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Jaskier spots Geralt the moment he steps through the door. Long years of practice mean he barely falters in a note, and he covers it by feigning a trip, but he thinks with no small measure of mixed pride and frustration that he would know Geralt was near even dead asleep. 

 

Maybe that’s just what happens when you share a life with someone.

 

The thought of that makes his next note come out too sharp from the tension in his throat, so he forces himself to focus instead on the lovely blacksmith flexing her muscles in the most intriguing way. He croons to her especially and is pleased when she flushes prettily and ducks behind her tankard, and he plops right in her lap and delights in the strong arm that wraps around his waist on instinct. 

 

Remember when this was you, he thinks viciously in the witcher’s direction, but the response to that comes at once: he never wanted it to be him, it turns out. 

 

He leaves the blacksmith after receiving a kiss to the cheek and completes a circuit of the room, flirting and teasing and singing. He toys with the idea of pulling out a little ditty about butchers and burning, but to his frustration, he’s not quite that vicious. With his luck, it would turn the whole fucking tavern against the fucker, and then Jaskier would have to expend the effort to rescue him. No, too much work all around. 

 

Ignoring him it is. 

 

Geralt doesn’t appear to mind the cold shoulder he’s getting–Jaskier hasn’t crossed to his corner even once–simply sitting and waiting patiently. Jaskier narrows his eyes just the slightest bit when he notices that Geralt, for once, is watching him intently. He does a mental check for anything on his face or his shirt but comes up blank. He’d done his regular mirror check before coming down, and he hasn’t had anything to eat since. Still, Geralt has never paid him this kind of focus before, always glowering into some vague middle distance unless Jaskier physically plopped down in front of him. 

 

Tonight, however, the witcher is as attentive an audience member as Jaskier’s ever had. 

 

He finds himself frustrated the longer it goes on, which he didn’t expect. He’s torn between storming away without a word and slinging his lute aside to give Geralt the piece of his mind he deserves. 

 

Most annoying of all is what he thought he’d be done feeling by now: pain. 

 

He’s had his whole little cry about the situation, a proper pillow in his teeth, screams against a mattress, vases across rooms sob and wallow. He’d rinsed and repeated until the last of his impotent rage and the wrenching, gut deep stab of it had abated. He’d been good after that, ready to move onto more important things like dragging Geralt through the fucking mud with a solid cycle of revenge songs. 

 

Now, however, he feels right back to square one. 

 

It’s just fucking like him, he thinks viciously even as he smiles winsomely at a handsome man in farmer’s garb, to pop up when Jaskier wasn’t ready for him. He’d had a whole plan. He’d sing until Geralt came groveling back, and then Jaskier would have his chance to storm and rage in turn. He had never quite managed to fully imagine it, unable to make all of the pieces fit neatly, but it had been a pretty dream to get him through, a nice little revenge fantasy for cold nights. 

 

Now the bastard’s returned when Jaskier didn’t have time to build up the strength to give him the fuck you to end all fuck yous that he deserves. 

 

A consummate professional at his trade–no matter what white-haired bastards might say otherwise–he doesn’t let Geralt’s unexpected and unwanted presence throw him too badly. He’s had enough years of practice to make it possible to perform without his heart truly in it, and if his performance is less sparkling and heartfelt than usual, a crowd this deep into their cups doesn’t seem to mind too terribly. 

 

While he performs, a plan takes shape, and the glee of it makes his steps extra peppy. He stays away from any songs mentioning witchers, going for historic war songs and love ballads and anything that has nothing to do with creatures or magic or mutations. Let Geralt think Jaskier doesn’t need him or his stories any longer. 

 

(Nevermind that the songs he performed twenty minutes before Geralt showed up were about a carefully anonymous witcher with perfectly normal brown hair). 

 

By the time his performance is over, Jaskier is pleased enough with his plan to snag a mug of cider with languid arrogance and saunter over to Geralt in the corner. He takes his time about it, stops at each table to mix with his adoring public. He’s half-afraid Geralt will finally give up and leave–Jaskier knows he hates to be out this late when alcohol will have tempers high and tolerance for “others” low–but the witcher simply sits and waits. 

 

And stares, right at Jaskier, like he’s been doing all night. 

 

When Jaskier finally has no more delays as an excuse, he swaggers over and drapes himself over the bench opposite the witcher, taking a long swig of his drink and studying the man across from him over the rim. The cider is almost painfully bad, acidic and aggressively alcoholic. Still, he appreciates it for the distraction it is from everything he’s trying very hard not to feel. He tries to look at the witcher with a stranger’s eyes, wondering if he would still love him despite all of the pain if he’d never known about the beautiful heart behind that handsome face. 

 

Annoyingly, the answer is “yeah, probably.” 

 

Surprisingly, Geralt speaks first. 

 

“Jaskier, listen, I want to-” 

 

“Sorry,” Jaskier interrupts, summoning all of the arrogance an upbringing like his can instill, “have we met before?” As approaches go, it’s fairly juvenile, but from Jaskier’s experience, there are few barbs more cutting than being forgotten entirely. He doubts Geralt will actually entertain the bit for any length of time, but it’s deeply satisfying to say. 

 

It does seem to stun the witcher admirably well, and it’s all he can do not to smile, covering the urge with a sip of his cider.  Geralt frowns, a mistrustful tilt to his head, and Jaskier thinks with a pang of the times he’s seen the gesture before when Geralt feels like he’s missing a trap. 

 

Good. Let him wonder. 

 

“Jask,” Geralt says slowly, and the use of the petname that once made Jaskier want to click his heels together in delight just grates his nerves further. Geralt’s the only one who’s ever called him by the diminutive, and it infuriates him that the witcher would just assume he’s free to use it again, as if he hadn’t taken a sledgehammer to every bit of what had been between them. “I know you’re angry, but-” 

 

“Angry?” Jaskier says with feigned surprise, raising his eyebrows. “You must truly be an expert at getting on nerves if you can annoy a complete stranger. Is that a witcher skill, or are you a specialist?” 

 

Now Geralt looks faintly alarmed, and Jaskier is a little thrown. He was expecting annoyance, had half-hoped for an excuse to have a proper row now that he’s had time to gather the little broken shards of his heart and sharpen them into barbs of his own. 

 

Geralt isn’t the only one who knows exactly where the most stab-able soft parts are. 

 

Jaskier leans back, tipping his chair onto its two back legs. It’s a bad habit Geralt’s scolded him for before, and it’s satisfying to see the witcher have to stop himself from automatically calling him on it. He rocks slightly knowing he’s pushing his luck but enjoying needling Geralt too much to stop. He tips his head at an inquiring angle. 

 

“I suppose you might be vaguely familiar. White hair on a witcher isn’t a common trait, I don’t think.” It isn’t. He would know that better than anyone. “Any stories about you that I might know?” There are dozens, if not hundreds. Jaskier knows. 

 

He wrote every fucking one. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, face serious and voice low. “I need you to be serious: do you really not know me?” 

 

Jaskier narrows his eyes a bit. Geralt is not playing his part like he should. Really, Jaskier should have known better. The witcher is supposed to be annoyed about now, should be rolling his eyes and giving Jaskier free reign to respond in kind. Jaskier is slighting him, after all. This calm approach is obnoxious and deeply unsatisfying. 

 

Time to add a little fuel to the fire. 

 

“Oh!” He says with a snap of his fingers, as if just remembering something. “You had something to do with that business in Blaviken, didn’t you?” 

 

He feels a little shiver of deep, mean satisfaction when the very mention of the town makes Geralt visibly wince. 

 

Now they’re getting somewhere. 

 

“Yes, that was it,” Jaskier says, clapping one hand to his thigh in satisfaction. “That’s where I’ve heard of you, I think.” He gives Geralt a critical look up and down. “Rather bold to still be prancing about with such recognizable hair, isn’t it?” 

