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A bored Jaskier is a bothersome Jaskier. Everyone in the house knows this; from Geralt, who the little bird spends the most amount of time hanging off of and pestering, to the lower dogs making up the rest of the pack, who are often escorting the bird on one of his many walks around the boroughs. Spending sizeable chunks of Geralt’s gold can only give him so much pleasure, as can keeping the White Wolf in their bed.

He sighs for what could be the tenth time over breakfast, pushing his scrambled eggs and grilled mushrooms around. The long mahogany table hosts a few Wolves. Geralt heads the table, obviously, with Jaskier perched to his right. Eskel sits at his left, with Lambert beside him, and other Wolves scatter throughout the rest of the table. He learned his place at this table months ago; something that indicated where one stood with the White Wolf. And rather than drag another chair over to share the top of the table with Geralt, Jaskier is quite happy heading the right-hand side.

It’s not that the breakfast isn’t good. It always is. Even with their own kitchen staff, Eskel will find some way of breaking into the kitchen and whipping up something before the staff can even think of starting. A long-standing cold war for the kitchen has been around for years, apparently.

But, gods alive, he’s so fucking bored.

No contracts – nothing that takes his fancy, anyway. Either not enough gold attached to them, or offered by people he would rather keep alive and close, than having to do away with them altogether. And then there’s Geralt butting in on every single one of them. He’s Geralt’s Shrike now. He can’t be as free with his blades anymore.

Geralt pointedly ignores his bird, nursing a bowl of muesli and yoghurt and a steaming cup of black coffee. He scrolls through his phone, keeping his eyes and attention solely on the screen in front of him, rather than the bird ruffling his feathers by his side.

He sets his fist to his cheek, lips thinned as he wonders about going to Redania again. It has been a while since he’s run through the borough armed with Geralt’s gold—

Geralt takes a measured sip of coffee. “Are you ready for Nilfgaard?” he asks the other side of the table. Jaskier looks up in time to see Eskel nod. Geralt hums. “Good. Take as many of the pack as you need.”

Eskel flashes the White Wolf a feral smile. “I’m more than capable of looking after myself, boss.”

Geralt watches the man over the rim of his coffee cup. “I know,” he says. “But I like you alive, so bring who you like.”

Jaskier’s ears prick. “I’ll come with you,” he says, mindful not to be too earnest.

A soft laugh huffs out of Eskel. “I doubt you would enjoy yourself, little bird. Production talks are painfully boring,” he says, finishing off the last of his bacon and sausage.

“Don’t care,” Jaskier replies. He lifts his chin. “I can keep you safe.”

Eskel regards him for a moment before he nods. He’s never been one to turn down company. And he knows that if Jaskier puts enough force behind his words, and he wants to do something, there’s no point in trying to stop him.

Geralt, though, arches an eyebrow. “Didn’t know you had an interest in narcotic deals and production,” he murmurs, setting his cutlery down and sitting back into his chair.

Jaskier lifts a shoulder. “I can’t just be your Shrike, can I?” he asks, letting something unspoken sit behind it. He knows the other things people call him. All sorts of whispers have brushed his ear. The White Wolf’s Whore being particularly popular around certain areas of the Continent.

Not that he minds. Lords and Barons can say what they like. He knows that they would drop everything to be in his position. He’s watched too many wandering hands slip onto Geralt’s shoulder and knee at parties and gatherings, and when people start getting a bit too familiar, sidling close and lulling propositions into his ear, Jaskier will step out of the shadows and force them away.

Geralt hums. Something glints the gold in his eyes. “I would prefer you stay here,” he rumbles.

Jaskier sets down his own cutlery. “To do what? Spend even more days stuck in this house?” He leans forward. There’s no point, really. Wolves have terribly keen hearing, and the table is quiet enough that no matter how low Jaskier will try to keep his voice, someone will overhear. “And we’ve been having wonderful nights and mornings together, darling, but I need to do something else other than wet your cock.”

Lambert all but gags from further down the table. “I’m eating!” he growls, waving to his half-finished plate.

Geralt sighs. “Fine,” he grunts, looking to Eskel. “Keep him to heel. He can be terribly keen with a knife.”

Jaskier winks when Eskel looks over at him. The corners of the man’s lips twitch, but he gathers his plate and cutlery and stands. “We’re leaving in an hour, little bird. Grab whatever you need.”

Eskel has barely stepped out of the dining room before Geralt straightens in his chair. He regards the rest of the table – dogs keeping to themselves at the other side, and Lambert stuffing the rest of his food into his face. Geralt takes a steadying breath. “Out.”

Jaskier’s fork stills mid-air as the table empties. The younger dogs are quick to leave, some caught between just fleeing the room altogether or cleaning up after themselves. Their elders drag them away, muttering that they can just come back for it later. Lambert mutters under his breath. Something about stupid fucking birds. Scraping the last of his plate’s food into his mouth, he marches out with the rest of them, but lets the dining room door click shut behind him.

