“Let me get this straight,” Geralt says.
Jaskier waves him on.
“You’re going to tie those—,” he gestures to the slim planks of iron on Jaskier’s kitchen table that have leather cords threaded through holes bored into either end, “—to your shoes, and you’re going to go down to the river and stand on it.”
Jaskier, unperturbed, says brightly, “Uh-huh!”
Geralt says, “Why?”
“Because Priscilla asked me along, and it’s good fun, and you can do all sorts of loop-de-loops and swirlies and spinnies and whozits and, uh, whatzits. I dunno, Pris knows all the tricks, I never got the hang of it. But, Geralt, people have been doing this in Oxenfurt for years. It’s the only way fashionable and exciting persons such as I pass the winter these days, gliding as an angel over the ice, cheeks chapped fetchingly pink, you know, it’s all very attractive, one may say winsome—”
“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Geralt crosses his arms over his chest as he leans back in the small chair and tucks his shoulders in. He takes up too much space in Jaskier’s quarters, and already he rues the day he agreed, in a fit of insanity, to pass the season in the city instead of trekking up to Kaer Morhen as usual. “You’re going to die.”
Jaskier hacks a laugh into his steaming mug and nearly spills tea all down his robed front.
“Nonsense!” he cries, once he has recovered himself. “We go every year once the freeze is hard enough, me and Pris and all my many other dazzling friends, which I absolutely have.”
“And if Priscilla told you it was fashionably good fun to walk yourself off a cliff…”
“I’d do it, obviously,” says Jaskier, not missing a beat. “Haven’t you ever had to cross a frozen river on your travels, Witcher? How’d you go about it then, if not on skates?”
Geralt levels him an incredulous look. “How would I get a horse across a frozen river?” he asks, and Jaskier frowns in thought as he takes another sip.
“I mean, you could just—,” he mimes pushing outward with one palm, “—give ‘er a good shove and see how far she gets.”
“Could give you a good shove. Bet you wouldn’t make it far.”
“I’ll have you know, I have the grace of a, a, er…elk? Are elk graceful?”
Geralt nods and says seriously, “Especially the newborns.”
“There you have it. Graceful as a tiny baby elk with those on my feet, I am.”
“Maybe you should wear them all the time.”
“What good would that…” he starts, and then comes, “Hey. Rude. Remind me why I wanted you here?”
Geralt grins and shrugs. His own mug is on the small table, and he sniffs the steam coming off of it. Floral. He takes a sip. Carefully does not spit it back out. Sets the mug back down farther away.
When he has successfully resisted the urge to spit on the floor to clear out his mouth and looks back up, Jaskier is still holding his own mug gently in the curl of his long fingers, and a lock of rumpled hair has fallen into his eyes. His robe hangs open at his collarbone, down the line of his chest. He wears a strange expression that lies between the exasperation Geralt expected and something startlingly softer.
“So you’ll come with us,” he states.
“Someone has to take your body back to your mother when you break your neck,” Geralt says.
Jaskier rolls his eyes. “You jest, but Mum would be thrilled to see you. Likes you better than me, I think. Her only son! But you’ll come, eh?”
Geralt ducks his head quickly to hide the smile creeping across his face, grabbing his boots and yanking at the laces before acquiescing, “Yeah, I’ll come.”
“There now,” Jaskier says, appeased, “that wasn’t so hard, was it.” He knocks back the dregs of his tea, then stands and pads to the sink, talking on. “You should’ve known I wouldn’t let you stay cooped up in here all winter. I’ll have to see if I can dig out my spare pair of skates, they’re older—animal bone, not iron—but they might be big enough for your witcher feet, and it really works just as well. Or maybe Pris knows someone…I even heard they’re renting the things out down at the river now. Industrious, isn’t it, the ways people come up with to make some coin?…”
Geralt half-listens as he ties neat knots, lost somewhere in the midst of mulling over what Jaskier has described, trying to give it the benefit of the doubt despite its obvious frivolity. Based on the day’s weather it will be a clear night with a brisk breeze, a bright moon. The wind chill will have them each bundled up in furs, and the tip of Jaskier’s nose will go pink as he rubs his gloved hands together for warmth and glances happily over at Geralt. The river ice will be torchlit and smooth as glass, and they’ll strap on their skates and step out onto it. They’ll have a good hold on each others arms, for balance, but then as they gain their footing they’ll find their fingers threaded together and neither will let go. Geralt will listen to the quickened beat of Jaskier’s heart as they pick up the pace, and eventually Jaskier will break their hold to skate backward and taunt Geralt with a small twirl that ends only a little unsteadily. Geralt will smirk and give chase, chuckling when Jaskier squawks and takes off at speed. It’s no use, of course, even with Geralt’s inexperience; Geralt will anticipate his movements, head him off, catch him by the wrist, by the shoulder, and they will collide chest to chest with a huff, the momentum from the chase sliding them a few more feet across the ice before they come to a halt. Their cold noses will almost be touching, there will be frost on the riverbank, there will be a distant owl hooting its nighttime song. Jaskier will quirk his lips and say, “Gotcha, Witcher,” and Geralt will lean in, feel his hot breath, press their lips together—
“Geralt,” Jaskier says, tapping him on the shoulder. A hand waves in front of his face. Geralt keeps his expression carefully neutral as he comes out of his sudden reverie, though he’s been caught red handed. “Are you meditating? We’ve got to be off to the market. Have you even been listening to me?”
