Actions

Work Header

We could be wolves

Chapter Text

Geralt can’t take his eyes off Jaskier, who rides on Roach’s back while Geralt leads the mare by the reins. Jaskier has grown thinner in the past two years, almost painfully so. He still has the same baby face he’s always had, but it’s covered in dark stubble. His fine silk doublet has multiple patches and the fabric is worn thin. He looks diminished somehow, not like the brilliant young man who was ready to take on the world two years ago.

“It turns out that traveling on your own is difficult and dangerous, Geralt.”

Jaskier was supposed to be better off without Geralt’s dead weight. He was supposed to travel the Continent, sing songs, and fall in love with beautiful people who deserved him. He wasn’t supposed to have to sell his beloved horse to survive. He wasn’t supposed to get kidnapped and held for ransom by bandits. He shouldn’t have ended up with a broken ankle, defenseless against the dangers of the world.

None of this is right, and it turns Geralt’s stomach. He should have been with Jaskier, keeping him safe.

“Are you sure I’ll be welcome at Kaer Morhen?” Jaskier asks, directing the question to Vesemir, not Geralt. He hasn’t so much as looked at Geralt since they left the camp.

“You let me worry about that,” Vesemir says softly.

“I don’t want to be a bother.”

“Where else would you go, pup?”

The scent of anxiety rising off Jaskier sharpens. “You wound me, Vesemir. I have friends who would fight each other for the honor of hosting me while I heal.”

It’s not even a convincing lie, but no one brings it up.

“You need rest and a healer,” Vesemir says. “You won’t get either of those things in Lettenhove. You’ll stay at Kaer Morhen until you can walk again.”

Rennes and Varin aren’t going to like it, but Geralt doesn’t plan on giving them much of a choice. Jaskier won’t be alone again.

Jaskier’s expression is painfully vulnerable. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I can do.” Vesemir’s voice goes gruff. Geralt is sure he’s remembering the role he played in Jaskier being left alone in Upper Posada.

They ride all night. The trip up the mountain is dangerous in the dark and Geralt keeps one hand on the hilt of his sword the entire time. Nothing will touch Jaskier again. Their pace is slow, as they don’t want Jaskier to jostle his ankle and Geralt is on foot. Still, they reach Kaer Morhen without incident, just as the sun starts to rise.

Jaskier stares up at the keep with undisguised awe. “This is it?”

“This is it.” Geralt tries to see the keep as Jaskier must see it, a massive stone castle built into the side of the mountain. He can see the look in Jaskier’s eye that says the bard is already composing a ballad or ten.

“It’s beautiful.” Jaskier smiles at Geralt, like he’s too overwhelmed to remember that he’s angry.

Geralt smiles back at him helplessly. “Welcome to Kaer Morhen.”

***

Jaskier has spent most of his life wanting to visit Kaer Morhen and it’s everything he imagined— beautiful, austere, and dangerous. He loves it immediately. From a distance, it appears to be a part of the mountain, like the keep itself was whittled out of the rock by the hand of a giant. Up close, it’s a bit barren, a bit drafty, but somehow even more beautiful because of it. Jaskier wants so desperately for it to be his home.

But it isn’t.

No one will tell him as such, but he knows his arrival at the keep caused a fuss. He saw the furious looks Varin gave him for days after he showed up, as well as the cold disapproval of the head of the Wolf School, Rennes. He’s not sure what Vesemir had to do to ensure he could stay, and he doesn’t want to know. As long as he doesn’t know the details, he can pretend that he’s a wanted guest, and not a broken bard with nowhere else to go.

The keep’s healer, a no-nonsense sorceress, tells him he’ll need to stay off his left foot for the next couple of months and gives him a pair of crutches. He’s directed to a small bedroom with no furniture but the narrow bed, a standard room for witchers. Being given a witcher's bedroom is flattering, until he learns that there are no guest rooms in Kaer Morhen, because Kaer Morhen never has guests.

For the next few weeks, he hobbles around the keep and tries to make himself useful to the best of his ability, which usually means helping whoever’s on kitchen duty chop vegetables. He tries his best to make friends with the inhabitants of the keep, to varying levels of success. Besides Vesemir, the half a dozen instructors seem perplexed and annoyed by Jaskier’s presence. Most of the trainees are ambivalent to him. Gweld and Gascaden are friendly enough, though they treat Jaskier more as an amusing mascot than anything else. Clovis is as terrible as he expected.

He would like to stick with Eskel and Lambert, but they almost always seem to be with Geralt, and Jaskier is trying to avoid Geralt, something that should be easy in a keep the size of Kaer Morhen. But despite its size, there are only about forty people living there and Jaskier’s moving slowly these days. Running into Geralt constantly is inevitable and it never gets less awkward. Geralt always looks like a whipped dog whenever he and Jaskier make eye contact.

But if Jaskier ends up finding spots to sit and compose during the day that happens to overlook the training yard, it’s just a coincidence. It has nothing to do with getting to watch Geralt train with his fellow witchers. Geralt was always physically impressive, but post-Trials, he’s a fucking marvel. Watching his muscles ripple as he trains is a revelation and Jaskier often finds himself wondering why he’s angry at Geralt. One day, he completely gives up the pretense of composing while he watches Geralt spar with all nine members of Lambert’s cohort at once. It’s Lambert that gets the lucky hit to the back of Geralt’s head that takes him down. The pride in Geralt’s expression is heartwarming.

Then Geralt vanishes for two weeks. Jaskier doesn’t care where Geralt’s gone, of course. It’s just that new witchers normally only take contracts within a day’s ride of the keep and they rarely venture out alone. And when Jaskier asks Eskel about it, Eskel gets downright flustered. Jaskier wants to press the issue, but then it would look like Jaskier cares and he doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Even though winter is right around the corner and the thought of Geralt being trapped outside Kaer Morhen fills Jaskier with dread.

He’s helping Gweld chop potatoes one afternoon when Eskel comes into the kitchen and says, “Jaskier, there’s something for you outside. A surprise.”

“Huh?” Jaskier blinks at him. He’s been at Kaer Morhen for just over a month and no one has shown any inclination to give him things. “My birthday isn’t until March.”

“It’s not a birthday present. Come on.”

Jaskier lets Eskel pick him up and carry him outside. It’s a bit humiliating, being carried around like a child when he’s actually a fairly tall, well-developed man in his own right. But he’s determined to have his ankle back in working order by spring, so walking up and down Kaer Morhen’s steep staircases is out of the question, even with the crutches. To Jaskier’s surprise, Eskel carries him to the stables.

“If this is the beginning of a very amusing prank where you throw me into a pile of horse shit, can you not?” Jaskier asks. “This is my one doublet left that doesn’t have any holes in it.”

Eskel snorts. “Who do you think I am, Lambert?”

“Fair enough. Has Rennes decided to make me sleep in the stables, because I’d prefer the privies, honestly. At least I’d be inside and—” He falls silent when Eskel carries him over the threshold of the stables. In the stall next to Roach, he sees Buttercup.

Gently, Eskel sets Jaskier down and hands him his crutches. Jaskier can’t even speak to thank him. Buttercup snorts impatiently as Jaskier makes his way towards the horse. Jaskier never thought he would see his beautiful little gelding again, but here he is, cranky and demanding sugar cubes that Jaskier doesn’t have, then snorting into Jaskier’s hair as if to reassure him that all is forgiven. Jaskier leans his face against Buttercup’s nose and tries not to cry. It’s not until he hears someone clear their throat behind him that he realizes that Eskel is gone and someone else is standing behind him.

It’s Geralt.

Jaskier blinks at him with watery eyes. “You brought him back.”

Geralt nods. “The farmer was only too happy to part with him, for a price. Seems like he never wanted to let anyone ride him.”

“He’s always been a one-man horse,” Jaskier says with a chuckle. “That’s where you’ve been for the past two weeks.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t have the money to pay you back.”

“You don’t have to pay me back, Jask,” Geralt says softly. “You don’t owe me anything.”

Jaskier swallows. “Thank you.”

They regard each other cautiously for a long moment. Jaskier doesn’t remember there ever being this kind of uneasy tension between them, even when they barely knew each other and Geralt still found him annoying.

Buttercup breaks the tension by headbutting Jaskier gently.

“Here.” Geralt draws a handful of sugar cubes from his pocket. “I think this is what he wants.”

Jaskier takes them gratefully, but nods to Roach, who is watching the exchange with a baleful eye. “You may want to double check with the duchess and make sure it’s okay.”

“It’s good for her. She’s getting fat and spoiled.”

“Cover your ears, sweet girl,” Jaskier coos at Roach. “You don’t deserve to hear such slander.”

Geralt laughs. Even if his voice has changed, the rumble of his laugh hasn’t, and Jaskier feels it all the way down to his toes. For an instant, they’re seventeen again, back in the Pankratz family stables, and the world is a much simpler place. And then Jaskier looks into Geralt’s face and finds yellow eyes instead of brown, breaking the moment. Geralt must sense what Jaskier is thinking, because the smile falls off his face.

Jaskier turns back to Buttercup. “Thank you, Geralt. This was—” The kindest thing anyone has ever done for him. “—Very nice of you. Thank you.”

“Hm. I’ll send someone down to help you back up to the keep in ten minutes.”

“Thank you.” Jaskier doesn’t watch him go, but busies himself with lavishing Buttercup with love (and Roach too, because the poor girl looks pathetic watching another horse get the sugar cubes that are rightfully hers.) He does his best to ignore the heat in his cheeks and the too-fast thrum of his heartbeat.

He doesn’t want to still be in love with Geralt. He wants that to all be in the past.

Jaskier rarely gets what he wants.

