“Dandelion’s soft mournful singing and the music he raised from the lute’s strings, murmuring like a stream flowing over pebbles, drifted to her from the chamber at the end of the corridor...
O'er glistening roofs you float
Through lily-strewn rivers you dive
Yet one day I will know your truths
If only I am still alive...”
- Time of Contempt, pg. 154
“How many women have you fucked, Geralt?” Jaskier asks one day. The question is garbled a little by the quill he’s gnawing at, but sadly – tragically – still coherent enough for Geralt to hear it.
“Don’t know,” Geralt replies, irritated. It’s a hot day made hotter by Jaskier’s sudden inspiration to compose, which always seems to strike exactly when they need to pack up their camp. Sweat rolls down his neck and swims under his armour. Roach’s tail swats unhelpfully at the flies swarming around them.
“Heartless,” Jaskier tuts, brushing the quill feather back and forth across his cheek. “All those virgins who gave you their sacred maidenhood, and you cannot even remember them as a number, let alone their names–”
“Virgins are more your area of expertise,” Geralt grunts, hoisting a pack onto Roach’s saddle. “You like the scent of those who haven’t known your ilk before. I tend to find age and experience make far better company.”
“I cannot account for the way my voice impresses the hearts of the pure,” Jaskier replies, in a sing-song pitch that is even more annoying than usual. “And I have had plenty of bored wives in my bed, too. I only ask,” he continues, “because I think a number would help paint an impressive picture. You know,” he adds, singing,
“They say the White Wolf came to town and bedded twenty women,
But that was naught compared to the three thousand he had ridden!”
“Not a very family friendly tune,” Geralt scoffs. “If you wanted to help at all, Jaskier, you could clean the pan from breakfast.”
“My muscles are lacking, Geralt, and are a poor match for such an enemy as that scorched tin,” Jaskier says sorrowfully. “You would be a far worthier hero for such a battle. I could write a ballad about it, if you should like.”
“I should not like,” Geralt hisses. He circles back to the camp and picks up the cursed pan himself, and surreptitiously casts Aard – just enough to knock Jaskier off the tree trunk where he has been idling.
“Brute,” Jaskier sniffs. “The people shall hear of how you beat up the unarmed.”
Geralt rolls his eyes, and starts scrubbing the pan with some of the water from their supplies and an old brush he used to use for Roach’s coat.
“An easier question, then,” Jaskier continues when he has assumed his previous position and righted his feathered cap. “Have you ever been in love?”
“You’ve written some four score songs about me and Yen,” Geralt mutters.
“Just because the people love – love – doesn’t mean it’s always the real thing,” Jaskier shrugs. “It’s all just a romanticised version of reality. Nobody writes love ballads about the way spouses share their chamber pots, but that’s a kind of love, isn’t it?”
Geralt grunts. He’s never had to share a chamber pot with Yennefer, but that was probably just a perk of sleeping with a powerful sorceress who likely vanished her waste into the homes of those who wronged her.
“Besides,” Jaskier continues, “I meant other than Yennefer - relatable characters. Common folk, not sorceresses. Someone you loved and then lost, a tragic romance between a mortal and a witcher. Perhaps you stayed with someone until they aged and died, perhaps you lost them when they married a mortal man, perhaps you left of your own accord, for you could never stay and be a husband to them. Perhaps–”
“You seem to be just fine writing these romances without my help,” Geralt says, with the barest hint of a snarl. He isn’t sure why he’s so agitated – the heat, yes, but Jaskier is being no more of a nuisance than usual. Most likely it is the way Jaskier dismisses his love for Yennefer, the way everyone else he knows seems to these days. He can’t enlist the help of the Lodge without a sorceress rolling her eyes and saying “Oh, Yennefer’s toy, is it?” He can’t pretend there aren’t elements of truth in their contempt – their love had always been obsessive, possessive and unhealthy – but. That was love, wasn’t it?
“I can do perfectly fine on my own, yes,” Jaskier says, “But I would rather have you helping me than make it all up myself. It may shock you to know I do this for your sake too, you know. Friends last for one lifetime, children last for another, but stories? Stories can last for as long as people walk the world.”
“I don’t need to be remembered,” Geralt growls, scrubbing violently at a black spot on the pan that is very unlikely to come out without magic.
“That’s why you should be,” Jaskier says. Geralt looks up at him and finds him smiling, but his expression is a little sadder and more world-worn than Geralt has ever seen before.
How old was Jaskier now? Forty, at least. Geralt counts back in his mind, trying to remember the year they met, or when last Jaskier mentioned a birthday. Remembering the precise progression of human lives has never been his favourite activity, however, and he quickly abandons the task – and anyway, he knows he would not like the answer.
“So?” Jaskier nags him again as Geralt puts the pan away in one of their packs.
“No,” Geralt says, deciding he might as well be honest with Jaskier. After all, it had been well over a decade of his friend following him around the Continent – surely he owed him that much. But he still hesitates, before continuing, “It’s not worth it. To love someone you will lose, to even entertain the possibility – and there is nothing I could offer a woman. No child, no family, no stable income or even a presence in her life. And why would any woman want me, the Butcher of Blaviken, for anything more than the excitement of a boast to her friends?”
