* This takes elements from the netflix series and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Hope you enjoy. If you choose to leave a review, please give a shout-out to my editor. Constructive criticism is always welcomed.

Tags, warnings, and genres: action, canon-typical violence, swearing, hurt/comfort, fluff, drama, protective Geralt, humor, no romance, canon divergence

Edited By: PrintingPisces

Not Quite Intended

Gods, what he wouldn't give for some White Gull right about now.

Instead, he had to settle for piss-poor ale in a piss-poor tavern as music played merrily around him. Over at the bar, far away from his shadowy corner, the issuer of his most recent contract was dancing drunkenly and far too happy. He sneered at the man, but he was tired, and he never had the time or patience to deal with immature pricks anyway.

At least he wasn't hurting for coin. And Jaskier had other ideas.

With one last excitable strum of his lute and the final note leaving his lungs, Jaskier took a bow. The crowd of tavern patrons cheered loudly and beer sloshed everywhere. With a laugh, the bard jumped down from the table. He exhaled and plopped himself in the seat across from Geralt. He wore his usual exuberant grin at yet another night well-sung, and waved at a barmaid to replenish their drinks.

"Don't bother," Geralt grunted. "Nothing worth drinking here."

Jaskier shrugged. "Perhaps, but it's better than nothing, and don't be so dour. The offer to play Toss a Coin still stands. Might do you some good right now."

The issuer of the contract was also the local prankster. He wrote up a fake contract, stamped some interesting but fake monster prints into the ground, and waited for a witcher to eventually show up. Geralt had walked the entire perimeter of the village, in a large aimless circle, before he realized he'd been had. Some of the villagers were also in on the joke, but their snickering promptly died when a stoic - but nonetheless angry - witcher returned for an explanation. And compensation.

However, the issuer was also a drunken gwent gambler, and hadn't a crown to his name. Before Geralt could even consider beating the money out of the man's soft head, Jaskier gestured in the direction of a tavern. And they both needed a drink after all that grief. Plus, Jaskier often played during their travels, not only out of fun, but also to pay the inkeeps for room and board for the night.

Geralt gave Jaskier an unamused look. "I just spent half the day making a fool of myself for this town."

"Exactly! And I can give them a different perspective. And maybe even a little humility."

"I'm good," he said irately. Then, he added, "And it's doubtful with this crowd. Don't know why you wasted your time."

Jaskier's brow rose. "A waste? Hardly." He took out a beaten little hat specifically used for coin-collecting. There was not only a sizable pile of coins inside, but also a small purse filled with them. He tossed it to Geralt, and pointed in the direction of contract issuer. "Watched him finally win a round of gwent." He grinned cleverly. "But he should've been watching me."

Geralt snorted, quickly pocketing the coins. "Don't steal for me."

Jaskier waved a hand. "I don't make a habit, but it was hardly any trouble. He was so drunk he could barely see in front of his nose. Besides, we've earned every crown after today."

They clinked their beer mugs together, and the barmaid brought them more drink and some dinner.

Halfway into the meal, Jaskier asked, "Where to next? Another contract? One with a little less…ambiguity this time?"

"Fuck off," Geralt grumbled. "We'll set off in the morning. See where the road goes." Distractedly, he took a bite of food.

Jaskier eyed him curiously. 'Distracted' was the correct word and yet it also didn't fit. Geralt of Rivia was anything but. He was always focused, calm, and alert. And if he had trouble with any of those things, he would meditate, sometimes for hours on end.

Geralt also wasn't the aimless sort. He had the entire continent at his fingertips, could go wherever and do as he pleased. But he almost always had a destination planned at any given time. He had to, in order to replenish supplies from the best vendors or find the best contracts. Aimlessness wasn't usually part of the vocabulary.

Jaskier emptied his mug and sat it down. He flexed his jaw, wondering how to broach the elephant in the room. Oh fuck it, he thought to himself. Let's just dive right in. "Any particular reason that road is leading to Cintra?"

Geralt stopped eating. His eyes snapped to the bard. "What?" This question had a slight bite to it. Not quite scathing, but not kind either.

He shrugged. "At least that's what it seems. We keep bordering the kingdom's territory. Not quite heading towards it, but not quite heading away. What's that about?"

Geralt's eyes narrowed, but not necessarily at the bard. Abruptly, he stood up, took his swords with him, and went upstairs to the room they'd be staying in tonight. Jaskier's incredulous squawking was almost drowned out by the din of the tavern.

Their room had a small hearth and next to it, draped across a chair, were Roach's saddlebags. He unbuckled one of them and took out a map. He knew where they were, somewhere along northern Cintra.

