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Geralt’s clothes stank.

He washed his body semi-regularly, but he’d been marinating in the same pants and shirt and armor for—longer than he could remember, actually, and the stench of ripe sweat and monster guts was becoming concerning on a medical level.

Jaskier’s words, not his.

He knelt next to the river, scrubbing hard at his clothes with the bar of soap Jaskier had pressed in his hands. It was nice soap, smooth and scented with lavender, nothing like the harsh lye Geralt usually used. He’d held it in his hand like a lump of viscera when Jaskier gave it to him; this was far too fine for a witcher.

“I can find something else,” Geralt had said. There were some ashes left over from their fire that he could mix with water, or he could find a handful of sand to use as an abrasive. Jaskier’s fondness of luxury eluded Geralt: why spend unnecessary money when you could usually scrape up what you needed from what was around you?

“I insist.” Jaskier backed away so Geralt couldn’t hand the soap back to him. “Don’t come back until you smell a little less like you just fucked a dead horse.”

So, Geralt scrubbed the soap into his clothes and let them soak in the river water. It was an exercise in futility: a witcher’s life was all about sweat and guts and blood. No amount of expensive soap would change that; everything would just get dirty again.

He couldn’t deny how good it felt to step into the cool water and wash up with the lavender soap, though. He scrubbed at his face, got his armpits, his ass, his thighs. He balanced on one foot, then the other, to get at his soles. The floral scent mixed with the freshness of the river water and it was—nice. Maybe the lavender would remain on his skin once he toweled off. Maybe he’d catch a whiff of it as he drifted asleep tonight.

He smelled like Jaskier. The thought made something twist in his stomach. He quickly pushed it down.

Geralt got out of the river and dried off with a towel before wrapping it around his waist. He squeezed as much water as he could out of his clothes and draped them over a branch. It was a warm day; the clothes would dry quickly. When he got back to camp, Jaskier was bent over a bit of paper, writing.

“Thanks,” Geralt said, handing the soap back. Jaskier looked up and beamed.

“No, you’ve done me the favor,” he said. His eyes were blue and shining and it looked like he meant it, the bastard, like Geralt had done something amazing. “Your personal bouquet is much improved.”

Geralt grunted and looked away. Things like bathing and washing and eating regularly and smelling nice were rituals that he never bothered with before Jaskier. No need for three square meals a day when you could get by on far less. No need to regularly wash yourself when the only people you interacted with were monsters and people desperate to get rid of them.

In a life where there were so many other more pressing rituals—cauterizing wounds, balancing potions, sharpening his silver sword—the idea of adding more was exhausting. But it pleased Jaskier to see him well fed and clean, for some reason, and sometimes it was easier to just give Jaskier what he wanted.

Geralt cast Quen over the camp again, just to be sure. Another reason why he didn’t like washing his clothes: he needed to always be ready for a fight, and while he could fight a monster with his cock out, he preferred not to.

They pushed their bedrolls together for warmth at night. Jaskier’s heart was beating slow and steady, the way it did in sleep. At this point, after so long traveling together, Geralt would know the sound of Jaskier’s heartbeat anywhere, in the darkest of forests or at the bottom of the deepest lake or in the most crowded marketplace. Geralt stared at the back of Jaskier’s head, at the slope of his neck.

The scent of lavender, a scent he’d smelled on Jaskier as long as he’d known him, rose off Geralt’s skin in little waves. He wanted to grab a fistful of dirt and rub it all over himself, just to make the scent go away.

He turned away from Jaskier and, eventually, slept.

 

 

When Jaskier suggested that they go to the coast, Geralt didn’t give it more than a passing thought. He was preparing for a contract to slay a cockatrice, checking his crossbow and packing vials of Swallow on his belt. Jaskier could go to the sea if he wanted; Geralt had things to do.

But Jaskier pressed.

“I haven’t been in so long, Geralt,” he whined, sliding on his armor. Geralt had started insisting a while ago that Jaskier procure his own armor if he was going to accompany Geralt on his hunts. It wouldn’t save him if a beast really meant to kill him, but it could buy him a little time. “Surely we could use a break.”

“No one’s stopping you.”

“I’m your bard! We shouldn’t separate if we can avoid it.”

“You’re not my anything. You’re free to go.”

“You horrible flirt,” Jaskier sighed dramatically. “‘You’re not my anything.’ You’ll give a fellow ideas, charming words like those.”

Geralt cut his eyes at him. Jaskier just grinned, the little shit.

“And anyway,” he said, “I’m thinking of you, here. You need a vacation. That hip’s acting up, don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

His hip was actually okay today, more of a dull ache than a shooting twinge, but Jaskier wasn’t wrong. It only meant that he needed to be mindful of how he moved it. In a way, Geralt thought, injury could even improve a witcher’s fighting. Could help them make every lunge and strike count. Heighten their other senses, maybe. So long as he oriented himself to keep the beasts on his good side, and maybe compensate with more carefully chosen potions, he should be okay.

“I get a vacation every winter,” Geralt said. He tried to make his tone sound final, no room for interpretation, but Jaskier wouldn’t be Jaskier if he didn’t push.

“What, at Kaer Morhen?” He grimaced. “Where you underwent your mutations as a child? The abandoned keep filled with the bones of old murdered witchers?” Jaskier paused until Geralt, reluctantly, nodded. “That’s not a vacation, Geralt; that’s like a funeral that never ends.”

Geralt grunted in annoyance, more at himself than at Jaskier. Since when did he divulge so much? Jaskier wasn’t wrong: Kaer Morhen was a depressing monument to an earlier time. It was mostly empty now, except for Vesemir and probably more than a few rats, its halls empty and dark and cold.

“It’s my home.” It wasn’t entirely accurate—Geralt couldn’t be said to really have a home—but it was close enough. He turned back to his preparations. He was running low on arrows, but he’d make what he had left count and buy more when he got paid.

“Fine,” Jaskier said, “but I mean it, you need a real vacation. Not holed up in a mountain in the dead of winter, but someplace lovely. Where you can relax.” Jaskier squatted down next to him and rested a hand on Geralt’s forearm, over his jacket sleeve. Jaskier was the only person in the entire world who touched Geralt so carelessly, like Geralt was someone who could be touched. Most everyone else wisely obeyed the animal instinct to lean away from him when they got a glimpse of his golden, inhuman eyes, but not Jaskier. He had no sense of self preservation whatsoever.

Geralt couldn’t feel the warmth of his palm through his jacket, which was a lucky thing, but it still made him look up. Jaskier’s eyes were so blue.

“Come on, Geralt. Take a trip with your dearest friend.”

“I don’t have friends.”

“Of course you don’t,” Jaskier said gently. He didn’t move his hand, a soft pressure that Geralt didn’t deserve. Something seemed to be teeming at his skin—probably just anticipation for the fight. Geralt broke eye contact first, busying himself counting his arrows for the third time.

What Jaskier didn’t understand was that witchers were wired differently. Geralt may have been born human, but all of that had been cut out of him long ago, replaced with the mutagens and grueling training that pushed his body to the very brink of humanity. Jaskier and Geralt occupied different worlds. Jaskier looked at the world and saw possibility and pleasure, but Geralt had seen more than most, and it cast the world under a shadow. He looked at people and saw the fear and disgust behind their eyes, knew all the soft places where he could best bury his sword, knew how their bodies aged and withered before his very eyes. He looked at lush green forests and glassy blue lakes and saw a graveyard. Death happened wherever he went: it was what he was made for.

Geralt was used to wading through the misery and suffering of the shadow world. It was a life like a cold wind rattling through his chest, making his flesh shrink away and harden over like stone. But Jaskier, even after years of traveling with Geralt, had somehow managed to evade its cold touch, fully retaining his enthusiasm and curiosity for life.

Had Geralt ever been like that? He couldn’t remember.

He stood and tied his hair back. Checked the laces of his boots.

“Just picture it, Geralt,” Jaskier said, leaning against a tree. “We save up and go to a nice little seaside town. Just a weekend, nothing crazy. Maybe a week.”

Geralt strapped his armor across his chest.

“We wake up every morning to the sound of waves. Lay on the beach, get some sun. Maybe I’ll work on some songs, should the inspiration hit.”

“And what would I do?” Geralt wasn’t built for idleness. The idea of it made his skin itch.

“You just sit and look pretty, my good man,” Jaskier said, grinning. “Shouldn’t be too hard. Play some cards. Flirt with the townswomen. Swim! Find a cool rock! Pick up a hobby! I bet you’d be amazing at sailing.”

“I’ve never been to the sea.” Geralt bent down for his swords, pressing a hand to the ache in his hip, ordering it to behave. When Jaskier didn’t respond, Geralt looked up. Jaskier’s eyes were wide.

“You’re joking.”

Geralt shrugged.

“Never? But--you’re old,” Jaskier said. Geralt barked a laugh at that, hoisting the swords onto his back. “Like, really old. You’ve never been?”

“No.”

“Why the fuck not?”

Geralt exhaled. How to explain that he just didn’t have the hunger for the world that Jaskier had? Geralt had seen a great many things in his long life, and at a certain point, he’d stopped wanting more. Not because he was sated, having had his fill, but because everything he’d seen and done had formed a callus over his heart, deadening the ability to want anything at all. Geralt was built for a specific purpose, and he executed that purpose beautifully. That’s all there was for him.

Jaskier, on the other hand, wanted everything. Geralt had to tune it out sometimes: the hot thrum of his pulse, the blood that bloomed under his skin when he saw something lovely: a beautiful piece of jewelry, a fresh pot of lute varnish, the generous curve of a woman’s ass, elegantly scented oils. He was so responsive, opened up for anything.

