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*

 

“You’re going to have to start taking Ciri to school, I can’t do it any more,” Yen says over the phone. “I mean it, Geralt, if we don’t want to have to go on the lam because I’ve murdered a kindergarten teacher, this is your fucking job now. Jesus Christ. I cannot fucking stand that man.”

 

*

 

Geralt’s not sure what the big deal is. It takes a lot of appointment rescheduling and custody juggling and just a shitload of trouble in general to set up their days so that he can accommodate Ciri’s drop off and pick up. To do it all on short notice is a lot to ask. However, he doesn’t want to have to testify against Yen at trial, and since he has no doubt of her capacity for murder, he does as she says.

On the first day of their new arrangement, he lets Ciri lead him through the unfamiliar school hallways. Under duress he would admit that he should possibly take a deeper interest in his daughter’s education, but it’s only kindergarten and Yen already has the entire school under a magnifying glass, anyway. He’s got plenty of time to get involved.

Ciri, for her part, is thrilled to show Geralt where she spends her days. “And that’s the art room, and in the library Miss Triss reads to us, and the playground is out there, I like the monkey bars the best…”

She chatters on and on, one little hand in his and the other pointing out everything they pass, and Geralt smiles down at her. 

“And this is my classroom,” she finishes, stopping them in front of an open door decorated with paper flowers bearing each student’s name underneath. “I’m a red daisy.”

“Yes, you are, Cirilla,” the man inside says, “and don’t you forget it.”

“Mr. Pankratz!” she screeches, throwing herself at him and hugging his legs. “This is my papa. He brings me to school now. Mama didn’t want to see you anymore.”

“Ciri,” Geralt admonishes, “you know her schedule changed.”

Ciri shakes her head. “No. I don’t think so. She said bad words about him.”

Geralt makes an apologetic face at Mr. Pankratz, who seems to be stifling laughter. “Go on, put your gorgeous unicorn backpack away and get ready for our morning song,” he says to her. She obediently runs off. Geralt, amazed, wonders why she listens to this man wearing orange pants better than she does to him.

“Geralt,” says Geralt, holding out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Pankratz. Ciri loves your class.”

“Oh, Lord, call me Jaskier, please. No one over ten is allowed to call me ‘Mister’,” says Jaskier, beaming and giving him a firm handshake. “And the pleasure is likewise. Ciri always announces to the class when she gets to stay at her papa’s house.”

“Sorry about, uh,” he flounders, “Ciri’s mom. And what Ciri said. Yen is like that sometimes. It’s not personal.”

“I rather suspect it might be, given the spirited namecalling she engaged me in last week,” Jaskier replies, his smile not flagging in the slightest. “You know, the usual. ‘Malfunctioning Lite-Brite’ was a highlight. Do they still make those? Ooh, ‘radioactive Gerber baby’, that was another one. I think there was something about a Care Bear that I can’t repeat in present company.” He tilts his head toward the children.

Geralt winces. “Yeah, that’s her.”

“Never fear, she’s not the worst parent I’ve had. At least she’s involved in her daughter’s life. It’s obvious she cares.”

Another parent-student duo comes up behind him and Geralt realizes he’s loitering in the threshold. He steps out of the way, watching Ciri where she is giggling cross-legged on the floor, a group of kids around her like she’s holding court. She is so self-assured, confident. So unlike him except in looks. She notices him and waves and he waves back, then leaves.

 

*

 

“It’s not my fault he looks like his mother fucked Funshine Bear, Geralt. Have you seen his face? He always looks like that. Every second of every goddamn day. I swear it could be the fucking end of all things and he’d say some shit like ‘Let’s look on the bright side!’ There is no bright side. Hell is empty and all the devils are Mister fucking Pankratz.”

 

*

 

At the start of the second week of school duty, Jaskier greets them at the door as usual, today wearing purple pants and a floral-patterned shirt and holding a ukulele. Or what Geralt thinks is a ukulele. It looks like a tiny guitar, and he has now exhausted the extent of his musical knowledge.

Jaskier must see him eyeing it as he greets Ciri because he says, “Our morning song is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ today. I decided I had to do it properly, you know. Can’t do things part way. Gotta commit.”

Geralt nods because he has no idea what he’s talking about.

“Would you like to stay?” Jaskier asks, smile firmly in place. Yen is right, Geralt thinks. It never falters. “Parents are always welcome for morning song.”

“I don’t know the words,” Geralt says awkwardly.

“Nor do the children! Learning is part of the fun!”

“I can’t sing,” Geralt tries again.

“Oh, everyone can sing. Not everyone can sing well, but that’s fine, too. C’mon,” he prods, “you’ll love it.”

“I have somewhere to be,” says Geralt.

Jaskier is not listening. He calls, “Cirilla! Would you like your papa to stay for morning song?”

She screams in reply. Jaskier nods at Geralt as if to say, That’s settled then.

And it turns out it is. Geralt stands at the back of the room with the one other mother who has stayed and watches Jaskier magically corral twenty kindergartners into a circle, teach them the chorus of the song, and begin strumming his instrument. Then he begins singing for real and Geralt, who was getting ready to follow along on the lyric sheet, promptly forgets anything else, because Jaskier is good. His voice is smooth and clear and strong and bright, and probably other things Geralt would notice if he knew a single goddamn thing about singing. 