Well, yes…He definitely did know that, but it just didn't register until now. And Jaskier was right; almost all of their recent routes were taking them along its borders. This wasn't exactly Geralt's intention, though. He wanted to be south of Temeria where some necrophage problems were starting. And it looked like they just kept moving south to keep finding contracts.

Which was definitely the intention, but now they found themselves circling around Cintra for some reason. And the more he stared at the map trying to glean and explanation from it, the more tired his eyes felt.

Geralt heard the door open, but didn't look up. He expected the bard to make a quip about suddenly having to pay for most of their meal. Instead, Jaskier closed the door securely behind him and leaned against it, brows furrowing seriously.

"Something wrong," he asked.

"Nothing," Geralt answered, almost too quickly.

Jaskier was flamboyant, crass, and his attention span left something to be desired. But he was more observant than people gave him credit for.

Geralt exhaled harshly and shoved the map back in the saddlebag. "Should be nothing, at least."

Jaskier nodded once, simply to give a response. Knowing that prying ears didn't need to hear any of this conversation, he gave the door a final secure pat and sat down on the edge of his bed. Taking his time, he unlaced his boots. "So, we're near Cintra. And… How long's it been? Eight months?"

"Since what," Geralt asked.

Jaskier stopped what he was doing to look Geralt in the eye. It was a stare that clearly said, 'I'm not an idiot and neither are you.'

Geralt narrowed his eyes in response. There was a tick in his jaw, as if being challenged by someone who really shouldn't be challenging a witcher. However, Jaskier knew better by now. He knew what Geralt's version of an internal battle looked like. He did not look away, not until Geralt did.

The witcher exhaled harshly through his nose and sat down next to the hearth. "Yes. I know."

Jaskier raised a brow. "You're actually keeping track?"

"No," he said. "Not exactly. You asked first, and the math is easy."

He flexed his jaw. "And you really didn't know you were taking these routes."

"Not entirely."

Slightly annoyed, Jaskier mumbled under his breath. "Cryptic as all hell." He cleared his throat. "So what do you think it is then? Leading us along like this?"

Geralt's tone was deadpanned. "A road."

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Geralt. You know what? Alright! Let's be literal! It hasn't always been a road. We've also been on trails, moors, swamps, caverns – Need I go on? Fields, streets-"

"Would you get on with it, bard!"

"Look at you." He jabbed a finger towards him. "You hardly meditate, and you haven't slept a wink. You've been avoiding Cintra for months, and now suddenly we're practically on their doorstep." He shrugged dramatically. "Why do you think this is?"

That's when he glared. "A coincidence."

Jaskier gaped at him. "A-A bloody fucking-!"

Geralt rolled his eyes. "I've been struggling to find contracts. Any witcher will tell you that the only answer for that is to keep moving. Go where there might be some, and get some coin for it."

"Yes," Jaskier nodded condescendingly. "And we keep moving towards Cintra, where hardly anyone issues contracts, because they think they can do a better job than you. So where is the logic?"

"I don't know," he snapped. "All I know is that I need to find a contract, before I get complacent."

Jaskier wanted to snap back at him, maybe even make joke about how the words 'Geralt' and 'complacent' were not synonymous, but he bit his tongue. In turn, this allowed some of the tumultuous atmosphere to level out. He observed Geralt for a moment, who was sitting back in his chair, arms crossed tensely over his chest, and staring at the hearth.

Jaskier blew out a puff of air, and glanced at the floorboards. His words were quiet. "It's probably not even born yet. But if your child surprise is-"

"It's not my child," Geralt interrupted.

Anytime the child specifically came up, the answer was always the same. Hell, anytime that a topic was even remotely about the Law of Surprise, Geralt was always quick to dismiss it by dropping the conversation altogether. However, this time there was something troubled in his tone. It wasn't so much that he was losing the internal battle, but more like he was now analyzing it. Geralt of Rivia never turned tail from a battle, problem, or mystery.

Jaskier could work with that.

"Keep deluding yourself," the bard said. "Who am I to stop you? And while we're at it, who am I to question the laws of destiny?"

Geralt opened his mouth to protest that.

"Did you ever ask me that, by the way," Jaskier continued. "If I believe in destiny? Because my stance on it is actually quite fascinating. In my opinion, destiny is fickle and picks favorites. It's both merciful and brutal. It chooses to do whatever it pleases. Does that mean to blindly follow it?" An almost comical sneer twisted his face. "Absolutely not. But Geralt…"

After a few seconds, Geralt looked away from the flames to put his full attention on the bard.

"Something is pulling you in this direction," Jaskier said, his words slow and calm. "Not me. You. It's up to you if you want to heed it." He paused thoughtfully. "Most people lose sleep when they're agitated or worried. Do you think that's it?"

