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The Path We Take, Together

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Geralt feeds a couple more pieces of wood to the fire to keep it burning steadily and then stirs the watery stew in the pot above it. It's just some potatoes and the meat from the hare Geralt caught, and he's found some wild spinach to add to it. The hare was skinny and small, so it's still mostly just water, but there's some bread too and they won't go hungry.

Geralt sighs and sits back down on the ground. He's not used to having to provide for two and his rations are quickly dwindling. He's going to have to find another contract sooner rather than later, make up for the coin he gave away to the elves. He's not sure Jaskier is going to bring in much, not if the reactions he got in Posada are anything to go by.

It's another reason Geralt should tell Jaskier to get lost. One of many. And he has. Several times. But Jaskier, so far, hasn't listened and Geralt finds himself… not minding.

Jaskier isn't as fast as Geralt is—"because I'm walking, while you're comfortably riding on your mighty horse, witcher," as Jaskier pointed out earlier today, but Geralt isn't about to let Jaskier ride Roach—and he isn't as strong and he talks incessantly. But having company isn't as bad as Geralt assumed it would be. He's used to being alone. And when he's not, he usually wants to be.

But there's something about Jaskier's presence. The strum of his lute, when he's just playing idly, quietly like he is right now, is almost comforting and it's nice, if confusing, to stand next to a human without the sour stench of fear in the air. No, Jaskier smells good. Even when covered in dirt and sweaty from a day of walking, his scent is still pleasant. A little musky, but there's a gentle sweetness that reminds Geralt of meadows in spring. He smells like excitement and eagerness and happiness.

The sound of the lute stops and Geralt lifts his head a little, glancing at Jaskier.

"Is the food almost ready?" Jaskier asks, carefully setting his lute down in its case.

"Almost," Geralt replies.

Jaskier sighs and stands up. "We should get some spices in the next town we're in," he says, rolling his shoulders.

"How are you going to pay for those?" Geralt asks, ignoring the mention of we, like it's a given that they will stick together. Buy things together. It makes unexpected warmth bloom in his belly and Geralt silently chastises himself for it.

Jaskier makes an indignant noise. "Have you listened to the masterpiece I created? I'll be making more than enough coin the next time we're in a tavern, you'll see," he says with a huff.

"Hmm."

"You doubt me?"

"Last time I saw you perform in a tavern, people were tossing food at you," Geralt points out.

Jaskier drops down next to him and gives him a haughty look. "There are worse things to be paid in than food."

"I don't think they wanted to pay you. I think they were trying to chase you out," Geralt notes dryly.

Jaskier sputters. "Those… those heathens had no taste and didn't know how to appreciate art," he says, waving his hands around wildly. Geralt shifts a little to the side to avoid getting hit. "And anyway. This song is my best one yet. People will love it."

"Sure," Geralt says.

"You'll be eating your words soon, witcher," Jaskier mutters, and Geralt hums and goes to check on their food. He only has one wooden bowl and spoon, never had any reason to carry around more, so he lets Jaskier have the first round because his stomach has been grumbling on and off since they started setting up camp.

When it's Geralt's turn, Jaskier nibbles on some bread and leans in to dip it in Geralt's stew every once in a while. With anyone else, Geralt would be growling. Possibly biting their hand off. Even with Eskel and Lambert, because those are just his instincts.

For some reason, with Jaskier his instincts are broken.

"So," Jaskier starts when Geralt is scraping the last of his food out of the bowl. "Tell me more about witchers."

"Why?" Geralt mutters.

"Geralt. I know Toss a Coin is genius. But if you want me to be your bard—"

"I don't."

"—I need more than one song. I'm sorry to say this, but it's gonna take a bit of effort—from both of our sides—to fix your reputation," Jaskier says and then grimaces. "And if I want to make more coin, then a few more songs wouldn't hurt. I mean, I have written a few before, but, ah, let's say I've had limited success with them so far, shall we? There are plenty of other songs to be sung, of course. But if you want to make a name for yourself, you can't just sing other people's songs, you know?"

"Hmm."

"But you, Geralt of Rivia, are inspiring," Jaskier continues. "So tell me. Tell me everything. Tell me about all of your adventures. And oh, which rumors about witchers are true and which aren't! You hear so many things, you know? I wouldn't want to write things about you that aren't true—I know how touchy you are about that."

"Half of the stuff in that coin song is bullshit."

"Ah, the story is a little embellished. But you? Not a word of a lie about you," Jaskier says. "So. Witchers."

Geralt shrugs.

Jaskier sighs. "You're impossible. But, lucky for you, I enjoy a challenge," he says and then snaps his fingers. "Wait, let me get my notebook first. I need to write these things down."

"What things?" Geralt asks, but Jaskier ignores him. He goes to rummage around in his little satchel that barely holds any things useful for traveling and returns with his notebook, a small pot of ink, and a pen.

"Alright, I'm ready. Let's begin, shall we?"

"No."

"Geralt," Jaskier says, somewhere between amused and exasperated. "I know words aren't your strong suit, but work with me here."

Geralt grunts. Jaskier apparently seems to take that as agreement, because he brightens, his pen poised in his hand.

"I'm ready for all kinds of witchery secrets," he says.

Geralt gives him a look. "You think I will tell you our secrets, so you can spread them around in your songs?"

"You're being unnecessarily difficult," Jaskier chides. "However, you're confirming you have secrets then? Interesting. But since I'm a generous person, I won't dig deeper—for now—and settle for the more obvious stuff. Like… your witchery abilities. I know you're a lot stronger than the average human. What else?"

Geralt sighs and stretches his legs, considering not answering Jaskier. But Jaskier will just keep pestering him and it's not like those things are secrets.

"Fast healing. Heightened senses. Some magic."

"Magic," Jaskier breathes and looks at him with wide, blue eyes.

Geralt has lived for decades; he's seen a lot of attractive humans. Lords and ladies, barmaids and whores. Not to speak of the non-humans, of sorceresses and elves and others. Jaskier is certainly pretty. But it shouldn't affect Geralt. Yet it feels like a punch in the gut when he looks at him, something inside him wanting to reach out, to touch, to take.

"What else?" Jaskier prompts.

"Quick reflexes, agility," Geralt says, shrugging.

Jaskier hums and makes a few notes, the tip of his pen scratching against paper. "Any… other things?" he asks when he is done, his tone pointed.

"Hmm."

"Because, you know, I've heard things," Jaskier adds.

"What kind of things have you heard, bard?" Geralt mocks.

"Oh, you know, all kinds. Most of which I know is bullshit. Rumors and exaggerations and baseless gossip," Jaskier hedges and shifts.

"But?" Geralt prompts, the corner of his mouth lifting up in a smirk. Whatever Jaskier is hinting at, he's clearly a little embarrassed. Geralt has heard all kinds of things about witchers, knows this could go in any direction, but he's curious to find out what has Jaskier squirming.

Jaskier rolls his bottom lip between his teeth, a flash of white against pink flesh that makes Geralt want to reach out, and then he lifts the hand with his pen and taps it against the medallion hanging from Geralt's neck.

"Some people say you have certain… ah, traits," he says.

"Do they?"

"Geralt, come on, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about," Jaskier whines. "You're just trying to make this harder on me and I do not appreciate that, my friend."

"We're not friends."

"Well, I disagree," Jaskier huffs. "So. Any… traits then?"

"Hmm, you want to know if I can turn into a wolf?"

"Of course not, that's ridiculous," Jaskier huffs and then looks at him through his lashes.

Goddamn stupid, pretty human.

"You can't, right?" Jaskier tags on.

"No."

"Of course not. I knew that," Jaskier says with a huff. "But there are some things about you that are wolflike, then?"

"What do you think?" Geralt asks and grins, baring his teeth, fangs. Jaskier doesn't draw back, if anything he looks intrigued.

"Okay, yes. That's one thing. Anything else?" he presses.

"Just spit it out," Geralt says. He can guess what Jaskier is hinting at now.

Jaskier squirms a little. "Oh, alright. Some people say that some witchers have certain body parts that are, ah, let's say reminiscent of certain animals," he says. "They say you wolves… well, you know."

He looks pointedly at Geralt's crotch.

Geralt snorts. "You want to know if I have a knot, bard?"

"Well, can you blame me?" Jaskier asks. "I heard a whore describe it once. Of course, her friend said she had never been with a witcher, so what did she know? But still. It's one of those things people say about you. I just want to know if it's true or not."

"Why? You want to write a song about a pretty maiden getting knotted by a witcher?" Geralt asks and huffs. "Not sure that would help my reputation."

Jaskier sighs. "I just wanted to know," he says, voice soft. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable. Forget it."

"Hmm," Geralt hums and looks at Jaskier, who is bent over his notebook again, idly writing. Geralt isn't sure it's even real words or if he's just trying to look busy. "We do."

Jaskier's head snaps up. "You—" he starts and Geralt watches his cheeks turn pink, eyes slipping down to Geralt's crotch again before lifting back up. "Oh."

"Satisfied?"

Jaskier's cheeks color even more, and Geralt can smell it—the sharp, tantalizing scent of Jaskier's arousal. He shouldn't be surprised, because Jaskier rarely reacts in the way Geralt expects him to. He's unlike most humans he has met, unguarded and fearless and open.

And Geralt's own reaction to him surprises him too. Scares him a little, because he's never reacted that way to anyone. And he knows, inevitably, there will come a point where Jaskier, like anyone else, will turn away from him, where it's too much. So he decides to get it over with, to keep pushing.

It's better to make a clean cut. Before he gets attached.

"You know, our sense of smell is one of those things that's far superior to that of a human. Can smell lots of things," he says gruffly. "We can smell fear. I smell it on every human I meet."

"Geralt—"

Geralt looks at him, gaze heavy. "I can smell arousal too."

Jaskier's breath hitches and for a moment he looks sheepish, almost skittish. And then his eyes narrow and he straightens, puffs out his chest. "Well, excuse me. What do you expect? You can't look like all of—that," he says indignantly, voice raised and high as he waves his hand at Geralt as if that explains it, "and not expect me to notice. What is a weak, wanting bard to do but feel a little excited faced with all of this—well, this."

"Jaskier."

"You're unfairly gorgeous, and you can't blame me for noticing. I'm a bard. Being observant is part of my job," Jaskier says, still sounding agitated. It's not the reaction Geralt expected—well, the agitation, yes, but for entirely different reasons.

It's one thing to be excited. It's another to be called out on it. He thought Jaskier would tell him to fuck off and pack his things.

But Jaskier is still here, not denying anything, not saying he might be intrigued but he would never act on it, would never want Geralt. Would never want a monster.

"It's okay. I understand," Geralt says. He wanted Jaskier to be upset, but now it's suddenly the opposite of what he wants, instincts screaming at him to soothe, to calm Jaskier down.

"You do?"

Geralt shrugs stiffly. "There's being excited by an idea and then there's actually wanting that thing to happen."

"Wait. What?" Jaskier asks and frowns. "You think I'm turned on by you but if something were to actually happen I would…"

"Run for the hills," Geralt finishes.

Jaskier scoffs. "That's ridiculous. Why the hell would you—" he stops, his frown deepening. "Has that happened?"

Geralt looks away and snorts bitterly. "Not a lot. Most humans don't even like the idea," he says. "In a lot of towns I can't even find a whore willing to lay with me."

"Geralt," Jaskier says, sounding helpless and pitying, and something dark and bitter settles in Geralt's belly. He hasn't cared about rejection since he was young and stupid. He expects it from people now. He expected in from Jaskier, if it were ever to come to this, so none of this matters.

"Time to go to bed, bard," he says.

A hand on his arm stops him. "I would never turn you down, Geralt," Jaskier says softly. "I know you're probably not interested. That's okay. But I'm not merely excited by the fantasy of bedding a witcher and I need you to know that. I just… it's just you. I like you. Not because you're a witcher."

Geralt remains silent.

"So, there," Jaskier says and when Geralt glances at him, he's smiling, even though he sounds sad. "Now you get to reject someone. I bet that's fun for a change, huh?"

Geralt makes a noise in the back of his throat and he doesn't know how to put into words how stupid Jaskier is. How he wouldn't reject Jaskier, can't, even if he damn well should. But he wants Jaskier too damn much to listen to reason. So he leans in and kisses Jaskier.

"Fuck," Jaskier mumbles against his mouth, chasing it when Geralt pulls away.

