Ciri’s scream pulls Geralt out of his doze.
He springs up immediately, knocking Jaskier’s arm out of the way. The bard grumbles something incoherent on the bedroll before fully waking. “G’ralt, what is… Oh, shit.”
The scream continues, Geralt’s medallion thrumming because of the chaos carried by the sound. The ember is dying but the moon provides enough light for him to see Cir in a fetal position, her face buried in the crook of her elbow. Her ashen-colored curls obscure the view.
Geralt half-scrambles to her side, familiar panic seizing his heart. It’s been so long since she had a nightmare this bad, so long that it’s taking him a second to react.
“Ciri.” He shakes her shoulder gently, but she flinches away. The smell of fear rolls off of her in waves. “Ciri, wake up. You are dreaming.”
The sharp wail trails off to a quieter one, but her eyes stay shut, her brows agonizingly knitted tight. Geralt tries to soothe her by stroking her hair, only to have her snatch his hand and holding onto it for dear life. He squeezes, hoping it’s a comforting gesture.
Each of Ciri’s cries sends a pang of regret in Geralt’s chest. If only he could go back in time. If only he had found her earlier, before the horrors of Nilfgaard—
“Hey, let me help.”
A hand falls to Geralt’s shoulder, and Jaskier meets his gaze in the dim light, the bleariness in his eyes completely gone.
Please, he wants to say. The word gets interrupted by the girl’s writhing.
Jaskier takes over Ciri’s hand, despite her reluctance to let go of Geralt. She clings to him during bad dreams, even when she can’t properly wake up, but the witcher knows it’s important not to touch either of them right now. The wolf medallion vibrates more as the empath works, calming her through the touch.
“It’s okay…” Geralt murmurs helplessly to the girl still asleep. “It’s okay, cub. We are here.”
The empty space around Geralt is excruciating. Under the clear night sky, his witcher senses allow him to see the two of them basked in the silver moonlight—Jaskier kneeling at Ciri’s side, one hand clasped around her wrist and the other carding through her curls. The girl’s pained expression eases slowly.
“Oh… Don’t be afraid, sweet girl,” Jaskier shushes her, the flow of chaos buzzing in the air. “Let me take your fear away, all right? Don’t fight me. Let me in, so you won’t be scared anymore…”
The bard continues to murmur sweet nothings to the girl, easing her resistance to his empathetic powers. At this point, Jaskier’s magic is like a second layer of skin to Geralt, gentle and warm and weaving around their hearts. Even when it’s not directly used on him, he feels somehow pulled to their connection.
To Jaskier and Ciri.
His empath bard and his child surprise.
Two halves of his world.
Jaskier’s eyes are closed to concentration, taming the waves of Ciri’s distress. The action exerts him, Geralt can tell from his elevated heartbeat and the slight slump in his shoulders. The witcher catches himself before he reaches out subconsciously. The gnawing urge to help almost makes him scowl in frustration.
Inaction has never been Geralt’s strong suit.
Finally, finally, Ciri’s eyes flutter open. She’s holding back the tears, as always, even when she’s confused from these dreams, even when she’s reliving her past and desperately searching for her family in the present.
Her voice is so small and he has to lean in to hear.
A relieved sigh escapes Jaskier’s lips as he lets go of the girl’s hand. With the magic dissipating, so does the stench of fear. The air settles. As soon as the medallion stills, Geralt surges forward to put a hand on her arm, so she knows he’s here.
On Geralt’s periphery, he senses bard stand and walk to the other side of the campfire—the empath usually needs a moment to collect himself after absorbing someone’s emotions—but right now Geralt’s focus is on his child.
“It’s okay. You are safe, Ciri,” Geralt whispers.
“You are not there anymore.”
“It was burning…I—there was fire… and the man.” She sniffles, stubbornly refusing to cry. His child is tough, probably too tough for her own good.
“It wasn’t real.”
“Because you found me?” There’s a sliver of doubt in her voice that Geralt wishes more than anything to remove.
“Because I found you, Ciri,” he reassures. She’ll need reminding tonight. “You are my destiny and more. I’m here so you’ll never have to be lost again.”
