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The shapes of us

Chapter Text

Despite what Geralt might believe- they didn’t actually met for the first time in Posada.

No. They met several months before that. When his clothes were still far too rich for the road and his pockets far too obviously laden with coin.

Met the night bandits attacked him. Breaking his arm before he’d even had a chance to wake up.

That’s what he gets for not sleeping as a bear. It just made him smell funny and he’d just had a bath and-

That wasn’t important. What was important was now he was locked in a cage with a broken arm. He could get small enough to slip through the bars but. It would hurt. And he’d still have to get his lute back.

One problem at a time.

One problem at a time he assured himself as he shifted smaller and smaller until he could fit through the bars of the cage. A lark. That’d work.

A lark with a broken wing trying to carry a lute out of a bandit camp. He hopped over to it and tried to figure out what he could shift into that would give him a chance. Curled up on the soundboard- they’d set it down the wrong way- and tried to gather his strength.

Turns out he hadn’t need to. The bandits began screaming. Dying. Then silence. When he finally had the strength to open his eyes a massive- was pretty sure they weren’t massive just because he was currently a tiny bird- man with white hair was inspecting him.

He leaped- as much as this form could leap- back and chirped out in pain as his broken wing hit the strings.

“You’re hurt.” The giant stated like it wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world. Which he told them. Not that he understood. “Chatty little thing aren’t you? If you’ll hold still i’ll wrap it up for you.”

He pulled out a strip of cloth- probably ripped from a bandit- and those hands that were bigger than him and covered in blood splatter closed in. He bit into the lute string preparing to be crushed.

Gently he held him. Wrapped his wing stable.

“Alright. All done. Let’s go.”

He held as tightly to the lute as he could. He wasn’t going to leave her behind!

He chuckled. It was a very nice sound. “If i promise to bring the lute will you let go little lark?” He considered them with his beady little eyes.

After a moment he let go.

“There’s a good bird. Let me introduce you to Roach.” He said gently holding him in a single palm as he slung the lute over his shoulder.

Gently settled him into a nest of cloth in a saddlebag.

Gently fed him berries and seeds.

Gently spoke to him as the fire burned down.

Gently. Always Gently. Like this massive mass of muscle didn’t know how to be anything but Gentle.

(He did. He remembered the piles of bandit corpses. He definitely did know how to be not gentle)

And then his wing was better. And he didn’t want to go but he wanted to play. And you couldn’t just. Admit to being a shapeshifter. People didn’t like that.

He found a crown. It wasn’t much but -well it was all this form could carry- and left it on the bedroll next to Geralt. Payment maybe? A thank you? Probably. Shifted bigger until he could fly away with the lute in his claws.

Then he saw him in Posada. He wasn’t sure if he- Geralt of Rivia he finally realized now that he wasn’t a tiny bird- recognized the lute.

But he recognized the coin.

So he followed after.

Chapter Text

If Geralt recognized him- or more specifically the lute that’d been shattered against filavandrel’s floor- he did a spectacular job of hiding it. Really leaning into that grumpy old loner vibe. He’d have even been tempted to believe that maybe he was the gruff cranky jerk he was pretending to be.

But it was pretend. He remembered the little nest Geralt made him in his saddlebags out of stolen (looted? Violently Acquired?) clothing. How Geralt would let him have first pick of his forage before eating himself.

How Geralt would tell him and Roach stories and let him sleep in the warm curve of his neck and would pet his feathers with a single finger like a second one might break him.

So really he was getting quite annoyed with the whole ‘i don’t want or need company’ stick Geralt kept trying to poke him with. Sure he got the whole not trusting humans thing- he Did okay?- but it felt like a significant step backwards in their relationship on his end at very least.

It was always worse at night curling under Roach’s blanket- I’ve been a horse before Roach I know you don’t need it during this weather but human me very much does thank you- and resisting the urge to shift into a shape Geralt might keep warm.

Don’t shift in front of people- that is how shifters get caged- do you Want to spend the rest of your life in a cage Julian? As a mages familiar- at best- or their research project- at worst?

That was a far harder rule to remember with half a pack of necrophages- what did their species name matter none of them rhymed with anything- hot on his heels. Hard to remember anything but the desire to be unnoticed and not be eaten.

That always made him feel small. Being prey. He hardly noticed the shift down as he scrambled to the tree roots- a cat- then between them - a squirrel- and finally into a tiny space under one only fit for a mouse.

His heart was racing a thousand beats a minute- which was fairly close to the standard for a creature of this size actually- and shook with the necrophages ripping and snarling and clawing and- oh thank Melitele- dying.

Listened as finally- finally- the forest went quiet. As the noise of life slowly refilled the empty space. Only to be broken once more.

“Jaskier?”

He snuck from his hiding spot, trying to survey the mess of the necrophages from a tree root. He couldn’t see much of anything with these eyes but it stunk terribly.

He didn’t want to be big. He wanted to be small and tucked away somewhere safe but he forced himself to. Geralt had followed him here, knew he wasn’t dead, and if he didn’t show up soon - well- Geralt would have questions he couldn’t answer.

So a mouse ran to the far side of the tree and a squirrel dashed between and up one and a boy in a beautiful blue outfit clung to the trunk.

Still too small. Jaskier wasn’t this small. But it was hard to be larger when his heart still raced, slower than before at least- the benefits of going up in size was the natural slowing of his heart felt almost like calming down- but still too fast.

“Are you stuck?” Came Geralt’s voice when he eventually noticed him.

“Stuck?” His voice broke- too high, still to small- and he covered it with a laugh. “What kind of person gets stuck in a tree Geralt? I can easily get down whenever i want.” He said arms wrapped tightly around the trunk.

“Oh can you?”

“Easily.” He assured.

“Care to demonstrate?”

He looked up at the canopy. “Maybe later.”

Geralt let out a disbelieving snort and several seconds later he heard him scaling the branches up to him.

“Let go.” He wanted too. He did. But he couldn’t. Limbs locked around the tree.

Geralt tugged on the back of his doublet. It felt almost like being scruffed. His locked limbs released.

Geralt hauled him from the tree, paused as his feet hit the ground - debating something- before picking up his blade, shifting him on his shoulder, and walking back to Roach.

It wasn’t quite as good as being held in the palm of Geralt’s calloused hands. But it was good. The steady heavy thump of geralt’s feet calming his heart, finally allowing his limbs to reclaim those last few inches of height.

Geralt dumped him on a log next to Roach, checking her over for injury.

“My hero!” He called after him, a hand pressed against his heart half mockingly.

Geralt turned away with a dismissive snort and he ran his hand over the healed break in his arm.

His hero. Protector of those who were not strong. He’d make sure the world knew that.

Chapter Text

He is not a fighter. He does not particularly want to be one either.

He thinks sometimes- when he is forced to duck under the table of a bar after a brawl has broken out clutching his lute and repeating the chorus of whatever song he’d been singing last over and over again to keep himself from shifting- that people have forgotten the dangers of violence.

How the extra scrap of land one might force from the neighboring pack will never be worth the life of your cub or brother or mother and that every time you engage beyond the snapping of teeth you risk losing them forever. Risk burying your loved ones or at very least seeing them hurt.

He thinks- sometimes- that people with their medicine and magic and often overly abundant food forget the price of violence. Picking fights for no good reason and hurting just to feel something. To make others feel something.

He is always grateful when Geralt yanks him out from under the table and hauls him outside. Carries him clear of the senseless violence until the adrenaline stops pulling him towards different shapes.

There was, of course violence with sense. He always thinks of the wolf pack he’d run with during one summer break at Oxenfurt. He wasn’t a good hunter. Didn’t know the first thing about tracking or being stealthy or taking down elk. He didn’t want to. He’d been a deer before and would really rather not know what being caught and eaten might feel like from the other side.

But he was a good raven, finding them their meals. And they shared with him- wolf or raven- perhaps in part because he promised not to stay for the winter when the meals grew thin and far between and counted him as friend, if not pack, at very least.

Their violence had sense. He’d been a deer before but he also been hungry and he couldn’t blame them for eating. A wolf could not live off of grass. Couldn’t blame them for trying to drive off the stray dogs that passed through or fighting back when monsters came for them. Protecting their home and family.

Geralt’s violence had sense, unlike the tavern brawlers. He did not hunt monsters that stayed out of people’s ways, did not initiate bar fights or kill unnecessarily. Geralt understood the cost of violence when some days it felt the rest of the world forgot.

He loved him for that. That he’d not let his profession of violence make him violent. That he’d chosen and fought to stay gentle even in a world that refused to be gentle to him.

He did his best to soften the word for Geralt. Reduce the senseless violence he faced. Protect the gentleness in him the only way he knew how- through story and song.

Well not the only way.

He’d stumbled blindly- human eyes were terrible in the dark, not the worst, but still terrible- into the woods to relieve himself when he heard them chattering.

Horse. Dinner. Food.

Wolves.

The shape came to him with barely a thought. He loved this form- the thick brown fur that kept him toasty at night. He loved all his forms to be fair. They were all him and he was wonderful so he loved them all. Couldn’t take a form that wasn’t him. A form that he didn’t love.

They reacted with suspicion, fair, when he called out a greeting to them. He’d won over plenty of folks who’d thought him suspicious.

But as they shoved past him towards the seemingly easy meal of a tied horse with their aching bellies, he wasn’t sure he had time for that.

He told them they were mistaken- this was not an easy meal but one that would have them slaughtered. The human was a Witcher- a hunter of the greatest beasts- and he’d show no mercy if they bared their teeth at what was his. Specifically the horse. Offered to help them find something less dangerous to eat.

Still they advanced.

Why didn’t anyone ever listen? He ran in front of them barking his protests.

Distantly he heard Geralt shift, woken by the noise. They bared their teeth at him, circling. His hackles raised fluffing him up bigger.

Not big enough.

He shifted bigger, his irritation and protectiveness spilling into a bigger and bigger form until they hesitated.

Wolves didn’t mess with grizzlies bears.

He growled. Slammed a paw for emphasis.

He honestly couldn’t have taken them, even in this form. But they didn’t know that. Didn’t want to risk their brothers and sisters and parents and cubs. Their family. Not for a meal they’d been told was nothing more than a honey trap.

They retreated just as Geralt stepped into the space, steel ready.

He took a nervous step backwards as Geralt surveyed the trees with his peripheries.

Looking for?

“Jaskier?” Geralt called into the dark canopy.

Oh.

Looking for him.

If that didn’t have him wanting to pop down into his wolf form and wag his tail well-

But. But he couldn’t do that. Even as he felt the shape collapsing around him- he didn’t want to be a bear right now and that made it hard to be a bear.

He took another step backwards as Geralt’s nostrils flared. Too reflective eyes locking on his.

“Jaskier?”

He was running. All he could hear were cages and door and locks slamming closed. Don’t shift in front of people- do you Want to spend the rest of your life in a cage Julian?- echoing in his ears as the form collapsed under him.

That was fine he- he could be a wolf instead except- except he couldn’t. Except that form collapsed under him too and then then the fox and the lark and he just wanted to shrink and hide but the squirrel and the mouse wouldn’t hold either and and-

And he was crying. In the woods. In the middle of the night. He couldn’t hold a shape because none of them felt right and there were cages with collars and shackles closing in around him. Crying and shrieking and bleating and bawling and and-

“Jaskier?”

Only some of his eyes could see Geralt in the darkness. Shifting too rapidly to do anything more than paw himself backwards.

Geralt shifted something off his shoulder and a plaintive whine escaped him.

Geralt wouldn’t hurt him. The rational part of his brain knew Geralt wouldn’t hurt him.

That was not the part of him that was in control. No part of him felt in control.

“Jaskier. You can’t play like that.”

His eyes shifted and he could see the lute in Geralt’s hands.

Paws to hands reached out and took it. Cuddled it to his chest. Fingers running down the strings and soundboard.

His fingers settled into a chord. Strummed it once.

Geralt gave him a small smile.

He set the lute gently down and hopped into Geralt’s chest. Geralt caught him. Held him to his chest, petting his long brown ears flat against his head.

Geralt hooked the lute over his shoulder before holding him to his chest and standing.

“Let’s go back now.”

He nodded and Geralt carried him back to camp, large calloused hands gently smoothing his fur until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

So. Geralt knew.

He didn’t know how long Geralt had known for. Didn’t particularly want to know.

Had he just worked it out from his scent as a bear? Had he recognized the lute that was smashed on Filavandrel’s floor? Had he used his Witcher senses to figure it out when he was a lark with a broken wing sleeping in his saddlebag? Was it some little tick that had given him away of there months together?

He didn’t want to know.

He woke up the morning after the incident and promptly shifted into his human form. Packed up his part of camp and waited.

Waited for the questions, for the false promises, for the placating words.

‘I wont tell’ ‘How does it work?’ ‘You’re still Jaskier’

Geralt groaned, sitting up slowly. Blinking sleep from his bleary eyes that rare way he did when he felt safe upon waking. Found him across the burnt out fire.

He tensed.

Geralt nodded and slowly set about disassembling camp.

The world skewed slightly to the left as they set off.

He waited for Geralt to snap at him to ‘just turn into something Roach could carry’ when he complained about his feet hurting too much.

Waited for Geralt to tell him to ‘shrink into something more manageable’ when the bed at the inn was too small for both of them to reasonably share.

Waited for Geralt to request he turn into something useful- to help track down a monster or carry his weight or or or-

It was easy to not shift. He went weeks without shifting as he waited. Waited for Geralt to make some attempt to be reassuring about how he ‘knew’ what Jaskier was or some request that made it clear Geralt thought he was some party trick or. Or something.

And still Geralt was silent on the matter.

It was annoying. It was so damn annoying.
That’s all it real was. He was annoyed. Annoyed that the song he’d worked on for two weeks had gotten a tepid reaction and that his chemise kept static sticking to his arms and it was hot and the bar was loud and and and-

And he wasn’t entirely sure why he was yelling at Geralt but he was and Geralt didn’t even have the decency to look affected by it. Just said his name warningly. And sure maybe he’d be embarrassed about acting like a tantruming toddler later but he wanted to hiss and scratch and draw maybe just a little fucking blood. So that maybe- fucking maybe- someone would understand just how pissed he was.

For the first time in weeks he wanted to shift. Shift into the angry tomcat he felt like. Small and angry in a world that was so much bigger and more dangerous than him but that still had claws. Could still yowled and scratch and make bleed because he might have been small but that didn’t mean he was helpless.

But he couldn’t. Because they were in a bar and everyone was staring at him or pointedly not staring at him and Geralt was throwing him over his shoulder and hauling him to their room. His fingers digging into Geralt’s shirt as he struggled to keep them from becoming claws ripping little pinholes into the fabric. He couldn’t shift because there were people and he was still yelling because he was still so fucking angry-

The door slammed closed behind them and Geralt shifted him so he was holding him up by the armpits and at least he had the decency to look a little irritated but he didn’t want to be held so he shoved a hand at Geralt’s face to push him away and-

And the shape collapsed under him.

He shoved his orange paw against Geralt’s face and lashed his tail and hissed all the same.

Orange. Most of his forms were brown. Because brown was the color of his hair and he liked his hair. But someone told him once that all orange cats were male and whether or not that was true he liked that. Liked that when people saw this form they’d know he was a boy.

Sometimes that felt important. Because most people couldn’t tell what gender most animals were and would just pick one for him. Usually it didn’t matter because he didn’t care but sometimes he did and he liked that maybe his gorgeous long orange fur made that more obvious.

But now Geralt wasn’t even looking irritated anymore! Even with his paw unsheathing claws threateningly against the stubbled skin of his cheek.

No he looked surprised and then it melted into a disgustingly soft smile. Swear to gods If Geralt tried to pet him right now-

Geralt glanced down at his tail, lashing back and forth without pause.

“Ah.” He was swiftly deposited on the bed, Geralt settling back on the floor. “The bar was loud wasn’t it.”

Well he didn’t know what that had to do with anything but Geralt just sat across from him, staring at the wall above his head. Not attempting eye contact.

That helped. He needed to watch Geralt but eye contact would have been too much for him to handle right now with every too loud noise from the bar still scraping at his skull.

Slowly his tail settled behind him and he let his eyes sink close. Safe in the knowledge Geralt wasn’t going to do anything.

He’d explained cat body language to Geralt several months back. Because Geralt had explained (heartbrokenly complained really) that cats didn’t like him. Because he was a ‘mutant’ and they knew it.

Which was complete hogwash.

They didn’t like him because he was a big unfamiliar person approaching feral cats who were better acquainted with the toe of a shoe to the belly then the gentle curl of fingers under their chin. Because he tried to approach them like dogs and didn’t have the time to win over anything but the cuddliest of cuddle slut and there just weren’t that many of those around.

Lucky for Geralt he was a proud member of the cuddle slut kitty brigade. After he’d concluded his lessons on how tail lashing was not like tail wagging on dogs- it meant they were highly stimulated and which could easily pass into Overstimulated- and how to introduce himself and all the best places to pet he’d taken his leave of Geralt for the evening.

Approached him as the cuddly fluffy orange cat he was within the hour. Making his home on Geralts lap and purring as loud as he could demanding all the cuddles he’d been denied in his human form.

That. That might have been when Geralt figured out what he was now that he thought about it.

He still wasn’t sure he wanted to know what had given him away. Especially if he couldn’t change it- like his scent. Or if he could- because then he’d have to. To stay safe.

He jumped off the bed and head-butt Geralt’s hands until Geralt started petting him. Laid down across his lap as Geralt gently covered himself in his fur with each soft stroke.

He should look into a white form. So he could really mess up Geralt’s all black color scheme.

Geralt’s hands eventually stilled and he begrudgingly shifted up. Tucking his head into Geralt’s neck he mumbled, “Shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

“Seemed like a bit of an overreaction to me eating the last mushroom.”

“You know those are my favorite.”

Geralt snorted and ran a hand through his brown hair. “It was my plate.”

“I have no idea what your point is.”

“Right.” He nuzzled into Geralt’s neck. He couldn’t really smell how they mixed together as a human but the shapes that could always found comfort in it. “You.” He paused. “Transformed again.”

His heartrate picked up and his gut start churning. He didn’t want to have this conversation. Ever really. He’d never had to and he didn’t know where to start. Didn’t want Geralt to say something that would make him angry or sad or break his heart. He just wanted to be a human for Geralt. Simple and easy and human.

Not that he was simple or easy. Or human. Probably.

Whatever he was it probably wasn’t human. Not really. But he wanted to be. For Geralt.

Geralt’s other hand came up and squeezed lightly around the long healed bone.

“I wont ask.” Geralt said as Jaskier swallowed a sob. “But I’ll help. If you want.”

“It’s not a curse.”

Geralt hummed acknowledgement.

