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I Have Loved the Stars Too Fondly

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“Jaskier, no!” Geralt yells, and flings out his hand, a desperate Aard tossing a nearby log into the path of the mage’s spell. Most of it hits the log, reducing it to splinters, but not all of it. A single shred of hazy-blue light makes it past the log and strikes Jaskier squarely in the chest.

Jaskier falls to the ground with a strangled scream.

Geralt leaves his steel sword quivering in the mage’s heart and sprints for his friend. Jaskier is curled into a tight ball, keening softly through clenched teeth. Geralt scoops him up, cradling him close to his chest; he can’t see any injuries, but with magic, that means nothing. Geralt’s medallion is vibrating so hard it feels like it might shatter.

There’s nothing he can do, but -

He whistles for Roach. The xenovox is in a little pouch hooked to the saddle - Geralt almost never uses it, it’s only for emergencies, but this is definitely an emergency. Jaskier is clinging to Geralt’s armor and still keening, the noise setting Geralt’s teeth on edge, every instinct he has screaming to defend, to kill the threat, but the threat is dead and there is nothing he can do but what he is doing.

“This had better be important,” Yennefer snaps, voice echoing oddly from the little box, and Geralt says, “Please - it’s Jaskier,” in a voice he’s not sure is even his, desperate and hoarse like he’s been screaming as horribly as Jaskier is.

Thank fuck, a portal opens moments later, and Yennefer steps through, frowning magnificently. She recoils a little at the noise Jaskier is making, then extends a glowing hand.

“What the fuck happened?”

“He distracted the mage I was trying to kill,” Geralt bites out. “I deflected most of the spell, but some of it got through.”

“Huh,” Yennefer says, and lavender magic spreads from her hand to cover Jaskier’s shaking body. He stops keening and goes limp, and Geralt’s slow heart almost stops before he realizes Jaskier is still breathing. “Put him down, let me get a good look at him - he’s not dying, at least.”

Geralt doesn’t want to let go, but he kneels down and lays Jaskier gently on the ground, and tugs gently at his legs to uncurl him. He looks...odd, but Geralt can’t quite put his finger on why.

Yennefer crouches down beside them. “Go deal with all that,” she commands, waving a hand at the dead mage. “Give me room to work.”

Geralt growls, but he goes. The mage is very dead; Geralt takes his head off just to make sure, then burns both head and body. He doesn’t take trophies from human monsters. He cleans and sheaths his sword, and goes over to see if there’s any clue in the shattered log as to what the hell that spell was.

The log has been reduced to twigs - little soft green twigs, like the ones that sprout right at the beginning of spring. Geralt picks one up and turns it in his fingers, frowning. What sort of spell turns an old log into twigs?

“Huh,” Yennefer says, and he turns to see her sitting cross-legged beside Jaskier, chin propped on one fist, frowning in concentration. “Well, he’ll live.”

“He will?” Geralt says, rather dismayed by how thin his voice sounds. How desperate.

“In point of fact, he’ll be fine.” Yennefer rises, dusting off her already-spotless dress. “Although it’s a good thing you did block most of it. Nasty fellow, that mage; just as well you killed him. The spell was meant to cause its victim to grow younger.”

“That doesn’t seem like a curse?” The mage was meaning to cast it at Geralt before Jaskier interfered, and while the spell clearly did cause agonizing pain, that’s never been enough to stop a witcher.

“It is if it’s meant to remove more than a century from the victim.”

“Ah,” Geralt says. He’s not sure what having more than a century removed from his age would do. He’s not actually that old. Would it just cause him to...fizzle out? Vanish entirely?

“It looks like you caught most of it on the log,” Yennefer says. “It took about twenty years off Jaskier.”

Geralt does some mental math. “So he’s...eighteen? Somewhere thereabouts?”

Yennefer shrugs. “I have no idea how old your bard is. How long’s he been traveling with you, anyhow?”

“Twenty years.” Geralt frowns. “Did it take his memories, too, or only his years?”

“Just the years.”

Well, that’s something. If Jaskier had forgotten him...it might maybe be a little better for Jaskier, if he didn’t spend his time following a witcher around, getting into scrapes like this. But Geralt would miss him.

“Thank you,” he says to Yennefer, who sniffs delicately.

“Try not to damage your bard again any time soon. I’ve got other things to do, you know. He’ll wake up once the spell’s run its course.” She opens a portal with a sharp movement of her hand, kisses Geralt on the cheek, and steps through briskly.

Geralt looks down at Jaskier’s unconscious form. He looks...unhappy; there are creases around his eyes and on his forehead that are usually only there when he’s worried about something. Slowly, Geralt gathers Jaskier into his arms again, cradling him like a child, and Jaskier’s forehead smooths out, and the creases around his eyes fade.

Well, alright. Geralt puts Jaskier down just long enough to untack Roach, then gathers him up again and settles beneath a tree and sends himself into a light meditation, fully prepared to stay here overnight if it takes that long. Roach snorts at him and goes off to graze in the shade

It’s early evening when Jaskier finally stirs. Geralt rouses from his meditation, loosening his hold on Jaskier so the bard can move away if he wants to. Jaskier seems a little startled to find himself in Geralt’s lap, but he doesn’t pull away.

“I feel like I’ve been pounded with hot stones,” he says. “Which, for the record, was much more fun that one time in the bathhouse in Novigrad; what the fuck happened?”

“You got hit with a spell.”

“Yes, I remember that,” Jaskier says. “Blue thing. I presume you killed the mage?”

“Hm.” Geralt nods.

“Good. Nasty fucker. But what, my taciturn friend, did the spell do? It must have been something impressively nasty, if I’ve woken up in your lap. Am I going to die?”

“No,” Geralt says firmly.

“Well, that’s good. Ooh, did I grow tentacles or something? Tentacles could be fun. Might make performing harder, though - I wonder if I could learn to play the lute with tentacles - or oh fuck, did he mess with my hair?”

