“Jaskier!” That was the only warning he got before he felt himself being thrown through the air by aard, away from the charging beast. He collided with a tree, sending blinding pain through his chest as the wind was knocked out of him. He lay, stunned and gasping on the forest floor as he heard the sounds of fighting nearby.
He eventually managed to suck in a breath only to be met by more pain and an awful grinding in his ribs. They must have broken from the impact. His next breath was shallower to avoid the pain. He managed to get himself upright and away from the fight, only to collapse at the base of another tree while he waited for the witcher to defeat the monster.
He didn’t have to wait long. With a final shout, Geralt dealt the killing blow and the creature fell. He made his way over to where the bard sat. “I told you to wait with Roach,” he growled through gritted teeth.
“I know but how am I supposed to write about your heroic deeds if I never get to see you fight,” he said, somehow managing not to wince when his ribs ached with the simple act of speaking. He had already decided not to tell the wither he was hurt, not wanting to burden Geralt with his injuries. Injuries he wouldn’t have if he had just listened.
Geralt only grunted but did offer him a hand up. Jaskier took it and hauled himself to his feet, biting back a pained cry which came out as more of a whimper. “Are you hurt?” Geralt asked, eyes glancing over the bard to check for any obvious injuries.
“I’m fine. Just a bit winded from when I landed.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, but it was hardly the entire truth.
Seemingly satisfied that Jaskier wasn't hurt, Geralt began the short walk back to their small camp where they had left Roach, trusting that Jaskier would follow. The bard moved slower than usual, not trying to keep up with the fast pace the witcher set. He focused instead on taking shallow breaths and making sure he didn’t trip on any protruding root in his path.
Geralt was already preparing to go hunt something for their dinner when Jaskier arrived. “Can I trust you to stay put this time?”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,” he said as he trudged over to his bedroll, thankfully already rolled out beside the remains of their fire from earlier.
It wasn’t long before Geralt disappeared and Jaskier was finally alone, save for Roach. He fully intended to take off his doublet and chemise to see how bad the damage was. He became stuck at the first hurdle when he couldn’t move his arms enough to get out of his doublet. Shifting too much caused agony to spike through his ribs, leaving him breathless. It seemed he would be stuck until his ribs healed enough to allow him to get changed. Fortunately, he often simply slept in the clothes he was wearing so Geralt shouldn’t find it suspicious later that he hadn’t changed.
Since he had nothing better to do, he picked up his lute and began playing a few songs, not really in the mood for composing anything new. He stiffly held his arms close to his body, limiting his usual range of motion which made playing a little difficult, but since he considered himself to be one of the best bards on the continent, he pushed through the pain in an effort to convince Geralt he really was fine when he returned.
The witcher wasn’t gone long before he returned with a deer. He was silent as he prepared the meat, setting some aside to turn into jerky to restock their supply for the coming days. Jaskier continued to idly play a few simple songs. If Geralt noticed he wasn’t singing along with any of them, he didn’t mention it. The rest of the night passed mostly in silence except for the occasional question or remark from Jaskier and a grunted response from Geralt.
Waking up was agony. Lying down the night before had been difficult, any movement causing his poor ribs to ache, making breathing difficult. Once lying on the hard ground, it had taken a long time for sleep to claim him. Now, after hours staying in the same position, he felt like moving was near impossible.
Of course, the witcher was already up and had packed away most of their belongings. “Get up, we’re leaving soon,” he said once he’d noticed the bard was awake.
“Good morning to you too,” Jaskier grumbled as he contemplated just staying there on the ground. There were still many monsters in this forest and, despite being in an immense amount of pain, he didn’t particularly enjoy the idea of being killed by one.
He took a moment to grit his teeth and prepare for the pain before rolling to his side and pushing himself upright. He couldn’t help the groan that escaped, hoping the witcher wouldn’t hear. Of course, with heightened senses, there was no way Geralt was going to miss it. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Just a little sore after you aarded me yesterday. It’s nothing, don’t worry yourself,” he said, shooting him a smile which hopefully hid his pain.
Geralt gave him a suspicious look but otherwise seemed to accept his explanation. After a moment, Jaskier managed to get himself to his feet. Just the simple task of standing had left him winded and aching. One arm reflexively wrapped around his chest as he tried to get his breathing under control. The urge to take a deep breath was strong but he knew it would only cause more pain, and then he would probably be forced to admit to Geralt that he was the one who broke his ribs.
