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Ciri had imagined Geralt of Rivia hundreds of times as she had made her way across the Continent, cold and hurting and alone. Amidst the fire and snow and smell of rotten blood she’d tried to pin a face to the looming someone in her head. A man with brown hair with a strong mustache who would carry her on his back when her feet hurt too much. A red head who smiled too hard and always held her hand when they ran.

The real Geralt of Rivia towered, face pale and unreadable, and Ciri had felt a strange pooling in her gut. It said ‘safe’. It said ‘finally, after all this time— ‘. It said destiny. Looking up at him, Ciri didn’t know if he felt that same pull. She didn’t know if she wanted him to or not.

She opened her mouth, jaw trembling a little as she struggled to find words.

‘Does this mean the running stops?’ she wanted to ask. She shut her mouth. She didn’t need to ask. She knew the two of them would still be running for a long, long time.

---

“Here.”

Ciri turned from the stall she had been looking at. Around them the market buzzed—save for a circle around her and Geralt as townsfolk pushed warily past them. No one wanted to brush against a Witcher, partially for fear of bad luck, and partially because Geralt smelled. The two of them hadn’t stayed in an inn in ages, and as much Ciri had started to like Geralt over the past weeks, river baths did not count as baths. It just left you smelling like moss on top of the other smells.

She stared at the knife he held out to her. Geralt raised an eyebrow and Ciri finally took it instead of staring at the gloved hand. It sat in a simple leather sheath, and when she pulled out the knife she marveled at the blade, regardless of how simple it was. It stretched from the tip of her middle finger just past the end of her palm. Nothing special, but still wicked sharp and promising quite the sting if someone found themselves at the end of it.

“Something is better than nothing.” Geralt says to her. “I’ll show you how to use it once we get out of town.”

Ciri nodded and didn’t try to hide her smile. “Thank you.”

Geralt’s mouth quirked into something Ciri had come to recognize as the closest he often got to a proper smile and knowing she had caused it put a sweet warmth in her belly.

He smiled for real later that night, a soft thing that showed the warmth in his eyes when she managed to throw the dagger hard enough to bury it in the tree trunk just inches from his face, taking white wisps of hair with it.

“That was wonderful.” Geralt said, and Ciri marveled at him. He had a nice smile. “You’re a natural.”

He turned, pulled the knife from the tree, and handed it back to her.

“Shall we go again?”

Ciri took it in hand and nodded. Her insides bubbled, and for the first time, knife in hand and Witcher in front of her, she felt safe. She felt strong.

---

Geralt was avoiding something. It had been three months since he had placed the dagger in Ciri’s hand and Ciri had noticed, regardless of how subtle he tried to be. She noticed the change in the way he held himself, the stiffness in his neck, the forced neutrality in his jaw every once and a while when they entered a pub or an inn or passed an outdoor festival. The Witcher wasn’t as hard to read as he liked to think he was. It wasn’t some danger, like she had first assumed—Geralt’s spine went tight when he noticed something like that, and sometimes Ciri swore she could hear his heart beat slow at the sign of trouble. So, then it wasn’t danger, which left Ciri with a troublesomely long list of things that she would have to fit together. It was a good thing that long walks with Geralt’s silence left plenty of time for over thinking.

She’d decided the something was a some one . The person wasn’t following them—there was no paranoia in Geralt’s shoulders when his eyes flickered around the seating hall in each pub. No paranoia, just his eyes lingering on the tables pushed away to make room for a performer. Catching for a second on the plucking fingers of a bard on a lute or a rebec.

“Who are we avoiding?” Ciri asked one night, legs tucked under her on the bed, watching Geralt sort through medical supplies. Bandages, freshly scrubbed of blood, dried before the room’s fire. They were low on coin, low enough that Geralt was beginning to find himself dangerously low on medical supplies, but Ciri had been unable to shake a low fever for the past few days and he decided getting her out of the wet and the cold would be worth the hole it dug in his wallet.

“That’s a long list of people. Give me a starting point.” He said, not looking up.

“Who are you avoiding? I see the look you get sometimes when we enter a pub or walk past a performance festival. You’re looking for someone.”

