Sprinting on legs honed on the Path, heart beating frantically, crashing through the underbrush in the waning evening light, he ran.
He thanked every god he knew of that he was fast enough to keep ahead of them—in fact, it was thanks to Geralt that he could run so fast at all, after being chased by various monsters while accompanying Geralt on a hunt.
But even preoccupied as he was, running for his life from the pack of wolves baying at his heels, it still stung deep inside to think of Geralt.
Geralt, who only that morning had tossed Jaskier aside like garbage on top of the mountain, who had in one fell swoop effectively undone twenty-two years of friendship. If they had ever been friends at all.
Which was why he was here, being chased by a pack of wolves far off the trail, rather than traveling back down the mountain under the protection of a witcher.
A fitting end, Jaskier thought, for a witcher’s former companion. Thrown to the wolves by the White Wolf.
He would have laughed, had he any breath left in his lungs. As it was, he could feel himself flagging, stumbling over roots and rocks in the growing darkness. Slavering jaws snapped at his back, catching at his doublet, his sleeves, teeth inches away from his flesh.
And then he broke through the tree line, the golden light of evening illuminating a natural rock archway spanning a gorge lined with reddish dirt. The incline was far too steep, but Jaskier couldn’t stop his momentum—he was running, and tripping, and falling all over himself, his descent only barely controlled.
The wolves, at least, had the good sense not to throw themselves headlong over the edge of a cliff, even in pursuit of easy prey. They left Jaskier to roll his way down, unable to stop himself, straight underneath the archway.
There was a flash of light, a sound—like one of Yennefer’s portals, his addled mind supplied—and then his head hit a rock, and he knew no more.
His opened his eyes to hazel irises scant inches from his own. He yelped, scrambling backwards to put some distance between him and his assailant.
The woman—for he could see, now, that she was human and not some wolf come to eat him up—yelped as well, jerking backwards.
They took each other in for a few seconds—and with everything he saw, he grew more confused. She was dressed in some truly garish clothes, pants a dark blue, while her chemise was white and had strange runes written on it. Her doublet—which hung baggily around her torso, ill-fitting—was red and patterned with black squares. It made his eyes swim to look at. And on her head, she wore a cap, which stuck out in the back, for some reason, and had a hole in the front. Her skin was dark, almost akin to a Zerrikanian’s, though her clothing looked nothing like the armor Téa and Véa had worn.
In all of his fashion expertise, growing up noble and becoming a man of the people, he had never seen an outfit so odd as this.
Though he knew he must look a sight as well. Clothing torn, boots scuffed, hair in disarray—not at all up to his usual standards. He felt distinctly out of place.
And, he noticed when he finally took a look at his surroundings, this was not King Niedamir’s mountain. For starters, there was snow on the ground. In what was supposed to be June.
It must have been magic, some sort of portal to another world that he’d unknowingly stepped into. Fuck.
“I don’t suppose you speak my language?” he tried, looking back to the woman. She stared at him blankly, then said something unintelligible.
“Fantastic,” he sighed, then pushed himself to his feet, dusting himself off, though it was in vain. He was still hopelessly disheveled. He sighed again, and started walking back up the hill.
Only to be stopped by the woman grabbing his arm. She said something, vaguely scolding from the tone, and he smiled. “I really do need to be going,” he said, trying to gently prise her fingers from his arm. “I’m sure Geralt is—” And he cut himself off, his heart dropping as the memory of how he’d gotten here returned.
The woman, seeing his sadness, loosened her grip, though she did tug at his arm, trying to get him to follow.
“But I really don’t belong here,” he pleaded once more, though his heart wasn’t in it. The woman was adamant, and after another tug, he capitulated. It earned him a smile, which he attempted to return, though it didn’t reach his eyes.
She led him through the forest, away from the archway he’d tumbled through, following some trail only she knew. “What’s your name?” he asked. “I’m Jaskier.”
She looked back at him, a faintly bemused smile on her face. He repeated himself, holding a hand to his chest. “Jaskier.”
