The questions continued until the firelight was the only thing illuminating them.
“How many are there?”
“Four,” Jaskier said briskly. “When one of us dies, a new immortal awakens.”
“How are they chosen?”
Jaskier shrugged. He had spent far too many nights pondering exactly that.
Geralt watched him for a moment longer, curiosity showing in his oddly colored eyes. “How old are you anyway?”
Distantly, he thought of a battlefield covered in the rotting corpses of the men he’d fought beside. He remembered the sick sensation of their cold skin and the smell of rot filling the air like a sickly perfume. Was it a gift or a curse that he couldn’t remember the cause that he’d been willing to die for? It had seemed so meaningless against the memories of having to pull himself out of the grave where his fellows remained to limp back to the burned remains of his home.
Jaskier jerked when he realized Geralt was right in front of him, one hand outstretched like he’d been considering touching him. He wondered if he was beginning to lose his touch if he would allow someone he barely knew to get so close. It was one of the many reasons why he should never have risked meeting Geralt. Why hadn’t he just told Tissaia to instruct him on everything he needed to know?
“Old,” he said briskly. “The first time I came back from the dead was in the generation after the Conjunction of the Spheres.”
Gold eyes went wide with surprise. Jaskier smirked a little as the Witcher visibly struggled not to react to the years Jaskier had been alive. Geralt scowled at his expression and quickly continued to his next question. “Do we all dream of each other?”
He nodded and Geralt barely took a breath before asking the next question.
“Tell me about them.”
Jaskier winced a little, knowing there was no sense delaying the inevitable. He started where the pain was easiest. “Well, you’ve met me--combined with you makes half of our kind,” he started, “Then there is Tissaia--the mage you saw me speaking with in Aretuza. She’s the force behind nearly every kingdom on the Continent by now.”
He faltered after that, trying to find words to explain centuries of anguish.
“And the last?” Geralt asked when the silence began to stretch between them. “Do you not dream of them too?
Jaskier’s smile was bitter as the smoke rising into the clouds above them. “The last of our number prefers to avoid us whenever possible. It’s best that you stay far away from him.”
Geralt tilted his head like a cat. “Why?”
“Because I killed the woman he loved.”
When morning came, Jaskier expected Geralt to take his answers and his new immortality and go far away. Instead, Geralt looked at him with those strange eyes and asked,
Jaskier laughed and shrugged helplessly. “I wish I knew. If there was some higher calling waiting for us, I haven’t found it. As far as I can tell, nothing we do seems to make much difference out there. You might as well live your life how you like.”
“Hmm,” Geralt rumbled, looking away to roll his unused bedroll up. Somewhere nearby, Roach shook her head roughly, tail swishing away flies as she ate. The Witcher walked over to her with his saddle clutched in one hand. Jaskier ignored the part of himself that wanted to watch the play of muscles at that easy play of strength.
Taking the cue for what it was, Jaskier stood and stretched the worst of the kinks left behind by staying still for so long. He was exhausted and worn down in a way that only came with dragging himself through his memories. Unfortunately, he had years of experience that it wouldn’t get better anytime soon. The only thing he could do was keep moving.
“You know,” the Witcher said thoughtfully, “this immortality will make the Path much easier.”
Jaskier turned to face him with a little surprise. “You still intend to kill monsters? Even after all your trainers did to you?”
Geralt shrugged. “Whether I agree with them or not doesn’t affect whether I’m needed.”
For a moment, Jaskier was left speechless in the wake of Geralt’s simple statement. He tried to remember when he’d last felt the calm purpose that this Witcher somehow possessed at only a fraction of Jaskier’s years. Had he ever been that idealistic? Had he ever truly felt that what he was doing would make a difference for anyone besides the people who’d hired him for the job?
“You know…” Jaskier looked up when Geralt continued, “You did good work with this vampire nest.”
The easy compliment left Jaskier feeling wrongfooted somehow. He shrugged, avoiding the Witcher’s gaze. “It’s easier when you know you can’t die, I imagine.”
Geralt frowned, eyes darting over to where Jaskier’s bloodied doublet was drying out on a rock nearby. “Ever considered doing it for a living?” he asked, attempting for casual and missing it by a mile.