Jaskier rolls his eyes. “Now, do you always have to be so dramatic?” he tsks. “Why is it never Jaskier, I need to talk to you? You’re disturbing everyone else’s meals—”

“What are you doing?”

The tone makes him pause for a second. It’s not angry. Geralt’s anger is reserved for cocky Lords and Barons who toe the line with him. But something does glint Geralt’s eye that has Jaskier thinking about the next words coming out of his mouth. Not that he holds an ounce of fear for the White Wolf; he never has and never will.

Jaskier regards him for a moment. “What do you mean, darling?” he lilts instead, sitting skewed in his chair and reaching out for Geralt’s hand. He links their fingers together. The smile on his lips only grows when Geralt levels him with a look.

The fingers curled around his tighten. “This isn’t a trip to downtown,” Geralt warns, unblinking as he settles Jaskier with what the man already knows. “These are important meetings that need to go well for our business to prosper. If you decide to go, I want you to behave yourself.”

Jaskier flashes him a bright smile. “Darling,” he practically purrs. “I’m always well-behaved.”

“Hmm.” Geralt lifts their joined hands, bringing Jaskier’s fingers to his lips. Jaskier likes gold as much as the next person, perhaps even more. That’s what growing up without a copper coin to line his pocket will do. So he keeps his neck collared with gold chains and thin necklaces, wrists bound with bracelets and rings lining his fingers. Geralt presses a lingering kiss to his knuckles, eyes catching one of Jaskier’s newer rings. “You can go,” the White Wolf rumbles, “but you’re at Eskel’s command. Whatever he says goes, understood, darling?”

Something curls in the pit of Jaskier’s gut. “Whatever he says?” he repeats, making sure that they’re both understanding each other.

The corners of Geralt’s lips lift. He parts with Jaskier’s hand, not before leaving one last lingering kiss along his knuckles. “Be good, little lark.”

 


 

The empire that Emhyr has built for himself over the last number of years rivals what Vesemir had built in the North. A string of counties running along the join of their two empires hold allegiances to both sides of the river they find themselves on, but Jaskier has only ever known it as No Man’s Land. Even he wouldn’t dream of wandering too far south.

Nilfgaard is warm, though. A wall of heat greats them as they step out of the plane, Eskel striding ahead first, down the steps and onto the tarmac. A car sits parked nearby, with a small cavalcade of suited guards around it.

Jaskier follows the rest of their pack; Aubry and Gweld among the younger, but proven pups. Eskel chats to a man waiting for them by the car. Jaskier can’t hear anything over the roar of the plane’s engine, but he does watch the man nod stiffly and wave the guards away.

Eskel’s Wolves replace them. As Jaskier and Eskel bundle into the back of the car, Jaskier watches Aubry replace the driver and Gweld perches by his side. The other Wolves will join them at wherever it is they’ve agreed to meet the clients; in cars that will definitely materialise out of nowhere and follow theirs like a procession. And it’s all done silently and without hesitation. Geralt’s Wolves know what to do. They’re highly trained things that get jobs done as effectively as possible.

The AC is a welcomed relief. He knows how vast the empire is, and how different the weather can be depending on where you find yourself. But even then, a light linen button-up and slacks don’t do anything to stop sweat from starting to bead on his skin.

As the car pulls away from the airport, Eskel snorts a sharp laugh. “Regretting your field trip, bird?”

Jaskier watches him. He’s dressed similarly; light fabrics that won’t warm him too much, but neatly put together; a tawny-coloured suit jacket that complements his light hair and tanned skin, a white button-up shirt underneath that forms nicely to the swell of the man’s muscles. Jaskier tries not to stare at two particular buttons struggling to hold the shirt together. Long hair pushed back from his face, beard shaved completely. If this is the version that people meet when they get to have gatherings with Eskel, Jaskier might just have to book out the man’s schedule.

Jaskier lifts his chin. “You look nice,” he says simply, glancing out at the shifting landscape. They drive straight through a city, sun-bleached and scattered with people along its streets who don’t seem too bothered by the midday sun perched in the sky.

Eskel laughs, shaking his head. “You’re up to something.”

“Me?” Jaskier puts a hand on his chest. “Eskel, why would you accuse me of such things?”

At the quirked eyebrow he gets in return, Jaskier waves him away. “You’ll be thankful for me being here when you return to Geralt without a scratch on you.”

Eskel hums. The rest of the car ride is quiet, with Eskel keeping his own company and pouring over some notes on his phone, while Jaskier looks out of the car. The cityscape quickly gets left behind and suddenly they’re barrelling down a road into more rural land. Vineyards are scattered on either side of them, with neat rows of sun-kissed grapes being checked on by workers.

Emhyr makes his money on wine and silks, and a firm allegiance between his house and Geralt’s make the movement of narcotic products work. Emhyr’s lands grow it, Geralt’s men sell it. An organised and neat system that’s been in place since Vesemir’s days, and even with the Old Wolf’s pup now sitting at the head of the table, Emhyr seems to respect tradition fair enough to allow Geralt the same reverence Emhyr once held for his mentor.

