He cawed out to Geralt as he approached. Geralt held out his arm to land on and he did.
“Still too close?” Geralt asked glancing down at Ciri and Roach’s drooping forms. Exhausted. Ciri was half asleep in his arms.
He nodded sadly. He’d found a scout camp not an hours fly behind.
Geralt looked down at Ciri and Roach. “We can’t stop.” His face pinched painfully and he glanced at him. “Jaskier-“
He could shift. He could ride.
They pulled off to the side and he shifted. A few hands taller than Roach with black stockings over his chestnut hair.
Thank you. He told her pressing his neck into hers.
That’s my line colt.
I’m older than you Roach.
I’d never have guessed.
Geralt shifted the tack over to him and he did his best to tolerate the feeling. The few times they’d done this it was bareback and he wasn’t a fan of the way it sat on his back. But it would be better in the long run. Probably.
“I know you’re not a fan of this.” Geralt waved to. The whole situation really. “Thank you.”
He stopped his grooming of Roach’s withers to bump Geralt reassuringly. I might not enjoy being ridden -like this at least- but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it in a pinch. It’s fine.
Tell him he owes me so many apples for this. And some clover grass.
You know you’ll get sick if you eat too much of that. Hm. Apples tho. Not as good as lamb but-
Well that was progress at least.
I’ll make sure he knows Roach.
And they were off.
He wasn’t proud of how quickly he tired but his bones still ached from shifting into the wolf. Less. It hurt less now. But the insistent throb of it wore at him as the hours passed. The grime that still matted his hair itched. Hunger rumbled his belly. Lamb sounded so good right now. He could eat one whole right now, wool and all.
We’re here. Roach interrupted his. Frankly too vivid daydream.
Here? He asked as Geralt turned him off the road into the pinewood forest.
The road home.
Home. They were almost home. He surged forward with it.
“Jaskier.” Geralt grumbled at him.
How much further? What’s it like? What are they like?
She whinnied a laugh at his excitement. Two or three days still colt. Doesn’t have enough grass. Scorpion’s fun.
The ache in his toes grew that much more noticeable.
They continued on.
Geralt pulled him to a halt and he let his head fall forward panting. They jumped off.
The saddle and bit were removed.
Geralt brushed him down. Picked his feet. He felt. A little cleaner.
“Staying a horse?” Geralt rubbed his neck soothingly as he finished.
No. He leaned into Geralt and let the form collapse under him.
Geralt caught him with a sigh and pet his long ears.
“Does he do that a lot?” Ciri asked. “Turn into a rabbit?”
Geralt shrugged and set about making camp one handed. “He shifts small when he wants to be carried.”
That was. Probably not inaccurate.
No fire again. Geralt had passed him into Ciri’s arms at some point. Her warm hands soothing the pain of the day and he did his best to keep her warm in turn while Geralt worked.
“What else can he turn into? Can he turn into a shrieker? A unicorn? A dragon?”
“I don’t know what a shrieker is. Unicorns are extinct. If he could turn into a dragon he would have by now just to show off. It’s just animals. Bears, wolves, rabbits. The like.”
“What about the griffin?”
Geralt paused. “I don’t think the griffin was. Natural.”
“Because he.” Geralt hesitated as he carried the blanket over, settling behind her. “Didn’t recognize me.”
She looked up at him questioningly as he reached down to pet between his ears.
“But he remembers you now. Right?”
They both nodded.
“So why’d he forget?”
“Don’t you care? It could happen again! Why didn’t you ask him when he was human!” She turned back to him. “And why haven’t you become human since then!”
He folded his ears back and shrunk down. He. He just-
“If it happens again I’ll deal with it. He isn’t much of a fight. When Jaskier wants to talk about it he will. Talking isn’t the problem, it’s getting him to stop that's the trick.” He clucked at Geralt. “See?”
He clacked his teeth together a few times before pointedly flopping on Ciri. Look how comfortable I am. More comfortable than you are. Be jealous Geralt.
Geralt shook his head at him like he was being Over Dramatic! Which he Was! Because that was his Thing!
“He looked a mess in human form. Probably has some big plan about how he’ll get all fancied up and win you over with his charming smile and music.”
Yes that was the plan.
Ciri’s face scrunched up at that. “Why?”
The drama! He wanted her to like him! He wanted to make a better first impression than the one his dirty unkempt appearance would make. He wanted her to like him at least a fraction of how much he liked her!
“Because he’s an idiot.” He snapped at Geralt’s fingers. “An over dramatic idiot who thinks he has to put on a show to make you like him.”
She studied him. He wiggled his pink nose adorably. Which probably proved Geralt’s point.
“You’re making a production out of this. So it had better be grand reveal or I’ll be immensely disappointed in you.” She threatened him with a yawn.
He purred in agreement as Geralt pulled up the blanket.
“How much further?” She asked curling into Geralt.
“The evening after next we’ll arrive.”
Almost there. Just a little bit longer.
A little bit longer and they’d be home.
“Fuck” Geralt shifted out from under them, shoving him awake. “Bandits.”
“Nilfgaard?” Ciri whispered grabbing him around the belly which wasn’t comfortable. Support the rear Ciri! This was going to hurt his back!
Geralt crouched over them. Listening. “No. I don’t think so.”
