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Unintended Consequences

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“You’ve got to wonder about the mentality of a group of people who’d come together, build a trading post on the Pontar within a forest full of monsters, pirates, and murderous elves, then triumphantly name the place ‘Flotsam’ with no sense of irony whatsoever,” Jaskier said.

Geralt grunted. The witcher looked exactly like he had during their uncomfortable parting, surly and stinking, his twin swords kept close and his shoulder-length silver hair matted over his leather and mail armour. His companion was new: a slender boy in a blue hooded cloak, swimming in a shirt and breeches that were too big for him. The kid’s pale hair was hacked short to his skull, and he had unsettling, bright green eyes that fixed boldly on Jaskier’s face.

Determined not to be unnerved by a child, Jaskier sat down at their table. Flotsam’s unnamed inn had an uncomfortably sticky floor and mouldy corners that looked like they’d seen better centuries. The stone walls did little to keep out the autumn chill, and at lunchtime, the inn contained only a handful of depressed merchants and a couple of off-duty Temerian guardsmen in their blue uniforms.

“Go away,” Geralt said, his yellow cat’s eyes flicking up at Jaskier’s face. Having been around Geralt when the grumpy witcher made a real threat, however, Jaskier smiled placatingly and stayed put. Geralt’s glower eased fractionally as Jaskier paid for lunch, even for the kid.

The food was surprisingly edible: battered fried fish, fresh from the river, and greasy chips. A close study of the oddly stained cutlery provided indicated that Jaskier would possibly be risking food poisoning by using them, and he reluctantly opted to use his fingers. Geralt did the same despite his filthy fingers, though presumably, his witcher constitution made him immune to mundane ailments like upset stomachs. The little boy sat upright with his fork and knife and ate with surprising delicacy.

“And where are you from?” Jaskier asked the kid, amused. The boy’s table manners wouldn’t be out of place at many of the courts and households that Jaskier had flitted through in his time.

The kid glanced at Jaskier, then at Geralt. “None of your business,” Geralt said.

“You know what this tells me?” Jaskier said, waving a chip in the air. “It all screams ‘illegitimate stolen child’ or ’witcher business’.” He popped the chip in his mouth and broke off a square of hot fish, which flaked nicely against his fingers as he ate. “Mmmmft. The fish is either excellent, or I’ve been deprived enough to think it’s good. Gods, it’s good.”

‘Illegitimate stolen child’ made the kid flinch and stare harder at Geralt, but he said nothing as Geralt growled, “What do you want?”

“Ideally? A little appreciation would be nice. Something like ‘Thanks, Jaskier, for all the free marketing that made me the most sought-after witcher in the land.’ Ooh! Or maybe, ‘Jaskier, I’m sorry that I threw a tantrum when I got dumped by my ex and abandoned you on a mountain with a bunch of aggressive dwarves.’ But I know you very well, so I’d settle for ‘Jaskier, thanks for the free lunch.’”

The kid giggled, then looked guilty for laughing and ate another chip. Geralt exhaled, closing his eyes. “Did you follow us here?”

“No? I do have my own life, thanks very much. Flotsam happens to be the best transitory point between Vizima and Vengerberg, where my latest patron’s estates are.”

Geralt relaxed. It’d have been invisible to most, but days on the road observing his most famous ballad subject had made Jaskier aware of the very few tells that Geralt had. Geralt ate quickly, then waved over the barkeeper and bought Jaskier and himself a beer, and the boy a glass of sheep’s milk. Recognising the closest thing to an apology that he’d get from Geralt, Jaskier toasted the witcher and drank. The beer, unsurprisingly, was piss-weak and sour.

“So what’s your name?” Jaskier asked the kid.

“Yarrow,” Geralt said, even as the kid murmured, “Selkie.”

“… I was moving toward ‘witcher business’, but now I’m swinging back toward ‘illegitimate stolen child’,” Jaskier said, fascinated, “and I know witchers can’t have kids.”

