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The One My Soul Cries Out For

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Jaskier makes it down the mountain, his heart heavy. There's anger and heartbreak and the dawning realization that he has spent twenty years making a fool of himself, seeking attention and affection from someone who holds such deep resentment towards him. It's mortifying, understanding how blind he has been. He had taken what Geralt had given him and in his head he had spun it into a tale of love—had tried to see meaning behind every grunt, every time Geralt saved him, took care of him. Had believed it meant he was important. He fooled himself into thinking that his soulbond to Geralt surely would mean that Geralt had to feel something for him as well, if not love—for Jaskier knew Geralt didn't want him like that—then at least friendship.

He knows now how wrong he has been.

Geralt had saved him when he was in danger, protected him, because that's what Geralt did. He'd tolerated Jaskier's presence but he'd never wanted it. And Jaskier finally understands.

Silently, he keeps walking, puts one foot in front of the other while he feels his entire world crumbling around him.

Eventually he reaches a settlement at the bottom of the mountain and then he keeps going. Day after day, week after week, until several months have passed. He spends the first winter in Oxenfurt before he packs up and hits the road again.

But the longer he's apart from Geralt, the worse he feels—not an entirely new thing. Parting from Geralt has never been an easy feat. His soul is, after all, bound to Geralt's. Even if Geralt isn't bound to him in return.

It didn't take long for Jaskier to figure it out. He suspected it the second he laid eyes on Geralt, the way his entire being seemed to cry out to get closer to the dark, brooding figure sitting in the corner of that tavern in Posada. The way everything inside of him lit up, came alive.

But witchers don't have soul bonds. Jaskier knows this, always has. He didn't think Geralt was an exception, not after the first few years together anyway, when Geralt showed no sign of needing Jaskier, wanting Jaskier. He just thought, somehow, he could make it work anyway. That he could be close to Geralt, even if he could never be with Geralt and that would be enough. So he attached himself to Geralt, starting carving out a niche for himself in Geralt's life, and that was good enough.

It worked for over twenty years. He had it all figured out. Jaskier could spend time apart from Geralt—has always had to—but he always started feeling effects after a few months. That ache in his chest and in his belly, that deep-seated longing to return to Geralt's side. That is usually the time where he sets out to find Geralt, letting himself be guided back to him.

But he can't do that now. He's not welcome in Geralt's life anymore, will not insert himself where he's finally realized he is not wanted. He tries to keep going, to ignore that ache that builds and builds and builds.

It's fine at first.

The pressure in his chest is familiar after all these years, something he can live with. And he does, for months and months. But the ache gets worse the longer he's separated from Geralt, becomes more insistent until it's impossible for him to ignore, every inch of his body screaming out for him to return to Geralt's side. It becomes harder for him to focus on other things.

He sleeps less, eats less, barely feels like picking up his lute. There are days where getting out of bed seems too much to bear, where every bone in his body is screaming in protest when he tries to move. The ache turns into a pain until even the simple act of breathing feels difficult, and Jaskier knows he has to do something if he doesn't want this to consume him completely.


*


It takes Jaskier weeks until he finds a sorceress who, while not able to help, offers him some hope.

"Soulbonds can be broken, though I've never met anyone who has done it or wanted to," she tells him. "I've only read about it in books. Few people are lucky enough to have a soulbond to begin with."

"Well, believe me, I don't feel very lucky," Jaskier says and offers her a brittle smile.

"I've never heard of a soulbond being one-sided," the sorceress muses. "Are you sure…?"

"Yes," Jaskier says and the ache throbs. Witchers don't have soulbonds after all, he thinks bitterly. And even if they did, Jaskier clearly wouldn't be Geralt's. He wonders what he has done to deserve this—soulbonds are usually considered a blessing, but destiny has seen it fit to make Jaskier's into a curse instead, to give him something everyone wants but twist it in a way that it becomes the bane of his existence.

"Can you help?" he prods. "Can you break it?"

The sorceress frowns, regarding him, and Jaskier knows he must make a sorry sight right now, pale and thin and so close to breaking.

"It's difficult magic. I'm nowhere near skilled enough to do this."

"Who can?"

"Only the strongest of my kind, I'm afraid," she says, and Jaskier bites back a groan.

There's only one person he knows who can help him then, and Jaskier is only marginally more willing to seek Yennefer out than Geralt.


*


Yennefer isn't an easy person to find. With Nilfgaard marching further and further north, people are suspicious of anyone who asks too many questions, and Jaskier's usual charm is distinctly lacking now that he looks like death warmed over.

But Jaskier is nothing if not persistent. He asks around for a sorceress with black hair and violet eyes in every city and town he passes, no matter how big or small, until someone finally tells him he heard she was traveling with that witcher.

"Of course," Jaskier mutters to himself and he wants to curl up and cry, wants this stupid bond to just claim him completely and end his miserable existence.

But he's never been one for giving in and he isn't going to go out like that. He deserves better. He deserves more than months and months of suffering until it gets too much because Geralt doesn't love him, doesn't care for him. Though Jaskier recognizes the irony of him, of all people, dying of a broken heart.

The bad thing about Yennefer being with Geralt is, well, Geralt. And having to see them together. The good thing is that Jaskier might know how to find Yennefer, at least, because winter is drawing closer and Geralt always travels to Kaer Morhen for the season.

Jaskier hopes this year isn't any different, because he's pretty sure he's running out of time.


*


The thing about Kaer Morhen is that Jaskier has no clue how to get there. He's never been and he knows that only witchers know the way to the keep. He travels as close to it as he can and hopes it'll all work out somehow. At least his suspicion is confirmed that Geralt is spending the winter at Kaer Morhen because he feels marginally better when he reaches the last human settlement at the bottom of the Blue Mountains, as close to the witchers' keep as he can get. He still doesn't feel good, but less like he's going to collapse and die anytime soon. His breathing is easier, the ache less painful, like his body knows his soulbond is close and is finally willing to relax a little.

He asks around if any witchers have passed through yet, heading for Kaer Morhen for the winter.

"A couple," the barmaid at the tavern where Jaskier is set to play that night says.

"Geralt of Rivia, by any chance?" Jaskier asks. "The White Wolf?"

"Ah, yes, I saw him. Had some company this year."

Jaskier's shoulders relax. He has no doubt that his company is Yennefer, because she's the only person he has ever seen Geralt care about, the only person he would invite to Kaer Morhen. Jaskier wasn't ever invited, not even after twenty years of companionship, but then again, Jaskier knows now that those twenty years weren't enough for Geralt to see him as anything but a nuisance.


*


Jaskier stays put for an entire week, and he's starting to think he will have to spend the entire winter here, waiting for spring and for Geralt and Yennefer to return from the keep.

And then he comes downstairs from the tiny room he's renting one day and the innkeeper catches his eye. "Hey. You might be interested to know that a witcher just rode into town."

Jaskier's traitorous heart pounds heavily in his chest, his first thought straying to Geralt even though he knows it can't be him. Geralt is already at Kaer Morhen and Jaskier would know if he was this close anyway.

"Where is he?"

"He's stabling his horse."

Jaskier thanks the woman profusely while rushing out the door. He slows down his steps as he rounds the building, heading for the stables, and almost runs into the person who's just exiting it. Someone with broad shoulders and amber eyes and a familiar face.

"Eskel," Jaskier says and the cheerfulness in his voice is only a little forced. He met Eskel once on the road with Geralt, several years ago, and they'd spent an evening drinking ale together in a dingy little tavern before parting ways.

"Well, if it isn't Geralt's bard," Eskel says with a small smirk, looking Jaskier up and down. "Is Geralt here?"

Jaskier shakes his head, his smile faltering. "He's already at the keep."

"Huh. Did he forget you here?"

Jaskier lets out a choked laugh. "No," he says and rubs his fingers together nervously. "We haven't been traveling together recently."

Eskel raises an eyebrow at him. "What are you doing here then? No offense, but I doubt there are a lot of opportunities for a bard in this town in winter. I remember Geralt saying you usually stay at that university of yours or some fancy court for winter."

The fact that Geralt has talked about him at all warms Jaskier's heart a little and he tries to squash that feeling, because he's done with making himself believe Geralt has affection for him.

"Usually," Jaskier hedges. "But see, Geralt brought a friend with him to the keep this year. A sorceress. Yennefer of Vengerberg. And it is absolutely essential that I go see her. Life or death, one might say."

Eskel studies him, brows furrowed. "You don't look well," he notes.

Jaskier hates the sudden sting of tears in his eyes. He swallows thickly and doesn't reply.

"I can take you to the keep," Eskel says, nodding. "Geralt would never forgive me if I let something happen to his bard."

Jaskier doesn't tell him that he doubts Geralt would care. That he might, in fact, be glad. Life's one blessing and all that.


*


Jaskier feels a little bad for not telling Eskel the truth. He tells himself he didn't lie to Eskel, at least, he just didn't tell him everything and didn't bother correcting his assumptions about Geralt and his, well, friendship. Jaskier just hopes that once they get to Kaer Morhen Geralt won't be mad at Eskel. Because he's a good guy and Jaskier really likes him. If Eskel is lucky, this will be another thing that Geralt blames Jaskier for entirely.

The trek up to Kaer Morhen takes several days and Eskel shows him nothing but kindness during that time. He's quiet, but not as quiet as Geralt, his responses less gruff and clipped, and he makes sure Jaskier can keep up with him and is warm enough and shares his food and inquires after Jaskier's well-being more than once, obviously worried. He really would be the last person who deserves Geralt's anger—and Jaskier knows very well what it's like to be faced with Geralt's wrath.

It's not like he plans on staying very long anyway. Just long enough for Yennefer to fix his problem. Maybe Geralt will be busy with something and if Jaskier is lucky, he won't even see him at all, in and out of the keep before Geralt notices.


*


Jaskier, of course, isn't that lucky. Sometimes he wonders what it is about him that he always draws the short stick in life. A family that despises him, a soulbond that doesn't go both ways, two decades wasted on someone who sees him as nothing but a burden. Somewhere destiny must be sitting, looking down at him and having a good laugh.

They are greeted by an older witcher that Jaskier knows must be Vesemir. He looks at Jaskier with a frown and then back at Eskel.

"Geralt's bard," Eskel says, as if that explains Jaskier's presence.

Vesemir doesn't look terribly surprised, or even angry, which makes Jaskier wonder what Geralt has told them about him. Clearly not that he's the bane of Geralt's existence, or they'd chase him right back down the mountain.