A tiny smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. Geralt tucks away a strand of hair on her face and watches her eyelids droop heavily.
“I’m not. Not now that I’m awake.”
He returns the smile, although she can’t see it that well in the shadows. “That’s because of Jaskier.”
“Oh.” She searches for the bard. When Geralt looks back at the empath’s silhouette, he’s leaning against a tree, a few paces away from camp. “Thank you, Jaskier. Again,” she says.
“Of course, princess,” Jaskier says softly, “I know how scary nightmares can be, no matter how long it’s been. Those things may have happened a long time ago, but sometimes…they come back and haunt when you least expect it.” He pauses, looking to the distance for a moment. “I’d chase them away for you any time.”
She murmurs another thanks before her eyes close with exhaustion.
“Go back to sleep,” Geralt tucks Ciri’s blanket in, before taking her hand again, his thumb tracing a little circle on her skin. “Sleep, cub. We’ll be here. Both of us.”
It doesn’t take long for her to fall into a deep slumber, peacefully this time. Geralt sits next to her for a while longer just to be sure. When he finally leaves Ciri’s side to see to his bard, Jaskier is still standing with his back against the tree. He seems to be miles away, his expression hidden in the shadows, distant and inscrutable.
“Jask?” They are far enough from the girl but Geralt keeps his voice low.
With a surprised gasp, the bard notices him approaching and almost flinches. “Don’t—”
“Don’t touch you, I know.”
Jaskier rests his head on the tree bark. “Just for now.”
Geralt’s fists clench and unclench at his sides. Using those powers takes a lot out of Jaskier, and it leaves him unbalanced. The empath is so wary of hurting him by accident when he’s like this, with raw energy still rippling under his skin.
But in truth, Geralt doesn’t care. He wishes Jaskier could let him in, let him share the burden. Right now, with the space between them, he’ll have to rely on words instead of action.
It really isn’t his strong suit.
“Another nightmare… ” he decides to distract the bard while he recovers. “It’s been too long since Ciri had an episode. I thought it was all over.”
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds, Geralt,” Jaskier breathes. “We should all know better.”
Geralt frowns at the haunted look on his bard’s face. The tips of his fingers reach forward again, but he quickly hides the movement by crossing his arms before his chest.
“You sound like you are speaking from experience, Jask.”
“Hmm.” Geralt’s stomach turns at the way Jaskier speaks about the girl’s trauma. “You know if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”
Jaskier squirms, chewing on his lower lip. Now he’s truly nervous, tense even. The witcher sees the way his posture stiffens and quickly adds, “Or not. Uh—it’s okay if you don’t—"
“No,” Jaskier interrupts him, shaking his head, “No, I want to tell you. I should tell you everything, at this point.”
Silence hangs between them as the bard adjusts his breathing. In and out, like he would before a performance.
“Years ago, when you first identified my powers” Jaskier chooses his words cautiously, the moon shining in his eyes. “I asked if you would use silver on me.”
Geralt’s heart sinks. “I would never, Jaskier. I—How could you ever think that?”
“Oh, relax, my love. I know.” the bard chuckles tightly. “Even back then, I knew you to be a decent man under all the gruffness. You wouldn’t even harm those confused monsters who drifted to human territory on accident, remember? You claimed that your life was just coin and contracts, but to me, it was clear that you were so much more.”
“You are not a monster,” Geralt argues.
“No, but someone else might think differently.”
The leaves rustle in the breeze, the air cooling as the night stretches on. Without the blanket, Jaskier shivers with only a thin chemise on his back. Geralt’s body gravitates toward him of its own volition. Fuck it, if he can just hold Jaskier right now…
“I was thirteen.” The bard is lost in memory. “This man, a magic user, came to our door. It was just me and my mother. He somehow knew about our identities and asked for her help. You see, she had been keeping it a secret for so long, so she couldn’t trust this man, this mage, who somehow just knew that we were empaths.”
He lets out a shuddering breath before continuing.
“His request was… weird. Something about a king or a royal court. I remember thinking that whatever he said sounded so sinister, it couldn’t have been any good. Mum sent him away on the spot, but afterwards she got so scared, like he’d come back again or something. That night, she barred the door and told me to hide in a storage chest. I refused, so she made me. She kept me obedient the entire time.”