“It’s just me. It’s always just me. Okay?”

Geralt made a noise like he maybe understood. A little. But not much.

“I can.” It felt weird to say it out loud. “Shift into anything so long as it’s still me.”

“Anything?” He saw the smirk and pointed stare he was making at the chair.

He smacked his shoulder. “If it’s me.”

He was living. Living and breathing and moving and thinking. How was he supposed to be something that wasn’t?

“Not like a Doppler then.”

“Would have thought the bear shape rather gave that away.” Dopplers could become anyone- but were restricted by mass. He wasn’t. Sure he shifted down or up in steps normally but that was because it was easier. Because feelings normally built in size instead of appearing all at once.

Geralt conceded the point with a nod. “Does-“ He stopped.

When it became clear Geralt wasn’t just collecting his thoughts he nudged him. “Ask.”

“Does it hurt?” Geralt wasn’t looking at him and his face was flat but he could feel the tension under his hands.

“Nope!” He reassured. Geralt tensed further.

“In the woods-” He started.

“Those were extenuating circumstances! I’m sure it looked terribly grisly from your perspective but I just couldn’t find a form that fit because.” He stopped.

“Because you were scared.” He nodded into Geralt’s neck. “Of me.”

He stopped nodding.

“Everything’s not about you Geralt.” He pulled back enough to glare at him. Geralt returned it. “It’s Not. Sure I was scared of you but I wasn’t scared of you. I know you wouldn’t lock me up and sell me to a circus to turn tricks or a mage for experiments or anything. I know that. There’s just a difference between knowing and knowing. Okay?”

Geralt studied him before slowly nodding. He tucked his head back into Geralt’s neck.

He wanted to stay here. Here with Geralt. It pulled a question from his gut that he didn’t want to ask- that filled him with fear even as it spilled from his tongue.

“What do you want me to be?”

Geralt’s brow furrowed and he turned his head to the bard.

“Come now you must have a preference.” A voice that was cocky and sure prodded. A voice that was his but was not his. “A shape you’d prefer me to be?”

His face turned and he felt distantly as his eyes glittered and a smile blazed on his lips. Feeling terribly out of control as he begged his heart to race. To respond. To fight whatever power directed his body without his command.

As Geralt’s lips began to form words he could feel the magic preparing to shape him. Bind him in that form. Lock him without shackle or key into whatever Geralt wanted him to be.

“What would it matter?” Geralt said, face relaxing into a small smile and raising a brow. “It would still always be you.”

He sank into Geralt’s shoulder as the compulsion faded, taking with it his fear. He didn’t know what that was and he didn’t particularly like it but- “It would be.” He agreed.

It would always be him.

Chapter Text

It was odd. Being around someone who knew.

Someone who didn’t look at him strange when he took on his other forms a little too much. Who would scruffed him like a kitten when he got a bit to hissy or would throw him a stick when he got too antsy like a dog or would just heave him into a lake for a swim when he got too dry or toss him into the air when he got too grounded or-

That probably wasn’t normal. Humans didn’t get too dry or too grounded because they hadn’t been an otter or a bird in a long time. Other bards spoke about wanting to fly, to soar, to fall without hitting the ground in ways that had made his arms itch to feather and flap but it seemed more a metaphor for freedom then actual longing for flight.

It was odd. Being around someone who looked less human than he did but was, without a doubt, more human than he was.

He told Geralt that when they were chased out of town to the choruses of Mutant. Monster.

Witcher.

But it never felt enough, because what did Jaskier know about being human? He was perhaps better imposter. That was all.

He crawled up onto the rock Geralt had laid down to warm in the sun while their clothes dripped dry on the clothesline they’d set up between the trees. He stretched his spine, the undercoat of his otter form comfortably dry and debated waiting to shift until after he’d dried.

He shifted anyway and the water seeped into his skin as he laid next to Geralt on his belly.

“Geralt look what I found.” He poked Geralt who ignored him. “Geralt I can find a more annoying form if you don’t look. Don’t test me.”

“You’re already in your most annoying form Jaskier.” He said without opening his eyes. White hair splayed out behind him on the rock, a handful of knots obvious in it. It made him want to run his beak through it, preening Geralt.

“How short your memory is. Don’t you remember the ferret? I could do that again.” He ran his prize between his fingers. It felt so much smaller like this. “Or since you don’t have your clothes on, I could test your tickle response to various textures. Feathers, fur, fingers. I’ve no lack of options.”

Geralt snorted but cracked open an eye.

He lifted his prize up for Geralt’s inspection. Clutched the perfect stone between his thumb and index finger. Its edges beautifully rounded by the lake, its color marbled brown and black.

“A stone?”

“The perfect clam cracking stone Geralt! Look at it! It’s perfect! The color! The shape! The smoothness! It’s beautiful! Perfect! I shall have to write an ode to its majesty!”

“Have you ever even found a clam before?” Geralt smirked lazily. “Or tried to open one with a rock?”

He looked down at the stone. “Well no. But that doesn’t make it any less perfect. I have very good instincts about these things I’ll have you know.”

Geralt closed his eyes with a small shake of his head.

He flipped the stone between his fingers.

He did have good instincts. Not. Not about hunting maybe. But he knew how to fly. To swim. To walk or run no matter the form.

He could fit in with wolves, birds, otters, horses or men. Fit in just enough for them to believe he was one of them. But. But they all knew he wasn’t. Just a little. At the edges. Never quite wolf or otter or bird.

Never quite human.

“I wish I was human.” He rubbed the stone between his fingers. The sun toasted the lake water from his back.

“You are.”

“But I’m not.” He rolled over so their shoulder almost touched holding the stone up, blocking the sun. “I’m not.”

“Were your parents human?”

“Yes. But I’ve no proof either of them can shift. It seems I might very well be a bit of a cuckoo bird.”

“That would explain your habit of bedding married folk.”

He smacked Geralt half-heartedly and quirked a smile. “Perhaps it does.”

“Hm.”

He draped his arm over his eyes. “Of the two of us you’re far more human than I.” Geralt made a disagreeing noise. “You are. Even if you believed the nonsense about Witchers, which to be clear I don’t, you were human once. Which is more than I can say.”

“Brooding doesn’t suit you Jaskier.”

“No, I admit it’s much more your color.”

“I may have been human once but.” Geralt hesitated; painfully. “The trials mutated that out of me. I don’t know how to be human. You, at least, learned.”

The reassurance rang hollow in his chest, as he imagined his did in Geralt’s. Still he tried, “An albino wolf is still a wolf. A man is still a man whether his eyes are brown, blue or gold. Your mutations do not make you any less human Geralt.”

“Then your shifting and instincts about river rocks don’t make you less of one either.”

He made a noise that wasn’t agreement or disagreement. Let his eyes drift over to Geralt and droop closed.

The stone in his far hand and the waves at the muddy shore tugged at him. The otter still half formed under his skin.

“Geralt?” He grumbled sleepily. “Indulge one of my inhuman instincts?”

Geralt hm’d approval.

He took Geralt’s hand in his and held on.

“So we don’t drift apart.” He explained as sleep pulled him under.

Chapter Text

He’d never felt more alive.

The joy and wonder and life that was flowing through his veins every moment since Pavetta and Dunny were wed. Or. Maybe a bit before that. What a night! What a story it would make! The ballads he would write!

When he opened the door to their room to find it empty of Geralt or his belongings he wasn’t surprised.

He should have realized Geralt would ride out of town at first light. Sure. But he was caught in the revelry of the night! Playing and dancing and drinking until the sun had returned.

It didn’t matter. He gathered his things and went after him.

Geralt hadn’t exactly been in the best of moods when he left the party. If not for Roach he’d be sure Geralt had fled in the night. He wouldn’t make her ride in the dark. Probably.

Either way he wouldn’t catch up on foot. Geralt would be riding hard.

That didn’t matter. He slipped into a back alley and shifted.

There weren’t many winged forms that could carry his things, as few as they were. He had to stretch the great sea bird’s wings larger than was natural to get the power needed. It was always tiring, he’d only manage to hold it until the city edge. But it’d be faster than any of his other options.

He soared past the city limits without a problem.

He didn’t know which direction Geralt had gone so he just followed his instincts. Riding the breeze on and on and on.

The weight didn’t seem nearly as bad as he remembered.

The road stretched below him. He wasn’t tired. He wondered how large he could make this form. He stretched his wings wider and wider.

He felt huge. Like he could be huge. Like he could be a mountain. Except mountains didn’t move and he needed to move.

What - what was the biggest thing he could be? A bear? A bison?

There were stories of dragons. Ancient dragons who slumbered so long they turned to mountains. That they would one day wake and their wings would cover the sky.

He felt like one of those dragons.

But dragons weren’t real. Just like so many of the creatures in his songs. A shame. He’d have loved to be a dragon like the ones in his fairytale stories.

He banked. He’d missed. Missed Geralt.

This time he spotted her. Roach snacking on the side of the road.

He dipped low to the ground and shifted into a run as his clothed feet hit the ground. Managed to stop without tripping.

He bowed to Roach’s unimpressed visage. “Thank you thank you. You may hold your applause.”

He caught sight of Geralt. Back firm against a tree. Knees bent in front of him. Clenched knuckles pressed against his head.

He wanted to run and sing and fly and dance until the stars themselves joined him in his revelry.

But that wasn’t what Geralt needed right now.

He sat down next to Geralt letting his fingers twist over every note and chord. Over every scale and tried very hard not to bounce with energy.

“Well that went a bit mad at the end there didn’t it?”

Geralt curled ever so slightly inward.

“Oh no I suppose you missed that part didn’t you? One of Eist’s companions did some remarkably skilled animal impressions. I won’t tell you what he was saying of course- the vulgarity alone makes the songs I play at brothels sound like nursery rhymes. Oh but you must hear-“ He began repeating the noises the man had made, less and less accurately and more intently. Shifting his vocal chords as required.

He didn’t usually do that. Altering parts of his form intentionally. It felt odd normally. Like he was trying to fight the shape of himself.

It felt as easy as breathing.

Geralt exhaled sharply, in what he choose to believe was the start of a laugh, and turned his face slightly towards him. “What the fuck was that?”

“A very drunk Skellige attempting to imitate a siren in the throes of rapture I can only presume.”

“More like death.”

“He might have been close to it given the amount of drink he’d imbibed. There was a solid attempt at to empty the cities store of alcohol.”

“And you didn’t partake?” Geralt asked in tired disbelief from where he huddled.

“What? No what would make you think that? I drained half the castle myself once they were too drunk to ask for more songs.”

“You don’t smell drunk. And you’re not acting hungover.”

He paused his fiddling with the lute before the need to wiggle forced him to restart. “Well that’s cause I’m not.” Which didn’t seem right to be fair. He wasn’t sure how he’d managed it. “Suppose I got back to the room to find my very best friend was gone and sobered right on up. Lovely flight over here by the way. Thank you for asking.”

He continued his jabbering about the night – if Geralt wanted him to be quiet he’d ask – until he was certain Geralt was no longer listening to the actual words.

Affection and comfort were difficult for Geralt to receive while he was in human form. Maybe it was that he could understand Jaskier in that shape and feared he might say something that would draw attention to the vulnerability Geralt loathed to show. Maybe it was that humans had showed him so much hatred that he struggled to believe any humans could show him kindness without seeking reward.

He’d done what he could to ease that tension whenever he could but now was not the time for human comforts.

Now was the time for something far easier for Geralt.

He shifted into his orange fur and nudged his way between Geralt’s arms. Head-butting his jaw and kneading his chest. His chest rumbled so easily. He just felt so alive right now. So joyful and content. It shook his chest with the force of it.

“- Bigger than last time.” He caught most of what Geralt said over his own noise.

He supposed Geralt was right. He was bigger than last time. He nearly covered Geralt’s entire chest and he wasn’t stretched out.

Geralt had noticed.

He trilled his pride, the purr kicking up in volume. He liked it when Geralt noticed.

Slowly Geralt unwound enough to scratch at his cheeks, head and neck. Covering his fingers in his smell.

“I’m not going back.” Geralt said not to him. “No child deserves this life. I won’t do it.”

He wouldn’t have a choice. He heard destiny singing at that banquet. Or not destiny but. Something.

He pushed his head into Geralt’s hand insistently.

“No one deserves this life.” Those beautiful golden eyes squeezed closed. He rubbed his head and neck against Geralt’s face, covering his nose in hair.

Geralt meant the life of a Witcher. And no one deserved the cruelty the world showed Geralt. No one deserved to be made to feel lesser, made to feel a monster, for protecting people.

But a life next to Geralt? A life with Geralt as your Father? It would be a life where your Father loved you beyond measure. A life where you could fall asleep in your father’s arms knowing there were no nightmares, no monsters or beasts he could not protect you from. A life where you never got too big for piggyback rides or hugs that lifted you off the ground.

A life in gentle loving hands.

Geralt wasn’t going to be a great father. But he was damn sure he’d be a good one. One day. One day that kitten was going to be the luckiest fluff ever to be scruffed.

He did his best to remind Geralt of that.

They stayed there in the shade of the tree as Roach munched her lunch for what might have been hours.

The sun didn’t say it had been hours but his jittering limbs assured him it had been.

“We need to keep going.” Geralt said eventually extracting himself from under him. Which appeared to be something of a struggle given his size and generously flexible form.

Another day he might have tried to convince him to stay for a nap but he leapt from Geralt thrilled by the promise of movement. Of a run. His form shifted into the husky. White fur and brilliant blue eyes.

White fur. All the better to mess with Geralt’s preferred clothing choice.

Geralt smiled slightly as he raced up and down the path while Geralt readied Roach.

He shifted back as they reached a town they could settle in for the evening and he played until the last table had been cleaned.

Geralt was sound asleep by the time he snuck into the room. Laying there content under the covers. Not even waking for his arrival.

He set his things down, locking the door, and shifted. The bed was too small for them normally and he didn’t want to disturb. Geralt needed the sleep.

He settled on the pillow, tucked his head under his wing and.

He wasn’t tired. He wanted to sing and dance and fly more.

He preened his feathers soothingly to settle himself.

He walked circles around the bed kneading the course blankets.

He gave up, curling on the floor ink in hand and began to work. No candlelight needed. He twisted his eyes and could see just fine.

“We’re not stopping for a nap just because you got stuck composing all night Jaskier.” Geralt growled at him.

He blinked up at him, daylight pouring in through the window.

“That’s fine. Not tired anyway.” He assured before venturing down for breakfast.

They pulled into camp and his muscles skill buzzed with life. Geralt assembled the fire, distractedly throwing one of the branches for him to race after.

His fingers curled into Igni and the fire blazed into a bonfire as every stick and twig caught light at once.

They both jumped back, fur and hair singed.

He fell backwards onto his now human rear crying out his shock. “Geralt that’s more than a little overkill for a camp fire!”

“Hm.” Geralt agreed, looking just as shocked as him. “Gonna need more wood.”

“Fine.” He grumbled out of habit more than actual annoyance. He was eager for the excuse to move. “I’m on it.”

They laid down in Geralt’s bedroll and he closed his eyes.

He had shifted and run and played so much in the last two days and still his skin buzzed with life. With energy.

It was no longer pleasant.

Geralt mellowed into slumber and he shifted out of the sleeping bag.

He wasn't tired.

He shifted circles around the campsite. Bear. Fox. Wolf. Lark. Cat. Humming bird. Moose. Mouse. Human.

“You’re up early.” Geralt groaned from the bedroll. Stretching the sleep from his muscular limbs.

He blinked. If he packed their things, readied breakfast, tacked Roach they could leave all the sooner. Move from the circle of crushed grass he’d made in the night.

“Eager to be on our way!” With the cheeriness of morning Geralt more often inflicted on him than the other way round.

The next night was the same.

And the next.

Pages of his notebook slowly filled. Circles were paced into the boundaries of campsites and inn’s. They'd break for Roach’s sake alone and he didn’t rest on her haunches as they plodded down the road. He drunk his share of alcohol and by the time they'd reached the room he was as sober as the day he was born.

The life buzzing under his skin stayed. It was annoying.

He wasn’t tired.

That didn’t mean he didn’t miss sleeping.

“Five cintrian ale on the wall five cintrian ale – take one down pass it around – four cintrian ale on the wall!”

“Will you stop that!” Geralt barked at him.

“I would love to!” He yelled back.

“What is fucking wrong with you! You’ve been fifty times more annoying than usual!”

“I don’t know!” The birds startled from the trees around them. “I don’t fucking know okay!”

He combs his fingers through his hair pacing up and down the campsite. All of his forms at the edge of his fingertips and none of them satisfying. If he started shifting he’d just end up repeating last night where he'd cycled through every single form over and over again until Geralt finally fucking woke.

He felt Geralt’s eyes tracking him. Back and forth. Back and forth. He attempted to recite the name of every noble family in alphabetical order. Fingers drumming against his side.

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

Duke Adamczyk had four children. “I didn’t.” Baz, Dobry, Kasia and Lidia.

“You didn’t sleep last night?”

“I haven’t slept since the banquet.” Viscount Antol married Lady Bara.

“The banquet?” Geralt stood and crossed the camp to him. “That was last week.”

“I am well aware!” Geralt grabbed his arm halting him; sniffing and examining him like he could spot the cause with his eyes or nose.

“Who’d you sleep with.”

“No one!”

Geralt glared at him.

“By the time I was done playing everyone was either drunk out of their minds or had heard the lovely little rumor you started about me!” He used his free hand to smack Geralt’s chest.

“Describe the symptoms.”

“Symptoms – gods Geralt I don’t feel ill – I feel like I’m living on the constant high for a great performance and I never tire so it never ends and then everyone else goes the fuck to sleep and I’m stuck wide awake, full of energy, all by myself with just my own head for company until you decide to wake up in the morning and let me tell you – you think I’m annoying? I can’t tune myself out Geralt! I’m stuck in here every hour of every fucking day and now I don’t even get to shut up and sleep for a few hours a night!” He beat his head against Geralt’s chest. Geralt’s hand haltingly making its way into his hair. Petting him unsurely.

“When did it start?” Geralt said when he stopped to breathe.

“While I was playing? Or.” He tried to sort the night out. “I felt like it after Pavetta’s whole storm – adrenaline I’d assume – but.”

Geralt hm’d him on, his body slowly relaxing into his. One hand still covering his while the other ran through his hair slowly, tucking him into his shoulder.

“But it didn’t go away. I still feel like I’m in that storm.”

There was a chorus singing of her power, how they were all to stay away.

There had been no issues following that request. But from the moment her force had tossed him he’d felt more alive than he’d ever felt before.

Alive and wildly out of control. A giant trapped in a mouse. A storm in a bottle. A song bursting from his chest, his fingers, his tongue.

