Jaskier decides, on the first day they arrive at the Keep, that he absolutely loves Kaer Morhen. It's a bit rundown, and it's a bit messy in some places, but for the first time, he sees Geralt truly relax. He has seen his Witcher relaxing before, when he is bathing and Jaskier is rubbing chamomile onto his aching muscles, and sometimes Jaskier will wake up in the middle of the night and find Geralt sleeping still, and there will be a softness on his face that make Jaskier's heart yearn. Still, it’s different to see it into the daylight this way.
They have not passed the gate of Kaer Morhen that a man rushes to Geralt and lifts him up in his arms, squeezing him and shouting.
"Brother! You are finally here!"
The man is tall, leaner than Geralt too, but there are clear, well defined muscles on him. A long scar runs down his face, and Jaskier sees the same wolf insignia around his neck that Geralt always wear. Another Witcher then, and from the cursory description Geralt has given him, Lambert.
"Put me down, you asshole," Geralt grunts, but there is laughter in his voice and he squeezes back Lambert.
"Very well," Lambert lets go of Geralt abruptly and laughs when the white haired Witcher almost falls down. "Growing old?"
"Not enough to not beat your ass," Geralt grins and launches himself at his brother.
Soon enough, the two are wrestling on the ground, laughing and calling each other names. Jaskier has the odd feeling of being back with his various cousin as they brawled at gatherings, causing loud, distressed noises from their parents.
"Ignore the two pups," a voice say next to him, and he startled slightly, his hand clutching the dagger at his belt that Geralt gifted him a few months back. "They have no manners whatsoever. You would think they were raised in a barn."
The man speaking is much older, hair grey around his temples, but his eyes shine with a bright intelligence. Vesemir then, Jaskier asserts, and he is about to extend a hand to the man when the witcher claps him on the shoulder.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” he says with a smile in his voice. “We’ve heard more than our fair share about you.”
Jaskier’s guts sink in his stomach. Of course they have. Geralt probably complains about him, and why as he even invited him to the home of the Wolves if he doesn’t want him to hang around?
“And the boys have been asking to meet the bard who has made life for all the witchers easier. I’m Vesemir.”
The old man smiles benevolently at Jaskier, and something lighter fills the bard, something like hope and joy. He looks at Geralt and Lambert, still on the floor and laughing, and he smiles softly.
“Are they always like this?” He follows Vesemir to the stable, holding Roach’s bridle.
“Unfortunately,” Vesemir says and shakes his head, but there is a fond look on his face. “I seem to have raised a pack of savage animals.”
“You raised wolves, love,” a man steps out, holding in his arms a small goat, and Jaskier resists the urge to coo. “And you’re as bad as them.”
“Ellis,” Vesemir smiles again, fondness overwhelming him. “Is the herd safe in the barn?”
“Of course it is,” Ellis shakes his head and comes to kiss Vesemir lightly before turning to Jaskier. “Ah, you must be Jaskier, Geralt’s bard! I’m Ellis. I married this one and got three sons in prime.”
The man is well built, skin shades darker than his husband, and his brown eyes are full of life and malice. Jaskier can’t help but smile back, feeling more at ease now as he shakes the man’s hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” he replies politely, feeling like a child in front of those two men who are, quite clearly, Geralt’s fathers. “I would say Geralt has talked about you, but he is quite stingy with the details of his hunting, so you can imagine that he is even more so when it comes to his personal life.”
“I told you about Ellis,” Geralt grunts from the stable’s entrance.
He is half covered in mud, but there is still a smile on his face, and Jaskier basks in that. He is, hopelessly and helplessly, in love with his witcher, and he has resolved himself to knowing that it will never be a shared feeling. He and Geralt are friends, and that’s the best that can be said. Someday, Geralt doesn’t even admit that. It’s alright though, Jaskier knows that deep down, the man appreciates his company. After all, he wouldn’t have invited Jaskier to Kaer Morhen if he didn’t.
It had surprised Jaskier when he had, in truth, but it had also overjoyed him. He had been complaining about spending the winter at Oxenfurt, where he knew Valdo Marx would be spending his winter as well, and he had also received no formal invite to go perform for any royal court. Of course, he could have gone to any and be welcomed, he was famed enough, but he wanted to be desired, to be asked to perform. Jaskier has always been weak for attention.
“Come to Kaer Morhen,” Geralt had cut in while he was complaining. “Plenty of space for you there.”
“You would put up with me for a whole winter?” He had smiled, an eyebrow rising as he picked at his food. “Wouldn’t you be annoyed by my constant singing?”
“Better that for a winter than to hear you complain about Marx all next year.” Geralt had shrugged.
The fact that the witcher had so casually acknowledged the fact that they would be travelling together again the following year had warmed Jaskier more than the campfire they sat around.
“Alright,” he had said with a smile. “I’ll come to meet the Wolves of Kaer Morhen. I’m sure I’ll find plenty of inspiration there.”
“You alright, son?” Vesemir looks at him with a knowing smile.
Geralt has taken Roach back from him and he is removing the packs straddled to the saddle. Jaskier’s face feels flush and he looks away. He knows he is too transparent, that his feelings are easily readable on his face. It’s one of the few issues he has with his godly blood. A child of Love can’t lie, and that extends to so much more than just his words. His songs are the only place where he can twist reality, and he finds a refuge in it.
“Sorry,” he sighs slightly and smiles. “Got lost in memories. I’m sorry I didn’t remember that Geralt mentioned you two, but it’s truly a pleasure to meet you.”
Ellis laughs, warm and human, and Jaskier relaxes a bit. “It’s alright. I know the boy, he can be tough to get details out of.”
“What are you saying, old man?” Geralt smiles and comes to hug Ellis, before hugging Vesemir. “I would never be ashamed of you. We love having you around.”
“Alright, don’t go make my husband cry,” Vesemir grumbles fondly, and he takes Jaskier by the shoulders. “Come on boy, come meet the rest of the family.”
Jaskier is floored, to say the least. He could go into more synonyms, if he really tried. Amazed, surprised, shocked, in absolute disbelief… He had never thought he would see Geralt this happy and relaxed. He can hear the witcher laughing as they walk through the courtyard. It’s a bit of an out of body experience for Jaskier, if he is completely honest with himself. He half wonders if he isn’t hallucinating, or under an enchantment.
