The forest is quiet.
Fog blankets the world, the sun’s early morning rays stifled by the clouds that made the whole world dim and grey.
A breeze makes the leaves whisper.
The ground shifts.
The ground breathes .
A hand, nails blunt and dirty - blood caked around their edges, pushes through the mound of earth that had only just seemingly settled. Dead leaves tumble to the side, disturbed from their rest.
The hand scrabbles at the forest floor, a second joining after only a few moments. A struggle -
With a heave, the body throws itself from the grave.
It breathes in the damp dawn air, sprawled out among the debris of leaves, twigs, and moss.
Blue eyes nearly hidden beneath blinking, long, mud covered lashes search the canopy of branches above them.
The body stirs, sitting up slowly and peering down at itself.
Ruined silks -
Redanian style doublet, wine colored - it had cost good money.
Brows draw together.
The body doesn’t know where the information comes from, does not even know its own name.
It sits there for a while, staring down at itself, at its hands, at a loss.
They belong to it, but they don’t feel connected. Distant.
A bird trills above and those blue eyes - eerie now, incorrect in its face - turn to watch it take wing.
It likes that sound.
A mouth opens and a sound lifts from it. A trill like the bird, but deeper, rolling leaves its chest. A filthy hand reaches up, brushes fingers against lips.
Pretty , it decides.
It makes more noises similar, cooing and crooning and trilling. Mindless, pretty noises.
The body learns to walk sometime towards noon.
The sun has emerged from the clouds and lit the world.
Without the blanket, the forest has come alive. Rustling of animals all around, birds chirping, the grunting and growling of life filtered to the body’s ears.
It babbles and chatters to itself aimlessly, wordlessly, as it shuffled along.
It did not know where it was going, but it had felt strange being so still. It wants to move and so it does, taking in the sights all around it with wide eyes.
It wonders how big this place is - it seems to go on and on forever.
It thinks it might like that.
It is so busy looking about that it doesn’t see the dip in the ground, doesn’t see the hill it proceeds. The body’s foot catches and it trips, falls, tumbling all the way down the grassy hill right into the rocky clearing below.
For a moment, a sharp bloom of something it names pain .
It cries out, a wounded noise, lying where it had ended up.
A flurry of activity. Soft whining and whimpering - snarling from a larger creature. The body can’t move its head yet. It blinks at the blue sky until the pain subsides and it can push itself to sit.
The blue gaze finds the snarling creature. Creatures.
No , it thinks, cocking its head to the side. Wargs.
Lips pulled back to show sharp, deadly teeth.
The body’s gaze meets a sharp yellow one, watching as the creature flinches back immediately. It ducks its head, tucking tail between powerful legs as it whines.
The body moves to stand and the wargs turn to flee, skittering back from it.
It frowns, but does not follow.
Scared , it thinks. Why?
It turns and shuffles onwards, more careful of the terrain now. The wargs pass to reunite with the whimpering creatures - puppies .
The body finds a river.
It wades right in, clothes on and all. The water reaches its knees when it stops, letting the current pull at the silks. The dirt sloughs off and it blinks, pleased.
The body drops itself right in, sitting cross legged in the cool water, cupping its hands to bring some to its face to clean off.
“Duht.” It mutters, quietly. “Duht-ee.”
Something isn’t quite right. It repeats the sounds, until it forms something else.
“Durt. Dirt. Dirt-ee. Dirty.”
A hand smacks against the surface of the moving water as it smiles widely, innocent triumph.
Yes, that was right.
The body cleans itself, repeating the word aloud. And then a discovery - more noises make more words! It chatters to itself nonsensically, lifting itself from the water once soaking wet and nearing half clean.
Most of the immediate dirt is gone.
It is sopping wet, though, and wanders to sit in a patch of sunlight, letting the rays dry the soaked clothes.
Once it feels less like its been soaked and more like it is merely damp, the body heaves itself up and shuffles onward once more.
There is still so much to be seen.
It gets dark.
Above the body, through the leaves hanging from the branches, tiny spots of light twinkle.
Stars , it thinks, blue gaze peering up at the expanse.
Pretty , it thinks.
A sound carries faintly from far in the trees. It blinks slowly, turning its head towards the sounds instead.
It was like itself and not all at once -
Higher, softer. Stuttering.
A good noise.
It follows the sound through the trees until it becomes clear that there is more than moonlight shining out in the night.
A fire flickered through the trees and the body paused, watching as a woman bares her teeth - smiles - at a child that dodges her searching hands.
A horse snorts and a man emerges from behind a cart to the side of the camp.
The body cocks its head to the side as it watches the man scoop the child into his arms, laughing as well.
A good noise.
It stirred something at the edges of memory - a flash of fangs, smokey and vague, slipping through its fingers before it can grasp it.
