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Stop One Heart From Breaking

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The only question on Jaskier’s mind as the auction attendants tug him out of line and down to the sales desk is, I wonder how much this is going to hurt? That it is going to hurt is a given; alphas like hurting omegas, and ruined ones like Jaskier, available for a few coins at auction, are safer targets than unflawed omegas whose parents might possibly object to permanent damage. Jaskier hasn’t even bothered to pay attention to who was bidding on him, since it’s hard to predict how dangerous an alpha is just by looking at them, and making assumptions, Jaskier has learned, is just another way to be horribly disappointed later. He’s spent the auction staring off over the rooftops, trying to compose a song about the way the clouds move, comparing their ever-changing shapes to the transitory nature of a ruined omega’s life.

Though perhaps he should have been paying attention, he realizes, as the attendants deposit him - kneeling, of course - in front of his new owner, and Jaskier looks up (he’s never learned to be properly deferential, no matter how hard his previous alphas tried to beat it into him) and meets golden, slitted, utterly inhuman eyes. His new alpha is a witcher.

Well, fuck.

Jaskier has wondered, occasionally, how long he’ll have before he ends up with the alpha who will kill him, and now evidently he’s got his answer. A witcher will doubtless be even less patient with Jaskier’s...everything than any human alpha, and can hit a lot harder, too. Huh. Well, it’s been a pretty damn shitty life so far, but Jaskier is rather astonished to discover that death still does hold some fear for him. He doesn’t want to die - doesn’t want his broken body to be left on the side of some nameless road, tossed aside like so much garbage.

What he wants doesn’t particularly matter, of course. An omega’s desires don’t, as a general rule.

The witcher tugs Jaskier to his feet - surprisingly gently, all things considered; his grip isn’t even hard enough to bruise - and turns to lead the way out of the square, not bothering to look back and check if Jaskier is following. Jaskier is. He’s not quite fool enough to try to run away from a witcher - doesn’t fancy being beaten senseless any sooner than he has to be. And he’s maybe a little grateful that the witcher didn’t decide to test out his new purchase right away. Behind them, Jaskier can hear one of the other alphas doing just that with her new omega - can hear the omega girl’s quiet sobbing, the sickening wet sounds of the alpha’s movements. He doesn’t turn and look back. There’s no point; there’s nothing he can do, and at least his will be one pair of eyes that isn’t watching the girl’s pain and humiliation.

He watches the witcher’s shoulders instead, covered as they are in leather armor and the scabbards of two swords. They look...surprisingly tense, actually, like the witcher is deeply uncomfortable for some reason. The witcher leads the way to a stables on the outskirts of town, where he pays the young beta attendant a few coins before turning and gesturing for Jaskier to stay right where he is and vanishing into the building.

Jaskier could run, right now. He could just turn and flee into the town’s alleys, and from there…

Well, from there he could either be caught by an angry witcher and earn himself a truly unpleasant beating, or end up selling himself on the streets until winter comes and he has to either find a place in a brothel or freeze to death, or he could just end up on the auction block again, but this time with a brand on one shoulder to show he’s a flight risk, and shackles on his wrists instead of rope.

He stays where the witcher left him.

After a few minutes, the witcher emerges leading a handsome chestnut mare. He seems...faintly pleased to see Jaskier waiting obediently. Very faintly. Actually, Jaskier might be making that up. The witcher’s face seems to be made of marble; if he moves his mouth, maybe his cheeks will crack. Maybe witchers are actually carved from stone and given life by some strange alchemy. Though in that case, Jaskier has no idea why their creators would have bothered to give them dynamics, and the witcher is definitely an alpha; his scent is very, very strong. Not unpleasant, actually - Jaskier has smelled a lot of alphas, and most of them are rank and overpowering, but the witcher’s scent, surprisingly, is rich and warm like a hot stew at the end of a cold day - but still, very strong.

The witcher swings up onto his horse, not bothering with anything so petty as a mounting block, and then holds out a hand to Jaskier. Jaskier approaches warily and raises one hand, wondering if that’s what the witcher wants. Apparently it is. The witcher grabs his wrist and then holds out a foot as if to make a step. Jaskier swallows hard, just barely manages to get his foot high enough to rest atop the witcher’s boot - he would rather like a mounting block, honestly - and finds himself lifted effortlessly into the air.

He swings his other leg hastily over the horse’s haunches, and finds himself perched behind the witcher, rather uncomfortably wedged on the back of the saddle. The witcher makes an approving sort of humming sound and brings Jaskier’s arm around his waist, patting it gently as if to say Stay put, and then nudges the horse into motion. Tentatively, Jaskier brings his other hand around, clasping his fingers together, and earns himself another approving hum.

The horse makes her way out of the town and on down the eastern road, apparently unconcerned by anything going on atop her back. The witcher rides in perfect silence. Jaskier wiggles a little to get slightly more comfortable and wonders what the hell is going on.

*

By the time they finally stop for the night, Jaskier is very sore - he hasn’t ridden a horse in years, and sitting on the back of the saddle certainly doesn’t help at all - and very confused. This is the longest it has ever taken an alpha to get around to using him after buying him, and the witcher doesn’t even smell like lust - or at least not yet. Jaskier has just about decided that the witcher must want to do something so dreadful that even other alphas would find it appalling, and is therefore bringing Jaskier well outside of civilization to do it, and that Jaskier would have been better off if he’d run like hell when he had the opportunity, when the witcher turns the horse off the road and onto a tiny goat-track of a trail, which winds its way into the trees until Jaskier has thoroughly lost sight of the road and any possible landmarks. Any burgeoning ideas about slipping off the horse and fleeing vanish at once; Jaskier would probably just fall into a thornbush and get stuck immediately.

Finally the goat-track ends in a clearing, and Jaskier looks up in deepening alarm to see that there are two more witchers waiting there.

Jaskier’s witcher - the one who bought him - is pale as alabaster, with white hair and scars faded to silvery lines all over his moon-white skin, at least the few bits of it Jaskier can see. He’s a big man, at least an inch taller than Jaskier, with broad shoulders and more muscles than anyone really needs. The other two witchers are also large, broad-shouldered, muscular men, but otherwise as different as chalk and cheese. The nearer of them is brown-haired and brown-skinned and burly, and bears a set of facial scars that make him look like something out of a horror story, carving his cheek and curving his lips into a permanent snarl; he’s possibly even bulkier than the pale one who bought Jaskier. The third is shorter and slighter, possibly a few inches shorter than Jaskier - which is never good, alphas hate being shorter than omegas - with black hair that dips into a pronounced widow’s peak, skin somewhere between the scarred one’s brown and the pale one’s moon-white, and an expression of smirking amusement. They both have unsettling golden, slitted eyes.

“Well, Wolf, what did you find?” the scarred one asks, coming forward and offering Jaskier a hand. Jaskier swallows. Does he take it? Will that anger the pale one - Wolf, apparently, and isn’t that a worrisome name?

Apparently Jaskier hesitates too long, because the scarred witcher steps a little closer and reaches out with both hands to pick Jaskier up, plucking him off the horse without any evident effort and setting him down on his feet. The dark-haired one comes crowding in immediately, and Jaskier finds himself sandwiched between them and the horse, the pale witcher looking down at them all with an unreadable expression. Jaskier braces himself for whatever pain is about to occur.

But all that happens is that both new witchers lean in and sniff at his throat, deep dragging sniffs like they’re trying to get his scent all the way into their lungs. After a long moment, they lean back again.

“Well, alright, pretty boy,” the dark-haired one drawls. “I guess he’ll do.”

That’s either a good thing or a really, really bad one, and Jaskier knows what he’s putting his money on - or would if he had any money, or anything else worth using to place a bet, anyhow.

He is a bit surprised, though, that both other witchers also have astonishingly pleasant scents, neither as strong as the pale witcher’s but both much stronger than most alphas’ are. The scarred witcher smells like woodsmoke and moss and roasting chestnuts; the dark-haired one smells of apples, of all things, apples and spiced rum. Together, the three of them smell like a warm hearth at the end of a cold autumn day, comforting and safe. It’s an odd set of scents for a trio of witchers.

“Hm,” says the pale witcher - Wolf? His name can’t be ‘pretty boy,’ but the dark-haired witcher didn’t seem to be addressing that remark to Jaskier. He swings down off his horse and leads her away to untack her, stroking her neck gently, leaving Jaskier standing uncertainly between the two other witchers.

He really needs to stop thinking his day has gotten as bad as it’s going to get; it keeps getting worse.

The witchers regard him thoughtfully for a long moment, and then the scarred one says, “Wolf? Did you actually explain anything to him?”

“No,” Wolf says, not looking up from grooming his horse.

The scarred witcher sighs deeply and rubs his forehead in obvious exasperation. “You’ll have to excuse Geralt,” he says to Jaskier, quite conversationally. “We think he was dropped on his head as a child and knocked all his manners out.” He pauses, glances at the dark-haired witcher, and adds, “As opposed to Lambert, who never had any to begin with.”

“Hey,” the dark-haired witcher - Lambert? - says, scowling. “I’ve got manners.”

Jaskier is very, very confused.

“Being able to insult people in eight languages is not the same thing as having manners,” the scarred witcher sighs.

“Nine,” says the dark-haired witcher.

“What?”

Nine languages. I’ve learned how to say ‘your bearer fucked a camel’ in Zerrikanian.”

“Where did you even - never mind. Nine languages. Still not manners.”

“Sure they are,” Lambert says, and grins, showing a lot of very white teeth and some very sharp alpha canines. “Bad manners.”

The scarred witcher gives the strong impression of a man who desperately needs a drink. In other circumstances, Jaskier might have giggled at the sheer absurdity of the entire conversation; as it is, he stands there frozen, too confused and terrified to do anything at all. “Anyhow,” the scarred witcher says to Jaskier, “I apologize in advance for my pack-brothers, who are mannerless barbarians. I’m Eskel. What’s your name?”

That’s as shocking and baffling as everything else on this bizarre day has been. Alphas don’t ask for omegas’ names; all of Jaskier’s previous alphas have given him new names - new epithets, to be more accurate - as soon as they laid claim to him. He’s been ‘Slut’ and ‘Useless Whore’ and once, memorably, ‘Dogshit.’

But the witchers are watching him expectantly, so Jaskier licks his lips and says, hoping his voice won’t crack from fear, “I’m called Jaskier, alpha, if it pleases you.”

“Just ‘Eskel’ is fine,” the witcher says. “It’ll get a bit confusing if you’re calling us all ‘alpha’ all the time. This rapscallion is Lambert, and the quiet one is Geralt.”

“Rapscallion?” Lambert says indignantly. “Oh come on, I’m at least a ruffian! Maybe even a rogue!”

“You’re a scamp is what you are,” Eskel retorts, and Lambert squawks with affront. Jaskier has no idea what is going on. Alphas - well, alphas don’t jest with each other like this, especially not when there’s an omega around. Alphas posture and challenge and pretend they don’t want to kill each other, with varying levels of success at the pretense. But Jaskier can’t smell any anger; even Lambert isn’t truly annoyed, just faking it for the amusement of himself and his...pack-brothers?

“You look half-dead, Jaskier,” Eskel adds, looking Jaskier up and down. “Come and sit by the fire. Lambert, see if we’ve got a spare tunic that’ll fit him? And pants, too. And we’ll have to stop and get boots the next time we reach a decent sized town, Geralt.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, and Eskel ushers Jaskier over to the fire in the center of the clearing and gestures for him to sit on one of the logs pulled up to act as makeshift chairs. Jaskier wonders briefly if he ought to bend over the log to give the alphas easier access, but Eskel said sit, so Jaskier sits. A moment later, a wad of cloth lands in his lap, and he picks it up to discover it’s a tunic - one of Geralt’s by the rich, warm smell. It’s in far better shape than his own battered shirt, which is good only for rags, and not many rags at that.

“Well, put it on then,” Lambert says as he settles onto one of the other logs, and Jaskier shoots a quick look at Geralt, who is unreadable as ever, and strips out of his shirt, shrugging into the tunic with a soft sigh. It’s a little large, though not too much, and quite soft, and very warm.

And then he looks up to see all three witchers looking extremely pleased, even Geralt.

Jaskier shrinks in on himself a little, wondering what he’s just opened himself up to. Was this an excuse of some sort - do they need to delude themselves that now he owes them something because they gave him something, instead of admitting that they own him and can do anything they like anyhow? Or - or -

Eskel leans forward and ladles a bowlful of thick stew out of the pot bubbling gently over the fire, plucks a spoon from his belt-pouch, and hands both to Jaskier. “Eat,” he urges. “You can’t have had a decent meal in a while; I could see your ribs.”

Jaskier swallows hard. He hasn’t eaten well in...years, really. Most alphas don’t care to give their ruined omegas anything better than table scraps. And the stew smells good, turnips and carrots and venison, a rich thick broth that’s going to feel like heaven in his mouth. And Eskel said to eat. Tentatively, Jaskier takes a spoonful. It’s the best thing he’s eaten in years, and he can’t help the soft moan that rises from his throat. He stifles the noise as soon as he realizes he’s making it, and darts a glance up at the witchers, who are all watching him avidly. That’s...probably very bad.

But he’s far, far too hungry to stop eating without a direct order. He finishes the bowl - it was only about half full, which is honestly a good thing, since he would have kept eating until he was sick given the opportunity, he’s pretty sure - and Lambert hands him a waterskin. The water is cool and clean, and Jaskier drinks deep before he hands it back.

Then he settles his hands in his lap and looks at his owners - because by this point it’s pretty clear they’re all his alphas now, as frankly impossible as that seems.

“Right,” Eskel says. “So I’m guessing you’re a bit confused.”

Jaskier nods. ‘A bit confused’ is a severe understatement, but it’s accurate enough.

“We’re Wolf witchers,” Eskel says, tapping the silver medallion at his throat. The other two witchers are wearing identical medallions, all of them embossed with a snarling wolf’s head. “We’re a bit...different from human alphas. We work in a pack.” He grimaces. “I’m sorry, I’ve never tried to actually explain this before.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, and Eskel sighs.

“Yes, yes, alright, I shouldn’t have gotten on your case, it’s harder than it sounds.”

How he got that out of hm Jaskier has no idea.

“Our omega died last year,” Lambert says bluntly. “We can do without one, but it puts the whole fucking pack off kilter. We’ve been looking for one for months. Pretty boy brought you back, so he must think you’d suit.”

“You smell right,” Geralt says, the first full sentence Jaskier’s heard him utter.

“I do?” Jaskier squeaks.

Geralt nods. “Cinnamon and citrus,” he says, like that explains everything.

“It...goes,” Eskel says, gesturing like he can’t quite find the words. “Like - did you notice our scents all sort of mesh?”

Jaskier nods. “You smell like - like a warm hearth after a cold day,” he ventures.

“Yep,” Lambert says. “And you match.”

Jaskier’s scent has always been too sharp for most alphas, too lacking in omega sweetness. It’s part of why he’s been sold and re-sold so often; even his heat scent has never been appealing to any of his alphas. He’s not sure if he’s more terrified or oddly flattered that the witchers seem to like his scent.

“How did your omega die?” he asks hesitantly.

“Idiot tried to take on a kikimora queen without us,” Lambert grumbles. “Asshole idiot bastard.”

“He was also a witcher,” Eskel says. “We do not expect you to fight monsters. Actually, we’d prefer you stay far away from any fights.”

That sounds awfully like they’re planning on keeping him alive. But if their last omega was a witcher - Jaskier had no idea there even were omega witchers - they may well not understand how fragile a mere human is, compared to witcher strength. They could easily break him without meaning to.

On the other hand, to Jaskier’s continuing blank astonishment, the inhuman monster-killers have already been orders of magnitude kinder than any other alphas Jaskier has had. He’s wearing a warm tunic, he’s got a warm meal in his stomach, no one has put any bruises on him yet, he hasn’t been turned over a log or a saddle or a convenient bit of wall and fucked bloody, he’s been asked his own name - honestly, as far as first days with new alphas go, this one is the best Jaskier has ever had. Which is just sad, but that’s life, isn’t it now.

Jaskier’s a damned fool, and his insolence is going to surface again, probably as soon as he’s slept and gotten over a bit of the blinding terror that’s been consuming him most of the day, but for now - for now he can try to be the sort of omega these witchers want, can’t he? Can pretend, for an evening, that he might actually survive this. That he might be something more than a convenient fucktoy, to be used and discarded at his alpha’s pleasure.

“What do you expect of your omega, then?” he asks, trying to sound eager. He’s not sure how well he does.

To his surprise, the three witchers glance at each other almost hesitantly. It’s Lambert who finally says, “Just...be there.”

“Let us hold you,” Eskel adds. “Let us smell you.”

“Sleep beside us,” Geralt says. Which - which almost certainly isn’t a euphemism for fucking, Jaskier thinks. Nobody says ‘sleep beside us’ when they mean ‘be fucked anytime we feel like it.’

Eskel nods. “Everything else can be negotiated later,” he says firmly. “You look ready to fall over in a light breeze, and we - well, we all could use a night holding an omega.”

Lambert growls something that sounds like agreement. Geralt hums. Jaskier takes a deep breath. “Alright,” he says, willing himself to sound cheerful and unafraid. “Where do you want me?”

*

He ends up lying in the middle of a sort of nest of bedrolls, with Eskel on one side of him and Lambert on the other and Geralt wrapped around Lambert, one of Geralt’s big hands tangled with Eskel’s atop Jaskier’s chest. All three witchers keep taking deep breaths like they can’t get enough of Jaskier’s scent, and they’re all wearing clothes, and no one has so much as touched Jaskier beneath his Geralt-scented tunic.

It’s...surprisingly comfortable, actually.

He’s surrounded by alphas, but none of them are acting like alphas. No posturing, no growling, no hitting, no grabbing, no pain at all. They cuddle like - like puppies, almost.

Like wolf cubs, he supposes.

And something about being surrounded by alphas like this, being held so...so tenderly, is the word that comes to mind, something about that is making every instinct Jaskier has sit up and purr. He doesn’t know quite where it’s coming from, but he feels downright safe, even though by rights he should be terrified out of his mind. An omega between three alphas in the normal course of things has a decent chance of being mauled just as collateral damage as they try to kill each other.

These alphas, though, are definitely not trying to kill each other. It’s deeply, deeply weird.

He falls asleep without meaning to.

He wakes up warm - almost a little over-warm, actually - and still dressed, with Lambert sprawled half across his chest, drooling a little on the tunic, and Geralt and Eskel both snuggled up so tightly around the two of them that Jaskier’s not sure you could slide a piece of parchment between their bodies. It should be the sort of moment that makes Jaskier panic, but every breath he takes smells like warm-hearth-on-a-cold-day, and Lambert is purring deep in his chest, a low sound Jaskier’s never heard before, and honestly that was the best night’s sleep he’s had in years.

This is the longest Jaskier has spent around an alpha without being fucked since he was first sold. He’s not quite sure what to make of that.

Geralt wakes first, uncoiling himself from around Lambert and Jaskier with slow and gentle movements like he doesn’t want to rouse them. He meets Jaskier’s eyes and nods solemnly, and then goes over to stoke up the fire and start a pot of water heating over it, moving around the camp near-silently. It’s rather disconcerting to watch someone so large move so quietly.

Eskel wakes second, and lies there taking deep breaths for a long moment before he rolls easily to his feet. Lambert makes a cranky sort of noise and curls tighter around Jaskier, and Eskel looks down at both of them with what Jaskier rather thinks is a wry smile and shakes his head a little and goes to help Geralt tend the horses: Geralt’s handsome mare, an enormous black stallion, and a truly nondescript dun gelding.

Lambert wakes up about when Jaskier is starting to think he really needs to go and find a convenient bush to piss behind. He shoves himself up on one hand, blinking down at Jaskier, and then leans down and sniffs hard at Jaskier’s throat before bouncing to his feet and offering Jaskier a hand up. Jaskier takes it and is hauled effortlessly upright. How strong are witchers, anyhow?

None of them talk - clearly, none of them need to, the camp chores obviously a familiar routine. Jaskier escapes behind a bush for a few minutes and emerges to be greeted with a bowl of oat porridge - with dried fruit cooked into it and a drizzle of honey atop, no less - and Geralt pointing him at a spot on a log where he’ll be out of the way of the bustle of packing up the camp. The porridge is hot and filling and a little sweet, and Jaskier’s stomach is full for the second time in twelve hours, which may be the first time that’s happened in...oh, five or six years now.

Geralt lifts him up onto the stallion behind Eskel once they’re all packed and Jaskier has finished his breakfast, and Lambert on the dun gelding leads the way out of the clearing along the goat-track, and Jaskier hangs on to Eskel’s waist and wonders if this is all a baffling dream.

They head east again, away from the town where Jaskier was sold at auction, and none of them talk, and after a while Jaskier, lulled by the stallion’s easy pace and Eskel’s warmth, begins to hum.

He knows better. He really does. None of his alphas have ever liked it when he hums or - gods forbid - sings. Omegas are to be silent unless told to speak, after all, or when they’re being fucked or beaten so hard they can’t keep their cries in. But he’s warm - hell, they gave him new trousers, Lambert’s so they’re a little short in the leg but a league better than the scraps he was wearing, and a pair of thick socks that have his feet so warm he barely even misses having boots - and he’s full of pretty damn good food, and he doesn’t hurt more than a few hours of riding a horse can explain, and he spent the night wrapped up in the arms of three alphas who somehow, impossibly, smell like home and feel like safety.

So he hums, a little bouncy tune that sort of goes in time with the clopping of the stallion’s hooves, and he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it until Eskel says, “Oh! That’s you.”

Jaskier falls silent instantly, biting his lip nearly hard enough to bleed. Fuck.

“Well, don’t stop,” Lambert grumbles. “‘S nice to have something to listen to that isn’t the wind whistling through these idiots’ ears.”

“Good tune,” Geralt agrees, to Jaskier’s blank shock. “Got words?”

“Uh,” Jaskier says. “I...hadn’t come up with any?”

“You made that up?” Eskel asks, slewing around a bit so he can look at Jaskier over his shoulder. “Impressive! Don’t stop on my account - I was just surprised, is all.”

Don’t stop. Jaskier has literally never, in all his life, been told to keep making noise. Well, aside from various alphas hissing ‘Scream louder, slut,’ as they fucked him bloody, which does not count at all as far as Jaskier is concerned.

He swallows hard and begins, rather tentatively, to hum again. Eskel nods like he’s pleased, and Lambert begins waving one hand in the air like he’s conducting an invisible orchestra, and Geralt has a tiny, hair-thin smile on his unreadable face, so Jaskier hums a little louder, and when that’s greeted with nothing but Lambert’s enthusiastic conducting, a little louder again, and then he throws all caution to the wind and begins to sing, wordless notes that dance around the horses’ hooves and skirl through the air. Lambert whoops in approval, and Geralt actually bares his teeth in a grin - his canines are just as sharp as Lambert’s - and Eskel begins tapping his fingers on the pommel of the saddle in time with the beat.

Jaskier kind of feels like he might cry out of sheer happiness. Even if this moment is as fleeting as a song - even if tonight the witchers decide that it’s been long enough to play at indulging their new omega - even if he dies for this, it’s worth it, this glorious moment, surrounded by music and the smell of a warm hearth at the end of a long cold day.

*

They only stop briefly for luncheon, which is dried meat and hard biscuits and a little dried fruit, but Jaskier can’t complain; it’s still a lot better than what he got in the slave caravan or from any of his previous alphas, and they’re all eating the same thing, so it’s not as though he’s only getting their leavings the way alphas usually feed their ruined omegas. And in the afternoon, Lambert asks if he knows The Passionate Shepherd, which Jaskier does, and when he’s sung that, Eskel asks if he knows The Lament of the Lady of Shalott, and then Lambert wants Maid Marian and Her Robin - the bawdy version specifically - and then Eskel wants The Faerie Queen and the Ass, and then Geralt expresses a desire for an old folksong that Jaskier has to dredge out of the very depths of his memory, Sir Roland and the Sword, and by the time Jaskier’s finished singing that, it’s nearly dark.

And he’s spent the whole afternoon singing, to his alphas’ clear delight.

He’s never been allowed to spend an afternoon singing before.

They make camp in another clearing well away from the main road, and Jaskier is sat firmly on a convenient stump and told not to worry about trying to help, which he’d object to more except that he is quite sore, actually, the stallion having a rather broader back than the mare does, and also his extremely battered shoes aren’t much good for traipsing around in the woods. So he sits quietly and watches the easy grace of his alphas setting up camp: laying out a nest of bedrolls, digging a latrine off in the bushes a ways, feeding and watering and picketing the horses, building a fire - using a hand-sign that creates fire, which is terrifying and amazing in roughly equal measure - and setting a pot of water to heat before dumping the contents of a cloth ball into the water; the water instantly starts smelling like soup.

It is soup, in fact, good rich broth full of barley and carrot and turnip and little scraps of what might be beef, and Jaskier is going to go to sleep for two nights in a row with his stomach full of warm food and no bruises at all, which is, frankly, almost unbelievable.

He lies down in the middle of the bedroll-nest without any hesitation, and doesn’t even tense up when Eskel and Lambert curl around him. Geralt sits down on Lambert’s other side and regards the three of them with what sure looks, in the flickering firelight, like a deeply satisfied expression. “You fit,” he says smugly. “Thought you would.”

“Yes, yes, you’re the fastest and strongest and cleverest witcher in the world, now shut up and let me sleep,” Lambert grumbles against the side of Jaskier’s throat.

Eskel chuckles. “You heard the little wolf,” he says, and Lambert growls a little. Jaskier tenses - growling is never a good sign - but Eskel is still chuckling and Geralt is smiling and all Lambert does is cuddle Jaskier a little closer and lift one hand to swipe utterly ineffectively at Eskel’s shoulder.

“Bastard,” he grumbles. “‘M not little.”

“Always be littler than me,” Eskel teases. “But you’re faster, so I suppose everything evens out in the end.”

“Hmph,” Lambert snorts. “Asshole. Shut up already.” But there’s no real anger in his scent, no hint that he’s more than very mildly annoyed, and he’s still cuddling Jaskier like he never wants to let go. Eskel shakes his head a little and lifts one hand to make that strange gesture at the fire, which obligingly goes out; Geralt curls himself around Lambert, reaching around to rest his hand on Jaskier’s chest again, and begins to rumble a low, soothing, utterly unexpected purr that reverberates through their whole tangled heap.

Jaskier falls asleep warm and confused and - bafflingly, impossibly - safe in a pile of purring alphas.

Chapter Text

The next few days are nearly repeats of the first: up with the birds in the dim pre-dawn light, oat porridge for breakfast, a long morning’s ride going east and north and east again - they trade off who Jaskier rides with, presumably so as not to overstrain the horses - a plain luncheon, another long ride, and then a camp far enough off to the side of the road that the light of their fire won’t be visible, and a night spent cuddled in a heap of purring alpha witchers. They all encourage Jaskier to sing during the day, and none of them so much as lays a hand on him beneath his clothing, nor gropes him, nor bites nor grabs nor - well, anything Jaskier has come to expect of alphas. The bruises he picked up from the caravan heal to faint shadows, and he starts to get used to riding pillion, so his hips ache less each evening.