He also just looks so at home, broad shoulders squared but comfortable, foot tapping out the beat. His omnipresent grin shines through his eyes which Geralt now notices are bright, bright blue, and his dark hair falls disheveled over them, and it’s then that Geralt realizes he’s staring, because Jaskier winks at him. 

Geralt drops his gaze back to the lyric sheet and tries to find their spot, feeling a traitorous flush bloom across his cheeks. 

Afterward, Jaskier corners him at the door while the children settle themselves at their tables. “Did you enjoy it?” he asks.

“It was fine," Geralt says.

“Will you stay more often?”

“Maybe.”

 

*

 

“Is he making you do the fucking song every morning? As if this earthly existence isn’t miserable enough, he’s got the damned nerve to sing in the morning and be cheerful about it. And inflict it upon unsuspecting parents. The way he sets it up you can’t say no. It’s a trap. You know what? I think he’s a vampire. I think he feeds on suffering. No wonder he’s got skin like a baby’s asscheek. We need to get Ciri out of there, Geralt. We’re nourishing him.”

 

*

 

Geralt keeps staying for the morning song.

Jaskier has a seemingly endless supply of increasingly strange instruments. Over the next few weeks Geralt witnesses him competently play an accordion, a trumpet, a pan flute, a xylophone, and another guitar-like thing that Jaskier explains is a lute.

“Bit old fashioned, I’ll admit,” he says, rolling up the sleeves on his ruffled paisley monstrosity of a shirt, “but I think she has a beautiful sound. And she’s good to pull out at parties.”

Geralt never knows any of the songs he performs, but that day’s selection is a soft, slow thing that has the children swaying. Ciri raises her arms in the air and waves them back and forth. She knows every word.

When he picks her up that afternoon, she says “It was an awesome day. There were chocolate chip cookies at lunch and we learned the letter C as in Ciri and Mr. Pankratz played my favorite song. Did you like the song, Papa?”

Jaskier smiles at him from where he is helping another student put on their jacket.

Geralt says, “I liked it very much, sweetheart.”

 

*

 

“Have you been showing Ciri Disney movies? I thought we agreed for our own sanity to keep her off those. How does she know the stupid song from Sleeping Beauty, of all things? She keeps telling me how romantic it is. Where is she learning about romance? Not from us. Anyway, I did not consent to this. My ears did not consent to this. Geralt, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but our daughter cannot carry a tune. She gets that from you.”

 

*

 

One gloomy morning at the end of September, Geralt and Ciri are the first to arrive, Ciri having passed out three hours before bedtime the night before and woken up just as early to compensate. Geralt’s second travel mug of pitch black coffee is already nearly empty, his eyes swollen and tired, his hair loose and unbrushed. He’s not sure his shoes match.

Ciri, at the least, is bright eyed and raring to go, and the pigtail braids she demanded are only a little lopsided. They are secured with her favorite cherry-shaped hairties. 

She bounds into the classroom. “Papa, we’re first! We won today!”

“It’s not a race, Princess,” he says, knowing it’s a futile effort. Everything is a race for Ciri.

“Goodness, my Cirilla,” says Jaskier, today in cheetah print. His black pants are cuffed to reveal zebra-striped socks. A set of bongo drums sits on his desk. “You seem ready to learn today.”

“Mr. Pankratz,” she screeches, rushing to him and leaning her head down to show Geralt’s handiwork, “Papa did my hair this morning and used the cherries like I told him to. Isn’t it pretty?”

“He did a wonderful job, dear, and the cherries suit you beautifully.”

Ciri scrunches up her nose. “Well, he doesn’t do it as good as Mama, but he tries really hard.”

Geralt gulps the remains of his coffee as Jaskier tries not to laugh. 

Jaskier sets Ciri the task of placing worksheets and crayons at every student’s seat and meanders over to Geralt. “All out?” he asks, pointing to the mug.

Geralt nods. “I swear I only gave her three espresso shots this morning, no more.”

“Any more would be irresponsible,” Jaskier agrees. “Would you like a top-up from the teacher’s lounge? I can do that, you know. I have the power. Teacher and all.”

“Please.” He’s not above begging.

“One moment, good sir,” Jaskier says with a little bow. “I suppose I can trust you to mind my charge.” 

“It’s not eight o’clock yet, so I guess she’s still my problem,” Geralt says, thunking his head back against the wall.

Jaskier returns with his mug a minute later and Geralt groans aloud at just the smell when he lifts it gratefully to his mouth. When he lowers it, Jaskier is standing quite close, and if Geralt isn’t dreaming then he’s also staring at Geralt’s lips. He licks them reflexively and Jaskier copies the motion.

It’s only a second, then Jaskier’s normal grin returns. “No thanks needed, I assure you.” He steps back just as another student arrives.

 

*

 

Yen bursts out laughing. “You—hang on—” More laughter. “You let her go to sleep at what time? Sucker.”

 

*

 

If they start arriving earlier to school regularly, it’s only because Geralt’s work appointments keep getting pushed up in the day. 

