Geralt tries to live with his regrets, of which he has many. The past is the past, and the Path is the Path. What's done is done, what must be done must be done. His hands are stained with blood and cruelty, and for the most part, the knowledge doesn't stop him from sleeping at night.
But he does feel a gnawing ache of guilt at what he said to the Bard. Jaskier is too talkative for his own good, a troublemaker of the highest order, and often downright infuriating. But he's a kind soul, and he's never once treated Geralt with the same fear and disgust as other humans. He sings pretty enough, for all Geralt refuses to admit, and there's a great deal of wit and humour hidden within all his mindless rambling. His endless stream of words are more soothing than annoying now, after so many years.
As much as he wants to fix the rift between them, Geralt knows Ciri comes first. She's powerful, incredibly, and half the Continent wants to see her used and destroyed. They want to drink the Elder blood in her veins and enslave the most powerful sorceress in centuries for their own nefarious purposes. Geralt cannot let them.
He hadn't the time to pursue Jaskier. Sometimes, he'd wondered if he ever would.
It almost feels like an act of fate when they're reunited. Relief floods his veins, so thick he can taste it, and a weight on his shoulders lifts. Jaskier is safe and well, and Geralt won't lose sight of him again.
Riding with him again feels like returning to Kaer Morhen for how familiar and comfortable it is. Jaskier's usual chattering is a welcome respite from the churning sense of anger, betrayal, and concern in his gut. Yen hasn't any magic, but she does have Ciri, and a contract with Voleth Meir. Gods only know what the Deathless Mother has in store for the greatest sorceress of their age.
Still, Jaskier's rambling is uneasy, and his shoulders are hunched. The camaraderie that once existed between them is strained in a way it never has been, and it settles wrongly over Geralt, itching at the back of his mind.
"Look, people do stupid things when they're trapped in a corner, Geralt. And they say stupid things. But that's what friends do, they come back."
It feels like a knife blade against his throat. It's hurt, and angry, and resigned. "This is different," Geralt says. "And I'm sorry, Jaskier."
There, the fated words, spoken at last.
The change in Jaskier is palpable. He perks up, eyes glittering, and smirks. "Ugh, you are always so emotional. I mean, it's just 'yap, yap, yap' with you sometimes, 'Oh, Jaskier, I'm so sad and complicated-'"
"Shut up, Jaskier."
"You shut up. That is a perfect impression of you, by the way."
"I am sorry," Geralt insists. The new Roach lets out a mournful whinny beneath him, sensing his tone. "I was angry, and I took that anger out on you. I shouldn't have."
Jaskier blinks up at him. "Why, that was almost emotionally competent of you, Geralt. Frankly, I'm shocked. Rattled to my core."
"I've lost too many people over the years. I don't want to lose another."
Something pained flickers across Jaskier's face, and he averts his eyes to stare at the mud on his boots. "I'm sorry, too," he says.
"What for?" Not for the rambling, surely. Jaskier must know by now that Geralt doesn't truly care about the whining and complaining, or the constant running commentary. Without it, things feel wrong, off-colour.
"I've held some things back from you, out of that same fear of losing something dear to me. But I realise now it's not fair to lie to you, even if it does drive you away. And- hmm, well, if you truly think me unforgivable, we are in the right company to do away with me once and for all." A sad chuckle. "There's no better place than here to tell you."
Something like dread pools in Geralt's stomach. It is often said that Witchers cannot feel, but the reality is quite different. Witchers can suppress a great deal, weather through loss after loss and agony after agony, but even they have their limits. Geralt is reaching his. "What things?"
"I'm not quite the helpless damsel in distress I make myself out to be," Jaskier begins.
"Well, that would've been useful to know a hundred fights ago," Geralt says dryly.
Jaskier waves his hands in that dramatic way of his and continues, "I mean, I am, but I'm also not."
Geralt raises an eyebrow. "Very helpful, Jaskier."
He won't meet Geralt's gaze. Instead, he stares down at his feet, the passing stones on the trail beneath them. "I am, when I'm like this," he says. "But I don't always don this beautiful form you see before you, and it's then that I'm a little less soft and squishy and fragile."
It's too vague, half of it mumbled under his breath in a panic, and Geralt can't make sense of any of it. Is Jaskier trying to tell him he's a sorcerer? Part elf? A wielder of fire magic? Yennefer is all of these things, and he's never turned her away. A little power is hardly frightening for a Witcher. "Go on."
"I can't show you here. Not yet, anyway. Someone might get hurt."
"You can transform," Geralt extrapolates. Jaskier nods. "You're not human." Jaskier nods again. His lip trembles. "You feared I would hunt you."
"I hope you don't take that personally, my dear White Wolf. It's a dangerous world for magical creatures, both great and small, and you are duty-bound to hunt those you believe pose a threat." Jaskier frowns. "It was a logical conclusion, once. And then, by the time I'd worked up the balls to confess, you told me in no uncertain terms to fuck right off."
Geralt blinks. "On the mountain. Why then?"
Jaskier smiles, a broken thing. His eyes are misty. "You protected Villentretenmerth," he says. "The last surviving Golden Dragon, and somewhat of a personal inspiration."
"Borch," Geralt says. "He means something to you?"
"He doesn't even know me. But my mother told me about him. I'm sure she regrets it now, because I got it into my head that I'd travel the Continent among the humans, too -- and never got it out of my head, really. As you can see."
"Aren't you of noble blood?"
Jaskier chuckles. "Yes. Noble by human standards because of our hoard of riches, and noble by our own because of the blood in our veins." He looks surreptitiously back at their party of dwarves. None are paying attention. "Julian Pankratz, it means conqueror of youth. Really, it's more of a jab by Mother about our somewhat limited transformation ability. You may now suddenly be noticing I haven't aged a day since you've known me. I wish I could credit that to my excessive use of moisturiser."
Geralt curses himself for being so unobservant. Truthfully, he had credited Jaskier's youthfulness to his ridiculous amounts of cosmetics. The man preens like a peacock. Geralt assumed he plucked or dyed any grey hairs and lathered ungodly amounts of lotion on any wrinkles.
He'd been an idiot.
"Your ability seems fine to me."
"Not as fine as The Three Jackdaws'. Not even as fine as Mother's, on account of my being a halfbreed. I've always been a bit odd, I fear." Jaskier rests a hand on Roach's flank. Unlike his last horse, this one doesn't seem bothered by the contact. "As you may have guessed by now, I'm the son of the second most powerful line left alive, Villentretenmerth's being the first. My father was a commoner, and nothing like my mother in any way, but they fell in love and had me."
"A cross between dragon species," Geralt says. The puzzle pieces in his mind's eye begin to fall, one-by-one, into a greater whole. The perpetual youth, the love of shiny baubles and luxury, the adventurous spirit that blatantly disregarded mortal peril, much to Geralt's own chagrin.
