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Dying for You (Again and Again)

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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.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

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?”

 

“Tonight.”

 

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.

 

Kaer Morhen.

 

“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.”

 

“Any others?”

 

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.



Chapter Text

Despite how many centuries he’d spent on the Continent, Jaskier had never felt the need to hunt any of the nonhuman creatures who wandered the shadows.  Sure, he’d killed the occasional werewolf or wraith, but only if they attacked him first.  Maybe it was some sort of camaraderie left by his own status as something not quite human.   His violence was usually tempered with the need to complete a job or finish off a threat to his allies.  He liked to think other creatures avoided his kind because they could sense whatever magic that kept him alive endlessly.

 

Whatever hesitation he might have held for killing off monsters disappeared quickly when he realized that they stood between himself and finding the Witcher.

 

He wandered through the next few towns, lingering in the taverns late into the night to listen to snippets of conversations.  It took the better part of a week before he overheard something useful enough to attract his attention.

 

“--took poor Lissa,” a grizzled old farmer whispered to the barkeep, “Grabbed her right off the path to her home.”

 

“Have they called for a Witcher?”

 

The farmer shook his head, bleak.  “No one has the money to bring in a Witcher.  All we can do is keep watch.”

 

Jaskier stood, setting aside his drink.  He kept his stance loose and easy--just a friendly traveler curious about the local gossip.  “What took the girl?”

 

They turned to watch him, suspicious, but their expressions cleared when he settled on the bar stool in a way that put his full coin purse on display.

 

“Vampires, seems like,” the barkeeper offered.  “She’d be the third one this week.”

 

“Why do you think vampires?”

 

This time it was the farmer who answered.  “We found Tomen’s body a few days again--pale as the driven snow.  Whatever took him fed from him before he died.”

 

Jaskier nodded, thoughtful.  A vampire den would explain the number of victims in such a short time.  One or two of the blood drinkers wouldn’t call for so many unless they were in some sort of blood frenzy.  Even better, a cluster of attacks like this would be more than enough to draw out nearby Witchers for the hunt.  He could only hope Geralt would be the first to arrive.

 

The coin purse thunked dully onto the table when he pulled it free from his waist.  

 

“Use that to call for a Witcher.  Make sure you post it somewhere they won’t be able to miss it.”  The farmer and barkeep’s eyes widened in surprise and greed so he leaned forward with a grim smile.  “I expect to see results.”




A few hours later, Jaskier was walking through the shadowed woods toward the abandoned mines at the edge of the village.  He’d asked around for information before deciding it was the most likely place to house the coven safely away from sunlight and any other threat.

 

When he was a few yards away from the entrance, he could hear the rustle of footsteps through the drying leaves and the rough laughter of the creatures inside.  He pulled free the sword he’d strapped to his back silently.  It was a familiar presence in his hand, constant as any friend and twice as dangerous.  He contemplated slinking inside and killing them off one by one before glancing up at the lightening sky and deciding that would take too long.

 

With a feral smile, he raised his fingers to his lips and whistled.

 

________________________________________

 

It took two days before the Witcher arrived.

 

By then, Jaskier had already bled out once and had successfully killed the last of the coven.  He’d carefully laid out the bodies like a macabre trail of breadcrumbs leading back to the mines before making camp.  His bloodstained clothes were left to soak beneath a rock in the nearby stream while he shrugged into a charcoal grey tunic that Yenn said made his eyes look brighter.

 

(Not that it mattered if the Witcher thought he was handsome.  It just happened to be what he pulled out of his bags.)



He hid his impatience by spending his time trying to resolve an issue with the bridge of his newest song and scrawling down a few more lyrics in his small journal.  His thoughts flickered wildly between the memories left behind by their shared dreams and his own fears for what they could mean.

 

Cahir’s face lingered like a ghost, hovering just out of sight.  If Cahir attempted to take Geralt and turn him to his cause, would Jaskier be able to survive the fallout?  He knew better than most that their immortality did not last forever.

 

Jaskier stared down at his hands, wishing he couldn’t see the bloodstains.

 

The sound of footsteps made him look up in surprise in time to see a brown mare step through the treeline behind a black clad warrior that Jaskier recognized instantly.

 

Geralt .

