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Shining

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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.”

 

He bristles.

 

“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

-Love

 

#

 

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.

Chapter Text

He’s warm and his bedroll is soft and inviting underneath him, cushioning him from the stony ground. Jaskier stretches, luxuriating in the heat. Geralt must have built the fire up, which, now that he thinks about it is uncommonly kind of him. Eyes still closed, he frowns. Is he injured? Had he fallen into another swamp? Those are the only reasons he can think of that the great Geralt of Rivia would have bothered to collect the extra wood that would be needed to keep the fire well-supplied through the night. Steeling himself, and already mourning the loss of warmth, he sits up, bedroll falling off him to pool at his waist and-

 

Hold on. Where the fuck is he? He’s sitting in a cave of some sort, warm and dry and with a fire merrily blazing in a stone-lined fire pit in front of him. There’s a cast iron pot full of bubbling porridge to the side of the pit and Jaskier’s stomach cramps, reminding him that he’s not had anything more substantial than ale for the past few days. Ale. Because…

 

“Oh, fuck me,” he swears as it all comes rushing back. The dragon hunt. Geralt shattering their years of friendship and then setting fire to the pieces. Stumbling down that blasted mountain and then getting piss-drunk.

 

And the dragon.

 

“Feeling better, are we Julian?”

 

“Don’t call me that,” he snaps back automatically, and then freezes. He turns, slowly, delaying the inevitable. Perhaps he had hallucinated Borch as a dragon? But no. There, on the far side of the cave the golden dragon stands in all his scaly glory.

 

He’s tall. Very tall. So tall that Jaskier has to crane his head painfully far back in order to stare into bright golden eyes. He’s covered, head to tail, in gleaming golden scales, enough to guarantee a lifetime of comfort to any being, human, mage, or otherwise, if they were able to harvest them. His tail lies behind him and twitches occasionally, reminding Jaskier of nothing more than a cat. A very large, very scaly, cat, he reminds himself hysterically. He’s going to be booed out of inns when he recounts this tale. Nobody is going to believe him. There is a distant part of him that’s screaming that the veracity of his songs isn’t the thing that he should be thinking of at this exact point in time, but it’s easily ignored.

 

“Oh sweet Melitele, it wasn’t a hallucination.” Jaskier’s voice attains a register he thought that he had left behind with adolescence, cracking on the last word. He swallows.

 

“…Borch?” he asks tentatively.

 

The dragon snorts. “That is one of my names,” he says, “Though you should call me Villentretenmerth, fledgling.”

 

“Villentret- No. I’ll stick to Borch, thanks.”

 

Borch looks amused. Or what Jaskier assumes is amusement. Perhaps he enjoys a bit of banter before consuming his food? Because Jaskier is very, very aware that it wouldn’t take Borch more than an absent snap of his teeth to swallow him whole, and then farewell to Jaskier, the Master Bard. The pot of bubbling porridge is starting to take a new, sinister meaning.

 

“Calm yourself, fledgling,” Borch says. “I’ll not be making a meal of you. For one, you’re too skinny for that.”

 

“I- hey! Are you reading my mind? Stay out!” It’s bad enough that Yennefer is able to skim across the surface of his thoughts whenever she damn well pleases, he’s not taking it from any random dragon as well.

 

Can dragons raise an eyebrow? Jaskier would assume not, on account of them not having any actual brows to raise, but that is the distinct impression that he’s getting from Borch. That and a fond indulgence that, frankly, he resents. It’s not easy being the only squishy human in the company of Witchers and Mages and apparently dragons now, so he has to take what he can get.

 

“I’m not in your mind,” Borch says. “The expression that you’re wearing is merely familiar. You’ll find that these sort of situations and misunderstandings tend to recur as you get older.”

 

“Er, or no, I won’t. Because I doubt I’ll live that long!”

 

Being lectured by a dragon. Great. He can add that to his ballad and get laughed out of Oxenfurt.

 

“Hmm,” Borch says, and Jaskier stands up, thankfully still fully clothed, and points a remonstrative finger at the dragon.

 

“No!” he says. “You do not get to ‘hmm’ me! I get enough of that from…” He trails off as the memories rise again. “From. Other people. Yeah.” He draws in a shaky breath and valiantly doesn’t blink, trying to force back the tears in his eyes through sheer force of will. He spends a moment mastering himself, a moment that the dragon lets him have, saying nothing but regarding him steadily.

 

“What,” he says once he’s able to continue, and all points to him there’s nothing but a slight hoarseness that betrays his struggles, “Exactly do you need me for, then, if you’re not going to eat me? Because I’m not sure if you noticed but I’m pretty useless. What am I saying, you were on the ah, dragon hunt. You’ll know first-hand how useless I am.”

 

The dragon stands, somehow becoming even taller- and Jaskier takes an appalled step back before he can stop himself- and starts to walk toward the entrance to the cave. Pausing at the entrance, he turns, fixing Jaskier with a stern glare. “Eat. Drink. Bathe. Do try not to get in too much trouble before I get back.”

 

“Wait!” Jaskier scrambles forward, half tripping over his abandoned blankets. “Tell me what you want from me, damn it!”

 

There. That is definitely a smile, filled with sword-sharp teeth and an amused menace.

 

“It will become clear in time.” And then the sodding dragon launches itself out of the cave and into the sky, leaving Jaskier alone with the fire, the food, and no idea what’s going on.

 

“Fine,” he says. “Be like that!” He storms over to the pot of porridge, grabs the ceramic bowl placed carefully next to it, and flings it at the wall. It shatters, but that’s still not enough and Jaskier can’t see anything else to throw. Nothing but the porridge pot, and there is no chance that he’ll be able to lift that. Instead he screams invectives into the air, cursing emotionally repressed, knuckle-headed, idiot Witchers with more muscles than sense, and then sadistic mages, and then enigmatic dragons, and then, to top it all off, blindly naïve bards who shouldn’t be let into the world.

 

And then he sits back down in his abandoned bedroll, still warm, and has an indulgent, bitter, cry.

 

#

 

Five hours later Jaskier has resigned himself to exploring the confines of his new ‘home’. The most galling thing is that it’s rather beautiful. The side of the cave that Borch had exited from opens out into a stunning vista of snow-capped mountains, sporadically dotted with dark green patches of forest. Breathing in, Jaskier can smell the refreshing scent of pine, mixed with the earthy smoke of the fire. There is, however, a sheer drop of cliff-face covered in thick sheets of ice preventing any escape attempts. The only way he’s getting out that way is if he sprouts wings, and the chances of that happening are approximately zero. That, or creates a magic portal but he’s no Yennefer.

 

If he had his lute, a pen and paper, and any of his usual veuve then he would have wasted no time in composed at least two verses dedicated to the beauty of the great golden dragon’s domain. As it is, he has one of the three, his lute having been carefully leant against a cave wall, and for the first time since travelling with Geralt of Rivia, he has no desire to sing at all.

 

There’s a draught coming from the back of the cave, and Jaskier wanders over, absently scratching at the dry patches of skin on his wrist. His skin care routine has been suffering and the result is itchy patches scattered across his body and growing. He could do with a bath: he stinks of old ale and vomit and is tired of his own stench. As he wanders deeper and deeper into the cave, the the sound of tinkling water reach his ears, and he hurries forward eagerly. And then he stops.

 

Because the cave opens out into an enormous cavern and all he can do is stare. The first thing that he sees is the light- the cavern is open to the sky and the setting sun is illuminating the room with a soft, golden glow. A waterfall emerges from halfway up one of the colossal walls and thunders against the floor of the cavern, creating a rainbow mist that curls and creeps around the room. It gathers into a small stream that wends its way throughout the room before draining somewhere unseen. There are tall pines, stately and steadfast, and of all things a well-tended vegetable garden. All Jaskier can smell is the rich scent of loam and the cold splendour of the outside world. As he stares over the room, if it can be called that, all he can hear are the lyrics to an old song, winding and wending through his mind:

 

Far away from the land you knew
The dawn of day reaches out to you
Though it feels like a fairy tale
All of this is true…

 

“What,” he whispers, “The fuck.”

 

“I see that we’ll have to work on your language, Julian.”

 

“Aaargh!” Jaskier jumps, literally jumps, catching himself at the last moment. “What- what- There’s nothing wrong with my language!”

 

Borch hums noncommittedly. “Perhaps in a few hundred years or so. But it is unbecoming of a fledgling, and I would not have you corrupt my child with the expletives of the mortal world.” He pauses. “Though, I must admit, they are very satisfying to say.”

 

He bends down and nudges Jaskier toward the waterfall. “Bathe,” he says, “And then come and eat. I see that you haven’t touched the porridge.”

 

“Fuck you and fuck your porridge!”

 

Borch sighs, and then, gently, leans forward and picks Jaskier up by the collar of his doublet, his lips soft and gentle. Jaskier freezes, remembering the hideously sharp teeth, but the dragon doesn’t do anything but deposit him underneath the freezing waterfall, clothes and all. Which, actually, is bad enough.

 

“Cold! Cold, cold, cold. Shit! Fuck! Do you want me to freeze my balls off?”

 

“You’re pushing your luck, fledgling.” But the dragon nonetheless leans forward and, carefully, breathes into one of the standing pools. Jaskier- has no idea what he’s doing.

 

“Well? Go on then.”

 

“I don’t-”

 

With another roll of his eyes- and who knew that dragons were quite so sardonic?- Borch pushes Jaskier in.

 

He flails, unable to stop his descent, and flings his arms up over his face to protect his vulnerable face. The pool is surprisingly deep and beautifully warm. Spluttering, Jaskier comes up for air and glares at the dragon.

 

“What was that for!”

 

“You wanted warmer water, did you not?”

 

Warm water. A dragon. Right.

 

“Oh,” Jaskier says softly, “I did. Yeah. Er. Thanks.”

 

“Such gratitude. Don’t be long, fledgling. We have things to talk of. And you need to eat. There’s no point in stunting your growth any further.”

 

“Hey-!” But it’s too late. Because the dragon is already gone. Jaskier scowls.

 

“Stunting my growth,” he mutters, “Well of course, we all look puny to a dragon who’s old as balls!” Sighing, he shimmies out of his water-logged clothes and gives himself a proper wash, paying particular attention to the dry and painful patches of skin which appear to be growing larger. Great. Maybe there are some herbs or something in the vegetable garden he can use to make a poultice for himself. For now, there’s nothing to do.

 

Sinking down into the warm water, he scowls mutinously. He is determined to put off this ‘meeting’ as long as possible. Puny. Hah!

Chapter Text

Eventually the water cools and, unable to heat it himself, Jaskier reluctantly leaves the pool. He quickly dresses in his still-wet clothes and hurries back though the caves, making his way to the hopefully-still-lit fire. He shivers- the anger is abating and it’s starting to sink in that he’s been actually, literally kidnapped by a dragon with nothing more than his lute and the clothes on his back. And he still has no idea why, except that it isn’t as a meal. Allegedly.

 

“Julian,” Borch rumbles as he stumbles into the cave, making a beeline for the blazing fire. “You’ve finally joined us.”

 

Jaskier is too busy basking in front of the fire to be annoyed at the name, though how hard is it to remember what he wants to be called? It even starts with the same letter! Steam starts to rise from his much abused and formerly second-best outfit, and he moves even closer. The heat isn’t bothering him as much as one might imagine; maybe the fire is magical?  He shifts uncomfortably. As his clothes dry they get itchier and itchier, rubbing uncomfortably against his skin. To distract himself, to stop himself from scratching his own skin off, he stares deeply into the fire.

 

It is definitely some sort of enchanted fire as he’s able to stare into it without hurting his eyes. And- there. Right in the heart of the embers.

 

“What’s that?”

 

“That,” Borch says, and Jaskier starts almost plunging headfirst into the fire, “Is one of the reasons that you’re here.”

 

“One of the reasons? And- what is this? I mean, am I meant to tend to the fire, or-”

 

“I thought that my child would enjoy having a playmate. Someone their own age.”

 

“What,” Jaskier says flatly. “I’m not a child- Forty isn’t young for a hu- You know what, never mind. Let’s move past that. Are you saying that there’s a baby dragon in there? That object is a dragon egg?” Despite himself he leans even closer, squinting past the flames to get a better look. There’s definitely something in there. A small form, moving languidly and as he concentrates on it, he could swear he feels something reaching out to him-

 

With a whoosh his sleeve ignites, and he falls back with a shout.

 

“Aargh! Fuck, I’m on fire!”

 

Borch, damn him, doesn’t make any move to help as he quickly shucks his doublet and stamps on the flames. It only takes a few moments, and then he’s staring down at the smoking ruins. It’s - probably for the best. It’s the same doublet he was wearing that day on the mountain: changing clothes had not been his priority.

 

“Fancy magical fire you’ve got there,” Jaskier says, after a quick check to make sure his skin hasn’t been burnt. His wrist is fine, just itchy. Not even a hint of redness.

 

“Magic fire,” Borch says. His tone is flat. He sighs. “Well that answers that question.” His tail swings over and hits Jaskier on the back of the head. Lightly though, it barely even stings. Jaskier still reacts with an offended gasp.

 

“Be more careful,” Borch says, sounding so much like Geralt that Jaskier could weep. “When I told you not to get into too much trouble before I returned, I had no idea the magnitude of what I was dealing with. Do you have no self-preservation instinct, fledgling?”

 

“Can you stop calling me that?” Jaskier says because it’s that or admit that no, actually he doesn’t. He’s the man who’s travelled with Geralt of Rivia on and off for over two decades, apparently annoying him all the while. “The whole ‘Julian’ and ‘fledgling’ thing. I understand that it’s hard for those of an, ahem, elderly disposition to change their habits, but surely remembering that my name is Jaskier can’t be that hard.”

 

Borch sighed and settled himself more comfortably next to the fire, crossing his forearms and resting his head on them to stare at Jaskier. He shifts uneasily; it’s not easy being the sole focus of a dragon’s attention.

 

“How much do you know about dragons?” he asks. There’s something in his voice, a grimness that stops Jaskier from responding with a glib comment about the supposed mythological status of dragons.

 

“Not a lot,” he says instead, pausing a moment, and then settling himself comfortably on the floor. He hasn’t attained the rank of Master Bard by not taking the opportunities that fall into his lap, and an interview with possibly the only golden dragon still alive? If he manages to get out alive, then it could be the pinnacle of his career, a tale that will pass down the generations and survive long after he is dead and buried.

 

Borch uses his tail to push a bowl toward him, filled with porridge. It’s made of wood. Jaskier chooses not to react to that fact, nor the way that it is stone cold and has the unappealing consistency of thick paste. Instead he takes it and, once it become evident that Borch is waiting for him, starts shovelling food into his mouth.

 

Satisfied, for some reason, that Jaskier isn’t about to starve himself to death, Borch starts to talk. There’s a sing-song quality to his voice, a telling cadence that betrays the fact that he’s told this story a hundred times before and that he is likely to tell it a hundred times more. Jaskier knows that cadence, intimately. He’s used it.

 

“For dragon, there are three gifts that we must give to our offspring. First, the gift of fire. Fire is life, and our children should forever be warm.”

 

The crackle of flames is even louder in Jaskier’s ears, the smell of woodsmoke present and pungent. More than that, there’s a coal of warmth making itself known, flickering itself into life. It’s intense, but not painful and he breathes through the sensation.

 

“Second is the gift of freedom.  Our wings allow us to travel where we will, and our children are sheltered beneath them.”

 

A playful breeze wends its way through the cave, rustling Jaskier’s hair and clothes until all he can think about is that flight on Borch’s back, the utter freedom. He longs for it, the exhilaration of leaving the earth far below him, his cares and burdens falling from him as he he frolics amongst the clouds. His shoulders ache and he shivers, pulling into himself.   

 

“The third, and most important gift, is the gift of a name. We are dragons and will don many names over our long lives. But our first- it’s special.”

 

Broch’s words wash over him, low and soothing. Somewhat familiar, though Jaskier can’t imagine where he could have heard them before. He sways in place, blinking suddenly heavy eyes.

 

“Are you doin’ that?” he slurs, “Or is th’s the mag’cal fire again?”

 

There’s a shuffling behind him, and then he is leaning back into something soft and comforting.

 

“It’s magic of a kind, though nothing to do with the fire. You’ll get used to it, Julian Alfred Pankratz. Do you know what a story your name tells? Your parents gave you a good one. We’ve already talked of your first name, oh shining one.”

 

His tone isn’t mocking but Jaskier grumbles anyway. He’s- not entirely sure what’s going on.

 

“And Pankratz. Pan Kratos. He who holds everything. A powerful name, fledgling.”

 

Not a powerful name. The name of a man with nothing to give but his love, the name of the man who had ruined his mother’s life. The name of a man who had held his mother tightly in his arms, who had pressed a kiss to Jaskier’s head in those confused moments before the carriage had overturned and the bandits had attacked. The name that had haunted him through his childhood, a name that made his grandfather wince in shame, a name, a name, a name-

 

“Hush.”

 

Borch’s scale are truly a marvel, soft and surprisingly warm as he gently brushes the tears from Jaskier’s cheeks. Delicately, he shifts until Jaskier is cradled against his forearm, lying under the shelter of his wings. Something old and powerful and protective brushes against his mind and it quietens, the emotions settling back into the familiar recesses of his mind.

 

“Alfred,” the dragon murmurs, “Elf gift. I imagine that’s how you’ve managed this long, hmm? Your parents must have loved you so very much.”

 

“I don’t-”

 

“You’ve been on your own for so long, fledgling, but I’ll protect you now. Rest.”

 

“Not on my own,” Jaskier sighs into Borch’s scales, “Geralt was with me.”

 

And then he slips into sleep.

Chapter Text

It’s the crack that wakes him. Not loud at all, it nonetheless pierces through his dreams of flying and falling and urges him to consciousness.

 

“Wha-” Jaskier says, reaching up to rub the sleep from his surprisingly dry eyes. It’s dark- true dark, the kind that only comes just before the dawn, and the fire throws up whirling shadows across the cave walls, tiny embers sparking off from the fire and dancing their way through the air.

 

“It’s time,” Borch says. He climbs to his feet and pads over to the fire. Slowly and ever so gently, he reaches into the fire and scoops out the egg, placing it on the floor between himself and Jaskier. The egg is glowing with its own inner fire and Jaskier can see it pulsing rhythmically. There are cracks running down the side, fine as a hair, and glowing gold. Unable to help himself, Jaskier reaches forward and lightly brushes against it. He must be the only human to see a dragon hatch for- years. Decades. Maybe centuries. Not since the great Dragon Hunts gained popularity. Jaskier shudders. He’s heard tale that in some places, roasted dragon tail is a delicacy, and that’s not even taking into account the fortune in alchemical ingredients that a dragon represents. No wonder they prefer to hide away from the world of Men.  

 

Why has he, of all people, been chosen to witness this? The light flares bright under his palm and he gasps as a wave of love and…curiosity?...runs through him.

 

“She likes you already,” Borch says, his voice hushed.

 

“That’s her?” Jaskier asks, “In my head? She can already tell who I am?”

 

“Like calls to like,” Borch says. “Though you’ve only been here a short time, she has come to know you. And she likes what she sees.”

 

The egg cracks once again and, with a weak cry, a scaly head is pushed out from her prison. Her wings quickly follow, and then her legs. She’s covered in a red-tinged mucous, dripping thick and wet off her wings and winding around her legs. But her eyes, bright gold and wide in her face, are staring at them both. She flares her wings uncertainly, and then almost falls over. With a cry, Jaskier leaps forward and catches her before she can fall, and she chirps in gratitude, rubbing her head against his sleeve and leaving red streaks in her wake.

 

“Oh,” Jaskier says. And there’s something moving through him, an unbearable tenderness. He’s always loved too much, too deeply, and too quickly and he knows that now this dragon is born- he’ll do anything for her. Burn down walls and raze towns, shelter her and protect her from the cruelties of the world for as long as he’s able.

 

“She’s beautiful,” he says, and his voice is choked. He looks down at her: she’s nuzzled on the palm of his hand, her tail wrapped tightly around his wrist.

 

“She is,” Borch agrees. He leans down and starts to lick her, long strokes of his tongue that removes the red membrane and leave glittering gold scales. “Hatchling,” he says, voice low and grave, “I give you the gift of a name. You are Saesenthessis.”

 

Saesenthessis blinks up at them and then deliberately curls up and falls asleep. Reverently, he runs the fingers of his free hand down her back. She’s warm and beautiful and delicate. Her wings are finer than cloth-of-gold and her scales are soft as silk. As he strokes her he can feel an echo of her contentment in the back of his mind.

 

“Saesenthessis,” Jaskier whispers, blinking the tears from his eyes. “Saesenthessis the golden. I’ll write epics in your name. I’ll sing your praises to the four corners of the world until all know of your beauty and your love. I’ll-”

 

He pauses and glances quickly at Borch. “I’ll erm. How do you feel about a nickname, sweet Saesenthessis? Saskia, maybe? Shorter and infinitely easier to rhyme. I realise that it’s one of the er, three fundamental gifts from you father, but I promise it’ll all be very tasteful-”

 

There’s a snort and a wetness as Borch leans down and licks the back of Jaskier’s head. Urgh.

 

“Don’t be so nervous, fledgling,” he says. “It’s acceptable for family to give nicknames.”

 

Jaskier’s heart starts to beat in his chest and his hand stills. “Family?” he squeaks.

 

“Family.”

 

Saskia raises an unamused head and bites his thumb in disapproval, though as her teeth have yet to grow in it’s akin to being mauled by a butterfly. Laughing softly, Jaskier resumes his stroking her and she settles. “Demanding, aren’t you?”

 

“She’ll need food when she wakes,” Borch says. “I’m trusting you to look after her until I’m back.” And then he turns and launches himself into air, until the bright glint of his scales is swallowed by the night.

 

Jaskier, left alone with Borch’s greatest treasure, blinks. “Well, it’s just you and me then,” he says. “My hand is going to get tired soon, so we’re going to have to find some way to get you settled.” He looks over to the wall where his lute is still carefully placed against the wall. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to play, either. Well. I’ve been told that my voice isn’t too awful, hmm Saskia? In fact, many have told me that it’s hauntingly beautiful.”

 

Saskia chirps again.

 

“Oh, you don’t believe me? How quickly I’m turned upon! I shall just have to prove it then, shan’t I?”

 

He pauses a moment, trying to think of an appropriate song. Nothing bawdy- Borch might actually kill him if he corrupts her this young. Something stirs in the back of his head, two voices intertwined, a high, sweet soprano and the steadying rumble of his father’s baritone- ah! Perfect. He hums a few bars, making sure that he can remember the melody. Mostly intact, and what he doesn’t remember he can improvise. He spends a few moments more trying to recall the words which- close enough.

 

“Now Saskia, when I was- actually when I was only a few years older than you are, my mother and father used to sing this to me before I slept. I can’t remember all of it, but I can make a fair attempt, hmm?”

 

He takes a deep breath and, stumbling over the first few unfamiliar words before growing in confidence as he finds remembers more than he thought, he sings:

 

Hunan blentyn, are fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon
Breichiau mam sy'n dyn amdanat
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron
Ni chaiff dim amharu'th gyntun
Ni wna undyn a thi gam
Huna'n dawel, annwyl bientyn
Huna'n fwyn are fron dy fam…

Chapter Text

Jaskier only manages to escape Saskia’s tyrannical grasp once she’s fully gorged herself on the deer that Borch brought back from his hunt, splayed flat on her back, with her small stomach distended. He himself had taken the chance to liberate a haunch and, after a futile ten minutes spent trying to skin it with a sharp(ish) rock, had resigned himself to cooking it whole, spitting out the tough skin into the fire. He doesn’t mind though: his body is filled with a strange euphoria and he can hardly keep the smile from his face. He doesn’t know what’s caused his change in mood, all he knows is that he can laugh again and shan’t be taking that for granted.

 

What’s more, seeing as Borch had been kind enough to also bring back a change of clothes, Jaskier takes the opportunity to grab the rough shirt and breeches and make his way to the pool to scrub the filth from his flesh. Although-

 

“Say, Borch,” he says. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of you heating up a pool for me again? See, I’m not a huge fan of cold water and since you were amenable to heating it yesterday…” he trails off meaningfully, giving the dragon his best pleading look. That look works on Geralt 75% of the time so long as he uses it sparingly, so it should be equally efficient on a dragon. Borch sighs and it’s all Jaskier can do from doing a little victory jig.

 

“Very well,” Borch says, “But this is not becoming a habit, do you understand? Once you’ve settled in more, I expect you to heat your own water.”

 

“Yes, yes, of course,” Jaskier says, confident in his abilities to convince him otherwise. “Thank you! So if you just…get on with that, I’ll go and take a look at your marvellous garden for some herbs for my skin.”

 

And, making sure he has a firm grasp on his new clothes, he sprints off, ignoring the deep laughter ringing through the caves.

 

The little vegetable patch is beautifully maintained, though Jaskier has to wonder what use a dragon has for potatoes and cabbage. More promisingly, there’s a little herb garden next to it. Now, he isn’t any sort of mage or wise woman, but Jaskier has travelled throughout the wilderness for over half his life and is well acquainted with some of the more common herbal remedies for a variety of minor maladies, despite what Geralt might think of his herb craft. Indeed, he is in the habit of making his own moisturiser! Surprising no one, such luxuries are alternately impossible to locate outside of larger cities or exorbitantly expensive.

 

He recognises chamomile, lavender, and comfrey and grabs a few sprigs of each. There’s also a strangely spiky plant, formed of spear-like leaves growing straight from the ground. Jaskier breaks one off, carefully avoiding the thorns. It’s surprisingly weighty in his hand, and a thick gloop of sap oozes out from the end. He sniffs it cautiously and, after a moment’s deliberation, licks it. He waits a moment, but as he doesn’t feel dizzy and his skin hasn’t broken out in hives, so he takes it to mean it’s not poisonous. He beams. The sap is the perfect consistency for a soothing cream! All he needs is- there! A perfectly shaped rock. He picks it up and then hurries over to the pool he had bathed in the day before.

 

He finds a small stone depression and, brushing the dirt off as best he can, dumps all the herbs in it and starts grinding them to a paste, humming mindlessly as he works.

 

“Now I’ll never get that tune out of my mind.” Looking at the dragon, Jaskier can see what has taken him so long: nestled in the small of his back is Saskia, still deeply asleep. He supposes that babies have to be supervised at all times, especially when in the vicinity of a large drop; even babies with wings must first learn how to use them.

 

“Borch!” Jaskier says, “I shall choose to take that as a compliment.” He opens his mouth and starts to sing:

 

Around your house, now white from frost
Sparkles ice on pond and marsh
Your longing eyes grieve what is lost
But naught can change this parting harsh...”

 

“And here I thought you wanted your bath water heated. If you would prefer winter’s touch-”

 

“No, no,” Jaskier says hastily, “Warm water is always preferable.” He strips hastily, throwing his ruined clothes away from him before Borch pushes him in the water fully clothed.

 

For his part, Borch just shakes his head indulgently.  “Pay attention,” he says. “It’s not hard to heat water, but you’ll want to know the knack of it beforehand, anyway. See how I’m shaping my mouth? You’ll want to guide the flame, control it so that it doesn’t boil the water. Or create burning steam.”

 

“Er, sure,” Jaskier says. It’s beyond him why the dragon is showing him how to breath fire, but who is he to turn down extra details for the no-doubt extremely popular ballad he’s going to write of his experiences?

 

“Pay attention, fledgling,” Borch remonstrates, and then bends down and breathes. Now that Jaskier is actually watching him, and not being battered by an extremely cold waterfall, he can see the thin stream of fire emerging from the dragon’s lips. It cuts through the water, which is very impressive considering how thin it is: no wider than the spine of a bird’s feather. He hums and declaims:

 

On silent feet it came

Breathing a sheet of flame, it came

Closing it on its rightful prey

Burning a hundred years away

The Morning of the Dragon.”

 

Borch leans back, shaking his muzzle to dry it, and snorts. “You realise that the dragon in that song is entirely metaphorical?”

 

Jaskier shrugs. He doesn’t, as a matter of fact, but that’s mainly because the song is so old that no one can remember when it was composed or for whom. The fact that literal dragons aren’t being described doesn’t lessen its impact, or the power of the melody. He scoops up some of herbal concoction onto his fingers and starts to slather it onto his body, sighing in relief as it cools the most persistent itches.

 

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“You’re going to wash your concoction off as soon as you get into the pool.”

 

“…damn it!” Jaskier wipes as much of his paste off as possible, carefully depositing it back into the stone depression. And then, with all the dignity he can muster, which considering he’s naked, covered in various bodily fluids (and not the fun ones) and itchy patches, isn’t that much, he gets into the water.

 

The water is heavenly. “Ohhh,” he groans, “Oh, I’m never getting out. You’ll just have to return and periodically reheat my bathwater, Borch, and then I can happily live out the rest of my life in here.”

 

“No one warned me about the drama that came with having a fledgling,” Borch grumbles, but his voice is fond.

 

“That’s me!” Jaskier says. “Full of drama. As many, many, many women can attest to.” He pauses. “And men. And not just their husbands, if you know what I’m talking about-”

 

Julian.”

 

“Ah. Oops?” Jaskier casts a guilty look at Saskia, who is thankfully still asleep.

 

Borch sighs. “You’re too young to be courting, in any case,” he says. “Too young and too foolish.”

 

“Hey! I’ll have you know, that I’ve only been mortally wounded once by an enraged spouse.” He pauses. “Maybe twice.”

 

“Fledgling-” Borch says. He stops. And sighs. “This isn’t working,” he says, his tone serious. Jaskier’s eyes widen and he sits up so quickly that only narrowly avoids inhaling a lungful of water.

 

What?” he says, panicked, “What do you mean this isn’t working?” He swallows. A day ago he would have been ecstatic at the opportunity to leave Borch and his cryptic comments and his isolated cave, but now…

 

“You said I was family!” he says quickly, desperation making his words run into each other. “You can’t just- leave me. I can do better, I swear it. I’ll be quiet as a mouse. No more talking about philandering, no more talking back, no more complaining about the name thing, I can change-!”

 

“Shh, shh. Calm yourself, fledgling. That’s not what I meant. Just breath now. I’m not going to abandon you now, I swear by all the gods.”

 

Saskia, awoken by all the noise, looks up in alarm and suddenly there is a feeling of love and determination permeating Jaskier’s brain and he knows, just knows, that he is family and that she will never abandon him. Never. His breathing steadies and his heart rate levels out.

 

Borch sighs. “I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he says, and his voice is so soft and understanding that Jaskier almost cries. “I just wanted to- well. You are remarkably stubborn, Julian, when it comes to things you don’t want to acknowledge.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jaskier says, and his voice is thin.

 

“Julian- Look at your hands.”

 

“What-”

 

“Look at them.”

 

Swallowing, Jaskier does as he is told. There’s nothing special about his hands; slim and with long fingers, they are perfect to strum his lute with and, despite what Geralt says, they are not the pampered hands of a nobleman. There is dirt trapped in his fingernails and calluses on his palms and faint splotches of ink on his right hand. There’s also a large patch of flaking skin that he absently scratches at-

 

-and freezes. Because it flakes off beneath his hands to reveal shining golden scales.

 

“What the fuck??”

 

“Language!”

Chapter Text

Jaskier looks down at his hands. Shaking slightly, he reaches past the already uncovered scales, and rubs at another itchy patch, this time on his leg. It flakes off just as easily, revealing more scales. The shaking worsens. And then he’s in the air because Borch has reached in and lifted him out of the pool.