Geralt’s hands stilled. “I’m always looking. There are more bad people out there than you’d like imagine, and with you under my care—”

“I know plenty about ‘bad people’.” Ciri said, failing to keep all the bitterness out of her voice. Geralt nodded slowly.

“I shouldn’t have insinuated otherwise.”

“I could help keep look out if you told me—”

Geralt looked up, face squared. “That’s enough, Ciri. Get in bed. The last thing we need is your fever spiking again.”

“But—”

“Get in bed.”

Ciri flopped back onto the straw mattress. The candlelight Geralt worked by left orange flickers on the ceiling above her. Somehow despite the spinning in her head she managed to drift off, the lingering fever pulling her under.

She woke for a moment some point later to a cool hand on her forehead. It lingered for a moment before slipping away, and Ciri could hear Geralt’s soft footsteps as he settled back against the wall to meditate.

---

Monster hunting sounded exciting at first, like some wonderful adventure filled with guts and heroism. A fairytale where the courageous Witcher slayed the great dragon and came trumping back victorious. Now, each time Geralt prepared to leave, monster hunting sounded bone chillingly terrifying.

“As soon as I’m gone, I want you to press the chair under the door handle like this, all right?” Geralt said, patting the door frame for emphasis. He’d shoved the back of the chair under the inn room door’s handle, pinning it shut. “And lock everything—window shutters too.”

“You don’t have to go. We—we could…” Ciri trailed off. She had no idea how to finish the sentence. They were low on coin, and while Ciri promised she didn’t mind sleeping out in the open Geralt insisted she slept in a bed as often as she could. Plus, Ciri could feel how anxious he was. Energy buzzed under Geralt’s skin, restlessness coiled tight under every muscle. Geralt wasn’t made for playing house. Ciri learned that soon into their travels, learned that his blood seemed to curl around like a leashed dog when he found himself in one place too long, or spent too much time without a sword in hand.

“It’s a simple job. I’ll be back by sunrise.” He said, his voice an awkward gravelly thing that was as close to soft as it got.

“And if you’re not?”

Geralt frowned, the corner of his mouth twitching just the slightest amount. “I’ll be back by sunrise. Lock the door and get some sleep.”

Ciri watched him leave, watched the door open and shut, watched him leave her like he always did when monsters and coin called him away from her, and she pointedly did not put the chair against the door.

With an overdrawn sigh she flopped on the bed and rolled over onto her belly. Geralt had bought her a—painfully expensive—book at a larger town a few weeks back. She could read it again to pass the time; it told of a mystical girl taken from her home by a mighty demon who must use her wit and power to slay it and return victorious, and while the plot was predictable and the characters simplistic Ciri had sobbed when Geralt gave it to her. Good tears, happy, lonely tears that sent Geralt into a rather composed panic under she threw her arms around his stomach and buried her face in his leather armor, rivets leaving red circles on her face by the time she finally stepped back and wiped her eyes.

“Thank you.” She had whispered, rubbing the marks on her cheek, and in typical Geralt fashion Geralt didn’t really say anything, just patted her shoulder with surprising fondness.

Ciri looked to the door. Maybe, if she closed her eyes and wished really hard, Geralt would come back. …

Geralt did not come back. Ciri leaned over the edge of the bed and pulled out the book. She fluffed the pillows and snuggled down.

‘The great beast reared up, and in its teeth sat rows of crushed helmets,

Failed knights’ gold metal tarnished and rusted,

Blood dancing along molars and blistered tongue—’

Ciri snapped the book shut. Fuck.

She laid back. The sun was still setting, the little light slipping through the shutters casting strange shadows. She could hear the people below, the murmur of patrons and the starting notes of music. The notes shifted into a melody, something fast and fun, and the as the bard called out a refrain Ciri couldn’t quite make out their voice. The patrons calling the refrain back to them reverberated the floor.

They sounded like they were having fun. Unlike her.

She could count the nails in the rafters until the sun went down. Or sort her and Geralt’s traveling packs. Or read her shitty book. Or—or go downstairs and listen to the music. She didn’t have to go all the way, just sit on the last few steps. Or stand behind a corner post. Or, or sit on the veeery corner of a table, away from everyone else.

How angry would Geralt be? As long as he didn’t find out she wouldn’t have to know. The bard below her finished the song with a shout and Ciri sat up. She wasn’t going to sit in here all-night staring at the ceiling. She pulled her cloak on over her nightclothes and her shoes back on. She took a steadying breath and unlocked the door.