 

The sight of him felt like being struck by a tuning fork.  He could feel his body leaning forward, eager for each of his senses to revel in the reality of being in the presence of the man who’d been walking through his dreams for months.  His lungs filled with air scented with crisp leaves, dried earth-- leather, dried herbs .   Something his body recognized even if his mind was only just then ascribing the scent as something unique to the Witcher.

 

He forced himself to remain seated at the edge of his campfire, using the extra time to school his face into some semblance of neutrality.  This wasn’t his first time meeting another one of his kind.  He knew better than to believe that the connection between them was anything more than a symptom of the cosmic joke that had created him.

 

Geralt paused at the edge of the trees surrounding his camp.  From this distance, Jaskier could quite make out his expression, but he could sense the tension lurking beneath his posture.  The Witcher looked like he wasn’t sure if he was walking into an ambush or an alliance.

 

“You’re the one who killed off the vampires.” The statement was shaped like a question, but was delivered in a flat tone.  Testing.

 

Jaskier resisted the urge to shiver at the husky tone--deeper than in his dreams--and nodded.  “It seemed the fastest way to get you here.”

 

Geralt tilted his head like some brawny mountain cat analyzing its prey.  “Who are you?  Why have I been dreaming about you?” he asked sharply.  

 

“Have you?” he said with a smirk, “What have you been dreaming about, dear Witcher?  Tell me and I’ll give you the answers to your questions.”

 

There’s a dare hidden beneath each word--one that Geralt rises to answer instinctively.

 

“You’re there--although sometimes there are others-” And Jaskier does not flush with pleasure at the idea of Geralt dreaming of him most often.  He doesn’t . “-I’ve watched you travel.  You’re...some kind of bard.  You went to Aretuza.”

 

Jaskier frowned, remembering his most recent conversation with Tisseia.  “What did you see in Aretuza?” he pressed.

 

“Why should I tell you?” Geralt challenged back, chin tilted stubbornly.  “I don’t know you.”

 

“We both know that’s not entirely true.”

 

“What do you want with me?”

 

This time the question made Jaskier pause.  In his effort to keep Geralt far away from Cahir’s malignant hands, he’d never truly found an answer to that question.  Not one that would satisfy any of Geralt’s questions.

 

“We’re drawn together,” he said instead, “Each member of our kind.  It’s why we dream of one another--to help us find the other members.”

 

“Why?”

 

Jaskier shrugged, an old bitterness at the question welling up.  “I don’t know.”

 

“I thought you had the answers to my questions.”

 

“I didn’t say you would like them.”

 

Geralt scowled and Jaskier resisted the urge to grin at the familiar expression.  “How many are there?”

 

“Four.”  He ignored the way the word conjured up images of blood spilling over his hands in a sickly wave.  “For whatever reason, there are always four of us at once.”

 

“For what purpose?”

 

Instead of answering, Jaskier stood and slid forward silently, watching the way Geralt’s eyes tracked the movement warily.  “It depends on who you ask,” he finally said, moving closer.  Geralt’s hand dropped to the hilt of his sword and Jaskier gave him a feral grin.

 

Without warning, Jaskier lunged, crossing the space between them in a single movement.  It made it impossible even for someone with a Witcher’s enhancements to draw the long sword strapped to his back and Jaskier used that knowledge to his advantage ruthlessly.  Geralt recovered quickly, to his credit, and lashed out with his own snarl.

 

Jaskier felt his fist skim along his hairline as he tilted narrowly out of the way, but his eyes were more focused on Geralt’s other hand reaching for a shorter blade strapped to his forearm.  Ignoring it, Jaskier reached out, hauling bodily to throw the Witcher to the ground with himself on top.  

 

Then they both froze, eyes dropping down to the knife buried deep in Jaskier’s stomach.

 

“Fuck,” Jaskier hissed, wincing at the bright bolt of pain bleeding through his adrenaline rush.

 

“I--” Geralt faltered, eyes a little wide with surprise.  His breath stuttered in his chest, shifting Jaskier minutely. “You attacked me.”

 

“I find it’s the best explanation for what we are.”  

 

Without looking back at him, Jaskier leaned his weight back on his haunches--ignoring the realization that the move settled him more securely on Geralt’s hips--and wrapped one hand around the bloodied knife.  He made a rough sound of pain as he pulled it free and ignored the warm rush of blood seeping into his shirt.  Sighing, he looked down at the new hole in his shirt.  “I really liked this shirt.”