He can't be angry at Jaskier for hiding. If he, too, could hide, he would. But hair as white as bone and eyes as gold as an ore vein and as narrow as a cat's cannot be hidden away. In the eyes of the people, he is a freak, an animal, barely more human than the monsters he hunts.
It took Jaskier to change that perception. No wonder the cause had seemed dear to his heart.
"Right on the money, Witcher. Mother is the Silver to Borch's Gold, and my father a lowly Brown. I'd introduce you, but he lives in the family vaults with our hoard. It's the only place safe for a giant, scaled, fire-breathing beast."
"Only the royal lines have the Chaos necessary for polymorphism?"
"Ah, there's the Oxenfurt student!" Jaskier coos. "Never let it be said that brawn excludes brains."
"Shut up, Jaskier."
He just hums. "All my mother's line are named after flowers. It's why I chose to go by Jaskier."
"Fire and flowers," Geralt muses.
"Well, ice, actually. It's Father who has the fire. And me the rather underwhelming mix between the two." Geralt grunts. As always, Jaskier interprets his monosyllabic responses correctly, and elaborates, "Steam. I was a bit underwhelming in general, really. Not quite what Mother was hoping for. More of a lover than a fighter, which, as you imagine, isn't well-received when we've been hunted to near extinction. And as horrific as boiling a human alive with my breath may sound, it's no more than a mere annoying splash to any other creatures hungry for dragon blood. So, I left. Why not stay morphed and travel with the humans, stuck in their soft, fragile skin, when my true form was just as useless?"
"Not that useless," Geralt admits.
"You flatterer! Why, Geralt, are you finally admitting to my helpfulness over the years? Is this acknowledgement of how dearly you've missed me? I might burst into tears! Oh, Melitele's sweet bosom, I've just witnessed a miracle."
Geralt growls. Jaskier wipes away fake tears. "Steam isn't useless, either." Jaskier perks up. "I could've used your help earlier."
"How you stroke my ego today, dear Geralt. I feel all tingly."
"It was too risky, I'm afraid. I'm large and lumbering in my true form, nothing like the lithe, graceful, deliciously-toned beauty that walks beside you. I'd more likely accidentally crush you underfoot or scald your pretty, milky skin than fight off your next monstrous conquest. And I'd sooner clip my wings than hurt you."
"I'm a Witcher, and more mutated than most. I can lift your foot, and the hotsprings at Kaer Morhen would cook most humans alive. And what about the risk to yourself? You're clearly vulnerable in this form."
Jaskier tilts his head. His newly-messy hair flops over his eyes. They always had been startlingly, inhumanly blue. "What about the risk to myself? Darling, I followed you, not the other way around. I knew the risks when I asked to be your chronicler."
"Did you ask? Or did you just perch yourself on my shoulder and sing, lark?"
"Ha. Ha." Jaskier chews his lip. "So, there you have it. My sordid tale, in full. If you wish to set the dragon slayers on the dragon, now would be the time. I am, as ever, at your service."
"I would never let Yarpen hunt you," Geralt says. "Never. I hunt monsters. I don't hunt friends."
A rosy pink settles over Jaskier's cheekbones. "You said it! You called us friends!" A grin. "I knew it! I knew you loved me, really." Geralt chooses not to mention the angry ballad about burning butchers he's heard making its merry way through the taverns. "Has your Lion Cub finally beat some emotional intelligence into you?"
"Shut up, Jaskier." Geralt considers him. "Why tell me now? In the interest of fair spirit?"
"Partly," Jaskier says. "But I was also thinking… about Yennefer, and her magic. I can't sense a thing like this, but in my true form… well, do you know what they say about dragons?"
Vesemir's extensive lectures had covered all magical creatures known to the Order, even ones that posed no threat. When he was young, he had curled under the furs by the fire, and listened in warmth and comfort to the drone of Vesemir's voice. It was one of the few times since undergoing the Trials that he was free of pain. "That you were the first beasts to arrive here during the Conjunction, and that you represent the forces of Chaos itself."
"Good wolf," Jaskier says. The praise is more affectionate than condescending, and for that Geralt restrains himself from cuffing Jaskier on the ear. "We came when Chaos came, or so my family tells me. I'm still quite young by dragon standards. It explains my exuberant spirit, wouldn't you agree?" Geralt growls. Jaskier clears his throat and goes on, "Chaos is the air we breathe. It came from our world with us, and without it we would die -- so the theory goes, anyway. And, quick little anecdote, I must say I do feel a certain rejuvenation after bedding a sorceress, so it doesn't seem too far-fetched."
The Bard's sexual escapades have been the cause of so much frustration and stress in Geralt's life, he's grown tired of hearing about them. "Jaskier, get to the point."
"I can sense magic. Since we absorb and reuse the Chaos around us, we can see its ebb and flow. One look at Yennefer in my true form, and I can pinpoint the source of her problem. If there even is one. If we fix it, Yennefer will go back to being her wicked, sexy self without needing to sacrifice the High Princess of Cintra to some old hag demon. Kidnapping problem solved! And old hag problem solved, too, perhaps? I'd say that's two birds with one stone." Jaskier bows. "I'll take my applause now, thank you."
That's… that's actually not a bad plan. He doesn't want to hurt Yen, as much as he bitterly resents her choices at present, and Voleth Meir needs to be curbed before her appetites for pain and suffering are well and truly sated. Without Yen's anguish to swallow, she'll once again be left to rot in her wooden prison, and what few Witchers remain will be spared having to re-bind her. "You're right. Once we catch up to Yen, we'll part ways with Yarpen, and you can fly us to Kaer Morhen. Triss is still there, she should be able to help you heal whatever Yen broke when she used fire magic. And you can help us train Ciri. She needs to be able to protect herself from Voleth Meir."
Jaskier's eyes widen. "Did- did you just admit I was right? Am I hearing that correctly? You did, didn't you?" He lets out a whoop. "I shall remember this day forever -- the day Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf himself, finally admitted I was right! Oh, blessed vindication, you are a sweet nectar." He stops. "Wait- fly you to Kaer Morhen? Train Ciri?"
"You can fly?"
"Why! Of course I can fly! The nerve on you, Witcher, can I bloody well fly indeed-"
"And you know enough about Chaos to help Ciri understand her powers?"
"Then it's settled. We'll head for Kaer Morhen as soon as we find Yen."
Jaskier splutters. "You haven't changed a bit, you presumptuous little shite!" Geralt huffs. "Sorry, presumptuous big shite. I should boil you like a stew, melt you into a little Witcher-shaped puddle."
"Will you help?" Geralt asks. And then, rough as gravel, "Please?"
