all the ghosts that are never gonna—
Geralt needs Jaskier for a hunt. When he arrives in Oxenfurt, he receives devastating news about his bard. But a witcher’s work is never finished, and life moves on— apart from sometimes... it doesn’t.
5.3k. Rated T for swears. Contains: MCD-fakeout, hauntings, ghosts, death mentions and yes it has a happy ending. Promise.
It's a shockingly warm late autumn day. Overheard, the sky is dazzlingly blue, and completely cloudless. Geralt rides unhurriedly down the wide road. He's headed to Andole, following a missive from a pack of nobles with a problem they need dealing with discretely. Geralt's never been discrete a day in his life, but he is efficient, and he suspects that at this stage that's more important to his employers.
It's a tricky little contract: a vampire disguised as a duke. Or perhaps it's a duke disguised as a vampire. Either way, Geralt suspects it will end in bloodshed. He hates these sorts of hunts. Less tracking, and more... mingling. Asking difficult people seemingly simple questions. Arguing. It's been a while since he's gone through the rigmarole of it, and he'd be the first to admit that he's woefully out of practice. If only he had someone who could—
Jaskier. Of course. He's always been Geralt's secret weapon for these contracts, partly because he's much more charming and beguiling than Geralt is, and partly because—somehow—the bard seems to bloody know everyone. Andole is only a few miles East of Oxenfurt, too.
He tugs Roach's reins around, guiding her West.
He's not sure where Jaskier actually is, so rents a room then makes his way to the Academy. He skulks around the music hall for a moment before a man appears: a bard in a lurid yellow doublet. If anyone knows where Jaskier is, it will be this person. He has sleeves like church bells, offensive facial hair and a feather in his hat the length of Geralt's arm.
"Jaskier?" The bard says disinterestedly, when Geralt asks where he can find him. "Oh, yes. He's gone."
"You know, he's moved on. He's in a better place." The bard flicks the feather out of his face with a shrug. "Gone to the other side."
It's like the ground has dropped from beneath Geralt's feet. The world feels pin-prick sharp, honed in, too close. His hands are shaking, he realises.
"When?" He asks, weakly.
The bard shrugs. "Seven weeks ago?" He says blithely. "Eight? What month is it?"
Eight weeks. Gods.
"Oh," the bard adds, as if only just remembering. "He gave me this to give to you, should you grace us with your presence."
He pulls a folded piece of paper from somewhere inside his doublet. Geralt reaches for it.
"You are the witcher, yes?" The bard drawls. "I mean—" he looks Geralt up and down. "I assumed, of course, but one always has to check."
"Yes," Geralt says, wondering what on earth it could be. What Jaskier had deemed important enough to leave him.
The bard hands over the paper. Geralt takes it, tugs it open, and—
The paper bursts into flame. The fireball hangs in the air for a few moments, and there's a twisting shape writhing amongst the licking flashes of light. Geralt tries to look closer, but the fireball suddenly sputters, exploding into dust.
"What the fuck—"
The bard peers at him. "Oh, you're still here?" He frowns, then sniffs the air. "Is something burning?"
Geralt leaves the bard without so much as a farewell. He cannot feel the tips of his fingers or the uneven cobblestones beneath his feet.
He thinks of the note. Of the flames. The weird shape—
But, of course, it doesn't matter. None of that matters.
Jaskier is dead.
There's a—a hollow, inside him. He thinks back to the last time he spoke to Jaskier, and realises, with a pang of guilt, that he can't even remember what their conversation had been about. Jaskier had been saying goodbye, he thinks. He'd been too busy to give an adequate answer. An hour later, he was gone.
Fuck. He makes his way back to the inn in a daze, barely aware of where he's going. All thoughts of the contract drop away—the duke who might be a vampire, his subjects, the hastily scribbled missive demanding Geralt's attention and the hefty reward he was promised. He'd trade the bag of gold to bring Jaskier back. He pushes his way into the inn, and ignoring the shocked look of the innkeeper and other patrons quickly heads upstairs.
He opens the door to his rented room to see Jaskier perched on the bed, covered in blood.
