is going to become a problem pretty quickly, unless they can figure out what the hell is going on and fix it.

Maybe Yen’s magic wine did something odd? Or maybe it’s just the animals around this area -

“Geralt,” Jaskier demands, “sing!”

“What?”

“Well, it might just be singing, not me,” Jaskier insists, trying hard to conceal his glee at the idea that the witcher might actually do something Jaskier has been dreaming of for ages. Geralt’s got a lovely voice, deep and rough, and it would sound beautiful raised in song.

Geralt glares at him. “No.”

“Come on, Geralt, for science! You know it’s important to test all the possibilities so you know what the real problem is! You wouldn’t go into a hunt without scouting everything, would you now? No, you would not, because you are a sensible witcher who doesn’t just go charging into danger wildly.”

Geralt rubs his forehead. “Jaskier,” he sighs, “shut up.” Jaskier pouts - but only briefly, because Geralt sighs deeply, sounding incredibly put-upon, and begins, very quietly, to sing.

It’s an old tune - old enough that the words are in a dialect no one speaks anymore - and a gentle one, suited to a singer without any practice. Geralt sings only one brief stanza, just enough to prove that the woodland creatures do not come out to gambol at his voice. And Jaskier stares up at his witcher and falls even more desperately and hopelessly in love.

*

Geralt feels nothing but relief when the woodland creatures cease following the bard as they plod their way from one town to the next, but it makes him wary that his singing didn’t bring them out of the woods. If Jaskier’s voice can summon animals, is he no longer human? Is he dangerous? Is he in danger? His medallion hasn’t given him anything to work with and if there’s one thing Geralt hates most, it’s not knowing what to expect or what’s going on. This instance is no different and it’s making him irritable already.

He takes a deep breath in through his nose; the bard doesn’t smell any different except for the lingering scent of Yennefer’s perfume from where they were snuggled together on the bench. It must have rubbed off on the porous silk of Jaskier’s doublet or stuck to his fluffy bird’s nest of brown hair. No matter how it got there, Jaskier’s normally sunny, happy scent has been tainted with lilac and gooseberries since Geralt found them tangled together and asleep.

It’s oddly quiet without his noisy companion’s usual singing and chatting. The lute music Jaskier is practicing now is lilting and soft, soothing to some degree, but it’s not right. It’s not normal. It’s not… it’s not Jaskier. An unfamiliar crawling, creeping sensation spreads like wildfire beneath Geralt’s skin and sets him fidgeting atop Roach.

“What’s wrong?” Jaskier asks. His eyebrow is raised comically but his gaze carries nothing but genuine concern.

“Nothing.”

The bard rolls his eyes and stops strumming the lute, slinging it over his shoulder instead. The itchy discomfort of near-silence gets worse and Geralt glares at the road ahead. He may tease the bard for his obnoxious tendencies but without his singing to brighten the early afternoon everything feels off and it has the witcher more on edge than usual.

“If you were to lay your gaze upon some hapless traveler, Geralt my darling, they would burst into flame and turn to ash immediately!”

“Hmm?”

“Really, dear heart, how long have we been doing this little song and dance, no pun intended? Tell me about all the nasty little things that are bothering you and perhaps I will cease to be one of those things.”

“Doubt it.”

This particular comment receives a short, sharp, overly-indignant squawk in reply. “Rude! Absolutely, positively, terribly rude! If we were at court I would have you locked away for such a grievous insult to my honor and personage.”

“It could be argued that I was raised by wolves,” Geralt adds dryly. He smirks in a way that he knows will irritate Jaskier. “Technically.”

“Well that’s no excuse for such comments,” the bard grumbles. He doesn’t resume strumming his lute after their short conversation and Geralt feels his pulse pounding away at his temples. He can’t stop thinking about the heat of the sun on his black armor, the high-pitched and insistent chirping of the birds grates against his eardrums, the fluttering of every insect and leaf in the breeze batters at him and his breathing begins to grow erratic.

“Geralt, really,” Jaskier sounds exceedingly concerned. “Tell me what’s wrong. Please.”

“I miss your voice,” he admits. “The Path is too quiet without your… blabbering and warbling.”

“That was close enough to being a compliment that I will happily accept it. Thank you, Geralt. Shall I try to brighten your dreary, sullen mood once more with my dulcet voice?”

“That didn’t work out so well last time, did it, bard?”

“Hmm, perhaps not,” Jaskier frowns.

“I don’t want you singing and bringing a baby wyvern or archgriffin out of the woods. I’m not prepared.”

“Fair enough. We could try to have a conversation?” the bard suggests. Geralt wonders why Jaskier’s tone sounds so doubtful and slightly forlorn when he voices his idea. The witcher glances down from his seat in Roach’s saddle and notices, not for the first time but with newfound clarity, the slump in Jaskier’s shoulders when he offers up conversation as a way to pass the time. He seems almost exhausted underneath his sunny smile; the crow’s feet that crop up around his eyes aren’t even close to being genuine and Geralt’s slow-beating heart lurches painfully against his ribcage as if scolding him. Jaskier waves his hand in a wide, swooping motion and shakes his head with a little laugh. “Sorry, that was a silly suggestion. Nevermind me. Must be the heat getting to my head. You know how delicate my constitution can be.”

“Jaskier,” the witcher begins, “What did you and Yen talk about the other night?”