When he had accepted to come to Kaer Morhen, he had thought that winter would be a quiet, almost mournful, season. But no. It seems amongst themselves, witchers are loud, boisterous bunch. They are rowdy and they talk loudly, and clearly, they love each other with a fierce pride. It makes Jaskier happy to see Geralt so relaxed, so content and happy. He almost would send a thanks to the gods for having made it so that he would complain to Geralt and be invited here, but he knows his mother would be too smug about it. Cursed be the Goddess of Love and her nosiness.
“You are far more quiet than we’ve been led to believe,” Vesemir says as they enter the inside of the Keep. “Is there something bothering you?”
“No, absolutely not,” Jaskier smiles. “I was just… I admit, I hadn’t been expecting this. Geralt isn’t quite as … expressive, when we travel together.”
“Yeah, I bet he behaves like he has a stick up his ass,” Lambert says as he passes them by, mud covering his clothing. “All that “witchers don’t feel” talk, isn’t it? I’m Lambert, and you must be the little songbird we have heard so much about.”
“Little songbird?” Jaskier repeats, almost squeaks out. “My name is Jaskier!”
“Oh, we know. But you’re a bard, aren’t you? Songbird it is.”
Jaskier splutters but Geralt pats his shoulder lightly. There is a sympathetic smile on his face, and his eyes look soft and tender. If he didn’t know better, Jaskier would say that he looks loving. But he knows better, knows that Geralt is only his friend, and that there is very little chance of anything more. So he doesn’t dare hope.
“You’ll get used to it.” Geralt smiles. “They call everyone nicknames.”
“Like you call your father ‘old man’?” Jaskier teases.
“Just like that.”
Again, that warmth Jaskier doesn’t want to think about is radiating from Geralt. It wouldn’t take much for Jaskier to reach out, hold onto his friend and read his feelings, but the bard would never betray his witcher's trust this way. Geralt might not know of Jaskier’s heritage, but Jaskier knows that even if he did, Jaskier would never do so without asking.
The keep is warm, although a bit run down. Jaskier can feel the love and safety that erupt from the walls, but he can also feel the suffering and the pain. He winces as they pass in front of a door and echoes of long gone scream reach him. He wants to curse himself to forget all of his, to lose the feelings. Memories overwhelm him, and he clutches the wall, trying to not suffocate and drown in the suffering of others.
Pain, unbearable pain, and young mind losing themselves, screams that fill the halls of stone. It all comes to him, burying deep in his skin and hurting him, tearing apart at his skin, making his heart bleed. Harsh hands hold down a body that is not his own, and something is forced down a throat that is not his, but feels like it is. Shouts of pain are ripped away from his lungs, and he tries not to let himself be overwhelmed, but it’s too late.
“Hey, hey, little one.” The voice is soft, tender like a parent’s, and he finds himself slowly coming back to his body. “It’s alright, you are safe, okay? You are safe.”
Two gentle eyes draw him back to the present, and he realizes that he has torn a bit of the wall, his fingers reaching into it and blood slowly trickling down his wrist and staining his sleeves. How has he not felt the pain of torn nails, of skin breaking? He is still half human.
It isn’t the first time he wonders if it is the time the godly part of him will be taking over him entirely. He fears the day he will be only god, no longer human. He has felt the pull of his powers, the call of his mother and her gentle cradling against her chest in the middle of the night. Who will he be, when Jaskier is gone completely, and the silent god within him is awake again?
“Little one, are you here?” It’s Ellis’ voice, Ellis’ eyes, Ellis looking at him gently.
The man’s brown eyes help him fall back into a proper breathing pattern. Ellis is gentle, fatherly as he guides Jaskier away from the wall. The feelings fall away as they move away from the door, but Jaskier can still feel them, humming and waiting to be brought back. What has happened here? How many souls were tortured? Why ?
His eyes fall on Geralt, who is being held back by Lambert. Jaskier’s mind fumbles, catches, tethers. He tries to understand what he is feeling, why there is suddenly a sadness and rage growing within his chest. He understands half a second later, when he feels another wave of nausea overcome him, and he is forced to sit down on the cold stone.
What he is experiencing through memories of people long gone are the witcher trials. The souls of young boys haunt the corridors, beg for mercy as they are mutilated and torn open to fill them with mutagens, make them more than human. The son of Love wants to rage too. Children torn apart, children being made to endure pain more excruciating than anything else in the world…
“Little one, focus on me.” Ellis’ hands are gentle as they settle on his own, and Jaskier breathes slightly, startled. “You are panicking. Spiralling out of control. Can you try to focus on me?”
Jaskier nods shakily, and he lets his eyes focus on Ellis, on his sun kissed skin, on the way he is more human than humanity itself is, somedays. Jaskier hasn’t lived long, but it has been long enough to hurt him. He has seen the way people have treated Geralt, when he is always looking to help them.
It takes a few long minutes for Jaskier to be completely back in control of himself. He feels a deep exhaustion settle in his body, and he tries not to close his eyes. He still has so many people to meet, the rest of Geralt’s family and…
A goat climbs into his lap. It’s small and light, and when it bleats, it’s louder than he had been expecting. It startles a giggle out of him and he pets its head.
“Looks like Lil’ Bleater likes you,” Ellis says in a gentle tone again. “How are you feeling, little one?”
“I’m not that little,” Jaskier says, voice rough and tired from what he just went through. It feels as if he had been the one screaming, and his sore throat only reflects that. “I’m well. Thank you.”
“Can I have a look at your hand now?”
Jaskier looks down at his left hand. The only traces left of the injuries he inflicted on himself accidentally are small white scars around his nails, and the dried blood that sticks to his skin and sleeves.
“I’m fine,” he shows his hand to the man. “All good again.”
“Quite interesting,” Ellis whispers under his breath. “Geralt hadn’t mentioned you weren’t human.”
“I am. Partly, at least.” Jaskier looks at Geralt and shrugs slightly. “Sorry.”
The white haired witcher shakes his head. “Nothing to apologize for.”
