Things that Jaskier can remember about his family:
-His mother stroking his hair, the soft murmur of her voice as he settled more comfortably against her. There was firelight and warmth and love.
-A brief moment of triumph and then the feeling of weightlessness as his father lifts from the tree and cradles him to his chest. The steady rhythm of his heart in his breast.
-Reaching up to the sky. He’s not sure what for. Possibly for his parents, though he knows that they are gone, that they have left him, that they are never coming back.
-His grandfather’s stern visage. The knowledge that he doesn’t want him. That no one wants him. Being sent to temple school is honestly a relief.
“Bard! A moment if you will!”
Jaskier turns to look behind him but doesn’t stop walking. He’ll never keep pace with Geralt if he stops now and he knows that the Witcher won’t hesitate to leave him behind in the dirt, a smile stretching his lips when Jaskier traipses into their camp or the inn hours later, exhausted and foot sore. Still, he owes Borch, if nothing else because Roach would have been a bit put out at having to deal with rough and unskilled hands rummaging through the saddlebags strapped to her. She holds a grudge, Roach does, and Jaskier knows who would be to blame.
“Listen,” he says. “Can this wait? It’s just that I’m a bit occupied at the moment and- oh woah.”
Téa and Véa flank him, pointedly, and he decides that glorious as it would be to perish between two beautiful women, this isn’t exactly that he was going for. He shoots a hopeful glance at Geralt, but he just looks amused. No help from that quarter then.
“I, er-” he says, “-if it’s about the flirting, I can tone it down! I- that is you’re both beautiful women who could snap me like a twig and honestly, I admire that-”
They’ve reached Borch by now who has been ambling along the road at his own, steady pace and who is looking, of all things, amused by his panicked ramblings. Now, as Geralt has told him many, many, many times, that’s not a normal response.
“Jaskier,” Borch says. “That’s a strange name. A hard legacy to gift to a child.”
“Jaskier-,” he snaps, pulling himself free of Téa and Véa, “-is a stage name. Something that I’m sure that you’re familiar with. And I don’t appreciate what you’re implying-”
“A stage name, is it?” Borch interrupts him once again. “Then we have yet to be properly introduced?”
If possible, Jaskier is even more offended. He puffs himself up, admittedly not-that-impressively if the small snort that Téa (or is it Véa?) gives, but they can’t all be bloody Witchers, can they.
He opens his mouth, ready to unleash a blistering retort of the sanctity of a man’s professional image, of a reputation literally decades in the making-
And then a firm hand is clasped on his shoulder and Geralt rumbles behind him: “Whatever the bard said, he did not mean. He doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”
Jaskier gasps, audibly and dramatically. “Betrayed! By my own friend. I’ll have you know Geralt-”
And the subsequent rant, which ranges from his manners to the Countess de Stael to the quality of food in Cintra to the price of velvet nowadays, lasts them until they reach the inn, Geralt occasionally interjecting with his ubiquitous ‘hmms’.
It doesn’t stop the prickle on the back of his neck where he can feel Borch staring at him.
Things that Jaskier has been told about his family:
-His mother had disappeared for three years and returned with a son and a husband.
-His father was a knight of no renown and the world did not mourn when he passed.
-His grandfather is a great man. Few would have taken in their bastard grandchild.
“Julian Alfred Pancratz,” Borch says behind him. “A fascinating name. Names are something of a hobby of mine. Julian- meaning youthful, correct? Well, you’ve certainly lived up to your name.”
“Excuse me, what-”
“Although there is an older meaning, if you know where to look for it. Linked to one of the Old Deities, worshipped before the Age of Men. It comes from Iovis. And it means to shine.” Borch pauses and looks deeply into Jaskier’s eyes. Despite himself, he shifts backward.
“How old are you?” he says, softly, almost to himself. “You can’t be more than a child- no older than forty years or so-”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re extremely creepy?”