The smells, the light, the sounds—Ciri hadn’t realized just how loud her senses could be, and she drank it all in like a decaying alcoholic.

“Saw through that open door I did, my Flo and that sod-y man,

I took my sword from off my hip with nary a trembling hand

I took the life of pretty Flo and that good for nothing man!”

The bard paused before the next cord and the crowd shouted back the final lines, dozens of sober and drunk voices struggling to sing together. The bard grinned, dark hair plastered to his forehead with sweat, and Ciri froze at the base of the stairs.

There are lines by his eyes now that hadn’t been there before, and his voice was deeper, fuller, carrying less of the tenor of youth, and Ciri could conjure him up in her head clear as day. He had played in her grandmother’s court, a traveling bard that still came when summoned to provide a wonderful show. They’d spoken, a little more than occasionally, and each time when they parted he would flash her a bright, lopsided smile like she was the most important person in the world; not because of her title, but because that was simply who she was.

 Jaskier took a deep, cockish bow. “Remember that nothing encourages a new song like tips my good men—and women, of course! A little coin stretches merriment like no other.”

Ciri couldn’t seem to move, couldn’t seem to tear herself away from his glowing face. Jaskier ran a hand through his hair as his eyes flickered through the crowd, landing on her face. Confusion flickered across his face for a moment before soft recognition spread through his eyes. Ciri shrunk back into the dark.

“Friends, thank you, I hope you all get wonderfully drunk or sleep wonderfully well, whatever suits you best!” He called, before moving through the crowd towards her. Ciri’s breath caught and she turned, running back up the stairs, and slipped for a moment when she heard Jaskier’s voice at the base of the stairs.

“Cirilla?”

Ciri dared a glance over her shoulder. He wasn’t running after her, wasn’t following, just stood at the base of the stairs and looked up with her with un accusing confusion. Ciri swallowed. She should go to her room, lock the door, force the chair underneath, and hide under the covers until Geralt got back smelling like monster guts and safety.

“Ciri?” Jaskier called out again. There’s a beat, and then he gave her an uncomfortable smile. “Forgive me, kid, you looked like someone I knew a while back. Don’t mind me—”

“Jaskier?” She whispered, and his face melts into something she doesn’t quite recognize.

“The one and only. Well shit me, Ciri, how long’s it been? Have you eaten?”

Ciri nodded and Jaskier smiled. “That’s good. Did you know that your hair starts to fall out if you don’t eat enough? You’ve got a nice head of hair there, hate for that to happen. Still, I made a good haul tonight, how about I buy you something sweet?”

Ciri hesitated, rocking back away from him. What would Geralt do? Not go downstairs, that’s for sure. But—but Geralt didn’t know Jaskier. He didn’t know him like she did. Did? How much did people change over time? But she had her knife on her; Ciri kept it on her even in sleep, tucked into the waistband of her underclothes. She handled it rather well, or at least she liked to hope she did. She nodded and moved down the stairs, forcing her legs steady.

Jaskier sat her down, had apple cider and sweet almonds brought over, and watched as she sipped her cider.

“So,” Jaskier said, “ please tell me you’re not here alone.”

Ciri sniffed. “Why? I’m old enough to travel by myself.”

Jaskier raised an eyebrow. “You’re what, 12 now—”

“Thirteen.”

Excuse me , 13. You’re absolutely too young to not have a chaperone. I’m all for grand adventures but that’s not something you should be doing alone.”

“He’s not a chaperone.” Ciri mumbled into her cup. “He’s a friend.”

“Where is the guy?”

“Working.”

“At this hour? I suppose not all can live the wonderfully flexible lifestyle of an award winning bard.”

Ciri smiled, and Jaskier brightened at the sight of it.

“His job is certainly more important than strumming a lute.”

“You wound me! There’s nothing of greater importance than lifting the spirits of the unlifted, brightening the lives of those darkened—”

Ciri shook her head as she grabbed a handful of almonds. “Far more important. He’s a Witcher.”

---

Ciri had never seen someone’s eyes widen so fast.

