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talk softly, and walk without sound

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For all he's been trained against it, has trained himself to avoid plunging off that ledge, Geralt still finds himself falling into zones more often than he'd like. 

It's—well. It's not something that can be helped, exactly, not with the way his senses are heightened even beyond a normal sentinel's. The mutations had taken what was already tempered and honed it until it became brittle, almost; he's past heightened and well into so fine an edge it'll break under the slightest bit of force. 

It means he can see miles over the horizon and hear twice as far into the woods and he can smell even the most subtle of shifts in the pheromones of the humans around him who have a whole host of emotions within them, and it's always just too much. 

It means when his body is exhausted from the fight, muscles aching and bones vibrating from that ache and blood is dripping down his face and arm and chest from the gashes of the now-dead beast's claws, making his clothing stick to him too tight like tar, and his mind is weakened with that exhaustion, his usual mental walls crumbled to dust at his feet as they trudge him back to a town with humans who sneer and glare and pay him too little, all it takes is a stray glint of sunlight on the curved edge of a trinket in a stall, and the ringing sound of yelling and shouting, and the smells of piss and shit and rotting things, and the yawning, black void creeps up, drawing him in; the world goes fuzzy, fades out, and he's gone. 

Zoning. When the input of external stimuli becomes so overwhelming a sentinel can't process it all and just—shuts down. Dangerous even under the best circumstances, because there's no telling when—or if—they'll ever come back from it. 

Having a guide helps; a focal point, someone who can block out everything else and bring the sentinel back from a zone. Taxing work that doesn't always pay off if the sentinel and guide aren't compatible. 

Not many people are compatible with witchers. 

Distantly, he feels his body stop the slow trudge he'd been moving at, right in the middle of the street; feels the way his stare goes long and his expression takes on an absent quality. People run into him and grumble and shout before they realize what's happened, and then they skirt around him like skittering mice fleeing a predator. 

Don't touch a zoning sentinel, especially not a witcher.

It's all so much—the sounds, the smells, all of it presses at him until he feels like he might disappear beneath it all. His skin is pulled taut over his bones, constricting beneath his armor; the blood dripping into his eye is hot, sticky; his swords are heavy on his back, heavier than they ever are, and the medallion around his neck is too tight, choking, suffocating—

He breathes in, and rising above the cloying smells of hatred and fear—getting closer—is the scent of cinnamon and citrus, warm and spicy and comforting. Familiar. He takes another breath, pulling the scent into his lungs, and finally, the thing inside his chest that had been constricting him begins to ease. 

With the scent come soft hands, cupping his face with such aching tenderness he wants to collapse into them. Thumbs caress over his cheeks, a soothing, repetitive motion, right beneath his eyes. A forehead presses to his own, a nose brushes against his, warm breath against his lips. He begins to register words being spoken and can once again parse out their meaning. 

"Come back to me," a gentle voice murmurs, smooth and low. It doesn't grate against his ears like most sounds; he could listen to it forever. "Come back to me, dear heart. Don't go off without me." 

He doesn't want to. Nothing in him wants to leave this calm voice, this tender touch, this comforting scent behind. He chases after it, pulling himself back from the yawning, empty void, rushing headlong into the safety of the presence before him. 

"I'm here," the gentle voice says, and he knows this voice. Knows the musical lilt, the way it commands lyrics for an adoring public and presses praise into his skin when they're alone. "I'm here, darling. Come back to me." 

His guide.


With a deep, shuddering breath that wracks his entire body, Geralt finally blinks, and he no longer feels like he's floating outside himself, looking in. The world around him sharpens into crystal clear relief again, sounds and smells and tastes pouring back in, almost too much, but Jaskier's scent overpowers it all, surrounding him like a warm embrace, and he leans into the hands on his cheeks. 

He meets the tender blue-eyed gaze of his guide, his bard, and Jaskier's mouth curls up in a relieved smile. 

"There you are," he says, voice just as warm as his touch. He continues caressing Geralt's cheek with one thumb, the other hand moving to tangle in his hair, grounding him. Geralt lets his head drop to his shoulder and buries his nose in his neck where his scent is strongest. "I missed you terribly for a moment there, dear heart." 

It's on the tip of his tongue to say Sorry but he knows he'll only be hushed gently and told it's not his fault, so he only hums and brings his arms to wrap around Jaskier's waist. It's a testament to how worrying a zone can be that Jaskier doesn't even complain about the fact Geralt is smearing blood over his new doublet. 

Well. Not for a few heartbeats, at least. 

When they pull apart, Jaskier frowns down at his clothes and makes a sound in his throat that proclaims his displeasure, and then he's leading Geralt back to the inn and calling for a bath to be brought to their room. He sits Geralt on the bed with a stern look and a comment about going to find their supplies and that he better not move before going over to their bags. 

Exhausted as he is—from the fight earlier and the lingering sensation of the zone—Geralt doesn't protest. He simply strips as quickly and efficiently as his wounds allow, and then he waits for his bard to come back to him and tend to him. 

It's still loud, and he can still smell the fetid aromas that cling to towns like this, but Jaskier just steps in close to let his cinnamon and citrus scent wrap him up again and begins humming a soft lullaby, gentle and soothing, and Geralt just closes his eyes and focuses his senses on his guide.