I will not kiss you - pt 1
After a contract hunting a mage goes awry, Geralt finds himself cursed with sickness, bubbling beneath his skin like a plague. It’s easy enough not to touch anyone - not to pass it on - until he meets Jaskier on the Path.
8.9k words. Contains: spells/curses, death & death mention, illness, angst and pining. Part one of two.
Geralt first realises something is wrong when he’s settling into his meagre camp for the night, piling dry sticks onto the fire to roast the rabbit he’s just caught. The creature is large, for the species, and if he’s careful it will make a good meal for tonight with some to spare for tomorrow morning. Food is sparse at the moment, especially now he’s travelling alone.
The rabbit’s fur had been soft beneath his hands as he’d snapped its fragile neck, killing it. He’d considered, for a moment, skinning it more carefully and drying out the pelt and keeping it. If he can catch another, he’ll have enough fur to line a pair of leather winter gloves.
Jaskier’s fingers are always pale and shaking when winter sets in, but he never seems to think to buy himself anything more sensible than a pair of threadbare woollen mittens. Geralt tells himself it’s the coin that he’s worried about: if Jaskier can’t play, they’ll both feel the loss, and the need to pinch coppers.
It’s a lie, he knows, but it makes him feel better about the whole thing.
He pushes all thoughts of gloves and fur aside - winter won’t set in for at least three or four months, and he has no idea when he’ll see Jaskier next anyway - and reaches for the rabbit carcass.
It’s… wrong. It looks days old, not freshly killed, and when he picks it up to examine it the fur falls away beneath his fingers in clumps. He gives it a quick, tentative sniff.
It stinks of rot, and death.
He throws the rabbit into the fire, wincing. That night, he eats the last of the hard bread at the bottom of his bag.
When he wakes the next morning, there are dry, yellow patches in the grass around his bedroll. They’re few and far between, but there’s enough of them to worry him. He presses his fingertips to the grass. It’s completely dead.
This, Geralt thinks, may be a problem.
He casts his mind back to the previous day’s fight. It had been the unfortunate climax of a contract that had taken him nearly a week to get to the bottom of - spending full days chasing false leads and cold trails and being waylaid by villagers and peasants who seemed intent on getting in his way before finally confronting the mage at the bottom of it all.
He’d been a powerful magic user, complete with an inbuilt ego complex and a ready distrust for witchers. Geralt had attempted to de-escalate as best he could but - as so often happened - he had quickly lost control of the already precarious situation.
Geralt hadn’t wanted to kill the mage. The man had destroyed lives in his wake, and Geralt would prefer him face justice at the hands of those he had wronged - whatever they deemed that to be - rather than on a witcher’s blade. But when the air had crackled with magic and he’d felt the mage reaching into his mind, creeping under his skin, in his blood - he hadn’t been left with much of a choice.
He’d assumed the curse that the mage had muttered at him - even while his mouth foamed with blood and Geralt’s sword stuck between his ribs - was just a final insult, the desperate last words of a dying man. He’d thought the weakness he felt when he’d finally deposited the cooling body at the feet of the Mayor was just tiredness from the fight: too much magic, too many potions, exhaustion weighing his limbs down.
Now, twelve hours later in the calm of the dewy morning, he can begin to entertain the idea that he might have been wrong.
His medallion is humming. He must not have noticed it last night, too exhausted to realise where it’s leaning against his armour instead of his bare chest.
He packs away the bedroll, kicks out the last glowing embers of the fire and heads towards Roach, his stomach rumbling.
He only just stops himself from reaching out for her.
Geralt thinks about the rabbit. About the grass. It must have been killed where his hands rested against it as he slept.
Keeping a few feet back, he carefully pulls on his gloves then unloops her reins from the tree where he’d tied her. He slings his pack and bedroll over his shoulder and leads her back towards the road.
He watches her, nervously. He’d led her from the mage’s cottage with the body slung over her back, not wanting to overburden her, and he’d walked her back to the clearing too - aware that she was prone to panic at the smell of blood. But did he pat her down, or stroke her mane? Did she nudge his face affectionately with her nose at some point between then and now? He can’t remember - and he can’t tell if he’s just imagining a slowness to her steps, a wobbling in her legs, or if it really exists.
Either way, he won’t take the chance.
He makes his way back to the town that had hired him, the worried faces of the villagers staring at him - waiting for whatever new, awful news he brings. But he ignores them all, heading for the stables. He hadn’t had the chance to examine them, before, but the horses in the field beyond seem healthy and well-cared for and - more so - it isn’t like he has a choice.
Turning Roach over to the enthusiastic stablehand is harder than he anticipates. The hand is keen - as he should be, Roach is a fine horse - but Geralt is loath to leave her, especially when he has no idea how long he’ll be away and no way of telling if this has affected her, too. He spins a tale to the stablehand about a contract too dangerous for a horse, the fact that he needs somewhere safe for her to stay for the foreseeable future, and the lad nods along, taking it all very seriously.
He chooses his words carefully as he explains that there's a chance - a small chance, he stresses - that she may be sick. The thought alone is enough to make his stomach twist with guilt, but the stable hand doesn't seem to notice his distress. There's a healer who specialises in animals not too far away, he says, as there always is in these busy livestock towns. Geralt hopes that if she is sick, it can be treated using traditional means.
He wants to stay with her - to watch her himself - but the risk is too great, and he has to find out if the mage managed to actually curse him. If Roach stays by his side, it's inevitable that he'll accidentally touch her, making this worse.
He’s not lost a horse in a long while - this Roach is nearing ten years, now - and it never gets easier. He hopes this won’t be the last time he sees her.
Before Geralt leaves, he turns.
“Is there a magic user around here?” He asks. “A mage?”
The stable hand's face falls. “Apart from the one you… the one that…”
“Apart from him.”
He nervously shakes his head. “No, master witcher. None that I know of.”
Shit. Geralt nods, just once. He had assumed there wouldn’t be - magic users are like cats, in that sense: overly territorial. It's rare to find two so close together. It means he’s going to need to deal with this himself, until he runs into a sympathetic mage. Perhaps he can find Yennefer before whatever this is takes hold too much - wherever she’s gotten to.
He knows he’s likely being over-cautious, but he calls at the market and stocks up on as much food as he can. The bread he ate last night didn’t appear to be affected by whatever this is, and he purchases things he can trust to last - dried fruits and nuts, jerky, starchy potatoes and hard bread. It's surprisingly easy to buy what he needs without even coming close to touching anyone: a perk, he supposes, of being a witcher.
There’s an inn in the town - a tavern, too - but he can’t risk it. He marches back towards the forest, back to the clearing and the shadow of dead grass where he’d slept.
Vesemir had always taught his students to be methodical. Geralt begins to test. It still may all be a coincidence.
He’s exhausted by the time he’s finished setting up camp, but he doesn’t take time to rest. He starts simple - pulling off his glove and placing his hand to the grass for a minute then pulling it away, seeing if he’s left a mark.
Nothing. Perhaps he was being paranoid.
He holds a piece of the fruit, and then the bread. Both remain whole and fresh and unmarred so he eats them, quickly, hunger biting at him. He isn’t full, but it's better than he was, and he warms himself by the fire for a moment as he considers what to do next, leaning with one hand on the grass.
