The ground squelched under the weight of Roach as she walked through the muddy forest. The air was crisp and still smelt of rain. The sky still appeared dark and menacing, but at least they had been given a respite from the pouring rain. Geralt was aware of his surroundings, but his witcher senses had not picked up anything dangerous since the ghoul he had killed several days ago. Jaskier was following him on foot, cursing under his breath as he tripped over his own feet. Geralt glanced over his shoulder at the bard, raising a silver eyebrow as he listened to Jaskier complain about the mud sticking to his clothes and caking his shoes. Geralt did not even bother to hide his amused smirk.
“I told you to not drag your feet, Jaskier,” Geralt said before focusing his gaze on the road again. Although he had turned his back on the bard, he was convinced that Jaskier was making faces at him.
“I wouldn’t have to drag my feet if your highness would be so gracious and let me ride on his noble steed… you know, a gentleman would’ve willingly offered their tired lover a shot of the horse…,” Jaskier remarked, and Geralt could tell he was trying his very best not to whine.
“I am no gentleman.”
“Tell me about it,” Jaskier picked up the pace until he managed to catch up with Roach, “are we close to a village? We haven’t slept in a warm bed in days.”
“I don’t recall you complaining about the cold the past couple of nights. I thought I did a good job at keeping you warm…”
“You know I love using your body as my personal blanket, but nothing beats the comfort of an actual bed. I would enjoy the sex a hundred times more if I didn’t have to worry about the ants in my hair and the spiders crawling all over my body…”
Jaskier shuddered at the memory. Geralt merely rolled his eyes at his lover’s words, deciding to keep his sarcastic response to himself. Jaskier was cranky as a result of being on the road for days on end. Geralt knew that the bard had been accustomed to a certain lifestyle growing up, and sleeping on the cold wet ground had not been part of it. An uncomfortable Jaskier was a cranky Jaskier, and although Geralt prided himself on his patience, he was not immune to the discomforts of the road either and the bard’s complaints only added to his irritation.
“Sorry to burst your bubble, Jaskier, but I have slept in beds that were home to all kinds of pests. Don’t think that an inn will protect you from a spider attack.”
“Oh yeah, very charming. Don’t be surprised if the next time you’re in the mood for sex I suddenly develop a headache.”
Geralt was not worried about that, because he had learned a long time ago that Jaskier was often all bark and no bite. Also, Geralt knew exactly where to touch and kiss Jaskier to turn him into a whimpering mess begging to be claimed. So no, the witcher was not worried that the bard would make good on his threat; in fact, he almost counted on it. Sex with Jaskier was always sweeter when he made Geralt work for it. The thought of Jaskier’s naked body squirming under his ministrations was interrupted when the witcher picked up on a faint sound coming from the woods.
“Hey, did you hear that?” Jaskier asked as he came to a sudden halt. Geralt pulled on Roach’s reigns bringing the horse to a halt and used his enhanced senses to locate the noise again. It did not take long for his sensitive ears to hear it again – it sounded like the cry of a distressed child.
“Stay here with Roach,” Geralt ordered the bard before jumping off Roach and reaching behind him to unsheathe his sword. The witcher ignored Jaskier’s protests and followed the noise, his senses on high alert. Geralt had learned quickly that if he wanted Jaskier to stay out of dangerous situations, it was always best to leave him in charge of Roach. If the bard thought that by staying back he could be useful to Geralt, he was more likely to listen to the witcher’s orders. For Geralt, this meant on the one hand that if anything happened to him Roach would be taken care of, and that Jaskier would be safe.
The wailing noise grew louder and louder the further Geralt wandered into the woods. He sincerely hoped that he was not being lured into a trap. Some monsters had developed highly sophisticated calls that were designed to attract their prey and lull them into a false sense of security. Geralt had seen it all, which is why he clung more tightly onto his sword as the noise intensified. He was surprised to find that the wailing came from inside a massive tree just off the dirt track. Looking down, he noticed a small basket nestled in the nook of the tree. Twigs, branches and foliage strategically covered the basket and hid it from prying eyes.
“What the fuck…,” Geralt muttered under his breath as he knelt on the wet ground. His eyebrows shot upwards in surprise when the wailing intensified. With his free hand, Geralt moved away the branches and foliage and reached inside the basket, moving aside the dirty blanket to reveal the face of a small child crying its heart out as the cold wind hit its skin. The witcher felt his heart constrict in his chest at the sight. He slid his sword back into its sheath before gently lifting the now screaming baby out of the basket. He noticed that the infant’s lips were already blue from the cold.
