Jaskier was a grown man capable of making his own decisions. He’d known the risks of hanging around Geralt. Horrible, painful death was always on the table.
Jaskier had known that.
And Jaskier was always meant to die before Geralt, anyway. He was human and that’s what humans did. Geralt knew this.
So, here we had two sensible adults, who both knew entirely what they were getting into when they sank into each other’s orbits, rising together in the mornings and walking for miles at each other’s sides. Jaskier helped stitch Geralt back together after his jobs. Geralt learned how to prepare tea the way Jaskier liked it best and where to dig his thumbs into Jaskier’s shoulders after long nights of playing his lute for coin. Almost without realizing it, he started casting protective signs over Jaskier whenever they were separated.
He never told Jaskier he did that. Obviously it hadn’t been enough.
There was nothing to get upset about. This was always an eventuality. Geralt had lived a long time; he knew how humans flared bright and died fast. Witchers walked their long, cold Path alone until the day they got killed, and that’s just how it went. No use dwelling on it.
The funeral had been a small affair. Jaskier’s parents and a sister, some sobbing women from his long line of conquests, Geralt assumed, a smattering of other people Geralt didn’t care about, and Geralt himself.
The sideways glances didn’t escape him. It was strange that he was here. What use did a witcher have for trite human ceremonies like funerals? I was his friend, Geralt wanted to scream. I knew him better than I’ve known anybody.
Not a friend, he reminded himself. That was the whole point. Witchers didn’t have friends, except sometimes other witchers. Mages, perhaps, sometimes. Not humans, and certainly not bards who peddled in melody and wore finely sewn tunics and insisted on delicately scented oils for his baths and always handled Geralt gently, so gently Geralt hadn’t quite believed it to be real, who should have never been hanging around Geralt in the first place. Jaskier had died and Geralt didn’t protect him, which was as good a definition as a rotten friend as any. Geralt would do well to remember that he was here as a courtesy, nothing more.
It was a sunny morning, the light harsh and stinging. Geralt stood off to the side. He twisted the ring on his finger, swallowing against the horrible ache clawing up his throat.
“Fuck you, Jaskier,” he muttered under his breath. Fuck him for leaving. Fuck him for making Geralt alone, like always, and fuck Geralt for thinking even for a split second that it could ever be any other way.
When it was over, he didn’t mingle. He rode away on Roach and didn’t look back.
It had been a bruxa. Nothing Geralt hadn’t killed a million times before. The forest was dark and green and everything happened so fast, but Geralt saw everything.
He sank his silver sword through her chest. It was too late.
Geralt carried Jaskier’s body back to camp and crumpled over him, howled like a hurt dog like he never had in his goddamn life, not when his mother abandoned him on the side of the road, not during any of the Trials, not when Eskel pushed him away at Kaer Morhen and said they had to stop sleeping in the same bed because we aren’t kids anymore, Geralt, it’s time to grow up, leaving Geralt without the only kind touch he’d known, until Jaskier.
Geralt would have given the bruxae the whole town, flesh bodies warm with blood on a silver platter, if it would have changed things.
It was so stupid, how breakable humans were, and soft, and slow. It was stupid how Jaskier had crawled under Geralt’s skin like a tick when he wasn’t looking and just made a home there, nestled somewhere inside his ribs. And Geralt was the world’s biggest fool for letting it happen.
He felt cleaved, like a fountain of blood was gushing from his chest that no one else could see. He went to see a healer about it, the ache in his chest, and she just looked at him pityingly and shook her head. So, great, fucking fantastic, this was just what living was, then. Accumulating pain until the day he wouldn’t be able to stand up under the weight, and a kikimore would finish him off while he was slow and sloppy, and that would be that.
Geralt idly toyed with the idea of necromancy. He could find some corrupt old sorcerer who’d help him, but he’d slain enough of the animated dead to know that that way held only more sorrow. It was just - usually, problems had solutions. When Geralt was hungry, he ate. He needed to pay for the food, so he slayed beasts for money. When he was cold, he made a fire. When Roach was tired, he let her rest. He lived each day like this, a series of problems and solutions. Simple, and shallow, and bearable.
This problem - the scraping ache in his chest, the feeling that a part of him had been hacked off and buried somewhere - had no solution that he could see.
This was a lesson: it was better not to get involved. To hold himself apart and live like a water beetle, just dancing across the top of the water, never breaking the surface tension.
Wherever he went, they sang Jaskier’s songs. Geralt either glowered at the offending singer until they stopped, or he went to the nearest tavern to get gloriously trashed.
But even then, Geralt heard him in the whistling of the trees. He felt him in the warmth of the sunlight, gentle on his scars. A field smattered with buttercups. When he saw the flash of a golden oriole in the trees, his hands twitched to point it to Jaskier before remembering. Sometimes he heard his laughter in the backs of bars, but when he craned his neck to look, it was never him.
Why had Jaskier been there?
Geralt plunged his sword into the eye of a griffin. Red blood bubbled out and dribbled onto its fur.
Why had Jaskier followed him?
The griffin scrambled on its side, its talons scraping into the dirt. Geralt leaned into the sword harder. He mustn’t let it take flight. He was bleeding from a gash in his thigh and he would take some Swallow in a minute, just a minute, he just needed to incapacitate the griffin first, and—
It wasn’t the first time Jaskier had accompanied Geralt on a job. He always wanted front row seats to the action, said that was the one thing that set him above the other bards.
“I’m a poet,” he’d said, time and time again. “I draw inspiration from what I experience. I can’t write a good ballad about your heroics without seeing them.”
“I’ll describe it to you after,” Geralt had said, time and time again.
Jaskier huffed. “You wouldn’t do it right. You’re always so sparse on details, Geralt.”
“Either the beast dies or I do. The details don’t change that. ”
“And that’s why you have me!” Jaskier said, throwing his arm around Geralt’s shoulders.
The griffin opened its mouth and Geralt’s ears were ringing. He grit his teeth and twisted the sword, the crack of bone vibrating up the silver blade into his hands—
Geralt had cast Quen over Jaskier when he realized he was following him to the bruxa, but he was no mage. His magic was rudimentary at best, embarrassing at worst. He should have done more, should have been better—
A huge feathered wing swung out at him, almost knocking him off his balance. He pulled his sword out of the griffin’s eye socket and started swinging at anything he could reach. Wing, belly, face, long red lines appearing up and down the creature’s body. Vesemir would not have been impressed with his lack of strategy, but the fight was building a good, clean burn in Geralt’s muscles.
He used to crawl into Jaskier’s arms at the end of these jobs, shaking and looking for somewhere to land—
Geralt slew the beast. He always did. He hacked off the griffin’s head for a trophy and carefully thought of nothing else.
Geralt had nightmares.
