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Woodash and iron and leather

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Witchers have no emotions, they say. Witchers cannot feel like humans can, they say; witchers have had all sentiment and caring stripped away till they’re little more than beasts. That’s what they say.

……

Geralt would one day like to find out who ‘they’ are. Because that’s a load of codswallop and he owes ‘them’ a punch in the fucking face. Geralt may not consider himself human but he’s not a fucking animal either, nor a monster like the ones he slays for too little coin ungraciously given and mistrust following him from village to village like a bad smell. Even Jaskier’s songs haven’t done enough to ease the wariness with which people watch him, thanks to rumours like that.

Witchers do have feelings…mostly. The Trial of the Grasses has been around for centuries and the witchers of Kaer Morhen have been tweaking it all the while. Maybe witchers of old had all their emotions stripped away, but nowadays the mutagens just dull the unhelpful ones. Sadness, loneliness, worry, doubt, anything that would get in the way of doing the job really. And the main one: fear.

It’s been a long time since Geralt’s been afraid.

He catches an echo of it sometimes, like when another dozen ghouls have just burst out the ground when he’s fending off five others and something sharp and unpleasant shoots through his belly before his brain has calmly adjusted to cope. It’s the sour taste on his tongue whenever Yennefer does something stubborn or Jaskier does something stupid and there’s a moment or two when they’re in danger and Geralt isn’t sure yet how to save them. It’s a stirring in his head, a memory of those moments when he was left alone on a road in the woods, abandoned and afraid.

But yeah, apart from those lingering echoes, which happen less and less often the longer he spends on the Path, the more experience he gets and the more confidence he has that there aren’t that many things that can take him down (the exception is the situations caused by Yennefer being stubborn or Jaskier being stupid, they seem to be happening more frequently)…apart from those moments, Geralt really doesn’t know what being scared feels like.

“What, not at all?” Jaskier says indignantly. Whenever he’s indignant his voice is capable of skipping entire octaves. Geralt can hear a fleder preparing to attack from thirty feet away; he winces without thinking, which Jaskier seems to take as an admission of guilt. “Melitele’s tits, you kept that quiet didn’t you! I tell you what Geralt, you’re a lot less impressive all of a sudden, Mr I-Feel-No-Fear. I’m sure if I had balls the size of dragon eggs I’d feel fine about going up against wargs and bloodzoots and –”

“Bloedzuigers.”

“Yes, yes, them, and all of the other little beasties you waggle your sword at. Honestly! Doesn’t feel fear. To think of it…” Jaskier subsides into outraged muttering, and Geralt seizes the moment of blessed silence to focus on the cockatrice tracks in the damp earth before them. Winter has been hard and people reach for their purses less often in the taverns, despite Jaskier’s best efforts. If Geralt can kill the beast without too much of a struggle he’ll be able to sell the quills and liver in the apothecary two towns over and get them both a room in a good inn, some half-decent food and, god’s willing, a fucking bath.

“Geralt?”

“Mn.” The tracks are deep for their size, and there’s a tang of iron heavy in the air. The cockatrice has been this way recently and dragging its kill, most likely one of the village’s cows again. Good. If it’s fat and sleepy it’ll be easier to kill.

“Geralt?”

“What?!”

“Don’t you need to, y’know, cover your eyes or something?”

Geralt pauses and turns very slowly to look at his companion. Jaskier peers back at him, all big eyes and worried expression, a leather cloak wrapped tight round his head and shoulders to keep off the damp.

“Jaskier. How the fuck do you think covering my eyes is a good tactic when I’m about to fight something that wants to eat me?”

“What?! But it’s in all the myths!” Jaskier’s expression is so earnest that it causes a weird pain somewhere under Geralt’s breastbone to look at him. “A cockatrice is so full of hate and vengeance – you see Geralt, it feels more than you do – that meeting its glance can turn you to stone!”

“That is…” Geralt has to pause again and pinch at the bridge of his nose. Jaskier means well, he really does. “That is not accurate.”

“Oh.”

Somehow that shuts Jaskier up again, and because Geralt isn’t sure how long the respite will last he immediately surges forward. The scent of blood is stronger now and he tracks it easily to a rough-hewn cave in the mountainside, where the smell mingles with the sweet-sour stench of cockatrice dung.

“Stay here,” he orders, unsheathing his sword. The cave’s not huge, which means it’ll be difficult for him to get behind the beast and take it out. He’d rather not lose a chunk of flesh to those talons if he has to face it head on.

“But Geralt! I need to chronicle this epic fight –”

“It’s a cockatrice, it looks like a chicken fucked a lizard and smells about as bad. There’s nothing epic here. Now stay back!” Geralt shoves a growl in at the end in the desperate hope it might make Jaskier listen for once, and is vaguely gratified to see the bard’s eyes go even wider as he swallows hard. Then Geralt is plunging headfirst into the cave, his sword held ready before him. Let’s get this over with.

The cockatrice turns out to be a mean-spirited motherfucker. Its talons take a chunk out of Geralt’s bicep – not his sword arm, thank fuck – and even worse, screams its fury directly into his face so that he nearly chokes on the stench of half-digested cow stomach. It’s petty vengeance more than anything else that spurs Geralt into slicing through its wingjoints rather than going straight for the back of the neck, and he regrets it instantly when the beast bucks him off whilst screeching in agony, and then heads for the cave exit.

“Jaskier!” Geralt roars, hoping desperately the bard can hear him over the beast’s screaming. “Move! It’s coming out!” He runs after it as fast as he can as the cockatrice bursts out of the cave.

“Take that you hideous beast!” comes Jaskier’s voice, and Geralt suddenly finds he’s running even faster. “Oooooo…oh dear. Geralt!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Geralt mutters under his breath, and then he’s leaping from the cave mouth onto the cockatrice’s back in a single move, his sword already swinging through its final arc. Jaskier is watching with huge eyes as the beast’s head plummets into the soft earth between his legs, sprawled on the ground with his back against a tree trunk and nowhere else to go. If Geralt had even been a second or two later…

The rest of the cockatrice collapses unceremoniously to the ground with Geralt still on it and for a moment he just lies there, surrounded by stinking chicken-lizard skin and with his arm throbbing like a bitch. There’s a faint drizzle landing on his face and it’s going to be a good three-mile hike through the forest to get back to where they left Roach and the half-lame gelding Jaskier bought from a crooked trader because he can’t tell good horseflesh from bad. And before that Geralt is going to have to pull out a dozen cockatrice quills by hand and then gruesomely disembowel the creature to get to the liver that’s only going to buy him a half-decent dinner and a single night at an inn.

