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If You Give a Bard a Lute

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In retrospect, getting disowned shouldn’t come as a surprise to Jaskier. Alfred Pankratz, the Earl de Lettenhove, has been threatening to cut his only son off without a penny since the day Jaskier returned from Oxenfurt and told him that he was going to be a traveling bard. That was five years ago and Alfred’s opinion of Jaskier’s profession has’t improved.

But when he received a letter asking him to return to Lettenhove for the first time since he set out on the road, a small, naive part of Jaskier believed this was progress. He thought that maybe after all these years, his father finally wanted to get to know him. The tone of the letter was warm, even jovial. Jaskier’s sisters were grown and married and Jaskier thought that maybe being alone in the giant estate at Lettenhove had left his father lonely, maybe softened him a bit. Alfred wasn’t getting any younger, after all. Maybe he wanted to make amends.

Jaskier can really be a damned fool sometimes, he thinks grimly as his lute case is wrenched from his arms by a liveried guard.

“That’s mine!” he shouts as two other guards restrain him.

“Sorry, Lord Julian,” one of them has the decency to murmur.

Alfred puffs out his chest. “Nothing in your possession is yours, boy. Every single thing you own was purchased with my coin.”

“You mean the coin I made as a traveling bard?" Jaskier is ashamed of the heat he can feel gathering at the corners of his eyes. "And that lute was given to me by Filavandrel, King of the Elves. There was no coin involved, be it yours or mine.”

His father scoffs. “You’re far too old to be telling fairy tales.”

“It’s not a fairy tale. I met him at Dol Blathanna, on the edge of the world. I told you about it at dinner last night, remember?” The night before, Jaskier and his father shared a perfectly pleasant supper, where they chatted and swapped tales of the last few years. Everything had seemed fine, making his father’s ultimatum today— that Jaskier was to settle down, marry the woman of his father’s choosing, and never see or sing about Geralt again, or be stripped of his title and his inheritance— all the more shocking.

 

The travel and the freedom from marriage, he could give up for the right price. But the music? Geralt? He could never.

Jaskier’s father shakes his head, lip curling. “Last night, all I heard from you was childish babble about the mutant you’ve been whoring yourself for when you should be here, doing your duty to this land and your family.”

“There has been no whoring.” Not due to a lack of trying on Jaskier's part, but that’s not a conversation he’s going to have with his father right now.

The Earl doesn’t even seem to hear him. “I am done with you disgracing this family’s name, embarrassing me, your sisters, and your mother’s memory, acting like a traveling player instead of a viscount.”

“Fine,” Jaskier says. “Strike my name from the family record, disown me. But let me leave with my possessions.”

“They’re not yours, boy.”

“I haven't had a penny from you since I was eighteen. My things were bought with my coin that I made during my travels.”

“Your travels while you squandered the finest education money can buy.”

Jaskier’s hurt and confusion is starting to give way to fury, which is good. He can handle fury. “I thought you were an earl, not a common thief.”

He knows the blow is coming—after all these years, he knows his father’s tells—but it’s impossible for him to brace himself in this position. Alfred’s fist catches him in the side of the face and his head snaps around. He tastes blood as he sags against one of the guards holding him up.

“It’s not theft for me to take back what’s rightfully mine, boy,” his father says. “I’ve allowed this charade to go on for far too long. If you don’t want to be the Viscount de Lettenhove, fine. But then you don’t get to keep living off this family’s coffers.”

Jaskier knows that nothing he says will make a damn bit of difference at this point. It never has. So he settles for the next best thing and spits in his father’s smug face.

The guards throw him out into the frigid Redanian winter with nothing but the clothes on his back and a knot of mingled grief, shame, and fury in his chest.

***

Winters in Redania are never easy and especially not for bards without an instrument, a place to go, or a penny to their name. Jaskier foolishly turned down a position at Oxenfurt for the winter term in order to go to Lettenhove and he can’t go to the dean now, begging for a place to stay. Desperation isn’t a good look for a professor.

Instead, Jaskier makes the long, cold trek to Novigrad, hoping that either Priscilla and Valdo will be there. Instead, he finds that they’ve both taken positions at courts abroad— Priscilla in Kovir and Valdo in Cidaris. There’s no way Jaskier can get to Kovir or Cidaris without a lute, a horse, and some money for gear.

He stays in Novigrad for a while. A tavern keeper's wife takes pity on him and lets him sleep in front of the fire in exchange for help around the place, an arrangement that works nicely for a few weeks until her husband returns from visiting family and objects. He takes up with some traveling players who are staying in the city for the winter, but it turns out that he’s a shit actor, so that doesn’t last long.

He writes to the Countess de Stael, hoping she’ll be of some aid, but never hears back. Not surprising, given how their last affair ended.

He scrounges and scrapes to get by. Sometimes, he steals. He does some things that he’s not proud of. But he survives. Most nights, he goes to bed cold and hungry. His once-fine doublet is tattered and patched, far too big on his newly skinny frame. He has a couple of close calls with cut throats looking to take the little he has from him, one that leaves a long, thin scar on his collar bone.

The first morning he wakes up to hear birdsong, he nearly weeps, because he’s made it through the winter and now Geralt will be coming back.

Jaskier has always loved Novigrad, crime lords, shitty politics, and monster-infested sewers and all, but he’s never been as happy as he is when he leaves the city to head south. He travels to the inn on the border of Redania and Temeria where he meets Geralt every year when his friend returns from the secret witcher hiding spot that Jaskier isn’t supposed to know about. The innkeep recognizes Jaskier from the year before and is only too happy to let him wash dishes and launder bedding in exchange for meals and a warm place to sleep until Geralt shows up. The man is tactful enough not to ask if Jaskier can perform for the customers, which Jaskier appreciates.

He’s been there for three days and is just starting to worry, as he’s heard Kaedwen had a hard winter, when Geralt finally arrives. Jaskier is sitting at a table in the corner, having just finished his supper, when he hears the hush fall over the room that means that Geralt has arrived. He’s surprised by the tears that prickle in his eyes when he looks up and sees his friend walking towards him. Geralt always looks good at the end of a winter, clean, well-fed, and well-rested.

“Oh, good, you made it!” he cries, hoping that he looks like nothing is amiss. “I heard a rumor of a late season snowstorm in Kaedwen.”

From the way Geralt frowns at him, Jaskier is truly as bad an actor as the traveling players claimed. “Made it through before it got too bad.”

