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i was burning up a fever (i didn't care much how long i lived)

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Humans, Lambert had gathered, were very sensitive. Every time Jaskier traveled with Lambert, Geralt caught his brother alone before they left and gave him the same lecture on the care and keeping of his bard. Jaskier was not to go more than a day without eating. Jaskier must always have water while traveling. Jaskier must be kept appropriately warm or cool, depending on the weather.

For all Geralt’s fussing, the bard was actually fairly low maintenance on the road. They stopped to sleep more often than Lambert would on his own, but Jaskier didn’t complain about sleeping on the ground. He kept up with Lambert’s pace, and he was good with medical supplies.

He was also, unfortunately, an idiot, though Lambert couldn’t even pretend that surprised him. Being an idiot was inherent to the fact that Jaskier chose to travel with witchers rather than live comfortably in inns and courts like most bards.

“Do you try to help this much when you’re with Geralt?” Lambert shouted as he dragged Jaskier out of the lake. Jaskier was spitting water, trying to get his unsteady feet beneath him in the rocky shallows.

“I was worried about you!” Jaskier said. “I wasn’t going to drown, Bertie.”

“They’re called drowners for a reason,” Lambert said.

“All the more reason for me to worry!”

Lambert sighed and let go of Jaskier now that they were back on shore.

“Geralt isn’t going to let you travel with me anymore if you keep jumping in the middle of things,” Lambert said. Jaskier scoffed.

“Geralt isn’t the boss of us.”

Lambert stared at the bard for a moment before swiping at the back of his head. Jaskier dodged, laughing, and began to jog back to where they’d left their belongings.

“Let’s start a fire,” he said. “I’m freezing.”

-

They were three days from Kaer Morhen. The impending winter meant people were eager for entertainment, so Jaskier’s performances kept them in enough coin to stay in inns at night. The crowds loved him, and they tolerated Lambert better than they used to.

On their last day of travel, Jaskier started to cough. Lambert noticed, of course, but he didn’t say anything. They were high in the mountains now, and it was cold. The cough could be nothing, and Lambert couldn’t do anything about it even if it was something.

Geralt and Eskel were already at Kaer Morhen when they arrived, and Geralt zeroed in on the cough immediately. He didn’t comment on it either, but he directed Jaskier to the chair closest to the fire and heaped extra stew into the bard’s bowl at dinner. Jaskier ate half of it before claiming exhaustion and heading off to bed early. The witchers all watched him go.

“Is he ill?” Eskel asked once Jaskier is out of earshot.

“I’m not sure,” Geralt said. Sometimes a cough was nothing, just a side effect of cold weather. Other times, it was the first indicator of a fever or more serious illness. Lambert chewed his lip and thought of Jaskier soaking wet in the lake and Geralt’s many lectures about how fragile humans were.

-

Lambert woke in the early hours of morning to the sound of someone getting sick and bumped into Geralt in the hallway. The other witcher was also stumbling out of his room in the dark in search of the source of the noise. They found Jaskier in his bedroom floor, curled over a basin retching. His hair was damp with sweat, and he was making small, pitiful noises.

“Jaskier,” Geralt said. The bard clenched his eyes shut as bile forced its way up his throat again.

“Sorry,” Jaskier said when the heaving stopped. His voice was raw, and his knuckles had gone white from griping the basin. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Geralt reached out to touch the bard’s cheek and frowned at the heat he found as Jaskier reflexively leaned into the touch.

“You’re burning up,” Geralt said quietly. He glanced over at Lambert, looking away from Jaskier for the first time since they’d found him. “Get Vesemir.”

-

Vesemir wasn’t pleased to be woken even earlier than usual, but he caught on quickly to what Lambert was trying to say. By then, Eskel had woken too, and he met them in the hallway, looking confused.

“There’s something wrong with Jaskier,” Lambert said. Eskel followed them to the bard’s room.

Geralt had managed to get Jaskier back into bed while Lambert was gone. There was a clean basin in the bard’s lap, and the room smelt of sick. Eskel lit a candle as they came in, and there was finally enough light to see how glassy Jaskier’s eyes had gone, how red his cheeks were.

“He’s burning up,” Geralt said to Vesemir.

“How long have you been feeling unwell, boy?” Vesemir asked.

“Just—Just since yesterday,” Jaskier said. They had all noticed the cough, but it seemed impossible that Jaskier had gotten so sick in a matter of hours.

“And this is the first time you’ve vomited?” Vesemir said. Jaskier nodded. “So nausea, fever, and the cough. What else?”

