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It was a long time before Geralt suspected anything. Geralt had been trained to notice such things at Kaer Morhen, and had gone years, decades even, without missing something as large as this. He could hear Vesemir shouting now at Geralt’s blindness, unexplainable aside from the locked away knowledge that this had escaped his attentions because he liked the way Jaskier chattered at him, the coin he brought in from his little tunes, liked him. Any bizarre incident that arose was brushed aside in favor of Jaskier’s easy company.

And there had been many incidents.

 

The first moment had been weeks after they met, when Jaskier was still putting the final polishes on his first song featuring the witcher, and when Geralt was still getting used to waking up on the forest floor to Jaskier sleeping feet from him on the opposite side of the fire, arms akimbo and huffing softly in his sleep. He still didn’t know how to respond to the endless stream of conversation that came out of his mouth, so when Jaskier begged to stop at a nearby town for a performance and hopefully some coin, Geralt just grunted and turned Roach down the road.

The town was small, but had an inn and brothel both, which was more than Geralt expected. The place was largely surrounded by trees, although he could hear running water nearby, a stream leading into a bigger body of water, most likely. It was wild enough that there was a possibility of an actual job.

Jaskier seemed to realize the same and did his best to elbow him while Geralt was on the horse and he was on the ground. “Not so bad, huh? Maybe there’ll be some beastie you can thrash,” he said and made a sharp detour to the inn, tugging Roach and Geralt along.

Geralt took his time silently putting Roach into the stables behind the inn and making sure she was secure, but gradually became aware that there was a small crowd forming some distance behind them. He could hear them whispering about his hair, and when he turned, about his eyes as well. It was a gathering of men, one or two women lurking at the door to the inn, but all of them looked wary at best.

“Witcher,” one of them said, and it didn’t quite sound like a question.

Geralt gave a small incline of his head. “Any jobs you need done?” he asked blandly, although he already knew this particular group wouldn’t take help if they were on their last legs.

“None. We don’t go looking for trouble,” another said, and several nodded in agreement, casting glances to Roach behind him, like they were figuring out how best to get Geralt to leave.

“No trouble,” Geralt responded, ignoring the insinuation that people with monster problems somehow got themselves into it. “Just looking for a place for the night.” He tossed a glance in the direction of the inn. Through the wavy panes of the window, slightly cracked open, he could see Jaskier fussing over by the fireplace, likely drying himself from the damp outdoor living and being spectacularly oblivious. He ground his teeth in Jaskier’s direction.

The man gripped Geralt by the arm and pushed him purposefully backwards. It would be laughable, the idea that a human man could actually drive him anywhere, except for the fact that there was nothing funny about the situation, and Geralt didn’t think he’d be improving the situation any by letting the man push ineffectively against him, so Geralt took a step or two back. The man went to do it again, the cockiness already bleeding into his expression.

Geralt shook the man off, pointedly taking another step back in a display of nonaggression, ready to turn for Roach and leave town, Jaskier’s preference for town comforts be damned, but the men followed him, advancing with every step he took back. Geralt’s jaw worked. Situations like this rarely turned out well, for Geralt and the townspeople both, and Blaviken was still recent enough in human memory that if he killed several more townspeople, his reputation as a murderer would be solidified. And a witcher survived off the jobs others gave him, which would certainly dry up once people turned for the hills when they saw him coming.

He put up one hand in what was supposed to be a sign of peace, but several of the townspeople tensed, and he saw one of them reach down to grab a stone from the ground. Stoning was—well, not preferable, but tolerable. Easily escapable rarely caused much damage. If that’s what got them to stand down—

Stone hit flesh with an audible thunk, and Geralt blinked. No pain, and he hadn’t even seen the man draw his arm back.

The man fell to his knees and keeled over into the mud, the rock clattering to the cobblestones and blood already pouring down his face from a gash by his temple.

There was a moment where both Geralt and the men looked at each other, surprise written on every face, until all eyes found the culprit.

It was Jaskier, hanging out the window of the inn, his lute still strapped to his back, already bending over to grab another stone from the ground, and before Geralt could even process what the hell was happening, Jaskier had reared his arm back and thrown. This one hit a slight man towards the center right of his forehead, and he crumpled almost immediately. Jaskier shrieked with laughter, and the sound snapped both the men and Geralt into action.