He’s decided that he was almost certainly being paranoid - perhaps the medallion is still humming because of the lingering magical fallout of the fight - when he shifts his position, twisting his legs around, and spots the grass beneath his hand. It’s not dead - not yet - but wilted and yellowing.
It’s easy enough to snare a wild deer. Geralt feels unconscionably guilty about this: he doesn’t like to kill for the sake of killing, and usually only hunts what he needs. He supposes he does need this, in a way, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling like he’s doing something awful as he calms the creature with Axii and wraps a bare hand around its trembling leg.
The deer watches him with wide, startled eyes. Geralt lets go after a few minutes, wondering if it was long enough, then steps back to observe, lifting the hold of the sign.
The deer struggles to its feet, looks at him for a moment, then bounds off into the trees. Geralt follows, tracking its scent, close enough to watch but not so close that it tries to escape.
He tracks it for four hours before it collapses. He waits to make sure it isn’t about to run off again before approaching, quietly and carefully, kneeling in the leaf litter beside it. Its eyes are wide and frightened, its chest rising and falling in short, quick breaths. He places his hand on its neck - it’s hot, ferociously hot, and its heartbeat is far too fast.
It takes another hour for it to die. Geralt wants to put his blade through its heart and put it out of its misery, but he knows he can’t: he needs to see exactly what’s going to happen.
He’s reminded of a plague that he once saw sweep through a tiny mining village on the edge of nowhere. It had started with just one man - recently returned from travel - but it had spread as quick as wildfire till nearly three quarters of the village had perished.
The deer wheezes, its breath catching and choking in its throat, its eyes bloodshot. It’s burning up, heart pounding, limbs twitching, when it finally, finally dies.
It is not a quick or easy death. Geralt can’t help but wonder how this thing - this magic plague clinging to him - might affect a human.
At least he knows, now. He knows he’s cursed. He knows what it does to living things - both animals and plants. It’s like he’s diseased.
The deer, much like the rabbit, begins to decay quickly. He can’t even eat it. What a waste: what a terrible and thorough waste of life.
He stands, and there’s a clinging wheeze in his chest, which he does his best to ignore.
Upon returning to camp, Geralt rifles through his potions to rule out the unlikely possibility that this thing can be cured with something that balances between magic and medicine. Swallow does nothing more than ease the ache in his chest. Golden Oriole is equally ineffective, proving that the thing trapped beneath his skin isn’t a poison, at least.
It feels right, somehow, to sleep over the patches of grass that he killed the previous night. No sense destroying the rest of the ground, after all. He lays awake on his bedroll and considers what he knows. He’s cursed - that much is clear. With the mage who bespelled him dead, he’ll have to find another to lift it.
Geralt has experience with curses - werewolves and blood pacts and those dark, oily little spells brought about through anger and hurt - but this is something he hasn’t experienced before. He tries to think back to all the books he’s read and the myriad of jinxes Vesemir taught him about during training, but none immediately spring to mind.
There’s dozens of different ways to lift something like this - if it can be lifted. Sometimes it’s merely another spell, sometimes an incantation or a set of so-called magic words. It could be a hot little mix of noxious ingredients. It could be an act that’s needed: Geralt’s seen more curses than he can count that have been lifted in the fairytale fashion, all drops of blood and true love's kisses and personal sacrifices.
He doubts this is one of those, though: it feels bodily, constricting him, burrowing into his chest. He’s hoping that it’ll take a magic draught or a tincture - coupled as these things often are with a week or so of pain and suffering - and that will be that, curse lifted, free once more.
But he doesn’t know. And he has no way of finding out on his own.
Frankly, he’s fucked, until he can find another magic user to assist him. He’s not seen Yennefer in a year - probably longer - and has no idea where she is. He hopes that perhaps this will be one of the times where her uncanny ability to just appear may come into play, but he doubts it. He could seek out Triss, but last he heard of her she’d moved on from Foltest’s court. She, too, could be anywhere.
He doesn’t much like to rely on sorceresses and mages he hasn’t already met, ones he knows he can trust, but these are desperate times, after all.
Vizima is the closest city to where he is - a week and a half by horse, probably two by foot - but it’s far more likely that he’ll find a mage somewhere built up than in one of the nearby villages. He’ll head south, keep away from people, and—
And hope he can find a way to stop whatever this is.
Or hope it takes him before he can pass it on to someone else.
Sleep comes surprisingly easy. He’s tired and hungry, his limbs heavy. Witchers don’t get sick, and the feeling is unnatural and unpleasant, but all his body wants to do is rest and recoup energy.
He slips into turbulent, squeezing dreams - changing and quick and impossible to grasp, making his head throb. Then—
This is not the first time he’s dreamt of Jaskier. Of his skin beneath his hands, his lips pink and pliant, his lidded eyes. They’re just dreams, he tells himself, when he wakes - just dreams. They don’t have to mean anything.
They leave him feeling guilty for a few days regardless.
This is much like the others. The details are hazy, flickering in and out as he fails to hold onto them, but Jaskier feels solidly real against him. It’s unsettling, how real these dreams feel, considering the gaping space between them and his lived experiences. They’re warm and soft and engulf him like sinking into a hot bath and they’re so, so far from the reality of the thing between Jaskier and himself.
Geralt kisses him, in the dream, soft and slow. Jaskier kisses him back, harder. Geralt can feel his hands on his body, drifting over his scars, tangling in his hair. It’s not fast and frantic and quick - like so many of Geralt’s trysts are - but slow and languid, drawing him out in waves.
They float together in the unreality of it all.
Then - a shift. Small, nearly imperceptible - but there. The dream twists and lurches, and Jaskier’s eyes snap open and his eyes are huge and pained and bloodshot. Geralt tries to talk, but his tongue can’t move, his lips are heavy, and all he can do is watch in horror as Jaskier changes beneath him.
Black, dirty marks appear on Jakier’s skin where Geralt’s hands had been just moments before. On his chest, his ribcage, his arms. His fingertips are black and cold and shiny. The stain mottles his neck, his jaw, his lips. He coughs - the noise too loud, too close - and there’s blood oozing from the corner of his lip.
There’s nothing Geralt can do. Jaskier trembles, the darkness spreading, and in the dream he can smell the decay that had clung to the rabbit. Jaskier’s skin is hot - not the pleasant warmth of before, but dangerously hot, making him sweat. His heartbeat is loud and uneven and fast - faster than any human’s heart should beat - and Geralt can’t do anything - he can’t even touch him.
He coughs again, another of those shuddering, juddering noises that makes it sound like his ribs are going to collapse. He wheezes, eyes wide, hands shaking. Geralt can’t stand it - he reaches out, wraps his arms around him—
Jaskier is cold. He’s so cold against Geralt’s skin, and suddenly silent.
He can’t bear to look down. He can’t bear to let him go, to unfold his arms and look at what he’s done. Geralt holds him, his fingers digging into Jaskier’s cold, yielding flesh.
Geralt wakes coughing in a cold sweat. It takes him a moment to control himself - to catch his breath, to shake off the visions of the dream. It’s dark and quiet in the clearing around him, the sun not even risen, but the urge to sleep has left him.
He doesn’t want to see that again.
He heaves himself to his feet and quickly inspects the ground beneath the bedroll, half expecting to find it scorched. There are more patches of dead grass, that much is immediately clear, but it isn’t ruined, just dead - dead where his skin has touched it. Perhaps after winter, and the spring rains, the grass will grow again.