No. Not perched. Hovering, six inches from the coverlet. He looks around as Geralt enters.
"It's about time," he says.
And—despite years of training and fighting and seeing the worst things any living person can see—Geralt faints clean away.
When Geralt comes to, Jaskier has vanished. Geralt puts it down to an overtaxed mind and an overworked body, and tries to shake the horrible image from his head.
He can't. It haunts him. He finishes the contract alone, finding the vampire—disguised as a kitchen-boy, it transpires—and seeing it off. The fight is messy and drawn-out: Geralt is suffering from a lack of sleep, too troubled by the image of Jaskier, blood-soaked and floating, and the creature takes advantage of his distraction.
He does kill it, and accepts the bag of gold. He shoves it into the bottom of his pack and does his best to forget it.
He can't stay in the town, even though his host has offered him room and board for the night. He rides until both he and Roach are exhausted, then makes camp in a tiny clearing at the edge of the woods. He catches a hare, spits it, and sets it to cook above the fire. He's starving—but more than that, he needs something to keep his hands and mind distracted. The silence is deafening. He thinks of plucked strings and hummed half-songs.
The flickering light of the fire twists. It blinks out for a moment. And then...
There he is, illuminated in gold and yellow, sat on the log across the way. The blood is gone, but there's a ring of dark purple bruises around his neck.
"You're not going to pass out again, are you?" Jaskier says. "Only I'm not exactly equipped to pick you up if you are."
He raises a hand to demonstrate. Geralt can see the trees behind him through his palm.
"Jaskier?" Geralt swallows. He doesn't move, in case it breaks the illusion. "Is it really you?"
Jaskier rolls his eyes. "No, Geralt," he says. "It's sweet Melitele herself."
"You're really dead?"
"I am really dead." He says it like he's passing comment on the weather. "And I know what you're like," he adds. "I know what you're going to say. Some bullshit about this being your fault?"
Geralt hangs his head. "But it is—"
"It's not," Jaskier says over him. His body may be wispy and transparent but his voice is as strong and steady as ever. "I did dangerous work, Geralt. I did dangerous work as a bard, too. I knew what I was risking when I started it. I knew what might—what would happen."
"I should have been there to stop it from happening."
Jaskier gives him a long, sad, look. "You have other things to worry about. More important things. You always did." He looks down at his formless hands, then starts to speak again before Geralt can respond. "If it makes you feel better at all, being tortured probably was your fault." He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Although you could say it was my fault, for hanging around where I wasn't wanted for so long. If I'd thought with my brain instead of my—" he cuts himself off. "Doesn't matter. This—" he gestures to the bruises, "—was not your fault."
"But I should have—"
"Even when I'm dead you don't listen to me, do you?" Jaskier's voice has changed. There's an edge to it, now. He stands, and the fire reflects off of his shimmering form. "See you around, Geralt."
He's gone just as suddenly as he arrived. The fire crackles. Above it, the roasting hare pops. Geralt suddenly doesn't feel very hungry any more.
Geralt heads North, following nothing more than instinct. He spends the evenings in anxious anticipation, waiting for Jaskier to appear again. He doesn't.
A week later, he's on the cusp of another night's fitful sleep on the hard ground of the forest when a bright light startles him awake.
Jaskier's face, glowing like a star, takes up his whole vision. He's lying on the ground beside him like they've done so many times before, no distance at all between them. Geralt's blurry vision focuses. Jaskier is soaking wet. He blinks.
"Oh," he says. "What—"
"I'm sorry." The words slip out before Geralt can stop them.
Jaskier blinks. He opens his lips, which have turned a dark purple colour.
And then the light inside him implodes in upon itself, and he's gone.
"Oh bollocks. Not again."
Geralt spins around. He's followed the trail of a wraith to an abandoned catacomb, and the curse echoes oddly from the ancient stone walls.
Jaskier—glowing, ephemeral, and angry looking—stands with his arms folded across his chest beside a half-collapsed pillar.
"You really can't get rid of me," Jaskier says, shaking his head.
