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Weak, My Love

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The problem with destiny, Geralt thought, scowling heavily as he drained half a pint of ale in one swallow, is that she’s an unsubtle bitch.

Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, the Butcher of Blaviken, the White Wolf—whatever you called him, he wasn’t subtle, either, and he knew that. Witchers weren’t, broadly speaking. Subtlety and monster-killing only walked hand in hand when one had to sneak up on said monster.

So Geralt didn’t object to a lack of subtlety as a general rule.

But he had spent his whole life—and it was a long damned life, more than a century by now—denying the very concept of destiny. It was a tale men told themselves when they were lost and afraid. Geralt was never lost, and he had been afraid so rarely that those moments stood out in his memory in unpleasantly sharp relief.

Destiny. Was. Not. Real.

Unfortunately, she had spent the last ten years or so slapping him full in the face with increasing frequency. If he counted the prophecy Renfri had made for him, it was more like forty years, but Geralt didn’t believe in destiny, so he wouldn’t give her any credit he didn’t have to.

The thing about destiny was that she wasn’t fussed whether you believed in her or not...until you started ignoring her. When you deliberately turn your back on your fate, fate has a way of turning very, very insistent.

Geralt of Rivia was learning this.

He had made a foolish fucking wish, a few years ago. In doing so, he had knotted a false thread of destiny between himself and the witch Yennefer of Vengerberg. Not believing in destiny, the real or fake of it didn’t matter to him at first.

And then Yennefer kept showing up.

Everywhere.

And that thread, the one his stupid ass had tied himself, tugged, and he found himself pulled back to her orbit because he’d made one fucking wish in a bid to save her ungrateful life.

Even false threads of destiny pulled taut at times.

It made it a damn sight harder to forget the other threads that wrapped around him.

There was the low, quiet-for-now hum in his rib cage of protectiveness, possessiveness, a role that was content to lie unfilled for a while. That was his Child Surprise, the princess Cirilla of Cintra. The thread wasn’t yanking on him yet, although sometimes it was harder to ignore than others. Sometimes the only thing that held him back from seeking out the child was the constant twinging of a fresh wound and the memories of Kaer Morhen.

Geralt hadn’t lied to Yen when he’d told her that he would never choose to subject an innocent child to a Witcher’s life.

And he’d seen the fear on the faces of Queen Calanthe, her daughter, and her future son-in-law that day, the day he’d created another thread that he could not escape. They did not fear he would hurt the unborn babe—Calanthe was too shrewd a judge of character for that, and a Child Surprise was a bond that no one in his senses took lightly. But they feared he would claim her, as was his right, and take her from them.

She had a family who wanted her, who loved her, who could give her prosperity and warmth and happiness. Geralt had a judgmental horse, a silver sword, and a propensity for getting into trouble that was unusual even for a Witcher.

No, he would not bring his Child Surprise into his world a moment sooner than he had to. Destiny was, thus far, being relatively acquiescent on that point.

And of course, there was the other thread. The one that, while unintentional, hadn’t been exactly an accident. The one that had formed over time, and...friendship. The only one that had been a real and true choice.

Geralt scowled more deeply, draining the last of his drink and gesturing for more.

This. This was the problem with destiny.

The music seemed to fill the tavern, despite the raucous noise of the travelers and townsfolk.

From his place, slouched as insignificantly as possible at the corner of the bar, Geralt caught occasional glimpses of his bard.

He muttered a curse. His bard, indeed!

The last ten years had seen him with Jaskier more often than he was not. Although there had been several periods of time where Jaskier went his own way—usually to play in the more populated cities that Geralt avoided—they had always run into each other again within a matter of months. Usually weeks.

And really, Collision of the Spheres or not, the world wasn’t that small. Even factoring in the likelihood that Jaskier had asked after him and followed the stories at least once or twice, probably more, there was no way that their continual crossed paths were sheer happenstance.

And the very loud, insistent buzz in his chest told him so, whenever he almost didn’t stop at a pub or inn or town, whenever he realized that it had been some time since he’d seen the bard and the road was awfully quiet, whenever he found himself humming the chorus to that awful fucking Witcher song.

It was possible that Jaskier wasn't the only one seeking.

Geralt gulped down more ale.

There was destiny, the road you walked every day from birth, with all the choices you made laid out and leading to the end of it all. And then there was destiny, the overbearing arsehole who occasionally picked up a barstool and started beating you round the head with it.

Geralt of Rivia, destiny was shouting now as it gave him a black eye and kneed him in the balls. This is your fucking fate.

Apparently, Geralt the White Wolf’s ultimate destiny at this moment was to apologize to his bard.

Which he knew he needed to do, sure, destiny not withstanding.

It was possible that in this particular instance, destiny wasn’t Destiny so much as it was the guilt eating at his stomach, the hollow ache that had settled in his chest since the dragon hunt and stubbornly refused to leave. Apparently, Geralt had chosen Jaskier as part of his destiny, and there was no refund. He’d allowed the bard to cajole and wheedle and persist and sing his way into the Witcher’s hard-won affections, and there was no going back.

He’d been an absolute arse, and Jaskier had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it.

But Geralt wasn’t used to apologizing. Or making things right with anyone. Usually the other party was dead before he got that far.

What he was used to was wallowing in misery and guilt for decades at a time.

But.

He’d stayed on that mountain for the night after he’d driven Jaskier off with a torrent of harsh words—more than he’d ever spoken to his bard at once, and of course it had to be the moment he was in a towering tempest of pain and fury.

He’d stayed on the mountain, considering his regrets (nearly all of which involved his destiny-threads: why did I make that stupid wish? Why did I bind myself to Yennefer the she-devil? Why did I invoke the Law of Surprise? Why did I ever talk to that bard in the first place?) and then in the morning he’d made his way back down, found Roach, and headed for the nearest tavern so he could get good and pissed for just one night. Drown his non-existent sorrows.

But the tavern had smelled just faintly of Jaskier—like grass and sunshine and that oil he lovingly rubbed into the wood of his lute—and everyone and their brother had been singing Toss a Coin to Your Witcher. It was like being haunted, except that Jaskier came before him instead of following after.