 

“Perhaps it would have been better to have this conversation somewhere you could not easily drown.”

 

He sits on the solid ground and he searches. Looking for the patches of dry skin and scrubbing at them until they flake off and he can see the gold hidden underneath. Some of it isn’t quite ready to come off, leaving the exposed scales red and raw and tender, but he doesn’t stop. It’s a pretty good metaphor for how he feels, in any case.

 

“It’s-” Jaskier swallows, hands frantically scratching at his skin, “-is this the herbs that I used? I mean- does it turn people into a dragon?”

 

Borch sighs and moves forward, entwining himself around Jaskier until he’s surrounded by safety and warmth. Saskia, tentative at first but then moving more confidently, climbs down from her perch on Borch’s back and clambers up Jaskier, her tiny claws leaving pinpricks of pain in their wake, until she’s curled around his neck like a particularly ostentatious scarf. She snuffs into his neck, and Jaskier can feel her mind again, comforting him. Borch moves his head so that he can stare at Jaskier. So that Jaskier can see the truth in his eyes.

 

“While they have many miraculous properties,” Borch says, “Nothing in my herb garden has the power to transform a man into a dragon.”

 

“The bathwater then!” Jaskier says, “Or the, er, the food. There are tales of travellers who consume faery food, that they aren’t able to escape afterwards.” He turns and grabs the discarded clothes, pulling them on as quickly as possible to cover the golden scales. He turns all of his attention to his laces, ignoring the trembling of his hands.

 

“Julian,” Borch says.

 

Jaskier’s face falls. “There has to be some explanation. A curse maybe? Or, oh! Maybe it’s Yennefer of Vengerberg, this seems like the kind of meanspirited prank that she would lower herself to. I can’t have gold scales! Gold looks terrible with my complexion, I’m really more of a silver person-”

 

“Julian,” Borch says again.

 

Jaskier collapses. “It’s not any of those, is it?”

 

“No, fledgling. It’s not.”

 

“Is that-” he swallows past the lump in his throat. “Is that why you call me that? Fledgling? And-” he continues without giving Borch a chance to reply, “-how is any of this even possible? I can’t- I can’t. I don’t know what’s going on.”

 

“It is a hard thing to accept,” Borch acknowledges. “It’s why I had thought to let you come to you own conclusions as the spell started to wear off. That- didn’t work out as planned. You are very talented at self-deception.”

 

“Hah. Self-deception. Yeah, that’s me in a nutshell. Always convincing myself that things are true because I want them to be.”

 

Saskia bites his ear, and he yelps, in surprise more than in pain. “You have to stop doing that!” Jaskier says. “It’s fine now, but what happens when your teeth come in? I’m just a squishy human-” He stops. “Only,” he says, “I’m not. Am I.”

 

“You are not,” Borch says. “You are a dragon. One, or both, of your parents must also have been a dragon. A golden dragon, to be precise, as only we are able to shift into forms other than our own.”

 

“But- I know my family. My parents died young, but I think I would have noticed if they were dragons! And- I have a grandfather. A very human grandfather. Unless- he isn’t- I mean, he isn’t a dragon too, is he?”

 

“I cannot be certain, but I doubt it. There aren’t that many left of us, Julian. And if your grandfather were truly a dragon, that I cannot believe that he would send you off into the world this young or this unprepared.”

 

His father- had been a dragon. In human form. His mother had looked at a dragon and decided that she wanted to marry him. Jaskier quickly shuts that line of thought down. There are some things that man is not meant to think upon, and that includes one’s parents’ relationship.

 

“Forty isn’t young,” Jaskier mutinously muttered. “Only- wait. Is forty young? For a, a, dragon?” He can’t stop his voice from rising incredulously on the last word. He is half convinced that this is an elaborate prank and that Geralt and Yennefer and, hell, his grandfather and bloody Valdo Marx will step out from a conveniently placed boulder and start mocking him for entertaining this ridiculous idea for even a moment. 

 

Borch blinks at him, once. Saskia chirps at him and starts to play chew on his hair. So much for that bath.

 

“Oh,” Jaskier says. “Yeah, you do keep calling me fledgling. Sooooo not that old? In dragon years, I mean? Hah! I knew that there was a reason I had kept my youthful vitality.” He’s spewing words desperately, trying not to think about the meaning behind them, because how long do dragons actually live? And, knowing his luck, what are the chances that he’s going to have several mortifying encounters with Geralt and Yennefer over the next few…centuries? Decades? Years? “How long do dragons live for?”

 

“If we aren’t killed by glory-seeking fools or self-righteous mages… Over a thousand years.”

 

Jaskier pales. “A- a thousand years?” he chokes. There are empires that are younger than that. He can’t conceive of that amount of time, not really. Suddenly, he feels impossibly small in the face of history, bearing down on him.

 

There’s a not-so-gentle squeeze around his neck and that sense of love once pushed at him. He reaches up and pets Saskia, drawing calm from her little chirps. On the bright side, at least he will be able to protect her. Though, honestly, it might end up with her protecting him. At least when she gets a bit older.

 

“So,” Jaskier asks, “Since presumably only my father was a, er, dragon-” it still feels ridiculous saying it, “-why is it that why I look. Well.” He gestures at himself. “Human looking? Apart from the scales, I mean.”

 

Jaskier can hear the deep rumble of Borch’s laughter. “You are ‘human-looking’,” he says, “Due to a spell. Some sort of enchantment, I would wager, placed upon you when you were a child, to keep you safe before you learnt to change your own form.”

 

He frowns. “That can’t be right,” he says. “I’m no mage, but my parents died decades ago. No spell could last that long.”

 

Borch hums. “Not unless it has an anchor, no. Not without great risk to the caster. I do recall, however, that you had a red stone with you when we last met. One that reeked of magic, to those who knew to look.”

 

Jaskier raises a brow. Well, actually he raises both his brows as he’s never quite managed to get the hang of raising a single eyebrow, but he feels the situation warrants it.

 

“I’m certain that if no one else, Yennefer of Vengerberg would have been able to tell,” he says.

 

“It is a subtle magic,” Borch says, “Elven magic. If I hadn’t heard your name- well, there was still something off in your scent, but I might not have looked too closely.”

 

“Aha!” Jaskier says. “If there was something strange about me, then surely Geralt would have spotted it! Sometime.”

 

Borch snorts. “You’d be surprised,’ he muttered, almost to himself, and then raised his voice and continued. “And I can tell that you’re deflecting, fledgling. You’re going to have to accept it eventually. Sometime before you regain your natural form would be preferable.”

 

“My natural form?” Yes, they had been speaking of it, but it had all seemed so… academic. Distant. Thinking of himself with wings and a tail… he shudders. How’s he meant to strum his lute with claws?

 

“Yes, your natural form. I don’t see your stone on you now, Julian, hmm?”

 

“Oh fuck,” Jaskier mutters as he remembers slipping it into Roach’s saddlebags. It had seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time, but now…

 

“I’ll let that slide- again- but your language really is unsuitable for a fledgling of your age.”

 

“I’m- I can swear if I want! I won’t-” he strokes Saskia apologetically, “-but I can! I’ve looked after myself for forty years, and I haven’t died yet!”

 

“Not through lack of trying,” Borch murmurs.

 

“Hey!”

 

Borch starts to hum a familiar tune, pointedly.

 

They came after me

With masterful deceit

Broke down my lute

And kicked in my teeth-”

 

“Does any of this sound familiar, Julian?”

 

“Damn it,” Jaskier hisses. Undone by his own song! Though-

 

“You’ve heard it then? What do you think? It’s an early composition, of course, but I do think it’s got a good tune to it-”

 

“Not the time,” Borch says. “Though it’s not bad at all for your age. Very catchy. Back to the matter at hand- you’re going to start changing, soon.”

 

“Oh sweet Melitele,” Jaskier whispers, “Do I have to go through puberty again? Oh! Is the spell why I was blessed with such good skin as an adolescent? Because I do feel there would be a market for that-”

 

“Yes,” Borch says, cutting him off. “Though not for another century or so. The change that I’m speaking of, that you keep dancing around-”

 

“Is me becoming a literal, scaly dragon,” Jaskier finishes, shoulders slumping. “Is there any way I can stop it? Reverse all this and go back to being a normal, albeit long-lived, human? I mean, surely I can find another anchor and have someone recast the spell on me-”

 

“Doubtful,” Borch says, “As you would have to find the elves and then you would have to tie it to you by blood. And that would take time you do not have. Now the change has begun, it will be swift.” He nudges Jaskier with his muzzle. “Come now. Surely being a dragon isn’t as bad as all that?”

 

“It’s not the dragon thing,” Jaskier says apologetically. “It’s mainly the lack of opposable thumbs thing. Oh! But you said- you said that gold dragons can transform into people! So I can just do that, right?”

 

“Of course,” Borch says mildly, “And I have no doubt that you’ll be a quick student-”

 

“Yes!”

 

“-it shouldn’t take you more than a few decades.”

Chapter Text

Jaskier strums another chord on his lute and hums. “A storm breaking on the horizon,” he sings. “Of longing and heartache and lust. She’s always bad news, it’s always lose, lose, So tell me love, tell me love-” His hand comes down too hard and the lute string twangs discordantly. Jaskier hastily stops strumming and checks it for damage: he can’t afford to break any strings. Not now that he has a limited time he’ll be able to use it and no ability to find replacements. Not to mention his new and extremely inconvenient claws, which make each chord a balancing act in precision and strength, lest he accidentally sever them.

 

 The string itself is fine, but he stops anyway. He sighs. “What do you think?” he asks Saskia, curled on his lap. “Too blatant? Does it scream ‘I’m in love with someone who’ll never love me back? And who’s got an incredibly scary girlfriend who’s literally linked to him by destiny, and oh, who’s also an immortal and powerful mage?’ Let me tell you Saskia, falling in love is not worth it.” He plucks at the stings discontentedly. “No matter how good it’s been for my creative juices.”

 

Saskia looks up at him and then clambers up his shoulders to his neck, where she starts to tug at his ear lobe while simultaneously pushing love at him. She has been doing that whenever he started to drop into his maudlin habits which, now the initial shock of his impending dragon hood has subsided, has been often.

 

“Thanks, Saskia,” he sighs. “I appreciate it. I shouldn’t be burdening you with this, really, but honestly you must be my best friend left in the world.” He shakes his head. “No, don’t listen to me. I’m just old and grumpy. Never become like me, Saskia. Not that you will; no one would dare break your heart." He sighs and strums another chord.

 

“I’m weak my love, and I am wanting,” he sings, hating the way his voice breaks on the word ‘weak’, “If this is the path I must trudge-”

 

“What are you doing, Julian?”

 

“Borch!” Jaskier looks up and grins weakly at the dragon, trying to summon some enthusiasm and failing miserably. Borch stares back, the now expected deer in his claws. He’s been going out hunting at least once daily, often more, building up a store of food to both sate Saskia’s ever-increasing appetite and to supplement their food stores for the winter, when it will be harder to find game. There are apparently parts of the cave, ones that Jaskier has not yet explored, underneath the garden where the snow is packed thick and fresh around the walls and never thaws, not even on the hottest midsummer day. He does hope that there is more than just deer stored there, though. Especially since Borch is insistent that he eat as much as Saskia, who can already tear through three rabbits on her own.

 

“I’m merely working on my latest, and last for at least a while, masterpiece. I had written most of it already, but recent events have led me to. Well. To change some of the lyrics.”

 

“It’s very evocative,” Borch says, setting down his catch, whereupon Saskia leaps from his shoulder to tear into. Her teeth are coming in nicely, which while good for her eating habits, are murder for Jaskier's ears. Luckily she can't penetrate scales, but her bites now, actually hurt! 

 

“Evocative? I can work with that.”

 

“Is it about your Witcher, then?”

 

Jaskier’s lips tighten. “That obvious, is it?” he asks. “In any case, he’s not my Witcher. Or- maybe he is, but I am not his bard. Geralt has made that perfectly clear.” His lute strings give another warning screech, and he lays his instrument aside before he does her any damage. It is, after all, not her fault.

 

“I suppose the only upside to this whole ‘transforming into a dragon’ thing, is that by the time I am in a fit state to perform this in front of actual people and not just Saskia, people will have forgotten Jaskier the bard. Or at least they won’t connect the dots between this tragedy of a song and the abrupt disappearance of Geralt’s bard.”

 

He sighs. He had always thought that he would achieve immortality through his songs. Now that there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll outlive them, he’s not sure how to adjust.

 

Borch gently nuzzles Jaskier’s head. “You’re very dramatic, fledgling,” he says mildly. “In any case, I wouldn’t discount your fame so easily: I do like your new song, however sad. Your lyrics have certainly improved over the decades. I don’t think that your name will fade to the mists of time.”

 

“Thank you, Borch,” Jaskier says. Then he takes a deep breath and fixes a bright smile to his face. “In any case, we should move past my romantic troubles! You said that you wanted to talk to me about something. No more horrifying truths, I hope?”

 

“Eat first,” Borch says, reaching over to the deer and gently nudging Saskia aside. Delicately, he slices several pieces of meat off for Jaskier, who accepts them with a sigh. He turns and fetches the crude pouch he made from the remains of his trousers and filled with several edible herbs from the garden mixed to spice his meals with. It, alongside a pot of salt that Borch had procured from somewhere, had become invaluable.  

 

“I saw that sigh,” Borch says. “I’ve already told you that the change is going to need as much energy as possible. It’s not natural, being forced into a form for that long, without respite or choice. It has been done, but never with anyone so…young. I want to give you as much of a chance as possible.”

 

“And that means gorging myself at every meal?” Jaskier sprinkles the herbs and salt over the meat and then carefully lays it on a flat rock, placed in the middle of the still-burning fire, to cook. Saskia and Borch both eat their meat raw; bones, hooves and all, but his all too human sensibilities- if not, apparently his stomach- protest.

 

“I sometimes wonder whether you even listen to me,” Borch grumbles. “Yes, this means eating as much as possible. Come on then. The sooner you eat, the sooner we can talk of other things. Although,” and his voice is dry as a desert, “I do think we need to talk about this Witcher. Now, I am willing to Geralt the benefit of the doubt for his past services in helping me protect Saskia’s egg, but he really is too old for you-”

 

“No, no!” Jaskier says, pulling his meal toward him and cramming it into his mouth. “I’m eating, I’m eating! We really don’t have to talk about this. Please.”

 

Borch laughs and Jaskier continues to eat his meal as quickly as humanly possible.

 

“Hah!” he says once he takes the last bite. Or tries to say. It’s muffled somewhat by the food that he’s chewing. He swallows, and then tries again. “There,” he says. “Finished. Now that oh so vital task is over, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

 

Borch leans down and scoops both him and Saskia up, depositing them on his back, and starts to walk to the bathing pools. He then proceeds to heat one, with no begging or pleading eyes necessary on Jaskier’s behalf. Over the last couple of weeks, Borch had quickly learnt that Jaskier’s favourite thing is a warm bath, and he isn’t above using that to get him to cooperate. Once Jaskier assured him that he wasn’t going to drown. Although, he usually accompanies the heating process with a firm instruction to watch his breathing technique and try and emulate it as best he can with his human mouth, and the lack of lecture today is making Jaskier suspicious.

 

“Oh sweet Melitele, is it that bad?” Nonetheless, he doesn’t waste any time scrambling off Borch’s back and getting into the pool, shedding his clothes along the way. Saskia follows him and he cradles her in his arms as he gently scrubs at her scales with water. She’s grown to love baths as much as her brother, much to Borch’s bemusement. She also voraciously complains when the water is anything less than steaming and is perfect backup when it comes to convincing Borch of their need for heated water.

 

“This might be the last bath you have for a while,” Borch says. He sits down, head resting on his forearms and looks at them. “Julian. You’ve noticed that the change is increasing.”

 

“It would be hard to miss,” Jaskier says, hand unconsciously reaching up to his head before he forces it down. The day that he had woken to find strands of his dark, thick hair littering his bedroll he had literally screamed in dismay. He’s always been proud of his hair, and the more tangible proof of his change had been hard for him. It turns out that scales appearing all over one’s body is not amazing for the state of one’s hair. Yesterday he had awoken with a tender back and head, and even now he can feel the throbbing of his shoulder blades where some… growth…was making itself known. He doesn’t dare look too long into the water: he doesn’t want to know what he looks like.

 

“It’s going to get worse,” Borch says bluntly. They have both learnt that if there is anything important, it’s better that it be spelled out, as explicitly as possible. It’s not his fault his mind latches onto certain things! He has a poet’s temperament, and honestly a lot of things are just boring to listen to.

 

“How is that- what do you mean worse?”

 

Borch sighs. “The full change will be on you soon.”

 

Jaskier freezes. He takes a deep breath. He’s- ok, so in all honesty he’s been coping with life’s upheavals (and actually, fuck Destiny so much) by imagining that he’s just a normal human, under some kind of curse. Like Pavetta’s husband! Only infinitely more handsome. But… that is going to be harder once he actually has three extra limbs. Oh, and let’s not forget, no opposable thumbs.

 

“At- at least it’ll be over with?” he squeaks. Yes, better to hold onto this- the sooner he becomes a dragon, the sooner he can learn how to turn back. Decades? Hah! He’ll do it in a month. Two at most.

 

“Yes. I daresay that you’ll be a dragon again before the week has passed. No more than three days, certainly.”

 

Jaskier’s heart starts to again. “Three days? That’s not soon at all! You scared me there, Borch-”

 

Julian.” Borch’s voice is stern and something inside Jaskier tells him; listen. This is important. Pay attention. 

 

“You won’t be conscious for most of it,” Borch says. “It’s- a protective method. Meant to protect against the worst of the pain.”

 

“Oh,” Jaskier says faintly. “The pain?”

 

“Your entire body is regaining a shape that it had not seen for forty years. Yes, the pain.”

 

“Will it- will it always be painful? Or, er, or take this long?”

 

Borch’s eyes soften. “No fledgling,” he says. “You will learn how to manage it. It will becomes second nature to you, no harder than slipping off a coat at the end of a long day. But, as with all things, it takes practice. That you do not have. It would be easier with the stone-”

 

“But I don’t have it,” Jaskier says. He sighs. “So I just- go to sleep human and wake up as a dragon?”

 

“Something along those lines.”

 

“And- you said it’s happening soon?”

 

“I would imagine this evening,” Borch says. “Not long at all.”

 

“Oh.” There’s a flutter of terror at Jaskier’s throat that he swallows down to nestle with the rest of his regrets.

 

“Then…this is my last day as a human. For a while.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then-” he hesitates, and then hurries on. “Then would you like to- I mean I’d like to play you a concert. You and Saskia. A proper one. If this is the last time I can hold my lute for a, a while- I would like it to be a memorable one.” He pauses. “You can say no!” he says. “I mean- I know that I’ve been playing it a lot recently, and you’re probably sick of it by now- actually this was a terrible idea, forget I even suggested it-”

 

“Fledgling,” Borch cuts him off. “I would be honoured to hear you play.”

Chapter Text

Jaskier doesn’t remember much about the three days he spends unconscious. Nothing but faint flashes and emotions, passed straight into his mind without doing him the courtesy of stopping by his ears.

 

Warmth and concern from Saskia, her young mind curling anxiously around his. Unsure and worried and oh so ready to wrap herself around him so that he cannot help but know her, know her unwavering presence.  

 

Pride from Borch. The whispers of you’re doing so well, fledgling. You are capable. I have faith in you. The words strike a deep chord in him, resonate in the cracks that solder Jaskier the Bard out of the pieces of Julian the boy.

 

Love, from both of them. The emotion seeps into every fibre of his body, permeating his entire being until he doesn’t know where he ends and his family begins. He unconsciously mirrors it: his love and gratitude, that they’re there for him, that he hasn’t been abandoned at the edge of a mountain. They twirl and twirl and twirl together, illuminating the far corners of their conjoined minds, until he can’t hold on any longer and he falls once again into the dark mire.

 

Sometimes, he can feel a flash of anger, bright and heated against his senses. He can never tell whether it’s his own or whether it’s sweet Saskia’s. Saskia who shouldn’t be hating anyone, least of all Geralt of Rivia who saved her. Who has saved countless others and will go on to save many more. Who is a good man. Please, he begs into the pain-filled void that is become his mind, please don’t hate him. not for me.

 

The hatred is quickly veiled, soothed by the immense mind reminds him of the ocean, deep and cool and unknown, so different from Saskia’s quicksilver emotions. He thinks it’s Borch. Who else is so ancient? Who else could it be, when every though and emotion is carefully hidden beneath the depths, a menagerie of monsters and wonders swimming concealed beneath the waves.

 

And everywhere there is an ancient melody, one that smells of smoke and the distant past. That has been burnt into his memories, enshrined in soul.

 

…hunan blentyn, are fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon
Breichiau mam sy'n dyn amdanat
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron
Ni chaiff dim amharu'th gyntun
Ni wna undyn a thi gam
Huna'n dawel, annwyl bientyn
Huna'n fwyn are fron dy fam…

 

Mother! he sobs in his weakest moments, father! Don’t leave me. Please. I can do better, don’t leave me…

 

The song plays on, the damnably familiar and well-loved soprano and baritone twisting in and over and around each other, a snake biting its own tail, until he doesn’t know where it starts or ends.

 

Mostly, he feels the pain. He is burning and cracking and writhing, his only relief when the ocean flows into his and out again, taking with it a portion of his agony. The tides ebb and the tides flow and he cries in relief every single time. Keep her out, be begs, when he remembers to do so, don’t let Saskia feel this. Protect her. Please.

 

He wonders if this is what Geralt felt, when he became a Witcher. Whether his mutation was as agonising. Whether he too screamed for someone, anyone, to come save him. He didn’t have the ocean, though, nor the quicksilver, and Jaskier’s heart aches with this realisation. He can’t hate him. He truly can’t hate him. He thought that he could, but he can’t. How can he? How can he hate someone he loves so much?

 

…a storm breaking on the horizon
Of longing and heartache and lust…

 

Geralt, he cries, Geralt, I understand. I understand, now. It’s terrifying to not know your body, how have you managed? How have you survived so long?

 

Sometimes he dreams, and that it the worst pain of all. Because in his dreams he is not fledgling, julian, dragon. No, he is Jaskier, bard and friend. And he is sitting on uncomfortable ground, throwing clods of earth at the back of Geralt’s head as they exchange good-natured insults. He is twirling in a tavern, beloved lute in his hands and music in his soul. He is feeding Roach surreptitious sugar cubes. He is studying Geralt’s face, and the Witcher’s mouth crooks up, at one side, and his eyes are sparkling in suppressed mirth, and he knows that he did that, that he gifted him that joy. He is, he is-

 

He is alone on the mountain. He is alone on the mountain and with every step he has to convince himself not to turn around, not to run back to Geralt and plead and beg and promise to be better, only don’t send him away (not again).

 

He is talking to the dwarves, asking them to recount their version of history, only he isn’t listening. He is staring out at the world, at his hand, scratching faint lines on a piece of paper, but the markings make no sense.

 

He is walking down the mountain and he knows that a part of him will never leave it. That some part of him died there, and he doesn’t know if he can get it back. Doesn’t know if he wants it back- poor fool! That lingered where he was not wanted, that dared to hope for more. That yearned after the forbidden and divine and was rebuffed for it.

 

Who are you? Who is he? Who are you? Who can he be? Who is Julian Alfred Pancratz? An abandoned son? A scared orphan? A wilted flower, plucked and tolerated and tossed away?

 

You are ours, echoes through his head, and we are yours. You will always be loved. You will always have a home.

 

Julian, speaks the bright soprano

 

Julian, rumbles the baritone

 

Julian, growls the ocean

 

Julek! a voice cries out, unbearably young, Julek come back

 

Jaskier? Jaskier! A girl, blonde and green eyed and familiar yet not, staring at him with unknowing eyes as Geralt’s voice rings in both their ears.

 

Jaskier?!??

 

Jaskier awakens, suddenly. The quiet rings in his ears, and the lack of pain is as sharp as a brand. He’s in the gardens. He stumbles forward, toward one of the pools, filled with placid water, so deep and still that he can gaze down into it and see as well as any King or Queen. And then he stares into its glassy surface. And a dragon stares back.

 

Julek! Something small and gold barrels towards him, straight into his side, and stumbles. Julek, Julek, Julek!The quicksilver voice in chiming in his head, excitement and relief and love all swirling together.

 

“Ah, Julian. You’ve woken.” And then it’s the ocean, walking sedately toward him, relief and pride radiating out from its depths.

 

Julek. Saskia nuzzles firmly into him and he falls to his side with a thump, unable to find the strength to keep himself upright. She immediately takes the opportunity to burrow deeper, snuggling against him and under his wing- and gods that feels strange, he has a wing. He has two. He tries to move it, but it lays, limp and unresponsive against his side.

 

“She was worried for you,” Borch says, curling himself around them both in turn, until they are enveloped in his protective both. “We both were, though I knew that you would be fine.”  

 

Borch’s wings come around them, in shelter. “Sleep,” he says. “Sleep now, my children.”

Chapter Text

Jaskier spends the next few days in a haze, waking only to drink the water and eat the food presented to him before falling back into his slumber. It turns out that transforming into a dragon really takes it out of you? Who knew? Well, probably other dragons. And Borch- Borch definitely knew. Borch seems to know everything.

 

It’s on the fourth day, an entire week after he went to sleep human, that he finally manages to open his eyes and keep them open for more than a few minutes. He’s still in the gardens and his entire left arm has gone numb. He looks down and nudges Saskia off him so that he can get some blood flow back into his arm. She shifts, grumbling at being moved from her warm perch. Her mind reaches out in sleepy greeting and she rolls over and stretches before settling more comfortably into a patch of sunlight.

 

Jaskier… is busy staring down at his arm. Only…is it his arm anymore? He tries to flex it, and it moves under his command. He stands unsteadily. Everything feels…more. Heightened. Like he’s been looked at the world through smoked glass, and just now has just ventured outside. The wind blows gently against his scales and he shivers. Everything feels new and sensitive and strange. He carefully tests each of his limbs: his legs? Arms? His four limbs all work as expected, and with a bit of practice he thinks he’ll be able to figure out how to get them to work. His other limbs… He tries to move his wings, concentrating as hard as he can. There’s a strange pull at his breastbone and his left wing twitches. He glares at it and tries again. Nothing. He narrows his eyes and tries to move his tail. It reacts immediately, swiping out to the right and he overbalances, falling on his back with a squeak.

 

He is on his back and staring up at the trees. They seem a lot larger than usual. In fact, they tower over him. He tries to stand up again, but his wings drag in the dirt and he falls down again, this time straight on left side, trapping his wing underneath his body. Luckily he misses hitting Saskia on the way down, but he is not happy with this development. Not happy at all. How is he supposed to transform back into a human if he can’t even control his body?

 

He huffs, then yelps as unknown muscles in his stomach contract and a small lick of fire is expelled from his mouth. It hits Saskia straight in the face and she wakens with an annoyed chirp, instinctively shifting backward. Jaskier tries to call out a warning, but all that comes from his mouth is a loud chirp of his own- and then Saskia is falling backward straight into the pool.

 

Julek!

 

Saskia! He calls back, and then he throws himself forward after her and into the water.

 

The pool is deeper than he remembers, and he tries to stay calm as he starts sinking, but it’s not easy. Not when he’s hurt his sister. He can see Saskia in front of him, struggling in the water, and he attempts to manoeuvre his wings so that they propel him forward and toward her. It doesn’t work and he starts to panic. His tail thrashes in front of him, leaving bubbles in his wake and obscuring his vision until he can’t tell which way is up and which is down.

 

Julek! Saskia calls out again, but he can’t tell from where because he can’t see anything. Her panic is intertwining with his own, their minds clinging to each other in their fear. Desperate he forces all his limbs out, as wide as possible until- there! With the tip of his wing he can feel her small body and then the pricks of pain as her claws latch on to him. He brings his wing closer to him and he clutches at Saskia- who is a lot larger than he remembers. But how to get out? Their combined weight has them sinking faster, so at least he knows which way is down, but that doesn’t help when it comes to figuring out-

 

A scaled head plunges into the water and grabs the nape of Jaskier’s neck, pulling them both up to the surface. They collapse into a small damp heap.

 

“I leave you alone for five minutes,” Borch says. “And this is what happens.” Saskia gives a small cry and curls deeper in on herself, shivering miserably. Jaskier tries to cover her as much as possible with his own body, trying to lend her his own heat. He coughs pitifully. There is no fire this time, though that might be because he’s feeling water-logged and thoroughly miserable. Borch too has grown in size, a mountain as opposed to a house, and with a sinking feeling Jaskier realises that the reason everything seems so big is that he has shrunk.

 

“What am I going to do with you?” Borch sighs, then bending down he gently breathes over them both. Flames, bright red and orange, dance over them both, soothing and warming and not burning at all. Jaskier stares up at the lights above and around him and remembers- a dragon’s first gift is fire.

 

“Is that better, little ones?” Borch asks. Jaskier looks up and tries to thank him, but he can’t force the words from his throat. Instead, he squeaks, piteously. And then again and again as he realises that he can’t make his draconic throat form words. His mind flashes back to the djinn, to the feeling of the tumour pressing against his throat, and he panics. Because this isn’t fair. He’s to lose his lute and his voice? At the same time? He keens and immediately Borch has wrapped himself around them and Saskia has pulled his head down to rest between her paws, nuzzling at his ear anxiously.

 

They both send wave after waves of calm at him, Saskia’s tinged with worry. It seems that she isn’t holding any grudges about his accidentally spitting fire at her, though considering that dragons are apparently immune to fire he probably hadn’t hurt her so much as startled her. He calms. He’s safe. He’s- this is definitely not ideal-

 

“Dragons,” Borch says, “Don’t have vocal cords that can form human speech, as a rule.”

 

Jaskier can feel that terrible whine building again in his chest and he clamps down on it.

 

“We can, however, manipulate the shape of our throats, somewhat. It’s a form of polymorph, and one that you’ll be glad to learn is much easier to learn than a full transformation. It shouldn’t take more than a few weeks and then you’ll be able to talk and sing again to your heart’s content. Until then-” He gently touches his forehead to Jaskier’s and sends his love and reassurance, We dragons communicate mind to mind. And we can always find each other. Next time you’re in trouble call for me, Julian. And will always be here for you.

Chapter Text

The months pass in a series of firsts. His first tentative steps, trying desperately not to overthink where he’s putting his legs lest he get tangled in them. Saskia props him up, running from side to side and frequently causing him to fall as she decides that the most expedient way to do is is either under him, weaving though his legs, or over him, scrambling up and over his body. His first purposeful fire, blowing sure and steady on a pile of dead pine needles under Borch’s patient tutelage until he neither accidentally obliterates them in one breath nor doesn’t manage to light them at all. His first proper meal; watching his sister tear into (yet another) deer and trying to avoid getting the same amount of blood on his scales. He has to admit, he doesn’t try too hard because after their meals, Borch will take them both to a (shallower) pool and heat it for them, before letting them to splash and play for hours with a stern admonition ‘not to drown’.

 

(Jaskier would think it’s a joke, but Borch stays watching over them the entire time they’re in the pool, and every time he looks up he meets the other dragon’s careful gaze. You almost drown one time…)

 

He doesn’t even take much begging to heat the water. Though that might also be because Jaskier is not in full control of his fire yet and is able to argue that point, backed up by his sister’s equally pleading eyes.

 

(He tries to cook his food once. He’s overenthusiastic, and the haunch he’s roasting ends up charred black on the outside and raw in the middle. He refuses to speak of the incident. In any case, he’s certain that in Toussaint that sort of rare meat would be a delicacy!)