 

Hair that Jaskier used to tend to religiously, reveling in the silky softness of it after some oil and attention, taking pleasure in giving Geralt something nice. He notes with spiteful satisfaction that it’s looking a bit rough now, the ends untrimmed and the strands dry, frizzing slightly. 

 

Geralt, annoyingly, isn’t rising to the bait Jaskier is all but shoving directly in his face. Instead the man just looks alarmed. 

 

“Have you hit your head?” He asks with what sounds like true urgency, and now Jaskier is thrown entirely. 

 

“What?”

 

“Your head,” Geralt repeats as if Jaskier had missed that bit. Before he can do anything, the witcher is around the table and kneeling by him, having moved with damnably inhuman speed. Jaskier growls a little at both the invasion of his space and the way Geralt immediately snaps him down onto all four chair legs without comment. His annoyance is forgotten when there’s suddenly giant hands in his hair, feeling around his scalp, and he drops his mug to the table and slaps at Geralt. 

 

“Get the fuck off of me!” He shouts, shoving Geralt away and stumbling to his feet, tripping over his chair as he retreats. 

 

He could stomp his foot with frustration when he notices exactly how many people are now watching them intently. He wouldn’t mind spectators if this had gone the way it was meant to, but now Geralt just looks concerned for his well-being, righteous prick.

 

“Stay away from me,” he snaps, turning on his heel and darting for the stairs, weaving through the crowd without care for how many people he knocks into. 

 

He’s half tempted to turn around and punch Geralt right in his face. 

 

Fuck him. Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him. 

 

Gods, Jaskier should have expected something like this, honestly. Of course Geralt couldn’t give him one good fight when he wants one. Of course he had to diffuse it by doing whatever the fuck he was playing at. 

 

(Jaskier stomps up the stairs so he won’t have to think about the tightness in his throat from the pathetic little part of him that’s missed Geralt so badly that even such a brief touch felt like water after wandering in a desert). 

 

*

 

He slams the door to his room, and when that’s not satisfying enough, he opens it just to do it again. 

 

*

 

And then he crumples against it and drops to the floor, shoving his hands over his mouth and shaking, rocking back and forth as angry, miserable tears spill over. 

 

*

 

Even while he’s doing it, he doesn’t even fully know why he’s crying, really. The pain of their parting happened so long ago, it shouldn’t even affect him anymore. It should be a scabbed-over wound, a scar from a deep cut but nothing more. 

 

And yet, it stings as freshly as it did on top of that godsforsaken mountain. 

 

He makes a fist and hits the floor, relishing the sting and doing it again. It feels cathartic, to hit the floor even if he can’t hit Geralt. 

 

With no audience to force him to hold it back, the full wave of pain and loss overtakes him once more, leaving him nearly breathless. He’d thought that the months apart would have made him able to at least face the man, but it turns out he’s as weak as he was that day, entirely unarmed by a Geralt refusing to rise to his bait, godsdamn him. 

 

He wishes, suddenly and desperately, that it hadn’t been an act downstairs. 

 

Perhaps it would be worth it, to lose everything good he once had with Geralt, to not have to face the pain of the bad. 

 

*

 

Eventually he manages to get control of himself and takes a medicinal nip of vodka from a bottle on a side table. For good measure, he takes another. That done, he washes his face and opens the window. He’d had a nursemaid tell him once that it’s always good to let fresh air into a room after a cry, something about sweeping away the bad and welcoming the new. He doesn’t know if he believes that advice, but it’s too long ingrained as a habit to stop doing it now. Grimacing at the dampness of his tunic where his tears had run down at the collar, he changes clothes and applies a fresh dab of perfume. Knowing he’s likely to pass Geralt again with them both at the same inn, he maliciously pats on a little extra, remembering how this exact blend had been long-banned except for winter, too liable to make Geralt sneeze or give him a headache. 

 

He barely resists the urge to upturn the entire fucking bottle over his head out of spite. 

 

He’s managed to reason himself into corking the perfume and setting it down when a firm knock comes at his door, and he clenches his jaw so hard his teeth hurt a little. He knows even without checking exactly who’s on the opposite side of that door, and he desperately wants to be wrong. 

 

“Jaskier?” Calls a deep voice softly, confirming his suspicions. 

 

He stands upright, giving himself a steadying look in the mirror on the wall. He can do this. He can face Geralt. He can make the witcher think he hasn’t had an effect on Jaskier’s life at all, no matter the little show downstairs. Resolution made, he squares his shoulders, walking over to the door with deliberate slowness. Let the fucker wait. He plants his foot in the door’s path before he opens it, the same way Geralt taught him years ago. Thinking of that, he removes it at once. Better the witcher thinks he hasn’t carried anything with him at all. 

 

“Are you stalking me now, or is this just how you make acquaintances?” He asks before the witcher gets a chance to speak. It’s childish, to keep milking a bit that didn’t even work in the first place, but he’s determined to get at least a little rise out of Geralt with it. 

 

“May I come in?” Geralt asks, all politeness, and Jaskier raises his brows in surprise. The witcher has manners, he knows. 

 

He’s just rarely bothered to use them with Jaskier. 

 

“I don’t make a habit of letting strangers in my room,” he says dryly. 

 

“Since when?” Geralt asks immediately, and Jaskier scowls and moves to shut the door, barely stopped by Geralt reaching out to grab the edge of it. He’s immediately possessed by the urge to slam the man’s hand in the frame, but even bolstered by irritation, he knows his strength is nothing next to Geralt’s. 

 

He sucks his teeth and throws his hands up in the air in defeat, stalking over to his bed and tossing himself down, linking his hands behind his head. He resolves to stay silent. He knows how Geralt struggles with finding words sometimes, and like fuck will he help him when the bastard won’t even leave him alone for once. 

 

Geralt enters the room like he’s entering a predator’s den, and that’s gratifying, at least. The witcher moves to close the door with care and then hovers awkwardly. 

 

Jaskier spitefully lets him stew. 

 

He’s mildly curious exactly what Geralt’s approach is going to be here. The use of Jask earlier would imply he wants to pretend that nothing happened like he usually does, but unlike the past, he doesn’t appear to have come with some small treat in hand, his usual form of non-apology. Idly, he wonders if the witcher is actually going to attempt an apology with words, which would be both a first and wildly mind-boggling. 

 

Instead what comes out of Geralt’s mouth is, “I think you may have been cursed.” 

 

“...come again?”
 

His tone isn’t especially inviting, but Geralt crosses to sit on the edge of the bed, despite the way Jaskier kicks at his hip peevishly as a warning that he isn’t welcome. The witcher’s focus is entirely on him, intent and piercing, and Jaskier nearly feels like squirming beneath it, suddenly sympathetic for how a fox must feel before a hound. 

 

“We traveled together for years, Jaskier. If you don’t remember me, there’s something wrong.” 

 

Ah. 

 

Now he gets it. 

 

The realization makes him angry enough to spit. 

 

Geralt is clearly trying to bluff him here, to make Jaskier redouble on his pretense and flounder to excuse his behavior. It’s not the first time he’s done something like this. Jaskier has been threatened with enough foul potions for feigned morning illnesses and insistences that he’ll be left if he doesn’t pick up the pace through their years together, after all. 

 

Jaskier knows this game. 

 

He’s just really fucking sick of playing. 

 

“You’re really fucking arrogant, you know that?” Jaskier sneers. “What, you assume that if we knew each other, you were that big a part of my life?” He was, gods above he was, but Jaskier will eat glass before he admits that. “Maybe we just weren’t as close as you thought we were, and I’ve moved on.” 

 

“You hate raspberries,” Geralt says, with a gravity entirely at odds with the inanity of the words. “You think they’re blackberry’s embarrassing cousin. You also put your quills behind your ear when you’re working, so you always end up with ink along your cheekbone when you’ve been composing. You love mead but only when it’s made with spring honey, and you hate eating female rabbits because you worry they have kits in a nest somewhere. Your favorite color is blue, and you think purple is overrated, and you always embroider your boots with ivy because one of your nursemaids told you it was good luck when you were a child.” 

