roots, a warlord au, final chapter
"I want to get Jaskier a gift," Ciri announces.
It's just past sunrise. Geralt isn't quite awake yet but Ciri clearly is, bouncing on his bed on her knees to jostle him. Geralt grumbles and rolls over, slinging one arm around his daughter to pull her in for cuddles.
Ciri shrieks and giggles, limbs flailing as she attempts to extract herself from his grip. Geralt gets an elbow to the ribs and a foot in his face for his troubles. Ciri squirms and manages to flip herself around so that she's resting next to Geralt's head on his pillow, eyes wide and bright despite the lack of sunlight outside.
"A gift, huh?"
Ciri nods. "Yeah! He finished fixing the library so he should get a gift. And I want to go down into the village to get it."
That gets Geralt's attention.
It's been nearly a year- eight and a half months to be precise- since Ciri was captured in the woods, since she was taken. Since Jaskier found her and brought her home. Since Jaskier became a part of their lives. She's only just started venturing out past the keep walls again- flanked, of course, by either Yennefer and Triss and no less than two other Witchers, if not Geralt himself.
She goes out and collects herbs with Triss, keeping a careful eye on the distance between her and the gate, sticking close to Triss the entire time. She'll venture into the woods if the mood is right, but never far enough to lose sight of the keep, and only if Yennefer, Lambert, Eskel, Vesemir and/or Geralt go with her.
She hasn't asked once to go to the village since she was returned home.
Geralt raises a brow, feeling the new skin around his left cheek pulling slightly at the motion. "And what do you want to get for Jaskier?"
Ciri bounces out of his grip to sit up on her knees. She's already dressed for the day and Geralt can smell Yennefer's lilac and gooseberry scent wafting gently up from her clothes. Ciri must have ambushed her first before bursting into his rooms to make her demands.
"A notebook," she declares. "He's always writing his songs down on pieces of paper and sticking them in his desk drawer. He should have a notebook to write his songs in."
"I think he'll like that."
Having had enough of her father not moving from his reclining position, Ciri bends and attempts to shove Geralt over with both hands on his shoulder. "Come on Papa, let's go!"
Not only does Ciri want to go into the village she's excited about it. There's no chance in hell that Geralt is going to say no to this.
But he grabs her and flips her over again, pinning her down to tickle her until she's nearly crying from laughter. He figures the kicks to the chin he gets are punishment enough for the tickles- and honestly she lands some good blows before she summersaults neatly off the bed and pops back upright.
"Aunt Yen said she'd portal us," she tells him, running to grab Geralt's boots. She means business, his little terror, and is not going to tolerate any excuses. "Jaskier actually slept last night- I checked! He didn't go to the library once."
Geralt pauses in the act of slipping his shoes on. "Did you not sleep well?" he asks.
With a put-upon sigh, Ciri drops to the floor to sit cross-legged beside Geralt. "I slept. I did have a dream but it wasn't too scary. I sang that song Jaskier wrote for me and fell back asleep. Then I woke up again." Scowling now, Ciri angles her head to look upside down at her father. "The dreams are annoying."
Geralt smoothes a hand down her hair. It's loose today, waves and curls flying out in every direction. Clearly Yennefer hasn't gotten a hold of Ciri yet to tame the mane.
She can be slippery when she wants to be, his little cub.
"And scary," Geralt guesses.
Ciri drops her gaze. "They're just dreams."
Rather than shift Ciri up into his lap, Geralt slides down to join her on the floor. He gets his other boot over his foot and reaches blindly behind him for the shirt he'd discarded when he finally collapsed into bed this morning.
"Dreams can be scary," he says, slipping the shirt over his head. "There are a lot of scary things in this world: monsters, fires, floods, diseases... men."
Ciri picks at a loose thread on her shirt.
"People can be scary," Geralt says, reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay to have scary dreams. I have them all the time."
Ciri's head jerks up at that. "You do?" Amazed, she scoots closer. "But you're scarier than anything in the world, Papa!"
"I get scared sometimes too."
It's not a hardship to admit. Geralt's been up one side of the Continent and down the other. He's seen horrible, awful things done to good people, things done by bad people. Seen monsters and horrors and nightmares come to life. He's done things that could be considered monstrous by others, has been the monster in others' stories.
He's been told his daughter's gone missing. He's lost men, lost brothers, friends. Any and all of it would keep a man up at night.
"Jaskier has bad dreams too," Ciri tells him, curling up against his side. He's seen her do this to Jaskier before, on their late nights in the library. Sometimes he finds them there in the mornings, fire down to just coals, Ciri wrapped up in the edges of Jaskier's oversized robe, Jaskier listing sideways with an arm around her, both of them dead asleep. "When I have bad dreams, he sings to me. I tried singing to him but I'm no good so I just listen to him sing."
Geralt smiles. Jaskier sang bringing Ciri home. He sang to the Elves he smuggled out of Lettenhove. He sings when Ciri can't sleep and keeps her company when she doesn't want to go back to her room. He sings when Geralt comes by, pausing by the door to listen. He keeps singing, voice trailing off and dipping into low humming when Geralt shifts Ciri into his arms to tuck her back into bed.
He doesn't sing around anyone else if he can help it. Only when Geralt and Ciri are there. He'll hum around others (he like to hum court songs around Yennefer and get them stuck in her head until she's humming too), or sing under his breath if he's really in his head.
