It started in the kitchen, as all good things do. He was making mulled wine of all things. Said he used to see the older Witchers partaking, laughing and carrying on and having a jolly old time. He said it seemed nice, like all the bullshit they had to go through might be just a little bit worth it if he could have that some day. He’d drift off to the tune of raucous singing, and dream with the cloying scents of citrusy wines and ciders dancing in his nose.
He thought of it often, his first year on the Path. Only one other boy in his class made it that far. They’d never really gotten on, but he thought maybe they’d sit together, and have some mulled wine. Or course, everyone was dead when he got there. Those few who remained, trickling in too late, just like he did, preferred the company of the wind rushing through the ruins, howling like the ghosts of their fallen brethren. If there was ever a home to be found in Kaer Morhen, it had burned with them.
Lambert couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t bear to be alone in a room, in a crumbling fortress, on a singed straw mattress that still smelt like death. Just months ago he shared with the other adepts, their warmth, their breaths and heartbeats humming in the air. It was too quiet now. Too cold, and empty.
“Thought I’d never smell that again,” a voice like spring's rolling thunder rumbled from the doorway. One of the other survivors — Eskel. He may have been the next youngest after Lambert, but he still had a good few decades on him. He’d come back almost every winter since Lambert could remember. The affable, charming type, he never saw him alone, until now.
“You want some?” Lambert offered, trying very hard to not sound like the wee sprog he suddenly felt like again.
“Love some, thanks.”
They sat across from each other at the kitchen table. Every night, for weeks. They talked some, then a lot, but Lambert tried not to look into those eyes like Tokay in candlelight. One look and he’d be a goner, he knew. Now was not the time—
It was a short trip from there to Eskel’s bed — just to sleep. The older witcher didn’t like sleeping alone either. He kept waking up in the middle of the night, shocked by the silence, the stillness. The sound of Lambert’s breathing, the beating of his heat, the soft snuffles he made in his sleep, it was the sweetest lullaby he’d ever heard.
They slept better when they were next to each other — everything was better when they were next to each other. None of the others could be fucked with training, but the youngest Wolf practiced his sword forms every morning, still determined to survive in spite of everything. Eskel starting joining him. They spared together, and made new training dummies, Eskel helped him with his foot work and signs, Lambert showed him some moves he learned from a Cat who saved his life. Then one, glorious day, when the sun shone a little brighter, Lambert dropped his sword and lunged, using his momentum and Eskel’s bewilderment to topple the larger man to the ground. Grappling, tumbling to the floor, Lambert laughing as they wrestled for control. The large, bear of a Wolf won easily — too easily. He’d seen Lambert training before. Small he might be, but fast, and vicious, and the smile he was giving Eskel now, pinned under his bulk, said that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Looking up at him from under long, dark lashes, his pupils blown wide, winter-pale golden brown skin flushed copper, deep pink lips slightly parted, Lambert looked so fucking kissable. Eskel didn’t just not think twice, he didn’t think at all, and in an instant he discovered just how kissable Lambert was. Lips so fucking soft, and plush, the young Wolf gasped at the first touch, immediately arching upward in search of more.
“Fuck,” Eskel cursed, pulling away without warning as if burned. “Sorry, I didn’t mean--”
“You didn’t mean it?” There was no keeping the shrill panic out of his voice. How could he? His very first kiss and the guy starts regretting it right in the fucking middle.
“No, I meant it, I just… wasn’t thinking.”
“Right.” He looked so put out, not looking at him, just like that first night in the kitchen all those weeks ago. His pout would have been adorable if it wasn’t so fucking heartbreaking.
Taking his face in his hands, Eskel brought their lips together again. Just once, just for a moment, but he could feel the tension leave Lambert’s body. “I just mean, everything about this winter is a nightmare wrapped in horseshit” — as soon as he said it, the acerbic stench of burning became that much sharper in their noses, clotting in their lungs — “but not you, and I don’t—” he shook his head, struggling to find words that would move properly on on his tongue, and express something of what he was feeling, but there weren’t any. “I just don’t want this to get fucked up, alright? I like you.”
“You like me?” Lambert puffed, perking up immediately, his lips curling in an almost arrogant smile.
“Yeah I like you,” Eskel confessed again sheepishly.
“Dumbass,” Lambert scoffed, his eyes bright.
“Dick,” Eskel returned, chuckling as he shoved at Lambert’s shoulder.
They didn’t kiss again. Not until it was nearly spring, until the days grew warmer, and the air hummed with the promise of life. Eskel walked into his room one evening to find Lambert bathed in the setting sun’s golden light. He was on the floor, one leg folded, the other knee to his chest, sorting through what little belongings he had in preparation for the Path. Apparently, he was having trouble keeping track of his own possessions, because he was wearing Eskel’s shirt.
“You’re wearing my shirt.” An air of smugness clung to his lips as he leaned against the door frame, savouring the sight. He tried not to dwell on the fact that he didn’t know if he would ever see it again.
“Oh, uh, yeah. Do you mind?” The younger man was doing a much better job of keeping his face neutral around Eskel these days, but red still crept onto his ears.
“Nah. Looks good on you.” It looked fucking amazing on him. So much slighter than Eskel, he practically drowned in his shirt, one side slipping off his shoulder to expose a fine collar bone, the neck dipping in a way that teased his toned, furry stomach wonderfully. Eskel often felt the need to pick him up and just squeeze, but now the urge was bordering on undeniable.
“You alright there, big guy?” Lambert asked, one eyebrow hooked quizzically. Eskel’s scent had shifted slightly, the smell of stone and grass somehow sweet. His heart was beating too fast, like he’d been for a bit of a jog around the keep.
“Uh, fine. I’m fine, yeah.” Even to his own ears he was not very convincing.