“Plan?” She squeezed him tighter and – nope nope nope! His leg kicked out and she dropped him with a pained start which he was very sorry for except hide- hide –hide run and hide run and hide.
“Jaskier!” He heard his cub whisper shout after him but-
Run hide! Run and hide! Run and hide!
Rabbits were not brave.
He squished himself under the dense cover of a bush and waited.
“What have we got?”
“Horse and a guy with his kid.”
“Easy enough. Let’s make this quick aye? Baz was making dinner.”
Easy. They thought it would be easy. Like Geralt couldn’t lay ruin to them. Wouldn’t lay ruin to them.
Ciri would witness more bloodshed and Baz would eat alone wondering where his unlucky companions had gone.
It was the wolves all over again.
Hungry said the bellies. Easy said the eyes.
It would be a slaughter.
Rabbits where not brave and he wasn’t sure Jaskiers were either. But they were idiots so he darted between their legs and shifted.
He sniffed them loudly and they froze. Eyes and then heads slowly turning towards him.
I have rules about violence Gentlemen. The words coming out a deep growl. Protecting my mate and cub does fit within that framework. But I’d really rather not. If its all the same to you.
They shuffled away from him, clutching their weapons.
He slammed his paw and roared at them. Two broke rank, turned tail and ran. Roach whinnied her terror.
‘Chase!’ The bear and the wolf and the griffin screamed. ‘Hide.’ Whispered the rabbit. It was all that kept him still.
He turned and walked back to their camp. The stragglers fleeing.
Geralt was soothing Roach with axii. Ciri yanked on his arm as she spotted him. Adrenaline and fear rolling off her.
Geralt turned and he watched the tension drain from his shoulders. “Jaskier.”
He smiled back at them. Watching as the axii faded from Roach’s eyes, replaced with recognition. She settled back to her search for grass.
“That’s Jaskier?” Ciri asked. Doubtful.
“Hm.” Geralt confirmed.
She studied him before stomping up to him, hand tucked under her armpits against the cold. “You kicked me!”
He rumbled apologetically but I couldn’t breath and you were breaking my back.
She glared at him. He nosed at her, slowly shoving her into his side. She allowed herself to be tucked into his fur with only a token of protest. The fear scent fading.
“Jaskier.” Geralt returned from their things holding – oh Geralt. “You can’t play like that?” Holding his lute.
He shook his head and dragged Geralt by the arm into his side as well. That would only be significant to us Geralt. Ciri wouldn’t know what the hell we were on about and I’d still look like a disheveled mud rat. Besides she’d get cold and your bedroll’s not big enough for all three of us. Really man.
Geralt plucked a few of the strings. They were painfully out of tune. Had he done any maintenance at all? He glared at Geralt as he curled around them dragging the blanket up over them. Geralt glared back.
“You can’t play like that?” Ciri questioned from insider her burrow of Geralt, fur and blanket.
“It was. What I told him the first time he shifted in front of me.” Geralt explained adjusting them so he was comfortable.
“Oh.” He felt her petting his fur under the blanket. “How’d you met?”
“I’d been hired to retrieve a family heirloom from an infested crypt but it’d been stolen by a group of bandits. I tracked them down and retrieved the sword. But I found something else there too.”
“A little lark with a broken wing, clutching a lute like its life depended on it.”
“No. That’s later.” He told her. “I bandaged it up and kept it in a nest in my saddlebag until it was healed.”
She yawned and sunk heavy into his side.
“Then I woke up and the bird and lute were gone. A crown on my bedroll where it normally slept.”
“And then, a few months later, I met a boy in Posada, the valley of flowers, at the edge of the world.”
He listened to Geralt recount the tale until sleep pulled her deep under.
“You should have told her that story. You’re better at telling stories.”
Yes. I am. But I like your version quite a lot too.
“You will be human again right?” Geralt mumbled into his fur. “I want you to be whatever you are but I miss knowing exactly what you’re yelling at me for Jaskier. I miss your stupid raunchy pun infested songs and how you’d complain about your feet being tired but you still wouldn’t shift because you wanted to talk. About nothing. You just wanted to talk.”
Geralt’s hand clenched in his fur and he rubbed his snout against him reassuringly.
“Is it something I did? Is this about the mountain? The griffin? Did I-“
He shoved him slightly to cut him off. Shook his head.
Not everything’s about you Geralt.
“Right. But you will be human again. Someday?”
“Okay.” He listened to Geralt drift off. “Okay.”
He’d get a bath and a haircut and he’d tune his lute and practice some scales and he’d figure out the prefect thing to say and do so that she’d love him even just a tiny fraction of how much he loved her.
That wasn’t how it worked but he needed her to like him. To not be disappointed or disgusted by him.
He longed to be simply human. Then at least he wouldn’t have had a choice. She would have known exactly what he was from the start. No tricking her into thinking he was helpful like a horse or a hawk or as soft as a rabbit or as worthy of trust as the white wolf. He would have just been Jaskier. Simple and human.
Would she feel tricked when she saw him? Would adding a human face mean she wouldn’t trust him to keep her warm? Wouldn’t trust him to listen to her if he too could speak?
He was just Jaskier and he wasn’t sure that had ever been enough.
It would have to be. He couldn’t be anyone else.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t put his best foot forward. Or at least his best paw until he made that jump.