 

Slowly Jaskier gets to know his body. His new body. It’s strange: his entire life he has always been comfortable in his own skin. Well. As with all stories that is only part of the story, erasing the unsavoury facts and uncomfortable horrors to present the audience with a more palatable truth that will allow his to earn enough coin to buy food and a roof over his head. And whatever small luxuries he might require, of course.

 

The truth that his friends and lovers and fans (of which he has many thank you Geralt) know is this: he was born with a lute in his hand and a song on his lips. He is loud and unapologetic, dressed in his fine silks and colourful doublets. He isn’t shy about chasing after his desires and doesn’t understand why he should limit his love whether it be by sex or by marital status. Love is love and he falls into it as quickly and easily and deeply as breathing. His heart is large enough to contain multitudes.

 

This is not untrue. All good stories have a kernel of truth, and this is a marvellous story.

 

The truth that he knows is this: Jaskier was born the day he left Oxenfurt behind for good, and with it the last of his grandfather’s strictures and expectations. He plucked up the pieces of himself that he wanted to keep and discarded others, building himself up layer by layer. He grew into the mantel of Jaskier until the mask became him and he became the mask. It wasn’t an uncomfortable way to live. Even if sometimes he wished to shed his skin for a few hours or days.

 

Now? Now he has to do it all over again. Pick over his shattered self, destroyed first by cruel words and then by crueller truths. This time though… this time is different. Because his transformation isn’t fuelled by pain and lonely determination. Quite the opposite.

 

It’s strange. He feels freer, almost. Full of tumbling energy, ready to laugh and play and spend hours chasing after the shadows as they slowly move across the floor of the large cavern. Once he spent an hour tracking a particularly playful leaf, blown in from the outside world, large as his snout and a gaudy red. Once he finally pins it down, he presents it to Saskia with pride, only to have her tear it to shreds right in front of him and roll in the mangled remains. He sighs at her, but she looks so pleased with herself that he can’t be annoyed.

 

Now that winter is settling in and the days are getting darker and darker, evenings are spent learning. It’s not unlike the years at Oxenfurt, apart from the ways it’s not. Instead of draughty halls and boring lecturers he has the open sky and Borch, patiently pointing out the different constellations and how to use them to navigate the night sky. Instead of the forced comradery of young men and woman set free from their parents’ influence for the first time he is surrounded by his family. Saskia’s solid weight by his side and Borch’s wings arching over them both.

 

Sometimes he’ll lie between them and show them the intricate melodies that echo through his mind. Three melodies, interlocking. One high and sweet, the chirp of a piccolo or the playfulness of the penny whistle. The other deep and unwavering, steady as a heartbeat. And the third interweaving between them both, playful and free, jumping between octaves with joyful abandon, sometimes low and sombre, sometimes high and yearning, but ultimately always brought back in to meld with the other two. It’s not the same as his lute, the visceral feel of the strings beneath his fingers. But it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

 

Julek! Saskia throws herself at him and he, lost in his thoughts, dodges at the last moment, tail twitching out of the way of her ever-lengthening claw. She chases after it, but despite everything he is faster and stronger and, most importantly, he can actually use his wings. He races across the stone floor, his own claws clattering noisily, and he flings himself up and into the air, settling into the branches of a pine tree with a triumphant rumble.

 

Missed me.

 

Saskia, stuck at the base of the tree, pouts up at him, golden eyes large and pleading. She makes her own attempt to ascend, but the trunk is too tall and there is a distinct lack of low branches that she can reach. Jaskier chose this tree for a reason. Giving up, Saskia sighs and collapses dramatically onto the ground, her whole body limp and desolate, gutted by her brother’s perfidy. He isn’t fooled: he can see her sneaking glances at him when she thinks he isn’t looking.

 

“Julian,” Borch says. “Are you ready?”

 

Yes! Jaskier calls out, throwing himself out of the tree and landing on Borch’s wide back, jumping up and down in his eagerness to go. Saskia too hurtles toward them, climbing up her father’s arm until she’s next to Jaskier, and he settles, though his tail is still twitching in anticipation.

 

Now that he’s gained more control over his own body, he’s started to learn how to change it. The first tentative steps on the path to regaining opposable thumbs. Not that he would want to trade flying, because flying-

 

-flying is amazing. Jaskier thinks back to when he would stand on the cliffs overlooking the sea and feel the wind on his face and wonders whether even then he was unconsciously missing it. The supportive lift of the thermals, the utter freedom as he wheels and swoops through the air, the cool mist of the clouds streaming past his face. He’s only able to fly on cloudy days, and only above the clouds. So that no humans spot them, so that they don’t know that there are dragons are in the area or are even still alive and not some long ago myth, lost to the annals of history.

 

Jaskier knows that this is sensible. That this is what keeps them safe. But he also wants to fly.

 

“Are you ready, little ones?”

 

Yes! Two impatient voices intermingle and Borch pretends to linger at the cave entrance, laughing at their groans.

 

“Hold on then.”

 

And then he launches himself out of the entrance, powerful flaps of his wings propelling them into the air until they burst through the dim cloud layer and into a land of white, rolling hills and fluffy castles, all bathed in bright sunlight. Jaskier trills, loud and pleased, and throws himself off Borch’s back, snapping out his wings at the last minute to soar into the sky.

 

“Stay close!” Borch calls out. I mean it.

 

I will! And then he’s off. He almost caught a bird last time, and he’s eager to see whether he can actually succeed this time. He might even make the effort to eat the whole thing instead of delicately picking around the bones and feathers as he did last time Borch demonstrated how to hunt.

 

He doesn’t quite manage, but by the time the bird he is chasing finally disappears beneath the clouds he’s feeling tired and ready to return to Borch and Saskia. Spend a comfortable few hours nestled on Borch’s back while he flies gently above the clouds, telling them stories of their forebears. Jaskier is going to be writing a lot of songs about dragons when he’s back in human form. He’s rehabilitated a Witcher: how much harder can it be to do so for dragons?

 

Julian! Borch calls him suddenly and his voice is urgent. Jaskier looks up. Borch is flying toward him, Saskia nothing more than a small bump on his back, but he’s still a good two or three hundred metres away. Julian, come back quickly. There’s something-

 

And that’s when the storm hits.

Chapter Text

The winds batter him, snapping his wings out and to the side until he’s spiralling out of control. Rain starts to fall, drops large and heavy and freezing, rendering his already hard to control wings numb and unresponsive. The rain is falling hard and fast now, so much so that he can’t see further than a few inches in front of him. He’s losing altitude quickly, dipping below the clouds as his aching wings struggle to keep him aloft.

 

Borch! He calls out. Borch, where are you?

 

Julian! Tell me where you are! I’m coming for you.

 

And then to his dismay he hears Saskia’s cry of Julek! and he remembers that he isn’t the only one in danger. He doesn’t doubt that Borch can navigate through a storm, can dodge the lightning strikes and fly through savage winds and shake off the rain like water off a duck’s back. Saskia though… A bolt of fear strikes Jaskier’s heart, because Saskia is vulnerable. She’s small and light and won’t be able to hold on to her father in this weather.

 

No! he calls out don’t! You have to get Saskia to safety, please-!

 

There’s a peal of thunder and flinches, recovering just in time to stop himself plummeting headfirst into the clouds. A bolt of lightning narrowly misses his head and he whines in fear. There’s something not quite natural about the lightning, though- admittedly Jaskier is rather occupied but even he knows that lightning usually comes from the sky and not from the ground.  

 

Julek! Saskia’s mental voice is getting fainter, and Jaskier hopes that’s because Borch is taking her to safety and not because she’s falling through the clouds with him. He strains his eyes, searching for even a hint of gold-

 

-but here’s nothing. He’s alone.

 

And for the first time he is filled with more relief than dread at the knowledge. Because whatever happens- at least Saskia will be safe. Shuddering, he finally stops fighting the storm and lets himself drop. There’s nothing more he can do but trust Destiny.

 

#

 

He wakes to dappled sunlight. His surroundings are almost offensively beautiful, birds singing in the trees around him and a palpable sense of peace around him.

 

Borch? He calls out, but there’s no reply. Not even the spectre of his mind. It’s a good thing, he reminds himself, because it means that they didn’t get caught in the storm like him. It does, however, mean that he needs to get back to them as soon as possible. Because he’s alone and defenceless and he knows that dragons, any dragons, are a walking goldmine for alchemical ingredients. Never mind a supposedly ‘mythical’ golden dragon. They’ve survived this long by hiding, and Jaskier is not going to be the reason that the hunts intensify. He’s not.

 

The first step is to stand. Stand, figure out where he is, and get back. Three steps. Simple. So simple that not even he can mess it up. He runs into trouble at step one when he tries to uncurl and the movement brings with it a sharp, stabbing, pain. He whimpers. And then he grits his teeth and tries again. Borch wouldn’t falter. Geralt wouldn’t falter. And he knows that he’s soft, but that doesn’t mean he lacks determination.

 

He tries again and manages to stand, swaying slightly. His entire body aches, but it’s nothing compared to when he moves his right wing. Stars appear across his vision as soon as he attempts to move it, and it’s only sheer, bloody determination that keeps him from falling back down. He knows that he won’t be able to get back up again if he does. And he needs to get back.

 

Next step. Getting home. He looks at his wing and then has to quickly turn his head. It’s- definitely broken. It’s sore and swollen and he’s fairly certain he saw a bit of his own bone poking through the skin. Swallowing frantically, Jaskier forces himself to ignore it. Even as a human bard, that kind of break far surpassed his meagre healing skills. He- he’ll find a solution. He will. In the meantime,… He steals another quick glance at his wing. Something has to be done. To stop it from being damaged further.

 

The nearest tree is a yard away. Perhaps if he can make it to the tree, he can- well he’s not quite sure what he’s going to do. Lean against it? Try and close his damaged wing so that so that at least every small movement doesn’t make it worse? Climb up to tree and figure out where he is? He’s going to do something, in any case. Once he gets there. A yard. He can- he can make a yard.

 

He starts to shuffle over, clamping down on the screams that want to exit his throat as his right wing drags on the ground and over what feels like all the stones in Redania. He’s still only halfway there when he hears the footsteps. Immediately he freezes, eyes darting around wildly in a vain attempt to find a hiding place. There’s nothing. Nothing at all. Desperate he sinks to his knees, groaning again as the movement jars his injured wing, and tries to make himself as small as possible, shielding himself with his left, and uninjured, wing. Maybe if he’s lucky whoever it is will take him for nothing more than a particularly shiny rock.

 

The noises get louder and louder, the clang of armour and the whinny of horses and the creak of carriage wheels. For a blissful moment he thinks that he’s going to get away with it, that they’re going to walk right past him without noticing-

 

And then his hopes are shattered when a young voice asks; “What’s that?”

 

Jaskier bolts. Ignoring the screaming of his wing, he uncurls and throws himself away from the carriage as fast as he can. Perhaps he can make it, disappear into the underbrush-

 

“A dragon!”

 

“Catch it! Do you know how much they’re worth-?”

 

And then he can hear the sound of metal on metal as the men in armour presumably draw their swords, and the heavy tread of their boots on the ground behind him, and he can’t help but keening in fear. So, this is how it ends. Not the stuff of legends, just death at the hands of human greed. Well, he always knew that he was eventually going to die at a monster’s hand; it had been a certainty once he started travelling with Geralt. It looks like he had been right after all. Just in case his family can feel him, he closes his eyes and pushes with all his might; all the love and gratefulness and pride out toward where he thinks the warmth of Borch and Saskia reside.

 

Then- hands grabbing at him. Pulling him back by the tail, and his claws scrabble in the dirt, trying to find something, anything, to hold onto-

 

“What do you think you’re doing? Stop it!”

 

But it’s too late. Because they’ve caught his injured wing and he screeches in pain, and then he blacks out.

 

#

 

He wakes again. That’s- unexpected. Very unexpected. He’s swaying, as if he were in a boat, though he must not be because he’s always been violently sick on anything larger than a rowboat, and he feels fine. Well, fine. He’s not nauseous in any case. There’s a hand stroking down the back of his spine, and to his embarrassment he leans into it, unable to stop himself from chasing the comfort. His wing is still aching, though he can feel that something soft and fine has been wrapped around it and his body, keeping it immobile.

 

“See, grandmother? He’s practically tame! Look how small he is, he’s just a baby-”

 

“And how long will he stay so? It’s dangerous Cirilla-”

 

“Please, I never ask for anything-”

 

“-untrue, what about-”

 

“-birthday soon-”

 

“-not-”

 

“-I promise-”

 

“-responsibility-”

 

The voices blur and fade and around him and Jaskier- he’s just so tired. The black beckons, and once more he succumbs.

Chapter Text

Jaskier is incredibly tired of waking, hurt and confused, in strange places. There should be a quota on this sort of thing, only so many traumatic events in one man’s lifetime. Or at least, some sort of clause that states that the trauma be spread over years instead all being thrown at him at once. He is reluctant to open his eyes; who knows where he is? Trapped in some cage where his blood and scales will be slowly harvested from him until he has nothing left to give, and he is killed for his valuable organs? In a crate in a kitchen, the unwitting star of a petulant lord’s feast whose participants are hungering for the rare delicacy of dragon’s blood?

 

Wherever he is, he knows that he can never reveal that golden dragons can transform into humans. In all the myths and legends he had heard as Jaskier the Bard, he had never encountered anything like that, no matter where he travelled. For there not to any whispers at all of the ability- it means that someone has gone to great pains to cover it up. And he can’t reveal it, their greatest secret.

 

He’s glad, now, that he’s not able to talk like a human. Because he knows that he won’t be able to stop himself from pleading with whoever has him to stop, to show mercy, and his fame has grown enough that he runs the risk, however infinitesimal, of his voice being recognised. Maybe they wouldn’t think anything of his voice coming from a dragon, maybe they would. But he’s glad that he won’t even have the possibility of betraying Borch and Saskia.

 

There’s no use in putting it off. He steels himself and then, all at once, opens his eyes and raises his head.

 

Ow. Bad idea. Very bad idea; his headache makes itself knows and he whimpers.

 

“Oh, you’re awake!”

 

Blonde hair and green eyes and a wide smile. Standing before him- is a girl. And not just any girl; she looks familiar. Extremely familiar. Forcing his aching head to work, Jaskier tries to figure out where he knows her from. Not many of his acquaintances have children, and even fewer have children that they would care to introduce him to.

 

“Mousesack said that you would wake today, but he also said that you were badly injured, and I heard him telling grandmother that I shouldn’t be allowed to get too close to you in case you died. But that’s stupid. I knew you weren’t going to die. I saw you in my dreams, months ago, so it must be destiny that I found you, and destiny wouldn’t let you die before I understood why.”

 

All Jaskier can do is blink up at her and wonder what’s happening. This- this is not what he was expecting. But he does recognise her now. The girl from his fever visions when he was transforming, the girl who had stared at him as Geralt’s cries rang in both their ears. Oh. Oh no. Because if she saw him in her dreams, that must mean that she heard-

 

“You’re Jaskier, right?”

 

Fuck! Jaskier’s eyes widen and he jumps up instinctively, scrambling back from the imagined threat. His claws catch at the silk pillow that he’s lying on and the stumbles slightly, instinctively flaring his wings for balance. His- oh. His wing is healed. That’s good. That’ll be helpful when he makes his escape and hopes that no one takes the ramblings of one girl seriously.

 

“No, it’s ok Jaskier!” the girl says, hands out placatingly in front of her. “I promise I won’t hurt you. I even brought you some water, see?” She gestures towards a bowl on the floor. It’s made of fine porcelain, the kind of item that would cost at least ten ducats, if not more. It’s filled to the brim with water, not a speck of dirt in it and so clear that he can see straight through it to the golden lion painted on the bottom of the bowl. The golden lion.

 

He looks at the girl again, looks at her hair. Remembers a banquet. And a princess. And the Law of surprise. Oh shit. This must be Cintra. He’s somehow managed to find himself in fucking Cintra and he’s face to face with Geralt’s bloody child surprise. What’s her name- Cirilla! That’s it. Princess Cirilla, the Lion Cub of Cintra.

 

Wonderful. Fantastic. He’s- he’s a dragon sitting opposite a princess who also happens to be his ex-best friend’s child… He regrets trusting his fate to Destiny, because she has proved herself to be a stonehearted bitch. And incredibly fond of irony. He collapses back on his pillow, sides shaking with laughter. Because- he’s a dragon. Who’s been trapped in a castle by a princess. This has all the makings of a fine ballad, if only he wasn’t its bloody star.

 

The only thing that he has going for him right now, literally the only thing, is that she hasn’t recognised his name. Which means that she hasn’t heard of him. Insulting in some ways, but then again, she is Calanthe’s granddaughter and Calanthe had not been happy with either himself or Geralt the last time they’d been in Cintra. He wouldn’t put it past her to have all of his songs banned, desperate as she was to avoid Destiny. Hah! She and Geralt are well matched. No, the only trouble will be if Mousesack or the Queen or any of the older courtiers hear what the princess has ‘decided’ to name- and he snarls slightly at the thought- her dragon. It looks like luck, unlike Destiny, is once again on his side because there’s a good chance that his name will be blamed on the colour of his scales and the sentimentality of a young princess.

 

The princess approaches him slowly, hands clearly visible, and she begins to tentatively stroke him, soft hands scratching at his neck and under his chin until he’s a melted bonelessly into the cushion.

 

“You like that, don’t you?” she says. “Where have you come from, Jaskier? How did you end up in that wood?”

 

Jaskier doesn’t reply, only hums in pleasure at the comforting feel of hands on his scales. The regular motion reminds him of Saskia, nuzzling into him and rubbing her head against his stomach over and over. Only- then Cirilla’s hands catch on something. Something fastened under his chin, and he shoots up again, causing the princess to flinch back. He doesn’t care because he is scrambling at his neck to find- he’s wearing a collar. A fucking collar. Judging by the weight, and the fact that he’s having no luck in removing it, it’s made out of metal. Can- can the universe not just give him a break for one single moment-

 

“Calm down!” Cirilla is saying, and Jaskier becomes aware that a) she must have been saying it for quite a long time already and b) that the horrible keening sound that he can hear is coming from him. He can’t help it though; this is one of his worst nightmares come to life. Being trapped at court, nothing more than a valued ornament to be taken up and discarded at leisure. Not free to leave, to wander as his feet take him. Always on display, forcing him to maintain his mask without respite and never a moment to be himself. There’s a reason that he followed Geralt for all those years- despite the grumbling and complaining and blatant disrespect toward his songs… All of it could be forgiven after more than two weeks stuck in draughty castle and surrounded by backstabbing courtiers and dick mages, all jostling for position.

 

Cirilla’s fingers are soothing him again; long slow strokes down his spine, and despite himself he starts to calm. “It’s only for a little while,” she’s saying. “It was the only way grandmother would let me- and look! It’s got a sapphire on it, like your eyes. Dragons like shiny things, don’t they-” Her chatter fades into the background as Jaskier calms down and starts to think.

 

Perhaps- perhaps this isn’t as bad as he’s painting it. After all, his wing has been healed which is more than he had going for him in the forest. And Princess Cirilla is a child- she’s bound to leave him alone at some point, and then he can slip away out a door or jump out a window and fly home. If he times it right, he can make sure he has at least a few hours head start. And Borch will be able to remove the collar; even if his claws, infinitely stronger and better controlled than Jaskier’s own, can’t remove the collar then surely he can transform into a human and- oh, he doesn’t know, pick the lock or something?

 

Yes, maybe this is a blessing in disguise. A few days to rest and regain his strength and then he can leave. He just hopes that Destiny has finally finished her fun at his expense. The last thing he needs is bloody Geralt of Rivia turning up next.

Chapter Text

The collar is very shiny, Jaskier acknowledges grumpily. Not the sort of thing that he’d normally wear, even putting aside the whole technically someone’s pet thing, but not lacking in taste. Slim and made of several intertwining gold strands with a blue sapphire that matches the colour of his eyes, he would even say that it was beautiful. In any other circumstance.

 

Growling, he jumps off the dresser where he had been staring at himself in Ciri’s mirror, and paces around the room. He’s currently confined to the princess’ quarters after an, ahem, incident earlier that day where he bit a guard’s foot. In his defence, the man had stepped on his tail! What was he supposed to do? Just lie down and take it? No, he’s had enough of that. …however, he does have to admit that the only reason that a furious Calanthe hadn’t fitted him with a muzzle was due to a combination of Ciri’s pleading and the fact that Eist found the incident hilarious. A collar he can deal with. A muzzle would have been the last straw, as well as seriously impeding any use of his fire. He’s been saving it in case he needs it for a surprise, to escape, but it’s nowhere near powerful enough to melt though metal. Nor does he have it under the best of control. He might resent being kept here, but that doesn’t mean he wants to accidentally burn the castle down. Ciri is a sweet girl and doesn’t deserve that; that doesn’t mean he wants to spend the rest of his life being her pet.

 

He sighs. Perhaps he should have been more circumspect. More well behaved. Allowed everyone to get over the whole ‘dragon’ thing, and then over the whole ‘Jaskier’ thing (and Eist had almost choked to death from laughter when he’d heard that one) and then made his escape attempts. That’s not who he is though! He can’t stand waiting, not when he knows that Borch and Saskia are out there, somewhere. Waiting for him. Maybe looking for him. He hopes they’re looking for him. He hopes that they’re safe and the reason he hasn’t heard anything from them since the storm, despite straining and straining and throwing his thoughts outward ever evening, is because they’re just not close enough.

 

He shivers, and firmly banishes the thought of a small golden body, broken and splayed on the ground, to the back of his mind. He can’t entirely exorcise it, his anxieties won’t let him, but he can trap it in the dusty corner of his mind where he stores all the terrible memories that are a legacy of a life on the road, fighting (or at least observing Geralt fight) monsters.

 

He pads over to his pillow and settles down. It’s made of silk, of course, in Cintran blue. It’s just his luck that the royal colours of Cintra are very close to the colour of his eyes, because it means that Ciri spends a lot of time draping her cloak over him and scooping him up in her arms, cradled like a baby. Luckily, she is busy; the heir to one of the great powers cannot be idle, and she has to leave him alone for hours at a time.

 

Jaskier misses being busy. Trapped and unable to communicate with anyone, he can’t actually do anything and he’s desperate to talk to someone. Anyone. Even being forced to attend public feasts, seated on Ciri’s lap and being fed choice morsels of meat while everyone marvels at the blessing that the gods have seen fit to bestow on Calanthe in the form of a mythical dragon, is better than this. At least it’s marginally interesting. Even if the court bard, Drogodar, is so bland that Jaskier wants to do everyone a favour and bite him, or something. Anything to stop him singing the same ten songs over and over again, all to the same melody. Though it’s that sort of thinking that’s got him locked in here in the first place.

 

Being confined to one room is the best punishment that Calanthe could have come up with and he hates her for it. By the end of the day he’s desperate to see Ciri, desperate for even a morsel of attention. Everything in Ciri’s room is made of the best, softest, and most expensive materials and the items that have been assigned to Jaskier are no exception. The food he is given is better than what the majority of the kingdom eats, and the water is clear and fresh and clean. There’s just nothing to do.

 

He glares balefully at Ciri’s pillows and resists the urge to tear them to shreds. He’s been careful with his claws so far, and he doesn’t want to give anyone the excuse to clip them or, even worse, remove them altogether. He’s seen the considering looks from various courtiers. He knows what they’re thinking.

 

He sighs again and gets up. He can’t get comfortable. He can’t settle. He circles the room again. Nothing has changed. His first day, he tried everything to escape, but the windows are too high, the guards too vigilant, the servants too nervous, and Ciri too besotted with her newest pet to risk anything happening to him, meaning that every time she leaves the room she checks that the door is firmly closed behind her. Funnily enough, the room that the Cintran heir sleeps in is one of the best-guarded and most secure in the castle. Probably the kingdom. Unfortunately for him.

 

He wants- he doesn’t want to be here. He wants his family back. He wants, he wants- He takes a deep, shuddering breath. He wants a lot of things. But he isn’t going to get them if he doesn’t hurry up and get himself out of this mess.

 

He gives the room one last sweep, looking for useful details. Nothing. Just like the last dozen times he looked. His shoulders droop and he walks back over to his pillow. He tucks himself around it and closes his eyes, ignoring Ciri’s ozone and rose smell and trying to imagine that it’s Saskia instead. Saskia nestling into him.

 

He concentrates, fiercely. Throws his mind out into the world, as far as he can, straining until his head throbs and he can feel something wet and sticky dripping from his nose.

 

Borch! He calls, over and over, Saskia! Where are you? Please, I need you. Please.

 

He can’t feel them. Can’t feel their minds, bright and beloved and familiar. Can’t hear Saskia’s familiar cries for Julek can’t hear Borch’s cool presence, disguising his persistent worry.

 

What he does feel… what he does feel, stretching himself further and further afield is presence of other minds, all of them communing with one another. Strange minds, minds that don’t feel like his family’s. Apart from…apart from one. A mind that is practically infused with emotions, power rippling underneath the surface only barely restrained. For one brief moment, he can smell lilacs and gooseberries before the strain of it hits him all at once, and he loses the presence of mind needed to sustain his search. He collapses onto the pillow, tired and spent and no further in finding his family than before.

 

And then-

 

And then a portal opens in the middle of the room.  

Chapter Text

Yennefer of Vengerberg hasn’t changed since the last time he saw her. There’s no reason that she would’ve, of course, being an immortal and extremely powerful sorceress, but in his weaker moments, Jaskier can admit to hoping that she gets the occasional blemish, if only to make himself feel better. A pimple, perhaps. Or at least one wrinkle. Even if she glamours it away and he never gets to see it, at least he’d have the satisfaction of knowing that it was there.

 

“Jaskier?” she calls out impatiently, scanning the room for him. The portal shimmers behind her. She’s looking at entirely the wrong height, of course. Because he has changed immensely since they last saw each other, all those months ago on the mountain. He frowns and draws back, wincing as his head throbs in protest. The last time he had seen Yennefer she had been on a quest to find a dragon’s heart for some sort of potion or poultice. She had changed her mind at the time, but who’s to say that she won’t change it again? They don’t exactly get along.

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says again, impatient. “I don’t have all day. Geralt is looking for you and if you don’t go and reassure him you haven’t been kidnapped by a dragon, or something equally idiotic, then he’s never going to leave me alone.” She shifts slightly, and Jaskier can see that she’s holding a familiar stone in her hand. That’s- that’s his! How did she get that?

 

He growls, deep in his chest. There’s only one way she could have got it, and that’s if Geralt gave it to her. Which means that he’s been to see her. No doubt making up for lost time. He growls again, but this time there’s more of a plaintive whine to it, and he resists the urge to bite her. There are several instincts warring within him. The first wants to hide, make himself small and pray that she doesn’t see him. That she eventually gets bored and leaves. The other wants to charge at her, show her who exactly is the weak one in this situation. And the part of him that’s lived through many a scrape and has experience with escaping from various bedchambers is drawn to the still open portal. Can he risk it? Can he run through the portal, then once out of the castle fly back home? If he’s fast enough-

 

He doesn’t have the chance though, because that’s when the door opens and Ciri enters.

 

“Jaskier!” she says. “I’m back! My tutors let me go early, because of my headache, but then I snuck down to the kitchens, and I know that you’re in disgrace, but I’ve got some treats for us that I think you’ll enjoy-” Her words trail off as she spots the intruder in the room.

 

“Jaskier?” Yennefer says sharply. “So Jaskier is here?” She snorts. “He’s seducing children now, is he? I’d thought that, at least, was beneath him.”

 

“Who are you?” Ciri is saying, in the meantime, her voice cutting over Yennefer’s, something that even full-grown monarchs avoid as much as possible. “How did you get in here-”

 

Jaskier takes his chance. He streaks across the floor as quickly as possible, diving around Yennefer and throwing himself into the portal.

 

“Jaskier!” Ciri cries out.

 

Jaskier?” Yennefer says, her tone incredulous, but then he is at the portal and shivering at the strange feel of chaos on his skin and over his scales and then a few seconds later- he’s free. He’s standing in grand hall that must belong to Yennefer, or at least whoever Yennefer had last mind-controlled, all casual opulence and marble floors. Throwing caution to the wind, he runs across the smooth stone floor and into the first open door he can see, away from the dangers of the wide-open space.

 

He enters into a riot of smells, filling the air and making his nose itch. There are jars filled with brightly coloured powders and liquids on the shelves that cover the walls, floor to ceiling. Jaskier suspects that all they are is water and dye because he’s seen Yennefer cast, and while it is extremely impressive, it doesn’t tend to need much in terms of props. Though, she does apparently make concoctions that need a dragon’s heart of all things so what the hell does he know?

 

There’s a thrum of magic, and Jaskier whimpers as he hears the tap tap of heels on the marble floor. Perhaps running for the perceived safety of the room had been a mistake. He turns, searching for either an exit or a good hiding spot. There’s nothing. The footsteps get closer, and he can hear the sound of voices. Quickly, panicked, he throws himself forward and into a large burlap sack filled with a golden powder, burrowing in and covering himself with it. It’s pungent, extremely pungent, but hopefully it’ll help to mask his presence.

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer calls, her voice echoing and bouncing off the walls. “Get the fuck out here so I can figure out what’s wrong with you. I don’t have time for this-”

 

“Don’t talk to him like that!” and Melitele, it’s Ciri’s voice. “You’re not to say those kinds of things! Grandmother says it’s uncouth.”

 

Whatever Yennefer replies it lost to Jaskier’s soft whine and he burrows even deeper into the sack, trying to stay as still as possible. He tries not to think about Ciri, who has apparently followed Yennefer through the portal and why? Why would she do something that stupid? Well, it could be a good thing! If Yennefer has to leave convince her to return to Cintra, that gives him more time to make his good escape before she gets back.

 

“-won’t!” Ciri’s voice rises in a yell. “I won’t let you hurt him!”

 

“Calm down.” Yennefer in contrast sounds calm, collected. “Jaskier!” she calls again. “I know that you’re here. I’ve literally got a tracking spell on you. There’s no point in hiding. Look, I’m not going to harm you.”

 

Jaskier snorts to himself. Sure she isn’t. Oh, Yennefer’s never physically hurt him, that’s true. It could be argued (and indeed had been) that had done exactly the opposite, when she saved his life from the djinn. Figuratively though- well she’s hurt him a lot. Not the insults; no those are actually pretty fun, though he does have to work on his retorts as they tend to fail him at the worst of times and always when face to face with Yennefer of Vengerberg. No, it’s the fact that Geralt wants her. Has always wanted her. Took one look at her and decided that he would be bound to her for life.

 

It’s…it’s extremely petty, but there’s a deep and possessive part of Jaskier that does not want to share. He wants to be the only person who has claim on Geralt and his love. And then in swans Yennefer, with her power and her body and her seduction, and she had Geralt falling head over heels for her. It’s not her fault. But luckily for him, she is also a bitch and therefore incredibly easy to hate. It doesn’t help that she’s won. Sure, she and Geralt also argued on that mountain, but apparently, they’ve made up now! And why wouldn’t they, he thinks half-hysterically. They are both incredibly attractive people who could kill you without breaking a sweat. Not that Geralt would.

 

And him? He’s just- an annoyance. Nothing. Worth nothing to anyone. Anyone except his family. And that’s why he has to get out of here as soon as possible and leave Yennefer and Geralt far behind. He’s sure that they’ll be very happy together.

 

The door bangs open, and he freezes, not even daring to breath.