Turning back toward him, Jaskier stared--surprised in a way that was becoming familiar. He was used to the way people preferred to avoid him as much as possible, driven away by their own grief and the bitterness that came when he returned when their friends did not. Even Tissaia preferred to stay safely within the walls of Aretuza to avoid the mess Jaskier had created between himself and Cahir, enjoying far larger games of cat and mouse. He’d expected Geralt to fall into the same space--one where they only saw each other in passing.
“You want me to become a Witcher?” Jaskier finally said cautiously.
“You’ve probably forgotten more training than the best Witcher would manage,” Geralt explained, “and I imagine I’ll still have more questions for you about what we are.”
It was a lie, they both knew. A kind one designed to give Jaskier the option to leave with his pride intact. Somehow, that made him feel even more exposed--lingering on the precipice of something terrible and beautiful all at once.
There was a terrible sort of understanding in Geralt’s eyes as he watched Jaskier. It made him want to cover his uncertainty with a clever joke or take his leave before this became something he was desperate not to lose. If he was still a good person, he would politely turn down the invitation and keep Geralt far, far away from the death that still followed him.
But he was not a good man. Not for a long time now.
So he smiled and shrugged, “Could be fun, I suppose.”
Somehow hunting monsters with a Witcher wasn’t all that different from his years on the campaign trails.
There were long, boring stretches of road that were filled with a slowly blooming friendship that continued to grow between them with each story exchanged. Jaskier told Geralt about how wars used to be fought and the oddest things he’d witnessed in that time. He found himself remembering moments that had been buried beneath the silence of traveling alone, resurfacing like ghosts.
Geralt proved to have a wicked sense of humor that left Jaskier cackling until he was breathless more than once. He started to become addicted to the soft way Geralt would smile back at him. The Witcher was clever too--clever enough to call Jaskier on his bullshit more than once. Occasionally, he would expand on the lore of whatever creature they were sent to kill and Jaskier would find himself listening with a burning curiosity that he hadn’t felt in years.
Worse was the realization that Geralt was fast becoming someone important to Jaskier. Somehow every attempt at keeping their relationship safely behind the boundary of passing acquaintances seemed to fall beneath the weight of just how easy it was to travel with the Witcher. He tried to convince himself that it was just the bond that existed between all of the immortals, but he knew it was something far more deadly.
(He certainly had never considered what Tissaia looked like naked.)
The thought was enough to make Jaskier fall into a funk that lasted for days. He contemplated running away as quickly as he could, but was stopped each time by the realization that he still hadn’t managed to tell Geralt about Cahir or Mari. By now, Cahir might know they were traveling together and use it as an opportunity to hurt Jaskier--or worse Geralt.
He just wasn’t ready for Geralt to stop smiling at him.
It took one barely muffled sneer and a town full of openly hostile villagers for Jaskier to realize just how much hatred humanity held for Witchers.
At first, he’d assumed it was limited to a few of the more idiotic members of the villages they traveled through. Geralt hadn’t reacted to any of their glares and Jaskier hoped it was because he didn’t care for their opinions. Still, Jaskier had seethed silently.
Then came the evening when they were walking back to the hotel for a much deserved bath. Jaskier had been mid-way through a retelling of a particularly bizarre experience at a nunnery when something splatted against their legs.
Jaskier stared down at the rotten fruit for a beat before hearing another wet sounding impact nearby. He looked up in time to see the rest of an apple slide off Geralt’s cheek onto his shirt as the Witcher blinked in surprise.
“Get out of here beast!”
With a snarl, Jaskier turned away from Geralt towards a group of men a few yards away. Several of them still held their own handfuls of fruit stolen from a rubbish bin nearby. A few laughter cruelly at the sight of the Witcher’s suddenly blank expression.
“What did you say to him?” Jaskier hissed, starting forward aggressively.
Geralt’s hand reached out in a quick motion. “Don’t. It’s not worth it.” He raised his voice to address the group of men while Jaskier could only gape at him. “We don’t want any trouble.”
“Then get the fuck out of here before we give you some,” the leader snapped, spitting foully at their feet.