“It’s never come up,” Geralt said finally.

Jaskier sputtered. “It’s never--Geralt, surely there are monsters to slay on the coast?”

He shrugged. It was possible. He just never made his way over there. There was plenty to keep him employed inland.

“This is why you need me,” Jaskier sighed. “You have so much to learn about the world, Geralt. Thank gods you have me.”

“I have shit to do, bard, I’m not going to the coast.” Geralt turned and stalked towards the forest, armed to the teeth, potions sloshing on his hip. He’d take the first dose of Swallow when he got closer to the cockatrice nest. Jaskier trotted after him, slow and heavy in his armor.

“We’re talking about this when we get back!” Jaskier called after him, several paces behind.

Geralt raised his middle finger and kept walking.

“Oh, very nice, very mature, White Wolf.”

Geralt entered the forest with a ghost of a smile on his lips, Jaskier grumbling behind him.

 

 

They went to the coast.

Geralt wasn’t sure how it happened. He always ended up giving Jaskier what he wanted, whether it was letting him press up against him for warmth as they slept, or being his plus one at insufferable balls for pretentious academic and musician types, or, apparently, impromptu trips to the coast. Geralt never used to be like this, so easy to lead.

It was true that he took time off every winter, but holing up in a castle on a snowy mountain to avoid freezing to death did seem different from luxuriating on a beach for the pleasure of it. A witcher on vacation in the summertime made no sense: it was prime time for contracts, and witchers were made for more violent stuff than lounging by the seaside. He didn’t even know how his body would react to such idleness. The mutagens coursed through his veins, primed for a fight. His nature was written all over his body, in the scars and his golden eyes and the sword calluses on his palms.

He had half a mind to turn around now, find a contract in one of the many towns they passed. He could continue living in his usual way, undisturbed by bards with horribly vibrant smiles and disgustingly shining blue eyes and plush skin, every inch of him an indulgence, not like Geralt, scraping and beastly and ragged—

He stayed. Surely wherever they were going would at least have a tavern and a brothel, like any other halfway decent town. He’d find a way to keep himself occupied.

Jaskier was a little bit ahead of Geralt and Roach on the path. Geralt could see his brown hair curling with sweat on the back of his neck. Jaskier had planned everything: pored over maps until he selected a seaside town to his liking, made sure they saved enough coin for the trip, mapped their route.

“I love the sea,” Jaskier said, turning his head to smile at Geralt. “Did I ever tell you about the time--this was before we met, I was a student at Oxenfurt, on break--and I travelled to the seaside and had a whirlwind, sordid affair with a captain’s wife--”

Jaskier chattered the whole way, idly playing his lute every once in a while. Geralt let it wash over him, grateful to have noise to sink into.

 

 

“Can you smell it?” Jaskier inhaled deeply. In fact, Geralt had smelled salt in the air ages ago, but he watched the pleasure of it play out on Jaskier’s face. To Geralt, scenting the air was a matter of reflexive vigilance; a witcher couldn’t just turn off the instinct for tracking when they weren’t actively on a job. To Jaskier, it was something to enjoy. “It’s going to be lovely, Geralt, you’ll see.”

Geralt suppressed a smile. “You’re trying very hard to convince me. I’m already here.” He didn’t add that he thought about turning around and leaving every dozen steps, or that the sea would be under the same shadow of death as anything else in the world, rendering its potential loveliness moot.

Jaskier flushed a little. “Well! You weren’t exactly bursting at the seams with excitement about this, and maybe I want it to be worth your while.”

Geralt didn’t know what to say to that.

They reached the sea at dusk. Geralt had been listening to it for a while on their approach, his enhanced hearing creating a picture of a vast, moving substance and open air, almost too big to be real. Before long, they were looking down from the top of a sandy beach and Geralt saw nothing but sea and sea and sea.

“Well? What do you think? Beautiful, right?” Jaskier’s face was tired, but the awe was written there plainly. Geralt’s hip ached from the long day of travel. The evening air was cool on his skin. The sky was hanging on to the last smudges of deep pink before the sun went down completely, casting a cool glow across Jaskier’s cheeks.

What did Geralt think? It was the sea. It churned and writhed and wouldn’t stay still, not unlike one of his monsters. It had basic similarities to the lakes and rivers Geralt had known, but the smell was completely different--salt and gull feathers, rather than soil and rock. The rush of it filled his ears. He looked into it and felt as though he were gazing into a great wet maw.

There was a stab of anxiety in his stomach. It was too big. Not big like a mountain or a valley, because at least mountains or valleys couldn’t swallow him whole. Not big like a cockatrice or a griffin, because with a beast, he knew exactly where to bury his sword. He couldn’t fight an ocean. It could fold him up and pull him down and leave nothing behind.

“It’s an ocean,” he said finally. “I’ve seen it now.”

Jaskier’s face fell for a second, but he rallied, so fast that Geralt wasn’t sure he’d even seen the disappointment there. Good, if he had. Jaskier had to realize sooner or later that Geralt would only disappoint him. He was man-shaped, but he was no man; was as monstrous and unknowable as any beast he was contracted to slay.

“All right. Someone needs a nap,” Jaskier said cheerfully. “Let’s go find the inn.”

Jaskier shouldn’t be doing this. Shouldn’t be spending his coin like this. Not on Geralt.

“We only have enough for one bed, I’m afraid.”

Geralt paused. Jaskier was fidgeting with the straps of his bags and avoiding Geralt’s gaze. Geralt realized for the first time that Jaskier seemed quite nervous.

“That’s fine,” Geralt said carefully. They almost always shared a bed when they stayed at inns, for convenience and warmth and saving coin. Why would this be any different?

Jaskier smiled, a bit too bright, hard around the corners of his lips.

The inn was right on the beach. Jaskier exclaimed in pleasure when they walked into their room: it was small, but cozy. There were green plants growing out of pots that hung from the ceiling, and the hardwood floor was clean and swept. For furniture, there was a bed with white sheets and a small dresser.

The bed was wider than their usual fare and that night, as they fell asleep, it was without touching. After ages of sleeping so close to each other, the inches of space between Jaskier’s body and Geralt’s felt like a whistling crevasse. The ocean air pushed through the open window and moved through the room. Though he lay in a soft bed, he had the feeling that he was teetering on the edge of a great height.

Geralt faced away from Jaskier and drifted into a thin sleep, the rush of the ocean waves outside strange and unnerving.

 

 

Geralt’s eyes shot open and everything was wrong, from the soft bed to the salt in the air. He tensed his arms around the familiar warmth pressed up against him as he scanned his body for the bindings of a curse or lingering traces of any drugs that may have knocked him out, and found nothing. He flexed his hands and feet—not restrained. He hummed a bit—still had his voice. Sunlight poured in through the window, broader and brighter at sea than in the forest.

The sea—that was right. They were at the coast, on Jaskier’s damned vacation. The water lapped against the shore outside.

He relaxed his arms and looked down at Jaskier, still sleeping. He always liked seeing Jaskier asleep, when the muscles of his face relaxed and his mouth went blessedly quiet. The sun glinted off his hair. He looked so soft, here, tangled in blankets. Young. Pretty. Trusting. It made Geralt’s breath catch in his throat.

They’d woken up like this countless times before. The first time—ages ago, at this point—he’d woken up with his back pressed to Jaskier’s front, Jaskier’s arm flung over his side. Easy access to his vital organs, stomach entirely exposed. Geralt had grabbed the knife from his pocket and was straddling Jaskier, blade pressed to his neck, in the space between two breaths.

Jaskier had just blinked, weakly raising his hands in front of his face.

“Fucking—balls, Geralt,” he’d said, voice rough with sleep. His sleep shirt was rucked up a little, showing just a sliver of skin. “I can’t say I’ve never found myself in this exact configuration the morning after a bit of light debauchery, but I don’t think I’ve managed to earn it this time.”

Geralt had panted over him, wakefulness catching up with him. Jaskier’s hair was sticking up everywhere, and some insane part of Geralt’s panicked brain registered that it was cute. He lowered the knife. Jaskier awkwardly patted Geralt’s knee and he slumped back onto his bedroll, dazed.

Jaskier leaned up on his elbows.

“Did I do something?”

Leave it to Jaskier to think he did something wrong when Geralt was the one who woke him with a knife to the throat.

“No,” Geralt spat.

“Hm.” Jaskier rubbed at his face. “Has it been that long?”

“That long what?”

“That long since…well, since you woke up with somebody.”

Geralt stood and started packing up his bedroll. “We need to get going. Contracts get picked up quickly this time of year.”

“So that’s a yes, then.”

Fucking bard.

Since that first time, though, it got easier. It was—nice. Being touched. It was something he could never deserve, but wanted, nonetheless. He didn’t know how to do it in his waking hours, at least not without the exchange of coin to facilitate the way, so it was nice that it happened while he was unconscious and didn’t have to think about it.

Right. That was enough of that. Geralt gently untangled his body from Jaskier’s and slipped out of bed. He was dressed and out the door before Jaskier woke up.

He headed into the little town. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he needed to—move. He didn’t want to see where his mind went when he wasn’t careful, when he didn’t have a place to put it. A whole day stretched before him with nothing to do, and a vague dread clenched around his heart at the prospect. His hip twinged every few steps, but it was bearable. The sun shined off the seawater in a way that was almost violent, thousands of white diamonds burning on the surface. The sound of so much water still unsettled him. There was nowhere to hide at sea, no trees or rocks to duck behind.