 

Jaskier is honestly a little stunned at the biography. 

 

“We traveled together for years, Jaskier,” Geralt says, looking very earnest and noble and less punchable than he should. “I know you, and you know me. I don’t know what happened, but I need you to let me fix it. Can you do that?”

 

And that’s when Jaskier realizes: Geralt really thinks he’s forgotten him. 

 

He should fess up, should tell Geralt that he’s just being a bitch because the witcher deserves it. 

 

But Geralt is looking at him with so much concern and focus and attention. 

 

And Jaskier has been so angry for so long, and under all of the rage, what he’s wanted the most since it happened is a place by Geralt’s side again, a fresh start. 

 

“Alright,” Jaskier says, already knowing that he’s going to regret it but desperate for any little smidge of good he can get before it all goes back to shit. 

 

*

 

He doesn’t sleep well that night, tossing and turning until it’s nearly dawn. The little bit of haze he’d had from the vodka fades sooner than he’d like, and he can’t quite bring himself to finish the bottle when he’s going to have a story to keep straight the next day. He’s already squirming under the guilt of lying to Geralt’s face and considers going down the hall to the witcher’s room and confessing all like he should have done the moment he realized the witcher mistook his slight as a curse. 

 

He should do the right thing. He’s pissed with Geralt still, but it’s not right, pretending that he’s under the effect of a curse just because it was nice to have Geralt concerned about him. 

 

He should have it out, should let Geralt be righteously pissed that Jaskier is making a fool of him. 

 

But then the memory of what happened the last time Geralt was angry comes to him, clear and sharp as a knife to his throat, and he remains in bed, watching the slow creep of moonlight through the curtain. 

 

*

 

He doesn’t feel at all well-rested the next morning. The guilt of his lie aside, it had been unexpectedly hard to sleep in a bed alone while Geralt was so close again. For all of the months apart, he’s missed the warm reassurance of the witcher next to him. He had considered letting Geralt room with him, but he had needed time to let his story settle, and it felt like it would have made Geralt suspicious, to let him in too soon. 

 

He packs quickly, not bothering to sort anything and instead just stuffing it all at random into bags before making his way downstairs. A quick question to a cook tells him that Geralt’s already risen, and he contemplates bringing the witcher food as he downs his own breakfast. He would have done it without a thought before. But would he do such a thing if he didn’t know the witcher? He would for any other person he was traveling with, but will Geralt expect someone under a curse to behave that way? Would it make him suspicious? 

 

Still not sure about his decision, he ends up returning his bowl and making his way to the stable, no extra breakfast in hand. 

 

He nods to the witcher standing ready with Roach. The mare perks her ears up at him and nickers a welcome, and he almost blows his cover completely with the urge to coo at her after so long apart. 

 

Restraining himself and resolving to just spoil her with apples when Geralt isn’t around, he resists. 

 

“You don’t ride,” Geralt tells him with a frown when Jaskier moves past him to collect his own mount, a sweet, calm gelding named Maple. Jaskier rolls his eyes as he tacks up his horse, who snuffles at his pockets in search of a treat. 

 

“Clearly I do,” he says dryly, grunting as he heaves the saddle over Maple’s back, situating it into place. He tenses when Geralt nears, and the witcher backs off, reading how unwelcome his help in the task would be at the moment. It’s a relief, in a way, to feel his annoyance creep to the forefront once more after a night of guilt. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, but it’s easier in a way, actually being in Geralt’s presence instead of thinking about him in the abstract. 

 

It’s also a wild sort of powertrip, forcing a witcher to mind his manners and read his body language for once. 

 

Jaskier tries not to feel guilty from how much he enjoys it. 

 

“You never talked about wanting a horse before,” Geralt ventures around an hour later when they’re on the road. Riding ahead slightly, Jaskier lets himself smile wryly since he won’t be seen anyway. The truth of the matter is that he’d been slightly afraid to get a horse before, unsure if Geralt would welcome another mount traveling with them. And after a while, he’d learned to like the satisfaction of sore legs at the end of the day, proud of his ability to keep up with a witcher on a horse on his own two feet. 

 

After the mountain, however, he’d had nothing to prove, and walking alone day after day grew dull rather quickly. 

 

“Maybe you just didn’t listen to me,” Jaskier says, keeping his voice light. “I rather enjoy Maple’s company.” He gives the gelding a pat to his neck before he looks over his shoulder. “Did you really make me walk everywhere?” 

 

The last bit is pushing his luck for the sake of a barb, but the flicker of shame that crosses Geralt’s face is wildly satisfying. 

 

“You never said you minded,” Geralt says, voice so quiet Jaskier almost can’t hear it. 

 

He doesn’t respond, guiding Maple on. 

 

*

 

The day passes rather pleasantly, all things told. 

 

Even under the veneer of his own anger at how things turned out between them, Jaskier knows Geralt’s been careful with him over the years. It had taken a while, but he’d caught on to how Geralt called their progress for the day based on Jaskeir’s exhaustion and also made sure to always stop at clean water sources, no matter how full his own skins still were. 

 

It’s comforting, in a way, to find that it’s still true. 

 

Their progress is faster now with them both on a horse, but Geralt still calls two halts throughout the day, once for a quick lunch and once in the afternoon when the sun is beating down along a shadeless patch of road, and Jaskier can already feel a headache starting up from the heat. He guides Maple to the side where there’s a small patch of shade, and he drops from the saddle before laying down beneath the shade, covering his eyes with one hand and pressing as if to sooth the pain behind them. 

 

He can hear Geralt rustling as he approaches, and it makes something in his heart hurt, knowing that it’s done for his benefit. 

 

“Here,” Geralt says, and Jaskier lifts his hand and opens his eyes just a crack. The witcher is holding out a little vial that he waves when Jaskier doesn’t reach for it immediately. “Headache, right?” He nods to the vial. “Willow bark and feverfew.” 

 

It’s a blend Geralt made for him before that doesn’t even work for witcher metabolisms and was thus only kept for his benefit, and Jaskier is so surprised that the witcher even still has it that he almost blows his cover by blurting it out. Instead he accepts it with a soft thanks and barely stops himself from downing the dose he knows he needs, waiting for Geralt to instruct him on how much to take. 

 

“Heat always gives you a headache,” Geralt says, and Jaskier can’t help but smile slightly at the tone that makes Geralt sound like a schoolboy proudly recounting the correct answer to a question. 

 

“Trying to prove something?” Jaskier asks, and Geralt ducks his head a bit as he tucks the vial away in a small bag at his hip. 

 

“Hm,” Geralt says, avoiding Jaskier’s eye and looking only at the grass. It’s a familiar tic of his, a sign that he’s thinking thoughts he needs to not look at someone to work out. “I wasn’t always…a good friend to you.” 

 

Jaskier is lucky Geralt isn’t looking at him at that with how his eyes widen. Never, in their decades of knowing each other, has Geralt actually called them friends out loud. He barely manages to school his expression by the time the witcher looks at him again. 

 

“I need to fix this before it means anything, but I want to do better by you this time.” His face is so earnest, so honest, that the moment feels slightly unreal, like something out of one of Jaskier’s fantasies of a world in which Geralt could do things like admit their friendship. 

 

Jaskier can feel his guilt swirling in his stomach, roiling like a whirlpool. 

 

“We should go,” he says roughly, pushing himself to his feet. 

 

*

 

Geralt’s total belief in Jaskier’s lie is more than a little confusing knowing what he does of the witcher’s usual ability to ferret out an untruth. If nothing else, he’d expect him to at least be able to smell the guilt. Jaskier hadn’t been able to keep fucking anything from him before, even when he’d wanted to. 