“The fuck you say--”
Before Jaskier could do more than take another stumbling step forward, Geralt bodily shoved him back in the direction of the stables where their horses were housed. He forced the smaller immortal forward and ignored Jaskier’s continued cursing as he practically carried him back to their rooms, taking advantage of the fact that Jaskier didn’t want to actually hurt him. Only when the door was shut behind them did he finally let him go.
Immediately, Jaskier surged forward. “What the fuck was that about?” he demanded, breathing hard with indignation.
“A lot of humans don’t like Wit--”
“I wasn’t talking about that!” Jaskier spat, “I’m talking about how you just let them do that to you!”
Geralt flushed, wiping away at the rotting fruit tangled in his hair. “And what would you have me do? Fight the whole town?”
“It’s a start!”
The Witcher turned his back on him with a muffled curse of his own. He reached over to where the maid had left a few clothes to wash with and dunked it in the basin of water nearby. Grabbing his shirt, Geralt peeled off the smelly garment and tossed it into the corner to be washed later and set about cleaning off the new grime.
Jaskier tsked and paced away, needing someone to take out his frustration on and not entirely pleased that his first instinct was to lash out at Geralt. He was so focused on his own irritation that he nearly missed when Geralt spoke next.
“If I do that, I’ll become the monster they think I am.”
The interaction kept them tense and stiff around each other in a way that they hadn’t been since they first began to travel with each other.
For his part, Jaskier was left feeling awkward and unsettled by the display of animosity between humans and the Witchers. In his travels he’d never spent much time considering the struggles the mutants might face by the rest of their kind. Witchers were always solitary even in their earliest imaginings, but he’d always assumed it was by choice.
It left him off-kilter somehow. As did Geralt’s refusal to lash out in revenge for the cruel words and blows.
He considered it as he sat beside the dying fire and watched the slow rise and fall of Geralt’s chest as he slept nearby. His Witcher was hardly a pacifist, but there was a deep weariness that had appeared as soon as the men had turned on them. As though he already knew what sort of end would come if they’d stayed to fight.
Jaskier sighed and strummed his fingers softly over the lute he continued to carry in case the mood struck him or if they needed to make a quick bit of coin for food. It made a warm sound that stirred the faint muse that lingered in his chest.
That quickly, he knew what he should do.
The first time Jaskier decided to play his new song, he chose his venue carefully. Like any battlefield, he needed to use every element to his advantage. Here, that meant a hazy warmth that came from several rounds of revelry spurred on by every drinking song he could think of. Even Geralt had a warm flush to his cheeks from where he sat at the table farthest away from the roaring fire.
Ever the performer, Jaskier purposely let the silence build until every eye was fixed on him before striking the first chord.
“ When a humble bard ,” he began, “ graced to ride along, with Geralt of Rivia, along came this song… ”
He watched the crowd’s eyes dart between himself and the Witcher in their midst, equal parts curious and surprised, as he began to spin his tale. His foot stamped a quick beat on the worn bar top, belting the chorus as loudly as his voice could manage without losing his tune.
Only once did he dare to look out at Geralt, taking in the shocked expression and wary way that he was watching the crowd.
Jaskier sent him a wink and launched into the second verse, playing up the fictitious battle with all the theatricality he possessed. A barmaid shrieked in delight when he mimed Geralt lashing out at the armies of elves, sending her back into the crowd with a roguish kiss to her cheek. He imagined the song was one of his best pieces, the tune carrying beautifully over the sounds of the tavern and guests.
But somehow, nothing he’d ever written was as perfect as the moment when the crowd sang along and raised their glasses for the Witcher in their midst.
“On your left!”
Jaskier bellowed the warning even as he ducked beneath the wing of the royal wyvern they were battling. The creature had been preying on the herds of the tiny village in the hills below its aerie and threatened their meager supplies before winter. He recognized the sunken eyes and the too-thin farmers that greeted Geralt in the village square for what it was--acceptance. Geralt had barely glanced at the tiny amount of coin they’d managed to gather before he was agreeing to the hunt.
From there, it had been a relatively simple task to follow the broken branches along the forest’s edge and the bones cast off by the massive beast as it feasted. Geralt was certain that the beast must be nesting to need to feed this often which made them even more dangerous.
