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and a place to rest my head

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It's night, and Geralt has been slogging through the rain for over an hour when he finally reaches an inn— a rundown shithole from the looks of it, but at least it's got a roof and stables.

First he sees to it that Roach is comfortable in a stall. Then he enters the inn, takes one step into the warmth, and freezes.

There's an omega in here somewhere.

Geralt can smell it— a fierce, sweet scent, something like a mix between wildflowers and syrup, unmistakable even buried under the inn's suffocating stench of sweat and cheap ale.

Geralt looks around, his curiosity piqued, but none of the inn's patrons stick out to him as anything special, at least not from a cursory glance.

So he just frowns slightly and weaves his way through the crowded room until he reaches the bar. Behind it sits the innkeeper, a beta, obviously drunk, who's swapping jokes with a one-eyed dwarf.

"Ale," says Geralt, slamming a few coins down in front of him. "A pint."

The innkeeper glances up, and his eyes widen. "Shit. You're a—"

"I'm a customer who'd like a drink," Geralt snarls.

It's enough to keep the man from finishing his sentence. He takes the money, pours Geralt's drink, and hands it over to him. "I've never met one of your kind," he says then.

"Lucky you," mutters Geralt. And he grabs his ale and goes, settling down at a table in the dimmest corner of the inn.

He's almost finished his drink when suddenly he smells it again: A pungent burst of sweetness and flowers, closer now. He snaps his head up and his eyes fall on a man— or boy, really; he can't be older than nineteen— approaching him.

The omega.

He's barefoot, dressed in an oversized shirt and a tight pair of breeches, and holding a dishrag. When Geralt meets his eye, the boy lifts his fingers and wiggles them in greeting. And shit, Geralt realizes as the boy's smell becomes stronger and more distinct: he's pregnant— not enough to show, but enough to smell. And there are other scents clinging to him too, the scents of pain, of fear.

Which is strange, because he certainly isn't acting like someone who's injured or scared. He's smiling brightly, batting his eyelashes, twirling the dishrag around on his finger. "Hello, good sir," he says winningly. He wipes down Geralt's table, then slings the rag over his shoulder with a flourish. "You are soaking wet."

Geralt squints at him.

"Just came in from the rain, I imagine?" The boy leans forward on the table, smiling conspiratorially. "You know, sitting here brooding in the corner isn't gonna do much to warm you up. How about I get you something to eat? We've got chicken, pies, stew—"

"No," says Geralt.

"Maybe a refill on that drink, then?" offers the boy, without missing a beat.

"You're an omega," Geralt says.

"I am indeed," says the boy, nodding. "And you're an alpha, with..." He trails off, cocks his head to one side. "Wait," he says. "Wait, I know who you are. White hair, big old loner, two very, very scary-looking swords— you're the witcher. Geralt of Rivia."

Geralt ignores him. "You're hurt," he says.

At this, the boy blinks. Recoils slightly. "Excuse me?"

"You're hurt," Geralt says again. "I can smell it."

There's a moment of silence, but then the boy lets out a light, easy laugh. "I think you've maybe had a teensy-weensy bit too much to drink," he says. "I'm perfectly fine, I assure you."

"Hmm," says Geralt, supremely unconvinced.

"I'm better than fine, actually," the boy goes on. "Never been, uh, finer. Now, are you quite sure you wouldn't like anything to eat?"

"I'm sure."

"Well then," says the boy. He grins, and gives Geralt's table a friendly little pat. "I'd love to stay and converse, I really would, but the rest of these tables won't wipe themselves, will they, so... I'll leave you to it, yeah? Enjoy your evening." And with one last smile, he turns on his heel and walks away.

He's limping, Geralt notes as he watches him go. It's slight, almost imperceptible, but Geralt can tell.

He downs the rest of his ale in one gulp, stands up, and makes his way back to the bar. The innkeeper is asleep, snoring loudly.

"Tell me," Geralt demands, and the man's beady eyes fly open. "The omega. What's his story?"

"The— Who, Dandelion?" the innkeeper asks.

"The boy, the one cleaning the tables," says Geralt. "The omega."

"Aye, that's Dandelion." A greedy glint appears in the innkeeper's eyes. "You interested in him, Witcher?"

"I want to know about him. How did you acquire him?" asks Geralt.

Because omegas are rare— rare and valuable. Geralt can count on two hands the number of omegas he's met in his lifetime, and none of them had been found anywhere so pedestrian as a ramshackle inn in the middle of nowhere.

"Not much of a story there," shrugs the innkeeper, waving a hand. "He showed up here one winter, maybe four years ago? Skin and bones, big old pregnant belly sticking out, begging for a room and something to eat. Said he didn't have any money, but he'd play a song for me— he had an old busted-looking lute with him, see. Well, now, I told him he could fuck right off and take his songs with him. But then... he said he had other talents too. Offered to suck my cock." The innkeeper chuckles softly. "So I let him. Best damn blowjob of my life, it was." He shrugs. "I've kept him around ever since."

Geralt works to keep his expression impassive. "So you whore him out," he says.

"Of course," says the innkeeper. "He makes good money. Which brings us back to my question: Are you interested in him?"

"He's pregnant."

"His mouth and ass are unaffected, I assure you," the man says, grinning. "He's already reserved for tonight, but if you'll still be here tomorrow, it's 250 orens for—"

"No," says Geralt. "I want him tonight. Now, in fact. I'll pay 500." His last few contracts have been lucrative; he can afford it. He pulls out a bag of coin and pushes it toward the innkeeper, who snatches it up with his fat little hands.

"I— alright," he says with an eager nod. "Alright, for 500, I suppose things can be, uh, rearranged. Er." He rings a small bell, and Geralt turns around to see the omega boy hurrying toward them from across the room, practically tripping over his feet.

"Yes, sir?" he says breathlessly, as he reaches the bar.

"Dandelion," snaps the man. "Take this gentleman up to your room. He has you till dawn."

The boy— Dandelion— frowns briefly up at Geralt, something like betrayal in his eyes, then looks away. "Yes, sir," he says.

"And you do whatever he says, you understand?" the innkeeper goes on. "I don't need a fucking witcher on my bad side."

"Yes, sir," Dandelion repeats. He glances at Geralt again, and gestures toward a hallway. "This way," he says, taking a few steps in that direction, still limping ever-so-slightly.

"Witcher," says the innkeeper, just as Geralt turns to follow the boy, "leave him in one piece, will you?" The innkeeper winks. "He really is quite the little moneymaker, as I said."

And Geralt nods once, resisting the urge to throttle the man. It would only complicate matters to do so publicly. "Come on," he murmurs to Dandelion, who's waiting a few paces away.

At first Dandelion flinches, but then he smiles tightly and takes Geralt's hand.

Geralt lets him, and together, they set off toward the hallway, toward Dandelion's room.

And Geralt wonders, grimly, what the rest of the night has in store.

Chapter Text

Geralt trudges along as Dandelion leads him down the hallway, up a rickety wooden staircase, and around a corner. Finally they enter a small room, cramped and cold and drafty, and Geralt wrinkles his nose at the stench of sex that emanates from the bed: the smell of slick, and cum, and the pheromones of countless foul-smelling alphas.

"So, where would you like me?" Dandelion asks from behind him, and Geralt wheels around to find the boy stepping out of his breeches, his shirt already lying crumpled on the floor.

And Geralt gapes, because even in the relatively dim candlelight of the room, it's easy to make out the bruises that pattern Dandelion's naked body— dark, finger-shaped marks circling his wrists, trailing down his upper arms, mottling his hips and thighs— plus lighter, more diffuse discoloration spread across his ribs, evidence of a nasty beating.

"Sir?" asks Dandelion. "Witcher?" He takes a step closer and places a hand directly on Geralt's crotch. "You're not hard," he observes, almost chidingly. "That won't do! Here, let me just—" He drops to his knees and begins to unbutton Geralt's trousers.

"No," says Geralt, shoving away his fingers.

Dandelion glances up. "No what?"

"No, that's not what I want with you," Geralt says.

"Oh." Dandelion stands abruptly, nodding like he understands. "No appetizers then? Straight for the main course?" He shoots Geralt an easy smile, then flops down on the rank mattress, bends his knees, and spreads apart his thighs. "Your wish is my command, dear witcher." The boy isn't aroused at all, Geralt can't help but notice: his cock is soft between his legs and he isn't wet, isn't producing slick.

Geralt draws a deep, calming breath. "Boy," he says, willfully looking away from Dandelion's exposed ass. "I have no intention of fucking you."

At this, Dandelion pales slightly, and Geralt doesn't miss the way his eyes dart to the swords on Geralt's back before he responds. "I— I'm sorry, maybe there's been a misunderstanding?" he says, shrinking in on himself. "I'm— I'm just a whore; that's what you paid Szymon for, not— shit. Shit." His bottom lip is trembling now. "Please don't kill me. Please, I thought you killed monsters; I'm not a monster, I'm just a whore—"

"I'm not going to kill you."

"Oh." The boy looks very small and very vulnerable, naked on the bed, his legs spread and his eyes wide. Geralt doesn't like it at all.

"I just want to— to talk," he tells the boy brusquely, re-fastening his trouser buttons and setting aside his swords with a thud. He sits down on the edge of the mattress and runs a hand through his hair.

The boy straightens up a little, crosses his legs. "Talk?" he echoes, squinting. "About what?"

"About you," says Geralt with a sigh. "Your name is Dandelion?"

The boy regards him for a long moment, obviously trying to decide how honest to be. "My name is Julian," he says at last. "But no one calls me that."

"What do they call you?"

"These days?" The boy laughs lightly. "Let's see... 'whore,' mostly. And 'slut.' And sometimes variations on the theme—" He ticks off on his fingers: "'Cockwhore,' 'cumslut,' 'cockslut'—"

Geralt lets out a low growl, and the boy's mouth clamps shut. Then: "Jaskier," he says quietly, staring into his lap.

"Jaskier," Geralt repeats.

"Yeah, it's— it's a bit of a pseudonym I've picked out for myself, I guess. You know, for someday when I'm a fabulously rich and famous bard, traveling the world, performing in royal courts..." He folds his hands in front of his crotch and shrugs, almost defensively, as if daring Geralt to comment on the ridiculousness of such aspirations.

"Hmm," is all Geralt says.

A few moments pass in silence. Then Dandelion— or Jaskier, rather— scoots across the mattress until he too is sitting on the edge, just a few inches away from Geralt. "I hope I didn't offend you," he says. "When I asked if you were going to kill me. I mean, I was pretty sure that the 'Butcher of Blaviken' stuff was an exaggeration, but you know, I've never met a witcher before, and one does hear stories." He clears his throat. "You're not like the stories though, are you?" he asks softly.

Geralt turns his head, finds himself looking directly into Jaskier's wide, blue eyes.

And then, suddenly, Jaskier is kissing him, open mouthed, one hand on Geralt's cheek and the other on his crotch. Geralt pulls away instinctively, but Jaskier just leans in and kisses him more deeply, moaning as he closes his fingers around Geralt's hardening cock.

"There," he breathes against Geralt's lips. "That's much better, isn't it? Now we'll just slip these trousers off, and—"

"Stop," says Geralt.

Jaskier stops, flinching back as if Geralt had hit him.

"I told you," says Geralt, trying to keep his voice soft. "I'm not here to fuck you."

Jaskier just stares, his face carefully blank, but he reeks of fear.

"I don't fuck people who don't want it," Geralt continues. "And you obviously don't want it."

At this, Jaskier blinks. Then he smiles. "Now, now, dear witcher," he says, seeming amused. "Don't be silly, of course I want it. I want to please you. That's what I'm here for." He reaches out as if to touch Geralt's face again, but Geralt grabs his wrist— loosely, so as not to put pressure on the bruises there.

Jaskier winces anyway, clearly anticipating pain.

"Hmm," hums Geralt.

He lets go, and Jaskier's eyes flicker back open. Geralt can still smell his fear, heady and sour.

A moment passes. Then Jaskier slides closer, rests his hand on Geralt's inner thigh, and says in a measured voice, "Witcher. My dearest witcher. Please. I really, really must insist that you let me pleasure you." He smiles coquettishly, bites his bottom lip. "Alright? I absolutely refuse to let you leave here unsatisfied."

"What would he do to you, if you did?" asks Geralt.

"I'm sorry?"

"The man. The innkeeper. What would he do if I complained about your service?"

"Uh. Well, Szymon prides himself on happy customers," Jaskier shrugs, avoiding Geralt's gaze.

"So he'd beat you."

"If I deserved it."

"Jaskier."

The boy looks over.

"You don't deserve that. Ever. You don't deserve any of this."

"Any of what?"

"This!" growls Geralt, unsure how to put into words the squalor and misery and terror that Jaskier has evidently lived in for the past four years— the dirty mattress, the cold room, the beatings and rape and gods only know how many pregnancies—

"If you mean my, er, bruises, they look a lot worse than they are," says Jaskier. "I bruise easily. Very delicate skin. It's quite a nuisance, actually—"

"Jaskier," says Geralt.

Jaskier breaks off, and some of the fight seems to leave him. He draws his bare legs up to his chest and wraps his arms around his knees. "What?" he asks dully.

"Look at me," Geralt says, and he waits until Jaskier glances over before continuing, his voice low and as gentle as he can make it: "I'm going to get you out of here," he tells him. "Take you with me. Somewhere safe."

For a moment Jaskier just stares at him blankly, drawing shallow, shaky breaths.

And then, suddenly, he's crying into Geralt's shoulder, very loud and very wet, and Geralt is sitting there stiffly, one uncertain hand on Jaskier's back.

"Are you... alright?" he asks.

Jaskier says nothing, just keeps crying, but Geralt can smell his fear subsiding, can smell it being replaced by something else: the faint, piquant scent of gratitude, of hope.

So Geralt keeps his hand on the boy's heaving back, pulls him a bit closer, and lets him cry.

Chapter Text

Jaskier cries for a long while.

Then, just as suddenly as he'd started, he stops. Lifts his face. Wipes his eyes.

"Whew!" he says, smiling weakly. "Sorry about that. Just— overcome with emotion for a moment." He rubs his eyes again and draws a deep, steadying breath. "I'm afraid, dear witcher, that it's not quite so simple as you swooping in and rescuing me. But it's still... It's just nice to hear a kind word sometimes, I suppose. Hence the crying."

"What do you mean, it's not so simple?" Geralt asks with a frown.

"I mean... Well, there are complicating factors." Jaskier shrugs. "I'm fairly certain that you wouldn't want me as a traveling companion if I told you the whole situation, so—"

"Tell me," demands Geralt.

Jaskier flinches, and Geralt regrets his tone.

"Tell me," he repeats, more softly.

Jaskier is fidgeting, rubbing his thumb over his fingers absently. "Right, uh— okay," he stammers at last. "Okay." He takes a deep breath, hazards a glance at Geralt, then says, in a rush, "I have a son, alright? His name is Rian, he's four years old, and I'm not leaving without him."

Geralt stares. The thought hadn't crossed his mind that Jaskier had ever actually given birth— He'd assumed the damn innkeeper would have ensured that any and all of the boy's past pregnancies had ended without a viable baby. It's somewhat of a relief to learn otherwise, to know that not everything has been taken from Jaskier, but the thought of raising a child in a place like this...

"Where is he?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier frowns. "You won't hurt him, will you?"

The question stings in an unfamiliar way. "No," Geralt says. "I swear it. He's safe with me."

"Right," says Jaskier, after a moment's contemplation. "Right, uh. He's under the bed, actually. This bed. Sleeping. Well, not quite sleeping— it's, um. See, I give him a sip of sleeping potion at night, so he won't hear me getting fucked. I know it's not ideal, but—"

"I want to see him."

Jaskier presses his lips together, then nods. Still naked, he kneels down by the side of the bed, reaches underneath, and drags out a small sleeping body.

Geralt stares as Jaskier takes his son in his arms and delicately lays him down on the mattress, carding his fingers through his curls. "Uh, so this is him," he says, with some degree of forced bravado.

Geralt hums.

The child is skinny and fragile-looking— probably chronically underfed, Geralt thinks glumly— and his already-small body is further dwarfed by the grown man's undershirt he's dressed in. The shirt is dirty, his feet are dirty, his face is dirty.

"He needs a bath. And a decent meal," Geralt observes.

Immediately, Jaskier's expression crumples. "I— I know," he says. "I know I'm a terrible father; he deserves better—"

"No, Jaskier," grumbles Geralt. "I didn't mean... Fuck." He exhales in frustration. "I only meant that once we leave here, we'll make sure we give him a bath and some food. That's all."

Jaskier looks up, his eyes wide, and Geralt curses himself for being so damn bad with words. "What's... wrong?" he asks.

"Did you mean that?" breathes Jaskier.

"Mean what?"

"That— that you'll still take me? Even with him? You don't mind?"

"I see no reason to mind."

"Shit," says Jaskier, wiping hastily at his eyes. "Thank you. Shit. He'll be good, I promise. He's a good kid. Really good."

"I'm sure he is."

Geralt isn't sure what else to say, but he has to say something, because Jaskier is just fucking gazing at him, radiating so palpably with desperate gratitude that it makes Geralt uncomfortable.

"Put on your clothes," Geralt offers at last. "Get some sleep. We'll leave here at dawn."

And Jaskier obeys: he pulls on his shirt and breeches and slides into bed under the covers, tucking the tiny child in beside him.

Geralt takes a seat on the floor, preparing to meditate, but then Jaskier starts talking— quietly, tentatively, but still audible to Geralt's ears.

"I was living on the streets before Szymon took me in," Jaskier says. "I tried to make money playing songs for crowds, but that never earned me much, so I, uh. I let people fuck me. For coin." He pauses then, like he's waiting for Geralt's response.

"Hm," says Geralt, which is apparently enough, because Jaskier continues:

"I got pregnant. Obviously, it was only a matter of time, with how I was living. And I wanted to— to buy a potion, to get an abortion, but I couldn't afford one. So I just kept going, and the baby kept growing, and— and then winter came, and I— I couldn't do it anymore." He shifts under the covers. "It was just so cold, you know? And I was so hungry. And no one wanted to fuck me anymore, not with how pregnant I was." Jaskier draws a shuddering breath. "So I went from inn to inn, seeing if anyone would let me stay. Szymon was the only one who said yes." He swallows, then concludes: "I gave birth a week later. Szymon said I could keep him as long as he didn't cause trouble or distract me from my work. So I did."

"You were young," muses Geralt.

"Fourteen."

So, so young. Geralt forgets sometimes, how fucking young humans are. He frowns, and tries not to imagine fourteen-year-old Jaskier raising a baby in this godforsaken place, attempting to care for his child while the innkeeper was whoring him out every night, and beating him black and blue, and—

"Witcher?" Jaskier says quietly, rolling over in bed to face him.

"Yes?"

"I'm pregnant again. Right now."

Geralt nods. "I know."

"You do?"

"I can smell it."

"Oh," says Jaskier. There's a pause. "I don't want to abort it," he says then.

"Why would you need to?"

"Well— Szymon always makes me," Jaskier says. "I get pregnant every heat, and as soon as he can tell, he gives me a potion, and..."

Geralt grits his teeth. Every heat? Three times a year? He knows omega birth control potions are more expensive than abortifacient ones, but the idea of putting Jaskier through so many pregnancies, only to force him to end them...

"Szymon can go fuck himself," he says, already imagining how he'll make the man pay.

"Yeah," says Jaskier breezily, obviously relieved. "Can't argue with you there." Then he yawns. "I guess— I guess I'll sleep now. It's been fucking ages since I got a good night's rest. Should be nice."

"Hmm."

"Goodnight, Witcher," Jaskier tells him, yawning again.

"Geralt," grunts Geralt.

Jaskier smiles softly at the correction. "Goodnight, Geralt," he says. He rolls back over, puts an arm around his son.

Geralt watches until Jaskier's breathing evens out.

Then he starts to plan.

Chapter Text

Jaskier has nightmares.

Geralt had expected as much, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch to boy tossing and turning under the blankets, whimpering, begging for someone to stop, please, stop, it hurts.

So Geralt wakes him, and Jaskier sits up with a start, gasping for air.

"It's me," says Geralt. "You were dreaming."

"Fuck," is Jaskier's response. "Sorry. Thanks."

Geralt just grunts.

A few minutes pass in silence. Then Jaskier says, without preamble: "Szymon goes to sleep a few hours before sunrise. He has a room, off the main hallway. The one downstairs."

"Mm," says Geralt.

Jaskier glances over briefly, then looks away. "Are you going to kill him?" he asks.

"Yes."

"Good," says Jaskier. He ghosts a finger over his son's cheek, still not meeting Geralt's eye. "I wish you could kill all of them," he adds quietly.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. He can't help but agree. "Go back to sleep," he says. "I'll wake you when it's finished."

Jaskier nods, and lies back down. Before long, his breathing grows steady.

This time, he sleeps peacefully till dawn.

***

Szymon's room is easy to find.

Geralt picks the lock and opens the door silently. In the cool morning light filtering through the window, he can see the man asleep in his bed, his chest rising and falling.

Geralt approaches and lays the blade of his sword against the folds of the man's fat neck.

"Wake up," he growls.

Szymon stirs groggily, opens his eyes. Then he notices Geralt, notices the sword.

He freezes.

"Sir—" he begins, holding up his hands, sounding equal parts frightened and confused. "Sir, please—"

Geralt cuts him off. "Did you enjoy it?" he asks lowly. "Raping a helpless teenage boy? Beating him? Prostituting him? Letting others rape and beat him? Allowing him and his son to live in abject fucking misery?"

Szymon doesn't answer, just squirms.

"Hmm?" demands Geralt.

Szymon's beady eyes narrow slightly, flicking from the sword to Geralt's face. "You— you mean Dandelion?" he squeaks.

"Yes, for fuck's sake, I mean Dandelion."

"But... he's just an omega," says Szymon, frowning. "Why would you care—"

"Wrong response," Geralt snarls. "You are never going to hurt him again. No one is ever going to hurt him again."

But Szymon shakes his head. "I'm afraid I can't make that promise, Witcher. He's very profitable, you see; I can't just—"

"No, you misunderstand," says Geralt.

And he slits the man's throat.

***

Geralt wipes his sword clean on Szymon's sheets, then grabs a cloak and a pair of boots from the foot of his bed, and several full bags of coin from the man's nightstand.

When he returns to Jaskier's room, Jaskier is still sleeping, his arm tucked around Rian's chest.

Geralt touches his shoulder and he jerks awake.

"Hello," says Geralt, as Jaskier tries to get a handle on his breathing. "I brought you these, to keep you warm on the road." He holds up the cloak and boots.

Jaskier just stares for a long moment. "He's dead?" he asks at last.

"He is," says Geralt. "And he was a fucking bastard till the end. Now let's go."

Jaskier nods. And they go.

***

They move quietly down the stairs, down the hall, through the empty common room of the inn, with Geralt leading and Jaskier following a few paces behind, carrying a sleeping Rian on his hip.

At the stables, the ostler hands over Roach without any fuss. Geralt gives him a coin for his trouble.

They come to a stop when they reach the main road.

"Can you ride?" asks Geralt.

There's a pause. "I know how," Jaskier says finally.

"Good," says Geralt. "Then you take Roach. I'll carry your boy."

Jaskier doesn't move.

"What is it?" asks Geralt.

"Uh. It's just, my delicate little bumhole is a bit. Uh. Sore," Jaskier says.

Geralt's brow furrows. "Fuck," he says. "You mean from—"

"From repeated anal penetration, yes, precisely," says Jaskier, with a wobbly smile. "But thank you for the offer."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "We'll both walk then. I could still carry the boy, if you like."

Jaskier hesitates, then nods, and passes the sleeping child to him.

Geralt cradles Rian to his shoulder— he's so fucking light— and together, he and Roach and Jaskier set off toward the sunrise.

***

The sun has just crested the hills when Rian begins to stir from his drugged sleep.

"He's waking up," says Geralt, coming to a halt.

"I'll take him," says Jaskier. He makes grabby hands, and Geralt hands the boy over.

They keep walking.

Then, a few minutes later, Rian mumbles something incomprehensible.

"Good morning," Jaskier tells him brightly.

"Papa?" asks the child. "What's happening?"

"Shhh," says Jaskier, rubbing the boy's back. "It's okay. I made a friend. He helped us leave the inn. We're outside now; do you hear the birds? Aren't they lovely?"

The child frowns into Jaskier's shoulder. "Szymon let us leave?"

"Szymon's gone," Jaskier tells him. "He can't hurt us anymore."

Rian looks skeptical. He peers around, and his eyes fall on Geralt. He goes very still.

"Rian, this is my friend Geralt," says Jaksier. "Can you say hi?" He hoists Rian a bit higher on his hip, takes the child's little hand in his own, and makes it wave.

Geralt waves back.

But the boy just turns his face away and whispers into Jaskier's ear, quietly enough that Geralt wouldn't have heard without his heightened senses: "Did he make your bum hurt?"

"Fuck," says Jaskier. He smooths down Rian's curls. "No, honey. No, he's a nice man; he didn't hurt me. You don't have to be scared of him."

Geralt tries to keep his expression neutral, tries not to think about the implications of Jaskier's son knowing that some men make his father's bum hurt. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Rian glance at him. Then he whispers in Jaskier's ear again: "Should I ask him if we get to eat today?"

"Shhh," Jaskier hushes him gently. "He's already done a lot for us, okay?"

The little boy nods resignedly, and fuck, Geralt can't fucking stand it.

"Rian," he huffs, and Rian whips his head around.

"Do you see that town a little ways off?" Geralt asks him, pointing down the road at a cluster of buildings.

"Yes," says Rian.

"Listen to me, alright?" says Geralt. "When we get there, we're going to find ourselves an inn. Not like the one you lived at before, but a nice one, warm and safe. And at the inn, I'll order you as much food as you want, and you can eat until you're full. How does that sound?"

It's more than he's spoken at once in a long time, and he expects the words to bring the boy some measure of comfort.

But Rian frowns in response, and grips his father more tightly. "Is he lying?" he whispers to Jaskier.

And Jaskier looks over at Geralt, his lips pressed together, his blue eyes wide and thankful. "No, honey," he says. "No, I don't think he is."

Chapter Text

"Do you see all the grass?" Jaskier asks Rian as they walk. "See how pretty and green it is? Covered in dainty little flowers? Ooh, and see the forest off in the distance? All those trees?"

"Like in your songs," says Rian, his wide eyes roving over their surroundings.

It occurs to Geralt, suddenly, that maybe the child has never been outside before.

"Yes," laughs Jaskier. "Just like in my songs. And do you see Geralt's nice horse? Isn't it beautiful?"

Jaskier points toward Roach, and Rian nods slowly, but Geralt sees a flicker of fear in his eyes.

"Her name is Roach," he volunteers. "She won't hurt you."

"Oh," Rian breathes. "Can I touch her?"

Geralt hesitates, then agrees, and watches carefully as Rian reaches out to stroke Roach with one small finger. Soon he retracts his hand, giggling.

"Was that fun?" smiles Jaskier. "You're so brave."

"I'm always brave," says Rian.

"Yes," says Jaskier. He smooths Rian's hair. "You're right. You are."

Geralt looks away. He hates to imagine how often the child has no doubt been forced to be brave during his short life; how many frightening, confusing things he's been forced to endure.

Perhaps Jaskier is thinking something similar, because a few moments pass in silence. But then Jaskier clears his throat and continues to cheerfully point out features of landscape— the sky, the clouds, a rabbit, a sparkly rock.

Jaskier's voice is vibrant, lilting, musical, and Geralt (much to his own surprise) isn't bothered by the constant stream of chatter.

Once or twice, he even finds himself smiling.

***

Eventually they reach the town and enter the inn, a large, packed establishment called The Red Hen.

The innkeeper is a woman, middle-aged. She greets them warmly as they enter, and makes no mention of Geralt's hair or eyes or swords.

"I'd like a room," Geralt tells her. "And my companions—" He steps aside and gestures toward Jaskier and Rian, who had been standing in the shadows behind him— "are in need of some additional services. Food. New clothes. A bath."

"The bath and food certainly won't be a problem; that's what we're here for," says the woman smartly. "And as for clothes, well, I have more sons than I know what to do with; Some of their old things should fit these two." She pauses. "Fifty orens, it'll be, for the room and the extras. And how does beef stew sound?"

Geralt glances at Jaskier, who nods quickly. "Stew sounds marvelous."

"Two bowls," says Geralt, handing over the required coin.

"No, it's alright, we can share," Jaskier says from behind him. "We only need one—"

But Geralt cuts him off. "Two bowls," he repeats. "And make them large."

***

Jaskier and Rian both gape openly when the young barmaid arrives at their table and sets down two steaming bowls of stew.

Geralt sits across from them, waiting for them to dig in, but they don't.

Instead, Rian looks to Jaskier and Jaskier shoots Geralt a hesitant glance, as if waiting for something. Permission.

"Go on," Geralt grunts. "Eat."

Rian doesn't need to be told twice: he picks up his spoon and begins to shovel stew into his mouth with a level of focus verging on desperation.

"Slow down, honey," Jaskier tells him. "You'll make yourself sick."

But when Rian pays him no mind, Jaskier sighs, and takes a tentative bite of his own stew. His eyes light up a little when it touches his lips.

"Good?" asks Geralt.

"Mm, very," says Jaskier, grinning. He takes another bite.

Beside him, Rian doesn't look up, just continues to ravenously gulp down the contents of his bowl.

Then, suddenly, he freezes. His eyes go wide. He presses his tiny fingers to his mouth—

And vomits, messily, all over his hands and shirt.

"Shit!" exclaims Jaskier, dropping his spoon and beginning to wipe the child's mouth with his sleeve. "Shit, Rian."

At this, Rian starts to cry loudly.

"I'm sorry," says Jaskier, with a panicked glance in Geralt's direction. "I'm so sorry; he didn't mean to; he's just a little kid; please don't—"

"It's alright," Geralt assures him gruffly. "I'll get a napkin and order more stew for him."

"You—" Jaskier frowns. "What?"

Geralt stands up. "I'll get a napkin and order more stew for him," he says again.

Rian is still crying, and Jaskier is still staring blankly at Geralt.

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. He turns and leaves the table.

***

When Geralt returns a while later with a napkin and another bowl of stew, Rian has his face buried in Jaskier's shoulder and Jaskier is murmuring to him soothingly: "It's okay. You just ate too fast, it's okay. It wasn't your fault. I know you were hungry."

Geralt feels his heart clench uncomfortably. He places the napkin and bowl on the table, avoiding Jaskier's eye, and sits back down.

"There," he hears Jaskier say. "Look, more stew, just for you, honey. Let me just clean you up first."

He takes the napkin and quickly wipes off Rian's hands and his dirty shirt. Then he lifts Rian off his lap and hands him his spoon, nodding encouragingly.

"Just go nice and slow, okay?" he cautions.

And this time, Rian obeys, taking small, hesitant bites. Jaskier, too, goes back to eating, occasionally throwing a cautious glance at Geralt, like he expects the food to be snatched away at any moment.

"Szymon didn't always feed you," Geralt says, unable to help himself.

It's more an observation than a question, but Rian answers anyway: "We weren't allowed to eat if Papa was bad," he says in a small voice. "Only if he was good."

Geralt's eyes snap to Jaskier, who's blushing furiously, his hand tightened around his spoon, his eyes fixed on the table. "Rian," he says warningly.

But Rian continues on: "He was bad a lot. Then Szymon had to hurt him." He frowns, and takes another bite of stew.

"Your papa did the best he could," Geralt says sternly, because Jaskier is trembling now, smelling strongly of mingled shame and rage.

"But sometimes he was bad for lots of days and then I was so hungry," Rian whispers. "And I'd cry so hard. Sometimes Szymon would say 'fine' and let me eat off the dirty dishes. That was nice. But then sometimes he'd just hit me."

"Rian, please," says Jaskier. He sounds on the verge of tears.

"What?" asks Rian, and he drains the last of his stew into his mouth, unperturbed.

Geralt sets his jaw, feels his fists clench under the table. He wishes he could kill Szymon all over again, watch the blood bubble from his fat neck—

Then Jaskier lets out a sob.

"Jaskier," says Geralt, leaning forward slightly.

"I always did what they said," Jaskier whimpers. "I never talked back, I never told them no; I would never, ever have risked— because I knew he'd punish Rian too, and— But— But they'd still fucking complain, still tell Szymon I'd been lazy or disobedient or—" He buries his face in his hands and continues to sob.

And Geralt can't... he can't just fucking let him cry.

And so— slowly, uncertainly— he gets up and circles around the table, sits down on the bench beside Jaskier, who immediately leans into him.

Rian is staring, sucking on his thumb. He looks terrified.

"Your papa's alright," Geralt tells him gruffly. "Don't worry."

"Did I make him cry?" whispers Rian, and Jaskier lets out an agonized little noise into the fabric of Geralt's shirt.

"No," says Geralt. "You did nothing wrong."

"So why's he sad?"

"He's sad... that bad things happened to you," Geralt says slowly, feeling wildly out of his depth. "He feels responsible." He pauses, and places a hand on Jaskier's back, then goes on: "But he isn't responsible. It's not his fault. He was dealt a very, very shitty hand by life. But he worked so hard to protect you. He did everything he could to keep you safe. You couldn't have asked for a better father, Rian."

"I know," says Rian, nodding sagely, as though half of Geralt's words hadn't just gone over his head.

And Jaskier sniffs, draws a ragged breath, and sits up a bit straighter.

"Whew," he says, with a watery smile. He pulls Rian onto his lap. "I'm sorry, honey. I'm okay. I swear I'm okay now." He sniffs again. "I didn't mean to cry in front of you."

Rian nods, and curls up against his chest.

"Thank you," Jaskier mumbles then, to Geralt. "What you said..." He swallows. "I don't know if you meant it, but—"

"I meant it," says Geralt. "Every word." He nods once, firmly. "Now finish your stew."

And Jaskier smiles, a shy little smile, and picks up his spoon, and eats until his bowl is empty.

Chapter Text

When they get to the room they'll be staying in, the water in the bathtub is still warm, and there are linen towels and a bundle of clothes sitting on the bed.

"Bath!" says Rian. "For me?"

"For both of us," says Jaskier.

Rian pulls his arms up into the sleeves of the vomit-stained shirt he's been wearing like a tunic, preparing to remove it, but Jaskier stops him, pulls him close, and looks over at Geralt.

Geralt nods. "I'll wait outside."

Jaskier slumps a bit in apparent relief, at— what? That fact that Geralt wasn't hoping to see a four-year-old get naked?

"Hmm," he huffs, as he exits the room and closes the door behind him. It's a thought he finds disquieting, so he pushes it from his mind.

He focuses on something else instead: Jaskier's voice floating through the door, speaking softly to Rian as he washes him— First your face— good boy; close your eyes; I don't want to get soap in them. Alright, now your hair. Keep your eyes closed. Perfect. Now stand up...

This constant, gentle narration goes on for maybe fifteen minutes.

Then, with a note of solemnity that puts Geralt on alert, Jaskier says, "Rian. I have something I want to tell you."

"What?" asks Rian.

There's a pause, and then: "I'm going to have another baby," says Jaskier.

"A baby?"

"That's right."

"Where is it?"

"It's in my belly."

"Who's the other daddy?"

Jaskier is quiet.

"Papa?"

"Yes?"

"I asked you who's the other daddy?"

Jaskier still doesn't answer.

"Is it Geralt?" asks Rian.

Outside the door, Geralt feels himself stiffen.

"Do... do you want it to be Geralt?" he hears Jaskier ask, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Yes," says Rian. "I think he's nice."

"Then let's say it's Geralt," Jaskier tells him. "Now come here, you; I need to wash your feet; they're filthy."

Geralt's heartbeat, usually so slow, feels disturbingly fast in his chest. But he feels something else in his chest too— a warmth that he can't quite explain.

It blooms outward, fills him up.

It feels like—

He frowns. It's like nothing he's ever felt before.

But maybe, if he had to put a name to it, he'd call it love.

***

He's startled from his thoughts when the door swings open a while later, breaking him out of his reverie.

Jaskier is standing there, smiling, holding Rian's hand. Geralt looks them over, takes in their wet hair and clean, properly-fitting clothes.

"Hmm," he says, satisfied. He re-enters the room.

"I was wondering," says Jaskier, tagging along behind him. "Would it be terribly slothful if we had a brief little nap? Rian says he's tired, and if I'm being honest I feel quite exhausted myself, after this morning's, uh, escape, shall we say. We can't all have the stamina of a witcher, after all." His lips quirk upward.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Yes. Sleep all you want. I might go into town," he adds.

"Alright," Jaskier yawns. "Don't worry, we can take care of ourselves."

It's true, Geralt knows, but the statement makes him frown. Because Jaskier says it like it's normal, for an eighteen-year-old and a four-year-old to be used to taking care of themselves, to surviving on their own, to having only each other to rely on.

Well, Geralt thinks to himself. They have him to rely on now.

***

The marketplace is busy, and Geralt attracts rather a lot of dirty looks as he walks through it, clearing a wide swath in the crowd.

Mercifully, he quickly finds what he's looking for: An old woman selling painted cloth dolls stuffed with beans. They come in all shapes and sizes, and Geralt deliberates over his choice for a good deal longer than strictly necessary before choosing ones resembling a man, a child, a wolf, a dragon, and a horse.

The price is exorbitant, but he pays it without complaint, reminding himself that since helping himself to several bags of money from Szymon's bedside table, he's now quite flush with coin. Besides, he thinks: Rian is worth it.

Then, dolls in hand, he returns to the inn, slips into the room where Jaskier and Rian are sleeping, and waits for them to wake up.

***

When Jaskier does wake up, it's because of a nightmare. He sits bolt upright, throwing off the sheets, gasping for breath.

Geralt stands up quickly, ready to step in, but Rian is already stroking Jaskier's arm.

"It's okay, Papa," he says, like he's used to this. "I'm here."

Geralt hangs back, not wanting to intrude, as Jaskier takes Rian in his arms and rocks him gently.

"Thanks, honey," Jaskier murmurs. "I'm alright. Just a scary dream." Then he whips his head around, as if suddenly remembering about Geralt. He looks ashamed. Smells ashamed.

"Hmm," says Geralt, sitting back down in the chair by the window. "I get them too. Nothing to be embarrassed by."

Jaskier looks away.

"Do you want... to talk about it?" Geralt asks stiffly.

Jaskier glances at Rian, then shakes his head. "No, I'm fine," he says, with a forced smile. "Perfectly fine. But thank you."

Which Geralt is fairly sure translates to no, it was a nightmare about being raped and I don't want to talk about that in front of my son.

"Hmm," Geralt says, and he lets it go.

And from across the room, he keeps guard like a sentinel as Jaskier lies back down, closes his eyes, and falls back asleep, still clutching Rian to his chest.

***

It's an hour or two before Jaskier wakes again, this time peacefully, blinking in the late-morning light.

"Rian," he mumbles, sitting up.

"Papa?" Rian asks sleepily. "Do you have to work now?"

"No, honey," says Jaskier. "Not today." He glances over at Geralt. "Not— not for a while, I don't think."

"Not for a while," Geralt confirms. "And not ever again the way Szymon made you work."

There's a moment of silence, and Geralt stands up, unsure how to broach the topic of the dolls. "I, uh, bought something. For Rian," he says eventually, without any preamble.

Jaskier's eyes narrow, while Rian's light up. "For me?" he squeaks.

"Yes," says Geralt. He circles around to Rian's side of the bed, and begins to place the dolls on the blanket, one by one.

"There's a man," he says. "And a boy. And a wolf. And a horse. And a dragon."

Rian gazes down at the array, his mouth hanging open in awe. "What are they?" he asks.

"They're— toys," Geralt grunts. "Dolls."

Rian doesn't move, doesn't really seem to understand, and suddenly Geralt feels very stupid. This was a mistake. Rian hates them. He glances apologetically at Jaskier, only to find that— shit. Jaskier's eyes are brimming with tears.

"He's never has toys before," he whispers. "Not real ones. Just trash I could find around the inn." He sniffs, smearing away a stray tear on his cheek. "Fuck, Geralt. These are beautiful."

"Hmm," says Geralt, and he watches as, hesitantly, Rian reaches for the wolf doll.

"What's this one?" he asks.

"A wolf," Geralt tells him.

"It's scary," says Rian.

"A bit," Geralt agrees.

Rian meets Geralt's eye. "So are you," he says casually. "But you've never hurt me or Papa yet."

"And I never will," says Geralt. "I swear it."

Rian seems to consider this. Then he nods. "Okay," he allows, though he still sounds skeptical.

But he's allowed to be skeptical, Geralt thinks. He has no reason not to be.

"Come," Geralt tells him, kneeling on the floor. "Bring your toys. We'll... uh. Play with them." The words feel ridiculous in his mouth, but Rian just gathers up the dolls obediently and scampers down to the floor beside Geralt. Jaskier gets out of bed too, still wiping at his eyes, and joins them.

Rian gets down to business immediately: "This one is me," he says, pointing to the child doll. "And this one is you, Papa." He hands the man doll to Jaskier. "And this is you." He pushes the wolf toward Geralt. "Oh, and this is Roach," he adds, indicating the horse. "And this one—" He flicks a finger at the dragon— "is Szymon." He glances up questioningly at Jaskier, then at Geralt. "Is he dead now?" he asks.

Jaskier hesitates, then nods. "He's dead."

"That's good. He was mean." Unceremoniously, Rian tosses the dragon against the wall. "Okay," he says then. "So now, the rest of us get to go on an adventure, like in Papa's songs. I'll make up the story. Once upon a time..."

And Geralt smiles at Jaskier, and Jaskier smiles back.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day passes quickly. The three of them play with the dolls until noon, at which point they go downstairs for lunch.

Geralt orders three meat pies.

"Wait," says Jaskier. "I can share with Rian; I don't need much."

"Bullshit," scoffs Geralt. "You're too thin." He turns back to the innkeeper and repeats: "Three meat pies."

Jaskier says nothing, but he smells like gratitude, and the rest of lunch is a success: the meat pies are good, and no one throws up.

When they're finished, they return upstairs and Rian keeps playing— this time by himself, while Geralt and Jaskier sit nearby and watch.

"He has a big imagination," Jaskier tells Geralt quietly, sounding sad. "He's always telling stories and making up songs with me."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"I used to find crumpled pieces of paper for him, scraps of cloth, orange peels, shit like that. And he'd play with those for hours in our room while I cleaned tables."

"Better than nothing," says Geralt.

"I suppose so," Jaskier sighs. "But he deserved more."

"And you'll give him more, now that you can," Geralt says.

Jaskier nods, sets his jaw. "Damn fucking right I will," he mutters. "I'll give him the whole fucking world."

Geralt believes him.

***

Evening falls, and they have their dinner: potatoes and vegetables and salted pork.

"My tummy feels good," Rian says groggily, as they head back up the stairs to their room. "Like it doesn't hurt," he goes on, his head lolling against Jaskier's shoulder. "It's not hungry at all." He says it like it's something he's never experienced before.

"That's how it's supposed to be," Geralt tells him. "Get used to it. You won't be going hungry anymore."

"Oh," says Rian, his eyes closing tiredly.

By the time they reach the room, he's asleep, and Jaskier tucks him into bed.

Then he turns to Geralt, worrying his fingers together at his sides. He smells nervous.

"Thank you," he says.

"Not a problem."

There's a long pause. Jaskier seems to be steeling himself for something. "I could— I give really good head," he says at last, with a sad little smile that's probably meant to be flirtatious. "If I do say so myself. I'm probably one of the best on the continent, honestly. We'd have to be quiet, so as not to wake Rian, but—"

"Jaskier," growls Geralt. "I told you, I don't need that from you."

"Right, but it's just, I can't pay you back otherwise," says Jaskier, a note of panic creeping into his voice. "And I know witchers don't do anything for free, so if you'll just please let me suck you off, and then maybe if you could agree to keep us around in exchange, at least for a little while, till I can get a job or something—"

"Jaskier."

"Wait, I'm not finished—"

"Jaskier!"

And Jaskier breaks off, smelling strongly of ripe, sour fear.

"Sorry," he whispers.

"It's— I'm not angry," huffs Geralt. "But I don't need you to pay me. Sexually or otherwise."

Jaskier blinks. "But I thought witchers—"

"You thought wrong," Geralt says.

"So you don't... require payment?"

"No."

"And you're not planning to leave us?"

"No."

"Fuck," breathes Jaskier. "Geralt, that's— whew, I don't even know what to say. And that's rare. Because usually I have rather a lot to say. So this is— this is quite a red-letter day—"

"Jaskier, go to bed," Geralt tells him.

"Right," says Jaskier. "Bed. Right."

He crawls under the covers beside Rian, so his back is to Geralt.

"Thank you," he says again, after a few minutes of silence.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "You're welcome."

Jaskier seems to relax a bit. Geralt watches until his shoulders are rising and falling rhythmically.

Then he sits down and meditates.

Or tries to.

Mostly, he just finds himself thinking of Jaskier.

***

A few hours later, Rian awakens and sits up, rubbing his eyes. He looks around in the candlelight, blinks at Geralt, then hops out of bed.

"Hi," he says, padding over on little bare feet.

"You should be asleep," Geralt mutters.

"You're not," Rian points out. He frowns. "What are you doing, anyway? Are you keeping out the monsters?"

"Yes."

"And the Bad Men?"

"There won't be any more bad men," Geralt tells him. "You don't need to worry about them anymore."

"Oh," says Rian, still frowning. "That's good. I hate them."

"Hmm."

"They hurt Papa. In his bum and in his throat," says Rian matter-of-factly, tapping his own throat for emphasis. "And also all over him. They made lots of bruises."

"Hmm," grumbles Geralt. Then, all of a sudden, a disturbing thought occurs to him. "Rian," he says. "Did these, uh, bad men— did they ever hurt you too?"

Rian shakes his head. "I never saw them, 'cause Papa always gave me medicine and put me under the bed. That made me safe."

"What about Szymon?" presses Geralt. "Did he ever hurt you?"

"He hit me sometimes," says Rian. "When I cried too much."

"That's the only time he touched you?"

Rian nods, looking confused.

And Geralt breathes a sigh of relief— not that he's glad the child had been hit, but at least he was never molested.

Rian sits down, and leans his head on Geralt's arm. "You're really strong, huh?" he asks.

"Yes," says Geralt.

"Will the baby be strong too?"

"Baby?"

"Yeah, 'cause Papa says he's gonna have a baby, and he said you're the baby's other daddy," Rian says.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "I'm sure the baby will be strong, yes," he says, hoping it's the right response.

"Oh. I wish you were my other daddy," Rian says softly. "Then I could be strong too, and I could've fought off the Bad Men for Papa."

Geralt looks down at the child, at a loss for words. He's four fucking years old; does he really think he's at all to blame for the abuse his father suffered?

"But Papa says my other daddy is a Bad Man and I can't ever meet him. So I guess that's how come I'm so small."

"You're small because you're malnourished," grunts Geralt.

"What's that?"

"Means you haven't been getting enough to eat. You'll grow bigger with three meals a day."

"Really?"

"Yes," says Geralt.

And fuck, there's so much more that he wants to say to the child: He wants to assure him that he's not the son of some man who raped Jaskier four years ago, not really. He wants to tell him that family can be more than blood. That if Rian wants it, Geralt will be his other father, just as he'll be the new baby's father.

But he doesn't know how to put any of that into words that a four-year-old could understand. He barely knows how to put it into words that he can understand.

It's really more of a feeling, than anything else. A feeling of desperate alpha protectiveness like nothing he's ever known before.

He puts his hand on Rian's bony little back and rubs a circle over his shoulders.

"You're warm," says Rian sleepily. Geralt watches him slip a thumb into his mouth, watches his eyes slide shut.

And soon enough, he's fast asleep against Geralt's arm.

Geralt picks him up gently and places him in bed beside Jaskier.

Jaskier, even in sleep, seems to sense this. He rolls over, pulls Rian closer.

They love each other, Geralt thinks to himself. They love each other more than anything, and Geralt wonders if it's naïve, or brazen, or foolish, to think that they could ever love him too.

But as Geralt stares down at them, nestled together in bed, both of them clean and warm and well-fed for probably the first time in longer than Geralt cares to imagine, he decides that it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that he's going to protect them, and care for them, and keep them safe.

And he will.

Chapter Text

It's dawn, Jaskier and Rian are still sleeping, and Jaskier smells of anger.

It's a rotting, sickly smell, faint under Jaskier's stronger omega scents of flowers and sweetness, but it's still easily discernible, at least to a witcher.

Geralt is used to Jaskier smelling of fear and pain— those scents cling to him almost constantly. But anger is new.

Geralt sits there, considering whether or not to wake him, but before he can act, Jaskier's eyes fly open on their own.

He lies there for a while, breathing hard, frowning.

"Bad dream?" Geralt asks gruffly.

Jaskier just nods.

Geralt doesn't press him.

But then, after a moment, Jaskier sits up. Wordlessly, he gets out of bed and joins Geralt on the floor, cross-legged.

Geralt peers at him. "You want to tell me what it was about?" he asks.

"Oh, nothing important," says Jaskier, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Just man's inhumanity to man, and that sort of thing." He pauses, then goes on: "You know, if there's one thing I learned on the streets, it's how cruel people can be when they sense weakness."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

Jaskier lets out a sigh, draws his knees up toward his chest, and rests his chin on them. His eyes grow distant. "Like, I'd be trying to sleep in an alley or something," he says, "back when I was really obviously pregnant. And people would walk by and kick me in the stomach. For a laugh, you know? They wouldn't give me coin, or blankets, or food, or any sort of help; they'd just kick me in my pregnant fucking belly, or piss on my face, or pull down my pants—" He breaks off, scowling, once again reeking of anger.

"This is what you were dreaming about," Geralt realizes.

"Among other things, yeah."

Geralt shakes his head. "Those people were monsters, Jaskier. Monsters in human skin."

"Then there are a lot of monsters in the world," says Jaskier, one eyebrow arched. "Because no one— no one— gives a flying fuck about a pregnant omega who's not their mate."

"I do," says Geralt.

"Well. You claim to."

It feels like a slap in the face. "You doubt me?" Geralt demands, perhaps more roughly than he'd intended.

Jaskier flinches minutely, but keeps his eyes locked with Geralt's. "I'm not sure," he says. "But I certainly don't understand you. Or why you're helping me. Us. If you don't want sex in return, and you know I can't pay you—"

"You needed help," Geralt grunts. "Is that not reason enough?"

"Not really," says Jaskier. "Not when I needed help for four and a half years and you're the first person who actually did something about it and didn't just take the opportunity to rape me."

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. "I can't speak for those other men, the ones who abused you. But any witcher would have killed Szymon and set you free. It wasn't a difficult choice."

"Okay, fine," says Jaskier. "But then explain everything else."

"Everything else?"

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "This inn?" he says. "The room? The bath? The clothes? The food? Gods, so much fucking food. And the toys for Rian; those can't have been cheap."

"Those were all things that you needed," says Geralt. "What would you have had me do, Jaskier? Leave you and your child on the streets to fend for yourselves?"

"It would have made more sense if you had."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"So you agree."

"No," Geralt frowns. "I— Hmm." He looks away, frustrated.

Jaskier just waits.

"A witcher's life is solitary," Geralt says at last. "I've been alone for a long while. I'd forgotten what it felt like, to have any company other than a horse. Perhaps I thought it was time for a change."

"So you decided to choose a pregnant whore and his son as your companions. That's very logical."

"Dammit, Jaskier," rumbles Geralt. "You're making this difficult. I feel something, when I'm with you."

"Feel what?"

"I don't know. A feeling."

"I thought witchers didn't have feelings," says Jaskier.

"Hmm." Geralt frowns.

"I'm joking," Jaskier tells him. "I know you have feelings. I just—" He fiddles with the hem of his shirt for a moment, then shoots Geralt a look. "Is this, like, a romantic feeling, or a purely platonic one, or—"

"I don't know."

Jaskier nods. "Interesting."

They sit there in silence for a while. Then Jaskier says, very quietly, "Rian likes you."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "He's a good boy."

"Yeah. But, uh. Listen, you should know, I—" Jaskier takes a deep breath, then continues in a rush: "You should know that I might have sort of told him you're the one who got me pregnant. I wasn't thinking, I'm sorry, but I'm sure he's already forgotten, so—"

"He hasn't forgotten."

"What?"

"He woke up earlier in the night. We talked about it."

"You—" Jaskier shuts his eyes. "Shit. I am so sorry."

"I already knew. I heard you when you told him in the bath." Geralt shrugs. "I'm a witcher. Enhanced senses."

"Shit," repeats Jaskier. "Geralt—"

"I don't mind."

Jaskier frowns. "You don't?"

"I don't. And if you'll let me," Geralt adds solemnly, "I intend to help you raise it. The new baby. And Rian, for that matter."

For a moment, Jaskier just squints at him. When he finally speaks, his voice dripping with skepticism: "Let me get this straight," he says. "You, Geralt of Rivia, the Butcher of Blaviken, a fearsome, powerful alpha witcher, want to help raise the bastard children of a penniless teenage omega whore you barely know. Right."

"Don't speak of yourself like that."

"But it's true."

"It's—" Geralt scowls, looks away. "Rian said he wished I were his other father."

"Fuck. He did?"

"Yes."

"And what did you say?"

"He didn't give me a chance to answer. Just started talking about how is actual father was a 'bad man.'"

"Shit," mutters Jaskier. "I know I shouldn't have told him that, but he just kept asking, and asking, and I thought it wouldn't do any harm, but now he thinks that— that it defines him somehow, and—" Jaskier's voice breaks.

"He deserves to know the truth, Jaskier," Geralt assures him softly. "But with your permission, I'd like to tell him that that other man doesn't matter. And that if he'll have me, I'll gladly take on the role of his alpha father."

"You met me two days ago," says Jaskier. "Don't you think it's a little early to..."

"I can wait, if you'd be more comfortable."

"He's four years old," Jaskier says, seemingly speaking more to himself than to Geralt. "You can't tell a kid something like that and then later decide to leave when you get sick of him."

"You think I intend to leave?"

"How the fuck should I know?" asks Jaskier. "People are fickle, and flighty, and one day they care about you and the next they kick you to the curb."

"You've been let down before," Geralt murmurs. He can see it, clear as day, in Jaskier's haunted eyes. "By someone you trusted."

Jaskier scoffs. "Two someones, in fact."

"Your parents?"

Jaskier nods. Sighs.

"What happened?"

Jaskier's lips twist upward in a bitter approximation of a smile. "They kicked me out," he says. "The day I presented as an omega. They let me take my lute and the clothes on my back and that's it, and— Geralt, I was thirteen. And I was spoiled. I had no fucking idea how to survive on my own. But they didn't give a single fuck, just told me to leave and never come back."

Geralt feels his jaw clench with barely-contained rage. He thinks, for a moment, of his own mother.

"But I'm gonna make damn sure that Rian never knows what it feels like to be abandoned by someone he loves," Jaskier says. "Not if I can help it." He glances over at Rian, who's still fast asleep in the bed.

Geralt nods slowly. "I understand," he says.

"I guess maybe I have some trust issues," Jaskier mumbles after a moment, with a weak little shrug. "Sorry."

"Hmm."

"I think I'm scared," Jaskier goes on, more quietly, "because honestly, I feel something for you too."

"And what's that?" asks Geralt, intrigued.

Jaskier smiles. "Well you see, it's just how you so eloquently described it earlier. 'A feeling.'"

"Hmm."

"And I haven't felt a feeling toward someone other than Rian in a long time. So it's—" Jaskier shrugs. "It's just weird."

"Hmm."

"And also you smell good," Jaskier adds. "Like an alpha, but not— not disgusting, like most alphas. You smell like destiny, and heroics, and—" He breaks off, and Geralt is pretty sure he's blushing. "Anyway," he concludes quickly. "It's nice."

"Hmm."

"You say that a lot. Seems like cheating."

"Hmm."

"Fuck you," laughs Jaskier. "I'm going back to sleep." He stands up, hesitates, then claps Geralt on the shoulder. "Good talk," he offers. He slides back into bed, pulls the covers up to his chin. "See you in a couple hours, my dear witcher."

And with that, he yawns, and rolls over.

"Hmm," says Geralt.

He wonders if perhaps what he means is something more akin to I love you.

Chapter Text

Breakfast that morning is bacon and eggs, and as they eat, Rian chatters happily. He reminisces about the morning when he ate a forgotten slice bacon off the kitchen floor as Szymon laughed at him. He talks about the evening he found some charred bits of bacon in the trash and gobbled them up before anyone could catch him. He cheerfully reminds Jaskier of the time when they hadn't eaten in three days and Jaskier smuggled him some fatty bacon pieces off a dirty plate by the sink.

Jaskier fidgets. He smells mortified.

"Do you remember?" Rian asks, tapping on his father's arm.

"I remember," mutters Jaskier. "It's just... not a good memory for me."

"How come?" asks Rian, stuffing his mouth with scrambled egg.

Jaskier sighs. "Because you were hungry," he says. "Fathers aren't supposed to let their kids go hungry."

"I was always hungry," Rian points out innocently.

"I know," sighs Jaskier, closing his eyes. "Believe me, I know."

"Rian!" booms Geralt, with a sidelong glance at Jaskier. "Do you want to hear a story?"

Rian nods eagerly.

"It's about a time I almost died," says Geralt. "It was a few years ago, and I had accepted a contract to kill a monster that lived in the mountains."

"Because you're a witcher," says Rian. "That's what Papa told me."

"Yes," says Geralt. "And the townspeople didn't know what sort of monster it was, but—"

He breaks off and looks around, distracted by the sudden overwhelming stretch of ale and sweat and rotting leaves. Sure enough, approaching the table is a man— an alpha— with a greedy expression on his face.

"You! Witcher!" he says.

"What do you want?" Geralt mutters.

"Well! Now, I'm fascinated, see, because I didn't know witchers took omega playthings," says the man. He laughs, and leers down at Jaskier, who's sitting there frozen, reeking of fear.

"Especially not ones as pretty as this," the man goes on, reaching out to touch Jaskier's face.

Geralt is on his feet in an instant, seizing the man's wrist, wrenching it back with a growl.

"Hey!" says the man. "No need to— fuck. That hurt. Possessive of your toys, are you?"

Geralt retains his hold on the man's wrist, and lets out another low growl.

"I understand why you'd want to keep him for yourself. But I'd pay you, though, see," the man goes on. "Maybe 50 orens, for an hour with him, and then I'd—"

Geralt knees him in the crotch, hard, then punches his nose for good measure. The man reels back, swearing, and Geralt grabs him by the throat. "If you so much as look at him, I assure you that it will be the last thing you do," he hisses. "Leave this inn. Now. And don't come back."

He removes his hand from the man's neck, sending him stumbling backward, clutching at his bleeding nose and nodding dumbly.

"Then go!" snarls Geralt.

And the man turns on his heel and runs, like the stinking coward he is.

Geralt watches until the inn's door closes behind him. Then he snaps his attention to Jaskier, who's gripping the edge of the table, gasping for air, and smelling strongly of raw, unmitigated terror.

"Jaskier," Geralt says.

Jaskier doesn't respond. His blue eyes are wide and unseeing. His breathing is shallow, uncontrolled.

A panic attack, Geralt realizes, as he listens to Jaskier hyperventilate.