He woke up gasping and slick with sweat, the image of Jaskier with a spray of gore across his face still shimmering in his mind’s eye. Jaskier’s teeth and claws were long and heavy in these dreams, face contorted with rage and hunger, body made hard and sharp where it was once soft and luxuriant. He leaned down to rip Geralt’s throat out, but Geralt woke up just before his lips touched his neck, every damn time.
Geralt was alone in the forest, always another goddamn forest. He squeezed his eyes shut and clawed after that image as it slipped away, come back, don’t go, please let me stay, because the truth was that he would take Jaskier any way he could get him. Big blue eyes or cold hungry white ones, lute-calloused fingers or sharp claws for rending his flesh, he didn’t care. He would take it.
He sucked humid air between his teeth, twisted in the blankets on his bedroll. The fire still held a low flame. Roach snorted softly in her sleep, over by the tree. Geralt listened to the frogs and crickets, to the slow decay of the wood. His skin was tight and damp with sweat, and he was hard. He licked his palm and reached under the blankets to jerk himself off, hard and fast, thinking about Jaskier’s firm fingers, his wet, soft mouth, his nightmare-bruxa teeth red with Geralt’s blood, gods sweetheart I’m so sorry, and he came with Jaskier’s name in his throat.
The frogs trilled gently around him. Geralt wiped his hand on the grass and shifted to his side, still shaking a little. He closed his eyes and passed out.
Geralt knew what he was good for. He knew which artery to cut to bring forth the most blood. How hard to twist someone’s head to snap their neck. The smell of burning blood. The muscle memory for killing twitched in every muscle and tendon, familiar as walking or holding Roach’s reins, but this gaping, whistling hole in his chest eluded him.
He wasn’t built for this feeling. The grief was anatomical: it settled into his gut, cloaked over his heart like a black fungus. Sometimes he woke up in the night because he could feel the curving bones of his ribs too much. He kept waiting for his body to reject the feeling like poison, to vomit it out, but it only sunk deeper.
Geralt rose in the mornings. He brushed out Roach’s hair. He ate, when he remembered. He rode into town and took contracts. He sharpened and oiled his swords.
Sometimes, when he was very, very drunk or especially self-destructive, Geralt allowed himself to remember.
One time, maybe ten years ago:
“You’re being so sweet,” Jaskier had said, pouring water over his hair in the tub. Geralt shuddered. This wasn’t like anything else. “A sweet little wolf puppy.”
Geralt slitted his eyes at him. Jaskier beamed down at him, joy radiating off his skin in waves, the scent like magnolia and sweetgrass. Geralt could bask in it like sunlight. They’d been doing well recently, the both of them, earning enough coin to stay in inns more often than not.
“I could kill you with one hand,” he said. He thought that sometimes Jaskier needed the reminder. He was too bold for his own good, washing a Witcher’s hair, like petting a rattlesnake.
“What, while soaking in a lovely lavender bath? Murder a helpless bard with your cock flopping about? Surely a man of your dignity would at least spare a moment to pull on some trousers,” Jaskier said, eyes dancing. Geralt huffed, and sank back into the warm water. “Not to worry, Geralt, your weakness for being pampered is safe with me.” Geralt considered rolling his eyes, but they had fluttered shut and it was all very drowsy and nice, here, in Jaskier’s hands, so he let the comment pass unremarked. Jaskier began working out the tangles with a wide-toothed comb and it didn’t hurt.
Another time, later, the memory he turned to when his skin was at its hungriest:
The garkain hadn’t go down easy, but it went down. Geralt made sure of it. His left leg was locked and useless, like it always got during a fight these days. Not even the mages were able to heal it fully when he’d injured it in one of their scuffles. He was dragging it behind him. The Black Blood was still hot and thick in his veins, made his skin feel too tight.
Jaskier was already looking up by the time Geralt made it back to camp, which was a bad sign. Between his leg dragging along the ground and the blood that he was vaguely aware was dripping from his shoulder, he was stupidly easy to track. He was getting sloppy, was lucky to have made it back without being attacked by anything hiding in the trees.
He crashed on the log next to Jaskier, leaning on him heavily.
“Was it bad?” Jaskier asked, setting his lute aside.
“Mm,” Geralt said. It wasn’t particularly bad, really, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Just always sharp teeth and claws, skittering legs, spitting venom. The slice of a sword, silver or steel. Life crumpling beneath him. Blood puddling in the dirt. The pain in his left knee, that fucking leg would get him killed one day, maybe soon. The cold slow thud of his heart loud in his ears when it was over. The fucking kings and mages and other people with too much money and time who paid him to do their dirty work.
Jaskier was warm, and soft, and right here, and Geralt pressed his face into his neck.
“Oh. That’s new,” Jaskier said lightly, but Geralt could hear the tension there. He sniffed the air around Jaskier’s throat, shuddered into the hot red beat of his heart. The artery jumped beneath his lips; even Jaskier’s internal anatomy leaned towards Geralt when it shouldn’t.
“Geralt? Will you talk to me?”
“Please,” Geralt said. “Just. For a minute.” He wrapped his arms around Jaskier’s middle, solid and warm and good, half in his lap. The pain in his leg was a dull ache, easily ignored, now.
“Melitele help me,” Jaskier muttered, rubbing a gentle circle into Geralt’s back with a thumb. “Geralt - not that this isn’t one of many configurations that I’ve imagined for years, but it seems, oh, I don’t know, incredibly worryingly out of character for you, so could you please just tell me if you’re dying?”
Geralt smiled into his neck. “Your voice is good,” he said. "Keep talking."
“Excuse me, what was that? I’m going to need you to get that to me in writing. Signed. I will show it to you every time you complain about my singing. A pie with no filling, my ass.”
Jaskier smelled so good. It wasn’t fair. Geralt knew what he was - a walking blade, sharpened and oiled, and literally, actually toxic to all other life forms, with the Black Blood coursing through him.
“Geralt?” Jaskier squeezed his shoulder. “Are you dying?”
“I’m not dying,” Geralt said. “I can’t seem to die.” He hoped Jaskier would leave it alone. He didn’t want to talk about this. He wanted to be here. He wanted Jaskier to take it away.
“Well, good,” Jaskier sniffed. “You can just stay there, then,” and it was a goddamned disgrace how quickly the tension left Geralt’s shoulders at that, at being welcomed somewhere, being told to stay. He leaned more heavily into Jaskier, who bore Geralt’s weight valiantly for a while. Eventually, he moved them to the ground, Geralt’s head tucked under Jaskier’s chin. He hissed when his leg moved wrong, but he adjusted his weight and sank into Jaskier's arms.
“Comfortable, love?” Jaskier murmured. His voice vibrated low across his chest. The Black Blood had long leeched out of his system, but Geralt still felt drugged, somehow, on the warmth and lightness he felt here, pillowed on Jaskier.
It was like the sky fell upon him, the remembering, knocking him down and trapping him under its weight. He could barely see around it.