Geralt sighed. “We can start looking for a mage tomorrow.” Every muscle pulled taunt. Mages were dangerous. He didn’t want to meet any – much less search one out.

No need to risk a mage for a little case of insomnia! He turned his face to Geralt to make that very clear.

The concern on Geralt’s face shifted the words to dust in his throat.

His feet were tapping the ground. Fingers drumming on Geralt’s chest even now.

“I just want to sleep.” He sobbed into Geralt’s shoulder.

He didn’t want to risk catching a mages attention. Being caged or experiment on or- or –or

Geralt shushed him the same way he would Roach. “I know. I could-“ He stopped and squeezed the back of his neck, a gesture that normally calmed him.

Geralt’s fingers flexed against him.

“Could what Geralt? Because if your suggestion is more immediate or,“ Didn’t include mages “something then I am all ears.”

Geralt extracted himself from Jaskier and sat them down. He bounced his legs.

“You remember Axii right?”

“The sign,” He twisted his fingers in an approximation of it, “You use on Roach when she panics?”

“That was Yrden. But yes.”

“Do it!” He immediately agreed.

“Jaskier.” Geralt cautioned, like he was going to slip into a lecture about informed consent.

“Don’t start!” He chopped the air between them. “I know how the sign works-“

“You did the wrong one. How do you even know what Yrden looks like?”

He continued ignoring Geralt. “And I trust you to just put me to sleep because you’re a normal decent human being who wouldn’t do anything to betray that trust Geralt. So knock me out!”

Geralt glared at him.

He glanced over to the campfire that Geralt had yet again igni’d into a bonfire. The face he’d made after did not imply intent.

“Actually maybe cast it on Roach first to make sure you won’t boil my brain.”

Geralt frowned but the tension in his shoulders eased slightly as he axii’d her to the other side of the camp and released her. She seemed fine. Munching her grass.

“Do you need me to ask her if she’s fine again and risk getting roasted for an hour like last time or can we get on with it?”

Geralt looked seriously tempted by the offer so he growled and sharply motioned his displeasure.

Geralt sighed and flicked his wrist and –

The tempest that danced and sung under his skin continued to rage but now there was a tiny calm of quiet. An eye in a storm. A quiet spot to stop and rest during an endless party.

It was tiny, barely a corner to duck into but he curled into it. Into the tiny nest of soothing quiet Geralt has built into Jaskier's chest. A tiny barrier made of the threads of Geralt's magic that shouldn't hold against the maelstrom outside of it but did.

Lay down.”

It was easy. Laying down. He curled himself into Geralt’s lap. He wasn't sure if he'd shifted into something that could reasonably do that and it didn’t matter because there was that tiny alcove of serenity in his chest that felt just like Geralt’s gentle hands.

Distantly he heard Geralt make a surprised noise and he could hear the storm rage on outside of the space Geralt has created for him. Quiet and protected. He relaxed further into the soft touch of Geralt’s hand against his hair or fur or feathers and it didn’t matter which because he was safe here. No matter his form he was safe in the quiet pulsing of Geralt chaos. Safe in the slow melody of his heart against his ear.

He thought distantly that the storm was growing more distant. Or maybe it was just that the bubble of peace expanded and then Geralt said,

Sleep.”

And he thought of nothing at all.

 

The blanket was pulled from his eyes with a rough “Get up.”

He rolled over blocking out the offending shine with a plead for “five more minutes.”

“I already broke camp. You’ve had plenty of five more minutes.” He groaned as Geralt’s toe prodded him, trying to chase the tail of sleep back under. Back to a place where his back didn’t ache slightly from the ground or whatever position he fell asleep in last night. “Are. You alright?”

The genuine apprehension and concern in his stilted question forced him to uncover his eyes enough for Geralt to catch them rolling.

“I feel like I just slept in the dirt in an absolutely unforgiving position for hours.”

“I’d say that’s fairly accurate.” The amused gleam returning to Geralt’s stoic face, even if the frown remained. “Better or worse than yesterday?”

“Worse. Better?” He sat up stretching the crick from his back and neck. “I feel like a person again.”

Geralt took the blanket from him and folded it into the saddlebag with a grunt.

He slowly stood, fishing out a makeshift breakfast from their stores. “A normal hungry sleepy person. Damn that’s nice.” Geralt hm’d. “Don’t think we need that mage anymore. You’re magic hands were all the cure I needed!”

Roach snorted and Geralt pat her in fond annoyed agreement at his coy tone.

“You’re sure?” Geralt glanced back at him as they began their trudge.

He nodded, a yawn splitting his face halfway through.

Geralt frowned. “We need to keep moving-“ He started to lecture.

“Yes yes I know.”

“But.” Geralt growled at the interruption. “You can nap. If you want.”

He waved back to the saddlebag.

He suspected if he glanced inside he’d find a nest much like the one Geralt had fashioned for him while injured.

“Later perhaps. Right now I must engage in the inspiration I’ve been blessed with by your magic hands!”

Geralt twisted back to him and almost signed Yrden threateningly. “I will leave you behind.”

“And you wonder why I know what that sign looks like.”

Geralt smirked and they began their trek in earnest.

A song about gentle calloused hands protecting. He’d write a song about that next.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, when Geralt got hurt, he’d use his shapes against him.

Help was the word he’d use. To help him. But if Geralt preferred to think of him using his shapes against him then so be it.

“Get off me Jaskier.”

He looked down his snout at Geralt and grumbled his reply before returning to his composing. They would at very least wait until the bleeding stopped to ride back. Since Geralt insisted the injuries were not so grievous as to require proper attention.

He might very well have been right about that. Which meant they could afford to wait for it to stop before returning for the reward.

If Geralt wanted to treat his wounds then he’d let him. But he wasn’t going to let him ride off and make everything worse because he was a stubborn ass. That was Jaskier’s job. Being a stubborn ass. Not that he made a habit of being farm animals. The risk it would sour him to the taste of their meat was far too great. He refused to be vegetarian. Grass just did not taste very good. No matter what Roach claimed.

“Jaskier get off me or I will throw you off.”

He shifted more of his near 400 pound weight onto Geralt’s torso to demonstrate exactly what he thought about that.

“I can.” He growled.

He puffed up his fur telling him exactly what would happen if he tried.

He had bigger forms yet. If that’s how he wanted to play- well. He wouldn’t bet on Geralt winning. Witcher enhancements be damned.

Geralt, seemingly having realized this, ceased his struggling and ventured a new tactic.

Insulting him.

Which got him grumbling and growling at Geralt. But didn’t get him off him. Geralt knew well enough what he was saying. He didn’t need to transform to express his displeasure.

Geralt, a versatile and clever man, switch tactics yet again.

Reciting history facts but slightly wrong- the year was 1123 and he was a duke not a prince Geralt- asking questions about agriculture – cereal crops deplete the soil of nitrogen. Legumes fix this. A fallow field is left for weeds and grazing. The three fields are rotated. Together this system allows farmers to plant more crops and increase production. – and finally just asking him to play for him.

He, personally, admitted that his bear vocals left something to be desired but he didn’t let that stop him from belting out a few heavily modified versions of his favorite tunes.

Geralt covered his ears and glared at him.

It was only after three verses of Fishmonger’s daughter that he finally popped down into his human shape to do the finale justice.

Geralt shoved him off breaking his sustained note.

“Rude.” He squawked from the dirt as Geralt stood.

“I stopped bleeding three songs ago!” He growled at him.

“I’m well aware.” He grinned. “But I do so enjoy a captive audience.”

Geralt threw the bedroll at his head. Which did hit him. But he managed to catch it on the rebound, which counted as a win in his books.

“I don’t need you mothering me bard.”

“Is that what you think this is? I’m trying to keep Nenneke from murdering me next time you need her services. The woman terrifies me Geralt.”

She did. A little. Not in the way he suspected she expected to be feared though.

It was because her eyes always held too many questions about why he’d arrived before Geralt, knowing exactly the condition of the man’s wounds, even though he lacked a horse while Geralt road in on Roach.

He’d fly ahead, unhampered by the twisting of the roads, and set them to prepare for Geralt’s arrival. Or, when the situation was far graver, have them send a cart to meet him. Transforming on the road just outside of the temples view.

His skin itched when she stared at him too long. Like she almost knew what he was and if she watched him closely enough she might figure it out.

Luckily, “I mean the woman already hates me Geralt.” She was easy to annoy into not looking closely. “No need to worsen her to me by damaging the one reason she even tolerates my presence at the temple.”

If all she wanted to see was an airheaded flop of a bard that was all he would show her. Staying within the confines of expectations worked well enough to keep people from digging.

“She does hate you.” Geralt agreed with a smirk. Pleased he’d befriended someone Jaskier had not.

“Naaaah deep down she likes me.”

Geralt bobbed his head, half conceding the point.

People were complicated like that. She hated most of him. But she liked that he cared about Geralt. Even if she didn’t always agree with how he cared about Geralt.

With how they cared for each other.

 

So maybe he shouldn’t have poked the insomniatic bear that was Geralt as he dredged up the lake at Rinde. But he was a bear often enough and he didn’t mind being poked. Sometimes Geralt needed to buck up and face his problems head on!

Then his throat started closing.

Which was scary. Sure. But there were plenty of forms that didn’t need his throat to breath. He’d play catfish or pike or bream or – he was just listing fish again- something while Geralt sorted out the curse the djinn smacked him with.

Except.

Except none of them would come.

He tried to shift bigger and his skin pulled too tight like it was yanking away from the muscle and he tried to shift down and his organs compressed in his chest. And he was left folded over in pain from his throat and his lungs and from being trapped.

Trapped in one form. Perhaps forever.

“Can you shift?” Geralt asked him, looking between him and Roach. Debating.

He managed a ragged sob that Geralt translated as the ‘no’ it was.

There was the bumpy ride on Roach- poor girl they weighed far too much together- and the elf with the painkillers – which helped a little. But the world continued its painful descent into darkness.

Geralt was scruffing him by the doublet. Dragging his limp form. Somewhere. He liked being scruffed. It reminded him of the old mouser in the kitchen who’d claimed him as kin when he was barely a boy. Whenever he got in trouble, or was lonely, or scared he’d just run to the old tom and pop down into a kitten. Instantly be scruffed and pulled under the cabinet for a bath and cuddle.

Scruffing meant that soon everything would be okay. He was in pain and terrified but soon. Soon everything would be alright.

 

Everything was not alright.

There was a very scary woman with an amphora on her belly and-

And she was a mage.

A powerful mage.

Something in him was singing. Singing at her notice. Her attention.

He didn’t much like that part of him.

His knees near buckled under him as she gripped his nethers and pressed a knife to his throat.

“If you want to keep all you have familiar,” She squeezed him tighter. The singing and terror crescendo-ing in his ears. What do you want me to be? It sung, heart racing in his chest. “Make a damn wish.”

He reached. Reached for. Something. Some shape that would get her away. Small or big or cute or monsterous or something.

Her magic threw him to the floor and it crackled over his skin- she wants you to be human so that is what you shall be – lighting up every nerve with delicious power – do as she says. So that the powerful one might keep you – and burning the tapestry of thread he didn’t know was woven underneath his skin.

“Make your damn wish! Do it now!”

This one is better. Powerful. Be what she wants. “I don’t- I don’t know!” Lightning ran through his veins and fire blazed through his chest and- and- Be her’s. Wish to be hers. Exalted one.

He didn’t want that.

“I wish very much to leave this place forever!”

She turned from him, the burning fading. The singing loud in his ears. Scolding, screaming, begging him to go back to her as he scrambled from the building.

And Geralt was there.

Geralt was alive.

Geralt left him to that witch.

“Jaskier. You’re okay.”

“I’m glad to hear that you give a monkey’s about it.” He fumed.

The singing was quieter now. The smoldering in his chest easing next to Geralt-

Geralt was going back inside.

The building collapsing.

“She could not have survived it.” The elf from earlier- Chireadan- said.

There was coldness in the shape of the lightning flowing through his veins. Ashes in the stitching of his soul where Geralt once resided.

“Why did Geralt go in there? It doesn’t make any sense. What, to save a mad fucking witch?”

“Because she was magnificent.”

She was. The song wept.

His knees hit the ground, the pain of the gravel collision distant, over the shapeless void that pulled him to nothing.

“What am I supposed to do now, hm?” What would be left when this form collapsed into the emptiness in his chest? “It wasn’t supposed to go this way.”

You should have died with him.

No.

“I’m gonna write you. The best song. So that everyone remembers who you were, what we did, everything we saw.” There was a lifetime there. In the spaces they shared. Not a human lifespan perhaps. But it wasn’t like he was human anyway. “And I will sing it. For the rest of my days.”

“He always said I had the most wonderful singing voice.”

A joke. Between him and a dead man.

If he wanted to correct him he should have stayed alive.

Chireadan knelt before him, laying a hand on his shoulder. A tiny beat of comfort in a symphony of pain.

“They’re alive.”

They were very alive.

He ran his fingers down Roach’s neck, unsure how he was supposed to feel.

Relief that Geralt was alive? Jealously that he’d gone to Yennefer? Jealously she choose him over you?

Anger?

Joy?

Hollow. He felt hollow.

Roach nudged him.

He was nearly draped over her.

He wanted that old tom cat to scruff him and pull him under the cabinet. To lick and squish and purr him back to whole.

What would he be if he shifted now?

Nothing. It called to him that nothing.

Nothing wasn’t a shape. Nothing wasn’t Jaskier. Jaskier wasn’t nothing.

Still it called to him.

Roach lipped at a saddlebag. The one he’d nested in as his wing healed.

He shoved his bloody shirt in as a makeshift nest and fluttered in.

If Geralt wanted his peace he could dump him on the side of the road.

Until then. He breathed in the way the leather bag blended Roach and Geralt into itself and fell asleep.

He drifted back to the shores of sleep welcomed by the gentlest smoothing of his feathers.

He readjusted, further nesting into the callouses of Geralt’s hand.

“I thought.” The pain in Geralt’s hesitating voice forced his eyes open. “That the djinn had taken your voice and your shifting from you.”

Geralt was laying down on their bedroll watching him with those big sad eyes. Which hurt.

But not as much as the fact Geralt had stopped petting him. He shifted into Geralt’s petting hand demanding he get back to work with a sharp chirp.

Geralt resumed his gentle stroking, lips twitching slightly upward. “So bossy.” He complained.

They laid there as the sun went down; quiet and exhausted.

“We used to do this a lot. When your wing was broken. It was nice.”

He softly trilled an agreement.

“I could smell you on Roach when I got back you know? I thought you had left. I understand if you’d left. After what I did.”

He blinked tiredly at Geralt before standing to shift up. He didn’t want to have this conversation now but if Geralt did then. Well then they’d have it now.

“Don’t.” Geralt’s hands shifted slightly, like they were caging him in. They weren’t. He knew he could get out. Knew that if he wanted to leave Geralt would let him.

He settled back into Geralt’s fingers, more than happy not to.

“Tonight. Can we be that again? Just for tonight.”

Be simple. Be easy.

Nenneke always scolded Geralt for thinking he could deny destiny. Because she cared about him and knew destiny would have its way, willingly or not. It would, he agreed. Geralt couldn’t run away from her forever.

But he did help him run away from it. Sometimes. Like tonight?

Tonight destiny could go fuck itself.

Tonight they were just a bird and a man sharing each other’s company.

Tonight they were easy.

Chapter Text

There were benefits to being at court. He never went hungry at court. Always knew where his bed was and it was always soft and pretty much never had lice. They paid exceptionally well.

The downsides included never being able to shift. Not even for a minute. Because you were never really alone at court. A lesson he’d learned the hard way as a child. At least his ‘curse’ had kept the marriage offers from sticking.

So being a troubadour had its perks. He could shift between towns at least and despite what Geralt seemed to think bandits really weren’t that common. Most everyone he’d met on the road was happy for some company around their campfire and when there were no campfires, well it wasn’t like he went cold.

But being Geralt’s barker and friend had even more benefits. The adventure, the inspiration, the friendly - Roach at least was always friendly - company, and when the rain started he had ample cover.

“Jaskier.”

He stopped his scaling of Geralt’s thigh to trill at him. Geralt had already put on his cloak- because he knew it was going to rain and had neglected to pass that information on to him before they left and he was not getting his clothes wet.

He mewed pathetically at Geralt as the rain started falling. Big wet drops on his poor furry frame.

“Damnit.”

Geralt lifted him up and he wheedled his way down the front of his shirt. Shuffled around and popped his little fuzzy head out just above the clasp of the cloak under Geralt’s chin.

He purred his gratitude as Geralt grumbled his displeasure.

It rained and was chilly all morning and he was delightfully pleased by the constant warmth against his back.

Yes. Being Geralt’s companion definitely had its perks.

Like how sometimes Geralt would igni the candle out, plunging him into darkness- and he’d realize that he’d been working for hours without a break. That he needed to pee and sleep and also stretch cause ow.

He’d also lose his train of thought which was devastating. But it was nice that someone cared enough to stop him. There weren’t many people who noticed.

Geralt would lift the blanket and let him crawl under it no matter his form. Tonight he was a fox. He’d felt rather clever after working out those last few lines of couplets and had popped into it as soon as the lights had flicked off. The night vision of the nocturnal shape helped navigate the dark room as well.

One muscular arm draped over his lovely red fur, tucking him into Geralt’s chest.

It was nice to be with someone who stayed with him no matter the form. He licked Geralt’s face as a thank you. But mostly because he wanted to.

“Ugh. Gross Jaskier.”

He agreed. Ick. He made a few retching noises. Geralt tasted terrible.

Geralt shoved his head down. “Fine we’ll go to the bathhouse tomorrow.”

He huffed his satisfaction and denned down into the blanket and Geralt’s arms.

There were downsides to this life, certainly. But he couldn’t find it in him to regret choosing it. Not when he was safe in Geralt’s arms.

Chapter Text

He found Roach. Buried his face in her neck and wrapped his arms around her. She nickered her concern.

He could be something small and unobtrusive. A mouse at the bottom of his saddle bag. A lark nesting on top. A cat keeping the mice away from Roach in the stable.

He could be small and unobtrusive and quiet and a good traveling companion. He could be whatever form Geralt wanted. Would stay that way forever if that’s what Geralt wanted.

But it wasn’t his form that were the problem was it?

Geralt had made it perfectly clear what he wanted.

No matter the form he would still always be Jaskier.

“I love you Roach. Don’t let him be too stupid without me okay?”

Running into Geralt at the bar wouldn’t be an issue. Humans had to follow switchbacks and winding roads. All he had to do was switch back after soaring down the mountain.

Not that he’d felt much like soaring but the falling sensation had been near enough to manage.

