Jaskier's seventeen when he pulls the Witcher from the fire.
He has no idea, at the time, that it's a magical fire.
They say the Fires of Nisraea forge souls together.
Jaskier's heard that it's impossible to save someone from the fires if you're not destined for them, and that in the flames you feel the heat of one thousand nights of passion. He's heard songs of great lovers stepping willingly into the blaze, looking to test the bonds of their spirits, of immortal beings dragging soulmates through the inferno to tether them to eternal life, desperate maids setting themselves aflame in the hopes that the object of their affections might rescue them. Songs that describe an element with a name of its own, tongues of fire dancing in mirth and wailing in sorrow and never spreading, only ever seeking, instilled with an intelligent and sympathetic desire to transcend the brutal inequities of life, and foster love.
He's an aspiring bard--he knows that the ballads of Nisraean fire, like most, contain precious few truths. But that doesn't mean they're not perfectly nice to listen to.
The first thing Geralt does--other than instruct Jaskier that his name is not the White Wolf, it's Geralt of Rivia, and he suffers nicknames on pain of death--is insist they test the limits of their tether.
At thirty yards, things start to get uncomfortable. At fifty, Jaskier falls to his knees, while Geralt trudges valiantly onwards, gritting his teeth with every step. At a hundred, even the Witcher cannot bear the excruciating feeling of ripping, like they're being torn apart by fingers wrapped around their spines, and turns back. He eases himself stiffly onto the ground next to Jaskier, and Jaskier falls face-first into his armored shoulder, just breathing through the pain as that untenable tightness in his chest releases and his heart beats again.
Geralt cards his fingers through Jaskier's sweaty hair, like soothing a distressed puppy, and says, "Fuck."
Jaskier is no stranger to endings.
His parents are dead, most of his friends--transient as they are--have moved on, and every lover he's ever had has tossed him out come morning, and tossed his clothes out after him, leaving him to dress, cold and awkward and without a scrap of dignity, in the street.
As a bard, he knows that every story has an ending, and as life is but a long string of stories--well, it's also a long string of endings. Life has taught him that he's a very easy person to leave. So he knows, with every day that he spends in Geralt's company, that he is nothing more than an unwanted burden. He attached himself to Geralt that day in the burning inn, and the Witcher had no say in the matter. and now by some sick twist of fate he's stuck lugging Jaskier across the continent, listening to his incessant babbling and his caterwauling and whatever sounds he makes when he orgasms--never from more than thirty yards away.
They seek the counsel of a mage in a tower on the edge of the desert--a tower whose flagstones are scorched black by Nisraean fire--who tells them that the fire binds only for one thousand and one nights, and that at the end of that period, the tether between their souls should split, allowing them to finally part ways. Geralt is in high spirits for days afterwards, but Jaskier...
Well, Jaskier had been getting used to the idea that not everything had to end.
Geralt is not the sort of person destined for a lowly bard.
Jaskier knows this as well as he knows that djinn are not to be messed with.
Either the Fires of Nisraea made some sort of mistake, or the tales are even less truthful than they sound. There is no way that someone like Geralt--the White Wolf, the Butcher of Blaviken--is fated to love someone like Jaskier, who can hardly figure out which end of a knife to stab someone with.
It doesn't matter that the fires bound them. It doesn't matter that Jaskier can't have sex without thinking of white hair and a rumbling voice and a chest wide enough to make most trees weep with envy. It doesn't matter that sometimes, when he's not busy telling Jaskier how useless and untalented he is, Geralt's eyes seem almost fond. That when he touches Jaskier, checking him for wounds or waking him from a doze or giving him a leg up onto Roach, his hands are always gentle. One thousand and one nights is all they're going to have, and that time's just a cosmic mistake anyways.
Sometimes, camped out in the forest or on the side of a mountain, Geralt reaches for Jaskier in his sleep, and Jaskier--always awake when Geralt is in distress--tucks in close under his arm, buries his face in his side, and listens to the slow steady drumbeat of the Witcher's heart until his own slows to meet it.
Jaskier nearly gets murdered outside a tavern.
Geralt charges out the door like a warhorse at the last possible second, drives off the men like a force of nature, and sheaths his still-bloody sword with flared nostrils and a tight jaw.
The only sounds in the alley are their breathing, the distant noise of patrons laughing and drinking inside, and the laces on Jaskier's trousers sliding through eyelets as he ties them up with shaking hands. Geralt watches the mouth of the alley for a long minute, like he's making sure Jaskier's assailants aren't about to return, then comes up in front of him in two short strides and presses his hands to Jaskier's shoulders, his chest, his abdomen, like he's looking for sticky vats of blood.
"I'm alright--" Jaskier tries to say, at the same time Geralt's demanding, "Are you hurt? Did they touch you?"
