Lambert could hear the crying a mile off. Habitually, he ignored the noise. Kids cried a lot on the road, and witcher senses meant that he could hear them much longer than everyone else. Gradually, however, he realized he couldn’t hear anyone trying to soothe the crier. As they got closer, Lambert realized there was only one set of footsteps.
The lone traveler came into Lambert’s line of sight as he crested a hill. He was going the same direction as Lambert, walking slowly, and he didn’t seem to have realized there was someone behind him yet. As Lambert got closer, he could distinguish more details about the stranger. He was tall but still lithe and boyish looking. His bright clothing was dirty, and it didn’t look like he was carrying many supplies.
“Are you hurt?” Lambert asked once he had caught up to him.
The stranger startled a little, like he was surprised Lambert was speaking to him, and swallowed hard. He wiped at his face and opened his mouth, but he didn’t seem like he could stop crying long enough to speak. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Lambert realized that he had come across a little alone on the road.
“Hmm? You don’t look like you’re hurt,” Lambert said. He forced himself to sound more cheerful than he felt, not wanting to scare the boy. “Are you okay?”
“Uh-huh,” the little said. It wasn’t very convincing, but at least he was talking now.
“What’s your name? I’m Lambert.”
“Jaskier,” he said, sniffling and wiping his nose on his sleeve.
“Like the flower, huh?” Lambert said. “That’s a good name.”
“Thanks,” Jaskier mumbled.
“Why don’t we stop a minute, and you can have some of my water?” Lambert said. “There’s a good shady spot right here.”
Hesitantly, Jaskier nodded and let Lambert lead him into the shade, and they took a seat in the grass together. Jaskier drank some of Lambert water while the witcher tried to come up with a way to find out where his caregiver was. Witcher training hadn’t squashed all of his instincts, but it had been years since Lambert spent time around a little. When he asked where Jaskier was going, the only response he got was a lifeless shrug.
“Is there someone you’re usually with when you travel?” Lambert said. Suddenly, Jaskier’s eyes were brimming with tears again.
“Doesn’t want me,” Jaskier said. His voice was shaky suddenly, like he was about to hyperventilate. “Left.”
“He left?” Lambert repeated. Jaskier nodded.
“On the mountain.”
Jaskier pointed in the direction he came from, and Lambert’s stomach dropped. Jaskier’s caregiver had left a little—and a very young little at that—alone on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. There was no telling how long Jaskier had been walking, and they were still several hours from the nearest town.
“Jaskier,” Lambert said, careful not to let his anger show through, “why don’t we make camp here for tonight, and then I can help you get to town in the morning?”
“Together?” Jaskier asked. He looked suspicious but clearly wasn’t seeing a better option.
“Yeah,” Lambert said. “I can catch us something to eat for dinner.”
“Okay,” Jaskier said. “I… I don’t have any stuff.”
“Bedroll, food,” Jaskier said. He scuffed his shoes in the dirt and stared down at them. “I’m out of water too.”
“That’s okay,” Lambert said. “I’ll take care of it.”
Inexplicably, Jaskier did have a lute though. By the time Lambert returned with a rabbit for their dinner, Jaskier had a fire going and was idly playing the instrument, like he couldn’t stand to sit still. He clearly wasn’t putting much thought into it, but Lambert still thought the music was nice.
“You’ve traveled before, huh?” Lambert asked while he cleaned the rabbit. “That’s a good fire.”
“We were on the road a lot,” Jaskier said. Now that he was getting longer sentenced out of the boy, Lambert could hear a slight lisp in his soft voice. “I don’t like to skin the bunny though.”
“That’s okay,” Lambert said again. “I can do it.”
After they ate, Lambert lead Jaskier back to the creek he’d found hunting. They refilled their waterskins, and then Jaskier began stripping out of his clothes.
“I’m dirty,” he said. Lambert nodded. The little was coated in dust and dirt from his walk down the mountain, and he couldn’t imagine it was very comfortable.
“Keep your hair dry, okay?” Lambert said. “You’ll be cold tonight if it’s wet.”
“Okay,” Jaskier said.
Lambert wondered if he should offer to help, but it was probably enough to stand by and make sure Jaskier didn’t drown. After a few minutes, Jaskier climbed out of the creek, shook himself like a dog, and redressed. His clothes were still filthy, but that could be remedied once they reached town.
Since they only had one bedroll, they slept pressed together on their sides. Lambert’s arm was wrapped around Jaskier to make to position work, and he could feel the boy’s heartbeat, hummingbird fast, beneath it.