"Jaskier," he rasps, and allows another kiss before holding Jaskier back by the shoulders.

"Don't be cruel," Jaskier says, grabbing Geralt's arms. "You can't kiss me and then stop, witcher. Come back here. Please."

Geralt isn't strong enough to resist Jaskier's plea. He kisses Jaskier, again and again. Slips his tongue past soft, parted lips, licks into Jaskier's mouth and nips at his bottom lip.

If he could smell Jaskier's arousal before, it's nothing compared to the scent now. The force of his desire is heady, and Geralt tugs Jaskier onto his lap with a groan. He noses at Jaskier's neck, greedily sucks in the familiar scent of him and feels the hammering of Jaskier's pulse under his lips.

There's no trace of fear, still. Just pure, sharp want.

As if to prove what Geralt's nose already tells him, Jaskier moans and rolls his hips down against Geralt, let's him feel the growing bulge in his trousers.

Geralt whines against Jaskier's throat, quiet and low, and slips his hands down to Jaskier's ass, grabbing it, holding him as he stands up.

"Oh fuck," Jaskier groans and wraps his legs around Geralt. Geralt hums and carries him to his bedroll, laid out for the night on the opposite side of the fire. He tries to be careful as he lays Jaskier down, settling between his spread legs.

He leans over Jaskier, kisses him again and rolls his hips down against Jaskier's, lightly at first and then with more intent when Jaskier moans into his mouth. His hands curl into the fabric of Jaskier's chemise, tugging it out of his trousers and pushing the fabric up until it's bunched up around Jaskier's chest. His hands skim over warm, smooth skin, tracing the line of hair leading down. He groans quietly and pulls back to get a look at Jaskier. He watches his own fingers trail up Jaskier's stomach and he pushes the chemise up further, rubs one thumb over Jaskier's right nipple, feels the little bud harden and the skin around it pebble.

Jaskier makes a broken sound and arches up into the touch. "G—Geralt," he stutters.

Geralt hums, pleased by the reaction and the heavy scent of Jaskier's arousal. He leans down, nuzzles Jaskier's jaw, his throat, and then shifts lower, to close his lips around one of Jaskier's nipples, take it between his teeth gently.

Jaskier hisses and squirms. "Oh, yes, darling. Fuck, feels so good."

Geralt hums again and rests his hands on Jaskier's hips, only settling for a moment before he slides them back between Jaskier and the bedroll, fingers finding the damn bow at the back of Jaskier's trousers that has been taunting him all day while they traveled. Always drawing his eyes right to Jaskier's backside, like a present waiting to be unwrapped. He tugs at the strings and hooks his fingers under the waistband.

Lifting his head, he says, "Up."

Jaskier complies, raising his hips and Geralt yanks his silken trousers and smallthings down to his thighs. His cock is hard and flushed, the tip already damp, and his balls are heavy and full. Jaskier looks wanton and desperate, spread out for him like this, and Geralt feels a pleased rumble build low in his chest.

He spits into his hand and curls it around Jaskier's cock, watching Jaskier's face as he starts stroking him, the way his mouth falls open and his eyes flutter closed, a moan breaking out from him as he thrusts his hips, fucking into Geralt's hand.

"Like this?" Geralt asks and tightens his hand a little, stroking Jaskier and only breaking his rhythm to swipe his thumb over the head, gathering the sticky wetness there.

Jaskier bites down on his lip and mewls, his cheeks flushed and his eyes dark and glassy. "Yes, so good," he mumbles. "Your hand feels so good. So big."

"Hmm. Gonna come just like this?" Geralt asks, twisting his hand just so and Jaskier cries out, hands curling into fists, grasping at the bedroll.

Geralt grins, pleased. He brings his free hand up, licks his palm and fingers, gets two wet with spit. Jaskier makes a whiny, needy sound and tries to spread his legs wider, hindered by the trousers caught around his thighs.

Geralt shushes him when he makes a frustrated noise and reaches between his legs. He fondles Jaskier's balls, palms them and gives them a gentle tug, before letting his fingers slip past them, rubbing over the spot just behind them. Jaskier cries out, tossing his head back and screwing his eyes shut.

"Can I?" Geralt asks and moves his fingers further back, lets the tip of one brush against Jaskier's hole.

"Oh yes. Yes. Please," Jaskier groans and makes a garbled noise when Geralt's touch grows more insistent, rubbing over the tight ring of muscle before slowly pressing in. Jaskier is tight and hot around him and Geralt has to push down the desire to flip him over, spread him wide and just sink into him. Not tonight, he thinks.

He doesn't push in past the second knuckle, just fucks Jaskier shallowly with one finger as he keeps jerking him off and it doesn't take long before Jaskier freezes, letting out a series of gasps and moans as he spills without warning.

Geralt watches, transfixed. The way Jaskier's face goes lax with pleasure, the pink on his cheeks more pronounced, the sticky spend spilling onto Jaskier's stomach and Geralt's hand. He strokes him through it, until Jaskier squirms and trembles.

"Geralt," he says, breathless and wet, "Geralt, let me."

"Shh," Geralt soothes and lets go of Jaskier. He leans down and steals a kiss, deep and dirty, while he fumbles with the laces of his leather pants, eager to get them undone and get his cock out. Kneeling between Jaskier's spread legs, looking down at his dishevelled, sated state, the scent of his come sharp in the air, Geralt gives himself a few hard tugs, panting, and brings himself off quickly, his come splattering onto Jaskier's exposed belly. Jaskier watches him with dark eyes, but doesn't reach out to touch him.

Geralt collapses forward afterwards, folding himself over Jaskier.

"Ew," Jaskier mutters. "We need to clean up."

Geralt huffs and turns his head into the crook of Jaskier's neck, breathes in his scent and the salty sharpness of sweat, and makes no move to get up. He has no desire to wipe the traces of himself off Jaskier until he absolutely has to.


*

Geralt isn't sure what to expect. He's used to whores he leaves before the night is over or the occasional human and maybe a sorceress or two who slip out of his bed before dawn. The few times he's woken up with someone in the morning, it ended with him packing his things and leaving town.

He thinks maybe Jaskier will leave, now that they had sex, or at the very least pretend nothing happened. He expects Jaskier to have slipped away some time during the night. Instead he wakes up with Jaskier still in his arms, curled against his chest. He wakes up shortly after Geralt, making a protesting noise when Geralt tries to move away.

"Ugh, this is disgusting," he mutters. "We didn't clean up."

He makes no move to get out of Geralt's arms though, remaining curled around him like a limpet, and nuzzles Geralt's collarbone. "You're not much of a gentleman, Geralt of Rivia, getting someone all dirty and then not having the courtesy to at least get a damp cloth to clean up a little before falling asleep."

"Hmm."

"You better not make a habit of that, witcher," Jaskier warns.

Warmth settles in Geralt's belly. He makes no promises.


*

Jaskier slips into his bedroll again the next night and the one after. When they stay at an inn a few days later, Geralt gives Jaskier his last coin to get them a room and some food while he stables Roach and when he joins Jaskier inside he has gotten them a room with only one bed. Geralt doesn't comment. It's not like he minds.

He fucks Jaskier for the first time that night, rolls Jaskier onto his stomach and opens him up with oil-slick fingers. He fucks him deep and slow, rutting down into his tight heat and mouthing at the curve of his neck. His knot pops and Geralt is careful not to push in too deep when he feels it start to swell, ignoring Jaskier's needy pleas and the way he arches back.

"You could have, you know," Jaskier says afterwards, lying on his back with Geralt draped against his side, their legs tangled lazily.

"Hmm."

"You have done that with others. I mean… you can, right? With humans."

Geralt slides his hand down Jaskier's side, settles it on his hip and squeezes. "Yes," he says and then adds, "Most don't want to."

"I do."

"Jaskier," Geralt starts. He wants to believe him. Just the thought of it, of getting his knot into Jaskier, of being tied to him, makes his cock start to fill again. It's not something he's done a lot; he's used to having to promise he won't before he's even allowed into someone's bed more often than not.

Jaskier turns onto his side and briefly meets his eyes before his gaze slides to Geralt's cock. He touches Geralt's stomach, trails his fingers down over scarred skin, through gray, wiry curls before brushing against the base of Geralt's cock.

Geralt lets out a quiet moan at the touch.

Jaskier grows a little bolder then, strokes over Geralt's deflated knot, cups his hand around it. "It would fit, right?"

"Fuck, Jaskier," Geralt hisses and rolls his hips into the touch. "Yes. Yes."

Jaskier hums and lifts his eyes, smiling a little. "I want you to," he says and leans in, kissing Geralt, and Geralt groans against his mouth and hauls him in.

He doesn't knot Jaskier that night, despite Jaskier's breathless pleas for him to do it when he fucks him again and despite the fact that he wants to. But he doesn't want to do it in an inn—not when he can hear the noise of the crowded tavern downstairs, can still smell traces of the man who rented the room before them. He wants them to be alone, wants Jaskier to be just his, with no one to hear them, no scents of other humans disturbing him.


*

"Are you sure you want my knot?" he asks between kisses a week later when they're alone in the woods. They've set up camp in a little clearing and he has Jaskier spread out on his bedroll once more. Next to them, the unattended fire is slowly dying, but it's warm enough that they won't need it for the night.

Jaskier's eyes go wide and then he nods, eagerly, frantically.

Geralt kisses him to hide his pleased grin.

He knows his knot is significantly wider than his cock and he doesn't want to hurt Jaskier, so he takes his time getting him ready with his fingers. He works Jaskier open until he can slide four fingers into him easily and Jaskier is dripping with oil, and he makes Jaskier come just like that, twisting his fingers inside of him and rubbing against that spot that makes Jaskier writhe and moan.

Afterwards, with Jaskier looking dazed and dishevelled, his cheeks beautifully flushed, he nudges Jaskier over onto his stomach and pulls him up onto his knees, knowing it'll be easier that way. His cock is already hard and leaking, and he adds more oil before sinking into Jaskier. He grabs him by the hips and fucks him with deep, smooth thrusts, until Jaskier is panting and moaning and pleasure is curled tightly in Geralt's belly. Jaskier feels amazing around him, hot and slick and always so fucking tight.

"Geralt. Geralt, do it. Please do it," Jaskier begs. "Please knot me."

Geralt grunts harshly and grabs the discarded vial of oil again. His knot is filling, swelling at the base of his cock and he knows he needs to get it in Jaskier before it's too inflated. The thought settles in his belly like a blaze. He wants this, of course he fucking does, but now it feels urgent, something he needs to do. To have Jaskier hanging on his knot, being his.

Geralt drips oil down onto the place where they're connected and rubs his fingers through it, feels the stretch of Jaskier's rim around his cock and groans. "Fuck, Jaskier," he hisses and Jaskier moans, arching his back.

"Fuck," Geralt repeats and adds pressure experimentally, wanting to make sure Jaskier is really ready. Jaskier squirms and whimpers, and Geralt holds his hips still as he presses his finger in next to his cock. Jaskier is tight, but he remains relaxed and the slickness of the oil eases the way.

"Geralt," he groans, and Geralt grunts in reply. He pulls his finger free and rolls his hips forward, let's the beginning of his knot press against Jaskier's hole. He leans over Jaskier then, covers his back with his chest and places a hot kiss to his neck.

"Relax," he murmurs, slowly thrusting into Jaskier without pushing in completely. And then, even though it pains him to ask, he adds, "Are you sure?"

Jaskier turns his head, breathing harshly, and nods. "Please," he keens and Geralt catches his bruised, pink mouth in a kiss. He ruts forward, lets Jaskier feel the pressure of his half-formed knot, and then grinds in harder, deeper, feels his knot swell more, the pleasure in his belly coiling more tightly. Hands on Jaskier's hips, he rolls his hips forward and finally, finally, pushes in past the tight ring of muscle as his knot sinks into Jaskier. It's tight and hot and better than anything Geralt has ever felt in his life.

He breaks their kiss with a deep groan and Jaskier gasps and keens. "Oh. Oh," he pants.

Geralt grunts and buries his face in the curve of Jaskier's neck. His knot swells further, locks him into place, and Jaskier is making the most delicious, needy sounds now, arching and squirming, and Geralt growls and tightens his grip on him. He grinds forward, not being able to move much now, and then with a final short thrust he comes with a low groan and sinks his teeth into Jaskier's neck.