This time, the bruises are gone, but there's something dark and sticky-looking dribbling from the corner of his mouth. Jaskier seems to notice it at the same time as Geralt does. He presses his fingers to it with a grimace.
"Eurgh," he says. "This tastes foul."
He spits a thick globule onto the mossy stone floor, where it immediately vanishes. "Huh."
He doesn't have time to say anything else before the wraith bursts through him with a screech. He doesn't even move as she barrels through his body. By the time the wraith is little more than a pile of ash, Jaskier has disappeared.
Geralt feels him before he sees him, this time. He's sitting on the bed sharpening his swords in a room above a busy tavern when the air suddenly feels... different.
"You're back?" He looks up. He half-wishes he hadn't. "Fuck."
Jaskier stares down at him. Rather: Jaskier's body stares down at him. Jaskier's head, tucked under his arm, is just about eye level.
"Hello to you as well," he says.
"I was going to ask what happened to you," Geralt says. "Just to know. To stop thinking about it."
From beneath his own arm, Jaskier raises his eyebrows at him. "I don't want to talk about it."
Geralt keeps his gaze. "No," he says. "I'm sure you don't." He puts aside the sword. "Will you—" the request catches in his throat. He can feel Jaskier's ghostly eyes on him. "Will you stay?"
There's a long, heavy silence. A sigh, like the wind blowing through a cracked window.
"Move over, then."
Geralt does as he's told. Jaskier sits beside him on the bed. Again, he doesn't quite make contact with the sheet. As if noticing Geralt's discomfort, he slowly lifts his own head and replaces it on his neck. Geralt's expecting it to simply tumble to the floor, but somehow, it sticks. There's a horrible red line where head meets body.
"I thought you might have Ciri with you," Jaskier says. "Where is she? Is she okay?"
"She's with Yen."
Jaskier nods. Geralt knows that he and Yen had patched up the animosity between them. He'd never taken the time to ask how, or why. Somehow, right now, it doesn't feel important.
"You worked it out with her, then?"
It's not the most accurate way to describe the uneasy feelings that still linger between Yen and himself, but again: Geralt doesn't want to get into it.
"Yeah," he settles on. "Mostly."
"Good," Jaskier says. It sounds like he means it. "I'm glad, really. Ciri needs—" he takes a breath. "She needs both of you, I think. And Yen isn't altogether entirely terrible, I suppose." He hesitates again, and Geralt waits, letting him speak. "Does she know?" He gestures at the mark around his neck. "About me?"
Geralt shakes his head. "I've not seen anyone else in weeks," he says, truthfully.
Secretly, Geralt has been glad of that. He doesn't know where Yen and Ciri are, to start, and even if he did, he's not sure he would seek them out. He knows that he ought to tell Yen about Jaskier's death, but the mere thought of that conversation makes his blood turn to ice. It's almost as if by keeping it to himself, it will make it stop being true. A foolish wish, when the evidence that it is true sits so irrefutably beside him.
"I miss you."
Jaskier falls silent. The mark around his neck bleeds, sluggishly. His eyes are huge.
"Oh, Geralt," he sighs. "It's too late for that."
Like the dawn breaking—like a sunbeam slicing through glass—he fades away, until all that's left of him are motes of dust, dancing in the air.
Geralt is making camp beside a field of wildflowers when Jaskier appears next. This time, there's a dagger sticking horribly from his back.
"Where's your lute?"
Jaskier turns to look at him. "Lutes don't pass on," he says a little sadly.
"So you can't play music, like this?"
Jaskier smiles at him, but it doesn't reach his shimmering eyes. "No," he says.
"Can you sing?"
Jaskier hesitates. Through him, Geralt can see the fields of gently swaying wildflowers.
"Is that a request?"
Geralt shrugs. It's barely more than a twist of his shoulders. Jaskier smiles—a real smile, now, that makes his see-through eyes suddenly flash.
He sings all evening. He sings until Geralt slips into the first good sleep he's had in weeks. When he wakes, Jaskier is gone, and the air smells of wildflowers.