Lambert certainly wasn’t fooled. He swaggered over to the older man, peeing at him curiously. Inches away, hands on his hips, he leaned in and sniffed Eskel’s neck, but as he did so, he brushed against Eskel’s— oh. “Are you fucking horny, you dirty old bastard?”
“You’re the one who had to put on that bloody shirt,” Eskel growled, grabbing the smaller man by the waist and pulling him close, nosing at his neck, at the spot where his collar met Lambert’s skin, his own scent mixing with Lambert’s subtle spice in a heady combination.
“That’s what’s doing it for you?” Lambert asked incredulously. "Why?"
“I dunno. Smells nice.” But that wasn’t it, exactly. It was part of it — a big part, but there was something more. Seeing Lambert in his shirt, covered in his scent, it was — “Smell like mine.” Lambert’s skin was so soft, and smelt so fresh, his hair was damp, he’d clearly just come from the springs. Eskel wanted to taste him, it took everything he had to keep himself from licking, from sinking his teeth in. Instead, he settled for rubbing his nose it it, breathing in as deep as he could.
“How— how much do you like it?” Lambert asked. For all its weight, there was something so small about his question.
Eskel pulled away just enough to look at Lambert’s face, hands still on his waist, still holding him. “A lot, Lambert. I like it a lot.”
“Enough to come back for?” His face was carefully blank, his voice carefully even, his eyes carefully averted. He’d heard them talking — Beranger, and some of the others, they weren’t coming back. Were it not for Eskel, there would have been no question, Lambert wouldn’t have bothered either. As things stood, a very big question mark had him hooked, keeping him suspended.
“Yeah, Lambert. Enough to come back for.” Eskel said softly, his hands squeezing just a little bit tighter.
There was no helping it. Eskel wrapped his arms around his waist and lifted him the few inches off the ground it took to bring their faces level, chuckling as he kissed him, lips slotting with lips like they were more than just made for each other. Lambert’s arms wrapped around his neck, his legs around his waist, and Eskel knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that he had home in his arms.
Things were much quieter after that first year. Vesemir never left, some of the others never came back. Eskel and Lambert always did, just to see each other. It wasn’t perfect. Even over half a decade on, the Keep still felt haunted. Every so often a shift of the wind stirred up a hint burning. What was left threatened to fall down around their ears no matter how much work they did to sustain it. But winter in Kaer Morhen was the only time, and the only place they could be together — really be together, for days and weeks on end, wrapped in each other’s warmth. They went back to their shared hell, every year, so they could see, and hear, and touch, and taste their own personal heavens.
But this year, as Lambert approached the charred, and rusty gates, it was with guilt, and apprehension twisting like a vice around his heart. Eskel wasn’t there yet. It would have been better if he was already there, already rested, so it wouldn't feel like an ambush, and so Lambert didn’t have to spend an insomnolent few days worrying the cold halls with his anxious feet.
Perhaps if he were a kinder, less selfish man, he would have had the decency to wait until Eskel had at the very least gotten a proper meal in him, but withholding seemed too close to lying, and Lambert would never lie to him, not about this.
“I’m a dick,” he said by way of greeting, as soon as they pushed the gate shut again.
“What’s your point?” Eskel husked, noting the marked absence of the usual missed-you-love-you-glad-you're-not-dead kiss.
“You remember Aiden?”
“Your Cat? Sure I remember him.” They’d never met before, but Lambert talked about him so much, it was hard for Eskel to feel like he didn't already know him.
“I… kissed him.”
The confession didn’t have the effect he thought it would. Eskel laughed, a big, booming laugh, fucking sunshiny smile cracking across his face, and he kissed him. He picked Lambert up by the waist, humming as he laid a kiss smack on his lips parted in surprise. “Can we talk about this inside?” He asked, setting the younger man down and picking up his pack again. “I’m fucking freezing.”
“You’re not mad?” Lambert asked incredulously, following Eskel to the stables to help settle his horse. It would be more practical for Lambert to do it while Eskel went for a bath, but they liked doing everything together the first few days of their reunion.
“Nah, ‘course not. With the way you go on about him… he sounds nice, and I'm glad you’re not so lonely on the Path, that you have some happiness.”
“Oh..." he said, a confused frown marring his brow. "well now I feel like more of a dick.” He was the worst kind of hypocrite. A few years ago, he found out that Eskel was still sleeping with whores on the Path and reacted like a petulant child. It didn’t mean anything, he knew, and he couldn’t expect Eskel to stop what little relief he’d had for decades just because of him, he shouldn’t, he didn’t, but he wanted it all the same. Eskel stopped, for him, and now here he was kissing another man.
As if reading his mind, Eskel rolled his eyes, laughing, “It’s fine, Lamb. Promise.” They went inside, and got Eskel bathed, watered, and fed, and Lambert gave him a proper missed you, love you, glad you're not dead welcome home.
Later, laying in bed, he told him all about it. He told him about Aiden’s eyes, so much like sunlight streaming through a forest’s canopy, eyes that gleamed always with a sense of mischief — mischief that danced on the corner of his lips, whenever he looked at Lambert. He told him that that’s all he saw whenever Aiden looked at him and smiled. Perhaps that’s all he was meant to see, until one night that past summer. They had made camp on a grassy cliff. Aiden stood on the precipice, watching the waves crash and tumble over the rocks below. Lambert got up from where he’d been tending the campfire, sparks flying in front of his eyes, in front of Aiden's figure. Aiden turned to give him one of his dazzling smiles. I found another one, it said. Lambert moved to stand beside him, and listen to another one of his fairytales.
“Can you see it, Lamb? A cottage just here, overlooking the water. There’s a quarry nearby, wouldn’t even have to use wood. Not a monster in sight. A forest teeming with game right behind us. Plenty of fish in the sea,” he finished with a cheeky, sideways glance.