No amount of drink, Geralt had discovered, could make him blind and deaf to Jaskier’s oh-so-recent presence.

And so it went, for months. No matter which road he took, which contract he accepted, he always seemed to be mere days behind Jaskier, his songs still so fresh that even the ordinary people who reeked of fear would dare to approach him and ask, did he really fight the Elf King, did he really capture a djinn, did he really know that cute bard...

It made it very fucking hard to forget, or even ignore, the memory of his own cruel words and Jaskier’s faltering, pained reply.

"...Right. Uh...Right, then. I'll go get the rest of the story from the others...See you around, Geralt."

Geralt was finding that most of his coin went to the bartender these days.

So it really did smack of destiny (frustrated, bitter, aggrieved destiny) that Geralt had walked into this town and been pointed toward a tavern, and had, for a moment, forgotten that he was being haunted in reverse. He blamed the drowners. They’d been three towns ago and he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since. Even drinking wasn’t helping. But apparently exhaustion was the ticket, because he led Roach down the road and stabled her and half-staggered up to the pub without a thought of his oldest friend.

And yet, he’d walked into the barroom, fate already coming alive in his lungs as he’d heard Jaskier’s voice (sweeter than Geralt would ever admit) rising over the throngs.

Beer or avoidance?

Geralt had chosen beer and told himself it had nothing to do with the tingle under his skin, or the stone in his stomach.

And now Jaskier was singing something sadder, mournful almost, despite the catchy tempo and lyrics of the chorus.

“I’m weak, my love, and I am wanting,” Jaskier sang. But Jaskier was a professional, with the voice of a highly trained siren, and his voice never cracked like that, not when he was performing. And yet Geralt could hear it, the brittle sound to his words that made his own throat ache oddly.

“I welcome my sentence, give to you my penance, garroter, jury, and judge.” That was familiar, something he’d been toying with on the road all those months ago, but it sounded so different strung all together.

Jaskier finished with a flourished strum of his lute, and then bowed with his hat out. Coins poured in, and when his adoring fans abated, Jaskier fought his way toward the bar with his lute over his back.

His face was grim and a little haggard, as if he hadn’t slept much in quite some time, and he wasn’t smiling.

Geralt’s chest twinged so hard that he half-expected to go flying off the stool.

His bard was always smiling. Always. It was downright unnatural, how much he fucking smiled.

Geralt watched from the shadows as Jaskier accepted a pint of ale and chugged it back, not bothering to savor it as he usually would, considering this town had much better alcohol than most of the shitholes they passed through. Still not smiling.

Fuck, he thought.

It was one thing to send his own sorry life into a tailspin of unhappiness, he was used to that, but to do it to somebody else, somebody who was Jaskier, the friendliest, most cheerful and good-natured bastard on the Continent—

Geralt really had to apologize now.

He was just pushing himself out of the lean he’d adopted on the back wall when a tall, brawny fellow sidled up next to Jaskier with his intent written all over his face.

Geralt paused. He wouldn’t interrupt Jaskier’s nightly pleasures, not when his mere presence often drove off men and women who would otherwise have leapt headlong into bed with the bard.

The strange man was flirting, pressing close, but Jaskier was barely sparing him a glance. Odd, that.

And then the stranger reached down and squeezed Jaskier’s arse.

It would have been unnoticeable to most, but most weren’t stationed in the room’s shadowy corner with a straight sight-line across the bar, and most weren’t Witchers.

Jaskier tensed, snapped out a negative that Geralt’s twitching Witcher ears caught easily.

The stranger laughed, pressed closer.

Jaskier turned, trying to push away, but the stranger crowded him against the bar.

In a flash of inhuman speed, Geralt had a hand clamped down hard on the stranger’s shoulder, ripping him off Jaskier.

“I believe he asked you to stop,” Geralt said in a low, deceptively calm voice.

Geralt?” Jaskier squeaked from behind him, sounding stunned. “How long have you been here?”

Geralt put out an arm, an instinctive gesture to keep Jaskier behind him, protected. Where he belongs.

The stranger growled. “What business is it o’ yours, Witcher? If we want to have a little fun—“

“None, if we is the right term,” Geralt said, like ice. “My friend was not enjoying your attentions. So there is no we. Keep going and you’ll make it my business.”

The stranger snarled. Geralt snarled better. The stranger took a step back.

Geralt felt Jaskier leaning out around him.

“Mayhap you remember the story in Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” the bard suggested. “The one where the White Wolf—that’s him, by the way, say ‘hi,’ Geralt!—defeats an army of elves with his swords and his wits? I’m the wits, in case you were curious, and those’re the swords, and I assure you, he’d have no problem introducing you to them.”

The stranger sulked but skittered away.

At last, slowly, Geralt turned to Jaskier, who quickly turned away, fiddling with one of his teal blue sleeves and avoiding Geralt’s eyes.

“I’m your friend, now, am I?” He asked, clearly trying to sound offhand, but landing somewhere between sullen and hurt.

Geralt sighed. “You always were,” he said.

Jaskier turned to him, lifting a sardonic and skeptical brow. “That is emphatically not what you said six months ago, Witcher.”

Geralt cast an uncomfortable look around the bustling room. No one was paying them more mind than a Witcher and a bard usually got, but he’d still rather be somewhere, anywhere, else.

Jaskier sighed loudly, seized Geralt by the sleeve, and towed him out a side door onto a blessedly quiet street.

Then he folded his arms and waited.

“On the mountain,” Geralt began. He stopped and then started again. “I said things I didn’t mean back then. I—apologize.”

Jaskier’s arms and jaw dropped in shock. Geralt glowered at him to make him shut up before he even started speaking.

This being Jaskier, who never shut up—he even talked in his sleep—it had no effect.

