At just barely eighteen, Jaskier is pretty sure he’s on top of the world. He loves Oxenfurt—he loves his classes, the wealth of taverns near the university, his fellow students (sometimes a little too much). He loves his boyfriend, Valdo—they’ve been in a relationship for just over a year, and he’s over the moon, head over heels in love.
Valdo is so smart, and so talented, and never fails to remind Jaskier of that. In comparison, Jaskier feels almost worthless—he can only ever hope to live up to Valdo.
But besides that, besides the painful little pang in his chest whenever he thinks of his own inadequacy, he’s doing great. Comparatively.
Well, maybe not at the moment. Because at the moment, he’s on stage at the Leaky Goose, having just finished a set, only to be booed and pelted with food scraps.
“Unbelievable,” he mutters to himself as he flees the stage. It’s not the first time this has happened—or even the fourth or fifth. Wherever he performs, it seems like he can never enchant a crowd the way Valdo so effortlessly does. He’s tried all his best songs—ballads, odes, ditties, even one memorable night he’d tried out epic poetry.
None of them seem to land the way he hopes. Dejected, he slinks his way backstage, to where Valdo is waiting, arms crossed. When he sees Jaskier’s hangdog expression, he sighs. “Not again.”
Jaskier nods, placing his lute down with a sigh. “I don’t know how you do it. I’ve tried everything.”
“Oh, come here,” Valdo says, beckoning Jaskier over to where he’s sitting. Jaskier goes eagerly, but all Valdo does is place a bracing hand on his lower back. Jaskier half hopes Valdo will pull him into a hug, but then, it’s not really his style, anyway. He’s much more about words than actions. Jaskier likes it that way—it’s straightforward, easy. No confusion.
(Thought he still wouldn’t object to the occasional show of affection.)
“Can we just go home?” Jaskier asks, scrubbing at his stinging eyes. “I need a distraction.”
“Of course, sweetheart,” Valdo simpers. “I’ll take your mind off things. Don’t worry.”
Thirty minutes later finds them back in Valdo’s rooms, vigorously annoying their neighbors. Jaskier moans into the sheets as Valdo thrusts—he’s so good at this, though it doesn’t always last as long as Jaskier would like.
Afterwards, Valdo pulls out, chest heaving, and flops down beside him. Jaskier turns his head, hoping for a kiss—but Valdo’s eyes are closed as if in sleep. Damn.
Jaskier silently groans and pushes himself up, grimacing as he stands, and goes to finish himself off in the washroom. As he’s wiping himself clean, he considers. He’s really not all that tired, and his mind is still racing with unkind thoughts. Normally, when he gets like this, he goes to Valdo, who kindly distracts him or talks him out of it. It’s alright that you haven’t made it yet, Jaskier. I can still provide for us. Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart, you only need to look pretty so I don’t get rid of you.
Jaskier knows he’s only kidding—he knows it. Yet it doesn’t help the swirling feelings inside of him, the pit in his stomach that keeps gnawing at him.
What he needs is a drink. He gets dressed, careful to avoid waking Valdo. He’s never kind when woken, something Jaskier has learned all too well. With that done, he pulls on his boots and heads outside into the cool night air. It’s mid spring, the perfect weather—he even forgoes a doublet, feeling bold in only a chemise with the sleeves rolled up.
Outside, the lantern light illuminates the stone of the alleyway in a positively enchanting way. He might even be tempted to write a song about it—the stars shining bright above, spots of light leagues above the soft orange light of the lanterns.
He gets lost in composing as he makes his way down the street—what rhymes with lantern?—and doesn’t even notice that he’s wandered his way into an unlit corridor until he trips over something in his path. He falls, hissing as he scrapes his palms, biting back a curse. Best not to draw too much attention to himself, especially at this time of night.
He inspects his palms as best he can in the weak moonlight, sees spots of blood welling up, but it isn’t much, thankfully. Nothing broken, either, thank the gods. He turns around to whatever it is he tripped on—a loose stone, maybe? Except his eyes fall on the shadowy form of a person, lying in the middle of the alleyway.
