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Save Yourself

Chapter Text

It was cold.

It was always cold but that didn’t change the fact that tremors periodically raked through Jaskier’s body, his teeth grinding in an attempt to stop them from chattering. The cold made the scars littering his body ache.

The ex-bard pulled his blanket over his mouth and scooched closer to the decent fire he had managed to start. His stomach ached for food but his supplies were running low and it would be at least three days till he reached the next town. He supposed he could try his hand at hunting but he doubted he would find many animals out this time of year. Geralt could have. The witcher would have used his heightened witcher-y senses and caught them both dinner before the bard could get a fire started. But Geralt wasn’t there. He hadn’t been there for a very long time. Guess life had given him his one wish Jaskier mused bitterly.

Jaskier scolded himself for bringing up old memories, Old memories were dangerous. They lead to other thoughts, other feelings. He forced himself to watch the flickering of the fire instead. A poor attempt to drown out the ever-present thoughts in his head.

Just as Jaskier felt himself being pulled to sleep by the gentle crackling of the fire the sound of small footsteps caused him to shoot upwards, hand leaping to the daggers next to his makeshift pillow. A flash of blonde hair caught his eye before it disappeared behind a tree. His nerves sang with adrenaline.
“I know you’re there, you might as well come out into the open,” he reasoned.
His voice rasped from disuse, ruining the gentle tone he had been going for.

Slowly the blonde hair made a reappearance, accompanied by a pale face and vibrant blue eyes.

It was only a child.

A smile worked it’s way only Jaskier’s face.
“Hello, little one, what are you doing all the way out here?” He asked gently removing his hands from his precious daggers and sat up completely.

“Got lost,” the little girl uttered softly.

As she stepped closer Jaskier noticed just how awful she looked. Her hair was matted, caked with mud, lips blue, body trembling like a leaf. The bard felt his heart melt with pity. How long had she been out here alone? The poor thing must have been freezing

“Well, that just won’t do. Would you like some food?” He asked gently, pulling the bread he was saving from his bag, along with his canteen.
He wasn’t about the hoard it when the girl was clearly starving.

Wordlessly the girl crept closer until she was about three feet away from him, lightening quick she snatched the bread from his hands and moved around to the other side of the fire, trying to soak in some of its warmth as she tore into the bread like a feral animal. Jaskier couldn’t help but wince. Seriously, who could leave such a young thing out in the cold? A war could, the bard reminded himself. She was probably a refugee, running from Nilfgaard just like everyone else was these days.

“What’s your name, my dear?” Jaskier thought to ask after the girl had finished off the last of his bread.
“Fiona,” the girl answered bluntly, “not that it’s any of your business,” she muttered under her breath as she hunched into herself.

Jaskier couldn’t stop the laugh the worked its way up to his throat. He was starting to understand how the girl had made it this far on her own.
“Well, Fiona, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Do you have anyone that might be looking for you? I wouldn’t want someone to worry about you,” he prodded gently.

The bard was met with silence.

“Your parents perhaps? Or maybe a relative?” He pushed farther.
He couldn’t very well abandon her, but without at least a little information he was at a loss for what to do.

“My parents died when I was young. My grandmother she--,” Fiona paused, “she died in the fall of Cintra.” She finished softly

“I’m sorry,” Jaskier whispered, for once at a loss for words.

“It’s ok,” the younger whispered back, shivering as she tucked her mittenless hand into her filthy, blue cloak.

Without a second thought, Jaskier moves to cover the girl with his blanket, wrapping it tightly around her shoulders. He looks at her and gestures to the empty space next to her, asking for her permission. With a small nod from the girl, he sat down next to her.

“You haven’t told me your name,” Fiona stated rather than asked, her gaze still held by the fire.

This caused the bard to hesitate. He didn’t want to lie to her, they had only just meant, but telling her his name would be running the risk of her recognizing him. With a heavy sigh, he folded.

“My name is Jaskier.”

Immediately her eyes lit up as if he had just given her the greatest gift. He winced, waiting for it.
“I know you! You played for my birthday party! Oh fishmonger, oh fishmonger, come quell your daughter’s hunger!” The girl sang in a shrill voice that would have had Jaskier wincing if it wasn’t for his shock.

The quiet, somber girl from moments ago was gone, replaced with a lively, young spirit. With enthusiasm, she stood up and belted the lyrics,
“To pull on my horn as it rises in the morn,” She pranced around the fire as she sang, “for it’s not but bad luck to--”

“Okay! That’s enough of that song! Did I really sing that at a child’s birthday party? What is wrong with me?” the bard cut off the excited girl and gently pulled her back down next to him.

“Oh, it was wonderful! I still remember all of your songs! My grandmother was furious but I thought it was spectacular! Where is your lute? Have you written any new songs because I could help you write some if you want--” The girl talked faster than Jaskier could comprehend, is this what he had been like?

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. Who is… who was your grandmother? I didn’t play many private parties and certainly not at many children’s birthday parties! the only time I can recall playing--” the bard cut himself with a strangled cry.

It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be.

The young princess had the sense to look guilty.

“Princess Cirilla,” he breathed in disbelief.

“I’m sorry for lying, but you have to understand! There aren’t many people I can trust. The man with the bird head has been chasing me for months, and everyone seems to hate my grandmother, and she killed Dara’s family just because they were elves and--” Ciri took a deep breath, “I was scared.”

Jaskier smiled sadly,
“It’s alright, but what are you doing out here princess? Shouldn’t you be surrounded by royal guards? Somewhere safe and far away from here, preferably?” He questioned

The girl shrugged,
“Not many made it out of Cintra, I escaped through a secret passage. My friend, Mousesack, sacrificed himself so that I could get away. I’ve been on the run ever since,” she shivered at the memory. All her memories of Mousesack had been tainted by the disgusting imposter.

For a while, there’s quiet between the two of them. Jaskier half thought the girl had fallen asleep when her gentle voice cut the silence in two,
“What happened to you, Jaskier?”
Her smaller hands grabbed his, tracing over scars that had replaced his once delicate skin. The calluses that once formed on his fingertips from playing his beloved lute were fading with time, replaced by the raw marks on his palms from the leather grip of his daggers. The bard mourned the loss. Like a piece of him was slowly crumbling.

He didn’t know what to say. How do you explain to a child that you lost everything? How do you explain that to a child who has also lost everything? How do you explain that you had seen the worst humanity had to offer and now you couldn’t stand to be around people because he believed all they could do was cause him pain?

“I had a,” he grasped at straws, “a run-in with some bad people,” he conceded.

Ciri didn’t say anything for a very long time. Her blue eyes searched the fire intently.
“Do you still sing?” She asked softly.
“I haven’t for a very long time.”
“Would you? For me?”
“Of course, princess.”

Jaskier sang for the first time in over half a year. Softly humming to the young princess until she slumped against him, snoring lightly. His heart swelled as he watched her chest slowly rise and fall, her warmth against his side warming him to the core.

He knew then and there he would do anything for her.

Chapter Text

Consciousness came to Jaskier slowly and painfully. His back ached from the position he had slept in while attempting not to disturb the princess.

The princess, who was no longer tucked against his side as she had been when he dozed off last night.

The bard leap to his feet, eyes flicking around the area. He saw nothing but trees and snow. The fire had died sometime in the night, nothing more than ashes now. His bag was still where he had left it. Nothing about the small camp was missing except the young girl.

“Princess!” He called frantically, panic settling deep in his bones.

Had she been taken in the night while Jaskier slept? It seemed unlikely that he wouldn’t have woken up, or that Nilfgaard’s soldiers wouldn’t have taken him as well. Ciri wouldn’t have run away, would she? Last night she had seemed fairly relieved to no longer be alone, as was Jaskier.

