Geralt tipped his head back against the rough stone wall behind him, closing his eyes and pushing the pain that was thrumming through his body away, pushing away the feeling of his wounds knitting themselves back together, others still bleeding sluggishly, he was aware that there were a few on his back that were deep and with his state of health they would not heal for a good while.
His throat felt like sand, dry and parched, he couldn't remember the last time that he had had more than the few dribbles of water that his jailors allowed him, his stomach was achingly empty considering his food situation had been much the same of the water one.
He was slightly thankful for the fact that they had been caught by the minions when they had first been captured, they were definitely not as bad on the torture as their bosses would have been, and there was minimal magic involved, the mage that they had here was not the strongest that he had ever come across. He had thought that he would also be able to find his way out of here quickly and easily.
The Lord was a lesser Lord who wanted to move places and had managed to trick Geralt so he could capture him, a messenger had been sent out to Nilfguard to let them know he was here, to let them know Yennifer was here, and soon the big players arrive for them, and he was despairing of being able to hold out against telling them about Ciri at that point, they would have methods that would break him, he knew that, it would take some time but they would break him.
And the Lord wasn't a fool even though he was a lesser Lord, he had managed to trick him, and he had managed to trick Yennifer, he had managed to keep the two of them locked up in his dungeon, he was even doing an ok job on the torture of them, they were in a state.
He tilted his head back down and met Yennifer's purple eyes in the cell across from his own, they had placed them opposite each other to add to the torture, able to watch as the days went by and they got worse and worse. Yennifer had been here before him, she had magical bindings on, strong enough to hold her magic, they had even placed bindings on him so that he was not able to perform any signs.
A lesser Lord but clearly not stupid.
And the worse part was that Ciri was out there, in the forests around the town by herself, he had left her there expecting to be back within a few hours, as he had done a few times to take contracts to pay for them. She had to be frantic by now. He had taught her how to hunt, how to use the snares, what to eat and not to eat from the forest, but it was only supposed to be if he was gone for a day, not this long, and her staying in the same place for more than a week was dangerous.
They had been here for three.
Yennifer closed her eyes and rested her head back against the wall, clearly trying to get some sleep to try and maintain energy. He knew that he should too, but he could barely rest knowing that Ciri was out there, alone, scared...he was terrified.
He closed his eyes and focussed on his senses, focussed on the sounds that he could make out around the castle, there had been a lot more noise than normal today, and he had realised that the castle was preparing for a party. He had to fight back a laugh at Lords. They pretended to be all proper and noble, holding great parties while holding prisoners that they had captured and tortured to try and find a little girl.
Sighing, he tried to drop into meditation to at least preserve some energy.
His eyes snapped open and he jerked in his bindings as the smell hit his nose, a smell he would know anywhere, a smell that would be embedded into his memory for the rest of his life. He had not smelt it in nearly three years now, not since that day on the mountain from the man himself, and not since the clothing and bottle of his perfume that he had left in his saddlebags had run dry of that scent.
He was here.
It had been a good few hours that he had managed to slip into mediation, but that smell! Yennifer shot him a look through the bars as he strained against his binding to try and see what was happening. If they had captured Jaskier because of him! He could not get himself free, never mind try to protect Jaskier. And he was not built to withstand torture and pain as Geralt was, if they were going to torture him for information he would not be able to hold out the way that Geralt and Yennifer were. And if they tortured him, Geralt would have to choose between Jaskier and Ciri, and that choice…
Jaskier was famous now, his songs known everywhere, he was popular and well known, it was also well known that Jaskier the Bard travelled with Geralt the Witcher. If he had come into this town unknowing that it's Lord was holding Geralt, and introduced himself, they would have snagged him and brought him here, that was what had to have happened!
Geralt had been hoping, and praying to gods that he long knew didn't listen, that he would come across Jaskier for three years, he had tried searching for him but the Bard was always just out of reach. Ciri knew everything about Jaskier considering Geralt went chasing after him every time he heard he had been nearby, grilled people for information on him until she had grilled him.
She had known Jaskier, of course she had because Jaskier had done what he always did and cleaned up the collateral of Geralt's messes. He had wintered in Cintra every year, he had watched over Ciri and got to know her, Pavetta had forced Calanthe to allow Jaskier into the castle and to get to know Ciri. She had known him and she had clearly loved him.
She had been quite angry at him for nearly two weeks, not talking to him, only glaring when he had told her what had happened and why Jaskier didn't travel with him anymore. Finally she had relented and spoke to him, but she had given him an ear bending rant and warned him that the apology he wanted to give to Jaskier had to be satisfactory.
But in three years he had not found Jaskier, they had not come across each other as they had used to do. And now...now Jaskier had been caught and was about to be tortured because of him, because he knew Geralt and claimed him as his friend when Geralt would never say the word back to him.
Geralt squinted and blinked, squinted harder and blinked again, before dragging in a deep whiff of the air. It was definitely Jaskier, except he was standing in the corridor with red hair that was nearly touching his shoulders, wearing the uniform of one of the castle servants, and he was standing with the dungeons guards but there were no chains in sight, and he was talking to them...but it wasn't his accent, he was talking in the accent of the neighbouring village.
"...So so sorry, I got hired for the party and I need the money, you know how it is, war is hard on us all and I have mouths to feed, I got so lost!" Jaskier was saying to the guards.
"No problem, it happens, just you shouldn't be down here lad," One of the guards patted him.
"Thank you for being so understanding, my daughter is working here as well you see and I was trying to track her down to the kitchens, they said go downstairs, guess I went a bit far," Jaskier laughed, that easy friendly laugh, his expression open as he turned a little. It made the guards chuckle, he had already won them over, spun them into his lie.
"You head back up those stairs, first left, second right and you should come across someone to direct you to the kitchen and your girl," The guard pointed.
"Thank you! And thank you for being so understanding, I can't afford to get into trouble and get fired. Melitite be with you!" Jaskier called cheerfully as he hurried up the stairs, not even glancing at Geralt Yennifer, but he had no doubt he knew they were there and…
Geralt's eyes snapped to Yennifer looking at her intently as she looked back at him, she had clearly recognised Jaskier and was looking baffled at was was happening...and Geralt was absently glad for that considering if she hadn't been looking baffled he would have thought he had hallucinated Jaskier… and he stared at her as pointedly as he dared without catching the attention of the guards.