Geralt goes to order a bowl of stew and an ale from the barkeep. As soon as he sits down, Jaskier asks, “How was your winter?”

“Hm. Fine.”

“Your brothers in arms fare well, I take it?”

“Bout the same as they did last year, plus a few new scars.”

“And the journey was uneventful?”

“Stopped for a couple of contracts, but nothing too interesting.” Geralt is studying Jaskier with a furrow in his brow. Fuck, it’s impossible to keep anything from a witcher. Even if Geralt couldn’t see how thin he’s gotten and how worn his clothes are, he can probably smell how long it’s been since he had a proper bath and the old fear clinging to his clothes.

Jaskier feels slightly frantic. Part of him feels like as long as Geralt thinks that Jaskier’s lute is right upstairs in the finest room this establishment has to offer, then it’s a little true. Maybe this miserable, frightening, lonely winter didn’t actually happen if he doesn’t talk about it. “And our dear Roach? As ornery as ever, I imagine?”

“She’s looking forward to seeing you.”

“No, she’s not,” Jaskier says.

“It was a long winter. Not a lot of company. Her standards are lower.”

Jaskier knows he’s expected to gasp in mock horror, clap his hands to his chest, be the overdramatic, flighty bard that Geralt knows and tolerates, but he doesn’t have it in him right now. He forces a smile and a laugh, but he knows it doesn’t quite come out right.

The furrow in Geralt’s brow deepens. “What’s wrong with you?” he asks with his typical tact and grace.

Jaskier laughs again, a horribly canned sound. “Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. You would say it’s an inability to keep out of trouble and a lack of accuracy in my songs. The Countess would say it’s my feckless attitude and lack of loyalty. My father… Well, he would probably say everything.”

“Did you spend the winter in Oxenfurt?” Geralt’s gaze is intent on Jaskier’s face.

“No, I was going to, but I was called home.” Jaskier hesitates. The problem is, he’s not entirely sure how Geralt is going to react to the news of his drastically changed circumstances. Jaskier knows how he feels about Geralt. Geralt is his friend. He’s been a little bit in love with the witcher—well, maybe a lot in love with the witcher—since he was eighteen. But he’s never been sure how Geralt feels about him. Their friendship got off to a bumpy start and Jaskier knows that a lot of that was his fault. He talked too much, listened too little, and got himself into too much trouble.

Geralt seems to like him well enough these days, though Jaskier can’t ever be sure if the witcher considers him a friend. But the reason that Jaskier gets to keep accompanying Geralt on these journeys is because he’s a bard. He sings Geralt’s praises and spreads word of his heroics, making the Path a little bit easier for him, and in return, Jaskier gets an escort on his travels. Without a lute or any way of buying a lute, Jaskier can no longer hold up his end of the unspoken bargain. He’s dead weight. Geralt could leave him behind and Jaskier wouldn't be able to blame him.

Geralt is still staring at him, so Jaskier screws up his courage and tells his friend the whole sordid tale. Well, he leaves out most of what he went through this winter, because he doesn’t want Geralt to waste any time self-flagellating over how close Jaskier came to starving or freezing to death. As he speaks, he can see a muscle in Geralt’s jaw jumping and his grip on his tankard of ale growing white-knuckled.

“You didn’t deserve that,” Geralt finally says.

The words are like a punch in the gut. Jaskier has heard the opposite too many times. “If you’re going to purposefully antagonize Papa, you deserve whatever you get, Julek.” “You don’t deserve the clothes on your back, boy.” “You heard your father, sweetheart. Little boys who talk back don’t deserve supper.”

Jaskier has to swallow back the emotions rising in his throat. “That’s a matter of opinion, my friend.”

“Where’s your lute, Jaskier?” Geralt’s voice is perfectly calm.

Jaskier looks down at the table, unable to look him in the eye. “My father took all my possessions, save for the clothes on my back.”

Geralt doesn’t reply and Jaskier thinks that this is it. This is when the witcher walks away and leaves Jaskier’s life forever, because what use does he have for a bard who isn’t a bard anymore? Instead, Geralt says, “Your father’s coin didn’t buy the lute. Filavandrel gave it to you.”

“I tried telling him that, and he scolded me for telling fairy tales.”

Geralt makes a noise that might be a growl.

“Well.” Jaskier tries for a smile, though he doesn’t think he quite succeeds. “If there’s one silver lining, it’s that I won’t have to see him again.”

Geralt pushes himself to his feet so suddenly that several people at the tables around them flinch. “You’re going to have to see him at least one more time.”

“What?” Jaskier stares up at him, bewildered.

“Let’s go,” Geralt says, turning towards the door. “We’re going to Lettenhove and we’re getting your fucking lute back.”

Jaskier stares after him for a moment, until he realizes that Geralt is really stalking out of the tavern. Scrambling to his feet, he gives chase, catching up to the witcher halfway to the stables. “Geralt!”

“Hm?” Geralt doesn’t turn around.

Jaskier lunges between the witcher and the stables. “Geralt, you can’t just go to Lettenhove and forcibly wrest my lute from my father.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s the Earl de Lettenhove.”

Geralt doesn't even blink. “So?”

“Lettenhove is the second wealthiest earldom in Redania. My father is the king’s cousin and close personal friend. He’s not someone you can steal from or threaten without there being serious consequences.”

“He stole from you.”

“And there’s not a court in Redania who will see it that way, because I’m his son and heir and he can do what he wants with me.” Jaskier smiles without humor. “Well, I’m no longer his son or his heir, but that gives him even more right to do what he wants with me. I’m not the Viscount de Lettenhove anymore. I’m no one.”

“You could have died.

Jaskier blinks, surprised by the force in Geralt’s words. “Well, yeah. I almost did a couple of times. Winters in Novigrad aren’t kind, especially when you’re sleeping on the streets most nights.”

“You could have frozen to death,” Geralt says. “You could have starved. You could have had your throat cut in your sleep. All because your own father kicked you out without even stopping to think of all the terrible shit that could happen to you.”

“I don’t think he cares very much.” Jaskier shrugs. “Look, come back inside. I could really use a bed to sleep in and a bath. I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night and I’m exhausted. Can we figure out the rest tomorrow?”

Geralt hesitates, then his expression softens and he nods. “Tomorrow, then.”