Vineyards get left behind for lush green fields, and it slowly dawns on Jaskier that he’s looking at rows and rows of coca plants, and taken care of by workers patrolling the lines and tending to leaves. The green stretches on towards the horizon. Gods, Jaskier’s eyes widen. He knew that Emhyr was sitting on a cocaine empire but this is something else.

Eskel doesn’t look up from his phone. “Big, isn’t it?” he murmurs. “Emhyr supplies most of the Continent with this, and he’s starting to dabble in cannabis production too.”

Jaskier regards the fields. “And how much of this do we get to sell?” he asks, flicking his gaze back to Eskel. “Because I know as all hells that you don’t have this amount of product in your warehouses.”

Something glints in the Wolf’s eye. “Clever little thing,” he smirks. “During Vesemir’s times, we had all of it. Now, granted, Emhyr didn’t have this much land or productivity. Vesemir’s empire stopped growing one day. He said that it was better to patrol the lands that were his, rather than risk skirmishes by biting off more than he could chew. But Emhyr didn’t have that problem. More money meant more land, and more land meant more production. More production...”

Jaskier nods. “More buyers.”

Eskel hums. “And more buyers mean more money, and the cycle begins again.” He puts his phone away, relaxing into the plush leather of the car seats and the welcomed cool breeze of the AC against his skin. “Emhyr rules the south by lording over those he put in charge. And they all keep to his heel because they get to enjoy their palaces and gold and silks. One word from him, and they’ll be back at the end of the ladder. Or face down in a riverbank somewhere. Vesemir, gods bless him, didn’t want that much pressure. This job was killing him. He won’t admit it to anyone – Geralt, the rest of us, himself – but we could see it. And he didn’t want to saddle an empire on a pup’s shoulders either.”

Jaskier hangs off of every word. Vesemir Morhen is a smart man, always several strides ahead of anyone else. And even though his decision to step away should have caused an insurrection, as most shifts of power do, no one batted an eyelid when a newly crowned Wolf stepped onto the scene.

Eskel slaps a hand onto his knee. “Listen,” he murmurs, “the people we’re meeting, they’re important people. Geralt wouldn’t have let you come if he didn’t trust you. I trust you too. But you have to have your wits about you. Alright?”

Jaskier’s chest tightens in the usual way it does when he’s facing down a pride of lions or a swarm of hawks. He sets his hand onto Eskel’s, brushing his thumb over the back of the man’s knuckles. “Alright.”

 


 

Worn rural roads turn into narrow dirt ones before they come on to a mansion. Terracotta and sandstone stand amid the coca plants, perched on a slight ridge and looking over the fields. Even without having to step outside of the car, Jaskier knows gold and jewels paved a place like this; and it’s not the only place within the south to look like this either.

If this is his first glimpse at Emhyr’s empire, then he dreads to imagine what lies further towards his capitol. A courtyard sits in front of the mansion, with other cars parked nearby. Everyone notes them; how many there are and how many people each could carry. Their own cavalcade joins them.

Jaskier follows Eskel. Stepping back out into the heat isn’t pleasant, but a man in sheer white linen clothes and wrists and fingers adorned with gold steps out from the house to welcome them. “Master Wolf,” he greets, ushering Eskel and his pack inside. Jaskier doesn’t miss the way the man’s eyes linger on him for a moment once he has spotted him, but he hurries along by Eskel’s side. “Master de Rideaux and his troop are gathered on the veranda and awaiting you.”

Eskel hums, keeping step as they stride straight through the house. Jaskier looks around as best as he can. Terracotta and sandstone, high vaulted ceilings and decaying and faded frescos holding firm onto the tops of walls and to the roof. Amid all of the old ornate designs, mahogany furniture and glass and gold chandeliers stand out.

The veranda looks out onto the mansion’s garden, and beyond the steep slope down there lies the vast fields of coca. Even the air is scented with it. It’s almost similar to a tea, but not quite. Even as Eskel strides through the veranda like it’s his, Aubry and Gweld stay close to his side, their hands firmly perched on their holstered guns. Jaskier’s own weapon lies against his waist; a sharpened blade that he always has on him. A Shrike is no good to anyone without its talons.

There are three men already gathered at a neatly presented table and plush cushioned wicker chairs. Two neatly made up in suits while their guards stand close by, but on their side of the proceedings. The Wolves following Eskel do the same, pointedly staying on Eskel’s side.

Two older men stand, wincing somewhat at the creak of old and worn bones. One sticks out a bony hand. “Master Wolf,” he says primly.

Eskel shakes the man’s hand once before undoing the button of his jacket. “De Rideaux,” he replies, taking a seat opposite them. A glass table laden with drinks and platters of freshly picked leaves sits between them. Jaskier lingers by Eskel’s side and back. The view of the flat land and far-off mountains threatens to draw his eye, but he keeps his attention on the meeting. Eskel let him come to be a Shrike.

With a wave of the man’s hand, most of his guards thin. Jaskier blinks. Those who had squared shoulders and puffed armoured chests now slink away, wandering into the garden and further around the edge of the house.

