Jaskier is eight years old when he first falls in love.
It is with the girl who lives nearby. She is older, only by a year, and Jaskier sees starlight in her eyes and sunshine in her hair. She looks like she was spun from fairytales, woven from the sky itself and created with magic in the very tips of her fingers. She giggles when she says his name, back when it was still Julian and he was still the Viscount's son; back when he thought that he would marry a fair maiden and they would have their happily ever after.
It is childish infatuation and, when they play together, Jaskier makes her a crown out of woven daisies. She blushes, her cheeks a pretty pink, like candy floss clouds in sun-risen sky, and she wears it until the petals wither and the flowers die; and then he makes her another one and another one and another one, until his fingers are green-stained and he can make them with his eyes closed.
She has beautiful hands and she always wore sparkly bracelets, a silver one that her grandma had given her for her birthday and a bronze one that she thought was pretty. They would clink around her slim wrists, little melodies woven in her like threads of fate.
She smiles and she glows and she was the sun, Jaskier orbiting around her. He is drawn to her like a moth to a flame, his tiny hands held in her own equally small ones. They play at happy families together and Jaskier, young and naive and innocent, thinks that this is the happiest he will ever be.
She kisses his forehead and they promise that, when they're older, they'll get married. They make their vows in a chain of flowers, link their fingers with dandelion stems. Till death do us part, they say in their high-pitched voices. Forever and ever and long after that.
They seal it with their pinky-fingers intertwined and their faces solemn with all the severity that young children can muster. Jaskier imagines her in a pretty white dress, his daisy chains woven in her golden hair. He kisses her on the cheek and she giggles as they run back home, hand in hand.
He thinks that she is his future, she is his fairytale princess. Like the ones in his storybooks that he reads to himself late at night. She is the gold and the light and the sun and she is his destiny.
And then she leaves and Jaskier's heart breaks in two.
His mother comforts him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. She has kind eyes, not blue like Jaskier's but dark green like the leaves on trees and the grass in summer. Delicate like the waterlilies floating on the river-surface, his mother is made of fragile white lined with fire of pink. She has Jaskier's smile though, and like ripples through water Jaskier sees his own face reflected in that of his mother's.
Jaskier cries, tears spilling from his eyes, tracked in raw red down his cheeks. She holds him close, holds him until the tears stop falling. She is always there; for the rest of his childhood. She grows quieter as she gets older; 'learns her place', as his father had put it. However, she never once leaves him. Forever, his mother stands beside him like a comfort of shadow, something so deeply intertwined with his identity that he does not realise her true worth until she is there no longer.
He asks her why people fall in love, if it hurts so much. Her answering smile is painted in that quiet sort of sadness as she tugs him against her. Her hands shake and Jaskier thinks of his father; of how he is always distant even when he is right beside them, for his home was no longer here. He had made it somewhere else, somewhere different, and with it, he had stolen the pieces of his mother; the parts she had given him oh so long ago. Taken them when the world was different and when things had been painted in blacks and whites and the greys had yet to exist.
He had bruises on his neck that made Jaskier's mother cry. He always came home late with a stumble to his steps and the smell of flowery perfume lingering to his coat. Money would vanish without a trace and all that would remain were the smears of red and pink and purple stained around his father's lips.
"You have a good heart, Julian." She whispers into his hair. She pulls back, looking at him in the way that all adults do when they think he won't understand. "Never think that is a weakness."
His heart soon heals like the scrapes on hands and the bruises on his knees, but he can no longer make daisy chains with his eyes held shut and he no longer wants his fairytale princess.
As Jaskier gets older, love comes easier and as school grows tougher he begins to rebel against the confinements of his nobility, he longs for a simpler life where there is freedom and hope and he can fly away on wings of fire.
He falls in love with a merchant's daughter. He kisses her under the starlit sky and they too make their promise for forever. He is still young, still carefree. His love is pure and sweet, innocent. He holds bouquets of wildflowers in his hands as he meets her in secret; he makes her crowns of daisies and she wraps her hands around his. Her hands are warm and his are clammy but she never seems to mind. She kisses the marks on his knuckles, the vertical lines of where a cane had been struck hard. She is smart and intelligent and she helps him read when he cannot understand and it is her who shows him the constellations at night and it is her who tells him stories from lands far away. It is her who gives him the bracelet, the one that hides pointed ears and the light that glows from within. "In case you ever need to hide." She had said and he had never understood, not until he was much older and he realises that, viscount or not, his blood is a thing to be hated.
But she moves on, eventually, and they break it off under the pinkened sky. Forever is a long time, he comes to realise; and it is a thing that cannot be promised so easily.