“No tentacles,” Geralt says, baffled as usual by how Jaskier’s mind hops from idea to idea, often without seeming to pass through any obvious points in the middle. “Hair’s fine. The spell made you…” He pauses, trying to decide what the best way to say this is. “Younger,” he decides at last.

“Younger? How much younger? I don’t feel like a child - no, I’m definitely still too tall to be a child - Geralt, how much younger am I?”

“About twenty years, Yennefer said.”

“Twenty - wait, Yennefer was here? When?”

Geralt grimaces. “You were...screaming.”

“So you called the witch in. Well, I guess that makes sense.”

“She spelled you asleep until the pain ended.”

“Huh. I suppose I’ll have to thank her for that, the next time the gods are feeling cruel enough to put us in the same place.” Jaskier grins at Geralt’s expression. “Oh, don’t grump at me, my dear; we like sniping at each other.” He looks down at his hands, twisting them thoughtfully and flexing his fingers. “So I’m eighteen again. That’s...interesting. Oooh, I wonder if this means my knee will stop making that weird popping noise in the mornings!” He hops up out of Geralt’s lap to do an odd wiggly sort of dance that Geralt’s seen him do before performances. Geralt doesn’t regret losing the warm weight and closeness. He doesn’t.

“Oooh, my shoulder doesn’t do the creaky thing!” Jaskier says, and wiggles some more. He’d explained, once, that the wiggly dance gets all of his joints loose and warm and ready to move; it’s also got some sort of fancy name that Geralt promptly forgot, because ‘wiggly dance’ is so much more descriptive. “Well, as far as getting hit with weird curses goes, this is about as good an outcome as I could have hoped for.”

“You shouldn’t have been hit with it,” Geralt growls. His worry is finally fading enough for him to be properly angry about Jaskier’s complete lack of self-preservation instincts.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, turning to look at Geralt with some unreadable emotion in his eyes. “You were about to be hit with a spell that might have killed you.”

Geralt growls again. He would probably have been able to dodge, and even if he couldn’t, well - that’s what being a witcher is. You fight until you get too slow, and then you die. But being a bard doesn’t involve getting yourself killed in battle, or shouldn’t, at least.

“Oh, stop that, grumpy witcher,” Jaskier says, flicking a hand dismissively. “So are we camping here tonight?”

Geralt sighs and nods. There’s no point heading back to town this late in the evening. He’ll collect his pay tomorrow.

“Hm,” Jaskier says. “I’m going to need to get all of my clothing re-tailored. I was a bit skinnier twenty years ago. Look at this, these pants are about to fall off!” He wiggles more energetically, and Geralt does not look, and does not think about Jaskier’s pants maybe falling off, and does not think about how happy Jaskier looks about being young again.

“Get the fire built,” he says instead. “I’ll hunt us dinner.”

Heading into the woods in search of rabbits isn’t a retreat, really. It’s a strategic disengage.

*

By the time they get to town the next day, Jaskier has come up with a cheerfully inaccurate ballad about Geralt’s defeat of the mage, which of course is wildly popular, and for once the alderman doesn’t grouse about a lack of trophy, so both of them actually get paid, for a wonder.

Jaskier seems utterly delighted by his newly restored youth. He dances about gleefully, bouncing like a happy rabbit in a field, flirts outrageously with anyone who happens to so much as smile at him, stays up late into the night singing anything the tavern’s patrons request…

And, to Geralt’s astonishment, comes back to their room with Geralt, and rolls himself up in the blankets on his half of the bed with a contented sigh. He could have gone off with any one of a dozen men and women - Geralt could smell their lust, their undeniable attraction to the bard, and knows Jaskier must have spotted it too, as good as he is at reading people - but he didn’t.

Geralt would have thought Jaskier would want to test out his new youth, possibly with several partners at once. He’s genuinely surprised that the bard hasn’t chosen to do so.

Perhaps he’s waiting until they reach a new town, one they haven’t visited before. But three days on the road later, they reach a good-sized town that they haven’t gone through before - there’s a lot of the continent, after all, and even twenty years of travel doesn’t mean they’ve seen all of it - and though Jaskier sings and flirts and charms the skirts and pants off everyone he smiles at, he comes back to their shared room when Geralt turns in for the night, and curls up on the bed beside him, seeming perfectly content to do so.

He does the same in the next town, too. And the next. And the next.

It’s not for lack of opportunity, Geralt knows. There are men and women in each settlement who make it very clear that they’d be happy to spend a few pleasant hours in Jaskier’s company. And it’s not for lack of ability, either; Jaskier excuses himself for a few minutes every evening, just as he always has, and goes what he thinks is far enough from their camp to keep Geralt from hearing him, and takes himself in hand. Geralt has pretty much memorized the soft noises he makes, the breath hissing between his teeth, the bitten-off moans and curses, the huff of air through his nose as he peaks.

Geralt used to pretend he listened so closely to make sure nothing attacked his bard while he was away from their camp. He doesn’t bother to keep up that pretense any more, at least not to himself. He listens because it’s the closest he’s ever going to get to actually having Jaskier.

So it’s not lack of opportunity or ability, and it’s certainly not a lack of interest, either, given how Jaskier rambles on about the beauty of this young lass, the handsome broad shoulders of that lad, the dignity and gravitas of a middle-aged alderman, the appealing roughness of a scarred mercenary woman. But he rambles while they travel, and he doesn’t sound even a little regretful that he passed up his chances to share their beds.

Geralt is very, very confused. But he’s often confused by Jaskier - not least by the fact that Jaskier keeps choosing to travel with him, when Geralt knows himself to be not terribly good company, and Jaskier is easily famous enough by now to make his own way entirely on his own reputation, or even settle in Oxenfurt with a full professor’s position and the patronage of any noble house he cared to grace with his art.

So Geralt chalks it up to another baffling aspect of Jaskier’s personality - slightly more baffling than most, but still - and goes on. He kills drowners and a kikimora and far too many nekkers and a particularly nasty noonwraith, and Jaskier writes four new and utterly inaccurate songs, and it’s...fine.