"They didn't touch me," Jaskier reiterates. "Well, they touched me, but they didn't--"
"They didn't? You're sure?"
"I'm sure." Jaskier grabs Geralt's hands to still them, which means he has to bear the brunt of his intensity in his golden gaze, which is--a lot. It feels a bit like Geralt's reached inside him to check his internal organs like he just checked his body, fingers tracing over the bloody muscle of his heart. "You got here in time, Geralt," Jaskier assures him, but his voice is still shaking. "They didn't do anything."
Geralt makes a sound halfway between an angry grunt and a relieved exhalation.
Jaskier feels the tether between them as if it were a physical thing, and is struck by a curious thought. "Why didn't you just let them kill me? Then you'd be rid of it. This bond you hate."
Those gold eyes widen. "No."
"Listen to me." Geralt's hands find the sides of his face, firm but tender. "Nothing is going to happen to you while you are in my charge. I won't let you be hurt."
"Ah," Jaskier says weakly. "So it's a point of professional pride. I see."
Geralt huffs again. "Jaskier. Lark. While my heart beats on this earth I will not let anyone lay a hand on you. I may not have chosen this bond, but you saved my life in that fire, and for that I will always owe you. So--you have my word, as a Witcher and as a man. No harm shall come to you."
Jaskier's mouth is suddenly dry, the words as a man echoing in his mind. He's suddenly very aware of how close Geralt is, and how sheltered this alleyway is from the eyes of anyone who might come wandering, how very much he would like Geralt to lay a hand on him and how he knows, in great detail, exactly what is under Geralt's doublet, thanks to all the times assisted the man at baths and riversides, with salves and needles and bare hands on flushed skin, sticky with sweat and grime.
He leans forward, and all at once Geralt steps away.
Geralt is taken captive, and Jaskier rides after him for three days and nights.
It's excruciating--Roach rarely gets within a hundred yards of the elven caravan carrying Geralt towards the forest, and when she does it's only for a few seconds--but somehow Jaskier manages to stay conscious through all of it. He catches up with the elves when they stop and make camp for a hunt on the fourth morning, and before he can even think of breaking Geralt out, he has to sneak up to the prison cart they're keeping the Witcher in and just reach through the bars, hold tight to Geralt's hand while the life floods back into both of them.
They only rent one bed in the inn for months after that, but they never speak of it. There's no need for words, only the hot, corporeal certainty of foreheads pressed to hips.
"Witchers can't feel," Geralt tells him, in the desert. "Not like other people."
It's alright. Jaskier feels quite enough for the both of them.
Yennefer takes one look at the two of them, standing together in front of her, and bursts out laughing. "The Fires of Nisraea? Really? I wouldn't have pegged you for a romantic, Geralt."
Geralt grumbles, but doesn't bother arguing.
Jaskier tries not to read too much into it, but it's difficult--he's predisposed to read very, very deeply into almost everything. The curse of the storyteller. He knows Geralt's probably just tired of going over the whole fires made a mistake story, not staying silent out of any sort of emotional attachment to Jaskier, since he's literally incapable of emotional attachment. But then he happens to walk past the wrong window at the wrong moment and sees Geralt inside, entangled with Yennefer as she drives a wooden cock into him in a sensual rhythm, over and over, white hair hanging over the edge of the bed as he arches his back in tortured ecstasy, and there's this look in his eyes when he touches her face, and Jaskier thinks--maybe...
The thing is, he never expected he'd have to share his Witcher. Even if Geralt never felt anything for him, he'd never feel anything for anyone else, either, and Jaskier would always--for a thousand and one nights, at least--be the one Geralt was tied to. But then there's Yennefer, and the way Geralt looks at her, the soft way he calls her Yen, it makes Jaskier think that maybe Geralt was lying in the desert. Maybe it's not that Witchers can't feel, maybe it's just that Geralt can't feel anything for a useless, untalented nobody of a bard.
On his worst nights, Jaskier dreams of the fire.
Of the heat blistering in the air, so powerful it was almost like a physical thing reaching for him, trying to kill him. The impossible brightness of the blaze, white hot flames that lingered phantomlike over his gaze for days, coloring everything he saw. Beams meant to support the roof of the inn crashing to the floor all around him, barrels of ale and wine booming in the back room as they caught, the terror of not being able to run, not yet, not while there was still the slumped form of an unconscious man under a table on the far side of the room.
He's not sure how he found the strength to drag Geralt clear of the inferno, but every morning--every time he wakes up gasping from a repeat of the same dream to find Geralt already watching him through hooded eyelids, calm and understanding--he's ridiculously grateful he did.
Geralt tries to teach Jaskier to fight. It's mostly a losing battle, but Jaskier at least comes out of the lessons with enough muscles to wield a sword, which is considerably more than he started with.
