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Give Me Nothing, Give Me You

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Chapter Text

In hindsight, Geralt should have taken the truck instead of Roach to bring Ciri to her kindergarten orientation. The handful of parents in the parking lot squint at him disapprovingly and with mistrust. He can’t blame them, exactly. A motorcycle isn’t the most suburban mode of transportation but Ciri loves it and clearly isn’t bothered by the negative attention, her head held high as they make their way to the school.

She’s a tough one, his Ciri. Though sometimes he wishes she wasn’t but he supposes this is what happens when a little girl grows up with only her father.

Despite what his therapist says, Geralt can’t help but feel like it’s all his fault. He’s the one who thought having a child together would save their crumbling marriage - such a stupid fucking idea - and begged Yen to give it one more try.

She agreed and they had two glorious months of lovemaking, as though they had been transported back to the beginning of their relationship, when they couldn't keep their clothes on and hands off of each other. An instant attraction that sparked a firestorm.

He had thought everything would be fine, that the love between them was reignited. Only to learn later that, for Yen, it had confirmed her decision to let the flames die.

“I want to be free.” She spat, violet eyes burning with a different kind of passion, the kind that reduced everything to cinders instead of warming his blood. “And you want me chained!” 

It devolved from there, a particularly ugly fight that had both of them hurling vicious truths that cut to the core.

His insistence that their child doesn't grow up in a broken home. Her rebuttal that one loving parent is better than two hateful ones.

His lack of ambition and her thirst for it. Her desire for everything and his inability to be that for her. 

The confirmation that neither of them could ever truly be what the other wanted.

There was no going back from that.

The divorce papers, an equal split of assets and full custody for Geralt, were signed a week before she went into labor. She left for the airport from the hospital.

Once, Geralt believed Yennefer was his destiny.

Now, he knows Ciri is. 

Which is why this new chapter of their life seems so daunting. He can’t quite grasp the fact that the tiny baby whose age used to be calculated in weeks and months is now old enough for kindergarten.

At a new school.

In a new class.

With a new teacher.

Who turns out to be a young man who looks like a goddamn cartoon character with his ridiculously floppy hair, bright shirt, and the constant strumming of his guitar as background music. Then he starts singing.

“Welcome to our school, it’s so nice to meet you. My name is Jaskier, and you are...” He trails off.

Ciri jumps in, utterly delighted. “Ciri!” 

Geralt feels a headache coming on.

Jaskier crouches down so Ciri doesn’t have to look up to meet his eyes. “That’s a lovely name.”

"Thank you.” She curtsies.

Geralt can’t help but beam at her then makes a conscious effort to flatten his lips when he turns to Jaskier. “Geralt.”

“He’s my dad.” Ciri adds helpfully. “He doesn’t like talking.”

“The strong, silent type, huh?” Jaskier chuckles, blue eyes crinkling at the corners and peering up at Geralt.

Geralt waits for birds to fly in and straighten Jaskier’s collar like a Disney movie because no one outside of a fairytale should have eyes that blue. He breathes a little easier when Jaskier turns his attention back to Ciri. 

“Miss Ciri, would you like to see your classroom?” 

Ciri nods enthusiastically.  

“Fantastic!” Jaskier hops to his feet and walks backwards with an easy grace, strumming his guitar and launching into another song - goddamn it - about where everything is and what the daily schedule entails.

*

"So, um." Jaskier lowers his voice to a whisper, eyes darting to Ciri, who's focused on coloring in the letters of her name on a sign that will hang above her cubby, before leaning into Geralt's personal space. "I don't mean to pry but can you maybe tell me a bit more about Ciri's mother?"

In lieu of an answer, Geralt levels his best glare at the inquisitive teacher, who takes a hasty step back and nearly trips over a chair. He yelps.

Ciri glances up, concerned, but returns to her artwork when Jaskier gives her a dorky thumb's up and the somewhat convincing excuse of practicing his dance moves for tomorrow's boogie break, meant to keep the children energized and engaged between lessons.

Jaskier shuffles closer once more. "I, I understand it's probably a sensitive topic, with you leaving her name off of the enrollment form and all. Not that I'm judging you or anything, definitely no judgment here. And I'm not looking for any sordid details or any details, really. Just, er, perhaps an overview so I know how to not put my foot in my mouth. Blech! It's just that I do my best to be mindful of different family compositions but sometimes I miss things and I don't want to assume or-"

"Divorced." Geralt grits out then softens his tone once the content of Jaskier's rambling clicks. He's trying to look out for Ciri, sometimes her preschool teachers were less mindful about that. The family tree incident was an unpleasant memory. "Before Ciri was born. I have full custody."

