Eskel doesn’t often stop in towns. Certainly not when he can help it, and even when he can’t he often waits until his supplies are dangerously low, his body begging for a decent night’s rest. He knows the others do the same, stay on the Path as long as they can before venturing back into civilization, but neither of his brothers push it quite as far as he does.
But then, neither of his brothers have scars quite like his. None of the others get the same looks of fear disgust not-quite-sympathy that he gets. He knows Geralt probably has it worse, can’t even begin to pass for human at first glance. Still, Geralt has always been surer of himself than Eskel. Not quite as cocky as Lambert, but still.
There eventually comes a time when he can no longer put off venturing into towns. He’s eaten nothing but rabbit and fish for the past week, his swords are desperately in need of a blacksmith, and his body aches from overuse.
He needs a real bed, even if it’s just for one night.
The town he enters is larger than some, with a number of inns to choose from. No contracts on the board, but that’s not why he’s here. He could go to any of the available inns, but as he walks past one he hears music coming from inside, and humans always seem to be in a better mood when there’s music. He hands Scorpion off to a stable hand, and prepares himself.
He tries to stick to the shadows when he walks in, though the place is fuller than he expected. He gets a few strange looks, a few sympathetic glances, though none of the hate, the vitriol, he’s come to expect.
The innkeeper looks him up and down, frowning, but takes his coin and hands him a key. She doesn’t tell him to get out in the morning, and even offers to send up water for a bath. He’s about to accept, gratefully, when from the corner of his eye he catches a familiar face.
He thanks the innkeeper, takes the key, and strides over to the table in the darkest corner.
Geralt looks surprised to see him, but drags out a chair and nods towards it in invitation. That’s enough for Eskel, who takes it and waves down the barkeep to bring over some ale.
“That explains why there were no contracts,” Eskel says, nodding in thanks as a tankard is set before him by a wary young woman. Still, better than outright disgust. “Surprised they let two witchers stay.”
Geralt does something that could be called rolling his eyes, exasperated, if Eskel didn’t know better. Geralt is nothing if not inexpressive. When he doesn’t look back to Eskel, the larger witcher follows his gaze to the bard performing at the front of the tavern.
“Suppose the music helped,” Eskel says, taking a guess at what his brother is thinking. Most conversations with Geralt are like that.
He gets a hmm in response that sounds vaguely positive, and one that definitely is when Eskel pulls out a Gwent deck and holds it up. He deals, and they play, and they get more than a few drinks into them by the time the jovial sounds of the tavern are dying down. Eskel supposes he should get to bed soon, having come into town to rest and all, but Geralt doesn’t seem in any hurry to leave and they rarely get a chance to see each other outside of winter.
What the hell. Another round won’t kill him.
It’s during that next round that the bard announces the end of his performance, bowing and offering a few lingering touches to some of the more courageous flirters. Eskel watches from the corner of his eye, having never quite taken his attention off the patrons of the tavern in the first place. Geralt may seem relaxed enough, which is odd in and of itself, but Eskel isn’t.
Which is how he notices the bard, lute in hand, making his way towards them. He steels himself for the worst—mocking words, baseless rumours—but expects what he normally gets: thinly veiled disgust and questions of exactly which rumours about Witchers are true.
Even prepared for the worst, he’s completely unprepared for what happens when the bard reaches them.
“Geralt, you have a friend!” the bard says, almost mocking except for the genuine curiosity in his voice. He leans his lute carefully against the wall, moving over to Geralt. And then—
Then the bard, still without a word to Eskel, slides onto Geralt’s lap as if he belongs there. And Geralt lets him.
“You must be Eskel,” the bard says, leaning against Geralt as if it’s perfectly normal for one to simply sit in a witcher’s lap.
Although given the way Geralt has an arm curled around the bard’s waist, despite the fact that he won’t meet Eskel’s gaze, perhaps it is.
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Eskel says, nodding to Geralt. “My brother hasn’t mentioned you.”
“Geralt!” the bard says, batting Geralt on the arm, though it’s clear to see that he’s not truly surprised or annoyed. He turns back to Eskel, offering his hand. To a witcher.
Eskel is thoroughly confused.
“I’m Jaskier,” he says. “Geralt’s bard.”
Ah. Eskel takes the offered hand, still surveying the two. Geralt had mentioned a bard following him some years ago… many, many years ago. Surely it can’t still be the same bard? For one, the man is far too young, and Geralt would have mentioned a bard following him around for over two decades.
In the following silence the bard picks up Geralt’s hand of cards, takes one look, and says, “You’re cheating.”
Geralt growls at him, snatching the cards away, and Eskel laughs. He’d known, of course, just as Geralt had known he was cheating, but it’s still downright hilarious to see Geralt be caught off guard by a simple human. Although…
There’s something off about the bard’s scent. His medallion isn’t vibrating, but Eskel’s encountered enough monsters to know when something’s off. No use beating about the bush.
“What are you?” he asks, pleasantly enough despite his hand dropping to the dagger at his belt, ignoring Geralt’s warning growl, the way his brother looms possessively over the bard’s shoulder.
