Chapter 1: And I scream
Jaskier had been relatively young for his kind when he met Geralt for the first time. The Witcher had treated him like shit ever since but still, the words he was screaming at Jaskier at the mountain top hit hard. He could only stare in shock as the white-haired Witcher yelled. How ironic was it that he, the master of seven liberal arts, couldn´t find the words to express himself? To, at least, apologise for being the worst thing in Geralt´s life?
The only thing he was able to do was to run away. And then, after being far enough even the Witcher´s enhanced hearing could not pick it up, he screamed.
He knew he was acting as a child and was definitely embarassed after, but at the moment, screaming was the only thing that made sense. His hands moved to tug at his hair, hoping it would ease the pain he was feeling. He didn´t even know why it hurt so much. Yes, he loved the grumpy Witcher, the thing was he knew what Geralt was like. He knew what to expect but nothing could prepare him for the moment it happened.
If life could give me one blessing, it would be to take YOU off my hands!
He stood up, not remembering falling to the ground, and sighed. He had to flee as far from the mountain as possible and, what was more important, not to look back. He wanted to hate Geralt, he really did. He also wanted to swear to himself he would not let Geralt back into his life (not that Geralt wanted to have him back, of course), but he knew he was too weak to resist. Too selfish. He would fall for the Witcher anytime their paths crossed.
He climbed the mountain down, alone. He was dirty, the dust setting anywhere it could, and tired. When passing Roach, he gave her soft, sad smile, but didn´t come closer to her. He felt the temptation to stay would be too irresistable if he touched anything that belonged to
his the Witcher. And so he left some of his possessions in the saddlebags. Not many, of course. He hadn´t wanted to burden Roach with his things atop of all the things she had to carry for Geralt. Just a vial of chamomile oil, a reserve quill, his bedroll and a blanket. The loss of a blanket was not a pleasant one, but he was far more afraid of the pain of smelling Geralt (the leather, sword oils, sweat and, oh, the horse) and leaving the next moment.
With a sharp breath, he dug his nails into his palms and left Roach behind.
Tears were sliding across his cheeks but there was no point in wiping them out. The pain too fresh for him to stop crying just yet. And so he forced himself to lift his head and keep travelling, since that was the only thing he longed for and actually could have.
He reached the town where Borch introduced them to his offer and went straight to the tavern hoping he could play and make some coin. Oh how had he been wrong. He managed to play a few love songs until some young woman from the petty crowd asked for The Song of the White Wolf. Thad had been the moment he felt his heart break even more. Realising he might never write another song about his heroics, his hunts. That he might have lost him forever. His chosen one... He couldn´t keep playing after, meaning he made only some sorry coin, barely enough to afford a room. He had to think for a while - it was very likely Geralt was going to pass the town the following day AND he was running low on coin. That said, he quickly stormed from the tavern and fled to the woods surrounding the town.
Now, many didn´t realise it but underneath all those ridiculous outfits, Jaskier was a well-built man; muscular and athletic. He had been travelling for quite some time before he met Geralt and was perfectly capable of managing on his own. Yes, it was much more comfortable to have a Witcher protecting him and hunting for him, but he knew how to hunt and keep himself safe - those being the first things he had been taught once he was old enough.
As a Viscount and a half-dryad, he had to be kept safe. And when his parents finally understood he longed for travelling, they made sure he would be alright on his travels. Hell, he could even use some magic, and yet people still assumed he was completely harmless and weak. It sometimes came in handy, though, being thought of harmless, the townsfolk rarely got suspicious and he was mostly welcome to most of the places around the Continent.
He set up a small camp in the woods. He knew better than to stay close to the road, so he wandered further into the forest until he found a wonderful clearing which was suitable for sleeping. He even built a small fire and leaned against a wide oak trunk. He took out his lute and strummed a few melodies. He didn´t sing though, not sure whether he would be able to express the words inside of him anytime soon. He hummed instead. Sometime between the melodies he closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he found the clearing was now full of buttercups, liverworts and celandines. The bright flowers made him smile, even though he felt weak from the magic that poured from his music.
After that, he put the lute back to its case and curled up near the fire, suddenly very tired. He could feel the hollow space in his chest. He knew he could die of broken heart. He just didn´t know what to do, where to go. Sure, he could go to Oxenfurt and teach there, after all, he was the very best of his class, but he was hurting and felt unsure about everything; his ruined performance at the tavern was a perfect example of just how much broken he was. His eyes started to swell again and he started to shed tears once again. Exhausted, he closed heavy eyelids and hoped everything would get better.
When Geralt reached Roach, it had been almost the evening. He was looking for Jaskier in the camp, but Borch told him that the bard left a long time ago. The dragon´s stare almost burnt a hole through the Witcher´s head, but he didn´t allow himself to flinch. Gods, how much he wanted to go after
his the bard. How desperately he wanted to apologise and even beg him to join him once again. But he knew he couldn´t. He had no right to. After what he yelled at him, even though he knew none of it was the truth. Even worse - Geralt knew he was yelling nonsense but still kept going.
Maybe if I went straight after him, he would be still with me, he thought but shook his head quickly. Sure, he hasn´t been treating Jaskier the way
his the bard deserved, but he knew that this time, he went too far. On purpose. And that left him feeling even worse about himself. He just hoped his actions would keep Jaskier safe. The ridiculous bard always jumped headfirst into any danger he came across (travelling with a mutant included) and Geralt´s whole life has been full of danger. After the djinn in Rinde, after the dragon hunt, he felt overwhelmed. Once again, the people he cared about were hurting because of him - and he didn´t know how to make it stop, except for sending them away from him. So he did.
And now he sat on a log near the fire, hopeless and torn apart. He missed
his the bard. He missed his endless strumming and humming, the chatter... Hell, he even missed Jaskier´s constant nagging. But deep inside he knew, he hoped, he did the right thing. Jaskier would be much better on his own, not travelling with a filthy mutant, the Butcher of Blaviken. So what if the bard left with and a part of his heart followed him? He could never give Jaskier what he wanted - all the luxurious things he was longing for, the affection he deserved, the appreciation...
Oh Gods, was he tired. He sighed and went to Roach´s saddlebags to collect his bedroll.
He was shocked when he noticed Jaskier´s possessions. Was the bard coming back? Did he just need some time alone? Small spark of hope dared to settle in his gut.
But what if Jaskier didn´t even make it to Roach in the first place? What if the trek down the mountain was too much for him to handle? Could there be any monster they didn´t notice on their way up?
Geralt´s head snapped up so quickly, his neck painfully cracked. It was dark already. He couldn´t smell Jaskier on Roach, he was barely able to pick up some of his scent on his way down. He froze with horror. Suddenly, the desire to sleep was gone. He went to his potion bag only to find out he was running very low of Cat. In fact, he had only one left and no ingredients to make another one. Fuck!
He had to choose. He pinched the base of his nose and sighed heavily. He couldn´t smell Jaskier, not even his blood or fear on the way down. The dwarven path was broken, which meant Jaskier had to take the same road down he did. And he couldn´t smell any monster, either.
He moved to sit up and growled in surprise at the pain in his muscles. He must have gotten hurt during the fight on the mountain top, but the adrenaline he had been dosed ever since had to dampen the pain. And oh, adrenaline had flooded his veins until he reached Roach.
He growled again and lowered himself back onto the bedroll. There was no point in going after Jaskier, especially with no proof of the bard´s danger. He just left his belongings with Geralt. And could have a list of perfectly good reasons. Especially the ones Geralt loathed to admit.
He does not want to have anything to do with you. That is why he left those things in the saddlebags. He is finally disgusted with you, with what you are, with what you own. He probably hated the fact you touched his possessions, that your scents mingled together. He is never coming back, and you know it. Good for him, though. In the end, no one in their right mind would travel with an abomination such as yourself.
His hands began shaking, his mind weak. He felt the beginnings of a panic attack crawl up on him, so he quickly kneeled on the bedroll and concentrated on his breathing. Meditation always helped whenever he felt the self-disgust. That was until Jaskier came along. He never had to meditate whenever
his the bard was close, because that ridiculously colourful human always stood up for him. When somebody spitted in Geralt´s direction, when they refused to serve him in a tavern, Jaskier was always there to fight for him, Jaskier was the one who showered him with nice words right after. And yet, Geralt had never done anything in return. It was for the right cause, he tried to ensure himself every time. But the more it happened, the worse he felt about how he treated the bard. His only excuse was that he cared about him, a lot in fact. He knew he could not bear the sight of his the bard dying. And what is the better way to ensure Jaskier would be safe than sending him away, right?
He shook his head and dove deep into his mind. The last thing he thought of was (unexpectedly) Jaskier and his well-being.
Chapter 2: I laugh, I choke
Geralt has an unpleasant run-in with a monster in the woods. Jaskier starts singing again even though he's hurting.
Geralt spent three days looking for Jaskier. Firstly on the steep slopes of the mountain, then in the closest surroundings of it. But there was no sign of
his the bard. After the three hopeless days, he decided Jaskier was probably already in the wind. As far away from you as possible, said the poisonous voice inside of his head. When he arrived at the tavern where they had stayed with Borch, the barmaid told him that Jaskier did play there a few days ago. She also added he refused to play The Song of the White Wolf and left soon after. Geralt tried his best not to flinch at her words. Instead, he only growled and also left the tavern. He was running low on coin so he figured he would camp in the woods.
Refused to play 'bout the White Wolf, that one.
He dropped his head on his chest, grabbed Roach's reins and walked from the town broken inside.