***

In the weeks before winter, the wolf witchers who arrive every year trickle into the keep. Normally, they get about a dozen visitors per winter, but this year, nearly twenty witchers return to Kaer Morhen. Geralt is on guard as they arrive, unsure as to how they’ll react to Jaskier. After all, witchers on the Path spend the year being hated and feared by humanity; Kaer Morhen is their refuge. But here Jaskier is— a part-human making himself at home among witchers. To Geralt’s surprise, most of the witchers seem to like Jaskier. After dinner, Jaskier sits with them, listens to their stories, and sometimes even plays his lute.

Geralt has given up on not staring. Jaskier has gained back some of his lost weight. He’s still more lithe than he was when they were younger, with broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. He’s stopped wearing his ring and his pointed ears and too-blue eyes are on full display. He’s off his crutches now and hobbling around in a boot reinforced with steel to keep his ankle immobile. Even with the boot, there’s a grace to the way he moves. Geralt can tell that at least a few of the witchers would like to take Jaskier to bed and he keeps a careful eye on them, making sure that no hands wander. Jaskier is a guest here, and Geralt won’t allow anyone to make him uncomfortable.

He’s always aware of Jaskier, even when he’s not trying to be. Jaskier has been at Kaer Morhen for nearly two months now, and it’s been torture. It’s worse at night. Jaskier’s bedroom is only two down from his, with Eskel’s in between them, and he can hear Jaskier’s heartbeat while he lies in bed. He can hear it when Jaskier gasps awake after a nightmare. He can smell it when Jaskier takes himself in hand and wonders what Jaskier is imagining. Until the night that he hears Jaskier whisper his name as he comes and Geralt can only slip his hand under the covers and stroke himself to completion, remembering how Jaskier whispered his name like that when Geralt was buried deep inside him.

Even if it’s the brown eyed-boy that Geralt used to be that Jaskier is imagining, and not the ghost of humanity Geralt has become.

Even during the day, Jaskier is everywhere: helping chop vegetables in the kitchen, in the stables with the horses, laughing with Eskel in the library. And the composing. The sounds of Jaskier playing his lute and singing to himself are ever-present. No matter how cold it gets, he seems to enjoy spending his mornings sitting on the tower that oversees the training yard while the trainees and the witchers spar.

Geralt knows that Jaskier isn’t actually watching him. If he sometimes looks up to find Jaskier’s eyes on him, it’s only because Jaskier is probably searching Geralt’s face for hints of the friend he loved and lost. There’s a reason Jaskier looked horrified when he first saw Geralt. Geralt is a bastardization of the boy Jaskier grew up with, scarred and leached of color

There’s a light snow falling one morning while Geralt spars with one of the witchers, Micah. Micah is one of the younger witchers who returns to the keep every year; he had just gone through the Trials the year before Geralt arrived at Kaer Morhen. He’s a good fighter and even the fact that he lost an eye to a basilisk a few years back doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s a very handsome man, and a kind one at that. Geralt has always liked him, except for the fact that he’s one of the ones who seems to be eyeing Jaskier as a potential bedwarmer.

And of course, Jaskier is there on his usual tower. It’s too cold for him to play his lute; Geralt is sure his fingers are frozen solid. But he’s still watching the training with a dreamy expression, like he can hear the music without being able to play it. Geralt notices that his gaze keeps traveling back to Geralt and Micah. From the smug expression on Micah’s face, Geralt guesses that the older witcher notices too.

Geralt begins to move faster without realizing it, trying out more complicated movements. Micah responds in kind. The resulting match is far showier than what is normally seen in the training yard at Kaer Morhen. Other matches grind to a halt as the witchers and trainees stop to watch Geralt and Micah. Micah’s skills are sharper than Geralt’s after over a decade on the Path, but Geralt’s extra mutations have made him stronger and faster than any of the other witchers. Finally, Geralt tires of the dance, seizes Micah by the front of the shirt to lift him up in the air, then slams him to the ground, placing his sword against the other witcher’s throat.

Micah laughs, his gaze flickering towards Jaskier’s tower. “I yield, lad. Point received.”

Breathing hard, Geralt looks up at Jaskier and finds his friend grinning. Jaskier’s cheeks are pink from the cold and his eyes are bright. He looks delighted by the show. But when he sees Geralt watching him, he quickly looks away. Heart sinking, Geralt averts his eyes.

“Good match,” Geralt tells Micah, helping the other witcher to his feet.

Most witchers would be humiliated to be beaten by a pup not even out on the Path yet, but Micah takes it with good humor. Moreover, word spreads through the other witchers and Geralt notices a lot less flirting going on during Jaskier’s nightly card games with the other witchers. He tries to pretend not to be pleased by that.

***

Geralt moves like he’s dancing when he fights, all elegance and barely contained fury. Jaskier can see that he outmatches all his fellow witchers by far. Whatever experiments they performed on Geralt have turned him into the perfect weapon. It should be terrifying, but Jaskier can’t look away. He’s given up the pretense of composing when he sits on the tower and watches Geralt train every morning. Certainly all the other witchers and trainees must know exactly what he’s doing, but Geralt remains oblivious. Whenever Geralt looks towards him, Jaskier pretends to be very busy studying the stone gargoyles that perch on the top of the towers.

The winter cold deepens, with snow blanketing the mountain. It’s cold as fuck in the keep and Jaskier needs to wear a heavy fur cloak at all times to stop from freezing to death, but it’s worth it for the truly stunning views of the snow-covered mountain peaks afforded by the towers of Kaer Morhen. He would very much like a witcher to keep him warm at night, but the half dozen flirtations he had going on all cooled abruptly. He likes to think it has something to do with Geralt kicking Micah’s ass in the training yard, but more than likely, he said something to offend everybody.

So his nights stay lonely. Most nights, he dreams that he’s back in his grave, screaming and begging for mercy while shovelfuls of dirt are dumped on his head. Most of the time, it’s Hans, Marek, or one of the other bandits burying him alive. Sometimes, it’s his father. But the worst is when it’s Geralt holding the shovel— either the brown-eyed boy he loved or the yellow-eyed witcher who saved his life. When he jerks away from those, he’s normally shaking and sweating, his face damp with tears, and the urge to walk two doors down to Geralt’s room is overwhelming.

But he can’t stand to have Geralt reject him all over again, so Jaskier stays right where he is.

***

It’s Gascaden that spots the wyvern, a sickly and clearly starving adult male that flies too close to the keep for comfort. It lists to the side as it flies, most likely having sustained an injury to its wings. Sick and starving, it’s even more dangerous. The younger trainees and Jaskier are ushered inside for the day and Geralt, Eskel, and Clovis ride out to hunt down the wyvern and kill it.

It should be a straightforward hunt. A wyvern, especially a sick one, is no match for three witchers. But Jaskier was sitting in his favorite spot when the wyvern flew over the keep, and the thought of what could have happened if the creature caught sight of him knocks Geralt off-kilter. Eskel is the one who strikes the killing blow, stabbing the wyvern right through the mouth when it lunges for him. Geralt should know better than to be standing so close to its tail. He knows about the venomous spikes in a wyvern’s tail. He’s smarter than that, but all it takes is one moment of inattention.

As it dies, the wyvern’s thrashing tail catches Geralt across the chest. The spines cut deep.

The last thing he hears before he loses consciousness facedown in the snow is Eskel shouting his name.

***

When Eskel and Clovis arrive back from the wyvern hunt with an unconscious Geralt thrown over the back of Eskel’s horse, there’s a horrible moment where Jaskier thinks Geralt is dead. He’s so pale, so still, and covered in so much blood that there’s no way he could possibly be alive. No one, not even a witcher, loses that much blood and survives. But as Eskel lifts Geralt down from his horse, Geralt’s eyes flutter open and look right at Jaskier, hazy with pain but still alive.

Jaskier’s knees almost give out in relief. He follows Eskel and Clovis as they carry Geralt to the healer’s chambers and hovers in the doorway, shaking, as she binds Geralt’s wounds and tips a bottle of Golden Oriole down his throat. The venom would be fatal to a normal human, Eskel assures him, but with the Golden Oriole and Geralt’s natural healing capabilities, it will be no more than a nuisance. A very painful nuisance. He’ll spend a few days sleeping it off and he’ll be fine.

“Witchers survive worse than this every day,” Eskel says and the worst part is that he means that to be reassuring. Jaskier doesn’t want to see Geralt survive worse than this.

He stays by Geralt’s bedside for the two days it takes Geralt to regain consciousness.

***

When Geralt wakes up, Jaskier is asleep in a chair by his bedside.

It’s been well over two years, closer to three, since Geralt last saw Jaskier asleep. He’s as peaceful as Geralt remembers, eyelashes fluttering and chest rising and falling gently. Suddenly, he jerks awake and nearly falls out of his chair. When his eyes focus and he sees Geralt watching him, he jumps to his feet.

“Sorry.” Jaskier scrubs a hand over his face. “Fuck, sorry. Eskel and Vesemir said you were going to be fine, you just needed to sleep it off, but you’ve been asleep for two fucking days, Geralt, and not even the healers seem to know how your added mutations interact with the potions, so I was afraid…”

“It’s fine.” Geralt’s voice is weak and raspy. “You smell scared.”

Jaskier laughs. “Your gift for flattery hasn’t changed, dear heart.”

Geralt’s breath catches in his chest. Jaskier hasn’t called him “dear heart” in a long time. “You shouldn’t be scared. I’m fine.”

“I can see that.” A smile flickers across Jaskier’s face.

Jaskier has been at Kaer Morhen for months— going on three, Geralt realizes— and this is the first time they’ve been alone in a room together. “I was stupid. I got distracted. The wyvern got too close to you.”

Jaskier frowns. “The wyvern was nowhere near me.”

“It was on the same mountain as you. Too close.”

Color floods Jaskier’s face.

Geralt closes his eyes, because he can’t look at Jaskier when he’s being that cute. “I’m sorry. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m so fucking sorry, Jask. I wish I knew how to fix this.”