The bard had watched Geralt soak both their blades with his concoctions before they’d closed in on the wyvern’s lair with a somber expression. Claws had carved deep grooves into the rocky cliffside, signalling where the creature had been taking off to raid the village far below. A mound of dirt, bones and branches created the top of the narrow ledge and Jaskier was grateful that there wasn’t any noise to indicate that the wyvern’s brood had hatched yet.
Jaskier still hadn’t managed to find himself a silver blade to fight with, but he assured Geralt it wouldn’t matter much between the two of them. He knew he could do enough damage without the worry of impending death lingering over him. Which was probably why he hadn’t bothered to circle the nest to check for any other wyvern’s nearby and had been content to take Geralt’s word that the beasts were naturally solitary.
Naturally, that had been just a few moments before two fully grown royal wyverns had barreled into them.
Geralt had been thrown bodily against a nearby oak with a grunt of pain and the familiar snap of bone. Jaskier’s curse had been drowned out by the victorious roar of its partner and he’d thrown himself forward with a snarl of his own.
He took a tail to the chest and a long slice down his side courtesy of the larger of the two before he managed to lure them away from the fallen Witcher. The silver sword that Geralt had dropped when he’d been hit was a familiar weight in his hand and he used it to balance out the instinctive panic that burst to life when Geralt had fallen. Gods, he hated how long it took to heal when they were first reborn.
By the time Geralt rejoined the fight, Jaskier was beginning to flag. Even with the edge immortality gave him, it wouldn’t stop him from the exhaustion that would lead to his death. And he didn’t look forward to reliving the experience of being eaten.
Geralt hit the smaller male with a quickly cast Aard that slowed it enough that Jaskier managed to roll beneath his wings and slice through the thinner scales of its belly. Immediately dark blood poured over his hands, making it difficult to keep his grip on the only thing that would keep him alive. The wyvern shrieked loudly enough that Jaskier’s ears rang, but he knew the sound of death when he heard it.
He ducked beneath a flailing wing and watched as Geralt beheaded the creature with a neat backhand swing.
Before they could celebrate, Jaskier’s eyes widened in horror as the final wyvern crept up behind the Witcher. Her jaws opened with vicious intent and he was lunging forward before the thought truly registered.
With a hard yank, he managed to pull Geralt forward out of the way of the snapping jaws. It left him unable to do more than grit his teeth against the next attack. Jagged teeth clamped shut around his torso, puncturing through a lung and making his lower body go numb. Someone nearby was shouting--or maybe it was him--but he ignored it all in favor of palming another one of his knives. The wyvern shook its head in a way that was designed to finish him off, but he only tightened his grip across the creature’s upper jaw.
“Jaskier!” Geralt shouted, “The ledge!”
Distantly he realized that the wyvern was thrashing around without paying attention to how close they were to the edge of the cliff where its nest had been. It was meaningless information, he reasoned, if he wasn’t able to finish off this scaly bastard before it managed to bite through his spine. He coughed and spat out a mouthful of blood, trying to focus his remaining strength on his final attack.
With a grunt, he swung his knife into the fragile eye socket only a few inches away from his own. Jaskier gave a bloodied, feral smile of satisfaction when the weapon slid through the orb of the eye and into the beast’s brain.
It shrieked and he took vicious pleasure in twisting the knife one last time before he let himself go limp.
Then they were both falling.
Each time he died, he remembered her .
Once, those memories might have been a comfort. Mari had been the first true family he’d ever had and his anchor as he grappled with the realization that he was alone in the world now. She’d taught him to fight, shown him the wonders of the Continent, and watched his back through countless battles. For decades, they’d loved each other like a family forged in blood and the fire of eternity.
Now, he dreaded the darkness and the nightmares it hid.
Mari smiled at him, blonde hair gleaming in the firelight nearby. Her features were perfect enough to be designed by an artist’s hands and he remembered how many times he’d marveled at them. Now he knew they were merely camouflage for the creature lurking beneath.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked him, raising hands stained dark with blood. She swept one hand out in gesture that drew his attention to the row of beds along the wall.
Jaskier tried to fight then, each time. He didn’t want to remember this night. He didn’t want to know what it was to look at the person you’d loved for longer than any mortal’s lifetime and realize that they were something horrific. He didn’t want to see countless eyes staring up at a ceiling without any life left in them.