Understanding dawned on her face. “Ketsi,” she introduced herself, and followed it with a statement—he wasn’t sure of the meaning, but he understood the intent, which was to soothe him. She kept up the calming words the entire time, and after a while of nothing but endless trees, he started responding.
“How did I get here, I hear you ask, Ketsi? Well, it’s a very long, very sad story—though, graced with your presence, my day has become considerably brighter,” he said, flashing her a smile. She laughed, responding with something else, and dug a friendly elbow into his side.
And so they went, for at least an hour through the forest, talking amicably about nothing at all, but enjoying the other’s company despite the language barrier.
They finally exited the forest to find a large, open plain, covered by one large black slab of rock. It was mostly empty, save for a metal construction she led him towards. It stood a bit taller than a horse, with glass on all sides, and, when he looked inside, he could see a variety of levers and dials and all sorts of perplexing things.
Ketsi went around the other side, opening up one side of it, and climbed in. What was she doing? He watched as she fiddled with the controls, and all of the sudden, it roared to life, breaking out into a vibrating purr. Like Geralt when he’s happy, he thought, unbidden, and felt tears prick at his eyes.
No. He refused to cry over Geralt; the prick didn’t deserve it. He swiped his tears away, and looked up to see Ketsi looking at him expectantly, and a little sadly, from inside the machine. She patted the seat next to her, and Jaskier took a deep breath and opened the door, the same as he’d seen her do, and climbed inside.
Ketsi nodded once, satisfied. At least he could make her happy. He clenched his jaw, turning his head away to collect himself.
Which was why it scared the absolute shite out of him when the machine started moving, with them inside it, like a carriage without a horse. He jumped, scrabbling to open the door and get out of this strange machine, before it stilled and Ketsi looked over and took his hand.
“Jaskier,” she said, followed something else in that soothing tone of hers. He calmed—there was no danger, he realized, just magic. Of a sort. He nodded, and she put the carriage back in motion. Soon they were speeding away from the forest, faster than Roach had ever galloped. It was a bit terrifying, but more than that, it was exhilarating to watch the landscape blur as they rode past.
Ketsi fiddled with another knob, and all of the sudden, sound exploded around them. Jaskier managed not to jump, this time, and as he listened closer, he realized that the foreign sound was actually music, coming from the carriage—a machine that could play music, no instruments or bards necessary! His theory was confirmed when Ketsi started singing along, and yes, he could pick out the beat, and the chorus, and the melody, though they were like no music he’d ever heard before.
It was catchy, though. He started nodding his head to the beat, fingers going to mirror the chords he might play to accompany the song on his lute.
Fuck. That was something else he would never see again—his poor lute, which he must have lost sometime during his tumble down the mountainside. Fuck. How would he make a living, without it?
…Actually, how would he make a living at all, if the people here had machines that could play music at will? This was no world for a bard. He slumped.
Ketsi, sensing his sudden bout of moroseness, caught his attention again, pointing to the window beside him—which moved on its own, letting in wind to buffet his hair.
He craned his neck out as far as he dared without risking falling out of the carriage, and it was a simple kind of joy, the sun warm on his face, the wind rushing past him, flying down the road. Ketsi laughed, and Jaskier laughed too. And for a moment, Geralt and that damn dragon hunt were entirely forgotten.
All too soon, though, Ketsi motioned for him to pull his head inside, and the window closed again. Soon after, she slowed the carriage, approaching a strange building, brightly lit, and with a strange smell—like sulfur? The carriage rolled to a stop, and Ketsi got out, Jaskier following.
They entered the building, and Ketsi went straight to the back, ignoring the man standing at the counter—some sort of merchant, judging by the coins he was sorting. This had to be a marketplace, though Jaskier recognized only a few of the items on display.
He grabbed an apple as he followed Ketsi—or at least, he hoped it was an apple. It looked like one, and when he bit into it, it sure tasted like one. The merchant looked up at the crunch, saying something sternly, and Ketsi turned around. She said something to the merchant, then turned to Jaskier, frowning.
He looked at her guiltily—he would pay! He rifled through his pockets in search of a spare coin—his coin purse was in his lute case, but he always kept spare change on hand, luckily for him. He pressed a golden crown into her hands, and her eyes went wide at the sight.