Maybe just two, Lambert's thoughts supplied helpfully, but he didn’t know where it came from.
“It would be so easy.”
“Then how come neither of us have done it yet?” It’s not like either of them particularly enjoyed being Witchers, risking their lives day in and day out, seeing all the world's ugliness for a few coins and bounteous vitriol. Aiden was always talking about leaving the Path, living a quiet life somewhere. Secretly, Lambert thought he was too restless to actually do it, but he always spun such pretty yarns, a skill he must have acquired listening to Gezras’ constantly reciting Elder poetry to himself.
“Would you come with me?” Aiden said it so softly, the whispered words hidden in the sea spray. Lambert almost didn’t catch them. They knocked the wind right out of him anyway.
“I know, I know, you have—” Lambert talked about Eskel all the time. So much so he couldn't tell if he was jealous that some else had Lambert's love, or that Lambert had a love like Eskel's.
Lambert didn’t let him finish. Grabbing Aiden’s face, he kissed him, lips crashing against lips with all the passion and vigour of the water below them, moving together like a dance they almost knew by heart but hadn't quite worked out yet.
The shape of Aiden’s kiss was different from Eskel’s, the movement, the taste, and the colours, all of it different. But something was the same, something nameless that flowed under it all, and sent the kiss rippling across Lambert's skin, deep in his bones, his chest, his stomach.
“I’m an idiot,” he said apologetically, bumping their foreheads together. Aiden’s arms were coiled around his waist, hands fisted in his shirt like he was afraid of what would happen if he let go. How long had Lambert been missing what was right in front of him? Some Witcher he was.
“So, does this mean I get to meet him now?” Eskel asked when he finished. He brought one, large hand up to cup Lambert’s face, scratching at the hair behind his ear, stroking his cheek with a calloused thumb. The first time he'd thought he'd like to meet the Cat, it was to thank him for saving Lambert's life. He'd thought it many more times over the years, whenever Lambert told him about Aiden; like the time (in fact, many times) Aiden dragged him to a brothel because he heard some johns causing trouble, or the time they made the hazardous journey into Brokilon, just because they'd heard that the druids made the best chocolate. So many stories that told Eskel clearly that the Cat was in love with his lover, and that Lambert was hopelessly blind to it. Even if he was now spared the legwork, he still wanted to meet the guy.
“I’d like you too.” He and Aiden had talked about it more than once. Aiden wanted to apologise to Lambert’s first love, tell him that he didn’t mean to get in the way. Lambert wanted Aiden to know what being loved by Eskel felt like — for they would love each other, Eskel and Aiden, he was sure of it. “Think you’d get on really well. You’d really like him.”
They met him on the road outside of Oxenfurt. From a distance, had the other Wolf not been at his side, Eskel could have mistaken for Lambert.But as they drew closer, Aiden himself began to take shape. While they were almost identical in stature, Aiden was a few shades darker, with a more russet tone compared to Lambert’s ashen brown, whereas his hair had more gold than copper flecked into the dark chestnut, though it curled just the same. His jaw was more angular, his nose curved inward, and rounder at the tip. His eyes were a curious shade of almost-green amber, but there was something inexpressible about them, about the way he smiled, that told Eskel right away that he and Lambert were kindred spirits.
Lambert bounded forward to greet him first, pressing their lips together, kissing him deeply, mussing Aiden’s hair in a way that was far too exaggerated to be spurred by passion alone. Sure enough, they were both laughing when they broke apart, pink raced and red lipped, giggling like adepts.
“I feel like I already know you,” Eskel said as he drew nearer. “Lambert’s talked about you so often.” Lambert had his arm slung around Aiden’s shoulders, watching the two most important people in his life meet with his very best puppy-dog eyes, his want and excitement so apparent it was a surprise he wasn’t shaking.
“I assure you he speaks of you just as much, if not more,” Aiden returned, sticking out his hand rather formally. There was a thready quality to his voice that entirely unexpected, and judging by the raised eyebrows with which the other Wolf appraised him, Lambert was surprised too.
“I don’t know what Lambert’s been filling your head with, but I don’t bite unless you ask me too. Promise,” Eskel joked, and took the offered hand, squeezing it warmly for just a second too long to be casual. “No need to look so nervous.”
Aiden shook his head. “It’s just, I know you were here first,” he said, slapping Lambert’s arse, earning him a thoroughly unimpressed look from the younger Wolf. “Feel like a bit of a dick about all this.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Eskel dispelled his concerns with a wave of his hand. “Lambert’s the insatiable arsehole that brought us here.”
Lambert scoffed while Aiden let out a bark of laughter. “He’s a needy little runt, that’s true.”
“We’re the same size, dickhead.”
“I’m a Cat, I’m allowed,” Aiden retorted. What’s your excuse, Baby Wolf?”
Eskel snorted, clearly delighted by Aiden’s teasing.
“Oh fuck off.” So this is how it was to be — the two most important men in his life finding common ground in irritating the living daylights out of him. The payoff better be bloody worth it.
It was dusk by the time they arrived in the city, children running home while students and the like came out to play. Aiden already had lodgings in one of the larger taverns, he said, they needn't worry about finding a descent place to sleep. It made sense, he smelt nice, looked well rested. Likely he’d been there for a few days. But there was something off about him too. Lambert only caught it in glimpses, from the corner of his eye, a certain weariness bowing his head, weighing on his shoulders, a blood deep exhaustion every Witcher felt at some point or other. Eskel probably saw it too, but was too polite to say anything. Lambert didn’t have time to ask.
“Did a job for the owner,” he explained as he opened the job to a rather lavish room — rooms, to be exact. A modest parlour, with a polished oak table and matching chairs for eating, a plush, extravagant couch with two matching armchairs, and a coffee table, and an ornate fireplace. There was a large tub of clean water waiting for them in the corner of the room, near what must have been the bedroom door.