Eskel looks over his shoulder and nods. His own pack follow suit. Gweld and Aubry stay, feet rooted to the floor. Jaskier can feel eyes on him; a gaze burrowing through his skin and into his bones. “And who’s this?”

Jaskier regards the old man – de Rideaux – for a moment. Eskel doesn’t even look up from his notes, flicking through them and pulling up whatever he needs. “Insurance,” he answers simply. When Eskel does look up, it’s not to de Rideaux or his friend perched beside him, but at a younger man with a withered, war-ravaged face. “The White Wolf insisted on it. A precaution and nothing more, I hope?”

De Rideaux doesn’t look to the man perched by his side, but he nods. “Nothing more,” he promises.

The midday sun does nothing to make the meeting go by quicker. If anything, Jaskier thinks it’s somehow slowing time down. Eskel was right: this is painfully boring. For the briefest moment, the thought flicks through his mind that he might as well have just stayed in Kaedwen. Gods forbid if Geralt heard him say that. An I Told You So must already be perched on the man’s tongue.

And Jaskier is nothing if not spiteful, so he will stay and listening to this dreadfully boring meeting about production costs and distribution rights and rotas for as long as he’s able to. Eskel, gods bless him, takes it in his stride. He’s a Wolf watching prey, golden eyes set on the men opposite him and regarding every word that they speak. He sheds his blazer, setting it onto the chair beside him; and Jaskier struggles to not openly look at the bulge of muscles underneath the thin fabric of his shirt.

Suddenly Geralt’s voice is back in his head, lilting and lulling. Whatever Eskel says. A small knowing smirk threatens to curl his lip.

He stalks around the veranda, looking out onto the fields and to the scattering of guards lingering in the garden. Wolves watch de Rideaux’s men and they watch the Wolves right back. The air is already thick enough with heat without the added tension of a potential shoot-out if something should go wrong.

Eskel reaches for a drink readied for him. He takes a measured sip, curling his lip at the sharp sweet tang of lemon and sugar. “If Emhyr wants his product to stay in our empire,” he says casually, as if he’s discussing the damn weather, “then he’ll have to look at furthering his production. It’s not my problem if his products are popular.”

De Rideaux regards Eskel for a moment. “He does not have the space for more production,” he informs coolly, offering Eskel a smile one usually offers children when they’re trying to explain something simple. “If the esteemed White Wolf is generous enough to give us land for such expansion, then you will have your stock increased.”

Eskel snorts sharply. “Geralt will never give you that land,” he says. “It’s not his to give. If you want it, go and talk with the Lioness.”

The younger man to de Rideaux’s side grunts. “We don’t have a death wish, mutt.”

The two old men stiffen, as does Eskel. Jaskier snaps his head towards the man. People have lost body parts over less; all the vile names that spill from their lips. Jaskier stalks along the edge of the veranda, a warm summer breeze brushing along his skin. “Do your associates often insult those who they’re meeting?” he asks airily, letting his head tilt. Neither of the older men look at him, but awkwardly fidget with the lapels of their blazers and take measured sips of their drinks. Jaskier continues to stalk, prowling along the back of their chairs.

Distantly, he hears murmured orders to return to the veranda; clicks of comms and readied rifles. The Wolves bristle. Jaskier lifts his chin. “What’s your name, stranger?” he asks. “I don’t think I’ve met you before.”

The younger man glowers over his shoulder. “Brigden,” he grunts. “Bert Brigden. Does the White Wolf not speak about me?”

Jaskier clicks his tongue. He doesn’t even have to flick back through his rolodex of names. “Not a mention,” he sighs airily, reaching out for a beautifully carved embossment in the wall. If he could better stand the heat, Nilfgaard would make a lovely summer destination—

“I was told we would be meeting with the White Wolf himself,” the man growls, voice dimmed slightly as he’s clearly not looking at Jaskier and his presumably-aimless wanderings. “Not this mangled mongrel.”

He could blame the hot flush on the sun. He really could. But why would he lie to himself? Jaskier turns on his heel, letting his gaze fall onto the man sitting closest to him, only an arm’s reach away. “What did you just say?” Jaskier asks slowly, measuring every word that rises from his throat. A Shrike is a patient thing, but no less deadly.

The two men on Bert’s far side straighten. “We hold no alliances with this man,” they’re both quick to establish. Even de Rideaux, who had been so stoic and courteous, seems to flap a little bit. “He is simply a stock broker—”

“—Enough of this,” Bert snaps, standing from his seat. He’s not a tall man, maybe a few inches shorter than Jaskier. But he’s bigger. Swells of muscle that bulk him out; but Jaskier’s eyes lock where they need to. A long, bulging line to the side of the man’s neck. Bert glowers at the far end of the table. He points a thick finger at Eskel, who sits silently, regarding the man coolly as he spits what he needs to. “I don’t appreciate being lied to, mutt. The White Wolf is hiding away in his castle while he sends his lackeys to do his job. A real boss meets with the people who keep his empire afloat. He doesn’t send a mangled dog in his place—”

Well, that’s quite enough.