“My head,” Jaskier said. Vesemir grunted in acknowledgement and ran a paternal hand over Jaskier’s hair.

“Go back to sleep,” he said gently. “We’ll be right out in the hallway, okay?”

Vesemir took the candle with him as he herded the witchers out of Jaskier’s room. The bard’s eyes were closed by the time the light faded. Vesemir eased the door shut and gestured for Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert to keep their voices down.

“Has he been poisoned?” Eskel asked. Vesemir shook his head.

“No, I’d say this is influenza,” he said. “It tends to spread among humans this time of year. He likely picked it up in an inn.”

“What do we do?” Lambert said. He looked ready to dash off on horseback to get whatever herb or healer would make Jaskier well. “How is it cured?”

“It’s not,” Vesemir said. The other three witchers froze. “It has to run its course.”

“How long?” Eskel finally managed.

“A week, more or less,” Vesemir said.

“There’s nothing we can do?” Geralt said. His voice broke roughly as he struggled to keep quiet enough not to disturb Jaskier.

“We can treat the symptoms to make him more comfortable,” Vesemir said. “Coriander for fever, mint for nausea, and so on. I can start getting that together if one of you wants to stay with him.”

All three of them nodded, and Vesemir left to find the herbs he needed. Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert stayed in the hall for a moment, frozen by the knowledge that Jaskier was dying.

-

The sun had risen when Jaskier woke again. He retched within moments, but there was only bile left in his stomach. By the time the spell passed, Jaskier was shaking with exertion. Geralt sat with him while he drank the tea that Vesemir had made, but he knew that Lambert and Eskel were hovering in the hall.

“Vesemir says,” Geralt started, swallowing hard, “Vesemir says it’s influenza.”

“Yes, I figured as much,” Jaskier said. He had finished his tea, and Geralt set the cup aside for him. “I don’t suppose witchers can get the flu, can they?”

Geralt shook his head.

“That’s good,” Jaskier said, patting Geralt’s hand lightly. “I wouldn’t want to get you sick.”

“We’ll stay with you,” Geralt promised. “Help keep you… comfortable.”

“That’s sweet of you,” Jaskier said. He gave a soft smile, and Geralt fought back a choking noise at how brave his bard was being.

“Do you need anything?” Geralt asked.

“I’m fine, sweet witcher,” Jaskier said.

-

Vesemir was the only one to eat any breakfast, but Eskel brought a bowl of stew and another cup of tea to Jaskier’s room around lunchtime. Jaskier propped himself up against the pillows and smiled when he saw Eskel, as if the witcher’s heart wasn’t already broken.

 “Is that for me?” Jaskier asked. His voice was still rough from the coughing and vomiting.

Eskel nodded and said, “Think you could eat a little?”

“Maybe just the broth,” Jaskier said, eyeing the hearty chunks of venison and potato. He reached out to take the bowl, pausing when he saw how badly his hands were shaking. “This may be a bit of a mess.”

“I can help,” Eskel said.

He balanced the bowl in his lap and carefully filled the spoon with liquid. Jaskier let the witcher feed him without protest. They made it through two thirds of the broth before Jaskier’s stomach gurgled and he pulled away.

“We better not push our luck,” Jaskier said. Eskel nodded and set the bowl on the nightstand.

“Have the tea once that settles,” he said. “You need to stay hydrated.”

Jaskier nodded, looking tired.

“Can I do anything for you?” Eskel asked. The urge to stay with Jaskier was just as strong as the urge to flee and pretend this wasn’t happening.

“Will you read to me?” Jaskier said.

“Of course.”

Eskel grabbed a book from Jaskier’s desk. It was an account of the life of a poet Eskel had never heard of before, and Jaskier had used a leaf as a bookmark halfway through. Eskel started there, and Jaskier’s eyes were closed in minutes.

-

Jaskier had four spoonfuls of his dinner before vomiting. This time, he didn’t make it to a basin in time. Geralt forced one under his chin before the second round of heaving hit and rubbed circles on his back until Jaskier was still again.

“It’s okay,” Geralt said. He pulled the blanket off the bed, careful not to spread the mess, and moved to take Jaskier’s shirt as well. “I’ve got you.”

“Sorry,” Jaskier said.

“Not your fault,” Geralt said. “I’ll be right back.”

Vesemir was with him when he returned. They were carrying a clean blanket and shirt as well as a cloth and bowl of water. Geralt was efficient but gentle cleaning him up, and he eased the shirt over Jaskier’s head before he could move to do it himself.

“This is one of yours,” Jaskier said.

“Are you complaining?”