Geralt's arms were still crossed, but not as tightly now. "How should I know?"

Jaskier frowned. "Perhaps we ought to visit the kingdom. Make sure everything is in order."

He shook his head. "It's doubtful we'd receive a warm welcome. And Calanthe is reckless, but she knows how to rule a kingdom. The child and its family are safe there."

Jaskier didn't respond, and he realized they'd come to the end of their conversation. He was disappointed, not only for the lack of banter and lack of challenging each other, but also because he wasn't sure if he'd gotten through to Geralt very well. Also, he felt like they were missing something about all this, but couldn't quite place his finger on it. Jaskier kicked his boots beneath the bed. Oh well. Another matter for tomorrow.

Even after Geralt took to his own bed, he stayed up for many hours, knowing sleep wouldn't easily come to him. He still didn't quite believe in destiny. However, he'd be a fool to deny that something was pulling them towards Cintra. And he knew magic well enough to know that he'd also be foolish to continue in the opposite direction.

For as observant as Jaskier was, something Geralt said flew right over his head.

"The child and its family are safe there." Present tense, because Geralt had done the math.

Precisely nine months had passed since he invoked the Law of Surprise.

The next few days were spent traveling, now specifically through Cintra. This surprised Jaskier, because it was Geralt's idea. Not necessarily an enthusiastic one, but whatever troubled Geralt seemed to be somewhere within or near the kingdom's territory.

He wasn't leading them in a straight line to the castle, but through the woodlands, miles away from it. He wandered as if searching for something, moving Roach's reins accordingly. Jaskier asked him about this, and Geralt shockingly gave him an answer with no sarcasm.

"It feels like the way to go," the witcher said.

Although it raised more questions than answers, Jaskier felt like they were on yet another adventure, albeit boring for the moment. He only complained when a messenger from Oxenfurt managed to track them down. "Fuck," Jaskier muttered, reading the note.

There had been a fire at Oxenfurt University. A small one, but enough to burn quite a few books. Books that Jaskier had copies of, and the school was hoping he'd part with them. He could, but it depended on which ones, and he didn't want anyone pawing through his collections. Unfortunately, this needed addressed now, before the start of the new semester.

After making sure that he and Geralt would reconvene at a later date, Jaskier reluctantly left with the messenger, leaving Geralt to continue his journey alone.

He was an hour away from the kingdom when his senses were bombarded. Somewhere up ahead…

Men shouting, wood splintering, swords clattering, the scent of carrion on the wind.

Vesemir once told him that while it wasn't always reliable, a gut instinct should never be ignored so long as you kept your wits.

Geralt felt a twisting in his gut, an almost downright foreign feeling to him. He couldn't ignore it if he wanted to. He and Roach took off at full gallop, until they skidded to a halt by the roadside. Silver in hand, he jumped out of the saddle.

Toppled sideways in a ditch was a fancy looking carriage, with some of its wooden panels splintered from the impact. Dead bodies of fallen soldiers littered the ground.

Ghouls crawled around and munched on the corpses, going to each one like a buffet. Standing on the door of the carriage was an alghoul. It raked its claws, peeling away at the ornate blue paint. It hissed and growled at whatever it was trying to get at. Crying came from within the carriage, causing Geralt's jaw to clench. The twisting in his gut burned with a growing fury.

He flexed his shoulder and fingers. "Ugly bastards," he snarled at them, making their heads snap up in attention. "Didn't even invite me to your little party."

With a screech that put a chill in the air, they all lunged for Geralt. In a fight, ghouls were always predictable. They alternated between dodging and scratching, and could kill an average human with one swipe. He made quick work of them, leaving the alghoul for last. It was far too preoccupied with the carriage. Geralt's breathing caught when its foul hand broke through door.

After a gust of Aard, the creature was flung to the ground. It gave a loud and indignant grunt, stalked around the carriage, and stopped in front of Geralt.

He tilted his head at it. "Have I got your attention now?" He raised his sword.

Its roar shook the air, and it sprang at him. In a split-second motion, Geralt cast Axii, sidestepped, and slashed outward. The spikes protecting the alghoul retracted, and the blade sliced the side of its belly clean through. It plummeted to the ground, over a pile of its own entrails.

Geralt's chest heaved from the adrenaline, and he sheathed his sword. The twisting in his gut had yet to leave, though. He quickly approached the carriage and tried to yank the door open. He felt it catch on something, and sighed.

"You're safe now," he said, his eyes tracing over the crest of a lion painted on the wood. "It's alright. But those things you call 'guards' are most definitely not."

"Geralt of Rivia," a voice from inside asked in astonishment.