Geralt packs up and moves on quickly, the dream prickling at him as he does. He pulls some dried meat from his pack and eats it as he walks, trying to push those images from his mind. There’s the typical sting of guilt, of course - you’re not allowed to think about him like that, he’s not for you, he isn’t yours - and now that comes twined with fear, with the heart-stuttering horror of clinging to Jaskier’s cold body.
He tests more - partly as a way to keep himself distracted, partly to regain a semblance of control over his situation.
It’s only living things. He grasps a sunflower springing alone in a field, and after half an hour the stalk begins to wither and the head droops. But a snapped branch fallen from a fir tree, still covered in sturdy green needles, remains fresh and sweet-smelling even after he’s carried it with him for an hour.
And, of course - he has the gloves. He doesn’t care much for wearing them all the time: the leather is thick and makes him clumsy, but if it’ll allow him to hunt and pick components for his potions then it’s a price he’s happy to pay.
It’s a small but potent relief, knowing that there are still things he can do, still ways he can survive. He can hunt what he can, still pick ingredients for potions. True, there’s many more things he can’t do alone - he’ll still need to pick up supplies, he’ll still need to enter towns - but it’s never been difficult to keep out of people’s way. Even the few folks he passes on the road are keen to stay away from a witcher, keeping their heads down or eyes averted.
He reaches the first village on the way to Vizima two days later. There’s no sign of a mage, and he trudges onwards.
On the fourth day of walking, Geralt rips off his medallion and shoves it in the pouch on his hip. The fucking thing simply won’t stop vibrating at him, an alarm call that only he can hear - you’re dying, you’re dying, you’re going to die. His medallion should act like a compass, leading him towards monsters and magic, but so overwhelmed it is with the curse beneath his skin it’s now utterly useless, a compass point spinning wildly with no direction.
He decides to stow it away until he can find the cure when it nearly causes him to walk straight into a fiend’s nest. Typically, he would have been alerted to the presence of the magical beast a quarter of a mile away. But now, with the medallion whirring and humming and tugging at him constantly, he has no idea until he puts his boot into an enormous, clawed footprint.
He backs away, slowly. The forest is miles away from civilisation, and he doesn’t have the desire - nor, he thinks, the strength - to fight a fiend right now.
The medallion stays in the little pouch, and sometimes in the dead of night he can hear it clinking against the empty vials in there.
He’s just outside Vizima, sitting beneath an enormous apple tree, shielding himself from the rain. There’d been a strong wind in the night, and dozens of perfectly ripe apples had been scattered beneath the boughs, cushioned in the long grass. Geralt hasn’t eaten food this fresh in two weeks, overly cautious of spending too much time lingering in stores or markets, and the juicy flesh is sweet on his tongue.
It’s been raining on and off for three days. It doesn’t bother him too much - unlike a human, being caught in the rain isn’t going to make him sick - but even a witcher doesn’t enjoy trudging around in soaked armour. Geralt quite likes the rain, really: it clears the air and leaves the ground smelling fresh and new. For someone who’s often overwhelmed by his own senses, it’s quite pleasant.
When it finally seems like the downpour is letting up, he stands, intending to gather a few of the apples to take with him, when there’s suddenly a distant shout.
Gods, that voice. Geralt knows that all the bullshit about witchers and their emotions really is just bullshit every time he hears that voice. His emotions batter him, like the rain - like hailstones. Relief. Anger. Fear. On the heels of fear - joy. And then guilt, again, always: guilt for the dream, guilt for the curse, guilt for what he’s inevitably going to have to do next.
Jaskier arrives at his side, his lute bouncing on his back, face flushed, out of breath. He is completely soaked, his hair plastered to his face, his clothes sticking to him. As ever, he’s dressed inappropriately for the weather: another brightly coloured doublet over a thin chemise and boots that, to Geralt’s well trained eye, appear to be falling apart as if they’re made of nothing more substantial than wood pulp.
Jaskier’s shivering, his teeth chattering noisily together, but that doesn’t seem to deter him.
“Geralt!” He says with an enormous grin, reaching out, “it’s been—”
Geralt swiftly steps back. “Don’t touch me.”
Jaskier blinks at him, but seems unperturbed.
“Oh,” he says, jovially, “having one of those, are we? Well,” he shifts the weight of his bag from one shoulder to the other, “no matter! How are you? Aside from…” he flutters his fingers towards Geralt, “...the classic crotchetiness?”
Geralt is about to bite back with something gruff and truthful, but stops himself. Jaskier’s smiling at him in that easy, affable way he always does - he’s genuinely happy to see him, and before he can even stop himself, Geralt’s lying - quickly and easily.
“Fine,” he says, “I’m fine.”
Jaskier doesn’t seem to buy it. “Just fine?”
Geralt huffs at him, grabs his pack, and begins to walk towards the city. Jaskier, he knows, will follow him. At least in the city he can get dry.
The apples remain scattered across the grass.
Geralt isn’t expecting this question. He doesn’t immediately respond, and Jaskier whitters on, talking over the sound of the rain.
“It’s unlike you to be travelling without her, is all, and I—” his words taper into a shocked little gasp. “Oh, Geralt, is she…? I just, I didn’t mean to pry, if she’s…” he mumbles over his words, and Geralt can hear his heartbeat picking up. “Oh, Geralt,” he breathes, “I’m sorry—”
He reaches out to him again, his hand seeking out Geralt’s arm, but Geralt snaps it away with a scowl and a gruff grumble so deep it could nearly be a growl.
Jaskier flinches away like he’s been burnt. “Right,” he says, “no touching. Got it. But, Geralt, is she really—”
“She’s fine.” Another lie. Or perhaps not: he truly doesn't know how she is.
Jaskier’s hands fiddle nervously with the leather strap of his lute, twisting it between his fingers - something Geralt is used to, now, when he’s feeling anxious.
Geralt had been worried he’d need to send Jaskier away - to scare him off, somehow, shout at him until he left him alone. But perhaps it’ll be easier than that: Jaskier won’t want to stay at his side when he’s acting like this, and better for it: he’s safer on his own, for once.
They approach the walls of the city together, and Geralt is ready for Jaskier to tell him he has some kind of bardic business in Vizima and he’ll see him, well, when he sees him - an easy enough excuse to spend as little time as possible attached to Geralt.
“So,” Jaskier says instead, clapping his hands together, “Where to?”
Geralt peers at him. “Don’t you have… business, here?”
Jaskier shrugs. “Not as such.”
Perhaps it will be harder to shake him than Geralt thinks.
“I’m looking for a mage.”
A quick scowl mars Jaskier’s handsome face. “A specific mage,” he says, quickly correcting the expression, “or did you just wake up with the urge?”
“Right then.” Jaskier places his hands on his hips and looks around, as if he has any idea where to find a mage in a city like this. “Uh…” He peers at Geralt. “How about a drink, first? I’ve been on the road for days, you know.”
Geralt weighs it up in his head. As far as he can tell, he should be safe - people should be safe from him - so long as no one touches his bare skin. But it’s still a risk. It would be safest, he knows, to stick to side streets, find a herbalist or an apothecary and start there - or head into the outskirts of the city, where the brothels and seedier taverns are, where people are more likely to speak freely about magic users and avoid witchers.
