It wasn’t often that Geralt… slept. Rested, perhaps, but rarely slept. Granted, even despite his mind being kept awake by thoughts of his past travels, thoughts of current contracts or future excursions, the company he had been so graciously blessed with left little room for peace. So as he was awoken by the snorting and shifting of Roach rather than the mindless chatter and noisy clattering of his tag along bard, Geralt immediately sensed that something was off.
He sat up abruptly from where he had evidently fallen asleep on the hard ground, ignoring the twinge of his spine that he’d grown accustomed to after many years of living on the road, traveling across the world and never truly settling. He’d been completing a contract of ridding a rural farmer of a wivern that was often snatching up the farmer’s sheep and farmhands. A simple enough contract that Geralt had allowed Jaskier to tag along - despite never truly having a say on whether or not the bard accompanied him.
And yet the bard was certainly no longer in the makeshift campsite Geralt had set up the night before. No amount of hostility had yet been able to drive the bard away, nor did dry wit seem to deter Jaskier from remaining at Geralt’s side. Still, the lack of lute strumming and absence of humming clearly confirmed that Jaskier was no longer at their campsite.
“Damn it all,” Geralt grumbled as he stood to his feet. Roach was still uneasy, stomping her hooves restlessly and tugging at her tie. Geralt moved to calm her, resting a gentle hand on her neck. “I suppose we could never be lucky enough for the fool to decide our company no longer suited him?”
Roach gave a snort of, perhaps, disapproval. Jaskier had of course managed to win her over with his cheerful singing and the occasional lumps of sugar he bought with the coin he made off of his ridiculous fable songs.
“No, I suppose not. You stay here. I’ll find the idiot before he manages to get himself into too much trouble,” he sighed. He wasn’t keen on admitting that the bard’s company had somehow grown on him, too.
A glance at their fire from the night before told him that no fire had been started again despite it being nearly mid morning. How he had slept so late, Geralt was unsure, and he was even more dumbfounded as to how he hadn’t woken to Jaskier traipsing off to wherever the hell he had wandered. Most often when Jaskier did wander, he didn’t stray far, and almost immediately Geralt was able to spy the path in which Jaskier had taken.
They had camped just inside a forest line at the base of the Mahakam mountain range, just along the edge of Temeria. From the sound and smell of things, they hadn’t been far from a village, and Geralt found that mousy haired man was quite drawn to civilization. Why he chose to travel the countryside with Geralt, the witcher had yet to discover.
Through the thicket of trees and brambles, bare from the winter, Geralt could see the obvious break of branches that Jaskier and travelled through to head toward- well, wherever his oblivious carefree heart carried him. More than likely a tavern for Everluce or a warm breakfast - Jaskier was a sucker for the finer things.
And so, Geralt slung his pack over his shoulder, sword sheathed on his back, set off along the path cleared by Jaskier, stumbling upon a small village just as he had expected. Being in a social environment wasn’t Geralt’s favorite pastime, and more often than not, having a witcher nearby wasn’t exactly a favorite for the townsfolk either. His amber eyes flitted around the bustling market of sorts, watching as people either scurried out of his way or scowled in his direction. The bard’s tunes of Geralt’s “heroism” could only convert so many.
It took a few minor stops - a bakery, a linen store, and finally a tavern before Geralt spotted traces of Jaskier. A lute case lay abandoned in the dust outside the tavern, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as the usually did when he was face to face with a monster. And still, Geralt had never faced anything as evil as the monstrosity that was mankind.
He crouched down, running his fingers over the familiar case. And not just a case, but a case with the lute still inside. It was certainly Jaskier’s, and Geralt picked it up to brush off the dust. Jaskier never parted with his lute, always had the case slung over his shoulder. The bard’s lute was as dear to him as Roach was to Geralt. Thus, with an irritated scowl, Geralt all but kicked the tavern door open and stalked inside, the lute case strap clutches tightly in his clenched fist.
Being morning, there was only a minor crowd inside, yet all chatter ceased as the white haired man entered the room. He supposed he did look rather feral, dirt and dust in his longer hair, his face and arms scratched up from his tussle with the wivern. However, from the corner of the tavern there was still raucous laughter from a group of six or so men. And of course, always finding danger or trouble wherever it could be found, was the bard.
