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to grow in adversity

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The story is this:

There is a mage in hiding from a monster. The worst kind - the human kind. It was born under a black sun and born wrong inside. The girls born with this curse were destined to fill river valleys with blood in service to a demon goddess. It was merciful to kill them, but Renfri, the monster, lived. She killed animals, gouged out a maid’s eye with a comb, and murdered a man with a brooch before running. She robbed and murdered men on the roads, hunting for the man she blamed above all else: the mage who was innocent of all but delivering a child and failing to kill a monster quickly enough.

Or perhaps it’s this:

There is a girl with fury pressed into her bones and rage in her heart who wants to kill a mage. The mage who sent a man into the woods to kill her, and took something that wasn’t her life. She is the girl who stole rather than starved and killed rather than be killed. A survivor. Her name is Renfri, and she isn’t sure if she’s a monster or not.

Or maybe it’s this:

Once upon a time the sun became dark and nighttime occurred during the day. This is because the sun left the sky to witness the birth of a princess, and bestowed upon her a blessing of a kind. Or perhaps it was not a blessing at all. But regardless, she breathed in for the first time with sun rays on her tongue and she burned.

Six years later, the moon bled red in the sky and the kingdom held its breath. The moon loves the sun, you see, and so it followed in the sun’s footsteps to bless a child. A prince. He breathed in for the first time with moonbeams on his tongue and he glowed.

 

---

 

Regardless, a little girl once entered a room stinking of blood and other unsavory things and stared at her step-mother, who had fear in her eyes, and crept closer. “What is that?” She asked the Queen, voice flat and dead.

It was the midwife who answered, bowing her head to the little princess, “The Queen is delivered of a son. Your brother, my princess.”

“What’s his name?” Renfri asked, creeping even closer with something almost like curiosity as she stared at the weird purple-looking creature encased tightly in the Queen’s arms.

The midwife looked to the Queen, and the Queen’s lips pinched together tightly as though she was unwilling to answer. This was not such a surprise, as she was rarely willing to even look at Renfri, let alone answer her questions. But Renfri kept staring with cold dead eyes until the child shifted and opened its mouth and gurgled.

The Queen looked down at the infant and said, in a carefully measured voice:

“Julian. His name is Julian.”

 

---

 

Renfri and Julian grew together, despite Queen Aridea’s best attempts to keep them apart. There was something that just drew the two to one another - a touch from Renfri could quiet even the worst of Julian’s cries. She was the person he graced his first smile upon, his first laugh, his first word.

(She burned so brightly that people could scarcely look at her, but he shone in her light like no other.)

He called her ‘Ef-fee’ with a child’s bumbling pronunciation, bypassing the letters he could not pronounce entirely as he beamed up at her.

King Fredefalk was thrilled to see his children getting along. The Queen... not nearly as much. The Queen bore other children, but none who stuck together like Renfri and Julian.

Where Renfri was the cursed child, cold and distant and monstrous, Julian was the wondrous child, with a smile and laugh and a song for everyone he met. He was beautiful, with bright blue eyes and rosy cheeks. He loved to dance and sing, and he begged to learn to play an instrument as soon as he understood that the wonderful sounds were coming from the wooden objects in people’s hands.

Perhaps Renfri should have grown to hate her brother, who had everything she wished she had. Who her father doted on and her step-mother loved, the way she could never love a child of someone else’s blood. Should have hated that Julian was a boy, that he bypassed her for the throne just by existing.

But she didn’t.

 

---

 

There were gaps in Renfri’s memories, she knew this. Every time she visited Stregobor, she lost time.

After each visit, Julian would find her. He would smile at her with chubby cheeks and press his hands against her face and sing her songs in between babbling about his day.

(He didn’t care that sometimes when he found her, her fingers were slick with blood that she didn’t remember spilling. He just put his hands on his little hips and gave her the stink eye if she tried to go to dinner before washing them.)

 

---

 

“For you!” Julian cried, shoving a fistful of weeds in Renfri’s direction, his smile wide and carefree.

Renfri carefully took them in hands that were only shaking a little bit now, smearing red onto green stems and yellow petals.

Julian clambered into the bed beside her and crawled halfway onto her lap. “I got you flowers, ‘cause you’re so pretty like them!”

“These aren’t flowers, they’re weeds.” Renfri told him, rolling her eyes but allowing the contact with ease. Somedays it seemed like Julian was the only person in the entire castle who wasn’t afraid of her.

“They look like flowers.” He said, crinkling his nose.

“They’re dandelions,” Renfri informed her brother with a tiny smile, “They grow everywhere, even places they perhaps shouldn’t. That’s why they’re a weed.”

Julian looked doubtful.

Renfri laughed, leaning forward to place a kiss on Julian’s forehead, “Perhaps they’re a little like you,” She teased gently, “Growing in even the scariest of place with no fear.” Like a monster’s heart, she doesn’t say.

“Like a superpower!” Julian gasped, wide-eyed even as he scrubbed a sleeve over where she’d placed a kiss.

“Like a superpower.” Renfri agreed, separating one dandelion from the little clutch and reaching out to tuck it behind a little ear. “For the stubborn hero, Jaskier.

 

---

 

Renfri is fifteen when she goes into the woods alone, and doesn’t come back out.

If you asked Stregobor, he would tell you that she mercilessly killed a man with a brooch.

If you asked Renfri, she would tell you of the man who raped her and robbed her and let her go.

But you shouldn’t ask either of them, instead you should ask the nine-year-old who loved his sister so much he followed her around like a little duckling whenever he could.

You should ask the child who followed his sister into the woods, hoping to surprise her and make her smile.

(He didn’t understand when he stumbled upon the man on top of his sister, he froze half-hidden behind a tree unsure of what was happening. But perhaps what he saw doesn’t matter, because what really matters is what Renfri saw.

She looked up at the worst moment of her life and she saw her little brother, who looked afraid, and she couldn’t stand for that. So she took the brooch that was the last gift her mother gave her, thought of a prayer, and lunged.

The man died either way, so perhaps it doesn’t matter after all.)

 

---

 

She told her brother to go back, and he refused. Despite her best wishes, Jaskier had not grown up to be a stupid boy, though perhaps it would have been better if he had. He was nine, and he saw the way his mother looked at Renfri. Saw the way Stregobor looked at her 

He knew what blood looked like, knew what it looked like coating his sister’s hands, and he wasn’t afraid of her.

And maybe she should have insisted he return, maybe she should have left him behind for guards to find and protect. He was their crown prince after all - and she was just another princess. But she looked at his bright blue eyes and the stubborn set of his chin and made a choice.

“We need to run.” She whispered to him, offering him her hand.

And he took it.

 

---

 

Life for them was not easy, but it was perhaps not as hard as it could have been. Jaskier was adorable, and it was easy to boost him onto a table and let him sing sweet and high and clear as he clapped his hands in time and danced with a reckless sort of joy.

They got bread and coin for his little performances, from kindly men and women who had children of their own and looked upon the scruffy duo with pity.

When Jaskier’s assistance was not enough, Renfri stole to put food in their bellies. Sometimes she did other things.

Sometimes when she was at market, cloak hood pulled over her curls, she heard the rumors. The runaway princess is a monster, they whispered, gouged out maid’s eyes, killed puppies for fun.

She killed the little prince and ran away before they could catch her, they said.

Jaskier tugs on her cloak and begs her to let him run ahead to look longingly at the instruments and she ruffles his hair and tells him he’s ridiculous.

She wonders, though. She wonders how many of the rumors are lies, if one is.

(She doesn’t remember the maid, or the eye, or the puppies. She remembers blood on her hands though, and isn’t that the same thing?)

 

---

 

She kills a man who pulls her into an alley, and it’s so easy. She watches him bleed out and remembers his face from the tavern earlier, when Jaskier had watched him strum songs with delight even though her little brother could surely do it better.

She doesn’t feel anything when she picks up the lute from the ground and brushes it off. Doesn’t feel anything for the man with the bad breath who called her a pretty little thing right before she put a knife in his throat.

She does feel something though, when she offers the lute to her little brother who, contrary to her expectations, immediately starts to cry.

She panics for a minute until she realizes that they are happy tears, and that her little brother is just a ridiculous little being. He folds his arms around her, squeezing as tightly as he’s able.

“I’m gonna be the best bard in the world.” He declares tearfully, and her heart seizes just a little.

He’s supposed to be a king, not a bard. She can’t help but feel like she’s robbed him of something, him following her like this.

But she looks at him plucking at the stings with his little tongue stuck out in concentration, coaxing music from the thing with more ease than he should be capable of, and she thinks he might have gained something as well.

 

---

 

She notices something, after that. When Jaskier pulls his lute into his arm and strums it and sings all the thoughts that tumble around in his head in verse form. They always seem to be… luckier? After Jaskier sings?

She watches angry people flip their mood on a coin when Jaskier plays a chord and his voice raises in merriment, watches greedy people find enough kindness in their hearts to offer copper coins to a beaming little bard-to-be even though she saw them spit at children playing on the streets earlier.

“I’ll set them right about you,” Jaskier tells her, little chin set in stubbornness the same way it was when he declared he was following her. “I’ll write a ballad, telling the truth! Then everyone will know that you aren’t - that you aren’t a - ”

Her brother can’t even say the word ‘monster’ in relation to her, and she loves him all the more for it.

“Don’t do that.” She tells him instead, “We need to keep a low profile. Plus, everyone thinks you’re dead, so we probably shouldn’t inform them of the opposite.”

“It’s not fair.” He says, and there are tears in his eyes.

“Life’s not fair.” She tells him, smoothing a hand over his forehead and cupping his cheek. She remembers a faded memory, from when she was tiny and her mother still lived when she traced patterns over Renfri’s forehead and teased her about what thoughts could possibly be inside that little head.

“I’ll write it anyway.” He declares, but before she can say another word he tacks on a quick, “But just for us. I won’t sing it unless it’s just us, okay Effee?”

“Okay,” She says, because Jaskier is looking at her with pleading blue eyes and she can’t refuse him, “Okay.”

 

---

 

The next town they arrive at, they hear whispers of a boy gone missing.

He was magic, the townsfolk mutter. Split a tree right down the middle when he’d wanted an apple and could not reach. Some mages came and took him away, for training.

Renfri doesn’t know if she’s ever felt fear until she hears that.

“Jaskier,” She whispers when they’re back safe in the woods (and isn’t it funny, that she feels safest in the woods after the terrible beginning of their tale), “Jaskier listen to me.”

He looks at her with wide eyes.

“If anyone comes and wants to take you away, you come and get me, okay? You come and get me, and I’ll take care of it.”

“Why would they want to take me away?” Jaskier asks, fingers twitching anxiously as though playing an invisible lute.

Renfri thinks of moods turned on a coin, of generosity when there should be none. She thinks of cold nights when Jaskier’s songs made her feel as warm as if there was a fire before them, and of a conversation of superpowers and stubborn weeds.

“Promise me you’ll come and get me.” She says instead of explaining, and watches the gears turn behind too intelligent eyes.

But he’s still so trusting. “Okay,” He says, “I promise.”

 

---

 

In another town, there’s a wedding. Jaskier is thrilled as he flits through the commotion eagerly taking in the sights and sounds. He’s had a recent growth spurt and his pants are too short, but he doesn’t seem to notice as he gets on a table and pulls his lute from his back and hollers, “A blessing for the happy couple!”

No one seems to notice the oddity of a strange boy taking over the entertainment, they simply clap along and roar with enthusiasm as Jaskier plays an upbeat love song about a boy and a girl who want to get married but have to sneak around because her mother doesn’t approve.

It seems like it’s only Renfri who notices the shimmer in the air where Jaskier’s fingers dance across the lute.

But perhaps not, because later Renfri buries her knife in a man’s throat as he speaks of a place called Ban Ard. He tried to do something, but whatever it was hadn’t worked. She's almost offended that such a bad mage was the one sent to recruit her brother.

On their way out of town, Renfri steals a sword. If she’s going to have to protect her brother properly, she’s going to have to need something a little deadlier than her cheap knives.

 

---

 

Jaskier gets noticed another time after singing a blessing for a baby born in a storm that keeps everyone locked at the Inn. Fool boy didn’t even think about the town mage who was also present.

Renfri feels no shame in patting the man down and stealing his bag of coins, heavy for such a terrible mage. Again his spell against her seemed to have failed, and even though she knows she has a pretty face she rolls her eyes when she thinks about how close he let her get.

“You need to be more careful.” She tells her brother severely, and there’s something dark and cold inside of her that whispers what if Stregobor is the next mage who comes for him?

“I’m sorry.” Jaskier says, sniffling miserably. He looks like a drowned rat, stomping through the rain after her. Serves him right.

But he looks at her with big watery blue eyes and she instantly forgives him.

The next town over, Renfri finds a gruff looking retired soldier and shoves coin in his hands. “Teach me how to fight.” She demands, spine straight and proud like a true princess.

The man looks at Renfri, with her pretty face. She’s a young woman now, not a girl, and sometimes the worst monsters are the human ones. He looks at Jaskier who has grown another two inches seemingly overnight and looks like an overgrown colt with slender limbs and a lute on his back as he clutches at the back of Renfri’s dress.

“Yeah.” The man sighs deeply, as though this might as well happen to him. “Yeah, okay.”

 

---

 

Jaskier scowls in confusion, staring down at his hands as though they’ve betrayed him.

“What?” Renfri asks, amused despite herself as she busies her hands skinning and gutting the rabbit she’s caught them for dinner.

“I think my magic is broken.”

Jaskier’s frown deepens and Renfri sits straight up, because what?

“What do you mean your magic is broken?” She demands, abandoning the rabbit to stride to her brother’s side, hands on her hips.

“I keep trying to, you know,” Jaskier waves a hand to encompass the general ‘magic bullshit’ that he means, “But it’s not working. Or it’s like, bouncing off?”

“Trying to what?” Renfri grits out, because her brother is an idiot.

“Are you cursed?” He asks instead, squinting at her suspiciously.

She looks at him. He looks at her. She looks at him harder.

“Jaskier,” She says finally, when it looks like he’s not going to get her big massive hint, “Jaskier, I have literally been cursed my entire life. The curse of the black sun? Ringing any bells here?”

“Wait that’s real?”

Renfri can only sigh, deep and weary.

“I thought that was bullshit mother made up to make people think you’re evil or something?” Jaskier still sounds confused. “Why would that make you immune to magic, anyhow?”

“I’ll steal a magic book for you or something.” Renfri promises, turning to go back to skinning her rabbit. “Maybe you can find out.”

(The sun, it should be said, burns. Any child blessed by it burns as well, and if that same blessing burns out poisons and toxins and yes, even magic - well then. Mages were never very patient when it came to things they could not control.)

 

---

 

“The book says I’m a monster.” Renfri points out.

“Or a mutant!” Jaskier shoots back indignantly, glaring at the book as though it’s kicked a puppy or something.

“That’s really not that much better.”

Jaskier thinks on that for a minute before making his rebuttal. “Witchers are mutants, right? And they kill monsters! That makes them the good guys.”

Renfri wishes she had Jaskier’s endless optimism and enthusiasm sometimes. Other times, like right now, it’s just exhausting. So she gives him a look that makes the band of bandits they’ve fallen in with wince back, but apparently her brother is completely immune to it. All the shame.

“To be fair, the book also doesn’t say anything about magic an’ music.” Jaskier says, shrugging, “So maybe it’s just a shit book.”

“Language, shithead.” Renfri mock-scolds, “You’re a prince.”

“Prince of what?” Comes the sulky mutter as he slams the books closed and crosses his arms. A few years ago it would have been more effective - he’s getting a little old for pouting.

Renfri wraps her arms around his skinny little shoulder and hauls him up and into a hug, pressing a kiss against his head as he struggles against being smothered.

“The Prince of Renfri.” She tells him, fondly.

 

---

 

If she is a monster, it seems she is in good company with the rest of the human race. Her sword gets plenty of use against men who think a pretty face is an invitation and men who think their muscles mean they have a right to what is hers.

Somehow she ends up with a band of people she’s saved. Not on purpose, but sometimes she sees the evil men do and sees red, and then there’s red upon her blade, and she feels a little bit more like a monster for not even feeling sorry for it.

When she looks at her reflection, she can’t help but notice that she hasn’t changed for a few years. Yes, her hair has grown, but - she doesn’t look any older. She would put that down to good genes but -

Jaskier hit eighteen and sort of stopped growing as well. It worries her. She knows mages live long, unchanging lives. But she’s not sure about the actual process.

(Especially for Jaskier - the book says he shouldn’t be able to do magic that young unless it’s of a family line. Somehow, Renfri doubts her stepmother is hiding her magical prowess and her father is about as magical as a tree stump. She worries.)

She’s growing a reputation. The Shrike, they call her with fear on their tongues, and Renfri kind of likes it.

Her brother is a songbird who will sing to all who listen.

She is a shrike.

(They match, as they always have.)

 

---

 

She sees Stregobor in a town one day. And even worse, he sees her.

“Jaskier,” She says urgently, holding her brothers shoulders with knuckles made white with fear, “You have to stay away from me for a while, okay? You have to go somewhere else. Just for a little while.”

“What?” Jaskier’s brow furrows, “No! I’m not leaving you!”

But she’s already fended off four different assassins who knew her as Renfri, not the Shrike. She knows who sent them. Will keep sending them.

She doesn’t know what will happen if Stregobor finds Jaskier, finds her little brother who brims with his impossible magic and smiles so unguardedly. It frightens her, that she does not know.

If Renfri is a monster, then she will use that to protect her brother. She will get justice in the same breath. She might not know what she is, but she knows who she is. She is Renfri. She is Jaskier’s older sister. She is a woman who is cornered, and sees a threat to her family.

Stregobor must die.

“It’s just for a little while, dandelion.” She soothes, pulling him close and carding a hand through his hair. “Just until I sort out this mess, and until then you can do what you do best - go spread joy to people through song. I will come and find you when it’s all over.”

“You promise?” Jaskier asks her, with his big blue eyes.

“I promise,” She says gently, pressing her lips to his forehead. She tries not to feel like it’s a lie.

“I’m gonna give you the best protection spells.” Jaskier tells her, pulling back from her embrace with a determined glint in his eyes.

“Magic doesn’t work on me.” She informs him, not for the first time and (she prays) not for the last.

“I’m going to make it work.” He tells her, shoulder back and spine straight and suddenly looking every inch the prince he should have been.

“I believe you.”

 

---

 

Geralt of Rivia meets a woman in a tavern clothed in red with a brooch on her chest and a wicked sense of humor. She asks him if he’s in Blaviken for a monster. She tells him he desperately needs money for new clothes. She is not afraid of him.

He meets her again in the woods, and he tells her that she has a choice: to be a monster and take her revenge, or to leave and finally live.

She doesn’t tell him the whole story, but she doesn’t tell anyone the whole story. He’s not special. Even her merry band believe that Jaskier is a stray that she picked up and grew fond of, for she has many strays and it is not such a strange thing.

He doesn’t know it, but the Witcher gives her a choice: become a monster and protect her brother, or to be a human and keep him in danger. In the end, it isn’t really a choice at all.

She goes to him, in the woods, the night before the planned slaughter. For whatever reason, she can’t get her brothers words out of her head, from that day way back when they’d looked in a stolen book of magic that named her a monster.

“Are you like me?” She wants to ask. The rumors all said that Witchers didn’t have emotions, and Renfri is pretty sure she doesn’t either. Except, of course, when it comes to Jaskier. But Jaskier is a brand of magic all his own, a weed that grows in the darkest of places - even a monster’s heart.

She’s a monster. Or perhaps she’s a mutant. She looks at the man with white hair and a choice to make and she hopes he can live with what he chooses.

She kisses Geralt’s sleeping forehead with a tenderness she usually reserves for only Jaskier. And, perhaps, for kindred spirits. And then she heads to the marketplace to force a confrontation, for better or for worse.

(If she dies, Stregobor won’t go looking for her and he won’t find Jaskier. If Stregobor dies, there will be no one to discover her little brother to begin with. Either way is a win, as far as Renfri is concerned.)

She doesn’t see Geralt come to the town square. She doesn’t see him slaughter the men who followed her with the whole town as witnesses. She comes in at the end of it, clutching the mage’s little pet with a knife at her throat and a lump in her own.

He tries to use magic on her, and she almost laughs. “Magic doesn’t work on me,” She tells him, the words familiar and heavy in her mouth. She’s parroted them often enough, after all. But Geralt isn’t her brother, soft and painfully kind. He’s like her, and so she says, “But silver does.”

It’s a challenge, to see if he’ll treat her as a monster with the admission.

Geralt doesn’t back down, and Renfri feels her hope extinguish. She has her sword and her skills and her little brother’s attempts at protection spells that slide off of her like water and that will have to be enough. Someone will die here today, and she hopes that it is Stregobor but if it must be her then she isn’t afraid.

“They created me just as they created you,” She breathes into his face when he pins her against a wall, “We’re not so different.”

She hopes desperately that it’s true, because she can hear her brother’s voice telling her that Witchers are mutants and Witchers fight monsters so of course they’re good. If this Witcher is a good man - then maybe there is hope for her.

She thinks he might be a good man, because he holds a sword to her throat and stands there. He wants her to stand down. He doesn’t want to have to kill her.

But he doesn’t understand what’s at stake, and Jaskier is almost grown up. He doesn’t need her like he did once upon a time. He loves her, but he doesn’t need her, and he deserves to live his own life free from all the bullshit she’s managed to heap onto him by association.

She has her knife in her hand still and she lunges, and the Witcher moves, and suddenly she’s staring him the eye. If she leaned forward, their noses would touch. And, oh, her own knife is plunged in her throat.

He doesn’t let her fall to the ground, undignified. He catches her. She only has a moment, looking at him, and she opens her mouth to say - something.

Instead what comes out is: “The girl in the woods will be with you always. She is your destiny.”

She doesn’t know where it came from, but it feels right when it falls from her lips.

She takes one last look at the Witcher, and hopes Jaskier won’t do something stupid.

And then she is gone.

Chapter Text

The sun and the moon are curious things. The sun burns so brightly, people can’t even look at it. The moon, which merely reflects the sun’s bright light, is hailed as beautiful and gentle and wondrous.

Jaskier knows the moment that Renfri dies. When that brilliant impossible light goes out.

He’s no Renfri, but it’s easier than it should be to steal a horse and go galloping off at breakneck speeds. He sings travelling songs as he goes, allowing his voice to dip and rise and for his intent to tug him in the correct direction.

By the time he arrives, Geralt is gone. Why would he stay, when all he got was stones and malice?

He hears the tale from the people of Blaviken, embellished and exaggerated into a twisted unstoppable thing. But he does get some useful information from the people: Geralt of Rivia murdered his sister, and Stregobor has her body.

So he puts on his best smile and goes to the tavern and gets out his lute, strumming a few chords. After all that’s happened, the town is eager to be cheered up by the travelling bard. So he smiles at all of the people who let his sister die, and starts singing.

The truth about Jaskier is this: he doesn’t have a cruel bone in his body. He wishes no malice on people, and treats everyone with kindness until they’re proven undeserving.

So he sings a jolly and bouncy ballad about a town cursed to sleep a whole day through and wake up like nothing ever happened, spinning and dancing and laughing as the people’s heads start bobbing and they slump to the floor.

Mages are not immune to magic, it should be said. So it’s easy to stroll through a sleeping town straight to Stregobor’s tower. It’s easy to walk straight through the false door, to wind his way through the room until he comes across what he’s searching for.

It’s her. Renfri. His sister.

Jaskier is not a strong man, but he lifts Renfri into his arms and tries not to cry as he walks out of the cursed town and into the forest.

The woods, where he and his sister have always felt safest despite everything. He lays her down in the grass, and smoothes her hair from her face, and pulls out a handkerchief to clear the blood away.

And then, with tears in his eyes, he pulls out his lute.

A long time ago, he told Renfri that he would write a song that would set the world straight, that would make it so that no one ever thought she was a monster ever again. She’d said no, but he wrote it anyway. Just for them.

It’s that song he sings now, about a sun-girl and her little moon-boy brother. A girl who shone so brightly she frightened people, who was so important that the sun itself came down from the sky to watch her birth and give its blessing.

He sings about their adventures together, their run-ins with bandits and monsters, and how she kept the moon-boy safe. Let him bask in her light.

The thing about the moon is that in order to shine, the sun gives a piece of its light to it. And Jaskier, with voice trembling and fingers dancing, decides to give some back.

Renfri gasps awake and Jaskier starts badly. She rolls and hoists herself up on her arms, coughing old blood from her throat.

“Renfri?” He can’t help but ask, because she was dead. Magic doesn’t bring people back from the dead. There were entire chapters in the magic books they stole about what a bad fucking idea it was to even try.

“Jaskier,” Renfri coughs out, looking at her brother with manic eyes, “What the fuck did you do?”

Yeah, okay, that’s fair.

 

---

 

Many years later, and still looking the same as he did back then, Jaskier stands in a tavern giving a halfhearted performance at best. Posada isn’t exactly a town of thriving artists who appreciate what he’s doing, thank you.

(There had been a difficult birth, the night before, and Jaskier had been up half the night singing soft lullabies to coax breath into the child’s struggling lungs. He’s tired - sue him if his routine isn’t worthy of a standing ovation.)

But hey, the patrons throw bread at him so he gets to eat for free. His childhood on the road behind Renfri taught him, if nothing else, not to be picky when it comes to getting fed.

He looks up from where he’s crouched on the ground stuffing his pockets with food and that’s when he sees the man with the white hair and the scowl and thinks - oh, that one.

He isn’t entirely sure why he gets up and makes a beeline for the man, like he’s being pulled directly there. He’s never felt as drawn to anyone in his life.

(That’s a lie. He’s always been drawn to Renfri, like a moth to a flame. A moon is always in need of something to reflect, after all.)

“I love the way you just… sit in the corner and brood.” Is what Jaskier’s traitorous mouth comes up with. He’s a fucking bard for fucks sake. He should be smoother than this! Renfri can never find out about this. Ever.

“I’m here to drink alone.” The handsome stranger says dismissively, but Jaskier’s never been great at taking a hint.

“Good! Yeah, good.” Jasker smiles, “No one else hesitated to comment on the quality of my performance, except… for you.”

The man doesn’t smile back. Is he even capable of smiling? All of a sudden, Jaskier is desperate to see this man smile.

“Come on!” Jaskier cajoles, “You don’t want to keep a man with bread in his pants waiting.”

Yeah, Renfri can never find out about this conversation.

The man is still silent, which Jaskier takes as an invitation to sit down. Because he’s a little shit. “You must have some review for me! Three words or less.”

The man has a thousand yard stare and looks like he would rather be literally anywhere else than sitting across from Jaskier, which Jaskier decides to take as a challenge, leaning forward eagerly until the man simply states: “They don’t exist.”

“...What don’t exist?”

“The creatures in your song.”

Oh, well. He had asked for a review in three words or less. Did contractions count? Jaskier felt obligated to wonder whether contractions counted as one word or not. While he’s thinking on this important matter, he tosses out a careless, “And how would you know?”

Silence.

Jaskier looks up and takes in the stranger again. The pale hair. The serious face. The.. the wolf amulet sitting on his chest like an obvious fucking beacon, hello Jaskier.

“Oh, fun.” Jaskier lights up as he stares at the man who killed his sister. The fact that it didn’t stick notwithstanding. “White hair, big old loner, two very very scary-looking swords. I know who you are.”

The man is getting up, and Jaskier has to tilt his head back to continue looking at his face. He’s quite tall, after all.

And.. then he’s leaving. Jaskier has a split second to make a decision but his feet have already made it for him, quickly dancing after the big broody guy, “You’re the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia.”

As has already been established, Jaskier is not a cruel man. He’s not malicious. He doesn’t seek vengeance, not even against the man who killed his sister.

(Perhaps especially not against the man who killed his sister. Renfri had told him of her last day, with quiet words and far away eyes. Of the Witcher who gave a monster a choice, a Witcher who didn’t want her to die but killed her anyway.)

No, Jaskier is not a cruel man. But, he is a bit of a petty one. And he doesn’t want to kill the Witcher or anything, but he wouldn’t mind inconveniencing the big brute. So he says, in his brightest possible voice, “Called it!”

He’s expecting people to start muttering, but he’s not expecting the man who stands up and immediately entreats the Witcher to do a job. A devil, stealing grain.

“You take no prisoners, so I hear.” The man tells the Witcher as he offers his coin, and Jaskier remembers a blood soaked marketplace and dabbing at his sister’s face with water in a futile attempt to clean her off, and he clenches his hands into fists.

And oh, Renfri is going to kill him for his next move.

(If she hears about it! Think positive!)

 

---

 

“Need a hand?” Jaskier asks in his most upbeat and peppy voice, wondering internally if it would be in bad form to gently uh, gently curse a Witcher to trip over his own boots. “I’ve got two, one for each of the devil’s horns.”

He jazzhands a little to show them off because, hey, he’s proud of them. He has the long slender fingers of an aristocrat. Or a bard. Yes, definitely just a bard, no secret prince here thank-you-very-much.

“Go away.” The Witcher grunts at him.

Unfortunately for the Witcher, disapproval only fuels Jaskier.

“I won’t be but silent back-up!” Jaskier promises, meaning to be nothing of the sort.

He allows for a beat of silence, to give the broody man some hope, before he breaks said silence over his knee with cheer. “Look, I heard your note. And yes, you’re right, maybe real adventures would make better stories. And you, sir, smell chock-full of them!”

Really, this is all Renfri’s fault for forbidding him from singing about her adventures! At least, that’s the excuse he’s going to trot out when she finds out and decides to murder him for bothering the Witcher who literally murdered her what the fuck Jaskier.

He lets his mouth continue moving without particularly paying attention to what’s coming out of it. A particular talent that’s gotten him into trouble before and will get him into trouble many more times to come. Onions? Why are they talking about onions now?

“I could be your barker!” Jaskier exclaims, and then adds a tiny bit maliciously (this man killed his sister, it’s allowed), “Spreading the tales of Geralt of Rivia, the Butcher of Blaviken!”

He’s not sure what he’s expecting. Some weird pride or something? But Geralt gestures him closer and then, and this part is very important, nails Jaskier right in the balls.

Something inside of him soothes, just a tiny bit, with the realization that the title isn’t something that then man is proud of. Even as he’s falling to the ground and wheezing because the Witcher is not holding back.

Well, if Geralt thinks that’s the way to get rid of him he is very wrong!

Jaskier pops up again (like a stubborn weed) with a bright grin. Adventure awaits!

 

---

 

Adventure is not supposed to end up with him tied up to the man who killed his sister (yes he knows he’s still a little fixated on that point but what about it).

But hey, if this is it for him, he’s had a good run. And the past few hours annoying the everliving fuck out of Geralt of Rivia? Zero regrets, would absolutely do again. Though interspersed with babble were some genuine offers.

Jaskier doesn’t love being reminded of Blaviken at the best of times. Renaming the man Renfri actually respected (and wasn’t that a feat to behold) was something Jaskier was absolutely capable of. And not just because of his magic! He’s also capable of writing just a really catchy tune!

But not when he’s tied up and about to die. Can’t rehabilitate a man’s reputation when you’re dead!

And oh. They’re breaking his lute. He just replaced his last one! Fuckers.

“Do your witchering!” He demands, just to be a little shit

Geralt does not seem to appreciate this. Nor do their captors, come to think of it. And they’re speaking Elder! Jaskier is very good at Elder, even though he never uses it. Why are half the books on magic written in Elder? Why are all the spells in Elder? Jaskier never does his spells in Elder.

(He recalls Renfri rolling her eyes and fondly calling him a freak of nature over that, actually.)

He can hear them breaking his lute and he can’t help but open his mouth, even though he can really only expect the kick in the chest. Ouch ouch, that might have broken a rib.

But what Jaskier doesn’t expect is the Witcher coming to his defense. “Leave off! He’s just a bard.”

Ha. Just a bard. He wishes he was just a bard, would make his life a lot simpler.

(Except no he doesn’t, because then his sister would be dead.)

She’s beating up on Geralt now as she insults him, and Jaskier debates yelling as well but. He’s a lot more fragile than a Witcher, okay? And even if he does sing a healing spell, he’s not actually that powerful?

Okay yeah, he put a whole town to sleep and brought someone back to life but that entire day is an outlier and should not be counted.

Oh his lute is officially broken and Geralt is suspiciously silent. Doesn’t even pipe up to defend himself.

And that’s when Jaskier gets angry. He tilts his head up, trying to get the woman in view and curling his lip in a snarl that he learned from Renfri. “You hide in your golden palaces. You beat a bound man, too scared to even look him in the eye!” Jaskier snarls.

“Do you like my palace?” The elf sneers, and then goes right back to Geralt. She doesn’t even kick him again, and that makes Jaskier even more angry, actually.

Thankfully, Geralt takes this opportunity to headbutt little miss pointy ears right in the face. Jaskier is appeased and has decided to like the Witcher just for that alone.

The elf starts wheezing, and Jaskier’s anger turns to concern because is she okay? Maybe Geralt broke her nose? But even then she shouldn’t be making that noise. Jaskier has always had a soft heart, even when he’s being tied up and kicked in the chest he guesses.

(It bears saying again that Renfri can never find out about this.)

Jaskier’s pitiful heartstrings give another twinge when he finds out that the elves were forced out rather than gifting the land and leaving. And yeah, it’s a stupid story. He shouldn’t have believed it in the first place. He knows that the worst monsters are human.

“One human.” The Witcher is saying, “And you can let him go.”

Aww. Geralt cares about him! Sort of. Probably? He’d much rather focus on prodding at Geralt’s weird protectiveness (especially considering the early punch in the knackers and all the growling and grumping) than focus too hard on the Elf King’s plight.

“The lesser evil.” Geralt says, and Jaskier’s breath catches in his throat. “No matter what you choose, you’ll come out bloody and hating yourself. Trust me.”

Oh fuck. Jaskier is having an emotion. Maybe several emotions? Aw fuck, now he feels bad for wanting the hex the Witcher into tripping over his own boots. The Witcher who murdered his sister! He feels bad about wishing him bad! That should be illegal.

There’s a split second where Jaskier’s brain and heart have a moment of honest communication and the conclusion they come to goes like this: Jaskier is going to cheer this Witcher up and make him stop hating himself. Somehow, someway, it’s going to happen.

“Even chaos is polluted,” The Elf King grits out, and Jaskier pays close attention. “Synthetically enhanced so humans can make magic.”

Sy- Synthetically? So humans aren’t meant to use magic?

“Chaos is the same as it’s always been.” Geralt says forcefully, shooting that idea down. “Humans just adapted better.”

And Geralt doesn’t consider himself human, does he. The Witchers were dying out, and even then humans had made sure to take their synthetic monsters and make sure they had… population control.

Jaskier only knows this because after the book on creatures resistant to magic and Blaviken, he’d been curious about Witchers. Even then, the details were few and far between. It’s not like Jaskier had access to the great mage libraries, after all. Did they have libraries? It felt like they should have a library.

The Elf King decides that shooting Jaskier in the heart with words is the best way to kill him, and honestly he agrees. His eyes are already tearing up at the sheer emotion in the man’s voice, and he can’t even imagine what this is doing to Geralt who has to look him in the eye.

“I have learned to live with them,” Geralt says, “So that I may live.”

Oof. Oof, right in the heart bone. If (when) they get out of this alive, Geralt is getting himself a whole friend until Jaskier feels less completely ashamed of being human. It might take a good long while, but that’s okay, because Geralt is clearly in need of a friend what the fuck.

Everyone’s forgotten that Jaskier exists in this conversation, and he kind of feels like he’s eavesdropping. He supposes it’s fairly easy to forget him when he’s hidden behind Geralt’s broad shoulders, so he can’t really blame them.

He can’t help but close his eyes as they decide Geralt’s, and by extension Jaskier’s, fate. At this point, he’ll accept whatever Filavandrel decides. His heart bleeds as he viciously mentally rewrites some of the stupid ballads he’s learned about the wars between elves and humans.

 

---

 

Fivavandral gave him a lute. Jaskier takes back all the negative thoughts he’s ever had for the elf king, even though he did just try and murder them a tiny bit.

The important thing is that they’re alive!

(And Renfri can never know about this.)

“Will the elf king hear what the Witcher entreats?” Jaskier sings experimentally, “Is history a wheel? Doomed to repeat?”

There’s no magic in his words, he’s just thinking out loud really.

“This is where we part ways, bard.” Geralt of Rivia says to him, and Jaskier might be more convinced if the man wasn’t riding his horse slow enough that Jaskier can keep up while walking.

“I promised to change the public’s tune about you.” Jaskier reminds him, “At least allow me to try.”

He slings Filavandrel’s lute (his lute now!) from his back and into his arms, strumming the chords experimentally. Exquisite. Something inside of him hums in contentment.

To change the public’s tune quickly would require magic, would require the right words. Not Elder, Jaskier didn’t work in Elder, but maybe…

“When the humble bard, graced a ride along, with Geralt of Rivia… along came this song -”

 

---

 

“Darling sister mine!” Jaskier sings out, waltzing into a tavern. He’d parted ways with the Witcher only briefly, planning to catch up to him again in the next town if nothing went astray.

“Jaskier.” Renfri greets him calmly. Too calmly. Something slithers down his spine, dread perhaps.

“Effee.” He greets back warily, because to call her Renfri would be far too dangerous to both of them and it’s important to remind her at times like these that he’s her most darling little brother whom she loves very much.

“What have you been up to, dearest songbird?” She bares her teeth at him as she bats her eyelashes and Jaskier can feel himself freeze up. Absolutely useless, he curses his instincts as she gets up to prowl towards him.

“I have had no near death experiences at all, what are you talking about?” Jaskier immediately lies, nudging his elven lute to be more hidden behind his back. It doesn’t really work, but it’s the thought that counts.

“When a humble bard…” She sing-songs at him, raising an eyebrow.

Jaskier should say something clever here, but what comes out is a soft yet heartfelt - “Fuck.”

And that’s Renfri, way too close with her hand on his neck like she’s scruffing a disobedient kitten as she drags him to a room. “Fuck is right, as in what the fuck were you thinking you little hooligan.

“I would like to remind you, that of the two of us only one has died! And it’s not even me!” Jaskier yelps out as she tosses him into the room. And then she stands there, staring down at him with her hands on her hips looking absolutely murderous.

Geralt of Rivia?” She demands.

“You said that he was very nice.” Jaskier sniffs.

“When he was murdering me!”

“Isn’t that when niceness counts the most though?”

“I,” Renfri states, pointing at him severely, “Am absolutely not getting involved when you die because fucking Geralt of Rivia, Witcher extraordinaire, realizes that you’re a fucking necromancer or some bullshit and runs you through with his sword - ”

“God I wish.” Comes out of Jaskier’s mouth without his permission, making Renfri pause in her tirade. Oops.

A long, slow pause as Renfri tilts her head with calculation. “What - ”

“Anyway!” Jaskier bulldozes over her, “I’m not actually a necromancer! I checked! And hoo boy you would not have to believe who I slept with to get my hands on that tasty piece of forbidden literature. There’s all this like, ritual stuff you have to do and what you summon doesn’t actually have a soul or anything so - ”

Renfri allows the subject change, but her eyes say she’s not going to forget this tasty piece of information easily. “Arguably I don’t have a soul, either.”

Jaskier shoots her the look he always does when she’s being weird about her state of being. Though, perhaps, after this most recent ordeal he won’t try too terribly hard to convince her she’s human. Jaskier’s not even sure he wants to be human after what he heard.

“We’re sharetiming mine.” Jaskier deadpans in reference to souls, rolling his eyes, “Anyway, they’re like. Mindless hordes or whatever. Basic commands only, nothing too complex. As much as I loathe to admit, you’re not exactly a dull blade over there.”

Renfri raises a dangerous eyebrow.

“You are… the sharpest of knives! The deadliest one in the drawer!” Jaskier hurries to reassure her, hands held up placatingly. “Please don’t kill me.”

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t.” Renfri crosses her arms and looks intimidating. She’s very good at looking intimidating, his sister.

“You love me?”

“Try again.” Oof, ouch. He really was in trouble when that was her tone.

“You’ll never find out what actually happened if you kill me.” Jaskier bargains quickly.

Renfri considers that, and the stalks over to the bed to sit upon it like she’s a Queen and this room is her royal hall. Her arms are still crossed and her eyebrow still dangerously raised. “Well?” She demands after a beat of silence, “Entertain me, bard.”

Jaskier suddenly flashes over the many many times over the course of his brief adventure with Geralt that his primary thought had been Renfri can never know and hesitates. “Uh.”

“I’m going to kill him.” Renfri declares very calmly.

The pronoun change trips Jaskier up, and he shoots her a bewildered look. “Who?”

“Geralt of Rivia, who else?”

Jaskier can only blink.