A vicious part of Geralt wanted to rip out everything that Jaskier had touched, just turn his body inside out and dump out everything that hurt. Cut out the parts of his organs that had gone black with grief. Stomp on them and bury them in the ground. Stuff the grief, squirming, in a rucksack weighed down with stones, and toss it in a cold river. Scrub the sentimental goo out from between his ribs so he could go back to wanting nothing.
But he treasured it, too, and that was the most confounding part of it, that he actually cherished these raw, pained parts, wanted to freeze them in amber and collect them in a drawer for him to obsessively run his fingers over whenever he wanted.
It was beginning to affect his work.
Geralt knew he was losing it. He skulked from town to town like a nightwraith, not bothering to soften the hardness in his eyes. He stank, a fine patina of grime coating his skin. He was rude and snarled at kings and townsfolk alike. There was an unfortunate incident with a contract he’d had to slay a banshee, and since then, he believed that the neighboring towns had been advised not to work with him. He dug roots out of the ground and ate raw mushrooms and scrubbed down in rivers and stole grass for Roach and didn’t really care. When he walked through towns, people watched him from their windows. Mothers quickly ushered their children inside. Everyone smelled like fear, metallic and rusted. Geralt spat to get the taste out of his mouth.
He drank alone. He slept alone. He stitched himself together after jobs and the wounds healed wretchedly because he didn’t take the care with the thread and needle that Jaskier had. The scars came out bumpy and ragged instead of thin and clean. When the snow fell and it was time to winter at Kaer Morhen, he locked himself in his room and opened his door only for meals.
At night, Geralt took a bottle of chamomile oil and poured a couple drops on his wrists. He rubbed them together, held them to his nose, and curled his knees up to his chest.
This wasn’t normal. Not even humans acted like this when their friends died, he was reasonably sure. The scent of chamomile was slight and delicate and warm and made him think about the hot soft spot behind Jaskier’s ear, even as winter raged outside, and he felt a constant throb like his chest was split down the middle. Bleeding out, hot red blood steaming over the snow. He cried a bit into his wrists, pressing the scent of the oil hard against his nose.
This carried on for about a week before Eskel decided enough was enough.
“Open up, asshole,” he said, banging a huge fist on Geralt’s door. It was like knives scraping against Geralt’s brain; he’d gotten blessedly trashed the night before, alone and undignified in bed.
“Piss off,” he grumbled into his pillow.
“What was that? ‘Come in, Eskel, my dearest friend who I haven’t seen in a year?’ Don’t mind if I do.”
The door opened. Geralt swore and pulled the pillow over his head, but even muffled through the feathers, he heard the thud of heavy boots approach and pause at the edge of his bed. The skin of Geralt’s back lifted a bit. He was aware that he was compromised, vulnerable, but while Eskel was a vicious, efficient witcher, Geralt knew he wouldn’t strike until he’d first had a chance to torment Geralt verbally.
“This is pitiful, Geralt.”
Geralt felt the mattress dip as Eskel sat on the edge of the bed. So he wanted to talk, the fucker. Geralt and Eskel were similar in many ways, had arrived at Kaer Morhen at around the same time as boys and went through many of the Trials together, had sought solace in each other’s arms until Eskel put a stop to it, but Eskel’s interest in talking would never make sense to Geralt.
“You’re a strange man, you know that?”
Geralt grunted, or attempted to. Just breathing made his skin hurt.“I don’t think anyone in this castle could be described as normal.”
“Fair. But I don’t see anyone else spending their winter vacation holed up in their castle rooms, wailing in the late hours like a madman.”
Geralt winced. Eskel was exaggerating. He never wailed.
“So,” Eskel took a deep breath. “I know you won’t tell me what happened. But if there’s something you need, or someone you need killed, I can help. We’re brothers.”
There was a time when Eskel calling him his brother would have wounded Geralt, who had for so long craved only the touch of his sliding palms as a boy, but he found that now, he only felt gratitude. It was a strange little seedling of a feeling, so unlike the whistling hole in his chest, and Geralt found that he wanted to keep it.
“Anyway, I’m bored and I need someone to ski with, so if you could just tell me what I need to do to snap you back into a somewhat more vertical state of being, I’d be much obliged.”
Geralt grunted into the bed. He slowly pushed himself up to sitting, minding the pounding in his head. “Get me a glass of water,” he said, hand pinching his forehead. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
“Always a demanding son of a bitch,” Eskel grinned, making the scars twist around his face. “Water, he asks for, I swear to the goddess. Not my dessert at supper? Not 10% of my coin next year, or a vial of my sword oil?”
“You’re a terrible negotiator,” Geralt said. “It’s a wonder you survive to winter each year.”
“There he is! There’s the asshole I’ve been missing!” Eskel clapped him on the shoulder and Geralt narrowly avoided puking his guts out.
Winter stumbled into spring and the witchers left the keep. Eskel had offered to travel with Geralt for a time, but Geralt had declined and Eskel didn’t press. Geralt didn’t really have a plan and just set off in some direction with Roach, enough bread and grass in his bags to keep them for a few days.
It had been good to see Eskel. He found himself hoping that they’d both make it to the next winter, which he supposed wasn’t nothing.
Geralt rode into town and found someone with a bad enough giant centipede problem to hire him. His reputation still needed rebuilding after his conduct last year. He went back to camp to decide weapons and potions. He was meditating on a log, gathering his strength. When he looked up, Jaskier was standing there, looking at him with a pained expression.
“What the fuck,” Geralt said, scrambling backwards. He fumbled for a knife in the dirt and found none, just sat there on his ass, gaping up at Jaskier like a fish.
“Oh goddess, finally,” Jaskier groaned. “I’ve been trying for ages, you have no idea—”
“What are you?” Geralt hissed. His hand twitched into the shapes of various signs, but he cast nothing. He’d heard of this before, he was pretty sure, curses designed to plague their subjects with apparitions of their lost loves. He didn’t think he’d pissed off any mages recently, but he hadn’t exactly been making an effort not to piss any off, and they were uniquely sensitive folk, prone to acts of revenge.
“Ah, the question of the ages, Geralt, you beautiful, philosophizing creature. What am I? What are you? Who are any of us, really?”
“Answer the question,” Geralt said. “And tell me what sick fuck sent you.” He felt hot and cold at the same time. His eyes were prickly and wet at the corners. His swords were out of reach, but he had his fists and his signs until he could get to them.
“Okay. Shit, okay, I’ve cocked this up. I’m sorry. It’s okay, Geralt.”
Geralt snarled, showing teeth.
“Gods, you’re gorgeous, even with scary face, do you know how unfair that is?”
Geralt tightened his fists. He was going to figure out how to destroy the apparition, and then he would hunt down and kill every mage he’d interacted with in the last year, just to be sure he got the right one. “Buuuuuut I can see this isn’t the time to recite your attributes, plentiful though they are,” Jaskier said, placating. “Well, then. I’m a ghost.” Jaskier spread his arms grandly.
