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The White Wolf’s Wicked Cold

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The first thing he noticed when he woke up was the curious way that his throat felt both constricted and oddly hollow— as if it were too big for his neck. Geralt swallowed, wincing slightly as the motion sent a painful sensation through his nerves. It was unpleasant, but also novel. He did not think ‘I’m getting sick’ because witchers were rarely sick. Or, if they were, they died soon after. Fighting monsters and illness did not mix well. So the witcher set aside the uncomfortable feeling in his throat and set about packing up camp.

As the day progressed, Geralt felt his mood worsening. Little things that on another day he may have ignored caught his attention, and left him both irritable and weary. Jaskier’s normally tolerable— if, occasionally, amusing— speeches became grating. The bright sun brought a light sheen of sweat to his suddenly too-warm face. Roach’s easy gait became jostling. When they stopped for their mid-day meal, the witcher had to refill his water skin— normally, it lasted until the evening. As he swallowed another sip, his throat twinged in protest. The food was likewise unsatisfactory, as Geralt found that his ration of jerky was like dry bark in his mouth.

Irritated, the witcher lurched to his feet, ignoring Jaskier’s slightly-startled, wide-eyed gaze as it followed him. They’d only been stopped for about fifteen minutes, as opposed to their normal half hour. “Come, bard. We’re going,” he growled. Jaskier grabbed his lute and scrambled to his feet, soon falling into step beside Roach.

 

As the sun set that evening, Geralt found himself feeling even more hostile than before. The slight evening chill took on a predatory nature, as it seemed intent on stalking the poor witcher. Even in his heavy, sun-soaked black armor, Geralt felt cold to his bones. His limbs were abnormally weak and weary as he dismounted Roach. Jaskier’s sideways glance did not escape his attention. “What?” Geralt snapped.

The bard merely blinked. “You feeling alright, Geralt?”

“Fine.” And that was that. Geralt dropped their bags onto the ground. “I’ll be back later,” he told Jaskier, stalking off into the woods to find their dinner.

He didn’t have much of an appetite that night, and the meal tasted similarly dull to their lunch. His throat still ached and felt unpleasantly constricted. Thankfully, the earlier chills he’d experienced seemed to have disappeared. However, as they settled down for the night, Geralt soon had to shift his bed roll away from the fire, finding the heat uncomfortable. Maneuvering quietly took more effort than usual, and his muscles felt startlingly unprepared for the task. As soon as he was far enough away that the overwhelming heat was no longer an issue, the witcher flopped down atop his bed roll and buried himself under his blanket.

 

“Geralt.” He was shaking. No, he was being shaken. Geralt blinked, and squinted in the too-bright, late morning sunlight. His eyes felt like poached eggs, and the world was startlingly scentless— he could not even detect Jaskier’s ever-present flowery cologne. The witcher sat up slowly, and grimaced slightly at the temperature difference between his warm blanket and the cooler air. Jaskier was still crouched down by his bed roll, looking like he himself had just woken up.

“What time’s it?” Geralt rumbled. He swallowed, feeling as if he’d gone without water for days.

The bard’s eyebrows rose. “Late. Are you sure you’re alright, Geralt?”

Perhaps the bard’s concern was justified. He was usually up at dawn, well before Jaskier. But that was not something Geralt would admit to. The witcher stood slowly, repressing a groan at how his entire body ached even with this easy action. “Yes. Start packing up. We need to get moving.”

Uncharacteristically, Jaskier moved to follow the witcher’s terse orders without comment.

 

His eyes and head were intent on causing Geralt as much discomfort as they could before murdering him, it seemed. Absently, the witcher let his grip on Roach’s reins slacken, and he brought one hand up to rub at his eyes, then his temples. Nearly to Ilenburg, he told himself tiredly. If Jaskier asked— and he would ask— to stay in an inn, the witcher would not deny him. As a breeze gently ruffled his hair, Geralt shivered. The witcher felt on-edge, with his body suddenly both too hot and too cold. He felt weak, like the next breeze would shatter him. It was a vastly unpleasant sensation.

“How about we stop at that lovely inn over there for the night, Witcher?” Jaskier’s voice cut through Geralt’s musings.

Geralt grumbled for a moment— couldn’t let the bard get too used to him so readily agreeing— then gruffly replied, “Very well, bard. But you’re paying.”

Jaskier grinned, unconcerned by the witcher’s attitude. The bard adjusted the placement of his lute’s strap and then sped up to match pace with Geralt and Roach. “Come, Geralt, I am quite eager for a hot meal, hot bath, and soft bed!”

 

Gods, was there anything worse than a crowded tavern? Geralt set his empty tankard down on the table with a thud. Thankfully, he couldn’t smell the other occupants of the local inn/tavern, but that didn’t stop their overly loud voices, and condensed body heat, from causing him to suffer. The witcher brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose in an effort to stave off his headache. Alas, the effort did not do much.