In town, there were clusters of little houses, and narrow roads, and fishermen down by the water, and the usual shops for a town this size. He picked one at random, which turned out to be a bakery.

“What can I get for you, stranger?” said the plump woman behind the case of pastries. She was pretty, with dark hair and a sureness to her voice. Geralt looked around at the array of baked goods. She must have caught a glimpse of his eyes, because she added, “we don’t get too many of your kind up here.” Her meaning was clear: and we don’t intend to start.

“I’m not here on business,” Geralt said. “Unless...there’s business to be had?” He tried not to sound too hopeful. It was just--he only knew how to do one thing. His shoulders felt too light without his armor. He didn’t know how he was going to survive the next week just—relaxing. If Geralt had ever relaxed for longer than the duration of a quick fuck or a soak in the bath, it was too long ago to remember.

Just leave, he thought. He could do it. Take Roach, leave without telling Jaskier. He had his lute and his voice and apparently enough coin to put them both up in an inn for a week; he’d be fine. Geralt hadn’t wanted to come up here in the first place. He was good at leaving. He had plenty of practice with it, leaving town after town with his pockets heavy with coin that he promptly spent on alcohol and brothels.

And fine oils and soaps for Jaskier, occasionally.

Sometimes a bit of jewelry.

Once, he’d paid to have Jaskier’s shoes recobbled when the soles had run thin.

He remembered Jaskier sleeping in the ocean sunlight that morning.

Fuck.

The shop woman appraised Geralt. “We haven’t had monsters here in generations. Perfectly sleepy town. A bit of a bore, actually. If you aren’t here on business, what are you here for, witcher?” And whatever it is, can you kindly finish it up and leave?

“Leisure,” he said, tilting his head. A challenge.

“Well, there’s plenty of that to be had. I recommend the beach.”

What a fucking surprise, Geralt thought.

“But,” the baker added slowly, eyes on him. “If you need something to do, my roof needs repairing. There’s coin in it if you can do it today.”

“Yes,” Geralt said quickly, before she could change her mind.

“Well. Good,” she said, looking uncertain. “Name’s Zofia. Come by later and we’ll get you to work.” She gave him directions to her home and moved to go out the back.

“Wait,” Geralt said. He looked at the pastries. There were round ones filled with cream, and sugared donuts, and fat slices of chocolate bread. In the end, he pointed to the raspberry cream filled pastries. Zofia put two in a brown bag.

When Geralt returned to the inn, Jaskier was sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Where’d you go,” he mumbled, voice thick with sleep.

“Nowhere,” Geralt said. “Here.” He handed the bag to Jaskier. He peered inside and his eyes shot to Geralt’s, wide and clear, all traces of sleepiness chased away.

“You got this for me?”

Geralt grunted.

“You got me breakfast?”

“Starting to wish I hadn’t,” Geralt said.

“You absolute jewel, I do think I’ll keep you. Well, hello, beautiful,” Jaskier said, pulling out the pastry. He closed his eyes and moaned lightly on the first bite. It was encroaching on obscene. Geralt moved towards the door.

“Wait!” Jaskier said around a mouthful of pastry. He patted the spot next to him on the bed. “Have breakfast with me, you great oaf.”

“That’s for you, I’m not hungry.”

“Geralt. Sit down. It will be good for my nerves to watch you eat something.”

Geralt sat. He ate.

Jaskier was always after him to eat more. Geralt was ambivalent about food at best. It was a necessary inconvenience, a means to keep his body going. Taste didn’t factor into it. Whether it was dirty mushrooms and roots pulled from the ground or a finely marinated roast with thyme, food was food. His body processed it all the same, so what did it matter? When coin was particularly low, he could meditate the worst of the hunger away.

But even he had to admit that this pastry, sweet and flaky and created specifically to taste good, had its merits.

“So, Geralt,” Jaskier said, licking the last few crystals of sugar from his lips. Geralt watched him intently. “The day is young! What should we do on our first full day of vacation? Splash in the waves? Nap in the sun? Drink wine by the sea?”

“I’m helping a woman mend her roof.”

Jaskier blinked. “You’re--what?”

“The woman at the bakery.” Geralt gestured with his pastry. “She asked me to help with her roof. I agreed.”

Jaskier’s face was curiously blank, and then he broke into a slow grin that Geralt knew not to trust.

“Do you know how to repair roofs, Geralt?”

Geralt bristled. He’d never stayed in one place long enough to merit doing repairs. “I’ll figure it out.”

“You haven’t a clue, do you?”

Geralt didn’t dignify this with a response. Jaskier’s eyes were sparkling. He looked one step away from rubbing his hands together with glee.

“I have to see this. No, wait, this will be perfect. I’ll put it in a song. The White Wolf, a witcher and a handyman!”

“Put a cock in it.”

“He’ll slay your monsters and fix that pesky leak! Is there anything he can’t do?”

Geralt stood and made for the door.

“Wait!” Jaskier cried, tripping out of bed. He haphazardly pulled on his clothes, ran his fingers through his hair, and chased after Geralt.

 

 

In the end, Geralt was exactly as useless at repairing Zofia’s roof as Jaskier had predicted. Geralt had assumed that he’d muddle his way through—it had been a long time since he’d done any kind of work at which he wasn’t an expert—but when he arrived, she pointed to a large pile of thatch and he knew he was in trouble. He’d lifted it up over his shoulder, and then hesitated, unsure of what came next.

“Fuck’s sake,” Zofia grumbled. Geralt nearly flushed. He refused to look towards Jaskier, but felt his shit-eating grin burning into his back.

“A bit to the left, I think, darling,” Jaskier called, once Zofia had shown him what to do and he’d begun to clumsily lay out the thatch. Geralt clenched his fists, but when he turned to glare, Jaskier was smiling gently, eyes dancing. He was reclining on a chair, charming Zofia to the point of giggles. They seemed—happy. Relaxed. They would probably sleep together before their trip was over.

It was fine. It would give Geralt time to be alone.

When the work was done, Zofia pressed some coin into his hand. It was the most embarrassing payout he’d ever received. If Vesemir were here, he’d smack Geralt upside the head. Witchers’ reputations were terrible enough as it was, maligned and mistrusted by all; Geralt didn’t need to add to it with shoddy work.

“I can’t take this,” he said. “I was hopeless. You did the bulk of it yourself.”

“I hired you for a job, and you did it,” Zofia said. “So what if there was a little on-the-job training? Besides, I liked watching you work.” She was smiling at him. She hadn’t smiled at him this morning when they met in the bakery. This was Jaskier’s doing. Geralt very carefully didn’t feel any particular way about it.

“Easy on the eyes, isn’t he?” Jaskier agreed.

Geralt pocketed the coin and he and Jaskier took their leave.

“Nice of you to fix her roof,” Jaskier said when Zofia was out of earshot. “Or, well, to stand there and watch her fix it. Highway robbery, really; I’m impressed.”

“Don’t you want to stay?” Geralt said quietly.

“What?”

“You were getting along with Zofia. I figured you’d be spending the evening with her.”

“With—” Jaskier’s face fell. Why would he look like that? “Geralt, just because I get along with a woman doesn’t automatically mean I want to bed her.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t, and you’re being perfectly boorish. Are you really so—” he stopped himself.

“So what?”

“So nothing.” Jaskier turned and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “idiot witchers,” but when he faced Geralt again, his expression had brightened.

“Right, then. We’re going to the beach.”

“No.” Geralt had big plans to find the nearest bar and drink this unearned coin away.

“Yes. We did your thing—fixing a roof, Geralt, for fuck’s sake—and it was very entertaining indeed, so thank you for that, and now we’re going to do my thing. Welcome to friendship, Geralt!”

“I’m not your—”

“Friend, no, of course not, you’d let just anyone cuddle you as you slept, wouldn’t you?”

Geralt’s face probably would have burned if his blood moved as quick and hot as a human’s. They never talked about that. It was a precious thing, the way they curled against each other in sleep, maybe one of the only precious things Geralt had, and he was protective of it. If they talked about it, it would ruin it. Maybe Jaskier could risk that, but Geralt couldn’t.

Jaskier was, somehow, still talking. “—the way I see it, you can brood and be an ass, or you can brood and be an ass while swimming. Which sounds better to you? Besides, the ocean’s like a bath! You love baths!”

Geralt grunted. He did love baths.

 

 

The sun was still high when they got to the beach. Jaskier stripped to his shorts and ran into the water, because of course he did. He ran towards everything, open-armed and heart thrust forward, caring nothing of how he might get hurt. What might it be like to live that way?

From the sand, Geralt watched how muscle moved across Jaskier’s back, the bend of his spine as he dove into the water. Jaskier was so in his element, everywhere he went, in wind and water and earth. He’d even managed to crawl inside Geralt’s awful heart, cold and uninhabitable a place though it was, and made a space for himself there. He could probably charm his way in and out of a bruxa nest.

The wind whipped Geralt’s hair around his face. The sea still troubled him: the sheer mass of it, how it crawled up the shore and then away, how he couldn’t see where it ended.

He pulled off his boots and rolled up the legs of his pants. The sand was hot under his bare feet as he approached the water. Jaskier was floating on his back, his body rising and falling with the waves. Geralt stood ankle-deep in the water, flexing his hands and feeling like an idiot.

Vacation didn’t suit him. He didn’t know what to do with his body when it wasn’t otherwise occupied. He was familiar enough with water: he could hold his breath for ten minutes before he needed air, was by all accounts a strong swimmer. It was just—he was always fighting a monster at the same time. A pack of drowners pulling him under, roiling in the cold water and clawing at his body, and Geralt twisting his sword, his lungs burning and spasming in his chest—

None of that was here. The water here was warm, soft around his ankles. Even tickled a little.