And they smell like safety, like a warm hearth on a cold day, like home. Maybe it’s foolish for Jaskier to start trusting them, but - well - they keep being kind. Thoughtlessly, easily kind, like they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Lambert swears and growls and shows his teeth, but he never smells like true anger, and he never touches Jaskier with anything but a sort of protective gentleness. Eskel looks terrifying, with those horrid scars, but he’s well-spoken and patient and even-tempered, and will explain anything Jaskier dares to ask. Geralt is actually the scariest, just because he’s so quiet and unreadable that Jaskier can’t tell what he’s thinking, but after a while Jaskier starts to be able to decipher at least a few of the alpha’s quiet hums and snorts, and he does notice that Geralt is very, very protective of both Jaskier and Lambert.

He asks Eskel about that, quietly, on an evening when Lambert is off hunting and Geralt is watering the horses down by a small stream. Geralt being protective of Jaskier makes a certain amount of sense, since Jaskier is undoubtedly the weakest person in their little company, but Lambert is a witcher and an alpha, not a mere human omega.

“Lambert’s the youngest of us,” Eskel explains, settling comfortably across the fire from Jaskier. Jaskier is stirring the soup, because he’d asked for something to do; this is something he can do without walking around, and they haven’t found him boots yet. “We - well, I mentioned Wolf witchers hunt in packs.” Jaskier nods. “When we’re...putting the packs together, I guess you’d say, choosing our pack-brothers, it’s about scent. It’s not an accident that ours go so well together. We have a...theory, I suppose you’d call it, that people with compatible scents work well together, and so far it seems to hold up pretty well. Geralt and I have been hunting together since we were first sent out on the Path - we’re the same age, we’ve been friends since we were boys, and our scents match so well that no one even bothered to suggest we split up. Our omega, Remus, was a fair bit older than we were; he smelled like mulled cider and fallen leaves, and he picked us for his pack as soon as we got our medallions.”

Jaskier nods. Autumn - his alphas smell like autumn, and he can definitely imagine their previous omega’s scent blending well with theirs.

“It was just the three of us for a decade or so,” Eskel continues, “but then we got back to Kaer Morhen one winter and there was this gawky boy just out of the Trial of the Grasses, smelling like apples and spiced rum.” Jaskier has a lot of questions, starting with ‘Where is Kaer Morhen?’ and ‘What is the Trial of the Grasses?’ and ‘Wait, how old are you?’, but he keeps his mouth shut. “We told the trainers that if he survived the rest of the Trials, we’d take him into our pack; he certainly suited us much better than he would have any of the other hunting packs. And he survived. But he’s a good twenty years younger than we are, so he’s always going to be the cub. He doesn’t need our protection - he’s a damn good witcher - but Geralt and I look out for him all the same.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says. That’s...oddly sweet, really. Like so many things about these witchers.

Eskel’s clearly in a talkative mood, and he hasn’t gotten angry about questions yet, so Jaskier ventures, “Where is Kaer Morhen?”

“Up in the Blue Mountains,” Eskel replies easily. “It’s the stronghold of the Wolf School. We’re heading there now - we winter there.”

“...How many witchers will be there?” Jaskier asks. He’s starting to get used to these three, but he’s not sure how he feels about spending the winter absolutely surrounded by witchers who might not be as cuddly and good-natured as his alphas.

“Not many,” Eskel says, and sighs. “There was...well. You’re too young to know about the pogroms; this was fifty years ago and more. Kaer Morhen was sacked, and so were most of the other Schools. We lost the ability to create more witchers, and many of our Schoolmates have died since then. There won’t be more than a dozen there this winter, if that.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says, wincing. No wonder they went looking for a mere human omega, then, if there won’t be any more witcher omegas like the fallen Remus. But ‘no more than a dozen’ is a nice comforting number, especially when three of those dozen will be his alphas.

“The only one who’s certain to be there is Vesemir,” Eskel says. “He’s the last surviving trainer, lives there year-round to keep the old place from collapsing entirely.”

“Coën said he’d come this year,” Lambert announces, plopping down beside Eskel and dropping a pair of cleaned rabbit carcasses on the ground in front of him. Jaskier jumps: he didn’t even hear Lambert approaching.

“How do you hear these things?” Eskel asks, shaking his head.

“I do all the supply runs,” Lambert points out. “Because unlike some Wolves I could name, I can actually speak in full fucking sentences and not just glower at people and scare them shitless. Which means sometimes people leave messages for me, if they think we’ll come through.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, from directly behind Jaskier. Jaskier jolts and squeaks, and is saved from toppling over into the fire by a strong hand clasping his shoulder.

“Yes, exactly like that, you asshole,” Lambert says.

“Sorry,” Geralt says, sitting down beside Jaskier. “Thought you heard me.”

“I didn’t,” Jaskier says meekly.

“He’s human,” Eskel says.

Geralt looks distinctly sheepish. “I forgot.”

Lambert rolls his eyes so hard it looks like it hurts. Eskel shakes his head and looks immensely weary. Jaskier stifles a laugh. For a bunch of big, well-armed, inhuman monster-hunters, the witchers really aren’t all that intimidating once one gets used to them.

*

Naturally, Jaskier is reminded the very next day that his alphas are, in fact, terrifying. Around midmorning they catch sight of a fairly large town up ahead, and Lambert calls back, “Hey, we can get boots and a coat for our buttercup.” Eskel, who has Jaskier up pillion behind him today, nods.

“Good thinking,” he grunts. Geralt hums agreement.

The townsfolk scatter out of the way of the horses as the witchers ride in, and Jaskier huddles a little closer to Eskel’s back. By this point the nights he’s spent in the center of a pile of witchers have pretty much saturated him with their scent; they may not have fucked him, but he smells claimed all the same. It helps that he’s wearing another of Geralt’s spare tunics and is wrapped in Eskel’s cloak. Hopefully, no human alphas will be stupid enough to challenge three alpha witchers for a single over-tall, oddly scented omega.

They stop in the main square, and Lambert swings down to read the papers tacked to the noticeboard as Eskel and Geralt survey the shops. “Ah, shit,” Lambert says after a minute, and tugs a paper off the board, bringing it over to the other two, who swing down off their horses to read it. Jaskier ends up alone in Scorpion’s saddle, slipping down to sit in it properly for the first time.

“Little extra coin wouldn’t go amiss,” Eskel says after a minute. “And we can’t leave this until spring.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, scowling and crossing his arms, and they all turn and look at Jaskier.

“We can’t bring him with us,” Eskel says after a moment.

“He’d be great bruxa-bait,” Lambert smirks, and both Geralt and Eskel whack him - gently - on the back of the head.

“Room with a lock,” Geralt says finally.

Jaskier swallows hard. “What - what’s going on?”

“Let’s get a room, and we’ll explain,” Eskel says, and leads the way to the nearest inn. Lambert does the haggling, with Eskel and Geralt looming behind him and Jaskier tucked securely into the middle of their little triangle of broad-shouldered, dangerous alphas, and they herd him up the stairs and into the room Lambert acquires and then spend several minutes searching the room very carefully - for what, Jaskier’s not entirely sure. Whatever it is, they don’t find it. Geralt nods approval, and Eskel ushers Jaskier over to the only chair in the room. Lambert sprawls on the bed; Geralt leans against the door. Eskel settles on the floor, leaning back against the bed, and sighs.

“Alright,” he says. “So what’s going on is, there’s a contract up for what sure as hell sounds like a nest of bruxae in the forest south of here.”

“What’s a bruxae?” Jaskier asks.

“Bruxa, plural bruxae,” Lambert says. “They’re a type of vampire. Fast, sturdy, and they’ve got a nasty fucking scream. Only vulnerable to silver.”

Jaskier shudders. They sound horrible.

“If it is a nest, then it’s dangerous enough it’ll need all three of us,” Eskel continues. “And we can’t take you with us; you’d be at serious risk of getting eaten.”

“I would very much prefer not to be eaten,” Jaskier agrees.

“So we’ve got to leave you here,” Eskel finishes. “This room’s got a door with a good lock, and we’ll leave you with food. If you stay in here, nobody ought to bother you, and we shouldn’t be gone more than a day. Maybe two.”

Jaskier curls in on himself, shivering. Going into a vampire-infested forest sounds horrible, but staying here alone - without the protection of his alphas -

An omega alone is never safe, Jaskier’s learned that lesson very well. And a ruined omega has no legal protections at all.

Lambert rolls off the bed and lands on his knees beside Jaskier’s chair, holding something out: a dagger, hilt-first. “Here,” he says. “You know how to use this?”

Jaskier stares at him. Nobody gives omegas weapons: alphas are all understandably wary of what omegas might do if they got their hands on anything more dangerous than a butter knife. The dagger in Lambert’s hand is razor-sharp; it looks like it could cut flesh as easily as butter. Slowly, Jaskier wraps his hand around the hilt. It’s heavy, and warm from being worn close to Lambert’s skin. “Not really,” he admits. “But I’m pretty sure the sharp bit goes in the other person.”

Geralt hums approval. Eskel chuckles.

“Yeah,” Lambert says. “That’s the right idea, anyhow. Once we get to Kaer Morhen, Geralt can give you some training.”

“Geralt?” Jaskier asks, surprised.

Eskel grins. “He’s actually one of the best teachers you could have,” he says. “He even talks.”

“Hey,” Geralt grumbles. Lambert turns and sticks his tongue out at him, then turns back to Jaskier.

“I get cranky, and Eskel pushes too hard, but Geralt’s really fucking good at it,” he says, patting Jaskier’s hand like he’s trying to be reassuring. “By next spring you’ll be properly fuckin’ dangerous.”

Jaskier has never heard anyone suggest that a dangerous omega is a good thing before. He tightens his grip on the dagger and nods. “Alright,” he says. “I - I’d like that. And I can stay here while you’re gone. Just...don’t take too long?”

Eskel rolls to his feet and rumbles a soft, unhappy noise. “With our omega waiting for us? We’ll get this done in half the time.”

Geralt nods. Lambert snarls a little, apparently in agreement.

Geralt stays with him while Lambert and Eskel head out to get supplies and arrange for stabling for the horses, and meet with the alderman to announce their intention to take the contract. Geralt locks the door when they leave, and turns to Jaskier with a speculative sort of expression.

For a moment - just a moment - Jaskier is genuinely terrified. He hasn’t been alone with any of the witchers before, not like this, in a locked room where he can’t even think about running. And Geralt is more than capable of overpowering him without even breaking a sweat. Every bit of Jaskier’s experience screams that he’s about to be bent over the bed, or the chair, or even just pinned to the floor, and fucked bloody, no matter how he begs for mercy.

But of course it’s Geralt, and what he does is nod at the dagger in Jaskier’s hand and say, “Could do a first lesson now.”

Jaskier almost collapses with the sudden draining away of his fear. “Yes, please,” he says, and Geralt nods and beckons him forward.

He is a good teacher. Jaskier’s genuinely surprised. They don’t cover much, just the basic stance and how best to hold the dagger so he won’t drop it, but Geralt is patient and clear in his instructions, and when he touches Jaskier to move him into a better position, his hands are infinitely gentle. He doesn’t try to grope Jaskier under pretense of teaching him, either, which Jaskier should have expected, it being Geralt, but six years of dealing with alphas who weren’t Wolf witchers has taught Jaskier a lot of lessons that are awfully hard to unlearn.

Lambert and Eskel return after a surprisingly short time, and by midafternoon the room has been turned into a tiny sanctuary, food and water set out on the dresser, spare tunics heaped on the bed to allow Jaskier to sleep surrounded by his alphas’ scents, and most astonishing of all, a few newly-purchased secondhand tunics and pairs of trousers and a heavy cloak and a pair of boots bundled into a saddlebag for Jaskier. Jaskier is grateful for the clothing, but he must admit he’s a little sad to think he won’t be wearing Geralt’s tunics anymore.

All three witchers lean in to tuck their noses against Jaskier’s throat, one after another, taking deep breaths as though to try to memorize his smell, and then Eskel says roughly, “Lock the door, and don’t open it unless you can smell us on the other side.”

“Be safe,” Jaskier says softly.

“We will,” Lambert says, grinning cockily. “You stay safe, buttercup.”

Geralt just hums, but he’s also still breathing in Jaskier’s scent like it’s his last hope of the heavens. Feeling greatly daring, Jaskier raises a hand and strokes his fingers through Geralt’s moon-white hair. Geralt purrs and leans into the caress, so Jaskier does it again.

“How come Geralt gets pettings?” Lambert whines. Jaskier blinks at him for a moment, then raises his other hand, and Lambert nudges his head into it like a dog demanding scritches.

Eskel leans back against the door and watches, grinning crookedly, as both Lambert and Geralt lean against Jaskier hard enough to knock him back against the bedpost, heads tucked against his shoulders as he pets their hair, both purring like thunder.

Jaskier bites his lip a little, just enough to give him a little jolt of pain so he can make sure he’s not dreaming. This isn’t how alphas act - this sweet neediness, this desire for cuddling rather than brutal sex, this gentleness - it’s hitting him again, all of a sudden, how fucking weird this is.

Maybe he is dreaming; maybe he fell off the horse and hit his head as Geralt rode out of town that first day, and all of this is an elaborate hallucination.

It doesn’t feel like a hallucination, though, not when he’s surrounded by the scent of a warm hearth, by the inexplicable feeling of safety that these alphas radiate.

It’s Geralt who finally sighs and stands up, giving Jaskier a little nod of what almost looks like gratitude. Lambert grumbles when Geralt taps him on the shoulder, but he straightens up and reaches out to ruffle Jaskier’s hair gently.

Eskel opens the door to let Geralt and Lambert out, and Jaskier steps forward, compelled by some strange impulse, and strokes a hand through Eskel’s hair before he can follow the other two out. Eskel leans into his hand a little and gives him a warm, soft smile.

“Lock the door, and stay safe,” he says quietly.

“I will,” Jaskier promises.

The witchers wait in the hall while Jaskier locks the door behind them. It’s a good, sturdy lock, and Jaskier has what the innkeeper swore up and down are the only two keys. If someone wants to get in, they’ll have to either break the door or somehow squirm through the window, which is too small even for most children to fit through.

Jaskier’s as safe as he can be, alone in a strange town.

*

It turns out being left alone in a strange town, locked safely into a room in a nondescript inn, is both extremely boring and utterly terrifying.

Jaskier is used to being bored and terrified, as it happens; they’re the two primary emotions every ruined omega has most of the time. Ruined omegas don’t have duties besides being fucked whenever their alphas feel like it, and are expected to stay where they’re put and keep quiet. The betas around them tend to ignore them out of discomfort; mated omegas tend to hate the very sight of them; and unmated, virgin omegas avoid ruined ones like ruination is contagious. So ruined omegas spend a lot of time alone, with nothing to do.

He hasn’t been bored, this last week-and-a-bit with the witchers; traveling turns out to be fairly interesting when he’s not stuck in a cart and being walloped any time he dares to raise his head, and they’ve encouraged him to sing and ask questions. But this last week-and-a-bit is such an outlier that Jaskier isn’t even sure how to work it into his worldview.

He’s got a routine that he developed years ago, to keep himself from going stir-crazy. First he stretches, long slow movements that work every part of his body. Then he does a set of careful calisthenics that one of the other ruined omegas taught him, back in the terrible days with the first caravan, when Jaskier still thought there might be a chance he could escape somehow, or, if he couldn’t escape, earn enough affection from an alpha that they’d take him as theirs instead of using him and discarding him again. Alphas do not like it if their omegas don’t look good - or, at least, if they look bad in ways the alphas themselves didn’t cause - so most ruined omegas do have some sort of routine to keep themselves fit. It’s something to do, at least; it takes an hour or so, if he does it properly. And then, when he’s done with that, since he’s somewhere safe and quiet and alone, he sits down and hums every song in the longest song cycle he knows, The Cursed Ring and the Promised King.

That takes him through suppertime; it’s dark by the time he finishes the last tune. He can hear people bustling about downstairs, walking up and down the hallway outside, but no one approaches the door to his room. Jaskier eats - sparingly - of the dried meat and trail biscuits, and then discovers that one of the witchers left him a little loaf of fresh sweet bread that he hadn’t noticed before, and eats a few bites of that while trying not to sniffle. How the hell are they so sweet?

He washes his face and hands and curls up in the bed, tugging the tunics up so he can fill his nose with the scent of his alphas. Woodsmoke and apples and warmth - he burrows under the covers and curls around a pillow, wishing his alphas were there to hold him. And oh, that’s a strange thought indeed, wanting an alpha. He’s spent years now praying that any and all alphas will stay as far from him as possible. But - well. If more alphas were like his witchers, Jaskier wouldn’t have needed to spend years praying for deliverance.

He eventually falls into a fitful sort of sleep, holding the tunics close and breathing in the scent of his alphas. He half-wakes every time the floor of the corridor outside creaks, or someone shouts out in the square, and then sometime after the midnight bell he startles all the way awake at the sound of someone quite distinctly trying the doorknob.

He goes perfectly still, save for one hand which he slides up and under the pillow, wrapping it around the hilt of the razor-sharp dagger hidden there.

The door rattles again, but the lock holds. And then whoever is out there speaks, just loud enough for Jaskier to hear. “Omega,” she calls. “I can smell you, omega. Come and open the door for me.”

Jaskier swallows hard and doesn’t move. He’s not hers to order around - he doesn’t obey her. He belongs to his witchers alone.

Omega,” the alpha outside the door snarls, and Jaskier shakes a little, because angry alphas are dangerous, angry alphas mean pain, but she’s not his alpha. She has no right.

Lambert gave him a dagger and Geralt taught him how to use it and Eskel told him to lock the door and keep it locked. That’s what his alphas want of him. Jaskier stays right where he is, fingers wrapped around the dagger’s hilt, staring through the darkness at the locked door.

“Omega, open this door,” the alpha snaps, and Jaskier shakes in his nest of bedding and tunics and doesn’t move.

The alpha tries the doorknob again, and then thumps the door, but the wood is sturdy and the lock is good ironwork, and nothing budges. Jaskier can hear the alpha pacing outside now, snarling softly under her breath. Very slowly, he slides out of the bed and backs into a more defensible corner, dagger held in front of him the way Geralt showed him.

And then he waits, still as stone, as the alpha paces and snarls and tests the doorknob, over and over for what must be hours, until somewhere out in the town a cock crows, and the alpha spits a curse and stomps away.

Jaskier slides down the wall to sit on the floor, staring at the door and shaking with terror. He refused an alpha. Not out loud, but she gave him an order and he didn’t obey. Fuck, if his alphas don’t come back - if this nest of bruxae is too dangerous, if they die out there - Jaskier is fucked. The alpha he’s just refused will claim him, he’s sure of it, and she’ll be furious. No omega refuses an alpha, not without another alpha right there to defend their claim.

He sits there, shaking, for a long long time. The sun rises, and the room brightens, and outside, the town square begins to fill with the bustle and fuss of a normal morning. Jaskier should get up, should eat and stretch and do something with the day, but he can’t quite bring himself to move.

Not, at least, until the bustle of the town square is replaced suddenly by loud cries of fear and alarm, shrill screams that jolt Jaskier out of his terrified daze. He manages to scramble to his feet and make it to the window, and peers out to see, crossing the square, blood-spattered but hale and well, each of them bearing a trio of horrible heads by their long and filthy hair -

His witchers.

Jaskier watches avidly as they go first to the alderman’s house, dumping their grisly burdens on the front step. Lambert hammers on the door, and the alderman opens it, clearly shaking in his boots, and offers a heavy purse in unsteady hands. Lambert takes the purse and weighs it thoughtfully, then nods and turns away. The witchers head across the square again, this time aiming straight and unerring for the inn’s main door.

Jaskier scrambles across the room, snatching one of the keys off the dresser and dropping the dagger in its place, skidding to a halt in front of the door and jittering from foot to foot as he waits. He can hear the sudden silence downstairs as the witchers enter, then the heavy thudding of their feet as they climb the stairs, and then - at last, at last - he can smell them, rich stew and woodsmoke and spiced rum, safety.

“Jaskier,” Eskel rasps. “Let us in.”

Jaskier fumbles the key into the lock and flings the door open, and his witchers crowd in, jostling each other in their haste. Geralt slams the door behind them, and then they’re all around Jaskier, wrapping their arms around him and burying their faces in his hair or against his throat, clinging like drowning men to an unexpected lifeline.

Jaskier can’t move much, but he pets any part of the witchers he can reach, murmuring, “Alphas, my alphas, you came back.”

“Course we did,” Lambert mutters. “What, you thought a couple’a fuckin’ bruxae could get the drop on us? Not a chance, buttercup.”

“A couple, no,” Jaskier says. “I saw nine heads.”

“Eh,” Lambert shrugs. “My bombs, Eskel’s Signs, Geralt’s...everything, it wasn’t that bad really.”

“It truly wasn’t,” Eskel agrees. “This is why Wolves hunt in packs. A single witcher would have been overwhelmed; with three of us it was...not easy, precisely, but certainly not catastrophically difficult.”

Geralt hums, nodding against Jaskier’s hair.

“Good,” Jaskier says. “Oh, good. I’m glad.”

“You were alright?” Eskel checks.

“He wasn’t,” Lambert growls. “Smells like fear in here. What happened?”

Jaskier swallows. “I’m fine,” he tries, and all three alphas growl softly. He winces. “There was - there was an alpha who tried to get in. That’s all.”

“They’d better hope I never smell ‘em around you again,” Lambert snarls. Geralt contributes a low, rumbling growl that seems to shake the floor.

“I’m sure they won’t come back, not if you’re here,” Jaskier says. “But can we - do you need to rest?”

“We’ll rest better out in the woods, where we can hear trouble coming,” Eskel says. “Geralt? Get us packed?”

“Hm,” Geralt agrees, and reluctantly lets go of Jaskier to move around the room, swiftly packing their tunics and food away into saddlebags. He’s done in minutes, and Eskel raises his head at Geralt’s soft huff and taps Lambert’s shoulder.

“C’mon, we’re leaving, little wolf.”

“‘M not little,” Lambert grumbles, but he unwinds himself from Jaskier all the same, until he’s just got an arm looped around Jaskier’s waist, like he can’t bear to let go. Eskel leads the way downstairs, with Geralt bringing up the rear, Jaskier tucked against Lambert, safe between them. Even the alpha from last night, if she’s still at the inn, won’t dare approach when Jaskier is surrounded by three alphas with heavy scents and golden eyes and sharp, sharp teeth.

Jaskier ends up behind Lambert on his nameless gelding as they ride out of town, the townsfolk giving way before them and staring in awe and terror at the blood-spattered witchers as they leave.

*

They make camp early that afternoon, near a spring-fed pool that the Wolves have apparently used before, and once the camp has been set up and the horses untacked and tended, Lambert gives a great echoing whoop and strips out of his clothing and armor and goes sprinting down into the water, squawking as the chill hits. Jaskier reels back, covering his eyes with one hand. He hasn’t - he doesn’t -

They haven’t been naked around him yet, nor he around them, and for all he’s begun to trust his witchers, he’s not entirely sure they’ll be able to keep themselves under control if they’re all naked. Alphas don’t have that sort of control, as a general rule - Jaskier’s heard the words a hundred times, Look at you, slut, just gagging for it - why bother even putting clothes on a fucktoy -

“Shit,” Eskel says quietly, and gentle hands on Jaskier’s shoulders guide him to a nearby stump, pressing him down to sit. Eskel kneels at his feet, not quite touching him, and Geralt moves nearer, looking worried. “What’s the matter, Jaskier?”

“Nothing,” Jaskier says, voice high and thin with suppressed panic. His chest feels tight.

“Please don’t lie to us,” Eskel says softly. “You smell terrified again. What have we done?”

“Nothing,” Jaskier repeats. “You haven’t done anything.”

“Then what haven’t we done that we ought?” Eskel presses. “Please. Tell us what’s the matter.”

Geralt nods, hands opening and closing like he wants to reach for Jaskier and doesn’t dare. Lambert has stopped his cavorting and turned to stare at them, thankfully still hip-deep in the water.

“I - I don’t want to bathe with you,” Jaskier chokes out. He hasn’t actually refused them anything before - surely this will be the thing which tears away their facade of kindness and reveals the alpha cruelty beneath it -

“Oh, shit, I didn’t even think,” Lambert says. “Fucking hell.”

“If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” Eskel says. “We’ll take turns so there’s always someone armed on shore to protect you, and we won’t watch while you bathe. Alright?”

Jaskier nods, baffled and grateful. “Alright,” he says faintly.

“Good,” Eskel says, and rises. “G’wan in, Geralt, I’ll stay out for a bit. You’ve got blood all in your hair. Did you have to bite the damned thing?”

“Hm,” Geralt says, and heads towards the water, shedding bits of armor and clothing as he goes. Jaskier turns and faces the other way resolutely, even when Lambert whoops and then there’s an enormous splash and Eskel puts a hand over his face in obvious dismay.

“Probably for the best if you don’t get in with those idiots,” he says ruefully to Jaskier. “I swear, they’re like puppies sometimes, all bark and no sense.”

There’s another yelp and an even bigger splash. Jaskier giggles in spite of his nerves. Eskel smiles.

“There we go,” he says gently. “I know promises probably mean very little to you, but we won’t harm you. Now or ever. Humans will do as humans will do, but Wolves know how to treat their pack.”

Jaskier swallows. “I’m...starting to understand that,” he says slowly.

“Good,” Eskel says, and reaches out to ruffle Jaskier’s hair very gently. “Very good.”

Jaskier does get a bath, eventually, scrubbing down quickly in the chilly water of the spring, with Lambert keeping watch on shore, his back to Jaskier as he carefully whets his steel sword.

And that night he sleeps at the center of a pile of alphas again, surrounded by the scent of warm-hearth-and-safety, with Lambert purring against his throat and Eskel nuzzling his hair and Geralt curled around them all, hand a comforting weight atop Jaskier’s chest. He sleeps very, very well indeed.

Chapter Text

Jaskier wakes the next morning as Lambert gets up; Eskel and Geralt are already moving around the camp, tending the horses and the fire. Jaskier sits up and runs his fingers through his hair and grimaces: it’s long enough to start being a hassle, and yesterday’s bath has resulted in some spectacular tangles. Jaskier has always preferred his hair shorter - ear-length is about right - but most alphas like their omegas with longer hair, so it hasn’t been cut in almost six months, and then only just to shoulder-length.

These tangles are going to be a genuine frustration to get out with just his fingers. Jaskier sighs and sets to work, hissing under his breath as he catches a knot wrong and yanks nastily at his own scalp.

He’s so absorbed in his hair that he doesn’t notice that Geralt has come over until the witcher hums softly. Jaskier looks up to see Geralt is holding a carved-bone comb a little awkwardly, looking almost hopeful.

“Can I -” he says hesitantly. “May I help?”

Jaskier blinks. He was hoping he could borrow the comb, but if Geralt wants to comb his hair -

“Sure?” he says hesitantly. Geralt’s hair is quite long, so presumably he knows what he’s doing, right?

Geralt settles behind Jaskier and begins very carefully running the comb through Jaskier’s hair, starting at the very tips; whenever he encounters a knot, he stops and teases it apart, never hurrying or tugging. Jaskier is frankly astonished at the gentleness - his own mother was never so careful, many years ago when Jaskier was young enough for her to tend his hair. More astonishing, though, is the fact that as he works, Geralt begins to purr, a low contented rumble that thrums in Jaskier’s bones.

“Hey,” Lambert says as he re-emerges from the trees. “How come Geralt gets to play with your hair?”

“He asked?” Jaskier says.

“Hmph,” Lambert says, and glowers. “My turn tomorrow.”

Jaskier blinks at him. “You...want to comb my hair?” he says, voice a little higher than he means it to be.