Instead, Vesemir ushers them into the keep, as if Jaskier's presence at Kaer Morhen isn't strange. "What brings you here?" Vesemir asks, sounding curious rather than unkind.

"Funny story," Jaskier says and then comes to a stop. Because right there in the big hall Jaskier has just been led into, looking at him with shock, is Geralt.

If things were different—if Jaskier didn't know that Geralt hated him and if Jaskier wasn't in so much fucking pain over him—he would probably laugh at the expression on his face.

"Jaskier," Geralt finally says. The sound of his voice, deep and gruff and so achingly familiar, almost makes Jaskier tear up.

He's missed him. Despite the terrible things Geralt said to him and all the pain he put Jaskier through, he's still longed to see him again. Something unravels in his chest, the pain of being separated from Geralt for so long finally ebbing away, his breath coming easy for the first time in months. He wants to throw himself at Geralt and hold on tight, wants to hide his face in those broad shoulders and breathe in the scent of leather and horse and dirt, forget everything that has happened and just go back to how things used to be.

But he can't. He no longer has a place in Geralt's life.

Jaskier grits his teeth together and lifts his chin. "Don't worry, I won't be staying long," he says stiffly. "I'm here to see Yennefer. And then I'll take myself off your hands again."

Geralt's expression tenses, something close to a wince passing over his face.

Yennefer, who is standing just behind Geralt, brushes past him, the fabric of her dress rustling softly as she moves, and she's looking both curious and a little smug, red painted lips turned up into a smile.

"Well, what can I do for you, bardling?"

"Can we talk alone? Please?" Jaskier asks.

Yennefer nods and steps forward, taking him by the elbow. "Come on, we'll go to my room," she says.

Jaskier lets himself be steered out of the hall without another glance at Geralt. He does meet Eskel's eyes though, briefly, and gives him an apologetic smile.

Yennefer's room is so obviously hers, books and ingredients for potions cluttered around and a stunning dress hanging next to a mirror, and Jaskier to his own surprise finds himself instantly feeling comfortable in her space. They've had a strained relationship, he and Yennefer, colored by mutual contempt and jealousy but also a weird sort of respect for each other. Sometimes, Jaskier thinks, if they both hadn't always tried vying for Geralt's attention, they could have been friends.

Yennefer motions for him to sit in one of the plush chairs arranged by the fireplace.

"You surprise me. I didn't think you had a backbone when it came to Geralt, but honestly, he deserved that," Yennefer says with a laugh, taking a seat as well. "Good on you, for not letting him walk all over you anymore."

Jaskier frowns. "He made it clear how he feels about me. And I'm not here for him."

"No, you're here for me. That's another surprise—I have to admit I didn't see that coming. What can I do for you?"

"I need your help," Jaskier admits begrudgingly.

Yennefer looks almost gleeful. "Of course you do. What is it?" she asks. "Pissed off someone more powerful than you can handle? Wait, did you get yourself cursed and need me to lift it?"

"In a manner of speaking," Jaskier says and rubs his fingers together nervously. "I was told that it's possible to break a soulbond. And I'm hoping you can do it."

The grin slips off Yennefer's face and she looks at him sharply. "You want me to break up someone's soulbond for you?" she says, her tone biting. "I know you're a fool, bard, but I didn't think you were malicious. That's not something to mess with."

"Mine," Jaskier interjects, meeting Yennefer's gaze square on. "I want to break my own bond."

Yennefer looks taken aback and for a moment she just studies him, before she nods. "Why?"

"It's one-sided. And it's killing me," Jaskier says, before letting out a bitter huff. "Literally, I'm afraid."

"That's not a thing, Jaskier. Soulbonds always go both ways."

"Well, there's an exception to every rule, isn't there?" Jaskier snarks and looks away. "I guess I have a special talent for everything in my life being fucked up."

"Self-pity isn't a good look on you," Yennefer says and then, more quietly, "Are you sure you want this?"

Jaskier nods. "Yes."

"Have you talked to them? This is unheard of. And breaking a bond… you have to be absolutely sure. There's no turning back from that."

"He made it clear the only thing he feels for me is contempt," Jaskier says and his chest constricts painfully, his voice breaking.

Understanding passes over Yennefer's face. "Geralt."

Jaskier nods shakily. He looks down at his fingers, picking at his nails.

Yennefer lets out a humorless laugh. "I'm not sure how I didn't figure this out myself. It makes so much sense. And it explains why you haven't aged a day since we first met. Your life's tied to his."

"Oh? What happened to my crow's feet then?"

"Oh please, we both know you don't have any," Yennefer says with a shake of her head. "I was starting to suspect you were dabbling in magic."

"No. Just shit luck in life," Jaskier mutters.

"I guess we have more in common than I thought, both of us bound to Geralt of Rivia," Yennefer says, shifting forward. "He's awfully good at fucking up your life, isn't he?"

"Yes. But unlike your bond, mine isn't reciprocated," Jaskier says wryly.

"How sure are you of that, bard?"

"Witchers don't have soulbonds, as we all know. And if they did, I very obviously wouldn't be Geralt's," Jaskier replies and looks up, giving Yennefer a weak smile. "He doesn't want me to be part of his life anymore, Yennefer, and I will respect that. So I need the bond to be broken. Being away from him for too long, it's torture. And I know you don't care for me much either, but I'm begging you to do this for me. I'll pay. Whatever you want."

Yennefer looks at him with what can only be described as pity and Jaskier hates it. He hates that the woman that holds Geralt's affection pities him for being in love with Geralt.

"I helped fight Nilfgaard's troops at Sodden Hill and it pretty much depleted my strength. I'm getting better, but I'm a far cry from how strong I used to be," Yennefer says. "I'm sorry, Jaskier. But right now I can barely do anything. Not until I've recharged. And that might take a few weeks, if not longer."

Jaskier's stomach tightens at the thought, but he nods. He's feeling much better, just from being close to Geralt again, and he knows he has some time left.

"I've made it this far, I can wait a bit longer if that's what it takes. I'll stay in the area; we can meet up after winter," he suggests.

Yennefer makes a thoughtful noise. "Will you make it that long? No offense, bard, but you look like shit."

"If you think I look bad now, you should have seen me a couple of weeks ago," he says lightly, but judging by the look on Yennefer's face the joke falls flat. There's a part of her that cares and Jaskier thinks if their roles were reversed, he would care too, because twisted as things are between them, he feels a kinship towards Yennefer. "I will be just fine. I can take a few more months of this."

"Does Geralt know?"

"No," Jaskier admits. "And I would appreciate it if you didn't tell him."

"Look, I don't know exactly what happened between you two and nor do I care. But you should talk to him," Yennefer says. "He can be an idiot, but he cares."

Jaskier shakes his head. "That's where you're wrong, I'm afraid," he says. "Maybe he did at some point. I don't know. If he ever did, that feeling eventually turned into resentment. And he's cut his ties and now I only wish to be able to do the same, so I can move on as well."

"You're a fool, Jaskier," Yennefer says, not unkindly.

Jaskier smiles tightly and nods. "Yes, I think we can all agree on that, at the very least," he says. "I did spend twenty years of my life trailing after someone who hates me, just because I loved him too much to let go, after all."


*


Jaskier's things, meager as they are, are sitting in the corner of the great hall.

"What are you doing?" Eskel asks, as Jaskier ties his cloak around his neck and picks up his lute.

"Leaving. Thank you so much for escorting me to Kaer Morhen, Eskel. I'm in your debt, witcher," he says and then glances at Yennefer. "I will see you when spring has returned."

"Jaskier, it has started snowing," Geralt interjects. His voice sounds rather monotone, but he looks defeated, sitting at the long table in the hall. There's a girl sitting next to him, with long blond hair and a sweet face, looking between him and Jaskier with wide eyes.

Jaskier feels his throat go dry.

He doesn't have to ask who she is. She's the spitting image of her mother.

Jaskier had hoped, prayed, that she had survived the attacks on Cintra. That somehow she and Geralt had found their way to each other. For both of their sakes. But he hadn't had much hope and each new tale he had heard about the Nilfgaardian army had made him despair.

Composing himself, Jaskier squares his shoulders. "So?"

"You wouldn't make it back down the mountain. We'll be in the thick of a proper snowstorm before night falls," Vesemir explains. He's sitting at the other end of the table, watching Jaskier. He still doesn't look mad, doesn't seem eager to kick Jaskier out.

Jaskier's determination falters, but he plasters on a fake smile. "I'll be okay. I always am," he says.

"You wouldn't make it to tomorrow morning," Geralt growls. He's holding himself stiffly, frustration rolling off him in waves.

"Well, wouldn't that make you happy," Jaskier snaps.

"Jaskier," Geralt starts.

"You really can't leave right now, Jaskier. It's not safe," Eskel interjects, his tone calm. "Stay. I brought you here, you're my guest. Please."

Jaskier gives Eskel a pained smile. "That is awfully kind of you. And I appreciate it, Eskel, very much. But I have to decline. I fear I'm not welcome here and I refuse to impose on you," he says. "You have already been more than generous."

"Don't be stupid," Geralt says curtly.

Jaskier looks to Yennefer—and isn't that ironic, that she of all people is the one he turns to for support now?

Yennefer steps forward and places a hand on his arm. "Stay," she says. "If you die out in the snow, wouldn't that defeat the entire purpose of you coming here in the first place?"

Geralt makes a pained noise. "What is she talking about? Jaskier?"

Jaskier's shoulders drop. He feels tired suddenly, of everything.

He looks up when he hears the screeching sound of a chair dragging against the stone floor. Vesemir is getting up and he clears his throat.

"It's decided then," he says, in a voice that holds no room for argument. "I will show you to a room you can stay in."

Dejected, Jaskier nods.


*


"I really am sorry for imposing. And causing trouble," Jaskier says as Vesemir opens the door to Jaskier's room. "I'm afraid that is kinda my speciality, though."

"Geralt never mentioned that you two were fighting," Vesemir says.

Jaskier snorts and follows Vesemir into the room. It's spacious and mostly empty; there's a bed on one side, an empty fireplace with two big chairs with broad armrests and furs sitting in front of it, and a desk in one corner of the room.

"I suppose it wasn't worth mentioning. He was probably just happy to be done with me and not have to spare me another thought ever again."

Vesemir turns and silently studies him for a moment. "I did not say he never talked about you at all," he says.

Jaskier's heart thuds with hope at that, but he quickly pushes it down, remembering the vitriol in Geralt's words and in his eyes when he banned Jaskier from his life.