And the fact that Jaskier is beautiful at not-really-eighteen, with all the confidence and experience of his older self and the energy of his younger body, is...also fine. Definitely not distracting. Geralt definitely doesn’t have daydreams of combing his hands through Jaskier’s soft-looking hair, or running a thumb along Jaskier’s so-red lower lip, or curling a hand around Jaskier’s hip just to feel the warmth of him. Well, not more than he usually does, anyhow. Which is far more frequently than he cares to admit to anyone, even himself.

They’ve been on the road for a month when they reach Ellander, and though Geralt’s not fond of cities, they both need clothing mended - or, in Jaskier’s case, replaced entirely - and Geralt needs his armor fixed and Roach’s shoes need replacement and their supply of spices is running low and Geralt’s sword needs re-silvering and...really, there’s a whole list of things that can only be done without bankrupting them in a city large enough to have some decent competition among the artisans.

Ellander is also where one of Jaskier’s most consistent lovers lives, and Geralt has spent the last week or so, as Jaskier chatters about what he’s going to buy in the extensive markets and which taverns he’s going to grace with his presence, not thinking about the distinct possibility that Jaskier has been...saving himself, is the only phrase Geralt can think of...for pretty Eleanora. Which would mean that Jaskier has - has deeper feelings for Eleanora than Geralt had previously realized.

Geralt does not want to think about what that might mean for the probability that Jaskier will keep traveling with him.

There’s an inn near the western edge of Ellander that doesn’t jack its rates up too high for witchers, and has decently clean rooms and quite a nice stable, so Geralt steers them that way. Jaskier does what he always does in cities: goes darting off to look at the shops they pass, or down side streets if there’s something appealing in a booth a little ways away, and catches up again a few minutes later with a chirping story about the wonderful workmanship of the whatever-it-was, or a flower, or once, memorably, a truly appalling hat which he decided was the height of fashion and wore until it fell apart. He also flirts with everyone who holds still long enough, and drops mentions of the fact that he’ll be playing at taverns throughout the city as long as they stay - which will be a good few days, given the repairs Geralt’s gear needs - and generally makes himself the center of attention.

Geralt appreciates that, actually, because if people are paying attention to the loud, brightly-colored, extremely friendly and flirtatious bard, they aren’t paying much attention to the witcher quietly leading a horse along, and he rather likes not being stared at quite as much.

The only problem with the inn, really - and it’s not really a problem with the inn at all - is that Eleanora’s little shop is only a street away.

Geralt expects that Jaskier will head that way as soon as they’ve gotten a room and set their baggage down, but to his blank astonishment, Jaskier follows him to a nearby tavern that does quite a nice rabbit pie - or did two years ago, and hopefully hasn’t changed the recipe too much - and negotiates his usual sing-for-his-supper deal, and sings his heart out while Geralt has most of a pie and several pints of thoroughly pleasant dark ale, and then comes and slumps down beside Geralt with a sigh of satisfaction and devours his own dinner before sagging against Geralt like a string-cut puppet and closing his eyes.

“Ugh, I’m exhausted,” he says. “Carry me back to the inn?”

“No,” Geralt says, but he does wrap an arm around Jaskier’s waist and take most of the bard’s weight as they rise.

“Mean,” Jaskier says, swaying a bit. “I am delicate, Geralt.”

“No you aren’t,” Geralt says, because Jaskier isn’t delicate. He dresses to look smaller than he is, but he’s nearly of a height with Geralt, and his shoulders are almost as broad, and he’s astonishingly strong from years of traipsing after Geralt on foot - though admittedly he’s lost a fair bit of that strength, what with being rendered eighteen again. So maybe he is delicate after all. Geralt sighs, bends down, and scoops Jaskier up like a child.

Or like a bride - but he is not letting that thought cross his mind.

Jaskier squeaks and then laughs, throwing an arm around Geralt’s shoulders and cradling his lute in his lap with the other. “Onward, noble steed!” he crows.

“Do you want me to drop you?” Geralt growls, knowing it’s an empty threat. He would never drop his bard - well, not somewhere he might get hurt. Maybe into a river or onto a bed.

He isn’t going to let himself think about dropping Jaskier onto a bed, either.

“Darling witcher, you wouldn’t dream of doing so,” Jaskier says, batting his eyes up at Geralt and grinning. “I know you, you’re all squishy under the armor and the glower.”

“I am not...squishy,” Geralt grumbles.

“Well, obviously not physically, dear heart, you’re all muscle, but inside,” Jaskier insists.

“Everyone’s squishy inside, that’s why we wear armor,” Geralt says, deliberately misunderstanding just as hard as he can.

“Dreadful man, not a poetic bone in your body,” Jaskier sighs. “Well, that’s why you keep me around, isn’t it!”

“Hm,” Geralt says, because he doesn’t keep Jaskier around for his poetry. Well. He doesn’t exactly keep Jaskier at all. Jaskier just...stays. Inexplicably.

“Jaskier?” someone calls, and Geralt turns so Jaskier won’t accidentally wriggle right out of his arms. Oh. Joy. It’s Eleanora.

“Elly!” Jaskier says, clearly delighted. “Hello, darling! How are you tonight?”

“Well, thank you,” she says, frowning at them. Geralt wonders if he should put Jaskier down - but the bard isn’t trying to get out of his hold, now that he can see Eleanora properly. “And are you alright, Jaskier?”

“Never better, darling,” Jaskier says, beaming. He hesitates a moment, then looks up at Geralt. “Let me down a moment, dear heart?”

Geralt does so, trying not to show how reluctant he is to do so, and to his surprise Jaskier presses his cased lute into Geralt’s arm before he steps away. Geralt holds the lute gingerly - it’s in a case, yes, but Jaskier is always so careful with the damned thing, Geralt doesn’t want to break it accidentally. It’s fragile, Geralt knows from several of Jaskier’s monologues, though not as fragile as it seems; Jaskier’s theory is that there’s some sort of elven enchantment on it to keep it from breaking as easily as a regular lute would.