Geralt groans and gets to his feet.

And a bath. Let’s focus on the bath.

He gives the cockatrice a sulky kick as he rounds the side and looks down at Jaskier. There’s another scent in amongst the cow’s stomach and blood and shit, a sour bitterness that makes his nose wrinkle, and then he notices the patches at Jaskier’s collar and under his arms and realises it’s the stink of fear-sweat, heavy and thick on the tongue.

It’s been a long time since Geralt’s been afraid, but he’s familiar with the emotion. All humans seem to stink of it to a greater or lesser extent, and especially when they see him, when they notice his eyes and realise he’s a witcher, something that could kill them as easily as the monsters in the dark do and, according to ‘them’, with about as much compassion. The mutagens dulled Geralt’s emotions but heightened his senses, and he wanders through a world that most humans couldn’t conceive of, scenting their feelings as easily as he sees their faces, and fear – that acrid unpleasant taste at the back of his throat – that’s the one he dislikes the most.

“Get up,” he growls. Jaskier’s scent has sparked one of those lingering echoes in his own head, and Geralt doesn’t care for it.

“Did you see that?” Jaskier is still staring wide-eyed at the cockatrice’s head in front of him. The razor-sharp beak is less than an inch or two away from his groin. Maybe there’s some justification for the fear. “That thing nearly unmanned me! Could you even imagine? Ladies would be weeping for the loss from here to Hengfors –”

“Get up Jaskier.” Geralt says, feeling very tired all of a sudden. Bath. Think about the bath. He yanks the head out of the ground and shoves it into the large leather pouch he has for carrying trophies – too often unscrupulous aldermen have tried to withhold payment on the basis he has no “proof” that he’s taken care of their monster – and goes to roll the corpse over. The cockatrice’s belly is grossly distended and Geralt is fully, wearily, aware of just how much half-digested cow he’s going to have to paw through to reach the liver.

“Can I help with anything Geralt?” Jaskier asks. For once his voice is soft and timid and doesn’t hurt Geralt’s ears. Geralt looks at him standing there, his hair curling slightly in the drizzle and his cheeks still pink from the shock, and grunts agreement. He lends Jaskier his leather gloves – no point in getting them covered in cow – to protect his hands, and shows him how to take a firm grip and yank out the quills from the root. Then he gets to work on the stomach. Jaskier makes a few gagging noises when the smell of decomposing cow reaches him, but otherwise they work in silence, and the work goes quicker with two. Geralt is covered in cockatrice bile to his elbows by the time he’s fished out the small, opalescent-green liver and looks down at it, pleased. One this colour means the beast was close to its three-year mating peak, and that means not only is he glad he killed it before it could spawn but it’ll also fetch twice the price.

Jaskier is clomping round the clearing, shaking dirt off his leather cloak and muttering about stains. Geralt’s about to say something cutting when he notices the small pile of quills beside him. They’re tied neatly, and kept out of the mud by what looks like one of Jaskier’s old doublets. Apothecarists insist that they’re in mint condition or they won’t buy. Geralt adds both items to his pouch, and hauls himself to his feet.

“Well this is jolly good luck!” Jaskier is peering at the sky and beaming. “If we make good time getting back to the horses we could probably reach Kalisz before dark. Did I ever tell you about the time I stayed there a few years ago – this was before we met, when I was just starting out on the noble pursuit of bard – and I struck up an intimate friendship with the enchanting young daughter of the town’s mayor –”

“Move, Jaskier.”

Jaskier’s babbling accompanies them for the first mile of the trek, and Geralt is irritated to discover that even weighed down with half a cockatrice corpse it still makes the time go faster. Jaskier is whistling some possible melodies for his new composition – The White Wolf versus the Creature of Vengeance – when he tips his head back to glance at Geralt with one bright blue eye.

“You know I didn’t mean it right Geralt?”

“Mean what?”

“What I said earlier – that the cockatrice feels more than you do.” Geralt doesn’t say anything. Usually he chooses not to speak, but right now he doesn’t know what he’d say. “I’ve never believed any of that nonsense about witchers not having feelings; why, anyone who’s spent as much time as I have in the company of the greatest witcher of all –”

“Jaskier.”

“The White Wolf himself, Geralt of Rivia, why, I defy anyone who’s ever met you for more than a moment to say that you don’t have emotions. Granted, it’s usually irritation, but that still counts.” That bright blue eye is still watching him, and Geralt feels flayed alive under its gaze. “No one could do what you do without emotions! There’s a reason ‘friend of humanity’ is my favourite line in the song–”

“Jaskier.”

“All great heroes are defined by their capacity for great emotion! Compassion, loyalty, steadfastness, bravery – oops!”

Geralt grabs Jaskier by the back of his doublet and hauls him to safety, just before the bard strides over the edge of a cliff concealed by vines. Jaskier stumbles back against his chest with a little ooph and Geralt still has adrenaline pumping through his veins from the fight and his senses are on high alert, which is why he can immediately hear the rabbit-quick beat of Jaskier’s heart, feel the warmth of him through their clothes and smell him – the usual scents of human male, sweat and dirt and testosterone, but then Jaskier’s own aroma of warm sweet meadow-grass and fresh cider – and not a trace of fear, like he knew Geralt would catch him before he fell.

Geralt holds him there for a second and then lets go once he’s sure Jaskier’s found his feet.

“Thanks,” he says, which is stupid of him because Jaskier should be thanking him for saving his scrawny neck from his own stupidity yet again, but Jaskier just blinks up at him with big blue eyes and smiles.

They trek the rest of the way in more or less silence, Jaskier only singing or humming softly to himself. It’s nice.

Geralt doesn’t know how he feels about that.