“Communal grooming,” Eskel says from where he’s stirring the porridge. “‘S a wolf thing. Actual wolves, I mean, but Wolf witchers, too. You should see how lazy Geralt gets when we comb his hair.”

“Hm,” Geralt says, sounding very smug indeed.

Jaskier blinks at Eskel for a minute, thinking about petting Geralt and Lambert before they all went off to hunt bruxae, how both witchers just sort of melted against him. How Eskel leaned into his hand, too. “Alright,” he says to Lambert after a minute. “Sure, it can be your turn tomorrow.”

Lambert grins, showing all his teeth, and flops down in the nest of bedrolls with his head in Jaskier’s lap. Jaskier makes a startled noise, and Geralt pauses in his combing to look over his shoulder, but Lambert’s not doing anything, just - well, just acting like any one of the large dogs who thought they were lap dogs that Jaskier has met over the years. Tentatively, Jaskier runs his fingers through Lambert’s short-cropped hair, and Lambert closes his eyes and starts to purr. Geralt goes back to combing Jaskier’s hair, which by this point is so thoroughly untangled that the comb slides through it like water.

“Lazy bastards,” Eskel says after a few minutes, without any heat in the words. “Come and eat breakfast and stop bothering our omega.”

“They’re not a bother,” Jaskier says.

Eskel considers that for a moment, and then huffs a very quiet laugh, moves the porridge pot off the fire, and comes over to the nest, nudging Lambert gently with one foot. “Budge over, little wolf,” he says, and flops down beside Lambert, wriggling until he can get his head into Jaskier’s lap, too. He bats his eyes up at Jaskier hopefully.

Jaskier bites his lip to stifle a laugh, and starts running his fingers through Eskel’s hair, too. Eskel closes his eyes and grins, smug and pleased, and begins to purr even louder than Lambert is.

Breakfast that day is only lukewarm, but Jaskier can’t bring himself to mind.

*

Jaskier learns to help with the camp chores, and gets used to washing in cold streams and spring-fed lakes, and gets lessons from Geralt most evenings on how best to use the dagger that he now wears on his belt. He’s thoroughly astonished that they let him keep it, but Lambert gave him a deeply odd look when Jaskier offered it back and shook his head and said, “It’s yours. I’ve got plenty.” Which is true; Lambert has more knives than any one man really needs. Watching him set aside his weapons for the night is always a bit startling.

It’s...comfortable, traveling with these witchers. With these alphas. They’re astonishingly cuddly, all of them, and their stern facades only last as long as they’re in sight of towns or other travelers. They encourage him to sing or talk, and sometimes they’ll even tell stories - well, Lambert and Eskel will, at least. Jaskier turns their tales of particularly interesting hunts into little ditties, and then when his alphas approve of those, into entire ballads. Maybe they aren’t very sophisticated ballads, but they’re catchy enough that Lambert sings the choruses and Eskel hums along and even Geralt taps his fingers to the beat.

He’s never left alone again, even when they take contracts in the towns they pass: two of his alphas will go off to kill whatever it is, and the third will keep him company in their camp or the tavern’s main room, a solid bulwark between Jaskier and any possible threat. His alphas come back bloody, occasionally, and usually filthy, but they never seem at all put out about not having their whole pack available to hunt; instead, whichever pair went out will come and flop down near Jaskier, resting their heads on his knees and - in Lambert’s case - bragging of their prowess, seeming to want nothing more than his attention and approval. It’s oddly sweet.

Jaskier loses his fear of his alphas piece by piece; it falls away with every solitary bath he takes, every night he spends tucked between them without their hands sneaking beneath his clothing, every calm morning with one of them combing out his hair and purring over it, every day that passes without any of them even suggesting they want to bend him over a log or a saddle and fuck him bloody to relieve their urges.

He does have a bad moment the first time one of the witchers emerges from the trees with an armload of firewood and the unmistakable smell of sex hanging around him. Jaskier freezes in place, staring up at Geralt and knowing he ought to - ought to present, or drop his eyes, or something - but all Geralt does is put the firewood down and slump down beside Eskel, leaning against Eskel’s shoulder and making a low humming noise that usually indicates contentment, if Jaskier has learned to decipher his noises correctly. Eskel puts down the knife he’s been using to chop up carrots for the stew-pot and reaches up to ruffle Geralt’s hair gently before going back to supper preparation, and Geralt closes his eyes and hums again, and - that’s it.

It takes Jaskier a while to get his heart and breathing back under control, but he’s a little more ready for it a few days later when Lambert comes back into camp with a couple of field-dressed pheasants and the faint smell of sex. And it’s astonishing but not terrifying, a few days after that, when it’s Geralt and Eskel both, and their hair is mussed and there are very faint bite-marks showing on their throats.

Jaskier genuinely didn’t know two alphas could fuck each other, not without it being a horrid bloody dominance display that would probably end with one of them crippled. But he trusts his own eyes and nose, and even if he didn’t, Lambert whining that it’s his turn next time, dammit, is a pretty good sign that Jaskier isn’t reading the situation wrong.

So his alphas are...dealing with their desires themselves, instead of using Jaskier to sate them. Which is bizarre, but Jaskier can’t say he isn’t grateful. It means he can keep enjoying the cuddles that seem to be all they do want of him without panicking that they’ll want more.

And the cuddles, he is discovering, he does not mind providing. Not at all.

*

They travel north and east and north again, up along the foothills of the Blue Mountains, and Jaskier is immensely grateful for his new cloak and boots and the thick woolen tunics and trousers they found for him. In southern Kaedwen, where Geralt bought him, the weather was brisk but pleasant; as they move further north, it gets colder and rainier and generally less pleasant. The witchers start finding caves to camp in rather than clearings, and after the first night Jaskier lies down on bedrolls over cold stone and begins to shiver, they adjust their usual sleeping heap so he spends his nights on top of Eskel, who’s the broadest of them. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and Eskel doesn’t seem to mind the chill of the stone leeching through the bedrolls at all. Jaskier assumes that’s a witcher thing.

The only night they spend in an inn is the last night before they head into the mountains. They reach the town around midmorning, and Jaskier is honestly surprised when they don’t just keep riding through.

“Supply run,” Lambert says, like that’s enough explanation, and Jaskier trails along behind him and Eskel, leaving Geralt with the horses, as they buy a small wagon and fill it with sacks of flour and a bag of salt and several jugs of honey and a crate holding five loudly annoyed hens and several barrels of apples and dried meat and turnips and parsnips and carrots and all sorts of other food that won’t go bad very quickly, if at all. The townsfolk in the market don’t seem as uneasy around witchers as most people are, Jaskier notes: several of them even greet them by name, and one old beta lady selling herbs gives Lambert a thorough scolding for some infraction Jaskier can’t quite make out. Lambert, to his surprise, takes the scolding with immense grace before scooping the old lady up and kissing both her cheeks and assuring her he won’t do it again, whatever it was, and then buying a very strange assortment of herbs.

“Lambert likes to get creative with his brewing,” is Eskel’s idea of a proper explanation of that whole incident. “Hildy thinks he’s going to poison himself one of these days. Which he probably will, but that’s pretty normal.”

Jaskier has no idea what to make of any of that.

They spend the night at the inn, and Jaskier discovers that sleeping in a proper bed with his alphas is...really, really nice. He’s been sleeping rough for so long that he’s almost forgotten what a bed feels like, and that one night during the bruxa hunt he was so tense he couldn’t really enjoy it at all, but now he can relax, safely surrounded by three extremely protective alphas, and it’s very nice indeed.

Naturally, the next day they set off up a trail into the mountains which Jaskier decides after half a morning’s climb has got to be the worst trail he’s ever encountered, that goat-track back on the first day with Geralt included. Scorpion and the nameless gelding are pulling the wagon, and Jaskier has been put up on Roach by himself; Lambert is ranging out in front of the wagon, checking for possible trouble, Geralt is leading Scorpion and the gelding, and Eskel is bringing up the rear in case of disasters. Jaskier keeps Roach a good few horse-lengths in front of Geralt and mostly lets her steer herself; he hasn’t actually tried to ride a horse on his own in...at least a decade. Thankfully, Roach is a very well-trained animal, and if she does start to look like she wants to stop and crop at the little patches of grass beside the trail, Geralt whistles a signal that makes her huff and pick up her pace again.

The trail is narrow and winding, with steep drop-offs and crumbled spots and at least one bridge that’s nothing but a bit of flat stone propped over a chasm that looks like it goes down to the center of the world. Jaskier has to close his eyes as Roach clops over that.

They stop for the night at a shallow cave, just barely big enough for all of them and the animals, and as Jaskier finishes feeding the ever-more-annoyed hens, it starts to snow.

“Huh,” Lambert says, joining him at the mouth of the cave. “Well, tomorrow will be fuckin’ fun, won’t it.”

“This trail is terrifying,” Jaskier says.

“Yeah, we call it the Killer,” Lambert says, grinning. “Used to make the trainees run it, at least the bit up near the keep. Lost three boys that way while I was a trainee.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says faintly. “That’s horrifying.”

“Yeah, pretty much everything about witcher training is,” Lambert says. “‘S a fucking horror-show, really.” He crosses his arms and glares at the snow. “It’s fucked up, you know. The only home I’ve got is the one where they fucking tortured me.”

Jaskier swallows hard. “Well,” he says, very quietly, “it’s not quite the same, I suppose, but my parents sold me as a ruined omega for three silver and a promise that the slavers would take me so far away I’d never see my home again.”

He means to add something about sympathizing with having mixed feelings about a home, but Lambert growls, a feral, furious sound, and Geralt and Eskel echo it; Jaskier finds himself surrounded by his alphas, all of them tense with anger and trying to press as close to him as is humanly possible. “Fuckin’ godsdamned stupid fuckers had a packmate like you and sold you off?” Lambert snarls, which is frankly baffling. Jaskier hasn’t been doing all that much for his alphas - hells, they haven’t even been fucking him. All he’s done is let them use him as a sort of comforting cuddle-object, and started to learn a few camp chores, all which they can all do far faster and better than he ever could.

“I don’t think I’m really a very good packmate,” he says quietly, and Geralt growls louder. Lambert snarls.

“How’s about you let us be the judge of that,” Eskel says, mild tone very much at odds with how firmly he’s holding Jaskier. “Since we’re the ones who actually know how pack’s supposed to work.”

Jaskier isn’t quite sure how to respond to that, so he falls back on the safest reply he knows: “Yes, alpha.”

“Hmph,” Eskel says.

*

Jaskier finds Lambert outside the cave the next morning, while Geralt and Eskel are tacking up the horses. “I - I wanted to apologize,” Jaskier says, hoping it’s quiet enough the other two won’t hear. “Last night, it should have been you we were focusing on, since we’re going back to the place you were - were tortured.”

Lambert snorts and leans back against a spindly tree, shaking his head. “Ah, buttercup, shush,” he says, almost gently. “It’s been forty years and more since I passed my fuckin’ Trials, and yeah, it was fuckin’ godsawful, and if that absolute sadist Varin was still alive I’d be spendin’ the whole damn winter giving him as much shit as I could, but -” He shrugs. “It was a long time ago and I got my pack out of it. And I lived and the fuckers who beat the shit out of me didn’t. That’s as much of a victory as you get, sometimes.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says, and Lambert holds an arm out, offering an embrace. Jaskier hesitates for a long moment before stepping forward and nestling against the alpha; Lambert curls his arm around him and nuzzles Jaskier’s throat. They stand there in silence for a long moment.

Finally Lambert says, very quietly, “We all know each other’s pain, my pack-brothers and me. We all went through the fuckin’ Trials. Geralt did ‘em twice, poor bastard. We know all the sore spots, and how to pull our punches so we don’t really hurt each other, any more’n wolf cubs do, rolling around and play-fighting. But we don’t know yours yet, and we want to, ‘cause we don’t want to hurt you, buttercup.”

“You haven’t yet,” Jaskier says softly, and then takes a deep bracing breath, lungs filling with apples-and-spiced-rum, and asks, “What - what do you want of me? As your omega?” Lambert won’t pretty it up like Eskel might, and will say whatever it is aloud where Geralt might just grunt, so if anyone’s going to tell him the stark truth…

“Your scent,” Lambert says. “Your presence. We get on pretty fucking well, the three of us, but having an omega around...balances us. Keeps us from getting too much on edge.”

“That’s it?” Jaskier asks.

“I mean, if you ever want to fuck, none of us are gonna say no,” Lambert says, shrugging. “And if you want us to help you through your heat, we’ll all be there with fuckin’ bells on.”

Jaskier goes still. “And if I don’t want you there during my heat?” he breathes.

“Well, if it’s winter, we stick you in one of the heat-rooms in the keep and shove food in through the flap until you unlock it,” Lambert says, shrugging. “Rest of the year’s a little more complicated -”

“I’ve got a winter heat,” Jaskier says, dazed. “I - I don’t - why?” Why the kindness, he means. Why the gentleness. Why act so unlike any other alphas in the world?

A soft noise behind him makes him turn his head, and he finds that Eskel and Geralt have emerged from the cave and are watching him with oddly soft expressions.

“Alphas protect,” Geralt says, and Eskel nods.

“They call us monsters,” Eskel says. “We refuse to prove them right.”

“You’re not,” Jaskier chokes out, trying very hard not to start crying, because if he starts he’s not sure he’ll be able to stop. “You’re the furthest thing from monsters.” Jaskier knows what monsters are - has belonged to enough of them, over the past years, and even if everyone else thought his owners were fine upstanding alphas, pillars of the community, he knew what they were. Intimately.

“Fuck,” Geralt says, and then he and Eskel are crowding in, wrapping their arms around Jaskier and Lambert both, nuzzling at Jaskier’s hair and purring deep in their broad chests.

“Right, I’m not going to stand here until the snow’s balls-deep,” Lambert says at last, though he doesn’t let go of Jaskier until Eskel and Geralt have reluctantly peeled themselves away. “Let’s go.”

“Should make it to Kaer Morhen late this afternoon,” Eskel says, and Lambert ushers Jaskier off to one side while the witchers bustle around getting everything packed back up and making sure all the horses are comfortable in their harnesses. Geralt lifts Jaskier onto Roach and fusses with his cloak until it’s tucked so well that Jaskier is fairly sure no fleck of snow is going to get anywhere near him, and then Lambert nods sharply and leads off.

Jaskier hangs on to the saddle’s pommel and tries very hard not to look down at the sheer cliffs far too close to Roach’s hooves

*

The second half of the Trail is, if possible, even worse than the first half. Jaskier decides after a while that all of the witchers are absolutely insane but whoever designed this trail was a genuine sadist of the worst sort. It is just barely passable with a wagon - and only if the people driving the wagon are willing to take absolutely absurd risks - and Jaskier would definitely not want to try to climb it on foot.

It is, as promised, late afternoon - the shadows are so long that Lambert has dropped back to lead Roach so she won’t trip over an unexpected stone - when they round one last hairpin turn and Kaer Morhen looms into view.

It’s...suitably intimidating, Jaskier thinks dazedly. Dark stone and crumbling towers and a great gaping gateway like the maw of some enormous monster. But there’s smoke rising from at least one chimney, which means there’s a fire in there somewhere, and Jaskier is cold all through, despite the heavy gloves and cloak and boots and the warmth of Roach beneath him.

The horses’ hooves clatter on the stone paving as they walk through the gateway, and the wagon’s wheels rumble, so Jaskier isn’t completely astonished when they’re greeted in the inner courtyard by the keep’s doors swinging open and a handful of witchers trotting out. The leader is a grizzled older beta man who smells of hot iron and rather looks like he was made out of iron, too, grim and stern. He regards Jaskier expressionlessly as the other witchers flow around him to start unloading the wagon.

“Who’s this?” he asks Lambert.

“Jaskier,” Lambert says, lifting Jaskier down off Roach. “Our omega.”

“Hm,” the old witcher says, and steps closer, looking Jaskier up and down. Lambert puts a hand on Jaskier’s back to keep him in place, and Jaskier holds his ground as calmly as he can. The old witcher leans in and smells Jaskier, then paces in a slow circle around him and Lambert, silent as a shadow.

“And how did you find him?” the old witcher asks at last.

“Geralt bought him,” Lambert says. Behind them, the other witchers finish unloading the wagon and lead the horses away into what Jaskier assumes is a stable. Geralt and Eskel come over to stand behind Jaskier, like a protective wall.

“Did he,” the old witcher says, and looks straight at Jaskier. “And you haven’t run from them.”

Jaskier swallows hard. “No, sir,” he says, as steadily as he can. “I did not, and I will not.”

“And why not?” the old witcher asks, very softly. “Have you come to learn the secrets of our school? To lead others here to finish the massacre?”

No, sir,” Jaskier says firmly. “I - I knew nothing of witchers when Geralt bought me, but I would -” he takes a deep breath. “I would die before I brought harm to my alphas.”

Lambert makes an almost wounded noise, and Geralt and Eskel crowd closer, breath warm on Jaskier’s neck.

“Huh,” the old witcher says, and looks at him consideringly for a long, long moment. “Alright. You’ll do.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jaskier says faintly.

“Welcome home, pups,” the old witcher says to Jaskier’s alphas.

Lambert nods; Geralt and Eskel hum a greeting. The old witcher nods and turns to lead the way into the keep, and Jaskier’s alphas usher him in ahead of them, through a gloomy entrance hall and up a spiraling flight of stairs, three long circuits until they come to a landing with a heavy door, which Geralt opens to reveal a surprisingly cozy room, walls hung with tapestries, thick bearskins heaped in front of the hearth, and a positively huge bed covered in heavy blankets. Everything smells like Jaskier’s alphas.

“Home sweet home,” Lambert sighs, kicks off his boots into a corner, and flops down onto the bed with an enormous sigh. “C’mere, buttercup.”

“Supper first,” Eskel says. “Then you can pass out.”

Jaskier considers climbing down those stairs and then back up again and stumbles over towards the bed, faceplanting into the pillows beside Lambert with his booted feet hanging off. “I’d rather sleep than eat, please,” he says, muffled by the pillow beneath him.

“Wore him out,” Geralt observes, and Jaskier feels gentle hands unlacing his boots and tugging them off. “You watch him, Lam. We’ll bring food.”

Lambert rolls over and throws an arm over Jaskier’s waist, and nuzzles his shoulder contentedly. “Sounds like a good deal to me.”

“Sleepy little wolf,” Eskel teases, and he and Geralt leave the room, closing the door quietly behind them.

“Not little,” Lambert grumbles quietly.

Jaskier is tired enough that he giggles and snuggles a little closer. “My big strong alpha,” he mumbles.

Lambert makes a happy rumbling noise deep in his chest and nuzzles Jaskier’s throat.

Jaskier falls asleep to the sound of Lambert purring.

*

He wakes up in the middle of the night, in the muted darkness of a stone-walled room with a banked fire on the hearth. Lambert is still holding him tightly; Geralt and Eskel are wound around both of them. Jaskier shifts, and Geralt sits up, golden eyes gleaming in the darkness as he blinks down at Jaskier. “Hungry?” he asks softly.

Jaskier’s stomach growls, and Geralt chuckles quietly and slides out of bed, fetching a bowl off the mantel of the fireplace and bringing it over. Jaskier manages to sit up, Lambert and Eskel making little disgruntled noises and curling their arms more tightly around his waist, and Geralt presses the bowl and a spoon into his hands. The bowl holds a thick stew, hearty and savory, and Jaskier finishes it faster than he really meant to.

Geralt takes the bowl and spoon away when Jaskier is done, and hands him a waterskin that’s been kept up on the window-ledge; the water is cold enough to make Jaskier’s teeth ache, but it’s good. Geralt settles onto the bed beside Lambert, stroking a hand over the other alpha’s hair and chuckling softly when Lambert begins to purr in his sleep.

“Who was that who met us?” Jaskier asks, trying to keep his voice low enough not to disturb his sleeping alphas.

“Vesemir,” Geralt says. “Only surviving trainer. Head of the Wolves now.” He hesitates. “He’s...protective.”

“That makes sense,” Jaskier says. “After...everything. And everyone else?”

“Clovis and Gwen and Frank, and Aubry and Gardis,” Geralt says. “Might just be us and Coën this year. He’s always late. Griffin,” he adds, which makes no sense.

“He...hunts griffins?” Jaskier ventures.

“No,” Geralt says. “Griffin School. Last of them. Pogrom.”

“Oh.” Jaskier winces. Every time he learns more about the witchers and their history, what he learns is horrifying.

Geralt hums.

Eskel shifts a bit and makes a soft, formless noise as he wakes. “Talking?” he murmurs against Jaskier’s hip.

“Geralt’s telling me about your Schoolmates,” Jaskier says, running his fingers gently through Eskel’s hair. Eskel rumbles a louder purr and nudges his head against Jaskier’s hand.

“Mind Clovis,” he mumbles. “Can be nasty. Aubry’n Gardis are solid.”

“Good to know,” Jaskier says, and resolves to stay well out of the way of whichever witcher Clovis is - presumably the alpha scent will be a decent warning. “Thank you.”

“Worry ‘bout it in morning,” Eskel adds blearily. “Sleep now.”

“Yes, Eskel,” Jaskier says, and wriggles down between Eskel and Lambert again, chuckling when Lambert flops over to lie mostly on top of him. Gods, this is a nice bed, the mattress soft and well-stuffed, the blankets thick and rich with the smell of warm-hearth-and-safety.

Geralt curls around Lambert and reaches over to rest a hand on Eskel’s arm where it’s wound around Jaskier’s waist, and Jaskier falls asleep again tucked between his alphas, safe in their den.

Chapter Text

Jaskier’s alphas wake with the dawn, which admittedly does come later than it might, this late in the year, but still, they just climbed a truly appalling trail in the snow! Surely that earns a lie-in?

Jaskier doesn’t complain, but he thinks very hard about it as he rolls out of bed. Eskel and Lambert are already dressing, and Geralt has vanished somewhere. The room is chilly, the fire having burned down to coals, and Lambert snorts and drapes a blanket around himself like a cloak, then tugs Jaskier into his arms and wraps the blanket around him, too. “Fucking place is always fucking cold,” he grouses.

Eskel laughs at them. “Going to be hard to get down the stairs like that.”

“So I’ll carry him,” Lambert grumbles. “You don’t want our buttercup to freeze, do you?”

“He won’t freeze,” Geralt says, coming back in with a pile of fabric in his hands. He unfolds it to reveal a heavy coat in a gorgeous shade of deep blue, thickly padded and looking extremely warm. “Here.” He holds it out like a gentleman’s valet, waiting.

Jaskier shrugs into it carefully, and Geralt smooths the shoulders down and hums in satisfaction. Jaskier does up the ties on the front - ties, not buttons, this is an extremely old-fashioned article of clothing - and wriggles a little to make sure it’s settled properly. The hem of the coat falls almost to his knees, and he’s already feeling warmer.

“Thank you,” he says, and Geralt smiles, just a little, and hums happily.

“Looks good,” Eskel says approvingly. “Right. Breakfast, and then training.”

“He can’t do the full morning’s training,” Lambert objects as Jaskier follows Geralt out of the room.

“Hm,” Geralt says, and turns to frown a little at Jaskier - not angry, Jaskier doesn’t think, just thoughtful. “True.”

“Very true,” Eskel agrees. “Huh.” He eyes Jaskier consideringly. “You shouldn’t go wandering about without one of us along, at least until you learn your way around - there’s a fair number of halls that aren’t structurally sound anymore.”

Jaskier swallows. That doesn’t sound like a good thing. But he doesn’t particularly want to return to their tower room and sit quietly, waiting for his alphas to finish their morning duties. He could - gods know he got plenty of practice sitting and waiting, for alphas far more terrible than these. But he doesn’t want to.

“What d’you like to do, buttercup?” Lambert asks. “Also, keep moving, I can smell bacon and I’m not letting fucking Gwen get all of it again.”

Geralt chuckles softly and heads down the stairs, and Jaskier follows, watching his footing carefully on the slightly slick stone. It’s been a very long time since anyone asked him what he likes to do. It hasn’t mattered for...years. “I...would like to write down some of the songs I’ve made up,” he admits as they reach the bottom of the stairs.

Eskel nods. “Could put you in the library,” he offers.

Jaskier hadn’t even imagined a battered keep full of witchers would have a library, but - “That sounds wonderful,” he says, and all three of his alphas turn and smile at him, apparently delighted by his joy.

“Great,” Lambert says. “Breakfast and then dagger lessons for you and then we’ll stick you in the library until midday. Now let me at that bacon.”

“Far be it from me to stand between you and bacon,” Eskel says, and Lambert whacks him on the arm as he darts past them all and down a corridor towards a door from which even Jaskier, now, can smell wafting the scent of bacon and eggs and oat porridge rich with cinnamon and honey.

The rest of the witchers are already in the dining hall when Geralt and Jaskier and Eskel reach it, arrayed around a long table. Vesemir sits at its head; there are four witchers along one side, another at the foot, and space for Jaskier and his alphas on the other side. Lambert has already claimed a chair and is heaping two plates with bacon and eggs and hearty servings of porridge. Geralt ushers Jaskier to a seat next to Lambert, and Lambert plops the second plate in front of Jaskier, glaring at the other witchers as though daring them to say something about the kindness. Jaskier picks up the spoon waiting in front of his seat and applies himself to the porridge, examining the other witchers out of the corners of his eyes.

The one at the foot of the table is broad and stocky and dark-haired; a beta, though he’s burlier than even Eskel. He smells, if Jaskier is parsing the scents properly, of lanolin, a surprisingly soothing scent for a witcher. He’s probably the oldest witcher at the table after Vesemir. Next to him is an angular blond omega who smells of new green leaves. If Jaskier had to guess, given how close he’s sitting to the big beta, they’re a pack, though two seems...small. The other three witchers are probably another pack: a cheerful-looking brunet beta across from Jaskier who smells of cherry wine, a smirking redhead omega across from Geralt whose scent is rich summer flowers, and a shaven alpha with a bushy dark beard across from Eskel, who smells of petrichor.

If Jaskier were going to write a song about the packs of the Wolf School, he might call his pack - his alphas - autumn hearth. The big beta and his blond omega would be springtime lambing, and the trio across from him would be summer fields after rain.

Really only Vesemir smells like Jaskier would expect a witcher to smell. All the rest of them are...almost gentle scents; they’re all quite a lot stronger than human scents tend to be, but certainly not harsh or unpleasant.

“Really?” says the redheaded omega, sounding incredibly disdainful. “A human?”

“Shut it,” Lambert grumbles, and Jaskier knots his fingers in the hem of his new, wonderful, warm coat, because an alpha sounding that angry with an omega - even another alpha’s omega - is not going to end well -

And the redhead doesn’t even flinch. “Touchy puppy,” he drawls. “What, is your new toy so fragile you’re worried I’ll break him?”

Jaskier swallows hard and raises his head to meet the redhead’s yellow eyes. It makes no sense, but - given what he knows of his witchers, what he’s been told about their fellows, it has to be - “So,” he says, keeping his voice steady with a great effort, “I’m guessing you’re Clovis.”

“How the fuck did you know that?” the redhead scowls. “These fuckers spilling all our secrets to any old fucktoy now?”

Oh. Jaskier actually guessed correctly. And somehow, impossibly the most aggressively nasty witcher in the keep is an omega. Jaskier tries to imagine any human omega behaving like this, and comes up blank with bafflement. Yet the alpha beside Clovis isn’t even looking fazed by his behavior, and none of Jaskier’s alphas are acting like their dominance is being challenged. It’s bewildering, is what it is.