“Selkie of Yarrow,” Selkie said, glowering at Jaskier.

“Where’s that?” Jaskier asked, amused by his seriousness.

“South of here,” Geralt said, not even bothering to lie inventively. “Kid’s a witcher recruit.”

“Really? I thought you said that nobody could make witchers any longer,” Jaskier said. It was something Geralt liked to bring up now and then, whenever he felt like going into a spectacular brooding session. Jaskier never understood why it always got Geralt into such a snit. After all, the mutations and surgery and terrible childhood trauma had worked, hadn’t it? Geralt was a force of nature with a blade in his hand.

This explained the weird furtiveness, though. People generally didn’t look kindly nowadays on putting children through the witcher-making process.

Geralt glanced at Selkie, then back at Jaskier. “That was then.”

“You’d be headed for Kaer Morhen then.” Jaskier’s artistic curiosity woke up. “That’s a long way from here through Kaedwen. I presume you’d be following the river up to Ard Carraigh.”

“What’s it to you?” Geralt shot Jaskier a suspicious look, clearly regretting having told Jaskier about the keep.

“It might be an interesting subject for my next song.” Jaskier unslung his lute from his back.

“Don’t start,” Geralt said with a warning stare.

Ignoring him, Jaskier cleared his throat and strummed a couple of chords. “Rising from the Elder Sea / Caer a’Muirehen lies asleep… hm no, that’s not quite right. Hidden within the Dragon Mountains / Behold the Keep of the Elder Sea. Hmm. No.”

“Spare me,” Geralt growled. He drained his beer.

“You’re out of luck. I’ve got time to burn and a captive audience.” Jaskier inclined his head at Geralt and Selkie. “Only people with Temerian Green Passes are being allowed upriver, and the captain on the barge I booked a seat on forgot to get enough for everyone.”

Geralt frowned. “Green Passes?”

“That’s right. Supposedly, there might be rogue Nilfgaardian elements around, seeping into Temeria from Sodden.” Jaskier lowered his voice. “The way I see it, though, the Commandant of Flotsam’s a greedy man looking to line his pockets before the winter sets in.”

Selkie had gone even paler. “Nilfgaardian elements…”

“This far up north? I doubt it,” Jaskier said.

“Why?” Selkie asked.

“What’d they be looking for that’d be worth all that hassle? This close to Vizima, the land will be crawling with Blue Stripes. Temerian Special Forces,” Jaskier explained, as Selkie scrunched up his face in puzzlement.

“Oh.” The kid cheered up. “You’re right.”

“No big, bad Nilfgaardians will dare to get this close anyway,” Jaskier said soothingly. “Your friend Geralt is the White Wolf, haven’t you heard? He’d make short work of any soldier.”

Selkie gave Jaskier a small smile. Geralt sniffed. “Green Passes. Where do I get those?”

“You’d have to inquire with the harbourmaster at the port, I think. When I left, the captain of the ship was arguing with her.” That hadn’t looked like an argument that the captain was going to win, colourful threats or not.

“Right.” Geralt rose to his feet. As Selkie got up as well, Geralt said, “No. Stay here. I’ll be back.”

“But—”

“You’ll be fine with Jaskier,” Geralt said. He paused. “Probably. Won’t be long.”

As Geralt strode out of the inn, Jaskier slung an elbow against the scuffed table and leaned in. “Do you want to become a witcher?” he asked quietly.

“I… yes of course. Why?” Selkie murmured.

“Given what I’ve heard from Geralt, the training’s… how do I put it? Risky? Torturous? Very horrible? And if you survive—a big if, mind you—you enter what I can only describe as a risky, torturous, horrible, and thankless profession,” Jaskier said, having once made it a policy never to lie to children, because it was more amusing that way. As Selkie nibbled on his lower lip, Jaskier said kindly, “Look. If you have second thoughts, Geralt won’t mind. The Baroness Ursa of Vengerberg invited me to her court. I’m sure she’d be able to find some use for a page.”