Jaskier is a blur of motion. The first drop of Bert’s blood hasn’t even spilt onto his hand before Eskel has a hand held up. Aubry and Gweld root firmly in place, but their guns gripped tight.

Bert’s legs crumble underneath him. He hits the sandstone ground with a sickening thump. His last breath is gurgled through the pool of blood flooding his mouth and spilling from his lips. The harsh clean-cut smiling around his throat wets the floor underneath him. There are barked orders, rushing footsteps—

But de Rideaux sticks up his hand. He clears his throat. “Apologies, Master Wolf,” he manages, straightening his spine and squaring his shoulders like before. “Brigden is, was—”

Eskel stands. His jaw is tight and the gold in his eyes glinted. Jaskier wipes his blade off of Bridgend’s thigh. Once it’s clean enough, he slips it back into its sheathe and falls to Eskel’s side. The Wolf glowers at the men remaining. “I don’t know if Emhyr knows about this man sitting in on our discussions,” he grunts, nodding to the slumped body starting to pale on the ground, “but kindly inform the grand emperor that if he ever wishes to speak to a Wolf again, he best keep the meeting’s guest list to those he confirms to be there.”

It’s a quick march back towards the car. Wolves fall into line behind Eskel as he stalks back through the mansion. The man who had ushered them in tries to flag them down, bumbling apologies and trying to get Eskel to stay. Jaskier watches the Wolf’s shoulders stay squared and his back straight. Gweld rushes forward for the door to the car, but Eskel gets there first. He almost rips it off of its hinges and he bundles himself inside.

Gweld, gods bless him, looks to Jaskier with a befuddled look on his face. Jaskier waves him away. “I’ve got this,” he murmurs, nodding to the front of the car. “Just get us somewhere safe.”

Gweld nods firmly. He and Aubry file into the front of the car, and the rest of the pack start up theirs. Jaskier slips in beside Eskel, watching the man for a moment as the car door clicks shut behind him.

Tight jaw and glowering eyes glaring out of the window and onto the outside world. His fingers are curled against his thigh, pressing into the meat of muscle. Jaskier clicks his tongue. “Eskel,” he murmurs, reaching forward and slowly setting his hand onto one of Eskel’s. “Darling. Look at me.”

The car pulls away. The rest of the pack follows as Aubry and Gweld figure out where to go. The plane won’t be back for them until tomorrow, so a layover in one of the city’s hotels will have to do. Jaskier huffs a short breath, leaning forward and snapping the divide shut. Once the chattering voices of the other Wolves are gone, he turns his attentions back on to Eskel. He pointedly glares out the window, watching them pull away from the mansion and its lands.

It’s a small wonder how he hasn’t cracked his teeth with how tightly he’s holding his jaw. Jaskier hums gently under his breath. He’s weathered enough of Geralt’s foul humours to know what to do; how soft to keep his voice and how gentle to keep his touch. He plies one of Eskel’s hands away from his thigh, linking their fingers together and gathering Eskel’s hand on to his lap. He skims his fingers along the inside of the man’s arm, gentle and soothing and something to work the worst of the tension from him.

“He’s dead now,” Jaskier assures him. With the partition snapped shut, it’s just the two of them. Even with the pack of Wolves keeping on their heels, it all slips away until there’s nothing but him and Eskel. Good. He doesn’t need stray eyes looking in on Eskel’s resolve starting to crack. As the first shaking breath shivers out of the Wolf, Jaskier hugs his arm and squeezes his hand. “Beautiful, gorgeous Wolf; if anyone says anything vile about you again, I’ll rip their throats out with my hands instead of blades.”

Eskel squeezes his hand back but stays silent. His glare hasn’t been tempered in the slightest, but his shoulders slacken slightly, and he manages to breathe in full, albeit shaking, breaths. All Jaskier can do is hold him where he can, murmuring soft things against his cheek and ear.

Gweld brings them to a hotel, with Aubry darting out of the car before it has even rolled to a stop. The older Wolf strides into the hotel armed with an ample purse of gold and silver. Two younger pups scramble after him, falling into line.

By the time Jaskier and Eskel step into the hotel’s lobby, Aubry hands them a single key. “Top floor. Penthouse,” he says gruffly. There’s still a fire in his eyes, not quite put out with the cooling body of a hapless fool staining the floor of a Nilfgaardian mansion. If Jaskier has to walk to the capitol himself and hold court with Emhyr and all of his viceroys, then so be it. No one gets to spit at a Wolf and live.

Eskel stays quiet; in the elevator, getting into their room, placing his things on to the foot of the bed, and unravelling his hand and arm from Jaskier’s hold. The bird watches him disappear into the bathroom, the light clicking on and the fan whirling to life.