He glances over at Rian, who's sitting pressed against his father with his thumb in his mouth. "His mind is hurting him badly," the child volunteers, like it's something Jaskier has discussed with him before. "So that means he can't talk or breathe."

"This happens often?" asks Geralt.

Rian shrugs. "I don't know. I guess so. That was a Bad Man, huh?"

"Yes."

"But you punched him and made him go away," Rian says. "So he couldn't hurt Papa."

"Yes."

"Rian," whispers Jaskier then, brokenly.

"Papa?"

Jaskier pulls Rian close and starts to cry.

"Jaskier, you're safe," Geralt tells him. "The man is gone. He won't be back. He won't hurt you."

He's not sure if Jaskier hears him. "You're safe," he repeats anyway. "I'm here to protect you. You're not alone anymore."

Jaskier just sits there, crying and shaking and gulping down air, with Rian clutched to his chest. Minutes pass.

Then, at last, Jaskier lifts his head. "Geralt?" he says hoarsely, his eyes sliding over Geralt's face.

"I'm here. You're safe, Jaskier."

"Fuck," says Jaskier. "Fuck. That alpha—"

"He's gone."

"I know. I know, you made him leave." Jaskier takes a deep breath. "Thank you. I'm— fuck, I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For—" Jaskier wipes at his tearstained cheeks. "For panicking like that. It was stupid. I'm so stupid."

"You are not stupid," Geralt tells him firmly. "You're traumatized. There's a difference."

Jaskier smiles sharply. "Doesn't feel like it," he says. He grabs his fork and stabs a few times at a piece of egg.

Then he seems to give up.

"I think I'd like to go back to bed, if that's alright," he mumbles, setting down the fork.

"Of course."

Jaskier stands. "Okay," he says, swaying a little. "Okay. See you."

And Jaskier stumbles off, across the room, up the staircase, around a corner.

Geralt keeps an eye on him until he's out of sight. Then he sighs.

He can't remember the last time he felt so helpless. It is not, he discovers, an overly pleasant feeling.

***

"Will Papa have a Bad Day now?" Rian asks quietly, licking bacon grease off his fingers.

Geralt frowns and looks away from the empty staircase. "A bad day?"

"Yeah, like when he stays in bed and he just sleeps and cries," says Rian. "And then I have to tell Szymon he can't clean the tables and then Szymon hits me and we don't get to eat."

"Hmm," says Geralt, his frown deepening. "Szymon is gone now."

"Oh yeah," muses Rian. "But will Papa still have a Bad Day?"

"Perhaps," Geralt says. "It's alright if he does. Neither of you will be punished for it."

"Oh," says Rian. "And I can still eat?"

"Yes."

"And Papa can too?"

"Yes."

"Oh." Rian frowns. "You promise?"

"I promise," says Geralt.

With his fingers, Rian picks up his last piece of egg and pops it in his mouth. Geralt watches him chew for a moment.

"How often does he have these... 'bad days'?" he asks then.

"Not that much," says Rian. "Only sometimes. And he always says sorry after."

"Hmm."

"All done," Rian proclaims, swallowing and pushing away his empty plate. "Can we go to Papa now?"

So they go.

***

When they reach the room, Jaskier is lying in bed, his body curled into a ball, his eyes blank. He still smells of fear, Geralt can't help but notice. Fear and shame.

He lifts his head slightly when Geralt and Rian enter, then slumps back down and covers his face with the blankets.

Wordlessly, Rian crawls into bed beside him. "It's okay, Papa," he says. "Geralt said we still can eat."

Jaskier just lets out a sob.

Geralt sits in the chair by the window, unsure what to do or say. A long time goes by, perhaps an hour, perhaps more.

Then, finally, Jaskier's face emerges from the blankets. "Geralt," he says.

"Jaskier."

Jaskier takes a deep breath. "I'm so fucked up," he whispers.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I don't think so."

Jaskier pushes down the covers and draws his knees up to his chin. Beside him, Rian is still sleeping, and Jaskier glances at him briefly. "That alpha," he says then, in a trembling voice. "He smelled like the first one who ever..." He shuts his eyes. "And I felt like I was there again, thirteen years old, getting raped by the side of the road."

"Hmm."

"I didn't fight him off," Jaskier continues. "I didn't even try. I just lay there and cried. And he smelled fucking awful, same as the alpha today, and Geralt, the one today— I would have gone with him, if you hadn't been here. I would have done whatever he wanted; I still wouldn't have fought back." Jaskier sniffs wetly. "I suppose it's true, what they say, isn't it? That I'm a filthy omega slut who can just never get enough alpha cock."

"Jaskier," growls Geralt.

But Jaskier goes on. "Gods, you must think I'm so fucking pathetic," he mutters. "Unable to protect myself. Unable to feed my own kid." He sniffs. "Giving him those fucking scraps of half-eaten bacon."

"You are not pathetic," Geralt grunts. "Not in any way."

"Yeah? Then what am I?" scoffs Jaskier.

"I told you," says Geralt. "You're traumatized."

"I'm weak."

"If you were weak, you and Rian would be dead," Geralt tells him. "You're anything but weak."

Jaskier glances up at that. Blinks. "Really?" he asks softly.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Yes."

Jaskier seems to consider this for a while. Then, very slowly, he nods. "Thank you," he whispers. He reaches out his hand, his palm upturned.

Geralt stares. Jaskier wiggles his fingers invitingly.

Still uncertain, Geralt rests his own large hand on Jaskier's smaller one. He glances up, questioning.

Jaskier just smiles shyly, and folds down his fingers, and holds on tight.

Chapter Text

Jaskier, as it turns out, does not have a 'bad day.'

He sits in bed, holding Geralt's hand, for a few minutes. Then he lets go, inhales deeply, and wakes up Rian. The two of them get out of bed and play on the floor with Rian's bean-bag dolls for over an hour.

Geralt, meanwhile, stares out the window and listens with one ear to the story they're making up together, about pirates and dragons and a variety of creatures that don't actually exist. Mainly though, he finds himself wishing he could violently kill everyone who's ever hurt Jaskier. He imagines, in great detail, the blood, the crushed bones, the pleas for mercy—

"I'm hungry," Rian announces at around noon. "Let's eat lunch."

"Hold on," Geralt hears Jaskier tell him. "Papa needs to talk with Geralt about something for a minute. Then we can have lunch, okay?"

"Okay," says Rian, and Geralt turns around, intrigued.

Jaskier takes him by the arm and pulls him to the corner of the room. "I've been thinking, dear witcher. And I have a proposition for you," he says, batting his eyelashes. "Or— or maybe a request."

"What is it?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier takes a deep breath. "It's nothing outlandish. Just, if I could skip lunch today— and every day for the foreseeable future— but you could pay me the amount of coin my meal would have cost? That would be wonderful. And— and the same with dinner."

"No," says Geralt. He frowns. "What do you want the money for?"

Jaskier's face falls a bit. "Nothing, just a— a stupid potion, is all."

"What sort of potion?"

Jaskier looks away. "A scent suppressant potion?" he mumbles. "As evidenced this morning, the smell of an unbonded omega attracts rather a lot of attention from alphas, and I thought it might be nice to, uh, reduce that."

"I'll buy it for you," Geralt says immediately. "No need for you to go without food."

"Wait, really?" asks Jaskier, his blue eyes going wide.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "Yes. Of course."

Jaskier opens his mouth, as though about to respond further, but just then:

"Papa, I'm hungry!" calls Rian from the floor.

"Okay, honey," says Jaskier over his shoulder. He shoots Geralt one last look— soft and grateful— then ruffles Rian's hair and helps him to his feet. "Let's go eat."

***

Geralt orders their three meals— fish and bread today— and is about to head back to the table where Jaskier and Rian are waiting when the innkeeper says, "Sir."

Geralt turns back around.

"The little one," she says, smiling warmly. "Is he yours?"

"Uh," says Geralt. "Not— exactly. Though after a fashion, I suppose you could—" He frowns. "Hmm."

"Not by blood, but perhaps in other ways?" the innkeeper suggests. "Something like that?"

"Yes," says Geralt, relieved. "Something like that."

The innkeeper nods. "My youngest, Sam, is about his age. Very friendly," she says then. "If he ever needs a playmate."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I'll ask his father."

The innkeeper smiles again. "Just let me know."

"I will."

***

"He's never had real interaction with other kids," Jaskier muses, cutting up his fish. "I'm sure it would be good for him."

"Hmm."

"Do you think it sounds fun, Rian?" asks Jaskier, stroking Rian's cheek. "Playing with another little boy?"

Rian nods shyly.

"Alright then," smiles Jaskier. "We'll give it a try."

***

Sam is five years old, and he's practically jumping for joy as he introduces himself to Rian.

Rian just glances up at Jaskier, obviously wary.

"This is Rian," Jaskier tells the other boy, his hand on Rian's back. "He's a bit shy."

"It's okay!" says Sam. "Rian, I have blocks! Wanna play?"

Rian nods, sticks his thumb in his mouth, and kneels down on the floor. Sam begins handing him painted wooden blocks.

Geralt glances at the innkeeper. She's smiling fondly. Then he looks at Jaskier, who's fidgeting with his fingers.

"You alright, love?" the innkeeper asks him eventually, touching Jaskier's shoulder.

Jaskier flinches. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just. You should be, uh, aware of something." He sighs, and lowers his voice. "It's possible that Rian will say things that— well, they might seem to imply that he's suffered some sort of abuse or neglect in his life, which—" He swallows. "See, there were circumstances beyond my control, up until recently, involving my working as a prostitute? In a rather oppressive environment? And—"

The innkeeper frowns deeply. "Are you alright, sweetheart?" she asks Jaskier, cutting him off. "Are you safe?"

"Yes!" Jaskier says hurriedly. "Yes, our heroic witcher here rescued us," —he elbows Geralt in the arm— "and he's been providing for us, and— and everything's quite hunky-dory now." He smiles. "But— Look, I'd understand completely if you'd like your son to keep his distance, given Rian's... background. Just say the word, and—"

"Sweetheart, I wouldn't dream of it," says the innkeeper. "None of that bothers me. Every child deserves a playmate."

"Oh," says Jaskier, exhaling. "Well. Thank you. I appreciate it." He gives her a smile.

Geralt feels his muscles relax slightly. The innkeeper is a good woman, he decides. Rian will be safe with her and her son.

"I'm Jaskier, by the way," Jaskier says then. "And this is Geralt."

Geralt nods politely.

"Bethelda," says the innkeeper. She shakes their hands, beaming.

Geralt hangs around until Rian takes his thumb out of his mouth and starts actually playing.

Then, with Jaskier's blessing, he heads into town in search of a scent suppressant potion.

***

As he walks through town, he passes a cobbler and a tailor, and it occurs to him that he should get Jaskier and Rian fitted for their own shoes and clothing. Both of them have been going barefoot, and though Bethelda's sons' hand-me-down clothes are clean and functional enough, they really shouldn't be permanent. And he still has plenty of the coin he took from Szymon's bedside table left.

When he reaches the healer, he buys not only a scent suppressant, but also a salve for bruises and a bottle of witch hazel.

***

"Witch hazel?" asks Jaskier, when Geralt returns to the inn. Rian is napping and Jaskier is sitting by the window, writing something on a scrap of paper. "What for?"

"Hmm," mutters Geralt. "For your—" He huffs. "Your rear end."

"Oh." Jaskier blushes.

"I wasn't sure if it still hurt."

"It does," says Jaskier, smiling weakly. "I'm rather used to it by now, but. Thank you. For this. For these. How much did they cost?"

"None of your concern," Geralt grunts. "What are you writing?"

"None of your concern," smirks Jaskier.

"Hmm."

Jaskier holds his gaze for a moment, then lets out a laugh. "It's nothing much," he says. "Just a lullaby for Rian."

"May I see it?"

"You'll hear it tonight," says Jaskier, with a wink. "I'm quite excited, actually. I never had much chance to sing him lullabies, before." He stands up, worrying the bottle of witch hazel between his fingers. "Too busy drugging him with sleeping potion and sticking him under the bed, you know." He says it almost casually, smiling, but his voice is brittle and his smile is sad.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "Well. I look forward to hearing it."

***

And that night, after dinner, after Jaskier has tucked Rian into bed, Geralt stands in the corner and listens as Jaskier sings softly—

Heady-down, Rian, you've had a busy day,
searching for treasure and dragons to slay.
Tonight you'll have a host of new memories to keep.
Hush-a-bye, Rian is fast asleep.

Doo-doo doo doo,

All the day's adventures deep in your dreams abide:
Conquering the pirates and sailing with the tide.
Sweet dreams, a new morning waits to break through.
Rian, I love you.

Jaskier kisses Rian's head.

And Geralt doesn't cry; witchers don't cry at lullabies. But it's the closest he's come to it in a long, long while.

Chapter Text

"Geralt," says Jaskier, later that night, as Geralt sits down to meditate. "Do you never sleep?"

"I sleep," Geralt tells him. "Neither as much nor as often as humans do. But every few days."

"Oh." Jaskier lowers his eyes, fiddles with the hem of his blanket. He smells nervous, suddenly. "When— when do you think you'll sleep, then?"

"Perhaps tomorrow," Geralt says.

Jaskier doesn't reply.

"Jaskier," grunts Geralt, when he can no longer stand the ripe scent of anxiety filling the room. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," says Jaskier quickly. "Just. It's fine if Rian and I sleep on the floor, right?"

Geralt frowns. "Why would you sleep on the floor?"

"Because..." Jaskier trails off. "Never mind," he says then. "It's fine. If you want to share the bed, that's fine; I understand." And he smiles, but Geralt sees the tension in his shoulders, the shadow of fear in his eyes.

And finally Geralt realizes: Jaskier thinks Geralt is looking to sleep with him, and perhaps do other things with him. After all, for the past four years of Jaskier's life, sharing a bed with an alpha has meant one thing and one thing only.

"No," says Geralt. "That's not— You needn't worry. I'll be sleeping on my bedroll, on the floor."

"But— But you're the one paying for the inn," Jaskier says quietly. "Fuck, you're paying for everything."

"I'm paying for it for your benefit," Geralt tells him firmly. "And the bed is for you and Rian."

"Really?"

"Yes," says Geralt. "I won't argue this point."

Jaskier nods. "Okay," he whispers, and Geralt thinks he might see tears in his eyes. "Okay. I— good night, then, Geralt."

"Good night."

"And thank you."

"Hmm."

***

Jaskier has no nightmares that night. In fact, he barely even stirs.

He and Rian both sleep very soundly, Geralt has noticed. He supposes it makes sense— he's sure they both have a lot of sleep to catch up on. He has no idea when Jaskier used to sleep, since he spent his days cleaning tables and his nights getting whored out, but he assumes that whatever sleep he got was brief and fitful. And he can only imagine how Rian's sleep cycle has been affected by years of routinely getting dosed with sleeping potion.

So Geralt is glad that they get to sleep now, safe and undisturbed. He meditates, and the hours pass quickly.

***

The next morning, Jaskier wakes up just as the sun begins to stream in through the window. He stretches and sits up, yawning.

"Good morning," he tells Geralt brightly. He glances down at Rian, who's still fast asleep, and tucks a curl behind his ear.

"Hmm," says Geralt. He pauses, then asks: "What's your plan for today?"

Jaskier tilts his head to the side. "Well. I suppose it'll be another exciting day of eating, playing with Rian, eating, playing with Rian, eating, and going to bed," he says, smiling wryly. "Why do you ask?"

"Hmm," Geralt grunts. "I thought I might take you and Rian into town. Buy you some new clothes. Nicer ones."

Jaskier's response is... unexpected. He frowns, sits up straighter, crosses his arms. He smells defensive. Almost angry. "So this is it?" he says. "This is what you've wanted all along? To truss me up in fancy clothes, like a good little pet? Will you show me off to the world, pray tell, or just keep me to yourself?"

"What? Jaskier, no." Geralt is taken aback.

"You want to fuck me?" Jaskier goes on. "You want to own me? You want to— to—" His voice breaks. "Shit," he whispers.

"Jaskier," says Geralt. "What are you talking about?"

Jaskier blinks, rubs his eyes, and seems to come back to himself somewhat, though he's still breathing heavily. "Sorry," he says. "Sorry, I just... I used to hear it all the time. Back at Szymon's. Alphas would always tell me I was too pretty to be dressed in rags, tell me how they could take me home and dress me up in fine clothes, and feed me grapes and cheese and roasted pheasant, and I'd be their little omega pet and spend all day in bed with their massive alpha cock up my ass."

"That's not what I meant, Jaskier. You know that's not what I meant. Fuck. I just want you to have your own fucking clothes."

"So you're saying you don't want to... uh, spend all day with your cock up my ass?" Jaskier says, like he intends it to sound like a joke. But his voice is too small, too scared, and Geralt knows he isn't joking.

"Haven't we been through this? Haven't I already told you I don't?" Geralt asks.

"Yes," admits Jaskier. "But— but the thing is, you do. I know you do. I can smell it on you sometimes. And that first night, when I kissed you, you were so hard I could've—"

"Hmm," says Geralt, cutting him off.

"What, do you deny it?" asks Jaskier.

"Hmm," Geralt says again. "I— Hm."

"That's not an answer."

Geralt hesitates, wondering how to respond. At last he takes a deep breath, and: "The body reacts as it will," he mutters. "I may be a mutant, but I am not immune to arousal. However, physical arousal is different than intent, different than— than actual desire. And I have no intention of fucking you, no desire to fuck you, because you have no desire to fuck me, and as I think I've already informed you, I don't fuck people who don't want it."

For a long time, Jaskier is quiet. "I do believe that's the longest sentence I've ever heard you speak," he says at last.

"Hmm."

"Do you mean it?" Jaskier asks, squinting.

"Yes, I mean it."

"You might have to tell me a few more times," says Jaskier, glancing down and fidgeting with his fingers. "Before I believe you."

"That's alright."

Jaskier lifts his eyes. Smiles slightly. "Thanks," he says.

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. "Nothing to thank me for."

"Maybe not," shrugs Jaskier. "But still." His smile grows: an earnest, grateful smile. "Thanks."

***

After a breakfast of porridge and fruit, Geralt and Jaskier go into town.

They leave Rian at the inn, playing with Sam under Bethelda's supervision, because Jaskier wants to introduce him to the outside world gradually, with small outings, before bringing him along on something like a shopping trip. That makes sense to Geralt.

They walk, side by side, down the cobblestone streets, in the direction of the tailor. For a while, neither of them speaks.

"You know I'll outgrow the clothes as I start to show," says Jaskier eventually, lifting an absent hand to his stomach. "I'm only a month along, but sooner or later..."

"Then I'll buy you new ones," Geralt says simply.

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Thank you," says Jaskier. "That's—" He laughs hollowly. "Fuck. You should have seen me when I was pregnant with Rian. The only clothes I had were the ones I'd left home in, right? Well, by the time I was three or four months along, my doublet didn't fit anymore. Then by, like, month six, my breeches and chemise didn't either. Eventually I just had to unbutton my breeches and pull my chemise up to here," he says, indicating a spot midway down his chest. "And let me tell you, Geralt, it's strangely humiliating to have to go around with your giant pregnant belly laid bare for the world to see."

"Hmm," says Geralt. He doesn't like to imagine Jaskier, fourteen years old, feeling humiliated by his exposed belly. Jaskier had deserved so much more, he thinks to himself bitterly: warm, fitting clothes; enough to eat; a place to sleep; somewhere to give birth and raise his child in comfort and safety. He's about to say as much when suddenly Jaskier stops walking.

"Shit," he breathes.

"What?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier just shakes his head, and Geralt follows his gaze to the window of a shop, where there hangs an ornately-carved wooden lute.

"The lute?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier nods mutely.

"You used to have one, right?"

"Yes," whispers Jaskier. "But Szymon pawned it. I think he got like 25 orens or something; it was in such shit condition after my time on the streets. Fuck, Geralt, I begged him to let me keep it, I told him I'd do anything..." He trails off.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Do you want that lute then? The one in the window?"

Jaskier turns and gapes at him. "That's— no, that's a really fucking nice lute, it would cost like—"

***

A thousand orens, the shopkeeper tells Geralt, when he inquires within.

"See?" says Jaskier, smiling weakly, clapping Geralt on the back. "It's too much."

"It's more than I have now," Geralt acknowledges. "But after a few successful contracts..."

"Geralt, no, I couldn't," says Jaskier. "I could never ask you for something like that."

"You don't need to ask," grunts Geralt. "I want to get it for you."

Jaskier stares at him, and Geralt can practically see the surge of hope, of desperate longing, traveling through his body, making his fingers vibrate at his sides. "Really?" he asks hoarsely.

"Yes," says Geralt. "In a few months' time, or maybe before that, the lute will be yours, I swear it."

Jaskier stands there for a few moments, blinking rapidly. And then, suddenly, he's hugging Geralt. "Thank you," he says into Geralt's shoulder. "Thank you so much. I thought— I thought I'd never get to play again, I'd given up hoping, but fuck, Geralt— Thank you."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

And he hugs Jaskier back.

Chapter Text

In the end, and after much reassurance by Geralt, Jaskier chooses a lightly-embroidered chemise, along with a teal-colored doublet and a matching pair of breeches. The material is simple— nowhere near as fine or expensive as the silky, purple, floral-pattered fabric Geralt knows Jaskier had actually preferred— but Jaskier still seems pleased with it as they exit the tailor's shop.

He looks different, dressed in nicer clothes. The subtle nobility of his features is more evident, and the teal brings out his eyes. He has... rather beautiful eyes. Geralt catches himself staring.

Thankfully, Jaskier is oblivious: he's too busy running his hands over his new outfit, examining the sleeves, fiddling with the clasps.

"It suits you," Geralt mutters, leading the way toward the cobbler.

"You think?" asks Jaskier. "Gods, it's been years since I dressed like this. I feel a bit like a fraud. Like, fuck, I'm just a whore, what am I doing in decent clothes, you know?"

"You're not a whore," grunts Geralt.

"Once a whore, always a whore, that's what I say."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "That's not true."

Jaskier shrugs. "It feels true."

"Hmm," Geralt repeats, unsure how to reply.

At last they reach the cobbler's shop, and Jaskier is fitted with a pair of leather boots, sturdy enough for Geralt's taste and fashionable enough for Jaskier's.

"Are they comfortable?" asks Geralt as they begin to head back to the inn, because Jaskier is uncharacteristically quiet, his face solemn and contemplative.

"Yes," says Jaskier immediately. "Yes, of course, they're perfect."

"Then what's wrong?" grunts Geralt.

"Oh. Sorry. Nothing," says Jaskier. "I was just thinking about what I said, about still feeling like a whore, and wondering if... if maybe once I get the lute—" He pauses and glances at Geralt, as if he expects Geralt to take back his earlier promise to buy it for him.

"The lute, yes," Geralt prompts.

"Uh. Right. So I was wondering if maybe once I get the lute, I might feel... maybe a wee bit less like a whore? And more like a bard. Or something. I— I've always wanted to be a bard, actually. Not just a kid playing his lute on the street because he's starving and needs coin, but like... a proper bard."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"I could even be your bard," Jaskier offers then, quietly. "Writing songs about your brave deeds, your heroic conquests, that sort of thing. You've got a bit of an image problem, to be honest. This 'Butcher of Blaviken' business? Imagine if I could get people singing about the great Geralt of Rivia, the— the White Wolf, or— or something."

"Butcher is right," Geralt tells him gruffly.

Jaskier narrows his eyes. "Yes, of course," he says, "you're a butcher who rescues poor omegas and their sons from sex slavery and gets them food and shelter and new clothes, all out of the kindness of your heart, without expecting anything in return. Definitely a butcher."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"So I'm right."

"No." Geralt comes to a stop in front of one of the market stalls, where a wizened old man is selling wooden sculptures. "How much for the boat?" Geralt asks, pointing.

"Twenty orens," says the man.

Which is more than it's worth, but Geralt buys it anyway.

"For Rian," he explains, as he and Jaskier leave the stall.

Jaskier nods sagely. "Right. Buying toys for the impoverished son of a prostitute. That's certainly very Butcher-like too."

Geralt glances at him, and Jaskier smiles, looking almost sad. "The world thinks you're an emotionless monster," he says, patting Geralt on the shoulder. "Someone needs to tell them they're wrong."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

He disagrees, of course.

But the sentiment is... nice, he supposes.

***

Rian runs to greet them when they arrive back at the inn.

"Wow!" he says. "Papa!" He touches the fabric of Jaskier's doublet, his mouth open in awe. "It's pretty."

"Why thank you, good sir," says Jaskier, with a mock bow.

Rian laughs, then frowns. "What about me?" he demands. "I want new clothes."

"We'll get you some soon," Geralt tells him. "But for now..." And with a flourish, he presents Rian with the wooden boat he'd been holding behind his back.

"A boat!" exclaims Rian, taking the gift in his small hands, his eyes alight. "For me? For playing pirates?"

"For playing whatever you like," Geralt says. And before he knows what's happening, Rian has thrown his arms around Geralt's legs.

"Thanks," he says, hugging him tightly.

Geralt's second hug of the day.

It's more than he deserves, he knows that full well.

(He finds himself smiling all the same.)

***

"Did you have fun with Sam?" Jaskier asks as they eat a lunch of meat pies and potatoes.

Rian nods eagerly. "We played knights and kings," he says. "I was a king."

"Really!" says Jaskier. "Geralt, did you hear that? We're in the presence of royalty right now."

Rian grins. "Yeah," he says. "And Sam's mama played too, a little. She's the innkeeper," he explains, as though Jaskier might not know. "She's a beta like Szymon."

"Mm," says Jaskier.

"She's a nice innkeeper though. Not like Szymon," Rian goes on.

"Right," says Jaskier. He ruffles Rian's hair. "She's very nice."

Rian goes quiet for a moment, prods at his pie with his finger. "Sam said his mama and daddy are bonded," he says then. He glances up at Jaskier. "And I said my papa has been bonded a million billion times. But then he said I'm lying because you can only be bonded once. And then his mama told him shhh, every family's different, and let's talk about something else." He frowns. "Then I was confused."

Geralt just sits on the other side of the table, stone still, trying to process Rian's words. Jaskier has been bonded multiple times? Claimed by other men?

He doesn't smell claimed, so he must have made use of potions that reverse the effects of an unwanted bond, but still... the thought of Jaskier being marked like that sends a surge of possessive anger through Geralt, fills him with a desire to—

"Come here, Rian," says Jaskier softly, jarring Geralt from his thoughts. Jaskier lifts Rian into his lap. "What part are you confused about?" he asks.

"About how come you've been bonded so many times if Sam says you can't do that," mumbles Rian.

Jaskier swallows, and shoots a glance in Geralt's direction.

"Do you want me to leave you two alone?" Geralt asks stiffly.

"No," says Jaskier. "No, it's fine. It's, um. You should know, I guess." He clears his throat, and turns his attention back to Rian. "I've told you how bonding works, right?"

Rian nods. "It's when you get bit in the neck."

"On the scent glands, exactly. And then what happens?"

"And then it's called a mark and it's like you're tied together," Rian says. "Then there's a big bruise and it makes you cry."

Jaskier sighs. "It's not supposed to make you cry," he says, pulling Rian a bit closer to his chest. "It's supposed to be something very special. You're supposed to love the person very much before they mark you. Because you don't want to be tied up with someone you don't love, do you?"

Rian shakes his head.

"So with Sam's parents, they fell in love and they marked each other, so now they're bonded. And Sam is right, that once you're bonded you can't be bonded to anyone else at the same time."

"Then how—"

"Because it didn't happen like that with me," says Jaskier. "I got marked by the Bad Men, even though I didn't want to be bonded to them. And Szymon didn't want me to be bonded to them either, because it changed my smell to something that— well, the Bad Men wouldn't want to come visit me anymore. So whenever I got marked, Szymon would buy me a special potion, which made the mark disappear and broke the bond."

"I remember," says Rian. "It hurt you."

"Yes," says Jaskier. "It's very painful, to break a bond. They're supposed to be for life."

Rian nods slowly.

A few moments pass in silence.

Then, unable to help himself: "How many times?" growls Geralt under his breath. "How many times were you marked against your will?"

Jaskier looks up briefly, before averting his eyes. "Uh. Twice on the street," he says. "And then twenty-two times at Szymon's." He smiles, looking embarrassed. "I didn't actually mean to keep track; I just sort of... did."

"Hmm," says Geralt. He's never been bonded himself, but he's heard stories of the emotional agony that comes along with an unwanted bond, even a short-lived one. He can't even begin to fathom what it would be like to go through the experience two dozen fucking times.

"Papa?" Rian says then.

"Yeah?"

And Rian leans up to whisper in Jaskier's ear. "I think you and Geralt should get bonded like Sam's mama and daddy," he says.

Geralt feels his heart speed up slightly, and tries to ignore whatever the feeling is that's trying to fill his chest. (It's longing, he recognizes, but he refuses to acknowledge it, not when Jaskier looks like he's working hard to keep from panicking.)

"Papa?" Rian asks, and Jaskier quickly schools his expression into something light and neutral.

"Maybe someday," he says evasively. "With someone. We'll see, okay? Now finish your lunch."

Rian obeys readily, scooting off Jaskier's lap and beginning to stuff his mouth with potatoes.

Geralt watches as Jaskier's gaze grows distant, watches as— slowly, absently— Jaskier lifts a hand to the place where his neck meets his shoulder, closes his eyes, and sighs.

And Geralt has a sudden urge to take him in his arms and hold him close and tell him it's alright.

But it's not alright, is it? Nothing Jaskier has been through is alright.

So Geralt just frowns, goes back to eating his pie, and waits for his heartbeat to slow.

Chapter Text

It's night, and Geralt can't sleep.

He has his bedroll and a blanket and even a pillow which Jaskier loaned him from the bed, so he's comfortable enough. And it's not that he isn't tired— it's been three fucking days since the last time he actually slept.

But still, sleep won't come, because he can't stop thinking about Jaskier: Jaskier getting raped day in and day out, getting forcibly marked then subjected to painful bond reversals, getting impregnated against his will then made to drink abortifacients— and all that while caring for Rian and managing to keep him shielded from the worst of it.

It's a marvel, really, that Jaskier survived. Geralt isn't entirely sure if he himself would have, witcher or not.

Eventually, he gives up on sleeping. Quietly, he fetches the three bags of coin still remaining from Szymon's bedside table, dumps out the contents on his bedroll, and begins to count.

10, 50, 100, 200, 300...

379 orens, he counts in total, which is enough for another week's stay at the inn, including three meals a day for himself and Jaskier and Rian. But he still has to buy Rian some new clothes, and he wants to save at least 100 orens as a sort of rainy-day fund.

Which means that before the week is over, he'll need to find a contract to accept, a monster to kill.

He sighs at the thought, but oh well. It was only a matter of time.

He's just beginning to replace the coins in the bags when hears the bed creak, followed by the rustling of linen sheets.

He turns around to find Jaskier getting out of bed and sitting down beside him.

"Hi," Jaskier says. The smell of wildflowers and sweetness that used to surround him is gone, successfully quashed by the scent suppressant.

Geralt misses it, he finds.

"So. Counting your vast sums of money, I see?" says Jaskier, smiling.

"Hmm."

"How much is there?"

"Enough."

There's a pause, and then: "Are you angry?" Jaskier asks.

Geralt glances over at him. "About?"

Jaskier shrugs, averting his eyes. "The fact that I've been bonded like a shit-ton of times before."

"Hmm," growls Geralt. "I'm angry at Szymon, and at the fucking wastes of breath who marked you against your will. That's all."

Jaskier sighs. "I feel like I should have told you," he says. "And I would have, eventually. But it's just not something that really... comes up in conversation? And also I usually try to forget it ever happened, so."

"Hmm," Geralt says quietly. "It must have been torture."

"That's putting it mildly," Jaskier scoffs, before letting out another doleful sigh. "Szymon used to beat the shit out me whenever it happened," he says. "As punishment, for 'letting' them mark me. As if the bond itself wasn't punishment enough."

Geralt feels his muscles grow taut, feels his fists clench in fury.

"Though, at least with Szymon I was able to drink the bond-reversal potion right away," Jaskier goes on. "It was worse getting marked on the streets, because there I had to buy the potion myself, and it took so long to make enough bloody coin. The second time it happened, it was three weeks before I could afford to undo it. Gods. Three weeks of constant, unbearable pain and I just had to keep going, singing and begging and selling my ass to earn coin for the fucking potion."

"Hmm," says Geralt, and before he knows what he's doing, he's reaching out and putting an arm around Jaskier's back.

To his slight surprise, Jaskier leans in to the touch, and rests his head on Geralt's shoulder. "I thought it would never stop," he whispers. "I thought— I thought that that'd be the rest of my life, just rape after rape and pregnancy after pregnancy and bond after bond and— fuck, Geralt. I never had anyone to talk to either. Like, obviously I couldn't tell Rian how bad things were. And of course none of my customers gave a shit." He inhales deeply, and Geralt feels his back shudder. "I— I'd write songs sometimes, just for myself, about how shitty my life was, just to get out the feelings; isn't that pathetic?"

"Not pathetic," grunts Geralt. "It probably helped keep you sane."

"Yeah, nothing like singing to yourself about getting spit-roasted on the floor by two alphas while praying they don't look under the bed and see your sleeping kid to keep you sane," Jaskier says with a snort.

"Hmm."

Jaskier is silent for a while after that. When he finally speaks again, his voice is very quiet. "Sometimes I wanted to kill myself," he says. "I think— I think I would have killed myself, if it weren't for Rian. But I knew I had to keep living for Rian, so I just..." He shrugs.

Geralt says nothing, but continues to rub rhythmic circles on Jaskier's back.

"I'm sorry," Jaskier mutters then. "I'm sure you don't want to hear this shit."

"No, I do," says Geralt. "I mean— Hmm." He pauses. "I mean I'm honored. To listen. If you need it."

"I think I do need it," Jaskier says softly. "It feels good, to finally tell someone. Even a big scary witcher like you."

Geralt looks over. Jaskier is smiling weakly.

"Hmm," says Geralt, and Jaskier laughs.

But before long, he grows somber again. "I wish I could forget about it all," he says. "Forget everything that happened and be a normal fucking person again." He shoots Geralt a glance. "You know after every meal I have this overwhelming urge to offer to suck you off?"

"Hmm."

"Szymon loved to make me do that before he fed me," Jaskier mutters. "And like, intellectually, I know you don't want that from me, you've told me a million times, and I know I'm not there anymore, I know that part of my life is over, but it just— it doesn't feel over. What with the nightmares and the flashbacks and the... you know, the self-loathing, the trust issues, et cetera, et cetera." He sighs. "And it feels like I'll never recover from it."

"There's no rush," Geralt tells him, stroking Jaskier's shoulder-blade with the pad of his thumb. "No rush at all."

"Ah, but I have to disagree," says Jaskier. "Because the world is a fast-moving, unforgiving place. It doesn't have time to wait for some— some pathetic broken kid to take fucking ages to heal from his stupid trauma."

Geralt shrugs. "Well I do," he says. "I have time."

"Really?"

"Yes."

Jaskier lifts his face. "You know, Geralt," he whispers, "for someone who barely speaks, you sure have a knack for saying the right thing."

"Hmm."

Jaskier wipes his eyes on his sleeve, then re-settles his head on Geralt's shoulder. "Thank you," he says. "For listening."

"Hmm."

"And— and for everything."

Geralt grunts a quiet, "You're welcome," and Jaskier scoots even closer.

Geralt's not sure how long they sit there like that, but eventually he realizes that Jaskier is asleep. Carefully, Geralt lowers him onto the bedroll and covers him with the blanket.

Jaskier stirs, but doesn't wake, and Geralt watches him for a few moments: his fluttering eyelids, his long lashes, his tousled hair.

Then he gets up and goes to the other side of the room, where he lies down on the bare wooden floor.

This time, he's asleep within minutes.

(And he dreams of Jaskier's warmth, and his smile, and the sweet, wild scent of flowers and honey.)

Chapter Text

"We're running low on coin," Geralt informs Jaskier three days later, as they sit down to eat their dinner of chicken soup.

Jaskier frowns, looking almost hurt. "But— you told me we had enough," he says flatly.

"We do," says Geralt. "But we won't, in a few days. So I need to find a contract."

"Where?" asks Jaskier.

"I'll check the nearby towns, see if there are any rumblings of monsters. I'm sure I'll find something."

Jaskier nods slowly. "Will... we come along?" he asks, his hand on Rian's shoulder, his expression unreadable.

"No," Geralt says immediately. "You'll stay at the inn. I'll leave you with coin."

"Sounds peachy,” says Jaskier, and he smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "We'll be fine," he adds. "Perfectly fine, don't you worry." Geralt has the distinct impression that he's speaking to himself as much as to Geralt.

"It won't be long," Geralt assures him. "Maybe three or four days."

"But that is long!" Rian bursts out. Geralt glances at him, at his wide, heartbroken brown eyes.

"It'll pass quickly, you'll see," Geralt tells him.

"I don't want you to go," Rian whispers, shaking his head.

"I don't either," says Geralt, and he means it. "But I must."

***

They say their goodbyes that night, and the next morning, Geralt sets off with Roach before dawn.

Two days and six towns later, he finally finds a mayor who offers him coin to kill a leshy that's been terrorizing travelers in the woods.

Geralt accepts.

It's an easy contract: within an hour, the leshy is dead, dispatched by fire, and the mayor has paid Geralt his fee.

Geralt leaves the town without looking back, four hundred orens richer, with nothing on his mind except Jaskier and Rian.

He rides without stopping till he's back at the inn.

***

It's night when he arrives.

He leaves Roach at the stables and hurries inside The Red Hen, his heart beating abnormally fast.

The main room of the inn is crowded, and he glances around, looking for Jaskier. His eyes fall on Bethelda, who's seated behind the counter near the entrance.

"Sir, your family is upstairs," she tells him kindly. "They just finished dinner."

His family?

"Hmm," mutters Geralt. "Thank you."

And he heads up the stairs, the word family echoing loudly in his mind.

***

When he opens the door to their room, he finds Jaskier and Rian sitting on the floor, playing with the dolls. They both look up as he steps inside.

"Geralt!" Rian cries instantly, leaping up and running to hug him. Geralt lifts him up and holds him to his chest.

"I missed you," Rian says into his shoulder.

"Hm. I missed you too," Geralt tells him. "And your papa," he adds, glancing at Jaskier, who's still seated on the floor, the wolf doll held loosely in his hand.

Jaskier, smiling, gives a jaunty little wave.

"We were playing a game of you killing a monster," says Rian. "You were the man doll and the dragon was the monster. But I named the dragon an Oogbook, which is scarier than a dragon."

He starts to wriggle in Geralt's arms, and Geralt sets him down. "Hmm," he says. "It certainly does sound scary."

"Yeah," says Rian. "But you can kill it. Papa said you can kill any monster."

"Did he?" asks Geralt. He meets Jaskier's eye, but Jaskier just looks away, blushing.

"Yeah, he said it's because you're the best witcher ever and you protect everyone," explains Rian, oblivious. "Now come on, play with us! You still have to fight off the wolf before you get to the Oogbook's cave!"

So they play together, he and Jaskier and Rian.

And by the time his doll defeats the fearsome Oogbook, Geralt's chest is bubbling with the unfamiliar warmth of feelings like peace. Comfort. Happiness.

Family, he thinks again, and he decides that Bethelda was right to use that word.

***

"So, did you make enough coin?" Jaskier asks him later, after Rian is asleep. He's standing at the foot of the bed, fidgeting, watching as Geralt finishes laying out his bedroll.

Geralt nods. "Enough to last a week," he says. "Maybe a bit longer." He pauses, and squints up at Jaskier. "How did it go, while I was away?"

Jaskier shrugs. "Oh, you know, it was fine, except at first I had this crazy idea that maybe you'd actually abandoned us and it was only a matter of time before I'd have to resort to prostitution again, so I was trying to make the money last by only buying food for Rian and none for myself."

"Jaskier," mutters Geralt, frowning. "I wouldn't abandon you."

"No, I know," Jaskier says hurriedly. "Don't worry. Bethelda caught on pretty much immediately and talked some sense into me." He shrugs again. "So after that everything was just dandy. Other than, like, a couple teeny panic attacks I had for no apparent reason. Just really small ones."

"Jaskier..."

"No, but really, it was fine!" says Jaskier. "We were fine. Bethelda was lovely. Rian did great."

Geralt sighs deeply. "I'm sorry," he murmurs.

"Please don't be," says Jaskier. Hesitantly, he walks over to the bedroll and sits down beside Geralt. "Don't be sorry."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt.

"But, um." Jaskier swallows. "I did wonder if we could perhaps have a little... chat? About something?"

Geralt frowns. "Yes," he says slowly. "About what?"

"About Rian."

"Hmm."

"He's fine, and everything," Jaskier says quickly. "Just— he really missed you, while you were gone. You were pretty much all he talked about."

"Hmm."

"And I've been thinking," Jaskier continues, a bit more quietly. "You know that thing you said a while ago, about telling Rian you'd be his alpha father if he wanted? But I said to wait?"

"Yes."

Jaskier glances up, meets Geralt's eye. "Do you still... feel like that?" he asks.

"Hm. Of course."

Jaskier nods. "Well then I want you to tell him," he says firmly. "I'm ready for you to tell him. You just— you have to swear to every fucking god there is that you won't let him down, because if you do, I don't care if you're a witcher, I will personally kill you."

"I understand," Geralt says. "You have my word."

"Good," says Jaskier. "That's settled then." And he slips his hand into Geralt's, laces their fingers together, and smiles.

"Hmm," says Geralt.

***

The next day, after breakfast, Geralt sits down in the chair by the window, and Jaskier sits on the edge of the bed.

Rian just stands there, glancing between the two of them, obviously curious.

"Rian," Geralt says stiffly, wishing he were better with words. "I have something to tell you."

Rian frowns. "What is it?"

"You'll see. Sit down."

"Where?"

"Wherever you like."

Without hesitation, Rian hops up onto Geralt's lap and nestles against his chest, swinging his skinny little legs, waiting.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Alright." He sighs, and wonders where to begin. "So you know that— that you have your papa, right?" he says at last.

"Yes," says Rian, frowning up at Geralt. He points over at Jaskier. "He's right there."

"Right. So he's one of your fathers," says Geralt. "And then you also have— Hm." He clears his throat. "Do you remember how a few days ago, you told me about your other father?"

"The Bad Man," whispers Rian. "He hurt Papa."

"Hmm," Geralt hums. "Yes. But you've never met him, have you?"

Rian shakes his head.

"So he may be related to you by blood, but he isn't much of a father, is he?"

"No," says Rian, crossing his arms. "I hate him."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Well. What if I told you that you don't have to think of him as your other father, if you don't want to?"

"I don't?"

"You don't. Because listen, Rian. Real families are made of people you choose and people you love and people who love you back, not— uh. Not bad people."

Rian's little brow furrows in concentration. "Papa's my family," he says.

"Of course," agrees Geralt, glancing at Jaskier, who's still seated on the bed, his head bowed as he fiddles with a loose thread in the hem of his doublet.

"What about you?" asks Rian then, in a small voice. "Are you my family too?"

Geralt holds his breath. "Do— you want me to be?"

"Yes," whispers Rian. "I want you to be my other daddy, not the Bad Man."

Geralt swallows. Warmth floods his chest. "I want that too," he says quietly. "I want that very much, Rian."

And Rian twists around on Geralt's lap. "Papa?" he asks. "Can Geralt be my other daddy?"

Jaskier lifts his head, wiping his cheeks with his hands, nodding. "Yes," he says. "Yes, honey, of course he can be your—" His voice breaks.

"Are you crying?" asks Rian. "What's wrong?"

Jaskier laughs wetly. "Nothing's wrong," he says. "I'm just— I'm crying because I'm happy."

"Oh," says Rian. "I'm happy too." And without warning, he folds his little arms around Geralt's neck and buries his face in his hair.

Geralt holds him close and looks over at Jaskier, who's smiling, his blue eyes glistening with tears.

And for the first time in longer than he can remember, Geralt feels tears in his own eyes too. He smiles back at Jaskier, and lets them fall.

Chapter Text

Later that week, they go into town to buy Rian shoes and new clothes. The expense means Geralt will have to find another contract in the next few days, but it's worth it to see the way Rian's eyes light up in the cobbler's shop.

"So many shoes!" he says. "I've never had shoes!"

"Well, you're about to," says Jaskier. "Come here. Sit down. He has to measure your feet."

Rian stays reasonably still for the measurements, then hovers over the cobbler's shoulder, watching, transfixed, as he cuts and hammers away.

The cobbler is kind, explaining everything he does for Rian's benefit.

And before long, Rian is shod in his very own little leather shoes.

***

Rian gasps when they enter the tailor's, and immediately begins to drag Jaskier around behind him as he touches all the fabrics hanging from the wall.

"If he damages anything, you'll have to pay, Witcher," the tailor tells Geralt acerbically.

"Hmm," says Geralt.

The tailor glances at him, frowning. "I've never heard of a witcher having a child," he mutters.

"Well now you have," grunts Geralt.

The tailor crosses his arms, but has the good sense not to question him.

Eventually Rian picks out a little red doublet and little red breeches, both of which have very ornate cutouts in the fabric along the seams.

"It looks like scales," Rian explains, as Jaskier dresses him. "Like dragon scales."

"It certainly does," laughs Jaskier. He sits back on his heels and finishes adjusting Rian's doublet. "Just think," he says then. "It wasn't too long ago that you'd never even had a pair of pants. And now look at you, all dressed up like a little lordling."

Rian beams proudly, and Geralt smiles too, because this Rian— clean and happy and properly-fed— already seems so different than the dirty, skinny, scared little child Geralt had met a mere week ago. His face his filling out. His hands are chubbier. There's color in his cheeks.

"Look, Geralt!" he says, spinning around. "I'm a little dragon lordling!"

"I see that," says Geralt, and he turns to the tailor and asks, "How much will it be?"

***

As he hands over the coin, it occurs to him that for Jaskier and Rian, he'd pay all the gold in the world. Hells below, he thinks: it came to it, he'd pay the fucking moon and stars.

***

"Thank you," says Jaskier, as they walk back to the inn. Rian is skipping a few paces ahead of them, still dressed in his new outfit, trying to catch a butterfly. "It's nice to see him like this."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"You know, for first two years of his life he didn't have any clothes at all," Jaskier goes on, more quietly. "Just a fucking diaper, that was all. Then finally one of my, uh... my customers— he was drunk as shit and left behind his undershirt. So that became Rian's." Jaskier sighs. "It was better than nothing."

"Hmm."

Jaskier glances at Geralt, then looks away. "We're out of coin now, huh?" he asks.

"Not entirely."

"But soon?"

"Soon, yes."

Jaskier nods.

"Will you be alright?" Geralt asks gruffly. "While I'm gone?"

Jaskier nods again, more firmly this time. "We'll— we'll miss you," he says, shrugging. "But we'll be alright."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure," says Jaskier. And when he smiles, it seems genuine.

***

Geralt leaves two days later, and finds his next contract in a town only a few hours away: there's a catoblepas in the mountains, and the governor wants it dead.

This involves a steep hike and half a day of lying in wait, but when at last the monster emerges, it proves easy enough to kill.

Then he's back on the road.

"Good girl," murmurs Geralt, as Roach sets off. "A little faster. My— Hmm." He clears his throat. "My family is waiting."

Roach gallops like she understands.

***

Geralt reaches the inn an hour before dawn, and finds Jaskier and Rian fast asleep in bed— Rian curled up against Jaskier's chest and Jaskier's arm around Rian's back.

He approaches the bed and stands there for a few moments, watching, confirming to himself that they're both breathing evenly.

Then, as if he senses Geralt's presence, Jaskier rolls over, opens his eyes.

"Melitele's tits," he mutters, staring up at Geralt. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack, just looming there like that?"

Geralt steps back quickly. "Sorry," he grunts.

Jaskier laughs, and sits up. "You're back," he says.

"Yes," says Geralt. "How... did things go?" he asks then, somewhat trepidatiously.

"Good," Jaskier says. He pauses. "Better. No panic attacks this time."

"Hmm."

"And no delusions about you having forsaken us forever."

Geralt nods, relieved.

"And also, I'm either getting fat or I've started to show." Jaskier shrugs, patting his stomach. "Maybe both. Probably both. You want to see? I could show you," he says, sounding equal parts shy and eager.

"Do you... want to show me?" Geralt asks. In truth, he finds it hard to believe that Jaskier would want to let someone like him participate in something so intimate, so precious.

"As a matter of fact, I do," says Jaskier, with a smile. "I'm rather excited about it."

Geralt is quiet for a moment. "Then yes," he says at last. "You may show me."

Jaskier, apparently, doesn't need to be told twice. He kicks off the covers and swings his legs around so he's seated on the edge of the bed, then lifts up his shirt, the loose-fitting one from Bethelda.

The first thing Geralt notices is that the giant bruise that covered Jaskier's ribs the night they met has mostly faded away.

The second thing he notices is that, sure enough, there's a faint curve to his belly.

"It's still quite small," says Jaskier, glancing up. "The bump, I mean. But you see it, right?"

"I do," says Geralt.

Jaskier grins. "You can feel it, if you want to," he offers then.

And to Geralt's slight surprise, he does want to. He sits down on the bed beside Jaskier, who angles himself toward him and gives an encouraging little nod. Slowly, Geralt reaches out until he's touching Jaskier's stomach. The skin is warm, soft, and Geralt's fingers move hesitantly over the subtly-rounded surface, then upward, into the hair of Jaskier's chest.

He lifts his face and finds Jaskier staring at him, his lips slightly parted.

And suddenly, unbidden, the memory of those lips kissing his own springs to Geralt's mind. He quickly averts his eyes. Jaskier hadn't wanted that kiss, he reminds himself, retracting his hand. It's not his place to dwell on it.

"You alright?" Jaskier asks, still holding up the hem of his shirt.

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"Is that... a yes?"

"Yes."

Jaskier lifts his own hand to his belly and frowns. "You seem upset though."

"I'm not."

A few moments pass in silence.

"Listen," Jaskier says then, softly. "If you're having, like, second thoughts, about the whole 'raising Jaskier's rape baby as your own' thing... I'd understand. No hard feelings."

A low growl rises in Geralt's throat. "No," he says. "No second thoughts. I swear." He touches Jaskier's knee, and Jaskier glances over, looking perturbed.

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. "Look, if you must know, I— I was merely thinking about... the kiss we shared," he says uncomfortably. "I know it was something you did unwillingly. So the memory upset me."

"You're blushing," observes Jaskier, and he settles his own hand on top of Geralt's.

"Hmm."

Jaskier gives him a small smile. "If it makes you feel better, you're not the most repulsive person I've ever kissed," he says.

"Hmm."

"Geralt."

"Hmm?"

"I'm just teasing," says Jaskier.

Geralt looks over at him.

"I mean—" Jaskier lets out a sigh. "I was, admittedly, rather terrified, at the time," he says. "But in retrospect, it wasn't unpleasant. Like, I'd be open to trying it again. Sometime." He shrugs.

Geralt stares at him. "You're referring to... kissing me?"

"No, I'm referring to flying on a pig," says Jaskier, smiling. Then he rolls his eyes. "Yes, Geralt, I'm referring to kissing you."

"Hmm."

"Maybe not, like, today. But soon, you know? Just to try it." Jaskier hesitates briefly. "But only if you want to," he adds. "I wouldn't force you, or anything."

For a while, Geralt remains silent. Then: "I think... I would want to," he admits, quietly.

Jaskier squeezes his hand. "Good," he says. "Me too."

"Hmm."

Jaskier smiles at that. "It's nice to have you back," he murmurs.

And outside the window, the sun begins to rise.

Chapter Text

They fall into a rhythm after that. Geralt spends four or five days at the inn, followed by two or three days finding and fulfilling a contract. Three hunts later and Geralt is still no closer to being able to afford the lute for Jaskier, but he’s managing to keep the three of them housed and fed at the inn, which is something at least.

A month passes, and Geralt has just killed a drowner for a farming village. It's night now, and he's on the road, riding back to the inn, when a messenger from a nearby city catches up to him. He's brought Geralt a letter from the duke, which, in ostentatiously florid calligraphy, complains of a basilisk terrorizing the city from the sewers.

Geralt is about to tell the messenger no, he's killed enough monsters for one day and he has places to be, and besides, he remembers the last time he was called upon to dispatch a basilisk. He has no desire to repeat that experience. But then he reads the last line of the note: Compensation would be one thousand orens.

He thinks of the lute hanging in that window, of his promise to Jaskier.

"Hmm," he says, folding up the sheet of paper. "Lead me to your duke."

***

***

It's the next morning before the basilisk is finally dead.

"Hmm," huffs Geralt, limping away from the carcass, through sewage and basilisk blood.

It had been a nasty fight; Geralt's armor is shredded, and physically he's— well, a bit worse for the wear, with several gashes in his side from the basilisk's claws and an openly-bleeding bite mark on his upper arm: Nothing that won't heal with proper care, but fuck if it isn't painful as hell right now. He seems to have tweaked his ankle too at some point in the scuffle, a fact which he's currently trying to ignore as he makes his way out of the sewer.

At least he didn't get burned with acid this time. That had happened to him before, with a different basilisk, and it's not a memory he looks back on with fondness.

By the time he reaches Roach, he can feel the Golden Oriole starting to wear off, can feel the basilisk venom in his wounds beginning to throb. He fumbles through his saddle bag until he finds the little golden bottle, and quickly downs the rest of it. Then he pulls out more bottles: White Honey, and a few healing potions and decoctions. He drinks them too.

Finally, painfully, he mounts Roach, gets his feet on the stirrups, and— suddenly dizzy from all the effort— slumps against her neck. Fuck.

His injuries aren't fatal, he knows, and he's almost tempted to make a camp somewhere, meditate for a few days, and hope for the best.

But Jaskier, Geralt thinks dimly. He doesn't want Jaskier to see him like this, but he— he does want Jaskier. He needs Roach to take him to Jaskier.

He doesn't speak— he's not sure he'd be able to right now— but Roach is a good girl. She knows what he needs, knows where to go, and she sets off instantly.

***

It's noon when they finally arrive at the inn, and Geralt nearly crumples on the ground when he dismounts, but he manages to remain upright for long enough to lead Roach to the stables. The smells of hay and oats and horses have a grounding effect on him, and he feels somewhat more conscious than he did a few moments ago.

The ostler is wide-eyed as he takes Roach's reins. "Is... is all that blood yours?" he asks faintly.

"Yes," grunts Geralt, though in reality it's mostly the basilisk's, or at least he hopes so. Without another word, he grabs the saddle bag containing his salves and potions. It feels unbearably heavy in his arms as he leaves the stables and limps around to the entrance of the inn.

Inside, he lifts a hand in greeting toward Bethelda, who's engaged with customers across the room, too far away to see Geralt's injuries.

He pauses briefly at the foot of the stairs, steeling himself, then begins to climb. Halfway up, the world starts to spin, and stars burst before his eyes. Geralt presses on.

He makes it to the second floor and around the corner, then falls to his knees in front of their room. With a trembling hand, he takes out his key, reaches up to unlock the door, and pushes it open.

Hazily, he casts his eyes around to find Rian asleep in bed for his afternoon nap, while Jaskier is sitting cross-legged on Geralt's bedroll, a quill in his hand and a book in his lap, writing something.

"Geralt," he breathes, dropping his quill and leaping up. "Bloody hell, what happened to you?" he asks.

"Basilisk," says Geralt. "Dead now."

"Come here," Jaskier says, clasping Geralt's uninjured arm and helping him to his feet. Geralt feels himself swaying slightly.

"Here, hold onto me," says Jaskier, taking the saddle bag from Geralt's hands and winding his arm around Geralt's waist. "Just lean on me, come on; that's it; let's just get you into the room," he coaxes as they stagger forward. "You smell terrible, by the way."

"Sewer," Geralt mutters.

"Ah," says Jaskier, shutting the door behind them. "That would explain it. Alright, now over to this chair..."

His voice is light, comforting, but Geralt can smell the scent of fear rolling off him in waves.

They make their way to the chair by the window, and Jaskier helps Geralt lower himself into it. "There we go," he says. Then he takes a step back and stands there, clutching the saddle bag to his chest, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "Are you alright?" he asks.

"I'm fine," says Geralt.

"Well that's clearly a load of bollocks," says Jaskier. "But I mean." He frowns. "You're not going to die on me or anything, are you?"

"No," says Geralt.

"Good," Jaskier tells him. "Because that wouldn't do at all." He sets down the saddle bag, crouches beside the chair, and places a hand on Geralt's thigh. "Now," he says. "Tell me how to help."

"Don't need help," Geralt mutters. "Just give me the bag, and—"

"Geralt," says Jaskier, in a tone that could only be described as fond. "I'm your friend, okay? No need for that noble self-sufficient loner bullshit." And he begins to remove Geralt's bloody, gut-stained armor— first the shoulder pads, then the chest piece, then the gauntlets. Geralt lets him. He's too tired to argue.

"Now for your shirt," Jaskier says. "Is that alright?"

Geralt nods wearily, and Jaskier gets started on the buttons. Then he inches it off of Geralt's arms, working slowly in places where the fabric is stuck to his injuries. When at last he tosses the torn, bloodied shirt aside, he sits back on his heels and frowns at Geralt's bare torso.

Geralt closes his eyes.

"Geralt, dear, I need to you stay conscious," says Jaskier gently.

"Hmm."

"I'm not, uh, as skilled in the healing arts as you no doubt are," Jaskier goes on. "So I'll need a bit of guidance. There's a pitcher and some towels in the washroom; I presume that would be a good place to start?"

Geralt nods— clean wounds are always better than dirty ones— and Jaskier flits away into the en-suite washroom. When he returns a few moments later, he's carrying a water pitcher and a bar of soap, and there's a towel draped over his shoulder.

"Alright," he says genially. "Let's get to it, then, shall we?"

***

Jaskier is almost unbearably gentle as he wipes the dirt and debris and dried blood from Geralt's injuries, and he chatters nonstop in a soft, soothing voice as he works— the same way he talks to Rian, Geralt realizes, when Rian is hurt or scared.

It's strange, he thinks, that someone could smell so frightened and yet speak so reassuringly, and he marvels, not for the first time, at Jaskier's fortitude.

"There," he hears Jaskier say eventually. "All clean. Are those your only wounds? Are your legs alright?"

"Ankle's sprained," grunts Geralt. "But nothing's bleeding."

Jaskier nods. "Well, then," he says. "Now for the— what, salves? Poultices? Unguents? Whatever you've got in this bag."

"Purple bottle," Geralt directs, somewhat grudgingly. "Numbing salve." It's an unfamiliar experience, to be treated with such tenderness. Unfamiliar, and almost uncomfortable, but yet not... not entirely unpleasant.

Jaskier opens the saddle bag and begins to rifle through it. "Purple, purple..." he sing-songs under his breath. "Ah! Purple!"

He produces the bottle and shakes some of the substance out onto his hand. Then he kneels beside Geralt's chair. "Now, if you could lift your arm a little; I'm sure it hurts, but I need to access your side. There! That's it; perfect," Jaskier says, and he begins to rub the numbing cream on Geralt's torn flesh.

The relief is almost instantaneous, and Geralt exhales deeply.