 

Geralt's eyes remained fixed to the bloodied wound slowly knitting itself together.  “How is that possible?”

 

“Haven’t you noticed your newfound ability to stay alive?  Or the way you survived going through more of the Trials than any other Witcher of your school?”

 

A frown.  “Vesemir said--”

 

“Your trainer lied.” The words are flat, brittle with his own fury at the men who’d manipulated Geralt into that particular agony.  “You died on the table--I saw it.”

 

“How do you know that?” The words sounded like a desperate bid to hold onto the stubborn, defensive anger that had tailored their conversation up to that point.  It made something inside Jaskier break.

 

“Geralt…” he murmured, then shook his head to chase away the mixture of sympathy and pity.  The Witcher deserved the truth from someone. “What they did to you...no one could have survived it.  No one was ever meant to survive those experiments.”

 

He watched the new crash over the Witcher’s face like an icy wave and the bard looked away from the grief hidden in the slump of his shoulders.

 

“I saw them leading you into the chamber and the trial,” Jaskier continued after a beat, giving Geralt a chance to pull himself together.  “They fed you a series of potions--I assume to start the Trials--and strapped you down so you wouldn’t hurt yourself--” Even the thought of it made him grit his teeth, “--Y--you screamed until you went limp.  And I knew you died.  Vesemir and the other man started to pull you off the table, but you started to breath again and they realized you’d somehow pulled through.  It...it always takes longer the first time.”

 

There was a long pause where Geralt just stared at him, processing the rambling recount of the moment he’d become one of them.  Jaskier could feel the blood on his skin beginning to itch as it dried, but he forced himself to remain still.

 

When Mari had found him, Jaskier had taken weeks before he believed the story.  It was too fantastical, too impossible to believe that he would never see the afterword of his people or feel the cool darkness of eternal sleep.  He’d been a young soldier then, fresh with the dreams of glory newly tempered by the massacre he’d survived.  If he closed his eyes, he could still remember the passion and fervor that had filled him when his commander sounded the charge that would end in their devastation.  Mari had pulled him free from the pile of rotting corpses and told him he was meant for more .  

 

In the end, that had been a lie too.

 

“You dream of me?”

 

Jaskier looked up in surprise at the quiet question, startled once more by the expression on the Witcher’s face.  He’d expected arguments--even another fight.  Not this quiet acceptance smoothing the lines of tension around golden eyes.

 

“I--” he faltered, then forced himself to nod.  “Yes.  I dream of you too.”

 

Geralt nodded too.  “Is that why you brought me here?  To tell me that I can’t be killed?”

 

“You can be killed,” Jaskier said, trying not to wince at the poison lurking beneath the simple sentence.  “All of us will--eventually.”

 

“When will it happen?” the Witcher asked, ever curious. 

 

“None of us know.  One day you just won’t come back.”



Chapter Text

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?”

 

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,

 

“What now?”

 

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.”

 

Geralt smiled. 


 

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.



Chapter Text

“What have you done?” His voice rasped in his chest, choking on the scent of blood in the air.

 

Mari’s smile is beautific and horrifying, highlighted by the blood staining her hands like her soul was bleeding through.  “They’re going to be our new family, Jask.  Can’t you see?”

 

He stared down at the rows of bodies--s o small, so fragile --and felt bile rise in his throat.  “Mari, you--they were children!”

 

“I had to,” she protested with a dismissive wave of her hand, “I had to make sure they would stay with us forever.”  Her eyes darted over the corpses, excited.  “They’ll be waking up soon.”

 

Jaskier let his eyes closed and wished that he didn’t recognize the madness in her eyes.  It made him think of each time she’d lingered a little too long over the body of an enemy or how Mari’s eyes seemed to relish the sounds of pain from their targets.  He’d loved her too much to diagnose the monster she was becoming, the madness that continued to settle more deeply beneath her bones.  

 

He thought of Cahir, meant to join them in a few days after completing a job in Vizima, and knew the other man couldn’t see past his own love to the madness that now controlled her.  They’d been together from the moment they’d first laid eyes on each other, drawn like moths to each other’s flame.   If Jaskier still believed in such naivete, he would call them soul mates.  Part of him had hoped that their love would slow the darkness growing in the warrior he’d followed for centuries--and it had.