"I'm afraid he's had you fooled then, if you think he holds any good feelings for me still," he says as he sets his lute down carefully. "I will do my best to stay out of his way for as long as I am here. This place is big enough that it shouldn't be too hard."

Vesemir makes a noise of agreement.

"Say, how good are the chances that the weather might turn once more before winter truly sets in and I can get down the mountain?" Jaskier wonders.

"You never know," Vesemir says mildly. "Best not to get your hopes up, though, bard. Chances are you will have to stay until spring. And the same rules will apply to you as for anyone else here—you may be a guest, but I expect you to help where you can and pull your weight."

"Of course," Jaskier says and gives a sheepish grin. "I know I don't look it, especially right now, but I'm stronger than you think and I will pitch in wherever I can."

Vesemir nods. "Good," he says. "Settle in. I will send Eskel up with some firewood and more furs."

"Thank you," Jaskier says. "I truly appreciate the hospitality."

He waits until Vesemir has left, the door firmly shut behind him, before he sinks down into one of the chairs and puts his face in his hands. Silently, he prays to every god he knows for the bad weather to break so he can leave Kaer Morhen. He's not sure he can take the heartbreak of being around Geralt for months again before their ties to each other will be forever severed.


*


The sound of a knock on the door startles Jaskier out of his reverie. He's been sitting in front of the fire that Eskel helped him light, looking at the orange flames licking up, lost in thought, for who knows how long.

"Come in," he calls.

To his surprise, when the door creaks open it's Cirilla on the other side. She comes in, holding a big, steaming bowl in her hands.

"I brought you some stew," she says, "since you didn't come downstairs for dinner."

"That is terribly kind of you," Jaskier says, placing a hand over his heart as he gets up. "I fear we haven't been properly introduced yet and I'm sorry for the little spat you had to witness. It's an honor to meet you, princess."

"Just Ciri," she replies, and Jaskier smiles.

"Ciri," he repeats. "I'm Jaskier."

"Oh, I know. I've heard a lot about you," Ciri says and puts the bowl down on the desk. She turns to him, smiling.

"Oh?"

Ciri gives a little laugh. "Not that Geralt is what one might call chatty, but you've come up. You've spent a lot of time with him."

"We traveled together for a long time," Jaskier admits and sits back down, waving at the other chair.

Ciri sits down, drawing her legs up under herself. "I've heard your songs, too. At court, though I didn't know they were yours then. And I've heard them in taverns traveling with Geralt," she says and leans forward, smirking a little. "He hates it when other bards sing your songs."

"Oh, I'm afraid he hates them when I sing them as well," Jaskier admits. "I'm glad he came for you. When I heard about Cintra… I'm so terribly sorry."

Ciri's smile turns shaky and she nods. "I actually escaped. But Geralt and I found each other."

"Oh? That sounds like a story I would like to hear. The White Wolf and the Lion Cub finding their way to each other," Jaskier says. "Hmm, I think there's a song in there."

Ciri shrugs. "We were both looking for each other," she says. "You know, linked by destiny and all that."

Jaskier snorts.

"You don't believe in destiny?" Ciri asks curiously.

"Oh, I do," Jaskier says, shaking his head a little. "But destiny can be a cruel mistress."

Ciri frowns. "I suppose," she says and then bites down on her lip. "I'm sorry. I should let you eat before the stew gets cold. Geralt says you've gotten skinny."

"He said that?" Jaskier can't help but prod.

"He's really worried. Said you don't look well," she says, and Jaskier doesn't want to tell her that he doubts that's true, that Geralt isn't worried. It's just that Geralt, despite his denial, is a good man, someone who will save the lives even of the very people who spit on him and call him names. He might not like Jaskier very much, but he would never want him dead, never not try to keep him alive simply because that's the kind of man Geralt is.

"He's been trying to get Yennefer to tell him what's going on, but she refused to say anything," Ciri continues conspiratorially. "She got mad at him instead. They've been sniping at each other all evening."

Jaskier sighs. "I'm sorry. I believe that's my fault."

"It's okay. They get like that with each other sometimes," Ciri says with a shrug. "It can be quite entertaining to watch. Lambert and I usually place bets on which one of them will storm away in a huff first."

Jaskier gives a little smile. "Is Lambert wintering here this year as well? I never had the pleasure of meeting him."

Ciri grins. "Oh yes. He was out hunting today, but he came back right before dinner," she says. "He can be a bit of an ass, but he's fun. You'll meet him tomorrow, I'm sure. If you stop hiding like a coward… sorry, Yennefer's words."

Jaskier huffs, but he's glad to see things between him and Yennefer have not changed completely then. He thinks he would miss bickering with her. "I needed some rest," he says. "It's been a tiring few months."

"You are okay, though, right?" Ciri asks, and despite the fact that she doesn't know him, she sounds worried. It makes something tug at Jaskier's heart. Over the years he had thought about what she was like many times, Geralt's child of surprise, and he'd always liked to think she would be a bit like Geralt—tough and resilient, but with a heart of gold. He can see he is right and despite how vehemently Geralt had wanted for her not to be a part of his life, he suspects Ciri has been bringing some joy into it recently and Jaskier is glad for it. It's all he's ever wanted for Geralt, to make his life easier, better.

"I will be just fine, princess," he assures her.

Now that he's close to Geralt, the bond is no longer hurting him and he feels like a weight has been lifted off him. He realizes he had forgotten what it felt like to not be in pain, to not feel the constant heaviness in his chest, the ache in his heart, and once the bond is severed, he will never have to feel that way again.

Ciri smiles and nods. "Good. Then perhaps, while you're here, you will play some of your songs for us sometime?" she asks. "I'd like to hear them from you."

Jaskier cracks a smile. "I'm not sure everyone would like that, but I will play some for you whenever you want," he promises.

Ciri unfolds herself and gets up. She looks hesitant for a moment before she crosses the distance and leans down to hug him. "I'm glad you're here. I know you and Geralt didn't part on good terms, but he's missed you," she says.

Jaskier doesn't believe that for one second, but he nods anyway and returns the hug carefully.


*


Most of the things that need to be done around the keep are just everyday chores, from cleaning and cooking to organizing things. There are some repairs to do, but Jaskier isn't asked to help with those. He's happy when Vesemir pairs him up with Eskel on the first day to take care of the animals instead, even though it's colder than he anticipated outside. There are some chickens and goats and, of course, the horses.

Jaskier feels close to tears when he steps into the stables and sees Roach.

"Oh, my darling girl," he murmurs sweetly as he steps closer. "Remember me?"

Roach whinnies and nudges the side of his head, and Jaskier lets out a quiet laugh.

"Stupid question, I'm sorry. After all you and I were the best of friends for so many years, isn't that right?" he says and strokes a hand down her neck, turning his face into her mane. "I've missed you, Roach."

Roach patiently lets him pet her for a little while, before she starts getting restless.

"I'm so sorry, I don't have any treats for you," Jaskier apologizes quietly. "I'll bring you something the next time I visit, I promise."

"She likes you," Eskel notes when Jaskier turns to help him distribute oats and barley. "I always thought she liked nobody but Geralt."

Jaskier hums. "Ah, well, I wore her down eventually," he says. "We're thick as thieves."

Eskel nods, then pauses. "What happened between you and Geralt?"

Jaskier sighs. "Oh, the usual. I made a fool out of myself thinking we were friends. We weren't. Geralt let me tag along for years because… well, I'm actually not sure why," he says, feeling the familiar sadness well up inside of him just thinking about it. "Though I suppose he did try to get me to leave more than once and I just didn't listen."

"Perhaps it was just a misunderstanding," Eskel says.

Jaskier smiles. "That's very sweet of you to say, dear witcher. But Geralt has made it very clear what he thinks about me," he says and turns away. "Anyway, I really don't wish to talk about it any longer. I'm just sorry I got stuck here and am dragging you all into one of my messes."

"Nobody is upset about having you here," Eskel assures him.

Except for Geralt, Jaskier thinks silently. Everyone else has been incredibly nice, all things considered. Even Yennefer. Hell, even Lambert, whom he just met this morning. Geralt had always said he was a bit of a dick, but he was surprisingly pleasant when Jaskier talked to him, though Jaskier suspects Lambert was only delighted to meet him because he knows how much Toss a Coin aggravates Geralt and apparently thinks that's hilarious. He kept humming it throughout breakfast, trying to get Jaskier to sing it, and cackling when Geralt growled at him.

They finish feeding the horses quietly, making sure they're all taken care of. When Eskel goes to leave, Jaskier waves him off.

"I'll join you inside soon. I want to stay for a bit longer. Roach and I have a lot of catching up to do," he says, and Eskel accepts it with a shrug.

Jaskier sighs once he's alone in the stables and returns to Roach's side. She nuzzles his hair once and Jaskier grins a little. "You missed me just as much as I missed you, huh?" he asks. "Has he been alright, Roach? Not getting into any trouble without me, being reckless? Oh, what am I saying, Geralt is always reckless. But you have been taking good care of him, I'm sure."

Tears well up in his eyes again, the weight of the past months, how alone and hopeless and awful he has felt, finally catching up with him. As the first hot tear spills over, Jaskier shuffles closer to Roach and hides his face against her neck.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs and sniffs. "I'm sorry. It's just been a bit much."

Roach allows him to press himself against her, and Jaskier takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. A few more tears slip out before he finally composes himself and he lets himself stay tucked against Roach's side for a little while longer.

He draws away reluctantly and strokes Roach's neck. "Thank you for being so understanding, darling," he says. "I'll come visit again tomorrow, I promise."

Roach neighs softly and Jaskier smiles at her. He pulls back and turns, nearly yelping when he finds Geralt standing in the open stable door.

Jaskier knows his cheeks are still wet with tears and he wipes them hastily. "She doesn't mind me petting her," he says defensively, before Geralt can scold him for touching Roach when, presumably, Jaskier lost that hard-won privilege after their fight.

"Jaskier," Geralt starts.

Jaskier shakes his head and quickly brushes past Geralt, brushing his hand off when Geralt reaches for him.

"I'll get out of your way," he says and heads for the keep, ignoring Geralt calling out his name again.


*


Jaskier blinks when he returns to his room after dinner that night and finds a dark bundle sitting on his bed. He thinks it's another blanket, but when he picks it up and unfolds it, he finds it's a cloak, thick and sturdy and no doubt much warmer than his own.

He isn't sure why he brings it up to his face, but Geralt's familiar scent hits his nose and he buries his face in the fabric for a few moments.

