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Forest Encounters

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There’s a kikimora somewhere in these woods, if only Lambert could find it. 

He’s been wandering the path from Alrale—where he took the contract—to Hoven for going on two days, and he’s yet to find the creature’s swamp. 

He knows he’s getting closer, can tell by the gradually dampening soil beneath his boots, the cloying smell of decay in the air. He takes a deep inhale, determined that this time he’ll find it, only to stop in his tracks.

Another sniff, the same scent. A human. 

Unlike the kikimora, the human’s scent is so entirely out of place that it takes Lambert not more than five minutes to locate the man. 

It’s a small camp; there’s a fire, a couple of bags, a horse tethered to a tree, and a bard. Of all the damn things.

“These woods aren’t safe,” he says, making no attempt not to scare the man. 

And the thing is, it works. Until the bard looks up from the lute in his hands, impossibly blue eyes locking on to Lambert, and goes right back to tuning his instrument.

“Ah, no need to worry about me,” he says, setting the lute aside to stretch his hands out to the fire.

“Did you not hear what I said?” Lambert growls. “There’s a monster in these woods.”

“Yes, yes, a kikimora.” The bard shrugs at his surprised stare. “It’s already taken care of. Well, that or I have a dead Witcher on my hands, which all things considered would be a much more pressing issue.”

Lambert’s about to reply, about to snap at the man to shut up, when the unmistakable scent of blood fills his nose.

“Quiet, bard,” he commands, one hand on his sword, readying for battle. 

Geralt stumbles into the clearing with black eyes and bloodstained armour, bleeding heavily from a slash on his abdomen. Fuck. 

“Geralt!” Lambert rushes to his brother, helps get his back up against a tree, gets the armour off of him. “Damnit, where are your potions?”

To his surprise, the bard comes over holding two vials, both square shaped, and holds out the one with a white liquid inside.

“What are you giving him?” Lambert demands, snatching the potion from the bard. And then, further confusing Lambert, Geralt snatches it from him and downs it. All the while glaring at him, the black slowly receding from his eyes.

“White honey,” the bard says, holding out the second vial. “No use giving him kiss while he’s still hopped up on cat and whatever else he took. I’ll admit, I wasn’t really paying attention. Better safe than sorry, eh?”

His work with the potions done, the bard retreats back to the bags on the other side of the clearing. Lambert looks down at his brother, ripping his shirt open and off to get a look at the wound.

Across the clearing, the bard lets out an outraged squawk.

“He won’t be happy,” the bard says, even as Geralt is still glaring at him, teeth gritted against the pain. “He likes that shirt, even if he won’t admit it.”

The bard returns with a small case, which upon him opening it turns out to be a first aid kit. Geralt, still presumably woozy from blood loss, allows the bard to plonk down beside him and start poking and prodding at the deep wound stretching down his abdomen. 

“What are you doing?”  It’s not growled this time, though Lambert is still wary of the bard. He hasn’t done anything wrong yet, but it’s only the knowledge that Lambert could easily overpower him that gives him pause.

That, and the glare Geralt’s giving him. 

“You’re going to need stitches,” the bard says, ignoring Lambert, and Geralt growls. Lambert waits for the man to flinch, to get up and abandon the endeavour, but instead he simply starts threading a needle. “Now don’t give me that. Witcher or not, this isn’t healing anytime soon. Hold still.”

And without waiting for approval, without so much as looking to Geralt to gauge his reaction, the bard puts needle to skin and starts stitching. 

Geralt grunts, closing his eyes, and though Lambert knows he’s taken a lot worse his brother’s hand grabs at the bard’s leg as he works. Lambert tilts his head, taking it in. The bard doesn’t flinch, doesn’t jump, doesn’t even frown more than what he already is, and even that’s only in concentration. It strikes him suddenly that the bard just isn’t scared of Geralt. Or him. 

11 stitches, placed neatly down the side of Geralt’s stomach, pull the wound closed. Once he’s done the bard makes quick work cleaning the worst of the blood off before leaving Geralt be.

The elder Witcher is starting to recover, even as he slumps further down the tree.

“I’m assuming you killed it,” the bard says, wiping the blood from his hands. “You know, what with you being alive and all.”