“Fucking Oxenfurt,” he grumbles under his breath. It’s all too common to come across drunkards passed out in the most random of places. He heaves a sigh and nudges the drunkard with the toe of his boot. “Hey, mate, wake up.”
No response. He grabs the man’s shoulder and shakes, more vigorously. “Hey, come on, you should get home.”
Still nothing. He’s starting to get worried—should he call for a healer? He turns the man over, checking for any obvious injuries. There’s nothing visible; perhaps he’d bumped his head in a fall?
And then, as he’s checking for any bumps or bruises, he sees it—two small, circular wounds close together on his neck, just below his ear. They almost look like…
A screech from behind almost bowls him over with its force. He scrambles to right himself only to see a cloaked woman stalking towards him from the shadows. She’s beautiful, is Jaskier’s first thought—and then he sees the fangs and claws and his brain goes nope.
Unfortunately, rather than running away or calling for help or anything reasonable, his mouth has other ideas. “Um. Hello,” he says, rather stupidly.
“Little bard,” she hisses, in a voice that sounds like nails on slate. “I have feasted once already tonight, but I won’t turn down another helping.”
Well, shit. The poor sod next to Jaskier is probably dead, then, and it’s not looking good for him, either. “Alright, but, consider this,” he begins, always ready to talk himself out of a bind.
She lunges, tackling him to the ground in one fluid motion. The back of his head hits the hard cobblestone, and stars fill his vision. He’s too stunned to even struggle as she pins his arms to the ground with enough strength to cripple a mortal man. He gasps in pain and tries frantically to clear his vision.
The woman—he doesn’t know what sort of beast she is, doesn’t know what to call her—lowers his head to his neck, like some parody of a lover. But then he feels sharp teeth pierce his neck, hot blood gushing forth.
He moans, unable to find the words to call for help. As if the knock to the head wasn’t enough—he can feel her draining his blood, lapping up every drop that spills from his neck. His vision is steadily darkening.
This is it, he thinks. This is how I go, alone and forgotten in a dark alleyway. Not even a drop of fame to my name.
His eyes slip closed, and he thinks that’s the end of it. It doesn’t even hurt anymore—he can hardly even feel her there at all.
He can hear her, though, when she pulls away from his neck and screeches. What? He forces his eyes open, only to see her being yanked away by a black-gloved hand. There’s a flash of steel, quick, and one final dying, gurgling scream.
He sits up with a grunt, head swimming, to see the woman—the vampire, he corrects himself—lying headless on the ground. It’s pretty gruesome, actually, and he half wants to lean to the side and puke at the sight.
He glances up at his savior to distract himself from the mangled mess beside him. What he sees takes his breath away—it’s a witcher, silver hair and sword gleaming in the moonlight, clad in all-black leather, eyes and veins dark as spilled ink.
He’s glorious. What Jaskier means to say is something along those lines. What he says instead is, “I thought you needed a wooden stake.”
“What?” the witcher growls, looking at him as if he's grown a second head.
“Vampires. Wooden stake to the heart? Surely you know the stories,” Jaskier continues.
The witcher’s frown smooths out just a bit. “Those are myths. Silver is fine.” Then he seems to notice the fact that Jaskier is apparently still bleeding all over the place. Gross. “Did she bite you?” he snarls, sheathing his sword and stalking over. Jaskier quakes—and not from fear. Dear gods he’s unfairly attractive when he’s growling like that, voice all deep gravel and expression chiseled from stone.
“Um, just a bit, yeah,” Jaskier admits, lifting a hand to gesture at his neck. With only one shaky hand to support him, though, he falls backwards to the ground with a small oof. Fuck. That’s two hits to his head in the space of a few minutes. “Ow.”
“Idiot,” the witcher growls. “What are you even doing out this late?” he asks as he prods at Jaskier’s sluggishly bleeding neck.
Ah, yes. That brings him back to the whole reason he’s even out here. “My boyfriend,” he mumbles. “I just—I just wanted a drink.”
“Yeah, well, you ended up becoming a drink,” the witcher replies drily. It takes Jaskier’s addled mind a few seconds to even realize he’s made a joke.