Jaskier was up against the tavern wall by his jacket and trousers, pinned to the wood by blades stabbed through the delicate fabrics the bard loved so much. He had a scrape across his generally smooth cheek, a handkerchief shoved into his mouth to muffle his protests, and one of his blue eyes had been blackened. Evidently the rowdy bunch of bastards had yet to notice Geralt’s presence, nor had Jaskier, as the bard yelped out against his gag and cringed back to no avail against the wall. Silver sailed through the air, a knife thrown by one of the men, and impaled itself into the wall just shy of Jaskier’s head. It seemed there was a cruel sort of game of darts being held, with Jaskier as the target and whatever weapon suited the men’s fancy judging by the knives that scattered the wall around Jaskier’s small form.
Geralt was livid , reaching for his sword before he stopped himself. Mindlessly slaying the men would only be momentarily satisfying, but would make him no greater of a being than the bastards before him. Instead, he approached the men with sure feet, one hand prepared to unsheathe his sword the moment , if it came, one of the men harmed another hair on Jaskier’s delicate head.
“Excuse me,” he snapped, his tone gruff and lacking any sort of politeness that should have been backed behind the phrase. “I believe you lot have something of mine.”
He halted just a few feet shy of the group, his eyes settling rather on Jaskier. The younger man took notice of him with a sharp cry of relief, his wild eyes looking from Geralt to the men as he attempted to pry himself free of the weapons pinning him to the wall.
Another knife impaled itself between Jaskier’s legs, drawing an alarmed shriek from the man.
“Well if it isn’t the Butcher of Blaviken,” one of the greasier looking men sneared. He was balding and burly, his shirt stained and his trousers ripped at the knees. “We have nothing of yours, witcher .”
“Hmm, but you do,” Geralt grumbled in disagreement. All eyes in the tavern were focused on him, and Jaskier was, of course, frantically mumbling something around the gag. The bard was clearly still trying to beg for his freedom around the cloth shoved in his mouth. He tilted his head in Jaskier’s direction. “Let the bard go.”
The same greasy man gave an ugly laugh, “Eh? This foolish twit? I suppose it’s only suiting that a liar and annoying little bastard is in company with the likes of you . The little shite had the nerve to try and pull the wool over my eyes in a game of cards and make off with the nearly three marks. Caught the fucker in the act, I did, and now he squeals his innocence like a stuck pig.”
Somehow, Jaskier managed to free his mouth of the cloth, spitting out lint and sputtering a high pitched, “I did no such thing!”
“Liar!” Another knife sailed through the air, this time catching Jaskier on the edge of his bicep.
“Fucking- ow!” Jaskier croaked.
Geralt had seen enough. He placed himself between Jaskier and the angry group. Killing humans wasn’t something he was keen on, but when it came to Jaskier’s safety… that was different. The metal of his sword sang as he unsheathed it, holding it in a parrying stance rather than lashing out.
“I’ll be taking him now,” he announced, his tone leaving little room for objection. “Disperse.”
“Or what, you’ll slaughter us? Live up to your murderous ways?” another of the men spat.
“He’ll do it!” Jaskier threatened, once again brave now that Geralt shielded him, but shifted uneasily. “Actually, Geralt, maybe just injure instead of maiming-”
“Noted,” Geralt didn’t have to look at the bard to sense his frantic nodding. “Just, please, I didn’t cheat-”
Several of the men grumbled, but backed away from the group in defeat. Geralt used their retreat as an advantage to turn return his sword to its sheath, crouch, and begin pulling the knives from the wall around Jaskier’s legs in order to free the slightly trembling bard. That was, until he heard the tell-tale whistle of an airborne blade. There was no time to rip back out his sword in order to stop the blade from reaching its target, which happened to be Jaskier’s abdomen. Rather, Geralt caught the knife blade first, midair, flipped it, and sent it sailing back into the shoulder of its wielder. The man shouted out in agony, but he stumbled back and the final few men scattered.
