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O, Empathy

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“Tell me,” said Geralt, through gritted teeth, “exactly how this happened. Was it a spell? A curse? Did you try to sleep with the wrong village witch?”

“Sorcerer, actually,” said Jaskier. “And you are in NO position to lecture me about sex with gorgeous magicians, Geralt, so don’t even start. And since you really want to know—”

“I don’t,” said Geralt.

“Ah, but you do,” said Jaskier, with a horrible smile. “I am for once entirely within my rights in saying I know that look.”

“I am not,” said Geralt, hands clenched into fists, “giving you a look.”

“You are!” said Jaskier. “That one,” he continued, pointing, “says, oh, he couldn’t possibly be that gorgeous, nothing is worth this— but he was, thank you! Tall, sharp, and dangerous, which is right up my—” he cut himself off, at once, but the hand stayed up.

“Put— stop pointing at me,” said Geralt. “I— you look like a fool.”

“Oh, I’m a fool, I like that,” said Jaskier. “Meanwhile you’re standing there like an absolute—” he recovered enough to shift from a point into wild gesticulation— ”ignorant idiot!”

“I’m what? ” said Geralt, doing his best to sound dangerous and coming up rather short.

“You’re going to ruin the line of the jacket if you keep… aggressively slouching!” said Jaskier. “I’m not— you can’t— it cost a month’s worth of work and it’s going to have permanent wrinkles!

Fine,” said Geralt, and tried to sit down in the room’s single small, wooden chair. His first attempt missed by several inches, expecting the seat to catch him just slightly higher than it did, and he ended up in a slouch only slightly less aggressive than his lean on the wall had apparently been. “How the fuck did you insult a sorceror this badly.”

“I may have,” said Jaskier, “possibly, sort of, called him by the wrong name.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad—”

“At a rather heated moment,” said Jaskier.

“Why were you arguing with a man you wanted to—”

“He had his tongue in my— my throat, ” said Jaskier. “As for arguing, honestly, as if I’d ever let a little thing like that stop me from pining—”

How did you manage,” asked Geralt, with infinite patience and only a desire to know the facts, and not at all a little meanhearted glee, “to insult a sorcerer while his tongue was down your throat?”

Don’t make me recount the entire sordid affair, Geralt,” said Jaskier, with a surprising note of desperation breaking through the gruff monotone. “I’m already having a rather shit day and all I’ve done so far is wake up.”

“In my body,” said Geralt.

“Yes,” said Jaskier, with the insolent cadence that was unmistakably Jaskier’s, but in Geralt’s voice, emerging from Geralt’s face and frame.

“And I’ve got yours,” said Geralt, from Jaskier’s.

Yes,” said Jaskier, clapping his— well, Geralt’s— well, temporarily his— hands, “that is, rather, the entire problem. Well done, you’ve cut right to the heart of it, sharp as always.”

“I can understand,” said Geralt, slowly, “why you’d be cursed for that—”

Unfair, really, Geralt—”

“But why am I,” said Geralt, “mixed up in this?”

“Oh, something about being heartless, I don’t know,” said Jaskier, waving his hands dismissively. Geralt couldn’t help but be distracted by his constant movement, thinking: inefficient— too much motion— if we get attacked and he’s not conserving his energy—?

“We need to figure out,” said Geralt, trying again for patience and betrayed by a grating hitch in his tone, “if there’s a curse anchor. Did he give you a spelled object? Anything strange?”

“An anchor…? No,” said Jaskier. He had begun pacing around their little room in what Geralt suspected was a way deliberately meant to annoy him. “After he was done yelling—”

“Yelling what? If you remember the words of the spell—”

“In common, Geralt, not Elder, I’ve traveled with you for years, I do know the difference. In any case, once he was done, he crushed a bunch of perfectly nice flowers and broke a vial over my head, and then he did yell something in Elder Speech, but my ears were ringing so badly I couldn’t make it out. Are you— is your hearing okay?” Jaskier asked suddenly, startled, voice rising slightly over a low growl. “Melitele’s arse, I’ve been so careful around loud noises, I can’t have this be the thing that ruins me—”

“I can hear you fine,” said Geralt, flat. “Then what.”

‘Fine,’” said Jaskier, somehow managing to pout, which was deeply disconcerting for Geralt to see. “‘Fine,’ he says, me with perfect pitch, and all he can manage is he can hear fine? Geralt, you don’t know what you’ve got, you should count yourself lucky—

Then what, Jaskier.”

“Then he opened a portal, and shoved me through it, and I was outside the door to our room, and then— well, you know the rest.”

Geralt did.