Jaskier shoots him a brief, relieved smile before moving on to the bite wound on Geralt's left arm. He still smells of fear, but the scent is beginning to fade. When he's finished with the salve, he takes a step back, as if to admire his handiwork. "Now," he says, apparently satisfied. "Anything else?"

"No," says Geralt.

"What, nothing to help with the healing?" asks Jaskier, placing his hands on his hips in such a defiant gesture that Geralt almost laughs.

"I've already taken potions for that," he says. "And witchers heal faster, more easily that humans."

"And... you don't need stitches?" asks Jaskier. "I could fetch a healer, if you do."

"I'd do it myself if I needed them," grunts Geralt. "But no. Nothings too deep. There's bandages in the bag."

Jaskier nods, and rummages in the bag until he finds the bandages.

Geralt reaches out, expecting Jaskier to hand them over, but Jaskier just tuts. "You think I'd make you wrap your own wounds?" he asks. "My dear Geralt, don't be silly."

And he begins to wind the fabric around Geralt's upper arm, his fingers fascinatingly nimble and deft. This must be what they're like when he plays the lute, Geralt thinks absently, which reminds him—

"I'll get you your lute," he says, clapping a hand to the pocket of his trousers where he stowed his bags of coin.

Jaskier's brow furrows. "I know you will," he murmurs, tying off the bandage. "But there's no rush."

"No, I mean— I have the money. A thousand orens. It's why I killed the basilisk."

Jaskier blinks. "What?"

"Some duke or other, he wanted rid of the basilisk in his city's sewer. He was offering a thousand orens. So—"

"You nearly got yourself killed just so you could buy my stupid lute?" whispers Jaskier, his blue eyes glistening.

Geralt just frowns, because now there are tears flowing down Jaskier's cheeks, and he has no idea how to respond.

"Geralt," says Jaskier. "Geralt. You shouldn't have done that. Not for me. Not— What if you'd died?"

"But I didn't," Geralt says. "And I promised you that lute."

"But—" Jaskier wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his doublet. "Geralt, you matter more to me than a fucking lute. Bloody hell, do you know what it was like, seeing you injured like this? And now— to hear you did it for me?"

Geralt frowns again.

And suddenly Jaskier is standing up, reaching out, cupping Geralt's cheek with his hand. "Oh, Geralt," he says, ghosting his thumb over Geralt's chin. "My dear, stupid witcher." He gazes at him for a moment. "Can I kiss you?" he whispers then.

His eyes are so blue, is all Geralt can think for a moment. By the time he processes Jaskier's words, he realizes he's already nodding. Because of course Jaskier can kiss him, of course.

"Yes," he says. "Please."

And Jaskier leans in, holds Geralt's face in his hands, and kisses him.

He tastes sweet, so sweet, like wildflowers and tenderness. "You can't die on a hunt," he says against Geralt's lips. "You can't."

"I won't," says Geralt.

And he touches Jaskier's chest, right where his heart is, and kisses him back.

Chapter Text

After the kiss, Jaskier's fingers tremble slightly as he binds the wound in Geralt's side, and he keeps glancing up at Geralt, his cheeks flushed pink and his eyes dancing.

"Now," he says, when he's finally finished. "You need to rest, dear witcher."

"Hm."

"In the bed," Jaskier adds firmly. "I insist."

Geralt frowns. "No," he says. "No, the bed is for—"

"For me and Rian, I know, but I promise you we'll manage. Okay? You're injured, Geralt."

"You're pregnant."

Jaskier sighs. "Geralt. I slept on literal stone streets the whole nine months I was pregnant with Rian; I think I'll be fine on your bedroll for a few days while you heal up."

"Hmm," says Geralt, and he wants to argue, but something in Jaskier's eyes makes him bite his tongue.

"Good," Jaskier says. "So that's settled. Now let me wake up Rian." He pauses, then grabs a blanket from the foot of the bed and arranges it over Geralt's chest, tucking it in behind his shoulders. "If Rian asks, you were, uh, feeling chilly," he says, with a half-smile.

Geralt just nods.

"Perfect," says Jaskier. Then he leans over and begins to gently shake Rian awake. "Honey," he whispers. "Guess who's home."

Rian is out of bed in an instant, leaping into Geralt's lap and throwing his arms around him tightly. "Geralt!" he says.

Geralt tries, but doesn't quite manage, to suppress a small groan of pain as Rian's hug puts pressure on the basilisk bite.

Rian lets go immediately, frowning. Then, before Geralt can stop him, he lifts up the blanket and gasps. "You got hurt!" he exclaims.

And he bursts into tears.

"Rian, honey," says Jaskier, lifting him off Geralt's lap and holding him close.

"Papa! Geralt is hurt!" Rian cries. "He's got b-bandages!"

"I know. I know, but it's okay," Jaskier tells the sobbing child. "Geralt is okay."

Rian turns his head toward Geralt. "Was— was it a monster?" he asks through tears.

"A basilisk," says Geralt, which, if anything, only makes Rian cry harder.

"You— you said— he could kill— any monster!" Rian wails into Jaskier's shoulder. "You said!"

"He can," Jaskier assures Rian quietly, bouncing him on his hip. "He did kill the basilisk; he just got a little scraped up in the process, okay? But I promise he's alright. He'll get better soon, honey. Do you remember when a Bad Man broke my ribs and I had to wear a bandage too? But I healed, right?"

Rian nods miserably and starts sucking his thumb, still crying.

"It's like that with Geralt. He'll heal. He'll heal even faster than I did, because he's a witcher!"

Geralt just sits there and glowers into his lap. First Jaskier, now Rian— It's the first time Geralt can remember anyone giving a fuck about his injuries, except maybe Roach. It makes him feel angry with himself. And guilty. And painfully self-conscious.

He watches out of the corner of his eye as Jaskier sets Rian down on the floor and wipes the child's tears away with his thumb. "Please don't worry, honey," he says. "Geralt is fine, okay?"

Rian sniffs, and glances over at Geralt. "Are... are you fine?" he asks quietly.

"I am," Geralt assures him.

"So can you still stop Papa from crying at night?"

"Shhh, Rian," Jaskier says quickly, with a panicked glance in Geralt's direction. "Shhh. Let's just— Geralt's gonna go to sleep now, okay, honey? He's gonna sleep in the bed, and I'm gonna take you downstairs for lunch."

Rian frowns at the change in topic, but nods obediently.

"Good," says Jaskier, kissing Rian's head. "Just hold on one second and then we'll go," he adds, and he crouches down in front of Geralt and begins to remove his greaves.

"What's this about crying?" grunts Geralt as the second greave comes off.

"Nothing," says Jaskier, glancing up with a winning smile. "Nothing at all, my dear witcher. Don't you worry your pretty little head."

"Hmm," says Geralt, but he doesn't press the matter.

Jaskier pulls off Geralt's filthy boots next, then jumps up and takes hold of Geralt's good arm. "Now. Come on, up you get," he says encouragingly, one hand on Geralt's hip to steady him and the other clasping his arm.

Geralt stands up, not without difficulty, and, aided by Jaskier, makes his way over to the bed.

"There we go," Jaskier says, lowering Geralt onto the mattress. "Lie down; good, that's it."

Very slowly, Geralt repositions himself: rests his head on the pillow and stretches out his legs. How long has it been since he was in a bed, he wonders vaguely. Two months? Perhaps three?

Jaskier covers him with the bedsheets, then stands there for an extra moment, just gazing at him.

"Geralt," he says at last. He reaches down and runs his fingers through Geralt's hair. "Rest well, alright?"

Geralt grunts, but he closes his eyes.

And there in the bed, with Jaskier's fingers in his hair, Geralt is asleep within moments.

***

He wakes up to the sound of someone crying. He sits up quickly, ignoring how badly his injuries hurt at the sudden movement, and glances around.

Rian is fast asleep on Geralt's bedroll. Jaskier, on the other hand, is not: he's seated in the corner of the room, sobbing into his hands.

It's dark outside the window, which means Geralt has been asleep for at least half the day.

"Jaskier," he says.

Jaskier looks up with a start and wipes frantically at his eyes. "Oh, hello," he says. "Did— did I wake you up?"

"What's wrong?" asks Geralt, frowning.

"Nothing. Just... bad dreams. Nothing to worry about."

"Hmm," Geralt grunts.

Jaskier is quiet for a moment. Then: "It's just, this is by far the furthest I've gotten in a pregnancy since Rian," he murmurs, drumming his fingers nervously on his knee. "I'm, what, two and a half months along? Szymon would only wait about a month before... you know, giving me the potion."

Geralt says nothing, just holds his breath.

"That's what I was, uh, dreaming about. What I've been dreaming about the past few days. The idea of Szymon showing up and force-feeding me an abortion potion." He pauses and looks up at Geralt. "I know it's rather a silly thing to worry about, given that Szymon is dead, but..."

"This is why you've been crying at night?" Geralt asks.

"Yeah," mumbles Jaskier. "I told Rian not to tell you about the crying. I guess he forgot."

"Hmm," says Geralt sternly. "I'm glad he told me."

"I'm not," Jaskier mutters.

"Why not?"

"Because. It's morbid, and stupid, and I'm pregnant; I'm supposed to be thinking of— of happy things like— oh, I don't know, baby names or something. Not abortions, for fuck's sake. And the dreams are always so fucking graphic too, with all the cramps and blood and... you know, general misery." Jaskier swallows. "I mean, you'd think that after going through it like a dozen times I'd have gotten used to it," he says quietly. "But I never did."

"Jaskier, come here," Geralt tells him.

Jaskier hesitates, then scoots over to the bed. He kneels beside it, folds his arms on the edge of the mattress, and rests his face in his arms.

Geralt reaches out his hand and touches Jaskier's hair, tries to make his fingers as gentle as Jaskier's had been a few hours ago. "That'll never happen to you again," he says.

"I know," mumbles Jaskier. "I know. That's why it's so ridiculous to dream about."

"It's not ridiculous," says Geralt. "I think it makes sense."

Jaskier laughs wetly. "Well, that makes one of us."

Geralt continues to card his fingers through Jaskier's hair.

"I'm gonna go back to sleep," sighs Jaskier, but he doesn't move. "Geralt?" he says softly, after a moment.

"Hmm?"

Jaskier takes a deep breath, and lifts his face. "Sometimes, when you're gone, and I get nightmares, I— well, your bedroll and blanket, they smell like you, right? And your smell seems to have quite a... calming effect? On me? So I lie there. On your bedroll."

"Hmm," says Geralt. His chest clenches at the thought of Jaskier curled up on his bedroll for comfort, and he trails his fingers down Jaskier's still-wet cheek.

Jaskier averts his eyes. "Anyway, I was just thinking that maybe, uh, lying next to the— the actual you... well, obviously your scent would be stronger that way."

"You want to share the bed with me?"

"No, no," says Jaskier. "I mean— I know you're injured. So I wouldn't make you—"

"I want you to," says Geralt gruffly. "If it would calm you. If it wouldn't make you... uncomfortable."

"Really?" whispers Jaskier.

"Of course," says Geralt, frowning deeply.

"Just for tonight," says Jaskier.

Geralt nods and moves over in bed, trying not to jostle his wounds. He pats the space beside him on the mattress.

And, very tentatively, Jaskier gets into bed beside him and rolls onto his side, so the slight roundness of his belly is pressing against Geralt's hip.

For a minute or so Jaskier lies there completely still, his muscles taut, his breathing shallow.

"Are you alright?" Geralt asks.

"Yes," Jaskier says. "Just. This is the first time I've ever been in bed with an alpha who hadn't just raped me, so."

"Hmm," says Geralt, scooting over to put a few more inches between the two of them.

"Wait, no," Jaskier says, and he settles a hand on Geralt's bare chest. "You don't have to move." He pauses. "Could— could you perhaps just touch my hair again?"

So Geralt curves his arm behind Jaskier's head and starts to run his fingers through his hair.

Jaskier exhales, and slowly, Geralt can feel him beginning to relax. It feels good, and peaceful, and right, to have Jaskier so close beside him, and Geralt savors it: his breathing, his heartbeat, his warmth.

"It's amazing," Jaskier mumbles eventually, "that you can smell so good and so much like a sewer at the same time."

And with that, the last of the tension leaves his body, and he's sleeping.

Geralt smiles to himself, and continues to stroke Jaskier's hair, until eventually he too falls asleep.

He dreams of Jaskier and Rian, as always, only this time Jaskier is holding a baby, and singing to them softly, and Geralt's heart has never felt so full before.

Chapter Text

Geralt wakes up the next morning, Jaskier is still lying beside him fast asleep.

Geralt smiles, and sits up slightly, only to notice that— fuck— Rian's not on the bedroll.

"Jaskier," hisses Geralt. "Jaskier, Rian's gone."

Jaskier sits bolt upright, glances around— and sighs. "Ah, shit," he says wearily, and he slides off the mattress and crouches down on the floor. "Rian," he murmurs. "You can come out from under the bed, honey. Come on. It's okay."

"I'm allowed?" Geralt hears Rian ask in a tiny voice, and sure enough, it sounds as though it's coming from somewhere below the bed frame.

"You're allowed. It's okay," Jaskier assures him.

Geralt watches as Rian crawls out from under the bed and into the light. Immediately, Jaskier picks him up and sits back down in bed, holding him close.

"You told me I had to hide," says Rian, sounding confused. He has his arms around Jaskier's neck and his face against Jaskier's chest, and from time to time he throws Geralt a brief, suspicious glance. "You said, Papa. You said if I ever woke up and there was someone in bed with you I had to go back underneath and hide."

"I know," says Jaskier. "And you were such a good boy to remember that. I'm so proud of you. But it's different now, okay? It's alright when it's Geralt."

"How come?"

"Because..." Jaskier sighs, and glances briefly at Geralt before turning his attention back to Rian. "Because the reason why I told you that you had to hide was so that in case your medicine ever wore off early, you wouldn't meet one of the Bad Men. Because they used to lie in bed with me. But when they were in bed with me, it wasn't something I wanted, because they would hurt me."

"In your bum?"

Jaskier sighs again. "Yes," he says. "But it's different with Geralt, because I'm the one who chose to sleep next to him. I wanted to. And he didn't hurt me. He's not a Bad Man."

Rian sticks his thumb in his mouth and shoots Geralt a questioning look.

"I would never hurt your Papa," Geralt tells him, unsure what else to say. "Or share his bed if he didn't want me to."

Rian nods slowly, then turns his face back to Jaskier. "I was really scared," he whispers. "I was hiding under there for so long."

"Oh honey," says Jaskier, pressing a kiss to Rian's head. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay," says Rian simply. And he scrambles off Jaskier's lap so that he's seated closer to Geralt. "I'm happy you never hurt Papa," he says, patting Geralt's bare shoulder with his small hand.

"Hmm," grunts Geralt.

"Are you all better yet?" Rian asks then.

"No," Geralt says. "Not for a few more days."

"Oh," says Rian, frowning. He pokes at a scar on Geralt's stomach. "How come you have lines all over you?"

"They're scars," Geralt says.

"From fighting so many monsters?"

"Yes."

Rian nods, running his finger thoughtfully over the raised marks. "I have scars on my bum," he volunteers then. "'Cause Szymon smacked me with a hot spoon one time. But I don't remember it 'cause I was really little."

Geralt and Jaskier exchange a glance. Jaskier looks like he wants to cry.

Tentatively, Geralt reaches out a hand, and Jaskier takes it. Geralt gives it a reassuring squeeze.

"Rian," Jaskier says quietly, squeezing back. "Let's let Geralt rest, okay?"

"Why?"

"So he can keep healing and be good as new," says Jaskier. He gives Geralt's hand one final squeeze, then lets go and touches Rian's cheek. "We'll go get some breakfast; how does that sound?"

"Breakfast!" exclaims Rian immediately, hopping out of bed and running toward the door.

Jaskier stands too, and shoots Geralt a brief, grateful smile. "Get some sleep, alright?" he says, pulling the sheets up to cover Geralt's chest. "I'll bring you back some food."

"Hmm," says Geralt, and he knows that if it were anyone else, he would refuse to be coddled like this. But it's Jaskier. And somehow, since it's Jaskier, he can't quite bring himself to mind.

***

At Jaskier's insistence, Geralt spends the entirety of the day in bed while Jaskier waits on him hand and foot: bringing him meals, fluffing his pillows, changing his bloodied bandages.

The bed rest seems to do him good, Geralt has to admit to himself, and by dinner time, he feels significantly stronger. However, he also feels rather stiff, and rather unpleasantly coated with sewer water and basilisk guts.

"I should bathe," he mutters, as he finishes his dinner of chicken soup. "I must reek."

"You do," agrees Jaskier genially. "Are you sure you're up for it, though?"

"I'm sure," says Geralt. "I feel— better. Much better."

"See?" says Jaskier. "I told you you needed rest." He stands up and gives Geralt's hair an unceremonious ruffle. "I'll see Bethelda about a bath then. And towels. And fresh sheets."

"Thank you," grunts Geralt.

Jaskier just laughs.

***

The bath feels divine, and Geralt spends a good while just sitting in the warm water, letting it soak into his skin. Then he scrubs himself down thoroughly with a soapy sponge— hair and chest and back and arms and legs— being careful to avoid his wounds. When at last he deems himself sufficiently cleansed, he stands up in the tub, only to find that he left the towels out on the bed.

"Jaskier," he calls.

"Yes, my dear witcher?" comes Jaskier's voice from outside the washroom.

"Towels," says Geralt. "I forgot them."

"Ah! Just a moment," Jaskier tells him through the door. A few moments later, said door swings open, and Jaskier sets the towels on the little three-legged table by the bathtub. Then he turns to look at Geralt— and stumbles backward. The scent of terror hits Geralt's nostrils.

"Jaskier?" he says, frowning.

Jaskier continues to back up until he's pressed against the wall, his eyes fixed on Geralt's bare crotch. "S-sorry—" he stammers. "Fuck— just— um, an alpha cock—" He squeezes his eyes shut. "Uh, unpleasant associations."

Fuck, thinks Geralt. Of course. He quickly grabs a towel and wraps it around his waist, furious at himself. Why the fuck did he think it would be alright to stand around naked in front of Jaskier?

"I'm sorry," he grunts. "I shouldn't have— Hmm." He ties the towel tightly, with an angry flick of his wrist. "I'm sorry," he repeats. "It's covered now."

Jaskier opens his eyes. He's still breathing hard. "No need to apologize," he says, with a very unconvincing smile. "I'll be outside if you need me." And he darts out through the door, closing it firmly behind him.

Geralt stands there for a long time, hating himself. At last he steps out of the tub, dries his hair, and rubs a towel over his back and legs.

"Jaskier," he says against the door.

"Yes?" Jaskier calls back.

"I'm going to come out now."

"Yes, of course, please do!" chirps Jaskier, as though nothing is wrong.

Geralt takes a deep breath and exits the washroom.

He finds Jaskier in bed, his knees drawn up to his chest, while Rian sits beside him, drawing in Jaskier's composition book.

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "Hello."

"Hi," says Jaskier, with a shy little wave. "I'm sorry," he adds. "Really sorry."

Geralt shakes his head. "I wasn't thinking."

"Me neither."

"Hmm." Geralt digs in his saddle bag for a clean pair of trousers, then pulls them on, leaving the towel in place around his waist until his bottom half is clothed. Then he removes the towel and folds it.

"Your wounds look better," observes Jaskier.

"Hmm."

"They need new bandages though."

"I can do it," mutters Geralt, because he can still smell vestiges of fear clinging to Jaskier.

But Jaskier says, "No." He gets out of bed, takes a few tentative steps toward Geralt. "No, I want to help." He pauses, and meets Geralt's eye. His expression is solemn. Earnest. "It's other alphas I'm scared of," he says, his voice barely above a whisper. "Not you. I promise."

"Hmm," Geralt grunts. His heart feels warm.

"Sit down," Jaskier tells him. "And let me get the bandages."

***

Jaskier hums while he works.

"Did you write that?" asks Geralt.

"Indeed," says Jaskier. "But it's not finished yet." He ties off the bindings on Geralt's arm and smiles, then picks up the second roll of bandages and starts wrapping Geralt's side. "Hey, Geralt?" he asks after a moment.

"Hmm?"

"How much money do we have?"

"Enough."

"That's what you always say," mumbles Jaskier. "But how much?"

"Why?"

Jaskier glances up, and Geralt is pretty sure he's blushing. "My doublet," he says. "Uh. It's getting a bit tight around the middle. But if we can't afford a new one, it's fine; I'll just wear my chemise; no problem at all."

"We'll get you a new one when we go to town for the lute," says Geralt. "We can afford it."

"Okay. Thank you," Jaskier mutters, looking away. "I'm— I'm sure it seems rather vain to you. But it's just— whores don't wear doublets, you know?" he whispers.

"I know," says Geralt, because he does. He understands.

Jaskier nods, seeming relieved, and finishes wrapping Geralt's abdomen in silence. "There," he says at last, standing up. "Hey, Rian," he calls, "come on, c'mere. Time to get out of bed; Geralt's gonna go to sleep."

Rian looks up from his drawing. "But— but I thought we all sleep together now," he says with a frown.

Jaskier goes still.

"'Cause you said you chose to sleep with Geralt," Rian goes on. "And he doesn't hurt you ever, right?"

"Right," says Jaskier, glancing at Geralt uncertainly.

"It's your choice," Geralt tells him.

"Maybe— maybe we could try it. For one more night," Jaskier says. "Especially now that you don't smell like sewage," he adds, with a tentative smile.

"Hmm," says Geralt, but he feels his heart flip over, at the knowledge that Jaskier still trusts him, still wants to be close to him.

No one's ever wanted that, before.

***

As they settle under the covers, Jaskier in the middle and Rian and Geralt on either side of him, Rian shoves the composition book in Jaskier's face.

"Look," he says.

"It's bedtime, honey," says Jaskier.

"But look!" Rian insists.

So Jaskier sighs, sits up, and takes the book in his hands. He squints at whatever Rian had been doodling, and for a moment, he's silent. "Rian," he breathes finally. "It's beautiful, honey." He continues to gaze at whatever it is, and Geralt, curious, leans over to get a look.

Drawn on the page, he finds, are four humanoid stick figures: two large, one small, and one minuscule.

"See, it's all of us!" Rian explains, apparently unimpressed by Geralt and Jaskier's responses, and he begins to point out the features of his artwork. "That's you, Papa," he says, "And that's you, Geralt. And that's me between you because you're both my daddies now. And that tiny one is the new baby. Only it's floating in the air 'cause it's not born yet. Do you like it?"

Geralt tries to speak, but no words come out.

"Honey," says Jaskier thickly. "We love it. We—" His voice breaks.

"Are you crying?" whispers Rian. "Why are you crying?" he demands, a his voice rising in panic. "Why are you both crying?"

"Because we love it so much, Rian," says Jaskier, through his tears. "And we love you so much."

Rian looks to Geralt, who wipes at his own tears and nods. "What your Papa said," he grunts.

"Oh," says Rian. "But don't cry, okay? 'Cause it's a happy picture."

"Honey, we are happy," says Jaskier, with a watery laugh. "We're so happy." He closes the book, tucks it under his pillow, and kisses Rian's hair.

Rian, finally mollified, lies down and nestles closer to Jaskier. "Good," he says. "I'm happy too."

And Geralt— whose chest feels light, and warm, and so, so fucking full— can't help but agree.

Chapter Text

Two days later, Jaskier finally deems Geralt ready to leave the inn.

"You did heal quickly," he admits, touching Geralt's new scars with gentle fingers. It's morning, and they're lying in bed, Geralt on his back and Jaskier on his side. Rian is still sleeping.

"Certainly much more quickly than a human would have," Jaskier goes on. "It's been a month and I still have bruises from Szymon."

Geralt frowns, sitting up slightly. "You do?" he asks.

Jaskier gives a dismissive shrug. "I mean, they're nearly gone. And they don't hurt anymore."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "And what about your—" He breaks off.

"My poor abused bum?" Jaskier smiles a little. "It's much better. Thank you."

"Hmm," hums Geralt, relieved.

Jaskier's hand stills on Geralt's scarred side, and they lapse into a comfortable, sleepy silence.

And Jaskier is beautiful like this, Geralt finds himself thinking: relaxed and happy, his hair tousled against the pillow, his eyes bright.

"Would you like... to kiss again?" Jaskier whispers, after a while.

Geralt hesitates. "Would you?" he asks.

"Very much so," says Jaskier.

"Then so would I," Geralt says. He smiles.

And Jaskier smiles back, and props himself up on one elbow, and Geralt leans in—

And they kiss.

***

After breakfast, they go into town, leaving Rian behind at the inn to play with Sam.

"Which first?" asks Geralt, as they walk. "Lute or doublet?"

"Doublet," says Jaskier. "Once I get the lute I don't think I'll be able to resist going back to the inn and playing it."

So they head to the shop belonging to the rude beta tailor, who greets them with a curt nod as they enter.

"My companion is in need of a larger doublet," says Geralt.

The tailor eyes Jaskier's rounded middle with something that looks suspiciously like distain. "So you are an omega," he says at last. "I wondered, when you brought along that child last time." He leans in close and gives Jaskier a sniff. "But where's your scent?" he asks, as Jaskier recoils and Geralt hurriedly steps between the two of them, seething with rage at the man's impropriety.

"Excuse me," says Geralt. "But his scent is none of your fucking concern."

The tailor holds up his hands in mock surrender. "No offense intended," he says. "Just an observation." He turns back to Jaskier. "Now," he says. "If you'd like to choose a fabric? And Witcher— you and I can discuss pricing before I get started."

Jaskier shoots Geralt an uneasy glance, then makes his way over to the wall of fabric samples.

"Witcher," says the tailor, snapping his fingers, and Geralt turns to face him.

"Yes?" he growls.

"We, ah, seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot," the tailor says in a low voice. "If I may perhaps offer a bit of advice, as a peace offering?"

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "What is it?"

"The omega," says the tailor conspiratorially, jerking his head in Jaskier's direction. "You care about him, but I can smell that you're not bonded."

Geralt narrows his eyes sharply. "So?"

"Well, he's an omega," whispers the tailor, as if that explains anything.

Geralt lifts his eyebrows, and the tailor sighs. "Omegas are terribly promiscuous by nature," he says. "If you don't want him sleeping around like a slutty little trollop, you need to mark him, Witcher. Are you even sure the babe is yours?"

For a moment, Geralt just stares, scarcely able to believe his ears. Then he grabs the tailor's hand, bends back his thumb until it snaps, and socks him in the crotch for good measure.

"Jaskier," he says, leaving the tailor doubled over in pain, moaning incoherently. "Let's go."

"What—" Jaskier starts.

But Geralt just turns on his heel and heads for the door. Jaskier spares one perplexed glance back at the blubbering tailor, then hurries after Geralt.

"What the bloody hell was that, pray tell?" he asks, once they're back outside on the cobblestone street, walking swiftly away from the tailor's shop.

"Did you hear what he said?" Geralt demands gruffly.

"No," says Jaskier, to Geralt's relief. "What'd he do, grievously insult witcherkind?"

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "No. He was a bigot, spewing his small-minded prejudices about omegas."

Jaskier frowns. "What did he say?"

"Nothing worth repeating."

"Well," says Jaskier, after a moment, and he links arms with Geralt. "Thank you for defending my honor, I suppose. Though there isn't much of it to defend, really, when you think about it."

"Hmm," Geralt huffs, dismayed, yet somewhat distracted by the feeling of Jaskier's arm looped around his own. "You have plenty of honor."

"That's sweet," says Jaskier, and he smiles. "But we both know that I don't. Anyway, I reckon I can kiss goodbye my dream of a new doublet then?" He's still smiling as he says it, but there's a flicker of regret in his eyes.

"No," Geralt tells him. "We'll find another tailor."

***

Which they do.

It's an hour's walk away, in the next town over, but Jaskier fills the time with pleasant, mindless chatter about Rian and music and his lofty goals for his career as an acclaimed lutist.

"By the way, have you given any more thought to the idea of my being your bard?" he asks offhandedly as they enter the tailor's shop.

"Hmm," says Geralt, but any further response he might have given is cut off by the tailor, a short male beta, who stands up at his drafting table and immediately bustles over to them.

"Hello, hello!" he says merrily, with a slight bow. "How might I be of assistance today?"

"We're in need of a new doublet," says Geralt.

"For you, sir?" asks the tailor. "Or— ah," he says, as his attention turns to Jaskier. "Ah, yes, those clasps look like they're about to pop right open! Well, come in, come in, and we'll get you fixed up. How far along are you?"

"Um. Two and a half months," Jaskier says, placing a hesitant hand on his stomach.

"How delightful!" exclaims the man. He glances between Jaskier and Geralt. "Is this your first?" he asks.

Jaskier stiffens at the question, and glances in Geralt's direction, obviously embarrassed.

"No," Geralt says firmly. "We have a son. A four-year-old."

"Oh, four, what a wonderful age! Brimming with curiosity about everything, I'd imagine?" says the tailor. He smiles at Jaskier, who nods mutely before looking over at Geralt with large, wondering eyes.

Geralt looks away.

"Well!" says the tailor. "Regarding the doublet, you're in luck. I had an omega father, rest his soul. This was his shop, in fact, before he died. And he made sure that I was very adept at sewing doublets to be worn during pregnancy."

He takes Jaskier's measurements deftly as he explains the concept of a pleated doublet that can expand to accommodate a growing baby bump. Then he lets Jaskier look over the fabric options, and after much deliberation, Jaskier selects a mulberry-colored fabric with a subtle floral pattern, reminiscent of the silky purple material which he'd seemed so enamored with at their first visit to the other tailor.

"Is it too fancy? I could choose something simpler," he says quietly to Geralt, frowning, as though he thinks he's unworthy of fine fabrics and rich colors and delicate flower embroidery.

"It's perfect," says Geralt. Which is fitting, he thinks, as Jaskier comes rather close to perfect himself.

***

The tailor adds panels of fabric to Jaskier's teal doublet, to give it a bit more longevity, but he tells them that the custom pleated doublet will take two days for him to make.

So Geralt and Jaskier bid him farewell and return to the road, and after an hour of walking, they're standing in front of the music shop.

Geralt enters alone, because Jaskier can smell the alpha shopkeeper's pheromones from the street.

Fifteen minutes and a thousand orens later, he re-emerges with the lute in hand, safe in a leather case.

Jaskier is sitting on the cobblestones, fidgeting, but he leaps to his feet at the sight of Geralt. "You got it," he breathes.

"Of course."

Geralt hands him the case, and Jaskier opens it then and there.

He stares down at the lute, completely silent, for long enough to make Geralt nervous.

"Do you like it?" he asks.

"Well, I mean, I've obviously received nicer gifts in my lifetime," says Jaskier.

"Oh." Geralt frowns.

And Jaskier looks up. "Melitele's tits, that was a joke," he says. "Geralt, fuck, this is— by far— the nicest, most beautiful, most precious, most generous gift I've ever been given. Ever."

He closes the case and slings it over his shoulder. Then he takes a step closer to Geralt, and another— and kisses him, right in the middle of the square: softly at first, then deeply.

"Thank you," he says as they break apart. "Thank you so much, Geralt; I can't even— I can't— I wish I could pay you back, somehow, but—"

"Play for me sometime," says Geralt. "That would be payment enough, I'm sure."

"I will," Jaskier whispers. "I will play for you every day, and every night, as long as I live, and I will write songs for you, and—" He's crying now, smiling and crying at the same time.

"Jaskier," says Geralt. "Come here."

He opens his arms, and Jaskier hugs him tightly. "Thank you," he says again.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "You're welcome, Jaskier." He pauses. "You're always welcome."

And he means it.

Chapter Text

When they reach the inn, Rian is still contentedly playing with Sam, so Jaskier and Geralt head upstairs alone.

Back in their room, Jaskier sits down in the chair, opens the case, and pulls out the lute.

"Fuck," he whispers, reverently ghosting his hand over the wood. "It's so fucking beautiful." He positions his fingers and gives the strings a brief strum.

"Geralt, fuck," he says.

"What's wrong?" asks Geralt, who's still standing in front of the door.

"It's just... it's been four and a half years," Jaskier says, his voice cracking. "What if I don't remember how to play?"

"I'm sure you do."

Jaskier swallows and gives it the lute another strum, then another. He plays a brief melody— his fingers cautious, yes, but precise, and obviously still skilled.

"My calluses are gone," he mutters finally, repositioning the lute in his lap.

"They'll come back," says Geralt. "Just keep playing."

Jaskier nods, and begins to pick out another mindless little tune. "Fuck," he says then. "I do remember. And it feels so fucking good, to be playing again. Fuck." He clears his throat, and begins to sing in an exaggeratedly theatrical voice: "Thank you Geralt of Rivia," he says, strumming along to the melody. "I forever shall be in your debt, 'cause this lute was expensive as shi-it—" He holds the note. "And blah-blah, something rhyming with debt..."

"A lovely song," says Geralt, unable to suppress a smile.

"Why thank you."

"But you're not indebted to me," Geralt reminds him.

Jaskier just shrugs, and continues to strum away. From time to time he murmurs to himself— piecing together lyrics, Geralt assumes. And while Jaskier plays, Geralt takes the opportunity to spread out his bedroll and begin to sort through his potions and other first-aid supplies, determining what needs to be replenished before his next contract.

Except he doesn't make much progress. He finds himself transfixed by Jaskier's playing, unable to concentrate on anything but the simple beauty of the lute strings under Jaskier's expert touch.

So at last he gives up on the potions. Instead, he sits back against the side of the bed, closes his eyes, and lets himself listen.

***

"Is it too maudlin to rhyme 'fucked until I bled' with 'wished that I was dead'?" Jaskier asks eventually, jarring Geralt from his reverie.

Geralt's eyes snap open, and he frowns.

"It is, isn't it? I thought so," says Jaskier. "I'll be more... vague then."

"You're writing about Szymon's inn?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier shrugs. "And other things. I'm thinking a few verses about Szymon's, a few verses about being rescued, and a few verses about now." His fingers go still, and the music stops. "It wouldn't be a song for the public, of course. The details of that version will be significantly more, uh. Embellished, shall we say?"

"Then who is this version for?"

"For you, of course," says Jaskier, with an easy shrug. "To thank you."

"Oh," says Geralt. He thinks he might be blushing.

Jaskier smiles, and goes back to playing.

***

They have lunch with Rian, then repair upstairs, and Jaskier shows Rian the lute.

"Can I touch?" asks Rian.

Jaskier nods. "Just be gentle."

Rian runs a finger over the curved side of the instrument, then down one of the strings.

"Play it!" he says then. "I wanna hear."

Jaskier laughs, and starts to play.

"Once there was a man named Rian, named Rian," he sings.

It's an old children's song, Geralt recognizes dimly, where the name can be replaced.

Jaskier goes on:

He slept for a hundred thousand years,
Till all his hair was long and white,
And the birds made nests in his beard, in his beard.

Rian laughs, and crawls into Geralt's lap. "More!" he says, clapping his little hands together. "Play more, Papa!"

So Jaskier plays more, plays all afternoon, till evening arrives and they go downstairs for dinner.

***

When at last it comes time to put Rian to bed, Jaskier strums his lute and sings a lullaby about the moon, and Rian is asleep within moments.

***

The next morning, when Geralt wakes up, Jaskier is already sitting up in bed, scribbling away in his notebook.

"Jaskier?" says Geralt.

"Morning," Jaskier mutters, his tongue sticking out slightly in concentration. "I'm almost done."

"With what?"

"With my song for you!" says Jaskier, as if it should have been obvious.

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "Did you sleep?"

"For a few hours," shrugs Jaskier. "But then I woke up to take a shit and, what do you know, inspiration struck."

"Hmm."

"I just have to iron out a few kinks," Jaskier says, feverishly scratching out a line. "And it should be ready. Give me, like, an hour, okay?"

"Take your time," says Geralt, rolling over in bed, but inside, his heart is thrumming in anticipation.

No one's ever written him a song before, after all.

***

After breakfast, while Rian is with Sam, Jaskier takes Geralt by the hand and they return to their room.

"Sit down," Jaskier bids Geralt, gesturing with a flourish toward the chair.

Geralt sits, and Jaskier settles in the bed, picking up his lute.

"Alright," he says. "Don't— I mean it's not perfect. So don't judge it too harshly. And I'm out of practice, obviously. So..."

"Jaskier," says Geralt.

"Sorry," Jaskier mutters. "Sorry. Okay. Shit, I'm nervous. But okay. Here goes."

He shoots Geralt a tentative grin.

Then he takes a deep breath, strums a few notes, and sings:

There's a very particular terror
When you find yourself lost and alone,
When you're hurting within and you're hurting without,
And you haven't got friends or a home.

There's a very particular anger
When your child is hungry and scared,
When he's seen so much shit that he shouldn't have seen,
And it seems that the world doesn't care.

There's a very particular sadness
That you feel after so many years—
Years of shame, degradation, and bodily harm;
Years of rape and abuses and tears.

There's a very particular yearning
Felt when somebody looks in your eyes,
And he sees what you've been through, and says that he'll save you,
And you can't help but let yourself cry.

There's a very particular solace
To be found when you're finally free—
When your son's in your arms and he's happy and warm,
And you realize that now you can breathe.

There's a very particular panic
When you worry it's too good to last,
And the nightmares and flashbacks are frequent and clear,
'Cause you can't quite get over the past.

There's a very particular comfort
When you start to feel safe being held,
When you get up the nerve to look under the bed,
And you see that the monsters are felled.

There's a very particular gladness
When you know you're no longer alone,
When you let someone in, let him touch your bruised skin,
And you feel like you've finally come home.

Jaskier gives a final strum, and looks up expectantly.

Geralt says nothing. There's a lump in his throat.

"So... what'd you think?" prompts Jaskier, shifting nervously. "Give me a review. Three words or less."

Geralt just shakes his head. "Jaskier," he chokes out.

And Jaskier relaxes a little, and smiles softly, and seems to understand.

Chapter Text

The sound of Jaskier plucking away at his lute becomes such familiar background noise over the next few days that Geralt finds it hard to believe it's only a recent addition to their lives.

Jaskier plays almost constantly, like he's trying to make up for lost time— which, Geralt supposes, he is. He picks idly at the strings during mealtimes. He strums quiet melodies in the morning when he wakes up and in the evening before bed. He composes tunes for Rian and Geralt throughout the day, pulling lyrics seemingly out of thin air.

When it comes time to walk back to the tailor in the other town, he plays his lute the whole way there, occasionally asking for Geralt's opinion on a word choice or a rhyme.

"I'm a witcher, Jaskier, not a poet," Geralt tells him.

Jaskier just laughs. "My dear Geralt," he says. "Don't sell yourself short. You're rather prone to doing that, aren't you?"

Geralt says, "Hmm."

***

The pleated, mulberry-colored doublet fits Jaskier like a glove.

The tailor makes a few minute adjustments, then sends them on their way with abundant well wishes and an exhortation to come back and visit should they ever be in need of his services again.

Geralt and Jaskier leave the town and walk until they reach the main road, then set off in the direction of the inn.

"You know, it's funny. When I was a kid, I used to wear my doublets open," says Jaskier after a few minutes, kicking at a clod of dirt on the road. He has his lute slung over his shoulder and one hand resting on the slight curve of his belly. "Like, unlaced, unfastened, un-anything, just wide open, showing off my lovely embroidered chemises. Drove my parents crazy, their little viscount-to-be behaving like such a scamp." He laughs lightly. "Well, look at me now, all buttoned up like a prude," he says. And then, with a bite to his voice, "My parents would be so fucking proud."

Geralt frowns. "Fuck your parents. Leave it open if you like," he says, unsure what Jaskier is getting at.

"No, I— I don't mean—" Jaskier breaks off and sighs. "I'm merely reflecting on the change, I suppose. These days I feel like... the more effort someone has to go through to get me naked, the better?" He shrugs, and shoots Geralt a regretful little half-smile. "I'm not that same thirteen-year-old kid anymore. If that makes sense."

"Hmm," says Geralt. It does make sense, of course.

But he's stuck on the image of Jaskier as a carefree boy in an open doublet, thirteen years old, unaware that in a matter of months, he'd present as an omega and lose everything he'd ever known.

Then, for a brief, fragmentary moment, he thinks of himself as a child, on the doorstep of Kaer Morhen...

It's a thought that makes his chest feel strange.

"Play something," he grunts to Jaskier.

And Jaskier glances at him, beaming, and obliges.

***

Geralt leaves to find a contract the next morning.

When he returns five days later, at dinnertime, he's surprised to discover Jaskier serenading the common room with his lute as Rian sits by his feet.

Geralt settles in a dark corner of the inn and watches Jaskier finish up his song, after which he stands and gives a little bow, his eyes scanning the room. When he catches Geralt's gaze, his face lights up.

"Thank you, thank you," he says loudly, with another bow. "That'll be all for tonight. But never fear, I'll be back tomorrow, same time, same place, new songs." He winks, and there's a smattering of applause among the patrons who are actually paying attention.

Then Jaskier taps Rian on the shoulder and points over at Geralt.

Immediately, Rian is running toward him.

"Geralt!" he says, throwing himself into Geralt's arms. "I missed you!"

"Hm. I missed you too," says Geralt, as Jaskier joins them at the table, sitting down across from Geralt and leaning forward breathlessly.

"Geralt," he says. "Bethelda likes my playing."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "That's good."

"No, I mean." Jaskier grins. "She said I can play in exchange for our room and board."

"She did?" Geralt sets Rian down beside him on the bench, frowning.

"Yes!" says Jaskier. "My dear, darling witcher, isn't this fabulous news?"

It is good news, Geralt has to admit to himself.

He's been worrying idly about what they'll do come winter, since he's fairly certain that bringing Jaskier to spend it at Kaer Morhen with three other alpha witchers is out of the question. But with their lodging and food covered, he can start saving the money from his contracts, ensuring that the three of them— or four, actually, he realizes— will have something to live on when the cold weather comes and work dries up. But—

"Do you mind?" he asks.

"Mind?" Jaskier repeats incredulously. "Of course not; I love it. It's like... my calling."

"Hmm," says Geralt, relief curling in his chest. "And no one's given you a hard time?"

"Not at all, I swear," Jaskier says. "And Bethelda wouldn't stand for it if they did, now would she?" he adds, raising his eyebrows.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. He makes a good point. "Well, I'll keep taking contracts," he mutters. "Start saving up coin for winter. And if you ever tire of performing, you must tell me."

"I will," Jaskier says, beginning to pluck out a soft tune on his lute. And he smiles at Geralt, and sings a ditty about blessings and flowers and spring.

***

***

The next day, Geralt wakes up in bed to the sensation of someone pulling on his hair.

He opens his eyes and finds Rian staring down at him. "Hello. Your hair has knots," he proclaims. "I'm helping."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "Thank you."

"You're welcome!" Rian says brightly, continuing to tug.

Geralt hears Jaskier stir and roll over on the other side of the bed, and senses a change in the rhythm of his breathing, enough to indicate that he's at least somewhat awake.

"I like your hair," Rian tells him as he works. "It's pretty."

"Hmm."

"I want white hair too," Rian says then.

Geralt frowns. "No you don't."

"How come?" asks Rian, obviously intrigued.

"Because."

"Because why?"

Geralt sighs, hesitating. "My hair wasn't always white," he says at last. "It used to be like yours. Brown and curly."

"Really?" Rian asks, his hands going still on Geralt's scalp.

"Yes," says Geralt.

"But then how'd it get white?"

"Because," says Geralt, with another sigh. "I went through some... bad things. As a child. Trials, they were called. My hair has been white ever since."

"Bad things?" Rian echoes.

"Yes."

Rian frowns. "Your daddy didn't keep you safe?" he asks quietly.

And Geralt's heart twists a little in his chest. "Hmm," he says. "Not like yours did."

"Why not?"

"I never knew my father," Geralt tells him. "And my mother left me when I was a child."

"Left you? Where?"

"At Kaer Morhen," says Geralt. "That's where I became a witcher."

"She left you... and didn't come back?" asks Rian, like he's finding the concept difficult to comprehend.

"Yes."

"Oh. If Papa left me somewhere I'd be so scared," Rian whispers, then pauses. "Were you scared?"

"Yes," Geralt admits, after a moment. "I was terrified."

"Even though you're a witcher?"

"I wasn't a witcher back then," says Geralt. "Just a little boy. Like you."

"Oh." Rian frowns at that. "That's sad."

"Hmm," says Geralt, looking away from Rian's earnest little face.

It's something he hasn't thought about very consciously until now, but Rian reminds him of himself as a child, right down to the curly brown hair.

"Can I be a witcher someday?" asks Rian then.

Geralt's stomach drops. "No," he says, more harshly than he'd intended. He sits up in bed, touches Rian's shoulder, and repeats, in a gentler voice, "No, Rian."

"How come?" asks Rian innocently.

"Because—" Geralt scowls. "Because I wouldn't let you go through something like that."

"But—"

"Rian," Jaskier mumbles sleepily. "Leave Geralt alone." He shifts under the covers. "Alright? C'mere, honey," he says, opening his arms. And as Rian snuggles beside him obediently, Jaskier meets Geralt's gaze.

His expression is curious, questioning, but Geralt gives him no answers, just stares back at those eyes— those cornflower-blue eyes— until the past seems far away.

Then he settles back against his pillow and sighs.

Chapter Text

That night, Geralt can't sleep. He can feel nightmares lurking at the corners of his mind, just biding their time, waiting for him to slip into unconsciousness before they rear their ugly heads.

So lies there, stubbornly awake and unmoving, listening as Jaskier tosses and turns beside him.

"Are you alright?" he grunts at last.

Jaskier lets out an exaggeratedly mournful groan in response. "Yeah," he says. "Just can't get comfortable."

"Hmm."

A few minutes pass in silence.

"What about you?" Jaskier asks then.

"What?"

"Are you alright?"

"Yes," says Geralt.

"So you're not, like, thinking about..." Jaskier swallows, then settles a hand lightly on Geralt's shoulder. "Look, I don't mean to overstep," he says.

Which, fuck. Geralt knows where this is going.

And sure enough: "But I heard what you were saying to Rian this morning."

Geralt makes no reply.

"About how you became a witcher?" Jaskier prompts gently. "You said you went through... bad things?"

"Hmm," hums Geralt. He glances at Jaskier, who's watching him with wide, expectant eyes.

"You'd like to know the details?" he mutters.

"If you want to tell me, then yes," says Jaskier. "If you don't, well, just say the word, and we need never speak of it again."

Geralt huffs. There are he doesn't talk about— things he doesn't even think about, if they can help it, except in nightmares— and the details of the Trials are one such thing.

But maybe, for Jaskier— Jaskier, who's as good as cleaved his own heart open and handed it to Geralt, trauma and all—

"It's a long process," Geralt says, speaking slowly. "Long and difficult. Some might call it cruel." He sighs. "And it doesn't always work."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that... many boys are put through the Trials. Very few complete them. Perhaps three out of ten. Perhaps fewer."

"And what happens to the rest?" Jaskier asks with a frown.

"They die."

For a moment, the silence in the room is absolute.

And although Geralt is, on some level, aware of his surroundings (the bed, the blankets, the hearth, the ceiling), it all feels very distant.

"How?" Jaskier whispers, from somewhere across space and time.

"From the potions they're forced to consume," someone responds. (Who? Geralt wonders. Surely not him.) "The mutagens are powerful, and their effects are too much for some bodies— most bodies— to endure."

Then Jaskier says something in reply, but Geralt isn't there to hear.

No, Geralt is a child curled up on a cot, feverish and crying, barely conscious and yet terribly aware of the fact that he's surrounded by death, by silence, by the husks of boys who will never wake up. He feels like he's suffocating. Everything hurts. He vomits from the pain. When he closes his eyes, he sees things, terrible things— hallucinations or nightmares, he's not sure which. Is he sleeping? Is he dying?

Then someone touches him.

"Geralt," they're saying. "Geralt."

There's a warm hand on his face, and blue eyes are staring down at him in concern.

Jaksier.

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. (He's at the inn. He's not a child anymore. The Trials were long ago.)

"Oh thank fuck," exclaims Jaskier. "You're back."

Geralt frowns. It's been years since he lost control of his mind like that. "What happened?" he asks, dreading the answer. He'd cried once, when this had happened in front of Eskel. "What did I do?"

"You went away," Jaskier murmurs. "Your eyes got all... blank. Looked like a pair of gold coins with nothing behind them. And you were sort of shaking."

"Fuck."

Jaskier sits up a little, still cupping Geralt's cheek in his hand. "It's my fault," he says softly, earnestly. "I shouldn't have asked; I'm so sorry; I know what it's like to— to have to relive unpleasant things. To feel like they're happening all over again."

"Hm."

Jaskier's hand slides down Geralt's face, over his neck, onto his chest. "Oh, Geralt," he says, and it sounds like he's on the verge of tears. "I just... I can't imagine. Putting children through that. And— and your mother, just abandoning you to it?"

Geralt sets his jaw. "I like to believe she didn't know what it would entail," he says stiffly.

"But she must have known that... that being a witcher isn't... I mean, fuck, my parents disowned me for being an omega, but that's something I already was; at least they didn't..."

He trails off, but Geralt can guess what he's thinking: Which is worse, disowning a child for what he is, or handing him over to be turned into something that the rest of the world will disown him for?

It's a question with no simple answer, as far as Geralt is concerned.

"What's done is done," he grunts, with what he hopes is a note of finality. "I survived."

"Yeah, so did I," Jaskier whispers. "And now I'm fucked up."

"You're not."

"I am, Geralt," says Jaskier.

And so are you. The words hang in the air between them, unspoken.

"Oh, Geralt," Jaskier says quietly. "My sad, stoic White Wolf."

At which Geralt feels a prick of something between anger and shame. "What the fuck makes you think I'm sad?" he snaps, turning away his face.

"You look sad," Jaskier tells him simply. "And I know that I would feel sad, if I were you."

"You're a human," grunts Geralt. "I'm a witcher."

"Ah yes. And witchers don't have emotions, of course," Jaskier says.

"They're not supposed to," Geralt mutters. "Emotions get you killed."

Beside him, he feels Jaskier sit up. "Did they tell you that as a child?" he whispers.

"Hm." Geralt rolls onto his back, crosses his arms. He wants, suddenly, for this discussion to be over.

Then he feels Jaskier's hand push some stray hair off his face and tuck it behind his ear.

"Geralt?" he says.

"Hm?"

"Can I kiss you?"

Geralt frowns. Why? he thinks. What comes out instead is, "Yes."

The word sounds strangely broken on his lips.

But Jaskier touches his face, and Geralt holds the nape of Jaskier's neck, and they kiss.

***

"There," says Jaskier as they separate.

His hand lingers on Geralt's jaw, and Geralt savors the feeling of it: so soft, so human.

(It makes Geralt feel more human too, somehow.)

"Thank you," he grunts, averting his eyes.

Jaskier just kisses him again.

***

And later, when Geralt finally drifts off (with Jaskier lying beside him, his head resting on Geralt's shoulder), his sleep is deep. And peaceful. And blessedly, mercifully dreamless.

Chapter Text

Geralt awakens the next morning to the acrid scent of fear.

It's Jaskier, he realizes— Jaskier, who's lying on his back, tense and trembling, his eyes wide open in the watery morning light.

Geralt sits up. "Jaskier," he murmurs.

"Oh, hello," says Jaskier tightly, with what looks like an attempt at a smile. "Good morning."

"What's wrong?" asks Geralt.

"Ah, nothing much."

Geralt waits.

"It was just, um. A nightmare," Jaskier mumbles at last. "I was back at Szymon's, getting knotted by some faceless alpha. Same old, same old. Not a big deal." Jaskier scoots closer to Geralt, and Geralt hears him inhale.

"You're frightened," Geralt says quietly, because Jaskier's scent is still ripe with fear.

"Yeah, well, a nightmare'll do that," Jaskier sighs.

Tentatively, Geralt lifts his arm and begins to card his fingers through Jaskier's hair. Jaskier relaxes into the touch, and inhales deeply once again.

"He smelled awful," he says. "The alpha. Like rotting leaves." His breath is warm against the crook of Geralt's neck as he goes on, "But you don't smell like that. You— you're the only alpha I've ever met who didn't smell fucking terrible."

"Hmm," says Geralt. He thinks of Jaskier's scent, sweet and wild and fierce, and wishes he could smell it, even just for a moment— but he knows that the scent suppressant potion is important, both for Jaskier's safety and for his peace of mind.

He continues to stroke Jaskier's hair, and Jaskier continues to breathe deeply, and they lie there like that until Rian wakes up.

And privately, Geralt can't help but feel almost grateful for Jaskier's nightmare, because it means that Jaskier is too distracted to bring up their discussion from the previous night.

***

A week goes by, in fact, before the topic of witchering comes up again.

Geralt has just returned from a hunt, and Jaskier's finished performing for the evening, so the three of them are sitting at a table eating lentil soup for dinner.

"What monster did you kill?" asks Rian from across the table.

"Pack of barghests," grunts Geralt.

"What's that?"

"They're like... ghost dogs," Geralt says.

"Ghost dogs?" Rian sits up straighter. "I want to kill ghost dogs!"

"It's not as fun as it sounds."

"But I want to," says Rian. "I wanna be a witcher!"

"You don't."

"I do!"

"You really don't," sighs Geralt. "You don't know what it's like." He has a sudden, terrible mental image of Rian curled up on a cot, pumped full of mutagens, feverish and only half alive.

"Well, what's it like?" asks Rian innocently.

"It's difficult," Geralt says, pushing the image of Rian in the cot from his mind. "And thankless. And dangerous."

"But I'm brave!" says Rian. "Papa, tell him I'm brave."

"Rian," Jaskier says gently. "We know you're very brave, but listen to Geralt, okay?"

Rian huffs petulantly, crossing his little arms. "No!" he says. "I'm gonna be witcher! I'm gonna be a big, strong, brave witcher, and kill all the monsters, and—"

"Rian," Geralt growls.

And instantly, Rian recoils, pressing himself closer to Jaskier. Both of their gazes are fixed on Geralt's hand— which is, Geralt realizes guiltily, curled into a fist on the table.

He unclenches it.

"Sorry," he mutters. "I'm sorry. I'm not angry, I swear."

Neither Rian nor Jaskier speak, just continue to stare at him, wide-eyed.

Geralt looks away.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "Forgive me, I..." He sighs. He feels like shit: pure, stinking, fly-covered horse shit. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

"Were you gonna hit me?" Rian whispers, still clutching Jaskier's arm.

"No, Rian. No, I wasn't. I would never," says Geralt desperately. He locks eyes with Jaskier. "Please believe me."

Jaskier nods hesitantly, and some of the tension seems to leave his shoulders. "Hey, it's okay, honey," he tells Rian, stroking at his hair. "Geralt wasn't gonna hurt you. He was just a little upset. But not at you. Right, Geralt?"

"That's right," grunts Geralt.

Rian nods, but he doesn't meet Geralt's eye, doesn't seem convinced.

And Geralt doesn't feel any less like shit.

***

They finish eating dinner in silence.

***

"I'll be in the washroom," says Geralt, the moment they reach their room upstairs.

He doesn't wait for a response, just trudges past Rian and Jaskier, enters the washroom, and closes the door.

He sits down, resolving to stay there and meditate until Jaskier and Rian are asleep. But self-loathing makes meditation rather difficult, and he finds himself listening instead as Jaskier puts Rian to bed.

"Will Geralt come back?" Rian asks.

"He's just in the washroom," says Jaskier softly. "He'll come out soon."

"He hates me."

"No, no," Jaskier says. "No, honey, he loves you."

There's a moment of silence, and then Geralt hears Rian start to cry. "He scared me," he sobs.

"I know," murmurs Jaskier. "I know, baby. But he didn't mean to."

Rian continues to cry, and Geralt can imagine Jaskier holding him close, rocking him back and forth.

At last the sounds of crying die down, as Rian, Geralt presumes, falls asleep. He hears the rustling of linen sheets.

"Goodnight, honey," Jaskier whispers.

Geralt waits for the sound of more rustling as Jaskier gets into bed too, but instead, he hears footsteps. There's a knock at the washroom door.

Fuck.

Geralt grunts, and Jaskier enters hesitantly.

For a moment he just stands there, fidgeting with his fingers at his sides. Then he sits down beside Geralt.

"So," he says. "What's up with you?"

"Jaskier," Geralt mutters. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, you've already apologized," says Jaskier. "I want to know why you lost your patience in the first place."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. He frowns. "It— it makes me upset," he says then, stiffly. "When Rian says he wants to be a witcher. He doesn't understand what it entails."

Jaskier scoffs. "Of course he doesn't; he's four years old. All he knows is that the only witcher he's ever met saved him and his father and can allegedly kill any monster in the world."

"Hmm," hums Geralt, still frowning.

"Geralt," Jaskier says, nudging him in the side. "You need to talk to me."

"I—" Geralt starts, then breaks off. He takes a deep breath. "When he says... that he wants to be a witcher... I imagine him going through the Trials. I imagine him being broken, and rejected, and—"

Geralt finds he can't go on, but Jaskier nods slowly. "I see," he says, staring down at his fingers. "I, um. Back at Szymon's, I used to think about what would happen to Rian if I died— or when I died, I suppose, since I was always just one bad customer away from death; it was bound to happen at some point. Anyway, I'd think about how there were only three options, really: Szymon would either whore him out, kick him out, or sell him off to someone. No matter what, it was basically a guarantee that, uh. He'd be raped." He glances at Geralt. "I'd get nightmares about it sometimes. I'd wake up screaming. So I know what it's like to freak out at the thought of your kid going through the same shit that you yourself did."

Geralt doesn't respond. He doesn't know what to say.

"But Geralt, you can't raise your voice at him," Jaskier says then. "You can't make a fist in front of him, Melitele's fucking tits."

"I know," says Geralt.

"He thought you were going to hit him."

"I know."

"He cried about it tonight."

"I know, I heard him."

"Yeah, okay, well. You need to make it up to him, alright?"

Geralt looks over at him. "How?" he whispers.

"Well," says Jaskier, "we'll talk to him in the morning. I'll discuss the witcher thing with him, try to make him understand why it upset you. And you, my dear, will apologize to him again, and tell him that you will never, ever hit him, no matter what."

Geralt nods. "Alright," he says. "Yes. Of course. I— Jaskier?"

"What?"

"You know I wouldn't hurt him, don't you? I clenched my fist... as a reflex. I wasn't upset with Rian, just... just in general."

"I know," says Jaskier quietly. "I do know that." He claps Geralt on the shoulder. Then he stands up. "Now come on, come to bed with me," he says.

"No," says Geralt. "I'll stay here and—"

"And what, mope? Don't be stupid," says Jaskier. "What if I have a bad dream?"

Geralt blinks up at him. Then, slowly, he stands up, and lets Jaskier take his hand.

And together, they leave the washroom and head to bed.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Jaskier wakes up at dawn, just as the birds start singing. He rolls over onto his side and says, "Hey. You're awake."

"I've been awake," Geralt grunts. In truth, he's been awake for hours.

Jaskier frowns at that. "You're worried about talking to Rian?" he asks softly.

"Hmm," Geralt hums.

"Don't be, okay?" says Jaskier. "Just be honest with him. He'll understand."

"Hmm," Geralt repeats. And then: "Should I tell him that children die, during the Trials?"