Ah. Probably not an acceptable currency, then. He suspected florens and orens would get the same treatment, which meant he was well and truly broke. Not something he was a stranger to—he and Geralt had their lean periods on the Path—but Jaskier didn’t know the first thing about earning a living in this strange world.
“Sorry,” he apologized, giving her his best ‘sorry’ expression. She softened, patting him gently on the arm, and saying something he hoped was forgiveness.
His mistake smoothed over, she turned to a contraption mounted on the wall. Jaskier didn’t even have a hope of understanding what this one did. So far, all it did was hum, and there was a strange coldness emanating from it. Ketsi grabbed a cup from underneath the counter, holding it up to the machine, and then pulled a lever—bright blue something came streaming out, the same color as the sky, and… fizzing?
Ketsi handed him the cup and grabbed another, this time filling it with a red substance. To top it off, she grabbed two straws, handing him one, and taking a long slurp out of her own drink. Jaskier tentatively copied her, and was immediately struck by cold and sweet. His eyes widened.
Ketsi raised an eyebrow, seeking his opinion. He nodded his approval, diving back in to take another sip. Holy gods, this drink was good.
Ketsi laughed and dragged Jaskier back towards the merchant, fishing out a small card that she handed to him. Was that what passed for payment here? It seemed to do the trick, and they left the market and returned to the carriage, drinks in hand.
Jaskier went about devouring his as quickly as possible while Ketsi started the carriage moving again. She said something to him, almost warningly, but he didn’t really pay attention.
He should have. As he reached the end, he was struck with a thunderclap of pain in his head. He groaned and doubled over, holding his head in his hands—had he been poisoned? What the hell was wrong with this cursed drink?
Ketsi shot him a sympathetic look, rubbing a hand on his back, but said something in an ‘I-told-you-so’ tone. He shot her an irritated look, but then, it wasn’t really her fault. And the headache was already fading, so he didn’t have to worry about dying from it.
After a couple minutes, Jaskier sat back up, fully recovered. It had been worth it, he decided eventually. All of the best things in life caused pain, after all—and he knew better than most how much the good things in life (Geralt, his mind whispered) could hurt.
…And he was back to being morose again. Fantastic. He rested his head against the window, watching as the lamps along the side of the road whizzed past in the dimming light of evening. The carriage’s music crooned, heartsick and sad. Fitting.
He lost himself in thought, just daydreaming as the miles flew by.
Speaking of, where was Ketsi taking him, so far away from the forest? He hadn’t noticed before, too lost in his own head, but as they’d traveled, more and more buildings had steadily appeared, and it looked like they were getting closer to a city, rather than the relative wilderness they’d been in before.
Jaskier watched as the carriage traveled deeper into the city, buildings towering over them, seemingly as tall as mountains, and all made of glass. Impractical, yes, but very elegant.
Eventually, Ketsi pulled the carriage to a stop again, outside of a grim concrete building. Jaskier didn’t like the look of it, but he followed Ketsi anyway, even as his stomach twisted itself in anxious knots.
The lighting inside was pale, harsh, casting everything into stark shadows, and it was almost suffocatingly warm inside.
Ketsi led him to someone standing at a desk, a uniformed man looking awfully self-important—he must be a noble, Jaskier thought, or at the very least an ealdorman, by the look of him.
They exchanged words in that foreign language of theirs, looking serious indeed. Were they discussing him, Jaskier wondered? He hadn’t caught any mention of his name yet, and, bored, he wandered away, ambling over to where a massive map hung on the wall, studded with pins.
The words were that same illegible text like on Ketsi’s shirt, and he didn’t even bother to try and decipher them. Instead, he looked at the borders, the features of the map that showed towns, rivers, forests.
It looked familiar—too familiar, and with a sinking stomach, Jaskier looked closer. Some things were different, yes—this northern border here seemed to have shifted, and that river was new—but overall, it was dreadfully, horrifyingly accurate to the Continent.
Which meant he hadn’t traveled through space, as he’d thought—no, he’d traveled through time, like in the most fantastic stories.