“No,” Jaskier said. The shirt was soft, and it smelt like Geralt. “I think I’ll sleep now.”

-

Once his brothers had gone to their rooms for the night, Lambert grabbed his pillow and blanket and padded quietly down the hall. Jaskier didn’t stir when he eased the door open, and the witcher quickly settled into a spot of floor beside the bed. He wanted to be near if Jaskier needed someone during the night.

-

The second day went much like the first. Jaskier vomited three times, and his fever stayed high. The cough made the witchers’ chests ache in sympathy, so they stirred honey into his tea for his throat. Jaskier slept for most of the day. When he was awake, they took turns sitting with him, trying to coach liquids into him whenever it seemed like he could keep them down.

This time, when Lambert went to sneak into Jaskier’s bedroom for the night, Geralt had had the same idea. They stood in the hallway for a moment, staring at each other with their pillow and blanket under their arms.

“You stayed with him last night,” Geralt finally said.

“So?”

“So I’ll take tonight.”

“I can watch him,” Lambert said.

“He’s my bard,” Geralt said. Something in Lambert’s facial expression crumpled.

“You trusted me with him,” Lambert said, his voice cracking. “I’m sorry, Geralt. It’s my fault.”

“What?”

“The drowners,” Lambert said. “I was fine, but… but Jaskier thought I needed help. He came in after me, and he got soaking wet, and it was freezing, and now he’s…” Lambert’s shoulders hitched with silent sobs. “He’s dying, and it’s my fault.”

“Hey,” Geralt said, dropping his blanket to put a hand on Lambert’s shoulder. He wasn’t good with touch the way Jaskier was, but he had to try to comfort his brother. “It isn’t your fault. That’s not how this works. Vesemir said he probably got it from someone at an inn.”

“An inn I took him to then!” Lambert said. “Geralt, I-”

“Bertie?”

“Jaskier,” Geralt said. The bard was holding onto the doorframe, swaying on his feet. “You shouldn’t be out of bed.”

“Heard… Bert crying,” Jaskier said. His eyes were still fever-bright, but he was determined.

“He’s okay,” Geralt said. “Just a bad dream.”

Jaskier made a sympathetic noise and held his hand out to Lambert. The witcher took it for fear that Jaskier would fall down otherwise.

“It’s okay, Bertie,” Jaskier said. “You can sleep in my bed tonight.”

-

The next day, Eskel continued reading about the poet while Jaskier sipped at another cup of tea. It wasn’t a book Eskel would have chosen for himself, but it was peaceful. He could almost forget what was going on.

Another coughing fit hit Jaskier, and Eskel paused his reading. Jaskier was coughing into one arm, and the other was pressed against the ache in his chest. Eskel patted the bard’s back firmly, but the coughing didn’t stop. There was a wet noise in Jaskier’s chest, and suddenly he was choking.

“Vesemir!” Eskel called, abandoning the book and standing to prop Jaskier up straighter against the headboard. “Come on, breathe, Jaskier.”

Geralt reached them first and froze in front of the bed. Jaskier’s face was darkening, and he sounded like he was being strangled. Vesemir came crashing into the room seconds later, snapping Geralt out of his shock.

“Go put a pot of water on the fire,” Vesemir ordered. “Throw some eucalyptus in too.”

Geralt hesitated only a fraction of a second before running for the stairs.

“Hold him up,” Vesemir said to Eskel, taking his spot behind Jaskier. “Lean him forward a little.”

Eskel held Jaskier against his chest, the bard’s head over his shoulder. Vesemir began to hit across Jaskier’s back with open palms.

“Breathe, bard,” Vesemir murmured.

Finally, the sound of the coughs changed, and Jaskier spit a wad of dark phlegm. He was still wheezing, but he no longer sounded like he was choking.

“Let’s get him down to the kitchen,” Vesemir said. Eskel lifted Jaskier easily and counted his heartbeats as they descended the stairs.

Geralt had run into Lambert between Jaskier’s room and the kitchen, and they had a large pot of water boiling. Vesemir directed them to bring it to the table, and Eskel took a seat with Jaskier in his lap. He held the bard over the pot, careful to keep him far enough away to not be burned, and Vesemir draped a towel over Jaskier and the pot.

“What is this?” Lambert said.

“The steam helps the cough,” Vesemir said.

Jaskier did seem to be breathing better. Eskel could feel the straining muscles in the bard’s chest begin to ease. Once the steam and the wheeze were gone, Vesemir pulled the towel away. Jaskier’s face was sweaty and red, and he was boneless against Eskel’s grip.

“You can take him back to bed,” Vesemir said. Eskel moved to stand, but Geralt stepped forward.