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says. “I know that you’re there. I can see the end of your tail.”

 

Jaskier jerks his tail back reflexively, and then winces.

 

Oh. Fuck.

Chapter Text

He creeps out of the sack sheepishly, trailing yellow powder in his wake. It’s settled between his scales and in the folds of his wings and his eyes are watering. It’s a good thing that he’d shut his eyes while actually buried in the stuff, because otherwise he thinks he might be crying at this very moment. Which, while a very valid response to Yennefer, isn’t exactly the image he wants to present right at this moment. It’s going to be hard enough to get through this as it is.

 

“Urgh,” Yennefer says. “Do you know how expensive turmeric is? And how hard it is to get out of marble?”

 

Jaskier stares up at her. And shakes, fully extending his wings to properly clean them off. If in the process he gets the powder all over the room, and incidentally over Yennefer’s dress, as well? Oops, what a shame. How awful. He knows that she can magic the stains out easily enough, but he’s petty enough to feel a pang of satisfaction anyway.

 

“Well,” Yennefer says. “You’re definitely Jaskier.” She is unconcerned by the fine patina of yellow dust that has settled over her and the entire room. She has an impeccable fashion sense; it’s another thing that Jaskier hates about her. She looks down at him, one brow raised. She doesn’t look surprised that she’s looking at a small(ish!) dragon instead of a human bard, but that might just be because she’s determined not to be surprised by anything that Jaskier does, ever. Or at least that’s the impression that he’s always had from her. She might be allergic to it, or something.

 

“What has happened to you?” She kneels down to touch his collar, and he jerks back, growling softly. Small licks of fire escape from his mouth, but he clamps down on them hastily; he doesn’t want to accidentally set the room on fire. He’ll be fine of course, fire immunity apparently comes with being a dragon, but he doesn’t want to risk setting fire to a sorceress’ lair. No one, not even the most evil person in the world, deserves to die by burning alive. And despite his…issues…with Yennefer, she is very far from being true evil. Not to mention Ciri- Ciri who’s only here because she followed him through an unknown portal to an unknown location. Did her grandmother teach her nothing? He doesn’t like Calanthe, doesn’t agree with her fierce and total annihilation of anything so much as resembling an uprising or an incursion, but he does know that she loves her granddaughter so very much.

 

“I never took you for a man who enjoys being collared,” she says, and she flashes a smile at him. He steps back again, feet tangling in the open sack, and extremely aware of the fact that he was moving further and further away from the door. He stops himself before he bumps into the wall and tries to look like he meant to do that, that it was all part of his plan. He doesn’t think that he succeeds.

 

“A little quiet, aren’t you bard? Did the curse get your tongue as well? People do seem to enjoy making you shut up; you should think about why that might be.”

 

Rude! Extremely rude! People enjoy his singing, thank you very much. He’s certain that he even saw Yennefer tap her feet at one of the songs he performed around the campfire while they were on the dragon hunt. She can’t deny it! He saw it with his own two eyes. In any case, how exactly is she expecting him to communicate then? He pauses. Wait. She’s a mage, right? And mages can read minds. That was always one of the more infuriating things she did when he and Geralt bumped into her, dipped into the surface of his thoughts and sieved through them like the entitled bitch she is. And- he assumes that’s how she found him in the first place, his thoughts reaching out as far as he could (and his head still pounds but he has no time to be still, not with a sorceress before him).

 

Yennefer, he says, hoping that for once her blatant disregard for his privacy will come in useful. Yennefer, can you hear me?

 

There’s no response. Nothing. Yennefer’s eyes narrow slightly, but that could just be because she enjoys the drama. Or the sight of him freaking out. Or needs to piss. Whatever it is, she clearly can’t hear him. He snorts, taking care this time to avoid any fire escaping. It’s- it’s so easy communicating with Borch and Saskia telepathically; how is he meant to do it with a human? Shouldn’t Yennefer’s experience count for something when it comes to actually receiving his message?

 

He huffs. Maybe human minds are different. He couldn’t hear Saskia until he turned into a dragon, though whether that was due to his form or Saskia’s age is debatable. But… he could feel her emotions. Hmm. Worth a try.

 

Ignoring the pounding of his head, he pushes all his panic and disdain toward her, and she flinches back, scowling. For one brief moment there’s a hint of pain on her face, before it smooths out again into its usual impenetrable mask. Yes! Though he’s not sure how efficient that mode of communication will be at all. Even that brief surge of emotions has left him panting and drained. How did Saskia do it?

 

“Who taught you how to do that?” Yennefer asks. “And must you be so loud about it? Not that I should be surprised, coming from you.” He voice is sharp and it cuts into his poor, abused, head like a knife. He whimpers, loud enough that it echoes through the small space. Then-

 

“Stop it! What are you doing?” Ciri is standing in the doorway, swaying slightly and her own face creased in pain. Nonetheless, she is resolute; the true Lion Cub of Cintra, eyes blazing, hair flying behind her like a banner. In a flash, Jaskier can see her, ten, twenty years from now. Calanthe’s true heir, but oh so much better than her forbearers. Strong and brave and true. There’s a song in that, somewhere. Ciri of the golden hair- Hold on. Her hair shouldn’t be doing that. Not when they’re inside. Not unless Yennefer’s castle is a lot draughtier than he thought. The jars have started to rattle in their shelves and the powder is swirling in the impossible eddies and gusts covering the both of them in gold.  

 

Yennefer ignores it all, though Jaskier can see that her fingers are flexing at her side. Probably getting ready to cast a protective spell should things get out of hand. But her eyes- They’re fixed on Ciri, never moving from the golden cub as she gets to her feet. “Fascinating,” she breathes. “Is your power the reason Calanthe has locked you in Cintra, all these years?” She laughs. “Tissaia would shit herself, knowing that there’s such untapped power just lying around.”

 

Ciri looks straight at them. And then she screams.

Chapter Text

Ciri’s scream rings out through the house, echoing off the stone walls, whistling through the crooks and crannies, ruffling Jaskier’s scales and Yennefer’s dress. It sets his spine tingling; the chaos washes over him, leaving the metallic taste of ozone in his mouth. It does absolutely nothing for his headache, though Yennefer isn’t affected. She’s probably more used to screams, though. He imagines they come up a lot more in her day to day life.  

 

The sorceress is utterly entranced, head cocked to one side and clearly studying the power flowing around the princess. Yennefer’s hands are twitching at her sides and her own streaks of powers are surrounding her. They’re candles to an inferno, precision that Jaskier didn’t even know that Yennefer was capable of in the face of Ciri’s raw power. She’s- she’s studying the magic, he realises, which is useless because how’s that supposed to help? Knowing exactly how they were killed if they both end up dead?

 

Jaskier knows that under normal circumstances Ciri wouldn’t hurt them. She can be fierce, yes. Unrelenting in the face of those she loves. Which. Somehow has grown to include him, somewhere in the few days that they have known each other. He needs to think about it later, turn it over in his mind and check for cracks and platitudes and falsehoods, because he’s quickly coming to realise that Ciri- Ciri has somehow wormed her way into his heart. What did he expect though? She’s Geralt’s Child Surprise. He had the same reaction to meeting Geralt, all those years ago. It only stands to reason that his daughter would provoke the same response. Which is why he needs to check to make sure that he’s not peering too deeply into things, mistaking pity for friendship and complacency for love. Not again.

 

For now though- for now, he needs to make sure that Ciri doesn’t do something that she’ll regret. Because he recognises that power, saw it over twelve years ago at Pavetta’s wedding feast. And for all that it had worked out for the best (for her in any case) it didn’t look like she was in particular control of it. And Ciri is even younger.

 

Ciri! Jaskier calls out, dashing toward her and avoiding the abortive grab that Yennefer makes for him as she calls out: “Don’t be fucking stupid, Jaskier!” He ignores her.

 

Ciri, stop!

 

Ciri doesn’t hear him of course; even if he were able to verbally communicate, he doubts that his voice could penetrate the whistling winds surround her. Not to say, of course, that his voice is weak in any way. No! He is a classically trained bard, able to project his voice to drown out the rowdiest of patrons or to soften it to a whisper that can strike at the hardest of hearts. But- as magical as many, many, people have called his voice, it stands little chance against true Chaos.

 

The storm batters at him, but it doesn’t push him back, the winds parting in front of him to welcome him into Ciri’s protection. It’s quiet, once he’s let in. The eye of the storm, as it were, a safe haven. The princess’ magic envelops him, a playful breeze weaving through his horns and teasing his tail. For a moment he’s reminded of Saskia, pouncing at him at the slightest twitch and he represses a whine. He misses them.

 

Ciri! He calls again, but she doesn’t react. Right. Humans definitely can’t hear him then. So- So instead he gathers together all the love, and safety, and comfort that rest in his heart and he throws them at her. Safe, he projects as loudly as possible, pouring all his energy into the message and the underlying emotions until he’s swaying and dizzy. Safe.

 

“I- I,” Ciri stumbles, and the wind drops for a moment. “I-” And then she collapses, and her mind goes blank and still, plunged into the darkness of unconsciousness. And Jaskier follows with it. And in the soft, blurred, moment before he succumbs, he can hear Yennefer’s quiet and heartfelt “Fuck” in the background.

 

#

 

There’s the sound of trickling water behind him, its siren song lulling him back to sleep.

 

Julek, a soft voice calls, and his mind stretches toward it. The voice is plaintive, and something inside him knows, just knows that they shouldn’t feel that way. That they should be happy and loved, and why do they sound so sad.

 

 Julek, come back-

 

#

 

He wakes. There is the sound of trickling water in the background, but it is too soft and dainty to be home. Not the roar of the waterfall gushing out the side of the cavern, no. This water is tamed. Sweet and pretty, its melody speaks of the small mundanity of life. A warm hearth and a soft bed, and someone to hold you close at night. Which is all well and good, but Jaskier is used to more.

 

Used to the smell of smoke intertwining with the cool mist and the scent of pine. (Used to the smell of sweat and horses and the sweet smoke of the campfire curling underneath). Used to his sister curled into him and Borch watching over them both. (Used to comfortable silences and uncomfortable ground). Used to the soft touches of love and family and belonging, pressing in on him and surrounding him until he knows that he’s loved. (Used to faint smirks and ‘hmms’ that are more eloquent than a twenty-minute soliloquy).

 

“Get up, bard,” Yennefer’s voice breaks through his reflections. “I know that you’re awake; I can see you overthinking things from here. I’ve drawn you a bath.”

 

At that Jaskier does open his eyes, and sits up, squeezing his eyes shut against the blackness that encroaches against his vision.

 

“Good. I though that’d get you up.”

 

Yennefer is indeed standing in front of a bath, a great copper tub with clawed feet, filled to the brim with steaming water. There are petals floating in the water and a sweet scent of lavender permeating the air. The petals are yellow, and Jaskier moves forward to inspect them. Buttercups. Ha ha ha. He glares up at Yennefer. She does know that they’re poisonous, right?

 

She raises a brow right back at him. “Gaudy, toxic, and touching some species can lead to irritation and blistering of the skin. Your stage name is rather apt, Jaskier.” She sniffs. “Don’t worry; Ciri has already bathed and been sent off to sleep off her exertion. And I doubt that you can be affected by them unless you actually decide to eat them, and even you aren’t that stupid.” She pauses. “Though judging by some of the stories Geralt has told me-”

 

Jaskier launches himself at her, because he does not want to hear what not doubt hilarious tales she and Geralt have shared, probably all at his expense-

 

Yennefer merely moves out of the way, and he lands in the bath with a splash. Water slops out from all sides, and he ends up with buttercup petals decorating his face and head and clinging to his body. Annoyingly, the water is exactly the right heat, too hot for most people but the perfect temperature for him, and the warmth and the lavender oil sooth his pounding head. Hmph. His abused muscles are relaxing, and he is extremely put out by it. How dare she?

 

“Good,” Yennefer says. “You were starting to stink as much as the Witcher.”

 

Jaskier huffs at her and, in spite, leans down and breathes into the water, letting his flame burn bright and hot. Immediately, boiling steam rises from the top, but Yennefer is still unperturbed, even as the room begins to resemble nothing more than a sauna.

 

“What a useful trick,” she says. “I’m sure it’s a hit at all the parties.” She moves toward him and sits down on a chair next to the bath, studying him thoughtfully.

 

“I had a chance to examine you while you were unconscious,” she says. “You and the girl both. And whatever this-” she makes a languid gesture, encompassing- well, all of him; “-is, it’s not a curse. So-” and she reaches into her pocket and takes out his red stone, watching keenly as his eyes snap toward it, “-why don’t you start by telling me what this is?”

Chapter Text

He doesn’t think. As soon as he sees the stone, he launches himself at it, his body springing forward with all his power, entirely bypassing his brain in the process. If he had taken a moment to think, he might not have done that. Maybe he would have stopped for a moment and thought and realised that revealing that he was extremely invested in that stone was a bad idea. Maybe he could have played it off as nothing at all.

 

Or maybe not. Jaskier’s a lot of things and is maybe a little oblivious when it comes to certain aspects of his life (but come on, who would immediately go to being a dragon in human form as opposed to just having strangely itchy skin?) but he’s does know himself. And he knows that Yennefer of Vengerberg would always be able to tell when he’s lying, dragon or no dragon. So, yes. Launching himself at his stone. Because-

 

Because it’s not that he doesn’t like being a dragon. There are good things about the changes that have imposed themselves on his life, namely Saskia, Borch, and flying (possibly in that order). But- there’s been something dim inside him since losing his music. It’s soothed somewhat by the complex melodies that he weaves in his mind, for his family… but there’s only so much theory one can do before you just want to play it. Music is meant to be free, meant to dance and play in the wind and wind itself into people’s heads and around their hearts.

 

And- it’s stupid. It’s incredibly stupid. But that stone is all he has left of his childhood. Before it all got complicated. Before the world grew so cold and empty that it was all he could do to fill the dreadful silences however he could. It’s all that he has left of his parents. And, if Geralt doesn’t want it, then he’s going to take it back. It’s his. And only his. And he doesn’t want anyone else touching it.

 

So he jumps at the stone and the chance it represents. And, Yennefer, without batting an eye, scoops it up and just out of his grasp.

 

“It is important then?” she asks. “Geralt told me that you would hardly let it out of your sight, but I appreciate the independent verification.”

 

Jaskier growls, properly growls, fire and rage coiling inside his chest. He tenses, and he can feel his wings rising behind him in warning. The effect is only slightly spoilt by the flower petals.

 

“Oh, hush,” Yennefer says. “I’ll give you your trinket back. If you explain what it is. Because there’s powerful magic on this, Jaskier. Enchantments that even Aretuza hasn’t seen the likes of. Subtle ones, to escape my notice.”

 

Jaskier snorts. He agrees with her; she’s scarily good at magic, and he had told Borch basically the same thing, all those months ago when he was desperately searching for any reason that the dragon had made a mistake and that he was simply under a curse. But he isn’t going to admit that to her face. It doesn’t matter. Yennefer knows exactly how good she is. And is never shy about making sure that everyone else does as well.

 

“Let me tell you what I think,” she says, turning the stone round and round in her hand. “I think that this incredibly powerful artefact, that you used as a paperweight, was something you used to keep yourself human. Less scaly, at least. You weren’t doing a particularly good job at pretending to be human in the first place.”

 

Excuse me? Jaskier puffs up. What the hell does she mean by that? Of course he was doing a good job being human! Because he was human! There was no pretending about it!

 

Ignorant of, or more likely ignoring, his outrage, Yennefer continues. “Then Geralt finally outdid himself in idiocy, and you decided that it was time to leave.”

 

Jaskier is- he’s breathing fine, thank you very much. It’s just that…hearing one of the worst days in his life, the explosive end of twenty-two years of lies as they came crashing down around him, described as ‘deciding it was time to leave’… Well. It’s hard.

 

Yennefer winces, her free hand drifting to the side of her head.

 

“Must you be so loud?” she demands. Then she sighs. “Judging by that outpouring of heartbreak, I take it that it wasn’t your choice to part ways. Hmph. I assume Geralt did something. It sounds like him, not thinking about the consequences of his actions. He didn’t exactly care to fill me in on the details. Just said something hearing some ridiculous song about you being kidnapped by a dragon, and-”

 

Song? About him? There’s a song about him?? He sits straight and tries to get out of the bath, his claws slipping and sliding on the damp sides. He wants to hear it. Right now. Who wrote it? Because if it’s Valdo Marx, then there’s nothing stopping him from hunting that bastard down and giving him first-hand experience of dragon fire. Maybe Essi? Essi wouldn’t be bad; she has a real flare for lyrics, though her melodies could use some work. Yes, he’d like to hear a song about this whole mess from Essi-

 

“Unbelievable,” Yennefer mutters. “Of course this is what gets you excited. At least you’re not sad anymore. Sit back down,” she barks. “You’re not leaving this house until we’ve got this sorted out. I can’t handle a guilt-ridden Geralt any longer, and as this is your fault, it’s up to you to fix it.”

 

-but if there’s an entire song about him now, does that mean that it’s the only thing that’ll be his legacy? Will his actual compositions fade, until there’s nothing left but the memory of a bard being kidnapped by a dragon? Or will it be a boon- people eager to devour the songs of the famed bard- maybe he could come up with his own composition-

 

“I can see that none of this is getting through. Oh for- Here!” And Yennefer takes the stone and- gently- rests it against his back. Jaskier freezes, all thoughts of ballads and legacies fleeing his mind. The stone. His stone. He twists, clasping the stone in his front claws and curling himself around it. Yennefer relinquishes it easily enough, leaning forward to better watch him.

 

His stone is as warm as he remembers, just as comforting, and he almost cries as he cradles it. This too is family, in a different way. Looking at it again, knowing what he knows… the stone doesn’t look like a stone at all. It looks like a dragon scale, a large one. He leans down and noses at it reverently because- he might be holding his father’s scale. And isn’t that a strange thought? His father’s scale. It’s strange that it isn’t gold, gold like he knows his father must have been, but then- he catches a whiff of scent. And it’s him, him and his father and his mother, all entwined together and he thinks- he doesn’t know, but he thinks that he might know why. A scale. An anchor. Gifted to him by his parents and bound to him by blood; the blood of his parents, in sacrifice. And his blood, so that only he may use it.

 

He breathes again, and for just a moment he can see it. Cradled in safe arms, a soft kiss to his temple, the stone pressed gently to his chest. Never lose it. It’s yours, my sweet son, for as long as you may need it…

 

And he curls himself tighter around it. And, letting the smell twist through his mind and soul, he pretends. For just a moment.   

Chapter Text

“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Yennefer says after a few moments. “I’d’ve thought you’d take the opportunity to turn back into a human. Use that voice you’re so proud of. Insult me. Sing a raunchy song. Something.”

 

 Jaskier ignores her. He’s always heard that dragons had hoards and treasure aplenty, but never seen evidence of it nor particularly felt the urge himself. Yes, he enjoys beautiful things and bright clothing, and yes, he would kill anyone who so much as touched his lute without his permission. But that’s nothing compared to what he’s feeling at the moment. Drawn to his stone, unwilling to let it go, or even really to look away.

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says, sharply, but he doesn’t react. He doesn’t want to listen to her. He’s too busy chasing the elusive thrum of feeling that are engulfing his heart and his head as he stares into the stone. His stone.

 

Jaskier.

 

It’s not unlike the feeling he has whenever he looks at Saskia and Borch. The incipient warmth that bloomed in his heart when Ciri’s magic wrapped around him. The empty remnants of where Geralt of Rivia had torn himself out of his life (and the stubborn ember of love that just won’t die). He- he needs to ask Borch whether this is something that dragons feel. Or whether it’s just him. Whether his hoard isn’t made of something as tawdry as things but of people. Of family. Family that isn’t here. Family that he has been separated from, by fate or circumstance.

 

Once again, he stretches his poor, abused, mind out. It feels battered and bruised and fragile, but he can’t help it. He needs- he needs to know that they’re there. That there’s something more that’s left for him than stale memories and imagined touches. That Saskia and Borch are out there, that they’re still alive. That they’re looking for him.

 

Distantly behind him, he hears a sigh. “I’ll just leave you to commune with your stone then, shall I? You’d better be cogent by the time I get back.”

 

He continues his search. He’s more wary of unfamiliar minds; he doesn’t really know any other mages, but he doesn’t want to end up with any of them on Yennefer’s doorstep. But still, despite the danger and despite the ache he doesn’t stop.

 

He thinks he feels the ocean, once. Its depth. The salt spray on his wings. It’s a fleeting touch, so quick that he’s half-certain that he imagined it, and then his mind snaps back to his body so quickly that it’s all he can do to just sit there, and curl into himself.

 

Time passes.

 

“Jaskier?” It’s Ciri’s voice, unsure. “The water’s gone cold, Jaskier. Yennefer said that you’ve been here for hours- You have to get out.”

 

He looks up slowly. It feels like he’s moving underwater. Ciri’s eyes are green, pale and staring straight through him. She looks tired- whatever rest she’s managed to find hasn’t fully restored her from her earlier exertion, but there’s something that looks like peace on her face. Her power is settled around her, and there is only the faintest whiff of ozone about her.

 

She reaches out to touch his face, but hesitates at the last moment, hand outstretched. He’s the one who bridges the gap, pushing his snout against her hand. She feels warm and present and alive, and the seed of family grows that bit stronger.

 

“You’re really intelligent?” she asks. Jaskier nods into her hand, turning his head so that he can stare straight into her eyes. Ciri swallows. “And- you were human before?”

 

He nods again.

 

“I’m- I’m sorry,” Ciri says softly. “I didn’t realise that you- I didn’t think-”

 

He chirps softly at her, reassuringly and, stiff and sore, picks his stone up in his mouth and climbs out the bath. He’s soaking wet, and covered in buttercup petals and lavender oil, but when he leans against Ciri, she kneels down and throws her arms around him. They stay like that for a long moment, water soaking into her clothes. Yennefer’s clothes, he assumes, as they aren’t the ones that she was wearing when she ran through the portal.

 

“I made you a flower crown,” Ciri says eventually, face buried into his neck and muffled. “I hand-fed you food.” She pauses. “Oh Melitele,” she breathes. “I collared you.”

 

She reaches out to his neck and touches the gold collar there softly. “Grandmother said I was never to take it off,” she says. “She said that it was to make sure that you wouldn’t hurt me, or run away. But- I know you Jaskier, and I know that you never could hurt me. Not really. And I have no right to keep you. So- I’m just sorry that I didn’t do it sooner.”

 

She presses her hands against his neck and there’s a soft click, and then a weight is lifted from around his neck and he can breathe once again. He shakes his head, marvelling at the lightness. He hadn’t even noticed how heavy the collar was. He supposed that he’d grown used to it.

 

He rumbles, deep in his chest, and rubs his face against Ciri’s. He doesn’t have to energy to try and project his thankfulness, his relief, at her. But he wants her to know- because though he hated being a pet with a burning passion, at least it meant that he hadn’t been chopped up for parts.

 

“Come on,” Ciri says. “You need to sleep. Yennefer said she could feel you searching for hours. I don’t know what you’re looking for, but I know that it’ll be easier if you’re rested. And then I can help you.”

 

Jaskier whines. Because he doesn’t see how she can. She might have the same magic as her mother, but that doesn’t automatically mean that she’s going to find his family, just like that. But- sleep. Yes, he should sleep. It’s been a long few hours.

 

As soon as he acknowledges the thought, he realises that his body is swaying and leaden and exhausted. He barely manages to follow Ciri as she leads him to another room with soft touches and encouraging words, and where he climbs up onto a soft bed and, carefully setting down his stone, collapses.

 

#

 

Julian, the ocean whispers in his mind. Julian, I am coming for you. We’ve found you. Wait for us fledgling. Wait.

 

#

 

“-I need to learn magic!” Ciri is saying. “Grandmother will understand. It’s my life that we’re talking about, anyway! She has to understand!”

 

“No mage has been allowed in the Cintran court for centuries.”

 

“Mousesack-”

 

“Mousesack is a druid. It’s a fine distinction, but politically important. Why don’t you learn from him?”

 

“I don’t want to learn from him! I want to learn from Yennefer!”

 

“That is a bad idea. You have no idea what Calanthe is doing. She’s already moved against the Witcher. The Cintran armies are mustering-”

 

“I can explain it to her!”

 

Jaskier blinks and the world shifts into focus around him. There’s a nest of blankets around him; either something that he had unconsciously constructed in his sleep, or a well-meaning gesture from Ciri. Whichever one it is, it’s warm and he’s reluctant to move from it.

 

The princess is standing in front of him and, judging from the blankets and pillows on the floor, had been there for a while. She isn’t the one who notices him first though.

 

“Julian,” Véa says, mouth widening in a smile. “How good it is to see you again. Your father sent me to bring you home.”

Chapter Text

His father? His father is dead. Dead for years. And why would Véa know who he is in any case-

 

Véa rolls her eyes. “Villentretenmerth,” she says. And ah. Yes, that makes a lot more sense, especially since the last time he’d seen Véa (and Téa for that matter) was on the dragon hunt.

 

“Jaskier has a father?” Ciri asks, and there’s a flash of shame in her eyes that makes him start the laborious process of untangling himself from his blankets, because she couldn’t have known that he has a family. Though- he’s not sure that Borch would claim his as his son. He’s Saskia’s brother, of course he is. There’s nothing else he could have been, not from the moment she hatched. But a son? No. He doesn’t think so.

 

“Of course,” Véa replies. “And a younger sister. Both of whom are eager to get him back.”

 

Ciri frowns at her, and steps closer to the bed and Jaskier, shielding him with her body. Which- he appreciates, but he also knows from personal experience that both Téa and Véa are perfectly capable of killing a grown man with their bare hands. Ciri doesn’t stand a chance.

 

Don’t, he says, but then flinches because his mind- his mind is still sore and battered. His sleep has only slightly dulled the pain, and reaching out, even as weakly as his mental voice is, feels like pressing on a fresh bruise.

 

“Stop that,” Véa says.

 

“I didn’t-” Ciri begins indignantly, but Véa shakes her head at her.

 

“Not you,” she says. “Julian. Stop trying to talk. You’ll hurt yourself.”

 

Jaskier shoots up so quickly that he almost falls over again. Because- can she hear him? or has she just spent enough time around Borch that she recognises the look on a dragon’s face when they try to communicate telepathically? Narrowing his eyes, he concentrates. It doesn’t hurt that much. He’s too excited at the possibility of being able to actually communicate for the first time since the storm.

 

Véa, can you understand me?

 

Véa sighs. “What did I just say. Yes, I can understand you. Though it’s far from the only reason your father trusts us, it’s been a boon. Stop that. You’re going to damage yourself if you don’t rest your mind.”

 

Never mind that, he says, and he is half-vibrating in place now, bouncing up and down in excitement, You said Borch is alive? What about Saskia? Is she safe? Where are they? Were they injured? Why didn’t- he cuts himself off before he can finish the sentence, but judging from the look on Véa’s face, she already knows what he was going to ask.

“Villentretenmerth and Saskia were well, last I heard.” At those words, Jaskier collapses backward on the bed in relief. They’re safe. They’re safe and he hasn’t lost anyone else. They’re safe and they still want him. He feels a strange mixture of giddiness and a deep fatigue settle over him, the worry that he had been dogging his every waking moment falling away to be replaced with relief. Of course, now that his mind has been relieved of its burden, this means that the thousands of aches and pains have enough room to rush in and make themselves known. His head in particular… the throbbing intensifies, until it’s no longer the dull ache of an old bruise, but has blossomed into an entirely novel and interesting sensation, all on its own.

 

Véa hums quietly at whatever she sees on his face and reaches around Ciri to pick up a small vial, filled with a dark substance from the table beside the bed.

 

“As for the rest of your questions-” she says, “I’ll answer if you promise that you’ll go back to sleep afterward. And if you promise to take this.” She uncorks the vial, and both he and Ciri recoil from the foul smell emerging from it. Rotten fruit with undertones of sewage. Urgh.

 

Jaskier wrinkles his nose. He doesn’t know what’s in the vial but considering that Yennefer’s the one who probably brewed it, he doesn’t fancy taking his chances. It’ll be efficient, no doubt, but it’ll probably also taste like selkimore guts. On the other hand, he wants to know more about Saskia and Borch. They’re safe, yes. But he needs to know more. Needs to know everything. But before he can say anything, Ciri interjects.

 

“It won’t hurt him?” she demands. She hasn’t moved from her place in front of him, and there’s a stubborn set to her jaw. The scent of ozone is stronger now, and Jaskier whines softly, nudging her shoulder. He’s flattered, he really is, but he doesn’t want Ciri getting into danger. For him. Not any more danger, that is, though considering she wants to learn from Yennefer of all people, there might not be much he can do about the fact her first instinct seems to be to throw herself into danger, headfirst. He doesn’t think about who she reminds him of.

 

“I swear it on the old gods and the new,” Véa says. “I would never hurt Villentretenmerth’s child. Any of his children.”

 

Ciri narrows her eyes, and studies the other woman for a good, long, minute. She looks much older than her twelve-years and the moment stretches on, Véa patiently waiting, Ciri judging, and Jaskier hoping that neither decide to do anything stupid.

 

Finally Ciri steps aside and allows Véa to approach with the bottle of medicine. Jaskier gulps; he doesn’t remember actually agreeing to this, thank you very much, though both he and Véa know that there isn’t really a choice. He is going to drink the disgusting medicine and then be told about his family. There’s nothing else to it.

 

He sighs, deep and resigned, wings drooping and claws clutched tightly around his stone, drawing strength from it for the trials to come. Next to him, Ciri bursts out into giggles.

 

“I’m sorry,” she says at his betrayed look. “You just look so- so- resigned! Like you’re about to be executed.”

 

He sniffs. He might as well be being executed, because he knows as soon as he puts lets that potion touch his tongue, he’s going to tasting nothing but filth for the next few days. Once, just once, while travelling with Geralt he had tasted one of the Witcher’s potions. Diluted one part to one hundred, it had nonetheless tasted like shit. Though it had helped with the infection and broken leg, so he supposes that he shouldn’t complain too loudly. Not more loudly than he already has, in any case.

 

Véa also looks amused; though she isn’t outright laughing like some people Jaskier recognises that look in her eyes from the, ahem, deeply regrettable time his tongue ran away from him and he compared her neck to that of a goose’s. Though he stands by the metaphor; he just hadn’t managed to properly explain it. If anyone were to ask him, he could furnish them with his entire rationale and why it was a masterclass in complements! Just- not now. Later. Another time. When he’s not being menaced by medicine.

 

He leans forward and sticks out his tongue. He doesn’t have to make this easy for her.

 

Véa sighs and moves to his side.

 

“Your father didn’t want to leave Saskia without a guard,” she says, quietly enough that he can barely hear her and that there is no way that Ciri or Yennefer, who is probably stood outside the door or peering in at the scene through an enchanted mirror, can eavesdrop. “The storm from a clear sky- that was not natural. That was the work of mages, and untrained ones at that. He could not risk leaving your sister unprotected, not when the danger was so near. Instead, once you had not returned and he realised that you could not, he sent us. His weapons, his left and right hand, to find you.”

 

Then- he was searching?

 

“I told you to stop that,” Véa scolds. “How is your mind meant to heal if you insist on straining it? But yes. He set his thoughts to searching far and wide and had us scouring the area where you might have fallen. He could feel that you were alive, Julian, and he would not give in. Not matter how much my sister and I pleaded with him to rest, to feed, to grow stronger.”

 

She snorts. “It appears that his stubbornness lives in you. But his diligence was rewarded when, yesterday, he managed to find you.”

