A/N: This is a Janther Week fic, written in response to the prompt for Day 4, Foofaraw; "a great fuss over something that is trivial".
Jane has never in her life seen a case of hiccups this bad.
Not that she's any sort of expert on the subject – not remotely. But she's seen a few bouts and she's had a few bouts, and in her experience they usually last twenty minutes or so… maybe.
This has been going on for hours, starting shortly after breakfast, and it's now past midday.
And Gunther is miserable.
She cuts her eyes sideways, shooting him a surreptitious glance, grateful that they are at least alone on this stretch of road. His mood would probably be more foul still if there were others around to witness this.
Even as things stand, his expression is darker than the thunderheads that are piling up on the horizon. On top of everything else it looks like they're going to get rained on, and sooner rather than later. Jane actually has to suppress a smile. If ever there were a day that appeared custom-crafted just to torture Gunther…
It's almost enough to set her laughing outright, but Jane is not stupid. She knows her partner, and she knows that that would be a very bad –
Instead, she resumes racking her brain for a solution. There must be something she can do to help him. If he will let her, that is.
Oh. Oh. Oh goodness, if looks could kill. The glare he shoots her from those slate-colored eyes is more wickedly barbed than the arrows in his quiver.
Good Lord, Gunther Breech. It is only a case of the –
Jane lapses into silence, and they ride on without the benefit of conversation. After a while she starts humming a snatch of tune under her breath, trying to distract herself. She could probably actually ignore the hiccups rather easily; what's difficult for her, as time goes on, is ignoring how unhappy Gunther is.
Jane doesn't like seeing Gunther unhappy, in fact it pains her more than a little. He is, after all, one of the most important people – one of the most important forces – in her life.
There had been a time when their mentors had despaired of them ever working together productively; a time when Jane had despaired of Gunther growing into a person she'd even be able to stand for more than ten minutes at a time, let alone successfully partner with…
But Gunther had grown into a good man and a dedicated knight, and they actually work quite well together.
Nor is that all – she cares about him, and not just in a working capacity, either. She cares about him deeply; to the point, in fact – she's still in the process of fully coming to grips with this – that she might be just a little bit in love with him.
Still, though… can he ever work himself into a MOOD.
"Have you tried holding your br–"
She breaks off when he makes a noise deep in his throat that sounds suspiciously like a –
Saints, is he growling at her!?
"Gunther! I am only trying to h–"
"Well, do not," he snaps. "I am perfectly -hic- fine."
Is that how he wants things?
"I could summon Dragon," she offers, starting to be annoyed in her own right.
"Which would accomplish what exactly?" He demands. Oh, he is in a snit.
"If I ask him very nicely, maybe he would fly you up high and drop you. Scare the hiccups right out of you. I am almost positive he could catch you again."
He gives her a long, silent, baleful look.
"What?" She asks innocently. "It is that hint of uncertainty that makes the scare real, which is what makes the cure work."
"No… thank you," he grits out from between clenched teeth. Followed a second later by –
She thinks she hears him stifle a groan.
"Here," she says an hour or so later, "chew these."
They'd been riding through a little meadow when she'd spotted the wild dill. She'd dismounted without comment and Gunther had kept going, albeit at a leisurely pace, doubtless assuming she was in need of a few minutes of privacy and would catch him up when done.
She hadn't disabused him of that notion; after all, it was more or less the truth… just not for the reason he supposed.
She'd quickly harvested a handful of the seeds; they are a cure her mother swears by so she figures it's worth a shot.
Gunther, however, is looking at them most distrustfully.
"What are those?"
Jane wonders for a moment if he is actually the most difficult man on earth. Then she remembers his father.
Nope, not even close.
"Poison," she says, deadpan. "I have decided I would work better on my own. The death will be excruciating, but it will, at least, certainly end the hiccups for you." She rolls her eyes at his glare. "They are dill seeds, dung brain, and they just might help."
He maintains the glare… but he also extends his hand.
Alas, however, the seeds have no discernible effect. Gunther is still hiccuping as they approach the next village. It is now mid afternoon, and Jane suggests they stop for a meal at the public house; hot food would be a welcome change from their road rations.
