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to grow in adversity

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Jaskier goes back to normal. Slowly. Geralt keeps an eye on the bard, who has a tendency to be cheerful when watched and sad when he thinks he isn’t. Sometimes he looks at Geralt with such - such sadness and grief and Geralt just doesn’t understand it at all.

But Jaskier still smiles, still trails along behind Roach strumming on his lute and singing and humming and generally being loud. Still mouths lyrics to himself with a crease between his eyes as he sing-songs words to get a feel for how they might rhyme.

They’re sitting by a crackling fire in the dark, the sun having slipped beyond the horizon and taking the last of the admittedly beautiful sunset with it. There’s some stanza that seems to be giving Jaskier trouble.

Geralt knows this, because Jaskier’s fingers keep stumbling to a halt before he goes back and plays the same bit of melody. Over and over and over again.

“Having difficulty?” Geralt comments, giving Jaskier his most judgemental look when he can stay silent no longer.

“Our stupid fucking language is having difficulty.” Jaskier immediately tells him, absolutely incensed as he drops his fingers from his lute and scowls at the fire as though it’s done something to purposefully offend him.

“Hmm?” Geralt hums, to let the bard know that he’s still listening.

“There are lots of words for love, I guess.” Jaskier admits, “To adore, to be besotted, to be - be admired most ardently or whatever. But they don’t -”

Is Jaskier writing a love song?

Jaskier scowls, “Elder had it right. You know, they’ve got seven words for love?”

Geralt - did know that. Abstractly. He doesn’t actually use Elder a lot, except for when translating the latest idiot’s spell or curse or whatever after shaking it out of them. Not many do, after the Great Cleansing, nor even bother to learn it.

Jaskier knows it, because he seemingly lives to flaunt people’s expectations. He claims to be rusty, but has perfect pronunciation. Even after however long they’ve been travelling together, Jaskier still surprises Geralt.

Jaskier holds up his fingers to tick his next words off, “Passionate love, playful love, deep friendship, familial love, self love, enduring love, and universal love for everyone.”

Geralt nods tentatively, but Jaskier doesn’t seem to really be seeking input.

“And even then! Even then that’s not enough!” Jaskier says fiercely, “All those words for love, and they’re all about relationships with people. What about - what about when you watch a sunset and it’s beautiful and you love it? The sun will continue to rise and set but that moment, that sunset, will never happen again. It’s just for you.”

Is Jaskier… writing a song about the sunset? Geralt furrows his brows in confusion.

“Or when you read a poem, or hear a song, or - or when you go dancing and drinking and, in that moment, you feel love.” Jaskier’s face has softened out from his previous frustrations. His fingers have crept back up the neck of his lute and his fingers softly pluck out a tune.

Does he even notice he’s doing it? Jaskier’s eyes are far away, so Geralt honestly doesn’t think the bard even knows he’s doing it.

“There should be a word for love of life.” Jaskier says finally, “Love for small things. Fleeting moments, where the world is so much bigger than you thought but at the same time it’s the right now that you love. To be in love with an experience rather than a person.”

Geralt doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just hums.

This makes Jaskier’s eyes snap to Geralt, pleading for understanding. “Have you ever listened to a song that brought you to tears, Geralt?”

“...No.” Geralt says, shrugging.

And there Jaskier’s face goes, crinkling up. Except -

Usually Jaskier rolls his eyes or scoffs or - or huffs or whatever. This time though, Jaskier looks at Geralt with such honest sorrow, as though Geralt not weeping at music is the most tragic thing he’s ever heard.

But Geralt thinks of hands in his hair and warm water soaking his muscles. Of soft music and Jaskier swinging him tipsily into a dance. He thinks of the fact that he never really noticed the sunrises and sunsets before Jaskier decided to point all of them out, such honest joy on his face that he was difficult to look at sometimes.

“Maybe it’s not love of experience, so much as who you experience something with.” Geralt hazards quietly.

“Ugh.” Jaskier groans, flopping backwards off the log he’d been sitting on the lay with his back against the ground, sprawled out. “I guess. But does that mean when you love something alone, that’s self love? Love for the way something feels to you? Love is so weird and complicated.”

“Thought it was a choice.” Geralt points out, prodding at the fire and ignoring the bard’s theatrics to the best of his abilities.

“All the important kinds of love are.” Jaskier says, and Geralt can hear the man rolling his eyes. As though this is a simple concept. As though he’s not trying to explain a concept to someone without emotions, who can’t feel - who had all those pesky distractions burned out of him so long ago.

“Hmm.” Geralt shrugs.

SIlence falls on them for a moment, before the soft sweet sound of a lute fills the air again, even though Jaskier doesn’t even bother to sit up.

“And I’ll remember this, when the world has passed me by.” Jaskier croons into the night, and Geralt can’t help but close his eyes and let the words wash over him. “When my heart reigned strong, and I knew that it belonged - to the earth, the wind, and sky.”

“To the earth, the wind, and sky.”

 

---

 

“You are bleeding.” Jaskier informs the Witcher sourly when the man finally tromps back from killing the latest monster of the week. This is not an uncommon occurrence, except for the fact that Geralt had ditched his best friend in the whole wide world in order to - to go sneaking off into the night before Jaskier could notice!

Geralt grunts, possibly because he looks exhausted. Well, serves him right. If he’d had Jaskier there, he would be invigorated! Delighted! Full of youthful energy from Jaskier’s lovely songs!

Okay maybe not, but Jaskier could dream of a better world, right?

“Sit down before you fall down!” Jaskier scolds the man, grabbing Geralt’s arm to roughly settle him on a barstool. He wrinkles his nose, “You stink.”