A hand rests on Geralt’s shoulder, so gently that Jaskier is barely touching him. “I never should have asked you to leave this place. Your family. That was selfish of me. I’m sorry for that. I was just so scared of losing you.”

“You were just trying to save my life,” Geralt says.

“I was, but I didn’t stop to think about how much it would hurt you. We were both eighteen and stupid. I’ve spent years angry at you and I can’t be angry at you anymore, so you’re forgiven. But my heart is still broken. It still hurts to look at you some days. And other days, you’re the only thing I can look at.”

Geralt opens his eyes and forces himself to look at Jaskier’s raw, vulnerable expression. “I should have said goodbye. I’ll hate myself forever for not saying goodbye.”

“Please don’t hate yourself.” Jaskier strokes a thumb along Geralt’s jawline. “There are a lot of people out there who are going to hate you. Don’t be one of them.”

The feeling of Jaskier’s skin against his, even if it’s just the pad of his thumb, makes Geralt shiver. “You deserved better than that.”

“I did,” Jaskier says. “Why did you leave, Geralt?”

There’s no anger in his voice, but Geralt grimaces. “Vesemir found us. He’d been following us since we left Lettenhove, and I hadn’t even noticed. He reminded me that I didn’t know what I wanted to do if I wasn’t a witcher. No other way to make money. He also told me about my mother.”

“What about her?”

“She was a sorceress. She sent me to Kaer Morhen because she looked into my future and she decided this would be the best life for me. I wasn’t a child surprise and I wasn’t abandoned. This is where I was supposed to be.”

Jaskier’s eyes are too bright. “Of course it is. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that earlier.”

Geralt wants to tell him that he’s supposed to be with Jaskier too, in any way Jaskier wants him, but he doesn’t know how to put that into words. He settles for saying, “I’ve missed you, Jask.”

“I’ve missed you too.” Jaskier sounds choked. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I still… I want you in my life.”

“Then be my friend again,” Jaskier says. “That’s all you need to do to make it up to me. Be my best friend again.”

“I’ll always be your friend, Jask.” Friend. It’s not enough, but Geralt will learn to live with it.

***

It’s amazing how quickly Jaskier and Geralt slip back into old habits. Heading down to the stables to visit Buttercup and Roach, staying up late to play knucklebones and drink vodka, playfully ribbing one another. While watching Geralt spar every morning, Jaskier calls down purposefully unhelpful suggestions and Geralt responds with rude hand gestures. Geralt starts helping Eskel and Lambert with Jaskier’s self-defense lessons. Whenever they aren’t busy with chores or training, they’re together, and it’s wonderful. With Geralt by his side, Kaer Morhen is starting to feel like Jaskier’s home, more than Lettenhove ever was.

One night, when he gasps awake from a nightmare of his father burying him alive, he wakes to find Geralt slipping into his room. “You’re safe, Jask,” he whispers as he climbs into bed next to Jaskier. “No one’s going to hurt you here.” Jaskier falls back asleep quickly with Geralt’s arm around his waist and Geralt’s broad chest pressed against his back. When he wakes up, Geralt is gone and Jaskier wonders if it was all a dream. Geralt never brings it up and Jaskier never asks.

If sometimes, Jaskier hates himself a little for asking Geralt to be his best friend again, when what he really wanted to do was get down on his knees and confess his undying love for the other man, he’s learning to live with it. Being friends with Geralt is better than the years of not having Geralt in his life. He never wants to go back to that endless, uncomfortable silence between them. If having Geralt as his friend is the only way to have Geralt, then it will just have to do.

Jaskier has spent most of his life yearning for Geralt, in one way or another. This is no different.

***

 

Age 21

On the morning of Jaskier’s twenty-first birthday, a snowstorm dumps another foot of snow on the mountain. Vesemir joins Jaskier on the tower to watch training. “There will be no traveling down the mountain for at least a month,” Vesemir says and Jaskier pretends not to be delighted by this news. His ankle is completely healed and he knows that once the snow melts, he’ll have no excuse to stay in Kaer Morhen. Geralt and his cohort will set out on the Path and Jaskier will go back to trying to survive as a bard.

The thought makes Jaskier feel achingly lonely. It’s been a good winter, the best of Jaskier’s life, and he’ll be sorry to leave it behind.

To his surprise, after dinner that night, Eskel produces a jug of honeyed mead and announces they’re going to celebrate Jaskier’s birthday properly. Jaskier wasn’t expecting a celebration, since witchers don’t do birthdays, but his friends seem more than willing to make an exception for him. To his even greater surprise, it’s not just Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert who gather on top of one of the towers to drink honeyed mead around a fire and play Gwent. Vesemir is there, along with Clovis, Gweld, and Gascaden, most of the visiting witchers, and several of the trainees from Lambert’s cohort.

Jaskier remembers telling Geralt four years ago, “Birthdays are a glorious thing. The one day of the year where it’s all about you.” It was pure wishful thinking; no one has ever made a big deal out of his birthday. Most years, most people didn’t even remember his birthday. If his father was in a particularly good mood, Jaskier might get a cake, but those years were few and far between. This may be the first birthday celebration he’s had since he was a small child and Elisa was still alive.

Tipsy on honeyed mead and having won three rounds of Gwent in a row, Jaskier drops a kiss on Geralt’s cheek. “Happy birthday, dear heart.”

Geralt grunts. “Not my birthday.”

“Remember, the year I turned seventeen, I told you we shared a birthday now. Did you think I forgot? We’re both twenty-one today.”

“Hm. Maybe let me win a round of fucking Gwent then.”

Jaskier cackles and kicks his ass for the fourth time in a row.

As the night wears on, another jug of mead and a bottle of vodka begin making the rounds. The witchers tell stories of their exploits and Jaskier makes up a song about Micah’s fight with a succubus that’s shit, but gets plenty of laughs. They trade stories and laugh and Geralt finally wins a round of Gwent. As the evening wears on and Jaskier starts to lose all feeling in his nose, despite his fur cloak and the fire, the others start to slowly trickle away. First is Vesemir, then Lambert’s fellow trainees, then the witchers. Soon, it’s only Geralt, Jaskier, Eskel, and Lambert sitting on the tower.

Without all the warm bodies, the tower is even colder. Jaskier shivers and Geralt starts to put an arm around him, then freezes.

“No, it’s okay,” Jaskier murmurs and snuggles back into the waiting arm. Gods, when did Geralt’s biceps get so huge? “I’m fucking freezing up here. I would snuggle that wyvern you killed last month.”

Geralt chuckles in his ear. “I’m a lot less bitey than a wyvern.”

“How disappointing,” Jaskier says, then blanches and takes a swig of mead. He’s not even drunk, for Melitele’s sake. He should be way drunker if he’s going to say things like that.

Eskel stands up and stretches. “Time for bed, I think. Come on, Lambert.”

Lambert looks up at him blankly. “What, do you need someone to tuck you in?”

“No, it’s just past your bedtime. Training in the morning, remember?” Eskel’s eyes flicker to Jaskier and Geralt in a way that’s not nearly as subtle as he probably intends it to be.

Lambert follows his gaze and guffaws. “Come on, if they were going to fuck, they would have done it months ago.”

Gods, Lambert.” Eskel grabs the boy by the arm and hauls him down the stairs.

There’s a beat of silence. “Guess they don’t teach the fine art of stealth up here, do they?” Jaskier asks, determinedly keeping his voice light.

“Oh, they do.” Geralt just sounds tired.

“I think Eskel needs a refresher. Lambert may need the whole damn lesson again.”

“I’ll say something to Vesemir.”

Jaskier shifts closer, leaning his head against Geralt’s chest. He’s sleepy and just tipsy enough to lower his inhibitions. “Want to know a secret?”

“Hm?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Jaskier chuckles. “I don’t want this winter to end. I want it to snow forever, so I don’t have to leave. So none of us have to leave.”

“You want to know a secret?” Geralt asks in a low voice.

“Of course, Geralt. I’m incorrigibly nosy. You know this.”

“I used to ask Vesemir if you could come to Kaer Morhen to live with us at least once a year. I would get so mad when he’d say no. He said stealing the heir to the earldom would get the keep burned down.”

“He’s not wrong,” Jaskier murmurs, though he feels a jab of sorrow for his younger self. Eleven year old Julian would have had a very different childhood if he grew up here.

“I used to think about coming down the mountain, gutting your piece of shit father, and dragging you back to Kaer Morhen. You should have been alone with that fucker for so many years.”

“I wasn’t alone, Geralt. I had you. I had Eskel and Lambert. I had Vesemir. He couldn’t steal me away, but he did what he could. I think he had a talk with my father after I tried to escape to Kaer Morhen when we were ten. The beatings got better for a while, at least until I got kicked out of Oxenfurt.”

Geralt stares intensely at the fire. The flickering light reflects in his golden eyes. “Wasn’t enough.”

“Maybe not.” Jaskier snuggles closer. “You know, I hate to interrupt when you’ve got a really good brood going on, because I know how hard you’ve worked to refine your craft, but it’s our birthday, and brooding isn’t allowed on birthdays.”

Geralt’s laugh vibrates in his chest. “You’re the only one who can do that.”

“Do what?”

“Get me out of my own head.” He turns his head so his breath tickles the point of Jaskier’s ear. “I used to wonder how you did it. No matter what life threw at you, you always seemed so fucking happy.”

“Fifty percent of it was pure bravado.” Jaskier shrugs. “The other fifty percent… Vesemir once told me that just because my father was a miserable bastard, it didn’t mean I had to be too. I took it to heart.”

“Good. You’re better than your father. Always will be.”

Jaskier wants to kiss him so badly, but they’re friends. Just friends. “Are you ready to go out on the Path?” he asks, because monster hunting is a safe topic that won’t make him want to stick his tongue down Geralt’s throat.