Jaskier seems to not note his dark tone, for he laughs uproariously in response. “Geralt, do not pretend you are not the most handsome person who has ever walked the land. False modesty does not become you.”
“Are jaundiced eyes and the hair of the ancient so sought after?” Geralt says, raising an eyebrow.
Jaskier shakes his head, still chuckling. “Good gods, if you had not been a witcher liable to cut my head off for offending you, I would have begged you to bed me the moment we met.”
This so completely throws Geralt that he struggles to formulate a reply. Was Jaskier joking – and if he was not joking – did Jaskier like men as well? – and if Jaskier liked men as well – did he still like Geralt? And if – but no, there was nothing reasonable that could come of that particular line of thought. Jaskier was his good friend, and Geralt has killed things that have threatened their friendship before.
Jaskier notices his silence and shakes his head. “Oh, don’t worry, Geralt. I meant nothing by it. Merely that, perhaps, you are the great muse of my life, in all the usual respects.”
Jaskier’s tone is light and self-depreciating, but his eyes are once again tinted with the slightest melancholy. Geralt feels a sense of free-fall, as though he has been thrown off Roach’s back and is tumbling down a never-ending cliff.
Surely not. None of this makes sense.
“I do not think sleeping with me would make your ballads any less terrible, my friend.” The latter part he says with affection, to make up for the former impugning his friend's pride.
“O, Fate is a cruel bitch,” Jaskier snorts, “To bring me a muse that rejects my talents.”
They pass insults back and forth as Jaskier – finally – helps with the preparations for their departure. But Geralt is unsettled by Jaskier’s statement, and troubled even more by the lines of age and sadness on his friend’s face. He does not know what it all means – perhaps Jaskier regrets spending so much of his life following Geralt around, rather than starting a family. He had never had the best taste in partners, but perhaps he merely needed more time to find the right one – the muse he should have had – rather than –
“Geralt,” Jaskier says firmly, snapping him out of his thoughts. “Stop overthinking it. I have loved most people I have met, as you know. I have an insatiable lust for beauty – and art, and wine, for that matter. Nothing was meant by it.”
“Did you, do you–”
“Want you?” Jaskier finishes for him. Geralt isn’t quite sure that is what he was going to say, but he doesn’t interrupt. Jaskier’s expression turns dark and clouded, another expression he has acquired only through age. He never had such a look as a younger man. “Haven’t you listened to the songs?”
Geralt can only blink at that, nonplussed. Jaskier sighs.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says, smiling once more. “I told you, don’t overthink it, Geralt. I’m still me. I thought you already knew, but clearly I underestimated your capacity for snubbing my work.”
Geralt chooses to ignore this, because as a witcher with several decades to his name, he has a good sense of when not to pull at a thread that might bring the whole house down with it.
“We’ll need some haste if we want to reach Novigrad before midday,” Geralt mutters instead, and hoists himself up onto Roach’s back.
“Of course,” Jaskier replies with an easy grin.
A year later, give or take, before Geralt remembers that conversation again. He is in Skellige, in Kaer Trolde, and nursing an ale that is too warm and a soup that is too cold at an inn that is perfectly lit – light enough for him to see others, and dark enough for others to not notice him.
“What song shall I sing for ye lot then?” bellows a Skelligan bard at the inn patrons.
“What songs do you have by the flower poet?” asks a freckled woman at the bar. “You know the one. I always liked his songs. But only the sweet ones, please – I do not wish to hear the sad ones tonight.”
“Oh, the bard Jaskier? His tragedies sting with as much skill as his comedies tickle,” agrees the barman. Geralt ponders recounting this conversation the next time he sees his friend, but decides it would be too much of a crown to his already towering ego.
“No songs about that bloody witcher,” swears a man, clanging his tankard noisily on his table. “’e cheated me of three hundred ducat. Killed some drowners for me, didn’t ’e, only after ’e was done someone told me ’e kills drowners like ’e breathes, and it ain’t more than an effort of ten ducat for ’im!’
Geralt vaguely recognises the man and recalls it was a water hag – and a challenge well worth the price he had asked for. But he’s bruised and bloodied from his most recent contract and not in the mood for a fight with an irate drunk.
Another woman says, “The Butcher of Blaviken? He’s got more power than the nobles, you know. Got his fingers in every pie, that one! He’ll choose the next Jarl, mark my words!”
Geralt is grateful for the thick layer of muck and monster blood covering his silver hair. He slinks further back into the shadows of his corner.
“Right,” the bard exclaims, sensing the pleasant atmosphere of the inn shift into one where patrons might prefer their own voices to his. “So, a light-hearted song by Master Jaskier, and one which doesn’t involve the exploits of his witcher friend. Perhaps a raunchy comedy, then?”
“Aye!” roar at least three Skelligans in reply. “Hear, hear,” says the barman.
The bard gestures to his female companion, who takes up a fiddle to her chin. “The Great Orgy of Rinde, perhaps?” she asks.