"You can," Jaskier says, after a brief pause. "Just... approach the topic gently."

"I'm not good at approaching things gently."

"Bollocks," says Jaskier. "Of course you are."

"Hm."

Jaskier just smiles, leans over, and kisses Geralt briefly on the shoulder.

Then he wakes up Rian.

"Papa?" Rian mumbles sleepily.

"That's right," says Jaskier. "And guess who came out of the washroom."

Rian frowns minutely, his eyes still closed. "Geralt?" he says.

"Yep!" says Jaskier brightly. "He's right here."

"Is he angry?"

"No, Rian. He's not angry at all. But we wanted to talk to you about some things. Alright, sleepy-head? Come on, sit up."

Rian sits up, rubbing his eyes. Then he blinks around, meets Geralt's gaze, and frowns again.

"Are you still a little scared because Geralt got upset yesterday?" Jaskier asks quietly.

Rian nods.

"Okay. That's okay, honey," says Jaskier. "But Rian, sometimes people get upset, and it doesn't mean they're upset at you. Or at anyone. Sometimes people can be upset at things." He pauses. "Do you ever get upset at things?" he asks then. "Like, at things that happen?"

"I made a block tower with Sam and it fell down," Rian says slowly. "Then I was sad and angry."

"That's a good example!" says Jaskier. "Because you weren't angry at Sam, were you?"

"No."

"You were just sad and angry in general. And sometimes adults feel like that too."

Rian stares up at Jaskier.

"And yesterday," Jaskier says, "that's how Geralt felt."

"But how come?" asks Rian, with a look in Geralt's direction.

"Because," says Jaskier, putting his arm around Rian's shoulders, "when you said you wanted to be a witcher, he imagined you getting hurt. And that made him sad and angry. But he wasn't angry at you, just angry at that thought. Do you understand?"

"But how come he doesn't want me to be a witcher?" Rian asks mournfully, glancing between Jaskier and Geralt.

"Because he didn't like to think of you having to go through what he went through," Jaskier says. "It's hard to become a witcher, and it's hard to be a witcher."

"How?" asks Rian.

"Geralt?" prompts Jaskier.

And Geralt clears his throat. "Rian, do you remember... how I told you that my hair is white because bad things happened to me when I was young?" he begins.

Rian nods hesitantly.

"Those bad things happened to many other boys too. We were all given potions to change our bodies," says Geralt. "I survived. But most of the other boys, uh. Hmm." Geralt frowns. "They died."

Rian's eyes widen.

"And if you became a witcher," Geralt says, forcing himself to go on, "those bad things would happen to you too, and you might die. And even if you didn't, it would be very... painful. Unbearably painful." Geralt feels tears in his eyes, and a lump in his throat. "Rian, I love you. I don't like to imagine you dead or in pain. The idea makes me... very unhappy," he concludes stiffly.

"I don't wanna die," whispers Rian. "I just wanna be strong and have swords and help people."

"Rian, honey, you don't need to be a witcher to help people," murmurs Jaskier, stroking Rian's hair.

"You don't?" Rian glances at Geralt again, as if seeking confirmation.

Geralt shakes his head. "Definitely not," he says. "And when you're older, I can teach you to wield a sword— both to defend yourself, and to protect others."

"Really?" breathes Rian.

"Really," says Geralt.

"I don't have to be a witcher for swords?"

"You don't," Geralt tells him firmly. "Many people are good with swords, not just witchers."

Suddenly, Rian crawls over Jaskier's lap and settles himself in the middle of the bed, right between Jaskier and Geralt. "Okay," he says. "Then I wanna have a sword and help people but not be a witcher; is that good?"

Geralt breathes a sigh of relief, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Jaskier smile.

"Yes, honey," Jaskier says. "That sounds like a wonderful idea."

Rian nods once, seemingly satisfied. But then he frowns. "What about the baby though?" he asks.

"What about them?" asks Jaskier.

"Will they be a witcher?" Rian whispers. "'Cause Geralt's their real other daddy?"

Jaskier blanches. For a moment, he glances over at Geralt. Then he takes a deep breath and pulls Rian closer to himself.

"Rian, I know what I told you before," he says slowly, "but, um. Listen, okay? Geralt is the baby's other daddy in his heart, but— but not by blood."

"Blood?" asks Rian.

Jaskier sighs. "I mean Geralt isn't... Look, it's just like with you, Rian. The reason I got pregnant with the new baby was because of a Bad Man, okay? But that Bad Man isn't important, because Geralt is here now, and when the baby is born, Geralt is the one who's gonna help raise them, and take care of them, and do everything a good alpha daddy should do. Just like how he takes care of you. And that means that as far as we're concerned, Geralt is your alpha daddy, and the baby's alpha daddy, and the Bad Men don't matter."

Rian stares straight ahead for a moment, and Geralt can practically see the gears turning in his head. Then, at last, he nods. "Okay," he says simply, happily.

There's a moment of silence.

"Rian," Geralt says then. "I want to apologize again. For scaring you yesterday."

Rian looks over at him.

"And... I want you to know," Geralt goes on, "that I would never, and will never, hurt you. No matter what."

"Only if I'm an annoying little shit?" Rian asks.

Geralt fights to keep any hint of rage off his face, but hells below, he feels fucking furious. "Hm. Did Szymon used to call you that?" he asks tightly.

Rian just nods.

"You are not annoying," Geralt tells Rian, and he glances at Jaskier, only to find him looking resolutely away.

"But if I was?" asks Rian. "Would you hit me then?"

"No, I wouldn't hit you," says Geralt.

"But what if I was crying and crying and crying?" Rian tries.

"I still wouldn't hit you."

"What if I was looking in the rubbish bin for food and then you caught me?"

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. "Rian. You'll never have to look for food in the rubbish bin again. Have I ever let you go hungry?"

Rian just frowns, and Geralt lets out a sigh.

"But even if you did something I'd told you not to do," he says, "I wouldn't hit you."

Rian nods thoughtfully at that, then furrows his little brow. "What about— will you hit the baby?" he asks, in a small voice.

"Never," says Geralt. His voice feels strangely hoarse. "I would never hit either of you. I would never hurt either of you in any way."

Rian holds his gaze for a moment, and then: "Will the baby call you 'Daddy'?" he asks, out of the blue.

On the other side of the bed, Jaskier whips his head around. His cheeks are wet.

"I— Hmm." Geralt frowns, meeting Jaskier's eye. "If... they want to?" he tries, and Jaskier nods along.

Rian seems to consider this. "What about if I want to?" he asks at last.

"Then, uh..." Geralt tilts his head at Jaskier, who nods again, wiping hastily at his eyes.

"Then you may," Geralt says.

Rian grins up at him. Then he turns and lifts up Jaskier's nightshirt unceremoniously, exposing the curve of his belly.

"Hello Baby. Did you know we have a nice alpha daddy?" he whispers, patting Jaskier's stomach. "We can call him Daddy and he says he won't ever ever hit us like Szymon did. And he's gonna teach us about swords and helping people."

And with that, Rian rests his head on Jaskier's baby bump, letting out a contented little sigh.

Jaskier's cheeks are still wet, but he's smiling down softly at Rian. Geralt reaches his hand out, finds Jaskier's, and gives it a squeeze.

Jaskier squeezes back. And then, suddenly, he leans in, so their shoulders are touching, and presses a kiss to Geralt's left cheek. "Thank you," he murmurs.

"Thank you," Geralt says thickly.

And all he can think is how grateful he is, to be here with this family— with his family. Because that's what they are, aren't they?

They're a family.

Chapter Text

Summer has always been a profitable season for Geralt, as monsters are most active in the warmer months, and this year is no exception. It makes him proud to see the bags of coin accumulating in the drawer of their nightstand— tangible proof that he'll be able to provide for his new family come winter.

And one warm evening, over dinner, Geralt finally voices to Jaskier something that's been in the back of his mind for weeks. "I was thinking," he says gruffly. "At some point perhaps we could... move. From the inn. Find a cottage, or— something small," he adds hurriedly, at the look of shock on Jaskier's face. "But it's only July, and we already have, uh. A good amount of coin. Saved up. Give it a few more months, and—"

"It's July?" Rian cuts in, frowning.

"Hmm, yes. The beginning of July," says Geralt. "Why?"

Rian's frown deepens. Then he cups his little hand and whispers into Jaskier's ear, sounding very somber, "Papa, you gotta tell him you have a heat in July."

"Oh. No, it's okay, honey," says Jaskier, tucking a lock of Rian's hair behind his ear. "Omegas don't get heats while they're pregnant."

"They don't?" breathes Rian.

"Nope."

"What about... bleeding?" Rian asks.

"No, uh. I won't do that either," Jaskier says, glancing briefly at Geralt.

Geralt frowns.

"Oh," says Rian. "Good." He pauses, then leans in and whispers again: "What about your birthday?"

"Um—" says Jaskier, with another glance in Geralt's direction.

Geralt lifts his eyebrows.

"No, honey," Jaskier says to Rian, "we're not gonna—" And then to Geralt: "Geralt, please, don't get any ideas. You don't need to— to do anything for me; gods know you've done more than enough..."

"Hmm," huffs Geralt.

"I'm very serious," says Jaskier, his voice light but firm. "Don't even think about it."

Geralt huffs again, but, "Alright," he allows.

And Rian scowls slightly, but stays silent.

"Good," Jaskier says. "Anyway, returning to the subject at hand, I— gosh, you really think we could afford a cottage?"

"In a few months, perhaps," Geralt shrugs. "We'd have to find one first. But is that something you'd... like?"

"Are you kidding?" says Jaskier. "You're asking if I'd like a quaint little cottage to raise Rian and the baby in?"

"I'm not promising quaintness," Geralt mutters. "But is that... a yes?"

"Of course it's a yes, you idiot," says Jaskier, his eyes positively dancing. "Melitele's tits, imagine, a little cottage of our own, in the woods, or on the outskirts of town... And we could have a garden... we could invite friends over for meals..."

"Friends?" asks Geralt, frowning.

Jaskier just laughs, leans across the narrow table, and kisses him.

"No!" cries Rian, and it occurs to Geralt that they've never kissed in front of him before.

Immediately, Jaskier pulls away and sits back down beside his son.

"You— you said—" splutters Rian. "That's a bad thing. Szymon did that. How come— you said—"

"Shhh," Jaskier tells him gently. "It's okay, honey. Kisses can be nice, too. I didn't like when Szymon or the Bad Men kissed me, you're right, but Geralt and I... we like it when we kiss each other, okay? Just like you like when I kiss you," he says, leaning down and planting a kiss on Rian's head.

"But on the lips—"

"Grownups kiss on the lips sometimes. I promise, Rian, it's a nice thing, when they both want it. It was bad before, with the Bad Men, because I didn't want it. But with Geralt, I do. Do you understand?"

Rian nods slowly. "It doesn't hurt?" he whispers.

"No, honey, it doesn't hurt." Jaskier squeezes Rian's shoulder.

"Oh," says Rian. "Okay. Then... you can kiss if you want." He crosses his arms, as if he's waiting for them to do so.

Jaskier ruffles his curls.

Then he leans in, and Geralt does too, and they kiss again, while Rian looks on in satisfaction.

***

Later that night, as they lie side by side in bed, with Rian fast asleep next to Jaskier, Geralt turns his head and asks quietly, "What is 'bleeding'?"

"Bleeding?"

"Rian mentioned it, earlier," says Geralt.

"Oh, right. Shit. Uh, he meant the abortions," sighs Jaskier. "I, uh— told him that it's a normal omega thing."

"To have abortions?" Geralt frowns.

"Well, no. To have a day or two, about a month after their heat, where they just lie in bed crying and bleeding from their bum," says Jaskier.

"Fuck."

"Obviously he didn't know about the pregnancies," Jaskier goes on. "But I couldn't hide the abortions from him, even if I didn't tell him what they really were."

"Hmm," Geralt mutters. He hates to imagine Rian having to watch his father reduced to such a state, miserable and bleeding and in pain. The poor child must have been terrified— as if he hadn't already had enough to be terrified by, living at that shithole inn.

"Geralt," says Jaskier then.

"Hmm?"

"Do you swear you won't get me anything for my birthday?"

"Hm. I won't if you don't want me to," grunts Geralt.

"Thank you. See, it's just... my parents... they used to throw me elaborate birthday banquets," Jaskier murmurs after a moment, fiddling with the edge of the bedsheet. "They'd invite all the local nobility, and everyone would bring me expensive gifts..."

"Hmm."

"I hated it," Jaskier says then. "Because I knew why they did it."

"Why did they do it?"

Jaskier scoffs. "Because they were under the erroneous impression that shit like fancy parties would somehow make up for the fact that they didn't love me. That they'd never loved me."

"Hm," Geralt grunts, gritting his teeth. Jaskier, of all people, had never deserved to feel unloved.

"And of course I was right," says Jaskier, wiping hastily at his eyes. "All the gifts and clothes and parties and tutors didn't mean a fucking thing when I presented as an omega."

Geralt reaches out and brushes Jaskier's wet cheek with the pad of his thumb. Jaskier curls up a little at the touch, rolls his body nearer to Geralt's. "The only reason Rian knows my birthday is because I used to tell him that on his birthday he could wish for whatever he wanted," Jaskier says. "And when he was a little older, he started making me do it too." His gaze flickers up to Geralt's face, and he sighs. "He'd wish for the most pathetic fucking things. Like— that Szymon would feed us the next day. Or that I wouldn't get hurt anymore."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "And what did you wish for?"

Jaskier closes his eyes. "That someday we'd be safe," he says. "Which is— which—" His back heaves, and he lets out a single, silent sob. "I guess it came true, huh?" he chokes out, with a watery laugh. "Just sorta... took a while."

"Mm," Geralt hums. And he pulls Jaskier closer, and kisses his forehead, and holds him while he cries.

Chapter Text

It's a mid-July evening, an hour or so before sunset, and Geralt has just returned from a hunt. He's tired as fuck, and doesn't see Jaskier in the inn's common room, so he trudges up the stairs and unlocks the door to their room.

"Geralt!" comes Rian's voice immediately, even before Geralt's finished opening the door. "Papa, Geralt is here!"

Geralt steps inside and Rian runs to greet him, reaching upwards. So Geralt hooks his hands under Rian's armpits, lifts him to his chest, and holds him close.

"Geralt," Rian mumbles into his shoulder. And then, more softly, "Daddy."

Geralt's breath hitches in his throat. It's the first time Rian's actually called him that. He squeezes him a bit more tightly and glances over at Jaskier, who's beaming, seated on the bed with his lute in his hands.

"Hey, Rian," Jaskier says, "tell Geralt what you're gonna do tonight."

"Oh yeah," says Rian. "I'm gonna sleep over in Sam's room!"

"Is that so?"

"Yeah!" Rian says, beginning to squirm, so Geralt sets him down. Rian grins up at him. "But Papa said I could wait here till it got dark in case you came home tonight. And you did!"

"That's right," says Geralt, meeting Jaskier's eye.

"He and Sam asked permission very politely, didn't you, Rian?" says Jaskier.

"Yeah!"

"And Bethelda will be there in the room, so they'll have supervision," he adds, a bit more seriously.

"Yeah, Bethelda!" Rian exclaims, wheeling around. "Papa, when can we go?"

Jaskier laughs, and stands up. "Right now, if you want," he says. "Say good night to Geralt, okay?"

"Good night, Geralt Daddy," Rian sing-songs, hugging Geralt's legs.

Jaskier and Geralt exchange smiles. "I'll be back," says Jaskier, clapping Geralt on the arm.

And he takes Rian by the hand, and they leave the room.

***

When Jaskier returns, Geralt is in bed, dressed down to his pants and a nightshirt, his leathers lying in a heap on the floor.

"Ready for bed?" Jaskier asks pleasantly.

Geralt grunts in the affirmative.

Then Jaskier comes a bit nearer, and Geralt frowns. He smells— off, somehow, but Geralt can't put his finger on what it is.

"How was the contract?" Jaskier offers, beginning to unbutton his doublet.

"Tiring," says Geralt. "But I picked up two, actually. Made a good amount of coin."

"That's good," says Jaskier, fidgeting slightly with his hands as he toes off his boots.

It's anxiety that he smells like, Geralt realizes, and the scent is growing stronger every second. By the time he slips into bed beside Geralt, it's clinging to him so thickly that it's almost unbearable.

"Jaskier. What's wrong?" Geralt asks.

"What do you mean?"

"You smell... worried."

"I'm not worried," says Jaskier, smiling blithely. And then, without warning, his face crumples in on itself.

"Jaskier," Geralt murmurs.

"Fuck," says Jaskier. "Sorry, I just— I just don't like being away from him." He sounds like he's going to cry.

"From Rian?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier nods miserably. "This is the first time— fuck, Geralt, I've never been away from him overnight before. Not once, ever since the night he was born; I've always been in the same room as him." He sniffs, and wipes his eyes. "I guess I... I just miss him."

"Hmm," Geralt grunts.

"And I know he's safe with Bethelda, and I know he's having f-fun, but— Motherfucking shit, why the fuck am I—"

Geralt puts an arm around him, and Jaskier presses his forehead to Geralt's shoulder. "It was different, when I was scrubbing tables and he was up in our room," he sobs. "And— and I also didn't mind when you and I went to town and he stayed behind. But night was when I had to protect him, and when I— it was c-comforting, when I was being..." He swallows thickly. "To know he was under the bed."

Geralt hums in understanding, and rubs circles on Jaskier's back.

"But I guess I have to— to let him grow up," sighs Jaskier, sounding absolutely melancholic.

At that, Geralt scoffs. "He's only four years old, Jas. I don't think you have to worry about letting him grow up just yet."

Jaskier pulls away slightly. "Did you call me Jas?"

Fuck. "Just slipped out," Geralt grunts. "Sorry."

"No," says Jaskier. "I like it." He buries his face in Geralt's shoulder again and lets out a sigh. "And you're right, I suppose. It's not as though he's moving away and starting a family. Melitele's tits, I'm being fucking ridiculous, aren't I?"

"You're not," Geralt assures him.

"I am. I just. I really miss him."

"Of course. He's your son."

Jaskier draws a deep breath. The ripe scent of anxiety lessens somewhat. "It's just one night," he murmurs. "And I know it's good for him, to be able to play with someone his own age."

"Hmm."

"He was so excited about the idea."

"Hmm."

"And Bethelda's there."

"That's right."

Jaskier nods, and by now Geralt can barely smell his anxiety anymore.

Eventually, Jaskier lifts his face and sniffs. "Okay," he says. "I'm okay. Thank you."

"Hmm," hums Geralt, giving Jaskier's arm a brief squeeze. "You're welcome."

Jaskier lies down, and so does Geralt, so they're facing each other. A few minutes pass in silence.

Then, almost hesitantly, Jaskier reaches out and ghosts his thumb across Geralt's cheekbone and over his temple.

"Your eyes," he murmurs. "Are they like that because of the... the Trials, they're called, right?"

"Hmm," Geralt says. "Yes."

"What color were they before?"

"I don't remember," Geralt tells him honestly.

Jaskier frowns. "What made them change?"

"Same thing that changed every other part of me," mutters Geralt. "Mutagens."

"Your hair," says Jaskier softly. "And your eyes. Your enhanced hearing and sense of smell. Your fast healing," he rattles off. "What else?"

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Enhanced reflexes and balance. Improved strength. Night vision. Slowed heart rate. Resistance to powerful potions and disease. Longer lifespan. Sterility."

Jaskier sits up. "Wait," he says. "You're sterile?"

"Mm."

"You can't have children?"

Geralt frowns. "No. And good thing, too. Any child born to a witcher would be a deformed mutant, most likely."

"But you— you still wanted children, didn't you?" Jaskier asks.

"I never really thought about it," Geralt admits. "I knew it wasn't possible, so..." He shrugs.

"But—" Jaskier strokes his fingers through Geralt's hair. "Geralt, two days after saving me you'd already decided you wanted to raise Rian and the baby as your own. That doesn't sound much like someone who'd never thought about having kids."

Geralt is silent for a moment. "I never considered it because I never wanted to be needed," he says at last, avoiding Jaskier's eye. "Not until I met you."

"Then what happened?"

"Hmm," Geralt says. "I don't... know. But I suppose I found that, as much as you need me—" He clears his throat. "I need you too. You, and Rian, and the baby. I— Hmm. I think that... perhaps, I'd needed you for a long while. Even before we met."

He glances at Jaskier, who's gazing at him softly. "Everyone needs someone," Jaskier says. "Someone to hold close, someone to call their family. Even big tough witchers."

"Hmm," Geralt hums.

There was a time, not long ago at all, when he would have sneered in the face of anyone who'd dared to suggest such a thing.

But now, he just nods in agreement.

And Jaskier takes hold of his hands and pulls them gently toward his abdomen, placing them on the swell of his stomach.

"The baby's getting bigger," he whispers.

And indeed, his belly is palpably rounder than it was the last time Geralt felt it.

"So they are," he says.

"Does it feel strange?" Jaskier asks quietly. "To think of them as yours, Rian and the baby, when you know that you can't actually... reproduce?"

"No," Geralt tells him, leaning in and kissing Jaskier's stomach. "It feels right," he says.

And Jaskier smiles, his eyes shining.

Chapter Text

The next morning, they're awakened bright and early by a knock at their door.

"Rian," breathes Jaskier, sitting bolt upright and jumping out of bed. "Rian?" he calls.

"Yes, Papa!" comes a small voice, and Jaskier hurries to open the door.

"Rian," he says, kneeling down and taking the child in his arms.

"He did wonderfully," Geralt hears Bethelda saying. "They had a lovely time together."

Jaskier laughs and stands up, ruffling Rian's hair. "Well, that makes one of us, because I was a wreck," he says cheerfully, as Rian shoots past him and belly-flops onto the bed beside Geralt.

"Hi Daddy," he says, a bit shyly.

"Hello, Rian."

"I slept over with Sam."

"I know."

"I missed you." Rian cuddles close to Geralt, and Geralt puts an arm around him.

"We missed you too," he says.

He can hear Jaskier and Bethelda exchange a few more words, and then Jaskier shuts the door and returns to bed. With a smile, he grabs his lute off the nightstand and strums a few chords. "Rian," he sings then, in a theatrical voice, "we're all so glad to have you back. Rian... It's not the same without you here, Rian..."

Rian giggles. Jaskier kisses his cheek.

And Geralt's heart feels indescribably warm.

***

That evening, as Jaskier performs downstairs and Geralt sits at a table with Rian in his lap, Rian leans up and whispers, out of the blue, "Is it Papa's birthday yet?"

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I'm not sure." It could be long past, for all he knows.

"His birthday is July," says Rian earnestly.

"Hm. Did he ever tell you the date?" asks Geralt.

Rian frowns.

"A number?" Geralt tries. "July and then a number?"

"Uhhhh... twenty," says Rian. "I think."

July twentieth. That's two days away.

"It's soon then," says Geralt.

"Will he make a wish?" Rian asks.

"If he wants to."

"What about a present?" Rian twists around to look up at Geralt. "One time Papa gave me a present," he says.

"What was it?"

"A blanket," says Rian. "It had lots of holes but that was okay. I didn't mind."

"Hmm."

Rian rugs at Geralt's sleeve. "So?" he prompts. "Can Papa get a present too?"

"Your papa said he didn't want any presents," Geralt tells him quietly. "We should respect that."

"But... but he's the best papa," Rian says, crossing his arms and pouting. "He needs a present. He needs one, Geralt!"

He's on the verge of tears, Geralt can tell, and the last thing he wants is to make Rian cry. "What about... uh, a drawing?" he says hastily. "You can draw him a picture."

Rian frowns.

"And... and we can each write a note to him, telling him how much we love him."

"I can't write though."

"Well, you can tell me what to say," says Geralt. "And I'll write it for you."

"Oh." Rian nods slowly. "Then Papa can read it?"

"Yes."

"I'm a good drawer."

"You certainly are."

"And Papa likes my drawings," Rian goes on. "So I think that's a good present."

Geralt smiles. "Then it's a deal," he says.

Rian grins.

***

The next day, Geralt obtains a sheet of parchment and a quill from Bethelda. And while Jaskier gives his evening performance, Geralt and Rian settle in the furthest corner of the inn, out of Jaskier's view, and get to work.

"I'll start with 'Dear Papa,'" says Geralt.

Rian nods. "'Dear Papa,'" he repeats. "Then say, 'I love you.'"

Geralt writes it down.

"'Thank you for being a good papa. Thank you for meeting Geralt so he could take us away from Szymon,'" Rian dictates. Then he frowns. "What else?"

"Perhaps you could say something you like about him."

"Ooh!" exclaims Rian. "'I like when you sing to me. Your songs are pretty. You always are nice to me.'" He glances up at Geralt. "Is that good?"

"That's very good," says Geralt, writing that down and dipping the quill back in the pot of ink. "What next?"

"Then say I'm happy Bad Men don't hurt him now. Oh, and then tell him to make a wish. Say, 'You should make a wish because it's your birthday.' And tell him be sure it's a good wish."

"And then?" prompts Geralt, when he finishes copying that down.

"That's all," says Rian. "Oh, and, 'I really, really love you a lot, Papa.'" He nods. "Then that's it."

Geralt smiles. "And at the very end I'll write, 'Love, Rian,' okay?"

"Okay," says Rian, with another nod. "Now can I draw?"

"First let me write my message," Geralt says. He dips the quill in the ink, stares down at the parchment, and frowns.

What should he say? How can he possibly put his feelings for Jaskier into words? Jaskier— he starts with. Happy birthday.

He thinks for a long while, and writes, I'm glad to know you.

Then, in a flurry of frustration at his own ineloquence, at the pitiful inadequacy of words to describe Jaskier's talent and beauty and immense inner strength, he just signs his name.

"Hmm," he grunts, fanning the parchment in the air to hasten the ink's drying.

"My turn?" asks Rian.

"Yes," says Geralt. He hands him the parchment and the quill, and Rian begins drawing. He starts with two stick figures, a man and a boy, each with tears streaming from their eyes.

"Rian, why are they crying?" Geralt asks, concerned.

"It's me and Papa at Szymon's inn," says Rian, continuing to draw. "I cried a lot there. 'Cause I was hungry. And scared. And sad. And Papa cried too 'cause he was always hurt really bad." Rian sets down the quill and glances up at Geralt. "But now we don't cry anymore," he says.

Geralt nods mutely, his eyes stinging, and Rian begins to draw again: four human figures this time, which Geralt recognizes as himself, Jaskier, Rian, and the baby. All of them are smiling. Then Rian adds another figure, floating above them, with a horizontal oblong body— Roach, presumably.

"You get a sword," says Rian, sticking out his tongue in concentration as he keeps drawing. "And Papa gets his lute. And we're happy now, see?"

"I see," Geralt says. He clears his throat. "Those are— they're very nice drawings, Rian."

"Thanks," says Rian brightly. "Can I draw on the other side too?"

"After this side dries."

They wait a few minutes, listening to Jaskier perform for the crowd. Then Geralt turns over the parchment and Rian draws in the space beneath Geralt's message. This latest figure is clearly Jaskier playing his lute, pregnant belly and all. "There!" Rian says at last. "All done!" He pushes the sheet toward Geralt, and Geralt smiles.

"It's very good," he says. "Your papa will love it."

"Do we give it to him now?" asks Rian eagerly.

"Tomorrow," says Geralt. "And Rian," he adds.

"What?"

"We'll keep this a secret, okay?"

Immediately, Rian frowns. "I'm not allowed to keep secrets from Papa," he says. "If anyone ever tells me something is a secret I have to tell Papa right away."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "That's a good rule. Uh. Then we won't keep this a secret. But we'll make it a surprise, alright? So we mustn't tell Papa about it until tomorrow, or we'll ruin the surprise."

Rian nods slowly. "But it's not a secret, right?"

"Right."

"Okay," says Rian. And suddenly, he folds his arms around Geralt's neck, buries his face in his shoulder, and squeezes. "I love you," he says.

Geralt squeezes back, patting Rian's head, and blinks away tears.

***

July twentieth dawns clear and crisp, with the sky tinted gold and pink above the mountains in the distance.

Jaskier is still asleep as Geralt gets out of bed to fetch his birthday gift from the dresser drawer where they keep their coin.

Then, parchment in hand, Geralt shakes Rian awake.

"Shh," he says, as Rian blinks around blearily. "It's your papa's birthday."

Rian's eyes widen, and he hops out of bed immediately. "Time for his present?" he whispers back.

Geralt nods, and hands him the sheet of parchment. "Go wake him up and give it to him," he says.

Rian grins, then runs around to the other side of the bed. "Papa!" he shouts, and Jaskier wakes with a start. "Papa, get up, it's your birthday!"

Jaskier frowns, glancing over at Geralt. "You said—"

"It's not a gift," Geralt assures him. "I mean, it's not— I didn't buy it—"

"Just look, Papa!" cries Rian, shoving the paper into Jaskier's hands. "Look! That's you and me at Szymon's, and we're sad and scared, see? And then that's you and me with Geralt and Roach and the baby! And we're happy now!" He bounces up and down beside the bed, grinning broadly as Jaskier stares at the drawings.

"Rian, I— I love it," says Jaskier thickly.

"Turn it over!" Rian tells him. "Turn it, turn it!"

Jaskier flips the parchment over.

"I told Geralt what to say and he wrote it," explains Rian.

Geralt watches as Jaskier's eyes travel down the page, watches him sniff and set aside the parchment and pull Rian into his lap. "Honey, thank you," he says. He looks over at Geralt, and repeats, more quietly, "Thank you."

"I didn't know what to write," grunts Geralt.

Jaskier laughs wetly. "I could tell," he says. "It's okay. I won't hold it against you."

Rian picks up the parchment. "Did you see I drew you with your lute?" he asks.

"I did see," says Jaskier, kissing Rian's hair. "And I saw you drew the baby too, didn't you?"

Rian nods happily.

"And your message was so beautiful, honey. I loved—" And then, suddenly, Jaskier breaks off, wide-eyed. "Rian," he says, "Rian, quick, put your hand on my belly."

Rian does so, frowning.

"Do you feel that?" asks Jaskier.

Rian's little mouth drops open, and he nods. "What is it?" he breathes.

"It's the baby. The baby's moving," says Jaskier, laughing and wiping his eyes and beckoning frantically to Geralt all at once. "Geralt," he says. "Get over here."

Geralt approaches tentatively, his chest swirling with a flood of unnamable emotions.

"May I?" he asks softly, reaching out toward Jaskier's stomach.

Jaskier just nods.

So Geralt rests his hand gently on the bump, waits—

And feels it: a flutter, a twitch. His unborn child, making themself known.

He meets Jaskier's tear-filled eyes and smiles.

Jaskier smiles back. "They didn't want to be left out of the fun, I suppose," he says, placing his own hand on top of Geralt's. "Hello, little one," he murmurs. "Did you hear that your daddy and brother had made me the best birthday gift ever and decide you'd try to give them a run for their money? Hmm?" He ducks down his head to wipe his cheek on his shirt.

"Papa?" asks Rian softly, with a hint of concern. "Are you crying 'cause you're happy?"

"That's right, honey. 'Cause I'm happy." Jaskier puts an arm around Rian, drawing him closer, and interlaces his fingers with Geralt's. "I'm so happy. This is... the best birthday." He swallows.

"You still have to make a wish, Papa," Rian whispers.

Jaskier laughs— a gentle, melodic laugh. "But I have nothing to wish for, honey," he says, stroking Rian's hair. "I have everything I could ever want, right here." He glances up at Geralt. "Thank you," he whispers.

And Jaskier cups Geralt's cheek in his hand, and Geralt bends down, and they kiss.

When they pull apart, they're both crying— crying and smiling.

"Happy birthday, Jaskier," Geralt says quietly.

Just then the baby moves again under Geralt's fingers, a happy little flutter. Geralt plants a kiss there too, right on the crest of Jaskier's belly. Jaskier's smile grows.

And Geralt doesn't think he's ever felt so happy in his life.

Chapter Text

A month passes.

***

It's a warm summer evening, and Geralt is fencing with Rian. Rian is the same as ever, curly-haired and brimming with energy, but Geralt feels— different.

He's smaller than he should be— Rian's size, in fact— with shabby clothes and chubby hands. He's a child, he realizes. And he's at Kaer Morhen, and Vesemir is nearby, looking on approvingly.

"Good boys," he says. "Well done, Geralt. And well done, Rian."

Geralt's chest floods with pride as Vesemir pats his back and collects his sword. But then he looks up into Vesemir's eyes, and he sees something strange there: a sadness, an apology.

"Time for dinner now," says Vesemir, glancing away. "I'll see you both next week."

"Why not tomorrow?" asks Rian.

"You'll be busy tomorrow," says Vesemir.

Geralt frowns.

Then it's night, and Geralt can't sleep. A few feet away, Rian is crying loudly. "Where's my papa?" he wails. "I miss my papa."

"I know, Rian," Geralt tells him, slipping out of his own cot and sitting down on the edge of Rian's. "I miss my ma too. But don't cry, okay? If they hear..."

They do hear. They always hear.

When at last they bring Rian back from his caning, he isn't crying anymore.

"You okay?" Geralt asks.

Rian doesn't answer, just crawls into his cot and covers his head with his bedsheet.

Geralt shuts his eyes.

When he opens them, it's the next day, and he's drenched in sweat and writhing in pain. He screams for his mother, for Vesemir, for someone, anyone. No one comes. He wants to die. He's going to die, he's sure of it. But hours pass, or days, and he lives on. His fever breaks.

He looks around the room, and Rian's cot is empty. Half the cots are empty— more than half. And Geralt had learned weeks ago, after the first Trial, what empty cots mean.

He feels panic coursing through his body, feels a scream rising within him—

Feels someone shaking his arm.

"Geralt," they're saying. "It's just a dream. Geralt, wake up."

He opens his eyes.

"Oh, good. Geralt," Jaksier breathes, his hand clenched around Geralt's upper arm. "You're awake."

Geralt grunts, trying to get oriented. He's in bed at the inn. It's night. Rian isn't dead.

"You were yelling," says Jaskier, softly. "You woke us up."

Fuck. "I'm sorry," Geralt mutters.

"No, no, don't apologize. Gods, I just. Are you alright?"

"Nightmare."

"Yeah, I gathered that much," says Jaskier.

And then: "Papa gets nightmares too," comes a small voice, and Geralt lifts his head to see Rian, seated beside Jaskier with his thumb in his mouth.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. "I'm sorry," Geralt says again. "Rian, I didn't mean to frighten you."

Rian just blinks.

Geralt sighs.

"Geralt, it's okay," Jaskier tells him. "You're okay. Let me just—" He turns. "Rian, Geralt's alright now. Let's go back to sleep, okay?"

"But—"

"Rian," murmurs Jaskier. "Just lie down, okay? I'll sing you a lullaby."

"But Geralt—"

"Shhh, Geralt is fine," says Jaskier.

Geralt wishes it were true. He listens as Jaskier sings softly, a few verses of a nursery rhyme, and wills his heart-rate to return to normal.

Rian is safe, he tells himself. And he's safe. And boys haven't died at Kaer Morhen for decades.

Eventually, Jaskier stops singing. "Rian," he whispers. "You still awake, honey?" A few moments pass in silence. Then Jaskier rolls over onto his other side, so he's facing Geralt.

"Hey," he says. "Rian's asleep."

"Hmm."

"So," Jaskier prompts.

Geralt says nothing.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No."

"It might help."

"No."

"Geralt. My dear, stubborn witcher. Please," says Jaskier gently, fondly. "You don't have to suffer alone."

"I'm used to it," Geralt mutters.

"So was I," says Jaskier. "I suffered alone for years, on the streets, and at Szymon's. But then I met you. And I found that— well, it's true, isn't it, what the poets say? 'A worry shared is a worry halved,' and all that."

"The poets?"

"Or the— whoever invents aphorisms," Jaskier huffs, with an impatient wave of his hand. "You know what I mean."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt.

Then Jaskier puts scoots nearer, so his body is flush against Geralt's, and presses a kiss to his shoulder. And Geralt can almost imagine his scent, flowers and sweetness, suppressed by magic potion though it may be.

"I—" Geralt clears his throat. "I dreamed I was a child at Kaer Morhen," he says quietly. "Rian was there too. Then he died in the trials. The details aren't important."

"Shit," says Jaskier. "I can see where that would be... distressing."

Geralt glances over, meets Jaskier's large blue eyes.

"I often dream," he says, "of the trials, and the children who died in them. But it was... much worse. To imagine Rian there." He scowls, and looks away.

"I've dreamed about Rian being hurt too," Jaskier says. "It's fucking horrific." He sighs. "But he's okay. He's safe."

"Hmm."

Gently, Jaskier glides his fingers down the side of Geralt's face, over his jaw, onto his neck. "Do you think..." he says, then trails off.

"What?"

"I— I don't mean to be too forward, but I could— uh, scent you. If you want."

Geralt frowns.

"I've done it to Rian a few times since I started taking the scent suppressant, and it still worked," Jaskier goes on. "But I understand if you'd be uncomfortable."

"Hmm," mutters Geralt. "What's it like?"

"Scenting?"

"Yes."

"It's—" says Jaskier, sitting up on his elbow. "I mean, you've been scented before right?"

"Not that I can recall," Geralt grunts. He's aware of scenting as a concept, as something that is done by others— a romantic gesture between lovers, a nurturing gesture between family members. But it's always seemed like something private and mysterious and human, something unknowable and irrelevant to witchers. "Perhaps—" he says, at the look on Jaskier's face, "perhaps my mother scented me when I was a boy."

"But you don't remember it?"

"No."

"Fuck," says Jaskier, so mournfully that Geralt feels uncomfortable. He doesn't like pity. "Fuck, Geralt, that's—"

"Jas," Geralt mutters. "I've gotten on fine without it."

Jaskier wilts slightly, and removes his hand from Geralt's face.

"I'm going to sleep," Geralt says, turning so his back is to Jaskier. He lies there, his eyes open, trying to block out the image of Rian's small corpse looming large and unwelcome in his mind.

"How does it feel?" he says at last, unable to help himself. "Scenting?"

Jaskier hums thoughtfully, and places his hand on Geralt's shoulder. "It's calming," he says. "I mean, obviously you have to like the scent of the person who's doing it, but if it's your parent, or a friend, it... it's as though their scent is filling you up. You don't smell it exactly, you just... feel it."

"Is it difficult?"

"Not at all, you just have to press your scent glands to theirs. So wrist to wrist, or neck to neck, or wrist to neck." Jaskier pauses. "Wrist to neck might be easiest, for us, in this position," he adds then, softly.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I'm— I'm willing to try it, I suppose."

"Okay," murmurs Jaskier. "Okay, good." Geralt feels him sit up, feels his fingers carefully brush Geralt's hair away from his face.

Then a weight comes to rest on the juncture of Geralt's neck and shoulder, and suddenly Jaskier's scent floods Geralt's body— a feral, ferocious sweetness that slows his heartbeat and stills his mind. He closes his eyes and exhales, letting his body melt into the sweet embrace of wildflowers and honey, and it's as though the world goes quiet— fully, truly quiet, for the first time since Geralt's senses were enhanced.

"Jaskier," he says brokenly.

"Is this okay?"

"Yes, fuck, it's—" Geralt breaks off. He doesn't have words to describe it.

They lie there like that for a long while.

Then, at last, Geralt rolls over onto his back, and Jaskier withdraws his wrist, but the feeling of peace and tranquility and safety lingers on.

"Better?" asks Jaskier, stroking Geralt's hair.

"Mm. Much," says Geralt hazily.

"Good." Jaskier presses a kiss to his forehead, then lies down beside him, his head tucked under Geralt's chin, his fingers splayed over Geralt's broad chest.

Geralt savors the remnants of Jaskier's scent, the feeling it brings: a sense of comfort fierce and gentle and quiet all at once.

And eventually, safe against Jaskier's warmth, Geralt drifts back to sleep.

Chapter Text

One warm afternoon, near the end of summer, Geralt and Jaskier go into town while Rian plays with Sam at the inn.

Ostensibly they're going to buy a new composition book for Jaskier, who's already filled the one Bethelda gave him, but Jaskier's also been dropping hints about his interest in pastries and Rian's need for new toys. So Geralt's brought an entire pouch of coin, just in case.

As they meander through the streets, Jaskier chatters away amiably, about the weather and the market stalls and the baby.

"It's strange," he says, placing a hand on the pleats of his doublet, which have started to expand noticeably around his growing belly, "to actually be able to enjoy my pregnancy." He glances at Geralt. "Strange but lovely."

"Hmm."

"When I was pregnant with Rian I was too busy getting fucked and looking for food and trying to stay warm to think much about the fact that there was a baby inside me,” Jaskier goes on. “And for a long time I was sort of in denial, to be quite honest. Then one day I was getting fucked against the wall of some alley, and Rian kicked for the first time.” He pauses. “It didn't feel special. Just scary,” he says with a sigh. "Anyway, after that I started to worry. I worried I'd die giving birth. I worried the baby would starve, or freeze to death or something. I worried I'd be a bad father. I worried I wouldn't love them enough. And— shit, this is going to sound terrible, but for a long time I worried that when they were born, they'd have inherited their alpha father's, uh, personality." He sighs again. "I think deep down I knew it didn't work like that, but— I mean, I was only fourteen. I was pretty stupid."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. He can't imagine how difficult it must have been for Jaskier, to be a pregnant fourteen-year-old, with no one to turn to for comfort or reassurance, left to wonder if his baby was going to turn out like his rapist. The thought makes his chest hurt.

"But this time around," Jaskier continues, more cheerfully, "everything's so different. Like, I know the baby will be provided for. I know I'll love them to pieces. I know their personality will be all their own." He smiles briefly at Geralt, and adds, "I know I have you."

Geralt's heart swells. "Hmm," he says, smiling back.

Then, suddenly, Jaskier stops walking. "Oh, they're moving," he says.

And as has become second-nature over the past month, Geralt reaches out and puts his hands on Jaskier's stomach.

Sure enough, he feels a gentle kick.

"Hey, honey," says Jaskier softly. "Are you saying hi to us? Worried we'd forget you're in there?" He glances up at Geralt. "Now you," he says.

"What?"

"Talk to them."

Geralt frowns. He's never spoken to the baby before, at least not out loud. "I don't want to encroach," mutters Geralt.

"Are you kidding? You’re their father, just as much as I am."

"Hmm," says Geralt. It's not true, of course, but— but it feels true, in his heart, when Jaskier says it like that. "Right now?" he asks then. "In the middle of town?"

"No time like the present."

"What should I call them?"

Jaskier smiles softly. "Oh, Geralt," he says, with what sounds like fond exasperation. "You can call them whatever you want."

Geralt hesitates, then thinks of Vesemir, back at Kaer Morhen. He clears his throat, and, his hands still on the bump, begins to speak. "Hello, uh. Little pup," he says. "I'm going to be your— your daddy."

There's another gentle kick, and Geralt smiles. "I love you," he says, with a lump in his throat. "I can't wait to meet you. I—" He breaks off, unable to go on lest he begin crying.

Jaskier beams at him. "Little pup," he says. "That's adorable."

And he takes Geralt in his arms and hugs him tightly.

***

They buy the composition book and a few wooden figurines for Rian, then head to the bakery.

The moment they enter, the tall beta baker narrows his eyes at them.

"I know who you are," he sneers, giving Geralt a once-over. "You're the witcher, the Butcher of Blaviken. Get the fuck out of my shop."

Instantly, Geralt smells fury billowing off of Jaskier. "Take that back," he demands.

"Jas—"

"I'll take nothing back," spits the baker. "Mutant scum is not welcome here. Now get out."

"Fuck you," snarls Jaskier, lunging forward, but Geralt grabs his arm.

"Jas," he says. "It's not worth it."

Jaskier glowers at him.

"There are other bakeries more deserving of our coin," Geralt mutters. "Just come on."

And Jaskier huffs, but unclenches his fists. "Fine," he says, with one last withering look in the baker's direction.

And Geralt leads him out of the shop.

For a moment they walk in silence.

"You didn't stand up for yourself," Jaskier says at last, sounding angry. "You could have taken him easily."

"He thinks witchers are monsters," grunts Geralt. "If I were to attack him, I'd do nothing but prove him right."

"You’ve stood up for me before."

"That's different."

"I don't see how so."

"Jaskier, I'm used to people's scorn. It means nothing to me. It's part of the life I lead."

"It shouldn't be."

"It is."

"How often?" asks Jaskier. "How often do you get that kind of reaction?"

Geralt shrugs. "Maybe half the places I visit. Maybe more. This town's been better than most."

"Melitele's tits, Geralt, why haven't you mentioned it before?" Jaskier demands. "I knew you had an image problem, but gods, I didn't know it was so bad."

"Complaining won't change anything."

Jaskier crosses his arms above his belly. "You help them," he says. "You save people from monsters that would kill them. And this is how they thank you? By being prejudiced pieces of shit?"

"Hmm."

"You know what, that's it," says Jaskier. "I'm gonna be your bard whether you like it or not, and I'm gonna write songs about you, about your heroic deeds and fearsome conquests and how you deserve a little fucking gratitude."

"Hmm."

Jaskier takes his hand. "Because you're not a monster," he says. "Or a butcher. Or a mutant."

"I am literally a mutant."

"You're a person," says Jaskier softly.

He squeezes Geralt's hand.

And Geralt almost believes him.

***

Jaskier's eyes are distant as he and Geralt share a large puff pastry in a bakery on the other side of town.

Geralt can't remember the last time he ate a pastry. It's good, he decides.

"What are you thinking about?" he asks Jaskier eventually, unnerved by the silence.

"I'm composing," says Jaskier. “A song for the great White Wolf, friend of humanity and savior of mankind."

Geralt scoffs. "Don't get carried away," he says.

"I won't," Jaskier tells him.

Geralt finds that doubtful.

***

By the time they get back to the inn, Jaskier proclaims his song finished.

They check in with Rian, then head up to their room.

Jaskier grabs his lute and flops into the chair by the window, gesturing for Geralt to sit on the edge of the bed.

"It's a bit rough," Jaskier says, "but I'm mostly happy with it." He clears his throat, and strums at his lute. "Okay," he says, and he sings:

Toss a coin to your witcher,
Oh, valley of plenty,
Oh, valley of plenty, oh.
Toss a coin to your witcher,
Oh, valley of plenty...

When the White Wolf prowls,
The monsters try to flee,
But the flash of his sword
Is the last thing they'll see.

Wondrous are his eyes,
With golden coloring.
But his heart, it is softer
Than a lamb in the spring.

He roams across the land,
And though men boo and jeer,
He rids them of terror,
He frees them from fear.

A savior of mankind,
He stares down certain death.
He's a knight without livery,
Or even a bed.

Toss a coin to your witcher,
Oh, valley of plenty,
Oh, valley of plenty, oh.
Toss a coin to your witcher,
Oh, valley of plenty.

Toss a coin to your witcher,
Oh, valley of plenty,
Oh, valley of plenty, oh.
Toss a coin to your witcher,
A friend of humanity!

He holds the final note, then looks up expectantly. "So?" he asks. "What do you think?"

"What the fuck is a valley of plenty?"

"It's a metaphor, my dear. It's poetry," Jaskier says, with the patient air of someone speaking to a child.

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. He considers for a moment, and then: "Take out the bit about my heart. Can't have people thinking I've gone weak."

"Oh for fuck's sake, Geralt, I said your heart was soft, not your— your muscles or something. Kindness does not in any way imply weakness. Although now that you mention it, I probably should work in something about your fearsome strength." Jaskier pauses, and strums at his lute. "Alright, how about: 'Wondrous are his eyes, their hue like purest gold. And in his brawny hands, even steel will fold'?"

"That's not true," grunts Geralt.

"It's a song," Jaskier says, letting out an exaggerated sigh. "It doesn't have to be strictly true. Besides, I changed the heart bit; I'm not changing this too."

"You asked my opinion."

"I did," grins Jaskier. "And I listened to your opinion. And then I rejected it. Though I will ask, do you think 'brawny hands' good? Or should it be stalwart? Or sturdy? Meaty, perhaps? Ooh, and maybe 'grip' instead of 'hands'?" He frowns. "In his sturdy grip," he sings thoughtfully. "No, I think I like 'brawny hands.'"

Geralt rolls his eyes, and Jaskier's expression grows a bit more somber.

"But... you do like it, don't you? The song?" he asks quietly.

Geralt's heart clenches. "Jas," he murmurs. "Of course I do. It's— it's—" He breaks off, at a loss for words.

Jaskier smiles. "Good," he says. "Then you'd better come and give me a kiss for my trouble, don’t you think?"

And Geralt does just that.

Chapter Text

It's the last day of August, and Geralt, Jaskier, and Rian are eating lunch in the inn's common room: meat pies and vegetables.

"Sam's grandad died," Rian volunteers suddenly, as he spears a carrot with his fork.

"Oh, that's too bad," says Jaskier.

"It was his daddy's daddy. And now his daddy's mama is gonna come live at the inn," Rian says. He looks up at Jaskier. "I told him my papa's daddy and mama live far away and I can't meet them 'cause they're meanies. He asked what did they did that's mean." Rian frowns. "But I didn't know."

"Mm," says Jaskier, tucking one of Rian's curls behind his ear. "That's because I never told you."

"How come?"

"Because I don't like to talk about it," Jaskier says softly, still stroking Rian's hair. "And... I didn't want you to think that I'd ever do to you what they did to me."

"But I know you're not a meanie," Rian points out, and Jaskier makes what looks like an attempt at a smile. "Tell me," Rian presses, tugging on the fabric of Jaskier's doublet.

Geralt feels vaguely uncomfortable, like he should leave and let Jaskier talk to Rian in private, but then Jaskier reaches across the table and wiggles his fingers. "Geralt?" he whispers.

So Geralt takes his hand, and Jaskier seems to relax a little. "Alright," he sighs. He cups Rian's cheek with his free hand. "My parents, uh. They were never very kind to me, ever since I was little," he begins.

"Did they hit you?"

"No," says Jaskier. "Well, my father did, a few times. But mainly they just... I never felt that they cared about me much. And then, when I presented as an omega, they were so disappointed and angry. They didn't want their son to be an omega. So they made me leave their house and never come back. I was very young."

"Four?"

"No," says Jaskier, with a small smile. "No, I was thirteen. Which might sound old to you, but it's still young."

Rian frowns. "Then where did you go?"

"I didn't have anywhere to go. So I had to sleep outside, on the ground."

"Oh yeah, you told me about that before," says Rian. "That's when Bad Men started hurting you and you got me in your belly."

Jaskier kisses Rian's head. "That's right," he says. "But honey," he adds.

"What?"

"I want to be sure you know: I would never do that to you— what my parents did. I don't care how you present; I'll love you the same whether you're an omega or a beta or an alpha. And I'll never make you leave me before you're ready."

Rian nods, looking contemplative. "I know, Papa," he says, then he glances at Geralt, tilts his head to the side.

"Neither would I," Geralt says quickly. "I'll love you no matter what; of course I will, Rian."

Rian nods again. "And the baby?"

"Yes, honey," says Jaskier. "Same goes for the baby."

"Of course," Geralt echoes.

"Good," Rian pronounces. Then he frowns, and Geralt sees tears fill his eyes.

"Rian, what's wrong?" Geralt asks, leaning forward across the table.

"I'm— I'm sad," says Rian, beginning to cry. "I'm sad Papa's mama and daddy were m-mean."

"Oh, honey," murmurs Jaskier. He pulls Rian closer, and presses his cheek to Rian's head. "Honey, it's okay. You don't have to be sad about things that happened in the past. It was a long time ago. And now I have a new family, okay? You, and Geralt, and the baby— and that's the best family I could ever ask for."

Rian sniffs, and rubs his eyes with his little hands. "Oh," he says.

"Sometimes people are born into bad families, who hurt them or abandon them," Jaskier continues, with a glance in Geralt's direction. "But eventually they find a new family for themselves. And that's what matters, okay?"

"Like— like how Geralt is me and the baby's other daddy, not the Bad Men?"

"Exactly," says Jaskier. "You're so smart, honey."

Rian nods, and burrows his face in Jaskier's chest. "I love you," he says. "And Geralt."

Jaskier holds him close. "We love you too," he says.

And he squeezes Geralt's hand, and Geralt squeezes back.

***

That night, Jaskier shakes Geralt awake, and Geralt sits up immediately, alarmed. "What's wrong?" he asks.

"I had a bad dream," says Jaskier, sounding like he's not sure whether or not to apologize.

"It's good you woke me up," Geralt tells him, as gently as he can. "What was it about?"

"I, um," says Jaskier. He draws a shaky breath. "I was at Szymon's," he says, glancing away. "And. Fuck, Geralt. He used to do this thing, sometimes, when he really wanted to punish me, where he wouldn't feed us for a few days, and then he'd force me to eat in front of Rian. He'd go out of his way to cook an elaborate meal, much better than the crap he usually gave us, and I'd have to finish every last bite while he and Rian watched. And Rian would be crying because he was so hungry, and he'd beg me to give him some of the food, and obviously I'd be crying too, because I wasn't allowed to give him any. And Szymon would just sit there and laugh."

Geralt feels his ears ringing with rage. "Jaskier—" he says hoarsely, then breaks off, too furious to speak.

"Anyway, that's what I was dreaming about," mumbles Jaskier. He pulls his legs up toward his chest and hugs his knees. "Melitele's tits, it's a wonder Rian doesn't hate me, isn't it?"

"Why would he hate you?"

"For being such a shitty fucking father," Jaskier says, and suddenly he's sobbing.

"Jas," says Geralt gruffly. "You are not, and never have been, a shitty father. You're a good father."

Jaskier scoffs. "Except good fathers don't usually let their kids go hungry and get beaten and live in— in squalor," he says through tears.

"You were a good father in a terrible situation," says Geralt. "And despite the circumstances, you kept your son alive. You gave him good memories. You protected him from what you went through every night."

Jaskier inhales, a shallow, shuddering breath, and leans against Geralt. "I didn't do enough," he says, sniffling. "I let Szymon hit him, for fuck's sake. And he was always hungry. And it was so fucking filthy under the bed; I could never keep him clean. And there were never enough blankets, and he didn't have any shoes, or even proper clothes, or..." Jaskier wipes his eyes. "And Geralt, I'd try so hard to be strong for him, but sometimes... sometimes in the morning, when his sleeping potion wore off, I'd just be lying in bed, naked, in too much pain to move. And he'd hop up beside me and tell me not to cry and kiss my fucking bruises. Like he thought it was his job to— to comfort me. Instead of the other way around."

"You were all each other had," says Geralt. "You comforted him, and he comforted you."

"He was a fucking toddler; he shouldn't have had to see me like that!" Jaskier hisses.

"Hmm," Geralt says. "And you shouldn't have had to be hurt like that."

Jaskier sits there in silence for a moment, breathing heavily, his body a warm, trembling weight against Geralt. "You know at lunch," he says at last, "when I told Rian not to be sad about things that happened in the past?"

"Mm," says Geralt.

"I wish I could take my own advice."

"You can be sad," says Geralt, carding his fingers through Jaskier's hair. "But just don't forget that—" He frowns. "That things are better now."

Jaskier sniffles. "I know," he says, in a quavering voice. "It's just— when I get these nightmares... it feels so real."

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. He knows the feeling. He thinks of his nightmare a few weeks ago. And then it occurs to him: "Jaskier," he says. "I could scent you."

Jaskier frowns somewhat.

"If you want me to," Geralt amends.

"I— no, I do," Jaskier says. "I do, Geralt. Please."

Geralt nods. "I've never— Hmm. How should I do it?"

Wordlessly, Jaskier takes Geralt's hand and sets it down on his knee, palm up. Then he places his own wrist on top of Geralt's. "Now press," he breathes.

So Geralt touches Jaskier's arm with his free hand to keep it steady, then presses upward, his wrist against Jaskier's.

Jaskier exhales, and slumps heavily against him. "Fuck," he says. "Geralt."

"You alright?"

"Yes," says Jaskier. "Yes. Thank you. It feels so good." He makes a noise that might be a sob, and buries his face in Geralt's neck.

Geralt kisses his head.

Minutes pass, and Geralt continues to hold their wrists together. Gradually, Jaskier's breathing evens out. He lifts his face, then maneuvers his hand so they're no longer scenting, and interlocks his fingers with Geralt's.

It's strange, Geralt thinks, to imagine his own scent bringing someone peace, but Jaskier seems undeniably more relaxed. Still holding Geralt's hand, he lies down, and Geralt follows suit.

Jaskier sighs, and scoots closer. "I suppose—" he murmurs. "I suppose that all I can do is remind myself that Rian's life... it's infinitely better now. And that he's so brave. So resilient. He's— he's okay, despite it all."

"That's right," says Geralt.

"And the baby," Jaskier goes on. "The baby will never have to suffer like he did."

"No," says Geralt. "They most certainly won't."

There's a moment's silence, and Jaskier lets go of Geralt's hand. He touches the swell of his stomach, where his nightshirt is pulled taut. "They're kicking so much now," he says. "They went still, when you were scenting me. But now they're right back at it."

He looks fondly over at Geralt, and Geralt reaches over to put a hand on Jaskier's belly. He smiles as the baby gives a kick. He doesn't think he'll ever tire of the feeling.

"I want to be annoyed," says Jaskier. "But I guess I love them too much." He grins. "Can you believe they'll be here in three and a half months?"

"No."

Jaskier laughs softly. "I've been thinking of names, actually," he says then.

"You have?"

"Yeah. Maybe something with an R, to go with Rian. Or an E, or an A. I like those sounds— nice open vowels. Very melodic."

"Hmm."

Jaskier yawns. "Thank you," he mumbles.

"For what?"

"For scenting me. Calming me down."

"Hm," says Geralt. "You're welcome."

"I haven't been scented since I left home," Jaskier sighs. "My mum used to do it. But this was, honestly, even nicer than I remembered."

"Hmm."

Jaskier kisses his cheek. "Good night, my darling witcher," he says, with another yawn.

"Good night," says Geralt.

And they fall asleep like that, snuggled together, each with a hand on Jaskier's belly.

Chapter Text

The next morning, after breakfast, Rian begs to play with Sam, so Jaskier and Geralt drop him off with Bethelda. But before they leave, she pulls them aside.

"I— I'm not sure if Rian told you, but my father-in-law passed away a few days ago," she says.

"Ah. Yeah. He did tell us," says Jaskier. "I'm so sorry."

"Thank you," Bethelda says warmly. "He was a very kind man; he'll be greatly missed. But there's something I wanted to ask you."

"Anything," Jaskier says.

Bethelda smiles. "Well, you see," she says, "since his death, my mother-in-law has come to live with us here at the inn, so she wouldn't be all alone. Which means that the cottage where the two of them used to reside has been left quite empty. Now of course, we could rent it out, but we make more than enough coin from the inn, and I was thinking— well, just that the three of you might want somewhere a bit more permanent where you can settle down, before your baby comes."

Geralt glances at Jaskier, whose mouth has fallen open.

"It's a fairly large cottage," Bethelda goes on, "but quite comfortable and homey, and already furnished. And it's located right on the other side of town, very convenient. I think it would be a wonderful place to raise a family."

"And you're... you're offering it to us?" Jaskier asks softly.

"Of course I am, sweetheart," says Bethelda. "If it's something you'd like."