One of the men shouted, running over with one fist already cocked, and Jaskier ducked back inside the inn for just a brief second, emerging with a glass bottle of alcohol, held by the neck. Geralt got to him both before the man did and before Jaskier could smash the bottle over his head, and dragged him out through the window of the inn with one arm, drawing a sword with the other.

The man was wise enough to stop in his tracks, all his cronies shifting uneasily behind him as Geralt let the flat of the blade rest heavily on the man’s shoulder, the sharp edge already up against his throat. Jaskier was trembling—more laughter?—under Geralt’s arm, and Geralt practically threw him in the direction of Roach. “We didn’t mean to disturb you,” Geralt said through gritted teeth, wondering how Jaskier had managed to screw up a decent day so royally. “If you’ll be on your way, we will too.”

One of the women by the entrance came over and grasped presumably her husband by the wrist. “Of course,” she mumbled, dragging him backwards and away from the tip of Geralt’s sword, hissing to the others to clear out. And they did, slowly filtering back into the inn and the various houses that lined the street.

Jaskier was already perched on Roach’s back, looking perky and smug, still holding the bottle of alcohol to his chest like a prize. Geralt growled at him before getting on Roach also, caging the smaller man between his chest and the horse as he leaned forward to grab the reins and steer Roach out of town, eyes in windows following them all the way into the forest.

“What was that?” Geralt hissed once they were away and back in the forest, the trees closing in around them. He got off Roach only to deliberately drag Jaskier off her, which got him squirming and a pout.

Jaskier huffed and crossed his arms. “What? You sitting there and stoically bearing it doesn’t make for a good story. I helped you and have new material and this exceptional bottle of rum—”

“You could’ve been killed,” Geralt snapped, getting back on Roach and snatching the bottle from him to put in his own bag.

Jaskier huffed some more. “Honestly, Geralt, it’s like you think I can’t take care of myself. I was doing fine! Driving back the rabble, you know.” The look Geralt shot him must’ve been particularly murderous, as Jaskier wilted slightly under it. He smoothed out his doublet and rearranged his hair, muttering, “Witchers.”

Geralt had remained seething, silent and unresponsive to Jaskier’s attempts at conversation, until nightfall when they were forced to make camp and Jaskier flitted over to his side. “A drink, shall we?” he chirped, already elbow deep into Geralt’s personal belongings and pulling out the rum, like Geralt had put it in there for safekeeping and not in a deliberate attempt to keep it from him.

Geralt made to snatch it away, but quicker than expected Jaskier tucked it to his chest while he rummaged in his own bag, pulling out two small glasses and popping open the bottle, filling one up.

Geralt made a low questioning noise in the back of his throat.

“Stole these too,” Jaskier answered shamelessly, passing the full one over to Geralt. “Bastards didn’t deserve them, did they?”

His eyes were pale in the light of the fire. Geralt didn’t respond, but also didn’t pull away when Jaskier clinks his glass against his, just watched as he downed it back, eyes following the long lines of his throat.

 

When he looked over at Jaskier, sluicing oil on his whetstone for sharpening, the man was laying on his stomach, watching him. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence these days, as Geralt had supplied him with his own knife he needed to learn how to sharpen with the idea that Jaskier wouldn’t come running to him whenever he needed protection from something. That idea hadn’t panned out perfectly, as Jaskier was now just as liable to antagonize people with it and then come running to hide behind Geralt, but he took care of the dagger seriously.

And it wasn’t like he hadn’t used the dagger for its intended purpose; it had actually gotten Jaskier out of a few scrapes.

Jaskier had emerged from a viscount’s residence after a celebration one night, Geralt having deposed of a lower vampire on the edges of the ground that had been attacking the staff and choosing to spend the party drinking outside. He had gotten a nasty start both from the blood that drenched Jaskier’s hands and sleeves and the dagger that he held in one hand. “I’m afraid me and the viscount’s son had a disagreement,” Jaskier announced without preamble, waving the dagger around in a careless way that made Geralt a little wary. “I thought we were meeting in his room for a nice game of Gwent, he had some other ideas, didn’t like hearing no, you know how this goes— Geralt, where are you going?”