Her eyes widened and snapped to where Jaskier had been before back to Geralt. His daughter was working in the kitchen, Ciri, he had found Ciri..and she was in the castle? What was he thinking? Though knowing Ciri she would have insisted on coming with him, and it was safer to keep her to hand than to leave her, but...he should have taken her and run, he shouldn't have brought her here where they were being tortured to find her! She was easily recognisable!
Yennifer was looking furious, and Geralt knew that if she could have boiled Jaskier alive right now she would. She and Ciri hadn't spent much time together, but Yennifer was clearly hoping that she could take up the mother role in Ciri's life. Geralt had been a bit nervous about introducing them, but Ciri needed help with her magic, and he had been right to be nervous, Ciri had found Yennifer's full on attitude a bit scary, especially considering everything that she had gone through and everything that she had lost recently.
But, Jaskier clearly had a plan, and from what Ciri had said, he clearly loved her as much as she loved him, Geralt did not believe that he would risk Ciri unless he was sure that he could look after her, that mixed with Ciri probably insisting on coming with him, and Geralt while not happy either, wasn't going to jump to conclusions or blame Jaskier.
Not this time.
He settled back to meditate more, even sleep if he could, determined to save up some energy. Jaskier clearly had a plan to get them out, and Geralt was going to be at his best he could possibly be when that happened.
It was nearly 24 hours later that Geralt shifted slightly, his ears and nose perking up again, not enough to alert the guards, but enough to hone in on what had caught his attention.
The day had been normal as much as it could be for the last few weeks, they had received a dribble of water and half a mouldy bread roll for breakfast, they were taken separately from their cells for their daily torture, returned to their cells for another dribble of water. They would have had another torture session, but it seems their torturers were invited to the party tonight and had to get ready considering they were the Lord's sons. And so Geralt had fallen back into another meditation, waiting, the air of anticipation filling his chest with hope. If there was a perfect time, it was now.
What caught his attention this time was another smell that he knew intimately, one that would also be with him to the end of his days, one that he would be able to find and track down in a city filled with people.
He looked up as her footsteps finished coming down the stairs and had to fight from gawping when he saw her.
She was very distinguishable by her ashen blonde hair and pale eyes, except that she was no longer blonde, it was red and had been cut to lie shoulder length, and something had been done to it to make it more curly, she had freckles across her normally pale clear face, and even had a birth mark on her jawline.
She paused at the stairs, her eyes flicking towards them, before she turned towards the guards, and...limped a little towards them with the tray in her hand.
"Excuse me sirs?" She said, and Geralt had to fight to keep his expression steady, she had the same accent Jaskier had used the day before.
"You shouldn't be down here miss!" One of the guards said firmly stepping towards her, and Geralt had to fight to stop himself from tensing.
"My Da' told me you helped him yesterday, and I didn't think it was fair you're down here guarding bad people while everyone else is at the party. I know I shouldn't have, but this was going to be thrown out anyway an…"
"What have you brought us Miss?" The other guard asked kindly, and clearly a little amused by Ciri's embarrassed ramble.
"Some of the soup, I heated it back up for you. My Da' is going to buy me medication I need for my leg with the money from here, and you didn't get him into trouble, I wanted to do something nice," Ciri said earnestly holding the tray out to them.
"Thank you, that is very sweet of you, you shouldn't have done it, but well if it was getting thrown out anyway," The second guard winked at her taking the two bowls and holding the other out to his partner who quickly took it and started slurping it down.
"Its good!" He groaned. "Thank you miss,"
"Thank you! Have a good night!" Ciri waved and limped away, not looking this time though Geralt knew she wanted to.
Geralt watched intrigued as the guards slurped down the soup, listening to them complaining about how unfair it was that they were stuck down here while nearly all the other guards were in the ballroom.
He waited, making sure that his staring was not obvious, aware Yennifer was doing the same across from him, and then he stilled when he realised that the trickle of sound that he had been able to make out from the party had stopped, it was just….silent. Just as he shifted, leaning forward to try and see if he could hear more there was a loud clang as the first guard hit the floor.
"Mar..." Was as far as the second guard got before he too hit the floor with a clang. And almost right away there were two pairs of feet hurrying down the stairway.
"Should have used more, but I didn't want to kill them," Jaskier sighed as he and Ciri stepped into the dungeon and hurried over to the guards. He snagged the keys from the belt of the main guard and passed them to Ciri, before starting to tie the guards up while she raced over to their cells.
Geralt tensed when he heard more footsteps hurrying down the stairs and four more people burst into the dungeon dressed in the Lord's colours, he strained against his bindings in panic as two turned towards Jaskier and two towards Ciri.
"Nice job Fiona," One of them said patting Ciri on the shoulder as the two that had gone towards Jaskier helped him finish tying up the guards. Ciri quickly had his door and Yennifer's unlocked, and then handed the keys over to the other two people who hurried a little further into the dungeon, and then Jaskier was hurrying into Geralt's cell with Ciri.
Geralt couldn't help but blink up at Jaskier and Ciri, completely confused as they moved towards him, but then Ciri was wrapped around him, her frame shaking as though she wanted to cry but was holding herself back knowing that they weren't in the clear yet. He tugged fruitlessly at his chains wanting to hold her and comfort her.
"Hey hey hey hold steady!" Jaskier scolded, and when Geralt glanced up he realised that Jaskier was picking the lock on his cuffs with the lock picking gear he had carried for nearly a decade since Geralt taught him how to do it. Dropping his head back down he hooked his chin over Ciri's shoulder and started a soft rumble in his chest to try and comfort her. "Ciri, potions," Jaskier urged softly.
"Oh sorry," She jerked back and started ruffling under her skirts revealing pockets that had been sewn into them, Jaskier doing no doubt, Geralt thought as Ciri ripped them open to reveal small vials.
"Nothing to be sorry for Sweetheart, I'm sure Geralt needed that hug," Jaskier smiled even as he carried on working, releasing one hand and then the next.
"Here," Ciri held the potions out to Geralt, his potions he realised, sectioned out. He hadn't taught Ciri his potions yet, which meant...he glanced up and met Jaskier's eyes, the normal jovial cornflower blue was hard and determined.
