Geralt hadn’t known the bard long. He assumed with a few more weeks he would get tired of following him around and leave. Not that he had yet, even after following him through a swamp, almost getting killed several times and then falling in to the putrid water. The bard just kept going.
He hadn’t bothered to learn his name. He hadn’t offered it on that first day and Geralt didn’t want to ask. It would feel like an invitation at this point and the last thing he wanted was someone else getting hurt because of him.
He knew very little about the bard in fact. He knew he was unused to life on the road, that much was clear from his fancy, impractical clothes and demeanour. He had studied at Oxenfurt, one of the few titbits of information he had actually shared about himself. Geralt also knew he was loud, in more ways than one would expect. He talked endlessly, and when he wasn’t talking he was singing or playing his lute. But there was another sound that came from the bard that he had no way of controlling.
With almost every movement, there was a quiet, dull cracking noise. At first, he had brushed it off as nothing. But it persisted, some days louder than others but never quite going away. It would be inaudible to any normal human. But to his mutated senses, it was clear as day.
For the most part, the bard seemed unbothered by the noise, though he was sure he was aware of it. On the days when it was particularly loud, he would catch him massaging his right shoulder, not that it ever seemed to do much good. He tired stretching his arm above his head or rolling it back which sometimes produced an even louder pop. As soon as he caught Geralt watching, he would stop whatever it was he had been doing to alleviate his discomfort and go back to gesticulating wildly as he spoke.
Geralt knew it must hurt. All the more reason for him to stop walking the path with him. No need to add any injuries to wahtever was going on with his shoulder.
Today was a bad day. Jaskier was quiet. Well, quieter than usual. He still talked endlessly but his lute had remained untouched for the past few days and his speeches about whatever came to mind ended much sooner.
His shoulder, of course, was the opposite. Geralt could hear the grinding and clicking with every movement of his arm. Jaskier would occasionally try and roll it back, causing it to physically jolt him as the bone seemingly popped back into place, only for it to continue to grind as soon as he put his arm down again. It looked extremely painful but Jaskier barely complained, only showing the hurt when he winced as yet another attempt at correcting the problem failed.
It didn’t seem as though there was much that could be done to help. Jaskier had told him it had started when he was around sixteen, little more than slight discomfort of an overworked joint. It came and went for a while but eventually stayed after about two years, which was when he had met Geralt. Now in his early twenties, it seemed it had still gotten worse. He once described it as a constant ache, as though his arm never quite fit right in its socket.
There may not be a solution to Jaskier’s pain, but he did know a way he could make it easier for him. “Give me your lute,” he said once they had stopped for a break and Jaskier had one again tried and failed to find any respite from the pain.
“Why?” Jaskier eyed him suspiciously, as though the witcher might just toss it into the trees.
Geralt sighed. “I know you’re in pain and it’s not like you’re going to be playing it any time soon.” His tone left no room for argument.
“Alright then.” He passed the lute case over to the witcher who secured it to Roach’s saddle. Geralt doubted she would mind the extra weight, especially since he wasn’t riding her today.
It may not have solved the problem, but if Jaskier seemed to perk up a little later on, he counted it as a win.
Geralt sat in the corner of the tavern, nursing his ale. Jaskier was prancing around the room, rallying the crowd and getting them to join in with his more well known songs. This had been going on for hours, and yet he seemed to have a near endless well of energy. Only when he was left with the stragglers did Jaskier finally call an end to his performance, much to their disappointment.
Jaskier made his way over to Geralt, setting his lute down before taking the seat opposite. “Well that went rather well, I’d say,” he said as he reached over the table to swipe away Geralt’s ale. The witcher let him, only grunting as a small amount splashed over the rim. He couldn’t help but notice Jaskier was using his left hand. His right arm was held stiffly at his side, hand resting on his lap. Jaskier chatted away about how receptive the crowd had been and how much money he’d managed to bring in. Geralt simply listened, not having much to add.
“Shall we retire for the night?” he asked, setting down the now empty tankard.
Geralt hummed in agreement. He stood, grabbing the lute before Jaskier had a chance, passing his arm through the strap. Jaskier looked at him in bafflement but Geralt only walked past him to the stairs. He heard Jaskier following behind him.