Geralt glares at him, but Jaskier is unrepentant. He does. Just because Geralt has become nose blind to his own stench, doesn’t mean that the good citizens of the town (or Jaskier) have the same immunity.

“Don’t give me that look.” Jaskier says crossly, “No, I haven’t already ordered a bath to be ready for you. Do you know why?”

Geralt’s expression says that he assumes Jaskier is going to tell him regardless of his own opinion on the matter. Good. It’s nice to know that the Witcher at least learns. Though it remains to be seen whether he actually puts his knowledge to good use.

“I’m mad at you.” Jaskier informs the man primly. “You can get your own bath. I left all the - all the healing stuff in your room, but I’m afraid you’ll simply have to tend to your… your Geralt-ness yourself, thank you very much. Because I am mad at you.”

With that, Jaskier turns on his heel, and storms out of the Inn. He makes it outside before his legs wobble too severely and he decides to sit rather than take a tumble, settling himself on the ground by the door.

He presses his hand to his chest, feeling his rabbit-quick heartbeat against his fingertips. Bastard. Making Jaskier worry about him. Oh yes Jaskier of course we’ll go in the daytime, bright and early. Not going to sneak out in the middle of the night to go fight monsters and give Jaskier a heart attack when he wakes up, no siree.

He thunks his head back against the wood wall, trying to will the last of the buzz of anxiety out of his limbs with sheer stubbornness. He wonders if this is how Renfri felt when he wandered off as a child, and immediately snorts at the comparison between Geralt and his own child self.

“I thought he’d never leave.” A rough voice sounds from within, and Jaskier recognizes the Innkeeper’s voice. Jaskier takes a second to be offended before he gets up and brushes himself off and strides away. He doesn’t want to eavesdrop any longer.

Hours later when Jaskier slinks back, Geralt gives him an unreadable look. Jaskier flops across from the Witcher grumpily, eyes roving over the man’s face. He’s clearly had the bath, though he’s not as clean as he would have been had Jaskier helped.

“Are you okay?” Jaskier asks finally.

Geralt studies him with those intense golden eyes before tilting his head down into a vague approximation of a nod. “Yes.”

“Good.” Jaskier declares, immediately reaching out to steal Geralt’s beer and downing half of it before the Witcher can even open his mouth.

(Geralt could have stopped him, but there’s an unspoken rule that he won’t. Neither of them address it.)

Jaskier puts the beer back in front of Geralt, swiping a hand across his mouth and feeling himself sag in his seat. Tension that Jaskier hadn’t noticed sat on his shoulders was released at Geralt’s proclamation, and now he feels boneless.

“Good.” Jaskier says again, hoping he doesn’t look as wrecked as he feels.

 

---

 

“What is this?” Yennefer’s voice cuts through the calm of the day.

Geralt stiffens, but Jaskier just rolls his eyes and continues weaving flowers with nimble fingers. “Well if you used your eyes…” Jaskier drawls.

“I apologize.” Yennefer sniffs snidely, stalking closer, “I wasn’t aware that the Witcher kept company with a six-year-old girl.”

“I am at least twelve.” Jaskier shoots back. “Now, why don’t you tell Geralt that he looks lovely?”

Geralt looks between them wary eyes, like he’s unsure whether he’s going to need to pry them apart of not. To be fair, it’s not like Geralt ever asked about Jaskier’s disastrous trip to Cintra, nor the resulting month where Renfri and Yennefer decided that one upsmanship was the better part of friendship.

(If Geralt fears Yennefer and Jaskier’s banter, then he would turn tail and flee from Yennefer and Renfri. Renfri is spiteful, immune to magic, and hates mages. Yennefer is spiteful, has a lot of magic, and loves puzzles. They’re an explosive combination to say the least.)

But regardless, Geralt does look very pretty. He’s managed to convince the big WItcher to let Jaskier braid little buttercups and daisies into his hair this time. They looks nice against Geralt’s (actually clean for once) hair.

“You look lovely, Geralt.” Yennefer deadpans, eyebrow arching high on her face and turning a compliment into a judgement.

Geralt clearly judges that they won’t kill one another (or at least, that he doesn’t care about Jaskier’s fate) because he turns tail and flees into the woods with a quick mutter about hunting or something. They wait in silence for a few minutes until Yennefer bursts out laughing.

“Did you see his face?” She asks Jaskier, violet eyes brimming with mirth.

“Don’t be mean.” Jaskier scolds, but his lip is quirked up a tad regardless, “He’s sensitive about his image.”

“Where are all your songs about a Witcher with flowers in his hair?” Yennefer snorts.

“Flowers placed with care, his eyes they look me through. A Witcher with snow-white hair, but he’s in love with - you.” Jaskier warbles softly, keeping eye contact with Yennefer until she looks away. “Some songs aren’t meant for the world.” He tells her kindly.

“You say such wise things, for a blind man.” Yennefer informs him, looking towards the space where Geralt vanished into the woods. “He wouldn’t have let me braid his hair with flowers.”

Jaskier waves a hand, “Oh, he knows if he doesn’t give in I’ll keep whining and complaining at him until he does.”

“You’re a fool.” Yennefer says, giving him possibly the most judge-y look he’s ever seen on her face.

Jaskier rolls his eyes, “Does that mean you don’t want me to do your hair?”

Yennefer immediately looks cagey, and Jaskier has to fight from keeping the smile off his face. “Well,” She says, drawing the word out, “If you’re going to complain and be a baby about it… I suppose it’s the lesser of two evils to just get it over with.”

“Shut up and sit down.” Jaskier says, gesturing to the ground in front of him. “You alright with daisies?”