“Not Aedirn. Have you been to Skellige?” Selkie asked, looking uneasy.

“Thankfully, no. It’s a cold and inhospitable place to bards like me, sadly. The Skelliger people like their bards full-throated, thick-bearded, and proficient in various forms of weaponry, last I heard.” Jaskier shuddered, plucking a chord on his lute. “While I like courts that are refined and elegant, where fêtes don’t always end in a drunken brawl.”

“That’s not always so bad,” Selkie said, with a wistful smile. “My grandmother liked brawling. Grandfather, too.”

“You’re from Skellige?” Jaskier looked at Selkie sceptically. “That’s… unexpected.”

“My grandfather’s from Skellige. My family…” Selkie trailed off uncertainly, squirming on his seat. “You’re a bard… my grandmother liked to say that bards always know the most useless—I mean, the most gossip.”

“Your grandmother sounds like she was quite the character,” Jaskier said, chuckling. He’d met women like that, often hardened farmers from sturdy farmer stock, no-nonsense people who’d sooner slap you with the flat of a slipper than listen to a poem.

“She was.” Selkie stared at his hands. “Do you… do you have news of Cintra? I’ve only heard terrible things, and. My mother’s side of the family, they all live in Cintra.”

Jaskier took another slow look at Selkie, who was trembling, hunched in on himself. A sad look, and a familiar one in these darker days. War was an ugly thing, born from the very worst corners of the human soul. “Oh. Well, uh, depending on where they were? Surely Nilfgaard’s not going to put everyone in Cintra to the sword. What would be the point? They’d hardly be able to earn any tithes off a mountain of corpses… um, anyway. If your mother’s family weren’t in Cintra City, they might be all right.”

Or not. Refugees had fled Cintra, streaming into Verden and Brugge, and even there the Nilfgaardian army had pursued them. Strange, that they were so bloodthirsty. The Empire had occupied states with far less casual civilian murder before. Maybe the Usurper wanted to make an example of the Lioness. But these were things that a child didn’t need to know, especially one shaking like this, his hands clutched into fists. Selkie was a war orphan, then. Small wonder he’d agreed to become a living weapon.

“I’m sure they’re all right,” Jaskier said, as much for his sake as the kid’s. “You could write them a letter.” Bards like Jaskier sometimes performed this service in smaller towns, as they were often the only people for miles around who could read. “I can get it posted for you when I get to Vengerberg.” The chances of a child’s letter getting carried to Cintra was low, but stranger things had happened.

“I don’t have paper or ink,” Selkie said, looking helpless. “And besides. It’s… no. There’s no need. I do have a friend I’d like to write to, but I don’t know where they live.”

Paper or ink? Was Selkie literate? Jaskier barely managed to hide his surprise. What kind of commoner’s son would be literate? “What did your mother’s family do?” At Selkie’s sharp stare, Jaskier said, “If they were village merchants, the Nilfgaardian army would’ve left them alone.” A small lie, but some children could be comforted by little lies.

Selkie crumpled in on himself. “No, they… no. They… they lived in Cintra City.”

“Oh.” Jaskier mentally slapped himself in the face. “I’m sorry,” he said, inadequate as that had to sound before a child far too young to bear such a terrible degree of grief. They sat in awkward silence until Geralt returned, scowling. He frowned as he looked at them both.

“Something wrong?” Geralt asked.

“Nothing,” Selkie said with a wan smile. “Jaskier’s good company. I’m just. Tired.”

“Go up to the room and rest. I’ve got business to attend to. Might be back late,” Geralt said.

“Business?” Selkie looked upset.

Geralt glowered at Jaskier. “The Commandant doesn’t want to sell any passes to the ‘famous White Wolf of Rivia’. Wants a monster killed instead in exchange. I’ll take care of that and come back. Jaskier, watch Selkie until I’m back.”