"Gods, Bethelda, it— it sounds incredible," breathes Jaskier. "Doesn't it, Geralt?" he prompts, nudging Geralt in the side.

"Hmm. Yes," says Geralt, somewhat at a loss for words. An already-furnished cottage, being offered to them for free? "And we could pay rent," he adds.

"Oh, don't be silly," Bethelda tells him gently. "Like I said, the inn does good business. I'd just ask that Jaskier keep performing here in the evening, as long as he feels up to it. Especially that song about tossing a coin to your witcher." She winks. "A real crowd-pleaser, that one is."

Jaskier laughs. "It would be my pleasure."

"Wonderful!" says Bethelda. "We wouldn't want to lose our bard! But of course, I know how pregnancy is. You must let me know as soon as performing gets to be too much for you."

"I will," Jaskier says.

"Good," Bethelda tells him, and she claps her hands together. "Now then," she says, "as for the cottage, I can take you over after lunch, if you like, so you can see the place for yourself?"

Jaskier nods enthusiastically, and glances over at Geralt.

Geralt clears his throat. "If it's not an imposition," he says.

"Of course not," says Bethelda, her eyes twinkling. "Not at all."

And suddenly Jaskier takes both her hands in his own. "Bethelda, thank you," he says earnestly. "Really. We can never thank you enough. You've done so much for us."

"Oh, sweetheart," says Bethelda, tiptoeing to kiss the crest of Jaskier's head. "It's a pleasure, to watch your family blossom, and to help however I can."

And she glances between him and Geralt, absolutely beaming.

***

That afternoon, Bethelda takes them across town as promised. She leads the way, with Jaskier and Geralt walking a few steps behind, Geralt carrying Rian in his arms.

Rian chatters happily, pointing out various sights and sounds that interest him as they circle around the market and enter a section of town unfamiliar to Geralt. Gradually, the buildings grow smaller and more widely-spaced, until at last they reach a sprawling meadow. And bordering the meadow are a number of thatched cottages, each with its own stone walkway and garden.

"Here we are!" Bethelda says brightly.

She beckons them toward one of the larger cottages and withdraws a key from her pocket.

"We're gonna live here?" asks Rian. "In a real house?"

"Maybe," says Jaskier. "We'll see."

And together, they follow the cobblestone path to the door, which Bethelda unlocks.

"After you," she says, with a sweeping gesture.

Jaskier and Geralt step inside.

There's no fire in the hearth, but the room is brightly illuminated by sunlight streaming in through the tall, wide windows. There's a small kitchen area with a stove, a wooden dining table with chairs, several benches, a spinning wheel, and a washtub in the corner. The floor is wood. For some reason Geralt had expected dirt.

"It's so pretty!" gasps Rian, concisely articulating Geralt's thoughts. "Daddy, let me down, let me down!"

Geralt sets him on the floor, and Rian immediately bends down to touch the ornate rug in the entryway. "What's this?" he asks. "It's all furry."

Jaskier laughs. "It's called a rug," he says. "Take off your shoes. It'll feel good on your feet."

Rian removes his shoes obediently and stands back up, his little bare feet buried in the rug's plush material. "Look, Daddy, my toes are gone!" he exclaims, staring up at Geralt with his mouth open.

"So they are," smiles Geralt.

Rian giggles. Then he hops off the rug and proceeds to run around the room, from one piece of furniture to the next, tracing his fingers reverently over the table and stove and tub.

"There are stables out back," Bethelda says, with a glance in Geralt's direction. "And the bed's in the other room." She motions toward an open door.

Immediately, Rian scampers through the doorway, and Jaskier and Geralt follow to find him already sprawled out on the bed.

This room, too, has large windows, and in addition to the bed, there are two nightstands, a wooden chest, and a wardrobe.

"Bethelda," breathes Jaskier. "This cottage is beautiful."

"My husband's parents treasured it," Bethelda says. "And they were fairly well-off, so they had the coin to furnish it comfortably."

"And you're sure you just want to... give it to us?" Jaskier asks, sounding disbelieving. Geralt can relate to the sentiment.

But Bethelda smiles. "I'm very sure, and so is my husband. It's his childhood home. He'd much rather friends live here than strangers."

Jaskier nods, wipes his eyes, and nods again.

Geralt, for his part, stands motionless in the doorway, just trying to take it all in.

He's never had a house before— well, not since he lived with his mother. Kaer Morhen had been a home, he supposes, but not a house. And since setting out on the Path, he hasn't slept anywhere but campsites and taverns and inns. They've been living at Bethelda's inn for four and a half months, which is by far the longest Geralt has stayed in one place in decades.

But the thought of having an actual house, his own house, his own bed, to return to after hunts... it's almost difficult to imagine.

Difficult, but not unpleasant. In fact, the thought fills him with a tingling sort of warmth— yearning, he thinks. Anticipation.

"What do you think?" asks Jaskier, taking Geralt's hand.

Geralt clears his throat. "It's perfect," he says.

Jaskier grins. "I think so too." And he turns to Bethelda. "We love it," he says. "Thank you. I— just, thank you so much."

"You're so welcome," says Bethelda, sounding delighted.

"Papa," Rian calls impatiently. He's still lying spread-eagled on the bed. "Are we gonna live here or not?"

Jaskier lies down beside him, one hand on his stomach and the other around Rian's shoulders. "Do you want to?" he asks.

"Yeah!" says Rian. "I really want to!"

"Then we will," Jaskier tells him. "We'll live here, the four of us."

"Good," says Rian, snuggling closer to Jaskier. "This bed is soft."

Jaskier just laughs, and tickles Rian's sides.

***

Across the room, Geralt and Bethelda exchange a glance. Geralt smiles slightly, bows his head, and Bethelda pats him on the back.

"There's nothing better, is there," she murmurs, "than seeing your family happy?"

"Nothing," Geralt says hoarsely.

And it's true.

Chapter Text

Later that day, as Rian takes his afternoon nap, Geralt brings one of Roach's saddlebags up to their room and begins to pack it with their coin.

Meanwhile, Jaskier sits in the chair by the window, ostensibly writing the lyrics to a new song in his composition book. But as far as Geralt can tell, his quill hasn't touched the paper one, and every time he looks away he can feel Jaskier's eyes boring into the back of his skull.

"What is it?" he asks finally, glancing up from the coin. He holds Jaskier's gaze, and Jaskier makes no effort to avert his eyes.

"I'm thinking," he says.

"About?"

"About how I want to be bonded."

Geralt just stares at him for a moment. "With whom?" is what comes out of his mouth at last, stupidly.

Jaskier lifts an eyebrow. "With you, Geralt, you big oaf. Who else?"

"And is this... hmm. Is this a new desire of yours?" Geralt asks him slowly. He can't help but remember Jaskier's reaction the last time this topic was brought up, by Rian— how he'd shrunk in on himself, wide-eyed, like someone about to panic, and made an evasive comment suggesting he might never want to be bonded again, with anyone.

"Relatively," says Jaskier, with a shrug. "I'm not sure when it started. But just now I was thinking about the cottage, and how we'll be moving tomorrow, and living there as a family, and I just thought... what better time could there be, to bond?" He shrugs again. "I mean. Well, what do you think?" he asks, obviously aiming for casual, but there's an unmistakable note of eagerness in his voice.

"I think—" Geralt clears his throat. Up until now, he hasn't even let himself consider the possibility, not when he knew there was a chance Jaskier would never want it, but now that it's being offered... well, the thought of Jaskier being his, and him being Jaskier's... "I want it too," he says stiffly.

"Really?" breathes Jaskier. "You're sure?"

"Hm. Yes. I'm sure."

"Shall... shall we do it tonight then?" Jaskier asks, leaning forward a little, practically vibrating with anticipation.

"If you don't need any time to, uh, think about it. Then yes. Whenever you want."

"I don't need time," says Jaskier quickly. "Although I do want to talk to Rian about it first," he adds. "Just to make sure he understands and... and approves, and everything."

"Hmm," Geralt says. "Of course."

And suddenly Jaskier gets out of the chair, kneels down on the floor, and takes Geralt's face in his hands.

They kiss— ardently, deeply— then separate. Jaskier's eyes are sparkling.

"Could I perhaps, maybe, uh, do it to you too?" he whispers, his hand trailing down Geralt's neck and coming to rest where it meets his shoulder. "Mark you, I mean?"

Geralt frowns. "Is that not how it works? We mark each other?"

"Not— not always," sighs Jaskier. "Um. It's generally considered quite shameful, to be marked by an omega," he says, his voice small. "And a lot of alphas think it shows weakness to be marked at all, even by a beta. They just want to do the marking." He frowns. "You don't know this already?"

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "I never paid much mind, when people talked about marking. Assumed it would never be relevant to me."

"Oh." Jaskier looks away.

"But Jaskier," Geralt says then, taking Jaskier's hand. "I very much want you to mark me."

Jaskier glances up.

"I wouldn't find it shameful," Geralt goes on. "It would be an honor."

Jaskier's face breaks into a smile, wide and fond. "Oh, Geralt," he says, and Geralt can see tears in his eyes. "I— I really wish I had something poetic to say right now, but I find that I don't. Which is very out of character for me. Usually I... fuck. Geralt," he chokes out. "Just— thank you."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "You too, Jas."

And they kiss again, more gently than before, and scent each other's wrists, and wipe each other's tears.

***

"Rian," says Jaskier, at dinner that evening. He shoots a significant glance in Geralt's direction, so Geralt knows what's coming.

"What?" asks Rian, around a mouthful of chicken soup.

Jaskier smiles. "Do you remember," he asks, "a few months ago, how you told us about Sam's mama and daddy being bonded?"

Rian nods slowly. "'Cause they're in love, you said."

"Right," says Jaskier. "And do you remember, how after we talked about that, you told me that Geralt and I should be bonded?"

Rian nods again.

"Well," Jaskier says. "Rian, what would you say if we did that? If we became bonded?"

"Yes!" says Rian immediately. Then he frowns. "But you wouldn't cry, right?"

"Not this time, no. Because it's something I want, this time," says Jaskier.

"Because you love Geralt?" asks Rian.

"Um." Jaskier glances up at Geralt briefly, then fixes his attention back on Rian. "Yeah, honey," he says quietly, stroking Rian's curls. "I love him."

Geralt's heart flips over painfully in his chest.

"And he loves you?" presses Rian.

"I do," Geralt says, before Jaskier can respond. Which is true. He does, more than anything.

Jaskier presses his lips together, and gazes at Geralt with wide, soft eyes.

"Oh, good," says Rian, with a satisfied little sigh. He leans his head against Jaskier's arm. "That's happy."

"It is," says Jaskier. "It's very happy." He kisses Rian's hair, then glances at Geralt again, still smiling.

Geralt smiles back, Jaskier's voice echoing in his mind: I love him, I love him, I love him.

***

After dinner, Geralt and Jaskier drop Rian off with Bethelda, as he'll be sleeping over with Sam again that night.

Then they head upstairs to their room. As soon as they're inside, Jaskier closes the door, locks it, and turns to face Geralt.

"So," he says. He's fidgeting with his fingers at his sides, rocking backward on his heels. "Shall we?" And Geralt smells a wave of eagerness billow off him, followed closely by a subtle twinge of fear.

"Whenever you're ready," says Geralt. "If you're ready," he adds, more quietly.

"I'm ready," Jaskier nods. "I am. I just. Fuck, one minute I'm so excited I can hardly stand it and the next minute I'm remembering one of the times I got marked at Szymon's."

"It'll be different this time." Geralt takes one of Jaskier's hand in his own, interlocks their fingers, and presses their inner wrists together, scenting him.

Jaskier exhales deeply, his eyelids fluttering closed. "I know," he says, going still. "I know it'll be different. And— ah, fuck, that feels good." He re-opens his eyes. "Your scent is fucking divine."

"Hmm."

"And I trust you so much."

"Hm."

Jaskier smiles. "Alright," he says. He lets go of Geralt's hand. "Alright, I'm ready now."

Geralt nods.

And Jaskier takes a step back and begins to unbutton his doublet. "I'll take this off," he says, glancing up at Geralt. "And... my chemise? Shall I remove that too?"

Geralt frowns. He hasn't seen Jaskier without a shirt since the night they met. "Would it make you uncomfortable?" he mutters.

Jaskier seems to consider this, then shakes his head. "No," he says, draping his doublet over the chair. "It would have, I think. A few months ago. But not now."

He stands there for a moment in his chemise, which is, Geralt notes, getting rather tight.

Then he pulls it off and tosses it too onto the chair, as Geralt stares raptly at his newly-exposed torso— the hair on his chest, the swell of his stomach...

"May I touch?" Geralt breathes.

Jaskier nods, and Geralt places his hands on Jaskier's shoulders, trails his fingers down his chest and onto his belly. He bends down and kisses it, then kisses his sternum, his jaw, his lips.

They kiss all the way to the bed, where they collapse together, Jaskier nestled against the pillows and Geralt on top of him.

"Now what do I do?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier blinks. "You just... bite me," he says, pointing to the place on his neck where Geralt knows his scent gland is located.

Geralt touches him there, very gently, and Jaskier shivers.

"Will it hurt?" Geralt asks.

"Yes," says Jaskier simply.

"Hmm," Geralt murmurs, perturbed.

But Jaskier smiles. "I can take it, witcher," he says, almost teasingly. "I'm very brave, you know, for a paltry little human.

"Hmm," Geralt says again, knowing that Jaskier is, quite possibly, the bravest person he's ever met. Then he leans in, and almost on instinct, he presses his lips to Jaskier's neck, to the delicate skin of his scent gland. He licks it. Sucks on it.

"Fuck," says Jaskier faintly.

Geralt stops.

"No," Jaskier tells him. "No, keep going, please."

So Geralt blinks, then continues to suck, until suddenly Jaskier inhales shallowly and says, in a hoarse voice, "Geralt. Do it."

"Now?"

"Yes, fuck. Please. I can't wait."

So Geralt doesn't hesitate. He takes the skin of Jaskier's neck between his teeth and bites, bites till he tastes blood. Jaskier goes limp, cries out, and suddenly his scent is all Geralt can smell, stronger than he's ever smelled it before, like the smell is inside him, in his own chest, in his own lungs, pulsing and alive and his.

Then he comes to his senses somewhat. "Jaskier," he breathes, staring down at the bleeding bite mark. "Are you alright?"

Jaskier's eyes are closed, but he nods. "Yes," he says hazily. "Fuck. It feels like— like fire in my veins, like flying in a dream, like— Fuck. Geralt. I think I could write a thousand songs, and never articulate this feeling."

Geralt kisses his cheek. "I'm sure you could," he says, and Jaskier opens his eyes.

"I appreciate your faith in my lyrical prowess," he says, smiling, reaching up to stroke Geralt's hair. "Now... my turn?"

Geralt feels a thrum of anticipation in his stomach. He nods. "Your turn."

And without further discussion, Jaskier sits up and pushes Geralt down against the bed, beginning to unbutton his shirt. Once he's got it off, he tosses it to the floor and leans in, pressing a kiss to Geralt's neck.

Geralt's chest tightens at the feeling of Jaskier's lips against his scent gland, and he lifts his chin to expose himself more fully.

"Now?" asks Jaskier.

"Now," Geralt says.

And Jaskier bites him.

Geralt barely feels the pain. He moans, tensing up, his body alive with the feeling of Jaskier's mark traveling through him.

Jaskier is talking to him soothingly now, but Geralt can't make out the words. He just lies there, reveling in the feeling of being claimed, being Jaskier's.

And then Jaskier lies down beside him. "The baby's moving," he whispers. "I bet they can feel the bond."

Geralt rests his hand on the warm, bare skin of Jaskier's belly, and sure enough, there's a kick, then another.

"They're happy," says Jaskier.

"How do you know?"

"I can just tell."

"Hmm."

Jaskier laughs, and nestles closer. "I love you," he says.

"I love you too," says Geralt.

And he knows that soon he'll have to get up and fetch a salve for their marks. Something for the pain, and the bleeding. Maybe some bandages.

But for now, he just lies there with Jaskier, and relishes the feeling of being together.

And bonded.

And whole.

For the first time in his life, Geralt feels truly whole.

Chapter Text

The next morning, when Bethelda returns Rian to their room, Geralt hears her inhale softly. "Oh, you're bonded! Oh, sweetheart, I'm so happy for you two," she says, as Rian runs to greet Geralt in bed. Geralt hugs him.

"Thank you," Jaskier tells Bethelda, and Geralt can hear the smile in his voice. "So are we."

Then Geralt feels a tugging on the sleeve of his shirt. "Hmm?" he asks, glancing down at Rian, who's frowning.

"How come there's a bandage on your neck?" asks the child.

"Your Papa will explain," says Geralt. "But I'm not hurt, don't worry."

Right on cue, Jaskier finishes bidding Bethelda goodbye and closes the door. "Hey, Rian," he sing-songs, getting into bed with the two of them. "Guess what."

Rian, nestled in Geralt's arms, lets out a gasp. "You've got bandages too!" he exclaims. "How come?"

"Because," says Jaskier, his eyes twinkling, "Geralt and I bonded now."

Rian gasps again. "You bit each other?" he squeals.

"Yep," laughs Jaskier.

"I wanna see!"

So Jaskier unwinds the bandage from his neck, revealing the bite mark, which is now surrounded by a reddish-purple bruise.

"It's like at Szymon's," whispers Rian, scrambling out of Geralt's arms to get a closer look.

"It looks the same, but it's not," Jaskier says. "It felt good this time, and I'm not sad about it; I'm happy."

Rian turns to Geralt. "You're happy too?"

"Very much so," says Geralt.

Rian grins. "And now you're tied together forever because you love each other so much?" he asks.

"Yes," says Jaskier, with a sideways glance at Geralt. "That's exactly right."

Geralt smiles, and he feels the bond thrum warmly in his chest.

***

They move into their cottage later that day.

It takes two trips: one to bring Roach, clothes, and Rian's toys, and the next to bring armfuls of bedding and food from Bethelda.

When they arrive the second time, there's a red-haired man working in the garden of the cottage next to theirs. He looks up as they approach and offers a jaunty wave.

"Hello!" he calls, setting down his spade and standing up. As he comes toward them and his scent becomes stronger, Geralt realizes he's an alpha.

He glances at Jaskier, who, judging by his wide eyes and tense posture, has come to the same realization.

"So you're the new neighbors, huh?" says the alpha, smiling warmly. He smells rich and earthy, like sweat and soil and metal. "My name's Aleksander." He holds out his hand to Jaskier.

Jaskier looks away. "I— I have to ɡ-go," he stammers, his breaths sharp and fast.

"Jas," murmurs Geralt, but before he can say or do anything else, Jaskier has already grabbed Rian's arm, unlocked the cottage, and slipped inside.

The door closes with a thud.

"A bit... shy, is he?" asks Aleksander, raising an eyebrow.

"With good reason," Geralt grunts.

The alpha frowns. "What does that mean?"

"Means he has good reason to hate alphas. None of your business why. Now if you'll excuse me—"

"Wait, please, I just wanted to— to introduce myself," says the alpha. "I meant no harm; I'm sorry."

Geralt huffs. "I need to check on him," he says. "Goodbye." And he takes out his key, turns on his heel, and enters their cottage, leaving the alpha staring after him.

***

When Geralt reaches the bedroom, Jaskier is sitting on the bed, his knees pulled up to his chest, his breathing rapid and shallow.

Rian is huddled beside him, sucking his thumb and patting Jaskier's back.

"Jas," breathes Geralt, setting down his armful of linens on the floor.

"He's scared," says Rian. "'Cause that was a Bad Man, I think."

Geralt sighs, and sits down on the edge of the mattress. "Jaskier," he says. "It's okay. You're safe. Do you know where you are?"

"Cottage," mutters Jaskier. He glances at Geralt with unfocused eyes. "The alpha— he— he—"

"It's okay." Geralt scoots closer to Jaskier and puts an arm around his back. "I would never let him hurt you. May I scent you?"

Jaskier nods into Geralt's shoulder, and Geralt presses his inner wrist to Jaskier's neck. He holds it there until Jaskier relaxes against him.

"His hair," Jaskier whispers at last. "One of my— my customers had red hair like that. He was an alpha, too. And he was fucking terrible. He used to— to—"

"It's okay." Geralt strokes Jaskier's cheek.

Jaskier inhales deeply. "Fuck, why do we have to live next to an alpha?" he asks. "And why does he have to smell so fucking... alpha-ish?"

"If he tries to hurt you, if he even looks at you wrong, I'll murder him in cold blood," says Geralt honestly.

Jaskier smiles a little. "I know," he says. "But still."

Geralt opens his mouth to respond, but just then, there's a knock at the front door.

Geralt doesn't move, just keeps holding Jaskier.

There's another knock, louder this time.

"You should get it," says Jaskier sullenly.

"You're more important."

"What if it's an emergency?"

"Hmm." And Geralt sighs and stands up, giving Jaskier's shoulder a brief squeeze. "I'll be right back then," he says.

"Wait, Daddy, what if it's the Bad Man?" asks Rian, his thumb still in his mouth.

"If it is, I'll make him leave," says Geralt. "I promise."

***

But it's not a bad man.

It's an omega, with dark blond hair pulled into a braid over his shoulder and a toddler balanced on his hip. He smells of fresh laundry and vanilla, but Geralt can detect a whiff of fear too, and he takes a step back at the sight of Geralt.

"What is it?" Geralt demands.

Despite his apparent fear, the lad smiles bravely and says, "Hi. I'm Raph. I— I think you just met my mate?"

"Hmm," grunts Geralt.

"I wanted to come and be sure your omega's okay. Aleks said he seemed a little spooked."

Geralt grunts again. "He's fine."

"Is he here? I'd like to talk to him, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."

Geralt frowns, but the lad seems nice enough. "Hmm," he mutters. "Let me— Stay there."

The omega nods, and Geralt closes the front door, turns around, and opens the door to the bedroom.

"It's an omega," he tells Jaskier. "The alpha's mate. He wants to talk to you."

"To me?"

Geralt nods.

"Is the alpha with him?"

"No."

Jaskier considers this for a moment, then nods. "Alright," he says slowly. "I'll... I'll come meet him. Rian, you want to come meet our neighbor?"

"Not a Bad Man?"

"No. He's an omega like Papa," says Jaskier.

"Okay," says Rian.

They get out of bed and follow along behind Geralt, hand in hand.

Geralt re-opens the front door, and at the sight of Jaskier and Rian, the omega lights up. "Hiya!" he says, adjusting his grip on the toddler and holding out a hand. "I'm Raph. And this little guy is Danny."

"Pleasure to meet you," says Jaskier stiffly, shaking Raph's hand. "Jaskier. And— and Rian," he adds, as Rian peeks his head out from behind Jaskier's legs.

Raph smiles. "Pleasure to meet you too." He stands there for a moment, bouncing the toddler, then tilts his head. "May I come in?" he asks.

"Oh, shit. Yeah, of course," says Jaskier. He steps aside and Raph enters the cottage, giving Geralt a wide berth.

He grins nervously at Jaskier. "Uh. Could I talk to you, uh, alone maybe?" he says.

Jaskier nods, and glances at Geralt.

"Come here, Rian," says Geralt, picking the boy up. "Let's go play."

Rian doesn't protest, so Geralt takes him into the bedroom and closes the door. He sits down on the ground, waits for Rian to get his toys out of the wardrobe, and holds his breath.

With his enhanced senses, he can still hear every word Raph and Jaskier speak.

"So you met Aleks?" says Raph.

Silence— a nod, Geralt presumes.

"He said he thinks he scared you a little. He's real sorry."

More silence.

"He said your mate said something about you hating alphas?"

"He did?"

"Yeah."

Jaskier sighs. "Yeah, well, he's not wrong."

"Is it because of him? Your— your own alpha?" asks Raph, lowering his voice. "He's— he's the witcher, right? The Butcher? I can't imagine what you've been through."

"No!" says Jaskier quickly. "I mean yes, he's a witcher, but he's not... like that. He's the only alpha I've ever met who wasn't cruel to me."

"Really?"

"Yes." Jaskier sighs again. "Look, I'm sorry if I offended your mate. His smell made me panic. That's all."

"But Aleks smells good."

"He smells like an alpha, and I hate the scent of alphas."

"He's sorry he scared you," says Raph, quietly. "He feels awful."

"Tell him it's not his fault."

There's a moment of silence. "He's really not scary, I promise," Raph says at last. "I mean, if anything, your alpha's rather scary. Aleks is just... I mean, he likes gardening. He loves kids. He catches spiders and puts them outside instead of smashing them because he can't stand to hurt anything, even bugs."

Jaskier says nothing.

"He wanted to invite you over for dinner tonight. I suppose it doesn't seem that'll work out. But maybe— maybe sometime? I really don't want you to be afraid of us, darlin'. And we have goats, if your son wants to—"

"Geralt," cries Rian then. "You're not even listening! I'm telling a story!"

Geralt snaps his attention to Rian. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry, I'm listening now."

"Good. So this is you, and you're going to kill all the Bad Men in the world. And they're all in a cave in the mountains, and they got a big monster to protect them. But you're gonna kill them anyway! So you walk up the mountain at night, so they won't see you—"

The bedroom door opens, and Geralt and Rian look up.

"Hey," says Jaskier, with a small smile.

"How did it go?"

"He said his alpha won't bother us."

Geralt nods.

"He also said that if we ever want to, we're always welcome over for dinner. And they have two older kids about Rian's age, and goats Rian can play with."

Rian perks up.

"Hmm," says Geralt.

Jaskier sits down on the floor and rests his head on Geralt's shoulder. "I hate being afraid," he mumbles.

"Hmm."

Jaskier takes a deep breath, and then: "I think I want to have dinner with them."

"Jaskier..."

"I mean it. I want to get to know our neighbors." Jaskier shrugs. "And Raph said his alpha doesn't even kill spiders if he can help it."

"Hmm."

"And besides, you'll be there," says Jaskier, with such a soft, trusting look in his eyes that Geralt feels himself blushing. "You'll protect me."

"I will," says Geralt. "I always will."

"Geralt protects everyone," declares Rian. "Now let me finish my story, okay? You gotta listen."

So Jaskier and Geralt sit back against the side of the bed, their fingers laced together, and listen.

Chapter Text

Geralt doesn't take any contracts the next week— they have more than enough coin saved up to meet their needs for right now— and they spend the time settling into their new home.

"What do you think," Jaskier asks Rian one morning, over a breakfast of eggs and bread, "of having your own room and bed to sleep in, Rian?"

Rian looks up, his eyes wide.

"And when the baby is a little older, they can sleep there with you too," Jaskier adds.

It's something Geralt and Jaskier have discussed once or twice— the idea of Rian sleeping separately from them, and the children having their very own room— but not something they'll insist on unless Rian likes the idea.

As it turns out, he does.

"Yes!" he exclaims, leaping out of his chair. "My own room! I want it, Papa!"

Jaskier laughs, and pulls him into a hug, and Rian beams.

***

That afternoon, they visit a carpenter who constructs a small bed for Rian, and a seamstress who fashions for them a pillow and a mattress.

Back at the cottage, Geralt moves the large bed from the bedroom into the main room, and Jaskier sets up the bedroom for Rian.

And that evening, after they've returned from Jaskier's performance at Bethelda's inn, Jaskier lights a fire in the bedroom's hearth and tucks Rian into his little bed. They bid him goodnight.

"I'll leave the door open, okay?" says Jaskier. "If you need anything, just come and wake us up."

Rian nods. "I know," he says groggily, snuggled comfortably under his blankets.

"Goodnight, honey," Jaskier says again.

But Rian is already asleep.

***

"Are you alright?" Geralt asks Jaskier, as they lie in their own bed later that night, each on their side, facing each other.

"Yeah," says Jaskier. "Well, it feels strange. But I know he's safe."

"Hmm," Geralt hums. "Yes. He certainly is."

"He's getting so big," says Jaksier. He touches his belly. "And so is the baby, aren't they? Getting bigger and bigger every day," he adds, a bit wistfully, but there's a smile on his face all the same.

Geralt just nods. A little over three months, and then the baby will be here. No matter how many times he reminds himself, he can never quite wrap his head around it. He places his own hand beside Jaskier's on the baby bump.

They lie there like that in silence for a while, feeling as the baby shifts.

Then Jaskier blinks hazily. "Your mark is healing faster than mine," he says.

"Hmm," Geralt agrees. "But it's scarring, at least." He's been worried that it would disappear completely, given his witcher physiology. "I'm glad of that."

"True," says Jaskier, and his fingers travel to his own mark, which is still red. "I can't get over how good it feels," he murmurs then. "The bond, I mean. The other times, it was like torture, to be bonded to some stranger, to want them so badly and hate them so deeply at the same time. But with you, it's just... it's so different. It feels like everything has fallen into place." He pauses, and smiles wryly. "Twenty-fifth time's the charm, I guess."

"Hmm," says Geralt, frowning. He's not sure what to say. He hates to be reminded of Jaskier's past suffering, and then he hates himself for being bothered by the mere thought of what Jaskier actually lived through.

He reaches out, slowly, and tucks a lock of Jaskier's hair behind his ear.

Then he goes still. He hears something— linens rustling in the bedroom. He sits up.

"Rian," he breathes. And right on cue, Rian appears in the doorway, looking very small and frightened.

"Papa?" he says. "I woke up."

"It's okay, honey. Come here, you can get in bed with us."

Rian hurries over and crawls under the covers beside Jaskier. "I had a scary dream," he says, then lowers his voice to a whisper. "I dreamed I was under the bed and there was a Bad Man in the room. And I tried to be quiet but he heard me. And he asked who's there. Then I woke up."

"Oh, honey," says Jaskier. "I'm so sorry. That sounds horrible."

"Yeah," Rian says.

"I'm glad you came to tell us. You can sleep with us tonight, okay?"

Rian nods. "I like my own bed," he says. "I just got a little bit scared."

"I know," says Jaskier.

"But I'm supposed to be brave," Rian mumbles.

"Rian," says Jaskier. "You are so brave. You've just never slept alone before, it's okay."

Rian slips his thumb into his mouth, his brow furrowed. "Maybe tomorrow I won't be so scared," he says.

"Maybe," says Jaskier. "But it's okay if you are."

"I was scared too," Geralt volunteers, "my first few weeks at Kaer Morhen, away from my mother. I was terrified."

"Weeks?" breathes Rian.

"That's right," says Geralt.

"But you're still brave," says Rian.

"Of course he is," Jaskier says, ruffling Rian's hair. "Just like you."

"Oh," Rian says. He looks contemplative. Then he crawls over Jaskier's knees and curls up between him and Geralt, his face resting on the crest of Jaskier's stomach.

And within minutes, he's fast asleep.

***

The next day, the three of them pay a visit to the tailor in the neighboring town, since Jaskier's chemise and breeches are both getting too tight for his growing belly.

The tailor is delighted to see them, and even more delighted to meet Rian. He asks Rian's name, gives him a piece of maple candy, and shows him his drafting table.

Then he gets to work, chattering amiably as he takes Jaskier's measurements. And soon enough he has him outfitted in a significantly looser chemise and a pair of trousers with a drawstring waist— mulberry, to match his pleated doublet.

They're about to leave, when suddenly Jaskier pauses, his eyes trained on the wall of fabrics. "Look at this," he says, approaching the wall and ghosting his fingers over some cloth patterned with yellow flowers. "They're buttercups."

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "You want another doublet?"

"No," says Jaskier. "But— but it would make nice curtains, wouldn't it? For our kitchen, and for Rian's room?"

Geralt doesn't care much about things like curtains, but he cares very much about making Jaskier happy. He nods, and Jaskier grins.

"So we can buy it?" Jaskier presses.

They buy it, a whole bolt of it.

And Geralt has to admit, once Jaskier has finished crafting it into curtains, that they do look rather nice— very bright, very welcoming.

"I love buttercups," says Jaskier quietly, as he and Geralt stand arm in arm, admiring his handiwork. "It's why I chose my name."

"Jaskier?"

Jaskier nods. "It means buttercup."

"Hmm," says Geralt, and suddenly he appreciates the curtains even more.

***

In the evening, the three of them head to Bethelda's inn. Jaskier takes a seat by the fire and Geralt and Rian settle in the corner, where they watch as Jaskier begins to play his lute.

The whole inn is singing along to Jaskier's second encore performance of "Toss a Coin" when Rian taps Geralt on the shoulder.

Geralt looks down at him.

"What's on your necklace?" asks Rian.

"A medallion," says Geralt. "It's shaped like a wolf, see?"

"Can I hold it?"

Geralt hesitates, then unclasps the chain and hands it carefully over to Rian. Rian cradles it in his small hand, his mouth slightly ajar. "How come it's a wolf?" he asks.

"Because it represents the witcher school I trained at. The School of the Wolf."

"Oh," whispers Rian. He traces the shape with his finger, and smiles up at Geralt. "It's pretty."

"Hmm. It's useful, too," Geralt tells him. "It vibrates when magic or monsters are near."

Rian nods, then pouts slightly. "I want one," he says. "Then we could match."

"Hmm," hums Geralt. It would be possible, he supposes, to visit a metalsmith and have a replica made. It wouldn't be magic, of course, but he doesn't think Rian would mind. "We'll see," he says. "Maybe someday."

Rian's eyes light up. "Really?"

Geralt shrugs. "I said maybe." He pauses. "Probably," he amends, at the look on Rian's face. "Perhaps for your birthday."

"My birthday is December!" Rian says. "Just like when the baby is gonna be born!"

Geralt ruffles his hair. "We'll see," he says again.

Rian lets out a satisfied little sigh. "When we match, then everyone will see and know you're my daddy, instead of the Bad Man," he says wistfully.

And if Geralt's mind hadn't already been made up, it is now: by December, Rian will have a wolf medallion of his own.

But he takes Rian's chin in his fingers and tilts it up so he's looking directly into Rian's large brown eyes. And: "Rian," he tells him, "I'm already your daddy. And you're my— my little wolf. I promise that everyone who sees us together can tell that, matching medallions or not."

"Really?"

"Really," says Geralt.

Rian nods slowly. "I love you," he says.

"I love you, too," Geralt assures him, lifting him onto his lap. "I love you so much."

"And I'm your little wolf?" asks Rian.

"That you are," says Geralt. "You're my brave little wolf."

Rian giggles, and Geralt kisses his head, and together, they watch as Jaskier finishes his encore.

Chapter Text

"Perhaps tomorrow we could visit our neighbors," says Jaskier that night, as he and Geralt lie together in bed. Rian is in his own bedroom again, having insisted on giving it another try.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "You're sure?"

"I'm sure," says Jaskier. "I want to tell them we'd like to come over for dinner sometime."

"Hmm," hums Geralt again.

"What, you don't think I'm ready?"

"No," Geralt says quickly. "It's not that. I just... hmm. I'm not much of a conversationalist. And I don't have much experience with dinner parties."

Jaskier smiles, and plants a kiss at the corner of Geralt's mouth. "Oh, don't worry about that," he says. "I can make more than enough conversation for both of us, I assure you. And I'm quite the dinner party aficionado. My parents were utterly obsessed with them. So you'll protect me from the scary alpha and I'll protect you from the need to make small talk; how's that sound?"

Geralt feels a smile tugging at his lips. He nods. "Sounds like a plan."

***

A few hours later, Geralt wakes up to the sensation of a small body wriggling into bed beside him.

"Hello, Rian," says Geralt, nudging Jaskier's shoulder. "Jas, we have a visitor."

Jaskier frowns a little, groggily, and then his eyes snap open. "Honey," he says, taking Rian in his arms. "Are you scared? Did you have another nightmare?"

Rian shakes his head. "I just missed you," he whispers.

"Oh, honey," says Jaskier, ruffling Rian's hair. "That's okay. You can sleep with us again."

Rian snuggles up beside Jaskier, and kisses the baby bump. A few minutes pass. "Papa," Rian mumbles eventually, obviously on the verge of sleep. "Daddy said I'm his little wolf."

"I know," murmurs Jaskier. "You told me at dinner."

"Oh yeah," says Rian. There's a long pause. "Daddy?" he asks then.

"Yes, Rian?" Geralt asks.

"Is the baby your little wolf too?"

"They're my little pup," says Geralt, with a glance at Jaskier.

Jaskier smiles fondly.

"They'll grow into a little wolf," Geralt adds, rubbing Rian's back.

"Oh," says Rian. "Little pup." He kisses Jaskier's belly again. "I love you, little pup."

And soon enough his breathing evens out, and he's asleep.

***

The next morning, the three of them eat breakfast, then head over to visit their neighbors.

"If the alpha answers, you do the talking," says Jaskier quietly as they make their way down the garden path.

Geralt nods. When they reach the cottage, he raps on the door, and Jaskier clutches Rian very tightly to his side.

But when the door opens, it's just the omega. He looks at Geralt first, and takes a step back, smelling mildly of fear. Then he turns his attention to Jaskier and his face breaks into a smile.

"Hey!" he says. "Look who it is! What a nice surprise!" He pauses momentarily, then adds, "It's just me and the kids here, by the way; Aleks is at work. He's a blacksmith."

Jaskier nods, and Geralt can smell his relief.

"So, is... is there anything I can do for ya?" asks the omega, still smiling.

Jaskier clears his throat. "No, we just, uh. We just wanted to say hi, mainly, and... well, I don't know if that dinner offer is still on the table, but if it is...?"

Raph's entire face lights up. "Of course!" he exclaims. "Oh, Aleks will be so happy. And the kids; they've been begging to meet you and Rian! The older ones are in town now, playing with their friends, and Danny's down for his morning nap, but... Anyway! We're available any time," he says eagerly. "Tonight, maybe? Or tomorrow?"

Jaskier looks to Geralt, who shrugs and grunts, "Either."

"Tonight would be lovely," Jaskier says, turning back to the omega.

"Perfect!" says the omega. "Any food preferences, for you or Rian or..." He glances trepidatiously in Geralt's direction. "I'm so sorry, I don't think I caught your name, last time," he whispers.

"I didn't say it," Geralt grunts. "It's Geralt."

"Geralt," the omega repeats.

"Yes. And you're Raph?" asks Geralt.

The omega nods shyly. A bit of the fear disappears from his scent. "I sure am," he says. "You remembered."

"Hmm."

Raph's gaze lingers on him for a moment, then snaps back to Jaskier. "So anyway, um— any food preferences for any of you?" he asks again.

"Oh, we'll eat anything."

"Well. It'll be good, I promise," says Raph, with a wink. Then he grins. "We'll send one of the kids to fetch you this evening when it's ready; that sound good?"

Jaskier nods. "That sounds perfect."

"Can I meet goats?" Rian asks then, in a very quiet voice, his body half-hidden behind Jaskier's legs.

Raph laughs. "Oh, yes!" he says. "Right now, if you like; just ask your parents."

"Can I?" asks Rian, tugging on Jaskier's doublet.

"Sure," says Jaskier. "Sure, why not."

So Raph steps out of the cottage, closes the door, and beckons for them to follow him.

"I've never seen a goat before," says Rian, as they walk around the side of the cottage. "Or a cat, or a snake, or a cow, or lots of things. But I've seen dogs and birds!"

"You've never seen a cat?" asks Raph, with a perplexed little laugh. "Where have you been living?"

"In Szymon's inn," says Rian.

Raph stops walking, and glances between Jaskier and Geralt, looking confused.

"It's a long story," says Jaskier. "We'll tell you sometime."

Raph frowns briefly at that, but then nods. "Alright," he says, smiling at them. "No worries." And they continue on toward the pen behind the cottage.

"That's the goats?" asks Rian excitedly, as they draw near.

"Yep, those are the goats!" Raph tells him. He opens the gate to the pen and leads Rian inside. "You all can come too," he adds, smiling at Geralt and Jaskier, so they do.

There are three goats in all. Raph shows Rian how to pet them, then brings him to their trough of food. He has Rian pick up some of the grain and hold it in his hand in front of a small goat, who begins to eat it out of his fingers.

Rian giggles. "It feels funny," he says.

"All wet, huh?" says Raph. "That's her tongue. Her name is Persimmon. She's very gentle."

One of the goats, white with a brown face, takes interest in Geralt, nudging its nose against his side. "What's this one's name?" he asks the omega.

"Oh, that's Strawberry," laughs Raph. "Bet you'll never guess why she's called that. There's a reason our strawberry plants are fenced in."

"Strawberry," Geralt murmurs. He pats her head.

"Goats have weird eyes," Rian observes, gallivanting from one goat to the next after he finishes feeding Persimmon. Jaskier follows along behind him, while Geralt stays next to Strawberry.

"They sure do," says Raph. "And different colors too."

"Yeah, like that one's are blue," Rian says, peering up at the male goat.

"And guess what his name is?" asks Raph.

"What?"

Raph smiles at him. "It's Blue!" he says. "Just like his eyes."

"Ooh, that's a good name. And what's that?" asks Rian, bending down and pointing at Strawberry's teats.

"That's called an udder," Raph tells him. "It's where her milk comes from. Have you ever had goat milk?"

"No, I've never had any milk except from Papa when I was a baby."

"Really?" says Raph. "Well, you may be in for a treat tonight, darlin'."

Rian grins.

They stay with the goats for maybe a half hour, until Rian complains that he's sleepy.

Then they say goodbye to Raph and the goats and head home.

***

Rian lies down for his afternoon nap in Geralt and Jaskier's bed, with Jaskier sitting beside him, his back against the pillows, a quill in his hand, and his composition book open in his lap in front of his stomach.

Geralt, for his part, takes a seat at a bench and begins to sharpen his swords.

But it isn't long before he hears a shift in Jaskier's breathing, a slight sniffling. "Jas," he murmurs, standing up and hurrying to Jaskier's side. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," whispers Jaskier, glancing up at Geralt, his eyes brimming with tears. "I'm just happy." He takes Geralt's hand and squeezes it, and Geralt climbs into bed beside him.

"Happy about what?" asks Geralt.

Jaskier rests his head on his shoulder. "Rian," he says.

"Hmm."

"I was writing a song about him, about how different he is now than he was at Szymon's, and it just— it made me tear up, to think about it."

"Hmm."

"Like, he's cried maybe twice, since we met you," Jaskier murmurs. "He used to cry every day. And— and he was so fucking thin. Gods, it was awful, I could feel all his little bones when I held him— his spine, his hips, his ribs... But now, he's— he's chubby." Jaskier smiles a little, and wipes at his eyes. "You know what he told me the other day? He said his belly is growing like mine, because it used to be sucked in but now sticks out."

Geralt nods. He recalls, all too well, how light Rian had been the first time he'd picked him up. He definitely feels heavier now. Healthier.

"And he's so clean. He's always clean," Jaskier goes on. "His tears used to leave tracks in the dirt on his cheeks when he cried. And his shirt, gods, it was fucking filthy. I mean, you saw him," Jaskier sighs. "You probably remember."

Geralt does remember: the dirt on Rian's face and hands and feet when they'd met, and the stained, torn man's undershirt that he'd been dressed in.

"I never get tired of seeing him in proper clothes," says Jaskier. He squeezes Geralt's hand again. "And I never get tired of seeing him just... looking like a normal little kid, happy and clean and smiling and bright-eyed."

"Hmm," Geralt agrees.

"It's like I get to watch him become his real self, now that he doesn't have to be hungry and scared and sad all the time. He's... he's just blooming, you know?"

"I do."

"That's what the chorus of my song is about," Jaskier smiles. "How he's blooming."

"I can't wait to hear it."

"When I'm done," says Jaskier, "I'll sing it for both of you." He pauses. "Or all three of you, I suppose. Do you think babies can appreciate songs from the womb?"

"Mm. I'm sure any child of yours can," says Geralt. "Music's in their blood, after all."

"That's true," says Jaskier, leaning in and kissing Geralt on the cheek. Then he rests his hands on his stomach and smiles. "Our little pup," he muses.

And Geralt can't help but smile too.

Chapter Text

When Rian wakes up from his nap, the three of them visit Bethelda's inn to tell her that Jaskier won't be able to perform that night.

She beams and tells them she's thrilled that they're making friends, then glances over at Geralt and frowns slightly.

"Will you be wearing that to dinner, love?" she asks. "You look like you're going to a funeral."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. His clothes are, admittedly, rather drab and black.

"Don't you worry," says Bethelda, "I'll fetch you something else." And she bustles off.

She returns a few minutes later with a cream-colored shirt of her husband's and thrusts it into Geralt's hands. "There," she says. She pats Geralt's shoulder, ruffles Rian's hair, and kisses Jaskier's cheek. "Now, you have fun with your neighbors, alright?" she tells them.

Jaskier assures her that they will.

***

They start back toward their cottage, hand in hand, with Geralt holding Rian on his hip.

Jaskier and Rian fill the walk with idle chatter, and Geralt tries not to worry about making a fool of himself at dinner.

They're about halfway home when Jaskier breaks off and squeezes Geralt's hand.

"You smell nervous," he says softly. "And usually I can't smell emotions on you, due to your witcher mutations or whatever. So you must be remarkably nervous."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt, adjusting his grip on Rian.

"I told you, I'll handle all the talking," Jaskier offers.

"What if they ask me questions directly?"

"Just give a one-word answer and let me do the rest."

"And what if they ask about— Hmm. You know." Geralt frowns. "The past."

"Then we'll say that it's complicated. They should get the hint," says Jaskier blithely. "And we will tell them, eventually. Not at dinner, but..."

"Tell them what?" asks Rian, turning his head toward Jaskier.

"About when we lived at Szymon's," Jaskier says. "And how Geralt saved us from him."

"Oh," says Rian. He lowers his head again, nestles it against Geralt's shoulder. "I'm glad he saved us."

Jaskier smiles, and rests a hand on the swell of his stomach. "So am I."

***

Jaskier insists that they get ready for dinner early that evening, long before sunset. He puts on his own tailored doublet, then gets Rian dressed in his little red leather one, then washes Rian's face and hands and combs Rian's hair. Then he combs his own hair, and then Geralt's hair. Geralt tolerates the hair combing with nothing but an occasional hmm, and when it's over, he puts on the shirt borrowed from Bethelda.

And at last Jaskier deems them all presentable.

Geralt goes back to sharpening his swords, and Jaskier goes back to writing his song. Rian plays on the floor with his dolls.

And before long, there's a knock at the door.

Geralt answers it, and is greeted by a red-haired girl, maybe six or seven years old.

"Hi!" she says brightly. "I'm Rosie. My parents say you can come over for dinner now."

"Ah. Yes. Hmm," says Geralt.

Jaskier saves him from the need to converse any further by coming up beside him with Rian.

"Hello," he says warmly. He holds out his hand to the girl. "What did you say your name was?"

"Rosie," says the girl, shaking his hand.

"Rosie," Jaskier repeats. "I'm Jaskier. And this is Geralt." He claps Geralt on the arm. "And this is Rian." He squeezes Rian's shoulder.

"Hi Geralt," says Rosie, waving. "Hi Rian."

Geralt waves back. Rian hides behind Jaskier's legs, his thumb in his mouth.

"Well," says Jaskier, glancing around, his eyes alight. "Shall we depart?"

Rosie giggles. "Yes!" she says. And together, the four of them set off.

***

The alpha, Aleks, meets them at the door and welcomes them inside.

"Hello!" calls Raph from the kitchen. "I'm just getting everything on the table."

"You've met Rosie," says Aleks, leading them over to the dining area and showing them their seats. "Let me get the others."

Geralt and Jaskier and Rian take their appointed seats at the table, and Aleks darts away. He returns a few moments later with two children in tow.

"This is Danny. He's two," he says, picking up the toddler whom they met the other day.

"Hi," says Danny, waving, and Jaskier waves back with a grin.

"And this is Miss Amelia," says Aleks, indicating a little blonde girl who seems just as shy as Rian. "She's four."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Amelia," says Jaskier, leaning forward. "I'm Jaskier. And this is my mate Geralt, and our son Rian. He's four too!"

"Oh," says Amelia. She presses closer to her father, and he puts an arm around her.

"She's a little shy," he explains. "Mimi, you want to go sit down?"

Amelia nods, and takes a seat across from them at the table, beside Rosie.

Aleks helps Raph bring out the last few dishes, and then the two of them sit down too. Danny remains on Aleks's lap.

Raph lets out a satisfied sigh. "So," he says, smiling. "Help yourselves, everyone! And don't worry, there's more of everything. And as soon as you've got what you want, just dig in!"

Geralt eyes the spread, impressed. There are vegetables and fresh fruit, roasted potatoes, a basket of bread rolls, copious butter, and a roasted chicken. For a few minutes, everyone busies themselves with passing the dishes and filling their plates with food. Then they begin to eat.

"This is delicious," Jaskier says appreciatively after a moment.

"Yes," Geralt agrees. And it is.

Raph smiles. "I'm glad to hear it," he says.

"Raph is quite the cook," Aleks offers fondly.

"I owe most of it to Aleks's spices," Raph laughs. "He grows them in our garden."

"Oh, that's incredible," says Jaskier.

They proceed to talk about gardening for a while, then cooking, then blacksmithing.

Jaskier had been right; he really does have a knack for conversation. They ask him about his own hobbies and he talks cheerfully about the lute: how he's been playing it since he was a child, how he's classically trained, how it was always his dream to be a bard and now it's come true.

"So tell me," asks Raph then, "how did a witcher and a bard come to meet each other?"

Geralt goes still. This is what he'd been dreading.

"Uh," says Jaskier. He gives a forced little smile. "It was sort of a knight-in-shining-armor-saves-damsel-in-distress situation, I guess. With me being the damsel and Geralt being the knight. He rescued me, and, uh, the rest is history, as they say."

"I'm sorry," says Raph. "I didn't mean to—"

"No, it's fine," says Jaskier. His smile softens. "It's fine."

"What'd he save you from?" asks Rosie.

"Rosie," says Aleks, gently but warningly, and she falls silent.

"Anyway," says Jaskier. "Speaking of the lute, I think I'll have to write you two a song, as thanks for this marvelous feast. I'll call it, 'Ode to Raph's Roast Chicken.' Or something like that." He smiles, and Raph grins back.

And the conversation turns to other, more comfortable topics.

Chapter Text

Raph is a farm boy, he tells them happily. He's from a large, very tightly-knit, very supportive family. He met Aleks at his family's farmer's market when he was nineteen and he was instantly smitten.

It's the kind of past Jaskier deserves, Geralt can't help but think— one full of love and belonging and happiness. It makes him frown, to consider.

Jaskier, however, seems unbothered. "Here you go again, giving me material for yet another song," he says with a smile. "I just adore stories like that: opposites attract, love at first sight, all that good stuff."

"A true romantic, are you?" asks Raph.

"Guilty as charged," Jaskier laughs.

"I don't usually think of farms as the setting for great romances, but I suppose in our case it was," says Aleks, nudging Raph fondly.

Raph beams back at him.

"What's a farm?" Rian asks.

"A farm," says Raph, "is land where people grow crops and raise animals."

"You lived there?"

"Mm-hmm, that's where I grew up."

"Did you have goats?"

"I did," Raph says. "And pigs, and sheep, and cattle, and horses."

"Geralt has a horse," says Rian. "Her name is Roach."

"Really?" asks Raph, and if he finds it strange that Rian referred to Geralt by his first name, he doesn't mention it. "I'd love to meet her someday. I miss my family's horses terribly."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "That can be arranged."

"I like horses and goats," muses Rian.

"Oh!" exclaims Raph. "Speaking of goats! I almost forgot, I have a special treat for Rian." He bustles into the kitchen and returns a moment later with a cup and a plate. "You said you'd never had milk. So here's some goat milk," he says. "And here's some goat cheese, too!"

"For me?"

"For you," says Raph.

Very cautiously, Rian lifts the cup to his lips and takes a sip. He frowns slightly, then smiles.

"Do you like it?" asks Raph.

Rian nods shyly, and goes on to nibble at the cheese. "It's soft," he says, and then, "It's yummy!"

Raph laughs. "Good!" he says. "I'm so glad you like them. You stop by any time you want some more, alright, darlin'?"

Rian nods again.

"What do you say?" prompts Jaskier.

"Thank you," Rian whispers.

"You are most welcome, my friend," says Raph, sitting back down at the table. "And now— Oh, Jaskier! I've been meaning to ask, when is your baby due?"

"December," says Jaskier.

"Amelia's a December baby," says Aleks.

"Me too!" says Rian.

As it turns out, Rian is ten days older than Amelia.

"But I'm bigger," Amelia says, frowning.

Rian nods in agreement. "Geralt says I'm little 'cause I'm malnourished," he says somberly.

At that, the adults exchange glances. Raph and Aleks look concerned. Jaskier smells of shame.

"What's malnourished?" asks Rosie innocently.

"Nothing, love," says Aleks.

There's a moment of painfully awkward silence.

And then, because it doesn't seem like anyone else is going to do it, Geralt steels himself and says, as lightly as he can, "You have a lovely garden."

Aleks blinks. "Thank you," he says. "It's my pride and joy. You should see it in spring."

"But it's beautiful all year round," Raph cuts in. "The autumn vegetables are just getting ripe, in fact. We'd be more than happy to give you some. Turnips, cabbage, squash..."

"Those sound... very good," says Geralt stiffly. "I'm not much of a cook. But I'm— Hmm. I'm hoping to learn."

"Maybe, uh," says Raph quietly. "Maybe I could teach you a bit, sometime?" He seems somewhat hesitant about the idea, but there's no trace of true fear detectable in his scent.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Yes. Maybe."

"I might like to join you," offers Jaskier.

"Of course!" says Raph. He smiles, and the atmosphere in the room becomes palpably lighter.

Aleks proceeds to share some gossip about various townspeople he encounters through work. Raph talks about some of their other neighbors: an old alpha woman who lives alone and may be part fae. A middle-aged married couple, an alpha and a beta, with a large, friendly dog. A beta man who works as a tutor and his teenage beta daughter who teaches the town's children to read and write.

"She teaches math too," Rosie says proudly. "And history. She says I'm one of her best students."

"Well, that is certainly very impressive, Rosie," says Jaskier, smiling. "I always loved history, myself."

"Me too!" says Rosie excitedly. "I like learning about battles most of all."

"Mm, battles, yes," says Jaskier. "Those make the best songs." And then, glancing up at Raph, "I can't wait to meet all of them. Perhaps you could introduce us?"

"Oh, sure!" Raph says merrily. "Any time! Just say the word!"

They finish up their dinner, and Raph brings out dessert— seven small honey cakes. Rian is in awe of the sweetness, and it occurs to Geralt that he probably hasn't tasted pastries before. They'll have to remedy that.

When the cakes have been devoured, the girls beg to go play.

Aleks nods. "Rian," he says then, "would you like to go play too?"

Rian sticks his thumb in his mouth and gives a very tiny nod.

Rosie lights up, and Aleks smiles encouragingly. "Alright," he says. "Girls, why don't you go show Rian your toys and see what the three of you can play together?"

Rosie grabs Amelia's arm and drags her over to Rian, grinning broadly. "Come on, Rian!" she says. "Let's go play! We have lots of toys!" And she scampers off with Amelia toward what Geralt assumes is the children's bedroom. The girls pause at the door, waiting.

"Are you sure you want to go?" Jaskier asks Rian gently.

Rian takes a deep breath. "Yeah," he says. "I wanna." And he jumps out of his chair and hurries after the girls without a backward glance.

"Well," says Raph, as the children enter the bedroom together. "Can I interest anyone in a drink? Another honey cake? Anything?"

"I'm full, myself," says Aleks.

"Me too," says Jaskier. "But thank you so much."

Geralt nods.

A few moments pass in silence. Danny is asleep on Aleks's lap.

Then Jaskier leans in and whispers to Geralt, "I want to tell them."

"Are you sure?"

Jaskier nods.

Aleks glances between them, frowning. "Everything alright?" he asks.

"Yeah," says Jaskier. "Yeah. But, um. Well, you've probably gathered that I've got sort of a— a shady past? And I think it's best if I'm upfront with you about it. If that's alright."

"Oh!" says Raph. "If— if it's something you're comfortable telling us, then of course." He looks over at Aleks, who nods.

"Okay," Jaskier says, taking a deep breath and lowering his eyes. Geralt places a hand on his shoulder for reassurance, and Jaskier stares into his lap, fidgeting with his fingers. For a long time, he's silent. Then he clears his throat. "Um. Right. So— so Geralt isn't Rian's biological father," he says quietly. "Um." He swallows. "See, my parents kicked me out when I presented. I was thirteen. And that's when I got pregnant with Rian, when I was thirteen and homeless, and, uh. When I finally found a place to stay, to give birth, it was at this shitty little inn. And the innkeeper... he made me work as a prostitute, if I wanted to stay. My customers were betas and alphas, but— but the alphas were always the worst." He glances up momentarily, then looks back down. "And the innkeeper wasn't a treat either."

"He was a sadistic fucking monster, is what he was," snarls Geralt.

Jaskier smiles weakly. "Right. Pretty much," he says. "Anyway, Rian and I lived there for four years."

"Oh, darlin'," breathes Raph. "I am so sorry. That's— that's just awful."

Jaskier nods. "It was," he says. "It was miserable. But then I met Geralt. And Geralt, uh. He killed the innkeeper. And he didn't care that I already had one kid and was pregnant with another, he just... he saved us. He brought us to this town, and paid for our food and clothes and a room at an inn. Bethelda's inn, do you know her?"

Aleks nods. Raph is just staring at Jaskier, unblinking, an anguished expression on his face.

"And eventually Geralt adopted Rian and the baby as his own," Jaskier goes on. "Rian calls him Daddy. We're bonded. We have our own cottage. It's— everything's okay now. We're okay now." He smiles briefly, still fidgeting.

"Jaskier," Raph whispers. And he stands up, circles around the table, and leans down to hug Jaskier. "No one should have to suffer like that," he says. "And you're so young, too; I can't even imagine. And for you to come over here and have dinner with an alpha, gods. You are so brave. So brave."

They hug for a long while, and when Raph eventually lets go, he pulls over a chair and takes a seat beside Jaskier.

Then Aleks speaks up from across the table. "How much was Rian exposed to?" he asks.

"Aleks," says Raph, but Jaskier is already answering.

"Too much," he says miserably. "Far, far, too much, fuck."

Immediately, Geralt puts his hand back on Jaskier's shoulder and shoots Aleks an accusatory glance. "Jaskier protected him from almost everything," he says in a firm voice. "Rian was beaten sometimes by the innkeeper. He often went hungry. And he knew that Jaskier was hurt by men at night, but none of the details. That's all."

"Forgive me," Aleks says. "I never doubted that Jaskier shielded him from the worst of it. I just... wondered."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt.

Jaskier lifts his face. "You should know," he says, his eyes on Aleks, "that Rian might... say things. To your children, about his upbringing. Things that they might find confusing or worrying. He still doesn't quite understand that— that what he experienced wasn't normal."

"We understand," says Aleks. "And Rosie and Amelia will understand."

Raph nods earnestly. "Of course," he says. "Don't worry about that."

"Thanks," says Jaskier. "Thank you. You— you took this better than I expected."

Aleks frowns. "What did you expect?"

"I don't know," mumbles Jaskier, glancing away. "Maybe that you'd call me a whore and tell me to get out of your house?"

"Oh, darlin'," says Raph. "No. No, you're always welcome here. We're so glad to have met you and your family." He pauses. "Even if your mate is rather intimidating," he adds, winking at Geralt.