“Must have been some job,” Eskel commented.
There was no bite in it, but the sudden tension in Aiden’s body was almost palpable, his scent souring in a strange muddle of sadness, anger, and panic. “Yeah,” he replied stiffly, “It was. I’m going to get some food. You two should clean up. Especially you—” he turned to Lambert with a shit-eating grin, pointing as he backed away“ —you stink.”
“Is he alright?” Eskel asked, speaking softly as they got undressed, once they were sure Aiden was downstairs.
“I don’t know,” Lambert admitted, worried eyes fixed on the door. But there was nothing he could do for Aiden in that moment except climb into the tub and perform his own ablutions.
So tired from their journey (Lambert insisted on booking it the whole way,) and blissfully clean, surrounded by the scent of both Aiden and Eskel, soothed by the hands of the latter running over his body as he helped him wash, it was no surprise that he fell asleep. Eskel didn’t want to disturb him, and let him rest a while, leaning against his chest, snoring lightly, until Aiden came back.
“Love seeing him like that.” A smile tugged at the Cat’s lips, his eyes full of adoration all too familiar to the other Wolf.
“You should see him in Kaer Morhen,” Eskel smiled in return. “Sleeps like the dead, except the dead don’t drool everywhere.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Aiden replied with a breath of laughter.
He set his fragrant parcels on the table and circled to the side of the tub Lambert faced. Crouching down, he rested his head on his arms, on the lip of the tub. Lambert really did look gorgeous like this; his hair free of wax, and already curling like Aiden only saw it after a bath. Snug against Eskel’s chest, his mouth open, snoring softly. Aiden couldn’t help himself. Slowly leaning forward, he brushed his lips against the youngest Wolf’s, the barest touch, he didn’t want to wake him. But Lambert startled anyway, splashing water everywhere, his wide eyes giving one the impression of a bewildered puppy. Aiden had to laugh and so, it seems, did Eskel. Lambert scowled at them both.
“Get dressed, you two, "Aiden ordered, knees cracking as he stood, "Dinner won’t wait forever.”
Like the room, dinner turned out to be nothing short of luxurious; steaks marinated in wine, with some of Toussaint’s finest on the side; potatoes and parsnips roasted with butter, rosemary and thyme; fresh bread with blue cheese and fig jam.
“Do the whole city a favour?” Eskel mused, admiring the spread.
“Something like that,” Aiden mumbled, his eyes boring into the table, darkened by the shadow of some inner vexation. There was that strange mix of emotions in his scent again, only this time, it was more easily identifiable as something akin to grief.
“What happened?” Lambert asked softly, ducking his head in an attempt to get Aiden to look at him, gently brushing Aiden’s wrist with his fingers.
When Aiden did look, his eyes were wet with tears, and his voice shook with unadulterated rage. “They were stealing kids, Lamb,” he said in a steely whisper, like he couldn’t bear to utter the words any louder. “They were stealing them, and selling them.”
A sullen hush fell over them, broken only when Eskel asked, “You killed them?”
“Do you have a fucking problem with that?” Aiden snapped, all his fury suddenly directed at the man in front of him.
If Eskel was at all taken aback, he didn’t show it. Steady as the hills bore him, as the mountain that raised him, he only said, “Just making sure they got what they deserved.”
“Right.” Aiden didn’t look at anyone as he pushed away from the table, his eyes caught between nothing and far away as he made for the bedroom. “Had enough. I’m going to bed.”
Sitting in silence, it wasn’t long before they smelt the salt, and heard the quiet shuddering, of someone failing to keep themselves from crying.
“I should— I should go,” Lambert said, looking pleadingly from the door to the other man.
Eskel nodded his agreement, and stole a kiss. They needed privacy, so hw went downstairs for a drink, or five. Even with the raucous crowd and the jaunty diversion of one of Oxenfurt’s many bards in his ears, he could still hear the Witcher’s upstairs.
I couldn’t find them all, Lambert— I couldn’t—
Ssh ssh, it’s okay Aiden, you did what you could.
And the ones I did find— so broken—
You did everything you could, you did everything—
They were asleep by the time hw went back upstairs, and they were asleep when he woke up. He wasn’t used to not sleeping with Lambert when he was so close, but when he closed his eyes, he could hear him breathe, hear his heart, his funny little snuffles. But Lambert wasn’t alone, and there were two sets of breathing, two heartbeats. Eskel found that, far from minding, he felt the old, familiar warmth spread through his chest.
The city was still asleep, so he went out onto the balcony. Bathed in the low, early morning light, the empty streets looked beautiful. The scents wafting from the city’s many bakeries almost drowned out the less savoury smells of urban life, and it was as quiet as a place like Oxenfurt could be for a Witcher.
“Morning,” a raspy voice greeted. There must have been another door in the bedroom, because suddenly Aiden was standing on the other side of the balcony. He leaned with his forearms on the railing, surveying to view as well.
“Morning,” Eskel returned. Standing downwind from the other man, he couldn’t scent his feelings.
“I like it like this.” Aiden nodded approvingly. “Can’t stand the noise.”
“Then why stay at all?”
“I like beds.” He shrugged. “No beds in the caravan. And… I’m just tired.”
“Look, I’m sorry about last night. When I asked— I didn’t mean—” They all knew what reputation Cats had, and Wolves had a long standing tradition of looking down on them. But Lambert trusted Aiden, and that was good enough for Eskel.
“Nah,” Aiden waved him off, “I know. It’s just… very fresh. Like I said, I’m tired.”
Every Witcher saw the dark edges of humanity, from peasants that spat at them to nobles who sneered, and took advantage. They saw the tormented, venomous souls of those who suffered unspeakable abuse, they waded into war, famine, and plague stricken countries time and again to clean up the mess. They saw the edges, but Aiden dove right into the gutter because he wanted to help , even if it wounded him, even if it scarred.