Aubry lingers behind, the older Wolf prowling through the rest of the penthouse with a precise gaze. No one lying in wait for them, no bugs or wiretaps stuck to the underside of counters of the backs of couches. Jaskier catches the man’s eye. “Thank you, Aubry. I think that’ll be all,” he says primly, flexing his fingers by his side. One of his hands is still stained, he notices. Faded and caked crimson blood that has seeped into the pores of his skin and burrowed underneath his fingertips. If anyone in the hotel’s lobby saw, he’s sure the amply purse of gold and silver Aubry handed the staff turned their eyes and sealed their lips.

The old wolf nods sharply. His eyes drift over Jaskier’s shoulder, regarding the bedroom and adjoining bathroom where Eskel fled to. His jaw tightens. “Take care of him, lad,” he murmurs, voice rough, yet holding a soft tone to it. “Most things don’t bother Eskel, but this...”

Jaskier’s throat bobs. “I’ll look after him, Aubry, thank you.”

Once the older Wolf has left, Jaskier pads back into the bedroom. A beam of light streaks out from the bathroom, but it’s deathly silent. Jaskier stalks inside, breathing that bit easier when he sees Eskel merely washing his hands in the sink. His hair, which had been perfectly pushed back to reveal his face, now hangs like a curtain around him. Jaskier can barely make out the familiar glint of golden eyes through blonde strands of wavy hair.

He approaches as gently as he can, making sure Eskel can see him. Lean arms slowly coil around the man’s waist – smaller than Geralt’s, Jaskier notices. He presses his forehead into the centre of Eskel’s shoulders, feeling the man’s chest fill and empty for a few moments. “I don’t know what to say to make you feel better,” Jaskier murmurs, lifting his head and hooking his chin on to Eskel’s broad shoulder. He catches the Wolf’s eyes in the mirror. A half-smile quirks his lips. “I’m not good with...I don’t know, emotions?”

That does manage to lure the ghost of a smile on to Eskel’s lips. But it’s gone as quickly as it appears.

Jaskier tightens his hold around the man. “But,” he presses, “I know that you are one of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever met. I know you don’t like to talk about those scars or even acknowledge that they’re there, but they tell a story. They show people that something happened to you and you survived it. You’re someone to be listened to and revered.”

Eskel’s hands pointedly stay on either side of the sink. When he speaks, his voice is low and rasping. “You don’t even know what happened, little lark.”

Jaskier hums. “I don’t,” he agrees. “And you don’t have to tell me. Not if it makes you uncomfortable. I’m just here to make sure you’re alright. I was sent here to protect you, wasn’t I?”

And now some forgettable man’s blood is staining on of Emhyr’s estates. Well, Geralt isn’t going to be pleased; but surely he’ll understand, given the circumstances. Jaskier isn’t as mad of a killer as most in the boroughs would seem to think, killing indiscriminately. He takes life when it’s warranted – sometimes it’s for gold, other times it’s for honour.

Eskel sets a hand on to Jaskier’s, squeezing. “Always safe with our little bird around,” he murmurs. He looks tired. Shadows are beginning to sink into the hollows of his eyes and his cheeks. The warm glow of the lights does nothing to help.

Jaskier leans to press a lingering kiss to Eskel’s cheek, along a ridge of scar tissue. He isn’t quite sure if the man still has feeling left in his skin or muscle, but he does fight not to tremble in Jaskier’s arms.

Jaskier sets his head against Eskel’s. “Why don’t you sleep for an hour, hmm?” he lulls, a warm and familiar weight against the man’s back.

The Golden Wolf offers him a small grin. “Are you going to join me?”

“If you want me to,” Jaskier replies, nudging his nose against Eskel’s jaw. With the man’s neck bared to him, he peppers the long stretch of muscle there with light kisses. “Just to sleep, of course. Nothing untoward. I wouldn’t dream of sullying your honour.”

Eskel snorts. There we go, Jaskier thinks quite happily to himself. “Of course,” Eskel murmurs, pushing back from the sink. Jaskier’s arms fall from him, but he’s quick to take the lark’s hand in his and bring him back into the bedroom.

The sun is starting to fall, but the room is no less as bright. Jaskier sets a hand on to Eskel’s shoulder, lightly pushing him. “Get changed. I have a few things to sort out.”

Drawing the curtains mutes the harsh light somewhat, though the room is still bright enough. Eskel doesn’t seem to mind much. Jaskier’s steps around the room falter when the man throws his button-up shirt over the back of a nearby chair. All of his Wolves have such lovely bodies; well-built and muscular, skin marred with faded lines of scars. Eskel’s shoulders and chest are broader than Geralt’s, though he does cinch nicely in at the waist.

Jaskier struggles to keep tending to the room and their things when Eskel’s slacks join the shirt. Muscular thighs that Jaskier would very kindly like to bury his head into, or have them wrapped around his neck. What a way to go—

He notices the blood still staining his hand. He pads into the bathroom, well-practised on how to strip it from his skin and get the caked dry flakes underneath his nails. It’s always a messy business, and while he’s learned from previous mistakes over the years, blood will always linger somewhere if he’s not careful.

Just as he’s drying his hands, inspecting them one last time, his phone buzzes in his jean’s pocket. Fishing it out, he thins his lip at the sight of Geralt’s name popping up.

