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Songbird

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The first that either Geralt or Jaskier knows of it is when a young bard - even younger than Jaskier, so green he’s grass-colored - slumps down across the table from Jaskier, eyeing the witcher in the corner warily, and demands, “How did you do it?”

“...Do...what?” Jaskier asks. Geralt sighs into his ale. He’s going to have to get the bard out of yet another stupid predicament, isn’t he.

“Convince a witcher to let you accompany him!” the other bard wails. “I’ve been trying for months, and the damned brute keeps driving me off! He threatened my lute! Did you somehow manage to find the only good-tempered witcher on the continent?”

“...No,” Jaskier says, looking as baffled as Geralt feels. “I definitely did not find a good-tempered witcher.” He glances over at Geralt and shrugs eloquently. “I might more accurately describe him as grumpy, or perhaps brooding, in of course the most manly and majestic sort of way, but certainly not good-tempered.”

Geralt hums and takes a long drink of ale.

“Then how did you convince him to let you be his bard?” the other bard demands. “I must know! We’ve all been trying -”

Who all?” Jaskier cuts in.

“Well, pretty much everyone who’s graduated from Oxenfurt in the last five years,” the other bard admits. “Everyone wants to write the next Toss a Coin, and your ballad of the Wolf and the Griffin is simply inspired, and clearly the next big thing in song-writing is going to be adventures! Daring swordfights! Dashing heroes! Beautiful sorceresses left swooning!”

Geralt is reasonably sure Yennefer has never swooned in her life.

“So...a couple of dozen bards...are trying to convince witchers across the continent to let them tag along,” Jaskier says slowly.

Geralt turns that over in his head, trying to imagine Lambert being accosted by an enthusiastic bard. Or Eskel. Or Vesemir.

...Fuck, what a mess. The bards are going to be lucky if they aren’t gutted.

“Yes,” the strange bard wails. “I’ve tried five times to convince this one! He’s even of the same school as yours! What did you do? What’s the trick?”

Geralt firmly resists the urge to cover his face with his hands. From the same school - there aren’t that many Wolf School witchers left. This callow fool probably has been dogging Lambert’s heels.

Jaskier turns and looks at Geralt for a moment, confusion clear on his face. “I. What did I do, Geralt? I know it wasn’t my singing, or my remarkable charisma, or indeed my charming personality and sparkling wit.”

Geralt glares at Jaskier and sips his ale again. Why did he agree to let Jaskier tag along? Because Jaskier just kept...being there, he supposes, and for all Geralt grumbles, Jaskier’s not that annoying. Well. Actually he is, but between the honestly fairly good songs (not that Geralt ever plans to tell Jaskier that), and the willingness to help Geralt patch himself up, and the utterly inexplicable way Jaskier has never been afraid of Geralt, even when Geralt is black-eyed and feral on potions, even when he’s violent, even when he’s cruel

Well, Jaskier is oddly good company. And Geralt...kind of likes having someone around who isn’t scared of him, to be perfectly honest. It’s a refreshing change from the constant fear and hatred of everyone else who isn’t either a witcher or Yennefer.

Maybe Geralt can put a stop to this whole fool endeavor - following other witchers around, fuck, what a terrible idea, Lambert alone would probably go through eight bards a year, either through killing them himself or just “accidentally” letting them get gutted by monsters - if he’s just pointed enough in his reply.

Slowly, he puts his mug down and rises, looming over both bards as he plants both fists on the table and glares, as fiercely and forebodingly as he can. Jaskier grins; the other bard squeaks and shrinks back, wide-eyed and reeking of terror. “If you want to follow a witcher,” Geralt rumbles, “the trick is to not be afraid.”

He growls the last word right in the little idiot’s face, and the strange bard pisses himself. The acrid smell is pungent enough that even Jaskier wrinkles his nose.

“Ohfuck,” the bard squeals, and tips over the bench in his haste to be elsewhere. Geralt sits down, scowling, and finishes his ale.

“Well,” Jaskier says, “that was impressively grumpy, I must say.”

Geralt rubs his forehead and signals for more ale.

*

The next bard catches up to them four weeks later, in a rather better-quality tavern: a woman, this time, resplendent in turquoise silk, with a lap-harp slung on her back. “Bard Jaskier,” she says, sitting down across from him and nodding warily to Geralt. “I’ve come to beg your advice.”

Jaskier beams at her. “Any advice I have is yours, of course, o vision of loveliness!”

Geralt glowers into his stew. It’s fairly good stew, and might not deserve the glower, but he has a bad feeling about this conversation.

How did you convince your witcher to allow your company?” the woman asks. “I have pled my case four times now, and each time, the witcher I wish to follow has refused me very rudely!”

Please let there not be two of these idiots following Lambert around, Geralt asks whichever god looks after fools and witchers. Please let this young idiot have latched onto - onto one of the Griffin School, or something.

“Ah,” Jaskier says, glancing at Geralt. “Well, the last person to ask me that got an answer straight from the horse’s - or in this case the witcher’s - mouth, and what Geralt said was that the trick was not being afraid.”

Geralt nods curtly. He’s honestly a little surprised Jaskier remembers that. Certainly Jaskier doesn’t seem to have figured out how fucking unique it makes him, that he isn’t afraid of Geralt.