Geralt frowns. “Her powers were the same as yours?”
“Stronger.” Jaskier starts pacing, a few twigs snapping under his feet. “She didn’t need contact to manipulate someone’s emotions like me, and she could influence many at the same time. I’m not as powerful—my father was human.”
“What happened next?” Somehow, Geralt knows the story will not end well. A mage usually means trouble. Or in this case, the shadow hidden behind Jaskier’s bright smiles and chirpy songs.
“She kept me calm the whole night, even when she wasn’t with me, but I could feel her fear. It’s was like an undercurrent beneath my skin. I could feel her emotions change. Then I heard the sound of fighting, but I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t go and help her…”
The salty tang of tears assaults Geralt’s nose, but they don’t fall. Jaskier looks up to the sky to hold back the grief that makes his hands tremble.
“Everything got fuzzy after that, but I still remember the pain and the despair. It was like a part of me was hurting with her. Part of me still does, during some nights.” Jaskier closes his eyes in agony. “When I got out the next morning, no one was there. Our home was wrecked, ruined. There was… There was so much blood, Geralt. I—I couldn’t…”
“Oh, Jaskier.” Geralt watches as Jaskier’s shoulders shake, whimpers choking in his throat. Under the night sky, the bard retreats into himself, making his frame look so much smaller. He sways a little and Geralt extends his hands again, hovering by his elbow. “Can I please touch you now?” he pleads.
With a sniffle, the bard composes himself. He flexes his hands to see if his magic is in check. “I think so, yes—oh.”
Geralt pulls Jaskier in for the tightest hug, his arms wrapping around the bard’s frame protectively. Through the thin fabric of the shirt, he can feel another shiver running down Jaskier’s spine, so he rubs small circles into his back to get some heat back in.
He breathes in Jaskier’s scent, not knowing if the lingering stench of fear is from Ciri or the bard.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Jask…” Geralt keeps murmuring into the soft hair by Jaskier’s temple. Gradually, the bard sags against his shoulder, letting himself be soothed and supported. Geralt then places his lips to the skin under Jaskier’s ear, and then his cheek, his chin, all the while holding him impossibly close. He’s ready to help the empath restore his energy with all the brimming love in his chest. “Do you want me to…”
“No,” the bard shakes his head. “I’m good. For now.”
They stand there for so long, swaying gently while the world sleeps, before the bard speaks up again.
“I looked for her, and him, at so many courts.” Jaskier’s slightly colder fingers rest on the nape of Geralt’s neck, buried into the hair there. “No mage fit his description. No trace of her either. I think that deep down, I already knew that she was gone, even back then. Otherwise, I would have felt her in there somehow. No matter how far away she was, but all I had was just this emptiness. I was alone since then.”
“You are not. Not anymore.”
“No,” Jaskier pulls away, the tears have dried. Geralt brings the pad of his thumb to trace those streaks anyway. Under his touch, Jaskier smiles. “You see, back in Posada, I met this witcher, a dashing and heroic one. He fell for me so hard that he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving without me, so he begged me to become his travel companion.”
“And you agreed?” Geralt chuckles.
“Not at first, but he wore me down eventually.”
The bard is the most ridiculous man Geralt knows, and yet here they are. Shaking his head in amusement, the witcher steers his bard back to their bedrolls. As they settle back into their usual position, Geralt can’t help but pull him closer, making sure they are touching from head to toe.
The cover sets heavily over Jaskier's body, slowly warming up his skin. His heart beats against Geralt’s ribcage steadily, showing with solid proof that the empath has survived those horrors.
“I found you too, Jask,” he says, pressing a chaste kiss between Jaskier’s brows.
“i know.” The bard's reply is muffled by Geralt's skin. Not far from them, Ciri is still breathing evenly, sound asleep. Geralt has everyone he needs to protect right here with him, tucked away from their separate demons.
And yet, his mind drifts to Jaskier's story. It’s a tragedy with no end and no closure. There was never a body to bury, no vengeance to seek either.
Somehow, he doubts that an unfinished story will stay unfinished.