Title: Halt's Bug

Rating: G

Author: Obi the Kid

Summary: Halt's come down with a virus during the Gathering. He's in denial.

Disclaimer: These characters and their world belong to John Flanagan. I in no way claim to own them. I'm only playing in the fandom for a short time and appreciate the world and characters that Mr. Flanagan has created with his book series "Ranger's Apprentice."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I am not sick."

"Then why do you turn that lovely shade of pale green every time someone walks by the tent with food?"

"Just not hungry."

"You see, Will, this is the part of Halt you haven't seen in the three years since you've been his apprentice. The defiant, delusional side." Gilan grinned. The tall Ranger was quite amused with his former master, the renowned Halt, known for his sturdy exterior and grizzled glares. His interior today however was not as tough.

Halt had spent the first two days of the Gathering hidden and grumpy, so Gilan joined Halt's current apprentice, Will, in calling the elder Ranger out on his condition.

"Gilan, so help me, if you keep this up, I'll have Crowley reassign you to the most boring and dreary fief in all of Araluen. I am fine. Now the both of you stop staring at me and go make yourself useful somewhere away from my tent." Halt ran a hand through his peppered gray hair and absently wiped that same hand on his shirt afterwards, making no comment about the sweat that came with it.

Kneeling nearby, Will figured he might try and step in. He'd certainly never seen his mentor in such a condition. If he had ever been sick in the last three years, he'd hidden it well. This time was a different story. Surrounded by over fifty Rangers on the Gathering grounds, more than a few had asked about him, and why he was quarantining himself to his small tent for the duration. "Halt, you don't look well. When I look like you do now, you make me stay in bed and drink lots of water. I've never seen anyone vomit up an entire meal in less than ten seconds like you just did."

The glare that Will received was not a pleasant one, though this time, it was interrupted by another bout of retching. The bucket next to him was coming in quite handy.

"At least let us do something for you. How about something to settle your stomach? I can have Mason make that stew…"

"NO!" A hand shot up in front of Will's face. "Do not even talk about that man's stew. That is the worst tasting food - can't even call it that - in all of Araluen and beyond. I will kill you if you bring that man's stew anywhere near me or this tent."

Will shrugged at Gilan and they both sat down.

Halt sighed and continued to glower at them. "I told you both to leave. I know you hear me. I will manage. Go away now."

Again the two younger Rangers shared a glance and in unison shook their heads and replied with a "No." They watched the sweat beading on the older Ranger's forehead, and the clammy, pale skin under those beads.

"I remember, Will," Gilan thought back, "a time similar to this when he was sick, except we weren't at a Gathering. We were on some long winded mission to who knows where. We never did find out where we were supposed to be going, did we Halt? I think we spent three weeks going in one giant circle. So much for our stellar tracking skills. Not really sure what we were tracking either. But anyway, he got sick two weeks into the journey and kept insisting he was fine. He gave up eating though, oddly unusual for someone not so sick. Gave it up because whatever he ate kept coming back up. And it was all over the place. Poor Abelard. That was one very unhappy and smelly horse after that trip. He had quite a bath once when we made it back home. You were what, Halt? Down for about ten days after that? It was a chore to get him home too. Thankfully he exhausted himself into unconsciousness and I just had to secure him onto Abelard until we found home. It's funny now. Wasn't so much then. I was young. I'd never seen someone so sick. My healing skills were limited to mostly injury type situations. Not a fun time for a young apprentice when they see their mentor so very sick. Halt."

With the emphasis on the last word, he hoped that Halt would get the point of what Will was feeling at the moment. Sure they were keeping the mood light, but underneath, the youngest of them was concerned. Gilan would be glad to leave the tent, but he refused to take Will with him, when his place was here at his master's side. Someone had to keep an eye on the stubborn old fool.

The angry glare softened just a touch as dark eyes shifted back and forth between his students, current and former. Letting his head drop in defeat, he gave them what they wanted. "Fine. I'm sick. Happy now? I admitted it. Will, I promise you I will be fine. Can you both please leave my tent? I don't really need an audience to watch me throw up. If I need help, I will ask for it."