A pause. "Are you certain it's safe?"

He almost scoffed. "Contrary to what most might think, I don't play with people's lives."

The door finally creaked open, and the wailing grew louder as a result. A blue cloak covering a head of light blonde hair appeared. The woman peered around, searching for any signs of those terrifying monsters. She carried a bundle of fabric in her arms, which was where the crying was coming from. The woman then used her free hand to try and pull herself out.

"One moment, Your Highness," Geralt grunted, quickly going to a lower side to help haul her up and out. When her feet were planted firmly on the road, he said, "Hello, Pavetta."

"Hello." With a shaky exhale, she removed her hood to get a better look at her surroundings, at the bloodied mess of the ghouls and guardsman. "By the gods," she muttered. "We smelled death in the air. An ill omen. My guards stopped so they could prepare. They've fought these before." She shook her head. "But not that…that spiked thing."

"Most have never seen one before," Geralt explained. "Not all ghouls have alghouls accompanying them. And those that do only have one or two."

He wasn't quite expecting Pavetta to briefly put her hand on his upper arm in gratitude. "Thank you, sir witcher."

As they talked, their words were nearly drowned out by the crying coming from the pristine blanket in Pavetta's arms. Geralt stared at it. When Pavetta noticed this, she freed up one of her hands again to begin moving the fabric aside. Geralt opened his mouth, but quickly closed it, not even knowing what he was going to say.

Nestled in her arms, of course, was a child. Small as can be, no more than a few weeks old, with hair as ashen as its mother's, and crying its little lungs out. With some of the blanket gone, it pulled its arms free and reached outward, away from Pavetta.

"Shh, darling," she whispered, rocking a little from side to side.

Geralt tried to swallow his worry. "Is it hurt?"

"It is a she," Pavetta corrected gently. "And no. She seems to be alright."

The worry stayed. "If you think she got bit or scratched…"

She shook her head. "No, I'm sure of that. And she's moving around quite a bit. I'd say she's more rattled than anything." She managed a slight grin, directed at Geralt. "As are you, it seems."

That realization got Geralt's attention, and he cleared his throat. "And you?"

She chuckled humorlessly. "I was tossed about like a sack of grain when the carriage toppled, but I'll live."

He nodded once.

"And I'll have one of our medics further assess us upon our return," she said. "You've done so much for us already, but Cintra is about an hour or so away. I can walk, but I have no weapon other than a dagger."

Geralt nodded again. "I'll escort you." He whistled sharply for Roach.

"Before we go," she said. "I must get some belongings from the carriage."

Geralt took a step towards it. "Whatever it is, I can-"

Her interruption managed to sound polite. "No, there's a specific way of opening it. Will you hold her?"

"Children tend to fear me."

Pavetta shrugged. "She's just met you. She hasn't developed that fear yet."

For whatever reason, there was a slight grin on Pavetta's face. Though why, it was anyone's guess. And he couldn't find a substantial reason to argue with her. So, without a word, he opened his arms, but with deliberate slowness.

After the baby was carefully passed to him, she said, "I'll only be a moment. Her name is Cirilla, by the way." And she walked away.

Feeling quite awkward and out of his element here, he shifted Cirilla against the crooks of his elbows. Her wailing, which seemed never-ending, started to fade, and her arms that had been flailing only seconds ago were now dropped and relaxed. The woods around them lapsed into a peaceful silence, save for the clattering of a safe-box from the carriage being opened. Against the remainder of her tears, Cirilla opened her startling green eyes to stare up at him. And then she closed them again to take a nap.

A few things hit Geralt all at once.

Wandering through Cintra, killing those ghouls, saving Pavetta and her baby, holding the baby securely in his arms…

His shoulders sagged, he let out a breath, and the twisting in his gut eased. Whatever worry he'd felt, whatever had been making him so distraught for the past few weeks, finally went away.

Roach was at his side now. She nosed the blanket, and tried to nibble at the fabric.

"Gentle," he admonished lightly. Roach indignantly backed off with a dramatic jolt of her head. Geralt snorted at her.

Pavetta returned to him, with a faded leather bag draped over her body. She was still wearing that grin, but it quickly faded when she looked at the bloodied ground. "May we go now," she asked. "I'd like to be home before dark."

He nodded. "Do you need help into the saddle?"

"I can manage." With only slight difficulty and awkwardness, she swung herself up onto Roach.

Geralt snorted, unable to help the sarcasm. "Not a fan of side-saddle?"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. It's a horrible way to keep balance." She held her hands out for Cirilla. He should've felt relieved to have finally given her daughter back. Instead, his arms felt both empty and heavy at the same time. Cirilla babbled noisily at her nap being interrupted.