Geralt didn't care which way he was headed. He had no plan, no destination in mind and he did not care about the following day. He kept his hood pulled over his head, not willing to show anyone just how devastated he was. He had to constantly remind himself that Jaskier deserves better. That he had no right to chase after him and try to win him back. That he wasn't supposed to have him in the first place.
He passed a few villages on his way, but didn't stop in any. Not even to at least look for the notices which could promise a contract and some coin. He was probably being reckless but couldn't bring himself to feel bad about this. His mind was far too preoccupied feeling bad about Jaskier.
He refused to stop until his muscles were strained and tired. Until the sun was slowly starting to set. Then he found himself a suitable place for sleeping and lay down onto his bedroll on the forest floor. He didn't even bother to build a fire, since he didn't want to draw attention to himself. The sun still wasn't completely down, but it was getting gloomy under the forest roof. That was the moment he smelled it for the first time. His Witcher senses screaming at him only one word - monster.
He quickly drew the silver sword and wanted to take some potions but the monster was getting dangerously close, too close for him to waste time searching for potions he might not have. He cursed - he must have breached the monster's territory otherwise it wouldn't attack so quickly.
It was close, his ears were filled with loud steps and growling. And then he saw it - a reddish mountain of muscle with wide antlers and sharp teeth - a fiend standing right in front of him. Geralt quickly turned his head away from the glowing third eye and his grip on the sword strengthened. This was bad. He hadn't taken any potions, nor coated his sword in the relict oil. Hell, he didn't even have any bomb to scare that fucker away... Fuck! He growled and then had to smirk - if Vesemir ever knew about this, he would be running the Killer for three years straight.
His fingers formed to cast Igni and the fiend backed off a bit. Then it roared and lashed out. Geralt moved to the side and hauled off at its claws. The hit itself was successfull but enraged the creature even more. He had to dodge the attack and think of at least some tactics. The fiend kept attacking him and he felt his muscles ache in disagreement with all the moves he had to make.
It caught him with the not-wounded claw and pinned him against a tree. His head snapped back with the force of the thrust. He was really close to the fiend's head now and could attack it. His hand with the sword prepared to run it through the creature's head but then he caught a glimpse of a burning red eye. He froze in the middle of his movement and could only stare into the eye. He felt his deepest and darkest thoughts crawling into his head, into his heart.
Jaskier looking at him with heartbreak in his eyes, because of the words he yelled at him. Jaskier not touching his possessions because they were his. Jaskier disgusted by him so much he refused to sing about him. His mother abandoning him. Shrike dead and bleeding on the ground in Blaviken. Yennefer leaving him for the wish he made.
It would maybe be better for everyone if he died, right? His brothers would mourn for a while, but will soon recover. Yennefer would not even care. And Jaskier... well, he would probably never know. He would probably never care enough to search for him. He wouldn't be surprised, after all those things he had done to him.
He relaxed into the fiend's hold. It made complete sense for him to die - for all the things he had done, for all the pain he had caused. It was well-deserved, actually. He dropped the sword and waited for the creature's teeth to rip his throat. It felt like hours and nothing was happening. Then the red eye disappeared from his mind and he was able to see again.
There was the fiend, with an arrow sticking out of its third eye. A familiar looking man was throwing bombs at the monster, whilst another man joined him, a crossbow on his back. The only thing Geralt could think of was that the duo was satisfyingly coordinated together. Then he blacked out.
Geralt woke up to the sound of a dialogue. His head hurt and he was only half-awake, those being the reasons why he didn't force his eyes open.
"I'm alright, don't worry about me," said one of them and the other growled.
"I will be worried 'bout you! if this fucking idiot of a Witcher didn't get himself attacked you wouldn't be hurting. Now, let me fucking take care of your wound," said a very familiar voice and Geralt gave a gasp. His chest felt like a wild boar had danced on it and all his muscles refused to move without aching. Immediately, there were footsteps towards him, and very familiar hand slapped him across one cheek. He knew who it was even before the second man spoke.
"Lambert, goodness, leave him alone! He isn't the one to blame for my lack of observation. You should rather check his wounds or his mind..." he said, half amused, half concerned.
"Fuck, Kitten, you're right, I know it, I just hate seeing you hurting," replied Lambert and forced his attention towards Geralt. "You feelin' okay? Got a few nasty wounds and fucking high amount of bruises," he undoubtedly smirked and then rested his hand on Geralt´s shoulder. The white-haired Witcher forced himself to nod and then tried to open his eyes again, this time successfully. The man kneeling beside him was indeed Lambert and yes, he was definitely smirking. The other one was of an athletic build, with a Cat armuor.
"Here ya go, have some," Lambert continued and offered him a waterskin. Geralt gladly accepted it and drank greedily. He realised he hadn't been drinking or eating much while looking for Jaskier. (At the thought of Jaskier, he all but flinched, but Lambert thankfully left it unnoticed). "You look like shit, what have you been doing?" asked his younger brother instead and Geralt just shrugged, still sore but the presence of another Wolf made him feel better. With a quiet 'hmm' he raised a hand, waiting for Lambert to pull him on his feet. His head started spinning when Lambert helped him to stand up, but he ignored it. They sat down on the log and Geralt secretly left out a sigh of relief. Then he began curiously observing the Cat Witcher who sat across him. The Cat stared at him in return and looked like he was waiting for something. When nothing was happening, he punched Lambert's shoulder and the Wolf playfully yelped and stood up.
"Of course, Geralt, this is Aiden, my... companion. Aiden, this is my fucking idiot of a brother Geralt," he said in his usual prickly tone, which only slightly changed when he spoke Aiden's name. The Cat bowed his head and smiled.
"Aiden as in the Aiden who you claimed was dead?" asked Geralt, confused. Aiden flinched and a wave of sadness passed across Lambert's face.
"Well, yes, a misunderstanding, you see," answered Aiden and Geralt nodded, too tired to make them talk about it more. Lambert handed him one third of a hare he'd roasted on a fire and they fell silent.
Geralt started observing Aiden instead. He had dark brown hair, well-tended beard and bronzed skin. All of his movements screamed elegant and graceful and he could only wonder how someone like him ended up travelling with Lambert. But then again, he also did have
his the bard follow him without any reason, right?
They did some small talk (in a Witcher way which included a lot of 'hmming') and went to sleep almost the moment they finished their meals. Geralt took another Swallow before he lay down on his bedroll. Aiden and Lambert put their bedrolls questionably close together, but he didn't ask. He was too tired to think about anything. Anything except for Jaskier, of course.
It had been five days since his and Geralt's ways parted. He kept travelling without any destination in mind, no place seemed to be enough to fill the hole inside of him. At least not yet. He used his rage, sorrow and pain to write countless songs, but he couldn't play most of them since they would shovel even more shit onto Geralt. Which he certainly didn't fancy.
His clothes were dirty and ruffled, his appearance not better. The only thing he kept in the perfect shape was the lute, Filavandrel's lute. A souvenir from his very first journey with Geralt. Just for this reason he wanted to get rid of it, but he was very well aware it was almost the only way of making some coin. That was why he kept it, even though it pained him to look at it.
His hair had started growing faster ever since he used his magic on the clearing, the presence of the trees (and his lack of control) giving it the strength to grow. It was the length of his chin now and didn't seem to have any intention in slowing down. That (and also his longing for a bath and some of the luxuries of a town) convinced him to leave the forest in search for a town he could perform at.
The only time he got held up was near a small rivulet where he attempted to wash at least some of the dust that stuck to him. There was a stubble on his face which he noticed only because he ran his hands across his cheeks. He filled his waterskin and took off for any town or village in reach.
Gods must have taken a pity on him, because he soon found a relatively small town. He braced himself and walked into the only tavern - a cosy looking building with flowerpots lining the windows. Some people looked his way but didn't see anything interesting, only a humble traveller. He made his way to the counter and waited until the barmaid noticed him.
"Oh, hello my fair lady, I have been travelling a long way and gods have now blessed me by your divine appearance!" he said with a charming smile. Now, he was heartbroken, but being a bard included having to act most of the time - his compliments have only been a part of the performance. And it worked, considering the deep blush on the barmaid's face and her wonderful smile.
"Good day to you to, sir bard," she replied, and he reached for her hand and kissed it. Then he persuaded her into having a free meal (and a bath) for playing in the evening. He would have to pay for a room, of course, but he felt relieved that he wouldn't have to waste any more coin. It was slowly getting dark and he hid into the darkest corner to tune his lute and prepare for the performance. He knew it would be hard but was determined to push himself and play. Even if people wanted to hear about the White Wolf of Kaer Morhen.
When more townsfolk came inside, he jumped to his feet and stood in the middle of the tavern. He managed to remove most of the dust from his doublet and breeches, which meant he was once again a bit vibrant. He played and played for almost the whole evening, until his throat and fingers hurt. He even performed Toss a coin and The Song of the White Wolf, even though it brought him pain.
By the end of the evening, he had enough coin to buy whatever he needed, but that had to wait until the other day. He was exhausted; his legs had been trembling even before he started performing and his fingertips felt numb. His throat was sore from the singing and the sparkling ale only irritated the soft flesh of his throat. He was glad he could retire to his room and sleep in a real bed. Not that he couldn't use his abilities to create comfortable layers of moss whenever he slept outside, he simply preferred sleeping inside.
There was a hot bath waiting for him and he felt relief wash over him. He could live on his own, even though it hurt.
After taking a long bath, he washed his clothes and stood in front of a mirror. He actually quite fancied the longer hair that was framing his face. He also liked the stubble.