The bard blushes and stumbles a bit before recovering his footing. He coughs into his hand and begins to gesture wildly again, a little more frantically this time, “Oh you know, enemy things. Friend things. Fashion and art and poetry and wine!”

“You certainly had enough to drink. I had to carry you both back up to bed.”

“Well we shouldn’t be left alone to our own devices now, should we?” Jaskier argues. He sounds calm but he smells like panic and something else and that ever-present lingering of lilac and gooseberries. It really should have faded by now, Geralt thinks. Jaskier continues: “We’re too chaotic to be in public unattended.”

“Like children.”

“I am offended by that statement. I want you to know, Geralt of Rivia, that I am officially and quite righteously offended.”

“Stay that way if you like,” the witcher sniffs. “Doesn’t bother me.”

Jaskier rolls his eyes good-naturedly and begins to whistle instead, his eyes gleaming with mirth after their affectionate bickering. He runs through Toss a Coin twice, then some song about Skelligan mermaids, and yet another ditty called All Around My Hat, which the bard swears by during summer festivals. Geralt prefers Jaskier’s repetitive whistling to the itchy silence, even if it is a bit shrill.

It goes on like that for the next day or so of travel. No singing, just some playing and some whistling. Geralt feels like he’s going mad; he misses the bard’s voice. His singing voice. The warm, swaying tones that let him clear his head enough to meditate in Roach’s saddle. Whatever has enchanted the animals in these woods, Geralt would like to be clear of it as soon as possible.

*

Jaskier is immensely relieved when they reach the next village, late in the afternoon, and doesn’t really think about the possible problems with their usual routine until he’s halfway through dickering with the innkeeper for half-price rooms and meals on the house in return for his own performing that night.

It’s going to be hard to perform if he can’t sing.

But surely it was just a very strange patch of woodland, or something - there aren’t any adorable forest creatures here to come and dance along with his songs. Surely it will be fine. Geralt would have been able to tell if there was something truly dangerous going on, after all. This will be absolutely fine and there is nothing to worry about.

All the same, he’s just as glad that there isn’t actually any work for Geralt in this town, and the witcher can therefore take a place at a table far back in the shadows and watch Jaskier perform - and, more to the point, make sure nothing goes terribly wrong during the performance. It’s awfully reassuring having Geralt there, even if he is glowering like a thundercloud and bringing the whole tone of the place down.

Jaskier plays cheerful instrumental music during the dinner hour - people generally like to finish eating before the singing portion of the evening commences - and that goes well enough that he has a little collection of coppers in his hat and the delighted attention of most of the inn’s patrons, and even Geralt has stopped glowering quite so badly, though admittedly that may well have more to do with the stew - which smells amazing - and the four mugs of ale he’s already downed.

Once everyone has pretty much finished their meals, though, Jaskier takes a deep breath, crosses his toes in his boots since he can’t really cross his fingers, and launches into a bouncy, bawdy ditty that everyone knows. He has half the common room singing along before he finishes the first line, his own voice drowned out in the half-tuneful bellowing. Several patrons are stomping along with the beat, or banging their mugs on the tables, which means that it takes Jaskier all the way through the second chorus to notice that there are five mice doing a little dance around his hat on the hearth, and the inn’s cat, instead of trying to catch them, is lashing its tail in time with the beat and tapping its little paws like a nervous wallflower at her first ball.

Oh gods, it’s not just woodland creatures. This is not good. Jaskier tries frantically to catch Geralt’s eye without letting anyone else realize he’s suddenly very worried, and after far, far too long, Geralt’s frown turns from I-am-in-a-crowd-and-don’t-like-it to worried, and he gets up, moving very quietly, and edges around the room until he’s standing in the shadow of the big chimney and can see the dancing mice for himself. He’s out of Jaskier’s line of sight by then, but at least he’s nearby and can do something if the mice - turn into a chimera, or something. Start breathing fire. What do enchanted mice usually do? This is not something that has come up before, as far as Jaskier can recall, in any of Geralt’s far-too-taciturn recountings of his hunts!

If Jaskier dies of enchanted mice because Geralt didn’t tell him they could spit poison or something equally unpleasant, he’s going to haunt Geralt forever, singing vengeful songs about evil mice.

If they just keep dancing, though...they’re small, maybe no one will notice? Why would anyone be looking down, anyway, instead of at Jaskier, who is, after all, the most brightly-colored and definitely the most interesting thing in the room. It’ll be fine. He’s got Geralt right there, after all.

He sweeps into another song with gusto, and a third, and the mice keep cavorting but don’t do anything else - oh goodness, he hopes they don’t decide to leave their own “gifts” in his hat, that would be just rude, so utterly rude - and he’s beginning to think that really this night may not go so badly after all, if dancing mice are the worst he has to contend with - honestly he could maybe start claiming to be a mouse-tamer? Though it’s not really what he wants to be known for, so really it would be far better to get this spell broken as soon as possible and never have to think about dancing mice again -

And then he feels something odd on his lips as he hits a high note, and something falls from his mouth to clatter softly on the floor.

Oh gods, he hasn’t lost a tooth, has he?

Jaskier looks down and sees, resting against his hat, a small but extremely green stone, gleaming in the firelight.

He knows an emerald when he sees one.

Very warily, he sings the next line. With each word, another tiny gem goes clattering to the floor. Two emeralds, three tiny sapphires, and a ruby on the word rose.