A small smile appears on Jaskier’s face and he feels warmer. Still, tiredness is overcoming him, and he yawns. On his lap, the goat — had Ellis called it Lil’ Bleater? — bleats, almost imitating Jaskier’s expression.
“Let’s get you to your room,” Vesemir says, reappearing in front of Jaskier and helping him to his feet. “You should probably rest a bit before you do anything else.”
“I’m alright,” he tries to protest, but his legs betray him as he stumbles and almost falls forward.
He is held back by two different pairs of hands. Geralt has moved from a few feet away to immediately in front of him, holding him by the shoulders almost delicately. Vesemir has caught him by the waist. There is a silent exchange between the two witchers, and Geralt lifts Jaskier up in his arms gently.
“Geralt will take you to your room,” Vesemir says, and he reaches over, brushing Jaskier’s hair out of his eyes. “You sorely need it.”
The gesture doesn’t startle Jaskier, but rather, the fondness of the tone with which it has been said. He doesn’t quite understand why both Ellis and Vesemir have seemingly decided to care for him, when they have just met him. He hasn’t really proven himself worth of any affection yet and-
“Stop thinking so much, Jaskier.” Geralt’s grumble is as much heard as felt for Jaskier. “You’ll hurt yourself even more if you do.”
With how tightly pressed against Geralt he is, every movement and words that are spoken by the witcher resonate through Jaskier as well. It’s a pleasing sensation, and Jaskier has half a thought that this must be how it is to be loved by Geralt; tender touches and a warmth that never leaves. Jaskier bites his lips and puts his head against Geralt’s pectoral, too weak to resist the urge. He can always pretend to be exhausted, if anyone asks him anything.
“I’m not hurt,” he protests quietly, and feels Geralt snort. “It’s true! I’m not hurt. You saw my hand, it’s all healed up and-“
“I don’t know what caused this reaction within you,” Geralt says, the hand holding him under his knees tightening its grip ever so slightly. “But I can see that you’re distraught. I brought you here so you could have a restful winter, not so that you can be hurt by ghosts of your past.”
“Not my past,” Jaskier whispers softly. “Your past, rather.”
Geralt frowns as he opens a door slowly, shifting his grip ever so slightly so that he can use his right hand to turn the knob. “What do you mean?”
“I’m more sensible to emotions and memories, and… well a bunch of other things, but I don’t really want to explain everything right now. The most important thing is that, when we passed in front of the room where some of the trials took place, I felt all the memories and the suffering. That’s why I reacted this way. I was… overwhelmed, to say the least.”
He is gently deposed on a comfortable bed. The room is larger than he had thought it would be, and a warm light streams in from a large window. There is a roaring fire and the scent of comforting, familiar essential oils is potent in the air, in a way that makes him feel more at home than anywhere else before.
“Did you send word ahead that I would be here?” He questions, looking around as he notices a large desk with a few notebooks. “It seems rather comfortable and less pragmatic than I would have imagined.”
“I did,” Geralt answers his answer, and puts him under the covers. “And I think you would be surprised at the other rooms, if you’re surprised by this one. It’s really not the biggest, nor the most comfortable. I’m pretty sure Vesemir’s is the most comfortable.”
Jaskier chuckles and nestles in the pile of pillows, his body already missing Geralt’s solid presence, and yet enjoying the softness of everything. It’s surprising, yes, but he also understands. If this is the only respite from the world witchers have, it feels natural that they would make it homey and comfortable. It isn’t a luxurious room, but rather one that would suit anyone.
“What about yours?” Jaskier bites his tongue, regretting the question as soon as he asks it, and yet continues. “Must be quite big, to accommodate all that muscle.”
It’s not flirting, Jaskier reminds himself, if he his intentions haven’t been made clear. And if Geralt isn’t going to ask questions and look into why Jaskier’s eyes trail over him, why the bard hasn’t left his side ever since they met (except during previous winters), then it won’t be Jaskier who will say something.
He is happy with his little secret. He is a child of Love, and his own fondness blooms beneath his ribcage. It is a most delicate flower, one that Jaskier has never before really let grow. Before, he had always been careful not to let himself grow fond of anyone, of anything, too much. He had to make sure he would still be able to go on, without love, without his mother’s influence over him.
Geralt, however, is all Jaskier’s, without being his at all. Jaskier knows his mother would rather he love an elf or a human, rather than a witcher. He has heard her say angrily that witchers had removed themselves from her domain without any permission.
“My room is fine,” Geralt chuckles slightly, and tucks Jaskier under his cover. “Come on, rest up now. I’ll come and get you for dinner.”
“Thank you,” Jaskier murmurs, his eyes heavy again with sleep.
“Never a problem.” Geralt’s whisper is so quiet, and Jaskier is already half asleep, that he almost misses it.
He vaguely feels something warm against his forehead as he falls into sleep completely.
“You are smitten.”
Lambert is in the main common area, resting on a low couch and playing with one of his knives, making sure the edge of it is sharp. He hasn’t looked up at Geralt when his brother reentered the room, and Geralt scowls at his words.
“I am not.”
“Bullshit,” Lambert laughs as he finally looks at him. “You are so in love it’s fucking ridiculous. How do you even stand yourself?”
“Remind me, when’s Aiden arriving?”
It’s Lambert’s turn to scowl, and Geralt is deeply satisfied by the reaction he gets. He settles on a chair, looking around.
“Where are Ves and Ellis?”
“Ves went to see what we can make for dinner, Ellis brought Lil’ Bleater back to the barn.”
“Did the little demon course you yet?” Geralt grins. “That goat hates you.”
“She hates you too,” Lambert points out before putting his knife back in the sheath. “And no, not yet. Eskel’s been making sure she is well behaved.”
“Fuck, if that works, you’ll never get a decent training all winter.” Geralt smirks at his brother again. “What else will get you out of bed if not the threat of being thrown to the goats?”
“Fuck off, Geralt.”
They continue talking, exchanging barbs and details about their year interchangeably. It’s almost a ritual, at this point, and Geralt has to admit he would miss it, if he were to come home and not have Lambert annoy him half to death. He doesn’t want to think of a scenario in which that happens.