Jaskier was big in the morning. He helped Lambert break camp habitually, and they refilled their waterskins at the same spot in the creek. Jaskier the boy had been shy and soft-spoken, but Jaskier the adult seemed to be a talker.
“Sorry about how I was,” Jaskier said nervously as they started their walk. “I don’t exactly age down as often as I should, and I kind of lost it yesterday.”
“That’s not good for you,” Lambert said. Jaskier shrugged.
“Such is life on the road,” he said. Then, laughing, he added, “The last guy I traveled with wasn’t exactly the diaper changing type either.”
“So you always travel?”
“I’m a bard,” Jaskier said. “Good songs never come from staying in one place. Coincidentally, good money doesn’t either, so I am well accustomed to walking all day. I do love a night in an inn though.”
“I’ll still see you to town,” Lambert said, scowling. He was quickly growing to hate Jaskier’s previous caregiver. Apparently, the man had paraded his little from town to town to make money without taking time to look after him properly. “Unless there’s somewhere else you’d rather be.”
“No, bards don’t exactly have home bases.”
“You like staying on the road?” Lambert asked.
“Yeah, of course,” Jaskier said. “The food and the dirt aren’t exactly great, and I’d sleep a lot better if I hadn’t left my bedroll on top of that bloody mountain, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Lambert paused, thinking.
“I’m a witcher,” he finally said.
“I noticed,” Jaskier said, laughing. “With the yellow eyes and the swords and all. I don’t have any bias against witchers, Lambert.”
“I mean…” Lambert hesitated. “Witchers travel. I travel. You could… come with me.”
Jaskier stopped walking, staring hard at Lambert. He looked like his mind was going faster than his hummingbird heart, and his gaze made Lambert’s ears burn.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Lambert said. “You’re not exactly useless around camp. I could stand the company.”
“This isn’t just you feeling like you have to take care of me because you found me crying alone in the middle of nowhere?” Jaskier said. “And don’t give me any of that ‘witchers don’t have feelings’ nonsense. I know it’s not true.”
“I don’t think so,” Lambert said. “I don’t… mind the taking care of part though. It’s bad for you to go too long without being little.”
“Okay,” Jaskier finally agreed. He started walking again and pulled his lute around his front to play again. “If it doesn’t work out, we can just split up again. No harm in that.”
“Right,” Lambert said, knowing he would not be leaving Jaskier unless that was what the bard wanted.
Jaskier wasn’t little when they reached the inn. Lambert paid for the room out of his wages, watching the innkeeper’s daughter playing in the floor while her mother fetched the room key. The girl was probably three or four years old, and she was playing with a soft toy bunny that looked like it had been sewn together from spare scraps of fabric. Lambert glanced back at Jaskier thoughtfully.
“I’ll chip in after tonight,” the bard said, misreading the look. He patted his lute as he continued. “I’m good for it.”
Once they had cleaned up, Jaskier played for the dinner crowd, and Lambert ate slowly for an excuse to watch longer. Jaskier was good, he decided. Lambert didn’t know much about music, but the bard’s voice cut clear through the noise of the tavern. People threw coins, and Jaskier used one to buy his dinner when he was done performing.
“I have a job nearby,” Lambert said. “I’ll be gone a night or two, and then I’ll need to buy some supplies.”
“That’ll give me time to milk this lot,” Jaskier said, nodding at what was left of the crowd. “I can stock up on what I need while you’re gone.”
Lambert grunted. It was reassuring that Jaskier would be able to keep himself in funds while they were separated. He stayed at the table long enough for Jaskier to finish his dinner, letting the bard carry the bulk of their conversation. Once both of their plates were clean, they headed up to the room together.
Jaskier was still sleeping when Lambert got up in the morning. The witcher dressed quietly and scribbled a note in Jaskier’s book, reminding him where he was going and how long he would be gone. It was a strange sensation to know that he was planning to come back for someone. When he went downstairs, the innkeeper was wiping out glasses behind the counter.
“Your daughter,” Lambert said, before he could second guess himself, “had a toy last night—a cloth rabbit. Could you make another?”
“I don’t imagine witchers sleep with stuffed bunnies,” the innkeeper said, raising an eyebrow.
“None I know,” Lambert said. He didn’t elaborate on who it was for.
“You’d pay?” she asked.
“If the price is fair.”
The innkeeper nodded.
“I can have it done tomorrow,” she said.
“I’ll be back then or the next day,” Lambert said. He hesitated. “Could… could it be something other than a rabbit?”
It seemed in advisable to give Jaskier a stuffed animal that resembled something they ate so often.
“I’ve done bears before,” she said. Lambert nodded. A bear seemed like a safer option.
