It wasn’t that Geralt wanted to be beautiful. No, he understood that only sorcerers gained beauty along with their inhuman powers, but he wished that he could have remained unremarkable in his looks. The distant memories of Geralt’s childhood told him he had once been perfectly average looking. A dark haired, dark eyed boy of middling height and build. Neither ugly nor handsome, he passed without comment wherever he had gone.
Among the boys at Kaer Morhen, looks were irrelevant to the training process, but even there, standing among boys ranging from Lambert’s strong, handsome features to the scarred visages of those struck by the pox in their youth, Geralt had felt neither confident nor insecure about his appearance. He was so normal, so average, that the thought to consider his looks never crossed his mind.
The mutations changed that.
Not only was he one of the few boys to survive the Trial of the Grasses, but he was the only Witcher in history to receive additional mutations. Because of that, not only did he have a Witcher’s characteristic, unnatural, cat-like eyes, but his hair had been bleached white, his teeth elongated, his features sharpened, his very bones thickened to accommodate the enhanced strength afforded by his mutated muscles. The other Witchers had unnatural eyes that flashed in the darkness. He was nearly as much of monster as those they hunted.
Geralt understood the stark difference, the sheer hideousness of his appearance, the first time he left Kaer Morhen after completing his training.
Before, where he had passed without notice, now villagers pointed, stared, and spat. Gasps of shock, expressions of violent disgust, and whispers of “freak”, “mutant”, and “monster” dogged his steps. On his first day, passing through the village at the base of the mountain below Kaer Morhen, he’d heard an elderly peasant woman whisper to her companion, “they’re making them uglier every year, ain’t they? Those thrice damned mutant freaks.”
Compared to the havoc the mutations had wreaked on his body, the impact on his looks should have been insignificant. But it still hurt. Back then, he was young enough to still be idealistic. To still dream of being a hero, a knight protecting the weak and vulnerable in the world.
But the decades that passed showed him that dreams were not for the likes of him. The first time he saved a girl from bandits intent on stealing her virtue, he’d imagined she might be grateful. And she had been. Until she saw Geralt’s face. Then, she’d screamed and thrown her shoes, rocks, dirt, whatever she could lay her hands on at him until he’d retreated.
Once could have been a fluke. A terrified girl reacting to protect her life and her virtue from an unknown stranger. But it happened again, and again, and again. Travelers he saved on the road would chase him off once they got a look at who – at what – saved them. Aldermen who contracted him would curl their lips and sneer when he showed up to accept the contract, giving him the barest of details before hurrying him back out of town to complete his task, the only purpose for which his existence was tolerated. Villagers he’d saved from monsters would throw stones at him, chasing him out of town with vile words if he was lucky, and with pitchforks if he was not.
Geralt knew from the other Witchers that prejudice was common, as was a certain lack of gratitude from those served, but none experienced the depth of vitriol that Geralt suffered. Geralt had long since concluded that the difference was due to his appearance, his hideous, monstrous, inhuman appearance.
And so, he did his best to avoid human settlements. He limited his interactions to the bare minimum required to complete his contracts. He made sure to never raise his voice, to never show his anger. He was unfailingly polite and soft spoken when he was forced to speak. He kept his eyes averted and stayed in the shadows and corners of human settlements. He entered villages only when absolutely required, and spoke to innkeepers and merchants only when his supplies were utterly exhausted. He made sure to keep a supply of gold and precious gems on hand to compensate a healer in the rare event he couldn’t heal himself, knowing they would charge a premium for interacting with him, and even more of one if they were forced to touch him.
After nearly a century living in the shadows because of his monstrous nature, Geralt was resigned to his lifestyle. On occasion, in a quiet village that was more tolerant of him than most, he would take a chance and see if the tavern keeper would be willing to serve him. Every once in a great while, they were, and he would sit in the farthest, darkest corner of the tavern to nurse his ale in silence, hood up and eyes down, trying his best to blend into the background.
It worked well for him. He’d get to enjoy his ale and he’d yet to have a problem with the other patrons, if they noticed him at all.
But all good things must end.
In Posada, on a bright, sunny day before heading out to complete a contract for a “devil” (it was not a devil, but Geralt suspected it might be a sylvan), Geralt sat in his usual dark corner, enjoying a surprisingly good ale. The bard playing for the patrons crowded around the tavern’s large windows was as skilled with his lute playing as he was terrible with his lyrical composition, but Geralt let the words pass through his ears without listening to them, content to enjoy the music alone.
He was shocked to his core when the bard, having completed his set to a rain of bread and jeers, not only came up to him, but sat down. Geralt immediately stood to leave, head down to hide his face in his hood, taking his half-full tankard with him, when the bard stopped him. “I know who you are.”
Geralt froze. The tavern keeper knew, of course, but exposing his identity, his presence, could potentially cause a violent reaction amongst the tavern’s other patrons, who doubtless would want to clear him out of their space as soon as possible.