Yennefer sits with as much grace as she can muster, which is an awful lot. It’s little like watching a snooty cat creep closer for pets without wanting to look like that’s what it’s doing. She waves a hand, and her magic giggles and tickles as it swirls over his hand. The daisies turn to morning glory and violets under Jaskier’s very eyes.

“Lovely.” Jaskier says cheerfully, “They’ll match your eyes. D’you want something simple, or complicated?”

“Are you even capable of something complicated?” Yennefer scoffs.

“Just for that I’m giving you one of those super fancy updos that people do for noble courts. The uncomfortable ones that feel like you have a basket on your head.” Jaskier informs her, placing the flowers on his thigh and reaching up to card his hands through Yennefer’s hair. It’s just as silky soft as it looks, which is saying something. There has to be some kind of spell at work.

“You need pins for those.”

“Who needs pins?” Jaskier grins, “We’ve got spit, grit, and just a little bit of magic.”

Yennefer snorts an aborted laugh before smoothing her voice out, “If your saliva goes anywhere near my hair, I’ll erase your mouth from your face.”

“Rude,” Jaskier mutters, separating some strands of hair to twist with nimble fingers. He hums a little, figuring out the tune before he opens his mouth to sing, “She is so beautiful, with flowers in her hair. Her perfume smells like summer air, and her lips are the sweetest honey and milk, and her skin white like snowfall but soft as silk, and her hair is as black as a reservoir…”

Yennefer’s magic croons as if it knows he sings if its mistress, adding its high soprano voice to his own words.

“Her eyes are fields of morning glories, slowly taking root. And though I sing and tell many stories, I do no justice with my lute, to my lady of morning glories.”

 

---

 

When Jaskier strolls into the room, he immediately freezes. “What did you do?”

Renfri has the decency to look vaguely guilty. But her mouth stays firmly shut.

“Effee,” Jaskier says, mindful of the other people in the room, putting his hands on his hips, “What did you do?

Renfri winces, “I just wanted to see her, just for a second.”

All of Jaskier’s righteous worry slips from his grasp as he comprehends her meaning, and he all but collapses into the seat across from her. “Eff, it’s too dangerous.” Jaskier hisses, and he hopes he doesn’t look like he feels. Like someone has stabbed a knife in his gut and twisted it as he speaks, “It was fine when people turned a blind eye - but they know our faces now. You know the Queen’s orders.”

“I’m not even associated with Geralt.” Renfri hisses back, furious, “He literally murdered me. It’s not like I have any reason to like the man - she is paranoid.”

Jaskier gives her a wounded look and she sighs.

“Okay, that wasn’t fair. I know. I’m just - frustrated.” Renfri swipes a hand over her tired face, “But it’s almost her birthday, and I…”

Jaskier knows. He knows how she feels. Ciri is turning eight, and it will have been two entire years since he’s seen her. He’d sent letter after letter after letter to the castle, spent far too much coin on couriers and message boys, had bribed knights and pages alike. All entreating the Queen and King to allow him to see Ciri, at least for her birthday. Was the party not in need of entertainment? Did they not need a bard?

After about the fourteenth letter, men came to kill Jaskier. He was fortunate that he’d been with Renfri instead of Geralt at the time, else the Witcher might have been suspicious about the orders in the leader’s pocket stamped with the seal of Cintra.

After the next few letters (because Jaskier is a stubborn bastard who wouldn’t let a silly thing like attempted murder stop him) the world had parted in front of Jaskier and a harried Mousesack had appeared. He’d told Jaskier that he needed to stop, that Calanthe got angrier with each missive.

(Jaskier didn’t send out any letters this year.)

“How old is Calanthe?” Jaskier asks, and he can feel himself tearing up.

Renfri gets his question immediately. “Not old enough. Unless she’s… helped along.”

“Eff, no.” Jaskier scolds her, though his heart isn’t in it. “Ciri needs her grandmother. Now more than ever. You know how important family is.”

Renfri gives him a look with her eyebrows raised and her whole face screaming family?

“Okay,” Jaskier acknowledges sheepishly, “But Ciri adores her grandmother. You know that. She wouldn’t stop going around roaring for literal months after that offhanded comment about being the lion cub to the lioness of Cintra.”

“Did we even have grandparents?” Renfri cuts in, twirling a strand of hair absently around her finger.

Jaskier actually makes an attempt to think back to their more courtly origins. “I mean, we had to have had grandparents. I don’t know whether they were alive though?”

Renfri shrugs, “Our mothers were princesses who married the King, right? So their parents, our grandparents, were probably some asshole king and queen from a neighboring country or something I don’t know. And our father didn’t marry until he was King, so presumably that means that the previous King was deceased?”

“King Radafalk and Queen Starina of Creyden,” Jaskier recites dutifully, squinting with the effort of retrieving the dusty knowledge from the back of his mind, “Uh, King… Haldfast? And Queen Elesheva, those are your grandparents I think. And mine would be, what, King Haram and Queen Isadora? By process of elimination?”

Renfri offers him a mildly horrified look, “You memorized our family tree?”

“I was supposed to be king at some point,” Jaskier defends, feeling blood rush to his cheeks, “Shut up. You went through the same painfully boring lessons as I did.”

“Yeah but I didn’t pay attention.”

“Mother said I wasn’t allowed music lessons until my court ones were done.” Jaskier waves a hand irritably between them, “Anyway, our weird family history isn’t the point. The point was you could have gotten yourself killed.”

“But I didn’t.” Renfri points out.

Jaskier gives her the most unimpressed look he can muster, “That excuse only works if I’m allowed to use it, too.”

Renfri considers that, and then makes a face before shaking her head sharply.

“Yeah I thought so.” Jaskier drawls, making his sister glare. He softens his look, “I know how you feel, Eff. But it’s just a waiting game now, right? We can outlast Calanthe, it’s only a matter of time.”