---

In the end, meeting Jaskier again was helpful in that he was both pleasant conversation and distracted Geralt from how angry he was with her from breaking his rules and sneaking downstairs.

You don’t follow anyone’s rules.” Ciri had said, crossing her arms. “I’m simply following the example given.”

Jaskier had snorted into his sleeve and the withering look Geralt gave him was enough to kill.

Now, Ciri sat with her shoulder to their room door, ear pressed against the door, straining to hear them just past the wood.

“I’m not leaving.”

“I’m not asking you to leave—”

“I was here first, the crowd’s good, I’m not leaving.”

“ ’I was here first?’ Jaskier that’s incredibly petty, even for you.”

“Perhaps I feel like being petty tonight. I’ve been an absolute fucking gentleman keeping myself out from underneath your feet—”

“So what are you asking of me then?” Geralt said. It isn’t a question, just a hard, hissed string of words. “Shall I go gather up my ward and walk off into the night because you cannot fathom sharing the same damn inn?”

“I’m not the one who said they’d rather rid their life of me, Geralt .” Jaskier took a shuddering breath. “Just—fuck!”

 Ciri head heavy footsteps as Jaskier left and could practically hear Geralt grinding his teeth from here. She scrambled back to her bed and had only just thrown the blankets over her when the door opened. Geralt closed it with a tense purposefulness. He looked exhausted in the candlelight, hair streaked with gore, and Ciri felt a sudden pang of guilt for keeping him away from the proper bath he deserved after chopping up whatever the hell it was he went out to find tonight.

He unbuckled his leather armor in silence, dumping it against the wall to be scrubbed clean later.

“It was nice to see Jaskier tonight.” Ciri said softly. Geralt stiffened. “He used to play in court.”

“Hm.”

“He was always nice to me. I missed seeing people from home. Nice people.”

Geralt’s hands stilled.

“Go to sleep, Ciri.” He said.

“Geralt—”

“Please.”

Ciri laid back and rolled onto her stomach. The soft sounds of Geralt undressing settled against her chest and she dipped her left hand below the blankets to finger the hilt of her knife. She wasn’t sure when she drifted off or what time it was when she drifted awake, just that the candle had burned out and Geralt was gone. Panic spiked in her for a second until she noticed the cold bathwater by Geralt’s bed. She stood and padded over to his bed. She sat down and knotted her fingers in his blankets. The sheets were still warm.

---

“Good morning!”

Ciri was up in an instant, blade in hand at the distinctly-not-Geralt voice, falling out of bed with the sheets tangled around her tan legs, teeth bared.

Jaskier blinked at her, hands up.

“I see we’ve been picking up tips. Forgive me, didn’t mean to startle you.”

Ciri lowered her blade. “What are you doing here? The lock—”

“Your Witcher friend let me, don’t worry. No breaking and entering here!” Ciri untangled herself from the blankets. She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep in Geralt’s bed, and the realization made her flush.

“Where’s Geralt?”

“’Negotiating’ with the contract holder over the paycheck. Don’t know why so many humans think they can swindle or best someone who just lobbed the head off a monster four and a half times their size. Never ends well.”

“So he asked you to stay with me?”

“Well…” Jaskier tapped out some rhythm she didn’t recognize on the floor with anxious fingers. “We—I—we were thinking that maybe you might appreciate someone less gruff and grumbly on the road with you; someone from home.”

“Someone from home…” Ciri whispered.

“Only if you want! Not about to shove myself where I’m not wanted.” Jaskier said with a surprisingly strained laugh.

Ciri pocketed her knife. “I’d like that.” She said, and the tension that Ciri hadn’t even noticed Jaskier had been holding disappeared from his face.

“Wonderful!” He clapped his hands. “Then let’s get ready and see if we can track down your good Witcher before he takes a man’s head off.”

Ciri nodded and let him help her to her feet. Her dress and shift had been folded neatly at the foot of her bed, which she knew neither her or Geralt had done. Ciri had only just started feeling safe enough to not sleep with all of her few clothes layered on top of each other, just in case some mysterious figure came and bust the door down and they had to run , and Geralt made a point not to touch her things. So Jaskier must have done it, which was sweet, she supposed. She watched him as she laced up her shift—he was poking around in her and Geralt’s bags, and Ciri was about to tell him off for messing with Geralt’s strange but very specific organization before she realized that not a single piece was out of place.