After such a long time without any changes it probably won't hurt to try something new, right? he thought and nodded for himself. Maybe a change was something he needed.
He leaned against the single bed and took his diary from a bag he always carried around. His passion for poetry and music was something he valued more than most of the things in his life. He was very grateful he was able to compose such wonderful songs and please those who listened. He let himself dive deep into his feelings and started scribbling with a small quill. He had already written many songs during the last five days but wasn't sure whether he will ever play them. Well, maybe the one that was called Her Sweet Kiss...
He didn't think, he just dove himself into everything he was feeling and let it spill onto the pages of his diary. The words came to him naturally and without any difficulty.
I would like to hate the things you said
I want back the tears you made me shed
I know you can't be blamed for running
I know that I'm truly not stunning
But all the things you said to me, dear
are enough to pierce me like a spear
and everything I am - was for you
I'm clearly not enough, you withdrew
I lost you to all I'm not
hope you're better now you've got
everything you're longing for
all that you deserve and more
He knew it wasn't perfect. But the pain eased, if only just by a bit. He sighed and reached for the lute. His fingers took up their position and he felt perfectly calm despite the pain in his hands. It was natural for him - to hold a lute and sing. Sometimes he felt it was his only purpose. But even if it was, he would be more than happy to only sing for his entire life. The melody came to him on its own, he didn't even have to try. It felt like it had always been there just waiting to be let out. And he gladly let it pour out of his heart and into the room. He was thrilled and couldn't wait for his performance the next day, he was longing for this song to be heard and sung all across the Continent. The final song about the White Wolf. (Or at least so he thought).
Thanks for reading! Hope you liked it. I have no idea when the next one is going to be posted because I have a lot to do during the week. But stay tuned, hopefully there will be more Geraskier and Laiden in the next chapters! Love ya!
(For those who might ask, yes, the poem/song is mine, that is why it may sound so weird - English isn't my native language and it is really challenging to write poetry in a non-native language, because the words don't come naturally. But I am a poet in my native language which actually helped me a lot).
Plus! If you're wondering about Jaskier's appearance - just imagine him as Joey Batey in 2017/2018. (You can look up the videos from that time, for example Pray or Not Yet/Love Run on YT to have better image of what we're working with). :)
Chapter 3: We're hanging in the air
Geralt has questions about Labmert's realtionship with Aiden.
Jaskier. Rules. His. New. Life.
And they're both only one step from reconciliation.
And all of them are drunk.
The following day Geralt woke up to see Aiden was gone. He would have thought it was all just a dream, were it not for his soreness and Lambert's nervous look. He was glad to notice he could get up without any struggles and wanted to examine his wounds. He still felt a bit dizzy from the two Swallows he drank the previous day but that was a small price to pay for healing, really. His wounds looked like minor scratches which he acknowledged with a pleasured 'hmm'.
"Feelin' better?" Lambert asked and Geralt briefly nodded. Sitting down next to him, he gave him an interrogative look, which made Lambert cringe and frown.
"So," Geralt started with a well-disguised smirk. "You and the Cat, eh?" Lambert growled but didn't seem to have any intention of answering. Geralt decided to change his approach.
"Look, whatever it is you two have, I won't judge. I just hope you know most of the Cats are nasty fuckers," he said, and his words made Lambert snap.
"I know! But he's... different. I've known him for some time now and trust me, he's a good man. Hell, he was the one who persuaded me to help you, kind of!" he all but yelled and then quickly continued, calmly now. "We were about to check the village for any contract when we heard the fight. I wanted to go to the village first, but he made up his mind to come here and help whomever was in danger. I'm a prick, you of all know that, but he..." Lambert froze and shook his head violently. Geralt knew what he was thinking. That Geralt was alive thanks to Aiden. Lambert's gaze was fixed towards the forest floor and he looked embarrassed.
"And what about your, eh, relationship?" he asked quietly. Lambert looked at him and sighed. Geralt raised his eyebrow curiously. It was a rare occasion to see Lambert at a loss of words.
"Well..." was the only reply he got and it made him smile (just a little though, because he was a big, scary Witcher, of course).
"Oh don't tell me you, of all people, got yourself a lover!" Geralt said surprisedly but was glad for him. Lambert's cheeks turned a bit pink with a blush and Geralt gaped at him. "You actually did?!" he exclaimed and clapped in delight. Lambert watched him, a bit annoyed, waiting until the White Wolf stops acting childish. Which he soon did. "Now, how did that happen?" Geralt asked and wiggled his eyebrows at Lambert.
"We met, I told him to fuck off, he refused to," said Lambert in his usual way. "Still have no idea what he sees in me, though," he added a bit gloomily.
"Not that I would see that either, but it's a good thing for you. Don't let him slip through your fingers," Geralt replied with a frown. He was happy for his brother, he really was. But it was hard seeing him having just the thing he was yearning for. Lambert nodded and Geralt knew he won't fuck up on this this, at least not knowingly.
"Happened to you, with that sorceress of yours, huh?" Lambert asked with curiosity. Now he might be an oblivious bastard, but he did know Geralt and that mage had been together. He was focused on Geralt, so this time his flinch didn't go unnoticed. Then, to his surprise, Geralt slowly shook his head. "Hey, Wolf, you alright?" he kept querying him when he didn't answer directly.
"No, not Yen..." it was barely a whisper, but he knew Lambert's Witcher ears would catch it. Lambert's brows furrowed at his words and his eyes observed him for a while, wondering expression on his face.
"If not her, who else? I mean the only one you've ever mentioned except her was that bard of yours and that surely... Are you fucking kidding me?!" he shrieked slamming the stick he was using to control the fire down Geralt's head. Not too harshly, of course, but hard enough for Geralt to yelp in pain and send him a fierce look.
"What's wrong with you?!" the white-haired Witcher all but yelled and Lambert stared at him with disbelief.
"You've been fussing over that fucker for gods know how long and didn't think of telling any of us?" Lambert shouted back and watched as Geralt angrily stood up.
"Call him fucker again, I dare you!" he growled low in his throat and the younger Witcher raised his arms in a surrender.
"Right, sorry, calm down, Wolf," he replied and then continued. "What happened between the two of you? I mean you were always complaining about him but other than that."
Geralt shook his head, utterly defeated. He didn't want to talk about it. About what he felt, what he did to keep his beloved safe. But Lambert wasn't willing to stop. The White Wolf was rescued by the return of Aiden who had left to try and collect coin for the fiend and restock some ingredients they were running low on. Lambert was discreet enough not to talk about Geralt's feelings in front of the Cat Witcher, which meant Geralt was safe - at least for now.
Aiden was surprised when Lambert all but ran to him and kissed him chastely. His cat eyes darted towards Geralt in question but he just smiled and briefly nodded. The tension in both Aiden's and Lambert's shoulders disappeared and they sat close together to discuss their further plans. Geralt decided to stick with them for a while since he wasn't in the best place and felt like he needed company. After all those years travelling with
his the bard, the blessed silence he was often hoping for suddenly felt more like a curse.
"Lambert... he told me what happened before you rescued me. Thank you," Geralt told Aiden later that day when Lambert was on a hunt. The Cat Witcher silently nodded and moved to turn back to his saddlebags, which he had been rearranging. Geralt's next words interrupted his movement the next moment. "I hope you know what you're doing with him. He's a prickly bastard but also very fragile. And he has brethren who are going to be after you if you hurt him," the Wolf Witcher said calmly but with a sharp undertone. Aiden turned to him again and looked him straight in the eye.
"I assure you I have no intentions in harming your brother, Geralt," he said in the exact same tone but smiled right after. Fucking weird Cats! Geralt nodded approvingly and ignored the pain deep in his heart. Aiden observed him for a while but then turned back to his work. This time, a small smile settled on his face and he even began humming quietly.
His heart had almost stopped when he realised the melody was Toss a coin. His fists clenched and he had to shut his eyes firmly to stop the sudden tears from flowing out. He focused on his breathing, until his heart rate was back to the Witcher normal and then ran a hand across his face. He knew he had to stop lamenting over Jaskier's leaving but it was so fucking hard. The only thing that kept him from going after that ridiculous human was the concern for his safety. And he hoped Jaskier was better off without him.
When Lambert returned and they were about to saddle up and take off, the younger Wolf leaned to him. "We could go after that bard of yours, you know?" But Geralt only shook his head.
"He's safer when I'm not around. I cannot ask of him to risk everything travelling with me," he replied and Lambert gave him one long piercing look.
"Is he, though?" were the only words he told him before mounting.
Geralt didn't want to think about his words. He certainly didn't want for them to unsettle him the way they did. So he braced himself. It's just Lambert being a fucking prick, nothing more. He just wants to disturb you and make fun of you, don't give in. But he knew, deep inside, his younger brother might have been right. And that thought started to slowly gnaw away at him.
Jaskier no longer felt the need to cry whenever Geralt's name was mentioned. Not that he felt particularly good, either, he just got his shit together and managed to start living on his own. Now, he was capable of surviving, having a life was a whole new, higher, level. He was too used to having Geralt with him he had almost forgot what it was like some twenty years ago.
He kept travelling, for that was one of his greatest passions and obviously sang, too. Sometimes when he plucked at his lute, he expected Geralt to snap at him, at some point he almost heard his unhappy 'hmming'.
It was hard for Jaskier to embrace the one man on the Continent he was actually yearning for didn't want him that way. In fact, didn't want him at all. But he had to - that was evident.