…Oh, gods. He was going to be sick. His blue drink was threatening to make a reappearance, and he stumbled over to a bench, fitting his head between his knees, breaths coming faster and faster.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. The reality of it all was just now hitting him. He hadn’t really acknowledged it, before, just how dire his situation was. It had all been like a wild dream—a wayward bard traveling through a portal to a far-off land, full of strange people and customs. He’d pushed it to the back of his mind, some small part of him always thinking that it was temporary, that he could get home at any time.
But this was so much worse. Even the most talented mages didn’t travel through time—it was too risky, too impossible. He was hyperventilating, he realized blankly, hands tingling and going numb, clutching desperately at his chest, where a terrible pain was making itself known.
Someone was saying his name. “…Jaskier! Jaskier,” trailing off into incomprehensible words that he couldn’t understand!
“I don’t know what you’re saying!” he keened, hands coming up to tear at his hair. “I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know where or when I am!”
There were hands on his, tugging, pulling, and he lashed out blindly. “Don’t touch me!” he yelled, fist striking flesh, and they pulled back, only to come back again with force. He thrashed, fighting their hold, but they were relentless. He vaguely heard Ketsi yelling, yelling, from somewhere across the room, his name interspersed with pleading.
The person on top of him wrestled him to the floor, pinning him effectively. He felt something cold wrap around his wrists—manacles (some things never changed)—and dimly realized that he must have been led into a trap. A prison, and he’d walked in willingly, following someone he’d trusted.
He was wrestled to his feet, hands locked painfully behind his back. They started to march him down the hall, towards where he could see cells—he threw a look behind him, desperate to see just why Ketsi had betrayed him so. But the sight that met his eyes wasn’t what he expected at all.
Ketsi was crying, tears running down her face, another uniformed man holding her back. She wasn’t resisting, just standing there, crying and calling his name. His heart ached, and he instantly forgave her. That wasn’t the face of someone who’d purposefully betrayed him.
And then he was thrown into a cell, losing sight of her, the metal bars slamming shut behind him. He threw himself against the bars, uncaring of how unyielding they were in the face of his strength. “Let me go, you bastard! Let me out!”
The uniformed man laughed cruelly and walked back down the hall, leaving Jaskier alone.
Alone, imprisoned, in a strange world, in a strange time, with nothing. Not a penny to his name, not a stitch of clothing worth saving.
He backed away from the bars, sitting heavily on the cot in the corner. He felt utterly drained all of the sudden, all of the fight gone out of him in the wake of his outburst and imprisonment. Gods, to think that only this morning, he had still been in his own time, excited to see a real dragon, putting the finishing touches on his latest song.
And to think that it had been scant hours since Geralt had broken his heart and sent him on his way. He hadn’t really processed it, yet—immediately afterwards, he’d been too numb to really feel anything, and hadn’t really had a moment’s rest since the wolves had caught his scent.
The tears that he’d been fighting back all day threatened to make a reappearance. He let them come, pulling his knees to his chest and tucking his head into them, uncaring of how his tears would stain his delicate silks.
He had a good cry for a long while, grateful at least that his jailors were leaving him alone for now. Only the gods knew what his fate would be, and in the wake of his crying jag, that thought came with a calm acceptance. There was nothing more he could do tonight, and sleep would come easily, with how he’d exhausted himself.
He kicked off his boots and lay down, pulling the thin blanket over himself like some pathetic offering of comfort. It wasn’t comfortable, but he fell asleep quickly anyway.
Morning came early, and with it came a rather rude awakening. He heard voices approaching before he was even fully awake, and forced himself to sit up, rubbing blearily at his gritty eyes.
Two people came to a stop in front of his cell. One of them was the jailor, carrying a ring of keys and looking sour. The other—
The other was Geralt.
…It wasn’t possible. It was Jaskier’s mind making up tricks, showing him what he wanted to see, and oh gods, he’d truly gone round the bend. The portal had scrambled his mind well and truly, and now he was seeing ghosts where they shouldn’t be.