“Clovis,” Vesemir rumbles, and Clovis scowls but subsides.

“I didn’t catch your name,” the blond omega says, offering a hand across the table. “I’m Gardis; the quiet one’s Aubry.” He jerks his other thumb at the big beta, who nods gravely.

Jaskier clasps his hand and offers a smile. “Jaskier,” he says. Clovis snorts, but he sort of expected that.

“How’d you end up with these reprobates?” Gardis asks, nodding at Lambert, who makes grumbly noises of irritation into his bacon.

“Geralt bought me,” Jaskier says, and there’s a brief silence. Every witcher besides his alphas and Vesemir is staring at him, and Jaskier feels rather like a mouse in the middle of a room full of cats.

“Bought you,” Gardis says at last. “Melitele wept, Geralt, you went to one of those fucking awful ‘ruined omega’ auctions?”

Geralt shrugs. “Needed an omega,” he says. “Lambert was going to stab someone sooner or later, without one.”

Lambert shrugs. “‘S true.”

Gardis scowls, and gives Jaskier a stern look. “After breakfast, you are coming with me and Aubry and having a talk,” he says firmly. “No alphas allowed.”

Jaskier glances nervously at his alphas. Lambert shrugs again. Eskel and Geralt nod. “Alright?” he says to Gardis, a little hesitantly.

“Show him the library when you’re done,” Eskel says, apparently unconcerned by this upcoming talk, whatever it’s about. “Might as well skip dagger training for today, Jaskier, you’re still exhausted from the Trail.”

“Start tomorrow,” Geralt agrees. “Got training dummies, you can actually stab something.”

Jaskier is vastly relieved. He doesn’t really think Geralt would stop teaching him to use the dagger, but...well...he’s a little off-balance, here in this ruined castle, surrounded by witchers he doesn’t know, at least one of whom dislikes him already.

He finishes his breakfast in a distinctly uneasy frame of mind.

*

Lambert chases Geralt out of the dining hall once they’ve finished eating, apparently eager to get to training; Eskel pauses long enough to ruffle Jaskier’s hair and give him a reassuring smile, which also - Jaskier suspects not entirely coincidentally - is long enough for Vesemir and Clovis and Clovis’s pack to follow Lambert and Geralt out.

“C’mon,” Gardis says, and Jaskier follows him out of the dining hall, Aubry falling in behind them. The big beta is very, very quiet; Jaskier can barely tell he’s there. It’s not terribly reassuring. They go up a flight of stairs and down a long corridor to a set of broad double doors, and Gardis opens them to reveal a library that must be at least half the size of Oxenfurt’s, and that is one of the largest on the continent. Jaskier stares in wonder.

“Heh, you’ve got the book-hunger, don’t you,” Gardis says, after giving Jaskier a surprisingly long moment to gawk. “Come and sit down.” There’s a little collection of battered armchairs in front of an unlit fireplace, and Jaskier takes one of them as Aubry hunkers down in front of the fireplace, stacks a few logs in it, and makes that strange gesture to bring fire springing into life. Gardis sprawls across one of the other chairs, legs draped over one arm, and Aubry turns to look at him and shakes his head and sighs.

“Yes, yes, chairs are for sitting,” Gardis says, waving a hand dismissively.

Jaskier has to admit he’s genuinely taken aback by both Gardis and Clovis. Yes, he’d guessed that witcher omegas wouldn’t be treated like human omegas, after Lambert mentioned that their previous omega had died trying to fight a monster by himself, and certainly after Lambert gave him a dagger and Geralt began teaching him to use it, but Clovis and Gardis are just...completely unafraid. Even pampered, treasured, mated human omegas are always a little afraid of their alphas - of their appetites, their tempers, their general unpredictability. Ruined omegas, of course, are afraid of all alphas, and most betas, too, because a ruined omega is good for nothing but the amusement of their betters.

Witcher omegas, apparently, are afraid of nothing. Clovis had no hesitation in insulting Jaskier’s alphas, and Jaskier suspects he backed down when Vesemir called him to heel not out of fear but because Vesemir is something like a father or a lord to the other Wolves. Gardis had no qualms about countermanding Jaskier’s alphas’ desires, and is clearly not subservient to Aubry in the slightest - a guess borne out when Aubry settles on the thick rug in front of Gardis’s chair, and Gardis reaches down to comb his fingers lazily through Aubry’s hair. Aubry closes his eyes and hums in clear contentment.

Enjoying being petted must be a Wolf thing.

It is interesting, though, that Aubry’s hair is actually longer than either Gardis’s or Clovis’s. Apparently witchers don’t require their omegas to wear their hair long. Maybe Jaskier will be allowed to cut his, if he asks politely.

“So,” Gardis says, fixing Jaskier with an unnerving yellow stare. “Geralt bought you.”

Jaskier nods, hands knotting together in his lap. “He said - he said my scent went well with his pack’s.”

“Knowing Geralt, he wasn’t nearly so eloquent,” Gardis smirks. “I’m guessing what he actually said was ‘Smells right’?”

“Well, yes,” Jaskier admits.

“And did they explain anything?” Gardis presses. “Or did they just drag you up a mountain thinking you were going to be fucked to death?”

Jaskier shakes his head frantically. “No, no, I don’t - they did explain, at least a bit, and I’ve been with them for -” he pauses and counts quickly on his fingers - “almost a month and a half now, and they’ve been -” he hesitates, shrugs, and throws caution to the winds. “They’ve been really sweet.”

“Lambert,” Aubry rumbles, the first thing Jaskier has heard him say. His voice is as deep as rolling thunder. “Sweet.”

“In a very specifically Lambert sort of way, yes,” Jaskier says. “He gave me a dagger, and he’s very...cuddly.”

Gardis’s eyebrows nearly hit his hairline. “Cuddly. Huh. No wonder Remus always said there was more to him than I’d guessed.” He takes a deep breath through his nose, and frowns a little. “You definitely smell like them, but they haven’t been fucking you, have they.” It’s not a question.

“They haven’t,” Jaskier agrees. “Lambert said they’d only fuck me if I wanted to, and -” he breaks off, not quite sure how to explain that six years as a ruined omega mean that for all he trusts his alphas, now, to be gentle and cuddly and downright sweet, he’s still not sure he could present for them, not without panicking. “He said I can choose not to spend my heat with them, too.”

“Huh,” Gardis says, settling back into his chair a little more fully. “I am genuinely surprised. Sounds like they explained a lot more than I would’ve guessed. Still, I’m guessing they left some shit out, just because there’s some shit alphas just don’t think of. Got any questions for me?”

Jaskier swallows. He has so many questions, but most of them come back to one: “Why are Wolf alphas so...different?”

“Ah,” Gardis says, and sighs. “Well, there’s two reasons, really.” Jaskier nods eagerly. “The first is the mutagens that make us witchers. They put us...a little more in touch with our base instincts, I guess. And we’re Wolf witchers. We’re made to be part of a pack, to work together. In wolf packs - real ones - the wolves are more a family than anything else.”

Jaskier nods. “And you find your packs by scent,” he says.

“Precisely,” Gardis agrees. “I’ve always wondered if that isn’t half superstition, but I may have to rethink that, because almost any other human omega would have run screaming from three alpha Wolves, even if it meant going back into an auction, and here you are telling me they’re cuddly sweethearts.”

Jaskier shakes his head. “Even after just that very first evening, when I didn’t know what was going on, I wouldn’t have run,” he says. “No human alpha has ever treated me with a fraction of the kindness my Wolves have shown me.”

“Huh,” Gardis says, and shakes his head in wonder. “Well, that’s the other half, actually. Lambert’s the youngest of us, and he’s got more than six decades behind him. Vesemir is more than three hundred years old. All of our trainers learned their understanding of dynamics at least two hundred years ago, during -”

“The Golden Age,” Jaskier breathes. He read about it in some of the history books at Oxenfurt, and figured they were exaggerations or downright lies: a near-legendary age of peace and prosperity across the continent, which was also a time when omegas could choose their own mates, and reject alphas as they pleased, and there was no such thing as a ruined omega. Then, of course, the Church of the Eternal Flame began to gain power, with their insistence that omegas are debased and weak-minded, that only alphas have the strength of body and mind and soul to be truly the chosen of their burning god.

Jaskier may have spent a few afternoons reading accounts of the old Omega Queens of Cintra and wishing wistfully that he’d been born two hundred years ago.

“Exactly,” Gardis says. “You know your history.”

“I studied at Oxenfurt,” Jaskier admits. “Not - I didn’t graduate. But I did well in my classes. I wanted - well, I wanted to be a bard.”

“Huh,” Aubry says, smiling. “Been a while since we had music.”

“Almost forty years,” Gardis says. “Be good to have some again.” He eyes Jaskier thoughtfully for a long moment. “D’you want to tell me what happened?”

Jaskier grimaces and looks down at his hands. “Not really. I was...an idiot.”

Gardis is silent for a long moment. “You don’t have to tell me,” he says at last. “And I won’t pry. But you should tell your Wolves. It’s...we try not to have secrets, not between pack. I don’t tell Clovis everything, nor even Vesemir, but Aubry knows everything there is to know about me, and vice versa. It helps prevent friction, if you know where the...the caltrops are, in your packmates’ memories, so you don’t trip over them.”

Jaskier nods. “I’ll - I’ll try,” he says, and then, very tentatively, “Did you used to have more pack members?”

“Yes,” Aubry says, deep sadness in his voice. “Gweld.”

“Gweld,” Gardis echoes. “Our alpha. He died a couple decades ago, along with a lot of our School. I’ll tell you about it sometime; it was...bad.” He sighs. “You probably would have liked him; he was the happiest bastard in the castle, always singing. Usually something bawdy.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” Jaskier says quietly.

Gardis grimaces. “The life of a witcher is loss,” he says. “You get used to it after a while. Anyhow, Aubry and I should go see about training before Vesemir gets fidgety. Seems like you do know what you’ve gotten brought into, at least enough to be getting on with.” He rolls to his feet and offers a hand to Aubry, then hauls the big beta up without any apparent effort at all. “Come and find me if you’ve questions, or if you need a break from constant alpha hovering.”

“I will,” Jaskier promises.

“Someone’ll come find you before luncheon,” Gardis says, and pats Jaskier on the shoulder, and they leave him there, in the middle of the biggest collection of books Jaskier has seen in six years - books he is allowed to touch.

Jaskier heads for the nearest shelf, feeling like a child let loose in a particularly well-stocked candy store.

*

Eskel comes and finds him around midday. Jaskier has pulled a little table up next to the most comfortable of the armchairs, and piled half a dozen books on it: two histories of the witchers written by witchers, three books about the cultures of Nilfgaard and Zerrikania and the far-off Southern Isles, and one slim volume of stunningly beautiful Elven poetry translated into the common tongue. He’s also found a stack of scrap parchment and a quill and an inkpot, and is alternating between scribbling down his own lyrics and reading sections of the books; he’s already learned quite a lot about witchers, most of it moderately horrifying.

“Don’t you look cozy,” Eskel observes, ruffling Jaskier’s hair gently. “Made yourself a proper little nest.”

Jaskier looks up, grinning. “This library is marvelous.”

“Well, if you volunteer to help keep it organized, Vesemir will probably adopt you on the spot.” Eskel grins. “Come down to luncheon.”

“Yes, Eskel,” Jaskier says, setting his quill aside and capping the inkpot. “How was training?”

“Well, Lambert and Clovis gave each other broken noses, and Geralt decided to fight Gwen and Frank at the same time, so he’s wrenched his shoulder and they’ve both got black eyes,” Eskel sighs. “So about how the first day’s training usually goes, really.”

“Are they alright?” Jaskier asks, biting his lip.

“Oh, they’ll be fine by tomorrow, though if you felt like giving Geralt a shoulder-rub he’d probably be the happiest alpha in the keep,” Eskel assures him. “Lambert breaks his nose every couple of years, I’ve gotten very good at setting it.”

“And you aren’t hurt?” Jaskier checks.

“I sparred with Vesemir and Aubry and Gardis,” Eskel says, grinning. “I’m fine.”

Sure enough, several of the witchers around the table look rather the worse for wear: Lambert has a rather spectacular black eye, Geralt is favoring one arm, Clovis’s nose still has blood crusted beneath it, and the two witchers Jaskier hasn’t been introduced to - presumably Frank and Gwen - have some very impressive bruising. Vesemir, Gardis, and Aubry all look much less disheveled.

Luncheon is a quiet meal, though Clovis keeps glowering at Lambert, and Lambert returns the favor with truly irritated looks. Neither starts any trouble, though, and the food is plain - stew and bread - but hearty and very tasty.

“Jaskier,” Vesemir says, once they’ve all mopped their bowls clean. “With me. The rest of you, the potions need restocking, goats and chickens need tending, and the armory needs organizing. Divide that up between you.”

“Yes, Vesemir,” Jaskier says, trying not to sound as nervous as he is. Eskel bumps his shoulder gently against Jaskier’s and gives him a reassuring smile.

“Armory,” Clovis says, and goes stomping off, Frank and Gwen trailing behind him.

“Potions suit me fine,” Lambert grunts.

“I like chickens,” Gardis says, giving Jaskier a cheerful grin that seems to invite him to share Gardis’s amusement at his fellow Wolves’ grumpiness.

The hall clears out, leaving just Jaskier and Vesemir at the table. Vesemir stands and begins gathering the bowls and spoons and tankards from luncheon, and Jaskier hastens to rise and assist him, following the old witcher through a door at the back of the hall to a kitchen large enough to cook for a hundred, though clearly only a few counters have been used in recent days.

Vesemir dumps the wooden bowls into a deep basin and lifts a bucket from its place beside the fire, pouring near-boiling water into the basin and picking up a sliver of lye soap from the counter beside it. “Grab a cloth, pup,” he says to Jaskier. “Dry them as I hand them to you, and stack them on that shelf.

“Yes, Vesemir,” Jaskier says hastily, and takes a cloth from the neatly folded heap lying ready. Vesemir doesn’t talk as he scrubs each bowl clean, and Jaskier is careful to dry each one thoroughly before he stacks them. After the bowls and spoons and tankards are clean and neatly arranged on their shelves, Vesemir picks up the basin of filthy water - not seeming to notice the weight - and bears it out a door at the back of the kitchen. Jaskier dithers, folding and re-folding the cloth in his hands.

“Can you chop vegetables?” Vesemir asks when he returns, empty basin under one arm.

“I can,” Jaskier says. That much, at least, he’s learned from his alphas.

“Grab a dozen each of turnips and beets and carrots,” Vesemir instructs him, pointing at a set of bins along one wall. “Rough chop, to a quarter the size of your fist or thereabouts; they’re for roasting, not stew.”

Jaskier nods and sets to work, finding a set of very high quality knives in a heavy wooden block on the counter with the best light, right where it makes the most sense to look for them. Vesemir busies himself preparing the actual roast, a haunch of venison that Jaskier would have thought could feed two dozen if he hadn’t already had more than a month’s experience with how much witchers eat.

“Hm,” Vesemir says, once Jaskier has finished preparing the vegetables and presented them for inspection. “Alright. Get me rosemary, sage, savory, and marjoram out of that cupboard there.”

Jaskier opens the cupboard to find neatly-bound bundles of herbs laid out in tidy rows...with absolutely no labels anywhere. He swallows hard. “I don’t...I don’t know which ones are which, sir.”

“Hm,” Vesemir says again, and Jaskier braces himself for anger, but what he gets is, “Good pup. Ignorance is curable.”

Jaskier doesn’t quite know how he feels about being called ‘pup,’ but Vesemir being willing to teach him rather than scold him is definitely a pleasant surprise. And Vesemir is a good teacher, picking up a bundle of each type of herb and showing Jaskier the shape of the leaves, the smell, the way it crumbles. Jaskier learned to memorize a song note-perfect with one reading, years ago; he applies all of that training to this, and when Vesemir quizzes him, gets every one correct. It earns him a small smile and an approving nod.

They get the roast seasoned and into the enormous oven - Jaskier is very glad Vesemir does the lifting - and clean up after themselves, and then Vesemir leads him back to the library and settles across from him, regarding him thoughtfully. Jaskier tries to meet his gaze as evenly and calmly as possible.

“Alright,” Vesemir says at last. “Everyone pulls their weight over the winters. Which chores do you prefer?”

Jaskier takes a deep breath. “To be perfectly honest, I haven’t got the skills to do much, but I will be glad to learn,” he says. “I was...I was a student before I was ruined, and ruined omegas aren’t given many actual duties. But Eskel said I could help with the library, maybe? And I would be happy to learn to cook, too. And - well, anything else you are willing to teach me, really.”

“Hm,” Vesemir says. Jaskier is guessing this is where Geralt learned it. “A student of what?”

“I was going to be a bard,” Jaskier admits.

Vesemir hums thoughtfully. “Well, we’ll leave you time for that,” he decides at last. “Morning training - you do need to learn to use that dagger properly - but you won’t need to spend the whole morning doing that, and afternoons you can help me in the kitchen or the laundry. Can you sew?”

“Not well,” Jaskier admits.

“I’ll get Aubry to teach you, he’s the best of us,” Vesemir says, and stands. “What instrument?”

Jaskier blinks up at him. “Ah - almost anything,” he says blankly. “But I was best with a lute.”

“Hm,” Vesemir says. “I see. Come down for supper.”

And then Jaskier is alone in the library again, feeling rather as if he’s been through one of the end-of-term exams without having gotten any time to study, and somehow managed to pass anyhow.

*

Geralt comes and brings Jaskier down for supper, and by the end of the meal Jaskier is starting to yawn; he’s still not recovered from the Trail, and he was up at dawn, and the cold makes him sleepy. Eskel chuckles softly when Jaskier lists against his shoulder, and picks him up, cradling him close.

Clovis snorts scornfully, but Jaskier decides to ignore it. Gardis and Aubry are kind, and Vesemir seems to approve of him, and Jaskier’s alphas are protective and gentle and sweet, so one nasty omega and his pack can be...not ignored, Jaskier isn’t that stupid, but he can keep out of Clovis’s way, and hopefully Clovis will be content with that.

Eskel settles him in the big bed in the tower room and takes his boots off for him, and Jaskier manages to wriggle out of the lovely coat, sitting up to hand it to Eskel. And then he pauses.

It’s...a bit warm to sleep fully clothed between three witchers, in a room warmed by a well-banked fire, beneath many thick blankets. But Jaskier hasn’t taken his clothes off around the witchers except to bathe, and they’ve all been very good about not watching when he does that.

“Eskel,” he says hesitantly, and Eskel looks up from tending the fire. “If I - if I slept in my braies -”

“None of us will do more than cuddle you,” Eskel says firmly. “No matter what you’re wearing. Not unless you ask.”

Jaskier nods, and takes a deep breath, and strips out of his tunic and breeches before he can talk himself out of it. Eskel takes the clothing and drapes it over the back of a chair near the fire. Jaskier snuggles down beneath the blankets and watches Eskel through half-closed eyes.

“I should...I should tell you, Gardis said,” he says quietly. Eskel turns and looks at him curiously. “How I ended up ruined.”

“If you want to, we will listen,” Eskel says, and sits down on the side of the bed. “We would know your pain, so we can keep from causing it again. Lambert was right about that, for once.”

“Hey,” Lambert says from the doorway. “I’m right about a lot of things. Budge over, buttercup.” He kicks his boots off and flops onto the bed, squirming under the covers and only then noticing that Jaskier is nearly naked. His only reaction, though, is a soft sound of surprise, and he cuddles up around Jaskier just the way he always does, nose tucked against Jaskier’s throat, arm around his waist. “What’m I right about now?”

“Hearing Jaskier’s pain,” Eskel says, and Lambert growls softly and tugs Jaskier closer.

“We’ll listen,” he says against Jaskier’s throat. “And then we can kill anyone you want us to.”

Jaskier bites his lip to stifle a laugh. That’s...oddly sweet, in a very witcher sort of way.

“Who’re we killing?” Geralt asks, closing the bedroom door behind him.

“Anyone our Jaskier asks us to, I think,” Eskel says, as Geralt flops down on the bed with his head on Jaskier’s blanket-covered stomach.

“Hm,” Geralt says agreeably. “We’re listening.”

Jaskier takes a deep breath. He does want to tell them, he thinks. He wants them to know, and maybe if they know - maybe if he tells the whole thing, as he never has to anyone before - it’ll drain the poison from the memories, and they can start to fade.

“I was a student at Oxenfurt,” he says slowly. Eskel shifts up the bed until he can pet Jaskier’s hair, soft and soothing. “I was - I was good, damn it. Really good. And I had this...friend. An alpha. He was...I thought they were compliments. He kept telling me how good I was for an omega. How clever. How my tunes were so memorable, so catchy. For an omega.”

Lambert growls. “Sounds like an ass.”

Jaskier sniffles a laugh. “He was, yeah. So. Anyway. I was - fuck it. I was a viscount.” Eskel makes a soft surprised noise. “So I was saving myself for my mate, whoever my parents lined up for me, you know how that goes. Everybody at Oxenfurt knew that, and there were special omega dorms - anyhow.” He takes a deep breath. “I wrote this song. It was a really, really good song. And I was going to debut it at the end-of-term performances, maybe even win the composition competition. So I was keeping it very, very close to my chest, but I - I showed it to my...friend, because I was so proud of it. Because I wanted to impress him.”

He takes a deep breath. “He played it three days later, claiming it was his.”

Bastard,” Lambert snarls. “Thieving asshole!”

“Yeah,” Jaskier says, strangely warmed by Lambert’s anger. “I was really, truly infuriated. I went to him and demanded he tell the truth - tell everyone it was my song - and he laughed at me, said he was an alpha and I was an omega and I could tell anyone I liked but no one would believe me. But the thing is, at Oxenfurt you can file your songs with the library. Most students don’t, because most student work is kinda crap, you know? But I was so proud of this one, I’d gone and filed it, and the files have dates, and the librarians can’t be bribed for anything. So I went to our professors and I proved that I’d written it, weeks before he sang it. That it was mine.”

“Good job,” Eskel says. Geralt hums agreement.

“I should have kept my mouth shut,” Jaskier says sadly. “Because he got a formal censure - the professors are really strict about theft of another’s work - and he was...angry. And people do believe an alpha more than an omega. So he started a rumor that we’d been lovers. And everyone believed it.”

“Fuck,” Lambert says softly.

“I got home and the deans had written to my parents about my - my being ruined, and they wouldn’t listen at all - they said even the rumors were too damaging to my reputation, even if they were false I’d still brought shame on the family and would never make a good marriage and was useless to them -” Jaskier chokes on a sob. “They sold me for three silver and told me I was no son of theirs.”

All three of his alphas are growling, a low rumble that seems to shake the room, and yet, somewhat to his own surprise, Jaskier isn’t scared. Lambert sits up, eyes glowing in the darkness as he looks down at Jaskier. “All in favor of hunting down that bastard and gelding him before we kill him?” he snarls.

“Aye,” Eskel says, voice like stone.

“Aye,” Geralt rumbles.

“And all in favor of finding our buttercup’s parents and fucking gutting them?” Lambert adds.

“Please don’t,” Jaskier says.

Eskel frowns. “You don’t owe them anything,” he says. “They gave you up.”

“No, it’s not that,” Jaskier says, freeing one hand from the covers and reaching out to touch Eskel’s knee. “It’s - my father’s a count. If you killed him, there’d be a price on your heads. I don’t want you to be in danger because of me.”

“Alright,” Eskel says gently. “Alright. We won’t, then. We won’t do anything you don’t want. But you will let us deal with the alpha who fucked you over, right?”

Jaskier swallows. Does he want his alphas to hunt down Valdo Marx and kill him?

“...No,” he says at last. His alphas go still, and Geralt pushes himself up to stare at him in dismay. “I want you to teach me how to use that dagger, and then I want to kill him myself.”

Lambert whoops. Geralt grins, showing all his teeth. Eskel beams. “There’s our fierce omega,” he says proudly. “That, we can do.”

“Yes,” Geralt says, settling down again and practically radiating smugness.

“Damn straight, buttercup,” Lambert agrees. “We’ll hunt him down, you gut him. Sounds like a nice spring project to me.”

Chapter Text

Jaskier is feeling much better the next morning - not just well-rested, though he is that, but almost lighter somehow. Like telling his alphas about his pain has helped to lessen it.

He’s also feeling rather squashed, because both Lambert and Geralt are mostly on top of him, Geralt’s head pillowed on his chest and Lambert’s legs pinning his down, one knee resting heavily on his stomach. Which wouldn’t be a problem except that Jaskier really, really needs to find a privy. Eskel is sitting on the side of the bed when Jaskier blinks awake, watching the three of them with a crooked smile.

Jaskier wiggles a little, which does absolutely nothing to dislodge his alphas. Eskel’s smile gets wider. Jaskier pouts at him. “A little help?”

“But they’re so comfortable,” Eskel objects. He also gets up and rolls Geralt off of Jaskier before setting to work carefully prying Lambert’s arm from around Jaskier’s chest, so Jaskier can probably forgive him. Lambert grumbles until Jaskier scrambles away and Eskel rolls Geralt under Lambert’s arm, at which point Lambert coils himself around Geralt with a disgruntled rumbling noise and apparently slides right back into deep slumber. Geralt hasn’t even seemed to notice being moved.

Eskel hands Jaskier his tunic, and Jaskier shrugs into it hastily - it’s colder, out from under his alphas. Pants and socks and boots follow in swift succession, and then the beautiful coat, and then Jaskier hastens out of the bedroom and down a single spiral of the stairs to the privies on the second floor.

Eskel is waiting for him when he emerges, and falls into step with him as they head down to the dining hall. “They sleep better here,” he says softly.

“Lambert and Geralt?” Jaskier asks.

“Yes. We’re always on alert, out on the Path, at least a little. Once we make it home, though, they sleep like the dead.”

“Do you not sleep well here?” Jaskier ventures. Eskel grins.

“No, no, I slept very well. I just like mornings. Always have. Something about the feeling of the air, the way the light changes as the sun rises - it’s just very pleasant.”

Jaskier shudders as theatrically as he can. “Oh, horrors, you’re a morning person. I’m going to have to re-think this whole relationship!”

Eskel bursts into delighted laughter. “Alas! How can I ever make this dreadful error up to you?”

Jaskier taps a finger on his chin and then holds it up dramatically. “I have it! You can tell me where to find a bath in this glorious fortress of yours.”

“Done,” Eskel says, holding the dining hall door open for him. “I’ll bring you down to the hot springs after morning training.”

“There are hot springs?” Jaskier asks incredulously.

“Best part of winter,” Eskel says.

“Now there’s the truth,” Gardis laughs. The table is sparsely populated this early: only Gardis and Vesemir are in their seats. “You’re up early, Jaskier.”

“There was a witcher sleeping directly on my bladder; amazing how that’ll wake you up,” Jaskier says, and Gardis chortles. Even Vesemir cracks a smile.

“Aubry likes to pretend he’s a blanket,” Gardis tells him as Eskel ladles porridge into bowls for himself and Jaskier. “Which does mean I don’t need any other blankets.”

“I imagine it would,” Jaskier says, and Gardis grins and pushes the honey closer to him.

Jaskier’s nearly finished his breakfast when Geralt and Lambert come stumbling rather blearily into the hall and slump down into their chairs, and is therefore not terribly inconvenienced when Geralt leans his forehead against Jaskier’s shoulder and goes almost limp. Jaskier winds an arm around his alpha to brace him and finishes his last few bites of porridge before shifting around to hold Geralt a little more securely. Geralt starts to purr, head nestled into the crook of Jaskier’s throat so the sound reverberates through Jaskier’s collarbone.