Still, time from time, he felt overwhelmed by the feeling of abandonment and had to flee to the woods. Only laying on the forest floor surrounded by the newly created flowers of the buttercup family could ease the pain. But he was getting better, stronger.
He kept his longer hair and the stubble and seemed to be even more attractive like that, or at least the people around him thought so. His new song (and a bunch of others, definitely not about Geralt) seemed to be sought after and sometimes people were more interested in these rather than the ones about the White Wolf.
Sometimes, he felt homesick. But he'd never wanted to settle and still didn't plan on that. That was the main reason his path didn't lead to Lettenhove. He even missed Oxenfurt and mostly his confident Magdalena*, a female bard who studied at the university alongside him. They wanted to form a troupe back then but Jaskier's wanderlust couldn't coexist with that. Besides, he met Geralt soon after he had graduated and that sealed the troupe's fate at last. So he kept travelling, making coin and then travelling again. It was intoxicating - the freedom and unexpectedness of his next moves. Not having to search for villages with contracts, not having to look for taverns that would serve a Witcher. He'd never minded travelling with Geralt but travelling without him was somehow a bit easier - once he got used to the pain.
Days passed by, then weeks. His new life was quite successful - he got various invitations to play at courts and whenever he mentioned his name, requests came immediately, alongside with coin. But even though he was relatively happy, he knew deep in his heart he would exchange all of it for having Geralt back. However only if Geralt wanted him back too, which surely wasn't happening, right?
He swore to himself he would stay clear of Witchers and he kept that promise. When he came to a town, he immediately went to check the notices and left quickly if there were any asking for the help of a Witcher. When there was a Witcher in town, he turned on his heel and fled as fast as he could. He didn't care if those Witchers were or were not Geralt; he simply couldn't look into those amber eyes and frowned faces. He did in fact realise he and Geralt might bump into each other eventually, the matter was he had no intention of meeting said Witcher anytime soon.
Master Bard Jaskier. He even published several collections of poems and music, each one of them fruitful and acclaimed. It wasn't a bad life, quite the contrary. If one got used to the constant pain and loneliness, it was utterly enjoyable - plenty of coin, the brightest doublets he's ever had, finest rooms at taverns (very often only for a token change). And yet he still felt something was missing. He knew exactly what, the problem was he had no idea how to get it.
He had been walking just outside of a town when a young's girl voice called for him.
"Master bard, master bard!" it was a sweet little soprano most of the children have, just slightly clearer and more pleasing for the ears. He looked about and eventually saw a small girl dressed in bright yellow dress, barefooted and with a small flower wreath in her dark hair. He smiled.
"Yes, dear? What is it?" his voice sweet and calm. He was wearing his favourite dark green doublet which (as well as the others) made him look smaller, but he still crouched - just to be sure he won't scare her once she came closer.
"I'm waiting her for you! You are the famous bard, right? The flower one... Jas-Jaskier?" she asked with a curious face. He chuckled softly and nodded.
"Yeah, I'm Jaskier, the flower one. But who are you, little lady?" he replied with a smile on his face. The girl blushed and then jumped a bit, playfully.
"I am Ludmila and one day, I'll be a bard too!" she exclaimed happily.
"Oh are you? Do you have any song? Bards have to compose songs, you know?" at his words, her face lit up and she began dancing around him and singing some lullaby about sparking stars. He clapped.
"That was wonderful, dear, you'll make an extraordinary bard once you grow up! Oh, but how shall we call you? Every bard has to have their stage name!" he said thoughtfuly.
"I know, I know!" she shouted, excited. "You're named after buttercups, right? I also wanna be a flower!" he had to smile at her enthusiasm. Her singing was actually really great and with a little bit of hard work, she would definitely make a good bard. That was the reason why he wanted to come up with an extraordinary flower name. Then it all clicked together. She'd been waiting for him and also couldn't wait to be a bard. Her excitement made him smile after a long time...
"I think I have the perfect flower for you, little bard. What about Cykoria?" he asked her with a nervous smile. For some reason he wanted her to be content with the name, to carry it with pride. She beamed.
"As in a succory? That is wonderful! Thank you! Ma, ma! I'm gonna be a bard!" she shrieked eagerly and nodded briefly to say goodbye to Jaskier. After that she turned and ran back to the town, singing along.
"Goodbye to you, too. I hope I'll meet you one day, bardling, Cykoria," he whispered as he watched her walk into one of the houses. Then he travelled on, but with smile on his face - the first real one since the Mountain.
Fall came before he knew it, biting winds and downpours leaving him cold and often depressed. The weather was unfriendly and yet he was travelling more than usual. The longer the evenings were, the more time he got to get lost in his thoughts, which left him torn apart. He and Geralt have parted many times before for longer periods of time, but they always said proper goodbye beforehand. This time, though, everything was different. As days passed, he was getting more restless, barely even felt the urge to play anymore.
Sometimes he would see some succories in the ditch. Those were the only times he actually smiled at the memory of the wonderful little bard.
The trees often reached for him, as if they were trying to embrace him. Sometimes he let them and whispered about his pain into the leaves. Other times he hummed and let them feel his magic - this way he showed them he appreciated their gesture. He got used to letting his magic go free now that he wasn't accompanying Geralt. He never wanted the Witcher to know, not exactly out of fear, he simply had no idea whether the silver-haired man would care. Twenty years, he thought. Twenty years of travelling with him and not a single act of appreciation, of fondness... Sad smile appeared on his face once again.
He hadn't realised his trail led to Kaedwen, until he passed through Ard Carraigh. He was more than twenty miles to the north from the capital city, when he realised just where he was and, more importantly, why. There was a relatively small town about twenty-five miles from the capital of Kaedwen, town, where they usually spent a few final days together before parting. Geralt would go north to Kaer Morhen and Jaskier, well, south, either to Oxenfurt or some court he'd been invited to.
And now, Jaskier stood on the trail, frozen in shock. Why hadn't he realised where his feet were leading him? Why did he even travel so far to the north?
It was slowly getting dark. The downpours had been heavy for the last week and it would be extremely dangerous for him to sleep outside. Half-dryad or not, he still could get ill as any regular human. And getting ill would mean not being able to sing, therefore not being able to make coin. With a resigned sigh, he lowered his head and started walking the few remaining miles to the town he could see in front of him. He made sure his lute was safely tucked in its case and under the cloak he purchased from a mage in Vizima few months earlier. It was fairly expensive but the purchase proved to be worth every single coin - the cloak was warm and had a long-lasting spell on it that repelled water.
When he reached the town, it was very dark outside. He kept the hood on until he entered the tavern. He slammed the door shut behind himself and many gazes turned to him, at the sight of a hooded man, they grew a bit nervous, but when Jaskier slowly took his cloak off and his colourful outfit emerged, the hustle of a normal tavern came back to life. He made his way towards the counter and made a deal with the barman (Joachim, as he got to know) - a meal and unlimited amount of ale for playing for the rest of the evening. Sure, Jaskier was exhausted from all the travelling, but the image of all the ale he could drink was very promising.
He paid for a room and went to freshen up. He considered changing into the carmine red doublet he favoured but then shook his head. The cornflower blue one he had on was more than dashing itself (considering the fact it matched his eyes perfectly). He wiped the raindrops from his face and combed his hair a little so it looked at least acceptable and then tuned his lute before heading down the stairs to play.
The crowd cheered as he approached the middle of the tavern. It was hot and crowded and the air was a bit dry but even that wouldn't stop him from performing. He bowed a little and then strummed a few chords teasingly. Very soon requests for songs were tossed at him, alongside with coin. He felt content - dancing about, singing and overall enjoying himself (and the ale he got). With each song, the people seemed to be happier and louder. He made a little break in the middle of his performance to drink some more, his throat a bit sore. His eyes were bright with the excitement from performing and all the ale. When he returned, even more request came and he was more than happy to fulfil the crowd's wishes.
By the end of his performance, when almost no one was sober, somebody slammed the door even harder than he did when he entered. He didn't pay much attention to it, since he was there to entertain any guest. He was in the middle of the song, eyes closed, when suddenly everyone fell quiet. At first he thought it was because they wanted to pay more attention to the song, but when he finished and there was no applause at all, he had to open his eyes, confused.
If the lute wasn't hanging from a strap on his shoulders, he would have dropped it on the floor. He could only silently gape at the three Witchers leaning against the counter, two of them watching him with interest. The third one, however, was staring in awe and shock, wet silver hair framing the face which haunted Jaskier in his dreams. He felt his heart clench uncomfortably as Geralt's eyes scanned him from head to toe. What felt like an eternity was actually less than few seconds.
Jaskier felt tears prickling in his tears but the only thing he managed to do was firmly whisper: "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" over and over again. He quickly collected all the coin he made tonight and before any of the Witchers managed to say or do anything, he retreated to his room, his heartbeat suddenly too fast and loud. He locked the door and threw himself onto the bed, curling up and sobbing uncontrollably. This was not supposed to happen! He never should have gone to this stupid town, not at this fucking season! How could he do something so stupid, so reckless? After four months of getting back on his feet, here he was, running back to Geralt, even though inadvertently.
He heard many footsteps, as the guests were leaving the tavern, probably because of the three Witchers in their midst. Jaskier knew he should stop himself before he'll do anything stupid, but before he could think about his further actions, he found himself heading to the staircase. He walked down unnoticed and watched as one of the Witchers - a tall, red-headed man with two scars on the side of his face - quarrelled for a room with Joachim. The barman had a frown on his face, his eyes (darting among the three Witchers) filled with fear and badly disguised hatred. Jaskier looked at them for a while until he decided to intervene, before anything bad could happen.