 

Until it hadn’t.

 

“Where are their parents?” he asked in a voice that was seeped in a weariness no amount of sleep could cure.

 

Mari frowned, looking frustrated.  “They wouldn’t let me take them--they screamed so much.  None of them understood that I had to, Jask.”  Her fingers fidgeted with the blanket covering the closest body, the drying blood on her hands flaking off to stain the fabric.

 

His stomach heaved as the scent of rot seemed to grow stronger.

 

Jaskier’s hand didn’t tremble as he pulled the knife free from the sheath on his hip, no sound filled the room besides the excited murmurings of Mari.  

 

“Aren’t they beautiful?  Just perfect, sweet little things--they followed me so sweetly.”

 

He took a step forward, silent.

 

“Cahir will be so excited.  We’ll be a family .”

 

Something must have warned her as to what would happen next because she turned, lips still curled upwards into a smile that faded into a sound of shock--

 

His knife lashed out in a practiced gesture born from years on the battlefield and in the training ring with Mari at his side.  He’s left staring into the eyes of the woman he’d followed across the Continent for centuries as she realized what he’d done.

 

“Jask?” she whispered, close enough that her breath brushed over his cheeks.

 

She stumbled forward and he followed her down to the floor when her legs trembled too much to hold herself up.  He wondered if her body had always been so light as warm liquid continued to pour over the hilt in his hand. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.  “We’ll fix this--we’ll get you help.”

 

Internally, he knew that attacking her was only delaying the inevitable fallout.  Cahir would be furious, but he hoped his friend would at least listen long enough to see what she’d done.  It would take both of them to bring Mari somewhere where she could be contained until they figured out what to do.  They couldn’t risk her attacking more mortals and giving away the reality of their own immortality in the process--eventually the humans would find a way to kill them for good.

 

Mari shuddered in his arms, skin paling with every drop of blood falling onto the floor.  He frowned, risking a glance down at her injury when it continued to bleed.

 

“Wha--why aren’t you healing?” he said, horror dousing him in a cold sweat.

 

She blinked up at him--still beautiful even in her madness.  Her fingers trembled where they continued to grasp at his wrist.  “‘m dying…”

 

No-- ” The memory of the older warrior who’d come before him lying still as they waited for hours, days, for him to open his eyes flashed through Jaskier’s mind and he tightened his hold on her.  He released the hilt of the knife in favor of dragging a blanket from a nearby bed, uncaring of the body it was intended to cover, and used it to put pressure on the bleeding stomach wound, “--no, no.  Mari! You can’t, you--”

 

Tears dripped down his nose to splash against her cheek.  She blinked, eyes going glassy with the same shock he recognized from countless fallen enemies and allies.  It made something inside of him break .

 

“Tell me what to do!” he begged, “Tell me how to save you!”  His lungs dragged in air in jerky gasps, heartbeat pounding in his ears.   “I didn’t mean it, Mari.  I just wanted you to stop, just wanted you to be yourself again.  You have to be okay again.”

 

“Not this time…” she breathed, staring off at something that he couldn’t see.  

 

No !  No, please, Mari.”  His hands tightened around the bloodied piece of cloth he continued to press against the wound.  It shone with the same dark liquid that marked his hands and splattered above his wrists.  

 

Desperately, he released the makeshift bandage in favor of curling his arms around her, rocking her gently in his arms.  His cheek rested against the dark curls at the top of her hair and he breathed in the scent of her--lilac and the faintest trace of the oil paints she’d liked, now tainted by the heavier scent of blood.  He went to brush away a lock of hair from her face, but recoiled when he caught sight of the dark stains on his skin.

 

“Please,” he whispered again and again to the cold woman in his arms, “Please, wake up.”


 

Jaskier woke to the taste of iron coating his throat.  He coughed, ragged, but knew from experience that his body was already working to heal the damage left behind by his throat being slit.  It wouldn’t remove the blood that he filled his lungs--only time would do that.  He spit a mouthful of his own life’s blood and raised his head to scan the space around him.

 

Cahir stood only a few feet away, face blank in a way Jaskier remembered him using to cover more violent emotions.  The other immortal didn’t speak as Jaskier continued to cough and hack while his injuries finished knitting together, eyes wary on each other.  They both knew that they were deadly even when crippled and unarmed.  Once injuries no longer phased you, there was no limit to what you would do to bring your enemy to your knees.