 

He isn’t able to work out the how and why of it until he pulls out his scents the next morning on habit and catches Geralt rubbing his nose from the corner of his eye, face crinkled a bit like a cat smelling something it doesn’t like. 

 

And then it sinks in: Geralt can’t smell his lie so long as he can’t properly smell Jaskier. 

 

He proceeds to use such a heavy hand with his scent that Geralt sneezes for half the morning. 

 

*

 

“You’re not going to play?” 

 

Jaskier looks up at Geralt in surprise when the witcher speaks, although the man isn’t looking at him, still intently watching their supper over the fire. It’s one of the things he’s missed, having an apex predator to provide for him. 

 

Jaskier catches the sulky, “You don’t like my music” at the “You” and then has to scramble for how to save his sentence. 

 

“You…you like music?” He manages, nearly wincing at the awkwardness of it. 

 

Geralt blessedly doesn’t seem to notice, shrugging before carefully rotating a rabbit to ensure it cooks evenly. 

 

“Yours is nice,” he says, and Jaskier’s jaw nearly drops. Being called a friend and complimented on his music all in one day. If they keep going at this rate, Geralt is going to kiss him on the mouth by tomorrow afternoon. Maybe he should have feigned amnesia years ago. 

 

“I wouldn’t think a witcher would like worldly things like music,” Jaskier says. 

 

“Most of it’s shit,” Geralt says, sprinkling a bit of salt on one of the rabbits. “But you have a good voice.” 

 

Jaskier casts about for a song to sing, suddenly forgetting everything he’s ever heard or written that isn’t about the witcher in front of him. Finally something comes to him, and he reaches for his lute case, snapping the buckles open and pulling the instrument out. He doesn’t want to poke too many holes in his story by singing anything he’s written in the time he traveled with Geralt, about him or not, but he’s spent enough time in pubs to have plenty of bar songs. 

 

“Have you heard the one about the petticoat and the frisky squirrel?” He asks with a grin, and he sees the angle of Geralt’s mouth that means he’s amused. 

 

By the time he’s made it through his fourth verse, in which the intrepid squirrel discovers garters, supper is ready, and Jaskier takes his share with pleasure. 

 

*

 

The first real wrench in Jaskier’s not-plan-plan comes when they actually make it to a town that has a hedgewitch. 

 

Caught up in the mechanics of pretending not to know Geralt, he hadn’t actually thought through the witcher’s whole “I’m going to fix this” bit until he finds himself in front of a door carved with symbols for prosperity and luck. 

 

Geralt’s hand rests on his lower back and pushes gently, but Jaskier locks his knees and leans back, feeling like a criminal before a chopping block. Geralt stops at once and shifts to look at him, face concerned. 

 

“What’s wrong?” He asks, inhaling without thought and then sneezing at the perfume Jaskier just put on an hour ago. He’s been waiting on the witcher to call him on it, but Geralt’s apparently minding his manners very well until Jaskier’s amnesia is fixed, and he hasn’t mentioned it once. By the time he recovers, sniffling slightly, Jaskier still hasn’t come up with a reason not to go inside. “Jaskier, your heart is racing. What happened? What’s wrong?” 

 

“I…” He starts, not knowing how to end the sentence. He curses internally at his own lack of forethought. So busy enjoying a solicitous Geralt, he hadn’t bothered to plan for the “not getting caught in a massive lie” part of the proceedings. “I have a bad feeling about this place,” he finally manages, nodding as if to support his own statement. “I can sense it. Bad energy,” he illustrates the point with a vague waving motion of his hand to encompass the whole building. “I don’t think I want the resident digging through my brain.” 

 

“Bad feeling?” Geralt repeats. “Have you been here before?” 

 

Jaskier tries to decide which way he should answer. The easiest answer would be to imply that the resident might be responsible for his memory loss, but he knows how Geralt can be, and he doesn’t actually want to be responsible for death by vengeful witcher. Beyond that, however, he doesn’t actually have a good reason for not going inside. Hedgewitches might not have the training of a proper sorcerer or sorceress, but they’re handy for smaller magic, especially healing. 

 

A hedgewitch will also be easily able to tell that he’s lying through his teeth. 

 

“I just don’t think we should trust this one,” he says, trying to stay vague and starting to back up from the door. “Just look at that window!” He says, pointing to it. “All sorts of crooked. Do we really want a crooked-window-haver poking about in my brain?” 

 

Geralt looks to the window and the back to Jaskier, brows furrowed. 

 

For a long, tense moment, Jaskier thinks he’s been caught out, his excuse seen for what it is, and he braces himself for an explosion. 

 

Instead, however, Geralt gives the building one more look before he moves back to their horses, tied at the fence. 

 

“Alright,” he says as he passes, clasping Jaskier’s shoulder with a supportive squeeze, “we’ll find another.” 

 

Jaskier breathes a sigh of relief so immense it feels like his legs turn to jelly. 

 

*

 

“So,” he starts that night between songs, stretching his legs near the fire and resisting the urge to poke Geralt with his toes. In the past he would have, but he hasn’t decided yet if amnesiac him would be so bold. “If we used to travel together, what have you been doing without me?” 

 

He means it as small talk, something light to satisfy his own curiosity. He’s always wondered what Geralt does on his lonesome, after all. He knows the witcher can survive obviously, but he’s always wanted to know if he pursues any interesting hobbies when he doesn’t have Jaskier there for entertainment and companionship. 

 

Instead, however, Geralt’s shoulders go slightly tenser, and Jaskier can feel a shift in the energy between them. Before he can retract the question, still unsure why it would have caused such a shift in the first place, Geralt moves from his crouch, shuffling backwards to sit next to Jaskier. 

 

“We had a fight,” Geralt tells him, looking only at the fire. He laughs, a short huff without humor. “Well, I had a fight, and you were there.” He looks to Jaskier from the corner of his eye. “I said some things I really shouldn’t have.” 

 

Jaskier makes himself breath normally despite the way his ears are ringing. It’s what he’s wanted to hear for so long, and he can scarcely believe it’s actually happening. Geralt apparently misreads his facial expressions though, and he sighs, shifting his weight and kicking a rock towards the fire. 

 

“This won’t mean anything when you can’t even remember,” Geralt says. “It’s part of why I need to fix things, Jaskier. I need you to remember so I can say I’m sorry for what I’ve done.” 

 

Jaskier can feel himself nearly shaking from the suppressed urge to come clean, to hear an apology and be able to move on with a Geralt capable of such a thing. 

 

That’s not how it would go, though, is it? 

 

Jaskier’s gone too far with it now, has drug Geralt along under a lie. 

 

If Jaskier confesses now, he doubts Geralt is going to feel very sorry at all. 

 

He looks down to his lap, trying not to cry. 

 

How spectacularly he’s fucked it all up. 

 

He nearly jumps when one of Geralt’s hands wraps around his bicep, looking up to find the witcher giving him a soft smile. 

 

“Don’t worry,” he says, voice soothing like when he’s talking to a spooked Roach or a scared victim, “I’m going to fix it.” 

 

Jaskier gives him a wavery little smile in return, not feeling reassured at all. 

 

*

 

Setting aside the crushing guilt threatening to flatten him to the earth, traveling with Geralt while pretending to be an amnesiac is quite pleasant, all things told. 

 

He’s missed being at the man’s side so much that he thinks even following after him like a skulking mutt would have been a relief, but under the safe cloak of his fake infirmity, it’s a downright delightful experience. 

 

There’s everything he missed before, all returned to him like there was never a pause. Geralt’s same gruff kindness shows itself daily with breaks for his sake, medicines carried only for his use, the best bits of hunts handed over without comment as if anything else hadn’t even occurred to Geralt. He doesn’t write down songs about the hunts Geralt goes on for fear that he might fall into a metaphor or rhyme scheme that will betray him, but there’s a rightness to being at his side once more to witness his good deeds, to patch him up after hunts, to shield him from small-minded villagers. Jaskier’s known for years that his place is at Geralt’s side, and it’s a relief like the first ray of sunlight after a bad storm to find himself there once more. 