Geralt had gone inside the mansion, already hearing a commotion, and had been expecting to see the viscount’s son falling down the stairs, clutching a gaping wound in his chest or something equally dramatic like all situations where Jaskier was involved, and found something similar. There was indeed a lot of screaming and blood, but the viscount’s son was doubled over, his pants halfway around his thighs, clutching between his legs as he howled. The source of the blood was apparent, although whether or not it was from a wound or a complete severance Geralt didn’t see, and given that Jaskier hadn’t actually killed anyone, he certainly wasn’t going to remain to find out.

He dragged Jaskier down the road and back to Roach and deposited the smaller man on her back. “It’s always the dramatics with you,” Geralt grunted, throwing himself on Roach’s back as well, resigning himself to a long ride through the night to avoid the viscount’s men that would invariably be in pursuit.

“Where else was I supposed to have stabbed him?” Jaskier said, leaning back against Geralt chest and tilting his head up, turning guileless eyes to his face.

Geralt grunted and did not think about how warm Jaskier was.

Jaskier didn’t seem too bothered by the encounter, and Geralt didn’t want to bring it up with him. Didn’t know how. It would have been an unnerving situation for Jaskier, surely, to have felt the need to actually use the dagger, for the son’s pants to already be open like that, or perhaps Jaskier had been simply offended to be thought of as so easy. Every aspect of the situation made Geralt feel bizarre, like a nest of hornets had made its way into his guts. Jaskier, scared and lashing out definitely elicited a bad feeling. It wasn’t unlike the kind of feeling Geralt got sometimes when Jaskier stripped shamelessly to bathe in a stream and he had to look away.

The closest he got to having a discussion about it was the next day, when Geralt showed him how to clean the blood off his blade properly. “You should take care of it. Since you seem to be comfortable using it,” Geralt said.

“I wouldn’t say comfortable,” Jaskier had said, and Geralt had looked up. “But willing, yes,” he continued, and given Geralt a sharp grin that only wavered slightly.

So Jaskier was willing to cut off a man’s member. It was more cutthroat than he expected. And, as the years went on, Jaskier proved himself willing to fully stab a man, gut an arachas, and cut his bread with it. It was— good. That he was getting use out of it. It hadn’t been cheap, and even when the two parted ways for a while, when they would invariably meet up, Jaskier would have it on him, and a rolling sense of satisfaction took its place up in Geralt’s chest.

“A bit odd, innit?” an innkeeper said to him once, after Geralt had driven away the arachas infestation and Jaskier had killed the one that managed to creep into town, leaving its large crab-like corpse in the middle of town square for him to brag about. “Never seen a bard that cozy around a blade.” The words had given Geralt pause, and he thought that no, Jaskier was different than most people somehow, but then the woman clapped him on the back in an unusual display of camaraderie and laughed. “Guess your man has many talents, eh?”

And he had brushed the comment aside in favor of watching Jaskier flounce around the corpse, chattering to the townspeople and generally swaggering about. It was good that Jaskier had the capability to defend himself, even if he was a little bloodthirsty about it. Jaskier saw him and waved him over, his face lighting up at the mere sight of Geralt in the shadows of the inn’s entrance, and Geralt forgot about it entirely to join him.

 

And there had been Yennefer, who undoubtedly was never going to let Geralt live this down.

“The man is close to forty. You would think these antics would be behind him,” Geralt growled, eyeing Jaskier, who earlier that day Geralt had saved from a nobleman’s sword-point, his wife still half undressed behind him, and who now was busily finding more trouble halfway up another woman’s skirts.

This would normally be the moment Yen, who had crossed their path earlier that week and remained in the town for reasons unknown, would make a snide, agreeing comment, as Jaskier was rarely in her good graces. But silence followed and after a moment Geralt turned in her direction to see what the problem was. She was staring at him, her unnatural eyes glittering with amusement and mouth curling up in an uncharacteristic girlish expression.

“Forty?” Yennefer said, something Geralt couldn’t pinpoint in her voice.

“Yes,” Geralt replied, firmly but suddenly uncertain. Humans did age so much more quickly, and their measure of time had grown distorted for him over the years as he remained the same age and young people grew old and died around him. Perhaps Jaskier was younger—? No. Kingdoms had risen and fallen since he had known Jaskier, and Ciri had been born and grown a decade. Jaskier was nearing forty, he was sure. “Yes,” he repeated more firmly.

