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Julian is six when he realizes that he's got an astounding capacity for being an annoying bastard. He's seventeen when he finally decides to lean in.

The logic is this: Julian spent the majority of his life terrified of being disliked. Shepherded from caretaker to caretaker and between groups of bought friends who made nasty faces when his back was turned and shared snide comments about his need to grow up when he spouted off little rhymes about their adventures through the courtyard.

(He still thinks the one about the mouse in the chambermaid's room is quite good. Children aren't really his target audience these days, but if they were…)

In any case, it was a constant losing game. Try to be normal, try to be liked, discover you'd been failing all along despite the suffocation. It saves him quite a bit of time to weed them out up front instead.

And it helps, being Jaskier. It stings less when you're not being told to fuck off using your real name.

He's been doing it for about a year when he meets the witcher, so he's fairly confident that this will go one of two ways: either he gets punched right out or he gets a big, strong travel companion with tales to feed his lute.

He's not expecting it to be both, but that's what happens.

 

~*~

 

The first time Jaskier suspects that Geralt might actually tolerate him, they've just stopped on the side of the road for lunch while hunting for the devil. 

(Well, Geralt is hunting the devil. Jaskier is managing the social part of the experience while potential rhymes for witcher bounce around in his skull.)

Jaskier's stomach still hurts from getting socked in it, but he missed breakfast this morning and dinner the night before, and besides there's still all that bread in his pants.

(Okay, yes. He hears it now.)

Jaskier pulls out the three loaves and sets them on his handkerchief, which he carefully lays out over his thigh. He can feel the prickle of Geralt watching him, those strange golden eyes fixed… somewhere.

Jaskier looks down at his lap, then holds up the biggest loaf of bread in offering. "Want some? I think it's gone a little stale. Or unintended to be eaten without being washed down with beer to begin with. Actually, did you know your eyes are nearly the color of—erm, nevermind."

He chucks it at Geralt without waiting for a response. 

Geralt looks at the bread in his hand, then at Jaskier's trousers with a raised eyebrow.

Oh, right. Bread from pants. Not normal.

This is why Jaskier doesn't try anymore.

Geralt hums, shrugs minutely with one shoulder, and tears a huge chunk out of the loaf with his teeth.

Jaskier chews his stale bread around a smile.

 

~*~

 

Here's what Jaskier learns from the whole adventure, besides the shockingly low veracity of his university’s history curriculum and how durable his ribs are:

People don't like Geralt unless they want something from him.

Jaskier understands that as well as anyone; people tend to only like him for the exact amount of time it takes to sing a ballad, or to draw out an orgasm. Sometimes both, if he's lucky.

He can't fix that for either of them, but he can make people want Geralt all the time.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier's been barking for Geralt for nearly a year the first time he suspects that they might be friends.

They're camped out in a forest, a fire crackling between them, and Jaskier is plucking glumly at his lute —total writer's block.

"Play something besides the damn coin song," Geralt says gruffly. He tears into a piece of smoked meat that Jaskier prefers to not know the origins of. "It's been stuck in my head for days."

Jaskier flops down against the forest floor, which he immediately regrets. The leaves are suspiciously damp.

"I would if I weren't utterly, entirely uninspired!" he complains, blinking up at the trees. "Tell me a story—something interesting, a monster I haven't seen you face. I need new material."

Geralt hums in the negative.

"Please, Geralt!" Jaskier whines. He sits up, brushing leaf bits out of his hair. "Our adventures have become so routine lately, and predictable! Hardly the stuff that can fill a ballad."

"If the work is so boring," Geralt drawls, "why don't you face the next Necrophage yourself?"

Jaskier ignores him. "Just one monster, Geralt! Just one! You never indulge me."

Geralt hums again, this time with something approaching resignation. He prods at their waning fire with a stick and says, "A kikimora."

Jaskier's face lights up.

"Really?" He grabs his notebook with delight, flipping frantically to a new page. "Oh, tell me everything! How did you kill it?"

"A sword," says Geralt.

Jaskier huffs. "More specifically?"

"To the head." 

"Was it difficult?"

"Yes."

"Where were you?"

"A swamp."

Jaskier sighs dramatically. "Honestly, Geralt, it's almost as if you don't want me to rehabilitate your image."

"I don't. You keep following me."

"Just—" Jaskier throws his hands up and changes tactics. "At least describe the creature to me. Do they really have ten legs?"

"Eight," Geralt corrects.

"Oh," Jaskier furrows his eyebrows, scribbling down a note. "So more like a spider?"

Geralt frowns thoughtfully. "Hm. How many legs does a spider have?"

Jaskier gapes at him.

A slow, tiny smile twitches across the witcher's face.

Jaskier drops his pen in disbelief, barking out a laugh.

"A joke?" he asks gleefully. "You just made a joke!"

Geralt picks up his dinner again and takes another bite, watching Jaskier's face from under shadowed eyelashes.

You like me, Jaskier thinks, and the lump forms in his throat so fast that he nearly chokes on it. Damn it all, I'm going to fall in love with you, aren't I?

 

~*~

 

They're just east of Temeria the first time Geralt leaves him.