“I’ll bet,” was all Eskel said, even if his hand itched to reach out and comfort him, to tell him he could sleep some more, to touch him in all the ways Lambert found so soothing. But the wind shifted, and without warning, he was drowning in Aiden’s scent. Well, not just Aiden—
“Ah yes.” Eskel could hear the fucking smirk in his voice. “Baby Wolf said you had a thing for smells.”
“I— shut up.” Eskel wished to all the gods that he'd been wearing his codpiece. As it was, he simply looked to the heavens and will himself to get a grip.
“Are you blushing ?”
“You’re the one who had to put on his shirt,” the Wolf growled, but he was smiling sheepishly, and there was no real bite to it.
“We smell good together then? Why don’t you take a good sniff?” Aiden teased. He was just teasing, so you can imagine his surprise when suddenly Eskel was right there, scarcely an inch between their bodies. Leaning in, he sniffed right where Lambert’s collar met his skin, the very tip of his nose brushing against his pulse. Shivers whispered through his veins, he could feel the blood pulsing in his cheeks. “Good?” the Cat asked, bemused, but far from aloof.
He smelt like orange blossoms and roses and something akin to petrichor. It was a delicious scent all on its own, but mixed with the deep, rich vanilla and sandalwood of Lambert, Eskel was surprised he was still standing. “Very good,” he rumbled as he pulled away, damned near purring at the scent alone.
“A smell you could get used to?”
“A smell I’d happily drown in,” Eskel declared, in no uncertain terms.
A smile broke across Aiden’s face, more beautiful by far than any city dawn. “Come on,” he said, jerking his head toward the bedroom door, “let’s go annoy Lambert awake.”
Every moment he had to himself for the rest of that season, Eskel’s thoughts turned, invariably, to Aiden and Lambert. Curled around each other in sleep, or relaxing after a long day of travel, the unfairly graceful way they moved when they were fighting a nest of drowners, or making love, and, of course, the way they smelt, wrapped in each other. It was near impossible to imagine them separate once you’d seen them together, so perfectly did they fit.
Eskel fit too, he liked to think. They sprawled across his broad chest at every chance, slotted in neatly at his sides, or sat on his knees when they decided that his lap was big enough for both of them. And he fit in other, perhaps more important ways too. Lambert had told him of how he and Aiden would often have petty arguments that whirled wildly out of control, eventually devolving into one or both of them storming off. They wouldn’t see each other for weeks, sometimes months, even though by morning neither could recall why they’d fought to begin with. Eskel saw it almost happen once or twice when travelled with them. Almost, because he’d spent years coaxing Lambert’s fire to a steady flame and, it seemed, he could do the same for Aiden.
Yes, he could fit with them, they could fit — the three of them, they could be something that lasts.
Of course, there was one way he could never fit, in the beginning of winter. He and Lambert had found a way to work around it, entirely by accident. It was the third year after everything fell to shit, the first night they were together again. They both knew it was a bad idea, after so long apart, but kissing inevitably led to groping, which in turn led to Lambert howling as Eskel’s cock split him open in a bad way. He couldn’t fit, but Lambert was determined that they didn’t stop. He insisted that they could keep going if Eskel was very, very careful. Demanded it. So, after they both calmed down, the older man slid back in, only an inch or two past the flare of his head of his cock, and started on the curiously thrilling task of making love to his lover with the utmost control. Barely getting enough stimulation himself, it was like he existed purely for Lambert’s pleasure, like he was teasing himself while Lambert got everything he wanted. It was heady shit. The following year, when Lambert dragged him to bed the first day they were together and ordered, “Just the tip,” he was helpless but to comply.
But now, with Aiden here…
He observed the two men on the bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed after waking up from their nap.
They’d only gotten in a few hours ago, breaking camp before dawn to avoid the imminent snow. There would have been no one to let them in had Vesemir not been strolling through the courtyard, naked as the day he was born but for his boots, as he was still wont to do. He’d been getting better, slowly. He still walked around naked, still drank so much Remus or Eskel had to carry him up to his quarters, still broke things just for the hell of it, still spent hours sobbing where no one could see, but for the most part, he tried to be someone — a man, a leader, Rennes would have been proud of. He cooked their meals during winter, helped with the chores, every once in a while he observed them training and gave them pointers. Kaer Morhen’s most esteemed sword-master, the person many a young boy looked to as the closest thing to a father they had, was still in there somewhere, wandering around.
Aiden was prepared for the oldest Wolf’s erratic behaviour, and he took it in stride quietly nicely. He shook his hand, and answered his questions — “Is Guxart still alive?” and “Is he still a dick?” (the answers to which were yes and yes? ) — and he pointedly did not look anywhere below his neck, even as the moon shone off his pale arse when he turned back to the Keep to make them porridge while they took care of their horses and went for a bath.
“He doesn’t cook naked, does he?” Aiden had asked nervously.
Lambert only shrugged. “He wears an apron.”
They’d been sound asleep next to him when he woke up, curled on their sides, foreheads almost touching, holding hands. Unfairly fucking adorable, really, the very picture of innocence. But there was nothing innocent about them now, leering at him with impish smiles, Aiden licking his lip, Lambert biting his, a singular spark of mischief dancing in both their eyes. It was his doing, really. He couldn’t help but kiss them awake. And now they had him cornered.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” He was leaning back against the chest of drawings facing the bed, one arm crossed at his chest, the thumb and forefinger of his other hand pinching his lower lip.
“I’m sure, are you sure, Aiden?”
“Oh I’m absolutely sure,” the Cat agreed with a dazzling grin, “but I’m not sure Eskel is…” Worry crossed his face then. That was the key difference between the two young Witchers — Aiden could never mask one emotion with another like Lambert could, each shift in mood telegraphed on his face for anyone who bothered to read it.