Lockerly is a tiny village. There's nothing here but sheep and pigs and—unfortunately for the riverside populace—a rather tenacious nest of drowners. Geralt sees them off easily, and refuses the villager's payment. He can tell from a single glance that the paltry purse of coins is all they have. Instead, he accepts the offer of a place to sleep for the night and a good meal from the middle-aged woman who'd posted the notice in the nearest town.
The woman—called Alayne—has a modest home on the edge of the village: a pretty little cottage with rose vines trailing up the brick and a garden full of herbs. She spots Geralt eyeing them, and promises he can take his pick before he leaves the next morning.
"It's the least I can do," she says.
Geralt wants to refuse—she's done so much compared to what little she has—but he knows that to do so would be an insult. So he thanks her, and makes a mental note to check which ingredients he's lacking before he goes to sleep that night.
The meal Alayne cooks smells delicious, and Geralt realises he hasn't eaten properly since the contract for the kitchenboy-turned-vampire. Since he first saw Jaskier again. As she serves him a second portion, she laughs.
"I'd forgotten what it's like to feed someone other than myself," she says. "It's not even been that long."
Geralt pauses. He thinks about the house—too big for one person—and the gardens that would certainly take a couple to tend.
"I'm sorry," he says, swallowing down the mouthful of food.
She gives him a sad smile. "Thank you," she says. "It's funny, that we can forget... but, we never forget, do we? They never let us forget."
Geralt thinks of the ghostly form of his friend. "They really don't," he agrees.
"Nine months," Alayne says, although he didn't ask. "She's only been gone nine months, but—" There are sparkling tears in her eyes, which she quickly blinks away.
Geralt is struck with a horrible thought. "The drowners?" He asks, carefully.
"Oh, no." Alayne shakes her head. "She was just... sick. She probably would have preferred it being a drowner, by the end."
"I'm sorry," Geralt says again. "I..." he swallows, feeling stupid—whatever Jaskier was to him, it pales in comparison to Alayne's grief.
She spots him hesitating. "Go on?" She prompts.
"I lost my..." he pushes away his half empty plate. "My friend," he finishes. It doesn't feel quite right.
"Oh," she says. "I'm so sorry."
He's about to brush away her words, to tell her he doesn't deserve her pity, but— it sticks. His eyes feel hot.
"I miss him," he admits. "And he wouldn't even know—"
They retire to the garden at the back of the house. The space is mostly given over to useful things—vegetables, herbs, a small flock of chickens—but there's a space in the very middle with two roughly hewn chairs which are bathed in the light of the setting sun. Alayne finds a bottle of strong mead, and together they sit, and drink, and discuss their losses.
"I haven't told anyone," Geralt says, feeling the mead making his lips sticky. "No one else knows."
"Weeks," he says. "Just weeks."
Alayne places a hand to his arm.
"I let him down," Geralt says, slowly. "I thought— I didn't even see it, then. That he was there, and I wasn't. Not in the way he needed me." He peers out towards the horizon, where the sky is reddest. "He always just... came along. He agreed to help me even when he shouldn't have. I don't know why. He should have told me to fuck off." Finally, he turns to look at her. "Why didn't he?"
She chews on her lip. "It sounds like he cared for you a lot," she says. "And... Geralt, you will forgive me, but when you call him your friend..."
Geralt frowns. "Just friends," he says. This conversation feels oddly familiar.
"Right," she nods. "Just friends."
They talk until the sun has truly set, and the stars fill the sky above. The more time passes, the more Geralt feels his tongue loosen, the easier the words come. Perhaps it's how safe Alayne feels. Perhaps it's knowing that he'll never see her again. Perhaps it's that it feels like a relief, finally, saying it out loud. Perhaps it's just the mead.
She shows him to the guest bedroom. He tugs off his boots a little lopsidedly, then his clothes, then crawls beneath the quilt on the bed. He sighs, then rolls onto his side.
When he finds himself staring into a familiar, glowing face he's not even shocked. That is the mead; he feels a little numb, like he's floating in warm water.
Geralt can feel Jaskier's cool, tickling breath on his lips. He finds himself edging forwards. When their lips touch, it's like nothing at all. All Geralt can feel is tingles.