Oh dear.

One of the nearest patrons, a big man with impressively crooked teeth, puts his ale mug down and leans forward to pick up a sapphire that has rolled to a halt beside his boot. “Hey, what -” he starts, eyes going wide.

Geralt steps forward from his place beside the chimney and puts a hand over Jaskier’s mouth. “Performance is over,” he growls.

The big man says, “It’s a fuckin’ jewel. The bard spits jewels!”

“Ah, fuck,” Geralt sighs, and picks Jaskier up, slinging him over a shoulder and drawing a sword with his other hand. Jaskier squeaks and fumbles with his lute as it dangles down past his head, catching it just in time. Geralt forges forward, and Jaskier bites his lip and tries very hard not to say anything at all.

*

Geralt makes for the edge of the woods as quickly as possible, not stopping for a moment to look behind him or second guess his path. A brief flicker of worry crosses his mind before he pushes it aside; he can sneak back for Roach in the dead of night and steal her away without anyone noticing. While he loves her dearly, Roach is not his first concern at the moment. His well-trained mare can handle herself. The bard, on the other hand…

“Are you still spitting out the Queen’s ransom back there or what?” Geralt asks, voice low with the effort it’s taking him to run with such a (surprisingly) heavy load over his shoulder. He hadn’t realized how much Jaskier had grown up and filled out over the years.

The mildly nauseous bard makes a worried, pitiful sound at the back of his throat and the Witcher slows his sprint to a lighter jog. He maneuvers his sword back into the sheath and pulls Jaskier down from his shoulder and into a bridal carry instead. It’s easier to see into his bard’s watery blue eyes from this position. It’s easier to try and reassure Jaskier, somehow, that everything will be okay in the end. That he, Geralt of Rivia, can make it all go back to normal like he always does.

“Jaskier, please,” he pants. He strains his ears but hears no footsteps following behind them. His show of force with the sword and the snarling back in the tavern had probably been pretty good deterrents. The villagers probably only followed them to the edge of the forest before giving up and heading back to drink some more. The witcher pauses running and kneels, settling Jaskier on his lap for a moment so they can both catch their breath. “There’s nobody following us. Please, say something. Anything! I need to know if the jewels only come out when you sing, or if they come out every time you speak.”

“Geralt,” the bard whines, a gorgeously cut piece of topaz slipping from between his lips. The witcher frowns. So it’s not just the singing that makes the gems fall out. Not good.

“Are you okay?” Jaskier shakes his head violently in lieu of speaking and fear pricks beneath the surface of Geralt’s skin, hotter and more dangerous than his previous irritation. The bard needs him to be calm, so he keeps his breathing even and his voice neutral: “Does it hurt?”

The bard shakes his head again, slower.

“Then what’s the point of all this nonsense? What’s happening to you, Jaskier!? Is this… are you molting? Do bards molt?”

Jaskier laughs, then. Bright and chiming and loud; Geralt’s heart lightens at this sign of hope. Maybe the bard really is okay, after all. Then, mid-giggle, Jaskier spits a pearl into his palm and the laugh fades into a grimace. “Oh no.”

A moonstone. A bit of obsidian.

“Shit,” Geralt snaps, running a hand through his disastrously messy white hair and somehow makes it worse than it already was before. Jaskier busies his hands untangling some of the knots and the soothing familiarity of the motion helps them both to think. “We need to find… we need to find Yen. We need to figure out what happened.”

Jaskier nods sadly, afraid to open his mouth again. He sighs and lets his head slump against Geralt’s shoulder; the Witcher tenses minutely but tries to keep still. Jaskier has been through a lot in the past few days and this certainly isn’t helping. And that damned smell, lilac and gooseberries, still clings to the bard’s soft hair and silken clothes. It’s really starting to bother him. He misses the way Jaskier usually smells, untainted and soft and warmly human.

“How about we rest for the night,” he suggests slowly. Carefully. He offers the words one at a time as if Jaskier might bolt into the woods, “This will be easier to figure out and investigate if we both have clear heads.’

Jaskier shrugs and goes about setting up camp. He does it silently, without doing so much as humming or whistling. The quiet is unnerving, and Geralt grimaces when that same anxious buzzing returns.

-

Geralt is endlessly glad that he waited for the moon to fully rise before going back to collect Roach or Jaskier would have likely died alone in the middle of an unfamiliar forest.

The witcher wakes to the sound of the bard’s heavy breathing, which quickly transforms into an urgent, frantic pattern of panting wheezes. Jaskier twitches and flails atop his bedroll, one hand clasping at his throat while the other scrabbles uselessly in the dirt, trying and failing to find some kind of purchase. Geralt yanks Jaskier into a sitting position and kneels behind him. He pries the bard’s mouth open with two fingers and digs his other arm into his friend’s soft gut. He squeezes and retracts his muscles against Jaskier several times, not giving up his efforts until the gem goes flying from Jaskier’s mouth and both men collapse gratefully to the ground.

Jaskier sobs as soon as he’s able, burying his face in the safety of Geralt’s shoulder and heaving one gulp of air in after the other. “F-Fuck!”

A small opal drops to the ground.

“I hate this!”

A ruby, a tiny lump of onyx, a pearl.