~

They’re in Olesnica by the time The White Wolf versus the Creature of Vengeance – heavily revised – makes its debut. The town’s one of the larger they’ve been in for a while and Geralt is remembering all the reasons he hates big towns (the smell of them being chief amongst them) as he sits in a corner of the tavern and watches Jaskier do his thing. The apothecary in Kalisz gave them a good price – probably because Geralt hadn’t yet had a chance to wash off the cow blood and cockatrice bile when he plunked the spoils down on his counter – and the alderman paid up too, probably for similar reasons, so Geralt’s purse ended up fat and jingling for once. But the inn in Kalisz only had a tiny tub that Geralt could barely fit into, so he’s looking forward to tonight.

Possibly the only thing he likes about big towns is the fact they have better inns, with better baths.

And better beer.

He takes another swig. Listening to Jaskier sing about him is bad enough when he’s drunk, when he’s sober it’s nothing short of excruciating. The crowd goes quiet as Jaskier jumps onto the stage. He’s wearing a new pale blue doublet that he bought for the occasion and he beams out at his audience before setting his fingers to Filavandrel’s lute…

By the time he’s done Geralt could quite happily have dissolved into drowner ooze and seeped into the river rather than listen to another word, but the crowd are applauding like crazy and Jaskier looks like he could cry from happiness. As soon as he comes off stage a dozen people line up to buy him drinks and Geralt resigns himself to a long wait before they go to their rooms, and also probably having to stop Jaskier from drowning in the tub. The crowd settles back down around him and he listens to the chatter with half an ear.

“Aye, these witchers are creatures as fearsome as the beasts they kill, that’s for sure!”

“I’m sure the bard was exaggerating half of it. Taking its head off with a single blow? Nonsense! Either he’s making up the stories of the monster or he’s making up the stories of the witcher.”

“Well the tale of the cockatrice is right enough, my wife’s sister’s cousin from over down by Radomsko heard tales from a soldier who’d seen one once – just as the bard described, a fierce and terrible vengeful beast, and looking just like if a chicken’d fucked a lizard!”

Geralt snorts and then has to hide his face in his tankard.

“Aye that does sound right terrible indeed! My wife’d be a week cleaning the stains out of my pants if I had to face one of them.”

“Like hell! I’d stand and fight – if some mutant can kill one it can’t be that hard!”

“Listen to the little shit – you’d piss your pants on the spot laddy, make no mistake about that. You’ve got to be heartless as a witcher to stand up to murderous creatures like that without being unmanned by fear, gotta have all your emotions ripped away by their unnatural practices…”

Geralt’s got a pleasant little buzz going from the better-than-usual beer, and it’s nothing more than he’s heard a thousand times before, but suddenly there’s a slightly-staggering Jaskier in front of him, frowning over at the men.

“Who makes the claim that witchers have no feelings?! I declare to you sir, stand up and face the ignominy of your words!”

“Time for bed Jaskier.” Geralt mutters, grabbing the bard by the arm. The idea of Jaskier trying to defend his honour in a bar is strangely sweet and utterly ridiculous. The men are too busy gaping at him to respond and Geralt would like to keep it that way, so when Jaskier plants his feet and tries to resist Geralt just gives him a single unimpressed look before tossing him over his shoulder and striding towards the stairs.

“Got a thing for witchers has he?” He hears behind him as they go, and then:

“Gotta be pretty bloody brave to befriend one of those unnatural devils, that’s for sure.”

Jaskier is running up and down octaves in drunken outrage by the time Geralt kicks the door to their rooms open and breathes out a sigh of relief at the sight of the huge steaming tub by the side of the room.

“Jaskier. I’m having a bath. You can keep talking, but I’m no longer listening.” He puts the bard right way up, waits to make sure he’s not going to fall straight back down, and then starts stripping single-mindedly. Jaskier has sulkily made his way to one of the beds and has propped his chin on his fist, gazing soulfully at the wall.

“Just wait…my next…my next song will be in the style of an Aedirn ballad – I haven’t composed an Aedirn ballad in years Geralt, did you…did you know that, what a tragic waste of my anxiety…wait…my enmity…wait…”

“Ability.”

“Yes! My ability, a tragic waste…a ballad! It will be a ballad, all about the noble heart of a witcher! Full of…of…compassion! Nobility! Resoluteness! Nobility!”

“I don’t have any of those things. And you said nobility twice.”

“Yes...yes, you do.” Jaskier blinks at him confusedly from where he’s still sitting on the bed, his chin occasionally slipping off his own fist. Geralt watches him from the tub. He’s far more indulgent of Jaskier’s drunken ramblings when his muscles are slowly unknotting in the warm water. Most humans do not appear at their best when they’ve been drinking – blotchy red faces, and stale alcohol starting to sweat out of their pores – but Jaskier is just a bit messy and rumpled, two spots of red high on his cheekbones that make his eyes look even bluer, and still smelling sweetly of meadow-grass. Geralt realises with a sigh that it’s his bed that Jaskier’s sitting on, which means he’ll be smelling it all night, and beckons him over.

“Jaskier. The tub’s big enough for two. Get in before the water goes cold.”

The other good thing about Jaskier being drunk is that it makes him curiously obedient. Geralt shifts his gaze back to the water as Jaskier fumbles his way out of his clothes and then slides into the tub, hissing at the hot water. It seems to push him into the next stage of drunkenness, sends him loose-limbed and slurring as he leans back against the side of the tub beside Geralt. It’s just big enough for them both.

“You always have it so hot witcher. Why is that?”

“Kaer Morhen is in the mountains.” The words are out before Geralt is aware he’s saying them. “It’s always cold there.”

“Ah.” Jaskier tilts his head over to look at him, sleepily blinking blue eyes. Geralt shifts a little closer so he can fish the other man out if he sinks under. “You should have come up earlier then, it would have been even hotter.”

Geralt just stares at him. For once, Jaskier is…completely right. Geralt has no earthly idea why the hell he stayed downstairs once Jaskier finished performing, instead of coming up to enjoy the water when it would have been too blisteringly hot for a human to stand, just the way he likes it.

“I…I had to keep an eye on you, didn’t I. You’re guaranteed to get into trouble if there’s alcohol and women around.”

Jaskier laughs and tips over. His head ends up on Geralt’s shoulder. His hair is starting to curl a little in the steam.