Gardis chuckles softly. “Careful, he’ll fall asleep like that.”

Hrm,” Geralt objects quietly.

“I’ll toss him in a snowbank if he does,” Lambert offers.

“Very helpful of you,” Jaskier says, running a hand over Geralt’s hair. Geralt goes even more boneless; Jaskier’s genuinely worried he’s going to slide out of his chair.

“That’s me, fuckin’ helpful,” Lambert agrees. Eskel snorts amusement.

Geralt doesn’t move even when Clovis, Frank, and Gwen come in, and Clovis starts snickering at him, so Jaskier ignores Clovis as best he can. Aubry is the last to the table, and gives Geralt a rather envious look before raising an eyebrow at Gardis.

“Oh hell no,” Gardis says, grinning. “Don’t even think about it.”

Aubry sighs deeply and gives Gardis some of the best puppy eyes Jaskier has ever seen. Gardis claps a hand over his eyes. “No no no stop that, you bastard, stop that at once, that is not fucking fair!”

Jaskier bites his lip to muffle a laugh; most of the witchers don’t bother to do the same. Gardis slumps sideways and thumps his head against Aubry’s shoulder in mock dismay, and Aubry shrugs and gathers the omega into his lap, hooking his chin over Gardis’s shoulder and looking immensely smug.

“Don’t you even think about it,” Clovis snarls. Gwen and Frank grin at each other and both lean in, sandwiching their omega between them, and start purring aggressively. Jaskier hadn’t realized it was possible to purr aggressively. Clovis yelps and snarls - and wriggles until he can get his hands up and start petting both of his packmates’ hair, while still growling under his breath.

Up at the head of the table, Vesemir sighs and rubs his forehead, but Jaskier can tell he’s fighting a smile. And maybe it’s because he actually let himself think about it last night, instead of trying desperately to repress every memory of before the way he usually does, but Jaskier can’t help comparing this moment to meals in Lettenhove, Vesemir’s fond exasperation to his own father’s cold and vicious formality. Even Clovis’s nastiness doesn’t even come close to the sort of sniping cruelty that Jaskier’s siblings and cousins were capable of, and as for the open affection between packmates, well, that simply wouldn’t happen in Lettenhove. Jaskier’s parents never did anything more intimate than touch each other’s hands in public, and that rarely; if any of the younger generation had dared be even a fraction as affectionate as the Wolves are, it would have earned stern frowns of disapproval and a banishment to eating in the nursery, or worse.

Jaskier had rather break bread with Wolves than nobles -

Huh. That might be worthy of a song.

*

Dagger training with actual stabbable straw-stuffed dummies is very different from just learning the basic stances from Geralt, but Geralt continues to be an astonishingly good teacher. Vesemir watches them for a while, arms crossed over his chest and an utterly blank expression on his face, before nodding and clapping Geralt on the shoulder and going off to holler at Gwen that he’s leaving his entire left side open, does he want Eskel to toss him into a snowbank?

Geralt actually chuckles. “Gwen always leaves his left side open,” he says, adjusting Jaskier’s stance a little and stepping back. “He’s used to having Frank there. Try that underhand blow again.”

Jaskier does, and has to admit that the thunk of the dagger sinking into the training dummy is remarkably satisfying. Geralt nods approval. “Again,” he says. “Ten times; you need to know the movements by heart.”

“Like learning to play an instrument,” Jaskier says, stepping back and making sure he’s got his feet set properly before repeating the blow. “You have to get so used to it you don’t think about it at all.”

“Exactly,” Geralt agrees. Jaskier nods and focuses on getting the movements exactly right; if this is like playing an instrument, then speed will come with practice, but learning it wrong will take forever to unlearn and correct.

Even in the chill of the mountain air, he’s sweating before long, and by midmorning he’s quite exhausted. Ruined omegas don’t exactly spend a lot of time exercising, after all. But Geralt looks quietly pleased with his progress, and the training dummy has quite a lot of holes in it, and Jaskier’s pretty sure he could perform the underhand stab in his sleep, so he thinks it was a fairly successful practice session, really.

“Good,” Geralt says, tugging gently on a sweat-matted lock of Jaskier’s hair.

“I need a bath,” Jaskier says ruefully.

“I did promise you one,” Eskel says from behind him; Jaskier jumps and whirls, and Eskel puts his empty hands up, grinning. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“How are you all so quiet in boots,” Jaskier complains, but he grins nonetheless. “I was promised hot springs!”

“So you were; come on, I’ll show you where they are, and Geralt can go get a proper workout.”

Jaskier falls in beside Eskel, who goes first to their tower room so Jaskier can find a change of clothes, and then past the dining hall and down another flight of spiraling stairs to a cavern that must be built into the mountainside. Eskel lights a lantern with a casual hand-sign, revealing a room nearly as large as the dining hall; there are at least a dozen broad pools set into the floor, with water running through them from a spring at the top of the room and out through a culvert in the wall at the bottom.

“Don’t come down here alone,” Eskel says. “The floor can be slippery, and if you fall and hit your head…”

Jaskier shudders. “That sounds like an unpleasant way to die, yes,” he agrees. “I shan’t be so foolish as to venture down by myself, then.” He bends down to dip a finger in one of the nearest pools, and finds it pleasantly blood-warm. There’s a shelf along one wall that holds soap and bath sheets.

And there is absolutely no privacy.

Jaskier hesitates, glancing over at Eskel, who is considerately working on the lacings of his boots - which Jaskier has seen him unlace in three seconds flat before - and not looking at Jaskier at all.

Eskel, who has never been anything but gentle with him. Who smells of woodsmoke and roasting chestnuts and safety. Who purrs when Jaskier strokes his hair, and taps his fingers in time to Jaskier’s songs. Who is one of Jaskier’s alphas, the finest alphas in the world.

Jaskier swallows hard. “I could,” he says softly, and Eskel looks up, golden eyes widening. “I could maybe use some help with my hair, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Eskel says quietly, smiling, a small sweet smile that makes Jaskier’s heart beat a little faster in his chest.

Jaskier turns away and undresses without looking at Eskel - he can’t, he’ll lose his nerve for certain if he does - and slips into the pool, sighing with pleasure as the hot water begins to ease his aches. The sides of the pool are worn smooth from long years of water and witchers, and there’s a low sort of shelf seat just tall enough that Jaskier can keep his head out of the water if he perches on it. He closes his eyes and sags against the side of the pool with a long sigh.

Eskel doesn’t splash much as he gets in on the other side of the pool, but he makes enough noise that Jaskier isn’t startled when he settles beside him. “Turn a bit and I can get your hair,” he murmurs. Jaskier swivels sideways, propping his feet up on the seat, and Eskel hums approval, sounding rather a lot like Geralt. Jaskier chuckles.

“Oh, shush, you,” Eskel says, so mildly even Jaskier can’t take it as an order or an admonishment. “I’d like to see you spend nearly eighty years around Geralt and not pick up some of his mannerisms. Tilt your head back a bit, please.”

Jaskier grins and does, and Eskel scoops up water and pours it over his hair so carefully that none of it trickles down into Jaskier’s still-closed eyes. “Soap,” Eskel says quietly, and then careful fingers are rubbing thin oily soap into Jaskier’s hair, gentle on his scalp but very thorough, and Jaskier makes soft happy sounds deep in his chest and leans into Eskel’s hands.

Eskel is purring, soft and happy, and the water is very warm, and the last of Jaskier’s nerves drain away. He basks in warm water and gentle hands until Eskel finally rinses the last of the soap from his hair, and then, very quietly, offers, “I could return the favor?”

“I would like that,” Eskel says.

Jaskier sits up properly and opens his eyes and turns around, and Eskel offers him a little jar of soap with a crooked, hopeful smile.

Jaskier’s gaze snags on Eskel’s chest, which he actually hasn’t seen bare before. Somehow Eskel looks even burlier without his clothing, broad as a wall and strong as a bear. He’s littered with scars, some of them from wounds which ought to have killed any mortal man, and Jaskier reaches out, not quite believing his own temerity, to trace one that curves over Eskel’s shoulder and down over his sternum.

“Katakan,” Eskel says softly. “Got the drop on me - oh, thirty years ago, that must’ve been.” He smiles a little ruefully. “I made a very good distraction, and Lambert took its head off.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says. He’s not entirely sure what a katakan is - he thinks it might be a sort of vampire, from the few times he’s heard it mentioned in his alphas’ conversations - but whatever it was, he’s glad it’s dead and Eskel isn’t.

Eskel turns around and tilts his head back a little, and Jaskier gets up on his knees on the seat to have a better vantage. Eskel’s hair is soft and sleek under his hands as he wets it down and begins to rub the soap into it. Eskel closes his eyes and starts purring again.

It’d be nice to do this for Geralt and Lambert, too, one of these days.

Eskel submerges once Jaskier’s finished scrubbing his hair, and stays under for a slightly worrying amount of time, re-surfacing at last with a broad grin and swiping his hands through his hair to get it out of his eyes. He turns away from Jaskier to finish bathing, which Jaskier really does appreciate. The soap is less harsh than the lye soap Vesemir uses in the kitchen, and it feels damn good to get all the sweat off.

And this would be a perfect opportunity to ask - “Eskel?”

“Hm?”

“Would - would you allow me to cut my hair?”

Eskel turns to look over his shoulder at Jaskier, eyebrows rising. “There’s no ‘allow’ about it. Aubry’s the best at cutting hair of the lot of us. Tell him how short you want it, and he’ll be happy to help.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says, as Eskel turns back around again. That was...a lot easier than he thought it was going to be.

So many things about his alphas are.

Jaskier climbs out while Eskel is still bathing - is in fact taking more time than he probably needs, which, again, Jaskier appreciates a great deal - and dries himself and dresses, and only when he’s lacing his boots back on does Eskel clamber out of the water, making enough noise that Jaskier can look away - or not - as he pleases.

Jaskier does please, as it happens; he’s not quite ready for ogling fully-naked witchers. But when Eskel is dressed and holds up a comb hopefully, Jaskier settles on the bench beside him and lets Eskel comb his hair out, and then returns the favor, and Eskel’s quiet purring makes something warm bloom in Jaskier’s chest.

He’s not sure where the impulse comes from, actually, but when he’s done with Eskel’s hair and Eskel stands and offers him a hand up from the bench, Jaskier rises and steps closer, close enough that he can feel Eskel’s breath warm on his lips. Eskel goes very still, pupils widening. Slowly, Jaskier reaches up to rest his hand on the scarred side of Eskel’s face, and leans forward, just a little. Just enough to press their lips together.

As first kisses go, it’s a soft, sweet thing, brief and utterly chaste, but it certainly seems to leave Eskel reeling, and Jaskier feels a little like reeling himself. He’s kissed someone - kissed an alpha - everything he learned in six years as a ruined omega is screaming that the next thing to happen will be the alpha throwing him down and fucking him regardless of his own desires, and he’ll have brought it on himself -

And what Eskel does, of course, because it’s Eskel, is to take a deep breath and reach up to put his hand over Jaskier’s, leaning into Jaskier’s palm with a smile. Jaskier swallows hard, and lets the fear drain away. It’s Eskel. He’s safe.

“Alright there, Jaskier?” Eskel murmurs.

“I think so,” Jaskier says. “Could I try that again without the panicking?”

“As many times as you like,” Eskel says. “Pretty much the only time I wouldn’t want to kiss you would be in the middle of a hunt.”

“That sounds like it would be a bad time to be kissing, yes,” Jaskier agrees, amused despite his nerves. “I wouldn’t want to distract you.”

“That, and if we’ve taken any potions we’d be mildly toxic,” Eskel says, and Jaskier can’t help laughing. Witchers. Toxicity is not something Jaskier has ever thought of worrying about when it comes to kissing.

“Good to know,” he says, and leans forward again. Their second kiss is just as chaste, soft and gentle and sweet as honey, and when they pull apart at last, Jaskier tucks his head against Eskel’s throat and just clings to him for a long moment. Eskel loops his arms very carefully around Jaskier’s waist and purrs like thunder.

*

Vesemir sets Jaskier to chopping vegetables again after luncheon, and Jaskier spends the time trying to figure out what he’s feeling. He liked kissing Eskel - liked the closeness of it, the softness of Eskel’s lips against his, the warmth of it. He’d rather like to kiss Lambert and Geralt, too - to see how differently they kiss, or how similarly.

More than kissing, though - hells, any kissing more intense than closed lips against closed lips - no, he can’t do that. Not yet. Not without remembering...everything. And he’s pretty sure that while none of his previous alphas cared if he was shaking with terror, weeping with pain, or just frozen in panic, these alphas - his pack - would not enjoy that.

So. Kissing. He’ll try that, and see how it goes from there.

And maybe by the time his heat hits, two months from now, he’ll know if he wants his alphas there for it, or if he wants to lock himself into a heat room and deal with it himself. He hasn’t had a solo heat since before, but he remembers how to deal with them, and he’s absolutely certain his alphas will make sure he has everything he needs, from food to blankets covered in their scents to appropriately shaped...implements.

Vesemir is kind enough to wait until Jaskier has pretty much gotten his decision straight in his mind - and finished chopping the vegetables - before he says, “Here, pup, come learn how to make bread.”

Jaskier comes over obediently, and is pleased to discover that it doesn’t look that complicated, just a little time-consuming. Not something that can be done easily out on the Path, but still probably a useful skill to have. He memorizes Vesemir’s instructions carefully, and rattles them off when the old witcher prompts him, which earns him an approving nod.

“Could wish some of my pups were as attentive as you are, back when we had trainees,” he says gruffly. “G’wan up to the library. Found you something in one of the storerooms.”

Jaskier nods and makes his escape, wondering what Vesemir could have found that he thought would interest Jaskier -

And discovers, sitting on the chair that he’s sort of claimed as his own, a battered lute-case. He opens it with shaking hands. The lute within is old and unstrung - there’s a little bag of coiled strings tucked into the case beside it - and there’s a bit of a crack starting on the soundboard, but - a lute. He hasn’t held an instrument in six godsforsaken years.

He picks it up as tenderly as he would an infant. A lute. He could kiss Vesemir for this.

He spends the rest of the afternoon stringing the lute, fingers as careful and gentle as he can make them, barely breathing as he tightens the pegs. The strings are terribly out of tune to begin with, of course, but he remembers how to do this, coaxes them one by one to the right notes.

And then, for the first time in six years, he cradles a lute in his lap and plays a song.

It’s not a long tune: he’s lost the calluses on his fingers, and he doesn’t want to play them bloody. It’s the song he made up that first day on the road with his witchers, the wordless joyful song that skirled among the horses’ hooves, and he plays it to the crackling fire and the silence of the library -

And, he discovers when he finishes, to Lambert, lounging against the doorframe and watching him with wide golden eyes. “That was fucking beautiful, buttercup,” Lambert rasps.

Jaskier blushes and looks down at his hands, at the beautiful battered old lute. “Thank you.”

“You should play for us after supper sometimes,” Lambert suggests. “If you want.”

“I’d want to get back into practice first,” Jaskier says, and bites his lip. “You...wouldn’t mind?”

“Mind?” Lambert says. “Be nice to have something to listen to that isn’t fucking Clovis grousing about losing at Gwent.”

Jaskier laughs and stands, putting the lute into its case with immense care. “No respect for my classically-trained talent,” he teases, and Lambert laughs.

“Wouldn’t know a classically-trained musician from a mule,” he admits, “but you sounded fuckin’ good, buttercup, so I’ll listen to anything you’re willing to play.”

Jaskier blinks back tears. Not good for an omega, not talented but not quite living up to your potential, not even such skill is wasted on a noble omega - alas that you were not born a beta, dear boy, but just - good. Fuckin’ good, even.

“Then I’ll play anytime you want to listen,” he says, and crosses the scant space between them nestling right into Lambert’s space. Lambert looks a bit startled, but he wraps his arms around Jaskier, and before Jaskier’s nerve can desert him, he ducks his head just those few tiny inches and presses his lips to Lambert’s.

Lambert goes very still, like he’s afraid that moving will scare Jaskier away, but a purr begins to reverberate in his chest.

Jaskier lets their lips part after a moment, and dares to meet Lambert’s eyes. They’re blown nearly entirely black, just a thin gold ring showing around the enormous pupils. Jaskier feels the panic trying to rise in the back of his mind, and stomps on it firmly. This is Lambert, foul-mouthed gentle-handed Lambert, who promised that his alphas would never do anything Jaskier didn’t want.

Slowly, Lambert licks his lips. “Taste as good as you sound, buttercup,” he murmurs.

Jaskier blushes. “Flatterer.”

“Nah, I’m fuckin’ awful at flattery. Can’t lie worth shit, you know that.” Lambert reaches up, slowly, to brush his thumb along Jaskier’s cheekbone. “I just say what I fuckin’ mean.”

Jaskier blushes harder, ears burning, and ducks his head to press his forehead against Lambert’s shoulder so he doesn’t have to look at his alpha. “Dreadful,” he says faintly.

That I definitely am,” Lambert agrees easily. “C’mon, suppertime, if we don’t get down there soon Geralt’ll have eaten my portion and then I’ll have to stab him and then Vesemir will make us run laps on the battlements.”

Jaskier laughs and raises his head and brushes one more light, chaste kiss against Lambert’s lips before slipping out of his alpha’s embrace and leading the way down to the dining hall.

*

Geralt, sweetheart that he is, has plates waiting for both Lambert and Jaskier, and is defending them from a cheerfully avaricious Gardis by means of a butter-knife fencing match. Jaskier pauses in the doorway, watching the ridiculous scene, and is almost overwhelmed by a sudden wave of an emotion so strong and startling it takes him a moment to be able to name it.

It’s love, he realizes, rubbing his sternum with one hand and smiling so hard his cheeks hurt as Geralt disarms Gardis, sending the butter-knife flying, and Aubry catches the utensil with a long-suffering sigh. It can’t be anything else. He loves these ridiculous, sweet, absurdly gentle alphas, who have welcomed him into their pack despite every possible reason to do otherwise. A ruined omega - a human - a man so scared of alphas that he flinches at his own shadow - they could so easily have used him as a toy, a tool, kept him at arms’ length - metaphorically, at least - and yet they have let him in, have shown him their own pain and comforted him in his and bent over fucking backwards to make him comfortable among them.

And they’ll keep waiting, he knows, as long as it takes for him to be comfortable with them - even if he never is, even if he spends all his heats for the rest of his life in a locked room in a tower in this crumbling keep, even if he never manages more than chaste kisses and shirtless cuddling, they’ll wait. They’ll be content with what their omega can give.

He crosses the room and sits down beside Geralt with a broad smile, bumping his shoulder against his alpha’s gently. “Thanks for saving me a plate,” he says, and Geralt hums and smiles, crooked and unguarded and sweet, and nudges his shoulder against Jaskier’s, jostling him into Lambert, who yelps in exaggerated indignation.

Gardis and Eskel laugh at them, and Aubry’s eyes are dancing even if his expression remains even more unreadable than Geralt’s usually is, and even Frank and Gwen are looking amused by the antics; Clovis isn’t, but that’s because he’s already finished his meal and is determinedly failing to cast on a knitting project. Jaskier watches out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to be caught staring, as Clovis drops his stitches over and over again, expression growing ever more thunderous, until Vesemir finally sighs and says, “Come here, pup, I’ll show you how to do that properly,” and leads Clovis over to sit on the hearth where the light is better. A few minutes later, Clovis has successfully cast on and is knitting slowly and angrily, frowning down at his hands and the needles. Gwen and Frank exchange a look of what Jaskier can only interpret as relief.

“He likes to learn a new skill every winter,” Gardis murmurs, so quietly that even witcher hearing won’t be able to catch it from the hearth at the end of the hall. “He’s always grumpy until Vesemir gets him to sit still for a proper lesson. Grumpier than usual, I mean.”

Jaskier grins, oddly charmed.

“Remember the year he tried to learn egg-carving?” Frank asks.

“Oh gods,” Gwen says, shuddering. “Vividly.”

“Better than the year he tried to learn brewing,” Lambert puts in between bites of turnip-and-potato pie, and raises his voice a little. “I still haven’t forgiven you for blowing up my best steel fermenter, you asshole!”

“Fuck you,” Clovis retorts, and drops a stitch, and treats the uncooperative yarn to a diatribe of swearing in four languages that Jaskier recognizes and at least one he doesn’t.

“Oh you dick, where’d you learn fuckin’ Gnomish?” Lambert demands, slewing around to stare at Clovis.

“Oh damn,” Eskel sighs, and he and Geralt stand and scoop Lambert up between them, shoulders under his arms, carrying him out of the hall while he whines and kicks at their ankles. Jaskier gives Gardis a look of utter bafflement.

“Lambert gets pissy when people can swear in more languages than he can,” Gardis explains. “Which means this winter will be...interesting.” He sighs. “Maybe I’ll make myself some earplugs.”

Jaskier has to bite his lip against another ridiculous, overwhelming surge of adoration for his absolutely absurd alphas. “I’ll go up and see if I can help calm him down,” he offers.

“Thank you,” Aubry says, sounding very sincere indeed. Jaskier laughs and finishes his tankard of small beer and goes trotting off after his alphas.

He finds them in the tower bedroom, Geralt and Eskel on top of Lambert in the big bed, pinning him down and nuzzling him while Lambert swears and wiggles and - Jaskier notes - doesn’t actually try very hard to unearth himself from beneath the heap of witchers.

“Jaskierrrrr,” he whines when Jaskier closes the door behind him. “Get these great lumps off me!”

“How, exactly, am I supposed to do that?” Jaskier asks, taking his boots off and lining them up neatly beside the door before hanging his beautiful coat on a convenient hook and padding over to the bed in his stocking feet. “They both outweigh me, you know.”

“Use your - your bardly wiles,” Lambert suggests.

“My bardly wiles,” Jaskier says, amused far out of proportion to the ridiculous phrase. “I’m not sure I have any.”

Lambert pouts. Jaskier laughs. “Fine,” he says, and sits on the side of the bed. “Geralt? I’ve gotten a kiss from both of our packmates, but I haven’t had one from you. May I?”

Geralt instantly rolls away from Lambert, coming to his knees beside Jaskier and reaching out to cup Jaskier’s face in one big palm, eyes wide. “Are you sure?”

“Very,” Jaskier says, and reaches up to lace his fingers in Geralt’s moon-white hair and pull him gently down.

The kiss is just as soft and chaste as the others have been, but Jaskier thinks he feels something fall into place with a thunk like a lock’s tumblers settling. Geralt purrs and strokes his hand through Jaskier’s hair, and Jaskier grins as they part and wriggles onto the bed until he’s sprawled out beside Lambert and holds out an arm. Geralt immediately flops down half atop him, nose tucked into the curve of Jaskier’s neck, just as Eskel is currently draped across Lambert.

“There,” Jaskier says to Lambert. “I helped.”

Lambert considers that, fumbling between them until he can take Jaskier’s hand and lace their fingers together. “Yeah,” he says at last. “Yeah, buttercup, you did.”

Chapter Text

The next afternoon, while he’s putting together a bowl of bread dough under Vesemir’s approving gaze, Vesemir’s head comes up suddenly. “Finish that, pup, and then make up a tray of leftovers from luncheon. I’ll be back in a little while.” He goes trotting out of the kitchen, and Jaskier blinks after him for a long moment before shrugging and turning back to the bread dough. He gets everything mixed and sets the bowl aside with a towel draped over it, then puts together a tray of stew and bread and a few of the honey-soaked dried apricots that he’s discovered in a huge jar at the back of the pantry. He’s just finished when Vesemir returns, leading a stranger: a dark-skinned, lean, scarred beta man with greenish-yellow eyes and a silver medallion about his throat. A witcher, clearly, and by the rampant griffin on his medallion, probably Coën. His scent is cool and crisp like melting ice, and he looks exhausted and rather too thin.

“Pup, this is Coën,” Vesemir says, confirming Jaskier’s suspicions. “Coën, meet Jaskier.”

“It is an honor,” Coën says, bowing a little with his hand over his heart. “Hail and well met, gracious omega.”

Jaskier’s eyebrows go up. Nobody’s been called ‘gracious omega’ in decades, maybe a century - certainly not a ruined omega like him. But witchers are old-fashioned in a lot of interesting ways. “Hail and well met, faithful beta,” he replies, suddenly grateful for his habit of reading romances and adventure tales set in the Golden Age, which is the only reason he knows the proper form of address for a beta under the ancient formal rules. He pushes the tray of food across the table, and Coën bows again and sits down, setting to with impeccable table manners despite his clear hunger.

A few minutes later, Gardis comes in, and slumps down on the bench beside Coën with an exaggerated sigh. “What the hell do you keep in your bags, rocks?” he demands.

Coën smiles and puts down his spoon. “Yes, actually.’

“What?”

“I carve soapstone as a hobby,” Coën explains. “I have several pieces with me to work on this winter.”

“...Oh,” Gardis says a little weakly. “Huh.”

“Would you like something?” Coën asks. “I would be pleased to carve you anything within my poor skills, in thanks for your assistance today, gracious omega.”

“I just brought your bags in,” Gardis says, looking rather flustered.

“And I am duly grateful,” Coën says. He’s keeping his face almost as expressionless as Geralt’s, but Jaskier can see the crinkles around the corners of his eyes that say he’s hiding a smile. “As you have put yourself out for the sake of my rocks, it seems only fair that you should have one as a reward.”

Gardis blinks at him for a minute and then guffaws. “Alright, yeah, Eskel’s right, you’ll do,” he says, and claps Coën on the shoulder. “Can you make a sheep? A ram with big curling horns?”

Coën looks briefly taken aback. “Probably, yes.”

“Then that’s what I want,” Gardis says, grinning.

“If that is what you want, that is what you shall have,” Coën says, sounding a little baffled.

“Lovely,” Gardis says, and bounces to his feet. “Right, I’m going to go see if Lambert’s knocked Gwen into a snowdrift yet. Good to meet you, Coën!” He ambles out, and Coën gives Vesemir and Jaskier a rather confused look.

“Why a sheep?” he asks.

“He’ll give it to Aubry,” Vesemir says. “His scent is lanolin.”

Coën nods understanding. “I shall make a fine ram for him, then.”

“Had you not met them before?” Jaskier asks - he’d thought Coën was a known quantity, a familiar visitor to the keep.

“They didn’t make it up from the south the last couple of years,” Vesemir says. “It was only the five of us last winter, your alphas and Coën and me.”

“Ah,” Jaskier says, wincing. The keep is meant for far more than even the eleven they have now - five must have rattled around like lonely peas in a barrel.

Coën smiles. “I shall enjoy getting to know the other Wolves, I am sure,” he says. “And you, of course, gracious omega.”

“Just Jaskier’s fine,” Jaskier says, and Coën nods solemnly, like he’s committing the name to memory.

The table is quite full that night, and Jaskier is interested to note that Coën’s seat is placed at Aubry’s right, across from Gardis, who seems delighted by their newest companion.

And melting ice does sort of match the springtime theme...

*

After Coën’s arrival, Jaskier’s days fall into a pleasant and predictable pattern. He gets up with Eskel - for all his teasing, Jaskier quite likes the early morning, the crispness of the air and the way the day feels new and fresh - and goes down to eat; Vesemir apparently doesn’t sleep much, given that breakfast is always waiting for them. Lambert and Geralt stumble downstairs after a while and slump down on either side of Jaskier, nuzzling him and grumbling under their breaths about mornings.