“I can literally see you wincing, and if the big bad Witcher didn’t bother to take care of the scrawny little human - ”

Jaskier’s hand goes protectively to his ribs, which are actually still tender even though he will no longer admit it under pain of death (even though he was definitely planning to complain about them at length before this conversation happened). “It wasn’t his fault! He was actually very gentlemanly.” And there goes Renfri’s eyebrow again, making an honest bid to finally reunite with her hairline. “He was! He told them to let me go and everything. Very threatening. Very grumbly. An absolute peach, otherwise.”

He can see Renfri mouth the word ‘peach’ to herself and wonders idly if he’s ever going to learn to reign in his mouth. Probably not, to be honest.

“I think he just needs a friend.”

And there’s the dawning horror on Renfri’s face that he was expecting. “Jaskier, no.”

Jaskier, yes.

Chapter Text

“Geralt!” Jaskier calls ahead cheerfully, jogging even though his shoes were not designed for a jog. If he didn’t know better he’d say that Geralt had picked up the pace at his shout rather than slow down.

Hah, if he didn’t want Jaskier around he would have to do better than that!

“What are we fighting today, Geralt?” Jaskier asks, slightly out of breath. Geralt can walk fast when he wants to, which should come as no surprise.

“There’s no we.” Geralt glowers at him, and wow his eyes are stunning. Jaskier kind of wants to write a ballad based only around those eyes and the various ways they catch the light.

“If we’re going in a swamp, you have to warn me.” Jaskier bulldozes over the Witcher like he didn’t hear him. “My last clothes were absolutely ruined by swamp mud, and we weren’t even fighting a monster! Honestly Geralt I don’t see why we can’t just travel on the main road.”

“Hmm.”

One day, Jaskier is going to write a fucking dictionary about the man’s grunts and hums and what they mean. He squints at Geralt’s back. Was that a yes Jaskier I will warn you if we’re going to be in a swamp or a I will drop you in the next swamp we cross?

Honestly, it sounded a little more unnerved, like someone had stepped on his grave or something.

Wasn’t there a swamp near Blaviken?

Nah, Jaskier brushes the thought off. There are swamps everywhere. The Witcher probably just has swamp-trauma. Hell, Jaskier has swamp trauma. That was his favorite doublet!

“Hey Geralt?” Jaskier pipes up instead of dwelling on his grief over his fancy clothes, the one thing he misses a tiny bit about being a Prince, plucking absently at his lute, “Does magic work on you?”

Geralt looks over his shoulder with baleful eyes.

A man of many words, his Witcher.

“I’m not planning on cursing you!” Jaskier hurries to assure, “I was just thinking - what if you’re hurt and you need uh, magic healing or something! I mean don’t get me wrong I know you’re a big strong independent Witcher man - I mean look at those muscles - but! And this is very important! Monsters also have muscles! Well, some of them look like skin and bones - ”

“Yes.” Geralt cuts him off.

“Yes?”

“I’m resistant, but it works.” Geralt informs him like this is some great trial he has to endure.

Huh, not like Renfri then. Curious. Granted, Renfri was practically un-curse-able (very helpful actually, considering their mortal enemy was a fairly powerful and influential mage), but she was also un-heal-able. Whatever the hell Jaskier did to revive her notwithstanding of course, and even then he hadn’t exactly been able to reproduce those results.

Renfri is still a black hole for magic, which is possibly the most frustrating thing in Jaskier’s entire life.

“Good to know!” Jaskier enthuses, because he’s Jaskier and looking at Geralt’s grumpy face every time Jaskier bounces back is actually sort of hilarious. Not that Jaskier would laugh at him, of course, he does like his face in the pristine condition it usually is.

But - that also means that Geralt is vulnerable to other more suspicious magical things. Hmm.

Jaskier plucks the strings of his lute thoughtfully. Resistant means it would be more difficult, but not impossible. And Jaskier’s specialty is almost impossible.

“Hey Geralt?” Jaskier asks, not bothering to wait for an answer because he’d be waiting all day, “Have you been healed by magic before?”

Geralt grunts, but that’s definitely a yes grunt. Jaskier is getting better at this already.

“I’ve only ever been healed by magic once. And it was for a very good cause! I broke my arm you see, and you can’t play a lute with a broken arm! I was absolutely distraught, and it really wasn’t my fault in the first place you see, I was a victim of circumstance. Wrong place at the wrong time. Really, it was more of an accident than anything else - hey do you think intent messes with magic? Well regardless - ”

“Jaskier?”

“Yes, Geralt?”

“Shut up.”

 

---

 

You’re not supposed to be here.” Jaskier hissed out, pointing an accusing finger at the cloaked figure on the end of the bar.

“And you’re not supposed to be travelling with a Witcher.” Renfri informs him regally.

“Effee!”

“Relax,” Renfri takes a deep sip of her beer, grimacing at the aftertaste. “I waited until your Witcher ventured out of town, and I’ll be gone before he gets back.”

Jaskier feels very validated that this time he’s the one with his hands on his hips trying to stare his sister down. Granted, he’s not nearly as good at it as she is, but he can do a pretty darn good impression in a pinch.

Renfri just looks at him blandly and takes another sip of her shit ale.

Jaskier just throws his hands up in the air, “Have you just decided to follow me now?”

“Maybe.” She takes another sip.

“I,” Jaskier waggles a finger at her, “Am an adult. No, don’t snort! I am! I’m allowed to make my own bad decisions on occasion without my big sister running in to save the day!”

“Yeah, now there’s a Witcher to do my job for me.” And, oh, Renfri sounds a little bit bitter actually. Why would she be - wait a minute…

“Are you jealous?”

Renfri’s sour look says it all. Jaskier mentally kisses his nice night to himself sprawled across a comfy bed goodbye. He was so hoping to have a nice bath before Geralt inevitably returned covered in monster guts or something. Just a few brief hours of smelling like lavender before it was ruined.

He rolls his eyes and slides into the seat next to her, nudging her with his shoulder. “I can assure you, my feeling about Geralt and my feelings about you could not be more different.”

He can feel Renfri turn towards him, scanning him up and down, as he signals someone to bring him some ale.

“Is that why you look like a baby prostitute?”

Jaskier whirls around, almost knocking Renfri’s ale off the table, an outraged gasp already on his lips.

Renfri takes one look at his face and immediately starts laughing.

“Take that back!” Jaskier demands.

“I speak only the truth!”

“Your lies grow more outrageous by the day, you fucker!” A woman comes over with amusement in her eyes to deposit a mug of ale by Jaskier’s elbow. He quickly decides that he cannot do this all sober and takes a few large gulps.

He winces. The ale here really does taste like shit.

He glances down at his unlaced doublet, “Do you really think so?”

“Isn’t that the look you’re going for?” Renfri’s eyebrow is reaching judgemental territory. He hates Renfri’s eyebrows, sometimes. Jaskier can’t raise his eyebrows independently, which is downright unfair.

Jaskier tilts his head and concedes the point.

He’s never been one to deny himself the finer things in life, when the opportunity arises. Fine clothes and fine people alike.

(Renfri, he knows, takes no lovers. Not like he does. Not just because. They don’t talk about it.)

“How is the Witcher treating you then, little Songbird?” Renfri sounds almost amused, and Jaskier congratulates himself on lifting the mood even if he didn’t really do all that much to help.

Jaskier brightens at the question, “I have so many new songs!”

“Asked about him, not your songs.”

Jaskier cuts off his gushing about the song he’s writing about how the white wolf saved a family from a wraith to think. “I think, deep down, he really likes me!”

“Deep down.” Renfri deadpans.

“Very deep down.” Jaskier agrees.

Renfri snorts, “Well, I suppose I have full confidence in your ability to wriggle under his skin if nothing else. You grow on people like a fungus, Jas.”

“It’s my superpower!”

 

---

 

“Do you have any allergies?” Jaskier asks.

“Witchers don’t have allergies.” Geralt says gravely, but he says everything gravely.

Geralt also eyes him warily upon saying this, which Jaskier feels is a little bit unfair. Just because they’ve gotten in a few minor little pickles at Jaskier’s whims doesn’t mean he deserves that level of suspicion!

Jaskier just beams at the Witcher brightly, which does nothing to help the wariness on his face, and continues in his self-appointed task.

Unfortunately for Geralt, even though his attention is entirely on the task at hand that doesn’t mean that Jaskier is, in any way, quiet. Nope. Instead he’s humming toss a coin under his breath as his nimble fingers pluck and weave.

Every so often, Jaskier can feel the Witcher’s eyes on him.

He twists his fingers, toss a coin turning gradually into another tune, softer and sweeter - more longing and heartache. Jaskier hasn’t given it words yet, but he thinks it’s going to be about a woman whose husband is off at war, so she sings a prayer each night for his safe return as she stares at the moon.

Just another tuck and… done!

Jaskier’s little cry of triumph has Geralt looking up from sharpening his sword. Jaskier lifts his creation up to admire it, hopping onto his feet and beaming in Geralt’s direction.

“No.” The Witcher states, face looking like it was carved from stone.

“I made this for you.” Jaskier informs him, smile widening,

“Jaskier…” Geralt warns as the bard approaches on light feet.

Jaskier just rolls his eyes. “It’s a flower crown, not anything dangerous for goodness sakes.”

“I’m allergic to flowers.” Geralt deadpans, and Jaskier laughs delightedly. A joke! The Witcher made a joke!

Jaskier bats his big blue eyes, widening them in a way that’s blatantly manipulative. “Please?”

Geralt is apparently immune to Jaskier’s baby blues.

“No,” Geralt growls, and goes back to sharpening his sword. But perhaps he’s not as immune to Jaskier’s pleading as he thinks, because the big scary Witcher bows his head to look at his whetstone and gives the perfect angle for Jaskier to just reach out and -

“Jaskier!”

Jaskier’s wrist is in Geralt’s tight grip, but the important thing is that the flower crown has been jammed onto the man’s head and looks fantastic if Jaskier does say so himself. It offsets the man’s thunderous expression wonderfully.

Of course, Geralt’s expression affects Jaskier exactly none. His sister is way scarier than Geralt, after all, though he’d never tell the man that. So he just beams at the man.

“Just as I thought - it looks beautiful on you!”

And it does. The bright golden dandelions that make up the crown stand out starkly against Geralt’s white hair and really bring out the gold in his beautiful eyes.

Geralt’s face smoothes out, as though he’s surprised by Jaskier’s sincerity. Or maybe he’s debating the best way to gut Jaskier, honestly it’s a toss up.

There’s a moment where they just stare at each other, Jaskier patiently waiting for the man to process and make a decision. Sometimes with people like Renfri and Geralt you just need to give them a moment to realize that you’re right.

Geralt suddenly lets go of Jaskier’s wrist as if burned, grunting dismissively as he turns his focus back to the whetstone.

For his part, Jaskier doesn’t miss a beat before whirling around to head towards a certain horse. “Don’t worry Roach!” He cheers, stooping as he goes to pluck a few more of the golden weeds from the ground, “I’ll make sure you match!”

Geralt, he can’t help but notice, doesn’t take the flower crown off.

Something warm and satisfied unfurls in Jaskier’s stomach, though he takes care not to examine it too closely.

Yes, Geralt looks good in Jaskier’s symbol.

 

---

 

They set off soon after that, Roach satisfyingly fed and watered and rested. Honestly, Geralt dotes on the big beast. He never stops in the middle of the day when Jaskier is tired.

It’s a bright, beautiful sort of day. They aren’t even on a job, just travelling between towns and wandering. It’s the sort of day that feels like nothing can go wrong.

So, of course, everything goes wrong.

Jaskier is walking along behind Roach and Geralt as he usually does, strumming away at his lute and occasionally singing out a few words and phrases. He’s decided to try and figure out the words for the song about the woman longing for her husband. It’s nothing unusual.

So he’s a little distracted and doesn’t notice when Geralt brings Roach to a halt and starts studying the surrounding wilderness intently.

He does notice when something slams into his side at full speed. There’s only a split second between him being upright and humming and him on the ground wondering what the fuck just happened. And -

Oh, that’s a snarling monster. That’s a snarling monster on top of him. Right. That’s a concern. That should be addressed immediately.

“Geralt!” He yelps, and that’s a lot of panic to pack into one word isn’t it. Is that too much panic? Actually no, probably not, because there is a monster on top of him.

But, thankfully, not for long. Because Geralt is there and suddenly the monster is off of him and grappling with Geralt instead, and Jaskier can only sit there, dazed and confused.

He looks down at himself to take stock - oh, his lute’s back over where he’s apparently dropped it when he was tackled by a monster. He should go and get that. And he will, in just a minute, when he stops being dizzy.

He takes another look down at himself and - oh, that’s blood. There is blood, and his clothes are ripped from the monsters dumb stupid claws and these were his favorites. Though that seems like a stupid thing to worry about when he looks up and sees the monster smack Geralt right in the face.

He likes Geralt’s face. It’s a very nice face to look at.

“Geralt!” He yelps again, and thankfully the Witcher does… something. And suddenly the creature’s head is off its body and rolling onto the group. Jaskier is very busy staring wide-eyed at the monster’s head, so he can be forgiven for missing the moment between Geralt standing at the body and Geralt kneeling down in front of him.

“Jaskier.” Geralt says, because he’s talented at words like that.

Jaskier can only stare back at Geralt with wide eyes, looking and searching and - actually, Geralt looks fine. Like, more fine than usual after the whole killing-a-monster type shenanigans he gets up to. Jaskier could have sworn that he saw the monster get Geralt in the face?

Jaskier.” Geralt says again, more insistently, and his hands have come up to rest against Jaskier’s head, probing and prodding and - probably looking for a head wound now that Jaskier thinks about it. Does he have a head wound?

But his gaze wanders distractedly to Geralt’s face and - the flower crown is still sitting on his head. Somehow. But it has certainly seen better days.

Minutes ago they’d be strolling along on a perfect day and Jaskier was thrilled because Geralt let him do something silly and sappy for him and didn’t protest more than the token amount, and now Jaskier was bleeding and Geralt had monster blood on him, and Geralt’s flower crown was ruined.

Geralt can probably be forgiven for the sheer and utter alarm on his usually stoic face when Jaskier decides that the flower crown thing crosses a line too far and bursts into tears.

“Where does it hurt?” The Witcher asks, and on any other day Jaskier would laugh at the panic in his voice.

“I’m not - not hurt!” Jaskier howls, hand coming up to scrub at his eyes furiously. This is a lie. He is bleeding from several places actually, where the creature clawed at him. “I’m angry!

Geralt doesn’t seem to know what to do with that, just looking absolutely bewildered and out of his element.

Uncharitably, Jaskier thinks that if Renfri were here then she would do something. Give him a hug, maybe. Or make him laugh. But no matter how often he compares the two, Geralt is not Renfri and he doesn’t do either of these things.

“Your flower crown - ” Is what Jaskier manages to sob out, reaching a hand out to brush against the battered thing and -

It’s like a static shock against his finger.

Geralt, if anything, looks even more bewildered.

And there’s Geralt, with his stupid perfect face with no scratches and bruises or anything that Jaskier can see. Wearing the stupid flower crown that Jaskier made humming a song about a wife saying prayers for her husband off at war.

There are a lot of thoughts racing around Jaskier’s head right now, chief of which being what the fuck because his magic doesn’t work that way. He needs an instrument. And words. But that’s the unmistakable feeling of his magic on the crown and -

What comes out of his mouth is: “She can never know.”

It’s a tiny bit hysterical, but Jaskier feels like he deserves a little bit of hysteria when his magic goes and does brand new things on him without permission. If Renfri finds out she is going to lock him in a tower and never let him leave ever again, fuck.

Geralt still looks confused, but is a little less frantic now that he’s made sure the bard isn’t dying on him or anything. “She?”

“My sister,” Jaskier announces, and maybe he does have a bit of a head wound because that is definitely one of the things that Renfri laid out that Geralt was not supposed to know. Jaskier is supposed to be an only child, as far as the Witcher is concerned. But right now, he doesn’t care, “Geralt, if you are my friend then swear on your life that she will never find out about this.”

“I’m not your friend.”

“Geralt you fucker -” Jaskier’s insult is cut off as Geralt grabs him by the arms and hauls him to his feet. Unfortunately for Geralt, Jaskier was very much not expecting this and just swings up to faceplant directly into Geralt’s chest.

Usually Jaskier would have no problem with this. It’s a very nice chest.

Not so much when it’s covered in armor and assorted gore though.

“Geralt!” He howls, outraged all over again. And - oh he can feel the Witcher’s chuckle from his position. It’s a nice feeling. Jaskier likes it.

And then hands hook under his armpits and haul him up again to gently set him on his feet and the moment ends.

Jaskier takes a moment to consider life in general, what brought him to this point, and the big gouge marks down his arms and legs (ouch ouch ouch) and scrubs at his cheeks again before looking up at the Witcher with imploring eyes. “Actually, I think I’m a little bit hurt.”

Geralt gives him an obvious look over to indicate Jaskier’s ripped clothes and the blood and then proceeds to raise his eyebrows to say a silent Witcher-y you think?

“What was that thing?”

“Graveir.” Geralt grunts, turning away from Jaskier to look at the monster more fully. “We should skip the next town.”

Jaskier blinks. “Why?”

“Graveir. Like a ghoul. Feeds on the dead. They’re usually around cemeteries or battlefields.”

Succinct and to the point. But there’s one problem. “We’re on a road, Geralt. Which is neither of those things.”

Geralt looks grim. “Mass graves’ll work, too.”

Jaskier blinks again. Once, twice. “Maybe they’ll have a job for you, then?”

Geralt gives him a look somewhere between what the fuck, Jaskier and why do I even bother. It’s Jaskier’s favorite new Geralt face.

“Think of the beds, Geralt.” Jaskier insists, going to pick up his lute as Geralt starts rustling through the bags. “And the baths. You got graveir blood on me, you oaf! And the food! And the ale! Yes, after this kind of ordeal I think a good clean rest would do us a world of good.”

Geralt returns to his side with bandages and a disgruntled look.

“We can’t just leave these people making mass graves all willy nilly and attracting monsters, Geralt.” Jaskier puts his hands on his hips and gives Geralt his best ‘Renfri disapproves’ face.

Geralt just rolls his eyes and grabs Jaskier’s arm, earning a yelp. That hurt! He’s still actively bleeding, Geralt!

“You have a sister?” Geralt asks, pouring… something over the gouges. Whatever it was stung like the dickens.

“You two are never allowed to meet.”

Geralt raises his eyebrows, which is less effective than Renfri’s single eyebrow of doom so Jaskier ignores it.

“Hey Geralt?”

“What.”

“Can I just call it a ghoul? It’s just I can’t think of anything that rhymes with Graveir off the top of my head but ghoul - ”

“No.”

“The ghoul was a fool, but Geralt kept his cool - ow!”

“Hmm.”

“I’m an injured man, Geralt, show some compassion!”

“Hmm.”

 

---

 

“What did you do.” Renfri demands. It wasn’t even a question! She just assumed he’d been up to something!

“Yes, hello Renfri, how do you do? It’s been so long.” Jaskier snarks where he’s sprawling out on his bedroll still, having decided to camp out for the night.

“What did you do.”

Jaskier gives up trying to teach his sister manners. She didn’t have manners when she was a princess and she surely doesn’t have manners as - as whatever she is now.

I didn’t do anything!” He exclaims, “Things just happen around me, Effee!”

“Jaskier.” She warns.

He really shouldn’t have actually composed a song about the stupid ghoul, should he. But it was such a prime example of Geralt’s heroic nature that he couldn’t resist.

(He did take out the stanza dedicated to Geralt’s eyes before singing it in the tavern though, because it feels just a little too private.)

Jaskier.” She prompts again, a little impatiently. Is she taking lessons from Geralt in how to say his name in increasingly exasperated fashions?

Or… Is Geralt taking lessons from her?

“My magic did a thing.” Jaskier mumbles, giving up on getting rest and sitting up just a tiny bit grumpily.

“A thing.”

“I, uh. I managed to enchant a thing, I think.”

Renfri tilts her head, frowning. Jaskier’s magic affects people, not things. Or at least it always has before. “What sort of a thing?”

Jaskier’s cheeks take a distinctly pink tinge, and Renfri raises her eyebrow high. He mutters under his breath.

“What was that?” Renfri looks unimpressed, but there’s something amused in the corner of her mouth. Maybe she’s the reason he’s so good at reading Geralt’s not-smiles.

“...A flower crown.”

Renfri pauses, looks at her hands, and that’s her mouth wobbling. He can see it. She manages for a good few seconds before her shoulders start heaving and she snorts loud enough to make Jaskier jump, laughter bubbling from her lips.

“Geralt of Rivia,” Renfri manages between laughs, “In a flower crown.”

“He looked very fetching in it.” Jaskier offers, and that only makes her laugh harder.

It takes a while for Renfri to stop laughing, during which Jaskier eagerly tells her about an alternate version of the Ghoul Song he’s been composing that’s called the Dandelion King -

She looks up at him through her lashes, cheeks rosy and eyes bright. “You two are adorable.” A beat, “If he hurts you, I’ll run him through.”

Jaskier rolls his eyes, “Keep your sword sheathed, Eff. Pretty sure he only wore it so I would leave him alone.”

She looks at him with a pace that’s half incredulity and half pity, but mercifully changes the subject. “Have you tried to enchant objects before?”

“No.” Jaskier rolls his eyes.

Renfri rolls her eyes right back. How is she better at rolling her eyes than him? That must be some weird sun magic at work. “You’ve probably always been able to, then. Nothing to worry about.”

Jaskier chews his lip and debates telling her that he cast it wordlessly and lute-lessly. Only a hum in the air. He’s rolling it around in his thoughts when suddenly he bolts to his feet like he’s been struck by lightning.

“I can enchant objects!” He howls in triumph, and then proceeds to immediately tackle Renfri.

“Jask - fuck! Jaskier!”

“Give me your sword!”

“What, no!”

“Give it here!”

“Fuck off, I don’t need your magic bullshit!”

“So help me God, Renfri - ”

They scuffle, but it’s only that. A scuffle. If they went at it, Renfri would win with ease. She’s a warrior, and Jaskier is an artist. At the end of it though, it’s Jaskier sitting cross-legged with a sword on the ground in front of him, strumming on his lute with a determined air about him.

“If you fuck up my sword I’ll break your face.” Renfri tells him severely from where she’s polishing her knives and sulking.

“I think the Sun-girl and Moon-boy song could be repurposed for this.” He muses out loud, ignoring his sister with well-trained practice that came from years by one anothers sides. “It’s not always so much about the words - though that helps - it’s more uh, the feel of it? The intent of it?”

Wait. Does his magic think that Jaskier is a pining maiden and Geralt is his dashing warrior husband? Jaskier would almost feel insulted but - yeah.

“I can probably just put a stanza in about an enchanted sword, feel the words out, and call it a day.”

“Then why don’t you do it.”

Jaskier scoffs, “I didn’t do it on purpose last time, you fuck. You can survive without your sword for a few hours, calm down.”

“I’ll show you calm - ” She hisses threateningly, but is cut off when Jaskier strums his lute loudly, launching into the complicated opening for the song.

He cuts off abruptly, making Renfri frown over in worry. “Jask, what - ”

“Renfri, I can enchant my lute!”

 

---

 

“Where is your Witcher man, anyway?” Renfri asks, twirling the sword around in her hand experimentally.

“Ugh, he went to go to a, I don’t know, a Witcher reunion or something.” Jaskier scowls, using the borrowed paper and charcoal to viciously scribble out another word. What rhymes with monster?

“Witcher… reunion.”

Jaskier throws his hands up, “Well I don’t know! I met him on the road, walking, and of course he won’t just accept my help with paying off anything. Proud bastard. And he’s off to Temeria to see about another Witcher or something.”

“Ew, Temeria.” Renfri scrunches her nose.

“Hence why I’m here, and not there.” Jaskier points out.

Renfri gives him a look.

“Okay, Geralt said that I could meet another Witcher when he’s dead - no, not in so many words but I’m almost fluent in Geralt by now - but! I was already planning on coming to spend time with you! Because I love you!”

“Shut up.”

“Princess Renfri the Shrike, who always knows what’s right! Her name is known in every home - ”

“Shut up, god, I’m sorry I asked.”

Jaskier beams at her and strums his lute again.

Chapter Text

Geralt… does not understand the bard.

He is a ridiculous and fickle creature, and Geralt has no idea why he’s still alive considering all the scrapes he’s managed to get himself into, both deserved and not.

“He was just so pretty…” The bard sighs mournfully from his position tossed over Geralt’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes as they both retreat from the group of angry men.

They wouldn’t even have to retreat if not for Jaskier, because the men had stood down once Geralt showed up and glowered at them - but then one of them had said something distasteful about Witchers and whores and Jaskier, who was previously pouting, had turned around and socked the one who said in the face and restarted the entire ordeal.

Geralt doesn’t ask, but the bard feels inclined to clarify anyway. “The blacksmith’s son, that was his father you know? Asshole. Don’t know how he spawned such a beautiful boy. Fuck, his hands, Geralt. Blacksmiths have such wonderful hands - oof!”

Geralt probably didn’t have to drop the bard back on his feet quite so roughly, but Jaskier’s voice is starting to grate on his nerves.

Geralt!” Jaskier exclaims, getting his footing remarkably quickly before putting his hands on his hips to try and stare Geralt down.

He does this a lot. Geralt isn’t sure if it’s supposed to be intimidating, considering it comes across more like a puppy staring resentfully because it’s been told ‘no’.

“Might have a job. Next town over.”

Jaskier brightens immediately, as if the entire ordeal in this town is already merely dust on the road behind them, “Fantastic! Did you grab my lute, Geralt? I’ve been working on a melody that is sure to be perfect for whatever manner of creature we encounter, appropriately majestic sounding I assure you, and - ”

Geralt ignores the bard’s babbling as he saddles up Roach. He and the horse exchange looks that make Geralt very nearly roll his eyes.

At least it’s better than hearing about the blacksmith’s son.

 

---

 

“Geralt!” A familiar voice yelps, and the man in question kind of wants to run his hand over his face and sigh.

But regardless he grudgingly turns around and sees, as he expected, the bard clinging to a tree like his life depends on it. He went to the river for one minute and this is what he returns to. Ridiculous.

Geralt stares at the bard and raises his eyebrows, hoping his face is as judging as he feels.

“I’m not stuck.” The bard denies.

Geralt considers that, and then shrugs and turns to walk towards Roach. The horse could do with a good brush.

“Geralt!” Comes the yelp again, tinged with a bit more outrage than before.

It’s so tempting to just ignore it. He could just saddle up Roach and leave now, escape the neverending songs and babbling and irritation.

”Geralt!”

Really, that’s the reason he turns and starts to consider ways to extract the bard from the situation he’s gotten himself into. The majority of people they come across call him Witcher, not caring to differentiate between him and his guild. Some call him the White Wolf, for the bard’s ridiculous songs. The more formal call him Geralt of Rivia, a low sort of reverence in their voices that Geralt doesn’t particularly care for.

Then there are those who still call him Butcher with voices tinged in fear and disgust.

“Why did you climb a tree if you were going to get stuck?” Geralt asks wearily.

“I didn’t get stuck on purpose, Geralt.” The bard grumps at him, no longer denying that at least.

Jaskier has always just used his name, after their first meeting. Somewhere between Geralt punching him and finding a devil, the younger man had decided that he didn’t care for formality. It’s… strange. Not bad, just strange.

“Perhaps I shall be stuck up here forever.” The bard sighed dramatically, “Cursed to wither away - oh, Geralt, at least pass me my lute so that I may die doing what I love!”

“Just jump down.”

“Jump down!” The bard parrots. He does that a lot, repeating Geralt’s words and making them sound totally outrageous. “I’ll break a leg! Or worse! An arm! How am I supposed to tell the world of your feats when I can’t even play my lute, Geralt!”

Geralt just sighs with his whole body. The bard is far too exhausting to deal with this early in the morning, honestly. “I’ll catch you.”

“Do you promise?

Geralt just sighs again. “Promise.”

He does not drop the bard.

(Though he is sorely tempted to.)

 

---

 

He won’t admit it, even under torture, but sometimes listening to the bard - Jaskier - play is… nice.

It’s in the evening hours when the run dips below the skyline, when Geralt is doing something repetitive with his hands and the bard doesn’t sing, but just gently hums as he plucks at his lute and coaxes sweet notes. Nothing like the energetic bar songs he so often trots out to please a crowd.

And then there’s complete silence as the bard cuts off his music, putting his lute to the side. It makes Geralt look up - the bard is rarely quiet.

“Toss me your shirt, Geralt.” Jaskier demands easily, something lazy and content in his posture.

Geralt doesn’t trust that look.

Jaskier rolls his eyes, reaching for his bag to start pawing around in it, “What sort of trouble would I get into with a ripped up shirt, Geralt? Honestly. Now toss it here so I can see if it’s salvageable.”

Geralt isn’t sure what kind of trouble he could get into, but as he’s learned from hard experience, Jaskier is very creative.

Grudgingly, Geralt wads up the cloth and tosses it in Jaskier’s general direction. It misses by a few feet but Jaskier just scoops it up, flapping it open and looking at the jagged tears with a critical eye.

“You sew?” Geralt asks, spying the silver glint of the needle that Jaskier has wedged between his lips.

“Mmm.” The bard agrees, flipping the shirt around to study the damage to the back before finally laying it over his knees and plucking the needle between nimble fingers, “I’m no seamstress, but I can make do in a pinch.”

Geralt feels himself blink. All the rumors say that Jaskier is a noble, a viscount of some sort. Not that Geralt listens to rumors of course, but in his experience nobles tend to be somewhat useless with domestic tasks at the best of times.

Thankfully he doesn’t have to ask or prompt, because Jaskier is a babbling brook of words at the best of time. And the worst.

“You’re worse on your clothes than my sister, and that’s saying something.” Jaskier tsks, and Geralt almost feels his ears prick up.

Jaskier’s elusive sister. He mentions her only rarely, and to Geralt’s knowledge has never mentioned any of the rest of his family. He’s surprisingly closed lipped about his past, despite being loose with everything else.

“I fight monsters.” Geralt points out, because it’s true. He goes through clothes like nothing else, eating into his savings. Whether they’re torn and ripped or so soaked in guts and gore as to be unsalvageable - it’s a dirty life, being a Witcher.

“So does she.” Jaskier catches the thread in his mouth briefly to tug a knot into place. “Sort of. The more human kind, though I think if silver blades were less expensive she might go for the non-human kind as well.”

Geralt blinks. A lawman’s wife, perhaps? A lawman herself? Certainly every time Jaskier speaks of her, she sounds fearsome indeed. The first time he even revealed he had a sister, Jaskier had been demanding that Geralt never tell her about his being knocked down by a Graveir in the middle of the road.

He’d found it odd at the time, seeing as Jaskier had been in far worse scrapes by the Witcher’s side. Geralt himself hadn’t even been wounded in the fight, able to subdue the beast quickly after tackling it off Jaskier. But Jaskier was a fickle and strange creature, and emotions must have gotten the better of him.

The bard isn’t speaking anymore, just humming under his breath. It’s a melody Geralt has heard before, though never heard Jaskier sing any words to it. The one time he’d asked about it, when the man was scrubbing their clothes free of swamp mud in the river, he’d laughed and said ‘twas merely because he had yet to discover the right words.

The humming is soothing but - the bard is unusually forthcoming tonight.

“So… you sew?”

A stupid question, both because he’s already asked it and also the man is literally in the process of sewing and has been for a while now.

“Hmm?” Jaskier cuts off his melody, looking up and blinking, “Oh, yes. Don’t worry, your clothes are in safe hands! I used to do all my clothes, and my sister’s, when they got too battered. I’ve got quite clever hands, you see.”

Jaskier splays a hand out in Geralt’s direction, wiggling slender musician’s fingers with a smile before going back to his task. Geralt swallows, his mouth feeling a bit too dry so he reaches for a flask.

“Your sister didn’t help?” Geralt is only passingly familiar with the complex social system humans have, but he’s almost certain that a great many places consider things such as sewing to be women’s work.

Jaskier snorts loudly, “Fuck, that’s a good one. No, no. I’d sooner trust you with a needle and thread than her. I’m still not sure what she did to that poor pair of pants! Nope, our deal was I’d do all the mending and keeping us at least vaguely clean, and she’d do all the - the holding onto the coin and stuff.”

Suddenly Jaskier’s insistence on Geralt having frequent baths made… more sense than it did before at least, if he was used to nagging at someone. Though why he’d chosen a Witcher to nag is still beyond Geralt’s grasp.

And - Jaskier was back to humming again instead of speaking, and Geralt is reluctant to push too much further.

But he’s still curious. A noble’s son isn’t someone who does the mending, nor at any real risk of being unclean. Then again, a noble’s son wasn’t usually a travelling bard, either. No matter how well Jaskier’s fancy clothes and flamboyant words were reminiscent of most of the nobles Geralt had had the displeasure to meet.

The bard is a mess of contradictions.

Roach snorts loudly, and Geralt smiles wryly at her.

She’s right, as she so often is. He’s wasting far too much time about the bard.

(Later, he runs his fingers across the neat little stitches that make a shirt that had been a hopeless case actually wearable again. He doesn’t pay too much attention to the way they tingle when he pulls them away.)

 

---

 

Geralt is going to skin the bard. Right after he finishes snarling at the man he’s just knocked on his ass.

Jaskier’s fingers are trembling where they’re clenched tightly in Geralt’s shirt, the bard himself having scrambled quickly to hide behind Geralt’s bulk as soon as he was free of being pinned against the stable wall.

“I can’t leave you alone for one minute, Jaskier,” Geralt snarls as soon as the man has scrambled away shrieking loudly in fear of the monstrous Witcher, “Before you go getting yourself into trouble.”

“I didn’t mean to, Geralt.” Jaskier says tearfully, prying his fingers from Geralt’s shirt as the Witcher turns to face him, “I didn’t - I just wanted to talk to Roach and he was there and I didn’t do anything - ”

Remarkably, Geralt feels the animal thing bristling beneath his skin whine a little and his anger towards the bard refocus to the man who has already escaped. Jaskier’s hands are still shaking and Geralt thinks, for a moment, that he should have killed the man instead of just scaring him.

“Jaskier.” He halts the bard’s babbling with a single word. Jaskier sways on his feet as he looks at Geralt with those big blue eyes, still with tears clinging to his lashes, and despite himself Geralt feels the heart he doesn’t have clench.

He finds himself wanting to pinch the bridge of his nose to stave off the headache that’s starting up between his eyes.

“Go to bed, Jaskier.” Geralt grunts finally, turning away from the pitiful human to turn his attention to the horse who was the real reason he was out here to begin with.

Roach gives him a look that Geralt frankly resents. Since when did Jaskier sneak out to the stables to talk to her, anyway? She was his horse. She flicks her ears and snorts like she can hear his thoughts.

Contrary to expectation, Jaskier doesn’t trot back to the Inn and the safety of their room. Instead he takes a few nervous little steps closer to Geralt, making him look over his shoulder.

“Jaskier…”

“I’ll be quiet.” The bard implores quickly, holding his hands out in front of him as if to show he’s unarmed and harmless. “Just…”

Geralt just gives a full body sigh, turning away from the bard again but not outright rejecting his presence. He just grabs a hoof pick and gets to inspecting Roach’s feet with care, picking out the mud and grime from their journey with deep concentration. And after that, he takes care to brush her down.

He’s actually surprised, when he’s done, that Jaskier is still there. He’s perched upon the stall wall, biting his lip and looking at the floor. One hand is up in the air by his chest and the other curled closer to his stomach -

Actually, now that Geralt is looking he can see Jaskier’s fingers plucking and dancing across an imaginary lute. He’s not sure why he’s surprised - the little bard is obsessed with music, even for someone in his profession.

“Jaskier.” The bard’s head snaps up at his name, and his eyes are wide and startled and impossibly blue in the moonlight.

Geralt’s eyes are very good in the dark, better than humans. That’s why he can see the bruise forming on Jaskier’s collarbone in the exact place the man had used his hand to pin the little bard to the wall. Something dark curls in his stomach and he has to resist the urge to growl again.

“Bed.” He says gruffly, which has Jaskier pushing off the wall and landing on nimble feet. He’s still unnervingly silent, and it makes Geralt grit his teeth. The bard’s hands are still twitching frantically in the air as Geralt leads them back to the inn, Jaskier never more then two steps behind him the whole way.

He’s about to say something before he just dumps Jaskier in his room and flees, but Jaskier manages to cut that off by looking Gerald in the eyes, his face uncommonly serious.

“Geralt,” Jaskier says gravely, and he can’t help but think that Jaskier doesn’t really suit being grave at all, “Do you think I’m more trouble than I’m worth?”

Geralt pauses. He hadn’t heard what the man had been saying to Jaskier, too focused on his - on the bard’s hummingbird heartbeat and yelp. He isn’t sure what Jaskier wants - because the answer is, it’s -

The silence stretches between them, but Jaskier doesn’t stop staring at him. Patiently waiting for an answer.

“I’m a Witcher.” Geralt settles on finally, “Trouble follows me anyway.”

He’s not sure what Jaskier reads into that response that has him beaming up at Geralt with all that - all that sincerity.

Deciding retreat is appropriate in the face of potentially more tears (Geralt has never met anyone as emotional as Jaskier) and Geralt beats a hasty one back to his own room, shutting the door with something like relief.

No, Geralt doesn’t understand the bard.

 

---

 

“You need a bath and that is not negotiable.” Jasker says fiercely, hands on his hips again and trying to stare Geralt down.

Geralt, for his part, isn’t exactly thrilled to be covered in gore. Even so, he kind of spitefully wants to refuse just so Jaskier doesn’t feel like he’s allowed to order the Witcher around. Because he’s not.

Instead of saying anything, he just straightens to his full height and crosses his arms, using the extra inches to stare Jaskier down right back.

Anyone else would have scuttled away with their tails between their legs. But not Jaskier, who just throws his hands up in the air like Geralt is a petulant toddler instead of a full grown Witcher. Geralt has often thought that Jaskier has exactly zero sense of self preservation, and every day he gives more than enough evidence to back that theory up.

In response, Geralt makes a show of looking around with raised eyebrows, seeking out the mythical bath that Jaskier seems so eager to toss him into.

Jaskier’s cheeks immediately pink, and his hands settle back onto his hips, “I didn’t mean right this second! Of course it can wait until we’re back at the Inn, but I’m just letting you know right now that you aren’t allowed to go to sleep until you’ve had a proper scrub, mister.”

Geralt feels his eyebrows climb higher up his forehead.

“Don’t give me those eyebrows.” Jaskier says crossly, even going as far as to start wagging a finger, “I don’t know if you can smell yourself but you stink, Geralt.”

Geralt can, in fact, smell himself. In fact his sense of smell is much more acute than Jaskier’s.

“As soon as we get paid, it’s straight in the tub for you,” Jaskier seems to have gleaned his agreement from… somewhere. Geralt has never known anyone as capable at having a one-sided conversation as the bard. Regardless, Jaskier stoops to grab his lute and is already heading back towards the path, setting a brisk pace.

Geralt just rolls his eyes and follows his bard.

 

---

 

Jaskier isn’t constantly by his side, though sometimes it feels that way. No, there are occasions when Jaskier packs up his things, says something about a performance somewhere-or-another, and heads off on his lonesome.

Every time Geralt wonders if the bard has finally come to his senses and won’t come back.

Every time, the bard returns.

Jaskier tumbles in and out of his life with all the grace of an overenthusiastic puppy, loud and cheerful and completely unaware of how terrible the world is.

Except that Jaskier obviously does, which is what Geralt doesn’t understand the most about the bard (though there are a lot of other things that Geralt does not understand as well).

Jaskier stands in a crowd of children who are pleading for another impromptu performance at the market, sticky fingers grabbing at the bard’s fancy clothing with eagerness. He’s laughing and joking and pleading off, making a slow and gradual snail’s pace towards where Geralt waits for a man to deal with another customer.

When Jaskier finally stands at Geralt’s side, the children dispersed with the sight of the forbidding Witcher, his cheeks are red with merriment and his smile bright upon his face. “All done, Geralt?” The man asks with cheer, gesturing with the hand not holding his lute towards the basket of food in the Witcher’s own hands.

“You know you lost all the coin you just made, right.” Geralt tells the bard. He’d spotted some of the children’s hands dipping into the distracted bard’s pockets, the metal of the coin glinting in the sun and obvious to a Witcher’s eyes.

“Yep!” Jaskier says, still cheerful. Sometimes Geralt honestly wonders if Jaskier does it just to be contrary, but Jackier just smiles wryly and rolls his shoulders in a shrug, “Don’t worry, it wasn’t that much coin to begin with, and if they were that eager to get their hands on it then they likely need it more than I.”

“Hmm.”

Jaskier brushes off the dust of the marketplace with a fond look on his face, “They remind me of myself a little bit. I was a teensy bit light fingered myself as a child, you know. Especially when I was in my teens.”

“So what, a few years ago?” Geralt scoffs.