“Fucking hell , Geralt!” Jaskier gasped.
Geralt worked quicker in removing the knives around Jaskier, ignoring the sticky wetness dripping down his fingers, “He’ll live.”
“Not him, your hand!” Jaskier huffed, and as he was finally freed he grabbed for Geralt’s wrist to examine the gash across Geralt’s palm.
“Is fine- now come on,” the man shook loose, seizing Jaskier by the collar to drag him out of the tavern. Bits of food were launched in their direction, and Geralt was sure to keep himself well between Jaskier and the others in case any rogue weapons were tossed their way.
Jaskier was stumbling along, his hand clasped over his lightly bleeding bicep, but immediately began talking the moment they were out of the tavern, “Okay, so they sucked .”
“You are such an idiot,” Geralt huffed, continuing to lead the bard as quickly and as far away from the tavern as necessary. Jaskier’s legs were just slightly shorter, thus leading to Geralt quite literally dragging him.
Granted, things could have been a lot worse. Had Geralt slept just minutes longer, Jaskier could have ended up with far more holes in his body than a human should have, and despite how it seemed, Geralt preferred the man whole and annoying the shit out of him. All the reason to never sleep so deeply again.
“I’m actually very clever, thank you!” Jaskier protested, huffing as he stumbled over a stone on the worn path to the village treeline. “I was going to earn enough coin to bring us back breakfast and get some apples for Roach before those disgusting hellions decided to use me as target practice.”
Geralt snorted, “Because you cheated them out of their coin.”
“I did not,” Jaskier whined like a scolded child. “I won that game fair and square, it’s not my fault that they lacked brain cells. Probably couldn’t even lace their own boots. They smelled like cheese that someone left in the sun for too long, and don’t even get me started on their clothes- they had worse fashion sense than even you-”
Geralt’s mouth quirked up in one corner at the irritated chatter of the man, finally slowing the pace as they reached the edge of the forest. Camp would still be safe- he could patch up his bard, and then they would travel further into Temeria and far, far away from the men after Jaskier’s head.
However, the usual constant vocalization from Jaskier wasn’t coming. Rather, the man was concerningly silent for the remainder of the walk back to their camp. Roach greeted them with a low nicker as they reached their clearing. Geralt, finally deeming it safe enough to release Jaskier’s sleeve, removed his pack and sword from his shoulder in order to dig amongst his viles and potion bottles in search for his yarrow balm.
Jaskier only stood quietly nearby, shifting his weight from foot to foot nervously. Geralt found the balm and stood upright to look the bard over.
“I’m not always going to be able to come to your aid when you have angry mobs out for your blood, you know,” he pressed. Jaskier’s sleeve was darkened by his own blood, but it was sticky and drying- the nicked skin hidden beneath the sleeve would surely heal just fine. Still, the man continued to stare at his feet rather than throw one of his usual quips back to the witcher. Jaskier was never one for silence. It made Geralt’s stomach flip. He gently seized Jaskier’s chin with his uninjured hand to make their gaze’s meet. “Answer me, Jaskier.”
“I thought your statement was rhetorical,” he mumbled, looking rather pitifully.
Instead of replying immediately, Geralt smoothed his hand down over Jaskier’s neck, feeling his arm and torso for any other trace of injury, “Where all did they hurt you?”
“Nowhere nearly as bad as what happened to your hand,” Jaskier finally sighed out, and Geralt gently brushed away the other man’s attempts at catching his injured hand to look at it. “You didn’t- the knife, I would have been fine-“
“It would have likely struck you in your spleen or punctured your lung, and I would have had to drag your ass to whatever healer that damned town had and offered everything I’ve ever earned in my life just to get them to help you. Clearly they weren’t fond of me there.”
Jaskier gave an eye roll, but he was sullen and far more serious than Geralt liked as he replied, “Or you could have just let me become the tavern dartboard and been rid of me for good.”
Geralt’s hand had come to rest lightly over Jaskier’s heart, which was still pounding rapidly in the bard’s chest, but he moved it to rip off the sleeve of the jacket in order to start bandaging up Jaskier’s arm.