It's a unique sort of torture, bleary-eyed just after dawn, to have the bulk of Geralt pressed up against his back, guiding him through smooth motions with his sword, Jaskier's hands settled in the wide. well-worn hilt shaped by Geralt's own grip--to be aware of Geralt's touch in the strangest of places, along the backs of his thighs and the inside of his right heel, the Witcher's breath soft behind his ear. Jaskier's body wants nothing more than to turn and bite into his teacher's mouth, and with his mind still mostly asleep, he's hard pressed to remember why he can't. Remember that Geralt doesn't want him, certainly not like that and hardly even as a friend.
The one time he steps in to help Geralt in a skirmish with a band of highwaymen, he manages to keep one of them from knifing them in the back but ends up with a knife in his shoulder for his efforts. Geralt dispatches the rest of the band in short measure and rides hard to the next town to find Jaskier real medical attention, the whole time muttering darkly under his breath stupid fucking idiot lark.
It's a strange thing, to be able to look upon your day of reckoning and watch it approach.
Most aren't so lucky as to see it coming, Jaskier reminds himself.
One thousand and one nights felt an almost interminable amount of time at the outset, but now--with less than a hundred days left of their sentence--it feels like almost nothing. The blink of an eye.
He wonders how Geralt feels, watching the end date of their bond approach. It will probably be a great relief to him. He's probably eagerly awaiting the hour of his freedom. Jaskier will probably go to bed next to him, as he has for the last three years, and wake up in the morning alone. He'll probably never see Geralt again, once their souls detach. But Jaskier knows he'll never write songs about anyone else, either. He won't want to.
Maybe if he leaves first, it'll hurt less. If he's the one gone before morning, maybe it will...Hell, it's going to hurt either way, but maybe if he packs up his lute and goes before Geralt has a chance to leave, he can delude himself that Geralt never would've left at all. It's worth a shot.
Jaskier doesn't think theirs will be a story worth telling.
It's not going to have a very good ending.
And so the lovers--who weren't really lovers at all, sorry Nisraean fires--never spoke again. The Witcher went on hunting and the bard went on singing and they never thought of each other, not even once, not even by accident, except that the bard thought about the Witcher every second of every day, until he died.
One of Jaskier's nobles invites them to an orgy. Jaskier would go alone--really, he would, but there's the pesky question of this tether, and he hardly thinks it would be a good time for Geralt to stand thirty yards outside the great hall listening to the festivities and not being able to join in.
Yennefer's not there. They haven't seen her in months, but there are certainly plenty of beautiful women for Geralt to choose from, so Jaskier doesn't feel guilty at all about wheedling him into it.
He's going to be thinking about white hair and golden eyes no matter what, so might as well have Geralt on full display across the room. Maybe Jaskier can convince someone to fuck him in the right direction to watch Geralt while he pursues his own pleasure. After all, he got off on the memory of Geralt and Yennefer for months--the image of the Witcher's warhorse body moving between some anonymous women's legs should be enough to sustain him through the empty hopeless years to come.
Only, that's not how it goes at all.
Jaskier drinks and smokes and strips down and finds a man with the right color of kohl smeared across his chest, but before the man can do more than knead his ass with one big, hairy hand, Jaskier's being yanked away and pressed against the wall by a furious, naked Witcher.
"Geralt?" he asks, voice almost a squeak.
Geralt holds him with a forearm across his chest, their faces so close that Jaskier could count every individual white eyelash. "That man was touching you," he rumbles.
"Yes, Geralt, it's an orgy. The idea is that you touch people, people touch you--"
"No," Geralt says, and kisses him.
It's a painful kiss, bruising. Jaskier's skull bounces back against the smooth flagstones of the wall, but then Geralt's hand is there, cushioning him, and Jaskier's body moves of its own accord, arms hooking around Geralt's neck, fingers snagging in the tangled mess of his hair as his mind races through so many thoughts so quickly that it's impossible to keep track of them.
Geralt grabs Jaskier's bare ass and lifts him, but when Jaskier tries to wrap his legs around his hips he growls and keeps pushing him up the wall, until Jaskier's high enough to hook his knees over Geralt's shoulders. His tongue is heavy with a million questions, all of them suddenly coalescing into human language up here in the open air, but he looks down and meets Geralt's gaze--gold eyes staring up at him, unwavering, heated--and he figures, they don't need words for this. Not for this. Not tonight.
The Witcher holds Jaskier up on the wall like he weighs nothing, and takes his cock in his mouth. Jaskier's fingers tighten in Geralt's hair, he's impossibly hard and Geralt's mouth is hot and wet and insistent, his hands are digging into the meat of Jaskier's ass, the pleasured moans of a hundred other people rise toward the ceiling all around them and Geralt rumbles against his pelvis and Jaskier is gone, gone.