Jaskier's been playing downstairs for the past three nights, listening to Geralt fuck his half of the money away with a hooker upstairs. 

Not that Jaskier could pass judgement even if he cared to, it's just that—Geralt could fuck Jaskier for free, and then they wouldn't be getting thrown out of the inn. 

Well, Geralt's getting thrown out, technically, but seeing as Jaskier's going to pay their debts and follow it's a silly bit of semantics.

Except Geralt unties Jaskier's bag from Roach's saddle, shoves it against Jaskier's chest, and says, "You're not coming."

There's the obvious quip about how someone's been doing enough of that for the both of them, but Jaskier just blinks. "What?"

"You're not coming," Geralt repeats. "I suggest going North."

"Of course I'm coming!" Jaskier argues. He goes to re-tie his bag. "We've got a new job, don't we?"

Geralt stills Jaskier's hands—a brush of calluses between them before he fumbles for the bag again and yanks it away.

"I have a job." Geralt drops the bag in the dirt. "You're done chasing my tail."

Jaskier stands there, gaping. His hands feel cold. He says, "I don't understand. Geralt, if you think I'm afraid—"

"I don't," Geralt tells him. He takes his own bag and slings it over his shoulder. "You should be."

He makes for the road that points west.

Jaskier glances at Roach, who's still firmly stabled. "You're leaving Roach?"

"Collateral."

"What?" Jaskier follows after him. "How much do you owe? I can pay—"

"No."

"Geralt—"

"No."

"—you're scaring me."

Geralt halts; Jaskier nearly walks straight into him. "Good."

"Not like that," Jaskier corrects. He steps in front of him, swallowing down the desperation. "I just meant—what's in Temeria? Why are you going alone?"

"Nothing for your songs."

Jaskier laughs nervously and says, "Well, you have horrible taste in music, so I really don't think you're the best judge, do you? Besides, I can always—"

"We're not doing this," Geralt snaps. "Go North."

"I'll watch Roach for you."

"Go North, Jas."

Geralt brushes past him at a pace brisker than he normally takes Roach. Conversation firmly ended.

 

~*~

 

That's the problem with the first seventeen years. Julian can't unlearn how badly he wants it—to be liked.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier goes North. He sings all the best songs about the White Wolf; no one tips when he sings anything else. There are rumors of a vukodlak in Temeria that disperse after a few weeks, followed by rumors of a dead witcher.

Not Jaskier's, he hopes.

One afternoon on the cusp of spring, he's on his second ale, making eyes at a lovely woman who doesn't look at all satisfied with the man she came in with, when the tavern floor creaks under the weight of naggingly familiar footsteps.

Geralt must notice Jaskier; he notices everything. He takes a seat at the very end of the bar and orders himself a drink.

Jaskier slips off his stool and is next to him in a flash, self-preservation instincts firmly squashed.

"Geralt!" he says brightly. "You're alive! That's wonderful news, truly, I was starting to think I'd have to dedicate my next ballad posthumously. Or that you were avoiding me. Were you avoiding me?"

Geralt glances sideways at him, raises his eyebrows roughly half a centimeter, then tells his beer, "Hi."

"Right, it's still sort of unclear." Jaskier cranks it up, pressing the issue. "I mean, where have you been? Did you kill the vukodlak? Is that why you went to Temeria?"

Geralt takes a drink. "No."

"You didn't kill it or that's not why you went?" Jaskier asks.

"No."

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "That isn't how questions work!"

Geralt drinks deeper from his cup.

"Come on, Geralt, give me something," Jaskier wheedles. "Or I'll play the coin song again, hm? My lute is just over there."

"I told you," Geralt says evenly. "There's no song in it for you."

Jaskier highly doubts that, but still presses, "As a friend, then. What happened in Temeria?"

"We're not friends," says Geralt. He pushes his empty cup away. "It was a striga."

Jaskier laughs. "Nice try, even I know those are an old wives' tale."

Geralt shrugs and says, "Sometimes men invent monsters. Sometimes old wives are right."

"Wait." Jaskier leans in closer, scrutinizing Geralt's face. There's a sliver of bandage peeking out from under his armor. "You're serious? Did you kill it?"

"Cured her." Geralt turns in his chair, taking in the room. "Told you—no song."

"I beg to differ!" Jaskier argues. He sits up straighter, gesturing grandly. "That's even more heroic! You must have been rewarded handsomely, and there'll be more where that's coming from once I write—"

"There's a little girl involved, Jaskier," Geralt rebukes. His hand goes up to his neck as-of self-consciously, rubbing at the thin gauze. "And what was it that you said didn't make history?"

Fucking broody, sexy witcher and that upstanding conscience of his.

Jaskier sighs dramatically. "Oh, alright. But I'm going to play 'Toss a Coin' again. I've got bills to pay, you know."

Geralt turns back to face the bar, the fingers of one hand pressed into his temple. 

Jaskier's hopping to his feet to grab his lute when one of the townsfolk—oh, even better, that same bloke accompanying the woman Jaskier would very much like to meet—approaches Geralt.

"You're the witcher, ain't you?" the man asks. "The one the bard keeps barkin' about."

Geralt nods.

