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Geralt is a bit bewildered when Jaskier strolls into the lake, boots and all, but only a bit. 

In the years he’s borne witness to Jaskier’s dubious decision-making, this doesn’t rank anywhere near the most bizarre things the bard has done, though he’s sure to regret it when he ends up with clothes soaked in winter-cold water from the waist down. So Geralt says nothing, just stands with the russet bundle of Jaskier’s coat dangling from one hand, and tries not to stare as he whips his shirt over his head. 

Jaskier, though, is already staring back at him, apparently finished lamenting the state of everything from his clothing to his nipples.

“What’s that thing you do?” He waggles his fingers in an entirely incomprehensible way.

Geralt tilts his head fractionally.

You know,” Jaskier prompts. 

Geralt does not. 

“It’s a…thing. A witcher thing.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Right, yeah, all your things are witcher things.” Jaskier rolls his eyes and winces as he steps a bit deeper. “It’s a thing you say, sounds like angry or maybe inky, makes things hot?”

“Igni?” Geralt enunciates.

“Sure, yes, that.” Jaskier gestures grandly to the water. “If you please.”

“Jaskier—”

“Remember what I said earlier about Jaskiering me?” He draws himself up, clearly summoning all the dignity a bedraggled bard standing knee-deep in a lake can muster. “Think of all the times I’ve pampered you after a long day.” He jabs a finger in the air before Geralt can so much as open his mouth. “And don’t try to tell me you never asked me to because that isn’t the point.” 

“I wasn’t going to.”

“Good.” Jaskier is still gazing at him, jaw set, shoulders tense. He looks pale, mortal, unlayered like this. Geralt can make out the ripple of gooseflesh on his arms. “Igni this water or I’m marching myself right back to that shithole and telling Gordon and Abernathy what a prick you are.”

Geralt doesn’t even want to know. 

When he sends a jet of flame into the water, he’s completely unprepared for Jaskier’s reaction.  

The bard utters a formless sound of terror and scrambles onto the nearest rock. It’s dramatic even for him, a flurry of limbs and splashes, the tension etched in every lithe line of his body. Under other circumstances, Geralt would let his eyes and thoughts linger on that. Instead, he clocks the curdled scent of fear, the way it layers over the stench of moldy straw still clinging to Jaskier from his cell. The way it doesn’t dissipate.

He isn’t accustomed to being the cause of Jaskier’s fear. 

Jaskier’s chest heaves as he steadies his breathing, the echo of his shriek rattling in the cold air between them. “I didn’t mean with me still in it!” He’s trembling, though whether from indignation or the cold Geralt can’t tell. 

His hair is dirty, hanging over eyes gone wide with alarm, and he’s hugging himself against the chill in a manner that just draws attention to his bare upper half. Despite this, he still looks stronger than Geralt remembers him, muscled and capable. Whatever happened to him over the past several months between the mountains and the prison cell, he’s taken care of himself. Perhaps he takes better care of himself in Geralt’s absence.

The thought makes something twist in the pit of his stomach. 

“It’s a lake’s worth of water,” he tries to explain. Jaskier flinches when he lifts one arm to indicate as much, so he lets it drop and conspicuously keeps both hands by his sides. “It’ll only stay hot for so long before I have to do it again.” 

“This is fine,” Jaskier declares quickly, all flippancy once more. He’s already fumbling with his boots, wrinkling his nose at his dripping socks. “Save your igni-ing, I’ve bathed in worse.”

It isn’t like him to tough it out, not when he’s got so many cards to play. Geralt is fully expecting Jaskier to use his behavior in the Dragon Mountains as a bargaining chip for wringing every possible favor out of him until Geralt loses patience.

“Just. Warn me first next time.” Jaskier grimaces at him, half entreaty and half chastisement. He’s still shaking, spine bowed as he begins fiddling with the fastenings of his trousers, nipples tight little points on his dirt-streaked chest. Geralt, in a moment of exhaustion and self-indulgence and maybe just a dash of apprehensiveness about the long road to Cintra, imagines putting his tongue to them, warming them with the soft heat of his mouth, kissing and sucking them into pleasured pinkness. Half a year ago, before the dragon hunt, Jaskier would have arched into his touches like a blossom seeking sun. Half a year ago, there were times when the piquant thread of arousal was constantly interwoven with the clovery, summered scent of his skin. 