"Hmm," hums Geralt.

Jaskier laughs softly, squeezing Geralt's hand. "You know," he says. "I think maybe I will have another honey cake."

"You got it," says Raph, and he brings one for each of them.

And the cake is good, and sweet. But when Jaskier glances over at Geralt as he licks the honey off his fingers, his smile is even sweeter.

Chapter Text

When they eventually leave Aleks and Raph's cottage, the sun is long set, and it's past Rian's bedtime. He falls asleep on Geralt's shoulder while they walk back to their own home, right in the middle of describing the enthralling game of make-believe he'd played with Rosie and Amelia. Rian, apparently, had been a king who lived under the sea.

"I'm glad he had fun," says Jaskier softly, as Rian nods off. "I was worried. I always worry about him and new experiences. But he's doing so well."

"Mm," Geralt agrees.

"He's shy at first but he warms up fast," Jaskier muses. Then he elbows Geralt in the ribs. "Just like someone else I know," he says coyly.

"Hmm?"

"I mean you," says Jaskier, laughing. "You made plenty of perfectly acceptable dinnertime conversation; it was most impressive."

"Oh," Geralt says. "Hmm."

"I'm very proud."

Geralt rolls his eyes, but there's a smile tugging at his lips.

***

They reach their cottage and head inside.

"Papa?" Rian murmurs, as Jaskier tucks him into his little bed.

"Yes, my dear?"

"Rosie said we can play again next time I visit."

"And she's right."

"Let's visit soon," says Rian.

"We will," Jaskier assures him. He kisses Rian's forehead. "Goodnight, honey."

"Goodnight, Papa," says Rian, yawning. "Goodnight, Daddy."

"Goodnight," Geralt tells him.

Rian sighs happily, and in a few more moments, he's asleep.

***

"So," says Jaskier, once they've changed into their nightclothes and gotten into bed. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"Hm. No, it wasn't," admits Geralt.

"I mean, up until we explained the situation, I think Aleks was pretty sure you were secretly abusive or something. Gods, when Rian said he was malnourished…" Jaskier makes a noise between a sigh and a chuckle. "But we sorted that out, didn't we?"

"Hmm. Yes."

"And they took it in stride. Quite admirable, really. Raph is a gem."

"Mm."

"I think they're both good people."

"So do I."

They lie there in silence for a moment, their hands touching lightly, their breathing in sync. Then Jaskier prods Geralt's shoulder. "I didn't know you wanted to learn to cook," he says, grinning. "Is that a recently-developed aspiration?"

"Hm. Relatively recent."

"Pancakes are my favorite," says Jaskier. "So you'll want to master those first."

"I'll make sure to do that," Geralt deadpans.

"Good," says Jaskier.

And they kiss.

***

The next morning, Geralt wakes up to the smell of pain. He sits up hurriedly, alarmed, but sees no immediate threat. Jaskier is blinking up at him sleepily.

But he's in pain. He must be.

"Jas. What's wrong?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier frowns. "Nothing," he says. He seems genuinely confused.

"But you're hurt," says Geralt.

"How did you—" Jaskier starts, then breaks off. "Ah, right. Witcher senses. Of course." There's a brief pause. "I mean, I'm not, like, injured or anything," he says at last. "I suppose my back hurts a bit more than usual this morning, but that's all."

"More than usual?"

"Well, yes," shrugs Jaskier. "I mean, what do you expect? I'm six months pregnant; it always hurts these days."

Geralt is horrified. "You've never mentioned it," he says, though of course that doesn't matter. He should have noticed, should have asked.

Jaskier looks almost amused. "Why would I have mentioned it?" he asks. "No point in complaining. It's not a big deal."

"You're in pain," growls Geralt. "That's a very big deal." He pauses for a moment, then adds, more gently, "Jaskier. Let me help. Let me rub your back."

"Well, I won't say no to a back rub," Jaskier laughs. "But I promise, the pain is nothing unbearable."

"Hmm," says Geralt. Perhaps not. But if it's bad enough for Geralt to smell, Jaskier must be markedly uncomfortable, at least. "Roll over," he instructs. "So that your back is facing me."

Jaskier pulls off his shirt and does so. He glances at Geralt over his shoulder, smiling. "Are you an experienced masseur, Geralt?" he asks. "Have you been keeping your skills a secret from me all this time?"

"I haven't done it before," Geralt grunts, frowning in concentration. "But I'll figure it out." And sitting beside Jaskier in bed, he gets to work. He glides his hands down Jaskier's skin, drums his fingers against his shoulder blades.

"You need to tell me, in the future, whenever you're in pain," he says to Jaskier after a minute. "Or if there's anything I can do to help you. I may have my heightened senses but I— I can't read your mind."

"I know," Jaskier whispers, after a beat.

"Did you think I wouldn't care?"

"No! No, I just. It honestly just didn't occur to me to mention it."

Geralt huffs.

"I mean… look, when I was pregnant with Rian, back pain was just one minuscule tile contributing to the whole mosaic of suffering that was my life. Hunger, cold, injuries internal and external— need I enumerate further?"

"No," mutters Geralt.

"Right, so," says Jaskier. "Compared to that, a little back pain… it doesn't even register with me."

"I see," says Geralt. And he does. He barely blinks at most of the injuries he sustains on hunts, injuries that would doubtless incapacitate someone who was less used to pain. "But—" He struggles for a moment to articulate the horrible helplessness he feels at the idea of Jaskier suffering at all, even a little, and finds that words fail him. "I don't like when you are hurting," he settles on eventually, as he massages Jaskier's shoulders.

"I understand," says Jaskier gently. "I'll— I'll try to be more dramatic about it going forward, I swear."

"Hmm. Good." Geralt puts a bit more pressure on Jaskier's lower back, and Jaskier sighs in relief. Geralt keeps going, until Jaskier's breathing is even and his body is limp with relaxation.

"Is that better?" he asks at last.

"Mm," murmurs Jaskier. "Much. Thank you."

Geralt leans in and kisses his temple. "You're welcome."

Then he lies down so they're spooning, and reaches over Jaskier's side to put his hand on the baby bump.

It isn't long before he feels a flutter under Jaskier's skin.

"Ah, there they are," says Jaskier. "Good morning, little pup. You liked the back rub Daddy gave us, huh?"

There's another kick, and Geralt smiles. "I think they did," he says.

"Oh, I'm sure they did," laughs Jaskier. "They'll probably be born demanding massages."

Just then the door to Rian's bedroom flies open and Rian comes bounding into the room. He belly-flops onto the bed beside Jaskier. "I'm awake!" he exclaims. "Papa, I dreamed about eating a million billion honey cakes. And there were goats, and you and Daddy were there, and I was the king still like last night! And Daddy kept the castle and the goats and everyone safe from Bad Men and everyone was happy and I was the best king ever."

"Well. That certainly sounds like a stupendous dream, Rian," says Jaskier, ruffling Rian's hair.

The sun is streaming in through the buttercup curtains, warm and yellow and bright. And here in bed with his family— his mate and his little wolf and his little unborn pup— Geralt feels like the luckiest person alive.

Chapter Text

The evening after the dinner party, before Jaskier goes to perform at Bethelda's inn, Raph and Aleks stop by to see Roach. They bring their children, who immediately clamor to play with Rian, so Jaskier stays inside with them while the other three adults visit the stable.

"Oh, she's just lovely, isn't she?" breathes Raph. He gushes over her for a few minutes, touching her gently. Geralt smiles at the sight. Roach deserves it.

"Can I brush her?" Raph asks finally, hesitantly.

Geralt says yes, and he and Aleks hang back while Raph runs the brush reverently over Roach's coat, speaking softly to her all the while.

Geralt finds himself caught up in watching the scene, and is somewhat startled when Aleks turns to him and speaks.

"Geralt," he says, in a low voice.

"Hmm?"

"Did you really kill him?"

"Kill who?"

"The— the innkeeper," mutters Aleks.

Oh. "Of course I did," Geralt grunts. "He needed to die."

Aleks nods slowly. "Do you often kill, as a witcher?" he asks then.

"Monsters, yes. Humans, no."

"Only if they deserve it," says Aleks, seeming to understand.

"That's right."

There's a pause. "I'm quite a pacifist, but I think I would have killed him too," Aleks says at last, quietly. "The thought of him doing what he did to Jaskier..."

"Hmm," Geralt agrees. "I'd hope that anyone halfway proficient with a sword would have done it. My only regret is that I finished him off quickly. Didn't make him suffer."

Aleks nods again, apparently satisfied.

Raph finishes brushing Roach. He caresses her face, kisses her nose.

Then they head back inside the cottage.

***

The following week is a blur of more human interaction than Geralt has experienced in living memory.

They visit Raph what feels like every afternoon, and over the course of the next few days he introduces them to the rest of their neighbors. The old alpha woman and the couple with the dog are nice enough— Rian loves the dog. But they spend the longest with the beta man and his teenage daughter, Penny, whom Rian takes to right away. She offers to babysit whenever they need it, and to tutor Rian as soon as he's a bit older.

It's not unpleasant exactly, meeting people, but it is exhausting. It's almost a relief when Geralt hears of a monster plaguing a village a few leagues off, and leaves to take the contract.

***

But by the time he reaches the village, he finds that part of him misses the comfortable domesticity of their recently-established life together. He misses Jaskier and Rian, of course— he always does— but he also misses their cottage, and their neighbors, and the town itself.

He's very glad, five days later, when he finally gets back home, late at night.

Jaskier is still awake, and greets him at the door, wearing one of Geralt's black shirts.

And fuck, seeing it stretch over the swell of Jaskier's stomach— it does something to Geralt. He reaches out instinctively to touch the bump.

"That's my shirt," he says.

"Hello to you too," teases Jaskier. "I missed you too."

"Hmm," huffs Geralt. "Did you outgrow your other shirt?"

"No. I just wanted to wear yours." Jaskier smiles coquettishly, presses a kiss to Geralt's lips. "Why? Is that a problem, my dear witcher?"

"No," Geralt grunts. "Not a problem. Not at all." He leans down and kisses Jaskier's belly, and Jaskier grins.

"How did it go?" asks Geralt, as he straightens back up. "While I was gone?"

And suddenly Jaskier's expression grows solemn. "Fine," he says, rather unconvincingly.

Geralt frowns. "What happened?"

"Just, um, a teeny little panic attack," says Jaskier, with a shrug. He looks away. "I, uh. I was over at Raph and Aleks's house. The kids were playing. I had my lute. And then Aleks, uh, touched me. Just on the arm, just to compliment my singing. But I freaked the fuck out."

"Hmm," grumbles Geralt. He takes Jaskier in his arms, holds him close.

"It was fucking humiliating," Jaskier mutters.

"It wasn't your fault."

"Still humiliating." Jaskier rests his chin heavily on Geralt's shoulder. "I'd been able to keep it together before then because you'd always been right there, and he'd kept his distance. But gods, when I was alone— he just— he smells so much like an alpha."

"Hmm."

"I haven't seen him since," Jaskier goes on. "But Raph's been over to check on me every day. He says Aleks feels awful." Jaskier extricates himself from the hug and sits down wearily on one of the benches by the door. "Gods, what the fuck is wrong with me?"

"Nothing's wrong with you."

Jaskier laughs hollowly. "If there were nothing wrong with me, I reckon I'd be able to handle a friendly touch on the arm."

"Hm," grunts Geralt. "But he's an alpha. You were abused by alphas for five years. And— before, didn't you say that one of the bastards who used to hurt you had red hair like his?"

Jaskier nods glumly. "He used to piss on me," he mutters. "And he'd make me— um. He'd make me do things. Disgusting things."

Geralt frowns. Jaskier hadn't mentioned that particular detail before. It makes Geralt want to break something. Instead, he sits down beside Jaskier and takes his hand gently in his own. "May I scent you?" he asks.

Jaskier nods, and Geralt scents his wrist. It only takes a few moments before Jaskier slumps against him. "Thanks," he sighs. He interlocks his fingers with Geralt's. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize."

"I want to go visit them tomorrow," says Jaskier then, "after Aleks gets home from work."

"Hmm," Geralt hums. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure," Jaskier says. "I want to."

And Geralt is struck, for the millionth time, by how brave Jaskier is. Far braver than Geralt, that's for certain.

They're both silent for a while.

"Shit, I didn't even ask," murmurs Jaskier eventually. "How was your contract?"

"Fine. Uneventful," grunts Geralt. He squeezes Jaskier's hand. "I missed it here."

Jaskier smiles. "We missed you too."

"I think, perhaps next month," says Geralt, "I'll have saved enough coin to stop taking contracts for a while. Until the baby is a couple months old, at least."

"I'd like that," says Jaskier.

"Mm. Me too."

They sit there together for a few minutes longer. Then Geralt gets up, wipes the road dirt from his face and arms with a wet towel, changes his clothes while Jaskier looks away, and gets into bed.

Jaskier joins him, they nestle together comfortably, and before long, they're both asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, as soon as they finish breakfast, Jaskier says he wants to go visit Aleks. "Just to get it over with," he says. "And it's the weekend. He should be home."

Geralt agrees.

So they get dressed, get Rian dressed, and head over to Raph and Aleks's cottage.

The children are playing in the garden when they arrive, and Rian wiggles in Geralt's arms, eager to play too.

"Alright then, have fun, okay?" Jaskier tells him, ruffling his hair as Geralt sets him down. "Come inside if you need anything."

Rian nods, and scampers into the garden to join the girls.

Then Jaskier knocks on the cottage door.

After a few moments, Aleks answers, wearing a wet apron and obviously surprised to see them. "Jaskier," he breathes. "Hello. I— Raph is in town buying bread."

Jaskier smiles. "It's alright," he says. "You're the one I wanted to talk to, actually."

"Oh," says Aleks. "Oh, well. Come inside then. Sorry, I was just washing dishes; I— please come in."

So they enter the cottage, and Aleks invites them to sit down at the dining table. They do, and Aleks takes a seat across from them.

"Listen, I am so sorry," is the first thing he says. He says it while looking directly at Jaskier, as if Geralt isn't even there, which Geralt is glad about: He knows that there are some who would have apologized to Geralt instead, since Geralt is the alpha.

"It's fine," says Jaskier, with the forced cheeriness that he's unnervingly good at. "It wasn't your fault. And it's not as if— I mean, I obviously trust that you wouldn't hurt me, not intentionally. It's just. You're an alpha, and I know how alphas get around omegas sometimes, so..."

Aleks looks confused. "How they get...?" he repeats questioningly. Then there's a glint of realization in his eyes, and his face falls. "Jaskier," he says. "That's not how alphas are supposed to be. I'm sorry I startled you, yes— and I'll make sure not to touch you again— but more than that, I am so, so sorry that you've been treated like that's just how alphas are."

Jaskier frowns, but doesn't respond.

Aleks continues. "Obviously I can't speak for every alpha in the world, but... we're not so different, alphas and betas and omegas. Sure, we have our own physical traits, but at the end of the day, we're all just people."

At that, Jaskier glances briefly at Geralt, then back at Aleks. "Just people?" he repeats, sounding skeptical.

"Yes," Aleks says firmly. "And no one has any right to treat another person like they're lesser than them."

Jaskier shifts uncomfortably. "I— I know that," he murmurs. "It's just— a hell of a lot of people still do it, whether they've got any right to or not."

Geralt remembers what Jaskier told him once, months ago— that if there's one thing he learned on the streets, it's that people won't hesitate to mistreat someone they see as weaker than themselves. He thinks of how much of his life Jaskier has spent being the weak one, the vulnerable one, even aside from being an omega. He takes Jaskier's hand under the table, and Jaskier holds on tight.

"I won't deny that there are some awful, awful people in this world," Aleks allows. "It breaks my heart to know that you've had to meet so many of them. But the idea that every alpha in the world feels like they're born superior? It's just not right, Jaskier. Not at all."

"Perhaps... not every alpha. Not Geralt. And— and maybe not you," Jaskier says, lowering his eyes.

Aleks looks crestfallen. "Jaskier," he says softly. "We're the only decent alphas you've ever met? Since— since childhood?"

Jaskier nods, still staring into his lap. "The rest have all been assholes," he mutters. "Beginning with my father."

"I'm so sorry, Jaskier. You deserved so much better," Aleks says. "But it's not like that everywhere in the continent," he adds. "Not in this town, at least."

Jaskier says nothing.

"Look, you've got every right to be hesitant," Aleks tells him. "After what you've been through..." He trails off, sighs. "Just try to remember that things are different now. Your life is changing. You might find that in time, they way you see the world will change too."

***

"Do you think he's right?" Jaskier asks Geralt, when they're back in their own cottage. He pulls up a wooden chair and sits down in it wearily, resting his chin in his hands. "About not all alphas being awful?"

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I do, to an extent." He pauses. "You know the other witchers I've mentioned, the ones I spend winters with at Kaer Morhen?"

"Your brothers and... your father figure, right?"

"Yes," says Geralt. "They're all alphas. And they're all good men. Wouldn't take advantage of an omega, or anyone else."

Jaskier seems to consider this. "So perhaps there are five decent alphas on the continent," he says at last, with a weak smile.

"Jaskier," Geralt says gently. "There are others. I've met them."

"Who?"

"Well, I don't know their names, but just— an innkeeper here, a craftsman there. I once met a barkeep who talked my ear off for half the night about mistreatment of omegas."

"Do you think I should stop taking the scent suppressant potion, then?"

"Hmm?"

"If there are so many wonderful alphas in the world," says Jaskier, a hint of bitterness in his voice, "then do I not need to worry about smelling like a ripe, fuckable omega?"

"Hmm," Geralt grunts. "I wouldn't want you to stop taking it unless you felt comfortable. But— hmm. We are bonded now. So even without the suppressant, you'll smell claimed."

"I don't want to stop taking it yet," Jaskier says softly.

"Then don't."

Neither of them speaks for a while.

Then Jaskier says, "When he talked about how alphas and betas and omegas are all just people, I thought of you." He looks up. "About how you think you're some mutant monster, but you're not. You're just a person."

"Hmm."

"It never occurred to me that some people might see omegas like that too."

"I see omegas like that."

"I know, but. Other than you."

"Hmm," Geralt repeats.

"Some of my earliest memories are of my father sitting around with his alpha buddies, talking shit about omegas, comparing notes about the few omegas they'd actually met. Calling them names. Bragging about knotting them."

Geralt scowls. "Hmm."

"And at Szymon's inn... suffice it to say I didn't encounter a single person, alpha or beta, the entire time I was there, who viewed me as anything more than a piece of meat."

"I know. It's true that— that there are a lot of shithead alphas. And betas," Geralt adds. "The world is a prejudiced place. People are ignorant. And cruel."

"To witchers and omegas both," says Jaskier.

"Hmm. Yes." Geralt takes Jaskier's hand, pulls him to his feet, and folds his arms around him.

Jaskier melts into the embrace. "Perhaps... the next time we go out, we could go into an alpha's shop or something," he says, his voice muffled against Geralt's shoulder. "As an experiment."

"Hmm. Perhaps."

"You'll be right there with me."

"Yes."

"And Mikil is an alpha. Hanna seems to like him," Jaskier says, referring to their neighbors who have a dog. "Maybe he's alright too."

"Maybe he is."

"As long as he doesn't touch me."

"Mm."

"Only you get to touch me," says Jaskier, placing his hands on Geralt's chest and offering a small, coy smile.

And they kiss.

***

Three days later, when they take Rian out for dessert before heading over to Bethelda's inn, they find that the pastry shop is owned by an alpha.

Jaskier hesitates outside the door, gripping Geralt's hand. "He smells awful," he says softly.

"We don't have to go here," Geralt assures him. "There's that beta baker we've been to before, across town. He sells pastries too."

"No," says Jaskier, taking a deep breath. "No, I want to try this."

So they step into the shop, still holding hands. The alpha glances between them and smiles. "Welcome," he says brightly. "What can I get for you today?"

Rian wants a honey cake, Jaskier gets a slice of custard pie, and Geralt orders a berry tart.

They sit down at a table in the shop, and begin to eat.

"You alright?" Geralt asks Jaskier, who looks slightly nauseated as he chews on a bite of his pie.

"I'm just— the smell," whispers Jaskier, looking briefly toward the alpha behind the counter. "But I'm alright." He sounds like he means it.

"Hmm," says Geralt, satisfied, and they finish their desserts, listening to Rian ramble happily all the while. When they're done, they thank the alpha and leave the shop. Jaskier inhales deeply as soon as they're outside.

"How are you?" asks Geralt.

"I'm fine. It was fine. He wasn't an asshole, was he?" says Jaskier, glancing at Geralt.

"No, he wasn't."

And Jaskier nods thoughtfully. "I'm a bit... surprised, to be honest," he says. Then he smiles. "Surprised but glad."

"Hmm," says Geralt, lifting Rian into his arms. "Yes. So am I."

***

A week later, Geralt wakes up to the sweet, slightly feral scent of wildflowers and honey. It permeates the room, and for a moment he just lies there in bed, savoring it. Then he shakes Jaskier's shoulder very gently.

"Jas," he says. "You forgot to take your suppressant last night."

"Mmm," mumbles Jaskier, seemingly still half asleep. "Didn't forget. Not gonna take it anymore."

"You're not?"

"Nah." Jaskier yawns, and his eyes flutter open. "Or at least, I figured I'd try a few days without it."

Geralt blinks at him, momentarily at a loss for words. "I love you," he murmurs at last. "And I love your scent. More than anything."

Jaskier smiles shyly.

And Geralt leans in, buries his face in Jaskier's neck, and breathes.

Chapter Text

September draws to a close.

Geralt takes a few contracts, but when he's home, they spend their days with Raph and Aleks, cooking and baking and gardening while the children play. Mornings, Geralt gives Jaskier back rubs, and sometimes foot rubs too. Evenings, Jaskier performs at Bethelda's inn to thunderous applause. Afterward they have dinner with Bethelda and Sam.

One night, as they're getting ready to leave for the inn, Geralt notices that Jaskier has left his doublet unbuttoned, revealing his embroidered chemise.

"Hm. Do we need to visit to tailor again?" he asks, placing his hands on the swell of Jaskier's stomach.

"No," says Jaskier, his eyes large and blue. "Well, soon, probably. But not just yet."

"Then why..." Geralt frowns. "Your doublet," he mutters.

"Oh, that? I just thought I'd try wearing it open. Like I used to," Jaskier says with a shrug and an easy smile.

And Geralt remembers what Jaskier had told him once: that as a carefree child he'd always left his doublets unfastened, but after years of feeling vulnerable and exposed, he preferred to button up.

If he's decided he's ready to go back to wearing his doublets open...

"You're feeling more comfortable, then?" Geralt asks slowly.

Jaskier nods. "I suppose," he says. Then he frowns. "You don't mind, do you? I mean— do you think I look like a slut?"

"Hmm," Geralt grunts. "Of course not."

"Good," sighs Jaskier. "I wouldn't want you to— to disapprove." He fiddles absently with the hem of his shirt.

"Hmm," repeats Geralt. "I would never disapprove of something you desired to wear. Please wear what you want, whatever makes you happy."

Jaskier smiles a little. "You may live to regret telling me that," he says.

"Hmm," hums Geralt.

And Jaskier kisses him.

***

It's getting dark, and they're on their way home from Bethelda's inn, Rian trotting along between them, when Geralt hears something— a small, pained noise.

He glances around, and his eyes land on an animal curled up in the shadows of the alley they're passing. A cat.

"Jaskier," he says, coming to a halt. Jaskier and Rian stop too.

"What is it?" asks Jaskier.

"Did you hear that?"

"No, what?"

"That cat."

"Cat?" exclaims Rian.

"What cat?" asks Jaskier.

"The one down the alley, lying by the rubbish heap."

"Geralt, I'm not a witcher," says Jaskier, rolling his eyes. "I can't see in the dark."

Just then the cat mews again, a very soft, sad sound, which confirms Geralt's earlier suspicions. "Jaskier, I think it's injured," he murmurs.

Jaskier frowns at that, and turns to Rian. "You want to go pet a kitty?" he asks. "And see if maybe it's hurt?"

Rian nods eagerly.

"Let's go, then," says Jaskier. They take a few steps down the alley, then Jaskier pauses. "You coming?" he asks Geralt.

"Hmm. I'd better not," Geralt grunts. "Cats tend to... dislike me. They can smell the mutations."

"Oh," says Jaskier, pursing his lips. "Well. We'll report back, alright?"

Geralt nods, and watches as Jaskier and Rian head down the alley. Jaskier kneels down by the cat and holds out his hand, while Rian looks on. The cat stands up and limps toward him.

And then, suddenly, Jaskier scoops the cat up in his arms. It doesn't audibly protest at all.

"Geralt," Jaskier says breathlessly, hurrying out of the alley, with Rian skipping beside him. "She's pregnant. And she's so thin. And her paw's hurt, or her leg or something. We have to take her home."

Geralt scowls. "I told you, I don't get on well with cats," he says.

"But just look at her," says Jaskier, stepping closer, so the cat is practically touching Geralt's arm.

And before he can move away, she licks him.

"Hmm," he says.

She licks him again.

"Perhaps... perhaps this cat is an anomaly," Geralt allows.

Tentatively, he reaches out to stroke her head with one finger, then two. She leans into the touch.

"See?" says Jaskier. "She likes you."

"I wanna pet her too!" cries Rian.

So Geralt lifts him up and holds him out so he can pet the cat in Jaskier's arms.

"Nice and gentle," Jaskier cautions. "Good job. Oh, Rian, she loves it; she's purring! Do you feel that? How she's vibrating?"

Rian giggles and nods.

Then Jaskier glances up at Geralt. "Please can we take care of her?" he asks.

Geralt gives a noncommittal hum.

"Please?" Jaskier repeats. "Geralt, she's pregnant. It's fucking miserable to be homeless and pregnant."

"Hmm," says Geralt. He scratches behind the cat's ear, and meets Jaskier's eyes. "Alright."

***

Once they reach their cottage, an examination of the cat reveals her to be very dirty, very bony, and very smelly. And as Jaskier noticed earlier, she seems to have an injured leg. She nuzzles against Geralt as they look her over, meowing pitifully.

"I'm sorry you're in pain," he tells her, scratching under her chin. Then, more softly, "Why do you like me?" he asks.

"It's because she knows you're nice," says Rian sagely.

"Hmm," Geralt mutters. The cat meows again.

"What's she saying?" asks Rian.

"I think she's saying she's hungry," Geralt murmurs, stroking her back, where every bone of her spine is easy to feel.

She makes a soft trilling noise, as if to confirm that she is, indeed, hungry.

So they feed her chicken and ham, which she gobbles down, and Jaskier sets up a nest of blankets for her to sleep in. She curls up contentedly, and blinks up at them with gentle green eyes.

"She must be so grateful," says Jaskier quietly. "Or at least. I know I would be, if I were her."

"Hmm," Geralt says. He kisses Jaskier's shoulder. Then, unable to resist, he kneels down and gives the cat a few more hesitant pets. She rubs against his hand, and he smiles.

***

The next morning, Jaskier bathes the cat gently, revealing her color to be a very light brown. Then they take her to the town healer, an alpha, who splints and bandages her leg.

"Should heal up in about two months," the healer says when he's done. "Just try to keep her from jumping."

Jaskier nods. "And can you tell when she's due to give birth?" he asks. Geralt marvels at how far he's come in just a few weeks— here he is, talking to an unfamiliar alpha, and the smell of his fear is so faint that Geralt doesn't think he'd be able to detect it at all if he weren't a witcher.

"Well, I'm no expert on cats," says the healer. "But maybe a couple of weeks? She looks pretty far along." He glances at Jaskier's belly, as if tempted to draw some comparison, but to Geralt's relief, he seems to think better of it— just wishes them luck and sends them on their way.

***

"Kitty baby is coming," says Rian, as they head back to their cottage. Jaskier is carrying the cat, and Rian is walking hand-in-hand with Geralt.

"Babies, actually," Jaskier tells him, adjusting his grip on the squirming cat in his arms. "Cats give birth to more than one baby at once."

"How many?"

"I don't know, I think it depends." Jaskier smiles. "I guess we'll see, won't we?"

"Yes," says Rian. "I like the kitty. She looks like a walnut."

"A walnut?" laughs Jaskier. "How so?"

"Because her belly is round like a walnut," Rian says earnestly. "And her hairs are colored like a walnut."

"Well, I suppose you're right," says Jaskier, grinning. "Let's name her Walnut then."

Rian nods. "That's a good name," he proclaims.

And together, the three of them and Walnut arrive back home.

Chapter Text

A week passes, and October arrives.

Geralt completes his last contract for the foreseeable future. Walnut gains weight. Rian has his first sleepover with Rosie and Amelia.

And that night, Jaskier wakes up screaming.

"Jaskier," says Geralt, immediately sitting up in bed. "What is it?"

"Nightmare," Jaskier gasps.

"Would you like me to scent you?"

Jaskier nods fervently, so Geralt scents his wrist.

"Thanks," Jaskier says, as his breathing begins to slow. "It was— it was about my first time," he adds after a moment. He shuts his eyes, and inhales deeply.

Geralt continues to scent him. "Your first time with an alpha?"

Jaskier nods. "It— it was the day after I left home. I was walking, not knowing where I was going, just walking down the dirt road leading away from Lettenhove. And I was in heat, my first heat ever, and it hurt, Geralt. It hurt so much. Finally it got so bad I couldn't even walk anymore, so I just sort of curled up by the side of the road and lay there in misery for a while. And then..." He pauses, and draws a shuddering breath. "I heard a horse. And I sat up and waved to the rider, thinking— Fuck, I was so fucking naïve. I thought he might give me a ride to the next town." He shakes his head ruefully. "Well, obviously that didn't happen. He— he was an alpha, right, so he went into rut at the smell of my heat. And he raped me. Knotted me and everything. And I just lay there crying, and screaming, and begging him to stop, but of course he didn't. Then I kind of... zoned out, till finally he pulled up his fucking trousers and rode away." He glances at Geralt. "For all I know, he could be the one who got me pregnant," he says. "I always wonder."

"Hmm," Geralt grunts. He lifts his inner wrist to Jaskier's neck, and scents him there too.

Jaskier closes his eyes again. "Thank you," he says. And then: "What was— what was your first time?" he asks hesitantly, snuggling closer.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "It was at Kaer Morhen, with one of the other trainees. I was perhaps fourteen."

"What was his name?"

"Orvell," says Geralt. He frowns. He still remembers watching them burn the boy's corpse after the final Trial.

"And was it... good?" Jaskier asks.

"Well, neither of us knew what we were doing," Geralt says. "But it was consensual, if that's what you mean."

Jaskier nods vaguely. "And what about... your other times?"

"Hm. Also consensual."

There's a moment of silence. Then Geralt speaks again. "Though, if you want to hear about my past sexual experiences," he says quietly, "you should know— and perhaps I should have told you this earlier— that, uh." He clears his throat. "I did pay for most of them."

Jaskier frowns, and sits up. "You paid... what, like coin?"

"Yes."

"They were prostitutes?" whispers Jaskier, and Geralt can smell panic beginning to waft off of him. "But— you said— you said you don't fuck people who don't want it."

"I don't, Jaskier."

"But you've fucked prostitutes?" Jaskier asks hoarsely, frantically. "You've—"

"Jaskier, look at me."

Jaskier turns his face toward Geralt. His breathing is shallow, his eyes wide, his brow furrowed. He looks like he might cry.

"None of my sexual partners have been unwilling."

"Yeah? And how the fuck could you possibly know that?"

"First, because I asked them. And second, because I would have been able to smell it if they'd been frightened, or uncomfortable, or anxious."

Jaskier's frown deepens.

"Jas, believe me, I've smelled those things on potential sexual partners, and I didn't fuck those people."

"You swear?"

"I swear."

"Like give me an example."

"Well... Hmm. The first time I ever visited a brothel, I was young. I'd just started out on the Path. And I'd never slept with a woman before."

"So you went to a brothel," Jaskier says flatly.

"Yes," says Geralt. He sighs. "Jaskier, witchers don't get casually bedded. Romance, flirtation... these are foreign things to us. If we want sex, we pay for it."

He pauses, to see if Jaskier will say anything, but Jaskier just lowers his eyes. So Geralt goes on. "The establishment wasn't far from Kaer Morhen. I remember it had a bright red door. And I stepped inside the main room to find it full of beautiful women, flirting with johns, reclining on sofas, serving drinks. The air smelled of arousal and comfort and warmth. But then they noticed me," he says darkly. "Realized who I was. What I was. And right away, I could smell their terror. Now, the madam came up to me, and she smelled frightened too, but she asked me if any of the girls caught my fancy."

"And what did you say?"

"I said I remembered I had somewhere to be, and I left."

Jaskier nods slowly.

"I swore off brothels for a few years after that," Geralt continues. "Satisfied myself with my own hand when I was on the road. But then I met a beta girl in a tavern. She asked if, uh, if all my hair was as white as the stuff on my head. Said she'd like to see for herself."

Jaskier smiles, a minuscule smile. "Smooth," he says.

"Hmm. Well, it got me into her bed, anyway. And she was a whore, of course, but she was very willing. We fucked, and I paid her, and both of us went away happy."

"You're sure she wasn't just... I mean, maybe the tavern owner ordered her to bed you or something." He pauses, then adds more quietly, "That's why I went over to you. Because Szymon told me to."

"And you smelled like fear, Jaskier."

Jaskier blushes. "You're sure that she didn't?"

"I'm quite sure."

Jaskier bites his lip. Then, very slowly, he nods. "So then what? You started visiting brothels again?" he guesses.

"That's right. And sometimes none of the whores were interested in fucking a witcher. In those cases I left. But other times, there'd be one or two who'd approach me. Those were the ones I'd choose."

"And they didn't smell... afraid? Or nervous, or anything?"

"No, they didn't," Geralt says, then hesitates. "There... there was one time, when an omega girl waltzed up to me, told me her price, and I accepted. She was very beautiful. Red lips, blonde hair. Smelled like fresh roses and self-assurance. We went up to her room, got undressed. And she took one look at me, at my scars, and her scent changed. Suddenly she smelled, uh. Frightened. Uncertain. Her smile didn't leave her face, not for a moment, but I knew she was no longer interested."

"What did you do?"

"I told her what I told you, that I don't fuck people who don't want it. I let her keep her pay, of course. And I told the bawd I'd realized the town I was heading for was farther than I'd known, and that I had to leave right away if I wanted to be there by the next afternoon. Then I left."

"Do you think they beat her?" whispers Jaskier.

"No. I don't."

Jaskier frowns slightly. "Szymon would have beaten me," he says. "Doesn't matter what excuse you'd given him. He would have beaten me anyway."

"Szymon was a fucking monster."

Jaskier nods. "I know." He stares down at his fingers, laced together over the swell of his stomach. "It's just hard for me to imagine a prostitute who isn't constantly starved and beaten and raped."

"Hmm," murmurs Geralt. "Well. I swear to you, there are plenty who aren't. There are plenty who sell sex solely of their own volition, and enjoy it, or see it as nothing more than a job like any other. And there are plenty of reputable brothels, where the workers are treated well and the customers are vetted."

"And those are the brothels you went to?"

Geralt nods.

"And you're sure the whores weren't... forced, or something?"

"As sure as I can reasonably be. I always asked."

Jaskier scoots a few inches closer. "Alright," he says quietly. "I believe you."

Geralt places a hand on top of Jaskier's interlocked fingers, and Jaskier glances over at him, then looks away.

"After all," he says, "I know you got turned on, the night we met, when I was kissing you. And you could've easily fucked me. But you didn't."

"Hmm."

"So I reckon... I reckon you wouldn't do it to anyone else either. Not if they didn't want it."

"I wouldn't. And I haven't."

Jaskier frowns slightly. "Since meeting me," he says, "have you ever..."

"No," says Geralt. "I haven't visited a brothel since we met."

"Or slept with anyone?"

"Or slept with anyone," Geralt confirms.

"I don't know why I think I have any right to feel possessive of you; it's not like I've ever let you fuck me," mutters Jaskier. "But—"

"Jas," says Geralt. "It's alright. I understand."

Jaskier smiles weakly, then rests his head on Geralt's shoulder. "Maybe someday," he says.

And Geralt's heart flips over. It's the first time Jaskier has ever even hinted at the possibility of something sexual ever happening between them.

"I've never gotten a handjob before," Jaskier goes on softly. "Or a blowjob. I think it might be... something I'd like to try, eventually." He shrugs. "If you— if you were interested," he adds.

"Jaskier, I— Hmm. I would. Be interested," Geralt tells him stiffly, careful not to sound too eager. "I would always be happy to indulge any desires you have. Sexual or otherwise."

Jaskier nods, then sighs. "I don't think I'd be able to— to do it back," he says. "Not yet."

"Hm. Of course. I would never require that of you. You need never pleasure another soul as long as you live, not if you don't want to."

"Thanks," murmurs Jaskier. "And thanks for telling me about the, uh, prostitute thing."

"Hmm."

"I'll probably ask more questions, later."

Geralt nods. "I'll answer any you have."

"Thanks. I— I love you," says Jaskier then. And he smiles, a small but earnest smile.

"I love you too," says Geralt. It's, what, the third time he's told Jaskier so? And the words still feel strange in his mouth, but he means them, with all his heart.

Jaskier cups Geralt's cheek and kisses him, and when they break apart, he's still smiling. "Come on," Jaskier says then. "Let's feed Walnut. And Rian will be back soon; we'd better get breakfast ready too."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "How about pancakes?"

"Ooh, my favorite; how ever did you know?" teases Jaskier.

"You told me."

"You remembered?"

"Yes."

And Jaskier laughs at that, and kisses him again.

His scent blooms around Geralt as they kiss, and it's no longer sour, no longer tinged with panic— just clear and bright and full of trust.

And Geralt thinks he could happily smell it forever.

Chapter Text

The pancakes turn out very well.

Rian, who's apparently never had pancakes before, excitedly points out their features as he eats them. "They're round," he says. "They're flat. They're soft. They're sweet."

"They are indeed," laughs Jaskier. "We'll have to thank Raph for the recipe. I think they're even better than my mum's."

Rian sits up straighter. "Your mama?" he asks. "But she was mean."

"Well. Yeah," Jaskier says. "But she made good pancakes." He ruffles Rian's hair.

Rian looks thoughtful. "I still hate her," he says at last. "She made you go away from home. If she was here I'd tell her she's a meanie. And your daddy."

"I'd tell them the same," Jaskier says. "And I'd tell them that they're bigoted assholes who never loved me but I've made a beautiful life and a beautiful family for myself in spite of them."

He says it confidently, almost fiercely. Geralt's heart swells with mingled love and pride, and he squeezes Jaskier's knee. Jaskier gives him a small smile.

"Beautiful family," Rian repeats dreamily. "Like me and Daddy and the baby? And Walnut?" he asks.

"That's exactly it," says Jaskier.

"And Walnut's babies in her belly?"

"Them too."

Rian nods, then pouts. "When will they come?" he asks.

"Pretty soon," Jaskier tells him, which is what he's been saying for the past few days, ever since Walnut started becoming more visibly uncomfortable.

They've opened one door of the wardrobe in the bedroom and lined the bottom with blankets for her to give birth on. She seems to like it— she's been sleeping there, and visits it often throughout the day— but so far no kittens have arrived.

"But I want them now," whines Rian, stabbing at his pancake.

"I know," Jaskier says soothingly. "But we have to be patient."

***

As it turns out though, they don't have to be patient for much longer, because Walnut goes into labor that afternoon.

She herds the three of them into the bedroom, then disappears into the wardrobe.

"My childhood cats always wanted to be by themselves when they gave birth," Jaskier muses. "But I suppose Walnut wants company."

So they sit nearby as Walnut lies in the shadows of the wardrobe, grooming herself, her belly contracting every so often.

"Why's she moving weird?" asks Rian.

"It's the kittens getting ready to come out," Jaskier tells him.

"Is she okay?"

"She's fine," says Jaskier. "Aren't you, Walnut?" he adds gently. "Yes, you are. Good girl. What a good girl."

She lies there for a while, just breathing heavily. Then the yowling starts, and before long, the first kitten emerges.

"It's slimy!" whispers Rian. "How come?"

"'Cause it just came out," Jaskier says. "You were slimy too, when you came out of me. But then I cleaned you up. And she'll clean her kitten too, watch."

And sure enough, Walnut begins to fastidiously lick the baby clean. In the end, it's very wet and very tiny, nestled against its mother's fur. Geralt thinks it would fit in the palm of his hand three times over.

"Can I touch?" asks Rian.

"No," says Jaskier. "Not yet."

"Still be patient?"

"That's right."

So they wait.

***

Over the next hour, the birthing process repeats several times.

"What a good girl," Jaskier coos constantly. "You know just what to do, don't you? What a good mum. Keep going. That's right."

Another kitten plops out, then another, and another, and finally, there are four newborn kittens nursing at Walnut's side: one orange, one solid white, and the other two mottled white and brown.

"They're so teeny," says Rian. "Teeny weeny." He looks up at Jaskier. "Now can I touch?"

"Okay," Jaskier says. "But be very gentle."

Rian moves forward and reaches into the wardrobe. With one small finger, he strokes the orange kitten once on the back, then the white one, then the brownish ones. Walnut doesn't seem to mind in the least.

"I love them," Rian says solemnly. He pets Walnut's head. "I love your babies, Walnut," he tells her, and then, in a whisper, "My Papa's gonna have a baby too and they'll be slimy like yours were. But then he'll clean them off." He glances at Jaskier. "Will you lick them?"

Jaskier and Geralt exchange amused glances.

"No," says Jaskier. "I'll just wipe them with nice, soft cloths."

"And then I can hold them?"

"That's right."

"But when can I hold the kittens?"

"Let's wait a week," says Jaskier. "Just gentle touches for now, okay?"

Rian nods, and strokes the kittens a few more times. Then he sits back on his heels, apparently satisfied.

"Alright," says Jaskier. "Let's leave her alone with her babies now. Do you want to nap in the big bed today?"

Rian nods eagerly, and they stand up and head for the door.

"Goodbye, Walnut," Rian calls from the doorway, cupping his hands by his mouth. "Goodbye, baby kitties. I love you!"

"Goodbye, Rian," says Jaskier, in an exaggeratedly high-pitched voice. "We love you too!"

Rian laughs.

***

As Rian takes his nap, Geralt cleans up the kitchen, and Jaskier sets to work writing down a song about Walnut and her progeny.

Geralt has just finished sweeping the floor when Jaskier lets out a soft cry.

"Jaskier," Geralt says, rushing to his side. "What is it?"

"Nothing," says Jaskier, with one hand on his stomach. "Just a contraction."

"A contraction?" Geralt asks sharply. His chest tightens. "Are you in labor?"

"No, no," Jaskier says. "Don't worry. It's just... I don't know. It feels different from labor. Like a... a practice contraction, or something. I got them the last few months I was pregnant with Rian too." He shrugs. "Anyway, it's over now," he adds. "It wasn't painful."

"But why?" Geralt asks, frowning. "What does it mean?"

"I don't know," says Jaskier. "But I assume it's just something that happens."

"It doesn't seem right."

"Melitele's tits, Geralt," says Jaskier, with what sounds like fond exasperation. "I'm telling you, I've been through it before. And Rian was fine, right?"

"We should see a midwife," Geralt grunts, unconvinced. "I don't want to take any chances."

And Jaskier sighs dramatically, and rolls his eyes, but agrees.

***

So later that afternoon, after Rian wakes up from his nap, they drop him off with Raph and Aleks and head into town.

The midwife is a young beta woman with dark skin and curly hair, and her eyes light up at the sight of Geralt.

"You must be the witcher I'd heard moved into this town," she says. Then she turns to Jaskier. "And you must be his bard." Her eyes travel to his neck. "And mate, I see."

"That's us," says Jaskier cheerfully.

"How can I help you today?" the midwife asks.

"I, um," Jaskier says. He glances at Geralt. "I had a contraction earlier. Just one. But I'm sure I'm not in labor, because it felt different, and this happened with my last pregnancy too, so..."

"It doesn't mean something's wrong, does it?" Geralt cuts in.

The midwife takes a step closer. "May I feel?" she asks, indicating Jaskier's belly.

Jaskier nods.

The midwife places her hands on the bump. "The babe is active," she observes.

Jaskier smiles. "They are."

"What are you, seven, eight months along?"

"Seven. I, uh. Got pregnant in March," says Jaskier.

The midwife nods. "Irregular contractions between now and the end of your pregnancy are to be expected," she tells them. "They're perfectly normal. It's called false labor. The difference is that unlike true labor, these contractions are random. They don't get stronger or closer together. They're uncomfortable, but not painful."

"And they're not dangerous?" asks Geralt.

"Not at all. Stay hydrated. Rest often. That can help. But don't be concerned if you still feel them."

Geralt breathes a sigh of relief.

The midwife smiles. "You worry about your mate," she says quietly. "That's normal, especially for an alpha. But you needn't worry about his pregnancy. Everything seems to be in order."

Jaskier takes Geralt's hand in his own. "See?" he says.

"Hmm," says Geralt. And he nods, his chest still thrumming with relief, and squeezes Jaskier's hand.

***

By that evening, Rian has named all four kittens.

"That's Pumpkin," he says, pointing to the orange one. "And that's Bunny." He points to the one that's mostly brown. "That's Song." This is the other brownish one. "And that's Cheese," Rian concludes, indicating the white one. "Because Raph's goats' cheese is white," he adds.

"And pumpkins are orange, and bunnies are brown," says Jaskier, smiling. "What about Song?"

"Song makes tiny mews that sound like singing," Rian explains. "Are they boys or girls?" he asks then.

"We'll check when they're a little bigger," Jaskier says.

"Okay," nods Rian. "And what about your baby?"

"We won't know till they're born, remember?"

"Oh yeah." Rian stands up, and touches Jaskier's belly. "I can't wait till they're born."

"Me neither," says Jaskier.

Then Rian lets out a contented little sigh. "Beautiful family," he says happily, repeating Jaskier's words from this morning. He kisses Jaskier's stomach. "I think we're the most beautiful family ever, huh?"

Jaskier just nods.

And Geralt feels tears prick his eyes, and wholeheartedly agrees.

Chapter Text

"I'm glad we could give her a safe place to give birth," says Jaskier quietly that night, as he and Geralt lie together in bed.

"Walnut?"

Jaskier nods. "I can't imagine giving birth outside."

"She's a cat," Geralt points out. "She probably would have been alright."

But Jaskier doesn't seem to be listening. "I was so scared I'd have to, when I was pregnant with Rian," he goes on. "I visited so many towns, so many inns, trying to find someone to take me in. No one wanted me. By the time I got to Szymon's, I had almost given up. I was so fucking relieved when he gave me a room."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. He hates to hear about this, hates to think of Jaskier when he was young and pregnant and desperate, but he knows he owes it to him to listen.

"It wasn't much," says Jaskier. "I mean, you saw it: no fireplace even, just a bed and a chair. But at that point I was just glad to have someplace out of the snow to give birth. Even the bed was more than I'd expected, to be honest."

"Hmm." Geralt slips an arm beneath Jaskier's shoulders. "I— I imagine it felt good to have somewhere to nest," he says, which is the only positive thing he can think to say about Jaskier's barren room at Szymon's inn.

Jaskier shrugs. "It's a bit difficult to nest with nothing but a bedsheet and a couple of towels," he mumbles. "But yes, I— I suppose it was better than nothing."

"Fuck," says Geralt, scowling. Everyone knows how important nesting is to omegas during heat and during labor. He can't fathom providing a pregnant omega with only a bedsheet and some fucking towels to nest with. "Was it the same during your heats?" he asks darkly.

"My nests were consistently pathetic, yes," Jaskier says, with a sad little smile.

"Fuck," Geralt repeats. "Never again, Jaskier. I fucked an omega during her heat once whose nest was three feet high on every side. That's the sort of nest you'll have from here on out."

Jaskier glances over at him. "Was she a whore?" he asks softly.

"Yes."

"But still they gave her stuff to nest with?"

Geralt nods. "As I told you. Most brothels are nothing like that hellhole inn you lived at."

Jaskier looks contemplative, and cuddles closer to Geralt under the covers. "Have you fucked many omegas in heat?" he asks.

"Only two," says Geralt.

"Were they both women?"

"Yes."

"What about omegas in general, how many?"

"Four or five."

"Betas?"

"Lost count."

"Alphas?"

"Hmm. Other witchers, mostly. Plus two whores."

"There are alpha whores?"

"There are."

Jaskier nods slowly. "And what was it like, with the omegas in heat?"

"Hmm," says Geralt. "I would say it was... pleasurable, for everyone involved."

"Did you go into rut?"

"I did."

"But you didn't turn... violent, did you?"

"No, Jaskier. I retained full control of my faculties."

Jaskier nods again. "I always wondered if ruts made monsters out of good people," he says softly. "But I suppose the alphas who fucked me during my heats were naturally assholes, and the rut just made it worse."

"Hmm. Vesemir told us that going into rut is a bit like getting drunk. It doesn't change who you are, just lowers inhibitions and increases strength and arousal."

"A bad combination if you're already a jackass," mutters Jaskier.

Geralt nods grimly, but says nothing. He hates to imagine how horribly Jaskier must have suffered at the hands of alphas in rut, how badly they must have injured him.

"Do you ever think about, uh, my next heat?" Jaskier asks then. His voice is soft against Geralt's neck, and his breath is warm.

"Hmm. Not much," Geralt says honestly. "I— it's not my place."

"Well, it sort of is," Jaskier murmurs. "I mean, you are my mate."

"But I'd leave, if you asked," says Geralt. "If you wanted to spend it alone."

"I don't think I would," Jaskier replies, in a small voice. "I think I'd want you to be there."

Geralt nods slowly. The thought of going into rut at the scent of Jaskier's heat and being unable to act on his urges is not a very appealing one, but of course he would do it for Jaskier. He would do anything for Jaskier.

"It won't be till spring," Jaskier whispers, ghosting a finger along Geralt's jawline. "That's six months away. I think I might be ready then."

"Ready?"

Jaskier nods. "You know. For you to— to knot me?" He pauses. "Maybe. And only if you agreed."

Geralt just gapes at him in the dim light. He imagines, for a moment, Jaskier in heat, lying surrounded by a nest of soft blankets. He imagines lying down beside him, kissing him, touching him, being able to give him all the love and pleasure he deserves. "Jaskier," he says at last. He clears his throat. "If you wanted that, of course I would agree. Of course."

"I don't know if I will," says Jaskier quickly. "I can't promise. Please don't—"

"I know. I know, Jas," Geralt tells him. "Don't worry."

Jaskier nods. "I hope I want it, though," he whispers.

So does Geralt, but he keeps that to himself, just kisses Jaskier's forehead and pulls him closer.

Jaskier sighs, melting into Geralt's arms, his stomach pressed against Geralt's abdomen. They lie there in silence, until suddenly the baby kicks.

"Did you feel that?"

"I did," says Geralt. "Hello, little pup."

Jaskier rests a hand on his belly as the baby kicks again.

"Are you excited to join the world?" he asks them. "Are you looking forward to being born in a nice, cozy nest? Maybe with sides three feet high like that one your daddy saw once? Your big brother was born on a stinky bare mattress because that was all I had, but—" Jaskier's voice breaks, and almost immediately, his cheeks feel wet against the sleeve of Geralt's shirt.

"Are you alright?" Geralt asks.

Jaskier nods. "It just— it makes me so damn sad that Rian had such a shitty start in life," he says, sniffling. "And I'm so grateful that— that he doesn't have to suffer like that anymore. And that the baby won't ever have to suffer like that."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Me too."

For a while neither of them speak.

"When I build my nest," Jaskier whispers finally, "I'm gonna fill it chock full of your clothes, so it'll smell just like you."

"Like what, death?" Geralt grunts.

"What? No. Like— I've told you. It's good. It's like a campfire and adventure and heroics and destiny and onion." He smiles. "You always smell like onion."

"Hmm."

"And you smell like home," Jaskier adds. "Like the only loving home I've ever had." And he kisses Geralt on the lips, snuggles against his shoulder, and drifts off to sleep.

But Geralt lies awake for a long time, his body coursing with emotions he's spent decades trying to repress, feelings he never even learned the names of.

All he knows, really, is that he loves Jaskier and Rian and the baby and the life they've built together. And maybe, he thinks— maybe that's enough.

Chapter Text

The next week passes in a blur of kittens and cooking and a few odd jobs that Geralt picks up around town.

And one morning, as Geralt is rubbing Jaskier's back, Jaskier suggests that they pay a visit to the tailor in the neighboring town.

"My chemise is getting a bit tight," he explains. "It's not uncomfortable yet, but..."

"Hmm. Of course," says Geralt right away. "And we can buy a few reams of fabric for your future nest too," he adds.

Jaskier twists his head around and grins.

***

That afternoon, they drop Rian off to play with Rosie and Amelia, then walk over to the next town. They're making their way through the marketplace when a man— an alpha, tall and blonde— grabs Jaskier by the arm.

"Dandelion!" he exclaims. "Is that you?"

Dandelion, thinks Geralt. This man knows Jaskier from Szymon's inn. Immediately, he stiffens, growls, and places one protective hand on Jaskier's shoulder, while the other goes to the steel sword on his back.

The alpha shoots him a glance, but seems unperturbed. "You remember me, don't you?" he goes on to Jaskier. "Good old Hyrick? I was just heading back to Sowborg on business and planning to pay you a visit, but looks like fate had other ideas. Gods, look at you, all bred up and everything." And then he grabs Jaskier's belly, just fucking puts his hands on it like he owns it.

Jaskier doesn't move, doesn't speak, but he's trembling, and the smell of his terror is sharp in the air.

Geralt steps closer and lets out another threatening growl, ready to give the alpha a piece of his mind, when suddenly the man turns to him. "You must be his new pimp," he says, winking. "And a very possessive one at that, eh? But tell me, Witcher, you must have a price. How much for a turn with him?"

"You shut the fuck up," hisses Geralt, drawing his sword. "And stop touching him and my child."

At that, the alpha laughs, his hands still on Jaskier's stomach. "Your child? Bullshit. Everyone knows witchers are sterile; has he really got you thinking you're the father? Fuck, it's more likely that I'm the father than you; I'm the one who fucked him for three days straight during his spring heat— isn't that right, Dandelion?"

And that's when Geralt punches him, right in the side of his head, being sure to let the pommel of his sword make contact with the man's stupid skull. Then he hits him again in the temple, and again under the jaw, and finally the alpha collapses in an unconscious heap on the cobblestone road. Geralt gives his crumpled form a sharp kick, then sheaths his sword and pulls Jaskier away from his body: down the road, out of the bustling market, up a side street.

And as soon as they're sufficiently far away, he takes Jaskier in his arms. He still reeks of fear, but now he smells of something else too— humiliation. Shame.

"It's alright," Geralt tells him. "He can't hurt you. You're safe."

"He's right though," says Jaskier, sounding haunted. "He really could be the baby's father; he did fuck me during my last heat; and— and even if he isn't, it's someone else, someone just wandering around with a— a piece of himself inside of me, and—" Jaskier is sobbing now, his fingers digging into Geralt's back as he goes on frantically: "And whoever it is could come back and claim the baby, and take them away—"

"Jaskier, he couldn't do that. No one could do that. I would never fucking let them."

But Jaskier just keeps sobbing, gasping for air, choking on his tears.

"Jaskier," says Geralt gruffly, taking a step back, his hands firm on Jaskier's shoulders, "listen to me, alright?"

Jaskier hiccups, his eyes wide and terrified.

"I am the baby's father, and Rian's father. I am their only alpha father. The bastards who impregnated you can go fuck themselves, do you hear me?" Geralt snarls, unable to keep his voice down. "You are my mate, and your children are my children, and anyone who thinks otherwise has me to answer to."

There's a moment of silence where Jaskier just stares at him, and Geralt worries he spoke too forcefully, too possessively.

But then Jaskier nods, and the smell of his fear and shame begins to fade. "Thank you," he whispers. "Thank you, Geralt." He smiles weakly, wipes at his eyes. "I never thought it'd be comforting to have an alpha raise his voice at me, but... fuck if I don't feel better now."

"Hmm," mutters Geralt.

Jaskier steps forward and wraps his arms around Geralt again, his chin resting on Geralt's left shoulder, his round stomach pressed between them.

"Can we get the shirt another time?" Jaskier asks.

"Mm. Of course."

"Good," says Jaskier. "Then let's go home."

So they do.

***

"I didn't have a panic attack," Jaskier observes as they walk back toward their own town. "I mean, I was fucking terrified, but I didn't start hyperventilating like usual."

"Hmm."

"I think I was partly just in shock, but still."

Geralt nods. "I'm proud of you," he says stiffly.

"Thank you," sighs Jaskier. "Fuck," he mutters then. "Of all the past customers to meet, of course it would be fucking Hyrick." He glances at Geralt. "He was one of the worst. He'd stop by a couple times a year. And he was always like that, acting all charming and easygoing, and then he'd get me in my room and turn into a fucking sadist. Probably half the bloodstains on my mattress were because of him."

Geralt utters a low growl. He should've kicked the fucker a few more times.

"But it was a long time ago," says Jaskier then. "I'm fine now."

"Seven months isn't a very long time," says Geralt.

"But I'm fine," Jaskier repeats.

***

Except he isn't. Not entirely.

Once they arrive back at their cottage, it becomes clear that Jaskier is jumpier than usual, more on edge. He fidgets constantly. He gets into bed with his lute and strums at it absently: dark, somber chords. He doesn't smell scared, but he certainly smells unhappy.

Geralt joins him in bed and scents his neck from time to time, while Jaskier just continues to fiddle with the strings.

Eventually Rian arrives home, and immediately, he seems to sense that something is wrong.

"What happened?" he asks, crawling into bed between them. "Papa?"

Jaskier smiles. "Nothing happened."

"But how come you're in a bad mood?"

"I'm not in a bad mood," says Jaskier.

"Yes you are," says Rian.

And Jaskier starts to cry.

Rian sticks his thumb in his mouth and glances at Geralt in a panic. Geralt sighs, placing one hand on Jaskier's arm and the other on Rian's knee.

"Your papa and I visited a nearby town and met a Bad Man there," he says quietly.

Rian's eyes widen.

"He didn't hurt your Papa at all," Geralt hastens to add. "He didn't hurt either of us, don't worry. And I knocked him out. But he said some things that upset your Papa a little."

"What things?"

"Just... Hm. Things."

"Oh." Rian snuggles closer to Jaskier. "It's okay, Papa. I'm here," he says.

Geralt looks away, unable to help but think of all the times when Rian doubtless had to comfort Jaskier in the past, when they were all each other had.

Jaskier sniffs, sets aside his lute, and pulls Rian onto his lap. Rian rests his head on the baby bump, still sucking his thumb, and Jaskier continues to cry.

"Geralt," he says at last, through tears. "Scent me again."

Geralt scents him, first on the wrist, then on the neck, and finally, gradually, Jaskier stops sobbing. He draws a shaky breath. "I thought I was fine," he mutters.

"You had a traumatic afternoon," Geralt tells him. "You don't need to be fine."

Jaskier nods, and presses closer to Geralt, with Rian still nestled in his lap.

They sit there like that for a long, long while.

