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Thicker Than Water

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Jaskier never got an apology after the mountain. He’d never gotten the rest of the story from the others either, but after everything it didn’t seem all that important. Maybe it never had been.

Twenty-two years.

It wasn’t so long, not when Jaskier knew he had an entire lonely eternity to look forward to. But to be fair, he hadn’t known that twenty-two years ago. He hadn’t even known it last week. It turns out having a very pleasurable liaison with a high priestess who had just so happened to be the mortal vessel for a minor goddess, has its perks. He’d seen her in a bar three nights ago and she’d bought him a cup of milk and asked him how immortality was going.

Of course, he’d thought she was joking. He was pretty heavily into his sixth? seventh? pint of the evening. It was strong stuff and she’d bought him milk to sober up. He just told her his skin care must be working and she explained that, yes, it was, his skin looked very nice, but no, that wasn’t why he still looked twenty-three.

Then a fan had bought him some rather nice gin and after that he doesn’t remember the evening. He hoped he’d bid the priestess goodbye.

He’d been drinking more lately. Jaskier had never actually had much of a head for drink, preferring to sip a light wine than down things more akin to paint thinner. Now, though, well. It was the mountain, wasn’t it? He’d never taken rejection well. Oh, sure, a potential lover turning him down was one thing, admittedly it stung, but he would never force unwanted affections, and he’d always had a mobile heart, ready to fall in love with someone new. Criticism on his music? That depended, the reasoned, encouraging criticism of a good professor was fine. Nothing else was. He poured his heart and soul into everything he sang, even if it was just a nonsense song or a ditty plucked out on the road. Having it criticized cut straight through him, especially by those he cared about.

The hurt ran deeper though. The youngest son of a minor noble, with two big, strong, fighting brothers and one sickly but pretty younger sister, Lotte, he’d always been a bit of an odd duck. His brothers had heckled him, but they hadn’t been home often. His father had beat him, but that pain at least was only physical. His mother ignored him. That had hurt. It still hurt, when he thought of it. Lancing through him like a knife of ice. And then Lotte, who had loved his stories and music, had died. A fever took her suddenly in the night and after that Lettenhove held no more light for him. So he left and his father was happy to see him go.

Some things you bring with you. His family had never given him any gifts, but left him with a lifetime of baggage. Their voices in his head telling him he was never good enough, a weakling, a burden. A shit shoveler.

Sometimes a much smaller voice, that sounded a little like Lotte piped up. He was good at music. He brought people joy. But it was so much weaker than the constant barrage of hate.

And now Geralt.

Jaskier wanted to believe that Geralt didn’t hate him, that twenty-two years of grunts and silences meant at least a glimmer of friendship. But how could it? Jaskier’s own family hadn’t wanted him, and here he was, forlorn that after he’d inflicted himself on Geralt for two decades he’d finally been thrown aside. Like the garbage he always had been. He tried not to let himself think about it too much, but somehow the thoughts always found him. Usually at the bottom of a bottle. Or three.

There were no doubts in his mind about Geralt. Jaskier could never believe Geralt a cruel man, not after years of watching him fight dreadful monsters for less coin than chimneysweeps earned. Years of him patiently bearing the worst of people and cleaning up their messes and saving lost baby birds. Jaksier never would have believed it, if not for the testimony of his own two eyes. Geralt had scooped the downy thing up in one massive hand and examined it with such tenderness in his honey-gold eyes that Jaskier wanted to cry. A part of him wished, if only for a moment, that he was the bird, to be cradled in a strong, gentle hand and be the focus of such attentive care. He didn’t wish to be the bird later, when it died. Lost, injured baby birds often do, and Jaskier had played a sad little tune as Geralt buried it carefully.

A man, a witcher, who buried and mourned a baby bird, was not bad. Not a monster or cruel, although sometimes a bit unkind.

At the bottom of bottles and pints Jaskier wanted to hate Geralt, wanted to think him a monster, a butcher, he even wrote it into his songs, a garroter. He couldn’t do it. He found plenty of room to hate himself though.

Every sore point in Geralt’s life, at least those within the last two decades, had indeed been Jaskier’s fault. The banquet? Jaskier had insisted, practically dragged Geralt into a messy political situation, even if it looked like a party on the surface. The djinn? He’d provoked a sleep deprived Geralt and then pouted like a child when his singing was mocked. For Melitele’s sake he’d called Geralt butcher when they’d met. He wondered sometimes why Geralt hadn’t left him to the tender mercies of the djinn. He knew why.

Because Geralt was kind. Not a gentleman, not with the talking to his horse, and the growling, and the (admittedly not that bad) smell. Not a gentleman, but a gentle man.

Geralt had been kind enough to put up with a troublesome bard. A bard who, young and green as he’d been in Posada, would have had his neck slit by bandits or thieves before his twentieth year. He’d pitied Jaskier and let him stick around, putting up with him as no one else had. Not his parents or his brothers, not Valdo, his first love, who’d subsequently cheated on him and laughed at his tears, not even his various dalliances put up with him. A night of pleasure was all he could offer, out the door (or window, or over the hedge) in the morning, lest he burden them with his presence too long and be stabbed by their rejection. Everyone had their breaking point though, and Geralt had reached his after twenty years, as well as a breakup, a dragon man, and Jaskier asking to run away together all within twenty-four hours.

That left Jaksier, lost in a forest with no money and only sad songs to sing, which don’t bring much coin in a world that already knows enough sorrow, two months after the dragon hunt.

Things were bad. For Jaskier and everyone else. He had no money for warm clothes or new boots, and winter was fast approaching. Nilfgaard’s soldiers were looking for him, they stormed everywhere, searching for the White Wolf and his charge, or anyone who might know something. Cintra had fallen, and it’s lioness with it, and Jaskier could only hope that the child surprise, whose name day banquets he’d missed not one, had met her destiny at last.

He hoped his destiny wasn’t skewered on the end of a Nilfgaardian blade.

He couldn’t go to Oxenfurt. They’d look for him there, and he had too many friends whose lives he would endanger as well. Here, on the road, he was anonymous. His fine clothes were dulled with dirt and wear, and his hair was longer, curling at the ends and bout his ears as it was wont to do when he went without a hair cut. He hadn’t shaved in a couple days either. Jaskier hoped he looked dashing, but he suspected he just looked scruffy.

He certainly didn’t look like the famous bard Jaskier, herald of the White Wolf, though, so perhaps it was all for the better.

And then, in the middle of a forest, with the first frosts of autumn on the ground, he met the amethyst eyes of a sorceress.