By his understandably shoddy memory, Jaskier had died over 1300 times since he first drew breath several hundred years ago.
Somehow, none of those deaths ever seemed to hurt as much as the dreams of Geralt.
The first time he’d dreamed of the pale haired warrior, he’d been deep in the countryside of Redania, posing as a bard. He’d enjoyed spending his nights turning the tales of his past into the fables of the future. Renfri--if she weren’t long gone--would say he was wasting his time, but Jaskier felt like the task settled him.
Better to end the night with alcohol staining his clothing than blood.
Still, there was no escaping the bone deep exhaustion and loneliness that returned as soon as the music died. He could dance and sing and smile for days, but it only delayed the inevitable. The false cheer was shed like a cloak with each step up the stairs to his room and dropped like a stone when the door closed behind him.
Jaskier pressed a palm against his throbbing eyes and took a controlled breath. He was so fucking tired.
He stumbled to the bed and tugged his gaudy clothing off with little care for the expensive fabrics. None of it really mattered in the end. He had enough money to replace the costume a million times over without running short on the money he’d accrued over the millenia. All of it was meaningless when he had an eternity ahead of him.
Flopping down on the thin mattress, he pulled the ragged quilt over his shoulder and tried to let the exhaustion from hours of performing chase away the nightmares that always seemed to wait for him. With the ease of long practice, he forced himself to ignore the scent of stale sweat and whatever unwashed villager who’d laid here before him.
He closed his eyes and--
A man--eyes wide with nerves and deadly sort of bravery--was walking towards a set of wooden doors that towered above even his broad shoulders. Two warriors moved with him, scarred and jaded in a way that resonated deep within Jaskier.
“Are you ready, Geralt?” the warrior on the left asked, not unkindly.
The man--Geralt--nodded, setting his shoulders higher and looking at the door with trepidation.
“You’re ready, my boy,” the older warrior agreed, “This is what you were born to do.”
Jaskier wondered how many boys had died after hearing that.
The trio walked through the door and into the dimly lit room beyond. A bolt of fear swept through Jaskier when he saw the stone table at its center, but Geralt approached it without hesitation. He laid down with barely more than a wince at the cold surface and allowed the two men to bind his arms, chest, and ankles with thick leather straps. They moved with enough confidence that it was obvious that Geralt was not the first person to be bound like that.
“It will hurt,” the older man warned, “but that is just the cost of our calling.”
Geralt stared up at the ceiling with dark brown eyes the color of whiskey and took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”
The words seemed to be the signal that the others were waiting for because they quickly got to work. A series of unlabeled potions were fished out of the locked cabinet nearby along with a thick strip of leather. Its use became apparent as soon as he saw the teeth marks embedded into the stained scrap of hide.
There was no sign of fear in those honeyed eyes. Not when they gave him the first bottle of potion and the younger man had to breathe through the urge to gag through the disgusting liquid. Not when the first tremors swept over his body until his muscles stood out in deep lines beneath his skin.
Not even when the screaming started.
Jaskier sat up with his own scream trapped behind his clenched throat. He let out a breath that felt like more of a sob and ran his shaking fingers over his face.
It had been one hundred years since he’d last had a dream about a stranger. There was a part of him that had been grateful--it was easier to pretend that there would be no new members of his strange world. Then, there was no reason to fear losing another person he loved.
He glanced out the window and watched the sun shift the sky from grey to the bright pink of morning. It definitely wasn’t to avoid having another dream of the strange boy dying on that godsforsaken table.
When there was enough light to see his clothing scattered across the floor, he got up and gathered the wrinkled garments. Instead of donning one of the gaudy outfits that he’d grown used to over the last few years, he pulled out a set of sturdy brown trousers and a plain tunic to go with a pair of soft-soled boots. He packed his bags with controlled movements. There would be no returning here, not for a long long time.
As soon as he finished, he made his way to the stables--he needed to find Tissaia.
It was another week before he had another dream--long enough that he’d begun to wonder if the first dream had been nothing but some strange imagining of his lonely mind.
