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Roach (and Sunshine)

 

Lilacs-and-soft-touches draws together the magic, and Roach rears back in fright, shaking her head. Though she likes the human, she does not trust the energy that lilacs-and-soft-touches wields.  And definitely not enough to enter it. She likes to know where she’s going. In her long life she has survived by being cautious, by being careful, and by making sure that silver-and-steel-and-low-words thinks ahead. Or at least trying to.

 

Brimstone-and-sweet-food runs straight into it. Of course he does. Roach sighs, tossing her mane. Whether human or dragon, brimstone-and-sweet-words has no sense of self-preservation. Even a foal would know better.

 

She stamps her hoof against the ground, tail thrashing angrily. And incidentally hitting that bedamned stallion straight in his face. He whinnies back at her in that smug, supercilious way that he has, but she ignores him. She has more important things to do than to deal with the prattling of a horse who has only known the luxury of the royal stables and the comforting security of as many oats as he could eat.

 

Resigned to her fate, she walks forward. Someone needs to make sure that brimstone-and-sweet-food doesn’t get himself killed, and if she leaves silver-and-steel-and-low-words to look after him alone, bad things will happen. She knows this from experience; the two of them should never be left alone.

 

The things that she does for those two!

 

Yennefer

 

Yennefer corners him by the waterfall, the force of the water enough to mask any sound that they might make. Enough to guarantee them true privacy from draconic senses. Loud enough that were Geralt not a Witcher he might not hear her soft words. Not that she is overlooking its suitable dramatic potential.

 

“I believe that you owe me something, Geralt of Rivia,” she says, staring into the thundering waters and ignoring the rainbow-spray of water droplets that are slowly soaking through her dress.

 

“Yen,” Geralt says. His face is pensive, staring into the water. He is either deep in contemplation or constipated. Possibly both.

 

“Don’t Yen me,” she snaps back. “And don’t you dare make me take on the responsibility of this conversation. I’ve helped you, more than you deserve. The least you can do is have the balls to apologise to me now that it’s over.”

 

Geralt doesn’t react beyond a soft ‘hmm’.

 

Yennefer can feel her carefully banked rage rise from within her. It wouldn’t have been productive, letting it out earlier. Not when he would have accepted it, added it to his own hair shirt and not thought anything more of it. Now that they are to stay in the same place for a while longer, bound not by destiny, but by responsibility (and love her mind whispers)- She grabs him and spins him round, forcing him to face him. Water is soaking them both. Neither of them care.

 

“What do you want me to say, Yen?” Geralt spits out, wrenching his shoulder out of her grip. “That I regret binding our fates? Because I don’t! It was the only way to save you, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

 

“So noble,” she sneers. “The poor, misunderstood Witcher. Suffering, even now, beneath the ignorant masses’ disapproval and ignorance. Have you ever thought, Geralt, that the problem isn’t just them? That it might also have something to do with you?”

 

The Witcher’s jaw clenches, and his eyes harden.

 

“It’s unlike you, Yennefer; to buy into the-”

 

“Oh, spare me! Are you going to trot out that tired line? That people fear you, curse you, hate you? You’re not special Geralt- you’re not the only one reviled and hated for what you are. At least you’re allowed to show your hatred, scream it from the rooftops! At least you aren’t expected to stand there and look ornamental, given worth only by whichever bastard wants to stick his cock into you that day-”

 

They are standing close, unbearable close, and some part of Yennefer wants to lean in and kiss him. Tear his clothes off, stopper his mouth. And she’s furious because that’s what they’ve always done; turned their emotions to lust and physicality until nothing remains. No. She’s tired, so damnably tired.

 

Abruptly, all the fight goes out of her and she’s left standing there, shivering in her damp clothes. She steps back.

 

“I deserve better,” she says. “I helped you because despite everything, that bard is my friend as well as yours. But until you have a proper apology for me Geralt- I don’t particularly care to speak to you.”

 

And then she turns. And then she leaves. There are warm clothes and warmer words waiting for her by the fire. And later- Well. Véa had promised her a sparring match; it might be good to excise her rage in a somewhat positive manner.

 

(Later, much later, she will find a single lilac blossom on her pillow. She will turn and see Geralt staring back at her. And then they will talk, honestly. Knowing now what she does about the bond, how Destiny might have coloured all of their meetings- Yennefer will consider it the first honest conversation that they have had. They will talk honestly, and talk alone, without the weight of the things unsaid hanging like a spectre between them. But that is the future. And the now is the burn in her arms as she wields steel, the fierce joy in being able to fight, to be wild- the now is not so bad).

 

Véa (and Téa)

 

The pair of them stand in comfortable silence, surveying the cave. It’s night. The only light is the dull gleam of the fire and a soft glow of a protective shield across the entrance to the cave, gold and violet swirling together in mesmerising patterns.