"I'm sorry, what?" the bard said. "I think I may have just gone temporarily mad. Perhaps my ale was poisoned and even now my blood is boiling in my veins, my brain concocting mad fantasies as the life flees from my body. Or maybe I've hit my head, yes, that seems probable, although the poison would make for a better story. Or, no, perhaps I've been ensorcelled by fucking Yennefer again—“

There was really only so much one man, or even one Witcher, could be expected to take in a day. Geralt put a hand over Jaksier's mouth, cutting him off.

Jaskier's eyes widened and he made a muffled noise that buzzed across Geralt's palm. Even now, he couldn't shut up.

Geralt looked into Jaskier's wide blue eyes. Jaskier looked back. He always had, from that first night, even though most people instinctively darted their gaze away from his yellow, slitted eyes, putting distance between themselves and the inhuman. Not Jaskier.

Geralt looked straight into his unflinching, unfearing eyes. "I am sorry," he said quietly, his teeth grinding just a little. He should have known the bard would make him say it at least twice. Geralt almost pulled his hand away and then reconsidered. No, twice wouldn't be enough. "I'm so sorry," he said again, just for insurance.

At last, he released his bard, who didn't move at all, still staring at him with his mouth partly open.

"And I said it three times, so you definitely can't claim you didn't hear me. Whether you forgive me or not is your own business now..." Geralt trailed off. Jaskier was still standing there, staring at him, silent. Geralt snapped his fingers in front of the bard's face. "Did I break your idiot brain?"

Jaskier shook his head, resettling his shoulders like he was shaking off the shock. "No, no, I'm—wait, did you just, not only apologize, which may in fact be an unprecedented occurrence, but also ask my forgiveness?"

Geralt scowled. "I didn't ask for forgiveness." He did want it, but that was beside the point. He didn’t deserve it, and he tried not to ask for things he didn’t deserve. It made it less degrading when he was inevitably told no.

"You said I could forgive you or not," Jaskier said, waving a hand wildly. "Which implies that you're asking for it!"

"I didn't ask."

"Yes, but you want it." Jaskier's eyes were gleaming with triumph.

Geralt sighed again. How did this man make even something that should be, if not painless, at least simple, into such a production?

The smile on Jaskier's face faded, and something warm that Geralt hadn't even realized was in his chest faded a little, too.

"I don't if I can," Jaskier said quietly. "I do forgive you, of course, but I don't know if I can accept your apology."

He fiddled with the cuff of his shirt, eyes cast down as he thought. Geralt waited, a strange weightlessness in his chest. Jaskier forgave him? And so easily? Why?

Finally, Jaskier blew out a breath and looked up. "Geralt, I know you think of me as—as a horsefly, basically, a minor annoyance that doesn't do you any real harm so there's no point in swatting it. But I am a man, and not an insect. You lashed out at me, I suppose because you were angry, presumably at Yennefer, because she was being a heinous bitch, yet again, and you're too thick to stay away from her."

Geralt opened his mouth, but Jaskier raised a hand and he bit his tongue.

"You can't use me as some kind of punching bag when you're upset. I deserve better, both as your friend and just as a person." Jaskier stepped closer, his eyes more serious that Geralt had ever seen them. "I make good music when I'm with you," he said quietly. "But that's not why I'm with you. I haven't spent ten years at your side because it gives me a hit song or two. I actually like you as a person, I enjoy your company, great silent brute that you are. You either respect that, or you don't."

Geralt understood. For once, he understood completely everything that Jaskier was, and wasn't, saying. If Geralt agreed, then he and Jaskier would leave this town together. If he didn't, they would go their separate ways, and when next they met, they might nod to each other, or even have an ale for old times' sake. But it would only ever be old times. There would be no more adventures together.

For a moment, Geralt tried to say no. Jaskier was a human, and surely he was as unsuited to this Witcher life as Cirilla. He'd almost died time and again, and one day Geralt's luck would run out and he wouldn't be able to save the irritating bastard.

"Yes," Geralt said.

Jaskier knew the risks better than anyone alive. He had always made his own choice in that regard, regardless of Geralt's warnings, orders, and growled requests, and he undoubtedly still would.

This was one of those moments that Geralt was going to remember for the rest of his days. The fear curled heavy in his stomach, burned like acid on his tongue, and bade him to remember. This is what true fear is, Witcher.

He looked into blue eyes, and he saw the years unspooling in front of him, years full of plucked lute strings and half-formed songs and bright smiles. And he saw the end of it, inevitable as the dawn, a broken body, ravaged by time or by monster, and lifeless eyes, and then cold, silent years that would forever be missing something warmer.

This is fear, Witcher.

Destiny was wrapping tight around him, a happy hum and the promise of loss.

But even so.

"Yes," he said.

Jaskier smiled, and Geralt's breath eased out of him, his body lighter at once.

This is fear, Witcher, and it is worth it.

"So, you're the wits, huh?"

"Oh, don't even pretend like you don't know that's true."

***

Jaskier had already paid for a room for the night, so they didn't bother to stop at the bar again.

They each stretched out on on opposite sides of the bed, Geralt doing his best not to take up more than his share—though given that he was, as Jaskier had once put it, "roughly the size and shape of a hairless bear", it was a losing battle.

Jaskier didn't seem to mind that he got only a third of the bed-space; he curled onto his side and went to sleep easily. Geralt, worn from the last week of stress, followed suit.

It was easy enough to fall back into a routine after that. Days on the road, nights under the stars or trying not to step on each other in tiny inns. There was never really any shortage of monsters, and never any reluctance on Geralt's part to slay or dissuade them. People who would pay him for the work were rather more thin on the ground, but Jaskier had grown famous enough and talented enough that he could always earn some coin performing, or even convince a reluctant town alderman to hire Geralt on. The weeks passed pleasantly enough.

Mostly they walked, though Geralt knew they'd have to purchase another horse soon for the bard. He eyed Roach, not sure how well she'd take to that, as he pulled off her tack. The stable was one of the more spacious they'd seen in the last few years, the town bigger than he'd been used to lately.

The next day, Geralt slayed their monster while Jaskier shouted encouragement from the sidelines and dodged flying body parts.