Dress buttoned, Ciri sat beside him, legs crossed. Everything, down to the alternating direction of the rolls of bandages was perfect, save for a few soft touches, like the loose bow Jaskier had tied off Geralt’s suture kit with. Ciri bit her lip to stop a soft smile. Cute .

“Ready, little lady?” He said, face open and fair. He patted her knee. “Off we go then, into the great wilds. Or some rough, rouge-ish place— you know, whichever our wanna-be thief is in.”

---

Traveling with Jaskier was bright, bright and loud and filled with motion that had never been there when it was just her and Geralt. She loved Geralt, loved him so quickly that it had frightened her, left her feeling guilty like the warmth she felt meant her grief was somehow lesser. Like she was betraying all the burned bodies left behind her.

Geralt had noticed. She knew he did, and she knew that he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything.

Geralt didn’t play house. It didn’t suit him.

---

“So I’m think ing ,” Jaskier said from where he sat in the dirt, lute balanced on one knee and an open journal of scribbled musical scales on the other, “something along the lines of an f, then an a minor, d minor, maybe repeat the d minor— but it’s so gloomy , don’tcha think?”

Ciri pursed her lips. “I liked the c, f, c, g, c one better—with the tree. The tree one.”

The… tree… one …” Jaskier mumbled as he jotted down something in his journal. “What do you think, Geralt?”

There is silence from across them where Geralt diligently gutted a weasel. Ciri had been watching him from the corner of her eye most of the night; his hair and knife both seemed to glow in the firelight.

“I think it’s wonderful.” Ciri said, and Jaskier grinned.

“It’s just a draft, not much, but I appreciate the help. You know your scales surprisingly well!”

“I played an instrument when I was young. Never grand at them, though.”

Jaskier gasped.

“You mean to tell me I thought I had suffered alone for all these miles when I had a fellow musician right beside me? What was it? Harp? Lute? Flageolet—”

“Rebec!”

“No! Oh, Ciri, you wound me. Not that horrid thing. Keep talking like that and I’ll strip you of the title of musician all together.”

“I don’t think that’s how that works.” Ciri and Jaskier’s heads jerked up at Geralt’s murmuring.

“He speaks!” Jaskier said. There was no reply. Geralt’s boning knife never stilled as it scrapped alongside the underside of the weasel’s spine. A piece of silverskin dropped into the pile of guts at his feet.

Something between the two of them sapped the energy from before, leaving only the soft sounds of Jaskier tuning his lute and the crackle of a fire between them. Ciri wanted to ask, wanted to know where these uneasy silences drifted in from, so different from when just she and Geralt were alone. Instead she rested her head on Jaskier’s shoulder and tried to pretend she hadn’t noticed the silence to begin with.

---

Something was burning. She couldn’t see it but she could smell it, rich, ripe, and awful, and she knew all the things hidden under that smell. Spilt innards bubbling in their own shed blood. Skin slick with the fat that leaked from dead bodies and broken skin. Eyes popping in skulls like knuckles on a pig above a fire pit, tongues liquifying, voices smothered and caught in ash—

Blood splattered across the back of her neck and dripped down her back, dying her hair, as Lazlo slumped against her for a moment before sliding away, down into the black smokey air. She couldn’t tell if the black on her hands was soot or congealed blood, couldn’t see, couldn’t move, just knew something was burning

“Ciri—”

Someone grabbed her and bloody bile rose to her mouth. They’d found her, they had, they—

“Jaskier, get away from her—”

“Geralt, I—”

Cirilla .”

Ciri’s eyes flew open. Soft. She was on something soft—a bed. It was a bed, and, and Geralt was beside her on it, close enough to touch but not enough to smother.

“Breathe.” He said, voice soft and low, and she nodded and took in a shaky breath.

“You’re in an inn in Lammen with me. The bard is here, no one else. You had a nightmare.”

Ciri glanced around the room, suddenly feeling too heavy to even move her head. From the corner of her eye she could see Jaskier standing by the foot of the bed in his small clothes, eyes wide. No smoke. No fire. No blood. Just Jaskier and her Witcher.