“Yes,” Geralt says. “I’ll miss it here, but it’s time. I’ve been training for this since I was seven.”

“You’re going to be a great witcher. Watching you fight is like watching the world’s most deadly waltz.” At Geralt’s confused silence, he adds, “Because you’re so graceful. And gorgeous. Really fucking gorgeous.”

“Still?” Geralt’s voice cracks and Jaskier’s heart breaks.

“Yeah, Geralt.” Jaskier turns his head so that they’re nose to nose. “Always. You were perfect before, but you’re fucking exquisite now.”

For a moment, the only sounds are of the wind and the fire crackling in front of them. And then Geralt kisses him and it’s like no time has passed at all and they’re seventeen again, making out by the river. Geralt kisses Jaskier hungrily, all teeth, tongue, and desperate need. Fuck, he’s gotten much more assertive about this. Geralt pulls Jaskier onto his lap and Jaskier finds himself straddling Geralt with their chests pressed together, his fingers buried in Geralt’s hair. Geralt’s hair is just as soft as he remembers.

“Fuck, sorry.” Geralt pulls away. “I shouldn’t have done that. I know you just want to be friends.”

“Are you joking?” Jaskier lets out a peel of laughter. “Geralt, I have been kicking myself for the past month. You’d just been mortally wounded—”

“Hardly a scratch.”

Mortally wounded and I’d heroically sat by your side for two days and nights and it would have been the perfect time to lay it all out and confess my love and instead, I asked you if you wanted to be my fucking friend.”

Geralt grins. “Want to give it another shot?”

Jaskier kisses him. “Without the wyvern?”

In one fluid motion, Geralt rises to his feet, bringing Jaskier with him. He holds Jaskier with one arm around Jaskier’s waist, the other one under his thighs. Jaskier should feel ridiculous, given that he’s nearly as tall as Geralt. Instead, he’s ridiculously aroused.

“Without the wyvern,” Geralt says and carries Jaskier to the bedroom.

***

Geralt can admit to himself that the only reason he carries Jaskier downstairs is that he spent two months watching Eskel carry Jaskier up and down stairs when Jaskier was too weak to climb staircases himself and the jealousy nearly killed him. And from the musky, almost sweet smell of arousal pouring off of Jaskier, it’s working. As soon as Geralt carries Jaskier over the threshold of his bedroom, he kicks the door shut behind him and dumps Jaskier on the bed. Jaskier lets out a gasping laugh as he hits the mattress and begins to scramble out of his clothes. He looks up at Geralt, pupils huge, and Geralt remembers that Jaskier can’t see in the dark. He uses Igni to light the candle on the bedside table.

Jaskier laughs again. “You’ve gotten good at that. A few years ago, the keep would be burning down around our ears.”

“Hm.” Geralt doesn’t have the brainpower for banter; he’s too focused on the delicate slope of Jaskier’s rib cage, the jut of his hip bones, and the length of his cock. With Jaskier naked in front of him, Geralt is suddenly acutely aware of his own strength. It would be too easy for him to thrust a little bit too hard, or grip a little too tightly. His large, scarred hands don’t belong anywhere near Jaskier.

“Fuck, Geralt, whatever you’re thinking too hard about, stop.” Jaskier grabs Geralt by the wrists and tries to yank him towards the bed.

Geralt resists. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You just carried me down three flights of steps. I’m no delicate flower. Nor am I opposed to some sexy manhandling.”

Gods, he’s beautiful. Geralt can’t take his eyes off him. “You’ll tell me if something hurts?”

“Dear heart, have you ever known me to suffer in silence?”

Geralt doesn’t have it in him to resist any more. He lets Jaskier drag him down on top of him and kisses him. Jaskier tastes like mead and he smells like soap, arousal, and smoke. He’s everything that Geralt has spent nearly three years missing, and more. Geralt kisses him until Jaskier is squirming frantically under him. Jaskier tries to grind his hips against Geralt’s, but Geralt leverages himself up so he’s hovering over Jaskier, just out of the other man’s reach. Jaskier whines into his mouth.

“Geralt, it’s my birthday.”

“Hm. You should take it slow then, old man.”

“Oh fuck you, we’re the same age.”

Geralt chuckles and gently rolls over, lifting Jaskier up so that his lover is straddling his hips. It’s partially so he won’t accidentally crush Jaskier, partially because the sight of Jaskier on top of him goes straight to his cock.

“Fuck, I’m a huge fan of witcher strength,” Jaskier says breathlessly. “But you’re wearing too many clothes.”

Geralt can feel the evidence of Jaskier’s appreciation pressed against his belly. “We’re focusing on you right now.”

Jaskier makes a strangled noise. “Geralt—”

Geralt grasps Jaskier by the hips, lifts him up so Jaskier is straddling his shoulders, and takes his entire cock in his mouth. Jaskier moans and leans over Geralt, bracing his arms against the wall. Geralt licks and sucks, reveling in every breathy sound of pleasure he draws out of Jaskier. He’s pictured doing this nearly every night for the last three years, but he forgot just how vocal Jaskier is in bed, the way his hips twitch when he’s trying not to thrust too hard, the way his thighs tremble. With one hand, Geralt reaches down his own breeches and begins to stroke himself.

Jaskier reaches out and grabs his forearm. “Geralt.” His voice is strangled. “I have been dreaming of getting my hands on that glorious cock of yours again for years. Don’t you fucking dare do my job for me.”

With that, the last of Geralt’s self-control snaps. He seizes Jaskier by the hips with both hands, digging his fingers into the softness at his waist, and thrusts Jaskier’s length into his mouth. Jaskier wails and arches his back as he reaches his peak, then collapses on top of Geralt.

“Melitele’s sweet tits, you’re still fucking fantastic at that. Glad to see you haven’t gotten rusty.”

“Hm.” Geralt presses his lips against the trail of hair under Jaskier’s belly button. “Found more books in the library.”

Jaskier stills. “No personal experience?”

Geralt shakes his head, glad the mutations make it so he can’t blush. “Tried going to brothels a couple of times, but the whores always smelled scared. And none of them were you. It didn’t seem right to fuck someone when all I could think about was you.”

“Oh, dear heart.” Jaskier shuffles down so their foreheads are pressed together. “You’re a better man than me. I tried to fuck away the memory of you with every pretty girl and brown-eyed boy on the Continent. All that happened is I broke my own heart every time I woke up and the person holding me wasn’t you.”

Geralt runs a thumb over his cheek. “How do you feel about yellow eyes?”

Jaskier kisses him. “I fucking adore them. Now, enough serious talk. Take off your thrice damned pants, before I do it for you.”

“You need to work on your threats.”

The sound of Jaskier’s laughter is one of the sexiest things Geralt has ever heard, second only to his moans. Geralt strips off his own clothes methodically, watching as Jaskier’s eyes go wide. For a moment, Geralt wonders if Jaskier is horrified at what the mutations have done to his body, until Jaskier’s eyes rake up and down him with undisguised lust.

Jaskier reaches out and smooths his hands over Geralt’s shoulders, down his arms and chest. His fingers linger on the scar over his heart. “What happened?”

“Bruxa.”

“Is it dead?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Jaskier kisses the scar. Geralt gasps when Jaskier’s tongue flicks over his nipple. “I have missed you so fucking much. Have I mentioned that?”

Geralt nuzzles at the curve of Jaskier’s throat. “I missed you too.”

Jaskier’s hand wraps around Geralt’s cock. “Can I?”

Geralt nods mutely. After the first time he caught sight of his witcher visage in a mirror, he gave up hope that anyone would ever want to touch him like this again. But Jaskier pushes Geralt down so he’s lying on his back, peppering every inch of him with kisses. When his mouth finally closes around Geralt’s cock, Geralt’s mouth drops open in silent pleasure. Jaskier uses his tongue and his hands with remarkable skill and Geralt can only dig his fingers into the bedsheets and hang on for the ride. When he finds his release, he lies there, panting, as Jaskier curls up next to him.

Geralt loops an arm around Jaskier and pulls him close, burying his face in Jaskier’s hair.

“I love you,” Jaskier whispers into his shoulder.

“Even after everything?”

“I don’t think there’s anything you could do to make me stop loving you, Geralt,” Jaskier says, then pauses. “Don’t take that as a challenge, though.”

Geralt grins. He’s so fucking happy, he feels like he’ll burst with it. “I love you too. Pretty sure I’ve loved you since we were eleven. I just didn’t know it.”

“What changed?”

“The year you invited me to Belleteyn. Watching you sing.” Geralt closes his eyes, savoring the memory. “I couldn’t look away.”

“It was one of my better performances.” Jaskier sounds unbelievably smug.

“What about you?” Geralt asks.

“I always thought you were attractive, because I have eyes, but it was probably the day those men attacked us outside of Lettenhove that changed things. I thought I was about to get my face smashed in, and then you were just there.”

“Wouldn’t let anything happen to your face.” Geralt drops a kiss on the face in question.

Jaskier smiles. “And then you were gone for nearly a year and I had plenty of time to daydream about you and realize that none of my daydreams were even a little bit platonic. As soon as I saw you again, I knew I was in love with you.”

Geralt pulls him closer and for a moment, they lie there in calm silence. With a jolt, Geralt realizes that he never wants to give this up. He doesn’t care where he is— Kaer Morhen, shitty inns, bedrolls under the stars. All he wants is to fall asleep next to Jaskier every night. He wants Jaskier in his arms, a warm, comforting weight pressed against him.

“When I leave on the Path in the spring,” Geralt says. “You could come with me.”

Jaskier doesn’t say anything. Geralt hears his heartbeat pick up.

Fuck, this was a dumb idea. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine. We could pick a place to meet up a few times a year, if you want to.”