Jaskier rolls his eyes dismissively, “Geralt, we’ve been travelling together for a few years. So, no. Longer than that.”

Geralt almost comes to a stop. Has it been that long? It feels like he met Jaskier just yesterday, but at the same time it feels like Jaskier has been following him around for eons. Jaskier must not have been very old when they’d met, perhaps barely past his teens (and pickpocket phase?)

When he looks at Jaskier, he finds the bard softly frowning to himself. It’s a foreign expression on the man’s face, everything usually so loud and cheerful.

Geralt doesn’t like it.

 

---

 

The thing about Jaskier is that he’s very tactile.

Geralt didn’t even notice it at first, but every time they’ve sat by the fire apparently Jaskier has inched his way closer and closer until it’s just natural to be sitting side by side warming their hands against the flames in the bitter nights.

Geralt does notice when Jaskier is constantly touching him.

It seems like every time they’re in proximity Jaskier is beaming at him and clapping him on the shoulder, or punching him in the arm, or tugging on his elbow, or or or. Just a constant rain of little thoughtless touches that Jaskier makes look so simple, so easy.

Geralt is a Witcher. People fear him. They avoid him. They don’t offer to braid his hair.

Apparently, Jaskier never got this memo.

“Please?” The bard wheedles, widening his big blue eyes.

Geralt genuinely isn’t even sure how this became a topic of conversation. The bard was half-rambling half-singing in the way that he always did and then suddenly he was turning to Geralt and begging to do something with his “silken locks” or whatever.

“Why?” Geralt can’t help but ask helplessly, because just grunting a quick ‘no’ had done nothing to deter the musician.

Jaskier straightens up, suddenly getting a very serious face. “Geralt,” He says, gravely, “I don’t know if you know this, but your hair is bloody gorgeous. It looks like moonspun silk, and I kind of want to dedicate an entire song to it.”

There is. Really nothing that Geralt can say to that beyond giving Jaskier a look that says he’s clearly some kind of drunk.

“Geralt, please.”

Geralt opens his mouth to deny the bard again, except what comes out is a simple - “If you must.”

Jaskier looks at him like Geralt has just promised him the entire moon, and it kind of makes Geralt’s chest hurt. Can you get heartburn from someone’s expression?

And then Jaskier’s hand is on his arm, tugging him off the log he was sitting on and settling the big Witcher on the ground between his legs so that Geralt doesn’t have to look at him anymore. His fingers flutter across Geralt’s scalp, feather-light and careful.

Despite himself, Geralt feels himself relaxing under the touch.

“It’s so soft when it’s been washed,” Jaskier whispers reverently, carding slender fingers through the strands. Geralt barely stops himself from leaning into the touch.

“Did you braid your sister’s hair?” Geralt asks carefully. Surely there must be some reason why Jaskier is so insistent, and missing his sister might explain it even if thinking that makes his stomach flip in a confusing way.

Jaskier just laughs, high and clear and sweet and Geralt has to pinch his leg to keep himself from melting as blunt fingernails scratch against his scalp. “Effee’s hair? Not a chance.”

Geralt hums, warm and content.

“I’m not sure if she was ever patient enough to do anything but push a brush through it and call it a day,” Jaskier says, and Geralt can hear the smile in his voice, “Which is a tragedy, honestly. She has such pretty hair as well but - between you and me, Geralt? I think your hair is prettier.”

Jaskier really is a singular sort of beast, to dare call anything about a Witcher pretty.

After that they fall into a companionable silence. Well, silence for the given company, which consists of Jaskier humming softly under his breath as clever fingers twist and pull. Geralt can’t tell you when his eyes had slipped closed, because he honestly hadn’t noticed until Jaskier tosses his arms around Geralt’s shoulders, pressing himself against Geralt’s back in a kind of hug.

Jaskier’s cheek is pressed against Geralt’s temple, and he can feel the muscle of Jaskier’s cheek pulled into a smile against his skin and almost stops breathing entirely.

“Thank you, Geralt.” The bard says sweetly, turning his face to press a quick kiss against the Witcher’s skin before just as quickly releasing his captive entirely. He swans off towards the bed rolls without even looking back over his shoulder.

Geralt stares after him, fingers creeping up to press against the spot where the bard’s lips met his skin in something almost approaching confusion. His hand travels back to touch his hair which, true to the bard’s words, was braided back.

Not a simple braid, something complicated. Smaller braids feeding into a larger one and half his hair still left loose in his preferred style while keeping it out of his eyes.

He’s sure that if he had a mirror it would look lovely. Far too lovely to grace a Witcher’s head.

Jaskier, it seems, is a man of many talents.

(Geralt wonders what other surprises lurk concerning the bard.)

 

---

 

Sometimes Jaskier reminds him of - of something. He’s not quite sure what though, and it’s frustrating as all hell and makes him snappy and waspish.

All Jaskier would do was look Geralt up and down and then say, “Let’s go collect our coin then. You desperately need money for some new clothes.”

And then Geralt found himself growling out a quick - “Shut up, Jaskier.” - far more harshly than he ordinarily would.

Sometimes it was something annoyingly innocuous. Like the time that Jaskier had rolled up to the bar cheerfully, leaning against it and holding up a finger for the bartender’s attention saying simply, “A beer for my friend, please, and one for me!”

And something had set Geralt’s hackles raising and bristling and he’d stormed out to go straight to their rooms without indulging in the usual hot meal and ale that accompanied visits to town. He’d fumed all night for no reason he could discern.

And then there was the fact that often when Jaskier returned to Geralt’s side after an absence he smelled… familiar.

Not familiar in the way Jaskier smelled like Jaskier, Geralt could pick the bard out of a crowd with no problem (and indeed had before, to track the idiot before he got gutted by a cuckold or two), but just - he smelled like something Geralt was positive he’d smelled before but couldn’t quite place.

When he asked the bard where he’d been, Jaskier just laughed him off. “Here, there, and everywhere!” The bard had said, twirling in place with a showman’s flourish, before offering to perform his greatest hits for Geralt’s audience of one which was swiftly denied.

There was the time Geralt was spat at and called a mutant bastard and Jaskier, the brave and foolish man, had drawn himself up and in the coldest voice possible had declared that they should be moving on, as they didn’t want to stay in this shithole of a town a moment longer than they had to.

It was when they were walking away though, Jaskier crowded close as though sheer proximity would cheer the Witcher up. Which was ridiculous. Geralt had a thicker skin than that. But then Jaskier had turned mournful blue eyes on Geralt and said, voice low and tired, “More and more I find monsters wherever I go.”

Geralt can’t help the way he stiffens, feeling like someone has slid ice down his spine.

“But not you, Geralt.” Jaskier is still saying, not noticing Geralt’s reaction, “Never you.”

He says it with such conviction, such loyalty. Sometimes (often) Geralt finds himself wondering what he did to deserve such devotion from the bard.

(Other times he decides not to examine those thoughts too closely.)

It’s the strangest and most intermittent case of deja vu that Geralt has ever been plagued with.

But far more than Jaskier reminds him of something, Jaskier is too entirely Jaskier for Geralt to dig too deeply into the feeling. Jaskier is a law unto himself, entirely unique and individual and Geralt is absolutely sure he’s never met anyone quite like the man.

So why does he have this itch under his skin?

 

---

 

Geralt will never admit it, but it’s quiet when the bard leaves to go… wherever he goes when he’s not tagging along at Geralt’s heels.

He still kills monsters, but he tends to avoid towns far more when Jaskier isn’t in his company.

Which is why he’s in the woods now, inspecting his knife and trying to ignore the reproachful look that Roach is giving him.

Sighing, he tucks the knife away. “You’re getting spoiled.” He rumbles at the horse.

She stares balefully at him.

“Stop that.”

She paws at the ground.

“We don’t have the coin to go boarding you at every stable in the area.” He points out.

Roach just gives him another look.

“Jaskier’s not here.” Geralt frowns, and when did his horse become so fond of Jaskier? “You can’t keep relying on him to pay for your room and board at every tavern with his music. The woods are fine.”

As if in response to that, something in the distance gives out a mournful howl that has Roach shaking her mane.

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

Roach decides that clearly he’s not worth the effort, and turns around entirely to face the other way. She flicks her tail dismissively at her Witcher for good measure.

Geralt grimaces. He does not miss Jaskier.

(Except for the fact that he does.)

Chapter Text

“I’ve been invited to play at Queen Calanthe’s daughter’s - Princess Pavetta’s - betrothal feast.” Jaskier announces.

“...Congrats?”

Renfri.” Jaskier insists, looking a tiny bit panicked, “Renfri, I fucked up. I fucked up so badly.”

Renfri arches an eyebrow.

“If I get famous,” Jaskier lays out slowly, “Then people will recognize me. And my name. And my face. And they’re going to notice when my face doesn’t change.”

“Oh.” Renfri considers that for a moment. “Fuck.”

”Renfri!”

“Shut up, I’m thinking!” Renfri grimaces, and Jaskier feels that in his soul. It’s not like he planned for this, planned to get famous. Jaskier has always written his own songs and played for the world, but he’s never been recognizable the way he is now.

He’s known as the Witcher’s bard, and he wears that title with pride, but he didn’t realize the long term consequences of this decision.

“Maybe I could fake my own death.” Jaskier muses aloud, words muffled by the fact that he has his face in his hands, “That worked for you, right?”

Renfri pats him on the back sympathetically, “Don’t think that’ll work for you though, bro. It only worked for me because the only person who really knew my face is the man who very obviously thinks I’m dead. Also, I actually died.”

And also all the men who died in the marketplace, of course. And Jaskier. And, theoretically, their family back in Creyden? But they avoid Creyden like the plague, Creyden can fuck off.

“Well I mean, your magic is fucked up, right? Which is the whole reason no one can find out.” Renfri thinks out loud.

Jaskier nods miserably.

“Well… can you learn like, traditional magic? Maybe we can pretend you’re an ordinary mage? There’s a mage in like, every big town these days so it’s not like it’s unusual.”

Jaskier gives a quick shake of his head. He actually did try for years to figure out spells from stolen books, but his magic has never taken to it. Besides, he doesn’t want to be a mage. He wants to be a bard.

All he’s ever wanted is to be able to make music.

“We’ll figure it out, Jas.”

“How?” He asks tearfully.

“Blame it on the Witcher?”

“You can’t blame everything on Geralt, Renfri!”

Renfri scoffs and crosses her arms, “He killed me, I’m allowed to blame him for whatever I want.”

“That’s not how it works!”

Renfri pats Jaskier on the back, “We have time to figure it out, Jas. It’s not an immediate issue, just talk about a bunch of creams and peacock around about your excellent genes. That’ll buy some time.”

“Mmm.” Jaskier mumbles into his hands.

“You’re already vain enough, they’ll believe it.”

Jaskier removes the hands from his face for the sole purpose of giving his sister the nastiest look he can summon. He takes a moment to himself to just mentally scream before finally sighing, “Will you go with me? To the banquet?”

Renfri frowns, biting her lip, and Jaskier feels his heart sink.

“Don’t look at me like that,” She tells him, but her heart obviously isn’t into it. She hesitates again - “It’s just - royalty, Jas, they tend to keep track of one another.”

Jaskier… didn’t think of that, actually. “Should - should I turn them down? Tell them I came down with something, or - or - ”

“No, no.” Renfri shakes her head, “You were murdered at nine, remember? No one knows what you look like as an adult. No one would think to connect you to a prince who went missing fuck, what, fifty years ago? You got famous as Jaskier, as a bard.

Jaskier grimaces, connecting the dots.

“Yeah, I got famous as Princess Renfri, the Shrike, fearsome and terrifying and immortalized by being butchered at Blaviken. I’m - I’m slightly more recognizable as Princess Renfri than you are as Prince Julian.”

Jaskier grimaces again at the use of his birth name. It’s actually been - huh. Jaskier blinks. It’s been literal decades since he’s heard the name said aloud, actually. When Renfri insisted on using his title, she’s always called him Prince Jaskier. How strange to realize.

“I could be around - I bet I could get into the kitchen? No one pays much attention to the kitchen staff - ”

“No, no, it’s okay.” Jaskier assures her quickly, because unfortunately there are people at banquets who pay attention to the staff. Usually lords and ladies who don’t know how to take no for an answer, which was half the reason why Jaskier wanted Renfri to come with him, actually.

But he’s a grown-up. He doesn’t need his big sister there as a security blanket. He would be fine.

Renfri frowns at him, he gives her a small understanding smile back.

She frowns harder. “Take the Witcher with you.”

“Geralt?” Jaskier says automatically, offering his sister a comically confused look, “Geralt doesn’t go to parties like that. He hates them.”

“I bet if you asked him, he’d go.” Renfri’s tone turns slightly teasing, lightening the mood.

“No, I quite assure you he wouldn’t!”

“C’mon Jas,” Renfri is smiling in earnest now, reaching over to clasp him on the shoulder, “Every man loves to play the knight in shining armor every once in a while! Just tell him you need protection from all the Lords and Ladies whose spouses you’ve slept with or something.”

Jaskier falters, because suddenly he’s got an image in his head of Geralt dressed in a knight’s armor and it’s stunning. “Uh.”

“Promise me you’ll at least ask. For your dear sister’s peace of mind.”

He hates when she plays the ‘I’m worried about you’ card. He has no defense against it except to worry about her right back.

“Fine,” He says, pulling a face. “I’ll ask.”

“Good boy.” Renfri grins at him, before pulling him into a firm hug. Jaskier’s shoulders, which are tight with tension, melt in his sister’s grip and he rests his face against her shoulder quietly.

“We’ll figure it out, Jas.” Renfri whispers, pressing a kiss against his forehead like he’s four-years-old and crying over being told he’s too small yet to learn the lute, “I promise.”

He almost believes her.

 

---

 

Jaskier can’t help but smile at the man’s dramatics as he describes in vivid detail the encounter with the selkiemore. Geralt isn’t nearly as forthcoming with the details to the fights that Jaskier doesn’t attend as he’d like.

Actually, he’s still not sure why Geralt decided today would be a fantastic time to leave him behind, either. But no matter. Despite the man’s tall tales, Jaskier is pretty sure the Witcher will come storming in any minute now.

Death. Ha. As if Geralt of Rivia could just die like that, quietly and without Jaskier noticing. No, Jaskier knew the Witcher was alive - and his magic thrums with agreement and a few suggestions about the wording that could be used for the song of this encounter.

If Geralt died, Jaskier would know. Just like he knew the second that Renfri left the mortal coil. Jaskier would know.

This is the reason that, when the door crashes in and a frankly godawful stench enters the tavern, all Jaskier can do is throw back his head and laugh.

Geralt looks - oof he is. Covered in guts isn’t he. Absolutely revolting. Even Jaskier, who is used to the Witcher turning up like this, has to refrain from wrinkling his nose in disgust. But instead he just stands up and cheerfully starts into the chorus to his most famous song -

“Toss a coin to your Witcher, o Valley of Plenty! Whoa!”

Thankfully, the people take his cue and start up singing the song as well. It brings a smile to Jaskier’s face to see the simple acceptance of the people, where years before Geralt would be tossed the coin and thrown out on his head by the very people he saved.

Geralt just sighs like his life is a chore and makes for the bar.

Jaskier follows. He’s going to say something about a bath, he is, but then his sister’s words slither into his mind like eels and he changes track entirely.

“You’re welcome.” He informs Geralt, “And now, Witcher, it’s time to repay your debt.”

Geralt spits his drink out to the side, which is probably unrelated to Jaskier’s comment, and turns incredulous golden eyes to stare at him.

“What debt, you’re probably asking yourself in your head right now.” Jaskier narrates cheerfully, well used to carrying on one-sided conversations at this point. “Well I’ll tell you! I’ve made you famous, Witcher. By rights, I should be claiming ten percent of all your coin, but instead what I’m asking for is a teeny, teeny-weeny little favor.”

“Fuck off, bard.”

Okay, not using his name because Jaskier didn’t use his name. That’s fair. But Geralt hadn’t just left the room (and conversation) entirely, which definitely meant he was listening. Telling Jaskier to fuck off was just a habit at this point, probably.

So Jaskier continues, ignoring the comment entirely with an ease which came from practice, “For one measly night of service, you will gain a cornucopia of earthly delight. The greatest masters of the culinary arts, crafting morsels worthy of the gods!”

Geralt isn’t even looking at him. Bastard. Jaskier will have to try and tempt him harder.

“Maidens! That would make the sun itself blush with a single comely smile! And rivers of the sweetest of drinks from the rarest of - ”

And - and he’s gone. Walking away. Ugh. Honestly. Sometimes with Geralt, one simply has to be as straightforward as humanly possible, which is a tragedy because Jaskier was a bard and he loves a good metaphor once in a while.

“Food, women, and wine, Geralt!” Jaskier hollers at Geralt’s back.

Geralt pauses, and turns back to face him, and Jaskier can feel his grin pulling almost painfully at his cheeks.

Gott’em.

 

---

 

Jaskier tips a bucket of water over his Witcher’s head with great enthusiasm. Partially because it’s hilarious, and partially because Geralt is seriously filthy.

Geralt grunts loudly, bringing his hands up to scrub at his face.

“Now now, stop your boorish grunts of protest,” Jaskier scolds cheerfully, sleeves rolled up and quite happy with the progress they’ve already made in getting the Witcher clean. Though the tub might never smell the same again. “It is one night bodyguarding your very best friend in the whole wide world, how hard could it be?”

Jaskier very purposefully does not think of all of the scrapes he’s gotten into in his not-so-short life. He also very purposefully doesn’t look at Geralt, who has been there to get him out of a good number of scrapes both his fault and not.

But! He has a feeling about the banquet! Not a bad feeling, or he’d have told Renfri. Not a good feeling either, now that Jaskier thinks about it. Just a feeling. Like the banquet will be really important. His instincts haven’t steered him wrong before!

(Except for the times they have.)

“I’m not your friend.” Geralt denies, predictably.

Jaskier almost rolls his eyes. Honestly. After everything they’ve been through together, and this is the line that Geralt pulls out? Unbelievable. Jaskier is going to be extra annoying at the banquet, just for that little comment.

Not his friend. Ha. “Oh, oh really? You usually just let strangers rub chamomile onto your lovely bottom?”

He fights to keep a straight face, already planning on screaming at Renfri about today. Geralt cannot know. But seriously. Geralt’s ass is a thing of beauty and he already has at least a dozen quick and dirty sonnets half written about the thing, and now he’s only got more fodder.

Granted, he’s seen it before. This bath isn’t exactly the first time Geralt’s been unclothed before Jaskier. But to touch it. Jaskier had been humming like a wasp the entire time, trying to distract himself before he did something he’d regret.

Geralt gives him a look for the comment, but Jaskier refuses to let himself blush, so he just continues on blithely like it’s nothing. “Yeah, well, yeah. Exactly. That’s what I thought.”

Geralt is still following Jaskier with his eyes, which Jaskier is not going to make eye contact with at this moment because the second he does he’ll be red as a tomato. Instead, he decides to do a little exposition for their mission.

“Every lord, knight, and twopenny king worth his salt will be at this betrothal.” Jaskier announces, walking over to inspect the shelves. He pokes around a little, and ooh are those little smelly salt things?

Brilliant. Jaskier grabs a handful.

“The Lioness of Cintra herself will sing the praises of Jaskier’s triumphant performance!” Jaskier tosses the salts into Geralt’s bath with relish.

Geralt is still staring at him. “How many of these lords want to kill you.”

Uh. “Hard to say. One stops keeping count after a while.”

Actually that’s a - that’s a good question. Jaskier isn’t exactly young (not that anyone would guess it, and he certainly doesn’t feel old) and he’s a creature of fanciful pleasure. He’s never denied himself fine things, and unhappy yet beautiful Ladies who likely had no real say in their own marriages, no chance to chase their own pleasure for once -

Well. Jaskier sympathizes. Sometimes with the Lords as well, though they’re not nearly as often expected to be faithful to their wives as their wives are to them.

So is there anyone at the banquet would recognize him? From how long ago? Essentially, is there anyone there who would express shock at how well Jaskier was aging in front of Geralt?

Maybe Renfri has the right idea. Staying out of the spotlight and hiding in the woods, taking vengeance for people unable to take their own and stealing from people too stupid to hold onto their own wares.

But Geralt is still there, so Jaskier doesn’t have the time to ponder things too deeply and talk himself out of going entirely. “Wives, concubines, mothers sometimes.”

Geralt just looks at him.

“Ooh, yeah, that face!” Jaskier cheers, framing it with his hands, “Woh, scary face!”

Geralt has the best scary face in the world, honestly. Maybe it’s a Witcher thing? One day, Jaskier will persuade Geralt to introduce him to another Witcher so he can compare. Maybe more than one? Witchers were uh, they were made together right? At the same place? That makes them basically Geralt’s brothers.

It sounds stupid, but Jaskier would be thrilled to meet anyone Geralt considers family, even if the very idea is absolutely terrifying.

(What if they don’t like him?)

“No lord in his right mind will come close if you’re standing next to me with a puss like that.” Jaskier continues, because experience has told him that if he wants to draw attention away from his own thoughts, the best thing to do is babble.

It works apparently, because Geralt just reaches over to grab some ale.

Except no, can’t have that either. “On second thoughts, might want to lay off the Cintran ale.”

Jaskier steals the mug from Geralt’s fingers, patting the Witcher’s shoulder in consolation. It’s wet and warm from the bathwater, muscular beneath his palm. Jaskier mourns that the touch is only brief before he’s crossing the room to place the ale well out of reach from Geralt’s hands.

“I will not suffer tonight sober just because you hid your sausage in the wrong royal pantry.” Geralt growls, and it’s adorable that he seems to think he has a choice in the matter.

And look! He’s even getting better at metaphor. Honestly Jaskier is such a good influence on him, really.

“I’m not killing anyone.” Geralt continues, as if Jaskier would ever ask him to do anything like that. “Not over the petty squabbles of men.”

This is something that Geralt repeats often. Jaskier rolls his eyes, “Yes yes. You never get involved. Except, actually you do. All of the time.”

Geralt’s soft squishy heart that he’s apparently still pretending he doesn’t have gets them into just as much trouble as Jaskier’s… everything. But Jaskier can’t complain, because it makes him invaluable when Geralt takes yet another job for a fraction of what it’s worth because someone couldn’t afford anything else.

(Jaskier doesn’t even mind those times, even when it means their dinners are lean and they end up camping out under the stars instead of in cozy rooms. Not when he sees the relief on people’s faces and feels his heart clench at yet another demonstration of why Jaskier would follow Geralt anywhere.)

“Ugh. Is this what happens when you get old?” How old is Geralt, actually? “You get unbearably crotchety and cantankerous?”

Geralt is older than Jaskier, he knows that much. But by how much? Jaskier isn’t even sure how he ages, let alone a Witcher. Hmm. Something to think about. Geralt comes dangerously close to rolling his eyes, which Jaskier counts as a triumph, honestly.

“Actually, I’ve always wanted to know - do Witchers ever retire?”

“Yeah.” Oof. That sounds like Jaskier prodded a sore spot. “When they slow and get killed.”

Jaskier manfully refrains from wincing. Besides, Geralt won’t die. Not on Jaskier’s watch. The man is resistant to magic to be sure, but Jaskier is here to do the constant upkeep on the various protection charms he’d spent months trying to get to stick.

(Nothing sticks to Renfri still, no matter what he sings. It’s frustrating as fuck.)

“Come on,” Jaskier brushes off the maudlin topic, “You must want something for yourself once all this… monster hunting nonsense is over with.”

He’s joking, of course. He doesn’t expect Geralt to ever stop monster hunting, honestly. It’s just - it’s part of who Geralt is. He sees an evil in the world and he goes off to destroy it, simple as that. He can’t bear suffering when he has the power to help.

Jaskier thinks that might be the reason why he -

No matter.

“I want nothing.” Geralt tells him.

Yeah. That’s the - that’s the response Jaskier was expecting. He’s not sure why he feels a needle prick in his heart, a sad song with sadder words springing to his lips. He beats down the urge to hum with a stick and plays it cool. “Well, who knows? Maybe someone out there will want you.”

As if Geralt doesn’t already know that Jaskier is here, always and forever. That he doesn’t know Jaskier would probably follow Geralt to the ends of the world if he only asks.

(Isn’t it funny? Their first adventure was already at the Edge of the World. Maybe that’s why this choice to follow Geralt comes to him so easily - they’re going a bit backwards is all.)

Jaskier crouches at the edge of the tub, resting has arms against the sides and looking at Geralt.

But Geralt isn’t looking at him.

(He’s never looking to him.)

“I need no one.” Geralt says, before swinging his head up to pin Jaskier with his golden eyes like he’s a hawk and Jaskier is just a simple rabbit. “And the last thing I want is someone needing me.”

“And yet,” Jaskier cuts in quietly, heart aching, “Here we are.”

“Hm.” The Witcher grunts, because he’s incapable of a heartfelt conversation that lasts more than five minutes.

Jaskier reminds himself firmly that Geralt isn’t required to - to feel anything. Jaskier is his friend, no matter how much Geralt tries to deny even that much. That is enough for him. It has to be enough.

(I’m weak my love, and I am wanting, Jaskier’s magic croons to him mournfully, and Jaskier makes a note to build a song around that some day.)

“Where the fuck are my clothes, Jaskier?” Geralt cuts Jaskier’s melancholy thoughts off at the knee

Ah. That. “Well,” Jaskier begins bravely, “Well. Uh. They were sort of? Covered in Selkiemore guts? So I sent them away to be washed.”

Geralt glares.

“Anyway! You’re not going tonight as a Witcher!”

He can see Geralt grit his teeth, and shaking off the last of his melancholy mood Jaskier can’t help but think: tonight is going to be fun.

 

---

 

A few hours later, when they’re almost at the city, Jaskier excuses himself quickly citing some need for oil for his lute and do some quick shopping and a dozen other quick words, and makes his way down humble farm roads until he reaches a particular little farmhouse lodged out of the way.

One of the better side-effects from whatever Jaskier did in the woods behind Blaviken, is that he and Renfri have a constant awareness of where the other is. It’s very accurate, and they can zoom in on the exact Inn and even the room, which has made for some interesting situations.

Really, it’s not Jaskier’s fault when he storms up to the old farmhouse he knows Renfri is in, hurls open the door, and announces himself by hollering at the top of his lungs, “Renfri, his ass!”

There is silence and that’s when Jaskier takes in the whole scene.

Renfri is standing at the table with a huge piece of paper unfurled in front of her, surrounded by an assortment of people who are all staring at the intruder with alarm in their eyes and weapons in their hands.

“Hey hello Jas,” Renfri breaks the silence dryly, and Jaskier can feel the blood rushing to his face. He must be as red as a beet. “I’m doing fine. How are you?”

Jaskier takes a moment to be mortified and wish a monster would swallow him whole, before taking in the whole scene again. Including the sketch on the paper.

“Are you planning on robbing a castle?”

The people bristle, but Renfri waves a careless hand, “It’s just my baby brother, he’s fine.”

Jaskier puts his hands on his hips and gives her the stink eye. “Is this the real reason why you didn’t want to come with me to the banquet?”

“We’ll finish planning tomorrow,” Renfri dismisses the people all easily, ignoring Jaskier’s comment entirely, and they trickle away shooting Jaskier a variety of confused and irritated looks.

Once they’re all gone, Renfri looks at him properly. She has a crooked smile on her face that Jaskier knows means she’s definitely laughing at him inside, and might continue to do so on the outside in just a second. “You were saying about an ass…?”

“I thought you were doing bounty hunting right now.” Jaskier says, putting air quotes around the supposed job before gesturing at the paper on the table, “That does not look like bounty hunting!”

“You can’t burst in here yelling about ass and then judge me.”

“It’s Geralt’s ass.” Jaskier points out crossly, “Can you blame me?”

Renfri hums thoughtfully, rocking back on her heels. “Not really. You could bounce a coin off that thing. So, you finally did something about your big fucking crush, then?”

“No!” Jaskier bursts out, the word feeling like it’s been ripped from his throat as he collapses dramatically into a chair like he’s a wailing maiden feeling light-headed. “He got hurt because he’s an idiot and I had to rub chamomile on his wounds and one of them was on his ass. Renfri I touched his ass!

Renfri nods sagely. “Tell you what, I will let you wax poetic at me for an entire hour about the Witcher’s frankly very nice ass, if you enchant me a cloak.You can even pick the cloak out.”

Jaskier doesn’t miss a beat. “Three hours.”

“Two, and I promise I won’t bring up your incredible entrance in public or laugh about it more than once a day.”

Jaskier knows a generous offer when he sees one. “Deal.”

They shake on the matter seriously.

Which Jaskier immediately breaks by wailing, at top volume, “Do all Witchers look like that? What the fuck! Is being hotter than the sun a Witcher requirement?

“Why are his pants that tight?” Renfri wonders aloud.

“I KNOW.

 

---

 

“Stick close to me, look mean, and pretend you’re a mute.” Jaskier orders confidently when they finally walk into the castle hall. “Can’t have anyone finding out who you actually are.”

Geralt hadn’t been very impressed with their little interlude, and had been even less impressed with the clothes that Jaskier had tossed into his face. He hadn’t even let Jaskier do his hair for the occasion, which was a tragedy that Jaskier had already pressed his luck about complaining over.

Apparently Geralt was only allowed to look nice when nobody else was around. Ugh. Useless.

Well Jaskier is allowed to look nice. And he does. Renfri had generously helped him pick out a doublet while he was still reciting sonnets to Geralt’s magnificent behind, helping him lace it up as if he couldn’t do it himself.

It is a fashion choice to wear his doublets unlaced! Not that he would do so in a castle in front of actual royalty, but still!

Of course, any plan to stay low was ruined by a man hollering, “Geralt of Rivia! The mighty Witcher!” at the top of his lungs.

Was that a castle mage? Jaskier thinks that might be a castle mage. Who apparently knows Geralt, oof. Jaskier mentally puts the man on his list of ‘to avoid if at all possible’ immediately. Mostly because of Renfri.

They have mage trauma, okay? They’re allowed.

“Oh, shit.” Jaskier mutters, because the man he just put on the list was making his way over. Could mages sense magic? Like, proper mages. Not the little hedgewitches Geralt and Jaskier usually dealt with in the various towns. Castle mages were a whole different class of mages, and Jaskier could feel himself sweating already.

Gross.

“I haven’t seen you since the plague.” The man greets Geralt, ignoring Jaskier entirely. The plague? What fucking plague? Jaskier has not been involved in a plague. Did this man know Geralt before he did?

The man kicks a few notches down is Jaskier’s dislike rating.

“Good times, Mousesack.” Geralt says.

Mousesack. Mousesack? Jaskier mouths the man’s name to himself incredulously. That was - that was a deeply unfortunate name. That can’t be that man’s real name. The man just laughs. Is it an inside joke? Does Geralt have inside jokes? With people who aren’t Jaskier?

“I missed your sour complexion,” The man who can’t be named Mousesack chuckles, and doesn’t even get punched for it. Or even glared at much. Why isn’t Geralt taking offense? Geralt’s complexion isn’t sour - it’s lovely! Fuck this man and his stupid name! “I feared this would be a dull affair, but now the White Wolf is here, perhaps all is not lost.”

A dull affair? With Jaskier’s music? That would be the fucking day. Jaskier hates this man.

He hates him even more when he says, “Why are you dressed like a sad silk trader?”

Geralt turns to look at him, which puts the mage’s attention on him, and Jaskier does not cower. So what if he spent a little too long yelling at Renfri and had to scramble to get some Geralt-sized appropriate formal wear? Geralt’s shoulders are huge! And broad! He’s lucky Jaskier didn’t dress him in a burlap sack! It’s not like he had the time to make adjustments and tailor Geralt’s clothes himself!

“What?” Jaskier asks innocently, and he can feel the mage’s eyes on his skin and this was such a bad idea why did Renfri ever let him do this.

“Walk with me,” Mouse’s-ballsack says, putting his hand on Geralt’s shoulder and turning him away no no no - when a table thrusts their mugs in the air and starts yelling.

“To Mousesack!”

Oh god, it is the poor bastard’s name and not an inside joke. What were his parents thinking.

And Jaskier can’t do anything about the man steering Geralt away to talk with him, even though he feels horrendously unsafe all of a sudden. He can’t just go running up to tug at Geralt’s arm and hide in his shadow like a child.

Not even if the castle mage is telling him all about the little liar under the Witcher’s nose. Fuck.

And then Jaskier’s eyes land on the head table, where the Princess is already sitting. She looks - she looks uncomfortable. Uneasy. Like she would rather be anywhere else than this party held for her own benefit.

He’s a bard. Bards don’t talk to princesses.

Except, of course, when it’s a party for a princess, and the bard is in charge of the entertainment.

His trouble with Mousesack and Geralt forgotten already, Jaskier sweeps to the back of the room with his spine straight and his feet steady and sure.

(Jaskier, though he will deny it to his dying breath, is a Prince. He was present at these sorts of events since before he could walk. He’d been a child, dressed in stiff and uncomfortable attire and hating every second, and even though she’s about to get married the Princess Pavetta looks so young.)

“Your Highness,” Jaskier greets, going into a bow, sweeping it lower at the last second. Peasant to Royalty, not Royalty to Royalty. Just being in a castle again is messing with his head.

The Princess nods her head, looking distracted.

“Do you have any requests, your Highness?” Jaskier asks lightly, watching the way she watches the crowd, eyes dancing over the people and never staying in one place for too long. Looking for someone. Seeking. But not finding.

Oh, the look in her eyes. Longing. Fear. Resignation. Jaskier knows that look.

The Princess has a lover, but not one she’s allowed to marry. She hums noncommittally in response to Jaskier’s question.

“Something lively and boisterous?” Jaskier suggests quietly, “To keep them - ” Distracted. “ - engaged?”

For the first time her eyes shoot to Jaskier’s face, searching. He doesn’t know what she sees. Like seeing like, perhaps.

(Jaskier knows what it is like to love someone out of his reach, after all.)

“Yes, that would be fine, Bard…” She says his occupation searchingly, and Jaskier offers her his most sincere smile.

“I go by Jaskier, your Highness.” He tells her, and sees her register the words go by without wincing, even if he didn’t quite mean to say them. But this, right here? This isn’t Bard Jaskier to Princess Pavetetta. This is Julian to Pavetta, one royal to another, who understands that sometimes you don’t get to choose happiness.

(And sometimes, so very rarely, you do. Taking a hand in the woods and running, choosing the harder option even though you know it won’t be easy. Jaskier has never regretted his choice, and he hopes Pavetta won’t either - whatever she may decide.)

She offers him a smile, the first he’s seen from her for the evening. It’s weak, but it’s there. “I look forward to seeing you perform, your reputation precedes you.”

Jaskier offers her another low bow, and quickly retreats from the table before anyone cares to look for too long.

(Jaskier does not miss the subtle double-speak and careful manner of court life, not for anything.)

He’s about to pick up his instrument, when a fat round man approaches him. His fine clothes instantly clue Jaskier into the fact that this is some breed of noble, and the anger on the man’s face makes Jaskier’s hand twitch nervously.

“What can I do for you, my lord?” Jaskier says lightly, “Do you have a request?”

The man’s face twist and his arm snakes out to grab Jaskier’s. Oh, ouch. The man has - actually that’s quite a strong grip. It actually hurts quite a bit. And Jaskier bruises like a peach, yes, that’s going to leave a mark.

Oh no. The man is saying something about his wife. Did Jaskier sleep with his wife? He looks like the type of husband of the wives that Jaskier sleeps with admittedly, the kind that they did not choose and leaves them unsatisfied.

Honestly Jaskier has met far too many women who didn’t even know what an orgasm was, so honestly this man probably deserves it - but regardless, Jaskier backs up nervously.

Unfortunately, the man follows, stabbing at Jaskier’s chest with his stubby fingers. “Drop your trousers.” The man orders.

“What?” Jaskier squeaks out, because - where’s Geralt? This isn’t - they’re in public!

“I didn’t get a proper look at the little shit’s face, but that pimply arse I’d remember anywhere.” The noble snarls, and Jaskier has to control his face to keep the relief off of it. Okay then, not nearly as bad as he was fearing.

Wait - pimply arse? Jaskier’s ass was as smooth as a baby’s bottom! It was beautiful! A pinnacle of ass-dom! Second only in the world to Geralt’s wondrous set of cheeks! Jaskier had half a mind to drop his trousers and moon the entire chamber on principle! Except not because that would invite uh. Some unwelcome advances.

“Well, uh, ah - ” Jaskier’s eyes catch on white hair and he also melts in relief, “Geralt!”

“Forgive me, my lord. This… happens all the time.” Geralt ignores Jaskier, focusing his attention on the noble. This is correct, but sort of rude. Jaskier feels like friend trumps noble, but that’s just him.

(Also, Jaskier technically outranks this noble. Not that anyone knows this fact.)

“It’s true, he has the face of a cad and a coward - ” Hey! That’s not fair! Jaskier’s face is a delight to look at Geralt. Just because it isn’t… isn’t chiselled like it’s been carved out of marble or something doesn’t mean it’s bad, right? Renfri would definitely tell him if it was bad. So Geralt is just lying to get him out of this, right? Right. “But, truth be known, he was kicked in the balls by an ox as a child.”

Geralt! Jaskier opens his mouth, “Well that’s - ” He looks at the noble’s face, “T-true.”

Oh he’s so going to make Geralt pay for this later. Jaskier has a feeling that he’s just going to be so keyed up by the hype of the banquet and filled with such inspiration that it would be a tragedy to go to sleep and not immediately start working on all the new songs rattling around in his head. The fact that he and Geralt have a double room at the inn notwithstanding. Geralt wouldn’t want to get in the way of creative freedom after all.

But the noble pales, blood draining from his face, which Jaskier kind of pettily enjoys. Serves him right for not pleasuring his wife. “Apologies,” The man says, fumbling up a coin from his belt to thrust in Jaskier’s general direction, “Here, drown your… sorrows on me, eunuch.”

Huh. Okay then. Jaskier will take it.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to give Geralt shit about it. So Jaskier opens his mouth, “Oh, wow. Thank you. Thank you so much. First of all, you hog all the fanfar. Then, you go and ruin my courtly reputation.”

“I saved your life.” Geralt’s states, amusement in his golden eyes. Fuck. Amusement is an… unfairly good look on the man. Fuck. “You’re on your own from here on. Try not to get any daggers in your back before dawn.”

Um, excuse him? The entire reason Geralt is here to begin with is to stick by Jaskier’s side and guard his body! Jaskier is - he’s catnip to nobles at the worst of times! Geralt cannot possibly expect him to stay out of trouble, surely?

What else would Geralt be doing, anyway?

Oh. Wait. Jaskier almost scowls when he thinks of Mousesack. Is Geralt abandoning him to chat more with a stupid castle mage? A stupid castle mage with an even stupider name?

He opens his mouth to say as much, but is (thankfully) cut short by horns and an announcement.

The queen has arrived.

She looks -

She looks like a terrifying female version of Geralt, actually. Except with brown hair. With her armor and - and that’s blood on her face what the fuck. This is a betrothal feast. Jaskier can feel the indignation rise on his face.

Geralt steps on his foot. Hard.

Ouch?

“Beer!” The Queen cries, getting a cheer from everyone. And oh, that cheer means it’s almost time! Jaskier scoops up his lute, ignores Geralt with an offended air (he wasn’t going to nag the queen to take a bath, gods Geralt - that was reserved for the Witcher himself), and prepares for his cue.

He gets it a few moment later, after some… concerning comments.

“Bard,” The Queen orders, “Music!”

She doesn’t even look at him, which is actually a relief. He can still hear Renfri’s words in his ear, saying that royals keep track of one another.

“She - ”

“No no no,” The Queen cuts him off, turning to him but still not actually looking at him. He’s a bard, a peasant, beneath her notice even now. “Not that bloody maudlin shit, you can save that for my funeral!”

Fucking rude. That song starts off with a long she, and then launches into a rousing fucking chorus about a girl who sails across the sea to find her true love while fighting a variety of monsters and getting into trouble along the way. It’s a fuckign classic.

And as if Jaskier would play for her funeral. He vastly prefers weddings. And baby showers. Events where his blessings can actually do some good -

(Actually, now that he’s thinking about it, he probably shouldn’t be doing blessings in a castle with mages about. Fuck. Why did these royals bring their mages with them? Cintra doesn’t have mages. Everyone fucking knows that. It’s half the reason why Jaskier accepted the invitation to begin with. This was supposed to be a mage-free shindig. Exception Jaskier, of course.)

It’s fine though, Jaskier can change tunes on a dime. He has enough songs in him to sing the whole night through, and still have some left over. He is limited though, to what his backup reasonably know. So he strums up a lively tune, smiling emptily and pleasantly at the crowd of people.

He pretends not to notice the Queen whispering to her daughter, who looks more upset now than when the night began. Jaskier’s heart aches, aches for all the stupid people with their lofty statuses who don’t realize that family is supposed to be the people who make you feel better just by walking in the room.