Ciri dug the heels of her palms into her eyes, face hot with embarrassment under Jaskier’s eyes, but Geralt just lied down next to her like he always did when she had bad dreams as if Jaskier wasn’t even there. Ciri buried her face into his neck, hiding in his hair.

It was hard to be frightened when held by a Witcher.

The first time he had held her had been awkward for the both of them, but now fitting beside him while she waited for her heart to stop pounding felt natural. Geralt’s slow heartbeat against her ear helped settle the wild thing in her. Could he hear her heartbeat fluttering inside her like some rat or weasel, too shallow and too fast? She forced another breath. She was fine. No smoke. No fire. No blood.

---

“Is she asleep?” Jaskier asked later. Ciri’s eyelids fluttered as Geralt sat up. She wasn’t awake enough to truly process Jaskier’s words, just knew Jaskier , soft, warm, smelling like weeds and wood polish. Her heart settled at the sound of him, the sense of him. She rolled over into the warmth of Geralt’s old spot. He ran a calloused hand through her hair.

“To an extent. She never really goes back to sleep on these nights.”

“Does this happen often, then?”

“Sometimes more often than less.”

Jaskier swore. “You didn’t think to give a man some warning? I thought the whole damn room might collapse.”

“That’s not her fault.”

Jaskier sighed, and the mattress dipped as he settled beside Geralt. “No. No it’s not. Have you taken her to see anyone about it? Yennefer maybe? I can’t imagine it’s easy running around with a power like that in you.”

There was a long, near painful pause before—

“She sleeps better now that you’re here.”

“She—she does?”

“Yeah. Usually I was lucky if we went three weeks without an incident.”

“Poor thing.”

“She doesn’t need your pity.”

“It’s not pity. She’s a child .”

“I hate to break it to you Jaskier, but shit happens to kids every day.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

Geralt ran another hand through her hair. A soft sigh made its way up her throat and his fingers lingered on her cheek for a moment. There was no smoke. There was no fire. She was safe.

---

“What are you going to do?” Jaskier asked, finger pointed straight at Ciri.

“Wait here.”

“And how long are you doing to do it?”

“Until you get back.”

“Thank you. Fuck, I sound like Geralt don’t I?” Jaskier threw up his hands. “Well, shit.”

It’s almost enough to make a smile break threw the hold of anxiety on Ciri. It’d been almost a day past when Geralt promised he’d be home, almost a day past when he was supposed to come dragging himself in, reeking of guts and gore, from fulfilling a contract. A day past when he’d let Ciri check him over for injuries, and let her pretend not to notice when Jaskier helped him undress even though he was more than capable to do so. Help him undress, help him into the bath, help his get the gore from out of his hair. Ciri could hear them whispering at night in the shared inn room, so soft that her drowsy ears couldn’t make it out. Geralt was not a man of many words, nor a man to hide them, and if she didn’t trust the two of them with all of her heart she’d be suspicious.

“I won’t be long.” Jaskier promised. “The two of us will be back in no time and I’ll give our Witcher a proper thrashing for worrying you. Alright?” Ciri nodded. “Atta girl!” Jaskier leaned down to give her a quick peck on the forehead and then was out the door in a whirlwind, locking the inn room behind him.

Ciri slunk down to the floor and fingered the kiss on her forehead. Jaskier had never done that before. She brought her fingertips to her lips. But that didn’t change that she didn’t intend on staying here for one damn second.

It seemed like a good idea when she locked the door behind her, when she left the inn, hell even while she was toing the tree line she had followed Jaskier into. It seemed like a good idea until she noticed the soil under her feet was sticky with blood.

Blood. Even if she couldn’t smell it, it seemed to float around her head in a coopery cloud. Blood, blood meant smoke, meant fire, meant—

Ciri stumbled further into the trees, desperate to find Jaskier. Blood, blood

She tripped and her ankle rolled from underneath her, and Ciri tumbled down the hill, catching herself right before she slammed into Jaskier, crouched on his knees over a dark figure, face white and eyes wide as they came to rest on her.

His hands were red and dripping, leaving red spots on his trousers, and they hovered over Geralt who laid splayed out on the ground, chest leaking.

Ciri couldn’t breathe. The smell of smoke was suffocating. Lazlo stared up from the ground in front of her. Her grandmother stared up from the ground in front of her. Geralt—

“Ciri, Ciri I need you to listen to me.”