“Of course I’ll come with you.” Jaskier’s voice is thick with emotion. “You’ll be my witcher and I’ll be your bard. I’ll sing of your exploits and you’ll stab anything big and toothy that gets too close to me.”

“It won’t be an easy or a glamorous life. It might be dangerous.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jaskier says. “I want you, Geralt. You’re all I’ve wanted since I was too young to understand how I felt about you.”

Geralt doesn’t know what to say to that, so he closes his eyes and leans his face against Jaskier’s, breathing in the scent of him. He’s so content, that he doesn’t notice the sound of his medallion humming until Jaskier asks, “What’s that?”

Geralt sits up, suddenly alert. Lying in his pile of discarded clothes, the medallion is vibrating.

“Magic,” he says.

“One of the healers?”

“No. Not that kind of magic.” Geralt reaches for his swords.

There’s a thunderous roar and Geralt just has time to throw himself on top of Jaskier and cast Quen as the ceiling collapses on top of them.

***

With the candle extinguished and no windows, the room is pitch black. Jaskier can’t see a thing, not even Geralt’s body on top of him. The air is thick with dust and smoke, making him choke. This is what being buried alive must feel like, he thinks, and feels his body threatening to seize up with panic at the thought. “What the fuck was that?” he manages to gasp.

“Part of the keep just collapsed.” Geralt’s voice is a growl in his ear.

Jaskier thinks of the massive stone castle and all of that weight crushing down on him and he feels like he may vomit. “How?”

“We’re being attacked.” Geralt pushes himself off of Jaskier. Jaskier can’t see what he’s doing, but he can hear the sound of rubble being blasted out of the way. Something hits his face and he flinches, before he realizes it’s his own breeches and chemise.

“Get dressed,” Geralt says.

Jaskier scrambles to comply, clumsy in the dark. “The others?”

“Some alive, some not. I can’t tell who.” Jaskier can hear the pain in the tightly controlled tone of Geralt’s voice. “If it’s like what happened at the other keeps, there will be men and mages. You should stay here.”

“And wait for the rest of the ceiling to fall on my head? No thank you.”

“Jask—”

“I don’t have witcher senses, Geralt. I can’t see shit.” Jaskier hates how terrified he sounds. “If I stay here, I’m dead. The first angry mage who comes along, I’m royally fucked.”

Geralt curses under his breath and there’s a burst of fire, illuminating the room as he uses Igni to light the candle. Jaskier can now see that most of the ceiling is gone. The bed where he and Geralt were curled up only moments before is covered in rubble. Geralt stands in front of him, already fully dressed in his armor and with his swords strapped to his back. His eyes have gone completely black, with dark veins crawling down his face. Jaskier feels his own eyes go wide as Geralt hands him the candle.

“It’s a potion,” Geralt tells him. “Helps me see in the dark. Try not to point the candle at me.”

“Sorry.” Jaskier shields the candle with his hand, not taking his eyes off Geralt. In another scenario where he wasn’t terrified, he thinks he would be very into this look.

“Eskel’s hurt,” Geralt says. “I smell his blood.”

Jaskier’s heart plummets into somewhere in the region of his belly button. “How bad?”

“Don’t know. His heartbeat is strong.” Geralt shoves a knife into Jaskier’s other hand. “Take this and stay close to me.”

The hallway is filled with more rubble, completely blocking off most of it. Jaskier swallows back the horror in the pit of his stomach when he realizes that most of the visiting witchers were staying in the area that looks like it’s completely collapsed. The path to Eskel’s door is clear and Geralt shoves his way into the room. They find Eskel sitting on the ground next to his bed, clutching his face in his hands. When he looks up, Jaskier gasps.

“You’re okay,” Eskel says, voice thick with pain and relief. A swath of skin on the right side of his face, from his eyebrow to his jaw, has been scraped off, revealing bone. Only Eskel would be worried about Jaskier and Geralt’s safety when he’s the one with part of his face missing.

“You’re not,” Geralt says. “Where are your potions? Most of mine are crushed. All I had was Cat and Tawny Owl.”

“Under my bed. I have Swallow.”

“Good.”

Eskel catches Jaskier staring and forces a shaky smile. “No need to look at me like that, Jask. I’m not dying yet.”

“And you’re not going to,” Jaskier says firmly and puts down the candle to cut off a piece of the bedsheets to wrap around Eskel’s face. It’s a rudimentary bandage, but it will hopefully quell some of the bleeding.

“Head wounds always look worse than they are,” Eskel says, like he should be the one comforting Jaskier.

“Good, because this one looks pretty fucking bad.”

Eskel laughs weakly as Geralt shoves a bottle of Swallow into his hand. “This is like Kaer Seren, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Geralt says.

“Any idea how many?”

Geralt closes his eyes, a pained expression crossing his face. “I don’t know. I can hear lots of human heartbeats, but I can’t tell which ones are our trainees. There are witcher heartbeats too, but not as many as there should be. People are shouting. There are kids crying. But it’s too much.”

“Hey.” Jaskier touches his cheek. “Don’t strain yourself. It’s okay.”

“People are trapped in the rubble,” Geralt says in a hollow voice. “I can hear them moaning.”

Jaskier shudders at the thought. “Melitele preserve them.”

“Melitele isn’t here right now. It’s just us.” Shakily, Eskel climbs to his feet and starts pulling on his armor.

“The fuck do you think you’re doing?” Jaskier demands.

It’s hard to decipher the expression Eskel is giving him under the makeshift bandages, but Jaskier decides to go with fond exasperation. “Getting ready for battle.”

“You’re bleeding. A lot.”

“And I’ll be bleeding even more if the bastards attacking us have their way. We all will. I can hold a sword. That’s all I need.”

That doesn’t seem like a sound survival strategy to Jaskier, but there’s no time to argue. Shaking, he wipes his bloody hands on his breeches and climbs to his feet. “What do we do?”

To his relief, neither of them say a word about leaving him behind. The thought of being left alone in the dark terrifies him more than any murderous army could. “You’re going to need to put out the candle,” Geralt says gently. “Our one advantage here is that we can see in the dark and they most likely can’t.”

“We won’t let you run into anything,” Eskel adds when Jaskier hesitates. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.”

Jaskier looks up into Geralt’s black-eyed face, so different from the face he’s come to known as well as his own, yet so strange, and hopes this won’t be the last time he gets to see it. Then he nods and blows the candle out, plunging the room into complete darkness.

***

The smell of smoke, Eskel’s blood, and Jaskier’s fear is overwhelming. As Geralt moves through the keep, sword clenched in his hands, he’s aware of every movement Jaskier and Eskel make behind him. Jaskier’s heartbeat is far too fast and his breaths come out shallow and sharp. His hand is fisted in the back of Geralt’s shirt. Eskel’s breathing is labored and Geralt knows he’s in pain. He knew as soon as he saw Eskel’s face that this isn’t a wound that’s going to heal easily. All he can do is find the people who hurt his brother and do ten times worse to them.

By unspoken agreement, Geralt and Eskel are bringing Jaskier to the dormitories to shelter with the trainees. He’ll be safe with Lambert and the others in his cohort. Lambert would sooner chop his own arm off than let anything happen to Jaskier, not that he would ever admit it.

But as they get closer to the dormitories, Geralt hears the sounds of shouting and steel against steel. “Fuck. Eskel, cover Jaskier.”

He doesn’t wait for Eskel’s reply. He runs, feeling a momentary surge of guilt for leaving Jaskier behind, but then he hears a familiar voice shout in pain. He rounds the corner and finds Vesemir standing in front of the door to the dormitories, holding off five armed men. The men are most likely trained mercenaries; their armor and weaponry are professional and their movements practiced. There’s a circle of bodies on the ground, both human and witcher. Geralt catches sight of Varin’s bloodied face, yellow eyes empty of life.

One of the attackers slashes Vesemir across the arm and the older witcher stumbles back, his back hitting the door. The coppery scent of Vesemir’s blood fills the air and Geralt loses the last vestiges of his control. With a roar of fury, he attacks. The men aren't expecting him. Two die quickly, one with a sword thrust through his spine, the next one decapitated. The third lunges for Geralt and Geralt parries his blow and runs him through. Vesemir finishes off the fourth one while the fifth turns to flee. Geralt would let him, if he weren’t heading in Jaskier and Eskel’s direction. He pulls a knife from his belt and hurls it at the bastard, who falls without a sound.

“Alright, pup?” Vesemir asks.

Geralt nods. “How many?”

“At least fifty humans, a mix of trained soldiers and ordinary folks. A few of them are from Lettenhove. They have at least two sorceresses.”

“How many of us are left?” Geralt doesn’t want to know the answer to that question, but he needs to know. All of the dead witchers on the ground are Vesemir’s fellow instructors.

“Rennes is most likely dead. His tower is the one that collapsed on the keep. Any of the witchers who were in their beds are beneath the rubble. Luckily, half of us were down in the kitchens playing Gwent. Clovis, Gweld, Gascaden, and the other survivors are outside, trying to prevent the rest of the attackers from entering the keep. Both healers are dead. The labs and their chambers were incinerated. Of the trainees, we’ve only lost Nathaniel and Milo.”

Nathaniel and Milo were in Lambert’s cohort, both only sixteen. Geralt nods, jaw working.

Vesemir visibly hesitates. “Eskel and Jaskier?”

“Alive, but Eskel’s hurt.”

As if on cue, Eskel and Jaskier come around the corner. Jaskier is clinging on to Eskel, eyes huge as he looks around. Even though it’s pitch black in the hallway and he can’t see anything, he’s still trying to find Geralt.

“I’m here, Jask,” Geralt calls softly. “Vesemir too.”

Jaskier’s face crumples in relief and he starts to run towards him, trips over the body of the man Geralt stabbed in the back, and nearly falls on his face. Eskel just manages to grab his arm to keep him upright. Under the terror and pain, Geralt feels a surge of fondness for him. He steps forward and catches Jaskier in his arms. He’s glad it’s too dark for Jaskier to see the bodies, especially the ones of the men Geralt killed.