“You’re Geralt of Rivia.” The bard said, clearly pleased with his identification skills, and, fortunately, quietly.
Geralt leveled a quelling glare at him before he could stop himself. His face fully lit by the sunlight coming through the windows when he raised his head to do so. He took a quick glance around the tavern, seeing they’d not been noticed yet, and stalked out the door, leaving his ale behind, his rare moment of peace shattered. Luckily, he always paid in advance in case he needed to make a quick exit, so the tavern keeper let him go without comment.
Walking swiftly to Roach, he checked her tack before unhitching her from the post, leading her out to the road. As he moved to mount, he heard light, quick steps behind him.
“Wait!” The bard called out, lute banging on his back as he hastily stuffed bread into his shoulder bag, “I’m coming with you!”
Geralt took a deep breath, forcing himself to remain calm, to remain soft, inoffensive. “No, you’re not.” He said, mounting Roach and turning his head away from the bard.
“Yeah, no, I totally am. Meeting you is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me, and I’m not going to let this chance pass by!” The bard said brightly, moving to stand at Geralt’s left stirrup.
Geralt heaved a sigh, looking down at the young man, and he was a young man, unsure whether he should be annoyed or pleased at his persistence in keeping Geralt’s company.
The bard looked up, meeting his gaze fully for the first time. “Wow, yeah, you’re gorgeous.” He said, staring up at Geralt with an expression Geralt didn’t recognize. Gorgeous? Geralt didn’t know how to respond to that, so he didn’t.
He kicked Roach on, setting her off at a quiet walk toward the village gate. Wouldn’t do to move any faster, no matter how much he wanted to leave this odd bard behind. Faster meant more attention. Faster was dangerous.
The bard kept up, walking more swiftly in his fancy shoes than he had any right to, chattering away about anything and everything, from his latest doublet, to some character named Valdo Marx, to how pleasing Geralt’s hair was when the sun hit it just so.
After a long hour of walking, followed closely by the young bard, Geralt arrived at the hill close to the site of the reported “devil”. He stopped and dismounted Roach, securing her safely to a tree branch with ample room to graze.
The bard trotted right up next to him. “So, where to next? I’m Jaskier, by the way.” He said, thrusting out a hand to shake.
Geralt just looked at it. No one had ever wanted to shake his hand before, but he wouldn’t play into whatever this bard – Jaskier – had planned by going off script.
He just moved on with his hunt, heading out to look for clues on his quarry’s location and identity, tossing a gruff, “stay with the horse” over his shoulder at the bard. If he couldn’t get the bard to leave him, at least he could try and keep him safe.
Jaskier didn’t listen. Not then, not after they eventually escaped from Filavandrel, and not for the next several months he followed Geralt all about the Continent, sharing camp sites, meals, and the occasional room at an inn. With Jaskier’s presence, one in every dozen innkeepers or so was willing to lend Geralt a room, with the understanding he was under the supervision and control of his human keeper. When he was alone, asking for a room was a useless exercise. Geralt wasn’t sure if Jaskier understood that or not, but he wouldn’t risk losing access to more frequent hot baths and comfortable beds by pointing it out.
The oddest thing about Jaskier though was not his persistence in following Geralt, but his persistence in complimenting him. It was always “your hair is so soft” or “gods, your eyes are to die for” or “you’re so attractive, it’s not fair.” More than that, more than those incomprehensible words, was the fact that Jaskier touched him. Freely and often. A pat on the shoulder, gentle hands combing through his hair while he bathed, a warm body leaning against his by the campfire. People didn’t touch him. Didn’t like to look at him. And yet, Jaskier did. Geralt didn’t understand it.
He knew he was monstrous; he knew he wasn’t fit for human companionship, and yet, Jaskier was seemingly unaware of that obvious fact. At first, Geralt had thought the compliments and the touching were all a great, cruel joke to Jaskier, but months of exposure showed him that Jaskier was as genuine as he was foolhardy, and he held nothing back when he felt Geralt did something that deserved censure. If Jaskier complimented him or touched him, it was because he wanted to, and that was beyond Geralt’s comprehension.
Geralt’s confusion, his frustration with Jaskier not following the script, all came to head when they were preparing to attend a fancy banquet, hosted by one of Jaskier’s friends from Oxenfurt, which Jaskier had convinced Geralt to attend as his companion. “I can’t just show up alone, Geralt!” Jaskier had said. “Besides, I can’t resist a chance to show off my lovely muse.”
As Geralt bathed, scraping drowner blood out of his white hair, Jaskier flitted about the room, laying out finery for Geralt to wear, commenting how nice everything would look on him and how jealous his friends would be when they saw him on the arm of such a gorgeous companion
Geralt couldn’t take it anymore. “Stop it!” He growled, turning a frustrated glare on Jaskier. “Stop saying things like that!”
Jaskier froze. He must have seen something in Geralt’s expression, because he immediately dropped the ribbon he was inspecting, one of his many choices to use on Geralt’s hair, and knelt at the side of the tub by Geralt’s left side.