"I'm sorry." Jaskier says and Geralt almost dismisses the generic response at first until the teacher continues. "Couldn't have been easy breaking that piece of news."

"No." Geralt closes his eyes, remembering the awful day when he had to explain to his three-year-old that her mother doesn't want to be a part of their lives.

Jaskier bumps their shoulders together. "For what it's worth, you did and are doing a great job."

"Hm." While he's appreciative of the comment, Geralt can't help but think it holds little weight given the fact that Jaskier has only met them today.

"Well, you're right. I haven't known her or you for long but given how you were willing to speak in full sentences just now-" Jaskier winks, which is just as absurd as the thumb's up. "-I'm standing by what I said." With that, he goes over to check on Ciri's progress.

Geralt can only stare after him, stunned by the other man's ability to correctly read his monosyllabic answers.

*

"Bye, Mr. Jaskier!” Ciri’s wave is more of a flail. Geralt narrowly avoids a slap as he ushers her out of the classroom.

“See you Monday, Miss Ciri!” Jaskier waves back just as enthusiastically before raising his arms up and spreads them wide. “I’m so happy that you’re a Dandelion.”

Geralt grunts at the ridiculous names the school assigned to each class. Begrudgingly, he admits that it suits Jaskier quite well. 

*

Ciri talks about Jaskier all the way home. “He’s so funny, he sings about everything and I like my spot on the rug. Did you see the cabinet with clouds on top...” 

Geralt strains to catch every detail with the wind in their faces and rushing by their ears. He’s definitely taking the truck next time. 

*

That night, after he puts Ciri to bed and sets to do the dishes, Geralt finds himself humming an unfamiliar tune. 

It takes him a second to realize it’s one of Jaskier’s songs. 

“Fuck.”

Chapter Text

The first week of school passes in a frenzy of adjusting to new routines. Geralt has changed the alarms - when they must leave the house to make it to school on time - on his phone three times. 

First because it was too early. He had to make small talk with the other parents while the children played on the playground, waiting for the bell to ring. How's the weather? Which team won last night? What are you having for dinner? All questions Geralt would be happy to never ask nor answer again. 

Second because it was too late. They were stuck waiting for the drop-off lane to clear so they could get into the parking lot. Ciri was near tears when they found out that the tardy bell had rung and the students had already gone in. Thankfully, Jaskier saw them coming and opened the door connecting the classroom and the schoolyard, ushering Ciri in with a smile as bright as the sun the other parents were mumbling about. 

The current alarm is perfect. They have just enough time to walk up leisurely and say their goodbyes - an especially complicated handshake - before she joins her classmates lining up by their classroom door, waiting for Jaskier to greet them and start the day. 

It's almost jarring how little he has seen Jaskier now that school has started. Their only interaction outside of the orientation was the morning when they were late and Jaskier's attention was entirely on Ciri, as though Geralt was an afterthought. The way it's supposed to be, really, but Geralt finds himself troubled for reasons he doesn't understand and is quite content to not examine further.

*

Each student in Jaskier's class has a folder with a dandelion on it, a way for the children to build a sense of responsibility and to communicate with parents via various handouts. 

On Friday, Ciri proudly takes out the folder and presents the classroom newsletter like a trophy. 

Geralt accepts it with both hands and a solemn thank-you that earns him a giggle. With Ciri tucked against his side, they read the newsletter together, a generic update on what the children have been doing and learning with a list of dates at the end. Ciri adds the events to the calendar on his phone, she's far better at it and it's a good skill for her to practice. 

"Look! There's a note on the back!" She informs him as her nimble fingers fly over the keyboard. 

Holding up the paper so she can still see the information, he spots the small paragraph scrawled on the back. 

Hello Geralt!

Ciri had a great first week! We spent some time learning our daily schedule and routines - boogie break is a big hit! - and getting to know our classmates. She's made a new friend with someone who's in need of one, a show of kindness that was wonderful to see! I'm so happy to have her in my class and look forward to our year together! 