He falls in love with a farmer's daughter next. Her skin is dark and her eyes are bright and she captivates Jaskier with the accent of her voice and the curve of her smile. He finds her and they play games together. She is clever and witty and she makes Jaskier laugh, but she works hard and she is always tired and when the harvest seasons approach she does not have the time to waste in idleness. That is when Jaskier realises that there are different kinds of freedom. She envies his easy life in his grand house, his fine clothes and his father's wealth. He envies the way she can speak her mind, coarse and brutal but honest in a way he was not permitted.
She ignores the welts on his skin, the beatings from sticks and canes and hot-fired pokers. He pretends that she is not worked to the bone, fatigued beyond her young years.
They both ignore how neither of them are truly free. Their blood is tainted and they will not be safe in the world outside, not amongst men and monsters and all that awaits. The bracelet from the merchant's daughter is hidden under old wooden floorboards in Jaskier's bedroom. He pretends that the farmer's daughter has her chance of freedom, but he knows that she will live here until the humans find them and their houses are burned to the ground.
They too split, for she grows to detest his frivolous ways and he cannot understand her serious nature; they bicker like the children they are and eventually they boil over, sizzling like fat in a frying pan. They shout and argue and he storms off and she never comes back.
But he is still young, not yet older than a young child, and his heartbreaks are easily healed. His mother holds his hands when he is upset and the world is simple, his heart is true.
His father does not speak to him anymore and he does not care. It is him who enrolled him at that school, he is the reason why lessons are beaten in with a cane and his mistakes are punished with blood.
"Follow your heart." His mother tells him, wiping away the tears from under his eyes. "Do what makes you happy."
And he does.
Jaskier finds a body on one of his birthdays. It is a young man and there is blood on his head and crimson on his lips. His skin is pale and he does not breathe, but it is his eyes that haunt Jaskier's dreams.
Lifeless and dull, devoid of all that made them alive.
He learns much later that he was attacked. He hears his father talking about it in his study. Jaskier listens at the door, ears trained on the keyhole. "He had it coming." His father repeats, over and over again. His companions laugh.
"Queer." He hears, repeated in cruel cackles. "Immoral."
And perhaps the worst, "He got what he deserved."
He gets much older and the years fly by. He reaches adolescence and he falls madly in love with a girl of midnight hair and dark brown eyes. He smiles at her but she does not smile back and, for the first time in his life, Jaskier finds his love unrequited. This, perhaps, hurts more than heartbreak.
But Jaskier watches her from afar, his soul singing to her from beyond her reach and he watches her watch another. His expression is mirrored on her own face, her dark eyes doleful and sweet upon the blacksmith's son, who is tough and strong and large and not like Jaskier who is skinny and is yet to hit his growth spurt.
Jaskier watches her with the blacksmith's son. Looks at him and feels something like jealousy burn in his chest.
The son has eyes like storm clouds and his laugh swirls in madness like a hurricane. Jaskier watches him too, and feels himself drawn closer.
But he remembers cold skin and lifeless eyes and he discards the pieces of him that grow warm when the blacksmith's son smiles.
He likes her and he is envious of him. That is all it is.
But it hurts. No matter what, it hurts.
He tries not to let it bother him, however, and he focuses on the girl with midnight hair, lets that darkness swallow out the hurricane laugh and grey-sky eyes. He waits for whatever he feels to pass. He waits for his heartbreak to disappear and he prays that he will find another, one who is not already entangled in matters of the heart. One who is not male.
It does pass eventually, as always, and Jaskier's attentions are once more captured by another.
But he finds his eyes can never quite tear themselves away from the boys who laugh and shout and run through the wind like they are the storm and the hurricanes and the flashes of lightning that hit the ground. They upturn Jaskier's life, pull him up by the very roots until he is left with nowhere to hide.
But hide he must, for the boy with blood on his temples and red on his lips would be him if he did not.
He hits puberty and he grows, upwards and outwards and his muscles harden and his voice deepens. The girl of midnight hair looks at him, now. The blacksmith's son had not been what she was looking for, and she had not followed him when his family had moved away. He says he is thankful that he is gone, for now she wants him; but he knows that he is lying. He worries about the blacksmith's son, sometimes. Wonders if they managed to get to their golden palaces of legend, or wonder if humans had found them first and cleansed the earth of their filth.
But he pushes these feelings aside and instead focuses on the girl who's eyes begin to meet his own, who flushes and smiles and twirls strands of her hair around long fingers. Apparently she has found what she wants within Jaskier. She kisses him in the rain, her hair wet and bedraggled and Jaskier thinks she is the most beautiful creature on earth. All thoughts of hurricanes and storms are wiped from his mind until all that remains is long, starless nights and the silver glow of moons like laughter in bright eyes.
They find one another and perhaps - when concerning all the strings of relationships Jaskier has had and the ones that are still yet to happen - it is this girl who he remembers with a fondness. He thinks this is his first true love. The one that is not just childhood naivety and unkeepable promises, this is deep and long and he and her find their true comfort in one another.