He looked back down and concentrated on Ciri, allowing her to ease the potions past his lips as he tried to rub some life back into his arms just as Jaskier finished freeing his legs, and then the Bard was hurrying across to Yennifer's cell, moving to make a start on her bindings as well.
As soon as he had her arms free he pressed a small roll of bread into her hands and a flask of water, Geralt was already chomping on his own and Ciri was helping him take sips of water from the flask she had had. Just as Jaskier finished freeing Yennifer's legs the sound of people coming down the corridor from the dungeon where the others had disappeared to reached them, and several people now shuffled into view, three of whom had clearly been prisoners longer than Geralt and Yennifer going by the state of them, and the way they were being supported by the others.
"Ok," Jaskier hurried over to Geralt's cell as one of the people in the Lord's colours ducked into Yennifer's cell and started helping her to her feet. "How are we doing?" He asked concerned looking at Geralt.
"Better, can move," Geralt said roughly.
"Ok, up we go, we just need to make it a little bit further," Jaskier promised. Geralt took the hand he offered, switching his grip where he had been holding Ciri's hand to allow her to help tug him to his feet. He swayed dangerously forward but Jaskier used his own body to keep him on his feet, and then looped his arm over his shoulder. "One step at a time, come on," Jaskier urged, and they started lumbering their way down the hallway in a group, Yennifer being supported by one of the group that seemed to be helping them.
"Where?" Geralt grunted.
"Ezkiel here used to work in the castle, he knows a way out through the dungeon, a bolt hole, we unlocked it all yesterday after Lillia stole the keys," Jaskier said nodding to two of them people. "We have horses and Roach waiting there, with someone else,"
They were a slow group considering, and Geralt wondered at the complete lack of people to stop or chase them, but he didn't have the energy to keep walking, never mind ask any questions, it was purely Ciri's terrified face and Jaskier's thundering heart that spoke of his fear that kept his legs moving, the potions were starting to heal him, but there was a lot of damage to heal and he was still dehydrated and starving.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, there was light at the end of the dull corridor, and the jailbreakers all seemed to perk up with hope letting Geralt know that they were close.
They stumbled out onto the hillside that the castle was built on, right underneath the castle, the exit cleverly hidden amongst an outcropping of rock, which once closed would be near invisible to the eye, which it was when one of those waiting for them quickly shut the door behind them, and then they were stumbling over to the horses that were waiting for them.
Geralt grumbled a little as he heaved himself onto Roach where she knelt ready for him as soon as she saw him. Jaskier hurried to help Yennifer onto another horse, and then helped Ciri up behind her. Yennifer looked a little annoyed as Jaskier tied her into the saddle, but she said nothing as he hurried back over to Geralt and Roach, tying Geralt into the saddle next before lifting himself up behind him.
"You know what you need to do?" Jaskier asked the others who had climbed onto their own horses in the same fashion.
"We'll be as far from here as possible, different directions, change our clothes," One of the men nodded as he held a gaunt and exhausted woman close to his chest.
"Thank you Jaskier, we can't repay you for this," A woman nodded holding a fifteen year old boy close.
"We helped each other, we couldn't have done it without you. Ride hard, and may the gods be with you," Jaskier said softly.
"You too," They nodded, before they all shifted their grips on their reins. Geralt grit his teeth knowing what was coming, and then Jaskier urged Roach into a fast canter, and then into a gallop, the horse Ciri and Yennifer were on right behind them, thundering across the grass heading for the forest nearby, and the pain was as bad as Geralt had expected.
"Sorry," Jaskier grimaced.
"K," Geralt shook his head. He concentrated on the other escapees, they were scattering in different directions, all moving as fast as possible, which would make tracking them far harder, especially considering they wouldn't know which direction the prize prisoners of Geralt and Yennifer had gone.
The next several hours was a blur of pain and tiredness, sleeping, and gulping back the food and water that Jaskier had with him but wouldn't allow Geralt to take too much off. He knew that it was important not to gulp it back, but he couldn't help but groan every time he was finished eating or Jaskier gently took the flask from him. Every time Jaskier gently apologised, but stuck to it.
Finally they trotted to a halt in the middle of the forest and Jaskier hopped down, nodding as Ciri stopped right by Roach. He grabbed his dagger and crossbow before hurrying into the cave they were outside of, lighting a torch that was sitting waiting for them, and went cautiously into the cave.
"Still clear!" Jaskier said a few moments coming out of the cave without the torch, but there was a crackling coming from inside the cave, and the smell of smoke was already forming in the air. He guided Roach to her knees again before reaching out and gently pushing Geralt's fumbling hands away from trying to untie himself from the saddle and did it himself, making quick work of the knots before reaching out to help ease Geralt off of Roach.
They stumbled into the cave and Jaskier helped Geralt gently down onto the cave wall, making sure he was comfortable before disappearing, clearly to help Ciri move Yennifer into the cave, seating her near to Geralt.
"Ok, now, as we discussed," Jaskier said gently, touching Ciri's shoulders. Her lips pursed and she glanced at Geralt before she nodded sharply. "Good girl," Jaskier smiled kissing her forehead and leading her out the cave.
He came back in alone carrying Geralt's saddlebags where he kept his healing and medical supplies.
"Where is Ciri?" Yennifer glared.
"She is sitting outside the cave with the horses, and a crossbow and dagger," Jaskier answered as he started laying out everything that they would need.
"Leaving her in danger like you dragged her into danger today,"
"Well if you're well enough to bitch, Geralt can go first,"Jaskier simply said, and leaned forward to start checking out Geralt's wounds, his face stayed the same but his lips pursed and thinned as he took in the damage that had been done to Geralt.
"You have left her outside alone," Yennifer hissed, clearly not done.
"And she is right where we can hear her, and she knows to come in if she sees any movement. I think it would be best for her not to see this, hmm?" Jaskier nodded to where Geralt's back had been lashed open.
There was nothing but silence as Jaskier worked, washing Geralt's wounds and then rubbing ointments onto them, before then carefully bandaging them. The silence was odd and uncomfortable, they were all aware of the awkwardness between the three of them and what had happened the last time that they all had been together, and it had been no secret that Jaskier and Yennifer had never gotten on.