After all, Calanthe was twelve-years-old the year that Renfri had died, when Renfri was somewhere in her early thirties. Looking at them now, next to one another, no one would guess that it was Renfri who was the senior. Or indeed, even Jaskier could lay claim to more years lived than the Queen of Cintra.

There’s silence between them before Renfri manages a mangled giggle, clamping her own hand across her mouth to muffle it. At Jaskier’s face she elaborates, “Just tell Calanthe to respect her elders.

Even though it isn’t that funny, even though the situation isn’t that funny, Jaskier can’t help but find himself laughing hysterically in a tavern, reaching across the table to slap at his sister’s arms as they wheeze together.

It’s not really funny, but their entire lives are a cosmic joke. So why not laugh at it?

 

---

 

“- out the window.” Yennefer points firmly across the room.

Jaskier looks at Yennefer, then at the window, and immediately crosses his arms. “Yennefer, no. I don’t know if this has escaped your notice, but we are in a tower. The ground is a very long way away. We are not climbing out the window.

“I’d slow our fall.” Yennefer says, rolling her eyes as thought Jaskier’s being hysterical for no reason.

“Yennefer,” Jaskier drawls out, false sweetness hiding venom, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but Renfri is immune to magic.

As one, they look towards Renfri, who is in the process of shoving a huge heavy looking wardrobe in front of the door. This is probably a wise move, considering there is now muffled yelling going on behind it.

As though sensing their eyes, she looks up. “Oh no, don’t draw me into this.” She says, unimpressed, “I’m the one that bailed your sorry asses out the first time, it’s your turn to figure shit out.”

Yennefer bristles, “I didn’t need the help - ”

“Then why did you ask for mine?” Jaskier cuts her off, smiling innocently into the face of her rage.

“You were supposed to be a distraction.” Yennefer growls, throwing her hands in the air like she’s done entertaining their tomfoolery. “And you didn’t even do that right!”

Jaskier gasps, offended, “It’s not my fault you didn’t even tell me what I was supposed to be distracting them from! If you’d just told me to keep them away from the bedroom I would have done that, but no! You had to keep your clever little plan all to yourself!”

“I told you to distract them, not bed them!” Yennefer hisses, making Jaskier bristle further.

“Yes yes, you’re both at fault.” Renfri cuts in crossly, “A little less arguing, a little more escaping if you please.”

They both look at Renfri, and then at each other. The silence is deafening.

Jaskier breaks it first, clearing his throat awkwardly, “Uh. Your - your portals…?”

“Most castles have wards against them.” Yennefer admits, “Can’t have any hireable mage slipping in and slipping a digger in between a monarch’s ribs.”

“Would certainly be bad for my business.” Renfri comments, and resolutely ignores the looks she gets from her audience.
That disturbing comment aside (which would be addressed later, for as far as Jaskier knew Renfri had only killed one King), Jaskier turns back to Yennefer, “I can maybe talk to the wards?”

Yennefer gives him the same look she gives him every time he mentions doing something with his magic. A mix between what the fuck Jaskier and you can do that? with a dash of that is not how magic works before smoothing out into a resigned you’re an impossible fool and I should stop being surprised by you doing impossible, foolish things.

Yennefer has very expressive eyes, really.

“Do you need your lute for that?” Renfri asks, sounding a little concerned.

“Nah,” Jaskier waves her off, “The lute makes it… stronger? Uh,” He frowns, because putting his abilities into words is always a chore, “It’s like uh, I needed the lute to… translate? But I’m sort of fluent enough by myself to muddle along when necessary?”

He thinks his explanation is fine, but the twin unimpressed looks he’s getting tell him it is not.

“Ugh, just. Shut up a minute both of you, I need to concentrate. And Yen, you get ready to sing us a portal.” Jaskier demands, plopping down to sit cross-legged on the floor, pressing his hands against the stone.

“I don’t sing.” Yennefer mutters, but subsides at Renfri’s shush.

If Jaskier focuses, really focuses, he can hear the whisper of song that threads through the floor, through the walls, through the ground. Just a whisper of protection, strength, guard.

Jaskier clears his throat, “Slipping away, just a heartbeat from disaster. Nothing could make me stay, close your eyes and I’ll be gone.”

He can feel the strands of magic part beneath his hands, even as the thumping on the door get louder and louder. “Turn the page, it’s time to start another story. Slipping away, slipping away, time to move along.”

The last of the ward’s magic in the room presses against his fingertips and sings sweetly before fading away.

It’ll be back in a minute, but it’s looking the other way. For now.

Jaskier breathes shakily and looks up at Yennefer, “Now.” He says, and when she doesn’t move fast enough he snaps out a “Now!”

Yennefer’s face says that he’ll pay for his snappishness later, but says a word in elder under her breath and motions with her hands. The high soprano of Yennefer’s magic greets Jaskier like an old friend as it folds space in on itself.

Yennefer actually looks surprised that it worked, but Jaskier has no time for that. He staggers to his feet, grabs Renfri’s hand and hooks his arm through Yennefer’s and hauls all three of them through the portal just as the wardrobe slams to the ground and a man in armor falls through the door.

Jaskier doesn’t have time to see any more than that before the portal closes behind them and he lays in the grass of somewhere in a heap.

“Yennefer,” Jaskier says fiercely and with feeling, “I am never doing you another favor ever again.”

Next to him, Renfri starts laughing. Jaskier rolls into a sitting position and smacks at her, “It’s not funny! We could have died!”

“But we didn’t.” Yennefer says dryly, prying herself to her feet and brushing grass off her dress.

To Yennefer’s bewilderment, this makes Renfri laugh even harder, and Jaskier yelps out a deeply offended, “That still doesn’t count!”