 


 

Yesterday afternoon, Geralt had met Jaskier on the road. Geralt had been traveling north, towards Novigrad; Jaskier was headed in the opposite direction. Geralt heard him singing before he saw him, which was usual for Witchers; Geralt generally had plenty of time and warning to avoid someone if he wanted to. But he stayed on the road, kept moving at Roach’s steady plod, until the tune was interrupted, with:

“Geralt!” said Jaskier, brightly. “What a pleasant surprise! Odd to see you here, this time of year. Usually I find you down towards the south, in some horrible backwater shithole, eating slop and drinking whatever passes for rye. I’ve just come from Novigrad’s annual spring festival of the performing arts, where of course I placed very highly.”

That was rather a lot of conversational openings. “Hm,” said Geralt.

“Where are you bound? I could use a drinking companion, because, you see, I didn’t actually win this year. I was only defeated because a small-time publisher was sponsoring the winner, some young brat of a know-nothing bard. Had the gall to put out a printed collection of his life’s work and he’s barely twenty-five! Called it 'A Decade of Poetry,’ can you believe the nerve. Even I’d wait at least another few years before I even considered it. Anyway, I think I’d better be in company for a while to drown my sorrows. So where to, Geralt?”

“Some horrible backwater shithole,” said Geralt, dry.

“Oh. Fair. Well. Are you heading out on a contract, then? Returning from one?”

Geralt looked at Jaskier, and then at the two nasty, bloody Katakan heads hanging from Roach’s much-put-upon saddlebags, and then at the blood on his own armor, and back again.

“Joking, Geralt, joking, you should try it sometime. Well, if it’s the next little nothing of a town this way, I passed it about an hour back, and that’s plenty of time to hear the story, so why don’t you just let me tag along?”

And Geralt did.

They made it into town, where Geralt strode straight to the alderman’s desk, and thunked both heads unceremoniously down. “There were two,” said Geralt, “mated pair,” and then, hearing the man’s pulse rise, and smelling his odious sweat: “and you knew. You owe me double.”

And hazard pay, for lying,” said Jaskier, with a dangerous lilt, and then he took entirely over. Geralt’s rough negotiation was very effective; he was a freelancer, after all, and he'd live and die not only by his sword, but also by his haggling. But Jaskier was just as good, in his own way, and people usually shook his hand, after. If they weren't begging him to please stay and sing or pushing a little tray of pastries on him, as a gift. Geralt sat back— well, moved his looming a little further away— and watched him go.

When he was done, they took the little purse, went straight to the inn, and booked a room.

“And a bath,” said Jaskier, “for you, Geralt, my treat. No, really, I insist! You are quite foul, just now, you know.”

Geralt bathed, and Jaskier bustled around the room asking him further questions about the hunt. Every time his circuit took him by the tub he'd pick a knot out of Geralt’s hair, or add more hot water, until it was nearly boiling and could probably have killed a garden-variety human, or simply pat him once on the shoulder before moving on.

Jaskier seemed— nervous, like he was building up to something, and there was a note of anxiety cutting through his smell, which was usually much more pleasant. Not that Geralt would admit it. But when Geralt gave him a clearly interrogative grunt, Jaskier only said, “Oh, nothing, nothing. Only— well. Later." and was back to babbling again. The easy chatter soaked into Geralt’s bones, doing him as much good as the bath, and maybe more.

After, they went down to the tavern for dinner. Jaskier asked where they might be headed next, and Geralt allowed that he might be heading east, tomorrow, to check on a rumor of an infestation of lesser vampires.

“Not north, after all?” asked Jaskier.

Geralt grunted, and said, “Don't need to, anymore,” and if Jaskier thought he meant because the contract was complete, well, that was also true.

It was a good meal: fresh-stewed venison and still-warm bread with the faintest taste of early honey. They skipped the rye, but the ale was surprisingly passable, too. The tavern was crowded, and the smell of magic was in the air. There was a knot of bright young people at the fanciest table in the corner, who must have been passing mages, mingling among the common folk with an air of slumming for the novelty of it. They were rare, and they were beautiful, and they were looking at Geralt and Jaskier. No, Geralt corrected, they had looked at him with the same curiosity they might afford to any other object of their studies, and he thought something vaguely rude about powerful fools just in case. But Jaskier they returned to, over and again; more than one glance from that table lingered on his bright clothing, on his hair, on his eyes. And as for Jaskier, well, he smelled— Jaskier seemed like something was missing.

They had finished their second ale, and Geralt was considering another. Something about this situation was troubling him, in a place deep under his bones.

"Geralt," Jaskier started to say, and for once, he sounded... hesitant, unsure. "There's something—"

But Geralt cut him off. “They're watching you,” said Geralt, nodding to the table across the way, and trying to put a note of encouragement into his growl. “You should go over. Before they turn one of us into a newt. Or something worse.”