Roach huffed at the unfamiliar passengers, and her ears threatened to twitch backwards.

"None of that," Geralt told her as he took hold of her reins to lead them. "What merchants sell the best treats for horses in your kingdom," he asked Pavetta without looking back at her. "To her, this is all an inconvenience, and she'll pester me for her troubles."

"The castle stables are nice and cozy," she said. "And we're well-stocked with everything she'll need."

He grunted a reply.

"Do you find this to be inconvenience," she asked genuinely.

As the dirt and stones crunched beneath his feet, as he finally had a destination in mind, and as Cirilla babbled on, he had his answer.

"No," he said, his voice almost quiet. "Not at all."

The road to Cintra wasn't a long one, but Pavetta still wanted to pass the time by talking. "Why are you here, by the way," she asked. "Mousesack said you were planning on avoiding Cintra at all costs."

He sighed. "It's difficult to explain."

"Witcher business?"

He half-shrugged. "Not sure." A thought came to mind. "I could ask you the same question. Cirilla is hardly a fortnight old. Why are you travelling alone with her?"

"I wasn't alone when those ghouls showed up, and I'm not alone now," she quipped sarcastically, causing Geralt to smirk slightly. "And it's a complicated bit of business. We need an extra set of hands at the castle, to help me with Cirilla."

"Hardly sounds complicated. You've plenty of maids."

"Yes, but very few know how to raise an infant. And those that do have other duties to fulfill."

"What about Duny? Mousesack? Calanthe?"

Her sigh was tense and troubled. "Mousesack is wonderful, as always. There were times where he practically raised me, so he's no stranger to children. And mother…She has a kingdom to run, and she often sends Duny away to attend meetings of importance. He still has to learn how to rule."

Geralt snorted. "It's the trouble with kingdoms. Simplicity gets fucked."

Pavetta laughed. "I wish that wasn't true." Her laughter died. "Oh, how I wish it." She cleared her throat. "Anyway. There are a few noble families living in the neighboring villages, and I've spent the past few days travelling to each one, hoping to find a suitable nursemaid for Cirilla."

"Travelling with a newborn isn't wise," he commented.

"She needs to be able to nurse. She can't do that if I'm away. And I also thought it'd be nice for her to meet a potential new hire, to see how she takes to them."

He tilted his head. "No luck so far, I take it."

"I actually have an idea," she said. "But before I forget..." She took a handful of coins from her pocket and handed them down to Geralt. "I'm afraid that's all that was left in the safe-box. We don't travel with much more than that, hoping to deter bandits from wasting their time with us. But I know witchers don't work for free."

He took the money out of politeness.

Soon, they arrived at the kingdom of Cintra.

It was a bustling city, with merchants set up, people wringing out their laundry, and children playing in the streets. Geralt was expecting the public's attention to be on Pavetta. Instead, though it shouldn't surprise him, most were focused on him. It was all side-eyes and suspicious looks, as was so often the norm. They saw his swords, his eyes, his medallion. They knew what he was. Like the emotionless beast they all thought he was, Geralt deliberately made his expression impassive as he led the Princess and her baby through the crowds.

Some guards stopped them when they approached the outer gate to the castle. "Your Highness," one of them asked. "Where is your carriage? Are you alright?"

"There was a monster attack on our way home," Pavetta explained. "We're the only survivors."

The guard's eyes fell harshly on Geralt. "A monster attack, you say."

"Yes. And Geralt of Rivia was not only kind enough to save me and my daughter, but also to escort us back."

"I see," the guard grunted. "Well, you have our thanks, witcher. And we no longer have need of your services-"

Pavetta interrupted firmly. "That will be my decision to make, or if he leaves of his own volition."

The guard's eyes flickered between them. "I will have to alert the Queen of our visitor."

"Very well," she shrugged. "Geralt. If you will..." She looked down at Cirilla.

Taking the hint, Geralt held his hands out to take the baby from her. Cirilla, who had been fussy and fidgety since the start of their journey, calmed down a little once she was in Geralt's arms. Once Pavetta was down from the saddle, she took Cirilla back. The guards watched this odd display of trust with fascinated sneers.

"Will you escort us inside," Pavetta asked Geralt.

He raised a brow. "Because that will go over so well with the Queen."

"You needn't worry about that," she assured.

He exhaled harshly. "If you wish."

Pavetta turned towards the guards. "Ensure that his horse is well-fed and taken care of." On that note, she strode past the guards, with the witcher at her side, into the castle.

Geralt never liked castles like these, places that seemed intent on blocking out the natural world and turning a blind eye to the rest of it. It was too quiet in here, to a point where he could almost hear his own footsteps.