Eventually he straightened, dropped his arm, and tried to help with packing their bags. Geralt, knowing that he was at least in a little bit of pain, insisted he sit by the relit fire and eat something before they left. Jaskier couldn’t help but notice the way Geralt kept glancing his way, a hint of guilt on his face. No doubt it was because now he knew he had hurt Jaskier, however unintentional it was. It renewed Jaskier's resolve to deal with his broken ribs alone.
Determined to keep up the charade, Jaskier tried his best for the rest of the day to act as though every breath didn’t feel like fire. He walked beside Roach, occasionally chatting away about whatever came to mind. His tangents and stories didn’t last as long as usual as his chest would begin to feel tight and painful after just a few minutes. He would have to stop speaking and take a few measured breaths, careful not to breathe too deeply or risk the feeling of his broken bones grinding against each other. Every so often he would catch himself with an arm wrapped around his ribs, as though he could hold himself together and pretend he was whole. Luckily, Geralt always seemed to be looking at the path ahead instead of the bard so the action went unnoticed.
It was beginning to get dark by the time they finally returned to the village where Geralt had been hired. It wasn’t a big place, only really consisting of a few houses and barns and a small tavern. They first went to the alderman’s house to collect their reward before heading to the tavern. Geralt tied Roach to the hitching post outside while Jaskier went inside to ask if there was anywhere they could spend the night. The tavern didn’t have any rooms but one of the patrons overheard their conversation and offered the use of his barn as thanks for dealing with the village’s monster problem.
Geralt entered shortly after and Jaskier relayed the offer to him. They ordered food and some ale before settling at a table in the corner. It wasn’t long before their ale arrived. Jaskier took a large swig, hoping the alcohol might dampen some of the pain.
“Not going to perform tonight?” Geralt asked. Usually Jaskier would jump at the chance to perform, especially if there was coin to be made. The atmosphere in the room was celebratory now that the monster had been defeated, an excellent opportunity for the bard to perform. But singing for hours on end was the last thing on his mind since even the shallowest breaths hurt.
Jaskier shook his head. “Not tonight, my dear witcher.”
“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked, a crease forming on his brow.
“Just tired, I think. Didn’t sleep well and we’ve been travelling all day.” He attempted a shrug but aborted the motion quickly.
“Is it because I had to use aard on you?”
“A little but as you said, I shouldn’t have gotten so close to begin with. It’s my own fault really.” If Geralt felt this guilty over what he probably assumed were a few bruises, he was glad he hadn’t told him about his broken ribs. People may claim that witchers don’t have emotions, but they didn’t know him like Jaskier did. He may act like nothing affected him, but he felt just as deeply as any other man, if not more.
Geralt only grunted into his ale at that. Jaskier changed the subject before Geralt could say anything else. It wasn’t long before two bowls of stew arrived and Jaskier had an excuse to stop talking. He was near silent for the rest of the night except for when they talked to the farmer again about staying in the barn.
The barn itself wasn’t very big, but it didn’t really matter. There was a place for Roach with fresh hay and a roof over their heads. It was all they really needed. Jaskier rolled out his bedroll while Geralt sat nearby, cleaning and inspecting his swords and armour. Yet again, the bard found any attempt at taking his doublet off was impossible without seriously hurting himself. He let out an almost inaudible whimper. No one would have heard it, but yet again Geralt’s mutations all but ensured that he did.
“Jaskier,” he said, looking up from his silver blade, “what’s really wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jaskier said. His reply was quick and defensive and he knew the game was up.
“Don’t lie. You’ve been off ever since the hunt. You’re hiding something from me.”
“No, I’m not. And I don’t see why it’s any of your concern.”
“Do you not trust me?” he asked, hurt colouring his voice.
“Of course I trust you!” he said with a little too much enthusiasm, causing his ribs to grind. He gasped from the pain, only causing it to intensify. He grimaced, giving in to the urge to double over and wrap his arm around his chest, as though that would do anything to dull the pain.
Geralt immediately put aside his sword and went to stand next to the bard. He placed a gentle hand on his arm and tried to get him to straighten and look him in the eyes. “I trust you with my life, Geralt.” His voice had gone quiet, barely more than a strained murmur.
“Then tell me what’s wrong.”
Jaskier shook his head, still trying to take shallow breaths to control the pain.
“Fine. At least sit down. You look like you’re about to pass out.”