Sometimes Geralt catches him singing in the library, a piece of parchment in his hand as he scribbles the lyrics down, ink staining his fingers, eyes alight with ideas.
"Sounds like he should have a notebook to write all of his songs in."
Ciri gives him a blinding grin, scrambling to her feet. She gets both her hands around Geralt's wrist and does her best to tug him to his feet.
"Yeah! A notebook he can fill with songs! Let's go!"
"Hmm, I dunno. I might want to eat first, and I'm so tired..."
"Okay, okay." He makes a big show of getting up reluctantly, Ciri yanking on his arm the entire time, nearly losing her footing when he stands up suddenly. She gives him a glare from where she dangles from his wrist, feet kicking just above the floor. "Let's go."
Ciri gives a loud whoop, releasing Geralt to drop back to the floor. She runs to the door, throwing it open with a bang and begins hollering for Yennefer before running back to get a hold of him again and all but shove him out into the hall.
"Aunt Yen! Aunt Yen we're ready! Papa will you hurry up!?"
"I'm going as fast as I can, Cub."
"Nuh-uh! You're a Witcher! You can go much faster- eek!"
Geralt scoops Ciri up and throws her over his shoulder before taking off in a dead run. The shrieking laughter ringing in his ears is well worth the early wake up call.
Triss presents Jaskier with a long metal contraption. It has several leather straps and buckles on it and looks vaguely like some kind of torture device.
"It's not a torture device."
Still eyeing the metal warily, Jaskier isn't so sure. "If you say so."
Rolling her eyes, Triss begins undoing some of the straps. "Take off your boot and your sock and put this one on instead."
The sock she gives him is wool and tight around his foot. He's worried it'll make his toes go numb but it actually feels quite nice once he's able to yank it over his heel.
"This brace will help your ankle not buckle when you try to pivot on it," Triss explains as she buckles Jaskier into it. "It goes around your calf too, to help you walk further. I'd still use the cane until you get used to it- for longer walks especially- but this will help you get around without as much pain."
His leg hasn't gotten any better. Well, that's not exactly true. It's gotten a little bit better. It's stronger than it was when they hauled his half-dead self into the keep but that's not really saying much. The leg itself is still thinner than the right one, the muscles weaker and prone to cramping or spasming if he walks on it too much. Or the weather is bad. Or for any reason at all, really.
The brace is buckled on, the metal sitting against his skin, the leather straps across his shin and the arch of his foot keeping it in place. Jaskier frowns at it. It comes to rest just under his knee, secured with another strap. He carefully bends his knee, testing his movement.
"Feels weird," he admits. At least it looks like it'll fit under his boot. He's not sure how Triss managed to find metal strong enough to brace him but thin enough that it looks like it could slip under his pants if he wanted. Magic? Dwarven metal? Some mixture of the two?
"It probably will for a while." Triss hold out a hand. "Come on, up you get. I need to see how you walk with it on."
He walks much better with the metal contraption around his leg. It's still a bit weak and he's prone to limping but he can turn on his ankle, he can cross the room without needing his cane. He's even able to hustle a bit, though it feels dangerous and he gets a warning twinge for his troubles.
"You can adjust it to wear over your trousers if you want. I have a different one to fit over your shoes- to wear outside or while riding. Anything more strenuous than walking around the keep should be done in that brace. It’s more sturdy, which means it’s heavier too, so a bit of a trade-off."
Jaskier trades braces and does another lap around the room, Triss’s eagle eyes on him the entire time.
"Do you know where Ciri and Geralt ran off to this morning? They weren't at breakfast." The outdoor brace feels heavier, but in a secure way. Despite the weight he thinks he might like it better than the thinner one. He feels more balanced with it.
Triss breaks into a smile. "Ciri wanted to go down into the village," she tells him, eyes still glued to his leg as he paces around. "Yennefer and Geralt took her down this morning, after she woke them both up at the crack of dawn and ordered them to go."
Jaskier halts his pacing. "Really? That's amazing! I know she's been struggling with that. I took her out to the garden the other day- well, okay she took me, I don't think I'm capable of telling her no if I'm completely honest- and she did so well. I didn't think she'd want to go to the village any time soon but I'm glad she's able to go again. She loves the marketplace. She's told me all about it."
Of course asking the most powerful sorceress and her father, the strongest of all the Witchers, to go with her just in case would make it easier on Ciri to venture so far from the safety of the keep. Jaskier's thrilled that Ciri finally feels safe enough to allow herself to go outside again. She's been working on it for months, slowly inching her way out of the gates, determined to face her fears.
Witcher princess, through and through.
But she's still only a child- nearly eight now but still so young. She'll occasionally pop up in the library if she has a bad night, but those nights are getting fewer and further apart.
It warms Jaskier's heart to know that Ciri- nearly a year after her capture- is finally healing.
He seems to be healing as well, given that the brace enables him to make it down the stairs in half the time it usually takes him. He's not even clinging desperately to the rails on the wall like he normally does. Cane clacking, brace creaking a bit, Jaskier strolls down the stairs at a nearly normal gait and a very respectable speed and thinks he might even be able to start regularly using the hot springs now.