It’s been months since he last saw Jaskier. If Geralt can’t find a mage, he’ll be forced to leave the city to continue the search, no doubt leaving Jaskier behind where the excitement and money and sex is. And if Geralt still can’t find a mage - well.
He doesn’t know how these kinds of curses work. He doesn’t know how long it will take to slow him, to break him down. It could be months or weeks or maybe even days before he finds himself on his back, like that deer, desperately gasping for final breaths that’ll never come.
Or, far more likely, he’ll become so enfeebled that something else will kill him first - a ghoul or a drowner or even just a pack of wild dogs.
If he can’t find a mage in the city, he’ll leave Jaskier in Vizima, and it may very well be the last time he sees him.
And - ah - that hurts. Geralt has long since accepted his inevitable death: he’s a witcher, after all, it’s what he was created to do. But the thought of leaving Jaskier behind is more bitter. He knows, in a roundabout way, that each time he sees him could be the last - Geralt’s life is dangerous, and Jaskier’s always falling into trouble, so breakably human. But this parting will be different.
“Fine,” he says, and if Jaskier is troubled by his hesitancy to respond he keeps it to himself. “But somewhere quiet. And you need to get dry.”
It’s a poor compromise, he knows - favouring his urge to stay with Jaskier over the desire to protect those around him. But he can’t quite bring himself to leave just yet.
Geralt had been wrong, when he assumed that it would be easy to keep out of people’s way.
It is easy to keep out of people’s way. It’s near impossible to keep out of Jaskier’s. He’s always there, always fluttering about, and even after a pint of tepid ale, a meagre lunch, and a quick dry off and change of clothes in the tavern’s cramped back room, he dogs Geralt’s heels as he attempts to find a mage in the bustling city.
He is, at least, steadfastly keeping his hands to himself. After those first two snaps - those biting words - Jaskier has quickly reigned in his flailing arms, his grabbing hands, keeping them drumming on the table or patting his knees or constantly twiddling his fingers together.
The day passes quickly - spurred along by a sense of long sought for purpose and Jaskier’s constant, trilling laughter. It’s easy for Geralt to forget why he’s here, the thing that even now is squeezing in his lungs, as Jaskier dances along beside him, never once stopping for breath.
By the time the sun sets Geralt is no closer to finding a mage. Somehow, spending the day in the city is more tiring than spending it walking down the bank of the Ismena, and he can begin to feel that now-familiar wheeze in his chest. He’s aware of Jaskier’s worried gaze on him when they finally stop, but he’s happy to ignore it.
Jaskier cannot know. Geralt’s not sure how he came to this decision - but now he’s made it, it feels like the right choice.
He cannot know.
They find a tiny inn at the edge of the city. The innkeep asks what they’ll be needing - one bed or two - and before Jaskier can reply Geralt cuts him off.
“Two,” he says, in a tone that leaves no room for argument.
Geralt doesn’t know if he’s imagining the hurt that briefly passes across Jaskier’s face, but he can’t let himself linger on it. It’s better this way - safer for them both. There can be no shared beds, no warm baths, none of those little intimate touches he’s grown so used to over the past decade and a half.
He’ll miss them.
The last time they travelled together, Jaskier had attentively stitched a nasty gash on Geralt’s shoulder, rubbing ointment into his skin with his careful, calloused fingers. He’d washed the blood from Geralt’s hair and the monster ichor from his skin, rinsing the sticky black ooze from the cuts that marred Geralt’s back and arms. It had been the middle of summer, then, the air oppressively warm, and Jaskier had stripped to his waist before getting to work. The bath water had been too hot, and the steam had made his skin flushed and shiny with sweat, glistening in the low orange light of the candles and the last rays of the setting sun pouring through the windows.
Geralt thought that Jaskier’s hands had lingered on his skin for longer than usual that evening. It had been a hard fight, and they were both exhausted. Geralt had returned covered in blood - some his own, some not - and there’d been a moment for both of them when they hadn’t expected him to come back at all.
There’d been a tension, there. But it hadn’t been a new tension - rather, Geralt suspected, like the first distant rumble of thunder before a storm, or the second-to-last stone atop a cairn too close to tumbling. It had been building, and he’d been trying to ignore it. He wondered if Jaskier had felt it too.
Probably not. To Jaskier, it was probably just another evening - one of hundreds, all the same.
They parted ways three days later. Geralt had business in Rinde, and Jaskier in Oxenfurt, and for once their schedules had failed to align.
The gap between then and now is immeasurable. The night Geralt had returned, blood soaked and half dead, they’d slept twined around each other in the too-small bed. For once, Geralt hadn’t complained about the clinginess: he’d soaked in it.
He should have appreciated it more. He should have been appreciating it for those fifteen fucking years. And now - now it’s too late.
Two beds, several meters apart.
Jaskier doesn’t even complain. He dumps his bags on the one closest to the window, sits for just a moment and then is suddenly on his feet again.
“I should earn us some coin,” he says, his voice too bright, too springy, “if you’re looking for a mage. And I could do with the practise, lest I forget all my songs…” he licks his lips, and Geralt forces himself to look away. “There’s a tavern, just down the street. Do you, ah—”
If he could, Geralt would join him. He wants to see him play - wants to see him dance around the stage, commanding a captive audience like a gaudy peacock. But the press of people is too great a risk, the risk of passing this thing on. He doesn’t care for crowds at the best of times, and this: this is the worst of times.
Even without the inherent risk he poses just by existing, right now, he’s exhausted: he feels bone-tired, his legs aching, his chest tight even as he begins to carefully strip away his armour.
“No,” he says, then feels quickly guilty. “I… can’t. I need to…” he falters, “...to rest,” he settles on, mumbling the last word.
Jaskier - looks at him, really looks at him. There’s a line between his eyebrows, like he’s working something out, putting together a puzzle.
“Right,” he says, and while Geralt is expecting him to pry - to prod and dig and wheedle his way beneath Geralt’s stony exterior - he doesn’t. He just… nods, slinging his lute back over his shoulder. “I’ll see you later, then.”
He goes to leave, then hovers in the open doorway - halfway between the room and the corridor beyond. He pierces Geralt under that same, nervous gaze.
“Get some rest,” he says, too sincerely for Geralt’s liking. “You look like you need it.”
Jaskier returns late into the night. Geralt is roused from his deep, turbulent dreams by the bard’s gentle padding around the room - made somewhat less gentle when he attempts to place his lute against the wall and it slides to the floor with an echoing clunk.
Geralt is too tired to do more than shift a little under the thin sheet. Jaskier smells of ale and adrenaline and sweat. Geralt has been half-expecting him to return smelling of someone else - he’s been dreading that, in fact - but he just smells of Jaskier.
He pauses by the side of Geralt’s bed for a moment, and even with his eyes shut Geralt is aware that he’s being watched. He hopes Jaskier isn’t about to reach for him, preparing himself for an argument.
But Jaskier doesn’t try to touch him. He just hovers there, and Geralt can hear his heartbeat, smell the ale on his breath, the mustiness on his clothes. And then, finally, he moves away. Geralt listens as Jaskier undresses and slides beneath the covers of the other bed.
Geralt falls asleep before Jaskier does.