“Never,” says Geralt, and Jaskier scoffs and whacks him gently upside the head.
The riverbank smells like dead fish.
Geralt knew this. He doesn’t know what he expected. He doesn’t know where the pine-scented idyllic winter wonderland from his earlier distraction even came from, because it couldn’t be farther from reality.
Besides the fish stink, his boots squish and stick unpleasantly in the muddy ground, and the place is teeming with cityfolk, the crowd so thick that you can’t see the opposite bank even despite the abundant torchlight.
“Are you sure it’s frozen solid enough for this?” Geralt asks sourly.
“Of course,” Jaskier replies.
Geralt’s frown deepens. “Couldn’t we go around the bend where there’s not so many people?”
“And where’s the fun in that?”
“I asked about the fun, Geralt. Ah, there’s my girl!”
Priscilla pushes through a group of loitering teenagers and throws her arms around Jaskier’s neck, only her toes left on the mud. “Jask! I see you got your…friend to join us.”
She pauses before friend, eyeing him overtly, but Geralt doesn’t notice because one of the teenagers has been shoved, giggling, into him by another of the group. He steadies her, and does not react when she turns to apologize, catches his unnatural gaze, and stifles her laughter. He doesn’t see Jaskier watching him past Priscilla’s ear, the fond crinkling around his eyes when Geralt gently straightens her and returns her to her place in the circle, which subsequently puts a few feet between itself and the newly-noticed witcher.
“It was either this or die of boredom in the dark, wasn’t it, Geralt?” Jaskier says finally as he releases Priscilla.
“I chose the dark,” Geralt lies, and Jaskier sticks out his tongue.
“Well,” Priscilla says, straightening her skirts, “shall we?”
Geralt pulls both sets of skates from his deep cloak pockets and passes the iron pair to Jaskier, who hops around indelicately while securing them over his boots, rather than plop himself on the soft ground—which is, of course, what Geralt does to put on his own. Priscilla and Jaskier waste a few minutes on a tiff over whether it is polite or belittling for Jaskier to insist on helping her with her own skates whether she wants it or not, but eventually they are all ready to go.
Geralt is the first to the ice. He tests the toe of his bone skate against it, judging the friction of it, deciding if it is likely to hold his weight even with the evidence of the dozens of people currently gliding and spinning past him. It seems stable. Stepping out, he finds it surprisingly easy to get a feel for balance, the minute shifts of weight that send him one direction or the other. He swings himself wide and turns around to see Priscilla and Jaskier also stepping out onto the river, Jaskier clutching tightly to Priscilla’s sleeve, face white and eyes trained on his feet.
“It’s okay, darling, you’ve got this. You made such good progress last time, come on now,” Geralt can hear Priscilla murmuring under the loud chatter of nearby skaters.
When Jaskier sees Geralt watching them, he bodily removes Priscilla’s hands from his person and says, “Please, Pris, I’m a capable man.”
She bristles immediately, leaving him to stand on his own. “And I wasn’t a capable woman when I was putting on my skates?”
Jaskier ignores her to begin shuffling awkwardly across the ice, his knees locked straight.
“Jaskier?” Geralt says apprehensively.
“Doing peachy, thanks, it’ll come back to me, just need to recall how to, um—oh no—” Jaskier starts with a strained voice before he promptly stops, because he has begun to slide inexorably forward. Priscilla and Geralt both reach toward him, but they’re too late; Jaskier’s arms wheel wildly, he tilts on wobbly ankles, and he faceplants onto the ice.
“Ow,” squeaks the Jaskier-shaped lump.
“I think your nose is broken,” says Geralt. He dabs at the blood on Jaskier’s top lip with the edge of his own cloak. They are safely back on the bank, and Jaskier is, this time, sitting in the mud. “I guess you were right,” he goes on wryly. “You’re exactly as graceful as a baby elk.”
“I knew you were making fun of me,” Jaskier says thickly, due to the nose injury. “I also knew you’d be a natural. Bastard. I could never get the hang of this stupid bullshit.”
Geralt hums and wipes off the last of the blood. At least it’s clotted quickly. Maybe it’s not a break.
“You didn’t need to lie about your abilities. Who are you trying to impress?”
Jaskier snorts, then winces in pain. His fingers twist in his lap. “Oh, that’s funny.”