“My bodyguard! At least you didn’t tell anyone I was a eunuch this time…though with you sitting in the corner scowling I’m sure you scared off all the ladies anyway.”

Geralt snorts. Even his presence couldn’t dampen the ladies appreciation for Jaskier’s voice, or his looks – Geralt could smell it even halfway across the room, even though the beginning of the sour-fear notes of the men around him as they talked about facing down a cockatrice.

Geralt blinks, and blinks again. He looks down at the head on his shoulder, and nudges it when Jaskier seems entranced in watching his fingers waggle beneath the surface of the water.

“Jaskier.”

“Oh, yes, Geralt?”

“Weren’t you afraid?”

“Of…the ladies? Geralt! Surely you know that a man of my reputation and, well, prowess –”

“Not the ladies.” Geralt interrupts impatiently. He’s heard quite enough stories of Jaskier’s prowess. “The cockatrice. Weren’t you afraid to face it? You thought it could turn you to stone.”

“There’s no need to keep bringing that up Geralt.” Jaskier says primly. “It was an unfortunate unsubstantiated source, that’s all, my knowledge of beasts and necrophages has vastly improved over the course of our acquaintance as you know –”

“Jaskier.”

“What? Oh – afraid? Um, yes, I suppose. Why?”

“Why did you come then?” Geralt is genuinely confused. Jaskier is no better equipped to meet a cockatrice head on than any of the men downstairs – less so, in fact, at least they have the strength that comes from ploughing and farming when Jaskier has never wielded anything heavier than his lute. And humans tend not to do things when they’re afraid. Oh, the stories tell of bravery and feats of valour and all that horseshit, but Geralt can always smell the truth. There’s no scent that marks acts of cowardice, selfishness, weakness, but they’re nearly all always preceded by that same sour tang: fear brings out the very worst of humanity.

So why the hell does Jaskier feel afraid, and then do the exact opposite of everyone else?

“Why did I come even though I was afraid?” Jaskier is looking up at him with the same equally baffled expression that Geralt is sure is on his own face. “Because you were there of course.”

That is…no one has ever…

Humans smell of fear when they see him, when they notice his eyes and realise he’s a witcher and could kill them as easily as the thousand other things they’re scared of. Geralt has never met someone who not only has never once smelt of fear when they saw him, but who is less afraid because of him, who feels safer in his presence than out of it. Even Yennefer, as much as he feels for her and as powerful as she is, she always feels some frisson of unease around him, some tendril of alarm at what he is and what he could do.

But not Jaskier. Not this bard who adopts Geralt’s cause as his own, who safeguards his reputation and chronicles his deeds – who stands true at his side even if that means swallowing down his own fears to do so.

It’s been a long time since Geralt was afraid, which means it’s been a long time since he’s been truly brave. Bravery does have a scent, a scent like woodash and iron and leather, like resolve and integrity given physical form.

It’s one of the scents Geralt likes most.

He jerks out of his thoughts at a rumbling sound, and makes a desperate grab for Jaskier before the snoring bard sinks beneath the water. Then Geralt just sits there and looks down at the other man helplessly. Jaskier is limp in his hands, his skin all soft and warm, his blue eyes closed as he makes little snuffling noises, so completely trusting and vulnerable in Geralt’s arms that he feels that weird stab in his belly again that’s the closest he gets to terror.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” He asks the room and the tubful of cooling water and the snoring Jaskier.

None of them give him a satisfactory answer.

~

Geralt is…being weird. Well. Weird-er. The witcher usually operates at a fairly high level of peculiarity anyway but in the last few weeks this seems to have kicked up a notch into outright…oddness. Jaskier taps his quill against his lips and ponders on the evidence he has collected to support his theory. As any of the numerous villainous creatures they have dispatched together (well, Geralt did most of the dispatching, but Jaskier’s contributions were of equal importance) anyway, as any of those foul beasts can attest, when going into battle with a witcher it is critical to be fully prepared and well-armed. Not that Jaskier considers the upcoming conversation he hopes to have with Geralt as a battle, but, well, his friend’s already notorious testiness seems even more in evidence recently and…

Well! In short, Jaskier is worried about Geralt and thinks the best solution would be to have a good heart-to-heart, man-to-man, close-friend-to-close-friend chat about it. And considering Geralt has literally jumped into a catacomb before to avoid talking about his emotions, Jaskier is going to have to have all his ducks in a line – hmmmm, duck, it’s been an age since he’s had roast duck – to browbeat the Witcher into openness and candour, and presenting a thoroughly robust litany of evidence will be part of that.

Like right now. Like right this very instant, when Geralt has paused in sharpening his sword – Geralt never interrupts his sword cleaning routine – and is staring fixedly at the end of Jaskier’s quill. Jaskier peeks at him from under his lashes and taps the quill against his mouth a few times just to watch the witcher’s eyes follow the motion. Yes, definitely staring. This is number four on Jaskier’s list of evidence of Geralt being weird-er than usual – Geralt’s recent unusual fascination with the tools of Jaskier’s trade. He’s constantly watching Jaskier’s quill or his lute when Jaskier is writing or playing. Is Geralt perhaps considering a change in profession? Jaskier has never so much as heard him hum but Geralt has a lovely rolling baritone – that some would call a growl, but never him, sir, never! – and Jaskier is sure he’d have a very nice singing voice. And he’s equally sure that no one would ever stint on their coin in a tavern if Geralt was the one performing, that intimidating glare at the end of each performance would loosen purse strings admirably.

Number three on Jaskier’s list is actually so much of a boon that he’s hesitant to bring it to his companion’s attention less conscious awareness should result in its retraction…basically, Geralt hasn’t been complaining about Jaskier coming along on hunts. Sometimes he even lets Jaskier help! Not with the actual chopping and cutting of the beast in question of course, that is still Geralt’s unquestionable area of expertise and Jaskier even rather likes watching him work, all that grace and power and strength in motion…but he points out things as they track the creatures to their lair, tracks or markings or whatnot, and lets Jaskier help with collecting the spoils afterwards, which, yes, is often absolutely disgusting work, but!