“What, can mages really do that?” said Jaskier. He sounded entirely too interested, which was a little disturbing.

“Better not find out,” said Geralt. “Go on.” But Jaskier looked uncertain, and Geralt realized he hadn’t finished telling him the story of the pair of Katakans, for his next ballad, and that was definitely why he still detected a note of hesitance in Jaskier’s stance. Taking pity, he went on: “We'll leave after breakfast. Tell you the rest in the morning.”

So Jaskier went off with the bright and shining mages, and Geralt went up to the room, and drank a very nice bottle of Everluce, all by himself. He oiled his swords, and mended his gear, and tried not to think about how he was glad that he’d made Jaskier happy, by sending him off, but some mean and howling little part of his heart had wanted exactly the opposite thing.

Some horrible time after midnight, when Geralt had long since gone to bed, the door to their room had opened with a struggling clatter and a thunk. Geralt was halfway to standing before he registered that it was Jaskier, not only because of his dark-vision and the unique scent he’d reluctantly admit to himself he could recognize at half a mile away, but also because Jaskier announced it, thus:

“Geralt! Hey, hello, it’s me! Jaskier! Bit of a… bit of a tiff, nothing to worry about, but I’m back for the night after all!”

“It’s morning,” said Geralt, grumpily, his internal clock unable to bear this particular insult. He had been planning to rest for at least another undisturbed hour before rising for his early swordwork.

Jaskier seemed… off, somehow. Drunk, Geralt thought, uncharitably adding: sloshed, completely wasted, the fool. What if he’d wandered into the wrong room—? And had to cut himself off, because he was rather more upset at that thought than he wanted to consider in the wee hours of the morning.

Jaskier’s stumbling feet took him on a meandering circuit of their shared space, stumbling into Geralt’s armor and apologizing to it with his usual charm before he finally made his way to the bed, not bothering to undress before flopping down, boneless. Sometimes—often, Geralt’s traitorous brain corrected—they shared like this; Geralt slept as close to the dead as it was possible to be without actually joining them, and his slow heartbeat and still body made him an easy companion.

Except, Geralt had recently decided, they didn’t share when Jaskier came home—well, back to whatever space they might have clawed out of the unforgiving Path— like this: drunk, presumably, and still vaguely smelling of whoever he’d been with, earlier. Geralt told himself it was because Jaskier’s inebriation made him an inconsiderate bedmate, flinging arms and legs around in his sleep with wild abandon. Last time it had happened, he had slung an arm around Geralt’s chest, all unconscious, and Geralt didn’t want a repeat of that particular variety of being caught completely wrong-footed, not knowing at all what to do. So he wordlessly got out of the bed, taking with him a blanket and single pillow, and made himself a pallet on the floor.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, “Geralt, it’s only me, where are you going?”

From his little nest, Geralt could see Jaskier casting searchingly around the room. For a second, despite the dark, their eyes met, and he had a horrible sense of vertigo, of vision doubled, a feeling of seeing Jaskier looking at him looking back at Jaskier. He was struck again by the feeling of something off, but simultaneously hit with a wave of fatigue so strong it for once entirely overwhelmed his better instincts.

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, queasily, “I don’t feel so well. I wasn’t going to because it’s, well, rather embarrassing, even for me, but perhaps I ought actually to tell you what—”

“You’re drunk. Go to sleep, Jaskier,” said Geralt.

“Well, if you say so!” said Jaskier, with a surprising reserve of cheer, and burrowing into the six remaining pillows on the little straw mattress, did just that.

Geralt snorted a little huff of resigned amusement, which was certainly not fond. On his chest, his medallion hummed lightly, but he was suddenly more tired than he’d ever been, and he really could not be bothered to sort out why, which was odd, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about that, either, his head spinning as it was. He turned over, his back to Jaskier, to face the door, settled in on the floor in relative comfort—

— and woke up in bed.

 


 

Which caught them up to now. It had been half an hour, maybe, since they woke up this morning— simultaneously, which ought to have been the first sign something was wrong, although the rest was obvious rather quickly after that. Neither had been willing to go downstairs, or to do much beyond yell (Jaskier) and wonder what rude gesture he’d made at Destiny lately, to deserve this (Geralt).

“You really don’t remember anything of the spell.”

No, Geralt,” said Jaskier, in a slow way that Geralt could tell was meant to sound patient, although how it actually sounded was wolfish and perhaps even mean. “I couldn’t hear the spell, on account of the vial broken over my head, so there was nothing to remember. I do have university training, for all you don’t care to acknowledge it, I could otherwise certainly remember some five or six words.”

“That short?”

“Oh, is that useful?” said Jaskier, perking up, which was an even stranger tone. “Yes, definitely, not longer than a sentence.”