He scraped his fork over the plate, and sighed. Geralt squeezed his eyes shut as the crowd roared at the conclusion of another of Jaskier’s songs— Toss a Coin, he was pretty sure. He swallowed, wincing, as another wave of heat overcame him. If he were a normal man, Geralt suspected he’d be quite flushed. But he wasn’t drunk; far from it, in fact.

The sudden sound of a body more or less falling onto the bench beside him made the witcher startle. “Geralt?” Jaskier said, a note of concern in his voice. He opened his throbbing eyes, and immediately regretted it; the too-bright scene before him made the ache in his head worse. Geralt grunted. The bard frowned sharply, and something that looked close to alarm flashed through his eyes. But he didn’t question the witcher further.

Geralt used the ensuing silence to press a thumb to his throbbing temples again. He felt more than saw Jaskier shift even closer to his side. “What?” he demanded sharply.

Jaskier sighed, and muttered something unsavory under his breath. “I think it’s time we retired to our room, don’t you?”

“Hmm.” Seems Jaskier is capable of making logical decisions after all. Geralt opened his eyes, and stood a bit shakily. That earlier hot-cold feeling was back, and his very bones felt like water. His eyes felt poached again, and his headache beat in time to his pulse. Jaskier stayed closer to his side than usual as they went to pay for their room. Walking up the stairs took more effort than normal, but he was too exhausted to be very alarmed by this.

 

When Jaskier unlocked the door, and busied himself with setting up the bath, Geralt flopped down on the bed, and pressed his face into the cool, clean blankets. Could stay like this forever, he thought blearily. Unnoticed by him, Jaskier stopped pouring his bathwater. Geralt briefly noted the sound of creaking floorboards as the bard moved about, but he was unprepared to feel a cool hand pressed against his forehead. The witcher’s eyes flew open and his nostrils flared in alarm as he jerked upright.

“Hey, hey! Just me, Geralt,” Jaskier said soothingly. The witcher blinked, then settled back down. He opened one weary eye when he felt the bard’s weight dip the mattress. “Witcher, can you sit up for a second?” He frowned, and closed his eyes again. Jaskier shook his shoulder, and Geralt growled. But the bard didn’t quit. Finally, he exhaled sharply, and sat up. Jaskier’s blue eyes met his, then roved over his body. “I think you’re sick.”

Geralt frowned. “Witchers don’t get sick.”

Jaskier snorted. “Well you do, apparently. Tell me: how do you feel other than the fever?”

It was the witcher’s turn to frown. Was that why he felt so unsteady? “My head hurts. And my throat. Can’t smell much, either,” he answered reluctantly.

The bard sighed, looking quite exasperated. “And when were you going to tell me this?”

Geralt blinked. ‘I wasn’t,’ he did not say. He knew Jaskier well enough by now to recognize that this was the wrong answer. “It doesn’t matter. It’ll pass.”

The bard’s irritated gaze turned soft. “Oh, Geralt.” He sighed, and stood. “Well, I was going to take first bath, but in this case I think I’ll let you go first. Up.”

Geralt, who had half-twisted around on the bed to keep Jaskier in sight, frowned. “No.”

Jaskier frowned. “‘No?’ Really, that’s quite mature of you, Geralt. C’mon, it’ll make you feel better. I promise.” He gently tugged on one of the witcher’s hands. When Geralt made effort to move, the bard sighed again. Then he started tugging on the witcher’s boots, trying to pull him from the bed. It was slow work, but eventually Jaskier managed to move Geralt a few inches forward so he was just starting to slide off the bed. Geralt growled, and found his feet.

Jaskier smirked. “Good, good! Now, let’s get you out of that armor.”

They made quick work of Geralt’s armor, then the bard stepped back to let him take off his underthings. As he sunk into the warm water and closed his eyes, the witcher vaguely sensed Jaskier step behind him, dragging what sounded like a chair. He shivered once at the cool air, and sunk lower into the bath, feeling almost boneless in the warm water. “I’m going to wash your hair,” Jaskier said. Geralt nodded once, then held still as he felt a delicious stream of warm water run over his head. Then the bard’s nimble fingers were running through his hair, gently massaging his scalp, and he hummed with satisfaction.

 

“Geralt.” He startled awake, hearing the still-warm water slosh around him. Jaskier now stood behind him, one hand lightly touching Geralt’s shoulder. The witcher blinked. “I’m done with your hair,” the bard clarified.

“Thank you,” he said roughly, taking the bar of soap from Jaskier. Geralt quickly finished washing up and then, shivering slightly in the cool air, dried off and dressed. As he made his way to the bed, suddenly deeply, deeply tired, Geralt reflected, Jaskier was right. Though he did still feel feverish, his headache had receded somewhat, as had the liquidity of his bones.

Jaskier followed him back to the bed and pulled back the blankets for him, then more-or-less buried the witcher under them. “You’ll be alright for now?” the bard asked.

“Hmm.”

Jaskier chuckled. “Right then. Sleep well, my friend.”