He tries not to listen as Jaskier steps aside with Eleanora, both of them talking in low tones. He could easily hear every word, but he doesn’t want to - doesn’t want to hear Jaskier flirting, coaxing, charming her. He focuses instead on a nearby tavern which is having a small and apparently cheerful brawl, trying to count the number of participants based solely on the different voices cursing, and stares off into the night sky, watching the clouds scud across the moon.

He does hear it, though, when Eleanora laughs a little sadly and says, not bothering to keep her voice hushed, “Well then, good luck, darling.”

“Thank you, my dear,” Jaskier says, and Geralt looks down in time to see Jaskier kiss Eleanora on the cheek, a far chaster gesture than is the bard’s wont. Eleanora pats his arm and turns away, and Jaskier trots back to Geralt’s side, looking a little wistful but generally content. “Shall we be off?”

Geralt hums and falls into step with him, wandering back to the inn in an oddly companionable silence. For some reason, Jaskier hasn’t reclaimed his lute. It’s surprisingly light - maybe about the same weight as one of Geralt’s swords, but that includes the case - the lute by itself must weigh barely anything at all.

Jaskier hums scraps of various tunes as they walk, but doesn’t speak until they reach the room they’ve rented and Geralt has locked the door behind them. Then he flops down onto the bed - another point in this inn’s favor: the beds are easily large enough for two tall men - and heaves a great sigh. “Geralt, have you ever had something that you desperately wanted and couldn’t bring yourself to reach for?”

Geralt puts the lute case down carefully beside Jaskier’s packs, considering the question. He could lie, but he doesn’t generally like lying to Jaskier without a very good reason, so… “Yes,” he admits.

“Huh,” Jaskier says. “Well, that makes me feel better, if even the fearless witcher has hesitated.” He rolls up on one elbow, looking up at Geralt with enormous blue eyes. “What did you do?”

Geralt grimaces. “Nothing.” He has never dared to reach out, to even hint at what he feels for Jaskier, because as long as he doesn’t ask, Jaskier won’t reject him, and that faint hope all that keeps Geralt going some days.

“Nothing?” Jaskier says, sounding startled. “Huh. Why not?”

Geralt shrugs and sits down in the room’s only chair. His swords don’t technically need to be cleaned tonight, but it’s something to do with his hands, something simple and mindless that makes sense.

Jaskier scrambles into a sitting position on the bed, leaning forward. “No, really, Geralt, why not?”

“Because,” Geralt says shortly. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Jaskier is watching him; Geralt can feel his gaze as though it has actual weight to it. He keeps his own eyes locked on his blade, the oiled rag sliding over it. He can’t meet Jaskier’s eyes, not right now.

“I can tell you why I haven’t tried,” Jaskier says quietly. “I’m - I’m in love with someone, and I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance, not really, because they’re so...so far beyond me. It would be like reaching for a star.” The Countess de Stael, Geralt thinks. It has to be her. Who else would Jaskier consider to be beyond his reach? “They’re gorgeous, and kind, and clever, and brave - they’re so much better than I am, a better person in every way.”

And oh, Geralt can’t let that stand. “They’re not,” he croaks, feeling like the words might flay his throat open. “Whoever they are, they aren’t better than you.”

“That’s...that’s very sweet of you to say,” Jaskier says, sounding sort of strangled. Geralt still doesn’t dare look up. “But they are, truly. And when I realized what had happened - this spell, this new youth - I thought - I had this truly silly, poetic thought that when I was eighteen, well -” he flops back onto the bed, throwing an arm over his eyes, but he keeps talking, because of course he does; it’s Jaskier. He doesn’t stop talking unless he’s been gagged, and even then, he still makes noise. “When I was eighteen the first time, I hadn’t had sex properly, y’know? Hands, of course, and mouths, and thighs, and such like, but no actual…” he makes a lewdly descriptive gesture with his free hand before letting his arm flop back to the pillow. “Didn’t want to leave little baby Pankratzes all over Oxenfurt.”

Geralt hums a question, because he knows that Jaskier has definitely had sex in the twenty years they’ve traveled together. Often and enthusiastically, in fact.

“Oh, I got a charm the first time we went through a decent-sized town and I had enough coin in my purse,” Jaskier says, flapping a hand idly. “I buy a new one every year or so. No little Jaskiers for me! Gods, I’d be a terrible parent. And of course after that I have spent a great many pleasant hours playing the pyrdewy, but - well -” he trails off again, as Geralt mouths playing the pyrdewy to himself and marvels at Jaskier’s ability to come up with the weirdest euphemisms he’s ever heard.

“You’re going to think this is dreadfully foolish, I suppose, but you think everything I do is dreadfully foolish, so what’s new?” Jaskier says at last. Geralt keeps his damn fool mouth shut. “I thought, maybe, if I was eighteen again, I could - I could have another first time. With this...person. Who I’m really ridiculously, absurdly, appallingly in love with. And it’d be...meaningful, I suppose, instead of just being fun and sort of nerve-wracking, like it was the first time around. But for that to work, I’d have to actually say something to them.”

Geralt swallows hard. He has to force the words to his lips. “We could head for Redania.”

“For Redania?” Jaskier sounds genuinely startled. “Why in the gods’ names would I want to head for Redania?”

“The - the Countess,” Geralt chokes out.

“The Count- oh. Oh.” Jaskier makes a sort of huffing noise, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “No, dear heart, it’s not the Countess I’m in love with, though truly, I do thank you for offering - I could not have a better friend, could I? You really are the sweetest man.”

Geralt hums disagreement without really thinking about it, wracking his brain for who else Jaskier’s mysterious beloved might be. The bard has had a great many lovers over their years together, but none of them but the Countess have ever inspired more than a few longing ballads and some wistful sighing and fond reminiscences. Even Eleanora, who has managed to keep Jaskier’s attention over the course of three or four years of visits to Ellander, hasn’t really caused Jaskier to pine, and anyhow he already turned her down, or at least that’s the only interpretation Geralt can put on this evening’s encounter.