The fact that Geralt is being nice, is taking care of him still, breaks his heart more than his harsh rejection on the mountain had.


*


"Thank you for the cloak," Jaskier says when he sits down for breakfast the next morning, briefly glancing across the table at Geralt.

Geralt grunts. "It gets cold here during winter. You'll need it."

"Of course," Jaskier says and looks down at the bowl of steaming porridge in front of him.

He's pretty sure the rest of the table is subtly watching their awkward interaction.

Geralt sighs. "Eat up, Jaskier."


*


"Do you know any Cintran songs?" Ciri asks. She's curled up in the chair across from Jaskier, a fur covering her lap.

Jaskier gently smiles at her. "A couple. Let me see if I remember them," he says and picks at the lute strings, humming the melody under his breath, starting over a few times until he thinks he has it right.

It's a lullaby, and he sings the words quietly, sneaking a glance at Ciri as he does. She's smiling but her eyes look a little wet.

"Play it again," she says when he finishes. "Please?"

Jaskier doesn't think he could ever say no to her. It's only been a few days and he already adores her, feels a fierce sense of protectiveness over her.

He plays the lullaby again and then another song he remembers. He's not quite through that one when there's a knock at the door and Jaskier stops.

"Yes?" he calls out.

The door creaks a little as it's pushed open and reveals Geralt. His eyes fall on Ciri.

"I thought you'd gone to bed?" he asks.

"I couldn't sleep," Ciri says and Jaskier sees the concern pass over Geralt's face instantly. Ciri must see it too, because she adds, "Nothing bad. I just wasn't sleepy."

"Hmm."

"But it's getting late," Ciri says and slowly gets up. "Jaskier, thank you so much for playing for me."

"My pleasure, dear," Jaskier says with a theatrical bow of his head.

Ciri smiles. "Good night," she says. She gives him a little wave before she heads for the door. Geralt brushes a hand over her hair as she passes, the small touch sweet and gentle.

"She's a delight, Geralt," Jaskier says quietly when Ciri's soft footsteps have faded. He puts his lute down next to the chair carefully, not meeting Geralt's eyes.

Geralt nods, still hovering in the doorway. "Jaskier."

Jaskier stiffens, peering at Geralt through his lashes.

"You know the things I said after the dragon hunt," Geralt says, his voice tight and gruff, like it takes effort for him to say this, "I was angry. At everything. Myself, mostly."

"I know," Jaskier says quietly.

"I lashed out at you. I shouldn't have," Geralt says. "I'm sorry."

Jaskier rolls his bottom lip between his teeth and looks down at his lap, nodding. He's imagined this many times, those first few months after they parted. Imagined Geralt coming after him, finding him in some tavern or on a long and dusty road, apologizing to him, asking for Jaskier to join him on the Path again. But time went on and Geralt didn't show up and Jaskier isn't sure he can really believe him now. Can fully trust Geralt.

"Jaskier."

"I'm sorry, too," Jaskier says stiltedly. "For making your life so hard. I hope you know that was never my intention."

Geralt makes a frustrated noise. "I didn't mean that," he says, the words curt.

Jaskier shrugs. "There had to be some truth to it, Geralt. And you wouldn't be the first person to get sick of me."

There's a moment of silence and then Geralt grunts and moves further into the room. He sits down in the chair Ciri abandoned, his shoulders tense and his expression shuttered.

"Sometimes it's easier to push people away than wait for them to push you away."

Jaskier feels a lump in his throat and huffs. "I followed you for twenty years. I sang your praises across the entire Continent," he says. "Why in the world did you think I would ever push you away, leave your side?"

Geralt shrugs, his mouth twisted in a scowl.

"I wouldn't have," Jaskier vows.

"Hmm," Geralt says and runs a hand over his face. "So."

"So," Jaskier echoes.

"Will you stop avoiding me now?" Geralt asks and huffs. "Are we… friends again?"

The word makes Jaskier's heart flutter a little. It's not exactly what he wants, but he knows it's the best he'll ever get. He doesn't think things will ever go back to how they used to be, with him giving Geralt everything he has and ignoring what he really wants. Jaskier isn't sure he can put himself in that position ever again. But they can be friends. And maybe, once Yennefer has broken his soul bond, being Geralt's friend will be enough for Jaskier.

"We can get there," he says.


*


At breakfast the next morning, Geralt sits down next to Jaskier, their feet brushing together.

And when Jaskier heads out to clean the stables and feed the horses, he's surprised when it's Geralt, not Eskel, that joins him.

"We swapped chores," Geralt says. "Keeps things more interesting."

"Of course," Jaskier says and hums. "Well, maybe I should switch chores with someone then, too, so I don't get bored."

He peers at Geralt and he can tell he's gritting his teeth, jaw tight and brow furrowed.

Jaskier turns his face away to hide a small smile.

They make it to the stables, the snow crunching under their boots, coming up to the middle of Jaskier's calves after more snow fell this past night. Jaskier rubs his hands together to keep them warm and goes to greet Roach first.

"Good morning, my most noble and beautiful steed," he says and grins when Roach neighs and stomps her hooves. "Yes, yes, you want food. There's time for sweet words and affection later, I know, my dearest."

He catches sight of Geralt out of the corner of his eye, watching them with the barest hint of a smile on his lips.

"What?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt gives a quiet hum. "She's missed you."

"Is that so?" Jaskier asks and glances at Roach again, stroking her neck. "And how would you know?"

"I know my horse, bard."

"Ah, of course," Jaskier says. "Well, I have missed her too."

"I'm sorry. That… I made you two miss each other," Geralt says haltingly.

Jaskier bites down onto his lip and nods, ignoring the flutter in his stomach. He was prepared for harsh words and another rejection when he came to Kaer Morhen, but he feels defenseless against this. This sweetness, of Geralt suddenly trying. He isn't quite sure what to do with it.


*


Jaskier's fingers are frozen stiff by the time all the chores are taken care of, though Geralt's cloak staved the worst of the cold off. They return inside and Geralt lifts his head a little, sniffs.

"Come on," he says and heads for the kitchen, Jaskier trailing after him while fiddling with the fastening of the cloak. When they get closer, Jaskier can smell it too—the sweet, spicy scent of mulled wine.

"Oh, thank fuck," he mutters, slipping the heavy fabric off his shoulders. He shivers at the loss of warmth, but he knows he'll warm up soon and it'd get too hot under the cloak before long.

Lambert, Eskel, Yennefer and Ciri are all sitting in the kitchen, steaming cups in their hands, and there's a big fire crackling in the fireplace on the right side of the big room.

Jaskier goes to drape his cloak over one of the empty chairs near the fire, so the snow that is crusted around the bottom can melt and the garment can dry, before he joins the others at the big wooden table, sliding onto the bench next to Ciri. He grins a little when he sees there's milk in her cup rather than wine and Ciri makes a disgruntled noise as their eyes meet.

"It's not fair," she huffs. "I'm not that young."

"You are," Geralt says, setting a cup down in front of Jaskier before sitting across from him.

"Especially compared to the rest of us here. You're practically a toddler," Lambert teases.

Ciri glares at him. "It's not my fault you're all ancient," she says. "And I'm not that young compared to Jaskier. So that argument makes no sense."

Jaskier snorts. "I'm forty-one, dear," he says.

Ciri turns to him, her brows furrowed. "You're forty-one?"

"Ah, what can I say," Jaskier says with a wave of his hands, smiling sweetly at her. "I use the best face creams coin can buy to keep myself looking this youthful."

He notices some of the others are looking at him a bit strangely as well, even Geralt, who surely knew how old Jaskier is, and Jaskier feels a bit of concern that he revealed something he didn't mean to.

"Yes, you don't look a day over forty," Yennefer snarks. "Maybe you should save the coin you spend on things that clearly aren't working."

"I look fantastic and you know it," Jaskier replies, narrowing his eyes at Yennefer across the table.

"Hmm, I think I saw a gray hair on your head the other day."

Jaskier knows it's not true, but he still touches his hair self-consciously. "You saw no such thing, witch," he mutters.

Geralt sighs, sending a meaningful look between the two of them.


*


"Thank you for earlier," Jaskier says quietly, when he and Yennefer linger in the kitchen, rinsing out the mugs.

Yennefer hums and studies him. "You haven't told him."

"I'm not going to," Jaskier says firmly.

"I thought you reconciled," Yennefer points out. "I figured that meant you two would finally stop sulking. It's been quite exhausting to watch, bard."

Jaskier rolls his eyes at her. "It doesn't change things. He's my soulbond, but I am not his. I used to think that was enough, but after everything that has happened I've realized it's not," he says. "Would you wish to love someone who does not love you in return?"

"Breaking the bond might not change how you feel about Geralt."

Jaskier picks up the last cup and dips it in the soapy water. "No, but it will give me the chance to one day love another, perhaps."

Yennefer snorts. "You think you will?"

Jaskier shrugs. "I am a bard. My kind tends to have all sorts of fanciful dreams," he says. "And anyway. Shouldn't you be happy to see me give up on Geralt? Not that I ever had a chance with him, mind you, but still."

"Things between Geralt and I are different now," Yennefer says, a bit stiffly. "We've agreed that it's for the best."

"You love each other," Jaskier says quietly, even though just saying those words makes him ache.

"The djin's magic made us love each other," Yennefer corrects him. "Unfortunately, that is not a bond I know how to break. But I will not fool myself into thinking it's real."

"Could be," Jaskier says.

"Hmm, shouldn't you not be encouraging my and Geralt's relationship either, bardling?"

"Ah, but that's the darndest thing about loving someone the way I love Geralt. I wish for him to be happy, as much as it might pain me," Jaskier says with a sigh.


*


Days pass quickly at Kaer Morhen. There are always chores to do and things to fix around the keep, and when everyone is busy training, Jaskier is happy to retreat to his room and pick up his lute. He starts composing again, for the first time in months, finally having the energy and the drive to create music once more.

The cold weather doesn't break and Jaskier stops hoping for it to. He thinks now he would be more miserable wintering in a human town, waiting for Yennefer to regain her full strength, than at Kaer Morhen.

Things between him and Geralt are good. Still a little awkward and brittle, but Geralt is trying. He seems more open now than he ever has been, less gruff and distant. It's Jaskier who is holding back now, who doesn't let his walls down completely—he can't allow himself to be lured back in completely, because he's scared his resolve to sever the bond would break all too easily and leave him exactly where he was before, trailing after Geralt until things between them turn sour again.