He feels dizzy and he tastes blood and the pleasure is so excruciatingly good he sees stars. Under him, Jaskier cries out sharply and shudders and the salty, musky scent of his release fills the air around them, and Geralt's hips twitch forward helplessly as the waves of his orgasm crash through him, his release spilling deep into Jaskier, their bodies locked together.


*

Geralt blinks muzzily and tightens his arms around Jaskier, rolls his hips forward lazily to feel the tug of Jaskier's hole around his knot. They're lying on their sides, curled together closely.

Geralt hums and nuzzles Jaskier's neck, listens to the hitch of Jaskier's breath. He can smell the metallic scent of Jaskier's blood, can taste it coating his mouth.

Geralt freezes. "Shit," he grunts and without thinking, he tries to draw back, and then stops instantly when Jaskier lets out a pained hiss.

"Geralt?"

"I bit you," Geralt grunts and though he holds himself stiffly, he curls himself around Jaskier again, not wanting to hurt him again.

"Hmm? Oh," Jaskier mutters and then reaches behind him, patting the side of Geralt's face, his touch clumsy and slow. "'S okay."

"You're bleeding."

Jaskier makes a noise and rolls his shoulder a little. "Geralt," he says slowly, exasperatedly.

"Hmm?"

"Don't ruin the afterglow of the best fucking sex I've ever had. It doesn't even fucking hurt. Felt good, if you need to know," Jaskier says and presses back into Geralt. Geralt relaxes a little and huffs, but his lips find the wound his teeth left behind and he kisses the spot gently. He tastes Jaskier's blood on his lips, metallic and sweet, and his tongue darts out, licking over Jaskier's skin.

He makes a silent vow to clean the wound up later and put some salve on it.


*

Geralt has never been the possessive type. Mostly because he never had much to his name other than a horse and his swords. Almost all of his relationships have been fleeting at best.

But he feels a flare of pride and pleasure when he sees Jaskier touch the bite mark he left on the curve of his neck over the next few days. It's an odd sensation, the smugness he feels. The sense of ownership, like Jaskier is his, and that's ridiculous. Geralt knows he shouldn't feel that way, doesn't understand why he does, how a human has him so twisted around.

There's still a bit of guilt as well, because he bit Jaskier hard enough to break skin and draw blood. The wound scabs over and heals, leaving behind fresh pink scars. Jaskier doesn't seem to be bothered by it. He seems to like it. Sometimes Geralt sees him touch the marks with a smile on his face, absently trailing his fingers over them, and when they fuck he tilts his head to the side, bares his neck to Geralt, and murmurs please.


*

Geralt watches from a dark corner of the tavern as Jaskier performs. He's strutting around, strumming his lute and singing his heart out, smiling and winking. Geralt wouldn't tell him this, but Jaskier actually isn't bad. Some of his songs are a little crude, but he's undeniably charming.

A little too charming, perhaps, because as Geralt watches, some drunk guy reaches for Jaskier and tries to pull him onto his lap.

Jaskier laughs and shakes his head a little, and Geralt grips his tankard so hard he hears it crack in his palm when the man doesn't let go of Jaskier. He's about to get up, take care of the problem himself, when Jaskier manages to shake himself free.

He keeps singing, his smile never slipping, but Geralt keeps a close eye on the man for the last few songs, his stomach twisted. There's a voice in his head that insists that Jaskier is his, that nobody else should get to touch him like that, but he tries to ignore it, and suppresses the urge to go over to the man's table and punch him. His reputation is already bad enough without starting brawls and Jaskier probably wouldn't appreciate it either.

The glower on Geralt's face doesn't ease until Jaskier joins him after his performance, looking sweaty and flushed and happy. He sits close enough that their knees touch.

"Look," Jaskier says, dropping the coin he has gathered in his coin purse onto the table with a proud grin. "That's enough for a room tonight."

Geralt hums.

"Eloquent as ever. You old sourpuss," Jaskier says jovially and nudges him gently. "Will more ale cheer you up? I think I made enough to get us another round or two. I'll ask after a room, too."

"Wouldn't hurt," Geralt admits, and Jaskier beams at him, looking so pleased with himself that Geralt wants to drag him close and kiss him, feel that grin against his own mouth.

Jaskier has written two more songs about him over the last few weeks, still adamant that he will both change Geralt's reputation and become renowned across the entire continent as the White Wolf's bard. Geralt is starting to think maybe Jaskier is onto something—his new songs have been well-received in the last few towns they've passed through and he's been making some coin rather than being pelted with bread. And sometimes, when Jaskier ends a performance, Geralt notices people glance at him with something other than fear or disgust.

Geralt watches Jaskier walk to the bar and order their drinks, returning with two large tankards. The tavern is packed and rowdy and more than once Jaskier almost stumbles and spills their drinks, the tip of his tongue sticking out in concentration, and Geralt feels a warm rush of fondness. It's puzzling that he feels that way and yet he's helpless not to care about Jaskier. He's not quite sure how it happened—how that utterly annoying, foolish bard wormed his way into Geralt's life and under his skin. How Geralt went from wanting to get rid of Jaskier to wanting to keep him at his side.

"You look deep in thought, dear," Jaskier says as he sets the tankards down and slips into the seat next to Geralt again.

Geralt grunts quietly and reaches for his ale, taking a big gulp. Jaskier sips his at a much slower pace, too busy prattling about his performance and telling Geralt stories from his time in Oxenfurt and asking questions about monsters that Geralt answers with as few words as possible.

It's when he goes quieter that Geralt takes a good look at him. Jaskier's shoulders are slumped and his eyes a little heavy-lidded, exhaustion written all over his face. It's been a long few days of traveling and probably too little sleep for a human and Jaskier just sang and danced around for a good while, too, drumming up enough money for a room.

"Ready to retire?" Geralt asks, and Jaskier startles a little, sitting up straighter and blinking at him.

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Yes," he says and fumbles a key out of the pocket of his doublet. "Already got a room for us."

"Good," Geralt says with a nod.

They gather their things and Geralt follows close behind Jaskier as they cross the tavern to the stairs leading up to the rooms. People step out of their path, giving Geralt a wide berth. He's used to it, but he hears Jaskier huff in annoyance when a man scrambles out of their way so fast he stumbles.

Upstairs, it's quieter, the wooden floor creaking under their feet. Their room is small, but clean. They put their things down by the wall, except for Geralt's swords which he places next to the bed where he can easily reach them. They get ready for bed and Geralt slips under the thin blanket while Jaskier pours water from a pitcher into a bowl and washes up.

His fringe is hanging into his face, still dripping as he approaches the bed. He's fidgeting a little, twisting the bottom of his chemise in his fingers.

"What?" Geralt asks.

"Nothing. Nothing," Jaskier mumbles, stopping by the bed. He looks hesitant.

Geralt raises his eyebrows.

Jaskier's shoulders fall. "I just don't think I'm up for anything tonight. Which, believe me, are words I never thought would come out of my mouth," he says. "I'm sorry. I should have gotten us a room with two beds."

Geralt frowns. They certainly don't have sex every night, nor do they share Geralt's bedroll every night. But they don't stay in inns much and when they do, they have been putting the beds to good use. But Geralt doesn't expect it to always happen.

"Get in," he says.

Jaskier sighs and slides into the bed next to him. Geralt blows out the candle on the nightstand on his side of the bed, while Jaskier shifts and squirms next to him, trying to get comfortable. He settles, finally, tucked against Geralt's side and Geralt smiles into the darkness of the room, feeling a sense of calm wash over him.


*

"I told you to stay back," Geralt grits. His fingers dig into Jaskier's flesh a little harder than necessary, trying to get him to stop squirming as Geralt cleans out the gash on his arm.

The panic he felt when he heard Jaskier scream in pain when the second harpy—the one nobody in the village had bloody told him about, and Geralt had known something had been off, had asked Jaskier to stay back for that very reason—had attacked him is still lingering, twisting painfully in his stomach.

"Yes. You've said. A million times," Jaskier says petulantly.

Geralt lifts his gaze from Jaskier's arm long enough to glare at him before focusing his attention on the wound again.

"This isn't a game, Jaskier. What I do is dangerous and if I tell you to stay put, you stay put," he bites out. I have to keep you safe, he thinks. "You'll get yourself fucking killed if you don't."

Jaskier could have died today. The thought makes Geralt want to both drop Jaskier off in the next town and leave, because Geralt's life isn't for a vulnerable, defenseless human, but also wrap Jaskier up in the circle of his arms and protect him, draw his sword on anything and anyone that even thinks about harming Jaskier.

"It'll make a good ballad, at least," Jaskier tries, his voice thin. "About the witcher who saved his lover from a monster."

Geralt grits his teeth and finishes cleaning the wound as best as he can. "I'll stitch this up."

"What?" Jaskier asks with a nervous huff. "Geralt, it's not that bad. I've seen you with worse injuries that didn't require stitching."

"I heal faster than humans," Geralt reminds him and goes to retrieve the necessary supplies from the saddlebag.

When he returns Jaskier is looking a little pale and Geralt can smell the sour notes of fear in the air.

"I'll be quick," Geralt promises. "Try not to move, okay?"

Jaskier nods. "Are you sure it needs—" he starts, but falls silent when Geralt gives him a look.

To Geralt's surprise—and relief—Jaskier does hold still. He sucks in pained, gaspy breaths as the needle pierces through his skin and Geralt smells the salty scent of tears halfway through. He doesn't stop or look up, wanting to get this over with as fast as possible and make sure the stitches are neat.

"Done," he finally says, and Jaskier sniffs quietly.

Geralt carefully wipes the blood away from around the wound and then slathers more healing salve onto it than necessary before bandaging Jaskier's arm with a clean strip of linen. Jaskier stays pliant and unmoving the entire time.

He's stopped crying, but when Geralt looks at him his eyes are red and there are tear tracks on his cheeks, clearly visible in the road dust and grime on Jaskier's skin. The urge to soothe is almost overwhelming and so Geralt pulls Jaskier into his arms, careful not to jostle his injured arm.

"You have to listen to me about these things, Jaskier," he says.

Jaskier exhales, his warm breath hitting Geralt's throat, and nods. Geralt snorts, because he knows Jaskier won't. He has no sense of self-preservation and he's stubborn and reckless, and it makes Geralt want to throttle him, but at the same time it's why Jaskier is still with him, because he refused to leave, refused to be scared of Geralt.

It would be better for him if he hadn't. If Geralt could leave him behind. But he isn't sure he could anymore, and Jaskier would find a way to follow him anyway.


*

Geralt has been cheated out of coin a lot. People who didn't want to pay him the amount agreed upon or downplayed the danger in order for him to agree to a lower price.

Usually he doesn't put up a fuss. He takes what he is given and leaves quietly. He's learned it's not worth it, because trying to get what he is owed rarely gets him anything other than kicked out of town by an angry mob.

This time though, this time Geralt is furious. If he had known there were two harpies he would have handled things differently, would have paid more attention to what was going on around him and maybe Jaskier wouldn't have gotten hurt.

"You owe me twice the coin," he snarls at the alderman, dropping two heads down at his feet in the entrance of his home.

The alderman baulks, talking a step back. "We agreed on a price, witcher."

"For one harpy. There were two. The price has gone up," Geralt says curtly.

The alderman lifts his chin defiantly, but Geralt can tell he's nervous. "We had a deal. I will not pay you for doing more than I asked you to."

"So you would have preferred if I had kept one alive?"

"No," the alderman admits. "But that wasn't part of the contract. We're grateful for what you did, witcher, but a deal is a deal."

Geralt narrows his eyes and takes a step closer. The alderman takes another step back.

"You knew," Geralt accuses him. "You knew there were two, but you didn't tell me because you wanted to keep the price low."

"I truly had no idea," the alderman says, but Geralt can tell he's lying.

He growls, showing his teeth. "My bard got hurt because of your lies."

"I'm sorry, but that is not my fault."

Geralt grabs the man by his tunic. "It is. You will pay me twice the amount we agreed on, to pay for the medical supplies Jaskier will need."

"Or what?" the alderman asks and though Geralt can smell the fear on him, he's somewhat impressed the man's voice remains steady. "Will you kill us, butcher?"

Geralt looks at the man and lets go of him, then he grins, humorless. "No. I will make sure no witcher will ever step foot into this town again," he says and cocks his head to the side. "Did you know the river that runs right past your little town is infested with drowners just a few miles from here? It's only a matter of time before you will need help with that."