 

In the meantime, Jaskier added every piece of information he could to what he knew about where they’d been taken.  His arms were bound behind his back with heavy manacles tight enough to ensure he couldn’t dislocate or break a finger to wiggle his way free.  They rustled noisily with each of his movements as an added failsafe against him getting himself free discretely.  Beneath his feet, the ground shifted rhythmically and he could hear the faint creaking of the walls around them.  A ship then.  A deeper breath confirmed the salt in the air and the familiar scent of the sea.  

 

His mind considered the closest ports to the tavern where he and Geralt had been taken.  It left him with at least four hours of travel taking place while he was dead, possibly more if the ship hadn’t been ready to sail right away.  Cahir probably slowed his recovery by reopening his throat periodically and ensured that Jaskier remained seemingly unconscious while they moved him.  The thought made his fingers twitch.

 

“Where is he?” he rasped, spitting another mouthful of dried blood on the ground.

 

Cahir’s lips went flat with poorly concealed irritation.  “Does he know what you’ve done?”

 

The memory of the guilt that would always follow him is familiar, as is the sensation of the blood long gone from his hands.  “He doesn’t have anything to do with that.”

 

“So you’ve been lying to him too.”

 

“I never lied to you, Cahir,” he protested, suddenly tired.  “I told you every--”

 

You killed her. ”  The words are venomous.

 

“She was sick !” Jaskier snarled, trying not to let his memories suffocate him, “None of us wanted to believe it-- I didn’t want to believe it--but...we aren’t supposed to live as long as she had.”

 

You MURDERED Mari! ” Cahir roared, wrapping his hand around Jaskier’s throat like he was contemplating throttling him, “She should never have trusted you.”

 

I should never have trusted you.

 

“I didn’t want her to die.” Jaskier refused to look away even as dark spots danced in his vision.  “All I wanted to do was make her stop, to take her somewhere safe.  She was murdering children , Cahir--”

 

“No!”

 

“She was ,” he snarled back.  “You saw the graves, their families .  She killed them all!”

 

“She would have had a reason.  She was--”

 

“She was insane.” Jaskier’s voice was flat and sharp enough to make Cahir flinch, both of them breathing hard even if he was the only one with a hand around his neck.  “I know you blame me-- I blame me--but you know I loved her too.  I never wanted to kill her.  I never wanted to take her from you--”

 

“No,” this time the word was whispered like a curse.  “You don’t get to say that to me.”

 

“It’s the truth.”

 

But Cahir was already stepping back, dark hair shifting as he shook his head.  “You don’t get to pretend that you cared about me.  Not now, not ever.”

 

Whatever hope Jaskier had that he could settle this without violence was quickly slipping through his fingers.  Desperately, he tried to limit the fallout.  “Then take it out on me--have your pound of flesh--but leave Geralt out of this.  He doesn’t even know what happened between us.”

 

The other man just shook his head, turning to shout to the men who were waiting just outside.  They filed in quickly, moving over to where he was still bound and yanking him roughly to his feet.  He shoved back against their rough hands, but it’s little more than an attempt to offset his rising panic with each moment he doesn’t know where Geralt is.

 

Outside, the sun was painfully bright, painfully cheerful against the darkness that lurked beneath its rays. They were far enough away from shore that he could see no landmarks or shorelines to mark where they were--just miles of open water.   Jaskier winced, blinking quickly in an attempt to adjust while he frantically scanned the space for some sign of Geralt.  If only he were still innocent enough to believe the Witcher might have escaped after their attack or that Cahir might have let him go.

 

He needed to keep Cahir’s fury firmly on himself if Geralt was going to escape this madness.  It might be the last thing he could offer the man he loved.

 

“Why don’t you just let me out of these chains and we can resolve this between us?” he offered and bared his teeth in a dangerous smile.  “You don’t need to keep hiding behind all these soldiers.”

 

Just then, there was a sound of a scuffle nearby that made Jaskier’s head snap up.  A low rumble that was terrifyingly familiar cursed and he heard the sound of a fist striking someone even as he pulled himself as far forward as his chains would allow.  He could feel his heartbeat thundering in his ears as another group of soldiers dragged Geralt out of the brig.