But then there was another reason why there was a silence, and all Geralt could do was sit there propped against the cave wall, watching Jaskier's face as the fire caught and grew behind him in the centre of the room. He had clearly found the cave and had the wood set up and ready to go for them arriving, obviously predicting that they would not be in the best state.
But this was all taken in absently as he watched Jaskier, the Bard's movements were careful and practised, used to patching Geralt up over the years. He was methodically checking and taking care of every injury, and very pointedly not looking at Geralt, while Geralt could do nothing but stare at him, his eyes as hungry for the sight of his face again as his stomach was for food and water.
In fact, he would gladly have forgone the food and water if he had to choose between them and getting to look at Jaskier again for just an hour.
"Ok, all done, here we go, sip it and eat it slowly," Jaskier said firmly pressing a flask and some more food into Geralt's hands before moving to Yennifer.
"You're not treating me!" Yennifer sneered.
"Fine," Jaskier shrugged and moved to the side, starting to gather up the medical supplies.
"What are you doing?" Yennifer blinked.
"You said you didn't want me to treat you, so here," Jaskier dropped the medical supplies at her side. "Do it yourself,"
Geralt carried on watching him as he walked out the cave, speaking softly to Ciri, before he turned to look at Yennifer who was spluttering in anger.
"You did say you didn't want him to treat you," Geralt grunted when she looked at him before taking a sip of his water.
A little while later Jaskier walked back in with Ciri, clearly not calling Yennifer's bluff, and started settling down their bags around the cave, placing bed rolls near the fire, and fussing over Ciri a little who was looking a little wide eyed as she seemed to realise that they had managed to pull off their plan.
Jaskier came and helped Geralt over to one of the bed rolls, sitting him down with his back against a rock, lots of blankets padded between it and his back and sitting at an angle that didn't place pressure on the wounds.
"Do you want to move?" Jaskier asked Yennifer.
"No!" Yennifer spat.
"Fine," Jaskier dropped a few blankets next to her along with another flask of water and some food.
"Are you ok?" Ciri asked Geralt, curling into his side, suddenly looking younger again.
"I'm fine," He said hoarsely, his throat still feeling like sandpaper. He shifted so that he could wrap his arm around Ciri and pull her close, ignoring how it pulled at the wounds on his back. "... 'specially now," He managed.
"Me too," Ciri sighed nudging his hand to get him to take another sip of water. He did so before tugging gently at her hair and looking at her questioningly. "Jaskier dyed it, my hair is too noticeable, so we decided that I would be a redhead, and he dyed his own to pull of the father daughter story, he said that people barely look passed their noses, and once they saw our hair they didn't even look twice at us. It will wash out, but it may be worth keeping up, it will make things easier,"
"Good idea," Geralt wondered why he hadn't thought of that himself.
"Here we go," Jaskier handed Ciri some meat, bread and cheese on a plate.
"I'm not hungry," Ciri said softly.
"That's because you're coming down from the adrenaline, you need to eat sweetheart or you will crash out, try and eat a little for me, please, just as much as you can, you didn't eat much last night," Jaskier smiled.
"'S right," Geralt nodded tugging her hair gently again. "Little bit,"
"Ok," She nodded taking the plate.
Geralt watched concerned until she started eating and then clearly found her appetite and started scoffing everything down making him smile a little. He felt eyes on him and looked up to meet cornflower blue ones, Jaskier looking at him directly for the first time.
"Honestly, six months with you and she is like a little feral beast, I was truly horrified the first time I had a meal with her," Jaskier huffed amused, Ciri snorting through her mouthful of food before pointedly taking a big bite of bread.
"You need to sleep," Jaskier said looking him over with concern.
"What about me?" Yennifer snapped.
"You're perfectly capable of sleeping, I gave you blankets," Jaskier waved at the pile she still hadn't touched.
"I mean my wounds!" Yennifer glared.
"Do you want me to take a look at them?" Jaskier said with that tone of mock patience that meant in taverns tankards were about to start flying.
"No!" Yennifer spat.
"Well then, I won't let Ciri do it, and Geralt is not up to it, so take care of them yourself," Jaskier shrugged.
"Well, you're out of options unless you want me to bring Roach in to see if she will help you," Jaskier smirked before turning to help Geralt lie down. He raised an eyebrow when the Witcher didn't say anything about the way he was talking to Yennifer, that she was going untreated even though it was clear Geralt had taken the brunt of the torture, or at being helped.
It seemed Ciri had been good for him.
"You as well," Jaskier combed Ciri's curly hair away from her face.
"I'm not…" Ciri's protest was broken by a yawn making Jaskier laugh.
"Lie...with me?" Geralt lifted his arm, and in a second Ciri was curled up against him. Jaskier carefully tucked a few blankets around them, mindful of Geralt's back, and then moved to sit by the fire, taking out a few more foods and starting what seemed to be a stew over the fire.
Geralt was asleep fairly quickly, pretty much passed out really, and Ciri fell asleep before him, the events of the last few weeks catching up with her. Jaskier was aware of Yennifer staring at him, her violet eyes boring into him, but he just cheerfully ignored her, happy to know that that was annoying her more than anything Jaskier could have said.
"Are you not going to offer to help?" Yennifer finally hissed nearly forty minutes later after applying various salves and bandages awkwardly herself.
"I have offered, twice, do you expect me to beg you to let me help you?" Jaskier snorted tipping some salt into the stew and stirred it.
"You either want my help or you don't, last time I am asking, would you like me to help you?" Jaskier looked at her.
"No," She spat.
"Fine, you're doing it yourself then," Jaskier shrugged happily and went to chopping some herbs to tip into the stew. It amused him to realise as she huffed and puffed and snarled while she worked on her wounds she actually thought that he was going to change his mind.
When he stood and made his way out the cave to check on Roach and get other things that they needed she practically gawped at him, at least as much as a witch would gawp.
Geralt stirred and grimaced when the movement tugged on his back, it was much more healed, but still tender. A hand touched his shoulder and he opened his eyes to see Jaskier leaning over him holding a flask.
"Shhh she is still sleeping," Jaskier nodded to Ciri who was snoring softly sprawled on her stomach, one hand shoved under her head, the other stretched out towards Geralt. Carefully he reached out and ran his hand down her back, just wanting to know she was really OK and here after worrying so much about her, before he allowed Jaskier to help him to sit up.