So where had she gone?

Jaskier felt his head begin to spin. He had heard stories about travelers losing their minds to isolations but the princess had felt so real. She had known his names and sang his songs. He had felt the warmth of her as she leaned against him!

“This isn’t funny, princess!” He all but screeched.
He couldn’t be losing his mind. A little alone time would not be what caused him to lose it. Not after everything he had gone through.

“What’s not funny?” An innocent voice asked from behind him.

Jaskier whipped around so fast he heard the joints of his neck pop.

Princess Cirila stood ten feet away from him, confusion etched into her soft face.

“Gods above, princess! You scared the shit out of me!” The bard cried, running towards her, searching her for any injuries.
“Where did you go?” He demanded, kneeling in front of her and cupping her face with his hands.
Ciri’s brows furrowed,
“I needed to use the bathroom?” She phrased it like a question as if she could have the wrong answer.

A nervous laugh tumbled from Jaskier’s mouth as he sagged to the ground, the tension seeping from his body. He suddenly felt very foolish.
“Maybe wake me up next time, before you wander off,” he pleaded, only half-joking

Ciri giggled at his strange antics. A pure noise that Jaskier knew he wanted to hear as often as possible.

“Right, now that I’ve had my daily panic lets get to the first order of business. You, my dear princess, are in desperate need of a bath,” he said, playfully poking an accusing finger to her nose, which she wrinkled in dismay.
“I am not,” Ciri huffed, brows furrowing, lips folding into a pout.
“Really? Do you normally smell like you’ve been rolling in selkiemore guts?”
The princess gasped with such drama that even the experienced bard was impressed.
“Well, you smell like an ogre’s piss pot!” She spat out, fiercely, though Jaskier could see her fighting down a smile.

The banter came so easily Jaskier felt dizzy, fondness overwhelming him. How long had it been since he had spoken to anyone worth talking to? Had an interaction that didn’t make him want to drown himself? Touched another person without feeling himself recoiling in disgust. And fear.

“That was just downright hurtful! You know what just for that I’m making you carry the water pail,” he threatened, not even trying to suppress his grin.

 

-----------------------

 

Jaskier carried the water back to camp as Ciri ranted about everything that had happened to her since the fall of Cintra.

His heart ached for the girl. It was obvious that the princess was trying to keep her stories light but he could see her deflate every time she forced herself to graze over the horrors she had witnessed.

“Dara he, uh, he decided it would be best if we split up after that. Not that I blame him but still, a little loyalty would have been appreciated,” the princess grumbled, hurt barely hidden in her blue eyes.

Jaskier nodded, trying not to let her words sink in, trying not to let himself relate. He would not allow his anger to rule him, he was stronger than his heartbreak.

“Do you know where he went?” the bard asked, to change his path of thinking, as well as being genuinely curious.
Even if he was angry at the boy for leaving Ciri he was thankful the princess hadn’t been alone.

The princess shrugged, clearly done with the conversation. She ran ahead once their camp was in view, digging through Jaskier’s bag without batting an eye in search of flint in steel.

“My grandmother taught me to start a fire when I was only ten! I can do it even without flint and steel but then I would need a…”

Jaskier didn’t mean to tune the girl out but he found his mind wandering as she talked. In a way, she reminded him of himself. Clearly, she was a lot smarter than him, and certainly, more self-assured than he had been at her age, but the way she spoke every thought that came to her mind, the way she charged into danger with seemingly no fear. It scared him. If they were as alike as he feared she had a lot of love to give, and it was already coming back to bite her in the arse.

“... Jaskier? Jaskier! You aren’t listening to a word I say are you,” the girl huffed.

The bard smiled sheepishly,
“I’m sorry princess, just a little lost in thought,” he mumbled

Ciri rolled her eyes,
“Well if you would have been paying attention you would have seen me finish making the fire. All by myself,” she beamed, pride radiated off of her as she stepped back to reveal the decent fire she had started.

Jaskier set the water down next to the fire to warm up and grabbed his pack. He pulled out a rag and the small bar of soap he wasn’t able to resist buying. No matter what changed, all the frivolous thing he had let go, he hadn’t been able to give up his need to not smell as Ciri had so eloquently put “Like an Ogre’s piss pot”. Looking down at his drab clothes, dark and loose-fitting, he cringed. The style was atrocious but it helped him to blend in. Looking at Ciri in her fancy, blue coat he knew they were going to have to get her something else to wear. She would stick out like a sore thumb among the muted greys and blacks of poverty. For now, he chose not to say anything, content to watch her poke at the fire.

“The water should be warm enough now,” Ciri commented, gazing into the now steaming bucket of water.
Even though she had whined about it earlier a bath, even one that came in the form of being scrubbed down with a rag, sounded like heaven.

Using the rag so as not to burn his hand Jaskier moved the bucket away from the fire. He patted the ground and Ciri sat down in front of him. Gently he moved the damp rag over her face, washing off all the visible mud and dirt. Once he finished with that he moved on to trying to untangle her hair. He wet the parts that were matted tried his best not to tug too hard as he combed through it with his hands. It took all his patience, but eventually, the girl’s golden hair could once again be called golden. Before he let her go Jaskier pulled the young princess’s hair into a simple french braid. It wasn’t as fancy as she was used to back in Cintra but hopefully, it would keep the hair from becoming too tangled.

“Where did you learn to braid hair?” Ciri asked in a hushed voice once he had finished.
She stared at her reflection in the water, moving her small hand slowly down each ridge of the braid in something akin to relief.

“I had five older sisters growing up, they were always quick to put me to work, and embarrass me,” Jaskier grumbled, there was no real heat behind it, in fact, his heart ached at the memory.
How his sisters would tease him mercilessly but the moment anyone said anything against him they would attack like a pack of furies.

The grip on Ciri’s hair tightened,
“My mother died before having any other children. I used to pretend my dolls were little siblings I could take care of,” she mourned, whether for her mother she never knew or the siblings she would never have, Jaskier wasn’t sure.

“Where are your sisters now?” Ciri asked after a lapse of silence.
Jaskier hesitated to answer,
“I don’t know, I left when I was young and I haven’t seen them since.”
It wasn’t often that the bard’s heart ached to return home, yearned to be held by his mother or coddled by one of his sisters, but sometimes, if he let himself think too much, the need became so strong it hurt.

“Is that where you’re going now? To find your sisters?” Ciri’s voice was so full of hope, so sure of a storybook ending that Jaskier laughed.
“No princess, sadly I doubt they would even recognize this ugly mug if I returned,” he joked motioning the scar that traveled from just below his left eye down to his chin.

This was clearly not the reaction Ciri was looking for as she moved closer to him, pressing up so close he could feel her breath on his cheek as she gently traced the scar that deformed his face.
“You’re still beautiful,” the girl whispered, not a whisp of dishonesty in her voice.

Jaskier’s breath hitched in his lungs. Flinching away from Cirilla’s touch reflexively.
“You are cruel to say such things,” He lamented, getting up from the ground and brushing off his pants.

The princess didn’t look surprised by his retreat, only watching him with a sad curiosity.

Jaskier’s question was so out of the blue it surprised even himself.
“And what of you, princess, where are you headed? Besides as far from Nilfgaard as possible.”

Ciri didn’t hesitate to answer,
“To find Geralt of Rivia. It is my destiny.” She had said the words so many times it wore a groove in her mind like a well-worn path.

What she did not expect was for Jaskier to whip around with anger blazing in his eyes.

“The words Geralt and destiny do not belong anywhere near each other,” he spat.

“My grandmother told me to find him before she died,” she continued stubbornly, not backing down.
“And I am telling you that you should do no such thing,” the bard grunted
“But I belong to him. Mousesack told me that he would protect me!” Ciri protested.

