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Jaskier’s lungs were screaming. He could feel his panic rise as he struggled for breath. He had almost cracked, almost told them where Geralt was heading when they had beaten him, littered him with bruises and nearly crushed in his ribs. He had used every bit of strength within him to keep his mouth shut as the whip flayed his back open, spilling his blood on the concrete floor. But he had somehow held out.

Now, he wasn’t so sure he could be strong for much longer. His ankles and wrists were strapped to the hard board beneath him, his chemise thrown over his face and held tight against him by two guards. He was naked and cold, but that was the least of his worries.

The water poured into his nose and mouth, taking his breath, leaving him to writhe and struggle against his restraints. His mind was overwhelmed with the constant need to make it stop make it stop make it stop. He couldn’t go on like this, panic seeping through him heightening by the second. His head whipped back and forth in an attempt to stop the water filling him. He was going to drown. He choked and gagged for what seemed like ages, vision darkening with the lack of oxygen, then the cloth was lifted from his face and he was unstrapped and pushed over onto his front.

Jaskier coughed and spluttered and vomited, then sucked in a desperate lung full of precious air.

“This will be the last time we ask you, bard,” his captor warned. “Where is Geralt of Rivia?”

Jaskier sobbed. He clenched his hands into fists and fought to find the last of his resolve.

This was it. He was finally going to die, and he would welcome it, if it meant those he loved would be safe.

“Go fuck yourself,” he bit out.

“Have it your way. Put him in the barrel.”

Jaskier struggled as much as his exhausted body could manage as he was man handled and shoved into a barrel of water. Cruel hands shoved him and forced him down, and then it was dark. He pushed against the lid, pressed himself out against the walls as hard as he could manage. The barrel was too strong, the lid secured too tightly. He couldn’t be sure if it was locked down or if they had set something severely heavy on top of it. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t get out.

The barrel was large enough for Jaskier to crouch in, but he had to have his legs pulled tight against his chest. The water inside was freezing, biting cold against his skin and it took his very breath away. It went up to his chin, leaving just his head out of the water as long as he balanced on his toes in a crouch. At least he could breathe, but this would certainly be a terrible way to spend his last days. He wondered if it would be the cold, the water, or starvation that took him first. He had to fight to stay awake or he would slip below the surface.

Honestly, it was clear the hardest part was going to be the cramped quarters, absolute dark and loneliness. Jaskier had already been alone for weeks now, nobody visited but his captors and they were less than welcoming. Really, it was tempting to just let himself sink into the water and be done with it.
Jaskier shook his head. He couldn’t let himself think that way. Surely there would be some way out of here.

He rolled his eyes.

These people weren’t stupid. It would take an absolute miracle for him to be freed. There would be no escape for him.

*****

Geralt pushed Roach on a little faster. They had ridden through most of the night, and Geralt knew he was being reckless. He knew it was likely he rode to his death, but he was blinded by his own rage.

They had killed Jaskier. Nilfgaard had captured the bard, surely to get Geralt and Ciri’s whereabouts, and then they had killed him.

Maybe it was foolish for Geralt to play into their hands. He really didn’t care. Ciri was safe, and he knew he would never sleep if justice weren’t dealt to the scum who had taken his bard from him.

Roach slowed as the fortress came into view. Geralt dismounted, gave the mare a few pats on the neck, and made his way determinedly toward the fortress. He pulled a potion out of his pocket and yanked the cork with his teeth before downing it and tossing the empty bottle to the ground.

Adrenaline rushed through his veins as the potion went to work. He felt it like fire through him, and he used it to fuel his rage. None would be taken alive. He figured there had to be traps in place, magical wards to keep people out. But Geralt wasn’t people, and they would more than likely welcome him in. He knew they most likely already knew he was there, but it didn’t matter. He would take out every rat bastard one of them he could get his hands on.

*****

It had been a day and a half since Jaskier had been put in the barrel. He was beyond exhausted, his body numb and mind nearly gone. He had finally stopped shivering, and he was only grateful he was too cold to feel his muscles cramping. He kept losing consciousness, his legs giving out and dunking him in the frigid water every few minutes, and it was getting harder and harder for Jaskier to keep making himself get back up. His jaw hurt from shivering so hard, and he was sure he couldn’t last much longer. That was alright. He hadn’t given up Geralt. Hadn’t given up Ciri’s location and endangered them. He would die, and Ciri and Geralt would live. He couldn’t be too upset about that.

Jaskier’s legs gave out, his knees scraping the inside of the barrel as he slid below the water’s surface again. He struggled halfheartedly to lift himself, but he couldn’t feel his arms. Couldn’t feel to make his legs work, his body beyond his grasp to control. Couldn’t keep himself awake. He tried for a moment, but then he gave in, letting his knees settle on the bottom. Letting himself go.

*****

Geralt wiped the blood from his face as he turned and easily sliced his way through the last guard like butter. He let his breathing slow, senses still heightened and heart still pounding.

There was another heartbeat nearby, slow, far too slow. Geralt frowned, looking around and following the sound. He moved swiftly through the dungeon, making his way to the last cell in the back of the room.

There.

Geralt used the keys he had swiped and opened the cell door. His eyes widened as realization hit him. He grabbed the barrel lid and ripped it off in a fit of inhuman strength. He reached into the water within and pulled out a limp and gasping bard.

“Jaskier?” Geralt exclaimed in surprise. He yanked his friend from the barrel, and slowly lowered them both to the floor when he realized the bard’s legs were not going to hold him. “Jaskier!” He slapped the bard on the back , and Jaskier began sputtering and coughing up water.

Geralt sighed when the coughing slowed and Jaskier began drawing in shaky shallow breaths. “Jaskier, I thought you were dead.”

Jaskier groaned halfheartedly as he struggled to catch his breath.

“You’ll be fine,” Geralt grinned, attempting to comfort, but the anger was beginning to boil anew. Jaskier was shaking from head to toe, his body was cold, far too cold and too weak. “Let’s get you out of here.”

Geralt stood and lifted Jaskier easily into his arms. He moved as quickly as he could manage through the fortress as Jaskier’s head fell back and his eyes closed.