Geralt held his gaze for a moment, then dropped his head and laughed. And laughed, the noise awful and splintered. Jaskier put his hands on his hips.
“Do fill me in on what’s so funny.”
It wasn’t funny. It was just so - ridiculous, the things Geralt’s fucked up brain would invent. This had to be the last nail in the sanity coffin, it just had to be. He’d have to retire from witchering and take up - goat herding, or something. He laughed until it snapped and he was crying, ugly and snotty into the dirt, an utter disgrace to the profession, but what else was new?
“Shit. Sweetheart. Look at me,” Jaskier was saying, and Geralt looked up, Jaskier’s shape watery through his tears. “You’re not well, are you?” Jaskier said. He’d crouched down next to Geralt in the dirt. Not well? This is the best Geralt has felt in ages, gloriously unhinged and like he was flayed open and bleeding clean blood. “I mean, I knew you weren’t, I’ve been watching you - not in a creepy way, I don’t think, I’ve just been trying to communicate with you, but you are so stubborn, Geralt, really, you don’t listen—”
Geralt may have been losing his mind, but goddess, it was good to see him. He got himself under control and blinked away the tears. Jaskier was wearing the clothes he’d died in, a white chemise with a pale blue doublet. Geralt always loved that one because it brought out the pink in Jaskier’s cheeks. His jaw was soft and lovely as ever. He had a furrow between his eyebrows that Geralt wanted to kiss.
This was either a curse or a hallucination. Geralt was going to enjoy every second of it.
“What,” Geralt said, rubbing at his face. “How.”
“Well, you know me,” Jaskier said, filling in the missing words in the question, always reading Geralt to perfection. “Never been one for graceful exits. Tumbled my way bare-assed out of too many ladies’ windows for a smooth transition into death to really stick, I imagine.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He had his hands on his knees, sitting on the ground next to Geralt. Geralt wished he’d touch him, and gods, all those mutations and alchemies, the potions and procedures and grueling training, they had all been for nothing. He should thinking about centipedes and sharpening his swords, but instead, he was cut down, here in the dirt, craving the touch of his dead friend. The White Wolf, Butcher of Blaviken, indeed.
“I don’t think the one relates to the other,” Geralt said finally.
“Oh, put a cock in it,” Jaskier said, waving his hand dismissively in a Jaskier-y gesture that Geralt didn’t think any mage could actually replicate, no matter how tightly bound or specific a curse. Geralt almost smiled, but the muscles of his face were still all watery and shaky.
“Can I -” Geralt started, preparing to fully sink into his derangement. He raised his hand, then dropped it. “I mean, are you -”
“Oh, yeah, no,” Jaskier said, smoothing his shirt. “No, I’m not flesh and blood. I can’t touch you.”
“Oh,” Geralt said, stupidly. He noticed, now, that Jaskier’s presence was strangely quiet. He was talking, of course; that part was loud and incessant as ever, but the usual noises of a working body were gone. No beat of a heart, no gust of breath, no push of blood. If he was a figment of Geralt’s imagination, his imagination was doing a piss-poor job of it.
“Is it,” he started, and how to even finish that question? Is it painful, wherever Jaskier is? Is he okay?
“Is it what, darling?” Jaskier asked.
“Nothing,” Geralt said. “How do I know you are what you say you are?”
“Well, I don’t fucking know, Geralt. I’ve been trying for months and months to reach you, and now I finally have, but I guess I still can’t celebrate that insane triumph because I forgot to factor in the fact that I’d still have to persuade you of my existence, you ass,” Jaskier snapped. Geralt could cry all over again. It was so good to hear Jaskier’s voice, fond and annoyed all at once.
“Are you haunting me?” Geralt asked.
Jaskier’s face gentled. “You tell me, sweetheart,” he said.
“Yes,” Geralt said immediately. “You are.”
Geralt didn’t hunt the centipedes that night, even though he didn’t have two coins to rub together and really needed every contract he could get, because he didn’t want to break whatever spell that somehow allowed Jaskier to be here. Instead, he made a fire. They talked. Even as a ghost—or whatever he was—the flames cast a warm, pretty light on Jaskier’s face.
Apparently, Jaskier had been speaking to Geralt for months from the other side of the veil, sending messages on a gust of a wind or the scent of a flower, the rush of water over his hot feet when he stood in a creek after a job.
“I heard you,” Geralt said, remembering. “I saw you. Everywhere. You were everywhere.”
“Why didn’t you say anything back?”
“I’m not in the habit of talking to the wind,” Geralt said - not yet, anyway. Who knew what paths his madness had yet to take him? “What were you saying, exactly?”
The tips of Jaskier’s ears went pink. “Never you mind.”
“What did you say, Jaskier? In your spirit messages?” Geralt could feel himself grinning, which was odd.
“I have ascended from the mortal plane and I refuse to be intimidated.”
“Was it sappy?” This was the best day of Geralt’s life.
“Of course it was sappy, dimwit,” Jaskier huffed. “I was trying to tell you that it was okay, and not your fault, and that I loved you, and that I wished you would eat and bathe and take care of yourself better. There, happy?”
The air left his lungs. No, Geralt was decidedly not happy and suddenly far too sober. He stood up and walked to his bags to look for alcohol.
“Your leg’s still giving you trouble,” Jaskier said, watching him. Shit, Geralt hadn’t realized his limp had gotten so noticeable. “Are you using the salve?” Jaskier asked, an accusing expression on his face. Geralt snorted.
“If magic didn’t put me right, I don’t see how a salve will,” he said.
“Well, it certainly won’t if you aren’t diligent about it.”
In truth, doing anything that even vaguely resembled taking care of himself just didn’t hold a lot of interest for Geralt these days.
“You’re hopeless without me,” Jaskier sighed. “Sit down. Get that knee out. I want to watch you do it.”
“Is that what gets you going?” Geralt asked, but sat down, rolling up the cuff of his pants over his knee. It took a while to find the salve, rolling around somewhere at the bottom of a bag. He hadn’t reached for it since Jaskier died. Now, he scooped a bit out of the tin and it smelled like herb and springtime, like rubbing it into Jaskier’s back after a long day of travel. Geralt sniffed, an ache in his throat.
“None of that,” Jaskier said softly.
“I can’t help it,” Geralt said, curling his hand into a fist. “I’m out of control - you don’t know -”
“I know,” Jaskier said. “I’ve been with you, remember? Now, do as I say and use the salve.”
Geralt had implied that Jaskier got off to this, but it would seem that he had thrown the accusation at the wrong person entirely because now that he was actually doing it, Geralt had to admit that it had a certain appeal. Sitting on a log, rubbing medicine into his knee under Jaskier’s gaze, because Jaskier told him to.
The fire crackled in the pit. It was late enough that the crickets were beginning to sing. Geralt chanced a look up, and Jaskier’s eyes were trained on Geralt’s knee, on his fingers rubbing the salve into the skin. Geralt didn’t know how long he should keep going. He found that he didn’t want to stop without Jaskier telling him to.