One drink and then he’d play and in the morning he’d go. Long before Geralt arrived.

“Here alone familiar? Hasn’t Geralt told you that’s dangerous?” Yennefer sweeping into the seat across from him. “Some evil mage might just snatch you up.”

He’d heard her coming, the singing- ever present around her- growing louder and louder as she approached. Wouldn’t you like to snatch me up Yennefer?

“Is that an offer Yennefer?” That voice sounded a lot more compelling now. Or maybe he just didn’t have any real reason to resist it. ”Because I don’t have any plans for the evening.”

He flashed her a smile and hers disappeared.

“You’re not bound anymore.”

Oh wasn’t that rich. Bound. He rolled his eyes at her. “I’m not the one he wished for Yennefer. I doubt the djinn will heed your breakup.”

Her frown deepened into a scowl before smoothing back into a placid mask. “Then the next round is on you Jaskier.”

Rude. I’ll go as many rounds as you want. He wasn’t even getting another round. He downed another swig. “What do you want Yennefer?”

“I wanted someone to shit talk Geralt with and you were over here looking terribly despondent all alone so I figured he’d ditched you.”

“Can’t argue with that.” He agreed waving down a barmaid for another round. It was a bad idea. Yennefer required a clear head to deal with and a hangover would make leaving tomorrow harder. But she told you to get the next round. So he did. “But I don’t think you’ll find what you’re really hoping for Yennefer.”

She pinned him with her gaze. She wasn’t using magic but he could feel it- feel her- lighting up the veins and electrifying him with her luminescence. She was going for a bored look but he felt the anger rolling like waves.

“And what am I hoping for mutt?”

Mutt. Half-bred. Those were better than what she'd called him at the start. Pet. Thing. Creature. But she hadn't called him those in the last few years.

Mutt and half-breed were reserved for when she thought him unaware of her power. A broken 'familiar' that couldn't tell how powerful she was.

He suspected he was one of the few who knew exactly how powerful she was. More accurately than even Geralt. It thrummed in his veins and the song beat at his head every time she was near.

Power. It praised. Strong. It rejoiced.

Be hers. It plead, begged and demanded.

He shrugged. “A quick romp? A way to hurt Geralt? A friend?”

Her face settled deeper into boredom and the lightning began to scald his skin.

“Oh and I won’t find any of those here?” She reached her hand out and he moved his face into its grasp. “Never put you down as picky when it comes to bedmates.”

There was a comment there. About how he was- was something? Those eyes were so purple. His jaw remained lax in her grip.

“I have friends and I certainly don’t need to stoop to your level for one.”

The lightning was so pleasant in his body. Thrumming like a drum. Her nails dug into his cheeks and he welcomed the pricks of pain.

“And I am more than capable of hurting Geralt on my own. Half breed.”

That name was important.

It was.

Right.

“Do you really want another man bound to you by magic?”

Her hand twitched against his cheek and withdrew. A whine escaped him at the loss of contact. He dug his fingers into his legs to stop them from chasing after her.

“What?” She studied his face as if struck. “You can’t sense magic.” She stated. Growing less sure by the consonant.

He leaned away. The song screamed louder at him for it. He grit his teeth and didn’t move.

“And what makes you so sure about that?”

“You wouldn’t-“ She frowned. “Familiars are drawn to magic.” She explained. He had actually gathered that thanks. “The difference in power alone between Geralt and I should have.” Made me yours. It finished for her when she trailed off.

“Yeah well we were bonded.” He wanted to emphasize that “bonded” idea with the quotation marks it deserved –what did that even mean- but he didn’t trust his hands to behave so he settled for spitting the word out. “So.”

She shook her head. “That shouldn’t have mattered.” He remembered a tapestry burning under his skin when she’d used magic on him.

“Then maybe I’m not what you think I am.”

He felt her taking in the taunt lines of his shoulders. The strain pulling him to her as he struggled to resist. Her face fell- only slightly but- Sad. You’ve made her sad.

“You’re Jaskier.” She said like that explained anything at all.

She drained her drink and stood. Turning.

“Yennifer?” She paused to grab her drink from the approaching barmaid. He leaned over his unfinished drink staring into it like it might have answers. “I would have liked to be friends.”

If the world had been different maybe they could have toasted drinks and roasted Geralt into the long hours of the night. Maybe drunkenly tumbled into bed together or just fallen asleep next to each other. Maybe he’d hate her just the same for hurting Geralt, maybe more because he would know what being human really was. Or maybe he would have fallen for her beauty and written her countless odes and sonnets.

But none of that mattered. Because she had no choice in loving Geralt. Like how he had no choice in loving her. Whatever they felt couldn’t be trusted.

He hated her for hurting Geralt. Respected her for walking away. Loved her for her magic.

Who knew what was real under that?

Does it matter?

It did to her. She wanted something real.

That thought was the only thing that kept him from running after her.

If only he were human.

But then again he’d still be Jaskier.

Chapter Text

There were advantages to traveling alone.

He could spend as much or as little time in a town as he wanted- or at least his purse allowed. If he met a pack of wolves or a flock of birds or a herd of deer he could enjoy their company as long as he liked because no one was waiting for him.

He enjoyed the company of every manner of creature that would tolerate another’s company. He made friends and they cared for him and he did his best to care for them back and it was almost enough.

It was almost enough when the crowd beat their feet to his songs and cheered.

It was almost enough when the pack near Oxenfurt greeted him with open mouth kisses to confirm his wellbeing.

It was almost enough when the barn cats curled around him in the stable, rumbling their contentment.

Then winter came- as it always did. The birds flew south, the bears disappeared into their dens and the wolves grew too lean to feed what they all knew was an outsider.

They didn’t say as much. He didn’t wait around to hear it.

He knew what he was.

The animals all knew on some level. That on the edges he wasn’t quite right. Wasn’t quite the same as them.

So he did what he did every winter- because he’d never survive it on his own.

He answered the letters from court bidding him to play.

The Countess de Stael had requested him back this year and he was seriously tempted by the offer but he’d heard rumors of a mage at her court.

He could resist Yennefer’s call so whoever they were was unlikely to overwhelm him. But Yennefer had also never tried to.

Best to stay away. There were other offers.

He accepted a very generous offer from a southern family that lived on the coast. The sea called and maybe in the spring he’d walk out into its depths. Maybe he would love it so much he’d never walk the land again and the hollow space in his chest would fill with the sea.

“You are as beautiful and youthful as the stories say Master Jaskier.” His skin prickled at the young lady’s attention. They were alone in the dining hall, aside from the staff and numerous guards. “There are even rumor you’ve elven parentage. Tell me, have they any merit?”

Even people knew he wasn’t quite human.

“I’m afraid not Lady Nadia.” Where was the rest of her family? The war may have emptied the house somewhat but her mother, her unwed sister, or her brother who should have been far too young for service should have been there. “A good skin care routine can work wonders though. I could show you if you’d like? Not that much could be done to further enhance your radiance.”

He smiled brightly and sent her a quick wink. In her bedchambers there was a chance they’d be alone. He could ask what was wrong.

If not he would leave tonight. No amount of gold was worth his life. Every shape screamed at him to flee.

He hadn’t lived this long by not listening to them.

“Oh come now there must be more to it than that. There are rumors the White Wolf lent you his time in exchange for your company.”

He forced a brilliant laugh and took a long but shallow drink from his glass. “Such is not an ability of Witchers I’m afraid.” Even if it was Geralt wouldn’t share it with him. “But if its stories about The White Wolf you request I am more than capable of providing.”

“Firsthand accounts I hope?” Her voice coy but her shoulders ridged and her knuckles white where they gripped the spoon.

He stood and made his way to her, offering a hand as he quickly bowed. “Shall we retired to a more private local? I promise to tell you all my best stories about him.”

Her eyes met his and he saw the desperation there. A wolf who’d lost her pack. Her eyes flickered behind him and he knew. Knew this day ended in shackles.

He let the performer fall away and knelt before her, taking her hands in his. She was so young. He’d seen countless people do far worse for far less.

“It’s alright dear. Make sure my lute gets back to Oxenfurt will you?” Tears brimmed in her eyes, tremors shaking her small frame. He pressed a kiss softly to her forehead. “I know what we do for the people we love.”

He stood as apologies cascaded from her turning to the guards. Really an unnecessary amount of guards. He knew he had a reputation for being slippery. For leaving empty cages and locked shackles in the night. But really. This was an unnecessary amount of soldiers.

He offered his wrists out to one of them with a smile.

“I do hope you’ll be returning her kin once this is over. I mean really? All this fanfare for a bard? Your higher ups must really need some music. Is the war truly so dull they’ve stooped to holding nobles hostage to kidnap innocent bards?”

One of the other soldiers walked over and snapped the shackles around his wrist. Dimeritium shackles.

“Expensive!” He whistled. No one had ever bothered with Dimeritium shackles before. He wondered if they’d work. “Someone thinks I’m a sorcerer! I must admit, I’m very flattered but my skill and good looks were a blessing of hard work and luck, not magic.” The man yanked the chain, pulling him along.

“I hope they keep their promise Nadia! Care of Oxenfurt University! Don’t forget!”

“Shut up.” The soldier demanded, accented heavily.

He jabbered at him in Nilfgaardian. “Oh you just expect a bard to shut up do you? Want that blessed silence? Well guess what? Never really gone in for that so you can just-“ There was a sharp pain on the back of his skull and the world went dark.

 

The floor rocked under him and he suspected it wasn’t just the blow to the head. He was curled in a cage on the rocking seas. Hands still shackled. Feet bound in silver.

They were really overdoing it.

“He’s finally awake. Go get the sorcerer.” Someone whispered from behind him. He curled in tighter and ignored the growing thrumming of a song. It wasn’t as pleasant as Yennefer’s. Not as strong, even when he entered the room. It just made him feel gross.

“So sorry for the harsh treatment Master Jaskier.” The sorcerer stood over him. Voice assuring him that they were not sorry at all. “You’re rather known for being a difficult man to keep and we wanted to make sure you didn’t leave before I could make your acquaintance.”

“Could have just asked. I’m sure Nadia would have been glad to show off her bard.”

“That was the plan but it sounded like you were getting cold feet for your performance.”

I would perform for you any time. It drawled, barely even convinced of the man’s merit itself.

“Did you let them go?” The man made a questioning noise. “Nadia’s family.”

“Why of course we did!” He lied. There was nothing to be done for that lie, so he choose to believe it. “And nothing bad will come to you either if you help us.”

The man crouched in front of him. He curled tighter hiding his face in his knees. “I’m sure.”

“Look at me Jaskier.” He curled tighter. Digging his hands into his legs.

Look at him.

Look at him.

Look at him.

It chanted over and over and over and he curled tighter and tighter and tighter.

Look at me.”

There was power in those words and his body uncurled to lax. Knelt in front of him with hazy eyes as he beat at the magic manipulating his mind.

Their eyes met.

The man gasped.

He reached his hands through the bar, cupping his face. “I didn’t think there were any of you left.”

Cold dark sludge poured in. Cooling the distant memory of lightning in his veins. Covering the broken tapestry in his heart in something vicious and unpleasant. He did not move.

“Are you the last unclaimed familiar? There are so few of you in this world and you landed right in my lap. Destiny has truly blessed me today.”

The cold flooded him. Chilling every cell to the brittle bone. The hollow in his chest never filled. It Froze and never filled.

“You are mine now. I claim you.”

Yours.” Someone said.

“Unlock the cage I want to see what he can do.” The others hesitated. He barked a command and they leapt to do as ordered. Do as ordered.

Doors unlocked somewhere and locks dropped free. The man bid him follow. Follow.

He followed.

There was sun beating on the deck but it didn’t warm him. The cold was there and the hollow and the man and that was all. The thick ichor sliding through his being.

“You need a better name familiar. You are no flower are you?” The man stroked his hair.

What are you then?

“Transform for me. I want to see what you can do. What you really are.”

What are you?

The cold was power. He was not helpless. He was not prey.

He spilled into a mountain cat. A predator. Claws long and sharp. Fur dense against the cold that filled him.

He was never enough of any one thing to truly be them.

Wings split from his back covered in long feathers. Claws into talons. Muzzle into beak. Size growing as more and more waves of cold chilled his mind.

“An Arch Griffin.” Awed a man. Hand on his beak. “The things we will do together.”

Griffins mate for life.’ A different man’s voice said to him. He didn’t know that voice. But he knew it was right.

His chest was hollow. His mate was gone.

He opened his beak. The cold man smiled.

He closed it and the man smiled no more.

There was blood and screaming and pain.

He collapsed in a clearing. Pulling out bolts that pierced his hide.

They bled. It joined the blood on his face and claws. It stuck his fur together in clumps. Feathers of his wings stuck up at the wrong angles.

He didn’t bother fixing it.

He flew in a random direction. When he was tired he slept. When he was hungry he ate.

Distantly he thought it was sheep’s blood in his mouth but he didn’t care if it wasn’t.

His mate was gone and the world would pay for it.

The smell of death drew him in.

Force knocked him from the sky.

The cold seeped from a crack jarred opened by it.

He shrieked scrambling out of the way of the hunter’s blade. He spit at him and the hunter rolled away quickly.

“Fucking arch Griffin. Not getting paid enough for this shit.” He said dodging around his claws landing a blow to his shoulder.

It burned with cold that rushed out with his blood. His beak snapped closed around the hunter’s white hair as he slipped away.

“How do you like that silver?”

He didn’t.

He leaped to the skies away from the hunter.

Force blast his wing and he spun into the dirt.

He’d broken that wing once. Someone had helped him then.

He spat at the Witcher, acid burning his throat on the way up.

“You’re not much of an arch griffin are you?” He said easily side stepping it. “No wonder your mate’s dead."

He roared talons and sharp beak seeking to tear him apart.

His mate wasn’t dead! His mate just-

The silver opened a fresh river of cold on his chest.

His paw slammed into the Witcher’s side hurling him backward.

Just didn’t want him.

The cold sludge slowed to a drip. His body was warm. Warm but cooling as red heat flowed from him.

“Getting too old for this.” Geralt cursed, standing. Preparing for another attack.

He didn’t move.

His mate didn’t want him. There was no blood to drain from the earth in retribution for their death. He just wasn’t wanted.

Geralt’s face twitched. “How long are you going to make me wait?”

He laid down on his side, stretched his neck long and tried to remember them. The mate who wouldn’t even greet him on the other side.

He remembered gentle hands on a broken wing.

Geralt stepped forward, blade raised.

He remembered hands gently smoothing down long brown ears.

Geralt eyed his unmoving limbs, stepping around the blood crusted talons.

He remembered a hand in his on a sunny rock by a lake.

Geralt raised his sword above his ribs to plunge it in for one final blow.

He remembered a song. The notes escaping his beak one last time.

Toss a coin to your Witcher.

The sword didn’t come down.

Oh valley of plenty.

“Jaskier?”

That was his name wasn’t it? His chest trilled. Jaskier. A flower.

Maybe that’s what he should be. That way he couldn’t hurt anyone else.

The sword clattered against the dirt. Silver was delicate Geralt would never-

He raised his head to look and Geralt’s arms buried themselves in his thick mane.

“Jaskier.” Geralt said it again. “Jaskier.” Like a desperate prayer finally answered. “Jaskier.”

This form couldn’t purr technically but he didn’t let that stop him.

Geralt sobbed as the rumbles started. “I thought you were dead.”

How long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years?

What was time anyway?

He ran his beak through the tangled mess of Geralt’s hair. Blood chipping off his beak into it.

Geralt shoved his face away. “You need a bath.”

That felt very fair. Everything stuck together and was covered in grime and he stunk.

He nudged Geralt’s shoulder. So do you.

He huffed a laugh and collapsed into his side. “Fuck. I really needed that bounty.”

He screeched as if in the throes of death. Gagged dramatically and flopped into the dirt, sticking his tongue out to really sell it.

“Hm.” He considered him. “Somehow I doubt that would work.”

He gave them a look and then returned to being dead.

Geralt shoved him. He glared at him. Fuck off I’m dead.

Geralt shook his head. Hand running through his mane. The last of the cold sludge slowly sealing the silvered gashes near to closed.

The form was bowing in the center, like it might snap under him, even though he didn’t particularly mind staying in this form. It was a new sensation.

“Shouldn’t have yelled at you.” His hands clung tightly to his mane like he thought Jaskier might run away. Which was stupid. He’d never run from Geralt. Not really. Even in the forest as the bear. He hadn’t run from Geralt.

He rumbled his agreement. Seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

“I didn’t mean to bind you.” Geralt muttered into his coarse, sticky fur. “Believe that I never meant to bind you to this life Jaskier.”

He could feel the form splintering under him. He purred louder. Bound. He wasn’t the one Geralt had wished for. Wasn’t the child of surprise accidentally claimed.

He was Jaskier. He’d chosen this life. He’d loved it. Even when it was awful he’d chosen to love it.

He rubbed his, frankly disgusting, – how did he let himself get so disgusting? - face against Geralt’s back. Soothingly. He hoped.

“I never meant to bind you to me.”

The form cracked out from under him. Geralt’s knees hit the ground as his supporting Griffin shifted into a bard in his arms.

Geralt squeezed him to his chest. “I didn’t know any other way to break it. I got to the bottom and you were gone. Really gone. I knew I’d never see you again. Because you only stayed-“

He reached his blood crusted hand to Geralt’s face – tried very hard not to remember whose or what’s blood it might have been – and cupped the thick stubble of his jaw cutting him off. “Because I wanted to.”

“Geralt that’s why I stayed. Because I wanted to. Because I wanted to be with you. We’re not fucking bound by magic.”

“Yennefer said-”

“Yennefer doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about.”

Geralt glared at him and he buried his face in Geralt’s armor to avoid it.

Yennefer knew what she was talking about.

Didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Yennefer said you’re drawn to magic. That you. Were bound to mine. I swear I never meant to.”

“Geralt.” Geralt wouldn’t look at him, eyes locked on the horizon even as his arms crushed him in his embrace. “Geralt look at me.”

Geralt allowed his head to be turned to look at him. He knew he must look terrible. Hair long and matted. Coated in grime and blood and who knows what else. Fresh blood still dripping down his chest.

There was a ruined tapestry of tiny threads, only made strong by how tightly they'd been woven together.

There was a question forced from his mouth once. Long ago. Because he wanted to stay by Geralt’s side.

“Geralt you did not bind yourself to me. I bound myself to you. Because I never wanted to leave your side.”

“You left my side all the time.” He tried to jest. Face soft with sadness and longing.

“And I always found my way back didn’t I?” He leaned up. Tried to get closer to Geralt’s face. He wanted to be close in every way.

“You did.” He agreed before his face shuttered closed in pain. “But magic. Yennefer said it could compel you to do anything. Love anyone if it was strong enough.”