He knows Geralt can tell. Knows Geralt isn't happy about it. Least of all with the fact that Jaskier refuses to tell him what it is he needs Yennefer's help with.

"I can't," he tells Geralt the one time Geralt asks him about it. "Please don't ask again."

He can tell by the tense expression on Geralt's face that he's actually hurt by the request.

"Fine," Geralt grunts and leaves Jaskier's side with a huff, no doubt to go lick his wounds somewhere in peace.

It's remarkable how sensitive Geralt can be sometimes, but then Jaskier knows him well enough to see past the walls he's built around himself and the stony expressions he puts on. He knows how every insult hurled at him, every stone thrown, and every time he's denied service hurts him, even if he pretends otherwise. Jaskier hates that he's the one causing Geralt pain now, too, as much as he sometimes wanted to during those months where he was suffering alone.

And yet it keeps happening. Sometimes because keeping Geralt away, not letting him in the way he used to, is what Jaskier needs to do to protect himself. Other times, though, he has no idea what is going on in that beautiful, thick head of Geralt's.

Like when Eskel talks Jaskier into practicing with a dagger and showing him some more self-defense moves. Jaskier does alright with a dagger—has to, because he's a traveling bard and he might look colorful and soft, but he's not. And Geralt has taught him some things too—usually after Jaskier got himself in trouble and Geralt had to save him.

It's different with Eskel. He's patient with Jaskier, doesn't get disgruntled when he has to correct Jaskier's stance over and over again the way Geralt does, and he smiles and nods, mutters, "good," when Jaskier finally gets things right.

And then Geralt walks in and takes one look at them, Eskel standing behind Jaskier, hands on his arms as he shows him something.

"Geralt," Jaskier says and smiles, but it slips off his face when he sees the tension in Geralt's jaw, the narrowing of his eyes. For a moment, it brings him back to King Niedamir's mountains, and he fears he's about to be at the receiving end of one of Geralt's angry outbursts. But Geralt just clenches his hands into fists, whirls around and storms out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.

"Uh. What just happened?" Jaskier asks, confused. He glances back at Eskel and finds him looking amused.

"Don't worry about him. Let the idiot stew," Eskel dismisses. "Let's keep going."

Jaskier hesitates for a moment, feeling caught off-guard by what just happened, but then he nods, wiping slightly sweaty bangs out of his face. If Geralt is mad, it's better to let him cool off before things escalate between them again. And it makes Jaskier even more sure of his resolve to break the soulbond, because apparently he's way too good at pissing Geralt off without meaning to.


*


To Jaskier's surprise it's Eskel who Geralt seems to be mad at, not Jaskier, when they all gather for dinner. He sits down next to Jaskier and glares at Eskel sitting at the other side of the table, offering nothing more than grunts in his reply whenever Eskel says something to him.

Jaskier starts wondering if maybe Eskel and Geralt had a fight he doesn't know about and if Geralt's anger earlier that day had nothing to do with him.

Either way, Geralt seems fine with him, making conversation and telling Jaskier to get a second helping of the roast and potatoes. He takes Jaskier's tankard with him when he goes to refill his own without asking—though he very pointedly ignores Eksel, who holds up his own tankard towards him.

Eskel huffs and rolls his eyes, getting up and following Geralt.

"What's going on with them?" Ciri asks, but nobody seems to have any answers for her, shrugging and looking just as confused.

"How about you play some songs for us, bard?" Vesemir asks after dinner, looking a little exasperated. Jaskier agrees happily, hoping music and enough ale will help break the tension.

He half expects Geralt to grumble about it, but instead he just looks at Jaskier when he returns with his lute and says, "Play one of your older songs about witchers."

He's never made any song requests, so Jaskier is more than happy to comply, picking a song he wrote more than a decade ago about Geralt's fight with a bruxa. It doesn't slip his notice that Geralt looks smug as Jaskier plays the song, sitting back and sipping his ale.


*


"How's the mood this morning? Is our dear witcher still grumpy?" Jaskier whispers to Ciri and Lambert as he comes down for breakfast the next morning.

Ciri shrugs. "Yennefer was telling Geralt he's an idiot and hit him over the head when I came down," she says conspiratorially, and Lambert chuckles.

"Geralt and Eskel will probably beat each other up during training, blow off some steam and things will be fine," he says. "Always happens."

"But usually it's you one of them is fighting with," Ciri replies cheekily, grinning.

Lambert lifts his chin. "Typical older brother behavior. They're always jealous of me."

"Sure," Ciri snorts, and then laughs and bats Lambert away when he tickles her side.

"Brat," Lambert mutters.

"Hmm," Ciri says, looking quite proud of herself and Jaskier grins. Ciri smiles widely at him. "Jaskier, your songs were really pretty last night."

"Thank you, dear," Jaskier says, bowing. "Your words are too kind. It's good to know someone here appreciates art."

"Will you teach me how to play?" Ciri asks eagerly.

"Oh. I… as long as it doesn't get in the way with your other training," Jaskier offers. "I know Geralt and Yennefer are keeping you busy."

"Not that busy," Ciri says. "Please?"

"Alright," Jaskier relents, and Ciri whoops.

He thinks about it some more while the witchers and Ciri head to one of the rooms where they train, and he waits until training is done before he goes to seek Geralt out, wanting to make sure he isn't overstepping by agreeing to teach Ciri. Playing the lute takes time and practice; it's not something that can be learned in a few hours, even though Jaskier is an excellent teacher, if he says so himself.

He finds Geralt in his room, sitting half-naked on the edge of a filled tub, dabbing at a bleeding gash on his arm.

"Sweet Melitele's tits, what happened to you?" Jaskier asks, forgetting his reason for seeking out Geralt when he sees him. He hurries over to Geralt's side and pushes Geralt's hand aside to look at the wound.

"It's just a scratch."

"That's bleeding quite a bit for a scratch, Geralt," Jaskier admonishes.

"It happens during training. It's not a big deal."

Jaskier gives him a dubious look and takes the damp cloth from Geralt's lax fingers.

"Ah. And here I thought training was about keeping in shape, not maiming each other. How foolish of me," he says with a sniff as he carefully starts cleaning the wound, wiping away the blood.

"Hmm. I still won," Geralt mutters, holding perfectly still under Jaskier's ministrations.

"That's not the point, dear," Jaskier scolds. "I'm going to stitch this up."

"It doesn't need stitches."

Jaskier meets Geralt's eyes. "I'm going to stitch this up," he repeats pointedly. "Then I'll bandage it and then you can have your bath."

Geralt huffs, but doesn't argue. He tells Jaskier where everything is when he asks, and sits quietly as Jaskier works, sewing the wound closed before smearing a healing salve over the gash and wrapping it up with a bandage.

"Don't get it wet," Jaskier warns.

Geralt hums and stands while Jaskier puts the supplies away again. When he turns back around to Geralt, he's stripped out of his leather pants, standing stark naked in front of him.

Jaskier feels a stirring of want in his gut and quickly averts his eyes, waiting until he hears the splashing of water as Geralt steps into the tub and sinks down into the hot water with an appreciative groan.

Jaskier looks at him then, longing tugging at his heart at the breathtaking sight Geralt makes, eyes half-lidded, his sprawl relaxed.

"I actually came to ask you something," Jaskier starts. "Ciri has asked me to teach her how to play the lute."

"Has she?"

Jaskier hums and nods, going to fiddle with the bottles lined up next to the tub. There's a surprising amount of oils and he picks up a couple, uncorking them to sniff at them, smiling to himself when he finds them to be the scents Jaskier always picked out for Geralt, the ones he knew Geralt liked and weren't too strong.

"I know you and Yen are busy teaching her things. The lute takes a lot of practice," Jaskier says. "Now, mind you, I think playing an instrument is a splendid skill that any young person would benefit from. Poetry, song, art—they are what make life worth living, my dear. But I don't want to interfere with Ciri's other studies. I know how important they are."

"But she wants to learn."

"Yes," Jaskier says, turning to Geralt, one of the vials still clutched in his hand. Geralt is watching him, his expression relaxed.

"Then teach her," he says, his voice a low grumble. "She likes spending time with you."

"I like spending time with her too," Jaskier admits, and Geralt's lips lift in a small smile.

"Good," he says, and Jaskier feels himself relax, returning Geralt's smile.

"Do you need help? I can wash your hair," he offers on a whim, before he can think about what he's saying, what he's offering. He waits for Geralt to shoot him down, but instead Geralt rolls his shoulders and hums.

"If you don't mind," he says, and Jaskier really doesn't.


*


Lambert seems to have been right about things between Eskel and Geralt going back to normal after blowing off some steam during training and the atmosphere is a lot less tense when they all come together for lunch.

After dinner that night, Eskel suggests they play Gwent. Vesemir eventually retires to bed and when Ciri follows suit Lambert breaks out the hard liquor, a vodka they apparently brew themselves there at Kaer Morhen, as Lambert proudly tells him. Jaskier only has one sip, sputtering as it burns down his throat.

"Uh, unfortunately I think you need to be a witcher to be able to stomach that," he decides.

"Could have told you that," Yennefer says.

Jaskier narrows his eyes at her. "But you didn't."

"It was more fun watching you drink it," she replies with a smirk as she takes a sip of her wine.

Jaskier huffs at her and prudently sticks to ale, but as the night drags on that's enough to get him pretty damn tipsy as well. They all are by the time they decide to head to bed, all of them laughing and generally making a ruckus even as Yennefer tries to shush them between her own laughter. They finally split up to head to their respective rooms and the noises die down.

Jaskier's room is down the hall from Geralt's and to his surprise Geralt doesn't stop at his door, following Jaskier down the hall instead. Jaskier turns, laughing.

"What are you doing?" he asks.

"Hmm."

"Geralt," Jaskier says and stops at his door. "This is my room. Yours is… not here. Shoo. Go to bed, you big oaf."

He tries to push Geralt down the hall, but Geralt barely budges and Jaskier ends up with his hand just resting on Geralt's chest, unmoving.

"Jaskier," Geralt says, and his voice makes Jaskier's heart trip in his chest. It's low and smooth and wanting, and Geralt's eyes are firmly fixed on Jaskier's mouth.

Jaskier makes a quiet noise and when Geralt reaches for him, dragging him closer as he leans in, Jaskier does too. Their lips meet in a fervent kiss and Jaskier lets out a broken groan and opens his mouth for Geralt.

He ends up backed against the cold wall next to his door, and they kiss until Jaskier's lips feel raw and bruised. Geralt's hands are pushed under his doublet and they're both panting and half-hard, their bodies pressed together.