Eskel shifted, something rotten squirming in his gut. The last thing he wanted was to make Aiden feel bad.
“You know,” Lambert said, rolling onto his feet and stalking over with a predatory grace, “I think you might be right.”
It wasn’t Aiden’s fault. It wasn’t even that Eskel was uncomfortable sharing his near animalistic, utterly vulnerable abandon with him. In fact, he could imagine himself baring his belly and bending over backwards for Aiden’s pleasure all too easily. And it’s not like they hadn’t fooled around on the Path — a friendly hand here, an amorous mouth there. Aiden wanted to watched Eskel fuck Lambert, so he did, and he insisted that Eskel should be there for his and Lambert’s first time together, so he was.
“What’s wrong?” Lambert prompted softly, bumping their foreheads together.
Eskel bounced slightly, restlessly, on the balls of his feet as he tried to find the right words. It was easier, with Lambert so close. As far as Wolves go, the youngest walked around with his heart on his sleeve, and he’d never judge Eskel for baring his own. He pulled the smaller man closer, wrapped his arms around his waist and buried his nose into his neck. Wearing Eskel’s shirt, having spent hours in bed with Aiden, both their scents clung to Lambert’s skin and melded with his own into something citrusy, spicy, and earthy, simultaneously intoxicating and soothing, like syrupy mead oozing over his bones.
“Doesn’t feel right,” he said eventually, muttering against Lambert’s skin. “With Aiden here, we should do something different. It should be special — for the three of us, not like we’re adding him on.” A wave of warm, butter-like happiness crashed into his nose as Lambert pulled away only enough to roughly take his face in his hands and kiss him.
There was no time for coyness as all of Lambert’s love, his wide-eyed, slack-jawed adoration for the man in front of him overflowed with all the grace and delicacy of an avalanche. “I love you, you know that?” he whispered hoarsely, resting their foreheads together as he caught his breath. “I fucking love you.”
Eskel gave his nose a quick lick — I know, I love you too — and said, “Think Aiden could use a kiss too.”
He did look rather lonely on the bed, watching them with eyes just this side of forlorn, eyes that betrayed no small amount of uncertainty. At once wearing identical, unfairly handsome wolfish smirks, the other two Witchers prowled closer before pouncing on him, caging him between them and planting sloppy, wet kisses all over his face, playful hands roving all over his body, the bastards taking full advantage of how ticklish he was. Had there been just one of them, or were their attentions divided, no doubt he could have given as good as he got. As it was, there was nothing for Aiden to do but laugh, gasping s-stop you f-fucking mongrels, as he wriggled in a half hearted attempt to get away.
Lambert captured his lips first, and they kissed like they always did, first biting, teasing, tongues sliding intelligently between them before it deepened into something more fervent.
When Eskel turned the Cat’s face for his turn, Aiden looked at him beseechingly, asking a silent question. Eskel answered by rolling on top of him, rucking up his shirt — his shirt that Aiden wore — and kissing his stomach, licking him, biting their blooming love onto his skin. Cats and Wolves, they’d quickly learned, had a shared affinity for using tongues and teeth to show affection, just as they both purred when they were happy. Aiden was purring now up a storm now, his torso vibrating under Eskel’s lips. Lambert’s hand tangled in his hair, fingers massaging his scalp, and he could hear the two younger Witchers kissing above him as he moved up Aiden’s body. Every one of Eskel’s nips drew a sharp gasp, every kiss a deep groan, and Lambert swallowed them all, his fingers playing with Eskel’s hair, stroking his neck.
As he raised Aiden’s arm above his head to nuzzle where his scent was strong, he heard Aiden whisper but he couldn’t make out the words. It was fine, they weren’t for him, but hearing his lovers talk to each other as his mind slipped into the rolling cloudscape of their scents and the narrowed in on the textures of their bodies, was a unique sort of comfort. Lambert shifted, laying down on his back so he could more easily pull Eskel over for another kiss. He went easily, eagerly, but, unwilling to leave Aiden without his attention, he kept a hand on his stomach, kneading his lean muscles without rhythm. He needn’t have worried. Aiden propped himself up, rubbing his back and kissing the side of his face, his neck, gently murmuring words the Wolf was too lost to hear, but warmed him anyway.
It was a new ritual, and one they partook in every chance they could: Lambert and Aiden laid out below him, wearing his clothes, and Eskel getting high on the mix of their scents, and once worshipping and claiming them with his lips, his tongue, his hands. Just as he kept him earthbound when their humours ran too high, so did they tether him to the shore when he felt himself floating away on crest after crest of endless bliss, their attentive hands and faithful lips guiding him home.
They were perfect together, the three of them. As close to perfect as could exist in a world like theirs, and they knew too much to be ignorant of the fact that as the world around them turned to shit, something resembling a god’s grace smile on them.
There was, for starters, the fact that they were all storybook-handsome, something that could go a long way when you travelled from this town to that village hawking your services for coin. Nobles and aldermen were more likely to pay fairly; other tradesmen, and innkeepers charged them less than they would a mutant whom they fancied looked more like one. It was stupid, and shallow, and spoke volumes about the nature of humanity. Even so, nothing about their trade could be described as easy, but it was easier for them, enough that there was no escaping a sense of profound guilt as they listened to the troubled tales of their brothers-in-arms, thanking their lucky stars.
They were lucky, not vain, but they’d be lying if they said they didn’t secretly indulge in a bit of vainglory as they looked upon the beauty of their lovers, of the men they’d quietly devoted themselves to. They, each of them, basked in the sight of the other two; walking a forest path together, the sun glinting off their hair, their skin, when they bathed together in a clear stream or lake. They watched each other in bed, finely sculpted limbs draped in furs and woven sheets, muscles rippling as they moved in sleepless passion, or relaxed in slumber, faces soft and vulnerable in a way they could only be when they were together.