Not a trace of either is evident now. Geralt might as well be scenting a stranger. He turns his eyes away as Jaskier finishes undressing and eases back into the water.

When he glances back up, Jaskier is looking at him levelly, a kind of guardedness cast across his face. “You know. If you get in here as well, maybe I’ll even let you kiss me. Unless you’re really intent on doing your best impression of a coat rack.” 

And perhaps, Geralt thinks, perhaps Jaskier is not interested in asking for favors after all. Perhaps bestowing them is more important.

He lifts a brow. “Let me, will you? After you compared yourself to a Nilfgaardian’s ballsack? How irresistible.” 

“That I am.” Jaskier tosses his head. “Confirmation is always appreciated.” And he grins, the briefest baring of teeth. There’s something different about that too, something brittle that makes Geralt want to soothe it into softness.

It’s only fair, he supposes, another increment in rebalancing the scales between them. After all, Jaskier has usually been the one doing him that honor. Sensing the need for softness, working the knots from his hair, his shoulders, working his body loose and pliant under his tongue and touches. After so many nights spent with the heat of his bard’s body tucked against him, of Geralt not daring to contemplate when he began thinking of Jaskier as his, he should be better at knowing how to go about this.

Instead, although he’s still standing on solid ground, it’s as if everything connecting them has come unmoored. Even with Jaskier’s offer on the table, the idea of kissing him feels almost embarrassingly meager. Salve on a tumor.

Better that than no salve at all.

“I like the new look,” Jaskier comments as Geralt disrobes and heaps their belongings on the jut of a granite outcrop. “The whole, ah, shoulder treatment is really something. You’re like a large, grumpy armadillo.”

Geralt glances between Jaskier and his discarded armor, assessing, and joins him in the tepid water. “Thanks.”

“You can igni it some more. I’m ready.” He seems to have given up on wringing the blood out of his shirt and has instead wadded it up to scrub under his arms. 

This time, Geralt casts the sign with his hand beneath the surface. The water froths around them. Jaskier swoons, there’s no other word for it. Head lolling, eyes rolling back, mouth slack and open as if he’s drunk on something potent and delicious. “Oh, that…that’s lovely.” He sinks deeper until he’s completely submerged, then reemerges with a sigh that’s almost obscene. 

“Did you really miss me?” he demands then, hair plastered to his head, which he has cocked like a curious bird. “Or have you perhaps been ensorcelled? Because I’ve got to be honest, you aren’t one to talk about your feelings or even let on that you possess any. And you just thanked me for calling you an armadillo.”

“I’m not ensorcelled. How long did they imprison you?”

Jaskier makes a dismissive sound. “Oh, let’s not talk about that. Tell me more about what we have to look forward to in Cintra.”

Two things about his response stand out: Jaskier agreeing to make the journey with him and Jaskier declining to talk about himself. There are very few topics Geralt can recall Jaskier declining to discuss. Nights spent muffling moans wetly against one another’s mouths, twining together, sticky and sated and resolutely never discussing it—that’s the primary one, even though Jaskier, often to his detriment, tends to want to discuss everything. 

Geralt never paused to think of why this was an exception, he was just relieved that it was. 

He pauses now. “Get over here, tip your head back.”

Jaskier sinks against him as if they’ve never been apart. Touching has always come so easily to him. He never does answer Geralt’s question about the length of his imprisonment, but the soft sigh he utters at the first brush of Geralt’s lips to his forehead is enough to have Geralt wondering when he last had a gentle touch from anyone.

He takes his time working the grit from Jaskier’s hair, massaging his scalp beneath his fingertips until he feels him exhale and go limp with pleasure. The warmth of his back is a firm, familiar presence along Geralt’s chest. He guides his fingers through the tangled strands slowly to prolong the feeling, subtly checking his skull for contusions as he explains everything that’s transpired thus far with Ciri. It’s a strange reversal, him being the one to speak so much as Jaskier stays near-silent.