Gunther, however, is not interested and really, Jane is hardly surprised. She hadn't truly expected that he'd want to keep company with others in his current –
Still, the allure of warm bread and stew, or maybe even meat pies out of the oven, is too much for Jane. She leaves Gunther hiccing and brooding in a little clearing just outside the village, and continues on herself to hopefully procure them some sustenance and bring it back to him.
She is, to her delight, highly successful – she manages to acquire fresh, hot food for the both of them, a jug of ale to share, and a couple of other things besides; a pair of big yellow onions and a small pot of vinegar. Jane is not giving up on Gunther. In matters both large and small, it is her duty – and her heart – to never give up on Gunther. Whether he particularly appreciates her perseverance, or not.
Her mother's cure might not have worked, but there are methods that Pepper swears by as well. They are, perhaps, a bit less… genteel, but who knows? They might be all the more effective for that.
In any event, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Gunther perks up slightly at the sight of the large sack Jane carries into the clearing – and at the aromas wafting from it. It has been several days since they've had anything but camp food. He even gives her a tentative smile as she unpacks the bounty she's brought. But he watches her suspiciously from the corner of his eye when she commences slicing the onions with her dagger, and placing some of them to soak in the vinegar.
"Now what?" He asks flatly, regarding her mistrustfully as he licks his fingers clean of his meal.
Jane flashes him her brightest smile.
"The ones soaking in vinegar, you are going to eat. The others –" she has to suppress a giggle; she's seen Pepper do this to Rake and it is rather ridiculous – "go against the bottoms of your feet."
There is a brief, but loaded, pause.
Then, "if you think that," Gunther says in a deceptively mild voice, "you really do have dragon -hic- dung between your ears."
"Where is the harm in trying?" Jane asks in mild exasperation. "There is no one around to see, and is it not worthwhile on the chance that it works? Or do you want to have the hiccups forever?"
He looks so appalled by that suggestion, so utterly and completely horrified, that she wants to throw her arms around him and just hug him.
"Gunther," she says more gently, "they will not last forever, I promise. But this might get rid of them even faster… you will never know unless you try."
For a moment he just stares at her. Then, muttering resignedly under his breath, he starts to work off his boots.
The onions have no effect either.
Nor does the next thing she has him try, which is to place the sack in which she'd carried their meal over his head and breathe deeply for several minutes.
It's almost worthwhile, though, just for the ASTONISHING string of swears that issues forth from beneath that rough-spun fabric.
Jane is truly, deeply –
The words themselves are marvelous, but the combinations employ a level of creative genius she had never suspected. The hiccups that intersperse this tirade make her very glad that with the bag over his head, he can't see her face.
Because despite her best attempts, she cannot fully banish the disbelieving grin that overtakes her.
It's almost poetic. It's almost hypnotic.
Her mother would choke.
When he finally yanks the sack off his head, his hair stands out in every direction; a staticky, stick-uppy mess. He gives her a look of deep reproach…
And then it starts to rain.
They pack up and continue on their way; there are still a few hours before dark and Gunther is anxious to put the time to use. Jane supposes travel is at least a distraction to him; hiccuping while moving is probably slightly less onerous than hiccuping while sitting still.
Plus if the rain is going to last for any significant length of time, they both want to find a campsite that offers more in the way of shelter from the elements.
"Plug your ears and nose," she orders him when they stop at a brook to refill their water supply.
"Jane, no." He just sounds weary now.
"Smithy swears this works. You need to plug your nose and both ears, and gulp down as much water as you can before you have to breathe again."
"That is the most ridiculous -hic- thing I have ever heard. How am I supposed to do all of that at once? I only have two hands, Jane."
"I will hold the waterskin for you. You have to trust me, Gunther."
Gunther opens his mouth – closes it again – scrubs one hand hard down his face from forehead to chin.
"All right," he says finally.
But she can't even be truly be happy that he's letting her try. It's his voice – it's twisting her up inside, her earlier amusement entirely gone. It just sounds so…
She hopes – she really hopes – that this cure will finally work.
...But it doesn't.
For a moment or two it seems like it has, which makes even the fact that they both get rather wet in the attempt seem worthwhile.
Gunther, once he catches his breath, grouses that the rain was doing a good enough job of soaking them, thank you very much – but without any real ill feeling. In fact, he has started to brighten up considerably when –
And he just… wilts.
Jane wilts with him.
After that, they continue on in silence. Well –
– relative silence, anyway.