***

Jaskier knows that Geralt is worried about him because his friend lets him sleep throughout the next day, not even grumbling about wasted time. That evening, Geralt springs for a bath— a real bath, not just a pail of water— and Jaskier knows that that might be to spare his own witcher senses, but it’s still a touching gesture. After a day of doing nothing but sleeping and eating, Jaskier feels almost entirely human again.

“Perhaps I don’t need a lute,” he opines as he submerges himself in the large wooden bathtub of Igni-warmed water. “I can get by with just the power of my voice.”

“Hm,” is his only reply. Geralt is busy sharpening his swords.

Now that he’s fed and clean, Jaskier is feeling more himself. He grins at the back of the witcher’s head. “You’re supposed to be kind to me during my convalescence.”

“You’re talking enough. I think you’re convalesced.”

Jaskier flicks water at the back of his head. “I’m just trying to think outside the box here. It’s going to take time for me to earn enough coin to purchase a new lute and in the meantime—”

“You’re not purchasing a new lute. We’re getting your old one back.”

“Geralt.” Jaskier sighs. Yesterday, in the heat of the moment, he understood Geralt’s determination, but it’s not like his friend to be reckless. “We already talked about this.”

“We talked about needing to be smart about it.” Geralt comes to perch on the edge of the tub. He’s close enough that Jaskier could reach out and yank him into the bath, if he had a death wish. He presses his hands against his thighs to quell the urge. “My brother, Lambert, has a lover who’s a Cat witcher.”

“The assassins? You can’t kill my father. This soon after disinheriting me, everyone will know I was involved and I do not want to be hung, thank you.”

Geralt looks at Jaskier as if Jaskier is the one acting bizarrely, as if Geralt, who has never given a monkey’s uncle about Jaskier’s lute or his music, isn’t contemplating a hanging offense. “Cats are a naturally stealthier school than the Wolves. If we can’t just walk in and take it back, we need someone with Aiden’s skill set.”

Jaskier stares up at him in shock. “You’re serious about this. You really want to steal the lute back.”

“Your father left you to fucking die, Jaskier. He shouldn’t get away with that.”

“People do worse to you all the time.” Jaskier imagines that many years ago, Geralt’s parents made a similar choice as Jaskier's father, though he doesn’t know for sure. He asked about Geralt’s parents once, early on in their acquaintance, when he was drunk and tactless, and got rightfully snarled at.

Geralt shrugs, like the casual cruelties that humanity heaps on him aren’t worth commenting on. Jaskier notices his gaze lingering on the scar across his collar bone.

Jaskier reaches up to touch the scar. “It was nothing, Geralt.”

“Looks like something.”

Jaskier closes his eyes and tilts his head back. “You attract some unwanted attention when you’re walking around in fine clothes in Novigrad. Someone thought they could rob me in my sleep and was deeply displeased to find out I had nothing to steal.”

Geralt is quiet for a moment. Finally, he says, “You’re lucky it didn’t get infected.”

“The one bit of luck I had this winter, my friend.” Jaskier sinks deeper into the water. He thinks about that terrifying moment that he woke with a knife at his throat, the sinking realization that he had nothing to offer in exchange for his own life. Geralt makes a low noise and Jaskier remembers that the witcher can probably smell his distress.

Jasier opens his eyes and looks up to meet Geralt’s gaze. “Where would we find this Lambert and Aiden?”

***

“You want our help stealing what?” Lambert of the Wolf School is not what Jaskier was expecting. He’s shorter than Geralt—shorter even than Jaskier, though Jaskier isn’t going to point that out—with dark hair and strong features. There’s also none of the stoic ‘witchers must walk alone’ bullshit. His lover, a lithe, tawny-skinned witcher with sparkling green eyes, is plastered against his side, looking delighted by all of this.

“A lute.” Geralt’s eyes are on the Cat witcher, who he seems to regard with suspicion. Geralt told Jaskier before they got to Vizima, where Lambert and Aiden meet up every spring, that the Cat and Wolf Schools have some kind of sordid history, though he didn’t go into details.

“Is it some kind of magic fucking lute? Did someone steal your soul and put it in there? Is that where your sense of humor has been all these years?”

Jaskier snorts and decides that the first thing he’s going to do when he gets some coin is buy Lambert an ale. “It’s my lute,” he says. “It was given to me by Filavandrel, but my father confiscated it, along with the rest of my possessions.”

Lambert cocks an eyebrow at him. “Oh, so you’re the bard.”

Jaskier knows he doesn’t look much like a bard right now in a pair of ill-fitting clothes he borrowed from Geralt. He trimmed the beard he grew over the winter, but hasn’t shaved it; he found that having a baby face attracted the wrong kind of attention and is loath to give up the shield facial hair provides. “That’s me. Jaskier, famous bard, acclaimed poet, master of the seven liberal arts, and former Viscount de Lettenhove at your service.”

Lambert looks between Geralt, Jaskier, and Aiden. “This isn’t the kind of thing you usually get involved in, Geralt.”

“My father’s the third most powerful man in Redania,” Jaskier says.

Lambert chuckles and leans back to kick his feet up on the table, ignoring the dark look the barkeep throws at him. “Ah, then this is exactly the kind of political bullshit you usually get involved in, Geralt.”

Geralt sighs. “Will you help or not?”

“What’s in it for us?” Lambert asks at the same time Aiden says, “We’ll do it.”

Everyone looks at Aiden, who shrugs. “What, it sounds fun. I haven’t gotten to plan a good heist in a long time.”

“Thank you.” Geralt nods to Aiden. To Lambert, he adds, “If you help us, I’ll talk to Vesemir about letting Aiden come to Kaer Morhen for the winters. That way, we could have a nice winter without all of your sulking.”

Lambert’s cheeks turn pink. “I was not sulking this year.”

“It was even worse than last year, and that’s saying something.”

Aiden grins at his lover. “Oh? And here I thought you didn’t even notice I wasn’t there.”

Lambert grumbles something under his breath and becomes very interested in the travels of a cockroach across the ground.

Jaskier leans forward. “The thing is, because of my father’s position, we can’t just take the lute back from him by force. That’s a good way for the royal guard to come down on our heads. We need to be smart about it.”

“You sure he won’t have just broken it?” Lambert asks, clearly relieved by the distraction.

Jaskier winces at the very thought, but he shakes his head. “No, I don't think so. When I was seven, my grandmother gave me a little wooden flute. I loved it. I played it all the time until my father took it away from me. But he didn’t break it. Instead, he kept it on a shelf in his study for years, so every time he called me in to tell me how disappointing I was, I’d have to look at it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lute is right where he kept that flute.”