He reached for Geralt’s cheek and Geralt flinched away, hiding his face behind a curtain of wet hair. Tension thrummed through his frame and his posture was abjectly miserable, fists clenched around the edges of the bath, knuckles white.
Jaskier frowned, uncertain where this upset was coming from, but knowing how reserved Geralt was, he knew the cause was substantial to create this strong a reaction in his normally stoic friend.
He reached out again and gently turned Geralt to face him. Geralt flinched, but didn’t pull away.
Geralt’s eyes remained firmly down, brows drawn together, shame flooding him. He’d shouted at Jaskier, growled at him like an animal, all over the little, innocuous lies Jaskier liked to tell himself about Geralt’s appearance. If he was lucky, Jaskier would simply leave. If he was unlucky, he’d be getting a visit from the guards.
“Geralt?” Jaskier prompted, concern clear in his voice. “Please, tell me what’s wrong.”
Geralt’s jaw clenched, daring a glance up at Jaskier before averting his eyes again. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t have shouted at you.” This time he did pull away.
“No, you shouldn’t have, but I’m more concerned with why. Have I upset you? Hurt you? Please, tell me.” Jaskier waited, watching as Geralt’s eyes darted about, jaw clenching and unclenching.
Geralt didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t how things were supposed to be. He had a role, a script, and Jaskier just came in and flipped the papers out of his hands, setting his own, improvised pattern instead. Geralt didn’t know what to do. What to think. He just knew it hurt that Jaskier kept giving him glimpses of his childhood dream, a dream he knew was forever out of reach.
But he had already behaved unforgivably, so he might as well get some information about Jaskier’s incomprehensible actions before he inevitably left. Could serve him well in the future if he ever met anyone else willing to tolerate him for more than a few moments.
Geralt drew in a breath and went for it, heart racing in his chest. “Stop saying things that aren’t true. I don’t understand why you do that.” He spoke to the bathwater, unable to look at Jaskier.
“Whatever do you mean?” Jaskier asked, anxious to ease the pain he saw on his dear friend’s face.
“You call me ‘gorgeous’, you compliment my hair, my looks.” Geralt shook his head, bewilderment evident in his tone. “I know it’s not true, so why do you keep saying it?” Geralt finally looked up, searching Jaskier’s expression, face lined with pained confusion.
Jaskier’s heart clenched in his chest, aching for his friend, for the decades of suffering that simple ask revealed.
He placed a hand gently over Geralt’s where it was clenched around the edge of the wooden tub, meeting Geralt’s eyes calmly. Geralt’s hand jumped beneath his, but did not pull away.
“Because it is true. You’re one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. And one of the most noble, to keep fighting to protect people who will never appreciate all that you do and all that you sacrifice.” Jaskier said, firmly and kindly.
Geralt shook his head sharply, looking away. He knew what he was.
Jaskier leaned forward to keep Geralt’s face in sight, thumb rubbing gently over Geralt’s clenched fist. “What do you think you look like?” He asked.
Geralt scoffed. “Like a monster.” He stated it like the indisputable fact he knew it to be.
Jaskier closed his eyes briefly, devastated to hear confirmed what he always suspected. Geralt had no idea of his own worth, his own beauty, having internalized for far too long the fear and hatred dumped on him by villagers unable to accept that something could be different and still be worthy.
Jaskier squeezed Geralt’s fist, reaching out with his other hand to turn Geralt’s face to his again. Holding his chin gently so he could not look away, Jaskier said firmly, “there is nothing monstrous about you.” Geralt huffed in disbelief, trying to avert his eyes, but Jaskier held him in place. “Your mutations made you unique, gave you the ability to do your job, to protect all of us from the real monsters. Your hair, your eyes, hell, even your teeth, they show the sacrifices you’ve made to protect our Continent. From a purely aesthetic perspective, you are stunning. But as a person, you are beyond compare.”
Geralt stared, unable to respond, unsure of what to say in the face of Jaskier’s firm belief that he was worthy, that he was not monstrous to behold. When he was young, he knew he was unremarkable. After his mutations, he knew he was a monster. Yet, Jaskier seemed equally sure that Geralt was neither of those things.
Jaskier saw the conflict in his friend’s face. He knew that one conversation would not change a lifetime of conviction. He gently leaned his forehead against Geralt’s, closing his eyes. “One day, you’ll believe me, and until then, I’ll remind you every day that you are worthy, that you are gorgeous, and that you mean the world to me.”
Jaskier pulled back, keeping his eyes locked with Geralt’s. Geralt saw nothing but calm assurance in Jaskier’s eyes. No matter how remarkable, how unprecedented his words, Jaskier believed them to his core.
Geralt didn’t believe them. He had nearly a century of evidence to the contrary. But if this one remarkable man believed him worthy, believed him beautiful, then at least in Jaskier’s world, Geralt didn’t have to be a monster.