"You," Jaskier pronounced as they made their way back to the inn, "Need a bath."

The bard wrinkled his nose in that way that meant Geralt stank like monster guts, his mouth grinning broadly all the while.

"Hmm." Geralt agreed.

"Right," Jaskier nodded. "You go and get all the blood and flesh and teeth out of your hair, and I'll play a few songs downstairs to pad our pockets. The townsfolk will no doubt be feeling generous now that we've slain their problem."

Geralt grunted, raising an eyebrow, and Jaskier waved a dismissive hand. "Yes, you did the slaying, but as your faithful and trusty companion, the goodwill extends to me. And that means more coin in our purses, which means ale and real food and real beds when we feel like it for a while, instead of only when we can convince a town to hire you on."

Geralt had no argument for that.

He waited for the tub to be full of steaming water, and then Jaskier helped him out of his gore-splattered armor.

"Wash," Jaskier ordered in his prissy, imperious way, pointing at the tub. "I'll be back shortly."

"Hmm."

Geralt took his time. It was rare that he got the luxury of a real hot bath, instead of just a dip in a cold creek.

He could hear the noise of the tavern below, Jaskier's voice drifting up through the floorboards as he sang jaunty, heavily-embellished tales of their adventures.

Smiling to himself, Geralt shook his head and scrubbed soap into his hair.

He let his hands take over the washing, his focus on the songs beneath his feet.

He was drying off with a towel when he heard a woman's voice call, "Play Her Sweet Kiss, next, oh please!" A dozen more voices shouted agreement.

There was a hesitation, and Geralt slowed, listening harder.

"...All right," came Jaskier's voice, but Geralt knew that tone. His jollity was forced, any ease he'd had gone.

The chords were familiar, and Geralt sank onto the edge of the bed, straining to hear. He hadn't been paying much attention last time, not to the lyrics.

"The fairer sex, they often call it," Jaskier sang, his voice smoky. "But her love's as unfair as a crook."

Geralt frowned, and the expression only deepened as the song went on.

"Her current is pulling you closer,

And charging the hot humid night.

The red sky at dawn

Is giving a warning,

Fool, better stay out of sight!

I'm weak, my love, and I am wanting,"

There it was again, that hitch, emotions cracking Jaskier's siren voice right on the word weak.

"If this is the path I must trudge

I welcome my sentence,

Give to you my penance,

Garroter, jury, and judge.

But the story is this:

She'll destroy with her sweet kiss,

Her sweet kiss, oh.

The story is this,

She'll destroy with her sweet kiss.

The story is this,

She'll destroy with her sweet kiss."

The song faded, and the people began to sigh and clap.

“So romantic,” a few murmured.

Geralt blinked at the floor, astonished. Did these people really think they'd just heard a passionate love song?

That wasn't what Geralt had heard.

He tuned out the sound of Jaskier deftly accepting money and compliments, lost in his own thoughts.

When the door swung open, he actually twitched, startled out of his woolgathering.

"Well, that was a success," Jaskier said cheerfully, shaking his clanking purse. Then the bard paused, his eyes skittering away as red stained his cheeks. "Melitele's tits, Geralt, why are you still naked?"

"Clothes are dirty," Geralt grunted.

Jaskier looked at the slimy armor and shuddered. "So they are. But you do actually have other clothes. Here, put something on and I'll help you scrub them down. If we hang them up, they'll be dry by morning."

Geralt obeyed, squatting by the side of the tub so that he could use the bathwater to scrape at his tunic while Jaskier dealt with his pants.

His mind was racing as they worked, the only sound Jaskier’s absent humming.

It was only when he had draped his armor over the back of a chair that Geralt spoke.

“Jaskier.”

“Hmm?” The bard hummed, glancing up at him through his eyelashes, which was a singularly distracting expression. It lent his face a sort of dreamy softness, a sweetness that showed so rarely under the cocky facade. “Geralt?”

Geralt shook his head, shaking off his thoughts. “That song...”

Jaskier stiffened slightly, and smiled, glancing away again, tugging at his shirt cuff. “Which one?” He asked. Geralt snorted softly. As if the man didn’t know.

“The last one.”

“Oh.”

Geralt waited, but Jaskier said nothing else.

“Jaskier.” He half-growled it.

The bard stood and started to unlace his second-best performing doublet, the dusky blue one that matched his eyes. “Sorry, was there a question in there somewhere?”

Geralt strode over and seized Jaskier gently by the wrist, forcing him to meet his eyes.

“Who—what—was the song about?”

At this, Jaskier’s carefully blank expression broke into a frown and he made an irritated sound in the back of his throat. “You could hear it, right? All of it?”

“Every word.”

Jaskier threw up his hands, removing himself from Geralt’s grip in the process. “Then who do you think?” He half-shouted. He pointed an accusing finger into Geralt’s startled face. “You may pretend like you’re nothing but a wall of muscle, but you’re not an idiot, Geralt! You know damn well who that song is for!”

“I’m the Fool, then?” Geralt asked, just to be sure.

“In more ways than one,” Jaskier muttered, turning his back again.

“It’s a warning. Isn’t it?”

“How long has it been since you’ve seen Yen?” Jaskier asked, pointedly casual. Geralt shrugged, even though Jaskier wasn’t looking at him. The bard barreled on, his voice breaking slightly. “How long until we see her again? How long until she gives you that look—you know, the one that’s condescending and somehow sultry at the same time—and you go running headlong into her arms, even though every single time you tangle with her you end up the worse for it?”

Geralt opened his mouth, but Jaskier shook his head, looking uncharacteristically resigned. “She’s always bad news,” he whispered. “I wish you could see that. You run, like she makes you happy, but every time, you end up more miserable than when you began. And Geralt? No offense, but when I met you, you were already the most miserable bastard in existence.”

Geralt, absurdly, huffed the smallest chuckle, unable to restrain himself. The bard was right, of course, and this conversation was so fucking odd that laughter seemed the only reasonable course of action. He had been just about the most miserable bastard in existence when he’d met Jaskier, though he hadn’t thought it of himself then.