Stranger still, Geralt is the first one to mention his lute. That elicits a bitter bark of laughter and has Jaskier tensing in his arms. “I’ll have to send my apologies to Filavandrel, as I suspect his lute is no longer of this world. Though I also suspect he has slightly more pressing concerns on his mind these days. Speaking of pressing concerns, witcher, my offer still stands.” 

He turns to face him, a flicker of uncertainty creasing his brow. “Although if you’re trying to be polite and decline without saying as much, I—”

Geralt kisses him. Jaskier melts into it just the way he remembers.  

He still sighs and arches at the lap of Geralt’s tongue between the seam of his lips. He still moans softly when Geralt strokes the hollow of his back.

“You aren’t allowed to do this,” Jaskier announces suddenly, wrenching away. There’s a flush staining the apples of his cheeks. “It’s not enough, a few scraps of affection won’t make me forget it all that easily. I can't survive on scraps, Geralt. And I can’t believe you left me on a fucking mountain and decided to assume fatherly responsibility for the princess of Cintra, of all things.” He plunges his sodden shirt into the water and begins vigorously scrubbing his nape with it. “Actually, I have an easier time believing the second one. She's a child all on her own in this world and you're not half as stoic and unfeeling as you'd have us humans believe. Still have trouble believing the first one though, which is saying something seeing as I lived through it.” 

He doesn't answer right away. They’re still standing kiss-close, sharing breath that plumes in the chilled air around them.

“I know.” Geralt reaches over and takes the shirt from him. Words catch behind his rib cage, but actions come easier. “I’m trying.” 

The water is still warm, but Jaskier shivers all the same when Geralt briskly rubs the fabric down his chest. He’s unbruised, Geralt notices as the dirt sluices off him. Whatever happened to him, either it left no marks or enough time has passed for them to fade. 

“Good.” Jaskier’s voice is soft. His fingers stroke over Geralt’s back with a slow tentativeness, like he’s treading on sacred ground. “I’m going to make sure you keep trying,” he murmurs into Geralt’s ear, and then the lush, velvety cavern of his mouth is upon him. 

There’s a ringing in Geralt’s ears when they collide. 

Jaskier devours him, he always does, the way a starving man attacks a meal. He bites kitten-like at Geralt’s throat and soothes the sting with his clever fingertips even though they both know it takes far more force to leave a bruise on him. He licks him, petting teasingly at his tongue as he coaxes it into his mouth. He strokes his hands over every inch of Geralt visible above the water and a few that aren’t. There’s almost a chasteness to it, Geralt notes in passing, a gradual pleasure that courses through him like a languidly poured glass of honeyed wine. 

He lets himself be consumed by it, relishing the tug of Jaskier’s fingers in his hair, the rub of his tight little nipples against his chest, the way he gasps from the gentlest pinch to them.

Jaskier is, above all things, chronically incapable of sustained silence.

“Fuck me, do that again.”

If his captors are tracking him down, they’re in for an eyeful. 

Geralt can’t help seizing the opportunity to take stock of him. Jaskier’s arms are strong and whole when they lock around him, his teeth still white and intact when they nip at his jaw, his cock a steadily filling pressure against his thigh. His scent, though, is still rimed with something acrid and alien. It makes Geralt want to press his face into his throat, his underarms, between his thighs, anywhere Jaskier will let him, and breathe him in until he can find the smallest hint of familiarity.

“They didn’t rob you,” he observes, thumbing the peak of a nipple once more. Jaskier arches again, the gold of his necklaces glinting against his newly pinked skin. “And if you tried to bribe them, they weren’t interested. What did they want from you?”

“Must we have this conversation now?” Jaskier complains, his nails leaving tingling trails along Geralt’s scalp. “Actually, you know what, I’m just going to revel in you wanting to have a conversation about anything.” He grins, planting a quick kiss to Geralt’s cheek, the grit of his stubble a welcome scrape against his face. “Don’t look so somber, I’m trying to encourage this sort of behavior in you. Information, by the way. That’s what they were after. A traveling bard is a wealth of gossip, but I didn’t have the sort they wanted.”