The following Thursday they are third to arrive, breaking their streak of firsts and seconds. Ciri, pouting, gives him a little shove on the leg.

“We’re late because you spent too long getting dressed, Papa,” she says.

She’s not wrong. It took fifteen minutes to decide between the black t-shirt or the maroon t-shirt. He went with maroon.

Geralt raises an eyebrow at her. “Do we push people, Ciri? You know better than that. Don’t make me come down there.”

She sticks out her tongue and says, “You wouldn’t.”

Geralt sighs. Sometimes she’s like raising a little Yen. God help him.

Jaskier is fluttering about busily this morning, one arm balancing a stack of magazines and a box crammed with safety scissors and the other cradling a massive roll of posterboard. He brightens when he sees them. “Good morning, Ciri, Geralt! Did you sleep in this morning?”

Geralt says “Yes,” and Ciri says, “Papa was being weird about his clothes again. I don’t know why, he always wears the same thing. I knew I wanted to wear my blue dress today before I even went to sleep last night.”

“And it is an excellent choice as always. You do have flawless taste.”

“I know,” says Ciri, walking off to put away her things and join her classmates in the reading nook.

Jaskier’s pile of magazines tilts dangerously and Geralt takes half from him, saying “Let me help with those.”

“Ah, thanks very much,” replies Jaskier, standing up straighter with the lessened burden. “We’re just splitting these up between each of the four tables and leaving scissors at each seat. If you have a moment to help.”

Geralt does, counting off roughly a quarter of the magazines at each table while Jaskier distributes scissors and posterboard. Jaskier hums as they work. At the third table, Jaskier murmurs, “That color suits you.”

“Thanks,” Geralt says, losing his count.

 

*

 

“I found this receipt in Ciri’s backpack. It’s from H&M and it seems like you spent several hundred dollars on only black jeans and solid t-shirts. Now, Geralt, your finances are none of my business but I have several questions: one, can I get a photo of you in H&M? My friends will never believe me otherwise. Two, what the fuck are you even doing?”

 

*

 

It’s early afternoon and Geralt has just wrapped up with a client when his phone rings, which is fairly unusual on its own. The number is also one he doesn’t have saved, so it’s not Yen or…Yen. He lets it ring out. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

They don’t, but they immediately call back, so he reluctantly answers. “Geralt.”

“Hi! Hello, I’m glad you answered. This is um, Jaskier. Ciri’s teacher. I’m here with her.”

Geralt’s heart immediately goes leaden. “Is she okay?” 

“Oh, oh, she’s fine. You should see the other guy.” He laughs a little and then clears his throat. “I shouldn’t say that. This is actually a serious matter.”

“What did she do,” Geralt sighs.

“There was a, a spirited incident with another boy on the playground. I think we should talk about this in person. Someone will have to come get her, in any case.”

“Hm.” He’ll have to cancel his last appointment. 

“I am sorry to bother you with this. I know I’m meant to call her mother for daytime contact, and I did, you see, but I told her what happened and she said ‘Good’ and hung up.”

“I’ll be right there,” Geralt says, looking down at his sweaty tank top and gym shorts and wondering if he has time to change. He decides he doesn’t. 

He arrives to find Jaskier and Ciri alone in the classroom. Ciri is slightly dirtied and scowling, sitting in the far corner of the room. Jaskier is at his desk flipping through paperwork, but he looks up and smiles when Geralt walks in.

“Perfect timing, the rest of the kids have just gone to their art lesson,” he says, standing. 

Geralt nods at him in greeting, then kneels in front of his daughter. “Cirilla Fiona,” he says, breaking out the middle name, “would you like to tell me what happened?”

“Ryan was being a butt,” she says. “He pulled my hair.”

“Did you tell Mr. Pankratz that he did that?”

“No. I told him to stop and he didn’t so I defended myself, like you said.”

Geralt pinches the bridge of his nose, turning to Jaskier who has approached them and is leaning on a bookcase. “Sorry,” he says. “I was a wrestler. I taught her a few things. This is my fault.”

Jaskier seems to be suppressing a grin. “It was quite a headlock.”

Geralt turns back to Ciri. “I told you to defend yourself when you have no other choice. What I showed you is a last resort. Do you understand me? You should always go to Mr. Pankratz first. He will help you.”

“I will,” Jaskier confirms. “I’m in your corner, always.”

Geralt’s chest goes a little warm at the conviction in his tone. “Okay,” Ciri says, still pouting.

Jaskier says, “We discussed her punishment earlier. She will have to go home for the rest of today and she will apologize to Ryan in the morning. And, of course, she will not do it again. Right, Ciri?”

“Yes, Mr. Pankratz,” she mumbles. 

Geralt tells her to to pack up her things and put on her coat, then he stands and steps in toward Jaskier. He says quietly, “The boy was punished, right?”

“Absolutely. Same treatment. I will not tolerate any one of my students laying hands on another.” 

“Good,” says Geralt. Jaskier meets his eyes. He smells like citrus. He has small freckles across his nose.

“Let’s go, Papa,” Ciri complains, and he draws away.