The witcher leaves the precious stones laying in the dirt. The most important thing right now is comforting his bard; Geralt’s hands work slow circles up and down Jaskier’s shuddering spine, calming and soothing him with every inch they pass. “Shhh, Jaskier. I’m here. I’ll keep you safe. We’ll fix this, I promise. Whatever is happening, I won’t stop until you’re okay again.”

The witcher is so busy comforting his friend that the seriousness of his own words doesn’t quite register; but he means them, deeply and truly. Jaskier falls back to sleep on Geralt’s lap, his warm forehead pressed to the witcher’s neck and his body limp from exhaustion. An hour or so later, just as Geralt is readying himself to stand and fetch Roach back from the villagers, Jaskier whispers again. Sweet, sleep-warm breath puffs against the witcher’s neck and two gorgeous, shining pieces of topaz fall into the bard's hands where they rest on his lap: “My Geralt.”

*

Jaskier wakes up to a truly appallingly sore throat and a small heap of precious gems in front of his lips. He’s propped up on a rolled-up bedroll in a rather odd position, presumably so he won’t choke on the gems as they emerge - once was definitely more than enough for that. Geralt is meditating a little distance away, but though he usually looks utterly at peace during his meditation, there’s a distinct worried crease in his forehead now.

“Geralt,” Jaskier croaks, and a single topaz falls from his mouth; he catches it and holds it up. It’s exactly the same shade as Geralt’s beautiful eyes.

Geralt rouses from meditation with a soft grunt and looks at Jaskier, frowning deeper in concern when he sees the gem in Jaskier’s hand. “Still doing that,” he observes.

Jaskier nods instead of speaking. Gods, he thought it was bad not being able to sing, these last few days - not being able to speak is going to be a special kind of torture.

Geralt builds a tiny fire and heats water for some sort of herbal tea, which tastes godsawful but does soothe Jaskier’s sore throat. “We’ve got to go find Yen,” Geralt says once he’s stamped out the little fire and packed up their bedrolls. “Or Triss.”

Jaskier nods enthusiastically, and looks down at the little heap of gems still lying on the grass, then grimaces and scoops them into his belt-pouch. They’re neither of them so well-off that they can afford to leave gems lying around just because they happen to have come from Jaskier’s mouth.

The big topaz that nearly killed Jaskier last night has rolled away a bit, and Geralt picks it up before Jaskier can reach it, and stands there looking down at it, scowling blackly. If Jaskier dared speak, he’d say something about trying to figure out if the same words produce the same gems every time, if Geralt’s name is always topaz, if any other words are topaz too. If -

He turns away from Geralt and cups a hand over his mouth and whispers a word, so softly that even a witcher oughtn’t be able to hear it. A tiny chip of stone drops into his hand, a fragment so small that he can barely see it when he looks down.

Oh. Love is topaz, too.

He turns back in time to see Geralt tuck the big topaz into one of his saddlebags, still looking grumpy about it. “Let’s go,” the witcher says. “Triss is in Vizima, she’ll know how to get in touch with Yen.”

“How far?” Jaskier asks, catching a garnet and a little shard of jet as they fall.

“Three, four days,” Geralt says unhappily.

Three or four days of not daring to talk. Jaskier is going to go mad. Geralt swings up onto Roach’s back and looks down at him with a very readable expression, for once: miserable and worried. Jaskier meets his eyes and nods, and they set off, a little faster than their usual amble. Usually, they don’t have to get anywhere fast; that’s the nice thing about Geralt’s Path, really, is it doesn’t exactly have time limits. They’ll reach the next village when they reach it, and in the meantime Jaskier talks and sings and Geralt hums and grumbles and they generally enjoy life.

But Jaskier can’t sing, and Geralt isn’t just quiet, the way he usually is, he’s furious and worried and twitchy. Jaskier makes it half the morning before he can’t bear the silence anymore, and slings his lute across his chest. His fingers aren’t producing gems, after all.

It’s a worrisome sign of how out of sorts Geralt is feeling that he doesn’t even bother to hum grumpily when Jaskier plays Toss a Coin.

Jaskier gets four songs in before he forgets himself enough to start humming along, and promptly discovers that humming creates amber, slick on his tongue before he spits it out. Fuck.

He can’t bear the quiet. Even the music of the lute isn’t enough. But he doesn’t dare talk or sing - leaving a trail of gems behind would be foolish, and having an enormous sack of gems when they get to Vizima would admittedly be useful but also attract a lot of attention Jaskier doesn’t want to deal with. He can imagine the sort of people who would be interested in a bard who speaks jewels, and he doesn’t want to encounter them.

“Geralt,” he says, catching the topaz as it arcs through the air. Geralt frowns down at him. “Talk. Please.” A sapphire and a perfect spherical diamond. Interesting. If he had a month and a private room and the assurance that nothing else would go wrong, Jaskier would be deeply tempted to read a dictionary aloud and record which gem each word created.

Geralt’s mouth twists, and for a second Jaskier thinks he will refuse, but then Geralt sighs and rubs at his forehead.