Jaskier, however, looked incensed. “This is suddenly funny to you?” He demanded. “I tell every dirty joke I’ve ever heard and you don’t even twitch, but the perpetual misery of your life is amusing? Well, at least one of us can laugh! Because I can’t, Geralt! I won’t! Not at this. You—“ Drawing in a breath that seemed almost painful, Jaskier stepped closer, laying a hand on Geralt’s chest, which was still bare. He’d only bothered to pull on smalls when the bard came in. His fingers were long and warm, callused at the tips from strumming his lute.

“I don’t know what made you believe that you need to keep throwing yourself on the sword,” Jaskier whispered, holding Geralt’s gaze. “But whatever it was, it was wrong. You don’t somehow deserve to be miserable all the time. You should—you should be happy. And it eats me alive to see you running so hard from something that shouldn’t be so frightening. Can’t you just...stop throwing yourself in the path of suffering?”

Geralt tilted his head, running his eyes over every line of Jaskier’s face, almost unfamiliar contorted in unhappiness.

His broad, high cheekbones. The wide curve of his jaw, making his face—not quite round, but full. His mouth, usually drawn into a wide, becoming smile, or a wicked smirk, or open and spilling nonsense, was drawn down, plush lips pinched. And his eyes, that captivating soft blue, the color of a flawless autumn sky, were dark now without their usual mirth. Long eyelashes—preposterously long and dark, in fact, were stunning against his pale skin, highlighting the unique color of his eyes.

“I haven’t seen Yennefer since the dragon hunt,” Geralt said at last, answering a question asked so long ago that Jaksier blinked, taken aback. “She was...displeased with me—" Jaskier snorts at the understatement "—because I don’t share her goals, and I don't think what she's doing is wise.” Geralt tilted his head the other way, thinking quite seriously. “And I don’t know when we'll meet again, but I believe things will be...different, when we do.”

Jaskier was staring at him. “What do you mean?”

Geralt sighed, searching for words. Words had never come so easily for him, but whether that was his nature or just a lack of practice was hard to say. “She and I have chosen different paths,” he said. “We will always be drawn together. Whatever false destiny my wish created between us has become real enough now. But we are not meant to continue as we have. I am not pulled to her anymore. Perhaps, in time...we may even be...friends.”

Jaskier snorted, making his opinion of friendship with the power-hungry witch clear. Geralt smiled. That darkness was leaving his bard’s eyes now.

“You are wrong,” he said.

Jaskier’s face scrunched. “Unlikely,” he said pertly. “What about?”

His hand was still on Geralt’s chest, as if he’d forgotten about it, warm and alive.

“I’m not the most miserable man in existence.”

Jaskier opened his mouth, and Geralt shook his head to silence him.

“I was, once. Not anymore.”

Jaskier cocked his head to the side, ever-present curiosity in his eyes. “What changed?”

“I met you,” Geralt said simply.

Jaskier’s mouth dropped open, utterly stunned. Pink bloomed across his cheeks. “I—I—“ he stammered.

“Jaskier.” Geralt’s voice was low and quiet. “There are three people in your song.”

“My—my song?” The bard looked as though he’d been hit round the head. “Oh. Yes.”

“There’s the woman, she’s always bad news—that’s Yen.”

Jaskier nodded.

“There’s you—the one speaking, who’s reason is stolen.”

Another nod.

“And then there’s the Fool, who you're talking to.” Geralt lowered his head slightly, bringing himself closer.

Jaskier nodded again, his breath coming short as he gazed in Geralt’s eyes.

“You’ve already said that’s me.”

“Yes,” Jaskier breathed.

“I’m weak, my love, and I am wanting,” Geralt said in a low rumble. “Am I your love?”

His blush before had been nothing; now his cheeks flooded blazing scarlet, his eyes dropping to the floor, his forgotten hand lifting off Geralt’s sternum—Geralt caught it tightly in his own.

“Geralt,” Jaskier whispered, looking tortured. “Please don’t.”

“You exaggerate these things in your songs, bard, so tell me truly now—am I your love?”

Jaskier bit his lip, gazed fixedly at their feet, and said nothing.

“I welcome my sentence. Give to you my penance. Garroter, jury, and judge,” Geralt quoted. “Is that what I am? Your executioner? And you feel the need to do some kind of fucking penance, because—why, Jaskier?”

“Because I fell in love with someone who would never love me back!” Jaskier cried, turning his face up at last. Geralt almost stepped back at the frustration and hurt he saw there. “Because I have to see you with Yennefer, and anyone else you decide you want, and know that I’ll never have that. Because it’s an exercise in self-flagellation and even so, being nothing more than your bard is better than not having you at all.” Jaskier’s eyes fluttered shut, as if he were exhausted, when Geralt had never felt more awake and alive in all his hundred years on this earth. “Gods, of all the people, it had to be someone who will never love me back,” he mumbled.

Geralt considered this very carefully.

“Who says I don’t?”

Jaskier’s head snapped up so fast that Geralt heard something pop. His eyes were blazing. “Don’t you mock me, Witcher,” Jaskier hissed. “Don’t you dare.”

Geralt blinked. “Why would you think I am?”

Jaskier let out a harsh laugh. “Because I’m just the fly,” he said, voice strained, color high. “I’m just the burdensome bard who needs his arse saved every other day and who never shuts up and who sings like a pie with no filling, apparently, who shovels the shit, and I—“

But Geralt had had enough. He used the hand he was still grasping to tug Jaskier forward so that he fell against his chest. His free arm snaked around the bard’s waist, preventing escape.

“Don’t,” Geralt growled, “speak about yourself that way.”

You speak about—“ Jaskier began indignantly, but Geralt cut him off. He was through indulging this dark-haired menace to his peace of mind and possibly all of humanity.

“You are annoying, and you do never shut up, and I do have to save your arse with alarming regularity. But you are not a burden, Jaskier. Not to me. I should never have made you feel like you were. Jaskier...you’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. If there is a choice between being alone and being with you, I will choose you.”

