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The Heat And The Hurt

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Jaskier was sitting in the tavern, papers spread around the table in front of him, a tankard of ale sitting half-drunk and forgotten nearby. Geralt had gone into the woods to deal with a nest of nekkers, so he had decided to stay behind for once. He’d seen the witcher fight nekkers plenty of times after all and he'd much rather spend his time waiting working on his latest ballad.

It was a quiet afternoon and everything seemed to be going to plan, when suddenly a scream pierced the peace. It had come from outside and soon was joined by a chorus of shouting. Curious to see what was going on, Jaskier left his papers on the table and went outside.

The air outside stank of smoke. Just down the road he could see the source of the smell. One of the houses had caught fire, a thick column of grey rising into the sky. People were rushing about, trying to get water from the well to quench the flames. Jaskier made his way over, wanting to see if he could be of any help.

Just as he arrived, a man emerged from the house, his clothes and face plastered in ash and he was covering his mouth with his sleeve. “Danak!” a woman from the gathered crowed cried, rushing over to his side. “Where’s Maja and Piotr?”

The man, Danak, only shook his head, still coughing too much to form a sentence. Jaskier approached the two. “Is there still someone inside?” he asked.

Danak nodded. “Please, my son-” he wheezed.

Without stopping to think about what he was about to do, Jaskier pulled out the handkerchief he always kept on him from his pocket and tied it around his face before running into the house. The smoke burnt his eyes, and the heat was almost unbearable. “Hello!” he called out, tried his best to be heard above the flames. He heard no reply so he went further into the house, checking each room for anyone still inside. “Hello? Where are you?”

“Here! We’re in here!” came a woman’s voice at last. It was weak and it was clear the smoke was getting to her. It seemed to come from behind a door, partially blocked by a beam that must have fallen from the roof. Jaskier managed to shift it out of the way, ignoring the pain in his hands as it burnt his skin. He tried to open the door but it seemed to be stuck. “Stand back!” he yelled. He backed up a little before kicking the door open.

Inside he saw a woman sitting on the floor in the far corner, holding a toddler close to her chest. “Come on,” Jaskier said, holding out a hand to help her up. He let her go out first, not knowing how long they had already been sitting in that smoke-filled room.

They were almost at the door when suddenly there was a loud crack right above their heads. “Go!” he yelled at her. She made it through the door just in time, clutching her son to her chest. Jaskier was not so lucky. He stumbled back, narrowly missing most of the rubble that cascaded down, covering him in hot ash and burnt wood.

He tripped, falling on his ass as a larger beam fell. It was slightly easier to breath on the floor, but he knew his time was running out. He sat up, trying to get his feet under him again, but found the beam had trapped his leg in place. With no other option available, he readied himself to lift the beam, just enough to get free.

The charred wood hurt his already burnt hands, but he pushed the pain to the back of his mind as he lifted. He managed to lift it up just enough to pull his leg free, dropping the burning wood as soon as he could.

He stumbled to his feet, finally making his way through the door and out to the cool air outside. He collapsed on his knees just beyond the door, ripping away his handkerchief from his face and taking in a gasp of air. Immediately it caused a coughing fit and he found himself struggling to draw in any air. He was vaguely aware of someone half-dragging him away from the burning building toward the well.

He finally became more aware of his surroundings as he got his breathing somewhat under control. He looked to his right to see the woman and child he had saved sitting on the edge of the well. A middle-aged man, who Jaskier presumed was a healer, was checking them both over for burns. He realised then someone else was talking to him.

A woman was trying to talk to him while she lifted a bucket of water up from the well. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton as he still struggled to breathe properly, but he tried his best to listen. She seemed to notice she had his attention then. “What’s your name?”

“Ja-Jaskier,” he coughed.

“The witcher’s bard?” Jaskier nodded. She pulled the bucket over the edge, resting it on the wall next to Jaskier before dipping a cup into it. She held the cup up to Jaskier’s lips, allowing him to take a few sips to help clear the smoke from his throat. The water was blessedly cool and did seem to help him breathe a little easier.