The hunt took two days, and it was late when Lambert returned. The tavern was nearly empty, but the innkeeper was still awake. She fetched the finished bear for him, and Lambert paid her from his wages. The bear was a patchwork of gray and brown cloth with two black circles for eyes. It was soft and carefully made, and Lambert was pleased as he tucked it into his bag. Jaskier was lying in bed, still awake, when Lambert let himself in, and his hand jumped away from his mouth as the door opened.
“Are you okay?” Jaskier said. His voice was soft but not quite the lisp it had been the day they met. Jaskier looked like he was probably between headspaces.
“Fine,” Lambert said.
“Not hurt anywhere?”
“No, I’m okay,” Lambert said. He pulled the coin bag from his belt and the swords from his back and began to undress. “Did the job, got my money.”
“I got my stuff,” Jaskier said, nodding toward the floor. A bag had joined the lute case and waterskin he had before.
“What kind of stuff?” Lambert said. Jaskier frowned.
“I’m not going to make fun of you Jaskier,” Lambert said. There was a basin and cloth Jaskier must have used at some point, but he didn’t say anything when Lambert took it to clean up. “I just wanted to know if there’s anything I need to pick up for you before we leave.”
“I can take care of myself,” Jaskier said. He still sounded pouty, but the frown had softened.
“Well, I expect you won’t want this then,” Lambert said, pulling the bear from his bag. Jaskier’s eyes widened comically. “I suppose I could keep him for myself…”
“No!” Jaskier blurted. “I mean—if you got him for me…”
“I’m kidding. He’s yours,” Lambert said, laughing. “Now scoot over.”
The bed was big enough for two, but Lambert still wrapped his arm around Jaskier the way he had the first night. The bear stayed in the crook of Jaskier’s elbow.
The new routine of traveling together came surprisingly easy. They went where the path took them, and having two incomes made for more comfortable living. Jaskier wasn’t fully little for another week. When he finally was, Lambert learned that the bear’s name was Kaz and that Jaskier was, as he had already guessed, a thumb sucker. The bear’s ears ended up in his mouth quite often too, and Lambert was already anticipating having to patch them in the future.
For the first few weeks they traveled together, Jaskier was rarely little, but by the third month he would go down a few times a week. The more often Lambert took care of him, the more natural it felt. It was all going suspiciously well, which is why Lambert wasn’t surprised at all when they had their first minor disaster.
Jaskier had twisted his ankle walking. It wasn’t broken, just badly sprained, so they wrapped it tightly and made for the nearest town. Jaskier the man just winced and complained good-naturedly about it, but Jaskier the boy was much more upset when he came out. Walking clearly wasn’t an option anymore, so Lambert adjusted his pack and put the little on his hip. Jaskier pressed his teary face into Lambert’s neck and sniffled pitifully.
“I know, bubba,” Lambert murmured. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
They were still two hours from town. Lambert considered making camp where they were, but it seemed pointless to stop this close to town. Jaskier wouldn’t be any more comfortable at a camp than he was in Lambert’s arms. At least in town Lambert could splint his ankle properly.
When they finally reached an inn, Lambert was too relieved to think about how they looked. All conversation stopped as soon they stepped in the door. Jaskier tensed and tried to burrow further into Lambert’s chest, and Lambert held him tighter as he approached the inn keeper.
“A room,” he grunted, slamming the money onto the counter.
“Gods above, what have you done to the child?” the innkeeper said.
“He twisted his ankle,” Lambert said defensively.
“Before or after you stole him from his proper human caregiver?”
“His proper human caregiver left him for dead,” Lambert spat. “Now, I’d like a room and someone to see to his ankle.”
Finally, tutting, the innkeeper took his money.
“It’s not right,” he said as he got the key, “a bloody witcher with a little.”
“I suppose you think he’d be better off with a fat piece of shit like you who can’t even lift him?” Lambert said, snatching the key. “Send for a healer if you’re such a bleeding heart.”
Lambert took the stairs two at a time and hurried to settle Jaskier onto the bed once they reached the room. The boy was still crying, and Lambert quickly shrugged their bags off and retrieved Kaz.
“It’s okay,” Lambert said. He kneeled in front of Jaskier and pushed the bear into his hands. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been like that. It didn’t help.”
“I—I stay with you,” Jaskier stuttered.
“Of course, baby,” Lambert said. “You don’t have to go anywhere.”
“I don’t want to go with regular people.”
“You don’t have to,” Lambert said. “It’s just a twisted ankle, Jask. We’ll fix you up, and you can stay with me as long as you want.”
Jaskier’s face crumpled as he soaked in the words.