Once inside, he set the lute down gently by his swords. Jaskier simply closed the door and stared at him as though he had grown a second head. “Uh, thanks.”
“How bad is it?”
“How bad is what? Geralt, what are you on about?”
“Your shoulder. I can tell it’s hurting you again.”
“When doesn’t it,” he mumbled under his breath, looking away. He turned back to Geralt with false cheer. “It’s fine, honestly. I just, need to lie down for a bit.”
“Does that help?”
“It usually does. As long as I stay lying down.”
Geralt woke with the sun as usual. Despite having wanted to leave at the crack of dawn, he let the bard sleep in until sometime close to noon. If it brought him some relief from the constant pain, it was a sacrifice he was more than willing to make.
Jaskier had been struggling all day. Waking up he was slow to get started. He used his right arm as little as possible. He struggled to lift things he usually had no problem with. Wordlessly Geralt has secured both of their belongings, including the lute, to Roach’s saddle, knowing Jaskier wouldn’t be able to carry it for long.
He talked and talked but not once did he mention his shoulder or the pain. Geralt knew he had accepted it long ago as just another part of life. He didn’t bother offering a ride in the saddle, he would only refuse, saying it wouldn’t be fair on the poor mare that she had to carry all their stuff and Jaskier.
Jaskier tried to alleviate the pain throughout the day, stretching his arm in various ways. He started by doing the usual rolling motion which would result in a loud crack but little else. Eventually he moved to pulling his arm down behind his head, his left hand pulling on his elbow. Apparently this helped for a little while, but again, it never lasted. Over the years, whatever issue he was afflicted with has seemingly spread further down his arm to his elbow and across his upper back to his other shoulder, although that only seemed to be an issue on the very worst of days. For now at least.
Today seemed to be one such day as he attempted to click both shoulders one after another, followed by a crunching sound as he straightened his elbow. Geralt could tell he was miserable and yet he barely even acknowledged it.
After only a few hours of travelling, Geralt lead them off the road a ways in search of somewhere to stop. When he had found a suitable clearing he began unloading their packs from Roach.
“What are you doing? We’ve still got hours left.”
“We’re stopping here. You’re in no state to be on the road.”
“Don’t you dare say you’re fine. You’re not. All I’ve been hearing all day is your gods damned bones grinding against each other.”
“You- you can hear my bones?” he said, incredulous. “How long have you been able to do that?”
“Since you first started following me. It’s been getting worse with every year.”
“I’m sorry, you’ve always been able to hear my bones?”
Geralt only shrugged, tossing the bard’s bedroll at him. Jaskier caught it but continued to stare, jaw slack. “Go lie down.”
Jaskier seemed to realise he was staring then and moved to the edge of the clearing, setting up his bedroll under a tree. Geralt heard him sigh as he lay down. The peace didn’t last long however as Jaskier began to fidget, shifting his arms this way and that in a desperate attempt to get comfortable.
Geralt sighed. “Take off your shirt. Lay on your front,” he said, already sitting down next to the bard.
“Just, trust me.”
Jaskier did as told. He startled when Geralt lay his hands over his back, beginning to massage the muscles gently at first before applying more pressure. He worked his hands into he tense muscles of his shoulders, satisfied when he felt him beginning to relax. Without warning there was a loud crack accompanied by a stifled groan of pain.
Geralt froze. “I’m sorry,” he said, afrad he'd made things worse.
“No, it felt good. Please don’t stop.”
So Geralt continued, working his hands across the bard’s shoulders until he was satisfied he was as relaxed as possible. Jaskier didn’t move again until Geralt woke him in the evening to eat, having drifted off to sleep in the warm afternoon sun.
Geralt and Jaskier had split up to explore the market. Geralt had wanted to get his armour repaired while Jaskier flitted off to go and peruse the town’s selection of pretty things, with no practical use for a life on the road. As he was leaving he happened to spot Yennefer at what seemed to be a herbalist’s stall.
She turned and saw him before he could even move. She sauntered over, graceful as ever. “Geralt, fancy meeting you here. Not stalking me, I hope.”