The level of realism it brings to Jaskier’s work is unparalleled. And all great artists must suffer for their craft, so Jaskier bears it nobly. And he doesn’t complain nearly as much as Geralt says he does, so there.

Number two on Jaskier’s list is, well…and yes Jaskier is well aware that he sounds like an utter cad for indicating he is in anyway ungrateful for such attentions but…

Geralt keeps asking him how he’s doing.

Which is really, really fucking weird.

Under normal circumstances, Geralt developing a sudden and deep-seated interest into Jaskier’s wellbeing would be unequivocally, without question, number one on the list. Frankly, the first time Geralt asked him if he was okay Jaskier nearly fell of his horse – and no, not because poor Algernon is lame, shut up about that Geralt – and almost called an intervention on the spot. That’s not because he thinks Geralt doesn’t care about his feelings, he is almost absolutely sure that his very close friend does, it’s just…Geralt doesn’t normally vocalise such things. Out loud. Where other people could hear them. And mistake them for friends.

And it’s testimony to the extent of Jaskier’s discomfort with number one on the list that it trumps that truly epic manifestation of complete and utter bizarreness. Number one on the list is so befuddling, so disquieting, so, so…

Look, it’s like this: Geralt won’t stop sniffing him.

Now, Jaskier might not be as obsessed with bathing as a certain white-haired witcher wearing black armour and a wolf medallion who will remain nameless – and really, Jaskier half believes Geralt only likes baths so much because he enjoys striding around naked afterwards, all six foot of muscle and masculinity enough to set any poor bard’s jaw to dropping – but Jaskier is clean! He bathes! What he means to say is – he is reasonably sure he does not smell bad. A number of ladies have commented on his pleasant natural odour in fact.

So Geralt and his sniffy-sniff-sniffing all the time can just fuck off.

“Jaskier.”

“What?!” The word comes out sharper than he intended, startling them both. Geralt even looks slightly surprised, which is an expression Jaskier never thought he’d see on the witcher’s face, amber eyes blinking once, and then –

Geralt’s nostrils flare wide and that barrel chest of his expands as he takes a deep breath in.

Jaskier literally wants to scream.

Geralt is his friend, yes, one of his closest friends, indeed, his best friend ever, yes it is entirely possible you could say that and Jaskier feels like he’s going out of his mind because he’s not stupid, he knows Geralt tolerates him with wry amusement at best and three lyrics away from a lynching at worst but, but…

It’s not Jaskier’s fault he has a romantic soul okay? He was raised on tales of truth and justice, gallantry and heroism, and then he got out into the real world and discovered it’s a threadbare tapestry of human mistrust and selfishness and petty grievances piling on top of one another till they sour the soul. And then he met Geralt, who’s a witcher for mercy’s sake, his kind are usually the villains in the tales, but who is honest to a fault and brutally fair and yes, he is gallant and heroic even if he’d deny those things with his dying breath but he is the closest thing Jaskier has found to a warrior of legend on the whole dingy continent!

And if Jaskier has resigned himself to never quite measuring up against his friend, well, that’s okay, that’s sort of the whole point of a muse really – they should represent an impossible-to-achieve golden ideal. Jaskier is used to the idea that Geralt is out of reach. But Geralt suddenly undergoing a whole personality shift, suddenly seeming so much more present, more mortal, more like he wants to make a space for Jaskier in his life…

That’s really not something Jaskier’s heart can take.

Also, he really is just quite concerned about the sniffing thing.

“Are you okay?” Geralt asks, and his voice is low and careful in a way that Jaskier has never heard before and can’t quite bear to hear now.

“No, I’m not,” he says, and storms out of the room before Geralt can be any nicer and makes things worse.

~

Gods why are humans so fucking contrary?

A couple of townsfolk scatter out the way as Geralt strides across the square. He’s got no fucking clue why they’re even outside considering the rain is coming down like it wants to drown the world. They should scurry back to their houses and Geralt can go back to his inn and drown himself in ale and try to forget that the last three days of this hunt ever happened.

Geralt hates rain like this. It muffles everything, sound and smell, like he may as well have lost both senses completely for all the good they do him.

Stepping inside the inn is like having a veil lifted. There’s still the distant drumming of the rain outside, and the scent of damp mud and horseshit rising off the floorboards, but it’s still a thousand times better than any moment in the last seventy-two hours has been. Geralt even almost welcomes the fear-stink coming off the innkeeper's daughter -–he vaguely tries to rearrange his face so it looks less like a thundercloud, but there’s nothing he can do about the eyes, or the hair, or, well, just him in general. She manages to stutter out that his bath is ready in his room and Geralt could kiss her, but doesn’t, because they’d probably try to stone him out of the town and he wants to get dry first.

Then he steps through the doorway and sees Jaskier sitting next to the steaming tub, and thinks maybe a stoning wouldn’t be too bad.

He hasn’t seen the bard since he stormed out of here a week ago. Geralt sat around like an alp-struck idiot twiddling his thumbs for four days – three and a half days longer than he’d ever spent in a town like this – before he took a quest for a drowner just to stop himself going out of his mind with frustration. Not that three days wading through a swamp with the sky itself trying to beat him to death has done anything to improve his mood.

“Jaskier.” The words come out a growl. He can’t help it.

“Geralt!” Jaskier jumps to his feet. The bard looks tired. Geralt tries to take a breath to scent him, and gets nothing but the swamp-water coming off his own clothes. Jaskier’s eye twitches oddly, but then he’s pointing to the tub. “Get in then you great lummox. Melitele’s perfumed thighs, I suppose this is more of your fancy ‘mutagens’, giving you the ability to breathe underwater.”

“I can’t breathe underwater.” Geralt says. Fuck. He’d once thought a week without Jaskier’s babble would have been the closest thing to bliss he could experience, but now he can feel the tension in his muscles unwinding before he’s even gotten in the bath, just from the way the other man arches an eyebrow and lifts up a strand of Geralt’s hair.

“Are you sure? Because it looks like you tried.”

“Drowner. Big one.”

“Ah.” Jaskier doesn’t say anything else, just prods Geralt into the tub and then tips a bucket of water over his head that he’s been keeping by the fire. It’s so hot Geralt can’t help the moan when it hits him. Jaskier makes a strange sound himself and drops the bucket, and then has to chase it round the tub a couple of times before he manages to pick it up. “Well, there we go, a nice cosy witcher, I’ll just go and fetch us some –”

“Jaskier. Sit down.”