Instead, it is Jaskier who melts. "Fuck, fine."
When they crest the hill and find Yen, she's ineffectually batting at an angry mob of Nilfgaardian soldiers. Nilfgaardian soldiers who have Ciri.
Geralt sees red.
Even a Witcher's steel sword is meant for monsters, not soldiers doing their jobs, but when it comes to his- his daughter, he's more than willing to substitute. He stabs out the heart of a guard in time with Yarpen's war cry. The sound of metal on wet flesh is a familiar, almost comforting refrain. Another Nilfgaardian gets a blade to the jaw, slicing his throat clean. Yarpen's axe slides through the neck of a soldier like a knife through butter, his head cleaved neatly from his shoulders and, to Jaskier's horror, into his open arms. Blood sluices onto Jaskier's overly-expensive coat.
"Gah!" Jaskier fumbles with the head and throws it to the ground with shaking fingers.
It's odd, really. It's so normal of him, to cringe away from violence, and yet there are times when he's just as vicious himself. Geralt had given it no thought before, but now it's in sudden stark relief. Geralt is lucky Jaskier is mostly a gentle soul, and the extent of his cruelty is limited only to drunken bar fights and breaking cheap lutes over rude bastard's heads. In fact, most of the time, Jaskier's rage arises from defending Geralt's honour, or any slight to his songcraft. If he were a darker soul, he might be tempted to shed the elegant hands of a musician and bring out tooth and claw.
These guards he shies away from he could swallow whole, or pry through their armour like silk, or roast like pigs on a spit. But he never does. In fact, he seems to regard his true form as a hulking, burdensome inconvenience, despite living a life fraught with danger only it could protect him from.
Well, it and Geralt.
Has he become a dragon's keeper?
How is it that he seems to be collecting powerful magical beings without even a single purposeful attempt to accrue anything at all, let alone a fearsome army?
A wolf must have a pack. He sneers and cuts off a man's arm. It's dangerous thinking, a Witcher with a family. Unheard of.
Almost as unheard of as a lute-strumming, bawdily-singing dragon.
As the last of the Nilfgaardians' dying cries fades into the evening air, Geralt holds his sword to Yennefer's neck. He snarls as the scent of lilac and gooseberries wafts into his nose. Yes, so much for a Witcher's attempt at family. "Yarpen, I'm sorry, but we part ways here. I'm taking Yennefer to Kaer Morhen to right her wrongs."
"Aye," says Yarpen. "Frankly, you could've told me we were riding to slay Nilfgaardian kidnappers outright, I'd have gladly accepted. I'm always happy to shed the Empire's blood."
"They were trying to steal my daughter."
Yarpen looks between them. Ciri is spitting blood and dirt into the grass, her blade still gripped firmly in one bruised hand. "She's yours? Not too surprising she bit someone's ear off, then."
"She's mine." At this, he presses the blade tighter to Yennefer's throat. She swallows. Her dark skin is paler than usual, less of a contrast to the silver of his sword. Her violet eyes are pleading.
Geralt can't stand that look.
"Geralt, I'm sorr-"
"Don't." He looks away. "Jaskier, join Ciri on her horse. We ride for the mountains."
Yarpen raises his axe in a toast. "It was a pleasure to fight with you again, Wolf."
"I'll see you again soon. I still have a debt to pay, and to collect."
"A Witcher never forgets." Yarpen grins, turns to his party. "Onwards! The Trail calls."
Once the last of Yarpen's band disappears over the hills, Jaskier's shoulders droop in relief. Cheerily, he approaches Ciri, who's tending to her horse, trying to soothe away its pitiful, fearful whinnying. Her bloody hands are slow and calm on its snow white pelt, but red streaks are left behind all the same. "The Child Surprise I've heard so much about!"
"Why are we taking her to Kaer Morhen?" Ciri asks, ignoring Jaskier entirely.
"Like father, like daughter," Jaskier mumbles. Strangely, that hurts.
"Jaskier has-" he cuts himself off, coughs. "I asked Jaskier to help us fix this. Yen's magic, Voleth Meir's bargain, your training. He's going to mentor you, too."
"Grandmother taught me to play and sing. Surely that's already more than enough of what I'll need when it comes to the art of performance as a Witcher?" She turns to Jaskier now, sheepish. "No slight to your profession or offence to yourself. You sang on my nameday and it was the highlight of the evening. But I don't see how it's going to help me save anything more than low spirits."
"Yes," says Yen. "How is the Bard going to help fix my magic?"
"Jaskier is more than a bard. Much more than a bard."
"He's a rescuer of citizens, a ferrier of refugees, a saviour of sorceresses he holds far from dear. But he isn't the Deathless Mother."
The thought of Voleth Meir tightens his throat. "How could you go to her- she was the first monster the Witchers were sent to slay, and you thought you could bargain with her? And to bring Ciri, Yen, it's-"
Yen shakes her head, desperate. "I thought I was nothing without my magic. But I see now, Geralt, I see how special she is. And teaching her, helping her shape her power, it was-"
"She trusted you." I trusted you.
"I understand," says Ciri, abruptly. "What it feels like to be helpless. To do anything for the power to change things. I don't hold it against you."
Yen whips around, eyes wide and wet. "Ciri, I- even without my magic, I'll do all I can to help you."
"We'll fix your magic," Jaskier says. "Or Geralt won't let me hear the end of it."
Geralt interrupts, "Once we leave Nilfgaardian patrol territory, he'll show you." It's too risky now. The Empire has no qualms about slaying humans, let alone dragons, and Geralt can't lose Jaskier again. Not after just getting him back, after sending him away with his own thoughtless cruelty.
If he'd been too late to arrive in that cell, dispatch that guard… how long before Jaskier would've been killed? How long before his secret would've been revealed?
The thought makes Geralt hate himself all the more.
The White Wolf needs his songbird. No matter what form he takes.
Once the towers of Cintra have long since faded into the distance, Geralt slows his horse. They're deep in the forest now, closer to Sodden than to Ciri's beloved capital. The trees have been thick, copse blending into copse, but there's an opening in the branches just ahead that looks to lead to a clearing.
Yen, Ciri, and Jaskier slow beside him. Geralt listens beyond the hoofbeats for the sound of anything living, anything dangerous, but hears nothing. Then, "Ow! The branches are tangling in my hair, Geralt! Couldn't you have picked a nicer location for this?"
Geralt rolls his eyes. "The trees thin up ahead, seems like a cove. No overhead cover, clear view of the sky. It is a nice location."
"You and I have very differing definitions of nice!"
"Why do we need a clear sky?" asks Yen.
"Hmm," Geralt answers. "You'll see."