The body ventures forward, through the trees, closer -
Here it can hear.
“Elias!” The woman cries, still grinning as she steps forward towards the man. It brings her closer to the trees, the man’s back to the body.
She freezes, eyes wide as they meet his own, head still tipped to the side.
“Elias, there’s-- Elias, don’t move--” She breathes, holding out a hand.
Like the wargs.
The body frowns.
Elias has rarely known panic.
His life, for someone of his status, has been remarkably blessed. Perhaps it is time that his luck reached its end.
He has never seen his wife look so frightened as she did in that moment and slowly he turned his head, peering over his shoulder.
Abject terror grips his heart.
If he were a weaker man, his heart might have given out.
There, standing in the trees, like a vision from a nightmare - a man, but not a man. In the firelight, eyes reflect red like an animal’s.
His face is smeared with dirt, pale as death, bruises under his eyes. The true horror is the stain on the breast of his doublet, dark enough to read black in the late evening.
He holds himself like he isn’t used to moving - head cocked like an animal’s.
Something near Elias’s heart tells him to run .
Elias has sensed wolves before they arrived, the weight of gazes prickling at his neck. This feels so much like that he almost tells Lora to flee.
He remains quiet for a few moments, at least until the man-not-man steps forward. Elias darts forward, wrapping his free arm around Lora as he pulls both her and their child, John, away from the creature and behind the fire.
“Stay back.” Elias warns, despite the shake in his voice.
The man furrows his brows, opens his mouth, and then closes it. Silence reigns.
“Stay.” The voice is-- it sounds like a melody even in such a small word, sprawling out far longer than it needed to. Soft. Echoed.
“Don’t come any closer.” Elias warns, grabs the lantern from the cart, holds it up.
The man-not-man did not flinch.
“Why?” He asks, and sounds almost like a child. Small and lost.
“What are you?” John mumbles it from where he is supported at Elias’s side with his arm. Elias tightens his grip, holds him closer.
“Don’t.” A yawning pause. “Know.”
Elias lets out a shaky breath and Lora presses a hand to his back.
“Elias.” She whispers in his ear and he grits his teeth.
“ Who are you?”
“Don’t. Know.” The same answer, though less time between the words. Less of a furrow between those eyes that he can see now have blue irises. Before Elias can speak, the creature before them spoke again.
“Pretty.” He says, lifting a clumsy hand to point at them first, before at his own ear. “Sou-” A falter. “Sound. Sounds.” He mumbles, and then tries what looks like a smile.
Elias reads it as a grimace.
“Where did you come from?” He pushes on, his eyes searching the pale face in front of him.
“Dirt. Dirty.” The smile this time is less grimace, more a baring of his teeth. “Dirty.” He sounds pleased with himself and drops his hand to his side, letting it smack against his own hip carelessly.
“Elias. You know .” Lora grips his shoulder so hard that it hurts. He makes a low sound in his throat.
“Have you eaten?” Elias finally squares his shoulders, lowering the lantern a little.
“Eat.” The creature echoes, head cocking to the side in that animal-like way. Jerky, curious. “Eaten. Food?”
“Yes, food. Sit. By the fire.” Elias instructs, quietly, and after a moment the man-not-man obeys.
He lowers himself to sit on the ground beside the fire, watching the flames lick at the sky in something like fascination.
Elias sets the lantern back down on the cart and uses both arms to lower John to the ground. He pat his shoulder lightly, a wordless command - stay with your mother .
Elias stepped away after to dig out an apple from one of the bags on the cart. He brought the offering to the creature, holding it out for him.
It gets taken by clumsy hands, cupping both sides of the apple as it stared for a few moments. And then it gets lifted to a pale lipped mouth, teeth digging into the apple as he wrinkles his nose, spitting the mouthful out into the fire making it hiss. The creature tosses the apple into the fire afterwards, looking disgusted.
A mockingbird lets loose a song above them and chills run down Elias’s spine as the creature immediately turns his gaze towards it.
A softer expression than the baring of his teeth before, the eyes filling with something that Elias might have mistaken for fondness - if a creature like him could feel it.
And then, unnervingly, the man-not-man lifts his voice in a song that imitated the sound perfectly.
Elias knows that moving in the dark was dangerous, but they could not stay here. So he gestures slightly, gets Lora to start readying the cart.
While the creature is distracted, they pack up until the cart is full, leaving the fire burning. They have just urged the horse into a walk, the cart creaking as it moved.
The creature’s head snaps towards the noise, distracted from his singing. “Stay!” He cries, and Elias thinks he hears desperation in his voice as the creature struggles to get to his feet. He’s clumsy, though, new, stumbling. He cannot catch the cart as Elias urges their horse into a trot and then a canter.
