Geralt rarely joins Jaskier when he performs at his more opulent venues. The people who attend those parties are prissy and snide, he can hardly stand talking to one for more than five minutes. And those fetes last for days. There’s too much peacocking about for his taste, even for the long platters of food and the comfortable accommodations given to him as a reward. In any circumstance, the witcher much prefers when they’re stuck in a know-nothing town, where the people are brutish but honest and kind.
With all that said, this time Geralt agrees to come purely because Jaskier is not the main event. His lute is well-stashed in his rented room. A band of some renown strums away at the high stairs of the palace they’re in instead. Jaskier is free to flit around the room and speak with whoever he pleases, and he is absolutely within his right to do so. He is, and yet every hour on the hour, Jaskier draws back to Geralt’s lit corner table with two drinks in hand and a tease ready on his lips.
“Glare a bit harder, I don’t think the servants are quite scared shitless of you yet.” One of those very servants skitters behind the bard to bring out dinner for them, no doubt at his request.
Geralt lifts one eyebrow. He takes the cup of bubbly light liquor Jaskier’s left hand offers and promptly pours it into the decorative vase beside his chair. It’s already full with the last two bubbly drinks.
Jaskier sits without an issue. “Ah, that one not to your taste either?”
“Next time give me something strong or don’t come back at all.”
It would sound dangerously serious to anyone else, but Jaskier just rolls his eyes. He knows the flash of the witcher’s teeth is only there because of the quirk of a half-formed smile. “It’s all spent at this hour. Look at the dancers, they’re absolutely smashed.”
Geralt remarks through a buttered hunk of roasted pig, “Wish that was me right now.”
Jaskier, feigning a gasp, holds one hand against his chest in a dramatic display. “You wish you were a drunk dancer?”
They go back and forth that way for the rest of dinner, Geralt quick to devour the meat before him like a starving beast. A couple of servants stop when they pass to gawk at him, servants which Jaskier shoos away with a word about how rude it is to stare.
“Are you going to finish that?”
Jaskier pauses sifting through his plate. His plate is filled with more freshly-cut meat, excellently seasoned and bathed in mouthwatering juices.
Knowing what Geralt wants, he wraps an arm around his half-finished meal with a pout. “Grab your own.”
“I did.” This Geralt says while gesturing at his empty plate. “I finished it.”
A fork flicks up pointing straight at the witcher’s nose. “Then get some more. This one’s mine.”
“You haven’t even taken a bite since the last dance number ended.”
At that, the bard returns to take a single bite of sliced ham and no more. “And I’ll get to it when I get to it.”
It’s like this—inside the large halls of some grand noble, a guest at the bard’s side—that Geralt learns that Jaskier is more than he lets on. Of course he knew him to be of well-bred stock. Jaskier is learned, an Oxenfurt collegiate of great esteem. In the cities near the coast, people recognize his name and his songs, more so than his legendary meddling in warmed beds and crumbling marriages. In the starting years after his debut, the damned Lioness of Cintra had invited him to perform at her daughter’s betrothal. A queen. Geralt is a lot of things. Blind to the fame and the status the bard wields he is not. It’s undiscussed between them, but at the same time, there is nothing to say. To him, Jaskier is just Jaskier. It does not even register in Geralt’s mind to count him among the snooty nobles in the room. Most of all because Jaskier is frivolous, not snooty. They are two very distinct kinds of annoying.
What does surprise him are the people that they walk into who greet Jaskier by his given name. The ones that let slip strange compliments followed by words like ‘viscount’ and ‘cousin’. A good batch of them use that last one, actually, which—really shouldn’t feel that weird. Except it does because—how big could Jaskier’s family be?
His thoughts are interrupted by a blond wisp of a thing dashing gracefully towards them and snatching Jaskier by the hand. Her voice is light and resonates like bells against marble stone. “Oh Julian! Dearest cousin. How many years has it been now, since we last met? You hardly look like you’re half-past your prime!” She smiles sweetly as she says that, innocent as a fawn stomping on a rabbit. “I didn’t know you’d be performing your little ditties here.”