Jaskier has a hand squeezing gently around the back of his neck the way he’s done a hundred times over their years together, but to Geralt it feels more like something is squeezing around his ribs. A cold trickle of realization works its way between his lungs. “Information.” 

“It doesn’t matter.” The smile Jaskier gives him is nowhere close to reaching his eyes. “Sometimes I really can keep quiet when it matters most.”

The trickle spreads into a sharp-edged deluge. Whoever took Jaskier knew exactly what they wanted with him. The bard is a roving peacock of a person who adores having a spotlight on him, who sings of calamity veiled in grandiosity, and who stands out like a beacon to any bloody-minded mercenary looking for truths between the lines. 

And so, so easy to collar without Geralt around. 

He squeezes his eyes closed. “Fuck.”

Jaskier leans in closer, sneaking the hand on Geralt’s nape up to cup the back of his head, fingers threading through his hair. "Darling," he murmurs, so soft and intimate, as though every blade of grass is bending in to eavesdrop.

“I’m sorry,” Geralt tells him, the words forcing their way from somewhere deep in his gut before his mind can second-guess them. “And it does matter.” He kisses Jaskier again before anything else can come spilling out.

Jaskier doesn’t press him, not yet. Jaskier takes every touch like it’s a blessing, pulls Geralt down onto him atop one of the flat slick rocks, squirms and sighs as if the solid bulk of Geralt over him is all the world he needs. His tongue presses slick and hot inside Geralt’s mouth, fingers cresting the swell of his ass. 

“Move for me, there’s a love,” he breathes into Geralt’s ear. The line of his cock is a hot brand in the cut of his hip, and Geralt doubts he could deny him even if he wanted to. He ruts against him, inelegant in his need, Jaskier’s thighs caging in his hips and a moan building in his throat.

Geralt touches him, taking his balls in one hand where they’re drawn up firm and tight beneath his slippery cock. Jaskier moans for him, squirming deliciously into his touch, and so he touches that too, strokes him firmly and leisurely. And when Jaskier brings his legs to clasp around his waist, he drinks every wail straight from his lips as his cock throbs in his fist.

He lets him go then, leaves him on the edge with his need twitching against his belly. “Oh, you absolute arsehole,” Jaskier groans, but Geralt is already moving against him with slow, deliberate rolls of his hips.

“Let me?” he says, voice low, nudging his kisses lower still.

“Oh, fuck,” Jaskier breathes, his head falling back, thighs falling open. “Yeah. Yeah, all right.”

He takes Jaskier apart slowly. Palming the pale trembling skin of his stomach. Holding him down by his hips to keep the wriggling to a minimum as he licks at his cock, his navel, his pebbled nipples. Jaskier jolts beneath him, an arc of uninhibited pleasure as he squeaks and writhes at the gentle scrape of teeth against them. 

He’s beautiful, and Geralt is not in the habit of being granted beautiful things. There’s an art to cultivating them that he has yet to master. 

He tries, though, and Jaskier’s hands clutch at his back and shoulders in sudden spasms in response, fingertips digging hard enough to bruise even for him. “Geralt, Geralt,” he chants, his voice going up an octave. “I won’t—I can’t.” 

“Good,” Geralt replies. And swallows him down in one smooth movement.

Jaskier stutters out another wrecked little moan. “Fuck,” he says again, and then he’s coming over Geralt’s tongue, crying out in wordless bliss. 

Geralt scarcely has time to get a hand on his own cock before he’s letting the sharp-sweet swirl of sensation overtake him as well. Heat unfurls in his gut, the surge of his orgasm overtaking him like a storm. By the time it fades, Jaskier is stroking the pad of his thumb between his lips and looking at him with lidded eyes as Geralt suckles the tip of it. Then he grips Geralt by the nape and crushes their mouths together, fiercely lapping at the taste of himself. 

There are, he supposes, worse ways to reconcile than this.