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Jaskier

Jaskier's handwriting is exactly as Geralt thinks it would be, neat but with a flourish, and he definitely uses far too many exclamation points. It's endearing, though, in a way Geralt can't explain. So he doesn't and focuses on the important detail in the note. 

"You made a new friend?" He asks and tries not to be troubled by the fact that he didn't know, that she hasn't mentioned it. 

"Hold on." Ciri doesn't stop typing and for a heart-stopping moment, Geralt can see her as a teenager, absorbed in her own world and no longer a part of his. It fades as quickly as it comes, thankfully, when she hands the phone back. "I told you about Dara." 

The name clicks in his mind and he recalls Ciri mentioning a boy who was excluded from a game - something with traffic lights? - and she asked him to play on the slide. Geralt nods and speaks when she huffs at him for his reticence. "I remember." 

"We've been playing at recess, he's really nice." 

An instinctive part of him wants to caution her against spending time with boys and Geralt quiets it with a clench of his jaw. She's only five and even if she were fifteen, he's vowed to not be that kind of father since the moment he learned he'd have a daughter. He's startled out of his thoughts with Ciri pokes him gently on the shoulder. 

"Dad?" 

"Hm?" 

"Can I play King Rabbit on your phone?" 

"Ten minutes." He smiles, settling his arm around her, and watches her guide the eponymous crowned rabbit through deadly traps to rescue his friend. 

*

Hot lunch is, apparently, a big deal.

Or so Ciri says when she rushes into his arms, shoving the menu into his face. 

Geralt is pretty sure he has a papercut on his nose now, it stings when he winces at her squeal for strawberry milk right into his ear. 

Oh, the joys of fatherhood. 

"Please, dad? Please? I've never had strawberry milk before." 

He's pretty sure she has, actually, because she loves all things strawberry and pink. Straightening up to protect his hearing, Geralt keeps a hand on Ciri's back as he arches an eyebrow at her overly earnest expression. 

It turns sheepish when she amends her previous statement. "I've never had strawberry milk at school before." 

"Hm." 

*

It turns out that everything is done electronically now and Geralt's original - simple, straightforward - plan of giving Ciri cash is a no-go. 

At the bottom of the flyer, there is a link to a website where parents can register their children and add funds to their accounts. 

He gets as far as typing in their names before he finds himself stuck at the part where the form asks for the student identification number. 

"Fuck."

*

The next day, they leave before their alarm so they can stop by the front office for Ciri's student identification number. 

Thankfully, the woman behind the counter isn't the talkative sort. Or at least not until she finishes her coffee if her travel mug bearing the statement NO TALKIE BEFORE COFFEE is to be believed. 

Geralt considers buying one for himself. 

She writes down the series of numbers and waves them off with a smile that's probably meant for her coffee. 

A quick glance at his phone tells Geralt that they have a few minutes before the bell rings. Instead of heading back out to the playground and the agony of small talk, he lets Ciri steer him toward her classroom with her tiny hands at his back and insisting that he see the dandelion art she made on the first day. 

The strum of a guitar and Jaskier's voice has Geralt slowing his footsteps and Ciri picking up hers. 

"Toss a coin to your teacher, oh valley of plenty, oh valley- Oh, hello!" 

"Hi, Mr. Jaskier!" Ciri practically crashes into the room in her haste. "I like your song!" 

"Thank you. Er, where is your-" 

"Hey." Geralt grunts, catching up to his daughter in a few quick strides. "Sorry. We were early. Had to stop by the front office. Then Ciri wanted to show me her artwork." It's strange how he both wants to say more and less around the teacher, words coming out in halting sentences that get longer as he goes on. 

"No worries at all." Jaskier smiles. "Did you get everything-" 

Ciri wanders over to the wall covered with paintings of dandelions. "Dad! Come here!" 

"-taken care of?" 

"Be right there." Geralt calls back before answering Jaskier's question. "Yeah. I like the song, too." He adds. 

"It's just something silly I've been working on for the Fall Festival fundraiser." Jaskier shrugs, dismissing the compliment in a way he didn't when it was from Ciri. 

It bothers Geralt. "I like it." He repeats. "It's catchy." 

"Thanks." The tips of Jaskier's ears are tinged pink as he slides the guitar off of his lap and sets it down in the case by his feet.  

"You're welcome." Geralt says. 

A beat of silence settles over them, broken by Ciri's impatient shout for Geralt's attention. 

Geralt nods in Ciri's direction. "I should..." 