“That’s good, love, you can stop now,” Jaskier said softly after a while, seeming to understand.
Geralt stopped. There was something warm stirring in his belly.
“Better?” Jaskier asked.
“Hm,” Geralt grunted.
“Insufferable,” Jaskier muttered.
Geralt rolled his pant leg down. There was so much he wanted to ask Jaskier, so much he didn’t understand, but when he looked up, he’d vanished.
Geralt dropped his face into his hands and cursed. His shoulders hitched a few times, and then stilled.
Geralt’s profession involved a specialized set of skills: wielding the two swords with grace and ferocity in equal measure. Enhanced strength and agility. A tolerance for toxins that would kill an ordinary man. A deep insight into the motives of men. Fighting and, most often, killing a wide array of monsters.
The afterlife was not a part of Geralt’s skillset.
He understood death up until the moment that the light left the eyes. His hands had ripped the life out of countless creatures during his time on the Path, but what happened after had never really interested him. He’d never been one to train his eyes on the heavens. There was always far too much happening here on earth, in the dirt and the blood and the snow. There was the ache in his leg, the blood sprayed over his face, the beasts snarling open-mouthed in the shadows. There had never been room for anything else before.
When Jaskier reappeared several days later, Geralt had just finished up a contract for some poor fool who didn’t know not to hire him. He was heading back to town to deliver the trophy, a basilisk head, this time, because he might be mad and generally unpleasant to be around, but he was still a witcher, and a damn fine one.
On one footstep, he was alone, and on the next, Jaskier popped alongside him.
“Gods, that’s tricky,” Jaskier was saying, walking next to Geralt and rolling his shoulders. “Hello, Geralt! You look like shit warmed over!”
Geralt eyed him, basilisk blood still wet and sticky on his face. Mad, haunted, he supposed it didn’t matter.
Jaskier was here. He would take it.
“Oh let’s please not do this again,” Jaskier groaned when Geralt said nothing. His ears were so round and pretty; had Geralt ever complimented his ears? “I can’t do the ‘I’m a ghost, Geralt, believe me,’ song and dance every time.”
“I believe you,” Geralt said slowly.
“Well, good, that saves some time, because it’s actually pretty difficult to hold this form together.”
Form? Jaskier’s presence was still silent, no sounds or heat emanating from his body at all. Geralt reached out a bloody hand to touch Jaskier’s arm. It passed right through, but Jaskier still yelped and leaped away.
“Don’t touch me with that,” he scowled.
“Didn’t touch you, did I?” Geralt said, keeping his tone light. It was what he expected, but it was still a blow: having Jaskier here, sort of, but unable to reach him.
“Yes, well, it’s the principle of the thing.”
Geralt grunted. “Why do you haunt me?” He asked, because his reputation could hardly get worse. If he was seen covered in blood and talking to himself in the field, so be it.
Jaskier made a light humming noise.
“Because you need me,” he said.
“I need no one,” Geralt said. It was true. He needed nothing, lived life like a bone picked clean. And then, “I’m sorry. Jask, I’m so sorry.”
They’d stopped walking. Jaskier faced him and raised his palm to Geralt’s cheek. Geralt closed his eyes, tried to feel it.
“Let’s go deliver the beastie head, love.”
The lord who’d hired Geralt didn’t see Jaskier, so that confirmed at least one of Geralt’s suspicions: this was a Geralt-specific haunting. The lord tried to shortchange Geralt, which ordinarily he didn’t bother fighting, but Geralt stupidly wanted to make a good impression to Jaskier. He fixed the lord with his gold stare. That, combined with the basilisk blood dripping down his face, had the lord hurrying to pay the last twenty percent.
On the way back to camp, Jaskier made a happy gasping sound.
“You still wear it?” He exclaimed. His eyes were blue and bright. Geralt followed his gaze to the black ring on his index finger. Jaskier had given it to him years ago, when they were by the sea.
“Here, I got this for you,” Jaskier had said at the time, holding out his hand. In his palm was a ring, a simple black band with a thin thread of gold on either side. Geralt took it, passed it from palm to palm. No silver, purely decorative. An absurd gift for a witcher.
“Why?” Geralt had asked.
Jaskier looked hurt for a moment, but schooled his features quickly.
“Because I thought you’d like it,” he said. “It reminded me of you. You know, the eyes,” Jaskier gestured vaguely, the tips of his ears going pink. Interesting.
“Hm,” Geralt said. Jaskier was acting strange. Had he been compelled? Geralt wasn’t an expert, but the ring didn’t feel cursed in his hands. It was light, without the weight of sorcery that usually accompanied cursed objects. Jaskier had this hopeful look plain on his face that Geralt couldn’t stand, so he slipped the ring on his index finger. Jaskier beamed.
“I knew it would fit,” he said. “I mean, I thought it would.”
“How much did you spend on this?” Geralt asked. They really couldn’t afford jewelry.
“Nothing!” Jaskier chirped. “I stole it.”
“These fingers are good for more than just making the angels weep with the strum of my lute,” Jaskier said, waggling said fingers.
“You didn’t have to,” Geralt said.
“I don’t have to do anything. That’s the point of a gift, Geralt,” Jaskier said. “Giving something to someone just because you think they’d like it.”
Jaskier didn’t behave like anyone Geralt had ever met.
“Aaaaaand I’m buttering you up. What would you say if I asked you to please, please accompany me to a recital tonight?”
“I would say no.”
He went. It was Valdo’s recital, and Jaskier wanted an impressive date. He dressed him in fine linen and combed his hair. Geralt sat and suffered an evening of music and Jaskier talked his ear off the whole walk back about Valdo’s pretentious mustache and his derivative interpretation of some sonata or other. Geralt found it all tedious, but he twirled the ring on his finger and felt warm and calm. He let Jaskier’s chatter wash over him like bathwater, and he didn’t snap at Jaskier to shut up. From then on, Geralt sometimes saw Jaskier look at the ring on Geralt’s finger and smile to himself.
What he didn’t say to Jaskier’s ghost, and what he hoped he would somehow figure out on his own, was that he never took the ring off. It got dirty when he fought, covered in slick blood and guts. When he looked at it, it made him feel like Jaskier was still here with him in the muck of it all, still taking whatever horrible things Geralt coated him in and shining right through it.
“Well, let’s get you cleaned up,” Jaskier said now, smiling. Geralt went hot under the skin despite himself, thinking over the years of steaming baths, and he spared a thought for how ridiculous a picture he made: covered in basilisk guts, talking with the ghost of his dearest friend, a little turned on.
Jaskier watched as Geralt poured alcohol over the gouges in his side where the basilisk had tried to take a bite out of him. He only drank Golden Oriole when Jaskier prompted him. He’d taken some before the fight, he hardly felt the venom, he was fine. Under Jaskier’s eye, he stitched himself together with far greater care than he had since Jaskier had died. It was tedious, but nice. Having Jaskier there, ordering him about, making him take care of himself. He tied off the string; the wound would heal neatly.