Will took a deep breath and glanced over at Gilan. He shrugged. Gilan shrugged back. A few minutes later they left the tent to the relief of their mentor who flopped backwards in exhaustion. Fighting the illness was one thing. Fighting it while fending off his two current and former charge, was a much more draining task.

The two younger Rangers didn't go far. Gilan stopped them just outside the tent. "He'll need help sooner or later. He won't really ask for it though, you have to read between the lines. Well, in this case, read between the whines. Believe it or not, he does eventually give in to some things."

"Are you sure we should leave him in there alone?" Will was still worried, despite Gilan's good humor at the situation and Halt's insistence that he would be all right. "I didn't think a person could become that pale."

Gilan motioned for Will to sit and then took a place next to him. "The fact that he is whiny is a good sign. When he stops, that's when you really worry. We'll give him some space, but one of us should stay within ear's shot."

"I should stay, Gil. You go ahead and enjoy the Gathering. The archery contest is this afternoon. You can't miss that. You're the defending champion."

"I'll relieve you after the contest. But right now, I really need something to eat. You want anything?"

Will nodded. "Some of that chicken that Jeris makes. Three pieces if he has them."

"He's usually closing up the flames right about now, but I'll see what I can do."

With Gilan gone, Will was left to himself. He tried to sneak a peak in the tent every so often when it got too quiet, but was afraid Halt would see him and yell at him to go away again, so he didn't see much. Just enough to see that he was still breathing and conscious. Waiting and worrying was not a good combination however, so when Gilan returned with some freshly cooked chicken, Will had fretted himself into a hungry young man.

The chicken was practically falling off the bone. The breaded coating was pan fried to perfection. After hours of watching his mentor throw the stuff up, Will fell in love with food all over again. "Don't know how he does it, Gil, but that Jeris can cook like a master chef. If this whole Ranger thing doesn't work out, he could take over Chubbs job at Castle Redmont."

"Yeah, it's too bad Halt can't enjoy it. This is his favorite too." Gilan sat down and greedily cleaned the meat off the chicken bones, devouring his three pieces in what might have been record time. "You check on him?"

"Just a peek. He's alive. That's about all I can tell. I think he knows I've been out here."

"Of course he does. He expects you would stay. Underneath the gruff, he knows he'd do the same for you. Actually he wouldn't leave the tent, even if you threatened to put an arrow into his shoulder. It's hard for him to accept that care and love from others when things aren't quite right in his world. That's just him."

In the distance, a high pitched horn sounded, followed by hoots and hollers of nearby Rangers. Gilan clapped his hands and jumped to his feet. "Time to defend my title, Will. This shouldn't take long."

"Good luck," Will called out as the young Ranger jogged away, accepting several slaps on the back wishing him well in the contest. He watched Gilan until he disappeared into a sea of mottled cloaks, then was startled by weak voice coming from inside the tent.

"Will?"

The boy hurried inside, unnerved by the waver in his master's voice. "I'm here, Halt. Are you all right?"

Halt was lying on his side, eyes half closed, clothes bathed in sweat. "Thirsty. Can you find me some water?"

"Water is right here, Halt. Next to you. Remember you asked for it a while ago." Will poured a small cup and held it close. "You should sit up to drink it. You might choke."

A clammy hand reached out and patted Will's knee in an uncoordinated effort. Halt tried to look at his apprentice, to ask for help without asking. Just as Gilan said he would.

Will took the initiative as he was now very concerned with his teacher's condition. "Don't worry, Halt. I'll take care of you." A small wash basin nearby provided a perfect tool for cool water. It only took Will a few moments to run outside, gather the water and rags he needed and then return. As gently as he could, he dipped a rag into the water and then dabbed it around Halt's face, neck and chest. The skin was hot to the touch. It seemed a relief to both Rangers when the refreshing coolness of the water countered the intense heat of the skin. Twenty minutes of that and Will could feel Halt settle, some of the tension leaving his body.