"Yep, yep. I should..." Jaskier gestures to the guitar case. 

"Okay." 

"Right." 

*

Ciri's art is beautiful.

Geralt takes a photo and makes it his lock screen wallpaper.

Chapter Text

Hello Parents!

We’re keeping track of the number of days we’ve been in school as a way for the students to develop and review their counting skills, eventually learning to count by 2s and 5s and 10s. This is something we’ll continue doing for the whole year with a special celebration planned on the 100th day. Stay tuned for more details!

Jaskier

There is a stick figure with a guitar on the back of the paper but no message.

Geralt doesn't realize he's smiling until he catches his reflection in the window.

*

"Dad!" Ciri drops her backpack and runs to him at a full sprint.

Geralt adjusts his stance just in time to avoid falling down when she jumps into his arms. "Hi."

"I have been at school for twenty-five days!" Ciri announces with both fists raised to the sky.

"Hm." He moves her to his left side, supporting her weight with one hand.

"I got to put the sticker on the chart and write the number on the board. We have two rows of ten and one row of five and did you know that two is like a five that's all turned around and that two is maybe related to Z? Jaskier was showing us..." She chatters in his ear as he walks over to collect her backpack.

*

Jaskier is the before-school duty teacher for the week.

Geralt learns this from Ciri, who gushes about how much more fun it is to have her teacher on the playground and how cool it is that he's the tallest one there. Which really isn't all that impressive.

Jaskier, lean as he may be, is about Geralt's height.

Honestly, it'd be more impressive if Jaskier somehow isn't the tallest one there.

*

Still, the next morning, they leave before their carefully-calibrated alarm goes off so Geralt can see the wonder of Jaskier towering over kindergarteners for himself.

Jaskier greets them both with a cheerful wave and gives Ciri a high-five when she approaches.

Geralt grunts and endures small talk with the other parents standing on the perimeter.

In the parking lot, someone slams a car door and everyone turns to look in the same manner they did when Geralt rode Roach on orientation day.

For a second, Geralt is appreciative of the distraction - anything to get him out of this inane conversation about changing weather and pumpkin spice whatever - then the second passes when a man, with a small boy in tow, stomps past them and up to Jaskier.

"Good morning, Anton." Jaskier gives the small boy a high-five. "I think the sandbox is calling your name."

Anton wiggles out of his father's grasp and rushes toward the sandbox, immediately burying his shoes in it.

Geralt winces. He hates cleaning out sand from Ciri's shoes. And socks. And pants pockets. Sandboxes are the worst.

"I'm sorry but I really can't chat with parents right now-"

"Shut up!" The man crowds into Jaskier's personal space.

Jaskier, bright and silly like a cartoon character, stands his ground. "You're setting a bad example." He points out, tone mild except for the steel underneath. "Feet first down the slide, please." He calls over his shoulder.

A small boy adjusts his position accordingly.

"I don't-"

Jaskier's voice carries clear across the playground. "You're choosing to behave in a certain way right now and I'm confident that once you think it over, you'll wish you made a different decision. One that's not so, shall we say, public and loud?"

Geralt can pinpoint the moment the man realizes he has an audience and falters.

"I'm happy to set up a meeting to discuss any concerns you have but, as you can see, now is not the best time. I need my full attention on these wildlings." A few kids howl in response. Some burst into giggles. It's good that most of them seem oblivious to the tension between the two men. "I think your heart is in the right place and it's great that you're so involved with your child's education. Please email me and we'll find a time that works for both of us "

"I- I-" The man stutters, likely bewildered by the compliments. His fists clench and unclench by his sides a couple of times, then his shoulders sag as anger drains out of him. "I'll do that."

Jaskier smiles. "Great. Hope you have a better day."

"Um. Thanks." He shuffles off. "You too."

Geralt is impressed.

*

Ciri fills him in on the details on their way home.

Anton had his recess taken away for misbehaving yesterday.

"He likes to run into people and knock them over."

Geralt's grip on the steering wheel tightens as he commits the name to memory. "Has he done that to you?"

"Only one time." Ciri lowers her voice conspiratorially. "And I tripped him."

"Good job."

Ciri preens and extends her hand for a fist bump.

Geralt taps his knuckles against hers and waits for Ciri to continue.

She doesn't, preoccupied by a loose thread on her sleeve.

"Don't pull on it, we'll use scissors when we get home." He says, slowing to a stop at the traffic light.