“Geralt, dear heart?” Geralt’s embrace didn’t let him close enough to his face, so he settled for burying his face in the junction of his shoulder. “I think I bit a man’s head off for trying to use magic to make me love him. And he was far stronger than you. Fuck Geralt you don’t even set off the singing.”

“Singing?” Geralt shook his head slightly before burrowing into the muck of his hair. “Thought you abhorred violence.”

“I do and once we wash this off me I’m going to try very hard never to think about it again.” He was honestly feeling a bit nauseous from even mentioning it. The way his-

Ugh. Don’t. Don’t think about it.

“You do smell awful.” He buried his nose deeper. “Absolutely disgusting.”

“Well I feel even worse so can we maybe go get me a hot bath? I’ll tell them you saved me from the griffin and killed it.”

“With how you look right now they might actually believe it.”

“Hm.” He agreed trying to refill the space Geralt once resided with his scent. With the warmth under his fingers and the too tight embrace. “Geralt I’m sorry.”

“You owe me no apologies Jaskier.” Geralt continued his nuzzled wandering through his hair.

“I’m sorry for binding you to me. For” For the child of surprise. For the djinn. For everything. “For staying when you didn’t want me.”

His mate was gone. Not dead. Just didn’t want him.

“Jaskier I didn’t want you to go.” Geralt’s grip crushed the air from his chest before easing only slightly. “I just didn’t want you to have to stay.”

Tear tracks cleared clean creaks down his face and he turned up towards Geralt. Forced an arm free to turn Geralt face to his. “Can I stay? I want to stay.”

He nodded. “Please.” Geralt relaxed his grip enough to press their foreheads together. “Please.” He said again.

“What do you want me to be?”

Geralt’s eyes widened slightly, recognizing the musically magical tint he had missed the first time. Or maybe just recognizing the words from all those years ago.

“Jaskier.” He hummed. “I want you to always be Jaskier, no matter the form you take.”

He closed his eyes enjoying the tapestry reweaving itself over the hollow in his chest.

He slowly opened his eyes to Geralt’s soft smile.

His mate wanted him.

He slowly angled his face, closed his eyes, and kissed him. Gently kissed his mate.

He eventually withdrew just a breath. Taking in his mates softly closed eyes and serene face.

His mate. The griffin trilled.

His mate? Oh fucking instincts he’d just kissed Geralt- and not even for the first time- because of his inhuman instincts.

And his mate?

His face and neck and ears went hot with blood. Geralt eased his eyes open and chuckled, resuming his scenting nuzzle now over his jaw and face. “I have something of yours.”

“Hm?” He squeaked as Geralt’s lips ran over the pulse of his neck.

“You’ll have to explain to the university I didn’t steal it next time your there of course.”

His lute?

“My lute? She’s safe?” He begged of him.

Geralt’s eyes turned up to him and he nodded before resuming his self-appointed task of scenting every inch of his grimy neck.

“Well then you definitely did steal her because I said care of Oxenfurt not Geralt of Rivia who wouldn’t know proper lute maintenance if his best friend spent two decades explaining and demonstrating it to him.”

“Would you rather I’d left it? You’d have to wait until spring to play it again.”

“And why is that?”

“Because we’re going to Kaer Morhen.” He buried his nose in the crook of his neck and took a long drag of his scent before finally standing them up. “Can you walk? There’s someone you need to meet.”

He leaned against Geralt as the dizziness of standing slowly subsided. “I think so.” He assured.

“If you want me to carry you-“

“I want to stay human a little longer.” He interjected. It had been so long. It felt like it had been so long.

He smirked cheekily. “Then I can. You’re not heavy.”

“Oh.” He leaned on Geralt for a few moments more. “Just an arm for now. I want to walk.”

Geralt nodded hooking an arm under his.

“So who’s this mystery person I need to meet?”

Geralt smiled, leaned over and told him.

Chapter Text

In the end Geralt had to carry him most of the way. Even with the slowed drip from the –remarkably- healed cuts on his chest and shoulder he still felt faint and chilly. His feet lurching under him until Geralt gave up hauling him and just tossed him over his shoulder to carry him into town.

He. Should probably shift into something easier to carry. But he didn’t want to. And Geralt had said it was okay. So he just let Geralt carry him as he flecked and dripped blood onto Geralt’s armor.

It was more ragged than he remembered, Geralt’s armor. He had said he needed that contract.

“Didn’t bring Roach?” He asked Geralt’s very muscular backside.

“She needed the break.” He said simply. Then he hesitated – which he couldn’t explain how that sounded different from when Geralt was simply done talking but it was – before continuing. “And I needed to make sure Ciri could get away quickly if something went wrong.”

He pat Geralt’s rear – it was the only thing he could reach in his defense – reassuringly. “You were kicking my butt. You’d have been fine.”

“If you’d been an actual arch Griffin I probably wouldn’t have been.”

He elbowed him in the ribs. “I was an arch Griffin you ass.”

“You made a terrible arch Griffin. You can’t fight at all.”

“I threw you across the clearing you- you” He stumbled tiredly for an appropriate insult before settling on the one in front of his face. “Giant ass.”

Geralt snorted before dumping him on the ground, his back against unyielding stone. He drifted, nodding off quickly, safe in Geralt’s presence.

A safety betrayed- BETRAYED- when Geralt dumped a bucket of water on his head.

He squawked indignantly flapping his wings – well his arms now- at his mate’s –Geralt not mate- betrayal.

Just how long had he been a griffin?

He remembered his words as Geralt drew a second bucket. “What do you think you’re doing!”

“We don’t have the coin or time for a proper bath. This will have to do. At least until we can find a river to dump you in.” Geralt lifted the bucket threateningly.

“Don’t!” He chirped – yelled. “You’ll get my clothes gross too. Just.” He took the bucket and began rinsing out as best he could without disrobing in the not unpopulated local they found themselves in. People were staring. Or. Purposely not staring. “Let me.”

Geralt let him until the bucket was mostly grime before dumping the last of it on his hair and drawing up another.

He scrubbed some of the mats free but mages it was long. He needed a barber and a bath and a clean set of clothing and a nap and his lute and-

“What are you doing?”

He froze and tried to figure out what he was doing.

His tongue was sticking out. Almost touching the filth that still covered his arms.

He pulled back with a disgusted hiss. Staring at his long nails still caked with. He didn’t want to know.

He pressed the heels of his paws –hands they were fucking hands - to his eyes and pushed.

“I haven’t been one thing for that long in. Maybe ever.” Even during winters he’d manage one or two shifts. “It’s. Disorienting.”

“Hm.” He listened to Geralt pull up another bucket. “Lean forward.”

He did and Geralt poured the bucket over his head, scrubbing and yanking the mats apart. Quickly. Efficiently. Not gently. Much like most of their baths. He leaned into his hands anyway, his chest trying to purr.

“Are you.” He paused forcing a clump apart. “Going to be okay with Ciri?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because.” Geralt scrubbed the grime clean from his scalp. He felt raw with it. “Griffins?”

“What about griffins?”

“Their. Instincts?”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. People. Children? I don’t know what shit Griffins do Jaskier.”

“You literally fight them for a living. You know more about them than I do.”

“I know how to fight them. Not. Live with one.”

“Do.” He turned to peer at Geralt, forcing a joking lilt to his voice and a smile. “You think I’m going to eat her or something?”

The fear he saw there was answer enough.

He curled into himself further. How many people had he killed for Geralt to look at him like that? Something high and broken spilled from his chest.

“Jaskier? Fuck Jaskier stop- Jaskier” His mate thought he’d kill his cub. His mate thought he would hurt her. His mate was afraid of him.

Of course his mate was afraid of him. Look what he’d become.

He dug his talons into his arms and tried to pull his wings around his dirty frame but they wouldn’t come because he was a terrible griffin whose mate didn’t want him and who thought he’d hurt their cub and-

“Jaskier!” His mate yanked him from the ground and forcefully tucked his head into his shoulder. “Breathe!” He held his breath until his head swum with it afraid of what would come out if he did.

“Breathe Jaskier.” He mate begged him and he tried. Tried to breathe him in but all he could smell was metallic pain. He sobbed with it burying his nose deeper to try again to find his mate under the scent of what he’d done.

“That’s. A little better.” A calloused hand tried to scruff the back of his neck – like the old tom cat in the kitchen –and for a second the tension drained – that tom cat was dead. Buried in the garden under the rose bush and his mate didn’t want him so he might as well be buried there too and he was going to hurt their cub and-

“You’re a good mate and I don’t think your going to hurt our cub Jaskier fucking breathe.”

The griffin’s talons eased where they dug into his skull and he struggled through a few breaths. Mate –Geralt- shushing him like Roach.

“Good that’s – uh- mate’s proud of you. Deep breaths. In. Out.”

He did his best to follow Geralt’s instructions, muscles shaking with exhaustion even when he finally succeeded in calming. He should just shift into something small so he could slumber in Geralt’s pocket for the next week.

He was too tired to shift.

He hadn’t been too tired to shift in.

A.

Long.

Time.

He was set down on a bench and Geralt was asking something about. An alderman?

“If he’s mean to you I’ll eat him.” He promised.

“Staying out here then.”

And Geralt was gone.

But not too gone. The fabric of Geralt’s chaos still warmed his chest. He pulled on it. Urging him back.

A lifetime or maybe a moments later Geralt returned. Coin purse jangling an insultingly little amount.

“Isn’t enough.” He tried to shove Geralt. “Worth more.”

“For an arch griffin it wouldn’t be no. But you fight like a drunken toddler.” He slapped his armor for that rude assur- asse- claim. Rude claim. “Besides I got you back. That’s worth more than the rest of your sheep stealing bounty.”

“Just sheep?” He leaned heavily against the wooden paneling and begged Geralt to lie to him.

“And a few goats. Won’t tell Eskel. Promise.”

He thanked him for the lie and they were moving again.

It smelled like ale and piss and distant rowdy laughter. A bar. But they weren’t in it. Geralt’s hands tilted his face and he blinked slowly up at his beautiful eyes.

“You can’t met Ciri like this. You can’t even stand right now.”

“Can too.” He said. The words took a long time to come out.

He drifted back off while Geralt thought of a response.

His face pulled uncomfortably and Geralt was scowling at him, cheek pinched between his fingers. Which meant Geralt was looking at him. Touching him. He trilled quietly.

“Fuck Jaskier I know you need to sleep but we can’t stay. The army’s still to close. We need the money for food. We can’t stay.”

Geralt was sad. Geralt was apologizing. Geralt needed him to move.

“Let’s go then.” He forced his hands under him and stood.

Tried to stand.

His arms gave out within seconds and he tipped to the side. Caught in Geralt’s strong arms.

He tried to purr his apology but this chest couldn’t and it hurt. It hurt to fail Geralt.

“Don’t. Don’t do that again Jaskier. We’re fine.” Geralt stroked his long hair and he realized he was keening again. They were fine. He forced it to stop.

“Fuck you’ll never forgive me if you met her like this.” Geralt pushed the still tangled hair from his eyes before it fell back down. “Fuck.”

“Do you.” An idea spun in his head making him dizzy. “Want me to shift?”

Geralt squeezed his eyes closed. “I want you to always be you.”

“I wanted to shift. At the well.” He explained eloquently. “Too tired.”

“It’s good you didn’t. There were people there.”

“Tired.”

“I know I’ll figure something out.”

“Wanna shift.” He tried again.

“Shift into whatever you want Jaskier.”

“Can’t. Tired.” He slouched into Geralt. “Tell me. Please.”

He was so tired he wanted to cry with it and he couldn’t sleep because Geralt needed him and he couldn’t think because his head was full of wool. Maybe from all the sheep he'd eaten.

“Tell you what Jaskier?” Geralt lifted his face upwards and he let him because it was Geralt and he always trusted Geralt.

That was. Maybe a different thought.

“What to be.”

He felt Geralt reel back and he slumped forward, saved from the dirt by Geralt’s responsive arms. “I’m not going to make you shift Jaskier.”

He sobbed. “I want to shift!” He pulled on the feeling but there was no energy, no movement behind it and he stayed inconveniently, terribly human. “I wanna shift.” He slumped heavier into Geralt.

Geralt stayed silent above him.

“Please.” He pawed at the fabric in his chest. Tugging at it. Willing Geralt to understand.

He gasped, arms tightening around him. “What was- how did you-“

“Please Geralt.” He tugged again and Geralt pulled him into his lap, tucking him under his chin.

“Right. Yeah. Turn into- shift into a bird Jaskier.”

He tried but there was no power to follow to request with. He yanked harder and Geralt gasped again. He could feel the power at the other end. Weak as it was.

“Axii. Axii helped last time Jaskier. Can I try it?”

He nodded, remembering the calm of Geralt in the maelstrom of power. How safe he’d been there.

Jaskier. Shift.” It wasn’t like last time, there was no party raging under his skin for Geralt to calm. He was tired. Bone deep drained. A land brought to desert with drought. And Geralt a single bucket of water. He downed it greedily begging more from the source. Forcing more from the spigot as the barely scabbed wounds closed.

There was a command there. But he didn’t know what it was. Didn’t know the shape of it. He consumed the power he could, tugging on the fabric to draw more – he was hungry and tired and hurt and distantly Geralt made a pained noise.

If Geralt was hurting he needed to be able to protect him. He needed to at least be able to run. Be able to do something. Something. He swallowed ever drop from the open tap and shoved it open wide when it tried to close.

He was hungry and tired and hurting and-

Jaskier. Lark.” Geralt gasped out above him.

He was in Geralt’s hands and the power was cutoff. A lark.

That was fine.

He was still hungry. Tired. Hurt.

He tugged on the fabric again, asking for more.

“No. I can’t.” Geralt ground out above him. He peered up at him.

Geralt was hyper pale, as if on the edge of toxicity, and leaning heavily on the wall. Chest heaving.

He nuzzled into Geralt’s fingers anxiously. He hadn’t looked that wrecked before.

“Fuck.” He stroked his feathers with a single finger. “I couldn’t igni a candle right now. I can’t do that again.”

He nodded and chirped an apology. He hadn’t meant to-

“It’s fine. I’m fine. I just can’t do that again.” He did not at all trust Geralt’s definition of fine, especially when he lurched to standing. “Ciri. Food. Ride.”

Geralt was definitely tired.

He rubbed himself against Geralt’s hand hoping he’d understand the apology there.

“She’ll like you Jaskier. Don’t worry. Besides you’re much more palatable this way.”

He nipped Geralt’s fingers for that. Palatable was not a nice thing to call him. They’d eaten birds before and he didn’t need the reminder of what his drumsticks might taste like.

Geralt smiled and took them inside.

It wasn’t. Crowded exactly. But it was loud and there were lots of people eating and drinking and playing dice during their lunch break and he pressed himself into the curl of Geralt’s fingers shaking with it.

Dangerous.

People were dangerous.

He should fly away before they bolted him or stabbed him or caged him or-

“Fiona. Time to go.”

A girl looked up at them from the group of children settled on the floor playing dice. She nodded and stood. Following him as he ordered food and sat in the corner. Geralt’s thumb soothingly easing the shudders that shook him with every clattering noise of the bar or sharp bark of the patrons.

She sat down but stared back towards the game.

“How’d the hunt go?” She asked without looking.

“Good.” She looked over at him then, surprised by the effusive praise. He twittered a laugh. “Easiest griffin I’ve ever fought.”

He nipped Geralt’s hand again but he didn’t respond. Irritating tick.

“Oh?” She glanced back at the game debating. Could she get Geralt in story mode later and go back to playing now or should she wheedle a decent story out of him while he was still willing?

“Practically rolled over for belly rubs.” He squawked his offense. That was Not what he was doing-

But it was a much more pleasant narrative.

He’d try to remember it that way instead.

Ciri was looking at him. Or rather, the dark cave made by Geralt’s hands.

“And.” Geralt continued. “I met an old friend.”

She looked intrigued, no longer half distracted by the sound of dice hitting the floor.

Geralt’s voice grew closer as he leaned in. “Want to meet him?”

She nodded, unsure what the trick was yet.

“Meet Jaskier.” Geralt’s hand eased away and he blinked in the bright – brighter- light of the bar. “Troubadour, poet, and my best friend.” He preened proudly, fluffing up for Ciri’s inspection. Geralt coughed. “After Roach of course.”

He turned to Geralt and expressed his offense.

“That’s a bird.” Ciri said, distress leaking into her tone.

He turned back to her quickly and fluttered over with a shake of his head.

“Did Mousesack ever teach you about familiars?” He peered back at Geralt. He didn’t like that term. Yennefer always hissed it at him and sure Mousesack had said it weirdly at the banquet but that didn’t inspire confidence. But Geralt wasn’t looking at him.

He returned to his quest to convince Ciri to pet him. She raised her hand, unsure, and he took the opportunity to help himself to the curve of her fingertips. They were warm like a summer day and it sunk into the exhausted chill of his bones like a hot bath.

Care for. Protect. Love. Her song called, drawing him not to collision but to orbit around the majesty of her silver sun and he found he didn’t mind at all. He would. He would. He already did.

“He talked about them like they were revered. That the people they chose to partner with shaped the world and walked with gods.”

He looked back at Geralt, eyes sparkling. He liked druids.

He really regretted not taking Mousesack up on that offer to play for Ciri’s name day now. But in his defense he had thought the man was going to kidnap- birdnap? - him. Or that Calathe would behead him or Pavetta might drive him to that manic state again or-

He had his reasons.

Geralt gave him a look. “This is why I don’t let you talk to druids. Your head’s big enough as it is.”

He cawed in reproach. Better than making him talk to Yennefer who spend the first years of their acquaintance thinking nothing more than a stupid pet.

Geralt looked back over at Ciri. “That’s wrong. And you’ll hear people call them monsters or pets or. Vessels.” He growled. “And they’re wrong too.”

“If someone ever tries to convince you someone is just one thing, they’re wrong. No one is ever just one thing.”

Geralt glanced behind them and quickly tucked him under the table. Food was set down and after a few moments more he was released to peck at the stew.

“This morning Jaskier was an arch Griffin.” He said ignoring the disbelief on her face as he shoved one of the mushrooms to the side of the bowl for him. “And after that he was a human. And this evening he’ll probably be something else.” Ciri stared at them. Trying very hard to figure out if Geralt was messing with her. “Eat.” He said.

They did.

Geralt passed him into Ciri’s hands as he saddled Roach. She watched him warily. He hopped up to her shoulder and began working through the tangles that had gathered in her hair.

“What’s he doing?” She asked.

Preening! He cheeped.

Geralt glanced over. “Brushing your hair. He’ll try to do it in any form.” He tightened the girth. “If you don’t like it he’ll stop.”