"I've got work for ya," says the man.

Jaskier glances over the stranger's shoulder. The woman is sitting with her legs neatly crossed; she uncrosses them when she catches him staring, flashing a bit of skin before resettling.

"What kind?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier raises his eyebrows. The woman wets her bottom lip.

"It's better I show ya," the man tells him. "At the mill."

Excellent. Jaskier's night is really looking up. This woman has the most lovely curls and she watched him the entire time he sang, and he's thinking of his room upstairs and wondering if the sheets have been changed on the bed, when—

"Jas," Geralt calls gruffly, halfway to the door. "You coming?"

There's this beautiful little silence that he's sure no one else hears.

Julian grabs his lute and follows.

 

~*~

 

So it goes that way. Perhaps for half a decade; Jaskier stops counting, though he could do the math if he wanted to. Growing older feels strange when his only friend ages in scars. 

They'll travel together for a few months at a time, and then Geralt will get crotchety about how a job is too dangerous or Jaskier's played the same fucking song too many times (which means the job is too dangerous) and head off on his own.

Jaskier always goes back North, which is just as well—there are parts of the Continent where witchers have put themselves out of work and people have far more coin to spend hearing tales of heroes they no longer need. 

Occasionally his family asks after him. 

Geralt and him keep finding each other, somehow. Jaskier is well-positioned to hear all the best rumors, especially while in certain positions, if his meaning is made clear. He drifts in the proper directions and takes a pay cut to sing in the seedier taverns, and sends up a little pragmatic thanks to Destiny.

(Not that he'd ever tell Geralt any of it. Especially the last bit.)

For example, there's a town with a selkiemore problem, and Jaskier really needs a favor.

He takes eager notes while a villager who smells suspiciously like piss describes the monster, paying special attention to the bit about the handsome witcher—

(Jaskier may fill in some details for himself.)

—being swallowed whole.

"And then what happened?" he urges.

The man looks at him in confusion. "He… died."

"Ehh," says Jaskier, waving a dismissive hand. "He's fine."

The man begins, "Look, I was there. I saw it with my own—"

The doors swing open to reveal an imposing figure entirely covered in grime and blood.

"Told you!" Jaskier brags delightedly.

"Gah," someone asks, "what's that smell?"

"Selkiemore guts," says Geralt. He reeks. His eyes are bright amidst the mess of his face. "Had to get it from the inside. I'll take what I'm owed."

Fuck. This shouldn't be hot. Under no circumstances should this be hot.

Jaskier swallows thickly, then steadies his voice to sing. "Toss a coin to your Witcher, O Valley of Plenty—"

Geralt locks gazes with him just to roll his eyes before stalking to the bar.

Jaskier gets the whole place singing along and tossing coins into his lute case, grinning broadly, and slips through the crowd to sidle up next to Geralt.

Well, not terribly close. He likes this outfit.

"You're welcome," he chimes in Geralt's ear, leaning against the bar.

Geralt rinses his mouth out with half a mug of ale and spits.

(Shouldn't be hot. Get it together, Julian.)

"And now, Witcher, it's time to pay your debt," Jaskier teases. He waits a beat for the predictable lack of an answer. "'What debt?' you're probably asking yourself in your head right now. Well, I'll tell you—I've made you famous, Witcher."

Them both famous, but—details, details.

Geralt waves to the bartender for another round.

"And all I'm asking for is one teeny, teeny-weeny little favor," Jaskier tells him.

"Fuck off, bard," Geralt grumbles.

Yeah, Jaskier's not gonna do that. He turns the charm all the way up, really sweetening the pot. There may be some eyelash fluttering.

 

~*~

 

And also the promise of a free bath.

Geralt strips out of his clothes while Jaskier draws the water in buckets and tries very hard not to stare. The clothes make a horrible wet slapping sound when Geralt tosses them onto the floor.

"So what's this favor, really?" Geralt asks. 

"Oh, it's really nothing," Jaskier says lightly. He purses his lips at the sound of Geralt padding over to the tub. "Queen Calanthe is throwing—"

"Ach," says Geralt.

"Oh, hush," Jaskier scolds, turning around. "You haven't even—oh, you're making your 'injury face,' what's happened?"

Geralt scowls at him, half-lowered into the tub. "I don't have an injury face."

Jaskier rolls his eyes, which are firmly and absolutely fixed on Geralt's face. Possibly his chest. And his arms, flexing to hold his weight up.

"Yes you do." He waves a hand in Geralt's direction. "It's that one. So, out with it—what happened? Did the selkiemore—no, literally out of the bath, you brute, let's have a look and make sure you don't need a healer—did the selkiemore get you?"

"I don't need a healer," Geralt grunts, but he drips water and monster blood all over the floor when he obeys. "It's just. Sitting is unpleasant."

"Oh." Jaskier flushes, trying to contain— "Erm, well, I didn't—"

Geralt drily cuts in, "A dog bit me."

Jaskier stifles a shocked giggle.

"A—I'm sorry, do you mean as in—" another giggle. "Erm, a werewolf or perhaps some sort of cursed—"

"Fuck you," Geralt gripes, and then leans his forearms against the edge of the tub to put his rather prominent ass on display, which really isn't helping Jaskier's composure in the slightest. "A normal dog. Just tell me if it broke the skin."