“I’ll take him,” he said. He lifted Jaskier from Eskel’s lap gently, and the other three witchers pretended not to see him press his lips to Jaskier’s forehead as they climbed the stairs.

-

“Jaskier,” Geralt whispered. The bard had woken in the night to vomit again, and they had just gotten him resettled. Tonight, Geralt shared the bed with Jaskier, and Lambert and Eskel were sleeping in the floor. “I am not sure how lucid you are, but… I need to tell you something.”

Geralt reached out to touch the bard’s cheek, and Jaskier sighed sleepily. Vesemir’s coriander had kept the fever manageable, but Jaskier was still overwarm. Geralt stroked circles over his cheek with his thumb and tried to find the words.

“I know humans have short lives,” he said. “I have always known this. But I am not ready to lose you, Jaskier.”

Jaskier made another sleepy noise and curled closer to Geralt. The witcher moved his hand to Jaskier’s hair as the bard pressed his forehead against his chest. He wasn’t sure how awake Jaskier was, how much he understood, but he had to say it.

“I love you, Jaskier. I am sorry it took me so long to say it.”

Geralt paused and focused on memorizing the feeling of holding Jaskier. Eskel and Lambert were still on the floor, and Geralt suspected that his brothers were still awake. He couldn’t bring himself to care. Half of the week Vesemir had given them had already passed.

“I am not ready to lose you,” Geralt said again.

-

On the fourth day, Jaskier’s voice began to go. The croaking made Geralt’s chest ache, so he spent the morning in the courtyard chopping firewood. Eskel was trying to come up with a soup that would entice Jaskier to eat more, which left Lambert to sit with the bard.

“Will you read to me, Bert?” Jaskier asked hoarsely. He was having one of his more lucid moments.

“Not that poet book,” Lambert said, crinkling his nose. “It’s terribly dry, Jask, even for you.”

“Do you have something else then?” Jaskier said. The last few syllables sounded more like puffs of air than words, but Lambert understood. He left the room wordlessly and returned moments later with a thick, well-worn book of fairy tales. When Jaskier eyed it curiously, Lambert said, “There used to be children here, remember? Vesemir would read to us when we were in pain.”

Jaskier didn’t look much different than the boys this book had been read to. His face and arms were thin with dehydration, and he shivered despite the blanket pulled up to his chest. His cheeks were fever flushed, and Lambert reached out without thinking to smooth down the bard’s hair. He paused there for a moment before clearing his throat and starting to read.

-

Geralt slept in Jaskier’s bed again that night. There was only room for one mattress in the floor, so Eskel and Lambert shared it. Eskel read the poet book until all of his brothers were asleep.

-

“Geralt?” Jaskier croaked suddenly.

Lambert paused, hand already extended to feed Jaskier. Applesauce dripped onto the sheets.

“No, it’s me, Jask,” Lambert said. “It’s Bert.”

“Geralt,” Jaskier said again. “I’ve got to… I need… Got to help Geralt.”

Jaskier was trying to get out of bed, but his legs were tangled in the blanket. Lambert scrambled to keep him from hurting himself. Heat was pouring off of the bard everywhere he touched.

“Geralt’s fine,” Lambert promised. “You need to stay in bed.”

“Geralt!” Jaskier cried, weakly batting at Lambert’s hands.

“I’ll get him, okay?” Lambert said. “But you’ve got to stay still.”

Lambert couldn’t tell if Jaskier actually understood him, but he collapsed back against the pillows. Lambert went to the door and shouted for Geralt, hurrying back to Jaskier without waiting for a response.

“He’s coming,” Lambert said desperately. “It’s okay, Jask.”

Jaskier moaned and curled on his side as Eskel came running into the room.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Lambert said. “He just started calling for Geralt and trying to get out of bed.”

“I’ll get him,” Eskel said, watching Jaskier, “and Vesemir.”

Geralt had been outside, but he still reached them first. He crashed into the room at a full sprint, but Jaskier didn’t seem to notice. He was still curled on his side, whimpering and occasionally croaking out Geralt’s name.

“Jaskier,” Geralt said. He kneeled beside the bed and winced when he pressed his hand to Jaskier’s forehead. “The fever’s too high. We need cold water.”

“Vesemir already went to get some,” Eskel said. Geralt nodded and pulled the blanket off the bed. Jaskier cried out pitifully at the temperature change.

“I was just sitting with him, trying to get him to eat,” Lambert said, blinking away tears, “and he started calling for you. I don’t think he understood who I was.”

“It’s the fever,” Geralt said. “He’s delirious.”