Fires or no fires, he knows--Geralt of Rivia is his soulmate. There will never be another.
"He said your name once, while we were fucking," Yennefer tells him. "Moaned it like a cheap whore. Lark, lark."
"No way." Jaskier squints at her over the tavern table, distrusting. "You're messing with me."
Yennefer drinks and smiles knowingly, but neither confirms nor denies.
It's not the sex that will stay with Jaskier. He'll remember it, certainly--sexual congress as blazingly hot as his and Geralt's deserves to be remembered--but it wasn't the sex that changed him. It was Geralt asleep, he thinks. Geralt open and trusting. Geralt slumbering, breathing easy as Jaskier turned his big hand over and over, stretching his fingers apart, marvelling at the calouses, the fine white hair, the scars. The weight of it.
Firelight flickering in the hearth, the night thick outside, the voices of the innkeepers murmuring through the floorboards. Two abed, bathwater cooling, not an ounce of tension left in the Witcher's body.
He doesn't feel any different, the morning of the thousand and second day.
But he slings his lute over his shoulder and leaves the camp, charcoals still smoking and Geralt still wedged uncomfortably on his side up against a log, and he gets fifty yards down the road and feels no discomfort. Well, no physical discomfort at least. He's crying by the time he reaches a hundred yards, tears pooling in his eyes but not falling, because he refuses to blink--only, who is he kidding? who is he putting on a show for? There's nothing around him but empty country, so he blinks, and the tears fall.
It's barely a half hour before he hears hooves pounding behind him. His hand goes to his sword--the sleek, small one Geralt picked up for him a few towns ago. This is it, he thinks. The first time he'll have to defend himself without his Witcher. Maybe he ought to just run and hide, instead.
Then the rider comes around a bend. Jaskier recognizes Roach first, somehow.
Geralt's not even bothered to dress himself. His armor's not on, none of his saddlebags are lashed to Roach's tack, his hair is still loose, like it is when he sleeps, hanging around his face. He dismounts and stomps over to Jaskier, something slightly manic in his expression, like he's come unhinged.
"Geralt," Jaskier swallows. "Our thousand and one nights are over, I figured I'd spare--"
"Spare me what?" Geralt demands, harshly. "Finish the sentence, Jaskier, I fucking dare you."
Jaskier bristles. "Not you," he bites. "I'm not sparing you, you shithead, I'm sparing myself the pain of watching you pick up and walk off like nothing ever happened. I don't--I don't think I could survive that, Geralt, so please don't make me be the one to get left behind."
Geralt looks stricken. "Why would I leave you behind?"
"Why wouldn't you? We're not bonded anymore."
Geralt reaches for him, and Jaskier flinches back. He's not sure he can bear his touch right now, not if it comes with a goodbye. "Lark," Geralt says, mournful. "I told you once that Witchers can't feel."
"I know," Jaskier snaps, thick with tears. "You don't have to apologize, I don't need a reminder--"
"Shut up," Geralt looks, somehow, fond. "Listen. It's true that we can't feel--tenderness, or love, or longing, not like normal people. But that doesn't mean that we don't form...attachments. I'm not sure if I owe credit to the Nisraean fires or to the last three years spent in your company, but Jaskier--I am, I have never been one for words, but with you there's something, deeper, I think, more vital, than what you sing about in your songs. You've become...a part of me. If I lost you I think it would be like losing a limb."
"Romantic," Jaskier croaks sarcastically.
Geralt smiles. A rare expression, that warms Jaskier to his core. "I'm sorry that I can't confess my love--"
"I think you just did." Jaskier reaches out, and Geralt catches his hand, presses it to his lips. "Geralt. I hope you know you're never going to get a moment of peace ever again."
The Witcher only pulls him in. "I know."
Geralt breaks the headboard apart with his bare hands, the first time Jaskier fucks him.
Jaskier's never been so delighted to be kicked out of an inn in his life.
The song Jaskier writes about the Nisraean fires is the most popular of his career.
It's not a sad, wistful ballad, like most of those that came before it. It's not about doomed lovers, or deranged men dragging beautiful women into the flames. It's triumphant--the sort of song that you sing as you march out of battle victorious--full of so many ridiculously enthusiastic turns of phrase, so many elated lute solos, that every time Jaskier decides to sing it, every time they wander into a tavern where some other bard is belting it to the rafters, Geralt rolls his eyes heavenward, fighting hard not to smile.
However, like all the songs before it, Jaskier's ode to the fires maintains wholehearted belief in their omniscience, in their transcendent ability to seek out and bind spirits that are destined for each other.
The Witcher rolls his eyes at that, as well.
Jaskier doesn't mind.