"Right, yes, I can absolutely do that. Yes." Jaskier clears his throat and examines… well.

There's a clear bite mark on the side of Geralt's thigh, sort of up high near—

Yes. 

"It looks like it, and it's bruising something nasty. Like, it's this purple color, sort of like a plum, or maybe a—" 

"Jaskier."

"—and it's swelling up, which is really saying something because you're very —is it all the hiking? Chamomile! Chamomile helps with inflammation, I think, stay there."

Melitele help him.

Jaskier digs through the drawers in the rented bathroom and finds a chamomile salve, as well as salts for soaking. 

"Now," he says, diverting, "please explain to me how you escaped the selkiemore unscathed only to fall prey to a normal dog?"

Geralt says, "Apparently dogs like selkiemore guts. I went to shoo it away and…" he sighs, annoyed. "Animals don't like me."

Jaskier frowns as he pops the salve open. "Roach likes you."

"Small animals," Geralt amends.

Jaskier flits back over and dips two fingers into the cool salve, which he swipes over the wound. Geralt's skin is hot to the touch.

"I find it hard to believe a little dog managed to take the famous White Wolf by surprise," Jaskier teases. 

Geralt mutters, "Medium dog," and then something else unintelligible.

"What was that?" asks Jaskier. He gathers more salve and smoothes it higher up, along the curve of Geralt's ass.

Louder and no less irritably, Geralt repeats, "I didn't want to hurt it."

His shoulders twist and coil when Jaskier's fingers press a little against one of the tooth marks, and his grimey hair is sticking to the side of his jaw, and, Melitele, Jaskier just so badly wants to say any number of mortifyingly tender things that what comes out is—

"You're lucky that my companionship does come with a modicum of secrecy." Jaskier smiles softly, not that Geralt can see. "Because I think the tale of the famous witcher being bested by a pooch would make for a wonderful song, otherwise."

"Yes, thank you, bard," Geralt remarks drily, "for protecting my public reputation, which your career depends upon."

He turns his head to flash a quirk of his lips, bright strange eyes twinkling, and it occurs to Jaskier at precisely that moment that his hand is still resting, chamomile forgotten, on the curve of his ass.

It hurts in the way a bare hand pressed to a hot pan does, which is to say not at all until he pulls away.

It becomes a little hard to breathe. Jaskier is staring at the twin rows of teeth marks and hoping, with all his weak and horrible heart, that they'll scar.

Geralt hums restlessly, turns his head back away, and asks, "Can you get a little to the left?"

Jaskier nods, which communicates nothing. He gets a little to the left, then spanks an uninjured area of flank with forced cheer.

"Okay, back in the water with you!" he declares, moving away to grab another bucket. "You still smell like particularly rancid death—I mean, really rancid, just awful, Geralt, truly—and we've got an engagement party to attend."

Geralt's head snaps up. "A what?"

Jaskier closes his eyes with relief. It'll just be a nice, normal evening.

 

~*~

 

It is not a nice, normal evening.

Like, genuinely, what the fuck?

Jaskier watches Geralt leave with that druid with the unfortunate name; he figures they're going to talk out what to do about the fucking Child Surprise that now exists and then come back, so no real need to go after them. Besides, he's still holding Ula's hand from when they both got blown back against the wall and nearly died, and it's much more reassuring to do that than not.

Except Ula sort of starts edging away from him when a group of men dig themselves out from underneath a shattered table, and the druid returns with no Geralt in sight.

Jaskier hedges, "Erm, forgive me, dearest, I must—"

"Yes," she whispers, somewhat stiffly. "Thank you, though."

Jaskier sighs, glancing back at her once as he slips out into the hall. He did really like her.

(He always really likes them. It's a wonderful sort of curse, isn't it? Love is beautiful and irreplaceable, and will happen again next week.)

Geralt is near the exit by the time Jaskier catches up to him with his breath a little short.

"Geralt!" Jaskier comes to a slippery halt, catching himself on Geralt's arm. "Are we leaving? Aren't you going to deal with the whole—"

"I'm leaving," Geralt says with a raised eyebrow. "Alone. What happened to that woman?"

"Oh, right." Jaskier laughs nervously. "She was beautiful, wasn't she? Very much married, I think, which I suspect wouldn't have ended well for me tonight without my bodyguard."

He punches Geralt lightly on the bicep.

"Hm." Geralt holds the door open for him. "When are you going to stop chasing after people who could get you killed, Jas?"

Jaskier falls in step with him as they make their way back over to the stables. There's a tear in the shirt Jaskier wheedled him into wearing and the hair that Jaskier combed his fingers through to coax into laying flat is falling in translucent wisps around his face, and Jaskier falls back in love with him every night.

"Probably never," he admits softly. Mostly to himself.

Geralt hums again. He doesn't speak until they reach the stables, where he tells Roach hello.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier's never really grasped jealousy, as an emotion. Lovers, food, the coin tossed into the case of his lute—he's always found it more pleasurable to share.