Vesemir finally arrived in the room, carrying a sloshing bowl of water and a handful of rags. He took one look at the other witchers before ordering them out of the room. Geralt didn’t leave, but he did force Eskel and Lambert into the hall. As soon as the door to Jaskier’s room closed, Lambert crashed into Eskel’s chest, desperate for the kind of easy affection Jaskier gave so readily.

“Is it happening?” Lambert said.

“I don’t know.”

“Why did Geralt ever bring him here?” Lambert said. “It was fine for him to have a bard, but we didn’t have to know him. I can’t do this.”

Eskel made a soothing noise and rubbed circles against Lambert’s back. The witchers had never been so openly affectionate before Geralt introduced them to Jaskier.

“You love him,” Eskel finally said. “I know you like having a younger brother.”

Lambert sniffled. He loved Jaskier, and he liked him. He liked the bard’s quick wit and constant chattering. He liked taking Jaskier on hunts and teaming up with him to harass Geralt. He liked the hugs and laughter and sunshine Jaskier brought into Kaer Morhen.

“I can’t do this,” Lambert said again. Eskel didn’t let go of him.

They stayed in the hallway until Vesemir reemerged from Jaskier’s room. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and the oldest witcher looked tired.

“We got his fever down,” Vesemir said. “Geralt’s sitting with him.”

Back in the bedroom, Geralt was beside the bed, leaning forward on his elbows to trace his fingertips down Jaskier’s damp cheek. He was humming roughly, one of Jaskier’s songs, and the bard’s eyes were half-closed. The room smelt like sickness, but underneath it was still honey and sunshine and Jaskier.

-

Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert all stayed in Jaskier’s room again that night, but none of them slept much.

-

On the sixth day, Jaskier had no voice at all. Lambert read him fairytales, and Eskel finished the poet book. Geralt sat in bed with Jaskier for most of the day, wiping sweat from his forehead with cool water. Jaskier ate a small cup of applesauce and most of a bowl of broth, and he only vomited once.

-

“I think I am on the mend,” Jaskier said hoarsely on the seventh morning. Geralt smiled softly.

“You don’t have to be brave,” he murmured. “It’s okay to be scared.”

“I’m not scared,” Jaskier said. “Lots of people get the flu.”

“Okay,” Geralt relented. If it comforted Jaskier to pretend that this wasn’t a big deal, he would go along.

-

Lambert finished the book of fairytales that afternoon, but he stayed in his chair after he closed the book.

“Jaskier,” he said, “you have been a good friend to me.”

“I’ll always be your friend, Bertie,” Jaskier said, smiling.

“Yes,” Lambert said. He sounded more agreeable than Jaskier had ever heard him before. “I will miss you.”

“Where am I going?” Jaskier asked. Lambert closed his eyes and tried to think of an answer that Jaskier would like.

“Everywhere,” he said after a moment, reaching out to squeeze Jaskier’s hand. “You’ll be everywhere, Jask.”

“Okay,” Jaskier said, blinking in confusion.

-

“Vesemir,” Geralt said. The witchers were gathered in the hallway before Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert joined Jaskier in his room for the night. “It’s been a week. How much longer do you think he’ll suffer?”

“Well, he seems to be on the upswing,” Vesemir said. “Maybe another day to truly kick it, and then it’ll be about recovering from the dehydration.”

“What?”

“I’d say he should be back on his feet in another week,” Vesemir continued. “Although we should wait before trying any kind of training or manual labor.”

Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert stared at him in confusion. Finally, Eskel ventured hesitantly to speak.

“So Jaskier isn’t… dying?”

Now it was Vesemir’s turn to stare.

“Did you think he was?” Vesemir said.

“You said he had a week,” Lambert said.

“I said that the illness would last a week,” Vesemir corrected. “It did hit his lungs rather severely, but influenza is rarely fatal in a man Jaskier’s age.”

“Jaskier will live?” Geralt said, and Vesemir nodded.

“Boys,” Vesemir said after a long pause, “if you’re going to keep the bard, you need to do some research into human illnesses. I expect you to bring him back for many more winters.”

Vesemir excused himself, still shaking his head. Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert stood gaping at each other in the hallway for another moment.

“Jaskier is not dying,” Eskel said.

“Yet,” Lambert added, and the other two glared at him.

Jaskier was already dozing in bed, but he sat up and smiled when the witchers came into his room. They settled in quietly, and Geralt blew out the candle once he had joined Jaskier in bed.

“Jaskier,” Lambert said after a moment of quiet.

“Hmm?”

“You are not going anywhere.”