Her lips taste of rose petals and Jaskier feels as if he is standing on the edge of the moon. He falls into the blackness of night, wrapped in her midnight hair.
They have sleepless nights where they simply sit and talk. She glows under the stars and Jaskier finds himself captivated by her ethereal beauty. She kisses him and he kisses her and he tangles his fingers in her hair and she looks at him under her long, dark eyelashes and he thinks that his heart could never be fuller than this.
She is his first. An awkward tangle of limbs, noses bumping and teeth clashing. She touches him and it is too hard, then too soft and he doesn't know where to put his fingers or his hands and they try and experiment and some things work and others don't. They explore one another for the next year, careful touches and tentative strokes, growing surer and surer as they become familiarised with the shapes of one another, the contours and highlights and the bits of them that shiver and burn when they're touched just right.
They learn everything about one another, until she is no longer the girl with the midnight hair and he is no longer the boy with the cornflower eyes but they are one in the same. Jaskier gives his whole heart to her and there are words that swirl around in his mind, pieces of the world that beg to be described.
He thinks of his wings of fire, the ones he always longed to fly away on. They glow bright, of vibrant oranges and yellows. She sets him alight and together they soar.
She is his first muse, too. His first piece of inspiration.
He writes poetry until his hands hurt and his eyes grow sore. Under flickering candlelight, the ink flows onto yellowed pages. It feels natural, the words becoming like an extension to himself, and from the pen comes sentences that are translated from the very beating of his heart.
He reads it to her the next day, while they sit in spring sunlight along a river's bank. Butterflies fluttering above her head in a technicolour rainbow.
When he is finished, she kisses him and they make love on the water's edge. Later that night Jaskier writes about the softness of her skin, the curves of her body. He writes about the gasps that slip between parted lips, the culmination of two hearts becoming one.
They become their language, their own secret tongue. He reads her the poems, their own personal secrets scrawled out in scarlet ink. He traces the words on her skin and she giggles as his fingers trace the lines of their language. Love, he writes. Sweetness, happiness.
Forev- he stops.
He looks at her, feels her against him. Her midnight hair is smothering and its darkness blocks out the fire of his wings. She contains him, she keeps him grounded when all he wants is to fly.
And Jaskier learns that it is just as easy to fall out of love as it is to fall in.
He breaks it off a few weeks later and she cries.
She tears up his poetry, leaves his written words in torn-up shreds. They blow away in the wind, disappearing until it was as if they never existed at all.
But Jaskier does not stop writing. He moves on and he writes of things that have gone. He writes of sunsets and ever-nearing autumns. He writes of the leaves on trees and the turning of green to gold to brown.
He writes and writes and soon there is not enough room for him and his words in the village.
Pressure grows and he can see the impatience of his father, the edge to his words as he speaks of marriage and love and convenience. "No more farmer's daughters", he hisses and Jaskier's blood burns hot. "You've had your time to dream away your days. Now you must face the real world. Take the responsibility you were born to carry." And his father takes his papers, takes his words and throws them away. " This is your destiny ."
But Jaskier cannot accept that. This cannot be all there is.
"Do what makes you happy." He hears his mother's voice in his head. He is older now, he is almost an adult. She will understand.
But now she says other things. "Never give all of your heart away. Only pieces, bits that can be glued back together." She looks at his father with tear-stained eyes. "When you give someone everything, you give them control."
And then, voice so quiet it had been like the whispering of wind, she says; "They can take you, every little piece that you've ever been, and stamp on it until there's nothing left."
He can only apologise for the fact that she cannot do the same. But she is trapped, tethered to the land like a dog on a leash. She is property, a prize that his father can have hanging off his arm, another trophy in his endless cabinet. He cannot live like that. He can't follow in those shadowed footsteps.
So he leaves; leaves the only thing he had ever known behind him.
The bracelet, the gift from the merchant's daughter, slides around his wrist. And although he is now free, there is a whole new set of chains that shackle him.
He is almost eighteen (as he tells them, although really he is much older) when he first picks up a lute and it fits in his hands as though it was meant to be.
He has become learned, well-read. Had professors who had nurtured his writing, watered the seeds and saplings until they blossomed into spring daffodils. Of new beginnings he becomes and the strumming of a lute is what changes him. No longer are words beaten into him with welts and scars. When his words will not come and his eyes grow tired, he finds that there are people who he can fall back on, both his equals and his highers who give up their time to help him grow.
He learns of destiny, of the red threads that intertwine them all. The connections he forms, the impact that he has. He is told that he inhabits a corner, that in the vastness of the world he is given a room in which he must live. The people who he will know, the people who he will meet, are only a tiny portion of all that there is. He has a torch that he can set alight to, he has the tools to create light in his little corner. And maybe he will not go down in history and maybe he will not be remembered, but the light that he will bring will burn even when he is gone. People will remember the act, for the heart never forgets kindness.