“Come on, pups,” Vesemir says and pushes open the door to the dormitory.

The room is lit by flickering candlelight, causing Geralt and Eskel to wince. The seven surviving members of Lambert’s cohort are lined up in a row, all holding swords at the ready. The younger ones are huddled behind them. A few of the little ones are weeping. Lambert stands in the center of his cohort. Geralt doesn’t miss the little gasp he lets out when he sees Geralt, Eskel, and Jaskier alive.

“The fuck happened to your face?” he asks Eskel.

Eskel doesn’t miss a beat. “A ceiling fell on me. What’s your excuse?”

Lambert’s answering grin is shaky.

“You should stay here,” Geralt tells Jaskier.

Jaskier frowns, his grip on Geralt tightening. “What about you?”

“I need to go fight. You’ll be safe here.” Over Jaskier’s shoulder, Geralt meets Lambert’s eyes. Lambert nods.

“But what about you?” Jaskier asks again. “They just brought half a fucking castle down. Whoever these people are, they’re dangerous.”

“And that’s why you’re staying here.” Geralt drops a quick kiss on his forehead. He should tell Jaskier he’ll be back, but he doesn’t want to make any more promises he can’t keep.

“Geralt—”

Geralt, Eskel, and Vesemir’s medallions all begin to hum.

“Incoming!” Vesemir shouts, just as a portal opens up in the middle of the dormitory and twenty men come pouring into the room, followed by a sorceress. Most of the men are in the same armor of the mercenaries Geralt killed in the hallway, but Geralt recognizes a few of them. He sees Viktor, the alderman’s son who attacked Geralt, Eskel, Lambert and Jaskier years ago, as well as the blacksmith. Geralt just has time to shove Jaskier behind him as four of the mercenaries lunge at them.

Around Geralt, the room dissolves into chaos as the attackers clash with the witchers and the trainees. The smell of blood and fear fills the air and Geralt doesn’t stop to think about whose blood it is. His focus is solely on his opponents and stopping them from getting anywhere near Jaskier, who stands behind him, armed with nothing but a knife. He hears a yell and turns to see Jaskier grappling with the blacksmith. Jaskier slashes at the blacksmith with his knife, causing the man to stumble backwards into Geralt’s sword.

But it’s a moment of distraction Geralt doesn’t need. He feels a sharp sting in his side and looks down to see a knife sticking out of him.

“Geralt!” Jaskier shouts, fear spiking in his scent.

Geralt yanks his sword out of the blacksmith’s body and decapitates the man who stabbed him. Wincing, he yanks the knife out of his side, causing Jaskier to yelp.

“No, don’t, the bleeding—”

“It will heal.” Geralt’s eyes lock on the sorceress. She’s small and blonde, and hardly looks older than Lambert, despite most likely being centuries old. The sorceresses are the ones who brought down the keep. They’re the ones who portaled all these men up the mountain. If the witchers can take out the sorceresses, they win this fight.

The sorceress’s eyes meet his and she must know what he’s thinking, because she comes straight at him, fire dancing in her palms. Geralt shoves Jaskier back and casts Quen to deflect her spell. She sends another spell at him and this one sends him flying backwards, slamming into the wall with enough force to knock all the breath out of his lungs. Stars dance in front of his vision. The sorceress rounds on him, summoning a handful of fire, and Geralt just has time to realize that he’s about to die.

“No!” Jaskier slams into the sorceress and brings her to the ground.

***

As a rule, Jaskier doesn’t love the idea of fighting with someone half his size, especially when she looks barely older than Izabela. But he can feel the chaos crackling in the air around the sorceress and he knows that in a room full of witchers and armed mercenaries, she’s the most dangerous one here. And there’s no way he’s going to let her lay a finger on Geralt. He seizes her wrists and pins them to the ground to stop her from casting any spells.

She smiles up at him, unconcerned. The fact that she’s not struggling against his grasp worries him more than if she were trying to curse him into oblivion. “What’s an elf doing in a keep full of mutants?”

“What’s a sorceress doing, attacking children in the middle of the night?”

“They hardly count as children anymore.” She casts her eyes disdainfully at the trainees.

Jaskier remembers Geralt at seven years old, crying for his mother. Ten years old, throwing himself on top of Jaskier to protect him from a werewolf. Fourteen years old, terrified of the upcoming Trials. This woman would have killed him without hesitation. Jaskier wonders if he can reach for his knife and end this before she has time to cast a spell. He wonders if he has the strength to stab someone, even if that someone is reprehensible.

The sorceress’s eyes flicker to Geralt, who is fighting his way through the mercenaries trying to block his path to the sorceress and Jaskier. “Oh, I see.”

One of the mercenaries slashes his sword over Geralt’s knife wound. Geralt grunts in pain and Jaskier flinches.

It’s all the opening the sorceress needs. Suddenly, Jaskier is flat on his back, with the sorceress on top of him. Her surprisingly strong hands are wrapped around his throat. He reaches for his knife, but she bats it away without even looking at it. He hears it skitter across the floor.

“Did you know that elves all have chaos in their blood?” she asks conversationally as he sputters and gasps. “Even if hardly any of you have any magical abilities yourselves, you can come in handy as sources. It’s considered unethical, of course, but I’m not at Aretuza anymore.”

Her grip tightens and the keep around them begins to shake. Dust begins to rain down from the ceiling. Jaskier claws at her fingers desperately, wheezing. The floor seems to be bucking under him and he’s aware of people— witchers, trainees, and mercenaries alike— scrambling to find purchase. This crazy witch is going to bring the whole building down with everyone, including her allies, in it.

A chunk of the ceiling falls down, landing perilously close to Jaskier’s head. He hears Geralt shout his name, the terror in his voice mirroring Jaskier’s own fear. Jaskier is going to go on the Path with Geralt in the spring, he tells himself. They’re going to start a life together, a witcher and his bard traveling the Continent. Jaskier isn’t going to die here at the hands of a no-name fanatical sorceress and her band of armed assholes.

He reaches out, grabs a hold of one of the rocks that just fell from the ceiling, and smashes it into her temple. The sorceress shrieks and lets go of him. Jaskier shoves her off of him and scrambles backwards, just as Geralt lunges at the sorceress. The sorceress raises her hand to cast a curse at Jaskier, who braces himself. Geralt steps between them and cuts her head off with a single swing of his sword. The keep stops shaking and a heavy silence settles over the room.

Jaskier looks around and sees fallen bodies everywhere. The mercenaries are all down, most of them dead. The handful that are still moaning are being efficiently finished off by Vesemir with a blade to the side of the neck. Lambert is kneeling next to one of the members of his cohort, hands pressed against a wound in the boy’s throat that has stopped bleeding. Lambert’s eyes are wide with shock as he stares down at his friend’s body. Eskel is with the little ones, checking for wounds and talking in a low, reassuring voice. The knot of terror in Jaskier’s chest loosens a little.

Geralt pulls him to his feet and drags him into a hug. “That was stupid,” he murmurs into Jaskier’s hair. “You shouldn’t put yourself between me and angry sorceresses.”

“You're welcome, dear heart,” Jaskier replies."Though if I have to keep saving your lovely ass, I’m going to start charging witcher rates."

Geralt snorts. “Are you okay?”

“Fine.” Jaskier touches his bruising throat and winces. “You?”

“Nothing that won’t heal.” Geralt looks down at the wound in his side, looking more irritated than worried. “It’s over. I think the fighting outside is done too.”

“Did we win?” Jaskier asks hesitantly.

“We’re alive, so yes.” Geralt glances at the body of another dead trainee and winces. “Well, most of us.”

It’s good enough for Jaskier right now, so he wraps Geralt up in his arms and holds his witcher close, reassured by the slow thrum of his witcher heartbeat against Jaskier’s chest.

***

There are too many funeral pyres in the days that follow: Rennes, Varin and the other instructors, four members of Lambert’s cohort, both of the healers, and well over half of the visiting witchers, including Micah. They burn the mercenaries’ bodies in a mass grave after pillaging their armor and weapons. It takes Geralt weeks before he stops smelling smoke and burnt flesh.

The western half of the keep, where the laboratories, the library, and most of the visiting witchers' rooms were located, is uninhabitable. Geralt and Jaskier move into one of the late instructors’ rooms (which seems to creep Jaskier out until Geralt asks him whether he would prefer they sleep outside. Jaskier gets over his discomfort quickly after that.) Their new room has a bed that fits them both comfortably and a fireplace, which also helps.

With the deaths of Rennes and the other instructors, Vesemir becomes the de facto head of the Wolf School, something that seems to fill him with dismay. A week after the attack, he calls the surviving witchers and the trainees to the training yard, where he delivers the news.

“When the laboratories and the library were destroyed, so was all our knowledge of how to create witchers,” he tells them. “The potions for next year’s Trials were already created and they survived. I know enough to administer them. After that, there will be no way to create new witchers at Kaer Morhen.”

“Can’t we use the existing potions to make new ones?” Gweld asks.

“Our healers made that near-impossible so that not just anyone who got their hands on a potion could create more witchers,” Vesemir says. “I suppose we could try to find a mage who is willing to try. Though I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not inclined to trust any strange mages right now.”

There’s a heavy silence.

Vesemir turns to the younger trainees. “You will be given the choice. Some of you may want to return to your families. Some of you may want to take up a trade and find an apprenticeship. I will do whatever I can to make that happen. If any of you will want to stay here, this will be your home as long as you want it to be. I may not be able to give you the mutations to make you a witcher, but I can still train you.”

Several of the youngest boys begin to sniffle.