“Geralt, it’s fine,” Jaskier says, though Geralt doesn’t loosen his grip on the bard as he turns back to Eskel. “Fae blood, on my father’s side. Hence the youthful looks and whatnot.”
So it is the same bard Geralt had mentioned all those years ago. Well then.
“You’ve been accompanying my brother for some time,” Eskel says, moving his hand from the dagger to pick up his cards. After a few more moments of glaring, Geralt does the same. May as well at least pretend to keep playing, to stave of the impending awkward silence.
“25 years on and off,” Jaskier says, “More on that off, as of late.”
Geralt smiles at that, and Eskel doesn’t miss the way both of their scents change, an almost palpable fondness between them.
He’s never seen Geralt like this. The closest he can imagine is when they’re together at Kaer Morhen, deep in winter, and even then it doesn’t quite compare.
It suits Geralt, he thinks.
“I take it we have you to thank for improving our reputation,” Eskel says, keeping one eye on Geralt in case the man decides to cheat again.
He does, of course, and Eskel almost doesn’t catch it. Except the fact that there’s a bard in his lap makes it almost impossible to move as smoothly as he would otherwise, and Eskel manages to call him out on it. Geralt makes no move to push the bard away.
“I’d say you have Geralt and his tales of the Path to thank, but he’s rather staunch on the details,” Jaskier says, rolling his eyes. “Most of my songs are, unfortunately, embellishments of the truth.”
“Fiction, you mean,” Geralt says, smirking at the way Jaskier squawks.
“Maybe if you could give more than a two-sentence description of your hunts, I wouldn’t have to embellish so much!”
“Hmm,” Geralt says, causing the bard to shoulder him in the chest, the only thing he can really do without getting off of Geralt’s lap.
He seems to have no intention of doing so.
“You must have stories of your own,” Jaskier says, leaning forward to rest an elbow on the table. Geralt adjusts his grip wordlessly, moving the hand holding his cards so it doesn’t obstruct Jaskier’s view of the other witcher.
The way they move is easy, familiar, and Eskel feels a longing in his chest he hasn’t felt in… ever, really. It’s not quite like the yearning he feels for winter, for the familiar halls of Kaer Morhen and the even more familiar warmth of his pack by his side. It’s a longing for a different kind of companionship, one witchers aren’t even supposed to think about, let alone want.
But here’s Geralt, a bard in his lap, a man that very clearly cares for him. Maybe even loves him.
“Do you always cheat? Is this some kind of wolf thing?” Jaskier asks, and Eskel hadn’t even noticed he was about to cheat instinctively until the bard had spoken.
“Only with each other,” Geralt says, an answer Eskel hadn’t expected him to offer up.
“That’s probably wise,” Jaskier says, grabbing the edge of Geralt’s cloak and wrapping it around himself to ward off the chill of the oncoming winter.
“It’s wise when I have to get you out of trouble every five minutes,” Geralt says, adjusting his cloak so Jaskier can pull it further around himself. Jaskier mumbles something under his breath, and he must be practiced at evading even the sensitive hearing of a witcher because Eskel doesn’t quite catch it.
Geralt does, though, and growls at Jaskier. The bard simply laughs, a touch exasperated, and pulls Geralt’s cloak tighter around him.
“So, do you? Have stories, that is,” Jaskier says, picking up their earlier conversation. “I’m sure you have tales that would make excellent songs.”
Eskel looks to his brother, raising his brow, then begins to talk. Jaskier hangs off his every word, eyes wide and bright in the dim lighting of the tavern. He occasionally prompts Eskel for more detail, or asks a question, and somewhere along the way he pulls out a notebook and starts furiously scribbling notes.
“Oh this is brilliant!” he exclaims, leaning back against Geralt’s chest. “Geralt, why can’t you ever tell me about your hunts in this much detail?”
Geralt rolls his eyes. Jaskier shakes his head, and Eskel immediately gets the feeling that this is a long-standing argument for the couple.
The thought startles him. Couple. But then, that’s clearly what they are, isn’t it? With the way Geralt lets Jaskier burrow into his cloak to stay warm, with the way Jaskier leans completely relaxed against Geralt’s chest.
Though Eskel’s stopped talking Jaskier is still writing madly in his notebook, occasionally crossing something out only to pause, stick his tongue out, and then circle the struck through words. At one point he tips the book towards Geralt for approval, and Eskel can’t even begin to parse what his brother’s answering ‘hmm’ means but Jaskier simply nods and thanks him quietly before going back to his song writing.
Eskel looks down to his cards, unable to quite keep the smile off of his face. He’s happy for his brother, and aside from the small seed of longing lodged in his chest he can’t bring himself to be jealous. Not when Jaskier looks up from his notebook, eyes shining earnestly, and asks him for more of his stories.
Not when Geralt closes his arm more tightly around Jaskier, not at all discreetly pressing his nose to the bard’s hair.
Not when they both look so happy together that Eskel can’t help but smile wider, can’t help but indulge the bard’s questions, can’t help but grin at his brother in a way that makes the elder witcher blush and grumble.
Eskel’s happy for his brother. At least one of them deserves some happiness.