“I didn’t study at Oxenfurt University for four years to become a babysitter,” Jaskier protested. When Geralt huffed, Jaskier held up a finger. “However, I will do this for you. In return, I expect you to go into immense detail over this ‘business’. No ‘I stabbed it in the eye, and it died’. I need details. Details.”

“Fine,” Geralt said curtly, and stomped out of the inn.

“Will he be all right?” Selkie asked, worried.

“He’ll be fine. Didn’t you ever hear about what he did to the Monster of Roggeven?”

“No?”

“Well,” Jaskier said, plucking another chord on his lute, “it’s your lucky day.”

#

On the second day of Geralt going missing, Selkie started to get anxious. “What if something happened to him?” Selkie asked over breakfast.

“Geralt is the sort of thing that happens to people, not the other way around.”

This didn’t reassure Selkie in the least. “I should go and look for him.”

“Oh no. No, no. Didn’t I mention that the forest is full of monsters and angry elves? We should stay here, where it’s relatively safe, and wait,” Jaskier said, happily tucking into his breakfast of bread and cheese.

“I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”

“Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do,” Jaskier disagreed. “Look at it this way. If whatever it is out there got the better of Geralt, what more could we do? Worse, we might get into his way.”

“But you wrote all these songs,” Selkie said with a gesture at Jaskier’s lute. “Weren’t you there with him? During his adventures?”

“Yes, and that’s why I sometimes have to drink a fortifying glass of wine before I sleep.”

“So you’re not unfamiliar with danger. Or with staying out of Geralt’s way. We should go and look for him.” As Jaskier started to protest, Selkie said, “I’m going to look for him. You can stay here if you want.”

“Look here, boy… wait, just… wait. Wait!” Jaskier was still trying to scarf down his breakfast as he followed Selkie out of the inn. “I’m not joking about the elves. In these parts, they’re called the Scoia’tael, and they like scalping people. Farmers, soldiers, it doesn’t matter. They’re murderous maniacs.”

“I don’t think elves are that bad. I’ve met some of them.”

Jaskier threw up his hands. “We don’t even know where Geralt went.”

“Easy. You can ask around. You’re the bard who wrote all his songs.” Selkie folded his arms across his skinny chest.

“…Suddenly, I’m reminded of why I’d never want to have children,” Jaskier muttered. A fish merchant remembered Geralt heading due east out of the town past the Temerian military’s stables, riding his horse. “Look, he was on his horse. We’d be on foot,” Jaskier told Selkie. “Let’s just wait at the inn where it’s safe, all right?”

“I’m going.”

“As commendable as it is to want to get a head start on your future life, that way lies madness and quite possibly a terrible death by monster or by bloodthirsty elf.” Jaskier planted his fists on his hips in what he hoped was a threatening manner. “If you’re committed to that awful idea, you’d be going by yourself. I’m going back to the inn.”

Unfortunately, this didn’t deter Selkie in the least. The kid looked around at the ugly town, at the dense wall of trees and the dirt road that snaked out to nowhere. “I’m going,” Selkie said, “and you’d be coming with me.”

“I’d like to see you make me, boy.”

Selkie stared up at Jaskier with unsettling certainty. “You’re the reason why I’m here. You owe me.”

What. Jaskier choked and started coughing. “Excuse… sorry, no, I don’t know any Cintrans, not in that way, I don’t have half-Cintran children.”

“You took Geralt along to my family’s banquet,” Selkie said quietly, “and Geralt stopped my grandmother from killing my father. Because of that—”

Realisation dawned with as much subtlety as a gut punch. “You’re Princess Cirilla,” Jaskier hissed, taking a closer look at ‘Selkie’s’ face. Gods, now that he thought of it, the kid did look a hell of a lot like her mother. “The Child Surprise.”

“So let’s go and get Geralt,” Ciri said, lifting her chin. “You owe me.”

Jaskier wiped a hand slowly down his face. This was far, far more trouble than he was usually willing to get anywhere near of, and yet—this was the biggest story in the world right now. Of the fall of Cintra, of the death of the Lioness, and of the disappearance of the so-called Child of Destiny. No wonder the Nilfgaardian army had come northwards. They were looking for Ciri. “We’re going to die.”