The look Yen gave him was terrible and gleeful. “Of course. He’s definitely too old for this,” she said slyly. Jaskier had vanished from his little stage some time ago to flirt and Geralt caught the tail end of him going up the stairs, wrapped around a woman in some elaborate skirt.

Yen was still giving him that look. Her grin showed all her teeth. Geralt grunted at her. “Nothing,” she said airily, waving her hand about. “I can see why they still go after him, even at such an advanced age. He has great… skin. For a man so old.”

She was almost certainly laughing at him. Geralt growled at her, and the amused tone of her voice elevated to a full laugh. He brushed it aside, again, as her laughter was so rare it was worth whatever little joke was going on, and as the day went on and Jaskier returned, looking satisfied and now that Geralt thought about it, rather young, he brushed it aside again, and again, and again.

 

There was, of course, the djinn, where Geralt had been in such a black mood that Jaskier’s wishes hadn’t registered with him, but then later when he thought about it, it had been a little disturbing that Jaskier’s first thought upon supposedly receiving wishes of great magical power was to kill a man without a second thought. And that the second one had been to enthrall the woman who left him.

But then Jaskier had started coughing up blood, clutching Geralt’s forearm for support, and Geralt thought no further of it. And later, when he was back to full strength and chattering alongside him yet again, Geralt put it from his mind. Jaskier was back and singing some jaunty tune to Roach, and what did it matter, really?

 

So there had been incidents. Hints. Twenty years of them.

Which brought Geralt to now, hours after the end of the fight. A Nilfgaardian squadron had been patrolling the woods, sheer dumb bad luck, and Geralt was still healing from a wound on his leg, both slower than usual and doped up on healing elixirs. Hadn’t stopped him from making brief work of most of the men, but had stopped him from noticing the man in the back of the pack grabbing Ciri. Yennefer was not with them, having gone ahead several days ago to scout out the loyalties of the nearby town and find shelter for them, and there had been a brief, hot flash of panic that if the man got far enough away, Geralt’s leg would give out before catching up and she would be gone.

And then Jaskier had stabbed the man in the leg, and when he fell and released Ciri, had proceeded to gouge one of the man’s eyes out.

Geralt had to drag Jaskier off of him. He had been manic, and Geralt had been more unnerved than he let on, but Ciri had been entirely unconcerned, which had further unnerved him.

Jaskier had come down quickly, quickly turning to brush Geralt him off and fuss about the state of his clothes, and there wasn’t a lot Geralt could really say. He had done it to get Ciri back, and after all, Geralt had finished the job for him with a swift slice to the man’s throat. He wasn’t really in a place to complain.

So, now. Geralt glanced over at Jaskier, who was, almost in a pointed display of innocence, braiding a flower into Ciri’s hair. Ciri was comfortably lounging against his side, eating a pear, and Jaskier was blathering away about something or another; Geralt was only halfway listening, choosing instead to survey Jaskier’s face.

It was uncreased but for the smile lines. It was easier now, with Ciri beside him, to understand what Yennefer was talking about. Ciri was a human, and a young one at that, but knowing for certain that she was twelve it was easily to approximate Jaskier’s, which is what led Geralt to finalizing the realization that he had been pushing aside for over a decade.

Jaskier looked identical to when Geralt had first met him. Not a day older in twenty years.

He bided his time. Ciri was still there, munching away and giggling quietly at his stories, and this wasn’t a scene he wanted to make in front of her. He wasn’t sure he wanted to make it at all, really.

There was again that nagging thought: what did it matter? Jaskier was a bright, spritely thing in Geralt’s life, even different from Ciri’s golden aura, much different from the dead relationship he once shared with Yennefer. Even now, on the run from invading forces and not too long after Geralt had coldly cut him off after the dragon hunt, Jaskier was back and following Geralt ever onwards into the dark. Geralt wasn’t stupid. He would rather have his fangs pulled than discuss this with Jaskier, but the fact was that Geralt enjoyed his company and knew it. Was viciously aware of it, especially whenever Jaskier got himself into trouble and the coil of fierce protectiveness stirred in his gut. Jaskier had never made mention of his age, or lack thereof, and with the way he incessantly talked, now Geralt was sure it wasn’t by accident.

This was something Jaskier had kept from him. For what reason? Geralt didn’t age, certainly not the right way, and neither did Yennefer. If Jaskier was a mage of some kind, he would be among similar company. Would it be worth it to bring it up with him, to possibly drive him away?