His love for poetry and writing, of the power of spoken language and the influence of words written onto parchment grows and swells like the lilt of his voice as he strums his lute.
He discovers that he has a talent. That he can see the spaces between the world, the pieces that others might miss. His voice is a gift and he can create life within the lyrics of his songs.
So he finishes his studies and he stays in a place that seems to want him. The city is big and bustling with people and he thrives in Oxenfurt, his words overflowing and the world around him just waiting to catch them.
When he is done, he finds himself yet reluctant to move on. So instead he begins to teach children who were much like him. He speaks to them of the words that people do not see, the daisies underneath the sunflowers, the stars around the moon. He teaches them of details, of the things that people miss and the things that go unnoticed.
That is our job, he says; as someone had once said to him. We see what others do not, we can write about the world in ways that many will have never even bothered to look for.
His students are good. They are smart, intelligent. They have strong wills and they fill up their little corners with bright fire. They burn and Jaskier feels that he could truly be happy here.
He is a good teacher, he takes joy in what he can give to others. But there is an ever-growing itch in the very depths of his mind. For now he ignores it, but he knows that his little corner of the world is not yet big enough.
He wants more .
He begins to sing in pubs and bars and anywhere he can find.
People like him. They praise his voice, praise his lyrics. He sings of painted skies and torches of fire. He sings of a girl with midnight hair, of her heartbreak and his loss and the falsehoods they shared that would never come to fruition. He sings of a girl with daisies in her hair, of hands held in his as they run and stumble through grass fields. He sings of a merchant's daughter and the destiny that pulled them apart and he sings of rough hands and dark skin, the laughter of a farmer's daughter who would work herself until there was nothing left.
He sings of all those who he loved, of all those who he loves now. He sings of them all and pretends that the shadows of their touches and the remnants of his memories is enough.
And he sings of a little boy called Julian who wrote poems in his bedroom and let his mother wipe away his tears. He sings of the little boy he no longer is, for Jaskier is his name now and with it the remaining shreds of Julian are shredded like snakeskin. He emerges as a new person. No past. No title. No destiny.
He shapes his own fate and he sings of freedom and happiness and the light in his corner that burns brighter than it ever had before.
But he has given away pieces of his heart for free. He has loved and lost and his affections have not always been returned. There are gaps, echoless voids where parts of him have never come back. There are parts of him that he can never reveal and the song of the blacksmith's son is one that never gets sung.
Sometimes, when it all feels like too much, he sings of loneliness.
That is when his habits start.
Jaskier loves easily and he no longer seeks for the emotional comfort he once had. People are not like him, people do not fall in love like he does. They cannot give away pieces of their heart and take it back, not like him. His heart is strong and it heals and he revels in his temporary pleasures, his bouts of infatuation. Yet others are different.
He is not a child anymore, matters of the heart are not given away so freely by the cynicism of adulthood. People trust less, they care more.
They fear love and they fear the weaknesses it can bring. The vulnerability and heartache. Jaskier thinks of his mother, thinks of how her love for his father destroyed her from inside out.
Love is dangerous, a double-edged blade.
So, instead, he turns to physicality. He beds those he loves and they will share something for maybe a night or maybe a week. Nothing long, nothing permanent. They share their bodies and they give and take their pleasure and Jaskier gives them his heart. They do not want it, however, and they always leave. More and more pieces of him are taken but Jaskier cannot stop it. He loves freely and he loves with all he has. When he feels empty, when the loneliness worms its way into the gaps of his heart, he finds himself longing for that comfort once more. Love turns to lust and he pretends that they are one in the same.
So he returns day in, day out. Down to the moonlit bars, he flirts with any woman who strikes his fancy and again and again and again he falls. Always with women. Always.
But as it goes on for longer, as his love grows tumultuous like the very waves of the ocean, he realises that he has been falling for a long time and he is yet to be caught.
And the bracelet around his wrist itches and the laughter of men captures his heart and he's so sick of hiding; but hiding is the only thing he has ever known and he does not know what to do without it.
Jaskier does not remember all those who he beds with. He can recall pieces of them, their little parts that had captivated him so. For he loves them all, each and every one, and their touch was like the song of birds and the cacophony of a thunderstorm, loud and sweet and deep in his bloodstream. Their faces may blur together and their voices become one; but he can see grey eyes and red hair and sharp smiles clear as though he's looking through glass.
They are not like the girl of so long ago, with daisies in her hair. They are not the merchant's daughter of stolen kisses nor were they the sharp wit of the farmer's girl who had laughed like honey and treacle on cold winter mornings. They are not the girl with midnight hair who had touched him so tenderly by the riverbed.
They are a means to an end, as is he to them.