 

The sorceress had set it up almost as soon as she had arrived, her face incredulous.

 

“That is a health hazard,” she had said, her hands weaving small, subtle motions, magic growing at her fingertips. “Not all of us have wings.”

 

“In any case,” she had continued, motioning at Princess Cirilla. “This is a good grounding in the underlying principles behind maintaining physical wards. Come here and see whether you can feel what I’m doing-”

 

It does make the cave warmer, though Véa isn’t convinced that it’s actually doing anything in terms or reducing the amount of danger that they’re in. Perhaps the horses, but they are safely tethered in the back cavern and don’t have much opportunity to wander. In any case, they would have more sense than to walk off a cliff. Thankfully, the only ones lacking in that key feature have wings, and are, at least theoretically, protected from that danger.

 

“It is an enchantment that requires her physical presence,” Téa says, conversationally, staring at the barrier.

 

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” Véa replies, carefully not looking at her cousin. Téa has always been insightful: it is one of the qualities that makes her such a dangerous warrior. That does not mean that she wants that insight turned on her.

 

“I imply nothing,” Téa says. “Merely that it means that she intends to stay. At least a while longer.”

 

Véa has no answer to that. None that she feels ready to admit to, in any case. She is pledged to Villentretenmerth and his family; she has gladly and wholeheartedly committed herself to the cause. In the face of such rare beauty of spirit, how could she not?

 

But still. There is something in her that warms at the thought that the sorceress is as equally intertwined in their fate. She does not reply.

 

The pair of them stand in silence and watch the cave. And watch over the family that sleeps within. It is a comfortable silence.

 

Borch

 

“Witcher,” Borch says. “Would you care to join me today? I wish to replenish our stocks of food and had thought you might like to help.”

 

Geralt looks up from where he’s leant against the cave wall, knife and small carving laying forgotten in his hands. He has spent a large portion of his days sitting watchful, guarding over the sorceress, and Princess Cirilla, and- Julian. His son.

 

Borch had never though he would be the sort of parent to append each thought with ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’, but he is. And he revels in it, in the calm assurance that Saskia feels, secure in the knowledge she is loved. In the burst of joy that runs through Julian every time he says the words.

 

Borch is not old for a dragon. But the weight of his experiences- the death of his parents, of his family, of all he had ever known, to treasure seekers and greedy mages- they have aged him greatly. His children- his children make him feel young and carefree in a way he hasn’t felt since his own childhood. They are his true treasure, more than riches or fame or glory. And he would do anything to protect them.

 

His son has been happier since he reconciliation with the Witcher. It’s his job as a father to make sure that he stays that way.

 

“Surely a dragon can better hunt on his own,” Geralt said, but he gets to his feet, carefully setting aside his carving. His eyes are wary. Good. He is not a complete fool. He knows what is to come.

 

“When it comes to hunting, yes, I would be more efficient on my own. However, I am planning on stopping by a few villages. Perhaps Vergen. The dwarves have always traded fairly and well.”

 

Geralt snorts. “If you have the coin, then yes.”

 

Borch smiles down at him, mouth widening to reveal his- numerous- teeth. The Witcher remains stoic, but he can feel the fear from his mind. His curiously unguarded mind, a study in contrasts to the tight mental shields surrounding it the last time he has met Geralt of Rivia.

 

“Coin,” he says, “will not be an issue.” He has stores of it, hidden beneath the mountains and in various inaccessible locations all over the Continent, more than a mortal could spend in one lifetime. He had taken it from the flaming corpses of his family’s killers. All the ones that he could find. The gold had been paid for in the blood and bone and flesh of his parents’. He didn’t care about gold. But he couldn’t bear to let those butchers keep it.

 

Julian looks up as they start to cross the cavern, Geralt- after a moment’s hesitation- swinging himself up onto Borch’s back.

 

Calm, my son, Borch sends to him. Your Witcher is merely helping me collect a few supplies.

 

Oh! He perks up at that. If there are any pencils there, perhaps a notebook or two- he trails off hopefully, and Borch laughs at his eagerness.

 

An incentive to perfect at least part of the transformation?

 

Hmph. I’m getting better! Even Yennefer says that I’m getting better.

 

I don’t doubt it. And he doesn’t. The amount of time that his son spends studying with the sorceress is impressive. Not to mention the- carefully supervised- experiments that Yennefer is running on the stone, trying to recreate the enchantment. Borch doesn’t approve of the notion, thinks that the enchantment is a crutch at best and will seriously stymy Julian’s attempts to transform on his own at worst- but he can’t deny him it. Not when he feels the sincere joy emanating from him at the thought that he might be able to regain his music.