Except he looked so, so real, scarcely different from when Jaskier had last seen him on top of that blasted mountain. His hair was different, Jaskier supposed, shaved on the bottom and pulled into a ponytail, and his clothes looked close to the kind Ketsi had worn—no armor in sight.
But other than that, he was exactly the same. Jaskier’s heart ached with something unamenable—a fierce yearning, tempered by the knowledge that what he wanted might as well be impossible, truly out of reach.
While was sitting there, frozen in shock and disbelief, the jailor turned to Geralt and said something in that strange language of theirs. Geralt responded in kind, his brow gaining the little crease that meant he was annoyed, but wouldn’t show it.
Then the jailor turned to Jaskier, saying something and laughing meanly after, but he unlocked the cell door. Were they letting him out? Or was this another cruel trick?
Well, he couldn’t stay here forever. He unwound himself from the blanket and tugged his boots on, exiting the cell with trepidation. He only had eyes for Geralt—who was steadfastly not looking at him, instead striding down the hall, jaw set. Jaskier hurried to follow.
“Geralt? What’s—are you really here?” he asked timidly.
“Quiet, Jaskier,” Geralt ordered, voice gruff. Normally Jaskier wouldn’t listen—a quiet bard was a paradox—but he sensed that he had to tread very, very carefully here. The last thing he wanted was for Geralt to wash his hands of him—again—and throw him back in that cell.
So he kept quiet, following Geralt meekly back to the front room, where the jailor handed Geralt some strangely white paper and a pencil. He kept quiet while Geralt wrote something in that foreign language, and he kept quiet as Geralt led him out of the building and over to a carriage similar to Ketsi’s, though this one was black.
He only risked breaking the silence once the carriage was in motion, the only the sound the carriage’s deep rumbling. “I—Geralt, I understand that you’re angry, but—I would really, really like to know what’s going on,” he begged.
Geralt sighed. “Who are you?” he asked neutrally, and it felt like a punch to the gut—no, he’d felt Geralt’s gut punches before. Those words felt worse.
“What? It’s—It’s me, Jaskier.”
Geralt leveled him with a flat look. “That’s impossible. He’s been dead for at least eight hundred years. So I’ll ask you again—who, or what, are you?”
Eight hundred years. Gods. Jaskier swallowed. “I’m not a doppler, if that’s what you’re worried about. You can do a silver test and everything.”
“No, dopplers are long since extinct,” Geralt murmured. Then his voice hardened again. “So, what is it? Specter? Fae?”
“I’m human, Geralt, it’s me! I fell through a portal, apparently eight hundred years into the future, and I would really like to know what the fuck is going on!”
Geralt abruptly pulled the carriage over to the side of the road, hands clenching at the wheel, lips pressed in a flat line. He still wouldn’t look at Jaskier.
“When.” It was hardly a question.
“When did you come from?”
“It’s… right after… you know. The mountain. After I left, I couldn’t find the trail, and, well…” Jaskier trailed off, and Geralt closed his eyes and bowed his head. “When… has it really been eight hundred years?” Jaskier asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“So the last time you saw me was…”
Jaskier let out a deep breath. “Gods.” Eight hundred years, and now Geralt was forced to endure his presence once again. “I’m sorry. Took myself off your hands, only to burden you again eight centuries later.” Jaskier smiled wanly.
Geralt made a pained noise. “Jaskier…”
“No, it’s alright. You’ve lived ten lifetimes without me, only for me to show up like a bad penny.”
Wait, what? “Wait, what?” Jaskier asked. Geralt was apologizing?
“For what I said. I didn’t mean it, but I still regret it. Every day.”
Jaskier only stared. The words were everything he’d ever wanted to hear—but did he dare to believe them?
“I drove you away, and I wanted to take it back, but… I could never find you again. It was like you’d vanished. I thought… I thought I’d killed you.” The self-recrimination was evident in his voice, and despite the fact that this was supposed to be Geralt apologizing to Jaskier, Jaskier couldn’t help but comfort his friend.
