Where Witcher's go, rumours brew. 'Cold', unfeeling bastards', is whispered behind palms. 'Spawn of the devil', is spat at their feet. 'Destined to be alone forever', is exclaimed in taverns.
Geralt has heard all of these throughout his travels, and more alongside them.
He never corrects them.
While it's true that the extensive trials and rituals a Witcher undergoes means they can no longer be classed as human, it doesn't alter the fact that they were still born one. And therefore, like all humans, they are born with a soulmate. The only difference is that, due to their extended lifespans, they could very well meet death before their soulmate is even born.
While Geralt was still training, if there was one thing his teachers had insisted upon them all repeatedly, it was to never seek your soulmate. Soulmates are a distraction, a burden. At best, you should receive your colours and no more. At the time, before Geralt had gained his Witcher status, he had ignored them, confident in his ability to be better than them all, to be a Witcher but still have his soulmate.
Mutations, time and experience have long since squashed that naive optimism, and instead, Geralt came up with a new plan. A plan that allows him the comfort of not concerning himself about whether today is that day it will happen, allows him to ignore the anticipation that thrums beneath his skin despite it all.
Still, when Geralt steps into a tavern and spies a bard singing in the corner, and his world comes alive in a way he never could have imagined, it takes all his willpower not to turn back around and walk away. It is what his teachers would have demanded he do, but they're dead, and Geralt has a plan. A plan he will follow, no matter how strong the urge to flee wars with the urge to stride over there and discover everything about this man who is apparently destined to be his.
The bard, his soulmate, ignores Geralt as he walks to the bar and in turn, Geralt does his best to respond in kind. He buys a pint and settles in a seat in the corner of the room. He drinks, and from his vantage point, observes.
His soulmate's voice is good, but his lyrics are tacky. He is handsome too, but young. So young that Geralt's insides twist. He does not look like a man who has faced creatures that belong in nightmares alone, or one who has stared death in the face and greeted it like an old friend. He doesn't even look like he's ever held a sword.
He doesn't belong in Geralt's world in the slightest.
His fingers curl on the table.
Geralt turns his attention to the colour of the table. There is more to simple wood than he first thought, and his eyes trace the multitude of shades that interweave tightly. This, at least, he can use to his advantage. It will take time, learning this new world, but once he has he will be able to navigate it even better than before...
"I love the way you just...sit in the corner and brood."
Geralt tenses, his heart rate picking up ever so slightly. He glances to once side and it's the bard. Strange, Geralt thinks. He doesn't look like a man who has laid sight on the one fated to be his match. He doesn't bear the tell-tale signs of a man whose view has been irreversibly changed.
Unfortunately, it isn't uncommon for the connection to spark at different times between pairs. Geralt had just hoped, for his soulmate's sake, it wouldn't be this way around. His plan to allow his soulmate to receive their colours, make sure they're comfortable and then leave them in peace, suddenly flies out the window.
"I'm here to drink alone." Perhaps this is a sign. If this bard has not received his colours, then a force out there must be telling him that he's got what he desired - a soulmate who need not be burdened with the knowledge that their soulmate is a Witcher and can never be with them.
He ignores the part of him, the part that he had thought had died long ago, that wilts in disappointment.
"Good. Yeah, good. No one else hesitated to comment on the quality of my performance, except for you. Come on, you don't want to keep a man with...bread in his pants waiting. You must have some review for me. Three words or less."
It takes a brave soul to sit across from a Witcher with no job proposal. Perhaps he has got his colours after all, Geralt muses. Maybe he has adapted well and wants Geralt to acknowledge it first. Perhaps he wants Geralt to prove that he is a man worthy of him. A man unafraid to make grand declarations.
"They don't exist."
Geralt is not going to be that man.
"What don't exist?"
"The creatures in your song." Geralt supposes he can at least give his soulmate this, if nothing else.
"And how would you know?"
Geralt is tiring of the conversation now. Either the bard has got his colours, and is hiding it well, or he doesn't and he won't. The plan had only allowed for the instance that they both received their colours at the same time and if that isn't going to happen, he doesn't need to entertain this conversation any longer. He stays quiet, hoping his soulmate will take the hint.
He does, but it's the wrong one.
"Oh, fun. White hair...big, old loner, two very...very scary looking swords. I know who you are."
Geralt stands. He doesn't have time for this. Fate has had its laugh, has scorned him once more, so he doesn't need to allow this to continue. He walks, but annoyingly, the bard follows.