“Stay!” The cry fades behind them and Elias feels, inexplicably, tears prickling at his eyes.
The cart disappears down the winding road into the trees, the lit lantern flickering behind tree trunks until it is entirely gone.
The body stays where it has tripped, kneeling, hands in the forest debris.
Its chest is tight, breath coming hitched. Its eyes feel wet and its throat aches . Something scratches inside itself and it moves a hand to claw at its chest.
It names this feeling sorrow .
The fire burns out.
The body shuffles on.
Two suns and two moons later in the early hours of dawn, the body stumbles upon some plants.
Pretty , it thinks.
It stands for a while, the empty yet tight feeling still reigning in its chest. It finally lowers itself to sit, staring at the flowers as the breeze makes them sway.
The body reaches out, brushes fingertips over the soft blooms.
A deep laugh that shakes his bones.
This body is his.
“Jaskier.” A tone that’s between amused and exasperated, a warm hand closing around his forearm. “What’ve you done this time?”
“Nothing!” His own voice, hurried, grin tugging at his lips. “Nothing, my dear, but we ought to get out of this place before the stableboy’s father finds me. For Roach’s sake.”
A shock of yellow - eyes rolling in annoyance.
His name is Jaskier.
And someone out there waits for him.
Jaskier gets to his feet, yellow flower clutched in his palm, eyes turning on the sprawling road in front of him.
There is so much to be seen, so much he does not understand.
Does not remember.
There was a time before the dirt, the earth. There was a time when he was not alone. When someone stayed.
Jaskier walks on -
There is little else he knows to do.
Jaskier wanders through a small village four days later.
The chatter around him doesn’t make sense in the beginning, but the longer he is around it, the more it begins to make sense. He starts to understand.
Language comes back to him slowly.
He practices sentences as he leaves the village, speaking aloud to himself quietly, mimicking the tones he’d heard before.
They rise and fall until Jaskier realizes he’s singing.
Pretty , he thinks and smiles to himself.
He starts arranging words, until he has what he’s reasonable sure is called a verse. It’s soft and wandering, lingering in the air as he trailed through the trees.
He does not know where he is going, but the tune accompanies him.
Pleading, in some ways, about a man lost.
It is just past noon when he hears the sound of hooves behind him. He does not bother to look - many had passed him in the village. He doesn’t think that here it would be any different.
And then the shouting starts.
He turns to look, his tune silenced, lips parting in surprise. He cannot even make a sound before the arrow from the crossbow buries itself in his chest.
Jaskier wheezes, gurgles, tastes blood at the back of his tongue.
“Did you think we’d let you go?” One of the men mounted on horseback shouts. It’s poison.
Jaskier raises a hand to press to the wound, his knees weak with the pain. Another arrow buries itself below the first, Jaskier crumpling to the ground.
He doesn’t understand. He hadn’t hurt anyone.
Jaskier feels sorrow and pain in equal measure.
He also feels something else.
Something that makes his blood run hot, makes him want to scream and snarl .
Jaskier recognizes anger .
He feels blood dribble down his chin as he looks up at the men. They draw their horses to a halt, dismounting. One keeps a crossbow aimed at him. The other pulls free a sword.
Jaskier doesn’t feel scared.
He knows what fear looks like, but he does not feel it.
The man with the sword gets closer, raises it to administer a killing blow.
Jaskier draws in a rattling breath, wet and slow. He bares his teeth - no smile there. Anger. Eyes flash dark.
The man is within reach and Jaskier surges to his feet in a sudden movement that clearly wasn’t anticipated. He grabs the man’s throat in his bloody hand. There’s a shout, but Jaskier squeezes and tears .
His other hand shoves at the man’s chest and there is a spray of blood. It showers both Jaskier and the other man, the one before him giving a nasty, wet sound.
Jaskier’s fistful of flesh is so oddly satisfying. He watches the man crumple and turns to the other, bloodied and furious to find him already running for the horses. He scrambles up on one, fleeing back towards the village.
Jaskier wheezes, drops the flesh with a wet thump. He moves his hands to the arrows, ripping them free with a pained noise.
They dropped to the ground and there is pain so bright and immediate that he sways.
He stands on shaky knees until he can breathe again, straightening up and squaring himself. He has to get away from the village.
Jaskier approaches the horse and it pins its ears back, snaps at the air beside him as it dances back.
He approaches again, doesn’t let the horse get away from him, hooking a hand in the saddle. He hauls himself up onto the horse and it breaks into a run immediately.
They rip through the countryside at a panicked gallop, Jaskier holding on for dear life.
The horse leaps to clear a river and Jaskier is unseated, falling into the water and cracking his head against the stones hidden beneath the current.
“Fuck. Jaskier.” The rough voice filters in past the haze in his mind.