 

She smiles then, wild and fierce. “I left Téa to care for your sire, and then I found a horse and I came to get you. I rode hard,” she says. “Changing horses at ever waystation. What is gold to a dragon? Nothing. And so I came. And now I will bring you back to your father. As soon as you rest.

 

In one swift motion, she overturns the vial and Jaskier coughs, narrowly avoiding setting the bed on fire, as it pours down his throat with the consistency of slime. He was right; it tastes foul. It also starts to work immediately, the ache in his head dulling to a pleasant numbness. Ciri comes forward then and she and Véa tuck the blankets around him once again, careful not to disturb the stone nestled between his forearms.

 

“Sleep now,” Véa says. “And before you know it, you shall be home.”

Chapter Text

“Ciri. Wake up. Wake up now. I need you to come with me.”

 

He grumbles. There’s a lethargy permeating his entire body; now that he’s had a chance to rest- to properly rest, free from the worry that has been preying on his mind- his body has taken the opportunity to, well. To collapse. He’s sure that Yennefer’s concoction hasn’t helped, either.

 

“What- what is it?” Ciri’s voice is low and roughened by sleep. It pricks at his mind, makes something in him sit up and take notice, because this is important.

 

“Your grandmother,” replies the voice, and in the distant manner of strange dreams and vision, Jaskier recognises it as Yennefer’s. Yennefer’s, shot through with something he had only heard the barest inklings of before- concern.

 

“What?”

 

“She’s captured Geralt. Imprisoned him. I need you to come with me if we have any chance of freeing him before she has him executed.”

 

Well, that gets through the mental haze. Reaches straight into the adrenaline centres of his brain and yanks at the instincts that lie dormant. Because Geralt? Despite all his talk of ‘Witchers have no emotions’ and ‘I don’t care what people think of me’ and ‘Stop singing that fucking song’ he needs protecting. Not from monsters- or at least not the conventional ones. Geralt can take care of those with one hand tied behind his back, black-out drunk, and with a mild concussion. Somehow, Geralt had not been eager to have that experience turned into a song, but that just proves his point. Geralt is true and brave and yes, would rather spend time with Roach than anyone else, but he also cares. A lot. He’s like one of those cakes that the Countess de Stael and he had made, years ago, in a moment of bucolic sentimentality: crisp and blackened on the outside and almost liquid on the inside.

 

And so, Jaskier had taken it upon himself early in their relationship (if you can call it that, knowing now what he does) to shield him from the verbal blows and slights, the thousands of paper-fine cuts that leave him bleeding and vulnerable. An interjection here, a sharp retort there, flattery and spite blending into one until the unfortunate had either tripped over their words and retreated or he had managed to coax a smile from Geralt. Well. Smile. A softening around the eyes, rather.

 

He’d develop a sixth sense for that, after a while. And it’s those emotions that come to the fore when he hears those words.

 

His eyes fly open and his heart starts to beat in a frantic, frenetic rhythm. He forces himself to stay still, to breathe in and out, to keep his mind small and quiet in case Yennefer is monitoring his thoughts. He needs to know what’s going on, and he can’t do that if he’s been spelled back to unconsciousness. It’s a good thing that he’s lying curled into his blankets, with his back to Ciri. It’ll make it harder for them to realise that he’s awake.

 

Why?” Ciri’s voice is hushed, but her whisper carries. She’s not used to subterfuge, not really. Not anything that doesn’t involve midnight visits to the kitchens that are tolerantly overlooked by both her grandparents and the castle staff. She wears herself too openly to be truly good at it.

 

“Because you’re his Child Surprise,” Yennefer sounds grim, “And Calanthe fears Destiny. Get dressed, quickly. We don’t have much time.”

 

More muffled noises, cloth on cloth, heavy breathing. There is no more talking, but after a moment Jaskier feels a touch, feather light on his back, before something is placed beside him.

 

“Stay safe,” Ciri whispers, and Jaskier squeezes his eyes shut as she leans down and kisses his head. Then she’s gone and the door is closing behind them.

 

He sits up immediately, carefully extricating himself from his blankets and taking care not to make too much noise. The item next to him- it’s a little pouch, the perfect size for his stone, attached to a long leather cord that be placed round his neck. It’s made of cloth in Cintran blue, and in the corner is embroidered a playful lion cub, intertwined with a small dragon, both wrought in thread-of-gold. The stitches are neat and methodical, well embroidered but nothing too complicated.

 

There’s a pang in Jaskier’s heart. Ciri.

 

Reverently, he slides his stone into the bag and tightens the strings, before lowering his head and slipping the cord around his neck. It takes a moment as he is trying to avoid tangling it in his horns, but eventually he manages. The pouch hangs free around his neck, settling next to his heart.

 

Slowly and carefully he slides out of bed and starts toward the door. He doesn’t know where exactly Véa is, but he needs to avoid her. He can’t imagine that she’ll be happy with his decision to travel back to Cintra to help Geralt. He isn’t exactly happy with himself either; he wants to go home. He wants to sink into his family’s protective embrace, lose himself in their dear, familiar minds. But- he could never live with himself if he abandoned Geralt. Never. No matter whether or not the Witcher cares to see him, he can’t leave him to be killed. His whole being revolts against the thought.

 

Saskia and Borch- they can wait a little longer. They’re safe, Véa told him that they’re safe, and that’s enough for him. They’re safe and they have each other. Geralt is emphatically Not Safe and he has no one. The fact that it’s by choice hardly matters.

 

The hours and hours spent avoiding Saskia’s ambushes and setting his own on Borch’s tail have come in use; he can quiet his steps until they’re feather-light and soft as velvet on the cold stone floor. He reaches his mind out, carefully, carefully. Trying to feel for the touch of ozone, or the scent of lilacs and gooseberries. He doesn’t think that they’ve left yet. He’ll have to time this perfectly.

 

He has to stand on his hindlegs to open the door, but its hinges must be well-oiled because he’s able to slip through with nary a creak to signal his passage. Once outside, he can hear the low murmuring of voices, the clink of potion bottles and the harsher scrape of metal. He stays in the shadows, moving closer and closer to the great hall where they arrived and where he thinks that Yennefer will create the portal. It’s- well, it’s actually very inconvenient, being covered in bright, glittering, scales. Especially when he’s trying to stay unnoticed.

 

He’s made it all the way down the stairs, stepping into the small antechamber before the great hall, before he hears her.  

 

“Where are you going?”

 

He refuses to flinch, refuses to give himself away. And as Véa, because it is Véa stepping out of the shadows of the stairs where she had been more successfully hiding, is talking in a low, even tone that hardly carries the distance needed for him to hear it, she must also want to avoid tipping Yennefer and Ciri off.

 

To help Geralt, he says.

 

Véa raises one brow. “And does he need your help? The sorceress seems to have it under control. And I doubt that even Calanthe would stoop so low as to harm her own grandchild.”

 

Well. That’s the question, isn’t it. Does Geralt need his help. According to the man himself, the answer is an emphatic no but- that’s never stopped him in the past. Despite everything, or maybe because of it, Geralt is still family. And if there is one constant in this world and the next, Jaskier will risk everything, no matter the cost, for family.

 

He doesn’t know how to explain it; he, the famed bard, the silver-tongued song master, the Master of the Seven Liberal Arts… he can’t put it to words. Instead he takes all his emotions and shoves them at Véa, hoping that his emotions will reveal what his words cannot.

 

She sighs. “You are too much like your father,” she says. And then she steps forward, further into the light, and he can see that she is wearing her full armour, sword strapped securely to her back.

 

“I will go with you,” she says. “And I will protect you from all harm. I doubt that I could convince you otherwise.”

 

In the great hall he can hear the crackle of magic. And so he turns and he sprints toward the portal, all stealth forgotten and Véa close at his heels.

 

He just manages to make it through before it closes.

Chapter Text

The two of them tumble out of the portal, Jaskier skidding across the stone floor, and Véa close on his heels, only barely avoiding treading on his tail. The portal snaps shut behind them. Ciri and Yennefer are a little ahead of them, heads bent together in conference. They haven’t noticed their stowaways yet, and Jaskier takes the opportunity to look around and get his bearings. Despite repeated (joking) threats from Eist, and several (more sincere) threats from Calanthe, he hasn’t ever seen Cintra’s dungeons. Not that there is much to see.

 

The dungeons are dark, dank, and empty. The only source of light is the occasional globe of magical fire, burning without heat and casting long shadows across the corridors. Jaskier has been in a lot of dungeons in his life, mostly due to drunkenness, sometimes for more serious matters, and that seems to be rather par for the course when it comes to their whole aesthetic. With the exception of Oxenfurt, that is, which had a lot fewer rats and many more drunk students carousing, at least in his day. He doubts it’s changed that much in the intervening decades.

 

Actually, as a dragon, can he get drunk? He had seen Borch consume a lot of ale without any negative effects, but is that an inherent dragon thing, or is it because he’s old and has built up a tolerance? He himself has got incredibly drunk in his time, but maybe that’s because he wasn’t a dragon at the time? If he’s got inner fire in his stomach, or however that works, does that make it more or less likely to get drunk? Because on the one hand, the alcohol could be literally burnt out of his system before it hits his bloodstream, but on the other dragonfire and taverns are a very bad mixture.

 

Véa sighs behind him.

 

“Concentrate, Julian. You’re not going to rescue your Witcher if you’re distracted.”

 

Her words are not quiet, and Ciri and Yennefer spin around, magic sparking at the sorceress’ hands and the smell of ozone in the air. They relax once they see who it is, though Yennefer rolls her eyes so hard that Jaskier is surprised that she hasn’t given herself eye strain.

 

“Jaskier!” Ciri cries, running over. “What are you doing here? You’re not meant to be here!” Her voice echoes, bouncing off stone walls. Jaskier has to admit that there is something fishy here. There are usually at least a couple of guards, roaming around. But there’s nothing that he can see, even with his draconic eyesight. Smell however- he sniffs, faintly, scenting the air. For once, Geralt’s habit of not taking baths until being actively forced to is paying off; Jaskier can smell him. Not very well, both Ciri and Yennefer’s scents are obscuring the trail, ozone and gooseberries and lilacs all mingling together. Véa’s scent is neutral, a faint whiff of leather and sword oil, but whatever she bathes in is unscented and thoroughly inoffensive to his nose.

 

“I should be surprised, but I am really, really, not.” Yennefer does not look impressed, not bothering to move from her spot, and scowling down at him. She’s dressed in practical gear, which for her means a dress in the latest court fashions in dark colours, which complement both her eyes and her make-up perfectly. Just one fashion faux pas. Just one! That’s all he’s asking for. He knows full well that there’s no way she’s ever going to be seen as anything less than pristine. Not unless something has gone severely wrong.

 

Jaskier glares back, tail thrashing back and forth behind him. Because he’s not useless. He can breathe fire, though he still hasn’t got that completely under control yet, and he’s got his claws, and he can fly! He knows from experience that people don’t tend to look up when they’re being attacked, and though his right wing, the wing that he broke and was healed by magic, is still a little stiff he’s certain that he can fly on it. At least well enough to serve as a distraction.  And he actually knows where Geralt is. Which is more than Yennefer can say.

 

Tell her that there’s no way I was leaving her alone to rescue Geralt, he says to Véa. I don’t trust her to do it properly.

 

Though he knows for a fact that Yennefer can’t actually hear him, only feel the emotions that underscore his words, she sighs at him.

 

“I’ve been a sorceress for longer than you’ve been alive,” Yennefer says. “I have seen kingdoms rise and fall, I have feasted with kings and mages, all of whom had enough power to snuff you out with a thought. And you don’t think I’m capable of breaking one fucking Witcher out of a dungeon without your help?”

 

The words are angry, but her tone is just- tired. “For fuck’s sake Jaskier, you’re walking into a situation that I have under control and that is dangerous to you, personally.”

 

Jaskier- yes, ok she does have a point. A pretty good one, and he has been trying not to think of the consequences of being found back in Cintra and therefore under the auspices of Queen Calanthe. He knows that, if worse came to worse, Ciri wouldn’t let him be hurt. But he also knows first-hand that there’s not much that can be done in the face of a disapproving patriarch (pointed silences, whispers, discipline), and that it’s easy to be hurt without necessarily being harmed. Ciri loves her grandmother. He doesn’t want to ruin that.

 

But he still doesn’t care. He can’t trust Geralt’s safety to anyone else… it’s not a matter of trust. It’s- he’s not sure what it’s a matter of, but it’s something that he has to see out for himself. Maybe then he can leave it behind.  

 

“I won’t let anything happen to him,” Véa says from behind him. “But you know how stubborn he can be.”

 

“Yes,” Yennefer spits out. “I do.” She snorts. “The two of them are well-matched,” she mutters under her breath. She and Véa share one, long-suffering look over his head, and he growls.

 

What’s that supposed to mean??

 

“Since you’re here anyway, bard,” Yennefer says. “We might as well make use of you. And your escort.” The look on her face reveals exactly who she thinks will be the greater asset. She frowns for a moment, and then-

 

Véa, she says, and it’s strange because Jaskier can hear the words, distantly. Not directly from Yennefer herself, but filtered through Véa’s mind. Can you hear me?

 

“Yes,” Véa says.

 

Ciri scowls. “Am I the only one who can’t hear other people in my mind?” she asks, more than a hint of whine entering her voice. Jaskier nudges her thigh comfortingly, and her hand automatically falls to stroke his head. He has an inkling that she’ll be able to do this, sooner or later, judging from the raw Chaos that seeps from her, even now. Until then, he knows just how infuriating it is to be the normal one in the group.

 

“We’ll work on it,” Yennefer says distractedly. “Later. But for now, we have more important things to worry about.”

 

Véa, Jaskier says urgently, tell Yennefer that I can find Geralt. I can smell him.

 

He pauses for one hopeful moment, hoping that Yennefer will be able to hear the same echo as he and pick up the message herself- but no such luck. Instead, Véa duly relays his words.

 

“Are you sure?” Yennefer asks.

 

Jaskier pushes his affirmation toward her, his determination and confidence that he can do it. That he will do it or die trying.

 

“That’ll make it easier. This is the plan: Ciri and I will go to meet Calanthe. She and I need to talk of other matters, in any case, and perhaps she will be placated by the sight of her granddaughter, unharmed.” No one looks entirely convinced by that, not even Ciri. Jaskier tries to ignore the worry rising in his chest. They’ll be fine. Ciri will be fine. Calanthe loves her, truly, sincerely. More than her kingdom. More than her life. She won’t harm her, ever.

 

(But will Yennefer? The sorceress who supposedly ‘kidnapped’ Ciri? And since when has he given a flying fuck about Yennefer’s safety?... longer than he cares to admit).

 

“Véa, you will guard the entrance to the dungeon. Make sure that no one enters, and that no one raises the alarm. If things go-” she hesitates, shooting Ciri a look, “-badly, then I will need you to help.

 

“Don’t kill them,” Ciri says firmly. “I- I know what help means. And you’re not to kill anyone. Or harm them. It’s not their fault, they’re just doing their jobs. I don’t want anyone to be hurt because of me.”

 

Jaskier thinks of a few of the castle guards who are rather too free when it comes to kicking a dragon, princess’ pet or no. He wouldn’t particularly mind if they came to a violent end.  It’s probably a good thing that he can’t voice that thought, though.

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says. “You were so eager to recue Geralt? Then you can be the one to find him.”

 

Véa hesitates. “I don’t like this,” she says. “I would prefer to stay with Julian-”

 

“Jaskier can take care of himself. And there are plenty of shadows to hide in. I doubt any guards, if any of them actually appear, will look down for an intruder.” Yennefer cuts her off and Jaskier blink in surprise. Is that- an endorsement of his skills? From Yennefer?

 

Wait. No. Hold on. Him? Yennefer wants him to be the one to physically find and rescue Geralt? In person? Yes, in the abstract he wants to help Geralt escape. And yes, he would want to be part of the party that actually rescues him. But- he doesn’t want to do it on his own. He doesn’t know how to act around Geralt anymore, and that’s without taking into account any of the dragon bullshit.

 

Véa hesitates.

 

I can do this, Jaskier says. Anyway, you’ll be protecting the entrance, right? They’ll have to get past you first to get to me.

 

“Fine,” Véa growls. “But if any harm comes to him-”

 

“Then we’ll all be in deep shit,” Yennefer replies, flatly. She’s moving quickly now, eager to get the whole thing over with. Reaching into some hidden pocket, she withdraws a slim set of lockpicks and a silver dagger, as well as a set of soft, leather straps. Jaskier…does not want to know why she’s carrying those around. Nope, no curiosity whatsoever. Nothing.

 

“If you bite me,” she says, staring him straight in the eyes. “I’ll make you regret it.”

 

Véa doesn’t say anything to the threat, but does shift noticeably at his side, drawing attention to her blade. Yennefer doesn’t seem overly concerned, which Jaskier frankly thinks is a huge oversight on her part because, once again, Véa can literally kill a man with her bare hands. He’s never going to get over that. Yennefer must catch the shape of that though because she looks at him with a raised brow and a small smirk. Jaskier huffs- he isn’t worried for her! Not at all. It’s just- going out that way would be an extremely stupid way to die. And it would be nice if she were still around when he manages to regain human form because he has a large arsenal of insults and witty retorts that he’s building just for her, and it would be a shame for them to go to waste.

 

With exaggeration care, Yennefer fastens the leather strap around one of Jaskier’s spines- and he has to keep extremely still because it tickles and as much as he would like the opportunity to set Yennefer on fire at least once, this really isn’t the time- fastens the lockpicks and dagger to the straps.

 

“I’ve put them far enough down that you should be able to reach them,” she says. “get them to Geralt, and then let him do the rest. Don’t get injured. I have enough enemies that I can’t afford to have a golden dragon on my tail.”

 

She stands. “Let’s get this over with,” she says and walks away without a word.

 

“Good luck, Jaskier,” Ciri says as she passes him.

 

“Call for me,” Véa says, “and I will be there in an instant.”

 

And then the three women are gone. And Jaskier is left on his own. To find Geralt. Fantastic.

Chapter Text

There aren’t any guards in the dungeon at all. Not one. In the twenty minutes it takes Jaskier to creep through the dark corridors, following the scent of Geralt, he doesn’t see or hear anyone. It’s- it’s pretty creepy. What sort of dungeon doesn’t have guards? There are three potential reasons that he can think of: one, the dungeon is secure enough that they don’t need them; two they’re all coincidentally out to lunch, or something; or three, it’s a trap. Jaskier hopes that it’s one of the first two. But that would require Destiny to actually give him a break for once, and he can’t see that happening.

 

He sticks to the shadows, guards or no guards. There’s no reason to tempt fate. Better to be safe than sorry. That’s the only reason that he’s taking the longer, more cautious route; double checking that nobody is there at every intersection and walking as slowly as possibly to avoid the dagger clanging against his scales. Definitely the only reason. What other reason would there be? It’s not like he’s apprehensive to see the man who’s been the only constant for over half his life, who doesn’t actually like him or his singing that much and hadn’t hesitated to tell him that the last time they’d seen each other, who doesn’t know that he’s a dragon and might not believe that Jaskier himself also hadn’t known.

 

He’s already going to have to spend the rest of his life avoiding Geralt (after this one rescue); he doesn’t want to have to worry about looking over his shoulder for another thousand years because his mother had a mystifying taste in romantic partners. There’s an apprehension rising in him at the thought of seeing Geralt again, and his steps slow and then stop. Because the last time he saw him- the last time he saw him was on top of that fucking mountain. And he doesn’t know where to go from there. He takes a deep, shuddering, breathe. And then continues on. Because it’s his fault that Geralt’s in this situation in the first place. If he hadn’t got lost, if he hadn’t cast his mind out and found Yennefer, if Ciri hadn’t cared enough about him to run through the portal- well, there is more truth in Geralt’s last words to him than he wants to admit.

 

He’s- he’s getting maudlin. Upset. It’s the smell. Not the onion with undertones of selkimore (though that really has got a lot more pungent since becoming a dragon) that floats around Geralt whenever he forgoes washing for more than a week (which is distressingly often), nor is it the notes of chamomile which- actually are very unlike Geralt, but maybe Yennefer forced him to have a bath or something and the only soap he had was the bottle of chamomile oil that Jaskier had left behind. He growls, quietly. He literally had to beg Geralt to take a bath when they were travelling together (though he suspects that was less due to the other man’s aversion to being clean and more to his perverse sense of humour). It figures that he would cave to nothing more than a request from Yennefer. Geralt has always liked her better.

 

He skirts around a patch of what he really hopes isn’t dried blood and continues onward. Geralt’s smell- it. It reminds him of when he was a child, and he would stare out of the window of his lonely home, at the pouring rain that seemed to mirror his own emotions. And then- every so often, the rain would stop and there would be a brief flash of blue, and golden beams of sunlight cutting through the clouds like a spear. He would climb out his window, down the rose trellis and into the garden where he would be surrounded by the earthy smell of petrichor, rising up from the ground and mixed with the salt air blowing in from the coast. It’s stupid and illogical and no doubt Geralt would mock him if he knew, but to Jaskier, the Witcher has always smelt of that damp earth. That freedom. And though, inevitably, the rain always came back and he was punished for muddying his clothes, it didn’t stop him from chasing after that giddy sensation at every opportunity. Not even the window being nailed shut could stop him.

 

Geralt had given him that same feeling. For a while.

 

He keeps walking.

 

The dungeons are only so big, and eventually the smell grows stronger and stronger until he turns one last corner and sees him. Geralt. And if his breathe catches in his chest then there’s at least no one to see him.

 

He’s sitting in the cell with his eyes closed and his legs crossed beneath him, and a small smile on his face. He doesn’t look nearly as concerned as someone who’s been imprisoned and sentenced to execution should be, but honestly for Geralt this is probably just normal by this point. Watching his chest rhythmically rise and fall, Jaskier thinks that he’s meditating. He does that- did that a lot when travelling, just sweep the campsite for monster tracks and potential dangers, and then sit for hours, still and steady as a rock. Geralt had offered to teach him once; needless to say, he had spent more time entranced by the Witcher’s steady breathes and the peace on his face than anything as mundane as meditating himself.

 

Jaskier creeps closer, his tail twitching in agitation. It’s- nice to see Geralt again. Despite everything it’s good to see him, healthy and presumably happy. He swallows.

 

Maybe- maybe this is Destiny. Maybe the reason that he and Geralt are here, in this moment, is so that he’ll have the chance to know his Child Surprise. And honestly? He doesn’t mind being Destiny’s tool, just this once. Because Geralt deserves to get to know Ciri; Ciri who is brave and protective and fierce and everything that any parent would want in a child. Who wouldn’t love Ciri?

 

He’s at the cell door now, staring in. Gods, he wishes that he could hate him. It would be so much easier to hate him. But it looks like he can’t. Hah! Jaskier, pettiness incarnate, and he can’t muster the energy to do anything but feel exhausted. And sad.

 

Suddenly, abruptly, he wants to be in his family’s embrace. Safe under Borch’s wings. He lets out a low whine, yearning and want and need, before he can help himself.

 

And then Geralt smiles.

 

“Jaskier,” he rumbles, opening his eyes.

 

Then frowns.

 

“What the fuck?”

Chapter Text

Geralt moves quicker than any human and is on his feet and at the steel bars in a flash, causing Jaskier to flinch back instinctively. He’s never been afraid of Geralt, never, not even after the Witcher had punched him in the balls. Because Geralt would never really hurt him. But now- there’s something on his face, rage and pain and grief, before it’s all wiped away and there’s nothing of Geralt left. Until it’s only the Witcher.

 

“Jaskier!” he shouts, and his voice is hoarse. “Jaskier!”

 

He waits a moment, scanning the darkened corridors, but there’s no reply. Evidently. As he’s somewhat lacking in human vocal cords at the moment. And when Jaskier tentatively chirps at him-

 

Geralt glares down at him, eyes bright and fierce, and for the first time in his life, Jaskier understands the ballads and old wives’ tales and horror stories that cling to a Witcher like burrs.

…the witcher, brave and bold
Paid in coin of gold
He'll chop and slice you
Cut and dice you
Eat you up whole…

 

“Who are you?” Geralt snarls at him, slamming his hands against the bars so hard that they rattle. “And why do you smell like Jaskier?”

 

Jaskier huddles in on himself, instinctively trying to present a smaller target. He is shaking, and the movement makes the dagger and the lockpicks clank against his scales, drawing the Witcher’s attention.

 

Geralt’s brow furrows in confusion and he glances at the tools, then at the pouch hanging around Jaskier’s neck, the blue bright against the gold of his scales. The intensity of his gaze eases, and Jaskier can breathe again.

 

“…the Lion Cub of Cintra,” he murmurs, and then sways slightly, catching himself against the wall.

 

It’s Jaskier’s turn to jump forward, chirping in alarm. Because actually- beneath the false peace granted to him by his meditation, Geralt looks rough. His hair is longer than the last time he saw him, greasy and unkempt, and reeking of chamomile. Well that- certainly a way to use it. What had Geralt done, upturned the entire bottle over his head? Considering the amount of grief that he always gave him for using the damned oil in the first place, that seems awfully hypocritical of him.

 

“You’re the dragon,” he says. “The princess’ dragon. But you also smell of Jaskier. And- you have his eyes.”

 

Geralt blinks slowly, sagging forward. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” he says, and there’s something in the listless look in his eyes that makes Jaskier suspect that Geralt hasn’t exactly been taking care of himself recently. This- this is more damage than a night in the Cintran dungeons can account for. What has Geralt been doing? Was he really that devastated over losing Yennefer?

 

There’s a small part of him, petty and vengeful and pained that wonders whether his absence has caused this. After all, it’s not Yennefer’s name that he’s calling, is it? …it’s dangerous to think like that. It’s more likely that Geralt’s delirious with hunger and thirst, and called for him because, well. He is Jaskier. He doesn’t think that his scent’s changed that much. Two decades of habit can’t be overcome as easily as that.

 

Geralt sways again, and Jaskier shakes his head, scolding himself. He shouldn’t be just sat here; he should be doing his job. Delicately, he twists around and lifts the dagger and the lockpicks from their place, holding them in his mouth and offering them to Geralt. He tries to push calm reassurance toward the Witcher, but his mind slides off icy barriers, high and menacing, and doing absolutely nothing for his headache.

 

For one long moment, Geralt just stares at the proffered tools, before he reaches out and, with the air of a man wondering whether this is just an extraordinarily vivid hallucination, reaches through the bars and takes them.

 

“Huh,” he says. The he tucks the dagger into his belt and starts to fiddle with the door. For someone whose reputation is built on brute force, Jaskier knows that Geralt has a deceptively delicate touch when he puts his mind to it, so it’s no surprise that it only takes a moment or so before the door swings open with a clang.  

 

Good. Almost there. Now all he has to do is get the Witcher out of here and away before Calanthe finishes her reunion with Ciri. Running first and sorting out the legalities later is a philosophy that has served Jaskier well in life, and if Geralt doesn’t like it, tough. He’s the one getting rescued here.

 

It’s with that in mind he starts herding Geralt toward the door, and freedom. Better to get this over with, quickly.

 

Geralt grunts at his prodding, but doesn’t resist his instructions, which is such a blatant change from their Witcher-bard relationship that Jaskier feels offended. So, he’s happy enough to take instruction from strange dragons, but not from his long-time travel companion? (He doesn’t call himself a friend, no matter how much it hurts. Best to get out of the habit of it now.) But gift horses, mouths, and all that, so he accepts the Witcher’s unusual compliance without question. Not that he really can question anything, between his current lack of vocal cords (and he vows that he’s going to practise more as soon as he gets back) and Geralt’s stubborn-headed refusal to let him into his mind. Maybe he can figure out some sort of code? A series of taps, perhaps? Hmm, maybe different rhythms for different letters… perhaps a musical note per word? But would that be too unwieldly…?

 

Coming up with a prototype musical code occupies him throughout their stumbling journey through the dungeon’s corridors, and it really is a good thing that there aren’t any guards, because if there were, they would definitely have been attacked by now with the amount of noise that Geralt is making. Though that’s maybe because his draconic hearing is infinitely better than the sorry excuse for ears he had as a human.

 

Soon enough, they arrive at the portal site, but there’s no one else there. Well. Shit.

 

“Yennefer was here,” Geralt says, breaking the silence. “I can smell-”

 

Giving into temptation, Jaskier growls and gives Geralt’s calf a sharp nip. Nothing hard enough to break flesh, of course, but enough to give him a bruise for at least a couple of hours. He’s trying to think about what to do now! He doesn’t need Geralt’s pining distracting him. That fact that Geralt doesn’t react says a lot about the state the Witcher is in. Hmph. Typical Geralt, taking the fun out of everything.

 

He reaches out, trying to find Véa or even Yennefer’s mind, hoping that one of them will tell him what he should be doing. He gets- flashes. The clang of steel on steel. Chaos, carefully controlled. Large oaken doors, slamming shut. He whines. They’re busy, they’re definitely busy and he should be there helping them. Only, he doesn’t think that Geralt is in any shape to fight. He looks like he could be taken down by a particularly ferocious cat, never mind the Cintran army.

 

Well. At least his brief mental touch has given him a better idea of where the others are. He thinks that he can at least get them out of the dungeon. And then he’ll find somewhere safe and hidden to deposit Geralt before going back and helping the rest of them.

 

He butts his head against Geralt’s knees, guiding him in the right direction. And tries not to be too freaked out when the Witcher doesn’t even grunt at him.

 

It isn’t far to the exit, and they make good time, Geralt gaining more awareness as they near the- wide open- door. There’s no sign of Véa. Jaskier tries not to let that worry him.

 

Once they make it through the door, the early-morning light rejuvenates Geralt; he straightens and takes the lead, withdrawing the dagger from his belt and clenching it tightly in his hand. Jaskier struggles to keep up; he struggled as a human and not only are his legs much shorter now, he also has to avoid tripping over his tail.

 

Where is Geralt going? Is he hallucinating? Or hunting a beast that only he can see? His steps are sure and strong, and he looks like he knows exactly where he’s going. That makes one of them.

 

Then- oh. He catches the whiff of sweet hay and horses and he realises where Geralt is going. The stables. Of course. And actually, that’s perfect, because Roach is as fierce a protector as one could hope for and had got Geralt (and Jaskier) out of a lot of trouble over the course of their travels.

 

He runs forward eagerly. He’s missed Roach! It’s a pity he doesn’t have any sugar cubes on him. Will she remember him? Or recognise him at all? Or- and he slows- will she be afraid of him now?

 

He’s about to find out, because they enter the stables and there, in the furthest stall is-

 

“Roach,” Geralt breathes, striding over to her. He rests his head against hers for a moment, allowing Jaskier to catch up with him. Roach looks over at him placidly, and whinnies. She does remember him! Even luckier for them, she’s still saddled and their bags (Geralt’s bags) are attached to her. How long ago did Geralt get captured exactly? That all of his belongings are still here?

 

Jaskier chirps at them both, and winds himself around Roach’s legs, pleased to see them reunited. It’s like old times. Only not, because he’s a dragon and Geralt hates him, and maybe it isn’t like old times after all.

 

“I’m sorry,” Geralt says, and Jaskier frowns because why is he apologising? Then, in one swift movement, the Witcher springs forward, shaking out his spare cloak and using it to grab Jaskier, the thick cloth protecting him against his teeth and claws.

 

Jaskier shrieks in alarm, trying to move backward and out of the way, but he isn’t fast enough, too shocked at whatever the hell Geralt thinks he’s doing. In any case, while he’s apparently crazy, Geralt is still a Witcher and used to dealing with things a lot more dangerous than one small dragon.