Jaskier is not ashamed to admit that he fair runs to the front of the convoy and as far away from the creepy, and possibly lecherous, old man, as possible.
Things that Jaskier has left of his family:
-His mother’s voice, ringing sweet and true, chasing after the half-remembered lullabies that haunt his dreams.
-His father’s gentleness, or as his grandfather shouts at him, his ‘thrice bedamned inability to do what has to be done, are you listening to me Julian-!’
-One red stone, that fits perfectly into the palm of his hand and that is always perfectly warm
“Julian,” Borch says, holding him back as the dwarves lead them to this so-called ‘shortcut’. He’s been calling him Julian incessantly, and Jaskier wishes that he would stop. Julian is the cowed orphan at temple school. Jaskier truly suits him better, as bright and uncaring as the golden flowers spotted around the meadows of Oxenfurt. “I’m going to have to leave you soon. But I would relish a chance to talk to you more- privately.” His eyes cut over to where Geralt is staring at the pair of them over Yennifer’s shoulder.
“Thanks,” Jaskier says “Buuuuut I think I’ll pass.”
Things that Jaskier has of his family:
-Dancing, exuberant as the song moves through him. Catching Geralt’s eye in the darkest corner of the tavern and giving him a cheery wave before turning back to his adoring fans.
-Shared baths and hushed conversations and safety
After- After Jaskier wanders down the mountain. It’s a miracle that he isn’t set upon by brigands, or trips and falls and breaks his neck, or that one of Geralt’s ‘friends’ doesn’t come upon him and tear his heart out. Literally, not metaphorically. Metaphorically his chest is already a gaping wound.
He pauses when he reaches Roach. Moves toward her with the first stirrings of feeling that he’s had for a while and spends a good minute patting her soft muzzle.
“Look after him for me girl,” he murmurs. And then he pauses and, reaching into his lute case, removes it. The red rock shines softly at him, as warm as ever in his hand. Quickly, before he realises what he’s doing and changes his mind, he slips it into one of the pockets of Roach’s saddlebags.
He smiles. It’s a tired, bitter thing.
“At least there’s some part of me that will always be travelling with him. Whether he likes it or not.”
It’s not a kind thing. But it is a help.
The one place that Jaskier feels free:
-Standing on top of a cliff and gazing at the sea, the wind whipping through his hair. He closes his eyes, and he’s flying.
(Next to Geralt, laughing and singing and dancing and occasionally tripping over an unseen rock before the Witcher, rolling his eyes, steadies him, hand lingering a touch too long on his back.)
“Why am I not surprised,” Jaskier says flatly. He has lost all his capacity for wonder; these last few days. It’s buried under a mountain of hurt (and a smaller and more insidious whisper that it was only a matter of time before Geralt had tired of him).
The golden dragon snorts and nudges at him with his snout. It’s warm and Jaskier can’t help but lean into it. He hasn’t had much time for warm things, lately.
“It is for the best,” the dragon says, and you know what? Of course it has Borch’s voice. Why not. Might as well.
“You’re not the one whose heart has been stamped on,” Jaskier snaps back. There’s no anger in his voice. He’s too tired for it.
“You’re young, fledgling,” the Borch-dragon rumbles. “You’ll get over it.”
And with one quick movement that head reaches forward and scoops Jaskier up, ignoring his instinctive ‘hey!’ until he’s somehow clinging onto the dragon’s back. And then in nothing more than a wingbeat they’re in the air, the ground falling out from beneath them. The wind rushes over Jaskier’s face and he closes his eyes and pretends that the tears are from nothing more than the cold.
“I have to warn you,” he says. “I am the furthest thing from a virgin you can imagine.”
There’s a rumble that, after a moment, he identifies as laughter.
“Sleep,” the dragon says. “And we’ll talk in the morning.”
“Why are you doing this?” Jaskier might scream it into the wind. He might not. It’s hard to tell with a numb throat.
He doesn’t get a reply. But he’s used to that. So he just leans further forward and tries to sleep.