 

---

 

Geralt knows that bards sing. Of course they do. Jaskier was singing when they met, about all sorts of creatures that didn’t exist.

(Of course, had Geralt known that criticizing this fact would lead Jaskier to seek more real creatures by following a Witcher…)

Anyway, bards sing. It’s what they do. Granted, Geralt has never spent much extended time in a bard’s company before so he’s never quite sure whether to put something down to part of being a bard or part of just being Jaskier. Or a combination of both?

Geralt knows that bards sing. That’s not the problem. It’s just that Jaskier sings all the time.

He seemingly has a song for just about every occasion. Picking flowers? Jaskier has a dozen and a half songs about flowers. Just walking down the road? Jaskier has twice as many songs about travelling and journeying and questing. Seeing someone beautiful? Not only does Jaskier have scores of applicable songs but he also actively composes one on the spot because everyone deserves a unique ode to their beauty, Geralt! No one is the same, so why should they get the same song, Geralt!

It should be irritating. Geralt should have left the bard eons ago. But a lot of the songs are… surprisingly catchy. And sometimes even good, though he’d never admit it.

(He’s caught himself humming one of the many verses of ‘The Ballad of Roach’ on more occasions than he cares to admit, when Jaskier is gone and the road feels too quiet.

Roach always flicks her ears and snorts when he cuts himself off, though whether it’s a complaint on him stopping or laughter at the fact that he’s turning into a fucking bard Geralt can never quite figure out.)

If Jaskier isn’t singing, he’s either humming or strumming on his lute. If he’s not doing that, he’s scribbling away in his songbook. The one that changes every month or so, but whose predecessors mysteriously vanish as they never make an appearance in any of Roach’s saddlebags.

(Not that Geralt has looked. He just… noticed. He’s an observant sort, being a Witcher after all.)

Despite being… generally Jaskier, the bard is actually much more capable than Geralt first assumed way back when he’d met the man in Posada.

When he shares this observation with Yennefer, she rolls her eyes and gives him a look. “As much of a magnet for trouble as he is, he does manage to survive on the road without you, and did so before you ever had the misfortune of meeting him.”

Geralt wants to point out that before they met, and indeed often when Jaskier goes off on his own, Jaskier had presumably been in the care of his sister. Who, by all accounts, is a fearsome individual indeed if she managed to raise Jaskier without him getting himself killed. That, or she was just the same as him with twice as much luck, but from the cheerfully threatening letter he’s going with the first option.

(Or some terrifying combination of the two? The very thought makes Geralt shudder.)

But he doesn’t tell Yennefer this, because… well. He doesn’t know if Jaskier wants Yennefer to know he has a sister. The bard rarely mentions her even now, and he never lingers on her for too long. It would be odd, because Jaskier loves to hear himself talk, but Jaskier has a curious reluctance to talk about any of his life from before he met Geralt.

(Geralt is putting pieces together though. Slowly but surely.)

Jaskier’s skills are wide and varied and occasionally downright odd. Singing and playing an instrument, yeah. Sewing and making flower crowns, understandable. But there are other things that Jaskier’s proficiency in is… not strange so much as weird.

His ability to cook, for one. Whenever Jaskier is around, he takes over the cooking for them both.

(“I’m honestly not sure if my sister has taste buds.” Jaskier confides in him one evening when he stirs a pot he’s managed to position above the fire. “The stuff she makes is theoretically edible, but that’s about all you can say of it. She always scolds me and says ‘food is food’ and whatever but! Food is supposed to taste good! That’s the whole point!”

Geralt is of the opinion that the point of food is supposed to keep you alive, but he doesn’t bother to argue his point.)

Despite himself, Geralt lets this happen because Jaskier’s food is good. Weirdly so, considering that Geralt doesn’t exactly carry herbs and spices or anything with him and he’s pretty sure Jaskier doesn’t either. And yet every time the food tastes just as good as if it had just come from a noble’s table instead of the old dented cooking pot Geralt supplies.

And, of course, Jaskier sings while he cooks. He has a lot of cooking songs.

“All we need is what we’ve got, a tasty stone and water in a pot!” Jaskier enthuses as he stirs the broth that has rabbit in it and absolutely no stones to speak of, “Little things become a lot, tiny gifts can fill the pot, when they’re shared and served up hot! Stone soup, stone soup, stone soup tonight!”

Geralt only snapped at Jaskier to be quiet once. The bard had continued to cook in sullen silence, and the meal had turned out bland and overcooked.

He recalls that some cooks use songs - usually prayers - to denote the passage of time and when to take something out of the fire. Assuming that Jaskier didn’t ruin the meal out of spite (a very real possibility, though Geralt has his doubts when it means that Jaskier also has to eat the food) then it’s probably that.

Jaskier sings for everything, composing songs for bluebirds and flowers along the road and sunrises and sunsets and just about everything under the sun. It’s part of who he is.

Geralt pretends this annoys him more than it does.

 

---

 

“Geralt! Geralt wake up!” Jaskier is hissing, prodding at Geralt’s shoulder with one pointy finger. Geralt debates rolling over and going back to sleep, but the bard has never taken being ignored very well. For all Geralt knows, he’ll get a pointy elbow in the gut next.

So he sighs and levers himself up on his elbows, “What, Jaskier.” He demands, narrowly preventing himself from yawning widely. It’s not an emergency - Jaskier doesn’t smell frightened or anxious or like nervous sweat or anything. That would have woken up Geralt long before Jaskier got within poking distance.

Jaskier offers him a wide grin, “I found a way onto the roof, come check it out!”