"Come on," Jaskier murmurs and tugs at Geralt's arm, pulling him with him into his room. All he can think about is getting Geralt into his bed, about getting those lips back onto his, and they stumble through the room together.

Jaskier ends up sprawled out on his back, pressed down into the mattress by Geralt's weight, and then Geralt is kissing him again, deep and dirty and desperate. Jaskier groans and splays his legs wider, letting Geralt fall between them, their hips pressing together.

"Fuck," he mutters. "Oh, fuck, Geralt."

Geralt grunts, mouth moving from Jaskier's to his jaw, his throat, nipping and biting and kissing. His hands are fumbling with the lacing of Jaskier's trousers as he rocks down against him, letting Jaskier feel the thick, hot bulge of his cock.

Jaskier tosses his head back and whines and Geralt quietly shushes him. "Lift," he murmurs. When Jaskier does, Geralt yanks his trousers and smallclothes down to his thighs.

And then his mouth is back on Jaskier's and they're kissing again and Geralt's hands are on his thighs, grabbing him tightly as he ruts down against Jaskier, the feel of hot leather dragging against Jaskier's cock making him see stars.

Heat coils tightly in his belly and his hands fumble for purchase on Geralt's shoulders, arching up under the heavy, perfect weight of Geralt's body. Their kisses are bruising and biting, bodies rocking together frantically.

Jaskier's cry, when he spills over, is muffled by Geralt's mouth and he shudders and trembles through waves of pleasure so intense he thinks he might black out.

Geralt keeps rolling his hips against him, breaking the kiss to bury his face in Jaskier's neck. Jaskier tangles his fingers in his long hair, and he feels it when Geralt comes, going tense before letting out a satisfied grunt, his weight sinking more heavily down onto Jaskier.

Jaskier feels like he's floating, feels at peace in a way he never has before, that desperate longing he's felt inside of him for as long as he can remember finally abating.

He holds onto Geralt, his head spinning, and Geralt doesn't let go of him either.


*


Jaskier wakes up with his face pressed into a naked, muscular chest, the skin under his cheek hot and a little sweaty. It takes him a moment to remember where he is, who he is with, and he tenses, his breath catching in his throat.

"Jaskier?" Geralt grumbles, his voice thick with sleep.

Jaskier draws back, dread settling in his stomach as he stares at Geralt's sleepy face.

For the second time in his life, Jaskier feels his whole world crumbling down around him. And this time it's not on Geralt—it's on him. Because he let this happen, he let himself have this even though he knew Geralt doesn't feel the same way he does. He let his guard down, let himself take something he knew he never should have had, because he would never get to have it again and that almost hurts more than the months he had to spend apart from Geralt.

He knows now what it feels like, to have his deepest desire come true, to have his soulbond satisfied, and he will spend the rest of his life wanting that feeling to return.

"Jaskier?"

Jaskier feels his eyes burn with tears and he shuts them tightly, presses his lips together to keep the sob that is building in his chest. He tries to turn away, but Geralt's hands are on him, holding him by the arms.

"Jaskier, what's wrong?" Geralt asks, sounding alarmed. "Are you hurt? Did I hurt you last night?"

Jaskier's lips tremble and he lets out a whine, tears spilling out when he shakes his head. He feels himself being dragged closer, until his face is pressed into Geralt's shoulder and to his utter humiliation he starts sobbing, quiet, ugly, wet noises that he can't bite back, his chest aching in a way that it hasn't since he arrived at Kaer Morhen, his heart shattering into a million pieces all over again.

He can't have this; after everything that he's been through, he's got a taste of Geralt, but he still can't have this.

Geralt holds him, doesn't shush him or pet him, just holds him and lets him cry. It takes a while before Jaskier's sobs quieten down, his throat feeling raw, and eventually the tears dry too, leaving Jaskier trembling and sniffling, Geralt's skin under his face wet with tears and snot.

"Are you sure you're not hurt? I can get Yen," Geralt suggests, one hand hesitantly settling on the back of Jaskier's head. "She can help."

Jaskier shakes his head.

"You have to tell me what's been going on," Geralt says. "I can't fix this if you don't tell me what's wrong, Jask."

Jaskier stiffens, but he finally nods, feeling too drained to fight Geralt on this. He knows he has to come clean, can't keep this from Geralt any longer after this complete and embarrassing melt-down of his.

He draws back and wipes his face, smearing tears everywhere. He's still wearing his chemise, but he's naked from the waist down, his trousers and smallclothes stripped off and tossed aside before they went to sleep last night.

"Let me get dressed," he says hoarsely. "A man should at least have the dignity of not being pantsless while getting his heart broken."

"What—" Geralt starts, but Jaskier shushes him with a shake of his head.

"Let me do this my way, at least. Please," he asks for quietly, and Geralt doesn't look happy, but he nods.

They get dressed silently. Geralt is still wearing pants and he just puts his black shirt back on, watching Jaskier like a hawk, like he's worried he will break down again.

Jaskier goes to sit down in one of the chairs when he's done, drawing his legs up to keep his bare feet off the cold floor, and Geralt silently rekindles the fire that has died down during the night before he joins Jaskier.

"I don't really know where to start," Jaskier admits.

"The thing you came here for. That you need Yen's help with," Geralt prompts, looking and sounding tense. "What is it?"

Jaskier's shoulders droop. "I asked her to break my soulbond," he admits quietly. He peers at Geralt, sees the look of confusion on his face. He wondered sometimes, if maybe Geralt suspected something, if that was why he let Jaskier tag along, out of pity, because he knew Jaskier was bound to him. It was only when months passed after the dragon hunt that he realized Geralt couldn't have known, because while he might be harsh sometimes, he could never be that cruel.

"Since when do you have a soulbond?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier lets out a small laugh and sniffles. "Well, you see, I met this brooding, infuriating, wonderful witcher in a tavern in Posada," he says with a wave of his hands.

Geralt makes a noise and looks at him with utter disbelief. "Witchers don't have soulbonds," he finally grits out.

Jaskier nods. "Apparently that doesn't mean some poor sod can't be bound to a witcher," he says bitterly. "Destiny is a cruel, heartless wench with a twisted sense of humor."

"Jaskier—"

"I'm sure," Jaskier stresses. "So don't bother asking."

Geralt looks away, jaw locked. "So when I sent you away on the mountain…"

"It always takes a few months to start bothering me. Being apart from you is fine for a while. Until it's not fine anymore," Jaskier explains and tugs at the hem of his chemise restlessly. "But I heard a bond can be broken, though it requires some pretty strong magic. Hence, I came to see our dear sorceress, Yennefer."

"I didn't know," Geralt mutters.

"I know, darling. I'm not blaming you. It's just… shit luck in life," Jaskier says with a small shrug. "Yennefer isn't strong enough to help yet, but she will be."

"She… but things are different now, Jaskier," Geralt says, looking at Jaskier with furrowed brows.

"Oh. Oh no," Jaskier says, feeling his heart ache at what Geralt is saying and he wants that oh so desperately. But he can't keep fooling himself. "I'm bonded to you, you're not bonded to me. That hasn't changed. I can't… listen, I adore you, dear heart, but I can't go through what happened again the next time you decide you don't want me in your life."

"I'm not going to," Geralt says firmly.

Jaskier gives him a sad little smile. "You can't promise me that," he says. "And we're not talking about a few years here or even a few decades. I'm bound to you. My lifespan is bound to you. I would be around however long you live."

He expects Geralt to balk at that, but instead he looks utterly relieved.

"Geralt," Jaskier prompts. "Think about it. About what that means. And what about Yennefer, huh?"

"What about her?"

"You love her," Jaskier says.

"That's different," Geralt says gruffly.

Jaskier presses his lips together and nods. "Exactly," he murmurs.

"No. Jaskier, you misunderstand. I will always care for Yennefer, she will always be a part of my life. Of Ciri's life," he says. "After the dragon hunt… I missed her. Even when I found Ciri, I still missed Yen. But then we found her and that emptiness I felt didn't go away."

Jaskier swallows thickly. "Geralt."

"It didn't go away until you showed up here with Eskel," Geralt bites out, like it hurts him to admit that. "Because she wasn't what I was missing most."

"Geralt," Jaskier sniffs. "Gods, why would you say this to me? Hmm? Why do you have to make it so impossibly hard for me to let this go?"

Geralt gets up and drops down onto his knees in front of Jaskier, his hands settling warmly on his thighs. He's tense, his movements curt and deliberate—a show of submission, of remorse.

"Because I'm not going to let you tell me I'm not going to lose you in a few decades the way I thought I would and then take that away from me again by breaking the bond," he says, and it sounds like both a threat and a promise. He leans forward, over Jaskier's lap, and rests his forehead against Jaskier's belly, his breath hot and damp through the thin layer of Jaskier's chemise as he murmurs, "Please, Jask."

Jaskier looks down at him, at the silver hair spilling everywhere, the broad shoulders hiding his lap from view, and marvels at how small Geralt manages to look. He runs his fingers through Geralt's hair, humming as he works through a few tangles.

When Jaskier doesn't reply, Geralt tips his head back, looking up at Jaskier.

"Let me try and prove myself," Geralt says in a gravelly, pleading voice.

Jaskier touches his cheek, smoothes his thumb over the corner of Geralt's mouth. "Alright, darling," he agrees.

Quietly, to himself, he can admit that he wants Geralt to succeed. He wants Geralt to gain all of his trust back, wants to be able to believe that Geralt is choosing him, always will.


*


Jaskier crawls back into bed and naps, and Geralt insists on bringing him some food and tea.

"I told everyone you were hungover, so you don't have to do any chores today," he says and hovers by the bed awkwardly. "Do you want me to stay?"

Judging by the way Jaskier's head has started aching, it might not be entirely a lie; staying up late drinking and then crying his eyes out in the morning has left him feeling rather depleted.

"Ah, I fear I'm not much fun to be around right now," Jaskier says. "I'm just going to get a bit more sleep."

He doesn't have the heart to outright tell Geralt that he wants to be alone for a little while, but Geralt seems to understand and he doesn't push.

By the time Jaskier feels ready to face the world again, it's late, daylight already fading. A look in the small mirror in his room confirms that he looks fine, his eyes no longer red and his face no longer splotchy from crying.

"Aww, I'm sorry, little bard," Lambert says when he sees him come into the big hall. "We didn't take into consideration that you fragile humans can't drink that much."