He took the flask of water that Jaskier held out to him with a garbled thanks considering his throat again felt like dust. He wondered briefly where Jaskier was getting all this water, but using his senses as he sipped from the flask he heard water flowing close, he could also hear Roach grazing happily just outside the cave.
He turned a little and saw Yennifer sleeping against the cave wall, clearly, she had bandaged herself up, it seemed neither she nor Jaskier had relented. He turned as Jaskier stood and made his way out the cave, watching the Bard walk away, and something lodged deep in his chest. He was still feeling a little shaky, and his wounds were still aching, but he carefully tugged himself to his feet anyway once he emptied the flask, careful not to wake Ciri, though he did snag his sword from where it was leaning carefully against the wall.
He realised that Jaskier must have found them in the castle and rescued them for him. He moved the sword to lie next to Ciri, a sign that they had come up with that he had popped out somewhere but was coming back soon and was nearby to hear if she needed to shout for him. Then he turned to follow Jaskier, aware of how his slow heartbeat beat a little too fast as he worried about the fact that Jaskier could be walking away permanently again.
Logically he knew that the Bard wouldn't do that to Ciri, leaving while she was sleeping. But he had let Jaskier walk away from him once before, and he had regretted it ever since, there were things that he needed to say, badly needed to say to Jaskier.
He stepped out into the sunlight, they had clearly slept through the night, which explained why the stew smelt so rich. The area outside the cave was flat and filled with flowers which Roach was happily nibbling at and tugging up. Jaskier was stepping back from close by with a couple of rabbits in his hands, but he paused when he saw Geralt in the entrance to the cave.
"You shouldn't be up," He sighed and absently Geralt noted he had clearly filled their water flasks as well.
"Wanted to talk to you," Geralt sighed levering himself onto a rock nearby.
"We're safe here, for a while at least I…"
"That isn't what I wanted to talk to you about," Geralt shook his head.
"I know you wanted me to stay away but…"
"I don't, I didn't!" Geralt said quickly holding his hands up. "That is what I want to talk to you about, I didn't mean a word of it, not one word, and I was wrong to take my anger out on you. You have always been a far better friend to me than I was to you, and I never deserved your friendship or your loyalty. I know that we had good times together, but I treated you badly as well, partially because I had no clue what to do with someone that was a friend, and partially because I was scared about having someone like you and then losing you. On that mountain, I was hurt and angry because of Yennifer, and I realised that even though a lot of what we had between the two of us was brought on by the Djinn, it hurt anyway, and I thought about how it would feel when you left me, be it by choice or death and I thought that it would be easier to shove you away and…"
"Woah woah Geralt!" Jaskier hurried over dropping the things in his hands without a second thought when it was clear that Geralt wasn't going to slow down. He reached him and touched his hands to his shoulders. "I know you didn't mean it, I know that it was because you were hurt you don't…"
"I do," Geralt gripped his wrists gently, his yellow eyes like flames as they stared intently at his Bard. "Jaskier, I am sorry, I am so sorry, I looked for you, everywhere, and then I saw Nilfguard and I had to get Ciri, but I wanted to find you and apologise, and then I looked after, I never stopped, Jaskier, you're...you and Ciri are the most important people in my life, and I am begging your forgiveness, please give me another chance,"
Jaskier stared wide-eyed at the Witcher who had pressed his forehead to Jaskier's hands, the obvious emotions going through him stunning the Bard, he had never seen him like this. But even then, he still had to know…
"You, Ciri and Yennifer seem quite happy playing happy families, I am not sure that I have a part in that," Jaskier grimaced.
"What? No! It's...it's actually going pretty bad, I contacted Yennifer to help train Ciri, she has magic like Pavetta, but they don't get on, Yennifer swings between wanting to smother Ciri and still wanting her own baby and not being interested, and I...I don't like how she is trying to make Ciri, she is trying to make her harder, I think it is the way she was taught to be in Aretuza, but I don't want...I don't want Ciri brought up like that, to become like that. I was actually planning on contacting Triss and asking if she would teach Ciri instead," Geralt grimaced.
"Oh…" Jaskier blinked.
"I was planning on telling Yennifer the next time we met, but a dungeon did not seem like the best time," Geralt snorted.
"I love you," Geralt blurted out, and then grimaced when Jaskier just stood blinking at him.
"Well, I was fully prepared to forgive you if you said you were sorry, I was not expecting that!" Jaskier finally said, still blinking.
"I have loved you for a long time, and that is why I reacted the way I did. Because pushing you away in that moment felt like it was easier than losing you, watching you walk away from me once you realised that you deserve better than me," Geralt blurted out.
"Geralt," Jaskier sighed and suddenly he was in Geralt's space, cupping his face gently, one hand combing through his hair in a way the Witcher suddenly realised that he had missed like an ache. "You're so genuinely self-deprecating that you make it impossible to be angry with you,"
"I'm sorry," Geralt tried to dip his head but Jaskier knelt in front of him.
"I was angry and upset at first Geralt, I was, you really, really hurt me. You know that words are the one thing that can really hurt me, and you made me feel as though I had meant nothing to you, that I had seen the last twenty years wrong. But I knew that you weren't really angry with me, that you were just lashing out at me, it just hurt more because you were lashing out at me because of Yennifer," Jaskier sighed.
"I was, but I was lashing out because I realised how much losing her hurt, and how much worse it would be losing you," Geralt reiterated, daring to reach out and take Jaskier's hand.
"Geralt...nothing like that can happen again, I mean it, anything like that again, and there won't be another chance, this is it, I won't risk giving you my heart for a third time," Jaskier warned.
"Your heart?" Geralt perked up, his amber eyes looking at Jaskier hopefully.
"You have had it for a long time, and you will have it for another hundred," Jaskier snorted.
"You will have mine the same, whatever is left of it, it is yours, " Geralt promised, pulling their joined hands so that Jaskier's rested over his heart.
"You aren't going to ask what I mean by another hundred?" Jaskier asked slowly.
"What do you mean? Geralt tilted his head confused.
"I shouldn't have another hundred years," Jaskier snorted.
"Of course you should, you're part fey," Geralt frowned.
"Wha...you know?!" Jaskier spluttered trying to lean back, but Geralt kept a tight grip on his hand.