“Oh, really? Did Mousesack also tell you how Geralt abandoned you? How he fled as soon as he heard you were his child of surprise? Or did he forget to mention that part?” Jaskier taunted.

He watched as Ciri’s eyes filled with tears and winced at his harshness, but it had to be said. He would not let the princess make the same mistake he had.

“You don’t mean that. I’ve heard the stories, your songs! You’re friends! How could you say such terrible things!” she croaked, sobs building in her throat.

“Were friends. We were friends, and only in my mind” Jaskier mumbled, softening at the girl’s tears, “I followed him for years, sharing coin, helping his reputation. I thought we were friends, I cared about him. He was all I had so I gave him all I could and do you know what he did? He left me. The White Wolf of Rivia, the Butcher of Blaviken, left me for a girl. He told me if he could have one wish it would be to never see me again, and his wish came true,” When he finished it was as if once his anger had faded it had taken all his strength with it.

Jaskier didn’t mention the real reason behind his anger, behind his feelings of betrayal and loss, but even in his anger, he knew those were not words for a child to hear, especially not one who had already seen the darker sides of humanity too many times before.

“He abandoned me and he abandoned you too. There’s no point in chasing after a destiny that doesn’t exist.” He stood to walk away, give the princess some space and give himself time to calm down, time to push down his guilt.

“My grandmother said the same thing. About destiny. You were there. You saw what happened when she tried to ignore it,” Ciri’s voice was strong as she called after him, wiping her tears and taking a strong stance. She would not be defied.

“That was different.”
“No, it wasn’t. You know it wasn’t. You’re just scared.”

And there it was. The truth.

The princess took a few tentative steps towards Jaskier. Grasping his hand gently in her own.

“I’m scared too. But I have to find him.”
“I know.”
“Will you come with me?”

Jaskier took a shuddered breath. He would not leave Ciri to face this alone. He had already vowed to protect her the best he could, and if that meant finally facing his fears than he would.

“You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”
The smile that lit Ciri’s face was worth it.

Chapter Text

It was midday when Jaskier finally had the thought to get moving. A familiar antsy feeling wormed its way into his chest that told him they had been stationary for too long.

The former bard, though he was beginning to hesitate to call himself that, busied himself with packing away their meager camp and pretending not to notice Ciri stealing one of his daggers from its sheath.

“Y’know,” Jaskier began, “If you wanted me to teach you to use that you could have just asked.”
He whipped around just as the young girl managed to pull the blade from its covering.
A grin snaked its way across his face as she yelped and let it fall to the ground, feigning innocents even when caught red-handed.

“I only wanted to look,” the princess sniffed dismissively, “besides my grandmother already taught me how to fight.”

Jaskier’s smile became softer,
“Ah, the great queen Calanthe, I’m sure she taught you well,” he assured her.
Ciri stood taller at his words, back straightening, shoulders squaring as if the very mention of her grandmother deserved the greatest respect. Which Jaskier supposed in a way it did. Even if he did not agree with all the late queen’s actions very little was accomplished by disrespecting the dead. She had still been Ciri’s only family.

The girl looked away briefly before reluctantly letting her eyes fall back to the polished dagger still resting in the snow-dusted dirt.
“She did,” Ciri hesitated, “but I suppose a little refresher wouldn’t hurt.”

Jaskier nodded, careful not to make the girl change her mind. It would be good for Ciri to learn how to defend herself. If the worst were to occur.

The bard, no, the rogue picked up the dagger and replaced it back in its sheath and instead pulled out the other blade. It was lighter, thinner, and easier to move. It was less fancy than the other dagger but Jaskier preferred it for its versatility. It was good for throwing as well as close combat if one knew how to use it. He placed the blade in Ciri’s hand, adjusting her grip accordingly till it fit comfortably in her small fist.

Jaskier explained the basics of wielding a dagger as they began to walk in the direction of the nearest town. Stopping briefly to correct the young girl’s hold or demonstrate the proper stance. Every time the girl got frustrated or dropped the blade by accident Jaskier suggested they take a break but Ciri refused, determination glinting in her eyes. Determination like that was going to be the death of him, that he was sure.

They walked for three days only stopping to sleep and eat. Jaskier felt bad about the grueling pace but the sooner the two were somewhere safe, surrounded by people, easily disguised by the bustling of the crowd, the better. Ciri never complained, not once, even when Jaskier could see that her feet ached and her muscles shook. He took pity on her more often than not, no longer able to stand the way her chatter slowly died out as she exhausted.

Halfway through the trek, he stopped, no longer able to bear the tired slump of the princesses’ shoulders. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder to bring her to a stop next to him, which she did without sparing him a glance. The rogue stood in front of her, bending his knees slightly until he was at her height, back to the girl.

When she didn’t react he turned to look at her expectantly.
“Well? Are you going to get on or are you waiting for a formal invitation?” Jaskier taunted.

Instantly the girl’s eyes lit up and she wrapped her arms around his neck as he hoisted her onto his back. He winced at the extra weight even though the small girl probably weighted less than she should. A year ago he probably wouldn’t have been able to support her weight at all he mused as he began to walk, purposefully putting a bounce into his step.

The high pitched fit of laughter that came with every jostle was worth the aching back he woke with in the morning.

They were practicing with the dagger again when the town finally came into view. Wooden buildings peeking out just above the treeline.

Jaskier didn’t miss the way they both tensed at the sight. The man found himself conflicted. On one hand, it had been weeks since he had stayed in an actual room, in an actual bed. On the other hand town’s meant people, people were a risk he still wasn’t sure if he was willing to take. Or he hadn’t been until he met Ciri. The girl had changed things. He didn’t have enough supplies for them both and he certainly wouldn’t be able to keep an entire army off their backs in the middle of the woods with nothing but a couple of dinky little knives.

The way Ciri explained her last time in a town, or rather a camp it hadn’t been a fond experience.

Ciri took his hand as they made their way closer to the town, her sweaty palm meeting his own in a way that probably should have been uncomfortable but somehow felt natural.

“Now remember if anyone asks--”
“If anyone asks my name is Fiona and yous is Julian, you’re my older brother, we escaped Cintra together but sadly our dear parents were killed in the massacre. We are trying to find our uncle who lives in Temeria. I know Jaskeir you’ve only told me a thousand times!” the princess huffed.

Jaskier sighed, maybe he was being a bit paranoid but when traveling with the princess of Cintra and Nilfgaard’s most prized fugitive, the caution was necessary.

Said fugitive pulled away from his grasped and ran towards the town as soon as the first person came into view, her fears apparently forgotten at the first glimpse of something familiar. Not that Jaskier could blame her. Seeing the Cintran flag fluttering in the wind helped greatly to ease his own frayed nerves.

He caught up with the princess quickly, taking her hand once again and slowing their pace. They needed to be smart and running in headfirst was not smart.

“Here’s the plan: We find the nearest tavern, get ourselves a hot meal, see if we can scunge up any current events on Nilfgaard or news of your witcher of surprise, we’ll rest for the night at an inn, and go in whatever direction they point us in the morning. Or maybe in the safest direction. We’ll play it by ear I suppose,” Jaskier strategized.

Ciri, though she did try, couldn’t focus on a word her friend said. The smell of warm bread made her stomach ache and the very idea of a soft, warm bed made her legs go all gooey.

Grumbling at being ignored Jaskier pulled them both towards a building that had a large sign hanging from a post above the doorway. Once upon a time he might have raced to a building with a sign as vulgar as: “Arse n’ Ale” now he could only bring himself to give a small smile.

He ignored Ciri’s giggling.

