▪ This is not a goodbye, my darling, this is a thank you. Thank you for coming into my life and giving me joy, thank you for loving me and receiving my love in return. Thank you for the memories I will cherish forever. But most of all, thank you for showing me that there will come a time when I can eventually let you go. ▪
The cool breeze carries the scent of early spring with it, fresh and cleansing and full of life, and Geralt closes his eyes as it ruffles his hair and caresses his cheeks. His head is tipped back against the wall of the stables, hands lying loose and relaxed in his lap as he breathes, slowly, in and out in a steady rhythm.
Not many places grant him the safety to act and be this careless, this free, and he’s determined to bask in the pleasure of it for as long as he can. They’ll leave Kaer Morhen soon, all of them returning to their tasks and duties for the year; Yennefer will take Ciri with her to Aretuza for the season, Eskel and Lambert will set out to travel the Path again, as will Geralt after escorting Jaskier across the Continent to the Academy.
In the late summer, Ciri will find Geralt wherever he might have ended up, and together they’ll travel to Oxenfurt to join Jaskier for the end of term festivities. The three of them will make the journey back to Kaer Morhen together come fall, where Vesemir and his brothers will be waiting for them, and Yennefer will turn up whenever she’s grown bored with life in whatever court she’d decided to grace with her presence and services.
And Geralt will feel whole again, he will be home once more, and the thought alone makes him smile softly to himself.
Somewhere further in the courtyard, Lambert yells out a colourful curse while Ciri cackles maniacally. Eskel is taunting the former through his laughter, and Vesemir’s voice joins in with barked commands and corrections once the clang of steel against steel continues. Somewhere above them, on one of the balconies overlooking the yard, Geralt can hear the scratch of quill against parchment as Yennefer works on her correspondence, interrupted every now and again by the tapping of nails against an inkpot.
He realises what’s wrong an instant before everyone else grows suddenly, eerily still; Jaskier is quiet.
Geralt’s eyes snap open and immediately find Jaskier in the same spot he’s been in for most of the afternoon, sitting perched atop a few old crates with his lute in hand and a tune on his lips. Only now the lute has been set aside so Jaskier can press his hands to his chest, a frown pulling at his brows as his face twists and turns ashen.
He begins to gasp as Geralt springs to his feet, coughing harshly before that turns into breathless wheezing. His hands are shaking when they reach for Geralt, their grip weak and feeble where they curl into Geralt’s tunic, and his heart stutters.
Jaskier’s eyes are wide and shining, and his heart stutters, stutters, stutters, and then it doesn’t anymore because it stays silent.
Silent. Silent. Silent—
“Geralt, move!” Yennefer hisses sharply as she shoves between them. “Move and help!”
It’s overwhelming, as everything comes rushing back in; the sound of raised voices, the smell of worry and fear, the feel of his brothers flanking him closely, the taste of his own panic in the back of Geralt’s throat.
“Yenn,” is all Geralt manages to choke out, but Yennefer knows him well enough to simply, brusquely instruct, “Lift him, carefully. Follow me.”
His mind is blank apart from a frantic, terrified repetition of Jaskier’s name as they step through a portal into their rooms. He gently arranges Jaskier on the bed and begins to undress him as ordered while Yennefer vanishes for a long, torturous moment. She returns with her bag of herbs and salves, and Geralt has to bite the inside of his cheek bloody to keep himself from snarling at her when she tells him to give her space to work.
Jaskier is quiet. Silent. Still.
“Is he going to be—” Geralt’s voice breaks off halfway through the question when bile rises up his throat. He swallows convulsively against the sting of it, vision swimming. “Yenn, will he—”
The hand Yennefer’s got splayed across Jaskier’s chest turns purple with magic, glowing brightly, and Jaskier’s whole body jerks before going limp again. Yennefer waits, watches, holds her free hand over his mouth and nose. Her expression grows pinched, her hand glowing bright for another moment, Jaskier convulsing more violently than before.
Geralt can hear himself growling, low and hurt, though he can’t seem to stop. But then Jaskier sucks in a painful sounding breath, twitching under Yennefer’s hands as she smooths them down his torso, murmuring quiet spells that Geralt doesn’t hear over the sound of the renewed beat of Jaskier’s heart.
Slow. Weak. Too slow, too weak, but there once more.
Yennefer sits back with a shuddering sigh, eyes squeezed shut and mouth pressed into a thin line. Somehow, despite his legs feeling weak like he’d just run for hours, Geralt makes it over to the bed to perch down next to her, laying a hand on her back.
“He’s stable, for now,” she says quietly as she tips her head to rest against Geralt’s shoulder. Geralt moves to wrap an arm around her, holding her close. Yennefer leans into it and pats Geralt’s thigh. “He’ll be in the clear, I believe, if he makes it through the night, although I do highly recommend a visit with a human healer. Good thing your little lark is as stubborn as they come.”
He is, proudly so, and were the circumstances different, Geralt would see the humour in the situation. He can't find it in himself to do so, now. “What happened, Yenn?”