Jaskier laughs. There are sparkling, diamond tears on his cheeks.
"Oh, Geralt," he says. "It really is too late for that."
Tonight, at least, he doesn't leave. He doesn't seem to sleep, either, and the last thing Geralt sees when he drifts away is Jaskier staring at him.
It's only when Geralt wakes with the dawn that he realises that Jaskier had looked whole, for the first time. No blood. No wounds. Just him.
Running into Yen really is an accident, even if it's clear she doesn't believe him when he says so.
They talk through Ciri's education, and what they've been doing in their time apart, and how they both are, but it's clear that Yen can tell something is bothering him. They take two rooms in an inn for the evening, and once Ciri has been sent reluctantly to bed, Geralt tells her. He spits it out, quick and fast, to stop himself holding onto the secret any longer.
Yen frowns at him.
"No he's not," she says.
Geralt's already slow heart stops. He's sure he's misheard her. His ears ring.
She sips at her drink, makes a disgusted face, then continues to drink regardless.
"Unless you're telling me he was killed in the past..." she pauses, counting, "three days, then... no. He's not."
She sighs. "We saw him just outside of Maribor. He certainly seemed very much alive then. Who told you he was dead?"
"Someone at the academy," Geralt says, weakly.
"You didn't think to check?"
He looks at his ale. He should have checked. Fuck.
"He's been fucking—" he realises his voice is raised, and quickly quietens himself. "He's been fucking haunting me, Yen."
Yen's look of amusement turns to concern. "Haunting?" She repeats. "Haunting how?"
Geralt looks around, as if someone might be listening in to his confession. "He's been... turning up. At camps, during hunts..."
"Like a dream?"
"Like a ghost, Yen."
She places her cup down. "You've seen him?"
"You've spoken to him?"
"Yes. He asked after you, in fact."
She sits back. "That's... concerning."
It feels an entirely inadequate way to describe how Geralt is feeling. "So what?" He says. "Am I mad?"
Yen purses her lips. "Or cursed. Who have you pissed off lately?"
"No one," Geralt says bitterly.
"Hmm." She looks doubtful. "Fine, then. You could have cursed yourself."
Geralt blinks at her. "Is that possible?"
She shrugs at him. "For anyone else, I would have my doubts. But for you..." she raises her cup. "It wouldn't surprise me, no. You hear of our mutual friend's apparent death, and—sick with guilt—you refuse to seek further information. You convince itself it's your fault and, knowing you, you manage to do so in only a few minutes. You convince yourself so thoroughly that you saddle yourself with a fairly run of the mill haunting curse, made more intense because of your connection to chaos. Were you in the possession of any unusual magical items? Any strange hunts?"
"No, noth—" Geralt pauses. He thinks back to the moment he learned Jaskier was dead. Or: the moment he thought he'd learned he was dead. "No, there was," he says. "The man who told me gave me a note. He said it was from Jaskier."
"What did it say?"
"I don't know," Geralt said. "It burst into flames when I opened it. There was this... shape, inside."
Yen looks thoughtful. Then she reaches into her bag and pulls out a notebook and thick pencil. "Can you draw it?"
Geralt does his best. Drawing has never been his strong suit. When he's done, Yen pulls the notebook towards herself with a frown.
"It is a curse," she says. "Cheap, though. He probably picked this up from some... spell peddler. It's just a generic revenge spell."
She shrugs. "It's fairly simple. It taps into whatever it is you've done to piss off the caster—that would be Jaskier—and turns it against you. But they're short. There's not enough chaos in them to make them last longer than a few hours, at most." She looks up. "You were cursed by someone else," she says, "but the intensity of it... I suspect that was you."
Geralt is about to ask the obvious question—what did I do to piss off Jaskier?—when he realises that, of course, he knows. Jaskier's ghost, even if he was no more than the shadow of a curse, had made that clear. He'd realised it himself, in the moments between grief.
"You're not going to ask what you did?"
"I think I know."
She smiles at that. "Good. I'd hate to insult your intelligence by explaining it to you. Now you know he is not, in fact, dead, it should lift on its own."