Kaer Morhen, for all its flaws and work that needed done, embraced the mountainside it resided in, allowing the sounds and scents of the woodlands to mingle in every corner of the keep. However, here in Cintra was a different matter. When the gates were sealed shut behind them, they could no longer even hear the city.

They walked without speaking, and he allowed Pavetta to be a slight step ahead of him in order to let her lead. They soon stopped in front of a door.

Pavetta knocked. "Are you there, Mila," she asked. "May I come in?"

There was a muffled answered. "Oh, yes. Of course, Princess."

Pavetta turned to Geralt. "Mila's one of our medics. Would you stand guard out here?"

He nodded once. "I can."

She pursed her lips. "These are not orders, Geralt. I don't think there's a man or woman alive that could order you around. You may leave anytime you wish."

He nodded again. "I'm well aware. But it was my job to escort you here, safe and sound. And I don't leave job half-arsed. Let me know what the medic says." He glanced down at Cirilla. His next words flew from his mouth. "Call for me if you have need."

The grin returned to Pavetta's face, as if she knew something that he didn't. "Will do."

Geralt crossed his arms and leaned against the threshold. Some guards walked past him with a glare, but said nothing to him. He closed his eyes, with every intention of meditating. However, his senses kept tuning in to the sounds coming from within the medic's room. They were having a conversation of what had happened with the ghouls, and Pavetta explained how the carriage toppled.

There was a rustling of fabric, and Cirilla making sniffling noises. Sniffling turned to whining. Geralt's eyes snapped open when the baby started to cry. Before he could knock on the door to ask, he heard the medic commenting about not being ablt to put the baby down for even a moment.

Ah. So she just wanted to be held.

Geralt shook his head slightly, and he felt his shoulders relax.

A few minutes later, Pavetta exited the room and closed the door. This time, there was no baby in her arms.

Geralt's brows instantly came together. "Cirilla?"

"She's alright," Pavetta said. "Mila's going to try to put her down for a nap."

He nodded stiffly, but he wouldn't argue with her, not that he had room to. "Any injuries?"

"No," she said. "Thanks to you. Now, I have one last thing to ask of you. If you'll follow me?"

If Geralt had known exactly where she was taking him and why, he might've made up some excuse as to why it sure as hell wouldn't be a good idea. Looking back on it, though, he was glad he didn't know. Pavetta led him directly to the throne room, a great hall that could also be used for banquets. The same one where Geralt had invoked the Law of Surprise.

And inside it, waiting for them, were Mousesack, Eist, and Queen Calanthe.

Geralt exhaled silently. Fucking hell. What have I gotten myself into?

Calanthe instantly stood up. The backs of her legs forced her throne to shriek against the tiled floor. "What the fuck are you even doing here," she demanded.

His mouth was a thin line. "Evidently, saving your daughter and granddaughter from being slaughtered."

Her eyes narrowed. "You're a butcher. Isn't that your job? Come to claim your child surprise, have you?"

"Mother," Pavetta said. "What the guards told you about the ghouls is true. If not for Geralt, I would not have made it back. This has nothing to do with the Law."

"Except it does," Eist said evenly. "Cirilla is born, and now the witcher's here. We're all bound by the laws of destiny, are we not?"

"Destiny can go fuck itself," Calanthe snapped. "Isn't that your philosophy as well, witcher? What would you even do with a child?"

"Absolutely nothing," Geralt said. "Pavetta is right. She merely wanted an escort to bring her safely home. I have not come to claim the child."

Mousesack sat down. "Then why are you still here, old friend?"

For a long moment, Geralt didn't quite know how to respond. The answer he did give almost felt like rubbish, but it was a legitimate answer nonetheless. "At Pavetta's behest. She says she needs me for one last thing." He grinned tightly. "And it somehow involves a room filled with you sorry sots."

"Mind your tongue," Calanthe scolded.

"If you gave respect as much as you took it, perhaps I might."

Eist interrupted the venomous exchange with a laugh. "Oh come on, Your Majesty," he urged Calanthe, who was fuming where she stood. "He's uncouth, but he's not evil. He hasn't snatched Cirilla away yet, has he?"

"Not yet," she ground out.

"And I don't intend to," Geralt said. "She is not mine, and that's not going to change. Pavetta," he addressed the Princess. "Your hospitality is appreciated, but I must be on my way."

Before he could even turn to leave, Pavetta asked, "How much is your average contract, witcher?"

Not expecting this question, he almost struggled to find the answer. "...Two-hundred crowns is the average. One-hundred in poorer regions. Although, prices have increased in certain places, in the last year."