"I know that it seems like I don't pay attention Jaskier, but I do, and you have barely aged since we met! Not to mention the other little things that...you know I am a Witcher right?" Geralt huffed.
"You didn't say anything!" Jaskier spluttered.
"You're you, doesn't matter what you are, just who you are," Geralt shrugged. "I...I planned what I wanted to say to you, what you deserve to hear, can you...will you give me time to say it, please?" Geralt looked at him with soft yellow eyes.
"You planned it?" Jaskier asked amused, his blue eyes starting to twinkle.
"We both know I'm not good with words, I thought planning would help, to let me say what I really mean and not have it come out wrong," Geralt huffed. "Ciri helped me," he added with an amused roll of his eyes.
"Ok," Jaskier said, his head spinning wildly by all this.
"I… you have twined yourself around my life in a way that I didn't realise until you weren't there. I feel...I feel as though my life was grey and dull, empty and cold until you came along, and you...you are a bright, golden, warm thread that has twined itself around me, protecting me from the cold hurts of the outside world and warming and brightening my life in a way I have never had before, and I will never have again, I am so sorry for what I said for you, and I swear I will never, ever say anything like that again, I will not hurt you like that again," Geralt got into the flow of his clearly well-practised speech after a little stammering, before sitting there panting like he had run a marathon once he was done.
"I know that we still have things to talk about, but I really need you to kiss me now," Jaskier said a little breathlessly.
The bard leant up and Geralt leant down, and they met somewhere in the middle, the kiss was awkward and out of rhythm at first, their teeth clashing before they tilted their head and seemed to fall into step with each other naturally, as they did with everything else in their lives.
Geralt wrapped his arms around Jaskier's lithe waist and pulled him close holding him around his waist with one hand, the other holding the back of his neck as Jaskier wrapped his arms around Geralt's neck and held on tightly. The kiss had a tint of desperation to it, the taste of the longing that they had felt for each other having been parted for too long, the taste of apology and forgiveness, the taste of promise and future.
It was perfect, and then they heard a giggle. Turning they found Ciri standing in the entrance to cave, her newly red hair an incredibly amazing bedhead.
"So much for your super hearing Witcher," Jaskier snorted.
"Now it makes sense why Jaskier was so frantic when I told him you were missing, and why he was so vicious," Ciri snickered walking over to them. Geralt released his grip on the back of Jaskier's neck to wrap his arm around Ciri's waist pulling her in for a hug.
"I am sorry I worried you as well,"
"Not like you did it on purpose," Ciri shook her head pressing closer to him. "I was worried about you, so worried,"
"I am sorry, I will try not to do that again," Geralt promised.
"Good!" Ciri nodded.
"How did you two find each other?" Geralt asked as Jaskier pressed a flask into his hands, his voice getting rough again, well rougher.
"I found her in the town nearby, she was doing well hiding, but she was frantic and I recognised her, managed to snag her before she raised too much attention and stash her in my room. Got the story off of her about the fact you had gone missing. Luckily I had not announced myself yet, I was tired from travelling and had wanted a night off before performing," Jaskier smiled fondly at Ciri.
"Jaskier managed to get the information on what had happened to you. He disguised me right away, got me to a few towns over, and started to plan on how we would get you out," Ciri smiled.
"We?" Jaskier raised his eyebrow.
"He, I refused to be left behind, I threatened to stand in the middle of the square and tell everyone who I was if Jaskier didn't let me help," Ciri huffed.
"I thought as much," Geralt snorted. "That was dangerous, you should have listened to Jaskier and stayed somewhere safe, that is the most important thing,"
"You're the most important person to me, and not because we're bound by destiny, but because...because you're like my dad. I don't know what I would do without you," Ciri stared up at him with those big, bright eyes that had kept him strong throughout the last three weeks.
"I understand, I love you too, so much, you're my daughter, I'm so proud of you. You were very good in your acting as well!" Geralt tried to distract them from the emotional moment, and sure enough, Ciri beamed at him.
"Jaskier taught me, and he gave me freckles and a birthmark! It was so much fun even though I was so worried as well that we would be caught, or that they wouldn't buy it or that I would muck up the accent," Ciri smiled.
"Pft please, it was one of my plans not Geralt's, of course, it was going to work!" Jaskier protested.
"Hey!" Geralt started to protest before snapping his mouth shut when Jaskier raised an eyebrow at him.
"It was a stupid plan, taking Ciri into there was stupid, foolish, and you are not allowed near her ever again, I shall make sure of it!" Yennifer barked stepping out of the cave. She was still looking more than a little worse for wear, but she had pulled herself together and was glaring furiously at Jaskier, at least until Ciri spoke up.
"I forced Jaskier to take me with him in a way I knew that he didn't have time to argue with me. And that isn't your choice to make anyway!"
"It most definitely is, we are to be mother and child, you will do as I say!" Yennifer snapped reaching out to grab for Ciri. Her purple eyes went wide and shocked when Geralt gripped her wrist tightly before she could get close to Ciri. "You're gripping too tightly!"
"I am meant to be. You don't grab at her, and she is right you don't have a say in who is allowed in her life, I do. She is my child of surprise, my child. And you are not the right person to be in her life teaching her magic. The fact that you just expect her to love you and be your child without you actually putting in any effort beyond barking at her, ordering her around and telling her everything that she is doing wrong, telling her that feeling things is proof of that, I don't want her to be…"
"Yes, Geralt?" Yennifer looked at him in a challenge.
"I don't want her to be like you," Geralt said firmly.
"That's not your choice to make it is Ciri's!" Yennifer crossed her arms and looked at the young girl, who looked right back at her incredulously, and looking so much like her grandmother that Jaskier had to stifle his laughter.
"You shout at me all the time, tell me that I am wrong for feeling things and wanting things, but then expect me to be greedy and demand everything without earning it. You make me feel really uncomfortable and expect me just to love you because you say I should, and make me feel like I am not good enough at the same time,"
"You want to be a mother for yourself Yennifer, because you think it will fill that cold, empty spot inside of you, that isn't the right reason to want children. If that is the way you think it is acceptable to speak to a child because she doesn't give in to you and do what you want, feel what you want, that proves you're not ready to be a mother, especially considering everything that she has been through," Jaskier tugged Ciri closer to himself with a glare.
"I think you should leave, now!" Geralt scowled.