“Thank you,” he croaked.

“Nonsense. We should be thanking you for saving Maja and Piotr. Let me see your hands, I'm a healer too.”

Jaskier did as told and held up his hands for the woman to see. They were covered in black ash, but he could tell the skin beneath was red and beginning to blister in places. The woman gently took his hands and placed them over the bucket of water before ever so carefully washing away the grime, cupping the water in her hand to let it run over his skin. He couldn’t contain the hisses of pain at the touch but tried his best to focus on the cool water on his overheated skin. This went on for what felt like a long time but gradually the heat seemed to lessen in his skin.

“Jaskier!” came Geralt’s voice after a while. He looked up to see the witcher running toward him, worry written plain as day across his face. “What stupid thing did you do this time?” To those who didn’t know the witcher, he sounded angry, almost furious. But Jaskier could hear the panic in his voice.

Before Jaskier could reply, the woman who was still tending to his hands spoke. “He saved Danak’s family from the fire, witcher.”

Geralt turned back to Jaskier. “You ran into a burning building.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. Jaskier only nodded, having started coughing again. Just then what was left of the house finally collapsed, only leaving three walls standing. The gathered crowd collectively gasped in horror as more ash bellowed out of the rubble.

“Is he hurt?” Geralt asked the woman, not bothering to ask Jaskier himself since he was now coughing again.

“He burnt his hands,” she said.

"How badly?"

"He shouldn't have any lasting damage. It might take a few weeks but he'll be right as rain."

"You got lucky.”

“I’ll still be able to play?” Jaskier managed to rasp.

“Not any time soon. But yes, when the skin has healed you should be fine. Come on, I’ve got some salve that can help back at our room," the witcher said.

Reluctantly, Jaskier removed his hands from the bucket and stood to follow Geralt. “Thank you again, Jaskier,” the woman said as he left.

Jaskier didn’t have the breath to reply, only giving what he hoped came across as a smile instead of a grimace in return. Geralt kept close as they walked. It wasn’t far back to their room. The village was too small for a dedicated inn but the tavern had a couple of rooms for weary travellers.

Once inside, Jaskier sat on the bed while Geralt began rummaging through his pack for his healing supplies. Jaskier hadn’t stopped coughing and had seemingly attracted the attention of the tavern owner who was knocking on the open door. “Sorry to intrude. I heard what happened. I brought some water for the bard. I can get a bath drawn too if that would help,” he said, taking in the state of Jaskier’s soot blackened clothes.

He set a pitcher of water and a cup on the small table by Jaskier before leaving. Geralt thanked him briefly, asking if he could bring a bowl of water too, before pouring a cup for Jaskier, knowing he wouldn’t be able to do it himself, before going back to his search. Jaskier could just about manage to hold the cup but it took a lot of effort. The skin on his fingers and palms hurt with even the slightest of touches.

Eventually Geralt located his salve as well as a few other items. The tavern owner returned with the requested bowl of water. Geralt carefully cleaned away the remaining grime from Jaskier’s hands and arms, checking his skin for any more signs of injury. It seemed he had been lucky and only burnt the skin that had come in direct contact with the burning rubble.

Once the witcher was satisfied his arms were clean, he gently covered his skin in the salve. It was pleasantly cool and remained that way for several minutes after, bringing some relief from the heat, as well as acting to numb the pain a little. Geralt didn’t bandage the burns, saying how it would only cause bits of fluff and dirt to get stuck in his wounds.
Later, Geralt had a bath drawn for him and with a little help, Jaskier was finally free of the ash that clung to him. Dinner was an odd experience since Jaskier found it difficult to hold anything. It was slightly humiliating at first to be fed by Geralt but it was just them in their room, since he didn’t particularly feel like facing an entire tavern full of people in his current state, so he eventually managed to relax.

The next couple of weeks wouldn’t be too bad, he thought. Sure he had temporarily lost the use of his hands, but at least he knew his witcher would be there to help him.