Jaskier forces his eyes open with great effort.
The man sitting beside the bed has striking yellow eyes and candlelight turns his fair hair gold. Is it white? Soft grey? Jaskier wishes he had a name for the shade.
“G’r’lt.” The word works up out of his dry throat thick and jumbled.
“You’re so fucking stupid. I told you to stay at the inn.” The man reaches for him, grips his forearm hard enough that it anchors him, brings him blinking into the present.
“Geralt.” He says and breathes out shakily.
Jaskier wakes unable to breathe.
He fumbles hands to press to his chest at first, thrashing, until he rolls onto his side and vomits up the water blocking him.
Jaskier coughs until his throat is shredded, gasping in blessed air.
The sky is dark and there is an emptiness inside him that hurts .
Jaskier closes his eyes and lets his forehead rest against the ground.
Jaskier is so hungry .
He pushes himself to his feet, filthy and uncaring as he takes in the sight around him.
Trees wide and tall, old as the river he’d been deposited out of. He wavers, but then steels himself, pushing on into the forest.
Every breaking twig, every rustle of leaves - they irritate his ears until his nose is flaring as he sucks in deep breaths.
Then Jaskier is running despite his aching body.
It’s all a blur, but when his mind is clear, he is crouched over a body.
A doe’s pelt, ripped open, blood and torn meat on display in front of him. It should make him sick, he thinks, but the blood in his mouth tastes so good .
How did he not realize how hungry he was?
Jaskier devours like a starved wolf, tearing chunks of meat with his hands, ripping them with his teeth. He eats and eats and eats, sinking into a haze, unaware of anything save for his meal and the feeling of finally filling some of the yawning emptiness.
When he can eat no more, over half the doe has been devoured and he feels sluggish, slow.
Jaskier falls asleep right there beside his kill, sprawled out on the ground, full to bursting.
“You’re disgusting.” Jaskier says, watching Geralt tear into the rabbit.
His portion had barely even been by the fire by the time Geralt was tearing it off.
Something that looked suspiciously like blood rolled down from the corner of the witcher’s mouth.
“Your way is worse.” Geralt says, simply, unaffected as he continues to scarf down his dinner.
Jaskier wrinkles his nose.
“We’ll agree to disagree.” Jaskier turns the spit on the fire a bit, making sure to cook his portion as evenly as he could.
Jaskier wakes on the hard ground.
He shifts slightly, feeling disgusting.
He sits up, slowly, and shies away from the sight before him. He scrambles back, eyes wide -
The doe is split open from shoulder to hip, meat dug out, organs left alone. He turns his gaze on himself and finds his hands covered in dry blood.
His heart rockets to his throat and he feels scared .
This was why everything had been scared of him.
His stomach turns and Jaskier trembles. He stares at the sight before him for a few more moments, getting to his feet in a sudden movement - quick and far more fluid than before. He barely realizes it, instead sprinting back to the river and throwing himself in, scrubbing his hands and his face clean.
There is the sound of a frantic voice.
“No,no, no, no, no --” It’s him. He’s chanting it as he scrubs so hard at his fingernails that he draws his own blood.
Jaskier’s vision blurs and he feels wetness on his cheeks - a sorrow greater than he can hold, fear, too.
When he has exhausted himself, he kneels on the bank, slumped as he weeps.
It takes until near evening to gather himself. He simply breathes for a time, staring into the middle distance, unfocused.
He moves to stand, finally, and when he does, he realizes that he does not ache. His hands go to his doublet, to the tunic beneath. There are tears from the arrows, but his skin has healed over, small puckered scars. He blinks in shock, but after a long moment he turns to walk back to the doe.
Jaskier almost can’t bear it.
He bends, brushes his fingers over the doe’s head, fingers trailing over a soft ear.
“Thank you.” Jaskier whispers, although she will not hear him. Perhaps something else will.
He was here for a reason, after all.
Jaskier’s fingers trail over her muzzle and then he straightens, casts his gaze about the forest.
He does not know what to do with the corpse, but he’s sure that there are plenty of scavengers this deep in the forest. He leaves the doe be, turning his feet away from the river.
Jaskier starts walking -
There is little else he can think to do.
It takes two days, but the trees eventually break.
They open to an endless sky, the top of a hill that Jaskier wanders towards. He stands there, against the wind, hair ruffled as his eyes surveyed the terrain.
There is a village in the distance and past that mountains - mountains that looked dangerous enough that people would not venture into.
If Jaskier could lose himself as he had, he thinks that there would be his best bet, away from humans.
Jaskier isn’t human anymore.
A human couldn’t do what he’d done.
He doesn’t know why that is difficult to swallow - he hadn’t known who he was naught but a week or so ago.