Getting to gawk at all the naked beautiful people would be worth the trip down, brace or no brace, though he’ll definitely choose the lighter brace for The Journey Of 1,000 Stairs. The heavier one works for now, and it’ll help him build up more muscle without overdoing it.
Just before he pushes open the door for the main hall, a half formed thought of trying to sweet-talk the cooks into slipping him another sweet bun while he goes to wait for Ciri at the gates, it opens.
Ciri blinks up at him, breaking into a large grin.
"Jaskier! I have something for you!"
Jaskier is pulled quite forcibly into the great hall by a blonde bundle of energy and surprising strength. He's then presented with a notebook.
"It's for all your songs," Ciri tells him. She rocks on her heels, suddenly a bit shy, twirling her hair around her finger and not quite meeting his eye. "You write them all the time. You should put them in a notebook. So- so you can organize them and sing them. I like it when you sing."
Swallowing around the very large lump caught in his throat, Jaskier carefully accepts the leather-bound book she thrusts at him.
Ciri went down into the village today. She woke Geralt up and demanded that they go. And she did it to get him a gift.
"Ciri..." Jaskier has to try twice to speak. Simply overcome, he bends down and scoops her up into a hug, the new brace on his leg supporting his weight as he moves.
Ciri buries her face in Jaskier's shoulder, arms around his neck. "Do you like it?"
"I love it."
The notebook is tall and thick, the paper the exact right thickness to avoid ink bleed. The pages are nice and wide, perfect for notes and scribbles and corrections. It's a wonderful shade of red, the leather all but shining in the light. It must have cost a pretty penny but he doesn't care because Ciri got it for him.
She got it for him so he can create more songs. Songs that she loves, songs she asks him to sing.
Songs he still loves to sing. Songs that fall into his head and demand to be written down. Songs he can't help but hum, tinkering with the melodies and tunes, the words that climb up his throat until he can't stop them from spilling out his mouth.
You can be a bard again, if you wish.
"Thank you, Princess," Jaskier breathes into Ciri's flyway mane. "I’m going to use it all the time. I’ll put all my songs in it."
"Will you sing more? We love hearing you sing!"
The we is concerning but the anxiety that wells up in him dies down so fast he barely even notices it.
You can be a bard again, if you wish.
"You know… I think I will."
Ciri kicks her feet into the air in obvious joy, then wiggles down. Jaskier is able to crouch to set her down with barely a twinge of pain. It's quite the difference- the torture device disguised as a walking brace is actually quite amazing at making his leg behave like a leg again. Now that he’s more used to the weight, he hardly even notices it.
A small hand slips into his and immediately begins tugging him further into the great hall, past the tables, past the fire pit and nearly to the door before Jaskier can straighten.
"Ciri," he laughs, clutching his cane in one hand, hurriedly stuffing his new notebook under his arm. "Love, slow down a bit, this brace is brand new and Triss will have my head if I break it so fast-"
Geralt is standing outside, his back to the doors as he and Yennefer speak to two Elves standing on the steps.
"I found him!" Ciri announces, doing her best to pull Jaskier forward. He digs in his heels, freezing in the doorway. "Papa, Filavandrel, I brought Jaskier."
King Filavandrel, King of the Elves, the leader of the people his parents worked to eradicate, the people they threw out of their homes and into dungeons and did all manner of unspeakable things to turns and smiles, he fucking smiles at Jaskier.
The new brace is all well and good but will it survive him hauling ass back into the keep and hiding?
He shouldn't be here. He should be maintaining a respectful distance away from the King. Any Pankratz- former or no- should stay as far away from the King of Elves as possible. Possibly after groveling at his feet and apologizing.
Geralt's hand comes down on his shoulder before he can shake Ciri off and bolt.
"King Filavandrel, meet Jaskier of Kaer Morhen." Geralt, the absolute bastard, brings him closer to the King, closer to the Queen. Ciri doesn't let go of his hand, skipping forward without a care in the world. "Though I believe you know him by another name."
Jaskier's mouth is bone dry. His teeth are rattling in his head with the way his body shakes. Ciri won't let go of him. Geralt keeps his arm draped across his shoulders. Why is Yennefer smiling like that?
Jaskier sucks in a shaky breath and straightens his spine. "Your Majesty," he starts, entirely unsure of what to say. Does he start off with the apologies or should he work his way up them?
Filavandrel shakes his head, moving forward with his hands spread in welcome. "Sandpiper," he says again, something that looks entirely too much like wonder and kindness in his eyes. "You of all people can call me Filavandrel."
"I... uh," Jaskier manages.
"He has trouble with names," Geralt, the complete and utter bastard, says, hand slipping down to the middle of Jaskier's back to prevent him from escaping. "Breathe, Jaskier."
He finds his voice.
"Jaskier," he says. He has to clear his throat and swallow. Ciri's hand is small in his. Geralt's arm is winding around his waist. "Please... just Jaskier. I'm not the Sandpiper anymore."
Filavandrel smiles now. That wonder in his eyes shines brighter. "But you were. For years you smuggled our people out of dangerous lands and into Geralt's. You sent supplies to our camps. You freed people from literal chains and got them to safety."
Unsure what he could even say to that, Jaskier merely blinks. "I turned the network over. It- it's still going but I'm not... I have nothing to do with it anymore. I can't- it wouldn't be safe for anyone who knew me back in Redania."