He’s being woken up for this? Geralt levels Jaskier with a glare, but Jaskier is either immune or simply can’t see it well enough in the low light for it to be effective. Geralt would like to think it’s the second option (he doesn’t actually remember how well humans see in the dark), but he’s actually pretty sure Jaskier is immune to being glared at. A deeply unfortunate fact.

Jaskier’s hand wraps around Geralt’s wrist and tugs insistently. “Geralt!”

There’s probably not going to be any getting back to sleep until Geralt goes with him, so with great reluctance he leaves his nice warm bed to follow the bard.

Who, of course, immediately tries to climb out the window. Before Geralt is even aware he’s moving he’s got one hand fisted in the back of the bard’s nightshirt and is hauling him away from the window while the idiot squawks in outrage. “What do you think you’re doing.” Geralt doesn’t quite ask, because he’s not awake enough to care about the answer really.

“It’s fine!” Jaskier complains, smacking at Geralt’s hand in a futile attempt to get the Witcher to let go of him. “Look! The roof is right underneath the window - it’s not like I just decided to take a midnight tumble several floors down. Honestly, Geralt. It’s like you don’t trust me.”

Geralt shuffles closer to the window, dragging the bard with him, and confirms the man’s words. He grunts and releases Jaskier, the bard brushing himself off as though the momentary scuffle had ruffled him beyond measure. As though he wasn’t in his most comfortable nightshirt that was more patches and darning than shirt anymore.

Jaskier swings his leg over the windowsill again, hesitating as though Geralt is going to bodily haul him away again. When Geralt doesn’t move, he shifts fully out the window and plops down onto the roof before giving Geralt an expectant look.

When Geralt doesn’t move, the bard rolls his eyes. “Geralt.” He says insistently, in the tone that just makes Geralt sigh and go to follow.

And then they’re both on the roof, and Geralt is crossing his arms and staring at Jaskier expectantly. Jaskier ignores this (or doesn’t see it?) and plops himself down on the slight slope of the tiles, patting the spot next to him.

Geralt sighs deeply and sits down. If he falls through the roof he’s absolutely going to blame the bard.

“Do you know the constellations?” Jaskier asks, gesturing with a hand vaguely towards the sky.

Geralt does, it’s very useful for navigating and one of the things Vesemir taught all up and coming Witchers. “No.” He lies.

“Good.” Jaskier says, looking pleased with himself and nodding. Without another pause, Jaskier is pointing to the sky, “You see those three stars, all in a row right there?”

He waits for Geralt’s nod before continuing, “In you go down, those little stars that fork off? Those are legs. And then above you have the torso you see? And there’s the head, and the arms, and there’s the sword.” He punctuated each point with gestures that don’t actually show Geralt where anything is, but he nods anyway.

“That’s Efi’s constellation.” Jaskier smiles, and it’s a soft thing. Gentle and mischievous, like he’s sharing a secret.

“Don’t constellations usually have stories behind them?” Geralt asks after a few beats of silence.

Jaskier beams at him like Geralt is a particularly intelligent student of his, finally asking the right questions. “Yes, it’s the story of how she died.”

She’s - Jaskier’s sister is dead? For how long? Geralt tries to cast his mind back to whether Jaskier was acting weird, and falls upon that time quite a while back when Yennefer had been angry and him and Jaskier had gone to Cintra and come back sad and… “I’m sorry.” He says sincerely, lips tugging down into a deep frown.

Jaskier waves him off, “Don’t worry, she’s still alive. She only almost died, a long time ago, at the very start. She stopped breathing though, but I needed her too much and she came back to me. But I figured coming back from the dead was worthy of a constellation, eh?”

Ah. The Cintra mystery continued then. Geralt wonders if Jaskier’s sister was perhaps a lucky victim of sickness. Or perhaps drowning? He’d heard of victims of drowning being resuscitated. “Are you going to tell me the story?”

“No.” Jaskier says, and Geralt feels a pang of disappointment, “Not tonight at least. Now, do you see that one bright star over there?”

He doesn’t. “Yes.”

“And there’s that other two, in a sort of straight line - that’s the neck of a lute. And then you can sort of see the bowl of the body, and the turn at the end of the neck?”

Oh, actually Geralt does see it. It’s a popular constellation, though it’s usually considered a pot or ladle or some kind. Of course Jaskier would see a lute, as obsessed with his own as he is.

“Is there a story behind that one?” Geralt asks again.

“You were there for that one!” Jaskier laughs, “Don’t you remember? When they broke down my lute and they kicked in my teeth?” Jaskier sing-songs the lines from his most famous song almost playfully as he nudges Geralt’s shoulder with his own.

“I remember.” Geralt says gravely and Jaskier’s face softens.

“You see that star over there?” Jaskier switches tracks and points. Geralt isn’t sure that Jaskier quite comprehends how many stars are in the sky and that his pointing does nothing to help, but he gamely nods. “Follow it down, you kind of get that weird upside down teardrop shape? That’s the djinn’s flask.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt interrupts, and watches as the bard goes unnaturally still, “Why are we out here?”

Jaskier doesn’t look at Geralt, he just looks at the sky. Geralt can see the stars reflected in them, and his breath catches in his throat for reasons he doesn’t quite understand.

“I had a dream.” Jaskier says finally, frown tugging at his lips. Geralt doesn’t like that frown. “I just thought - Witchers are tough. Remember last month, when you stole my ale and figured out someone had poisoned it? Just - you’ll live a long time, Geralt.”

Geralt remembers. How can he not? He’d been filled with incandescent rage at the thought of someone daring to try and kill his bard - the bard - right in front of him.

It had been Jaskier who had stayed his hand in the end, holding onto Geralt’s arm to prevent him from plunging his sword into the worm’s neck. He’d begged, but not for the man’s life. He’d told Geralt that Geralt would hate himself later, and Jaskier couldn’t have that.