If there’s any single human on the continent who can wear through Geralt’s reserve - even when he’s fucking cursed - it’s Jaskier.
Jaskier does well. At first. He doesn’t try to touch Geralt at all: Not to reach out, like he often will, not to sling an arm over his shoulder or nudge their shoulders together as they walk side-by-side.
It’s not Jaskier’s fault that he forgets, Geralt thinks. He’d fallen into that easy companionship again, easing Jaskier into a false sense of security after that initial terseness. It’s almost like it always is. Almost.
It’s no surprise, then, that while they’re eating their evening meal after their first full day in the city that Jaskier makes a joke about something Geralt is barely even listening to, reaches out, and affably pats Geralt’s shoulder.
Geralt freezes. Jaskier freezes, too, for a completely different reason.
“Shit,” he says, “Touching. Right. Shit. Sorry, I—”
Geralt can’t say anything. He’s waiting for the world to end. But Jaskier is fine, and it’s just his skin, he reminds himself. Just his skin. Jaskier’s hand had brushed against his armour - thick leather armour layered over straps and buckles and all of that over a cotton undershirt.
“It’s fine,” he says, thanking the gods that Jaskier isn’t blessed with his attuned hearing - that he can’t hear how loud his heart suddenly feels.
And it is fine.
And then - it’s like a dam bursting. All it takes are those two words - a quiet concession - and Jaskier is back to his usual self. His ever-busy hands are back, winding their way across Geralt’s arms, slapping him on the back, patting him on his shoulder when something catches his eye or he has something devastatingly witty to say.
Geralt is wearing his gloves all the time, now, so the only part of him exposed is his face and head, and there’s no reason for Jaskier to reach out to touch his cheek, his jaw, his hair. The fear never really goes away - but he knows it’s fruitless, knows that Jaskier is safe, so long as he never touches Geralt’s skin.
He worries he isn’t being cautious enough. But when Jaskier loops a hand around his arm as they weave through the city, it’s impossible to make him let go.
Vizimia is the biggest city in Temeria. It should, by all rights, be bursting with mages and magic users. But Geralt is coming up short, again and again.
It’s been three days in the city - three days with Jaskier by his side in the daytime and off earning coin after sunset - and he’s no closer to finding a cure than when he first stepped through the gates.
The closest he gets is an alchemist, her tiny shop built into the wall of the city itself. She can tell something’s wrong with him immediately, and pushes herbs and tinctures on him - at a cost, of course. When he’s restocked - including several vials of a foul smelling green liquid she swears will ease the ache in his chest - she finally answers his questions.
“There was a sorceress, here, oh…” she tilts her head, “a few weeks ago. Gone now, of course.”
“Where did she go?”
The alchemist shrugs. “South. Towards Maribor.”
Geralt sighs. It’s helpful, but he can’t shake the feeling it’s too late now. Maribor could be three week’s walk away, given how his wheezing is getting harder to ignore and his body aches even after a few hours exploring the city. But the woman is giving him that expression that he’s learnt to recognise in peddlers and merchants and the occasional blacksmith. It’s not one he’s been given by a fucking alchemist before.
He reaches into his bag and pulls a fistful of coins from his purse, letting them tumble onto the table.
“There is one thing…”
“There’s a town, other side of the lake, through the forest,” says the alchemist, thoughtfully. “Hethe. Two days walk, if you’re walking slowly. It’s small, but there’s a castle nearby, some elven ruin…” she waves a dismissive hand - elven ruins are commonplace in Vizima - “There was talk a few days back of strange goings-on. Noise and smoke and the like. The sorceress may have stopped there, for a time. Strong residual magic there, where the elves tilled the ground. Useful to a mage, I’d think.”
That sounds more hopeful.
“Did you catch her name?” He asks.
She raises her eyebrows at him. “I told you where she might have gone. I won’t tell you more than that.” She clucks to herself, shaking her head as she begins to tidy the shelves. “I like my limbs attached, thank you, master Witcher.”
He thanks her anyway, pays her handsomely for the supplies, and returns to the inn. The night is drawing in, now, and it’s likely too late to move on, but he can tell Jaskier what he’s learnt and make plans to set off with the dawn.
As it turns out, Jaskier is waiting for him in their room. Geralt had been expecting him to be absent - or at least readying himself for an impromptu concert in one of Vizima’s many taverns - but he’s reclining on his bed beneath the window, reading, when Geralt enters.
“Not performing tonight?” Geralt asks, as he carefully places his new supplies on the bed.
Jaskier looks up, and Geralt suddenly realises that the room is sweet-smelling - rose petals and chamomile. Some new oil, he suspects. There’s another scent, too, milder than the perfume, but there nonetheless - a citrusy tartness, fear but not fear, either. Something softer than that.
“Actually,” says Jaskier, placing the book down, “I thought we could eat together tonight.” He swings his legs off of the bed, “I should give my throat a rest, before I lose my voice. It’s tickling, already… and what good is a mute bard?” He smiles, wiggling his shoulders. “Besides, performing just isn’t the same without your grumpy face staring at me.”
This is a sentiment Geralt finds himself sharing. He’s missed hearing Jaskier sing - not that he wants to admit that. There’s a side to Jaskier that’s only really revealed when he’s performing, and Geralt enjoys seeing it - even if it comes packaged around pomp and overly dramatic acting. But it’s simply too great a risk: while he’s happy enough to let Jaskier touch him, he can’t cope with the constant risk of the crowd, always on guard.
“I always thought I was putting you off,” he says, eyebrows raised.
“Hah,” Jaskier laughs, eyes sparkling. “Is that why you’re always so intense? Trying to trip me up?” He grins. “It doesn’t work. You’re my muse, Geralt. It only makes sense that I perform better when you’re off in the corner scowling because you hate my singing so much…”
“I don’t hate your singing.”
It slips out, unbidden, and that grabs Jaskier’s attention. He turns, eyes wide, and that citrusy smell is suddenly intense. It mingles with the floral perfume, not unpleasantly. “...Oh?”
“I like your singing,” says Geralt, aware of how much he’s suddenly exposing himself - making himself vulnerable. “It’s the subjects that I find objectionable.”
He hopes Jaskier will cling to the criticism, not the praise - that he’ll puff up like an angry chicken, offended at the perceived slight. He doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t.
“How do you like my singing?”
Geralt hesitates. It’s too complicated a question, one that he can’t just answer. He likes Jaskier’s voice - it’s clear and powerful, and he has the uncanny ability to carry emotions in the lyrics that other bards lack. It’s not just that his voice is good - although it is, of course - it’s that he can do things with his voice that others can’t. Geralt isn’t well-versed in emotions after so many years of training himself to push them back, but Jaskier’s singing makes him think he can understand them a little better.
The bloviating and bravado he can do without, but there’s a few songs - very few, in fact - that are quieter and simpler and there’s something about watching Jaskier, perched on a stool or sat on a table or leant against a wall, his eyes down, his fingers moving slowly up and down the strings… it’s like he can see him, properly.
“You have a good voice.”
It’s a poor description of the way Jaskier’s singing actually makes him feel, but it’s the best he can do - certainly the best he can do without incriminating himself. But Jaskier lights up, and the smile that cracks his mouth is so bright and genuine that it makes Geralt’s chest squeeze in a way that has nothing to do with the curse.