“No, no, it wasn’t your fault. Well, it maybe was a little bit, but I didn’t die. See? Safe and sound,” he soothed, reaching a tentative hand out for Geralt’s. Geralt allowed it, and Jaskier placed it on his chest, letting the witcher feel its steady beat for a few moments. Geralt relaxed, some of the tension disappearing from his shoulders.
“Yeah, safe and sound locked up in a holding cell. Want to explain how you got there?” Geralt asked, withdrawing his hand. Jaskier mourned its loss.
“I, er, suppose I may have had an… episode, when I realized where—when I was. A rather embarrassing one.”
Geralt huffed out a laugh. “Only you could get arrested mere hours after getting here.”
“In my defense, I’d had quite a terrible day. Well, it wasn’t all awful, I suppose. Made a friend, discovered music—have you heard it, Geralt? It’s extraordinary! And she had a carriage like this one, and it could play music.”
“Like this?” Geralt fiddled with the controls, and suddenly music was blaring. Jaskier lit up.
“Oh! Can all carriages play music now?”
“It’s called a car. Well, this is a truck, but they’re mostly the same. And yes, it’s called a radio.”
“Radio.” Jaskier tested out the word. “I love radios.”
Geralt snorted. “Well, enjoy it while you can.”
Jaskier’s stomach simmered with dread. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m taking you back.”
“I’m taking you back to the portal, so that you can go home. I thought you’d be happy.”
“Happy—Geralt, I just got you back! And now you want to send me back there, so that I never see you again?”
“What do you mean? Of course you can see me again. I’ll apologize. Trust me. I wanted to the moment I said it.”
“No, I’ve studied things like this at Oxenfurt. Philosophy. There would be a paradox if I went back and found you. You’ve already told me that you haven’t seen me since—Destiny has written it.”
Geralt growled. “What if your Destiny is eight hundred years ago?”
“If I wasn’t meant to be here, then Destiny would have let the wolves eat me on the mountainside, or tripped me over a rock, or—or stricken me down with apoplexy, rather than letting me through that portal and then leading you to me in jail.” Not only were his philosophy classes serving him well, but the debate lessons were proving handy too. Jaskier sat back, crossing his arms, daring Geralt to contradict him.
“It wasn’t Destiny that led me to you. I saw you on the news,” Geralt argued.
“Pretending I know what that is, it’s still Destiny,” Jaskier insisted.
“But what about your home?”
“What home?” Jaskier asked. “I lived on the Path with you, Geralt, you know that. You were the closest thing to a home I ever had.”
Geralt looked deeply uncomfortable at that. “But I hurt you.”
“That’s what people do. They hurt each other. But, if they’re good people, they apologize and make up for it. I forgive you.”
Geralt was silent for a while after that proclamation, but eventually he turned the truck back on, pulling back onto the road. Jaskier let him sit with his thoughts, though he hoped that Geralt wasn’t still trying to take him back to the portal.
Eventually, Geralt spoke again. “You really want to stay here? What about your life? Your friends, your family?”
“Never really had much family worth the name. And it’s hard to keep close friends as a traveling bard. Acquaintances, mostly, and the occasional”—Geralt snorted at the word “—dalliance, but nobody worth going back for. Nobody worth giving my best friend up for.” Jaskier tensed, waiting for Geralt to reject the word friend, as he always did, but none came.
“You’re sure? This isn’t something to take lightly. Portals can be unpredictable. It might close, and you’d be stuck here forever,” Geralt warned.
“And I’ve told you, I’m fine with that.” And he really was. It was terrifying, but Jaskier knew, deep down, that he had little waiting for him on the other side of that portal. He’d poured his life into his music, and had foregone the deeper human connections, which he only regretted a bit. But it meant that he had nothing holding him back, now—it was freeing to think.
Jaskier smiled, and Geralt smiled back—barely, but it was there all the same.
“I hope you know you’re never getting rid of me now,” Jaskier teased.
“I know,” Geralt said simply, reaching over to capture Jaskier’s hand in his own. Jaskier, bold, brought it to his lips for a kiss. Geralt grinned.
“Careful, or I’ll have to pull over,” he warned. Jaskier laughed, fizzing with joy. The future—their future—was waiting, and it looked so bright.