Geralt genuinely can’t think of who else Jaskier’s beloved might be. Jaskier writes songs and poetry about everyone he sleeps with, but it’s always sort of...abstract; he’ll write about a beautiful barmaid or a lovely shepherdess or a handsome knight or a charming youth, but never a specific one, just sort of...generally. The only people he’s written more than one or two songs about, that Geralt’s ever been able to tell, are the Countess - though admittedly he hasn’t written much about her in recent years - and - well - and Geralt himself.

Geralt can feel his slow heart stutter. No - no, Jaskier only writes about him because his contracts are the bread and butter of the bard’s art. It means nothing more than that.

“You are sweet,” Jaskier insists. Geralt shakes himself a little and realizes he’s stopped moving, hands utterly still on his blade and the oiled rag. He makes his hands start again, focusing on the simple movements, so ingrained by almost a century of practice that he could probably do this in his sleep.

“I’m a witcher,” he reminds Jaskier gruffly.

“Yes, I know,” Jaskier says, and rolls up so he’s sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at Geralt again. “I’m doing this very badly. I’m quite a good flirt, you know, when you’re not around!”

Geralt hums disbelief. He’s heard some of Jaskier’s attempts at flirtation, and they’re appalling - though admittedly Jaskier does end up in a great many people’s beds, so maybe he is better when Geralt is elsewhere.

“My very skeptical friend, I am a poet! I am a master of words! I am downright eloquent!” Jaskier says, spreading his hands as though presenting a triumphant argument to a formal court. But then he folds in on himself again, bracing his elbows on his knees and sighing. “Except now, I suppose, when it actually matters. Geralt, would you - would you look at me?”

Geralt raises his head and meets Jaskier’s eyes. They seem even bluer than usual, and far more solemn.

“I really should have some sort of flowery speech,” Jaskier says softly, “but I fear I have used them all up on my light-o-loves and left none for this.” Geralt’s mouth is dry. This can’t be what it sounds like, but what else can it be? “So I suppose there’s nothing for it but the plain words: Geralt, I’ve loved you for almost twenty years now.” Jaskier swallows audibly. “So this is - this is me, reaching for a star.”

If this is a dream, Geralt does not want to wake. Very carefully, he sets his sword aside, and wipes his hands clean on a spare bit of rag, and sets that aside too, never looking away from Jaskier’s so-blue eyes. And then he slides out of his chair to kneel in front of Jaskier, who looks utterly gobsmacked.

“I’m not a star,” Geralt rasps. “I’m not - not beyond you. I -” he hesitates, but if Jaskier can be this brave, can say such things with no hope of reciprocation, the least Geralt can do is match his courage. “I’m yours,” he says at last, because they’re the only words that really make sense. “You can have me.”

“Oh,” Jaskier breathes, and reaches out with both hands, as hesitantly as if he really does think Geralt is a star, to burn him at a touch. Slowly, his fingers slide into Geralt’s hair, and he bends down just a little, until Geralt can feel his breath warm against his lips. “Please gods, let this not be a dream,” Jaskier whispers, and closes that tiny gap between them.

Their first kiss is a slow, soft, almost tentative thing, a press of lips and sharing of breath, delicate and fragile as a butterfly’s wing. They part after a long, sweet moment, and Jaskier leans back just a hair’s breadth. Geralt licks his lips.

Jaskier tastes of dark ale and rabbit pie and something under that that Geralt can only think of as Jaskier, the taste that goes with the scent he’s come to know as well as his own.

“Not a dream,” Geralt says, very quietly.

“Yes, that’s exactly what dream Geralt would say,” Jaskier grins. “So, as long as I’m having a really good dream, d’you want to be my second first time?”

Geralt finds himself laughing, low and helpless. “Yes,” he says. “I do.”

“See, now I know you’re a dream, you’re not making fun of my ridiculous theory of second virginity,” Jaskier says, chuckling.

Geralt considers a number of responses, and decides that his best bet is probably - “Hm.”

Jaskier bursts into proper laughter, shaking so hard he falls over onto the bed. “You ass,” he gasps out between chortles. “Come here.”

Geralt shifts up onto the bed, sitting beside Jaskier and watching with immense fondness as his bard slowly calms. Jaskier’s hair is a mess and his cheeks are pink and his eyes when he blinks up at Geralt are as blue as a midsummer sky, and he is very beautiful.

And Geralt can touch him.

He reaches out, very slowly, to run a hand through Jaskier’s messy hair. It’s soft as silk against his fingers, and Jaskier leans into his hand with a soft sigh of happiness.

“Since this is a dream,” he says, smiling up at Geralt, “I presume you are now going to ruin me for all other men.”

“I’ll try,” Geralt says, and Jaskier laughs.

“And then I can write songs about your prowess with your other sword,” he teases, and Geralt rolls his eyes and leans down and kisses him quiet - discovers that Jaskier goes pliant when he is kissed properly, makes little pleased sounds deep in his throat and kisses back hungrily and lets himself be pinned - gently, very gently - to the bed.

Geralt wants with a sharp intensity that almost scares him. He’s not going to be able to give this up, now that he’s had it once - well, no. If Jaskier wants to walk away, now or ever, Geralt will let him. But it will tear his heart in two. He can’t quite help the growl that rises to his lips.

Jaskier shivers and moans. “Fuck, I need - we need to be naked,” he babbles. “Please?”

Peeling the elegant clothing from Jaskier is like unwrapping the best sort of present, and Geralt goes slowly, savoring each moment. He’s seen Jaskier naked before, of course - they’ve been traveling together for twenty years, modesty went out the window sometime in the first two months, they’ve shared beds and bathed in streams together and patched up each other’s injuries a dozen dozen times and more - but this is different, somehow. This isn’t just seeing Jaskier, it’s Jaskier letting him see. Wanting him to see. To touch, not in simple friendship or platonic necessity, but for the pleasure of them both.