Now the Queen steps forward. She's quite the beauty, her red hair gleaming in the bright morning sun. "We spoke with Dara about his rescue. He told us all about you." She smiles at Jaskier, eyes crinkling with the motion. "He told others as well. Our lands are quite abuzz with the news of the Sandpiper living in Kaer Morhen."
"The man who freed the Elves. Who rescued hundreds, if not thousands of us."
For five years, Jaskier did what he could to get the Elves out of the White Flame's lands and into the Warlord's. For five years he stole and bribed and smuggled and did whatever it took to get the chains off the hands of Elves and get them someplace safe. He took on more people who were willing to help, he accepted more and more into the network so he could free more and more people.
But he never thought to count them, to keep track of the numbers. It never occurred to him. He's not even sure how many Elves the network was able to free before his capture, and he certainly has no idea how many have been freed after he was taken.
Now the King and Queen stand before him knowing what he's done and Jaskier is shaken to his core.
"It was the right thing to do," he says, voice strong, back straight.
If he knows nothing else, he knows that.
"I couldn't leave them there."
Beside him, Geralt's breath catches. His hand tightens around Jaskier's hip.
"And we cannot let your actions go," Ki- Filavandrel says. "Not without thanks."
"I didn't do it for thanks," Jaskier protests, shrinking back into Geralt. "My parents were responsible for nearly every bad thing that's happened to your people, I don't-"
"And you," Queen Francesca interrupts smoothly, "are the reason so many of us are alive today. So they've come to thank you."
The air is gone from his lungs. His hand shakes on the head of his cane. Jaskier cannot speak. He shakes his head.
"We've all come to thank you, Jaskier of Kaer Morhen." Filavandrel gestures behind himself without turning, his smile still in place.
Cautiously, carefully, Jaskier steps forward, Geralt and Ciri's hands falling from him.
Below them, the courtyard is bustling. Two covered wagons sit just inside the gates, four horses grazing and flicking their tails. Witchers and servants are milling about, chatting with the Elves all waiting, watching, looking up the steps with expectant smiles. No one is taking anything from the wagons despite how full they seem to be.
The moment Jaskier peers down at the crowd gathered, a hush falls over them.
There are hundreds of Elves looking up at him. Smiling. Crying.
Jaskier takes two steps back and bumps square into Geralt.
"Did you do this?" he asks, voice cracking, eyes filling. This is exactly something Geralt would do. "Geralt, what did you-"
"I had nothing to do with this," Geralt assures him. He smirks, those golden eyes darting over to Ciri. "I didn't even know about it until this morning, when someone woke me up and demanded we also get you some presents before everyone got here."
The tears welling in his eyes come dangerously close to spilling over when his gaze lands on Ciri. Determined Ciri, who needed to get him a gift this morning, who woke up her father and Yennefer and was gone before sunrise.
Hands behind her back, grin wide, eyes bright, Ciri rocks up on her toes, the picture of innocence. "Dara told Francesca about you. Then Francesca told Filavandrel. Then Dara's parents told people. I just helped."
Jaskier reaches out and grips Geralt's hand like his life depends on it.
"You helped. Helped with what?"
He squeezes Geralt's hand until his fingers bleach white. Geralt squeezes back.
"They wanted to give you presents but didn't know what to give you. So I told them all about you when Dara called with the xenovox Aunt Yen gave us." Ciri shrugs, she shrugs, like it's nothing. Like she didn't help orchestrate hundreds of Elves hauling wagons up the mountain pass, like she didn't wake up her father and demand to go shopping just to get Jaskier the notebook that's still tucked under his arm.
"She's been very helpful," Filavandrel tells them. "Though I didn't think she would keep the secret from you, Geralt. My apologies for the ambush."
Geralt carefully removes the notebook from Jaskier's grip and tucks it up against himself. He doesn't let go of Jaskier's hand.
"You never have to apologize for a visit, my friend. Or for giving Jaskier his due."
Yennefer peers down at the crowd below. "All these people," she murmurs. "You saved all of them."
"Oh, easily more than that. These are just the ones who could make the journey with us."
Jaskier huffs out a slightly hysterical laugh, scrubbing his eye with the heel of his free hand. His cane clatters to the ground but the brace around his leg and Geralt at his side keeps him upright.
They did this all for him.
"I told them how you said the right outfit can be like armor and make you feel good. And how you sing and write songs and can play the lute but don't have one." Ciri cocks her head at Francesca. "Did you bring him cloth for new outfits?"
"I did, and some jewelry," the Queen confirms. "A lot of people offered up cloth for him, or offered to make him clothes. Some of the cobblers made him shoes."
Filavandrel comes to stand before him, a King in all his glory who smiles at Jaskier, who asks that Jaskier call him by his given name and not his title. And the King of Elves kneels in front of the former Pankratz and offers him a lute.
"It is my own instrument," the King tells him. "Elven make, designed to last years beyond what anything else would. I would be honored if you would accept it, Jaskier of Kaer Morhen, Sandpiper, savior of Elves."
Gods above, Jaskier is going to start weeping at any moment.
"I'm no savior," he tries to say, but Francesca and Yennefer both shush him.
"There is an entire courtyard full of people who would disagree with you," Yennefer says, eyes still on the crowd below. She turns and gives Jaskier a faintly disbelieving look. "I would disagree with you."