As with every other person they’ve encountered who was something of a next of kin, they get a razor-sharp smile and pure venomous retaliation hidden under the gentle pitch of Jaskier's voice. “I’m not, dearest cousin. Tonight I am merely a guest, here to judge our entertainment rather than entertain. It truly has been years. I last heard you got a taste for harping—oh about, three years ago? Really, harps are such troublesome instruments. I commend you for trying your smooth-powdered hands on the craft. Are you still practicing? Three years is an awful lot of dedication for you.”
They’re locked in some battle of stares and slyly-pressed comments, and Geralt’s left standing to Jaskier’s left, blinking. It’s like watching two roosters crow and stamp their feet. Pure show. Completely a guess as to who’s winning the fight because that’s what it always looks like. Like someone has to come out the winner of something.
It’s infuriating to watch. More so because Jaskier leaves the conversation like he wants to break his delicate little goblet against the sparkling floor. Geralt tries—actually, legitimately tries—to joke about how the Pankratz are a larger family than half the royals in the northern kingdoms, but Jaskier either doesn’t listen or doesn’t bother to listen when the name ‘Pankratz’ is brought up, even when it’s Geralt talking.
After another cousin comes by to press Jaskier about his latest ballad and if the work behind it has anything to do with his last uproarious binge around the brothels of Novigrad, Geralt physically pushes into the guy and spills his drink on him with a very dishonest, “sorry ‘bout that.”
When they stop in front of a bar servant, Jaskier takes three drinks—one for Geralt to hold and two for each of his hands—and downs all three in quick succession. At the last one, he grimaces at the bitter aftertaste. It really isn’t that good of a liquor.
“It’s late enough now,” Jaskier starts, looking down at his empty goblet, “And everyone’s had a good fill of both our faces. What do you say we skip out and find us a pub or a tavern with that strong liquor you wanted?”
The sigh Geralt blows out could not be more grateful. “I thought you’d never ask.”
The tavern is cramped. Someone is moaning about their wife leaving them for a milker. And Jaskier wears the biggest grin on his face as he clambers over to Geralt’s corner with a great big tankard of dark ale.
“You weren’t kidding when you said they serve a generous amount of beer here.”
They get a platter of dried meats and cheese to couple the drinks. Really, they should have gotten two because Jaskier is two bites of a sausage in and Geralt’s halfway through the whole display already.
“Geralt—” Jaskier smacks the witcher’s hand when he reaches for the slice of cheese on his side. “Stop being greedy.”
Geralt blinks, raising his hand as if in mock pain. “You’re so fucking slow. One of us has to actually finish this.”
“I’m—” Jaskier stutters and waves the sausage he’s partially eaten in Geralt’s face, “I’m not slow! You just eat like the food is going to run off the table and disappear through a rathole. Take your time you insufferable glutton.”
Geralt does not take his time, which is entirely expected after Jaskier goads him like that. It brings something childish out in Jaskier that he laughs obnoxiously loud, and he’s not even drunk yet.
In the comfortable silence that comes, Jaskier finds himself tripping suddenly into a more somber mood. It’s funny how he feels so much more himself with Geralt, an otherwise direct opposite to all the ways he was taught in. Geralt doesn’t care about bloodlines or status or power, nor does he worry about what the cut of a jerkin says about wealth. He is just given to see the world for what it is. No machinations or manipulations. Just the glint of a question in his yellow eyes that mirrors exactly what he feels, when he asks, “Jaskier? You good?”
“I’m sorry about—them,” ‘them’ being a wild gesture at his spectacle of a family. Then Jaskier clamps his mouth shut with a hard expression. “No, actually I’m not sorry about them. I don’t care for any of them. And they don’t care for me all that much either.”
Geralt nods with a hum, and it spurs him to keep going like a torrent of water through a broken dam. “And—you know, as far as they’re concerned I shirk my responsibilities for far too many whimsical wants, which is ridiculous. Being a viscount is pure rank. It all is, and they’re all such braggarts about who has the bigger, most impressive line of titles. Maybe one or two of them are alright—the Redanian side of the family is especially free-thinking and rowdy. My siblings could do well to visit them more often—”
“You have brothers?”
Jaskier stops at that. “Ah, a brother and a sister.” He’s a bit surprised that’s the part Geralt pointed out. But that’s just the kind of thing Geralt would decide to focus on, instead of the entire passive-aggressive battle of wills that torments Jaskier’s familial life. “Well, it’s not too bad with them. Most people have lots more siblings, I—suppose. I have a cousin with ten other brothers. I think you met half of them just last night actually.”