Jaskier doesn’t have as many scars as he used to - the spell took those away. Geralt’s honestly glad of that. Most of the scars Jaskier did have were the marks of times Geralt wasn’t fast enough to protect him. Yes, the bard shouldn’t have been so damn close to Geralt’s fights, but Geralt has long since given up on trying to convince him to stay far enough back, and now just tries to make sure he stays between Jaskier and whatever dangerous creature he’s been contracted to kill. Jaskier’s scars are the places he failed. He still remembers where they were - cannot forget, not when he stitched them up himself, fingers not shaking because he would not let them, while Jaskier held painfully still and clenched his teeth around a mostly-clean scrap of leather and refused to look away.

But they are gone now, and Jaskier’s skin is pale and unmarked beneath Geralt’s fingers. Unmarked, and delightfully furry - the bard is hairier than Geralt is, and though he’s got his youthful gangliness back, his shoulders are nearly as broad as the witcher’s, too. His pretty silken doublets are cut to conceal his true figure, to make him seem smaller and slighter and younger, but as Geralt tugs the silk away to show the truth, Jaskier sprawls out more extravagantly against the straw-stuffed mattress, showing off shamelessly. Geralt snorts a laugh, happiness bubbling in his chest like one of Lambert’s more volatile concoctions.

“What?” Jaskier grins. “Even when I was eighteen, I was a cocky little shit.”

“Hm,” Geralt agrees, and stands up to strip out of his own clothing far less carefully than he removed Jaskier’s, then climbs back into the bed and sits back on his heels to look at Jaskier, really look at him without having to steal peeks out of the corners of his eyes or being distracted by injury or weariness.

Fuck, but Jaskier’s lovely. He’s all elegant lines and surprising strength under soft skin, and Geralt wants to do so many different things that he’s frozen for a long moment in indecision. Jaskier bites his lip, looking a little nervous as the silence stretches on, and Geralt can’t bear to put unhappiness back on Jaskier’s expressive face.

He bends and does the first thing that comes to mind, and nevermind how ridiculous it is. There’s a mole half-hidden under soft hair just on the curve of one of Jaskier’s ribs that’s shaped almost exactly like the body of a lute, enough that sometime while Jaskier was at Oxenfurt he actually went and got the rest of the lute tattooed on, and every time Geralt sees it he wants to kiss it, because it’s so perfectly Jaskier, ridiculous and beautiful in equal measure. And now he can. So he does.

Jaskier squeaks and then giggles. “Geralt!”

“Hm?” This close, Geralt can easily smell the many scents which make up Jaskier: the understated perfumes he uses in deference to Geralt’s sensitive nose, the salt of a day’s sweat, the rising musk of arousal. It’s a good smell. Geralt breathes it in, fills his lungs with it until he thinks he’ll be able to smell it maybe forever, and he nuzzles happily against Jaskier’s chest, enjoying the way the thick hair feels against his cheek, catching slightly in his late-evening stubble.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says again, a sigh of sweet amusement, and raises one hand to comb his fingers through Geralt’s hair, slow gentle strokes that make Geralt hum with pleasure.

It would be very easy to fall asleep like this, honestly, and Geralt files that thought away carefully for later. Right now, Jaskier smells far too enticing.

And one of his nipples is right there. Geralt grins a bit to himself and then bites, very gently, at the tender pink skin. Jaskier squeaks and jumps, as well as he can while pinned under a couple hundred pounds of witcher.

“Should’ve guessed you’d be bitey, White Wolf,” he teases, and Geralt chuckles and licks instead, then pulls back and carefully plucks a loose hair from his tongue. Jaskier bursts into laughter, collapsing back against the pillow, eyes closed and head tipped back in mirth, color high on his cheeks.

Fuck, but he’s lovely.

Geralt kisses that bared throat, nips gently at it to make Jaskier gasp, finds a place beneath Jaskier’s ear where the skin is soft and kisses make Jaskier’s breath come short and a little ragged and his hand tighten in Geralt’s hair. And that’s delightful, so Geralt sets out to find other places that cause Jaskier to make such delicious noises, and discovers to his pleasure that there’s a place at the base of Jaskier’s throat that makes Jaskier moan and shudder when Geralt bites down slow and hard enough to bruise; that soft licks along the underside of Jaskier’s wrists make the bard whine and thrust up against him helplessly; that warm breath against the soft insides of Jaskier’s thighs makes Jaskier tremble and gasp. When Geralt looks up along the long line of Jaskier’s body, Jaskier is staring down at him, pupils blown so wide there’s barely a ring of blue around them, lips bitten red and cheeks stained with a hectic flush.

“Please,” Jaskier says, a tiny breath of sound.

Geralt grins, feeling a little wild with joy, and bends again to lick very slowly up the lovely curve of Jaskier’s prick.

“Ah fuck,” Jaskier says, head slamming back against the pillow and hand clutching in Geralt’s hair, not to guide him but just to have something to cling to.

Geralt takes his time. He’ll only get one first taste of Jaskier, after all; he wants to savor every moment of this, the taste of salt on his tongue as he slides Jaskier’s prick inch by slow inch into his mouth, the pleasant ache in his jaw, the sounds Jaskier makes, whimpers and moans and faint gasps of Geralt’s name.

“Gonna,” Jaskier pants, tugging at Geralt’s hair and clawing at the sheets with his other hand. “Gonna come, Ger’, please -”

Geralt lets Jaskier’s prick slip from his mouth for just a moment. “You’re young,” he rumbles, grinning at the way Jaskier’s hips hitch up, a wordless plea. “You’ll be ready again soon.”

“I have never been more grateful for that godsdamned spell,” Jaskier says, and then yelps when Geralt ducks his head and swallows his prick all the way to the root. “Oh gods, Geralt, you are - very very good at this, really quite unconscionably good at this -”

Geralt huffs a laugh through his nose, since his mouth is full. Apparently the shock of actually ending up in bed together has worn off, and Jaskier’s usual verbosity has returned full-force. That’s alright. Geralt likes Jaskier’s voice. He likes it even more as it wavers and breaks in ecstasy, likes the way Jaskier babbles and swears and finally cries out, a single perfect note, as he arches up against Geralt’s hands on his hips and comes down Geralt’s throat.

