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"Geralt can tell you about the Witcher code, Little Lion. It's something along the lines of letting no innocents be harmed, and, of course, always making sure you get paid. But we both know he's one of the kindest people either of us have met. Plus he has the patience of a saint.”

“I have to.” Geralt deadpans with a significant look in their direction and Ciri giggles at Jaskier’s dramatic gasp.

“I don’t appreciate your implications, my good sir.” He carries on exaggerating his offence to keep Ciri laughing, it’s such a rare sound, and catches Geralt’s soft smile.

“It’s probably best you learn from us, Jaskier has an… interesting view on morality.” Jaskier automatically opened his mouth to start arguing but Geralt just raises an eyebrow, and he can admit maybe the witcher has a point. “If he had 3 wishes, his first one would be to kill another troubadour. Do you know how I know that?”

Ciri laughs as if she doesn’t believe Geralt, and, yes, Jaskier will admit it wasn’t his finest moment. He’d just come from the Novagrad poetry competition where the judges had been biased and Valdo had been unbearably smug at his undeserved victory. And Jaskier, after several sleepless nights following rumours of Geralt had not been at his best, so both of his wishes were unfair and vindictive. But he’s self aware enough to know he’s not exactly a paragon of virtue at the best of times.

Shaking it off, he reaches for his lute and Ciri immediately drops onto one of the benches. He doesn’t know where her sudden desire to learn to play came from, she’d never shown any interest when he visited Cintra. He has a feeling Geralt knows more than he’s letting on, but hasn’t managed to get anything out of him so far. However it doesn’t really matter, she’s a good student as long as she doesn’t get distracted.

They run through some simple tunes as Geralt settles a little way down the table, getting out his travel pack to check his ingredient stocks over. By the time they’ve moved onto discussing performing he’s started to sharpen his small blades.

“In a crowd always be aware of the overall mood, and keep an eye out for instigators, anyone that’ll cause problems. Or anyone that looks like they might have useful information, it’s possibly the most important commodity. Especially for someone like you.”

“Says the spy.”

“Geralt, I am offended.” The over the top gasp and dramatic reeling back with a hand on his chest gets its intended effect, hiding the sudden tense line of his shoulders and making Ciri laugh again, distracting her from questioning him any further. He knows Geralt doesn’t mean anything malicious by it, but it’s something he isn’t quite comfortable being casually thrown around.

They hear heavy footsteps approaching the room and the sudden, frantic scrambling beside him is probably Ciri fleeing out the other door but Geralt rises before he can check, moving towards him. He shakes off the witcher’s hand as it comes to rest on his hip and moves towards the window as Vesemir briefly appears in the doorway, frowning at the two of them, before carrying on.

“What are you doing Geralt?”

“Are you alright?” Geralt’s voice is soft and Jaskier blinks up at him as the witcher shifts uncertainly, looking like he’s stopping himself reaching out again, “I just ... Ciri has this view of you and…”

“Maybe that’s the way I want her to see me.” It comes out more defensive than he intends and Geralt stares at him in confusion. He makes a conscious effort to relax and takes a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. It’s not hard to see Geralt doesn’t understand; he doesn’t swap personas like clothes, always in the most practical one for the occasion. Geralt’s always all of himself, usually aggressively so.

But he’s seen more sides of Jaskier than anyone else, and maybe he shouldn’t expect him to differentiate between the viscount and the professor, the court bard and the travelling one, between any of the other faces he wears. He just looks at Jaskier and sees someone he cares for, loves, and the weight of that can be exhausting. So he just steps closer and rests his head on Geralt’s collarbone. Arms come up to circle his waist and he can feel a kiss pressed to his hair.

“I’ll stop if that's what you want, but Ciri’s not going to think any less of you.” Jaskier just closes his eyes and sighs, he doesn’t have the energy right now to explain that that wasn’t the problem, that he wanted to share things in his own time, not having things forced out in the open.

---

"There's something for you on the desk."