It's nearly dusk and a desultory drizzle is falling when Jane spies the beehive a few yards from the road.
Honey. The sweet, gloopy, slightly grainy texture of wild honey is another potential cure.
She glances at Gunther but he's hunched in his saddle, eyes downcast.
He looks so utterly dejected it makes her breath catch in her throat.
She slips from her horse without a word; loops her reins around a handy branch. She snaps off another small branch, and has covered about half of the distance to the drowsily buzzing hive when Gunther catches her by the arm. She hadn't even heard him coming up behind her, so intent had she been on her purpose.
"Jane," he says, "stop."
"I am just getting some honey. It might –"
"No, Jane. Leave it -hic- alone."
"You will get stung!"
"I will use smoke –" she indicates the branch she is holding – "I am not an idiot, Gunther Breech."
"No? How exactly do you plan on lighting it? That branch will never catch, it is far too green and in case you have not -hic- noticed, it is raining, Jane!"
"It is worth trying if –"
"NO IT IS NOT!" He shouts at her, releasing her arm only to take both her shoulders in his hands instead. He gives her a little shake for emphasis. "It is NOT worth getting bee-stung over! JANE! It is not worth hurting yourself, for GOD'S -hic- SAKE!" His voice cracks as he adds, "it will not make a difference anyway. Nothing has. Nothing will."
He sounds like he's in despair.
And then she's kissing him.
It's not something planned, there's no thought behind it, she just… acts. Drops the branch she'd been carrying, goes up on her toes, catches his face in her hands; pulls him down to her and seals her lips to his. His skin is cool, hair damp from the rain. Her fingers tangle in it as he first stiffens against her, shocked, and then abruptly opens to her, deepening the contact, kissing her back. His hands leave her shoulders, one of them plunging into her own rain-draggled curls, the other arm wrapping tightly about her waist, pulling her harder against him. They kiss and they kiss, and her head is spinning…
And if he tastes just ever so slightly of onions and vinegar and dill, well Jane doesn't mind a bit.
She's wanted this for a very long time, just had never fully articulated it to herself until… well until now, until it was – it is – actually happening.
And based on his response, it seems that maybe he has, too.
Eventually they break apart – they have to, to breathe – and Jane starts to say his name, but he just makes a little sound in his throat and kisses her again, and for a long time after that she's not even thinking, let alone trying to speak.
Several more euphoric, if silent, moments pass before she realizes that the hiccups have stopped.
"Not that I am complaining," Gunther says, panting slightly when they come up, once more, for air, "but… what was that?"
Jane meets his eyes – they're huge – then drops her forehead to his shoulder, feeling a sudden flush mount in her cheeks.
"I… uhm…" she gives a delicate cough. "Well… since you were not going to let me get the honey… I had to try something else." She smiles, her lips curving against the rough, damp leather of his travel clothes. "I thought all along that the element of surprise was likeliest to work… but on balance this seemed safer than having Dragon drop you."
Gunther chuffs laughter into her hair. Wonderful, pure, joyful, hiccup-free laughter.
Jane raises her eyes back to his – and a second later they are kissing again.
The rain has stopped by the time they make camp. Still, the weather is cool, everything is slightly wet, and if they lay their bedrolls out closer together than they ever have before, well, Jane doesn't mind that a bit, either.
After all, they will have to do without the luxury of a fire this evening – there's no dry wood – and so sharing body heat instead just makes sense.
Perfect, sound, common sense.
She's lying snugged up against him with one arm slung over his waist and her head cushioned on his chest, just starting to drowse off toward sleep, when –
Her eyes fly wide, her head jerking up. Someone whose reflexes were even the slightest bit slower would have missed it… but Jane is a knight and a dragon rider, and her reflexes are nothing short of preternatural when they need to be.
So she doesn't miss it.
She catches it perfectly well – the sly, sneaky little smile that just barely quirks one corner of his mouth. There and then gone in an instant.
She really ought to scold him, let him know she's onto him, but then again… it could be so much more rewarding to simply play along.
So she swallows back her own smile and asks, in a voice of deep solicitude, "need a little help with that, Sir Gunther? I have a method that just might work…"
A/N: See, I'm not ALL angst and death and guilt-ravaged mental breakdowns. I'm at least, like, 12.4% hiccups and happy endings! ;)