“Not afraid,” the woman asks, voice rising to a pitch that’s genuinely unpleasant to Geralt’s sensitive ears. “But - but they’re -”

Geralt cuts her off with a low growl. He’s not in the mood for whichever litany of faults this woman has come up with, all of which will boil down, in the end, to the same thing: But they’re not human. They’re monsters, just like the ones they kill.

“See?” the woman demands of Jaskier. “How are you supposed to not fear that?”

Jaskier looks hard at Geralt, as though genuinely trying to parse out what makes him so terrifying. Geralt glares back. He knows what people see: white hair and slitted golden eyes and scars, and the breadth of his shoulders, and his swords upon his back a constant threat. Finally, Jaskier shrugs.

“I mean, he’s hardly going to hurt us,” he says, turning back to the woman. “We’re not monsters.”

She stares at Jaskier in utter bafflement for a long moment, then tosses her hair back and gets up with a huff. “Well, keep your secrets,” she says snippily. “One of us will figure it out sooner or later, and then you won’t be so unique anymore, Bard Jaskier.” She stomps off. Jaskier turns and gives Geralt an eloquent shrug.

“No idea what that’s about,” he says. “More wine?”

Geralt nods. More wine sounds like a very good thing right about now.

*

The third person to find them isn’t a bard at all. It’s Lambert, looking as miserable as Geralt has ever seen him. He finds them camping on the road, and slinks into the clearing like a hunted fox, glancing around in all directions as though worried that something is going to leap out of the bushes. He gives Jaskier a long and suspicious glare before settling across the fire from Geralt.

“How do you get rid of them?” he demands, without any greeting at all.

Geralt raises an eyebrow at him. “‘Them’?”

“Fucking bards,” Lambert snaps. “There must be eight or ten of them following me around! I am this fucking close to murdering the whole clutch of them!”

Geralt gestures at Jaskier, who is cradling his lute close like he’s worried Lambert might have a go at smashing it - a fairly sensible worry, as it happens - but still doesn’t smell like fear at all. “Does it look like I can make them leave?” he asks drily.

“At least you’ve only got one, and he’s halfway tolerable,” Lambert grumbles. Jaskier perks up like a dog that’s been tossed a juicy bit of meat.

“See, Geralt? He thinks I’m good company! Maybe I should follow him around instead of you, grumpy wolf!”

Geralt sighs and rubs his forehead. Lambert gives Jaskier a good enough glare that Jaskier shuffles around the fire closer to Geralt, as though for protection.

“Tell them you’ll smash their instruments if they keep bothering you,” Geralt says at last. “Far as I can tell, it’s the only thing most of them value more than their lives.”

Lambert scowls and nods. “The one really annoying one whose lute I threatened to break has left me alone. Alright. I’ll try it.” He eyes Jaskier again. “Oughta break your lute, for starting this whole thing,” he adds bitterly.

Jaskier squeaks and clutches his lute tighter. Geralt sighs again. “Leave him alone,” he says wearily.

“Yeah, yeah, I won’t mess with your little songbird,” Lambert says, waving a hand to dismiss the whole notion. “Leave the White Wolf’s things alone, blah blah blah.” He stands. “I’m camped a ways west. Going south in the morning.”

Geralt nods. “Going east,” he says. “You coming to Kaer Morhen this winter?”

“Most likely,” Lambert says. “See you there, if you haven’t gotten et yet.”

Geralt chuckles, and Lambert vanishes into the dark woods again. Jaskier sighs dramatically and loosens his hold on his lute.

“That was close,” he says. “And you defended me! See, I knew you liked me.” He gives Geralt a broad and slightly flirtatious grin. “Even your even grumpier friend knows you like me!”

“Lambert is not my friend,” Geralt says, grimacing at the thought. “He’s an asshole.”

“Geralt, my dear man, I hate to break it to you,” Jaskier says, and trails off with a laugh when Geralt growls at him. Then, worryingly, Jaskier grows pensive.

“You’ve never threatened my lute,” he says slowly. Geralt winces. “And Lambert said I was your little songbird. Do you actually like having me around, Geralt?”

It would be very, very easy to lie, or even just to make a noncommittal noise and let Jaskier assume whatever he likes. But this whole mess has made Geralt, however reluctantly, actually think about the fact that Jaskier is, incomprehensibly, not afraid of him; is a far better traveling companion these days than he was when they first met; is good company, if one allows for the unfortunate habits of sleeping with inadvisable people and constantly rehearsing songs.

“Yes,” he says. “You’re a good friend.”

Jaskier gapes at him for a long, long moment, and then he smiles so wide it lights up the clearing, and does a little, utterly undignified dance without getting up. “I knew it!” he crows. “I knew you really did like me!” And then, with a wicked tilt to his grin, “It looked like that hurt to say, o grumpiest of witchers.”

Geralt sighs as heavily as he can. Jaskier laughs and shuffles even closer, so he can lean against Geralt’s shoulder, and starts strumming gently at his lute. “There was a wolf who had a favorite flower,” he warbles, and then humphs and tries a different chord.

Geralt shifts so Jaskier’s weight is a little more comfortably nestled against his shoulder, and resigns himself to a long evening.

It could be worse. It could be any other bard...or anyone else, but Geralt’s songbird.