Inside the tavern was like any other. The smell of sweat and stale beer permeated the air, low burning lanterns shed just enough light to make out the gender of whoever you were talking to, the sound of chatter and drunken cheers filled the ear and left no room for thoughts in one’s head. Jaskier felt a warm sort of nostalgia fill his stomach. It felt like home.

Only once he had gotten the princesses’ word that she wouldn’t wander off did he release his grasp on her hand and head up to the bar, leaning against it casually. The familiar routine moved him more than his own thoughts.

“Two bowls of the special and a room for the night if you would my dear lady,” Jaskier enthused.
The unimpressed glare he received from the barmaid was also part of the routine. The glare softened when he fished out three silver coins from his bag, mentally he winced, after this, he would only have two left, barely enough to buy more supplies.

Two bowls of steaming hot stew were placed on the counter in front of the pair and for a minute they could only stare, admiring the view before they tore into the food with a fury. Days of stale bread and bits of dried meat had left them craving food of actual flavor.

It wasn’t long before Ciri finished off her bowl, scraping the last remains into her mouth, it also wasn’t long before she was looking at Jaskier’s bowl with longing. The rogue was weak to her puppy dog eyes and slid the bowl in her direction with little fuss.

“I’m off to find some information, stay here and keep your ears open, got it?”
Ciri nodded vigorously, pointing at her ears with one hand while she continued to eat. Jaskier rolled his eyes but made his way towards the nearest patron; a stout bald man that was attempting to drown himself with ale.

“Hello, good sir! I was wondering if you could perhaps tell me if you have any news of Cintra?” Jaskier gushed, inviting himself to sit next to the man. He leaned backward almost immediately as he was hit with a strong whiff of cow shit.

“Ain’t got news about a place that don’t exist,” baldy huffed, his voice was deep and strained as if he had smoked on a pipe for too long.

The younger man had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from breaking his jovial act.
“Well then, do you perchance have any information of a witcher?”
“And what would you need a witcher for, boy?” baldy sneered.
“You see, my sister and I, we have been traveling to Termeria in search of our uncle and we would have heard tales of great beasts that lurk on the roads. We would like a witcher to accompany us.” Jaskier was fairly proud of his lie, even if it was already half-formed.

“Looks to me like you’ve got more to worry about than a few stories,” the man announced, sitting back in his seat and tilting his head towards where the rogue had been sitting minutes ago.

“What are you--” Jaskier’s blood went cold.

Four men hovered around the young princess, savage smiles spread across their ugly mugs. The tallest amongst them had one of his meaty hands threaded through her hair. She cried out as he tugged it.

“What the bloody fuck do you think you’re doing!” Jaskier roared, he was across the tavern in seconds, pulling Ciri behind his back and away from the brutes.

The men only laughed.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist boy, we was just having a little fun,” the tallest man, the one who had pulled Ciri’s hair grinned.
This only caused his goons to laugh harder, booming cackles like a pack of wild dogs.

“Well, then I’ll invite you to kindly fuck right off cause I don’t see how bullying a child could be any kind of fun. Let’s go Cir-- Fiona.” He tried to get around the men, pulling Ciri with him but the mistake had been made. The men stepped in front of him blocking his path

“What was that?” The leader questioned, his voice became something dangerous, eyes predatory.

“I said you can fuck. Off. My sister and I are leaving,” Jaskier growled.
He tried to step around the men only to once again be blocked.

“Y’know I’ve heard that Nilfgaard has been looking for someone, people been saying that’s the reason they’re going around killing people. Heard they were looking for a little blonde girl. Some say they’ll even pay a pretty penny if you can bring them the girl alive,” the brute’s tone was mocking, but his men around him had become serious, menacing.

Jaskier felt Ciri’s breath hitch behind him as she clutched at his shirt. This was bad. This was very, very bad. In fact, this was his greatest fear coming true.

“Terrible for the poor girl, I’m sure, but I’m not quite sure what that has to do with us but if you’d step aside I think I’ve stated twice now that we’re leaving,” the rogue bluffed, hand falling to his daggers.

“We’ve been in a bit of a rut haven’t we boys” the other four men roared in agreement, “I think we could use a few marks right now.”
“You’re making a mistake this is my sister we--”

“Grab the girl.”

Instantly the men lunged forwards, but Jaskier was quicker, with deft hands he pulled out his blades and slashed at the man nearest to him on the far right. Both blades found a home in the man’s chest before the rogue kicked his body off and made a run for the door with Ciri in tow, hoping to lose them in the street. A bar stook shattered against the wall as they made it to the door. The rogue’s hope instantly deflated with reality as he saw the Leader of the bandits right on their tail, chest heaving. They wouldn’t make it. Not together.

Before letting himself think it through Jaskier made the decision. He slipped one of his blades into Ciri’s hand, the thinner one she had been practicing with and pushed her out the door.

He met her eyes for only a second but he knew she understood. The rogue slammed the door shut behind her, effectively locking himself in the with the bandits, who looked half-feral. He gulped. Over the last year, he had become a proficient fighter but three against one were not odds he liked.

Jaskier raised his now singular dagger, it was heavier, meant for stabbing. Not his preferred weapon but he would make do.

The rogue charged the remaining men taking the offensive before they could. He ducked under the first man’s swing, using the man’s own momentum to throw him into a table. The second man proved himself to be better equipped, pulling a sword from behind his back. Jaskier parried his first swing, but the second swing came down on his shoulder, bringing with it a world of pain. The small man thanked the gods for adrenaline or he would have crumbled immediately. Instead, he sunk his blade into the meat of the man’s causing him to howl in agony and dropped his sword. With a flick of his knife, the still screaming man was put out of his misery. Finally, Jaskier turned to dispatch his last opponent--

When a knife lodged itself in his gut.

Gasping for air he looked up to see the tallest thug, the leader of the bandits grinning down at him. The pull of the knife exiting followed by a rush of warmth had Jaskier falling to his knees. So this was it. He would die alone in a dim tavern that smelled vaguely of piss from a knife to the stomach. It wasn’t unexpected but it certainly wasn’t the romantic ending Jaskier had hoped for. As the pain consumed him, spreading fire up his body and through his limbs, he thought of his mother, of his sisters. Would they hear of his death through town gossip? Or would they go on with their lives, blissfully unaware that their son, their brother was six feet under? Jaskier didn’t know which was worse.
He didn’t get time to ponder it either as a scream erupted from behind him.

Ciri.

Ear piercing screams filled the tavern, chairs tumbled backward, tables rumbled across the floor to get away from the terrible noise. The man, knife still in hand, red with blood, was flung back into a wooden beam, pined by the princess’s cries. Jaskier didn’t know what was happening but he couldn’t help the pride that welled up in his chest as she threw the dagger he had given her with impressive accuracy, impaling the man’s chest.

As soon as the man was dead Ciri crumbled to the ground next to her friend, pressing a firm hand to his wound that made him groan and shrink away from her harsh touch.

“Jaskier please, you have to stay with me,” She choked, “you said you’d help me find Geralt. You promised!”
“I’m not going anywhere, princess. Just... “ Jaskier hissed as he tried to sit up before he was interrupted by Ciri’s hand being ripped away from his side.

Ciri struggled against the man that held her up, but with the hand covering her mouth she couldn’t scream. The bald man, the one Jaskier had talked to before now held the princess tightly against his chest.

“I give you my thanks for getting rid of that filth but I’m in no position to pass up the kind of riches they were after. You’ll have to--”

Before he could finish the bald man’s head slid off his shoulders and dropped to the floor with a sickening thud, his body following soon after.

Standing in his place was a man Jaskier had not seen for two long years. Stark white hair and bright yellow eyes marked the man as a witcher, but the permanent downward tilt of his mouth meant it was Geralt of Rivia, and what a beautiful sight he was.