“The vial,” said Geralt, switching tacks. His—well, Jaskier’s— well, if he kept thinking of it as Jaskier’s they would never survive this, so his— body itched in some antsy way, and standing and pacing seemed like it might help resolve the restlessness, so he did. “What was in it?”

Jaskier stared at him, eyes narrowed, but not enough to hide their golden color and pupils contracted down to thin slits in the morning light. The effect was, Geralt acknowledged, rather menacing. He didn’t often look at himself in mirrors. “Something wet, Geralt. How on earth am I supposed to know?”

“What did it smell of?” Geralt asked automatically, the question he’d ask any other Witcher, that Vesemir had asked them all a thousand thousand times in their training years.

“Like a glass breaking over my head,” said Jaskier. “We don’t all have a Witcher’s senses, you know— well, usually,” he continued, crossing his arms over his chest, “and I have to say, it is a bit much, isn’t it? How do you deal with this?”

“Years of practice,” said Geralt, grim. “Did you bathe?”

“What sort of question is that? No, of course I didn’t stop to bathe before I was thrown through a portal; I barely had time to get my clothes back on while the regular yelling was happening.”

“Where exactly,” said Geralt, “did the vial hit you?” But when he reached a hand up to the back of his head, he could tell- there was a spot that had been aching, vaguely, and while he’d chalked it up to a hangover the symptoms were also a solid fit for being hit over the head. “Ah. Here. What does it smell like?”

“Like an inn, but worse,” said Jaskier promptly. “I mean it, Geralt, this is overwhelming, there’s a stink of something out in the farmyard, and the dregs of whatever discards didn’t make it into the stew, the night before, wafting up from downstairs, and rather a lot of unwashed people, which maybe includes the both of us, actually, and I can hear my own pulse, Geralt, which is highly distracting! I’ve been doing my best to just— ignore it, but can you turn it off?”

Geralt sighed rather more dramatically than he’d meant to, though he had to concede that the effect was very good, and walked right up to where Jaskier was leaning against the bed. “Geralt,” said Jaskier, with what might have been caution, or might only have been gravel, “What are you—”

Geralt pointed again to the back of Jaskier’s—his— head, where the vial had broken. “Tell me,” he said, “what you smell.”

He turned around, so he couldn’t see Jaskier’s face, but even his human ears could make out the sharp intake of breath through Jaskier’s mouth. He was fully prepared to give a lecture on how the nose was a little more useful, actually, but before he could he heard it again, properly, a deep intake that went on for longer than he expected.

“Oh,” said Jaskier.

“What is it,” said Geralt.

“Oh, um. It’s… spicy? I think? A little sharp, like that herb that goes into pie fillings, sometimes, when they’re more savory than sweet.”

“Jaskier,” said Geralt, “what the fuck do you mean.”

“I don’t know, Geralt!” said Jaskier, and Geralt turned around to see him throw up his giant arms in frustration, narrowly missing hitting Geralt in the sternum, which would have maybe actually killed him, and wasn’t that terrifying. “It’s not— there’s kind of a lot going on, and I don’t know the names of any of it, and I wasn’t trained in the use of my nose like some sort of—”

Don’t say wolf.”

Hound, thank you very much, wolves aren’t trained at all. But it’s spicy, and sharp, and underneath it there’s— copper? Is that blood? Are you— am I bleeding?”

“Hm,” said Geralt, and raised a hand to the back of his head again. There was dried blood there, certainly, which again, fit with a broken glass— but underneath it, though he could feel the smoothness of new-healed skin, there was no wound. He told Jaskier as much.

“Are you positive, Geralt,” said Jaskier, “because, again, I— my body doesn’t have Witcher healing, if I’m bleeding you have to bloody well tell me so I can stitch it up!”

At this, Geralt gave him the most long-suffering look he could manage with all of Jaskier’s body’s years. Which weren’t very many, come to think of it. Was it thirty? More? What did that mean, for humans? Had it been a decade since they met? He could never quite keep track.

“Ah, well,” said Jaskier. “Okay, fair, maybe I deserve that. But if I can’t magically smell what the— the curse-slop was, then— do you have some kind of cure-all? Something that could counteract it? Where’s your bag of tricks—” And he turned to Geralt’s things, and unerringly pulled out the giant pouch of potions from exactly the right slot in the saddlebags— definitely a decade, at least, thought Geralt— and then he realized Jaskier was about to go digging through his potions.

Don’t touch that,” he snarled, and grabbed the giant, heavy bag out of Jaskier’s large and capable hands, and, unprepared for its heft, promptly dropped it on the ground.

Jaskier let out a small huff of laughter, startled, and then did it again, louder. “Oh,” he said between chuckles, “so you can laugh after all.”