They have finally fallen quiet again, and Geralt is enjoying just existing in his home, when Lambert clears his throat. The other witcher looks slightly uncomfortable, tugging at the collar of his shirt and not meeting Geralt’s eyes.
“You know, it’s fine that you love the bard, right? No one gives a fuck if you two are together or whatever.”
So it is emotional honesty that makes Lambert so uncomfortable; Geralt should have guessed. His younger brother has always had an aversion to being open about his feelings and talking things through. He would much rather yell and break his voice than calmly explain that he has been hurt by whatever someone has said.
Though, since Ellis arrived in their lives, a short fifteen years ago, Lambert has started opening up again. Mostly, he seeks comfort with Aiden, but he can sometimes be found in the barn, working quietly under Ellis’ direction. It would be strange, but Geralt knows his brother. This is good for him, the quiet contemplation of having to focus all of his mind on the task at hand, because Ellis and the goats are depending on him.
Lambert has always needed something to do with his hands. He has always been in movement, even when they were children. Geralt remembers training sessions when Lambert, waiting for a turn that seemed never to arrive, would start fights with anyone who was willing. Geralt himself is a bit ashamed to admit he had let himself be goaded into too many fights.
“I don’t…” Geralt almost lies again. “Don’t tell him. He has better people to be with.”
“Ah, I see. You’re still on that same self-depreciating bullshit. Well, brother,” Lambert stands up and claps him on the shoulder. “You should really stop being such an idiot.”
“What do you mean?” Geralt frowns, watching the youngest Wolf pour himself a cup of wine from the side.
“Just that you are an idiot, and I pity that poor bard for having to deal with you all year.”
Geralt would be offended, but he knows Lambert’s insult is more a commiseration than him looking for a fight. Lambert pours him a goblet of wine as well and extends it to him. Taking a sip, Geralt isn’t surprised to find Vesemir’s favourite wine; sweet and light on the tongue, it rolls off without feeling like much alcohol. It’s later that it will hit them though. They have all learned the lesson of drinking too much of the sweet wine; until then, they hadn’t realized that even witchers could get hung over. It had been swiftly followed by a lesson on exactly why you shouldn’t drink Vesemir’s wine without him being there: doing training with a weapon’s master barking orders at you while you were trying to keep your stomach in its place is nothing pleasant.
“I’m not being an idiot,” he protests, and even to him it sounds weak. “I just want what’s best for him, and that’s not me.”
“I’m pretty sure he is able to decide whatever is best for him. He tore a hole in a wall and healed himself immediately. Your songbird is more than capable of handling himself.”
The reminder of what had happened only a couple of hours ago sends Geralt reeling back to that moment. It had been horrifying, to see Jaskier in so much obvious suffering, and not be able to do anything. Lambert had had to hold him back, so that he would not frighten Jaskier even more in his panic, and the whole of it had sent him nearly spiralling down as well.
“He’s not mine,” Geralt sighs. “And why do you keep calling him that?”
“He’s a bard, and he flutters around you like a bird. So, songbird.”
“That’s… fucking ridiculous.”
Lambert shrugs and downs his wine. “Maybe, but it’s better than calling him “bard” all the time.”
“You could call him by his name,” Geralt says to the retreating form of his brother as he leaves the room without adding anything.
Geralt finds himself alone in his home now, the quiet of it almost lulling him to sleep. This is the only place he has ever considered home, the only space he has ever felt comfortable being weaponless in. It’s strange, he thinks as he lets his eyes drift on the ceiling. The stone is perfidy as ever there, no erosion from time. Unlike the inhabitants of the Keep, the walls have only suffered minor damages.
The ghosts of his past. That’s what Jaskier had said he had felt, the pain of the witchers, of the children, who had died in those walls. It sometimes slips Geralt’s mind, how horrific all of they went through is. The trials, being cut and forced to drink potions, being sent into the wilderness… It’s all memories, horrors of the past they don’t mention when they are together. Geralt could blame Vesemir for endorsing that, but well. He has done awful things as well, and he had let his mentors and his fellow witchers impose the trials on many other children. He is as guilty in the suffering and death of boys as Vesemir is.
He blinks, his vision suddenly blurring, and he realizes with surprise that he is crying. There are tears running down his cheeks as he sits up properly. A great sorrow sits on his chest, eating away at him, and while he doesn’t let his emotions run free often, he allows himself this one moment of weakness. He has never let himself properly feel the grief of going through the trials. He has never thought about the friends he lost, the childhood that was robbed from him.
Is it Jaskier’s influence, his inhuman touch, that makes Geralt so much weaker suddenly? Or is it simply that, for the first time in his life, he is subjected to someone who had never understood the cruel scope of the trials, someone who had never experienced it, who has felt centuries worth of children’s screams and pain?
Making a mental note to never take Jaskier by the left wing of the Keep, Geralt allows the tears to run down his cheeks. He doesn’t want to wipe them. They make him feel more human than he has in a long time. Instead, he sips his wine, lets the alcohol slowly take hold of him. He allows himself to cry and feel the sadness of the years.
“Here, son,” Ellis’ hand settles on his shoulder, extending him a cup filled with water. “It will help more than the wine will. And you might get less of a talking to from your father.”
“What about you?” He looks up at the man he considers like a second father and smiles through the tears still running down. “Will I get a talking to from you?”
“Ah, my boy,” Ellis smiles warmly and sits next to him, drawing him against him for a short embrace. “You know I could never hold anything against you. You and your brothers are the lights of my life. I’m blessed that Vesemir crashed in my field twenty years ago. How could I have guessed that it would lead to having the best family a man could wish for?”
Geralt sniffles, feeling like a child as he wraps his arms around Ellis. “We love you too. You are… I don’t know. You brought life back to the Keep, and you made it a real home for all of us. Seeing you and Vesemir, even with how sappy you two are… it’s nice. You two deserve that happiness and you deserve… you deserve each other.”
Ellis chuckles tenderly and wraps both arms around him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Thank you, Geralt.”
They stay like this for a few minutes, and Geralt allows himself to be treated like a child, to be coddled and hugged. It feels nice, for once, to be the one being held.