 

“You’ll be free soon enough,” Geralt says, picking a squirming and shrieking Jaskier up in one arm and using the other to swing onto Roach’s back. He places him on the saddle in front of him, ignoring his protestations, and swaddles him in his spare cloak until his bright scales are mostly hidden and Jaskier can barely move. “I just need to talk to your father.”

Chapter Text

Surprisingly enough, being draped over a horse and smothered by a cloak that smells though it hasn’t been washed in months is incredibly uncomfortable. Not the mention the fact that he’s been kidnapped. Again! For the third time in the past few months. He didn’t even get kidnapped this frequently when he was travelling with Geralt!

 

He growls, trying to get enough leverage to bite Geralt’s hand. That bastard. See if he ever does anything nice for him, ever again! What the fuck is he doing! There are far easier ways to talk to Borch than kidnapping random golden dragons! And what happened to not hunting dragons? Was that all talk?

 

“Stop that,” Geralt growls as he manages to get in a lucky bite. He’s slurring his words slightly, through either tiredness or being entirely out of his fucking mind. “And stop making so much noise. You’re going to get us both captured.”

 

Stop making so much noise? Stop making so much noise? That’s what he’s worried about!?

 

Jaskier opens his mouth and screams, his voice loud and piercing and causing Roach to shy in alarm. In any other situation he would feel bad about that- he’s invested a lot of time and effort into getting Roach to like him- but at this point he is thoroughly fed up. If he had his voice- well, if he had his voice Geralt wouldn’t have kidnapped him because he would have either left him outside that dungeon and gone to find Yennefer, or he would have shouted at him a bit more and then left to find Yennefer. And neither of those are great choices, but at least in both scenarios Yennefer would be receiving back-up! Since he can’t demand that they ride back immediately and make sure that Calanthe hasn’t killed everyone, he’s doing the next best thing. The one thing that’s he’s truly good at.

 

Being so annoying that Geralt leaves him.

 

“I told you to shut up.

 

Like that’s ever stopped him before. Jaskier takes a deep breath, inflating his lungs in preparation for another round of screaming-

 

-then something is stuffed into his mouth. Something that tastes disgusting, though not worse than whatever was in that potion earlier. His poor, poor mouth. Urgh. It’s enough to put anyone off food forever.

 

He growls but can’t actually make much noise. He could probably burn it, but unless he wants to give both Geralt and Roach bad burns, then he doesn’t want to risk it. If it were just Geralt on the other hand… He huffs. He wasn’t feeling particularly well-disposed to him before the kidnapping (that’s a lie). Now? He would watch him burn without regret (that’s an even bigger lie).

 

Geralt pushes him back against Roach, not ungently. “Stop. Moving,” he says.

 

Jaskier huffs but complies. There’s nothing else that he can do. Not unless Geralt’s body finally acknowledges that it’s malnourished and exhausted and falls off or something. And then he’s got other things to worry about. He doesn’t want to try and contact Véa or Yennefer; not for a while anyway. He can’t imagine anything more distracting than unexplained emotions, or someone talking to you in your head while doing battle.

 

In any case… there’s clearly something wrong with Geralt. A curse, or poison, or exhaustion, or something. Because he is emphatically not acting like his normal self, not one bit. Too impetuous, making poor decisions (like kidnapping someone who’s just rescued you!), trying to blackmail an ancient dragon who could incinerate him with a thought, not taking care of himself… A curse does seem like the most likely option; oh! Jaskier brightens. Maybe that’s the only reason Geralt had started talking to Yennefer again? To sort the curse out? (Unlikely, but he can dream). This doesn’t mean that he forgives him though, of course not. Not for kidnapping him (yes he is going on about it, no he isn’t going to stop) nor for…other things. It just means that he doesn’t want to see him dead. Which he will be, and in very short order, if he doesn’t get this probably-a-curse sorted.

 

Geralt clicks softly and urges Roach into a trot, hooves clattering against the cobbles, and making Jaskier bounce up and down uncomfortably. Can he not just have a day without something going wrong? Just one? Is that too much to ask of Destiny?

 

Once they reach the city limits, Roach’s strides lengthen, and she breaks out into a canter, the wind whipping by them. Jaskier, stuck staring at the ground, has to fight the urge to be sick. This…is not his favourite mode of transport. Nope. It’s not Roach’s fault, but he’s never getting back on her ever again if he can help it.

 

Luckily for his stomach, and Geralt’s possessions, they only travel for another hour or so before Roach slows to a walk, and then stops altogether. Blearily, Jaskier opens his eyes. He- has no idea where they are. He hasn’t exactly been back to Cintra since the whole ‘Law of Surprise’ ‘Banished forever’ thing, and honestly? The countryside all looks pretty similar to him.

 

Geralt dismounts with less grace than usual, landing heavily on his feet and taking a moment to just- lean against Roach for support. He reaches into a bag and pulls out a couple of potions, pulling their corks out with his teeth and tossing them back. He looks marginally less wretched. Marginally.

 

Jaskier wriggles in his cocoon; he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he refuses to be left here. Absolutely refuses. He whines as best he can through the wad of fabric in his mouth, tail thrashing and wings struggling against the heavy cloth. Geralt sighs and leads Roach over to a patch of sweet grass.

 

“If you bite me,” he says. “The cloth is going back in.”

 

And then Jaskier is being picked up and carried off Roach’s back (and he thinks that they’re both relieved by that) and deposited on the ground next to her. Geralt reaches into her saddlebag and removes a silver chain, one of the many that he has stashed and that he tries to keep in as good repair as he can.

 

Kneeling next to him, Geralt removes the leather strap from his spine and places it around his back leg, testing the fit with his fingers to make sure that it isn’t catching on his scales.  He then attaches the silver chain to it, looping the other end around a sturdy tree branch, winding it around the limb several times, before fastening a small lock to it to stop it from slipping. Then and only then, and with a remarkable lack of self-preservation, he reaches into Jaskier’s mouth and removes the cloth.

 

“I can’t have you running away,” Geralt says. “But the chain should give you some freedom. Don’t make me regret it.”

 

Then he unwraps the cloak from around him, letting Jaskier stretch his wings for the first time in hours. He immediately hisses at Geralt, only barely refraining from biting him. Again. Instead he turns his back on him (‘accidentally’ hitting him with his tail) and pointedly ignores him, instead padding over to Roach. He rubs his head against her fetlocks, reassuring her that he doesn’t hold her responsible at all. Not one bit. Unlike some people. (Though if this does turn to be a curse, he can maybe forgive him a little bit).

 

Geralt snorts. “Don’t come crying to me when she kicks your head in.” While Jaskier ignores him like the brute he is, he removes the saddlebags from Roach, relieving her of her saddle and bridle with gentle hands and comforting pats. She nickers at him, butting her head against his chest.

 

“I know, girl,” Geralt murmurs. “But it’s the only way.” Reaching into one of the bags, he removes an apple and offers it to her. After a considering glance, Roach takes it from him as her proper due, though not without one last nip to his shoulder.

 

The crunching of the apple reminds Jaskier that he hasn’t eaten in an extremely long time, and he whimpers, stomach growling. Geralt notices- of course he does- and then, reaching into his bags once again, removes a pack of dried meat and a loaf of bread, only slightly stale.

 

“You’re lucky that I recently stocked up on provisions,” he says, offering Jaskier the meat. Jaskier considers it for a moment, and then, with all the dignity he can muster, moves forward and takes it from his outstretched hand. Only because he’s hungry. And he makes sure that Geralt realises that, glaring at him the whole while.

 

Geralt laughs, which is not the appropriate reaction, Geralt. And really, Geralt. Leather? While his claws aren’t that sharp yet, he’s fairly certain that they’ll be able to cut through leather. Even leather that belongs to Yennefer and might therefore be enchanted in…interesting…ways. The Witcher is damn lucky that Jaskier doesn’t want him to die in the wild, because otherwise all he’d have to do is cut through the strap and fly away. Because he has wings Geralt. Functional ones.

 

“That look won’t work on me,” the Witcher says, taking a bite of his own meal. “I’ve become immune over the years. J-” he breaks off with a scowl, looking away. “Eat your food,” he barks. “And get some rest. We’ll be setting off in the morning.”

 

Jaskier stares after him. And then sighs. Well. Tomorrow is another day. And hopefully after a good night’s rest, Geralt will be a more reasonable frame of mind (maybe the poison will wear off? Is his improved mood proof that it’s poison? Is that why he was taking his potions?) and they can figure out some way to communicate. Maybe he’ll have a chance to contact Véa or Yennefer (because they’re fine, they are, he knows that they are, absolutely fine) and they can come and get some sense into Geralt’s thick head. Break the curse. Cure the poison. Make sure he…has a nap? Although… he doesn’t particularly want Borch to get involved: that would lead to so many complications. And Véa would definitely tell him. Better to sort this out himself. Geralt won’t actually hurt him, he knows this for a fact, and at least he’ll be safe from other dangers while travelling with him. He huffs. Physical dangers in any case, who’s to say he’s not going to catch a case of idiocy.

 

Grumbling internally, he pads over to the comfortable looking patch of ground that he can reach, and- curling himself around his stone- he falls asleep. He doesn’t dream.

Chapter Text

Jaskier wakes a few hours later, shivering in the cold air. Winter has most certainly arrived; there’s a thin layer of snow covering the ground, and when he moves his head, he dislodges even more. It’s very quiet and dark, no signs of life that he can see. Behind him, Roach is snorting and stamping her feet, trying to keep warm. She’s- Jaskier squints- she’s covered in a thick blanket, but she still looks very unhappy. He sits up, and then something slithers off his back and he realises that the weight that he had been feeling wasn’t accumulated snow, but the cloak. The one that he had spent a significant portion of time trapped in, now repurposed and tucked around him. In fact, once he moves a bit more, he discovers that he’s been wrapped in two cloaks, which explains why the cold hadn’t woken him earlier.

 

He frowns. Because if both cloaks are wrapped around him, and Roach has the blanket, that means…

 

He extricates from the warm(ish) pile of fabric and pads over to Geralt, trying to walk as smoothly as possibly to avoid the chain (and he still hasn’t forgiven Geralt for that) making too much noise. Sure enough, the idiot Witcher is lying on the frozen ground with not even a blanket to protect him from the wind. He’s not shivering, and Jaskier doesn’t know whether that’s because he doesn’t feel the cold as much or because he’s so cold that he’s stopped shivering. If it’s the second- that is not good. Not good at all.

 

He leans closer, trying to figure out which one it is- he’s never had to deal with this situation before as Geralt usually winters at Kaer Morhen. And whenever they’ve had a fire in the past, he’s placed himself firmly in front of it. Which, now he thinks about it, it further proves that something is incredibly wrong.

 

Jaskier tentatively places his cheek against Geralt’s- it’s freezing to the touch. And he swears that the Witcher’s lips are blue. Fuck! This is bad. This is so very bad. He backs away, and the dread in him rises as he realises that the infernal clanking noise the chain is making hasn’t managed to rouse the man. He needs to do something. First things first- he drags over the cloaks that he had been sleeping in and drapes them around Geralt as best he can. But- they’re slightly damp from the snow and getting wetter by the second. In the long run, they’re only going to make things worse. He whines, loudly, and bites him on the leg. Nothing. No reaction. That’s not good.

 

He nods to himself, decisively. He has to get to work then. Turning, he studies the leather fastened around his leg. It doesn’t look cracked at all, despite the cold, and his claws slip and slide from it as he tries to cut it off. Fucking Yennefer and her good-quality leather. It doesn’t help that he’s still shivering from the cold, unsteady and unsuited to delicate work. He gives up after a few minutes, after he accidentally nicks himself for the third time. He’ll have to do it while chained. That’s- that’s fine. He’s got this.

 

He walks back over to Roach and- with a quick shake of his wings to get the blood flowing- scrambles up the tree that her lead is attached to as best he can. Luckily, he’s got rather good at tree climbing, and he manages without anything stupidly embarrassing happening, like falling off the branch. Roach is only tied to the tree by her leather halter; that at least is easy to claw through.

 

Roach looks up at him, her large brown eyes wide in concern, and she whinnies. Jaskier manages a chirp back, then he flutters down out of the tree. He grabs the rope halter with his teeth and leads her over to Geralt. She follows docilely and before long has settled herself next to Geralt, her own body heat hopefully helping him warm up a bit. Enough at least that he won’t die while Jaskier’s trying to fix his stupid short-sightedness.

 

He’s properly shivering now. He hadn’t realised how much the cloaks had been protecting him. Nevertheless, he manages to find a good spot; not too many stones, no tree roots. He clears off the small patch with a swipe of his tail and then takes a deep breath- and exhales fire. He doesn’t bother with any finesse. The flames aren’t as strong as he could have liked, but they are fierce. He can only hold it for a few seconds, but that is more than enough to melt the frozen ground.

 

He takes a moment’s break, panting slightly. It takes it out of him, breathing fire. Fire is life, and he has spewed his upon the ground. Before, when he was learning to get his fire under control, Borch would always make sure he ate a proper meal before and after any practice, would cradle him in his wings and tell him how well he’d done, how strong his flame was. Now there’s only him, and he hasn’t eaten nearly enough to sustain any prolonged fire. He doesn’t regret it though. He lets himself glance at Geralt. Does he look colder than before? How can he tell? No, this isn’t useful. This isn’t useful at all.

 

He looks resolutely back at the steaming earth and he starts to dig, claws scooping up warm dirt as quickly as possible to form a shallow pit, hopefully deep enough to shield it from the wind. Dirt quickly gathers between his scales, fine and irritating and itchy and he has a brief moment of longing for his warm baths and soft touches, Saskia’s head fitting perfectly under his chin, and Borch’s loving mind enveloping them both.

 

Filling the pit with leaves and small twigs is easy enough, easier than when he had to do it as a human. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about whether the wood will be too wet to burn, or the quality of the twigs and dried leaves. It helps, of course, but his fire is hot enough for that matter to be rendered entirely academic. Once he gets the initial blaze going, he can lay the additional wood out around the fire and dry it that way. No, the hardest part is gathering enough wood to keep it blazing throughout the night. He can only travel so far and it’s hard to gather wood. He has to either push it with his snout or grab it in his mouth, teeth digging into the frozen wood hard enough to make his jaw ache. He manages though. He doesn’t stop. And soon enough he has a relatively large pile; large enough to last them through the night. At least he hopes so, because he’s cleared all the fallen branches for as far as he can reach, and if they need more, he might be reduced to trying to burn down the tree that he’s fastened to and no one wants that. Not when there’s a solid chance he might accidentally burn down the entire camp, at this point. At least they’d be warm he thinks half-hysterically.

 

It takes him another few minutes to arrange the wood well enough that it won’t immediately collapse into a smouldering heap, and then another few minutes to find enough energy to light the fire. Jaskier- he knows that as things go, he isn’t a very large dragon (see people incessantly picking him up) but this. Something that he would have been able to do relatively easily as a human, even as a human lacking the truly astounding musculature that Geralt possesses, that he’s struggling with as a dragon… it just hammers in how truly useless he is.

 

He closes his eyes. How long has it been now? An hour? Maybe two since he started? Is Geralt still breathing? Or has he frozen already? Will he and Roach be left here, alone, until he’s forced to burn down the tree to escape and accidentally kills her?

 

Breathe, Julian. Borch’s voice echoes in his head. He- he knows that it isn’t actually Borch, that this is only his mind playing tricks on him, can tell the difference between the two. But at this point in time, he doesn’t care. Because he’s alone, and he’s scared, and yes, maybe he does occasionally have fantasies about Geralt having to be saved by him and falling over in gratitude before thowing himself at his feet and apologising for having ever doubted him… But they’re just that. Fantasies. Not real. He didn’t actually want anything like this to happen. Not when he’s so damn tired.

 

First is the gift of fire. Fire is life, and our children should forever be warm

 

He takes his fathe- he takes Borch’s words. And he wraps them around his heart. And then he opens his mouth, and the breathes fire. And the fire answers his call, licking eagerly onto the dead leaves and pine needles, running hungrily up the larger pieces of wood. It’s not warm, not yet, but it’s better than nothing.

 

Then Jaskier stumbles over to Geralt, whose face is illuminated by the flickering flames, tiny ice crystals clinging to his eyelashes. The Witcher already feels better, less like a snowdrift and more human. Not good enough though. So he buries himself into Geralt’s arms, lends the man his warmth, wrapping his tail around his body and raising his wings to shelter him. And then- then he sleeps.

Chapter Text

He sleeps. And he dreams.

 

A grunt. A whispered fuck. A quiet whinny. Warmth, moving away from him that freezes in place as he lets out a quiet whine.

 

Gentle hands try and move him, and he protests, wrapping himself more firmly against the warmth. A pause. And then it is settling back down, and he hums in contentment and curls himself contently around it.

 

#

 

Jaskier wakes to the sound of a crackling fire and the smell of roasting meat, surrounded by the comforting smell of family. He is deliciously warm and for some reason that seems wrong. Then it hits him.

 

He jerks up- and there are the two cloaks wrapped around him again, making him want to groan in frustration. Because where is Geralt? And why can’t he get the simple concept through his head that if he doesn’t keep at least some of his clothes on (in winter!) then he’s going to freeze to death! What’s the point in having a spare cloak if you don’t even wear one of them?

 

The sun is shining, bright and cheerful, and the air is crisp and chill around him. Despite himself, he can’t help but hum contently; it’s a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes him want to run and laugh in glee and sing joyful songs into the still air. Not now though. Because he’s stuck chained to a tree, and Geralt isn’t here, meaning that the man has probably run off to do something stupid that’s going to end with him either imprisoned or freezing to death, and then he and Roach are going to have to rescue the idiot again-

 

“You’re awake,” Geralt says and oh. There he is. He’s sitting by the fire, next to a significantly larger pile of wood than Jaskier remembers collecting, the embers banked and throwing out blessed warmth. Something, Jaskier thinks that they’re rabbits, is roasting over it on a spit, the juices hissing as they fall into the fire. They’re not much, those rabbits- small and skinny and barely a mouthful. But they smell amazing.

 

Geralt- he smiles at him. Jaskier stares, unabashedly. The Witcher looks infinitely better than the last time he saw him- though considering that he was literally blue and almost frozen, that isn’t saying much. His hair is clean and has been tied back to dry (and what did he do, find a stream somewhere out here? A frozen stream? Why doesn’t he understand that the cold can and will kill people!) though the smell of chamomile still lingers. He still looks pale, and Jaskier can see that he’s lost weight- weight that emphatically can’t afford to lose! - but there’s a look in his golden eyes. Something soft and warm.

 

“Here,” Geralt says, removing the rabbits from the spit and offering them to him. “Food.”

 

Jaskier blinks. Looks over at Roach, who’s been retethered to the tree and who is placidly munching on her own breakfast of oats. Looks back at Geralt, who’s waiting patiently, food still held before him. Has he- has he missed something?

 

Slowly, he crawls out from his bed and toward Geralt. He winces when he sees his forearms; there is still dirt pushed under his scales from the force of his digging and it’s itchy. So very itchy. He’s never been good at dealing with dirt under his fingernails, and this is a thousand times worse.

 

“Hmm,” Geralt says. “I fetched some water.”

 

There are indeed several waterskins, full and bulging, sitting by the fire, alongside a neatly folded piece of cloth that Jaskier recognises as one of his old shirts, stuffed into Roach’s saddlebag before the dragon hunt and never retrieved. Did- did Geralt keep it? Why would he do something like that?

 

He moves, and then pauses. Because- there’s no accompanying jangle of chain. It must have been removed sometime in the night. Geralt must have removed it. Why? In its place is a soft, white bandage. There’s a pungent scent of wild garlic and sage, which means that either Geralt has been indulging in the culinary arts or he’s made a poultice of antiseptic herbs and slathered it on his leg. That’s- well, Geralt has always been kind.

 

There are, there are other things to think about. Like what exactly his shirt is doing here. Nosing at it, he can confirm that yes, it is his shirt. Quite apart from the embroidery at the sleeves and the neck that Geralt wouldn’t be caught dead with, if the Witcher had ever worn a shirt as delicate as this, his muscles would have ripped through it like spiderweb. It looks as if it’s been kept in good condition, though there’s a few rips and at least one bloodstain that it definitely didn’t have the last time he saw it. The rips have been neatly sewn together, though, and the stain is faded, as though someone had spent considerable time and effort scrubbing at it to try and remove it.

 

“It belongs to someone I know,” Geralt says. “He wouldn’t mind it being used to help someone else. Eat first. Then I can sort out your scales.”

 

Geralt’s always been careful with his possessions, though. Willing to repair and mend and reuse, spending countless hours carefully sewing up rips and tears and oiling scratched leather by the campfire long after normal humans would have given it up as a bad job. Jaskier has spent countless nights watching the silvery flash of the needle, darting in and out of whatever item of clothing had been destroyed that day, so engrossed by the Witcher’s delicate motions that he almost forgets to strum his lute until Geralt’s raised brow reminds him that he’s meant to be practicing his songs and not paying attention to his friend’s hands. No matter how mesmerizing. So Geralt keeping his clothing- is likely no more than the careful frugality that an unsure life on the road has drilled into him. Why waste cloth? After all, and he snorts to himself, you never know when you might find a use for it.

 

Well that’s- good. It’s not like he can actually wear any of his clothes at the moment, and he’s glad that they’re serving some use. (That Geralt hasn’t given all his things to Yennefer. Though he doubts that Yennefer would ever want one of his shirts.)

 

And still Geralt is just sitting there, with his food. And he’s not moving, just waiting. Waiting for Jaskier. So he moves forward and delicately takes one of the rabbits from his hand and gnaws at it. Until he realises how hungry he is, stomach aching and cramped and he quickly wolfs the rest of it down, bones and all. It goes down too quickly, and he’s licking the last of the grease off his claws before he knows it.

 

Geralt is- Geralt is laughing at him! He knows that look, eyes crinkling around the edges, a faint twitch of his lips. Jaskier bristles instinctively. Breathing fire is exhausting! And he’s been going non-stop for, well, who knows how long! With only a bit of jerky to subsist on. Hardly enough energy to guard against the cold, let alone his other exertions, so he doesn’t appreciate the-

 

“Have the other one,” Geralt says.

 

Wait, what?

 

“I caught it for you,” he continues. “As- thanks. For saving my life. And as an apology. I want to speak to your father, but- I shouldn’t have involved you in it.” His words are aching sincere and something inside of Jaskier burns. He doesn’t know if dragons have tear ducts, but he suspects not because otherwise he is certain that he’d be crying at this moment. Because Geralt- how can he say this to a dragon he’s only just met? And not to Jaskier? …well. Geralt has always got along better with animals than people. And a dragon isn’t an animal, not really, but he can’t currently fill the air with his chatter, and maybe that’s close enough.

 

Neither of them moves for a long moment, the smoke of the campfire twisting around them both and binding them together, the only sound Roach’s quiet munching.

 

And then Jaskier leans forward and takes the rabbit.

Chapter Text

Breakfast continues in silence, but it isn’t uncomfortable. After a moment watching Jaskier inhale yet another rabbit, Geralt reaches into the saddlebacks and withdraws yet more dried meat for Jaskier and hard bread for himself. Jaskier thinks about protesting; after all, Geralt needs to regain his strength, and he’s already eaten the two rabbits that the Witcher had caught earlier… But he smells the food and it’s gone, disappeared down his gullet before he can blink. He’s hungry. He does manage to save one piece, though. That’s not the most impressive of feats, considering that he’d meant to save half his portion, but it’s the thought that counts! Probably. Definitely. Maybe.

 

In any case, he manages to save a single piece of jerky, and it’s this that he offers to Geralt to supplement his meagre meal. No man should be forced to live on stale bread alone! Not when there’s something better to be had. Not that jerky is that much better, and he guiltily thinks about those two rabbits once again, their warmth settling comfortably in his stomach.

 

“It’s for you,” Geralt says, when he presents the jerky. “The meat is yours.”

 

Jaskier just narrows his eyes and insists, headbutting the Witcher when he continues to refuse. Yes, the food is getting quite dirty as his claws are currently caked in dirt (and whose fault is that) but he’s seen Geralt eat far, far worse. Like grubs, smashed into a paste and not even cooked over the fire. Or raw meat on the numerous occasions that they weren’t able to light a fire. Or the one time that they hadn’t been paid for months, had been run out of towns so that Jaskier couldn’t even play for money, and they had been reduced to chewing on bark that Geralt had stripped from any pine tree he could find.

 

His point, and he definitely has a point, is that Geralt is far too thin to be going around and giving his food away! He appreciates it, of course, but he doesn’t want the idiot to starve.

 

So, when Geralt still doesn’t take the gift, he hits him over the head with his wing. And then drops it pointedly on his lap. And then glares at him until the Witcher takes and it and starts chewing. Jaskier hums in approval and then sits, tail curled around his legs and staring straight at Geralt, to make sure that he actually finishes the food.

 

Geralt’s lips twitch again. But he eats it. And that’s the important part. And it’s not even a minute before the food is gone which shows just how much he needed it. Jaskier’s glare intensifies.

 

“None of that,” Geralt says, getting up and reaching for the waterskins lying by the fire. He takes the shirt reverently and hesitates for one brief moment before wetting it and gesturing at Jaskier to come closer. And- there’s no reason not to. Not when he’s free and bandaged and there’s a warm meal in his belly (and Geralt has apologised??). Not that he believed for one minute that Geralt would have hurt him whatever happened. Because the Witcher can be fierce and unyielding, but never to anyone under his care. Never to an innocent. The only people who need fear his wrath are the monsters of the world, whether they walk on two legs or four. But now that they’ve found themselves in a moment of stillness, with neither fear nor cold to worry about, he can’t quite shake the memory of Geralt’s last words to him. To Jaskier.

 

If life could give me one blessing…

 

He’s forgiven him for the kidnapping; Melitele knows that everyone seems to be kidnapping him these days. But some wounds run deeper. No matter how hard he wants them to just scar over and heal, some things are still red and weeping. A lack of hatred is not the same as forgiveness.

 

But now there’s something else in Geralt’s eyes- resignation. Acceptance. His hand starts to drop to the side, and Jaskier moves. Plants himself right in front of the Witcher and chirps, tentatively, offering his forearm. He doesn’t want to see that defeated look in Geralt’s eyes, the one that always makes an appearance when they’re turned away from an inn or spat upon or underpaid. The sure and certain knowledge that he’ll never be anything more than an outsider, something to be feared and pitied. He never wants to see that look in Geralt’s eyes, and the fact that he himself is the cause-

 

So holds himself still and steady and despite the fortress that Geralt has made of his mind, he attempts to radiate trust and warmth and faith in him.

 

Slowly, ever so slowly and giving him an opportunity to run or flee or whatever he thinks that Jaskier’s going to do, Geralt takes the damp shirt and starts to wipe away the dirt from his scales.

 

“The fabric is soft enough that it shouldn’t irritate your scales.” Geralt’s voice is low and rough, the dissonance between his tone and the gentle words made even more evident by the care he takes to make sure each and every scale is shining before he moves on to the next.

 

Jaskier slumps in relief, collapsing bonelessly onto the floor. The repetitive motions are nice, better than nice, but it’s the concern that’s the most comforting bit. The knowledge that Geralt gives a damn.  

 

He drifts, losing himself in the heady feeling of being wanted. Of being loved. Because if he tries hard enough, he can fool himself into believing that Geralt knows exactly who he is and is choosing to help him anyway.

 

Too soon, Geralt is finished, and Jaskier whines in protest as the gentle strokes slow, and then stop. He opens his eyes. His scales are perfectly clean once again, polished and free of dirt and gleaming in the sunlight. Maybe he’s more draconic than he thought because the sight makes his heart swell in his breast, makes him want to purr in content.

 

Geralt lets him lie there as he starts to wash the shirt, laying it flat on a smooth rock and pouring waterskin after waterskin of water over it and scrubbing it gently until there are no traces of dirt left. He leaves it there to dry once he’s finished and comes back to sit opposite Jaskier.

 

“I need to speak to your father,” Geralt says. “I need you to tell me where to find him.”

 

There’s an icy chill in his heart. Suddenly he’s cold, despite the fire still burning bright at his side. He’d almost forgotten that Geralt had kidnapped him. Has he done it again? Mistaken friendship for business? Is this a transaction; Jaskier saved his life so Geralt feeds and bathes him?

 

And how the hell does the Witcher think he’ll be able to convey that information, even if he wants to? His mind is firmly blocked off, and Jaskier can’t speak. Unless Geralt thinks he can scratch out a map with his claws, he is going to be sorely disappointed. For several reasons, not in the least that Jaskier has no fucking clue where they are. Or where the cave is, for that matter.

 

Jaskier sits up and slowly shakes his head. He does his best not to show his despair, but something in the slump of his wings must give him away.

 

“You don’t know,” Geralt states. He sighs. Then reaches out to pat Jaskier’s head. Well, he’s having none of that. Jaskier snaps at his fingers and hisses.

 

Geralt frowns. But doesn’t say anything.

 

“We’ll get you home,” he says. “I just- I just need to speak to someone. And she wasn’t very pleased with me the last time we spoke.” He smiles, but this time it’s a grim thing, twisting up at the side. “She said that I would do better to think of the future than to keep dwelling on the past. But she’s always helped me before. And she’ll help us now.”

 

He moves to the saddlebags and digs through them for a long minute, until he manages to unearth a small contraption. It looks like a small box, richly decorated with wolves running around its rim. Geralt raises it to his lips and speaks: “Yennefer. I’ve found Borch’s son. I need you to help me track down his father.”

Chapter Text

Found? Found? Well, that’s a new and inventive way to say kidnapped, Geralt. Found! As if he hadn’t been the one to jump through a portal, one of Yennefer’s portals, at great personal risk to himself, and despite the fact that he hadn’t been invited along, to save Geralt’s sorry arse! And then been kidnapped for his troubles! And had to save him! Again! Geralt is never allowed to talk about his artistic licence ever again, because sure he might have embellished a few things in the past, but this is outright lying!

 

In any case, Jaskier doesn’t know what Geralt expects to happen, talking into what looks like a snuffbox. Does he need to have another nap? The first one (if hypothermia can be called a nap) did him a lot of good. Maybe another one can cure him of the delusion that his snuffbox is going to talk back to him.

 

“It might take a while,” Geralt says. “She likes to make me wait. I mentioned she’s not pleased with me.”

 

Oh. Oh. The box- it must be a Xenovox. He’s heard of them before; they’re powerful magical relics. Rare, too. The only reason he’s heard the name is that one of his lecturers at Oxenfurt was obsessed with antique magical relics. Geralt must have got it from Yennefer, even not taking the whole ‘using it to talk to Yennefer’ into account. Even if she wasn’t able to make one herself, Jaskier can’t see anyone stopping her from just- locating one. And taking it.

 

A way to communicate directly with one another. Well. That’s. Nice. He huffs. He could have done with one of those in the decades he spent chasing after Geralt, desperate for any word from the various towns and villages. The Continent is a very large place, and the amount of money he had spent on bribes alone-

 

“I’ll get you home,” Geralt says, breaking through his memories of extremely entrepreneurial innkeepers. “Whatever happens. You saved my life and I’m-” his lips twist, “-grateful. I don’t have anything to offer you but the Law of Surprise.”

 

No. No, no, no, no, no. Always a bad idea, especially when one of the things that he is going to be surprised about is that the dragon he’s ‘travelling’ with is his old tagalong bard. Though, how would that work? Could he be gifted himself? No, don’t even think about it, don’t let it pass your mind. Destiny already loves screwing with them- there’s no point in tempting her. She’d find a way to make it worse.