 

~*~

 

Entirely unrelatedly, he truly cannot fucking stand Yennefer of Vengerberg.

 

~*~

 

Jaskier's face is buried in the crook of Zofia's neck as he rocks his hips into her, the sweet prick of her fingernails holding him down by the shoulders and oh, oh, he'll write a sonnet about this, a thousand sonnets, about her hair and the tiny gasps she makes when he mouths at her throat.

Like a fair sky at dusk—

Too cliché?

"Harder," Zofia whispers.

Jaskier hitches her leg up around his waist.

With a Halo of—

The door creaks open and the both of them freeze, Jaskier mid-thrust and Zofia's moan cutting off into an embarrassed squeak.

"Fuck," says Geralt.

The door slams shut.

Honestly, it's a miracle that this hasn't happened before. Jaskier clears his throat awkwardly and brushes away the hair falling in Zofia's face.

"So sorry about that, my dear, it appears my travelling companion has returned early," he says, fingers trailing down the side of her face. "You see, he specifically told me to stay here and not get into any trouble, which as you can see I've somewhat violated, because your beauty will surely be the—"

"For the love of Melitele," she cuts in with exasperation, "just fuck me."

"Erm." Jaskier bites his bottom lip around a thrilled little smile. "Yes, ma'am."

 

~*~

 

Geralt stomps back into their room approximately five minutes after Zofia vanishes down the stairwell with her skirts hiding the love bites on her thighs.

Jaskier is still very much naked and only vaguely conscious. He squints at Geralt's pinched expression and drawls, "Someone is extra broody tonight."

Geralt grunts and chucks Jaskier's underwear at him.

"Wait, are you actually mad at me?" Jaskier wriggles into his underwear under the covers. "You're the one who said—" he deepens his voice into a gravelly parody. "'Stay here. I'll be gone all night.' What else was I supposed to get up to?"

Geralt mutters, "You're in my bed."

Jaskier looks around in confusion. "I'm sorry, are we ignoring the part where you said you wouldn't be back? What happened to the monster?"

"He wasn't a monster." Geralt rips the sheets off the other bed. "Get up."

"Seriously?" Jaskier asks. He pulls the covers up around himself in defense. "I'm not getting up, Geralt, just take the drafty one near the window for once. I was here first and besides, I'm always cold!"

Geralt dumps the clean sheets on the floor and tries to yank Jaskier's out from under him. "No."

"For fuck's sake, Geralt!" Jaskier scrambles out of bed and grabs his undershirt off the ground, tugging it over his head. "All I did was—was make love. Why are you being so—so insufferable?"

Geralt blinks at him. 

"In my bed," he repeats.

Jaskier throws his hands up in defeat, snatching the ruined sheets out of Geralt's grasp. He remakes the bed near the window and climbs into it with his back to him.

Not that he'll be able to sleep without the afterglow lulling him there.

Geralt undresses in a palpably huffy silence, chucking his boots against the rear wall. His swords make dull thuds when he leans them against the little night stand between their two beds, and he tosses the thickest blanket from his bedding to Jaskier without any further comment.

Jaskier rolls onto his back. He wraps the extra blanket around himself with tentative fingers.

Geralt blows out the candle lighting the room.

It's suddenly so dark that Jaskier can hardly see anything, but he knows that Geralt could still make out the expression on his face perfectly, whatever it is.

He blinks up at the ceiling all the same, listening to the voices drifting up from below them. 

"Geralt," he says slowly. "Are you ashamed of me?"

Geralt is quiet for a long time. He says, "No."

"Why do you need the bed nearest the door?"

Geralt says nothing.

Jaskier curls his hands in the pile of blankets he's buried under. He can feel the draft from the window, sweet and cool against his rapidly overheating skin.

"Is it… to protect me?" he asks.

Geralt's bed creaks underneath him. "Go to sleep, Jas."

Jaskier closes his eyes.

 

~*~

 

"If life could give me one blessing," Geralt snarls, "it would be to take you off my hands."

 

~*~

 

The logic is this: Twenty-two years of being himself was better than fifty with his own hand smothering his mouth.

 

~*~

 

(The logic is this: They still won't let him sing about anything else.)

 

~*~

 

Jaskier takes himself to the coast anyway. He finds a town with the kind of inn nobles spend their winters in to escape the cold and learns which songs he can play every night without the locals tossing him out on the street.

He thinks some of them might even be his friends. The innkeeper puts him up at a discounted room and board.

Six months of peace is a longer stretch than Jaskier's known in decades. There are fearful rumors that Nilfgard will eventually come for Cintra, or even Sodden, but there's nothing interesting enough here to draw them this way—not yet.

It takes him a little too long to count the years out, but it occurs to him that he's just shy of forty-two.

Maybe it was time to stop chasing, anyway.

Jaskier is in a maudlin mood tonight, though, which he blames on the rain. It's just a sprinkle, really, but it'll ruin the sunset.

"The red sky at dawn is giving a warning, you fool," he sings, ignoring the raised eyebrow from Jakob at the bar. "Better stay out of—"

Jaskier's voice cracks over the last word in the line when the front door pushes open to reveal a shock of achingly familiar white hair, and golden eyes that flash, barely, when they lock with Jaskier's wide ones.