He was far enough in the countryside now that the quiet was only broken by the occasional pop from his fire or the swish of his gelding’s tail when an insect got too close. The silence was a familiar companion now and made it easier to settle in for the night. He was still a few days shy of Aretuza and Tissaia and whatever answers she might be able to give him.
Maybe that was why he let his guard down long enough to sleep past the quick cat naps he’d been doing since the first dream of Geralt.
“I thought I was done.”
Geralt’s voice was deeper now, scratchy in a way that made Jaskier wonder if the trauma of the first dream had permanently damaged him. There was a new wariness in his stance, too. Like he didn’t trust his body or the new quickness of each movement.
The older warrior who’d led Geralt into that horrible room stepped into view with a somber expression. “You’re more powerful than we expected, Geralt,” he said, “We think you could be the most powerful Witcher the Continent has ever seen.”
“I don’t want power, Vesemir.”
Vesemir stepped closer, touching Geralt’s shoulder like a father to his son. “You can help people, Geralt. You could do more than any of us have ever managed.”
Geralt’s shoulders slumped and Jaskier wanted to scream at him. Can’t you see? He thought, can’t you see how he’s manipulating you?
“What else can be done?” he asked, oblivious to Jaskier’s pleas.
“Better eyesight and hearing to start. The mages think that you’ll be faster too if we attempt a portion of the Trials again.” It was obvious that they’d been discussing continuing to experiment on Geralt for a while judging by Vesemir’s excitement. Any fear for his charge had been buried deep beneath the potential of having a warrior enhanced beyond even a Witcher’s capabilities.
“I’d be a monster,” Geralt murmured, eyes on the floor.
“No,” Vesemir said abruptly, “you’re a Witcher. You’ll always be a Witcher.”
“Is that what they say in the barracks now?” Geralt looked up and Jaskier gasped at the bright yellow of his eyes, so different from the soft brown of before. “I hear their whispers. They say I’m cursed. That I should never have survived the Trials.”
“Don’t listen to them. They don’t know the truth.”
Whatever fury that had driven his accusation seemed to drain out of Geralt in the next breath and he stared down at his feet. “When do they want to do this?”
This time Jaskier managed to wake up before Geralt died.
“I don’t understand why I’m dreaming of him.”
Tissaia shot him a withering look from her desk, unbothered by the way his pacing was beginning to look a little manic. “You dream of all of us. It’s how we find each other.”
“Yes, thank you, I’m very aware of why we dream of each other,” Jaskier snarked back at her. “My concern is more focused on why a new immortal has been created. It’s only been--” He cut himself off before he could finish the thought.
It’s only been a decade since Mari didn’t reawaken.
It should have been longer. His grief was still fresh, still raw. There were days when he still felt like there were bloodstains on his hands and screams echoing in his ears. Tissaia had been lucky enough to miss out on that particular memory--safe in her ivory tower--but Jaskier knew it would be a nightmare that lingered long after Mari’s small grave had been overtaken by nature.
He thought of the last dream that had sent him scurrying toward Aretuza for the answers he didn't want to find.
Geralt, spine bowed in agony as he screamed until his voice cracked and his bones threatened to break. Unfamiliar hands tried uselessly to ease the pain that seemed unending as magic--dark and caustic--flowed through him. Blood dripped from the edges of the restraints that dug deep into his flesh and flowed in dark lines from the table.
A lifetime seemed to pass before the Witcher went limp, collapsing in a boneless heap. The others moved closer, whispering his name into the stillness, and attempting to wipe away the misery and ruin they’d wrought. Jaskier hated them. He hated that he knew that their hubris would continue to be paid with the blood and pain of another. Despite this, he couldn’t help but suck in a relieved breath as Geralt’s chest rose.
And the Witcher opened eyes the color of the purest sunlight to stare up at the world he was trapped in.
Tissaia met his gaze with her usual impassive expression. “You knew this would happen.”
“I don’t know anything.”
“Just so,” she said with a small smirk, “It would appear that the world has chosen to continue turning without your approval.”
Jaskier shot her a narrow eyed look. “I liked it better when you were too impressed with me to sass me.”