 

And beyond all of that, this new Geralt is a kind of travel companion Jaskier hasn’t known before. If he didn’t know better, he’d say the witcher almost looks like he’s relieved to have Jaskier with him once more. There’s something in the way he carries himself that looks like he’s had a load lifted from his shoulders, like Jaskier’s very presence makes him lighter. 

 

It’s such a pretty lie that he almost lets himself believe it. 

 

*

 

-and then comes the evening they make it to a pub just in time to hear a bard singing Jaskier’s latest hit. 

 

He’s so busy telling Geralt about the time he and his sister had managed to get a cow to the fifth floor of his grandfather’s mansion that he doesn’t notice the witcher isn’t behind him until he turns to smile over his shoulder and sees only air. He spins on his heel and catches sight of Geralt standing frozen farther back, glaring at the building in front of them. Puzzled, Jaskier draws a breath to call back and ask what’s wrong-

 

-and then he hears a soulful “buuuuuuuuuuurn” ringing out through the door as it opens to admit another patron. 

 

He flashes hot and cold as his neck prickles with shame, and he can feel his face flushing. 

 

The song had been a drunken revenge fantasy, something he’d known would stab Geralt right where it would hurt the most. It had felt right at the time, destroying the reputation he’d spent so much time building. It had felt only fair, after all. He’d built Geralt up as a hero completely without the witcher’s participation or assistance. Why shouldn’t he be free to take it away? 

 

Now, looking at the hollow-eyed pain in Geralt’s features, Jaskier feels like the lowest worm of the earth. 

 

He opens his mouth but remains silent, unsure what he should even say. His whole amnesia bit be damned, he doesn’t even know where to begin to fix something like this. What can he say to excuse popularizing a song about the single worst event of Geralt’s entire life? 

 

It’s unforgivable, something like that. 

 

Before he can decide what the fuck he should do, Geralt seems to shake himeslf, lips pressing together into a thin line, eyes not quite meeting Jaskier’s. He steps closer with painful stiffness, and Jaskier feels himself wishing that the earth would just swallow him whole. 

 

“Do you mind if we keep going?” Geralt asks, voice carefully blank the way it is when he’s hurting so deeply he retreats into absolute neutrality. 

 

Jaskier says nothing, following after him meekly and not complaining once about another night on the hard ground instead of in a lovely bed. 

 

It’s the very least of what he deserves. 

 

*

 

They make it to a town blessedly barren of bards the next day, and Geralt takes a contract almost the moment they arrive. 

 

Jaskier knows it’s out of frustration and hurt, Geralt’s usual dysfunctional way of handling emotions he isn’t willing to admit. 

 

For all that it’s a terrible way to handle feelings, the witcher does look at least a little less tense when he returns to the inn room that night, covered in blood and limping but without the hurt tension he’s carried in his shoulders since the last town. Taking the risk, Jaskier had had a bath ordered and waiting, Geralt heating it up again with Igni before he begins stripping down. Jaskier’s fingers twitch with the urge to help, but Geralt hasn’t taught him how to undo the armor yet, so he can’t step in and take over the way he used to. 

 

When Geralt is bare, he still doesn’t get into the water, standing beside it entirely naked, face looking thoughtful. 

 

“You used to-hm,” Geralt cuts himself off, pointedly looking only at the bath. With his shirt off, Jaskier can already see the blooming of dark purple-black bruises across his chest. 

 

“Used to what?” Jaskier prompts when the witcher doesn’t continue. 

 

“Used to…help,” Geralt says, clearly a little shy about it, and Jaskier feels like he’s nearly melting with affection. 

 

Still, he has an amnesia to maintain. 

 

“Help with what?” He asks, and Geralt shifts his weight, one of his rare fidgets, and Jaskier only barely resists the urge to smile at it. He knows exactly what the witcher wants of him, and he’s just about to take mercy and make a “guess” when Geralt speaks. 

 

“You used to help me with my hair and things. While I bathed.” He is still very carefully not looking at Jaskier. “Would you…do it again?” There’s so much boyish hesitance in the question that Jaskier’s on his feet at once, ushering Geralt into the tub. 

 

“Well, it looks like someone’s got to,” he teases, getting a very gentle swat to the stomach for it before Geralt climbs in, groaning slightly as he lays back in the water, too hot for Jaskier’s tastes but perfectly witcher-warm. 

 

Geralt’s eyes close when Jaskier’s fingers sink into his hair, tilting the witcher’s head back to pour a pitcher of water over the strands. Once they’re saturated, he works up a lather in his hands and begins working at his scalp, massaging gently to work at the dirt and blood caught in the strands. He hears the slightest rumble of a purr before Geralt catches himself and stops, and he grins, pleased that Geralt can’t see it. The purring embarasses Geralt, he knows. He usually only hears it when the witcher is too relaxed to stop himself, and it’s something Jaskier treasures, the confirmation that Geralt is happy. 

 

“Feel good?” He asks softly, and Geralt hums, eyes still closed. 

 

Once the last of the soap is rinsed, he digs out a vial of oil from his own packs, working it through from the ends to detangle the long strands. It’s longer than Geralt usually keeps it, and Jaskier realizes that might be partially out of the fact that he hasn’t been around to trim it. He wants to offer, but using a potential weapon around a witcher is a show of trust he knows he can’t fess up to knowing he’s allowed. 

 

He rinses Geralt’s hair one last time and then squeezes it out carefully before sweeping it all over the edge of the tub so it won’t stick to Geralt’s neck the way he knows the witcher hates. He moves to rise, but Geralt’s hand comes to stop him, eyes opening just slightly. 

 

“Jaskier?” He asks, and Jaskier makes an inquiring noise. Geralt appears to be about to speak, but he stops himself, shaking his head slightly. “Nevermind. Thank you.” 

 

Jaskier smiles and presses one hand to Geralt’s shoulder, squeezing gently. 

 

*

 

Unwilling to sit in monster goop soup, Jaskier waits until the next day to take his bath, not wanting to risk the ire of the maids in asking for a second to be drawn up. 

 

He feels a little thrill as he usually does in stripping down in front of Geralt, and he imagines he even catches the witcher looking for a moment. Buzzing a bit from the very idea of it, he slides into the bath and settles back with a sigh, closing his eyes. He’ll need to wash his hair eventually, he knows, but for the moment he just wants to soak like a well-cooked noodle. 

 

“Do you-” Geralt starts, and Jaskier blinks his eyes open, looking at the witcher, who has risen from his place on the bed and now stands halfway to the bath, looking wrong-footed. “Do you want me to wash your hair?” 

 

Jaskier blinks. 

 

In all of their time together, Geralt’s never offered to return the favor. It had bothered him at first, a bit, not to have a bit of affectionate touch given in turn, but with time he’d simply chalked it up to a quirk of Geralt’s personality. 

 

“We didn’t-” Jaskier starts before he catches himself. “Did we…do that? Before?” The answer is no the fuck they didn’t, but it’s not as if he can admit to that. 

 

“No,” Geralt says, a touch of sheepishness to the word. “I thought about it, but I didn’t.” He doesn’t offer an explanation for that. “But I’d like to now. If you wouldn’t mind.” 

 

“If you pull my hair, I’m splashing you,” Jaskier warns him as he sits up, and Geralt rolls his eyes, a little smile at the very corner of his mouth. 

 

“I can wash hair,” Geralt assures him, reaching for a pitcher.

 

*

 

Geralt, it turns out, cannot wash hair for shit. 

 

What he can do is waterboard innocent bards, apparently. 

 

After the third pitcher dumped over his entire head, Jaskier reaches blindly for the witcher’s wrist, stopping him and trying to wipe his soaked fringe from his face so he can see. He gives the man an incredulous look. 

 

“How can you be bad at this?” Jaskier asks in disbelief. 