He thinks Geralt may make a growling noise under his breath, but it’s hard to tell for sure in the noisy tavern.

“You sure you don’t want us to just kill him, songbird?” Aiden asks.

Jaskier feels a smile tugging at his lips. “I don’t think so, but thank you for the offer.”

“And why not just get another lute?” Lambert’s gaze is fixed on Geralt, not Jaskier. There’s a challenge in his eyes.

Geralt’s lip curls into a snarl. “Because that lute wasn’t the earl’s to take. And he left Jaskier for dead. There’s nothing else we can do about that, but we can get the fucking lute back.”

Lambert gives him a long look, then shrugs. “Fine. Let’s go piss off the third most powerful man in Redania to get your bard’s lute back. How are we going to track Eskel and Coën down?”

“Wasn’t planning on tracking Eskel and Coën down,” Geralt says.

“You want to end up on the gallows? Eskel’s signs are the best of us and Coën’s the only one of us who knows shit about dealing with nobility.”

Geralt grimaces, which Jaskier takes as an admission that his brother is right.

“How would we go about finding them?” Jaskier asks.

“They're probably somewhere north," Geralt says. "They normally travel through Poviss and Kovir together before they separate in the summer. But that's a lot of ground to cover. We'll need to hire a mage to contact them, which means we need coin. Any likely contracts in the area?”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Aiden’s smile is downright predatory. “I have a better way of making money than taking contracts.”

***

It turns out that Aiden is terrifyingly good at cheating at cards, so good in fact that he has no trouble at all making enough money to afford a mage’s services.

“You know, you probably don’t need to bother with the witchering,” Jaskier tells Aiden after he watches the witcher leave an entire tournament of seasoned Gwent players broke and in shock. “You could be a professional card shark.”

Aiden’s answering smile is toothy and self-satisfied. “I’ve thought about it, but what can I say? There’s not enough blood at Gwent tournaments for me. Except for a few in Novigrad.”

Jaskier decides that he’s never going to play Gwent against Aiden because no matter what Geralt says, Jaskier does have some common sense.

***

Just over a month later, when they meet Coën and Eskel outside a little village on the outskirts of Lettenhove, the two witchers listen to Jaskier’s tale of woe with dubious expressions.

“So when you asked us to come here all the way from Kovir to help you steal a lute, that wasn’t code?” Eskel asks Geralt.

Geralt frowns. “What would it have been code for?”

“Dunno, that’s what me and Co have spent the last month trying to figure out.”

“No, we’re trying to steal back Jaskier’s lute from his asshole of a father,” Geralt says. “You in?”

Eskel looks at Jaskier, who waves a sheepish greeting. He’s starting to feel a bit foolish about the fact that there are five witchers gathered to steal back his lute, when they could be off saving villages and slaying monsters. Never mind that he’s told them multiple times that there’s no need to make such a fuss.

Eskel shrugs and looks to his partner, who nods. “Well, we came all the way from Kovir. May as well make it worth our while. What’s the plan?”

***

Alfred Pankratz has never heard the wail of a wraith before, but that’s the only thing that could be causing such a racket from the second floor corridor. He can hear it all the way upstairs in his third floor bedroom— a high, keening wail, the shattering of porcelain as priceless vases are dashed to the ground, something pounding against the walls. He scrambles to his feet and bolts to the door, then freezes, heart hammering. His escape would bring him right past the second floor, where the creature is out for blood.

He thinks of Julian and his witcher, but shakes the thought away.

“Guards!” he shouts, proud of how his voice doesn’t even shake.

***

Piotr does not get paid enough for this, he thinks grimly as he approaches the closed doors, behind which something is shrieking like his wife’s cat whenever they try to give the flea-bitten beast a bath. The noise is coming from the portrait gallery, where paintings of dozens of Pankratzes of old hang on the walls. No one actually goes in the portrait gallery, so Piotr isn’t sure why they couldn’t just let the wailing wraith have the run of the place.

Piotr’s hand trembles as it rests on the doorknob.

“Psst.”

The guard nearly jumps out of his skin and whirls to see a looming figure in the corner. The intruder has a scarred face and yellow eyes that reflect the light of the lantern in Piotr’s hand. Terrified, Piotr opens his mouth to shout.

The man makes some kind of hand gesture and Piotr is suddenly flooded with a sense of utter calm. Everything is fine. The screaming on the other side of the door isn’t frightening and this guest is no threat to him.

“You’ve just opened the door to that room,” the scarred man says. “And you saw a ghostly figure clad in white. It vanished before you could get a good look at it.”

Piotr nods, the image forming clearly in his mind. “Horrible thing, that.”

“Horrible. It’s a good thing you’ve heard of a pair of witchers passing through town. Otherwise, a beast like that could destroy the whole house.”

Piotr nods. It’s very important that this man knows that Piotr agrees with him.

“Good lad.” The scarred man smiles. “Now, run along.”

***

“You had far too much fun with that,” Eskel tells Aiden when they meet back outside the estate. Aiden’s cheeks are ruddy with excitement and his eyes bright.

The Cat witcher shrugs, unrepentant. “Hey, it’s not every day you get to wreck a rich asshole’s portrait gallery. Fucker had three life-sized portraits of himself. Three. Who wants to look at their own face that much?”

“Rich people.”

Aiden shakes his head. “Fuck, if I had this much money, I’d spend it on something fun. Not posing for a fucking portrait.”

Eskel snorts. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

***

As Coën takes in the exhausted-looking Earl de Lettenhove sitting in front of him, he thinks of how odd it is that two people can share so many similar traits and yet look nothing alike. On paper, Jaskier should be the spitting image of his father: dark-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced, handsome. But Alfred Pankratz is missing his son’s vitality, that spark of mischief in his eyes and the warmth of his smile.

“My guard said that the figure was ghostly and clad in white. It vanished as soon as he approached it.” Jaskier’s father rubs his red-rimmed eyes.

“Doesn’t look like you got much sleep, my lord,” Lambert says, sounding far too smug about it.

Coën shoots the Wolf witcher a sharp look.

“You wouldn’t either, if you heard those screams. I’ve never heard anything like it.” Alfred shudders.

“It sounds like you have a nightwraith,” Coën says. “It will be back every night at midnight until it’s exorcised.”