After breakfast, there’s training, and Jaskier surprises both himself and his alphas by improving rapidly. It helps to imagine that the training dummy he’s stabbing is Valdo Marx, or any of the alphas who bought and used and sold him again. Geralt is a patient and even-tempered teacher, and Coën and Vesemir help as well, both of them gentle with Jaskier in a way that Vesemir is not with the witchers: he’ll yell at them, send them to run laps on the battlements or chop firewood or haul water, cuff them about the ears when they are being obstreperous, but with Jaskier he never raises his voice nor his hand. Jaskier would be a little indignant about being treated like some sort of fragile flower except for how he’s painfully grateful.

When Jaskier is exhausted - which is of course well before any of the witchers are, though he’s growing stronger every day, on Vesemir’s good cooking and vigorous exercise and the endless stairs of Kaer Morhen - one of his alphas brings him down to the hot springs. Jaskier is getting used to seeing them all naked, and to them seeing him; the thin veil of the mineral-scented water is comforting, and he never looks down, but he’s grown accustomed to their broad, scarred chests, and the feel of their fingers in his hair - and his fingers in theirs, for that matter, as they all turn into purring puddles when he offers to scrub their hair.

Luncheon is usually quiet, most of the witchers having been run about quite enough to keep them focused on food, and then Jaskier follows Vesemir down into the kitchen and learns the arcane arts of pie crust and sourdough bread and the appropriate seasonings for venison or fish or chicken. After that he’s got the rest of the afternoon free, and goes gleefully off to the library to read, or compose, or practice on the beautiful battered old lute. At least one of his alphas - more and more often, all three of them - will come up to bring him down for supper, and they come up earlier on the days he’s playing the lute, and stand in the doorway listening with looks of quiet pleasure on their scarred, handsome faces.

(One afternoon about a week after their arrival, Aubry comes and finds him in the library, and Jaskier swallows hard and shows him how short he wants his hair, and Aubry very carefully trims it to just beneath Jaskier’s ears, then claps Jaskier gently on the shoulder and wanders off again. Jaskier’s alphas nod when they see him, and Lambert ruffles his hair all out of order and grins wickedly, and Geralt finger-combs it back into place with a contented little hum, and that’s...all the reaction there is. Jaskier feels lighter all out of proportion to the weight of the hair he’s lost.)

Supper is usually fairly rowdy, the witchers having recovered from their mornings’ exertions, and then after supper they’ll usually end up gathering near the fire to do handicrafts or play Gwent or just talk. Jaskier tends to spend those hours tucked into someone’s lap - his alphas trade off - and telling stories. The witchers discovered only a few days after Coën’s arrival that Jaskier knows a lot of stories, having memorized as many songs and romances and ancient tales as he could get his hands on while he was at Oxenfurt, and even Clovis seems to enjoy listening to Jaskier weave the tale of Tristan and Isolde or Marian the Bold while the witchers play cards or knit or carve stone or otherwise amuse themselves. Jaskier starts singing the tales after a week or so, working through every ballad he can remember or find in the library, and the witchers seem to enjoy that even more.

And once Jaskier starts yawning, his alphas herd him up to their rooms and pile into the enormous bed with him at the bottom of the heap, comfortably squashed, and if Jaskier is feeling like it - which he is more and more often as the days go by - they spend an hour or so just kissing, quietly and contentedly, until Jaskier falls asleep. It’s not just the three alphas trading off with him, either: Jaskier gets to see his alphas kissing, and it’s beautiful.

Geralt and Eskel hold each other like the other is something priceless, kiss like it’s their last breath and they can’t think of anything better to do with it than share it. Geralt and Lambert kiss like a sparring match, rolling over and over on the bed, neither ever quite winning but both looking immensely satisfied with the outcome nonetheless, regardless of who ends up on top at the end of their scuffle. Lambert kisses Eskel like he’s got something to prove, and Eskel kisses back like it’s already been proven, and the evidence is in how sweetly he can pin Lambert to the bed and make the other alpha melt into a purring puddle.

And all of them kiss Jaskier like he’s the most precious thing in the entire world, like they’re afraid of either breaking him or letting go. Lambert tends to bite a little and Eskel likes to roll onto his back and let Jaskier sprawl out over his chest and Geralt likes to card his fingers through Jaskier’s hair and scatter kisses across his cheeks and nose, and it’s all so damn good. Jaskier has thought for years that he’d rather choke than have another alpha forcing their tongue down his throat, but - well - this isn’t like that at all. For one thing, none of them even suggest using their tongues until Jaskier starts it, and then all of them are so painstakingly careful that even when something does startle Jaskier into a horrible memory, it’s his alphas who break the kiss before he can even think to do so. For another, he likes how they taste, likes the feeling of their skin against his, likes the warmth of them. Kissing his alphas is nothing at all like being kissed by the monsters who’d owned him before.

He loves kissing his alphas, and he loves sleeping surrounded by their warmth and the scent of safety, and he’s growing steadily more certain that when it comes right down to it, he just loves them.

*

Really there’s only one fly in the ointment of Jaskier’s contentment, but it’s a fairly large one: his heat is approaching, inexorable as sunrise. And though he loves kissing his alphas, and snuggling with them, and letting them play with his hair...the thought of presenting for an alpha, even half-mindless with heat, gives him chills.

He dithers for days - almost a month, in fact - and then finally one afternoon he screws up his courage and goes and finds Gardis. The other omega is out in the stables, braiding the mane of a bored-looking gelding; Aubry is sitting on a hay bale against the wall and making a braided-leather something-or-other, and Coën is on the hay bale next to Aubry’s, carefully darning a sock. It is, Jaskier realizes with some amusement, one of Gardis’s socks - he’s seen them before, a remarkable green-and-white checked pattern, when Gardis kicks his boots off and stretches his stocking feet towards the fire in the evenings, earning himself a huff from Vesemir but no worse admonishment than that.

“Hey,” Gardis says. “Looking for Geralt?”

“Looking for you, actually,” Jaskier says, and bites his lip. “Could I - talk to you?”

“Sure,” Gardis says, finishes the braid he’s working on, and pats the horse on the shoulder. “In here, or somewhere else?”

“Somewhere private?” Jaskier says hesitantly.

“C’mon, then,” Gardis says easily, and leads Jaskier out of the stables and across the courtyard, not to the keep but to a slightly dilapidated outbuilding that Jaskier’s never entered before.

It’s a smithy, he realizes as Gardis ushers him in. The inside is in far better shape than the outside would suggest, and it smells like Vesemir - like Vesemir and something else, a thicker smoke scent than Eskel’s and a sweetness Jaskier can’t quite place.

Gardis hops up on the anvil and gestures for Jaskier to sit on the only bench in the place. “Nobody much comes in here anymore but Vesemir, and he won’t intrude,” he says. “And we’re far enough from anyplace else that we won’t be overheard. What’s eating you, pup?”

Jaskier has almost gotten used to all the Wolves calling him ‘pup’ - even Clovis does it, now, with a faint hint of derision to the word but nowhere near the contempt he displayed when Jaskier first arrived. He likes Jaskier’s singing too much to keep giving him crap, apparently, for which Jaskier is duly grateful.

“My heat’s coming up,” he says softly. “And I don’t know what I want to do.”

Gardis hums, tapping his feet against the block holding up the anvil and frowning. “No one will give you any trouble if you decide to use a heat-room,” he says. “Not even Clovis. We’ve all had bad years.”

“Thank you,” Jaskier says, and means it. “I just...don’t know if I want to. I...do want my alphas. Just...not yet.”

Gardis hums again; it must be something they all learned from Vesemir. “Well,” he says at last, “you’ll have other heats. It’s very hard to un-fuck someone once you’ve done it, but you can always fuck them when your heat’s over if you decide you want to even without heat-madness pulling you under.” He shrugs. “I made Gweld wait three years before I was sure I wanted him during my heat, even though we were already fucking the rest of the time, and I don’t regret that even now. Heat’s...vulnerable. Even for witchers.”

Jaskier nods. ‘Vulnerable’ is a good term for it, really, and he - well, in heat-madness he probably would present for his alphas, but he might very well regret it afterwards, and he desperately does not want anything he does with his alphas to be cause for regret.

“Thank you,” he says at last. “That helps...a lot.”

“Good,” Gardis says. “We don’t want you hurt, pup.”

“What,” Jaskier says, hesitates, bites his lip, and finishes the question all in a rush: “What are alpha witchers like in bed?”

“Depends on the alpha,” Gardis says, shrugging. “Gweld was a delight, but Gweld was always a delight. Hemminks was always a bit pushy; Gascaden liked to be shoved around a bit. I’ve never actually had your alphas, so I can’t really tell you what they’ll be like, but really, best as I’ve ever been able to tell, an alpha in bed is just...them without any concealments. And your three aren’t particularly subtle about who they really are anyhow. So I’d guess much as they are the rest of the time, only more so.”

“Cuddly, then,” Jaskier says, smiling.

“That’d be a pretty safe guess, aye,” Gardis agrees.

Cuddly, Jaskier can deal with. Cuddly and protective, possessive and gentle, attentive and amorous - his alphas are all of those, and Jaskier likes it. Likes feeling safe and protected in their arms, desired in a way that has nothing to do with the violent cruelty of the alphas who used him and discarded him.

“Alright,” he says. “Thanks.”

“Welcome, pup,” Gardis says, and hops off the anvil, clapping Jaskier on the shoulder. “Let me know if you need help getting things together for your nest, yeah?”

“I will,” Jaskier promises. A nest - he’ll get to have a nest. This heat is going to be a very different proposition from any he’s had in...maybe ever, come to think of it.

*

He builds his nest in a heat-room, blanket by blanket. The beautiful coat will go into it, of course, but not until Jaskier’s heat actually starts; until then, the nest is blankets from their big bed and spare tunics dug out of his alphas’ clothes chests and a big feather mattress Vesemir produces from gods know where.

Gardis has a spring heat, Clovis a summer one, and Remus apparently used to have an autumn heat, so the heat-room hasn’t been used since before the pogrom which sacked the keep. It’s in good repair, possibly because it’s in a small tower far from any of the more commonly used areas and was therefore overlooked during the massacre. It’s a bit chilly, but once heat hits Jaskier won’t care about that; he’s always felt a little sorry for omegas with summer heats, who have to deal with the overwhelming warmth of heat while it’s also genuinely hot out. In heat, even the warmth of an alpha’s skin or seed feels blessedly, marvelously cool; it’s the only thing that mitigates the horrid sweaty mindlessness even for a minute or two.

Back in the Golden Age, according to some of the books Jaskier found in the very back stacks of the Oxenfurt Library - the stacks omegas weren’t actually supposed to see, but he’s always been good at getting where he’s not supposed to - high-ranking omegas used to spend their heats with groups of three or four or five alphas, so that they never went more than a few minutes without relief. Back when he first read that, Jaskier had almost laughed himself sick: more than one alpha being in the same room as a heated-up omega sounded like a recipe for bloodshed, not bliss. Now he wonders if the alphas of the Golden Age were taught to find packs, to seek for those whose scents meshed with theirs and take those others as dearer-than-brothers. If so, it wasn’t mentioned in the books, but Jaskier never did go looking for books about the alphas of those long-gone days; he was far more interested in the omegas. And the Eternal Sun’s priests would have been very strict about stamping any such notions out. The Sun is ever alone, solitary in his splendor; suggesting that alphas, made in his image, ought to have companions who are their equals, not merely omegas, who are their lessers as the moon is lesser than the sun, would be blasphemous, Jaskier is pretty sure.

Which is honestly kind of a pity. For all the pain they’ve been through, all the scorn and ill treatment they get out on their Path, witcher alphas seem a lot more stable than most alphas Jaskier’s ever met. Maybe he only ever encountered the unstable human alphas, but still. His alphas are so much more centered than any other unmated alphas he’s ever even heard of that it’s frankly astonishing whenever he stops to think about it.

Maybe it only works because they’re witchers, because they’re no longer entirely human, but it would be interesting to see if it worked for humans, too. Not that Jaskier has any idea how to suggest it, or who to suggest it to, or anything like that.

He always gets a little lost in his own head, the weeks leading up to his heat.

He’s got the nest pretty much built a good week before he thinks he’ll need it, and he’s standing in the tower room wondering what he’s forgotten when there’s a tap on the doorframe and he turns to see Clovis, of all people, standing there looking a little awkward.

“Here,” he blurts, and holds out a box. Jaskier takes it, baffled. “Frank carves ‘em. It’s new.”

“Thank you?” Jaskier says, wondering what in the world the box might contain.

“Heat’s miserable enough without me giving you shit about it,” Clovis grumbles. “Don’t get used to it or anything, pup.” He vanishes down the stairs again, and Jaskier puts the box down on the bed and opens it warily.

Inside is a wooden...well, it’s a wooden prick. Complete with knot. It’s polished to a satiny smoothness, and might also be varnished, Jaskier isn’t quite sure; either way, it’s quite a triumph of the woodcarver’s art. It’s also quite large, but that’s...probably for the best, really. During heat, all an omega really wants is to be filled.

There’s also a jar of oil, tightly sealed, which is remarkably thoughtful. Some omegas don’t produce enough slick during heat, Jaskier knows, though he is - thank the gods - not among their number.

“Huh,” Eskel says from the doorway, and Jaskier whirls like he’s just been caught doing something terrible. He - well, he hasn’t actually told his alphas that he’s planning to spend his heat alone. He can’t quite find the right words. But now here he is with a wooden prick in his hand and a nest all but completed and -

“Breathe,” Eskel says softly. “May I come in?”

Jaskier nods without really thinking about it, and Eskel crosses the room swiftly and cradles Jaskier’s face in his hands. “Breathe with me,” he says, and Jaskier tries to match his breathing to his alpha’s: in and out, slow and even and calm.

“There now,” Eskel says after Jaskier has stopped panicking quite so much. “Heat’s coming up soon, is it?”

Jaskier nods mutely, fighting back another wave of terror. He knows Eskel won’t force him - none of his alphas will - but there’s the knowledge earned in just under three months of kindness, and there’s the preceding six years of misery, which can’t be so easily forgotten.

“Alright,” Eskel says, very gently. “Do you want to spend it alone?”

Jaskier nods again, feeling his eyes start to fill with tears. Eskel bows his head until their foreheads rest against each other.

“That’s fine,” he whispers. “That’s fine, Jaskier. We’ll guard your door, and no harm will come to you. No one will touch you. My word on it.”

Jaskier’s tears overflow, and Eskel’s thumbs gently brush them away. “Thank you,” Jaskier breathes.

“No thanks needed,” Eskel says. “We will always keep you safe. And we will never touch you without your leave.” He takes a deep breath and leans back a little. “When do you think your heat will start? We can start preparing supplies for you - Vesemir makes this wonderful applesauce, it takes forever to stew but it tastes amazing, goes down nice and easy.”

“How do you -” Jaskier starts, and then shakes his head a little. “Remus, of course.”

“Yeah. He never liked to have anything solid during his heats. Come down to our room, and tell us what you want? Food, supplies - more of our tunics - whatever you need, you’ll have.”

Jaskier nods. “Alright. Yeah. That...that sounds good.”

*

His heat hits five days later. He wakes up a few hours before dawn, far too warm and aching in every joint, and squirms out of the pile of witchers with an effort. Lambert wakes as Jaskier shoves his feet into his shoes, scrambling into the beautiful coat and nothing else - anything else would take too long, and he isn’t going very far, after all.

“Buttercup? Wha - oh, shit,” Lambert finishes, and sticks his elbows into Eskel and Geralt’s ribs. “Hey, you fucks, wake up, our omega’s in heat.”

“Ow fuck,” Geralt says, rolling over; Eskel just grunts as he blinks himself awake. Geralt slides out of bed, naked and unashamed, and Jaskier keeps his eyes on Geralt’s face with a significant effort. He’s far enough into heat already that he wants to look, that hunger outweighs fear. “Pointy fucking elbows,” Geralt grumbles, and then, to Jaskier, “You good to walk, or need to be carried?”

“I can walk,” Jaskier says, and Geralt nods and tugs on a pair of loose trousers - and nothing else - before opening the door and nodding Jaskier out, following a careful pace behind him. Lambert and Eskel are scrambling into their own clothing as Jaskier heads for the heat-room.

The heat-room has a heavy iron lock, and Jaskier has the key hidden in his nest. Geralt stops before they reach the doorway, and watches Jaskier silently as Jaskier hurries into the heat-room and turns, one hand on the door.

“Anything you want, tell us,” Geralt says softly. “We’ll get it to you.” There’s a flap in the door, large enough for a tray or a blanket, too small for a witcher. “We’ll keep you safe, Jaskier.”

Jaskier nods. “I know,” he says. He doesn’t dare ask for a kiss to tide him over - if he asks for a kiss, he’ll ask for another, and then he’ll be too far gone to remember that he doesn’t actually want any alphas in his nest.

Eskel and Lambert come hurrying up the corridor to stop beside Geralt. “You good, buttercup?” Lambert asks.

Jaskier nods. “I’ll - see you on the other side?”

“We’ll be here,” Eskel promises. “Don’t you worry about us.”

“Alright,” Jaskier says, and closes the door, and throws the latch.

And he is alone, and his heat rises to engulf him.

*

It’s odd, actually, having a heat alone but not alone. Because he isn’t, Jaskier realizes, somewhere in the first wave of desperate overheated need. He’s alone in his nest, nothing but him and an enormous wooden prick, but the scent of his alphas fills the whole room, rising from the tunics in the nest and wafting through the flap in the door, the smell of a warm hearth that has become the scent of safety, of being held and petted and cherished. He can imagine, far too easily, that the wooden prick pressing into him is Geralt’s, or Eskel’s, or Lambert’s - that his alphas are here with him, gentle hands and soft kisses and hunger.

He can hear them, too, hear their soft growls and the sounds of kissing, and he knows his alphas are taking their pleasure in each other, spurred on by his own scent, by the omega a locked door away. And yet none of them claws at the door, or rattles the knob, or demands that Jaskier open it. They don’t speak at all, in fact, though he can hear them growling in response to each of his own moans or gasps, and it makes a strangely compelling chorus. And when he peaks, clenching around an implacable wooden knot and moaning with the satisfaction of it, he hears them swearing, quiet and heartfelt.

He’s not sure how long it’s been - long enough that he’s been given water and startlingly good applesauce through the flap in the door at least twice, long enough that he and the nest and the wooden prick are all dripping with his slick, long enough that he’s thoroughly lost in the haze of heat, so dazed that he can’t quite remember why he’s on the other side of a locked door from his alphas, only that it’s important that the door remain locked - when he realizes he’s managed to drag his entire nest over by the door, so he can hear and smell his alphas as clearly as possible.

“Talk to me,” he gasps. “Alphas, my alphas - talk to me?”

“Oh fuck,” Geralt moans. Eskel whimpers softly.

“What do you want us to say, buttercup?” Lambert rasps. “Want us to tell you how fucking good you smell? How we’re going to have to scrub this whole damn hallway, we’ve already gotten so much come on the stones, just from smelling you?”

Jaskier whines through clenched teeth and writhes on the wooden prick. “Tell me - tell me what you’d do,” he begs. “If you were in my nest.”

“Gods,” Lambert growls.

“What we’d do,” Eskel says slowly. “I know what Geralt would do. He’d want to kiss you, Jaskier, swallow every beautiful sound you’re making, and when that wasn’t enough, he’d want to spread your legs and lick you open. He’s really fucking good with his mouth, and he loves it. I bet he could get you to peak just like that, just on his tongue, drowning himself in the taste of your slick.”

“Oh fuck,” Jaskier gasps, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling and seeing instead Geralt’s white hair spread over his thighs. He’s never thought of an alpha doing that. No alpha has ever suggested doing that.

“Since when are you any good at dirty talk?” Lambert grouses. “Gods damn.”

Geralt chuckles. “He’s not wrong,” he admits. “I would like that.”

Fuck,” Jaskier says again, and hits another peak, gasping his way through it as his alphas groan. “What - what would Eskel and Lambert do?”

“I’d want you to ride me, buttercup,” Lambert says, and oh gods, it sounds like he’s right next to the flap, close enough to touch if the door wasn’t there, voice low and raspy and terribly appealing. “Bet you’d look fuckin’ beautiful above me. Let you take me just the way you wanted, fast or slow or anything, sweetheart, get a hand on your prick and let you fuck yourself right through your damn heat, use me just like that wooden prick you’ve got now, but oh, buttercup, I’d fill you better.”

Jaskier whines between his teeth, writhing in his nest, and that’s - that’s something else he’s never even dared imagine, being atop an alpha, taking what he wants instead of being taken. Lambert spread out under him, watching him with golden eyes, letting him do whatever he pleased - letting him ride Lambert’s prick just the way he wants, instead of being made to take it -

He wails a little when this peak hits, too soon and yet so fucking good it leaves him blind and shaking for a long moment.

“Fuck,” Lambert grits out, and Jaskier can hear a heavy body slump against the wall outside. “Gods fucking damn it, buttercup, you sound amazing.”

Jaskier huffs something that might have been a laugh if he’d had the breath for it. “Eskel,” he says. “Eskel, what about you?”

“Get you in the middle of us all,” Eskel says slowly, like he’s thinking it through very carefully. “On your side so Lambert can kiss you and Geralt can suck your prick. Fuck you so godsdamned slow, Jaskier, make you come on my prick as many times as you can bear before I knot you. Keep you safe between us, keep you filled up, one of us kissing you and one of us sucking you, for your whole damned heat. Keep you safe, make sure you’re never in pain, never want for anything.”

“Oh,” Jaskier says, completely lost for words. He’s not even sure what that would be like, being kept at the center of a knot of alphas for his entire heat. Having his prick sucked - who sucks an omega’s prick? But Geralt is moaning softly like he’s desperate for the experience - and Lambert is growling, low and hungry - and Eskel’s voice is smooth as honey and twice as sweet -

And oh gods, the thought of not having to present, not having to let himself be mounted, but instead being kept comfortable and safe and -

And loved.

Jaskier actually blacks out with the force of his third too-quick peak - even in heat this is too soon - and when he comes to, his alphas are all whining quietly, worried and half-desperate, on the other side of the door.

“I’m fine,” he gasps. “Oh, gods, my alphas, I’m fine. Next time - next time I have a heat - you can do that. All of that. I want it.”

“Fuck,” Lambert says, almost conversationally.

Jaskier finds himself laughing, and is astonished all over again. He’s never laughed during a heat before. “Yes, exactly,” he says, and his alphas start laughing, too. “Keep talking?”

“Anything you need, Jaskier,” Geralt says softly.

The rest of Jaskier’s heat passes in a haze of pleasure and the low rumble of his alphas’ voices, coaxing and praising and describing exactly what they’ll do with him next winter, and every bit of it sounds better than anything Jaskier’s ever dared to imagine.

When his heat finally breaks, he has just enough energy left to fumble the key into the lock and turn it. The door swings open, and his alphas are there. Eskel scoops him up; Geralt finds the beautiful coat - rather stained now - and Lambert grabs Jaskier’s shoes, and they bring Jaskier down to their bedroom and wipe him clean with warm damp cloths and tuck him into the middle of the bed, curling around him and purring loud enough to be heard a floor below.

It’s far and away the best heat Jaskier has ever had, and he resolves to tell his alphas as much as soon as he’s awake enough to manage words.

Chapter Text

Jaskier wakes wrapped in Geralt’s arms; his other alphas are missing from the bed. From the sunlight leaking through the shutters, it’s midafternoon; Jaskier has no idea how long his heat lasted, but it was definitely dark when Eskel carried him to bed, so he’s been asleep at least half the day.

Geralt isn’t sleeping, but he looks perfectly content to have spent what must be hours holding Jaskier. He smiles when Jaskier meets his eyes, a real smile, not just the hair-thin quirk of his lips that Jaskier’s used to, and murmurs, “May I kiss you?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says, slightly baffled, and Geralt kisses him sweet and slow and easy. Jaskier sags back into the pillows and thinks that maybe he’s still dreaming.

Geralt breaks the kiss a long and pleasant while later, and lays his head down in the crook of Jaskier’s shoulder, purring low in his chest. “Thank you for letting us help.”

“I...was going to thank you,” Jaskier says, wrongfooted all over again. Geralt chuckles softly.

“It was our pleasure,” he says. “How do you feel?”

Jaskier takes stock. He’s sore - that’s normal after a heat - but it’s a pleasant sort of soreness, not the actual pain he’s used to. He’s also still fairly exhausted, but, again, that’s normal. He’s not as ragingly thirsty as he usually is, and he can dimly remember his alphas coaxing him to drink, to eat a little, again and again over the endless hours of his heat. “Pretty good,” he decides at last. “But I don’t think I’m up for dagger training today.”

Geralt chuckles again, a warmly happy sound. “Didn’t figure you would be. Remus used to nap for three days after his heat.”

“That sounds about right,” Jaskier admits. “But right now I could stand to eat a bit, if we’ve maybe got some trail rations or something?”

“Or something,” Geralt says, and unwinds himself from around Jaskier to slide out of bed, tossing Jaskier a dressing gown Jaskier doesn’t recognize. Jaskier wraps himself in it and is promptly swept up into Geralt’s arms, cradled like a bride. Geralt carries him easily all the way down to the kitchen, and installs him in a seat near the fireplace, where the stone floor is warm enough that Jaskier’s feet won’t grow chilled, and there’s a cushion waiting on the bench. Jaskier stays obediently sat while Geralt gathers leftover stew and another bowl of that amazing applesauce and a mug of herbal tea and a handful of honeyed dried apricots, placing the food in front of Jaskier like an offering to a god. He looks deeply satisfied when Jaskier picks up a spoon and starts eating, vague hunger turned ravenous by the smell of food.

Jaskier has finished the stew and the applesauce and is savoring the apricots when the door to the kitchen bangs open and Eskel and Lambert come hurrying in, hair damp. “Of course you wake up as soon as we go down to bathe,” Lambert grouses, collapsing onto the bench next to Jaskier and nuzzling against his shoulder.

Eskel leans over Geralt’s shoulder to kiss him softly before settling at Jaskier’s other side. “You look well.”

“I’m probably going to fall asleep again as soon as I finish eating, but I feel pretty good,” Jaskier admits. “A lot better than I usually do after a heat.”

All of his alphas look immensely pleased by this.

“D’you want us to bring up a tub for you to wash up before you sleep?” Lambert asks, muffled by the dressing gown that he’s got his face buried against.

“No,” Jaskier says, and surprises himself with a jaw-cracking yawn. “Not going to be awake long enough. Next time I wake up, can you bring me down to the hot springs?”

“It’ll be our pleasure,” Eskel assures him.

“Thank you, alphas,” Jaskier says, and grins when they all give him looks so full of smug pleasure that it’s nearly comical. “Who’s carrying me back up to bed?”

“Me,” Lambert says, and picks him up. Jaskier nestles against Lambert’s shoulder and is asleep before they even reach the bedroom.

*

The next time Jaskier wakes, it’s probably around dawn by the light, and all of his alphas are cuddling him, which feels right in a way that’s frankly baffling. Jaskier shifts a little, and Lambert raises his head and nuzzles at Jaskier’s cheek before kicking Geralt - gently, for Lambert. Eskel wakes as everyone else begins to move.