Geralt ‘hmms’ in response, a sound even Lambert struggles to decode sometimes, and the bard simply nods. 

“And the head?”

Silence. And then: “Dropped it.”

“Geralt!”

“I was bleeding to death,” Geralt snarls. The human doesn’t so much as bat an eye at the animalistic sound. “Can’t get paid if I’m dead.”

“Can’t do a lot of things if you’re dead,” the bard says, his tone suggestive. “Where is it, then?”

More silence, and a shrug. The bard lets out the most dramatic sigh possible, throwing his hands onto his hips. 

“Geralt, if I have to go searching the woods for another monster head I swear—“

“Get it in the morning,” Geralt grunts. “Damn thing stinks. Nothing will go near it.”

“And your other sword?” the bard asks, arms now folded across his chest.

Geralt looks down at himself, behind him where he’d stumbled through the trees, then back to the bard as if he hadn’t noticed it was missing until just now. Fuck, how badly was he injured if his only thought was getting back here?

“Honestly, you’re impossible,” the bard says. He tosses Geralt’s ruined shirt at him in a crumpled up ball, as if to further make his point, before lighting a torch from the campfire and setting off into the forest, muttering all the while about ‘stupid witchers’ and ‘no common sense’. 

With the bard gone, Lambert helps his brother over to the fire. He looks better in the firelight, less pale, and Lambert feels some of the worry start to unwind in his chest. 

“Is he suicidal?” Lambert asks. “Didn’t even ask if there were wolves.”

“Would’ve stopped him if it was dangerous,” Geralt says, grunting as he pulls his stitches trying to get comfortable. 

And that...something about that stirs unease in Lambert’s gut. There’s familiarity in that. Friendship. Trust. The bard trusted Geralt to warn him of any danger in the woods. 

Fuck, Geralt trusted the bard enough to not poison him with potions, to stitch him up, to touch him when he was vulnerable. Fuck. 

“Who is he?” Lambert demands.

“Jaskier,” Geralt says. “He’s a…friend.” He hesitates, but not to call the bard a friend. He hesitates as if he were going to call him something more. 

“How long has he been travelling with you?” Lambert asks. It’s only been two months since winter, but this kind of familiarity takes longer than that. Did they travel together last year, too?

Lambert notices Geralt ignoring the question, and kicks his leg where it’s stretched out beside his own.

“Geralt. The bard. How long have you two travelled together?”

Sensing Lambert won’t drop it, Geralt sighs. 

“Years.” Lambert sucks in a breath. Years? And Geralt’s said nothing about it? Not even a hint of having any kind of companionship on the Path. 

“How many?” Lambert asks.

“25,” Geralt says. Lambert decided he must be joking. 

“Gods Geralt, do you take me for a fool? The boy barely looks that old.”

“Yes, well,” Jaskier says, strolling back into the clearing with a sword in one hand and a kikimora head held out delicately in the other. “Fae blood tends to do that.”

Lambert’s hand is on his sword in an instant, and he’s on his feet even quicker. The bard still doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even drop the creature’s head. Geralt growls, but not at the bard.

“Lambert.” Then there’s a hand on his leg, pulling him back down. Geralt tries to stand only to groan, collapsing back to the ground clutching his side.

Now the bard drops the kikimora head, kicking it a distance away—far enough that it’s not overwhelming to the heightened senses of a Witcher—and rushes to Geralt’s side.

“I don’t know why you let me patch you up if you’re just going to hurt yourself again,” he clucks, placing Geralt’s sword carefully on the ground before sitting down to check the stitches.

“What is going on here?” Lambert demands, hand still on his sword, towering over the two of them.

The bard looks unbothered. Geralt looks…well, he’s pissed, but not at the bard. At Lambert. Is he the only one with any common sense around here?

“He’s my travelling companion,” Geralt says. The bard huffs at that, though softens when Geralt continues, “I trust him. We’ve been together long enough for that.”

“He’s not human,” Lambert says. To his surprise, it’s the bard who answers.

“Neither are you,” Jaskier says. “But you don’t see me complaining.”