Ciri squeezed her eyes shut and looked away from Geralt. Jaskier stood in front of her, hands on each side of her face, carefully turning her head away from the gore at her feet.

“Ciri, I promise everything is going to be okay, I just need you to stay calm.”

“Jaskier—”

“I’ve got this under control, I promise. I want you to go sit by the tree and close your eyes until I’m ready, and then we’re going to take Geralt home and we’ll all laugh at how much of a moron he is later, okay?”

Ciri took a sharp breath through her teeth. “No, no I—I want to help.” Jaskier sighed and ran a hand through his hair, leaving red streaks behind.

“Alright—alright. I just need you to do exactly as I say.” Ciri nodded and Jaskier knelt back down to Geralt’s side.

“Go to his saddle bag and get me the suture kit, the aid kit, and his smaller box of potions.”

Ciri almost fell in her rush to find the bags—Roch, Roch, she hadn’t even noticed the mare before now, too focused on the blood leaking out of Geralt’s gut.

“Hello, girl.” Ciri said with a shaky voice, pulling open the saddle bags with shakier hands. Calm. She promised Jaskier she could stay calm. Supplies in hand she hurried back to see that Jaskier had halfway stripped Geralt.

“The water canteen.” He said holding out his hand, and Ciri passed it to him. She watched as he probed around the wound for something. “Do you want me to talk? I could tell you what I’m doing.”

Ciri nodded.

“Okay, okay, well right now I’m feeling if anything is hard around the wound. It’s on the gut so sometimes the things inside get cut and bleed into the body. That’s very dangerous, but it feels good to me. Now if we had the time, I would pick all the dirt and gravel out, but I’ll wait till we’re inside—” He moved to the canteen and rinsed the wound up, exposing a clean, puckering cut. He moved to the suture kit. Ciri had seen a suturing needle but never this close up. It curved and Jaskier threaded it with familiar fingers. “Ciri, can you do something for me? Can you hold the wound together but with the edges puckering up?” She rushed to his side and pretended to not notice the blood that began to leak out of the skin again. Jaskier seemed to know what he was doing, tying off each stitch with four knots and slicing the threat from the skin with a quick tug of a knife. “Potion box, third row, fourth bottle, orangish—hand it to me.” Jaskier ripped a chunk from his undershirt and used it to apply the paste, which hissed as soon as it made contact with Geralt’s skin.

“Dangerous for human skin.” He explained, throwing the fabric aside. “Not perfect but will hold till we reach the inn. Help me hoist him onto Roach. Wish she could take the three of us but even that beautiful girl isn’t made for that.”

“You really know this, don’t you?” Ciri said, grabbing Geralt’s boots as Jaskier hoisted him up. His eyes flashed with something painfully sad for a moment, enough to make Ciri regret asking.

“I just have a lot of practice.” Jaskier said softly.

“…You two used to travel together, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question, just a soft statement that seemed to hit Jaskier hard in the gut as he hoisted Geralt onto Roach’s back.

“Yes.” He said. “I did.”

---

Ciri didn’t leave Geralt’s side all night. As soon as Jaskier was finished smoothing out his stitches and cleaning the wound she was in the bed beside him, tucking her head into his sweaty neck, burying her face in his hair.

“He’ll be fine.” Jaskier said, sitting next to her.

“How do you know?” She mumbled, giving Geralt’s hand a squeeze.

“Because I’ve seen him come back from far worse. He always comes back.” Ciri shifted her head to see Jaskier through the veil of Geralt’s hair.

“Like what?”

“Well, there was the manticore. Marvelous beast, four horned, green scales the color of rotten moss. It would have shone if not for the layer of gore atop it from poor farmers caught in its rampage. 12 men had fallen to its monstrous claws and gnashing teeth! 12 lives taken, squashed out by its jaw, strong enough to snap a femur like a toothpick. Not our Witcher though, the glorious Geralt of Rivia, who came to face it, a knight in black armor, silver blade drawn and shining in the moon—”

Ciri gave a tired laugh. “That doesn’t sound quite true.” Jaskier snorted.