Yennefer gives a delicate shrug. “It's near impossible to tell. Whatever it was, it put a strain on his heart which proved to be too much.”
Geralt's own heart clenches at that. “I didn't—”
“Oh, please, Geralt, get over yourself,” Yennefer cuts in sharply. She moves back a little, and Geralt pretends he doesn't notice her wipe discreetly at her eyes. “Trained healers and physicians find it impossible to predict and prevent these things, how could you have?”
It's illogical, Geralt knows, but he wants to argue anyway. It's him who knows Jaskier, inside and out, better than any other living soul. It's him who cares for Jaskier, who loves Jaskier, who is supposed to protect Jaskier when Jaskier can't protect himself.
It's him who has failed, spectacularly so.
Some of what he's thinking must show on his face, despite his best efforts, because Yennefer's features soften again. “Geralt,” she says, too gentle for Geralt's comfort, “he's human. He's growing older—”
“Don't,” Geralt snaps, harsh enough to make Yennefer's face close off entirely. Geralt swallows hard, looking back at Jaskier and away from Yennefer’s eyes. “I know he—I know, Yenn, fuck. I know. Just. Don't.”
They're quiet for a while, after that. Yennefer pulls several pouches of herbs and vials of liquids out of her bag, setting them out on the desk in the corner. Geralt takes one of Jaskier's hands, pressing his lips to his pulse, head bent over their clasped hands while he listens to Jaskier's shallow breathing.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Yennefer who speaks first again. “Spring water and aether,” she demands, still bent over her equipment. “Honey, if there’s still some left, for the taste.”
“If you think I’m leaving him right now,” Geralt grunts out, not bothering to finish the sentence.
“He’ll be asleep for hours, yet, the healing spell I’ve put him under will make sure of that. You, on the other hand,” Yennefer turns to raise an eyebrow at him, “can go and make yourself useful.” Geralt opens his mouth to protest again, but Yennefer talks over him, “And go see how your daughter is handling all of this.”
That’s enough to make Geralt shut his mouth, sudden guilt churning in his gut. Reluctantly, after kissing his palm, Geralt releases Jaskier’s hand, laying it back down gently. He ghosts his lips over Jaskier’s forehead before getting up, moving towards the door without glancing back at Yennefer.
Before he lets the door fall closed behind him, though, he murmurs a quiet, “Thank you.”
He gets as far as the end of the corridor, where Vesemir is leaning against the wall. He straightens up as Geralt approaches, watching him without saying a word when Geralt stops in front of him, unsure of what to say. Eventually, he settles on, “He’s alive.”
Vesemir nods, once, and then he reaches out to cup Geralt’s face. Geralt melts into the touch, can’t not, and Vesemir breathes out, “Oh, my boy,” and tugs him closer, lets Geralt bury his face in his neck, and cling to his back as he shakes apart.
Geralt shakes, and shakes, and can’t seem to stop, eyes dry but burning terribly as Vesemir holds him, strong and tight and the only thing keeping Geralt from crumbling into tiny, shattered pieces of himself. He can’t tell how long they stay like that, but when Geralt feels like he can move again without losing himself, his throat feels parched and his head aches.
In a shocking display of tenderness, Vesemir tucks a strand of loose hair behind Geralt’s ear before he steps back, clapping him on the chest. “The others are on the sparring grounds,” he says, and the smallest of smiles tugs at one corner of his mouth. “The little menace was beating the ever-living shit out of your brothers before I left.”
Taking the dismissal for what it is, Geralt detours through the kitchen to gulp down some ale, splash some water on his face, and grab the ingredients requested by Yennefer before he makes his way outside. He hears grunting and swearing long before he sees them, Ciri sitting on Eskel’s chest with a dagger to his throat while Lambert is crouched close by, ready to pounce.
Their heads swivel around in almost eery synchronicity when they hear Geralt’s boots crunch along the gravel path, and then Ciri is on him in an instant, flinging herself at him hard enough to force a startled, “Oof,” out of him.
“Tell me he’s okay,” Ciri whispers against his cheek, her voice small like Geralt almost never hears it.
A brief glance over her shoulder reveals both Lambert and Eskel watching him intently, their faces creased in apparent concern. Geralt turns his face into Ciri’s hair before answering. “For now.”
Ciri makes a hurt noise, Eskel breathes in sharply, and Lambert mutters, “Fucking hell.”
“I want to see him,” Ciri says, pulling back just far enough to glare at Geralt with wet, shimmering eyes, as if he’d ever refused her a single thing in his life. “Right now, I need to see him. Please.”
“Oh, now we have manners, do we?” Lambert snorts, and it’s enough to effectively break the worst of the tension.
Vesemir has commandeered the comfy armchair by the hearth when they get back, a book in his lap that Geralt would bet he hasn’t read a single word of. Lambert plops down on the carpet by his feet, legs pulled against his chest and chin resting on his knees, while Eskel takes the potion ingredients from Geralt, and goes to help Yennefer with the brewing.
Ciri has no qualms about curling up next to Jaskier on the bed. She cautiously puts a hand on his ribs, making sure she can feel him breathe, presses her forehead against his shoulder, and closes her eyes, sniffling quietly every now and again.