"You're the Witcher. Geralt of Rivia. Called it!"
Geralt leaves the tavern, intending for the bard to tire and find some new source of amusement but still, he pursues him. Like an annoying, yappy gnat.
"Allow me to help you!" He calls after Geralt. "I have been dying to see a Witcher in action. For you to come in my hour of need is far too great an opportunity to pass up!"
"And that's it?" Geralt asks, stopping so sharply the bard nearly crashes into him.
"What's it?" His grey, innocent eyes are wide with curiosity. He stares at Geralt as if he doesn't know how easy it would be for the Witcher to kill him where he stands.
He would die before he even saw the blade.
"You just want to watch me kill something?"
"Well, yes! You're correct in that the creatures I sing of are fictional, and therefore, I need to see something real! Something inspiring! And you, good, sir, are just the man to provide that inspiration. I can tell."
Geralt searches the bard's face for something to prove that he's lying, that he knows. It could be that he is an accomplished actor, a spy maybe, but if Geralt trusts anything, it's his instincts and they are telling him that his man is nothing but a bard. A young, naive, bard. How fate had decided he was to be his soulmate, Geralt will never know.
"No," Geralt grunts. He immediately starts walking away.
The bard, Jaskier, he later learns, follows.
He always follows.
Months pass. Geralt makes no mention of colours or soulmates, and neither does Jaskier. Sometimes, Geralt wonders if the bard has received them, and just hasn't attributed them to Geralt, or whether this is the true curse of a Witcher - to meet your soulmate but never have the bond be returned.
Often, Geralt wonders why he continues to let Jaskier travel with him. The bard is annoying, weak and gets in far too much trouble. He is not even close to the person Geralt imagined his soulmate being, but then, he is also kind. He can find humour in any situation. He can find hope where Geralt only sees darkness. He can tread the same path as Geralt and trust that the Witcher will keep him out of harm's way. He can call Geralt a friend, even though Geralt has done little to deserve that title.
He's even managing to slowly improve Geralt's reputation, something the Witcher had thought impossible.
One night, as they sit beside the campfire and Jaskier is idly plucking his lute, the topic finally comes up.
Oh, to see the wonders of the world alight
To bring to life, this pile of shite
Jaskier huffs, clearly unimpressed with his lyrics, and the puff of air blows against hair that hangs low over his forehead. It's getting too long. The journey to Lyria has taken far longer than he wanted, not only because of the unpredictable weather conditions but because despite his insistence that Jaskier travel alone and find warmer climates, the bard continues to insist that he wants to 'rough it like a Witcher', thus meaning that Geralt needs to make further accommodations for him.
"Geralt, what do you suppose it's like," Jaskier asks, his finger plucking the same string over and over again. "Seeing colours, I mean. It seems quite unfair that your whole perception of the world relies on one individual. I know it will happen eventually, it's rare to hear of couples that don't find each other, but I don't really enjoy waiting all that much."
He looks over to Geralt, who has stopped sharpening his sword. It would be a cruel trick to play, to pretend he doesn't already have them, and while Jaskier is many things, he is certainly not cruel.
It should relieve him because it means that Jaskier has not secretly been harbouring ridiculous notions in his head that they might mean something more to each other, but there's a strange, faint burning sensation in his chest. For the connection not to become mutual after a few weeks is odd, but not entirely uncommon. For it not to become mutual after four months is practically unheard of. Is there a chance that Jaskier is just unable to get his colours because Geralt is a Witcher? Or does Jaskier have his own soulmate out there, someone who is not Geralt? Someone who can fulfill his desires and be the match he deserves.
"I don't know what it would be like," Geralt offers shortly, and Jaskier sighs, resting his chin upon a fist and staring despondently into the fire.
"I suppose I should be grateful. I'm young, after all. Wouldn't do to deny my body the opportunity to please all those willing souls out there. I am quite the charmer, I've been told."
The idea of Jaskier with others, pleasing them, and being pleased in turn, increases the burn and he grits his teeth.
"You should be with one of them now, then," he snaps before retiring to the tent and leaving Jaskier open-mouthed in his wake.
When Jaskier helps Geralt prepare for the banquet, the one he's begrudgingly agreed to act as a glorified bodyguard for, every touch from the bard lights sparks across his skin. He has always thought Jaskier handsome, purely objectively, but now the intense focus on his face as he rubs disgustingly sweet ointments into Geralt skin, the way the firelight catches his eyes, it makes Geralt desire in ways he has not before.