He is their bedmate, their plaything. An excitement for those betrothed to another, a dirty secret, a lapse of control. He is their guilty pleasure, the bard with the delicate fingers who sings of loss and loneliness and destiny. They play him for a night, make him sing loud and clear for their own private performance and then they are gone. Like the calluses on his fingertips from strumming his lute, these personal songs leave their own marks. Bruises of where hands had once grasped, the crescent moons of teeth and the purple of hickeys. They are his trophies, his lasting rush. He traces their shadows come morning; when he sneaks out of cold beds and tumbles out of half-opened windows. He pretends that this is enough.
Those remnants of a night now gone are his comfort, his moment of connection. They touch him and he pleasures them and he convinces himself that this is love, this is what he is looking for.
But it is not what he wants.
Jaskier remembers the first time he ever bedded a man.
He had promised himself he would never do such a thing, never succumb to his own heart. The dead body lay in shadows amongst the very depths of his dreams; the boy who was killed and the boy who deserved it.
He promised himself he would not be like that. He would not risk it, he would not dare.
Yet here he is.
It was a happenstance that was tolerated amongst the city-folk, less backwards than outer villages and smaller settlements - certainly they were filled with less contempt of the thought than that of his father - but tolerance and acceptance are completely different things and Jaskier had spent his entire life trying to be accepted, trying to be loved. Laying with a man was a risk, something that could put it all on the line. Everything he had worked tirelessly to build.
Homosexuality was better done behind closed doors, under a cloak of low light and in the utmost secrecy. People would not say it aloud, they would not shout hatred and disgust and anger and wear it like jewellery for all to see. But they would make comments, snide jokes, lingering glances.
Falling in love with a man would mean secrecy. Longing glances and fleeting touches. Like playing hide and seek, but everyone can see his feet from beneath the curtains. Never quite invisible, never quite gone; but ignored.
So Jaskier had never once thought that a man was an option. Or, more accurately, he never thought it was an option that he could have.
That all changed, however, when a proposition is put forward.
His name was Fain and he sat in the pubs, bathed in the shitty low glow with his tankard clasped in his hands. He would watch Jaskier sing, clap along and belt out the lyrics to the tunes he knew. Jaskier knew it was him for his voice was high and reedy, slightly out of tune. He had a loud laugh, a cackling sort of explosion that reverberated around the room and always managed to catch everyone's attention.
He became a regular and, whenever Jaskier performed, a part of him would be always keeping an eye out for a flash of that bronzed hair, or a hint of that infectious laughter.
Every time, their eyes would meet. His eyes were dark, almost black under the lights. He was handsome, a strong jaw and high cheekbones. His nose would perhaps be considered too large and his voice a bit too high, but Jaskier thought it was all utterly charming.
He does not realise that he is in love until much later. But he supposes that this was the beginning of something new and, if Jaskier has learned anything in his many years of living, (almost nineteen, he says when asked, but that is a lie and the metal of his bracelet feels cool against his skin as he says it) it is that people are always resistant to change.
It is after one of Jaskier's performances, when he flags the bartender for a drink and finds a quiet corner to sit in, that the stranger approaches him to keep him company.
He had asked, polite and nervous and nothing like the brutish sort of men that frequented these establishments. When he smiled, his eyes would crease at the edges, the beginnings of crow's feet woven in soft lines. He is older, mid-twenties, Jaskier thinks. Perhaps some would consider him too old for a nineteen-year-old, but Jaskier is not really nineteen. So he agrees and he smiles and he pretends that the thumping of his heart is the rush after a performance. He pretends that he does not fall in love with ease. He pretends that he does not fall in love with men.
They talk and they drink and they laugh and Jaskier tries to think nothing of it.
But as the days pass and they grow closer, seeking one another out in the twilight evenings, Jaskier feels the empty spaces of his heart gradually get filled.
He stops looking for the companionship of women, he stops seeking their admiration and he no longer preens under their advancements.
Instead he smiles at Fain from across a scratched-up table, ale in hand and a laugh caught high in his throat.
It is the beginning of something new, only he does not quite realise it yet. Or perhaps he already has. Maybe he is not quite ready to accept it.
They kiss in the back alleys of an endless street, a few months after their first meeting.
Jaskier cannot remember how it happened, or who was the one to lean in first. What he does know is that there had been a spring in their steps, a loudness to their voices and a weightless, fuzzy feeling in both of their heads; no doubt a culmination of slightly too much to drink and the lightness of soaring hearts enjoying good company.
They walk under the darkened streets, cobbles uneven beneath their feet and lampposts casting down their ghostly glow. Close enough that their shoulders would brush, that Jaskier could smell Fain's cheap cologne and the scent of smoke and tobacco that lingered underneath.
They slip into their shadows, hide amongst the darkness of buildings and shuttered windows and then Fain's lips are on his own and Jaskier's heart swells and a symphony of song crashes against his eardrums.
It is different from kissing a woman. Harder, the lips are rougher and the hands that touch him are calloused and large and square. The taste, however, is no less sweet and Jaskier becomes intoxicated with the flavour, left starving and hungering for more.