Geralt settles on Jaskier’s other side and takes his hand again.
No one but Jaskier sleeps that night.
It’s shortly after dawn when Jaskier’s fingers twitch against Geralt’s palm.
“Geralt,” he hums quietly, blinking sluggishly for a moment. His eyes widen as he looks around at the people gathered in the room. And then he grins jauntily, tongue-in-cheek. “Well, now. To what do I owe this honour?”
“Jaskier,” Ciri hiccups, lower lip trembling, and Jaskier says, “Oh, my darling little lion cub,” as he wraps his arms around her, and tenderly kisses the crown of her head.
Eskel comes over to squeeze Jaskier’s ankle through the furs. “Fucking hell, Jaskier,” he grunts, but the relief is palpable on both his face and in his voice.
“Don’t fucking do that again, buttercup,” Lambert adds gruffly, then yelps when Vesemir none too gently cuffs the back of his head.
He herds Lambert and Eskel out of the room with a roll of his eyes, but not before promising Jaskier the last of the pickled cherries—his favourite, and a rare commodity by the end of the winter—to go with his morning meal.
“And once you've eaten,” Yennefer says as she sets a vial of swirling, pale blue liquid down on the small table by the bed, “this, and another after supper. Twice a day, for a week at least. Geralt forgot the honey, so, please, do feel free to nag at him when it tastes like unwashed feet.”
“Your bedside manner is atrocious,” Jaskier informs her, nose wrinkled, even as he frees one of his arms to beckon her closer. “The absolute worst, let me tell you.”
Yennefer sniffs at him haughtily, flicking her hair, but she does hug him tightly for a long moment, and kisses his cheek when Jaskier whispers, “Thank you, my dear.”
Ciri gets up when Yennefer tilts her head at her, though she's very obviously unhappy about it. Jaskier, of course, notices as well, reaching out to squeeze Ciri’s hand. “Go eat, little darling, and fetch me my food as well, would you?”
Once he and Geralt are alone, Jaskier slumps, and breathes out a tired, shaky sigh. Geralt helps him lie down more comfortably, arranging the pillows behind his head, and tucking the furs more snugly around him.
He looks up again when Jaskier grips his arm, a small smile playing on his lips. “You're fussing.”
“We're out of honey,” Geralt blurts nonsensically, then immediately winces at his bumbling. He opens his mouth to say something, anything else, then closes it again helplessly. When he tries again, all that comes out is a hoarse, broken, “Jaskier.”
Jaskier's eyes crinkle, turning almost impossibly fond, and he tugs at the arm he's still holding, urging Geralt to lie down with him, head on Jaskier's shoulder. One of Jaskier's hands finds Geralt's to twine their fingers together, and the other moves to Geralt's head to stroke through his hair.
“The thought of losing you,” Geralt murmurs, eyes shut firmly, “scares me more than I ever thought possible.”
“My love,” Jaskier's voice is brimming with just that, damn near overflowing with the emotion of it, “of course it does. As it does me, when I dare to think of a world without the wonder that is you in it.”
Geralt tightens the arm he has around Jaskier, swallowing hard around the sudden, painful lump in his throat.
Jaskier brushes a kiss over his temple, then lets his lips linger there. “Death will take all of us, human or not,” he says, and shushes Geralt when Geralt makes a choked sound of protest, gently tugging at a strand of Geralt's hair. “Not today, and damn well not any time soon, if I can help it. But it will, eventually.”
“And should it come for me before it finds you, you will go on. You will hurt, and you will rage, and you won't believe that the pain could ever pass enough to let you breathe again, but it will. And you will go on living, Geralt, because you'll know it's what's right. You'll know it's what I wished for you; to heal, to live, to love—”
“No,” Geralt almost snarls, because it is unthinkable. His mind balks at it, his stomach churns; not after Jaskier, not without Jaskier. “Not that. I couldn't—”
“Don't be ridiculous, dearheart,” Jaskier chides. He nudges Geralt's chin until Geralt looks up at him, into his soft eyes and open, adoring face. “You'll continue to love your daughter, your brothers, Vesemir, Yennefer. You'll keep loving me, like you've kept loving everyone else you've had to let go. And you'll find new people to love in the most beautiful, wonderful of ways, people who'll care for you, and cherish you, and love you back with all that they have.”
Geralt can't recall the last time he cried. He knows he must have, as a child, and most likely during the worst of the trials as well, but he doesn't remember.
He won't forget this time, he knows.
Jaskier leans in to kiss the wetness away from his cheeks, and opens up like a flower in the sun when Geralt turns his head to bring their mouths together. He lets Geralt push him back, lets Geralt cover him, lets Geralt cry, and keeps kissing him.
Kissing, and kissing, and kissing until their lips are red and swollen, until Geralt has nothing else to give.
Until there's nothing left for Geralt to feel but exhaustion.
Always love, when he's with Jaskier.
Geralt lays his head down on Jaskier's chest.
He drifts off to the new yet familiar beat of Jaskier's heart.