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Jaskier wakes up with a start, and as always, it takes him a moment to realize that he's safe. He's warm. He's clothed. His bedsheets aren't crusted with cum or slick or blood. Rian is right beside him, sleeping peacefully. And Geralt is—

Oh fuck.

Geralt is gone, he remembers.

But that's alright, isn't it? Of course it is. Jaskier exhales shakily, feeling rather silly for how fast his heart is beating right now. Because it's not like he's in danger. The door is locked. Szymon is dead. The only other person in the room is Rian.

It just feels— safer, somehow, when Geralt is around, sitting a few feet away, all strong and silent and witcher-y. Which is stupid, really. Jaskier doesn't need a fucking witcher to protect him, does he? No, he most certainly does not. He managed on his own for five damn years; he can manage again for a few days. (That's what Geralt had said, right? That he'd be back in a few days? Fuck. Jaskier hopes it's only a few days.)

Absently, Jaskier reaches out and runs his hand through Rian's soft curls. Rian rolls over at the touch.

"Papa?" he mumbles, and Jaskier forces himself to smile.

"Hey, honey," he says. "Good morning."

"Mm," says Rian groggily. "I'm tired."

"It's early," Jaskier tells him, still carding his fingers through Rian's hair. "You can keep sleeping."

"But I want breakfast."

"Well, then, you have a difficult decision ahead, don't you?" asks Jaskier wryly. "Sleep or breakfast?"

"Breakfast," mumbles Rian. He rubs his eyes, sits up, glances around— and freezes. "Geralt," he whispers.

Jaskier puts an arm around him. "It's just you and me today, remember?" he says soothingly. "Geralt's out hunting monsters."

"Then... then who will buy breakfast?" asks Rian, as if Jaskier can't be trusted to provide food— which, well... he can't, can he? Jaskier feels his stomach twist in shame.

"Don't worry," he says, squeezing Rian's shoulder. "He left plenty of money for us, okay?"

"Oh," Rian says. "Okay." Then he frowns. "But I want him to come back."

"He will," says Jaskier. "He will."

But what if he doesn't? asks a tiny voice inside him. What if he fucking doesn't?

***

The thing is, with Szymon, there'd been a routine— a suffocating, miserable routine, sure; but Jaskier had been used to it.

Like now, for example: He and Rian have just finished breakfast, and after breakfast, Jaskier is supposed to curl up on his filthy cum-stained mattress and try to get a few hours of sleep, while Rian entertains himself as best as he can with the scraps of trash that pass for his toys.

Except now Jaskier's already had plenty of sleep, since he didn't spend last night getting fucked, and now Rian has real toys, and...

It's all sort of overwhelming, if Jaskier's being honest. He's spent so many years existing in such a minimal way that now the opportunity to do more than just survive is... well, it's rather daunting. It was easier, in a way, when the most he could hope for were things like getting Rian two meals a day and keeping him away from people who might hurt him.

But now that he has a chance to actually be a halfway decent parent, it seems that he just keeps bumping up against reminders of his own inadequacy.

Like the fact that Rian keeps asking for Geralt— who has, admittedly, done a better job of caring for Rian in four days than Jaskier did in four fucking years.

***

"He'll be back," Jaskier says patiently, for about the fifth time that day.

They're seated on the floor, playing with Rian's wooden boat.

Rian pouts, and sets down the boat. "What if the monsters kill him?" he asks.

"They won't."

"How do you know?"

"Because Geralt can kill any monster," says Jaskier.

"How?"

"Because he's the best witcher ever."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Is that how he protects us so good?"

Jaskier smiles weakly. "Yep," he says again.

"Does he protect everyone in the world?"

"Sort of," says Jaskier. "I mean. Yeah, I guess so."

Rian nods, then frowns. "I miss him," he says.

"I know, honey."

"What if he doesn't come back?"

"He will."

"How do you know?"

"Rian," Jaskier sighs, and wants to say something more, something reassuring, but he finds that he can't breathe. He can't think. His chest hurts.

Because he doesn't know. And suddenly it seems clear as day that Geralt has absolutely no reason to come back. That Geralt is probably gone, that he's probably abandoned them, that he never cared about them, that the bullshit about needing money was just an excuse to leave, and now—

Jaskier sits there, hunched over, gasping for air, for what feels like an eternity.

Geralt left them with 238 orens, and they've already used six today, and once they use up the rest... Fuck. They'll have nowhere to go; they'll wind up on the streets; and Jaskier will be back to doing what he does best, sucking cock and getting fucked in the ass for a few measly coins...

Jaskier lets out a sob, still fighting to keep breathing. He feels like he's going to die. He sort of longs to die, in fact.

But he can't, he remembers hazily. Because of Rian. He needs to be strong for Rian.