Geralt leans back and surveys what he has wrought, feeling extremely smug. Jaskier is panting softly, chest heaving, lips slightly parted and eyes closed, eyelashes very dark against his flushed cheeks.

And then Jaskier cracks one eye open and smirks up at Geralt and says breathlessly, “I was promised again.”

Geralt shakes his head, chuckling. Cocky little shit doesn’t even begin to cover it. “Stay here,” he says, patting Jaskier’s hip, and gets up to root through his bags for the little bottle of plain oil he uses as a base for various infusions. It’s safe for humans, which is the important thing.

When he turns back around, Jaskier has one hand behind his head and is very slowly stroking is still-mostly-soft prick with the other, watching Geralt like Geralt is some sort of erotic show. He even licks his lips. Geralt snorts a soft laugh. “Shameless.”

“And why shouldn’t I be?” Jaskier replies, grinning. “You’re looking at me like I’m a venison dinner, my wolf.” He chuckles. “What big teeth you have.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow. He knows the story, of course, how could he not? “Haven’t you skipped a few lines?”

Jaskier licks his lips, and his voice when he speaks next is lower, softer. “What golden eyes you have, my love.”

Geralt steps slowly closer to the bed. “The better to see you with, my dear,” he whispers, the words oddly sweet on his tongue. Jaskier’s smile gets wider.

“What big hands you have, my love.”

Geralt is at the side of the bed now. “The better to touch you with, my dear.”

Jaskier licks his lips again, and looks Geralt up and down again, as if trying to decide what to choose for the last exchange. And then he looks up and meets Geralt’s eyes and wiggles his eyebrows. “And what a big prick you have, my love.”

Geralt grins, showing all his teeth. “The better to fuck you with, my dear.”

“Oh good,” Jaskier says, and lets his legs sprawl a little wider apart. “I was hoping that was the next thing on the agenda.”

Geralt sinks to his knees between Jaskier’s wide-spread legs and leans forward, bracing a hand on the bed, to kiss Jaskier as slowly and thoroughly and decadently as he has always wanted to. Jaskier whimpers and wriggles and takes the opportunity to sneak a hand around and grope Geralt’s ass, which is both startling and yet somehow utterly unsurprising.

“You are a menace, bard,” he murmurs against Jaskier’s lips, and Jaskier laughs.

“Always and unrepentantly, dear heart. But I am your menace.”

“Mine,” Geralt agrees, and sits back on his heels again, and takes his own sweet time uncorking the little vial and slicking his fingers, watching as Jaskier stretches out and displays himself, shameless and beautiful. Apparently he takes a little too much time, distracted by the lovely view that he can look at, now, without worrying that Jaskier will see, will guess, will turn away in disgust or horror or fear. There’s nothing but joyful lust in Jaskier’s eyes, his scent, his smile.

“I would not have guessed you were a tease,” Jaskier observes, grinning, and slides a hand down to wrap around his own prick. “Should I take care of this myself?”

“No,” Geralt says, and wraps his fingers around Jaskier’s wrist; his fingertips touch, but do not overlap as much as he might have expected. Jaskier’s not delicate. Never has been. But he lets Geralt move his hand up until it rests on the pillow beside his head, and raises his other hand without prompting, clasping long fingers around his own wrist.

“Fuck,” Geralt whispers, and kisses Jaskier again. He can’t help it. Now that he can - now that he’s allowed - he’s not sure how he’s going to be able to go more than ten minutes without kissing Jaskier ever again. Which could become a problem.

If so, it’s a problem for tomorrow’s Geralt to deal with; tonight, Geralt can kiss Jaskier just as much as he likes.

“Please,” Jaskier whispers, and Geralt kisses him one more time for good measure before he slides his dripping fingers down past the bard’s prick - yet again hard, bless this second youth - and down between his legs. Jaskier spreads his legs a little wider, and moans, soft and eager, as Geralt’s fingers brush over his entrance. “Please, Geralt.”

“Yes,” Geralt says, and presses the tip of one oiled finger very gently into Jaskier. Jaskier keens, a soft wanting sound that goes right through Geralt like a knife, if knives could be made of desire. “Oh, fuck.”

“That’s the idea,” Jaskier agrees breathlessly, and Geralt can’t help his almost feral grin.

“So it is,” he says, and lets his finger sink in, a fraction of an inch at a time, while Jaskier gasps and keens and tries to spread his legs wider and wider still.

Geralt has always had a good sense of time - not in the large things, perhaps, the years or decades, but in the smaller things, seconds and minutes and hours, the time of day and the phase of the moon. It's sort of a requirement of his profession. But he has no idea how long it takes to stretch Jaskier open. It could be minutes; it could be hours. All he knows is that Jaskier is spread out beneath him, moaning and keening and gasping Geralt's name, and frankly at this point the roof could cave in and Geralt isn't sure he'd notice.

“Geralt,” Jaskier whimpers at last, “please.”

He looks like a vision or a dream, pale skin against the plain brown blankets of the inn’s bed, hair a glorious mess, eyes dark as midnight save for the tiny gleam of midday blue, lips bitten red - Geralt kisses him, desperate and messy, and Jaskier whines into the kiss and arches up against him, hooking a leg around Geralt’s waist and pulling. He can’t move Geralt if Geralt doesn’t want to be moved, of course, and that makes Jaskier whine more desperately, fingers white-knuckled around his own wrist.

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, and slips his fingers free - Jaskier gasps and shudders - and slicks his prick as quickly as he can, biting his lip to keep from spilling just from this, from the sounds and the sight of Jaskier spread out beneath him.

“Fuck,” Jaskier whispers, and tries to spread his legs even wider, and Geralt takes a deep breath, which doesn’t help at all because everything smells of sweat and sex and Jaskier, richer than any perfume could hope to be, and guides his prick to rest against Jaskier’s entrance.