(Not the people lining their daughters up to be bartered over like pigs at the market. Renfri had been fifteen when they left, younger than Pavetta’s twenty one years, but even so people had already started whispering about alliances and deals. Jaskier hates it.)

He feels bad for Pavetta, really. She’s an only child. She doesn’t have a Renfri to take care of her.

Oh. Fun. A fight is breaking out. But the Queen turns away from her daughter, and Jaskier can see the relief on her face, so he allows his music to fade to let the confrontation continue uninterrupted.

And then, of course, Queen Calanthe ruins it entirely but yelling out, “Enough! We have a renowned guest here tonight.” Jaskier hopes she isn’t talking about who he thinks she’s talking about, but he’s destined to be disappointed, “Perhaps he can declare which esteemed lord is telling the truth.”

Actually, Jaskier knows the answer to this one. It’s neither. He and Geralt had investigated a reported Manticore sighting two months ago, that had just ended up being a few cockatrices. But an illuminating time all the same.

She doesn’t even call Geralt out by name, but apparently he’s sick enough of listening to nobles that he just calls out a firm, “Neither,” without needing any further prompting.

“Are you calling me a liar, old man?” The big burly brute of a noble challenges.

“Ah,” The weedier one scoffs, “The Butcher of Blaviken bleats utter nonsense.”

To borrow Geralt’s favorite word, fuck.

Geralt’s eyes go to Jaskier’s, and all Jaskier can do is shake his head. Geralt’s not - he’s not the Butcher, Geralt is better than that. Jaskier knows that, and as the closest relative of the murdered party (or at least the most well-known one) he feels it should be up to him whether Geralt should carry that bloody legacy for the rest of his life.

And, as Jaskier learned long ago, Geralt already carries so much.

So Jaskier shakes his head, because he knows even if no one else will say that Geralt is - he’s Geralt. The White Wolf. The one who pulls Jaskier out of scrapes and then yells at him for getting into them in the first place. The one who lets Jaskier make him flower crowns and braid his hair, but only when there’s no one looking. He’s not the Butcher. Hasn’t been for a long time.

Jaskier has jumped men for less than sneering at Geralt to his face, but he can’t do that here, and he’s sorry.

What sort of a friend is he, if he can’t leap to his friend’s defense in a moment like this?

(An alive one, the voice that sounds a little like Renfri points out. It doesn’t help Jaskier’s guilt though.)

He can see the muscle in Geralt’s jaw clench, and Jaskier is about half a second away from bashing his lovely lute over someone’s face, consequences be damned.

(His lute will be fine, it’s practically indestructible at this point. Enchanted to hell and back, which he will shove the blame on Filavandral’s head for if anyone ever asks about it.)

“Perhaps the lords encountered… rare subspecies of manticore.” Geralt says, absolutely unconvincingly.

There are no subspecies of manticore.

Jaskier sighs in relief and guilt as the tension in the room filters away at Geralt’s lie.

The Queen laughs, and Jaskier feels his shoulders tense again. “Perhaps our esteemed guest would like to entertain us with the tale of how he slayed the elves at the Edge of the World?”

Oh. Oh he hates the Queen. She has actually managed to raise above Mousesack on his list of least favorite people at this party.

“There was no slaying. I had my arse kicked by a ragged band of elves.” Geralt announces, at Queen Calanthe’s court. Queen Calanthe, who is responsible for a lot of elf slaughter herself. If she thinks they’re - elf sympathizers or something, she’s likely to have them executed.

Sometimes Jaskier wishes Geralt would think before he spoke. At least he’s pretty.

“I was about to have my throat cut when Filavandrel let me go.”

Geralt chooses now to rediscover his speaking skills? Why does he never talk that much to Jaskier?

“But the song!” Someone protests, and Jaskier remembers that he is also, peripherally, in this conversation.

“Yeah, the song.” Jaskier says with gritted teeth, looking at Geralt like he probably wouldn’t just make it worse. Jaskier honestly doesn’t know what he’s expecting.

“At least when Filavandrel’s blade kissed my throat, I didn’t shit myself. Which is all I can hope for you, good lords.” Geralt lifts his mug in a mock-toast, “At your final breaths, a shitless death.”

Oh, charming Geralt. Wonderful. Jaskier should have known. Historically, Geralt has done very badly with nobles - which is why he asked Renfri to come with him first - and honestly Jaskier should have pre-planned all their escape routes.

Jaskier is eying the windows when Geralt wraps it all up nicely with a quiet, “But I doubt it.”

Oh, thank fuck for Eist. The one noble here that Jaskier is actually vaguely aware of and respects - no weeping wives or bruised maidens and serving boys in his wake. Though he ruins it a tiny bit by saying, “It would have been your blade at Filavandrel’s throat had you been there, your Majesty.”

Okay, yeah, de-escalating is good. But also Jaskier liked Filavandrel. He hugs his lute to his chest, vowing to not let anyone in this room know its origins as he ignores the other words about bastard elves.

Oh, wonderful. Queen Calanthe is inviting Geralt to not only dine with nobles, but dine by the side of the nobles at the head table. The royals. Fuck.

Jaskier eyes the window consideringly again. It might be worth it to just bail now but - he can’t abandon Geralt.

Fuck.

Jaskier grits his teeth and starts the music back up again. It’s his job, after all.

And hey, if Queen Calanthe was going to behave like that, well. Jaskier had just the song that was sure to entertain her.

“Oh Fishmonger, oh Fishmonger, come quell your daughter’s hunter - ” Jaskier sang loudly, the people laughing and clapping and singing along to the popular tavern song. It wasn’t the most appropriate song for a betrothal banquet but…

He eased just the tiniest strands of his magic into the song. All eyes on me, it whispered to everyone except the royal table, look over here.

He has to keep the eyes off of Pavetta, so that she may search the crowd to see if her love will creep in to see her one last time. If the man did - Jaskier has a rousing Geralt-of-Rivia original that he could… make catch the Queen’s attention. Perhaps she could dance with Eist, who is clearly besotted with her.

He ends the song on a high note, cheers and clapping and enthusiasm.

He lets his eyes scan the crowd, wondering if he will be able to spot Pavetta’s beloved. A serving boy, perhaps? A young knight?

The doors crash open, and Jaskier flinches. He is well acquainted with the sounds of battle, having trailed behind Geralt all these years. But not at a party.

The armored man makes his way to the front of the room, loudly excusing himself, and Jaskier sucks in a sharp breath. It can’t be. This man is - he can’t be. To kill the guards, to force his way into the room - is he asking Pavetta to witness his death? Does he think his death will free the Princess from the bonds of love to marry who her mother wishes to sell her off to?

Lord Urcheon of Erlenwald.

Fuck, at least it’s a lord.

Fucking lords.

But - Pavetta’s face. The simple joy, the love. It’s the kind of love that bards like Jaskier write ballads about.

But that does not change the facts: Pavetta is a princess, and her hand in marriage is a political tool. Jaskier’s heart aches.

Queen Calanthe, as Jaskier predicted, is not impressed.

And then Eist knocks the knight’s helmet off and the entire assembly gasps as one.

Cursed, is Jaskier’s first thought, though after a second he wonders why that’s what he thinks instead of the word everyone else is so clearly thinking. Monster.

He swings his eyes to Geralt, to find him staring at the man intently. Intently, but not murderously.

“Slay this beast!” The Queen cries with such fervor that Jaskier can only stare.

Why is the Queen, the Lioness of Cintra so - so -

Afraid?

“Lioness of Cintra!” Lord Urcheon yells, “I have come to claim what is rightfully mine!”

Jaskier feels his face contort into a frown at the words. Pavetta is a person. She belongs to no one.

“Pavetta. By the Law of Surprise.”

The crowd shifts in surprise, in shock. And then the fighting begins, and Geralt is all the way across the room, and there’s a woman who almost gets knocked down, and -

Jaskier grabs the woman, steadying her and curling around her, holding up his lute in front of him. If a sword comes their way, he can deflect it even if that will mean more questions than he is comfortable with.

Lord Urcheon is knocked to the ground, and Jaskier’s heart skips a beat. He looks to Geralt, who is Geralt and can fix anything - and then Pavetta cries out and the Witcher is moving, dispatching a guard and giving Pavetta’s beloved a weapon in one fell swing.

Geralt takes a side.

“Kill them both!” The Queen roars, and anarchy breaks out.

Geralt is beautiful while fighting, even without armor. Perhaps especially without armor. But Jaskier can’t take a moment to admire it, because he has to push the woman behind a pillar and duck where a guard is thrown back towards him.

Hefting his lute like a bat, Jaskier swings it with his full strength and takes down another guard. His darling lute isn’t even scratched, bless her. Jaskier feels his blood boil, and a battle song springs to his lips.

He almost smiles, or perhaps snarls, when he realizes it’s the Ballad of the Battle Of Hochebuz. He needs his breath though, so settles for humming it, the buzz of the song creeping under his skin until he’s practically vibrating as he slams his lute into the unsuspecting face of a noble who had drawn his sword and was heading towards Geralt’s open back.

Shockingly, Lord Eist joins in. On his and Geralt’s side. (Or rather, he supposed, Lord Urcheon’s side.)

Jaskier wishes he had a moment to breathe and pull the knife from his boot, but he doesn’t and blunt force trauma a la musical instrument will simply have to suffice. Someone knocks him from behind, and he hisses, clenching his hand into a fist and hauling around to shove it at great force into the face of yet another fucking noble.

He is very glad that Renfri taught him how to throw a punch, else that might have broken his hand. Ouch.

Finally, the Queen seems to see sense, shouting into the crowd.

The battle stutters to a halt, and Jaskier’s eyes scan the crowd to land on -

Geralt is right in front of the Queen. Of course he is. Where else would he be? Somewhere sensible?

Jaskier takes a few quick steps towards the center of the room anyway, just in case, but apparently it isn’t necessary because Pavetta beats him there, throwing her arms around Lord Urcheon’s - Duny’s? - neck and clutching him close.

Jaskier’s heart clenches again as she cradles his face in her hands.

(He knows what it is to love someone others consider… monstrous.)

On one hand, Jaskier is glad that Geralt is no longer the center of the Queen’s attention. On the other hand, now Pavetta is. But it seems, when it comes to matters of love, the young woman has a spine of steel to rival her mother’s.

They talk of destiny, and Jaskier feels hope in his heart.

(If Pavetta gets her happy ending, then maybe - )

Jaskier is. Actually quite dizzy right now. He’s dizzy, his hand hurts, and he’s pretty sure his ribs are cracked from when a knight in full armor crashed into him.

The Queen is yelling again. She yells an awful lot. Jaskier doesn’t even understand why - Pavetta seems extraordinarily happy to go along with destiny in this matter. While Jaskier agrees that the law of surprise is stupid (especially considering that it takes two to bear a child), in this case it works out in everyone’s favor.

No Lord’s are slighted by being overlooked for Pavetta’s hands. Honor is satisfied. Her daughter is happy and with the man she loves. Really, there’s no loss here as far as Jaskier sees. But then again, he’s always been a romantic.

Oh shit, they might actually get away with it. Even Geralt spoke in their defense.

Jaskier sways, and finds himself leaning against a pillar. His hands are shaking, the last of the battle buzz working their way through his system.

(He didn’t know he could do that. He can only hope Mousesack was too focused on his side of the fight to pay attention to the scraps of magic around a measly bard.)

Everything is calm for a few heartbeats, and then Jaskier can hear the sound of a blade being drawn and a scream and -

(When did he close his eyes?)

There’s pressure, and Jaskier finds himself ducking automatically. Probably a trained instinct from hanging around Geralt too long.

The woman from earlier is there, and Jaskier finds himself throwing his arms around her and shielding her as glass breaks and rains down from above. His ribs and wrist protest at the action, but he ignores them valiantly.

What the fuck happened?

At the center of - of what Jaskier can only describe as a storm of magic is Pavetta and Duny, holding hands in the calm of the storm and levitating. The magic is like static against Jaskier’s skin, powerful and unfocused and almost painful.

There’s too much. Too much. And Jaskier is so tired.

But he can see Geralt trying to force his way through, and Mousesack with shimmering magic at his hands, and Jaskier can’t just do nothing.

He still has the woman tucked under his arms. He can’t move. But Jaskier has never had to move to do magic.

“The stars are very beautiful, above the palace walls.” Jaskier warbles softly into the chaos, “They shine with equal splendor, still above far humbler halls.”

He sees Geralt down one of his Witcher potions out of the corner of his eye.

“I watch them from my window, but their bright entracing glow, reminds me of the freedom I gave up so long ago.”

Geralt reaches, pushing further into the storm.

“The royal circlet of bright gold rests lightly on my brow. I once thought only of the rights this circlet would endow.”

Geralt is so close now, readying himself.

“But once I took the crown to which I had been schooled and bred, I found it heavy on the heart, but light upon the head.”

Pavetta swings around to look in Jaskier’s direction, which is coincidentally also Geralt’s direction, just as Geralt releases a blast of blue magic from his hand, cutting through the storm as Pavetta releases her hold and the storm of magic collapses in on itself.

Jaskier, too, collapses. His energy is gone, drained. It took everything he had just to try and reach Pavetta before she hurt Geralt. Or before Geralt hurt her.

“Do you believe in destiny now?” He hears Eist say, and almost ways to laugh. But he can taste blood in his mouth, and his throat hurts.

(He’s never battled someone else’s magic before, either. This is a night full of firsts.)

The woman he was shielding helps him stand. Shaky, but standing.

Oh his vision is going a bit splotchy here. That should probably concern someone. Concern him? That should probably concern him.

Oh, wonderful. Two weddings in one. Jaskier is very happy for Eist, he really is.

And Pavetta - he’s so happy for Pavetta. She gets her happy ending. She gets to marry her true love.

The woman lets him hold her, leaning on her for support, as everyone circles the Queen and the two to be married. He is grateful for that at least, as he’s not sure he could have remained standing otherwise. He thinks he might love her for that, with the simple love that Jaskier feels so freely and so often.

There is a smile on his face as the curse is broken, scattering in the air like sunlight over stones.

“I think this has the makings of my greatest ballad yet.” Jaskier accidentally says aloud, the taste of magic fizzing on his tongue and making him giddy. The woman who Jaskier has decided to pledge what remains of his heart to pulls out a handkerchief to offer to him. This sweet gesture only makes Jaskier tear up even more.

“If you’re alive in the morning.” Geralt cuts in, like he always does with Jaskier’s nonsense. The Witcher gives him a look that Jaskier can’t quite identify - he is awfully tired to be interpreting Geralt’s innermost thoughts, “Don’t… grope for trout in any peculiar rivers until dawn.”

Oh, oh smiling hurts. When did his face get bruised? Jaskier kind of adores Geralt’s fucking incredible euphamisms. Is he making them up off the top of his head? Or did he learn them from somewhere? Jaskier needs to know for reasons.

“No, wait! Wait!” The newly human Duny cries. “You saved my life, I must repay you.”

Jaskier grimaces, attention turning from the conversation towards the scraps of magic which, previously inert, are starting to sort of… drift. On their own. Which is suspicious all by itself. They each sing soft notes, almost too soft for Jaskier’s ears to make out, but still there.

“I… claim the tradition as you have. The Law of Surprise.” Jaskier’s head snaps up to stare at Geralt as the scraps of magic sing. “Give me that which you already have but do not know.”

Idiot. Idiot. Is he purposefully trying to tempt fate?

The song builds behind Jaskier’s teeth, in his ribcage, flowing down to his toes. Why does the ground below tremble? Why does the night seem so strange? The magic laughs in his ears, begging him to give voice to it, The world was a messenger telling, the world of a wondrous change!

“Destiny can go f - ”

And then Pavetta is vomiting, and the magic scatters again, its musical laughter fading.

...Fuck.

 

---

 

Geralt left, stormed out. Jaskier will meet him later, when his legs cooperate with him again.

He’s sitting in a chair, people still milling about whispering. The woman - her name is Katya - has gone to fetch him some water after he refused her concerned whispers about a healer. He’s sitting in that chair, when Pavetta approaches him.

“Your Highness,” Jaskier manages a shallow bow while sitting before his ribs scream at him and he gasps in a shocked breath -

“Don’t do that.” She hisses at him, all hesitance from the start of the night erased now that she’s gotten everything she wants. “You’re with the Witcher, yes?”

If he says yes, will she kill him? For daring to, legally, be her unborn child’s guardian’s friend? Ugh, that sentence barely makes sense inside of Jaskier’s head let alone in general.

“Yeah.” Jaskier admits, exhaustion coloring his voice, “That’s me. The Witcher’s Bard.”

The look she gives him is - sympathetic, actually. A little bit sad. Jaskier is reminded of what feels like decades ago, when he approached her table before any of the nights… festivities… began.

Like seeing like.

“He can’t run from destiny, your Witcher.” She tells him simply, looking over her shoulder at where her new Husband is being looked over by Healers now that everything has calmed down. The man did just go through a very unusual trial by combat for the Princess’s hand, after all. “It finds us, somehow, even when we least expect it.”

“The girl in the woods will be with him always.” Jaskier says.

Wait. What?

He frowns, he’d meant to say that if anyone could outrun destiny, Geralt could. What - what were the words that came out. What did they mean?

Pavetta, for her part, just nods like that makes sense. Does she know something he doesn’t?

“Sing me the rest of your song, bard.” She asks quietly, and at Jaskier’s look clarifies, “The one from the storm.”

Jaskier stiffens.

Pavetta just looks at him, soft and unjudging. “Please.”

Jaskier can only nod to that. He’s too drained to put any magic into the song anyway, tired and aching. But he’ll always do his best to give this song justice - it’s the one Renfri sang to him when he was small. The one her own mother sang to her.

“The stars are very beautiful, above the palace walls,
They shine with equal splendor, still above far humbler halls.
I watch them from my window, but their bright entrancing glow,
Reminds me of the freedom I gave up so long ago.

The royal circlet of bright gold rests lightly on my brow,
I once thought only of the rights this circlet would endow.
But once I took the crown to which I had been schooled and bred,
I found it heavy on the heart, though light upon the head.

Although I am the head of state, in truth I am the least.
The true Queen knows her people fed, before she sits to feast.
The good Queen knows her people safe, before she takes her rest,
Thinks twice and thrice and yet again, before she makes request.

For they are all my children, all, that I swore to defend.
It is my duty to become both Queen and trusted friend -
And of my children high and low, from beggar to above,
The dearest are my Heralds, who return my care with love.

The dearest are my Heralds, swift to spring to my command.
Who give me aid and fellowship, who always understand
That land and people first have needs that I may not deny -
So I must send my dearest friend to danger and to die.

A friend, a love, a child - it matters not, I know indeed,
That I must sacrifice them all if there should be the need.
They know and they forgive me, doing more than I require,
With willing minds and loving hearts go straight to grasp the fire.

These tears that burn my eyes are all the tears the Queen can’t shed,
The tears I weep in silence as I mourn my Heralds dead.
Oh gods that dwell beyond the stars, if you can hear my cry -
And if you have compassion, let me send no more to die.”

Pavetta has tears in her eyes by the time he sings the whole song through. “A Herald,” She says softly, “A sign that something is about to happen. A marker of destiny.”

Jaskier can only nod. Pavetta’s eyes sharpen.

“Are you a Herald, Jaskier?”

“I am what I am, your Highness.” Jaskier tells her simply, “I am Jaskier. I am a Witcher’s bard. And I sing.”

Pavetta nods, as though she expected no less. She presses her hand to her stomach, looking down in thought. “Will you promise me something?”

“Depends on the promise.” This is probably an unwise answer, but it is an honest one. Pavetta is a Princess, but she is not his Princess. And he is not her subject.

She tilts her head, conceding the point. “One day,” She asks gently, “Will you sing that song for my daughter?”

Jaskier thinks on the subject for a moment, before nodding decisively. “I can promise you, Highness, that I will try.”

“Thank you,” She whispers.

Jaskier can only nod, not even having the energy to startle when she takes his hand between hers.

“I hope you find your love.” She tells him, soft and sincere until she tilts her head and a calculating gleam enters her eyes, “Or, I should say, he finds you.”

Jaskier feels his breath catch in his throat and tears spring to his eyes. Oh. Oh.

“Thank you, Princess.”

She nods once more, and then sweeps away to join her husband. All Jaskier can do is watch after her.

Watch after her, and pray.

 

---

 

“Jaskier, what the fuck did you do -

Chapter Text

Renfri’s life wasn’t exactly going the way she had once planned, when she was small and loved and her mother traced patterns on her forehead as Renfri curled up in her lap.

She’d been a princess, the princess. She watched her mother, beautiful and delicate looking with a spine of steel, and she wanted to be just like her one day. A Queen.

And then her mother had miscarried, and she got sick. The kind of sick that people don’t recover from. Renfri has this - this faded memory of tracing fingers against her mother’s sweaty forehead and listening to her gasp for breath, not understanding what was going on as she tucked a brown curl so like her own behind a bigger ear and wondered when she would be allowed to go and play.

The dirt had barely settled on her mother’s grave when her father remarried. For political reasons, apparently. Renfri hadn’t understood why this woman was being shoehorned into her life, and she’d hated her.

Granted, the hatred had been mutual. Queen Aridea would smile at her whenever her father was around, but otherwise tried her best to pretend she didn’t exist.

But Queen Aridea did give Renfri one gift, the most precious gift of all.

The baby born at midnight, under the red moon that Renfri observed emotionlessly from her window (ever since her mother had died, she felt like all her emotions had been scraped out of her with a spoon, leaving her heart bruised and aching).

She sneaks into the nursery later, dragging a stool over to the bassinet so that she can reach inside.

She traces her fingers along the baby’s forehead and she grieves.

 

---

 

“Do you ever miss the castle?” Renfri asks her brother. He’s been with her for a week now, tired of watching Geralt of Rivia flee his destiny.

“Pavetta was nice,” Jaskier murmurs, head pillowed in her lap.

“Not that castle,” Renfri clarifies, not looking down at her brother as she traces swirls down the side of his face with a lazy finger, “In Creyden.”

Jaskier hums thoughtfully, “No,” He says softly, “I don’t.”

“Don’t you miss Aridea? She loved you.” Renfri has never asked Jaskier anything like this before, too afraid of what the answer might be. But they’re not children anymore, no dependent on one another and terrified of being split apart. Renfri knows now that no matter how many times Jaskier leaves her side, he will return to her.

“Mmmno.” Jaskier hums out. “She loved what I was, but not really who I was.”

Renfri remembers her stepmother’s pride following Julian’s birth. But it was Renfri who asked the nursemaid how to hold her brother correctly, who spent hours in the nursery tracing patterns against his baby soft skin.

“I was a prince. A boy. Even when - when - ” Jaskier lets loose a side-splitting yawn, “Even when I sang for her, she’d tell me to stand up straighter. And she always nagged at me ‘bout spending time with you.”

“I was dangerous.” Renfri points out gently, “She was right to be worried.”

“Not to me.”

And isn’t that the crux of their relationship? Renfri might slaughter people and feel nothing, might rob and steal without a qualm. She might even be a monster.

(But not to Jaskier.)

 

---

 

“I’m sorry,” Jaskier is saying sympathetically to a sobbing boy, arm around his shoulders and rubbing soothing circles into the lad’s back.

Geralt would very much like to leave, but every time he thinks about it Jaskier looks up at glares him into staying.

“I - I loved her.” The Alderman’s son hiccups, “I don’t understand. Why would she choose him - what did I do -”

“It’s not your fault.” Jaskier says firmly. “You loved her, but she didn’t love you. It happens.”

“She could have grown to love me,” The boy hiccups, scrubbing at his face with a sleeve.

Jaskier hums gently, a far away look on his face that Geralt can’t quite read. “Perhaps. But she chose someone else, and love at its heart is always a choice.”

“I didn’t choose to love her!” The boy howls, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks. Geralt grimaces - maybe if he leaves now Jaskier won’t notice.

Jaskier looks up and gives him another glare, and if Geralt didn’t know better he’d think the bard could read his thoughts.

Jaskier removes his arm from around the boy’s shoulders and Geralt feels a moment of hope that perhaps they’ll actually leave - but no, Jaskier is fishing in his pocket and pulling out two bits of thread that were remnants of a previous night spent mending holes in Geralt’s pants and complaining the entire time.

“It’s like this,” Jaskier explains, getting the boy’s attention, holding up a string in each hand. “These threads represent a bond, yes? Love.”

Jaskier takes one thread and gently knots it around the other. “You fell in love with her, and when you love someone you tie a piece of yourself to them.”

The boy looks as confused as Geralt feels.

“But she didn’t tie herself to you, and so when pressure was put on the relationship…” Jaskier tugs at the two threads, and the untied one slides right through the knot and suddenly the strings are no longer joined together at all. Separate and lonely in each of Jaskier’s hands.

“She left.” The boy sniffles.

“She left.” Jaskier agrees, “But one day, you’ll find someone -” His clever fingers bring the thread together, repeating his previous actions, “And they’ll choose you right back.” Instead of just leaving it, Jaskier carefully ties a second loose knot in the second string.

“And then when pressure is put on you - ” Jaskier pulls on the strings again, except this time the knots catch on each other. They pull, and instead of falling apart they get tighter, locked together firmly. “You’ll be the stronger for it.”

“I thought she was the one.” The Alderman’s son whispers.

Jaskier just shrugs, letting the thread fall into his lap, “There’s no one person for anyone. I know that all the songs sing of true love and soulmates and destiny - ”

Geralt’s ears perk up at that last word, which had become something of a sore topic in previous months. But he’s curious about what Jaskier is about to say.

“But the truth is, no one in the world is meant for you. Love is hard. It’s full of choices, and if you want to make it work with someone then you need compassion, understanding, communication. There is no ‘other half’ for you, you are complete unto yourself.” Jaskier smiles, “Let your heart be broken, and remember how it feels. Pick yourself up, and choose to love again.”

The boy dissolves into sobs, but these ones are cleaner somehow. Purer.

The little bell above the door rings as a burly man walks though, pausing to take in the scene with a look of confusion.

“Are you the Alderman?” Geralt asks, only a little bit desperately.

“Yes.” The man says warily.

Oh thank the gods. “I have a Kikimore. You posted a flyer?”

Geralt looks over his shoulder to find that the boy had flung his arms over Jaskier and is sobbing into his shoulder. Jaskier meets Geralt’s eyes and then immediately rolls them, lifting an arm from where it was rubbing circles on the boy’s back to make shooing motions at the Witcher.

Permission given (not that he needed it) Geralt turns back to the Alderman.

Hopefully they can get out of here quickly.

 

---

 

“There’s a servant’s passage there.” Jaskier tells his sister, pointing at a spot on the rough floorplan that Renfri had paid a pretty penny for. “I snogged a serving girl in them a few years ago.”

“Only snogged?” Renfri asks judgingly, even as she goes to make a mark.

Jaskier gives her an impish look that immediately has Renfri pulling a face. Ew.

“You’re such a brat. Anything else you notice that wasn’t included?”

“There’s another entrance to the courtyard… there.” Renfri obligingly marks where Jaskier is pointing, “And you love me.”

“I’m incapable of love.”

Jaskier snorts, loud enough that Renfri looks up at him. “Yeah, okay.”

“That’s what everyone says.” Renfri points out simply.

“You love me.” Jaskier wheedles right back, tucking his hands under his chin and batting his eyes at her until she swipes at him to quit it.

“You’re an exception to every rule, Jas.” Renfri rolls her eyes, going back to tracing her new path through the castle. As long as she keeps her head down and her face demure she doubts she’ll be stopped - the Lord who resides there is known for his blatant disregard of women.

“Not every rule.” Jaskier corrects, voice suddenly quiet and sad.

Renfri doesn’t miss a beat, reaching over to punch him in the arm. Hard.

“Ouch!” Jaskier yelps, immediately rubbing at said arm with a wounded look, “What was that for?”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself.” Renfri demands. “If your boy is a fucking idiot, that’s not your fault. He doesn’t fucking deserve you, Jas.”

Jaskier worries at his lip, before deciding to drop the subject entirely instead of being drawn into yet another argument, “So is this a stealing plot or a murder plot?”

“Murder.”

“Do I want to know?”

Renfri thinks of a young woman whose face was bruised almost beyond recognition, who flinches at even the softest of touchest, and can’t meet anyone’s eyes anymore.

“No,” She says, voice cold as ice, “You don’t.”

 

---

 

“That man had no right to call you that.” Jaskier snarls, furious. He’s only held back by Geralt’s hand on his elbow dragging him along behind the bigger Witcher.

Jaskier’s hands are clenched so tightly into fists that he thinks if his nails had been any longer he would be bleeding.

(Thank goodness for a musician’s good nail care.)

“You need to stop this.” Geralt rumbles, face drawn and pinched where Jaskier can see it.

“Stop what?” Jaskier demands to know.

Geralt doesn’t say anything, but his face tightens.

“Stop what, Geralt?” Jaskier digs his heels in, pulling the pair of them to a grinding halt. “Stop speaking up when people say such - such disgusting things?”

Geralt’s eyes flicker towards Jaskier’s, somehow looking even brighter in the dim light of evening. Then they look away again.

“Geralt.” Jaskier says. Demands really, though he’s not sure what he’s really demanding. “Geralt, you know that man was talking out of his ungrateful, pock-marked, stupid arse, right? In fact, I think his arse contributes more to humanity as a whole than his actual mouth.”

Geralt still says nothing for a long time, but Jaskier waits him out patiently. Geralt is going to use his words even if Jaskier has to drag them out of him kicking and screaming.

“It’s not worth it.” Geralt finally says, low and firm.

Yeah, no. Jaskier isn’t having one lick of that nonsense. “It very well is.” Jaskier announces hotly, hands finding their way to his hips like he can force Geralt to care about himself with his eyes alone, “You are worth it, you idiotic fucking Witcher.”

Geralt’s face breaks Jaskier’s fucking heart. The way his eyebrows draw together and the corner of his mouth quirks down, like his entire face is screaming that he’s really not.

“You - ” Jaskier flounders, words escaping him for the first time in… in a very long time. “You! You are my friend, Geralt. I chose you, and by all the gods that means something. And one of those things is that I won’t suffer idiot fools. You have more goodness and kindness in your - in your pinkie finger than that man has in his whole body.”

Geralt shifts his face away, so it’s more in the shadows. More difficult for Jaskier to read.

“If you’re one of those people, then I’m afraid I’ll have to fight you for having such terrible opinions of my friend.” Jaskier informs him crossly.

“...You couldn’t beat me in a fight.”

Oh thank fuck, at least he’s talking. “That’s what you think.”

Another beat of silence, but more thoughtful than depressing at least, so Jaskier counts that as a win.

“What if you’re wrong?” Geralt asks, voice unreadable.

“I’m never wrong.” Jaskier informs him primly, giving the Witcher his best smile, “It’s my superpower.”

 

---

 

Renfri creeps through dimly lit castle halls, peasant dress swishing around her feet and feeling naked without her sword at her back.

The guards pay no attention to her quick and hurried walk through the corridors. As long as Renfri looks like she’s got a destination in mind and looks like she knows what she’s doing, they rarely stop her. Or even realize that she very much does not work here.

Finally, she sees where she needs to go. The room with the two knights in armor standing at the doors. She grimaces to herself, but strides forward purposefully.

“Halt.” The knight on the left demands, and Renfri allows herself to stop and blink with wide eyes. “State your business.”

“I have a message, for Her Highness.” Renfri says, voice high and breathless, like this is the most exciting thing she’s ever gotten to do in her little life.

They both look over her, and as one dismiss her. Idiots.

“Your Highness?” One guard says, knocking on the door an armored fist.

“One moment.” A high and clear voice demands from within, and there is some rustling.

Renfri and the two guards stand there awkwardly waiting for a few minutes until finally the door opens and Renfri lays eyes for the very first time on her target.

“Your Highness,” Renfri says demurely, stooping into a slightly awkward curtsey, as if she’s unused to being before royalty. “I carry a message.”

“Oh?” Princess Pavetta says with intelligent eyes, the swell of her belly obvious beneath her dress. “From whom?”

“The musician, Your Highness.”

“Ah,” Pavetta hums, understanding lighting up her eyes. “I suppose you had best come in, then.”

The Princess waves off the guards and Renfri sweeps past them to follow the Princess into her chambers easily.

“I think you and I,” The Princess says regally, “Have a lot to talk about.”

 

---

 

“I can hold her?” Jaskier blurts out, incredulously.

Pavetta smiles warmly, the joy in her face making her glow, “She’s a baby, not a dragon.” She teases playfully at Jaskier’s face, bouncing the baby in her arms a few times.

Jaskier can’t help but think that if Geralt were here, he’d prefer the dragon.

But Geralt isn’t here, and Jaskier gently accepts the teeny baby princess into his arms, tracing one finger gently from her forehead down to her nose and watching as she scrunches her face up at the touch.

“She’s beautiful.” Jaskier breathes.

Pavetta beams at him, pride in every inch of her body, “Her name is Cirilla.”

“Hello Cirilla,” Jaskier coos at the baby, “Welcome to the world.”

Cirilla lets out a little whine, and Jaskier immediately bounces her gently, humming a song that he only halfway remembers.

“She’s got dark hair, like Duny.” Jaskier observes, tracing a finger over the peach-fuzz soft hair crowning her little head.

“So did I when I was born,” Pavetta dismisses easily, reaching out for her baby and allowing Jaskier to transfer the precious bundle between them, “It doesn’t mean much. Perhaps she’ll keep it, perhaps she’ll have my hair.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jaskier declares loyally, “Either way she’s beautiful.”

Pavetta smiles briefly, before it tugs into a frown as she looks down at her baby. “Have you talked to…”

“He won’t hear anything about it.” Jaskier sighs, already knowing exactly what her question will end.

Geralt hadn’t explicitly said that they were avoiding Cintra like the plague, but Jaskier knew what avoidance looked like. He still had yet to step foot in Creyden, even after all these years.

Fortunately, Geralt was not Jaskier’s keeper, and Jaskier didn’t accompany Geralt on all his magnificent adventures. And if Jaskier was requested by a Princess to play at a royal birth announcement, then that was Jaskier’s job wasn’t it? He’s a bard. He plays music.

“Destiny has a way of forcing one’s hand.” Pavetta says gravely, not looking away from her baby’s face.

Jaskier just looks at Cirilla’s face, and does not reply.

 

---

 

“I don’t think your husband likes me much.” Renfri drawls from where she’s leaning against the desk. These days the guards just roll their eyes and let her in.

“Duny likes you just fine.” Pavetta huffs, “As much as he can like someone who doesn’t even tell us her name.”

“Perhaps I just like to keep a bit of mystery about myself, Princess.” Renfri grins, “Can’t go handing you all the answers on a silver platter, after all.”

Pavetta just rolls her eyes and proceeds to give Renfri an expectant look.

Renfri groans, “Ugh, fine. See if I come visit you out of the goodness of my heart ever again when this is the welcome I get.” She fishes out the thick bundle of parchment from her dress pocket, thrusting them in Pavetta’s direction without fanfare.

“Thank you,” Pavetta says sweetly, shooing Renfri away from her desk so that she might sit down as she undoes the twine from around the papers.

Renfri unabashedly leans over the Princess’s shoulder to sneak a peek.

They’re letters from her brother, after all, and he and her have no secrets between them. Or at least, none that matter.

Pavetta swats her in the arms, and Renfri staggers away as if mortally wounded, groaning as she slumps against the side of the magnificent bed.

“Stop being dramatic,” Pavetta scolds, not even bothering to look over as her eyes scan the letters. Her brother’s handwriting is still fine and pretty as a royal’s, though smeared in places with enthusiasm.

“Hark, what news from the bard’s lips?”

“He says I should lock you up in the dungeons for the next eternity,” Pavetta tells her loftily, “And that he has decided to use far less irritating messengers in the future.”

Renfri snorts, but figures that’s one of the nicer ways she’s been told to mind her own business.

“Where’s the little bratling, then?” Renfri asks instead, because a mother always wants to talk about her offspring in Renfri’s meager experience.

Indeed, Pavetta’s face softens and a genuine smile curls at her lips, “Duny’s got her with him. I’m half afraid she’ll never learn how to walk, the way he carries her around all the time. But it’s so sweet, I dare not say anything more on the subject.”

“The brat’s a squirmy little thing,” Renfri dismisses the concern with a wave of her hand, “Before too long you’ll be wishing for the days before it could walk.”

She has a name.” Pavetta just looks amused though.

“Eh, names are overrated anyway.”

“One day, I’ll get yours out of you.” Pavetta says challengingly, lifting her chin and showing just a little bit of her mother’s spine.

“Not in this lifetime,” Renfri scoffs.

“Then perhaps I shall try and pry it out of Jaskier,” The Princess sniffs.

Renfri thinks for a second, and then grimaces.

Yeah, that was the more likely option.

 

---

 

The bard tugs at his arm beseechingly, staring up at Geralt with those impossible blue eyes. “Come on, Geralt, live a little!”

Geralt would rather not. Especially when the bard’s definition of ‘living’ seems to include trying to drag him into the mass of people milling about everywhere. No thank you. Geralt is quite content with standing at the edge of the… festivities.

“Please?” Jaskier begs, smiling carelessly at Geralt’s face. The bard’s cheeks are flushed and his eyes bright and merry, and there’s something terrifyingly open as he wheedles at the Witcher’s patience.

The bard’s tugging doesn’t even budge Geralt. He’s like a stone statue.

“Just one dance!” Jaskier exclaims shamelessly, tugging on Geralt’s arm some more as if he had the strength to move the larger man by sheer willpower alone. Geralt might even respect the persistence if it wasn’t directed at his person.

“No.” Geralt tells the man.

“You’re no fun.” Jaskier says, sticking his lip out in a pout that has Geralt’s eyes drawing towards the bard’s mouth.

Geralt has no words to say in response to that.

But clearly Jaskier does, for the man rolls his eyes, “Don’t start telling me that Witcher’s aren’t allowed to have fun! They are! You’re just being a sourpuss. I know it, and you know it, and everyone here knows it!”

Geralt knows that everyone here would rather not have a Witcher join the dancefloor, thank you very much.

“I don’t dance.” Geralt tells the man.

“Fine,” Jaskier says, rolling his eyes and sighing like Geralt’s refusal is some great burden. But this doesn’t last for long, the bard’s infectious smile making his entire face shine, “But you’ll watch me, won’t you Geralt?”

“There are no lords here.” Geralt says, raising his eyebrows, “And we haven’t been in town for that long.”

Jaskier laughs as if Geralt is the funniest person in existence, throwing his head back and closing his eyes and looking - and looking -

“Watch me, Geralt!” Jaskier demands without clarifying, cutting that thought off, and pushes off of Geralt to go spinning into the crowd. He’s instantly integrated into the dance, a woman taking his elbow in hers and sending them both twirling off about the room.

And so Geralt watches.

 

---

 

“You’re getting so big!” Jaskier gasps at the little girl, who giggles loudly and sticks her arms out. Jaskier glances quickly at Duny, getting permission, before sweeping the child up and into his arms and planting a big kiss on her cheek.

She screams out a laugh, little arms going around his neck for stability.

“I hear,” Jaskier whispers conspiratorially, “That there’s going to be a birthday in the castle soon. Have you heard that, Ciri?”

Still giggling, Ciri bobs her head in a nod.

“Really! You must have contacts in all the right places to know so much.” Jaskier informs her gravely. “Do you know whose birthday it is? You see, I have a very special birthday song for whoever it might be.”

“It’s me! Me!” Ciri squeals delightedly, smacking her little hand into his face with the enthusiasm of her hand waving, “Jas sing! Jas sing!”

“You?” Jaskier gasps, sounding incredibly shocked. He can hear a snort of laughter from Pavetta’s direction who entered the room just a minute before. He ignores that though, because all his attention is focused on one very special little girl, “Why didn’t you say so! You must be getting very old now. Why, you must be nearly as old as I am!”

“Noooo.” Ciri draws the words out as she shakes her head innocently.

“Well then, how old will you be turning?” Jaskier asks, as though he doesn’t already know.

Ciri proudly holds up two fingers.

Jaskier gives another gasp, “Two? Why, that’s twice as old as you were the last time I saw you!”

He gets a giggle for that one before she starts to squirm in his arms.

“Alright, down you pop.” Jaskier sets her gently down on her feet.

“Sing, Jas!” The little girl demands as soon as she’s down, tugging on Jaskier’s pant leg with a single minded determination, “Sing!”

“Ciri,” Pavetta cuts in, getting her little one’s attention, “What do we say?”

Ciri nods, her brilliant blond curls going everywhere with the force of the acknowledgement and she turns back to look at Jaskier. “Jas sing now!

Pavetta puts her face in her hands and Jaskier throws back his head to howl with laughter, which Ciri does not quite understand why so she crosses her little arms and pouts fiercely.

Jaskier crouches down so that he’s at more of an eye level with the tiny princess, cheeks rosy with mirth, “I said I had a birthday song to sing. Tell me, princess, is it your birthday yet?”