Geralt disagreed. He would have lost no sleep over that human’s life, but in the end they’d let the local law take the matter into their own hands.

“Speak plainly.” Geralt demands, the conversation making him uneasy.

“If ever we - we get separated, or something happens, and I can’t - I can’t travel with you anymore for any reason? I don’t want you to forget about me, Geralt.” Jaskier says finally, skirting around actually mentioning death. Geralt isn’t sure whether or not he appreciates that. “So - I wrote our story across the stars. This way, whenever you look at the sky, you’ll think of me. Of us. And all the adventures we’ve shared. And you’ll never forget about me.”

Geralt wants to say I’d never forget about you or how could I ever forget you or something along those lines, but his mouth won’t open. It’s as though his very being rebels against even peripherally acknowledging Jaskier’s mortality.

So instead he simply says, “Is the time you almost started a war in Kaedwen up there?”

Jaskier brightens and points enthusiastically, “Okay you see that one star that’s surrounded by those itty bitty stars over there? That’s the stupid crystal ball - those itty bitty stars are the sparkles, right? Honestly, if they didn’t want anyone touching it they shouldn’t have had it out in the middle of the room like that. It’s like they were asking for it to get knocked over - ”

Geralt lays back and listens to Jaskier as he rambles, gesturing wildly with his hands and almost whacking Geralt on more than one occasion. Occasionally Geralt speaks up, to correct Jaskier’s often very exaggerated retellings, occasionally to mention another event that Jaskier has to figure out a constellation for on the spot.

Eventually Jaskier lays down as well, pointing getting less and less frantic as his words start to slur and become punctuated by yawns. His words slow, until he’s mumbling them and squinting, until his voice peters out and his face smoothes out in sleep.

Geralt stays on that rooftop next to the man, watching the sun creep above the horizon and chase away the map of their lives that Jaskier had woven the stars into. No one is around to see his fond smile and soft eyes, and that’s the way he likes it.

(He never does get around to asking why Jaskier’s sister is up there in the story of his and Geralt’s adventures. He never does get around to asking Jaskier to tell him the story of his sister’s almost-death.

But the next time Jaskier leaves, Geralt spends the first night alone staring at the stars and pointing out all the ridiculous constellations to Roach so that she’ll know them as well. And he feels just a little bit less alone than he normally does.)

 

---

 

Geralt watches Jaskier twirl his latest muse around in a fast paced dance, almost lost among the many other people twisting in and out with a surprising amount of synchrony. When did people have the time to learn the seemingly complex dances that were performed at every festival and wedding?

He loses track of the bard in the crowd, and he shifts anxiously. Whenever he loses sight of Jaskier, the bard tends to get himself into trouble. Not all the time, but more often than Geralt likes.

He’s just spotting Jaskier next to a table filled with food, caught up in enthusiastic conversation with the bride and groom, when there’s a light touch on his arm.

He startles a little bit, and tries to cover it by glaring at whoever dared interrupt him.

Jaskier’s muse stares back at him, hand lifted over her mouth to cover a giggle and her face flushed with exertion. She’s a good match for Jaskier, really. Just as silly and bright as he is, with flowers woven in her hair and a twinkle in her eyes.

Geralt really doesn’t like her.

“Sir Witcher,” She says brightly, dipping into a little curtsy, “May I have your next dance?”

“You may,” Geralt says gravely, “Though you will have to wait a good while, seeing as I don’t dance.”

The girl tips her head back and laughs, as though Geralt has told a great joke. “He said you have a sense of humor, though I scarcely believed it!” She informs him, gesturing with one hand towards where Jaskier has produced his lute from… somewhere. No doubt they’ll soon be blessed with a performance from the man, special for the wedding.

“You shouldn’t believe a thing he says.” Geralt informs her right back, “He exaggerates things greatly.”

“All the great bards do,” The girl dismisses with a wave of her hand, eyes still twinkling. “I’ve got no skill on the lute myself, but I play a mean lyre given the opportunity. Mine broke though, and I’m still saving up for a new one.”

Another bard. Wonderful, Geralt thinks a little uncharitably.

“I’ve half a mind to follow him off into the world.” The girls says suddenly, voice full of wist and longing as she looks across the party. “If I thought my company welcome, I’d ditch this little town in a heartbeat.”

“He seems welcome enough to your company.” Geralt points out, trying and failing to keep the sour note out of his voice.

The girl laughs again, this time though there’s a sort of sorrowful note to it. “I welcome his company, and he welcomes mine. For the night. He is attentive and wonderful and he makes me laugh, and if any one had half a lick of sense they’d try tie him down and keep him.”

Geralt tries to picture Jaskier settled in a small town, with a wife and children. It’s a strange picture, and doesn’t seem quite right.

The girl looks at his face, and nods as though she understands. “There’s more than one reason why I won’t follow him even if I dearly wish to, and one is that I’m a proud and somewhat petty woman. I refuse to play second fiddle to anyone.”

Geralt nods slowly. Jaskier does always steal the show, his charisma and skill unmatched by any other bard Geralt has seen, though he’d never inform the bard of this fact. Jaskier’s head is big enough already.

The girl rolls her eyes, “One day you’ll understand. For his sake, I hope it’s soon.”

Geralt blinks at her, more puzzled than before. She grins, clearly wishing to laugh again but holding back. Instead, she lays a hand on his arm, “Seriously though, dance with me. This one’s simple enough - even the people with two left feet will give this one a shot.”

“I don’t dance.” Geralt tells her again.

“Jaskier loves to dance.” The girl tells him, tugging on his arm. She’s bold as brass, unafraid of him just like Jaskier is.