 

Geralt growls, still holding his pitcher like a weapon. 

 

“You’re the one who leaned forward.” 

 

“I didn’t know which way you were trying to pour!” Jaskier exclaims. “You have to give me some sort of instruction here, you can’t just start trying to drown me!” 

 

Geralt presses his lips together, and Jaskier can see how much he wants to just stop there and never try again. 

 

Jaskier takes a deep breath, reminding himself that learning anything takes time and practice, and making his peace with dealing with a bit of water to the face in the meantime. 

 

“Okay,” Jaskier says, releasing Geralt’s wrist at last, “I’ll tilt my head back, and then you pour over my hair. Look at me. Look at me in the face. My hair, alright? Don’t aim for my forehead or my nose or wherever you were going for earlier. Hair and hair only. It’s the brown stuff, little strands, grows on-” 

 

The pitcher he gets poured over his head this time is actively malicious. 

 

*

 

After a good ten minutes of splashing and dire threats of drowning that leave Geralt nearly as soaked as him, he graciously gives the witcher another shot. 

 

By the end of it, Jaskier has only been mildly waterboarded, and his hair is clean. 

 

Geralt looks distinctly pleased with himself. 

 

Jaskier tsks fondly as he rises from the tub, the level of water much lower than it was when he got in. 

 

“I guess you’ll do,” he says magnanimously, getting a towel flung into his face for the comment. 

 

*

 

Even Jaskier’s ability with words can only buy him a reprieve from magical interference for so long. 

 

By the fourth magic user they cross, Geralt practically drags him into the building. He sits on a tall bench, nearly vibrating with nerves, until Geralt reaches over and stills his jiggling knee. It’s only then that he realizes that he’d been doing it hard enough to vibrate the entire corner of the cottage, little bottles clinking on the shelf beside him from the motion. Geralt gives him a reassuring smile. 

 

“It’s going to be fine,” he says, voice so sweet that Jaskier nearly confesses it all before he’s even found out. “I won’t let anything happen to you.” 

 

Jaskier eyes the row of mystery vials on a nearby table, wondering how much of a distraction he could cause if he just downed the whole fucking lot. 

 

Before he can make a move for them, however, the hedgewitch enters, an older man with a bright white beard dyed blue at the ends, a kind, grandfatherly air about him. Under absolutely any other circumstances, Jaskier would feel that he’s in good hands. 

 

Now, however, he’s just afraid of exactly how capable those hands are. 

 

After a moment of discussion, the man raises his hands to Jaskier’s temples, and he jolts at the feeling of magic flowing through his head. Reflexively, he grabs blindly for Geralt’s hand in response to the foreign feeling, and the witcher lets him squeeze his fingers so hard it must hurt. Jaskier begins shaking under the onslaught of the sensation, and soon the room is spinning, his breath coming in short pants. His stomach rolls after the magic flowing through his head intensifies, and his mouth fills with saliva. 

 

“Bucket,” he chokes, heaving, and Geralt gets one beneath his chin just as he chokes, bringing up water and bile. Distantly, he registers Geralt shoving the hedgewitch away from him, and under other circumstances, he might be delighted at the show of protectiveness. 

 

As it is, he’s just trying not to bring up his entire stomach. 

 

The man is all apologies as he brings a bottle of peppermint oil to wave beneath Jaskier’s nose and hands him a cloth to wipe his face. Geralt is sitting beside him now, one hand rubbing slow circles on his back while the other helps him support the bucket. 

 

“I’m sorry,” the hedgewitch tells them, “whatever it is, it’s beyond my ability to even detect.” He gives Jaskier a sad, sympathetic look. “Whoever hexed you, lad, they had it out for you.” 

 

Jaskier, curled miserably over the bucket, can’t even appreciate the cosmic irony of the statement. 

 

*

 

The one good thing to come out of their meeting with the hedgewitch is that Geralt feels so guilty about pushing him into it that he stops insisting on stopping at each new one they see in villages. They’d been stuck in the inn of that town for two days before Jaskier’s stomach finally settled, and Geralt’s been unwilling to risk it happening again since. 

 

“We’ll wait until a city,” Geralt tells him as they pass a little shop with magic signs carved onto a tidy little placard in front. “I’m sure a more trained practitioner can figure it out. We just won’t bother until then.” 

 

Jaskier is more than willing to agree. 

 

*

 

Mid-summer is the busiest time of the year for witchers, and this ends up being very much in Jaskier’s favor. 

 

For all that he knows Geralt wants to get him to a major city as soon as possible, he can’t actually manage it when his job keeps pulling him more and more rural, with contracts that can’t be put off for the sake of one bard with supposed memory loss. Monsters tend to avoid heavily populated areas, after all, so the majority of his work takes place in the little cities and towns spread out across the Continent. 

 

Jaskier has never been so grateful for monster ecology in his life.  

 

*

 

With his stay of execution extended the longer they stay out of a big city, Jaskier begins to relax into his act. The more time they spend together, the more excuses he has for the things he knows, and he peppers Geralt with questions every single day to explain more and more of his knowledge. 

 

By week three he buys the man rhubarb jam without any input from the witcher at all, already knowing how much he likes it, and Geralt doesn’t even blink an eye at it. 

 

It’s like their old life together, this new arrangement, but even with the weight of Jaskier’s lie between them, it’s almost…better, somehow. 

 

Geralt must have a soft spot for amnesiacs, to judge from the way he treats Jaskier, not hesitating after their fourth week to throw an arm around his shoulders or put a hand at his back to guide him through a crowd. Each touch sends little bolts of lightning through him, and he finds himself making more excuses to be touched, all of which Geralt obliges. 

 

It’s an excellent development, in his opinion. 

 

They also started sharing rooms again after the first week to save coin, so Jaskier once again gets to snuggle close to Geralt to sleep. Now, though, Geralt doesn’t shove him away in the mornings when he finds that Jaskier has become a heat-seeking barnacle in his sleep, instead giving him a teasing smile and rolling to his feet, flicking Jaskier in the face with a blanket or a pillow but otherwise not reacting. It’s a playfulness he’s never had reciprocated from Geralt before, and he grows more addicted to it with each day that passes. 

 

He’s still working out how to get out of the entire situation he’s put himself in with his amnesia. With things so good with Geralt, he can’t stand the idea of keeping up the lie much longer, but he also doesn’t want to destroy everything good by confessing that he got way in over his head with a deception he didn’t even intend to start in the first place. 

 

There’s something different between him and Geralt this time around, something that he thinks might be beyond the bounds of friendship, strictly speaking. There’s something in the way Geralt looks at him now, something sweet and private he rarely saw from the witcher before. 

 

Silly as it is, it gives Jaskier hope that there might be something there, if he can just work out how to get rid of the “pretending not to remember twenty years together” issue. 

 

Perhaps he can just let his amnesia get better with time, like recovering from a cold or a family reunion. 

 

*

 

It takes far less whining than it used to to get Geralt to go to the mid-summer festival at the nearest town with him. With the crowds, the witcher even lets himself be tugged along behind by the hand so they don’t get separated. 

 

With the addition of great food and cheap wine to make way for the upcoming fall’s new crop, it’s one of the best nights Jaskier’s had in a long, long while. 

 

He doesn’t manage to get Geralt out onto the dancefloor, but the witcher still stays near the edges, giving him a small smile with just his eyes each time Jaskier looks away from a new dance partner to verify that he hasn’t been left. At one point, he even catches Geralt tapping his foot to the beat, and he’s so delighted by the scene that he misses a step, trips his partner, falls trying to save her, and ends up taking out an entire line of dancers like a domino chain. 

 

After that, he gladly lets Geralt pull him up out of the tangle of limbs and guide him away, so pleased by the strong arm around his shoulders that he doesn’t even mind the daggers he can feel glared into his back. 