Vesemir directs his attention to Lambert’s cohort. “Kaer Seren, Stygga Castle, and Gorthur Gvaed are gone and their schools decimated. We’ve received no words from the other schools, but we can assume that they’ve undergone similar attacks. Being a witcher will be harder than ever with so few of us left. I won’t force anyone to undergo the Trials. So you have a choice. You may undergo the Trials next summer. If you choose not to, you have the same options as the little ones. This will be your home for as long as you want it to be and I will do everything I can to prepare you for the world as a human.”

Four of the boys immediately say they’ll undergo the Trials. Lambert is the only one who hesitates, his gaze flickering to Geralt and Eskel. Geralt keeps his face carefully neutral. He doesn’t want Lambert to have to undergo the torture of the Trials and possibly not survive. Human or witcher, Lambert will be his brother. But a small, selfish part of him also doesn’t want to watch Lambert grow old and die. He wants centuries of being annoyed by the little shit.

“I’ll do it,” Lambert says. “Last five years would be a fucking waste if I didn’t, right?”

Geralt doesn’t know whether to be horrified or relieved.

***

“I think I’m going to stay here another year,” Geralt tells Jaskier that night as they lie curled up in bed, the embers in the fireplace burnt low. Jaskier is a warm, comforting weight in Geralt’s arms.

Jaskier doesn’t reply, but he props his chin on Geralt’s chest and peers up at him, silently urging him to continue.

“The keep needs rebuilding,” Geralt tells him. “I don’t want to leave Vesemir and the trainees to do it by themselves.”

He hates the thought of leaving Vesemir alone with the trainees. Every time he pictures going out on the Path, his vision of sleeping under the stars with Jaskier is tempered by images of Vesemir sitting in a half-ruined keep with no other instructors for company.

“If you want to go, it’s okay,” he tells Jaskier, because he knows Jaskier must be eager to get out on the road and go back to seeing the world. Jaskier, who is warmth and light, doesn’t belong in a drafty old ruin. He’ll probably be bored out of his mind. He’ll probably…

Jaskier kisses him. “Of course I’ll stay.”

Some of the tension in Geralt’s shoulders releases. “But will you be happy here?”

“As long as you’re here.” Jaskier nuzzles closer. “It takes more than a castle nearly falling on my head to get rid of me, dear heart.”

“I just don’t want to hold you back.”

“You’re not holding me back,” Jaskier says softly. “Wherever we go, we go together, Geralt, always.”

***

 

Age 22

Geralt and Jaskier stay at the keep for another year, along with the rest of Geralt's cohort and a handful of the older surviving witchers. It takes most of the spring and summer to rebuild walls and make the surviving wing of the keep habitable.

As winter approaches, witchers from other schools begin to trail in. Griffins, Cats, and Vipers, all of whom had their own keeps destroyed and need a place to go for the winter, at least until they can rebuild. No one has heard from the Bear, Crane, and Manticore schools, but one of the Cats tells Jaskier that those schools were already so small that an attack like the one that nearly leveled Kaer Morhen probably would have wiped them out.

It’s a good winter, surprisingly enough, full of equal parts mourning and camaraderie. Jaskier spends his days learning as much as he can about all the new witchers he meets and his nights in Geralt’s bed, learning every inch of his lover’s body.

By the time spring comes, they’re only months away from the Trials. While Clovis, Gweld, and Gascaden set out on the Path with the majority of the older witchers, Eskel, Geralt, and Jaskier can’t bear to leave Lambert. The boy has become even surlier in the last few months, which Jaskier knows is just his way of covering up the mortal terror he’s experiencing

The Trial of the Grasses is awful. Jaskier spends the better part of the week trying not to weep in Geralt’s arms. The thought of Geralt suffering through this four years before turns his stomach. He mourns for those killed in the attack— of course he does. Even Varin. But part of him is glad that this will be the last set of Trials, and that no other boys will fill the halls of Kaer Morhen with their dying screams. Of the five that go into the Trials, two survive: Lambert and another boy named Aubry. When they burn the bodies of the three dead boys, Jaskier looks at Vesemir’s grim face and thinks that the old witcher may be just as relieved as he is that this is the last time.

After the Trials conclude, Geralt and Jaskier debate staying another year, as summer is drawing to a close, but Geralt worries that the longer they stay, the harder it will get to leave. And Jaskier can tell that Geralt is getting restless. He immediately jumps at any contract that pops up within a day’s ride and he’s spending more and more time meditating at the top of his favorite tower.

But Jaskier has one thing to do before they go.

It’s a rainy morning when he makes his way back down to Lettenhove. It’s the first time he’s stepped foot in the town in years. People turn to stare as he walks by, looking like they’ve seen a specter, and Jaskier takes the time to smile and nod at each of them. He’s sure that they all heard that he was slaughtered by bandits and he’s sure not a single one of them gave a damn. He makes his way to the Pankratz family estate, whistling a jaunty tune all the way. He only pauses at the gates, looking up at the imposing stone home where he spent the first eighteen years of his life. After living at Kaer Morhen for two years, it suddenly seems a lot less impressive.

“Who are you?” a small voice asks.

Jaskier looks down. Julian is four now, pudgy and blue-eyed. He actually looks a lot like Jaskier did at that age, except for being fair-haired like their father. He’s wearing a ridiculous ruffled shirt that makes him look like a small magistrate and stiff leather boots that probably pinch. It’s an outfit that no one would have forced Jaskier into at that age, because the shirt would have gotten muddy and he would have tossed the shoes in a ditch somewhere.

“I’m Jaskier,” Jaskier tells him.

“Like a buttercup?”

Jaskier grins. “Like a buttercup.”

“I like buttercups. They don’t taste like butter though.”

“So I’ve heard. Is your father home?”

“He is, but he’s in his study. He doesn’t like being disturbed in his study.”

Jaskier remembers the one time he made the mistake of knocking on the door of the earl’s study. “That’s okay. He’ll make an exception for me.”

Julian’s eyes get big. “I might get in trouble.”

Julian doesn’t have any visible bruises on him, but that doesn’t mean their father hasn’t found other ways to make his displeasure known. “I think I’ll be in trouble for the both of us, little one. Show me inside?”

The boy considers for a moment. “Okay, but if he asks, tell him it’s Agata who let you in.”

Jaskier snorts. “I’ll be sure to do that.”

He doesn’t knock on the door of his father’s study. He finds the Earl de Lettenhove sitting at his desk, already deep in his cups, even though it’s not even midday. The earl looks up at Jaskier with red-rimmed eyes, which go wide with shock when he sees Jaskier.

“Yes, I know.” Jaskier kicks the door closed behind them. “I’m supposed to be dead in a shallow grave in the mountains. Fortunately for all of us, not everyone is as shitty a person as you are. I’ve been at Kaer Morhen for the last two years.”

The earl recovers himself enough for his lip to curl in disdain. “Being passed around by all the witchers now?”

“Gods, I wish.” Jaskier grins lasciviously.

His father chokes, which turns into a coughing fit that lasts for several long moments. When the earl recovers, he demands, “What do you want, boy?”

“Can’t a son come home to his loving father?” Jaskier cackles. “Sorry, couldn’t say that with a straight face.”

A vein is popping in his father’s forehead. It’s a beautiful sight. “You’re no son of mine. You’re a changeling your whore of a mother dropped on my doorstep.”

“Is that what you told the king so he would make Julian your official heir?” Jaskier asks. “You know there are mages who can verify things like that, right? I met several on my travels. One strand of hair from each of us, and we’d know once and for all if I’m really your son.”

The earl’s hand strays to his balding head. “You—”

Jaskier slips off the ring on his right finger, letting his glamour drop. It’s the first time he’s worn the glamour in the two years since he arrived at Kaer Morhen.

That gets the earl on his feet. “Put that back on, before—”

“Before I shame the family. Yes, I know. The king is getting up there in years, isn’t he? And from what I’ve heard, the crown prince isn’t a big fan of elves. What do you think would happen if he found out that not only did you plan to marry a halfling, but you fathered her child and made him your heir for eighteen years? I think there wouldn’t be a title or an estate for anyone to inherit after that.”

The earl starts around the side of his desk. It takes everything in Jaskier not to flinch back.

“I wouldn’t do that.” Jaskier is proud of how steady his voice is. “Because there’s a witcher within earshot of us who has wanted to murder you since we were eleven. I wouldn’t give him any added incentive.”

He didn’t tell Geralt what he was planning on doing today and certainly didn’t invite him along, but that didn’t stop Geralt. He doesn’t think he was supposed to notice that Geralt followed him down the mountain, but his lover isn’t nearly as subtle as he thinks he is.

The earl freezes. “What do you want from me, boy?”

“My childhood back,” Jaskier says. “A father’s love. Not to flinch whenever someone raises their hand in front of me. Since I can’t have that, I’ll take your money.”

“You don’t deserve a ducat of my fortune.”

“I think the court in Ard Carraigh would disagree. I’ll fight for my inheritance if it comes to it, and you know I’ll win. But then I’ll be an earl and you’ll be a laughingstock and we’ll both be miserable. So let’s make this easy on us.”

When Jaskier walks out of his father’s study twenty minutes later, there’s a spring to his step. To his lack of surprise, he finds Geralt kneeling in front of the house while Julian sits cross-legged on the grass in front of him, extolling the virtues of each of his father’s hounds at length.

“Julian!” Jaskier didn’t realize the earl had followed him and he winces at the raised voice behind him. “Get away from that mutant!”

Julian looks up at his father with wide blue eyes. “But Papa, Geralt is nice!”

“Don’t make me tell you again.” The earl’s fists clench and Julian comes scrambling over obediently.

Jaskier grabs his father’s arm, surprised at his own audacity. “One more thing. You should know that I will be returning to Lettenhove every winter with Geralt. I will be checking in here. I also have friends at Kaer Morhen who will stop by. If Julian ever has so much as a skinned knee, the witchers will be the last fucking thing you need to worry about.”