The alderman visibly swallows.

"I hope there's someone in town who knows how to kill a whole group of them. They can be nasty fuckers," Geralt adds dryly.

"I will get your coin, witcher," the alderman says stiffly. "Double the amount we agreed on, you said?"

Geralt nods. "Thank you kindly," he replies, not bothering to hide the sneer in his voice.


*

"Did you get everything you needed?" Jaskier asks with a smile when Geralt joins him at the stall selling jewelry. Jaskier puts the ring he has been looking at back down and turns away from the displayed wares.

"Hmm."

"Good. Good," Jaskier says, nodding. "So. Anything else we need?"

"Do you like the ring?" Geralt asks. He's not sure where the question comes from, hadn't planned on asking. But Jaskier looked interested. And for some reason that Geralt can't explain to himself, that makes him want to get the ring for him.

Jaskier glances back at the display and then back at Geralt. "It's very pretty," he admits and gives a little grin. "You know me, I'm drawn to pretty things. It's why I'm following you."

Geralt scoffs under his breath, but his lips twitch up involuntarily at the compliment. "I have enough coin," he offers. His purse is still well-filled from the harpies and he feels like it's Jaskier's coin as well anyway, like giving it to him will make up for him getting hurt.

Jaskier's eyes widen and for a second Geralt thinks he hesitates, before he shakes his head. "That's so sweet of you, darling. But it's not necessary," he says and then shifts uncomfortably. "But I was wondering if, perhaps, I could borrow some coin for something else? I will pay you back. But I could really use some new lute strings and I don't really have enough coin right now."

Geralt retrieves his coin purse. "Take as much as you need," he says.

Jaskier's eyes light up at the words, but Geralt notices approvingly he doesn't take an unreasonable amount anyway. Geralt is careful with his coin, has to be because he barely ever has enough to buy more than the bare necessities. Jaskier obviously likes nice things, likes his fancy, ridiculous outfits and expensive smelling oils, but doesn't ask for things they can't afford anyway.

"I'll play at the tavern tonight, repay you," Jaskier says, handing the coin purse back.

"Your arm needs time to heal," Geralt says with a shake of his head. "Go get your lute strings. I need to go take care of something. I'll meet you back at the inn."

Jaskier gives him a small, soft smile. "Aright," he agrees.

Geralt watches him disappear in the crowd, waits until he's entirely out of sight before he turns to the stall with the jewelry. He picks up the ring Jaskier was looking at. It's a thick silver band with a pattern that reminds Geralt of vines and leaves.

"How much?" he asks.

The merchant looks at him with disbelief, but quickly recovers, and to Geralt's surprise the price he demands seems fair enough. He tells himself he's not being wasteful—they have coin left over from the second harpy he killed. And Geralt likes the thought of Jaskier wearing something he gave him. More than that, he wants it. He wants Jaskier to wear a ring he gifted him and Geralt tries not to think about the connotation that kind of gift carries, because that's utterly ridiculous.

Jaskier is already back in their room when Geralt gets there, sitting on the bed, replacing the lute string that snapped the other day while he was messing around as Geralt prepared dinner.

He looks up and smiles at Geralt. "Did you get what you need?" he asks cheerfully.

Geralt curls his hand around the little satchel that came with the ring. He nods curtly and walks to the bed. He drops the pouch down next to Jaskier wordlessly and then goes to put the supplies he got at the apothecary away in his bags without waiting for Jaskier to look at his present.

He listens though—the creak of the bed as Jaskier shifts, the rustling of fabric as he unties the pouch, the quiet noise he makes a moment later.

"Geralt?"

"Hmm?"

"You bought the ring?"

Geralt finally looks at Jaskier, finds him staring at him in disbelief. "You don't like it?"

"That's not—no, you silly thing, of course I like it," Jaskier says with a huffed laugh and then he's clambering off the bed and Geralt has just enough time to turn around fully before he has an armful of Jaskier.

Geralt hums and tightens his arms around Jaskier, nosing at his neck. He breathes in the familiar scent that is always mixed with his own scent these days.

Jaskier draws back, untangling his arms from around Geralt's neck and bringing his hands between them, the pouch still clutched in one. Geralt keeps his hands on Jaskier's hips. He watches Jaskier pull the ring out from between the folds of fabric and slip it on his finger—his ring finger—and Geralt lets out a deep, pleased rumble. It doesn't mean anything, it shouldn't matter to him, shouldn't be something he wants. The last thing Geralt has ever wanted was tying himself to anyone.

He tells himself he's not doing that now either. And yet he bought Jaskier a ring, something that cannot be classified as anything other than a token of affection, perhaps of commitment too, and the thought makes Geralt's chest ache.

"It's beautiful," Jaskier says, admiring the silver band on his finger before looking at Geralt with a happy smile. He takes Geralt's face in his hands and kisses him, sweet and soft. Geralt growls under his breath and tugs Jaskier close, holds him against him as he deepens the kiss.

If the ring wasn't silver, he would worry Jaskier has some siren blood in him.


*

Geralt steps into their room, pulling the door shut behind him. Jaskier looks up, sends him a smile as he keeps folding one of his shirts.

"Heard a rumor about a wyvern in a town about a day's ride north of here," he says, and goes to help Jaskier pack the last of their things.

Jaskier stops and his mouth pulls down into a frown. "North?"

"Yes," Geralt replies shortly. "That a problem?"

So far Jaskier has been happy to follow his lead, letting Geralt decide where they're going. He seems eager to see as much of the continent as he can and to perform in any tavern that will let him, regardless of how big or small the village is.

Jaskier sighs. "Well," he starts, sounding dejected. "I was hoping we could head to Oxenfurt."

The words send a stab of worry through Geralt. Oxenfurt is where Jaskier attended university. He doesn't talk about his family, only mentions his childhood in passing, and Geralt has gotten the feeling that Oxenfurt seems to be the place he considers home.

Jaskier wants to go home.

"It's just that there's this yearly bardic competition, you see?" Jaskier prattles on. "There's coin in it for the winner, but even more so it's a renowned competition. If I were to do well, it would really boost my reputation. And I have no doubt I would."

Geralt nods, pretending to understand what the big deal is, because Jaskier sounds excited. Hopeful. "You should go."

"I should," Jaskier agrees, but he doesn't sound happy about it. "And you will head north, I suppose."

"Yes."

"Right," Jaskier mumbles and then smiles hopefully. "We can meet up again after. We can arrange a rendezvous point somewhere. Maybe halfway between Oxenfurt and where you are going."

"Maybe," Geralt hedges.

"No, darling. Let's pick a place. And you have to promise me you'll come," Jaskier insists with a stubborn tilt of his chin. Geralt curls his hand around the back of Jaskier's neck and pulls him into a kiss in lieu of an answer.

Jaskier lets himself be distracted for a moment, but not for long. And then he wrangles a promise out of Geralt. Geralt gives in more easily than he cares to admit.


*

There's an unpleasant feeling in the pit of Geralt's stomach as they go their own ways. He ignores it, forces himself to set out with Roach without looking back.

But the longer he travels the more the knot in his stomach grows. It's merely annoying at first, because there's no reason for him to worry about splitting from Jaskier. It's nice to share a bed with someone regularly, a comfort Geralt has never experienced before while on the road, and despite the fact that Jaskier is loud and obnoxious and painfully vulnerable, Geralt can't deny that he likes his companionship. But that's not enough for him to feel this way and he feels foolish. It goes against everything he's been taught, every rule he has set for himself, and he thinks Vesemir would probably have his hide if he knew Geralt was upset about parting ways with some human. He would probably have his hide for letting Jaskier attach himself to Geralt in the first place.

A witcher's path isn't meant to be shared with anyone else.

He knows this.

But after a few hours of traveling, the painful tugging sensation in Geralt's belly becomes too much to ignore. He feels strung tight and he keeps flexing his hands around Roach's reins restlessly. His concentration is shot to hell and Geralt has a feeling if something were to attack him right now he wouldn't even notice it approach. He can't think, not about anything other than Jaskier.

Jaskier not being there with him, somewhere alone. Not safe without Geralt there to protect, to take care of him. And Geralt yearns for his sweet scent and the warmth of his body and the sound of his voice.

Geralt grits his teeth, tries to push down the panic building inside of him. Something is clearly wrong. Something is wrong with him. Without thinking about it, he brings Roach to a halt.

"Fuck," he grunts and then turns them around towards where they came from.


*

The feeling in his stomach doesn't ease until he catches the first traces of Jaskier's scent. He's easy to track after that—both because Geralt knows the direction in which he's heading and because Jaskier has made no effort to hide his tracks.

The sun is low in the sky by the time Geralt finds him. He's set up camp behind the shelter of some trees and bushes, but he's still too close to the main road for Geralt's comfort and he doesn't notice Geralt is approaching until Geralt is already way too fucking close. He will have to teach Jaskier some things about how to travel safely.

"Geralt!" Jaskier exclaims, springing up and looking both happy and confused. "What are you doing here? Is everything okay?"

Geralt grunts. He slides off Roach and closes the remaining distance between them with quick strides.

"Geralt?" Jaskier asks again. Geralt takes him by the shoulders and kisses him. This close, Jaskier's scent is heady and he's warm and pliant, sinking into the kiss easily.

Geralt finally feels normal again.

He thinks, distantly, that he must be cursed.


*

Jaskier has gathered firewood, but he hasn't lit it yet and Geralt makes him collect his things and moves them further into the line of trees, away from the road.

"You light a fire this close to the road, anyone passing by would smell it."

"Road's been pretty empty," Jaskier says and Geralt scoffs.

"You're still taking a risk. The kind of people who are on these roads at night aren't the kind you want to meet," he says.

"Alright," Jaskier says a little meekly. "Noted for the future."

Geralt wants to tell him he's not going to travel on his own again in the future but he bites those words back, because it's not like he's going to offer for Jaskier to travel with him for the rest of his life now.

He focuses on rebuilding the campfire and lighting it with a burst of Igni. "How did you feel today?" he asks.

"Hmm? Fine, I suppose?" Jaskier asks, sounding confused. "It was quite hot today. And I might have run out of water for a bit there, but I found a stream to refill my waterskin so all was good. I've traveled alone before, you know? I'm not completely helpless. Is that why you came to find me? Because you think I can't get to Oxenfurt on my own?"

Geralt retrieves bread and jerky out of his saddlebags. He sits down by the fire and hands half of the provisions to Jaskier. "No pain? Or unease?"

Jaskier frowns at him. "Well, my feet are a bit sore, but they always are at the end of the day," he says. "Geralt, what's going on?"

Geralt gives Jaskier a quick look. "Did you do something?"

"Do what? You're being weird," Jaskier replies and then balks a little, leaning away from Geralt. "You're not one of those, what were they called? Dopplers? That you told me about."

"If I was, I must have managed to steal Roach and all of my things."

Jaskier huffs. "Great, so Geralt could be lying somewhere dead in a ditch, that's not reassuring."

Geralt nudges him. "Not a doppler," he says and nods at the food in Jaskier's lap. "Eat."

Jaskier sighs and bites into a piece of jerky. "So. What did you mean by did I do anything?"

"Mess with some potions from a sorcerer? Get caught in some spell from one?" Geralt asks suspiciously.

Jaskier makes a face. "You have no faith in me, do you, witcher?" he asks. "And no, no potions or spells or anything like that. I've had a woman or two and maybe a man curse my name, sure, but not like that. You're the one getting caught up in all the magical business, not me."

"Hmm."

"Geralt. Why?"

"I didn't fare well today," Geralt admits.

"So… you're sick?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt heaves a sigh and chews on some bread. "No," he says. "I, uh, couldn't stand being apart from you."

"Oh," Jaskier says, his eyes wide. And then they narrow and he slaps Geralt's arm. "Oh, you ass! You didn't like being apart from me, so you think clearly that means I must have done something and what, used some love potion on you? Is that it?"

He huffs indignantly.

"Jaskier."

"Unbelievable. I cannot believe that you would think I would do that. I never had trouble getting attention, Geralt. To think that I would have to resort to cheap tricks like that is, quite frankly, the most insulting thing anyone has ever said to me. And I've had the displeasure of knowing Valdo Marx and have heard many displeasuring things coming out of that man's mouth," Jaskier rants.