True enough, the trees part into a little meadow, a quiet haven from the rest of the wilderness. The dusk sky shines overhead, dimming light falling in streams over the grass. The meadow is sprinkled with buttercups.
A laugh bursts out of Jaskier at the sight of it. "Fucking Destiny!" he crows. "Now I have no choice but to write a song about this mess. For your ears only, of course."
"What a great privilege," Yen says, but it's soft, and she's smiling.
"Excuse me, my dear lion," Jaskier tells Ciri, and gracefully hops off her horse. It pushes its wet nose into the leather of Jaskier's coat as he passes by, and he gives it a fond pat before sauntering towards the farthest edge of the clearing. "Is this fifteen metres, would you say?"
Geralt gives him a thumbs up.
Gods, fifteen metres.
"Alrighty, then. Well, uh, this is awkward, but I'm going to have to take off my clothes." He has to yell for Yen and Ciri to hear, which gifts the forest an echoing itinerary of Jaskier's impending striptease. Geralt laments the absurdity of the situation.
"What," says Ciri. Then, "Well, that's not what I expected."
"I've seen enough of the bard to last me a lifetime," Yen says. "Why, pray tell, are you baring your arse to the Sodden sky? Not for our benefit, I hope."
"How dare you!" Jaskier shucks off his coat and doublet with aggressive indignation. "I'll have you know I've received nothing but compliments about my arse! And everything else, too, thanks muchly." He goes for the buckle at his trousers. Ciri looks away. Yen doesn't.
Neither does Geralt.
Nothing he hasn't seen before over the decades. Jaskier has an… unfortunate… tendency to divest himself of his clothes at any given opportunity. The privacy of an inn, for the many lovers he beds, when stealing Geralt's bathwater…
Once he's folded his clothes in a neat pile on the roots of a large oak tree, he stretches like a cat in the open air and turns his face into the fading light of the sun. His eyelashes are almost blonde like this, fluttering in pleasure as his back cracks. "Well, nothing for it, I suppose. It's a good thing I don't get stage fright, hmm?" He chuckles to himself.
And then, then he changes.
He hadn't seen Borch transform, but truly it couldn't have been as magnificent as this. Scales bloom on Jaskier's pale skin, his teeth turn to sharp points, and as more and more human features recede, he grows. Grows until he's taller than the trees that circle them. Then, once his bones have stopped shifting under his skin, he lies down, wings flapping once, twice, and rests his chin on his front legs.
Patches of brass crisscross silver, forming a mottled pattern of gleaming metallic scales. Two horns curve back towards the base of his skull, not chipped or scored like Myrgtabrakke's had been. Blessedly untouched by Reavers. His tail is long and spiked and twitches back and forth. His claws tap a matching rhythm into the earth. When he exhales, little wisps of steam blow from his nostrils. A split tongue darts out to lick nervously at his snout. Even in this form, he can't keep himself still for more than a second.
His eyes are still that inhuman blue. Diamond pupils follow Yen as she gasps and splutters and points and makes other noises of vague offence.
Jaskier's warm voice filters into his mind, and the joke he makes, while cheery, sounds tentative and self-conscious. "Wow, I haven't seen a tantrum like this since I told Valdo Marx he was a talentless hack who'd be far better suited to work as a court jester."
"You're one to speak," Yen says, as if she can't help herself. There's a puff of steam as Jaskier huffs. "You should have told us!"
Jaskier bares his fangs in a grimace. "Yes, and how would that have gone? Hello, dear Witcher, hunter of beasts, and terrifying sorceress who hates me, I just wanted to say I've been lying to you for years and I'm actually a giant flying lizard! Thank you and good day, consider tossing me a coin on the way out!"
"He has a point," says Geralt. "He couldn't confirm how either of us felt about dragons until that day on the mountain. And that was… not the best time for any more sudden revelations."
Yen stops as soon as the word mountain passes Geralt's lips. "You must know we would never…"
"Well, I do now." A sniff. "You missed me. I'm touched, and more than a little attached. In fact, given the fact that none of us will be dying any time soon, and that I, for one, am perfectly content to spend the next, I don't know, thousand years singing -- literally singing -- your praises, you might say there's no getting rid of me."
"Gods help us all," Yen grumbles, but rests a hand on the bridge of Jaskier's snout all the same. More like a dog than a fearsome beast, Jaskier noses at her hand until she absent-mindedly scratches painted nails over his scales. This seems to settle him.
The weight of Jaskier's mortal lifespan lifts off Geralt's shoulders in a rush. It's part of the reason Geralt had always been so eager to turn him away, why he'd let himself go too far on the mountain. Jaskier's company is, much to his own bemusement, some of his most treasured. The incessant chattering is the perfect counterpart to Geralt's own preference to keep quiet, lest he say something he regrets. He usually does. Whether he lashes out in anger (if life could give me one blessing-), or makes a fool of himself, or makes a joke that's too dry to land, Geralt's words always seem to betray him. It's why he's a man of so few.
...Jaskier's shouldered it all without complaint. He laughs at every bad joke, indulges any and all of his awkward attempts at conversation when he can manage initiating one, and brushes off any growling or snarling with melodramatics or a kind smile.
If life could give me one blessing, it would be to take you off my hands!
Geralt hides a wince. In reality, his feelings are the exact opposite. He's been terrified. It's why he never tried to befriend mortals, as a rule. The inevitability of their eventual deaths was the blade of a guillotine that dropped thankfully slowly and yet not nearly fast enough, every new grey hair or wrinkle another agonising centimetre closer to his bare throat.
He hadn't wanted to see Jaskier, whose energy is always as undying as it is infectious, wither and fade. That would've been worse than the guillotine, worse than trying to hack away at his neck with a butter knife, worse than-
gentle, lute-calloused hands brushing over his nape
-worse than anything.
So he'd run, as he'd run from everything. From Ciri, from Yen, from any hint of attachment.
Jaskier had chased him every time, until.
All this time and he's held himself back for nothing. Not that he should've held himself back at all.
Gods, he's been a fool. There's so much he owes to Jaskier, and he hasn't once said-
"Thank you. For trusting us."
Jaskier's first set of eyelids blinks, and then his second. "Did you just thank me? Was that gratitude? From Geralt of Rivia?"
Geralt brushes a hand over Jaskier's cheek. The skin is warm and smooth, as hard as armour. His medallion begins to hum at the first pass of his fingers. "I've patronised you, insulted you, underestimated you… I've been a fool."
"To the surprise of no-one," says Yen. Jaskier shoots her a quelling look, made significantly more threatening in this form. Yen just raises an eyebrow.
"Any other dragon would have torn me to shreds for the injury to their pride."
An amused snort. "I've always been a bit strange. Not really the shredding sort, to be honest. I try to keep my violence to drunken bar fights. Better for the soul."