 

WHITE WOLF [16:32] – Is what I’m hearing true?

 

He doesn’t have to ask what. Jaskier types back a quick reply.

 

SONGBIRD [16:32] – Idiot named Bridgen said some choice things. He’s been dealt with.

SONGBIRD [16:32] – So yes.

WHITE WOLF [16:33] – How is he?

SONGBIRD [16:33] – As you’d expect. Making him take a nap.

 

There’s a small pause. Jaskier’s phone screen fades to black. He thinks about pocketing it, but it buzzes again.

 

WHITE WOLF [16:37] – Take care of him, Julek. He means the world to me.

 

Jaskier’s throat bobs.

 

SONGBIRD [16:37] – Don’t worry

 

When he steps back into the room, Eskel is already bundled up in bed. The light linen sheets sling low across his hips as he’s curled into himself. Blond wavy hair fans out against the pillow, almost haloing him. He must not have drifted too far into sleep; every step Jaskier takes towards the bed has his breath shifting.

Bleary golden eyes peer up at him. “Jask?” Eskel rasps.

He sheds his clothes as quickly as he can, until all he’s left in are briefs. “You’re okay,” he murmurs, slipping into bed and forming along Eskel’s broad back. He gathers what he can on the man into his arms. He smells like Wolf and the specific cologne he likes to wear and sweat, but it’s Eskel.

Jaskier’s fingers trail along his arms. “Sleep, Wolf,” he hums. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Eskel grows heavy in his arms, tumbling down into sleep. Jaskier watches his shoulders slack as he sinks down into the soft mattress, any hint of the hissed words from earlier finally shrugged out of him. And he’ll be around to make sure no one hurls anything like that at him ever again.

Jaskier settles his nose into Eskel’s nape, breathing in the man’s scent. He’s so different to Geralt; what would be something lingering on Jaskier’s skin, because of how much time they spend pressed against each other, all Jaskier can taste along the roof of his mouth is tobacco and vanilla. A choice scent that is unique to Eskel, that Jaskier catches in the halls of their house sometimes, and one he commits to memory. It’s addictive, whatever it is. Something embedded into the man’s skin.

He has no ideas about moving away any time soon. Even as the sun starts to set, and golden beams of light still stretch in through the room through light curtains, he feels his eyelids growing heavy as he settles down and dozes alongside his Wolf. Eskel is so broad, his arm can only wrap so far around the man’s shoulders and chest to keep him close. But Jaskier presses up along his back, letting sleep wash over him as they both fall further and further down.

 


 

Gods only know how much time has passed. It’s a slow climb awake, but when he manages to pry his eyes open, he’s met with the sight of his arm strewn over where Eskel is supposed to be. Rubbing some sleep from his eyes, and wetting his dry lips, Jaskier lifts his head.

The sun has long since set, though some light shines into the room from streetlights and buildings outside.  He makes out the outlines of the foot of the bed, the rumpled sheets from where both of them had been sleeping, and the furniture decorating the room. The door to the bathroom is cracked open, with a bright beam of light shining along the floor.

Jaskier huffs, collapsing back to bed. Eskel hasn’t wandered far then. He listens to water running in the sink, and shuffled footsteps across the tiles as the other man moves around. Jaskier burrows back into the bed, gathering the thin linen sheets around him as the air starts to turn cold from the night sky outside.

Just as he settles, encased and covered in body-warmed sheets, his ears twitch at the sound of the sink’s faucets turning off. Something swells in his chest.

Eskel clears his throat, something muffled and apparently miles away, even through the small cracked door separating them. With his face buried into the mess of pillows strewn against the head of the bed, Jaskier relies on his ears. Bare feet pad against the tiles of the bathroom, and the sharp click of the light being switched off only tightens the feeling in his chest.

Eventually, there’s a huffed laugh. “You in there, little bird?” Eskel rasps, voice heavy with sleep.

Not a sound he’s heard often, but he has heard what Geralt is like. Sleep-soft and voice rumbling from the depths of his chest. Eskel sounds similar. He would try and steal a glance at the man, if the warmth of his hovel wasn’t so welcoming and his bones started to sink against the mattress. All he can manage is an affirmative hum.

Eskel snorts. He pads around the room. The bed dips as he perches on the edge of it, and Jaskier unfurls one arm around himself, peering through the small gap in the sheets, looking for the man. He finds him bathed in moonlight stretching into the room, and his tongue almost swells in his mouth.

Eskel is beautiful. Broad and strong and holding an air around him that makes others keep in line. The angles of his face, the tumble of blond hair around him; even if it’s been wrangled into a tie, some strands always manage to come loose. Jaskier blinks.

As the Wolf settles into the bed, leaning back against the mound of pillows stacked against the headboard, Jaskier wriggles out of his blanket-hovel. He shuffles closer to the man, strewing an arm over his waist and bundling close. Eskel lets out a light, but fond, laugh. “You’re a clingy one, aren’t you?” he rumbles, but makes no move to slip away to untangle Jaskier’s arm from him. If anything, Jaskier’s lips twitch at the warmth blooming through his skin and muscles as Eskel sets a hand against his arm, fingers slightly curled.