“Just what I was thinking, my dear,” replies the bard. She plays a quick succession of notes with her bow, and the man sings:
“In the lovelorn city of Rinde we met,
And that ‘twas not a day I could forget,
The beginning of my life’s regret –
At the great orgy of Rinde.”
Not about the witcher indeed, Geralt thinks, groaning internally. He has no wish to hear Jaskier’s interpretation of that day – he’s sure that the bard's panicked sojourn in the arms of naked women has been aggrandised, along with the size of his manhood. But moving to the door would attract too much attention now the song has started – Geralt is trapped.
“In the mayor’s very own house we fucked,
We thrusted, slapped, groaned and sucked,
T’were no proper rules there for conduct,
At the great orgy of Rinde.”
Geralt considers seriously if he can knock himself out with his tankard without attracting notice.
"There were a hundred people there or more,
From the Queen of Rinde to a common whore,
What more could a Redanian ask for?
Than the great orgy of Rinde.
And my truest love I saw that there night,
My love’s own hair pale as moonlight,
But asking my love to bed seemed impolite,
At the great orgy of Rinde.”
Pale hair. Geralt recalls the conversation of months and months ago, and clenches his teeth. But surely - surely Jaskier was imagining some woman. Geralt was no great love of his – and Jaskier’s songs were always exaggerated in nature, even if rooted in some truth. Geralt is certain this fictional woman is just a way for him to insert one of the traditional bardic subjects – true love and great battles, evil tyrants and twists of prophecy. A way to legitimise a song about an orgy into the bardic canon.
“And my true love blessed me with a smile,
And said ‘my love, stay here a while’,
For my love I’d have walked five score miles,
From the great orgy of Rinde.
I waited there for my love’s return,
But I had a hard lesson yet to learn,
I awoke next morn with some concern,
At the great orgy of Rinde.
I searched high and low throughout the town,
Checked under every brassiere and gown,
When I spotted my love lying down,
A man with the Queen of Rinde.
Her breasts were out, and her dress undone,
The battle with her maidenhood was won,
And the man said ‘wed me, give me a son,’
And he kissed the Queen of Rinde.
I cried and cried and cried that day,
My love had married a common stray,
But I found some women who took pay
And had one more orgy of Rinde.”
Geralt is a bit affronted that Jaskier has used Yennefer as some sort of warped model for his ‘true love’, but he’s not as angry as he would usually be. Part of him is just relieved that he was indeed mistaken, that Jaskier’s imagination was as unhinged as ever. Perhaps Jaskier lusted after Yen too – not a surprise, as she has attracted almost every man she ever met. Geralt has long since learned to care more about possession of her heart than of her body.
“That was a tragedy,” declares the freckled woman, but she is laughing as she says it. “I won’t tip you for disguising a tragedy in a jaunty, raunchy tune!”
“’Tis not I who did that lass,” the bard grumbles. “T’was the master bard. I sang well enough!”
Privately, Geralt thinks that he does not have half so nice a voice as Jaskier.
“Comedies are just tragedies dressed up in brighter colours,” the fiddle player says. Her accent is foreign to Skellige, and Geralt cannot quite place it. Southern, but with hints of Scoia'tael influences. “Every tale is about someone’s misfortune. It merely depends on whom you side with – the victor or the loser, the hero or the dragon. To laugh at misfortune or cry at it.”
“You have a lovely voice, lass,” the freckled woman says. “And a wise tongue. If you could sing a song without a victim of tragedy, I shall tip you fifty ducats.”
“Fifty?” the bard exclaims, and then purses his lips, as though realising he should not have looked so enthusiastic about that amount. Geralt guesses he is a little new to the trade.
The musician and the freckled woman look at each other intensely for a moment, and then the musician smirks. “I believe I have such the song, and still one by Master Jaskier, no less.”
She sets down the fiddle and bow, and gestures to the barman. “Could you pass me a clean vessel of some kind? Made of metal, iron will do. A pot would be best. And any implement to strike it with – perhaps a fire poker or something similar.”
Geralt is curious now. This woman intrigues him, in much the same way Yennefer did when they first met. She, too, is beautiful beyond measure – long dark tresses, but dark skin where Yennefer’s was pale as snow. It is rare for Geralt to be intrigued, or surprised – and he is surprised when the woman clambers onto the bar counter and gestures for the barman to pass her the tools she requested.
“Oh,” she starts, her voice as smooth and seasoned as aged wine. She taps on the pot several times, dull notes resonating under her voice.
“My husband toils and toils all day,
And ne’er sends the coin my way,
So why should I struggle with the pots?
Why should I deal with black soot spots?
Since he would like to rule this house,
He can deal with the pantry mouse!
And if he keeps me in drab silk,
He can go to market and get milk!”
Geralt wonders idly if Jaskier had written this to convince women he understood their woes. He had a habit of empathising with their struggles when he was in a mood to seduce, only to turn on them when he grew bored and become the kind of troublesome man he had previously professed to them to hate.
“But then my husband leaves for war,
And trades me for a foreign whore,
And I must struggle with the pots,
And untangle all the horses’ knots!
When he returns we do not speak,
My bold soldier has grown meek,
Then one day he scrubs the pans,
Scorch marks flee from his strong hands.