Jaskier looked as though he might faint. He cleared his throat. “You. Ah. You will?”

If Geralt couldn’t kiss him, he was going to go insane. “Every time,” he swore, and then he curled his fingers into soft, dark hair, tilted Jaskier’s face up, and swallowed whatever reply the bard had been about to make.

Jaskier made a muffled squeak of surprise. For a moment, he stiffened, and Geralt almost pulled back, but then wiry arms were looping around his neck, deft fingers sliding into his hair, and Jaskier was pulling him impossibly closer, his mouth warm and open and devouring.

They kissed slowly, hot and consuming, as though there was all the time in the world and it still might not be enough.

They kissed like they wanted to disappear into each other, where they could be safe and warm and free of the world that loomed so darkly.

Jaskier’s hands were bold, stroking through his hair, tracing over his cheeks and shoulders, sliding down his back. His lute callouses and blunt nails scraped over every scar on Geralt’s marred skin.

Geralt’s hands tried to mirror him, but they couldn’t make up their minds; they would smooth down his back, wanting to feel his muscles shift, and finding only wool would skate up to his jaw and relish the faint scratch of stubble, and then would shove back into his hair, desperate for the silk of it against his palms.

They went down his back again, and Geralt grunted a curse against Jaskier’s lips. “You’re wearing,” he said as Jaskier nibbled at his lips—gods, that was good. “Clothes.”

Jaskier laughed into his mouth. “Yes,” he agreed, blue eyes alight with amusement.

Off.”

Jaskier gave a shiver, as if of delight, and pulled back slightly. Geralt growled, and Jaskier laughed again. It was such a sweet sound.

“It’s either kissing or nudity, love,” he scolded lightly.

Geralt reached forward, yanking impatiently at the laces of the doublet. “Both,” he decided gruffly. The laces finally gave, and Geralt shoved the cloth off and down hungrily, hands mapping out all the newly-bared skin. So soft, smooth and untouched by tooth and claw and ruin. Gods, it hurt Geralt’s heart to see how he was so precious, so pure...something his hands, made for violence, could so easily ruin.

Jaskier had turned his attention to Geralt’s chest, now that there was room between them for his hands, and was running the pads of his fingers over the long, curved claw mark under his left pectoral.

For a moment, Geralt waited, half-expecting Jaskier to ask for the story behind it.

Instead, the bard looked up at him with dark eyes and said in a husky voice, “I want to kiss every one of your scars.”

Geralt closed his eyes, hands trembling on Jaskier’s smooth sides.

“Bed,” he ordered. “Now.”

Jaskier grinned. “Finally, a sensible suggestion.” He backed toward the bed without letting go, towing his Witcher with him.

With a laugh that seemed to spill out of him, Jaskier flung himself backward on the mattress.

Geralt couldn’t help the way his lips curved up in response to that sound. Was this destiny, too? It seemed unlikely that she would suddenly be so kind.

Or was it his choice, his own foolish, yearning heart, that had brought him here?

It was becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference.

Jaskier propped himself up on his elbows.

“You’re awfully far away,” he purred.

Geralt quirked an eyebrow. “You’re still awfully dressed.”

Jaskier smirked, that cocky smirk that had always had women diving into his bed like it was made of solid gold and silk. “Do something about it.”

Geralt’s blood was burning. He hooked his fingers into Jaskier’s waistband, relishing the way his hips arced up as he peeled the wool down pale legs.

It was too much. Geralt had to crawl up the bed, pressing his mouth to Jaskier’s calves, his stomach, his chest, his mouth again.

Jaskier gasped under the attention, stuttering broken words, mostly Geralt’s name and an assortment of curses.

“Ah, fuck!” He moaned as Geralt sucked bruises down his neck.

“So beautiful,” Geralt murmured, licking across fine collarbones, drawing his nose through the hair dusted across his chest, and closing his lips around a nipple.

“Geralt!” Jaskier writhed under him, so Geralt put his hand over the other nub, pinching it in his fingers. His bard’s breath came rough and fast, his hips rolling up as he sought friction.

When Jaskier was crying, “ah, ah, Geralt, please—“, Geralt released his nipples and kissed his way down Jaskier’s stomach until his mouth met white linen. With a short snarl, he yanked the smalls down and tossed them behind him without looking to see where they landed.

Jaskier’s cock was long and flushed against his stomach. Geralt licked his lips, and it twitched before his eyes.

Unable to resist, Geralt drew his tongue up its length and took it into his mouth.

“Oh, sweet Melitele—“ Jaskier was babbling feverishly, his hands in Geralt’s hair, yanking just this side of painful.

Geralt tasted salty, bitter precome on his tongue for just a moment before, with a lingering kiss, he pulled off.

“Geralt!” Jaskier yelped, trying to push him back.

Geralt hummed without words, sliding his hands under the bard’s thighs and guiding them farther apart.

The scent of Jaskier, of arousal, of sweat and sex and happiness, hung thick and heavy in the air. Geralt inhaled, nuzzling into the inside of Jaskier’s thigh. For a moment, he just breathed, leaving light kisses on the soft skin beneath his lips.

Instead of protesting, Jaskier stroked his hands gently through his hair.

When need started to surge again, Geralt spread Jaskier’s legs wide. He licked over Jaskier’s balls, and further, and paused, listening for protest, or even hesitation.

There was neither, only a soft, breathy, “oh, yes, Geralt, yes,” that went straight to his own cock.

He hadn’t done this in so long. He’d been with very few men, mostly because there were few male whores and few Witchers, and it had been decades since his last encounter. Of those, only two had allowed this intimacy. Which was a shame, because Geralt loved it.

He started with teasing licks, and Jaskier whimpered his approval.

When Jaskier was wiggling under him, begging incoherently for more, Geralt firmed his tongue and began to work it inside him.

Jaskier’s hips jerked, a strangely muffled keening noise leaving his throat.

Geralt lifted his head, and saw Jaskier biting the side of his hand. Geralt waited until Jaskier looked up in confusion, and glared at him.