“Had any bad deaths in your family?” Lambert asks. “Wraiths usually come back because they have unfinished business. Could have happened years ago, but for whatever reason, the wraith just showed up now.”

They chose the portrait gallery for the fake haunting because of Jaskier’s story about his great-aunt, who tripped over one of her husband’s numerous and much-detested little terriers while in the portrait gallery and cracked her head open on a marble bust of her husband’s first wife. She succumbed to her wounds days later, cursing her husband, his first wife, and his damned dogs with her dying breaths. It’s the closest thing to a tragic, wraith-worthy death the Pankratzes have; the rest of them have died of illness or old age.

Coën expects to have to do some digging, as the accidental death of an aunt over fifty years ago isn’t the first thing likely to spring to Alfred’s mind. But instead, the earl goes white and his lips press into a thin line. Coën braces himself for an admission about a mistress killed in a “tragic accident,” but instead, Alfred asks, “Are wraiths always women?”

Coën exchanges looks with Lambert. “Usually, but not always.”

“My son,” Alfred says. “I disinherited him at the beginning of the winter, cast him out. If he met his end on the road, I can see him returning as a vengeful spirit.”

Coën opens his mouth to come up with some lie about why that can’t be the case, because he signed up to steal from this man, not convince him that his son is dead when Coën just left Jaskier losing to Aiden at Gwent yet again back at the campsite.

But Alfred talks over him. “He used to sit in the portrait gallery all the time and play his music as a lad. He probably spent more time there than any other room in the house.”

“My lord—” Coën begins to say.

“I had no choice, you understand.” Alfred puffs himself up. “Julian was behaving in a way that shamed himself and this family, cavorting around the Continent with cutthroats and criminals. My daughter’s oldest son is a fine lad with a good head on his shoulders who will make an excellent earl someday. And I gave Julian a chance. More chances than he deserved.”

Coën feels Lambert shift next to him. “So now you think he’s come back as a wraith?” the Wolf witcher asks, with only a hint of a sneer in his voice.

“Julian always fancied himself the victim. He never appreciated what I did for him. I can see him seeking revenge from beyond the grave.” Jaskier’s father clears his throat. “How much to handle this problem?”

“Five hundred crowns,” Lambert says.

Alfred’s mouth drops open in a manner that almost reminds Coën of Jaskier when someone insults his singing. “That’s an absurd price.”

It is indeed, but that’s what Jaskier estimates it will cost to replace all the clothes and other possessions his father took from him. “Wraiths are tricky contracts,” Coën says. “And unless you know where your son’s corpse is, it’s going to be much harder to exorcise it.”

For Jaskier’s sake, he hopes that he’ll see a flinch or a grimace, some sign of grief or remorse. He’s only known the bard for two days, but he likes the kid. He deserved better than Alfred Pankratz as a father.

Instead, the earl looks consideringly between Coën and Lambert. “What if I only hire one of you?”

Lambert sneers. “Then it’s six hundred.”

Alfred scoffs. “All the beast does is make my portrait gallery uninhabitable at midnight? To save six hundred crowns, I can deal with a little screaming every night.”

Jaskier warned them this might happen. “It will escalate,” Coën says. “It always does. My lord—”

The earl is already turning away. “You’re dismissed, witcher. Get out of my house.”

***

The wailing and crashing begins at midnight on the dot that night. Alfred covers his ears with his pillow, but doesn’t get a wink of sleep, not even long after the screaming has died away.

The next day, he has the servants move all the art that’s left undamaged out of the gallery. That night, the screaming is accompanied by a horrible ripping noise. The next morning, the servants find terrible gouges in the walls and the doorframe, like something was trying to claw its way out.

On the fourth night, Alfred decides it’s best that he sleeps in the old gamekeeper cottage at the edge of the estate. He’s not much of a hunter, so they haven’t had a gamekeeper in years. He settles into sleep, confident that he won’t be disturbed.

It’s just past midnight when something taps at the door. Alfred tries to ignore it, but the tap comes again. With a growled expletive, the earl pushes himself to his feet and stalks to the door. “Yes, I know about the screaming, you—” He flings open the door and stops dead.

“Father,” the pale, ghostly visage of his son whispers. There’s no moonlight tonight and Alfred can barely make him out. “Father, how could you?”

The Earl de Lettenhove faints dead away.

***

“Eight hundred crowns.” Alfred Pankratz hands the coin purse to Coën with a trembling hand. “Just make it go away.”

Coën pointedly doesn’t look at Lambert, who he’s sure is doing a shit job at hiding his triumphant expression. “Of course, my lord.”

***

“He took the bait!” Lambert crows as he returns to the campsite, holding a coin purse aloft. “Eight hundred crowns if we’ll slay the wraith tonight.”

“Tonight?” Geralt frowns. “Doesn’t give us a lot of time.”

“We couldn’t think of a good excuse to delay,” Coën says, jumping down from his horse’s back. “And he’s eager to have it done with. You made a convincing wraith, Jaskier. He’s shaken up.”

Jaskier smiles thinly. He knows he hasn’t quite lost the starved, pinched look he developed over the winter, though he doesn’t think he quite looks wraith-like. Turning to Aiden, he asks, “You’re the expert here. What do you think is best?”

Aiden shrugs. “Simple’s probably best. I break in and start screaming. Coën and Lambert come to ‘kill’ me. From the placement of the windows in the portrait gallery and the study, there will be no way that those of us in the portrait gallery and those of you in the study will be able to communicate. Someone will need to stand outside and convey signals between us.”

“I can do that,” Eskel says. “I’m not stealthy. Barely made it in and out to Axii the guard the other night.”

Aiden nods. “Then Geralt, you go with Jaskier to the study to steal the lute.”

Jaskier takes a shaky breath and looks up at the sky. It’s getting late in the afternoon. It’s only a matter of hours before the sun sets, and then he’ll be heading back to his family’s estate for what will probably be the last time. The others are talking, but he’s not paying any of them a lick of attention, staring down at a beetle crawling through the grass.

A hand touches his leg and Jaskier startles, but it’s only Geralt. Only then does Jaskier realize that the other four witchers are now scattered around the camp, making their preparations for tonight. It’s only Geralt and Jaskier sitting around the pile of burnt wood that was their campfire the night before.

“Can you do this?” Geralt keeps his voice low, even though the other witchers can surely hear them.