She twisted her neck to peer at him and he shuffled over to try and help. Cocking his head.

“It’s fine.” She said after a few moments. “Just. Different.”

He chirped merrily and went back to it.

“Better than when he’s a cat. Tongue baths are not pleasant.”

He protested that! Tongue baths were lovely! Assuming you had fur that was. And weren’t covered in filth.

Geralt checked the tack once more before opening his saddlebag and rebuilding the nest he’d made for Jaskier there.

“Time to go.” He said holding it open. He fluttered in.

Home. Home at last.

Chapter Text

He blinked awake to Geralt’s “We’ll stop here for the night.” The dim haze of twilight barely poking through the sides of the bag. He stretched his wings feeling less like anxiety and exhaustion.

“Can we have a fire tonight?” Ciri asked. He stuck his beak out the side of the bag and peeped, reminding them not to dump his bag on the ground.

“No.” The saddlebags next to him unfastened and he continued peeping his impatience. “It’ll draw too much attention here.”

Geralt set his bag down gently but didn’t unclip it so he could escape.

“Alright.” Ciri said in a tone that made it clear it was not alright. “Are you going to let him out?”

“If he can’t get out on his own he needs to go back to sleep. Letting him out would just rile him up.”

He continued peeping his offense as they set up camp and Geralt set off to collect water or scout or something before he settled back in the nest disheartened.

He could shift now but he wasn’t sure he could shift back and he didn’t want to spend the night as a mouse.

“Are you really a shapeshifter?” Ciri’s voice came from right outside the bag and he startled at it.

Then he chirped an affirmative. Which probably didn’t help at all. He stuck his beak out and nodded as best he could.

“Then shift out.”

He peeped sadly.

She grumbled, frustrated. “I knew it.”

He hated that – they weren’t tricking her!

He forced himself down.

His little heart raced. Course it always raced in this form. He squeezed out of the bag and collapsed on top. Heaving chest trying to catch his breath.

Wasn’t getting back to the lark tonight that was certain.

He squeaked at her, high pitch drawing her young ears.

He heard her move closer until she came into his vision. She smelled like Geralt, which was reassuring. She should smell like him. She was his cub.

“Jaskier?” He nodded his tiny tiny head. Melitite she was large. He shouldn’t be outsized by his cub yet!

She scowled and offered her palm to him. He jumped on it and she opened the bag to search for him.

No lark.

He curled up in the palm of her warm soft hand and drifted. Exhausted again by a single shift. It was embarrassing. But the warmth of her chaos hummed in his bones, soothing the strain. So there was always that.

She abandoned the bag, hopefully convinced. She stood and flopped down in the heavy onion musk of Geralt’s bedroll.

“You’re really the bard?”

He nodded.

“I can’t see that in the dark. Move your tail for no. Head for yes.”

Okay.

“Is that your lute?”

Yes.

“I played it once. When I was bored. Just plucked strings. I’ve never seen him move so fast. Or look so devastated when he realized it was just me.” She raise her other hand to stroke the curve of his spine. “I hated you for leaving him.”

I would never leave him. He wanted to tell her. Not willingly. Not really. And never for so long.

Geralt had been true north for decades now. He could spin and fly blindly and he’d always find his way back to Geralt. Bond or no it seemed.

But there wasn’t really a yes or no way to respond to that. So he waited enjoying the way Ciri’s song spun warmth out into the universe, like the first true day of spring.

“If you ever hurt him like that again. I’ll.” She grumbled indistinctly. “You’ll wish you had died got it?”

Good cub. Yes. Good cub.

Still cub. The Griffin still had him. Hopefully it would pass soon enough.

“He’s my destiny.” She curled tighter in the bedroll. “Mine.” She said, like that was the only thing she had left.

No. He was her choice. She alone could defy destiny. She alone could reject the law of surprise. Geralt was her choice.

But at this point what choice was it really?

Yes. Yours.

They were hers. Always.

He would hold her soon. In the keep probably, after a bath and a shave and a haircut. So he didn’t horrify her with his mangy appearance. That was Geralt’s job. He’d hold her and tell her that no matter what she choose, they would always be hers. And if she wanted, she could be theirs.

She shivered curling up tightly in the bedroll.

Her song hummed in the air and she shivered and his bones ached with exhaustion but that was no excuse to let your cub go cold.

The white wolf is your destiny.

It was hard and easy. Easy to want to be what she needed. Harder to be it. But he answered her song and her plea because she was his cub and he always wanted to be what she needed.

He wouldn’t- couldn’t always be what she needed. But damnit if he wasn’t going to try.

It hurt. Shifting on empty. Tearing magic from Geralt and her song and his very bones. Shifting by sheer force of will.

It was worth the deep ache in his bones when she gasped. Staring up at his large white form. Worth everything when she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down to lie next to her.

He nosed her and tried to lick her face until she was giggling and he settled against her. Her hands sinking into the depths of his fur. Her nose burying in his neck.

Within minutes she was asleep.

And then Geralt was there. Clutching his chest as he desperately surveyed them and the area for-

Danger.

He smiled and wagged his tail. Ease Geralt. We’re safe.

Geralt collapsed to his knees and wrapped his arms around his head, pulling his muzzle against Geralt’s chest and burying his nose in the fur of his neck where Ciri slumbered.

“I thought something happened. I thought you were dying Jaskier.” He hissed into his ears, just barely loud enough to hear. “Don’t do that to me.”

A quiet whine escaped him. She was cold.

Which was probably not a good enough reason. Since he’d hurt Geralt too.

“You’re so stupid Jaskier.” He certainly could be. He stayed in Geralt’s uncomfortable grip and tried to radiate peace. Contentment. Geralt could get drunk on those smells alone.

He listened to Geralt’s slow heartbeat steady to its terrifyingly slow beat. Lifetimes stretched in the space between a moment of Geralt’s. Would his lifetime be just a space between the beats of Geralts?

“You’re white. Why are you white? Your wolf form is brown.”

He shoved his nose into his chest forcing Geralt off him. Geralt’s eyes reflected back at him in the dark and he nodded to Ciri.

“She asked you to?” He wobbled his head.

Yes and no. She hadn’t asked but he’d heard. She needed him to be someone she could trust. She trusted the white wolf. She trusted Geralt.

It wasn’t that easy. Trust wasn’t that easy. But it had felt so important. She had been cold.

He doubted how much Geralt got of that from his wide sad eyes or the apologetic tilt to his ears.

Geralt scratched them so he counted himself forgiven. His tail wagged behind him.

Geralt smiled, soft and radiant before it twisted into a grin. “Not going to check my condition packmate?”

His ears folded back and his face grew very hot which he didn’t think was normal for wolves- blushing that was - but that didn’t stop him.

He’d met Geralt several times after running with the Oxenfurt pack. Shifted and greeted him as packmates would after time apart.

With kisses and tongue. Lots and lots of tongue.

He wasn’t lying but that didn’t stop the embarrassment of knowing he’d made out with Geralt multiple times without permission.

Geralt had never objected so long as he’d been human at the time when he did it but still. He tried to hide his face under his paws.

“But you weren’t a wolf this morning where you?” Geralt shifted, preparing to lay down behind Ciri. Still holding his eye with that dangerous glint. “You were a Griffin.”

Geralt laid down and rested a hand on his shoulder blades. He stared up at the sky trying not to shift under the weight of Geralt’s gaze.

“Is it accurate?” He glanced over at Geralt trying to judge what he meant by that. By the small strain of unsure in his voice. “Griffins and their mates?”

Griffins mate for life. Geralt had told him once. Probably more than once if he was being honest.

He remembered how words had spilled out around short panicked breaths earlier. Mate. Cub. Ours. Mine.

Geralt knew he’d bound them together. He’d let him bind them together again. Geralt had taken his lute from Oxenfurt and he’d been devastated when Ciri had played it and he’d realized it’d not been Jaskier. Had remade the nest in his saddlebag for him.

Geralt had let him kiss him. After the Griffin, after the wolves. Let him hold his hand while they slept so they wouldn’t drift apart even though they were on solid land and allowed him to cuddle into his chest or side or neck every night they spent together for over two decades now.

He owed Geralt that didn’t he? Honesty. About what he had done and what he had chosen. What Geralt had agreed to without knowing what he’d agreed to.

About how Griffins did mate for life. And it seemed that Jaskiers did too.

His mate wanted him but that didn’t mean Geralt wanted to be his mate.

But he deserved to know that he was. That he always would be. Always be Geralts.

He nodded.

“Good.” There was gentle pressure in the space between his ear and his eye and Geralt pulled back and his lips moved again. “Good.”

Good? It was good? His mate wanted him and it was good?

It was good.

“You’ll wake Ciri.” Geralt shushed. He noticed the wiggles and intense tail wag that had begun to shake his body. He tried to clamp down on it. On the physical reaction to the swelling of joy in his chest.

He didn’t want to wake their cub.

I love you – don’t wake the cub – I love you – don’t wake the cub – I love you both so much. Don’t wake the cub.

“Go to sleep Jaskier.” Geralt’s hand ran down his spine. Safe. Loved. The white wolf is your destiny. Ciri sung in her sleep.

He closed his eyes and the next moment all he knew was peaceful slumber.

Chapter Text

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 nodded.

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.

You’d better.

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.

Days?

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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

Geralt shrugged.

“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.”

“What?”

“A little lark with a broken wing, clutching a lute like its life depended on it.”

“This lute?”

“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?”

He nodded.

“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.

Chapter Text

“Alright. Bags unpacked. Roach settled. Dinner made and eaten. Ciri in bed. And now the bath’s ready.” Geralt turned to where he lounged on the bed. “You’ve managed to avoid doing any work today, lazy cat.”

He stood and stretched his back up into the air and moved to the edge bumping into Geralt’s hands who just stood there. Being grumpy.

He picked up the purring and insistent head-butting until Geralt’s hands relaxed from their tight fists, tickling at his neck.

“Before the water cools?” Geralt plead, kneeling next to the bed so he could nuzzle his face. Using the scruff of his chin to work free some loose fur. “Please.”

He rubbed their stubble together. Fingers kneading Geralt’s loose tunic.

“I didn’t,” His tongue tripped around the sounds as it remembered how to form words. Geralt sighed into him. Leaning in. Wrapping his arms around his waist. “Mean to wait so long.”

Geralt hummed burying his nose in the crook of his shoulder. Squeezing him closer.

“I was just really tired at first and then,” He paused, enjoying the press of Geralt’s lips to his neck. “I shifted into the wolf for Ciri because she was so upset and scared and I wanted her to trust me. And I. Pulled something?”

“I felt it.” Geralt’s hand slipped under his shirt. Running up his spine before settling on the expansion of his ribs. “I thought you were dying. It hurt.”

“I’m sorry.” He hadn’t meant to hurt him too. He didn’t mention the way whatever he’d done still ached. It was only after a few shifts or near the end of the day now. It was fine. There were better things to complain about. Things that wouldn't make Geralt sad or worried needlessly. “And then she almost trusted me and I didn’t want to ruin it by looking like this.”

The hand that wasn’t exploring the expanse of his back brushed though his hair and snagged on a matt, proving his point.

“I missed you.” Geralt whispered, only loud enough to hear because his nose was tucked into the curve of his ear. “You’re so much more annoying this way.”

He shoved Geralt back. “Alright then. Let’s use that water before it gets cold shall we? Since you clearly have no more interest in cuddling me.”

“I didn’t say-“

“Oh no you made that perfectly clear. So much more annoying hmm?” He shoved off him and began stripping on the way to the tub. “My most annoying form if I remember your words correctly.” He glanced back at Geralt as he slipped from his trousers. Still sitting on the bed.

He looked much too concerned about this.

He smiled reassuringly, “How quickly you forget the ferret,” And jumped in the bath.

He groaned spreading out in the Witcher sized bath. Letting the heat seep the weariness from his bones.

He let his head roll to the side watching Geralt as he sat on the bed. Watching him.

“Come now Geralt. I’ve kept your hair from turning into a matted mess all these years, you could attempt to salvage mine.”

Geralt grumbled but obligingly took a brush and began the arduous task of attempting to salvage his hair. He scrubbed the new and old dirt and grime from his form. Working clean the dirt under his nails and cutting them to a playable length.

“Will you tell me what happened?” Geralt shoved him under and started on a new clump.

“You should really know better than to just request a story in general. I’ll start recounting that incident in Novigrad. I do so like that story. The doppler posing as my lover. The brave witcher coming to my rescue-“

“The griffin.” Geralt interrupted. “You’ve never been a.” He paused.

“A monster before?”

Geralt hummed.

“I met a mage who was somehow even less pleasant than Yennefer and well.” He stretched his arms wide, dripping on the floor. “Griffin.”

He ignored the frown Geralt was burying into the back of his head. He was tired of sad stories. Violent stories. He didn't want to tell it. Didn't know how to weave it into something beautiful. Not yet. “I need to cut this one out.”

“Fine.” His mouth was full of blood and his hair was unsalvageable. “It’s just hair.”

He waited for Geralt to move away to grab his knife or the razor. It was fine. It was just hair. It was just hair.

Geralt’s arms wrapped around his chest and tucked his head into his neck. “It’ll grow back.”

“Of course it will.” He leaned his head back into Geralt’s shoulder ignoring the beads of bathwater that escaped his eyes or the soft tightness of his own voice. “It’s just hair.”

It wasn’t fucking important.

It wasn’t.

“I didn’t recognize you, you know? Not even a little. And then- then you said that thing about my mate being- being dead and I. I remembered. That you weren’t. You just didn’t want me. And that was so much worse.” He fought to swallow around the lump in his throat. “Cause you wouldn’t even meet me on the other side.”

“You believe in the other side now?”

“No. But it was a comforting thought until it wasn’t.”

Geralt hummed into his neck. “Rather met you on this side.”

A pained smile found its way onto his face and he rested his cheek against Geralt’s crown. “Thank you for not killing me.”

“Thank you for not hating me.”

“Oh I do. Just the normal amount though.”

“So long as it’s only the normal amount then.”

They stayed there. His fingers pruning in the water. Geralt breathing in the junction of his neck and let the water cool around him.

“Are you really okay with it?” Geralt hm’d his confusion. “Being my mate.”

Geralt raised his head. Drawing back. “You deserve better than this life.”

“A life better than the one I want?” His head drooped over the lip of the bath to watch Geralt.

“You need higher expectations.”

He turned around, kneeling in the tub, and took Geralt’s face in his hands. “That goes double for you. I am right where I want to be.” Golden eyes watched him. “The question is, are you?”

He waited as Geralt considered his answer. Stared into his eyes and tried not to think about what he’d do if Geralt said no.

“I can never tell how much of how you act is your shapes instincts and how much is you.” Geralt’s hand came up to hold his jaw. “Do you even want that? Or is it just the griffin talking?”

“Geralt.” He started.

“Or is this like the wolf were you kiss me because it’s an instinct or the otter where you hold my hand but it doesn’t mean anything once you come back to yourself?”

He leaned into Geralt’s hand on his jaw. Covered it in his own. “Geralt it’s always me. And maybe if I were human I wouldn’t do those things but the feelings that inspire those actions. They don’t change. Just how I express them does.”

He turned his face into Geralt’s hand and kissed it.

“I don’t know how griffins show their love beyond being overly possessive of their mate’s saddlebags,” Geralt snorted. “And I will apologize to Eskel in the morning for that. But Geralt believe me when I say that there is not a shape or form of mine that does not love you because they are all me.”

He moved his face from Geralt’s palm and leaned forward. Catching Geralt’s scraggly chin with the crook of his finger. Pulling him close. Until their breaths mingled. The way Roach did when she said I love you.

“And there is not a part of Jaskier that does not love you.”

Geralt’s eyes flickered over him. Weighed him. With those eyes that always saw too much. Had seen too much.

“Even the ferret?”

He laughed. Threw his head back and shook with it.

“Especially the ferret.” He promised, pressing their foreheads together.

“Then.” Geralt angled his head and pressed their lips together for a moment that was its own eternity and was still far too short. “I am where I want to be.”

“Good.” He smiled, big and crooked and entirely too honest. "Good."

“Well.” Geralt smiled in a way that made him bristle in anticipated irritation. “I’d rather be in the bath.”

He winked. “There’s plenty of room.”

“Not like this there isn’t and I’m not sharing a bath with any of your other forms again.”

“It was cheaper!”

“It was a mess!”

Geralt threw a towel at him.

He grumbled but exited. Feet freezing against the terrible cold of the floor. He leaped into the bed of blankets and burrowed into their warmth.

Geralt shoved him into a sitting position near the edge of the bed.

“I thought you were taking a bath.”

“Have to finish your hair first.” He heard Geralt unsheathe a knife. “Or you’ll just stress about it all night.”

“I somehow doubt the hack job your about to do is going to cause me less stress.”

“No.” Geralt agreed. “But it will be over.”

And with that the first clump came free. The tightness leaving his scalp where the matt had pulled the skin taunt.

It was just hair.

He sat very still and avoided the small dusty mirror on the far wall.

It was just hair.

Geralt ran his hands through it. Shaking the loose remains free.

“Done.”

He nodded.

He didn’t want to look.

It was just hair.

He crawled across the bed and stumbled over the tangle to blankets made at his feet to the mirror.

He wasn’t bald. So that was something.

But the uneven cuts poorly hid the sections Geralt had shorn to the scalp.

It was just hair.

“By spring no one will be able to tell.” Geralt reassured. Squeezing his bicep as he approached.

“Right.”

It was just hair.

He wasn’t going to cry over hair.

The world was at war. There was no point in being upset over hair.

“I think,” He braced for meaningless platitude Geralt would offer. “Your lute is out of tune.”

He laughed in a way that was definitely not a sob and broke eye contact with the man in the mirror.

Geralt set the lute in his lap.

He strummed it.

They both grimaced.

“This is going to take hours to fix. Care of Oxenfurt Geralt! Cause they know how to properly take care of a lute!”

Geralt ignored him and heated the bath with a quick sign before stripping.

He enjoyed the view until Geralt slipped under the water before beginning the terrible task before him.

“This is going to take hours.”

Geralt waved his hand again and fresh steam rolled off the water. “Got nowhere to be.”

Lutes were arduous instruments to tune.

He’d missed it.

The stings found their notes and his fingers found the strings and the song found him.

Distantly he watched Geralt climb out of the bath and dress in nightclothes. Distantly the bed next to him creaked as Geralt settled in.

But presently his fingers, lacking their calluses, ached against the strings and his voice echoed off the stone walls. His chest filled with it and when he could stand it no longer, his feet hit the cold floor and he danced.

He’d missed this. Singing. Dancing. Playing.

He missed it so much.