She finishes her wine and stands.
"I should make sure Ciri is actually asleep," she says. "We have an early start tomorrow." She goes to leave, then turns. "We saw him in Crenwall. It's about two day's ride East, following the main road."
Before he can say anything, she sweeps away.
Geralt peers from the window. It's completely dark outside. Too late to start a ride that will take two days, especially when the brief time he has with Ciri is so rare—and so precious.
He looks into the dregs of his beer and wonders what Jaskier would say. He sees off the drink, then heads upstairs to his own room. Tomorrow, he'll see Ciri off, and set off towards Crenwall. With any luck, they can all leave with the dawn.
In the end, Geralt doesn't even make it to Crenwall. He spends only a single night on the road—a night uninterrupted by spirits—and is riding through a market town the following morning when he hears a familiar voice drift from the tavern. He pulls Roach to a stop, and listens. It wouldn't be the first time he's seen Jaskier where he isn't, after all.
—everything we did, we saw, you turned your back on—
There's pain in Jaskier's voice like Geralt's never heard before. He remembers the curse; and who put it on him in the first place.
—that butcher burn—
It hurts. The words hurt. Part of him wonders if he hasn't suffered enough through the endless parade of ghosts: each grizzly death. Apparently not. As the words wash over him, he winces. He did this. However cruel Jaskier's words... they exist for a reason. Fuck.
Part of him wants to push the door open and rush in, just to see him. Just to know that this time, he's real. But that pain is too strong. To barge in now would just prove Jaskier right, he fears.
He tries to ignore the urge. He hitches Roach, and waits.
It doesn't take long. It's too early for a full set, and no doubt Jaskier has charmed the innkeeper into trading room and board for a song. It's something he's done countless times before, and Geralt knows through experience that he likes to leave them with a brief performance. Keeps them wanting more, he'd say. Inside the tavern, there's a smattering of applause from the early risers—or the late sleepers—and then the door swings open and...
This is Jaskier. Of course it is.
Geralt strides forwards. Jaskier spots him immediately, and his expression shifts through fear and anger and relief then—
Geralt doesn't know what makes him do it. Perhaps it's the memory of the horror of that first ghost, or the tingling, tickling relief of the last. He grabs Jaskier around the waist, and kisses him.
Jaskier splutters. Geralt lets him go and steps back immediately, instantly regretting his decision, reminding himself that it was the curse that had wanted him, not the real bard. The real bard still hates him.
"You— no you fucking don't you piece of—"
Jaskier chases him, crashing into him with equal fervour, and suddenly they're kissing again, Jaskier's hands cupping Geralt's jaw. Geralt gasps against his lips but doesn't back away. It's awkward, and messy, and more than a little desperate, and when Jaskier finally releases him Geralt realises he isn't breathing.
"You," Jaskier pants, "have some fucking explaining to do."
"I thought you were dead."
This catches him mid-rant. "You— you what?"
"It's... a long story," Geralt says, eyes down. "Can we...?" He gestures back to the tavern behind them.
Jaskier peers at him. He relents.
"Fine," he says. "But you're buying breakfast. And lunch. And dinner." He stops. He looks Geralt up and down, almost like he's assessing him. "And breakfast again tomorrow if you're good."
"Come on." Jaskier grabs his arm and pulls him back towards the tavern. "Tell me how I died."
Jaskier refuses to let him speak until they're sat at a table, each with a full pint.
"Right," he says. "What the fuck?"
"I thought you were dead."
"I gathered that part. Why?"
"I went to Oxenfurt looking for you. I didn't know where you were, so I asked a bard... he said you'd gone. That you'd passed on."
Jaskier groans. "Was he wearing a doublet the colour of baby shit with sleeves like church bells and an offensively trimmed moustache?" He asks, raising his eyebrows.
"How did you—"
Jaskier sighs. "Fucking Valdo," he says. "What a prick. May his balls drop off and be eaten by rabid kikimores." He shakes his head. "No, Geralt. I am not dead. Obviously."
"He said you'd gone to the other side!" Geralt cries.