“Please,” he begged and ignored the tears that dripped from his lashes to pour over his cheeks, “don’t make me. I--I can’t do this again. Please, Mari.”
“Why should I be merciful, my love?” her voice asked beside him, “You killed me, after all.”
For the first time in decades, Jaskier woke to the sound of someone else’s relief.
Beneath his head, he could feel the ground shifting in a way that his sluggish mind finally interpreted as the lap of whoever he was sprawled across. That someone’s fingers were buried in the bloodied and tangled hair at the nape of his neck, keeping him from slipping off. It was jarring against the lingering memories that he’d faced moments before and he allowed it to calm his racing heart. He wanted to stay there in that moment, lingering in the novel sensation of having someone care for him.
“Jaskier?” a low voice rasped and he knew his time pretending to be asleep was over.
He blinked open his eyes and winced at the bright sunlight. Immediately, Geralt leaned forward until his body was blocking out the light and his golden eyes could scan over Jaskier’s face worriedly.
“What happened?” Jaskier grunted, clearly his throat and swallowing until the iron in his mouth was more bearable. He tilted his head slightly to take in their surroundings, eyeing the rubble he could see from the position and the cliff face far above.
“You...The wyvern went over the edge of the cliff and hit the gully below while you were still attacking it.” Geralt frowned, looking frustrated by the memory. The brief explanation was enough to explain the familiar itch along his torso that signaled his body was still healing the last of his injuries.
“Is it dead?”
“Is it--yes, the wyvern is dead.” Geralt’s mouth tightened into a flat line and Jaskier mourned the softer sensation he’d awakened to. He traced the tight tension bracketing golden eyes and glanced over the rest of his body to check for any obvious injuries.
“Then why are you so angry?”
Abruptly, the hands still threaded through his hair tightened until he winced. Immediately, Geralt released him, looking torn between the urge to apologize and to continue glaring at Jaskier. “You died.”
Jaskier frowned, surprised by the answer and slowly sat up. Geralt’s hands braced him against his back and he tried not to think about how warm they felt. “I came back?” he offered weakly, confused by the expression on the Witcher’s face. “It isn’t a big deal.”
“It--” Geralt cut off his statement with a snarl before sweeping a big hand out to encompass the rocks and dirt around them. “I watched you nearly get eaten right before you were buried beneath that wyvern--”
Jaskier’s eyes widened in surprise as he glanced down and realized just how much blood and dirt was covering them both.
“--I had to dig you out from under the wyvern and try to piece together your spine because I didn’t know if anyone could survive such a thing.”
“I would’ve woken up eventually,” Jaskier offered weakly.
Geralt’s eyes narrowed. “You told me that there will come a time when you don’t. When your healing and immortality will fade and you will die for good.”
“You say that as if you care,” Jaskier joked, trying for levity and missing by a mile.
For a moment, there was only the sound of the deep, measured breaths from Geralt’s chest as the Witcher glowered at him. Jaskier tensed, unsure if he should be expecting an attack, and bracing himself for the news that Geralt would no longer want to travel together any longer.
Instead, he found himself blinking in surprise once more as Geralt lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Jaskier. Hesitantly, Jaskier raised his own in a stiff response to the unexpected hug.
“I care,” Geralt murmured against the curve of his shoulder. “Every time. I care. You have to come back to me.”
Jaskier swallowed the emotion that felt like they were drowning him. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of Geralt, the scent of home, and whispered, “Then I will. I’ll come back to you. Always.”
He tried not to think about how he knew it was a lie.
When the air grew sharp and the space between their bedrolls grew more narrow, Geralt began to look back toward the snow capped mountains in the distance and Jaskier knew their time together was drawing to a close.
But he still couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Stay.”
He swallowed hard at the look in those golden eyes and summoned his courage. “With me. Stay with me.”
Sex with Geralt was unlike anything he’d ever known.
If he still believed in gods, he would change his allegiance to whatever deity had crafted the masterpiece beside him. He worshipped at the altar formed between sheets and pressed offerings into every inch of exposed skin like the purest penitent.
He wrote odes to the dip of Geralt’s lean hips and the moonlight trapped in his hair. His fingers traced each line of muscle until he could return to the curve of his lips.
He applied every trick and skill he’d learned over the millennia and still found himself lost for words at the sight of Geralt beside him, beneath him, everywhere. Inevitable. Consuming. Each time a new revelation.