He spun and his damp hair stuck to his face as he finished the set. He beamed at Geralt, barely lit in faint orange darkness. Beautiful and alive and wanting him. His chest heaved as he caught his breath.

His eyes flicked over to the small shape that had joined Geralt in bed. Her platinum hair flickering orange with candle light.

He swallowed.

He opened his mouth but had no words for her.

He didn’t know where to start.

His fingers ached against the strings.

He wondered if she’d ever heard the songs he’d written for her.

He plucked one from his memory and played it.

Knelt at the side of her bed as it drew to a close and watched her with a timid smile.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t everything. It wasn’t convincing.

A man with raggedy hair, dressed in Geralt’s clothing that did not fit as nicely as they had the year before, and a song she might not even recognize.

He would not blame her for not trusting him. He would not let that hurt hurt her.

He won Geralt over one day at time. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year.

He would do the same for her. If he had to.

Her hand reached out. Thumb just under his eye as she angled his face.

“They’re still blue.” She said quietly.

“They always are.” Geralt told her. His eyes flickered back to him.

“Are they?” He asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“Never thought to mention it.”

His eyes drew back to Ciri. To her silent study of him.

He couldn’t bow while she held him so he settled for a smile. “I am Jaskier. The white wolf’s bard.” He told her as he set his lute aside. “And it is an honor to meet you Princess.”

His butt collided with the cold stone as his arms were filled with his cub. To her hands clasping at his shirt and her face buried in his shoulder.

After a moment he wrapped her in his arms and held her until the shaking stopped. Lifted her into bed.

Protect. Care for. Love. The magic begged him.

I will. I do. Always. He promised.

Geralt rolled onto his side and pulled the blankets over them.

“Can I stay? Just tonight.”

“Of course.” He promised. “Of course you can stay.”

You can stay forever. For that is how long I will love you cub. He sang back to her magic with the strings of Geralt’s chaos.

“Not every night.” Geralt rumbled and he prepared to hiss at him yes every night. As often as she needs. “But we’ll be here if you need us.”

Always. He agreed. “Always.”

They both snorted at him in the same way. His heart warmed.

He put a hand to his heart. “Always.” He insisted as theatrically as he could.

“You’re ridiculous. Is he always this ridiculous?”

“Always.” Geralt agreed.

He squawked in protest and within minutes they were asleep.

Chapter Text

“So. You’re a shapeshifter huh?” Eskel asked taking a drink from his water skin. Leaning performativity casual against the stone. The mangled side of his face hidden from view.

“Yep.” He tugged the wool cap over his ears to cover against the biting cold of the courtyard. Ciri’s power sung out in frustration as she repeated the training drills over and over again. As she had been for days.

Hopefully they’d call a break soon or he would have to before she bubbled over.

His skin prickled with discomfort. Eskel hummed so quietly he’d only noticed it when Lambert had taken Ciri out hunting and they’d run into each other in the library. The tiny thrum of his magic.

“Bloody well glad for it too. I’ve no idea how you all stand winters up here as people.” He tucked his glove under the sleeve of his jacket before returning them to their spot under his armpits. “Half tempted to spend the winter as a polar bear so I don’t freeze to death.”

“You could. Lambert would be very jealous.”

“Ah but I’ve seen your very impressive bear skin rug and I’d hate to give you any ideas.”

“I wouldn’t-“

“I know.” He bumped their shoulders together. “I’m messing with you.”

A few beats pasted before Eskel burst out with a forced ease, “Lambert caught a buck last year and Geralt wouldn’t let us eat it because it looked too much like you apparently.” Eskel’s nerves made him want to fidget. But it was really far too cold to move his hands from their warm spot.

“You did eat it though right? Because otherwise that’s a huge waste.” He smiled crookedly, watching him from the corner of his eye.

“Course. He didn’t talk to us for a week.”

“And you noticed?” Eskel smirked back at him. Easily in spite of his discomfort. He smiled so easily. Eskel's amusement tickling his skin.

“It took a few days.”

Ciri’s frustration grew several decibels and he pushed off the wall. “You are far too attractive for any of our good.” He told him before he leapt from the staircase they’d rested against, soaring the space between them.

He cawed out his approach as she swung at the training dummy and-

Suddenly he was flying in the other direction.

He shifted before he smashed into the ground and rolled with the force of her shock wave.

“Ow.” He protested when he finally came to a stop in a snowbank.

After one too many moments of silence he looked up. To all the wolves gapping at Ciri and her frozen in place. Training sword held in place where the dummy had once been, now it's straw was scattered across the yard.

“I’m fine thank you for asking.” He called out. Unsticking them all as they looked to him. “Just got thrown across the courtyard. Totally fine. No need to worry about the poor bard.”

“Jaskier?” She turned, far too much concern in her eyes.

“No I am actually fine.” He assured standing and brushing snow off. Tugging the cap down to insure it stayed in place. He frowned. “Better than fine actually.” His skin was warm and his ache that had settled into his bones disappeared without a trace. The bruises he felt should have been forming didn’t. “No harm done. But I do think it’s time for a break yes?”

They nodded. “Early lunch.” Eskel agreed. As they stalked down into the hall.

They set the table as the witchers finished the meal prep and he curled up on the arm of Ciri’s chair and began finger brushing her hair so he could braid it.

“You’re not scared?” She asked as he worked free a knot.

“Of what? Cause I’m scared of a lot of things- spiders. Frogs. Wasps. Cages. A string breaking while I preform at competition-“

“Me.”

His heart broke for her and he continued his work without pause. “No. Don’t see the point in that.”

“You’re afraid of frogs but you don’t see the point in being scared of someone who threw you across the courtyard?”

“Someone has never tried to eat a frog before and nearly died from the hallucinogenic affects I see. It was not a pleasant afternoon and I feel completely justified.” He ran his fingers through her hair once more to check before starting his braid. “You accidentally threw me across the courtyard, which Geralt has also done and most of them weren’t accidents, and I feel better than I have in years so no. I’m definitely not.”

She was quiet as he worked so he hummed a song to fill the space.

“You’re really not hurt?”

“Really not hurt.” He promised. “Haven’t felt this alive since- oh.”

“Oh?”

“Since your mother tossed the entire banquet hall away to protect your father.”

She spun her head to him and he barely managed to hold onto the braid. “You were there?”

“Front row to the whole debacle. Would you like to hear about it?”

She nodded as they heard the other’s voices down the hall. They both glanced to the door. Unable to not listen.

“Wasn’t just some sign shit Geralt- that was fucking magic. Real chaos. We don’t know shit about real magic! You can’t expect us to-“

“I know you think human hearing is terrible but it’s not that terrible boys!” He called out to them finishing the braid. “How about I tell you that story after dinner? Hm?”

She nodded. He kissed her crown and he watched her sit up. Regally. Preparing for the conversation ahead.

“Ah to suffer another meal with the witcher’s terrible table manners.” He sighed as they dropped the food on the table. “The things we must bare.”

She shot him a small smile.

“How come you didn’t tell us she had magic!” Lambert snapped at- at him?

He blinked at him. “What?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be able to tell shit like that- why didn’t you tell us!”

“Huh?” He glanced at the others at the table. Irritation or concern or confusion on their faces as they studied him. Including Geralt’s. Which was the real shocker. He looked between Geralt and Ciri; who appeared just as flummoxed by the situation as he was, as he gapped.

When it became clear that no one else was going to answer his very obvious question he forced the words out in a voice that was, perhaps, slightly higher than intended. “I thought you knew.” He told Geralt with a wave of his arms.

“How would I know?”

The incredulity in Geralt’s voice was just insulting frankly. He waved between them. Noises floundering out of him. “I- what- its- what.” He forced himself to take a deep breath. “What other blatantly obvious things am I supposed to tell you now? The sky is blue. The keep is made of stone. Ciri has magic. I thought you knew!”

Geralt sighed into his hands. Lambert speared a hunk of lunch.

“Can you tell how strong she is?” Vesemir asked pragmatically as he grabbed his own food. “If we can train her-“

“Oh you definitely can’t.” They glared at him. “What? The only one here with anything even approaching magic is Eskel and no offense but you’re nowhere near her level.”

Eskel sat up a little straighter in his seat as he devoured his lunch.

“Who is?” Geralt asked. “Near her level.”

He leaned back in his chair and thought about it. He didn’t grab any food. He wasn’t hungry and probably wouldn’t be until the magic wore off.

He’d eaten as a griffin though. His mouth tasted like blood- but he hadn’t needed to had he? He’d just wanted to. Wanted to eat and sleep and kill.

Show me what you are.

“Jaskier?” He jolted and looked over at Ciri.

“Ah. Well. You know Yennefer?” Geralt shot him a dirty look. “Just checking, you’ve had issues with amnesia before! Anyway.” He continued with a wave of his hand. “If Yennefer is lightning then Ciri is the sun.”

They all stopped. Actually that bread didn’t look half bad. He ripped a chunk off and chewed on it.

“So.” He mouthed around the bread. “She’s going to need an actual teacher.”

“Could you do it?” She asked.

“No.” He laughed around the bread crumbs. “I am magic. That doesn’t mean I can do magic.”

“Marigold?” Lambert suggested. Triss- he supplied after a moment.

“Sure.” He agreed. “After Yennefer turns us down.”

The room dropped several degrees as he chewed.

“Why would we ask Yennefer first?” Eskel growled.

Geralt sighed. “Because if we don’t she’ll never let the slight go.”

“Is” Ciri hesitated, taking in the faces around the room. “She that bad?”

He wobbled his head. “Well.” He drew out the word. Thinking of all the times she’d treated him like nothing- like less than nothing. Like something that had once had great value but was now irrevocably broken.

And then he thought of the other mage. So much weaker and yet able to dominate him completely.

How Yennefer had never done that. Had never wanted that. Even though it would have been so easy.

And then he thought of Ciri and how much she needed Yennefer. How her chaos swelled and terrified her. How Yennefer was lighting in a bottle and might be the only one who could teach her to control the sun.

And then. Then he followed the djinn’s magic in Geralt’s chest to the lightning in her veins. To the longing in her chest.

She wanted something real.

“No.” He said at last. “We all just took Geralt in the breakup.” He grinned easily.

There were several snorts and Geralt glared fiercely at him.

“You.” Ciri glanced between him and Geralt. Trying to judge the situation. “Dated her?”

“That’s a word for it.” Lambert grinned nastily into his ale. “I’d call it-“

Geralt smacked him.

“Why’d they break up- I hear you asking.”

“She didn’t!” Geralt growled.

“But she would given the opportunity.” He smirked as Lambert shoved him in retaliation. Distracting him. “And the answer is Geralt makes terrible life choices.”

She softly laughed and he counted it amongst his greatest victories.

 

“What can you shift into?” Vesemir asked, pointedly not looking up from his book, where they all gathered around the fire before bed. A storm howled outside. He suspected if not for the warmth of Ciri’s magic he’d be frozen from the draft alone. The impressive amount of furs Lambert was wrapped in strengthened his conclusion. He adjusted the cap over his ears anyway. “Geralt’s only mentioned beasts before but when you meet back up he said you were a griffin.”

Geralt tensed against his back and Ciri glanced back at him from where she was propped against his legs. He turned the page, even though he hadn’t finished reading it, to show how nonplussed he was by the question.

Over the years he’d only ever explained what he could do, what it meant, his limitations perhaps a handful of times. There were so few people in the world he’d trust with this.

His life he trusted to a great many friends. But this. This was his freedom.

“Suppose I’ve never felt like a griffin before.” He didn’t intend to feel like one ever again. “Or had the magic needed to follow through on such an impulse.”

“So if you had the magic,” Vesemir glanced at Ciri, “And felt like it you could be anything?”

“Well I think you’re underestimating the importance of feeling like it but I suppose that’s the general stroke of it.”

“Have you been a bed? A chair? That’d be real helpful I bet. Hide in a broom closet and just. Be a broom til the mob passes.”

“Have you ever really felt like an inanimate object Lambert?” He shrugged. “Shifting into a mouse usually accomplishes the same goal anyway.”

“If you shifted into the monsters in the bestiary Ciri could safely apply the skills she learns on how to identify and best the different creatures.” Vesemir stated.

Ah. Now he knew why Vesemir had brought this up when Geralt had clearly told them not to, based on the way they’d all danced around their questions since he’d arrived. Well. Except Lambert, but he'd only arrived a few days passed.

“The day I turn into a necrophage is the day I die. Seen more than enough of their innards over the years to know that’s never going to be in the cards thank you very much.”

“Alright no necrophages. But anything you could shift into we could add a far more detailed description of to the bestiary. Updated drawings. Behavioral notes-“ Eskel seemed remarkably enthused about the idea.

He thought about how empty the library was. Figured there was probably a reason for that.

“He’s not a party trick.” Geralt snapped, very valiantly.

“No, no it’s fine.” They all looked so excited by the prospect. Ciri’s eyes were gleaming. He itched under the cap. Hats were really not his look. But it was better than his hair. “Requests? I make no promises about being able to do it but I can certainly try.”

“Jaskier.” Geralt warned.

“I’ve got energy to burn after this morning.” He reassured waving his hand in Geralt’s face behind him. “Which you should know given the bonfire you made when you used igni to light the fireplace.”

“That was cause of you?”

“Pretty sure.” He nodded to Eskel. “Requests? Or shall I go back to my book?”

“A unicorn?” Ciri asked.

Simple enough in theory but, “They’re extinct.” A sad truth Geralt had confirmed years ago. “I’d rather not be the last of my kind.”

Are you the last unclaimed familiar? There are so few of you in this world. The mage had said. Had he ever met any? Where their thousands of people like him who hid in small mage-less towns or wild unkempt forests. Who didn’t shift and stayed safe in a single form their whole lives?

Maybe there were countless people like him and he’d just never recognized them- how would he recognize them? Maybe there were loads of them and he just didn’t know where to look.

Or maybe he was one of the last. One of the last whose mind wasn’t held under chaotic waters to drown until he forgot everything he was.

Maybe he was one of the last.

Then where had they gone? There were days long past where every sorcerer, mage and druid had a familiar. Someone like him.

He’d never met any who did. Not that he'd met many.

“You could do the griffin again. Since we know you can shift into that.” Eskel suggested.

Geralt’s arm squeezed at his bicep. Like he suspected what a bad idea that was.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to see the form that hadn’t recognized him even a little.

“You could always try a dragon.” Geralt teased before leaning in and whispering right into his ear. “You don’t have to. We can just leave.”

The sparkle in Ciri’s eye grew.

“The only issue there- since I now know they’re real- is that I’ve never seen a living one. That egg does not count!”

“Borch wasn’t dead?”

“What?” He snapped around blazing fury. “Borch was a dragon?”

“You. Missed that part?”

“I am now Extra mad you didn’t wake me up. I could have seen a living dragon? You ass!”

“Not my fault you slept in!”

“Do you want to play the blame game about that day- because I definitely think missing seeing a living dragon is one of the lesser issues I could choose to be angry about.” He collapsed into Geralt’s lap and glared up at him. “Hm? Hmmmm?”

Geralt looked away but nodded.

“Glad we agree. Alrighty let’s see what I can do.” He climbed off the back of the couch. He was irritated and wanted to impress his cub. His mate’s family. That would help. Probably.

He shifted up into a bear. Because it was easier to feel big when one was big.

Lambert whistled.

What had he grabbed onto to become a griffin anyway?

He’d been caged. He was cold. He was alone and unwanted but not powerless.

He wasn’t powerless now. He could protect-

His mouth was full of blood.

The form snapped under him. Dropping him down until his heart raced and his incisors grated against each other and his ears were tight against his back and-

“Jaskier?” Geralt’s hand reached down to hold him and he shifted up to meet it. Tail wagging slowly even as his ears stayed folded back. “That’s enough.”

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t enough.

They liked his songs well enough but that was all he had. He wasn’t pretty or handsome with his terrible hair shoved into an ugly winter toque and Geralt's ill fitting clothing and he wasn’t strong or helpful or a good cook. He couldn’t teach Ciri magic. Couldn’t hunt them more food even as he ate theirs.

No wonder your mate’s dead.

No wonder your mate didn’t want you.

Maybe she’ll make a better travel companion then.

They’d asked one thing of him and he couldn’t even do it.

It was easy to be a form he loved.

He didn’t love the griffin.

He didn’t love what it had done. Even if it had saved him.

He was scooped into strong arms and there was a dismissal of “Bedtime,” and he tried to swallow the sounds escaping his throat. Tried to stop the way his paws shifted to claws shifted to wings.

He couldn’t even do this. Couldn’t even be something useful.

Sure he could be a horse and carry them when Roach got tired. Could scout as a raven or pull buckthorn from a river without risk of drowning. But all the wolves and all the cats and Witchers knew he wasn’t useful. He didn’t want to be.

And when he wanted to be he couldn’t.

“Jaskier.” Geralt repeated under the blankets in their bed. “Talk to me.”

There was a request there- what shape do you want me to be- I’ll stay that way forever if it means you’ll keep me. Please.

“Thank you. Can you tell me what’s wrong? You haven’t done,” He grit his teeth as he pulled him in closer to his chest. “That in a long time.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s not.” Geralt squeezed the back of his neck. Tension leached from him. Geralt nuzzled at the toque pushing it up with his nose.

He grabbed it. Pulling it down firmly. “Don’t.”

“Jaskier.” He plead.

He curled tighter in on himself and pulled the hat over his eyes. “Just couldn’t find a form that fit. Hope you got me out of there before it got too repulsive- although maybe Ciri will appreciate knowing she’s not the only one who can’t control her magic right? Gotta find the little victories.”

“Jaskier what’s this really about?”

“Nothing.”

Geralt grumbled his frustration.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t about anything.

It was about how maybe he was the last of his people- his family- and it was about how his form wasn’t what he needed it to be and it was about the things he’d done that he couldn’t remember and didn’t want to and the blood in his mouth and it wasn’t about any of that.

He was scared and frustrated and alone and not good enough and-

“Is Jaskier okay?” Ciri called from the crack in the door.

He shifted out of the bed to her despite Geralt’s protests.

“I’m alright.” He leaned against the door frame. “I’m sorry for scaring you- I know its very upsetting looking when I shift like that.” He didn't know but the way Geralt paled after an attack like that was proof enough.

“Was that because I asked you to shift? Or because of this morning?”

“No.” He crooned. “No. I-“ He paused. Took her hands in his. “It was like this morning. You got frustrated and your magic responded. My shifting responds to my emotions too so when I got overwhelmed that happened. But it doesn’t hurt.” The emotions that caused it hurt. But the shifting didn’t at least. “Promise I’m okay.”

She watched him sternly.

“Fine.” He rolled his eyes and rolled back on his heels. Sweeping a hand in front of his face dramatically. “I’m very worried Yennefer responds quickly to our message because she always looks immaculate and I am really not a hat person.”