“This jacket is silk, you barbarian,” Jaskier protested. “And what do you mean no , we both know how useless I am to you, always dragging you into unnecessary shit. Can’t even change your public image, and especially not now because they took my lute and- what the hell is that Geralt, it stings!”
Geralt had began placing the yarrow balm over Jaskier’s cut, which truly was far less concerning than Geralt had originally thought. Still, the yarrow would help it heal faster and prevent infection. Rather than answer Jaskier, Geralt knelt down to his abandoned belongings to retrieve cloth bandages and the lute case.
“Here,” he said simply, draping the strap over Jaskier’s good arm before quickly wrapping the bard’s bicep in the bandage and tying it off.
Jaskier simply spluttered, pulling back to rip open the lute case and pluck a few notes on the unharmed instrument, “You- saved my lute?”
“Of course you would value that over your own life, you’re so very welcome,” Geralt snarked.
“Why Geralt of Rivia,” the bard placed his hands on his hips. “Do you value my musical company?”
“I never once said that,” Geralt replied, but even Roach gave a snort at the blatant lie.
“You like having me around,” Jaskier sang, strumming once on his lute. However, the man seemed to remember the matter at hand, and immediately slipped his lute back into the case before placing it carefully on the ground. “Oh but your hand- let me- I need to patch that up for you.”
Jaskier’s hands fluttered uselessly for a moment before he made a grab for Geralt’s pack of belongings, pulling out more bandages and the balm.
Geralt reaches for the supplies in protest, “I am perfectly capable of patching myself up Jaskier.”
“Not when you’re hurt because of me,” Jaskier replied firmly. However, he looked around a few moments before scurrying over to his own pack of belongings he had left behind near the makeshift bed roll he had slept on the night before. He dug in his own pack a bit before he turned back to Geralt, a flask and cloth in hand. “First I’m going to clean your arm up a bit because frankly, if there was any more blood I’d probably vomit on you.”
Geralt sighed, turning his gaze to the blue sky filtered by the branches above them. Still, he held out a defeated and bloodied hand to the bard. Jaskier was radiating guilt, and Geralt didn’t like it at all.
With a surprisingly gentle hand, Jaskier poured water from his flask onto the cloth and set to work carefully wiping Geralt’s hand clean of blood and grime. The gash across Geralt’s hand was deep, but he’d survived worse, and witcher’s healed far faster than humans. Still, Jaskier was biting his lip as he cleaned up Geralt’s hand, guilt evident on his normally cheery face.
“It’s fine, you know. I much prefer this outcome over the other.”
“Which is?” Jaskier mumbled, not looking up from his work as he dabbed up blood from Geralt’s fingers.
“Your blood all over my hands.”
Jaskier gave a petulant, but weak, stomp onto Geralt’s boot, “I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, but you’re wrong. Now, would it kill you to clean under your fingernails now and then?”
“Oh, fuck off,” Geralt huffed, but he smiled nonetheless. His eyes fluttered shut as cool and nimble hands applied the balm and bandaged up Geralt’s hand, but then much to the white haired man’s surprise, lips gently brushed the back of Geralt’s knuckles. His eyes shot open only to find Jaskier grinning broadly.
“There. Much better. Now to get us and Roach some breakfast,” he waggled his eyebrows and reached into his trousers to pull out a bag of coin. “They may have roughed me up a bit, but they weren’t brave enough to get into my pants for their money back.”
Geralt seized Jaskier by the collar once more, but he was gentle as he leaned in and pressed a kiss under the bard’s bruised eye, “Keep your coin for a new jacket. I’ll supply breakfast.”
And with that, he turned and gathered his pack and moved to prepare Roach for the road. Jaskier simply spluttered behind him, mumbling about a new idea for a song. As annoying as Jaskier could be, Geralt was… admittedly fond of the man. And he’d be damned if he let the man be harmed. Or go hungry.
So with that, the two and Roach set off for a new town in search of breakfast, and Geralt maybe allowed Jaskier to ride up on Roach with him- but it was only to shut him up about his sore arm, and certainly not due to the way Jaskier had pestered his way into Geralt’s heart.