Jaskier came and sat next to Geralt’s feet. “That’s better,” he sighed, extending his legs out in front of him in the shallow water. His dark hair was wet and plastered to his head. “I was getting tired in the heat, all that roofing business. Needed a refreshing dip.”

Jaskier’s eyes were bright when Geralt looked down at him. Rivulets of water ran down his body. One drop clung to his throat and slid down to his clavicle. Geralt wanted to lick it off.

Geralt cleared his throat. “You didn’t do a lick of work and you know it.”

“Excuse you! My labor was of the emotionally supportive sort,” Jaskier retorted. “I provided encouragement and moral support and eye candy, which everyone knows are the most important parts of any roofing job. You’re lucky I didn’t demand a cut of your coin.” He closed his eyes and leaned back on his hands, basking in the sunlight on his face.

“You’re unbelievable.” Geralt couldn’t quite keep the smile out of his voice.

“Thank you. Now, come swim properly, White Wolf, the water’s glorious! No one can resist the embrace of our dark mother, the sea. Especially someone like you, who’s never even seen it in a thousand years of living.” Jaskier nudged Geralt’s leg with his elbow and shifted back into the shallow water.

“I’m not a thousand years old.”

“Mm. You need to invest in a better moisturizer, then.” He was smiling, teasing. When Geralt still didn’t move, Jaskier cupped one hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun so he could look right into Geralt’s eyes.

“Would you like to come in, Geralt?”

Jaskier was leaning back in the water and smiling up at him. His mouth looked so pink against the blue of the water.

“I’m in,” Geralt gestured to his feet. Jaskier grinned.

“So you are,” he allowed. And then: “It’s okay, dear witcher. You can take your time.”

What the fuck did that mean?

Before he could ask, Jaskier was diving into another wave, leaving Geralt standing alone in the shallowest part of the water, sun beating down on his shoulders.

Fucking bard. Always talking, and never making any sense. Geralt’s first instinct was to pull on his boots and run back to their inn, grab Roach, and get the hell out. Instead, he stomped back to dry sand, shucked off his clothes, and waded back in the water. Take his time, his ass. He was in to his waist when Jaskier noticed.

“Geralt!” he cried, arms outstretched. “Welcome to the ocean! You have just increased the world’s population of grumpy witchers submerged in seawater by one!”

“Fantastic,” Geralt grumbled.

Jaskier’s face was open and adoring, as though Geralt had done something truly wonderful. Geralt wished he would stop. It was too much. He could tell Jaskier wanted to—to touch him. He kept making tiny aborted movements towards him, movements that Geralt probably wouldn’t have noticed if he weren’t a highly trained tracker. A tensing of fingers, a shift in the elbow. Maybe Jaskier wanted to sling an arm over his shoulders, or dunk him in the water, or press a palm to his chest.

“It’s so beautiful,” Jaskier said, looking out across the water. “The ocean is just like music, isn’t it?”

Like music—maybe. Geralt didn’t have the ear for song that Jaskier had, couldn’t pull music out of the world the way he could. Jaskier was standing close to Geralt in the water, the waves moving around them.

“Geralt? Is this very hard for you?” Jaskier asked, his voice so soft.

What did that mean? He was here, wasn’t he?

It would be easier if Jaskier wasn’t so gentle. Would be easier if a monster rose out of the sea right now, with sharp teeth and spitting venom and a heart for Geralt’s silver sword to find. Geralt’s quadriceps tensed at the thought, ready to spring, but instead, the water moved around him in soft waves. Rested against every curve and corner of his body. Geralt couldn’t understand it. Jaskier raised his hand as though to touch him, but dropped it.

“It’s fine,” Geralt said. He didn’t know what he was referring to, exactly, but it was fine. It needed to be fine.

“Quit brooding, darling. It’s swimming, not a basilisk fight.” Geralt huffed a laugh. “Although, now that I think about it, how do you even swim with all this muscle? I bet you sink like a stone.”

“Witcher magic,” Geralt deadpanned.

“You’re full of shit and I despise the sight of you.”

Geralt grinned. That seemed to be all the encouragement Jaskier needed to reach for his hand and grasp it fully to pull him deeper into the water. Geralt, for some reason, let him.

 

 

After their swim, they toweled off and headed to the tavern for bowls of fishy stew. Geralt hung back against the wall, tankard of ale in his hand, and watched everyone crowd around Jaskier, hanging on his every word. He hadn’t brought his lute with him, but he made up for it by telling grand stories of his adventures with Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf. The sconces cast a warm glow on his face. Before long, he had two spots of color on his cheeks from drink and he was smiling, effortlessly commanding his audience’s attention and affection. Geralt watched, feeling the corner of his mouth curve up. Jaskier was amazing to watch like this.

Eventually, though, a prickle of bitterness lit up across his neck. This was how it always was: Jaskier was beloved, and Geralt was cast to the outside. A vacation wouldn’t change that. His skin felt hot and tight: he wanted to stomp out the door and find his swords, find some kind of purpose. A place to put his body where it knew what to do.

It was dark by the time they left the tavern. The ocean air was salty and fresh, a welcome relief from the stuffy bar room filled with too many people’s breath. Jaskier was piss drunk, talking loudly and bumping his shoulder into Geralt’s every few steps. Twice Geralt placed his hand on Jaskier’s lower back to steady him, and up that close, Jaskier smelled like skin and sweat and heat. It made something warm twist in Geralt’s stomach. That bitter jealousy he’d felt in the tavern dissipated at the contact and washed away with the ocean waves: at the end of the night, Jaskier chose him. Jaskier was the only person who had ever willingly chosen Geralt. No curse or djinn or contract bound them to one another, and yet they chose each other, again and again. It was selfish, to want that from Jaskier, but Geralt found that where Jaskier was concerned, he couldn’t help being selfish.

“Say, Geralt,” Jaskier slurred, pressing up against Geralt underneath his arm. Geralt had to make sure their feet didn’t tangle as they walked. “Did you know that we’ve known each other for so long? So long!” He raised his arms to the sky.

“If you say so, bard,” Geralt said. Time moved differently for witchers. What was long for Jaskier was the blink of an eye for Geralt, but with Jaskier pressed up against him and the ocean swelling nearby, Geralt could admit that this friendship had shifted his insides around in ways he didn’t think could be undone.

“None of your spooky witcher ‘time isn’t real’ speeches, you know what I mean,” Jaskier said, echoing Geralt’s thoughts eerily accurately. He did that quite a lot.

“I have never once said that time wasn’t real.”

“Semantics,” Jaskier said, waving a hand. That threw him off balance enough to fall into Geralt’s chest a little more. Geralt steadied him, grateful that the moon was black tonight so that there was no light by which anyone could see his small smile. Jaskier’s body was so hot against his, searing through their shirts. “You know what I thought when I first saw you?”

“‘I’m bored, time to irritate the nearest witcher?’”

“Fuck you, I am a delight,” Jaskier laughed, pushing him weakly, no heat behind it. “Well. No. I suppose I am a bit of a nightmare. A delightful nightmare, I think.”

“Mm.”

“We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?”

Geralt had no idea what to make of that.

They stumbled back to the inn, and this time, neither of them had any qualms about huddling up against each other in bed right away, Jaskier’s face pressed into the back of Geralt’s neck, arm slung over his stomach. Geralt shouldn’t get to have this. He shouldn’t.

He shifted back to press himself a little more firmly against the line of Jaskier’s body, anyway.

It wasn’t until he was halfway dropped into sleep that he realized that Jaskier hadn’t said what it was he’d thought when he first saw him.

It was okay. Geralt had a feeling that he knew.

 

 

Geralt fell into the routine of it embarrassingly easily, after that.

They spent the next few days in and out of the water, swimming for hours and then dragging their tired asses back to shore to sun themselves like lizards. Geralt had plenty of opportunities to steal glances while laying on the beach, and he learned that the bottoms of Jaskier’s feet were pink and cute. His damp skin shined in the sun when he outstretched his long legs in the sand. The seawater made his hair fluffy and curly when it dried. Water droplets clung to the dark hair of his chest that Geralt absolutely did not think about pressing his cheek against.

It turned out that Geralt was not the one who couldn’t handle idleness. He took to luxuriating on the beach disturbingly well, stripped to his shorts and wolf medallion, listening to the ocean waves and letting the sun sink into his bones. Jaskier, however, needed something to do with his hands. He brought books to the beach and played his lute and swam for longer stretches than Geralt did. Geralt realized that this made sense—he could spend hours perfectly still on a hunt, laying in wait for the right moment to strike; Jaskier was the one always flitting about, talking to everyone and playing his music and getting in and out of trouble and bothering Geralt to go into town with him and fidgeting with his shirt cuffs or picking at his nails.

Once, when Geralt was too sun-warm and comfortable to think better, he let Jaskier comb and braid his hair.

“I love seeing you like this,” Jaskier said, Geralt’s head in his lap. He’d finished the braids and was absently stroking the fine hairs at Geralt’s nape. “Clean and warm and well-rested. It looks good on you.”

Geralt thought about curling his lip and snarling, but he was too relaxed to protest.

The taste of ocean water was always at least faintly on his lips. After several days of rest, his hip didn’t hurt at all. He was good at ignoring the injuries and aches—it came with the job—but the absence of pain was entirely novel, and he liked it in a way he never knew he could like having a body.