Jaskier walks through the scene like he always does, when his mother summons him. His dreams are her favourite time to see him; she can conjure up whatever his heart desire, and she gets to see him, to advise him and listen to him talk about his life on the Continent.
Lyla has offered more than once to bring him into her home, so that he could lead a life free of any pain, free of the perils of a mortal life. Each time, he has refused. A hundred and fifty years ago, it had been his father’s influence, filling his brain with hatred for his godly heritage. The next time, he had been in love, or so he had thought, and he had not wanted to leave the woman he had thought he would marry. He had almost begged his mother to invite him again when his beloved had laughed at him for proposing and had left with the man her father had chosen for her.
She hasn’t asked since he met Geralt. He half thinks that she is angry with him for traveling with a witcher, but he knows better than that. She is not the petty kind. More than once, she has let him know exactly what she thought of his adventures with the witcher, of the way he endangers himself, risking exposure, only for the sake of a man who has sworn off feelings.
Today, she is sitting in the middle of a meadow, flowers of all kind and all colours slowly dancing in the wind. Her dark skin shines in the moonlight, and her silver eyes are beautiful, full of a tenderness he has never felt equalled on the mortal realm. Her long hair is unbraided, for once, and she is brushing it gently as she looks at him.
“How kind of you to visit me, Jaskier,” the Goddess of Love murmurs, but her voice resonates though him and fills him with joy. “I half thought you would refuse my request.”
“I would never, mother. You know I love coming to see you and talking with you.” He comes closer to her, and their height difference becomes even more obvious than it had been when he had been at the entrance of the meadow. “Are you well?”
Jaskier is tall, but Lyla is taller. She is bigger than the world it seems, her head as big as Jaskier’s torso, and she smiles at how much he has to look up to meet her eyes when he is close. She draws him in her arms and hugs her tightly, and he feels her shrinking slowly as they embrace. She is still taller than him by a good head, but she is more human sized and he smiles at her. She would never do that for anyone else.
“I am quite fine, my dear son. I know that you are not however. Your powers are developing, aren’t they?” She cradles his left hand, and under her touch, the wounds that he had healed reappear. “My poor darling. How did this happen?”
His hands work in her hair as he starts telling her about what he felt entering the Keep. He spares her no details; she would sense it if he tried to hide anything. So he talks. He talks and talks, until his voice is sore all over again, but for a very different reason than before. He tells her about the boys he felt dying, the incisions he felt in his skin and all over himself. He talks about the pain and the suffering that haunts the walls of Kaer Morhen. He talks of the witchers, who breathe and live through pain, only pain, always pain.
He is wet with tears, the beautiful tunic his mother had given his metaphysical body drenched in water. He is godly here, and his body holds the essence of the gods, the essence of one god he has yet to become. When he is here, he feels that god shaking in him, begging to be freed from mortality. But Jaskier is afraid. Jaskier is so afraid of losing himself. So he simply muzzles the god and waits for him to stop its incessant screaming.
“Oh, my child,” Lyla says, and her warmth seeps into Jaskier as she kisses his forehead and hugs him tightly. “How did I not see this? You are so attuned to others, I missed all the signs… My sweet son, do you know who you are?”
He shakes his head, a bit lost at the turn of events. Why now? What has he said, that she suddenly knows who he is? He stays voiceless, waiting for her to tell him. He doesn’t want to form the words that are taking shape at the back of his mind. The god that claws his way out of the golden cage Jaskier had crafted for him.
“You are Jaskier, son of Love, and one day, you will be Jaskier, god of Lost Souls. You will guide them all into your arms, and will love them all. You already do. I should have known, when your Love bloomed for that witcher of yours.”
“Geralt’s not mine,” Jaskier shakes his head. “My friend, maybe, but certainly not anything else and-“
“And you do not wish to get your feelings broken again, I know.” Lyla gently picks a flower and places it in his hand. “But do think, my darling son. What are witchers, if not souls that are lost? You must know that what I think of them… What I thought of them, until now, has been wrong. They did not choose to leave my light. They were made to. And that enrages me. And that makes the god in you shout angrily too. You are the child of Love, and the god of Lost Souls. Do not forget that.”
“Yes, mother,” he says, and feels the slow pull of the mortal world on his body as his mother sends him away. “I love you, mother.”
“And I you, my Jaskier,” she murmurs, her place in the meadow suddenly overshadowing the warm sun. “You are the love of my life, my son. Be careful in your adventures on the Continent.”
When Jaskier blinks awake, he is still holding a golden rose. He places it gently on the table by his bed and smiles softly. His mother has declared herself for the witchers. Perhaps, he is not fully doomed just yet.
Dinner that evening is much less of a tense affair. Jaskier meets the eldest sibling of the Wolves, and he grins at the other man as he watches Eskel banters with Geralt and Lambert. It is quite sweet, to see them acting this way. Jaskier hadn’t realized how little he had seen of Geralt until now. He had seen his witcher under many circumstances: wounded, angry, annoyed, asleep, happy, resting, and so many others moment that fill Jaskier’s mind endlessly. But this? This is different, and Jaskier cannot stop staring.
Geralt’s smile is constant, small but always there. His golden eyes shine with pride and joy at being reunited with his family, and everyone seems to share that good mood. Jaskier stays quiet, watching Geralt tease his brothers and fathers. He doesn’t speak much, only giggling when Eskel shouts happily as he sees the small goat that had climbed on Jaskier’s lap earlier. At the same time as he does so, Jaskier sees Geralt and Lambert both startle and pull their legs under themselves. Jaskier understands why when, once the goat is back on the ground, it immediately charges with a loud bleat at Geralt’s knees, its horns scratching his pant lightly.
“Lil’ Bleater doesn’t like Geralt and Lambert all that much,” Eskel says in a joking undertone. “They once made the mistake of beating me at training quite roughly, and my girl was watching. Since then, she has been very happy to attack them at any occasion given.”
Jaskier laughs some more. “Goats have long memories then?”
“I don’t know much about goats,” Eskel admits with a shrug. “To be honest, Ellis is the one who gifted her to me a few winters back. Without him, I don’t think she would like me half as much.”