“You’re a sap,” Geralt murmured each time Jaskier attempted to put feelings to words.
“I’m yours,” Jaskier swore. “Until the stars die.”
“And I am yours, lark. Until the sun stops shining.”
Neither of them knew it was a lie until it was already too late.
The words haunt him. They drag talons through memories tainted by the hole in his heart and the Geralt-shaped space left at his side.
At first, he’d been focused. Driven by the need to bring Geralt back to the light and reassure himself that his love would smile again. He had returned to the days of red-tinged madness that he’d left behind to walk the Path with Geralt.
Jaskier the bard had died the moment Geralt had been dropped into the water.
It was the Kingfisher who would avenge him.
“What did you do?” Geralt asked as they curled side by side on rumpled sheets, “Before me, I mean.”
“Nothing of note.” The bitterness that followed the memories of his past felt far away with Geralt skating a kiss across his knuckles. It always seemed to leave him a little breathless.
“I don’t believe you.”
Jaskier scoffed without any heat, feeling Geralt’s answering smile against his skin. He sighed and let his mind wander back to what his life had been like before the Witcher had found him. “I wandered mostly, I suppose.”
“Doing what? Were you always a bard?”
He could feel the ghosts of people long dead threatening to tear him away from the present and he forced himself to take a breath (full of leather and jasmine and Geralt) before he continued. “No, that’s a relatively recent hobby, my love. I dabbled in politics.”
Geralt rolled onto his back, pulling Jaskier forward until he was draped across his chest. “I never pictured you as much of a politician. You always seemed to hate going to court.”
Jaskier huffed out a breath at the thought. “Oh no, I never stayed at court for long--although I was considered a Count at one point. I just worked for them.”
“What kind of work?”
The smile at his lips never managed to reach his eyes. “Killing mostly.”
Geralt went silent, still in that eerie way that Witchers always seemed to manage. Those golden eyes were somber with a grim sort of understanding when he reached out to brush a finger across Jaskier’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“I was fine. None of my injuries could linger.”
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t leave scars.”
When the end came, it started in the usual way.
The door to their room slamming open hard enough to rattle the hinges and dark shadows rushing forward to fill the gap. Jaskier shouted, fighting his way through tangled sheets toward the knife habit always kept hidden beneath his pillow. At his side, Geralt cast his hand out in the familiar magic of his kind and sent two of their assailants slamming bodily against the wall. Jaskier’s knife took out another in the next heartbeat.
The effort was meaningless against the numbers of soldiers funneling into the room, heavily armed and armored against two men still clad only in the loose clothes they’d worn to bed.
He gave a cry at the sight of one of a broadsword sinking deep into Geralt’s broad back as he focused on fighting the soldiers in front of him. Geralt grunted, coughing wetly as he sank to his knees. The soldier in front of him buried another into the Witcher’s gut and Jaskier only had a moment to see yellow eyes flicker over to him before they went dull and lifeless.
“ Geralt !”
Knowing Geralt would reawakened didn’t make the sight any easier to bear. Bellowing in rage, Jaskier ripped a blade out of another soldier’s hands--ignoring the way the move left his hands bloodied and mangled--to hurl it like a javelin, pinning two men in a macabre embrace. Someone grabbed at his arms and he roared in fury as more soldier began to use their weight and numbers to pin him to the ground.
Snarling, he bucked and fought as viciously as he could, but knew it was only a matter of time before he collapsed beneath them. Jaskier satisfied himself with the knowledge that each moment he was pinned cost them dearly.
The sound of booted feet approaching made the bloodied men restraining him go tense. Jaskier’s eyes darted to the door in time to see a broad shouldered man stepping through to survey the scene with a critical gaze. He felt the blood drain from his face as he finally recognized who had attacked them.
Without expression, the man crouched beside where Jaskier was still pinned to take in the still-dead Witcher and the bard trapped by his men.
“Please,” Jaskier said desperately, wishing he had never asked Geralt to stay, “you don’t have to do this.”
A smile that held nothing but malice. “Oh Jaskier, we have only just begun.”
Without waiting for an answer, Cahir pulled a knife from his belt and slit Jaskier’s throat.