"You saved me," Ciri says, voice quiet. "You saved them first, but you saved me too."
Francesca moves to kneel beside her husband. Jaskier very much wishes they would stand. Elves should never have to kneel before a human ever again. It feels wrong to even watch, and to have them kneeling before him? A man who benefited, even unknowingly at first, from the pain of their people?
But they are kneeling. They chose to kneel. They're honoring him, offering him gifts, thanking him. And when Jaskier reaches out with a shaking hand to accept the lute, they smile.
Jaskier releases Geralt to hand him the lute, then turns and offers both his hands to the royals before him and helps them back to their feet. Helps them stand so they're all equal again.
"Thank you," he manages to get out before he's once again shushed- this time by Francesca stepping forward to press a soft kiss to his brow.
"My friend, this is all to thank you," she says.
"It's too much," Jaskier chokes out. He can feel a tear sliding down his face. He can't do anything to stop it- his hands are in the grip of Elven royalty.
"I would argue it's not nearly enough. Everything in the carts is for you," Filavandrel says, linking an arm through Jaskier's. "And everything in the tribute was freely given by our people, offered the second everyone became aware you lived in Kaer Morhen. The lute is from me, but the rest is from those you've saved."
Francesca slides her arm through Jaskier's left. Offers him a beautiful smile. "Shall we? They're all quite eager to greet you."
He's led down the stairs with a King on one side, a Queen on the other, a Warlord at his back and a laughing Ciri, who skips ahead of them all.
It takes... Jaskier doesn't even know how many trips to empty the carts and bring the tribute up to his rooms. But it takes a long time and that’s just the stuff that can go to his rooms- several farmers offered up parts of their harvests and those go to the kitchens. Hours pass, the time for lunch comes and goes. Jaskier is hugged, his hands clasped. He gets cried on, he cries. Items are pressed into his hands that are then passed to Geralt, who's been following behind like a shadow.
Ciri and Dara dance around him in happy circles, greeting the Elves in Elder, telling them all about Jaskier saving them both. Two small children from wildly different backgrounds happily singing the praises of a man who simply did what was right.
Lunch is not served in the great hall. As big as Kaer Morhen is, it cannot accommodate both the Witchers and all the Elves that made the trek up the mountain. Instead several large bonfires are lit and used to cook up the deer that the Witchers went off hunting for. Jaskier is firmly placed between Geralt and Ciri, Francesca and Filavandrel across from them on the makeshift seats. They all eat together, Ciri crawling into Jaskier's lap and stealing some of his potatoes, Dara creeping closer to Jaskier's side.
Geralt keeps an arm around him the entire time and Jaskier is forever grateful, threading their fingers together and clinging to him for an anchor.
"Will you stay?" Geralt asks the Elves as night begins to fall. "We can find the room for all of you. The journey at night can be dangerous."
"We will portal home," Francesca tells them, waving away their concerns. "We didn't want to portal here with the horses, but if you keep them we can easily make our way home."
Jaskier can barely even speak, his throat is so raw from swallowing tears. But he accepts the hug Francesca gives him, the tackle from Dara, the firm hand clasp from Filavandrel.
"Thank you," Dara says.
"Thank you," Francesca says.
"Thank you," Filavandrel says.
When they're gone, the portal swirling closed behind them, Jaskier turns and scoops Ciri up into the biggest, tightest bear hug he can give her, swinging her around until she squeals, feet kicking, and locks her arms around Jaskier's neck.
"Thank you," he says, to her, to Geralt, who wraps his arms around them both. "That was... gods, I don't even have the words."
"Do you like your gifts? I helped pick some of them out."
Jaskier presses a kiss to Ciri's temple. "I love them. I don't know what I'm going to do with half of them, but I love them." He frees one arm, situating Ciri onto his hip so he can grip Geralt's waist and get him closer. "I can't believe you did all this."
"I swear on my life, I didn't know about it until this morning." Geralt chuckles, dipping his head forward to rest his forehead against Jaskier's. "It was all Ciri."
"Little sneak," Jaskier mutters, full of affection. Ciri grins at him.
He has bolts and bolts of fabric, acres of cloth in a full rainbow of colors: deep forest greens, bright sunshine yellows, regal silvers and purples, vibrant and bright blues. Annabeth is practically vibrating with joy, more than ready to get her hands on them and create an entire wardrobe for him.
The horses, he has no idea what to do with. He'd assumed- apparently incorrectly- that the horses would be gifted to Geralt to make up for the tribute going to Jaskier, but no. Jaskier now owns four horses, housed quite happily in the stables. He'll go pick one out tomorrow for riding and decide what to do with the other three. Maybe Eskel would like one- he's yet to pick a new ride since his mount passed last winter.
The lute is a thing of beauty. It shines like a new gold coin in the firelight, the wood polished and gleaming.
When he gives in to Ciri's pleading eyes and Geralt's steady ones and plays it while everyone mills about, the notes are pure and sweet. He's rusty to be sure, but his hands remember the chords, the positions, his fingers welcome the ache of using calluses previously nearly forgotten. The songs practically leap out from him, words spilling from his mouth as the notes spill from his fingers for the first time years.
He’s missed it more than he can possibly say. And for the first time in a long time, he plays without that lingering cloud of doubt and guilt hovering over him. He plays, he sings, he laughs and it feels like home.