He gave a fake cough to make sure all four men noticed him and then walked towards the counter, careful not to look at Geralt. He's always felt a sense of protectiveness towards the discriminated, which explained why he spent fucking twenty years trying to improve the name of the Witchers amongst humans. And yet, many people still hated the men who stood between them and the monsters.
"Is everything alright, Joachim? It seemed like you didn't want to serve these fine men. You wouldn't want to mistreat a customer, would you?" he asked with a fake sympathy in his voice, letting his smile drop. The third Witcher gave an approving 'hmm'.
"O-oh, yes, o-of course, gentlem-m-men," he stuttered and handed the red-haired man a single key. Said Witcher growled.
"I asked for two rooms," he said and narrowed his eyes. Joachim's hands shook in terror.
"I-I am so-rry but we have o-o-only one le-left," he managed, near tears. He looked like he wanted to go on, but Jaskier sensed it would be better to cut him off.
"Well, darling Witchers, I happen to have rented a room in this fine tavern as well, a very spacious one and I believe it could contain one grumpy Witcher and a wonderfully talented bard such as myself!" he said cheerfully, trying to ignore the way his heart fluttered at the thought of spending one more night with Geralt. The Witcher casted him another unbelieving glance which Jaskier masterfully ignored.
"You, master bard, are a miracle," responded the third Witcher with a definitely-not-a-Wolf-School-medallion and gave him a dashing smile. "It is extremely rare to find a person who treats us Witchers as exceptionally well as you do! We shall thank you properly in the name of all Witchers but now, the least we can do to requite your hospitality is to, say, have a toast with this tavern's finest slivovitz!" he said cheerfully and Jaskier found himself nodding before even thinking about the proposal. The Witcher waved towards Joachim who seemed to have picked the hint and went to fetch their drinks. Jaskier went to sit with them around a relatively small table, firmly determined to ignore all of the gazes Geralt kept sending his way. He was more than relieved when he sat onto the chair farthest from Geralt but didn't let it express on his face.
"Oh, forgive us, master bard, where are my manners!" the third Witcher gave him a playfully shocked look and then continued. "I am Aiden of the School of the Cat, this here is Lambert, a Wolf and that, that is Geralt, also a Wolf," he said with a small smirk.
"A very idiotic Wolf I might add," mumbled Lambert and ignored Geralt's offended stare.
"A very idiotic Wolf, indeed," Jaskier spoke and finished before anyone could interrupt. "I happen to be Jaskier, the former bard of the White Wolf, now fully renowned and sought-after bard extraordinaire!" he said with emphasis onto the word former. He couldn't miss how Geralt flinched and felt twisted relief at that sight. Aiden and Lambert stared questioningly at Geralt but before anyone could say anything, Joachim came with the slivovitz (which was indeed one of the finest ones).
"Seems we have much more to thank you for! I have always wanted to meet the man whose words made walking the Path easier for us!" Aiden said and Jaskier all but blushed, which made Lambert growl possessively. Before Jaskier could ask, Lambert wrapped one arm around Aiden's waist and refused to let him go. Jaskier chuckled and dove into conversation with the couple, ignoring the pain at seeing exactly what he was longing for but couldn't have. He braced himself and parried the sharp pang of jealousy.
Geralt, well, Geralt was sitting in a corner, brooding. Drinking alone.
After another three rounds of slivovitz, when the night advanced and all of them were at least tipsy, they decided to retire for the rest of the night. It was clear that Aiden and Lambert were going to share one room, the joy in their eyes after realising they would have room and time just for each other was too bright for Jaskier to ask to be paired with someone else.
"C'mon," he all but slurred and tried to grab Geralt's arm and lead him to his room. He frowned when Geralt's hand slipped away. "Y're always so mean..." he whined and continued his way up the stairs. Geralt gave him another one of his 'hmms' and followed him.
When they finally entered Jaskier's room (after Jaskier spent five minutes arguing with the key), Geralt dropped his belongings to the floor near the door and headed towards a rug next to the bed. He started placing his bedroll on the rug, followed by Jaskier's unbelieving gaze.
"What're ya doin'?" he slurred again and the Witcher sighed, standing up. He avoided his eyes when he spoke in his softest tone, his amber eyes filled with pain and something else Jaskier couldn't name.
"You hate me and the least I can do for you is to make sure you are as comfortable as possible with me around. It was very kind of you to let me stay here and-" he was cut off by Jaskier.
"Don' hate ya, quite the contrary actu'lly..." he tried to whisper and Geralt let himself dream of how this would have sounded if Jaskier was sober and actually meant what he said. "Won't sleep in the bed if y're on the floor," the bard continued and wanted to lay down on the floor. He lost ballance on the way down and Geralt was able to catch him only because of his heightened senses and speed. "My hero..." Jaskier breathed dreamily and let his drunken eyes sink into Geralt's. The Witcher desperately hoped for the love in the cornflower eyes to be real.
"Hmm," was all he managed. Jaskier was everything. The stubble and the longer hair made him even more dashing (if that was even humanly possible) and the blue doublet made his eyes stand out more than usual. When he saw him performing tonight, it was like a load off his mind; his bard was safe and close... He had to shake his head. Jaskier was never his and never will be.
He grabbed him under the knees and carried him to the bed, tucking him in. When he made a move to lay on the bedroll, long, elegant fingers caught his wrist with unexpected strength.
"Stay. Please," the bard said pleadingly, suddenly sobbing and Geralt hurried to lay beside him, hugging him close. Jaskier calmed almost immediately in his hands and fell asleep soon after.
"I would stay forever if you would only wish for me to..." Geralt whispered with a sudden pain in his heart. What was happening was a fantasy he could never have, but he was determined to enjoy every minute of it. Sleep be damned, he was content with just holding his bard through the night for the last time.
*Magdalena can be used as a Polish version of Madeleine (which is a reference to the one and only Madeleine Hyland who sings with Joey in the Amazing Devil band).
Slivovitz is basically a plum brandy drank mostly by the Slavic people (kind of like a vodka but has a more plummy taste to it).
There will be one last chapter, in which it all comes together, because I'm a sucker for good endings.
Kudos and comments are very appreciated! <3
Chapter 4: Devour what's truly yours
Jaskier and Geralt finally have a talk (or a yelling competition?).
Aiden and Lambert are cute. (Actually they're kinda parenting the overgrown children Jaskier and Geralt are).
...and everything is fine (a toothrotting fluff, actually).
(They are painfully oblivious and an unbelievable high amount of pining has to be included)!
Geralt held Jaskier through the night. It had been difficult not to drift into sleep but he wanted to memorise every second of being close to his bard. The slightly smaller man was fast asleep and seemed content and peaceful. Just before the sunset, Geralt got up to fetch some bucket for Jaskier - he surely would be hungover considering the amount of alcohol he managed to drink. The Witcher also went downstairs to ask a barman (which surprisingly was someone else than Joachim) to fill the bath in Jaskier's room with water. He asked for cold water; firstly, it didn't particularly matter since he could heat it with Igni anytime, secondly because taverns usually charged double the amount for hot water. Even though the winter was coming and the season meant shelter and food for free, he didn't exactly feel comfortable about wasting coin.
After making sure everything was prepared for Jaskier, he quickly made his way back to the room and hurried to lay beside his bard again. He knew he was being selfish, Jaskier would surely never allow anything like that had he been sober and awake, but he couldn't help it. He'd wanted to hold the man for twenty or so years and given the fact this was his last opportunity, he decided not to waste it. And so he lay, half dosed with Jaskier's presence, half terrified of the moment he would have to let him go. At some time during the waiting, he actually fell asleep, being calmed by Jaskier's smell and steady breathing.
It hadn't been until late morning when Jaskier finally woke up. As anticipated, his head hurt like hell and his stomach felt a bit funny. He was relieved to see a bucket next to the bed and a waterskin on the nightstand. His throat felt parched and the bitter aftertaste of alcohol made itself known. It took him some time to realise he was pressed tightly against someone's chest, said someone having his hands wrapped around him. He froze for a moment but then realised it had to be Geralt, given the circumstances of the Witcher's stay.
That was what surprised him the most - the fact Geralt willingly held him, no, that he was able to stay in the same room as someone who shovelled shit on him. He frowned and had to close his eyes for a moment. All he wanted to do was to fall asleep again and never have to leave Geralt's embrace. But not even his hangover allowed him to believe anything like that was possible. He would probably get yelled at a bit and then all three Witchers were going to take off, leaving him behind. He decided it would be better to get this over with as soon as possible, there was no point in letting himself be held by Geralt, knowing it means nothing to the Witcher.
So he sighed heavily and tried to remove himself from Geralt's arms, only managing to make the Witcher grumble and tighten his hold ever so slightly. The bard wiggled a bit more and suddenly Geralt snapped awake and let go of him the instant. Jaskier's gaze dropped. He didn't understand himself, he knew the Witcher had no interest in being with him, so why the fuck did getting refused hurt so much?! Doing this, he masterfully managed to miss the way Geralt's eyes filled with worry lingered at him. He tried to get up but his head started spinning rapidly, followed by abrupt nausea. He reeled on his way to the bucket and suddenly Geralt was there, steadying him and helping him to his knees. Once the vomiting was over and Jaskier regained his balance, Geralt's arms left him again.
"Thank you," he managed, his throat a bit sore. He wasn't sure whether he should apologise or not, considering all the times Geralt had helped him through his hangovers. He decided not to and Geralt nodded gently, watching him with concern and... nervousness?