 

The Witcher was still covered in blood--the place where he’d been stabbed flashing newly healed skin through his ruined shirt--and a new cut was bleeding sluggishly along his hairline.  They dragged him bodily onto the deck with three men on each side of him to keep his bound arms from being able to pull himself free.  He was positioned at the center of the deck across from Jaskier in a way that ensured everyone there could watch the two of them without obstruction.  Golden eyes darted around frantically until they settled on Jaskier and the bard could see some of the tension in his shoulders ease when he confirmed his partner was still alright.

 

For Jaskier’s part, whatever hope and relief he might have felt was quickly smothered beneath the weight of the knife Cahir pressed almost lovingly against Geralt’s throat. 

 

“Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to test my patience when I hold the fate of your boyfriend in my hands,” the immortal crooned into Geralt’s ear, eyes flashing with the same madness as Mari’s.

 

Jaskier could feel the panic in his veins rising up like a tide, choking his throat with every word he should have said before this moment.  Before everything between them would be tainted by Cahir’s mocking expression and the laughter of strangers.

 

He surged forward, feeling the ropes go tighter around his wrists even as the distance between them shrunk.  “He isn’t my boyfriend ,” he spat with his eyes fixed on the delicate gold of the Witcher’s and let his voice go soft with the truth of each syllable, “That man is more to me than you could ever imagine in your pathetic, simpering life.  That man is the stars in my sky and the sun that brightens each day.”

 

Geralt's jaw clenched and he watched the warrior’s  muscles tense with the effort of trying to reach out and touch.

 

“That man is the moon when I am lost in darkness, and the warmth when I shiver in cold--” Jaskier sucked in a breath that tasted sharp with salt and bitter wind, “--I love that man beyond measure and time.  His kiss still thrills me, even after years by his side.  His body, to this day, awakens a pleasure you will never know and could only hope to imagine.  His heart overflows with a kindness that this world is not worthy.  His very thoughts make music out of the mundane.”

 

Each word brought the thundercloud of fury on Cahir’s face closer and Jaskier knew his time was drawing to an end.  But he couldn’t go to the grave without ensuring Geralt knowing everything .

 

“He is not my ‘boyfriend’.  He is not my ‘lover,’ nor is he my partner,” Jaskier continued with his eyes still fixed on the Witcher, “He is all and more.  He is my everything .”

 

There was a beat of silence broken only by the sounds of the water lapping against the hull of the ship before Cahir smirked.

 

“Then he’s perfect for what I have in mind.”

 

Several things seemed to happen at once.  Geralt lunged forward toward Jaskier and let out a guttural sound of pain when Cahir’s knife sank deep into his gut.  Blood spilled bright and terrible against the wooden panels of the deck in a terrifying mimicry of Mari’s death.  Cahir grabbed the Witcher by his hair, keeping him painfully upright while the other man gestured to his soldiers with a quick jerk of his chin.

 

Eventually though, even Cahir wasn’t strong enough to keep the Witcher on his feet as his legs became too weak to stand.  Geralt’s eyes remained fixed on Jaskier so that he saw the exact moment the life left them.

 

Jaskier screamed, throwing himself forward again and again until he felt his bones break and heal anew.  The skin around his wrists went slick and raw, but the pain was meaningless against what he knew was coming.

 

Slowly, indolently, Cahir strolled closer, the clink of his armor marking the heavy tread of his boots.  He crouched where Jaskier was still trapped on his knees by the chains that kept him in place on the deck of the ship.  Jaskier hissed, vicious as a snake and yearned for just a few more inches of reach so he could feel the man’s spine snapping beneath his fingers.

 

His eyes flicked between the immortal and the men behind him dragging Geralt’s limp body across the deck towards the large metal contraption strapped there.  Against his ribs, he could feel his heart pounding in alarm as though it were trying to escape his chest to fly to Geralt’s side.  

 

“Please… Cahir,” he begged, pride forgotten, “please don’t do this.”

 

Cahir hummed and smiled in a way that made Jaskier’s stomach twist.  “He’s young, isn’t he?” he mused, “It always takes longer to return when they’re new.”

 

A few yards away, Jaskier heard Geralt suck in the first breath as he began to return to life.  Any relief that knowledge might have given was quickly lost at the satisfaction in Cahir’s dark eyes.