“Yes,” The toddler lies with no hesitation.

“No it’s not.” Duny cuts in, and gets a fearsome look for his interference. Jaskier can see why the Queen has taken to calling this child the Lion Cub of Cintra. Not that Jaskier speaks to the Queen, and in fact actively avoids being within three rooms of her at all times.

He has, however, on one memorable occasion drank the King under the table. Eist should have known better than to underestimate a bard.

“Tell you what,” Jaskier says, capturing little Ciri’s attention again, “I’ll sing you your song tonight at the party instead, just a few hours away instead of making you wait all the way until tomorrow. Sound good?”

Ciri scrunches her little nose, in deep thought. Tilts her head, and then gives Jaskier the most angelic little smile. “Jas sing now.

But he’s saved from having to respond to that when Duny strides forward and scoops the little princess up around the middle, blowing a raspberry against her cheek and making her shriek. “No can do I’m afraid, little madame,” Duny says cheerfully, taking quick steps towards the door, “I’m afraid we have to go clean ourselves up and get ready and any singing will have to wait.”

Ciri, realizing that her father is taking her away from one of her most favorite people in the entire world (as Jaskier so generously labels himself), immediately breaks out into loud sobs. But they quickly disappear along with Duny as the man removes his daughter from the room.

“She’s a stubborn one,” Pavetta observes fondly.

“I think it runs in the family.”

 

---

 

Renfri smiles as the ink dries, waiting patiently to be able to shove the papers into their proper envelope. Jaskier’s correspondence with the Princess has given her a thought.

She has the best ideas.

 

---

 

Geralt isn’t sleeping well. Which is why he’s squinting at the paper in his hands, not entirely sure if what he’s reading is correct or a hallucination as a result of being awake for far too long.

Dearest Geralt, the letter begins, which already has enough problems on its own but at least means that he didn’t knock the shaky delivery boy out of his saddle for needlessly bothering him.

I hope this letter finds you in good health and that you haven’t been eaten by a monster recently, or if you have that you have received a bath post-haste.

I write this letter to remind you that the heart of a bard is a delicate thing. Jaskier has been known to give his love freely and often, because he is a ridiculous creature who I would say was made out of pure sunshine if I didn’t know better. And, as he is not by my side the majority of the time anymore, I find it necessary to recruit some backup in the manner of protecting him.

Namely, you, sir Witcher.

If my brother gets hurt, then I will come after you and separate your cock from your body. Slowly. I cannot protect him in this matter, but unfortunately you are in a unique position to do so. I am holding you responsible, Witcher.

These threats are not empty.

Hugs and kisses,
Jaskier’s most beloved sister, Efi

Geralt twitches as he reads the last line. This is - this is actual evidence of Jaskier’s very-real sister. Who is apparently threatening him.

Somehow it doesn’t surprise him as much as it should. Probably because it’s Jaskier’s family, and he expects them to be just as insane and ridiculous as the bard. This theory certainly seems to have panned out nicely, what with this nice evidence just handed over to him.

Geralt frowns, as if he doesn’t already protect the bard. He doesn’t need to be threatened into doing so. What is Jaskier telling her?

Frowning, he exchanges a look with Roach before tucking the odd letter into one of the saddlebags. Something to wonder about later, and perhaps ask Jaskier about when the bard returns from another one of his little trips.

But for now, Geralt has heard rumors of a Djinn in a lake. A bit of a drastic solution, but perhaps a necessary one.

Geralt needs to sleep.

Chapter Text

There is a song trapped beneath Jaskier’s ribcage, and it’s a little offputting if he’s being honest with himself. It sort of lodged itself in there a few days ago, and refuses to be shaken out no matter what tune Jaskier strums out on his lute.

At least Ciri is very appreciative of his musical mission, though her frequent attempts to physically climb him while he plays make for an interesting time of it.

One day, he swears he’s going to put a lute in that little girl’s hands or something. Pavetta has a fine ear for music, and Ciri likes his which pretty much guarantees that she has excellent taste as well.

Jaskier sighs to himself. He was planning on staying in the castle for another few weeks, playing and laughing. Pavetta had promised to let him borrow some of her books of poetry and, if he was very good she’d even promised him a look at some of her originals.

His hands still against the lute, a soft frown on his face.

“Something wrong?” Pavetta asks, looking up from her needlework.

“I think I have to go sooner than planned.” Jaskier admits, setting his instrument aside.

“Oh?” Pavetta raises an eyebrow. It’s so unfair that both her and Renfri can do that.

Jaskier can only offer an apologetic face.

“More secrets that I can’t know, bard?”

Jaskier grimaces. It’s not that he wants to keep secrets - Pavetta is, however unlikely it may seem, his friend.

Pavetta’s face softens, “I know the burden of magic, Jaskier. I know that if I weren’t a princess, I would have been swept up into the brotherhood’s… loving embrace. I just wish you could be honest with me.”

“Are you so sure you haven’t been?” Jaskier can’t stop the bitter words from falling out of his mouth.

Pavetta’s eyebrow arches high on her face, “One day I will find out what Mousesack did to offend you so much. I have kept my promise, have I not? Kept him busy and far away from you?”

Jaskier looks away, shifting uncomfortably. But Pavetta is patient.

“It’s probably a magic thing.” Jaskier tells her finally, pressing his fingers against his sternum. “I don’t - It tends to do new things on me, when I’m not watching it. I think it just likes surprises, honestly.”

Pavetta snorts out a laugh, hand raised daintily in front of her face, “Of course it does. Well, you need not say anything further. Go off and find your Witcher - perhaps that is what has you so out of sorts.”

Jaskier blinks before drawing himself up with an offended gasp in his throat, “I don’t need Geralt! I am perfectly capable of looking after myself!”

Pavetta’s face screams debatable. Which is unfair. It’s not his fault that Eist is not nearly as good at holding his drink as he seems to think he is. And he’s only gotten thrown out of the castle by a furious Queen Calanthe one time. And, okay, the thing with the stableboy could probably be brought into question but Jaskier maintains that they definitely didn’t leave any of the stalls unlocked. On purpose at least.

Yeah. Okay. Pavetta’s face is… probably fair. “Yeah I should probably go find him, it’s probably the start of another Geralt-of-Rivia deed song anyway.”

Pavetta nods regally, but Jaskier can see her tucking that little bit of information away in her brain.

“You’d better wait until Ciri has awoken from her nap,” Pavetta tells him gravely, “She might never forgive you if you leave without saying goodbye, after all.”

“As if I would have even dreamt of it,” Jaskier scoffs.

 

---

 

Jaskier is singing a song, half under his breath, as he traipses through the forest following the deep humming sound that Jaskier has mentally tagged as “Geralt magic” - because of course the Witcher’s magic would be as deep and rumbly as he is.

He doesn’t often hear it, and in fact his questionable ability to hear magic seems to come and go, but when he does it’s a little bit like playing ‘hot and cold’ with an exceptionally irritating opponent.

“‘Cause you all know… that this bard.” Jaskier sing-songs, “Loved ladies... from Nilfgaard -”

Ooh, splashing sounds. Jaskier must be getting close. Well, that or there was a drowner or something lurking nearby, but honestly that was just as good because where monsters lurked he could usually reliably find a Geralt nearby as well.

“‘Cause Nilfgaard can kiss my… Geralt!” And there was the grumpy Witcher that Jaskier had been looking for! Jaskier beamed at the man’s back, where he was stooped over by the river for reasons unknown to man and gods alike. “Hello!”

Not even a twitch, huh?

“What’s it been? Months? Years?” Jaskier asks cheerfully, knowing full well it’s been barely a month, but Geralt is somewhat notorious for not giving a flying fuck what year it is - which Jaskier has been abusing nicely thank you. “What is time, anyway?”

Still no response, but that’s fine because Jaskier is fully capable of continuing to speak until Geralt responds if only to get a break in Jaskier’s monologue.

“I heard you were in town,” No he hadn’t, he followed the humming, but Geralt can’t know that can he, “Are you following me, you scamp? I mean - I’m flattered and everything, but you should really think about getting a hobby one of these days.”

And no, Geralt, monster hunting was not a hobby. It was a job. Well, it wasn’t a hobby to Geralt. If anyone asked, it would totally count as a hobby for Jaskier though whose living is made with music.

Jaskier takes a quick swig of water, grimacing at the fact that it’s both warm-ish from being held close to his body and tastes like the leather of the flash it came in. “Ugh.” Has Geralt had something to drink recently? He’d probably appreciate leather water more than Jaskier. “Do you want some?”

Still no response. Hmm. By now, Jaskier has usually at least gotten a growl. Or a glare. Or an expletive. Is he losing his touch?

“How are you doing, I hear you ask - ”

“I didn’t.” Success! Though Geralt sounds more gravel-y than usual. Is he coming down off a monster hunt?

“Well,” Jaskier says, preparing to launch into his pre-planned explanation of his time away that did not include Cintra in any conceivable way, “The Countess de Stael, my muse and beauty of this world, has… left me. Again.”

This actually has the added bonus of being true. Jaskier had stopped at her castle on his way to Cintra and been tossed out on his rear. “Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add.”

It’s such a tragedy, too. He likely won’t be able to visit the Countess again without garnering some suspicion about his excellent aging, considering he’s been the Countess’s on-and-off lover for approaching almost twelve years now.

Geralt just continues rustling with his net, for whatever reason he might have that. Is he monster hunting? Just fishing? Something else?

“I fear I shall die a brokenhearted man.” Jaskier drops dramatically, holding a hand to his chest as if to hold his fractured heart together. But he gets no response, so he shrugs and switches tracks. “Or a hungry one, at the very least. Unless somebody fancies sharing a fish with an old friend?”

Geralt picks up the net and just walks away from him. Boo.

“Are we not using friend?” Jaskier asks impatiently, feet already moving to follow the Witcher, “Yeah, sure. Let’s just give it another decade -”

Fuck, has it been a decade? Has Jaskier ever given Geralt an age for himself? He should be keeping track of shit like that. The song flutters in his chest, reminding him of his mission.

“Geralt,” Jaskier implores, “Clearly you’re fantastic at a great many things - but clearly fishing is not one of them! Have you caught anything today?”

It’s actually. Kind of worrying that Geralt hasn’t told him to shut up yet. Or tried to distract him into doing something else. Instead, the Witcher has just kept up his single-minded determination on the task at hand.

Which is apparently fishing. Very badly.

“What are you fishing for, exactly?” Jaskier asks, trying to keep the note of worry from entering his voice. “Is it cod? Carp? Pike?”

Geralt doesn’t so much as look at him as he tosses the net into the water.

Bream? I’m just - I’m just listing fish that I know. Zander? Is that a fish?”

“I’m not fishing.” Geralt tells him. Or rather, he tells the water, because he’s still not looking at Jaskier. And then he adds, “I can’t sleep.”

“Right, good.” Jaskier says, pressing his hand against the bottom of his sternum where he’s starting to hear tiny wisps of a tune. Is this what the song wants? “That makes sense. In so much that it sort of… doesn’t.”

The song gets a tiny bit louder, almost insistently. It makes Jaskier worry. “What’s going on, Geralt? Talk to me.”

Finally, finally, Geralt sighs and looks up to make eye contact with Jaskier. Jaskier, who feels his knees go almost weak with relief at the sight of his friend’s face for the first time in this entire ordeal of a conversation. “A djinn.”

“A what?” Jaskier asks immediately.

“I’m looking. For a djinn.” Geralt grits out.

“For a dj- for a djinn?” Jaskier manages, not able to keep the bafflement out of his voice. “Like, a genie? The floaty fellas, with the - the bad tempers and the banned magics? That kind of genie?”

What on earth does Geralt want with a djinn?

“Yes, it’ll grant me wishes.” Jaskier can’t help the laugh that bubbles up his throat, because it’s so silly sounding! Geralt is Geralt. He’s the sort of person to take hold of fate with his own two hands and try and wrestle it into submission, not go recruit others to get things for him. Jaskier should know, he’s been trying to get the man to let him help for years - with limited success.

“It’s in this lake somewhere, and I can’t fucking sleep!” Geralt snarls, and - and oh.

Now that Jaskier is looking properly, the Witcher does look a bit. Frazzled around the edges.

A Witcher who can’t sleep. Jaskier came here for that? Not that he’s complaining, because he wants to help his friend of course, but - who is he kidding. He’s absolutely complaining. This has cut into his precious time with Ciri, which is so often limited to whenever Queen Calanthe is out and about or distracted by something or another. Or when the presence of a bard is an absolutely expected thing, and Pavetta can get away with requesting him.

“I don’t meant to play priest’s ear, or anything.” Jaskier tells the man, only a tiny bit crossly, “But has it occurred to you that maybe we’re merely rubbing salve on a tumor?”

He’s talking to Geralt, but he’s also talking to his stupid magic because the ball of song is starting to croon something that sounds suspiciously like the tune of a lullaby.

“Not exactly addressing the root cause of the problem. Hm?” He purposefully ignores the tiny whispers, because hey maybe if destiny has decided to deprive Geralt of sleep until he gets his head out of his ass it will prevent destiny from taking some - more dangerous measures to ensure that it is heeded. “I mean, maybe, just maybe, this whole… sleeplessness-ness has got something to do with what that druid Mousesack said to you in Cintra.”

Geralt, predictably, does not answer. Because Jaskier just used a forbidden word. Ooh, scary Cintra.

“You know,” Jaskier says, as if Geralt could possibly not know, “The Law of Surprise? Destiny? Being unable to escape the child that belongs to you, et cetera, et cetera?”

“No!” Geralt cuts him off, because Jaskier is tossing out all the fun forbidden words right now, “It’s not that.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Jaskier says sarcastically, rolling his eyes at the stubbornness of this man. Ciri is an angel - mostly - and it wouldn’t kill Geralt to just. Drop by every so often or whatever. Maybe all Destiny wants is for Ciri to know about some weird obscure monster, or sword skills, or - or something like that. Something Geralt can teach her that’ll make her a better Queen or whatever. “But what if you’re not?”

Geralt offers him possibly the most unimpressed look Jaskier has ever seen on the man’s sour face, which is honestly an accomplishment considering their usual shenanigans.

“You know,” Jaskier muses, “The Countess de Stael once said to me that destiny is just the embodiment of the soul’s desire to grow.”

“Did you sing to her before she left?” Geralt grunt.

“I did, actually, and she -” Jaskier beams, because Geralt’s never takes an interest in his stories unless he’s trying to get Jaskier to change the topic. Actually, the interest was very suspicious. “Why? What are you implying?”

Geralt just looks at him, with his eyebrows raised in challenge. Challenge brows.

“Oh,” Jaskier scoffs, “Oh we are so having this conversation.”

Apparently Geralt knows how to distract him far too well.

“Come on, Geralt, tell me. Be honest.” Jaskier puts his hands on his hips, “How’s. My. Singing.”

Geralt throws the net again. “It’s like ordering a pie and finding it has no filling.”

It’s said so matter-of-factly -! Jaskier staggers back in shock, and the urge to hum soothing to himself creeps up his throat. When he finally is capable of words and not just opening and closing his mouth like an offended cod, Jaskier points furiously at the Witcher, “You need a nap!”

It’s the only explanation. Honestly, Jaskier doesn’t know why Geralt doesn’t want to meet his Child Surprise because Ciri is startlingly like him. Especially the part where she gets just as grumpy when she isn’t put down for her nap, though Jaskier doubts Geralt would appreciate the comparison between himself and a two-year-old.

“I mean, are you trying to hurt my feelings, Geralt? It’s, it’s -” And Jaskier has lost Geralt’s attention entirely hasn’t he. The Witcher too busy messing with his stupid net. Jaskier continues babbling away anyway as he starts treading delicately down the bank closer to whatever is going on.
“And - and what is that?” Jaskier asks, seeing the little pot in Geralt’s hands.

“It’s a wizard’s seal.” Geralt breathes. “The djinn.”

Yeah, okay, Jaskier is very done with this whole hurting Jaskier’s feelings and then ignoring him schtick they have going on here, so he does the only thing he can do to get Geralt’s attention back. He grabs the stupid little bottle.

Geralt, predictably, does not let go. “Jaskier -”

“Take back that bit about my fillingless pie.” Jaskier demands, pointing at the Witcher as if that will help the man realize that his words have consequences. Jaskier shaped consequences. He is not above loudly serenading the entire night away and making sure that Geralt’s sleepless night stay that way. “Take it back! And then you can have your djinny-djinn-djinn.”

“Let go.” Geralt says, with a face carved from stone.

“No!” Jaskier yells crossly, because the Witcher couldn’t swallow his pride for one second, could be? “No, you let go, you horse’s ass -

Jaskier pulls the bottle and - and -

The bottle and the cap come apart in the duo’s hands.

Jaskier blinks, looking inside the bottle and even flipping it upside down. Nothing. Not even a whisper of song. Not even a hum. No djinn in sight. “That’s a bit of an anticlimax.

That’s when he hears it, the quiet song that grows in volume until he can hear it clear as a bell.

What has touched me, reaching deep?
Piercing my ensorcelled sleep?
Darkling lad, do you weep?
What is the cause of your grieving?

Except - it’s not directed at him. He can hear it but - it’s sliding off of him, like water off a duck’s back. Even then though, even now, he feels a song building in his throat. An answer. The second half of this dance that the Djinn has started, for he can tell, deep in his bones, that this is a duet.

And he also knows that any who don’t answer the duet, who take without giving - ill ends await them. And Geralt can’t hear the song.

But - if he can stall - the Djinn isn’t fully bound yet. Geralt has to make his first wish before he can be bound, and if Jaskier stalls enough then the fledgling bond between man and creature will dissolve like snowflakes at dawn. And the best way to stall, his brain decides, is to step around Geralt and loudly announce:

“Djinn! I have freed thee! And as of this day, I am thy lord!” If Jaskier can get out three wishes, then maybe Geralt will assume they’re all wasted. He’ll be angry at Jaskier, but fuck, at least he’ll be safe. And then, hopefully, Geralt will be furious enough to give him the cold shoulder and stew in silence until the bond was broken and the Djinn properly freed.

“Firstly! May Valdo Marx, the troubadour of Cidaris, be struck down with apoplexy and die.” Jaskier improvised quickly, knowing that Renfri was even now making her way towards the man and that his death was imminent, “Secondly! The Countess de Stael must welcome me back with glee, open arms, and very little clothing.”

Jaskier manages to get out a thirdly before Geralt grabs at him, scruffing him like a disobedient pup.

The Djinn creeps ever closer, the unnatural wind whistling.

Why do tears of balm and bane,
Bathe my heart in bitter rain?
What is this longing? Why this pain?
What is this spell you are weaving?

“Jaskier,” Geralt growls, though the bard in question can barely hear him above the keening of the Djinn, “Stop! There are only three wishes.”

“Oh, come on! You always say you want nothing from life.” Jaskier snaps, “So how was I supposed to know you wanted three wishes all to yourself?”

“I just want some damn peace!” The Witcher roars in his face, and Jaskier can feel his lip curling.

“Well here’s your peace!” Jaskier howls, throwing the jug and smashing it on the ground, and the melody in Jaskier’s ears is getting louder and louder. He can see Geralt growling, but he can’t hear anything at all over the rush of the wind rising into a scream. He opens his mouth to quickly get out a third wish and -

Geralt bends down, and Jaskier staggers backwards. The magic screams, aching and furious and deadly. He takes in a breath to sing, to hum, words sitting at the back of his throat to try and calm the storm he’s suddenly found himself in -

He can’t breathe.

“Geralt - ” He manages to gasp out, reaching down. He can’t even hear his own voice over the din, “Geralt!”

Geralt whips around and hurls magic, and Jaskier can’t hear that magic either.

Whatever Geralt manages sends the Djinn skittering away, the screaming dying down to at least vaguely bearable levels. But it doesn’t release him, squeezing around his throat like a vice. Around his magic like a vice. He can’t - he can’t sing his way out of this.

He is powerless.

He doubles over, wheezing and choking and dying.

“Jaskier?” Geralt’s voice is barely audible, but he can at least hear it. The man must be worried, because Jaskier gets a warm hand placed hesitantly against his back.

He wishes he could appreciate that, but when he opens his mouth he spits out blood. Thick and coppery against his tongue, running down his chin. His ears might be bleeding as well, are they bleeding?

Jaskier thinks back, and he remembers with sudden clarity Geralt’s declaration of wanting peace.

He almost laughs. Of course. Of course. Geralt didn’t know the song and dance, and so when he wished of course it would go wrong. Of course it would go wrong this way, with Jaskier dying and his own magic unable to save him.

He’s barely aware when Geralt hauls him up, too focused on the bubbling of his breath and the feel of his magic buzzing helplessly under his skin. It shies away from the screaming magic wrapped around his neck, terrified, and Jaskier can hardly blame it.

He does notice when Geralt gets his hands under Jaskier’s armpits and hauls him up up up, and Jaskier’s leg hits something solid and warm and he automatically lifts it and -

He’s sitting on Roach. He blinks to process that, and then Geralt is in the saddle as well, moving the reins and Roach is bursting into motion beneath them.

Jaskier couldn’t tell you how long it takes them to reach the tents, only that Geralt is suddenly dismounting and has his hands on Jaskier’s arm and back to help him down as well. Jaskier wishes absently that he could be more helpful in the process, considering that Geralt is half-carrying him half-dragging him and all Jaskier can do is wheeze and fail to catch his breath.

There’s too much magic in his throat, too much. Geralt sets him down to sit, and he’s talking, but Jaskier can barely hear him. He can feel though, feels the man’s fingers prod at his throat where the Djinn’s magic is writhing like a snake. Can feels his own fingers grasping the stranger’s arms right back as he rocks himself back and forward in a futile effort to relieve the pain.

Too much, Jaskier thinks a little bit hysterically, he’s going to explode. Overload. It’s too much.

The man is saying something, and Jaskier makes an effort to tune in, to listen past the incessant screaming. He missed what the man said, but he’s nodding and Jaskier nods back helplessly.

The man gets up, leaving Jaskier without support, but Geralt moves in to fill the void, keeping a grip on Jaskier’s arm and back to keep him upright.

“ - damage may… irreversible.” Jaskier makes out, which makes his head shoot up and his eyes go wide with alarm.

He opens his mouth, but is forced to double over and expel more blood. The Djinn’s magic feels like someone taking a cheesegrater to the inside of his throat.

“...treated, it is… spread.” The man is saying. “He… die.”

Jaskier can’t die here, he can’t. Renfri - she needs him. She needs him. “Fuck,” He manages to whimper, more blood pooling in his mouth at the effort as he reaches back to grasp at the Witcher pleadingly, “Geralt!”

He doesn’t quite catch Geralt’s response, but he can feel the awkward pats on the back and hopes it isn’t just Geralt taking pity on a dying man.

The healer man comes back and hands Jaskier a pot, putting it to his lips. Jaskier drinks eagerly, every last drop. The screaming kicks down a notch in time for him to hear the man say - “He needs a magical remedy. You’ll have to take him to another town.”

Yeah no shit. They need - they need to fix Jaskier’s voice, and then Jaskier can fix all of this. He knows the song, he can complete the ritual. Then the Djinn’s wishes won’t backfire, they won’t lash back on Geralt.

And it is damage control at this point, because Geralt has made the first wish. The Djinn is bound. All Jaskier can do is try not to make it worse.

“There isn’t a mage here?” Geralt asks, except he sounds more threatening than curious.

“The mayor says they are dangerous.” The healer says, and Jaskier whines deep in his throat.

Please not Stregobor. He thinks, because that would just put the cherry on top of this shitty sundae of a day.

Geralt hauls Jaskier to his feet and starts dragging him out of the tent, and Jaskier lovingly assumes that Geralt went ahead and got all of the relevant information because he’s being hauled up onto Roach’s back again.

Honestly Jaskier is just impressed that he’s not managed to fall off by the time they get to the big stone house. His vision is fading in and out, and his hearing isn’t much better. The Djinn’s magic vibrates in his throat, a silent scream to remind him when his ears fail him.

Geralt tugs at him to get him off the horse, but Jaskier is about done. His legs buckle, and Geralt barely manages to catch him before he tips facefirst into the ground. There is no strength to his legs at all, and he feels wrung out and faded around the edges.

Geralt must understand his difficulty, not even pausing to bother trying to set Jaskier on his feet again and instead just picks him up and -

The world pitches sideways, and when Jaskier regains his vision they’re striding down a hallway backwards.

Or rather, he’s going backwards - but only because Geralt has slung him over a broad shoulder

It’s a bit confusing after that. A naked man. Geralt scruffing him to haul him through some door. Then lots and lots of naked people and then - and then - and then-

 

---

 

He opens his eyes, and the world pulses around him in vivid purples and blues, slipping through his fingers and laughing at him with high, musical voices. It tickles against his skin, and he looks down and -

He’s glowing. White and silver and flashes of shimmering red light whines against his skin, skittering and afraid, and around his neck -

Black. It hurts.

The blue and purple waves caress his skin, coaxing at the silver light even as it cowers. It hums tunelessly, but hopeful, and Jaskier blinks. His own magic has been silenced, it cannot reach the Djinn’s magic wrapped around his neck. The blue and purple magic can, but it doesn’t know how to dance.

Just Jaskier can teach it.

He reaches out a trembling hand, listening to the foreign magic wind its way around his fingers with its high clear voice and gently, painfully, hums. Not in his throat, but deep in his soul. He sings, and it takes a moment, but the blue-and-purple flexes and then rises its voice to harmonize with him.

It’s a dance, a duet, beautiful. The magic creeps up and over his hands, up his arms, across his chest, until finally, finally -

The Djinn’s magic gives way, slowly but surely, to the song. As with every inch taken, Jaskier’s own magic creeps up, vibrating and terrified and wonderful. And then it’s gone, and Jaskier can breath, and he cradles the magic in his hands as joy leaps to his face, and he does what he does best.

He sings.

“What do you do when you have to choose?
When right's unclear and you have no clues?
When every way that you turn you lose, you lose?
Every way you turn you lose."

And then Jaskier opens his eyes.

 

---

 

Geralt is standing in front of a woman, and Jaskier blinks. There’s something prickling -

“What’s this?” The woman asks, sounding both displeased and delighted, “Why, whoever did this lovely work, Witcher?”

“Speak plainly,” Geralt growls out, backing up a step. It’s strange, watching him back up a step.

“Your lovely protection wards.” The woman - the witch - tells him, stepping closer and keeping the distance even between them, “I don’t recognize the work.”

“I have no protections.”

Except, Jaskier thinks dizzily, that isn’t quite true is it? Getting protections to stick to Geralt is a chore, and they tend to fail at the worst of times as Geralt’s naturally prickly magic shreds the foreign defenses, but Jaskier is a persistent little bastard when he wants to be.

And the prickling staticky noise, that was someone poking at his protections.

“Geralt?” He says, song on his lips and dried blood on his chin.

Both Witcher and Mage whip around to face him.

“He’s not supposed to be awake yet,” The Mage hisses, immediately making for Jaskier’s side and only being beaten there by Geralt because the Witcher was closer, “What did you do?”

“What did I do?” Geralt demands, “You tried to put a spell on me.”

“Witcher’s ‘r r’sist’nt t’ m’gic.” Jaskier slurs, some part of his hindbrain panicking just a tiny bit. “Pain ‘n th’ ass.”

“Shut up, Jaskier.” Geralt commands, but not unkindly.

“Is that any way to speak to a friend?” The Witch teases, but her face is tense as she waves a hand over Jaskier. Her magic sings with the same high clear voice from the in-between place, though it’s more muffled and faded here in the real world.

He waits for Geralt to correct the woman, to growl out that they aren’t friends, that Jaskier is just a stupid idiot who happens to trail along behind him. But Geralt doesn’t say any of that, he just stays quiet.

“Y’saved me.” Jaskier tells the witch, “Bu’ y’mean t’ Ger- Geral’ s’fuck off.”

The Witch looks amused, which wasn’t exactly what Jaskier was going for.

There’s something niggling at the back of Jaskier’s mind, something important that he’s forgetting. A hum builds in his throat, low and sad and a tiny bit painful. But it’s helping, the fogginess is clearing up a little bit.

The one I love, on the other hand, Jaskier mentally croons along to the tune, who has my whole heart, at his command.

And then Jaskier sits bolt upright, because how could he forget -

The Djinn.

“Lay down, you fool.” The Witch snaps, “You aren’t even supposed to be awake yet.”

Jaskier is sitting up, and he’s looking at the circle of candles surrounding a pattern on the floor, and he’s seen that pattern before. Seen it on the top of a clay bottle that started this whole mess.

“Fuck off.” Jaskier says, and means it.

“Jaskier.” Geralt’s voice sounds pained, but Jaskier can’t pay attention to that now.

“If you’re healthy enough to be awake,” The Witch sits back, face pinched in confusion, “Then something else is at play.”

Uh, yeah. Jaskier is.

“Speak your last wish, bard, and you may be on your way.” The Witch declares.

“Are all mages deaf?” Jaskier wonders out loud, because surely she can hear the magic bound tight around Geralt’s wrist. It’s so sad, and hurt, and angry, and it keeps repeating the same verses without ever getting an answer.

The Witch’s purple eyes flash, and then Geralt’s hand is clamped on her shoulder. “Yennefer,” He says in his big scary warning tone.

So the Witch’s name is Yennefer, good to know.

“I wish very badly to leave this place forever.” Jaskier deadpans, because if she’s going to be stupid then he might as well capitalize on it. “Can we go now?”

Yennefer stands up abruptly, crossing the room. “Very well, you may go now. The both of you.” She all but rips off her dress to wave her hands around her stomach area, but she’s at an angle so Jaskier can’t see what she’s doing.

“Yennefer - ” That’s Geralt again, but the Witch cuts him off.

“I would take your friend away if you don’t want him to get caught in the crossfire.” She sneers, very well actually. Jaskier might have found someone better at sneering than Renfri.

Geralt looks torn, glancing between Jaskier and the mage.

“Geralt?” Jaskier asks, voice small, because he still doesn’t know what’s going on.

That seems to decide it. Yennefer is chanting in Elder, but Jaskier isn’t focusing on what the words say because Geralt has one arm under his shoulder and one under his knees and -

A bridal carry. How undignified.

“Geralt!” Jaskier yelps, wrapping his arms around the Witcher’s shoulders. This does nothing to assist the bumpy ride as Geralt moves as fast as he can to the exit - and oof the stairs, stairs -

And then they’re outside, and Geralt is setting Jaskier down on wobbly feet. And then Geralt turns to walk away.

Jaskier isn’t aware he’s moved until he has Geralt’s wrist gripped in his hand. “Geralt?”

“She’ll die.” The Witcher tell him, but doesn’t simply break from Jaskier’s grip. Even though he could.

“Geralt no.” Jaskier begs him, “Leave the very sexy but insane witch to her inevitable demise!”

Geralt’s voice is uncommonly gentle when he simply says, “She saved your life, Jaskier. I can’t let her die.”

And it’s that which has Jaskier letting go, and watching with wide eyes as Geralt turns and runs back into the building, and -

Why do tears of balm and bane, bathe my heart in bitter rain? A voice cries out in the air, What is this longing? Why this pain? What is this spell you are weaving?

And Geralt is in the building, and he has the wishes, but Jaskier has the song.

”Sunlight singer, morning’s peer,” Jaskier croons, and suddenly the air goes very still. He wishes, suddenly, that he had his lute at his side. He hopes Geralt didn’t just leave it in the woods somewhere. ”How I long for what I fear. Not by my will are you here, how I wish I could free you.”

The yelling from the house stops, and there’s a shadow in front of Jaskier. Curious. Searching.

Shadow dancer, dark and fell,
Lad that I love far too well,
Won't you free me from the spell?
That you have cast around me?

Jaskier holds himself up straight, voice strong and sure, ”In your eyes your soul lies bare, hope is mingled with despair. Sun-filled lover, do I dare? Trust my heart to his keeping?”

The wind picks up around them, and Jaskier has to grit his teeth to keep his magic from flinching from remembered pain. The last part of the song they need to sing together, and Jaskier pours every ounce of himself into it -

”Sun and Shadow, dark and light,
Child of day and child of night.
Who can set our tale to right?
Is there no future but sorrow?

Will some power hear our plea?
Take the curse from him and me?
Grant us death or set us free?
Dare we to hope for tomorrow?”

The wind stops, and the world holds still.

”Sunlight singer, morning’s peer,” Jaskier whispers, voice loud in the silence of the world between heartbeats, ”How I long for what I fear. Not by my will are you here, now I know I can free you.”

And then the djinn is gone, and Jaskier collapses against the ground like a puppet with his strings cut.

He’s just going to close his eyes for a moment…

 

---

 

Jaskier stands on the edge of a cliff, the ocean stretches on forever in front of him and he can taste salt on his tongue when he breathes in.

The sun is low on the horizon, reflected against the waves. For a second, just a second -

The entire ocean is made of gold.

 

---

 

“-skier, Jaskier.” There a hand shaking his shoulder roughly, and Jaskier groans.

Jaskier cracks his eyes open to see - frazzled white hair framing a face that Jaskier would almost say looks guilty. “Geralt?”

A warm hand grips his upper arm, another on his back, helping him to sit up.

“Are you alright, Geralt?” Jaskier asks, only to see the guilt on the Witcher’s face increase, “What happened?” Actually there was another pressing question, “What time is it?”

“Early morning.” Geralt tells him, letting go of Jaskier’s back to get a grip on his other arm. He rocks backward to give Jaskier a tiny bit of warning before hauling them both into a standing position.

Even with Geralt’s support, Jaskier almost buckles back to the ground. His legs feel like jelly. “Is everyone okay?”

Geralt nods, more willing to entertain Jaskier’s confusion than he usually is. “Yennefer couldn’t hold the Djinn. Without a master or a vessel, it vanished.”

“Is that safe?” Jaskier asks weakly.

“They’re only dark creatures when they’re bound.” Geralt tells him, giving him a firm pat on the arm before finally releasing him to stand on his own two feet.

“Oh,” Jaskier says, swaying slightly. Geralt stays close, just in case, but he’s able to stand under his own powers. So he just gives the Witcher a plaintive look, “Can we leave now, Geralt?”

Geralt’s shoulders shake in a chuckle, “Yes, Jaskier. We can leave.”

“Thank the Gods.”

 

---

 

“Jaskier.”

“Yes, Geralt?”

“Your sister can never know.”

Chapter Text

There is a child standing at Geralt’s side, staring a silent hole into his head. Who allows a child into a tavern? Who does she belong to? Geralt sips his ale uncomfortably, and attempts to ignore the little human.

He lasts another two sips before he can’t stand it and turns to the child.

“You lost?” He asks, honestly at a loss himself.

“No.” The child bleats, a hand drifting up towards her face to tuck a thumb in the corner of her mouth.

“Do you… need help?” Geralt tries.

“Uh uh,” The child shakes her head, eyes never leaving Geralt for a second.

In vain, Geralt looks around. Surely her parents must be here somewhere? Who would let a child this young out unsupervised? She can only be - what, five? Ten? How do human children age? All human children seem terribly fragile to him, especially since he was going through the hell they called Witcher training at… around her age maybe? Probably?

“Are - ” Geralt clears his throat, “Are your parents here?”

The child appears to consider this line of question, nudging her mouth against her hand. Then, finally, she removes her thumb from her mouth and Geralt feels something almost like hope, and then -

“You’re pretty. I like your hair.”

“...Thank you.” Geralt says, for lack of anything better to say.

“Your eyes are pretty, too.” She informs him, “They look like my cat’s. Her name’s Saen, and she’s brown and white and has stripes. She’s kind of fat though.”

“Uh,” Geralt gives another look around the room, but nobody seems to care that some precocious child is talking to a Witcher. “That’s nice?”

The child looks at him expectantly, and Geralt casts around for something to say. Is there something else people do when complimented? Some intricate ritual that Geralt has been left out of? Jaskier never seemed bothered when Geralt rolled his eyes, but he feels like that’s not the appropriate response to human young.

“Your hair is pretty, too?” Geralt offers finally, and the little girl’s fingers go up to tug at the ends of her plain brown hair. Geralt grimaces, because she’s using the hand that was just in her mouth a few moments ago.

The little girl nods thoughtfully. “When I grow up,” She declares decisively, “I’m gonna marry you.”

“Uh,” Geralt will never admit it, but he panics. Just a little bit. “Witchers can’t marry.”

The little girl’s entire body slumps in disappointment and she pouts up at him as though she can change Geralt’s words with the sheer power of concentrated cuteness. Geralt is not swayed, and now he has a rallying point.

“Witchers don’t make for good husbands anyway.” He offers in consolation.

“Okay.” She says after a minute, still looking a little disappointed that her marital plans had been shot down. “Do you want to play with me?”

“I… can’t play right now. I’m waiting for someone.” Geralt shifts awkwardly, wishing he could just leave and be done with it. But Jaskier had insisted that Geralt wait while he went in search of some sort of instrument thing for his lute. “But uh, you go ahead.”

“Mmkay.” The girl hums, turning on her heel and skipping away as Geralt breathes a sigh of relief for a social interaction successfully navigated. It’s so much easier to deal with adult humans. At least when they cry, Geralt doesn’t feel bad about it.

Geralt can be forgiven when, a few minutes later, Jaskier comes swanning through the door with a big smile and Geralt stands up from his seat abruptly. “Jaskier, we’re leaving.”

“What?” Jaskier immediately questions, “Why, what happened?”

“Nothing.” Geralt denies immediately. “But we’ve wasted daylight while you window shopped the day away.”

“I thought we were staying the night in town,” Jaskier complains as he follows Geralt out the door, “A warm bed Geralt! A roof!”

“No.” Geralt says, eyes scanning the streets in case the little urchin from before jumps out.

“Can I at least get a pastry then?” Jaskier wheedles.

“Do you have the coin?” Geralt asks mockingly, because he is not Jaskier’s mother. Jaskier can waste his money on whatever he wants.

“Thank you, Geralt!” Jaskier beams, apparently not hearing the sarcasm, leaning forward to briefly wrap his arms around Geralt’s midsection before speeding off in the direction of the bakery up the road before Geralt can even open his mouth.

Honestly, Geralt isn’t sure why he’s so eager to get out of town. It seems like no matter what he does, he’s surrounded by children.

 

---

 

They run into Yennefer again, in a very stressful day of magic and towers and theft before they have to escape through Yennefer’s portal to another town entirely to avoid being hunted down by angry villagers.

Jaskier plucks at his lute, letting the soft notes ease some of the tension he’s still carrying in his shoulders. The mage’s tower was… too much like the one in Blaviken. The whole town was hauntingly like Blaviken.

Geralt must have noticed as well, considering he stormed off at the first opportunity to go and… presumably brood somewhere in peace. Just - abandoning him with Yennefer.

Jaskier studiously keeps his attention on his music, but he can feel the mage staring a hole into the side of his head. He almost thinks they might be able to keep this uneasy silence up until Geralt gets back, but then -

“What is your relationship to the Witcher?”

That is - not what Jaskier was expecting. At all, actually. He blinks at the witch in confusion, fingers pausing from their gentle strumming.

Yennefer raises a single eyebrow (and what is it with all the scary women in Jaskier’s life being able to do that) in judgement, “I am many things, little bard. But I do not… fish in other people’s lakes.”

Oh gods. She’s got the same grasp of euphemisms as Geralt, and Jaskier hears the words grope for trout roll around his head.

“You don’t need to worry then,” Jaskier informs her, and he pretends that the bitter edge to his voice doesn’t exist, “This particular lake is… unclaimed.”

Yennefer tilts her head, and her purple eyes are almost haunting to look at. Like they can see right through him. “But you love him, do you not?”

“Of course I do!” Jaskier snorts, fingers strumming a quick two chords and suddenly feeling very glad that the Witcher stormed off, “Geralt is - he’s remarkably easy to love.”

“And yet you would stand aside, and let me pursue him?” Yennefer asks, sounding honestly curious. As if she can’t even grasp not pursuing whatever she wishes with her entire being. Honestly explains a lot about the Djinn incident, even if Jaskier is still unclear on why she wanted to bind the creature to herself in the first place.

“My love is not Geralt’s problem,” Jaskier says firmly, “It’s mine. I’m an adult. I don’t - I don’t blame my feelings on other people, or expect them to be reciprocated.”

“Huh.” Yennefer sounds actually a little surprised, “How very mature of you.”

Wow. Gee. Thanks, Yennefer. Despite his youthful appearance, he is an adult. Does man think he owns the moon, just because he admires its beauty? No. And Jaskier doesn’t own Geralt, no matter how much he might - no matter what his feelings for the man might be.

“I would have thought you would be warning me off.” Yennefer admits, waving a careless hand, “Expounding on true love and all that rot.”

Jaskier strums a thoughtful chord, “What makes a love ‘true’?” He asks, genuinely curious.

Yennefer blinks, clearly not expecting that question. She opens her mouth, and then closes it again to frown in thought.