 

After the tumble, they head back to their camp and their horses, perfectly safe tucked deep in the woods down a tiny deer trail that he doubts anyone other than a witcher could find. Maple and Roach greet them, and Geralt and Jaskier tumble down onto a log together, laughing at their collective clumsiness. Jaskier knows that Geralt is not nearly as affected by the alcohol as he is, but it’s nice, anyway, to have someone to fall down with. 

 

When he finally manages to get ahold of himself, he sighs happily, leaning against Geralt’s shoulder. They rest in companionable silence for a long while, Jaskier drawing idle patterns over Geralt’s chest before the witcher finally speaks. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt says softly, and Jaskier looks to him, breath freezing in his chest when he turns and finds the witcher’s face close to his, golden eyes clearly looking to his lips. Slowly, so very achingly slowly, Geralt leans in, eyes starting to close, lips parting ever so slightly to- 

 

“I lied!” Jaskier gasps, hands flying up to brace on Geralt’s shoulders, holding him at bay. He feels suddenly entirely sober, his entire deception crushing him down and ruining the blissful buzz of his night. He can’t kiss Geralt with a lie between them. 

 

Even if it costs him the witcher forever, he can’t kiss him under false pretenses. 

 

“What d-” Geralt starts, clearly confused, but Jaskeir can’t let him continue. He has to get it out. 

 

“I lied! I lied to you about losing my memory!” His eyes fill up with tears, and he drops his gaze, unable to look at Geralt. He can feel his face burning with shame, and he’s shaking slightly under the force of it, stomach tight and nearly-painful with tension. He squeezes Geralt’s shoulders, and when he speaks, his voice is tight. “I’m so sorry, Geralt. I didn’t mean to, I swear to the gods I didn’t mean to. I was just trying to be a dick to you, and I didn’t know you thought I was cursed at first, so I just kept doing it, and then I did figure it out, but you were-you were-” He cuts himself off, choking on his words, shoulders drawing in as he tries to push back the sobs threatening to escape. “You were so sweet, and I missed traveling with you, and I don’t-I don’t even know why I did it really. I don’t know why I kept doing it. I was just so afraid it would be the mountain all over again, and I didn’t want-didn’t-” He gulps down air, feeling nearly lightheaded. “Didn’t want you to hate me.” 

 

Before Geralt can say anything, he’s on his feet, dashing through the trees and swiping at his eyes, barely able to see where he’s going. He’s drowning in the shame of what he’s done, choking on it, and he doesn’t even know where he’s running to, just that he has to get away, has to get distance before Geralt has time to react. 

 

He can’t live through another mountain. 

 

So blinded by tears and drowning in his own miserable guilt, he doesn’t see the ledge until he already has one foot over the edge, and then he’s so shocked that he barely has time to scream as he tries to scramble back, dropping down down down to the dark water below. 

 

*

 

The water is so shockingly cold that it drives any air from his body. This close to the mountains, the river is mainly ice melt, and it stabs at him until it feels like picks against his very bones. He flails wildly in the total darkness around him, desperate for some sense of up or down, lungs already burning for want of oxygen. 

 

An instinctual gasp fills his mouth with water, and he clamps one hand over to try and prevent any more, only bashing himself in the nose and making him inhale another mouthful. 

 

He’s choking, drowning, and the only thing he can think of amidst his panic is how Geralt’s last memory of him will be his lie. 

 

In the darkness, something hard suddenly slams into his gut, forcing him to inhale water into his lungs. The burning weight of it seems to drag him even lower into the depths, and he flails for a handhold, spinning past whatever he ran into it, until something else catches him across the temple, and after a brief flare of white-hot pain, his world goes completely black. 

 

*

 

His first awareness when he returns to consciousness is the sensation of pressure against his chest, a rhythmic weight crushing against him and retreating, crushing against him and retreating. It hurts, the movement, but when he tries to complain, he finds his lungs too heavy to manage. 

 

The pressure pauses and something seals over his mouth, and then there’s more pressure, but inside this time, and he thinks distantly of the working of a bellows, filling with air until it seems nearly ready to burst. Just when he thinks he’s going to pop, something seems to catch in the very center of his chest, and then he’s choking, water spilling over his lips as he retches, more of it coming up with each heave and leaving him with no time to recover for air. 

 

A gust of wind like air moves over his face, warm and forceful, and then he’s shoved onto his side, which makes it easier to expel the water as he gasps. There’s pressure again, something against his waist, but it’s lighter now, holding instead of crushing. Over the sound of his own choking, he hears a low, ragged voice in what might be an attempt at a soothing tone. 

 

“Easy,” says the voice, “you’re okay. You’re alright.” 

 

Jaskier very fucking much disagrees, but even with the majority of the water out of his lungs, he doesn’t have the breath to tell the voice how very wrong it is. Instead he lays there, gasping like a fish, unsure that he’s alive but too afraid to imagine that death could feel so very shitty. 

 

“I’m here,” comes the voice, and the pressure on his side reveals itself to be a hand as it strokes along his back in slow movements. “You’re fine.” 

 

“Ger’t,” he rasps, the voice registering at last, and there’s a hum of affirmation from behind him. With no coordination at all, he tries to find the witcher’s hand with his own, and Geralt takes pity on him, grasping their fingers together and letting Jaskier squeeze as he struggles to fill his lungs with air once more. 

 

*

 

When Jaskier finally manages to draw full breaths, Geralt scoops him up, and Jaskier curls against him, burying his face against the witcher’s throat and trembling from fear, both of his near-drowning and what preceded it. 

 

Geralt’s arms around him aren’t tense with anger,  but Jaskier can’t bear to look at his face, to see the rage and disappointment that must be there. 

 

He shakes quietly all the way back to camp, knowing they’ve arrived when he hears two whinnies of greeting. Geralt kneels next to what must be his bedroll, but Jaskier wraps his arms around the witcher’s neck tighter, refusing to let go. It’s childish and likely only making it worse, but he has the mad thought that if he just doesn’t let Geralt put him down, then the witcher can’t whirl on him, can’t look at him with hate. 

 

Can’t tell Jaskier how he’s ruined his life. 

 

Again. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt says, voice quiet, and Jaskier squeezes tighter. It’s a trick, that voice, has to be. The gentleness is a trap to get him to let go, and then Geralt will have a clear path to rip him to shreds once again. 

 

If he just doesn’t look, doesn’t let go, doesn’t let Geralt put distance between them, then it won’t happen. Jaskier can live in this little bubble of misery without having his life completely destroyed once more. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt says again, and this time there’s a hand around one of his arms, pulling with careful strength, even as the other remains behind him, supporting his back. “Let go, you need to get out of these clothes.” 

 

In another life, Jaskier could make a delightful innuendo out of that, but in the moment he feels nearly like a corpse, body stiff. If he doesn’t let go, what comes next can’t happen. It plays on repeat in his head, giving him the strength to resist the tugs on his arm. 

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt repeats, and this time there’s the start of frustration in his voice, which just makes Jaskier shake harder, little tremors morphing back into shudders that are probably moving Geralt, too. When the witcher speaks again, his voice is softer. “We’re both soaked. We just need to change clothes, so you don’t get sick, alright? That’s all right now.” 

 

Jaskier doesn’t completely believe that, but he is starting to get cold, and he can only resist witcher strength for so long. Perhaps it’s better to give in now, to save himself a little anger. Unsure that he’s doing the right thing, he lets go. 

 

“Thank you,” Geralt tells him, voice just as soft, but Jaskier can’t look at him when he’s shifted to sitting on the bedroll properly. He moves like a doll when Geralt tugs his tunic and chemise off, limbs floppy, although he does handle his own braies and trousers when the witcher tugs him gently to his feet, bracing him when he sways. With his feet now bare, Geralt lifts him once more to save him from walking on any rocks and sets him down on his own bedroll before moving away to finally change his own clothing. 

 

Jaskier contemplates if he can turn into a mole if he just focuses hard enough, burrowing down into the earth where he won’t have to face lying to Geralt and then nearly fucking dying about it. 