“Daddy,” he sobbed, lunging forward to wrap both arms around Lambert’s neck with Kaz pinned between their chests. Lambert froze in shock for a split second before tightening his grip, one hand cradling Jaskier’s head and the other rubbing circles against is back.
“It’s okay, baby,” he said. “I’ve got you.”
Someone, although Lambert doubted it was the innkeeper, did send a healer. Jaskier had calmed by the time the old woman arrived with a large bag of herbs and bandages. She slathered his ankle in a thick salve to help the inflammation before splinting it. Once she was paid, she left without commenting on witchers and littles. Jaskier was exhausted, so Lambert had dinner brought to their room. They went to sleep after that, Kaz clutched to Jaskier’s chest and Lambert at his back.
Jaskier was already awake when Lambert opened his eyes in the morning. He was still in the bed, Kaz propped against his bent legs rather than pressed to his chest. This was obviously Jaskier the adult.
“Morning,” Lambert said.
“Morning,” Jaskier repeated, tracing the careful stitches along his bear’s leg with one finger. “I guess we should probably talk about last night.”
“Only if you want to,” Lambert said. “How’s your ankle?”
“Sore, but better than it was,” Jaskier said. “I was referring to the fact that I called you daddy though.”
“You did do that.”
“Do you… want to be my daddy?” Jaskier asked.
“I… uh… I never really thought about this stuff before I met you,” Lambert said, trying to choose his words carefully. “It wasn’t really something that I thought I could have, but… I like it. Taking care of you makes me feel like things are actually going to be okay.”
“We don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to,” Jaskier said. He was still fidgeting with the bear and chewing his bottom lip. “I’m okay with that if it’s what you want.”
“Jaskier,” Lambert said, reaching out carefully to pull the other man’s head against his shoulder. “This is what I want. I want you to be my baby, and I want to be your daddy. I want you to come with me. I want to take care of you when you want me to and be your friend when you don’t. I want us to be happy. How does that sound?”
Jaskier’s voice was small when he finally responded.
They stayed in town long enough for the worst of Jaskier’s injury to heal. The innkeeper kept shooting them dirty looks, so they were both eager to be back on the road. Once Jaskier could walk comfortably again, they replenished their supplies and left town.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jaskier said as they walked that day. “We should save for a horse.”
“A horse?” Lambert repeated.
“Yeah, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
It would be nice. Lambert had had horses before, but only ever when he was confident that he could afford to keep one fed. That would be easier with two incomes, and it would be good to be able to put Jaskier on a horse if he hurt himself again.
“Yes,” Lambert agreed. “It would be nice.”
Later that week, they set up camp near a stream on the way to Lambert’s next hunt. It was a warm evening, and the water had felt good when they went down to fill their waterskins. Lambert eyed the stream and Jaskier’s dusty face.
“Bubba,” he said once they’d finished dinner, “do you want a bath?”
The water was shallow enough for Jaskier to sit without it coming past his chest. Lambert had expected giving him a bath for the first time to be awkward, but it wasn’t. Jaskier splashed and played while Lambert washed him, but he finally went still when Lambert started on his hair. His eyes closed instinctively, and he made a pleased, sleepy noise.
“Feel good?” Lambert asked.
“Mmm,” Jaskier hummed. Lambert couldn’t help but smile.
“Go dry off while I wash, okay?” Lambert said once he’d rinsed Jaskier’s hair.
“Okay, Daddy,” Jaskier said.
He made for their camp, shrieking at the chill now that he was wet, and Lambert laughed. When Lambert joined him minutes later, Jaskier was dressed and sitting on his bedroll by the fire. It wasn’t actually cold, but he’d wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
“Have enough dinner?” Lambert asked.
“Yeah,” Jaskier said. They’d had rabbit again, which always reinforced that it had been a good idea to make Kaz a bear, not a bunny. “When we get the horse, what will we name it?”
“I don’t know,” Lambert said. “It’s hard to decide when you don’t know if it will be a boy or a girl.”
“Yeah,” Jaskier said. “You’ve got to see it first.”
“Can I name the horse?”
“I guess so,” Lambert said.
“Daddy?” Jaskier said.
Jaskier hesitated, his thumb drifting up to trace his bottom lip.
“Will you take me to see the coast?” he finally said. His voice had gone shy and serious, like he was asking for something much more important than a trip to the beach.
“Of course, baby,” Lambert said, surprised by the rush of affection he felt at Jaskier’s soft smile. “I’ll take you to the coast.”
As much as he would have liked to beeline for the coast, they were low on funds from spending several nights in an inn unexpectedly. Still, Lambert tried to steer them toward contracts that were on the way. It helped that Jaskier’s performances buoyed with his happiness. He brought in a good deal of coin in the weeks it took them to meander toward the coast. When they finally stepped onto the beach, Jaskier—who had been big moments before—squealed in excitement and started stripping off his layers.