#

About an hour into the forest, Ciri and Jaskier were promptly ambushed by the Scoia’tael and captured, because heroic ballads involving plucky children rescuing heavily armed men from certain death were usually lies. As Jaskier’s lute was torn from him, he protested, “Hey… careful with that! It was a gift from Filavendrel!”

“Gift?” one of the scarred elven archers in furs and hides shoving Jaskier along sneered. “More like you stole it.”

“How would I have done that? I’m just a bard. How would I have been able to steal from the leader of the Free Elves?” Jaskier asked, hunching down and trying to look harmless. He yelped as the archer cuffed him in the ear.

“Hey!” Ciri protested.

“No more talking. You will both face Filavendrel’s judgment,” said the archer.

They were ‘escorted’ into a campsite hidden behind a dense thicket of trees. It was less military encampment, more desperate temporary settlement. Over a quarter of the elves Jaskier could see were injured in some way or another, a handful of them severely. They lay in a triage area in a corner of the camp, moaning and panting as an elf healer tried to ease their pain with herbs. Heads turned as Jaskier and Ciri were shoved to their knees at the edge of the encampment, and after a moment, a familiar figure strode out behind a knot of elven scouts, frowning.

Filavandrel aén Fidháil looked tired. The flaxen-haired elf had a heavily-bandaged right arm, and his sleek leather and mail armour was battered and stained. He blinked as he recognised Jaskier, looking curiously between Jaskier and Ciri as he approached. “We meet again,” Filavandrel said.

The elven archer handed Filavandrel the lute. “The human says you gave him this.”

“I did.” Filavendrel took the lute and inspected it. “Jaskier, was it?”

“Yes,” Jaskier said, forcing a bright smile. “You uh, you look good.”

“How did that song of yours go, hm? ‘They came after me / With masterful deceit / Broke down my lute / And they kicked in my teeth’? Did we?” Filavendrel asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Okay, look,” Jaskier said desperately, “it’s not my best work, sure, and I was a little liberal with the details—”

“The popularity of the song did me a favour,” Filavendrel said with a sharp smile.

“—and I… Really? I mean, haha, of course, it did,” Jaskier amended weakly.

“People thinking that Geralt had wiped us out meant we could travel north more easily.” Filavendrel gestured at Jaskier and Ciri. “Cut them loose. Why are you here with a child?”

“This is Selkie. He’s a witcher apprentice. Soon-to-be apprentice, of Geralt.” Jaskier explained the situation in Flotsam as the archers grudgingly cut him and Ciri loose.

“A monster in the woods troubling even armed caravans and the Temerian soldiers? Yes. We know about the creature. We stay clear of its lair,” Filavendrel said. He turned and asked the cluster of curious onlookers a question in the Elder Speech. Several elves started talking all at once. There was a short argument with gestures, then Filavendrel turned back to Jaskier. “None of the scouts saw Gwynbleidd, but the monster hasn’t been patrolling its territory recently.”

“Gwynbleidd?” Ciri asked.

“The White Wolf.” Filavendrel smiled another sharp smile. “Isn’t that what the song calls him?”

“All right, so, more importantly, Geralt appears to already have killed this monster and is probably on his way back to Flotsam, in which case, you’re in so much trouble,” Jaskier told Ciri.

“I want to take a look,” Ciri said.

Jaskier gave Filavendrel a helpless look. “Baby witchers, keen as anything, haha. Look, your h—your Brattiness. If you annoy Geralt too much, he might change his mind over this whole making you into a witcher thing. Which, to be honest, would probably be for the best, but—”

“Where is this lair?” Ciri asked Filavendrel.

Filavendrel looked amused. “Are all witchers so fierce, even the young? Interesting. I’ll show you both.”

“What about the monster?” Jaskier yelped.

