“I’m just saying, it couldn’t do you any harm to take a rest every once in a while,” Jaskier suggested. His tone was tired and almost annoyed, probably from the headache he’d been complaining about for the better part of two days. Yesterday, he’d been a bit slow in the morning, citing hunger and then barely eating a few bites for breakfast. By lunch, he’d brought up the brightness of the sun reflecting blindingly off the snow more than once, and not in some overly-romantic ode, as per usual. He’d foregone dinner in favor of turning in early to sleep, and still been difficult to rouse in the morning, something which was unusual for someone who usually woke complaining, but energetic, particularly when bitingly cold wind was there to rouse him. He’d tossed and turned all night, waking Geralt every time he kicked off his blanket or sat straight up to pull it back on. However, it had been hard to be angry with him after he’d called his name and was met with an equally-annoyed-sounding apology, muttering something about not being able to sleep for the temperature fluctuations. And even harder to stay mad when Ciri had glared at him for it.
He was quiet all day while they walked and went to bed early with windburned-red cheeks and a fine shiver that wouldn’t go away no matter how close he nestled himself to the fire.
Ciri had expressed concern several times, suggesting they stop and rest or rent a room or even, at one point, see a healer. Every time, Geralt looked her up and down for injuries or curses, and when he deemed that she was only serving as a second mouth for Jaskier’s complaints, he turned back to the road and forged ahead.
As usual, the night was cold and the morning came too soon.
Geralt woke early to start breakfast, hoping that the smell of rice porridge might temp the other two into getting up without having to make threats or bargains.
It had worked on Ciri, who had, with minimal protest, crawled out of her bedroll, brushed her hair, and started munching on some berries and nuts before the actual meal--when a child was hungry, Geralt had learned, it meant they needed to eat NOW. Not in another hour when they stopped for lunch; not in another ten minutes when breakfast was finished cooking. He quietly admired the way she set a small pile of the sweet, dried fruit aside as she usually did, to top his and Jaskier’s porridge even though they always insisted that they didn’t need them and that she should have them. She and Jaskier were both of the belief that life should be lived rather than weathered, and if Geralt didn’t come around of his own accord, they were both willing to force him to enjoy the little things.
“Breakfast is nearly ready,” Geralt announced. “Wake him, will you?”
Ciri frowned, casting her eyes to Jaskier. “Can’t we let him sleep? He’s been looking so tired…”
Geralt shook his head impatiently. “We have to get going soon. Unless you want to hear him whining about not having enough time to finish his meal again…”
Ciri sighed. Geralt hated to do anything that might make her think him cruel, but sometimes, as a human with two Witcher companions, life was tough. She shuffled without fully standing until she was perched right at Jaskier’s bedroll, and Geralt turned his attention back to the food.
Jaskier’s eyes were barely open despite that Ciri had coaxed him into sitting up straight, but Geralt was still trying to ignore the drama. Days on the road in the cold had exhausted him—he was a human, after all—and while he believed that Jaskier truly was hitting a hard wall with his energy levels, he was surely playing it up at least a bit to guilt them into taking a day or two to rest and recover in a nice, comfortable inn with food they didn’t have to scavenge the frozen forest for and water they had to drink through their teeth to sift out the dirt and sand.
“Jaskier,” Ciri said so softly that if it weren’t for his enhanced hearing, he wouldn’t have caught it at all. “Come on, wake up.”
This should be where he stretched, complained about an unsatisfying sleep on the cold, hard ground, and flashed his puppy-eyes in the hopes of getting a larger portion of meat for breakfast to boost his energy.
“Jaskier,” Ciri prompted again a moment later. Geralt stole a glance toward them while Ciri was distracted, only to find that Jaskier wasn’t even holding his head up: it rolled disconcertingly forward to his chest, and he seemed more like he was balanced upright than sitting so.
As much as he might put on this type of show to get a bit of sympathy out of Geralt after a long few weeks of travel, he would never intentionally scare Ciri. Something was wrong.
And he’d missed it.
Breakfast forgotten, he crossed the campsite to sit down beside her. As he expected, Jaskier nearly slipped forward into the dirt when she let go of him; would have if Geralt’s hands hadn’t taken the place of hers.
“Look at me,” Geralt commanded. Jaskier did, though whether or not he was really seeing was anyone’s guess, as his gaze seemed faraway and unfocused. His chin didn’t leave his chest and his eyes fluttered with the effort of being open. On a hunch, Geralt pressed one hand firmly to Jaskier’s forehead and swore, low and with feeling.
“What is it?” Ciri asked worriedly.
“Fever,” Geralt muttered. “He’s burning up.” He motioned for Ciri to take away the layers of blankets that Jaskier had surrounded himself with overnight, which were doing nothing but trapping the heat close to him, and kept his hand on Jaskier’s face, flitting from his forehead to his cheeks to his neck as he tried to decide whether to put him on the horse and ride as hard as he could into the nearest town or to allow Jaskier to rest here.
“I’ve got herbs,” Ciri suggested. “I can make a tisane for the fever.”
“Do that,” Geralt agreed.
Of course, while he’d never wanted anything in this world other than to protect Ciri, he’s found himself in another situation where she’s proving him useless.
“Next time, I’ll listen to you,” Geralt promised quietly. He wasn’t sure whether he was saying it for Jaskier’s benefit or Ciri’s, but he had a sinking feeling that it was mostly for himself, because of the three of them, only the other two would believe him.