Jaskier closes his eyes as the wind pushes at his back, tipping his head and then the urge wells in his chest until he cannot bear it.
He opens his mouth and sings .
“ Sing me a song of a lad that is gone - say could that lad be I? ”
It carries over the hill, curling down the dip in the land, towards the village, encouraged by the wind that presses it along.
In a small village, before the foot of a mountain, a witcher stopped.
The apple half sliced in his hand falls to the ground, hands hanging in the air uselessly before him.
“Geralt?” A small voice asks him.
He does not move.
It haunts him, the sound.
Geralt’s fingers tremble.
Roach bends her head to snatch up the apple, munching contentedly. The song fades, another breeze sweeping it away as quickly as he’d heard it.
The witcher shakes his head, tucks his dagger away, and presses a hand to Ciri’s shoulder.
“It’s alright.” He assures, quietly, and leads her on to purchase the rest of what they need for the journey through the mountains.
Jaskier avoids trekking through the village.
He stinks, his clothes filthy and ruined, but he will not risk harming someone or setting them on a hunt after him.
Instead, Jaskier walks.
His shoes are ruined, falling apart. He walks anyway, the soles worn through.
Jaskier goes around the village, pausing as he starts up the mountain to take one last look over his shoulder.
Perhaps, someday, when he trusts himself he will come back.
Perhaps, someday, he will sing for them.
His breath feels knocked from his lungs -
“You must have some review for me. Three words or less.”
“They don’t exist.”
“Better.” Geralt says, “Than the last.”
“Why, Geralt, that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” Jaskier grins at him from where he is perched at the inn’s window.
It is a rare moment of being awake before Geralt, the morning light spilling in through the window, lighting Geralt beautifully in the bed they’d shared.
“Don’t let it go to your head.” Gruff and it only makes Jaskier’s smile wider.
The fire crackles merrily between them.
Jaskier cannot get the thought of the grey hair from his mind. He had plucked it at the last inn after he’d come up to their shared room after his performance at the tavern.
It caught the light like Geralt’s hair, but it was no reminder of beauty.
It was a reminder of the time he had left.
Jaskier stares distantly into the fire that licked at the sky, fingers plucking a sad, slow melody his head tipping down and towards his shoulder.
“But when you come, when all the flowers are dying…” Jaskier croons softly, to himself, his eyes half lidded.
The melancholy has been hard to shake recently, especially when Geralt turns so readily to Yennefer each and every time they see her.
“If I am dead, as dead I well may be--”
Yellow eyes snap to him, the sound of blade against whetstone halting, though Jaskier was too occupied to notice it.
“I pray you'll find the place where I am lying… and kneel and say an ‘Ave’ there for me.” Jaskier closes his eyes, swaying with the melody.
“Stop it.” The voice is rough and low. Jaskier blinks his eyes back open in surprise, peering over at the witcher.
“Stop it. That’s the worst song you’ve ever written. It doesn’t suit you.” Geralt mutters and Jaskier grit his teeth, turning his gaze away from him.
“Maybe my talents are evolving as I age? Maybe what the people wish to hear has changed?” He snaps softly. “The world does not remain unchanged as you are.”
It’s not true, he knows this as he says it, but his hurt is deeper than just that comment. He goes to put his lute away, refusing to look upon Geralt for the rest of the night.
“Stop fucking playing.” The voice is muffled through the wall between their rooms at the inn.
Jaskier’s bed feels so empty. So large.
The sounds next door, Yennefer’s encouragements, Geralt’s soft grunts -
Jaskier plucks the lute to drown it out.
“We have to be up early tomorrow.”
To the mountain.
The mountain -
“If life could give me one blessing--”
Jaskier’s cheeks are wet.
He breathes in sharply, trembling all over.
His hand gripped at one of the rocks on the mountainside, using it to support his weak legs.
“Oh.” He breathes.
Oh. He thinks. I was alone .
No one waited for him.
Jaskier had been alone before the dirt.
No one had stayed.
He feels as if the grief might rend him in two. Jaskier wept on the side of a mountain.
Jaskier treks up the mountain, into the thinner trees, through icy creeks.
The first snowfall makes his fingers numb and makes it hard to walk, but it does not kill him.
He haunts the forests of the mountains, hunts when he has to - deer are easiest and last in the icy weather. They’re hard to eat, but luckily he only has to hunt one now and then.
Occasionally Jaskier will raise his voice quietly
“Give me again all that was there, give me the sun that shone…” It weaves through the air between the trunks, travels over snow, ghosts through the leaves.
“ Give me the eyes, give me the soul - Give me the lad that's gone.” There is some part of Jaskier that knows there is more, more that he is not willing to search for. More that he tries to drown out.
He thinks, once, of changing his name.