Jaskier smiled at him. Geralt thought it looked a little sad, but he disappeared before he could ask.
Geralt lived a thin life. Flat and gray, but adequate, punctuated with Jaskier popping in now and again. When he did, it was like a flower blooming in Geralt’s chest, lush and pink.
“Do you miss singing?” Geralt asked on one of Jaskier’s visits. He was sharpening his sword with a stone. The words tasted like metal as he spoke them. He was afraid of the answer.
Jaskier looked surprised. “Singing?” He asked, like he genuinely hadn’t thought about it until this moment. “Huh. Singing.” He looked away for a moment. “I guess I don’t really feel like I’ve stopped. Death is strange, Geralt. I feel so…unbound. I feel like I’m making music with everything, like I don’t even need a lute to do it. I’m singing through the wind and the leaves and the bloom of a flower. I don’t think you can hear it, but I’m telling you, I’m playing symphonies on the plane of the dead. But—yes, I suppose a part of me does miss my lute. Playing it. But the time for that is over,” he shrugged. “Oh, don’t grieve it, sweetheart,” Jaskier said, seeing Geralt’s face. “It’s really all right. I know you found all that annoying, anyway.”
“Annoying. Yes,” Geralt said around the lump in his throat. “But I find that I miss it.”
Jaskier’s expression was very soft, softer than Geralt deserved.
In between Jaskier’s visits, Geralt listened to the wind and water and honks of geese, looked harder at the way sunshine spread across green leaves, tried to slow down long enough to taste the meat in his stew. He tried to handle himself more gently, when he could. He went as far as massaging his leg out at night, when he was mentally strong enough to bear a kind touch. He wanted to do things that would make Jaskier beam at him when he appeared next, hunted after that open, proud look on his face.
“I know you don’t want to hear it,” Jaskier said, “but you’re a good man, Geralt. I worry that no one else is telling you. I’m haunting you to make sure you know.”
They were lounging in a grassy field. Work had been relatively steady lately and Geralt’s belly was more or less full. As he completed more jobs, more people were willing to hire him, even if gossip said he spent most of the last year raving mad.
Geralt cracked a smile, but he shook his head. “Everything good about me was because of you,” he said.
It was true. Geralt had felt worlds bloom inside him that he’d never known existed, when he loved Jaskier. There was more space inside him, somehow, and more warmth. Now, he was like some hideous skinned pelt, cold and fleshless and bloodless but cursed to wander the earth regardless.
Jaskier pursed his lips. “Well, that’s bullshit.”
It wasn’t, but that was okay. Geralt forgave him.
“I didn’t protect you,” Geralt said quietly. They hadn’t really talked about this yet. “I’ll regret it as long as I live, I promise you that.”
“I’m a grownup, Geralt.” Jaskier tucked his head into Geralt’s neck. Geralt closed his eyes and tried to feel it. “I make my own decisions. I followed you to the bruxa. Like an idiot, yes, but I did it.”
“I know,” Geralt said, and gods, it was such a tricky line to tread, respecting Jaskier’s agency while also feeling like he, Geralt, had sole responsibility to his safety. He did have that responsibility - he was the one pumped with mutagens, the one with the abilities he had - but Jaskier chose this life. Chose him.
It didn’t make it okay. He’d failed him, astronomically. That would never change.
“Anyway, I want to show you’ve something. I’ve been practicing,” Jaskier said.
“Hm?” Said Geralt.
“Look,” Jaskier said. Geralt twisted to look at him, and Jaskier nodded down at his own hand, pulling at the grass. Geralt looked from Jaskier’s face to his hand, not understanding. And then—
“You can touch the grass,” he said.
“Sort of,” Jaskier said, hedging, but Geralt could hear the pride in his voice. “I can move it. And—” He furrowed his brow in concentration. “Fuck, that hurts—”
“Stop it,” Geralt said, alarmed. The idea of Jaskier in pain was more than he could handle right now.
Jaskier glanced over, his eyes softening. “No, not hurt like—not like pain, exactly, more like the burn of a muscle.” He concentrated again, and after a measure of grasping at the grass, he successfully gripped with his fingers, tugged, and pulled out a few blades.
“Fucking—balls,” he gasped. “Balls and fuck. Here, take my trophy,” He moved his arm and Geralt automatically extended his hand, accepting the blades of grass Jaskier dropped into his palm. “Screw you and your monsters. I’m the real hero, here, clearly. Spread the news far and wide of Jaskier, the slayer of grass.” Geralt stared at the little green pieces and looked back at Jaskier.
“So. You’ve been practicing,” he said. He wanted to ask if this meant he’d be able to touch him. His tongue was thick and useless, couldn’t get the words out when he needed them.
“Mmhm, “ Jaskier said. “Need some kind of hobby, I guess.”
Geralt didn’t know why that comment stung. He ran his gaze over Jaskier. He looked paler, duller. A little bit fuzzy at the edges.
“Does it take a lot out of you?”
“Yes,” Jaskier sighed. “I won’t be able to move anything else today, probably.”
“But you’ll stay?”
Jaskier opened one foggy blue eye and smiled. “Of course I will.”
There’s no of course about it, Geralt wanted to say. You leave constantly. He didn’t know why he felt so wounded and desperate all of the sudden, like nettles were pressing into his heart. His jaws were tensed to snap. His eyes were hot and prickly and he had no right to this feeling, he was the reason Jaskier had died in the first place, and Jaskier was so young and brave and a damned fool for trying to walk Geralt’s Path with him, and a fool of catastrophic proportions for still hanging around Geralt in his afterlife, having to work so hard to pull a fucking blade of grass out of the ground.
“You’re frowning,” Jaskier said. “You haven’t frowned at me like that in ages.”
Geralt hated this. He wanted Jaskier solid and warm and touchable. He wanted a sword in his hand and a beast to slay. He wanted something that made sense.
“You shouldn’t exert yourself like that,” Geralt said, his voice sounding far away. “It’s probably not healthy.”
Jaskier’s face was open and blank. It reminded Geralt of the moment in a fight when a beast revealed just a sliver of its soft underbelly for him to strike. He let it pass, and Jaskier’s eyes hardened. “And you’re the expert on what’s healthy?” he asked. “Even now, you think you get to make my decisions. Guess what Geralt? I’m dead.”
“I can do whatever the hell I want. Well, except for all the things I desperately want to do, like eat blueberries or suck your cock, or have you suck mine,” and Geralt tensed at that, looking away, “or have a glass of wine, or smell a fucking flower, but the point I’m trying to make here is you’ve never been the boss of me, and you certainly aren’t now. Exerting myself, he says,” Jaskier shook his head in disbelief. “I can do things you’ll never be able to, I’ll have you know. You know that I sat underwater for a full day?”
“Yeah?” Geralt said, smiling a little. “How was it?”