“Give me the doublet too,” Lambert said, laughing as he took Jaskier’s pack and lute case.
There was no one else around, so Jaskier stripped to his small clothes and went running for the surf. Lambert folded his clothes carefully and stacked them with their bags before rolling up his pantlegs and following. Jaskier had already run in up to his thighs, and he was laughing as the waves pulled and pushed at him.
When the sun started dipping toward the horizon, Lambert began to process of corralling Jaskier out of the water to dry off and get dressed, promising they would come back in the morning. They backtracked out of the sand to make camp, quickly getting a fire started for dinner.
They spent four days at the coast. There was a tavern nearby where Jaskier played a few afternoons and they had a handful of meals, but they mostly stuck to their campsite. Jaskier liked to play in the water, but they also spent lazy days in the shade, watching sunsets and sea life and eating what Lambert caught for them. Jaskier fluctuated between big and little as it suited him.
“Have you ever taken a vacation before?” he asked on what they had agreed would be their last day at the beach.
“No,” Lambert said. “I stay put in the winter, or if I’m injured, but I’ve never gone somewhere just because I wanted to.”
“It was nice, right?”
“Yes,” Lambert agreed. It had been nice, restful. “We couldn’t… do this all the time but maybe once or twice a year.”
“That would be nice.”
Within a few months, they were in possession of a black and white mare named Blask. Lambert laughed when Jaskier decided on the name, but he didn’t take back his agreement to let Jaskier name the horse. Blask learned quickly that Jaskier more likely to spoil her with apples and sugar cubes than Lambert, and she was clear with her favoritism. Still, they took turns riding when Jaskier was big.
Winter came upon them suddenly. The previous year, they’d spent winter at Oxenfurt at Jaskier’s suggestion. Oxenfurt had been closer than Kaer Morhen, so Lambert agreed readily. This year, however, they were decidedly closer to Kaer Morhen when a cold front blew in. They spent one frigid night in the tent, Lambert curled around Jaskier to try and keep him warm, and the decision was made.
“It’s time to pack in for the winter,” Lambert said as they broke camp the next morning. “We’re only a few days from Kaer Morhen.”
“Kaer Morhen?” Jaskier repeated.
“I know Oxenfurt is probably more… familiar for you,” Lambert said, “but it’s going to be too cold to camp soon.”
Jaskier still looked nervous, but he didn’t say anything else. Lambert knew as they traveled that they wouldn’t have made it all the way to Oxenfurt though. On the nights they had to camp, it was already hard to keep Jaskier from shivering in his sleep.
“We should arrive tomorrow,” Lambert said a few days into the journey. “I thought we might want to talk about we’ll introduce you.”
“To the other witchers?” Jaskier asked.
“Yes,” Lambert said. “There aren’t many of us left and not all of them come every winter, but there’s usually three or four of us.”
“And I’m guessing none of them bring surprise littles?”
“Not exactly,” Lambert said. “Do you want to be small when we arrive? You wouldn’t have to explain anything that way.”
Jaskier thought about it, about arriving wide-eyed and shy on Lambert’s hip, clutching a toy for comfort. There was no doubt the other witchers would get the message, but it was a very vulnerable first impression.
“I’m not going to let anyone mess with you,” Lambert said like he knew exactly what the bard was thinking. “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m kind of an asshole to everyone but you.”
That got Jaskier to laugh a little.
“Okay,” he finally agreed.
So the next day, once Blask was stabled, Lambert shouldered both of their bags, tucked Kaz into Jaskier’s cloak, and carried his boy into the keep. Vesemir was the only one who had arrived before them, but he must have seen them coming. The oldest witcher was waiting once they made it inside, and Jaskier slid his thumb into his mouth nervously.
“Lambert,” Vesemir greeted. “And who is this?”
“Jaskier,” Lambert said. He was ready to get defensive, but Vesemir’s face didn’t betray his surprise.
“Hello, Jaskier,” Vesemir said. Jaskier waved with the fingers that weren’t in his mouth and tucked himself tighter to Lambert’s chest. “You must be tired from the journey. How about some dinner and a bed?”
Hesitantly, Jaskier pulled his thumb out of his mouth to speak.
With Vesemir’s help, Lambert got Jaskier warmed up, fed, and settled into bed. Once the boy was sleeping, he went to find Vesemir. As he had expected, the older witcher was waiting for him at the kitchen table.
“So,” Vesemir said dryly, “you have a little.”
