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Walk a Thousand Miles on your Skin

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When Geralt is seven and his match animal still hasn't appeared anywhere on his skin, he's given to the Witchers. It wasn't the only reason of course, but he's old enough to realise that it's not usual, and therefore it must be the reason why it was him chosen rather than one of the other boys. Either his match hasn't been born yet, they've already died or he's a rare unmatched. Whichever it is, he's much less likely to be missed.

His skin stays clear though all of his training, although animals appear on a few of the other boys. Through the trials, through losing friends and setting off from Kaer Morhen to find his first monster hunts. Through so many fights and wounds that he starts to wonder if he'll gain so many scars that he'll never notice it even if it does appear. Not that he truly believes it will, but he still can't silence the part of him that hopes. But he stops consciously looking when he's around sixty, even when he returns to the castle one winter and a raven blinks at him from Lambert's wrist.

However, after a battle with a Griffin that left him filthy but not too badly injured, when he's squeezed himself into a undersized bathtub, he notices a small movement on his thigh. He concentrates on washing the area, gently clearing off the in-ground dirt with his heart feeling like it's lodged itself in his throat. After a couple minutes a small nose appears from under one of his scars, followed hesitantly by big ears, and eventually there's a tiny, tan mouse resting on his skin. He can't help reach out and run a finger down its back and it shudders as if it can feel it before skittering away. If he focuses, he can sense its movement, something like tiny claws brushing his skin, where it runs down to hide under the arch of his foot.

He says in the bath a long time, hating the happiness and relief taking root in his chest at the thought of someone out there for him. But that means there's a baby somewhere with whatever scarred, beat up, feral animal Geralt is on their skin, and in no world is that fair. He pushes himself to his feet after the waters gone cold for the third time, deciding against another igni and instead in favour of attempting to get blind drunk on what little coin he has left. He doesn’t make it to Kaer Morhen that winter.

He wonders, years later, exactly what kind of person his match is, they must be nearly twenty now but the animal on his skin still changes as if they still don’t know who they are. Most of the time it's a drab, little songbird, fluttering about his body in a way that's become comfortable and familiar, but then, usually in the evenings, it's feathers become brighter and it rests on Geralt's chest, clearly singing it's tiny heart out to an audience that can't hear it. Less often the bird changes completely; a fox, proud and preening, a wildcat, snarling and brash, and rarest of all, the tiny mouse he first saw that hides behind his scars, reluctant to be seen.

Then, in an inn at the arse end of nowhere, the little songbird, today in pale blue plumage, decides to sing on his wrist instead. And a bard comes up to his table with a smile on his face, bread in his pants and eyes the colour of the feathers that dance on his skin.

It takes them years to learn each other, over months together and months apart. Jaskier tells him of a child born with a pale wolf prowling his skin (and Geralt can really appreciate the irony there) that anyone who saw it flinched away from. Of years trying to mould himself to be whatever he needed to be to fit in, but failing because of the emotions that live too close to the surface, guarded by sharp teeth and scarred fur, and then the hard decision to leave Oxenfurt to go on the road.

Geralt starts to realise exactly how much these affect him when they're leaving some nameless village and there's a group of angry men blocking the road, shouting abuse at the witcher. It's not the worst they've heard but they're both tired and injured, and Jaskier just snaps, throwing snarled insults and scathing remarks, angry in a way Geralt's never seen him. And when he looks down, his eyes are caught by the sight of a wildcat snarling on his forearm. He doesn't look away until he hears the group retreating and it's just Jaskier's ragged breathing left as he fights to regain control. Geralt doesn't know why he does it, but he reaches out to brush a careful finger along the cat's spine, and hears Jaskier's soft intake of breath in response. By the time they reach the inn where they're planning on stopping for the night, there's a navy songbird fluttering around his ribcage.

It takes nearly a year after that for Geralt to first see his own wolf on Jaskier's skin, through his own reluctance rather than Jaskier's. The bard had been injured in the last fight, bandits had been desperate enough to attack the pair of them and Jaskier had taken a blade to the shoulder. When they reach their camping spot for the night, Geralt steps up behind him, gently tugging on the hem of his shirt in a silent question. At Jaskier's nod he carefully pulls it off and reaches for their bandages, cleaning the wound without seeing any flash of white. But as soon as he's finished gold eyes appear as the wolf pads round from Jaskier's chest. It's as scarred as her expected, with long fur, matted to match Geralt's hair and he can't help but brush his knuckles along it's side. There's fluttering along his fingers as Jaskier's bird, now with iridescent feathers, tries to reach it. Geralt only stops touching at Jaskier's soft gasp, and the bard twists to face him, slowly cupping his face before leaning up to kiss him.