Geralt has no idea who Valdo Marx is and he thinks it's better not to ask. "Might be a curse."

"Well, then. Since you're feeling the effects and I'm not, I think it's safe to say you're the one who got himself into trouble and not me," Jaskier says stiffly, but then his expression mellows out. "Is it a bad curse, you think? Are you okay?"

Geralt grunts. "A bit of pain. Nothing I couldn't handle," he says. "I'm fine now."

"Right," Jaskier says and leans in, fingers brushing against Geralt's thigh. "So. What now?"

"I'm going to find a sorceress. Get it taken care of," Geralt says.

Jaskier nods, his lips pressed together. "So. Until you do, we have to stay together," he concludes. "Not that I mind, dear. Not at all. But I guess that means no bardic competition for me. Oh, well, there's always next year, right?"

Geralt grunts. "Chances of finding a sorceress are better in Oxenfurt than some small village," he says, and Jaskier instantly brightens.

"Oh. Not that I'm not sorry you're in a bit of a bad spot. I am. Of course, I am, dear," he says. "But you get to see me compete then. It'll be wonderful to see a friendly face in the audience."

Geralt isn't sure anyone has ever described his face as friendly, but he doesn't comment. He stuffs more bread into his mouth and wonders how the hell he got himself into this situation.


*

"There's no curse on you, witcher," the sorceress says.

They ended up not finding help in Oxenfurt, but someone directed them to a sorceress living in a town half a day's ride away. But they hadn't left right away, choosing to remain in city long enough for Jaskier to compete. He'd looked so heart-broken at the thought of missing the competition that Geralt had given in and suggested that they'd stay. He told himself it was the curse making him relent so easily, making him want to please Jaskier. And another day or two wouldn't matter, not when being close to Jaskier was all it took for the curse to not affect him.

Except, apparently, Geralt isn't cursed.

"That can't be," he says.

The sorceress gives him a forced smile. "I know what I'm doing, witcher. You're not cursed. Neither of you are."

Geralt huffs and then his eyes fall onto Jaskier's hands. "What about the ring?" he asks.

Jaskier looks at him with wide eyes, bringing his hand to his chest and cupping the other protectively over it. "My ring isn't cursed," he argues.

The sorceress sighs and holds out her hand.

"Jaskier," Geralt prompts.

Jaskier frowns and, very reluctantly, pulls his ring off and hands it over to her. Geralt knows the answer before she even examines it, because his weird… feelings started before he bought it for Jaskier. Things haven't been adding up for quite a while now.

"It's just a ring," the sorceress says after a long moment.

"Ha," Jaskier says and snatches it back from her, putting the ring back around his finger. Somehow seeing it back where it belongs is a relief to Geralt as well.

The fact that he feels that way doesn't reassure him at all.

"Well, something is obviously wrong," he says. "I was in pain the farther we traveled apart."

The sorceress sighs. "I don't believe I can help you. Perhaps if you witchers guarded all your secrets less steadfastly and I knew more, I might," she says. "But I don't know what else to tell you. Whatever is going on with you, witcher, it's not magical."


*

"So, what do you want to do now?" Jaskier asks, walking closely next to Geralt as they head back to the small inn in town where they got a room. Jaskier didn't win the competition, but he played in a tavern in Oxenfurt after and made a decent amount of coin, enough to pay their way these past few days.

"Kaer Morhen."

"I don't know what that is?" Jaskier admits.

Geralt huffs, a little amused. "I guess they don't teach you about witchers at your fancy school, do they?" he asks. "It's the keep of the School of the Wolf. Home. If the sorceress is right and this is a witcher thing, then that's the best place to go for answers."

Jaskier hums and nods. "Alright, Kaer Morhen it is," he says and then adds more quietly, "It's not that bad, right?"

"Hmm."

"As long as we stick together, you're fine. And I'm not going anywhere, darling witcher."

For how long, Geralt wonders.


*

Geralt usually makes the trek up to Kaer Morhen at the beginning of winter and it's a lot easier now in early autumn when there's no snow and ice making the path more treacherous.

But it's still a long way up north and the path through the mountains to the keep is far from pleasant, especially not with a human as his companion. Geralt tells Jaskier to ride Roach for the trickiest passages, because Roach has walked this path several times and Geralt trusts her to get Jaskier to the keep safely.

"Is that it?" Jaskier asks when Kaer Morhen first comes into view, large and dark and looming, nestled into the mountains.

"Hmm," Geralt replies and feels a pang in his heart just at the sight, but it feels a little different this time.

Maybe because it's not winter and he knows Eskel and Lambert won't be there yet. Half of his pack will be missing. Or maybe it's because after long months on the path all by himself, Geralt always longs for the company of people he knows, people he trusts, but he hasn't been alone on the path this year.


*

Vesemir meets them in the courtyard, his curious gaze meeting Geralt's before he pulls him into a rough hug.

"I hadn't expected you back for another season," he says and then looks at Jaskier. His eyes linger and Geralt watches him sniff Jaskier's scent.

"This is Jaskier," he says.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Jaskier chimes in, just a little stilted.

Vesemir nods curtly and then gives Geralt a sharp look. "He smells like you," he says, not unkindly.

Geralt squares his shoulder and grunts. Of course Jaskier does. He's wearing one of Geralt's shirts right now, because he claimed all of his were too dirty, and he's also been riding Roach for most of the day and he hasn't had a bath to properly wash the traces Geralt has left behind on him off in days.

Geralt is secretly thrilled at that. Jaskier doesn't just smell of him, he reeks of him, their scents mingling and clinging to every pore on Jaskier's body.

He wonders if, once they've figured out what is going on, once they've fixed things, he will still feel that way. The thought that he maybe won't makes Geralt's chest ache just a little.

"Something's going on with me," he says. "I need your help."


*

Vesemir sits at the long table in the great hall across from them, a thoughtful look on his face.

"Not a curse," he says.

"That's what the sorceress said. It's not related to magic," Geralt says tensely.

Vesemir lets out a short hum and looks between them. Jaskier is sitting close, his side pressed against Geralt's.

"You checked he's human?"

"What? Of course I am!" Jaskier exclaims.

"He's human," Geralt confirms.

Jaskier huffs and crosses his arms over his chest, looking petulant. Geralt can't help the amused smile on his face. "Why does everyone seem to think I must have done something to you, huh?"

Vesemir is quiet for a moment and when Geralt looks at him, he sees his gaze is lingering somewhere below Jaskier's face.

"What's that mark on your neck?" Vesemir asks.

"What?" Jaskier asks and then shifts, letting out a nervous little laugh. He reaches for the collar of his shirt—Geralt's shirt—and tugs it up in a show of modesty that Geralt isn't used to from him. "Nothing. Geralt got a little excited, when, uh, well you know. Not sure this is the kind of thing you want to know details about."

Vesemir looks at Geralt. "You bit him?" he says. "While knotting him?"

"Uh, I'm really not a shy person, but our sex life is maybe something the man who basically raised you doesn't need to know about, Geralt," Jaskier says.

Geralt stares at Vesemir, his stomach dropping. "Why are you asking?"

Vesemir lets out a breath and runs a hand over his face. "Well, fuck."

"Vesemir," Geralt growls.

For a moment, Geralt thinks Vesemir will reprimand him, tell him off for using that tone with him, but then he just looks at Geralt with defeat. "I think you two are mated," he says.

"Mated," Geralt repeats, the word coming out in a hiss. "What do you mean we're mated?"

"The bite might have tied him to you," Vesemir explains. "Mated him."

"Oh, oh ho. What?" Jaskier says.

"What are you talking about?" Geralt asks through clenched teeth. Vesemir is clearly not joking, but he must be, because Geralt has never heard of such a thing. Never heard of a witcher tying themselves to someone like that.

"I always thought it was just a rumor. I heard about witchers of the School of Wolf being able to mate with someone, but I never took it seriously. No witcher I have known has done that."

"So you didn't think to tell us? Even if it was just a slight possibility, you should have warned us," Geralt snarls. "I mated Jaskier?"

"I will have to look into it," Vesemir says calmly. "But that's what it sounds like to me."

Geralt growls. "How do we undo it?"

"If the rumor is true, then you can't," Vesemir says with a wry look on his face. "Like wolves mate for life, so do we, apparently. Unlike with them, it just never really happens for us, so I dismissed it and didn't believe it to be true."

Geralt lets out another sound, low and angry, and slaps his fist onto the table. He couldn't have done that. He couldn't have. "I'm not mated," he snaps, but he knows deep inside that it's true.

Next to him Jaskier stiffens and then abruptly gets up. "Excuse me," he mumbles and Geralt can smell the sour notes of distress on him, can hear it in his voice, too.

Geralt wants to go after him, wants to soothe him, but he isn't sure that wouldn't just make things worse right now. He can't blame Jaskier for wanting space, for wanting to get away, even if everything inside of him is screaming to go take care of Jaskier.

His mate.

"Fuck. I need a drink," Geralt says sharply and gets up.


*

They brought their things up to his room before settling down with Vesemir to talk. Geralt half expects Jaskier to have gathered his things and found another room to stay in, far away from him.

But when he walks in, Jaskier is sitting in the middle of the big bed, knees drawn to his chest. He looks miserable, mouth turned down and eyes suspiciously red. He doesn't say a word, eyes silently tracking Geralt.

Jaskier's silence makes Geralt feel helpless, caged. He's not used to it and he realizes he doesn't want it either. He'd rather listen to Jaskier babble or rant or sing.

Feeling restless and not sure what to say, Geralt paces. He picks up things, places them back down somewhere else, his movements curt and stiff.

"I'm sorry."

The words, spoken softly, make Geralt stop. He turns around. Jaskier's gaze is downcast, hair shielding his eyes further from Geralt's view, and he's picking at his nails. Nervous and upset and so fucking sad, the sour, bitter scents hanging in their air heavily.

"You didn't do anything wrong," Geralt says gruffly.

Jaskier snorts quietly. "No. But now you're stuck with me regardless and you don't want me," he says and finally looks up. "So I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry there's apparently no way out of this for you and gods, you must resent me."

Geralt walks over to the bed, hesitating for a moment before sitting down. "Why would I?"

"Were you not listening?" Jaskier asks. He looks down again, at his hands, and Geralt watches him pull the ring he gave him off and twist it around his fingers.

His mate, he thinks. The word feels foreign, but the concept feels right. He was taught to be alone and it makes no sense for witchers to mate like wild wolves, to tie themselves to one person for life and need them. But they can and he did and Geralt hates that he did and yet feels like it's too good to be true.

He wasn't supposed to ever have something like this, not even for a little while.

"I did this," he finally says.

Jaskier's shoulders slump even more. "You didn't know."

"You knew even less," Geralt replies and reaches out, unable to keep himself from touching Jaskier any longer. He curls his hand around Jaskier's wrist and some of the tension inside of him eases as he touches warm, soft skin. "But you're not bound to me. This doesn't have to affect you."

Jaskier looks up, eyes wide before they narrow. "Are you kidding me? I might not be in physical pain if we parted, but that doesn't mean I could leave. I could never do that to you," he says. "And if you don't know that, then you really don't know me as well as I thought you did by now, witcher. I would not abandon you when you need me."

"You're young, Jaskier. I can't trap you in my life," Geralt says. "You deserve better."

"Oh, well, screw you. I chose this when I started following you. When I refused to leave. When I willingly shared your bed, over and over," Jaskier says with a huff.

"You wanted adventure and material for your songs," Geralt replies.

"I do want those things," Jaskier says, looking at Geralt. "But I also wanted you. I still do."

"Jaskier," Geralt murmurs.

"These past few months have been the best of my life," Jaskier continues. "Yes, my feet constantly hurt and this whole living on the road and sleeping outside thing is dirtier than I care for. I would love a hot bath at the end of each day and an abundance of fine clothes and expensive wine. But the thought of staying in one life is utterly boring to me. It's depressing. I've never been this inspired and I've seen more of the continent than most people can even dream of and I like sitting around a campfire with you after a long day and sharing your bedroll. You're a stoic, frustrating brute, Geralt of Rivia, but I enjoy your company."

"Hmm."

"And you think that is a proper way to respond to people and have a conversation. Gods," Jaskier exclaims, looking exasperated. Then he softens a little. "I understand you didn't choose this… this mating thing. But I'm a little upset that you hate it so much you want it gone again, my dear. I can't help it. Because I don't dislike the thought of being bound to you. I'm sorry."