“She didn’t seem to mind me,” Jaskier muses out lout and stifles another giggle as he sees Geralt swear and jump away from his seat, immediately pursued by the goat. “She climbed on my lap earlier. Demanded petting too. Quite adorable, if you want my opinion.”
Eskel chuckles at the sight of his brother running from the small animal. “She does that, sometimes. You are lucky she likes you, she doesn’t like most people. She barely tolerates Vesemir, and I’m pretty sure that’s only because Ellis adores him.”
“Loved by a small, adorable goat? I can live with that.”
“Can you live with being loved by a tall, slightly idiotic witcher? Because I’m pretty sure Geralt would fall over himself just for the chance,” Eskel grins.
Jaskier shakes his head and looks at Geralt, who is now cornered by the bleating goat while everyone else at their table is laughing loudly. The witcher doesn’t look too terrified, but he doesn’t look quite happy as the small goat keeps bleating and starts advancing.
“If it were a possibility,” Jaskier says honestly as he stands up, “trust me that I would not be afraid to seize it. Alas, it was not meant to be.”
Jaskier walks over and lifts Lil’ Bleater in his arms. The goat stops bleating instantly, and settles against him peacefully. He gives her a soft kiss on her head and puts her back on the pillow she had been sleeping on before Eskel had noticed her. She settles back comfortably and, once again, sleeps overcome her features.
She is content, Jaskier can feel it. It’s strange, he thinks. He isn’t faced with a Lost Soul, not even with a humanoid creature, and yet he can feel her emotions. It must really mean that his powers are manifesting more strongly now.
He sits back next to Eskel, who squeezes his shoulder. “Don’t worry, little lark. You have a winter with us to get used to the few non—grunting ways of our dear old Geralt.”
Jaskier chuckles, and doesn’t mention that Geralt is, actually, younger than him by a couple of decades. After all, they have all been careful not to mention the incident of that evening. Jaskier doesn’t particularly talk about it, but when the plates are exchanged for glasses of alcohol, he takes a sip and lets the whiskey burn down his throat.
“I suppose I owe all of you an explanation.” He doesn’t look up at them, twirling his glass in his hand. “I am sorry for the damage I caused to the wall, and will… fix it. In some way.”
“You don’t have to tell us anything,” Geralt is quick to say. “We won’t press you.”
“I know,” Jaskier looks up at the white haired witcher and smiles gently. “I trust you not to. But it doesn’t change that this is your home, and I… I want to be honest with you. All of you.”
“You are part of the family, little lark,” Eskel says, clapping his shoulder. “You don’t need to tell us things you aren’t comfortable with us knowing.”
Why are they insistent on being so terribly sweet? Jaskier can feel their curiosity, almost like a weight over his shoulders. And yet, despite that insatiable curiosity, there is more respect and understanding than Jaskier understands at first glance. This is the firs time he feels anyone’s emotions as strongly. He wonders if it comes from talking with his mother earlier or if it comes from his developing powers.
Before, he had glimpsed Geralt’s emotions faintly, unless Jaskier had focused on him and made sure that he was alright. It felt a bit like violating Geralt’s privacy to do that already, so he hadn’t wanted to read more into it.
Now, Jaskier can feels the fluctuations of everyone’s emotions in the room, and it’s a little overwhelming. He has found his godly kingdom, after all. He knows who he is, who he will be, who he always was. He understands better the emotions, can see the links between the family members. He loves it. It feels right.
He takes a deep breath and starts talking. Trying to explain about his mother is more complicated than he had thought it would be. How to explain Love, when one is among people who don’t believe in the gods? Jaskier is nothing but stubborn, however, and Ellis is an unexpected support, rebutting his sons when their questions get a little too much.
“So I felt… I felt the death that went on. The souls that… lost themselves in the Trials.” He doesn’t look at them as he says that. How could he? He felt them as well. Their souls split apart, their pain resonating throughout the stone of the keep… It might be the wolves’ home, but Kaer Morhen is also a tomb, full of ghosts who haunt its halls.
“There hasn’t been any Trials since…” Vesemir pauses for a second, trying to recall the memory exactly, but it seems to be a lost battle. “Well, there hasn’t been any since the sacking. At least forty years. You are saying you can still feel them?”
Vesemir isn’t questioning Jaskier’s abilities, it occurs to the demi-god. Rather, he is looking horrified at the idea that there are lost souls in his home, that what he did is still present and haunting him. Jaskier can sense the guilt falling off of him, a stench that permeates the air and makes it thick. He regrets his participation in the Trials, regrets the pain and death he has caused. Jaskier reaches for his hand, and he feels a warmth that he has always associated with his mother before rise in him.
“The past is gone, Vesemir.” Jaskier’s voice is deeper than usually, and something else than him plays with his vocal chords. His mother is speaking through him, using his voice to absolves the eldest witcher of the sins he committed. “You have changed, and so have your sons. The Trials are of the Past. You have let love in your life. Allow it to heal you.”
Just as it had come, the warmth withdraws, and Jaskier lets go of Vesemir’s hand. “Sorry-“
“No need.” Vesemir smiles, and his eyes shine with unshed tears. “Thank you, son. I have no doubt that you will be a wonderful god, when your time comes.”
Jaskier blushes slightly, the compliment making his heart flutter. He has doubts about that, but he can at least trust his mother’s judgement, and Vesemir’s belief. The witcher is the only person older than Jaskier in the room, and for that, Jaskier is willing to trust him.
“Thank you,” he nods and looks at the other witchers, noticing Eskel’s surprised look. But it is Geralt that matters the most to him, Geralt who makes his heart hammer in his chest and who makes him fear for the future. It is Geralt that he loves. It is for Geralt that he fears mortality in a way that he never has before.
His witcher’s eyes are tender, settled on him with such an utter gentleness that Jaskier doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. He had expected Geralt to be horrified, or at least to be angry that Jaskier has hidden this from him. But no. Geralt looks… relieved. As if he had been waiting for whatever secret Jaskier was keeping to come up.
Jaskier’s ears warm up measurably so. Perhaps, Eskel hadn’t been so wrong earlier.