“Well,” he says, cheerily. “I’ll have to perform for you later. I’m sure my vocal cords can cope with one more song.”
The tavern Jaskier leads him to is more of an eatery than a drinking spot. It’s out of the way, built between two larger buildings with creeping roses embedded into the crumbling brickwork. Geralt realises, with another one of those squeezes, that Jaskier has been listening to him - he’s watched his hesitancy over these past few days - and brought him somewhere quiet, somewhere without a lot of other people to avoid.
This also means, Geralt cannot help but notice, that this place must be expensive. He tries to mention this to Jaskier, but he waves him off with a laugh.
“People tip musicians well in Vizima,” he says.
Geralt is expecting a cold reception, but no one even looks up at him. The staff treat him cordially, the other patrons ignore him. This, he supposes, is the benefit of having cash to spare - although he can’t help but think that Jaskier’s money would be better spent on a pair of boots that actually keep the rain out.
It’s… nice. But he can’t help but feel this is the end of something. He tells Jaskier about the alchemist, about the sorceress, about the town on the other side of the lake. He doesn’t know if Jaskier will come with him or stay in the city. If he stays, maybe this is the end. Tomorrow Geralt will leave, seeking out a cure that might not exist. This could be the last night they spend together.
There’s a finality to that that sits poorly in his stomach.
Perhaps Jaskier can sense his odd mood, his sullen silences meaning more, now, than they once did. He still doesn’t pry, but moves the conversation swiftly along to more uplifting topics - to old adventures and foolish gambles and shared moments, and beneath the small table Geralt can feel their knees knocking together, Jaskier’s foot sliding between his own.
The food is good, but he barely tastes it - the ale is better, and flows easily. By the time they leave, stumbling into the dark, they’re both well into their cups. He’s not forgotten the cloud that looms over him - that looms above them both - but it’s easier to ignore it when his head feels light and Jaskier laughs at his side, deliberately bumping into him.
He wishes he could pull his gloves off and touch him. Jaskier’s face is flushed - he wants to feel how warm his cheeks are. His hair is a wild mess, as it always is when he’s drinking, and Geralt wants to run his hands through it, feel how soft he knows it is. He wants to take his hand and grip his fingers and slide their digits together and—
It’s an impossibility, even without the creeping curse that’s hibernating beneath his skin.
They make their way back to the inn, to the tiny room. He’s completely forgotten Jaskier’s promise of a personal performance until he’s pulling the lute from its case and tuning the strings. Jaskier peers up, and spots Geralt staring.
“Did you still want—”
He swallows as he loops the strap over his neck. “I’ve got a new one,” he says, quietly, “But I’m still fine tuning it.” He settles his fingers over the strings. “So be nice.”
“I’m always nice.”
That elicits a laugh - short and sweet - and then Jaskier begins.
It’s another ballad, that much is immediately clear: one of the softer, slower tunes that Geralt favours over the bawdy drinking songs or the overblown retellings of his own life. It’s a love song, an unrequited love song, about wanting and needing and loving and all those things that Jaskier seems so good at. It’s sad, too - not like so many of his ballads which mourn love’s loss while celebrating the having of it - but empty and grasping and reaching for something that doesn’t exist.
He understands, for once, what Jaskier is singing about. He understands it so much it hurts.
Geralt is so entranced, so taken with the soft words and plucked strings, that he doesn’t even realise that the tart, citrus smell he’d noticed that evening has grown until Jaskier stops singing, laying the lute across his lap, and it suddenly fills the room.
“What do you think?” He asks, a little breathless. “Is it any good?”
It’s - Geralt doesn’t have the words. “It’s good,” he says. “It’s… it’s beautiful.”
Jaskier smiles - but the motion doesn’t quite reach his eyes. His fingers dab on the strings, his teeth worry his bottom lip.
“What did you think of the lyrics?” Jaskier says, looking away - looking down. “I’m, ah, I’m a little concerned they’re a tad trite. They’re a bit…” he looks up, finally. “A bit obvious, I fear.”
Geralt isn’t sure what he means. He understood them, at least - but where he’s impressed, an expert may find them overly sentimental.
“I can’t say,” he says, truthfully. “But I understood them. Maybe that means they are too obvious,” he adds, with a self-deprecating laugh.
Jaskier is not laughing. “You understood?”
Geralt nods, wondering why Jaskier is suddenly so serious.
“Oh.” It’s more of a sigh than a word - a gentle breath out. And then Jaskier finally moves the lute, placing it onto the bed, and he stands, and he crosses the space between their beds, and his eyes are wide and his heart stuttering and—
He sits next to Geralt. Their knees brush. Jaskier places his hand on his shoulder, moving him, and Geralt complies - he will always comply - and then with a soft, unsure noise Jaskier is leaning in and his breath - fuck - his breath is on Geralt’s lips and he realises, suddenly, what’s happening.
Geralt springs back like a startled animal, like he’s been struck by lightning, like he’s been burnt, and Jaskier freezes.
“No—” he says, and, gods, not like this— “I can’t—”
Jaskier’s soft expression drops for just a second. Just a single second of pain, of hurt, of sudden, well-placed heartbreak. And then he’s back, back to his unreadable calmness.
“Right,” he says, “Shit, I, ah…” He swallows, shifting back across the bed, right to the edge. “Sorry. Sorry, I just… the beer, and...” he laughs, but the sound is wrong, fake and broken at the edges. “I should…” he loses his thought, his hands balling in the thin sheets of Geralt’s bed, “fuck.”
He forces another laugh. He’s smiling - a stiff, constrained expression that’s somehow worse than the pain that had flickered across his face before - but Geralt can hear his heart thundering, can smell the adrenaline and the fear and the hurt coming off of him in waves, like a wounded animal.
Like that deer in the forest. Killed with a single touch.
“It’s late,” Jaskier says, finally, speaking too quickly, voice stumbling over itself. “We should sleep. I should… I…”
Jaskier stands. The bed shifts as he does. He tucks the lute away back in its case, locking it closed with a horrible sort of finality. He kicks off his boots and then, without bothering to get undressed, he slides into his own bed, facing the wall, his back to Geralt.
It’s with equal silence that Geralt, too, undresses, crawls beneath his own sheets.
He curls beneath the blanket, listening to the sound of Jaskier pretending to sleep. They both lie in their respective beds, the distance between their bodies now a casm, both of them awake.
He should tell him. There’s - there’s so many things Geralt should tell him.
But he can’t. He can’t tell him about the curse, because Jaskier will be worried, because he’ll go after him. He can’t tell him that it’s going to kill him. He can’t tell Jaskier that - gods - he loves him - because what unimaginable tourture would that be?
If Jaskier doesn’t know, he’ll be better prepared to move on. It’s the most sensible thing for him to do - to accept the perceived rejection and leave. Geralt wouldn’t blame him if he did: to stay with Geralt will surely be too painful, now.
There’s a twist to that. Perhaps this will make it easier for Jaskier if Geralt can’t lift the curse after all. It will be easier to move on from the man who broke his heart than the man who still held it gently in his grip. Perhaps the mourning will sting less, now, if he mourns at all.
In the darkness, he can still feel the hot huff of Jaskier’s breath against his lips, the intoxicating warmth of his body so close to Geralt’s own.