Geralt lifts his hand from Jaskier's wrist and reaches for the collar of his shirt instead. Pushing the fabric aside, he trails his fingers over the scar his bite left behind. "I didn't not choose this."

"What?"

Geralt rubs his thumb over his mark more firmly. "I've had my share of dalliances. I've knotted people before," he says. "I've never bitten anyone. I've never even thought about it."

"It was an accident," Jaskier reasons, sounding sad.

"One thing witchers have is control, Jaskier. I rarely lose it," Geralt says. "I did with you and I didn't even notice. It was… instinctual."

"Instinctual," Jaskier repeats. "Geralt, are you saying your instincts picked me?"

Geralt makes a face. "Don't make it sound like that," he says.

"Like what?" Jaskier teases.

"Like one of your ridiculous ballads."

"But, Geralt, you just said—" Jaskier starts and Geralt cuts him off with a kiss. He buries his fingers in Jaskier's hair, nips at Jaskier's bottom lip and groans in appreciation when Jaskier parts his mouth, letting him slip his tongue in.

"Geralt, you—" Jaskier starts again when they break apart.

Geralt lets out a quiet growl and silences Jaskier with another kiss, this time guiding Jaskier down onto the mattress.


*

Geralt watches Jaskier's eyes dip down to his mouth. His own is puffy and pink from kissing, his cheeks rosy. Geralt lets out a quiet rumble and leans in, intending to steal another kiss. Jaskier's hand on his hand stops him.

"I'm not letting you distract me again."

"Worked once," Geralt murmurs, trying again.

Jaskier leans back, out of the way. Geralt sighs and lies back.

"More talking?" he guesses, his voice tight.

"As much as I'd rather do something else," Jaskier admits, putting a hand on Geralt's chest again, sliding it up to his shoulder. "I hate the thought of you being unhappy. Of your wishing there was a way out of this. I don't… I don't want to be unwanted, Geralt."

His voice sounds raw at the end and Geralt hates it.

"You're not," he says quietly.

Jaskier sighs and shifts closer. "No?"

"I'm not supposed to have this," Geralt says.

"Ah, yes. You're supposed to be alone and only rely on yourself and not let pesky things like feelings get in the way," Jaskier says. "Only that's bullshit, dear. The fact that witchers can apparently tie themselves to a companion means you're actually absolutely supposed to have this. You're supposed to find someone you want to share this life with and be with them."

"It's not that easy," Geralt replies, but he can't really argue with what Jaskier said. He thought he had it all figured out, knew the path he was supposed to take. Maybe he didn't.

"It can be."

"What if you get hurt?" Geralt asks.

"Then it won't be your fault. It'll be mine because I chose this life," Jaskier says. "And it's been working out quite well so far, hasn't it? It hasn't been bad."

Geralt slips an arm around Jaskier and tugs him in. "No," he admits.

"So why can't it keep being not bad, huh? Nothing has really changed, darling, except now we have information we didn't have before," Jaskier says. "I was going to follow you regardless."

Geralt hums. He buries his nose in Jaskier's hair and breathes in the familiar scent, the sweet, clean smell that never fails to make something inside of him unravel. "I never had much to lose," he says.

"Then you've never been happy before, dear," Jaskier murmurs. "But fret not, I have no intention of letting you lose me."

"What if I can't keep you safe?"

"You have. You will," Jaskier says. "And I'm not weak. I can take care of myself."

Geralt lets out a quiet grumble.

"Oh shush, I know. I get into a tiny bit of trouble sometimes," Jaskier mutters. "But I'm always alright. I'm not an idiot, I know how to get myself out of a sticky situation quite well. Stop worrying about little old me."

"I can't," Geralt says and huffs. "How do you do that, huh? You make me feel things."

Jaskier tips his head back and looks up at Geralt, smiling. "I don't think that's a bad thing."

"You wouldn't," Geralt snarks.

"You'll get used to it," Jaskier says, a little amused. "Not like I'm going anywhere."

"No, you're not," Geralt agrees.

Jaskier's smile gets wider and he leans in, brushes their lips together. "Okay. We've talked. Now you can distract me again, witcher."


*

"We should train you," Vesemir says over breakfast the next morning, looking at Jaskier.

There's a moment of silence before Jaskier seems to realize Vesemir is addressing him. He looks up from his bowl of porridge, his eyes a little wide.

"Oh. Well, I already am. A trained musician, you see," he says. "I'm Geralt's bard. It's been working out quite nicely for us. Hasn't it, dear?"

Geralt grimaces.

"What have you been doing all this time, not teaching him anything while taking him on the road with you?" Vesemir asks Geralt, his tone disappointed.

"Well, mostly he's been doing m—"

Geralt kicks Jaskier under the table.

Jaskier yelps. "Witchery things. Lots and lots of witchery things," he amends. "Been quite busy."

Vesemir sighs. "You will need to know how to fight if you will accompany Geralt on the path, bard," he says.

"Well, I'm not much of a fighter. I prefer verbal sparring," Jaskier says.

Vesemir gives Jaskier a look. "I don't think monsters will care much about your witty words, bard," he says firmly. "And if you can't keep yourself safe, you will be a distraction to Geralt."

Jaskier slumps a little. "Alright, fine."

"Good. Geralt will train you then. And I think some basic knowledge of alchemy wouldn't hurt."

"Alchemy?" Jaskier repeats and perks up, sudden interest clear on his face. "That I am quite amenable to."

"He means helping me gather ingredients and telling my potions apart," Geralt says and gives Vesemir a quick pointed look, though he has a hard time biting back an amused smile. "He's already enough trouble. Please don't make it worse."

"Hey," Jaskier protests.

"Jaskier," Geralt says.

"Oh, you get into a few heated arguments with people and suddenly you're trouble," Jaskier complains.

"Hmm," Geralt says and pushes his empty bowl to the side. "You are. Which is exactly why you need training. Some sword training, perhaps a dagger. Some self-defense."

"Gonna make a witcher out of me?" Jaskier teases.

The words make Geralt's stomach drop; just the thought of Jaskier going through what he went through hurts.

"Never," he murmurs and curls his hands into fists. Jaskier's hand coming to rest on his arm, squeezing gently, makes him relax.


*

They don't discuss it, but after the first few days it becomes clear to Geralt that he isn't going to go back on the path until winter has passed. Autumn has already set in and there's no use in leaving Kaer Morhen only to come back a few short weeks later.

There's too much to do, anyway. Geralt drags Jaskier out of bed early every morning to train with him. Despite Jaskier's complaints that they could sleep in and train later, Geralt likes keeping up his usual routine and not getting lazy. Training with Jaskier isn't what he expected. It's nothing like with Eskel or Lambert, but Jaskier is better than he thought he'd be. He has trouble with the sword, complaining about the weight and the movements, but he's good with a dagger. Teaching Jaskier self-defense goes well, too—Jaskier is smart and what he lacks in body strength he makes up for by being wiley and quick on his feet. And he fights dirty. Once he realizes Geralt isn't going to go easy on him, he resorts to every trick he knows to fight back, scratching and biting and kicking when he runs out of other options. Geralt can work with that and he teaches Jaskier how to use those things to his advantage, how to cause the most damage with what he can do and, more importantly, how to get away and keep himself safe more than anything.

He also makes Jaskier study bestiaries, going over the most common monsters and what Jaskier's best chances are if he ever encounters them and Geralt isn't around to save him. He hopes it never comes to that, but he wants to cover his bases. Jaskier is more than happy to read up on beasts and monsters and riddle Geralt with questions about what he has fought and what it has been like, and Geralt knows it's probably more to do with the fact that it gives him fodder for new songs, but as long as the important information sticks, he's fine with that.

Vesemir takes over teaching Jaskier about alchemy and he seems pleased with him as well.

It's easy to underestimate Jaskier. Geralt did at first, until they were tied together in a cave by elves and Jaskier didn't cry or cower; he spit out angry words and struggled and tried to use words to defend them—even if he just ended up provoking Toruviel. The bright clothes and cheerful words and bawdy songs are—purposefully, Geralt supposes—misleading.

Geralt also spends a lot of time over the next few weeks in the library, thumbing through old tomes and trying to find out anything he can about Wolf School witchers' ability to mate. There isn't much; too many things were lost over the centuries and a lot was destroyed in the sacking of Kaer Morhen. Whatever witchers once knew about mating, it has become a secret like so many things and Geralt is left stabbing in the dark.

"Never took you for the studious kind," Jaskier remarks one day, sitting in the library across from him. He joins Geralt sometimes, usually getting lost in whatever book he picks up first. Eager to learn about witchers more than mating, Geralt guesses.

Geralt sighs and looks up from the tome he's been studying. "Whatever information we find on this, it can't hurt. I'm trying to find out anything I can."

Jaskier replies and sighs, leaning forward. "What else do you think there is?"

"I don't know."

"Vesemir thinks it might have changed me, too. Or will, in the long run," Jaskier says, almost off-handedly. Like it's not a big deal.

If Geralt hadn't secretly been thinking the same thing, he would be mad that Vesemir hadn't shared that suspicion with him. But he hasn't voiced it either, trying to find something in these many—useless—books first because he has no proof, either. Other than that life has taught him to always expect the worst and things rarely run smoothly.

Jaskier has been fine. Has been himself. But Geralt worries that his bite will have consequences for Jaskier as well, more than it already has.

"You think so too," Jaskier guesses when Geralt stays silent for a while. He hums thoughtfully and reaches across the table, fingers trailing down Geralt's hand almost absently.

"You aren't bothered," Geralt notes.

Jaskier cocks his head to the side a little, lips pursed as he considers. "No, not really," he says. "Darling, I doubt being your mate will suddenly make me keel over dead. I mean, what would be the use of that? If anything, it would make sense if being mated to a witcher would make me able to endure more. To be able to share this life with you."

"Maybe I wasn't supposed to do this with a human," Geralt points out.

Jaskier hums and then shrugs. "If you picked me instinctually, like you think you did, then I don't think that's true," he says.

He sounds so sure and Geralt hopes Jaskier is right.


*

"You let me sleep in," Jaskier says, his voice sleepy and content.

Geralt heard the shuffling of his feet long before Jaskier found his way into the kitchen, where Geralt is cooking porridge.

He turns to glance at Jaskier and his chest warms at the sight. His hair is a mess and there are lines from the pillow across his left cheek and he has a fur wrapped around his shoulders, clutched together at his neck.

"It's not that cold," he says good-naturedly.

"Oh, but it is, my darling witcher," Jaskier says and shuffles closer.

"Jaskier, it's not even winter yet. It's going to get a lot colder."

Jaskier leans against his back, resting his chin on Geralt's shoulder. "Luckily, I have a witcher to keep me warm," he says. "And I will spend the entire winter in bed under a mountain of furs and blankets."

Geralt snorts and stirs the bubbling porridge.

"So, why did you?" Jaskier prompts.

"Hmm?"

"Let me sleep in," Jaskier says. "Usually you make me get up at dawn to train. I should already have, oh, six or seven new bruises on my body by now."

"Hardly."

"Oh, alright. The bruises on me aren't all from training," Jaskier teases. "You still haven't answered my question."

"I thought you'd be happy to get some more sleep," Geralt replies.

"I am. It was a very late night after all," Jaskier says, voice pitched low. Heat stirs in Geralt's gut.

"Get some bowls for us," he says, trying to ignore Jaskier's teasing.

Jaskier huffs a laugh. "Alright," he says.

"Vesemir left this morning," Geralt explains when Jaskier puts the wooden bowls down. He starts spooning porridge into both of them.

"The supply run he mentioned a few days ago?"

"Yes. Winter will set in soon and the trail to the keep will become impassable," Geralt says. "If Eskel and Lambert are coming to Kaer Morhen for winter they'll arrive in the next week or two as well, no doubt."

Jaskier makes a thoughtful noise. Geralt drizzles a little honey over both of their portions of oatmeal—something he rarely gets to indulge in, even here in Kaer Morhen.

They sit down at the table in the kitchen, close to the hearth, rather than in the great hall, which Geralt thinks always feels empty and too big when it's just one or two witchers in the keep.

"So, Vesemir leaves and all your strict discipline goes out the window, huh, witcher?" Jaskier asks and tsks. He shovels a spoonful of porridge into his mouth and smirks. He's let go of the fur and it's slipped down around his lap, the chemise he's wearing untied and hanging off one shoulder.