He shares the wine with Yennefer, snagging a bottle or two to be put into his room but storing the rest in the cellar for now. Yennefer claims a bottle to squirrel away but opens another at dinner, pouring with a generous hand for anyone who asks. She and Triss get nice and tipsy off the brew, smelling sweet and giggling to themselves.
It is really good wine. Jaskier drinks a quarter of a bottle without realizing.
There are books, of course. Elven Folktales and legends, even a book of songs donated to the library and swiftly put away- in their correct places, thank you very much. He didn't spend literal months organizing the library for everyone to fall back into the habit of just tossing things in. The book of Elven heroes is the best find. He can't wait to read it (even if most of it is written in the ancient tongue).
He can’t even think about the jewelry right now. Gems and jewels glitter brightly in their boxes. There are rings, necklaces, headpieces, a glittering hairpiece with a large flower created from various gems that Jaskier has half a mind to give to Ciri- the warm tones of the metal and gems would suit her well.
But the best gift of all comes at the end of the night, when the Elves have gone home and Ciri is tucked up in bed. Geralt helps him haul the things he wants in his rooms upstairs- the notebook, the lute, bottles of wine and a few bolts of fabric so soft and smooth he can’t stop petting them. Brand new furs are draped across his bed, soft and warm looking.
"I... got you something."
Jaskier nearly bursts into tears all over again. "Geralt-"
"I didn't know why Ciri was so adamant that we get you gifts, but I wanted to get you something as well." He looks nervous, standing awkwardly in Jaskier's rooms, unsure of what to do with his hands. "I saw this and... thought of you."
There's no way Geralt can't hear Jaskier's heart kicking against his ribs.
The metal dangles from a silver chain, the pendant swinging when Geralt awkwardly thrusts it forward. Jaskier is so charmed, so touched by it that he almost forgets to look at the necklace when he steps forward.
"If Witchers could blush, would you be blushing right now?"
If he looks very closely, he can see the faintest hint of red creeping into Geralt's cheeks.
"Shut up," Geralt growls, mouth twitching. He's unable to meet Jaskier's gaze. "Do you want it or not?"
"Of course I want it. It's from you."
Now Geralt does meet his gaze, those golden eyes locking onto his.
"A tuning fork necklace." Propping his cane on the wall, Jaskier cups the necklace with both hands, unable to wipe the grin from his face. "Oh Geralt, I love it. Where did you even find something like this? Does it work? How marvelous!" Without waiting for an answer, Jaskier sings out a note, delighted when the fork hums along. "Oh! Geralt thank you, this is really lovely. Here, here- put it on me."
With all the care in the world, Geralt drapes the chain over his head, positioning it to rest just so against his neck. The tuning fork hangs to the middle of his sternum, the metal warm from Geralt's hands.
Unable to help himself, still reeling from the day, Jaskier leans forward to press a chaste kiss to the still-scarred skin just below Geralt's left eye. "Thank you," he breathes, giddy and glowing. "You and Ciri- just... thank you. All of this is-"
"If you say more than you deserve I'll call the Elves back."
Jaskier just laughs, clutching the necklace in his palm. But he’s able to swallow the words down. Everything in this room was given to him, yes, but it was given out of thanks. Given because he’d earned it. "Okay then, I won't say it, but just know I'm thinking it."
"I'm working on it, darling, I promise. That was- it was all so unexpected. I don't even know how to feel right now." Still a touch overwhelmed, Jaskier steps forward, dropping his head to rest it on Geralt's shoulder. Geralt doesn't hesitate to wrap him up in his arms, hauling him closer until there is no space between them.
Witcher hearts beat at a much slower pace than anyone else's. Yet Geralt's feels like it's going just a touch faster than it should be.
"You deserve to be told thank you," Geralt murmurs, lips just brushing the shell of his ear. "You deserve all of this and more."
"Says the man who looks vaguely ill every time he gets tribute despite all of his own various amazing deeds." Jaskier straightens to offer Geralt a cheeky grin.
Geralt kisses him.
It is not an accidental thing. Geralt moves with deliberate precision, angling his head forward to press his mouth to Jaskier’s.
Gods help him the man kisses him hard, kisses him like he means it, like he's starving and Jaskier is the finest spread and Jaskier is lost to it. His entire body lights up, every nerve ending firing like he's been struck by lightning. He's helpless to resist the urge to bury his fingers in Geralt's hair so he gives in, throwing his arms around Geralt's neck and hanging on for dear life when he kisses him back.
If he deserves everything he’s been given, does that mean he gets to have this too?
The sound that comes from Geralt is going to haunt Jaskier’s thoughts for years, a low, happy growl in his throat, the small breathy sigh that escapes out Geralt's nose when he backs Jaskier towards the bed.
He nips at Jaskier's lips, hands gripping his shirt like he wants to tear it off- and by gods is that a thought that gets Jaskier's blood pumping.
He can replace the shirt. He has the materials.
"Geralt," he sighs. "Geralt, Geralt-"
Fuck, but Geralt's mouth feels so good against his skin, teeth sharp but never enough to break skin when he bites his way down Jaskier's neck. Jaskier fists his hands into that pale hair and yanks, pulling until Geralt tips his head back and Jaskier can kiss him until they're both breathless.