He tries to forget, tries to mute it - stifle it with the cold.
His body may numb, but the sorrow only grew.
His voice haunts the woodland as much as his actual presence.
“Sing me a song of a lad that is gone…”
For a moment, he swears he hears a voice.
One slightly familiar at that.
He shakes himself, puts himself on high alert.
He’d originally gone to hunt for venison, but the voice of someone dead was a hunt altogether different.
And again -
“Say could that lad be I?”
It’s a whisper on the breeze and Eskel’s gaze casts about the forest, searching.
Snow crunches and Eskel knows he is not alone.
A deer darts in front of him, taking him by surprise, startling him. He lets loose an arrow from his crossbow - it misses its intended target, but buries in the deer’s throat anyhow.
He watches it stumble and carry on into the trees, a trail of blood following it.
Eskel tracks after, slower, knowing that it would not make it far before bleeding out.
He did not, however, expect to see what he did after following the deer down a hill towards one of the creeks that curved around the side of the mountain.
A bard, one he was told was long dead, petting over the deer’s head gently. The hands cradled the deer’s head, careful until they weren’t. They jerk, snapping the deer’s neck with startling efficiency.
A hand reaches, digs into the pelt, fingers ripping through with brute strength that no human could accomplish.
Eyes glance up and in the waning evening light, they reflected red instead of blue.
There should be the hiss of a silver blade being unsheathed, but there was only silence, the sound of Jaskier’s small voice -
The witcher was looking at him in horror.
Jaskier would not blame him.
“Jaskier?” Eskel’s voice was vulnerable and soft in a way Jaskier had never heard a witcher’s voice be.
“It’s me.” He confirms, and pulls his bloodied hand back from the deer, sitting back on his haunches. He must look a sight, pale and blue, clothes nothing but red tattered rags, shoeless.
“He buried you.” Eskel breathes.
The world stops.
“Geralt buried you.” The witcher before him says, stronger, his eyes flashing although he did not reach for one of his blades. “You died.”
“I gathered that. It took me a bit.” Jaskier admits, quietly. “I didn’t know who I was for a while.”
He swallows thickly.
“What am I?” He asks Eskel, and his hands tremble.
Silence hangs between them. And then Eskel steps forward, slowly, offering out a hand to help Jaskier to his feet. He seems uncaring of the blood that smears his glove as he does so.
“Have you ever heard of a revenant?”
Jaskier sucks in a breath.
“So there’s ghosts and wights and such, but. What of the undead?” Jaskier asks, early in their travels.
Geralt wears a smattering of ghoul blood as an accessory for the evening.
“They exist. But not vampires. They are not of this world. There are revenants.” Geralt’s gruff tone is reluctant, but if one thing will get him to talk it is information about monsters.
“Oh?” Jaskier prods lightly. “They eat people like ghouls?”
“No. Yes.” Geralt tips his head. “They can. They’ll hunt when starving. They can’t be harmed by traditional means. They’ve come back by sheer force of will - it’s more than unfinished business. They don’t come back for closure. They have more life they want to experience. They live in their own way. They are beyond rare. Only four have ever been recorded - the last centuries ago.”
It’s the most Geralt has spoken at once to him since they’ve met.
He notes the information, but has pushed it to the back of his mind in favor of paying attention to Geralt’s rolling voice. It’s actually quite lovely when he isn’t angry.
Kaer Morhen looms above them.
Jaskier rides in Scorpion’s saddle, Eskel’s horse unable to carry the witcher, Jaskier, and the deer.
Eskel leads the horse by the reins towards the lowered gate.
Jaskier wants more than anything to run.
The words linger in his mind, though.
He buried you .
He had not been alone.
The gate opens into a wide courtyard. In a thick cloak, a girl wields a wooden sword against Lambert.
He’s surly and Jaskier has only met him a handful of times over the years, far less than Eskel, but he still recognizes him, the wooden sword clattering to the ground.
“What the fuck .” It’s loud, fills the whole courtyard. A head pokes out of the door of the main keep, silver-white hair disheveled and face tired. Bruises beneath his eyes.
“Lambert, what did she do now?” Exhausted, like he expected it.
Lambert points towards him without a word and sharp yellow eyes alight upon him.
Jaskier stops breathing.
“Jaskier?” Geralt breathes. Jaskier can’t hear it, but he can see his lips moving. He swallows thickly.
“I buried you.” He says, and his voice holds such misery that Jaskier can feel his own eyes prickling.
“I dug my way out.” Jaskier answers, because he does not know what to say.
“You died .” Geralt pushes out into the snowy courtyard, wearing only his breeches, boots, and a black tunic. He looks so different from Jaskier’s memories.