Jaskier let himself succumb to darkness.

Chapter Text

It would have been your everyday highway robbery if it weren’t for the distinct black, rippled armor, If it wasn’t for the way they tossed Jaskier’s bag to the side If it weren’t for the way they bound him with rope and tossed him, bruised and bloody, into an iron-barred carriage.

He didn’t go down without a fight, he was proud to say. Less proud to admit the only weapon he had with him was his lute. The echoing crack accompanied by the twanging of strings snapping as it shattered over the helmet of the nearest soldier played in his mind for the next few days as he mourned the loss of his precious instrument.

He should have been mourning himself.

But he wouldn’t know that yet.

The snap of leather as a whip came down on his back for what felt like the hundredth time, the searing heat of a knife carving his flesh, the rope digging into the soft skin of his neck as he tried in vain to gasp for air.

The worst was the laughter. Deep and malicious and far too happy to beat him senseless.

All he could think was pain pain pain, fear fear fear, why why why.

Of course, he knew why.

Jaskier took a ragged breath, his legs shook violently in a feeble attempt to keep him upright, and take the pressure off his bleeding wrists. The metal cuffs digging into his skin as he sagged under the lash of a whip.
“I will give you one last chance, bard. Answer the question and this can all end. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You would be returned to the nearest town before you could even use that lovely voice of yours to say please,” his faceless torturer whispered into his ear.
It was too soft, too caring to be from the same person who had inflicted so much pain. To be the same person who currently held a blade to his pinky finger, making his threat immensely clear.

“Where is Geralt of Rivia?”

The worst part of it all was that Jaskier had no idea where the witcher was. It had been nearly six months since that fateful day atop the mountain. Almost seven now if he had been counting the days since his capture correctly.

But Nilfgaard did not care for that answer, they had made that very clear. There was no point in lying either, dark magic burned through his body if he even thought of lying.

So the bard sucked in a breath and steeled himself for what was to come.

“Last I heard he was busy fucking your mom.”

He passed out from the pain moments later.

Jaskier launched himself out of bed with a scream. Hands flew to his belt, grasping at his daggers. The daggers that weren’t there. In fact, nothing was there because he was completely naked save for his undergarments.

Raw panic sent adrenaline racing through his body. The room was small and fairly simple: a fireplace to his left, a desk to his right and a bed behind him. It didn’t look like his cell in Nilfgaard but it wouldn’t be the first time they had tried messing with his emotions, giving him a false sense of security only to rip it out from under him.

There were no windows in the room meaning his only means of escape was through the door, but Jaskier had no way of knowing what was waiting for him on the other side. He turned his attention to the fireplace. It wouldn’t be easy but he might be able to climb up depending on its width.

Before the rogue could act on his plan the door was kicked open with such force it slammed into the wall and knocked a painting to the floor. Jaskier flinched back, scrambling backward until his back hit the bed frame, still tangled in the bedsheets.

Geralt of Rivia, sword drawn, yellow eyes ablaze stood in the doorway panting as if he had run. Clearly the witcher had been expecting to find an attacker and not Jaskier panicking in a pile on the floor.

“You’re awake,” Geralt grunted, relaxing his stance and lowering his sword.

As much as the rogue hated to admit it there was an odd comfort to seeing the man again. They may not be on good terms but there was a time when he was Jaskier’s closest, and only, friend. The low timbre of the witcher’s voice still didn’t fail to bring a shiver down his spine. Some things never change, though for his heart’s sake, Jaskier wishes they would.

“Where are we? Where is Ciri?” Jaskier demanded, attempting to stand.
His head started spinning as soon as he got to his feet, struck with a newfound awareness of the pain in his stomach.

The rogue swayed with a wince and the witcher moved closer, worry crossing his usually stoic face. His concern only fueled Jaskier’s anger.
“Don’t take another step closer until you’ve answered my questions,” He warned, stumbling to the desk to support himself. He snagged a shirt from the floor on his way, though his wound protested as he raised his arms to get the damned thing over his head.

“We rode a few hours to Strada. Ciri is sleeping in the room next door, Took hours to convince her to leave your side,” Geralt muttered, he had returned his sword to his sheath but without it his hands didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves, fidgeting awkwardly with his armor. It was strange to see the man acting so nervous when he usually hid his emotions so well.

Fondness warmed Jaskier’s chest, the princess had saved him. He pushed himself off the desk with determination, the rogue needed to see her for himself and settle his unease. The last time he had seen her she had almost been taken from him.

In his rush he had forgotten his injury and as soon as he moved he nearly collapsed grasping at his stomach in an attempt to stifle to flaring agony that felt as though it was spreading through his body from that one spot

“Your stitches. Let me check them.” The witcher demanded, gesturing to where the blood had already begun to stain the shirt Jaskier had thrown on.

The smaller man laughed bitterly.
“Glad to see you haven’t lost your way with words, dear witcher.”

Geralt only huffed even as a smile pulled its way across his face,
“And I see you’re as annoying as ever, bard”

Before either of them can blink Jaskier’s fist collides with the witcher’s chiseled jaw with so much force that his head is forced to the side. Anger and hurt tore through Jaskier’s chest, he imagined this so many times. He would rehearse his words over and over again. In his mind the witcher’s role always shifted, on a good day Jaskier would imagine him to be apologetic, The larger man would appear humbled before him, and if Jaskier was feeling particularly petty the white wolf might even beg his forgiveness. Bad days had presented Geralt as he had been when the two first met: jaded, uncaring, as heartless as all the stories made him out to be.

None of Jaskier’s daydreaming would prepare him for a Geralt who acted as if the last two years hadn’t happened.

“You will never say that to me again or I will do much worse than hit you,” He warns, spitting the words like venom.

The larger man rubs his jaw in shock, slightly impressed by the rogue’s strength. If Jaskier weren’t so blinded by rage he would have stopped to wonder why Geralt, butcher of blaviken, hadn’t hit him back. There wasn’t a trace of anger on the witcher’s face.

“Jaskier I--” Geralt started, but the rogue had only just started.

“You what, Geralt? Thought you didn’t need to apologize? You Thought we could just go back to the way things were without you having to damage your pride because I’m just the funny little bard who will always come running back to you no matter how hurtful you are?”

“Jaskier, I’m sorry.”

Jaskier paused, in all honesty, he hadn’t expected the witcher to apologize, he was slightly taken aback.

“I shouldn’t have said those things to you, I didn’t mean them, not really. I was hurt and angry and I took it out on you. It was wrong.”

“You’re right, it was wrong, but you had the chance to fix it and you didn’t. Did you even consider coming? Or did you simply crumple up the letter as soon as you realized there was no coin to be made.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, don’t play dumb with me witcher, it doesn’t suit you, you know very well what I’m talking about!”

“Jaskier, I have no idea about any kind of letter, what reason would I have to lie?”

“I don’t know! What reason would a traitorous bastard have to--”

Both men froze as Ciri wandered into the room rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Why are you fighting?”

“We were--”

Geralt stutters trails off with a hum, clearly uncomfortable.

“We aren’t fighting, Ciri we were just discussing what we should do next, but that can wait. Why don’t we go get you something to eat and then we can make a plan together?”

Ciri nods, not fully awake, drifting in Jaskier’s direction.
Jaskier picks her up, ignoring the pain it causes his torn stitches, leaving a very confused Geralt.

Sadly, the rogue soon discovered that Geralt had not taken them to an inn but an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of a small town known as Strada. Jaskier’s dreams of a precooked warm meal and refreshing bath looked to be once again just that, a dream. Ciri, bless her heart, didn’t seem to mind, forcing Jaskier to sit down while she sorted through the cupboards looking for something edible. Clearly the princess was a little happy to be able to play caretaker for once, though Jaskier could have gone without the scolding.