"Jaskier." Geralt barely manages to wrench his mouth away from Jaskier's long enough to speak. He sinks his teeth into Jaskier's bottom lip, dipping his tongue into Jaskier's mouth to taste him. "Can I- what do you want, gods, fuck, tell me what you want, Jaskier-"
What does he want? He wants… so many things, things he’s never dared to ask for or take. And now standing in front of him is his biggest want, holding him, touching him, kissing him, wanting him. And he can take it.
Jaskier's answer is to trail a hand down Geralt's chest, following the chain of his own medallion. The wolf's head gleams in the moonlight spilling in the window, a cool breeze creeping in from the open balcony door. Deliberately, eyes on Geralt's the entire time, he pulls at the laces that travel halfway down Geralt's shirt, tugging at them until the knot is untied and dangling, the shirt gaping enough for him to slide his hand beneath the fabric.
"Take this off," he breathes. "I want to see you. I want you."
The shirt is gone in a second, the fabric not even hitting the ground before Geralt's hands are back around his hips, his mouth latched on to Jaskier's. Hands slide up Jaskier's back, nails catching on the scars that dot him and continuing upwards, the fabric of his shirt bunching up as they go.
"Let me see you," Geralt murmurs, mouth pressed against his skin. "Let me feel you."
"Yes, yes, please-"
Geralt almost can't get the shirt off him, Jaskier unable to wrench himself away long enough for the fabric to be cast aside. Geralt tastes fucking amazing, his mouth warm and bitter from the ale Jaskier can just taste on his tongue. Jaskier is already addicted to the taste of him, to the feel of him under his fingertips.
They stagger backwards, kicking off their boots and nearly tripping over the rug. Geralt picks him up with ease, hands under Jaskier's ass and giving a firm squeeze, his mouth swallowing the sounds spilling from Jaskier's lips. They can't get their pants off like this, too close to each other to do more than cling and touch and feel, the damn brace in the way. Jaskier's hips move of their own volition, grinding down against the stone wall of Geralt's abdomen.
Geralt growls, fisting a hand in Jaskier's hair and pulling, arching him back until Geralt can fit his teeth around the curve of his neck and bite down.
Gods, the sound that gets wrenched from Jaskier's throat is nearly loud enough to echo.
"That's it," Geralt growls, lapping at the spot he bit before he does it again, sucking at the skin to make sure it bruises. To make sure he's claimed. "That's it, lark. Sing for me."
They fall onto the bed in a tangle of limbs. Jaskier's entire body is burning, lust thrumming through his veins like a wildfire. He digs his nails into Geralt's shoulders and scrapes them down, wishing they'd leave marks that would stay and last. Geralt moans, head dropping onto Jaskier's chest and Jaskier does it again, pressing harder when Geralt crawls up his body, pressing kisses as he goes.
The muscles on Geralt's back flex under his fingertips, the scars moving as he arches and flexes, moving to pin Jaskier underneath him. His hands are everywhere on Jaskier: trailing down his chest, his sides, to his hips to yank his pants down his hips, fingers unbuckling his brace to remove it and his remaining boot, then his pants. Geralt is large and warm against him, teeth nipping little sparks against his chest, tongue lapping at his nipple when he reaches down, down, down and wraps a hand around Jaskier's cock.
"Fuck," Jaskier cries, arching up into the touch. It's been so long since anyone touched him like this and it's Geralt who touches him now. Sword-rough hands so gentle on him, grip firm, fingers exploring. "Geralt, fuck, please-"
No matter how he arches, how much he begs, Geralt takes his time with him, fingers stroking slowly, thumb circling the head like he has all the time in the world. Jaskier curses, arching and rutting up into Geralt's fist, one hand flying back against the headboard to brace himself.
"Such good noises you make for me, lark." Another bite pressed against his clavicle, another moan wrenched from Jaskier's lips. Geralt moves just far enough away to slide down his body. "I wonder what other sounds I can pull from you."
Jaskier has enough presence of mind to grab the corner of the blanket and stuff it between his teeth just before Geralt's lips close around him. He shifts, getting one thick arm around Jaskier's arching hips to pin him against the mattress and swallows him down.
Jaskier's brain fractures into thousands of little pieces, reality crumbling away until there's nothing but the hot, wet heat of Geralt's mouth around him, the slick of Geralt's tongue teasing the slit of his weeping cock, lapping up the precome beading at the head. He hums, swallowing Jaskier as much as he can- which is a lot, it's so much, so warm and wet and good, gods it's good.
The blanket is tugged away. "I want to hear you."
Jaskier nearly sobs, wailing, doing his best to arch against the arm that pins him down when Geralt swallows him nearly to the root.
"Geralt- fucking gods, oh, oh please, please Geralt-"
He claws at the arm slung across his hips, tugs and yanks and pulls until Geralt gets the message, breaking away from Jaskier long enough to paw at his nightstand.
"Tell me you have oil," Geralt growls, a hand under Jaskier's neck yanking him up just enough for a sloppy kiss.
Jaskier bites Geralt's lip, sucking it into his mouth. He rakes his nails down Geralt's back and delights in the full body shudder he is given in return. "Second drawer," he pants into Geralt's mouth.