"I... had the barman bring up some water, if you'd like to bathe," Geralt said, uncertainty clear in his voice, as he sat back on the bed. Jaskier took a few gulps from the waterskin before answering the unspoken question.
"Yes, that would be lovely," both of them cringed at the formality in their dialogue, but neither wanted to offend the other by pointing it out.
"Right, then..." Geralt started and raised his hand to cast Igni on the bathtub. The water inside began steaming and the whole room got a bit warmer. Jaskier stood irresolutely in between the bed and the bathtub, in turns eyeing Geralt and the water. The Witcher raised his eyebrow and then realised what was going on, embarrassed. "Oh, oh, right, I'm sorry. I'll go. Take your time and let us know once you're freshened up, please. Lambert and Aiden surely wouldn't want to leave without saying goodbye," he said, adding 'and me' in his head but not out loud, unsure whether or not it would be appropriate. He waited for Jaskier to nod affirmatively and then left the room for the bard to bathe. He made sure his belongings stayed in place, a silent promise he wasn't going anywhere.
The moment he had closed the door, he immediately wanted to hit himself in the head repeatedly. How could he allow himself to fall asleep?! It was clear Jaskier wasn't fond of him anymore, so how did he manage to lose his guard and sleep? His previous intentions - to let go of the bard the moment he started to wake up - were destroyed by his lack of self-control. He shook his head and opened his eyes - when did he even close them in the first place? - and followed the scent of his brother to another room.
They'd mostly been travelling together for the past four months, which meant he knew better than to burst into the room unannounced. He definitely wasn't in a mood to catch his brother and Aiden showing their affection physically, as they both called fucking, much to Geralt's dismay. That was why he made sure to knock at least twice and didn't enter until he heard a clear 'Come in!' from the inside.
Lambert and Aiden in fact still were in bed, but both of them wore their pants at least, which Geralt gladly noticed - no nightmares for him, good. (Not that big, scary Witchers got nightmares, of course). They both thoroughly scanned him with their eyes and then watched him, puzzled.
"Didn't you say you and Jaskier weren't on good terms with each other anymore?" Lambert asked and Geralt nodded, quite unsure as to why he was asked that. "Then why the fuck do you reek of his fucking scent?!" his brother added angrily and Geralt only shrugged, unaware of further enraging Lambert by this action. Why the fuck was he even mad? But before Lambert managed to form his rage into words, Aiden stepped in.
"Geralt... you know that solving problems with sex isn't the best way, right?" he said calmly, resting his hand on Lambert's shoulder and Geralt found himself thankful for the way the Cat affected his brother.
"Yes, I am actually fully aware of that. And I can assure you that nothing had happened between the two of us during the night. Unlike you two," he couldn't help poking the couple. He chuckled a bit at their slightly offended (but fond) faces and quickly continued. "I was about to sleep on the ground, but Jask insisted I sleep on the bed as well," those words said, he moved to sit onto the single chair next to the bed. He didn't notice their amazed faces, fuck it, he didn't even notice how he abbreviated Jaskier's name in the way only lovers did. His head was now bowed low, the floor suddenly seemed to be very interesting.
"Fuck. You really care about the bard, don't you?" Lambert gave a gasp and leaned over to pat Geralt's shoulder. "Hey, I dunno, what happened between the two of you but, fuck, you should talk," he said and Aiden nodded. They watched him as if they expected him to storm right after Jaskier, not realising anything Geralt did. He felt a tight knot inside of his belly.
"That's the fucking thing!" he snapped, tugging at his hair. "I care for him, I want nothing more than to keep him forever! But he's too fragile to walk the Path with me, too pure to end up with a Witcher, too short-living not to die long before I do. He deserves much more than just following me around, sleeping in the woods after being cast out of a town! He's... better off without me," his last words were barely a whisper as he suddenly felt lost, torn apart. He had never thought he would have a companion, fuck it, a love interest, let alone as perfect as Jaskier was, but Destiny was a fucking bitch. It gave him just the thing he'd never asked for and wanted to take it away from him the instant he accepted it. He frowned so hard it almost hurt, his nails digging into his scalp, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"What if... you aren't the only one feeling that way?" Aiden asked gently, trying not to push any more triggers on Geralt. "What if Jaskier wants you like this, too? Isn't it more cruel to reject him? To leave him wandering the Continent with broken heart, alone?" he watched as Geralt frowned and tugged at his hair even more. "I think you should talk to him. To actually express whatever it is you're feeling. I don't know what happened between the two of you, I don't want to. I'm just saying a conversation is the best solution right now. Right?" he turned at Lambert who gave a soft nod and then snuggled closer to his neck. Geralt all but smiled at the sight of his brother being happy, and then started rocking a bit, thinking about everything they told him. A talk maybe wasn't a bad idea, after all.
As Jaskier bathed, he kept thinking about his further actions. He could go to Oxenfurt and teach for the winter, or to accept some of the offers from the nobles to stay at their court for that season. He sighed, quite unsure as for what to do now. There were three Witchers waiting for him somewhere at the tavern and he had no idea what to do. He couldn't say goodbye to Geralt again, his heart wouldn't bear it.
His muscles relaxed a bit thanks to the hot water and the hangover was slightly receding, much to his delight. At least he wouldn't feel like shit until the Witchers leave.
When he deemed himself clean enough, he got from the bathtub, wiped himself dry and went to dress up. The blue doublet wasn't in the best condition after yesterday's performance and drinking, plus sleeping in it. He washed it quickly in the lukewarm water and then put the carmine red doublet on. It made his eyes stand out and he decided he could at least look dashing while having his heart broken.
He checked his appearance one last time and then moved to the door, ready to face the Witchers, but then he noticed one of Geralt's saddlebags was opened and a book lay next to it. Jaskier realised it must have fallen out when Geralt dropped the bags the last night and he eyed the book nervously, unsure whether he should put it back or leave it there. He didn't want to go through Geralt's belongings but... he would only put a book back and then close it again, right? There is nothing nosy in doing that, he told himself and leaned forward to pick the book.
Once he held it in his hands, his jaw dropped. The book felt familiar, it was covered in a green-dyed leather and the letters imprinted to it were accentuated with golden ink. He didn't even have to read the title to know it was his book - one of the collections which had been published during the last four months. He didn't understand whatever was going on. He thought he'd solved everything, that he understood Geralt's feelings, but now, looking at Love Run, the first collection he'd published, he felt puzzled again.
Why would Geralt buy a book from the person he loathes? His mind did, in fact, provide him with many reasons Geralt may had had, but Jaskier wasn't willing to believe those. He knew Geralt hated him, that he wished to never have met him in the first place. It... maybe it was given to him as a payment... from a bookshop owner? It simply didn't make sense.
He put the book away quickly, shook his head and left the room even more baffled than he had been before.
It wasn't hard to find the Witchers. Firstly - it probably was a rule for the Witchers to smell as horses, secondly, Lambert was loud. Geralt had mentioned his brother before, of course, but nothing could prepare Jaskier for the reality. How could a Witcher be so fucking loud?! Jaskier braced himself and knocked quietly, knowing that the Witchers have probably already heard his footsteps. There was a brief and quiet chatter in the room and then the door opened, giving Jaskier the view of Aiden's bare chest. (Was it another Witcher rule to have no fucking manners at all?)
"Oh, hello Jaskier!" Aiden exclaimed and patted his shoulder. After that he moved so that Jaskier could enter. Geralt quickly jumped from the chair he had been sitting at and offered it to the bard, once again leaving him terribly confused.
He sat on the chair, the Witchers' gazes never leaving him. They conversed for a while, but when Jaskier's stomach started rumbling, Aiden stood.
"Oh, right, I'll go fetch something to eat and bring it here," he said with a wink. "Lam, you comin'?" Lambert didn't seem willing to leave the bed and for a while he looked like he'll argue, but then Aiden shot him a telling look and suddenly the red-haired Witcher shot up. The couple dressed properly, each took a dagger and before Jaskier knew it, the door was slammed shut, leaving him alone with Geralt, said Witcher looking irresolutely. Jaskier finally had an opportunity to scan him properly - the silver hair slightly shorter than it used to be, golden eyes filled with... fear?, he felt relieven when he didn't notice any new scars. The White Wolf was as comely as usual, if one wasn't scared of the abnormal features.
Geralt clenched his fists and fucking bit his lower lip. He was nervous, unsure, maybe even cowardly - but fuck all of it, he wasn't the one masterly with the words. He sighed and cleared his throat, catching Jaskier's attention.
"You, uh, you grew your hair out," Geralt said, instantly regretting his words. You're supposed to apologise, not comment on his appearance! Jaskier raised his eyebrow and watched him suspiciously. Fuck.
"Yeah, guess I did," he replied, not knowing what else to say. His hand unwittingly scratched the back of his neck. Geralt's amber eyes still followed every single motion and he felt fidgety. "You like it?" he asked before he could stop himself. His eyes went wide and he could only stare in shock as Geralt nodded with an almost-not-there smile.
"Suits you," Geralt all but whispered and then cleared his throat again. "I'm... I'm sorry, Jask. For the twenty years of rudeness, for not being the company you deserved, but most importantly for the hunt. I- what I said there wasn't the truth. Any of it. I know it and I hope you do, too. Can I- is there anything I could do to deserve your forgiveness, please?" he said with a knot in his stomach. The bard watched him in awe, at his words end. When it was clear Jaskier wasn't going to say anything, Geralt stood up and kneeled in front of him, making Jaskier look him in the eye. He rested his hand on Jaskier's and that touch made Jaskier flinch and move away from the touch.