“I think,” Jaskier tells her, voice soft as his fingers start to pick a melody on their own. Something soft, something full of heartache and longing. “True love is just love without any strings attached. The kind that comes without conditions, without qualifications, and without consideration.”

“An… interesting view.” Yennefer manages to make the word ‘interesting’ sound exactly like ‘you’re a sappy idiot’ which is very cool and Jaskier wishes he could do that with his mouth.

“It’s not as rare as people might think. I see it every day.” Jaskier’s fingers pick up that pace, turning the tune into something a little less mournful and a little more sweet, “A mother and her daughter. A man and his brother. Two friends with their arms across each other’s shoulders, walking home from the tavern with laughter and song on their lips. It’s in many places, if you care to look for it.”

“You must live a very charmed life, bard.” Yennefer says dismissively, rolling her eyes.

Jaskier thinks of a sister with blood dripping from hands that shake. He thinks of nights spent crying because the pain of hunger was all too real, of his sister coming home the next day with food in her hands and bruises in the shape of fingerprints on her skin. He thinks of vile men, the kind of men who think someone being beautiful means having a right to them. He remembers cruel fists, and crueler words, and the kind of hurt that Jaskier’s singing can’t cure.

And then he thinks of Renfri, tracing patterns against his forehead with warm fingers. He thinks of Geralt, letting Jaskier braid his hair and babble at him for hours. He thinks of Pavetta, of Ciri, of the people in his life who he loves.

“Yes,” Jaskier says simply, “I’ve been very lucky.”

“So why this?” Yennefer demands, as if she is entitled to Jaskier’s answers. “Why do you follow a Witcher?”

“Because I want him to be happy.” Jaskier shrugs. It really is as simple as that. “If you make him happy, then I’m not going to stand in your way.”

“Even at the cost of your own happiness?”

“I’m not that shallow, Yennefer.” Jaskier scolds her, and is pleased when her eyes dart away from his own, “I know my heart is a fickle thing. But I also know that love isn’t - it isn’t Geralt’s responsibility when I’m the one with feelings. And one day, my heart will settle down.”

“Even when the Witcher is so easy to love?” Yennefer tosses his own words back in his face, and he wants to draw back his lip and snarl at her like he’s Geralt. But only for a second.

“Love doesn’t have to be romantic, Yennefer. I might not like you, I might never like you - I am, at heart, a fickle and jealous person - but I don’t need to like you to want what’s best for Geralt.” Jaskier asserts, “Sometimes, love is about admitting that you aren’t what someone else needs, and then making sure that they get it.”

“And what about me?” Yennefer demands, arching her brow, “What about what I need?”

“I don’t care about you.” Jaskier informs her bluntly.

Strangely enough, this makes the witch throw back her head and laugh. “You are a loyal little thing, bard, I’ll give you that. I think, if circumstances were different, I might have even liked you.”

“Maybe,” Jaskier admits, shrugging, “But as we are - if you do hurt Geralt - ”

“You’ll what? Sing me to death?” Yennefer cuts him off.

And oh, oh he might be tempted. But, if it will be recalled, Jaskier is not a cruel person. However, Jaskier is not alone. Has never been alone.

“No,” He tells Yennefer glibly, already knowing she won’t understand the dire nature of the threat, “I’ll tell my sister.”

 

---

 

“Jaskier!” Ciri bellows, with all the lung capacity a four-year-old has. Which is a lot. She launches herself from her seat and races across the room to tackle Jaskier’s legs with enough strength that he almost buckles to the floor.

The woman with the papers and severe face glares daggers into Jaskier’s head when he bends down to scoop the little princess up into his arms. Judging from her general… everything, and Jaskier’s memories of being a prince, he’s going to guess - royal tutor.

“Hello, cub.” Jaskier laughs as Ciri peppers his cheek with kisses in between demanding to know why he was gone for so long this time. At the stern looking woman, Jaskier offers a quick, “I’ve been sent to retrieve the Princess and take her to her mother.”

“Yes!” She cheers enthusiastically.

“Very well.” The tutor says, sounding as if she’d much rather prefer to toss Jaskier out on his ear and continue making Ciri memorize her entire family tree, or whatever boring royal task she’d been assigned to learn.

(Jaskier does not miss being a prince.)

Jaskier takes some quick strides out of the room until Ciri wriggles in a signal that she wants to be put down. Jaskier deposits the little princess safely onto the stone of the castle floor, giving her riot of curls a fond little pat as he does.

“Come on,” He says, taking her hand in his, “I think I smelled pie when I passed by the kitchen. If we’re quick, I bet we can steal some.”

“What about mama?” Ciri asks, “You told Miss Alva we were going to see mama.”

Jaskier tosses a wink to the little girl, “Little white lies are okay when it comes time to spending time with your favorite person.”

Ciri blinks, all innocence. “Is Mousey in the kitchen?”

Jaskier gasped dramatically, holding his free hand against his chest and drawing them to a half. “Ciri! How could you! Absolute betrayal! To think Mousesack has usurped my place - ”

Ciri is giggling helplessly, which was Jaskier’s intention.

“Well,” Jaskier finally drawls, “I suppose if I’m not your most favorite person, then I can’t justify pulling you out of lessons… I’m afraid you’ll have to go back…”

“Jas is my favorite person ever!” Ciri immediately changes her tune.

“That’s what I thought.

 

---

 

“What are you?” Yennefer asks from right behind him, making him choke on his ale and snort it up through his nose like he’s decided to breath liquid fire for the fun of it.

She doesn’t look impressed with his sputtering fit, but she’ll just have to deal with it because Jaskier knows she did it on purpose. Yennefer is absolutely the kind of person to wait until her target is taking a drink before scaring the living daylights out of them.

Finally, when he’s gotten his heartbeat under control (and his ale mostly mopped up from where he’d spilled half of it) he turns to Yennefer. “Geralt’s not here.”

“I’m not here for Geralt,” Yennefer says haughtily, “I’m here for you. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that all of those wonderfully complicated protection spells… came from you.”

Jaskier can feel his heartbeat pick up in speed, can feel his palms go clammy and chill, but his face just entirely blanks out. No expression. “Then don’t you already know?”

“A mage?” Yennefer hums, looking like the cat that got the canary before she tilts her head, “But I’ve never heard of you. Did you train at Ban Ard?”

“No,” Jaskier says neutrally.

“Are you a hedgewitch?” Yennefer asks, sounding delighted.

“I’m Jaskier.” Jaskier tells her, and he can hear the badum, badum, badum of his heart, loud as a drum. “I am what I have always been.”

“But where did you learn.”

It’s such - such a mage question that Jaskier can’t help but throw his head back and laugh, even though he desperately wants to cry. Just a little bit. Aretuza. Ban Ard. Vicovaro. If a magic user doesn’t come from one of the big schools of magic, then the Brotherhood dismisses them entirely.

“Come on,” He tells Yennefer, standing up from his seat and fishing a few coins from his pocket to pay for the ale. He picks up his lute, hands immediately fitting themselves across the strings, “Walk with me.”

“If you’re not a mage,” Yennefer says crossly when they get outside, “Then what are you?”

Jaskier’s fingers pluck out a few quick notes, and he smiles when he recognizes the beginning of the children’s song about the witch down the road. “When you figure that out, let me know.”

“What does that mean.” Oh, Yennefer is starting to look very impatient.

But Jaskier isn’t exactly feeling charitable. He was willing to discuss love, because her pursuit of Geralt made it relevant to her. This, however, this is his secret and she has no right to it.

“How am I to know?” Jaskier laughs in the face of her irritation. He knows scarier people than her. “When I cut my finger, I bleed. That’s human, right?”

I bleed.” Yennefer tells him, unimpressed.

“Oh?” Jaskier raises his eyebrows, “And you are not human? Is magic something you do, or something you are? Where is the line of humanity drawn in the sand?”

Yennefer says nothing.

“When did you stop being human, Yennefer?” Jaskier asks her, grief in his voice, “Was it before you were trained? After? Were you ever human at all?”

“No.” Yennefer says, suddenly fierce and cold and furious - he’s stepped on a landmine he didn’t see coming, “I have never been human. Look at my eyes, Bard. These aren’t the result of magic.”

Yennefer’s eyes are like chips of amethyst, burning with the force of her glare. Not a human color at all.

“I’m sorry.” Jaskier says, honest to a fault and entirely sincere. He can only imagine what life was like a child who was of elven descent. That is, if she’s telling the truth.

Yennefer doesn’t seem to expect that, but rallies admirably, “You’re sorry? Sorry that I exist maybe, getting in the way of your stupid crush!”

“Life is choices, Yennefer.” Jaskier says quietly, fingers stilling against lute strings and letting them both hang in silence, “And, just then, you chose to be cruel.”

Yennefer is silent.

“Geralt will be back in an hour,” Jaskier tells her, voice still terribly gentle, “If you want to see him, do so. But Yennefer? Stay the fuck away from me.”

And then he turns away. And then he leaves her standing there.

 

---

 

“Ah, the bard.” The castle mage’s voice stops Jaskier in his tracks, and he can feel his shoulders try and crawl up around his ears. He’d been doing so well.

Jaskier turns around quickly, offering a short, shallow bow to the man he wishes would disappear.

“You’re a difficult one to pin down.” Mousesack says, amusement in his voice.

“My apologies,” Jaskier says quickly, offering another shallow bow.

Mousesack studies his face, lips tugging into a frown. “You are afraid of me.”

Fuck.

Jaskier opens his mouth, panic in his bones and all ready to deny it, but what comes out instead is a blurted - “I have mage trauma.”

“Mage trauma?” At least Mousesack doesn’t look offended, though he does look a tiny bit incredulous.

“My - my sister.” Jaskier tells the man, not sure why his mouth has decided to run away with him, “She was, uh. She was very beautiful, when she was young. She caught the eye of a mage and - and - ”

Jaskier’s voice fails him, even though he technically said nothing that isn’t the strict truth. Renfri was very beautiful when she was young, and remains beautiful to this day. He’s never heard her curse her look in his hearing, but he knows it had done the opposite of making her life easier for her. And she did catch the eye of a mage, but because of the circumstances of her birth rather than her beauty.

Mousesack just looks sad, entire body drooping with it. “I am sorry,” The man offers quietly, “Some of us… Perhaps feel too entitled to that which does not belong to us.”

“It’s -” It’s not fine, it’s not even in the remote realm of okay. Renfri had everything taken from her by Stregobor. Save, perhaps, Jaskier. “It happened a long time ago,” Jaskier finally settles on.

“That is why you avoid me?” Mousesack asks.

Well. No. A little bit? It’s mostly because Jaskier is an asshole, honestly.

“I was hoping to get news of Geralt of Rivia.” The mage admits, looking forlorn, “He is… a friend.”

Yeah, Jaskier knows. He was there for that whole conversation about plagues and sour complexions. But - he imagines how he would feel, trapped in a castle with no news of the people he loves. And he softens, just a little bit.

“It is forbidden to talk of the White Wolf within the walls of Cintra’s capital.” Jaskier tells the man gently, as if the mage doesn’t already know.

There is hope in Mousesack’s face. “I won’t tell if you don’t?”

“Alright,” Jaskier says, cracking a smile. Small as it may be, it is still a smile. “Alright.”

 

---

 

Jaskier walks into Geralt’s room, and then immediately does an about face and walks straight back out.

Can magic remove memories, he wonders?

(He never would, the sight of Geralt’s shoulders -)

“One of whatever is strongest.” Jaskier requests, when he reaches the bar.

The woman gives him a sympathetic look that Jaskier isn’t overly appreciative of right now, but he instantly forgives her when she slides a mug of something strong smelling in front of him.

Jaskier takes a swig, and almost spits it straight back out. He manages to choke it down, coughing violently. “Fuck, what was that?”

“Absinthe.” The woman tells him, still looking a bit concerned. “You alright, sweetheart?”

Jaskier waves off her concern, “I’m fine. Fine. Just - processing.”

The woman gives him a doubtful look, but leaves him alone to brood over his paint thinner in peace.

(In the morning, Yennefer is gone. Geralt doesn’t mention her, and Jaskier doesn’t ask.)

 

---

 

Jaskier sighs.

He can feel his life ticking away slowly, feel his body melting with each breath he draws in through his lungs. The world seems so dull, so terribly boring all of a sudden.

He sighs again.

With a screech of the chair, Renfri stands up and slams her hands on the table. This has the bonus of making Jaskier sit bolt upright in alarm.

“Right!” Renfri declares loudly, “We’re going out for a night on the town. And then, when you’re sleeping it off, I’m going to go ahead and kill Geralt of Rivia.”

”Renfri!”

“You have been sighing every two second all day.” Renfri doesn’t quite yell, but her tone is very closely related. A cousin, perhaps. “I can only assume it’s something to do with that idiot Witcher because gods know you don’t pine over anyone else anymore.”

Jaskier can feel his cheeks flush bright red at the accusation. The terrible thing is that he can’t even fault it, where years ago he would have a love song on his lips for every person he met, now they’re all about moon-pale hair and eyes like the sun. Fuck.

“If I kill him, then I won’t have to hear about him anymore.” Renfri muses to herself, actually sounding like she’s considering the possibility.

“If you kill him, I won’t ever forgive you.” Jaskier declares, crossing his arms, “I’ll shut up and stop sighing, okay?”

Renfri nods in grudging agreement, before canting her head to the side, “So like, maiming is still on the table?”

”Renfri -”

 

---

 

“Come here, Ciri.” Jaskier says, gesturing the little girl over from where she’d hanging off of her father’s arm. Poor Duny needs the rescue, he just wants to lean against the courtyard tree and read his book of poetry in peace which is somewhat hampered by the child chattering in his ear.

She abandons Duny easily, scampering over to Jaskier’s side eagerly.

“I,” Jaskier declares with gravity, “Have created for you, Princess, a royal crown.”

He brandishes the little crown of daisies like it’s the most precious gold as Ciri squeals in delight. He places it ever so gently on her golden curls, and she beams up at him as though he’s given her the entire world.

He never loves her more than in these moments, when her joy is so simple and wonderful.

“Thank you, Jas.” She says, smiling sweetly as she decides that her next action should be to crawl into his lap and run her fingers through his hair.

“Every little princess needs a crown.” He tells her, reaching out to tuck a golden curl behind her ear.

“I’m one of the only princesses you know!” She protests, directly into his ear.

“That’s not true!” He rebuffs, shaking his head, “I know you, and I know your mother, and I grew up in a castle as well! Complete with a princess!”

Jaskier can see Duny twitch out of the corner of his eyes, and knows that the man is listening. Jaskier doesn’t blame him - Jaskier tends to be very stingy with details on his life before Geralt.

“My castle is better.” Ciri tells him severely, as if there’s no possible other answer.

It makes Jaskier laugh, “Oh, you can be sure about that.”

“And I’m the best princess.” Ciri claims, clearly pleased by Jaskier’s easy agreement about her home’s superiority.

Jaskier hums thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t go that far.” He ignores her outraged gasp and the smack of her little hand, “She was a very beautiful princess! And she was also older than you.”

Ciri scowls, but can’t refute her age. Then, understanding dawns on her face, “Did you love her?”

“Very much.” Jaskier admits easily, “But my sister and I left the castle when I was about nine, and after that - no more princess.”

Ciri actually looks sad for him, which is absolutely adorable. If only she knew that in this story, Jaskier was a prince as well, and then princess was his sister. Instead of questioning him further, she just collapses against his chest with a soft ‘oof’ sound.

“Tell me a story, Jas.” She demands, little fingers coming up to play with the detailing on his doublet.

“What kind of a story?” Jaskier asks, unable to deny her such a simple thing.

“A love story.” Ciri decides. “A real story.”

There are many stories Jaskier can tell that are both about love and truth, but the ones he knows best are the ones he can’t tell. Renfri’s story is… not particularly child friendly. And the other story Jaskier could tell -

Any mention of Geralt of Rivia is banned within the castle walls. But perhaps…

“Once upon a time,” Jaskier begins, bringing his hand up to card softly through Ciri’s hair, “There was a little songbird who lived in the forest. He was a happy little bird, with everything that a bird needs in the world to be content.”

“Like worms!” Ciri pipes up, looking pleased with herself.

“Lots of worms,” Jaskier confirms, ruffling her hair briefly, “So many worms. And then, one day, a wolf arrived in the forest.”

“Oh no,” Ciri whispers, because wolves are the villain of many a children’s bedtime story.

“The wolf was white as snow, and the songbird thought that he was beautiful. Perhaps the most beautiful creature the songbird had ever seen.”

Ciri hums thoughtfully, and Jaskier can feel it against his chest. “Wolves are scary.”

“The songbird didn’t think so.” Jaskier says consideringly, “In fact, the songbird followed after the wolf, because songbirds are silly little things who love beauty. They like to sing about it, you know? To sing about all of the most beautiful things.”

“Did the wolf eat him?” Ciri asks.

“You would think so! But no.” Jaskier shakes his head, “The little songbird started to sing about the wolf, about his beautiful pelt and his glittering teeth and his eyes like molten gold. Everyone else in the forest avoided the wolf, but the songbird was not frightened in the least, for he saw what others did not.”

“Like what?”

“The wolf defended the forest, scaring all the scary hunters away. He did it, even though it was a thankless task. Even though it didn’t stop anyone in the forest from being afraid of him. He was a wolf, after all, and they are frightening creatures.”

“So he’s a nice wolf.” Ciri says decisively, and Jaskier laughs. His laughter makes Ciri bounce a little on his chest, making her giggle as well.

“Yes. And the little songbird wanted everyone to know, and so he sang about all of the wolf’s kind deeds. Until one day, when the little bird was resting, he heard a voice call out from the bottom of his tree.

‘Little bird,’ said the wolf, when he was certain he had the songbird’s attention, ‘Why do you follow me?’

‘Because I think you are beautiful.’ The little songbird said honestly.

‘I am not beautiful.’ The wolf denied, ‘I am frightening.’

‘Maybe so,’ The songbird replied, ‘But that does not make you any less beautiful.’

The wolf was confused, and so he went away, and the little bird continued singing his song.”

“The wolf needs a hug.” Ciri declares loudly, and Jaskier contains his snort. Out of the mouths of babes indeed. Jaskier had almost the same thought when he’d met Geralt all those years ago in Posada.

“The next day,” Jaskier continues the story instead of replying, “The wolf heard the songbird singing of him again. And so he went up to the little songbird’s tree.

‘Little bird,’ said the wolf, when he was certain he had the songbird’s attention, ‘Why do you sing of me?’

‘Because I love you.’ The little songbird said honestly.

‘You do not love me,’ The wolf denied, ‘You do not know me.’

‘I know that you protect us, without a thought of thanks.’ The songbird replied, ‘I know that you are kind, even when the world is cruel. It makes you beautiful.’

The wolf was confused, and so he went away, and the little bird continued singing his song.”

Jaskier pauses, waiting for Ciri to interrupt again, but the little girl remains silent. He only knows she’s still awake by the way her fingers continue to trace the pattern of his doublet.

“A week later, the wolf found himself back at the base of the songbird’s tree.” Jaskier continues to tease his fingers through Ciri’s hair, wondering if she’ll let him braid it when the story is over.

“‘Little bird,’ said the wolf, when he was certain he had the songbird’s attention, ‘Why do you love me?’

‘Because you need to ask.’ The little songbird said honestly.

‘You do not love me.’ The wolf denied, ‘You only think you do.’

‘Is thinking so different from being?’ The little songbird asked, ‘You are alone. The only wolf in the forest. But I love you, so you can be less alone.’

‘I am a wolf.’ The wolf pointed out, ‘And you are a songbird. This cannot be love. You must stop singing.’

‘I am a songbird,’ The songbird agreed, ‘And you are a wolf. And this is love.’

‘When you realize it is not, you must stop singing.’ The wolf requested.

‘Very well,’ The little songbird agreed, ‘If I ever do not love you, then I will stop singing.’

The wolf was content, and so he went away, and the little bird continued singing his song.”

 

---

 

“You do realize,” Pavetta tells him, holding her hands pressed together against her mouth as if she’s praying for patience, “That Jaskier means ‘buttercup’, not ‘dandelion’?”

Jaskier shrugs a careless shoulder, “You’ve met my sister. You think she knows the differences between flowers? You think she bothered to learn all the names of flowers in other languages?”

There’s a pause, and then, “Wait, she’s your sister?

 

---

 

Geralt is warm and well-fed and the pleasant buzz of ale sits in his stomach.

“You could have taken pity on one of those girls!” Jaskier says loudly, a silly smile upon the bard’s face. He’s twirling as he walks, just a few steps in front of Geralt, approximating the dancing from the party they were just leaving.

“They just asked because their friends made them.” Geralt responds easily, the alcohol loosening his lips a little.

Jaskier rolls his eyes, almost falling over with the force of it since he’s still very tipsy. “Geralt, I don’t know if this has escaped you but you are a very attractive man.

“I’m a Witcher.” Geralt refutes, the same way he does every time Jaskier brings this fact up. Despite what the bard seems to think, he’s not actually blind. He knows that despite his… unnatural appearance, he could be considered - to some - to be attractive. After all, Yennefer seems appreciative of his appearance.

“You could have danced with me, then.” Jaskier declares a little too loudly, cheeks a ruddy red from the alcohol but that doesn’t stop him from absolutely beaming at Geralt.

“Witchers don’t dance.”

“Don’t dance?” Jaskier asks, a sudden light in the bard’s eyes making Geralt wary, “Or don’t know how to dance?”

Geralt decides not to grace that with a response.

“Geralt!” The bard cries, clearly reading something on his face and now stepping into Geralt’s personal bubble. The bard’s hands reach out and clasp around one of Geralt’s, pulling up. The bard’s hands are warm and rough, callused from playing his instrument.

Jaskier guides Geralt’s hand to his waist, and then grabs Geralt’s other hand, and he comes back to his senses.

“What are you doing?” Geralt snaps, trying to pull away.

Jaskier holds firm, “Teaching you how to dance!”

“There’s no music.” Geralt says, but doesn’t pull his hands away.

Jaskier winks, “Lucky thing you know a bard, then!”

Humming, the bard draws Geralt in a circle, “Just follow my lead! And watch my feet!”

And that’s how Geralt finds himself dancing with the bard in the middle of the night, twisting the bard into a twirl with one hand as they step purposefully around one another.

Geralt knows how to dance, a little, but this isn’t one of the energetic peasant dances with lines of people clapping along to the rhythm in between swinging one another about. This is - this is a court dance, graceful and purposeful and meant for two people to orbit around one another like they’re the only people in the room.

And Jaskier, even drunk, doesn’t miss a single step even as he transitions from humming to singing under his breath. ”Was it so long ago now that we met, you and I?” Jaskier breathes, watching Geralt’s feet, “Both held fast in a passion that we could not deny? If my hands gave you life, then your voice woke my heart. From such simple beginnings, what wonder may start!”

Jaskier laughs softly as he sings, making some words indistinguishable, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

Their dance gets sloppier as it goes on, Jaskier swinging Geralt’s arm up when the dance calls for them to lace hands and almost falling as he twirls out. Geralt almost darts after him, but his bard manages to get his footing and continues as though it never happened.

"Through my long empty night, through my cold lonely days. How you comfort and cheer me, delight and amaze.” Finally, they circle one another, hand pressed to hand, as Jaskier’s voice drops to a whisper. “And your soft silver voice could charm life into stone. My sweet mistress of music, My Lady my own.”

“My sweet mistress of music, My Lady my own.” Jaskier whispers one final time, and then he suddenly pulls away. Geralt is left feeling cold as Jaskier backs up a few urgent steps.

“I thought you said you couldn’t dance.” Jaskier says finally, something strange in his voice that Geralt can’t quite identify.

“You said that, not I.” Geralt points out.

“Hmm.” Jaskier hums, and Geralt can’t help but feel like that’s his line. Even with his superior night vision, he can’t make out what expression is on Jaskier’s face. “Maybe you’ll be able to dance with Yennefer, next time.”

And then Jaskier turns to enter the inn, slipping silently away and leaving Geralt alone in the cold night air.

He can’t help but feel as though he’s missed something important.

Chapter Text

Jaskier caresses his lute with a frown on his face. He’s got a song he wants to sing, but he doesn’t quite have the words for it. He wants to sing about Geralt, but sometimes he’s forced to acknowledge that he doesn’t really know much about the man.

Well, doesn’t know much about the man’s past from before he met Jaskier. He knows all the important things about his Witcher.

“Hey Geralt?” Jaskier calls to the man by the fire.

“Hmm.” Geralt acknowledges.

“Were you born on an eclipse?”

Jaskier watches with fascination as Geralt’s shoulders tense. What’s that about? Jaskier is only asking because - well. He and Renfri are both children of eclipses, bound together by blood and fate. He understands why he has always stood by Renfri, but doesn’t understand why he’s so drawn to Geralt.

“No.” The Witcher bites out, giving the fire a rough prod that makes embers dance in the air. “Why?”

“Were you at least born at night? Under a new or full moon?” Jaskier asks plaintively instead of answering, “Then my lines about your hair being made of moonbeams would tie in so nicely.”

Strangely enough, that seems to make Geralt’s shoulders relax. Weirdo. Doesn’t stop Geralt from shooting him a very judge-y look. Jaskier resents that look, frankly. It’s not his fault the Witcher’s hair is so pretty.

“Wouldn’t know.” Geralt tells him, apparently feeling generous, “Never has a chance to ask.”

“Aw,” Jaskier’s fingers dance sympathetically across his lute, plucking some low melancholy chords, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Geralt says, and oh that’s bitterness in his voice. Well. Jaskier doesn’t often think about the implications of Geralt being (becoming) a Witcher, but… Geralt has told him before: Witchers are not born but made, and the making of them is not a gentle process by any interpretation.

“Some people aren’t meant to be parents.” Jaskier tells the man sorrowfully, thinking of a father who liked beautiful things and was amused and caring towards his children, but ultimately absent when they needed him. He thinks of a mother, who cared too much about appearances and too little for one little girl who was grieving.

Jaskier never regrets following Renfri that day. He knows that the life of a prince in that castle was an empty one, full of empty words and empty people. Politics, Jaskier thinks, far too often get in the way of love and family.

(He remembers a Queen scowling at her daughter, who is unhappy because her life is being held for auction to whoever can offer the most politically advantageous match. He wonders if Queen Calanthe ever held Pavetta in her lap and read her poetry, ever blew a raspberry against her cheek to make her giggle. Pavetta was saved from her fate by the intervention of destiny, but Jaskier wonders if history will repeat itself in the case of Cirilla.)

“Hmm.” Geralt hums, Jaskier assumes in agreement.

“My sister pretty much raised me.” Jaskier decides to share, because sharing is caring and Geralt’s childhood was a slice of awful that Jaskier can’t even imagine. “When I was nine, we quite suddenly became homeless. I know she made so many sacrifices for me that I can’t even hope to repay. I tried to help out where I could, but…”

“That’s why you play music?” Geralt asks, prodding at the fire again.

“Well, I’m not exactly built for manual labor.” Jaskier laughs, shaking his head, “But no. Forgive me for sounding awfully poetic, but music is who I am, not what I do.”

“Hmm.” Geralt’s hum this time sounds suspiciously like he’s rolling his eyes. It’s very talented.

Jaskier’s fingers are still gently plucking out a soft tune as background music to this conversation, and he wonders what Geralt would say if Jaskier expounded on that thought a little bit. Because - he’s not being a dramatic bard. He lives and breathes music, and always has. It’s almost like his magic is tuned into the world at large, a constant eager ear seeking meaning in the rustle of the trees and the whistle of the wind.

“It might be ‘fillingless pie’ to you,” Jaskier scoffs, because no he will never not bring that up. Geralt’s words will haunt him until his dying day if Jaskier has any say in it. “But I’ve gotten some pretty rave reviews that say otherwise!”

Geralt doesn’t have anything to say to that, so Jaskier nods and turns his mind back to his song.

No good on the moon thing, though to be fair if being born under an eclipse and blessed by the moon meant white hair then, well. Jaskier quite likes his brown hair, thank you very much. He slides his fingers down the lute to catch a high note, wondering what else he could compare Geralt’s hair to.

Sea foam, something inside him shyly suggests. White capped waves on a stormy night.

Jaskier still his fingers, reaching for his songbook with a thoughtful hum so he can write the thought down before it dances away.

Maybe he’s had it wrong this entire time, comparing Geralt to celestial bodies. The sun and the moon are fine things, but they are distant from the world. The ocean on the other hand -

Jaskier grew up in Creyden, a kingdom by the sea. With salt in his lungs and sand at his feet. He remembers the ocean, remembers it black as pit and churning. He remembers the sailors stopping by the shrine to make offerings for safe passage. He remembers his nursemaid’s stories about creatures in the deep, designed to keep him from straying too far into the water and having the opposite effect.

People love the ocean when the sky is clear, and hate it when it is dark and cold. But it is always the ocean.

A song rises unbidden to Jaskier’s lips, about an insane sailor who loved the sea, even though everyone would tell him that the sea could never love him back.

Jaskier turns his attention back to his lute, fingers pulling experimentally. If he picks up the tempo right… here - then it would make for a good stanza about a terrible storm, terrible enough to destroy a town, with just enough pep to match an insane man trying to sail in it anyway.

Except the town would be surprised, when the sailor came home safe and alive. And after that, perhaps the townsfolk admit that if ever the sea loved anyone…

Jaskier’s fingers trail to a stop, hovering above the last vibrating string with a suspicious lump in his throat.

“What’s that one?” Geralt asks, actually sounding a bit curious.

“Nothing.” Jaskier manages to squeak out, shaking his head, “Just a thought. Was pretty shit, anyway. It doesn’t matter.”

Geralt hums, and lets Jaskier drop the subject.

 

---

 

Jaskier’s idea of a relaxing time is clear skies, food and ale in his belly, a roof over his head, and no monsters to speak of. Or maybe only little monsters to speak of? The ones that Geralt can deal with easily, with his eyes closed even. Just a regular run-of-the-mill milk-run type mission. Then Jaskier can compose a nice little song, everyone will be happy, and drinks will be on the house.

It does not include screaming as he runs from fucking ghost dogs in the middle of the night.

“This is the worst!” Jaskier hollers at absolutely no one as he scrabbles over a fallen tree. Maybe if Geralt hadn’t decided that this mission was too dangerous and left him to walk back to town on his own then this wouldn’t be happening! Nothing good ever came from them splitting up! Surely that lesson should have been pounded into Geralt’s thick skull by now?

People vanishing in the woods, ha. Well Jaskier is pretty damn sure he’s figured out the reason why!

Jaskier trips and falls flat on his face, managing to roll sideways down the incline he hadn’t even noticed he’d been on the cusp of. He could hear the crack, and ow ow ow. That’s blood running down his lip isn’t it? He can hear the hounds of hell braying loudly, gaining on him. Bastards. Jaskier hauls himself up, glancing around wildly.

Which way was town again?

Jaskier doesn’t have time to ponder this question for too long, before he has to abandon the fucks weighing him down and pick a direction at random.

Better being lost than being eaten by ghost dogs, right?

 

---

 

Wrong. So wrong. So terribly, horribly wrong.

Jaskier is hungry. He is cold. And he is wet from falling in the river that finally let him put some distance between himself and death by dog. He also has no idea where he is, and it’s pitch black. Even the moon is only a sliver in the sky, not exactly helping much.

Bastard, Jaskier thinks forcefully in the direction of the big useless sky rock. Jaskier is not feeling especially tolerant towards anything right now, it should be said.

He cups his hands around his mouth, all the better to carry his voice when he yells a loud, “Geralt!”

Predictably, there is no response. His Witcher, absolutely fucking useless. Jaskier has to do everything around here.

He takes stock of himself quickly. He’s in a scratched up and ruined doublet. He still has the little knife tucked into his boot. He lost his lute in the scuffle on the road that began this awful fucking night, it was honorably lost after being swung with great force into the head of a hound about to take a chunk out of him. Hopefully it will be fine until Geralt goes back along the road and picks it up.

(He’s not too concerned - he enchanted the thing to hell and back by appropriating a children’s song about an unkillable cat that its owners couldn’t get rid of. He’s had the lute for forever despite all the general bullshit he and Geralt get into on a daily basis. This won’t be the thing that does it in.)

He tries to hum a travel song, tries to listen for the deep hum of Geralt’s magic, but apparently his magic ears have decided to check out for the day. Absolutely atrocious.

“We’re going to have words about this later.” He mutters, glaring in the direction of his stomach. That feels like an appropriate place for magic to live or whatever. Central and all that.

His stomach growls in response.

“Stop that.” He scowls.

His stomach growls again, a little softer this time.

Jaskier throws up his hands, absolutely done with this absolutely ridiculous day. Now that his attention has been drawn to the matter, he is hungry. And he hurts. His face still aches, and every time he makes a face he can feel the pull of dried blood on his lip. His leg is still bleeding sluggishly where a dog managed to get its teeth in him during that first ambush. He probably looks absolutely frightful.

There’s a tree with some serious looking roots just ahead, that could possibly serve as shelter for the night at least. Maybe, Jaskier thinks longingly, he’ll wake up with Geralt grumping at him for running off.

He briefly debates the merit of taking off his wet clothes vs. leaving them on, before wedging himself between the roots and giving up for the night. If the ghost dogs find him and rip him apart, his state of undress didn’t really matter, did it? But if Geralt found him - Jaskier finds that he would rather be wet and cold than naked.

He crosses his arms and shuts his eyes and ignores his body’s miserable shivers. Things will be better in the morning.

 

---

 

It is not better in the morning. He wakes up at the ass crack of dawn, still tired and exhausted and all messed up. His leg and face somehow hurt even more now than they did the night before, and he’s still cold and disgusting and awful.

And Geralt didn’t even come and find him. Bastard.

Jaskier almost trips over a tree root and has to come to a halt and take a few deep breaths to himself for just a minute. Even the trees are against him now? If Jaskier’s luck doesn’t change in the next few minutes he might just have to take an hour to scream.

Once he’s wrestled his emotions down and he knows he’s not going to just start crying, Jaskier starts forward again.

And apparently the ultimatum against the universe worked, because suddenly Jaskier is stumbling onto a road. Sweet sweet civilization. Sign of civilization? Whatever.

Slightly less wonderful are the equine legs and the loud, “Halt, brigiand!”

Who the fuck says brigiand? Does Jaskier look like a fucking robber? He swears to all the gods he knows if some dumbass kills him at this point, he’s going to haunt the universe’s ass until they regret everything. And maybe also Geralt’s, just for good measure. It’s a nice ass, after all.

Jaskier looks up, and it’s some dumbass riding a horse in armor. He’s really not sure what he expected here, someone familiar? Jaskier hopes his incredulous what the fuck face is adequetly translated through the crusty dried blood and bruises.

“Jaskier?” A familiar voice asks.

Jaskier looks behind the dumbass on the horse and sees -

Yennefer, in lavish furs atop a white steed, with her eyebrow raised in judgement. Jaskier can honestly say that right here, right now, is the first time in his life that he’s ever been glad to see the witch. He’s kind of having a moment.

“You know this miscreant, my lady?” The man asks, turning to give him full attention to Yennefer. Jaskier actually feels a little ignored. And a lot offended. Miscreant?

“We have a mutual friend,” Yennfer waves the man off, “Jaskier here is a bard. I assure you he’s not usually quite so… scruffy looking.”

“Yennefer,” Jaskier says serenely, “I have spent half the night being chased by ghost dogs through a forest. I have lost my lute, fallen in a river, been used as a chew toy, and broken my nose. You’ll have to forgive me for not giving a flying fuck what I look like right now.”

The man gasps in outrage, possibly over Jaskier swearing in front of a lady, but Yennefer just laughs like Jaskier’s misfortune is for her own private entertainment. Jaskie takes back every nice thought he had about running into her.

“And where is our mutual friend?” She asks, looking amused, “Isn’t he usually the one hauling you out of danger.”

Jaskier throws up his hands, “How should I know? For all I know, he’s dead in a ditch! Mauled by rabid hounds!”

Yennefer’s amusement vanishes. “You left him?”

He left me.” Jaskier emphasizes, scowling. “‘Oh no, Jaskier,’ he says, ‘it’s too dangerous for you to stay with me, you simply must go back to town where it is safe, along the dark and dangerous road that you will certainly get attacked by hellhounds on. Fuck you.’”

“Geralt has never said a sentence that long in his life and you know it.” Yennefer points out dryly.

“It was implied!”

“So you two were staying in Velis then,” Yennefer says, ignoring Jaskier’s indignant expression. “He’s probably still in town.”

Jaskier crosses his arms, but nods his head grudgingly.

Yennefer nods and turns her attention to the dumbass who has been listening to this conversation quietly, “Sir Roderick? We can escort Jaskier to the next town, can we not? It is only that he lacks common sense, and his usual keeper is not present to keep him out of trouble.”

“If the lady wishes,” The newly named Sir Roderick demures, clearly making heart-eyes at Yennefer. Jaskier very nearly rolls his eyes, but valiantly refrains.

Jaskier turns grumpily, prepared to hoof it down the road until he gets to town, but suddenly there’s a hand in his field of vision.

Jaskier follows the hand up the arm to… Yennefer.

“My lady!” Sir Roderick protests, “You need not share your steed with this miscreant.”

“He’s limping.” Yennefer says simply, “And surely he’s tired after such a long night.”

Jaskier just stares at the hand for a moment, before deciding his day really can’t get that much weirder from here anyway. He takes the hand, and Yennefer pulls him up onto her horse with surprising strength.

“...Thank you.” Jaskier offers, only a tiny bit grudgingly.

“I’m not always pure evil, Jaskier.” Yennefer murmurs, facing forwards and not looking back. But Jaskier can hear the smile on her face.

Jaskier just sighs and rests his forehead against Yennefer’s back. He can feel her stiffen in surprise, but he is actually too tired to care right now. He only got maybe a few hours of sleep, and exhaustion pulls on his bones. “I had a really bad night, Yen.”

Yennefer hesitates, “Do you have a concussion?”

“Mm.” Jaskier hums, “Don’t think so. Might have a fear of dogs now, though.”

“Good thing our dear Witcher is a wolf, not a dog.”

Jaskier giggles and pretends that it doesn’t have an edge of hysteria to it. “‘M really tired, Yen.”

“If you fall off this horse, I’m leaving you in the road.” Yennefer informs him primly, then hesitates, “...If you want to close your eyes, you can.”

“Thank you.” Jaskier whispers again, a lot more sincerely than his previous gratitude.

“Don’t thank me,” Yennefer is saying as Jaskier shuts his eyes, “I’ll get points from Geralt for saving his pet bard, anyway.”

Jaskier doesn’t hear anything more, letting exhaustion pull him under and feeling bizarrely safe despite his present company. He just closes his eyes… and trusts.

 

---

 

Jaskier isn’t sure how long he manages to sleep, because when he opens his eyes they’re still on the road.

Granted, he doesn’t notice this at first because he’s awakened by someone bursting out of the bushes, which sends him almost flailing off the horse entirely. He would have fallen, if not for Yennefer’s quick hand snaking back and scruffing him like a puppy until he gets his balance.

“Geralt,” Yennefer greets easily while Jaskier is still getting his bearings, “What a surprise.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt replies, and Jaskier locks eyes with his Witcher for the first time in so many hours. The absolute relief that courses through him almost makes him fall off the horse again, but Yennefer’s grip is firm and steady.

Geralt looks frazzled. Had he been looking all night for Jaskier? Oh, oh Jaskier’s heart hurts. He knows it’s probably because Geralt was tracking the demon dogs, but Geralt came for him!

Then Geralt does a double take, “Yennefer?”

Jaskier probably shouldn’t feel the petty satisfaction that Geralt noticed him first, despite Yennefer being literally in front of him. But he’s a petty, petty man. So he beams at Geralt, ignoring the twinges of pain in his face telling him that that is an awful idea.

“Honestly, Geralt.” Yennefer scolds, “You need to take better care of your bard. I swear, every time I see you he’s in some peril or another.”

“I am not.” Jaskier protests automatically, “This is only like, the second time.”

“The tower?” Yennefer asks, twisting around so that she can raise her eyebrow at him properly.

“Oh, oh it does not count if you are the one putting me in the danger.” Jaskier says crossly.

“Terven?” Yennefer’s eyebrow does not lower in the slightest. “Ivrid?”

“Danger from humans doesn’t count either.” Jaskier shoots back defensively.

”Jaskier.” Geralt does not sound amused by this little byplay.

“This,” Jaskier points at Geralt severely, because this is something that he should probably be nipping in the bud, “Was not my fault. Don’t even give me those eyebrows, Geralt. I didn’t do anything wrong! I was following your instructions.”

Geralt actually looks a little bit stricken at that. Aw. No, that’s not what Jaskier wants.

“Neither of us expected demon dogs from hell.” Jaskier points out, “It’s not your fault either, Geralt.”

“As adorable as this is,” Yennefer drawls, actually looking a little bit amused, “Jaskier does actually need a healer, if we could get this little procession moving again.”