Geralt makes his way to the bar.

Jaskier clears his throat and strums the next chord.

"I'm weak, my love, and I am wanting…"

 

~*~

 

Jaskier plays until the lunch crowd thins out, then takes his usual seat near the end of the bar, which just so happens to be far away from Geralt. He picks at his lunch a little listlessly for ten or twenty minutes.

Geralt pays his tab, then takes his mug with him when he moves to sit next to Jaskier.

Jaskier spears a roast carrot with his fork and says nothing.

"The love song is new," Geralt tells the carrot with no ostensible self-awareness.

Jaskier chews, then swallows thoughtfully. His chest is tight from holding the words back, these things he's turned over and over into sloppy poetry that he smears across the paper with his palm.

"Why are you here, Geralt?" he asks eventually.

Geralt hums. "A while ago, a sorceress told me that my life was just monsters and money."

"That doesn't clarify," Jaskier says. "Even a little bit."

"I'm going to Cintra," Geralt tells him. "Taking responsibility."

Jaskier nudges his plate over. "Want the last carrot?"

Geralt takes it. "Thanks."

He glances over at Jaskier's face, once, before shoving the plate away from himself again and standing up.

"Meet me at the stable when you're finished," he says, readjusting the strap of his sword. "We've got good daylight left."

Jaskier watches him make for the door, thinks about the way his hair looks when it's been combed and the tiny smile he offers up when he's proud of a joke, and the way Julian still swears he can feel the exact spot the djinn clawed his throat.

"Did you mean it?" he asks.

Geralt stops and turns around. "What?"

"On the mountain," Jaskier says, keeping his voice steady. "Did you mean those things you said?"

"We should get on the road before the rain picks up," Geralt tells him.

The non-answer is enough. Jaskier curls his hands up in his lap and says, "You're right, you should."

Geralt blinks slowly. "What are you saying?"

"I'm giving you the blessing you so desperately wanted, aren't I?" Jaskier asks. "I'm not your problem anymore."

"That's not—"

"I'm so tired of not being wanted, Geralt!" Jaskier's voice breaks humiliatingly. He throws his hands up, trying to draw attention away from how they wipe at his eyes. "And if you can't tell me—"

"Damnit, Jaskier!" Geralt shouts. He flinches when heads turn around them, but the words don't grow less desperate. "I'm here, aren't I? You know I think Destiny is horseshit, so how do you think we keep finding each other?"

Jaskier whispers, "Because I looked for you. Over and over."

"I looked for you," Geralt snaps. He runs a hand through his hair. "I used to enjoy traveling alone. In silence. Do you know how many towns I've wandered through listening for your fucking song?"

There's plenty of silence, now.

Jaskier takes a short, ragged breath. "That's still not an answer."

Geralt's face softens, nearly imperceptibly except—

Well, Jaskier thought he knew him, at least.

"Of course I didn't mean it," Geralt says. "Any of it. I was angry and I took it out on you. You were the only one left."

"You hurt me, Geralt." Jaskier is blinking tears back. Goddess, this is such a scene. "The worst way you could."

"I know," says Geralt. "I'm sorry."

Jaskier glances around the room. A few people seem to have gotten up and discretely left, but most are still staring. There's a stubborn conversation continuing in the back corner.

(All those shitty poems—for what?)

"Do we have to leave today?" Jaskier asks eventually, fighting the urge to quirk his lips. "I'm paid up through the end of the week."

Geralt smiles faintly.

"Hm." He moves to take his seat back at the bar, then nods to Jakob. "Is there a room open?"

"For a friend of Julian's?" Jakob glances between them. "Of course."

Geralt frowns, then turns to Jaskier with confusion. "Who the fuck is Julian?"

 

~*~

 

Jaskier is sitting on the beach, boots discarded a distance away. He can taste salt when he wets his bottom lip. They'll leave in the morning and it'll be a long time before he can watch a sunset this nice again.

Geralt settles next to him with a sigh in way of greeting. He wiggles his toes in the sand, so very human.

Jaskier smiles at him with warm surprise, then turns back to the glowing ocean—offering up the silence he used to love.

"The people like you here," Geralt observes instead.

"Do they?" Jaskier's smile turns rueful. "I still worry they're pretending."

"They call me 'Julian's friend.' Not 'Witcher,'" Geralt remarks drily. "An old woman threatened me with a ladle to be nice to you."

Jaskier laughs, drawing up his knees and hugging them loosely to his chest. "It was Pola, wasn't it? Do you think she's sweet on me? I know what you're thinking—she's a little on in years, even for me—but she seems like she'd be delightful in—"

"Why are you leaving?" Geralt asks suddenly. He's watching the waves cresting and foaming over the shore, nearly the color of his hair when it's washed and curling up in the sun. "Why give this up?"

"Hm," Jaskier muses, then huffs out a laugh at himself. He watches Geralt's lips twitch out of the corner of his eye. "Would you accept that my restless soul simply seeks the dangers of the open road?"

Geralt shakes his head.

"I told you," Jaskier relents, his voice shrinking into something raw and gentle. "Over and over."