There's actually three somethings Jaskier finds as he approaches the desk. Two silver daggers, one palm sized that's actually more of a throwing knife and the other longer to match the one he usually keeps in his boot. They're both resting on a notebook, thick and expensive, with blue leather binding and a small embossing of a bunch of wildflowers in the bottom corner.

“What’s the occasion?” He gently runs a knuckle down the notebook cover, it’s good quality, probably something he picked up in one of the cities he’s passed through before they met back up again. And he deliberately decides to think about what that means later, when he’s more awake to appreciate it.

“It’s nearly midwinter, besides I’ve missed a couple of birthdays.”

Geralt comes up behind him, hooking his chin over his shoulder and resting his hands on his hips, kissing his cheek when Jaskier turns slightly. He picks up the knives, weighing them in his hands, they're perfect as he expected and he notices small etchings of runes along the blade.

“For the next time you need saving, right?” Geralt huffs in response and reaches down to set the knives back on the table, and Jaskier turns in the circle of his arms to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. He gets a small smile in response but it settles back into a frown after a moment. “Something on your mind, my dear?”

“You don’t have to answer, but Ciri pointed out something earlier.” Geralt steps away, catching Jaskier’s wrist and gently tugging him so he’s seated in the witcher’s lap as he drops down to sit on the bed. Geralt rewraps his arms round him and lets him tuck against his chest, so he can avoid looking at him if he wants. “You look the same as you did when I met you.”

“Did it really take you twenty years and a child for you to realise?”

“Hmmm.”

"My mother was a half elf I think, or had fey blood, that's what the servants told me anyway. She died in childbirth, any other siblings I've mentioned before were from my Father's second wife. But my ears were not quite the shape they should be, and I was always… different. But the main issue, at least for me, was one of gender.” He tenses automatically, waiting for Geralt’s reaction, but he only presses a kiss to the top of Jaskier’s head and catches his hands to link their fingers together. “I wasn’t always… I mean I was but …”

“I understand.” He gently cuts across Jaskier’s stuttering explanation, no judgement, just a steady presence.

"Anyway, I'd heard rumours that sorceresses altered their appearances, that they could reshape their whole bodies almost perfectly if they wished. So I found myself a magic user with a good reputation, and spent all the money I inherited from my grandfather.” He shrugs, trying to play off possibly the single most important event in his life as something small. He doesn’t think Geralt falls for it, but there’s no questions, no pulling away. In fact Geralt tucks him closer under his chin, thumb stroking along Jaskier’s in silent support. “It wasn’t long after that when we met. I was travelling, getting used to myself again. The way people looked at me, treated me. Before I headed onto Oxenfurt for the university."

“So, even though they changed your appearance, you still age slower."

"Seems so, it took me a few years to notice of course. And I was never sure how much of that was my heritage, and how much was the magic effects on my appearance keeping me the way I wanted to look.” Jaskier takes a deep breath, gathering his courage. "I've always been conscious of how others perceive me, how I can shape that, control it, be seen the way I want. Even after… That's why I was upset with you, with Ciri."

“Jaskier.” He slowly turns, arranging himself so he’s straddling Geralt’s thighs and the witcher slowly reaches up to cup his cheek, resting their foreheads together before kissing him. “I’m sorry, I never meant...”

“I know.”

---

Jaskier is playing jigs for a very tipsy Lambert’s amusement, Geralt warm against his side, arm thrown across his shoulders. The rest of the group is spread out along one of the tables at the side of the hall, loud and happy. The fire’s roaring and the snow had melted enough to allow for hunting, so they’d had a decent meal for the first time in a couple of weeks.

"Dance with me Geralt." Ciri sounds so happy as she tugs on his hands, and of course Geralt's helpless when she's looking at him like that, he has been since Jaskier met up with them. Right now she sounds so full of happiness and hope, it's so rare and she's been through so much that neither of them (and honestly none of the residents of the castle) can say no.