"And our bond, we're tied together forever Geralt, you will come crawling back to me as soon as the Bard dies, it is sweet of you to bide out his life span with him, pity fucking him, but you know that it is you and I that will be together in the long run," Yennifer smirked.
"Language in front of the child!" Jaskier said amused, which clearly threw Yennifer.
"What Jaskier and I have and do is our business," Geralt said before nudging Ciri with a roll of his eyes as she fake gagged. "Shush you. And Vesemir is working out how to undo our bond, I have no doubt that it will be removed soon, especially if Triss is kind enough to help while she is teaching Ciri," Geralt stood and drew Jaskier and Ciri to him.
"You can't do this!" Yennifer scowled.
"You can't demand and just expect to get everything that you want, that isn't how life works," Jaskier huffed before taking Ciri by her shoulders and led her back into the cave.
"You look well enough to portal out. I think you should leave Yennifer," Geralt said firmly.
"You were planning this the whole time! Planning to throw me away like this!"
"You throw me away all the time Yennifer, you used me and the feelings I had for you every time you had a scratch that you want to itch and then threw me away. It took losing Jaskier to realise what loving someone and being loved should really be like," Geralt shook his head. "Be safe,"
He stepped away and back into the cave, practically feeling her desire to fry him alive, but as expected she created a portal for herself and the acrid smell of her magic hovered in the air after the portal closed behind her, leaving the three of them by themselves.
Jaskier was bowling up the stew that he had made, the amazing smell filling the air, Ciri was already blowing heavily on hers, shoving spoonfuls into her mouth as soon as it was bearable. He held the bowl out to Geralt with a warm look on his face as soon as Geralt was seated next to Ciri, and suddenly everything felt right in his chest, a warm, hopeful glow forming.
"Feeling better?" Jaskier asked the two of them, amused as he watched Ciri chomping down on her second bowl, Geralt on his third considerably larger bowl.
"Tis goob," Ciri nodded, all squirrel cheeked.
"Honestly, what have you been teaching her!" Jaskier bemoaned.
"Whab?" Geralt looked at him confused with his own equally squirrelled cheeks, and then blinked looking confusedly pleased with himself as Jaskier fell back laughing.
"Honestly my darlings," Jaskier managed to say as he calmed down, Geralt and Ciri looking at each other, shrugging and going back to their food.
"So, what exactly did you do to everyone in the castle? And who were those other people?" Geralt asked as he settled back with a small, happy groan patting his stomach, Ciri unconsciously doing the same next to him.
"The Lord wasn't very well-loved by the people in the area, it was fairly easy to find those that had been wronged by him, and easier still to find those that also had loved ones being held prisoner in the castle,"
"Loved ones?" Ciri grinned between them.
"Hush you," Geralt knew he was blushing.
"Yes, loved ones. Thankfully they had all worked in the castle at some point, and knew others that worked in the castle. The party was the most obvious and easy way to make our way in, I mean honestly the amount of parties Lords and Ladies host. We all got our way in as workers, and then it was easy,"
Geralt blinked at the smile that he got from Jaskier and snorted rubbing his eyes. "What did you do?"
"We drugged all the food and drink that we could get our hands on, including the wine before it was brought up from the wine cellar," Jaskier smirked.
"Jaskier overdosed the Lord and his sons," Ciri tatled
"Jaskier," Geralt snorted.
"They tortured you!" Jaskier huffed snatching Geralt's bowl and topping it back up.
"Thank you," Geralt captured Jaskier's hand before he could withdraw after handing his bowl back over, ignoring Ciri's giggling next to him he drew Jaskier's hand to his lips to place a gentle kiss there, and then pressed a slightly longer kiss to Jaskier's suddenly thumping pulse in his wrist, scraping his sharp teeth gently over the delicate skin there before releasing his hand.
"If I had known what they had done, I would have made it a longer death," Jaskier grumbled to himself.
"By the time that they realised something was going on everyone was passing out, it was hilarious!" Ciri beamed. "We made sure all the guards had something over the 24 hours of different strength and then Jaskier let off this smoke bomb thing after to make sure everyone was out,"
"Then it was just a case of getting down to the dungeons, we set up the whole father/daughter thing to get a good idea of where you were being held and to make sure they weren't holding you separately from the main dungeon, and it set up being able to drug them as well with an 'appreciative' daughter sneaking them the leftovers," Jaskier smirked.
"Clever, very clever, and your acting was brilliant," Geralt ruffled Ciri's red hair, laughing at the squawk of outrage she made considering she had finally managed to tame it from her bedhead. "I can't believe we never thought about dying your hair," He huffed shaking his head.
"That is why you need my unique brand of brilliance around!" Jaskier chirped.
"You're right with that," Geralt said softly.
"Geralt, you don't have to keep...you have apologised, and I have forgiven you, it is ok," Jaskier stammered, a red flush on his cheeks.
"I would have thought it before, but not said it because...I was an idiot. I will say it now, you deserve to hear it," Geralt grumbled. There was a small silence and then a little body crashed into him from the side.
"You're so sweet!" Ciri cooed.
"Shush you!" Geralt huffed.
"No no no honestly it is adorable, you're adorable!" Ciri giggled.
"You are adorable," Jaskier smiled softly.
"Oh my! You're blushing!" Ciri poked him repeatedly in the cheek.
"Shush!" Geralt groaned. It was worth it when Jaskier leant a little closer and pressed their lips together, chastely considering Ciri was there, but still he needed to let Geralt know that he appreciated it. "I wouldn't have thought about recruiting people from the villages around the castle,"
"It was easy enough to realise that he was a tyrant and that his sons were as well," Jaskier's face dimmed a little.
"The boy, just a little older than me, he has been there for two years, one of the sons of the Lord took him, to please him," Ciri grimaced.
"Grandmother made me aware from when I could understand how things like that could be used against you, and how it can be used for you. I think...I think that she was worried that I would do something similar to mother, but also her and Eist taught me that someone could...take that from me as a power play because of who I am. The boys that...that I used to play with in Cintra, when they found me after, they were going to...I think,"
"You're safe, and so is that boy now, and the son is dead, he won't be hurting anyone else again," Jaskier kissed her forehead wrapping his arm around her as Geralt took her hand.