 

Stay safe, my son, Borch says, making sure to meet his eyes. It is perhaps the foibles of an old man, but he can’t help but beg the same thing every time he is parted from one of his children.

 

I will, father, Julian says, eyes bright. I promise. His sincerity shines through, and Borch sighs. His son never means to get in trouble, and yet-

 

Borch nods at him, nonetheless. And then he turns. And he flies.

 

Saskia

 

She scowls, tail twitching. Her prey looks up but makes no sign of recognition. Good! She crouches lower, narrowing her eyes in concentration.

 

Creeping silently closer, she readies herself. He won’t escape this time, no he won’t-

 

“Saskia!”

 

She whines at the noise, wings drooping sadly. The element of surprise is lost! She looks up at the human who has interrupted her. It’s the golden one, the one who smells of storms. Well. At least that one can always be counting on for hugs.

 

She widens her eyes as Julek taught her, and lets out a soft, interrogative chirp. The human laughs and drops down to sit beside her, running her soft hands over Saskia’s back. She wriggles happily.

 

Her prey has been saved. For now. But there’s always tomorrow. And she will be ready for it.

 

Ciri

 

“Try again.”

 

Yennefer’s voice is patient, showing no hint of the annoyance that she must be feeling, after the seventh time that Ciri has failed the spell. This is the first time that the sorceress has even let her try real magic; the rest of her lessons have consisted of her reading boring old tomes written in a spindly hand that make her eyes ache as she tries to decipher it. She was so excited when she found out she was going to do magic. And then- it turned out to be this. They’ve been at this for hours, literal hours, and she still can’t lift a stupid rock into the air. Not unless she physically throws it at someone.

 

Yennefer won’t let her try something else. Anything else. Anything apart from this stupid rock and the stupid flower in front of her. It’s mocking her. She knows that it’s mocking her, sitting there silent and smug. She’s the Lion Cub of Cintra! Heir to the throne! Granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, the most successful monarch in modern history. Daughter of Pavetta, who brought a room filled with the most powerful nobles to their knees, who demanded that she be allowed to marry the man she loved.

 

“Why can’t I do this!” Her voice rises in a scream of frustration and-

 

And then there are frenzied winds in front of her, whipping through the air with the force of a hurricane. The walls creak. The waterfall twists and sways in the winds, its cold waters feeding into the wind surrounding her. A boulder falls, smashing into jagged fragments. She can feel the power at her fingertips, feel it slip out of control-

 

And then Yennefer’s power clamps down on hers, smothering it. It’s as gentle as it can be. But it still hurts. To have that power taken away.

 

“Stop acting like a spoilt child,” Yennefer hisses, hands clamped around Ciri’s wrists, “and listen to me. Magic is dangerous. Especially for you. And if you don’t learn control, then someone is going to get hurt.”

 

Ciri breathes, still shaky, still weak from the power that had flown through her. That had left her just as quickly. She looks around the cavern, guiltily. There are shards of rocks littering the ground near her feet, shattered with an unnatural force. Large puddles of water are slowly dripping back down into the pools, gravity doing its job. To her left, a pine tree has been half-uprooted, one of its branches splintered and drooping toward the floor.

 

“I didn’t- I didn’t mean-”

 

“No,” Yennefer says. “No, you didn’t. But you caused this anyway.” Her voice softens. She sighs, closing her eyes as if in pain and leaning back. With a muttered word and a wave of her hand, the shards of rock lift themselves into the air. She clenches her fist, and they dissolve, nothing more than grains of sand.

 

“We’ll take a break,” she says. “We can try again tomorrow.”

 

Ciri swallows down her instinctive argument- that she can keep going, that she’s strong, strong as her grandmother, that she can do more- and nods. Her head hurts. She stands and moves to brush past Yennefer, see if she can find Saskia stroke her soft scales for a few hours-

 

Yennefer reaches out a hand and rests it on her shoulder. “Ciri,” she says, and her voice is soft. “You are doing well. I promise you; you are. And tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, you’ll do even better.”

 

Ciri nods at her, head high and proud. Like her grandmother taught her. Showing no weakness. But she also takes Yennefer’s hand. And squeezes back.

 

Geralt

 

Vergen rises above them, the walls and gates carved directly into the stone of the mountain, elegant and enduring in and utterly unique. Geralt had only been there once in his life. The dwarves are not fond of outsiders; none of the Elder races are. He can’t blame them. Not with the persecution they face by humans.

 

Borch is in human form, though now that Geralt knows what he is, he can’t help but notice the predatory glint to his eyes. The confident stride to his steps. It’s strange, seeing him like this, without Téa and Véa flanking him. What does it mean that the dragon had left them behind?