They’ve just finished wiping themselves down with Jaskier’s thoroughly desecrated shirt when he clears his throat. “Geralt. I have a question.” 

“Just the one? Lucky me.”

“You’re hilarious,” Jaskier says tartly. He’s lolling back on the rock like a pornographic rendering of a siren, with a knee drawn up and the flushed length of his cock softening alongside one thigh. “It matters? Or I do? Because, and I don’t say this lightly, you’ve been what matters more to me than anything ever since you let me follow you out of Pissada. Gut punches notwithstanding.”

Something about the way he says it makes Geralt’s insides lurch as if he’s taken a gut punch of his own. “You. You matter.” 

That has Jaskier’s eyes slipping closed on the cusp of another kiss, his words a soft red certainty against Geralt’s mouth. “You can’t leave me like that again. Not like that.”

“I won’t,” Geralt murmurs. The wingbeat thrum of Jaskier’s heart goes a little less tremulous under his skin. Geralt lags his head forward, resting it on the solid slope of his shoulder, and says it again. “Jaskier. I won’t.”

“Good. Now,” Jaskier says. His fingers have wound their way back into the hair at Geralt’s nape. “For the love of Melitele, please tell me you have somewhere to spend the night that can accommodate both of us and won’t freeze my balls off. I refuse to entertain the prospect of sleeping alone.”

“I camped not far from here last night,” Geralt rasps against his jaw. Just a bedroll and a pack that he planned to retrieve after retrieving Jaskier—not much, but enough. 

Jaskier dissolves into a laugh halfway through kissing him, messy and musical all in one. “Of course you did, you barbarian,” and gods, Geralt has missed this too, the way Jaskier can take a word so often wielded as an insult and turn it into an endearment. “Did you come here on a contract or was it only for me?”

“For you,” Geralt says simply. “Would’ve been sooner if I’d known.”  

“Sweeping in to save me like a fairy tale incarnate. Gods, the things l could write about this. No, don’t look at me like that. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ve forgiven you, so I’d be very nice to me if I were you. Incidentally, do you have a shirt I can borrow? I fear this one’s best days are behind it.” 

Geralt is in absolutely no position to refuse him anything and he knows it. “I do. Let’s get you sorted out.”

Without speaking, they fall into the familiar choreography of making camp, with a few modifications. Geralt rummages a spare set of clothes out of his pack and Jaskier accepts it eagerly.  It isn’t the first time he’s lent his things to the bard, but it’s always a bit dissonant to see him swathed in black. Even more so when Jaskier scampers around gathering barberries from nearby bushes like an excitable elf, then watches wide-eyed as Geralt uses igni to warm one of the large flat rocks nearby for him to lay his wet clothes over. First one side, and then the other, repeating the process until everything with the exception of his boots is at least moderately dry. It’s an indulgence he doesn’t normally allow himself, and he can practically see the words soaring out of Jaskier’s mouth before he utters them. 

“Why, why, why haven’t I seen you do this before?”

“It’s not necessary.”

Jaskier looks at him sharply. “Maybe not, but it’s nice. I know for a fact that you’ve spent days soaked to the bone before. You are allowed to do nice things for yourself, you know.”

Geralt steadfastly does not answer that. “I’m going to kill something for dinner.”

He can tell Jaskier has another question or six on the tip of his tongue and quickly makes himself scarce in order to avoid them. Not quite quickly enough to avoid getting pelted in the back of the head with a barberry, which is only to be expected.

By the time he returns with a pheasant dangling from one hand, Jaskier has scrounged enough tinder to get a fire going. He keeps his distance for this when Geralt does it and absorbs himself in plucking the pheasant, although he’s shivering. Geralt declines to comment on this, but he does notice.

Jaskier gives him a wry grin once they’re situated. “Look at us. It’s very nearly like old times, isn’t it?” He helps himself to a pheasant wing with gusto. “Home revolting home.”

There’s a lock of hair draped over his forehead. Geralt’s fingers twitch towards it involuntarily before he can catch himself. “You said Yennefer saved your life. How did she do it?”