“Your memory must be going in your old age.”
“You little--” Both of them looked up at the sound of the door to Tissaia’s study opening.
The woman who stepped through possessed the same unearthly beauty of all of Aretuza’s best students. Dark hair was swept away from her high cheekbones in a complicated knot that spoke of a meticulous nature lurking beneath the easy grace. Violet eyes met his a moment before he recognized her.
“Yennefer,” he said with surprise.
She smiled a little, a hint of the shy, deformed girl he’d met in his last visit. “Hello, Kingfisher.”
“I go by Jaskier now, actually. I see you agreed to work for the Tower,” he said, shooting a gimlet stare to his companion behind the desk. “I have to say I had hoped you would look to more peaceful goals.”
“Peace is boring.”
Tissaia looked amused at the exchange. “Did you find what I asked for?”
“Of course,” Yennefer answered, smug as any cat, “here.” She handed over an older book, the cover faded enough to make the words illegible.
Instead of answering, Tissaia gestured to Jaskier and Yennefer crossed the room to hand the book over to him. He gave a nod of greeting before turning his attention to the book itself, cracking open the stiff pages. The first thing he focused on was a faint ink map with spidery lines tracing a narrow path across snow capped peaks. It ended at the base of a roughly rendered fortress, standing proudly above the evergreens.
“What is this?” he asked, eyes still on the page.
“It’s where our new friend is, I think.” Jaskier looked up at her in surprise and Tissaia smiled at him quickly, “I know you disagree with my methods of continuing my lifestyle, but I do care about what happens to us. I remember what it was like to wake up with grave dirt between my teeth.”
He closed his eyes against that particular memory. Tissaia had been so young, so innocent then. She’d clung to Jaskier with a desperation that he’d been helpless to resist. It was one of the few times he’d been convinced that his continued survival hadn’t been some cosmic joke. That he had been brought back for a reason--not just to be some makeshift Charon to ferry the dead back to the underworld.
“You’re looking for a Witcher?” Yennefer asked, curious.
“Does it matter?” He tore his eyes away from the page to look over the younger mage.
“If he’s a Witcher then you won’t find him there for long. They wander.”
Tissaia’s lips twisted into the barest hint of a smile, hidden when she pretended to focus on the pages scattered across her desk. “I’m sure finding a Witcher won’t be a difficult feat for our Kingfisher.”
Jaskier’s mouth flattened into a thin line at the title. “I have no interest in hunting. Not anymore,” he said stiffly. Before they could respond, he put the book carefully down on Tissaia’s desk and stalked out of the room.
From there, it was only the long road ahead of him and the same dogged persistence of someone who knew what inevitability felt like.
He went east, to the coast, and far away from the promise of running into the Witcher in his dreams. Distance, he hoped, would at least make it easier to avoid learning any other clues to tempt him toward Geralt. The Witcher would be better off assuming his new life was nothing more than luck or the will of the gods.
So, Jaskier did what he did best--he wandered.
Unfortunately, no matter how many miles he put between himself and Kaer Morhen, he couldn’t stop the dreams. They waited for him, lurking behind his eyelids when his stamina faltered and he was forced to lay still. They taunted him in the flashes of gold in a merchant’s pouches or the way the moon shined through the treetops. Nothing helped.
He lived like a man possessed, moving constantly. His path avoided towns whenever possible, digging deep into his reserves of coins to keep away from any crowds. For the first time in decades, his fingers itched for the familiar weight of a weapon in his hands. He briefly considered going to the south to Nilfgaard and Cintra, but dismissed the idea just as quickly. He was Jaskier now, not the Kingfisher. He was a man of peace, not war.
The sounds of muffled chatter was a familiar backdrop against the crackling fire and the soft thunk of cups against rough tables. It was brighter, warmer than the plain halls of Kaer Morhen even without the faint sounds of a lyre in the background. A scarred man leaned across the table to peer at Geralt, his large hands wrapped around a dented flagon of ale. “Dreams? Everyone dreams, Geralt.”
Jaskier didn’t need to see the Witcher to recognize the growl of annoyance. “These aren’t--there’s something different, Eskel.”