Jaskier parts with some of his blankets. There’s a chill in the air that strikes the moment the sun is gone. Once it’s fallen over the nearby hills and ridges, the air has a lashing snap to it. If he has to keep his mostly-bare Wolf warm, then so be it. Jaskier assured his White Wolf that Eskel would be taken care of, and he’s a man of his word.

Eskel’s head falls back against the headboard, a long and heavy sigh slipping out of him. Jaskier lets the silence linger for a moment before he burrows closer to the man, setting his head on to Eskel’s broad chest. “Wanna talk about it?” he hums, curling his fingers into the man’s side and stroking the skin he can find. He feels the faintest of trembles shudder through Eskel, but something the man keeps tightly clamped down as his jaw almost bulges.

There’s a war behind those golden eyes. He does want to talk, but gods damn each of his Wolves being as stubborn and tight-lipped as the last. He won’t force it, though. He’s learned how to navigate Geralt, and Eskel seems to be similar in how tightly he holds his words and inner-most thoughts close to himself.

All he can do is set his head against the man’s chest, listening to his heart beat under his cheek, and even, deep breaths fill his lungs. His eyes flutter shut as familiar, thick fingers card through the hair at the back of his head, fingertips gently rubbing along his scalp.

“I don’t want to unload all of my personal shit on to you, little bird,” Eskel eventually rumbles, looking more at the ceiling than at anything else. The moonlight streaming into the room catches the golden glints in his eyes. His lips thin as he waits for more words to make their way up his throat. Jaskier waits for them, dividing his attention from watching his fingers map out Eskel’s skin, and hanging on everything that could spill from the man’s lips. “You already do more than most by asking about me, if I’m okay. Thank you. I just... I like to leave things as they are. I can’t change them.”

An all too familiar argument Jaskier has heard from people before. He hums against the man’s chest. “Doesn’t mean you have to ignore it, though,” he rumbles, bundling closer. The warmth of the man’s skin against his does wonders to stave off the chill of the room. Jaskier perches his chin on top of Eskel’s chest, looking up at him. He still stares off into the distance, but his lips twitch. An internal war is going on with himself. Jaskier clicks his tongue. “If you want to talk about it, or anything, you know you have people willing to listen, right?”

Eskel’s fingers card through his hair. “I know,” he sighs, a tired sound that only tells Jaskier that he’s had this conversation before, and one too many times. Something fond stretches across his lips as he finally looks down at the bird snuggled against his side. “For being a coy little thing, making your way into everyone’s beds, you have a lovely heart.”

Jaskier’s eyes roll. “Sweet talker,” he hums, swatting the man’s side. “Don’t tell the people that, though. I have a reputation that I would like to keep.”

Eskel snorts. The worst of the tension knitting his muscles tight together eases, and Jaskier feels the man’s chest fill that bit better. But something is still swirling behind those eyes. He’ll lure it out eventually, when he’s managed to knock down a few more walls. He’s etching at them, but Eskel is a knowing thing, and will realise what Jaskier is trying to do if he’s not careful. All he can do is let heat bloom back between the two of them.

The bed is large enough to comfortably nest both of them, with Jaskier firmly and snugly fitted against the Wolf’s side, quietly dozing. He can feel Eskel start to slip away too. For all the effort and energy he puts into stalking through Geralt’s territory, helping strike an appropriate amount of fear into people to keep them in line and doing what they need them to do, he’s a soft little Wolf who lets the facade drop.

One of these days, Jaskier will root out every person who ever made his Wolf feel awful about what happened to him, about the scars running down one side of his face, and he’ll leave them with marks of their own. He’s all too familiar with a blade.

A low rumbling laugh shakes out of the man’s chest. “I know what you’re thinking, little bird,” Eskel says, eyes already having slipped closed. He rolls his head to the side, burying his nose into Jaskier’s hair and catching his scent. “There are too many people for you to hunt down.”

Something in his chest tightens. “Then I’ll just have to be efficient with my time, won’t I?” Jaskier murmurs, curling his fingers against Eskel’s side. His nails lightly bite into the man’s skin, but nothing that could scratch or leave a mark behind. It’s a constant pressure, assuring the man that Jaskier is here; that he won’t fade away during the night. It works with Geralt during the more difficult nights, where he’s plagued with nightmares about something from years before.

Eskel’s smile is almost fond. “Some of them are long dead already, little bird,” he rumbles, sleep washing over him again, tugging him back down. “Someone got there before you did.”

He could hazard a guess, but he lets himself watch Eskel lose a battle with sleep and its insistent tendrils coiling around him and dragging him under. As he grows heavy, sinking further into the mattress, Jaskier tightens his hold on the man. Any god he can remember the name of, he swears to. Anyone with Eskel’s name spoilt on their lips will meet the end of his blade. He’s still trying to decide if it would be a mercy or not to kill them, or leave them alive with marks of their own.

He has time to decide.