“Oh gods, you can’t be handsome and funny,” Jaskier mourns, and then realizes what he’s said. “Fuck. I promise I’m usually much smoother,” he assures the witcher. “Blame it on the debilitating head wound.”
The witcher cracks a smile. “You’re going to be fine, bardling. Hardly even a concussion. As soon as the bruxa’s venom wears off, you’ll be back to normal. Not as spacey.”
Venom? “That sounds dangerous,” Jaskier says, as the witcher gathers his uncooperative limbs up. Ooh, is he being carried somewhere? He can’t remember the last time anyone held him like this, like something fragile, something precious. He swoons just a little bit.
“Hey, don’t pass out on me now,” the witcher orders, shaking him gently. “What’s your name?”
Jaskier forces his eyelids open, staring at the witcher to focus. “Jaskier. Well, not really, but don’t tell anyone. Shh.” He lifts a finger to lay it across the witcher’s lips, who goes cross-eyed at the motion. It’s adorable, really. Jaskier lets his hand fall.
“Geralt,” the witcher answers in turn. “So tell me, not-really-Jaskier, what relationship troubles a young bard might have that would drive him to drink so late at night.” It’s a feeble attempt at keeping him awake, Jaskier knows, but he doesn’t care.
“Well, it’s not as if students around here need much incentive to drink, honestly,” Jaskier snorts. “But—I don’t know. My performance tonight didn’t go well, and I don’t know how Valdo does it. He can just—so easily, they’re all eating out of his hand, boom!” He waves his hands to accentuate, which has the precarious effect of almost unbalancing him right out of Geralt’s arms. Luckily the witcher keeps a firm hold on him—he really doesn’t fancy a third knock to the head.
“Maybe you just need better songs,” Geralt replies.
“Wh—I—rude!” Jaskier shouts, pouting. “No respect in this godsdamned town, I swear.”
“What about Valdo? He respect you?”
That stumps Jaskier. “Of course he does,” he protests, but it sounds hollow even to his own ears. “Well. He loves me, at least,” he tries, but that, too, falls flat.
“Thank you, that’s very helpful,” Jaskier snarks.
“I’m not trying to be. I’m trying to keep you awake and alive, and if getting you to rant about your boyfriend on the way to the healer is what does it, well,” he shrugs.
“Yeah, well,” Jaskier sniffs, and doesn’t elaborate. “What about you? What are you doing prowling the streets of Oxenfurt at night?”
“Hunting that bruxa halfway across the damn Continent. Came all the way from Posada. I’ll go back for the head later.”
Jaskier makes a face at the memory of the decapitation. “Gross.”
Geralt shrugs. “If it makes coin.”
“Wish I could make coin,” Jaskier says morosely. “Wait. What if. Geralt, what if.”
“What if I wrote a song about this? Near death experiences must sell!”
“What, you don’t like it? You’re the one who said I should write better songs, need I remind you,” Jaskier points out.
“Songs never tell what really happened. Fancy lies, all of them.”
“Oh, Geralt, my dear, clearly you need a better music education. I could travel with you! Think about it—it would be perfect symbiosis. I gather material for new songs, and you get introduced to the wonderful world of the bardic arts.”
Geralt snorts. “No.”
“Oh, come on. At least consider it!”
“I’m leaving you at the healer’s, then heading to the alderman to collect my pay. I’ll be gone long before you’re even well enough to travel.” The tone he uses is a clear dismissal, and then, almost if he were planning it, Geralt stops right in front of the healer’s door, considering. “If I put you down, are you going to fall over?” he asks.
Geralt sets him down on his own two feet, and it’s sad how Jaskier almost immediately misses the close contact. He raps gloved knuckles against the door, an unmistakable call despite it being the middle of the night.
Jaskier sways where he stands as they wait for the healer, but he doesn’t fall down. Geralt wraps a sturdy arm around his waist anyway, and wow, that’s immediately ten times better. He relaxes into it shamelessly.
The door opens to reveal a young redhead, looking irritated. Her annoyance dissolves, however, when she sees Jaskier before her. “Bring him inside,” she orders, and Geralt helps him over the threshold to sit on a bench inside. There’s all sorts of medical equipment surrounding it—it’s kind of intimidating, actually. He shivers.