Geralt is not ashamed of his body, but being bare while Jaskier remains fully clothed, displaying himself before the bard's critical eye, it makes him feel vulnerable. This man, regardless of whether or not he ever claims Geralt, is Geralt's. He holds a part of Geralt that he does not, and maybe never, know.
From Jaskier, Geralt wants many things. He wants the bard to shut up, he wants him to have a modicum of self-preservation. He wants him to turn around and never look back.
He also wants him to look at Geralt and know. He wants to take that fucking mouth and claim it with his own. He wants Jaskier to be his, not the ladies and lords he brags about fucking to whoever will listen.
"Come on, you must want something for yourself once all this monster hunting nonsense is over with," Jaskier says while Geralt is in the bath.
"I want nothing," Geralt responds abruptly.
"Well, who knows. Maybe someone out there will want you. I don't believe that rubbish about Witcher's not having soulmates. I'm sure they're out there somewhere, just counting down the days until they meet you." Jaskier kneels by the bath, and Geralt has to turn away, lest he say something he regrets. Does something untoward.
"I want nothing. And the last thing I want is someone needing me." He does not often lie to Jaskier. Omit the truth, yes, but not lie. But now, there is no other alternative, because he knows now that as much as he pushes Jaskier away, as much as he claims they are still not friends, he takes pleasure from Jaskier seeking him out, wanting him, even if it is just for a new story to sing.
"And yet, here we are." Jaskier's voice is low, enticing and for a second, Geralt wonders if this is the moment, if it has finally happened but he quickly dismisses the idea. He knows Jaskier. There would be far more dramatics.
"Hm." He can't hold Jaskier's gaze and as he turns his attention, he notices something.
"Where the fuck are my clothes, Jaskier."
The moment is ruined, and for that, Geralt couldn't be more grateful.
They say that time heals all wounds. Geralt thinks the saying is a pile of shit because, with every year that passes, his just grow larger.
The ache in Geralt's chest, the space devoid of a bond he doesn't want to want, is easier to ignore when Jaskier does as Geralt asks and travels alone. When he is near, Geralt is forced to restrain himself, to pretend he has not yet met his soulmate. It is tiring, but necessary, because the moment Jaskier catches even a hint that Geralt might see more than dull greys, he will demand details Geralt cannot provide. He will push until Geralt says something unforgivable.
These emotions, things he wishes the rumours were true about and that he could not feel, distract Geralt. They impede his focus on a hunt, plague his nights so that his sleep is restless; if he even gets it in the first place.
It cannot continue.
It's a passing merchant who shares hearsay of a djinn sitting beneath a nearby river and it triggers an idea in Geralt's mind. There have been no tales of it, but if anything can break a soul bond, it would be a djinn.
He begins fishing immediately, but the task is more difficult than first anticipated. Finding a djinn is never a simple task, otherwise common folk would be making wishes every other day and the world would be in chaos, but he had hoped that with his skills and hell, his desperation, he'd find it quicker than the days it is currently taking.
In fact, he takes so long that eventually, he hears a voice that prompts equal amounts of longing, desire, despair and frustration. He tries to drown Jaskier out, to keep focused on his task, but as always, the bard manages to break through his defences.
"How are you doing, I hear you ask."
"I didn't," he grunts.
"Well, the Countess de Stael, my muse and beauty of this world has left me. Again. Rather coldly and unexpectedly, I might add."
Geralt hides his pleased smirk behind his arm as he deals with the net. When Jaskier had mentioned her during their previous encounter, when he had burdened Geralt with knowledge of her so explicit it had required meditation to cleanse his mind of it, he had wanted to kill her. Only briefly, mind you, and he had felt a morsel of shame about it, but the desire had undeniably been there. The logical side of Geralt wants Jaskier to be happy. The selfish, primal part of him wants Jaskier to be only his.
"I fear I shall die a brokenhearted man. Or a hungry one, at the very least, unless somebody fancies sharing a fish with an old friend. Oh, are we not using 'friend'? Yeah sure, let's just give it another decade."
Geralt stalks off, net in hand. A decade of this is a decade too many.
