The bell above the bright little shoppe tinkled lightly as Eskel took a deep breath, buried his fingers in Buddy’s collar and stepped forward.
“Won’t be a tick, love!” A bubbly voice called from within the seemingly acres of shelves and the scarred man took a look around.
“No rush.” He said to himself, not expecting to be listened to. Buddy leaned his weight into his owner’s leg in a show of solidarity.
He could do this.
This was a friend of Geralt’s. A friend who knew.
Buddy’s close-cropped ears flicked towards the back of the bookstore/library/personal collection/writing nook for one of Geralt’s rich friends.
Well, the rich friend he hadn’t slept with or dated at any point.
Eskel chose to see that as a point in Julien’s favor.
“Ah! Hello hello, do come in. You don’t have to stand in the walkway, I don’t bite.”
Eskel froze as bright blue eyes alighted on his dog.
Buddy (because Bruiser just was not a good name for the boy) was a dog that had been through a lot in his short life. He’d been rescued from a ring of animal abuse; starved, bloody, and with the worst cauliflower ears the Morhens had ever seen.
Buddy had met Eskel’s gaze with his big, sad brown eyes and the rest was history.
Fighting to get him registered as Eskel’s service animal was an ordeal, the vets reeled back in fear, and Eskel had had to teach the dog that not every hand was meant to hurt and that not every smile hid malice.
This was something Eskel was still trying to teach himself.
Buddy was also a 115 lb. pitbull with a head the size of a fully bloomed cabbage.
Julien didn’t miss a beat.
“And hello to you too, dear boy! Boy? Boy. Shall I get him something to drink? I believe I still have a bowl around here somewhere...”
He had no idea how a man could whirlwind around stacks of papers and books on cassette (yes, they were on cassette), talking a mile a minute, and still make Eskel feel at ease.
Buddy’s stubby tail bonked against the thick green carpet happily.
With a clatter from the room behind the cash register and a muffled “oh COCK” Julien came back out with a small metal bowl and a bottled water.
“Didn’t know what his rules are so I figured I’d just... What is it, what’s wrong?”
Eskel didn’t understand his concern at first until the literati came back around the counter, slowly enough so that Eskel could see his every movement.
Or he could if he wasn’t crying.
So that was what had gotten Geralt’s friend all concerned.
“Can you be touched dear? Is there anyone I should call?”
He shook his shaggy head and coughed out a low “Eskel”.
The bookworm looked momentarily confused before he put the pieces together and guided his guest and his service animal over to a pair of plush, if hidden, chairs.
Eskel’s body began to shiver before Buddy climbed his front half onto his lap. Focusing on the feel of the foppish yellow fringe on the garish purple chair below him, Eskel let himself breathe.
Jaskier had seen many things in his life, and a Morhen having a ptsd shock was thankfully - although not fortunately - one of them.
So he flipped his open sign to closed and turned the antique lock on the front door. He didn’t want to interrupt unless he was needed, and he knew that being seen having a breakdown wasn’t on the top of a Morhen’s to-do list.
He began to catalogue instead. Taking books down from piles and stacks, making notes, and then replacing them in a tidier order. Repeat.
He’d made it a decent chunk of the way through the first couple shelves when a croak drew his attention.
“I’ll take that water now, thank you.” Eskel coughed.
The book collector unfolded from where he’d been crouched nearby and nodded.
“Would you like a cold one instead?”
Eskel just shook his head. Jaskier brought both the old one and a new cold one over to the checkers table betwixt his two heinously clashing reading chairs. Whoever designed them in blue and purple velvet with yellow-gold rope fringe should have been strung up and shot, but they were comfortable and fit the decor.
...Said decor being piles of books so deep they only hinted at shelves.
Ah well, it was his little piece of paradise and one of Geralt’s brothers had seen it as a worthwhile place to visit.
Come to think of it, it must have been Eskel, Geralt had mentioned ‘Buddy’ in passing and Lambert didn’t have a support animal other than his horses.
Eskel though, Eskel he knew was bookish and witty in a quiet way.
He was also the brother who could go fewer places due to the stigma surrounding their family.
Jaskier saw it all as tosh but he also saw how the world treated his friends (because Eskel would be his friend, he decided).
It hurt Jaskier to see such a large, powerful man curled up and trying to be as small as possible as he poured water for Buddy.
“May I sit?” Jaskier asked softly, only moving when he’d gotten a tired nod.
“I’m sorry, I must make a terrible first impression.” Eskel smiled in a self-deprecating manner. That would not do at all.
“Oh I don’t know about that. A handsome stranger choosing to walk into a bookstore tells me he’s not just gorgeous but also intelligent and curious.”
Eskel’s eyes shot open in surprise. Jaskier was...complimenting him? A warm chuckle that didn’t sound like it would ever be used against him sounded from the other man.
Eskel’s hand flew up to hide his scars. Jaskier’s face fell at the movement but he continued softly.
“And a dog lover on top of that! My word.” He slid down his chair slowly, always slowly, and rested the back of one hand atop his forehead. “Be still my beating heart!”
Eskel’s lips twitched in a helpless smile at the dramatic man in bright blue.
“What breed is he, anyway? He looks like a giant softie.” Geralt’s friend didn’t even let Eskel’s shoulders tighten at the mention of breed before he moved on to compliments and gentle observations.
“H-he’s -“ Eskel cleared his throat and took a sip of whatever water bottle he’d opened for Buddy. “He’s a pit.”
Jaskier’s eyes lit up and his smile could drown the sun in light. Geralt’s brother coughed out a small laugh at the open joy on his face.
“Yes I thought so! My neighbor had one growing up and she was just the sweetest thing. The most gentle mouth- Not something I can say of most of my exes truth be told, haha!”
Scarred fingers began to slow their shaking as Eskel let the other man’s chatter wash over him and Buddy let Eskel’s calm wash over him.
“Yes there it is. Just like that!” Eskel tuned back in when he saw the other man pointing at Buddy. Geralt’s friend - Jaskier, that’s what he called him - had the most entrancing blue eyes.
If he looked long enough in the sunset light dancing on the starlight bursts of dust motes in the air around the other man... well then he could see how people could put stock in magic.
Vesemir never cared much for the concept of magic, it was all hard work and man-made luck, his gruff voice sounded in Eskel’s ear even now...but he was willing to turn down the volume on his mentor’s voice to focus on the way the warm orange of the light toyed with the tips of Jaskier’s hair, turning them from brunette to chestnut to gold.
Eskel almost reached out to touch it, to see if his ugly fingers could bathe in the light of this beautiful, happy creature.
Instead he clenched a fist and blinked as he caught himself staring. His chin tilted to check on his dog and found his pit bull smiling back at Jaskier just as wide and full of innocent light as the poet.
Jaskier liked his dog.
And his dog like Jaskier.
Eskel smiled quietly.
Fuck. He was screwed.