He’s sitting close to Geralt. Too close for Lambert’s liking, yet his brother makes no move to shoo the bard away.

“If you’re going to try and kill me, could you at least do it when Geralt’s healed?” Jaskier says, sounding more exasperated than scared. “I don’t want to have to stitch him up a second time.”

“You’re the one that insisted on doing it,” Geralt says, a trace of fondness invading his voice. Jaskier huffs.

“Yes, well, I for one don’t want to end up with a dead Witcher,” Jaskier says. “Would kind of put all my efforts to keep you alive to waste, now wouldn’t it?”

As they joke—Geralt, actually joking—Lambert reluctantly drops his hand from his sword and sits by the fire. It’s a cold night, and he won’t turn down the heat even as he keeps one eye trained on the pair opposite the blaze.

“What are you even doing here?” Geralt asks. It takes Lambert a moment to realise they’ve stopped talking to each other and turned their gazes on him.

“Took a contract for the kikimora,” he says. “They didn’t mention anything about another Witcher already here.”

“Hoven?” Geralt asks, brows furrowed.

“Alrale,” Lambert answers.

“Ah.”

It’s not unheard of for Alderman in neighbouring towns to put out multiple contracts for the same monster, though usually there aren’t two Witchers so close as to have both contracts taken at the same time.

“Does this mean we’re done with the trying to kill me thing?” Jaskier asks hopefully. When Lambert fixes him with a stare, the bard inches closer to Geralt. Who lets him.

“He won’t kill you,” Geralt says, with absolute, unwavering certainty. And, well. Lambert’s not about to fight Geralt, even if he could probably come out on top with his brother’s injured state.

It seems the bard is safe.

“Where’s your horse?” Geralt asks, noticing its absence.

“Left her in Alrale,” Lambert says. “Didn’t want her stinking of kikimora for the next week.”

“That’s what Jaskier’s for,” Geralt says. “Keeps Roach safe.”

The squawk Jaskier lets out at that is absolutely indignant, devolving into a litany of ‘how dare you’ and ‘I should’ve let you bleed to death,’ amongst a slew of other, more creative threats that Geralt only smirks at.

“You finished?” he asks when the bard finally settles. Jaskier simply glares at him, though there’s no true heat in his eyes.

Lambert allows himself to relax, watching his brother and the bard having more conversation in an hour than Geralt has all winter at Kaer Morhen. They share their food with him, and he returns the gesture, exchanging bread for jerky and dried berries for nuts. They even have ale, which means they must be doing better off than Lambert. That, or the bard is at least halfway decent.

“You can go back to town,” Geralt says, when the food is gone and the fire dying to embers.

“Don’t be an idiot. I’m not leaving you out here injured,” Lambert says.

Jaskier pointedly gets up, heading off to grab more firewood from a small stack he’s collected at the edge of camp. He focuses steadfastly on feeding the fire as Lambert and Geralt stare each other down.

“There’s nothing dangerous in these woods,” Geralt says.

“I’m staying,” Lambert says, leaving no room for argument.

And then—well. If Lambert didn’t know any better, he’d say Geralt was blushing. It’s no more than a faint dusting of colour on his cheeks, but between his pale complexion and the grey pallor from the blood loss, there really is no mistaking it.

The reason for his brother’s odd behaviour becomes clear when Jaskier produces only one bedroll from their shared supplies, large enough for exactly one Witcher and one bard.

Which would explain some things.

Lambert doesn’t comment on it as he sets up his own bedding on the opposite side of the fire. With the smoke as thick as it is, and the kikimora head still within scenting range, he can’t really distinguish the scent of the bard from that of his brother. He’s beginning to think, though, that even if they were in the clearest mountaintop air in the world their scents would still be inextricably intertwined.

Geralt determinedly ignores him as Jaskier first helps him into their shared bedroll, then worms his way in beside him. Lambert turns away from them, and does his best to ignore the faint murmurs exchanged between them as they settle in for the night.

He’s beginning to wish he went back to town when he had the chance.

He lays there, perfectly still, for an hour. Then they start talking.

Their voices are still hushed, but no longer so quiet that his enhanced hearing doesn’t clearly pick up the words. He realises in a moment of horror that they must think he’s asleep, Geralt still not recovered enough to notice otherwise.