“I don’t remember it.” Jaskier admits, and slides off of Scorpion. His numb feet make him stumble and he darts a hand out for Eskel for support but Geralt is right there .
The white haired witcher grasps at his forearms almost too tightly, steadies him.
“You came back.” Geralt sounds like he’s been hit over the head with a sword hilt, sent dizzy.
Jaskier bursts into tears.
Those broad hands let go of him, arms instead moving to wrap around Jaskier, crushing him to his chest, apparently not caring of the state of him.
His stink, his shaggy hair, ruined clothes, and filthy skin.
Geralt hushes him, reaches a hand up to cup the back of his head, cradling his matted hair.
“I was alone.” Jaskier chokes out and the arms squeeze him tighter.
“I’m sorry.” Geralt says, and it sounds like agony.
Jaskier’s fingers grasp clumsily at his clothes.
“He needs to get inside in a warm bath.” Eskel says, from beside them, and Geralt lets out a harsh breath. He nods sharply once.
And then Jaskier is herded inside, Geralt close at his back.
He hears Ciri asking Eskel questions, but he cannot make them out
Jaskier stands numbly to the side of the room as Geralt fills a metal tub with water, casting igni on it to warm the water.
He has quit crying now.
“I didn’t know who I was at first.” Jaskier tells Geralt quietly. Geralt reaches for him, pushing the sleeves of his tunic up.
Jaskier doesn’t understand at first, but then Geralt helped him shed his clothes, ushering him with gentle hands into the bath.
Jaskier sinks down with a weak sound, melting into the warm water, eyes squeezing shut tightly.
“The world was so different.” Jaskier breathes. “I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know music. It was so pretty to hear the birds.”
Geralt makes a wounded sort of noise - it’s not unlike the time that he’d gotten stabbed in front of Jaskier by a bandit.
Jaskier trembles and Geralt’s hands brush over his shoulders, squeezing his upper arms gently.
“I’ve got you.” The witcher tells Jaskier.
Jaskier shouldn’t trust him, but he has never - in all his memories - heard Geralt’s voice so raw. He leans into his hands.
“I trust you.”
And so Geralt washes him, washes his hair. When he is finished, he simply cradles Jaskier’s head in his hands, staring down at him.
Jaskier peers back up into yellow eyes, feels the weight of it all dragging him down.
“Stay with me.” Geralt whispers, and Jaskier feels tears escape, sliding down his cheeks.
“You know I would.” Jaskier replies, voice as small and quiet as the witcher’s.
“We should get you to bed.” Geralt murmurs, finally, and urges him up and out of the water, wrapping a towel around him.
He gets guided to Geralt’s room, where he is tucked under furs.
“I can’t sleep.” Jaskier tells him, quietly.
Geralt reaches over, brushing fingers over Jaskier’s forehead to sweep his hair back from his face.
“You can rest, though.” The witcher says. He perches on the edge of the bed. “Match your breathing to mine.”
It’s slow, steady, and at some point Jaskier’s eyes fall shut and he slips into a place below consciousness. He can hear, but it slides over him, as if he’s underwater. Muffled.
Jaskier learns the next day that it has been three years since the mountain. Jaskier has been dead for nearly the whole time, stabbed by a bandit.
Geralt tells him that they stumbled across him on the way back to Kaer Morhen, struck by infection and fever. The stab wound hadn’t necessarily been fatal on its own, but the infection had taken Jaskier from the world.
Geralt had stayed.
Jaskier hadn’t been alone.
Jaskier weeps again.
It takes a few days, but he settles into Kaer Morhen slowly. His meat is taken raw - more raw than even the witchers - and it is Lambert that tells him he is gross now.
Jaskier stares flatly at him over his plate of raw, cubed venison.
“Just because you like your blood hot doesn’t make you any better.”
Lambert blinks at him in shock and Eskel stifles his laugh behind his hand. Ciri hides her smile behind a spoonful of the meat that had been cooked into a stew for her.
Jaskier slowly took a piece of bloody, cool meat from the fork, chewing slowly.
He can feel Geralt’s gaze heavy on him, but does not turn to look.
Let him stare.
This is what Jaskier is now.
“Do you… do you remember any of your music?” Ciri asks, later, after dinner.
Geralt had disappeared, though Jaskier wasn’t sure to where.
“I.. no. Not much. I’ve written new things, though.” He tells the girl with a small smile.
“Will you sing something for us?” Ciri asks, oblivious to the other witchers tensing.
Jaskier considers her sweet face for a few moments, her eyes deep and sad in a way that no child’s should ever have to be.
He adjusts the cloak around his shoulders.
“Of course, darling.” Jaskier tells her, softly. “Come, sit beside me.” He encourages and gets her to sit near him.
“Hum this for me.” He murmurs and demonstrates, watching her concentrate. She does her best and it will be good enough. He nods in encouragement. “Just like that. Keep going.”