"Don't, please, don't," Jaskier said and Geralt eyed him inquiringly. Jaskier gulped and closed his eyes. "Don't make me believe something that isn't true. Don't be so... so gentle. Just yell at me already!" he snapped, making Geralt jerk and stand up. He shut his eyes even tighter and expected a yell, a punch... anything. But nothing was happening. It was not until he heard soft footsteps heading away, that he opened his eyes, only to see Geralt sitting on the floor, his back reclined against the bed.
"I won't, ever, yell at you again," Geralt whispered firmly looking him straight in the eye again. "It just- it was too much. I-I can't watch you die, Jaskier. I can't live knowing you died because of knowing me. Fuck, I'm terrified of watching you get old and perish. I thought that- that if I send you away, you'd be fine. I know you hate me and I'm not surprised you do, I just wanted to tell you you're none of those things I called you. None. If I had to be honest, you actually are one of the best things in my life, in any Witcher's life. I've never even so much as thanked you, or-or I don't know congratulated you on your success..." he started babbling, overwhelmed by his emotions up to the point he hadn't noticed Jaskier approaching him. The bard was now sitting in front of him, legs crossed, and fuck if he wasn't perfect.
"I don't hate you," Jaskier spoke softly, even though he wanted to scream at the stupid Witcher. "I don't think I could if I wanted, which I do not. To be honest, I thought you hated me." Geralt's head lowered even more. "Hey, I can't say everything is forgiven because gods, what you said hurt so fucking much, but now I at least understand your intentions a bit more," he continued and cupped Geralt's face in his hands. Geralt looked up and were those tears sparkling in his eyes? The Witcher took a deep breath and then looked like he was deciding on something. Jaskier let him take his time and then, finally, Geralt spoke again.
"I still am terrified. Because I've never felt what I feel for you," his words, barely a whisper, cut into Jaskier's heart and his stomach suddenly felt as if there were butterflies inside. He couldn't help but smile. But then a realisation fell upon him and he felt sudden rage.
"You fucking idiot!" he screamed, standing up, hands tugging at his hair. "Are you seriously telling me you love me? Me? Were it not for your idiotic, fucking heroism, you wouldn't send me away, you wouldn't feel the need to hurt me. And you did all of this because you love me?!" he smacked his shoulder hard, knowing he can't hurt the man, but it was a great way to relieve him of at least some of the frustration. "And you didn't feel like telling me about your feelings, why exactly? Because of the whole 'Witchers don't feel' crap? And you haven't, not even once, thought that your feelings don't particularly have to be unrequitted? Melitele's tits, Geralt, you fucking idiot!" he nagged at the Witcher, smacking him every now and then. And then suddenly, Geralt stood up too, as frustrated as Jaskier.
"And you think there could be anything between us?! We're not in a fucking fairytale, Jaskier. This is reality, and that means there won't be any 'happy ever after'! You'll die in like what, three decades? If not sooner. And I'm supposed to live knowing that? That anyone I love, anyone human, is going to die much sooner than I do?! You have no fucking idea what it's like! I-I can't do this, not anymore! Not again!" his voice broke but he didn't care.
"You wouldn't," Jaskier suddenly said.
"What?" barely a hoarse whisper.
"Lose me. Well, at least not to time. I hadn't told you earlier because you just didn't seem to care enough, but..." he didn't finish, instead, he closed his eyes and channelled his magic. Geralt's medallion vibrated. The room suddenly filled with flowery smell and a small crown of buttercups appeared in Jaskier's hair. There was scent of magic in the room, but Geralt noticed it wasn't the pungent smell of Chaos - no, this was something purer and more natural.
"But how, you're... you've never..." was all he managed, abruptly in awe and shock.
"I'm a dryad - well, a half-dryad. Long story short, my father wandered too far into Brokilon and the dryads made him do the same as most of the captured men. But then I was born, a boy, and they weren't interested in having a man amongst them, so they sent one of them to return me to Lettenhove," he tried to sound cheerful, but his voice cracked a bit. Geralt understood. Being rejected as a child hurt, he of all people knew that. Jaskier was silent for a while and then continued: "My heritage has granted me a long life, much longer than an average human would have, anyway. So if that was the only obstacle..." he let the rest of the sentence unspoken, since both of them knew how it ended.
"Are you sure you want to be associated with a Witcher? An abomination?" Geralt asked quietly, deserving another smack from Jaskier. The bard came closer and put one hand on his cheek.
"That is not what you are, dear heart. But yes, whatever people call you, I don't care, as long as you don't, too," he said, caressing Geralt's skin with his thumb. The Witcher tried to smile.
"You kept the doublet," Geralt said, moving his hands to Jaskier's waist, exactly the way he's wanted to do for so long. Jaskier only smiled and moved his arms behind Geralt's neck.
"You bought my book," he replied and Geralt chuckled. They joined their foreheads, perfectly content with simply holding each other like that. They stayed that way for a moment, both waiting for the other to make the first move.
Finally, Jaskier got on his tiptoes and leaned his face even closer to Geralt's.
"Julian..." Geralt whispered and Jaskier shivered with the way his name sounded from Geralt's lips.
Then, after what felt like an eternity, their lips crashed together in a desperate need to have the other as close as possible. What was initially a chaste kiss turned deep and sloppy but neither of them cared. They finally had what they'd been longing for. They kept kissing for as long as Jaskier's lungs could endure (which was much more thanks to his trained lungs and his inhuman heritage) and after that, they joined their foreheads once again, content.
"I love you, Julek, I think I always have," Geralt breathed with a wide smile after a while.
"I love you, too," Jaskier replied and then grinned. "But don't think everything is forgiven, I'll make you compensate for it for a loooong time," he threatened and Geralt chuckled.
"Anything you wish for, flower," was Geralt's answer. But when he heard a horse outside, he froze, returning to reality. Jaskier sensed his discomfort and looked at him.
"Everything okay, Witcher mine?" he asked but there was something in his eyes that Geralt knew - Jaskier was thinking the same thing he did. The winter was coming and he had to go to Kaer Morhen, back to training Ciri, back to being a Witcher. And judging by the way Jaskier looked at him, he was realising the same thing. But this time, Geralt knew exactly what to do.
"Come to Kaer Morhen with me, Jask, come home," he said breathless, worrying the bard might refuse and leave again. That worry didn't last long; the bard's face lit up and he suddenly had an armful of Jaskier to hold and kiss.
"Yes, yes, yes," was the answer he got, he was longing for, and Jaskier repeated it into his mouth, into his neck, into his hair. Geralt felt a spark of joy in his heart - something he hasn't felt for a long time. Maybe Destiny wasn't such a bitch, after all.
They were interrupted by a fake cough from the door and turned to see Aiden and Lambert with happy faces. Actually, Aiden with a happy face and Lambert with a frown, handing a small pouch over to Aiden.
"Hope it was worth my fucking money," he grunted to the couple, but Aiden smacked his chest and then draped over it. Fucking weird Cats! Jaskier tilted his head back and laughed at their antics. Geralt's heart fluttered, while he still couldn't believe that a creature such as beautiful as Jaskier could exist - what's more, be interested in him.
Anyone else be damned, he's got his bard and his Witcher family and there wasn't anything he would change. He kissed Jaskier again and then let him down, content. He suddenly didn't care about the sheer track to Kaer Morhen, he didn't care about Nilfgaard, he didn't care about anything bad in the world. He had his bard at his side, his beacon of light and hope, who made the future seem brighter. They sat down on the bed to breakfast and Jaskier leaned against him, one hand wrapped around his waist, stealing a kiss from him every now and then. In the end, having someone who needed him was fucking great and there wasn't anything he wished for more. His bard was everything, and deep down he knew Jaskier felt the same. He ignored Lambert's telling looks, at the moment there wasn't anything that mattered - except for Jaskier, of course.
Hey, thanks for reading! I hope you liked it. I know it's not perfect - it's actually my first fanfiction ever, so I hope it was at least an average one.
Any Kudos and comments are highly appreciated, it's what's motivated me to keep going even though it sometimes felt awkward.
There might be a bonus chapter, if you'd like, so please let me know whether or not you're interested.
Have a nice day!
Chapter 5: Whispers from the dead
Bonus chapter because I can't get enough of these two being adorably in love.
I kind of don't want to mention much about the war with Nilfgaard, since I still haven't finished the books, so there's going to be just a short mention, not going into the details much. After all, this is a toothrotting fluff in which I don't really want to include too much brutality.
And, well, yeah, a lot of the canon is ignored... fight me. :D
The things were well.
That was how they could describe their lives once the war with Nilfgaard ended. All of them had their scars, yes, but now they had time to cope with those. Time and friends to help them.
That being said, they still woke up screaming at night. Names of the dead being shouted to the cold darkness. But despite all of the pain, things were well.
Jaskier was often lost in his mind, undoubtedly trying his best to compose ballads to honour all the fallen. Geralt would sit by his side whenever that particular mood came. Not that the Witcher would be much better. He, too, mourned. Sometimes, more often than not, the weight of everything he put on his shoulders would feel like it was crushing him. Those were the times for Jaskier to return the favour and take his place by the Witcher's side, humming soft melodies while caressing the other man.
The war has taken a lot from them. But they were safe once again. Had each other and their friends. But still, they were haunted by the faces of the dead at nights, waking up screaming.