Jaskier blinks, then smiles broadly. “Why, of course. I know I’m not a seasoned witcher like the rest of you, but—”

“Jask.” Geralt’s expression gentles. “Can you do this? Because if you can’t, you can just draw me a map and tell me where I need to go. You can wait here.”

It is so very tempting. If Jaskier waits at the campsite, he won’t need to pass the chair where his father used to make him sit whenever he was disobedient. He won’t need to walk through the gardens where he used to play with his sisters, until they grew old enough to realize that the key to their father’s favor was turning against their fuck up of a little brother. He won’t have to look out the window through which he watched his favorite tutor walk away after she was dismissed for being too soft on him.

But Jaskier can’t ask the witchers to risk their necks for him and not be there in case their deception is discovered. He’d rather he face the brunt of his father’s anger.

“No.” Jaskier shakes his head. “Thank you, but I should be there.”

Geralt squeezes Jaskier’s leg and it occurs to Jaskier that he can’t remember the last time that his friend touched him just to touch him. Geralt doesn’t hesitate to yank Jaskier out of the path of a monster or tend to his wounds. He barely grumbles anymore whenever they have to share a bed. On cold nights, he’ll even hold Jaskier close to share body heat. But a touch that’s meant simply to offer comfort is a rare and precious thing and Jaskier can feel a lump of emotion rising to his throat.

“Thank you,” he whispers again. “None of you had to do this. I never would have expected this from any of you. We could just take those eight hundred crowns and buy another lute.”

“Nah, I think the others would do it without us. They’re having too much fun.”

Jaskier snorts, then sobers. “Why are you doing this?”

Geralt takes a moment to mull over his answer, before he says, “Can’t go back and make your father not an asshole. Can’t make it so you didn’t spend a winter hungry and cold. But this is something I can do.”

“This isn’t something you have to fix, Geralt. It’s not your responsibility.” A horrible thought occurs to Jaskier. “You don’t feel guilty because you weren’t there, do you? Because you had no reason to think I wasn’t safe at Oxenfurt. It’s not your fault.”

Geralt shrugs. “Still want to fix it.”

“But why?” Jaskier wants to ask, but then he’ll feel too much like a child, asking the same question over and over.

Geralt pushes himself to his feet. “Going to go try and catch something for dinner.”

Jaskier is fairly certain he’ll be too nervous to eat, but he nods and goes to retrieve the notebook that Geralt made a big production of just happening to find in Vizima out of his bag. There’s nothing else to do in the hours until they make the journey to the Pankratz estate, so he may as well compose. But no sooner has he settled down then Lambert plops down on the ground next to him.

“Did Geralt ever tell you about his mother?” he asks.

Jaskier goes still, quill hovering over the paper. “No,” he says cautiously. “Geralt doesn’t offer up any personal information about himself unless it’s under duress. I don’t think he would have told me his name if I hadn’t guessed.”

Lambert snorts. “No, probably not. Well, most of us witcher trainees were children of surprise, like me and Eskel, or orphans like Aiden and Coën. Not even the most shitbag parent would willingly send their kid to become a mutant. But Geralt’s mother? Handed him over to Kaer Morhen without hesitation. Left him at the foot of the mountain all alone in the woods. Didn’t even say goodbye.”

“How old was he?” Jaskier asks, horrified.

“Five, maybe six?”

Jaskier can’t imagine Geralt as a child. He wonders if young Geralt was as reserved and shy as he is as an adult, or if that’s something that the harshness of witcher training and years of solitude on the Path drilled into him. “Oh, poor Geralt.”

“He looked for her after he left Kaer Morhen,” Lambert says. “I’m pretty sure he was hoping that it had all been a mistake, that she’d been tricked or bewitched or something, but he never found her.”

Jaskier closes his eyes. He doesn’t know Geralt’s mother—doesn’t even know her name—but he hates her with a ferocity that surprises him. “So that’s why he wants to get my lute back.”

“Don’t think it’s the only reason. But it’s probably part of it.” Lambert claps Jaskier on the shoulder. “He’s never going to have the life he would have if his mother hadn’t been a piece of shit, but he can get you your life back.”

Jaskier hears Lambert's footstep retreat as the witcher walks away. He sits there, eyes closed, for a long time.

***

Geralt is preparing to skin and dress the two rabbits he just caught for dinner when he hears footsteps approaching from behind him. He recognizes the gait and the heartbeat without turning around. “Didn’t think I could handle a couple of rabbits, Esk?”

“Better safe than sorry.”

“Hm.” Geralt’s lips quirk and he straightens up to face his brother, tossing him one of the rabbits. “If you’re here, make yourself useful.”

Eskel rolls his eyes, but obligingly gets out his own knife and gets to work. “What are we really doing here, Wolf?”

Geralt looks up in exasperation. “Not you too. Jaskier keeps asking me that."

“Yeah, maybe he knows you’re not telling him the whole truth. He seems like a smart kid.”

“He has his moments.” Geralt keeps his eyes focused on the rabbit in his hands, like he’s worried it will come back to life and fight back.

“His heartbeat is steady whenever he tells you he would be fine getting another lute. He's not lying.”

“He doesn’t need another lute. He already has one perfectly good one.” Geralt is surprised by the viciousness of his own tone.

Eskel cocks an eyebrow. “Geralt, you’re a good friend. A good brother.”

Geralt grunts, uncomfortable at the praise.

“I know you’d go to the ends of the Continent for me or for Lambert, for Vesemir or Coën, maybe even for Aiden,” Eskel says. “You’d kill or die for us. You’d give us the clothes off your back. You’d rescue us if we were in danger or avenge us if you were too late. But you wouldn’t risk pissing off the third most powerful man in Redania just because someone had stolen from us.”

Geralt wants to protest, but he can’t. Eskel has always been able to see through his bullshit better than anyone. “I thought about inviting him to Kaer Morhen this winter. If I had, none of this would have fucking happened.”

“Why didn’t you?”

Geralt shrugs. “Talked myself out of it. Didn’t seem like a good idea.”

“Were you afraid he’d realize you were in love with him?” At Geralt’s undoubtedly stunned expression, Eskel chuckles. “You’re not subtle about it, Wolf. We all knew before we even saw you together. You talk about him enough.”

“Do not,” Geralt grumbles.

“You were almost as bad as Lambert pining over Aiden all winter.”

Geralt flicks rabbit guts at him in retaliation.

Eskel doesn’t even flinch. “You can invite him to Kaer Morhen next winter. He can bring his lute. Might be nice to have some music around the keep.”