“Of course it’s not!” He moved further on the bed, cuddling up next to Ciri, carefully laying his arm across her. Ciri took hold of his hand. “I’ll tell you a secret—it doesn’t matter who they are, any bard worth their salt lies.”

---

She woke because Jaskier shot up in the bed, only thinking to steady her after he’s up. Ciri was too groggy to move, just buried her face further into Geralt’s hair.

“You’re up.” Jaskier whispered.

Geralt made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a groan.

“Don’t ever do that again. You scared the shit out of Ciri.”

“I didn’t exactly plan to get my guts sliced open.” Geralt growled. Jaskier shifted over her and Ciri could feel the dip in the bed as he laid a hand on Geralt. She felt the brush of his fingers against her nose as he rested his hand on Geralt’s check.

“You scared the shit out of me . I can never get used to the feeling of your blood on my hands. You’re not alone anymore. You are to be more careful. If not for me then for her.”

“Not for you?”

“I—I know I’m not exactly the greatest inspiration—”

“I missed you.”

A sound resembling a choked bird came out of Jaskier’s mouth.

“The great Geralt of Rivia, talking about feelings—”

“I’m serious, Jaskier. I missed you. And I’m sorry.”

Jaskier breathed out, long and slow.

“I am. I never should have let you go.”

---

At first Ciri thought it was the cold. Geralt let her into his bed roll sometimes, when the cold was awful and inescapable, so maybe Jaskier was just a baby and unable to handle a little chill.

Every night when they found themselves camping in the woods, about an hour after she had laid out to sleep, Ciri would hear Jaskier stand from his bedroll, see him move through her lashes, till he snuggled up with Geralt, head on his chest and arm around his waist.

Sometimes they whispered to each other, Geralt saying more words than he had all day as Jaskier ran his hands through Geralt’s hair. In the morning he was always gone, always back in his own bedroll, and Geralt woke in a better mood than usual.

---

She watched them, eyes the only thing visible under her blanket as Jaskier sat in the moonlight with Geralt’s head in his lap, murmuring too quiet words as he cupped Geralt’s face in his hands. Watched Geralt sit up and turn to him, slide a hand around the back of Jaskier’s neck, and pull him softly forward. Watched him kiss Jaskier with a gentleness Ciri rarely saw.

“I should go back.” Jaskier said, breathless despite the chasteness of the kiss.

“Stay awhile.” Geralt said, voice rumbling in his chest, resting his forehead of Jaskier’s.

“Just a little while.” Jaskier whispered.

“A little while.”

---

“My lover comes to me with venom on her teeth

The moon's dancin' purple

All through her bright eyes

She tells me she comes from her mother the mountain

Her skin fits her tightly

And her lips only lie—"

“If you’re going to write a love ballad it should be a happy one.” Ciri said as Jaskier sang softly from the notated, scratched out lyrics scribbled in his journal, lute bouncing slightly on his lap as he jiggled his knee.

“There are too many happy love ballads out there. I say more stories of scornful loves and magical exes.” Jaskier said, though he did note down her suggestion in the margin. “What do you think, Geralt?”

“I think I’d like a morning of quiet contemplation.” He said from where he sat in front of the fire.

“Of course you would, because you’re a bore. Ciri, tell your father he’s an utter bore.”

The three of them went silent as they realized what Jaskier had just said.

“Sorry, sorry, uh, Ciri tell Geralt he’s a bore.” Jaskier said with a nervous laugh.

Geralt didn’t play house, Ciri reminded herself. It didn’t suit him.

But instead he drummed his fingers on his knee for a second, a surprisingly anxious move for a Witcher, and said—

“Do you—do you see me like that, Ciri?”

“Does it matter?” She replied, guts suddenly churning.

“If you did… I wouldn’t mind that title.” Geralt said. He finally turned to see her, though he did not meet her eyes.

“I… I wouldn’t mind you taking the title.” She whispered. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”

She took a hesitant step towards Geralt, and before she could talk herself out of it, Ciri threw herself into his lap. He stilled for a moment, before raising a hand up to rest between her shoulder blades and laying his forehead on her shoulder.

“I would very much like that.” He said, and the low voice was for her ears only. The thought made a shiver of glee run through her.

“Wait.” She said, jerking her head up and looking towards Jaskier. “If you’re kissing on Geralt each night does that make you a second father?”