Geralt’s eyes hurt from staring at the fire. Ciri, he realized, had fallen asleep some time ago, and Jaskier had slid her off his shoulder and onto the bedroll, humming as he unrolled his own pack and delicately cleaned the blood out from under his fingernails from where he had jammed his fingers into the man’s eye socket.

“I can feel you brooding over there,” Jaskier said quietly, dragging his pack over to the other side of the fire, to Geralt’s side. “What are you sulking about now?”

Geralt hummed. Jaskier didn’t push it and instead spent some time dithering over Geralt’s leg wound, rewrapping it and trying to make him choke down another potion, which Geralt pushed aside. “You are really in some kind of mood tonight,” he huffed when Geralt growled at him for tying the bandages too tightly. “If this is about Ciri, she’s fine. Gods know that girl is more comfortable with violence than she should be.” Geralt still didn’t answer him. When Jaskier looked back up at him, rubbing off the remainder of the salve on a tiny cut on his arm, his eyes were open and curious. A secret kept from Geralt, all this time.

Geralt involuntarily reached out a hand to touch the side of his face. Jaskier’s eyes grew round but he didn’t move. “Crow’s feet,” Geralt muttered. “Yen said—but you don’t have any.” He didn’t ask anything, so if Jaskier turned the conversation away, he wouldn’t push it.

Jaskier closed his eyes but didn’t make any other movement to pull away. His head tilted downwards in both regret and understanding. “It was a joke, Geralt. She was being funny. She can be very funny, when she’s not being very scary,” Jaskier said, obviously attempting for levity, another wavering smile on his face.

Geralt’s hand didn’t leave his face, instead tracing down to his neck. He was supposed to have something: sagging of the neck, drooping eyes, a receding hairline, any of the human characteristics that would define him as a grown man of middle age. A paunch, from either lack of exercise or drink, and as much as Jaskier liked to complain about his figure, that was not there either. There were just the laugh lines, grown from habit and not from age. “How did I not see it?” Geralt snarled, pulling his hand away suddenly.

It was egregious, Geralt’s blindness. Vesemir would never let him forget this. Jaskier opened his eyes. “I’m not sure, really. I kind of thought it was one of those things we’re choosing not to talk about,” he replied somewhat nervously.

What other things had they not spoken about—? What else had Geralt been missing? “We don’t have to talk about it, actually! Perhaps it would be best. You’re not really—we don’t—“ He broke off, sighing, and turned to gather his bedroll in his arms, like he was about to pack it up but just clutched it instead.

“What?” Geralt demanded, still trying to keep his voice low for Ciri.

“And there is Nilfgaard now! Spies and armies everywhere, you know—”

“Jaskier.”

“And it is so cold outside. Really. I would much prefer just to go to bed—”

“Jaskier.”

“This is just a really bad time, you know, and right now it’s dark and—”

Geralt let some of the witcher slip into his growl. It took a second to force the sudden surge of feeling back, but Jaskier had been sufficiently quieted, curled up over his bedroll, chin on his knees, looking so unhappy Geralt wanted to crush something. “I don’t want you to send me away again,” Jaskier finally said.

Geralt did crush something, but it was the leaves by their feet on the ground, and the crunch they made was unsatisfying. “That was a mistake,” he snarled, shaking his head. He gritted his teeth. It was hard—witchers weren’t meant to have conversations like this. Not meant to have conversations at all, really. He wasn’t mad at Jaskier, but mad at himself, but it was hard for someone else to parse the difference out in the way he spoke or his mannerisms, and he glanced up to make sure Jaskier was aware of that.

Jaskier stared calmly back, his head tilted, his eyes open, perhaps nervous, but never afraid of Geralt even now. “We’ve established how incredibly stupid it was to send me away. But that was because you took something out on me and I didn’t deserve it.” When Jaskier didn’t continue, Geralt made a low noise at him. “Maybe now I would deserve it. Maybe you would think differently of me.”

He didn’t look at Geralt as he said it, just stared into the dying embers of the fire.

This would be the time for platitudes, for Geralt to hold his hand and say that he would never do that. Geralt knew that, and found himself at a block. He already thought differently of Jaskier, although it wasn’t in a negative way. Jaskier had kept a secret from him for twenty-two years. If anything, he was grudgingly impressed.