They’d be lying if they said they weren’t relieved that they fit this way too.
Aiden and Lambert travelled together more often than not, but Eskel was older by decades, and far more set in his ways. He’d stay with them for a while on the off chance they ran into each other on the Path, but mostly he travelled alone. So they lived for winter, for the long months they could spend in each other’s arms, cozy in bed, in the ruins they were slowly making home.
Every year they repaired the walls a little more; Lambert found the mages’ secret garden and began planting root vegetables and herbs, and brought in bees for honey; Eskel and Remus got the forges in working order again. Vesemir was good about keeping it all going while they were away, and he added what he could, spent long hours salvaging and mending the castle’s finer furnishings — tapestries and plush rugs, soft cushions and well worn leather chairs. Most had to be discarded, much of the Keep abandoned, but they carved a space for themselves, a pleasant enough nook in the cold mountains to be called home. It wasn’t a labour of love, not at first anyway. More of a desperate search for warmth, and a need to share with anyone who would have it, even just for a while. Love didn’t come until later, forged slowly over the kitchen fire, over long suppers, and countless mugs of mead, mulled wine and cider, and games of Gwent, Lambert and Aiden clearing everyone out, the youngest Wolf deeply, hopelessly engaged in the futile effort of teaching the oldest. It was just the four Wolves those first few years, then Aiden made five, (six on the rare winter Geralt decided to join them.) Five Witcher’s huddling around each other for some semblance of warmth.
So you can imagine how much colder it was, the year Eskel got his face torn up by a royal griffin — a single, gruesome slice that left a tidy crescent from his ear to the corner of his lips, seemingly elongating his smile on one side in fashion that he fast learned was terrifying to both men and children alike.
He went back to Kaer Morhen early that year, weak, and tired of being the monster he apparently now was, of the horror he now inspired, of being looked at. He went back to Kaer Morhen early, because he had nowhere else to go, but as winter drew nearer, and Aiden and Lambert’s return became more imminent — he couldn’t see them. Wouldn’t. Didn’t want to. The only reason he stayed was because Vesemir told him to, and if he was listening to the old Wolf, well —
He didn’t leave, but he locked himself in a room he’d taken as his tomb, his own personal purgatory, far away from the one he usually shared with the men he used to live for. He wouldn’t see them, leaving them to whine and moan and plead and spit acidic fury at the door, directing their rage at him, and at each other in turns. He couldn’t see them. Every time he thought to let them in, something held him back, some weight constricting his body, chaining him to the bed he’d scarcely left for weeks.
He couldn’t see them, not even when they slept outside his door. They both hated the cold. Their bodies never kept enough heat, and they spent most of winters with blue fingertips. They shouldn’t be sleeping on the freezing stone, they should be tucked in bed, in a room with a well tended fire. He should be there to keep them warm.
He couldn’t see them, but he could picture them just fine, curled together, an air of innocence about their sleeping faces that always filled him with the nonsensical urge to protect — surely that’s what he was doing now? Protecting them? They didn’t need to see this—
He didn’t have the answers anymore. He couldn’t say why, but it used to feel like he always had all the answers. But now when Lambert stood outside his door, obstinate as anything, and demanded to know if their love was really so fragile, he couldn’t think of anything to say.
The only person he saw was Vesemir. Vesemir who brought him food he didn’t eat, who cleared his chamber pot, who spoke words he didn’t bother hearing. It was fine. Vesemir was used to talking to ghosts.
One night he came in, and there was something different about him. Different enough for Eskel to actually look. His hair was shorter, like it was when he was sword-master proper, and his moustache was neatly trimmed, his scraggly excuse for a beard gone. He smelt washed. He was fully clothed. If it was meant to be some kind of mockery, Eskel wasn’t having it.
“Fuck off.” His voice was like broken glass scraping against stone, barely human to his own ears, so long had it been since he used it.
Vesemir was determined, it seemed. He’d found a backbone somewhere amongst the rubble. “They made this for you,” he said, setting a piece of folded fabric on the bed by Eskel’s knee. Their scents wafted from it, such strong redolence making his nose and eyes burn. “It’s what they tried to give you earlier. Lambert wanted to burn it when you wouldn't open the door but Aiden stopped him. Pup settled for tossing it out the window.”
Pup. He was dealing with Papa Vesemir, then. Hadn’t seen him since Geralt stumbled in after Blaviken.
The old Wolf rubbed a rough hand over his face with a long, suffering sigh as he tried to work up to what he’d come to say. He could take as long as he wanted. Eskel wasn’t listening.
“I didn’t have what you have,” he started. “When we lost— we lost— everything, I— I lost Rennes.” Another deep breath, a shaky hand scrubbing over his face, he looked up at the ceiling, for all the world like a wolf searching helplessly for a new moon. For the first time in years, Eskel felt sorry for him. “Love — good, strong, pure love, can see you through anything. Those are good, strong, pure men you have waiting on you. It would be cruel to keep them waiting forever. You’ve never been a cruel man, Eskel. Don’t start now.” There was so much more hiding behind those words, things he still couldn’t say, but they both knew Eskel heard them anyway. Vesemir didn't linger, knowing that his words, said and unsaid, would stew all on their own. But when he reached the door he turned back to say, “Get some sleep. Training starts at the crack of dawn, Clearly, we need to revise our evasive manoeuvres.” He was smiling about it, the cheeky shit.
Eskel scoffed, and rolled his eyes, but he didn’t close them. Instead, he picked up the bundle of material, holding it up so it unfolded into a patchwork shirt. Looking at it closely, thumbing over the varying cloths, he realised the shirt was made from the pieces of theirs. Tears sprang unbidden to his eyes, threatening to spill over, his chest tightening even as warmth bloomed within him. Years ago he’d confessed, flushed and tripping over his words, that as rapturous as the sight and smell of his lovers in his or each other’s clothes was, he sometimes felt a pang of jealousy. Being taller, and significantly broader, he could never fit in theirs. More than a little drunk, they just laughed and teased him, but when they went to bed that night they rubbed up against him, all over him, covering him in their scents. By morning his confession was forgotten, or so he’d thought.