And I learn to love my man once more,
Though he is different from the war,
He loves me still in his own way,
And now he trusts me with some pay!”
The jovial song is an ill match for the beauty’s voice, but the inn explodes with cheers and applause regardless. She is clearly a rare talent. She descends from the counter and happily accepts her tips in a woollen cap, coin practically raining down on her from the crowd.
“A happy ending still grown from tragedy of lost love and war,” the freckled woman declares, when the cacophony dies down a little. “But you have done well enough. I will pay you another fifty for an epic, or a love song, of your choosing. Any will do, but I wish to hear your voice used properly.”
“Surely there are cheaper ways to buy her time, Solveig,” mutters a man to her left. Geralt only picks up on the comment because of his enhanced hearing.
“Then, I will sing one more from Master Jaskier,” the singer replies. “For his love songs are more true than any other. But it is a tragedy – about a human who falls in love with a goddess that eludes his grasp. You will all need a seat, and another round of this fine ale,” she says, winking at the barman.
The crowd eagerly accepts her recommendation, and when the noise of clinking glasses and scraping chairs has tided over into a soft murmur of anticipation, she begins a slow, haunting tune.
“O'er glistening roofs you float
Through lily-strewn rivers you dive
Yet one day I will know your truths –
If only I am still alive.
The magic that runs in your blood,
The magic that keeps you from death,
It keeps me a babe in your eyes,
A child until my dying breath.
I sought out your voice in the glen,
I sought out your eyes in the night,
I sought out your hands for my bed,
But you vanished out of my sight.
‘The ruler of monsters’ they say,
A demon of darkness and hate,
You take fleeting interest in men
And claim fellow gods as your mate.
But I have seen your kindnesses,
I have seen all of your mercy
I know you are no monstrous God
But a champion of the worthy.
O ancient god, O god of old,
I would follow wherever asked
O’er mountains rough, and seas unkempt,
And through battles from your own past.
I chased you as a child entranced,
And I chased you as a young man,
I am chasing you now, my love
I know not how much longer I can.
For my friends tumble now with wives,
And the cliffs tumble into seas,
And my face grows lined with my years,
And the roads grow over with weeds.
I crave your praise as an equal,
I crave your touch as a lover,
I have lived my years so alone,
Because of your love for another.
If we are not to be in love,
If the fates have elsewise decreed,
Then I’ll write my love into song,
And perish alongside your steed.
When you hear this ballad my love,
Many more years after I die,
I ask you remember my voice,
And know this a fondest goodbye.”
Geralt feels his blood run cold as the song progresses. He hadn’t been paying attention to Jaskier’s songs – there was no mistaking the meaning in this one. Were there others he has missed? Had Jaskier written books of love ballads to Geralt without the witcher noticing? Did Jaskier think he didn’t know, or didn’t care?
Geralt cares. He does not know in which way, but he knows that the ice inside him at the thought of Jaskier’s death means that much. How dare he write these songs to haunt Geralt long after he was gone? How long had he been planning for his own death?
Bastard, Geralt thinks grimly.
The singer is a master of showmanship, that much is clear. She has neatly emptied the wallets of every patron with aplomb, after making sure they were drunk and solemn enough to receive her riveting performance. Perhaps she and the Solveig woman were working together to orchestrate the programme for the evening.
Geralt is interested in her, and furious with Jaskier. If it had not been for his sombre ballad, Geralt would be thinking of nothing but bedding her. Instead, he is completely distracted by his friend’s dramatics.
Just to be contrary, he approaches the singer when the crowd disperses, emptying a large sack of coin into her bowl.
She glances up when his coin makes the noisy impact of a considerably generous donation. Her face blanches a little, then she laughs to hide it. “I did not know I was playing to the subject of those songs. I might have sung them a little differently, had I known.”
Does everyone know about Jaskier’s song-writing antics except himself?
“Songs?” Geralt asks, lining his voice with the kind of smooth charm he doesn’t need Axii for. “I am no trained house husband.”
“I imagine,” she says flirtatiously, and then something shifts in her eyes that looks a little like guilt. “But,” she sighs. “Yes. Almost every one of Jaskier’s songs is about you, White One. Did you not notice that?”
She looks at him pityingly as Geralt is shocked into silence.
“I wonder what it’s like to be this oblivious,” she says ponderously, stroking his chin. “At least you’re pretty. But I think you should probably stop warming your bed with women like me, don’t you?”
Geralt studies her, a little bewildered, and she sighs again. “Don’t you listen?”
“And my face grows lined with my years,” she sings softly, her voice ethereal in its beauty, “And the roads grow over with weeds.”
“I don’t want that for him,” Geralt says haltingly. “He is happy with women. Will have a wife, a family.”
“Don’t make decisions for others,” she says haughtily, a stark contrast to her gentle singing voice. “Mortals get annoyed with the condescension of those like you.”
“Mortals would do best to stay alive,” Geralt counters, frustrated. The idea of Jaskier being his lover is insane beyond belief. And, anyway, he has Yennefer – when they work. Admittedly he hasn’t seen her for some years now, after their last fight, but –
“We’re all going to die someday,” she shrugs. “May as well be happy while we’re alive, no?” She raises an eyebrow at him. “And you didn’t say you didn’t want him. So, I guess you’re not as fixated on Yennefer of Vengerberg as everyone says.”