“Is it. Sorcery?” Geralt said haltingly. This was the easiest and most likely option, although the idea of Jaskier sitting still long enough to weave a glamour of this caliber was ludicrous.

“Like Yennefer? Please,” Jaskier scoffed, and offered no further information.

Geralt wasn’t about to explain to him the finer intricacies of differences between witches and sorcerers, so he let it go. Incubus? Geralt thought immediately, and banished it immediately, cursing inwardly for even letting himself think it. Geralt spent a great deal of time trying not to think about the incredibly numerous women involved in Jaskier’s sex life, and if he mentioned that particular guess to Jaskier he would never cease chattering about it. “Siren?” Geralt asked next, eyeing the lute that somehow had made it through all their travels relatively unscathed.

Jaskier’s peal of laughter was quickly muffled by Geralt clapping a hand over his mouth, hissing and motioning to Ciri’s little tent. “A siren?” Jaskier whispered, eyes obviously crinkling in amusement. “Geralt, my favorite witcher—Of course my voice is beautiful enough to be mistaken for a siren, I can completely see your confusion—”

“Jaskier,” Geralt growled.

“No, really, I’m glad you’re finally recognizing my vocal talents—”

“I’m serious,” Geralt heaved out and Jaskier’s laughter died down immediately.

He wasn’t meant to have conversations like this, goddamnit. Especially not with a man so flighty and prone to distraction, although Geralt was learning that may as well be a clever ruse. No. It was best to think of Jaskier as he was, and not like he was some tricksy creature.

Although.

Although. Maybe that’s exactly what he was.

Geralt reached out a hand again, purposefully this time and giving Jaskier plenty of time to pull away, to run a finger down the bridge of his nose. His unchanging face, the one Geralt knew so well. “Take it off,” Geralt said abruptly.

Jaskier did pull away, visibly swallowing. “Are you going to do something awful to me? Are you going to whip your swords out and separate my head from my body?” His voice was shrill but still, Geralt smelt or saw no fear, just Jaskier being deliberately difficult, as usual.

“No,” Geralt muttered, and even slung the swords off his back and pushed them in Ciri’s direction. It would take him only a moment to retrieve them if he needed to, but it seemed to make Jaskier relax a little, and he wouldn’t need to besides.

There was a moment when the two just stared at each other before Jaskier sighed. He reached a hand up like he was going to cover his eyes, and Geralt had the fleeting and ridiculous want to snatch it away so he could get a look of Jaskier, this Jaskier, one last time, the face he had grown to like.

And then Jaskier lowered it again.

It still looked like him. The relief hit Geralt like a hammer to the chest.

There had been incidents, yes, and evidence, all of which accumulated in Geralt’s head and formed some vague theory of monstrosity, that Jaskier would take off his glamour and there would be something Geralt had been trained to kill underneath, but there wasn’t. It was still him.

His eyes were a little bigger. Geralt saw when he lowered his hand there was an extra knuckle on each finger, and his wrists were thinner. Perhaps his hair was a bit shinier, his jaw a bit more angular, or perhaps that was just the light. His eyes were the same color, still bright blue, almost translucent under the light of the moon, and a secondary gut-punch of relief hit him.

“You’re smiling,” Jaskier said, flabbergasted. His voice was the same too. “Why are you smiling right now, you great lump—”

Geralt caught him by the shoulders. “You’re fae.”

Jaskier huffed. “Yes. What are you so happy about, you dope?”

He smelled different. He smelled fae right now, a very distinct fruity tang that Geralt would normally be able to pick up three miles away, but the fact that Jaskier had been able to mask that for decades let Geralt know Jaskier wasn’t just fae, he was damn powerful too.

“I thought you were something terrible,” Geralt said, which sounded bad, but Jaskier shrugged it off.

“I am. You kill faeries, Geralt. I’ve been with you when you’ve killed faeries,” Jaskier hissed, his face suddenly twisted as he pushed himself a few feet away from Geralt. “And sure, they were killers and had done terrible things, but you still killed them.”

“I wouldn’t kill you,” Geralt replied hoarsely. Faeries had died by his sword, of course, but those had been completely different situations. Not unlike Blaviken. Their deaths had been horrible and necessary. “I know you’re not like them.”

He knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as it came out of his mouth. Jaskier scuttled a few more feet away, although into the woods at this point, Geralt grumbling and following him. Because Jaskier was like them, at least a little. Faeries were capricious by nature, often violent and greedy, and although they often produced great art, music, and finery, Geralt was more likely to meet one halfway through slaughtering a lover who scorned them or kidnapping beautiful women than anything else. Jaskier was the first faerie Geralt had met that he had actually gotten along with, let alone liked, and that was because of, and not despite, that same capricious nature.

“I am, though. Are you going to run me through next time I do something unwise, under the impression that I’m one step closing to succumbing to my monstrous tendencies? Will you be waiting for me to reveal my true self—”

Geralt clamped a hand over his mouth. “I will not,” he growled, forgetting for a moment to be quiet, and both of them turned to Ciri’s tent, but she slept on.

There was another beat of silence, where Geralt let his hand drop. “I will never raise my sword against you,” Geralt continued wearily. He half expected Jaskier to jump in with some comment about using his fists instead, but Jaskier just looked at him. It took a second for Geralt to recognize the feeling stirring in his stomach as guilt, that Jaskier had felt the need to hide this from Geralt all these years. Yes, it wasn’t surprising, rather smart, actually, for a faerie to go around with a glamour on to move among humans, and Geralt took no offense to Jaskier approaching him in a tavern decades ago with a disguise on. But after all these years?

“Oh, stop sulking. You’ve got that kicked dog look on again. I feel like Yennefer. You can’t blame me for being wary, Geralt. I’m without a court, so if you took it badly it’s not like I could just go back. You’re stuck with me, monstrous tendencies or not,” Jaskier said with obviously more bravado than he felt.

He stood, rolling his shoulders out from their hunched position and stretching up to the sky, the hem of his soft linen shirt, no more finery for him these days, riding up slightly. Geralt had the unwelcome thought that he’d like to take Jaskier’s clothes off, just to make sure he looked the same underneath as well. He boxed that one up. Jaskier being fae made those thoughts even more unwise.

Except for the fact that he won’t age.

Just like Geralt. He boxed it up further and shoved it away.

“Any reason you left court?” Geralt said instead, cautiously getting up as well and walking the few feet back to camp side by side, just in case Jaskier was nervous with him behind, but it seemed like whatever apprehension Jaskier had had melted away. His mood swings and flighty personality had long been one of the more curious parts of his nature, and now Geralt had an explanation for it. Although faeries were much more likely to swing into sudden violence and rage at the drop of a hat, Jaskier’s bad moods faded quickly. Perhaps it was just him.

“You know court faeries. All snatching lovely men and women to take under the hill, various sorts of trickery and politics. Ulterior motives for everything. Perhaps I just wanted to sing,” Jaskier huffed.

Geralt let himself smile into the dark. Just him, indeed.

“I can feel you grinning over there. You’re taking this better than expected,” Jaskier said, flopping down by the remains of the fire. “Don’t think I’ve seen you smile so much in one day, and you choose the day I reveal myself to have been lying to you for decades to get dopey.” Jaskier cast his glance upwards, to where Geralt was still standing over him, unconcerned by the looming. He looked rather lazy down there, and Geralt was glad that the tension had disappeared from the long lines of his body. And they were longer. Jaskier had grown several inches, at least, still making him smaller than Geralt, but not as tiny as he was before. His figure hadn’t changed much, though, the length seemingly coming mostly from suddenly long legs, and his waist was still small enough for Geralt to fit his hands around.

It took him a minute to realize he was staring. Jaskier stared up back at him, curious and unashamed.

It was the same look Jaskier gave him when he caught Geralt staring at him when he stripped and dashed into the river, or across the shoulder of whatever lady Jaskier was wooing for the day, or laying on his stomach, watching Geralt clean his swords. The one Jaskier had given him across baths, or rubbing salves into his thigh, or with his fingers snarled in Geralt hair, pulling out whatever guts he had gotten tangled into it that day. It was both patient and a dare.

I kind of thought it was one of those things we’re choosing not to talk about.

Geralt ground his teeth. It was even worse to be thinking about things like this, now that he knew Jaskier wasn’t human. Regardless of Jaskier’s personal moral code, faeries were largely classified as monsters under witcher law, one of the few creatures that were both considered sentient and still okay to kill. Obviously Geralt would rather fall on his own sword than kill Jaskier, perhaps would call him a friend under pressure, but… escalating that relationship was certainly not something Vesemir would like.