 

“Please,” he said again.  At his sides, his muscles strained against the chains in a feeble attempt at escape.  “This is between us, Cahir.”

 

Jaskier could only watch as Cahir straightened and padded over to his men.  He made a gesture and Jaskier could feel bile rising in his throat when a few of the soldiers pulled off the tarp covering the contraption.  

 

Time seemed to go still.

 

He could feel his cursed heart continuing to beat.  Could feel his fingers clenched into fists.  And yet the earth seemed to tilt oddly at the sight of the roughly hewn iron coffin.

 

It was little more than a metal rendition of a cheap funerary piece with rough edges tamped down by a blacksmith’s hammer.   The dark metal was thick enough to ensure that no amount of strength--supernatural or otherwise--would be enough to break it open.  Simple hinges braced the two pieces and matched the lock that hung open from the other side.  As a sign of the vicious mind that had ordered its creation, two holes were carved above where a head would lay so the victim could look out at the world as it passed them by.

 

“He has a long series of lifetimes ahead of him, doesn’t he?”  Cahir stepped closer to his men as they lifted Geralt’s sluggishly twitching body into the metal shell.  “How many times do you think he’ll be reborn?”

 

The chains around Jaskier shrieked in protest as he threw himself against them, wild as any trapped animal.  “ Don’t you fucking touch him! ” he roared, “ Don’t you dare--

 

“But I do.  Dare, that is.”  Yellow eyes flickered open as Geralt was lowered into the coffin and Cahir smirked down at the Witcher.  “You should have known better, Kingfisher.”

 

No !”

 

Geralt looked past Cahir and frowned at Jaskier, confusion warring with worry.  “Jaskier?”

 

The lid closed with a clang and Cahir slid the lock home as Jaskier screamed until his voice cracked along with the pieces of his heart.  “ GERALT !”

 

Somehow he was still able to hear the moment the coffin hit the water.



Chapter Text

When Jaskier opened his eyes, it was to a bright blue sky and the sound of waves crashing nearby.

 

He blinked, thoughts fuzzy and slow.  It was as though something was purposely keeping his mind from threading together the events that led to him coming back to life on some unfamiliar beach.  When he sat up, there were no landmarks or buildings that he could use to identify where he’d washed up.  It might be days before he found another town, but he knew better than to think starvation would be enough to put him into the earth for good.

 

His clothes were waterlogged and scraped uncomfortably against his skin where the salt-soaked fabric had begun to dry.  The grime on his skin told him that he must have been in the water for some time before being washed ashore.  When he coughed up a ragged lungful of saltwater, he confirmed his suspicions.  Drowning was one of his least favorite ways to die and seemed to linger in his system for days after word.

 

He took another breath of sea air and tried to think back to what must have brought him to this place.  There was a ship, he thought slowly.  He remembered the long line of the horizon and the endless waves around him.  Dark metal shaped like a coffin and the sick sensation of impending doom.  A flash of panic-wide golden eyes finding his and--

 

“Geralt!” His voice cracked dangerously, rough with the salt water that had filled his lungs.

 

Jaskier got to his feet, looking around wildly as though he might spot the other half of his heart waiting a few feet away.  Only the cries of the gulls answered him.

 

“Please,” he whispered, feeling his tears cut lines through the salt crusted on his cheeks.  “Please, please--Geralt !”

 

The silence settled in his gut like a lead weight.

 

He fought back against the waves of horror and nausea that threatened to drown him anew.  His mind spun wildly, torn between panic and terror before finally settling on something more familiar--wrath.

 

The bard stared out at the water and took a breath that tasted like loss and the ash of regret.  There was no way to find Cahir or the place where they’d dropped Geralt, where Geralt was.  Not without help.  Not without more than the clothes on his back and the hate in his heart.

 

Without another word, he forced himself the guise of civility or kindness that he’d allowed to bloom when Geralt had walked at his side.  He let his mind empty of the happiness he’d believed he could keep and the hopes of a future there with him.  It had been a foolish dream to believe that he would be able to live his life singing songs and living with the warmth of Geralt’s smile.  A life of peace.

 

That bard had died in the waters where Geralt remained.

 

Only the Kingfisher remained.

 


 

Tisseia found him three days later.

 

The mage looked more ruffled than he’d ever seen her, panting slightly with the effort of pulling yet another portal into existence.  He imagined she’d worn herself out trying to track his movements with only whatever hints she’d gathered from their shared dreams.  Part of him was surprised she’d bothered.