They ate pastries and took their meals at the tavern. After their abysmal performance as roofers, Zofia did not offer them any more odd jobs, but Geralt found that he was fine with that. No monsters stalked through the town at night or rose from the sea. Jaskier and Geralt woke up together in the same bed every morning, for multiple days in a row. Geralt had never done that before, outside of winters at Kaer Morhen.

Why had he never gone to the sea before? It was a marvel, when so few things marveled Geralt. It was vast and brimming with strength, but it accepted Geralt into its blue arms without complaint, always holding him gently. In the water, he felt light, like a weight had been lifted.

Somewhere between the push and pull of the waves, something warm and calm unfurled inside him that he didn’t even know existed.

 

 

By the third day, Geralt would have been content to lay on the sand forever, dutifully answering his second calling in life of being a sun-warmed rock in the shape of a man, but Jaskier got antsy and roused him for a walk along the shoreline. They were both barefoot. Jaskier wore his white chemise loose and unbuttoned. He leaned down and picked up a shell.

“Here, I got this for you,” Jaskier said, pressing it into Geralt’s hand. His fingers were warm where they brushed Geralt’s palm.

He turned it over. The shell was white and spiraled, but blush pink and shiny on the inside. Such a fragile thing, made to protect the soft body of some crawling creature, a snail or a clam or something. Geralt had never been soft, had never needed protection. He held the shell lightly in his hand and made a mental note to find a small box for it so it wouldn’t break in his saddlebag. He could carry it with him, bring it with him to Kaer Morhen in the winters, and when he looked at its pink coloring he’d think about the easy flush that spread across Jaskier’s cheeks, remember the spray of the ocean on his face—

Absurd. It was a fucking shell. The slow decay of time would come for it like it did everything else, breaking it into shards, and then crushing it into particles of sand. Jaskier, too, would be gone one day. A long way off for him, goddess willing, but too soon for Geralt. Eventually, even Geralt would be dead and rotted to nothing.

The realization came to him in a violent jolt: this whole trip was a mistake. He was—angry. At the shell, at Jaskier for giving it to him and making him think about all of this. Over the last few days, Geralt had made a critical error. He’d let his heart beat red and calm, held buoyant on gentle sea waves and in Jaskier’s arms. He’d forgotten to keep his eye on it and without his careful attention, it had become soft and stupid.

The sun-soaked day leached out of his skin, replaced by the cold understanding that always nestled next to his bones, that Geralt had been a fool to forget. The quiet hush of the waves seemed mocking, now.

“You’re brooding, darling. Care to share with the class?” Jaskier picked up a piece of driftwood and threw it in the sea, stumbling a little in the sand. Easy. Free.

“You gave me a shell,” Geralt said, accusing.

Jaskier turned to look at him, narrowing his eyes. “Very astute, dear. I see the School of the Wolf turns out only the finest.”

“No, fuck you, listen. Has it always been like this for you?” Geralt demanded. The words had barbs on them: good.

A furrow appeared on Jaskier’s brow. “Like what?”

“Just. Easy.” Geralt gestured with the shell, feeling like an idiot. He wanted to throw the shell in the ocean, smash it on a wave, annihilate it completely, but for some reason, he kept it cupped softly in his palm. He wasn’t being clear, he knew he wasn’t, but this—this wasn’t—he couldn’t—

“Easy, he says,” Jaskier said, rolling his eyes to the skies, long suffering. “Geralt, what on earth do you think I find so easy? I’m sorry if you hate shells, a bit of an odd thing to hate, really, they’re quite innocuous, but I assure you that wasn’t my—”

“Everything’s easy for you,” Geralt insisted. “Being here. With me. You just—you gave me a shell, Jaskier,” he finished, desperate for Jaskier to understand.

Jaskier held his gaze for a shocked moment. There was something like hurt in his eyes.

“Geralt, if you pulled your head out of your own admittedly glorious ass for two seconds, you’d see that none of that is easy at all,” he said finally. “If you think it is, then you don’t understand me at all.”

Geralt couldn’t speak.

Jaskier sighed and sat down on the sand. After a moment, Geralt joined him. They looked out over the water. Geralt’s blood was still loud in his ears. He fidgeted with the shell, digging the sharp parts into the pad of his thumb.

“So you and I are different,” Jaskier said. Geralt huffed a laugh.

“You could say that.”

“What about me perplexes you, Geralt? Give me a list.”

Geralt looked over at him to find Jaskier staring back. Gods, he was serious.

“Okay,” Geralt cleared his throat, looking back over the water. After looking at Jaskier’s eyes, the color of the sea seemed a bit drab in comparison. “Okay. Well. You do things even when there’s no point. You do so many things that are pointless, Jaskier. You—enjoy things.”

“Yes, I can see how that would be a foreign concept to you,” Jaskier nodded.

“Fuck off,” Geralt said. Jaskier cracked a smile.

“Do you want to know why I gave you a shell?”

Geralt nodded.

“I saw it, and thought it was pretty, and wanted you to have it,” Jaskier said. “That’s all.”

Geralt shook his head. “It can’t be that simple.”

“It really is.” Jaskier dug his toes into the sand, smiling. “I love how difficult you make everything, Geralt. It makes me want to shower you with gifts, just to see you squirm.”

“I’ve never given you anything,” Geralt said. He didn’t think he’d even know how. Beauty didn’t register with him; it would never even occur to him to pick something up and give it to someone. Geralt’s world was a place of death, from the lush forests Geralt and Jaskier camped in to the waves lapping up here on the shore. It was hard to see beauty when he was usually busy seeing blood spilled in the dirt, and hearing the wretched screams of the monsters before they sank their teeth into his neck, and feeling the crunch of bone vibrate up his sword into his arm when he took them down, more monster than man, himself.

But this shell was different. Jaskier had noticed it, and thought of Geralt, and gave it to him. It seemed to retain a kind of glow in his hands, spared from that shadow that Geralt saw everywhere.

How did Jaskier do that?

“Do you think this is a transaction, Geralt?” he asked quietly.

Geralt didn’t know what to say to that. Wasn’t everything a transaction? Mages and kings sought him out for the services he could provide, and they slammed the door in his face as soon as he was done and the coin had been paid. Townspeople spat at his feet and children chucked rocks at him; only the people who contracted with him abstained, and only for the duration of the contract. When he craved the touch of skin, that required coin, too.

“Sometimes people just want to give each other things.” Jaskier’s voice was so—quiet, and careful, and soft. Geralt could hardly stand it. He dug the pointed end of the shell harder into his thumb, just to make it to the next moment. “It’s a sign of affection, not—not an expectation. Not a debt owed. And—Geralt. You give me so much, sweetheart.”

Geralt started at the endearment, and then forced his shoulders to relax. Jaskier was looking at him, but Geralt couldn’t bring himself to meet his eyes.

“I give you nothing,” he said. “We divide our coin fairly. You’re the one rehabilitating my reputation with your ballads.”

Jaskier just looked at him sadly.

“No.” He shook his head. “You give me adventure and laughter by the campfire at night. You give me—ugh, you give me these—these looks, Geralt, that I don’t think you even notice you’re making, but sometimes you just look at me and it’s so—and you gave me a pastry the other day, just because you thought I’d like it. You gave me your company on this trip you didn’t even want to go on. You’ve given me—such a life, these past years, Geralt.”

Geralt’s throat was tight and his eyes were suddenly swimming, which was strange. He blinked until he could see clearly again. He took a deep breath, and asked the question he’d been too afraid to ask for years.

“Why are you with me, Jaskier? Why do you stay?”

“Well,” Jaskier cleared his throat. He was pulling at a thread in his chemise. “It’s been a very profitable business arrangement, as you said yourself—”

“That’s not it,” Geralt shook his head. “If that were it, you wouldn’t have taken me on a—a vacation.” He had a sudden flash of desperation that Eskel would never find out about this; he’d never stop talking shit about Geralt going on a cushy beachside getaway.

Jaskier was drawing swirls into the damp sand. After a while, he looked up and said, “well, fuck.”

Geralt waited for it to make sense.

“Fuck,” he said again, dropping his head.

It wasn’t making sense.

“Jaskier—”

“You know why, okay?” Jaskier scrubbed at his face. “I know you claim to feel and need nothing, and I know you have your whole stomping-about-looking-menacing bit, oh, look at me,” Jaskier dropped his voice comically low, “I’m Geralt, the very sexy man with a heart made of stone—”

“I don’t sound like that.”

“—but you know why. You have to know why.”

“I want you to tell me.” All at once, Geralt had never wanted anything more. He wanted it, the way he wanted the heart of a bloodhound in the middle of a fight, but he knew he couldn’t just lunge and take it. He needed to wait. Hide his teeth. Lay his hands limp at his sides. Let Jaskier give it to him.

“I care for you,” Jaskier said finally. Geralt let out a gust of air. “It’s terrible, I know. Well, no, actually, it’s wonderful, I quite like caring for you, but I know you don’t feel the same way, which is completely fine. I’m well accustomed to unrequited love, it’s a poet’s bread and butter. But Geralt, I know you have to go back to your monster slaying and self loathing after this, but I wanted to give you just a little sliver of—of something good, in all the shit, even just once.”

“Something good,” Geralt repeated.

“It’s been good, hasn’t it?” Jaskier’s voice was raw. “You haven’t hated it entirely? I just—I wanted to spend time with you. Experience life with you.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

Jaskier shrugged. “Maybe.” He turned and gave Geralt one of his dazzling smiles that always left Geralt feeling like he was carved out inside. “I thrive off ridiculous. That’s why I stick with you.” He nudged Geralt. He knew this was a jab at him, but he didn’t quite mind.