 

*

 

“Of course I don’t condone violence, Geralt, but I do condone Ciri teaching boys to keep their sticky fingers off of her, and I don’t care how she does it. And if that hastily-assembled muppet man calls me one more time I swear to God I’m taking Ciri off the map. I’ll crush my phone under a brick and we’ll move to Alaska, or Siberia, or the rainforest. I don’t know. Middle America. Somewhere that knock-off boy band action figure will never follow. Change her contact information with the school and do it now. I’m not joking.”

 

*

 

Jaskier sets aside his banjo after morning song and heads Geralt off at the door. Today he’s wearing a plain white button down with shimmery light blue pants which Ciri had said looked like Cinderella. Geralt doesn’t have a damn clue how she knows anything about Cinderella.

“Geralt, before you go,” Jaskier says, placing a hand on his bicep to keep him from leaving, “have you been looking at the papers Ciri brings home?”

“Yes,” says Geralt.

“And you’ve seen the notices about the field trip to the planetarium?”

“Yes. I signed her permission slip.”

“Indeed,” Jaskier says, smiling like he’s caught the canary. “Then you no doubt saw the request for parent chaperones.”

“…I did.”

“So you’ve just been forgetting to bring in your volunteer form?” He says it so innocently, but firmly. It’s almost a threat. His hand is still on Geralt, though it has no reason to be.

Geralt knows when he’s defeated. “I’ll bring it with me at pick up,” he says.

Jaskier beams. His stupid pants more or less match his eyes, and Geralt hates that he noticed that. The hand drops from his arm but its warmth remains.

 

*

 

Yennefer [Tues 6:47pm]: WHY?

 

*

 

As Geralt shrugs on his t-shirt (navy) and pulls on his jeans (black) and his boots (black) and slips his medallion back around his neck, he has regrets.

As he herds the five kindergartners assigned to him onto the school bus, he has regrets.

As he sits at the front of the bus listening to Jaskier lead the kids in singing increasingly annoying songs in rounds, still he has regrets.

The planetarium is pretty nice, though.

The day is split into a morning of displays and interactive exhibits, then lunch, then the show in the afternoon, possibly with the hope that some of the kids will nap through it. Geralt and Ciri and the other four kids wander around poking at space rocks and listening to presenters talk about asteroids and water on Mars and whatever else and Geralt is honestly fascinated by it all. 

At lunch break, Jaskier brings his kids over to sit with Geralt’s group sprawled on the lobby floor. He plops himself right next to Geralt and pulls a peanut butter-honey-banana sandwich, baby carrots, and a chocolate vanilla swirl pudding cup out of his brown paper bag. It’s almost identical to the lunch Geralt had packed for Ciri. He should probably be more surprised than he is.

“Having a nice time?” Jaskier asks around a bite of sandwich.

“It’s good,” Geralt says.

Jaskier wheels back dramatically, clutching his chest. “Gracious me, sorry. Let me catch my breath. It’s good? Geralt, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you describe anything as more than ‘fine.’ You must be having the time of your life.”

“I do every time I’m with Ciri,” Geralt says, eating a barbecue chip. 

“I can see that,” Jaskier nods. “You adore her, as she does you. I love watching you together. And you look so much alike.”

“Coincidence,” Geralt says. 

“Pardon?”

“She’s adopted,” he explains, then adds, “but a hundred percent my daughter. More than a hundred. She’s my world.”

Jaskier smiles, but it’s softer around the edges than usual. “Obviously. She’s a lucky girl.”

“Not as lucky as me,” Geralt says. “What about you? Kids? Family?”

Jaskier busies himself opening his pudding cup. “Ah, no. Sisters, nieces and nephews. That’s it. No kids, no partner at the moment. I fear I am destined to be a cool uncle. Not that I’m complaining.”

Partner is encouragingly gender neutral, Geralt’s brain tells him unhelpfully. “These kids may as well be yours,” he says. “You dote on them.”

“That I do. That I do.”

They continue eating for a few moments, Geralt watching Ciri argue heatedly with another girl about whether Frozen 2 is better than Frozen 1. To his knowledge she has seen neither. His daughter is only five and already an eternal mystery to him.

“What do you do?” Jaskier asks. “For a living, I mean. I assume it’s sporty given that you showed up at 2PM on a weekday in gym shorts that one time.”

“I’m a personal trainer. Pays the bills.”

“Makes sense.” Jaskier licks his lips. “What, um—”

“Mr. Pankratz!” a boy yells. “Ethan stole my fruit snacks!”

“Duty calls,” Jaskier says apologetically, and he leaves. He doesn’t come back before lunch ends, his half-eaten pudding left abandoned on the floor. Geralt cleans it up with his own trash when it’s time to corral the children into the theater for the afternoon show.

Geralt claims two big mats of questionable cleanliness from the pile and drags them to the spot Ciri has picked out. The kids sprawl out on their backs over one and leave him alone on the other. Eyes heavy, Geralt wonders if he could manage to snag a nap, too. He never gets to nap.

The lights go down and a deep voice starts booming over the audio system and Geralt is very warm and very sleepy. Then his mat shifts.

“Got room for one more?” whispers Jaskier.

Geralt hums and feels Jaskier stretch out beside him. Close. Close enough that the hair on Jaskier’s arm tickles against his own. 