Geralt is warmed by the thought.

“But you may as well tell him how you feel,” Eskel says. “Before he figures it out himself.”

Geralt doesn’t dignify that with a response.

***

Jaskier can hear Aiden wailing upstairs as he and Geralt make their way through the darkened first floor corridor of his family home, down the halls he walked as a child so many times. Jaskier tries not to let the memories drown him, focusing on what he and the witchers are here to do. Even though he knows his father is probably safely sequestered in his room, he expects to find Alfred lurking around every corner.

From upstairs, he hears Lambert let out a battle cry.

“Can’t tell who’s having more fun,” Geralt mutters, sounding amused.

Jaskier smiles, heartened by the fact that at least someone is enjoying this.

They reach the door of his father’s study and Jaskier hesitates with his hand on the door. Geralt’s hand covers his and together, they turn the doorknob and push open the door. The study is exactly how Jaskier remembers it: an enormous oak desk dominating the room, the head of a buck some servant probably slew hanging on the wall, a decanter of whiskey on the sideboard. Squinting through the darkness—the only light in the room is the moonlight filtering through the window—Jaskier looks around the room. His heart plummets.

“Fuck, it’s not here,” he whispers.

Geralt paces the length of the room, like he expects to find the lute hidden under the rug or behind the curtains. “Where else could it be?”

“I don’t know.” With a horrible, sinking sensation, Jaskier wonders if his father really did destroy or sell his things. Maybe his beloved lute is nothing more than a pile of kindling right now.

Geralt goes to the window to signal to Eskel that they didn’t find the lute, then turns back to Jaskier. “Do you think he’s keeping it in his bedroom?”

“I don’t see why he would. I doubt he would want to cuddle up to it in his sleep.”

“Your old bedroom?”

“Maybe, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d gutted my bedroom and turned it into a guest chamber.”

“Hm.” Geralt looks thoughtful for a moment, then his expression changes. “Get under the desk. Someone’s coming.”

“What—” But Geralt is already seizing Jaskier by the wrist and dragging him under the desk, just as the study door opens.

The earl’s desk is large, but the space underneath it is fairly small and Jaskier and Geralt are crammed together. As Jaskier listens to the newcomer, most likely his father, moving about the study and lighting a candle, his heart hammers in his chest. If Alfred sits down at his desk, he’s certainly going to notice the two of them huddled there. And what the fuck is his father doing here? He’s supposed to be sequestered in his bedroom, far from the danger of the wraith.

His question is answered when he hears the sound of the decanter of whiskey being opened and liquid being poured into a glass. Alfred probably ran out of the whiskey in his bedroom and was desperate enough to seek more. Jaskier wonders if his father is trying to drink away his guilt and feels a vicious twist of satisfaction at the thought.

Geralt moves closer to Jaskier as Alfred’s footsteps grow closer, like he’s preparing to put himself between Jaskier and incoming danger. Jaskier feels a surge of affection for his friend. His father may have been a frightening figure when he was a boy, but he’s no threat to Jaskier when Geralt is next to him. Jaskier is fairly certain that Geralt would rip his father’s arm off before he let Alfred touch him.

For what feels like a small eternity, they listen to Alfred pace and sip his whiskey. Jaskier tries not to be very aware of the protective hand on his back and the way Geralt’s entire body presses against his. This is very much not the time, but Geralt is warm and he bathed in a pond earlier, so smells pleasantly of soap and only a little bit of horse. Jaskier has to tamp down on the urge to curl closer and take as much comfort as he can.

Next to Jaskier, Geralt stiffens, his hand on Jaskier’s back pressing harder. A moment later, the door flies open.

“My lord.” It’s Lambert, sounding out of breath. “You were supposed to wait in your bedchambers.”

Alfred harrumphs. “I won’t be made prisoner in my own home by some beast.”

Jaskier grits his teeth.

“Shouldn’t you be killing it?” Alfred demands. Upstairs, Aiden is still wailing.

“It’s too strong,” Lambert says, voice wavering. “My companion is dead, burned up by its wrathful magic. There isn’t even dust left for me to return to his school.”

Geralt lets out a tiny huff at Lambert’s dramatics. Jaskier makes a mental note to introduce Lambert to the traveling players he met the winter before. The witcher may be a natural talent.

“Without a body to destroy, it will be near impossible to kill it,” Lambert says. “And it’s grown strong enough that it won’t be confined to the portrait gallery any longer. It will be able to wander the halls.”

Alfred makes a sound like a man who just choked on a sip of whiskey. “There must be something you can do.”

“Do you have anything of your son’s? A beloved object, something he cherished above all else? I can take it and destroy it. That might be the only way to save you and your home.”

“I… I don’t… Julian was a feckless fool, interested only in himself.”

“Everyone loves something.” Lambert’s voice hardens. “Even the biggest bastard.”

If Alfred realizes that the bastard in question is him, he gives no indication. “That cursed lute. I took it from him, along with his other ill-gotten goods, paid for with my—”

Lambert interrupts him. “Give it all to me. I’ll destroy all of it, just in case. Where are your son's things?”

“Upstairs, in his old room.”

“Show me. Quickly, before it's too late.”

Their footsteps retreat and the door opens and closes. The candle remains burning, casting a dim light under the desk.

Jaskier sags in relief. “Well,” he says. “This feckless fool could use a drink. Want to see if he left any whiskey?”

Geralt doesn’t reply for a moment. Finally, he says, “He’s wrong, you know.”

“You’ll need to be more specific.”

“About you not caring about anything but yourself. You’re good at what you do and you obviously care.”

Jaskier can feel his face heating. “Despite the lack of accuracy in my songs?”

“Hm. That’s something we could work on.”

Neither of them move. Finally, Jaskier says, “Lambert told me about your mother earlier.”

He can tell Geralt is grimacing without even looking at him. “Lambert talks too much.”

“Undoubtedly.” Jaskier hesitates. “I’m sorry that happened to you. You deserved better.”

“We usually don’t get what we deserve.” Geralt shrugs. “It was a long time ago.”

“I suppose now I understand why you were so determined to get me my lute back.”

“That wasn’t the reason, Jask.”

Jaskier twists around to face him. “Then what was?”

“You were hurt,” Geralt says. “And I wanted to make it better. Because you… you matter to me.”