"Gods above, Geralt, you'll make me cry with all this flattery. A dragon's tears are priceless potions' ingredients, you know." Jaskier covers his face with his claws. "I'll let you have them this once, witch, but if you try and bully me into another batch, I'll write a song declaring you the ugliest, meanest hag in all the Continent, that is a fair warning."
"As if I need more of your dramatics, bard."
"You should be so lucky!" His eyes narrow. "Don't bite the hand that feeds, you brute. I'm fixing your magic free of charge! I could be pestering you for more stories to add to my hoard, but no, I've exercised remarkable self-restraint and offered my services out of the kindness of my heart. And yet you repay me with this… sass! I knew we should've just stabbed you."
Yennefer's eyes widen. "Of course. They say dragons are conduits for Chaos, that it's the lifeforce that birthed you. That must mean you have some innate sense for it, a way to manipulate it on a deeper level than even sorcerers are capable…"
"I can't control how much Chaos I absorb -- not that I'd share any with you if I could, not after what you've said, you ungrateful wench -- but I can sense it. Taste it, actually. It tastes a little bit like rum, but very, very strong rum, the kind they serve at grand celebrations, the ones Geralt hates with a fiery passion. Probably because of the rum, actually. Or rather, because I drink the rum, and subject Geralt to handling the unfortunate results of my drunken debauchery-"
"Jaskier," Yen says.
"Alright. Let me have a taste." He sticks his forked tongue dangerously close to Yennefer's face, to her absolute disgust, and shuts his eyes. He makes a few considering rumbles -- real ones, not telepathic impressions, which vibrate through the ground and deep into Geralt's chest. Geralt has to shake away the feeling of detached awe that comes with being face-to-face with a force of nature, and having that force of nature regale you with drinking stories. "Wow. The state of your Chaos is shockingly pathetic, I truly must say." Yennefer makes a noise that's half-way between a sob and a growl. "But never fear, my dearest power-hungry she-demon! It may be pathetic, but it is most assuredly not gone!"
Now it's definitely a sob. "Gods," she breathes. "And you're certain?"
"Perfectly. It's not dead, just over-exhausted. And how over-exhausted it is! You've outdone yourself this time. Of course you can't cast any bloody spells, woman, you haven't given yourself even a tiny, teensy weensy little second to recover." A pause, as Jaskier's tongue retreats back behind a row of razor sharp teeth. "And, eugh, what is that disgusting aftertaste? It tastes like swamp. Swamp arse." He shudders hard enough to shake the ground beneath their feet. The horses whinny in alarm. "Something absolutely rank is trying to take a bite out of you, and not in the fun way."
"Voleth Meir," Geralt says. "She feeds off pain and anguish."
"Well, there's your problem! Your magic is fine, you just need a little tender, loving care, and to get that hag off your back. Erm. How do we do that again?"
"Cut off her source."
"Oh, very good, then. You hear that, Yennefer? Simply stop with the anguishing! Your terrifying power is safe and sound, it just needs a little nap."
Yennefer rests her forehead on Jaskier's snout. "Thank you," she whispers.
"Anything for an archenemy." He gives a toothy grin. Like Geralt's own overly-sharp smile, it has the unfortunate problem of looking more terrifying than friendly, but Yennefer just laughs. "Oh, and Ciri?"
Ciri looks surprised to hear her name. "Yes?"
"Your Chaos… I've never seen anything like it. You're practically a conduit for it yourself. If you exhaust your magic like Yennefer has, you might… burn yourself out. Literally. Explosively."
Geralt goes cold. Ciri just nods. "I'll be careful."
So, it's true, then. Ciri has Elder blood, stronger than any other. Strong enough to shake Triss, strong enough to make her a Witcher without needing the Trials, strong enough to break Monoliths and send the Empire of the White Flame on a wild hunt.
The wild hunt.
In this world, which values power more even than money, Ciri is a priceless commodity. The crown jewel of any collection, their very own pet sorceress, more a weapon than a person.
Reviled, except for when their power is useful. Geralt knows the feeling well.
"Good. Do as we say, not as we do, and all that. Anyway, who wants a joyride?"
Ciri's eyes light up. "You mean you'll let us fly?"
Despite her joy, Geralt swallows against the knot in his throat. This is only the beginning.
Jaskier sings as he flies. Not like a human would -- it's more of a whistle, like the reedy hum of a flute. A haunting echo. It's beautiful, and matches the darkening sky around them, the twinkling stars. Great mountains pass beneath them, their cold wind ruffling Geralt's hair. Ciri laughs and whoops into the starlight, arms raised high. She looks like she'd dance on Jaskier's back, were her legs not tied into the saddle she took from her horse.
She'd managed a rudimentary portal back to Yarpen's camp to lend him the horses for the winter. According to Jaskier, it hadn't even sapped a fraction of her energy.
An endless well lies at her fingertips. Without Yen, without Jaskier, he'd be woefully underequipped to train her magic. Witchers have the Signs. Nothing else. And each Sign can only be cast a limited number of times before exhausting the Witcher's stamina. He's felt his vision go spotty and white-edged from overtaxing his magical reserves far too many times to count. He knows nothing of advanced spellcraft beyond what he's gleaned from Yen and Triss.
There are… some things you cannot do alone.
That's what he's been afraid of.
Jaskier descends slowly through the valleys that surround Kaer Morhen, through snow-capped peaks and over the Trail Geralt knows intimately, navigates in his dreams. The tips of the Bard's claws brush the tips of the pine trees. As they shudder, owls fly with indignant screeches from their disturbed nests.
At the sight of the first of Kaer Morhen's turrets, Jaskier spreads his wings in full against the wind's current until their speed drops off considerably, then circles the grounds until he can do it again. It's smooth, instinctual, borne of many years' (a hundred? Two hundred? Three?) practice. When they land in the training ground, it's as gentle as featherfall.
Lambert takes one look at them, drops his sword, cups his hands to his mouth, and yells, "Aye, come look! Geralt got us a fucking dragon for our castle at last!"
"You, good sir, can fuck right off."
"He got us a rude fucking dragon, too! Gods, he knows us too well, brothers."
The rest of the Witchers trail lazily from the halls to greet them. Cat's eyes widen as Jaskier flaps his wings aggrievedly and melts icicles in an angry puff of steam. "I see where Geralt learnt his grunting and scowling from. Do none of you have manners? Is this how you greet all your guests?"
"We don't have guests very often," Geralt tells him.
"I can bloody well see why!"
As they unfasten their bindings and slip from Jaskier's back, bemused murmuring begins to join the low, steady hum of medallions. "This is Jaskier," Geralt says.
"Your bard?" Talbot asks. "Your bard is a fucking dragon?"