Jaskier huffs and rolls his eyes. "I can hold my alcohol just fine," he says. "But I suspect that dreadful liquor you brew is probably poisonous to anyone but witchers."

Ciri snickers. "Eskel thinks you shouldn't be allowed to drink from now on just like me," she teases, and Jaskier sends Eskel a haughty look.

"I see," he says, putting his hands on his hips. "And here I thought we were friends, Eskel. But I guess there's only one witcher I can count on. I think I shall write a song about you two, telling people to go back to tossing rotten tomatoes at you. There's only one great witcher on this continent that deserves fame and coin."

Geralt, who has been watching the exchange quietly, clears his throat.

"Jaskier, I need to talk to you for a second," he says, his posture stiff. He comes up to Jaskier and grabs him by the upper arm, but his touch is gentle as he steers him out of the hall to the laughter of everyone else and Lambert jeering, "Someone's in trouble!"

Geralt leads him down a dark hallway and when he comes to a halt, Jaskier only manages to say Geralt's name before Geralt presses him into the wall, cupping his face in his hands, and kisses him. It's slow and deep and thorough and Jaskier makes an appreciative noise, hands coming up to grab Geralt's shoulders.

Geralt licks over the seam of Jaskier's lips and Jaskier parts them eagerly, groaning at the slick, hot slide of Geralt's tongue. Geralt tastes faintly like ale and something smoky and he kisses Jaskier like it's the single most important thing in the world.

Jaskier's feeling a little breathless when Geralt finally draws back. "Okay, yes, feel free to do that whenever you feel like it," he says, dazed.

Geralt hums, his thumbs stroking Jaskier's cheeks.

"Can I ask what it was that brought this on though?" Jaskier asks, leaning into the touch with a smile.

Geralt just grunts in reply.

Jaskier studies his face in the murky light of the hallway and smiles. "It isn't that you possibly like being the only witcher I find deserving of my praise, is it, darling?"

"Of course not," Geralt mutters.

Jaskier's smile gets wider and Geralt huffs and kisses him again.

When they return to the hall—after Jaskier makes sure both of their clothes aren't rumpled and has patted his hair down—Yennefer sends him a knowing look. But before she can say anything, Lambert mocks, "Did you get a spanking for being a brat, bard?"

"Oh, I only wish," Jaskier replies without thinking and then flushes. "I mean, no, of course not. There was no spanking. Or hands on any part of my body or anything else that could be considered inappropriate."

"What?" Eskel asks, sounding confused, while Geralt groans.

"Jaskier. Shut up."

"Yes. For once, that is a brilliant idea, my dear witcher," Jaskier agrees.


*


Geralt knocks on his door that night as Jaskier is getting ready for bed, coming in carrying a stack of furs.

"The temperature's dropped in the past few hours. It's going to get cold tonight," he explains.

"Oh. Well, thank you," Jaskier says and accepts the furs, playing them at the end of his bed. He straightens and smiles at Geralt, slipping his arms around him. "You should stay. To keep me warm."

Geralt raises his eyebrows, looking amused. "I can do that."

"Good," Jaskier says and pecks Geralt on the lips. "Then get undressed and get into bed, witcher. It is kinda cold, now that you've mentioned it and the idea of crawling into bed with you sounds quite delightful."

Geralt hums and Jaskier steps back and starts taking off his own clothes. He halts when he's down to just his smallthings, briefly glancing at Geralt who is looking right back at him, like he's waiting to see what Jaskier will do. Jaskier's never been shy about his body and Geralt has already seen him naked often enough, so he pushes the last garment down. He takes his time getting into bed, letting Geralt watch his fill, and heat pools in his belly when he sees the way Geralt's eyes roam over him, his expression filled with want.

"What are you waiting for?" Jaskier prompts, and Geralt grunts and shucks the rest of his clothes.

Jaskier bites down on his bottom lip as he watches, letting his hand slide down his stomach under the bedding, palming his cock which is already starting to fill. He can't help it. He's seen Geralt undress plenty of times, but it's different when he's undressed for him and Jaskier knows he will get to touch him, will get to take whatever he wants.

"Are you touching yourself?" Geralt asks gruffly when he's completely naked.

Jaskier's eyes flutter shut for a moment and he groans.

"Hmm, yes," he admits, and Geralt makes a strangled noise. He gets into bed next to Jaskier and Jaskier lets go of himself to reach for Geralt, to pull him into a kiss. They lie side by side and Geralt tugs him close, presses their bodies together.

He drags a hand down Jaskier's side, squeezes his hip and then slips the hand behind Jaskier, palming his ass, and Jaskier moans against Geralt's lips. He rolls his hips against Geralt's, feels the half-hard length of Geralt's cock slide against his.

"Fuck," he groans and Geralt grunts in return, nips at his bottom lip. He squeezes Jaskier's cheek, kneading the flesh.

Jaskier fumbles for Geralt's other hand, takes it in his and pulls it up to his face. The fireplace and the lit candle on the nightstand are casting the room in a soft, orange glow and Jaskier holds Geralt's gaze, raises his eyebrows as he brings Geralt's hand to his mouth and wraps his lips around two of his fingers, sliding his mouth down on them.

Geralt groans lowly. Jaskier smiles around Geralt's fingers and swirls his tongue around them, tasting salty traces of sweat as he gets them wet with spit.

"Jaskier," Geralt hisses. He pushes down on Jaskier's tongue with the pads of his fingers, rubbing over it and then fucking them in and out of Jaskier's mouth, and Jaskier moans quietly.

"Fuck," Geralt groans. Jaskier hums and pulls off Geralt's fingers, then pushes Geralt's hand back down under the covers hastily, suddenly no longer able to wait.

"Please," he begs, and Geralt silences him with a kiss, grabbing Jaskier's thigh and pulling it over his hip before slipping spit-slick fingers between Jaskier's cheeks. Jaskier buries his face in Geralt's neck, his gasps and moans muffled as Geralt rubs over his hole and then slowly presses into him with one finger. His fingers are long and thick and even just one feels perfect.

Jaskier arches back needily, impatient for another, and then whimpers when he finally gets it.

Geralt works his fingers in and out, making sure Jaskier is relaxed and open before he stops.

"Geralt," Jaskier whines, but Geralt shushes him with a quick kiss.

"Oil," he says, and Jaskier only grumbles a little. There's oil in a vial on the nightstand and Jaskier passes it to Geralt before he tries to distract him with kisses, dropping them wherever he can reach while Geralt slicks his fingers up. Finally, Geralt's fingers slip back between his cheeks, slippery and cold, and he presses back in with a third finger. He takes his time getting Jaskier ready for him, until his fingers slide in and out easily and Jaskier's slick with oil.

Jaskier is murmuring little pleas, interspersed with Geralt's name, by the time Geralt shifts him over onto his stomach.

"This okay?" he asks, as if Jaskier isn't dying to get Geralt inside of him.

"Yes. Yes, yes, yes," Jaskier chants and cants his hips back, rubbing his ass against Geralt as he settles between his thighs. "Please. Oh fuck, please, just fuck me."

Geralt hums and kisses the back of Jaskier's neck and then, finally, Jaskier feels the blunt pressure of his cock against his hole. Geralt spent a good amount of time preparing him and Jaskier is far from inexperienced—so very, very far from it—but Geralt is thick and long and there's definitely a burn there as Geralt pushes in, Jaskier's muscles trying to adjust, and he lets out a whine as Geralt sinks into him.

Geralt stops, and Jaskier pushes his hips back impatiently, groaning when Geralt slips in a little deeper.

"Keep going," he says.

Geralt shushes him, leaning over him to kiss the side of Jaskier's neck. But then he starts moving again, rocking into Jaskier and working himself in deeper and deeper until his hips are flush against Jaskier's ass and Jaskier feels so full and so damn perfect.

"Oh gods. Oh, Geralt," he groans, splaying his legs wider and trying to find purchase on the mattress so he can move, can fuck himself on Geralt's cock.

Geralt's hands on his hips halt him, pinning him in place, and Jaskier's complaint dies on his lips as Geralt starts moving, small rolls of his hips at first that have them both groaning, before his thrusts get broader, faster. Jaskier feels like the air is pushed out of his lungs with each thrust, sparks of sharp, hot pleasure shooting up his spine. He fists his fingers in the pillows, arching under Geralt, and he wants more, and it's too much all at once, and it's absolutely, breathtakingly perfect.

"Jaskier," Geralt grunts, and he sounds so wrecked; it makes Jaskier's heart soar to hear him like this, to hear Geralt say his name like this. To know this is just as good for him.

"Come on. Come on, Jask," Geralt murmurs, the words smeared against Jaskier's neck where he buries his face as he leans over him, rutting down into Jaskier with small, deep thrusts, and Jaskier doesn't need to touch himself. He comes with a cry that's muffled into the pillow, his body going tense, and he feels the sharp sting of teeth on his shoulder, fingers digging into his hips as Geralt spills, hot and sticky, into him.

Eventually, once they've both caught their breath, Geralt pulls out, pressing a smattering of kisses to his neck, his nape, his shoulders. He rolls off of Jaskier and pulls him close before he's settled down, and Jaskier turns and curls up in Geralt's arms, not caring about the mess he's lying in, the sweat and come gross and sticky on and inside of him. He presses his nose into the curve of Geralt's neck, trails his fingers lazily down Geralt's back, feeling the raised, gnarled scars littering Geralt's skin, and feels utterly complete.


*


It's dark when Jaskier wakes up, the room cold. He's still in Geralt's arms, held tight, and Geralt is warm and safe and familiar. But his back is cold despite the fur and blankets, and Jaskier shivers as he tries to burrow closer into Geralt's heat.

He remembers Geralt's comment about the dropping temperature, then remembers the furs Geralt brought him.

Jaskier shifts, trying to twist out of Geralt's arms and reach for the end of the bed.

"Jaskier?" Geralt mumbles.

"Sorry," Jaskier whispers, still trying to get out of Geralt's iron hold on him.

"The fuck are you doing?" Geralt grumbles.

"It's cold," Jaskier explains.

Geralt huffs and shifts Jaskier in his arm, pulling him back against him even as he lifts himself up and reaches down. He seems to have no trouble locating the furs right away, because moments later Jaskier finds himself buried under a thick layer.

"Okay?" Geralt asks, stroking a hand down Jaskier's back, his palm warm and callused. "I can restart the fire."

"Hmm, no, this is good," Jaskier says and tightens his arms around Geralt, slipping a leg over Geralt as well to keep him in place. He feels utterly taken care of. Happy.