“Hot springs?” Jaskier asks hopefully. He’s beginning to feel a bit disgusting, really; his alphas cleaned him off reasonably well, but he’s sticky in uncomfortable places and his hair is matted with old sweat and frankly he just needs a bath.

“Hot springs,” Eskel agrees. “Do you want to walk or be carried?”

“...Walk,” Jaskier decides. “But I reserve the right to change my mind.”

Lambert chuckles. “Naturally.”

His alphas surround him protectively all the way down to the springs, like they’re afraid he’s going to trip and crack his head at any moment. Which, to be fair, Jaskier is a little shaky on his legs, but he feels stronger with every moment, really, and the prospect of a hot bath concentrates his mind wonderfully.

He hadn’t quite realized that going down to the springs with all three of his alphas was going to mean getting into the bath with all of them, too, though he really should have, but - honestly, he’s not feeling as twitchy about seeing them naked as he usually does. Jaskier probes the odd lack of apprehension carefully, and comes to the conclusion that his instincts, so carefully trained to fear and mistrust all alphas, have learned through spending a heat within arms’ length of these three alphas and going completely unmolested that they are, in fact, as safe as their scents suggest. He doesn’t bother turning away as he shrugs out of the dressing gown and his alphas strip out of their own loose trousers; doesn’t bother flinching from the sight of naked alphas. There’s no danger here for him, and he believes that all the way down to his bones, now.

Geralt holds out his arms once they’ve all slipped into the water, looking hopeful, and Jaskier grins and wriggles right into Geralt’s lap, sitting sideways across it and resting his head on Geralt’s shoulder. Geralt wraps his arms around Jaskier’s waist and starts purring pretty much immediately.

“My turn to wash your hair,” Lambert says, and Jaskier lets himself be rearranged a bit, until he’s lying on his back just under the water’s surface, supported entirely by Geralt’s arms. Lambert’s hands are very gentle as he begins rubbing soap into Jaskier’s hair, and Eskel’s hands are even gentler as he starts cleaning one of Jaskier’s hands, and Jaskier is surrounded by the scent of his alphas, their affection, their care. He closes his eyes and just basks, realizing after a moment that he’s started humming a soft, slow melody of his own composition, one he’s privately titled Golden Eyes and Golden Hearts. His alphas seem to like it, judging by the soft purrs rising on every side.

Eskel gets all the way up to Jaskier’s shoulder and hesitates. Jaskier smiles without opening his eyes. “Go on,” he says.

“Fuck,” Eskel says very quietly, and then gentle hands are scrubbing through the hair on Jaskier’s chest, soap-slick and warm. Jaskier keeps humming, and Lambert keeps combing his fingers through Jaskier’s hair - it’s definitely clean by now - and Eskel washes him, slowly and thoroughly, from head to toe - except for the area that would be covered by Jaskier’s braies, if he were wearing them.

Jaskier opens his eyes when Eskel finally steps away, and grins up at his alphas, who are all watching him with near-identical looks of contentment. “Right, give me a minute to finish scrubbing,” he says, and Geralt carefully lets his legs fall to the bottom of the pool. The three alphas turn away to give Jaskier privacy, and Jaskier washes hastily - not because he’s worried that they’ll grow impatient, but because he wants to be touching his alphas, being touched, being held.

And as soon as he is clean and insinuates himself between Eskel and Lambert, held he is.

*

Jaskier wakes to soft sounds of kissing, the rustle of fabric, and Lambert murmuring, “Outside, c’mon, don’t want to wake our buttercup -” and being cut off by another kiss. Two big forms move slowly towards the door, dark shapes only barely illuminated by the banked fire. His third alpha curls around him, purring softly; by the faint glint of white hair catching the firelight, it’s Geralt still with him.

“Wait,” Jaskier says.

Lambert and Eskel pause, turning to look at Jaskier, golden eyes glowing faintly in the darkness. Jaskier bites his lip, swallows hard, and says, voice shaking a little, “You could - stay.”

“Don’t want to traumatize you, buttercup,” Lambert says quietly.

Jaskier doesn’t know where the impulse came from, but now that he thinks about it - “I don’t think you will,” he says slowly. “I think - if you don’t mind me watching - I’d like to see what it’s - what it’s supposed to be like, I guess.”

Eskel chuckles. “Dunno if we’re ever that,” he says.

“What it’s like when it doesn’t hurt, then,” Jaskier amends, and Geralt makes a tiny wounded sound and curls closer.

“Yeah,” Lambert says thoughtfully. “Guess we could show you that.”

Eskel flicks a hand towards the fire, which flares up until the room is illuminated well enough for even human eyes, though the dancing shadows lend everything a certain air of dreamlike unreality. Geralt tugs Jaskier gently up to the head of the bed, building them a little nest of pillows; Lambert and Eskel tumble together onto the expanse of bed left clear, Eskel ending up on the bottom with Lambert sprawled over his chest, kissing him fervently.

Jaskier knows how alphas fuck, or at least how they fuck omegas. But these are his witchers, who aren’t like any other alphas he’s ever known - who would never harm him or each other - and so he genuinely has no idea how this is going to work.

He doesn’t know what to expect, but for the first time in a very long time, that uncertainty is not tinged with fear. There will be no pain, no blood, no screaming, not in this bed. Not with these men.

And indeed, to begin with, all there is is kissing. Lambert slides his hands through Eskel’s hair, and Eskel’s hands roam from Lambert’s shoulders down his sides, groping at his ass and sliding up the long scarred expanse of his back, every motion eliciting another soft growling moan from Lambert’s throat. Jaskier shifts a little, surprised by the slow hardening of his own prick, the beginnings of slickness in his ass. Geralt, curled around him with his chin on Jaskier’s shoulder so he can watch as well, purrs in approval, but his hands never move from their gentle curve around Jaskier’s waist.

“Little wolf,” Eskel murmurs at last, and unlike every other time Jaskier’s heard Lambert called that, Lambert moans. “What’s your pleasure?”

“Fuck me,” Lambert says, and Jaskier’s jaw drops. Geralt chuckles softly and brings one hand up to nudge Jaskier’s mouth closed again before reaching over to one of the little tables at the bedside and tossing a little corked jar over to Eskel, who catches it without looking.

Jaskier watches, wide-eyed and so astonished he’s not even sure if he’s breathing, as Eskel pops the cork out of the jar with a flick of his thumb and dips his fingers into it. Lambert shifts until he’s straddling Eskel’s broad chest and curls a hand around his own prick, and Eskel puts his dripping fingers down between Lambert’s legs, and it -

Pretty clearly doesn’t hurt, by the way Lambert’s head goes back and he makes a deep, heartfelt noise of pleasure. Jaskier hasn’t had a lot of people stick their fingers in his ass - most alphas don’t bother to give their ruined omegas that much consideration - but the few times it has happened, it’s been uncomfortable bordering on painful. This is clearly not that. Lambert’s hips are shifting, pressing back eagerly, and he’s moaning deep in his throat. Eskel is watching him with his eyes blown black and an expression of what Jaskier can only call awe.

Oh. This is what sex is supposed to look like, isn’t it: this care, this tenderness. This joy.

Jaskier doesn’t know how long it is before Lambert shivers all over and looks down to meet Eskel’s eyes and rasps, “Right, I’m good.”

“So good,” Eskel agrees, and Lambert shudders again. “Come on, then, little wolf, take your pleasure of me.”

“Fuck,” Lambert says, tone almost conversational, and shifts back.

Jaskier hasn’t really taken a good look at Eskel’s prick yet - he’s been a bit distracted, and perhaps a little apprehensive as well - and now that he does look, as Eskel wraps an oil-slick hand around it and holds it up for Lambert to lower himself onto, he finds his breath coming short. Eskel is large.

Large and gentle, Jaskier reminds himself, watching Eskel stroke a soothing hand up Lambert’s side, coaxing and soft and patient, as Lambert sinks inch by honey-slow inch down onto him.

It clearly doesn’t hurt. It clearly feels good.

Jaskier swallows hard, leaning back against Geralt and taking his hand to twine their fingers together, and dares to imagine himself where Lambert is, legs spread wide on either side of Eskel’s hips, slippery with his own slick and extra oil, taking Eskel into himself so easily, so painlessly. So fearlessly. Lambert and Eskel move together with four decades’ worth of familiarity, no alpha posturing or jostling for dominance, both of them knowing exactly how to get the pleasure they desire and working towards it in perfect unison.

Lambert settles onto Eskel’s hips with a soft sigh, and Eskel grins and loops a hand around Lambert’s neck to pull him down into a kiss, curls his other hand around Lambert’s hip, and thrusts up. Lambert growls and fists his hands in the sheets on either side of Eskel’s head and begins to move in counterpoint, and Jaskier bites his free hand’s knuckles and stares in awe and wonder and rising lust at his beautiful alphas in their ecstasy.

“Like what you see?” Geralt murmurs against his ear, barely a breath of sound.

“Yes,” Jaskier whispers back. It’s true. He’s genuinely astonished, actually - he’d been sure that his years as a ruined omega had burned and beaten all lust out of him, but this is nothing like the horrors he’s endured. This is...the only word that comes to mind is loving.

This is making love.

Jaskier had almost thought that was a myth.

Lambert peaks first, knotting his own fist with a growling moan that sends shivers through Jaskier, and Eskel snarls a little between his teeth and fucks up into Lambert twice, hard, before pulling out and wrapping a hand around his own knot and spilling between them. Lambert braces himself on one hand, head hanging down, and pants for breath; Eskel’s chest is heaving like a bellows.

Jaskier...Jaskier is hard.

He bites his lip, wondering if he dares do anything about it. He doesn’t think his alphas would take it as an invitation -

Hells with that, he knows they won’t. Knows they won’t take anything but him actually asking them to fuck him as an invitation to do so. Very carefully, he slides his free hand down to wrap around his own prick, and can’t quite hold back a tiny moan.

Three pairs of golden eyes fix on him. “Fuck,” Lambert says, and collapses to land beside Eskel. “That’s fuckin’ lovely, buttercup.”

“Gorgeous,” Eskel agrees.

“Do you want me to let you go?” Geralt asks.

Jaskier thinks about that for a moment, and then nestles back a little further into Geralt’s broad, warm chest. “No,” he says. “Hold me?”

Geralt hums agreement and squeezes a little with the fingers tangled in Jaskier’s. It’s oddly comforting. Jaskier takes a deep breath and begins to stroke himself, letting himself actually take pleasure in it - not the near-madness of heat, but the simple joy of touch, the beautiful sight of two of his alphas laid out like an erotic painting in front of him, the warmth of Geralt against his back.

He peaks almost gently, a soft moan on his lips, and his alphas all groan in unison, eyes dark and wanting in the firelight.

“Fuck,” Geralt says softly, and shifts a little, and oh - he hasn’t come. His prick is like a bar of hot iron against Jaskier’s back for a second, and then Geralt jerks away. “Sorry!”

“It’s alright,” Jaskier says, honestly astonished to discover that it is. He’s not afraid of Geralt. He does pull away, though, and lies down beside Eskel, looking up at Geralt and licking his lips a little. “You could...show me?”

Fuck,” Geralt says, quite fervently, and wraps a hand around his prick. He’s not quite as large as Eskel, Jaskier thinks, but he’s quite a remarkable size nonetheless, and oh, the way Geralt’s head goes back as he strokes himself, the long line of his throat gleaming in the firelight, the sounds he makes, soft and eager like nothing Jaskier’s ever heard from him before - it’s beautiful, and thrilling, and arousing.

Jaskier wants to see Geralt with Lambert, and with Eskel - all three of his alphas together. And he doesn’t want it yet, but he can almost see the desire rising: someday soon, he’ll want to touch, want to taste, want to be wrapped up in his alphas and let them have their way with him, trusting that they will be kind.

Geralt peaks with a soft groan that Jaskier kind of wants to kiss from his lips, and collapses with his head on Jaskier’s chest, curling close and breathing in Jaskier’s scent hungrily.

There’s a long, peaceful silence.

And then Lambert says, “Fuck, we’ve got to wash this blanket,” and Jaskier cannot help his laugh.

*

It happens again a few nights later, and again a few nights after that; it turns out, now that they’re less worried about traumatizing him by letting him see them at it, his witchers are actually randy fuckers. But they’re always...gentle is the wrong word, really, especially for the way Geralt and Lambert mock-fight like wolf cubs, rolling over and over as they compete to end up on top of the heap; but tender, perhaps. Or careful. There’s never any blood drawn, never any true harm done even when their teeth sink into each other to leave swiftly-fading bruises.

And they are always so, so careful with him. They never suggest he ought to join them - always ask, in fact, if he needs them to go elsewhere to take their pleasure. Always ask if he’s comfortable with one of them holding him, cradling him close as the other two bring each other trembling to their peaks.

And between the gentleness, and the astonishingly arousing visuals, and the scent of his alphas content and pleased and sated, Jaskier rediscovers what it is to want.

He remembers, vaguely, that while he was at Oxenfurt, he looked at various alphas with covert, shy desire. Eyed them as they postured at each other, kept in check by the strict rules of the university and - more immediately - by the beta attendants who patrol the university’s grounds. All the omegas had done much the same, and they’d gossiped at night, gathering in the big common room in the omega dorm or in someone’s bedroom and whispering about this alpha’s proud carriage, another’s broad chest, a third’s impressive beauty.

And in the dark of night, alone in his locked bedroom, Jaskier had often dared - as some omegas, he knows, did not - to touch himself, wondering what an alpha’s hands might be like, what it would be like to spread his legs for the much-whispered-about yet never seen glory of an alpha’s prick. He can remember riding his own fingers, sliding easily in his slick, and wondering how much better an alpha might feel.

After he was sold, though, Jaskier stopped imagining that alphas were anything to desire. Stopped feeling desire, except during heat. Had almost forgotten what it felt like, really.

He’s remembering very quickly now. He looks at his alphas - mussed and sleepy in the firelight late at night, wet and gleaming in the lantern-light of the hot springs, sprawled lazily on the rug in the great hall in the evening, naked and beautiful tangled around each other in their bed - and he wants. Wants to touch, to taste, to press himself against them and soak himself in the scents of warm-hearth-and-safety.

Wants them to touch him.

It startles him, when he realizes that. He’s in the library, plucking aimlessly at the lute and trying to think of a tune, mind wandering unhelpfully down aimless corridors, and he catches himself thinking dreamily of Eskel’s big, warm, gentle hands, and how one of them might feel wrapped around his prick.

He panics a little bit when he realizes what he’s thinking, but only a little. His alphas certainly won’t mind, and the thought itself isn’t filled with apprehension, but with a sort of formless longing. He breathes through the panic, and focuses on playing a simple tune on the lute, one he learned so long ago he can’t even recall who taught it to him, until his heart is beating at a more normal pace again.

And then he imagines Eskel’s hands quite deliberately: his hands, and his eyes, and the way his smile is sweet and crooked when he knows he’s done something which makes Jaskier happy. The careful ease of his fingers sliding into Lambert’s ass, and the way Lambert moans with it.

Lambert, and the way he sprawls out in Jaskier’s lap or curls around him at night, purring fit to shake the bed, all warm skin and possessive gentleness. The lithe grace of him, faster and more flexible than his packmates, sleek and shining in the firelight.

Geralt, and the way he kisses, sweet and slow and thoughtful, like there’s nothing else in the world but this moment. The gentleness of his hands in Jaskier’s hair. The way he melts into Eskel’s kisses, the way he moans around Lambert’s prick like it’s as good to give as to receive.

Jaskier wants, and yet, somehow, cannot imagine reaching out to have - cannot quite envision himself among his alphas, taking and giving pleasure as they do.

He’s shifting a bit uncomfortably in his chair when someone in the doorway chuckles. Jaskier whips around to see Gardis grinning at him.

“Came up for a bestiary,” Gardis says. “You smell like you’re having a very productive lute practice.”

Jaskier covers his face with his hands, ears burning. Gardis chuckles softly, almost sympathetically. “Alphas being stubborn about fucking you? Chivalrous idiots, the lot of them.”

Jaskier drops his hands in surprise. “No - no, nothing like that. I just -” he hesitates. “I just haven’t figured out if I can...do that, yet.”

“Oh!” Gardis says, and frowns, and flops down into one of the other chairs. “Huh. Can’t say I’ve ever had that problem, but then, you’ve been through a fair bit of shit I’ve never had to deal with.” He gives Jaskier a long, thoughtful look. “What’s holding you back?”

Jaskier thinks about that for a while. Gardis waits with remarkable patience, watching the fire crackle to itself in the deep fireplace.

It’s not fear of his alphas - Jaskier couldn’t fear them now if he tried. It’s not a lack of desire - oh no, Jaskier has re-learned desire with a vengeance. It’s not even fear of the pain of the act, because Jaskier is absolutely and unquestionably sure that his alphas will do everything in their power to make sure fucking doesn’t hurt at all.

Finally he sighs and says, “It’s - Gardis, I don’t think I can ever bear to present again. And they deserve...they deserve an omega who isn’t ruined.”

Gardis gives him a startlingly fierce frown. “Witchers don’t hold with that fucking stupid ‘ruined’ nonsense, and you’re a witchers’ omega now, so throw that down the privy,” he says. “Nothing’s ‘ruined’ about you, and your alphas will tell you the same if you ask. And so what if you can’t present? No witcher’s ever going to expect you to. D’you think I went down for Gweld if I didn’t feel like it? Fuck no!”

Jaskier swallows bile. “How can you say I’m not ruined? Do you know how many - how many godsawful fucking alphas shoved me down and had me, whether I would or no? I presented for them, you know - I got on my fucking knees and begged for them, because maybe if I did that it wouldn’t hurt as much! Maybe if they thought I really wanted them they wouldn’t bother beating me bloody when they were done! And now I have alphas who are fucking well worth going to my knees for and I can’t fucking do it, I can’t bear it, they’re the best alphas in the whole fucking world and I can’t - I can’t -”

He’s on his feet, he realizes, on his feet with his hands balled into fists and he’s screaming the pain he’s never been able to speak before. Gardis looks genuinely taken aback.

And Jaskier can’t stop the words spilling from his mouth, six years of pain and humiliation and misery given voice at last. “Not ruined, when my fucking first time was in the fucking main square because the alpha who bought me wanted to make sure I was worth the coin! Not ruined, when I’ve been passed around like a fucking party favor, re-sold so many times I lost count, made to beg for fucking water - gods, I don’t know what else to call it, when they fucking broke me - broke me bad enough I damn near wanted to die by the time Geralt bought me - if that’s not fucking ruined, Gardis, you tell me what it is!”

A soft sound makes him whirl, and he discovers that all three of his alphas are crowded into the doorway, watching him with wide eyes. Oh. Fuck. Jaskier stumbles backwards, almost landing himself in the fireplace; Gardis leaps from his chair to catch him, hands very gentle as he steers Jaskier down to sit on the hearth with his head between his knees until he can stop breathing quite so hard.

He raises his head at last to meet four pairs of worried yellow eyes. “Hey,” Gardis says, very gently, and Jaskier looks at him, because it’s easier than trying to parse the expressions on his alphas’ faces. “Shit, I’m sorry, alright? But you’re not ruined. You were hurt, and now you’re healing. Sometimes that takes a while. Sometimes the injuries scar, and hell, sometimes the scars ache, even fuckin’ decades later.” He takes a slow breath. “Sometimes you even lose something, like how Frank doesn’t have a little finger anymore, or old Tjold was blind in one eye. But that doesn’t mean you’re ruined. You’re still you. You just gotta learn to work around the scars.”

Jaskier swallows. “But -”

Gardis shakes his head. “Hey, knotheads. You gonna be pissed if your omega won’t ever present for you?”

“Fuck no,” Lambert says immediately.

“Never,” Eskel agrees.

“No,” Geralt says, so gently it almost hurts to hear.

“There,” Gardis says, sounding very satisfied.

“Oh,” Jaskier says, voice very small.

“Now, how much of that did you hear?” Gardis asks the alphas.

“Enough,” Lambert says grimly.

Gardis nods. “Want me here?” he asks Jaskier. “Because I think your alphas want to talk to you.”

Slowly, Jaskier shakes his head. “No,” he whispers. “No, I - thank you, but I think this should be just...just our pack. And, um, I’m sorry for yelling.”

“Little brother, yell as often as you need to; letting it out keeps it from festering,” Gardis says, and presses a kiss to the crown of Jaskier’s head as he rises. “And come find me an’ Aubry if you need some time away from your alphas. Door’s open, and Aubry gives damned good cuddle.”

Jaskier nods. “Thanks,” he says, and Gardis grins down at him and pads silently out of the library, closing the door very gently behind him.

And then Jaskier dares to look at his alphas.

He’s expecting...he’s not sure what. Disappointment, perhaps. Disgust. Disdain. Or worse, pity.

But what he sees is nothing but compassion, simple and clean as the stroke of a sword. Compassion, and what he does not quite dare to name as love.

Eskel says, softly and firmly, “If you never wish to fuck us, if you want to go back to nothing but kissing - to nothing but cuddling - hells, if you want to leave our pack entirely - we will never, ever ask of you anything you do not wish to give.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Jaskier croaks. His throat hurts. How loudly was he yelling? “I don’t - I like kissing you, and cuddling, and watching, and - I want to - I want you. But I’m - scarred. Not my body, but my...my soul. I don’t know if I can be a - a proper omega, ever again.”

“Buttercup, we’re witchers,” Lambert says. “We don’t want a proper omega, whatever the fuck that means. We want an omega who suits us, and I thought Geralt was mad as a hatter when he brought you to us, but you do. You fit. You’re right for us. And if that means you can’t present, well, alright, we don’t give a shit about that. Why would we? None of us hold with that whole omegas-must-submit bullshit. You’ve got fire, buttercup - you’re as dangerous as you are pretty, or will be once Geralt gets done training you with that knife of yours. What other sort of omega would we want?”

“Oh,” Jaskier says. “Then you don’t - don’t care about how many other alphas -?”

“I would gladly slay them all for harming you,” Geralt says, which is not what Jaskier expected at all. It’s not...it’s not jealousy, which would have made a certain amount of sense, but raw protective rage. “Don’t fuckin’ care past that.” He frowns. “They don’t...hm.” He is clearly trying to find the right words, and Jaskier and Eskel and Lambert do him the courtesy of waiting in silence until he does so.

Finally, with the air of someone picking each word very very carefully, Geralt says, “Being forced isn’t the same thing as fucking. Have you ever chosen to fuck someone?”

“No,” Jaskier says, a little baffled.

“Then they…” Geralt frowns harder. “They don’t get to claim you. You didn’t choose them.” He meets Jaskier’s eyes squarely. “We don’t care if you’re untouched. But if you care - you’ve never chosen. The monsters don’t...get to claim that.”

Jaskier closes his eyes and turns that over a few times in his head, thinking it over carefully. It’s an odd sort of vengeance, he decides at last, to look at the memories of every one of the alphas who forced him down, who fucked him bloody, who did whatever they pleased without regard for his desires, and say to them, You don’t even count. You have no claim on me. Doesn’t matter if you knotted, doesn’t matter if you made me beg - I never chose you, and you don’t fucking count. You’re just the monsters that tried to eat me, and fuck you, I’m still here. Still whole. Scarred, but still whole.

To make every one of the alphas who wanted so devoutly to be the center of their own little worlds, the most important person in their village, in their household, in Jaskier’s life - utterly irrelevant. Less important than the mice in the cellars, the beetles in the hayloft, the stones beneath the goats’ dainty hooves. No more than painful memories, without even enough claim on Jaskier to make him recall their faces, their names, their knots - no, let them all blur together, let them all be forgotten, irrelevant and meaningless and utterly inconsequential.

He lets that thought settle, like a stone into a still pond, until all the ripples have died away and what’s left is a calmness, a peace which is honestly a little disconcerting in its ease. He’ll always have scars. They may well wake him up at night, may well keep him from ever doing certain things - may well be as permanent and life-altering as old Tjold’s lost eye, whoever old Tjold might once have been. But the monsters that gave him those scars are long gone, and they have no claim on him, never have and never will again.

He opens his eyes and smiles at his worried alphas. “Thank you,” he says to Geralt, who looks unutterably relieved. “You’re right. Fuck ‘em, they don’t get to claim any part of me.” He takes a deep breath. “So. Would you - would you, all of you, like to be my real first time?”

“It would be our honor,” Eskel says, soft and fervent, and Lambert and Geralt nod, slitted eyes blown dark and wide.

Chapter Text

Jaskier makes it through supper somehow, grateful that none of the witchers try to actually talk to him. He’s fairly sure most of them heard his outburst, and even Clovis is gracious enough to give him some space after that.

He’s a little caught up in his own head, honestly, prodding at this new sense of calm to see if it’s just a veneer or if it’s going to stick around, and trying not to think about the fact that he’s asked his alphas to fuck him, because if he thinks about that, he’ll either panic or start getting hard or both, any of which would make supper distinctly uncomfortable.

Once the meal is over, Geralt gives him a curious look. Jaskier takes a deep breath and nods. If he thinks about this too long, he probably will panic, and he doesn’t want to. He wants to go up to the big bed in their cozy tower room and join his alphas in a tangle of limbs and pleasure, and learn what it’s supposed to be like. To have a first time worth having.

Geralt hums and smiles, and offers Jaskier a hand up, gathering him close when Jaskier rises. Lambert and Eskel rise too, crowding in around Jaskier, and Jaskier is oddly reminded of that very first meeting, backed up against Roach as Lambert and Eskel breathed in his scent. He’s a lot less scared of being surrounded by witchers now.

They usher him upstairs, crowding close, and he doesn’t feel trapped or caged or caught - just safe, here within the circle of his witchers, his alphas, the warm hearth at the end of the day. Once the door closes behind them, it’s Eskel who curls a hand around the nape of Jaskier’s neck, draws him close and presses their foreheads gently together.

“Nothing you don’t want, ever,” he promises. “Tell us if you dislike anything.”

“I will,” Jaskier says.

Promise,” Eskel says. “Please. We - we can’t hurt you.”

“I promise.” It’s not a pledge Jaskier ever thought to give an alpha, but - he trusts his alphas, trusts that if he says something is not to his taste, they’ll stop.

“Thank you,” Eskel says. “So. D’you know what you want, or should we just...improvise?”

“Improvise, please,” Jaskier says. He doesn’t even know what he wants to ask for; everything he’s seen his alphas get up to has been terrifyingly appealing, and he’s not sure he can choose.

“Improvisation it shall be,” Eskel says, and tilts his head a little, and presses their lips together. And oh, this is familiar; Jaskier melts against Eskel’s chest and opens for the kiss eagerly. Eskel kisses so sweetly, gentle and patient and thoughtful and all-encompassing; Jaskier barely even notices the hands gently divesting him of the beautiful coat and coaxing him to shift his weight so they can slip his boots from his feet. He’s feeling sort of pleasantly dazed when Eskel breaks the kiss and turns him around, tugging him back against Eskel’s chest and tucking his chin over Jaskier’s shoulder, and Jaskier blinks at the big bed and discovers that Geralt and Lambert have taken this opportunity to strip off all of their clothes and are waiting on the bed, looking hopeful and eager and - a little nervous, actually.

“Do you like what you see?” Eskel breathes in Jaskier’s ear.

Jaskier looks, really looks. The fire has been built up; it’s far brighter than it usually is when his alphas take their pleasure of each other at night.

They’re...well, it’s not the word one usually uses for an alpha, but they’re beautiful. The firelight turns their scars to silver decorations. Geralt’s hair looks like moonlight spread across the pillow; Lambert’s eyes glow like topazes. They’re both magnificent examples of men, all sleek muscle and sharp jaws and broad shoulders.