"Feels good."

"Your fever is high, but when you cool down, you'll get chilled."

"Can't win, huh?"

"Not this time." And as if on cue, another round of cool water on hot skin resulted in a trembling Ranger. Didn't take long for Halt to feel the effects of a lowered fever. The chills started, and hit hard. Will was prepared though and had three warm blankets at the ready, quickly tucking them around the shivering body. It was times like this, Will reflected, he was grateful that his teacher had not the height of Gilan or the heft of Barn Arald as he pulled Halt into a sitting position to get him sipping on the cup of water. A great sigh of relief came from the older Ranger when he was finally permitted to lie back down after a few moments. The effort it took to sit up, even for a moment, was grueling. Moans and groans escaped against his will. Halt not only hated that his apprentice had to see him like this, but also that his apprentice was spending his much anticipated Gathering time caring for his ill master. He realized though how grateful he was for the boy's presence.

"Will..."

"I'm right here, Halt."

"Hot to cold. This is fun."

"Whatever you've got, it's something nasty."

"Pauline."

"What?"

"Pauline," Halt cleared his throat and closed his eyes as a violent chill spread through him. "She did this to me. She was sick last week. Shouldn't have gotten near her."

"I was near her, and I'm not sick."

"Yes, but you weren't ah…near…her."

"Ah," understanding clicked in Will's head. "Well, maybe this is her revenge on you for giving her such a hard time for so many years."

"Funny. You're a funny boy. Spending too much time with Gilan." Halt half crooked a smile and squinted at Will, trying to make sure he knew he was kidding.

"Yeah, well, who is here wiping your brow and who is off playing arrows with his friends, huh?" Will joked back, glad to see that Halt still had all his senses.

"Did I hear my name?" The voice came from the tent entrance. Tall and thin and the best looking Ranger in the lot, Gilan ducked in, longbow in hand. "Talking about me behind my back is so unkind. Even in Halt's state of stupor."

Will laughed. Halt glared.

"The champ has returned. Will, you need to enter the contest next year. I really need a challenge." Kneeling low, he placed a hand on Halt's forehead. The fever was definitely down. "Better. You do good work, Will. Need a break?"

Something in Halt's tired eyes told Will to stay. As much as he needed a break, he knew that Halt needed him. "I'm okay. So you won again. What was the prize this year?"

"A new longbow with silver etchings. Pretty thing. I put Blaze in charge of it. I don't think he appreciated my victory however. He just turned his tail and snorted when I told him about it. These Ranger horses, they're a persnickety bunch."

"Tug would have been impressed."

Halt snorted.

Gilan shook his head. "You sound like Blaze."

A quick comeback couldn't be had, and Halt gave it up almost before he started. He just wanted to sleep and to stop feeling so miserable. From the corner of his eye, he saw Will feebly attempting to hide a yawn and knew the boy needed a break, whether or not he wanted one. Grateful as he was that Will refused to leave his side, Halt never ceased to inwardly worry about him, even when Will was the healthy one. A tap of the finger on Gilan's knee caught the young Ranger's attention. And of course knowing Halt's looks all too well, Gilan saw the slight nudge of the head and the eyes floating darting towards Will to know what his former mentor was asking.

"All right, Will, I'll keep watch now. You rest yourself. Don't argue. I'm older, you're not."

"But, Gil…"

"Don't 'but Gil' me. Just curl up in the corner over there. You're still nearby if needed, but far enough away that should he hurl up another mouthful of…well, let's just say, you won't be in the target area.

Halt groaned and held his stomach in protest. "Nice, Gilan. Very subtle."

"You like that?"

Another groan.

Finally Will gave in. "I'll rest, but only if you promise to wake me if Halt needs me."

Halt smiled inwardly at the boy's affection for him as Gilan nodded. "I promise. Now, rest."

More worn out then he thought, Will easily succumbed to sleep. In fact he slept all through the night. The next morning however was not so kind. A quick trip from the tent to take care of personal business, he returned holding his stomach and groaning. Not long after, that famous chicken that he'd eaten the day before made a sudden and liquefied exit from his body. Gilan managed to get the basin in front of him just in time to prevent a messy tent.