 

Geralt sees the movement but misinterprets the frantic motions not to do that enormously stupid thing that has already backfired at least twice that they know of as, gods he doesn’t even know, indigestion or something, dismissing the entirely valid concerns that he has. Instead the Witcher hesitates, then says: “I wanted to ask you. About a human your father might have-”

 

“Geralt-” Yennefer’s voice interrupts, emerging from the device, as clear as a bell and twice as annoying. She’s whispering, hissing really, and she sounds- well, she sounds as though someone has pissed in her bathwater. Still, Jaskier can’t help but feel a swell of relief because she’s well, she’s not dead. He hadn’t abandoned her, “-now is the worst of all possible times you could have called. I’m in the middle of a custody negotiation for your Child Surprise with her psychopathic and extremely overprotective grandmother. Can’t you just ask Jaskier where Borch is? Or wait for Véa to catch up?”

 

“What?” Geralt’s tone is flat. Emotionless. Everything a good Witcher should be. Jaskier hasn’t often heard him use it.

 

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Well, brief moment of relief over because now he wants to kill her himself. What the fuck, Yennefer! Why in Melitele’s name would you do that? He whines, low in his throat, and starts to back away, hoping that the shock will paralyse Geralt before he can realise who, exactly, he’s been sharing his camp with.  

 

He has no idea what Geralt will do when he finds out- and it’s definitely a when not if. Even Geralt can’t fail to see the truth when it’s spelled out for him. He’s a Witcher- he’s good at the truth in things, seeing the monster hiding inside the human and the innocent inside the monster. What is he? He’s neither; not monster and not human, just Jaskier. Jaskier who Geralt doesn’t want to see.  

 

And actually, his plan is going pretty promisingly before he stumbles into something and turns to see Roach standing there placidly. The traitor! The absolute traitor! He hisses at her, trying to get her to move out of the way, but she just shifts to block him. Again.

 

Well! How’s that for gratitude? Hours of petting, smuggled apples and sugar cubes, saving her from unscrupulous bandits/employers/random civilians (and she really is in high demand), and she turns around does this? He growls at her, but she remains unmoved. Both physically and metaphorically.

 

“What do you mean ‘what?’” Yennefer snaps. “If you need me to hold your hand through just talking like adults after you’ve put so much effort into finding each other, then you’re truly useless-”

 

Geralt turns his head to stare at Jaskier, who squeaks and tries once again to leave. Move, move, move, Roach, please, don’t do this, not now, Roach-

 

“Jaskier- you’re talking about the dragon. Jaskier. Ciri named him Jaskier?” Geralt’s voice breaks through his name and Jaskier can feel his eyes on him like a blow. He freezes. There’s so much pain- does Geralt truly hate him that much?

 

There is an extremely unimpressed silence on the other end of the device.

 

“Geralt-” Yennefer says slowly, no longer bothering to keep her voice low, “-who exactly do you think rescued you from Cintra? Yes, I’m saying rescued because that was an unfair imprisonment- well then you should take it up with your Consort Your Highness, I’m not the one who ordered the guards away- Yes, I’m talking to Geralt- No, I won’t- Fine. Fine. Jaskier, if you can hear me, Ciri says that she hopes that you’re well and that Geralt isn’t being an idiot.” She snorts to herself, lowering her voice once again. “Fat chance of that.”

 

Throughout Yennefer’s entire rant, Geralt doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. Doesn’t do anything but continue to stare straight into Jaskier’s eyes.

 

Geralt drops the device, and Yennefer’s voice cuts off mid-word. She’s not going to be happy about that, Jaskier thinks, not at all. What creature would Geralt do best as? He would make a glorious white wolf, and the descriptor would be appropriately ironic, but knowing Yennefer she might turn him into a slug instead. Or a snail. Something small and squishy.

 

He- he doesn’t know why he’s thinking about Yennefer’s revenge fantasies. Only that if he’s thinking about whether Geralt would make a better slug or snail, it means that he doesn’t have to think about Geralt- Geralt who’s walking toward him like man possessed, something feral in his face, Geralt who is coming closer and closer and Jaskier can’t help but press back against Roach for comfort-

 

He can’t go through this again, not again, not now. Why did Yennefer have to ruin things? Sure, Geralt had no idea who he was. And it hadn’t exactly been great what with the hypothermia and the being chained to a tree. But- there were moments of quiet contemplation where it was like nothing had changed at all. And gods help him, he’s weak and all he wants is to pretend. Just for a while longer. And now the witch had taken even that from him. And he’s left with the wreckage of his delusions, scattered around him.

 

He wishes that Roach would let him go. Let him leave, let him flee. He’s never professed to be anything but a coward. But he’s stuck, standing, frozen, bound by his insecurities and his longing.

 

Geralt kneels in front of him. Looks into his eyes.

 

“…Jaskier?” he says, and his voice is trembling.

 

Jaskier can’t do anything but nod. How can he lie? True, there’s a question of semantics- has he actually lied if he was never directly asked whether he was Jaskier? If Geralt had just assumed that he was Borch’s son, and he never thought to correct him? Never could correct him (but you could the voice in his head whisper, if you’d wanted to, you could have found a way.)

 

He can’t breathe. He can’t. There’s something pressing on his chest and he can’t breathe.

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt repeats and Jaskier is almost trembling from nerves and anticipation and adrenaline.

 

Then he reaches out-

 

And he folds Jaskier into a hug.

Chapter Text

Jaskier shudders. That’s not- that’s not what he was expecting. Where are the words, the recriminations, the accusations? He’s waiting for those, he’s braced for those (not ready, never ready) but this? How can he have prepared for this? And where the hell is Geralt’s curiosity? Isn’t he at least a little perplexed at the fact that he and the dragon he had kidnapped are one and the same? Shouldn’t the Witcher be asking questions, investigating, interrogating, not clinging to him like a drowning man?

 

He reaches out, instinctively and- oh. The walls have fallen, the ice has melted, the barriers have crumpled. Geralt’s mind is open for the first time and Jaskier recoils from it because the pain and heartbreak in it is overwhelming, a heavy emotion that he thinks might be guilt swirling underneath. Is this what Yennefer feels, every time she touches his mind?

 

“Jaskier,” Geralt murmurs again. “Jaskier.” His head is buried in Jaskier’s neck and there’s something wet and warm dripping onto his scales. They- they might be tears. Are they tears? Oh gods, he isn’t prepared for this. He is the wrong person for this. What’s the matter with Geralt? The possibility of a curse, which he had discarded in favour of the Witcher just being sleep deprived, is looking likelier and likelier.

 

Slowly, tentatively and ready to pull back at any minute he pushes his mind forward. And he sends a trickle of warmth and reassurance into Geralt’s mind. Trying to drive out the dark emotions and let the light illuminate the darkened corners and pained hollows of his mind. To his dismay this doesn’t help. At all. In fact, it does rather the opposite; the Witcher collapses in on himself, shoulders shaking, emotions swelling even more.

 

Jaskier pulls back, and Geralt lets him easily enough, and stares into the Witcher’s eyes. Can- is it possible to see a curse? Are there visible clues? There’s nothing wrong that he can see. A redness, a sheen; nothing that can’t be attributed to the crying. Is that a symptom of a curse? Crying? An excess of emotions? Resentfully, he wishes that Yennefer were here. He’s no mage, he has no idea what to look for. All he knows is that he can’t smell the ozone of Ciri’s Chaos on Geralt, and who knows whether that’s indicative of anything at all?

 

“Is that you?” Geralt says. His voice is hushed. “In my head? That’s new. I would have noticed if you could do that before. Probably wouldn’t have stopped your singing-”

 

Jaskier pulls away abruptly, squirming out of Geralt’s grasp. No, he’s fine. He’s just an arsehole.

 

“Wait,” Geralt says, and to his credit, not that Jaskier is inclined to grant him anything at this point in time, he does sound guilty. “I didn’t mean-”

 

“It sounds like you made yourself perfectly clear, Witcher.”

 

They both whip around, Geralt in alarm, shooting to his feet and settling himself in a ready stance. Jaskier- Jaskier throws himself at Véa, his mind seeking hers. She catches him in her arms, barely moving from the force, and he wraps himself around her, physically and mentally. He feels like a child, but he needs someone who might know what, exactly, might be going on. And is glad, so incredibly glad, that she isn’t dead or injured. He had feared the worst when she hadn’t been at her post at the door.

 

“Véa,” Geralt spits and a dark emotion passes over his face and through his mind, one that makes Jaskier flinch back from it.

 

Véa frowns. “Shield your mind, Witcher,” she says. “Or I will quiet it for you.” Her hand drifts meaningfully towards her sword, and Jaskier looks at her in alarm.

 

Véa, what-

 

“He’s hurting you,” Véa says, and it’s Geralt’s turn to flinch back as if burned. He pales and the icy wall slams back up so quickly that Jaskier is surprised that Geralt hasn’t hurt himself. “If the Witcher cannot control his emotions, then he should do everyone the courtesy of not subjecting us to them.”

 

“And who are you to speak of courtesy,” Geralt growls, and Jaskier is getting the sinking suspicion that he’s somehow ended up in the middle of a catfight without realising it. “When you were the one who told me that you had no idea where Borch was. Where Jaskier was.”

 

Geralt had searched for him? Geralt was looking for him? Had he- had he noticed when Jaskier had disappeared? He doesn’t understand what’s going on. And he definitely doesn’t understand why Véa and Geralt are fighting, not when they could be doing other, more productive things. Like possibly figuring out if there’s a curse and if so, what they need to do to lift it. Maybe it’s flirting? A form of flirting? Geralt does enjoy a certain back and forth, a bit of banter- look at him and Yennefer!

 

“Someone who cares far more for him than you.”

 

Véa’s words fall into the strangely charged air, heavy as lead. Jaskier- he has no idea what’s going on. And he doesn’t want to interrupt to ask because he’s fairly certain that if he does, then someone’s going to get eviscerated. And there’s a good chance that it might be him. His head darts back and forth between the two of them, trying to figure out what in Melitele’s name they’re doing and how he can get them to stop without bloodshed.

 

Geralt actually snarls, baring his teeth. “You? You who looked me straight in the eyes and lied to me, you dare say that you care for him? That you know him?”

 

“Better than you, Witcher.” Véa- she’s getting calmer and calmer the angrier that Geralt gets. But her calm is the frozen wasteland, the deceptive calm of the sea that hides the deep and deadly currents beneath its surface. In a flash, Jaskier realises who she reminds him of. Borch. In one deliberate action, she turns her attention from Geralt and back to Jaskier.

 

“How can I protect you, when you keep running away?” she asks, but though her words are stern, there’s no trace of the savageness with which she’d addressed Geralt.

 

“I was protecting him,” Geralt says.

 

“Yes,” Véa says, eyes lingering at the bandage around Jaskier’s leg. There’s the flare of a strange scent, acrid and prickling at his nose. He thinks it’s coming from Geralt. And- he’s not certain, but it smells familiar. Something that’s been sitting quietly in the background, one note amongst many, unnoticed until now. When it’s overwhelming. “I can see that. Tell me Witcher; how exactly did that go?”

 

Right. Enough is enough. Jaskier scrambles down from Véa’s arms and sits between the two of them, glaring at them each in turn. True, they are both perfectly capable of going either around or (much to his annoyance) over him, but at least they’ll have to pay attention to him to do so. And he wants to cut off this line of questioning off as soon as possible. After all, what a man does when he’s under the effects of a curse shouldn’t be held against him.

 

Véa, he says as firmly as possible, can you tell what Geralt has been cursed with?

 

“Cursed?” Véa snorts. “With stupidity, it looks like.”

 

Jaskier growls at her. Not helpful.

 

She just smiles serenely back at him. Is she- is she enjoying this?

 

“Cursed?” Geralt repeats, looking at them. “Is Jaskier cursed? Is that why-”

 

Julian,” Véa says. “Is cursed by only one thing, and that is your presence, Witcher.”

 

That’s- he’s not especially happy at Geralt at the moment, but that’s just rude. And he tells Véa so.

 

Geralt, on the other hand is frowning. “Julian-?” he asks. He looks down. “Is that- is that your name, Jaskier? Julian?”

 

Oh good, so they’re actually paying attention to him again. If only to use him as some pawn in their little back and forth. Even if he could answer the question, he doesn’t especially want to. How to pack decades of resentment and pain into a few sentences? And how to explain the slow reclamation of his name, the gradual change over the past few months? He doesn’t want Geralt to call him Julian in any case, that’s something that only Borch is allowed to do. Borch and, he supposes, Véa.

 

Véa catches the thought and frowns down at him. “You would prefer me to call you Jaskier?” she asks. Her voice remains entirely neutral and she opens her mind to him. He knows that Julian or Jaskier, she will call him either with no questions or judgement.

 

He hesitates. It’s probably unwise to use the name Jaskier in the presence of the White Wolf- people might actually put two and two together. But he doesn’t know if he truly wants to be known as Julian, not really. He could grow to accept it. Doesn’t mind when Borch calls him by the name, because he can always hear the undertones of ‘family’ and ‘love’ that resonate deep within him, teasing out the same strands of love that his parents left him long ago. Others, though-

 

Julek, he says, firmly, looking up at Véa, Saskia close to his heart. You can call me Julek.

Chapter Text

They travel in awkward silence.

 

It’s not surprising given that their party consists of a dragon who doesn’t have human vocal cords, a Witcher who communicates mainly in ‘hmms’ and obscenities, and Véa who, Jaskier knows from bitter experience on the dragon hunt, isn’t one for small talk. It’s probably better than the alternative though. Because he’s not sure how much more he can take of the arguing. All the time! For fuck’s sake, if they want to bed each other can they just go ahead and do it already? Whatever the strange tension is in the air, Jaskier wants no part in it.

 

(He doesn’t think that it is sexual tension, but what else can it be? He- he isn’t ready to think about what else it can be.)

 

There are glares, packing up the camp, dousing the fire, re-saddling Roach. Neither of them wants to leave the other alone with him. There’s another hissed argument that he isn’t able to hear, one that results in a dagger buried hilt deep in a tree and only ends when he runs over, alerted by Roach, and in his haste to get them to stop fighting maybe breathes fire at them. A little. Accidentally! And though both of them are able to easily jump out of the way, apparently the fact that he almost, and the key word here is almost, passes out afterwards is enough to stop the fighting. The physical fighting. Though not the strange, charged sniping at one another.

 

It also means that they spend twenty minutes having another meal, but he’s definitely not complaining about that. He’s famished and Véa’s gift of three more rabbits, already gutted and skinned, is deeply appreciated. Though Geralt is extremely unimpressed by it. Probably just annoyed that she managed to catch one more than him.  Of course, he would be able to tell what’s annoying him if Geralt would just speak to him.

 

It’s ironic, now that he actually has someone to translate his words, however begrudgingly, Geralt has become more taciturn than ever. And that smell- that acrid smell is becoming stronger and stronger until it’s all that Jaskier can do not to tackle Geralt into a nearby stream. Only the fact that it’s winter, and that he doesn’t want to encourage more bad habits, is stopping him.

 

But despite everything, Jaskier is glad that they are travelling together for at least a bit longer. Because there’s a part of him that’s soothed by the thought of them around him, where he can see them, where he can check on them periodically, make sure that they’re not harmed.

 

(And that part of him is aching, yearning, pining for Saskia and Borch, is anxious thinking about Yennefer and Ciri, still in Cintra and probably safe, but how can he know for certain if they’re not here with him? If he can’t physically see them, if he can’t run his mind over theirs and make sure that their hearts and minds are as happy and healthy as their physical forms?)

 

Véa has her own horse, a fiery stallion that Jaskier is fairly certain is stolen from the royal stables of Cintra and who Roach hates, fiercely, utterly, and with an all-consuming passion. Jaskier might be a fool, but he himself hates that stallion, though for no discernible reason apart from Roach’s impeccable taste in people and a strange sense of loyalty.

 

Despite the presence of that bastard of a stallion, Véa is content to walk along the road, leading him by the reins and ignoring his snorts and huffs at the slow pace he is forced to tread, and at the saddlebags that Roach had previously carried and that have been reassigned. She walks in front, the leader by virtue of being the one who knows how to get to their destination. Then comes Jaskier and Roach, who is apparently the only sensible one in the party, and the best conversationalist to boot. Geralt takes up the rear, swords slung on his back and in easy reach, his steady tread settling something deep in Jaskier’s heart.

 

Despite being stuck at walking distance, and despite taking the most circuitous route possible to avoid Jaskier being spotted, they keep a steady pace. Though if they would both just agree to ride while he flies ahead- well, they could be going a lot faster, not that anyone wants to listen to him.

 

He settles more comfortably on Roach’s back. Now that he hasn’t been gagged and kidnapped (and maybe he should stop thinking about that for a while in case Véa picks it up. That- would probably not make things better), he is enjoying himself a lot more. Roach is, surprisingly, a calm and steady mount. Something that Jaskier is very suspicious of, because the last time he saw her, she had bitten at least three Ravagers and almost kicked a poor stable boy in the gut when he had dared approach her without fitting tribute. And yet- and yet she’s content to amble along with a dragon swaying on her back, wings stretched wide for balance with nothing more than the occasional grumble when he turns too quickly to spot a brightly coloured bird or follow a particularly playful gust of wind and almost falls off. (When he feels the burn of eyes on his back and turns, hoping to catch them before they quickly averted. Hoping to get some clue of what he’s meant to do, what he’s meant to say, what any of this means).

 

That only happens once. Maybe twice. Certainly no more than three times.

 

It is a moot point, in any case, because he has wings and can actually catch himself if he falls off (and he’s not saying that he has, is, or will); something that everyone seems to forget (see, not letting him actually fly home).

 

Because the (literally) one thing that both Geralt and Véa agreed on, once it had become clear that Geralt wasn’t just going to bugger off and leave (thank Melitele, because he does want Borch to take a look at the Witcher and double triple check that he isn’t cursed): neither of them wanted him walking or flying on his own. Something about him being easily distractible and prone to being kidnapped. Hah! He resents that! If those two brutes can’t appreciate the beauty of a cold winter’s day, the sun glinting on the frost and the crisp smell of snow filling their nostrils, then more fool them. He- can’t really argue about the whole kidnapping thing, though he’ll strenuously deny it if Véa ever asks lest Geralt lose his balls and then his life in that order (he’s not exaggerating, that was a real threat that he’d heard from the lovely Véa, hissed in Geralt’s ear).

 

And in all honestly, if he wants to get back to his family in the next decade, there are worse escorts than a warrior who actually knows its location, and a Witcher who- Well. Who’s confusing but is always steadfast when it comes to protecting those in need. Whether that includes him? Who the hell knows. Though considering his reaction when he discovered the truth, that he was Jaskier, had not been recriminations or scorn but affection- well. He’s hopeful. Tentatively hopeful. Because maybe this means that they are friends, maybe it means that Geralt is sorry for that day on the mountain. Maybe it means that those decades didn’t mean nothing to the Witcher.

 

He- he has no idea what’s going on with Geralt. Véa definitely doesn’t seem to think that he’s cursed and in all honestly neither does he, no matter how much sense it would make (is he a bad person, wishing that his frie- wishing that his friend be under a curse? Maybe. Probably). It would be easier. It would be so much easier if he could attribute this strange change in temperament to a spell, something that an offended mage had used to render the Witcher more pliable (though he doubts that any magic, no matter how strong could actually succeed in that). Because the alternative- the alternative is that Geralt missed him. That he’s the reason that Geralt’s mind is a gaping chasm of misery that Jaskier can’t help but be drawn to. The walls are up, though, and Geralt is as much a mystery as ever.

 

It’s funny- all this time wanting and hoping and dreading talking to Geralt and now that something has happened, something has changed between them- the Witcher is inscrutable as ever. He hasn’t been able to talk to him. Or maybe not inscrutable. Because whenever Jaskier catches the looks that Geralt sends him, in the moments before the Witcher can look away-

 

Jaskier can see the guilt in his eyes. And he can’t help but look away, confusion swelling and simmering in his own heart. It’s only Véa’s calm presence and Roach’s steady tread that stop his thoughts from spiralling entirely. It would be so much easier if they just talked. Left this strange, in-between state that’s all contradictions and hope and dread.

 

So, yes. They travel in awkward silence.

 

Something has to be done.

Chapter Text

They stop and make camp a few hours before dark. It’s not as bad as in the more Northern part of the Continent, where the winter days are mere hours and villages spend the majority of the time sat around a communal fire, music in the air and the Great Tales on their lips, but it’s still an annoyingly short amount of time to have travelled.

 

Jaskier doesn’t care though. Because it means that he has a chance to figure out what’s going on. To cut through all of this bullshit and guilt and recrimination and charged silences and even more charged looks and find out what, exactly, he is to Geralt. Because there’s never been any doubt in what Geralt is to him, even during the worst of those days after the dragon hunt when he was piss-drunk and heart-sore.

 

And what sort of man (er, dragon) would he be if he let Geralt just- wallow in his misery? He doesn’t- he hasn’t forgiven him yet. Hard to forgive someone who hasn’t apologised. But he also doesn’t want to see him in this much pain. He can feel his old instincts rising to the fore, and he lets them. Protect, deflect, distract. He can do this. He can. And then if the worst happens (if life could give me one blessing…) then at least he isn’t alone this time. At least he has somewhere to go, afterwards.

 

He corners Véa when she’s twisting lengths of coarse rope in her hands, quick and sure, before laying them out on the forest floor, disguised underneath a loose dusting of dead leaves. She’s taken charge of trapping and hunting while Geralt has been sent to the river to fetch water and any fish that he can find. Jaskier hadn’t been given any tasks, apart from to stay out of trouble. It’s like they don’t trust him.

 

Véa narrows her eyes when she sees him, though she doesn’t stop twisting the rope in her hands. “Julek,” she says, and Jaskier can feel a thrill run through when she says his chosen name. “What exactly are you planning?”

 

Nothing, Jaskier says. That is: I need your help. And then I need you to not be here for a bit.

 

She sighs. “What part of protecting you don’t you understand?” she asks. But she’s still here, still listening, so Jaskier takes that to mean that she’s willing to hear him out. Just in case, he gives her his best pleading look.

 

I just need you to pass on a message, he says. Just- tell Geralt to lower his walls so that I can communicate with him.

 

Véa raises a brow. “And the reason I have to leave after that?”

 

He won’t talk to me when you’re here. Jaskier is acutely aware of his pleading tone, of the plaintive note to his voice; he won’t talk to me! When has Geralt ever talked to anyone? But that’s why he needs to do this now. Because something happened, and he doesn’t want to let it be forgotten, doesn’t want to ignore the pain in Geralt’s looks no matter how easy it would to be.

 

He’s had a lot of time to think, over the past few hours, swaying on Roach’s back and listening to her steady breathing. And now that the he’s not still in shock, now that he’s not panicked and afraid and wondering what exactly is going on- well he’s still wondering what’s going on, but now he’s prepared to actually go and find out.

 

“What makes you think he’ll listen to you even if I’m not here?”

 

Jaskier straightens to his full height and gives her his best intimidating look.

 

I’ll make him listen.

 

Véa snorts, but he ignores her. He knows exactly what he’s going to do. And Geralt isn’t going to get a choice in the matter.

 

#

 

“Witcher,” Véa says shortly, tone even, and Jaskier behind her, hopefully slightly hidden. Though considering that Geralt is a Witcher, and he is literally covered in very shiny scales, he isn’t holding out hope. Hidden enough that Geralt doesn’t immediately flee. The Witcher is surprisingly open about his tendency to run away when the situation calls for it; others, and especially those of Sir Eyck of Denesle’s ilk, would dress it up as ‘strategic retreats’ or ‘advancing from the rear’, but Geralt likes to say it straight out. He never defaults on a contract, but he also isn’t stupid enough to get himself killed. So, when Jaskier says that there’s a risk of Geralt literally running away from a conversation on feelings, he isn’t being overdramatic (not that he ever is, thank you very much). And while he could probably (possibly?) catch up with him, he doesn’t particularly want to enact his own personal chase scene, right here in the forest, with only a half hour or so before it gets dark.

 

“Véa,” Geralt acknowledges, knee deep in the stream. Jaskier frowns. Though theoretically, this should be a good thing as it reduces the chances of him being able to escape the upcoming conversation, it also means that he’s once again in freezing water. In winter! Soaking his clothes in the process, because those trousers are far too tight to be rolled up and are therefore becoming more and more sodden in the icy water. He has to stop doing this! What part of winter does the idiot not understand? If he didn’t know better than he would think that the moron was punishing himself for something. (Is he punishing himself for something? Is this something they have to talk about? Will he even be able to tell if Geralt wants to talk about it? If he survives long enough, Jaskier vows to create a Witcher to non-Witcher dictionary, so that no one else has to suffer as he has. The section on ‘hmm’ will probably take four volumes on its own).

 

“I’m going hunting,” Véa says shortly, eyeing the riverbank, conspicuously empty of any fish, a meaningful look. “I am leaving Julek with you. Lower your mental shields so that he can communicate with you in case of emergency. I will be gone until night falls; if you and he are not in camp, unharmed and unabducted, then I will gut you. If I return and you have emotionally harmed him, I will gut you. If you-”

 

Yes, I think he gets the picture, Véa, Jaskier interjects hastily before she can finish. And why is everyone treating him like he’s made out of spun glass?

 

“There’s less than an hour ‘til sundown,” Geralt says. “You won’t find-”

 

But Véa is gone, turning on her heel and striding off. Though not before shooting Jaskier his own look of warning. It’s like she thinks he goes around, actively trying to be kidnapped! It’s not his fault! He huffs, but as she is, technically, doing him a favour, he doesn’t protest. Instead, he narrows his eyes and leaps at Geralt, flapping his wings for strength, and lands on the Witcher’s shoulder, forcing him to either support his weight lest he be dropped in the river.

 

Dammit Jaskier,” Geralt growls, clinging onto him carefully. “You couldn’t have warned me?”

 

For one glorious moment, it’s like old times. Then the Witcher freezes and goes quiet once again. He wades to the bank and places Jaskier on solid ground. Jaskier tenses, ready to jump on him again if he does anything so stupid as to turn around and continue his (futile) efforts at fishing (and actually, Jaskier still doesn’t know what species Geralt might conceivable fish for, nor whether Zander is actually a fish or not). Thankfully for both of them, as Jaskier does not want to risk falling in icy water, the Witcher grunts at him and then climbs out of the river, water dripping down his thighs.

 

Jaskier narrows his eyes at him. And then shoves him in the direction of camp.

 

“What-?”

 

Annnnnnnd- he’s still not moving. Jaskier sighs to himself and tries to push his resolve at Geralt. His refusal to be moved. The wall is still there, but it is thinner; if he concentrates, Jaskier thinks he might be able to show Geralt at least the shape of his emotions.

 

He shoves him again, pointedly. Then when the Witcher still doesn’t move rolls his eyes and starts to walk back to camp. He’s hoping that Geralt will take Véa’s threats to heart, and follow him.

 

Luckily his gamble pays off, and he hears the Witcher’s footsteps behind him. Good! Because the next step was going to be biting. And with Geralt’s soaked trousers, that would have been unpleasant for the both of them. Of course, he’s following in silence because Geralt is just infuriating like that, but he’ll pick his battles where he can. (That’s a lie, Jaskier has never, not once in his life, not picked a battle, but he’s already got a plan in place and it doesn’t involve Geralt freezing to death. Again.)

 

Luckily the fire is already lit, and had been by mundane means as no one had wanted him to expend the energy needed to light it with dragon fire, himself least of all. He growls softly until Geralt sits down next to its warmth, and then promptly plonks himself down in the Witcher’s lap to stop him from getting up again. Cold! Very cold! The sacrifices he’s making, honestly.

 

Step one- privacy. Success!

 

Step two- literally pinning the Witcher down so he can’t escape. Also a success! He has no idea why people don’t follow his plans more often, they’re amazing.

 

Now, onto the final step. And this is possibly the hardest one. Get Geralt to talk about what the fuck is going on.

Chapter Text

“Jaskier-” Geralt growls, but Jaskier just shakes his head and plants himself more firmly on Geralt’s lap. They are talking about this, no matter how long he has to sit here. Like this, Jaskier can look at Geralt’s eyes without giving himself neck cramp, and he does so, glaring into them and projecting resolve.

 

He takes a deep breath, and then his mind reaches out and envelops Geralt’s, circling his walls and sending waves of comfort to him. Now that he’s looking for it, he can feel the misery pouring off the Witcher, so thick that it’s almost tangible. He can’t have that. He doesn’t want that for Geralt. And he can fix it. He knows that- he hopes that he can fix it.

 

Don’t-” Geralt says, helplessly, but his mind reaches back eagerly, yearning. The walls of his mind are thin, thin as the finest gossamer silk. The acrid smell increases, abruptly, and the Witcher looks away.

 

It’s strange- despite the fact that Geralt still hasn’t completely lowered his defences, Jaskier’s finding it easier to feel connect with him than with Ciri, or Yennefer. It’s not quite as instinctive as with Saskia and Borch, but it’s still so much easier than with anyone else. Maybe it’s because Geralt is something that isn’t quite human, something in his Witcher physiology making him more sensitive to mental communication. Or maybe it’s because Jaskier’s spent over half his life training himself to understand the Witcher, searching out the smallest nuances of his voice and expressions to figure out what he actually means instead of what he presents to the world.

 

Of course, that presupposes that the glimpses of friendship and humour are something that his mind didn’t just make up in a pitiful attempt to justify his continued presence at the side of a man who still hasn’t admitted that they’re friends. But somehow, now, carefully holding the bright spark of Geralt’s mind in his own- he thinks that maybe, just maybe he wasn’t mistaken.

 

He shakes himself, making Geralt grunt as his sharp claws dig into his thighs. They’re bony, uncomfortable. He hasn’t been eating enough, and that fills Jaskier with a burst of resolve, because Geralt- he needs to fix this. He needs to fix this (and he keeps telling himself this), because Geralt needs to get better because a Witcher who’s not eating is a Witcher who’s slow. And as Geralt has often told him, a slow Witcher is a dead Witcher. Perhaps not in those words exactly, but that was the gist.

 

Concentrate, Jaskier! He takes his wandering thoughts and forces them to think straight, to concentrate only on what he’s doing now at this moment, instead of wandering off into patterns and detours of their own. He only has forty minutes or so before Véa gets back. There’s no time to waste, and certainly no time to dedicate to re-treading maudlin thoughts.

 

He growls, softly, and butts his head against Geralt’s, forcing him to look him back in his eyes. And then, before he can talk himself out of it, Jaskier opens himself full, utterly, completely. And then-

 

He takes all his worry, and fear, and confusion, and his need to know what in Melitele’s name is actually going on and- he emphatically doesn’t drown Geralt in it, that would be extremely counterproductive. Some days even he doesn’t want to be in his own head, he could never subject anyone else to that. What he does do is put it on display; not aggressively, but in a way that Geralt can’t miss. He’s good at that, making himself seen with his bright silks, and loud voice, and his gold scales. Making himself a spectacle that people can’t miss. And he uses all of that skill to make sure that Geralt can’t not notice him. Leaves himself wide open and vulnerable.  

 

“What are you-”

 

Look, Jaskier urges. He knows that Geralt can’t hear the exact words, but he’s hoping that the sentiment will come through. Look.

 

And then Geralt does. He looks, and Jaskier holds himself still and steady, careful not to spook him, lets Geralt properly see the emotions on display. Lets him see how much, exactly, he needs Geralt to be ok.