“When I was eight,” he says, and Jaskier stops playing in surprise and joy, “my brother Eskel and I caught a bumblebee the size of your head. I’ve never seen them so large anywhere but in the forests around Kaer Morhen. They’re fuzzy like cats, almost, and they don’t bother to sting even when they’re scared. Their honey isn’t good for humans; it gives strange dreams, and too much causes unconsciousness and vomiting. But the older witchers used to harvest it and make mead from it, and drink it during the winters. Said it helped them sleep. Eskel and I tied the bee to a jug, so it had to fly in circles, and Vesemir - our trainer - caught us and tanned our hides for being cruel to it. We let it go, and the next day we snuck out when we were supposed to be copying out a bestiary and brought flowers to the trees where the beehives were, as an apology. Plucked flowers don’t do much for bees, but we didn’t know that at the time. Came back covered in pollen, and one of the bees was riding on Eskel’s head and trying to groom his hair. Vesemir laughed until he fell over.”

Jaskier thinks he might die of sheer delight. He can just imagine it, tiny little Geralt - was his hair white when he was a child, too? - and his brother, who Jaskier imagines as a mirror image of Geralt but with darker hair, heaping flowers around the base of the trees in an attempt at apologizing to bees. Jaskier wants desperately to make a song of it, and knows he can’t, because Geralt’s dignity would never stand for it. But he cases his lute and moves up to walk at Geralt’s knee, staring up at him with enormous pleading eyes, and Geralt sighs deeply and keeps talking.

By the time they stop for the night, Jaskier has learned more about Kaer Morhen, and Geralt’s life on the Path before he met Jaskier, than he’s learned in the preceding years. He learns about Eskel, of whom Geralt speaks with such frank affection that Jaskier thinks he has befriended the man without ever meeting him, and of sharp-tongued Lambert, and wise old Vesemir, and a dozen others all of whom are now unfortunately dead; of more types of monsters than Jaskier will ever be able to keep straight, and how to fight them, or, it being Geralt, how to convince them to go away and stop bothering people; of which taverns across the continent have the best wine and the most consistently enjoyable games of Gwent, and which blacksmiths and silversmiths are best qualified to work on witchers’ weapons.

It is a positive gold mine of information, and Jaskier is almost grateful for the curse which is keeping his own tongue still, because without it, he knows, Geralt would never speak so much - not in a day or a week or perhaps a year.

Jaskier is going to write ever so many new songs, just as soon as he can sing again without spitting jewels the whole time - songs for Eskel and Lambert and Vesemir and the fallen witchers, too, because anyone who makes Geralt smile like that, a tiny crinkle around his eyes that only someone very well versed in stoic witcher expressions could even spot but that to Jaskier is the rough equivalent of an enormous grin, is worth writing about.

He almost doesn’t mind not speaking for an entire day.

*

Alas, Jaskier cannot stop himself from muttering in his sleep.

Geralt’s eyes are closed tightly against the dim light of the dying fire; as he meditates near the snoring bard, ears alert for any signs of distress, the witcher allows himself a moment to mourn in private. The day has been long and emotionally exhausting. Geralt hasn’t spoken to anyone of Gweld or Aubry or little Leo for decades, not even Yennefer knew those things about him and now- he sighs and shakes his head to clear it. There are so many names scattered through the halls of Kaer Morhen, so many children who had been ripped from the light of day too soon. Buried too soon. Geralt can only be grateful to not have been one of them.

He is one of the last few left alive to mourn his brothers, and he does.

After spending several long, dark hours thinking on Kaer Morhen’s fallen, Geralt allows the darkness behind his eyes to claim his busy mind as well. Both men manage to sleep peacefully for a little while before Geralt is pulled from his trance by a quiet noise. The word Jaskier murmurs is soft, spoken with such incredible tenderness that it nearly rends the witcher’s mutated heart in two right where he kneels: “Geralt.”

A teardrop of topaz slips from between Jaskier’s petal-pink lips and falls to the ground. Geralt rouses himself to full wakefulness and waits, listening intently for another whispered word like a lovesick noble holding their breath at their paramour’s keyhole. Geralt knows he shouldn’t be doing this; he knows he should close his eyes and go back to meditating like a good friend would. He should clear his mind and keep his ears attuned for sound rather than words, only paying attention when he needs to for Jaskier’s safetybut unfortunately Jaskier speaks again before Geralt can tune out. The bard forces a desperate plea through the fog of sleep: “No, please!”

A sharp sliver of obsidian drops to the ground alongside an oval diamond.

Geralt’s heart lurches in his chest and before he can stop it, one of his hands darts out to smooth the bard’s hair away from his sweaty forehead. Jaskier sighs happily at the contact and his lips quirk up, the dream changing. With his enhanced senses fully engaged, Geralt watches the way his bard’s eyes, bluer than any cornflower and brighter than any star during the daylight hours, flicker back and forth beneath their closed lids. His scent shifts from sour panic to soft, warm happiness. Instinctually, Geralt begins to hum. Nothing fancy or special, of course, just an old lullaby in a language near-dead.

Geralt chooses not to notice the way Jaskier settles into total stillness at the sound of his gravelly voice. He actively ignores the way Jaskier’s fingers twitch towards him, searching for something to hold onto. He pretends he doesn’t give in and keep his fingers intertwined with Jaskier’s for the rest of the night, as if he can ensure good dreams through physical contact alone. No, he doesn’t think about those things at all.

In the morning, oblivious to the care Geralt has taken of him overnight, Jaskier packs away his muttered riches and cleans up their campsite. He stows the small pile of gemstones in Geralt’s saddlebag this time instead of his own purse. “Afraid of bandits?” Geralt asks.

Jaskier nods.

“Don’t want to have too many on your person?”

Another nod.