Oh gods, this is not where he wants to be. Listening to Geralt and his lover sweet talking less that five feet away.

Except that’s not what they’re doing. The bard is attempting to have an honest to gods conversation, and stoic, tight-lipped Geralt is actually responding. Has the entire world gone mad?

“You didn’t tell your brothers about me?” Jaskier asks, sounding wounded.

Geralt makes a noise in the back of his throat, and there’s a shuffling of the bedroll that Lambert can’t translate. Not without turning around, and he’s not doing that. The only thing worse than having to listen to this, to the bard about to be told he’s not as important to Geralt as the Witcher clearly is to him, would be getting caught in the act.

He remembers the last time Geralt caught him eavesdropping.

“Witchers aren’t supposed to…” He trails off, but Lambert can translate for him. ‘Get attached to people.’

“Aren’t supposed to fall in love?” Jaskier asks. Lambert grimaces at his foolishness. Despite his initial distaste for the bard, that doesn’t mean he wants to see (or hear) him get his heart broken.

“No,” Geralt says. “They’re not.”

He waits for the bard to react, to cry or deflect or do anything. Instead he simply chuckles.

“Oh,” he says. “I get it. You’re shy.”

Jask,” Geralt says, his tone warning. Any second now, the bard’s going to get the hint. Hopefully he’ll run off crying, and then Lambert can stop pretending to be asleep.

“It’s okay,” Jaskier says, his tone entirely too convincing. Does he still not get it? “It’s not as if I’ve gone running to tell my family about you, either.”

“You don’t talk to your family,” Geralt points out.

“That’s not the point, Geralt,” Jaskier says. There’s a sigh, and Lambert can’t quite work out who it is over the crackling of the fire.

“I’ve already lost everything once,” Geralt says. “I don’t know how they’ll take it.”

“It’s alright, dear heart,” Jaskier says. “It’s not as if I want you to go proclaiming your love for me from the rooftops in every town we go to.”

Geralt laughs at that, a short, huffing sound that nonetheless is unmistakable.

“You do enough proclaiming for both of us, Lark.”

Lambert hadn’t realised he’d been holding his breath, had been holding every muscle in his body tense, until he starts to go lightheaded from the lack of oxygen. He gulps in air as quietly as he can, head spinning. Pet names? Love? Could Geralt really…

Witchers aren’t supposed to have those kinds of attachments. They kill monsters for humans, and the humans respond with ridicule and vitriol. But here’s Geralt, bedding a human—or near enough—who’s very clearly in love with him. Where did he even find this bard?

He takes note of the silence right as it ends, and realises with a lurch in his stomach that what he’s currently listening to is his brother kissing the bard.

He could be back in town by now. He could be asleep in the inn, blissfully unaware of the scene playing out behind him. Why did he insist on staying? Geralt is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, injured or not.

No. He knows exactly why he stayed. He’s still here because Geralt is his brother, and he cares for him. The same way all the wolves care for each other, protecting one another in the face of the world hating them.

If Geralt’s found happiness, what kind of brother would Lambert be to deny him that?

Silence finally, mercifully falls across the camp only a few minutes later. The others have fallen asleep, or at least are near enough to unconsciousness that they’re no longer talking.

Lambert doesn’t sleep. He lays awake until dawn, which he deems an acceptable time to pack up his things. Geralt wakes up almost as soon as he starts moving around, drawing complaints from the bard who clearly doesn’t think dawn is an appropriate hour to wake. Geralt lets him stay in the bedroll as he saddles Roach, looking almost fully recovered from the previous night.

Lambert doesn’t say anything about what he heard. He suspects Geralt would probably kill him on the spot if he did, or else die of embarrassment. But when they part ways, he off to Alrale and they to Hoven, he gives the bard a nod and a ‘goodbye’ as they split, before pulling Geralt into an embrace.

With no contract to collect on, he should be setting off in search of another payment as soon as possible. But after checking on his horse he elects instead to collapse into his  bed at the inn, exhaustion taking over.

He’s got a lot to think about. If nothing else, he suspects the next winter will be an interesting one.