Jaskier feels like his heart might beat out of his chest. “Geralt,” he says, struggling to keep his voice light. “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. Next, you’re going to be admitting that we’re friends.”

“We are.”

Jaskier puts his hand to his chest. “Fuck, you can’t just say things like that to me without preparing me first. I might swoon.”

Geralt snorts. “You’re fucking ridiculous.”

“Why, yes.” Jaskier can feel a slow, stupid grin spreading across his face. “And that’s why we’re friends.”

“No,” Geralt says and for a horrible moment, Jaskier thinks that Geralt’s going to take it all back and say that they’re not friends after all. “We’re friends because you’re a good man.”

“Geralt, all these sweet words. I feel a song coming on.”

“Don’t make me regret getting you back your lute.”

“You won’t.”

“No.” Geralt sighs. “I won’t.”

And then Geralt of Rivia is kissing him and Jaskier forgets everything he was going to say. Geralt’s lips are warm and a little chapped, gentle and almost tentative against Jaskier’s, like he’s giving Jaskier the chance to flinch away. It takes Jaskier a moment to realize that he is indeed being kissed and didn’t fall and hit his head, and then he’s kissing back with five years’ worth of pent-up longing. He didn’t think it would be possible for him and Geralt to get closer, but they manage, with Geralt practically pulling Jaskier into his lap.

When they come up for air, Jaskier gasps, “You know, which should stay down here for a while longer. Just in case.”

“Hm. Probably right.”

“Don’t want to ruin all of Lambert’s excellent acting by stumbling right into my father.”

“No, he’d never let us live that down.”

“Shouldn’t risk it.”

“Shouldn’t risk it,” Geralt agrees and kisses him again.

***

“There you fucking are,” Lambert says when Jaskier and Geralt finally emerge and find the other four witchers waiting for them. “We thought a real wraith had gotten you.”

Geralt clears his throat. “Had to wait for the coast to be clear.”

Jaskier nods, deciding to pretend that the witchers won’t be able to smell the lingering arousal on them and see their kiss swollen lips, the bruise sucked into Jaskier’s throat, and the mess that Jaskier’s fingers made of Geralt’s hair. “Yes, we didn’t want to risk it.”

“Huh,” Eskel says mildly. “Pretty sure the earl went straight up to his bedroom as soon as he gave Lambert Jaskier’s things.”

Jaskier can’t even focus on coming up with a pithy response, because that’s when he notices the lute case in Coën’s hands. He makes a punched-out noise.

Coën, who looks remarkably good for a man who was allegedly incinerated by a wraith earlier, hands the case over. “It doesn’t look like it’s damaged, but I’m no expert.”

With shaking hands, Jaskier opens the case up and runs his hand over the smooth wood. “She’s perfect.”

Geralt loops an arm around Jaskier’s waist, squeezing gently.

“He gave us your knapsack back too,” Lambert says. “Didn’t want to look to make sure everything is there, because I don’t want to know what the fuck you have in there—”

Aiden leans against his lover. “You’re ruining the moments, Lambskin.”

Later, Jaskier will find the time to be delighted by “Lambskin.”

“Thank you all,” he says hoarsely, unable to take his eyes off his beautiful lute. “Seriously, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Of course,” Eskel says gently. “You’re Geralt’s bard. That makes you family.”

Jaskier swallows hard, leaning into Geralt’s touch and feeling more loved than he has in a long, long time.

***

Eight months later

Kaer Morhen is colder than any place Jaskier has ever been in his life. Some days, he swears the temperature of the keep is more frigid than the outside air. The very walls seem to radiate icy cold. He goes about piled with blankets, coats, and thick woolen clothing, so bundled up that Lambert frequently makes a show of mistaking him for a lump of spare blankets. His pointed comments that Nazair or Medinna would be a perfectly lovely place for a witcher stronghold have gone entirely unheeded.

But there’s nowhere else on the Continent that Jaskier would rather be, especially on mornings like this, where he wakes up snug in Geralt’s arms, the witcher’s furnace warm body chasing away the chill of the room. Geralt makes a half-hearted noise of protest as Jaskier buries his ice cold nose into the valley between his pecs, but he doesn’t push him away.

“If you didn’t want to deal with cold noses, my love, you should have brought me to Toussaint for the winter,” Jaskier mumbles into his lover’s chest.

“You’ll get disemboweled by the Duke of Beauclair if you ever go back to Toussaint.”

“Yes, but there will be wine and sunshine before I’m disemboweled.”

Geralt strokes a hand through his hair. “Pass isn’t snowed in yet. If you want to leave, we might be able to make it down the mountain.”

Jaskier sits up, suddenly wide awake. “Oh, I hope you know that when I’m complaining, I’m not really complaining. I love it here. I love being with you. I love getting to know your brothers better. Anyway, Aiden told me he’s going to teach me knife tricks later, so we can’t leave.”

“Fuck.” Geralt covers his hand with his eyes. “Pack your things. We’re leaving after breakfast.”

Jaskier laughs and cups his cheek in his hand. “Thank you for inviting me.”

Geralt doesn’t uncover his eyes, but he can’t hide the way his lips twitch. “Should have invited you sooner. It would have saved us a lot of trouble last winter.”

Jaskier glances over at his lute, which is leaning against the wall by the door. “It turned out okay in the end.”

He thinks of the Jaskier of this time last year, heading back to Lettenhove full of hope for an amicable reunion with his father. He thinks of leaving Lettenhove empty handed, scrounging for food in the streets of Novigrad, feeling more alone than he ever has in his life. Then he looks down at Geralt, peaceful in the morning sunlight. He looks at their things, scattered together around the room. From somewhere down the hall, he hears the deep rumble of Eskel’s voice, followed by Coën’s laughter.

There are many wonderful things about loving Geralt of Rivia. One of the most wonderful is the knowledge that Jaskier will never be alone again.

Jaskier slips out of bed, grimacing— even through his thick woolen socks, he can feel how cold the flagstone floor is— and hurries to get his lute. When he slips back into bed and settles down with it in his lap, Geralt is watching him with soft golden eyes.

“What are you writing a song about now?” Geralt asks.

Jaskier smiles down at his witcher, hopelessly fond. “Loneliness and the lack thereof.”

“Hm.” Geralt closes his eyes again. “You can write a song about anything, can’t you?”

Jaskier watches the gentle rise and fall of Geralt’s chest, the soft curl of his lips, the way his white hair fans out across the pillows. “I have plenty to sing about, my love.”

***