 

Jaskier didn’t speak as she approached, focusing on the body beneath him instead.  The small collection of black uniformed bodies were in varying stages of agony, faces contorted in a way that was painfully familiar with.  They were the latest in a string of Nilfgaardians unlucky enough to be hunted by him, but offered him none of the answers he sought.  That much had become obvious after he’d let them suffer through the kind of pain that broke whatever humanity had been left in them.

 

He wiped the blood and viscera off his knife and slowly got to his feet, Tisseia’s gaze heavy on him.  “What do you want?” he asked, voice flat.

 

“What…” she faltered, looking around with a dawning understanding.  “Where is Geralt?”

 

His face tightened as a wave of grief threatened to drag him under.  Not now, he told it, not yet.

 

Instead of answering, Jaskier stalked over to the abandoned table and the scattered bits of missives and information.  His hand rifled through them, eyes impatient for any information that could aid him in his hunt.  He tossed aside the last sheet with a growl and walked over to where their gear and personal effects had been stored.  He grabbed another dagger to replace the blade he’d broken in the spine of the unit’s captain and another fletch of arrows. 

 

“Jaskier,” Tisseia said in a way that indicated it hadn’t been the first time she’d called him, “what happened?”

 

He barely looked at her.  “You know what happened.”

 

“I don’t--all I see is water--”

 

“That’s all there is now,” he hissed, suddenly furious.  Jaskier spun to look at her, barely resisting the urge to attack her next.  “Geralt is gone .”

 

“Cahir--”

 

“Can you find him?” Jaskier interrupted, eyes blazing.  “Can you track him?”

 

“Jaskier, he is the leader of Nilfgaard’s armies.  You can’t defeat him on your own.”

 

“Tell me where he is or get out of my way.”

 

Tisseia stood her ground, tilting her chin in silent challenge.  “I won’t let you destroy yourself.”

 

He made a mocking sound and turned away from her.  “Can’t you tell?” he asked with a bitter twist of his lips, “I’m already destroyed.”

 


 

He dreamed of water filling his lungs and a scream that was trapped in his lungs.

 

He wished he didn’t wake up.

 


 

Death was a familiar companion.

 

It followed him as he continued south like a building storm, dragging the breath from lungs in screams and cries of pain.  The Kingfisher, they said in near-silent whispers and shrieks of alarm, had returned to bring Nilfgaard to its knees.  

 

He died twice with a blade in his chest and another with an arrow in his eye.  He relearned the agony of feeling his flesh burn with the aid of a mage’s spell.  Each time his body twitched with new life, he forced himself back to his feet with the dogged determination that came when there was nothing else he could do.

 

“We don’t know anything!” A boy shrieked as he stumbled away from the burning garrison around him.  “We’re just recruits!”

 

Jaskier didn’t respond, too busy kicking away the corpse still attached to his sword with one foot.  He let it fall twitching on the ground, knowing there was no one else capable of healing from such a wound.  Prowling forward like some rabid beast, he stabbed his gory blade into the teenager’s shoulder, pinning him in place and ignoring the scream of anguish.

 

“Tell me where Cahir is.”

 

The words made the soldier’s eyes widen and desperation bleed into his tone.  “I swear, I don’t--I don’t know!” his pleading turned into a shriek when Jaskier casually twisted the blade until it grated against bone.

 

“Jaskier!”  The sound of his name didn’t register against the heady pull of bloodlust and vengeance until, 

 

“Kingfisher!”

 

He turned and watched the mage walking through the growing fire without acknowledging the way it snapped at the hem of her skirts.  Blue eyes narrowed dangerously, matching the bloody snarl of his teeth.  “What do you want, Tisseia?”

 

The leader of the Tower of Aretuza looked unexpectedly grim in the shadows cast by the firelight.  Her eyes remained fixed on his, as though sensing the threat that lingered if she were to look away.  He pretended not to notice the way her magic crackled around her restlessly.  She swallowed, unwilling to show whatever emotion might bring her to stand before a man falling headfirst into madness.

 

“I think I might know how to find him.”

 


 

Jaskier went to bed each night with the taste of saltwater in his mouth and came awake with Geralt’s name on his lips.

 

Only silence ever answered him.