Jaskier’s still clutching the bucket to his chest as he edges back onto the stool beside the tub, looking like a deer that’s come face-to-face with a wolf in the forest. He’s wearing the pale blue doublet again and his chin is lightly stubbled, like he’s been careless about shaving the past few days. Geralt eyes him sideways, trying to get a sense of his thoughts. Even wary like this, Jaskier still doesn’t smell of fear – why would he, he feels safer around Geralt, and fuck's sake Geralt can hear the smugness about that even inside his own head – but there’s other little scents there, hidden tells, and Geralt takes a breath to test them –

- and promptly takes a bucket to the face as Jaskier flings it at him.

“Stop sniffing me goddamn you!”

Geralt had enough reflexes to duck the bucket but not to dodge it completely, and winces as it bounces off his skull. Then he’s lunging to grab a handful of that pale blue doublet as Jaskier makes another dash for the door.

Geralt has had decades to get used to witcher strength, to adjust to the power of his muscles and learn precisely how much force is needed at any one moment.

So he’s very glad that Vesemir isn’t here to see him yank Jaskier back so hard the bard comes flying over the edge of the tub, sending them both sprawling as water splashes up and onto the floor. For a long moment the two of them just sit there in the half-full tub, Geralt increasingly aware of the fact that he’s stark naked and Jaskier is a heavy warm weight across his lap, and also that Jaskier’s scent is spiking with so many things it’s hard to keep track of. Then Jaskier’s words catch up with the rest of his brain.

“Is that why you’re angry with me? Because I scent you?”

“Scent me? Scent me? Geralt, my friend, I’m aware that the finer nuances of human social conventions tend to pass you by –”

“Yes or no answers Jaskier. Is that why you’re mad?”

“Yes. Mostly. Partly. So, well, it is a part of the whole, an aspect of a wider disgruntlement if you will –”

God it’s good to hear him talk. Geralt sighs and drops his head to Jaskier’s shoulder and just exists there for a long moment, letting the words wash over him. Then there’s a sharp sensation in his arm as Jaskier pokes him.

“Um, Geralt? Geralt, have you – nope, not asleep, gods there’s no need to glare at me like that. Yes, okay, your weird sniffing thing is…is…throwing me off, okay, you just started doing it out of nowhere and I don’t understand why.”

“You smell good.”

“I – what?”

Jaskier stares at him. Geralt raises an eyebrow and stares back. It’s not that hard a concept to grasp is it? Even humans can smell each other, they have to be familiar with the idea. And whilst it’s true, Jaskier does smell nice, it’s more that he’s the only person that Geralt’s ever been around who doesn’t smell of fear. It’s like living in a town that smells of shit your whole life and then going to live in a meadow full of spring flowers. Why would you ever want to leave?

“Geralt. Do you want to become a bard?”

Geralt’s brain actually hurts a little bit. What – how – he honestly can’t keep up with the inside of Jaskier’s head sometimes.

“No. What the fuck Jaskier? What sort of question is that?”

“I had to ask!” Jaskier says. He’s twisting round to face Geralt, seemingly completely oblivious to where he’s sitting and what he’s sitting on, and waving his hands wildly for emphasis. “Obviously I would fully support you if that was your wish – very noble of me though, if I do say so myself, offering to take a potential competitor under my wing – and I’m sure you’d be remarkably competent once we’d taught you to play and got you an outfit that complimented your physique –”

“Jaskier. I do not want to be a bard.”

“Oh. Okay then.”

Geralt takes a breath. He’s going to regret this.

“Why…what would make you ask that question?”

“Well…it’s not just the sniffing thing that has been a cause of discombobulation recently, though that ranks very highly on a list of concerning behaviours Geralt, I really can’t stress enough – okay, okay, it’s because you keep staring at me! Whenever I’m composing or playing that is, and I thought maybe you were becoming interested in the craft and I thought I should offer to…”

He’s been staring at Jaskier? Geralt flicks his mind back to recent weeks. He knows that his focus has shifted more fully onto Jaskier, trying to puzzle out the secret to the other man’s bravery, trying to puzzle him out at all, in all honesty. And – the importance of Jaskier has shifted, somewhere inside his head and his gut, inside the bit of him that’s pure instinct and feeling, the bit that Geralt’s never been sure if the mutagens made it or if it’s the most human part of him. He wants Jaskier near him, wants to keep Jaskier safe and well, wants…wants other things that are going to become more apparent if Jaskier doesn’t get off his lap sooner rather than later.

He shrugs.

“You’re good to look at.”

Jaskier looks at him. His doublet is damp and clinging to his skin and his eyes are very blue and even if Geralt weren’t a witcher Jaskier is still alone in a room with a naked man twice his size and three times his strength and Geralt understands that’s a thing that gives most humans pause and yet Jaskier still, still, doesn’t smell of fear in the slightest.

It feels like a gift he’s giving to Geralt, his fearlessness. Woodash and iron and leather.

“Geralt. Geralt, we have been friends – yes I’m insisting upon friends, hear me out – we have been friends for some time now, and so I’m going to beg for your tolerance whilst I air a thought, a musing, that is passing through my brain, which, if it gives you any cause for distress or anger I urge you not to take it out on me in the slightest –”

“Spit it out Jaskier.”

“Geralt. If a woman told me I smell nice and look nice I’d assume I was spending the evening in her bed.”

He looks at Geralt. Geralt looks back. He thought he’d made his intentions fairly clear but if that’s not something Jaskier is interested in –

“Melitele save me from idiot witchers!” Jaskier cries, and then grabs Geralt’s head to pull him down into a kiss.

Jaskier smells good but he tastes even better and Geralt can’t help the growl as he manhandles the bard into a better position on his lap, shoving his tongue inside Jaskier’s mouth. Even with Geralt forcefully kissing him the bard can’t stop making noise, but the little whimpers and moans don’t grate on Geralt’s ears at all but stoke the fire in his belly even higher. Fuck, he wants to force even more of those noises out of Jaskier, have them match the hot butter smell of lust coming off the other man’s skin.