They were heading to Oxenfurt, much to Jaskier's joy. And if Geralt's 'hmming' was anything to go by, he was thankful for the change as well. Oxenfurt was full of life and happiness, a bright place in the darkness of the Continent. Maybe a bit too joyful or loud for Geralt's taste but what wouldn't he do for his bard, right?
The words he thought he would never be able to say out loud. After two decades of pining and seemingly unrequited love. After everything they've gone through. He was finally able to say it, to express it. So he did.
He had been afraid to, at first. Not because of what would people think of him, he was far too familiar with hatred from them. No, he had been concerned about Jaskier's reputation. It was one thing to be a Witcher's friend but warming a Witcher's bed was something diametrically different. But on one day, after he vocalized his concerns to Jaskier, the bard laughed at him and said he didn't care, either.
"My songs are too good for people to refuse them, Geralt," he said with a dramatic expression as he put his hand on his heart theatrically. "How could you think you are destroying my reputation? You're my greatest muse! Now, stop with the smugness, I could be renowned even without you, sir! But I chose to follow you that day in Posada, because only the greatest men who smell of onion - ow, ow, all right, pardon me, heroics and - Geralt, let me down! Geralt!"
Geralt had to chuckle at that memory. One that was filled with joy rather than sorrow and darkness. One of those which kept him sane and hopeful.
He watched his bard with love in his eyes, lingering on every one of his features. The elegant fingers plucking mindlessly on his lute, the soft hair framing his aristocratic face... everything. Jaskier was everything.
And Geralt could only try to be everything in return.
They managed to arrive at Oxenfurt before the sunset. They went to stall their horses together and then took to the tavern. Some people watched them with fear but most of them cheered at the sight of Master bard Jaskier and his Witcher. They made their way to the counter and paid for a room and supper. The barmaid explained that the tavern already had a bard to play for the night, which only meant Jaskier would get to spend the evening alongside Geralt.
They took a seat at a corner table, leaning against a wall and enjoying themselves. Jaskier mindlessly reached for Geralt's hand and interwined their fingers with a content smile. The Witcher squeezed his hand and rested his head on the bard's shoulder for a few precious moments. After a while, the barmaid came with their food and they ate and drank as they liked.
After a while, the bard came from their break. Jaskier couldn't see them from the corner table but his hunger overpowered his curiosity for once. The bard started to sing, and a wonderfully toned mezzosoprano wafted through the room. It was a woman, then. And frankly talented at that. She played her lute in an almost-masterly way and Jaskier could only gasp as he recognised the opening to one of his less-famous ballads.
Playing someone else's songs was considered quite rude among bards, so it was no wonder Jaskier got a bit upset. But as he started to get up, a firm hand on his shoulder kept him seated. Geralt grunted at him and nodded to the bard's half-eaten food. Jaskier got his message. Eat before you cause a scene, you melodramatic fool. The bard winked teasingly and stole a quick kiss from the Witcher. Then he turned his attention to his food but kept listening to the bard as she sang The Wolfsbane and Catnip. He had to admit she was talented. She altered the song a bit (again, rude) in a way that made it more catchy and joyful.
After that ballad, she played two of her own, probably, something about poppies and cornflowers, that made him swing his feet in the rhythm. Judging by the other patrons, she was quite popular among the townsfolk. One of the men teased her in between two songs but she had a witty retort ready that made everyone laugh. Even Geralt's lips quirked in a small smile. Jaskier grew more curious every minute. He couldn't wait for the end of her performance, so that he could talk to her. He even went as far as asking the barmaid to give an ale to the bard from him, with a short request to join him afterwards.
When she announced the last song would be Her Sweet Kiss (which he eventually published a few months after reuniting with Geralt), he wasn't even mad. He was vibrating with excitement and Geralt had to put one of his hands around his waist so that he wouldn't join the crowd near the stage. He leaned against his Witcher and calmed a bit listening to the familiar heartbeat. If he hadn't been so excited, he would definitely melt into a puddle at this gentle side of Geralt.
Finally, after repeating the chorus for the fourth time, she finished her performance and went to put the lute away in its case in the backstage. Right after that, she went to the counter to ask the barmaid for another ale and also for the location of her mysterious patron. Jaskier got a proper sight of her for the first time and wasn't she a sight to behold... Curly brown hair flowing on her back, vibrant green dress hugging her body as a second skin, the skirt having a mid-thigh slit. Sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a relatively modest cleavage resting on top of a vivid red corset. Her whole persona was covered in jewellery but in a fashionable way. There never was too much. She was perfectly put-together even after an evening-long performance. The barmaid pointed their way and the bard's eyes shone with excitement. She couldn't see their faces, given the dim lightning of the corner. But she probably could see Jaskier's carmine red doublet, very similar colour to her corset. Geralt's silver hair probably shone even in such gloomy light. The bard turned to fetch two more drinks and then turned and approached the two of them.
"Greetings, mysterious patrons who sent me pints of ale!" she began cheerfully as she sat across them. "I am the most delighted woman on the Continent to be gifted by such wonderful men," she continued, no doubt playing a game that has paid a lot. Jaskier had to smile, even though he wanted to talk to her out of different reasons than she might have thought. "Oh, where are my manners, you have to excuse me, good sirs, I haven't even introduced myself properly!" she suddenly exclaimed and went on before they could intervene. "I am the Oxenfurt renowned and townsfolk beloved bard and storyteller Cykoria, the pleasure is all mine!" she said and eyed their faces half-hidden in the darkness. Jaskier gasped and his eyes went wide seeing the girl he once met and named. He sprung from the table and walked to her seat, finally showing his face to his little bard. Cykoria's mouth went wide open as she, too, jumped from her chair and went to hug the other bard.
"Jaskier!" she exclaimed as he hugged her back, not caring about the patrons watching them curiously.
"It's so good to see you, bardling mine," Jaskier said and ran his hand through her hair playfully. She chuckled and then retreated a bit, taking in his appearance. After a while, she suddenly smacked his shoulder.
"How come I've never met you before?! You have no idea for how long I've dreamt about this! But of course, you had to be the charitable, noble person in the background, didn't you?!" she smacked him again and then looked him in the eye, suddenly serious. "I have never gotten the opportunity to thank you, for everything you've done for me. You have no idea how much you helped me and my family by providing money for my studies, Jaskier, thank you. I'm now able to take care of them and they're finally living the life they deserve to," she said with tears in her eyes. It was true. Jaskier asked his friend Magdalena, who stayed as a full-time teacher at the university after graduation, to keep an eye for a girl who would call herself Cykoria. If such girl were to appear, he was willing to provide money for her studies, or at least pay up however much money her family could offer. Even though he'd seen her once, he saw the potential in her and was willing to spend any coin on her education.
"I'm glad you're happy, bardling," he replied, his own tears threatening to flow freely from his eyes. He took her hand in his and lead her towards Geralt, said Witcher looking a bit confused. "Geralt, dear, you remember the time I told you about a little girl who brightened my days when we were... separated?" he asked, trying to choose the right words. Geralt had been punishing himself long enough for how he treated Jaskier and the bard hated every second of it. "Well, this is her now, apparently," he continued and felt his heart warm as Geralt smiled at Cykoria, who bowed her head in a small courtesy.
"Good to meet you," Geralt said quietly. "Thank you for whatever you did back then, truly," he added and lowered his head, but Jaskier didn't let him to drown in sorrow once again. He quickly sat next to him and stroked a gentle finger along his cheek.
"We've talked about it, haven't we, dear heart? There's nothing to be sorry for, anymore. I love you and would be delighted if I got a kiss," he said invitingly and saw Geralt's mouth form into a smile. (And yes, he got the kiss).
"Oh, so it's true!" Cykoria suddenly exclaimed, watching them excitedly. "You have to tell me everything about your definitely heart-breaking romance and I shall write ballads and sonnets about your eternal love! The Witcher and his Bard!" she clapped at that idea, whereas Geralt grunted, having an expression of a long-suffering martyr. Jaskier only chuckled and waved at the barmaid to bring more liquor. Definitely not for the last time that night.
The following morning, all of them woke up with a splitting headache and terrible hangover, Geralt and Jaskier wondering why they're wearing matching rings and Cykoria smiling conspiratorially, humming the melody of her new ballad, Of a Witcher's Lark.
Jaskier absolutely adored Cykoria, even went as far as naming her his successor, since he didn't have any children of his own and wasn't planning to - he had Geralt, in the end, and as much as he loved him, he knew it wasn't biologically possible for them to have children. But with Ciri and Cykoria in their lives, they honestly couldn't ask for better children.
Sometimes, the girls would join them on the Path, sometimes they would meet Lambert and Aiden or Eskel. And in winters, they would all meet up in Kaer Morhen, exchanging stories and memories.
And even though the pain of what they've been through could never vanish, even though they still woke up crying, they had their family, their happy ever after.
The things were well. Better than they could ever dream of.
Okay, so, here it is, as promised. I had to make it a toothrotting fluff, obviously, but I also felt the need to project some of my pain into the first part. But! I'm really happy with how it turned out, I've wanted to give Cykoria some purpose further in the work but then I decided to finish it relatively early, so I just had to make a bonus chapter with her.
I really, really hope you liked it! Let me know in the comments or by leaving Kudos, it honestly makes my days brighter and motivates me to keep writing! I have some ideas in mind, so this might not be the last time you've heard of me! :D
Okay, well, I would appreciate any feedback, as I wrote before.
And now I can only wish you a nice day and say goodbye and thanks! I really love you, stay safe! <3