“It’s been good,” Geralt said quietly. “I haven’t hated it.”

Jaskier’s face lit up like the fucking sun. Geralt’s eyes stung at the sight.

“Geralt, you don’t know how happy I am to hear that,” he said. “I’ve gotten pretty good at reading between your grunts and glowering stares, but hearing it out loud is just—” Jaskier wiped at his eyes, still smiling. “I have to fight for every inch with you,” Jaskier said, eyes dancing. “And I love it. Every little bit. Every little bit you give is—” Jaskier cuts himself off, takes a breath. “It’s just—the best, Geralt, the absolute best.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that,” Geralt said, weakly.

“You sweet summer child. It’s not like it’s a chore,” Jaskier laughed, a little wetly. “I like being around you, Geralt. You’re fun. I have fun with you.”

This was all wrong.

“You’ve seen me,” Geralt insisted. “You’ve seen what I am.” Gore across his face. Black veins branching under his skin.

“I have,” Jaskier agreed.

And Geralt had nothing to say to that, because wasn’t that just it? Jaskier had seen him in every configuration and was still here, on this warm beach with him, sitting in the sand, now tangling his fingers with Geralt’s and raising them to his mouth. He kept his eyes on Geralt’s, wide and searching. Geralt was paralyzed. There was his hand in Jaskier’s, the warmth of Jaskier’s fingers. His hair, moving with the light breeze. Jaskier held their intertwined hands in front of his face, waiting for permission.

Geralt gave the tiniest fraction of a nod, half hoping Jaskier wouldn’t notice.

Jaskier bent his head forward and pressed his lips to Geralt’s fingers.

His lips were soft, such a gentle touch, but it sent a shock through Geralt’s body. He might have gasped. Jaskier held his hand loosely, an unspoken message that Geralt could take his hand back at any point, and kissed each of his knuckles. Geralt watched him, mouth slightly open, and realized that he was getting hard. Hard just for this, fuck.

Jaskier lifted his head.

“Okay?” he asked.

Geralt nodded.

“If your hands weren’t sandy, I might do a little more. If you wanted.” Jaskier gave a nervous smile, rubbing Geralt’s hand gently, massaging the heel of his palm. It felt good. “I just don’t really want sand in my mouth.”

“In your—” But Geralt cut himself off, picturing it: Jaskier taking his fingers, closing his eyes as he sucked them down. He shook the image out of his head before he could get carried away.

“You have to know,” Geralt gritted out. Jaskier needed to know at least a fraction of the depth of this feeling he had for him. He’d said earlier that he didn’t think Geralt didn’t feel the same way, and Geralt couldn’t go another second with that misconception between them.

“Have to know what?” Jaskier didn’t seem afraid, just concerned, caressing Geralt’s fingers.

“That you—” Geralt started, and tried again. He could do this. For Jaskier, he could. He wasn’t good with words, but when he used them, he wanted them to say what he meant. “You’re the most amazing thing. The best thing,” he clarified, “in my life.”

Jaskier just cradled Geralt’s hand to his chest, eyes wide. “Geralt. Can I—” he started, and Geralt nodded, yes, yes, not even sure what he was agreeing to, but Jaskier could have whatever he wanted, anything Geralt could give him. Jaskier made a sound in the back of his throat and in a moment, he was straddling Geralt’s hips, kissing the life out of him.

Jaskier never did anything half-assed, and Geralt was struck down in the full force of it. He shuddered and parted his lips for him. Jaskier’s hands were in his hair, and he was such a good, solid weight in his lap, thumb caressing the shell of his ear, tilting Geralt’s jaw up for more. From this angle, Geralt had to lean up for kisses, and it sent a hot thrill through him. Geralt rested his hands on Jaskier’s hips, squeezing a little.

“Yeah,” Jaskier pulled away to breathe. “Yeah. Touch me.”

Geralt squeezed his hips more firmly; they fit the hollows of his palms perfectly. Jaskier’s cheeks were flushed, his lips red and wet, eyes half-lidded. The sun was just starting to sink into the ocean, casting a pinkish glow over Jaskier’s already pink skin. Geralt should stop. Of all the stupid things Geralt had done, this had to be up there. Jaskier was his friend. This could only lead to pain and heartache for them both.

So then why did it also feel like he’d finally landed somewhere, after an age of being adrift and rootless? Why did his skin feel so suddenly alive, and hungry? Why was the only thing he could think of the words yes and more, words that he had only barely known before?

Jaskier bent down and pressed his mouth to Geralt’s neck, one hand still buried in his hair.

“Stop worrying so much,” Jaskier whispered against his skin. His breath was hot and humid against Geralt’s throat.

“Not worrying,” Geralt grunted. He ran a hand up and down Jaskier’s back. Gods, Jaskier felt good, all this skin and flesh to feel, to know.

“You’re worrying,” Jaskier confirmed. He pulled back to look at him. He was grinding a little in Geralt’s lap, just sweet little movements that Geralt could feel under his fingers. “This is a good thing, Geralt. We are a good thing.”

Geralt growled and pulled Jaskier in for another kiss. Jaskier whimpered into it, pressed his body more firmly against his. Geralt sucked on Jaskier’s lower lip, ran his hands along his sides, over his chemise.

Jaskier held Geralt’s chin and pulled away. Geralt chased after his mouth, kissing Jaskier’s neck, his shoulder, whatever he could reach. Jaskier smelled so good like this. Geralt pressed his lips against the jump of his pulse in his neck.

“Right,” Jaskier panted. “Okay. We should—”

Geralt hummed in agreement against his collarbone.

“Fuck, Geralt, I’m trying to be responsible, here, you can’t do that—”

“Do what?” He mumbled against Jaskier’s skin, thumbs massaging into his waist.

“Geralt. Unless you want me to fuck you right here on the beach, and I can tell you from experience that it is not what it’s cracked up to be—oh, gods, the sand gets everywhere, Geralt, you wouldn’t believe—” Jaskier cut himself off in distress.

“I’m willing to chance it,” Geralt said. He was fingering at the bottom of Jaskier’s chemise, teasing his fingertips against the hot skin beneath, so soft. He wanted his teeth in it.

“You say that now,” Jaskier said, climbing off Geralt’s lap, who groaned in protest. Jaskier held out his hand to help him up. Geralt took it. “But let me get you in a bed, dear heart.”

Standing face-to-face with Jaskier, they were nearly the same height. Jaskier’s eyes were dark, his mouth still parted a little. He looked warm and windswept and debauched. The waves crashed gently behind him. Geralt wanted to eat him alive.

“The inn,” Geralt said finally.

“The inn,” Jaskier agreed, leading the way.

 

 

The door shut behind them with a loud click. Geralt carefully set the shell on the dresser and turned to Jaskier, ready to pull him into his arms, ready to lose himself to the heat and scent of him, finally.

“So,” Jaskier cleared his throat, fidgeting at his frayed shirt cuffs. His heartbeat was a quick staccato in his chest. “How should we—”

Geralt had never seen Jaskier so uncertain. That would not do.

“Come here,” he said quietly, reaching for Jaskier’s shoulders. Jaskier had been so patient with Geralt, guiding him, opening doors and waiting for Geralt to be ready to step through. Geralt could do him this kindness, give him this reassurance. Jaskier went easily when Geralt maneuvered them so that Jaskier’s back was pressed against the wall, making a sharp inhale on impact. Geralt rested on hand on Jaskier’s waist, rubbing his thumb in gentle, soothing circles.

“Just—” he said, before closing the space between them with a kiss.

Jaskier sighed, opened his mouth. Geralt was already worked up from their kissing on the beach, and with his body pressed up against Jaskier’s, he could tell Jaskier was in a similar state. Geralt’s skin was ablaze, and he only wanted closer, tighter. He fit a thigh between Jaskier’s legs to give him something to rub against. They stood there, kissing and grinding into each other until Jaskier broke away and let his head fall back against the wall, panting, looking at Geralt with half-lidded eyes.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said, running his hands up and down Geralt’s arms. The ocean waves were a hush outside the open window, the light outside just beginning to dim.

“Mm.” Geralt’s lips found the soft spot behind Jaskier’s ear. “Can I suck you?”

Jaskier groaned. “Sorry, Geralt, I think I must have just blacked out for a few seconds, I’m going to need you to say that again, jog my memory here—”

Geralt knelt on the ground, gazing up at Jaskier.

“Oh—fuck,” Jaskier said, looking away as though in pain. “It’s not fair, how good you look like that.”

Geralt licked his lips and leaned forward, nuzzling Jaskier’s cock through his trousers. Jaskier made some bitten-off sound. Geralt could smell the arousal radiating off his body.

“Melitele help me,” Jaskier breathed. “One—one second,” and he was turning away, walking over towards the bed and fumbling through the bedding. Geralt huffed, annoyed.

“Soon,” Jaskier assured him, hurrying back to him. “Just—here.”

Jaskier was folding up a thin blanket on the ground. Geralt just looked at it, not understanding.

“For your knees, darling,” Jaskier said, tucking a strand of hair behind Geralt’s ear.

Geralt had only dimly registered that the floor was hard on his knees, but he positioned the blanket underneath him anyway. He bumped his nose against the bulge in Jaskier’s trousers, asking without asking.

“Okay, dear,” Jaskier said, voice shaky. “You can have it.”

Geralt fumbled with the clasps and Jaskier reached down to help and between the two of them, they got Jaskier’s trousers down far enough for his cock to pop out. Geralt inhaled at the crease of his groin, mouthed at his hipbone—he smelled incredible, here. He gripped at Jaskier’s thighs—strong, shaking a little—and nosed his way along the length of Jaskier’s cock until he took the tip into his mouth.