***

Geralt serves Jaskier dinner in bed. He rubs Jaskier's feet as Jaskier strums at the lute some more. Later, he takes it upon himself to get Rian dressed in his nightclothes and tuck him in.

"Is Papa okay?" Rian asks quietly, after Geralt pulls up his blanket and kisses his forehead.

"Hmm. Yes. It just takes a while to feel better after scary things happen, like meeting a Bad Man."

"Will he have a Bad Day tomorrow?"

"I don't know," Geralt says gently. "But it's alright if he does."

"'Cause Szymon isn't here so he won't get in trouble."

"Right."

"I wish he would feel happy though."

"Me too, little wolf."

Rian nods, then sighs. "Goodnight, Daddy," he says.

"Goodnight, Rian." Geralt kisses his head again, squeezes his little hand, and returns to the main room, where Jaskier is curled up in bed.

"How are you?" he asks.

Jaskier shrugs.

Geralt lies down beside him, his stomach to Jaskier's back, and slings an arm around his chest.

He nuzzles his nose against the nape of Jaskier's neck and breathes in the sweet, familiar scent of wildflowers, only slightly tinged with the bitterness of his current emotions.

"I swear I'm not upset about the baby's paternity," says Jaskier softly.

"Hmm," hums Geralt, stroking his hair.

"It's more like... I'm upset that my past is still relevant. Most days I'm sort of able to forget about it. But then this happens and suddenly I realize that it's not gone, just buried. And not even buried very deeply."

Geralt doesn't know what to say, how to assure Jaskier that that's to be expected, that he was abused every fucking day for years up until mere months ago, and of course that trauma isn't gone yet.

"Healing takes time," he murmurs at last.

"Well, I've always been impatient," says Jaskier.

"Hmm."

"But I know that— that you're right," Jaskier adds. "And I'm better now than I was. I used to be scared all the time. Everything reminded me of Szymon's inn. I didn't trust anyone. And now I— well, I'm only scared sometimes, right? And only some things remind me of Szymon. And I trust, like, at least four or five people on the entire continent. Which isn't much," he says, and Geralt thinks he hears a smile in his voice, "but hey, it's better than zero."

"It certainly is. You've made great progress."

Jaskier nods.

There's a minute of silence.

"I'll get nightmares tonight," Jaskier mumbles then. "I can feel it."

"I'll be right here."

"I know," says Jaskier. "I know."

And soon, his breathing slows, and he's asleep.

***

He does get nightmares, many of them, waking every hour or so shaking or crying or begging for mercy.

Geralt holds him, scents him, speaks to him softly, tells him he's safe.

Around dawn, Jaskier wakes Geralt for the seventh or eighth time.

"Geralt," he says.

Geralt sits up.

"I had a— a good dream. Sort of."

"What was it?"

"I was— okay, well, I was at Szymon's, getting fucked by Hyrick, and it— uh, let's just say it hurt like hell. But then you showed up. Just burst through the door and knocked him out with the hilt of your sword, like you did yesterday, and you pulled him off me, and held me. And suddenly nothing hurt anymore."

"Hmm."

"It's like maybe my subconscious is finally realizing I'm safe," Jaskier says softly. He leans against Geralt, takes a deep breath. "The sun's up," he observes.

"Mm."

"I think today will be a good day."

"I hope so," grunts Geralt.

And they kiss.

***

And as they make breakfast together— boiled eggs and fruit and bread— Geralt thinks about how maybe Jaskier's past will never be gone, only buried deeper and deeper.

He thinks about how maybe his paternity will always be questioned by some. Perhaps by many.

But that's alright. Because most of all, he thinks about how fucking grateful he is to have been given these unexpected gifts: Love. Family. Jaskier.

Jaskier has given Geralt his heart, fragile though it may be, and Geralt would go to the ends of the world and back again to protect it. He hopes Jaskier knows that. He wishes he could tell him that.

"Jaskier," he says gruffly. "I love you." Because that's about the closest he can come to putting his feelings into words.

And Jaskier glances up in the middle of chopping an apple, and smiles widely. "Oh, darling," he says. "I love you too."

And Geralt thinks that perhaps Jaskier understands.

Chapter Text

The kittens' eyes open and their ears unfold. Rian is fascinated by them, and sometimes Jaskier lets him hold them for a couple minutes, one at a time, with close supervision. Walnut watches too, but she seems to trust them completely with her babies.

She's a sweet cat. She loves being held and petted, especially by Geralt, as Jaskier is eager to point out. And it seems to be true. When she's not nesting with her kittens or cuddling on Jaskier's pregnant belly, she's usually in Geralt's lap.

"She must not have a sense of smell," Geralt grunts, scratching her under her chin. "I can't think why she wouldn't mind me, otherwise."

Jaskier frowns. "Maybe so. Maybe she'll have trouble hunting on her own, even after her leg heals." He kneels down and strokes at her cheek. "But that's alright," he tells her. "We'll take care of you and your kittens for as long as you need."

Walnut lets out a soft, grateful trill, and rubs against his hand.

***

That week, they walk to the neighboring town again, and thankfully this time they encounter no rapist alphas. The kind beta tailor is delighted to see them, and fits Jaskier with a very flowy chemise.

"There. That should fit you till the end of your pregnancy," he tells them. He smiles. "Have you chosen any names yet?"

"Not yet," says Jaskier. "I have a few ideas. But nothing concrete."

"Well, good luck," the tailor says. "And do bring the baby to visit someday. I'd love to make them a wee special outfit, free of charge."

They thank him profusely, and then Jaskier picks out several bolts of fabric to be used in his future nest: lush satins and soft linens, pastels and jewel-tones, most of them patterned with flowers.

The total cost is… well, not negligible, but worth it. After all, Jaskier deserves the largest, softest, most beautiful nest that ever was.

***

Another couple weeks pass, and the kittens are old enough now that they can tell that Bunny and Pumpkin are boys, while Song and Cheese are girls. They're walking and playing, purring and grooming, still small but growing bigger every day. Cheese and Bunny love Rian to bits, and Pumpkin favors Jaskier, but Song seems to view Geralt as her second mother. She's still the loudest of the four, and whenever she's awake, she meows for Geralt's attention. Geralt finds himself quite smitten, and indulges her every cry.

***

One afternoon, Raph shows up at their cottage with a linen bag full of baby clothes. "I'm not sure if you've started stocking up yet," he says. "But we have all these clothes from the girls and Danny; I figured they'd be useful to you! And we have a crib too; a nice wooden one; we'd be happy to give that to you as well."

Jaskier pulls out a tiny white tunic from the bag, and immediately starts to cry. Geralt puts a hand on his back.

Raph leans forward. "Oh, darlin'," he murmurs. "What's the matter?"

"Rian never had clothes as a baby," Jaskier chokes out. "Just a diaper, for two years, even in winter. When he finally got a shirt it was because a— a customer left it behind accidentally."

"Oh gods, that's awful," says Raph. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay," Jaskier says, wiping his eyes. "I'm just— I'm relieved that this baby will be warm and safe and— and these clothes are so soft—"

Raph hugs him.

"Thank you," says Jaskier.

"You're very welcome," says Raph. "Things will be different this time."

"I know," Jaskier whispers, hugging Raph back. "I know. I'm so fucking glad."

***

That evening, Raph and Aleks bring over the crib. It's rather a fine crib, Geralt thinks to himself, far nicer than he'd expected.

Rian is amazed. "What's that?" he asks, as Raph and Aleks haul it inside the cottage and set it down by the bed in the main room.

"That's where the baby will sleep," Geralt tells him.

"Not under the bed?"

"No," says Geralt firmly. "Definitely not."

"Oh," Rian says. "'Cause there's no bad men anymore?"

"Right."

Rian trails his fingers over the smooth wood of the crib, and sticks his hand through the slats to touch the mattress. "It's soft," he declares. "The baby will like it."

"I'm sure they will," says Jaskier. "I'm sure they'll love it." He turns to Raph and Aleks. "Thank you," he adds.

Raph and Aleks beam.

***

Over the next few days, Geralt and Jaskier stop by several shops in town to buy other items for the baby: rattles, toys, blankets, diaper cloths.

"I only had eight cloths for Rian's diapers— just rags that I'd scrounged up, but they worked okay," says Jaskier quietly as he sorts through their purchases and puts them away in the chest of drawers by the bed. "I had to wash them every morning before dawn, only a few each day to give them time to dry, and whenever Szymon caught me he'd beat me. Never understood why. I doubt he would have preferred Rian to shit on the floor."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt, scowling. "I cannot fucking imagine having to raise a baby in that place."

"Well. It wasn't easy. But it was better than the streets." Jaskier shrugs. "Anyway, it'll certainly be a new experience this time around," he says cheerfully. "With the clothes and proper diapers and toys and a crib and everything."

"Hmm."

"And there's no one I'd rather experience it with than you," Jaskier goes on, smiling softly.

Geralt just smiles back, a lump in his throat, and nods.

***

At the beginning of November, Jaskier— with some encouragement from Geralt and Bethelda— decides to stop performing at the inn until after the baby arrives.

Which, as Rian never hesitates to remind them, will be in a month.

Geralt helps Jaskier whenever he can, even when it makes Jaskier roll his eyes.

"I was scrubbing tables at Szymon's up till the day Rian was born," he says, as Geralt guides him over to bed after dinner.

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "But you shouldn't have had to. You need your rest."

"I'm fine," Jaskier laughs. "Though I will admit, it's rather nice to be treated like royalty."

And over the next couple weeks, Jaskier complains less and less about the coddling, and more and more about heartburn and swollen feet and back pains. Geralt can tell it's getting more exhausting for him to walk, more uncomfortable for him to sleep.

"I want to start nesting," Jaskier says softly one morning in mid-November. "It doesn't have to be today, but sometime soon."

Geralt nods quickly. "Of course," he says. "Whenever you want."

And a few hours later, after dropping Rian off at Bethelda's inn for a play date with Sam, Geralt takes a wheelbarrow into town, visits a seamstress and a bedmaker, and buys as many blankets and pillows and scraps of cloth as he can reasonably transport home.

Jaskier is napping when he arrives back at the cottage. Quietly, he brings in the bedding and piles it high on the floor. Then he wakes up Jaskier.

His eyes blink open. "Geralt?"

"I, uh... brought you something," says Geralt, pointing at the pile.

Jaskier's mouth drops open. "For my nest?" he asks.

Geralt nods.

"Geralt, you didn't— we already have so many blankets from Bethelda—"

"Well, I decided you needed more," says Geralt.

Jaskier doesn't respond, just keeps staring at all the bedding, and suddenly his lower lip begins to tremble.

Geralt climbs into bed beside him. "Do you want to start now?" he prompts gently.

Jaskier nods, swallows, and glances at Geralt. "Can you help though?" he asks. "I've never seen a proper nest before. My mum was a beta, so she didn't make them, and..."

"I'd be honored," Geralt tells him, tucking a lock of Jaskier's hair behind his ear.

Jaskier smiles.

And together, they get out of bed, and set to work.

Chapter Text

The first thing they do is move their mattress to a corner of the room, to serve as a base for the nest. Then they pile the blankets and pillows and fabric around it on all sides— at least three feet high, perhaps four, Geralt estimates. Finally they bring over a couple extra chairs from the dining table and drape a blanket over them, providing a kind of roof.

"I'll get some of my clothes," Geralt grunts, walking over to his saddle bags and rummaging around until he's found a few old shirts. When he gets back to the nest, there are tears streaming down Jaskier's face.

"Jas, what's wrong?"

Jaskier shakes his head. "It's just so lovely," he whispers. Then he wipes his wet cheeks and looks over at Geralt. "Come on," he says, taking the shirts from Geralt's hands. "Let's go inside."

"But— it's your nest, not mine," says Geralt.

"Don't be ridiculous," scoffs Jaskier, with a wave of his hand. "What's mine is yours, my dear."

"But nests are—"

"Yes, yes, nests are sacred places and alphas are supposed to stay out of them. But you're my mate, and I want you with me," Jaskier says.

When Geralt opens his mouth to question him further, Jaskier claps a hand over it. "I will not accept any further arguments from you, Witcher," he says firmly, his brow furrowed but his eyes soft.

And with that, he crawls into the nest and curls up on the mattress, snug against the pillows, Geralt's shirts clutched to his chest.

"Hmm," hums Geralt, still hesitant.

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "Come on," he says. "Seriously. I absolutely implore you, alright?"

And at last, Geralt joins him in the nest.

***

It's very soft and spacious inside, and the blanket overhead keeps out the harsh afternoon light.

Jaskier scoots closer, rests his head on Geralt's broad shoulder. "Fuck," he says, laughing wetly. "I'm crying again."

"You alright?"

"Yeah, I'm just... just imagining giving birth here, all safe and secure, with you by my side, talking me through it..."

"You want me there for it?" asks Geralt abruptly.

Jaskier lifts his face to look at him. "Are you joking?"

"Hmm."

"Geralt, of course I want you there." He kisses Geralt's jaw. "You're the only one I want there."

"What about a midwife?"

Jaskier shakes his head.

"But I— I won't be much help," Geralt says, frowning. "I've never witnessed a birth before."

"You'll provide moral support," Jaskier tells him. "You'll scent me, and encourage me, and tell me how fantastic I'm doing..." He smiles.

"But—"

"Geralt," says Jaskier. "I gave birth to Rian at fourteen years old with nothing to guide me but instinct, and I did a splendid job of it, if I do say so myself. I think I can handle the pushing-out-the-baby part, alright? I just... I don't want to be alone this time."

"Hmm," Geralt says. "Then I'll be there." He nods, and kisses Jaskier gently. Jaskier kisses him back.

And then something else occurs to Geralt. "Are you sure you'll feel comfortable being, ah... unclothed, in front of me, for the birth?" he asks.

Jaskier hesitates, then nods slowly. "Yes," he says. "I mean, it's not as though you haven't seen my dick before."

Geralt frowns. "That was—"

"I know, that was because I thought you wanted to fuck me, but... but this will be different. I'll be having a baby, for one thing. And I trust you now, for another," he adds.

"Hmm," says Geralt. His chest feels warm.

There's a moment of silence.

"And what about Rian?" Geralt asks then. "Will he be there?"

"No," Jaskier says immediately. "I think it would scare him. All the blood and screaming and whatnot, you know."

"Mm," says Geralt. "Will he stay with Raph and Aleks then?"

"That's what I figured, yeah."

"And what if— Hmm." Geralt clears his throat. "Gods forbid, what if something goes wrong?" he asks quietly.

"Then we'll send Raph or Aleks or Penny for the midwife," says Jaskier shrugging. "But Geralt."

"What?"

"Nothing will go wrong."

Geralt nods, reassured by his confidence, and they lie there quietly for a few minutes, Jaskier's head on Geralt's chest and Geralt's hands on Jaskier's belly.

Then Jaskier sighs. "Melitele's tits, it's so soon," he says softly. "Just two or three weeks, can you believe it?"

"No," Geralt says truthfully.

"It's strange," Jaskier goes on. "I remember the day back in March when I realized I was pregnant. And never in my wildest dreams did I think that maybe I'd end up actually giving birth to the baby."

"Hmm."

"I could always smell the pregnancy a few days after conception, but Szymon would wait until he or a customer could smell it too before he bought me the abortion potion. He didn't want to waste his money in case I miscarried on my own." Jaskier sighs, fiddling with the buttons of Geralt's shirt. "That's what happened with my second pregnancy after Rian," he says. "Szymon always hoped it'd happen again. Sometimes he'd beat me in the stomach in an effort to bring it about."

Geralt scowls, grits his teeth.

"Anyway," Jaskier continues, "the month between getting pregnant and getting the abortion was always awful. I tried so hard not to care. But it was impossible." He glances over at Geralt. "Because I loved them," he whispers. "The babies."

"Mm," says Geralt, his heart constricting painfully.

"Sometimes I feel guilty that they all had to die but this one gets to live," Jaskier continues. "I mean, obviously I love this baby to no end and I'm so glad I got to keep them. And I'm elated that I'll be able to meet them and raise them and everything." He sighs. "But I loved the others too, you know? All twelve of them."

"It wasn't your fault, what happened," grunts Geralt. "You needn't feel guilty."

"I know," says Jaskier. "But I do."

"Hmm." Geralt strokes his cheek.

"I try to tell myself that... that if you'd come a few days later, this baby probably would've been aborted too." Jaskier draws a shaky breath. "So I just try to be grateful that they weren't."

Geralt nods. He doesn't know what to say.

"Because we can't change the past, right?" Jaskier offers, taking Geralt's hand.

"No," says Geralt. But fuck if he doesn't wish he could.

For a long while, neither of them speaks.

"You should go pick up Rian," Jaskier says eventually. "It's getting late."

"Mm."

"And warn him about the nest before you get here, alright? He's never seen a proper one. I don't want his brain to explode on us." Jaskier smiles.

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "I will."

He lies there a while longer, nestled beside Jaskier, just breathing in his scent.

But at long last he kisses him goodbye, ducks out of the nest, and sets off for Bethelda's inn.

***

A half hour later, he's heading back to the cottage, hand-in-hand with Rian.

"Rian, do you remember your papa nesting during his heats?" he asks as they walk.

"Yeah," says Rian, glancing up quizzically. "He always scrunched up the sheets and cuddled with some towels. He said it made him feel more better. And I let him use my blanket too, the one with holes that he gave me for my birthday when I turned three."

"Mm," says Geralt, frowning. "That was very kind of you to share."

Rian nods.

"But did you know," Geralt goes on, "that an omega's nest is supposed to be much bigger and softer than your papa's were? With lots of pillows and blankets and nice-smelling things?"

Rian frowns. "Papa never had that stuff," he says softly. "Only one pillow and one blanket." He holds up one little finger for emphasis. "And two towels, but they were dirty and stinky like Bad Men."

"Hmm," sighs Geralt. "Back at Szymon's inn, yes, that was true. But now... guess what."

"What?"

"Now Papa has all the blankets and pillows he needs," Geralt says. "And today, he and I built a big, soft nest for him, like what every omega deserves."

Rian's eyes widen. "How big?"

"Very big. You'll see when we get home."

"And no holes in the blankets?"

"No."

"And no stinky towels?"

"Definitely not."

Rian grins, and tugs at Geralt's hand. "Let's go, Daddy!" he says. "I wanna see it!"

Geralt smiles down at him, and allows himself to be dragged back to the cottage as fast as Rian's little legs will travel.

***

When they arrive, Rian gasps at the sight of the nest. Then he dives into the opening and snuggles up beside Jaskier.

"Papa," he breathes. "It's like a castle made out of blankets!"

"You're right, it is," says Jaskier.

"I can stand up in it, even," Rian says, jumping to his feet and reaching up to touch the blanket that stretches overhead.

Jaskier laughs. "You sure can," he says. And then: "Geralt!" he calls. "What are you doing just standing out there?"

So Geralt crawls into the nest too, and lies down on the mattress next to Jaskier. Rian flops down between the two of them.

"Are you gonna have a heat now?" he asks Jaskier.

"No, not for a while," Jaskier says. "This nest is for when the baby comes. Because omegas like to give birth in nests."

"Did you have me in a nest?"

Jaskier strokes at Rian's curls. "No," he says. "I didn't have anything to make one with."

"Oh." Rian frowns. "So were you sad?"

"I was, before you came out. I was sad and scared. But you know what? Once I had you in my arms, I wasn't sad anymore. I was so happy."

"Because you loved me so much, right?"

"That's right."

Rian wiggles joyfully. "I love you so much too," he says, and Jaskier kisses his head. "But this time you won't be sad before the baby comes out?" Rian asks then. "Because of your castle nest?"

Jaskier nods. "Because of my nest, and also because I won't be all by myself."

"'Cause Daddy will be there?"

"Right."

"And me?"

"Not you," says Jaskier gently. "It's yucky to watch someone give birth, and a bit scary."

"But I watched Walnut do it."

"That's true. But it's different when it's your papa."

"Oh."

"Like remember how it was always scary to see me in heat?"

Rian nods, his eyes large.

"It'll be sort of like that when I give birth," Jaskier says. "You'll have much more fun playing with Rosie and Amelia, I promise."

"Oh."

"And then as soon as the baby is out, you can come right back over and see them and hold them, okay? How does that sound?"

Rian considers for a moment. "Good," he says at last.

"Then it's a plan." Jaskier ruffles Rian's hair, and Rian moves closer to him.

"Papa?" he asks.

"Yes, my love?"

"Can I sleep in here tonight?"

"In the nest?"

"Yeah. 'Cause it's cozy."

Jaskier smiles. "Just for tonight, okay?" he says. "But yes. I think that's a splendid idea."

***

The next morning, when Geralt wakes up beside his mate and son, with Song the kitten tangled in his hair and Walnut curled on his chest, he blinks in the morning light and wonders if it's all just a very blessed dream.

But no, he thinks. It's his life.

And he smiles, and kisses Jaskier awake.

Chapter Text

"I want to visit the midwife again," Geralt murmurs to Jaskier one morning, about a week later, as they lie together in Jaskier's nest.

Jaskier scoffs. "I don't," he says. "I can't imagine walking more than a few steps right now."

"You don't need to come," Geralt assures him. "But I just. Hmm."

"What?"

"I feel helpless when I think of you giving birth," Geralt says. He feels terrified, to be honest, though he doesn't want to admit it out loud.

A smile plays at Jaskier's lips. "Well, you sort of will be helpless," he says. "I'm the one with the baby inside me."

"Not— I know," grunts Geralt. "But I want to help you to whatever extent that I can."

"Geralt," sighs Jaskier, "how many times do I have to remind you, I've done it before, completely alone, and it was fine."

"Hmm. I know. But that's not— not how it should be," Geralt tells him. "You deserve a mate who can provide assistance. Who knows what to expect. Who can talk you through it."

For a moment, Jaskier just looks at him, a curious expression on his face. "You're a worry-wart," he says at last, fondly.

"I'm an alpha," mutters Geralt. "It's in my nature, to worry about my mate." He puts a hand on Jaskier's belly. "And about my little pup," he adds.

And finally, Jaskier nods. "Alright," he says softly. "You can visit the midwife." He smiles. "Your magnanimous omega will allow it."

***

So that afternoon, while Rian is napping and Jaskier is resting in the nest, Geralt heads into town and enters the midwife's clinic.

She's behind a counter, sorting small glass vials, and she looks up when Geralt steps inside.

"Uh. Hello," says Geralt stiffly. "I'm Geralt."

"Palome," says the woman, extending her hand.

Geralt shakes it. "I, uh. I visited you with my mate a few weeks ago about his false contractions," he says then.

"I remember."

Geralt nods. "Right. And now the time for birth is getting near, and he wants to give birth with just me present, no midwife." He pauses briefly, apologetically, but the woman just nods. "He's had a baby before and, uh. He I sn't worried," Geralt adds.

"But you are."

Yes, thinks Geralt. "I just want to know what to expect, and everything I can do to help," he says aloud.

The midwife, Palome, nods again. "Sit down," she says, gesturing to a chair. Geralt sits dutifully, and the woman takes a seat too, across from him.

"I believe that the best attendants for birth are whoever the birthing parent wants to be there. It seems that for your mate, that's you," she says.

Geralt nods. He knows that. And he feels honored that Jaskier would trust him as his sole companion for the birth of their child. "I just. Hmm. I don't want anything to go wrong," he says.

"Of course," says Palome. "But you must understand that birth is natural. Assuming there are no complications, his body will know what to do."

"And what if there are complications?" asks Geralt, frowning deeply.

"If he labors actively for more than eight hours, call for me," Palome says, "and I will assist. Any time, day or night."

"Eight hours?"

The midwife looks amused. "It can be a long process," she says. "Will this be your first experience with being present for a birth?"

"Yes," Geralt grunts.

"I see. So it's understandable that you would be nervous. But I'll walk you through the steps, alright?"

"Yes. I would, uh. Appreciate that."

Palome smiles. "It will start with contractions, similar to the false ones he's been experiencing from time to time, but they will be more regular and last longer. At first, they'll occur every fifteen or twenty minutes, and last for perhaps thirty seconds. Bleeding is expected, and his water may break. Do you know what that means?"

"I've heard if it," mutters Geralt.

"Before they are born, a baby is surrounded by fluid inside a sac. When the parent's water breaks, it's really the sac which breaks, releasing the fluid. It may come out all at once or as a trickle. It's completely normal."

Geralt nods.

"Now. While he's having these mild contractions, he can move, walk, change positions, stretch— anything that feels right. As for you... keep him comfortable during this time. Give him lots of water. Distract him, try to keep him relaxed. You said your mate has given birth once before?"

Geralt nods. "But I wasn't, uh. I didn't—"

The midwife places a hand on his knee. "You needn't explain," she says. "I only ask because if this were his first pregnancy, this initial stage of labor could last for multiple days. But since this is his second, it should only last about half a day."

"Half a day," Geralt repeats.

"Yes. Twelve hours. And gradually, the contractions will become longer, lasting about a minute, and closer together. Once they are occurring less than five minutes apart, this is called active labor."

Geralt nods, trying to keep it all straight.

"Active labor will be more painful for your mate. His water will break, if it hasn't already. Toward the end he may want to push, but he should try to hold back until it's absolutely impossible."

"So... I should tell him to hold back?"

"Yes," says Palome, "but more than anything, you should be there for him. Scent him. Reassure him. Encourage him to breathe through each contraction. This phase is difficult, and it may last up to eight hours. As I said before: if it lasts longer, call for me."

"I will," says Geralt.

"Good. Now, after active labor comes the delivery, when your mate will push out the baby. His body will tell him when to push. Again, you just be there for him."

For a moment, Geralt thinks of Jaskier giving birth to Rian on his own, with no one to be there for him. It makes his heart feel tight, so he pushes aside the thought and clears his throat. "How long does it take for the baby to, uh. Come out?" he asks.

"It depends," says Palome. "Anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. But once the head appears, the rest of the body should emerge shortly. Help your mate by gently easing it out as he pushes."

Geralt nods.

"And that's birth," Palome says brightly. "Once the child is delivered, they should start breathing or crying on their own. Rub their back to help them along, if needed. And as soon as they're breathing, your mate can hold them to his chest. This is an important time for both of them."

"And what about— the cord?"

"Don't cut it just yet. Contractions will continue after the birth, and your mate will deliver the placenta and afterbirth. After that, check to make sure the cord isn't pulsing anymore. Only then should you cut it."

"How?"

"Use string to tie it in two places, first about a hand's width away from the baby and then about a hand's width away from that. Then use a sharp blade to cut between the two ties. After that, you may clean the babe off. Wrap them in a blanket, and give them back to your mate." She smiles. "You'll want to hold them too, but be patient."

"Of course," says Geralt quickly.

"Well. That should cover most of it," Palome says. "If anything happens differently, if anything feels wrong, call for me. But trust your mate, too. Remember that he's done this before."

"I know. He's very strong," says Geralt under his breath. "And very brave. I'm the— I'm the one who's afraid, I suppose." It feels strange to admit. He hasn't verbally acknowledged a feeling of fear since he was— what, five years old?

The midwife hums. "It's alright to be afraid," she says. "Birth is frightening, in some ways. But it's also beautiful. And it's necessary, to bring your child into the world. Try to remember that."

"I will," says Geralt. "I— thank you."

"You're very welcome," says Palome.

And Geralt pays her consultation fee, and walks back to the cottage, his chest feeling lighter than it has in days.

***

"So how was it?" asks Jaskier, when Geralt returns home. He's awake, leaning against the pillows, the kittens sleeping his feet and Walnut curled up on his belly.

"Good," says Geralt. "May I, uh, enter your nest?"

"I swear to Melitele, if you don't stop asking, I'll—" But then Jaskier breaks off and sighs good-naturedly. "Of course, Geralt, you may enter."

Geralt crawls under the blanket and lies down beside Jaskier.

"Are you still worried?"

"Less so," says Geralt.

"What did you ask her?"

"Everything."

Jaskier smiles. "Of course you did. And what did she tell you?"

"Well. The main details. Labor. Contractions. Water breaking. Pushing. Afterbirth. Cutting the cord."

"Ah, the cord," Jaskier repeats darkly.

"What's wrong?"

Jaskier shrugs. "Szymon insisted on cutting Rian's himself," he says. "He didn't want to give me the knife lest I go rogue and murder him with it or something. I was so scared he'd hurt Rian."

"But he didn't?"

"No," says Jaskier. "But it was still awful, seeing my perfect little baby in his stupid fat hands..."

"Hmm. I can imagine. Or— I can't imagine. I—" The thought makes Geralt boil with rage, but he's sure that it's nothing compared to what Jaskier had felt at the moment.

Jaskier kisses him. "I'm just glad you'll be the one to cut it this time," he says. "And I'm— I'm glad you'll be there to help me. Even if I'd be able to do it alone. I'm glad I won't have to."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "As am I."

Just then Walnut jumps into Geralt's lap, and Jaskier leans against his shoulder. "And I'm glad you'll be there to help take care of them too," he adds. "Because let me tell you, it's fucking exhausting to take care of a newborn all by yourself."

"Mm," Geralt grunts. "I'm sure it is." And he's sure it's even worse— unimaginably worse— when you're a teenager who's being abused and whored out against your will every night, while trying to raise a baby at the same time.

"Even with the two of us, I know it'll be tiring. And time-consuming." Jaskier pauses. "We should talk to Rian," he says then.

"About?"

"You know. About the baby. And how it's gonna be a big change, but even if we devote a lot of time and attention to them, it doesn't mean we love Rian any less."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Yes."

"I'm sure he'll understand," Jaskier says. "He's very adaptable. He had to be, at Szymon's. But still."

Geralt nods.

***

And a few days later, while they eat their dinner, Jaskier broaches the subject.

"Rian," he says. "Do you know what today is?"

"What?" asks Rian, his mouth full of lamb stew.

"It's the first day of December. And that means—"

"Baby!" exclaims Rian. "Today?"

"No," says Jaskier. "We don't know when exactly. But very soon."

Rian grins widely.

"And Daddy and I wanted to talk to you about something," Jaksier goes on.

Rian squirms excitedly in his chair. "About what?" he asks.

"About how much we love you," says Jaskier. "And how the baby will never change that."

Rian frowns. "But you'll love the baby too, right?"

"Of course," Geralt says. "We'll love them just as much as we love you."

"But there might be some times when it feels like we're spending a lot of time with them. We might not be able to play with you quite as often," says Jaskier.

"That's okay," says Rian. "I can play by myself, like when you cleaned the tables downstairs."

Jaskier closes his eyes briefly, and Geralt cuts in. "We'll still play with you," he says. "Just sometimes we'll be busy. Because babies need a lot of care and attention."

Rian nods knowingly. "Like changing their poopy diapers and feeding them milk and holding them lots," he says, glancing at Jaskier. "Right, Papa?"

"Right," says Jaskier. "You're so smart, honey."

"Well, you told me lots of times," says Rian. "Remember? When I got sad and I liked you to tell about baby me?"

Jaskier smiles weakly. "I do remember."

"And also when I was a baby you kissed my head and my toes and you never ever let Szymon hit me till I was bigger."

Jaskier looks away, biting his lip, and Geralt can smell his shame. He puts a hand on Jaskier's back, and says gently to Rian, "Your Papa took such good care of you, didn't he? And we'll take such good care of the new baby too, though there won't be anyone who'll ever try to hurt them."

"Oh yeah," says Rian. "I forgot." He frowns slightly.

"That's alright," Geralt tells him. "I just didn't want you to worry."

Rian gives him a little nod, and takes a bite of stew. "I'm not worried," he says. "I can't wait!"

Jaskier takes a deep breath. "Honey," he says. "I know you're excited, but what I'm trying to tell you is after the baby comes, it might not be so exciting. Because Papa and Daddy might be tired a lot, and it might feel like we spend all our time taking care of the baby."

"I can take care of them too if you need help!" says Rian cheerfully.

"But Rian—"

Geralt squeezes Jaskier's shoulder. "I think he'll be okay," he says, unable to suppress a smile.

Jaskier sighs, but smiles back. "I think you're right."

"I can hold the baby," Rian goes on. "And change their poopy diaper. And kiss their head. And tell them stories. And sing them songs. And love them so much. Right?" he asks, glancing up.

Jaskier wipes at his eyes, and nods. "That's right," he says. "You're going to be such a good big brother."

"Yeah," says Rian proudly. "I can't wait for them to be here."

"Neither can we," agrees Geralt.

"And neither can they," Jaskier laughs. "They've been moving like crazy. I think they'll arrive any day now."

***

And he's right.

Three days later, Geralt is cooking breakfast— or trying to; it's a bit of a difficult endeavor with four kittens clinging to various parts of his body— when Jaskier cries out softly, and Geralt catches a whiff of pain on the air.

He sets down his knife, divests himself of kittens, and hurries over to the nest. "What is it?"

"The baby," says Jaskier.

"You're in labor?"

"I don't know," says Jaskier. "I think this contraction felt different than the others. But I'm not sure. Maybe it's nothing. Either way, you can go back to making breakfast; I'm fine."

"Hmm."

"Geralt. I'm fine," Jaskier repeats. "Even if it's labor, the baby won't be here for hours." He purses his lips. "And I'm hungry."

And so, reluctantly, Geralt goes back to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, while Geralt is boiling some eggs, Jaskier has another contraction.

"It's been twenty minutes since the first," Geralt says. "How long are they lasting?"

"I don't know," says Jaskier. "Thirty seconds? Maybe more? But I'm still fine. And still hungry." He gives Geralt a mock frown. "Begone, Alpha, and worry not."

Geralt hesitates, but leaves him be. He finishes making breakfast: eggs, potatoes, apples, and bread. Then he wakes up Rian, and the three of them sit down together in the nest to dine.

It isn't long before Geralt smells pain again, and Jaskier visibly winces.

Geralt takes his hand, and counts thirty-six seconds before the end of the contraction. "That's the third in an hour," he observes.

Jaskier nods. "I think this is it."

"This is what?" asks Rian.

Jaskier smiles. "The baby's coming."

***

Rian is elated. Geralt is too, though the elation is somewhat dampened by a healthy dose of anxiety. Together, he and Rian gather together everything Geralt will need to assist with the birth: plenty of towels, a bucket of water, baby blankets, twine, a knife.

Rian talks nonstop.

"How long till they come?"

"Hours," says Geralt. "Perhaps many hours."

"How many?"

"I don't know."

"When can I see them?"

"As soon as they're born."

"When can I play with Rosie and Amelia?"

"As soon as you'd like."

"Oh," says Rian. "Okay."

***

He ends up staying for another half hour or so, cuddled by Jaskier's side, rubbing the baby bump with his small hand.

"Come on, Baby," he urges. "Come out. Hurry up. I wanna hold you." But at last, he sits up and demands, sullenly, "How come it's taking forever?"

Jaskier laughs. "Are you getting bored?"

"Yeah," pouts Rian.

"You want to go next door and play now?"

Rian nods.

"Alright," says Jaskier. "Daddy will take you. And then next time you see me, you'll have a new little sibling, how's that sound?"

Rian beams. Jaskier kisses his cheek and ruffles his hair. "I love you, honey," he says.

"I love you too, Papa and Baby," singsongs Rian. And he and Geralt leave the nest.

***

When they arrive at Raph and Aleks's cottage, Raph answers the door, glances between them, and claps a hand to his mouth.

"Is it happening?" he asks.

"It is," says Geralt.

"But it's really boring," adds Rian.

Raph smiles. "Well, we'll keep you plenty entertained over here," he says, patting Rian's back. "The kids are in their room; you can run along and join them."

Rian nods, gives Geralt a hug, and scampers into the cottage.

"How are you feeling?" asks Raph, as soon as Rian is out of earshot.

Geralt shrugs.

"Aw," laughs Raph. "But it'll be just fine, I swear."

"Yes, that's what everyone keeps saying."

Raph laughs again. "Don't you worry," he says. "As someone who's given birth three times, I can tell you that all an omega really needs is someone to hold their hand and scent them from time to time. The rest just sort of happens."

Geralt nods. It's like the midwife told him, he thinks. It's a natural process.

"He'll do great," Raph continues. "You both will. And remember, if anything goes awry, even a little, you just let me know and I'll fetch the midwife quick as can be."

"Thank you," says Geralt. "I appreciate it. Your help. And your reassurance."

"Anytime," Raph says, and then, with a grin: "Now stop standing around and get back to your mate."

Chapter Text

When Geralt arrives back at the cottage, Jaskier is lying spread-eagled in his nest, his hands resting on the crest of his stomach.

"Hi," he says lightly, lifting his head. "Just, you know, trying a new position."

"Are you feeling... okay?"

"Oh, just dandy," says Jaskier. "Well, except when a contraction hits. But even then, it doesn't really hurt." He pauses. "Can you get me my lute? And then come and sit by me?

Geralt obliges, and Jaskier begins to pluck away at the strings, humming absently, still lying flat on the floor. But every fifteen minutes or so, he gets a contraction, and every time, Geralt feels himself tense up.

"Geralt, I can smell you," says Jaskier eventually. He sits up slightly.

"Smell me?"

"Yeah, I mean... you smell scared," Jaskier clarifies, frowning.

Geralt just hums. Over the past few weeks, he's tried, very hard, not to think about possible complications. But now that Jaskier is in labor, it's getting harder to ignore the worries lurking in the shadows of his kind. The midwife hadn't gone into any real detail about what can go wrong during a birth, but Geralt can imagine well enough. The baby could fail to start breathing on their own. Or they could emerge strangled by their cord. Or something could happen to Jaskier. He could be injured. He could bleed to death.

"Geralt," says Jaskier quietly. "What will be will be, right? Worrying about it won't change anything."

"I know that," mutters Geralt. "Doesn't make it easier to think about the idea of— of—" He breaks off, unwilling to even articulate the possibility of losing Jaskier or the baby or both.

"Then don't think about it," Jaskier says, as though it's that easy. "Just— just think about what it'll be like to hold our tiny newborn baby in your big witcher arms."

Geralt considers this for a moment. To his horror, rather than fortify him, the thought makes him tear up.

He looks away.

Jaskier takes his hand and scents him. But although the sensation of wildflowers and sweetness spreading like fire through his body is comforting as ever, it doesn't quite manage to erase his feelings of shame.

Because he's the alpha. He's supposed to be Jaskier's rock during this time. He should be the one scenting and reassuring Jaskier, not the other way around.

"I apologize," he grunts.

"For what?"

"For my weakness."

Jaskier blinks. "Geralt, you're not being weak," he says. "You're—" He breaks off then, grimacing, and places a hand on his belly. "Sorry, contraction," he mumbles at last. "But anyway. You're allowed to be concerned, alright? The only reason I'm not stricken with fear myself is because I've done this before, in far worse circumstances, and everything went just as it should."

"This time could be different."

"It could. It very well could." Jaskier shrugs. "But whatever happens, we have each other, right?"

Not if you die, thinks Geralt darkly, although he knows what Jaskier means: that they're in this together. He nods.

But Jaskier seems to sense his hesitation. "You're really frightened, aren't you?" he asks gently.

And it's true. Geralt is really, truly frightened. It's a strange feeling, and somewhat unfamiliar. The last time he can remember experiencing it to this extent was before his first contract.

But that had gone alright, he reminds himself. He had stayed alive, as he has on every contract since then. No doubt Jaskier and the baby will stay alive too, he decides. To think otherwise is foolish.

"I am," he says. "But I believe in you."

"Good," replies Jaskier. "Because that's what I need right now. I need you to believe in me."

Geralt nods, more confidently this time. If there's one thing he's sure of, it's that Jaskier deserves to be believed in. That Jaskier is the strongest, most capable person he knows.

"We'll just take it minute by minute, alright?" Jaskier says then. "Minute by minute, hour by hour. And soon enough, we'll have our baby." He picks his lute back up and gives the strings a strum. "Here, how about I write a song?" he offers. "That should take our minds off things."

"I— I'd like that very much," says Geralt.

And Jaskier begins to sing, contemplatively: "Why does the night always seem to be longest— No. Alright. They say the night always seems to be longest... Hm, 'longest' or 'darkest,' which is better?"

"I don't know; you're the bard."

"And you're useless. I think 'darkest.' They say the night always seems to be darkest. How's that?"

"Mm. Sounds good."

Jaskier smiles.

***

They spend the next few hours talking idly in the nest, with Jaskier composing on and off.

By noon, the contractions are coming eight minutes apart, and Jaskier proclaims the first half of the song to be complete.

"Shall I play it?" he asks coyly, as if there's any chance that Geralt might say no.

Geralt just nods.

And Jaskier sings:

They say the night always seems to be darkest
The hour before the dawn.
And as we anticipate holding our baby,
The wait seems to stretch on and on.

But we know they're worth it,
And we know we'll make it,
And although it may take some time:

Oh, darling come quickly,
Or darling, come slowly;
We'll be here with hearts open wide.

These long nine months they've been safe here inside me,
But soon they'll be safe in our arms.
We'll drown them in kisses, and love them to pieces,
And protect them from every harm.

They'll be so small,
And the world is so giant,
But we'll be their home and their guides.

So darling come quickly,
Or darling, come slowly;
We'll be here with hearts open wide.

Oh, darling come quickly,
Or darling, come slowly;
We'll be here with hearts open wide.

Geralt smiles as Jaskier gives the lute strings a final strum.

"I should write more; I want a verse about how cute they'll be." Jaskier blinks at Geralt fondly. "But I think I'll take a break from songwriting for the time being. The labor's getting a bit, ah. Uncomfortable."

Geralt nods, and Jaskier nestles closer to him.

"I keep thinking of Rian's birth," he says quietly. "And how different this is."

"Mm."

"I barely remember the details of it, to be honest. I just remember the pain, and fear, and this feeling of like... terrible aloneness. I was so worried I wouldn't have the strength to see it through all by myself."

"But you did."

Jaskier nods. "By some miracle, yes. But I'm just— I'm so grateful to have you, and this nest, and the knowledge that this baby will be given everything they could ever need."

Geralt hums in agreement, and ghosts his thumb over Jaskier's cheek.

They lapse into comfortable silence.

And then Jaskier's water breaks.

"Oh fuck," Jaskier exclaims. "Oh shit. Oh gods, I forgot how fucking disgusting it is." Then he begins to wriggle out of his wet trousers, and Geralt looks away, just focuses on cleaning up the mess as best as he can and placing fresh towels on the floor of the nest.

Jaskier repositions himself on the dry surface and sighs. "The pain's gonna get worse now," he says. "That's how it happened with Rian."

Geralt hazards a glance at his face, then at his crotch, then back at his face.

Jaskier lifts an eyebrow. "You can look, if you like."

Geralt says nothing, but blushes.

And Jaskier lets out a laugh. "You're too noble for your own good," he chides. Then, more softly, "It's sweet."

"Witchers are many things," huffs Geralt. "But they're not sweet."

"You are, though," says Jaskier.

And they kiss.

***

The afternoon passes, and as Jaskier's contractions grow closer together, Geralt can smell that they're also getting more painful. He can see it too: Jaskier is sweaty, feverish, huddled on his knees against the wall of the nest— not speaking, not singing, just trembling, his muscles taut, until the next contraction doubles him over in pain.

And all Geralt can do is hover at his side, kissing his shoulder and neck and hair, scenting him, rubbing his back. He feels fucking useless. "Breathe," he says. "The midwife said to breathe."

"Geralt, if I weren't breathing I'd be dead," snaps Jaskier. "It's just— oh fuck. Mother of—" He screws his eyes shut and lets out a gasp. "Fuck, it hurts."

"I know."

"Sweet Melitele, and the baby won't be here for hours yet." Jaskier glances over at Geralt. "Did the midwife say how long? I know it seemed endless with Rian, but I can't remember specifics..."

"Hmm. Your contractions are coming every four minutes now, which means you're in active labor, the midwife called it. She said if this stage lasts longer than eight hours, we should call her."

"Oh lovely. Eight hours. Just lovely."

"You can do it," Geralt assures him. "And it may be shorter."

"I know. I know. It's just. Not fun," says Jaskier, and just then another contraction hits. Geralt watches helplessly as Jaskier breathes in and out, in and out, deep, agonized breaths. He leans forward a little as the pain passes, though the scent of it still lingers in the air. "Talk to me," he says.

Geralt frowns. "About what?"

"Anything," mumbles Jaskier. "I just need something to focus on other than the contractions."

"I, uh." Geralt's frown deepens. "I like winter," he says at last.

"Do tell." Jaskier smiles slightly.

"Hm. Yeah. I usually spend it at Kaer Morhen, with Vesemir and my brothers."

"Your witcher brothers who aren't really your brothers."

"They are my brothers," says Geralt. "Just not by blood."

Jaskier glances at him. "Right," he says softly. "Sorry."

Geralt shrugs. "Anyway, it's— they'll miss me this year, I think. But next year— perhaps we could go together. You, me, Rian, the baby."

Jaskier nods, his eyes shut tight. "Tell me about it. About winters there. About what we'll do."

So Geralt tells him. He tells him about how it was sacked, and is now merely a ruin of what it once was, but he tries to focus on the positives. He talks about the large library, how Rian might like to explore it with them. He talks about the entrance hall and dining area and bedrooms, warm and safe.

Jaskier changes position often as he listens, obviously restless and uncomfortable, and every few minutes, he cries out in agony. But Geralt's voice does seem to distract him from the pain.

So, as unnatural as it feels to talk at such length, Geralt keeps going. He tells Jaskier about the wolves themselves, Vesemir and Eskel and Lambert. He describes what he imagines their reactions will be when they learn that Geralt found himself a family, a mate. Jaskier laughs when he gets to Lambert.

And then something changes.

"Geralt," Jaskier gasps out. "It— fuck— it hurts— so much—"

"More than before?"

Jaskier nods frantically. "I think they're coming now," he says. "Or— almost." He lets out a low moan, and lies back against the pillows. Geralt sits beside him, one hand on Jaskier's chest and the other on his stomach.

"Breathe," he reminds him.

Jaskier breathes, and sobs, and breathes some more.

"We'll take it minute by minute," Geralt tells him. "Like you said earlier."

Jaskier nods again, and rolls onto his side. "Geralt," he chokes out.

Geralt scents his wrist. "I'm here, Jas," he says. "I'm right here."

"I know," whispers Jaskier. "Just— please don't leave."

"I'll never leave," says Geralt. "Never."

And Jaskier slumps a little in relief, briefly, before suddenly doubling up, grabbing Geralt's hand, and screaming in pain.

Now, Geralt is no stranger to pain. It's a part of his job, unavoidable really, and after decades of being a witcher, even major injuries bother him very little. Burns, bites, breaks— they're uncomfortable, sure, but nothing he can't handle.

And objectively, he's aware that Jaskier is no stranger to pain either. He'd spent five years getting raped and beaten every damn day, and Geralt will never forget the sight of his bruised body the night they met, or how thickly the scent of his myriad hurts had clung to him.

But that knowledge, those memories, don't make the next hour any easier.

The time drags by as Jaskier alternates between panting in exhaustion and crying out in agony. It's almost unbearable, to see him like this and be unable to save him from it.

"Relax," Geralt tells him, again and again. "Breathe. You're doing so well. Just breathe. I'm here. I love you."

And then, all at once, the smell of pain hanging in the air grows sharper, more acute.

"Geralt," Jaskier gasps. "Fuck. Fucking— I need to push."

"Can you hold back?" asks Geralt, remembering the midwife's advice.

"Are you bloody kidding me?" cries Jaskier. "No, I can't— oh holy— oh fuck." Then he gasps, a strangled sort of gasp, and squeezes his eyes shut, and pushes.

And in that instant, Geralt knows that the time has come, that their baby is arriving. A shiver of anticipation travels through him, but he tries to remain calm.

Jaskier needs him, after all. Now more than ever.

So he takes Jaskier's hand, and Jaskier holds it like he's trying to crush the very bones as he bears down and lets out another shuddering gasp.

"Fuck," he breathes then, in the lull between contractions. "The baby, they're— they're really coming, Geralt. They're coming fast."

"How fast?"

"I don't know, I just—" Jaskier groans, and pushes again. "I can feel them. It burns. I— Geralt," he squeaks then, suddenly letting go of Geralt's hand and reaching down between his legs. "Geralt, their head, it's— look, look—"

So Geralt looks, and sure enough, there it is: the top of their baby's head poking out, covered in wet golden hair.

"Fuck," he says under his breath.

"Do you see?"

"They're blonde. Dark blonde."

"Blonde," Jaskier repeats, with a watery laugh, but his face is a grimace of pain. "You'll catch them, right?"

"I will. Of course I will. Just relax," Geralt urges him. "Relax. You're almost there."

"We're almost there," Jaskier mumbles. "Almost... there..." He breathes in, and out, then lets out hiss and pushes the rest of the babe's head out. Geralt cradles it gently, peering down at the small red face, his mind reeling.

"Gods, is— is that them?" asks Jaskier, his head thrown back, his muscles tense.

"Yes," whispers Geralt. "Jas, they're perfect. Just another push or two, and they'll be—"

But his words are drowned out by a guttural cry from Jaskier, and before Geralt fully realizes what's happening, a tiny body is emerging into his outstretched hands, and—

"They're a girl," he breathes.

A tiny, precious little girl, coated in blood and mucus but so, so lovely, blinking in warm candlelight.

Geralt holds her up, places her on Jaskier's chest, and at the sight of her, Jaskier bursts into tears. A moment later, so does the baby.

She's breathing. Geralt lets out a sigh of relief, and the anxiety he'd been feeling is replaced by a rush of other emotions, difficult to name but so strong that his heart feels it might actually burst.

"Oh, Geralt, just look at her," murmurs Jaskier, stroking her face, her hair, her shoulder. "She's beautiful."

"She is," agrees Geralt, nestling beside him, feeling tears prick his eyes.

Their daughter just continues to wail, and Jaskier laughs. "Oh sweetheart," he says. "It's alright. I know it's quite a big change, isn't it, to be born? But you needn't cry. Papa's here. And Daddy's here too."

"That's right," says Geralt, placing a hand on the babe's small back.

She calms slightly at the touch, gulps, and her sobs lapse into soft breathing. Then she starts to kick, and balls up her tiny fists against Jaskier's chest.

"My, you're an active one, aren't you?" Jaskier laughs. "Trying to get away from Papa already? Do you want to explore your new world? Well, I hate to break it to you, but you're not escaping from me just yet."

The baby lets out another brief sob, which devolves into a sort of dissatisfied gurgle. She kicks a few more times.

"How about a song?" says Jaskier soothingly. "A song to calm my little golden-haired darling, how does that sound?"

He clears his throat, clearly struggling somewhat to maintain his grasp on the desperately squirming babe, and sings softly:

Little gold pate, little gold pate,
Oh how I love you, my little gold pate,
Oh how I need you, my little gold pate.
Oh how I love you, love you, love you,
Little gold pa-a-a-a-ate.

The baby stills, her small mouth open in awe at the sound of her father's singing.

"Yes, that's it," says Jaskier. "You needn't struggle. You're safe. Safe and sound and covered in gods know what, aren't you? Yes, you are so disgusting," he says jovially, and he brushes his nose against the top of her little blonde head. "But just look at those golden locks. And those dark gray eyes. Your brother's eyes were like that too, when he was born, but they turned brown. Yes, they did," he coos. "Are we gonna have a gold-haired, brown-eyed little lady?"

The baby seems relatively happy now, cuddled against her Papa, and Geralt finds himself utterly transfixed by her: her tiny face, her delicate ears, her minuscule fingers. He touches those fingers, and they close around his thumb.

And if he hadn't been crying before, he certainly is now.

Jaskier glances over at him, and gives him a gentle kiss. "We did it," he says.

"You did it."

"No, we," Jaskier says, pouting. "Me, and you, and her. Isn't that right, Elodie?" he adds, running a hand over the baby's damp hair.

"Elodie?" Geralt says softly.

Jaskier beams. "Yeah, do you like it? It rhymes with melody, which I thought was fitting. And we can call her Ellie for short."

"Elodie," murmurs Geralt. Then he nods. "It fits her."

"I think so too," says Jaskier.

And Elodie shifts a little against Jaskier's chest, making a tiny noise of contentment.

There's still much to do, Geralt knows: Jaskier needs to pass the placenta, and Geralt needs to clean the babe and cut the cord, and then Rian needs to be fetched. Gods, the thought of Rian meeting his sister makes Geralt smile.

But for now, he just savors the joy in Jaskier's eyes, treasures the feeling of Elodie's hand gripping his thumb, revels in this simple moment of peace beside his mate and his daughter.

And for once, Geralt can't think of a single thing wrong in the world.

Chapter Text

They spend the next half hour lying close together, with Elodie asleep on Jaskier's chest, and before long, Jaskier has passed the placenta and afterbirth.

"Ugh, so fucking gross," he proclaims, eyeing the bloody mess on the towel between his legs. "Could we— can you—"

"I'll fetch some clean towels," says Geralt. "And I could clean up Elodie too, and cut the cord, if you like," he adds hesitantly, unsure if Jaskier will agree to be parted from their daughter so soon.

But Jaskier nods, and gently pries the baby off his chest. "You want to go with Daddy?" he asks her. "Yes, you do, don't you?"

"Wait," says Geralt quickly. "I've— I've never held a babe before."

Jaskier smiles. "Don't worry. It's like holding anything else, except you'll need to support her head," he says. "Come here. That's it. Just slip your hands underneath her— right. And cradle her head. Perfect," he coaches, as Geralt takes her from him clumsily. "There. You've got her now, see?"

Geralt gazes down at her for a moment— his beautiful baby girl, nestled in his arms. She feels impossibly small.

Then he sets her down on a clean towel and gets to work.

He starts with tying off and cutting the umbilical cord with a blade, just as the midwife taught him. Then he takes a wet cloth and gently begins to wipe her off. She starts crying again as soon as the cloth touches her skin, and waves her arms wildly.

"I know," Geralt says. "I know. You'll be back with your papa in a minute. Just hold on."

When she's as clean as he can get her, he wraps her in a soft little blanket, and sets her back on Jaskier's chest.

Jaskier beams. "There we go. Spick and span now, aren't you? No more yucky blood and gunk, no ma'am," he says, as Geralt sets about replacing the bloody towels with clean ones. Once everything's in order, Jaskier lets out a satisfied sigh and kisses Elodie's head. "Oh, just look at you, even more gorgeous than you were before. My precious little Elodie," he murmurs. Then he looks up. "Geralt, what would you say to giving her a middle name as well?" he asks.

"Why? We aren't nobility."

"Well, I am," Jaskier points out. "Or I was, once." He sighs. "Julian Alfred Pankratz, future viscount de Lettenhove."

"Hmm," Geralt hums. He's never heard Jaskier's full name and title before.

"But you needn't be nobility to have a middle name, I don't think," Jaskier goes on. "It's just a name, after all."

"Hmm. Have you got one in mind for her?"

"Yes. I was thinking of Beth," Jaskier says. "In honor of Bethelda."

And Geralt can't argue with that. "Elodie Beth," he muses.

"It sounds rather lovely, don't you think?" says Jaskier dreamily.

"It does," agrees Geralt. He settles beside Jaskier, placing one hand on his shoulder and the other on Elodie's back.

"You should get Rian," Jaskier says, after a few minutes of silence.

Geralt nods.

"He'll be so excited. I can't wait to see him hold her."

"Neither can I," says Geralt. "Do you want me to tell him her sex and name?"

"No, I think that should be a surprise for him. He loves surprises," says Jaskier, smiling. "Oh, and could you perhaps take away the blanket from overhead?" he adds. "Just to let in more light from the fireplace."

Geralt nods again. He gives Jaskier a kiss, and Elodie a kiss. Then he stands up and removes the blanket that had been serving as a roof for the nest, and for a moment he just stares down at Jaskier, illuminated by the warm firelight, their daughter snuggled in his arms. It's quite possibly the most beautiful sight he's ever beheld.

"I'll be back," he says then.

Jaskier smiles. "I'll be waiting."

And Geralt sets off to fetch Rian.

***

Aleks is the one who opens the door when Geralt knocks.

"Everything alright?" he asks immediately, his brow furrowed. Raph is hovering by his side, looking just as concerned.

Geralt nods, smiles. "We have a daughter," he says.

And Raph throws his arms around him. "Oh, congratulations!" he cries. "Oh, a daughter. How wonderful."

Aleks grins. "How's Jaskier?"

"Doing very well."

"Oh, darlin', I'm so happy for you," says Raph, wiping his eyes as he lets go of Geralt. "Rian's asleep in the kids' room, but I'll go and wake him up, alright?"

"Thank you," says Geralt, and Raph bustles away.

"How was it?" asks Aleks conspiratorially, as Raph disappears into the bedroom.

Geralt shrugs. "Well. Jaskier did wonderfully," he says.

"But you were a wreck, eh? I was the same," chuckles Aleks, clapping Geralt on the back. "Just be glad it was over quickly for you. Raph labored for thirty-six hours with Rosie."

Good gods. Geralt opens his mouth to respond, but just then Rian comes bounding out of the bedroom, Raph following behind him.

"Daddy!" he cries, rushing into Geralt's arms. "The baby's here? They came out?"

"They did indeed," Geralt tells him as he lifts him up. He kisses his curls. "You want to go meet them?"

Rian nods eagerly, a huge grin on his face. He's practically vibrating with excitement.

"Alright then," says Geralt, hoisting him up a bit higher on his hip. "Let's go."

"Give Jaskier our love," says Aleks.

"I will."

"And we can't wait to meet the little one," Raph adds.

"Soon, I'm sure," says Geralt.

"Daddy, come on!" whines Rian. "I wanna see Baby!"

And the adults laugh, and wave goodbye to each other, and Geralt and Rian set off for home.

***

"Are they a boy baby or a girl baby?" asks Rian on the way back.

"It's a surprise," says Geralt.

Rian wiggles. "Surprises are fun," he says.

"Mm."

"But are they a cute baby?" Rian asks then.

"Very cute."

"And tiny?"

"Very tiny."

They reach their cottage, and Geralt sets Rian down and pushes open the door. Rian rushes to the nest and kneels down by Jaskier's side.

"Papa!" he exclaims. "Baby!"

Jaskier smiles, pulling Rian in for a brief hug. Then he gently repositions the baby so Rian can see her face. "Here she is, honey," he says. "Your little sister."

"She's a girl baby?" gasps Rian.

"That's right."

"Can I touch?"

Jaskier nods. "Gently. Like how you touched the kittens when they were new."

Rian reaches out and pats the baby's arm.

"What's her name?" he asks.

"Elodie," says Jaskier. "Or Ellie for short, if you want."

"Ellie," Rian whispers. "Hello, baby Ellie." He touches her hair, her eyebrow, her ear. "My name is Rian. Do you remember me? I talked to you when you were in Papa's belly."

Jaskier glances up at Geralt, smiling, and gives a jerk of his head in invitation. And so, hesitantly, Geralt steps into the nest and sits down next to Rian.

Rian goes on talking softly to the baby: "I love you so much," he says. "And I'm gonna be the best big brother ever, Papa says." He leans in and kisses her cheek. "Hey, wake up, baby Ellie."

"Shh, it's okay," says Jaskier. "It's exhausting being born, so let's let her sleep, alright?"

Rian pouts a little, but nods. He continues to touch her gently. "She's little," he proclaims at last.

"Yes," says Jaskier. "That's how all babies are."

"Was I that little?"

"You were even littler."

"How come?"

Jaskier smiles sadly. "I think because you didn't get enough food when you were inside me," he says.