The days pass slowly after that first day. Jaskier is treated like family by all the witchers, but most often he find himself with Ellis in his barn, helping with the goats. The animals’ simple feelings soothe him, help him fall asleep some nights. There are more than one night that he falls asleep in the hay on the upper part of the barn, only to be waken by Geralt’s moving him gently. He never says anything in those moments. It’s a quiet pleasure for him, a peaceful time when he gets Geralt to himself.
The witcher is indeed kept busy throughout the days. With his brothers, he runs around the Keep, fixing what needs to be fixed. Jaskier likes Eskel and Lambert. They are funny and kind, and Lambert softens up when his lover arrives. Aiden is lovely, much more suited to talking than any of the other wolves are. It is with him that Jaskier ends up talking most days.
A thing that he notices is kept going through the days is the nicknames they all give him, save for Geralt. Lambert has taken to call him ‘songbird’, despite Jaskier pointing out that he is older than the witcher; Aiden calls him ‘godling’, which should sound like an insult but is always said with such fondness that Jaskier always end up smiling when he hears it; and Eskel calls him ‘little lark’. He has never really belonged to a human family before, and even if witchers are mutated humans, they still are humans in all the ways that matter.
They are kind and warm, open-hearted and gentle. They take care of each other and love each other fiercely. Ellis might be human, but he has the fierceness of the witchers, and the love of a god. For the first time, Jaskier feels like he has a home, and a family to go with it. When he tells his mother about it, his voice is shy, but hers is loud and booming, full of love and pride as she congratulates him on finding what he has been seeking his whole life.
He is reading in the large library, watching as Eskel, Lambert and Aiden train together, and half heartedly reading about the history of witchers, when Geralt comes to find him. There is a scowl on the handsome man’s face, and his hands are balled tightly into fists. He looks annoyed, and Jaskier frowns a little at that. He had seen Geralt storm out of the training ground, but he hadn’t really understood why. The words they spoke in the yard were muffled by the thick windows and the distance.
“There you are.” Geralt’s scowl is still firmly in place. “I’ve been looking for you all over the keep.”
Jaskier closes his book and looks up at Geralt properly. “Sit with me?”
Hesitation runs through Geralt’s face before he grunts and sits down. Jaskier retracts his leg to allow him to sit down and keeps looking at him, watching for the minuscule changes that indicate what Geralt is feeling. For once though, he can’t see anything. He doesn’t want to reach out into Geralt’s emotions either, would never break his vow to himself that he wouldn’t do this to his friend. Geralt’s frustration pours out of him though, and there is no need to be a god in becoming to sense it.
“What’s bothering you?” He sits up properly, keeping himself facing Geralt’s profile. “I can see that something is troubling you.”
“Are you using your-“
“No! I would never. Not without telling you, or unless I lost control… I just know you Geralt. You are my friend.”
“Is that it? Am I just your friend then?” Geralt looks even further away from Jaskier.
“What else would you be?” Jaskier asks, and hope and confusion make his heart beat irregularly. “Geralt, please talk to me.”
“They all call you something different. Songbird, little lark… I don’t have a nickname for you.”
“You don’t have to call me anything different, Geralt.” He reaches out and takes the hand of the witcher in his own. “I’m glad to be your friend, your bard. I’m fine with being just Jaskier with you.”
“Do you like him?”
The question takes him aback. “Who? You’ve lost me there, darling.”
“Eskel,” Geralt growls his brother’s name, almost like a curse, and it’s the first time Jaskier has felt such an animosity from Geralt towards his family. “You keep… blushing and looking all happy when he calls you that… that ridiculous nickname.”
Geralt’s jaw tightens, and Jaskier knows he guessed right. He gently squeezes the witcher’s hand. “I like him fine, and I’m glad to be his friend. You don’t have to worry about anything happening between him and I, I swear. I wouldn’t date one of your brothers without telling you first. Plus, I’m pretty sure they see me as a brother, rather than as a potential lover.”
Geralt’s jaw is still clenched, as if he is afraid of saying something else.
“Hey, Geralt,” Jaskier forces him gently to look at him, and he caresses his cheek tenderly. It’s a gesture he has never allowed himself before, but now he indulges in the soft skin underneath his fingers. “I promise you, there is nothing between him and I. Is that why you are upset? Because you thought I was with Eskel?”
The yellow eyes that stare back at him are full of intensity, an unknown fire burning in them. It makes Jaskier shiver, and he is withdrawing his hand when Geralt captures it in his own.
“Please,” Geralt almost begs, “Please, stay.”
“I’m not leaving,” Jaskier answers, confusion leaking through his voice. “What makes you think I would leave?”
Geralt doesn’t answer with his words. Rather, he leans forwards and captures Jaskier’s lips in his own, in a desperate kiss. It startles Jaskier; he had known that Geralt had feelings for him, or at least he had suspected it, but he had never thought that Geralt would act on it this way. He is glad for it.
When Geralt withdraws, Jaskier chases his lips, stealing another kiss, and letting himself savour it. His lips tastes like the lemon biscuits Jaskier had baked earlier that morning. They had been intended to be served at dinner, but he has a feeling everyone has snuck downstairs to sneakily get a biscuit. Geralt certainly has.
“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that,” Jaskier murmurs against Geralt’s lips, and when he feels Geralt moving away slightly, he stops him with a light touch on the back of his head. “Don’t you dare. You have some explanations to provide, my darling witcher, and you are not leaving until I have those, and maybe not even then.”
Geralt huffs slightly. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Geralt has noticed all the little names his brothers give to Jaskier. He has noticed Aiden doing the same thing as well. He has let them, kept his mind busy to ignore the way it makes him feel annoyed. After all, Jaskier is his bard, not theirs. He is the one that should be giving him nicknames, not the others.
He is training with Eskel, Lambert, and Aiden, when it all comes to a blow. They have all noticed that Jaskier is watching them train from the library, half focused on a book, half on them. It has led to Geralt’s siblings doing more and more reckless figures, to his annoyance. Why must they be showing off like this? They have got nothing to prove, this is just training.
“Gods damn it, Lambert,” he snaps at his younger brother when the other witcher uses a wall and a well-placed Aard to help Aiden get the upper hand on Geralt, while he himself attacks from the other side. “This is just fucking training, give it a rest, will you?”