Now, Geralt is often joking, but he’s fairly certain that that wasn’t one. Did Jaskier also hit his head? He pushes back Jaskier’s fringe to check his forehead for signs of bruising and doesn’t find any. “Um,” he says, “what is?”
Priscilla skates past holding hands with a woman that Geralt thinks she met approximately three minutes ago. She calls, “All right, Jask?” and in reply, Jaskier gives her a bitter thumbs up. She winks and swoops away as quickly as she came.
“Because I was trying to impress you, obviously,” he answers, gazing after her, before he turns his eyes back to Geralt.
Geralt pauses. “Why?”
“Because I’m actually always trying to impress you. And everyone else, constantly, but…mostly you.”
“You don’t do a very good job of it,” he says, and regrets it when he hears how it sounds coming out of his mouth.
Jaskier smiles. It’s genuine, if a little wistful, like Geralt has amused but not surprised him. “I am well aware, thanks.”
He reaches for the words that will take that edge of resignation off Jaskier’s face, feeling like a fumbling fool. “That’s not what I meant. I meant you don’t need to try to impress me.”
“Yes, I know it doesn’t matter, but I can’t help—”
“No,” Geralt interrupts, “I mean you don’t need to try because you do.” He clears his throat. “Impress me.”
“Oh,” says Jaskier, and then nothing more. “That’s. Okay.”
“Yeah,” says Geralt. He has never been so exposed in his life. He thinks that’s probably a bad thing. “How’s your nose? We could try again, if you want.”
Jaskier looks around at the laughing crowds and shrugs. “Came all this way, got all bundled up. Might as well! I’m sticking with you this time, though.”
They find a spot at the farthest reach of the torchlight where the ice is less populated to step out. Geralt goes first, as before, and finds his footing even faster this time. He returns to Jaskier’s side after a moment of testing the reliability of his newfound skills, and presents his forearm as a handhold. Jaskier does not protest about his capability this time and takes the offering. With a long preparatory exhale, he puts one foot and then the other onto the ice.
“I’ve got you,” Geralt says quietly.
Jaskier replies, “I know you do.”
“Can’t let more harm come to the money maker. I’ve gotten used to staying in inns.”
“Good gods,” says Jaskier, “I’ve broken him.”
They gradually move farther from the bank. “Loosen up,” Geralt tells him. “Don’t lock your knees. It’s like you’re trying to fall over.”
Jaskier grumbles but takes the advice, and eventually he gains the confidence to move a little faster, though not to stop hanging on to Geralt. They stay on the fringes where they are less likely to be run into by a distracted stranger, gliding along at pace, with Jaskier remarking on the who’s-who of Oxenfurt society who are also out tonight. Geralt recognizes some of the more powerful names, but mostly he lets Jaskier chatter on so he doesn’t think too hard about his feet.
Priscilla passes by and greets them a few more times with her new companion, who at one point proclaims, “You two are so cute together!” before Priscilla drags her back into the mob. Geralt glances over and thinks Jaskier might be blushing, but that might also be due to the swelling around his nose.
“Should ice your face,” says Geralt.
“Sure, later. Hey!” He swings around to face Geralt, stopping their progress. “Spin me!” At Geralt’s no doubt dubious expression, he pouts. “Geralt, I demand to be spun. It’ll be fun!”
“Fine,” Geralt sighs.
He takes Jaskier’s hand, and has a flash of his daydream. There’s too many people, and it does still smell like fish, but this isn’t too far off—
He collects himself, holds their joined hands over Jaskier’s head, and gives him a little push to start him spinning, not too quick, but Jaskier takes it upon himself to propel himself a little faster. Jaskier laughs and maintains his balance remarkably well, until he exclaims “Oops—dizzy—!” and topples directly into Geralt, succeeding in knocking them both down, Geralt on his own back, Jaskier flat on his chest.
Geralt, trapped between the frigid ice and Jaskier’s weight, looks up as Jaskier starts to laugh. The steam of his breath hits Geralt’s cheek, and his knitted hat has gone askew, and his nose is turning purple, and Geralt puts his hand around the back of Jaskier’s neck and pulls him down and kisses him.
Jaskier leans away. “What?” he asks, eyes wide, then continues, “oh, who cares,” and leans back down.
Later, with an ice pack pressed to Jaskier’s face and two more hot mugs at the kitchen table, Geralt watches Jaskier rummage through his cupboards. He comes back with two packets, one matching the floral tea from earlier and a different one. He hands the latter to Geralt.
“Black tea,” he says, “for you. Noticed you didn’t like my herbal stuff. I don’t either, to be honest, but I already spent the coin on it.”
“Thanks,” Geralt replies, oddly touched.
As Jaskier passes Geralt to take his seat, he leans down and pecks him on the cheek. Smiling faintly beneath the ice pack, he says, “You know, Witcher, I’m glad you’re here and not up in some weird lonely castle,” and Geralt finds that he is, too.