“Hmm,” Eskel rumbled and Jaskier finally recognized him as one of the wolves Geralt preferred to spend time with, “What happens in these dreams?”
“It’s different each time, but...the same people appear again and again. I feel as if I know them.”
“Maybe it’s a vision.” Geralt scowled at his friend, but Eskel continued without acknowledging it, “What do they look like?”
Geralt considered the question a moment, his attention far away. “The woman is a mage I think. She seems to spend a lot of time in their presence, at least,” he corrected quickly. “Then there’s a bard. He seems to wander more than the others... He acts as though he’s avoiding someone, or something.” The Witcher looked down at his drink, a faint flush on his cheeks, “Most of the time I dream of the bard.”
He nodded, frowning again. “Yes, there’s--”
Jaskier came awake with a shout of alarm, rolling out of bed with the knife he’d tucked beneath his pillow already in his hand. He scanned the room while his heart continued to attempt to break free from his ribcage and tried to talk himself down from the panic attack that was brewing.
He took a breath and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s fine,” he whispered to himself, “You knew this would happen. You just need to keep his focus on you and keep moving.”
Knowing there was no chance of getting any sleep tonight, Jaskier grabbed his pack and walked out of the tavern without looking back. Sleep could wait for another night.
It’s never been easy to find another member of his immortal family, even after all this time. In the past, he had avoid the calling as long as he could--unwilling to drag another innocent into the bloodshed that seemed to follow him wherever he went. Instead, he let them find their way--towards war or peace--and tried to do what he could to keep them as safe as possible.
Tissaia had been a fluke. A rare moment of weakness where he wasn’t quite strong enough to ignore the dream of waking up inside a coffin and screaming into the darkness, knowing no one would hear her. Any thought of leaving her to continue on her own had died with her. No matter how impassive he pretended to be, he hoped he would never go far as to abandon another immortal to be trapped like that.
He’d even gone as far as to ensure that the older mage who’d put her in the ground took her place as soon as Tissaia was strong enough to face them. She’d been more than willing to take the knife and her vengeance in quick slashes across the thin skin of the man’s neck. Revenge was a familiar pastime by then. After that he’d given her the option of staying with him, but she’d seemed more than happy to take her former master’s place running Aretuza within a few months of his death.
Mari had been easy. She’d found him only a few days after he’d first awakened on the funeral slab. It had been his good fortune that she’d come across him before he’d been burned with the rest of his meager belongings. And it had been his ill-fortune that he’d lost her to her own fledgling mortality only a few decades later. Mari had been one of the first of them. She’d shown him the value of laughter, a fine blade, and what it meant to create a family of your own choosing.
Then Mari had taught him the value of remaining alone. Loneliness was a far gentler companion than grief. Or worse, regret.
The thought of becoming linked to another new immortal was a bitter reality. There was little choice to it, truthfully. Jaskier knew from experience that the dreams would continue regardless of his preference. He would dream of Geralt just as he dreamt of Tissaia and Mari whenever they’d been apart. It was as though fate’s price for their long, impossible lives were the unbreakable chains to the other members of their strange group. Perhaps it was some biological attempt to keep them from growing mad as their family and friends withered and died around them.
If he concentrated, he could feel the strange links that connected each of them to one another regardless of choice. Tissaia was a familiar thread of light and power, steady as the woman herself within the walls of her tower. Geralt was more volatile, but no less bright. He imagined the link between them as gleaming starlight and steel, unbreakable and inescapable. On nights when the memories of his own past kept him awake, he liked to curl around that light to avoid thinking about the last of the immortal connections. One that seemed built from hatred and misery.
The dreams made it more difficult to ignore the growing...something that he could feel blooming between the two of them. No matter how often he told himself it was nothing more than curiosity, Jaskier found himself finding excuses to get to sleep earlier just to increase his odds of seeing the Witcher again.
As the months continued to drag on, Jaskier continued to be haunted by the yellowed eyed Witcher. He watched the warrior continue to train for a long winter in the fortress with the rest of the Wolf School. Even when the rest of his brethren began to edge away from his strange eyes and eerie strength. Even when the whispers began about the effects of Vesemir’s experiments.