“Of course not. I was just here to get my armour repaired.”
“Hmm. And that bard of yours? Still following you around?”
“He’s not some helpless puppy Yen.” His voice was joking but carried a slight warning not to go down that path.
“If you say so," she replied with a playful smile.
“Yes, he’s here too. Somewhere.”
“Why don’t we go for a drink? He’s sure to find his way to the tavern eventually.”
It sounded like a reasonable idea and he would have to wait a few hours until his armour was ready to be collected anyway. Yennefer began walking away toward the town centre where he knew the tavern was. Wordlessly he followed, ignoring the stares the people sent their way. Not many saw both a mage nd a witcher in the same place after all.
They settled in a corner, Yennefer ordering their drinks. They spent the best part of an hour catching each other up on what they had been doing. Yennefer had been asked by a lord to help his daughter with some kind of affliction which caused her a great deal of pain. Suddenly Geralt had an idea.
“Yen, do you think you would be able to help Jaskier?”
“Why, what’s wrong with him?”
Geralt explained as best he could what he’d seen Jaskier go through. Yennefer didn’t specialise in healing typically, he knew, but if she had been able to help that noble’s daughter, surely it was worth a shot.
“Hmm, I’ll still have to take a look myself.”
Geralt nodded and the conversation shifted. It wasn’t long before Yennefer was proven correct in her earlier statement as Jaskier walked through the door. He spotted them immediately and joined them after ordering his own drink.
“Yennefer, to what do we owe the pleasure,” he greeted, sliding into a seat next to Geralt.
“Geralt tells me you suffer from constant pain,” she said, getting straight to the point.
Jaskier looked betrayed, turning to Geralt. “That’s not something I want everyone to know Geralt.”
“Yennefer could help.” He said softly.
That seemed to get Jaskier's attention, turning to the mage sat opposite. “Really?”
“Possibly. It depends entirely on what’s causing the pain. I’ll have to examine your shoulder before I can do anything.”
“Okay,” he said, for once seemingly lost for words.
Geralt and Yennefer picked up the conversation and after a while, Jaskier joined in too. They talked until Geralt announced he was going to collect his armour before leaving the mage and the bard.
“I’ve got a room at the inn. I can take a look at you there.”
Jaskier only nodded, suddenly nervous to be left with the witch. She stood, leading them outside and down the road to the inn. Her room there was much nicer than anything he or Geralt could afford on the road. Unsurprising considering her status and power.
“Take your shirt off, would you.”
Jaskier suddenly felt extremely self-conscious. Which was ridiculous considering the number of people he had stripped down for. When he hesitated Yennefer shot him a pointed look. “I don’t have all day.”
Doing as told, he took off his doublet followed by his chemise. He felt completely exposed, standing in the middle of the room half naked with one of the most powerful women on the Continent staring at him. “Which shoulder is it?” she asked.
Her hands were warm as she began feeling around the area. He wasn’t sure what she was looking for exactly. He knew there were no abnormalities to be found, at least not on the surface. He had been to several healers, hoping for at least a reason for the pain, if not a cure. But none had ever found anything. Some had even accused him of making it up. After that particular incident, he had stopped trying.
Unsurprisingly, Yennefer too found nothing, withdrawing her hands from his skin. “Are you sure it’s not just in your head.”
“Did Geralt forget to mention that he can apparently hear whatever is wrong with me?”
“He can hear it?” she deadpanned.
“Just, give me your hand,” he said, thinking of something to prove his pain was real.
With and exasperated sigh, she did as asked and placed her hand in his. He rested it on top of his shoulder, pressing firmly with his left. He raised his right arm and began rolling it back. There was a certain point which he could always feel where his whole arm suddenly seemed to shift in its socket. He pushed past this point, knowing it would be followed by a stab of pain. But he also knew that Yennefer would feel it, and quite possibly hear it too.
As he did so, he knew Yennefer had felt it. She tried to recoil but he held her hand in place as he brough his arm back down so that she could feel the other abnormal movements of his arm. In the silence of the room, the quiet crackling could be heard.