“Yes,” Lambert said. After a long moment of silence, he added, “It just sort of… happened.”
“Where did you meet?” Vesemir asked. Lambert scowled.
“He’d been abandoned in the wilderness,” Lambert said. “I guess his caregiver was done with him and left him to die. I found him hours from town, no water, no supplies. I have no idea how long he’d been walking at that point.”
Vesemir hummed in response, his face giving away nothing. Lambert had expected a lecture on how this could only end badly—that Jaskier was human and would die, that the path was no place for a child, that a witcher could not have a little—but Vesemir was just listening.
“At first, I was just going to see him to town,” Lambert said. “You can see how well though.”
“So you’re a daddy now,” Vesemir said. He sounded amused, and Lambert scowled again.
For four days, it was just the three of them. When Jaskier was little, he played with Kaz, took sugar cubes and apples to the horses, and made Lambert take him exploring around the keep. He was still shy, but he was gradually warming up to Vesemir. The process was helped along by Vesemir making him a pair of corn husk dolls to play with. When Jaskier was big, he spent a lot of time writing, but he also helped cook and work on projects around the keep. He played for them after dinner most nights, and Lambert could tell that Vesemir was quietly impressed.
On the fifth day, Eskel arrived. When he walked in, Jaskier was lying on the stone floor near the entryway, playing with the corn husk dolls. He startled a little when Eskel walked in, but he didn’t drop the dolls.
“This is Jaskier,” Lambert said. “He’s mine.”
“Jaskier,” Eskel repeated, eyebrows climbing. “As in Jaskier the bard?”
“Yes,” Lambert said. Eskel gave a short, disbelieving laugh.
“This will be interesting,” he said before heading toward the stairs to take his bag to his room. When Lambert saw him next, Eskel was in the floor playing dolls with Jaskier.
Geralt arrived a week later. The pass was nearly frozen over by that point, and Lambert had stopped expecting him to come. They’d been at Kaer Morhen for nearly two weeks, and Jaskier was more comfortable being little around Vesemir and Eskel by the day. Jaskier the adult, of course, had no problems with shyness.
Jaskier was big the morning Geralt walked into the keep. He was coming down the main staircase, in clear view of the door, when it opened. Lambert watched the moment play out as if in slow motion. He saw the exact moment they saw each other, smelled Jaskier’s sharp fear and Geralt’s confusion.
“Jaskier?” Geralt said.
Jaskier dropped instantly, but Geralt’s voice had unfrozen him. The boy made an unintelligible noise and sprinted back up the stairs. Lambert could hear crying, and he crossed the room quickly to follow Jaskier without bothering to greet his brother. By the time Lambert caught up to him, Jaskier had already shut himself in the hall closet where they kept extra blankets. Lambert made himself take a slow breath before he spoke.
“Jaskier,” he said, kneeling beside the door. “It’s just me, baby.”
Jaskier sniffled, but he didn’t respond. Lambert took another steadying breath.
“I’m going to open the door, okay?”
Slowly, he eased the door open, relieved that his boy hadn’t had the presence of mind to lock it. Jaskier had pressed himself into the corner beneath one of the shelves. He was curled in on himself tightly, and he was using his sleeve to mop at his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Jaskier mumbled.
“Why are you sorry, baby?” Lambert said.
“Lied to Daddy.”
That wasn’t what he had been expecting. It didn’t make much sense to Lambert, but he had seen the convoluted logic that Jaskier followed when he was little before. They could sort it out later.
“I don’t think you lied to Daddy,” Lambert said. “It seems like maybe you didn’t tell the whole truth, but we can talk about that later.”
“Yeah, when you’re not so upset,” Lambert said. “How about we go get Kaz and lie down for a while, okay?”
“Together?” Jaskier asked.
“Yeah, I’ll stay with you, baby,” Lambert said.
Slowly, Jaskier uncurled and lifted his arms. Lambert leaned down to pick him up, and the little clung to him with both arms and legs. They passed Eskel on the way to their room, and the other witcher looked almost impressed to see Lambert parenting.
Kaz was already sitting on the bed, so Lambert quickly stripped Jaskier to his small clothes, wiped his nose, and got him under the covers. Jaskier held the bear to his chest, and Lambert climbed into bed beside him. Jaskier was still crying, but his breathing was beginning to slow down. Lambert easily fell into the same mantra he repeated whenever Jaskier was hurt or scared or sad.
“It’s okay,” he said, his lips pressed into Jaskier’s hair. “I’ve got you.”
It took another fifteen minutes for Jaskier to fully calm down. He fell asleep quickly after that, exhausted. Lambert wasn’t nearly as tired and he was dying to know what had caused that reaction, but he stayed in the bed. After about an hour, Jaskier started to stir.