 

There’s a pained exhalation, a flare of that acrid smell in tandem with the same dark emotion- oh. Guilt. Jaskier thinks that it might be guilt. He plucks at the emotion- pushing through his mind’s instinctive flinch- and he cradles it gently. It’s ugly, full of pain and loss, and it’s deeply rooted in Geralt’s mind, tendrils spreading throughout like the roots of an ancient tree.

 

He’s falling, deeper and deeper than he’s ever let himself before and Geralt is reaching out to meet him, the same urge mirrored in both their minds. All the barriers have fallen now. It’s not a curse that’s afflicting Geralt. He knew that already, honestly. A curse would be easier, solved with the judicious application of a quick kiss from a maiden fair, or more realistically a visit to Yennefer. This is just- Geralt. Flawed and hurt, and with those black vines of guilt everywhere he looks. Still. He can feel the essential goodness permeating Geralt’s mind, the ember of compassion and sheer, stubborn decency that the Witcher hides beneath his layers of protective shields.

 

Neither of them is paying attention to the outside world, both caught up in their interplay between their minds. The world could be burning around them, and neither of them would know or care.

 

Jaskier stretches, steels himself, and reaches forward, taking the tangled vines of guilt and radiating love and warmth and family. Because Geralt is his family. He’s never stopped being family, not even in those months that Jaskier felt bleak and cold and pained whenever those words crossed his mind.

 

…if life could give me one blessing…

 

Oh. Geralt catches the shape of that thought, Jaskier can feel him straining and chasing after it, and Jaskier lets him. Lets him see the devastation that he felt that day on the mountain. Lets him feel the pain tearing at his chest, the black thoughts plaguing his mind ever since; was he a burden? Was he unloved? Is he unwanted?

 

No. Never. The negation rises, strong and immediate and instinctive within Geralt, a repudiation of Jaskier’s belief that Geralt hates him. That Geralt has always hated him.

 

…if life could give me one blessing…

 

…it would be to see you safe.

 

Oh.

 

Oh.

 

That’s. Well. That’s. That’s something. Definitely something. Geralt is retreating, guilt and shame filling his mind- and Jaskier follows. He follows and he gently gathers the strands of black and imbues them with forgiveness. Pure and bright. It shines softly, illuminating the strands in gold, running down the vines faster and faster until all of them blaze with light. They aren’t gone. No, they aren’t gone. But they’re not quite as bleak.

 

Slowly, tentatively, Geralt reaches back toward Jaskier. His presence is feather-light and- he’s afraid, Jaskier realises. Afraid to hurt him. Then images and emotions are spinning through his head, faster than he can process them. All he can manage to see are snapshots- anger. Pain. Numbness. Grief. And then joy, bursting out like the sun from behind the clouds. And- the joy stays. The joy stays, survives, thrives despite the strangling vines of guilt. Because- Jaskier is alive. Jaskier is alive, and that’s all that matters.

 

Their happiness feeds into themselves and each other; joy that Jaskier is alive, is safe. Joy that Geralt doesn’t hate him. No, Geralt corrects, not that he doesn’t hate him. That he never hated him. And that he- he regrets that Jaskier ever felt that way at all.

 

Jaskier comes back to himself slowly. He is still sat on Geralt’s lap, they’re still staring at each other. But it’s dark; not the dark of dusk, but the blackness that only comes with true night. The fire crackles behind him, and he can hear the rasp rasp of a whetstone running down a blade.

 

Jaskier turns and sways- he feels as weak as a new-born kitten. Véa looks back at him, steadily. There’s a pot behind her, something savoury bubbling away, and abruptly Jaskier is aware that he’s ravenous. That he could eat an entire deer to himself, and still have room for more. Véa is already ladling food into a bowl, and he feels a burst of gratitude toward her.

 

“I take it that your talk went well?” she asks, placing it next to him and starting to fill another one for Geralt.

 

Geralt, who Jaskier can still feel in his mind, his presence soothing something deep inside him.

 

Yes, Jaskier says. It did.

Chapter Text

A dam has broken. The storm has come and passed. The air is clear, and pure, and fills his lungs and nose like the sweetest of perfumes, granting him a strength and energy that has him fluttering from perch to perch like a butterfly. After a couple of days of sad looks and large eyes, Jaskier is allowed to leave his perch on Roach’s back so long as he promises to stay low, so as not to be spotted, stay in sight at all times, and to return to Roach to rest as soon as he feels tired.

 

And he takes full advantage of that freedom, his joy bright and expanding with every moment he can spend frolicking in the clouds, stretching and exercising his stiff wing until the pain is banished to the back of his mind and he is lost in the exhilaration of flight.

 

One minute he’s trilling to Roach, listening to her nicker back, launching himself off her saddle at any sign of movement, to the consternation of his travel companions. He never falls though, and Roach never falters. Though she does grumble at him when he plucks pure white snowdrops and pink cyclamen, their delicate heads poking through the snow, in his mouth and tries to weave them into her mane with his claws. Needless to say, it doesn’t work, resulting in nothing more than a trail of bright petals spreading out behind them, supplemented by the occasional strands of horsehair.

 

Undeterred, the next moment he’s collected his remaining flowers and is scattering them on Véa’s head from the air, showering her in glorious hues. He takes a moment to nuzzle her neck, his mind brushing against hers, before he’s off again, soaring up into the air with the help of a particularly playful breeze.

 

Then he turns, banking sharply, and glides back to Geralt, landing on his shoulder and digging his claws in for balance and stability and wrapping his tail around the Witcher’s waist. Geralt’s walls have fallen, and remain lowered, and he takes a moment to just bask in his Witcher’s dearly beloved mind. His touch is light as air, but Geralt can still feel him and sends a wave of fond indulgence and exasperation back at him. Jaskier isn’t fooled though. He can feel the love beneath it, and every day that passes he can also feel the black vines fade beneath its touch.

 

Perhaps it’s foolish, but he can’t help but keep checking, as often as he can get away with it. There’s an irrational fear, rooted deep in his mind, that one day he’ll brush against Geralt’s mind and find it icy-still and filled with revulsion. That day hasn’t yet come. And he- well, he hopes that it never will but still. He can’t help but compulsively check. And every single time, Geralt sends back the same pulse of reassurance.   

 

Véa and Geralt have formed a wary truce and their sniping has diminished and died an ignoble and well-deserved death, making their journey infinitely more pleasant. They’re still on edge, both of them. And the way that they instinctively jump forward to catch him whenever he dips a little too close to the ground is hilarious. But they’re united in a common cause now, and to his bewilderment that common cause is him.

 

He isn’t complaining though. Because their newfound peace means that at night, when they’re settled around the campfire and eating whatever they’ve managed to find or catch that day (once including, to his pride, a squirrel that he had found and caught running up a tree), he can lie with his head in one of their laps and his legs stretched out and resting on the other’s, wings draped over them both. He just- feels better when he knows they’re close. And he’s taking advantage of the fact that neither of them have told him not to, though that may have more to do with their silent pact to keep him safe and happy than any actual enjoyment of their new role as a dragon’s pillow.

 

Lying there, safe and warm and sleepy, with his stone safe against his chest, he sings soft melodies in his head, composing, composing, and composing. Trying to interpret the beauty of a (very confused) robin’s flight as it’s chased across the sky with a jaunty air, or the Roach and the stallion’s (he refuses, point blank, to learn its name) latest tiff, adding the clashes of drums and melodramatic cymbals as he pleases, or just idly humming his old songs, trying to show Véa and Geralt the three-piece composition that he was working on all throughout his time with Borch and Saskia. And how easy it will be to add more instruments, more tones.

 

Véa can hear it, he knows that she can, because her eyes soften and the irregular movements of her hands as she polishes her armour, or cleans her knives smooth out and steady until she’s moving in time to his music.

 

Geralt- it’s hard to tell with Geralt. Emotions are coming through loud and clear (and he automatically touches the presence in his mind and revels in the warm pulse of love and reassurance that comes back) and what is music but emotion given form and flesh? Sometimes he thinks that the Witcher can hear him. Will catch him humming ‘Toss a Coin’ when he thinks that Jaskier isn’t listening (and joke’s on him, because with his draconic senses, he can hear a lot more than he used to be able to, including Geralt’s surprisingly pleasant voice). But then he doesn’t react when Jaskier tries to show him his place in his song, and he doesn’t know whether that’s because Geralt can’t hear it, or because he doesn’t realise that it’s for him.

 

The whole not being able to communicate in words thing is getting incredibly old, incredibly fast.

 

So when on the fifth day of their journey, a portal opens in front of them and Yennefer steps out he is elated. Not just because of the books on human anatomy she brings with her (rather despite them, because thick, dusty tomes bring back some particularly unpleasant memories for him), but also because she’s here. She’s well. She hasn’t been ripped to shreds by Calanthe’s guards the moment she was left alone (and yes, Véa told them that Yennefer had done better than fine in Cintra with a disturbing gleam of attraction in her eyes that Jaskier quickly pretended not to notice, but that’s not the same as seeing it for himself).

 

“Jaskier,” Yennefer says. “Geralt. Judging by the lack of mourning, if looks like you two idiots have managed to sort yourselves out. Finally.”

 

“Yennefer,” Véa says, inclining her head. “How did you find us?” Her words are harsh, but her tone is soft and welcoming, and there’s a small smile at her lips, one that Yennefer mirrors.

 

“A locator spell. Evidently. Not just on your stone, Jaskier, but also the lockpicks. And the silver dagger. I tried putting one on you as well, but it didn’t take.”

 

“Dragons are resistant to magic,” Véa says, and Jaskier feels a pang of dread run through his heart at the interested gleam that appears in Yennefer’s eyes. He foresees a lot of experiments in his future.

 

“Are they? How interesting. None of the tomes I consulted could come to a consensus on that.”

 

“Never mind that,” Geralt says. “What are you doing here, Yennefer?”

 

She turns to him, the man who bound her to him, and Jaskier can see the wariness in her stance. Oh. Maybe they haven’t made up?

 

“My generous nature, of course,” she says. “I come bearing gifts. Books on anatomy for Jaskier, in the hopes that he’ll be able to get back to his less scaly form sometime soon. I must be going crazy, but I’ve missed his inane prattling.”

 

Jaskier growls at her, but his heart isn’t in it. He’s far too happy to see her.

 

“Véa, I’ve brought you a pardon from Queen Calanthe herself for stealing her favourite horse. She says that anyone with enough balls not only to steal from her, but also to ride the Sunshine and not get killed immediately should be praised.”

 

Sunshine? Jaskier almost chokes with laughter; no wonder that stallion is so uptight! Who named that stallion? It has to have been Ciri. Ciri or Eist. There’s no other explanation.  

 

“And for my favourite Witcher,” Yennefer purrs. “I’ve brought you your Destiny. On loan only.”

 

And then Ciri is running out the portal from behind Yennefer, and Jaskier trills, sending out waves and waves of happiness, and the two of them collide, Ciri flinging her arms around him and pressing kisses onto his head.

 

And Jaskier, reaching out to touch Yennefer and Ciri’s minds, can feel something else slot into place. His. Family. Love.

 

There are only two pieces missing. But he can still feel them, like an ache in his mind. And they’re coming closer. And he knows, just knows, that they’ll be reunited soon.

Chapter Text

On the tenth day, they come to the foot of the Blue Mountains.  They’ve been approaching for a while; from nothing more than small specks on the horizon to edifices to nature, stretching up as far as the eye can see. The strictures against flying too high have been relaxed somewhat as they slowly make their way deeper and deeper into the wilderness, so Jaskier flies higher and higher, revelling in the cool air and the fresh smell of pine.

 

He’s heard people say that smell is the most evocative of the senses, a single whiff able to transport a person back to their childhood, no matter how grey the hair on their head. In the grand scheme of things, the few weeks that he’s spent away from Borch and Saskia isn’t long at all and is nothing next to the years that he’s lived without knowing them. Still. There’s something about the smell, the tangible proof that they’re getting closer and closer to home that has filled him with energy, running through his veins like lightning and spilling out of him when he finds that his mortal flesh can’t contain it. He stretches out his mind every day, searching, searching for the faintest hint of them, and he can feel them. Not quite close enough to touch but getting closer and closer every day.

 

Ciri joins him in his glee, urging on Sunshine (and he still can’t get over that name) to a full canter and racing with him through stretches of meadow until they’re both panting and laughing. Ciri dismounts, and, while waiting for the others to catch up, they search for wildflowers, anything hardy enough to survive in the snow. Jaskier ends up wearing quite a few flower crowns, carefully looped around his horns. He has worn many flower crowns in his time, even excluding the ones that Ciri made him in Cintra, made by numerous people (including himself), but the lopsided creations that Ciri makes him as they compete to find the brightest flowers have to rank amongst the finest that he’s ever worn. And it’s hilarious watching the others try and beg off wearing their own.

 

Véa takes hers and sets it on her head with pride, daring anyone else to comment on it. Yennefer accepts hers with a confused air, handling it with the air of a woman handed explosive powder, but setting it on her head nonetheless. If Jaskier could communicate with her (and if Ciri wasn’t too adorable to disappoint in any way, shape, or form) he might have commented that the cheery flowers clash horribly with her whole- aesthetic. Luckily for him, the rest of the group, and probably the whole of Kaedwen, he cannot. He makes a mental note to save it for the next time he can speak. Something that might be sooner rather than later, if he can every get through an entire evening of lessons on anatomy with Yennefer without one or the other of them becoming bored, and/or falling asleep on the books.

 

Geralt always looks longsuffering when he sees the crowns, insisting that ‘Witchers don’t have time for frivolities’, ‘I’m a boring, boring person who has no sense of fun or style’, ‘Purple really isn’t my colour’ (Jaskier may be paraphrasing slightly here). He isn’t fooled though. Because when, with a conspiratorial glance with Ciri, he takes the crown in his claws and soars over to drop it neatly on Geralt’s head (and his shoulder, and his swords, and the ground, and on one memorable occasion off the side of a cliff, though he managed to catch it again!) he can’t feel anything put faint amusement from the Witcher’s mind. And he always thanks Ciri gravely for her gift. Geralt doesn’t seem to know how to act around his Child Surprise, retreating into painful formality and courtly manners that are out of date by at least half a century. Jaskier despairs, truly. Yennefer just seems to find it hilarious.

 

Jaskier has travelled far and wide, and not just at Geralt’s side. Mostly in larger groups, of course. If you’re not travelling with a Witcher, then you have to travel with at least a few armed guards, maybe an entire convoy, if you want to avoid the monsters and, more often, bandits en-route. Not that travelling with a Witcher helps that much, actually, come to think of it. Not if the amount of times Geralt’s been attacked is any indication. One would think that people would see the white hair, the golden eyes, the two swords, and, most importantly, the extremely grumpy look on his face and think better of going against him. Well. People are stupid. Where was he- oh yes. Jaskier has travelled far and wide, and in his experience, a group of five people, seven if you include Roach and Sunshine, should be making much better time than they have. Not that he’s complaining!

 

Because he would never give up the warmth that he feels whenever he stretches himself out at night, trying to lie on as many of them as possible, stretching so that the tip of his tail juuuust touches Yennefer’s side.

 

So when he stares up at the Blue Mountains, there’s a complicated tangle of emotions in his chest. Because he’s so much closer to finding Saskia, to Borch. But- he also knows that once he’s been safely delivered that everyone else has their own responsibilities. Yennefer is only here because of some sort of treaty with Calanthe that she still hasn’t told them about, only smiling mysteriously when asked. She’ll be leaving as soon as Ciri does. And Ciri! She’s literally a princess. Heir to the throne of Cintra. Calanthe might have allowed her to leave to meet Geralt (and seriously Yennefer, what did you say to her? Jaskier wants to learn her secrets! Compose ballads in her name- the power required to convince the Lioness of Cintra to do anything she doesn’t want to do…), but sooner or later, and probably sooner, she’ll have to go back.

 

Véa might stay. Véa might stay for a few more months, bound by her oaths and her determination to look after them all (and don’t think he hasn’t heard her muttering about putting them all on a leash) but sooner or later she too will leave. Sent out to gather information, or supplies, or whatever Borch may need her to do.

 

Geralt- he dips back into the Witcher’s mind and basks into the reassurance and love that he finds. Geralt would stay with him. He knows it. He can feel it. At least that’s one person he can keep. Though- he might have to keep him away from Saskia. Last he saw her, her teeth were becoming sharper by the day and he suspects eager to taste Witcher flesh. He might be able to convince her otherwise. Either that, or Geralt is going to get a lot more practise dodging.

 

But on the tenth day, when they see the foot Blue Mountains and Jaskier stretches out and feels Borch and Saskia reach back-

 

-Jaskier feels all his fears and doubts flee his mind, and he lets out a cry.

 

And then, echoing back through the peaks, comes the returning roar of a dragon.

Chapter Text

Borch approaches with another roar, the force of it shaking the trees and sending flurries of snow fluttering to the ground.  

 

“Is that-” Ciri says. “Is that your father, Jaskier?” She pales slightly, skin turning the same ashy colour as her hair, but Jaskier nuzzles her and sends through calm reassurance. She has no need to worry. Who doesn’t like Ciri? Everyone likes Ciri! She’s so beloved that she’s been granted several sets of parents (yes, he’s including Calanthe and Eist in that) and has almost literally had a war started over her! In any case, no one can truly hate someone wearing a flower crown. Not unless they’re pure evil.

 

Actually- huh. All of his hoar- all of his family are wearing flower crowns, aren’t they. He didn’t actually plan this, but it’s worked out nicely, that they all look uncharacteristically harmless. Though Borch has already met both Yennefer and Geralt and therefore knows exactly how dangerous they truly are. Ciri should be fine though. Despite the potential for damage that her uncontrolled Chaos represents, she truly is the least dangerous of them all. So long as no one threatens her friends.

 

“That is the great dragon Villentretenmerth,” Véa confirms solemnly. She drops one of her hands down to her side and squeezes Ciri’s shoulder.

 

“Do you-” Ciri swallows nervously. “Do you think he’ll be angry at me?” Her flower crown has slipped over one of her eyes, and she fiddles with it anxiously.

 

“Out of everyone here,” Yennefer says. “You’re the one who he’s least likely to be angry at.”

 

 Her eyes drift slowly over to stare at Geralt, though subtly enough that Ciri doesn’t notice. Véa does though, and judging by the small smirk on her face, she appreciates.

 

Jaskier, on the other hand does not. And he shoves Yennefer with his wing, projecting his dissatisfaction at her. Because, really? Really? Is now the time to do this? Geralt is carefully not meeting her gaze, and Jaskier can feel the vines of guilt surge and he sends through the strongest feeling of love and forgiveness he can, because he’s been making progress here! He doesn’t need Geralt to backslide. Not now. Not when- and he keeps this thought carefully segregated from Geralt- whenever he touches the inky vines they leave him feeling filthy for hours afterward.

 

Another roar, this one interlaced with high-pitched squeaks, catches his attention, and Jaskier can see the great golden mass that is Borch come closer and closer. There’s something on his back, a small golden mass. The squeaky cry comes again. Is that- is that Saskia? He vibrates, literally vibrates, bouncing up and down in excitement.

 

“Go,” Geralt says. The four of them have come to a standstill and are all looking out toward Borch. The common thread in all their minds, the thing that he can feel from them- is wonder. At the vision coming toward them. He supposes that Yennefer and Geralt were busy fighting off Ravagers or whatever the last time they’d seen Borch, and that Ciri had never had the chance to see him. Véa though- surely Véa’s seen Borch in his dragon form hundreds, if not thousands, of times before?

 

“You forget,” Véa says. “How majestic it truly is. To see something that reminds you that there’s still good in this world. That it isn’t composed solely of drowners, and basilisks, and humans.” She spits the last word out with a force that surprises him. “But the Witcher is right. Go. Meet with your father and sister. We will be here. We will wait for you.”

 

And so- Jaskier does. He scrambles up Geralt until he can launch himself off the Witcher’s head, flapping his wings rapidly to help him gain altitude. Borch is even closer, his wide wings beating steadily, eating up the distance between the them. He can see Saskia now, safely tucked behind Borch’s neck, her own wings fluttering in excitement, and her voice open again in a welcoming cry.

 

He calls back in primal glee and dives at them, twisting around and under Borch’s body, spiralling around and around as Saskia tries to catch him with her claws. They land on a tall cliff, metres above the ground and crowned with a heavy layer of snow that Jaskier immediately sinks into, sneezing as the white powder tickles his nose.

 

And then there’s Saskia barrelling into his side, and they both fall into the snow as he loses his balance. She doesn’t care, immediately burrowing into his side, wrapping her small wings around him.

 

Julek, Julek, Julek, she keeps repeating, a frantic litany in his head and she checks over him in a frenzy, forcing him to turn this way and that, nosing at any discoloured patch and licking at his nose and face. She trills, loud and happy, and pounces once again, causing him to fall back down.

 

Missed you, Julek, missed you.

 

Her mind pushes her days and nights at him; confusion that he wasn’t there. Fear that she’d never see him again. Wondering where he’d gone. Why he’d left. Why father was so sad, why he was always looking, looking, and how her head hurt like eating snow, ached Julek, when she was trying to find him. How father’s head ached too, and he would spend hours and hours wrapped around her, clinging onto her until she couldn’t take it any longer and had to scramble free.

 

Saskia, Saskia, he sends back, nuzzling her stomach and the soft, ticklish scales there until she squirms. I missed you, my love, my dear, my Saskia. I missed you so much.

 

A warm breath, and then a steady stream of fire over the both of them, melting the snow to sizzling vapour and engulfing him in the wonderful familiarity of home. Then- darkness, as Borch drops down and enfolds them both in his wings, blocking out the fierce sunlight until it’s only the three of them.

 

My son, Borch says, and there’s a pained relief in his voice, drawn thin with exhaustion. Oh, my son.

 

Jaskier peeks up, wrestling Saskia up and off him (though she quickly jumps onto his back and clings on with fierce determination).

 

Your- he begins hesitantly. I’m your-

 

He can’t continue, paralysed by a wild fear that if he speaks it, if he shows how much he wants it, needs it- then Borch will turn around. Declare it a mistake. Smile a gentle smile, but tell him that of course he isn’t his son, he misheard he- Saskia bites his ear, viciously, and he squeaks. Her teeth have grown sharper. A lot sharper! She hums in smug acknowledgement at his thought.

 

Hush, fledgling, Borch rumbles. Of course, you are my son. You are my child, and none shall take that from me, not time nor distance nor Destiny herself.

 

I- I wouldn’t tell Destiny that, Jaskier returns, moving further and further into Borch’s familiar warmth. She might take it as a challenge.

 

I would take her on, Borch whispers back, lowering his head and giving Jaskier a gentle lick. When I say that nothing would ever keep me from searching for you, coming for you- you must believe me.

 

Oh, Jaskier says. I-

 

His stone is warm against his heart and his soul is bursting with love. And family. And home.

 

Father, he whispers. Father, I missed you.

Chapter Text

Borch lands with a heavy thump, his descent shaking the very ground beneath their feet. Huh. Is he really that heavy? The last time that he’d landed, there hadn’t been nearly that much drama.

 

Jaskier peeks over Borch’s wings to check whether the landing had shaken the very last of the snow from the trees. The snow that hadn’t already been disturbed by his roars, that is. Because those were extremely impressive roars! Will he be able to do that one day? Is it a skill? Can he provide his own percussion?

 

Well, whatever happens it’s an excellent trick to learn, because the wide-eyed expressions everyone’s faces are hilarious. Even Véa’s! Which suggests that this is not something that Borch frequently does.

 

Geralt has somehow made his way to the back of the group, standing quietly next to Roach and (urgh) Sunshine. His mind is quiet, subdued. There’s the suggestion of ice, and that’s not good, that’s really not good at all. Jaskier sends a more insistent inquiry toward him, sending tendrils of curiosity, more and more forcefully as the Witcher fails to react. Or acknowledge them in any way. Hmph. Are they really going back to this?

 

“Véa,” Borch says, bowing his head in gratitude. “Thank you for bringing my son back home to me.”

 

Jaskier really can’t help it, he lets out a pleased rumble at the words, and at the accompanying warmth. Borch hums back, sending his own pulse of love and pride back at him.

 

“Villentretenmerth,” Véa replies, giving her own bow. “It was my pleasure.” She pauses. “Though unfortunately your son takes after you. Able to find trouble where trouble should not exist.”

 

Well! How about that! Jaskier hisses at her, but she just smirks back. He grumbles quietly to himself. It’s not his fault! He’s not the one who decided to kidnap him, twice, though actually maybe he shouldn’t bring that up. At all. He stops hissing, abruptly, and throws a pleading glance at Véa. She only really knows about the Ciri kidnapping, and she wouldn’t sell Ciri out. She possibly suspects about Geralt- Oh no. But they’ve been getting along so much better recently! All of that effort would be wasted, wasted, if the Witcher was immolated by dragonfire at the end of it. He widens his eyes, shoots her his best pleading expression.

 

She just smirks at him. He huffs. He has the awful notion that he’s being blackmailed into behaving of all things, and he's- he's- he's outraged! How dare she! He’ll- he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but it will be dramatic. And subtle.

 

Just you wait.

 

Véa has the gall to look amused. Well! Wait until he gets Saskia to help him, then she’ll be sorry. Her claws are incredibly sharp! A fact that he can personally attest to as she is currently clinging to his back, from where she has categorically, point-blank, refused to move, talons digging into him like little daggers.

 

“Yennefer of Vengerberg and Geralt of Rivia,” Borch continues, voice pleasant and excruciatingly polite. “How good it is to see you again.”

 

Yennefer murmurs some polite banalities, Ciri hovering nervously beside her, words that wouldn’t have been out of place at court, but Jaskier doesn’t notice. He doesn’t notice because Saskia’s head shoots up as soon as she hears Geralt’s name, and she starts to climb up Jaskier’s back to get a better view of the proceedings.

 

Jaskier, who has a very realistic view of what, exactly, Saskia feels in regard to Geralt, hastily twists around and tries to comfort her. Talk her down. Distract her somehow.  She refuses to be calmed, eyes narrowing. Instead she jumps, gliding unsteadily over Yennefer and Ciri’s heads, to land in front of Geralt. He looks very large in front of her, his face grave and his silhouette only slightly softened by his flower grown. Jaskier though- Jaskier can feel his apprehension.

 

“Ah,” Geralt says. He swallows. “You must be-”

 

His words cut off with a cry- Saskia having spotted the barest slither of skin between above Geralt’s leather glove- pounces, ripping into his flesh with her teeth.

 

“Fuck!”

 

For once, Geralt’s sentence really does contain all that needs to be said. Fuck indeed. Jaskier hastily launches himself after his sister, tearing her away from the Witcher to land safely in a bank of snow. There’s blood on her teeth, and she licks at it with her small tongue, looking incredibly pleased at herself.

 

No! Jaskier says, keeping her trapped under his body and staring down at her with all the sternness he can manage. Geralt is my friend, Saskia, you can’t just bite him!

 

Judging from her hurt look and the wide eyes- that she learnt from him! Using his own tricks against him!- she disagrees. Emphatically. To the point she isn’t sure why she isn’t being praised for taking out such a danger-! And would appreciate a little more gratitude, thank you very much.

 

Jaskier sighs. Why is he the responsible one in this situation? Surely anyone who’s known him for more than a few hours knows that he can’t stay strong in the face of those eyes? Saskia, sensing his weakening resolve, chirps up at him, and he gives up. Lets her scramble onto his back and survey her- still swearing prey- with pride.

 

Aren’t you going to say anything? he asks Borch. Who snorts at him, all calm amusement in the face of Jaskier’s grumpiness.

 

“I must apologise for my daughter,” Borch says out loud. “She has been worried for her brother. As have I. Though I don’t particularly care for that kind of language around my children.”

 

He doesn’t look at anyone in particular. But the tension grows. For a moment there is silence, broken only by the huffs and whinnies of the horses as they try to keep warm.

 

Then Ciri sneezes. The sound is loud in the clear winter air, breaking through the tension.

 

“I’m so sorry!” Ciri says, eyes wide. “I didn’t mean to interrupt-!”

 

Borch visibly softens. “You must be the princess Cirilla,” he says, voice gentle. “I met your mother once and you favour her greatly.”

 

Ciri nods in acknowledgement, shy, and dips into a practised curtsy, as least two shades too deep to for a princess.

 

“Everyone says that,” she says, and her voice is strong and steady. “But I don’t remember her that well.”

 

“It is always a tragedy when one’s parents are taken too soon,” Borch says. “But I see their strength in you, Cirilla of Cintra, and I wager that they would be proud to have such a brave daughter.”

 

He moves toward her, soft and completely unlike the earlier ground-shattering steps of earlier. Ciri straightens. Looks into his eyes. And he lowers his head and nuzzles her hair.  

 

The tension is truly gone now, and Jaskier sags in relief. He touches Geralt’s mind, briefly, to check that he’s not harmed. Though the thought of the famed Geralt of Rivia (you’re welcome) being brought low by a baby dragon of all things! It’s ludicrous. Still.

 

Geralt sends an absent reassurance back to him, but there’s something bothering him still. Jaskier can tell. Though that might just be the still-bleeding wound, drops of red decorating the snow beneath him. Why hasn’t the idiot put anything on it? A bit of pressure, even? He huffs. Does he have to do everything around here?

 

Jaskier stalks over to Véa.

 

Look after Saskia for me? he says, turning around and scruffing his sister gently by the neck, ignoring her indignant shrieks. Where has she learnt all this drama from? Véa, showing more courage than many a hardened warrior, reaches down and takes her, stroking soft hands down her spine to sooth her.

 

I’ll just be gone a minute, he reassures them both and then makes his way to Geralt. Who still hasn’t moved. Or made any effort to stem the bleeding. Well! He growls at the Witcher, demanding that he be picked up. Then growls louder when Geralt doesn’t move. Really! Try and help someone!

 

Gently, ever so gently, he reaches up, bracing himself against Geralt’s legs, and looks at his wound. It’s nothing. A perfect impression of Saskia’s teeth, yes, but in the grand scheme of things? Barely a scratch. Still quite impressive, considering that the last time he’d seen her, Saskia had been having trouble if her food was too tough. He licks it gently, cleaning it of blood anyway. Though Geralt should really get it properly cleaned, he has no idea how sanitary his mouth is. Thinking of some of the disgusting things that he’s eaten recently- Yennefer’s potions springs immediately to mind- probably not that clean.

 

“You don’t have to-” Geralt says, but Jaskier cuts him off with a jab of his horns. He knows he doesn’t have to. That’s the point.

 

“If you two have finished,” Yennefer says, and Jaskier hastily drops back down to the floor, “then your father-” there’s that thrill at the word again! And he thinks he feels an echo of that proud emotion from Borch, “-has been kind enough to provide me with a location of your home.”

 

“To save your horses the icy trek though the mountain.”

 

Well, Sunshine can go hang for all Jaskier cares, but Roach! Roach can come with them! He has to admit, he’s been envisaging her either being winched up the sheer cliff, or Borch clasping her in his talons and carrying her up. This is definitely a better idea. Less bloodshed all round.

 

Magic gathers as Yennefer concentrates, a shimmering portal, three or four times its normal size opens. The scent of home wafts out, sending a sharp pang of longing through Jaskier’s chest.

 

“Go quickly,” she says through gritted teeth. “I’ve never tried to hold one this big before.”

 

Before she’s finished speaking, Jaskier is darting through the portal and-

 

He’s home.

Chapter Text

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.