“I don’t want him,” Geralt snarls. “You don’t know anything about me. You just sing the songs he wrote.”
“But he knows you, doesn’t he?” she smiles, like a godling pulling off a trick. “He’s lived by your side all these years.”
Geralt feels his temper rising and storms out to the door. “I don’t know why this matters to you,” he says, “But stay out of my business.”
“Perhaps I’m just sick of singing tragedies,” the musician shrugs. “I hope he writes a happier song one day.”
Geralt slams the door of the inn on the way out. If he has sleep somewhere else tonight to escape her irritating assumptions, so be it.
It’s almost a whole month after that before he runs into Jaskier in Novigrad’s main square, and his anger has only increased in potency, simmering in the background of his thoughts like an unchecked broth.
“Geralt!” Jaskier exclaims, all smiles. “My dear friend, how wonderful to–”
“Shut up, Jaskier,” Geralt says, and drags him out of his conversation with the brightly dressed Passiflora courtesans.
“Geralt, I apologise if I have done something to trouble you, but–”
“Shut up,” Geralt snaps, and tugs him into the depths of a deserted alley. He slams Jaskier against a grimy stone wall and glares into his eyes. “What are you doing?”
“You’ll have to be more specific, my dear,” Jaskier says, voice high with shock and half hysterical.
“The songs,” Geralt grunts, “are about me.”
Jaskier stuggles in Geralt’s grip, and Geralt tightens his hold. “I really – of course they’re about you, why else would I follow you around if not to sing of your heroic–”
“The other ones,” Geralt growls.
Jaskier goes still, and says very quietly, “Oh. Yes. That.”
“Were you going to tell me?” Geralt mutters bitterly. “Or just leave it for me to find out after you were dead?”
Jaskier’s heart rate is even faster than it was before, and his breathing is erratic. “I – well – it isn’t as though it would matter,”
“Of course it would matter–”
“Or make a difference–”
“Of course it fucking makes a difference,” Geralt snarls. “You had no right–”
“Nobody knows they’re about you Geralt, most people are idiots–”
“I know,” Geralt interrupts, “I would have heard it at some point, what did you think was going to happen–”
“I’m sorry for loving you,” Jaskier hisses, “But if I can’t be honest in my songs, they aren’t worth anything, truly. I’m sorry it was such a hassle for a man to throw in his hat with the thousand other women who throw themselves at you every year–”
Geralt releases his shoulders suddenly, conscious he might leave bruises if he isn’t careful. “It isn’t about that.”
Jaskier laughs with derision, with cruelty that doesn’t suit him at all. “Oh, then. Pray tell, Geralt of Rivia, what are you so angry about?”
“I’m angry because,” says Geralt, and stops. “I – I.” He sinks his head into Jaskier’s shoulder, and the other man gives out a little exhale of surprise.
“Use your words, darling,” Jaskier says, but with less spite in his voice than before.
“I don’t want to lose you,” Geralt mutters into his friend’s leather vest. “I can’t stand the thought of it, Jaskier. Ever since I heard that stupid song, I can’t stop thinking about how you’ll haunt me at every goddamn tavern I frequent.”
Jaskier laughs, more sincerely this time. “Yes, that was the general idea. A little cruel, perhaps, but that is the lasting nature of my trade for you.”
“I want you by my side,” Geralt continues, “But I don’t want you to get hurt,” he adds, raising his eyes to meet Jaskier’s own. Blue as the purest seas, shining like the most powerful magics.
“Can I kiss you?” Jaskier murmurs, his eyes flickering down Geralt’s face and back up again. “Gods, I want to kiss you.”
“I don’t know,” Geralt says haltingly, frozen. “I don’t want our friendship to change, I don’t want–”
“I’m going to kiss you now,” Jaskier interrupts, “And then I’m going to try to sleep with you, and if that works out, or if it doesn’t, I’m going to keep being your pathetic lovelorn bard, whom you can keep or discard as you choose. As has always been the case.”
“That’s–” Geralt says, but Jaskier is kissing him, and he’s so taken aback by the novelty of Jaskier kissing him that he quite forgets what he was going to object with. Kissing Jaskier is – nice. It’s not passionate as with Yennefer, or lustful, or even mechanical as it can sometimes be. It’s soft, and gentle, but not quite like kissing a courtesan either. It feels less contrived, somehow, like this is just an extension of their friendship and this bizarre act is just a new way of expressing comradery. Jaskier is tentative but purposeful, and as he runs his hands up Geralt’s side, Geralt shudders slightly.
Do I want this? Geralt thinks, and the indecision makes him pause. “Stop,” he mumbles, and Jaskier leaps back from him at once.
“Sorry, Geralt,” Jaskier says, teeth clenched in a smile. Geralt can see the hurt in his eyes. “I just thought I saw something, I was mistaken – you’ll have to forgive an old man his senility–”
“Stop that,” Geralt shakes his head. “I just. Need to think. Come with me,” he says, almost pleadingly. “Will you?”