“As you mentioned, minstrel, it might be dead.”

“And if it’s not?” Jaskier asked.

Filavendrel shrugged. “It’s an Imperial Manticore. We run away very quickly and try not to get stung.”

“I love this plan,” Jaskier said sourly.

#

The huge manticore was dead, and elven scouts found Geralt face-down in a blackberry bush, unconscious from his wounds. Another scout found and led over Geralt’s horse. With great reluctance, Jaskier borrowed a knife from Filavendrel and gingerly cut off what he hoped was a recognisable trophy, after which Filavendrel instructed the other elves to load Geralt carefully onto the horse’s back.

“Thanks,” Jaskier told Filavendrel as they walked, trying not to look at the gruesome trophy that he was holding at arm’s length. Ciri led Geralt’s horse, occasionally looking back at the slow-breathing body with open concern.

Filavendrel shook his head. “That thing ate three friends of mine. Now we can recover some of their bones.” A couple of elves had stayed behind to sift through the dank, stinking lair. “And don’t thank me yet. Anariel will need to look at Gwynbleidd’s wounds. Pray to your gods that he wasn’t poisoned.”

“Why?” Ciri asked in a small voice. “Is he… would he recover?”

“Manticore poison is deadly. You’ll learn that in Caer a’Muirehen, assuming that you survive the mutation process,” Filavendrel said, his lip curling. “You humans. The monsters of the forests and the seas kill because of your insatiable hunger for land and resources: they are left with no choice. Kill travellers, eat livestock, or die. So you create schools where you turn children into monsters in turn, to hunt the hungry. Yet you shun your people despite the sacrifices they’ve made. Worse, you raze the schools to the ground and hunt the survivors. The monsters remain, growing fat off the corpses from your wars. Humanity is insane.”

“I can’t fault that logic,” Jaskier conceded.

“You work with Nilfgaard,” Ciri said, staring evenly at Filavendrel.

“Ignore the boy,” Jaskier said quickly, “he’s fallen in with bad company and all that.”

“We do work with Nilfgaard,” Filavendrel said, inclining his head. “Why not?”

“Why not?” Ciri said, incredulous. “Nilfgaard put Cintra to the sword. Kills refugees. Civilians.”

“Why not?” Filavendrel said mockingly. “Little boy, don’t you know what Cintra did to my people? They put them to the sword, hanged them on trees, burnt their bodies on mass pyres. They killed refugees and civilians.” Ciri flinched, staring at her feet. “The Lioness deserved to die,” Filavendrel said, looking up at the trees. “Her and the rest of them. Die as we had died.”

“That’s… that’s wrong,” Ciri said.

“Wrong?” Filavendrel chuckled. “Child, nothing in this world is right and wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective. You think Nilfgaard is evil for invading Cintra and putting it to the sword. We elves think Cintra and the Northern Kingdoms are evil for invading our cities and putting us to the sword, forcing any survivors to live in poverty. Elven families still get strung up in villages for the smallest reasons. For being different. Are the Northern Kingdoms more right than Nilfgaard? Are they more wrong? That’s life for you. The powerful eat the weak.”

“Is that all that it can be?” Ciri said, hands clenched at her sides. “Violence circling back on violence, eating itself?”

“You’re too young to understand, but you will,” Filavendrel said, his smile now merciless. “The witchers at Caer a’Muirehen will turn you into something more than human, that the other humans will see and treat as less than human. Only then will you know how we feel.”

#

Geralt woke with a raw gasp, startling Jaskier into fumbling his lute over his knees. “Where…” Geralt hesitated, frowning at Jaskier. “Inn?”

“Back in Flotsam, yes,” Jaskier said, grinning. “Surprise!”

“Fuck. Manticore… trophy…”

“I took care of that. It’s in the stable with your horse.”

Geralt gave Jaskier an incredulous stare. “What?”

“Yes. I, Jaskier, minstrel and poet extraordinaire, saved your stinking ass and brought you back here.”