He opens his eyes, inhales deeply. Gradually, the world starts to come into focus. Rian is hugging him, he realizes.

"Shit," Jaskier says. "Sorry. I'm sorry, honey."

"Papa?"

"Yeah, honey. I'm here. I'm sorry. I'm fine."

Rian continues to cling to him. Then: "I miss Geralt," he whispers.

It's all Jaskier can do not to cry.

***

He lies in bed until noon.

Rian lies beside him, talking inanely about monsters and Geralt, and Jaskier tries to listen, he really does.

But all he can think about is how to make their coin last as long as possible. Obviously he'll have to stop eating so much. Maybe every other day. Maybe every three days. And he'll see if Bethelda can give them a cheaper room. Or maybe he could perform in exchange for a discount? But he doesn't even have a lute.

Which makes him think of Geralt, which means it's time to stop thinking.

He sits up, wipes his eyes. "Come on. Let's get lunch," he tells Rian cheerfully, or as cheerfully as he can manage.

Rian nods, and they head downstairs, to where Bethelda is standing behind the bar with a warm, welcoming smile on her face.

"Hello, Bethelda," Jaskier tells her. "One lunch please."

Her smile fades slightly. "Just the one?"

"Oh, I'm not hungry," Jaskier says, with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry."

"Well, alright then. Let me know if you change your mind, sweetheart," says Bethelda, and she gives him a look so piercing, so maternal, that he almost breaks down and tells her everything.

But he doesn't. Because he can take care of himself, and he can take care of Rian, and he will.

He will.

He has to.

***

"How come you didn't get any?" asks Rian, as he gobbles down his chicken breast.

Jaskier tries to smile. "It's like I told Bethelda," he says. "I'm not hungry."

"How come?"

"I don't know," shrugs Jaskier. "I'm just not."

It's not even really a lie. He's too anxious right now to feel hungry. And even if he were hungry, it's not as though he hasn't been hungrier.

Rian finishes his lunch, unconcerned.

They return to their room and play together the rest of the afternoon— he should be scrubbing tables right now— until it gets dark— he should be giving Rian his sleeping potion, he should be meeting whoever Szymon's set him up with for the night— and then they go downstairs for dinner.

***

"Still not hungry," Jaskier tells Bethelda blithely, after yet again ordering only one meal.

She doesn't believe him, he can tell.

But she doesn't question him either, and for that, Jaskier is grateful.

***

Except: later that night, when Jaskier is tucking Rian into bed, there comes a knock at the door.

Jaskier just about jumps out of his skin.

"Who is it?" he calls, hoping he doesn't sound anywhere near as scared as he feels.

"It's Bethelda," is the reply.

Oh. Okay. That's okay.

So Jaskier opens the door.

"Jaksier," she says, her eyes soft and solemn at the same time. "Can I speak to you briefly?"

"Of course," says Jaskier. "I—" He turns to Rian. "I'll be right back, okay honey?"

Rian nods from the bed, and Jaskier steps outside the room.

Bethelda pushes the door closed behind him and asks, without any preamble: "What's wrong, sweetheart?"

"Nothing!" says Jaskier, attempting to smile. "Why ever would you think that something's wrong?"

"Well. You told me this morning that Geralt will be gone for a few days. Perhaps you miss him?"

"No!" Jaskier blurts out. "I mean yes. But I mean. I'm fine."

"You skipped two meals, love."

"I just wasn't hungry."

"Are you ill?"

"No."

"Sweetheart, talk to me," pleads Bethelda.

Jaskier looks away.

"If Geralt comes back to find you ill," Bethelda says then, "and learns I did nothing to help, he'll have my head."

And that's when Jaskier gives up. "Yeah, uh," he mumbles. "That's the thing, though."

"What's the thing?"

"I don't think he's coming back."

Bethelda reaches out, touches Jaskier's arm. "What in the world makes you say that?" she asks softly.

Jaskier shakes his head, willing himself not to cry. "Rian and I, we're really just giant burdens, aren't we?" he says. "He's already done more than enough, spent more than enough."

"Jaskier—"

"And... and he's a witcher," Jaskier goes on. "It's not in his nature to settle down and take care of people; he wasn't made for that."

"Jaskier, sweetheart," says Bethelda, gently but firmly. "I think that in this case, that's exactly what Geralt was made for. I can see it in his eyes, whenever he speaks about you."

"You can see what?" asks Jaskier, and oh fuck, he's crying now.

Bethelda smiles. "How much he loves you and Rian," she says, like it's the simplest thing in the world.

Jaskier just stares at her.

"Oh, sweetheart," Bethelda says, wiping the tears off Jaskier's face with her own hand. "Has he ever done or said anything that made you think he might abandon you?"

Slowly, Jaskier shakes his head.