"Oh." Rian frowns. "But Ellie did?"

Jaskier nods.

"That's good," proclaims Rian. "I don't want her to be hungry ever. Hungry is no fun." He glances up at Jaskier. "Will she drink milk out of your chest like I did?"

"She will," says Jaskier.

Rian leans back against the soft wall of the nest, cross-legged, and sighs happily. "I love her," he says. "Can I hold her now?"

Jaskier nods. "Rest your hand on your knees, facing up, okay? And I'll put her in your arms."

Rian hurries to position himself, and Jaskier gently places Elodie in his lap.

Rian sits stock-still, staring down at her. "She's warm," he whispers. And then, with a hint of panic, "Papa, she's moving!"

"It's alright," Jaskier says, smoothing Elodie's hair. "She's just waking up a little."

"Oh," says Rian, as Elodie smacks her lips and opens her little eyes. "She's looking at me!" Rian exclaims then.

"She sure is," says Jaskier. "Elodie, do you see your brother?" he coos. "Do you see Rian?"

She kicks her legs out, gurgling.

Rian laughs. "Hello, baby," he says to her. "You woke up 'cause I was holding you, huh?" He kisses her again. "I love you lots and lots, did you know?"

She keeps kicking.

"How come she's kicking me?"

"She's not kicking you, honey," says Jaskier. "She's just a very, very active little girl, it seems."

"Very active," Rian repeats. "Like a frog!" And then, as Elodie begins to flail her tiny fists: "Can you take her back?"

Jaskier glances as Geralt. "I think maybe Daddy wants to take her now," he says.

"Hm," says Geralt stiffly. "I would. Yes." It's an understatement: his arms have been aching to hold her since the moment she was born, an ache that the time he spent cleaning her hadn't satisfied.

Jaskier smiles at him. "Go ahead, then," he says encouragingly.

So Geralt lifts Elodie out of Rian's arms and into his own, being careful to support her head. He cradles her like that for a few moments, then brings her up to his chest and holds her over his heart.

"Elodie Beth," he whispers. "My sweet little pup. Daddy's got you." It's a feeling unlike any he's ever experienced before, holding her. He feels unworthy.

"Just look at her," murmurs Jaskier. "Safe in her daddy's big strong arms." He smiles. So does Rian.

And Geralt holds Elodie closer, and kisses her head, and smiles back.

Chapter Text

Geralt holds Elodie for a long while. He doesn't speak, just gazes down at her: memorizing her features, savoring the weight of her small body in his arms.

"Was it easy to make her come out of you?" he's dimly aware of Rian asking Jaskier.

"Fairly easy," says Jaskier. "It did hurt rather a lot at some points, but I had Daddy here, so I was alright."

"Did you sing to her?"

"A little bit."

"Will you sing to her more?"

"I'll sing to her every day," Jaskier says.

"Oh, good. When you sing, it's my favorite thing ever," proclaims Rian cheerfully. Then he peers over at Elodie in Geralt's arms.

"Why's she still moving around so much?" he asks.

"In truth, I think she may be hungry," says Jaskier.

And as if to confirm the statement, Elodie opens her eyes and lets out a brief little cry.

"Do you like the sound of that, Ellie?" Jaskier asks her. "You like the sound of some food?" He glances up. "Geralt, dear, if you can bear to be parted from her, I think I should feed her now."

A low whine rises in Geralt's throat at the thought of letting go of his daughter. It comes out as an uncharacteristically plaintive Hmm.

Jaskier smiles in apparent understanding. "It won't be long," he says.

Geralt hesitates, then nods. He brushes his nose over Elodie's tiny belly and hands her over.

Gently, Jaskier lifts her to his bare chest, one hand cupping her head. "There we go," he says after a moment, as she begins to nurse. "Good girl, eating like you were born for it. Which I suppose you were, weren't you?" he laughs.

"Milk's coming out of you right now?" Rian asks, sounding awed as he snuggles against Geralt.

"Yep, right into Ellie's mouth."

"Is it yummy?" says Rian.

"Well, she seems to like it, doesn't she?"

Rian just nods, seemingly transfixed, and Elodie feeds for about a half hour before falling asleep at Jaskier's breast.

Jaskier gives her back to Geralt, who holds her for another half hour or so as she sleeps. Then Rian asks for a turn.

So Geralt places Elodie in his lap. She waves her hands, opens her eyes slightly, then closes them again.

"She's not kicking me now," says Rian.

"That's because she's sleepy. Newborns sleep almost all the time," Jaskier says.

"Oh," says Rian. Then he kisses the baby's cheek and asks, softly, "Will she look like me when she grows up?"

"We don't know yet," Jaskier tells him. "She might."

"Will she look like you?"

"Maybe."

"I don't look like you," says Rian, frowning slightly. "My hair is more darker, and your eyes are blue, but mine are brown. 'Cause of the Bad Man, right?"

Jaskier runs his fingers through Rian's curls. "I don't know which Bad Man it was, so I can't say for sure," he murmurs. "But you know what, Rian? It doesn't matter if you look like me or him or anyone else, because most of all you look like you. And I love everything about you, okay?"

Rian nods. "And Ellie too, right?"

"That's right. I love everything about her too."

"So do I," says Rian. He looks over at Geralt, who clears his throat.

"Me too."

And he marvels a little at how true it is.

***

It isn't long before Rian drifts off to sleep, sinking back into the pillows of the nest with Elodie still on his lap.

Without jostling him, Jaskier takes the baby into his own arms and places her back on his chest.

"Rian can sleep here with us tonight, right?" he asks.

"Mm. Of course," says Geralt.

"Then perhaps tomorrow we could remake the bed for ourselves and start putting Ellie in her crib."

Geralt nods.

"Obviously I'd like to cuddle with her nonstop, but... I quite like the idea of her being able to sleep in her own little crib. Rian never had that."

"Hmm."

Jaskier sighs, then lets out a yawn. "Sweet Melitele, I'm tired," he says.

"I could hold her while you rest," Geralt volunteers.

"You aren't tired too?"

Geralt shrugs. "Witcher endurance."

"Ah, shit, that's right," says Jaskier. "I'd forgotten you only really need sleep— what, every three days?"

"Or so."

"Gods, that'll be useful when she's waking every few hours," grins Jaskier. "Alright then, you can take her, and I'll just—" He yawns again. "Sleep."

Geralt nods, and carefully lifts Elodie from Jaskier's chest. He holds her close. Her eyelashes flutter, and she wriggles closer still.

"Good night, my loves," says Jaskier. "Geralt and Elodie."

"Good night, Jas," replies Geralt, and it takes effort to tear his eyes away from Elodie's sweet face, but he does. "I'm very proud of you," he says.

Jaskier gives him a smile. "You should be."

And he kisses Geralt's shoulder and lies down beside Rian, pulling a blanket up to his neck.

And in no time, he's asleep.

***

Alone with Elodie, Geralt touches her downy blonde hair, kisses her tiny nose, tickles her plump stomach.

He finds himself thinking of what Jaskier had told Rian, that above all Rian looks like his own self, and any possible resemblance of his to an alpha who raped Jaskier five years ago is inconsequential.

The same goes for Elodie, as far as Geralt is concerned. He knows, of course, that she'll never look like him— her facial features won't be his, and she'll never have golden eyes or white hair. And, deep down, he suspects she won't look much like Jaskier either: even just an hour after her birth, he can already tell that her eyes are shaped differently, her face is wider, and obviously her hair is blonde. If Geralt is being honest, she looks quite a bit like Hyrick, the alpha whom Geralt had left collapsed in the neighboring town, unconscious and hopefully badly concussed.

But it doesn't matter. It truly doesn't matter to Geralt at all. Elodie is his daughter, biological parentage be damned, and what's more, she's her own person.

And she's absolutely perfect.

***

Elodie wakes every few hours to announce, very loudly and with much flailing of limbs, that she's hungry. Each time, Jaskier is instantly alert at the sound of her crying, and nurses her until she's full.

During the fifth or sixth feeding, dawn arrives.

"Look, Ellie," coos Jaskier, as the room begins to lighten appreciably. "It's morning. The beginning of your first full day of life, isn't that wonderful?"

Elodie continues to suckle, and Jaskier glances up. "Geralt, my darling, do you think you could make some breakfast?" he asks.

Geralt nods, somewhat ashamed that he didn't think to offer. "What would you like?"

Jaskier smiles. "How about pancakes?"

***

By mid-morning, they've finished breakfast, Jaskier has taken a bath, and Elodie has had no less than five songs composed in her honor: four by Jaskier and one by Rian.

"Baby, you are very small," Rian sings, examining Elodie's miniature fingers. "I love you the most of all. When you're big I'll play with you. Now I love to ho-old you. Your name is Elodie Beth; I love you the very best!"

"Bravo Rian!" exclaims Jaskier. "Next thing we know, you'll be a bard like your papa!"

Rian beams, and goes on singing, this time a verse about Elodie's tar-black poop (which had given Geralt quite a fright when he'd seen it, but which Jaskier had insisted was normal for a newborn).

***

Walnut had kept her distance during the birth and through the night, but just before noon, while Rian is playing and Geralt is about to start making lunch, she enters the living room, her kittens waddling along behind her, and glances around curiously.

"Hello, Walnut," Jaskier greets her. "Can you smell the newest addition to our family?"

Walnut lets out a soft trill, and Jaskier kneels down beside her, a sleeping Elodie tucked in his arms.

"Here," he says. "You want to meet her?"

Walnut nuzzles gently against Elodie's head, making a soft noise of welcome. Then the kittens gather around. Geralt steps forward protectively, but Jaskier stands up with Elodie before their tiny claws can do any damage.

Walnut weaves between his legs, staring up at the baby.

"You'll have plenty of time to get to know her better," says Jaskier, smiling. "Don't worry. I know you wouldn't hurt her. But your kittens aren't quite as calm as you are."

Walnut meows, as if in understanding, then curls up in the corner of the room, and her kittens flop down beside her.

Rian crawls over to pet them, singing quietly to himself: "Ellie's poop is stinky and black, Papa says new babies' poops are like that..."

And Geralt can't help but laugh.

***

"When shall we invite people over to see her?" asks Jaskier, as they sit down to lunch.

"Hmm," says Geralt, eating with one hand and cradling Ellie in the other. "Whenever you feel ready."

"Perhaps tomorrow," says Jaskier.

"And then Rosie and Amelia can come?" asks Rian.

"Mm-hmm," Jaskier says. "And Raph and Aleks. And Bethelda, of course."

"And Penny?"

"Sure, Penny and her father."

"Penny says when I'm five she can teach me to write words," says Rian. He frowns. "When am I five?"

"Let's see. Today is December 5th. And your birthday's December 14th. So nine days."

"Nine days and then I can make a wish and learn to write," says Rian happily.

Jaskier smiles.

"Ellie isn't even one years old yet," Rian says then.

"That's true. She isn't even one day old yet," Jaskier laughs.

"But she'll grow up like the kittens," says Rian.

"She sure will."

"I can't wait," says Rian.

"It'll happen sooner than you can imagine," Jaskier says quietly. "Before you know it she'll be crawling and walking and talking..."

"And then she'll be five too?"

"Someday."

"And how old will I be?"

"You'll be ten," sighs Jaskier.

"Wow!" breathes Rian.

And Jaskier smiles, but there's a hint of sadness in his expression, as if the thought of Rian growing up causes him some pain.

"Let's just enjoy each day as it comes, alright?" Geralt offers.

Jaskier glances up gratefully.

And Rian nods, then grins. "Alright."

Chapter Text

After lunch, Geralt takes down Jaskier's nest, placing the mattress back on the bed frame, outfitting it with blankets and pillows, and returning the rest of the linens to the chest of drawers in Rian's bedroom.

"I miss it," says Rian, surveying the now-empty corner of the cottage.

Jaskier puts an arm around him. "We'll build it again before my next heat. But if we kept it up all the time, it wouldn't be special," he says.

"Oh," says Rian, then he frowns. "I don't like your heat," he mumbles.

"It wasn't fun back at Szymon's, was it?" says Jaskier.

Rian shakes his head. "'Cause you cried a lot, and at night the Bad Men hurt you extra much."

"That's true," Jaskier says. "But it won't be like that anymore, alright? For my next heat, Daddy will take care of me and help it not to hurt."

"Really?" asks Rian, glancing up at Geralt.

"Really," Geralt confirms.

And Rian wraps his arms around Geralt's legs and squeezes tight. "I love you," he says. He lets go and takes a step back, looking contemplative. "This is who I love," he says then: "Papa, Daddy, Ellie, Walnut, Cheese, Pumpkin, Bunny, and Song. That's a lot."

"A lot of love is the best kind of love," says Jaskier cheerfully.

There was a time when Geralt might have scoffed at such a notion. But now, he knows that Jaskier is right.

***

Late that night, just after Elodie has finished a feeding, Geralt is startled from his meditation by the sound of Rian's door squeaking open.

"Papa?" says Rian quietly, standing uncertainly in the living room.

"Your papa's asleep," whispers Geralt. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," says Rian. He skips over to the bed and crawls in beside Geralt. "I was sleeping good but then I woke up 'cause Ellie was crying. And then I was just thinking about her so much, and I wanted to see her. So I came out."

"Ah," Geralt says. "Well. Here she is." He angles the swaddled babe so that Rian can see her face, and Rian squirms a little in delight. Gently, he brushes a finger over her cheek.

"She's so soft," he says.

"Mm."

"She was crying loud."

"Because she was hungry."

"But Papa fed her milk?"

"He did indeed."

Rian nods, but he looks troubled.

Geralt frowns. "Are you alright, little wolf?"

Rian drops his gaze. "One time Szymon told me that when I was a baby, I always cried so loud that you could hear it from downstairs. So then he had to hit Papa, 'cause I wouldn't shut the fuck up." He looks up at Geralt then, a hint of a question in his eyes, as though he wants to know if Jaskier will be punished for Ellie's crying the way he was for Rian's.

"Hm. Don't worry," Geralt says, trying to keep the fury he feels for Szymon out of his voice. "That won't happen here. Elodie may scream as loud as a banshee if she wishes, and no one will hurt her or your papa for it."

"Oh." Rian nods. "Okay." Then he smiles, a grateful little smile.

And Geralt attempts to smile back, but it pains him deeply to be reminded that even all these months after leaving Szymon's inn, Rian still carries such trauma, still worries about things like Jaskier getting beaten. "I would never lay a hand on you or your papa," he reiterates softly. "Nor would I allow anyone else to do so."

"I know," says Rian. "But sometimes I just gotta make extra extra sure." He snuggles closer to Geralt, who adjusts his grip on Elodie, freeing one of his hands to stroke at Rian's hair.

Rian sighs contentedly at the gesture. "I love you, Daddy," he says.

"I love you too, my little wolf," says Geralt.

And before long, Rian is asleep.

***

***

The next morning, when they've finished breakfast, Geralt visits Raph and Aleks's cottage and invites their family over to meet Elodie.

Raph coos. Aleks is smitten. Rosie and Amelia touch her tiny cheeks and hair and hands. Danny says "baby" in a somber, appreciative tone.

And Elodie spends the next half hour being passed around between four pairs of loving hands. She tolerates it remarkably well, but at last she reaches her limit.

"Alright, darlin'," says Raph, as she finally begins to wail. "I'll give you back to your papa and you can have some peace and quiet, okay?"

And so Elodie is handed off to Jaskier, and hugs are exchanged, and Aleks exhorts them to reach out if they ever need help of any kind— supplies, or meals, or a babysitter.

"Thank you," says Jaskier, nodding quickly. "We will."

More hugs follow, and then Raph and Aleks and their children head home.

***

Elodie naps for the next few hours, and Jaskier does too, while Rian sits down at the dining table and draws an elaborate tableau on a sheet of parchment while Geralt looks on.

"There's Elodie," Rian explains when he's finished. "And you, and Papa, and me, and Walnut, and Cheese and Pumpkin and Song and Bunny, and Roach. And there's Raph, and Aleks, and Amelia, and Rosie, and Danny, and the goats, and Penny, and Penny's daddy, and Bethelda, and Sam. And over there is dead Szymon and the Bad Men but they can't ever hurt us anymore. And we're all so happy, see?"

"I do," says Geralt, with a lump in his throat.

"I want to put words too, but I don't know how," Rian adds then, with a small pout.

"Would you like me to write them for you?"

Rian nods excitedly, handing over the quill and parchment. "Write: 'Happy life with baby Ellie,'" he instructs. "And then at the bottom write: 'By Rian.'"

Geralt does so.

"There," proclaims Rian. He takes back the drawing and admires it for a moment. "Now it's perfect, right?"

"Yes," says Geralt. And it is.

***

That afternoon, Rian goes to play with Rosie and Amelia, and Geralt fetches Bethelda.

At the news that Jaskier has given birth to a girl, she immediately tears up.

"Oh, a little girl," she whispers. "Goodness me, I'll bet you're just the proudest alpha who ever existed."

"Hm. Yes. I am," says Geralt.

Bethelda smiles and touches his arm. "When can I see the little darling?" she asks softly.

"Right now," Geralt says. "That's why I've come."

"Ah, music to my ears!" exclaims Bethelda. "Let me put on a shawl; it's getting chilly these days, isn't it?" She bustles off and soon returns looking a bit more bundled up.

And with that, they set off for the cottage.

***

When they arrive, Bethelda greets Jaskier warmly, takes Elodie into her arms, and calls her a perfect little love. Elodie gurgles happily and pushes her legs against Bethelda's chest.

"Her name is Elodie," says Jaskier. "And we also gave her the middle name Beth. Because of you."

Bethelda lifts her eyes. "Oh, you didn't," she breathes.

Jaskier just smiles, and Bethelda wipes at her eyes with one hand. "Gods, I'm so honored. Oh goodness."

"It's the least we could do," shrugs Jaskier. "After all you've done to help us."

"Well, I— gracious me." Bethelda sniffs, wipes her eyes again, then laughs. "You boys sure know how to turn a poor woman into a blubbering wreck, don't you?" She glances between them. "Oh, Jaskier. Geralt. What sweethearts you are," she says. "I'm so happy to see you like this." She taps Elodie lightly on the nose. "You're a very lucky girl, Miss Elodie."

"No," says Jaskier, "we're the lucky ones."

And Geralt agrees.

Chapter Text

That evening, just before Rian's bedtime, it starts to snow— the first snow of the season.

"Can I go outside?" asks Rian, watching through the window as the flakes drift to the ground in the moonlight.

"Tomorrow," says Jaskier. "It's time for you to sleep now."

"But I've never touched snow before!"

"You can touch it in the morning. Come here, let's get you dressed more warmly."

And soon Rian is tucked into bed, bundled up in woolen clothes and socks. Jaskier and Geralt bid him goodnight and retreat to the living room.

Immediately, Jaskier gets to work swaddling Elodie in an additional two blankets.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "Careful. You don't want her to overheat." As a witcher, he himself is largely immune to fluctuations in temperature, but he can't imagine that it's overly cold inside their cottage, not with the fire roaring in the hearth like it is.

Jaskier frowns. "I'd just hate for her to be cold," he says, pulling a small knit cap onto her head. "Do you think she needs another blanket?"

"No," says Geralt honestly. "I think she was fine the way she was."

Jaskier doesn't respond for a moment. Then he starts to cry.

"Jaskier," murmurs Geralt. "I meant no offense." He touches Jaskier's hand, and at the touch, Jaskier folds himself into Geralt's arms, buries his face in Geralt's shoulder.

"Rian was always cold in the winter," he sobs. "He didn't have any decent clothes, and Szymon never gave us enough blankets, and— and our room didn't have a fireplace."

"I know," says Geralt quietly.

"It's fucking brutal, to have to watch your baby shivering. And I just— I never, ever want Elodie to be cold like that."

Geralt hums in understanding, rubbing Jaskier's back.

"But... but three blankets is too many, huh?" Jaskier says then, in a small voice.

"Perhaps a few too many, yes."

Jaskier nods. "How about one thick one?"

"I think that would be sufficient."

"And the cap?"

"And the cap."

"Alright."

They separate, and Jaskier re-swaddles Elodie in a single warm blanket. She makes a guttural little noise of contentment.

"Sleep well, love," Jaskier says. "And you let us know if you get cold, okay?"

Elodie coos, and Jaskier and Geralt kiss her goodnight.

***

The following morning, the ground outside is covered in a thick layer of snow, and after breakfast, Geralt takes Rian out to play in it.

No sooner has Geralt closed the cottage door than Rian belly-flops onto the snowy ground. Then he rolls onto his back, laughing. "It's cold!" he exclaims.

"Indeed," smiles Geralt.

Rian stands up, bits of snow still clinging to his face and coat and boots, and begins to take great gigantic steps forward. "My feet go in so deep," he says.

"Yes. The snow is deep."

Rian grins. "When it snowed at Szymon's inn I could see it out of the window. Papa said maybe I could play in it someday but not yet because we weren't allowed outside or Szymon would never let us come back and we'd die from being cold and hungry."

"Hmm."

"But now I can play in it!" Rian concludes brightly, dropping to his knees. He begins to pat at the snow with his little gloved hands. "Daddy, c'mon, you play too!" he says.

Geralt gets down on the ground beside him, and Rian frowns. "Papa didn't give you gloves?" he asks.

"I don't need them. Witchers don't get cold like humans."

"Oh, okay." Rian continues to make handprints in the snow. "That's lucky. I hate being cold. It makes me so shivery and then I cry."

"Mm," says Geralt. "That happened at Szymon's, didn't it?"

"Yeah." Rian glances up. "But not anymore, right?"

"Right."

"'Cause now I have gloves and boots and blankets," Rian says, beginning to form a small cube out of snow. "Look what I'm making!"

"Hmm," says Geralt. "It's very nice." He pauses. "Rian, have you ever heard of a snowman?"

"Is it a monster?" asks Rian.

Geralt smiles. "No. It's something you can build with snow."

"How?"

"Well, you make three balls of snow, and you stack them up. That's the snowman's body. Then you use bark and twigs and rocks to make the face and arms."

"Is it alive?"

"No, it's just snow."

"But you can pretend it's alive?" Rian asks, wide-eyed.

"You can, if you like."

"Then let's make one!" Rian says, jumping to his feet.

***

And a half hour later, a snowman stands before them, small rocks forming a wide smile across his face.

"His name is... Snowy," says Rian.

"A fitting name."

"I think he's a prince snowman. And he's gonna fight all the bad guys so they can't hurt any other snow people. Right, Snowy?" Rian adjusts the snowman's twig arms, then takes a step back and grabs Geralt's hand. "We did really good, huh?"

"We did indeed."

"Yeah, so now we gotta show Ellie and Papa!" Rian says.

And with that, he trundles into the cottage and drags Jaskier to the doorway. Jaskier laughs at the sight of the snowman, and adjusts Elodie in his arms. "Ellie, do you see what Rian and Daddy made?" he asks.

Elodie just wiggles, but Rian declares, with great confidence, "She likes him."

"She definitely does," Jaskier tells him.

"When she's bigger I can teach her how to make one," says Rian solemnly. "And I can teach her everything else in the world too, 'cause I'm the best big brother ever. Right?"

"Mm," Geralt hums, exchanging smiles with Jaskier. "That's right."

And he takes Rian into his arms, and holds him close, and kisses his curls.

***

***

"She's two days old."

It's night, and Geralt and Jaskier are in bed. Elodie is on Jaskier's chest, nursing.

"Hmm," says Geralt. "The days have passed quickly."

Jaskier nods, his eyes distant.

"You alright?" Geralt asks.

"I'm just... thinking," Jaskier says. "How tomorrow she'll be three days old. And that's how old Rian was when Szymon whored me out for the first time."

"Fuck," grunts Geralt.

"I was so stupid," says Jaskier. "He'd said he was gonna make me work, but I thought he'd meant, like, cleaning. I thought that finding somewhere to live meant I wouldn't have to get fucked anymore." He shrugs. "Obviously I was wrong."

"Fuck," repeats Geralt, still unable to fathom the fact that Szymon had only given Jaskier three days to recover from giving birth to Rian. He finds it difficult to imagine having such little regard for someone's bodily well-being. "How was... I mean, physically... so soon after childbirth..."

"Yeah, it hurt," says Jaskier simply. "And Rian cried the whole while. The alpha kept threatening to strangle him. I convinced him to take his frustration out on me instead. Which he did. Rather spectacularly."

Geralt shuts his eyes.

"He asked Szymon for a partial refund too, because of Rian's crying," Jaskier goes on. "Szymon was fucking furious. After that he made me start drugging Rian with sleeping potion at night." Jaskier scoots closer to Geralt. "At the time I hated it, but now I think it was for the best. Even a baby would probably be traumatized by hearing their father getting raped every night."

"I imagine so," says Geralt.

"Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell myself that someday, everything would be alright," Jaskier says. "But I don't think I would have believed it."

"Hmm."

"Sometimes I can still barely believe it. Just... you know, the fact that Rian and I are safe, and I've got a mate, and a new baby, and everything I need to care for her properly, and a house, and a warm bed, and enough to eat, and... it's more than I ever could have dreamed of, before."

"It's what you deserve," says Geralt.

Jaskier doesn't argue, just smiles softly, cups Geralt's cheek, and kisses him. Then he gets out of bed and puts a sleeping Ellie down in her crib.

"Good night," he says, as he returns to bed. "See you in an hour or two when we're awakened by our darling daughter."

"Good night," says Geralt, smiling. "I look forward to it.

Jaskier grins, and settles his face against Geralt's chest. And soon he's asleep.

Chapter Text

"My birthday is coming," Rian announces over breakfast a couple days later. "Papa, how many days?"

"Let's see," says Jaskier. "One, two, three, four, five... six days."

"Six days till I'm five," Rian breathes. He takes a bite of porridge and chews thoughtfully. "How old is Ellie?"

"She's four days old today."

"Her birthday is four days ago. Your birthday is July." Then he whips his head around to stare at Geralt. "When's your birthday, Daddy?"

"I don't know."

"You don't?"

"No."

Rian frowns. "How come?"

"I don't believe I've ever celebrated it. At least, if I did with my mother, I don't remember. Vesemir just estimated my age when I arrived at Kaer Morhen. And once I was there, all the boys were considered another year older in the spring. No one paid attention to exact birthdays."

"So you never made a birthday wish?" asks Rian, a horrified expression on his face.

"Hm. No," says Geralt. "But it's alright."

Geralt can imagine that for Rian, back at Szymon's inn, birthdays had been very important— they must have represented a small glimmer of hope and happiness amid the never-ending misery. But Geralt had had other things to occupy him throughout his childhood, other things to provide levity. In truth, he'd never given the existence of birthdays much thought at all until he'd reached adulthood and learned what a to-do many humans make about them.

"What about a present though?" Rian whispers.

"I have received presents," says Geralt. "Just not for my birthday."

"But— But—" Rian's bottom lip begins to quiver.

"Rian," says Jaskier gently, reaching out to put a hand on Rian's leg. "It's alright, honey. Birthdays can be special, but not everyone celebrates them the same way as we do, and some people don't celebrate them at all."

"But I like birthdays," whines Rian. He pouts for a moment. Then his eyes light up. "I know, Daddy!" he says, turning to Geralt. "You can make up a day for your birthday!"

"Hmm," says Geralt. He doesn't feel any real desire for a birthday, in truth. But if it would make Rian happy...

"Alright," he says. "I'll choose a date. And I'll let you know what I decide."

"Good," Rian says with satisfaction. "Then we'll all get a birthday." He pauses. "But mine is the soonest!"

"That's right," says Geralt. And he ruffles Rian's hair, and Rian grins at him.

***

"Will I get a present?" Rian asks that evening, as Geralt and Jaskier tuck him into bed.

Jaskier brushes a curl off his face. "For your birthday?"

"Yeah."

"I think that's a safe bet, yes," says Jaskier, smiling.

"A nice present?" asks Rian.

"Of course," Jaskier says.

"'Cause remember when I turned four and I told Szymon it was my birthday and he gave me four slaps?" Rian says, wide-eyed. "That was a mean present."

Geralt scowls, and clenches his fists by his sides at the thought of little Rian trying to share his excitement for his birthday, only to be punished for it by that fucking bastard Szymon.

"Yes," sighs Jaskier. "I remember, honey. But from here on out, you'll only get nice presents, I promise."

"I like nice presents," Rian says, with a yawn. He rolls over onto his side. "Goodnight Papa. Goodnight Daddy." He yawns again. "Tell Ellie goodnight too."

"We will," says Jaskier.

And they each kiss his head, and wish him sweet dreams, and he's asleep before they leave the room.

***

"What shall we give him, as a gift?" asks Jaskier, once he and Geralt are lying together in bed. "I'll write him a song, of course. But I'd like to give him something tangible too. It doesn't have to be much, just... something."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt, realizing he never told Jaskier of his intention to get a replica wolf medallion made for Rian. "A few months ago, he expressed interest in my medallion," he says. "I told him I'd give him one of his own for his birthday."

"Sweet Melitele," whispers Jaskier, "won't that be expensive though?"

"Not more than we can afford," Geralt shrugs.

"Are you sure?"

Geralt hums, and Jaskier sits up a little, reaching to touch Geralt's medallion. "He'll love that so much," he says, as he fingers the silver wolf head.

"Mm. I hope so. And I was also considering buying him his own book to draw in." Geralt smiles. "Maybe that way he'll stop ripping out pages from your composition book."

Jaskier laughs. "I think he'll love that too," he says. "Every artist deserves a sketchbook." His hand settles gently on Geralt's left shoulder. "Thank you," he murmurs.

"Hmm."

"At Szymon's, I... I could never get him anything nice for his birthday. I'd sing him a song every year, obviously, but the only actual present I gave him was an old blanket I found by chance in the corner of the linen closet. That was when he turned three. And Geralt, he was so excited. It broke my fucking heart to see him that excited about a ratty piece of cloth."

"Hmm," says Geralt. Rian has spoken to him before of that blanket: about how much he loved it despite the holes, and how he loaned it to Jaskier for his heats.

"Anyway, it's about time he got some proper gifts," Jaskier concludes, with a hesitant smile.

Geralt hums again, and puts an arm around him. "I'll go to the shops tomorrow."

Jaskier nods. "And I'll get to work on my song," he says, his smile growing a bit more steady. "Goodnight, Geralt."

"Goodnight, Jaskier."

And they kiss.

***

The next morning, Geralt braves the snow to visit town. It's the first time since Elodie was born that he's been away from her for longer than a few minutes, and he misses her acutely. He knows she's in good hands, safe at the cottage with Jaskier, but all the same, he walks as quickly as he can.

First, he finds the jeweler, whose sign boasts a talent for metalworking. He explains what he has in mind, and reluctantly parts with his medallion for a few minutes while the jeweler makes a wax cast of the pendant.

The man then rattles off the pricing for each different metal, and Geralt chooses aluminum— he doesn't want it to be too heavy for Rian, nor does he want to pay an arm and a leg lest Rian lose or damage it while playing.

The jeweler says to expect it to be completed by the following morning. Geralt hands over a small bag of coin, thanks him, and takes his leave.

Then he visits the bookmaker's shop, where he has a stack of blank sheets of parchment bound together to form a sketchbook.

And finally, he returns home, where he takes Elodie from Jaskier and nuzzles his nose against her small, downy head. "My sweet little pup," he whispers, as Jaskier looks on in amusement. "What would I do without you?"

And the answer, he finds, is that he truly doesn't know.

***

***

That afternoon, while Rian and Elodie are both napping, Jaskier sits down to compose his birthday song for Rian.

Meanwhile, Geralt busies himself with organizing the spices in the cabinet. There are a great many of them, an inheritance from Bethelda's in-laws, and Geralt is determined to eventually perfect the use of each one— with some help from Raph, of course.

He's pondering the small bottle labeled "Anardana," when Jaskier speaks up quietly.

"You know what I fret about sometimes, when I think about Rian getting older?" he asks.

"What's that?" replies Geralt, glancing over at the dining table, where Jaskier is seated.

"I worry about the day when he's old enough to actually understand his childhood, and I have to explain to him that— you know." Jaskier sighs. "That I was a whore. And everything else, too. The abortions. The sleeping potion."

"Hmm. He'll understand," says Geralt.

"Yeah, but what if he doesn't?" Jaskier asks, worrying his quill between his fingers.

Geralt closes the cabinet and sits down beside Jaskier at the table. "Jaskier, Rian loves you," he says. He takes Jaskier's ink-stained hand in his own. "Nothing will change that. Knowing exactly what you endured, what lengths you went to to protect him— to keep a roof over his head, to make sure he suffered as little as possible— that would never make him think less of you."

"But I just... I think I'd be so ashamed, if I were him," murmurs Jaskier.

A low grumble rises in Geralt's throat. "You survived," he says. "That's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I'll never get my dignity back."

"You never lost it, Jas."

Jaskier looks skeptical.

"What does dignity mean," asks Geralt, "if not worthiness of honor? Of respect?"

Jaskier says nothing, just glances away.

"And is it not honorable, and respectable, to show bravery in the face of— of the shittiest fucking circumstances imaginable?"

At that, Jaskier meets Geralt's eye, his brow furrowed deeply. "Who says I was brave?" he asks.

"I do," says Geralt firmly. "And when the day comes, so will Rian. And Elodie."

Jaskier blinks a few times. And then, very slowly, he nods. "Thanks," he mumbles.

Geralt squeezes his hand.

Jaskier squeezes back. Clears his throat. "May I— may I sing you what I have so far?"

"Of course," says Geralt.

And quietly, so as to not wake Rian or Elodie, Jaskier begins to sing.

Chapter Text

As they settle into a routine with Elodie, one of Geralt's favorite times of the day quickly becomes early mornings, when they cuddle with her in bed until Rian wakes up.

She always seems so incredibly small, lying there between them, her arms and legs flailing as she coos and grunts and gurgles. At first, Geralt lets Jaskier do most of the touching, unable to shake the feeling that he himself is unworthy, that his large, callused hands might damage her in some way.

But Jaskier encourages him, assures him that he could never, ever hurt her, and within a few days, Geralt grows comfortable running his thumb over her soft eyebrows, her chubby arms, her little dimpled feet.

Sometimes her wide, dark eyes focus on him for a moment, and Geralt's heart constricts. He can hardly wait until she smiles at him for the first time, which Jaskier says will happen in a month or so.

"I love you, little pup," he tells her every day. And he does. He hadn't thought it would be possible to love a child as much as he loves Rian, but he'd been wrong— he loves them just the same. "You're so perfect. So precious," he adds, as he kisses her head or tickles her belly.

Their quiet snuggling with Elodie lasts until Rian comes bounding into the living room, wide awake and ready for the day. Most mornings he wants breakfast right away, but sometimes he joins them in bed.

Today is one of the days that he joins them.

"I dreamed Ellie was a big girl," he says dreamily, wriggling under the covers beside Jaskier and stroking Elodie's hair. "We were at the ocean like in Papa's songs."

"Hmm," says Geralt.

"Have you seen the ocean, Daddy?"

"I have."

"I wanna see it someday." Rian cranes his neck to look at Jaskier. "Can we go, Papa?"

"Maybe next summer," Jaskier says with a smile, pressing a kiss to Rian's curls.

Rian nods. "Yes," he says. "Then I'll be six. Right now I'm four. But tomorrow I'll be five!"

"That's right," says Geralt, because it's true, Rian's birthday is just one day away.

And Geralt and Jaskier are ready for it: they've made a card, and Rian's presents are wrapped and hidden in the drawer with Elodie's diapers. Raph has let them know that his family will be visiting in the afternoon with treats. And they've made plans with Bethelda for Rian to have a sleepover with Sam in the evening.

Rian leans in and whispers in Elodie's ear: "Ellie, did you know I'm gonna have the best day ever tomorrow?"

Elodie makes a small noise and stretches out her legs.

Rian rolls over contentedly. "I like to cuddle with Ellie," he says.

"Mm, she's like a little ball of love, isn't she?" replies Jaskier.

"Yeah," says Rian. "Hey, Papa?"

"Yes?"

"Did you cuddle me when I was a baby?" Rian asks.

"I did. In the mornings, after the Bad Men left." Jaskier kisses Rian's shoulder. "I'd take you out from under the bed and change your diaper and hold you until you woke up. And then I'd feed you. And then I'd lay you down in bed with me and we'd snuggle till I fell asleep."

"Was I so cute?"

"You certainly were."

Rian smiles. "Just like Ellie."

"Yes."

"Okay, let's eat breakfast," says Rian then.

So they get out of bed, put Elodie down in her crib, and head to the kitchen.

***

"You know what makes me happy?" asks Rian, hovering around Geralt's legs as Geralt makes scrambled eggs.

"What, little wolf?"

"Eating yummy food when my belly is hungry."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "That is satisfying, yes."

"At Szymon's I was hungry so much but lots of times I couldn't eat 'cause Szymon was a meanie. Right Papa?"

Jaskier sets down the knife he'd been using to cut up an apple and sighs. "That's right, honey. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, so sometimes we didn't eat breakfast. But now we eat breakfast every day. I just say, 'Let's eat breakfast!' and then we do. Like magic! And same with lunch and dinner."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "That's how it should be, Rian. A child should never have to go hungry." It's something he's sure he's said plenty of times before, but it's always worth reiterating.

Rian nods. "Or a grown-up like Papa," he says. "Or a baby like Ellie."

"Ellie will never know hunger," Geralt assures him, glancing at Jaskier.

"Yeah," says Rian. "That makes me even happier than breakfast."

***

They eat their eggs and toast and fruit, and the rest of the day passes quickly.

Every few hours, Rian reminds him of his fast-approaching birthday. And on and off, he talks about his and Jaskier's birthdays at Szymon's inn, reminiscing about songs and cuddles and wishes. "But sometimes bad things happened," he adds, over dinner, frowning. "Like once when I was three I was so hungry all day. And once Papa got marked by a Bad Man and then on his birthday he had to take the yucky potion. And one time Szymon hit Papa a lot till his face was messed up. Then I was so sad."

Jaskier looks away.

Geralt grits his teeth, but forces himself to respond: "Don't worry. Those things won't happen on your birthday ever again, or on your papa's birthday."

"I know," says Rian brightly. "Only nice things. That's how come I'm extra super excited!"

***

Night falls, and Rian insists on going to bed earlier than usual, with the (admittedly sound) reasoning that the sooner he falls asleep, the sooner it'll be his birthday.

And the next morning, just after dawn, Jaskier is feeding Elodie when Rian's door swings open and he comes flying into the room.

"I'm five!" he cries, as he flops onto the bed.

"Happy birthday, Rian," Jaskier says, smiling broadly. He ruffles Rian's hair.

Geralt nods, and takes him into his lap. "Happy birthday, little wolf," he echoes.

"I can't believe you're already five," says Jaskier.

"Yeah, 'cause five is old," says Rian sagely. "Do I get a present now?"

Geralt pats his back. "Let's wait till your sister finishes eating," he says.

Rian nods agreeably, but squirms nonstop in Geralt's lap until the feeding session is over and Elodie is safe in her crib.

"Alright," says Jaskier then. "Let me get your presents."

"Presents?" Rian repeats, his mouth falling open. "Not just one?"

"There are two," says Jaskier, opening the dresser and taking out the two paper-wrapped parcels. "And a card."

Rian leaps to his feet and begins to bounce on the bed.

"Sit down," laughs Jaskier.

Rian jumps a few more times, then obeys, sitting cross-legged and wiggling with anticipation. Jaskier gets back into bed and hands him the card first.

Rian takes it eagerly, then frowns. "It's just words!" he cries mournfully.

Jaskier smiles. "I'll read it to you, don't worry," he says. "May I see it?" Rian gives it back to him, and Jaskier reads aloud: "Dear Rian, our sweet little wolfHappy fifth birthday. We love you so much. It's such a blessing to watch you grow up before our eyes. We wish you a year to come filled with fun and laughter. Love, Papa and Daddy."

Rian grins. "I like it!" he declares, glancing between Jaskier and Geralt. "Fun and laughter is good!"

"Your papa wrote the message," Geralt feels compelled to say. "He's much better with words than I am."

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "We both wrote it," he says. "And we both mean it with all our hearts. And now... how about a present?"

Rian nods fervently, and Jaskier hands him the wrapped-up book.

Rian tears off the wrapping paper and flips through the blank pages. "A book! For drawing in?" he asks immediately.

"Indeed," says Geralt. "Like your papa's composition book. We thought you should have your very own, for your art."

"Yeah! Now I can draw a million billion pictures!" says Rian. And he hugs Geralt, then Jaskier, then presses the book to his chest.

Jaskier smiles. "I'm glad you like it, honey," he says. "Do you want to draw something now, or do you want to open your second present?"

"Second present!" says Rian, setting the sketchbook down in his lap.

Jaskier gives him the second present— the medallion— and Rian unwraps it quickly. As soon as he sees what it is, he looks up at Geralt, wide-eyed. "It's like yours!" he breathes.

"Mm. It's an exact replica. Did you remember that I'd promised you one?"

Rian shakes his head. "I forgot," he says. "But now I remember!" He beams. "Put it on me, Daddy!"

So Geralt clasps the chain around Rian's neck, and Rian gazes down at the pendant, touching it reverently. "It's so pretty and shiny," he says. "Now I'm a real little wolf!"

Geralt and Jaskier exchange smiles.

"Right you are," Geralt says. He kisses Rian's head.

"Can I keep it forever?" Rian asks then.

"Of course, Rian," says Geralt. "It's for you."

Rian nods slowly. "But I never knew you could get two presents."

"Well. You can," Geralt tells him.

Rian nods again, more confidently. He brings the medallion up to his lips and kisses it. Then he kisses the sketchbook. "This is the best birthday," he says. "Now I make a wish!"

"Go for it," says Jaskier.

Rian furrows his brow in concentration. A minute or so passes, and finally, Rian's expression crumples. "I don't know what to wish for," he says, his bottom lip trembling. "Everything is already so happy."

"Well, perhaps," says Geralt, "you might wish simply that you'll always be as happy as you are right now. How does that sound?"

"Oh," Rian says, perking up. "That's a good wish!" He smiles. "I wish I'll always be happy like I am now."

"Perfect," says Jaskier. "And now what do you say to a birthday song?"

"Yes!" exclaims Rian.

So Jaskier grabs his lute, strums a few chords, and sings his song for Rian: a light-hearted little piece about change and growth and love.

When he finishes his performance, he and Rian hug each other tightly.

"Thanks, Papa," Rian says.

"You're so welcome, honey," says Jaskier.

And Geralt feels a lump in his throat.

***

Next they have breakfast— pancakes with honey and sugar. And after that, Rian flips open his sketchbook and begins to draw.

He draws himself with the wolf medallion around his neck. He draws a portrait of Elodie. He draws Walnut and her kittens dressed as royalty.

He draws up until Raph, Aleks, the girls, and Danny arrive with a tray of strawberry tarts.

The tarts are quite good— "As good as honey cakes!" according to Rian— and as they eat, Rian babbles excitedly to their guests about his presents and his card. Raph's family oohs and ahhs appreciatively, especially when Rian shows them the medallion. And at last, once all the tarts have been consumed, Rian goes to their cottage to play with the girls.

***

***

"It used to be that each of his birthdays meant we'd been at Szymon's for another year," says Jaskier softly, after Rian is gone.

He lifts a crying Elodie from the crib, lays her down on a blanket, and fetches a clean diaper.

"Hmm."

"I always wondered how high the number would get before something changed," Jaskier goes on. "Because life always felt so fragile there. So... uncertain, you know? I knew it was only a matter of time before I was killed by a customer, or Szymon tried to whore out Rian, or— or any number of other terrible eventualities came to pass." He re-dresses Elodie and takes her into his arms, then turns to look at Geralt. "And I suppose I was right that... that something was going to change soon," he says. "I just never imagined the change would be so good."

"Mm," hums Geralt.

"And gods, I'm— I'm just so fucking grateful, to not have to worry about the future anymore. And to have so much to appreciate in the present," says Jaskier. He kisses Geralt's cheek. "I love you."

Geralt kisses him back, on the lips this time. "I love you too," he says.

And Jaskier hoists Elodie a bit higher on his shoulder, runs a hand through Geralt's hair, and smiles.

Chapter Text

That night, as Geralt and Jaskier lie in bed, Jaskier says, somewhat out of the blue: "Do you remember, months ago, when you came back injured from a hunt?"

"The basilisk, yes," says Geralt.

Jaskier nods. "And then you were taking a bath, and I saw your— your cock. And I panicked. Remember?"

"I remember."

"Right," he says. "Okay, so I was thinking. That perhaps we might try again? I mean, perhaps you could, uh. Show me? Your cock? Only if it's alright with you, of course. I just— I reckon I might be okay with it now. Or... more okay, at least."

"Hmm," grunts Geralt. "There's no rush, if you don't think you're ready."

"Yeah, but that's just it. I do think I'm ready. Perhaps not for— for actual sex. But just to see an alpha cock without freaking the fuck out, you know?"

"Hmm," Geralt says again.

"Are you uncomfortable showing me?" Jaskier asks quietly.

"No."

"Then what's wrong?"

Geralt just sighs. Jaskier doesn't smell anxious, or frightened, but still...

"Geralt, come on, we have three months until my heat, which is three months until I need to be ready for you to knot me. We've got to start sometime, or—"

"I don't want you to feel pressure to hurry."

"I don't feel pressure," says Jaskier. "I feel eager. There's a difference."

Geralt frowns. "Eager?"

"Yeah, I..." Jaskier shrugs, and scoots closer to Geralt, so his cheek is resting on his shoulder. "Like, excited. And scared too, obviously. A lot of mixed emotions. But eagerness is one of them."

"So you want to see my cock," Geralt says bluntly.

"Yes."

"Now?"

"It's as good a time as any, isn't it? Rian's not home. Ellie's asleep."

Geralt nods. "Alright," he says, trying to suppress the thrum of excitement he feels in his chest. "I'll just—" He unlaces his trousers, and pulls them down to his hips. Then he does the same with his small-clothes, exposing his dick, which is mercifully flaccid.

Geralt can feel Jaskier tense up briefly against his shoulder at the sight. But then his muscles relax, and he leans in a bit, as if for a better look. He seems to be deep in thought.

"I've seen a lot of cocks," he says at last, slowly. "And yours is by far the nicest."

"Hmm," murmurs Geralt, barely aware of the compliment as he watches Jaskier's face for any signs of panic. He doesn't smell anything like fear in the air, but he wants to be sure. "How are you feeling?" he asks.

"Fine," says Jaskier, sounding surprised. "I'm fine."

"Hmm. That's good."

Jaskier nods. "May I touch it?" he asks then.

"Do you want to?"

"Yeah."

"Then you may."

Jaskier reaches out tentatively, and his fingers settle on the knot at the base of Geralt's dick. A shiver runs up Geralt's spine, though there's nothing sexual about Jaskier's touch— it's exploratory, almost scientific. He squeezes the knot slightly. Then he prods at the shaft. He curls his fingers under it and holds it for a moment.

"It's strange," he mumbles. "It's just flesh and blood like any other part of the body. And yet— it can inflict so much pain."

"So can hands," Geralt points out. "But they can be tender too."

Jaskier smiles. "And you deny that you're a poet," he murmurs, letting go of Geralt's cock and leaning in to press his lips against Geralt's.

They kiss.

And then Jaskier asks, somewhat abashedly, "Would you like to see mine too?"

"I've seen it before."

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but that was different," he says. "The first time I was trying to seduce you. And then I was giving birth." He pauses. "Do you want to see it now?"

Yes, very much, thinks Geralt. "If you'd like to show it," he says carefully.

"I would," says Jaskier, and he unbuttons his pants, then pulls them down. "There we are," he smiles. "Feast your eyes."

And Geralt does. He gazes at it raptly, memorizing it, imagining how it would feel in his hand.

"Would you like to touch it?" Jaskier whispers, as if he can read Geralt's mind.

Geralt feels himself blush, and to his horror, his own dick begins to stiffen. He quickly yanks up his trousers.

But Jaskier seems unbothered. "I'll take that as a yes?" he says with a small smile. "You can, if you want."

"You're sure?"

Jaskier nods.

Slowly, gently, Geralt runs the pads of his fingers up Jaskier's cock, then down again.

"Fuck," breathes Jaskier.

Geralt withdraws his hand immediately. "I'm sorry."

"No," says Jaskier. "No, it felt good. Really good. No one's ever... touched me like that before."

"Hmm," Geralt says.

"Do it again."

So Geralt touches him again, and beneath his fingers, Jaskier's dick hardens. The cloying scent of arousal begins to fill the air.

"Keep going," says Jaskier.

"You don't— I mean— Do you want a handjob?" asks Geralt stiffly.

"I... I think so?" Jaskier says softly. "I've never had one before."

Geralt nods, spits in his hand, and continues to touch Jaskier. "Tell me if I should stop," he says.

"I will."

"But is this okay?"

"Yes."

Geralt closes his fingers around Jaskier's dick and begins to move it up and down, slowly at first, then faster, his free hand traveling over Jaskier's body. Jaskier is completely hard now, his eyes closed, and from time to time he lets out a noise of pleasure that makes Geralt's stomach flip.

"Does this feel alright?" he asks.

"Yes," gasps Jaskier. "Yes— Geralt—"

Geralt tightens his grip, and keeps stroking, until Jaskier is shaking, until he moans one last time and cums hard in Geralt's hand.

"Fuck," says Jaskier, exhaling, sinking back against the pillows behind him on the bed. "That was definitely worthy of a song."

Geralt kisses his cheek, grabs a linen towel from the bedside table, and wipes off his hand.

"Are you alright?" he asks.

"Better than alright," says Jaskier, trembling, his cheeks flushed. "I'm— I feel like a sunflower at dawn, the kiss of the sun on my petals as I turn toward the light of day... like a butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, spreading my iridescent wings for all the world to see before I take flight on the breeze... like a— fuck, I don't know, I'm too happy to think of more similes."

Geralt smiles. "I'm relieved."

"I've never cum like that before," Jaskier goes on dreamily, "like, from someone else touching me in a way that I wanted? It's— shit, it was just so—" He breaks off then, and his eyes fall on Geralt's crotch, on the outline of his erect cock. "You're hard," he says faintly. "I should—"

"No," Geralt tells him firmly. "I'll take care of it. You just relax."

Jaskier nods, slumping a bit in relief as Geralt gets up and closes himself in the small washroom by the kitchen. There, he takes hold of his throbbing cock and pleasures himself, thinking back on Jaskier's little moans and whimpers. He cums almost immediately.

When he rejoins Jaskier in bed, Jaskier is sitting there with a hazy smile on his face, his pants pulled back up and his lute in his lap.

"I'm trying to compose an ode to your handjob," he says matter-of-factly. "But words fail me."

"Hmm."

"That's all you have to say?"

"I'm glad you enjoyed it."

Jaskier glances over at him, his eyes soft. "Me too," he says. "Granted, I think it helped that I haven't got any memories of past unpleasant handjobs, since no one ever... Well, I suppose what I'm saying is, it'll probably be more difficult the first time I give you one. Or the first time I suck you off. Or the first time you, uh. Penetrate me."

Geralt nods. "I know."

"But this was a good start, don't you think?"

"I do."

Jaskier sets aside his lute and cuddles up against Geralt. "I'll write the song another time," he says. "Right now I'd just like to... to revel in the moment."

"Hmm." Geralt breathes in deeply: Jaskier's scent of wildflowers and sweetness, mingled with tinges of vestigial arousal and an overall aroma of pure, blissful joy. "Perhaps," he says hesitantly, "if you're looking for more similes, you might use, um. A horse, galloping through a field under a starry sky, his mane shining in the moonlight."

"Is that how you feel?" asks Jaskier softly.

"Yes," admits Geralt.

"Oh, Geralt. My dear, darling witcher," Jaskier says. "I do believe we'll make a fine poet of you yet."

Geralt just hums.

And Jaskier laughs, and kisses him tenderly.

Chapter Text

Three weeks pass. Elodie's umbilical cord stump finally falls off, and she seems more alert than she did at first, constantly looking at and listening to the world. She loves to lie on her stomach on the floor, she loves to be held, and she loves to nurse. They take her out for walks in the snow, all bundled up, and let Rian enthusiastically explain all the sights and sounds to her. They visit Raph and Aleks often, and sometimes Bethelda.

Geralt feels more blessed with each passing day.

***

One evening, as Jaskier feeds Elodie before bed, he glances over at Geralt and asks him when he'll start going out on contracts again.

"Hmm. I don't know," says Geralt.

"Well, how long will we be able to live off the coin we've saved?" Jaskier presses.

"As long as we need to," shrugs Geralt. The real answer is two or three more months, maximum, but perhaps they'll be able to borrow a bit from Bethelda after that, or Geralt could pick up work around town.

Jaskier lowers his eyes, his brow slightly furrowed. "I know it's selfish," he mutters, "but I want you to stay home until she's sleeping through the night."

"How long will that be?"

"Raph says it was three months for his children."

"Hmm," hums Geralt. "That should be alright." Money will be tight, but they'll manage.

"I just— I rather like having you here to help. To change her diapers half the time. To hold her when I'm tired. To rock her back to sleep at night after I feed her."

"Of course," says Geralt, frowning.

"I had to do it all by myself with Rian," Jaskier continues softly. "And I was just constantly exhausted. I'd be up all night getting fucked, and then during the day I'd be nursing Rian as often as possible, and dealing with his dirty diapers, and trying to keep him from crying, plus cleaning tables and scrubbing floors for Szymon, and— Gods, sometimes I was so tired I'd just fall asleep in the middle of my chores."

"Hmm. I imagine you were beaten for that," grumbles Geralt, vowing to himself to be even more vigilant about encouraging Jaskier to take naps.

"Obviously," Jaskier sighs. "But anyway, it's just— it's a relief to have someone to share the work with."

"Hmm," says Geralt, unsure how to put into words the fact that caring for Elodie feels like a blessing, an honor, a sacred duty— not at all like a burden or a chore. "It's a responsibility we'll share her whole life," he says at last. "And one that I cherish."

Jaskier smiles. "Me too," he says. Elodie is asleep by now, and Jaskier gets out of bed and puts her down in her crib. Then he cuddles up beside Geralt. "So you'll stay home as long as I want?"

"I will."

"I'll be fine once she's a few months old, I think. Assuming you don't leave for, like, weeks at a time."

"I won't. I'd miss you too much," says Geralt honestly. "All three of you."

"Good," says Jaskier, sounding satisfied. "Because we'd miss you too."

***

January arrives.

And late one afternoon, just as the sun is beginning to set, Elodie starts crying— or screaming, more like. The strange thing is, nothing seems to be wrong. Her diaper is clean, and when Jaskier tries to feed her, she takes his nipple in her mouth for only a moment, then rejects it. Jaskier then attempts unsuccessfully to burp her. But she just keeps screaming, her legs drawn up to her chest, her face bright red.

"Maybe she wants her Daddy," says Jaskier, handing the distraught child off to Geralt.

So Geralt holds her, pats her back, talks soothingly to her. She still won't stop crying. It's been at least ten minutes, and she's never cried like this before. "What do we do?" he asks Jaskier.

Just then Rian emerges from his room, where he'd been playing, and walks over to them with a frown on his face.

"What's wrong with her?" he asks, tugging at Geralt's shirt.

"I don't know," says Geralt.

"Papa?" Rian tries, turning to Jaskier.

Jaskier doesn't respond. He's staring down at the ground, swaying slightly, one hand gripping Elodie's crib for support.

And he's hyperventilating.

"Fuck," mutters Geralt. "Rian, go back to your room, alright?"

"But Papa is breathing fast," Rian whispers. "Like when his mind is hurting him."

"I know," says Geralt. "But I'll take care of him and Elodie. You just go play in your room. Make up a nice story, okay? Or a song. And you can share it with us when Papa and Elodie feel better."

Rian hesitates, then nods, and trudges back to his bedroom. Once his door is closed, Geralt focuses his attention on Jaskier, who is now sitting on the floor, his face buried in his hands. Geralt kneels down beside him.

"Jaskier," he says, loudly enough to be heard over Elodie's crying. "It's alright. You're safe." He changes his grip on Elodie so he's holding her in just one arm, and uses his free hand to touch Jaskier's knee.

Jaskier lifts his head slightly, gasping for air.

"You're having a panic attack," Geralt tells him. "But you're okay. I'm here. Do you know where you are?"

"Geralt," murmurs Jaskier, reaching out and grabbing Geralt's wrist with a white-knuckled grip. "Geralt."

"That's right," says Geralt. "I'm right here."

Jaskier starts to sob.

***

The next few minutes drag by slowly. Jaskier continues to hyperventilate as he cries, and Elodie continues to scream. Geralt does his best to comfort both of them, to no avail.

But finally, Jaskier's breathing begins to grow steady. His grip on Geralt's wrist loosens. He looks up, blinking away tears, and sniffles. "I can hold her," he mumbles, taking the still-wailing Elodie into his arms. "I'm sorry," he says then.

"You needn't apologize."

"But I know it's annoying."

"You could never annoy me."

"What about her?" Jaskier frowns.

"What?"

"You're not angry at her?"

"At her?"

Jaskier nods.

"Jaskier, she's a baby. You think I'd get angry at her for crying?"

"She won't stop," says Jaskier weakly.

"Which is concerning, but she can't help it. She's four weeks old."

"When I couldn't make Rian stop crying, Szymon would be furious," Jaskier says, looking away. "Whenever he cried too long, I'd just panic, knowing Szymon would be showing up soon to beat the shit out of me. And he'd— he'd threaten to hurt Rian too if he didn't quiet down. Sometimes he'd threaten to suffocate him with a pillow."

Geralt clenches his teeth. "Fuck that," he grunts. "Fuck Szymon. Only a monster would threaten a baby."

Jaskier nods, and starts to cry again. "I know," he says. "I know he was terrible. I'm sorry I ever— I know you wouldn't hurt her. Or me."

Geralt rests a hand on Jaskier's shoulder.

"I just wasn't thinking straight," Jaskier mutters, switching Elodie to his other arm. She's still crying.

"I understand," says Geralt. "Don't worry."

Jaskier gives him a tight smile. Then, still sitting on the floor, he leans in closer to Geralt, sighs, and plants a kiss on Elodie's small head. "Oh, my sweet little one," he murmurs to her softly. "I'm sorry you're so unhappy right now. But you know what? Papa and Daddy love you so much. Even if you were to cry all day every day for as long as you live, we'd still love you to no end."

He glances at Geralt, as if for confirmation, and Geralt nods firmly. "That's right," he says.

Jaskier looks grateful. "Perhaps we should visit Raph and Aleks," he says then. "They might have some advice for soothing her. And we could bring Rian too. Maybe he could sleep over there, in case she keeps this up all night or something."

"Hmm," says Geralt. "That's a good idea."

"I'll go get Rian dressed then," says Jaskier. "Will… will you be alright with Ellie?"

"Jaskier," says Geralt, "she's my daughter as much as she is yours," which is true in his heart, if not technically. "There's nothing I'd rather do than be with her in her hour of need."

"Her hour of need?" repeats Jaskier, a smile playing at his lips. But he seems reassured. He hands Elodie off to Geralt and stands up. "Alright then," he says. "I'll get Rian. You bundle Elodie up a bit more warmly."

***

And a little while later, the four of them step out into the cold night air, and set off for Raph and Aleks's cottage.