“Really?” Her lips curved upward just a twitch.

“Ciri dear I am wearing Geralt’s clothing! I haven’t worn a color in months. Months!” He slid down the door frame and pressed a hand to his forehead. “I’m dying. Melitele forbid Yennefer see me like this. My reputation will be ruined. Ruined!”

Ciri huffed out a laugh. “Oh no. How terrible.”

“It is! I could hear the sarcasm in your tone but I am ignoring it for the sake of our friendship!” Geralt picked him up and threw him over his shoulder. “The audacity! The horror!” He continued to lament as they bid good night.

Geralt dumped him in the bed. “Gonna tell me what it was actually about now?”

“I am genuinely concerned about meeting Yennefer looking like this.” Geralt scowled down at him. “Would you feel confident and prepared if you had to face a monster without your armor?”

“Yennefer isn’t a monster.”

“You’re missing the point. I like how I look. I know it’s just hair and I know it’s just clothing but I don’t look like me. I don’t feel like me. I’m wandering the woods without armor and even when I’m not being attacked it’s still scary because I know how easy it would be to bleed me out.”

Geralt considered that and slowly sat down next to him. “Okay. I don’t know how to fix that.”

“Time will fix it. I’ll visit a proper barber and my tailor in the spring and all will be well again.” He knew that. He did. It just didn't make it easier.

He nodded. Tilted his head and looked at his face. Then dragged his gaze lower to the way his body did and didn’t fill out Geralt’s clothing. “I like how you look.”

“Sure you do.”

Geralt pushed him back in the bed. Leaning over him. “I do.” A hand came up to his head and pushed under the hat. He tensed but Geralt made no move to pull it off. “You’re not a hat person. I don’t mind that your hair’s not perfect cause it’s still soft and smells like you.”

His other hand and down the fabric of his shirt. “I like you in my clothing because it makes you smell like me. Like you’re mine. Even if it’s not what you’d normally wear.”

He hummed. “You want to show me just how much you like it?”

“I do.” He laced his fingers behind Geralt’s neck and tried to pull him down for a kiss. He didn’t move. “Was that really all that was?”

He closed his eyes. “No. But I don’t really want to get into all of it tonight.”

“Okay.” He said. But didn’t move closer.

He sighed. “What do you think it was? What’s worrying you?”

“You’re still angry about the mountain.”

“Hm. I did apparently miss a chance to see a living dragon so.”

“Mhm.”

He grabbed Geralt and rolled him to his side. “Geralt you’re a terrible liar. And if you hadn’t meant what you’d said, at least a little I’d never have believed you.”

“I was trying to break the bond. I thought I forced you into this life Jaskier.”

“Just like you forced Yennefer?”

He flinched.

“If you’d asked I’d have told you. That I was the one that bound you. That I hadn’t meant to do it and didn’t know what I was doing when I did but that I didn’t regret the time I spent with you. But you did. You regretted our time together.”

His gold eyes squeezed closed. He took several steadying breaths. His thumb stroking a strand of hair that had escaped the hat. “Not everything’s about you Jaskier.”

He frowned but resisted the urge to squawk about how it definitely seemed like it was about him.

“I was hurting from Yennefer and scared I had trapped you and terrified for the child of surprise I’d cursed just like you two. And I’m still terrified Jaskier. I don’t know how to be a father.”

“I’m not sure anyone does. I mean how many kids has Vesemir raised? And I’d be real surprised if he thought he knew how to do it proper.”

“Lambert’s good at keeping him humble.”

“That he is. It’s going to be okay. You’re not doing this alone.” He took Geralt’s face in his hands and traced the grain of his stubble. “Besides. I bet Yennefer’s going to roll up and out-parent both of us so hard that I can safely retire to my true calling of fun uncle.”

“Lambert’s teaching her how to make bombs. I think he’s got that position claimed.”

“Ah well I’ll figure out something.”

“Sure you will.” He smirked.

He propped himself up over Geralt, shoving him onto his back. “Alright I really need to kiss that damn look off your face. We good?”

Geralt smiled and pulled him down into a kiss. “We’re good.”

 

He walked the wall while the others trained in the courtyard. They couldn’t really expect him to work by himself.

They’d asked him if he wanted to join. Or less asked and more told him to when they'd arrived.

He thought he’d sent a fairly clear message when he flipped them the bird before becoming an actual bird and flying away. Spent the afternoon gathering dirt on all of them. Their horses were just so eager to share.

He’d spent a lot of time and energy not learning how to fight and he wasn’t going to change now just because he was living with witchers.

In a big crumbling keep.

It kind of looked like a fortress. A castle. Like something out of a storybook.

They did already have a princess.

How hard would it be to have a dragon?

He fluttered over a broken section of wall.

His keep shouldn’t have broken sections of wall. How was he supposed to keep his hoard safe?

Cause dragons had hoards. And were fiercely protective of them. He assumed.

What would he hoard? Instruments maybe. Admirers. Books.

Laughter roared in the courtyard. He looked down at them. At his family.

His.

Care for. Love. Protect.

He leapt between the stone’s crenellations.

What else made dragons dragons?

Old. Wise. Powerful.

Well there had to young stupid dragons. He could fill that niche. At least he was powerful. He had the sun warming his bones.

Prideful.

They were beautiful.

He wasn’t right now.

But he could be. He could be whatever he wanted.

The edge of the crenellation crumbled under his feet and he began tumbling down the steep walls to the cliffs below.

“What else can he turn into? Can he turn into a shrieker? A unicorn? A dragon?”

He spread his wings and twisted into the sky.

Freedom. It felt like freedom.

He loved to shift.

He loved this form.

He circled his home. His nest. His hoard, gathered in the courtyard as he landed.

“Fucking hell.”

He settled on the steps into the courtyard and tucked his chin over the edge to watch them back.

“That one’s new.” Geralt told them unhelpfully.

Rude. He huffed at Geralt. All hot air. The snow that had collected on his armor and hair melted.

“You’re a dragon!” Ciri marveled as she slowly reached out to touch him. Her small hand roving over the scales of his face. He rumbled his approval.

“Show off.” He smacked Geralt with the tip of his tail without looking away from Ciri.

“You’re so fucking warm!” Lambert was plastered over his flank. “I’m stealing your bard for the rest of the winter.”

“No you’re not.”

“It’s too damn cold in the keep. He’s mine now. Jaskier you’re mine now. I claim dibs.”

He’s got dibs Geralt. Guess I’m his now.

“That is not how this works.”

“It definitely is.” He’s right. It definitely is.

Geralt turned and started to walk away. He hauled him back by the scruff of his shirt.

Eskel leaned against him. “Not that I’ve seen a lot of dragons but-“

Creative liberties.

“Not going to be terribly educational then.” Vesemir sighed pretending not to be leaning into his warmth as much as he was.

I’m very educational. I’ve taught her what a red dragon might look like.

“Ciri this isn’t what red dragons look like.”

“It’s what a red dragon looks like.” He nuzzled her in approval.

It’s what your red dragon looks like. He pointed out.

“I suppose it is.” Lambert and Eskel made retching noises at Geralt. "What our red dragon looks like."

Ours. His chest broke out in a mighty purr. His hoard.

His family.

Chapter Text

“Sooooooooooo.” He drew out the word in the hopes that by the end of it he’d have a conversation.

“I didn’t ask you to come.” Lambert snapped at him.

“I know. But fishing is way more fun than stone repair. Besides I haven’t gone swimming in a while and it’s starting to eat at me.”

“It’s the middle of fucking winter.” They both pulled their jackets a little tighter around them.

“Some of my forms are insulated enough that its not actually a problem thankfully.”

“Which one’s the best? That way I know which one to skin you for.”

“You didn’t skin me that first night, you’re not going to skin me now. Especially since I’m the warmest person in the keep.”

“Right now you look colder than me.”

That was true. He was cold. That dragon form ate through his – well Ciri’s- magic like a pack of starving witchers. He wasn’t sure that he felt colder than he did before but it certainly seemed like it.

“How much further to the damn lake?”

“She’s getting close.”

Ciri was ahead of them. Well out of hearing range for him and probably her but not Lambert. He suspected at least. But he could still hear the melody of her song. Cautious. Eager. Excited.

The snow crunched under their feet and he finally thought of a conversation. “I haven’t actually met that many other witchers.” Lambert snorted. “Is your friend from a different school or did they just not want to come back for winter?”

Lambert stopped and growled at him. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

He took a step back. Lambert took a step forward.

“The night you arrived? When you almost skinned me? You remember that right?”

He’d been camped outside Ciri’s door. She was having nightmares. He could hear it in her song. But they said he was being overprotective- Overbearing even- going to her every time she had a nightmare. So he was camped outside her door. Her white wolf ready to wake her if they became intense enough she’d bring the keep down around them.

Then Lambert had arrived.

Covered in snow from the dangerous trek up the path and exhausted and swinging.

“The fuck did a wolf get in here!”

He shifted out of the way of the blade at the last moment before jumping into human. “Geralt’s bard! I’m Geralt’s bard! Please don’t kill me!”

His stance eased but he didn’t put the sword away.

“That’s not Geralt’s room.”

“No- no you’re right. That’s Ciri’s room. His- Geralt’s child of surprise.”

“Oh I bet Eskel loved that.” He slowly eased the sword back into its sheath. “And you’re sleeping outside it because?” He didn’t let go of the blade.

“She has nightmares.” And he didn’t want her to bring the keep down around them if they got out of hand. “Why would Eskel have a problem with it?”

“That’s weird. None of your fucking business shifter.” He stalked off. The scent of him still tickling at his nose.

A smell that had changed the next time he’d smelled Lambert.

“You smelled different. Like another Witcher. Which I thought was just you but you don’t smell like that normally and not for nothing but you witchers all have a rather distinctive smell.” Like death and destiny. Heartache and heroics. Also onion. It was rather distinctive. “So I didn’t think your friend was human.”

Lambert shoved him into a tree. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

He blinked. “Alright then?”

“Don’t fucking mention him again shifter. Got it?”

“So it’s a him!” He chirped. “Promise not to mention him ever again!”

Lambert shoved him. Turned sharply and stalked off.

“So he’s not a wolf witcher then?”

“What did I just fucking say.”

“How’d you met? Was it on a hunt? Do you work together? They say two can live as cheaply as one which I haven’t found to be entirely true but that might just be since Geralt can’t live off bird seed so.”

A knife was pressed to his throat. “Don’t. Fucking. Mention him again.”

“Alright. I just thought you might want to talk about your friend.”

“I don’t.”

“I’d just be very sad if I couldn’t talk about Geralt all winter. So I thought-“

“You thought wrong.”

“Okay.” Lambert eased off and with one more glare hurried toward the lake.

He followed quick at his heels. Lambert shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.

“His name’s Aiden.”

“A lovely name.”

“Fuck off.”

“Lambert the lake’s frozen!” She called out when they arrived. “I thought we were fishing!”

“We are.” He passed her a bomb and lit it. “Better throw that quick.”

She did and he pulled her behind him as Lambert shielded them with quen when the ice shattered.

“Well that’s certainly quicker than drilling a hole.”

He grinned. “I think so.”

They huddled next to the hole. Lambert directing Ciri how to set the bait.

He stared at the water. His skin itched.

He dove in.

Above he heard them yelling mutedly. He swan through the water. A fish darted past him.

He chased it.

Chased it up and up and up and-

Right past the hole.

He popped his head out. Chirping his annoyance.

They stared at him blankly. He grabbed the net and pulled it into the water. Lambert grabbed the handle before it slipped under, cursing his confusion.

He dipped back under. Chasing a fish right into the net.

After a few attempts of course.

“That works.” Lambert said pulling the squirming fish out of the water.

He chirped his approval and caught them a few more.

Then he got bored.

He dredged the bottom of the pond, carefully avoiding the sharps that occasionally lined the muck.

And then he found it.

The perfect stone.

He pulled it from the muck. Speared his way from the depths. Scampered onto the shore.

Held it up for their inspection as he chittered its praise to them. Explaining exactly what made this stone perfect.

It’s the smoothness you see. And the color. The color and the shape and the size. Yes see this is the perfect stone. You must agree. I mean. Look at it!

They both stared at him. Heads cocked.

“Do. You want us to throw it?” Lambert asked. Face scrunched in uncertainty. “Geralt mentioned throwing sticks. Is that like this?”

He held it closer to his chest. NO. HOW DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST SUCH A THING. THROW MY PERFECT STONE! HOW DARE YOU!

He raised his hands in surrender.

“It’s? Very nice?” Ciri suggested.

He nodded. Turned it over in his paws. It was very nice. The shape the color the-

A small patch had dried and it was. Rather less impressive.

He set it down and dove back in.

This next one. This one was actually perfect. Yes. This one was.

But the shape was.

He dove back in.

Again.

Again.

Again.

Ag- “Jaskier we should head back soon.”

Her hand stopped him from jumping back in. He looked up at her. Her cloak had a light dusting of snow. When had it started snowing?

Couldn’t let the pup get cold. He stepped away and shook dry as Lambert readied their haul for transport.

“Are you going to carry all those back?” He asked, motioning to the. Well rather sizeable pile of stones.

He shifted. Pulling the cloak tighter around him as the leftover moisture froze against his skin. “No I suppose not. Sometimes my instincts just get the better of me.”

“Otters collect rocks?” Lambert cast the stones a disparaging look.

“No. Its. It’s about finding the perfect clam breaking stone. Not. Not that I have any real idea what that would look like.”

His teeth were starting to chatter. Probably not a good idea to stay in this form much longer.

“You’re just trying to find the perfect stone?”

“More or less.” He agreed with her.

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Felt,” Feels. He internally corrected. “Important.”

She frowned before digging through the pile herself. Selecting one.

“Here!” She dropped it in his hand. “The perfect stone!”

He looked at it. The small oblong shape of it. The mottle in its color. The way it fit in his hand.

“You’re right. It’s perfect.”

 

He paced the length of Geralt’s room. Flipping the stone in his hand. Waiting.

He didn’t know why he was waiting. He’d taken Ciri to bed. Left the witchers to their family time. Because he was tired after nearly freezing on the trip back from the lake.

Yennefer had agreed to come. She’d be here soon.

The thought didn’t fill him with dread.

He paced the length of the room. Flipping the stone in his hand. Waiting.

He really wasn’t quite sure what he was doing. What he planned on accomplishing. What instinct he was feeding.

He went over to the mirror. Pulled off the cap.

It was filling out quicker than he’d expected. It still wasn’t good. But the sheered sections seemed to have grown quicker while Ciri’s magic had warmed his chest.

His ears were cold though so he put it back on. Adjusted it until it looked perfect.

And then after too long had to give up and settle for nice.

He paced the length of their room. Flipping the stone in his hand. Waiting.

The fire was lit. The bed was made. He straightened the pillows anyway. Then he felt very silly because he’d never much cared for made beds. Preferred them ruffled and nested and smelling like them.

Which this bed did. Unlike all the beds at the inns. This one was theirs. Smelled like theirs. When he was in a form that could actually distinguish such things anyway.

The perfect stone. He didn’t know why that was so important. Why he’d scoured the lake looking for one. Why even hours later that instinct still rooted itself so firmly in his mind.

Yennefer was coming. He really didn’t think it would be a problem.

But his mate had loved her once. Or. Or something. She’d been something to him once.

Which was fine. She’d been something to him too. He didn’t know what she was now.

She probably didn’t either.

He looked at the perfectly made bed and hated it. Jumped on it. Shoving pillows and blankets and furs every which way.

“Jaskier?” He shoved the blankets around. It wasn’t right. Something about it wasn’t right. “Jaskier.”

He looked up to Geralt’s face. Grabbed his hand and pulled him into the bed.

That was better.

He rearranged the bed.

“One of my instincts is going haywire and I don’t know why. Just. Indulged me?”

Geralt took a pillow and laid down on his side. Watching him. “Lambert said you pulled up half the lake today.”

“It felt important.” He readjusted one of the blankets. Fixing a wrinkle he didn’t like.

“Is this an otter thing?”

“I don’t know!” He threw up his hands. “I’m not an otter and I’m not a dragon and I’m not a wolf and I’m not human and I don’t know how to be any of them!” He yanked on the awful cap with both hands. Stone still pressed into his palm.

“A Jaskier thing then.” He didn’t turn around to look at him. Still kneeling in the bed. “What’s upsetting you?”

He looked at the bed. Felt the stone in his palm. “This beds just ours right?” He let go of the cap. Rolling the stone in his fingers. “Even when Yennefer arrives?” The words started and they didn’t stop. “Because you agreed to be mates and I know you didn’t really know what you were agreeing to just like how you didn’t know what you agreed to when you bonded with me and I’d really like to know before Yennefer arrives if I’m going to need a different room because I can’t. Griffins mate for life and I can’t. I can’t-“

Geralt pulled him down into his arms. “This bed is just ours. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“I’m nervous about Yennefer too.”

“You should be.”

“Hm.”

He turned the stone in his hands. Turned over in the bed so he was facing Geralt.

“Got you something.” Geralt hm’d his interest. “The perfect stone.” He said opening his palm for Geralt’s inspection.

“The perfect clam cracking stone?”

“I don’t actually know what that would look like. I’m not a very good otter.”

“It’s very nice Jaskier.”

“I found a bunch of stones and then Ciri picked this one out. So it’s perfect.”

“Mmhmm.”

“Do you want it?”

His face twitched. “It’s your stone.”

He looked at it. His gut was twisting anxiously for some reason. “Do you want it?”

“Jaskier what are you really asking?” Geralt was studying him. He wasn’t sure either. “Is. Is this how otters propose?”

“I don’t know. I’m not really an otter.” He looked at it. Turned it in his hand. “If it was would you take it?”

Geralt took his hand and guided it, guided the stone to his lips. “Yes. I would.”

“Oh.” He watched Geralt press his lips to the stone. His breath warm on his hand. “Do I need to ask Vesemir before?”

“Why would you need to ask Vesemir?” His face curling in amusement.

“For his permission to marry you? And I suppose I’d need to ask Ciri too. It’s only fair.”

Geralt leaned forward and kissed his brow. “You can ask them in the morning. Why don’t you ask me now?”

He bit his lip. “Well maybe you need to ask. I’m the viscount. Maybe I need to be properly courted.”

“You’re a viscount?”

“Well I was. At one point.”

“Do I need to court you?”

“I suppose that depends.”

“On what?”

“Your answer.”

Geralt smiled. “Maybe you should ask the question.”

“Geralt?”

“Hm?”

“Will you marry me?”

He took the stone between his fingers. “Gladly.”

And he knew he had a life ahead of him in Gentle loving hands.