He wouldn’t cry into their gift, wouldn’t sour their scents, so he got a hold of himself as best as he could, and buried his face in it, drowning himself in them as he drifted into a deeper sleep than he’d known in months.
They were already in the courtyard when he showed up for training. Both of them looked as gaunt as he felt — eyes ringed red, too skinny for winter. “Fuck do you want?” Lambert shot at him, his voice breaking like he’d just been crying, like he was about to.
“That’s enough, pup,” Vesemir admonished, and to Eskel’s surprise Lambert listened. Or at least, he diverted his attention to the comfort Aiden offered, nuzzling into his cheek and murmuring something Eskel couldn’t hear, kissing him softly. Eskel itched to go to them, but could only watch longingly from the side, absently rubbing the still tender scar on the side of his face.
Vesemir knew better than to get the younger Witchers to spar with him now, so Eskel practiced with Remus, the old Wolf barking orders at them all, stepping in once in a while to demonstrate his form — the correct form — for hours, until the growls of their stomachs echoed off the mountains. Taking mercy on his chargers, he dismissed them all to freshen up while he made a late breakfast. Remus ran off like a shot, mumbling something about fancying a dip in one of the smaller outdoor springs nearby, clearly intending to leave the three of them to the ones under the castle itself.
There was a closet full of towels and soaps built into the cave, so Eskel saw no need to go upstairs to retrieve anything. Either Lambert and Aiden disagreed, or they were determined to not be alone with him, because they were gone the next second, and they were nowhere to be found when he entered the cavern. He tried to tell himself that he had no right to be hurt, that he’d avoided them first, that they didn’t owe him anything, least of all themselves. He tried to push down the voice niggling at the back of his mind, that told him that his place was no longer with them. He was not a vain man. They were not vain men. They were Witchers. Witcher’s got scars, whole pieces of them went missing. He knew that, they knew that. Such was the way of the life they led.
It was the first bath he’d had since he first got in, and he scrubbed himself raw trying to get rid of the morning’s sweat, and every gritty trace of his self-imposed exile. When he finished, he gave himself over to the hot water lapping at his tender skin, and already sore muscles, sinking down on the lower step. He was debating just going back up to his room when he caught their scents, when the water splashed as they plopped in. His eyes flew open, and Lambert was right there in front of him, a serious frown creasing his brow. Aiden was off to the side some, getting a head start on his bath.
“You already wash?” Lambert asked, none of the bitterness from earlier left in his voice. His voice was carefully even, his face carefully blank, but the sharp tang of fear slithered in his scent, and his heart was beating twice as fast as a Witcher's should. He wasn't to blame, Eskel had seen his face in every body of water he'd past since he got the scars. He just wondered if he could ever get used to it, if they could.
“Yeah,” he replied hoarsely. He couldn’t think of anything else to say. Didn’t want to risk it.
Lambert only nodded, and reached behind him to get a tin from the edge of the pool. Eskel recognised its contents as soon as the younger man opened it — scar cream. Lambert made it himself. Scars faded better with it, the skin became more supple. Most Witchers just left their scars as they were, but over time so much damaged skin limited their range of movement. You got hurt, you got slow, you got stiff, you got dead, such was the way of the Witcher. Lambert was never one to roll over and leave himself to the whims of fate. He and Aiden had that in common. It was inspiring, really.
Lambert tilted his face up and to the side, gentle fingers on his chin. Gentler, as they dipped into the salve, and brought it to his cheek, smearing onto the angry, puckered red skin, massaging it in softly, with an amount of care that was far from surprising but threatened to overwhelm anyway. His skin tingled, the muscles at his jaw immediately feeling more relaxed, and he released a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, tension seeping from his shoulders.
“Better?” Lambert asked softly.
“Amazing,” he murmured in reply, his head rolling back.
Lambert only nodded again, put the salve back down and made to move away but Eskel grabbed his wrist, pulling him close again. In a sudden fit of bravery, he locked eyes with the other man, and said, in no uncertain terms, “It’s not fragile. My love for you, both of you” — he glanced at Aiden, who had stopped what he was doing to watch them — “It’s not fragile.”
“Where’ve you been then?” the Cat asked, wading over, not accusatory, but far from casual.
“I’m sorry,” he half sobbed. It was all he could say, all he felt — the overwhelming need to apologise, to soothe the hurt he'd caused. His apology shook through his frame, shame bowing his head, he hid his face. He couldn’t look at them.
He didn’t have a choice. Aiden’s delicate fingers tilted his chin up, forcing eye contact. “You still want us, right?” he asked, voice thick with emotion.
Eskel hadn’t realised it was a question. “Yeah,” he rasped. “Yeah, of course I—”
It was all they needed to know, everything they needed to hear. Aiden brought their lips together while Lambert nuzzled at his neck, kissing and nipping at his skin, breathing in his scent like it was nectar and he a starving god. Then when it was Lambert’s turn with Eskel’s lips, Aiden visited his attention on his unscarred cheek, both of them mindful of his tender skin, and tender in return. But their hands roved everywhere, grasping at every muscle, tracing every groove, and old scar. More than reacquainting themselves with their lover’s body, they needed the reassurance of his solidity, his heat under their palms, against their skin. That night, and every night for the rest of that winter, he crawled into their bed wearing the shirt they’d made him, and they draped their bodies over his, holding him in place, smothering him in their scents. Happily, he drowned in them, confident that they’d be there to pull him back up for air when he needed it.