Geralt gets a firm grip on Jaskier’s thighs and lifts him out of the tub, Jaskier making a squeaking noise when Geralt throws him down on the bed.

“Well I’ll say, those mutagens are good for some…thing…” he trails off, staring at Geralt’s groin. Geralt looks down at his hard cock, and back at Jaskier’s face. Still no fear. Thank fuck.

“Jaskier?”

“Yes…Geralt?”

“I’m assuming when you have those women in your bed you do more than just stare at them like a poleaxed cow.”

Jaskier gives him a deeply, deeply offended look, which is mostly mitigated by the fact that he’s pulling off his doublet as fast as he can. Geralt helps with the trousers. Jaskier is babbling something about ladies and satisfaction and prowess and Geralt only listens with half an ear, running his hands over Jaskier’s soft skin, lightly covered in pale brown hair. The bard is slender and toned, his nipples small and tight and his cock a good handful, curving up towards his belly already, and Geralt wants to eat him alive. He shoves his thigh between Jaskier’s legs and leans over him.

“Geralt! Please tell me you’ve taken a man to bed before? Especially with that.”

“Yes. Have you?” Geralt narrows his eyes at the answer. On the one hand, it would be extremely convenient if Jaskier has experience with the proceedings, on the other hand, Geralt will gut any man who thinks to touch all this soft pale skin that belongs to Geralt now. Jaskier bites at his lip as Geralt tweaks a nipple and it takes him a moment to get the words out.

“I confess to a dalliance, a time or two – ah – in my youth! Many, many, years ago – fuck, Geralt…”

That’s all that Geralt is interested in hearing about past lovers, all that he can bear to hear when he has Jaskier naked and hard and pleading beneath him, and the next few minutes pass in a blur as he stretches out on top of the other man, rubbing down hard against all that soft skin, holding Jaskier’s thigh open for him.

“Mercy’s sake Geralt, are you going to tease me to an early grave or do you intend to fuck me sometime in the evening’s activities?”

If Geralt was hard before, Jaskier’s words make his cock give a jerk and his balls ache. He’s learnt not to assume that’s on the cards with every partner, some of them taking one look and refusing to let him near them, but Jaskier’s hand is closing round his cock, lute calluses rubbing him in all the right ways, and the lust-smell rising even stronger off the bard’s skin as he looks down at his fingers only just closing round the girth.

“Have you oil?” Geralt manages to growl out, and then swallows hard when Jaskier lunges for his bags and Geralt is treated to a perfect view of his arse, a sweet double-handful of pale skin that goes pink when Geralt closes his teeth on a cheek.

“Ow! Fuck, I should have known you’d be the sort – here, take it, try not to gnaw off any other bits of me on your way down.” Jaskier grumbles, and Geralt raises an eyebrow at the presumption but then Jaskier gives him a sunny smile, blue eyes bright and happy, and suddenly all Geralt wants to do is suck his cock for him.

The noises Jaskier makes should be illegal, and probably are in Redania, but they just make Geralt hotter and more desperate. He’s holding on to his willpower by a thread as his fingers roughly spread Jaskier open, feeling the too-tight press around him as the oil eases the way and almost humping the bedcovers in anticipation of how good it’s going to feel around his cock. The rest of his brain is being driven into a blissful lustful state, Jaskier’s cock hard and heavy in his mouth and the scent of him all around, feeling his fingers clutch desperately at Geralt’s hair as he holds his hips down and refuses to let him move.

“Geralt, please, please, I need you in me, fuck, please –”

“Jaskier.” Geralt groans, moving up to bury his face in Jaskier’s neck and breathe him in. God he’s never smelt anything like it. He’s so hard his balls are aching. “You smell so good.”

“Fuck your freaky witcher senses and fuck me.” Jaskier snaps, wrapping his thighs around Geralt’s hips and Geralt does growl at that, reaching down to take himself in hand and press against Jaskier’s entrance. The first push makes them both freeze, Jaskier heaving in startled breaths – blue eyes wide, cheekbones stained with two spots of pink, his hair curling from sweat and Geralt wants to fuck him till he screams – and slowly he begins to push forward, sliding in whilst Jaskier whimpers and wriggles like he’s being split in two until his hips press against the bard’s arse and they’re both shivering from the feel.

“I need…a moment…” Jaskier manages to grit out. Geralt can feel those soft walls fluttering around him, the minute shifts of Jaskier’s hips as he adjusts and to be perfectly honest he’s grateful for the pause, because the combination of both with Jaskier’s scent rising all around them has him three moments away from coming himself.

“Move.” Jaskier finally whispers, and Geralt does.

Jaskier is hot and tight and wet and each thrust is perfection, Geralt pushing his thighs up so he can hammer home every time. And even better than the sight, than the feel, than the smell of him, is the absolute litany of filth that pours from Jaskier’s mouth as Geralt fucks him ruthlessly.

“Ah, fuck, Geralt, harder – yes, yes, fuck, that’s so good – fuck you’re huge inside me, am I tight for you? – ah! – fuck, I’ll take that as a yes, gods above, Geralt – fuck, you’re splitting me in half –”

“Jaskier.”

“Gods, fucking pound me, I love how strong you are – fuck, I love your huge fucking cock – ah, ah, fuck, fuck – you’re so deep – you’re so deep –”

Geralt’s cock is hard as steel as he pulls out, ignoring Jaskier’s desperate whine as he flips the bard over and yanks his hips into the air. Jaskier is panting into the bedcovers as Geralt takes a firm grip on his hips and rubs his cock over Jaskier’s hole, already pink and sore from Geralt’s pounding.

“Hold on,” he orders, and Jaskier’s arms brace on the headboard as Geralt shoves back inside.

Fuck. Yes. This is even better. For a moment he misses Jaskier’s words but the bard is just gasping, desperate choked-off little keening noises as Geralt fucks him ruthlessly, yanking his hips back with every thrust to make sure he feels it. Jaskier is like a vice around him, clinging tightly to Geralt’s cock every time he slides inside and it’s the easiest thing in the world to press his thumbs into the dimples at the base of Jaskier’s spine, tilt his hips a little more to Geralt’s liking, and then slam rapidly against the little bump inside whilst Jaskier scrambles at the sheets in desperation.