“Yes?” he murmurs.

“Geralt, if you do not fuck me right this second I swear I will - I will - I don’t know what I’ll do but it will be - oooooh, yes,” Jaskier sighs as Geralt presses inward. Geralt drops his head to rest against Jaskier’s shoulder, shaking a little at the sensation. Jaskier is hot and tight and slick with oil, and he shudders deliciously and clenches down, and Geralt keeps from spilling only by the barest margin of control.

He goes as slowly as he can bear, sinking deeper and deeper into Jaskier with every breath, and Jaskier pants and moans and shivers under him, until finally Geralt is hilt-deep in his bard and Jaskier gives a low, soft sigh and goes boneless against the pillows, head lolling back to bare his throat. Geralt kisses that throat, sets his teeth against the spot he’s only just discovered makes Jaskier moan so deliciously, and reaches up to coax Jaskier’s hands apart and intertwine their fingers. They’re pressed together, skin to skin, and he can feel Jaskier’s prick throbbing against him, and it’s so fucking good already.

“Geralt,” Jaskier slurs, tilting his head back further and squeezing Geralt’s hands. “Geralt, move.”

Geralt growls and obeys, shifting his hips in a long slow thrust that makes Jaskier moan a note Geralt’s never heard him sing. It’s beautiful, so he does it again, and again, and if this is how Jaskier feels when he plays a lute then Geralt suddenly understands bards a lot better, because the sheer ecstasy of wringing these sounds from his lover - of making Jaskier moan, and sigh, and cry out low and sweet, is positively addictive. Geralt would do this forever if he could - will do this every night, from now on, if Jaskier allows it.

“Geralt,” Jaskier gasps, and Geralt raises his head and kisses his bard, makes the kiss as sweet and filthy and hungry as he can, and Jaskier moans against his lips and arches up against Geralt’s weight and peaks, spilling hot and sticky between their stomachs and clenching down on Geralt’s prick so tight it almost hurts. Geralt makes a sound he’s not sure he could describe or replicate and thrusts in hard, suddenly desperate, and it’s the soft pleased sound Jaskier makes as their lips part that pushes him over into the most spectacular peak he’s had in - decades, at least. Maybe ever.

He sags down atop Jaskier, knowing he’s probably too heavy but it feels like all his strength has drained away and he just needs a moment. Jaskier huffs a tiny laugh and untangles one hand from Geralt’s, and runs his fingers gently through Geralt’s hair. It feels absurdly good. Geralt sighs in contentment and closes his eyes.

“That was a very good second first time,” Jaskier murmurs after a little while. “Much, much better than the first one.” He chuckles quietly. “You realize now I’m going to insist you provide me with a properly amazing second second time.”

Geralt snorts and presses a kiss to the closest part of Jaskier, which happens to be his cheek. “Greedy.”

“Now that I have you, dear heart? Oh yes, I plan to be extremely greedy.” Jaskier kisses Geralt’s ear, a ticklish brush of lips that makes Geralt twitch a little but isn’t nearly enough to dislodge him from his comfortable sprawl. He’s not moving until Jaskier wants him to.

“Hm,” Geralt says, and considers. “You’ve got me.”

“I do, don’t I.” Jaskier sounds wondering, astonished and delighted and amazed. “I’ve got you at last.”

“Hm,” Geralt agrees, nuzzling Jaskier’s throat contentedly, and they lie there in easy silence for a while.

“Don’t you fall asleep on me,” Jaskier murmurs at last. “You are much too heavy to be a blanket, my love.”

“Hmph,” Geralt says, but he rolls away, grimacing a bit at the sticky mess they’ve made of each other and the blankets. Jaskier laughs and stretches languidly, clearly pleased with everything about the world just now. Geralt levers himself out of bed and finds them a couple of clean cloths to wipe down with, and Jaskier bundles the ruined blanket down off the foot of the bed and tugs Geralt down beside him as soon as they’re both mostly clean, curling up with his head on Geralt’s chest and one leg slung over Geralt’s.

“There we go,” he murmurs, and presses a kiss to the closest scar. “You make a much better mattress than a blanket, darling.”

Geralt sighs and drapes an arm over Jaskier’s shoulders, holding him close.

“You’ve got me, too,” Jaskier says softly after a minute. “As long as you want me. If this isn’t a dream.”

“Still not a dream,” Geralt says, and brushes his fingers over the ticklish spot high on Jaskier’s ribs. Jaskier squeaks and flinches.

“Wicked witcher,” he grumbles, without any heat to the words. “Tickling poor innocent bards.”

“Not terribly innocent anymore,” Geralt points out.

“No, I suppose not,” Jaskier says, sounding immensely satisfied with himself. “I am extremely well-ravished.” He props himself up on an elbow, looking down at Geralt with an expression Geralt can’t quite parse, and reaches out to brush a strand of Geralt’s hair gently out of his eyes. “I have reached for a star, and somehow I have caught you,” he murmurs. “What a wondrous night it has been.”

Geralt swallows hard. “Stars fade,” he rasps. “Will you - will you want me in the morning?”

“Geralt,” Jaskier says, unwontedly solemn, “I will want you for the rest of my life.” There’s an unmistakable note of truth to the words, a depth that Jaskier’s babbling almost never has.

Geralt doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he tugs Jaskier down and kisses him as thoroughly as he can, trying to pour all the emotions he can’t find words for into the press of their lips.

It seems to work, given the way Jaskier sighs and drapes himself over Geralt, almost purring with contentment.

“My star,” Jaskier murmurs at last, and settles down with his head on Geralt’s shoulder and an arm draped over Geralt’s chest. Geralt wraps his arm a little more firmly around Jaskier’s shoulders and tucks his other arm behind his head and lies there listening to the slow rhythm of Jaskier’s breathing evening out into sleep, and thinks that he has rarely been happier in all his long and bloody life.

Thank every god the bard was brave enough to reach out for a star.