"Toss a coin to your Witcher, O Valley of Plenty!" Lambert bellows. He pushes past the crowd to grasp Ciri by the shoulder. "Join me, princess! They must've taught you to sing at court."
Ciri sighs. "Fuck off, Lambert."
Yennefer heads straight for Vesemir and Triss. "We need to reinforce our wards. And Voleth Meir's bindings. She wants Ciri."
"It took many a Witcher to bind Voleth Meir to her hut," says Vesemir. He's not the kind of man who pales at a fight, but the sound of the Deathless Mother's name on Yennefer's lips does alarm him. "She was the first great beast to spill Witcher blood."
Yennefer raises an eyebrow. "Did they have a dragon?"
Vesemir has no response to that.
Awkwardly, Jaskier asks, "Um, could someone fetch me my clothes?"
Lambert pauses his off-key wailing. "A naked, rude dragon, Geralt? What else have you been hiding from us? A faerie up your arse?"
Geralt hides a smile.
Welcome back, wolf.
Jaskier's quarters are cold. Everywhere in Kaer Morhen is cold, but Jaskier has unfortunately found the only spare room is in shadow. Geralt winces in sympathy. Witchers don't tend to feel the cold, not truly, but there have been times when the ice and snow seem to seep deep into his bones and make them ache.
Maybe it's psychological.
Jaskier seems more a fire dragon than an ice dragon, and he is shivering, despite being draped in blankets, but he doesn't complain. Startlingly, he's quiet. Pensive.
Geralt asks much of him. Rarely with words, but Jaskier takes it upon himself to be helpful in their travels. Perhaps because he has an equal tendency to be unhelpful and attract trouble, or perhaps out of a caring heart. Either way, many errands get tended to when Jaskier is with Geralt on the Path. He cleans Geralt's armour, gathers firewood and potions ingredients (once, poisonous herbs, and so Geralt had been forced to teach him some basic botanical skill in order to save him from a miserable trip to the healer's), draws baths for them both, bargains with innkeepers and tradesmen and anyone not as enamored with Witchers as Jaskier's songs profess they should be, hunts, and tends to Geralt's wounds.
Geralt had felt guilty enough then. Now, though… now it's a knot in his stomach. Jaskier's risked his life for Geralt before, but he's never been asked to stay and confront a monster. He's always had the option to run.
There's no running from a demon. She always finds you.
And training Ciri, revealing his secret to so many people: that, too, is far too much to ask.
And yet Geralt does.
"I'm sorry," he says again. He's said the words more times in the past few days than he has in years. "Jaskier, you know we couldn't- I couldn't do this without you."
Jaskier snaps out of his reverie. "Oh, Geralt. You know you don't have to."
Geralt looks away. Jaskier's eyes are too piercing, sometimes. Too knowing. "I don't deserve your help. Not after-"
"All is forgiven," Jaskier says lightly, but his gaze is firm. "You do deserve this. You've taken good care of me over the years, my dear Witcher. Protected me. Kept me human. It's my turn to care for you, to protect you, and I'm glad to do it."
Bizarrely, an uncomfortable heat crawls up Geralt's neck, like the slow flicker of embers to flame. "You already care for me. And protect me."
"Not like this." Jaskier grimaces. "I've never fought for you like you've fought for me."
Geralt comes to sit beside him on the bed. It lets out a threatening groan at their collective weight, wood cracking from years of tired Witcher bodies, but holds firm. "You don't like violence. Unless it's a bar fight. Or over a woman."
"Because I'm too good at it," Jaskier says instantly. "It's fun, and I'm somewhat of a thrill-seeker, if you haven't noticed."
The youthful, adventurous spirit. Gods know where they'd be without it. Not here, certainly. Not even together. Who in their right mind approaches an angry Witcher keeping to himself in a tavern? Who in their right mind refuses to let go of that Witcher, decides to tame the wild stallion, no matter how it bucks?
Tame the wild White Wolf.
He's never feared Geralt.
"That's all well and good when my weapons are my fists, or a tankard of ale, or a lute I can afford to spare. But when I have claws, and fangs, and boiling breath, all that can melt flesh like butter, well… then, things get ugly. I do so hate to be ugly, you know."
He never is. Perhaps that should've tipped Geralt off to his inhuman nature earlier.
No, no. Despite being strange, remarkably strange, nothing Jaskier does is obviously inhuman. He makes quite a show of being weak and fragile and in need of rescuing, actually. He hides in plain sight by being flamboyant and loud, the shroud of pomp and circumstance to cover what lies beneath.
He acts like prey, but he's never felt fear like prey. He approached Geralt with no hesitation, never once flinched from his unnatural strength or animalistic mannerisms, never even blinked. Like Geralt was normal.
The hunt is an everyday part of life, from one predator to another.
It's his one tell. Everything else, he hides perfectly.
"You're afraid of what you can do," Geralt realises.
"Don't tell me the concept is unfamiliar to you," Jaskier says dimly.
Geralt flinches. "No. When you know monsters like we do, there's no greater fear than becoming one."
"Exactly." Jaskier leans back on his hands, raises his eyes to the spiderweb of cracks on the stone ceiling. "But I- I'd be ugly for you, Geralt. I'd fight for you. Kill for you. You certainly have for me."
"You're not a monster," Geralt says. Insists.
Jaskier snorts. "I quite literally am."
"Monsters are more animal than man. Witchers, dragons, we may look wild, but we aren't mindless. We aren't ruled by impulse."
"I'm the most impulsive person you know, Geralt."
"For whatever fulfills your need for thrill-seeking. Not to maim, or hunt for sport."
Jaskier smiles. His eyes are a little wet. "You're a good man, Geralt. Thank you."
"I'm not," Geralt says. "I'm a good Witcher. There's a difference."
Jaskier shakes his head. "You're a better man than I am. Then again, I'm not a man at all. Still, in my eyes, you're good, and you always have been. Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, friend of humanity."
"If anyone here is a friend of humanity, it's you," Geralt says, and gets up to leave.
When he awakes, it's to Triss nearly smashing down his door. There isn't even the cold light of dawn to filter in through the windows -- not that he needs it. He's met only with the pitch black of night.
"Something's at the wards." She brushes golden hair from her shadowed eyes. "They're not going to hold much longer. I don't know what's happened, but- Yennefer's hope wasn't enough to hold her. She's escaped."
"She knows Ciri's here."
He scrambles out of bed and grabs his swords, which are never more than a few feet away. As soon has his hands meet the hilt, the world narrows to one thing and one thing only. Protect Kaer Morhen.
He fastens the straps on his armour with quick, efficient strokes, downs every potion he has left in his pack, and bolts into the hallway. There's the click of boots on stone, and then Yennefer is there with him, violet eyes wide and hair disheveled. "I heard her." A sneer. "She's still trying to bargain with me."