“--Push me out the door why don’t you! Don’t stop and think that maybe I could have helped you fight them, or that you could have run with me! Gods know those brutes wouldn’t have been able to fit through the crowd! But nooo underestimate the princess just like everyone else. I expected more from you,” The young girl huffed, purposefully slamming the cabinets for dramatic effect. Personally, Jaskier thought she would make an excellent bard if her singing didn’t sound like a cat being strangled. Better than a pie with no filling.

“I promise that next time we run into a gang of buff men wielding swords that are as tall as you are I’ll turn tail and run while you fight them off. Satisfied?” Jaskier smirked.

Ciri rolled her and threw a piece of stale bread at him which he caught with ease.

“So what were you and Geralt really talking about?” the princess questioned innocently, turning back to the kitchen to ignore the rogue’s glare.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Jaskier answered.
He knew it was unfair to be petty with the girl when she was only concerned but he already had a headache from the argument earlier and he really didn’t feel like explaining everything to a nosy 13-year-old no matter how much he loved her.

“The two of you are going to have to figure something out eventually,” Ciri sighed, snatching the bread from Jaskier’s hand and splitting it into three equal parts, “I refuse to listen to your bickering all the way to Kaer Morhen.”

“Kaer Morhen!” Jaskier cried, “Why the bloody fuck would we be going to Kaer Morhen? Unless you have some very surprising news for me I'm sorry to tell you becoming a witcher is not an option, my dear!”

The princess covered her mouth to stifle her laughter at Jaskier’s hysterics.

“I’m not going to become a witcher, even though I think it’s very unfair that I can’t. Geralt is going to train me. So I can learn to control my powers and protect myself,” she explained.

The memory of Ciri’s screams throwing a man across a room played through Jaskier’s mind.

“You seemed to have fairly good control over it last I saw,” the rogue muttered

“It only works when I’m panicked or scared, I was just acting on instinct back at the tavern,” the princess explained slowly as if Jaskier was a petulant child on the verge of a tantrum.

“Either way I don’t see how going to a school for Witchers would help, I can hardly handle one I can’t imagine how I would fare if I had to deal with a whole mountain full of them,” Jaskier moaned, “I say we head to the coast, lay low for a while until this whole thing with Nilfgaard has blown over.”

“From my experience, things like this don’t just blow over,” Geralt countered, very rudely interrupting the conversation.

He had taken off his armor, but his posture was still tense, ready to fight at the drop of a coin. Jaskier wondered how long it had been since the witcher had relaxed, but dismissed the thought immediately, Geralt had never been anything less than rigid his entire witchery life.

Except that wasn’t true, because Jaskier had seen him relaxed. Lying by the fire humming along to the bard’s latest song, throwing his head back in laughter when Roach had pushed the bard into a mud puddle for calling her smelly, the excitement in his eyes whenever they ran into Yennefer. There were moments, private moments when the witcher allowed himself to relax enough to have a little fun. Jaskier had once thought himself privileged to be allowed to witness it. Now it only made Geralt’s cold tone hurt worse.

“So what? Do you suggest we take her to witcher boot camp until you’ve turned her into a child soldier? Humans fight, it's what we do. Eventually, they’ll either reach an agreement or kill each other. No need to get Ciri involved in a war she doesn’t need to be a part of,” Jaskier argued back. There was no way he was going to voluntarily put the princess in any more danger

“Nilfgaard won’t stop until they’ve got her, she’s been apart of this war since birth.”

“Oh that’s precious coming from you, what would you know of what she’s a part of, you haven’t exactly been there,” the rogue sneered. He shouldn’t make it personal but he won’t allow the witcher to act as if he knows anything about the girl’s life when he had so purposefully not been a part of it.

“Jaskier please, we don’t have to fight,” Ciri pleaded.

The two men had drifted closer to each other as they threw words back and forth, now they were barely a foot apart. The youngest tried to pull Jaskier back to the table but he wouldn’t budge.

“I did what I thought was best for her,” Geralt growled, ignoring the princesses’ pleas.
The witcher hadn’t spent the last two years searching for the girl only to be excused of not caring.

“No, you abandoned her because you were too scared to own up to your responsibility!”

“A witcher’s life is no life for a child! I wasn’t going to drag her into my mess!”

“But you were perfectly fine to drag me in?” Jaskier shouted, breathing heavily. The bloodstain on his shirt was steadily growing but he hardly noticed.

Geralt stepped back, stunned.

“Jaskier I’ve already apologized, what more do you want from me,” the witcher pleaded.

Jaskier winced, it was wrong, to see the strong, brave witcher sound so desperate. Part of him wanted to forgive him for everything, to comfort him with open arms. How easy would it be to forget everything and go back to the agreeable friendship they once had? But the truth would remain. The truth would remain in his constant nightmares, in his scars, emotional and physical. His pride would not allow him to forgive the witcher so quickly, especially when the witcher didn’t even appear to know what he was truly apologizing for.

“I want you to fuck off!”

“Will you two both just shut up!” Ciri roared, standing between both men before things could escalate any farther.

Suddenly, Jaskier doubled over as his wound pain throughout his body, forcing him to his knees. While the pain had been there since he had woken up it was nothing compared to the agony that overcame him now

“Jaskier!” Ciri cries following him to the floor, pulling his head into her lap.

“Geralt crouched next to the pair, eyes set with determination. Calloused hands lifted Jaskier’s shirt to reveal the grisly injury. Most of the stitches had torn and it was clearly infected but there was something more. Dark magic radiated off of the wound.

“The blade was cursed,” The witcher cursed himself for failing to realize it earlier.

“And what does that mean for me?” Jaskier groaned, another wave of pain had him curling into a ball but that only made the pain worse.

“It means we need to get you to a mage. Quickly.” Geralt answered, his face set in a grimace.

“That’s not so bad? I’m sure we can find one in town, right?” Ciri asked, running a gentle hand through the rogue’s sweaty hair.

“No, no way, I refuse to go to that witch for help, nothing good ever comes of her,” Jaskier argued, once he saw the look on the witcher’s face. There was no way he was going to ask her for help of any kind.

“Jaskier, we don’t have much time and my wish guarantees she’ll be close,” The larger man reasons, impatiently.

Jaskier’s mind raced for alternatives. He knew Geralt was right but the idea of seeing the two of them together, the man who had broken his heart and the women who caused it, was almost as terrifying as his injury.

“Dammit,” the rogue growled in frustration, “Let’s go find the witch and get it over with. I'm too beautiful to die.”

Chapter Text

Every breath causes Jaskier to wince in agony, the pain from his wound making itself known every time Ciri adjusts her grip as she applied pressure.

“So, witcher, how do you plan to find your witch? I know she’s never far but do you have a tracking spell? Perhaps you can smell her like a bloodhound with your witcher-y senses?” Jaskier should probably be taking this life-threatening situation a bit more seriously but his need to antagonize Geralt outweighed his sense of impending doom.

The witcher's scowl deepened, chiseling into his face as if set in stone, permanently disapproving. He hesitated before reaching into his bag and pulling out an intricate, silver hand mirror.

“Really Geralt now is not the time to be checking your hair,” Jaskier grumbled, wincing as Ciri pressed harder on his wound and gave him a warning glance.
Clearly the twelve-year-old had had enough of his childish behavior. The rogue refused to think about the implications of that.