Geralt snorts. "Go to sleep."

"Yes, my darling witcher," Jaskier mumbles around a yawn.


*


"Put your index finger here, a little higher," Jaskier instructs, nodding when Ciri adjusts the position of her fingers. "Good, try again."

Ciri strums the lute, the way Jaskier has shown her, and it's just a couple of notes, but he smiles widely anyway.

"Just like that, princess. Perfect," he praises. "You'll be a renowned bard before you know it."

Ciri laughs softly. "So I'll be a magic-wielding witcher and bard?" she asks.

"There are worse things to be," Jaskier says then hums and nods when Ciri plays the same chord again. "Very good, darling."

He looks up, briefly, and finds Yennefer and Geralt both watching them. They're sitting at the table in the main hall, while Jaskier and Ciri have made themselves comfortable in front of the big fireplace on some furs.

"You have an audience," Jaskier says and grins. "See? You're already captivating people."

"I doubt Geralt is looking at me," Ciri says, and Jaskier feels his cheeks flush warmly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he denies. "Okay, let's try adding another chord."

"I'll be playing half a song before the winter is over," Ciri snarks and Jaskier smiles at her.

"Patience, my dear. It takes time and dedication," he says.

Ciri sighs, but nods. "And you'll be there to keep teaching me when winter is over anyway," she says. "Right?"

Jaskier isn't quite sure how to reply to that, so he hums and smiles.


*


"Does everyone know?" Jaskier asks that night, curled up in bed with Geralt.

He's on his back, looking up at the ceiling, and Geralt is curled against his side, his hand pushed under Jaskier's chemise, fingers tracing patterns onto Jaskier's skin. They fucked earlier on the furs in front of the fire, Jaskier on his hands and knees with his trousers barely pulled down past the swell of his ass. Afterwards, they stumbled to the bed still mostly dressed and Jaskier feels warm with the fire still roaring, sated and content.

"Hmm?"

"About us?" Jaskier clarifies.

"They always knew, Jask."

Jaskier furrows his brow. "There was nothing going on between us. What could they have possibly known?"

Geralt snorts.

"What?" Jaskier asks and turns his head, frowning. "Was I that obvious?"

Geralt looks sheepish.

"Oh, I was, wasn't I? I was pathetically pining after you and they could all tell and they probably thought it was hilarious," Jaskier bemoans, flopping his arms around, but Geralt groans.

"No. I was obvious."

"You… what?" Jaskier asks. "You weren't obvious. You just glowered and glared and grunted, the way you always have."

"I got into a fight with Eskel," Geralt grumbles and Jaskier looks at him in confusion, swears Geralt looks almost embarrassed.

"What does that have to do with anything?" he asks.

Geralt makes a quiet noise, almost a growl. "He was touching you."

The words take Jaskier by surprise and it startles a laugh out of him, which makes Geralt glare.

"Oh, I'm sorry, dear heart," Jaskier soothes and pats Geralt's arm, still snickering a little. "You were jealous?"

Geralt grunts, looking annoyed.

Jaskier smiles widely. "You were," he says gleefully. "You know you had no reason to be. I mean, Eskel is very handsome and he's a sweetheart. But I only ever had eyes for one witcher. You know that, right?"

"Hmm."

"Well, I think it's very sweet that you were jealous," Jaskier continues and turns onto his side, pressing a kiss to Geralt's mouth, cupping his face with one hand. "Ridiculous and stupid, but sweet."

Geralt makes a disgruntled noise, glaring, and Jaskier grins.

"Don't make that grumpy, scary face. You know that's never worked on me," he says. "And you willingly signed up for all of this, so you are not allowed to complain."

"Hmm," Geralt says and butts his forehead against Jaskier's. "I want you to come back on the Path with us in spring."

"What?" Jaskier asks with a surprised laugh, taken aback by the sudden change in conversation. "Wait. Us?"

"Ciri and I," Geralt says.

"What about Yen?" Jaskier wonders.

Geralt frowns a little. "We decided she would take Ciri during the winter, to teach her, and Ciri will be with me during the rest of the year. I'm sure our paths will cross," he says, "but it'll be just you and Ciri and I for the most part."

"Oh, Geralt," Jaskier murmurs, not quite sure how to respond.

"Sorry," Geralt says, closing his eyes for a second, "It's too soon. I know. We're not there yet. I haven't proven myself."

"No. No, that's not it," Jaskier replies quickly. "It sounds wonderful. Regardless of what happens, I want that, okay?"

He hasn't made up his mind yet about the bond—at least he keeps telling himself that, that getting it broken might still be the right thing. But he thinks Yennefer may have been right when she said that breaking the bond might not change his feelings. He might still be in love with Geralt, bond or not, and he can't imagine leaving his side anymore. Whether or not Geralt feels the same way or not, whether or not Jaskier might be able to love others without the bond in place, he is never not going to be devoted to Geralt. Because Geralt is brave and noble and good and Jaskier will never want to dedicate his life to anyone else.

Geralt doesn't respond, looking unsure, and Jaskier hates seeing him like this, doubting himself, his worth. Always the first to put himself down, to make himself feel like less.

"I have many more songs to sing about you," Jaskier says and strokes his fingers down Geralt's jaw. "Whether I'm just your bard, or your friend, or something more."

Geralt doesn't look quite convinced.

Jaskier smiles gently. "And Roach would miss me far too much anyway," he adds.

"Hmm," Geralt says. "She would."


*


Winter firmly takes hold of the keep over the next few weeks, the temperature dropping even more, the days dark and short. They venture outside to take care of the animals and a few times when the snow stops, Eskel and Geralt and Lambert go out to hunt, but other than that everyone stays inside.

There are always fires roaring in the fireplaces, warm stew and mulled wine warming their bellies, and on the coldest days, Jaskier steals Geralt's thickest, fur-lined cloak and refuses to take it off all day long.

It should be a miserable time, a harsh winter like that in a decrepit keep in the mountains, but it's quite marevelous, Jaskier thinks. He's well-fed and content and Kaer Morhen is full of secrets and mysteries he longs to explore. And he's with people he's coming to care about more and more with each day. With family.

Ciri asks about his family once, after Jaskier mentions off-handedly that he's a viscount (Maybe. Who knows, he might have been crossed out of all the books already, shunned from the family).

"Sometimes your family and you just aren't suited for each other," he says, and when she looks a little stricken, Jaskier smiles at her. "But we can make our own family and that can be even better."

Ciri nods and Jaskier pulls her into a hug, and when he looks up over her shoulder, to his surprise, it's Yennefer who is looking at him with understanding.

They're all alike like that, he thinks. Not family by blood, but they're the family destiny has seen fit to gift them and despite all the struggles, Jaskier can't help but think his destiny is maybe a blessing after all.


*


"What is so important that you had to drag me away from composing?" Jaskier asks, following Geralt into the library. "I was working on what could possibly be my greatest ballad yet. I just have this feeling. And if I never manage to write this song now, because you distracted me and inspiration has left me, I hope you know that you're entirely to blame for the continent never getting to hear the greatest masterpiece to date."

Geralt shoots him a look. "You didn't have to come."

"Oh no, of course I did. You said you had to show me something," Jaskier huffs, waving his hand dismissively. "So, what is it?"

Geralt picks up a heavy, old tome, the leather binding thick and the pages yellow and brittle looking.

"Yen found this," he says. "It's probably nothing."

"If you thought it was important enough to get me, it's definitely something," Jaskier argues and peers over Geralt's shoulder.

"It's about witchers."

"Hmm, and what wonderful truth about your kind have you uncovered, dear?"

Geralt huffs. "No truth. Just… a theory," he says.

"A theory," Jaskier echoes and waves his hand. "Do go on."

"About witchers and soulbonds," Geralt elaborates, and that truly gets Jaskier's attention.

"Yes?"

"There's no proof," Geralt stresses and drops the book with a sigh. "This was written by a witcher a long time ago. He theorized that, perhaps, it's not that witchers don't have soulbonds but that the mutations altered us so we couldn't feel a soulbond."

"Oh," Jaskier says. "Oh… so maybe witchers can have a soulbond."

He feels dizzy suddenly. It's just one book, but Jaskier wants to take it in his hands and cling to it and demand that it's true. That he is Geralt's soulbond, because he wants to be. Gods, does he want to be.

Geralt hums. "Like I said, it's just a theory," he says. "There's no proof for it. But there's also no disproof."

Jaskier looks at Geralt, hope blooming in his chest. "But it could be true," he reasons.

"Hmm, maybe," Geralt says, a thoughtful, somber look on his face. "Perhaps it's just a matter of what we choose to believe then."

Jaskier steps closer, resting his hands on Geralt's shoulders, his heart thudding heavily in his chest.

"And what do you believe then?"

Geralt meets his gaze and drops his forehead against Jaskier's.

"I believe that I could have gotten rid of you anytime, but I didn't," he says gruffly. "And when I did, that was the biggest regret of my life. And I never want to feel that way again."

"So. You should keep me around," Jaskier quips, and Geralt huffs, covering one of Jaskier's hands with his, squeezing it.

"I should. If you were willing," Geralt says. "Always."

Right then and there Jaskier knows there are two paths he can take. They've said they'd wait until the end of the winter, but he knows this is really it. And it's not really a choice at all. Jaskier's path has been chosen a long time ago, but he finally knows it's not a tragic one.

His path is with his witcher.

"I am willing," he agrees and smiles. "Of course I am, my dear."

Geralt makes a quiet noise and kisses him. And when they break apart, Jaskier laughs softly.

"I was wrong," he says. "I think my greatest masterpiece will be about a witcher who chose to be bound to his bard. Perhaps I will write a full song cycle about it. It will be epic and tragic and beautiful. I will write about their devotion to each other and their many adventures and the passionate nights they spent together under the stars. Centuries from now it will still make people weep."

"Jaskier," Geralt grumbles.

"Yes, dear?"

"Please stick to making up lies about monsters," Geralt says, and Jaskier grins.

"We'll see, witcher. We'll see," he says. "I have many, many years left to write songs. And you might complain about my ideas now, but I can be very persuasive."

"Took you twenty years to talk yourself into my bed," Geralt points out.

Jaskier presses a hand to his heart in mock outrage.

"Why, I was taking things slow," he says. "And what are twenty years in the grand scheme of a witcher's life and his bard's?"

"Nothing," Geralt says, not entirely unpleased. "Twenty years are nothing."

Jaskier grins. "Exactly, dear."