“I can’t.” It had been all Geralt could say, with so much left unspoken. “I can’t. But gods, Jask, I want to.”
251 notes · View notes
Pairing: Erwin Smith x Levi Ackerman
Summary: Levi’s had this lullaby stuck in his head his whole life. He’s not sure where he first heard it, but it’s the only thing that can calm him. He’s never heard anyone else sing it, well, besides Erwin Smith.
Word Count: 2985
Tags: Angst. Like a lot of angst. Major character death. There’s like a paragraph of fluff. Don’t know why I put Levi through this tbh.
A/N: Hi everyone! My first fic on this blog just had to be eruri! This is inspired by a tiktok I saw recently... lots of eruri angst. Read at your own risk haha. Enjoy!
(Spoilers for season 3 of aot)
Motive: A short melodic or rhythmic idea (sometimes as few as two or three notes). A brief succession of pitches out of which a melody grows by repetition, sequence, and contrast.
Levi’s not a fan of music. He doesn’t particularly hate it, but there’s no specific genre or instrument that he enjoys enough to seek out. Truly there’s only one tune he’s ever been able to carry, a soft lullaby that he hums to himself. He’s never heard anyone else sing it, nor does he plan to perform for anyone. It’s his and his alone.
He’s not entirely sure when he first heard it or who he heard it from. He suspects he must’ve heard it as a child but he’s got so few memories of the underground he can’t be sure. It’s lived in his heart for as long as he can remember and it’s proven to be the only thing he finds solace in when things get especially bad.
When he can’t sleep at night or is jolted awake by a dream. When he goes too long between meals and has to force something down before he spirals back in time. When he loses someone. The short melody will bathe him in comfort, if only for a short while.
So you can imagine his shock when he hears that same tune from someone else. His tune. The tune that’s been locked away in the deepest parts of his soul for a lifetime. Coming from a foreign tongue?
Of course it would be Erwin. If anyone would somehow know the theme that’s followed Levi his whole life it would be Erwin.
Levi wants to ask how he knows the lullaby, if he knows the words, where he heard it; but the words die on his tongue. Erwin’s always had such a nice voice. A voice full of bass and power that has persuaded entire armies to march to their death. Its smooth timbre does wonders when carrying a melody.
So instead Levi closes his eyes. He leans against Erwin on the too small bed and allows himself to indulge. Humanity’s strongest can allow himself one night off. And so he falls into a dreamless slumber, absentmindedly clutching onto Erwin’s arm as his singing carries him off to the void.
It’s not long before the two fall into a comfortable rhythm. They never talk about it, don’t acknowledge that this lullaby might mean something.
Erwin picks up on how his smooth voice pours over Levi. He notices how his brow relaxes and he allows himself to breathe. Something in his eyes shifts and Erwin can tell that he’s at peace, even if humanity is anything but. Erwin sings to him when he knows he’s overwhelmed. When he sees the sleep in his eyes he keeps trying to fight. When they’re finally in their quarters after a particularly rough expedition. When he simply wants to.
Levi never sings it back, but Erwin doesn’t seem to mind. He’s content with what he has.
Neither of the two could be considered too emotional, if they are they don’t show it. They‘d much prefer to dedicate their lives to the cause, to humanity. Feelings and romance just get in the way. That being said, the unspoken rule between the two about the lullaby is more than enough to express how they feel. It’s a quiet “companionship”, one that works for them.
Stolen glances and fleeting touches during the day, hushed singing and quiet humming during the night.
Levi expected to be nervous the first time he hummed the lullaby loud enough for someone else to hear. He’d spent the last 30 years humming to himself, keeping the melody in his chest, singing in his head. He wasn’t sure what he’d even sound like at a louder volume.
However, when he saw the deep wrinkles in Erwin’s forehead as he read over the paperwork again for the millionth time it bubbled out of him as naturally as breathing. Levi wasn’t sure if it would even help, afraid that he might interrupt his train of thought. But just as Levi has so many times before, Erwin closed his eyes and leant into Levi on the bed.
Levi’s hands found purchase in his blond hair, watching as his breathing deepened and the wrinkles faded away. It wasn’t often that Levi watched Erwin sleep, even if Levi spent more time lying awake than at rest in the bed. It felt strange and invasive to him. Now though, as he got to watch Erwin relax slowly into the sheets and free himself of all the worries that were weighing him down, Levi couldn’t help the swelling of his heart.
He reached down to grab the papers, placed them on the bedside table next to them, and watched Erwin sleep until he could no longer keep his eyes open.
Levi can’t believe what he’s hearing, doesn’t want to believe. He wants Erwin to use his brain and think of something else. Anything else.
“I will die, without ever learning what’s in the basement.”
He watches in silence as Erwin takes a seat on a crate, a broken sigh leaving his lips as he comes to terms with what he will have to do.
Levi’s mind is racing looking for an alternative, he has to remind himself to be in the moment and process Erwin’s words. There needs to be another way. They could take the horses and flee, even if it is just the commander and Eren, currently passed out up on the wall. Without the commander how could they ever hope to win? How would humanity stand a chance? How would Levi?
“The answers are close enough to grab, they’re right there... but Levi? Do you see them? Our comrades? They’re looking at us, wondering what became of the hearts they gave... because the fight isn’t over yet.”
Levi feels like his mind is tearing itself apart. He keeps his composure, knows they’d be a lost cause if both he and Erwin break down, but inside he’s beginning to spiral as Erwin’s words sink in.
“Is it all just in my head? A childish delusion?”
When their eyes meet, Levi’s legs almost give out. His heart squeezes painfully and he feels tingles run down his spine. A headache begins to form behind his eyes, and it takes all his willpower not to look away from the man that he devoted his heart to years ago.
Levi takes a step and kneels, not trusting his legs to hold him up any longer. He forces the lump down his throat, looks down at the dirt below their feet, and speaks. “You’ve fought well, Erwin. It’s all thanks to you that we’ve come this far.”
Levi climbed the ranks quickly upon joining the scouts. He’s been a captain for years now. He’s never once hesitated or doubted his decisions, stays calm in the face of danger. He trusts himself always even though he can’t be sure of the outcome, but for once he wishes he didn’t have to make the choice. That it wasn’t all up to him. “I’m making the choice for you.”
His eyes are wide open in terror at the words that will come out of his mouth next. He wills himself to carry on and say what he needs to say, not for himself but for Erwin. He steels his face and looks up at the commander. “Give up on your dream and die.”
He wants to puke. Scream. Curse the world that’s led him down this path. If the church was right, if the Three Ladies of the Wall really do exist and watch down on them then Levi hopes he’ll be able to slice his swords into their napes too someday. What a cruel joke to offer someone salvation only to ask something like this of them in the end.
“Lead the recruits straight into hell, I will take down the beast titan.” He feels like he’s already there. He’s hot all over, vision spotting around the edges. Flames lap up at his legs and over his back. The dull headache behind his eyes has morphed. It’s pounding into his brain as if it’s trying to take back the words that have left Levi’s mouth. Take back the decision he’s made for the both of them. It all gives way to an icy feeling at the very tips of his fingers and toes, seeking the warmth they’ve found in the commander’s touch so many times before. His heart is squeezing and his mind is racing, trying to slow time down enough to have just one moment to breathe.