They spend more months than they previously did together over the next few years, Geralt taking a few days off whenever he can between hunts so they can spend time together. During this Geralt gains both a child surprise and a better understanding of all the sides of his bard, of why his animal changes so much. But as the years pass, and JAskier's self confidence grows, it starts to stay as a little blue songbird more often, although it's always noticeably brighter when Jaskier's performing.

Geralt always keeps an eye on Jaskier's animal when they're apart, so he notices immediately whenever it changes. They'd only parted the previous evening, but it's been a wildcat for the last couple of hours, and concern is sneaking in. He really starts panicking when it starts limping, blood dripping from one of its back legs and vanishing after a couple of inches. It takes him four hours, eyes black and heart pounding in his chest, to reach Jaskier where he's being held in the basement of an oversized mansion. Geralt holds him close, dropping his bloodstained blades to the floor, and doesn't make it to Kaer Morhen that winter either.

Then years, and a suspicious lack of grey hair (Jaskier always jokes Geralt has enough for them both), later there's an amphora in a lake and Jaskier choking on blood and his songbird is flapping but unable to fly. And when Geralt wakes in the cell, the bars don't seem like as much of an issue as the cat on his chest he hasn't seen in months, snarling and afraid, and all he knows is he needs to reach Jaskier as soon as possible.

When the purple eyed sorceress tries to pull his shirt off in the basement of a half ruined and unstable building, he pushes her hands aside easily. Ignoring her angry snarl in favour of kissing her, hands skating over her skin as a distraction. There's something pulling him towards her, and he’s not sure he likes it. He and Jaskier have never been exclusive, they spend too much time apart for either of them to be satisfied with that, but never when the other is there and this feels wrong. But there's something between him and the sorceress, something he himself put there, and he hates it. So he pushes her hands away, and he can tell by the tightness in his chest, the soft flutters absent from his skin and the flash of fur at his wrist that there's still a wildcat prowling his body, scared and angry.

And it changes between them after that, Jaskier still stays close, touches him with soft hands and trails of rough kisses. But his bird's only slightly more common than his cat, and he leaves more often and Geralt has no idea how to fix things. His heart breaks with the distance but the deepest parts of him start to wonder if it's for the best. Jaskier deserves better after all, that's something he's always known.

After a while things start to shift again, Jaskier returns after two years apart with the bright smiles he's missed and new songs of places Geralt isn't sure he's ever visited himself. He doesn't pull away when Geralt selfishly pulls him closer, and confesses, months later while pressed against the witcher's chest, that his wolf had changed, that first time with Yen, only for a few moments but enough to shake Jaskier, to scare him. He never tells Geralt what it changes into, but they just hold each other close and slowly rebuild their equilibrium.

But then there's overwhelming anger and grief warring within him on a mountain top, and he turns away from the dragon watching Jaskier's retreating back as he walks away from Geralt, unable to face the pity he knows will be there. He loses the rest of the day in a blur, when he's next aware of himself the sky is darkening and his throat is raw. As he raises a hand to rub his face, he catches movement and a tiny, tan mouse stares at him from his palm. It's been nearly a decade since he'd seen it, it only appeared when all Jaskier wants to do is hide away from everything. When he believes that's the only thing that will help him face the world.

And Geralt runs. He follows the path as best he can, but he knows where Roach is to head for and all he can think of is Jaskier. He catches him before he's reached the base camp, nearly slamming into him as the bard turns to face him, anger and grief in his eyes and the set of his jaw, matching his from the morning. But Geralt reaches for him anyway, and he lets himself be caught. He doesn't say a word though all of Geralt's murmured apologies, but he can feel the way Jaskier sags against him, fingers eventually coming to tangle in his shirt as they sink to the ground. And then there's feathers on Geralt's forearms, and tears in Jaskier's eyes against his throat and he prays to every deity he's ever heard of that they'll be alright.

The first thing Ciri says to him in the woods as they pull back from the hug to look at each other in uncertain silence is that the blue bird fluttering excitedly over his collarbone is beautiful. All he can manage in response is that he can't wait for her to meet him.