While they wait, questions bubble in his mind.

Why are the parents angry with Jaskier? Has this happened before? Why didn't Ciri mention any of this Anton situation during their debrief - short questions about what made her happy or sad at school and what she's looking forward to at school tomorrow - yesterday?

Geralt makes a mental note to add a question about Jaskier's day to his checklist.

Ciri stops tugging at the thread and, with that distraction gone, carries on with her story.

As it turned out, Anton also had a dentist appointment yesterday and when his mother came to collect him, she was furious to see her son standing against a wall with Jaskier because boys will be boys.

"I don't know what that means." Ciri frowns. "Anton's a jerk not because he's a boy, he's just a jerk."

Geralt grunts in agreement and because he doesn't know what he is supposed to say, what the proper response should be.

Thankfully, Ciri changes the topic to dinner, demanding mac and cheese with hot dogs cut up and mixed in.

With a relieved sigh, he changes lanes and drives to the store. They use up the half-and-half at a startling pace, with Geralt's coffee and Ciri's favorite dish.

*

Later that night, he wonders if he missed an opportunity to speak to his daughter about gender expectations and toxic masculinity but he doesn't know which words to use and the parenting literature he's read didn't include how-to tips for a single father with a young daughter.

He doesn't get much sleep that night.

*

They show up early for the rest of the week so Ciri can marvel at Jaskier's height.

If Geralt keeps an eye out for the same man from yesterday, it's only because he doesn't want him to disrupt Ciri's morning.

*

Jaskier can definitely handle himself.

It's impressive.

*

His therapist emailed him a dozen links for articles that don't offer any concrete solutions - suggestions and thoughts, mostly - but helps him feel better to know he isn't the only one struggling with this.

Geralt, on an impulse he can't really explain, sends the ones that discuss the educator's role to Jaskier. It felt weird to type in Jaskier's email, his first initial and his last name, detached and cold in a way that Geralt just doesn't associate with the teacher.

Then he immediately wonders if Jaskier will take his note that Jaskier can benefit from reading them as an insult.

He's in the middle of an email to explain that he didn't mean any offense when a reply shows up in his inbox.

Hello Geralt!

Thank you for sending those, I know what I'll have reading over coffee tomorrow morning! It's really nice of you to think of me! Thanks again!

Jaskier

Again with the exclamation points, Geralt huffs with a shake of his head.

*

This week, there's another teacher on before-school duty.

Geralt and Ciri show up right before the bell rings and no earlier.

It's only because it's getting cold, he reasons and plans to tell anyone who asks about it that he heard about the drop in temperature from that one parent who has four weather apps on her phone.

No one does, though, thankfully.

Chapter Text

The Fall Festival is, according to the newsletter Jaskier sends home with Ciri, quite a spectacle.

It sounds like a headache to Geralt but Ciri is absolutely thrilled.

"The greatest masters of the culinary arts crafting morsels worthy of the gods!" She shouts directly into his ear as she reads over his shoulder.

Geralt thinks that's false advertising. There's no way pizza and ice cream qualify as morsels worthy of the gods but he will reluctantly give Jaskier credit for improving his daughter's vocabulary.

*

Jaskier is the after-school duty teacher, assisting the kids at the crosswalk and wearing an orange vest that clashes horribly with his dark red - maroon? - sweater.

"My favorite color is orange!" Ciri declares as they drive past him. 

"I thought it's blue." Geralt remarks offhandedly, attention on the hordes of kids rushing toward the school buses as he navigates the parking lot. 

"My favorite favorite color is blue."

"Hm."

*

When Geralt arrives at the school, Ciri is wearing a different shirt. At least he's pretty sure she is. She was near tears this morning when she couldn't find her favorite blue shirt and Geralt only narrowly avoided a tantrum by remembering it was still in the dryer. So why is she wearing a white t-shirt bearing a Fall Festival logo from last year?

"Hm?" He makes sure to keep his hum inquisitive and not accusing, crouching down to be at his daughter's height.

"So, um, it was a hot lunch day."

Geralt sighs inwardly and settles into the crouch; they're going to be here a while with Ciri's meandering way of storytelling. He nods to show he's paying attention and waits.

"I really like the chicken nuggets and the tater tots and they gave me ketchup and ranch to make my special dip..."

Special is one word to describe the monstrosity Ciri tries to pass off as edible. Not the one Geralt would use, though.