Geralt traces something aimless into the sand with a steady hand. "You never believed it."

"What's that?" Jaskier asks.

"What people said," Geralt tells him. The sand sifts through his fingers. "That Witchers—that I'm a monster. That I can't… feel."

His voice is as even as ever, the eyes flicking restlessly—without his conscious effort, Jaskier thinks—to scan their surroundings.

"Because I saw what you were doing," says Jaskier.

Geralt hums, a question this time.

"Leaning in," Jaskier answers softly. He shifts, slowly, letting the creaking joints of his human bones fold towards the man beside him. "But you don't have to anymore, Geralt. Not with me."

"Hm," Geralt says, and he moves too, a hand dipping into the sand, and decides, "Maybe one more time," which doesn't make any sense until he cups Jaskier's jaw with his other hand.

Oh, Melitele, Jaskier thinks, and lets Geralt close the distance.

He's a surprisingly gentle kisser, which is hopelessly endearing and hopefully subject to redirection. Jaskier drags his teeth across Geralt's bottom lip and smiles, satisfied, when it earns him a rumbling growl.

Geralt drags a rough hand up Jaskier's thigh, bracketing him in and urging him to lay back against the sand. His kisses turn sharper, more needy.

Jaskier's thigh is slipped between Geralt's legs. He shifts his hips, fingers tangling carefully in unkempt hair—thinks absently about the nightmare it will be to get the sand out of everything.

"Geralt," he pants, tilting his chin up when Geralt mouths hungrily at his throat. "People can… see."

"Mm," Geralt agrees. A scrape of teeth, the perfect friction against Jaskier's swelling cock. "Whose reputation are you managing?"

"It's more so the— ah." Jaskier's eyes flutter shut again. "Children."

Geralt sighs, bumping his forehead into Jaskier's jaw in acknowledgement. "Inn?"

"My bed's bigger," Jaskier offers. He tries to get his breathing under control.

Geralt sits up, brushing off the sand clinging to his clothes. "Fine."

Jaskier blinks up at him; the sun's almost finished setting behind him, leaving a backdrop of pinprick stars and bleeding violet. The heat is starting to leach out of the air, anyway, and it will be warmer with their breath against the sheets.

He takes the hand Geralt offers him up. 

Their boots are gathered up on the way; Jaskier's doublet is mysteriously half-unlaced, but he leaves it. 

There's no subtle way up to his room, anyway—not during business hours. The joyful chorus of, "'Toss a coin to your witcher!'" that follows them is a little heavy-handed, in Jaskier's humble and very fond opinion.

He hopes he'll live to retire here.

The melancholy reflection is cut short by Geralt lifting him by the backs of his thighs and pressing him firmly against the bedroom door once they're inside.

Jaskier gasps, wrapping his legs around Geralt's middle for dear life.

"Jas," Geralt murmurs against his mouth. "Julian."

"Geralt." Jaskier tightens a hand in the back of Geralt's shirt and noses along the shell of his ear. "There's— ah— oil in my bag."

Geralt adjusts the angle, rutting up against him and making the door frame creak. "Are you sure?"

"It's either there or—" Jaskier cuts off in a helpless moan. "Oh , as in—yes, I'm sure, yes it's… decades, Geralt."

"Sorry," Geralt mutters. He'll bruise Jaskier's mouth, kissing him like this. "I didn't realize."

"Yes, you've been shockingly dense," Jaskier teases, bare toes curling when Geralt bites his bottom lip. "I mean, truly, Geralt, you can slay a manticore but you can't figure out—"

"Hmm." Geralt squeezes Jaskier's ass in both hands. "Are you trying to piss me off?"

Jaskier thumps his head back against the door. "Yes."

Geralt traces his lips along the line of Jaskier's jaw, then bites at the soft place where it joins his neck. "You can just tell me if you like it rough."

"I like it rough," Jaskier says. "Take me to bed, sweetheart."

Geralt tosses him onto it—hardly any effort, except maybe to gentle the landing.

Fuck. Geralt's eyes are like shimmering gold and he looks up at Jaskier with a wild smirk while he digs through Jaskier's bag for the oil and, oh, Melitele and all the others, Jaskier fumbles to unlace his doublet the rest of the way and this is real, isn't it?

(Pages and pages of poetry. Callouses against the taut strings of an Elven lute.)

Geralt sets the oil on the nightstand and crawls onto the bed, bracketing Jaskier underneath him. His hands are gentle and insistent, helping him shed the layers. 

Jaskier's fingers feel frantic when he helps Geralt do the same. Digging into taut muscle, perpetually perfect and continuously marred skin, all the gory wounds of battle Jaskier romanticized into glory.

They just feel like scars. Jaskier kisses the raised one on Geralt's shoulder, gasps against it when an oil-slick finger traces his hole.

Geralt murmurs, "Tell me if…"

He trails off, but Jaskier nods anyway. He tilts his face for another kiss, given readily.

It's been… he's not sure how long, since someone touched him here. Since before the coast, he knows. Geralt's fingers are thick and rough, but he kisses gently and goes slow.

He goes less slow when Jaskier brings a hand down and guides him himself and then buries his face in the pillows when Geralt finds the right angle.