“Sorry to barge in,” Jaskier continues quietly. “My group evicted me. Not enough space, they said. It’s hard, but with time I may heal.”

“Interrupting my nap,” Geralt rumbles back.

Jaskier huffs a laugh. “Everyone’s a critic. Anyway, you can’t nap. The constellation show is fucking awesome. Excuse my language.”

Geralt opens his eyes to a night sky sprawled across the ceiling. “It’s pretty,” he says inanely, then, “I don’t know anything about constellations.”

“Well, don’t listen to this old fart, he’s the worst,” Jaskier says, gesturing at a speaker from which the announcer is droning about something or other. “Just look at the stars. Let them talk to you. Also me.” He takes Geralt’s hand. “Is this okay?”

Geralt hasn’t the slightest idea what he means and his own mouth has gone so very dry. He says, “Yes.”

Jaskier folds in Geralt’s fingers one by one, leaving the pointer finger extended, then uses it to start pointing at parts of the sky, tracing paths from one star to another. “That, there, see, is Hercules…everyone loves a big buff hero, he’s a good one… Then, this,” he draws a long curving line, “is Draco, the dragon. Have you ever thought about how many monsters are in the sky, watching over us?”

Geralt thinks most of the monsters are right here on Earth. He doesn’t say anything.

“And over here, oh, this is an easy one. Big dipper, you see it? Right there. Cassiopeia, on her throne, punished for eternity for her vanity… Andromeda, her daughter, chained to a rock.”

Jaskier’s hand is strong around his own, fingertips callused. His shirt today is covered in silly little moons that nearly glow in the dark. That citrus scent is everywhere, the line of his body only inches away. Geralt, to say the least, is distracted. His face goes hot as Jaskier murmurs on and he blesses the darkness of the theater.

Lyra the lyre, and Leo the lion, and Perseus and Cygnus. Jaskier has something to say about them all. “Last, we’ve got the twins, Gemini, my favorite. I’m a Gemini, by the by. You know, astrology.”

“I’m a Sagittarius,” says Geralt.

“Oh, I definitely didn’t expect you to know that. Neat. In any case, Gemini’s not my favorite because it’s me. It’s my favorite because they’re up there in this big lonely sky, millions of trillions of miles away from anything, but, see,” his hand via Geralt’s outlines the two bodies in the stars, “they’re up there together, never alone. Holding hands and looking down at the world, just like us gazing up at them.”

He falls silent and lowers Geralt’s hand, but doesn’t release it. Geralt turns his head to look at him, gently illuminated by the glow of the screen. He glances over and smiles.

Geralt smiles back.

 

*

 

“Yes, I will take Ciri to school for a week, one single week, while you are out of town. No, I will not keep her home because I don’t want to see Mr. Pankratz. Yes, I will call him by his name and yes, I will resist the urge to pie him in the face, even though it is clearly made for it. He’d probably thank me if I did though, Geralt. I can smell these things.”

 

*

 

Jaskier does an exaggerated double take when Geralt and Ciri trudge into the classroom on the first truly frigid day of November. He’s obviously also just arrived, a scarf wrapped around his neck and nose still pink with cold.

“Cirilla!” he calls as he strides over to them. “How kind of you to allow your father to accompany you today.”

“Mama says you’re what happens when God shrugs,” Ciri replies brightly, struggling with the zipper on her coat. 

That one is new to Geralt. Jaskier, who has knelt to help her, meets Geralt’s eyes with barely concealed mirth. 

“Ciri,” Geralt admonishes, though perhaps it comes out half-hearted as he, too, suppresses a chuckle. “Sorry.”

She’s already gone anyway, distracted by the saxophone on Jaskier’s desk. Jaskier stands and says, “Don’t worry about it. It’s good to be knocked down a few pegs every once in a while. Or every day for a week straight. I think it’s healthy.” 

“I’m just glad everyone survived while I was gone,” Geralt says.

“Only a few injuries, and nothing lasting, I assure you. Yennefer said you were with family?”

More or less. Whatever he has that passes for family. “Yeah. Don’t see ‘em often enough. Glad to be back though.”

“Well, we certainly missed you,” Jaskier says, and it sounds like we means I.

“Uh, yeah,” says Geralt, “likewise.”

 

*

 

“It was fine. He was fine. We were fine. It happened and I’m never doing it again.”

 

*

 

The last day of Thanksgiving break finds Geralt in the grocery store with a basket full of deli meats, Capri Sun, and granola bars, all matching Ciri’s exacting specifications: turkey, not the spicy kind; fruit punch, not strawberry kiwi; chocolate dipped, not chocolate chunk. Unless she’s changed her mind again this week.

He’s inspecting a bag of grapes in the produce section when, across the banana display, someone says “Oh, hello, Geralt.”

Geralt almost doesn’t recognize Jaskier, dressed down in a college sweatshirt with glasses perched on his nose. He looks soft and younger than usual. “Jaskier,” he says.

Jaskier grins at him. “There’s no need to look so surprised, I do exist outside of a kindergarten classroom, you know.”

Geralt knows. He’s just tried not to think about it. “How was your holiday?” he asks, absentmindedly dropping the bag of grapes into his basket.