“Ciri?”

“I’d have expected some thanks rather than more questions, but yes, Ciri is fine.”

“…fuck. I meant… wait. You know?”

“That ‘Selkie from Yarrow’ was someone else entirely? Sure. Nothing gets past me,” Jaskier said, lying confidently. Geralt closed his eyes, breathing slowly. Shorn of his armour and his very many weapons, Geralt was handsome, in a weirdly brutal way. He was powerfully built, lashed with scars, superbly muscular. Jaskier knew sculptors who would’ve willingly given a finger or three to take Geralt’s measure.

As to Jaskier himself—well. He’d always been an appreciator of beautiful things. In Rinde, when Jaskier had accidentally witnessed Yennefer and Geralt in flagrante delicto, they’d both been mostly clothed. He'd felt then that it was a bit of a pity.

“What?” Geralt had noticed Jaskier staring.

Jaskier gestured at the bandages across Geralt’s chest. “You weren’t poisoned, thankfully, but you still got scratched badly. Even with your armour.”

“Did you do this?” Geralt picked at the bandages. He sniffed the air. “Elven herbs. Scoia’tael?”

“Let’s just say I met an old friend in the woods who wasn’t very particular to how he appeared in one of my songs,” Jaskier said, with a pointed glance at the door. “He told me where you were. Ciri helped too,” Jaskier said generously.

Geralt grunted. “You took a child into the forest.”

“She went into the forest and I went after her,” Jaskier corrected in a low voice. “The princess is a serious handful, if you haven’t already noticed.”

This pulled a tired, faint smile onto Geralt’s mouth. “I’ve noticed.”

“Are you truly going to turn her into a witcher? I thought witchers were all men.”

“Not all. And no. I just want to hide her for a while. Don’t know where else.”

“There are plenty of places that’d be far more suitable for a little girl of her breeding,” Jaskier said, raising his eyebrows. “I can think of at least thirteen offhand.”

“How many of those can withstand a Nilfgaardian hunting party?”

“…Three of those offhand.”

“Too dangerous. Maybe in a few years, when they stop looking.” Geralt eyed Jaskier soberly. “Thank you.”

“By the Gods, my ears deceive me. I’m going to record this moment down for posterity. Maybe even write a song about it.”

“Don’t make me hurt you.”

#

The elven healer had no concept of modesty. Thank the Gods Ciri hadn’t been looking when the healer had stripped Geralt down in the encampment to check him for injuries. Now that Jaskier had a complete eyeful of what Geralt looked like under the scowl and the filth and armour, though, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Jaskier kept staring at Geralt at unguarded moments as he and Ciri took turns nursing Geralt back to health. He couldn’t help it. Geralt’s package was a monster of a thing. Jaskier was surprised that it even fit within Geralt’s leather breeches. Surely magic was involved.

Unfortunately, once Geralt stopped being feverish, he noticed. Jaskier was clumsily replacing Geralt’s bandages one evening when Geralt said, “Why are you staring?”

“Uh, what?” Jaskier nearly dropped the bowl of clean bandages onto the floor.

“At me,” Geralt said, blunt as ever. “What are you expecting? Scales? Horns?”

“You do have an incredible number of scars,” Jaskier said, lying through his teeth.

“Not where you’re looking,” Geralt said, pointing at his crotch.

Ah, fuck. Jaskier could feel his ears starting to get hot. “That, well, I. Sorry.”

“Why?” Geralt smirked. “I don’t mind.” As Jaskier gawked at him, Geralt reached over and patted his knee. “The ship you charted. Is it still here?”

“Left yesterday,” Jaskier said.

“What about your Vengerberg appointment?”

“It’ll keep. Whatever. Patronages are a dime a dozen.”

Geralt blinked. “You stayed for me.”

“That’s what you think,” Jaskier said, though his ears reddened further. “I stayed for a little girl of our mutual acquaintance, who probably shouldn’t be left to her own devices in a town surrounded by Nilfgaardian sympathisers.”