Vesemir worries they’re spoiling her, and maybe he’s right, but she’s a princess after all, used to more than they can currently give her, and gentleness and support alongside her training is what she needs right now. She’s a tough child, grown up before she should, but she is still a child. Jaskier absently wonders if he feels it more than the others because, although he wasn’t there all the time, he had been to Cintra regularly enough over the last decade or so to see her grow up. She had been a toddler he first met, wobbling around after her mother, entranced by the soft music he had played just for her.

So Jaskier just watches as Geralt lets her lead him away from the tables, swaying slightly from whatever concoction the witchers have been drinking that they wouldn’t let him near. They almost trip over Eskel’s goat who’s running around loose for some reason, neither of them as graceful as they usually are. But Ciri’s laughing as her hair swirls around when Geralt spins her, their audience is clapping and shouting encouragement and Jaskier doesn't think he’s been happier than amid all the chaos.

---

But later that night Jaskier is dragged out of sleep with a start, automatically rolling sideways out from under the blanket and stumbling over to the window, heart racing in his chest and his gasping breath loud in the quiet room. He’s vaguely aware of the bed creaking behind him as Geralt shifts but doesn’t speak, but he blocks it out, focusing on trying to get his breathing back under control. After a moment, his urge to move gets too much and he starts pacing round the small room, scooping up a necklace from the desk to run though his fingers.

It takes a few minutes for his breathing to begin to settle, still too fast, although it still feels as though something is constricting his chest. He forces himself to gather his courage, mind feeling like syrup, and quietly starting to hum. It’s shaky, but the fact that he can hum calms him as he moves onto scales. He's not choking on blood on the side of a lake. He’s safe in Kaer Morhen, he was teaching Ciri songs that Geralt doesn’t approve of just hours ago, the younger witchers dancing drunkenly around the main hall, under Vesemir’s exasperated eye.

“Jaskier?”

He jumps, having almost forgotten that his witcher is still in the room, and twists back to face the bed as his breath instinctively catches and he stills facing him. Geralt’s leaning up on an elbow, blinking the remnants of sleep from his eyes, hair coming loose from his braids and framing his face as the blanket falls from his bare chest. He looks so far from the annoyed and sleep deprived person he was that day with the djinn as he reaches a hand out.

“Your heart’s racing.” It takes a moment for Jaskier to recognise the confusion in Geralt’s sleep roughened voice and another for him to take the offered hand, using the contact to ground himself. “What’s wrong?”

“Nightmare.” Jaskier steps close enough to drop back to the bed, keeping their fingers loosely linked. It’s honestly been a miracle he hasn’t had this rough a night since they’d met back up. His chest aches and his heads fuzzy and he can feel himself starting to tear up, but he feels slightly disconnected from it somehow, like he’s an echo rather than a person, yet he can’t stop himself from talking.

"Geralt, even though I've forgiven you, the effects are still there. From the dragon mountain, from the djinn. I still struggle, I still have nightmares. I..." He hates both the way his voice cracks and the hesitance with which Geralt reaches out to wrap his free arm round his waist, seeming unsure if it’ll be welcome. “I started doubting things, my friendships, relationships, the people I care for, how much I rely on them. I got us so wrong for over twenty years, who knows what else I was missing. If people were just putting up with me.”

“I didn’t mean it, I…”

“I know that now, but it doesn’t change what happened.”

“Hmm.” He presses a kiss to the back of Jaskier’s neck with a sigh. “I regretted it as soon as I calmed down, but I didn’t know if you would want my company. I missed you before the week was out.”

“A week huh?”

Geralt huffs against his skin, and more of the tightness in Jaskier’s chest relaxes, leaving him feeling drained. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Right now?” He half turns and presses Geralt back down with a hand on his chest, and curls up against his side, trying to focus on the witcher’s slow, steady heartbeat. “This.”

Geralt’s hand settles on his hip and he quietly starts to hum a lullaby, one Jaskier’s sung to Ciri over the last few weeks. Both his presence and Jaskier’s exhaustion are familiar weights and it doesn’t take him long to succumb to sleep again, as the blankets are tugged back over them and another kiss is pressed to his head.