“Then ask Jaskier.” Geralt shakes his head.

“One dance.” The girl says, holding up a finger, “One dance, and I’ll disappear. I’ll tell Jaskier I’m tired, and retire away for the night. Without him. You’ll probably never see me again, unless you refuse in which case I will hunt you across the continent for my dance. You did promise me your next one, after all.”

Geralt considers this offer, tilting his head. Finally, he nods and allows the girl to pull him into the throng of people with a laugh.

She didn’t lie, it’s a simple song with simple steps that are easy enough to pick up. It’s made easier by the fact that the other dancers give him a wide berth, too scared of bumping into the big scary Witcher to get any closer.

At the end, he bows to her and she curtsies to him. She just has enough time to wink and whirl away before there’s a tug on his arm, and Jaskier is suddenly right there at Geralt’s side.

“Geralt!” He exclaims, sounding absolutely thrilled, “You’re dancing!”

“You do have eyes.” Geralt says sourly, “I’d wondered.”

Jaskier laughs, and his whole face lights up. “You didn’t even let me be your first dance, you brute! No matter, I’ll have to settle for your second!”

Jaskier tugs him into the line before he can get another word out. The next song starts up before he can escape and Jaskier hooks his arm through Geralt’s to twirl around. For some reason, this second dance the people are a little less wary and he starts to feel a little more at ease.

As he goes around, he spots the girl at the edge of the people. She waves to him, grinning widely when he scowls at her. She winks and blows him a kiss before Geralt’s attention is torn away and back to the dance so that he doesn’t trip over his own two feet.

By the time he looks up again, she’s gone.

The next day, Jaskier buys a fairly expensive looking lyre with the money he usually spends on scores of frivolous things.

“Finally switching things up?” Geralt asks, raising his eyebrows and nodding to Jaskier’s lute upon his back.

Jaskier gasps, mock offended. “He didn’t mean it, sweetheart.” He croons to his instrument, sending Geralt a look as though Geralt kicked his dog or something.

Geralt just rolls his eyes and points at the lyre.

“Oh!” Jaskier looks at the new instrument as though it’s his first time seeing it, “It’s for Annalyse. She bet me a new lyre that she could get you to dance before the night’s end, and I always pay up my bets!”

“Did she.” Geralt grits out, thinking many more uncharitable thoughts about the girl from the night before.

“She’s going to be a great bard herself,” Jaskier says fondly, ignoring Geralt’s sour mood entirely, “Why, if she can convince a Witcher to dance then she’ll definitely be able to convince good honest folk to part with their coin! You know, she asked me if I wanted to join her. Become a double act.”

“Why didn’t you?” Geralt manages to cough out.

Jaskier laughs, as though the very thought is ridiculous. Geralt doesn’t think the thought is as nearly as ridiculous as Jaskier makes it out to be. “She’s brilliant, and bold as anything. She’ll go far, but I think she’s one of those with a little too much daring in her. She’d get bored of me, after a while.”

Geralt doesn’t know how. Jaskier is an endless mystery, wrapped inside of a riddle at the center of a maze. Geralt has known him for a good while, and he still only knows what breadcrumbs Jaskier sees fit to drop upon occasion. Jaskier can be described with many words, but boring is certainly not one of them.

He grunts, and Jaskier snaps out of his wistful little look, “Oh! It won’t take me long to drop it off.” Jaskier hurries to appease the Witcher, “Give me five, ten minutes tops! Then I’ll be ready for the road.”

“Five minutes and then I leave.” Geralt tells him, “I won’t wait for you.”

Jaskier laughs, already hurrying off with the lyre gripped in his hands.

(Jaskier is gone for eight minutes. Geralt waits.)

 

---

 

“Where are we going next?” Jaskier asks, strumming a tune on his lute, “To the ocean? We should go to the ocean, I love a good sea breeze. I could sing about the ocean for years, Geralt. There’s just something so nostalgic about it?”

“The mountains.” Geralt says immediately, making Jaskier roll his eyes. The Witcher probably hadn’t even had a destination in mind before Jaskier suggested the ocean. He’s contrary like that, Jaskier’s Witcher.

“The Fiery Mountains?” Jaskier asks, scrunching up his nose in distaste.

“Mmm.” Geralt hums, stroking a hand down the side of Roach’s neck gently. “The Blue Mountains?”

“Oh?” Jaskier’s tone makes Geralt turn and eye him with suspicion, which Jaskier resents thank you. He twinkles innocently at Geralt, “You’re finally taking me to Kaer Morhen? Are you finally going to introduce me to your Witcher brothers?”

Geralt’s face is blank for a moment before the corners of his mouth twitch down in what, for Geralt, screams absolutely not, over my dead body. It makes Jaskier’s smile widen as he tries to suppress a snort of laughter.

“More north than that.” Geralt says, as though he actually has a destination in mind.

Jaskier strums on his lute thoughtfully, “The Dragon Mountains? I wouldn’t mind going there. Probably lots of songs to be sung about mountains with that sort of a name.”

Geralt grunts, but looks grateful that Jaskier has dropped the whole Kaer Morhen line of questioning. Which is foolish - Jaskier is absolutely going to return to bugging Geralt about that at the first opportunity. He swears one day he’s going to meet Geralt’s Witcher-y siblings and uncles or whatever and get all of Geralt’s embarrassing baby stories.

And maybe curse them with rashes or something if they’re some of the assholes responsible for Geralt’s abysmal childhood. Or both? Jaskier can multitask.

“We're marching to the top, to the top, to the top! Yes, we're marching to the top of Dragon Mountain!” Jaskier sings the children’s song loudly, just to watch Geralt twitch, “Up, up, up, up there is no place to hide - 'Cause a dragon lurks inside!”