“When it’s called for,” Geralt said grumpily, although it came out as snide. He settled himself cross-legged on the floor to take inventory. He knew before beginning that it was for naught; his mental list had to be perfect, so he knew what needed replenishing, so he wouldn’t be caught unawares and die because he thought he had a decoction when he’d used the last two days prior. But this wasn’t a case of the right potion being absent— rather, he had absolutely no idea what the right counteracting agent might be, and to quaff blindly was as likely to harm as to help. Far more likely to harm, considering Jaskier— considering he was human, and Witcher potions weren’t meant for humans at all. Still, he made himself go through the entire bag, vial by tiny vial, until he admitted: “There’s nothing here that could help.”

“Can I see?” asked Jaskier, already leaning over him. Up close, it was clear the medallion on his chest was shimmering slightly. The vibration increased when Geralt raised a hand up to it, to check, and he had a sense of vertigo so sudden and strong he quickly drew it back, fearful of somehow making things worse, of causing further damage or— entanglement.

“Has that been shaking this whole time?” he asked.

“Oh,” said Jaskier, standing back up, “does it not always do this? I thought it was like— a toy that I couldn’t figure out how to turn off, and I didn’t want to intrude on your admittedly limited remaining privacy by asking outright.”

No, Jaskier,” said Geralt, warningly. “It reacts to magic. And to some danger.”

“Don’t act so shocked, Geralt,” said Jaskier. “They can do marvelous things with magical alloys these days, at the specialist shops in Novigrad, I’m sure your Yennefer must have introduced you—”

Jaskier,” said Geralt, desperately, voice almost cracking, and then: “Oh. Yen.”

“What,” said Jaskier, suddenly leaning over him again: “does that mean.”

“It’s some kind of magic. She ought to be able to help figure it out.”

“And you can’t? You can do magic, Geralt, I’ve seen it, with the—” and Jaskier shaped his hand into a surprisingly decent aard, and thrust it out, and Geralt was too slow in this body to do more than watch it happen, terrified, and—

— and nothing. Geralt sighed in relief. Of course, he thought; form isn’t function; Jaskier wasn’t trained in the way to power a sign, had only seen the motions, so they wouldn’t have to deal with his potions being blown to bits after all. Or the inn’s furniture, though that was so flimsy already that it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“Witchers,” Geralt said slowly, “are not trained as sorcerers are. We have a few practical pieces of magic. We don’t build spells. I don’t know how to take one apart.” It was an old argument, this nuanced distinction, and one he himself had a particular interest in, his heritage being what it was.

“So,” said Jaskier in a low growl, “we find someone who does, okay, with you there. But does it have to be… her?”

“Well,” said Geralt, wry, “we could go ask the man who did this in the first place.”

“Ah,” said Jaskier. “Ah, actually, no, we can’t. I don’t know where he lives.”

“Why not, Jaskier.”

“He portaled in late, after you’d left, and then later, portaled us out of the bar, to his home. I didn’t stop to ask where the portal was anchored. It was all very romantic.”

“So romantic you forgot his name?”

Geralt, ” said Jaskier, turning the full force of his sharp gaze to bear: “please don’t.” It was surprisingly sincere.

“Fine,” said Geralt. “Yen it is.”

“How do you propose we find her, exactly?”

“I know where she is,” said Geralt, digging around in another pouch in the saddlebags. The buttons, he noticed, were oddly tricky to manage; he hadn’t considered that he might be using some of his strength to slip them through too-small holes, until it was gone, and he found himself struggling.

“That one always sticks,” said Jaskier, absently, and reached over him and undid it easily. “Oh. Oh. Not for Witchers, it doesn’t.”

“Hm,” said Geralt, as he pulled out a letter, blinked, squinted, stood and walked to the light from the window to read it. The tone was, as he recalled, imperious and rude. But he also remembered it smelling of lilac and gooseberries, of Yen, and now it was— there was nothing. Or rather, there was only the vague stink of men in the field too long without bathing, but even that was muted. Was it a relief? He wasn’t sure.

“You’re writing her,” said Jaskier, exasperated. “Me you have to rely on the vagaries of fate to run back into, but Yennefer you— what, you schedule a time to sleep with, even on your precious Path?

“It’s not like that,” said Geralt.

“Then what is it like?” asked Jaskier. “I can’t possibly fake it convincingly if you don’t tell me.”

There was a note of... something in Jaskier’s voice. Geralt didn’t know if he'd have noticed it if it weren't for how this body wanted to mirror what the other was doing. He shifted into the same posture almost unconsciously, picked up on how it resonated in his own body with in frustration and… something else.

“We’re not going to fake it.”

“Would you rather explain this? To her?”

“Hm,” said Geralt. “Fair. More than, actually. Worth a try.” And, when Jaskier gestured for him to get on with it, then, Geralt continued: “We’re… colleagues.”