"Geralt, you're fantastic at a great many things, but clearly, fishing is not one of them. Have you caught anything today? What are you fishing for, exactly? Is it cod? Carp? Pike? Bream? I'm just...I'm just listing fish that I know. Zander, is that a fish?"
Gods save him from infuriating, yet still frustratingly endearing, bards.
"I'm not fishing," Geralt tells him. "I can't sleep." Not the crux of the problem, but hopefully enough that Jaskier will shut up and let him work in peace.
"Right. Good. Well, that makes sense. Insomuch that it sort of...doesn't."
Apparently not. For fuck's sake.
"What's going on, Geralt? Talk to me."
You are the problem, Geralt doesn't say. Instead, he says, "A djinn."
"I'm looking for a djinn."
Jaskier continues to question him as he readies the net again until Geralt snaps, "Yes, it'll grant me wishes. It's in this lake somewhere and I can't fucking sleep!"
And then Jaskier has the gall to ask him about addressing the root of the problem, attributing it to Cintra as if the real root isn't standing two fucking feet away from him, completely ignorant to the torment his very existence causes Geralt.
"No, it's not that," Geralt bites out as he throws the net into the water.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Jaskier says, and Geralt's exhausted mind almost takes that as an admission, that he knows, or it's happened, but then he adds, "But what if you're not?"
Geralt wonders who exactly he's pissed off enough to deserve this.
He also wonders how the hell they've turned the topic of conversation to Jaskier's singing of all things.
"It's like ordering a pie and finding it has no filling," he ends up saying because he just wants Jaskier to shut the fuck up and leave him alone so he can get the djinn and destroy this cursed connection.
"You," Jaskier gasps," Need a nap!"
Geralt barely hears him, however, because he's finally fucking caught something. He rushes to pull the net out and sinks to his knees. Inside is a clay container, the lid bearing a familiar seal.
Fucking finally. Finally, this will all come to an end.
But then, Jaskier gets his hands on it.
"Take back that bit about a fillingless pie. Take it back and then you can have your djinny-djin-djin."
"Let go," Geralt orders, keeping his anger at bay because as annoying and determined as Jaskier is, he has no strength to speak of.
Except, it turns out that it doesn't matter, because Geralt's fatigued body betrays him, and his fingers slip for an instance, opening the seal. In barely any time at all, Jaskier is making two stupid wishes, the container is smashed, and Jaskier is gasping for air. He's gasping Geralt's name as he collapses, dying because of Geralt's selfishness.
Geralt wastes no time. He lifts Jaskier on the back of Roach and rides. He pushes Roach to her limits, feeling Jaskier's weak, fading form on his back. Hears him cough blood and still continue to rasp Geralt's name as if it's the only thing he can say.
Geralt had always known he would cause his soulmate nothing but pain if he stayed with them, but never has it been as true as it is in this moment.
Their first attempt for help leads to a dead end, with them only obtaining a tincture to ease Jaskier's pain. He tries to remain collected, to exude the confidence he knows Jaskier is seeking from him, but inside his emotions are wild, struggling against the confines they've been bound in for so long. It is almost terrifying, what he would give to see Jaskier well again, to never see his fine clothing stained with dark, viscid blood.
They end up finding Yennefer of Vengerberg and she saves Jaskier. The relief Geralt feels is indescribable and when he looks at Yennefer, he sees a beautiful, strong woman. A woman who is capable of handling Geralt, who can and has borne the burden of a life filled with bloodshed and death, a woman he could care for. He uses his third wish to tie their fates together, to seal himself with her, and leave Jaskier free, and Geralt free in turn.
He believes it has worked as he welcomes Yennefer's eager body upon his own when he spies Jaskier through the window, alive and whole.
Only one word comes to mind at that moment.
Geralt does not know what his wish has done, but he knows he is now as tied to Yennefer as he still seems to be with Jaskier. Being with Yennefer though, loving her, it is easier and so Geralt throws himself into it as best he can.
It works until it doesn't.
Yennefer finds out about his wish, and immediately leaves him. And then Jaskier finds him, right at the moment Geralt is wondering how fate could have screwed him not just once over, but twice. Finally, Geralt does what he's been trying to prevent all along.
He lashes out. He shouts all his frustrations to Jaskier, placing the blame solely on his shoulders. He hurts the man he loves, despite everything, but who can never, and will never, love him in return.
Jaskier leaves and Geralt tells himself it's for the best. He has a child to find, after all, and he cannot afford to be distracted.