“It’s a long story.” Jaskier licks grease from his thumb. “Very long, very tedious. Maybe I’ll tell it some other time.”

“You’ve never once shied away from telling a story because it’s too long.”

“Well, I suppose you’d better mark the occasion down in your calendar.” He tears back into his pheasant with somewhat undue ferocity as Geralt eyes him askance. “Here’s a thought. You tell me a story instead. Not that this isn’t several brackets above my previous lodgings, but why are we roughing it? There’s got to be a town nearby and I haven’t seen hide nor hoof of Roach, which leads me to believe you’ve stabled her somewhere.”

His breath hisses in, the air a sudden icy stab that sears his lungs. “Roach no longer walks the Path with me.”

Jaskier goes perfectly still, a stricken look on his face.

“I’m sorry.” His hand hesitates in the air between them before settling in a gentle curve of warmth against his cheek. “Geralt, I’m so very sorry.”

For a fraction of a second, Geralt closes his eyes and presses into the touch. “Tell me what they did to you. If you can.”

Jaskier begins rummaging through the multitude of pockets sewn into the lining of his coat. “Plucked every last copper off me, the bloody shitheels, that’s what they did. I’d offer to sing our way into a more comfortable setting, but I suppose it’s prudent to put some distance between myself and this dungheap. After all, you never know who might be working for which side. That fire fucker could have put a price on my head. I wonder how much I’m worth. Gods, and you with those lustrously snowy tresses and captive embers for eyes, you’re a walking target if anyone sees you with me.” He pats Geralt absently on one shoulder. “Fear not, witcher, I’ll protect you.”

Geralt blinks. 

“Come on, you said you missed me—said it twice, even—and therefore you’ve missed my editorializing.”

“Fire fucker?” he repeats. 

But Jaskier has already moved on, groaning and shifting towards him until their sides are pressed together. “I’m freezing. You’ve never slept outdoors with me in winter before, you know. We’ve always gone our separate ways by the time it’s this cold.”

Geralt hums and lets him burrow, but mentally files away that information for another time. Jaskier is keen to talk, but not about this, which is telling in and of itself. He also smiles when Geralt gives in and tucks that errant strand of hair behind his ear, which is telling in a different way.

“You know, I never asked you about where you go in winter for a reason. I know you value your secrets and there’s a certain safety in not knowing. You already say more than you wish you did around me.” 

Geralt winces. “It’s not—”

“Hush. You were taught to be cautious and I’ll take what I can get, you know that. Now, did I trawl the Oxenfurt library for the history of Kaer Morhen? Of course I did, and I don’t know how accurate any of the information was, but I want you to know I never breathed a word of it to anyone.” A dreamy look crosses his face. “Not even the apprentice archivist who led me into a private carrel and—”

“Impressive.”

“Oh, indeed, she was rather—”

“Not your sordid library romps. Keeping your mouth shut. I know it isn’t easy for you.” 

“For you and your secrets?” Jaskier airily waves a hand. “That’s the easiest thing in the world.” 

Geralt cocks a brow at him. For a beat, they lock eyes, and then Jaskier breaks.

Fine. Aside from the part where I’ve built a career around crafting brilliant renditions of your exploits, I mean. Now can we please retire to your bedroll and share body heat in a sexily cliche manner?”

It doesn’t end up being particularly sexy now that nightfall has caused the temperature to plunge, but if there’s one upside to Geralt’s mutagens it’s his ability to radiate heat like a ceramic stove. Jaskier wraps around him with alacrity, seemingly determined to ruffle as much of his hair against Geralt’s face as possible. His bedding, he notes, still smells faintly of Roach.

“You shouldn’t wear white,” he says after a time, when it’s clear neither of them is going to find sleep easy company. 

“Hm? 

“Earlier, you asked about cleansing your shirt, may it rest in peace. That’s a good way to hide blood. Don’t wear white.” 

The sound Jaskier makes is strongly reminiscent of a tubercular slyzard. “I don’t need to know how often clothes of yours are secretly stained with decades of gore. Clothes of yours which I am currently wearing, I might add. You’re very lucky you’re pretty because your other attributes leave much to be desired.”