Levi’s lost in his own negative thoughts when something anchors him back. He’s not in hell anymore. He’s just inside Wall Maria, though who can tell the difference? He hears faint screaming and explosions coming from all around him, but they’re deafened by a hushed lullaby.
It’s soft and quiet, unsure if he’s humming to comfort himself or the raven-haired man kneeling before him. Probably both.
Levi feels relief flood his veins, even though he’s much too aware of the circumstances. He watches Erwin’s eyes as they pass through a million emotions at once. Shock. Disappointment. Grief. Acceptance. Gratitude. “Levi, thank you.”
Even in their last moments together. Even as he is about to ride off on a suicide mission for the sake of humanity. Even when it really should be Levi trying to save him, Erwin finds a way to save Levi from himself.
Levi knows he’s different now. He’ll go on. Survive. Live without really being alive. He knows everyone else can tell too. He wasn’t ever known to be exactly happy, but now there’s something missing. So much had been ripped from his hands in his lifetime, so much broken. He hoped Erwin at least could be spared.
No one ever is safe in his life though. From the beginning when he’d been cursed to be born into this world an Ackerman he had sealed the fate of everyone who’d ever be close to him. Isabel. Farlan. His comrades. His squad. Kenny. Erwin. His own mother. Hange would get the axe eventually, he’s sure of it.
He’s drowning in his own head when a hand is placed on his shoulder, a life raft thrown out to hold onto. Hange, with a patched-up eye, is looking straight ahead guiding him to kneel before the new queen.
It’s not long before the ceremony finishes. Before what remains of the Scouts are ushered out into the courtyard housing what must be thousands of headstones at this point. It must be easy to run the burial services for the scouts, Levi thinks. Not like there’s ever many bodies brought back to actually bury anyway.
Hange says a few words for those fallen in the battle of Shiganshina, their face never betraying what’s going on inside. After all, Levi’s far from the only person to have lost a piece of themselves on that day. In fact, he doubts anyone has moved on from that day unscathed.
The group disperses shortly after, off to wander through the endless rows of stone and grass to find their many fallen comrades.
He hears Eren choke out a sob as he and Mikasa pull Armin into a tight embrace, thankful that of all the names lying in the courtyard at least Armin’s was brought back to them safe. He watches as Jean walks off alone into the area dedicated to the Trost Battle from months prior. Sasha and Connie walk through the rows aimlessly, not speaking or stopping at any particular tomb but holding each other all the same. Hange isn’t far off, staring down at one headstone in particular as heavy tears stain the stone. Floch went back inside.
Levi’s not even aware he’s reached the ornately decorated tombstone until he’s standing right in front of it. He hasn’t noticed the tears welling in his eyes, fighting to crest over the same way they do behind closed doors. He’s barely registering a faint tune hitting his ears, and for a moment he thinks he’s back.
He’s never heard anyone else sing the somber melody. Only Erwin. And just as quickly as the relief hits him he realizes it’s his own voice. The sound is choked and mangled, as if he hadn’t spoken in days. He hasn’t really.
He allows one tear to fall to the floor as he kneels before his commander. Just like he had back then. He’s no longer sitting before him though, the marker sits above grass and dirt and not much else. His body laying back in Shiganshina on the one bed he’d found intact in the back of a random house. An unfitting place for a man like him to rest.
The song he’s singing doesn’t bring him relief like it’s supposed to, like it always has. It makes his heart feel heavy in his chest.
He leans his head on the tomb, right where it spells the name of his fallen commander, comrade, love. “I promise, Erwin.”
It’s been months now. The land inside Wall Maria is all but titan-free at this point, most having been killed in the previous attacks from across the sea. Even so, no one's been back to see the devastation caused that day. Not until now.
What remained of the Scouts, all veterans and high-ranking officers now, have been planning one final expedition beyond the walls. The last of its kind before they break into a new age, post the threat of titans.
The 9 veterans were planning on departing a month from now, taking the worn path they always took before the wall fell. Down through Trost and Shiganshina. Where the Survey Corps had met their end.
Levi needed to go alone first. No stranger to coming across the corpses of his fallen comrades, he’s sure he’d be able to stomach seeing the recruits laying as they had months before inside the wall, scattered in the formation of a successful suicide charge. It’s the being in the general vicinity of a certain commander that he’s sure will make him falter.
He’s not sure what he’ll even find when he embarks on his solo trip. With only the company of the mostly empty wagon behind him and his horse he’s had for years now pulling forward, he’s left alone to think. To imagine what state he’ll find him in. He wishes he had at least brought something to read if he knew he’d be left to his thoughts like this.
He enters Shiganshina. Follows the winding roads to the one house still intact. Comes across the room in the back with the bed and window overlooking what was once a bustling marketplace.
He’s not prepared to see a fossil of what was once all his, but he feels a relief he hasn’t felt in months. Levi carefully hauls the coffin he’d brought in on the wagon to the back room. He gingerly places what’s left of him inside, trying his best to ignore the stained bedding and uniform.
He didn’t know what to expect, but he had hoped he’d still look like himself. In this state, he could be anyone.
He places the coffin back in the wagon, now housing only bones, and turns back the way he came. He sang the tune once more, for what would be the last time, and he swears he hears a second voice, a harmony, mix in with his melody.
Truly there’s only one tune he’s ever been able to carry, and it’s never sounded as beautiful and relieving to him as he rode out of Shiganshina that day, on his way to finally lay his commander to rest in the both full and empty courtyard.
There’s one thought that has weighed heavy in his mind for months now. A multitude of questions really. He never did get to talk to Erwin about his lullaby. Will never know how he knew it or where he heard it. Will never be able to thank him for the comfort he found in him, for saving him so many times with a simple hum. He thinks that’s ok, the song can be just theirs. He can share.
Mothers are a resilient creature. They go through hell and back at a moment's notice. They’re willing to kill parts of themselves if it means their children live on.
Well, the good ones do anyway.
Kuchel wishes she could live up to the title. Wishes that by giving a piece of herself she could ensure the boy in her arms would know no hardship. Wishes she could do something about the way his cheeks sink in and his eyes are dim when they look into hers. Wishes he could at the very least see the sun, feel its warmth.
He’s perfect in her eyes. He laughs when she blows on his tummy, and smiles when she strokes his cheek. He hums to her with a smile on his face when she can afford to put a meal in her stomach and in turn some milk in his. When she can’t, he just sleeps, never really crying or fussing.
When he’s older, he lets her run her hands through his straight, obsidian hair. Never whines when she finds a knot to untangle. He doesn’t say anything when she cries on the bed as she thinks of how much of herself she’s given to others and how little she’s been able to make of it. He holds her on her rough nights, and she holds him when the hunger keeps him awake.
She’s not sure how but somehow he’s a happy kid, all things considered. She thinks the way she rocks him to sleep at night and hums a lullaby in his ear like she would when he was a baby might have something to do with it.
A/N: I remember seeing somewhere that Isayama imagines that Levi went back for Erwin’s body months after Shiganshina and that by then it was completely skeletonized 😢 (it's mentioned in this post!)
Anyways don’t be too hard on me pls I haven’t written fic in years lmao. I can’t promise that I’ll post many more fics but I got the blog set up just in case. I will be cross-posting this to ao3 at some point, so I’ll link that once I’ve got it up on there.
Thanks for reading! Until next time
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