“Hey,” Jaskier mumbled after a few minutes. He sounded tired, but the lisping little voice was gone.
“Hey,” Lambert repeated. “You want some water?”
Jaskier nodded, and Lambert went to fetch it. Fortunately, he managed to avoid running into either of his brothers on the way. Jaskier was still in bed when he returned, but he was sitting up now.
“Ready to talk about that?” Lambert asked once Jaskier had drank his fill.
“Right, that,” Jaskier said, making a face like he had a bad taste in his mouth. “In my defense, I didn’t know you and Geralt were brothers. I mean, I knew you were from the same school, but I didn’t know you actually knew each other and spent winters together and everything. Geralt isn’t exactly forthcoming on that kind of stuff.”
“Jaskier,” Lambert interrupted. “You know Geralt?”
“Er… yes,” Jaskier said. “We traveled together for a long time.”
Something in Lambert’s brain short circuited. From the day that he had found Jaskier sobbing like his heart was breaking, alone in the middle of nowhere, he had spent countless hours fantasizing about killing his boy’s previous caregiver. Lambert—the emotionally stunted bastard that he was—had had to teach Jaskier that it was okay to be little, to play, to cry. He had tried to imagine for months what kind of man could leave his boy to die, what kind of daddy could do that, and the whole time it had been Geralt.
Lambert forced himself to breathe and turned toward the door.
“Wait, Lambert,” Jaskier said. “Where are you going?”
“To kill my brother.”
“No!” Jaskier blurted, stumbling out of bed. “Wait! Lambert, it wasn’t like that!”
“He left you!” Lambert shouted. “How can you justify that, Jaskier?”
“I wouldn’t say he left me,” Jaskier said. “It was more of shouting at me to go.”
Lambert squeezed his eyes shut tightly. They would work on that later. After he killed Geralt.
“Lambert, he didn’t know, okay?” Jaskier said.
“Didn’t know what?”
“That I was a little,” Jaskier admitted reluctantly. “I never told him. He wasn’t my daddy.”
That hurt in a whole new way. Jaskier had told him enough for Lambert to know that Jaskier and his previous companion—Geralt apparently—had traveled together for nearly two decades. Lambert knew that Jaskier hadn’t been going down as often as he needed to, but it must have been worse that he thought for Geralt not to know after twenty years.
“Why?” Lambert said.
“I…” Jaskier hesitated and chewed his bottom lip. “I’m a viscount. My father hated that his only son was… me, so we hid it. He—I just wasn’t allowed to be like this. Most of my life, no one knew.”
“Jask,” Lambert mumbled, his heart in his throat.
“I never told him, because I never told anyone,” Jaskier said. “I would probably still be doing the same thing if I hadn’t been little when we met. On the mountain… Geralt was upset, and he blamed me for a lot of things and said he didn’t want me in his life anymore, so I left.”
“And you dropped,” Lambert said. “Anything could have happened to you.”
“Yes, but there was no reason for Geralt to worry about me any more than anyone else,” Jaskier said. “I was crushed because… because Geralt was the most important person in my life, and he didn’t want me around anymore. But he didn’t abandon me to die.”
Lambert scrubbed a hand down his face and let his breath out slowly.
“I’ve been fantasizing about killing your old caregiver since we met.”
“I’m sorry,” Jaskier said. “I didn’t know.”
Jaskier was big, but he folded into Lambert’s arms the same way he did when he was little. They stood like that for a long moment before Lambert spoke again.
“So you don’t want me to kill Geralt,” he said. “Not even a little maiming?”
“No,” Jaskier said, giggling. “I think we’ll just have to settle it ourselves.”
That took several days. Eskel must have filled Geralt in on some of the details, because he never looked surprised to see Lambert doting on his boy. Still, Jaskier was little less. Things were tense between Geralt and Jaskier, and it made him too uncomfortable go down. Finally, they disappeared for several hours together, walking outside the keep. Lambert didn’t know the details of the conversation, but things improved afterwards.
A week after Geralt and Jaskier made up, Lambert woke up in an empty bed. It was unusual for Jaskier to get up before him but not unprecedented. What was surprising was to find Geralt handfeeding him his breakfast in the kitchen. Jaskier was getting porridge everywhere, and Geralt’s focus was quietly intense as he wiped the boy’s face. Lambert’s stomach dropped as he took the moment in, and he eased out of the doorway before either of them saw him.
Lambert was careful to keep busy all day, but Vesemir still found him hiding in the pantry with a bottle of vodka after he’d put Jaskier to bed. The older witcher just raised an eyebrow, and Lambert scowled.