Now you want to be quiet?” He growled. “Sing for me.”

Jaskier’s hand dropped away as he let out a sobbing moan that echoed off the ceiling. “G-gods, Geralt, you can’t say that.”

Geralt kissed his hole, open-mouthed, and asked, “why not?”

“I’ll come,” Jaskier panted. He fisted a hand in his own hair, blue eyes dark and wild. “I’ll come.”

A bolt of lust shot down the Witcher’s spine at that. Could he? Could he make his bard come with words alone? He’d never been good with words, but that would be worth the effort.

But that was an experiment for another day. For now, he was going to make Jaskier come apart with his mouth in another way.

He set to it, delighted with the noises he was able to draw out of his bard as he took him with his tongue.

“More,” Jaskier panted. “More! More! Geralt, more!”

Yes, more.

There was brief fumble as he reached over the edge of the bed to dig the chamomile oil out of his pack.

He slicked his fingers and pressed two inside, watching Jaskier’s mouth drop open silently, his eyes wide, pupils blown so large that only the thinnest ring of blue remained. His cheeks were flushed, sweat dripping down his temples.

Geralt had never seen anything so beautiful. He crooked his fingers, and Jaskier’s head thunked back into the pillow, his body arching.

He was so responsive, shaking under every touch and kiss. Paid ladies were jaded, not inured to pleasure—Geralt had certainly never left anyone unsatisfied—but less consumed by it. And Yennefer...well, she was far from easily impressed, always challenging him with her eyes to do better, to show her something new.

Jaskier, though. He had always thrown himself into life with headlong abandon, and it seemed he approached pleasure the same way.

“Get—your cock—in me,” he demanded in short, harsh gasps, yanking on Geralt’s hair to make his point.

Geralt slid back up his body, planting his elbows on either side of the bard’s head. He paused there, gazing down into those blue, blue eyes.

Jaskier smiled up at him, tucking his hair behind his ear in an unbearably sweet gesture. His bard was always smiling, but this one was so beautiful that Geralt wanted to bottle it and drink it down whenever he ached.

Geralt kissed him softly.

Jaskier kissed back, his hands tugging.

It would have been easy to resist, but instead Geralt let himself be rolled over, until Jaskier was straddling his hips, grinning down at him.

“I’ve been sidetracked. I believe I promised to kiss these marks,” he said cheekily, tracing the Striga bite on Geralt’s throat.

The Witcher swallowed, tilting his head back, baring his throat. It was a sign of trust that he had never bestowed on a lover before, but there wasn’t the coil in his gut that usually accompanied vulnerability. He knew, all the way down, that this man would never take advantage.

“So you did,” Geralt murmured.

Jaskier looked ecstatic at the permission, swooping down immediately. Geralt closed his eyes, bracing for the onslaught of pleasure and teasing that he expected the bard to rain down on him.

But what he felt was soft, warm lips touching his forehead, and then his cheek, kisses so gentle and reverent that Geralt didn’t know what to do with them.

Geralt let his hands slide up Jaskier’s back, mapping out smooth skin and shifting muscles, as the bard continued to lavish him with affection unlike anything he’d ever known.

His lips and tongue traced over the Striga bite, the kikimora claw marks, the lines of a gryphon’s talons. He kissed Geralt like he thought it would heal him.

Maybe it will, Geralt thought as Jaskier’s mouth pressed into the puncture mark on his side.

Jaskier didn’t stop. He kissed Geralt’s thighs, his knees, his calves, even his left foot where a very persistent drowner had snagged him once, long ago. He picked up Geralt’s hands and kissed the knife-and claw-scarred fingers, the burns from potion-making on his wrists, the scratches and bites and rips along his arms.

Geralt watched, watched the look of deep, quiet concentration on his face, the way his eyelids fluttered almost shut whenever his lips met ragged skin.

Finally, Jaskier’s hands settled on Geralt’s shoulders, and he kissed his face again. First his scars, and then his nose. His chin. His eyebrows. His cheeks. The corner of his mouth.

He sighed against Geralt’s lips. “I’m weak, my love, and I am wanting,” he sang in a whisper.

Geralt buried his hand back in that soft hair and dragged him in for a proper kiss.

As he did, Jaskier rolled his hips, dragging their cocks together.

The kiss broke as they panted, staring into each other’s eyes.

Jaskier reached down and wrapped his fingers around Geralt, guiding him inside.

The bard threw his head back, and Geralt’s fingers tightened on his hips, watching as Jaskier’s breath came rough and fast.

Jaskier didn’t stop until he was sitting fully on his Witcher’s hips, and Geralt groaned, deep and low, at the feeling, the tight heat.

“Oh, fuck, yes,” Jaskier hissed, and Geralt had to sit up, wrap his arms around the bard’s trim waist, and fuck up into him, biting at the long, pale line of his throat.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jaskier wailed, his nails digging lines down Geralt’s back, sparks of pain that went straight to his cock.

There wasn’t much leverage in this position, so Geralt rolled them over again, pinning Jaskier beneath him.

His dark hair was rumpled against the pillow, his blue eyes half-lidded and fixed on Geralt’s face. His lute-calloused fingers were still stroking over every part of the Witcher they could reach, and when his legs wrapped around Geralt’s waist, pulling him in even deeper, Geralt dropped his face into Jaskier’s throat with a groan.

“Geralt, oh gods, yes, right—AH! Right there! Oh, yes, Geralt, yes,” Jaskier chanted, sounding absolutely wrecked, his voice rough and breathless as Geralt found his sweet spot and didn't let up.

His skin was practically glowing with a light sheen of sweat, his cheeks apple red. Geralt could feel him tightening around him, could hear in the frantic rush of his heartbeat how close he was.

Jaskier reached for his own hardness, but Geralt caught him, tangling their fingers together and pressing the bard’s hand into the mattress.

Jaskier gave a wordless moan.

“No,” Geralt said, voice rasping with pleasure. He thrust hard into Jaskier, drawing forth a hitching whine. “Want you to come on my cock.”