Fain looks at him with dark eyes and Jaskier can hear his mother's voice.
Do what makes you happy.
He thinks of the shouting, the screaming and yelling and sounds of smashed crockery and slammed doors that had haunted his childhood. The clinking of coins and the strange women who his father would bring home. He hears his mother's muffled sobs, quenched with rags stuck into her mouth and her teeth biting on clenched fists. He thinks of the dead body, the one he had found with their lips of crimson and the blood on their temples. His father's words ring out loud and clear. "He deserved it."
He looks at Fain. Looks at those dark brown eyes, so dark they are very nearly black. Looks at the pinkness of his lips, the high flush on his cheeks.
His heart swells and he realises that he has been taking risks his whole life. Sometimes, it is simply worth it.
The danger is intoxicating and Fain is simply himself and Jaskier wants this like he wanted the blacksmith's son and he thinks of storm clouds, of hurricanes, and of all the men who had swept up his heart with shouts of laughter and eyes crinkled at the edges.
He thinks of the leap he had never dared take, the happenings that had stopped him and the words he had cowered from.
The metal clinks around his wrist, the golden bracelet always shimmering against his pale skin. He's tired of keeping all these secrets, keeping all these pieces of him locked away.
With a smile, he takes him by the wrist and pulls him home.
His bed is no longer cold, no longer vast and endless and empty.
For a while, there is somebody to fill it.
That becomes the norm. Perhaps for the first time since the girl of midnight hair, Jaskier finds someone who wants to take his heart. No longer is Jaskier falling down and down, but now strong arms have caught him and all he can smell is smoke and tobacco.
It makes him dizzy.
Fain is a delicate sort, slightly shorter than Jaskier with soft eyes but a loud voice. He is unexpected, he has an eye for the arts and he takes pleasure in the words that spill from Jaskier's lips.
They laugh and kiss and the first time they make love it is under the blanket of stars; the glow of constellations unblinking far above them.
Written in the stars, Fain had said in the aftermath; when both were sated and sweaty and pleasantly drowsy. Do you believe in destiny? He had asked and Jaskier had frozen.
He thought of his mother, her streaks of water-lily pink washed away and washed out until only faded white remained. Thought of his father and his old tutor, the cane and the fire and the burns and the beatings. His knuckles hurt and his eyes sting. This is your destiny, he hears and he tries to hide the panic building up in his throat.
He does not answer and Fain does not ask again.
Instead, Fain shows him lots of things. He teaches him the hidden language, the art of glances and touches and the right things to say. It is how people like them have to live, it is how they stay hidden. Jaskier learns how to guess, how to read people and make judgments. A smile here, a subtle flirtation there. It is all the art of reading, the art of a secret proposition. "How did you know I was like you?" Jaskier asks Fain one night, for he too takes pleasure in the company of both men and women. He traces the puckered line of a scar across Fain's ribcage. "How did you know I wouldn't turn out to be one of them?" And them is the men with their clenched fists and bloody knuckles, them is the ones who had killed that boy of so long ago. Them is dangerous and them is who they must hide from.
"You learn." Fain answers and there's a hint of strain in his voice. "You learn and sometimes that way isn't always easy." Jaskier's fingers suddenly feel clumsy and heavy, like lead against the edge of that scar.
He pulls away but Fain grabs his hand with his own. "It's fine." He says. "That's just how it is."
When he thinks of Fain he thinks of the girl with midnight hair. They were both his first, in different ways. They were both gentle and kind and never rough or cruel. They were both clumsy and uncertain and they stumbled and laughed and they held onto each other like they were lifelines, a raft lost in the blackness of the endless sea.
But Fain was darker. There was an edge to him, the harsh lines of age and experience, that the girl of midnight hair had always lacked. Fain teaches him more and more and when Jaskier asks him why, all he says is "this won't last forever, you know." And it hurts and hurts but Jaskier knows that it is true.
He loves Fain but sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes there are too many things and factors and conflicts that, no matter how hard they try, cannot be smoothed over. It is like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, only they have found another puzzle and tried to substitute the gaps. The pieces don't fit right and the colours don't match and while it had once seemed beautiful in its own mismatched way it is now not working.
Jaskier's wings of fire are still burning, but they are beginning to fade out. He falters and they turn to ash.
Fain is still. He is rigid and he does not change. Like the old brick buildings and the roots of gnarled oak trees. Jaskier is like fire, like water. Never stagnant, he is always moving, always wanting to change. He flows and follows the world as he pleases, whereas Fain is more than content to stay put; watch it change around him while he stays the same.
As time passes it grows apparent that they are too different.
Fain is content with his corner, he has filled it with friends and family and they all burn bright. His life is contained and he likes it this way; he does not want to leave and he does not want to see the rest of the world.