“Okay. Quiet. Just the one sister in town and her new baby. I don’t care for school breaks, though. Gotta be kept busy. Can’t stand just lazing about on my own.”

“Can’t relate,” smirks Geralt. “I’ve spent the last three days alone in my garage to recuperate. You’re a stronger man than me.”

“I doubt that,” Jaskier says. “You work on cars? Or just pretend to as an excuse to sit around in silence drinking beers?”

“A bike. And it’s only a little bit of an excuse.”

“We all have our vices,” says Jaskier, indicating the giant bottle of wine under his arm. He carries only wine, pita chips, and toothpaste. “For some it’s garage time, for others it’s drinking a lot of rosé and watching Bravo for twelve hours and drunk texting ex-boyfriends.”

This is, again, wildly outside of Geralt’s frame of reference, but he mainly only heard the word ‘boyfriends’ anyway. He clears his throat a little and says, “Been there, but it’s not worth it. Have to look to the future.”

“Yeah, I’m trying to,” replies Jaskier. Then he hesitates. “Say, uh, Geralt. I’ve been meaning to ask.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow and ignores the spike in his heart rate. “Shoot.”

“It’s just I, I do the winter recital every year. Just with my class and my friend Essi’s, and she organizes it too but it’s a lot of work and it’d be nice to have someone to help out with the heavy lifting. Set building and things.”

“You want me to do manual labor for the winter recital out of the goodness of my heart?”

Jaskier’s smile goes sheepish. “Well, yeah. It would be much appreciated.”

“No problem,” says Geralt.

“Excellent! I’ll be in touch, then. Or, just, we’ll talk at school. Or I have your number. Yeah, anyway. Take care.” He gives a little wave and starts walking away.

“See you,” Geralt says to Jaskier’s retreating form.

 

*

 

“Ciri won’t stop complaining that you got the gross granola bars. I think they’re dark chocolate. You know she hates those. And you got the 100% juice Capri Suns and she won’t drink those, either, even though I told her they’re exactly the same.” Ciri’s voice comes distantly over the line. “They are not the same! They’re gross!” Yen’s voice returns. “She’s being ridiculous. I’ll work on her.”

 

*

 

The winter recital, it turns out, is only three weeks away. On Wednesday morning, Jaskier presses a sheaf of papers into Geralt’s hand. They are covered in crude drawings and paragraph descriptions of various set pieces and risers and props.

“This looks…elaborate,” Geralt says.

“I don’t do things part way, remember?” Jaskier looks a little stressed, tight around the eyes. Geralt has rarely seen Jaskier without twenty small children hanging off of him, and yet he has never displayed even a hint of strain. It doesn’t suit him. “We’ve already got all the supplies, and the multi-purpose room is reserved for us the whole time. So we can come and go as we please. I have the keys for after hours.”

“I can do Tuesday and Thursday nights,” Geralt offers, and Jaskier says, “Perfect.”

 

*

 

“You’re helping with—what? What? Have I gone deaf? Has that professional Gumby impersonator ensorcelled you somehow? This is way worse than volunteering for the field trip. Wait, oh my God. Oh my God. You’re gonna fuck him, aren’t you? Geralt. Oh my God. I cannot stress this enough: no.”

 

*

 

Geralt places his sketch on the floor in front of Essi and Jaskier, who are stringing popcorn and cranberries onto sewing thread.

“I made a few alterations to the original specs,” he says. “Wanted to get the okay before I jumped in.” Jaskier’s original specs were mathematically impossible, if Geralt was reading his chicken scratch handwriting correctly. He’d basically redesigned the whole thing.

The sleigh in the drawing is wide enough for three children, and sports delicate curving feet and detailed routed designs along its body. It has been lovingly colored in hot pink with purple accents by Ciri.

“The color scheme is optional,” Geralt adds.

“Wow,” says Essi, popping a piece of popcorn into her mouth. “Jask, that’s way better than what you did.”

Jaskier looks awed. “Geralt, that is fucking beautiful. Please, please build this for us. Oh, pretty please with a cherry on top.”

“You spend too much time with kindergartners,” Essi laughs.

Jaskier tosses a kernel at her head and ignores her. “Geralt, tell me you’re making this.”

“I’m making it,” says Geralt.

“If it looks half that good, I’ll cry.”

“He will,” Essi confirms. “He’s cried at less. I heated up some mac and cheese for him once before a recital and he sobbed on me for ten minutes.”

“I’m going to go get started.” Geralt picks up his sketch. “Was that a yes on the pink?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Jaskier says.

By the end of that night, he’s got the basic frame pieces cut and Jaskier has come to help him with the sanding.

“Where’d you learn to do all this?” Jaskier asks. “You’re surprisingly handy.”

“Surprisingly?” Geralt lifts an eyebrow. 

“Don’t be offended, I’m surprised when anyone is handy. I’m certainly not.”

“You have your own areas of expertise.”

Jaskier grins. “Obviously.”

They sand in silence for a few minutes, then Geralt says, “My foster father taught me and my brothers how to do everything. He never hired anyone to do anything around the house. It was all us.”

 “Is that who you went to see?”

“Yeah. We all get together once a year. They give me fucking migraines, but. Family.”