“Anywhere,” Jaskier breathes. “You’ve always known that.”
“Not so far as anywhere,” Geralt says simply. “My lodgings at the Kingfisher. Start with there.”
Jaskier laughs truly this time, and squeezes Geralt’s hand for a moment as they turn and walk from the alley. Geralt can feel Jaskier’s burning gaze on him as they walk through the main streets, an appropriate distance apart, and his face heats. He feels like a child, he is so unused to this novelty – the attentions of a man, his best friend, no less.
“Geralt,” Olivier smiles from behind the tavern counter. “Any drinks, or food before you retire?”
“Ah. Well,” Geralt says, stuttering a little. “Wine. Your best. And your best cheeses, too. Some fruits, if you have them.”
“You know they renamed this establishment for one of my poems,” Jaskier murmurs behind him as Olivier goes down to the cellar searching for the wines. “So it feels sometimes as though I own the place. Not good for my ego, you know. You shouldn’t add to that ego by paying through the teeth to seduce me. I’m not sure I’m that good in bed–”
“You’re telling me all those stories about your legendary sexual prowess were exaggerated?” Geralt whispers in mock surprise. “Why. Master Jaskier, did I bring you here on a false premise?”
He still isn’t certain of what he’s doing, but the exhilaration of it all is making him giddy and stupid, and flirting with Jaskier feels like the easiest and most obvious thing in the world right now.
Jaskier blinks. “Did it work?”
Geralt snorts. “I’ve seen your cock, and it’s smaller than you’d have everyone believe.”
“Perhaps you should see more of it, then,” Jaskier whispers, his eyes dancing with candlelight and mischief. “To check its length when – ah, more involved.”
Geralt elbows him just as Olivier returns with a platter of appetisers and two bottles of wine tucked under each arm. Geralt relieves him of his alcoholic burden, as Jaskier takes the food.
“Thanks,” Geralt says shortly to Olivier, already halfway up the stairs. “Add it to the cost of the room.” Behind him, Jaskier manages a quick nod to the inn’s owner before he hastens after Geralt.
Geralt has booked his favourite room, one in the corner of the building that gives him a good view over Hierarch Square and the surrounding areas. Jaskier drops the food on the well-worn table alongside the wines and rushes out to the balcony to gasp at the setting sun.
“Such a beautiful sky tonight,” he exclaims happily. He turns back to find Geralt staring at him. The setting sun has created a glowing crown around his head, the warm light softening his features.
Geralt wonders if he ever would have noticed Jaskier like this, if he hadn’t been pushed into it. He’s always been a beautiful, charming man, but Geralt paid no more attention to it than he would pay to a witch under a seductive glamour. He didn’t let his thoughts stray that way when they would be unprofitable, or even disastrous.
But now he is thinking about how Jaskier will die – is dying, slips every day closer to a death by sword or disease or old age, and Geralt feels a rush of affection and possessiveness for the man who has been by his side for so, so many years. Geralt wants to bathe in the sunset before it sets.
“Jaskier,” he says huskily, and his friend meets him halfway across the room.
“Can I kiss you?” Jaskier asks once more, and Geralt nods.
Later, much later, when the red light of the setting sun has been replaced by the white glow of a wide moon, Geralt asks him a question he’s been thinking about since that night in Kaer Trolde.
“Why are your songs so sad, Jaskier?” he says softly, tracing runes over his friend’s skin. “You seem so happy, and so many of your melodies are so – merry. But I listened properly as you asked, and they are all sad somewhere.”
“Perhaps I am secretly rather melancholy,” Jaskier replies, covering Geralt’s broad shoulders in kisses. “Always in love with someone who eludes me.”
Geralt hesitates, and Jaskier continues quickly, “I know you are not in love with me–”
“I don’t know,” Geralt sighs. “I don’t think I am. When I think of love, I think of Yennefer – how we’re tied together, how we keep coming back to each other, no matter what–”
“Because of your stupid, stupid wish,” Jaskier says bitterly. “Magic-marrying a woman you’d just met, honestly.”
“I don’t know what is and isn’t magic,” Geralt admits. “But I feel more lust for Yen than any other. This – with you – was different to that. Softer, more like friendship than passion.”
“I do not particularly have an appetite for fucking you over a unicorn at the moment,” Jaskier says wryly. “You must forgive my unadventurous sexual tastes; having three rounds of sex with the subject of my life-long affections was quite enough excitement for me today.”
Geralt shakes his head, amused. “Why me?”
Jaskier chuckles. “Self-hatred, perhaps. Wanting something I could never have. Maybe I just never wanted a boring life. Or–” he adds, drawing back from Geralt’s chest to look at him with a trademark smile. “Perhaps I just like epic stories of tragic romance, and wrote one for myself.”
“Is that the reason, Jaskier? Self-indulgence?”
Jaskier looks away from him again. “No. All I know is at one point all I wanted in life was to live with you for a while somewhere on the coast – not near any drowners, of course, but – near the coast, in a little hut where you could hunt for the local villages and I could drink my fill of your eyes, and your figure, and your soft smiles – and I could have my fill of all of it before you left me again. I was so tired of you leaving, Geralt,” Jaskier laughs. “So tired of chasing you across the Continent, feeling like I was barely earning my keep, and more often earning your ire than your affection.”