Lambert laughs as he backs off, Aiden and him grinning at each other for an instant before he turns back to his brother. “Don’t be such a sore loser, Geralt. Not everyone can be as gifted as I am, white wolf, and I understand that it must be difficult to be in my shadow. Should I go easy on you, so that you may win in front of your songbird?”
Geralt growls and attacks again, more ferocious than before. “Don’t call him that.”
“Why not?” Lambert is smirking. “He likes it. Would you rather I call him ‘little lark’?”
“Now, that wouldn’t be fair,” Eskel says from the side, where he is now watching their duel, Aiden keeping him company. “That’s my nickname for him, not yours! I don’t want to have to find another nickname for him. Though, I guess there is quite the large amount of things I could call him…”
“Both of you stop calling him fucking petnames!” Geralt explodes, dealing a harsh blow that sends Lambert staggering backwards.
“Why not?” Aiden sits up on an empty barrel and grins. “Didn’t you see how he likes it? He doesn’t mind, so why do you?”
“You’re a shitty liar,” Eskel has a smug smile next to Aiden. “You mind, you don’t like that we call your bard nicknames. You don’t like that he likes us.”
“He doesn’t like you,” Geralt growls. He doesn’t know why he is so defensive suddenly, what it is that makes him so angry. He is aware of his own feelings for Jaskier, knows that he has fallen in love irredeemably. But why then, why does he feel this bright rage whenever he hears them call him a sweet name? Why is he so furious whenever he sees Jaskier blushing as Eskel winks and calls him ‘little lark’?
“Sure he does,” Lambert grins, joining with Aiden and Eskel. “He hasn’t said anything against the nicknames since the first day he got here. You’re just jealous!”
There is a second where Geralt is about to snap at them again, and then he stops, sheathing his sword. “I’m not jealous.”
The three others share a look, and then starts laughing, loud guffaws that make them look like buffoons.
“You are,” Lambert says when he has caught his breath. “You are rotten jealous, and you can’t even admit it to yourself.”
“I am not jealous.” He moves forward, coming closer to the three giggling witchers. “I don’t get jealous.”
Eskel laughs louder then. “Sure you don’t! What if I tell you he blushed bright pink when I called him my pretty lark? Lit up his whole face. You’re right in liking him, he sure is pretty.”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Geralt grips him by the collar, but his brother is still smug. “Don’t play with him.”
“I don’t even like fucking like you weirdos,” Eskel laughs. “You remember that, right? Though, I could still date him, but that’s not playing, is it?”
Geralt growls again. “Don’t.”
“Why not? Are you finally going to admit you are jealous?” Eskel’s smug look doesn’t disappear. “You are in love with your bard, and you are so scared he is not going to love you back that you’re jealous of Lambert and Aiden, who are the two most fucking ridiculously in love assholes I’ve ever seen, and me.”
Letting go of his brother and stepping back, Geralt walks away. “This conversation is over.”
“Sure it is,” Lambert shouts to his retreating back. “Be careful not to let your repressed feelings bite your ass!”
“Fuck off,” he snarls, and walks back through the door, back to the warmth of the Keep.
He can’t be jealous of his brothers, can he? He knows that they aren’t interested in Jaskier. He knows that. And yet…
Fuck. He is jealous. He despises himself for it. Jaskier is not a possession, not something to be owned and fought over. If Jaskier has feelings for one of his brothers, then the least he can do is support Jaskier and offer a willing ear. No matter that the very idea of it shatters his heart, Jaskier’s happiness matters more.
He guesses he will have to go find the answer to whether his jealousy has any basis by asking Jaskier personally.
“So what,” Jaskier giggles slightly, holding his witcher in his arms. “You decided that running in here was the proper solution?”
They are sitting in the library’s window nook, Geralt seated between Jaskier’s legs, back to his torso, and there is an undeniable sense of domesticity and comfort. Their bodies have found a place together without them looking for one; they simply fit together, two perfect pieces of puzzle.
“It worked, didn’t it?” Geralt grumbles, but he breathes in Jaskier’s scent, letting it fill his lungs and mind. This is the scent of home, of love and tenderness. This is Jaskier.
“That it did, my love,” Jaskier whispers and kisses his cheek, leaning over his shoulder to do so. “Still, there were more graceful ways of letting me know of your feelings.”
Geralt humphs and pouts slightly, although he would never admit he is doing so. “You have powers, don’t you? You can feel my emotions. No need for words.”
“There is always a need for words, my darling,” Jaskier says and turns his head so they can share a tender kiss. “I like listening to you speaking. I like knowing what you think, hearing what you want to tell me… All of that matters to me. I might have powers that let me feel your emotions, but it doesn’t tell me anything about you.”
There is a moment of silence, and Geralt hums in understanding after a few moments. He takes Jaskier’s hand in his own, playing with the fingers lightly, and Jaskier lets him. He knows that, when his witcher is deep in thought, he likes to tinker with something, allow his body to let out some of the restless energy.
“I didn’t think I could love anyone the way I love you. It’s… Sometimes it’s so much I think it shouldn’t be.” He says the words slowly, afraid of what they could do, but Jaskier only nods, so he continues. “I just… I didn’t realize how much I love you until we got here. When you felt the Trials… I had never been so worried. And then the others were…”
“Calling me sweet nothings?” Jaskier teases gently, bringing Geralt’s hand to his lips and kissing it delicately. “Making me feel at home?”
“I know being jealous was ridiculous, but I just. I’ve never called you anything but Jaskier, and I thought… I thought maybe you would prefer to be with Eskel. He is nicer than I am.”
“I think you’re pretty nice yourself. Don’t compare yourself to your brothers, my love. And if you want to call me something else, I’ve got plenty of suggestions for you.”
“Yeah?” Geralt turns his head, looks at him. “Like what?”
“Well, there is ‘my love’, ‘my heart’, ‘my darling’, and so many others.”
Geralt hums. “My heart. I like that.”
“Then it is settled.” Jaskier smiles and kisses the witcher in his arms again. “I shall be your heart.”
Jaskier’s heart threatens to burst in his chest, but he holds on tightly to the love that pours out of Geralt. He has found his Love.