They are not the same and they do not want the same things and that perhaps hurts the most.
Jaskier does not know what his destiny is, but he is certain that it is not here, not with Fain. He is restless. He runs and escapes and leaves what troubles him far behind. They do not work together. This is not working.
Once again, Jaskier is taught a lesson he had learned so many years ago. Nothing is forever and it is foolish to think that it ever could be.
Fain ends it on an autumn morning, when the air is crisp and the spiderwebs hang like frosted glass under golden light.
"It was good while it lasted." He says and Jaskier wonders if it was all worth it. If the happiness he had felt was worth the heartbreak now. "You're a good man, Jaskier." And he wonders if that is supposed to soften the blow. As if those words are supposed to mend the shattered pieces of his heart.
For this is a new experience. Jaskier learns of love that cannot be, love that cannot work. They are too different and they tether each other to a fate they do not want.
But they are both hurting, they both do not want this, but they know that it must happen. It is simply how it must be. Their destinies had intertwined for over a year, their threads only stitched together for the briefest of moments. Yet in the grand scheme of things, this was for the better.
There was no use in holding on to something that was doomed to fail.
The pieces of Jaskier's heart heal. It takes longer than it once had, longer than when it was him and his mother, tears caught amongst his eyelashes as he had mourned the loss of the girl with daisies in her hair. He is older now and his injuries do not heal like they once had.
But he still heals. He still gets better. He and Fain part with lightened hearts and they remain friends.
When Jaskier looks for the company that will fill the gaps in his heart, Fain is there to guide and help and protect. He beds both men and women and he learns their secret language, learns how to detect and read and understand; learns about who he must watch out for and the red flags of men with glassy eyes and ale on their breath.
A friendship is sparked and they grow closer because of it. They work better this way, it is easier and Jaskier no longer feels smothered and trapped and his ashen wings rise once more to burning flame.
Jaskier still sings his songs and writes his poetry. He still teaches and he laughs and he sleeps with those who want him and the cracks of his heart are gradually filled once more. Him and Fain drink together and share tales and stories and secrets of themselves, the ones that they had not shared as lovers but can now share as friends.
Jaskier does not tell him of the bracelet, however. He does not tell him of the magic that runs through its golden threads, the pointed ears that it hides and the glow from within it puts out.
And the hiding and the deceit and the lies still itch from under his skin. He finds himself wanting to get away, to see new faces and new people and to find himself as nobody somewhere else.
He wants the world to know his name, wants the world to praise his music and sing his songs and he wants his legacy to burn bright all across the Continent for centuries; but he does not want to be known.
He wants to be a mystery, a figure that the world cannot quite grasp. His corner is bright and filled with people but it is still not enough. He wants the Continent to be his corner, the world itself to be his canvas.
He needs to leave, he needs to see what else is out there. He needs to find what he is looking for, whatever that may be.
He feels pulled by red strings. He has dreams of gold and silver, of the clash of swords and a monster's howl. He does not know what they mean and he does not know why such things haunt his dreams in pleasant whispers, but he knows that he must follow their call.
He has to get out of here. Leave the city and its stone walls far behind him.
So, once more, that is what he does. He wants adventure, he wants life. h e wants to see the unexpected and he wants to forge his own destiny in a path he creates for himself.
He hugs Fain goodbye, his heart no longer intertwined with his. They laugh and share one last drink. Jaskier sings him one last song and underneath all the metaphors and similes and words that don't quite say what he means, the song reads thank you; and Fain understands.
Jaskier never sees him again.
Life on the open road is hard.
Jaskier had experienced many unsavoury things in his countless years of living, but nothing could have prepared him for how brutal the life of a wanderer was.
It had been difficult, even before he had left Oxenfurt, to say goodbye. His students were good kids, he had friends and companions and, of course, there was Fain and there was no doubt that there were pieces of him that wanted to stay.
But with things gradually growing more and more dangerous, with the increase of monsters roaming free and the rumours of Witchers turning up in more and more places, he could not have asked any of his many companions to travel with him. Besides, he feels as if he must do this alone. The road is dangerous and the path ahead is fraught with monsters beyond Jaskier's wildest dreams, but his path is being forged and Jaskier intends to see it until its end; wherever that may be.
One name that continues to pop up, however, as Jaskier travels; a name that is said under hushed whispers and fearful breaths, is the Butcher of Blaviken. Jaskier recognises the name, a story from his long youth. He is mad, dangerous; apparently. Slew countless people with not an ounce of mercy in his blackened eyes. The people who he spoke to were convinced he was a monster, convinced he was a demon beyond saving.
But Jaskier does not believe the rumours. The people who he speaks to would not be so forthcoming with their information had it not been for the bracelet around his wrist. Jaskier knows all too well the feeling of being an outcast within the boundaries of society. Had any one of those humans known that, behind a wall of magic, he hid pointed ears and sunlight glow; they would have beaten him to death.