Finally he let her hand go and she took a step back, mild alarm and disgust on her face. “Okay, I believe you now. That is definitely not right.”
“It may surprise you but sometimes I do know what I’m talking about.” There was a hard edge to his voice. “Can I put my clothes back on now?”
“Not just yet. I want to take another look. With magic this time.”
She placed her hands back on his shoulder. This time he could feel a slight prickling across his skin wherever she touched. It seemed to penetrate deep into the muscle and he fought the urge to squirm.
Eventually she seemed satisfied and the prickling faded. He began to pull his chemise back on and when she made no move to stop him he pulled his doublet on too. “Should we go find Geralt?”
“You go ahead. I want to look into something first.”
Jaskier shrugged, not that she could see with her back to him, and left the room. Heading back to the tavern he found Geralt sitting at the table they had occupied earlier, armour looking as good as new. They didn’t see Yennefer again before they left the town.
They were camping in the woods a month later when a shimmering portal opened up at the edge of their camp. Jaskier was having a bad day again and Geralt had insisted on making him lie down on his front and was in the middle of working the knots in his tense muscles, causing numerous cracks in his shoulder. He instinctively reached for his sword before realising it was only Yennefer.
She raised an eyebrow at the scene before her. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”
“Fuck off Yen,” Jaskier mumbled, miserable from the pain.
“Jaskier,” Geralt said, the warning clear. “What is it Yen?”
“I think I’ve found a solution to your problem, Jaskier.” Jaskier turned to look at her then, hope glimmering in his eyes. “Unless, you still want me to fuck off?”
“No please. I’m sorry,” he almost begged. Geralt couldn’t remember seeing him so desperate. It made his heart ache.
“I’m joking. I said I would help, didn’t I?”
Jaskier flipped himself around, temporarily forgetting that he probably shouldn’t be leaning on his bad shoulder, and sat upright. Yennefer moved to crouch down next to him. Geralt felt rather useless so stood up and made his way over to where Roach was grazing, giving them some semblance of privacy as Yennefer began discussing her plan with Jaskier. Of course, with his heightened sense of hearing, he caught the whole conversation anyway.
“I won’t lie to you bard, I have no idea if this will work. It may make things worse. But it’s the only thing I could find that may help your particular condition.”
“I’ll do it. Please Yen.”
“Alright.” She then began to explain what the treatment would entail. Geralt didn’t think it sounded too bad but it would leave Jaskier aching all over for several days before they would know if it had been successful. There was the risk that it may backfire and make matters worse, potentially leaving Jaskier crippled with the pain but Yennefer was confident it wouldn’t come to that.
After explaining all this, Jaskier was still determined to give it a go. Geralt wasn’t so sure. Even if the risk was small, wouldn’t it be better to live as he was than potentially putting everything on the line for something that could make everything so much worse.
He said none of this to Jaskier however. This was Jaskier’s choice, his pain and his life. If things did go horribly wrong, Geralt would still help him as best he could. Yennefer created another portal to take them back to her place where she had already set things up for the ritual. She and Jaskier went into the room while Geralt was instructed to stay outside.
He went to wait with Roach, needing the company of his mare to keep his nerves in check. It was almost dark by the time Yennefer came to get him. She assured him everything seemed to have gone to plan and he wasn’t in any more pain than before. Only time would tell how much the pain had lessened, if at all.
Jaskier woke the next morning, feeling stiff and aching all over. Geralt was sitting in a chair nearby, head rolled back and snoring softly. Jaskier pushed himself up, surprised to find that, despite the residual aching from the ritual, he actually felt better than he had in a long time.
Geralt must have heard him moving as amber eyes were fixed on him. “How do you feel?”
“Good. Great in fact,” he said, unable to stop the smile spreading on his face.
They had been on the road just over a week. Jaskier hadn’t complained of any pain since waking after the ritual. Not that he did anyway. They were walking along in comfortable silence, Jaskier plucking the strings of his lute as he walked. It suddenly hit Geralt that things were quiet. For the first time he couldn’t hear that awful grinding in Jaskier’s shoulder. A small smile pulled at the corners of his lips, happy that at long last, Jaskier didn’t have to worry about the next bout of pain.