Now that Geralt had mentioned it, he did feel slightly faint. He let himself be led to the crate Geralt had been sitting on. The change in position caused another involuntary groan of pain to escape. Geralt took him by the shoulders to keep him still while he scanned him over for any obvious injuries. Finding none, his gaze returned to the bard’s face, golden eyes full of concern.
“Jaskier. Please just tell me what’s wrong. I can’t help you if I don’t know.” Jaskier only let out a huff of air. It was supposed to be a dramatic sigh, but breathing wasn’t exactly easy for him right now. “Jaskier,” he said, with more of a warning tone.
Geralt set to work trying to carefully remove Jaskier’s doublet. With each small movement, the bard let out small sounds of pain, finally letting go of the pretence he was fine. “If you relax, this will hurt less. Just let me do it, okay?” Geralt said eventually.
Jaskier tried his best to relax, allowing the witcher to do most of the work. It was much easier to take off the piece of clothing now that his arms weren’t quite so tense, although it still hurt. Geralt decided against trying to get him out of his chemise so he simply lifted up the hem.
Jaskier’s skin was mottled with a massive, dark bruise all down his right side and around his back. They both stared dumbly at it.
“Oh,” he Jaskier mumbled, “that’s not good.” He hadn't expected the bruising to be quite that bad and was shocked at how dark it looked.
That snapped the witcher back to the present. “You should have told me, you idiot.”
“I didn’t want you to worry. Although, I will admit I didn’t know it was this bad.”
Geralt carefully felt around the area. It was clearly swollen, and every slight touch caused Jaskier to tense up again. He felt the distinct crunchy feeling of a fracture along his side. “No wonder you’re struggling to breath. You’ve got three broken ribs.”
“Guess that means no singing for a while then.”
“Jaskier, you shouldn’t have even been walking for as long as you were today. So no, definitely no singing. How did this even happen?”
“Ah, well, you see… Erm, how to put this…” he said, clearly trying to find the right wording. Geralt was already beginning to put the pieces together. The only time Jaskier had been in danger recently was when the monster had charged at him. But he had shoved him out of the way with aard, the beast never touched him. Which meant…
Geralt’s eyes suddenly widened in realisation. “I did this.” He looked up from the dark bruise and into Jaskier’s eyes. “It was me wasn’t it.” Jaskier’s silence was all the answer he needed. “Jaskier I’m so sorry. I only meant to get you out of the way.”
“I know. And if it wasn’t for you, that beast would have surely killed me. This isn’t your fault. I should’ve listened and stayed with Roach. And hey, you couldn’t have known I was going to smack into a tree.”
Geralt felt another stab of guilt at the mention of the tree. He continued examining his chest for a moment longer. Satisfied there weren’t any more broken ribs, he moved to where their bags were piled up by the wall. He rummaged around for something before returning. “This should help with some of the pain,” he said, opening up a small glass jar.
Inside was some kind of herbal smelling salve which he began applying across Jaskier’s chest. It was slightly cold, causing him to flinch and sending a spike of pain through him. Soon however he felt some of the ache start to fade.
Jaskier let out a careful sigh of relief. It was the first time the pain had lessened instead of getting worse. “You should get some rest. Try and stay a bit more upright when you lie down. It’ll help in the morning.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m a witcher. You really think I’ve never had broken ribs before?”
“Hmm, suppose that makes sense. How long does it take to heal?”
“For me, only a couple of weeks. For you? Much longer since you don’t have the benefit of witcher healing.”
“So, a month?”
“At least. Possibly longer.”
“Longer! But how am I supposed to perform,” he whined.
“You’re not. You supposed to rest and let yourself heal.” The witcher said as he helped him down to his bedroll. He pulled one of their bags mostly filled with clothes over so that Jaskier could lie against it. “How’s that?” he asked once Jaskier seemed settled.
“Better than last night. Thanks,” he said with a small smile.
Geralt shook his head in disbelief. “You should have told me. You didn’t have to spend the night on the ground.”
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you would only blame yourself like you are now. I didn’t listen. You saved my life. I’d rather have a few broken ribs than be torn to pieces by a monster.”
“Hmm,” Geralt went and sat back down on the crate and resumed cleaning his sword, signifying the conversation was over.
Jaskier was grateful Geralt had propped him up against the bag of clothes. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but it beat lying on his back on the ground. This time he could actually breathe rather than struggle for each breath because of the pain. Hopefully what the witcher had said was true and he would have less difficulty getting up in the morning. He wasn’t looking forward to a repeat of this morning’s events.