Halt, feeling better this morning than he had in the last three or four days, propped himself onto his elbow from his sleep area. He released a frustrated breath when he realized that Will, taking the time to care for him, had managed to catch the same virus. The blanket tossed from his legs, he moved to the boy's side where Gilan was already feeling for fever.

"Gil, I'll see to him."

Gilan smiled and relinquished control to his former teacher. "I'll get some fresh water and rags. And maybe convince Mason into making that stew of his."

"NO!" Will protested his blanked soaked bed. "Do not even talk about that man's stew. That is the worst tasting food in all of Araluen and beyond."

"Hmm… now where have I heard that before?" Gilan clamped his hands and tapped his thumbs together. "You two are more alike than you think you are. Funny. I'll be back shortly. And yes, Will. I promise, no Mason stew." He disappeared from the tent.

Halt sat next to his young apprentice. "Sorry. Didn't mean to pass this along to anyone."

"I'll live I suppose. So much for this year's Gathering. I guess we'll have to look forwarded to next…" The heaving from his stomach stopped him in mid sentence, as Halt quickly moved the basin under his head. After a few minutes of his head being hung in that position, Halt placed a hand on his back and rubbed in soothing circles.

"Easy, Will. Once you get past this part, it does actually get a little better. The fever and chills are easier to deal with than the stomach pain and retching."

Will nodded, but didn't lift his head.

Halt continued rubbing the boy's back until the miserable face looked up towards him. "Feel like crap, don't you?"

Will didn't respond as he again vomited into the basin. Soon after, when Halt finally saw a little less greenness in the boy's face, he moved closer, drawing an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close. Will offered no resistance and leaned into the support.

"Now, Will, you remember that story that Gilan told you yesterday about me getting sick and us getting lost?"

Will grunted an inaudible reply.

"Good. Now, let me tell you the real story, since Mr. Embellishment isn't around to contaminate your brain with his tall tales."

The story was told. Will moaned in pain as he tried to listen. Halt was proud of his version. Gilan protested as he wandered back in, catching the tail end of the story.

"That is so wrong, Halt. Don't believe him Will. Just remember all that whining he did yesterday. That's the real truth."

"Gilan, don't go telling my apprentice your tall tales about…"

Gilan held a finger to his lips and pointed to the boy who now had his head leaning on Halt's shoulder. Sound asleep.

Both men lowered their voices. "We'll continue this when he's awake and feeling better."

"Yes, Will looks forward to our squabbling," Gilan said with a grin. "Actually, I sort of look forward to it as well."

The elder Ranger agreed with the slightest of nods. "We should let him sleep. He's in for a rough few days. By the time the Gathering is over, we both should be healthy again."

"Probably." Gilan got up, quickly cleaned the basin and put it at Halt's side with the other tub of water and rags. "I'll leave you to him. You both need rest. Long night ahead."

"No argument from me. Go out and enjoy what's left out there. At least one of us should have a good time while were here."

The young Ranger popped his head back into the tent briefly. "You need anything, I'll be nearby…thinking of better ways to embellish my stories."

"Funny. Now go."

Gilan winked and flashed his famous smile and ducked back out leaving Halt and Will to their illness.

Halt sighed as the younger Ranger stirred slightly. Then, lying him down and adjusting blankets around the slight shoulders, he settled in for a very long night and an even longer couple of days ahead. At least, he thought, Will was a better patient than he was, and perhaps some of Gilan's stories weren't as embellished as he believed them to be. Halt grinned and shook his head. Will groaned his discomfort.

"A long night indeed." He took one of Will's hands in his own. A gesture of comfort and reassurance. It wasn't more than a simple virus, but Will had been there for him, despite his protests. Now it was Halt's turn to offer the same care and affection that his apprentice had so unselfishly offered to him.

Making himself as comfortable as possible, he secured his hold on Will's clammy hand and settled in for a very long and eventful night.

END