“Thank you, witcher. You can go now,” the healer says tersely, gathering armfuls of herbs and tinctures, not even looking at either of them. Geralt withdraws immediately, and Jaskier fiercely misses his gentle touch.
“Take care, Jaskier,” Geralt says, nodding once.
“Thank you for the rescue,” Jaskier answers, ignoring the way his heart is calling out for Geralt to stay. It’s probably the bruxa’s venom. Probably. “See you around, Geralt.”
And then he leaves, and Jaskier is left with the healer—Shani, her name is—and her barrage of questions. Yes, it was a vampire, yes, it bit me, no, it didn’t enthrall me.
She cleans and bandages the wound on his neck first—luckily, Geralt stopped the bleeding earlier, otherwise he might have bled out already, Shani informs him.
The head wound is trickier to treat—he’s ordered to very strict bedrest for at least a day, and light activity for a week after that. “You can stay here for the day, catch up on sleep while I monitor you. Afraid you’ll have to go home after that, though. I need the bed open for emergencies,” she tells him.
He’s very glad to get some sleep, though his dreams are filled with blood and silver. When she kicks him out, just before noon, Jaskier stands for a minute on her doorstep. Where to go? The obvious answer is home, to Valdo, although some deep pit inside of him dreads it, for some unknown reason.
But it’s not as if he has anywhere else to go—he’d forfeited his own rooms at the university after moving in with Valdo. He could crash at a friend’s place, but he wouldn’t want to impose, especially injured as he is.
With a sigh, he makes his way to Valdo’s rooms, shivering as he passes the alleyway. He deliberately takes the long way round, in fact. He doubts he’ll ever willingly go into any dark corners anytime soon.
Valdo isn’t awake yet, when Jaskier comes in, though the sound of the latch clicking shut rouses him. Shit.
“Hi, honey,” Jaskier tries, waving weakly.
“I thought I told you to be quiet,” Valdo hisses at him, voice full of sleep-thick rage. “Especially when you’re coming home from what, a drinking binge? You can’t just drink away all my hard-earned coin, Jaskier.” Then he notices the bandages around his neck. “You didn’t.”
“Hey, it’s okay, I’m okay,” he tries to mollify Valdo, but apparently, Jaskier’s wellbeing isn’t what he’s worried about.
“You slut! You slept with someone else, didn’t you!” Ah. With the bite mark on his neck and his rumpled clothes, it’s a fair assumption, though entirely baseless. Valdo must know that Jaskier’s heart belongs entirely to him—or at least, it used to. With every venomous word that flies from Valdo’s lips, the affection and near-worship fade more and more.
“No, sweetheart, I would never,” Jaskier protests. “There was a witcher, and—”
“You fucked a witcher?!” Valdo screeches. It truly is miraculous how high a pitch he can reach. “I don’t know how I ever expected anything from a talentless gutter rat like you. Well, I’m done slaving away in hopes of improving you. You can go join a whorehouse, since that’s all you’ll ever be good for! Just a pretty face to fuck!” he yells, though Jaskier has been backing away the entire time.
What in the name of all the gods did he ever see in Valdo bloody Marx? The words sting, they do, but something has been hanging by a very close thread for a very long time, and this has just snapped it irreparably. It’s like his heart has turned to ice—nothing can hurt him, not even the inevitable betrayal of his abusive boyfriend of three years.
Jaskier turns around and leaves without another word. He doesn’t even know what he would say—apologize? Curse him out?
Well, he clearly doesn’t deserve it. Jaskier shuts the door behind him with an air of finality, and it feels like shutting the door on a chapter of his life.
It’s utterly freeing and utterly terrifying all at once. He can do anything at all. Anything he wants.
And what he wants right now is to find that damn witcher. Geralt is his ticket out of Oxenfurt, a gateway to an entirely new world. He’s beauty and potential and strangeness and basically everything attractive to a young would-be bard.
Jaskier breathes in the warm spring air, and sets out to find his future.