Geralt’s only response was to grunt which in turn caused Jaskier to roll his eyes. Some things never changed. The witcher held the mirror facing away from him towards the door of the small cabin. He grasped the mirror’s handle with both hands and held it away from his body as if bracing himself to parry the blow of a sword.
Jaskier and Ciri watched with fascination as the witcher mumbled a few words under his breath and an image appeared in the mirror. The image began to glow, growing larger and moving out of the mirror and into the center of the room. An idyllic scene came into view, a quaint little cottage, filled with eclectic furniture and knick-knacks. The edges of the image flickered and swirled. Jaskier had never seen a portal before but he had no doubt that this was what he was seeing now.

“Amazing,” Ciri gushed, letting up on the pressure as she stared at the rippling image in amazement.

“Yes, yes very cool. I’m so glad Geralt can teleport to his sexy, sorceress girlfriend at any time, but I am currently in the process of dying and I would very much appreciate if that little issue could be solved in a timely manner,” Jaskier complained blithely.

Ciri grabbed his arm and struggled to help him stand and support his shaky legs. A very sweet gesture but rather ineffective as he was almost two heads taller than the young princess. The sudden relief of weight pulled a shocked breath from his lungs as Geralt swings his other arm around his shoulder and holds the rogue tightly by the waist.
The odd trio stumbles towards the portal like a three-headed creature, new and breakable and to Jaskier’s horror, comforting.

He could feel the magic washing over him as they stepped through the flickering image. The rogue had never seen a portal much less gone through one and as a rush of energy flowing into and out of his body with such a force he felt like he’d been slapped in the face, he hoped he never would again.

As soon as his feet touched the pelt covered floor Jaskier fell to his knees, nearly taking his two other heads with him. Ciri, who had grabbed his bag from the table, pulled out one of his daggers and stepped in front of him, shielding him from any unseen harm. Once again Jaskier could feel his heart grow inside his chest, too full of love for this child than he ever thought possible. What had he done to deserve this girl's loyalty? How had her elf friend ever been able to part with her? Weakly he tugged on her coat, unable to resist pulling her into a hug, a loose one, as he felt himself fading, but one he prayed conveyed all his emotions. His gratitude, his love, his pride. Jaskier really hoped he would see the princess again but just in case.

The last thing he hears before he succumbs to the growing weight of his eyelids is the shouting of a woman he didn’t recognize. It certainly wasn’t from the ever calm and seductive Yennefer of Vengerbergs. Geralt’s mirror must have been broken. They’d just broken into some poor women’s home. Oh well, that’s the witcher’s problem now. Serves him right.

And with that Jaskier slips away, a feeling of deja vu following him into the darkness.

-------------------------

A heavy fog clouded his vision, or maybe it was just sweat. He wiped his eyes with his hand, then took a moment to inspect them. It had been nearly a month since he had been free to move his arms as he pleased. His wrists had been rubbed past raw, but the soldier had given him bandages before they’d left him. A small blessing.

Now he rolled a quill between his fingers, not unlike all the times he’d sat down to write a new hit song. Writing a ballad was much easier than what he was writing now, he found. Maybe that had something to do with the unimaginative setting. If he had anything to look at besides four cell walls the bard was sure he could have come up with something better than 'I know you kind of hate me but could you please come to save me? Just one more time?' Not that Geralt would care. He had no taste for flowery words or carefully crafted metaphors.

Jaskier threw down the pen in anger, kicking away the paper and curling up on his side. The sores on his back hurt too badly to be any more dramatic than that.

What he would give for a window.

The bard grabbed the simple letter he had written, his first draft. “I need you.” vague but to the point. It had to be enough. He sent up a quiet prayer to a number of gods he didn’t believe in that it would be enough.

-------------------------

Jaskier stumbled into consciousness rather than jumping headfirst like last time. He took a moment to be grateful for that as he surveyed his surroundings.

Once again he found himself in a small room on a comfortable bed. The room was sparse but still appeared lived-in. It radiated a comforting warmth. This definitely was not Yennefer’s house. A statement supported by the beautiful woman sitting by the rogue’s side, cleaning his wound. Well, a beautiful woman that wasn’t Yennefer. Her hair was curly and her skin was dark, she was shorter than Yennefer. How come Geralt always manages to find beautiful women? And judging by the fact that Jaskier isn’t dead he assumes the woman at least has some magic capabilities. The witcher really did have the best luck. Though, this woman didn’t seem like much of a threat so she wouldn’t really by Geralt’s type, would she?

He searches for something to say but the witch beats him to it,
“Your witcher is downstairs. He wanted to stay but he’s a bit busy being screamed at by Yen--”
As if on cue a scream can be heard from downstairs followed by a loud crash. The woman winces slightly before resuming her work, gently helping Jaskier to sit up so she can bandage him.

“Things ended rather ugly for them, didn’t it? I thought they would be able to move past it by now but I suppose they are both rather stubborn aren’t they?” She mused, eyes never leaving her work. There was a fondness in her voice that betrayed any real seriousness.

The rogue felt his head spin. Who was this woman? Why was she presumably living with Yennefer? How did she know Geralt? He opened his mouth to voice his questions but once again the woman continued.
“My name is Triss, I doubt Geralt mentioned me. Geralt is an old friend, Yennefer is a new one,” she explained, her eyes lighting up at the mention of the witch.
“Oh, the princess is in the yard playing with one of your knives, I was scared she would hurt herself but she informed me that she’s been wielding blades since she was eight. I don’t think she took too kindly to my concern,” Triss chuckled, “That witcher certainly does have a thing about princesses doesn’t her? Saving them left and right.”

Jaskier felt pride well in his chest at the anecdote of Ciri’s smartass attitude, but the feeling quickly soured.
“He didn’t save her from shit,” he snapped.

Triss stilled but didn’t react any further than that, which of course made the rogue feel like an utter arse. The witch had been nothing but kind to him and here he is biting her head off for making a joke.

“Yes, I suppose that was you,” Triss conceded softly, looking up to meet his eyes for the first time.
Jaskier is struck by how much kindness she holds in those eyes. Maybe a bit of mischief, like she knows something he doesn’t. If the witch was as smart as she seemed she probably did.
She helped him to stand up from the bed, making sure he was stable on his feet before rummaging through a bag at her feet. The witch hands him a dark gray shirt that he instantly recognized.
“Sorry, we didn’t have anything else and your old shirt is covered in blood,” Triss explains apologetically.

With an exaggerated sigh, Jaskier pulls the shirt over his head. He has to roll up the sleeves and it’s a bit long on him but it fits better than he expected. When he had stolen one of Geralt’s a few years ago he was practically drowning in fabric. The witcher had slashed one of his favorite dublets in retaliation but the bard hadn’t cared at the time. He slept in that shirt for weeks before Geralt had stolen it back. The memory weighed heavier on him now. Once he had felt so safe around the stoic witcher. No matter how many dangerous monsters they faced he had never been less afraid. Not that Jaskier had ever been a very fearful person. A bard cannot be fearful when leaving home to find a muse for his craft. They must be very brave or very stupid. In Jaskier’s case, he had been both.

“Let’s get you something to eat,” Triss suggested, holding out her elbow.
The rogue looped his arm through hers and the pair made their way slowly down the flight of creaky, wooden stairs.

The verbal battle that had previously been waged downstairs seemed to have been settled, or both parties had simply exhausted themselves. Either way, the witcher and his witch were left to simmer in anger on opposite sides of the small, stone kitchen. Jaskier tried not to feel too satisfied.

Yennefer and Geralt both open their mouths at the sight of the rogue but the door slams open before they can get a word out. Ciri, freshly bathed and in a new, more practical outfit, stands in the doorway.

“Well hello to you too princ--” Jaskeir starts, but is quickly interrupted by the young girl who threw herself into his arms with a poorly concealed sob.

“Stop doing that you, you jerk!” she demanded, her voice rough with tears.
Jaskier wrapped his arms tightly around the girl, her shoulders shuddering with silent sobs. Guilt once again wraps its icy hands around his heart.