Jaskier cried out, half-sobbing, his back bowing as he met Geralt’s thrusts. “Ge-Geralt,” he choked. “Geralt! Geralt!”

Geralt leaned down to catch his lips in a deep, filthy kiss.

“Jaskier,” he whispered. “Come.”

Jaskier gave a long, low cry, and it sounded like music. His body arched, clenching around Geralt, drawing him to his own climax.

Even as he shattered with pleasure, even as he came deep inside Jaskier, he kept his eyes open, greedily drinking in the sight of Jaskier’s face as he broke.

There is nothing more beautiful in all the world.

When they’d both begun to get their breathing back, Geralt used the farthest edge of the sheet to wipe Jaskier’s come from their stomachs.

He tensed, ready to roll off to the side, as his past lovers had always preferred—no one wanted to cuddle in the afterglow with a Witcher. Whores wanted to hear his stories, something more exciting than sex, and Yennefer was so suspicious of any desires that weren’t for sex or power that even had she wanted it, she would never have shown such weakness.

But Jaskier reached out, pulled him back thoughtlessly, and Geralt cautiously let his head settle against the bard’s chest.

Jaskier wrapped his arms around his Witcher securely and ran his fingers idly through Geralt’s hair, humming. His touch was so gentle and innocent, so devoid of any motive or desire. Geralt closed his eyes, slipping an arm securely around his bard’s waist.

That Jaskier smell, like new grass and wood oil and sunshine, filled his nose, tinged with come and sweat.

Beneath Geralt’s ear, he could hear his heart beating, steady and strong and so sweet.

“Geralt?” Jaskier murmured into his hair.

“Hmm?”

“Why did you say the things you said, back on the dragon hunt?”

Geralt tensed for a moment, but the question held no malice, no accusation. Only curiosity. Admittedly, that had always been Jaskier’s driving trait.

“Was angry,” he grunted eventually. He watched his fingers draw nonsense patterns over Jaskier’s chest.

“At Yen? Or yourself?”

Somehow, it eased something in Geralt to know that Jaskier knew that none of that anger had been directed at him.

“Both. Didn’t want her to leave. Didn’t want to want her to stay.”

Jaskier stroked through his hair soothingly, undemanding.

Geralt found his mouth opening again almost of his own volition.

“Everyone always leaves.”

The bard’s hands stilled for a moment, and then resumed, slow and careful. Always careful.

Who ever thought to be careful with a Witcher?

“I didn’t,” Jaskier told him. “Not until you told me to.”

Geralt closed his eyes again. “I know,” he breathed, dizzy with the thought of what he’d almost lost. “But that’s why.”

“What do you mean?”

Words were Jaskier’s weapon, not Geralt’s, but for his bard, he could try.

“If...if I pushed you away,” he said slowly, “then you couldn’t leave.”

Jaskier’s hands went still again, and then curled into fists, gently tugging at Geralt’s hair until he was forced to raise his head and meet annoyed, amused blue eyes.

“Geralt,” Jaskier said. “I do love you, but you are, frequently, an idiot.”

To his own surprise, Geralt laughed a little. Jaskier’s eyes went wide and soft with delight.

He lifted a hand, stroked a thumb along his Witcher’s cheek.

“You know, I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you laugh.”

Geralt dropped back against Jaskier’s chest, listening out that reassuring heartbeat.

“I’m not going to leave you, darling. Not ever.”

The bitter taste of future grief washed briefly over his tongue, competing with the unfamiliar honey-sweetness of joy. “It’s dangerous,” he said, not truly thinking this would change things.

“Obviously,” Jaskier said dryly. His tone became serious again as he added, “Everyone dies, my love. Whether I die tomorrow, or sixty years from now, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I’m in your arms when I go.”

Geralt had no idea what to say to that, not least because he felt like something was squeezing his heart and lungs hard enough to bruise.

He turned his face up enough to steal a kiss, Jaskier’s hand sliding down his spine.

He looked into those eyes, that autumn-sky blue that made his heart ache. “I love you,” he said. He had never said those words before in his memory. Certainly not since being abandoned at the foot of Kaer Morhen. They almost hurt coming out of his mouth.

But they were true, and for the way Jaskier’s face lit up, Geralt thought he could get used to saying them on occasion.

He tucked his head back under Jaskier’s chin.

The bard resumed his humming and stroking.

It should be the other way around, Geralt thought sleepily. I want to die in his arms.

The humming in his ear was soft and sweet.

“Sing for me,” he whispered.

Jaskier chuckled warmly. “Sure you want a pie with no filli—"

Geralt gave his chest a light smack, and Jaskier laughed aloud.

“I wrote this one about you,” he said in a low voice. “And about me, I suppose. Sort of a daydream I once had, back when I was new to loving you. I’ve never sung it to anyone else before.”

Geralt waited, listening.

Jaskier cleared his throat, and then...

“I promise you nothing. I take only that which is free.

I’d give you a life full of risk, and the whirlwind of joy that can be.

Don’t try to bind me, just love me without any greed

And I’ll give you the world, and my heart, and the air that I breathe.

Slip the jesses, my love,

This hunter you own from the hood to the glove,

When the circling and striking are done, and I land,

Let me come back to your hand, let me come back to your hand.

I have no illusions to think that I know what will come.

I laugh at the concept of life as the simple result of the sun.

I just want to hold you and share with you all of this life,

With the stars in the darkness and love in the light, and it’s dizzying height.

Slip the jesses, my love,

This hunter you own from the hood to the glove,

When the circling and striking are done, and I land,

Let me come back to your hand, let me come back to your hand.

Let me come back to your hand...”

Jaskier’s voice faded out, and then he leaned down and kissed the top of Geralt’s head.

“I just want to hold you, and share with you all of this life,” he sang again softly, achingly.

Geralt tightened his arm around the bard’s chest.

“Let me come back to your hand...”

Jaskier’s heartbeat was strong in his ear, his voice perfect. His arms weren’t as strong as Geralt’s, but there, for the first time in decades, Geralt felt safe.