“Family,” Jaskier agrees sympathetically. “I’m glad you got to do that. And very thankful your skills found their way to my ridiculous show.”

“It’s not ridiculous. The kids love it. Ciri’s been practicing constantly.” With little improvement, but her enthusiasm, he’ll allow, is adorable. “It’s important to them, and to you. You’re a great teacher.”

Jaskier has paused his work along the curve at the back of one side piece. “I’m touched, Geralt. That truly means a lot.”

“Just call it like I see it,” Geralt says, going over a stubborn knot in the wood.

 

*

 

“You know what? Thank you, Geralt. Honestly. Stop it, I know that sounds sarcastic when I say it, but I mean it. Your little project has gifted me a lot of extra quality time with my daughter. So whatever! Fuck him! I don’t care. He’s the human equivalent of a fluorescent light bulb, but if you’re into that, it’s your business.”

 

*

 

The three of them pull an extra Saturday shift on the final weekend before the recital to finish painting and clean up after themselves. It takes a good chunk of the day, and by the time they’re finished and step back to admire their work, the remains of their delivery pizza dinner have gone cold on the floor.

There are three different sets: one main stage with a winter wonderland backdrop, bright sun, glistening snow, frozen pond made of many layers of plastic wrap, and a papier-mâché snowman that Essi lovingly sculpted; a cozy living room with a blazing fire, rocking chair, and a stack of neatly wrapped gifts; and last, the intricate, gilded sleigh surrounded by a forest of free-standing wooden trees. 

Geralt is really pretty proud of that sleigh.

“This is going to be the best winter recital ever,” Jaskier says, all signs of anxiety leaking away, leaving only his eternal enthusiasm. “I can feel it! Dedicated students, irreplaceably excellent production staff,” he gestures at Essi, who is streaked with paint, and at Geralt, who has rather prodigious pit stains, “and quite possibly the most extravagant set and music design ever bestowed upon kindergartners, courtesy of me. It simply can’t be beat.”

Geralt can’t take his eyes off Jaskier. He’s rumpled and stained and absolutely glowing. 

“It’ll be great,” Geralt says.

Essi shakes her head, taking it all in. “We’ve lost it this time, Jask. Gone fully around the bend.”

“Possibly!” Jaskier agrees brightly. “Say, does anyone want to go for a celebratory drink?”

“No fucking way, I’ve spent basically a month straight with your insufferable ass,” says Essi, at the same time that Geralt says, “Yeah, okay.”

It’s too late to take it back, and Jaskier has clearly heard. “Fuck you very much, Essi! Just Geralt and I, then. We’ll have plenty of fun without you.”

Essi is already on her way out. She mumbles something that sounds like “I bet you will,” but there’s plausible deniability. Then, louder, she says, “Don’t call me!”

“Love you!” Jaskier yells after her, then he looks to Geralt. “Still down? We don’t have to.”

“No, I want to,” Geralt says quickly, lest he get a chance to think too hard about it. “Meet you there, though? I need to,” he pulls at his ratty, sweaty t-shirt, “clean up a little.”

They decide on a place not far from Geralt’s house and, pulse thrumming in his ears, he goes home to towel off and change. He wears maroon and his leather riding jacket, pulls his hair up and out of his face, and thinks he looks, well, fine. 

Will be late to pick up Ciri tomorrow, he texts Yen, just in case. She replies immediately, If you tell me a single detail I’ll scream.

Jaskier is already seated at the end of the crowded bar when Geralt arrives, helmet under his arm. He too has changed his clothes, and when he turns and notices Geralt, Geralt can see that his shirt is unbuttoned halfway down his chest. Geralt’s mouth goes dry and his fingers itch and he nearly walks right back out.

Instead he sits at the neighboring stool and orders a beer. 

“Drinks on me,” says Jaskier in greeting, saluting with his cocktail. “Thanks for coming out. And for all the blood, sweat, and tears.”

“No tears on my end,” Geralt says after a deep pull from his drink. “Some blood though.”

“Ah, right. The tears were all me. But thank you all the same. You really are too kind.”

The way he says it is too sincere for a normal expression of gratitude. Geralt blushes. “’Kind’ is not the word most people would use to describe me.”

Jaskier’s brow furrows. “What else could they possibly think you are?” 

“Dangerous. Muscle. Unstable, untrustworthy,” says Geralt, gesturing at his general appearance, the tattoos disappearing under his sleeves, the marks of his past.

“That’s total bullshit,” says Jaskier. “I may not be the foremost authority, but I think you’re a kind man with a gentle heart and enough love to spare, and I think you’re dying to give it. And I am a very good judge of character, so I am to be trusted in this.”

“Oh,” Geralt says with exactly zero brain cells firing. He takes a drink for lack of anything else to do with himself.

“And you’re dead sexy,” Jaskier continues casually. Geralt chokes mid-swallow. “Even if you’re not that much of a conversationalist. But we can work on that.”

When Geralt has finished coughing, Jaskier is staring at him unreadably, a glint in his eye. “Too direct?” he asks.

“A little,” says Geralt.

Jaskier laughs, drains his glass, sets it down with a thunk and says, “Geralt, d’you know that I’ve been flirting with you for nearly four months?”