“I’m sorry if I’m not very good at filling the silence,” Geralt rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. Yesterday when he was on his horse, eyes trained on the horizon and lips dry from talking so much, his memories had seemed to flow naturally from him. There was nothing stopping him from giving Jaskier every last detail; so what had changed today? What kept him from continuing his monologue as if they’d never paused to rest? He realizes what’s bothering him quickly, and tells Jaskier: “You talk in your sleep, you know.”

The bard rolls his eyes and gestures towards the now-heavy saddle bag as if to say: Duh.

“I mean you, uh, you mentioned me a few times last night. It sounded...bad.”

The bard’s face flushes and Geralt catches a faint whiff of embarrassment on the morning breeze, along with something else. The faint scent he’s been struggling to identify for days, buried beneath Yennefer’s perfume. If only the lilac and gooseberries would go away so he could figure out what was going on with his bard!

“You smell like Yen,” Geralt huffs aloud. Jaskier wrinkles his nose and makes a mildly offended sound so he hurries to explain. “It’s been stuck to you for days. Did she drool on you or something? Did you borrow her perfume?”

Jaskier laughs and shakes his head. Geralt’s frown lines deepen.

“Why, then? Usually it fades within hours but-”

The bard interrupts him by snapping his fingers and gesturing to Roach, who has literally been chomping at the bit for the last few seconds, yanking at the reins to get her foolish witcher’s attention.

“What?”

“Road,” Jaskier states, a smooth but uneven quartz falling from his mouth.

“Right, yeah,” Geralt mounts his horse and thanks Melitele that he cannot visibly blush. He’s been acting increasingly more strange and Jaskier has no doubt picked up on the odd behavior.

“Hopefully we can reach civilization before dark,” the witcher continues, trying his best to cheer his companion and settle his own busy mind. This whole episode has to be absolutely killing Jaskier. The man loves nothing more than filling the air with sound and music so this, the last day and a half of utter silence and Geralt’s rambling… it must have been torture. Geralt’s heart aches uncomfortably and he shakes the thought loose from his head. “You deserve a good night’s rest.”

Jaskier shoots him a blindingly gorgeous and utterly genuine smile that can’t mean anything other than thank you.

-

They still haven’t reached another village by the time the sun begins to set and Geralt wishes desperately that he had something to ease Jaskier’s obvious disappointment. He doesn’t have anything other than words to lift the bard’s drooping shoulders with, though, so he panics and decides: “I’m going to catch us some dinner. Stay put. Scream if you need me.”

And disappears into the woods.

Once he’s out of human earshot he begins to berate himself quietly for his awkwardness. “You idiot,” he growls. “He’s going to think you’re angry at him for all this nonsense. It’s not his fault that this is happening, surely! Scream if you need me. Geralt, you absolute bastard. After all this time, can you please pull your head out of your ass and realize that-”

He cuts himself off with a harsh gasp.

Between the realization that he loves Jaskier rather ardently and the nearly magical good fortune he’s just stumbled upon, the witcher needs a moment of silence. Ignoring the former issue, he hurries forward to gather a handful of apples from the small cluster of trees he’s managed to discover in the middle of the woods. Likely a long-forgotten farmstead, the little miracle means the world to Geralt, who now has more than enough gifts to give as an apology to Jaskier. The exhausted bard will be overjoyed!

With his bounty clutched carefully against him to prevent any bruising, Geralt tears back to camp. He slides into the small cleared space around their bedrolls and tosses an apple gently towards Jaskier. When it lands in the bard’s hands, Geralt feels his medallion vibrate subtly against his chest. A warning.

“Jaskier,” he frowns, head jerking towards the trees to indicate potential danger. He presses one finger over his lips to signal for quiet and mutters: “Stay… well, nevermind.”

The witcher lowers himself into a half-crouch, eyes and ears trained on the forest around them. He stalks in a slow, carefully measured circle around Jaskier’s well-organized piles of their belongings, taking a step over the invisible barrier that marks their impermanent territory. Even after two full loops of their campsite his witcher senses don’t pick up on anything out of the ordinary. No prowling beasts or lurking bandits wait for them in the stillness of early twilight. Geralt shrugs and glances back over his shoulder to the bard, whose body is thrumming with tension. “It’s alright, Jaskier. Must have been a false alarm. Or something.”

The bard sighs in relief and brings the gifted apple to his mouth. The ruddy red-green skin gives way with a sharp crunch and jet of sweet juice squirts out to dribble over the bard’s bottom lip. Geralt has to blink a few times and look away to compose himself but when he glances back, Jaskier is wiping the excess from his chin, giggling. The bard licks his fingers, swallows, and then all movement in the clearing suddenly stops.

There is a beat in time where everything stays perfectly and abnormally still. There is another vibration against Geralt’s chest, more insistent this time, and he knows something has just gone horribly wrong. His gaze shoots from the apple in Jaskier’s hand to the lump slowly making its way down the bard’s throat. The witcher flings himself forward with a primal scream but just like his realization in the woods, his understanding of the situation dawns a moment too late.

Jaskier’s eyes flutter closed and he tumbles forward like a doll crashing down from a high shelf. The apple rolls out of his hand, across the gently sloping ground, and comes to rest bitten-side-up against the toe of Geralt’s leather boot.