“I haven’t had that much,” Lambert grunted.
“Geralt and Jaskier seem to be getting along,” Vesemir said mildly. He didn’t laugh when Lambert immediately refilled his glass. “You’re afraid Jaskier is going to leave you.”
“They made up,” Lambert said. He leaned forward where he was sitting on a crate and pinched the bridge of his nose. “They traveled together for nearly twenty years, Vesemir.”
“Geralt was never Jaskier’s daddy.”
“He didn’t know Jaskier was a little then,” Lambert said. “Now he does.”
“And you think Jaskier will go back to Geralt?” Vesemir said.
“I don’t know!” Lambert said. “I… I wouldn’t stop him. If that’s what he wants, I would let him go.”
Vesemir took a seat on the crate opposite Lambert and grabbed himself a mug. Lambert poured the vodka for him, and Vesemir swallowed it like it was water.
“Well,” he finally said. “First of all, welcome to parenting. Kids will break your damn heart time and time again.”
“Is this supposed to be helping?”
“But the good thing about the kind of parenting you’re doing,” Vesemir said, continuing like Lambert hadn’t spoken, “is that your kid isn’t going to grow up. He’ll probably want to go see Geralt sometimes, but I honestly don’t think Jaskier wants Geralt to be his daddy. They just seem like friends.”
They sat there another few minutes, finishing their drinks, but Lambert didn’t speak again. When his cup was empty, he put the vodka away and went upstairs. Jaskier was still sleeping, but he stirred as Lambert crawled into bed.
“Shh, it’s just me,” Lambert whispered. Jaskier’s nose crinkled at his breath.
“Stinky, Daddy,” he mumbled, and Lambert huffed a laugh.
“I know. Just go back to sleep, baby.”
The next morning, Lambert woke up to Jaskier sobbing. The sound jolted him awake, and he’d put himself between Jaskier and the door before he even processed what was going on. Jaskier was halfway out from under the covers, holding his bear in his lap.
“Jask?” Lambert said once it had sunk in that there was no one else in the room. “Are you hurt?”
Wordlessly, Jaskier shook his head.
“Sick?” Lambert asked. Jaskier shook his head again. “What’s the matter, baby?”
“K-Kaz,” Jaskier sobbed, and Lambert finally looked at the bear. The seam connecting his arm to the rest of his body had ripped, and the limb was dangling from the few remaining stitches.
“It’s okay,” Lambert said, settled by the fact that this was an easily remedied problem. He settled back into the bed and pulled Jaskier into his lap. “Don’t cry, bubba. We can fix him.”
“He’s hurt,” Jaskier said, sniffling as he buried his face in Lambert’s shirt. “Monster got him.”
“No, I think he just had too much fun playing last night,” Lambert said. “He’s okay.”
“We can fix him?”
“Yeah,” Lambert said. “You want to go see if Uncle Eskel is up? He’s really good at sewing.”
“Okay,” Jaskier said. He made no move to get up though, so Lambert repositioned his grip to carry him.
They found Eskel in the kitchen, finishing up with breakfast. If he was surprised by the request, he didn’t show it. Eskel went to find sewing supplies while Lambert and Jaskier situated Kaz on the kitchen table. Then, at Vesemir’s suggestion, they relocated the operation to the infirmary. By the time they were ready to start, Geralt had joined them as well.
“He should have vodka,” Jaskier whispered to Lambert. The other witchers stared, but Lambert couldn’t bring himself to be surprised by his boy anymore. “You have vodka when you get stitches.”
“Bears don’t like vodka,” Lambert said.
That must have been enough of an explanation for Jaskier, because Eskel was able to start sewing without any more interruptions. Jaskier watched the process carefully, one hand fisted in Lambert’s shirt and the other at his mouth. When Eskel finally handed the bear over, Jaskier took him carefully with slimy fingers.
“He should rest today,” Eskel said seriously, “but he’ll be back at 100% tomorrow.”
The tension went out of Jaskier as hugged the bear to his chest. Lambert smiled fondly as he shifted his hold on his boy.
“Well,” Vesemir said, “that was certainly a lot of drama before breakfast.”
As if on cue, Jaskier’s stomach gurgled. Lambert laughed and started for the kitchen. Jaskier, making no move to hold onto the man carrying him, leaned over Lambert’s shoulder to talk to Geralt.
“I didn’t have a bear when I was with you,” he said. “Daddy gave him to me.”
“I know,” Geralt said.
“His name is Kaz.”
“That’s nice,” Geralt said flatly.
“Yeah,” Jaskier agreed. “It’s nice.”