“Salt. Lemon. Vinegar. Lye. Piss, if you’re in a bind. I do know how to launder, you know.”

“Wonderful. Got any of that witchery piss and vinegar to spare?”

Geralt snorts. “I’ll look into it.” 

The two of them stay like that for a minute, falling into a silence more companionable than it has any right to be. Jaskier, unsurprisingly, is the one to shatter it.

“You should know that it wasn’t your fault I got into trouble. I became involved with something. In Gors Velen. It started when I went to an alchemist for a hangover cure.”

“This isn’t a story about you sleeping with the alchemist’s wife, is it?”

“No.” There’s no trace of mirth in his tone. “There was a boy there, a half elf. He could have been a hundred years old, I’m never clear on how elf aging works, but he looked young, Geralt. Too young for everything the continent’s thrown at his people all this time. He was burning up with fever, and when he vomited, all that had been in his belly was mud. He'd been cut off from his people and too terrified to ask for food.”  

Geralt regards him with his brow furrowed. “And you…involved yourself.”

“No one should ever have to experience that. Yet it's happening all around us every fucking day and only getting worse.” 

And that’s when Geralt catches it. The faintest scent of sage and summer honey, even in the brutal pocket of winter. He swallows, presses his nose to the join of Jaskier’s neck and shoulder where they’re framed by the open collar of his own shirt, and inhales again.

Jaskier’s fingers are still combing through his hair. In another life, Geralt could fall asleep like this, drunk on scraps of scent and affection, and isn’t that a terrifying thought. “You’ve lost so much already. I can’t hold it against you for being guarded.” His touches pause, then resume, and a soft sort of fierceness is in his voice. “We’ll find Ciri and you’ll keep her safe because that’s what you do, you keep people safe and you deserve the world for it. A better world than this.”

It’s unsettling how he can spin the shit heap of Geralt’s life into something so poetic.

“Jaskier,” he starts.

“Come here,” Jaskier interrupts, guiding him with a hand slipping up his spine. “My poor wolf, come here.” He fits them together, chest to chest and eye to eye in the middle of Geralt’s bedroll.

"You deserve to be happy," Jaskier says, and catches Geralt’s face with his other hand when Geralt looks away. "You do."

And who does that, lays hands on a witcher’s face as easily as their own? 

Geralt presses a kiss to his palm. He can feel it when Jaskier’s breath hitches, when his heartbeat kicks a little quicker. He already doesn't want to let him go. If he kisses him again, he thinks, he's never going to want to stop kissing him. Geralt lets out a small sigh and nuzzles his cheek against his throat instead. 

"I really did miss you,” Jaskier says mildly, tilting his head back further to grant him better access. “Even when I was so angry with you I wanted to forget your name.”

Without conscious thought, Geralt hears himself whispering an apology again, half muffled by the pulse leaping in Jaskier’s throat. “I shouldn’t have blamed you. I’m sorry.”

“Hush,” Jaskier croons to him. “So chatty tonight, my sweet wolf.” His lips are so soft on Geralt’s forehead, a breath away from not being a touch at all. “It’s going to be all right. I forgive you.”

Geralt pushes up on one elbow. “Really. Thought you were still deciding about that.”

“There’s plenty of time to regret it.” One elegant finger jabs between his ribs with practiced precision. “You’ll still have to work hard not to give me any reason to.”

“Ouch,” Geralt says flatly. “It’s a long way to Cintra. I’m sure we’ll stumble into some opportunities.”

“Oh, indeed we will.” Jaskier grins at him in the near darkness, lit up by the last few sparks of their fire and the delight of a new adventure. “A witch without magic, a witcher without a mount, and a bard without an instrument. What a fine assemblage we are.”

“None finer,” Geralt says. And Jaskier laughs and curls against him and there it is again—the lingering scent of sap and clover, nestling into his consciousness as surely as the warmth of Jaskier's body tucked against him in the silken chill of night.

Geralt draws him in, closer than caution, finally letting himself smile.