So their mindless warnings, their ruthless hatred that they spew off themselves in spouts of blackened sludge, go mostly ignored. Jaskier does not listen to a word of poison that is spewed from their lips and he instead travels through the lands in hope that someday he will find what he is looking for. He never stays in the same place for too long and his little corner of the world is ever-growing larger and larger, but it is still too small and he has not yet found what he is looking for.
(Yet he does not even know what he is looking for. He is holding on to the hope that, if he ever finds it, he will know and that will be that)
So he travels from inn to inn, sleeps rough when he cannot afford a bed and makes his temporary home in more stables and more forest floors than he can keep track of.
Across the Continent, he travels and his little corner gradually begins to expand.
He makes a bitter rival, that of opposing troubadour; Valdo Marx. And their hatred burns all across the lands and he scorns Jaskier's music and in return Jaskier insults him at every chance and every turn he gets. There is something fun about their hatred, something amusing about this dance of detest and, although Jaskier despises the man, there is no denying that he takes great enjoyment with their little feud; although that might have something to do with the fact that - if one were keeping track of such matters - Jaskier's insults and mockeries were certainly much more brutal; and much funnier.
From lover to lover he leaps and jumps and dances, he sings for them under the moonlight and waxes poetry about the feel of their body against his. He lets himself be touched and in return he touches, he becomes infatuated with the curls of golden hair or the emerald of green eyes. The women he beds, and the men too, who touch him so tenderly and whisper his name through well-kissed lips, are frequently besotted to another and he spends a lot of his time running away from furious husbands and livid wives.
He escapes the brandished fists and knives and pitch-forks. Runs off the adrenaline that his chaos brings.
He sings and he sings and he can never quite get the right notes, never the right tune or pitch or melody so his comfort becomes that of others and his enjoyment becomes the thrill of the chase.
Addicted, he becomes obsessed with the idea of love. He longs for it and he longs for companionship. His heart has been spread all across the Continent, countless numbers of both women and men have held him in their arms and whispered in his ears. He pretends that love and lust are one in the same, both as fulfilling as the other. But that is a lie.
He loves them all, every single one; but not one of them loves him back. Not like he wants.
Maybe that is why he moves from place to place, takes up partners with elusive strangers and falls in love with those he can never have. Maybe, behind it all, he is scared of what happened to his mother. The woman who had loved too hard and too deep and had found herself shackled to a man who was not what he had once said he was.
So he moves and he travels and he sleeps with whoever he pleases and he drinks and drinks and he plays his lute and his songs are of things that are lost and things that cannot be taken.
He remembers the language that Fain had taught him, the ways of looking and speaking and touching. It is how men and women like him communicate. Learn their own sort of language and keep their private lives hidden in the corners of dusk where the torches cannot reach.
And that is how his life continues.
Until it changes.
It is in a dark and dreary pub that stinks of piss and sells watered-down ale for five times its worth that Jaskier first stumbles across the Witcher.
He does not realise it, at first. He merely sees a man brooding in the corner and instantly his knees go weak. Love at first sight, he thinks with the voice of the romantic within him.
He sings his songs and the crowds do not appreciate his genius. Hunks of stale bread and half-eaten food is lobbed at him, jeers and shouts and thinly disguised insults. He bristles at their remarks but does not let himself take their cruelty to heart. In time, he will garner his fame. This is merely a dip in the path, a detour from the greatness that he is destined for.
Instead, he sits back down to his table and sips on his piss-water ale, strapping his dear lute onto his back once more and already planning his next move. Maybe he'll try and head for the coast, next. He'd heard it's especially nice during this time of the year. He picks up the food that still appears edible. Money has been short as of late and he will take what he can.
And then he sees him.
Silver-spun hair, eyes of gold. He's broad and muscular and he wears all black as though he wants to be hidden but Jaskier has always had an eye for beauty and the man glows in that little corner of the pub; glows like the moon trapped amongst a starless sky.
He is dirty and grimy and as Jaskier approaches he smells of a traveller's life, of long days spent walking and no time spent bathing.
He reeks of mystery and of the unknown and Jaskier can smell his destiny lingering about him like fogged clouds.
This man draws him in and Jaskier wants to learn his name, learn his story and sing.
So over he goes, Fain's lessons still in his mind. There's a way you go about this kind of thing, a way of testing the waters before you make your advance. Not everyone is as ignorant as one might first believe, but there are still many who would pummel Jaskier to the ground if they knew of his preferences and his… tastes in bedfellows.
He approaches this man in the dark corner and he ruffles his hair and straightens his doublet.
"I love the way you just sit in the corner and brood." He says and as those golden eyes meet cornflower blue, dizziness hits him.
The sun breaks over a blue sky and silver clouds float by.
His destiny swerves, swinging and spinning wildly and the path he was destined to follow changes forever.