If Geralt had less self-control, he would round the table and have his way with Jaskier right here.

He clears his throat. "No training with Vesemir today, so I thought we might take it easy as well. Just for today."

Jaskier dips his spoon into the honey pooled on top of his porridge and brings it up to his mouth, licking it clean while looking at Geralt. "And what did you have in mind for today instead, my darling witcher?"

Watching him makes Geralt's stomach tighten. "You're playing with fire, bardling," he warns.

Jaskier smiles sweetly. "Am I?" he asks.

"Eat," Geralt says. "You'll need the energy."

"Oh, I have energy in spades, my dear," Jaskier says airily. "But you better make sure you can keep up with me in your old age. You have a lot to make up for, making me wake up all alone in an empty bed this morning."


*

It's almost too warm in front of the fire, their naked skin sweaty and heated. Jaskier has strands of hair sticking to his forehead, his skin glistening with a sheen of sweat and cheeks flushed pink.

"Oh. Oh," he moans, head tossed back and fingers digging into Geralt's shoulders as he moves up and down on Geralt's lap.

Geralt grunts and kisses down the long column of Jaskier's neck. He stops at his mark, runs his tongue over the raised scar and then sucks on it.

Jaskier moans and his movements stutter. Geralt grips Jaskier's hips more firmly and rocks up into him.

"Geralt. So good. Fuck, you always feel so good," he says. "Darling."

Geralt hums against his skin, bites at his neck and thrusts up harder. Jaskier arches and cries out. The chair under them creaks and the fur sticks to Geralt's naked skin, scratchy and ticklish.

If anyone had told Geralt he would ever have this, he would have laughed. But now he can't imagine ever spending his winters any other way again, without having Jaskier here in Kaer Morhen with him. Having him on his lap, naked and beautiful, being buried deep in his tight heat.

"Mate," he murmurs, kissing Jaskier's mark, nuzzling it as he keeps rocking up into Jaskier, pleasure coiling tight in his belly.

Jaskier mewls, trembling in his lap.

Geralt sighs and runs his nose up Jaskier's neck, drops kisses to heated, damp skin, tastes the traces of salt.

"My mate," he repeats, lips brushing against Jaskier's ear.

Jaskier's nails press into his skin and he cries. Hot come splashes against Geralt's stomach and Jaskier trembles, but he doesn't stop moving, keeps riding Geralt even when his movements get sloppy and slower.

Geralt groans lowly, smelling the salty, sharp scent of Jaskier's release mix with the warm sweetness of his arousal. He slips his arms around Jaskier, holds him closer with his hands spread on his back, and ruts up into Jaskier with barely there thrusts.

"Jaskier," he murmurs. He feels his knot start to swell, feels it press against Jaskier's hole.

"Fuck. Yes. Please, please," Jaskier begs. "Please, give me your knot, darling. I need it so bad."

Geralt grunts. It takes a few more thrusts and then he grips Jaskier's hips, pulls him down as he presses up and his knot catches and sinks in. They both moan.

"Jaskier," Geralt groans. "Fuck."

His knot keeps swelling further, locking in place, and it only takes a few more halted rolls of his hips, pleasure rising, spilling over as he comes, panting harshly. Jaskier whimpers and Geralt feels it when he comes again, the sticky wetness between their bellies, the way he tightens around Geralt.

Geralt holds him to his chest, feels Jaskier shudder, little tremors going through him. Geralt is still moving, but gently now, enjoying the feeling of being buried in Jaskier's tight heat, the pull on his knot as he moves. He hums, kisses Jaskier's throat, his jaw.

"Good?" he checks.

Jaskier makes a slurred noise, nodding, his head dropped down on Geralt's shoulder. "So good. The best, dear heart," he mumbles.


*

The hot water feels sinfully good, loosening Geralt's muscles. He sinks further down in the large tub.

Across from him, Jaskier sighs and smiles, looking sleepy and sated. He lifts a leg, water dripping down skin as he plants his foot against Geralt's chest, toes brushing against his clavicle.

"What are you doing?"

Jaskier's smile gets a little wider. "You were making no move to start washing me, so I thought I could give you a little push, dear."

"You think I'm washing you?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier makes a humming sound. "I sing your praises all across the continent and you get to knot me. You get my talent and my, frankly, marvelous ass," he says. "It's the least you can do."

"I think you get as much out of that as I do," Geralt mutters, but he picks up the soap.

"Ah, you admit you get a lot out of my singing?" Jaskier grins.

Geralt gives him a look and curls his hand around Jaskier's foot. He lifts it, lets his thumb run over the insole and Jaskier twitches and laughs.

"You're a brat," Geralt says.

"Yes. Your bratty mate," Jaskier says pointedly, sounding way too pleased.

Geralt growls low in his throat. He lets go of Jaskier's foot and dips both of his hands along with the soap into the water, wetting it, before bringing it back up to start working up a lather.

"Come here and turn around," he says.

"Yes, darling," Jaskier says. He moves closer, turning around and settling between Geralt's legs, his movements graceful, yet he still makes water slosh over the edges. Geralt sighs. He drops the soap onto the little stool sitting next to the tub and puts his hands on Jaskier's shoulders, covering them in suds.

"You think they'll like me?" Jaskier says after a few moments, breaking the silence. His voice is quiet, thoughtful. Almost nervous.

"Who?"

"Your brothers? Uh, Eskel and Lambert, right?"

"Yes, Eskel and Lambert."

"Are there any other witchers who might come?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt sighs, moving his hands down Jaskier's arms. "There are some from other schools that sometimes show up, but usually it's just us four."

Five now, he mentally adds, and it makes him smile.

"So," Jaskier says. His hands settle on Geralt's knees, squeezing. "Will they like me, you think? I grew on you awfully quick. And Vesemir seems to like me. Right?"

"Does it matter?"

"They're your family. One would think that yes, yes, it does," Jaskier says. "Do you know how many banquets I've attended where families spent most of the time snidely making comments about each other, trying to politely belittle each other? I mean, dinners with my family alone. My father's family did not like my mother and let me tell you, the sheer amount of pettiness was astonishing. But then again, my parents did not like each other very much either. Or me."

"Jaskier," Geralt murmurs, amused.

"Yes?"

"They will like you just fine," Geralt assures him. "Lambert is a prick and he will insult you and make an ass out of himself, but don't take it to heart. It's his way of showing he cares."

"And Eskel?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt hums and slips his arms around Jaskier's middle, pulling him back against his chest. "You will like him. Probably more than me."

"You are an oaf," Jaskier agrees and turns his face, kissing Geralt's cheek. "This is nice, huh?"

"The bath?"

"That too. All of it," Jaskier says. "I like Kaer Morhen."

"It's dark and crumbling and cold," Geralt says with a snort. "Hardly comparable to the kind of places a little noble like you is probably used to."

Jaskier huffs. "Not in years. And my family are minor nobility," he says. "And sometimes the brightest, most lavish manor can be the coldest, most loveless place on the continent."

"No one would ever say Kaer Morhen isn't both of these things as well."

"I guess I'm different," Jaskier quips.

"I guess you are," Geralt agrees.


*

Lambert and Eskel arrive within days of each other, a week after Vesemir returns. If Geralt couldn't smell it on him, he probably wouldn't guess Jaskier is nervous. He holds himself perfectly straight and smiles, looking happy and at ease when Lambert steps into the great hall, dripping wet from the rain and looking none too happy.

Lambert takes one look at Jaskier and says, "Who the fuck is that?" He wrinkles his nose as he steps closer. "He smells like a whorehouse."

Jaskier sputters. "I do not! How dare you!"

Lambert looks at Geralt, mouth twisted in a small smirk, and then back at Jaskier. "You smell like you doused yourself in oils. And Geralt."

"Well, one of those things is true," Jaskier says with a sniff. "Geralt likes to make me smell like him and who am I to deny my dear witcher anything? And I can't say I mind his enthusiasm."

"Jaskier," Geralt grunts.

Lambert's grin stretches wider. "Oh, I like him," he says. "I'd still like to know who the fuck he is though?"

"Jaskier," Jaskier says and takes a little bow. "Bard extraordinaire, friend of all witchers and Geralt's mate."

"Geralt's what now?" Lambert asks.

"Long story," Geralt says.

Jaskier shifts closer to Geralt's side. "But to make it short," he starts and waves his hand in the direction of Lambert's crotch. "Don't do your witchery knot thing and bite someone at the same time. Apparently you bind yourself to them forever. Who knew? Well, not Geralt, it turns out. So here we are."

Lambert looks back and forth between them before settling on Geralt, pointing a finger at him. "I need a drink. And then details," he says and mutters, "What the fuck?"

When Eskel arrives a few days later and spies Jaskier playing Gwent with Geralt and Lambert, he looks puzzled. "We have a guest this year?"

"That's Geralt's husband," Lambert calls.

"Mate," Geralt grunts.

Lambert snorts. "I'm pretty sure that's worse than a husband," he deadpans.

"Either way, I'm a delight," Jaskier cuts in and smiles. "It's lovely to meet you. Eskel, I presume? Geralt has told me a lot about you."

Lambert makes a face. "Delight? Eh," he says. "But you do have Geralt by the balls, so that's kinda amusing."

Eskel glances between them all, looking both puzzled and a little worried. Geralt isn't surprised. Lambert rolls with the punches, because he always expects the worst, and he never takes things seriously because that's his way of keeping them from affecting him. Eskel is more serious, more sensitive.

"Explain," Eskel says, sitting down.

Jaskier touches Geralt's shoulder, smiling gently. "I'll get the drinks," he says. "I'm starting to understand how things work around here."

Geralt snorts and briefly watches Jaskier walk away.

"Mate," Eskel says. "As in… mate. Like fucking wolves?"

"Yes," Geralt says.

"Well, fuck," Eskel mutters, looking flabbergasted and a little scared.

"Some warning that that could happen would have been fucking nice, huh?" Lambert asks.

"No shit," Eskel says and looks at Geralt, studying him for a moment. "Huh. You don't look unhappy."

"He's—" Geralt says and flounders, not sure how to explain it. How to explain Jaskier and the way he feels, the protectiveness and need and fondness. The calmness when Jaskier is near, when Jaskier is happy.

"Your mate," Eskel concludes, smiling a little.

Geralt nods.

His mate. There are no words for what that means.


*

Things feel more settled with Eskel and Lambert around. Kaer Morhen never feels quite right to Geralt when they're not there, the large keep too silent and empty. They fight and bicker and Geralt wants to punch Lambert in the face on pretty much a daily basis, but he appreciates the camaraderie. They're his pack. And he's glad to see them get along with Jaskier, too. Like he predicted, Jaskier likes Eskel. To his surprise, Jaskier doesn't seem any less fond of Lambert, even if they spend more time than not trading insults back and forth.

It sometimes makes him grit his teeth, listening to the things Lambert says to Jaskier, the names he calls him, but Jaskier seems to think it's funny and gives as good as he gets.

"Not a trace of fear on him," Lambert says to him one day, sounding a little awed, as he watches Jaskier spar with Eskel in the courtyard. "Is that a mate thing? Humans always fear us."

Geralt grunts. "No, that's just a Jaskier thing," he says. "Was that way even before the whole… mating."

Lambert looks a little put-out and huffs. "Fuck you, Geralt. Always have to be better than the rest of us, huh? Go through the damn trials twice, be stronger and better and faster. And of course you had to find the one human not scared of witchers and then fucking mate him," he complains and punches Geralt in the arm. "And he's godsdamned pretty, too. I mean, look at your little bardling."

His eyes slide down Jaskier's body, gaze settling on his ass not at all subtly. Geralt growls in warning and Eskel, who clearly heard them, sends Lambert a warning look over Jaskier's shoulder.

"What? Can't share with your brethren?"

"I'll run you through with my sword before I share you with him," Geralt snarls. "Jaskier."

Jaskier stops and turns. "Yes, dear heart?"

"Training's over."

"We just started," Jaskier argues.

"Training's over," Geralt repeats. "Bedroom. Now."

Jaskier's grin lights up his face. "You should have started with that, darling," he says and looks at Eskel. "Sorry, Eskel. I'm needed elsewhere."

He waves and then follows Geralt inside. Geralt makes sure that, by the time they meet for dinner in the great hall, every last inch of Jaskier smells of him and there are a couple of not so subtle bruises on the slope of his neck.