“I do not know a friend for whom I have more affection,” Geralt rumbles, nuzzling at Jaskier’s hair. “I’m sorry, Jaskier. Humans are so fragile. I tried not to care about you, to be rough, so you’d leave. I told you, when we met. The last thing I wanted was someone needing me – or for that matter, to need someone who would leave me.”
“I wouldn’t have left you,” Jaskier murmurs, his words vibrating over Geralt’s medallion. “I haven’t.”
“You will,” Geralt replies, the weight of pre-emptive grief heavy in his voice. “Unless I am killed first, you will. And I would not choose to have you care for me, to worry about me whenever I am hunting, to grieve my likely death. I care for you enough to know that is no life for any man to lead. Is that feeling love, Jaskier? I am not sure.”
Jaskier laughs again, and tips his head back up to look curiously at Geralt. “I have done nothing but sing love songs in your presence for half a lifetime, and you still do not know what love feels like?”
“Sing to me then,” Geralt whispers. “Make me understand it.”
Jaskier props himself up on one hand, and looks at Geralt with a strange intensity. “You have never asked me to sing for you before, you know.”
“Perhaps I was worried I would be so overcome with lust, I would take you right then and there,” Geralt replies sardonically.
“Ah,” Jaskier smirks. “So when you said – what was it – my singing was as a pie with no filling – it was merely to try to dissuade me from using my beguiling voice so you would not be tempted to fill up this pie?”
“Of course you would remember that,” Geralt grumbles, as Jaskier giggles with delight. Geralt waits patiently for Jaskier to stop finding his own joke so amusing, and tries in vain to recall the last time Jaskier was so full of youthful merriment. More than a decade ago, at the very least.
“So, you want to know of love,” Jaskier says, when his laughter has finally faded.
“Yes,” Geralt says. “I want to know if what I feel for Yen is real, or just the djinn’s magic. I want to know if what I feel for you is more than friendship.”
“Well, I only have my own experience to describe,” Jaskier sighs. “And I don’t know I’ve truly loved anyone other than you. So this might be a little revealing, although I suppose after you’ve – done all those things just now – it’s a bit late for modesty on my part.”
Geralt waits, and Jaskier sighs again.
“It’s a series of things I did, or felt, I suppose. When I met you, feeling like I had to follow you, no matter what. Trying to impress you, do heroic things so you’d think I was brave and capable. Embarrassing myself by flirting with every woman that came close, trying to make you jealous. Had no idea that the woman I should have been seducing all along was my own mortality,” Jaskier adds, “That you’d only be jealous of Death herself taking me from you! Now that will make for a good song.”
His unabashed glee at the prospect is comedically childlike, and yet Geralt finds it indescribably endearing.
“How can you have such an awkward virginal manner, and seduce so many women at the same time?” Geralt teases.
Jaskier hits the witcher lightly on the shoulder with mock outrage. “I’ll have you know the ladies find my manner very charming.”
“But you don’t care for them as you do me?” Geralt presses. “Not the ones you composed sonnets for? Not even the Countess de Stael? Anna Henrietta?”
“Oh, you know well I cheated even on her,” Jaskier says miserably. “It’s all about the chase, the danger – the higher the stakes, the more exciting, the more exhilarating – but the women themselves grow bothersome, Geralt. Everything I do for them is a performance, and then when I grow tired of acting, I find I cannot bring myself to share anything real with them. Their company tires me, and yours does not. My appreciation of their beauty and character wanes, and my adoration of you only grows.”
He looks away from Geralt and sits up, hunching slightly and drawing up his knees to his chest.
“When I was younger, I didn’t know that I loved you,” Jaskier says slowly. “And really - thinking on it now - I don’t know that it was love, back then. It was at least half hero worship, and the same infatuation of a boy following an older, more glamorous woman around town.”
He sighs, and draws Geralt’s hand up to press a light kiss to his palm. Still, he does not meet his eyes.
“It was when you went off with Yennefer, I realised that you would leave me behind – that we would never be true equals, that I would never be your true companion. I realised it was all I wanted, that my happiness would be to write my epics while watching over Roach, that I would willingly give up a life of wealth and fame to see your rare, fleeting smiles. I would scrub pans for you, Geralt,” Jaskier huffs. “I would tend to your wounds and watch your back but – I could not, because I was weak and frail and human,” he says, hissing the last part, “and someone like Yennefer could protect you in a way I never could.”
The night settles around them, Jaskier’s bitter, impotent words hanging in the air.
“I never performed for you,” he says, finally, when Geralt does not say anything in reply. “I have put on a show for everyone else in the world, but for you I only ever spoke exactly what was on my mind and showed you exactly what was in my heart.”
“Except when you were telling me how hopelessly in love you were with every noblewoman we met, and how they were your truest destined match,” Geralt notes drily.
“Well, sort of,” Jaskier chuckles a little. “I did love them, in a way. I can fall in love with almost anyone. People are complex, beautiful creatures. But, yes, of course - falling for you was different. I was hopelessly staying in love with you. And the last thing I wanted was for you to discover my feelings and throw me aside in disgust.”