Geralt gives Jaskier a thunderous look, as though he’s been keeping secrets or something.

“I was attacked by ghost dogs, Geralt. I am a squishy little bard, of course I got hurt.” Jaskier does not deserve that look. He gestures to his face, the blood crusted in his nostrils, and gives Geralt a look.

Yennefer just sighs and kicks her horse into walking again, just to keep their little parade moving. Geralt keeps up easily on foot. On… foot.

“Where’s Roach?” Jaskier asks, sitting up straighter and looking around, as though the big horse would just materialize next to them or something.

“Stable.” Geralt grunts, eyes still scanning Jaskier’s battered form.

“What about my lute?” Jaskier demands, leaning off the horse to bat at Geralt for his attention. This is a very important topic, after all. “Did you find my lute?”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm isn’t an answer, Geralt!” Jaskier leans further to try and smack the Witcher in the shoulder, but ends up almost overbalancing and falling off the horse. Geralt ends up shoving at him to get him back in position, which gives Jaskier the perfect opportunity to give Geralt’s shoulder a little smack anyway. So in the end, it works out.

“Hmm.”

Words, Geralt.” Jaskier demands, “Use them! Enunciate! I know I’m very good at translating Witcher grunts, but this is my lute, my livelihood we are talking about. Is she okay? You didn’t just leave her by the side of the road did you? Oh my poor baby -”

“It’s with Roach.” Geralt cuts him off roughly.

“Alright then.” Jaskier says, immediately beaming.

Geralt raises his eyebrows.

“Oh, well. I trust Roach.” Jaskier explains, shrugging.

Geralt actually looks incredulous. It’s adorable. It’s Jaskier’s new favorite Geralt face.

“Oh look!” Yennefer interrupts them loudly, “Is that the town up ahead?”

Jaskier and Geralt both look. That is, in fact, the town up ahead.

“First things first, we’ll swing by the healers.” Yennefer takes charge, which is very easy due to the fact that she always sounds so confident in her plans. Like trapping a Djinn in her body. But Jaskier is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt this time. “Then both of you need a bed. And a bath, and food. In any order, really.”

Jaskier takes back any doubt he’s ever had. Yennefer is the best planner and he loves her.

“Yennefer,” Jaskier says with every ounce of seriousness he can muster, “I would die for you.”

Yennefer raises her single deadly eyebrow, “Then do it.”

Yeah, Jaskier probably should have expected that response.

 

---

 

“You’re getting too big for this.” Jaskier tells Ciri. She’s got her little hands in an iron grip around his arm and is attempting to use this leverage point to walk up the side of his body.

“Am not.” She denies, sticking her tongue out at him.

“Why aren’t you bothering your mother?” Jaskier complains, holding his arm higher so she can get a better grip.

“She’s busy with the scary lady.” Ciri plants a foot in his armpit, and Jaskier almost thinks she does it on purpose.

“My sister is not that scary.” Jaskier rolls his eyes, and then thinks about that for a minute. “Okay, I mean, she is. But she’s scary to mean people, not to us.”

Ciri gives him a look which screams doubt. Scary is scary, her eyes seem to say.

Jaskier hums thoughtfully, twisting to grab Ciri’s waist before she slips and hauling her up to sit on his hip. “You know when you got lost a while back?”

“I wasn’t lost.” Ciri corrects crossly, smacking her hand on his chest. “I was exploring.”

“Uh huh.” Jaskier agrees gravely, peeling away one of Ciri’s little hands that had started tugging on his ear as an expression of her indignation. “But do you remember when you got done with exploring? And your Mama wasn’t happy with you?”

Ciri’s face says that she would rather not remember, actually. She sticks her bottom lip out in a pout, “She was really mad.”

“Was she scary?” Jaskier asks.

Ciri pulls a face, but then she nods just a tiny bit. “She was really mad.”

“I think she was scared, not mad.” Jaskier corrects gently, bouncing her a little in his arms. “Sometimes, people are really scary when actually, they’re the ones that are scared.”

“That’s dumb.” Ciri scowls.

“Hmm, okay.” Jaskier hums thoughtfully, “Okay, do you remember when that cat had kittens in the stable? And you really wanted to pet the babies, but the mother cat hissed at you?”

“She was mean.” Ciri declares.

Jaskier bounces her again, “She was scared you were going to hurt her babies. So she decided to be the scary one. But sometimes, all that scary doesn’t have anywhere to be directed to. Your Mama was really scared that you got hurt.”

Ciri crosses her arms. “I didn’t.”

“That’s not the point.” Jaskier tells her, “The point is she didn’t know that you were okay, and that was really scary for her.”

“So why is the scary lady scary?”

Jaskier hums, “Well, when we were little, there was a really bad man. And then we ran away, and the world was a really scary place for a really long time. And sometimes, when the world is a really scary place, people try and be scarier than the world.”

Ciri gives him a look full of doubt.

“You’re the lion cub of Cintra.” Jaskier informs her, smiling, “One day, I think you’ll be pretty terrifying yourself.”

 

---

 

Geralt knows that Jaskier is a frivolous creature, but he’s never met anyone as quick to part with money as Jaskier is.

It doesn’t make sense with what he knows of the bard. He knows that Jaskier was homeless as a child despite his courtly manners and general nonsense. Geralt is thinking disgraced nobles of some kind, possibly a revolt or maybe even some kind of invasion? But he would have thought with his childhood of strife, Jaskier would be a penny pincher.

“To market, to market, to buy a penny bun!” Jaskier sings as he hands out bread to the crowd of children gathered around him. Jaskier had been in good form the previous night at the tavern, though that money never stayed in Jaskier’s pocket for long. “Home again, home again, market is done.”

Geralt can’t help but roll his eyes.

“And a penny bun for my favorite Witcher in the whole wide world!” Jaskier says, popping up at Geralt’s side like a bad weed.

“I’m the only Witcher you know.” Geralt says, not taking the bun from the bard.

Jaskier apparently decides this means his best course of action is to hold the treat up in front of Geralt’s mouth. “Say ‘ah’!”

There’s no way that’s happening. Grudgingly, Geralt reaches up to pluck the stupid thing out of the bard’s hands.

Jaskier beams at him like Geralt has just given him the most amazing gift in the universe, just by accepting the little bun.

Sometimes watching Jaskier is humbling in a way that Geralt can never quite describe.

 

---

 

“I hate everything.” Renfri groans, starfishing against the soft sheets.

“Oh do you?” Pavetta asks absently, patting at her hair with a frown.

“Yes.” Renfri says with emphasis as she rolls onto her stomach. “Honestly, I’m glad when Jas comes to visit Ciri in person. He’s been - I dunno. The stupid Witcher and his new girlfriends, and I know Jas puts on a brave face and everything but…”

“He’s a sweet soul.” Pavetta sighs, “Too big a heart.”

“People are funny like that sometimes,” Renfri murmurs, looking out the window, “The world is so big and scary that they decide the only way forward is to be kind. To do their part to make the world a little less scary, even when they get hurt over and over again.”

Pavetta nods sympathetically. “Ciri’s got a big heart, too.”

“She’ll have that carved out of her soon enough.” Renfri says, and Pavetta’s head snaps up to look at the woman on her bed.

“What do you mean?” Pavetta demands.

“She’s a princess,” Renfri says, sitting up with a shrug. “Your mother is terrifying, but skilled. If she doesn’t die in battle, risking her fool neck, then she’ll live a long time. On sheer spite if she must - I know the type. If you have no sons, then Cirilla will be Queen. Queens are in charge of an entire country - they cannot afford to be kind.”

“That’s a pretty bleak view on royalty for someone visiting a castle.” Pavetta bites out.

“Being royalty poisons people in ways I’m still not sure I understand.” Renfri admits, “I’ve seen Queens arrange for the murder of their step-children. I’ve seen Kings pay to murder their wives for not giving them a boy. I’ve seen brother kill brother over the line of inheritance. I’ve seen royalty sit in their castles eating venison while their people starve. My bleak view is justified.”

“I feel I should point out that my mother is Queen, and you are talking to a princess.” Pavetta’s voice is cold.

“Queen Calanthe,” Renfri snorts, “There is more blood upon her hands then there is even mine. I, for one, can say that I never fought for the extermination of an entire people.”

“It was self-defense.” Pavetta says, “The elves could have left peacefully. It is they that decided to push it to war.”

“Most beings do not take kindly to being forced from their homes.” Renfri points out.

Pavetta is silent, no response to that.

“I wasn’t there for your betrothal banquet, Pavetta. But even so I can tell you how your mother reacted to a being she considered not human. Even when he was.”

“That’s not the same thing.” Pavetta says, but her voice wavers.

“Jas is my half-brother, you know?” Renfri admits, catching Pavetta’s attention. As it should. Renfri almost never offers any information about herself if she can help it - the only reason Pavetta even knows she and Jaskier are related is thanks to her brother’s big mouth. “He’s achingly human.”

Pavetta says nothing.

“My step-mother hated me. I’m not -” Renfri looks away, “Jaskier has always been the most human of us. And when I had to run for my life, he stood by me. When it felt like everyone in the world wanted me dead, he was there telling me that I was not a monster despite everyone telling me otherwise.”

“I’m sorry.” Pavetta says finally, soft and aching. And not only for Renfri’s plight.

“Don’t be. I think - if I’d stayed, if Jas had stayed - it takes a certain kind of person to make a good leader. A just leader.” Renfri shakes her head, “I hope Ciri can be that sort of person. I do. But I don’t have a good track record with royals.”

“She’s stronger than you think.” Pavetta whispers, “She’s better than you think, too.”

“I hope you’re right, Pav.” Renfri sighs, “I really hope you’re right.”

 

---

 

“Someone needs to put a bell on you.” Jaskier tells Yennefer crossly, after she appears behind him without warning again.

“Perhaps I should hire a barker to announce me wherever I go.” Yennefer says lightly. Jaskier decides, very maturely, to fake vomit on the counter.

“You’re a real charmer, aren’t you Jaskier?” Yennefer rolls her eyes.

“I certainly am,” Jaskier chirps brightly, “What do you want, Yennefer?”

“A favor.” Yennefer says delicately, sitting across from Jaskier with a sniff. Well if she wants fancier accommodations, she’s out of luck.

“You know I’m not with Geralt right now, right?” Jaskier raises his eyebrows, “I mean, I’m on my way back to him, yeah. But I probably won’t catch up to him for another week.”

“You do realize I can make portals, right?” Yennefer points out dryly, “You won’t be wasting any time. It’s not that long a favor, anyway.”

Jaskier considers all of this, and then shrugs. “What’s this favor then?”

“I need a sounding board.” Yennefer growls, looking a tiny bit frazzled. It’s a weird look on her, actually.

Jaskier stares at her, willing her to expound a little bit.

“Look, I know you’re a - a weird fucking mage of some kind. I need to talk magic with someone who actually understands what I’m talking about or I will genuinely go insane.” Yennefer snarls, crossing her arms.

“Oh fuck,” Jaskier just looks at her, “Are you asking me to be your magic buddy?”

“No - ”

“You are! You totally are!” Jaskier crows.

“Right, that’s it.” Yennefer goes to stand up, “I don’t need this -”

“That wasn’t a no.” Jaskier cuts her off, putting a hand on Yennefer’s arm. She eyes him warily. “Look, my magical education is… patchwork at best, and half of it doesn’t even apply to… my particular brand of weirdness. But! That only makes me more valuable as a magic buddy, don’t you think?”

Yennefer gives him a look, but sits back down.

“What’s your issue, anyway?”

“It’s this fucking spell - ”

 

---

 

“Fuck, she’s growing so fast.” Jaskier says when Pavetta comes and sits next to him, strumming some gentle notes on his lute.

“I know.” Pavetta sighs, looking over at where Duny is valiantly attempting to tire Ciri out by chasing her around the room. “Seems like only yesterday she was taking her first steps.”

“Six is a pretty big birthday, before you know it she’ll be in the double digits.” Jaskier smiles.

“I’m glad we’re going to be here for her party.” Pavetta admits, wiping a hand over her tired face.

“Oh?” Jaskier’s fingers dance across the lute strings, pulling off a particularly complicated maneuver. “Big plans?”

“Me and Duny are going to visit Skellige in a few weeks, do some royal duties and keep our ties close, all that fun stuff.” Pavetta sighs, “I would take Ciri with us, I hate being apart from her. But I’m not sure if I trust her on board a ship - you know how she gets into everything.”

Oof. Yeah. Jaskier can only imagine a curious and headstrong little princess on board a ship. “She can swim, right?”

Pavetta smacks his arm lightly, and Jaskier can only laugh. “Yeah, laugh it up. Regardless, Ciri is staying safe and sound on dry land, in the wonderfully caring hands of my mother.”

“Girls night.” Jaskier whispers, and gets some rolled eyes for his trouble.

“Maybe you can come stay, keep her company while me and Duny are gone?” Pavetta asks mockingly, eyes alight with mirth.

Jaskier shudders. Dealing with Queen Calanthe? Alone? He thinks he’d rather take a long walk off a short pier, thanks.

Pavetta just laughs at him, high and bright and wonderful.

 

---

 

“When I grow up I’m gonna be a Queen.” Ciri says, tugging on Jaskier’s doublet. “A famous queen.”

“Oh?” Jaskier hums, taking in the fact that Ciri’s blinks are getting increasingly long. And also the fact that she’s practically swaying on her feet. “Do famous queens not have bedtimes?”

“No bedtimes.” Ciri agrees sleepily, raising her arms in a silent request for Jaskier to pick her up.

He complies easily, “Well I’m afraid even if queens don’t have bedtimes, princesses do.”

“I’m almost a queen.” Ciri complains, smushing her cheek against Jaskier’s shoulder. “I’m six now.”

“Very grown up.” Jaskier agrees, making eye contact with Duny across the room. The man looks amused, and does a gesture with his hands that Jaskier decides to interpret as permission to escort the little princess back to her room.

“Gonna be the most famous queen ever.” Ciri repeats, smashing her face even harder into Jaskier’s shoulder. “Gonna - gonna slay a dragon. Be a dragon queen.”

“Ambitious.” Jaskier hums. “And how are you going to do that?”

“With a sword.” Ciri mutters, sleep making her voice thick and slow.

Jaskier gestures to a few knights, especially Sir Gwynn, who is frequently assigned to follow after the little princess and keep her safe within the castle walls. Jaskier knows them all by name at this point, and they know him just as well.

“A sword, huh? I’m not too good with a sword. But I’ve fought my fair share of monsters, you know?” Jaskier murmurs.

“No you haven’t.” Ciri denies, and Jaskier would be offended if Ciri’s face was any less adorable.

“Have so.” Jaskier says, making a face at the sleepy little girl, making her giggle. “Maybe I don’t have much experience with dragons, but I bet I could take one.”

“It’d eat you.” Ciri informs him gravely as they reach the door to her room.

“Nah,” Jaskier dismisses, “I’ve been reliably informed that I’m too big an irritation to bother eating.”

“Mmm.” Ciri mumbles as Jaskier places her gently into her bed, pulling the covers up to her shoulders.

“If I ever meet a dragon, I’ll tell you all about it.” He tells her, pressing a kiss against her forehead, “Do some good recon for your future dragon slaying days.”

Ciri doesn’t respond to that, already fast asleep. Jaskier can only smile at her fondly.

He’ll leave tomorrow to catch back up with Geralt, bid Ciri farewell. Maybe he’ll come back for a little bit when Duny and Pavetta are back from Skellige, depending on Geralt’s monster hunting schedule.

“Good night, Ciri.” Jaskier murmurs, lingering at the door. “Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

The ocean breeze ruffles Renfri’s hair, warm and kind. Like it’s welcoming her home. Cintra is nowhere near Creyden, but the ocean will always be the ocean. Voices overlap around her, a wall of voices indistinguishable from one another.

The port is busy, but Renfri expected it to be. After all, the Princess and Prince were about to sail for Skellige.

“It’s a lot of fuss over nothing.” Duny’s voice pierces through the general ruckus. But he’s not really Duny today, is he? He’s Prince Urcheon, getting ready to travel with his wife, Princess Pavetta. She forgets, sometimes, that he’s officially a prince. Though, to be fair, she almost as frequently forgets that Pavetta is a princess.

“I would have thought you’d like being fussed over.” Renfri comments, flipping her hair dismissively, “After all you went through the make your marriage as dramatic as possible…”

Renfri never saw Duny cursed, but the way he bristles at her comments is distinctly hedgehog-like and has Renfri swallowing down a giggle.

“Are you bullying my husband?” Pavetta sweeps in, hair piled atop her head in complicated braids that have Renfri smiling again. She’ll let Pavetta figure out on her own that sailing and sea air is not the most conducive to fanciful hair styles.

“She absolutely is.” Duny says immediately, taking his wife’s hand in his own. “I’m almost in tears over here. My darling, make the mean scary woman go away.”

Pavetta laughs as Renfri rolls her eyes. Duny decides to take this as an opportunity to steal a kiss which only makes Pavetta laugh all the more.

“Yes yes,” Renfri cuts in dryly, “We get it. You’re adorable. You love each other. Ugh.”

Pavetta entwines her fingers with Duny’s and raises her eyebrows, “Jealous?”

“Gross. Absolutely not.” Renfri immediately refutes, shaking her head. Not to rag on Duny or anything, but no matter how sickly sweet he and Pavetta are… she can’t imagine a life for herself that looks anything like that. Can’t imagine being tied to one place. Can’t imagine having kids.

Jaskier doesn’t count. For all that she looked after him as a child, he looked after her as well. For all that she loves Jaskier, she has no illusions that it was a healthy growing environment for a child. Jaskier is… Jaskier. A normal child wouldn’t have fared nearly so well in her extended company.

“Aren’t you going to wish us farewell?” Pavetta asks with a smile, tilting her head impishly.

“You’ve been hanging around the port for hours. Maybe if you ever get on the boat, I’ll wish you farewell.” Renfri mocks, eyes roaming upward when the screech of a seagull catches her attention.

“It won’t be long now.” Duny says cheerfully, tugging on Pavetta’s hand and sweeping her into his arms so that he can hook his chin over her shoulder as he leans himself against her back. “They’re almost done loading everything up, and then we’ll be off. You won’t see us for ages.”

Renfri lifts a hand up to her chest and lets her mouth form a perfect little ‘o’ as though she shocked and surprised by this news. “You mean I finally get a break? And all I had to do was send you to Skellige?”

“You’re so rude.” Duny says, pulling a face that Pavetta can’t see. Lucky for him, else the Princess might scold him for it.

“I thought I told you to quit picking on my husband,” Pavetta teases, reaching up to pat the side of her husband’s face soothingly, if a bit mockingly.

“He just makes it so easy.” Renfri shrugs, valiantly refraining from pulling a face back at the idiot Prince.

“People who don’t have names don’t get opinions,” Duny sniffs in response, turning his nose up and refusing to look at her.

Someone shouts, catching both royals’ attention.

“I have a name,” Renfri says dryly, “But only cool people get to know it.”

Duny sputters in outrage, and Pavetta takes the opportunity to duck out of her husband’s embrace. She pats him on the back consolingly, “We have to go my love, they’re calling for us.” She turns to Renfri, “And don’t worry! We’ll bring you back something from Skellige.”

“She can’t have anything unless she tells us her name.” Duny cuts in, pouting. It’s at moments like these where Renfri can really see the resemblance between the man and Ciri, despite the little girl getting most of her looks from Pavetta. It’s all in the childish stubbornness.

No man who broke his way into a castle for a Princess’s betrothal feast and proceeded to fight just about everyone there for her hand can be called anything less than obstinate really.

“Oh no,” Renfri drawls, “Whatever will I do?”

“We have to go!” Pavetta laughs, tugging at her husband’s sleeve.

“Have fun on the island,” Renfri teases, “If it’s where Eist is from then surely there’s more than enough entertainment to be found.”

“Bye, you.” Pavetta shoots back, tilting her head and smiling. Pavetta’s smiles make her whole face light up, always beautiful. “One day, we’ll figure out your name.”

“I look forward to it.” Renfri smiles back, nodding.

 

---

 

Jaskier browses through the marketplace absently. There’s a particular spot he keeps drifting back to, and he knows why.

The old man is a whittler, still going at it with his knife off to one side. The figures are not masterpieces by any means, but it’s easy to tell what they are. There’s one that Jaskier’s eyes keep drawing back to. A little wooden wolf.

He kind of wants to buy it. Maybe for Ciri? Queen Calanthe can’t ban wolves just because Geralt is known as the white wolf, right?

“How much?” He asks the man, picking up the little wooden figure.

“Five bizants.” The man says, not even looking up.

Jaskier fishes the coins out of his pocket and deposits them on the counter, tucking the little wolf into his pocket with a smile.

“...Did you hear?” Someone whispers behind him.

Jaskier glances around, wondering if Yennefer is going to let Geralt out of bed at all today. He almost doesn’t catch what the gossip behind him says next.

“Such a tragedy,” The voice murmurs, “Cintra must be reeling, to have lost its Princess at such a young age. And she was so beautiful - ”

Jaskier is wheeling around before he even knows what he’s doing, ”What?”

A pair of women start, alarmed at his sudden attention.

“What did you say?” Jaskier bites out, desperation making his voice sharp, “About the Princess?”

The taller woman hesitates, “The Princess Pavetta and her husband… their ship never reached Skellige. They say there was a surprise storm. They were lost…”

Jaskier doesn’t wait around to hear the rest of it, tearing through the marketplace like a hurricane. He doesn’t apologize to the people he bumps into, just frantically runs until he’s skidding into the Inn, almost running straight into Yennefer.

“Whoa whoa,” Yennefer says, hands automatically coming up to grab Jaskier’s shoulders and steady him, “Where the fire? Who did you sleep with now?”

“I need a portal, Yennefer.” The words are ripped from Jaskier’s throat, painful and wounded, “Please, Yen, I’ll do anything. Please.

“What happened?” Yennefer asks seriously, guiding Jaskier to the side.

“I need a portal to Cintra.” Jaskier whispers, “Something - it can’t be true. But if it is - ”

“Just give me a second to grab Geralt - ”

“No!” Jaskier cuts her off harshly, making her turn back to him with wide purple eyes, “You can’t tell him. He hates Cintra, Yennefer, promise me. Just - tell him I was requested to play somewhere, that I’ll be back when I’m done.”

“Jaskier…”

“You’ll be here with him,” Jaskier tells her, tears glittering on his lashes, “He’ll be fine. But Yen, there’s a little girl out there who might need me right now, and I can’t.”

“I’ll portal you there.” Yennefer agrees quietly, “No cost.”

Yennefer has hardly made the motions and split upon the world before Jaskier has already stepped through, gone without another word.

He doesn’t see Yennefer staring at the portal, long after it’s already closed again.

 

---

 

Geralt is warm and content. His jaw splits in a yawn as he comes down the stairs, scratching idly at his side. It’s a lazy sort of day, coming down from getting rid of a nest of fleders which hadn’t ended up being as big as was thought.

He wonders idly if Jaskier has already written a song about the experience, and if he’s going to perform it for the tavern tonight.

He fully expects Jaskier to be swanning around town getting into trouble, so he’s not shocked that the bard isn’t downstairs hanging around. He’s either going off seducing someone that’ll end up biting him in the ass, or he’s wrapping the villagers around his little finger by batting his eyes and buying sweets for all the children. Or something else entirely, because Jaskier lives to surprise.

He fully expects Yennefer to already be gone as well, browsing the marketplace for herbs and the like that she might be running low on. So he’s slightly surprised when she’s just standing there, frowning at nothing.

“Yennefer?” He ventures gruffly, managing to catch the witch’s attention.

If anything, she frowns harder. Geralt waits patiently for her to figure out what she wants to say.

“I think…” Yennefer says finally, slowly, like she’s tasting each word before it passes through her lips, “I think you need to follow Jaskier.”

Geralt sighs deeply, “What has the fool bard gotten himself into this time?”

But Yennefer shakes her head. “He doesn’t need you to bail him out of anything. I think he just needs - I think he needs a friend.”

Geralt frowns, “Why?”

“I think he got some bad news.” She murmurs, looking away, “He asked me to portal him somewhere, because there was someone who needed him. I think - I think he was crying.”

Geralt feels something in his chest ache, even though he knows that the bard cries at the drop of a hat. Happy tears, sad tears, angry tears. And Yennefer doesn’t even like the bard, so she probably can’t tell the difference like Geralt can. It’s something that just comes with exposure.

“He’ll be fine.” Geralt informs Yennefer simply, because Jaskier always is.

Yennefer puts her hands on her hips, like Jaskier does. “You don’t know that!”

“If he needed me, he would have woken me.” Geralt growls, suddenly getting frustrated. The bard didn’t even both to make sure Geralt knew he was leaving. If Jaskier hadn’t asked Yennefer to create a portal, would Geralt even know the bard was gone until Jaskier didn’t come back?

“Well there’s no harm in going to check on him, if he doesn’t need us we don’t have to stay in Cintra - ”

“No!” Geralt roars, cutting her off. They blink at each other for a second, both equally surprised at Geralt’s own fury. Except - Cintra. “Jaskier doesn’t know anyone in Cintra.” He informs Yennefer severely, turning away, “And I am not allowed in that city, anyway.”

Yennefer recovers from her surprise with grace, glaring Geralt down with her furious purple eyes, “Since when have little things like rules and laws stopped you, Witcher?”

That’s how Geralt knows Yennefer is displeased. When she stops using his name. It’s a difference between his companions he’s observed before - when Jaskier is angry, he tends to use Geralt’s name even more. “Hmm.”

“You know Jaskier would follow you to hell and back if you needed him.” Yennefer snarls.

“I don’t need him.” Geralt returns, thinking of a conversation in a bathtub before one of the worst nights in his life. “And the last thing I want is someone who needs me.

“You are a fool, Geralt of Rivia.” Yennefer’s voice is like ice, furious and cold.

And then with a flick of her wrist, a portal emerges behind her. She gives him one last freezing glance, before she steps through and is gone.

And Geralt is left standing there, alone. His chest hurts, and he doesn’t understand why.

 

---

 

Jaskier has no fight left in him when he gets to his knees.

“Please,” He begs, voice cracking and tears spilling down his cheeks, “Please. Just let me see her.

“You think you have the right?” Queen Calanthe snarls, incandescently furious. “You think you can just waltz into my country, under my nose, and steal my granddaughter away from me?”

“Please.” Jaskier whimpers, and for one of the first times in his life, he doesn’t have the words. They slip through his fingers like sand through an hourglass. “I’m not trying to steal her -”

“Liar!” Queen Calanthe roars like her namesake the Lioness. “You want to take her away, take her to that fucking Witcher who couldn’t keep his mouth shut! He was smart enough to stay away, so why is it that you have infested the castle like a plague since then? You are a curse on this family, and I will not have it!”

“Your Highness - ”

“Silence! Not another word, you little worm.” Her words should be cold, but instead they’re like fire. Jaskier knows that he’s supposed to let words roll off of him like water, but how can you do that with something designed to burn on contact?

Jaskier would be wise to shut up. But when has he ever been wise? “She’s just a child.” He blurts out, suddenly furious, “She just lost her parents. And you’re going to stand there and make her lose even more?

The Queen straightens, steel in her spine. “You,” She spits out, “Are not a loss. Don’t flatter yourself. Cirilla is a princess, you are a bard. I am her grandmother, and you are nothing.”

Jaskier gets to his feet, sudden steel in his own spine. “I am Jaskier.” He tells this woman, this grieving mother, “And I am not nothing.”

“Men,” The Queen snarls, turning her face away from Jaskier’s sudden fury, “Take this man away. If he comes back into Cintra’s city limits, kill him.

She turns and stalks away, and the knights approach, caging Jaskier in. He knows every face in this circle, has laughed and spoken with all of them over the years. He knows them by name, he knows their families by name and asks after them frequently, he rescued them from Ciri when she was getting too rambunctious.

None of them meet his eyes.

“I’m sorry.” Eist says quietly, looking over his shoulder in the direction the Queen had stormed off in. But Eist also doesn’t rescind the Queen’s order, even though he could as King. “She just lost her daughter. She’s grieving.”

“And you think I’m not?” Jaskier snarls, reaching up to touch the hot tear tracks on his own cheeks. “Pavetta and Duny were my friends. They were family to me, Eist. She is not the only one grieving. Grief is excusable. Cruelty is not.”

“Pavetta was her only child.” Is all Eist says, still looking over his shoulder and not meeting Jaskier’s eyes.

“I didn’t see her caring about that when she was trying to behead the man her daughter loved.” Jaskier spits out.

“Come on, Jaskier.” Sir Favian says quietly, looking pained, “Don’t make a scene.”

“Ciri deserves better than this, and you know it.” Jaskier hurls his parting words at Eist, before turning to the knights, “And this sits just fine with all of you?”

No one answers.

“Cowards.” Jaskier says quietly, all his fury abating and leaving him bone tired and numb. “All of you, cowards. Pavetta and Duny would be ashamed.”

He gets a few flinches with that one.

He waits until they’re walking away, when they’re out of earshot of any royals before he actually starts to entreat. “I just want to see her, just for a moment. Just - if I’m to be banished, at least let me say goodbye.”

Quinn and Doran won’t even look at him. Favian does, but even though he looks sorrowful his face is firm. “The Queen has spoken,” Sir Favian says quietly.

“That hasn’t been a problem all these years, with you lot pleased as punch to look the other way while I smuggled myself into the castle.” Jaskier grits out.

“You had the Princess to vouch for you.” Favian says quietly, “And the Princess willing face the wrath of the Lioness if necessary. Princess Pavetta’s favor… did more to protect you than you know.”

Jaskier’s heart breaks hearing the past tense. Even knowing, even hearing the grief and seeing the mourning, it’s still not quite real. He feels like he should have known the moment Pavetta died, the same way he knew when Renfri stopped breathing. The same way he knows instinctively when Geralt gets in over his head.

“Maybe if you come back in a few years?” Little Lazlo, the newest knight and still wet behind the ears pipes up. Lazlo looks hopeful, but Jaskier can tell from the expressions on the other knights faces that the Lioness is likely to change her mind when Hell freezes over and not a moment before.

“I’m sorry, Jaskier.” Sir Favian says.

“That’s not enough.” Jaskier says bluntly, and then refuses to say anything more as they escort him to the gate. Jaskier has just passed through when the entire company is halted by a voice.

“Jaskier!”

It’s Mousesack, hurrying over. He looks… tired.

Jaskier feels hope bloom in his chest for a moment, before the forlorn look on Mousesack’s face crushes it under its heels.

“I’m sorry, Jaskier.” Mousesack tells him, and Jaskier is so fucking sick of people telling him they’re sorry instead of doing something. But - Mousesack was close to Pavetta as well. Arguably more than Jaskier, seeing as Mousesack was in the castle year round instead of the fleeting visits Jaskier was capable of.

“I’m sorry, too.” Jaskier says instead of letting acid fall from his lips, because he is going to be a better person than Calanthe. He is not going to assume that his grief is the only one that deserves acknowledgement.

“Is there -” Mousesack hesitates, looking at the knights. But they all look away, because even in the face of Jaskier’s fury they are still, at heart, kind people. “Is there something you want me to… pass on?”

It’s such a kind gesture, and Jaskier aches. But Ciri is just a child. She won’t understand the politics keeping Jaskier from visiting her, from scooping her into his arms and kissing her tears away and grieving with her. To give her a message and not his presence is a cruelty he finds himself unwilling to inflict.

“Tell her I couldn’t be reached.” The words are out of Jaskier’s mouth before he even realizes he’s opened it. “Tell her… tell her I’m off hunting dragons, gathering information for when she grows up enough to hunt them herself. Tell her that if I knew I would be by her side in an instant.”

Mousesack offers Jaskier a watery smile, “I’ll tell her.”

“Tell her it’s okay to be sad. Tell her that sometimes it’s important to sing and dance, even when it’s the last thing she wants to do.” Jaskier swallows, “Tell her to remember that things aren’t always as they seem. To be curious, to look closer. To remember that sometimes, a wolf can be kind.”

“I’ll tell her.” Mousesack says again, and it sounds like a promise.

“Look after her.” Jaskier orders, and there is a stinging pain between his eyes as a tear escapes down his cheek.

“With my life.” Mousesack vows solemnly.

Jaskier nods gravely back, and he hopes Mousesack is as trustworthy as he thinks. He’s Geralt’s friend, but despite him and Jaskier having reasonably frequent talks they aren’t anything approaching friends. He hopes Mousesack loves Ciri for Ciri and not for a potential magical power she might not even inherit.

(Ciri’s fate has been tied to Geralt’s. Jaskier has no doubt that Ciri’s magical potential is even greater than her mother’s, who tore apart an entire banquet hall in her protective fury. But Jaskier knows what it is to have power, and he wishes that she could stay an ordinary happy little girl forever.)

“Queen Calanthe has tried to fight destiny before.” Jaskier tells the man quietly, “It didn’t exactly end in her favor.”

Mousesack looks worried, and does not reply.

 

---

 

There is a woman sitting on the beach, her arms wrapped around her knees. The tide is coming in, and the water laps across her bare feet with every heave the ocean makes.

The sand here is no stranger to salt water. A few extra drops mean nothing, in the long run.

“I’m sorry.” The woman whispers to the waves, “I’m sorry. My name is Renfri. I’m sorry.”

It is not enough.

 

---

 

By the time Yennefer finds Jaskier, he’s on his knees on one of the roads just outside of Cintra’s capital. This wouldn’t be bad, but the fact is that Yennefer hears Jaskier before she sees him.

The sounds coming out of him - they’re feral in their grief. Jaskier howls as he sobs, and when he finally comes into view Yennefer sees him shaking so hard she’s almost surprised he hasn’t shaken himself apart.

“Jaskier…” Yennefer whispers, unsure and hesitant. She is not close to Jaskier. In fact, she would even argue that they are enemies. She is not the person to comfort him. She’s not even sure she knows how.

But she’s the only person here right now. Yennefer doesn’t have a comforting bone in her body, but she looks at Jaskier as he breaks down and decides she’ll have to grow one.

She crouches next to him and places a hand on his back as he gasps and hauls air into his lung, “Who do I need to kill?”

Jaskier gasps out a laugh between his sobs, so Yennefer can’t be doing too badly.

“Yen.” Jaskier rasps out, almost unintelligible with how thick his voice is, “Have you ever been - I’m so sad and so fucking furious right now.”

The bard collapses backwards, ending up sitting on his ass with his legs splayed out on the side of some random road. Yennefer’s legs are starting to ache from crouching, so she delicately lowers herself down to sit cross-legged in the dust.

“When I was training at Aretuza,” Yennefer finds herself saying, “The Rectoress transformed my friend into an eel, and then had me push her into a pool to become a conduit for Aretuza itself. I’m not sure if I realized at the time exactly how - how fucking awful it was. To do it, but also to ask me to be a part of it.”

Jaskier looks at her with wet eyes. Eyes so blue they hurt. “Fuck. I’m sorry,” Jaskier hiccups, because he’s the sort of kind that people like Yennefer take advantage of and crush under their heels.

“Don’t be sorry.” Yennefer waves the sympathy away with a hand, “The world is - it’s a horrible fucking place, Jaskier. You just have to accept that.”

“Never.” Jaskier says immediately, taking Yennefer aback with the sheer vehemence of his conviction, “People have an endless capacity for cruelty, Yen. But fuck, if they don’t have the same endless capacity for kindness as well.”

Spoken like a true fool, who never had people spit at him and hurl him into the mud for the crime of not being born beautiful. For the crime of being born wrong.

“You don’t know anything.” Yennefer says cruelly, cold and furious and aching.

“Why are you here, Yennefer?” Jaskier challenges, chin tilted up as he stares at her with those too-blue eyes.

Yennefer opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. Why is she here? She’s here because Jaskier was hurting, and because Geralt was an idiot, and even though Yennefer often doesn’t even like Jaskier on a good day… he lets her rant at him about spells and magic, offering often insightful observations. He calls her out, and when she insults him he gives as good as he gets.

Jaskier looks too knowing. Even as he sits there in the road dirt, face swollen and red with tears still leaking from his eyes and chest heaving like he’s run a marathon.

“Who made you cry?” Yennefer asks back finally.

“I’m not sure even you could punch the universe in the face for me. Though I think I’d like to see you try.” Jaskier says dryly, wiping his face roughly with a sleeve. Disgusting. Yennefer fishes a handkerchief out of her pocket to offer the bard, almost taking it back when it looks at it with such obvious surprise.

“Who did you lose?” Yennefer asks instead, giving Jaskier a moment to blow his nose loudly.

It works, a little. His voice is a little less thick when he next speaks. “A friend. Family.”

“Well which one?”

“Don’t be silly,” Jaskier says, smiling weakly, “I mean both of course. You don’t need to be related by blood to be family, Yen. Sometimes family is something you have to build for yourself, with your own two hands.”

Yennefer thinks of a little girl laying so still and cold on a beach after her mother put her down and offered her up as sacrifice in exchange for her own life. Yennefer thinks of a father who wasn’t hers, who sold her to Aretuza without a second thought, and a mother who protested but who stood by and let her daughter be taken. Yennefer thinks of making something for herself, and presses a hand against her abdomen.

“Did you build yours?” Yennefer asks softly.

Jaskier looks up at the sky, but he looks more thoughtful than he does sad. He pulls something out of his pocket. It looks like - a little wooden dog? No. A wolf. Jaskier runs his fingers over it thoughtfully.

“Yennefer,” He says, voice hoarse but steady, “Would you like to meet my sister?”

Chapter Text

Renfri was born with red cheeks and a full head of dark hair. Her mother, sweaty and exhausted and aching, reached to draw her new daughter into her arms. She brushed against Renfri’s hair with trembling fingers and whispered, ”Beautiful.”

Renfri has been haunted by this declaration ever since.

As she grew, she was hailed by everyone she met for her looks. With perfect chestnut curls, rosy cheeks, and dark chocolate eyes, Renfri was indeed a beautiful child. Beautiful enough to stay the hand of a mage, who knew better than to touch the little Princess while she remained the apple of her mother’s eye.

Renfri has memories of being stuffed into dresses and paraded around, taught to smile and nod at all the lords and ladies who fawned over her.

“She’s going to be beautiful when she’s older,” A duke said to her father, the king.

“She’s a pretty little thing.” A lord offered her mother with an approving nod.

“You’re going to have many offers for her hand.” A countess observed, smiling an empty smile.

Renfri grows. Her mother dies. Her father remarries. Renfri is six-years-old and she is beautiful. She is also empty, and she watches the world with her dark grieving eyes. She wonders how the world can go on turning, when her own world has been so rudely torn away.

(To a child, a mother is their whole world, after all.)

As Renfri grows, she grows more beautiful.

Her little brother offers her flowers and a smile, telling her that they’re pretty. Just like her. She smiles at him, and takes the flowers, and pretends his words don’t make her stomach turn.

She hits ten. Twelve. Thirteen. People start making noise about what they will do with her. Their beautiful, monstrous princess. There is talk about marriage, about sending her away to some little lord where she will live out her life quietly. Where she will pop out babies that will be as beautiful as her, where she will be out of sight and out of mind and people will forget about the princess who wakes up with blood on her beautiful, beautiful hands.

Her father comes to her, when she’s thirteen, and wants to talk proposals with her. Queen Aridea stands behind him, a smile on her face at the thought of finally getting rid of the King’s firstborn, the only blight on her perfect rule.

But the King is a fickle creature, who loves beautiful things. Renfri flips her perfect chestnut curls, and bats her lovely chocolate eyes, and asks her father with pouting lips if he’s trying to get rid of her.

Of course not, her father assures her, sweeping her into his arms. He tells her that really Renfri is too young for marriage anyway, that his first queen was eighteen when he married her and if that was good enough for the King, then it was good enough for any lord who wished to try for Renfri’s hand.

Queen Aridea’s eyes are hard and furious, but her face is as smooth as if it was carved from marble. Renfri meets her step-mother’s eyes, and she is not the first to look away.

Renfri gets two more years in the castle. She grows taller, grows colder, grows lovelier.

And then she goes into the woods, and a man grabs her. He tangles a meaty hand in Renfri’s perfect chestnut curls, and whispers beautiful in her ear. He was hired to murder her, to get rid of a problem, and her beauty is what saves her.

(She does not feel saved, when she stands panting and aching with blood on her hands and on her thighs. She does not feel saved, when she holds her hand out to her little brother and tells him that they have to run.)

Renfri finishes growing up on the streets, in the woods, in the wild.

She grows, and everywhere she turns she finds people staring at her with envy, with lust, with longing.

She kisses someone for the first time in a crowded marketplace. It’s a boy with a basket full of apples who had offered it to her for the price of a single kiss. She smiles at him, with her lovely face and mischievous eyes, and kisses him squarely on the mouth.

He starts in surprise, and Renfri sneaks some tomatoes and snap peas into her pockets from the stall with the hand not cupping his face.