“I do,” Jaskier says, loud enough that they can hear him without straining. “They’re gorgeous.”

Geralt’s cheeks go faintly pink. Lambert grins and stretches, preening. “Hear that, pretty boy? We’re gorgeous.”

Geralt nudges Lambert with an elbow, hard, and Jaskier laughs. His darling alphas, sweet and silly and lovely. Eskel’s hands slip under Jaskier’s tunic, slowly enough that he could object if he wanted to; he leans a little more firmly against Eskel and hums approval instead. “May I?” Eskel asks, and Jaskier nods, raising his arms to make it a little easier for Eskel to lift his tunic off and away. The air is cool against his skin, and Jaskier shivers a little before he’s back in Eskel’s arms, tucked safely against that broad, scarred chest. “Cold?”

“No,” Jaskier says. “Not while you hold me.”

Eskel purrs. Jaskier snuggles back against him, and looks up to see Geralt and Lambert watching them with blown-black eyes and expressions of awe and hunger. Eskel’s hands slide down to the fastenings of Jaskier’s trousers, and Geralt and Eskel watch them like cats at a mousehole; if they had tails, Jaskier thinks irreverently, they’d be twitching.

“May I?” Eskel murmurs again, and Jaskier nods. Gentle fingers untie his trouser laces, and nudge them and his braies down. Jaskier steps out of the puddle of clothes, leaving him bare but for his socks, and Lambert makes a sound Jaskier almost wants to call a whimper.

“Lovely,” Eskel says, and kisses the curve of Jaskier’s throat. Jaskier sways a little. This is - this is nothing like -

He’s not thinking about that. This is his first time, the first time he chose, and he has no idea what’s going to happen but whatever it is, it’s going to be good. He can trust in that.

“Go join them,” Eskel murmurs in his ear, and Jaskier stumbles forward. Lambert and Geralt both reach for him, helping him onto the bed between them, curling around him almost the same way they do to sleep, but for the hungry way Lambert takes his mouth, the tiny soft kisses Geralt dusts across the backs of his shoulders. Eskel tugs Jaskier’s socks off, and then Jaskier is distracted from whatever else Eskel might be doing as one of Geralt’s big hands slides around to wrap gently around his prick.

Jaskier goes still, gasping. No one has ever - an omega’s pleasure doesn’t matter -

But these are his witchers, who don’t think like human alphas, and Lambert drinks down his soft sounds of pleasure eagerly, he and Geralt both purring loudly as Jaskier shifts between them.

Geralt’s voice is rough as gravel. “How many times can you peak in a night?”

Jaskier shudders and pushes lightly at Lambert’s shoulder; Lambert breaks the kiss at once, letting Jaskier catch his breath. Jaskier hasn’t...really considered that question in a while. Six years or so, give or take a few months. But one of the few blessings the gods have given omegas is the ability to peak more than once, whether they’re male or female, and Jaskier did spend a few enlightening nights in his dorm at Oxenfurt, one hand’s fingers buried in his ass and the other hand stripping frantically at his prick, and on the most luxurious of those nights -

“Four,” he says, “or at least, that’s what I could do the last time I tried.”

Geralt growls approval. Lambert licks his lips.

The bed shifts as Eskel climbs in, ending up curled behind Geralt, one hand stroking down Jaskier’s arm. “Got an idea,” Eskel says. “Let me lead?”

“Sure,” Lambert says, grinning. “You’ve always got good ideas.” Geralt hums agreement.

“Jaskier?” Eskel says.

“Yeah,” Jaskier says, a little shakily - not from fear, just from the overwhelming feeling of safety, of being wrapped in so much affection and honest, uncomplicated desire.

“Alright,” Eskel says. “Give him a little room, you two. Jaskier, on your back, please.”

Jaskier rolls onto his back with a lot more ease than he would have been able to roll onto his front. That would have been far, far too close to presenting. But on his back - that’s got no terrible memories attached to it at all. The bed is soft and warm beneath him, and his alphas are smiling down at him, and everything smells of warm hearth and safety.

“Right,” Eskel says. “Lambert, you start on that side, I’ll start on this side; Geralt, you can start from his feet.”

Jaskier frowns a little, meaning to ask what the hell that means, and is distracted when Geralt rolls up to kneel between his feet and gathers one into his lap, strong fingers digging into Jaskier’s sole and rendering him a suddenly tensionless heap against the blankets. “Holy fuck.”

“Good?” Eskel asks, and gathers one of Jaskier’s hands close, kissing each finger in turn before turning it over to press his lips to the palm. On Jaskier’s other side, Lambert is biting, very very gently, down the underside of his forearm. Jaskier shivers, not sure where to look; he is surrounded by golden eyes and hungry smiles and the smell of safety.

“Very good,” he says, and all of his alphas purr.

Jaskier closes his eyes and gives himself gladly over to their attentions.

Eskel kisses his way slowly and thoughtfully down Jaskier’s right arm and then spends quite a while lavishing attention on Jaskier’s throat. Lambert bites painlessly down Jaskier’s left arm and then begins nuzzling his way across Jaskier’s chest, purring at the feeling of Jaskier’s hair catching in his beard and licking curiously at Jaskier’s nipples to make Jaskier squeak. Geralt very slowly and patiently massages each of Jaskier’s legs, spreading them wider as he works his way up, until finally he reaches Jaskier hips and bends down and, without any particular preamble, swallows Jaskier’s prick to the root.

Jaskier makes a breathless noise that wants to be a scream. “Oh gods,” he says, scrabbling at the blankets and Lambert and Eskel’s shoulders. Hot, and wet, and tight, and Geralt’s tongue, ye gods -

“He loves this,” Eskel murmurs in his ear. “He’d spend hours with a prick in his mouth if we let him. Is it good?”

“Yes,” Jaskier whimpers, hips straining against Geralt’s gentle, implacable grip. It’s nothing he’s ever even dreamed of having, and it’s so, so good. Geralt is purring, and the vibration on his prick is indescribable.

“Fuck,” Lambert breathes. “Look at you, buttercup, you fucking gorgeous thing.” A finger traces Jaskier’s lips, and Jaskier kisses it, licks at the callused pad. Lambert bites off a moan. “Look at me?”

Jaskier opens his eyes, and Lambert moans again and bends to kiss him, licking Jaskier’s whimpers from his lips. Eskel is still pressing kisses against his throat. Jaskier gets a hand into Eskel’s hair, just so he can hang onto something, and tries to warn Geralt that he’s very, very close to peaking. It comes out as a garbled moan against Lambert’s mouth.

Geralt hums, clearly very pleased, and Jaskier peaks with a muffled yell; Lambert breaks their kiss to let Jaskier gasp for breath. Geralt purrs even more loudly than he has been, and swallows every drop down before letting Jaskier’s prick slip from his mouth.

“Oh fuck,” Eskel whispers, and half sits up to kiss Geralt hungrily. Lambert growls and yanks Geralt into a second kiss as soon as Eskel lets him go. Jaskier stares up at his alphas sharing the taste of his spend and shudders in renewed arousal.

Geralt licks his lips when Lambert lets him go and grins down at Jaskier. “That’s one.”

“One?” Jaskier says dazedly, and then remembers Geralt’s earlier question. “Oh gods.”

“Alright?” Eskel checks. “We can stop now, if you need to.”

Jaskier shakes his head. He wants to know what else his alphas might come up with - wants to know how much more pleasure they can wring from him, because he’s already nearly speechless with it. And he wants - “Want to touch you, please,” he says.

“Oh fuck,” Lambert blurts. Eskel swallows hard and nods.

“Anything you like,” he says hoarsely. “Name it.”

“May I -” Geralt says, and Jaskier looks down at him in confusion. “May I eat you out?”

“What?” Jaskier says, genuinely baffled.

Lambert growls hungrily. “His mouth on your pretty ass, buttercup. He’s good at that, too.”

Jaskier...had not quite realized that was an option. Sure, it was mentioned, once, during his heat, but he didn’t actually think they meant it. But - “Alright,” he says, and Geralt purrs and shifts down the bed, coaxing Jaskier’s legs up over his shoulders as he sprawls out. His hands stroke down the backs of Jaskier’s thighs, and then his tongue touches the rim of Jaskier’s ass, an almost thoughtful little lick, and Geralt’s purring redoubles.

“Oh gods,” Jaskier says, staring blankly up at the ceiling at the utterly foreign wave of pleasure. “That’s...that’s...fuck.”

Lambert chuckles. “Good, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says faintly. “Oh gods, come here, please?”

Lambert shuffles forward on his knees, and Jaskier reaches up with one hand - his other has found Eskel’s hair again, and Eskel is nuzzling contentedly at his throat, not really kissing, just breathing in his scent, purr thrumming through Jaskier’s sternum.

Lambert is pleasantly furry, and his skin is surprisingly soft over a layer of winter padding and hard muscle. He drops down to his hands and knees so Jaskier can reach anything he pleases without stretching, and Jaskier runs his fingers through the soft fur on Lambert’s chest, discovers for himself the way Lambert hisses through his teeth at a thumb brushing over his nipples, traces the line of a long-healed silvery scar that trails over Lambert’s stomach almost to the jut of his hipbone.

Lambert’s prick hangs heavy between his legs, and Jaskier takes a deep breath - warm-hearth-and-safety, lust and affection and the tang of his own pleasure - and wraps his fingers carefully around its girth. Lambert shudders all over and moans. “Fuck, your fingers, buttercup.”

Jaskier’s fingers are callused again from hours with his lute; they are long and slender and look shockingly good wrapped around Lambert’s prick. He strokes carefully, and Lambert moans again and holds perfectly still but for the little involuntary shudders wracking him.

“Twist your hand a bit right at the tip,” Eskel murmurs, and Jaskier does so. Lambert curses and shakes with the effort of holding still.

Geralt chooses that moment to slide his tongue into Jaskier, and Jaskier loses his coordination and grabs at Lambert’s thigh instead, yelping in shock.

“Dammit, Geralt,” Lambert grouses, and Eskel laughs against Jaskier’s throat. Jaskier finds himself giggling, too, and is faintly astonished. He’s never thought of laughing during sex. But it is funny, and he gets his hand back on Lambert’s prick and is absurdly proud of himself when Lambert’s swearing cuts off with a heartfelt moan. “Fuck, yes, buttercup, that’s fucking good.”

Eskel purrs. “Squeeze a bit around the knot,” he suggests, and Jaskier obeys, grinning when Lambert whimpers. There’s a power to this he wasn’t expecting - to holding an alpha’s prick in his hand and seeing the alpha wait for whatever it pleases him to do. It’s almost a surrender, though Jaskier hasn’t ever imagined an alpha surrendering to an omega before.

Eskel keeps murmuring suggestions, and Jaskier keeps following them, and Lambert moans and shakes and swears in nine languages - maybe it’s ten by now, Jaskier’s not quite sure. Concentrating gets harder and harder, though; Geralt is clearly enjoying himself immensely, tongue deep in Jaskier’s ass and hands kneading at Jaskier’s hips like a contented cat’s, and the shocking pleasure of it is coiling tighter and tighter in Jaskier’s stomach.

“If you want to see him spill, keep doing that,” Eskel whispers. “He’s close.”

Jaskier does want that. He wants to see Lambert shake apart beneath his hand, because of him. He repeats the stroking twist of his hand, again and again, and Lambert whines and shivers and finally tenses, every muscle like a bar of iron, and shoves a hand down to clench around his knot, and comes with a low howl that echoes off the stone walls before falling sideways to land with a thump upon the rumpled blankets.

Jaskier is astonished by the intensity of fierce pleasure that rises in him: he did that. He rendered his alpha speechless and gasping with ecstasy. He put that look of dazed happiness on Lambert’s face.

“Well done,” Eskel says, and reaches over to draw Jaskier’s seed-streaked hand to his lips, licking it clean with great concentration. Jaskier whimpers a little.

And Geralt strokes a thumb over his ass as he plunges his tongue deep one more time, and Jaskier peaks without even realizing he’s about to.

He actually loses a little time, sparks flashing behind his eyelids and body shuddering in astonished pleasure. When he comes back to himself, his alphas are curled around him, all of them looking a little worried, and someone has wiped him down with a damp cloth so his stomach isn’t quite as sticky and unpleasant. Geralt looks smug even through the worry, Jaskier is amused to see. Well, he’s got reason to be smug; he’s brought Jaskier off twice now.

“Alright there?” Eskel asks.

“Very,” Jaskier says. “Holy fuck.”

Lambert chuckles. “You good to keep going, or d’you want to sleep?”

Jaskier thinks about that for, oh, at least half a second. “Keep going,” he says. He wants this night - this first time - to be as long and wonderful as possible, and two of his alphas haven’t even come yet.

“Alright,” Eskel says, and kisses him softly. “Jaskier. May I have you?”

Jaskier licks his lips. “Yes,” he says, a little shakily. “Yes, you may.”

“Thank you,” Eskel whispers, and kisses him again. “Tell me if you change your mind.”

“I will,” Jaskier promises.

“Good,” Eskel purrs, and coaxes Jaskier carefully up onto his side, tucking himself against Jaskier’s back, warm and sturdy and comforting. “One of you kiss him, one of you suck him off - slowly,” he orders, and Lambert grins.

“My turn,” he says, nudging Geralt’s shoulder. “You got the first go.”

They’re...they’re taking turns on who gets to suck him off. Jaskier is so baffled by that that he jumps a little when one of Eskel’s broad fingers brushes very gently against his hole. Eskel pulls away immediately, stroking his hand over Jaskier’s hip. “Sorry,” he murmurs. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine,” Jasker says - squeaks, rather, as Lambert slithers down the bed and begins to lick enthusiastically at his prick. Geralt makes a sort of huffy noise and then grins and shifts so he can kiss Jaskier without straining either of their necks or kicking Lambert in the head.

“If you’re sure,” Eskel says, and slides his hand down again, slowly enough that it’s not startling at all when his finger brushes against Jaskier’s hole again. Lambert makes a thoughtful sort of noise and tugs at Jaskier’s leg until it’s resting on Lambert’s side, giving Eskel better access and Jaskier a little better balance. Jaskier’s not entirely sure what to do with his hand until Geralt takes it and gives him a sort of hopeful look and puts it on his own head; Jaskier tangles his fingers in Geralt’s hair and tugs just a little, the way he’s seen Lambert and Eskel do, and Geralt responds with a happy little moan and a fervent kiss.

Jaskier is so distracted by the kiss, and so slick from Geralt’s attentions and the throbbing arousal brought on by - well - everything about this night, that he doesn’t flinch at all as Eskel’s finger slides into him, easy as anything.

It doesn’t hurt. Not at all. There’s a very faint stretch, but no burn, no ache, no sharp pain; between Jaskier’s relaxation and the slick he’s been leaking for what feels like hours, there’s no discomfort at all. Instead, as Eskel shifts his finger carefully, there’s a sudden shock of pleasure, and Jaskier gasps and jerks against Lambert’s hand on his hip.

“Good, or bad?” Eskel checks at once.

“Good,” Jaskier babbles. “Good, fuck, good.”

Eskel purrs, and does it again. Jaskier whines, and Lambert chuckles and licks teasingly at the head of his prick, and Geralt purrs as he presses little kisses to Jaskier’s cheekbones.

They play him like a fucking instrument, one of Eskel’s blunt fingers becoming two, becoming three as Lambert swallows his prick nearly as expertly as Geralt did, as Geralt kisses Jaskier’s moans and gasps and whimpers away. Nothing hurts - nothing even threatens to hurt. Jaskier’s world is hazed in pleasure, bounded by the stone walls of the tower room, saturated in the scent of spend and slick and warm-hearth-and-safety.

“May I?” Eskel breathes against his ear. Jaskier moans against Geralt’s lips, and Geralt pulls back just a tiny fraction of an inch, breath hot against Jaskier’s cheek. “May I have you, Jaskier?”

Please, yes,” Jaskier gasps. He wants it. He wants to know what this is supposed to feel like, wants to know how fucking good this is going to feel - because it is, he knows, it’s going to be so fucking good.

“Fuck,” Eskel says, almost conversationally, and then his fingers slide out and something rather larger is pressing against Jaskier’s hole. Jaskier goes still, and for one long dreadful moment the old panic comes rising up again -

And Lambert does something very clever with his tongue, and Geralt purrs into their kiss, and the panic drains away like it had never been, because this - this is nothing like before. There aren’t even any comparisons to be made. This is a first time, Jaskier’s first time, and he leans back into Eskel’s warm, gentle strength and moans into Geralt’s mouth as Eskel’s prick slips inch by slow inch into him, easy as dripping honey. It doesn’t hurt at all. It feels, in fact, really godsdamned fucking good.

“Fuck, you feel amazing,” Eskel says quietly. “Fucking hell, thank you, thank you for giving us this -” he breaks off in a low moan, hips shifting in tiny restless motions. “Glorious, gorgeous, wonderful omega, ours, ours to keep and cherish and protect -”

Jaskier thinks he might actually cry. This is exactly the sort of thing a young omega dreams about: an alpha who will lavish them with praise, will treat them with gentle kindness, will treasure them. Jaskier’s youthful daydreams didn’t include three alphas - he doesn’t think anyone’s did, really - but gods, it’s good, to be the focus of three alphas who want nothing more than to bring him pleasure.

Move,” he says, between kisses, and Eskel kisses the nape of his neck and obeys, shifting his hips in long slow gentle thrusts that hit Jaskier’s sweet spot unerringly, pushing him forward into Lambert’s mouth; Lambert, judging by the contented purring and the way he swallows around Jaskier’s prick, doesn’t mind at all.

It’s slow and sweet and gentle and good, and Jaskier tips over his third peak with a low, helpless moan that Geralt swallows down just as Lambert swallows his seed. Eskel moans and mouths Jaskier’s shoulder, like he wants to bite and is holding back by the barest margin, and gasps, “May I? Fuck, Jaskier, may I knot you?”

“Yes,” Jaskier says dreamily. He wants it - oh, he wants it, wants to know what it’s supposed to feel like. He’s so relaxed and contented that it can’t possibly hurt; nothing has hurt so far, and he trusts his alphas to keep it that way.

Eskel growls, low and almost desperate, and his hand closes a little tighter on Jaskier’s hip, and he thrusts just a little harder, enough to make Jaskier gasp, overstimulated and half-drunk on pleasure - and he peaks with a moan that shivers through Jaskier’s bones, knot expanding to lock them together and pressing squarely against Jaskier’s sweet spot as it does.

Jaskier keens, tossing his head back onto Eskel’s shoulder and shuddering. Eskel’s growling purr reverberates in his ear, and Geralt switches from kissing his mouth to planting licking kisses down his throat, and Lambert lets Jaskier’s soft prick slip from his mouth and swears, softly and fervently.

“Wonderful, gorgeous, perfect omega,” Eskel rasps.

“Fuckin’ amazing,” Lambert agrees.

“Ours,” Geralt says, very contentedly, and then, “One more?”

“Oh fuck,” Jaskier says, rather dazedly. Another peak? That might actually make him faint with overstimulated pleasure...but he wants it all the same. “Yes. Please.”

Geralt growls, pleased and smug. “Move, little wolf,” he orders, and Lambert rolls out of the way; Geralt shifts to press himself against Jaskier, sandwiching him between himself and Eskel, his prick rubbing against Jaskier’s in a slick, shivery-good slide. Jaskier makes a sort of thin, desperate noise, and Geralt reaches down between them and gathers both their pricks into one big hand. Jaskier is mostly soft, but that is changing rapidly, what with the pressure of Eskel’s knot against his sweet spot and the way Geralt’s prick feels rubbing against his own.

“Well that’s the most gorgeous fuckin’ thing I’ve seen in years,” Lambert says softly, from somewhere up near the head of the bed - they’ve gotten a bit turned around somehow, and are lying crossways, the blankets rucked up around them into a strange echo of a nest. “How’s our buttercup feel, Eskel?”

“Like fuckin’ heaven,” Eskel groans, pressing another kiss to the side of Jaskier’s neck. Jaskier shivers, hips moving in tiny helpless thrusts, pinned between Eskel’s knot and Geralt’s prick - a knot and a hard place, he thinks, and finds himself laughing breathlessly until Geralt strokes just so and the laughter cuts off in a desperate moan. Geralt purrs and strokes a little faster. Jaskier manages to move his head - he’s exhausted, he’s going to fall asleep whether he wants to or not in the not very distant future, possibly even before Eskel’s knot goes down - and blinks down at his prick pressed against Geralt’s, maybe half the size of his alpha’s remarkable endowment. Geralt’s hand spans them both with ease, long scarred pale fingers so very gentle. Tender, is the word that comes to mind. Geralt’s breath is warm against Jaskier’s cheek, and Jaskier tugs gently on Geralt’s hair, still wound around his fingers, and pulls his alpha into another kiss.

Geralt moans and kisses Jaskier deep and claiming, and Jaskier sags back against Eskel and closes his eyes and just feels: Eskel’s broad warmth, the huge gentle hand on his hip, the knot pressing inexorably against his sweet spot; Geralt’s hand so tender around their pricks, and their legs tangled together, and the purr in Geralt’s chest reverberating into Jaskier’s own.

It’s so very, very good.

Geralt makes a low, almost plaintive noise, and his hand speeds up, and Jaskier grins to himself and tugs gently at Geralt’s hair. Geralt whimpers, and presses forward to kiss Jaskier hungrily, and his prick twitches and spills between them, seed hot and sticky against Jaskier’s stomach; and the way that jostles Jaskier, shoving him back into Eskel and pushing Eskel’s knot hard against his sweet spot, is just enough to tip him over his fourth peak, wringing a tiny whimpering moan from his throat and a few scant drops of seed from his exhausted prick.

“Fuck,” Jaskier says faintly.

Geralt hums and kisses him once more, a gentle brush of lips. Lambert chuckles.

“Go on and sleep, buttercup,” he says quietly. “We’ll get you cleaned up and tucked in, don’t you worry. That was...that was fuckin’ amazing.”

Geralt hums agreement. Eskel kisses the nape of Jaskier’s neck.

“So good,” he murmurs. “Our lovely, perfect, wonderful omega, thank you for trusting us with this. Sleep, don’t worry about anything; we have you.”

“Mmm,” Jaskier agrees. “Alphas. My alphas.”

He sleeps.

*

All three of his alphas are in bed with him when he wakes, though by the light filtering through the shutters it’s well into the morning. He’s fairly clean and slightly sore and very contented; it feels a little as though his bones have been filled with honey, though, and he has no intention of moving until he has to. Eskel and Lambert are wound around him as they usually are, and Geralt is flopped across all of their legs like a particularly affectionate lapdog. Lap-wolf, perhaps.

“Hey,” Eskel says quietly. “Good morning.”

Jaskier beams at him. “Good morning,” he agrees.

“How are you feeling?” Eskel asks, sounding a little...anxious, perhaps.

Jaskier stretches - as well as he can with a witcher draped across his legs, at least - and hums. “Very, very good,” he says. “Except…”

“Except?” Eskel says, eyes going wide. Lambert half sits up, looking like he’s about to go hunt down whatever Jaskier might need. Geralt goes very still, the tenseness of a predator just before motion.

“Except I haven’t gotten my good-morning kisses yet,” Jaskier says, batting his eyelashes up at his alphas.

Eskel deflates all at once, tipping over to rest his forehead against Jaskier’s collarbone with a sigh of relief. Geralt goes limp. Lambert guffaws.

“Feisty little buttercup,” he says. “Well, can’t short you on kisses.” He leans down and kisses Jaskier thoroughly.

By the time he’s finished kissing Jaskier breathless, Eskel has apparently recovered from his moment of panic, and takes over from Lambert with a deep, intoxicatingly sweet kiss that leaves Jaskier panting against the pillows; and when he leans back, Geralt eels his way up from his sprawl across their legs and kisses Jaskier soft and slow, like they’ve got all the time in the world.

“That’s better,” Jaskier says contentedly when Geralt breaks the kiss to nuzzle at his throat. “Mmm. I need a meal and a soak in the hot springs, and no dagger training today, I think.”

“Done,” Eskel says.

“D’you want us to bring you food, or bring you down to the kitchens?” Lambert checks.

“I’ll go down,” Jaskier says. “I’m well-fucked, not an invalid.”

His alphas laugh and tumble out of bed, and Jaskier follows them rather more gingerly. He doesn’t hurt very much, actually; it’s more the slight ache of unaccustomed muscle use, like the way his arms hurt after his first few dagger training sessions, than anything else. He’ll probably be completely fine after a soak in the hot springs, maybe a little stretching.

If he’s going to do this regularly, he should probably start working some different stretches into the routine Geralt taught him to use before dagger-training.

Jaskier pauses at that thought, hands working absently at the fastenings of the beautiful coat, mind entirely elsewhere. If he’s going to do this regularly. Is he going to do this regularly?

Now that he knows how it’s supposed to feel, how good it can be with alphas who he trusts, who he loves, who cherish him in return, there’s not a chance in hell he’s going to be able to go back to just watching them take their pleasure. He won’t want to have four peaks in a night too often - that was a special treat, and an exhausting one - but he definitely wants to be a regular part of his alphas’...lovemaking.

Because that’s what that was. Not just fucking - it’s never just fucking between them, he’s pretty sure of it. They love each other; it’s obvious in every gentle touch, every teasing quip, every heartfelt kiss. And he dares to think perhaps they love him, too. Not the same way, perhaps; his alphas have been together for decades, after all, and know each other as intimately as people can know each other. But they cherish him nonetheless; that’s obvious in their care, in their sweet words, in their protective gentleness.

So yes, if they keep wanting him, he’ll gladly join them any night they please.

He’ll want to add those stretches into his routine.

*

Vesemir is down in the kitchen, slicing mushrooms; he looks up when they come in, eyes Jaskier thoughtfully, and nods. “Porridge in the cauldron,” he says, and goes back to his mushrooms calmly.

He has to know what they were up to last night. Jaskier is very, very grateful for his lack of comment.

Jaskier eats quite a large bowl of porridge - apparently being fucked literally senseless rather builds up an appetite - and all of his alphas sneak him preserved apricots, all of them pretending the others can’t see what they’re doing. Ridiculous, delightful wolves. When Jaskier is full, they herd him down to the hot springs, which, at this time of the morning, are full of every other witcher in the keep.

Somewhat to Jaskier’s surprise, even Clovis doesn’t say a damn thing except perfectly calm greetings. Gardis gives Jaskier a grin and a wink and goes back to scrubbing Coën’s hair; the Griffin is making a sort of chirring noise, like a bird trying to purr, and it’s the cutest damn thing Jaskier’s ever heard. Aubry is watching his packmate and their...friend with a sort of smug, contented smile.

Jaskier instantly resolves to get Gardis by himself at some point and demand all the gossip. Gardis has been holding out on him.

The hot springs are marvelous on slightly strained muscles, and Geralt successfully lays claim to the opportunity to wash Jaskier’s hair, so Jaskier ends up lounging in Eskel’s lap with Geralt’s hands in his hair and Lambert rubbing his feet, while Coën chirrs quietly and Clovis and Frank and Gwen bicker softly about something and from every Wolf in the hot springs rises a deep and contented purr, and it’s…

It’s so damn far from what Jaskier imagined his life would be, months ago on an auction block, that he can’t even begin to articulate the difference.

He’s home. He’s safe at last, come home to a warm hearth in the company of his Wolves.