Before he can formulate a fitting apology the princess socks him in the stomach, her unnaturally blue eyes blazing with about as much rage as a twelve-year-old can muster. Jaskier took a moment to remember the anger that had once caused him to tear apart his eldest sister’s favorite dress at a similar age. It was possible that the punch had been him getting off easy because he was still injured. He feared what the girl would be capable of without pity to hold her back.

“Ow! I’m sorry, alright! It’s not like I wanted to get stabbed!” Jaskier whined, gasping for air, the girl had an arm. That punch threw him back to the first time he had met Geralt and made the mistake of mentioning the whole “butcher of Blaviken” business. The similarity between the girl and the witcher made Jaskier grind his teeth. Somehow, without even being around her, Geralt’s child of surprise had inherited his powerful right hook.

“Promise me you won’t ever do that again,” The young girl demands, not an ounce of pity in her voice as she watches her friend try to catch his breath with deadly serious eyes.
“It’s not like I can really control--”
“Promise!”

Jaskier, finally having recovered from the attack, got down on one knee with a flourish as to be at the same height as the girl.
“I promise to you, young Ciri of Cintra, that I will never leave you. Ever. And I never break a promise,” The former bard swore, taking the princesses hand and crossing it over his heart

Geralt grunts out a scoff from off to the side but the rogue chooses to ignore that. It’s not like the witcher hasn’t broken any promises. For once in his life this is a promise Jaskier means never to break.

“Now,” the rogue stands and brushes imaginary dirt from his pants, “I love you very much but if I don’t get food in the next few minutes I’m afraid I may wither and die, and really? I’m not looking to get punched again so if we could keep that from happening I’d be eternally grateful,” Jaskier presses a kiss to Ciri’s forehead and ruffles her hair before turning back around to the stunned group of adults. Except for Triss who merely smiled with her apparent trademark all-knowing look in her eyes.

The man paid them no mind as he walked right past the trio toward what smelled to be a very delicious stew cooking on the wood fire stove.

Yennefer seems to be the first to recover, looking the rogue up and down, no doubt taking in his shaggy hair, untrimmed stubble, and borrowed clothing. Jaskier from a year ago wouldn’t have been caught dead looking like this. Unless it had been a VERY good night.

“You look like shit, bard,” the witch deadpans.

Anger lights up the man’s system before the words have time to even fully register, but… but he’s too tired to fight. Too tired to come up with a less than a witty comeback.

“And you look as beautiful as ever, Yennefer, and I’m not a bard, not anymore,” Jaskier sighed, spooning himself a bowl of stew. He knows it’s unfair.

They used to banter all the time. There was a time when the bard thought he hated the witch, but it wasn’t true. If anything he had always respected Yennefer. It wasn’t her fault the man Jaskier had loved since he was hardly old enough to truly understand the meaning of the word had chosen her instead of him. He hadn’t even known what true hate was. Not yet. What he had known was pettiness and jealousy.

Yennefer looks away, clearly uncomfortable with the lack of a biting response from the bard she had known.

Jaskier moves to sit at the table, aware of the four sets of eyes following his every move. It makes him feel irritable, like a caged animal at a zoo, pacing back and forth as guests wait for the beast's patience to run out. He slouches into a chair and Triss helpfully reaches into a drawer and hands him a spoon. An awkward silence enveloped the room, growing with every second the passes, replacing the air and making it harder and harder to catch a breath.

“Alright, that’s enough of that. Everyone out. The bard and I are going to have a little chat,” Yennefer orders with a clap of her hand.

Geralt all but runs out of the room, Ciri following with a bit more hesitance. She glances at Jaskier, trying to gauge his reaction. He gives her a small nod and the princess leaves, satisfied. Triss moves to follow but Yennefer catches her by the wrist and pulls her closer, planting a tender kiss to her lips and whispering something softly in her ear that the rogue couldn’t make out. Triss tucked a strand of the sorceress's hair behind her ear and nods before sweeping out of the room.

With the room now empty Jaskier begins to feel less like a pacing beast and more like a cornered rat under the witch’s intense purple eyes. She moves across the room with grace, pulling out the chair diagonal to the rogue with the flick of her risk. She bunches her sleek gown and sits next to him, but she doesn’t say anything. The man feels himself begin to sweat.

“What? Have you come to gloat, have you, witch?” He spits, face contorted into a harsh glare. The movement tugs at the scar running vertically down his cheek. It’s childish, but he’s panicking.

Yennefer’s laugh is so genuine it almost startles him.
“As you can clearly see I’ve found comfort elsewhere,” she smirks, eyes flickering to the women just outside the door.
Jaskier’s eyes sink to his bowl.

“What happened to you, Jaskier?” She whispered, softer than the rogue had ever seen her.
“Geralt happened, Nilfgaard happened, maybe reality happened,” the man murmured.
He didn’t feel like having this conversation for what felt like the millionth time in the past week. Certainly not with the women who had inadvertently caused all of this. His downfall.

Once again Yennefer looked away. Her discomfort was palpable. Clearly, she still wasn’t a fan of emotions. To be honest, Jaskier was shocked she had cared enough to ask. Her relationship with Triss had obviously been good for her. He was glad. While he may not be the women’s biggest fan she deserved happiness. She had certainly fought long and hard to find it.

The witch’s brows furrowed, deep in thought. It was a few minutes before she spoke again.
“Do you know it didn’t work between us? Geralt and I?” She asked, leaning forward in her seat.

“I don’t know. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that you’re both terrifying mutants who could probably destroy the world if you really wanted to. Y’know what they say about similar people. Never a good mix,” Jaskier quips, taking another sip of his stew. He was almost certain Triss had cooked it because he had tasted all three of the others cooking and it was nowhere near this good.

Yennefer leveled him with a glare and he raised his arms in defeat, motioning for her to continue in what was obviously about to be a very inspiring lecture.

“When I first learned about his wish I was furious. I was hurt and I felt betrayed. I had trusted him only to learn I had been tricked by another man wanting to use me, and yet, I couldn’t stay away. It was part of the curse. I returned after barely a week, determined to force him to break the curse so that we could have a chance at a real relationship, but when I found him again he was different. His drive, his anger, it was like it had simply vanished overnight. I stayed with him awhile. He kept slaying monsters and collecting coin but every time your name was said in a tavern or whispered in gossip it was like he’d come alive again. He never said anything but it-- the passion, the... the love we had was gone, or maybe it was never there to begin with. Whatever the case I told him he needed to stop sulking and apologize to you,” her voice faltered slightly during the story but she smiled, ignoring Jaskier’s wince as she took his hand into her own delicate palms.
“He may not know how to show it but he truly cares for you, bard.”

Yennefer’s eyes scan his face, trying to find even a hint of a reaction in his expression, but he only stares wide-eyed at where their hands are still connected.

“Jaskier, please I--”

He cuts her off by standing so quickly he nearly knocks over his chair. The rogue pulls his hand free and stumbles towards the door leading to the garden where Ciri had run off to earlier.

The witch huffs, glaring at his retreating figure.
“Fine! Don’t believe me!” She yells as she marches to where Triss is listening from behind the door. “Being nice is awful. I’m never doing it again. If those two idiots want to continue circling each other for another decade it’s none of my business,” she whines, pressing herself into the crook of her girlfriend’s neck.

“I know dear, but I’m very proud of you for trying,” Triss soothes, running her fingers through Yennefer’s hair.

“... Do you think he’ll be alright? Jaskier?” she asks softly, giving up her dramatics.
Triss frowns in a way Yennefer sees so very rarely, her entire face contorted into concern and laced with sadness.

“My love, I have no idea.”