 

“It means, Geralt, that I trust you to keep me safe.”

 

Geralt growls at him. “Stay out of my head,” he says, pulling up his shields. It’s- harder than he remembers it being, after weeks of leaving himself open. More painful.

 

“Careful, Witcher,” Borch’s tone is light, and he strides ahead without a thought, examining this and that stall, picking up pens and parchment and then setting them down again, evaluating every item with a practised eye. “You’re regressing.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Geralt says flatly, following after him and glowering at anyone who is unfortunate enough to cross his path.

 

The stalls are truly full of anything that a person, human, dwarf, or elf, could want: luscious pastries, gleaming with sweet jams and decadent chocolate; jewellery wrought finely and decorated in strange, geometrical shapes; soaps of all shades and hues that he hurries past as he catches a whiff of chamomile; tables piled high with soft silks and warm wools, all died in a variety of colours-

 

There’s a stand filled with glass flowers, each delicate petal rendered so carefully and so finely that he expects their perfumed scent to fill the air. Roses and orchids and lilies, all the expected flowers. But also the more common- shy daisies peeking their head up; cheerful buttercups; elegant lilacs; wild and roguish dandelions; lacy meadowsweet-

 

(“What?” the Jaskier in his memories, all colt-long legs and adolescent assurance, and dressed in one of those ridiculous doublets, scoffs. “You’ve never given anyone flowers? Not in your- how old are you anyway? Ancient, I bet. Thirty? Fifty? Seventy? Well! Geralt, my friend, if you have never learnt the way a good flower can soothe even the hardest of hearts-!”

 

“Shut up, bard,” he had growled, pushing his way past him and lengthening his steps until the boy had had to run to keep up, careful to keep his amusement off his face lest he encourage him. Thirty? Ancient? Hah!)

 

“If you keep trying to push people away, then eventually they will leave,” Borch says. “I had thought you’d learnt that lesson, but apparently not. Eternity is a long time to run away. And my son would chase you; you and I both know that he would. Forgive me from wanting to spare him, and you, a lot of pain.”

 

His shields are high and tight, no thoughts leaking through. Borch can still read him easily. With a snarl, he grabs Borch by the arm and drags him to a deserted alleyway, slightly disappointed that the dragon doesn’t resist. Like hell he’s having the conversation in public, where anyone can hear him.

 

“I won’t harm him,” Geralt says as soon as they’re alone. “Jaskier. I promised myself that once I found him that I’d never hurt him again.” He scowls, face twisting in a grimace. Because he had in fact found him and hurt him in the same breath. It’s a habit that he can’t seem to break. “I’m trying,” he says. “Believe that, at least.”

 

“I do, Geralt,” Borch says, and his voice is soft. “I believe that you mean my son no harm. But I don’t believe you’ve ever meant him harm. And yet-”

 

“And yet,” Geralt agrees, sagging. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it. He never means to hurt them, but he always does. Jaskier. Yennefer. It’s one of the reasons he’s never sought his Child Surprise- because he was always going to fuck them up.

 

Borch sighs beside him.

 

“That thinking is unhelpful, Witcher,” he says. “Take from a being who has spent a very long time wallowing in his own regrets.”

 

“The what do you suggest I do?” His tone is harsh but- Geralt truly wants an answer to this question.

 

“You realise that you’re not alone,” Borch says. “That you are surrounded by friends. You’ve started down the correct path- allowing yourself to be open. Allowing yourself to care openly, and to be cared for in turn.”

 

Geralt breathes in. He breathes out. It sounds so simple when the dragon says it. To leave himself vulnerable. Exposed. It’s not that he’s worried about being hurt- no, he’s been through hell and he’s endured. He can take all the pain and the hurt that the world can throw at him. It’s more that he’s afraid of hurting those he- those he loves. Showing them the darkest parts of himself and watching them recoil. The worst part is he knows that they would continue anyway. Despite the pain it might cause them. They would continue.

 

“Exactly, Geralt,” Borch says. “And that is their choice. Not something that you can take on for them.”

 

He hesitates. Looks away. And then- he lowers his shields, slowly, painfully, inch by inch.

 

It’s a start.    

 

Jaskier

 

Jaskier waits until they’re asleep, waits until he can feel their minds quieting and calming into the gentle waves of sleep- and then he sits up.  And he surveys his family. His hoard, because he might as well accept that that’s what they are. His treasure, his precious things.

 

He never thought that he could ever be this happy. But looking over them all now, together and alive, well-fed and rested, bound to each other by choice, something infinitely stronger than Destiny-

 

He is. In this moment he needs nothing, wants for nothing. He is perfectly content. He is glorious.

 

And so he lays down his head, and he goes back to sleep, the cradling the comforting minds of his family in his heart.