“Explains why your love songs are so transparently about me, then,” Geralt mutters, and Jaskier laughs again.
“You never showed interest in my music! And I didn’t know that my songs about you would grow so famous as to have them sung throughout the Northern Kingdoms!”
“I thought your stuff was mostly about raunchy maids and exaggerations on how many dragons I had slain,” Geralt admits. “I didn’t really want to listen to either. You’ll forgive me in not having any interest in your sexual exploits or in your embellishments of my deeds. I didn’t want to know how the world would misremember me.”
“The world misremembers everything, Geralt,” Jaskier says. “At least this way I choose how they misremember you. A hero of legend. And,” he adds, before Geralt can object to that assessment of his character, “you seemed to have plenty of interest in my sexual exploits an hour or so ago.”
“You know what I meant,” Geralt protests, as Jaskier laughs again. Geralt thinks idly that he has missed the sound of it, and reflects again that he has not seen his friend so happy, young and carefree in years. “I had no idea you could make a song about an orgy about your love for me. And you disguised it well enough; you made it sound like you lusted after Yennefer.”
“Hiding the obvious is half the fun of writing,” Jaskier smirks. “As is reframing my love for you into different forms. Today you are the heroic knight rescuing myself, a helpless princess – tomorrow you are my no-good cheating husband, sleeping with a younger woman.”
“I suppose this explains your disdain for Yen,” Geralt sighs.
“I don’t know any of our friends go without disdain for Yennefer,” Jaskier scoffs. “You should hear how Vesemir talks about–” he stops suddenly, and shakes his head. “Look, the last thing I want to do is waste the few hours I have like this talking about that sorceress.”
“Few hours?” Geralt asks.
“A week?” Jaskier guesses. “I don’t pretend I could keep you entertained as a lover for very long, not when Yennefer has the entire spectrum of magical devices at her disposal to amuse you with–”
“Is it about sex to you, then?”
Jaskier finally looks back at him, and Geralt wonders when his friend’s eyes grew so deep and rich in colour. Perhaps it is merely the moonlight accentuating his features into an otherworldly beauty.
“No,” Jaskier whispers. “It’s about choice. Fates tied together by no magic, but by my own decision to follow you, every time I am able. I would be at your side however you wanted me, Geralt. As a lover or a friend.”
“How about both?” Geralt asks slowly, sitting up beside Jaskier and kissing a path up his shoulder blades. Jaskier chuckles and allows himself to be drawn back to bed.
The gentle light of dawn brushes at Geralt’s eyes, and a soft melody echoes around him. Jaskier’s voice, humming from somewhere nearby.
Geralt lies perfectly still, and cracks open an eye wide enough to make out Jaskier sitting at the table, scribbling notes on some paper. Ink has already stained half of his hand black. He hasn’t noticed Geralt wake, caught in one of his writing trances where even a dancing courtesan or a flame-breathing dragon could not distract him from task.
“My love is as bright as the new morning sun,” he sings in a low voice. “No, damn it. Fuck.”
“What’s the matter, Jaskier?” Geralt asks drowsily.
Jaskier startles, and looks at Geralt a little dazedly. “Nothing. It’s – oh, I just wanted to write something good and true to capture everything I feel in this moment, and I cannot for the life of me write it at all! What good is being a poet if you cannot translate the most important feelings of your life to pen and paper? What good is it if I cannot write you a song, so that one day you might remember this morning?”
“I’ll remember it,” Geralt replies quietly. “I don’t need a song to remember it.”
Jaskier smiles at him, his eyes shining with unshed tears of frustration. “Even so, I would like to memorialise this feeling, record every detail, so I might recall it later. The human memory is so fallible, you know. It’s why we make songs and stories – to remember feelings, even when facts have faded from all memory.”
“I’ll remember it,” Geralt says again, sleepily. “I’ll remember this feeling. No matter what.”
Jaskier smiles a little sadly, and Geralt recognises the emotion in his eyes at last. Love, Geralt thinks. Without magic, or lust, or ulterior motives.
“Come back to bed,” Geralt says, breaking the silence and solemnity with a terrible imitation of a whore's sultry voice. “I’ll give you more inspiration.”
“Well, I can hardly refuse the legendary White Wolf of Rivia,” Jaskier laughs, tackling Geralt into the mattress and hitting him playfully with a pillow. “Even if he interrupts his own mythologising.”
Geralt realises then that the annals of history won’t remember Jaskier as his lover, and he crushes the bard against his chest clumsily. He’s never cared for the historical record before, and yet he finds suddenly that he cares very much that Jaskier should be remembered as more than a clever bard. As someone with a bright, brave spirit, worthy of the love of the hero of his own songs.
“Write whatever you like about me,” Geralt murmurs. “But remember to include yourself as someone close to my heart. That is my only request.”
Jaskier kisses him firmly, and Geralt memorises the feeling of his friend’s lips, and his body, and his love. Whatever his own feelings are, however long this thing between them lasts – Geralt knows he is glad to have had it.