"We need to wake the others."
"Oh, they're awake." It's Jaskier's voice. Geralt whips around. Jaskier looks soft, still dressed in his sleep clothes, but there's fire in his eyes. Ciri is leaning against him, face pale and drawn. "Her screams woke me."
Geralt rushes forward. Witchers aren't supposed to feel fear.
But he fears regardless.
"I'm fine," Ciri grits out. "Fighting her. She's strong."
"Not as strong as you," Jaskier soothes.
"Thanks for the flattery, but she's had centuries to practice her magic, and I've had months." Ciri coughs, and it's wet. Blood splatters the floor. Bile rises in Geralt's throat. "I'm sorry, I can't keep her out of my head and out of the wards at the same time. She's going to break through."
Geralt tells her, "It's okay. We'll fight," and she laughs bitterly.
She slumps against Jaskier's side. "I wish you didn't have to." Blood dribbles from her lips. "I wish I were stronger."
"You will be," Yennefer says, and it's a promise.
"You have us!" Jaskier chirps. "A Witcher, a dragon, and a sorceress… walk into a castle-" The walls of said castle shake in warning. Suddenly, Jaskier grips Yennefer's wrist, mouth twisting into a sly grin. "Every injury to Voleth Meir should drain her magic. Or, rather, your magic, that she so rudely stole. Everything she took from you, we'll take it back. You'll be casting spells by sunrise, my dear!"
Yennefer grips Jaskier's arm equally as tight. "Rip her limb from limb for me," she breathes.
"Why, I'd be delighted."
"Give her to me," Yen says of Ciri, and Geralt does. Jaskier is the one who's supposed to be much too trusting for his own good, and yet. And yet.
And yet, here we are.
"I'm used to mind magicks, I'll help her fend off possession. You-" here, she points to Jaskier, "-sing-songy twit. Be less stupid than usual. The Witchers need you."
"Yes, ma'am." Jaskier lays Ciri against Yen's side. She wraps an arm around Ciri's shaking shoulders and gives them both a firm but pleading look. "You have my word," Jaskier says, and she nods.
"Let's go," Geralt says, and motions for Jaskier to follow.
He does. He always does.
The wind is sharp and biting, the snow a swirling, icy frenzy that howls a wolf's howl. The wolves of Kaer Morhen are already howling in turn.
Vesemir is leading a party of them through the grounds. The blizzard nearly consumes the entirety of his vision, but Geralt spots Talbot, Coen, Lambert, Merek. The gleam of swords and medallions. Over the wind, Geralt calls, "Where is she?"
"She's opened a fucking portal!" Merek yells. "There are basilisks at the gates!"
"Fucking basilisks," Jaskier hisses. "Inferior versions of us that give every great reptile on the Continent a bad name. Oh, she's made it a matter of honour to defeat her now, that gnarled hag!"
Geralt pushes through the gale and into the entrance courtyard. The snow thins enough for him to see the splintered wood and the half-melted metal of the portcullis -- all that's left of the gates. Clawed feet and fanged maws are tearing through the mess, and behind them, a gaping black void. An elderly woman stands at its centre, her withered hands grey as ash. Her laughs and the roars of the basilisks echo across the mountains.
Another -- much louder -- roar echoes back. The ground rumbles as Jaskier bounds across the courtyard and sinks his teeth into a basilisk's neck. Talbot, his sword buried in the beast beside it, hollers into the wind, raw and feral. "Weren't expecting a fucking dragon, were you, you old bitch?"
Voleth Meir's glowing eyes widen. Jaskier unleashes a burst of steam that crisps the flesh of the next wave of her army.
A dozen elixirs pulse in Geralt's blood. He aches to make her taste Kaer Morhen's wrath. His heart beats steady with the thrill of the hunt.
All fears of becoming a monster fade into the background. He'd give anything for his family. Even what tatters are left of his soul.
Vesemir raises his blade to the sky. "This castle will not be besieged a second time!"
The Wolves chorus, "Aye!" and charge into the charred, writhing mass of dying basilisks. Pained wails choke off as swords plunge into their throats. Geralt slips through the mayhem and straight for the demon herself. A spray of warm blood seeps into his hair.
Voleth Meir laughs in his face. "It's no use, Witcher. I will have the girl."
"I'll kill you first."
The demon titters. "Will you? Have you the strength, you and the rest of your scattered pack of strays? The last dregs of the School of the Wolf, a witch with no magic, and a failed crossbreed?"
Now, it is Geralt who roars, and drives his sword straight into the heart of her, but she only dissolves into smoke, her cackles ringing all around him, and shoots towards the castle. "She's going for Ciri!"
Jaskier spits cooked flesh onto the ground and takes off towards the upper keep. The gust of wind from his wings would unseat any human.
For better or for worse, there are no humans here.
"Follow the bard!" Lambert yells. "We can't let that bitch take the girl!"
Geralt dives into the labyrinthine hallways with his brothers hot on his heels. The hum of their medallions is loud enough to be mistaken for a swarm of insects, ancient power after ancient power funneled through the walls until the castle is fit to burst. Shudders and quakes rumble through the stone.
There's a roar from up ahead, from the direction of the Tree of Medallions. Geralt won't let Voleth Meir hang any more off its many branches.
They're greeted by a scene of absolute turmoil when they come skidding into the room. Geralt feels his stomach drop as Voleth Meir comes into view. She stands over Ciri's limp body, one bare, wrinkled foot pressed firm to her neck, one toe over her pulsepoint. Yen is bloody and staggering on the other side of the room, a vial of something held tight in one hand. The Tree of Medallions is whining, more piercing than the drone of a tuning fork, and the room is shaking with the roars coming from directly outside.
The wall explodes in a cacophony of sound. A stray brick goes flying into Voleth Meir's side, and she stumbles, winded, her foot scrabbling for purchase on Ciri's neck. A gaping jaw and gnashing teeth emerge from the hole in the wall, snapping fruitlessly at the scent of demon blood.
Yen sees her chance and takes it. She hurls the vial she's been clutching at Voleth Meir's chest, where it shatters in an explosion of glass and black, sticky liquid. A shard buries itself in the demon mother's cheek and stays there. "The potion should keep her from becoming incorporeal, but she can still jump bodies if she gets a taste of Ciri's blood! It's now or never, Geralt!"
Geralt lunges forward, sword in hand. The Deathless Mother parries with a shielding spell, but it cracks apart under the assault, and she tumbles backwards, arms flailing, and falls straight into Jaskier's open mouth, which he immediately shuts with a sickening crunch. Voleth Meir cries out. Blood drips from her trapped arm onto the dirty, debris-strewn floor.