Something curious is happening in Geralt's face and Jaskier can’t help the nervous twinge he feels inside his chest, fearing he’d said something upsetting.
“What is it now, old friend?”
Geralt takes a second to respond. “I’ve heard a lot of surprising things about you, but the fact that you have siblings is somehow the most shocking one.” Then he tilts his head to the side with a strange look, an expression Jaskier isn’t familiar with for once. “You never...”
“Mentioned them before,” Jaskier finishes for him when Geralt trails on for longer, like an unfinished thought caught midway. By now, his ale is warm, but he still gives it a good long sip and orders a second to make up for it. “We’re not that close anymore. That’s all. Though I know if we all met together again it would pretty much devolve into the kinds of wrestling matches we would have when we were all of eight, ten and eleven, respectively.” Remembering how badly he would get his ass beaten sometimes brings a melancholy smile to his lips. It was awful, and at the same time those were some of the best memories of his childhood. Of just being absolute terrors.
Jaskier looks down then, at the swirl of froth at the edges of his cups. He wants to ask Geralt if he’s had people like that in his life. People he was close with once and just...well, perhaps they don’t speak now but, if he were to see them again, there would be just as much punching as hugging involved. And maybe far too much drink to catch up on every damn little thing that’s happened.
He wants to ask, but he doesn’t, because he’s afraid of Geralt answering that he has no one. And that would hurt Jaskier something deep in his heart, possibly more than it hurts Geralt to admit himself. Witchers are all orphans, Jaskier knows, but family isn’t just made up of blood.
To him, Geralt is like family—good, worthwhile family, of the variety that earns a show of trust and vulnerability. It’s maddening and annoying and incredible. Sometimes he wants to strangle the damned witcher, but gods willing, should anyone dare try to hurt Geralt he’ll strangle them first with glee. They make their own family, curse everyone else.
It occurs to him that maybe Geralt doesn’t know that of them, and the thought is so very suddenly vehemently troubling that he has to raise his eyes to meet Geralt’s once more and blurt out a slightly slurred, “I would call you my best friend to anyone who asked, and to me that’s far more important than calling someone my cousin.”
Apparently he’s done a few too many loops of reason for Geralt to have followed him because now his lips are pulled down in a clear display of confusion. “What are you talking about? Are you finally drunk?”
“Geralt, I,” Jaskier blinks and—well he’s infuriated by this dunce of a man so he punches the witcher’s shoulder which does nothing but bruise his knuckles. “What I mean is, I don’t vent about what really bothers me to just anyone. It’s not something I can do often, be honest that is. You’re one of the very few people in this world I don’t bother putting up facades for. And if I insult you to your face then—then—you better know I—”
The words get tangled in his mouth because, incrementally, Geralt’s starts to laugh until it cuts off the bard completely, the ass.
“I think you are drunk,” Geralt coughs out after a solid minute of Jaskier blushing hard with a strong frown to match. Then, out of nowhere he says, “I didn’t punch you back.”
“You punched me.” To deliver his point, he grabs Jaskier’s hand in the gentle cradle of his palm and rubs the bruised knuckles. “Anyone else punches me, I break their arm. Well, you and a couple other people get a free pass. I’d still break their arms though.”
Jaskier has a feeling he’s talking about other witchers. Which—it soothes the ache that was growing in his chest. “Oh, good.”
Geralt is not alone. He is not alone and Jaskier is part of the reason for that, which is the greatest, most joyous thing for Jaskier to know. They are a pair, filling the gaps left by others. He makes Geralt forget his better defenses because he knows Jaskier would never abuse his trust, and Geralt accepts who he is, without judgment, without a world of expectations and should-be’s and would-have’s.
In the corner of that nameless tavern, they’re just one Geralt of Rivia and Jaskier, no title.
Slowly, a fat, toothy grin spreads across Jaskier's face. “See now, if I’m drunk that just means you need to catch up to me already.”
Geralt hears him and sighs. His hand still holds onto Jaskier’s over the table. “Fine, but you’re paying for those drinks.”