“Um,” rasps Geralt, clutching his pint like a lifeline, “maybe.”

“Maybe,” Jaskier repeats, unimpressed but smiling, as ever.

“I hoped, I guess.”

“You hoped, you guess.”

His heart is pounding like it’s trying to break his rib cage. “I don’t know how to do this. Don’t make fun of me.”

“Never! I wouldn’t. I’m just trying to figure out what you’re thinking.” Jaskier scoots closer, their knees brushing together.

“Not a mystery. I’m not even interesting.”

Jaskier shakes his head, amused. “Doesn’t matter. Maybe I like a boring man. I’m interesting enough for two.”

“Do you?” asks Geralt, meeting his gaze.

“Do I?”

“Like boring men.”

“Oh, no,” says Jaskier, eyes twinkling, “just one.”

“Do you wanna—” Geralt starts, mustering his courage, but Jaskier just says, “Yeah, your place?” and it just really is that easy. Before Geralt knows it he’s unlocking his front door in the December chill and Jaskier’s headlights are sweeping across the lawn, and Jaskier is shoving him inside. 

Then his back thumps against the the wall of his small foyer and Jaskier, still in his peacoat, puts one cold hand on either side of his face and smiles and winks and kisses him. His lips are chapped, and he tastes like alcohol, and his breath hitches when Geralt slides his hands under the coat and rucks up his shirt and presses palms to warm, soft skin. 

It keeps going, a constant stream of feedback, and, and, and.

And he groans when Geralt pulls the line of his body into his own, and he frees Geralt’s hair, tugs at it, scratching gently against the scalp, and he leans away to allow them to shrug off some layers. And Jaskier bites at his lips, and his fingers find their flies, and Geralt turns them around, hitching Jaskier’s leg around his hip, and he sucks a mark into Jaskier’s collarbone.

And his phone rings.

“Fuck,” he says, muffled in Jaskier’s chest.

“Is there the slightest chance that’s not Yennefer?” Jaskier asks breathlessly.

“No.”

“Then you should get it.”

Geralt disentangles himself, retrieves the phone from his jacket on the floor, and answers it, “I thought you didn’t want details.”

He can practically hear Yen rolling her eyes. “That is perilously close to a detail in itself. Believe me, I do not want to be here, but our daughter woke up crying and I can’t calm her down.”

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face. “Put her on.” He hears snuffles a moment later. “Hi, Princess, it’s your papa. What’s wrong?”

“I had a bad dream and then I woke up and there were scary things in my room,” Ciri says.

“What kind of scary things?”

She whispers, “Monsters.”

“Impossible,” Geralt says. “No monster would dare bother my girl. Do you think monsters would bother me?”

“No,” she says. “You’re big and strong.”

“Do you think monsters would bother your mama?”

“No, she’s mean and loud.” Yen snorts in the background and says, Thanks, pumpkin.

Geralt smiles. “Well, guess what, Ciri? You’re all of those things, too. So even if the monsters get past me or your mama they would never cross you. But you’re safe with us. Alright?”

“Yeah, okay, Papa,” she sniffs and hands the phone back to Yen.

“Thanks, Geralt,” Yen says. “I got it from here, I think. You can go back to your twinky Singamajig now.”

Geralt eyes Jaskier, still lounging shirtless against the wall but grinning indulgently back at him. “I heard that,” he says, “and I am definitely not a twink.”

“He says he’s not a twink,” Geralt relays.

Yen makes a disgusted, exasperated sound and hangs up. 

“Sorry about that,” Geralt says, stalking back into Jaskier’s space.

“Don’t be.” Their hands twine together. Hot breath hits his cheek. “We can pick up right where we left off.”

 

*

 

Yennefer [Sun 12:22pm]: as much as I desperately do not want to, we need to talk about this if it’s actually happening
Yennefer [Sun 12:28pm]: is it actually happening?
Yennefer [Sun 12:30pm]: I’m gonna need it in writing if it is. Repeat after me: ‘Yen, I have consciously chosen to begin dating our daughter’s kindergarten teacher, even though he treats life like one long audition for The Wiggles.’

 

*

 

The recital goes off without a hitch. Yen and Geralt sit together in the second row. Geralt, having been put on camera duty, carefully records the show.

He catches Ciri’s slightly nervous expression as she files in, and the flouncy little curtsy she gives during the round of applause when they’ve taken their spots. He catches when she dances with the little boy next to her during a number she’s not part of. He zooms in when she spots them in the audience, beams and waves excitedly. 

“She’s so grown up, Geralt,” Yen whispers beside him. “Our baby girl.”

He knows.

Geralt maybe also films some other parts of the show more closely than he strictly has to. Like Jaskier’s introductions of each song, or his long fingers on the piano keys, or the smile on his face when he strums his guitar and sings along with the children. When he switches off with Essi and takes the spot facing the kids with the lyric cards, the camera maybe lingers on the conducting hand he raises to keep time. 

At that moment, Jaskier turns his head and catches Geralt’s eye. Whatever they have is new and unfamiliar, but it’s warm and sweet and dear, and Jaskier smiles at him wider than ever. The camera catches that, too.