Sure,” said Jaskier, wry, in so close a mimic of Geralt’s own tone that it made him startle, disoriented.

“She tells me when she’s going to be nearby. Sometimes we share a meal. She talks about Tissaia, about the courts. I listen.”

“Melitele’s lovely arse, you're not sleeping together, it's worse, you're friends,” said Jaskier, affronted. “Of course you’re not friends with me, not really, but the sorceress who nearly killed us both, who you had dramatic and frankly unfairly beautiful sex with in a collapsing building, her you make time for? You share lunches and gossip? And I’m supposed to pretend that’s okay? Well, I suppose it’s not much beyond grunting, which I can manage, but if I have to sit there and listen and not ask for details about the latest royal disaster, I don’t know if I can manage—

“Jaskier,” he said, desperately, and was unprepared for how high his voice could go, with that feeling behind it, of please don’t push. “Just— we’ll meet her, you’ll ask about a spell to clear curses, for prevention, and we’ll leave. It will be fine.”

It was, of course, anything but.

 


 

According to her (short, rude) letter, Yennefer was only a few hours’ walk away. Geralt insisted they wait until the sun was high before heading out— not proper noon, which could be as tricky as midnight in its own way, another boundary line, but the sun would be up, and the forest way would seem a little less dangerous. Which was dangerous in and of itself, in fact, as things that looked safe often weren’t, and things that looked dangerous were sometimes— well. Geralt looked at Jaskier, broad-shouldered and sharp-toothed, and shook his head.

They used the interim time to get as ready as they could: Geralt packed a basic, small medicinal kit and hefted a dagger consideringly before strapping it on. Jaskier looked at the pile of armor on a chair. “Well,” he said, “this is going to be a challenge.”

“You’ve helped me with my armor before.”

“Yes, Geralt, and you’re welcome, by the by, but I’ve never tried to put it on—” he gestured— “front-wards, and it’s rather a different animal.”

Shit,” said Geralt, realizing at once how much of the motions were automatic, for him, after decades, and how difficult it would be to reverse them, let alone heft every component with Jaskier’s lessened strength. “Shit. Fine. It’s not far. And if she can fix this—” he gestured at the both of them, surprised again by how light his arm felt, how expression seemed to be this body’s default, rather than something he had to argue it into— “then we won’t have to deal with it at all. But,” he continued, and pointed at the swords, “you’re taking those.”

“Geralt,” said Jaskier, slowly and gravelly, “you once told me a man with a sword he can’t use is a danger only to himself.”

“Did I?” said Geralt, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. “Seems… wordy.”

“It was at that banquet for the marquess, who’d hired you for what she thought was an imp infestation and turned out to be a hairless cat. Remember? Her horrible son was bragging about his very nice new rapier, waving it about like a flagpole, and you muttered that under your breath, and then he managed to stab his own left foot. I was laughing so hard we had to leave before the second cheese course,” Jaskier finished, and his rough face, although aiming for wistful, landed somewhere between consternation and constipation.

“Something Vesemir used to tell us,” said Geralt, “didn’t think you were listening,”

“Well, what else would I do?”

“Anyway,” said Geralt, ignoring that, “this one time— one time, Jaskier— the symbol matters more. People are less likely to… antagonize… a visible Witcher. So, swords.”

Jaskier buckled them on. Geralt tried not to react, but the sight of it was jarring. His swords were him, in a very true way, the tools he’d live and die by. They were also a symbol for danger, which made the whole situation jarringly real, and a little terrifying, all at once. So, too, did the sight of Jaskier with them, a situation he’d privately vowed could never, ever happen— because it meant the worst had come to pass, and Geralt had failed, and because it was too intimate, somehow. And this awful, dire situation managed to be a little bit of both.

Fortunately, Jaskier pulled a face and swiveled the straps such that both swords almost fell from their scabbards at once, ruining the moment. “Geralt,” he said, “this leather itches. You’ve lived five lifetimes—”

“Not that old,” said Geralt, in protest, and then, considering: “Maybe three.”

“—and you never once thought, hm— oh, I see why you do that all the time, it is quite fun, isn’t it— hm, maybe I’ll add a little padding?!” His mimicry of Geralt’s tone was very good, although perhaps it was cheating, when the voice was already the same.

Geralt decided to ignore this unfair ribbing, and said nothing further, only picked up the much smaller bag he’d packed with bandages, checked the dagger strapped to his hips, and left the room.

“Ger—” Jaskier started to say, and turned it halfway through into ”— bard, wait—” and rushed after.

“Room’s paid up,” said Geralt to the innkeeper, sliding another quarter-mark across the bar. “For one more day. Back later.”