Both Lambert and Eskel look amused, while Vesemir looks exasperated. Geralt is too damn pleased with Jaskier wearing his marks and being so obviously claimed by him to care. They'd understand, if they had a mate as well. The need he feels, to claim, to own, to keep Jaskier his.


*

When Geralt hears Jaskier's cry, he rushes up the stairs and down the dark, stone hallway to their room. He bursts in, eyes assessing the situation, looking for danger.

Jaskier is standing by the hearth, stomping on a blanket. The room smells sharply like fire, burning fur.

"Did you set our room on fire?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier looks at him, eyes wide and face pale. He smells scared.

"Jaskier?"

Geralt has seen Jaskier face monsters and witchers, has seen him getting into fights in taverns and having to fend off unwanted attention. He's never scented that sharp, acidic scent coming off him that strongly.

Geralt steps closer, opens his arms to pull Jaskier in, and Jaskier sags against him. He tucks his face into Geralt's neck, hugs him back, clings to him.

He's terrified.

"Jaskier," he murmurs, looking down at the singed blanket that he clearly used to put out flames underneath, where Geralt knows a thick fur is. "Hey, it was just a little fire, right?"

Jaskier stiffens.

Something isn't right. Geralt slides his hand down Jaskier's back, then up again, trying to soothe. "Tell me what happened."

"I did something," Jaskier mumbles into his neck, his shoulders tensing despite Geralt's careful touch.

"Did what? Nothing happened," Geralt reassures. "Lambert sets things on fire and blows things up all the time."

Jaskier draws back, looks up at him with eyes that are still too wide and too worried. "Geralt. I don't know what… I was sitting on the bed, composing, and the fire was starting to fizzle out. I think I didn't stack the wood correctly," he says and gives a self-deprecating laugh.

Geralt hums, listening.

"I didn't feel like getting up. I thought… well, I was just messing around. I did the sign thing," Jaskier says. "The way you do it, you know? I've seen you use it so many times. I didn't think… I was just being stupid."

"You used Igni?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier nods. "I guess Vesemir was right about me changing as well," he says.

"I did this," Geralt concludes, his chest feeling too tight suddenly. He's the reason Jaskier is scared. He's the reason Jaskier is changing.


*

"So is he becoming a witcher or what?" Lambert asks. They're all gathered around the table in the great hall, a big fire crackling and keeping the room warm, a tankard of ale in front of each of them.

Geralt glares at him across the table, his hand squeezing Jaskier's thigh in reassurance.

"I think it's a fair question," Jaskier says.

"Well, I doubt that's what's happening. The process of becoming a witcher is complicated. If a simple mating could change someone that way, we would know. It would have changed how witchers are made a long time ago," Vesemir says, shaking his head. "You seem healthy. Fine."

"He used a sign," Geralt points out, voice low. "That's not fine."

Jaskier leans into his side, his hand finding Geralt's under the table. A silent show of comfort. Using Igni might have scared him, but he still isn't scared of Geralt, isn't pulling away. Geralt isn't sure he deserves that.

"We'll test how you fare with other signs. Maybe some other magic," Vesemir says, looking at Jaskier assessingly. "My best guess is that you have no more magic than witchers do. Probably less. It would make sense for this to be a defense mechanism. You're a witcher's mate, my best guess is that you're changing in a way to ensure you're able to survive a witcher's life."

"You're guessing," Geralt interjects. "It could be something else."

"Geralt," Vesemir says, and there's a soft tone to his stern voice. "Jaskier is fine. I've seen enough boys go through the trials; this is not like that."

"I really am fine, darling," Jaskier murmurs, looking at him beseechingly. "It took me by surprise, that's all. But nothing happened… well, I might need some practice to get a better aim, so I don't accidentally burn this entire place down. But that's neither here nor there right now."

Geralt nods curtly. "What about the mating," he prompts, holding himself stiffly. It's been on his mind since earlier, the thought not leaving him alone.

"What about it?"

"Could that have been dangerous for him?" Geralt asks, knowing that Vesemir can't know the answer, but hoping to get reassurance anyway. "You know how many boys don't make it through the trials. Could it have been the same with mating?"

Vesemir opens his mouth to reply, but Jaskier cuts in before he can. "Instincts," he says. He's turned towards Geralt, his voice insistent. "You said that's what made you bite me. Made you choose this. So trust your instincts, dear heart. You knew it was right. That I was right for you."

Geralt looks at him, Jaskier's expression so open and earnest. He believes that and Geralt wants to believe it too. "You think it's, what, destiny? Destiny is bullshit, Jaskier." Jaskier rolls his eyes. "I think nobody else could put up with your sour moods and questionable hygiene and horrid communication skills," he replies. "That's why I'm right for you. So stop brooding. We will never know anyway. I'm here, I'm fine. The rest doesn't matter."

Geralt wishes it was that easy.

"You didn't know," Jaskier adds more quietly.

"He's right, Geralt," Eskel, who has stayed silent until now, says. "You didn't know you were even doing it. No sense in beating yourself up over it. He's fine."

"You don't understand," Geralt growls and Jaskier curls his free hand around his arm.

Eskel looks at the place where Jaskier is touching him pointedly and gives a twisted smile. "You're right, I don't. And don't tell me I'm the lucky one," he says. He gets up. "More ale?"

"Are you witchers capable of having a serious conversation without getting in your cups?" Jaskier asks, his tone amused. Geralt knows he's trying to lighten the mood and he can't say he doesn't appreciate it.

"I've seen you drunk more times than I can count."

"Okay, one, given that we've only known each other for three seasons that would mean you can't count very high, dear. But don't worry, I can teach you. We can work on your penmanship as well, gods know it's barely legible," Jaskier replies saucily. "And two, unlike you lot, I know how to have a good time. When I drink, it's to have fun, not drown my sorrows. You somehow just get more broody."

"Some of us," Lambert agrees and pointedly looks at Geralt.

Geralt snarls at him. "I have reasons to worry."

"Do you?" Jaskier says. "Because I'm right here. Whole and healthy. Now with the added bonus of a little magic. Which, dear, I will totally abuse many, many times. Oh, no more lukewarm baths. A little Igni when someone pisses me off would surely work wonders too."

"Jaskier," Geralt says, fondness mixing with exasperation. "That's not what this is for."

Jaskier grins a little. "Oh, for you. But I'm not a witcher and I don't have to follow witcher rules."

Vesemir clears his throat.

"But I will," Jaskier quickly says and smiles sweetly at Vesemir. "I will be on my best behavior."

Lambert snorts.

"I think my instincts were off when I bit you," Geralt mutters, the corner of his lips twitching up.


*

"It's not happening," Jaskier snaps, sounding frustrated.

Geralt has been trying to teach Jaskier how to use Quen all morning. Jaskier was excited to start out with, but that fizzled out quickly the longer they tried and nothing happened.

"It takes practice," Geralt says. "Try again."

"I'm sick of trying," Jaskier complains and runs a hand over his face. His shoulders slump. "Sorry, I'm just tired. This is harder than the fighting and the alchemy. I thought… with Igni it just happened. I thought it'd be easier."

"It's not," Geralt says and rests a hand on Jaskier's shoulder. "Magic is tricky. You need to learn to control it, Jaskier. But it takes time."

"What if I can't do it?" Jaskier asks quietly.

"You almost burned our room down," Geralt reminds him.

Jaskier scoffs. "Just the fur in front of the fire," he argues. "And it was an accident. Maybe I'm just not good at this."

"Then we keep practicing until you are," Geralt says. "Maybe Eskel is better suited to do this with you. He has a knack for magic."

Jaskier blows sweaty bangs out of his face and frowns. "I want you to do it," he says. "But maybe Eskel can help?"

"We'll ask him over dinner," Geralt suggests. "Until then, let's keep going."

"Until dinner?" Jaskier asks, clearly dismayed.

Geralt sighs and steps closer. He brushes sweat-damp hair off Jaskier's forehead. "We'll take a long break for lunch. Then come back here to try again."

"Until dinner," Jaskier repeats, a grumble this time.

"Maybe we can squeeze in a bath before dinner," Geralt concedes.

Jaskier sighs loudly but then he squares his shoulders. "Alright, fine," he says and steps back, rolling up the sleeves of his chemise. "Let's try again."


*

It takes Jaskier several days to get it right, but when he does, his wide, proud smile is worth the long hours. Until Geralt nods and tells him they will move on to the next sign then.

"You're ruthless," he says and turns to Eskel, who has been practicing with them. "Don't you think I deserve a reward, Eskel, dear? A few days off."

"I'm not getting involved," Eskel says with an amused smile, shaking his head.

Jaskier throws his hands up. "You're awful, the whole lot of you," he says, but then he stubbornly lifts his chin. "Fine. What's the next sign, Geralt?"


*

"Maybe you're working him too hard," Eskel concedes a few days later.

It's not late, but Jaskier fell asleep shortly after dinner, his head cushioned on his folded arms on top of the table in the great hall.

Geralt feels a twinge of guilt, but he pushes it down. "If he's going to share the path with me, he needs to be prepared."

"He's already been sharing the path with you," Lambert says.

"It's for his own safety," Vesemir says firmly and gives Geralt a nod. "Jaskier needs to be able to protect himself."

Geralt grunts in agreement.

"But he is just a human," Vesemir adds.

"Vesemir."

"I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong. He needs to be able to control the magic he has, or he could end up posing a danger to both of you," Vesemir says. "But he's tougher than I expected. He's made a lot of progress since you came here. I think a day or two of rest wouldn't hurt."

"I just want him safe," Geralt admits, looking at Jaskier. His face is relaxed, mouth parted a little. There's a blanket draped over him that Lambert got for him. He tossed it at Geralt silently and then grumbled under his breath about humans being too sensitive and vulnerable. But Geralt knew what he meant—he cares. They all do. Jaskier belongs here as much as any of them do now. And they all want what's best for him.

"Maybe a small break won't hurt," he concedes.


*

Jaskier presses close and tucks his head under Geralt's chin, sighing contentedly. Under the furs and blankets, their legs are tangled, Jaskier's arm curled around Geralt's waist.

It's midday, but the heavy clouds outside are so dark you wouldn't know. Wind is howling around the keep, a mixture of snow and rain coming down heavily.

For once, Geralt didn't make them get up early. Instead he woke Jaskier up with soft kisses and slowly exploring hands, not pushing further until Jaskier was fully awake and smiling.

He got up briefly to fetch them some food and drink, ignoring Lambert and Eskel's teasing, as well as the envy he detected underneath the mocking words.

"You know I don't regret it," Jaskier says, sounding sleepy and sated.

"Hmm?"

"Any of this," Jaskier explains and kisses Geralt's collarbone. "Following you in Posada, the mating, the magic. If I could do it all over again, I would do everything exactly the same."

"You say that now," Geralt replies. "If something happens to you…"

"Something could happen to me regardless of what path I choose," Jaskier replies. "Witchers aren't the only ones who face misery and danger. I would not be happier nor safer if I never met you."

Geralt hums. His fingers slide along Jaskier's bare shoulder to the curve of his neck, skimming over his mark there.

"Maybe I have instincts like yours too. And they made me walk up to you in that tavern in Posada and then follow you."

"That was just you lacking any sense of self-preservation," Geralt mutters.

"Well, aren't you hilarious, dear?" Jaskier asks. He shifts, lifting his face, his nose brushing against the bottom of Geralt's chin. "Neither of us knew what we were getting into. But I'm quite happy where I am now."

"A soft bed piled with fur."

"With my witcher," Jaskier murmurs. "My mate."

It's the first time Jaskier has called Geralt that and a rumble breaks free from deep inside Geralt's belly, pleasure coiling in his gut. He ducks his head down, kisses Jaskier's forehead.

"We'll figure it out," Jaskier says. "As long as we stay together, it'll all work out. I know that."

"Well, I'm physically not capable of being away from you anyway," Geralt reminds him.

"Good. I have a feeling if you were, you would already have ditched me and tried to run," Jaskier says.

"And you'd be chasing me."

"Why yes, of course," Jaskier says and Geralt can hear the smile in his voice. "I know a good thing when I see it. And then I hold on to it."

Geralt smoothes his thumb over the slightly raised scars at the curve of his neck again. "Hmm. I guess so do I," he says.