"Well, yes," Jaskier says. "Oxenfurt was stinging me on pay so I transferred to the university in Lyria. They're academic rivals. Valdo's been pestering me about working for the enemy ever since."
"What a fucking shit-stir—" Jaskier falls silent. His eyes go very wide. "Shit, Geralt, did he give you a—"
"A note? Yeah, he did."
"Did it... did it work?" Jaskier peers at him over his pint, apparently attempting to look contrite.
"Yes," Geralt says. "It did."
"And, um..." Jaskier looks abashed, at least. "What did it do?"
"You put a fucking curse on me without knowing what it did?" Geralt snaps, disbelieving.
"The seller said it was just a revenge curse!" Jaskier quickly clarifies, holding up his hands in surrender. "That it'd just... make you feel bad for a few hours." He spots Geralt's unamused expression. "Was that... not... what it did?"
Geralt stares at him. "You've been haunting me for weeks."
"Your ghost. Several of them. You want to know how you died? Fine. One was covered in blood. One was poisoned. One stabbed. One beheaded. One—"
"Fuck, okay, I get it." Jaskier rubs his eyes. "Shit."
"You spoke to me. You were angry, the first time."
Jaskier seems to be struggling to keep his gaze. "I was angry," he says. "I... I am angry. Fuck, Geralt, you heard the song."
Geralt's heart squeezes. "I heard the song."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to be that bad." He swallows. "The curse, I mean. Not the song. I meant the song. At least I did, when I wrote it."
"I'm sorry for making the curse that bad." Geralt feels a twist of remorse. "And the song. You wouldn't have done either if I didn't hurt you. And it was my guilt that made the curse last so long anyway."
"Gods," Jaskier laughs, hollowly. "We fucked it."
Geralt takes a drink at that. "We did."
"What happened?" Jaskier asks. "With the ghosts?"
"We... spoke. A lot. Eventually. I worked it out. Why you were so hurt. Why losing you hurt me so much that your ghost was following me around."
"I tried to kiss you." Geralt feels his cheeks prickling. Even his staunch self-control can't keep the flush back. "It was like... like ice. Like a breeze. Like nothing, and— you said it was too late."
Jaskier too is blushing. He pushes a long strand of hair out of his eyes, and Geralt suddenly regrets not being there in that awkward in-between stage, when he was still growing it out. Jaskier reaches across the table, placing his hand gently over Geralt's. His fingers twitch. The tips feel smooth and shiny.
"It's not too late," Jaskier says, his voice so low that only Geralt's enhanced hearing could ever pick it out. "Not if... not if you want to try again?"
"You'd want that?"
"I want..." Jaskier shakes his head and squeezes Geralt's hand. "I've wanted that for over two decades, Geralt. You ripping out my heart and pissing all over it doesn't change that, even if it should."
Geralt stares at him. "Two decades?"
"Give or take."
Geralt threads their fingers together. It feels good to feel Jaskier again, not just chasing the shimmering, untouchable afterglow of him.
"But..." Jaskier continues.
"But we need to change. Both of us. I can't—" Jaskier swallows. "I can't pretend, anymore. And you don't get to hurt me anymore, either. We need to talk." He grins. "I assume weeks of being haunted by me have at least begun to teach you a little more about talking about your feelings?"
Geralt's lips twitch. "A little."
"Good." Jaskier pushes aside his tankard with his free hand and leans forward. "So. You tried to kiss my ghost?"
Geralt mirrors him. "He was in my bed."
"Which explains why you kissed me earlier," he says. "Wanted to see how it really felt?"
"I kissed you," Geralt says, voice low, "because I wanted to know what it's like to kiss you. Because I—" he swallows. Jaskier's eyes are huge, and blue. "Because I care for you. A lot."
Jaskier's lips quirk. "Is this you talking about your feelings?"
"This is me trying."
The quirked smile melds into a real grin. He pushes forwards, and presses their lips together. This time it's soft, and sure, and lingering. When Jaskier finally breaks the kiss, he rests their foreheads together, mouths brushing, breaths mingling. He's so warm. He sighs.
“It’s about time.”