*

Jaskier is singing, up on the stage in front of a crowd, though he’s not quite sure which crowd it is. It might be Novigrad, since Priscilla is there clapping along in perfect time, but then again there’s old Professor Knopp grumbling into her ale, and she hasn’t set foot outside of Oxenfurt in decades, and she’s seated across from Calanthe of Cintra, who has probably never been in a tavern like this in her life, not to mention she doesn’t much care for Jaskier’s music -

And there’s Geralt, at a table tucked back in the corner as usual, but he’s smiling. Smiling, and tapping his fingers to the beat.

Geralt never does that.

This must be a dream.

If it’s a dream, Jaskier may as well have a bit of fun. He launches into Toss a Coin, and dream-Geralt scowls at him just like real Geralt would, but he doesn’t get up and leave, even when Jaskier hops off the stage and comes sauntering through the crowd to Geralt’s table, leaning against it as he sings the last chorus.

“Come on,” he says to Geralt, “what did you think? Three words or less.”

“Hm,” dream-Geralt says, and Jaskier laughs.

“Oh, come on, if you can’t give me a review then at least give me a kiss,” he says, and leans over the table, and the dream dissolves around him before their lips can meet.

Jaskier is hiking up a mountain, footsore and tired, but he doesn’t slow, because up at the top of the mountain there’s something he has to find. He’s not sure what, at first, just that he has to get there, and if he doesn’t make it in time something dreadful will happen, but then he looks up through a gap in the trees and oh, of course, he’s climbing towards Geralt. Geralt, who’s fighting something horrid, a huge black shadowy thing with dozens of tendrils that curl around Geralt’s swords and wrists and ankles, hampering him and tripping him and making him swear and snarl.

Jaskier climbs faster. He’s not sure what he’s going to do when he gets to the top - certainly he is not any particular use in a fight, except perhaps as a distraction - but Geralt needs him, and he will never fail Geralt if he can help it. He puts his head down and scrambles upwards, using his hands when he has to, gasping with the effort.

He reaches the top of the mountain just as Geralt puts his silver sword through the thing’s heart - or whatever passes for its heart, anyhow - and it screams and shrivels up, writhing in mortal agony. Geralt drops his sword and claps his hands to his ears and goes to his knees, and then keels over, curling up into a tight ball on the rocky ground. Jaskier runs to him, collapsing to his knees next to Geralt, and rolls him frantically onto his back. “Geralt. Geralt! It’s dead, you did it - it’s gone -”

Geralt is staring unseeing at the sky, chest rising and falling far too fast, and Jaskier shakes him, slaps his cheek gently, throws caution to the wind and decides that if nothing else will shock Geralt out of this, maybe - maybe -

He bends to kiss Geralt, and before their lips touch, Geralt vanishes, and everything else vanishes too.

Jaskier is lying on something soft, covered in something warm, and there’s someone curled around him, arm slung across his waist. It may actually be a perfect morning. He stretches and purrs, “Good morning, love.”

“Good morning,” his bedmate replies, in Geralt’s lovely low gravelly tones. Jaskier sighs in contentment and leans back, basking in the warmth radiating from the witcher, the way he noses at the back of Jaskier’s neck and breathes in deeply, like he’s trying to memorize Jaskier’s scent.

“What have we got to do today?” Jaskier asks.

“Nothing,” Geralt replies. “It’s winter. We can relax.” Oh, winter - he hasn’t wintered with Geralt before. He doesn’t recognize the room, so he must be in Kaer Morhen, mysterious stronghold of the Wolves. Maybe he will get to meet Geralt’s brothers and nearly-father; maybe they’ll want songs written about them. But all of that is for later. For now, Jaskier squirms around until he’s facing Geralt, smiling into golden eyes.

“Relax,” Jaskier murmurs. “I have some ideas about that.”

“Oh do you,” Geralt says, and his eyes are laughing even if his lips aren’t. Jaskier chuckles and leans in, tilting his head just so, and -

*

Yennefer looks up at the faint chime. Surely not. Surely they aren’t that stupid.

...What is she thinking, it’s Geralt and Jaskier. For two very intelligent men, they have limitless wells of stupid available to them. If she could turn their stupid into gold, she’d never need to work another day in her life. If she could use it as chaos-energy, she could probably blow up the continent.

She pulls a mirror towards her and breathes on the surface, casting a spell before the condensation fades. Mirror, mirror, in my hand, answer now to my command. When it clears, it does not show her face, but a clearing in the forest, dimly lit by the setting sun.

Geralt is kneeling in the grass, cradling Jaskier’s limp body to his chest, face buried in Jaskier’s hair as his shoulders shake with sobs.

If it weren’t so godsdamn stupid, it would be tragic enough to tug at even Yennefer’s jaded heartstrings. As it is, she puts a hand over her eyes and sighs.

She’ll give Geralt until tomorrow morning before she goes and finds him and whacks him about the ears with a few choice bits of advice. Maybe by tomorrow morning he’ll have gotten his wits together and actually kissed the bard.

She’s not going to hold out hope, though. If there’s a single particle of sensible thought in that clearing, Roach has it.

*

Geralt kicks the apple out of the way and stumbles over to Jaskier’s side in a daze. He falls to his knees beside the bard, his bard, and gathers the smaller man into his lap as gently as if Jaskier is made of blown glass. Everything seems to be happening excruciatingly slowly around them, as if the world has been suspended rather suddenly in a jar of honey, and Jaskier isn’t waking up no matter how hard Geralt shakes his shoulders.