“Boring. Fish are stupid and don’t pay me any attention.”
“How awful for you.”
“Shut up, stop being mean to me,” Jaskier said, but he was smiling now, too.
Geralt lay down in the grass, feeling a little bit like something sharp had been removed from his flesh. He curled up against the fuzzy line of Jaskier’s body and tried very hard to make it enough.
“I know you’ve been hurting,” Jaskier said a while later. “I think it’s hard for you to see me. You don’t regret all of it, do you? There was good, too?”
Geralt closed his eyes. He was bleeding out, thick and black and slow.
“That’s just the problem,” Geralt said. “It was good. It hurts now.”
Jaskier made a soft noise. Turned to face him. “Pain is a guarantee. But, Geralt, I think I need to hear—”
“I don’t regret it,” Geralt said quietly, and found that he meant it. Nights bleeding out by the fire, Jaskier sewing him back together. Being Jaskier’s date to all those insufferable recitals and balls. Curling up together on chilly nights in the spring and fall, how Jaskier would press his cold feet into Geralt’s calves. Splurging on good, crusty bread and sweet jam when they had the coin and eating it under a tree. Jaskier’s fingers winding through his hair, holding him still while he fucked into his mouth. The sweet, warm give of his skin. The quick, brilliant pulse of his heart.
“Oh thank gods.” Relief was plain on his brow.
“I don’t regret it,” Geralt repeated. “You are the most—the brightest thing. The most important.” Useless, so useless with words.
“Bah,” Jaskier said, waving his hand, but he looked pleased. He leaned in closer. Geralt felt his own face turn towards him like a sunflower. “I have to leave soon, darling,” he said.
Geralt froze. Swallowed.
“Please,” he said.
“I know. I don’t want to. But I’m fading. I’ve been performing monumental grass-related feats, as you well know.”
“I don’t want you to go,” Geralt said, horrified to hear that his voice was shaking a little. Jaskier softened and swooped in for kisses, on Geralt’s cheeks and lips. Geralt couldn’t feel them, but he automatically lifted his arms to wrap around Jaskier before he realized what he was doing and stopped. He hadn’t known he had any cellular memory left in him that wasn’t for killing, and learning that it was still there was like a twist of metal in his stomach.
“I’ll be back, sweetheart, I always am. You can’t get rid of me. Oh--do me a favor and listen for the next storm, okay? I have some interesting rhythms I want to try out.” Jaskier really was fading. Geralt could see through his face to the sky.
Geralt nodded, watery and desperate, and Jaskier was gone.
Geralt had been thinking.
“I could follow you,” Geralt said. He needed to phrase this right, which meant he was fucked. They were laying on Geralt’s bedroll and his skin was hungrier than he could stand. “I’ve lived enough, I don’t want this, I want you—”
“We don’t know it would work like that, sweetheart,” Jaskier said gently. “Death is weird, I think. And big. Death is a very big place. We don’t know that you’d find me.”
“I’d find you.” Geralt said firmly. This he knew. He’d find Jaskier anywhere, at the end of the world, if he had to. Hell, Jaskier had already found him from beyond the veil.
“Yes, actually,” Jaskier said, thoughtful. “I imagine you would.”
“Great,” Geralt said, his heart lifting. “So, I’ll just die, and I’ll find you.”
“You have a life to live,” Jaskier said. “People to meet. Other great loves to have.”
“No,” Geralt said, and he was crying, and he didn’t care. What was Jaskier saying? “Not like this.”
“Not like this,” Jaskier agreed. “But I’ll keep practicing, move beyond touching grass to bigger things like sticks, and rocks, and someday maybe you, if you’ll let me, and you keep living, okay? You promise me?”
Geralt shook his head.
“Promise me, Geralt,” Jaskier said, voice breaking. “You have to go on living, okay? I love you so much.”
“I love you,” Geralt said, the words pouring out of him like water. Why had they ever been so hard to say? Why had he been so stupid his entire fucking life? “I love you. I promise. I love you.”
“Thank you,” Jaskier said, and he sounded relieved. “Go to sleep. I’m here. Imagine me holding you.”
Geralt didn’t have to imagine it. He could feel it. A warmth surrounding him, sinking into his skin. Settling behind his heart.
Geralt found Jaskier at camp after he’d finished a contract, lounging on Geralt’s bedroll.
“You cleaned up,” Jaskier said in greeting, sitting up.
“Scrubbed off in a river,” said Geralt. His hair was still damp. He dumped his bags on the ground and led Roach to the water bucket.
“Not for my benefit, I hope,” Jaskier said, eyes glinting. “I’d take you guts and all.”
Geralt swallowed. His leg was reaching a critical point and he needed to sit down. He moved towards the log, but Jaskier patted the space next to him on the bedroll.
“Let’s see about that leg, darling,” Jaskier said.
Geralt dug in the bag for the tin, and then sat by Jaskier on the bedroll. He rubbed the salve into his knee, and then massaged his calf, Jaskier whispering encouragement over Geralt’s shoulder. By the time he dug his thumbs into the muscle of his quadricep, he was half hard.
“You’re a mess,” Jaskier said after a while. Geralt recognized that tone: fond, teasing. He never knew what to do with it.
“Fuck off,” said Geralt.
“I notice you don’t deny it.”
“Right, let’s count the ways, shall we? You haven’t had a proper meal in days,” Jaskier said, extending one finger. Geralt nestled into him a bit, or at least where he thought the outlines of Jaskier’s body would be, pretending that this was just another normal day, both of them alive, cuddling while Jaskier fussed over him.
“You’re flat out of money,” Jaskier continued. Geralt had actually been doing pretty well lately, but he let the comment pass, interested in where this was going. “Your leg’s not up for witchering. I can smell you even from the other side of the veil, it’s been so long since you’ve had a real bath with soap. And,” Jaskier leaned in, “you miss me.”
“Mm. You wish,” Geralt said.
“Touchy. It’s okay,” Jaskier said, smiling. “I’m here.”
Something inside Geralt broke at that. Having Jaskier in any form was more than he deserved, but what he wouldn’t give for him to really be here, flesh and blood, to feel the touch of his fingers on his lips, to hold his hips in his palms.
“I want to try something,” Jaskier said. He had a dangerous sparkle in his eye.
“And what’s that?” Geralt asked. Jaskier ran a hand down Geralt’s arm, which Geralt couldn’t feel, but he still inhaled at the visual alone.
“Lean back,” Jaskier said softly. Geralt grunted and obeyed. The bedroll was dirty and lumpy, but after the salve and Jaskier’s hot gaze, he was feeling loose and warm. “Mhm,” Jaskier said, “good.” Something flared hot in Geralt’s abdomen at the praise. Jaskier was looking at him with hunger - gentler than in Geralt’s nightmares, but just as insistent.
Jaskier laid down alongside Geralt, pressed up close enough that if he were alive, Geralt would feel his body heat. Geralt was warm already, blood hot and tight against his skin.