“Fuck,” Gerald cursed under his breath as he rose to his feet and wrapped the blankets tightly around the crying baby again. The witcher ran back the way he came, always keeping an eye on the tiny bundle of blankets in his arms. He had to get to the healer quickly, or the infant might die of hypothermia. When Geralt reached Roach and Jaskier, he instantly noticed the confused expression on his face. Roach felt her owner’s urgency and whinnied uneasily when she saw him. Geralt shushed her softly before jumping onto her back. He securely tucked the babe under one arm and without another word reached out his hand for Jaskier to grab. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, the bard merely grabbed Geralt’s hand and let the bigger man hurl him onto the horse.
The closest village was only several miles away from where they had found the child. Despite Jaskier’s added weight, Roach rode steadily which meant that they managed to reach the village quickly. The infant had stopped crying and looked fast asleep, but that did not reassure Geralt in the least. They had found the village healer easily; she went by the name of Anika and lived at the edge of the woods. It was not uncommon for magic-wielding medics to live outside the villages, mostly because most humans were not comfortable around them. Anika had been outside her hut collecting herbs when Geralt and Jaskier arrived. The witcher had urgently described the situation to her and handed her the sleeping infant. Judging by the look on Anika’s face when she had taken the baby off Geralt, they did not have much time left.
Two hours passed during which Anika had to revive the infant twice. She fed it various potions and boiled some water over the fire which she then used to bathe the child when the water had cooled somewhat. Her priority was to warm the babe up and to give it healing potions to fight off pneumonia and other symptoms of the cold which could kill it easily. After stabilising the baby’s vitals, Anika wrapped the tiny human in warm blankets and placed it near the roaring fire. Only after she had made sure that the infant’s breathing was regular did she turn to Geralt and Jaskier and addressed them for the first time since their arrival.
“She’ll survive. You got her here just in time. She’s lucky you found her.”
“She? It’s a she? Oh, poor thing.” Jaskier decided to sit next to the sleeping infant and leaned in closer to examine her face. Geralt did not dignify Anika’s words with an answer. He merely sat in silence, staring broodily at the fire. His quiet mood did not go unnoticed by the healer, who in an effort to get the witcher’s attention, squeezed his shoulder in a comforting gesture. At this, Geralt instinctively caught her wrist in a bruising hold which had Anika yelping in both surprise and slight discomfort. Jaskier was instantly on his feet, his hands raised in surrender hoping it would diffuse the tension in the room.
“Woah, sorry about that. Geralt is not used to spontaneous displays of affection,” the bard explained diplomatically, as if that justified the sudden action. Anika did her best to look calm and composed, but her eyes betrayed her anxiety. Geralt was, after all, an intimidating man without the added display of physical strength. Almost as if snapping out of a trance, the witcher let go of her slender wrist and went back to his brooding. Jaskier offered Anika an apologetic smile, which the healer reluctantly returned.
“So, uh… what’s happening with this little angel now that you’ve healed her?” Jaskier asked, hoping to change the subject swiftly. Anika seemed grateful for the distraction.
“I was just about to ask you the same question. She was obviously abandoned by her parents and judging by how close the location she was left is to the village, I assume that her mother at least lives not far away from here. Recently, three women have given birth here. As far as I know, all three women were looking forward to being mothers. I can’t recall anyone who looked like she wanted to get rid of the baby.”
“Maybe it was a decision that was out of the mother’s control,” Jaskier suggested grimly, “I’ve heard that story many times before. Could’ve been the doing of an ashamed father, or a cuckold husband…”
“Perhaps so, but in any case, I doubt the child will find a loving home here. Of course, there is always the possibility to take her to the nearest orphanage. The nearest one is in Nidelheim, which is a five-day journey from here. I go there regularly to buy herbs that I can’t grow in my own garden. I could take her there,” Anika suggested, and just as Jaskier was about to take her up on the offer, Geralt spoke for the first time since their arrival.
“No.” His voice was stern and unequivocal. Jaskier knew that tone too well. Jaskier and Anika both went silent, unsure how to react to the witcher’s reaction. As if sensing their confusion, Geralt willingly decided to elaborate. “I won’t give her up to an orphanage. She won’t have a chance to make it in this world if she’s raised in that kind of place.”