"Oh, oh, Geralt!" Jaskier writhes underneath him, away from how good it feels as much as towards it. "Ah, please."

Geralt kisses at his neck. "What?"

"You know very well—" Jaskier smacks at his shoulder. "Fuck me, please!"

Geralt hums, slipping his fingers out. He slicks himself up and guides himself in slowly, face pressed into Jaskier's neck. His breath comes a little shaky as he bottoms out, pushing up into the places Jaskier clings to him with trembling hands.

"Decades," Jaskier breathes, his eyes slipping shut. "Oh, darling—half my life for you."

Geralt makes a sound from deep in his throat—something that Jaskier's prettiest words couldn't capture. It breaks his heart.

"No, no," he soothes. A hand in coarse hair, an arm wrapped around his back where the sword should be. "No, it's beautiful, it's been beautiful."

Geralt rocks his hips a little and Jaskier's so hard and he'll carry this forward and love will happen again and again, sometimes nearly the same and sometimes wholly new, and always be held, gently, against the way it's happening right now.

"I want you to," Jaskier coaxes, out of order. "Harder."

Geralt muffles his words against Jaskier's collar bone, moving in slow, rocking thrusts. "Hurt you."

"You won't," Jaskier promises. He cards his fingers through Geralt's hair, winces when he snags a knot.

Geralt doesn't seem to notice. He quickens his pace a little.

"Sweetheart," Jaskier wheedles. "Am I fucking the White Wolf or the dog who bit him?"

The glare Geralt fixes him with sends a thrill up his spine.

Jaskier tucks a pillow between his head and the wall just before the next snap of Geralt's hips, which sends him right into it. 

It's perfect. Jaskier's whole body moves when Geralt fucks into him and there's a hand pinning one of his wrists to the bed and he gasps for air when Geralt pulls out long enough to add more oil, and—and—

Geralt sucks love bites onto Jaskier's neck, a ticklish one on his ribs. His hand is restless, squeezing the side of Jaskier's thigh, pinching at a nipple, touching a little reverently at the bob of Jaskier's throat.

"Can I…?" Jaskier gasps, lifting his hips. "Can I write about this? Us?"

Geralt nips at Jaskier's earlobe. "Will you play it?"

"Just for you," Jaskier pants. He's so close—wants to touch himself but one hand is still held down and the other would have to stop touching Geralt. "Just us."

"What will it say?"

"That I love you. That you wanted to be so gentle with me." Jaskier closes his eyes, nuzzling against Geralt's cheek. "Should I have—should I have let you be gentle with me? I just wanted to feel it, darling. I'm afraid—oh, there— I'm afraid you'll go away again. I need to feel it."

Geralt slows their pace with a shudder, like something is crawling out of him. He takes his hand off Jaskier's wrist, drags it down his chest, curls his fingers over Jaskier's cock. 

"Write it," he says.

Jaskier chokes back a sob. "Something about your eyes, I think. The sun or—or good mead, or flowers."

"Flowers." Geralt smoothes his thumb over the drop of precome beading at the tip and teases, "Like buttercups?"

"Those are—" Jaskier arches his back. "Weeds."

Geralt brushes his lips along Jaskier's temple, drawing the pleasure out with long, slow strokes. "You named yourself after them."

"I did." Jaskier hooks a calf around Geralt's thigh. His hands stroke down Geralt's shoulders. "Do you want… to know why?"

"Yes."

"I'm so close I can't remember."

Geralt laughs, warm and surprised and so, so good, and in the song it will be that sound that tips Jaskier over the edge.

It's likely the relentless pounding combined with the hand on his cock, in actuality. But Jaskier would like it to be the laugh.

Geralt follows soon after, pulling out to add to the mess on Jaskier's stomach.

"Do you want to wash up?" he murmurs, pressing a kiss to Jaskier's jaw.

Jaskier stretches luxuriously and decides, "I will never move again."

Geralt huffs with amusement, sitting up to wet a cloth with a jug of water conveniently forgotten on the nightstand. "That interferes with our travel plans."

He wipes them both clean and discards the cloth on the floor, then joins Jaskier in crawling under the covers.

"Oh, very well," Jaskier says, acting particularly put-upon. He rolls over to lay his head on Geralt's chest. "I suppose I'll muster the strength."

Geralt touches gently at the hand Jaskier has resting below his breastbone, then rolls onto his side, facing away, and, oh.

Jaskier shuffles closer, pressing them together back to chest, and tucks his face against the back of Geralt's neck. They're surprisingly close in height, given how differently they're built.

"You don't have to come," Geralt says, after a drowsy pause. "I can collect the child and bring her here. Just wait for me."

Jaskier kisses his shoulder and teases, "If that's the case, I really will have to sing about this for my supper. I need new material from somewhere, sweetheart."

Geralt laughs again, this time more wryly. "You really can be a bastard, you know?"

"I know," Jaskier answers softly, with a bit of wonder. "But you love me anyway, don't you?"

"Not anyway," Geralt murmurs. He brings Jaskier's hand to his lips and kisses the thick callus on his thumb. "Because."

He turns his head in their embrace, vying for one more kiss. Julian leans in.