 

Checked out from the reality of everything around him under the force of his own misery, he blinks in surprise when the fire flares to life, looking over in time to see Geralt’s hand relaxing from the sign for Igni. The witcher catches him looking, and he tenses when Geralt then moves to his side, nudging at him until he shifts over and then sitting down on the bedroll next to him. Unsure about his welcome in such proximity, he tries to keep all of his limbs contained, but Geralt seems unconcerned, leaning over until their sides are touching. 

 

Body too sore and weak to hold his little ball position for long, he slowly, slowly relaxes until his knee is resting on Geralt’s thigh. When the witcher doesn’t hit him for it, he drops the tension completely. 

 

“Did you mean to do that?” Geralt asks, and it takes a moment until the rough quality of the witcher’s voice tells him exactly what he means. 

 

“No!” Jaskier says at once, desperate to make Geralt believe him. The witcher has enough weight to carry, gods forbid he thinks Jaskier tried to off himself to avoid talking to him. 

 

The answer seems to relax Geralt at least a little, and Jaskier sees his shoulders fall slightly from the release of tension. 

 

“Good,” he says, moving one hand to rest over Jaskier’s knee, squeezing gently. 

 

*

 

They sit in silence until a cool wind makes Jaskier shiver, and then Geralt rises at once to retrieve a blanket that he wraps around Jaskier’s shoulders before he moves back to the fire, setting a tin cup near the flames and sprinkling some herbs in it. 

 

Jaskier almost wishes he would just yell, shamed anew by the care he’s being shown. 

 

“Please talk,” he whispers, and Geralt looks at him over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised in a question. “You know now. We can’t pretend you don’t. Will you please just…” Jaskier shrugs. He doesn’t know what he wants Geralt to do, but if he doesn’t say something, Jaskier might just implode from the weight of his unaddressed guilt. 

 

“Why did you pretend not to know me?” Geralt asks, turning from the fire but still crouching, not returning to the bedroll. 

 

Jaskier tries not to see it as the warning sign of an explosion he knows it is. He bites his lip, ducking his head until the blanket around his shoulders is brushing his cheeks. 

 

“I wanted you to feel like you weren’t important,” Jaskier says, voice wavering slightly, soft as it is. “It’s…well,” he bites his lip, flicks his eyes briefly to Geralt’s unreadable expression, “after the mountain, it was like my life was over. I just…didn’t want you to know.” 

 

“I’m sorry,” Geralt says, and Jaskier’s head jerks up as he stares at the witcher, sure he’s misheard or imagined what he wants to hear. Geralt sees his surprise and smiles faintly. “I told you before that I had an apology I needed to give you when you remembered.” He shrugs. “Now you remember.” 

 

“You should be pissed at me,” Jaskier says flatly. “You should be furious. You were angry on the mountain when I did nothing, you sh-” He cuts himself off, cursing. He shouldn’t be provoking a fight, now of all times. He doesn’t have the highground to be on the offensive. 

 

Geralt, however, doesn’t rise to the bait, doesn’t yell, doesn’t go off on him the way he deserves. 

 

Instead he pours the now-boiling tea into another mug, wraps it in a scrap of cloth, and brings it back, handing it to Jaskier as he sits down on the bedroll, their shoulders touching. Jaskier accepts it tentatively, wrapping his hands around it and taking comfort in the warmth. 

 

“I’m angry,” Geralt says, and Jaskier ducks his head instinctually, which Geralt clearly notices from the way he then rests one hand against Jaskier’s back, “but it’s not as if I didn’t hurt you first.” 

 

Jaskier remains absolutely silent, not even blowing on his tea. 

 

“I wish you wouldn’t have lied, Jaskier,” Geralt says, eyes focused on the flames of their fire, “but it’s not like I don’t understand why you did. What I did on the mountain was beyond unfair. So many years you’ve been beside me, and I turned on you because I was angry.” He shakes his head. “You didn’t deserve that. It’s what I’ve thought about since the moment it happened. Of everyone in my life, Jaskier, you didn’t deserve that.” 

 

The surface of his tea ripples when a tear rolls down his cheek and falls in, and he scrubs at his face brusquely, rubbing it against the blanket around his shoulders. 

 

“You didn’t deserve for me to lie to you,” Jaskier says. “I was angry and wanted to hurt you, and then I let you believe something was wrong. I-I manipulated you. Because I liked the attention. Because I liked…liked feeling like you cared about me.” The last part of that confession is so soft that he doubts even Geralt would hear it if he weren’t as close as he is. 

 

Geralt is quiet for so long that Jaskier fears he is winding up to another shouting match after all. In the end, however, he just sighs. 

 

“I always thought you would leave,” he says, and Jaskier frowns. Geralt smiles faintly when he sees it before he looks away again. “It’s why I couldn’t let myself care at the start. Everyone has always left me. I thought you would be the same. I thought it would hurt less if I just didn’t care.” 

 

“You always care,” Jaskier says before he can help himself. “You’re not always nice about it, but Geralt, you care more than anyone I’ve ever met. You wouldn’t do this shitshow of a job if you didn’t give so many fucks I’m surprised you have any left for a brothel.” 

 

That makes Geralt laugh, and Jaskier smiles, just a little. 

 

Even if it all goes bad, he can at least hold onto that laugh. 

 

“You still deserved more effort from me,” Geralt says, his voice serious again. “These past weeks…I’ve enjoyed it, taking care of you without thinking about if it was a good idea or not...” Geralt tilts his head to make his hair fall in front of his face the way he does when he’s embarrassed. “I was worried it would stop after you remembered, honestly. I thought you wouldn’t want me doing any of it when you remembered what I did before.” 

 

Jaskier, daringly, rests his hand over Geralt’s. 

 

“I don’t know how to say no to you,” he confesses. “You could have turned up at that inn and snapped your fingers, and I probably would have followed you.” 

 

“I doubt that,” Geralt says with a mock-scoff. “You tried to set a djinn on Valdo Marx because he stole your favorite boots when you were fifteen.” 

 

“Fair,” Jaskier allows. “Maybe I would have cut holes in all of your left socks and put salt in your jam first. Then we could have been even.” 

 

Geralt laughs again, this time leaning against him. 

 

*

 

Later, they end up horizontal, lying side by side facing each other. Geralt’s eyes are closed, and Jaskier is taking the rare chance to study his handsome face without interruption. The witcher is so beautiful it takes his breath away at times, and this night is no different. 

 

“Stop staring and sleep,” Geralt says, and Jaskier smiles just a little. 

 

“I’m not staring,” he defends, and Geralt opens his eyes then, giving him a look. 

 

“You’re staring.” 

 

“Can you blame me when I have such a beautiful person in front of me?” Jaskier asks, delighted when it makes Geralt move reflexively to shift his hair in front of his face, no matter how poorly it works while he’s laying down. 

 

“You’re such a fucking liar,” Geralt grumbles, but he tugs Jaskier closer, tucking his face against his neck, and the cuddle is too nice to ruin it with more arguing. 

 

*

 

Jaskier wakes the next morning sore and aching, but warm, Geralt tucked in one long line behind him. 

 

“G’morning,” the witcher says, voice sleep-rough. “We should get up.” Despite the words, he makes no motion to put it into practice, and Jaskier grins, snuggling deeper into the embrace and starting to drift off again. 

 

Fuzzy and warm and halfway to sleep again, Jaskier can’t quite help himself when the words come to mind. 

 

“I love you,” he says to the morning at large. Geralt tenses for the briefest moment before he relaxes, and Jaskier feels the shape of a smile when lips press to the back of his neck. 

 

“Sleep now. Love me later,” Geralt tells him, tugging the blankets higher over their shoulders. 

 

Jaskier snorts, but he still chooses to obey. 

 

There will be time enough for things like “I love you.” 

 

There’s an entire future ahead, after all.