Mousesack leaned forward. "There's truth to that, Your Majesties," he confirmed. "What with impending war and dead bodies, the monsters are finding feasts in those places."

"I see," Pavetta nodded. "I have work for you in our kingdom, Geralt."

"Pavetta," Calanthe snapped.

Her daughter brutally ignored her. "If you accept, you will not only be paid twice or more of that sum, but also paid regularly. This isn't just a single job."

Geralt couldn't deny that his interest was piqued. "I'm listening."

"If what you and Mousesack say is true, which I don't doubt," she continued. "Then it's safe to say that the monster problems will persist and get worse. A problem like today will only happen again. It's not myself I'm worried about, but Cirilla needs someone to protect her-"

Calanthe's laugh echoed throughout the room, and it grated on Geralt's sensitive hearing. "My dear girl," she chortled. "Are you suggesting that this abomination of mankind be your daugher's nursemaid?"

"No," Pavetta said calmly. "I actually spoke with one of our medics today who'd be delighted to take up that position. It's as I've said, Cirilla's safety is of the utmost importance to me. Who better for the job than one whose profession is made for it?"

"Witchers don't protect people," she argued. "They bring monsters, and they kill."

"Today proved quite different. The monsters were there long before Geralt showed up. And he proceeded to make quick work of them."

"We have guards for a reason."

Pavetta's hands made a noise when she placed them on the table in front of Calanthe. "And look what happened to them. Are you not a mother? Do you not understand? Or does my baby's well-being mean nothing to you?!"

The room fell silent, even Eist having enough sense to sober up.

Calanthe and Pavetta stared at each other.

Still standing in the center of the room, Geralt was rooted to the spot, watching the silent exchange.

Calanthe was the first to speak. "She is my granddaughter," she said quietly. "But she is your baby first. If you feel this is best, then I cannot supersede. Not unless it's for the good of the kingdom. I will follow your lead, though I don't think it's correct."

Eist tilted his head to lean into their sightlines. "Are we forgetting? Children fear witchers."

"Not Cirilla," Pavetta smiled. "She settles down completely when he holds her."

Mousesack also smilled slightly. "Unsurprising. Destiny, and all."

Even Eist was impressed. "That is something," he muttered.

Mousesack looked at Geralt. "But our guest has yet to accept."

"Forgive all of that, Geralt," Pavetta said, turning to face him. "I need to hear your thoughts."

Much had transpired in the last few moments alone. A tumultuous display of peacocking and venomous words. However, this wasn't about social graces, unwelcomed mutants, or whiny royals. This was about one single child. The same one he'd saved without a second thought, felt almost crippling worry for, and was the reason why he was still even here.

Leaving was now the furthest thing from Geralt's mind.

"I will accept," he said. "But I need to know if I can come and go as needed."

"Of course," Pavetta instantly exclaimed. "You are not a prisoner by any means."

Calanthe's words were a growl. "Your title as 'protector' requires you to stay by Cirilla's side at all times. Or did they not have dictionaries at your witcher school?"

Geralt snorted. "Ah, a question of intelligence. And what about you? Any bestiaries in royalty school?"

"Actually," Pavetta corrected before things could get heated again. "Cirilla spends most of her time protected inside these walls. We would only need the witcher's services during feasts, festivities, and outings. Hmm," she tapped her chin thoughtfully. "How to reach you, though. And quickly. Do witchers stay in one region?"

"Not usually," Geralt said. "We often travel far and wide in order to make ends meet. I also have friends and family that might need me." He ignored Calanthe's sharp laugh. "And although I can stay as close to Cintra as possible, most people don't know how to find witchers. They often have to wait for them."

"I might have an idea for that," Mousesack offered. "But it might take a few days to acquire. Will you allow us that," he asked Geralt.

"Yes." He then looked at Pavetta. "And I accept."

Her smile widened in both gratitude, and relief. "Thank you. We will figure this out as we go. Now let us all retire to our rooms, where we each have dinner waiting. Geralt, Mousesack will take you to yours. It belongs to you for however long you're employed here."

For once in Geralt's life, he dipped his head in a slight bow that was actually genuine and without sass. "Thank you."

There was a smile playing on Mousesack's lips.

"Don't," Geralt warned.

He chuckled. "I once told you you were bound to this. To Cirilla. And you still somehow think destiny is bullshit."

His voice was deadpanned. "No shit."

"How can you still say that?"

Geralt exhaled. "Because destiny is heartless. And there is hardly any evil at work here."

Mousesack's smile froze before dropping altogether. "Never heard it from that point of view."

He shrugged. "You never asked for that point of view."