Bethelda clicks her tongue, her hand still cupping Jaskier's cheek. "Is that why you haven't been eating?" she asks. "Because you were worried he wouldn't return?"

"I just wanted the money he left to last as long as possible," Jaskier mutters. "To buy some time, you know, to figure out some way of earning coin before we had to leave here." He toes at the hardwood floor.

"Jaskier, love, I would never make you leave here," says Bethelda. "Not if you needed a place to stay. We'd work something out."

Jaskier glances up, feeling equal parts very stupid and overwhelmingly relieved.

"But trust me," Bethelda adds. "Your witcher will be back before you know it. Alright?"

Jaskier nods.

"Now let me bring you some stew."

***

Jaskier eats the stew in bed while Rian squirms beside him under the covers.

"You said you weren't hungry."

"I wasn't."

"But now you are?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Will Geralt come back tomorrow?"

"Not tomorrow," says Jaskier. "But—"

I can see it in his eyes, how much he loves you and Rian.

"But soon," he tells Rian firmly.

And this time he believes it.

***

He thinks of Geralt as he lies in bed that night: of his gruff kindness and hesitant gentleness, of his generosity and respect, of everything he's done for them— enough to fill a song, a whole multitude of songs.

Songs that Jaskier fully intends to write, one day.

And with that thought in mind, Jaskier drifts off to sleep.

***

The next day passes without incident.

Jaskier orders breakfast for himself as well as Rian, and Bethelda beams at him.

Rian spends the morning playing with Sam, while Jaskier starts working on a song about Geralt.

They have lunch, and in the afternoon, Rian borrows a pair of Sam's shoes and Jaskier takes him outside, into town, down to the market.

Rian holds Jaskier's hand very tight, and presses his body very close, but he looks around with wide, eager eyes, drinking everything in.

"What's that?" he asks, again and again, pointing at a pigeon, a potter, a round melon the gutter.

"I like outside," Rian proclaims, once they're back in their room at the inn. "We should go again."

"We can go whenever you want," Jaskier tells him. He kisses Rian's head, and Rian hugs him tight.

"I love you," Rian says.

And Jaskier feels his heart might actually burst.

***

***

Jaskier isn't sure where he is, but he knows he's in pain, he knows there's a cock in his mouth, and he's choking, he's gagging—

And then he's awake. It's dark outside.

He sits up in bed, still gagging, only there's no cock— he's gagging on air. It was just a dream. That's what he tells himself, over and over: it was just a dream, just a dream.

But he cant breathe, he still can't breathe, and fuck. What the fuck is wrong with him, he wonders, as he claps a trembling hand to his throat and tries not to hyperventilate.

He just wants to feel safe; Is that too much to ask? He just wants to feel safe and be able to breathe. Fuck.

And suddenly, only half aware of what he's doing, he throws off the covers and staggers out of bed, stumbles toward Geralt's bedroll, and collapses on it.

There, he curls up, and inhales as deeply as he can.

Because it smells like Geralt, and— underneath all the other scents of sweat and onion, heroics and heartbreak, death and destiny— Geralt smells safe.

Jaskier feels his breathing grow more even, feels his heart rate start to slow.

It was just a dream, he tells himself again. He's not on the streets anymore, and he's not with Szymon.

He continues to breathe in Geralt's scent. Gradually, his eyes close. His muscles relax. A day or two, he thinks, as he falls asleep on the bedroll. A day or two more, and Geralt will be back.

***

"Papa, wake up."

Jaskier blinks awake in the pale morning light. "Hey," he says, smiling at the little face peering down at him. "What's up?"

"Why are you on Geralt's bed?" Rian asks.

Jaskier takes a deep breath. "I missed him," he says honestly.

"Oh," says Rian, frowning. "I miss him too."

"Yeah," Jaskier sighs. "Come here," he says then, pulling Rian into his lap. "What do you like most about Geralt?"

"Lots of things," says Rian. "He's big and strong. He protects us from monsters and Bad Men. He buys us food so we're never ever hungry. And also he never hurts me. Or you. He's very nice. I love you the most but I love him too, a little." He frowns then, like he's worried he said something wrong.

Jaskier strokes Rian's curls. He can't exactly speak, on account of a rather inconvenient lump that's appeared in his throat. But he nods.

And he decides, then and there, that Rian deserves Geralt as his alpha father. He'll tell Geralt so, when Geralt comes back.

***

And Geralt comes back later that very night: opens the door and steps inside the room, large and imposing as ever, his white hair streaming.

Rian runs to hug him, and Jaskier waves awkwardly.

Geralt missed them, he says, meeting Jaskier's gaze. And his golden eyes are so fond, so gentle, and he smells so good, and—

And Jaskier breathes until Geralt's scent fills him up.

It feels like coming home.