"Fucking- shitting Hell, Geralt! I've got her!"
"Just- hold on!" Geralt rushes to Ciri's side, holds two frantic fingers to her wrist. Her pulse is strong and steady.
She coughs raggedly into the dust, then shakes off his hand and tries to pull herself to her feet. "I'm fine. I'm fine! Don't worry about me- I'm not- we can't let her escape! She won't care about losing an arm, Geralt- she-"
"We need to trap her once and for all. If you can pull monsters through the Monolith, you can send one back again."
"What?" Ciri's nails dig into his gauntlets. She stares up at him, eyes wide and shocked. There's dust in her eyelashes.
"You can do this."
She shakes her head, clenches her eyes shut. "Yennefer's lessons- but I don't know if I can-"
"I believe in you."
It can't be for more than a second, but Ciri's answering silence seems to pause time. Blood smears at the corners of her mouth as it draws down into a grimace, then, "Vond agwethil! Vond agwethil!"
It's like the world tears in two. A rift in space swallows them whole and spits Geralt and Yen onto cold sand. Ciri kneels before them with heaving breaths. Voleth Meir lies, crumpled, at her feet. The wind whips the demon's silver hair into a frenzy. There's a storm in the air as she looks up, spitting blood and dust and sand and screaming into the red sun. Hoofbeats and whinnies rise from the distance, closing in on them by the second, and Voleth Meir grins with bloody teeth. She laughs, and laughs, and laughs.
Geralt can see the riders on the horizon. Their horses' reins lie unused, their hands instead outstretched- grasping, reaching-
"Child of the Elder Blood, starry-eyed Daughter of Chaos, join our Hunt! Your place is among us! You are ours!"
"Ciri," Geralt gasps, and she crawls over their bodies, shielding them from the wind, and then-
Then there is silence. Silence and a stone floor.
Geralt looks up. "We're back."
"Who were they?" Ciri cries.
"The Wild Hunt," Geralt says.
He was right. This is only the beginning.
Yen has her magic back by dawn. The first thing she does is cup Ciri's cheek, tender as a mother, and heal the cuts and scrapes that abrade her. Something in Geralt's heart twists to look at it.
How long can a wolf keep his pack, when they are hunted?
He goes to Jaskier's room. The bard is sat on the edge of his bed, staring down at his hands. They're unblemished. There's not a bruise on him, not even a speck of dust. He's back in sleep clothes. If Geralt wanted, he could pretend nothing happened at all.
But he doesn't want that.
"How's the terrifying she-demon and our Sphere-hopping lion?" A chuckle. "By the gods, we are a bunch."
"Yen's fine. Her magic is back, as you said." Geralt slips inside and shuts the door behind him. The air is still cold, but Jaskier doesn't shiver. He seems… preoccupied. "You sensed that about the Portal?"
"That it led to another world? Yes. Ciri- her Chaos doesn't taste like rum, Geralt, it tastes like paint thinner. It's horrifying, and more than a little amazing. No wonder half the Continent and a bunch of- of fucking interdimensional demons want her. Melitele's tits, interdimensional fucking demons… interdimensional fucking demons, Geralt! Have I mentioned the interdim-"
"I need to keep her safe."
"Um, excuse me, 'we'," Jaskier says. "We need to keep her safe."
Geralt blinks. "You'll stay? After-?"
"Of course," Jaskier says, then pauses. He smiles bitterly down at his hands. "Unless you fear me, Witcher?"
"Did you fear me?" Geralt asks.
"Then why should I fear you, Dragon?"
Jaskier laughs, half-way to a sob. "No reason, I suppose. You do surround yourself with terrifying sorceresses, after all. I think you may have a type, Geralt."
"And what if I do?" Geralt sits beside him. "I trusted you with my life, with my daughter's life, and you saved us both."
"I killed for you. You saw me kill for you."
"You've fought for me before."
"With a well-placed lute to the head and a fist or two!" Jaskier yells. "Not with- with- burning and eating people alive!"
Geralt wrinkles his nose. "Did you eat those basilisks? That's disgusting, Jaskier."
"What? No! I spat them out! As if I would ever subject myself to anything less than culinary luxury! It's torture enough eating your dry, jaw-breakingly hard jerky and bland tack on the road, Geralt, but I do it for art. There's no art in forcing yourself to slurp up lizard guts!" Jaskier gags. "Ugh, I think I might be sick."
Geralt can't help it, he laughs.
"Are you- are you laughing at me? Do you mock my plight, you heartless bastard? You try eating lizard guts without vomiting! See if you laugh at me then!"
Geralt takes Jaskier's hand. "Jaskier, thank you. Thank you for staying."
It's a plea. It's a confession. It sounds almost like an "I love you".
With a lurch, Geralt realises it is.
"You look very constipated at having to say that, you know." Jaskier sniffs. "I would be insulted, but I suppose I should be glad all the emotional vulnerability you've shown in the past few days hasn't made you break out in hives." Jaskier gives him a sceptical once-over. "Have you broken out in hives? Because I actually have a jar of truly excellent moisturiser in my bags, I can go get it if you-"
Geralt kisses him.
Jaskier kisses back, fierce and biting. A growl rumbles in someone's throat, and Geralt realises with surprise it isn't his. "You think you can shut me up with a kiss, Wolf?"
Again, Geralt bites off more than he can chew. Again, he can't bring himself to care. "Guess not."
"You guess right!" Jaskier leans in and nips at his jaw. Geralt nearly lets out a yelp. With what seems like significant regret, Jaskier pulls back. "What about your sorceress, Geralt? The woman who's quite literally your destiny?"
"She's welcome to join us if she wants." Jaskier blinks. "You two seemed almost fond, back there."
"How dare you- why, you- I- I'll have you know I greatly resent that implication!" Jaskier splutters. "I hate her. Hate. With a burning passion."
"But there's passion."
"Yes," Jaskier says, begrudgingly. "I'm no stranger to a little hate sex. And I admit I've never turned down a threesome before… It would, frankly, be something of a tragedy to start doing so now."
"Then it's settled."
Jaskier opens his mouth. Closes it. Then, a sly grin. "I knew you had a type. Should I have brought out the fangs earlier? Is that what does it for you? Terrifying power? Mortal peril? Very, very scary and very, very sexy?" Geralt kisses him again. Jaskier bites his bottom lip, hard. "You can't shut me up. Especially not now I know you love me, really."
"I do," says Geralt. "I'm sorry I didn't realise it sooner."
Jaskier stills. "It would have saved me a lot of pining. And jealousy. But probably not the love ballads."
"You've written me love ballads?"
Jaskier just smiles. "My dear, every song I've written about you is a love ballad," he says. "And I have no intention of stopping anytime soon."
And strangely, those words feel like coming home.