The bard isn’t choking, Geralt notes with a sigh of relief. He’s breathing normally and his heart is beating but he isn’t responding to his name, which Geralt has been quietly muttering under his breath nonstop for the last minute or so without noticing. When he speaks properly again the emotion in his voice makes him sound even gruffer than usual: “Please, Jaskier. I-” he grimaces, as if the words are causing him physical pain to utter aloud “-I don’t know that I can go on without you anymore.”

The bard does not stir. His breath hits Geralt’s neck in warm puffs that smell almost artificially minty. If he weren’t so worried about Jaskier’s wellbeing, the witcher would pause to examine that fact more closely, but this might be a matter of life and death. He buries his nose in the warmth of Jaskier’s chestnut hair and inhales deeply, letting the familiar scent of home wash over him as he tugs the warm body even more tightly against him.

“I-” he lets his forehead fall to rest against Jaskier’s, gazing at the bard’s closed lids. “I don’t think I’d survive the Path very long without you there beside me. You’ve grown to be so much more than just a barker. More than a friend, even. I’m sorry that I have such a hard time saying that word. It’s not that I don’t want you around, it's just that I- Your singing brightens the day, your presence makes the miles seem shorter and the sun seem kinder. You-” another deep sigh “-I love you, Jaskier.”

Nothing but quiet, even breathing.

“I love you,” he says again, just to hear it. If the bard is dreaming, he hopes they’re pleasant dreams. Jaskier deserves only pleasant things. He carefully brushes the bard’s sweeping brown bangs away from his forehead and presses a gentle kiss to the soft, warm skin revealed by his caress.

Jaskier smells even sweeter up close.

Geralt presses another quick peck to the tip of the bard’s nose, and then another lingering kiss to either cheek, amazed that they still glow a rosy pink even as the sun finishes setting and the world slides into darkness. There’s an almost ethereal aura surrounding Jaskier’s sleeping body. The vibration, Geralt knows. The magic that has put him under this stupid curse in the first place. He also notices, as he adjusts Jaskier’s position in his arms, that Yennefer’s scent has faded away at last.

Smiling a wet, apologetic smile, the witcher leans down and ever so slowly brings his lips to hover above Jaskier’s. “I’m sorry, Jaskier. I promise to tell you again first thing when you wake, and I promise you that no matter what it takes, no matter how difficult the task or how long the journey, I will find a way to wake you. I swear on my life, my darling Jaskier, that I will never let you fall into harm’s way again.”

With his declaration made and his heart on his sleeve, Geralt lets his mouth find the bard’s. He registers the soft, plush give of Jaskier’s lips beneath his own. He notices where the creases lie and where all the bard’s anxious biting has broken the skin. He thinks about how lucky he is to live in a world where people this soft exist; he counts himself even luckier to be holding one such person in his arms. As he goes to pull away and end the embrace, the world tilts violently sideways. It shatters into a thousand shards of rainbow light that momentarily blind and stun the frightened witcher.

In his arms, Jaskier shakes back into wakefulness with a loud gasp.

*

- and Geralt’s lips meet his.

But they are not in Kaer Morhen, not wrapped in warm furs in a battered keep far from the human world; they are in a forest clearing, and Jaskier is cradled in Geralt’s lap like something precious, priceless, cherished.

What the hell happened? The last thing Jaskier remembers, he was biting into an apple, and then he was dreaming.

“Jaskier,” Geralt breathes, golden eyes enormous as he stares down. “You’re awake.”

Jaskier blinks up at him. “Are you sure? Because usually you only kiss me in dreams.”

“...I kiss you in your dreams?”

“Well, yes.” Jaskier would try to sit up, but being held in Geralt’s arms is far too pleasant to give up any sooner than he has to. He’s not quite sure what’s gotten into Geralt to make him cling to Jaskier so fervently, but whatever it is, Jaskier’s wholeheartedly grateful for it. And also -

“Hey, I’m not speaking gems anymore!” Jaskier wiggles in happiness, and Geralt - Geralt laughs. It’s low and rusty and much too short, but it is unmistakably a laugh.

“No. We - I - the curse is broken.”

Jaskier goes still. “Curse? This whole thing has been some sort of bizarre curse? What sort of curse would make animals come dance to my singing, or make me speak jewels, or make me - fall - asleep...” he trails off, eyes widening. “Those are the sort of curses you get in tales,” he croaks at last.

Geralt nods mutely. Jaskier stares up at him, heart beating so hard he thinks he can feel it knocking against his ribs.

“And in the tales,” he says softly, “the curse is broken by true love’s kiss.”

Geralt swallows hard. “I love you,” he says, so quietly Jaskier can barely hear it. “I do. I have for - for a long time now.”

“Oh,” Jaskier breathes. “Oh, dear heart - oh, my love,” and he reaches up to slide his hands into moon-white hair and hauls Geralt down into a proper kiss at last.

*

Yennefer puts the mirror down and sits back in her chair. “Finally,” she says. “Ye gods, it took you long enough.”

She takes a deep drink from the goblet of Toussainti red which has been standing at her elbow, and contemplates the image still playing in the mirror: Geralt and Jaskier, locked in an embrace so tight that she can’t quite tell where one ends and the other begins. “Well then. For whatever it’s worth, you idiots, here’s my blessing: may you live happily ever after.”

And they do.