“Oh gods,” Jaskier whimpered. It sounded good. He was flexing his hands at his sides. Geralt wished he would touch him.

Geralt sucked gently around the head. It had been a while since he’d done this, but he figured it would come back to him easily. Cocksucking—it’s in the word, after all. He inhaled through his nose and took a little more into his mouth, savoring the weight of it on his tongue, the tension of Jaskier’s quadriceps under his hands.

“Geralt,” Jaskier whispered, finally, finally running his hands through Geralt’s hair. It felt—so good, the touch against his scalp sending shivers down his neck. Geralt hummed and let Jaskier slip deeper into his mouth, sliding against his tongue. Something dark inside him curled with satisfaction when Jaskier made a helpless jerk into his mouth, his cock grazing the back of Geralt’s throat so that he choked a little. “Sorry, sorry,” Jaskier babbled, running his hand through Geralt’s hair, but a sense of calm descended around him, his mind going very quiet. There was nothing to worry about, here—no monsters, no angry villagers, no existential panic—there was just Jaskier, and the desire to please him.

Geralt felt so powerful like this, but not in the way he was used to.

He reached for Jaskier’s hips and pulled them towards him.

“You want me to fuck your face?” Jaskier said, his voice rough.

Geralt just looked up and sucked harder.

“Fuck, okay.” Jaskier tightened his grip in Geralt’s hair and Geralt would have sighed in relief if his mouth weren’t full of cock. Jaskier pulled out, just letting the tip rest on Geralt’s tongue. Then, slowly, almost carefully, Jaskier pressed back in, filling Geralt’s mouth.

“You’re going to kill me,” Jaskier gritted out. His eyes were hot and wild, fixed on Geralt’s mouth where it stretched around his cock. Jaskier’s hips rocked a little harder and gods that felt good, Geralt felt good, having Jaskier here on his tongue, sliding hard and hot in his mouth, his hands tight in his hair, pushing himself to the back of Geralt’s throat, this had to be a kind of heaven, right here at Jaskier’s feet, and then, too soon, Jaskier was pulling him off, gasping and squeezing himself hard around the base. Geralt whined, chasing after it, but Jaskier held his head away.

“You’re a menace,” Jaskier gasped. “An absolute—menace. You’re going to make me come and I don’t want this to be over yet.” His chest was heaving, a flush crawling down his neck. Geralt rested his forehead on Jaskier’s thigh to catch his breath. His mouth felt swollen and well-fucked, his own cock hard and heavy between his legs.

“Come here, let me see you,” Jaskier said, tilting Geralt’s head up. “Fuck, you’re a masterpiece,” and then he was hauling him up by the shoulder to kiss him, licking into his mouth. Geralt shuddered in his arms, pressing closer.

“I can’t believe you’re here with me,” Jaskier murmured when they broke apart, tracing a thumb along Geralt’s bottom lip.

What did that mean? Here, at the sea? In Jaskier’s arms? It was all pretty unlikely, Geralt agreed, unlikely that anyone would want Geralt around them, terrifying creature that he was, let alone invite him to the sea, for fuck’s sake, unlikely that anyone would press a thumb so tenderly to his lip, and Jaskier had to know, he had to know that this was buried in the root of Geralt’s spine, now, that it had altered him at a molecular level, not unlike the mutagens when he was a boy, the mutagens that made him what he was. This was the same, this was remaking him into something different, a creature who could love and be loved, and Geralt was helpless to it, pressing his mouth into Jaskier’s throat, inhaling the impossible desire there.

“I’m here,” Geralt said at last. “As long as you’ll have me. I’m here.”

They fell into the bed, then, clothes disappearing under each other’s hands, each new patch of skin a revelation. Jaskier got Geralt on his back and climbed on top. He took a moment to push the muscle of his pecs together. “These tits, sweetheart,” Jaskier breathed. “I could bounce a coin off them.”

“They’re not—” Geralt protested weakly, but then Jaskier had ducked down to take a nipple in his mouth and he hissed through his teeth instead. Jaskier gave a little nibble, then soothed it with his tongue.

“You’re so sensitive.” Jaskier’s breath spilled over Geralt’s chest. He gave his pec a little slap. Geralt keened. “It’s amazing,” Jaskier said, stroking a palm along Geralt’s side, kissing him everywhere he could reach—chest, shoulders, neck, and when Geralt opened his mouth Jaskier was there, kissing him and kissing him. Geralt’s heart thudded heavy and slow in his throat. Jaskier shifted a little so that his cock brushed against Geralt’s and Geralt arched into it, their hips pressed hard together. He ran his fingers up the back of Jaskier’s neck and through his hair, lifting his head to scent at his throat.

With a snarl, he leaned up and flipped them so that he straddled Jaskier, palming at his ribs. Jaskier’s eyes were blown black, just a thin ring of blue. It was amazing, the touch of skin on skin. Geralt couldn’t get enough. He smoothed one hand from Jaskier’s chest, dusted with dark hair, down to his belly. It was strange, being so hungry for it. Here was someone Geralt had known for so many years, knew him like the handle of his sword, and now, there was all of this to discover, these new worlds opening with each movement, each touch. There was the way the flesh of his stomach dented beneath Geralt’s fingers; the flush across his cheeks when Geralt took an earlobe between his teeth; the hot push of blood just underneath the skin; the hitch of his breath when Geralt ground his ass back against Jaskier’s cock. All new.

“Geralt—” Jaskier moaned, his face twisting up. “Please—”

“Oil,” Geralt gasped. “We need oil. I—I have it.” He went to his saddlebag, rummaging through his potions and oils until he found the little blue bottle. He hurried back to bed, pressing it into Jaskier’s hands before leaning back and spreading his legs.

Jaskier’s eyes went right to his hole, and back up to Geralt’s face, and then he looked up to the ceiling.

“With you as my witness, I am going to make a lavish offering to Melitele the next time I’m at her temple. I will be so good for the rest of my life. I’ll never do anything bad again, Geralt, because when I woke up this morning, I never expected to see Geralt of Rivia spreading his magnificent legs for me before daylight was out.”

“Come on,” Geralt growled.

“What’s the hurry?” Jaskier teased, but he leaned over him, pressing a kiss into his hip. “You’re not worked up, are you?” He nodded at Geralt’s erection.

“Fuck you,” Geralt bit out.

“I know, I’m horrible.” Jaskier was slicking up his fingers. “I’ll have you singing before we’re through, though, don’t you worry,” and he was rubbing at his hole with one wet finger, just massaging, not pushing in yet. “Gods, how are you pretty even here, it’s really not fair.” That was wrong, Geralt thought, Jaskier was the pretty one, pretty mouth, pretty eyes, pretty cock, but then Jaskier took Geralt into his mouth and Geralt groaned, melting back into the mattress. Jaskier’s other hand rubbed soothing circles into Geralt’s thigh, massaging the muscle and skin, and Geralt—liked it, he liked it, being touched, being opened up and taken care of.

Jaskier lifted his mouth off Geralt’s cock long enough to ask, “have you done this before?”

Geralt looked down sharply, but there wasn’t any judgment in Jaskier’s eyes. No teasing, either, just—curiosity. That bard and his damned curiosity. Gods help him, but Geralt didn’t hate it.

“Yes.” He didn’t add that it had been a damned long time.

“Mm. I have to say I’m a bit surprised,” Jaskier said lightly, looking down at where he was playing with Geralt’s asshole. “Sort of thought we’d be doing this the other way.”

“Do you—fuck.” Geralt inhaled sharply; Jaskier was working in a fingertip. “Do you—want that? The other way?” Geralt needed it like this right now, but if Jaskier wanted it differently—

“No! I mean, sure, but some other time!” Jaskier gave a clever twist of his finger. “Right now, we need to get you ready, don’t we, dear witcher?” Geralt’s heels were stuttering along the sheets. His breath came hot and jagged. Sweat pricked at his temples. “Fuck, you’re beautiful, sweetheart. Wish you could see how beautiful you look right now.”

It felt—

“You don’t have to do that,” Geralt said hoarsely.

Jaskier looked up, frowning. “Yes, I do.”

“You can just—gods, Jaskier, just push in, you can’t hurt me,” and he wanted it so bad, that sensation of being filled, no room for doubt or anguish or even his own name, just split open and filled—

Jaskier rubbed at Geralt’s knee, his expression unreadable. “Well. I’m aiming for a fair sight better than not hurting you, Geralt. I want you to like it.”

“I’ll fucking like it,” Geralt snarled, leaning up on his elbows to glare at Jaskier directly.

Jaskier just grinned, slow and toothy and wolfish. “Do you know I have a finger in your ass right now? And you’re giving me scary-face? The effect is a little lost when I have you like this, sweetheart.”

Geralt flopped onto his back in frustration, spreading his knees a little wider.

“And don’t think I’m not about to wreck you on my cock, because I am,” Jaskier said conversationally, but one look at his hard pink dick told Geralt he was just as affected by this as he was. “Gods, just look at you,” Jaskier breathed, fitting in another finger. Geralt bit his bottom lip at the stretch. “You’re so fucking tight, Geralt, is that a witcher thing? Relax, just relax, I’ll get you to take it.” He was stroking him on the inside, getting him slicked up and ready, until he found the spot that made Geralt jolt. “There it is,” Jaskier whispered. “Yeah, there you are, I got you, Geralt. You’re all right. Fuck, look at how you open up for it. ”

Geralt made some kind of whine in the back of his throat.