She looked between the coin and Geralt, in confusion. “Aye, sir,” she said. “Will you be wanting dinner later, then…?”

“No,” said Geralt, but “Yes,” said Jaskier, standing behind him. Well, looming, really; for all that Geralt’s body wasn’t much taller than Jaskier’s, its sheer width and presence made any other descriptor rather inadequate.

“Fine, then,” she said, vanishing the coin with a swiftness magicians might envy. “And I’ll see your horse is fed, too.”

“Thank you, darling,” said Jaskier, and Geralt whipped around to glower at him just in time to see his eyes widen a fraction as he realized his mistake. The innkeeper gave an extremely nervous laugh, and then Geralt was pulling Jaskier by the arm out of the inn. Or rather— Jaskier was letting himself be pulled, he suspected, having done the same thing more times than he was willing to admit.

Once outside, he let go and turned to take the westward path, towards Yen, and hopefully, a swift solution.

“Roach…?” asked Jaskier, hopefully.

“Absolutely not,” said Geralt, and they were on their way.

 


 

They reached the tavern Yen had named without incident; the road was packed with other travelers, and if any of them thought it odd to see an angry, striding bard followed by a suspiciously jaunty Witcher, they knew better than to comment. Outside, and well out of earshot, Geralt stopped Jaskier for a final reiteration of the plan.

“Don’t talk,” he said. “At all.”

“Really, Geralt,” said Jaskier, hands on his hips, “You want to try to pretend your way through this without my help? How do you, the bard, expect to explain that you need a catch-all curse-lifter without her figuring out why?”

“Jaskier,” he said, patiently, “she is essentially immortal, and if you say one thing wrong, she will know, and you will truly never hear the end of it.”

“Ah,” said Jaskier, “yes, got it, a valiant attempt at deceit it is. Just because I generally choose not to doesn’t mean I can’t do strong and silent. But what makes you so sure you can be me?”

“You’re different around Yen,” said Geralt.

“Maybe once,” said Jaskier, “But we have run into each other a few times, and it turns out we do have a few things in common—”

“Like what? ” asked Geralt, in a high-pitched, distressed squawk. But Jaskier deliberately ignored him, steamrolling on:

“—and while yes, we’re still a little catty, it seems like we might one day be able to be catty over a shared drink, instead of an attempted murder-by-djinn.”

“You’re still— subdued. It’s easier.”

“Ugh,” said Jaskier, one hand pinching the bridge of his note in protest, a feeling Geralt was only too familiar with. Only usually it went in the opposite direction. “Fine. Fine! I will remain perfectly silent and watch you absolutely butcher my reputation. Not a peep. Just—” and then, before Geralt could react, Jaskier was in his space, and wasn’t that disturbing, how quickly it seemed to happen. Jaskier tapped Geralt’s arms, which were crossed over his chest. “Don’t stand like that.”

“Wrinkles,” said Geralt, “right.”

“Not just that, Geralt,” said Jaskier, “you look— closed off, and when you— when I stand like that, it messes with my brain. You just stand open, and do your best to talk in sentences of longer than three words, and I’ll be dead silent, and we’ll be fine.”

Geralt put a hand on the doorknob.

“Ah,” said Jaskier. “Perhaps I ought to go first, though…?”

 


 

Yennefer barely acknowledged them as they entered, except for a brief pause in her work, one hand on a letter, the other sorting through a large pile of waxen seals. The tavern was empty, except for a single woman tending the bar, who nodded as they crossed the floor, and then withdrew. Geralt wondered where everyone had got to, and then decided it was possibly better not to know.

“Geralt,” said Yen, once they reached their table, and Jaskier sat down across from her. “And I see you’ve brought your bright little pincushion with you, how lovely—”

Jaskier made a noise like a strangled, indignant, yelp, and Yen looked up, sharp. “Geralt,” she said again, slowly, and Jaskier closed his mouth hard, and crossed his arms over his chest, while Geralt did his best to stand open and easy behind him, as he’d been shown, but his hands couldn’t help clenching into nervous fists at his side, his knuckles going slowly white with the force of it.

She looked back and forth between the two of them, and narrowed her eyes, and Geralt remembered all at once her talent for skimming surface thoughts. “Yen,” he said desperately, at which point her eyes opened wide, and he realized his mistake but couldn’t stop himself from continuing: “don’t—” but there was a tickle at the back of his mind, and at once she burst out laughing.

“You,” she said finally, breathing in short gasps between peals of bright, shining laughter, “ and he— and you were going to try to what, bluff your way through this? As if I wouldn’t notice that he knew nothing about the court records you were supposed to help me sort out?”

Geralt, having entirely forgotten why he was meant to meet Yen in the first place, before this extremely minor complication, grunted. “I didn’t—”

Gods,” said Yen, “it would have fallen apart the second you talked.”