“Touch yourself,” Jaskier said softly. Geralt looked at his face in alarm, searching for any sign that Jaskier was making Geralt out to be a fool, but Jaskier’s face was just open and earnest and everything Geralt had ever wanted. He untied his pants, pushed them down, and took out his cock. “Fuck, I’ve missed you,” Jaskier sighed, gazing hungrily at his hard length.
“You’re sick,” Geralt muttered, going for scolding but too excited that this was happening for it to really land. He took himself in hand.
“Is that good?” Jaskier asked.
“Fuck you. Yes, it’s good.” It was so good, even just this, gripping his own cock while Jaskier watched.
“Good,” Jaskier said. “I want you to feel good. Stroke it. Slowly, but tighten your fist at the head.”
Geralt did so, letting his eyes flutter closed, but decided he’d rather watch Jaskier’s face and opened them again.
“Gods, Geralt,” Jaskier said. “You’re so beautiful, so gorgeous like this, listening so well.”
Heat coiled around Geralt’s spine. Jaskier was the beautiful one, eyes blue as the sea, color high and pink on his cheeks.
“Wish I could get you in my mouth,” he was saying. “I’d hold you there for days, I swear.”
“Fuck.” Geralt moved his fist faster, remembering the hot wet clutch of Jaskier’s mouth, the best mouth in the world, too good, Jaskier was too good—
“Slow down,” Jaskier commanded. Geralt stopped, jerking his hand away from his cock like it was a hot stove.
“You know what I’d do right now, if I could?” Jaskier said.
Geralt fisted his hands in the sheets. Clenched his teeth. His cock was red and leaking.
“I’d take care of you.” Jaskier was leaning over Geralt now, legs bracketing his hips. “I’d make you moan for me.”
“You— fuh—” Geralt said. He was searching for the words in a brackish swamp, scraping a fishing hook along the bottom to find the right ones. “You do take care of me. You always do.”
For a moment, Jaskier didn’t say anything. Geralt couldn’t bear to open his eyes to look at him, but he heard him say, “fuck,” in awe. Geralt spread his legs.
“Just, please,” he said. “I can’t - you have to -”
“Oh, yes, I’m so sorry. You’ve been so good for me, haven’t you?”
Geralt swallowed and nodded.
“Touch your cock for me.”
Geralt wrapped his hand around it again and gasped with relief.
“You’re so sweet for me, just the sweetest thing.”
Yes, for Jaskier, he was sweet, only for Jaskier.
“Use your other hand. Touch yourself where you need to be touched.”
Geralt didn’t pretend not to know what he was saying. He reached over and dipped a finger into the salve, scooping some up, before bringing his hand lower, brushing over his hole.
“Oh,” Jaskier gasped, just a sweet little sound, a cottonwood seed of a word floating out his mouth. “Look at you.”
“Mm,” Geralt said, rubbing at his entrance, tugging at his cock, everything hot and slick, hips shifting like they didn’t know whether to fuck up into his fist or push onto his fingertip. It felt so good. He wanted Jaskier to touch him, wanted Jaskier’s warm thighs around his head, his forearm braced over his hips, but this was enough, this was what he could have, he could work with this. Even if all he had for the rest of his days was Jaskier’s pinkie nail, he wouldn’t complain. He’d live like a camel in the desert, surviving off tiny sips of Jaskier, if he had to.
He fit a finger inside, gasping at even this small stretch.
“Look how much you need it,” Jaskier murmured. “I’d give it to you so sweet, just the way you need.”
Geralt bit his lip hard, trying to make it last. He tasted blood.
“Gods, such a gorgeous hole, Geralt. Would you let me give you my mouth, if I could?”
“Fuck,” Geralt said. “Shit. Yeah, I want, ah—” and he was coming into his hand, a white-hot sun bursting behind his eyes.
“Fuck,” Jaskier said. “Fuck. You are a song, Geralt.”
Geralt was shaking, oversensitive. His eyes were a little leaky. He wanted to touch his thumb to Jaskier’s soft mouth.
“Want you to come,” Geralt said, reaching for him, but his hands only moved through air. “Can ghosts come?”
“Oh, darling, you’re doing so much for me just like this,” Jaskier said. “This is all I want, sweetheart. All overwhelmed and laid out for me like this.” He reached for the back of Geralt’s head, and if Geralt closed his eyes and concentrated, he could almost feel Jaskier’s thumb moving in soothing circles on the back of his neck. He drifted into a thin sleep, feeling safe and held.
Bit by bit, Geralt lived some kind of a life. There was slaying and pain, but there were kind faces, too, people who invited him into their lives and didn’t stone him or set him on fire. There were tankards of ale and loaves of crusty bread and winters at the keep. Ferns and sunlight and cities that burned to the ground. Soft beds and blood-slicked dungeons.
Geralt did his best.
He lived a long time. Jaskier visited, and that helped. When he couldn’t see him, he listened for his music: wind through the trees, water rushing over rock, a rosy sunrise.
In the end, it was exactly as easy as Geralt imagined. There was darkness. He wandered around in it for a while, feeling vaguely like he was searching for something but like there was no rush to find it. It was a peaceful darkness, one he didn’t mind lingering in, like a long winter night, all sounds muffled by a thick blanket of snow.
Eventually, he came to the end of a shimmering golden thread. He saw how it unspooled into the dark. He followed it.
It took him through a sea of stars, and then a quiet wood, trees unfurling around him like specters, and then an open, grassy field. It smelled like lilac and earth and sunlight. There was a man dressed in blue, strumming a lute by a tree.
“Jaskier,” he called. The man turned. Stood up.
“Geralt? Did it work?”
Geralt said nothing, just ran to him like a spring deer and scooped him in his arms, buried his nose into his hair, and gods, he could feel him, he was touching him, solid and warm and everything he’d ever wanted.
“I told you,” he said into his skin. “I told you I’d find you.”
“You did,” Jaskier gasped into the curve of his neck. Geralt marveled at the feel of him under his palms, pressed him close to his chest. One flesh, again, at last. “I’m here, sweetheart. You’re here.”
Love swelled in his chest and poured out into his limbs, all the way down to the tips of his fingers, and he knew his shape again, knew it here in Jaskier’s arms. He pressed kisses into Jaskier’s forehead, his cheeks, the corner of his mouth.
“You sap,” Jaskier smiled through tears, but turned his face up for more kisses. “You look so beautiful.”
Geralt didn’t have words, even in death. He just wiped tears from Jaskier’s cheeks with his thumbs, leaned in, and kissed him. His ring glinted on his finger. Jaskier’s mouth moved against his, warm and gentle, and Geralt melted into it. His leg didn’t hurt and he wasn’t covered in someone else’s blood and guts and he squeezed Jaskier close. He was never letting go. Something fluttering and lost in his chest finally landed, here, in Jaskier’s hands, after so many years of wandering.