“Ah – ah – ah – fuck – fuck – Geralt, please!”

It’s too good, Geralt’s wanted him for too long and now he has him and he’s keeping him and they’re going to do this whenever Geralt wants, and it’s that thought that has him gritting his teeth as he jerks Jaskier’s cock roughly until the bard bucks and wails and comes fucking everywhere. His knees give out and Geralt stays pressed deep to follow him down to the bed, where he ruts against the soft press of Jaskier’s arse whilst the bard gasps helplessly from overstimulation.

“Jaskier,” he groans, the sound coming from somewhere deep within his chest. He’s got one hand clamped so tight on Jaskier’s hip there’ll be bruises on pale skin tomorrow, but the other gropes upwards until it finds Jaskier’s, loose and trembling in the sheets, and grips it tight whilst his hips start jerking.

“Fuck, Geralt…come on me, I want to smell like you.” Jaskier says, and Geralt’s vision goes white with a bolt of lust so fucking intense he can feel it in his bones, and he jerks out just in time to watch his come spatter across Jaskier’s arse and back, thick streaks of white smeared into the skin.

The last tiny ounce of Geralt’s strength goes into making sure that when he collapses, it isn’t directly onto Jaskier but to one side, and then they lie there for some time, each trying to catch his breath.

Finally Jaskier stirs a little. He looks so good fucked out and messy that Geralt almost wants to jerk himself hard and go again straight away. “Thank Melitele for idiot witchers.” The bard mutters, stretching on the bed. Some of Geralt’s come slides off his back onto the sheets. Geralt feels his cock twitch. “Well, then, witcher, that was the start of all this nonsense – what do I smell like now?”

“Like sex. Like me. Like home.” Geralt says, before his brain has properly caught up with the words. That’s becoming an irritating habit of his around Jaskier. Although it might be worth it for the way the other man is staring at him, blue eyes wide but his lips already curving in a smile. Jaskier leans over for a kiss, pauses slightly, and Geralt immediately meets him half-way before the sharp lemon scent of doubt can grow any stronger. Then the bard pulls away with a snort.

“I can’t believe this, Geralt, is it some bizarre witcher custom to court someone by, what, letting them cut up a wyvern corpse with you? I’d have much preferred some flowers and a romantic candlelit dinner thank you very much –”

“I bought you dinner.” Geralt protests. He didn’t want to think too much about the word ‘court’. If Jaskier tried to offer him a rose and write him a love poem he’d probably drop the bard in a swamp, with or without drowners depending on how bad the poem was.

“I suppose you did. And several baths.” Jaskier says, tapping a finger against his lips thoughtfully. Geralt really wishes Jaskier didn’t draw attention to his mouth so much the whole time. Jaskier has very graceful hands and a very pretty mouth and Geralt has spent a lot of time daydreaming about what they’d feel like wrapped around his – “Geralt! Geralt, are you listening to me? Gods, men are bores aren’t they, once they’ve got what they want they just lose all interest in you –”

“I won’t lose interest in you.” Geralt says firmly, and doesn’t wait for Jaskier’s response before he rises to dip a spare cloth in the cooling bathwater and bring it back to clean Jaskier off with – the whole room smells of the two of them now, of how Geralt claimed him, so he doesn’t mind too much washing off the immediate evidence. Jaskier watches him with bright blue eyes as though he knows exactly what Geralt is thinking.

“Well, my bed is properly fucked now, so I guess I’m going to be sharing with you. If you snore or steal the covers I reserve the right to elbow you in the ribs, do you hear me witcher? I’m not like other common folk, to be intimidated by your scary eyes and whatnot.” Jaskier waves a hand at Geralt’s…well, at Geralt’s everything, which Geralt feels is a little insulting, considering he’s still naked and slightly hard and he understands his appearance in this regard isn’t too displeasing to a lover. But more importantly is that Jaskier has no idea how true his words are, how much it matters to Geralt that he’s never once been intimidated by any aspect of him at all.

Geralt will spend the night curled around Jaskier on a rickety old inn bed and he will never smell of anything except sweet meadow-grass and fresh cider.

They rearrange themselves on the other bed. Geralt runs hot anyway so its no hardship to bequeath most of the covers to Jaskier, and this way Geralt gets to keep the bard sprawled on top of him under the pretence of sharing. For a brief moment he considers actually having a conversation about witcher courting customs (not that there are many of them, but there’s a couple of relevant bits, mainly their tendency towards extreme possessiveness) but he’s talked too much this evening already and anyway Jaskier is stupid but he’s also smart, he’ll figure it out.

“Ending up in your bed is a much more agreeable end to the evening than the one I had anticipated.” Jaskier says with a yawn, his head resting on Geralt’s shoulder. “You should tell me I smell nice and look nice more often if this is the outcome.”

“Every day.” Geralt replies. He feels more than sees Jaskier squint up at him.

“I suppose I should have expected that response! You know what they say about witchers…” Jaskier says, his fingers tracing shapes over Geralt’s chest with teasing intent, but Geralt suddenly finds his muscles are tensing without conscious thought.

“What do ‘they’ say?” He asks, that old irritation surging beneath his breastbone again, tinged with the beginnings of regret that Jaskier also…

“That they fuck like a horse with the stamina of a bull.” Jaskier says cheerfully, so obviously making it up on the spot that Geralt can’t help the snort of amusement and the sudden release of all that tension. Jaskier props his chin on Geralt’s chest and raises an eyebrow at him that can only be described as saucy. “Most of the myths don’t mention they’re hung like one too though.” His hand slips around Geralt’s cock, soft whisper-touches that rouse him more quickly than he would have thought possible.

Or maybe that’s just Jaskier. His brave, foolish, irrepressible bard. His.

“I don’t think we should worry about what ‘they’ say.” Geralt says firmly, sliding an arm around Jaskier’s waist, over all that soft skin he fully intends to mark up another few times tonight.

“That’s true, that’s true, as an artist it’s so important to get one’s own impression of these things, to really grasp the concepts on an elemental level – Geralt!”

Geralt rolls them over and hushes Jaskier’s mouth with his own.

Blessed silence. For a while at least.