He’s a sweet boy, who goes bright red and doesn’t notice Renfri’s sleight of hand. He bashfully offers her the basket, and he calls her pretty as a picture.

Renfri learned a lesson when she was young, when she wore beautiful dresses and stood carefully at her mother’s side and the lords and ladies spoke of her beauty. But not to her, because her beauty doesn’t belong to her. It belongs to everyone else.

She relearns this lesson on the street, with cruel men and indifferent men and men who feel entitled because they want her, and they have never learned that wanting is not the same as possessing. They take her beauty as an invitation, as though it’s something she has control over.

Renfri learns to defend herself not because of men who feel entitled to her, but because there are men who feel entitled to her little brother. She walks up to a retired man, hands him all the coin she can, and demands that he teach her to fight.

Her perfect beautiful hands gain calluses from the training she does. Her muscles grow more defined under her skin. Renfri runs her fingers over these changes, and she marvels.

(She wonders if others would think them as beautiful as she does, when she runs the pads of her thumbs over the tough skin on her palms.)

Renfri grows. She practices. She sharpens her blade, and her skills, the next time a man calls her beautiful and tries to take something from her, she draws blood.

One day, when Renfri and Jaskier travel on the road for weeks on end in the endless summer heat. Renfri dispatches a few bandits, Jaskier sings as he breaks in his new lute, and they spend endless days in one another’s company.

“You’re getting all sunburned.” Renfri tells him, rolling her eyes when they finally reach civilization.

“And you think you aren’t?” Jaskier laughs. They don’t have much in the way of coin, and even if they did the coin they have left over isn’t accepted over here. They crossed a border, somewhere. But Jaskier is well used to singing for their supper.

They are disgusting. Filthy and sweaty and dusty from hard days on the road. Jaskier offers to sing for their supper, and also for a room and bath. Jaskier waves her off to go first, already strumming up a fun little folk song for the lunch crowd.

The Inn is fancier than usual. There’s a full length mirror, which Renfri doesn’t even notice until she’s unrobed. She turns around, catches her reflection, and freezes.

The woman in the mirror is - strange. Her hair is tangled and dusty, tied back messily with a spare bit of string. Her body is tanned in patches, her shoulders are darker than her stomach that is darker than her chest from when she spent summer evenings in nothing but her breastband and underwear, calf deep in a river searching for frogs and crawdads.

Freckles have popped up on her shoulders, venturing shyly down her chest and arms. She has more nasty scars than when she last saw herself, a particularly wicked one curving up her side and ending under her left breast.

Renfri looks at herself, with her muscular arms and uneven tan and tangled hair.

She has never felt more beautiful in her life.

Later, when Jaskier takes a break and pops two plates of food down on the table with all the eagerness of someone who’s entire diet had consisted of ‘mystery catch stew’ for the past months, Renfri asks her brother, “Jaskier? What is beauty?”

Jaskier chews thoughtfully and swallows. He never asks her why she asks some of the questions he does, he just answers them no matter how simple he might find them. She loves him, if only for that.

“Do you remember,” Jaskier says slowly, “That woman who took us in for the night near Nastrogg? By the ocean?”

Renfri nods.

“She boiled seawater all day, and the house smelled like a storm.” Jasker hums, “Her hair was all curly from the steam, and she had wrinkles at the corners of her eyes that pulled when she smiled. She let us taste the salt when she was done, and it felt more like snow than salt. She taught me sailing songs her husband had known, and her voice was husky and deep.”

Renfri nods again, she does remember all of this, even if her recount would have been far less poetic than Jaskier’s.

“She was beautiful.” Jaskier tells her simply, and it makes Renfri blink.

Renfri learned the word ‘beautiful’ in a court, where it was a commodity. Where it was something to be coveted or paraded about. And she knows, without a single doubt in her bones, that no one in that castle would have looked at a sailor’s widow with steam-curled hair and crow’s feet and called her beautiful.

Her father would cry to see her now, with her rough hands and cracked nails. With her broader shoulders and steady stance. With her hair cut short below her shoulders instead of cascading down her back. He would mourn for her perfect, untouched beauty.

She thinks she likes her brother’s definition of beauty better.

Years later, when she feels the portal open behind her and turns around with her hand on her sword and her eyes dark with a consuming sort of grief.

Except through the portal steps her brother, with tear streaked cheeks and looking as wrecked as she feels. And then after him, a woman steps through.

The first thing she thinks is beautiful, but what she thinks is court beauty, and it puts her on edge. The woman has silky black hair, a perfect figure, eyes perfectly made up and piercing.

But then Renfri looks closer. At the dust on the seat of her dress, at the scars on her wrists, at the weariness in her face.

Are you beautiful? Renfri wonders, or are you beautiful?

 

---

 

Yennefer was born screaming, and the midwife shared a look with her apprentice before tentatively placing the babe in her mother’s arms. Her mother, sweaty, shaking, and exhausted, traces her fingers across the babe’s rounded ears with something like relief before she realizes that her daughter has a crooked jaw. A twisted spine.

“What’s wrong with her?” Yennefer’s mother asks fearfully, looking up at the midwife and wondering if her child is cursed for her mother’s folly of loving a man with pointed ears and eyes like fields of morning glories.

Yennefer is haunted by this question for the rest of her life.

Yennefer grew in fits and starts, scorned by everyone. She remembers crying in her mother’s arms, asking her why why why. Why couldn’t she have been born beautiful? Why had she been born like this? Like a monster?

Her father, who is not her father, tells her it’s because she is the blood of beasts. That she has elf blood in her veins, and it always breeds true. That it makes sure that all humans know that they are looking at monsters.

(Years later, she looks at row upon row of skulls as Istredd tells her that elves gave humans their first taste of magic, of chaos, of power. He tells her that the humans turned on the elves, so that they could claim magic for themselves. She wonders who, exactly, is supposed to be the monster.)

Yennefer grows, and she learns that the world is a cruel and unforgiving place for people like her. She is not beautiful, and so she has no worth. No one could ever love her, as she is.

If she had been born beautiful, she would have been smiled at and laughed with, maybe teased a little when she picked a little knot of daisies off the floor to return to two wayward lovers. But she is not, and they turn on her with such easy wickedness, shoving her to the ground and making her close her eyes and wish to be anywhere else -

And then suddenly she is. There is a boy, and she is frightened, and he tells her she will be tracked, and then he sends her home.

The next day, a severe looking woman comes to the farm and her father (not her father) sells her for four marks. Less than half of what one of the pigs is worth. Bitterly she wonders how much she would be worth if she was beautiful. If she had been born perfect and lovely.

She wonders how her father would price her little half-siblings, the ones her mother tucks behind her as she beseeches her husband to reconsider. But Yennefer notices that her mother does not come to her, does not move to touch her twisted daughter. Not even to say goodbye.

Yennefer is furious, and aching, and she burns inside as her choice is taken from her and she is stolen away from everything she has ever known.

So when she punches the mirror, furious at what it shows her, she stares at the shards of mirror glass with their sharp edges and she considers. When she holds a shard between her fingers, it catches the light and shines.

It’s beautiful, she thinks. How wonderful, that her death will be so lovely.

It is not nearly so lovely when she wakes up again, her wrists bound and her body heavy and furious that she cannot even do this one simple thing right.

She grows more within the walls of Aretuza. Grows taller, grows more powerful, grows more angry. She holds onto magic with both hands, embracing the chaos and letting the snap and crackle of lightning roll across her shoulder and down her arms until she can taste storms on her tongue.

She watches Tissaia turn her friend into an eel. She pushes her friend into the water, and stares at the magic, and she wonders as she reaches out to touch the surface of the glowing liquid - is this beauty? The eels are not beautiful themselves, but watching them swim in unison, forming a single whole, a single conduit - is this beauty?

Beauty, she decides later with betrayal on her tongue as she arches her back and screams, is power. She looks at the man and tells him to leave her the scars on her wrists and the color of her eyes, but she doesn’t care about anything else. She asks him to make her beautiful. Him, the man who has a hand in the look of every sorceress who comes out of Aretuza. He must know beauty. She will sacrifice anything in the world to be beautiful.

(To be worth something.)

She strides into the ballroom with a confidence she has never felt. For the first time in her life, her back is straight and her steps are sure and she feels beautiful.

(Or perhaps it is powerful that she feels, as she takes a king’s hand in her own and lets him lead her into a dance. Is there really a difference?)

Yennefer goes to court, and she meets a million beautiful people. Men and women with beautiful clothes that cost fortunes, who know every step to every dance, who curl their lips and wrinkle their noses and say such ugly words.

Yennefer escorts a princess as vapid and vain and beautiful as the rest of them. A walking womb, who birthed a tiny little princess. Yennefer wonders if the little princess will be beautiful, wonders why she cares.

“To this baby, I am the whole world.” The Queen murmurs, staring at the babe in her arms, “If only it wasn’t so boring.”

And Yennefer remembers why she has always wanted to be beautiful. Remembers when she was a bitter little girl with a twisted spine and a certain sort of grief resting in her heart, the little girl who watched people steal kisses and offer flowers and knew that those things would never be for her.

That little girl had wanted, with the kind of desperation that causes wars, to be loved. To be beautiful, so that she could finally be worthy of love. So that her mother would smile, and her father would stop calling her a monster, and so the townspeople would laugh with her instead of at her.

In the here-and-now, Yennefer looks at a tiny little princess and wonders what babies think of beauty.

She doesn’t have long to ponder this line of thought before their carriage is attacked, the guards slaughtered, and Yennefer is carting an ungrateful woman through portal after portal and wondering if beauty is worth this terrible, empty life.

The baby is beautiful, when Yennefer looks into her still, grey little face. Absolute perfect, wrapped in her blankets and looking for all the world like a porcelain doll. Yennefer doesn’t even know the baby’s name. Had the queen told her? Had she cared to listen? Was it something beautiful?

Yennefer leaves the baby on the beach in an unmarked grave, wondering if the King who was sick of waiting for a son had even remembered that he still had a daughter.

(Would it have mattered, if the King had seen her? If the King had known that his baby was beautiful? Because she was, and she’d been thrown aside anyway. Like trash. Like Yennefer had been, all those years ago.

The little Princess’s life had probably been worth more than four marks though.)

Yennefer leaves the beach, and she leaves the courts behind. Once upon a time, she had wanted to be beautiful in order to be loved. But she has realized that the simplest of loves is one that she gave up in order to become beautiful in the first place.

It isn’t fair. She hadn’t known. They’d told her she needed to be beautiful, that if she wanted to get anywhere, then she had to become her best self. They told her to sacrifice, like it was the expected thing. As though it wasn’t only something they asked of the women, whose lives were only worth what they could give to others.

(Beauty or babies, why were those the only options?)

She is angry. No, she is furious. She scours the kingdoms, wandering through every backwater magic shop, dealing with every skeevy non-brotherhood mage, to find a cure. To find something that will give her back the choice that was taken from her, reverse the sacrifice she hadn’t known she was making.

Yennefer looks in the mirror, and she sees a beautiful monster.

She wonders, absently, if her mother is still alive. What she would say if Yennefer appeared before her looking as she did now. Would her mother touch her? Look at her without disgust? Would she love her?

She meets a Witcher with white hair and a crease in his brow, who wants to save a friend that he never actually says is a friend. Or anything else. The Witcher leaves the relationship undefined, and Yennefer wonders why.

Yennefer is a creature of want, the kind of want that makes her ache and reach out and take. And the Witcher is a monster, just like she is. A beautiful monster, wrapped up in human skin. When the djinn leaves and she is empty and furious and wanting, she finds herself reaching for him. And he meets her halfway.

Is this love, she wonders, meeting someone halfway?

She doesn’t expect what happens next. Doesn’t expect to keep meeting the man, to fall into him again and again. She doesn’t expect to become fond of his little pet bard, who is more and more curious every time she looks.

Is this beauty, she wonders, looking at the Witcher’s powerful muscles and commanding presence.

Is this beauty, she wonders, watching the bard sway a room into song that has people parting from their coin.

She follows a bard into a city and finds him grieving and broken. She follows him through a portal, and then she’s standing on a beach looking at a woman with tangled chestnut hair and freckles on her arms and dark smoldering eyes. The woman has steel in her spine and a sword at her hip and she stands like the world should bow before her. And Yennefer wonders -

Is this beauty?

 

---

 

Jaskier stands up on the side of a dusty road, his heart in his throat and his eyes leaking tears. Yennefer blinks at him, and he cracks a smile that feels painful on his face. “Can you make a portal?”

Yennefer stares at him like he’s an idiot. “I need a location for a portal.”

More tears drip down Jaskier’s cheeks, and he knows he has to look disgusting. He appreciates that Yennefer came after him, he does, and he would have never expected it from her - but he and Yennefer aren’t friends. Maybe they could be, one day, but right now? Jaskier needs his sister more than he needs to keep secrets.

“Make a portal to anywhere.” He tells Yennefer simply, “You always want to see me actually use my magic, right?”

Yennefer gives him a hard, searching look. Whatever she finds in his face, she must be alright with, because she gestures, and her magic sings as the universe folds in on itself in a single spot.

“Can you hold it for a minute?” Jaskier asks, walking up to the portal. Upon Yennefer’s tense nod, he reaches out a finger to trace along the edges of the ripple between worlds.

It’s beautiful magic, and it sings under his touch. But it’s not the song he needs. Jaskier can feel the song he needs in his bones, the one that always sat there for years. Since the day he stood in the woods and looked at his sister’s body and wondered why she had left him and begged her to come back.

“Bond of star-shine and of need,” Jaskier sings gently, running gentle fingers against the magic. He can almost imagine the feel of it under his fingers, like the strings of his lute. Each strand sings in harmony with his own voice as he touches them, changing from the song they were originally singing to match his own. “Bond of word and bond of deed. Bond of blood and bond of steel, bond that only we two feel.”

The portal laughs as Jaskier takes it by the hand, following his will and letting him steal it from Yennefer’s power entirely.

“What did you do?” Yennefer asks severely, just Jaskier doesn’t look back at her.

He needs his sister.

“Follow me, if you want.” Jaskier laughs, voice breaking, and then he steps through the portal -

And there’s Renfri, looking at him with her wide eyes and her hand on her sword. Jaskier hears Yennefer step through the portal behind him, but he doesn’t care because he’s already in Renfri’s arms, burying his face into his sister’s neck, and clinging as tight as he can.

And then Renfri’s arm are around him, firm and secure and as rock solid as they have always been, and Jaskier feels something inside of him unclench. Just a little bit.

“She won’t let me see Ciri,” Jaskier sobs, and isn’t that the real issue? The one he couldn’t admit to Yennefer? Yennefer had never met Ciri, never met Pavetta and Duny. Didn’t understand the magnitude of what had happened. But Renfri did. “She won’t let me see Ciri.

Renfri swore, her hand sweeping across Jaskier’s back in firm, soothing strokes. “I’ll kill her.” Renfri says severely.

“Need help?” A dry voice asks, and Jaskier almost forgot about Yennefer for a minute.

He wipes his face on Renfri’s shoulder, and he doesn’t even get scolded for it before he hooks his chin up, sniffling and blinking tears from his eyes.

“Effee,” He says thickly, “This is Yennefer. Yennefer, this is my sister, Effee.”

Renfri’s hand creeps up to cradle the back of Jaskier’s head, threading her fingers through his hair. “Pleasure to meet you,” His sister bites out, voice cautious and cold. Jaskier suddenly remembers every single time he’s complained at length about the Witch to Renfri’s semi-sympathetic ear.

“She’s okay.” Jaskier mumbles, “I mean, she’s a bitch. But she’s okay for today at least.”

He hears Yennefer’s amused huff and is glad that she can’t see his shaky little smile.

“Hmm.” Renfri hums, unimpressed. Pressed against her as he is, he can feel her rumble in his bones.

“I could portal us to a tavern?” Yennefer offers dryly, “For you two to drown your sorrows?”

“Yennefer,” Renfri says consideringly, tilting her head to rest her head against Jaskier’s hair, “I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

 

---

 

Renfri smoothes a hand over her brother’s hair and he shifts in his sleep. He doesn’t look peaceful, with red cheeks and dried tear tracts on his face, but he’s more peaceful than he was awake-and-drunk-and-sad, that’s for sure.

She leans down to press a kiss against her little brother’s forehead. When he was tiny, he used to take himself off in the middle of the night to crawl into Renfri’s bed. At first she’d thought he’d been having nightmares, but it turned out he just liked being near to her.

He’s not a baby anymore, but he’ll always be her little brother.

Smoothing his hair back one more time, she finally gets up and exits the room. The world only sways a little bit - she hadn’t been fool enough to try and match Jaskier drink for drink. Renfri as a whole tends to avoid excessive drinking - she dislikes the loss of control.

“He’s asleep.” Renfri says aloud when she reaches the tavern, and the side booth that Yennefer is still nursing her drink in.

Yennefer hums, looking thoughtful.

Renfri just slides in across from the witch, reaching out to steal the ale out of the other’s hands and taking a quick sip.

“Not many are brave enough to dare steal from a mage.” Yennefer informs her gravely.

Renfri can feel the grin spread across her face, sharp and shark-like, “I’ve taken down a fair few mages in my day. I think I could take you.”

Yennefer’s eyebrow climbs up her face, “Oh? Are you as… talented as your brother?”

Renfri snorts, taking another sip of her stolen drink. Jaskier had drunkenly gotten up and sang an impromptu ballad about a mother who lost her son at sea who still waited for him to return home to her. It had brought the entire tavern, excepting only Renfri, to tears. And even then, Renfri had very almost joined them, despite Jaskier’s leaky magic not affecting her.

“Is that… a yes?” Yennefer asks delicately.

“No.” Renfri shrugs. Jaskier has already informed her that the witch is aware of his fucked up magic, but also that they’d come to a truce about keeping it secret in exchange for magic talks with someone who wasn’t actually the worst person in the world. “Jas is a unique anomaly, completely separate from my own brand of abomination.”

“You certainly have his gift for talking around a question.” Yennefer sneers, looking more than a little bit frustrated.

“My heart bleeds for you, Witch.” Renfri deadpans.

“You’re not what I imagined, finding out that Jaskier has a sister.” Yennefer observes, leaning back and studying Renfri with those intense violet eyes. There’s a question in there, somewhere.

“Jaskier is the best of us.” Renfri informs the witch simply, “I have no idea why he chose me, but he did and I’m doing my best to make sure he’s never going to regret that.”

“He’s family, he’s stuck with you.” Yennefer points out.

Renfri looks around, exaggeratedly peering into the crowd.

This goes on for a few minutes before Yennefer finally gets impatient and interrupts, “What are you doing?”

“Looking for your family, witch.” Renfri blinks innocently, and gets a sort of grim satisfaction when Yennefer draws back. Her face goes blank and unreadable, and Renfri feels her lip curl.

Witchers and mages. Their families give them up to go through trials, of which they might never succeed. Outsiders aren’t welcome to know what sort of training they go through, but everyone knows that more people go in than come out to say the least. The sort of people who surrender their children to go through those trials…

Sometimes it’s involuntary. Magic smoothes over many hurts, including anger and loss over a child being stolen. But Yennefer has scars on her wrists and fury in her eyes and something to prove. Renfri takes a gamble, and she can see her blow land.

“You know not of what you speak.” Yennefer hisses.

Renfri takes another sip of her drink. “My step-mother wanted me dead.” She informs the witch simply, “My father cared for me, in the same way he cared for his hunting dogs and pretty artwork. He was a lover of beautiful things - Jas gets that from him.”

The way the King approached his love of beautiful things was to possess. He bought artwork and had affairs and took. Jaskier - Jaskier’s love was all simple and open admiration. Their father wanted to own, Jaskier just wanted to sing.

(He’d explained it to her once, fingers dancing across his lute, that it really wasn’t so different. To sing, to compose, was to take a piece of that beauty and make it his own. And not only that, but it gave him the ability to share that beauty with everyone he met.

Jaskier could sing about the curve of someone’s jaw, the color of their eyes, the beauty of their hair - and there was no expectation for the other party to return his affection. Jaskier was a lover of beauty, but he saw beauty everywhere.)

“They didn’t protect me.” Renfri tells Yennefer softly, not sure why she’s even telling the witch all of this.

(Except she does know why. She never told Pavetta anything, having too much fun playing the game. Pavetta and Duny had died knowing close to nothing about Renfri. Yennefer isn’t Pavetta, but…)

Yennefer’s face is sympathetic, but far away. Like she’s remembering something from her own past. “You left.” She observes distantly, tilting her head calculatingly, “You didn’t try and prove yourself?”

“You can’t prove yourself to someone who doesn’t care.” Renfri murmurs, looking away, “And no. I didn’t leave under my own power. I left because to stay would have killed me. I should have left alone, but - Jaskier came with me. Even though he wasn’t in danger. Even though it was the harder choice.”

Yennefer’s face is unreadable.

Renfri leans forward, “I didn’t have anything to prove to them, Yennefer. Fuck them. Love isn’t something with fucking conditions. If I had to prove myself to be lovable in their eyes, then that’s not love.”

“Love isn’t easy.” Yennefer murmurs, eyes dark and wary.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world.” Renfri refutes immediately, “Relationships? Those are difficult. But love? It’s like a weed. It grows in the darkest of places. Even in a monster’s heart.”

Yennefer just stares, and Renfri suddenly feels so sympathetic. Is this who Renfri would be, without Jaskier? Beautiful and regal and cold?

“You have to find the right person.” Renfri tells her, quirking a small smile. “It doesn’t have to be a partner. It doesn’t even have to be family. You need to find the person who makes you feel less alone, and hold onto them. Even when it hurts. Maybe especially when it hurts.”

There had been more than one occasion, especially in the beginning, when Renfri had yelled at Jaskier to go home. To go back to his easy life, a prince in a castle who was beloved by all. On the cold nights, when they went to bed hungry. On the rainy nights, when they slept huddled together, wet and miserable. But Jaskier had never left, and Renfri had never succeeded in driving him away.

“Do you love Geralt?” Renfri asks, honestly curious.

“I don’t know.” Yennefer says, voice tight and face like stone.

“Maybe you should figure that out.”

 

---

 

Geralt was born on a stormy night, the thunder drowning out his cries when he finally greeted the world and found it too loud and strange for his liking. He was born wailing, as though he were trying to match the storm in all its intensity. His exhausted mother gathered him into her arms herself, wrapping him carefully and looking into his tiny red face as he cried. “I’m sorry.” She whispered to him, lifting the babe and pressing her forehead to his, “I’m sorry.”

Geralt never heard her say these words again.

He grew like a weed into a boisterous child with dark brown waves of hair and eyes grey as the storm he was born in. He smiled easily and was into just about everything, curious as a litter of barn kittens.

“Why?” He’d ask his mother, tugging on her skirts and trying to peer up at the tabletop where all the cool looking plants were. He never minded when she shooed him away, because he would come right back to keep tugging at her skirt until she gave in and boosted him onto the counter to watch her - quietly while she worked.

She never explained, but Geralt figured he had time to figure things out eventually.

He romped around wildly. The other kids wouldn’t play with him because his mother was magic, but that was alright. He had a stick for a sword, the horses in the fields, and the old crotchety barn cat who would sometimes let him pet him if he was really really quiet. And that was all he needed.

“Some day, I’ll make you a necklace of dragon teeth!” Geralt had enthused, taking off his mighty helmet (that was only a bucket when he wasn’t wearing it), sitting at the dinner table eagerly.

“No.” His mother shot that down. “We must live and let live.”

“What’s that mean?” Geralt asked, not really expecting an answer.

“It’s our code.” His mother said, “We have to cling to something. If we don’t, the world descends into chaos.”

He asked her again what that means, and that time his mother really didn’t answer. She just grabbed herself a plate of food, and told him to eat his vegetables the way she always did, even though he always ate them without even protesting no matter how gross they were.

“Where are we going?” Geralt asks, dancing around the horse’s legs as his mother packed the cart. He hopes his mother will let him sit up front this time, because he adores watching the horses trot ahead of them. Horses are his favorite animal, even more than the dogs that he could spend hours petting in town. And they were even better, because they were his!

Well, his mother’s. But that means they’re his as well, right?

“They’re going to kick you one of these days.” Visenna tells him severely, opening a jar to sniff at it. She frowns, but she caps it and places it in the cart regardless. “And it will serve you right.”

“They wouldn’t!” Geralt laughs, offering the closest horse a pat with his little hand. The horse huffs and leans down to nose at Geralt’s pockets for any treats, almost knocking him down in the process. He wishes that he had an apple to offer her, and pats at her some more in apology for his lack of gift.

“You’re so good.” He whispers to the horse, “Pretty girl.”

“Up you go,” Visenna says, gesturing to him. He almost trips over his own feet scampering over. He beams up at her as she scoops him up under his armpits and deposits him in the back of the cart with the other belongings. He is disappointed he doesn’t get to ride up front, but he knows better than to complain.

He also knows better than to ask his question again, because his mother won’t answer.

Instead he peers at the scenery as it passes by, green and bright and beautiful. Just like his mother. Well, except for the green bit. His mother has red hair, which in Geralt’s opinion is even prettier. He wishes his hair was like hers instead of just being all brown.

He’d asked his mother if she could change his hair once, and she’d told him that he was made the way he was for a reason. Geralt isn’t really sure what that reason is, but he’s pretty sure the universe or whatever would forgive him if he looked just a tiny bit more like his Ma.

He still didn’t ask again, though.

(He thinks about this conversation, years later, when he presses his hand against the mirror and stares at the shock of white hair on his head. He wonders what his mother would say if she could see him now. How she could justify this, when she had told him he was made the way he was for a reason.

She didn’t even allow him to change his hair. And now he was so changed that he wasn’t even human anymore, with eyes of gold and a heart heavy as stone in his chest. What would she think of him now?)

“What’s at the edge of the world?” Geralt asks, staring at the sky in deep contemplation. “If we go past it, will we fall off the edge of the world? Where do we fall? Into another sphere? How many spheres are there?”

He doesn’t pause for breath, because he already knows his mother won’t actually answer any of his questions. At this point, he’s thinking out loud really.

Geralt’s stomach grumbles at him, and he frowns at it. “Do you have any food?” And then a thought occurs to him, “Is there food on other spheres?”

His mother reaches back, and suddenly there’s an apple floating in front of him that he eagerly grabs.

He’s chattering on about all the places they could go, all the places he’d heard the traders speak of when he followed his mother to market and ran around trying to find all the dogs and cats and chickens he could to give pats and smiles to.

“Are you okay, Ma?” Geralt asks, concerned. They usually never stop during a journey, except to sleep if it’s a place far away. His mother’s skills are in demand, he knows that. She’s amazing at what she does! The best in the world!

“I need water.” She says, gesturing to the bucket next to him, “Go! Fetch it for me.”

Geralt beams, pleased beyond measure to be helpful. He clambers down eagerly, snatching up the bucket and following the stream noises into the woods a little way. The water is cool against his skin, and he spends maybe a little bit too long holding the bucket up and grinning as he gets little wet spots on his clothes.

Finally, he scampers back up to the road. He has a million different questions now about fish. How much water did they need to survive? What kinds were there? How could they breathe water? But all those questions are cut off at the knee when he returns to the road and finds no cart. No horses. No mother.

Had he come out at the wrong place? Gotten turned around in the forest? “Ma?” Geralt cried, hugging his bucket to his chest and he twisted to look both ways down the road. But no matter which way he looked, the road was empty. “Ma! Ma!

He doesn’t know what to do. Should he follow the road? Should he go back to the stream and try and retrace his steps better?

Except then a man’s voice sounds behind him, making him spin around in alarm because that man definitely hadn’t been there before. “Geralt,” The man says, and he knows Geralt’s name. Does he know him? Does he know Geralt’s mother? Does he know where she went? “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Geralt is pretty sure his mother told him never to go off with strangers. Especially scary strangers, who are big and scarred with wolf-eyes. So Geralt drops the bucket and hares off down the road - he’ll catch up to his mother if he runs really fast, surely -

Then there are arms around his waist, pulling him into the man’s arms, and Geralt is kicking and screaming and howling for his mother because he knows.

He remembers the older boys in the town teasing each other, saying that their parents will leave them to the Witchers if they don’t get their chores done on time, if they keep sneaking out to see girls, if they don’t buckle down and learn a trade. Everyone knows that the bad boys, the boys no one wants, that they can be left on the Witchers doorstep and no one will ever see them again.

But Geralt isn’t bad. He does his chores! He doesn’t sneak out! And he tries really hard to learn all the pretty flowers and herbs his mother has on her tables, even though she never tells him about them.

Okay, he teases the cat a bit too much. And he doesn’t always remember to wash his hands before eating. And he talks too much, always asking questions - but surely that doesn’t make him… make him…

“Calm, child.” The man says soothingly. Says grimly. Geralt wriggles spitefully anyway, because clearly there’s been a mistake. A really big mistake.

Except… this man knew him by name. Why would he know Geralt by name?

“You’re making a mistake!” Geralt howls directly in the man’s ear, and feels gratified when the man winces, “My mama is close by, and when she finds you she’s gonna destroy you! Let me go, let me go!”

“There is no mistake.” The man tells him, and his grip is firm as iron. No matter how Geralt wriggles and kicks, the man’s steps are steady as they head away from the road. Away from his mother.

And into his future.

There is precious little that is beautiful, about being a Witcher. Geralt finds this out quickly, when he’s bunking with a dozen other boys his age. He finds this out when he cries the entire first week he’s there, and all he gets is harsh words and cruel anger from his peers.

He grows in fits and starts - the training brutal and unforgiving. His stick sword is replaced with a real one, and he earns bruises on bruises. He learns that crying is useless, that begging is futile, and that there is precious little mercy to be found no matter how regretful and sympathetic his tutors might appear.

And he is changed. The less said about the process to improve eyesight, the better. Geralt’s sight is blurry for a week afterwards. Sensitive. He gets headaches until he finally adjusts, and then he spends another few weeks catching his reflection and being startled.

His eyes aren’t storm grey anymore. They’re bright and gold and burning, like the man from the road. Vesemir. Like all the Witchers at this school.

(He doesn’t know why his hair changes to white though. Some of the older witchers - they have dark hair. Normal hair. His friend, Gweld, had red hair that hasn’t changed. But Geralt’s does. He wonders why, wonders if it’s something he should be concerned about. Vesemir has white hair. Geralt doesn’t know what that means.

He doesn’t ask.)

Geralt survives his trials. Barely. Only three of his class survived, himself included in that lucky number. Gweld survives, with his red hair and lopsided grin and tendency to lean on Geralt’s shoulder to lord his might two inches on the other new Witcher. Eskel survives as well, which is fortunate for everyone since the boy has the most reasonable head on his shoulders out of the trio.

(This fact, however, does not stop Eskel from helping Geralt and Gweld sneak Salamanders into the older Witchers’ food during one Spring. In fact, if Geralt remembers correctly, it was Eskel who suggested the plot in the first place.)

Becoming a Witcher is difficult. It is, perhaps, the most difficult thing Geralt has ever done in his life. He never chose it, not like the two sullen angry boys in his class who had lifted their chins and snarled and told everyone they’d run away to become Witchers on purpose.

(They had died early, and they had died hard. Died angry. Died broken and furious. Geralt thinks of them, sometimes, when he sees a dog who has been kicked too many times to trust any man again. He wonders who they would have become, if they had survived. He tries not to think of them too often.)

“Do you ever think of home?” Gweld asks, splayed out in a patch of sun like a particularly satisfied cat. The forest floor is likely doing nothing for his bruises, but by this point the remaining trio are well used to aching muscles and fire in their bones.

And Geralt looks up into the trees, at the tiny patches of sky he can see peeking out between the branches. He thinks of a house where food was always plentiful on the table, where he wore a bucket on his head and pretended to slay dragons. He thinks of a grumpy barn cat who, sometimes, when he was very quiet, let Geralt run dusty fingers over his back without even drawing blood.

He thinks of a mother, with red hair and sad eyes who never seemed to answer any of his questions.

“We are home.” Geralt tells Gweld quietly, and they both leave it at that.

The day Geralt leaves Kaer Morhen, he thinks he’s ready. Ready to prove himself, to show that he’s worthy. He has survived the trials, survived the mutations, survived becoming a Witcher. He’s going to go out and save people and kill monsters, and he will be good at it.

(He thinks of a child with a stick for a sword pretending to slay dragons, and wonders if his childish games had meant more than they had seemed. He doubts it. Many children pretend to slay dragons. Geralt, however, gets to actually go out and do so.)

The first monster he kills is not a dragon. It’s not a wyvern, or a ghoul, or a manticore, or even a drowner. It’s far worse than any of those.

It’s a man.

And Geralt uses his steel sword, and cuts the man down, and he turns with something almost like a smile to the girl he just saved and -

Geralt is very young, for a Witcher. He was young when he was dropped off with them, and he’s still young even after his training. He was raised in violence, and so he doesn’t understand why the young woman screams and panics and faints.

Geralt grew up surrounded by Witchers with golden eyes and scars and more scary stories than an eager young boy could shake a stick at. But when everyone around was a Witcher, it was normal. Unremarkable.

Out in the world, standing in front of a girl he saved watching her vomit and cry - he’s never felt more like a monster.

He doesn’t forget this feeling, as he goes into the world. How can he, when he’s reminded at every turn that he is an abomination. Unnatural. A freak.

People pay him coin to kill their monsters, but they won’t suffer one in their town either. Geralt spends his nights sleeping under the sky and sharpening his swords and wondering if this is all his life will ever be. If all he will ever be is feared.

He goes to a town near the coast, and finds a mage in a tower who is hiding from a monster. The worst kind of monster. The human kind.

Geralt remembers his very first monster, and he says no, and he walks away.

Except the monster finds him in the woods, and the monster is a girl. Renfri. Her armor is worn, there is dirt and road dust pressed into her skin, and her hair is a tangle of brown that reminds Geralt of his own, from the time before. Her eyes are dark, and they are wild, and maybe that’s the reason why Geralt listens to her story.

She is a monster. Maybe. She is, perhaps, as much a monster as he is.

And Geralt is so very tired of being a monster. So he gives her a choice, and hopes she makes the right decision. Hopes that she goes away, far away, and becomes something else entirely. A person, instead of a monster.

If she can do that, maybe there is hope for him.

But the next day, he wakes up, and he knows. He knows, and he finds himself oddly furious.

Geralt never had a choice about becoming a monster. He was dropped on the doorsteps of Kaer Morhen, mutated against his will, and sent out into the world too far removed from humanity to ever be anything but scorned. His eyes are gold, and his hair is white, and Geralt can never be anything except what he is.

This girl, Renfri - she has a choice. Even if she is a monster, she doesn’t look it. She could slip away. Live a quiet life. She has followers who fight for her, who trust her, who love her. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and she could spend the rest of her life blending in with the herd so why doesn’t she.

So he fights her. He doesn’t want to kill her. He gives her a chance to stop. He gives her more than enough chances to stop.

She is wild, and she is ferocious, and she makes him kill her.

She doesn’t look all that surprised at the dagger in her throat, all things considered. He wonders if she thinks her choice worth it after all. If she would always choose this path, this path of murder and death. He wonders why she chose to be the wolf, when it would have been so easy to be the sheep.

He touches his fingers to his silver medallion after he’s run out of time, because it’s easier than prodding at the cuts and bruises from the stones thrown at him. He wonders why anyone would ever choose to be the wolf.

Choose to be the Butcher of Blaviken.

People fear him more, after that. Even though it was that mage who asked him to kill Renfri. Who told him that she was a monster. He should have stayed out of it, should have left Blaviken to a war between a woman and a mage and left Renfri slaughter the entire town to try and make Stregobor come down from his ivory tower.

He doesn’t expect life to get better. He expects to be hated and feared by humanity until a monster finally takes his life. He expects to only ever get acceptance and kindness from his own people, from the times he escapes to Kaer Morhen, and of course from his horse.

And then he meets Jaskier.

The bard is… confusing. Strange. He’s not scared of Geralt in the slightest. Geralt literally punches him, and the bard follows him anyway.

And then the bard writes him a song. Which is full of untruths and outright lies. And then the song catches on, and suddenly Geralt isn’t -

Well. He’s still the Butcher of Blaviken. But more and more people start calling him the White Wolf.

And Jaskier continues to follow him. Even after he’s done above and beyond what any other would do to ‘rehabilitate’ Geralt’s reputation. He follows behind Geralt like a yappy little dog, humming and singing and strumming on his lute at all hours. A constant cacophony of noise and irritation.

(Geralt has always been fond of dogs.)

Geralt is not talkative. Not anymore. Not once he learned what the price for it was. But it appears Jaskier never learned this lesson, because Jaskier is curious about everything and not afraid to show it.

He prods at Geralt, nattering questions without pausing to take a breath. He never seems to really expect an answer, except for the times that he does. Geralt isn’t very good at telling these times apart, but that’s okay because Jaskier is always quick to let him know.

“Use your words, Geralt!” The impossible man demands, stomping his foot against the ground like a toddler throwing a tantrum and looking just as unimpressed. “I might be good, but even I can’t write a song out of grunts and swears alone!”

Geralt is pretty sure that Jaskier could absolutely write a song composed of nothing but swears and grunts, actually. Jaskier seems to be very capable of writing a song about just about anything at all. He’s constantly singing under his breath, composing new tunes while he does… literally anything. In the bath? Singing. Sewing clothes? More singing. Hunting? Even more singing.

Geralt honestly doesn’t know how Jaskier is actually successful at hunting, with all the noise he makes. Jaskier claims it’s because he knows a half dozen ballads about great hunts, which of course translates to Jaskier’s own great skill at hunting. Geralt is… doubtful.

Jaskier isn’t always at his side, but he’s there often enough. No matter how many times the bard departs, he always comes back eventually. Always bright and cheerful with half a dozen new songs on his lips for Geralt to listen to.

“Love is a choice.” Jaskier tells an Alderman’s son, with gentle hands and kind eyes.

Geralt thinks that whoever Jaskier chooses will be a lucky person indeed, so long as they have an endless pool of patience that is. And some fighting skill, if they want to keep the absolute hurricane that is Jaskier out of trouble. And they probably need to be at least a little bit exciting, if they want to keep Jaskier’s attention on them instead of roving across the countryside.

Every time Jaskier expounds upon the beauty of some such person or another, every time he makes eyes at a pretty barmaid or winks at a stableboy, Geralt can’t help but roll his eyes. Jaskier, Geralt can’t help but think, is not made for an ordinary life. He is not capable of settling down in some little town with some pretty person and staying in one place.

The person who will eventually win Jaskier’s heart will have to be a fearsome person indeed.

Geralt tries not to worry about the future so much though. The distant unthinkable future where Jaskier leaves his side to follow another, to follow someone who can give him love and safety. Travelling throughout the land, but not hunting down monsters and finding the lowest underbellies of humanity.

“Love is a choice.” Jaskier had said, and Geralt wonders if that means he gets a choice as well.

Jaskier almost dies, and Geralt meets a witch, and he looks into her angry purple eyes and sees a kindred soul. A fellow monster, who doesn’t want to be a monster. Who wants to be loved.

(Mages, Geralt knows, are not all that much better off than Witchers when it comes down to it. They’re both too other for regular people to really trust them. Too wild, too monstrous to be loved. Mages and Witchers don’t have families, and Geralt’s heart goes out to this mage who wants one most desperately.)

Love is a choice, Jaskier said, and Geralt wonders if he can choose this one.

(If he loves Yennefer, who was carved into someone else when she became a mage the same way Geralt was carved into a Witcher, does that mean someone can love him? Can they really change from what they were made to be? Can they have a family? Have love? Is it possible?)

Geralt has never had much of a choice in his life, but he wants to. Oh, how he wants to.

The longest Jaskier ever leaves Geralt’s side, after they met in Posada however long ago that way, is a few months. After Yennefer tells him he should follow Jaskier to Cintra, and then yells at him, Geralt doesn’t see him for three entire months. Long months.

When Jaskier returns, he is sadder than before. Geralt can smell it on him. He is not quieter, he still hums and sings, but his songs are sadder as well.

Jaskier looks at Geralt with such sadness, that when Jaskier steps forward and wraps his arms around Geralt, all he can do is freeze.

“Jaskier.” He doesn’t quite ask, because too many questions make people leave.

“Let me have this, Geralt.” Jaskier says back, muffled against Geralt’s shoulder. “Let me have this. Just for a minute. Let me grieve what could have been.”

There’s really nothing Geralt can say to that, so he just brings up his arms and wraps them around Jaskier’s shoulders and holds the bard against him. He keeps holding the bard, even when he breaks down. Even when he starts sobbing against Geralt’s shoulder. Even when Jaskier wails like his heart is breaking.

Geralt holds his bard until he stops, and wonders if there is anyone else in the world who would seek comfort in the arms of a Witcher.

Jaskier is a unique creature indeed, and Geralt has so many questions that he can’t bring himself to voice.

(He wants to keep Jaskier. Is that so terrible?)

Chapter Text

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!”