“I just knew,” Jaskier said. “Gods. I knew you’d be like this.”

“Like—fuck, like what.” Geralt was moving his hips harder, now, trying to get more.

“So sweet,” Jaskier said. “I knew you’d be so sweet.”

It was like—it was like having a new organ growing inside him, something serving a purpose he’d never known existed.

“—you ready, sweetheart?” Jaskier was pulling out his fingers. He poured a little more oil into his palm, breath hitching a little when he slicked up his cock. A warm, oiled hand wrapped around Geralt’s cock, stroked him once, twice, before letting go. Geralt thrust up into the air, frustrated.

“Eager,” Jaskier teased, and maybe Geralt would have protested that descriptor, but the blunt head of Jaskier’s cock was resting against him, and he forgot.

“Yeah, come on,” Geralt said, grasping for Jaskier’s thighs. “Let me have it.”

Jaskier made a soft noise and carefully pressed in.

“Oh—oh fuck, you’re brilliant, Geralt—”

“Brilliant,” Geralt repeated, his breath coming in choked little gasps, like Jaskier’s cock was pushing all the air out of his body. Jaskier leaned over him and kissed him soft, on the mouth, on his temple. Geralt tilted his face up for it. It felt—the most, the best, as Jaskier pushed in inch by agonizing inch, and all Geralt could do was relax around it, make himself take it. Everything just sort of rose up to his skin in that moment, his body full of sunlight from their last few days on the beach, full of Jaskier’s kisses, full of his cock. His own cock was hard and leaking against his belly, his nipples hard and tight.

Jaskier settled his hips against Geralt’s ass, buried to the hilt and gasping. He held Geralt’s knees on either side of his hips, stroking the skin and scar tissue along his thighs.

“Fucking—gods, you feel, Geralt—”

“Good,” Geralt murmured, wriggling a bit, wanting to feel the full dimensions.

“Yeah?” Jaskier ground up against him, getting a bare centimeter or so deeper. “Do you want it?”

“Mm.” Geralt tightened up deliberately around him, smiling at Jaskier’s panicked gasp. Jaskier gave him a light smack on the side of his ass.

“Don’t—do that, you horrible man,” Jaskier groaned. “I want to get a couple good thrusts in before I disintegrate, you’re going to need to—be still—behave—”

Geralt rested his wrists by his own head, laying there prone, no funny business here, just a witcher waiting patiently for a good fucking. Jaskier was a dream, leaning over him, taking deep, sucking breaths through his nose. Long planes of skin, dark hair sticking to his face. He was biting his lip red. It was hell, Jaskier making him wait like this, but in the sweetest way, having Jaskier buried inside him, touching every part of him.

“Okay,” Jaskier said, finally, leaning over him to press a kiss at the side of his mouth. “Are you—can I—”

“Move,” Geralt said gruffly.

Jaskier pulled back and thrust up inside him. Geralt made a sound in the back of his throat. Jaskier did it again, harder, and Geralt reached for his arm where it was planted next to his head, wrapped a hand around it for stability, rubbed his cheek against it.

“You have to tell me,” Jaskier gasped. “If something—fuck—you feel so amazing, Geralt, you have to tell me if it isn’t good—”

Geralt leaned up for a kiss, and Jaskier kissed him back. Jaskier lifted one of Geralt’s knees to fuck into him harder. The stretch was—a lot, but Geralt was moving his hips, too, meeting every thrust, wanting it more, deeper. Jaskier brought a hand to Geralt’s waist, stroked the skin there, and Geralt’s very flesh lifted towards the touch. It was a bit of a revelation: to touch, and be touched, and only want more of it. Embarrassingly, he let out a whimper before he could clamp it back. Jaskier’s eyes lit up.

“Oh, that’s good,” he breathed. “That’s good, that’s sweet of you.”

Geralt groaned low and jagged, the warmth of those words washing over him like an answered prayer. Jaskier was such a sweet note in the darkness of his soul, moving within him, finding his way inside until he cupped Geralt’s wretched heart in his warm, capable hands.

Jaskier let go of his leg and leaned over Geralt to pin his wrists above his head. Geralt could easily break free if he wanted, obviously, but it was like something had shaken loose inside him, the way he went limp for it. “Like this?” he heard Jaskier ask, his voice hoarse.

“Fuck,” Geralt said. The inn sheets rasped against Geralt’s skin in the most delicious way. What must he look like right now? What did Jaskier see when he looked down at him, legs spread, mouth open and gasping? He felt so cared for, so held, so—owned, Jaskier claiming him with each thrust, this is where I belong. Another whine left his throat. He loved—this, being in someone else’s hands, being in Jaskier’s hands.

“I imagined this,” Jaskier panted, fucking into him hard. “For so long, Geralt—”

“Yes,” Geralt breathed, a shudder running through his limbs, remembering the times he’d wake up hard and with Jaskier pressed up against him on their bedrolls, snuffling in his sleep, or the times he left camp on the pretense of gathering ingredients for potions, and when he got far enough away, he’d find a tree to lean against, shove his hand down his pants and jerk himself hard and fast, picturing Jaskier when he—

“Do you like it?” Jaskier gave a particularly clever snap of his hips. It was perfect. Geralt clenched his fists above his head where they were still pinned. “Is it good?” Wetness leaked out of his eyes. He felt so—spread open, and easy, like all he had to do was lay here and take it and feel good. He wrapped his legs around Jaskier’s waist, feeling the muscles of his thighs shiver.

“Beautiful,” Jaskier rasped. “Just beautiful.”

“That’s you,” Geralt gritted out. “You’re so—gods, you’re so—” and then it all rushed up inside him like a forest fire in a drought and he was going to come, he was going to come, all because Jaskier was fucking him so sweet, holding him, taking care of him. “Yes,” Geralt gasped. “Please, yes, let me—” and he was on fire, burning from the inside out, lighting up over his skin, and Jaskier was fucking into him, saying “show me, come on, show me,” and Geralt didn’t know what that meant but Jaskier wrapped a hand around Geralt’s cock and Geralt cried out when he came, his chest shuddering, spilling all over his belly. Jaskier made a hot shocked sound and pulled out suddenly, leaving Geralt clenching around nothing, and then Jaskier was jerking himself hard and fast, the head of his cock pressed to the skin of Geralt’s stomach. Geralt just reached for him, hearing himself say “yeah, get it on me,” petting at his thighs, his hips, whatever he could reach, and Jaskier gasped and came, and Geralt moaned when it hit his skin, adding to the mess on his stomach.

Jaskier flopped on his back next to Geralt, breathing hard.

“I’ll clean you up in a second,” he promised. “I just need—holy shit,” he laughed softly.

Their shoulders were pressed together. Geralt felt sticky and sated and warm, safe in his skin and listening to Jaskier’s heartbeat start to level out next to him. He smiled to himself—that’s what Jaskier’s heart sounds like when he fucks me.

Jaskier got a washcloth to wipe Geralt down. That done, he snuggled up along Geralt’s side, sliding a leg over Geralt’s. “Was that okay?”

Geralt was running his fingers through Jaskier’s hair, pushing it from his forehead. He tilted Jaskier’s chin up so he could kiss him. “You were perfect,” he said. And, because Jaskier deserved to know, “it’s never been like that for me.”

Jaskier smiled, bringing a hand to Geralt’s arm and squeezing gently. A tiny chill of doubt clenched in Geralt’s stomach. “And—you?”

“So lovely,” Jaskier breathed, his words warm against Geralt’s skin. “You are a marvel.” It didn’t seem like he was lying. He slid a palm across Geralt’s stomach. The room smelled like sex and Jaskier and the sea. This is perfect, Geralt wanted to say. This is what perfect feels like.

He couldn’t make the words come, but he looked down and Jaskier was already looking up at him, eyes shining. He pulled him in closer. Jaskier’s arms easily wrapped around him; he sighed against Geralt’s chest.

A sliver of moon was just rising in the sky outside. Waves lapped against the beach. They would have to move soon—Jaskier would need dinner, and would want Geralt to eat something, too—but right now, this was all Geralt wanted: his body entwined with Jaskier’s, tired and satisfied and well-fucked. His heart was honey-warmed. There was still a tooth of fear snagging at him somewhere inside, but he felt certain that he could bear it.

It was like he’d been buried in the frozen earth forever, and someone had finally come along to dig him out, hold him close, and put him in the sun, despite his best efforts to bite the hand extended to him and crawl back under the earth. It hurt a little, at first, after being so cold for so long. But he liked it here. He wanted to stay awhile.

Geralt walked with death. Suffering was etched into his skin, his heart. That would never change, but maybe there could be light, too. There could be sweetness. He could see himself in this new shape, holding and being held.

He pressed his nose into Jaskier’s hair and breathed deep.

 

 

Their vacation had to come to an end eventually. Their purses were getting a bit light, and there was still time enough in the summer for a few more contracts before the weather turned. Geralt was sorry to walk away from the sea, but he felt he was taking something even more precious with him, something he hadn’t had before they’d arrived.

“Well, Geralt? Where to?”

Jaskier’s eyes were dancing when Geralt looked down from where he was seated on Roach. The sunlight filtered greenly through the trees, the scent of earth slowly growing stronger than that of salt. In a side pocket of one of his bags, there was a small wooden box containing a blush-pink shell.

“You pick,” Geralt said. Jaskier may have been following Geralt all these years, but in all the important ways, he’d been leading Geralt to this point, right here, where Geralt could learn to hold his heart to another’s without flinching, could place it in Jaskier’s hands and know it would be safe.

Jaskier beamed, and led the way.