Even when the words turned into pointed jabs and glancing blows on the practice yard.
More often than not, Geralt avoided the men who he’d used to laugh with in favor of quiet corners out of their sight. He trained longer, harder than any of the others, but it still wasn’t enough to make them want him. Eventually, he began to avoid even the few who treated him the same as before. Lambert and Eskel did what they could to keep him from walking away into the harsh winter winds, but they didn’t protest when Geralt gathered his meager belongings and left at the first hint of spring in the air.
The knowledge of the growing rift between Geralt and the other Witchers left Jaskier swinging between protectiveness for the man and a hatred for Vesemir. He didn’t want to risk becoming attached to another person--even one who couldn’t be killed.
So he used the dreams as a compass point and oriented himself toward locales far away from where Geralt walked. He contemplated boarding a ship for new lands, but found himself turning away from the docks just as quickly. As much as he didn’t want to think about meeting another one of his immortal brethren, he also couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.
After all, the last time he had, he’d destroyed whatever hopes at building a family they’d had.
Geralt stared at the warped mirror set into the wall of the noblemen’s suite--given to him as thanks for a quick return of his youngest daughter from a barghest pack. His oddly colored eyes glinted in the pocked mercury glass as he scanned features that seemed foreign. There were dark marks already fading from his fight and he knew without looking that the claw marks along his side would be gone by morning. Just like always.
He leaned closer, trying to find whatever twist of fate had deemed him unable to live as a mortal man. There were ghosts and horrors lurking in the shadows around him and he stared at the dim reflection for a long moment.
“Am I losing my mind?” he whispered quietly, “Why do I keep dreaming of you?” The Witcher licked his lips like he was tasting the name before he said it aloud. “Jaskier.”
Jaskier took to the road once more, praying that distance would take this temptation far from his reach.
As though he were created just to drive Jaskier to distraction, Geralt seemed to be choosing paths and jobs that led him along the same lonely roads that the bard had been wandering. He could feel the proximity growing stronger through the bond and hated himself for the eagerness the sensation brought. In the darkest, loneliest nights, he let himself imagine what it would be like to finally see the Witcher in the flesh instead of through snatches and impressions.
The harsher light of day reminded him just how foolish those moments were. Jaskier was not a man who deserved whatever odd sort of happiness he’d begun to associate with Geralt. His death knew his face and had been hunting him for years--all his wanderings did was delay the inevitable. To pursue the comfort of staying close to another was a kind of selfishness even he couldn’t tolerate in himself.
Jaskier might have continued to stay far away from the newest immortal if it weren’t for his own nightmares made into flesh.
A man stood alone, backlit by the light of the forge beside him. The firelight highlighted the grim expression on his features and the cruel smile on his lips. The image sank like a stone in Jaskier’s gut, the waters of its memories rising in his throat to drown him. ‘Cahir’, a soft voice from his memories called, jaded with memory and fondness all at once.
He turned to face the nervous looking blacksmith garbed in Nilfgaard black. “How long until it’s completed?”
The blacksmith hummed and looked over at a large metal structure nearby. “A few more days, my lord, although I’ll warn you--it’ll be difficult to move.”
“Let me worry about that. Just be certain that it will hold what it’s designed for.”
“About that…” a bead of sweat dripped down the man’s jaw, “what exactly are you intending to do with this?”
Jaskier could feel himself react viscerally at the raw hatred reflected in Cahir’s eyes as he turned to smile at the blacksmith. “It’s entertainment--for a reunion of sorts.”
Jaskier came back to himself with all of the grace of a carriage accident. He stared up at the ceiling of yet another tavern and tried not to think about what would happen if Cahir managed to find Geralt before he found Jaskier. It was a possibility he couldn’t allow. He had to find Geralt and keep him far away from Cahir’s madness.
How does one hunt a hunter? Jaskier thought to himself as he lay in sheets gone cold with sweat.
Then he smiled and rolled out of his rumpled sheets to throw on his clothes--he had a show to put on.