Together they fumble with Geralt's pants until he’s just as bare as Jaskier is, all that glorious skin ready to be touched. Jaskier tries to drink him all in but there’s so much, so much all at once and not enough, his curious fingers tracing scars, a hungry mouth pressing into shuddering skin, then Geralt hauls him up for a filthy kiss. A pillow is shoved under Jaskier's hips, wide hands squeezing the back of his thighs, draping one over a massive shoulder. Geralt turns to press a kiss to the soft skin of Jaskier's inner thigh, eyes glowing bright in the firelight.
Jaskier moans around a laugh. "So okay. Don't stop, fuck, please don't stop. I want you so fucking badly-"
"Wanted you for months," Geralt growls against him, nipping gently at the meat of Jaskier’s thigh.
"Fucking- take me Geralt."
Geralt is gentle at first, spreading him open carefully with his fingers before he presses in. His first thrusts are gentle, careful, allowing Jaskier time to adjust to him. Jaskier digs his heels into Geralt's back, arching until Geralt hits him just right, until everything goes bright and white behind Jaskier's eyelids.
Then Geralt puts his back into it, moaning when Jaskier digs his fingernails in, nearly hard enough to break skin and raking them down Geralt's spine.
"Jaskier," Geralt moans, hips stuttering in their rhythm. All that careful control slipping away, crumbling under Jaskier’s touch. "Jaskier."
"That's it, darling. Come for me, Geralt."
Jaskier wails when he comes, relishing in the warmth that spreads through him when Geralt finds his own release. He moans low against Jaskier's chest, body shuddering through it.
"Fuck." Geralt sucks in a deep breath, chest heaving. "Jaskier-"
Jaskier can only kiss him, laughing when Geralt flips them, rolling out of the wet patch they've created. Sprawled onto the Witcher's wide chest, Jaskier takes full advantage and presses light kisses down Geralt's neck and back up to press another light peck to the scar over his eye, through his brow and up to his hairline. Geralt gets a hand on the back of his head and holds him still for a longer, more thorough kiss.
Exhausted, thoroughly sated, Jaskier snuggles down into the curve of Geralt's arm. Geralt hums, leaning down to press a kiss to Jaskier's forehead, fingertips tracing idle patterns on Jaskier's shoulder that follow him down into sleep.
He wakes with a jerk a few hours later, heart pounding, chest heaving, a scream trapped in his throat. He wrenches away from the arm around him, away from the hands that want to chain him, to hurt him, half blind with panic. He can hear the whip cracking in the air, feel the sting of it against his back.
"Jaskier, Jask- it's okay." He knows that voice. "You're safe."
Shaking, the sweat drying cold and sticky on his skin, Jaskier blinks the ghosts away. "Geralt."
"It's me, lark. You're okay. You're safe."
Obviously reluctant to touch him, Geralt's hand hesitates in the air between them. He's sitting up, sheets pooling around his hips, brows drawn together in concern. "Breathe," he orders Jaskier. "You're safe."
"Fuck. Sorry." Of course he'd had a nightmare after their first night together. Can't have too many nice things, can we Jaskier? All that thanks and praise and Geralt in his bed, of course he has a nightmare. Of course he jerks awake and away from Geralt, worrying him.
Geralt hums, seemingly unbothered, and carefully reaches out. "What do you need?"
Jaskier hesitates for barely half a second before threading their hands together, crawling up the bed to sit close enough to rest his head on Geralt’s shoulder. He’s safe. He’s home. He’s not in a dungeon and Geralt is here. Nothing will happen to him while he’s in Kaer Morhen.
He's already calmer with Geralt's arms around him, hearing the slow heartbeat against his ear. "Can we... just sit here for a minute? It's soothing and I'm still shaking. Just a minute, then I'll go to the library for a few hours."
Geralt will probably go back to his rooms now, or go off to do whatever it is Witchers do while the rest of them sleep. Jaskier can work for a bit, or read until he can sleep again.
Maybe he'll even compose a song in his new notebook. Or practice his lute. Something to keep his mind and hands busy.
"Hmm." Geralt's fingers pass through Jaskier's hair, nails scratching at his scalp. "Why don't we try this first?" He hauls Jaskier back up the bed, arranging his limbs just so until they're laying side by side, Geralt's arm under Jaskier head, the other slung around his waist. He moves until their legs are tangled together, until they're pressed skin to skin and Jaskier can cling to him all he wants.
"Oh." Relaxing under the weight of Geralt against him, Jaskier nuzzles closer, tucking his forehead under Geralt's chin. "I quite like this. This is nice."
"Try and sleep a little longer. We'll go to the library if you can't."
He’s staying. He’s not leaving. Everything is okay. They’re in his room, in his bed, all the things he’s been gifted spread around him and Geralt is staying.
Jaskier can't resist pressing a kiss to Geralt's neck, ducking to hide his smile. "I bet this is how you treat all your librarians."
Jaskier's face is tipped back with a finger under his chin. "Hmm… you are the first librarian we’ve had. It could be a new tradition." He chuckles when Jaskier whacks him on the shoulder, then kisses him softly, slowly, warming Jaskier from the inside out. "Sleep. I’ll be here when you wake."
Geralt trails his fingertips up Jaskier's spine, gently tracing the line of the scar on his shoulder in soothing patterns. Jaskier's eyes drift closed under the motions, lulled by Geralt's slow breathing and the heart beating comfortingly under his hand.
And he sleeps.
Fin (for now)