“I’m… glad you’re here,” Geralt murmured.

“You should be. Besides, I haven’t been paid for my efforts. Details, I said. Manticore details.”

“Just that,” Geralt said in a husky voice, “and nothing more?” He looked pointedly at Jaskier’s ears.

“I… Geralt…” Jaskier went very still as Geralt curled a finger under his chin, tugging him over.

To Jaskier’s dull surprise, Geralt could kiss. He took Jaskier’s mouth with economical confidence, drawing Jaskier closer to suck on his lip, to lick into Jaskier’s mouth. Jaskier didn’t often prefer men to women, but where Geralt was concerned, it felt as though this was simply the unexpected but logical endpoint of their strange friendship. They’d saved each other’s lives, spent time together and time apart, and yet every time they were reunited, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

“Hmm,” Geralt growled. He pulled Jaskier over with his easy strength, settling Jaskier over his narrow hips. Jaskier gasped and flushed as he felt Geralt’s immense package rub up between his thighs. Geralt laughed. “So that’s it.”

“Is that even natural, or is it a witcher thing?” Jaskier asked, rolling his hips and gasping as the bulge seemed to get even bigger. Harder. “I don’t even… do you get light-headed from blood loss whenever you get hard?”

Geralt rolled his eyes, kissing Jaskier instead of answering. They moved awkwardly against each other until Jaskier found a careful rhythm that didn’t aggravate any of Geralt’s injuries, groaning as he ground against Geralt with their clothes in the way. This wasn’t remotely comfortable for either of them, and yet it was working, somehow—Geralt was breathing in shallow huffs, hands clenched tight over Jaskier’s hips, while Jaskier tried to bury his groans against his wrist, mindful of the other guests in the inn. Of Ciri, who was hopefully in the stables, brushing Geralt’s horse as she’d been told to.

“I could try to fit it inside you someday,” Geralt said, his breath hot against Jaskier’s cheek. “With enough patience and prep, it might work.”

“Much as I like singing about large swords, I’m not entirely sure about getting pierced by one, thank you,” Jaskier said faintly. He fumbled with his belt, cursing as he shoved down his breeches and underthings. Taking a moment to ready himself, he pushed down Geralt’s breeches and underwear—and gaped anyway. “Now I understand why so many sorceresses are obsessed with you,” Jaskier said.

Geralt snorted, reaching over for his belt on the side table and taking out a small vial of oil of some kind. As he unstoppered it, Jaskier squinted at the vial. “That isn’t one of your many anti-monster weapon oils, is it?”

“This one is non-toxic to humans,” Geralt said, which wasn’t a ‘no’.

“I might still get a rash and… ohh. Gods.” Jaskier thrust eagerly into Geralt’s slicked palm as it closed around him. With another snort, Geralt tugged at Jaskier briskly until Jaskier was pushing breathlessly into his grip. Only then did he shift his grasp, his callused fingers stretching to grip them both as Jaskier rubbed eagerly against Geralt’s massive shaft. This felt far better than it should, with the most sensitive part of Jaskier squeezed in sword-roughened hands, with the most dangerous man he had ever met moaning into his ear. “Close,” Jaskier panted, titillated by the sight of their cocks squeezed together, of the silvery hair that tickled down Geralt’s belly. “Geralt… aah… mmph!”

Geralt pressed his free hand over Jaskier’s mouth, pressing away Jaskier’s cry as he spilt wetly over Geralt’s belly. After a few hard strokes, Geralt grunted and tensed up as he added to the mess with thick, hot stripes of come. Geralt looked down as Jaskier went limp, still stroking his softening cock idly, his knuckles bumping up against Jaskier’s sensitive flesh. “That was fast,” Geralt said.

“Fuck off. I can’t be expected to perform with that abnormal thing pushed up against me.”

Geralt smiled, baring his teeth, as wolf-like now as the moniker that Jaskier had coined for him. “You’d get used to it.”