Jaskier licks his lips, focusing on the girl in front of him.
“ The water is wide, I can't cross over.” Jaskier began, lingering on the words, the pitch lifted just a bit from the original to be matched with her voice. “ And neither have I wings to fly.”
Jaskier had sang it along with the other one as he dwelled in the forest.
“ Build me a boat that can carry two and both shall row, my love and I. ” The sound of boots on stone registers, but Jaskier does not look away from her despite the heartache.
“There is a ship and she sails the sea. She's loaded deep, as deep can be .” Jaskier uses one hand to keep the cloak closed around him - he loses heat easily these days, even more easily than when he was human - while the other presses to his chest as if to keep his heart intact. The boots stop a few paces away.
“ But not so deep as the love I'm in, I know not how I sink or swim… ” Jaskier’s eyes fall shut instead of risking seeing the others, tipping his head slightly back and towards his shoulder, letting his voice fill the dining hall.
“ Oh love is handsome and love is fine, the sweetest flower when first it's new - But love grows old and waxes cold and fades away like morning dew. ” The despair that had filled him slowly has been melting away, just as his iced body had melted in front of the hearth. They are all watching him, he can feel it. But one has a gaze heavier than all the rest - it blankets his shoulders in an old familiar weight and his heart swells despite his attempts to shrink it down.
“ The water is wide, I can't cross over, and neither have I wings to fly .” Jaskier’s voice rises, fills the dining hall as he glances around the room - there, at the door, Vesemir lingers. He watches with eyes soft around the edges. Lambert looks uncomfortable but also like he cannot move. Jaskier wonders if he feels it, too. Eskel is looking over his shoulder and Jaskier turns his gaze on the last witcher.
“ Build me a boat that can carry two and both shall row, my love and I. ” Ciri has stopped humming and his voice echoes, ringing around him, alone and yet not.
Geralt stands before him, holding his lute in hand.
His expression is something between stunned, mournful, and fond.
It makes Jaskier smile slowly, softly, reaching for the lute.
Geralt passes it to him, hands careful.
It is not a remarkable night when Geralt comes to him.
He had sang and plucked at the lute in the dining hall after dinner as had become routine, had listened to Ciri’s stories of the day. He had helped Geralt clean the table as it was their turn for dishes.
Nothing happened, past the brushing of their shoulders as they washed the dishes - a small exchange of half smiles. Small, for them only.
So Jaskier isn’t quite sure why Geralt stands in front of the chambers that Jaskier had been assigned.
He looks-- nervous. Picks at his nails - not very subtly.
But finally he seems to steel himself and raises his gaze to meet Jaskier’s, where he’d been waiting patiently for Geralt to find his words.
“I am so sorry.” Geralt says, voice rough and slow. “I have said it already, but I am, Jaskier. I will never forgive myself-- I couldn’t do anything--”
“Geralt.” Jaskier interrupts, gently. “I would not have forgotten it. I still haven’t. It still aches. But I forgave you the moment I turned from you. I know you, my dear.”
Geralt’s expression crumples and never in his life has he seen Geralt cry , but silent, anguished tears slip down his cheeks.
Jaskier’s breath hitches. “ Geralt .” He breathes, reaches for him.
Geralt wraps his arms around Jaskier, drawing him to his chest desperately, burying his nose into his hair, breathing him in deeply. “I never got to tell you. I didn’t want to. I knew you’d go someday and I didn’t want you to. I didn’t want you to.” The voice is choked and weak.
Jaskier tightens his arms around his shoulders gently. “I’m here now, my dear.” He whispers, “I’m here now and I’m not leaving.”
“I love you.” Geralt says and Jaskier thinks for a moment he imagined it. Geralt would never say them so openly. The arms around him tighten further. “I love you.” The witcher repeats and Jaskier feels a tear or two of his own spill over.
“Come here.” He urges, tugging Geralt into his chambers, closing the door behind him. “Come here, my love.” Jaskier leads him to bed, curls around him, clings to him nearly as desperately as Geralt clings to him.
In the morning, the sun lights Geralt’s face with gentle rays.
He is beautiful and Jaskier reaches out, traces a fingertip over the slope of his nose. It scrunches beneath the touch and Geralt blinks yellow eyes open blearily.
They turn on him, pausing as if surprised. Geralt finally smiles .
It spreads over his face slowly, blooms like a flower in the sun.
Jaskier leans in, presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, his jaw, and tucks his face against his throat as he settles back in against the witcher, his arm slung loosely around his waist.
Their breaths match each other.
Slow, deep, and relaxed.
The world outside is silver, sparkling in the light, skies a grey-blue of a crisp winter morning.
Their bedroom is quiet.