"No," he muttered. They stopped at a door and Mousesack gestured to it. "This is yours. Do with it as you please, just…no whoring. The Queen likes to keep up certain appearances."

"Shocking," he commented dryly. "Considering her choice in lovers."

He held back a chuckle. "Eist is a drunk, but he's a decent fellow. Food will be here for you shortly. Everyone's rooms are in this hall, should you need anything. This place can be bloody confusing at the best of times." He pointed to a specific room. "That's Pavetta's." And Cirilla's, but that went without saying. "Good night, Geralt."

His room was predictably lavish. Rugs lining the floor, tapestrty for decoration, king-sized bed, some spirits and flutes on an end table, and even a weapon wrack. He might as well get comfortable and remove his swords. As he moved about to further inspect the room, his sharp hearing tuned into the rest of castle. Whcih was largely silently, save for some snoring in various rooms.

He couldn't hear any crying.

Geralt felt himself scowl. He didn't know which was worse. Hearing the baby cry and not knowing what was wrong, or not hearing her cry and not knowing precisely where she was.

His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp knock. The urge to reach for his steel was strong, but he quickly brushed that feeling aside and answered the door.

The Queen stared up at him, and he stared right back. "Calanthe," he greeted curtly.

She sneered slightly. "Cozy are we?"

He couldn't help himself. "Disappointed actually. No chocolates on the pillow."

She chuckled emptily. "Oh. There is not enough bullshit in the world to allow me to tolerate you." Her jaw clenched for the briefest of seconds. "You have one purpose here, and one only. But I'm failing to see how a bloodthirsty vagabond could ever benefit from this."

"This isn't about benefitting," he growled. "I don't get anything out of this."

"Then why are you here?"

None of your fucking concern. "Cirilla is bound to me by law."

"Since when do witchers follow law-"

"And she is just a child," he added. "One who needs protecting, and I can do that. All else, I don't expect you to understand." He straightened his back and took hold of the door. "Now, you've put me off my meal, and it hasn't even arrived yet."

Before he could slam it shut, Calanthe shoved her foot in the way to stop it. The stare she was giving him still held rage, but was now more tired, maybe even imploring. "That is my granddaughter. Think what you will of me, but know that my family means more to me than anything. If you fail at your job…If you fail to protect Cirilla…I will kill you."

Geralt's face was as hard to read as ever, but his words weren't. "I will look after her, Calanthe. You have my word."

The next morning came round, and Geralt enjoyed breakfast in bed. "If not for my pride," he grumbled to himself. "I could get used to this." He grimaced at how salted the ham was, but food was food.

Just as he was finishing, there was a knock at his door, and he got up to answer it. "Good morning, Your Highness," he greeted Pavetta, who was holding a very fussy bright-eyed baby.

"Morning," she smiled. "Hope I didn't wake you."

He shook his head.

"Good," she said. "I was hoping to trouble you, if only for a moment. I need to show the medic some of Cirilla's belongings, and it'd be much better if I were hands free. And look." She glanced down at her baby, who was reaching her tiny arms outwards. Specifically towards Geralt. "She's never made that motion before. Not until you saved us. You're her protector now. You'll need to bond with each other."

Oh. Well. That thought hadn't entirely occurred to Geralt, but it did seem obvious. He didn't quite know how to respond to that. So he said…

"It's not an inconvenience."

Pavetta tilted her head confusedly.

He clarified. "She's not an inconvenience."

Her smile grew warm. "Thank you, Geralt. I've said that far too much in under a day, but I mean it. I'll be back for her momentarily."

Leaving the door open so Pavetta could come in whenever she wished, Geralt sat down on a too-soft chair with Cirilla in his arms. Pavetta was right; the baby had stopped fussing the moment she was in his arms. The baby began gnawing on her own fist.

Geralt's eyes drifted up to the ceiling. "How the fuck did I end up here, Cirilla?"

Her response was to switch to her other fist, causing some of her blanket to fall away in the process. Geralt readjusted it to swaddle her better, and only now did he realize that it wasn't just an ornate blanket. It was a blue cloak, similar to that of her mother's, and one that she would have to grow into, though that would be a quite a few years yet.

Geralt suddenly found one of his fingers trapped in Cirilla's tiny hand. Ignoring the drool now covering his skin, he tilted his head at her. "I'm going to need that back eventually," he told her.

She stared at him calmly.

He moved his finger half-heartedly, as if shaking hands with her. "Quite the grip you have there," he commented. "Intending to hold a sword someday?"

This time, she responded with a sputtering noise that Geralt had absolutely no translation for.

She wasn't that strong, though, and she had to let go. She quickly gripped his shirt instead, almost for dear life.

"Don't worry," he murmured. "I'm not going anywhere."