"I don't think that I want to go back to that, I don't think that I want to claim the throne, or fight to win it back. I know it has been a consideration, but...I don't want that life, I don't want to be part of that world. I didn't before all this, but I didn't have a choice. But I have a choice now...right?" Ciri looked between them.
"You can be and do whatever it is that you want, and we will support you on that. Unless you become a prostitute, and then me and Geralt will follow you around and I will make Geralt scowl at everyone and everything," Jaskier said, and Ciri burst out laughing.
"Jaskier!" Geralt groaned covering his face.
"That is not what I want to do!" She giggled, Geralt smiled softly at the sound, he was learning how to make her laugh, how to help her through her nightmares, how to brighten her when she became lost in the things that she had been through, but it took him time, Jaskier was able to make her laugh so easily.
"What is it you want to be then? Fish seller? Fisher woman? Farmer? Cleaner? Chef?"
"Definitely not a chef, I have tasted her cooking," Geralt grunted and grinned at the squawk Ciri gave out that was so like Jaskier's it warmed his heart.
"I was thinking more...monster hunter," Ciri said cautiously.
"Not a Bard?" Geralt said hopefully.
"That is also a no, she is tone deaf," Jaskier laughed.
"Hey!" Ciri pouted. "Would...would you teach me?" She asked Geralt nervously. He paused for a few moments thinking things through, and the two people who knew him best, the two people he cared about most in the world allowed him those moments, knowing that he sometimes needed to put together the right words in his head.
"I would rather you become a cleaner, or farmer. But, if that is what you want to become, I will teach you, but you will listen to me, and what I tell you you are or aren't ready for!" Geralt warned just as she threw herself at him, careful of his still healing wounds, but happy anyway.
"I think you will be rather spectacular at it," Jaskier kissed her forehead when she turned to grin at him.
"Guess this means we're definitely heading back for Kaer Morhen now," Geralt smiled.
"If we take a small arc around we can pass through Velen, I heard that Triss was somewhere near the White Orchard," Jaskier said softly. "Between being taught by Witchers and wielding your magic, you will be wonderful my Little Swallow,"
"Definitely, though you may regret asking for this when Vesemir starts teaching you," Geralt smiled.
"Why is he a harsh task master?" Jaskier asked a little curious and a little concerned.
"Yes, you will smother under all the books he will make you read before you even get near a practice sword," Geralt snorted and Ciri looked at him horrified.
"Why is there bookwork involved?!" She whined.
"Because you need to know the difference between a Ghoul and an Aghoul before you go out to fight them, and what works best on them. You also need to learn what is the things you need to harvest from them that you can use to help you, or that you can sell to make life a little more comfortable," Jaskier had to hide his smile by turning to pour them some more juice, Geralt fell into teaching mode so naturally and with such ease that he knew that he would be a wonderful teacher to Ciri.
"I did not realise there was so much to it either," Jaskier nodded.
"Jaskier made me teach him what needed harvesting so that he could help me after hunts," Geralt explained at Ciri's curious look.
"Honestly after a drowner hunt, or ghouls, rotfiend, or wolves even, we could be there for hours sometimes while he went around harvesting them all, I had to start helping before I became bored to death, even if it did mean ending up elbow deep in icky stuff," Jaskier grimaced.
"If you're elbow deep in it you're doing it wrong," Geralt snorted.
"Excuse you, Wyverns! We can't all have weirdly long arms," Jaskier pouted.
"My arms are not weirdly long," Geralt rolled his eyes.
"Yes, they are," Jaskier smirked.
"Wow, did you guys really take this long to realise you're in love with each other?" Ciri looked between them wide eyed. "You're worse than an old married couple," She added starting to laugh.
"To be fair I was working with something with the emotional range of a rock!" Jaskier protested.
"And I was dealing with someone with the personality of a toddler," Geralt smirked at the squawking and spluttered outrage he got in response, winking at Ciri when Jaskier stood to start pacing as he started listing all the ways Geralt was more like a toddler than him.
She giggled and hid her face into his arm as Jaskier cheerfully ignored them. Geralt hummed contently, finally everything had slotted into place, and for the first time in his life, he felt complete, he felt hope and contentedness deep in his chest.
He knew the world waiting for them out their cave was as dark and as dangerous as it had ever been, and he knew that it was still a long way to Kaer Morhen and safety. He was also a little concerned about what revenge Yennifer would try to place on them, for there was no way she would let go being rejected the way that she had, and she would not see that it was her own behaviour and attitude towards Ciri that had caused it.
But, even though it sounded like something out of one of Jaskier's stories, he just knew that the three of them together would be able to cope with what life threw at them, and he knew that as long as he had these two in his life he would not care what he had to be put through, as long as he had them.
He closed his eyes as the sound of Ciri's merry laughter broke out, the young girl unable to hold it in anymore, and he heard the pleased tone in Jaskier's voice even as he carried on his list to keep her laughing. As he slipped back into a healing sleep he mentally spoke to the one person that he had sworn he would never admit existed.
He begged Destiny not to snatch these two away from him, the two that she had entwined so firmly into his life that even when he had thought that he wanted to run from them he never really could, she had ensured that no matter how much an idiot he was they would find each other. She had blessed Jaskier with a forgiving heart, and he swore to her that he would never try that forgiveness again, that he would love and appreciate the two wonderful gifts that he had given her to make up for the crap that had been his life for so long.
He didn't hear Jaskier and Ciri quietening down as he slipped into sleep, and he didn't feel Ciri carefully placing a blanket over him once Jaskier had eased him down into a more comfortable position to rest. He was happily dreaming about standing at his balcony in Kaer Morhen, with his arms wrapped around Jaskier's waist as they looked down and watched Vesemir helping to train Ciri, the old man delighted already at having a child in his life, having someone that he was allowed to show all the affection and care for that he had been punished for giving the boys that had come into his care, he would thrive on being a mentor once again, and Ciri was already falling in love with having that warmth, grandfatherly, knowledgeable figure in her life in the short amount of time they had spent at Kaer Morhen.
Geralt would finally be able to show Jaskier where he had grown up, where he had become who he was now, he would open up that last little bit of his heart to him and trust him with it.
Jaskier smiled brushing a small tendril of hair from Geralt's eyes as he muttered his and Ciri's name in his sleep, a soft smile on his face in his sleep.