Jaskier could not help the endeared smile that Geralt’s words triggered, nor the way his heart warmed at how much the witcher seemed to care about that infant’s future. Anika, on the other hand, looked stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“So, what do you suggest?”
“You could take her in,” Geralt said, his amber eyes meeting Anika’s. The woman looked suddenly very uncomfortable.
“I’m afraid I’m not much of a mother. I wouldn’t want to burden myself with a child. The villagers have a hard time accepting my presence here, if they found out that I took in an abandoned child… they might suspect me of teaching her the ways of magic and come for her anyway. It’s too risky.”
Geralt’s eyes narrowed at Anika’s words. He rose from his chair which moved away from with a loud scraping noise. Jaskier immediately stepped closer to his lover, ready to be the voice of reason if he thought that Geralt became too excitable. Anika stood her ground bravely and stared into the witcher’s eyes with her arms crossed before her chest.
“An orphanage is out of the question,” said Geralt.
“Geralt, we don’t have much of a choice,” Jaskier argued softly before Anika said something that would set Geralt off, “and an orphanage is better than the fate that awaited her in those woods. We would be doing her a favour.”
“If we send her to an orphanage, we might as well have left her to die in those woods. That would’ve been a kinder fate,” Geralt maintained stubbornly, earning himself a reprimanding glare from Anika.
“You don’t mean that!”
“Like fuck I don’t!”
“Fuck, Jaskier, I won’t send her to a place where she’ll at best be raped and used for cheap labour!” Geralt snapped, his voice louder than before and making both Anika and Jaskier flinch. Geralt did not need to shout or draw his sword to be intimidating. His deep voice and the way it reverberated against the walls of the hut were loud enough to wake up the child that had until then been sleeping peacefully by the fire. It was only when she started whining softly and no one made a move to comfort her that Jaskier decided pick her up and cradle her close to his chest. He looked down at her, noticing her features for the first time. She did not have much hair, but the little she had seemed fine and dark. Her eyes were a deep shade of blue and filled with innocence and childlike wonder. Her lips were slightly parted as she stared at Jaskier, no doubt wondering who that strange man holding her was. Her button nose scrunched up as she fidgeted in his arms and tried to turn her head to the side to take in her surroundings. Jaskier felt his heart clench uncomfortably in his chest at the sight of this tiny human being, lost and abandoned, trying to make sense of what was happening to her. No doubt she was looking for her mother and instead she was left with three perfect strangers who were making decisions about her future as if she were nothing more than cattle being traded at the market.
“Geralt…,” Jaskier called out his lover’s name, his next words dying on his lips as he looked up at the witcher with wide pleading eyes, “Geralt, you’re right. There has to be another way.”
Geralt’s stance instantly softened at those words and at the vulnerability in Jaskier’s voice. Outsiders might not have noticed the subtle changes in the witcher’s demeanour, but Jaskier did. But whereas the witcher was still wrecking his brain for a solution to their problem, Jaskier had already come to a decision. He looked down at the infant in his arms who was now openly smiling at him. Jaskier found himself beaming back at the child.
He would find her a loving home who would take her in and treat her like the little angel that she was if it was the last thing he did.
“We’ll find her a family,” Jaskier announced out of the blue, his eyes still fixated on the now giggling child in his arms. With a tender smile plastered on his face, he gently stroked the infant’s cheek with two long fingers as if she were made of glass and could break at any moment.
“Come again?” Geralt asked, surprise evident in his voice – which was a first, Jaskier had to admit.
“We’ll find her a home where she’ll be wanted and cherished. That settles it. I promise I won’t rest until you’re safe, sweetheart.”
Anika’s eyes went wide at the announcement, while Geralt merely sighed and shook his head in utter surrender, knowing full well that now that Jaskier was invested in this endeavour, there would be no convincing him that taking responsibility for a child when he was still a child himself was one of his worst ideas yet. Geralt was about to tell him as much when he noticed the way Jaskier looked fondly at the infant in his arms and smiling brightly every time his foolish antics pulled a delighted giggle out of her. Jaskier looked up at his lover and even Geralt had to admit that this was the happiest that the bard had looked in weeks. The gods knew that all the witcher truly wanted was for Jaskier to be happy.