“That,” said Geralt, “is what I was trying to tell him—”

“No,” said Yen, cutting him off with a wry smile. “Not your bard—”

“Not my bard,” said Geralt, automatically.

Yen laughed. “You’re right, of course,” she said, with devilish glee, “you are, temporarily, his.”

“So it is temporary,” said Jaskier, relief in his voice, and Geralt hadn’t even considered that it might not be— and all at once, his life flashed before his eyes, and it was dangerous, and it was short, and it was Jaskier’s, if he stayed, and he had to clamp that vein of thought entirely shut before it bled him straight to death.

“Yes,” said Yen, distractedly, “and I assume you came to me for help, and I assure you that I can, although you’ll now owe me double, for leaving me to deal with this on my own. But I meant the second you spoke, Geralt. He’s a performer, and aside from a pathological inability to let an insult to his dignity go without retaliation, he seems to have a pretty solid handle on your whole,” she gestured vaguely, “thing.”

“He had better not,” muttered Geralt, under his breath. Jaskier laughed, and Geralt realized again he’d forgotten which of them was in possession of his hearing.

“You, on the other hand,” Yen said, almost tenderly, “cannot stop trying to project the aura of the most dangerous thing in the room. It's very dear, actually. Like a kitten roaring.”

“Oh, a kitten, that's good,” said Jaskier. “I was thinking dog on a very short leash, but that's even—”

Yen cut him off by putting a hand over his mouth. Her hand, Geralt's mouth, Jaskier's lilting tone, suddenly stilled. Jaskier was pinned under it, but so, too, was Geralt, in an extremely unanticipated way.

“There's an antidote,” said Yen, either entirely unaware of the effect this was having on Geralt, or extremely and deliberately aware, but it was difficult to tell with her permanent state of well-deserved swanning preen. “Well, not an antidote, but a potion that should disrupt the lingering resonance of the spell enough to snap you back. There's a true cure, of course,” she continued, almost absently, “But I don't think it would take; it’s not the sort of thing you can fool.”

Her hand was still on the jawline that usually belonged to Geralt, and underneath it even his human eyes could see Jaskier starting to sweat. Geralt felt… angry, he realized, frustrated in his bones in a way that was much closer to the surface than was usual. His skin felt hot and entirely too small. He wasn't sure whether the upset stemmed from Yen touching someone else or Yen touching Jaskier, but either way, he could feel his own sweat starting to gather.

Yen cast him a glance that pinned him through the heart, as if he were an open book, as if she could read him that easily— and he realized rather belatedly that between the years of their acquaintance and her light telepathic gift, she almost certainly could.

“Although,” she continued, slowly, “with you two… maybe... well. Let me make up a list of what you’ll need,” she said, taking her hand away from Jaskier, reaching for a quill and clean sheet of paper.

Jaskier rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. Mine, thought Geralt, and my mouth, he clarified to himself, in the privacy of his own head, only because it was important to be clear, and not at all in case he had an eavesdropper.

Jaskier opened his mouth to speak, but— “Don't distract me,” said Yen, cutting him off. “I need to think carefully about this. It's been years.”

“Has this,” Geralt said slowly, “happened to you?”

“Never by accident. Or by malice, I’m guessing, in your case…?” she half asks, not looking up from her writing. “But I'm not having this conversation with you right now. It's fairly easy to protect against; once...cured, it can’t happen to you and anyone else. Only… sometimes there are lingering... aftereffects. But it’s probably nothing to worry about.”

Jaskier made another indignant noise, and Yen held up a single finger. “Please hold your very useful protests,” she said, dry, “I’ve almost got it... and, there,” she concluded with satisfaction, drawing a line under her final written instruction. “Five ingredients, one combination, fairly straightforward. It’s a neat little fix. Only— it has to be mixed under the new moon, so be sure to get it done by then. You’ve got three days, not counting this one. Should be plenty of time.”

“What happens if we don’t?” said Jaskier. “I thought you said— will it be permanent?” he continued, with as much of a squawk as he could muster, which was barely a small uptick in tone.

“No,” said Yen, with a slow, dangerous look, “you’d just have to wait another month until the next one. And I’d hate to think what could happen then.” Jaskier looked slightly uncomfortable, and probably felt substantially more so. Geralt, meanwhile, physically shuddered, which was new, but matched the sense of prey that his hindbrain helpfully offered up when she’d looked at him that way. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but it was novel, the way for once, his interior experience and exterior expression aligned.

“Geralt,” she said as they were leaving, and when both of them turned around, “Ah, good, you’re practicing already. Do let me know how it goes? I shall be waiting on tenterhooks to hear.”

And she smiled with all her teeth and waved a hand to usher them on their way.