“You’re staring,” Jaskier pointed out innocuously. Geralt felt like the cogs turning in his head were rusty, catching on each other. He couldn’t think straight, although that wasn’t exactly new when it came to Jaskier. Geralt wasn’t blind, or dumb, and he had known Jaskier would be amenable to taking their friendship into a more horizontal stage, and Geralt just hadn’t let them. But now—now that Jaskier wasn’t human, the idea that he was sturdier, that he wouldn’t die in a few more decades, made the idea far more appealing.

The choice was abrupt taken from Geralt as Jaskier rolled his eyes and tugged Geralt down by the bottom of his chest armor, to which Geralt sat willingly, and Jaskier clambered on top of his lap. Geralt had to steady him with one hand so he wouldn’t topple, and crooked a smile that Jaskier’s clumsiness hadn’t been feigned.

“You’ve been staring at me like that for over a decade,” Jaskier continued, musing, his hands curling into the hard edges of Geralt’s shoulder armor. “Why now? Is me being fae giving you a sense of forbidden thrill? Is it sexy that now I can maybe take you in a fight? Oh, who are we kidding, you could still throw me a mile—”

Geralt clamped his hands down onto Jaskier’s hips. It would’ve bruised a human, easily, but Geralt felt the skin barely bend under his fingers. “Because you were going to die.” It came out as a growl.

“I was not,” Jaskier replied, affronted. “In case you haven’t noticed, I was fully capable of taking care of myself when I wanted, and moreover I had you glaring murder at anyone that would’ve laid a hand on me.” His grin was wide and obviously preening.

“Eventually. Even if you had thrown rocks at every man who wished to do you harm, you would’ve died. Eventually. I thought. Humans don’t—they don’t get very long.”

“Ah,” Jaskier breathed, and tucked one stray lock of white behind Geralt’s ear, those long fingers both familiar and wondrously new. “Well. Like I said, you’re stuck with me. For far longer than you may have signed up for, but I have no intentions of leaving my greatest muse behind.”

Geralt crushed Jaskier to him, and with Jaskier laughing high and sweet, they both went down into the dirt.

Jaskier ended up beneath him, still beaming up at him with smile lines crinkling around his eyes. They still hadn’t talked about it, not really, and Geralt found that he was unwilling to break the little bubble they had built in the night to change that. The conversation would come later, perhaps when Yennefer and Ciri were off doing whatever sorceresses and sorceresses-in-training did and they had a moment alone. There were plenty of reasons Geralt wanted a moment alone.

Geralt had never heard of a witcher dying from old age. Either they got killed, or they got injured, then infected, then dead. Geralt definitely aged, but at a slow, slow crawl, always at a pace that seemed like the world was passing him by too quickly. But now, Jaskier there. For ages. Yennefer as well, sly and teasing, and Ciri, still so young and with so many years left in front of her. The future was long, and it would be bright.

“Jaskier,” Geralt said, momentarily stunned with possibility and emotion.

Jaskier hummed beneath him. “It’s Julian, actually. Julian Alfred Pankratz. Please don’t call me that, it’s just terrible and we fae have a thing about names—”

“A thing about names?” Geralt growled, holding Julian’s hip in one hand tight enough that he could actually feel the bones creak beneath his fingers. Jaskier didn’t seem to mind, just smiled lazily. A thing, as if faeries weren’t notoriously protective over their names, which held a particular sort of power over them, and here Jaskier—Julian—was, giving it out to someone who’d felled a dozen faeries by his swords. The responsibility and trust were dizzying. “Please tell me you’re lying to me,” Geralt said, even though he knew faeries couldn’t lie, and with that came the realization that all the insane stories Jaskier had told him over the years had to have been true in some aspect.

“Everything I say is the truth. Mostly,” Jaskier replied, still grinning and entirely unconcerned that Geralt had begun to cage him in with his arms. “Let me tell you more true things. I stole a viscountship and use it to impress people at parties, I’m capable of powerful illusion magic and I mostly use it to make my clothes shinier, me and Yennefer are secretly friends, and I love you, I love you, I love you—”

The night was cold, but Jaskier’s mouth was warm.