The earl’s face goes purple. “Are you threatening me?”

“I’ve been threatening you for a half an hour, man. Keep up.”

He hears Geralt snort. When he glances over his shoulder, the witcher’s face is set in a scowl.

Jaskier’s father draws himself up. “Julian is a true Pankratz and a boon to the family name. I would never raise a hand to him.”

That doesn’t sting. Not even a little. “See to it that you don’t.” Jaskier turns away. “Nice to meet you, Julian.”

“You too,” Julian says in a small voice.

“So that’s it, then?” the earl calls after Jaskier. “You’re content to go off and be a witcher’s whore?”

Jaskier glances at Geralt, who looks dashingly menacing with his armor, his swords, and his scars. “It’s a tough lot in life, but I’ve learned to accept it.”

Geralt’s lips twitch.

“You disgust me,” Jaskier’s father says.

“Another lot in life that I’ll learn to live with.” Jaskier closes the distance between him and Geralt and kisses his lover with every ounce of passion he can muster. When he reaches around to grab a handful of Geralt’s ass and squeeze, he hears his father make a choking noise and the sound of the door slamming. He doesn’t pull away from Geralt for several more long, glorious moments.

“Was that necessary?” Geralt murmurs when Jaskier finally comes up for air.

“Very necessary.”

“Did you get what you came for?”

“Sure did.” Jaskier slaps the full coin purse into Geralt’s hands. “If we budget, stay at the shittiest inns we can find, and hunt for most of our food, that will last us about a year.”

Geralt frowns. “I didn’t want you to have to take his money.”

“It’s my money, Geralt. My inheritance. And it will piss him off for years that he had to give it to me.”

“Not years,” Geralt says. “Your father is sick. I could smell it. He won’t make it to Belleteyn.”

Jaskier doesn’t feel sad at the news, but feels the strange hollowness where sadness should be. “All that threatening, for nothing.”

“Hm.” Geralt’s eyes flick to the house. “I still want to kill him.”

“He doesn’t deserve the honor of dying at your hands.” Jaskier lifts Geralt’s hand to his lips and presses a kiss against the scar on his palm. “I can think of much more exciting things you could do with your hands, dear heart.”

Geralt’s answering smile is downright wolfish.

***

Geralt, Jaskier, and Eskel leave Kaer Morhen a week later. It feels strange, leaving only Vesemir, Lambert, and Aubry with the handful of young former trainees that couldn’t be brought back to their families or placed in apprenticeships. Geralt is used to there being more noise at Kaer Morhen. Even over a year after the attack, the ringing emptiness seems wrong. As Vesemir and Lambert see them off at the front gate, Geralt ignores the lump in his throat. New witchers typically don’t return to Kaer Morhen for several years after setting out on the Path. It will be a long time before he comes home again.

“Take care, pup.” Vesemir pulls Jaskier into an embrace. “And you two take care of each other.”

Jaskier grins at Geralt over the old witcher’s shoulder. “We always do.”

“We know,” Lambert says. “We all hear you two taking care of each other every damn night. I’ll finally be able to get some fucking sleep.”

“Oh, Lambert.” Jaskier turns to manhandle the younger man into a hug. Lambert grumbles, but doesn’t resist. “Never change, you little shit.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Lambert mutters into Jaskier’s shoulder.

“Your brother already performs that duty admirably.”

Lambert shoves him away in disgust. Geralt has to catch Jaskier to stop him from falling over. Lambert’s still adjusting to his heightened strength.

Geralt looks up at the keep, trying to focus on the part that’s still standing, and not the heap of rubble that they never quite finished clearing away. “Will you be okay here?”

“We’ll be fine, pup.”

Before he realizes what he’s doing, Geralt pulls Vesemir into an embrace. It’s the first time he’s hugged the old witcher in the fifteen years he’s known him.

“Be well,” Vesemir says softly. “Be safe. And remember that this is your home. Yours and Jaskier’s.”

Geralt swallows thickly and steps back so Eskel can hug Vesemir. “We will.”

Eskel, Geralt, and Jaskier camp together that first night in southern Kaedwen. In the morning, Eskel announces his plan to leave for Brugge, where he’s meeting up with a Griffin witcher he befriended the winter before.

“Where will you go?” Eskel asks Geralt.

“Haven’t decided yet.” Geralt shrugs. “Wherever there's a need for a witcher and a bard, I guess.”

“There's a need for a bard everywhere.” Jaskier strums his lute for emphasis. “You save their lives, I enrich them.”

“Hm. We’ll see about that.”

Jaskier is loudly indignant and storms off in a huff, which Geralt knows is really just his excuse to give Geralt and Eskel a chance to say goodbye to each other. When Jaskier returns to their campsite, Geralt and Eskel are both composed and stoic, as witchers should be. Most witchers don’t survive their first five years on the Path, but Geralt knows that this won’t be the last time he sees Eskel. They’ll both find their way home eventually.

“See you soon, Geralt, Jaskier,” Eskel says before he leaves their campsite.

Geralt smiles at his brother’s retreating back. “See you soon, Eskel.”

He and Jaskier spend one more peaceful night under the stars. The next day, when Geralt asks Jaskier where he wants to go, he receives a mischievous grin.

“I know a charming little village called Upper Posada,” he says. “The inn has great bread, if a bit dusty.”

Geralt snorts. “Don’t know if there will be a room for a witcher there.”

“Oh, they’ll make room for the White Wolf.”

Geralt cocks an eyebrow at him. “The what?”

“The White Wolf,” Jaskier says airily. “That’s what I’m going to call you in my songs. Defender of the innocent, slayer of beasts, breaker of fair maidens’ hearts. You’re going to be famous.”

“Sounds like a crock of bullshit.”

“How dare you.” Jaskier takes a deep breath and Geralt knows he’s going to start singing even before he starts belting out his song.

“The call of the White Wolf is loudest at the dawn,
The call of the stone heart is broken and alone,
Born of Kaer Morhen, born of no love
The song of the White Wolf is cold as driven snow.”

“A bit dramatic,” Geralt says mildly.

“Of course it’s dramatic, Geralt. No one wants to hear about happy, well-adjusted heroes who spend their evenings in the arms of their bard lovers. They want tragedy. They want heartbreak.” Jaskier grins at him fiercely. “People are going to adore you, dear heart. We’re going to change the way the world sees witchers. What happened to Kaer Morhen and the other keeps will never happen again, as long as I have breath in my lungs to sing.”

And despite everything, Geralt believes him. He leans over to place a gentle kiss on his bard’s mouth. “Lead the way then.”

***

 

After

A lot changes in a century. Kingdoms rise and fall. Wars rage. Monsters are slain. People are born, grow old, and die.

Through it all, a witcher and his bard travel from town to town. The witcher is called the White Wolf and his songs are known all over the Continent. Throughout the years, he accumulates new scars, but he’s always recognizable by his white hair and wolf medallion. The bard he’s with never seems to age. He sings multiple songs on the topic. The most popular one in taverns is the one where he gave Melitele herself such a fantastic night of lovemaking that she decided he could never die, lest the women of the Continent be deprived of his virility.

The witcher covers his face with his hands every time the bard plays that song. People would think he was laughing, if witchers laughed.

The bard and the witcher see the world ten times over, and it always finds new ways to surprise them.

In the town square of a shitty village called Blaviken, the bard talks an exiled princess into putting down her sword. Later that night, the town wizard dies mysteriously in his bed, but the witcher and the bard don’t know anything about that. They make a valuable friend that day.

They meet a band of elves in Dol Blathanna who have been exiled from their homes. The bard takes off his ring, revealing his pointed ears, and he and the witcher talk the elves into retreating to safety. The bard writes a song so the locals will think the elves were killed in battle. Much to his dismay, it becomes his most famous song.

At a wedding in Cintra, the witcher accidentally claims a child surprise. As they leave the wedding feast in disgrace, the bard is heard sniping at the witcher, “Melitele’s sake, Geralt, we passed four orphanages on the way here. If you wanted a baby, you only had to ask.”

There’s some unpleasantness with a djinn outside Rinde, but they make another friend that day, a sorceress who will become dearer than a sister to both of them.

In the Blue Mountains, they meet a dragon for the first time. The bard cries when he sees how beautiful it is. The witcher and the bard walk down the mountain hand in hand.

A war breaks out with Nilfgaard and there are some dark years, but the witcher, the bard, the sorceress and their child surprise make it through. They aren’t quite the same as they were before, but they’re alive and they’re whole.

And eventually, there’s a contract in Toussaint that ends with someone handing them the deed to a vineyard. The bard is finally starting to grow faint lines around his eyes and his temples are touched with gray. Most people would guess that he’s no older than forty. He looks up at the gorgeous house in front of them and the sprawling lands and shrugs. “Bit of a hovel, but I can work with this.” The witcher laughs and kisses him.

In a century, some things don’t change at all.

Every winter, the witcher and his bard return to the mountains of Kaedwen, to a little town called Lettenhove. The bard’s brother grew up to be an earl who embraced the presence of the witchers on the mountain and urged his people to be just as accepting. For the most part, they were. And when the earl eventually grew old and died in his bed, he passed on the same acceptance to his son and grandson (both named Julian, to the bard’s dismay.)

And when they make their way up the mountain to Kaer Morhen, there’s always a gray-haired old witcher, as well as a kind, quiet witcher with a scarred face and a loud witcher with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue. Others come and go, but they’re the three who are there every year. Some years, there’s a purple-eyed sorceress and a girl who can level cities with a scream waiting for them. Once a decade or so, there’s even a quick-tempered former princess who put down her sword because the bard asked her to.

No matter where they are, Geralt and Jaskier always ride up the mountain— Geralt on a chestnut mare named Roach, Jaskier on a gelding with a name that Geralt always thinks is silly— side by side. When they return home, it’s always together.

***