"...but there wasn't a cup to mix it in so I had to use a napkin and..."

Geralt is pretty sure he knows what happens and can save them both some time by asking Ciri if she got the sauces on her shirt. But he stays quiet, content to listen to her voice and hear her words.

"...the napkin got soggy and kind of yucky so I threw it away but then there's this blob on the table and I want to clean it up so I got another napkin and moved my arms like this-" She sweeps one skinny arm in a wide arc. Geralt dodges it easily. "-and knocked my strawberry milk over." Her face scrunches up at the memory. "And it got all over my favorite shirt."

Shit.

Ciri loves strawberry milk and has Geralt check the lunch menu and highlight the dates the school cafeteria is serving it. This is a big deal even without adding her favorite shirt into the mix.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Geralt steels himself; it's been almost six years and he still hasn't gotten used to the sight and sound of his daughter crying. Doubts he ever will.

Miracle of miracles, Ciri takes a deep breath and continues on with her story. "So Mr. Jaskier gave me this one and his strawberry milk!" She grins, wide and happy.

Blinking, Geralt takes a moment to process what she just said. It's common for the school to have extra t-shirts left over from previous events but the strawberry milk is unusual. "He bought the strawberry milk for you?" He's going to have to pay the teacher back somehow. And for the t-shirt.

"No!" Ciri laughs like he just told a joke from his joke book; thankful that someone wrote one for dads who are terrible at jokes but want to make their kids laugh. "He gave me his."

"He gave you his?"

"Yep!"

"He gave you his? He didn't buy one?" Geralt is aware that he sounds a bit like a broken record but, seriously, what?

"Yes, dad!" Ciri pokes him on his shoulder. "He was getting his lunch and saw me." She shuffles her feet. "Um, I was kind of crying so he came over to check on me and then he found me a new shirt!" She throws both arms out wide and twirls, almost hitting another kid walking by.

"Watch out." Geralt stops her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You need to be aware of your surroundings." Then he draws her attention back to the strawberry milk mystery. "And he had a strawberry milk in his classroom?" He supposes it makes some sense for the ridiculous man to, just, have bottles of strawberry milk on hand. Maybe a farm animal or some woodland creature brings it to his door. Because, again, Jaskier is too ridiculous to be real.

Ciri sighs, a great heave of breath that effectively communicates just how disappointed she is at his incomprehension. "It was on his tray."

"Tray?"

"He was getting his lunch." She huffs and rolls her eyes for good measure. "Duh!"

"Jaskier gets his lunch from the school's cafeteria." Understanding dawns and it makes perfect sense - as opposed to the some sense his previous speculation has - that Jaskier would eat the same food as the children he teaches.

The man is way too energetic and sweet to not be on some kind of a sugar high.

*

He emails Jaskier about the cost for the t-shirt and the strawberry milk.

Jaskier tells him not to worry about it.

Geralt writes back that he will, in fact, worry about it until he's able to repay the debt.

Jaskier's reply is a volunteer and donations sign-up link for the Fall Festival with a smiley face that's winking.

Thankfully, there's still one spot open for donations. Geralt puts his name down for four dozen cupcakes; $40 is a small price to pay for not interacting with people.

*

It's a sunny day, one of the last ones they'll have for a while now that October is here and winter just around the corner. Geralt decides to capitalize on it and rides Roach to collect Ciri from school.

Ciri will love the surprise.

*

She does. Her face splits into a wide grin when she sees Roach.

Geralt wants to take a photo so he'll always have this moment but he has his hands full with her backpack and an art project that's mostly glitter and tissue paper. He does his best to remember this look of pure joy on his daughter's face.

*

Ciri refuses to let him put the glitter-and-tissue-paper monstrosity in her backpack. "It'll get squished!"

Geralt sighs as he places the art work into the saddlebag. Slowly and carefully, per his daughter's strict instructions. At least the inside is already covered with glitter and there're rhinestones stuck along the edges he hasn't bothered to pry loose. What's the point when there'll only be more anyway? He knows a losing battle when he sees it.

*

Jaskier's mouth falls open in cartoonish shock when he spots them as Geralt's lifts at how absurdly expressive the other man is.

Geralt slows to a stop both because they're at a crosswalk and because he knows his daughter very well.

"Hi! Mr. Jaskier!" Ciri flings an arm out for a high-five, which he gives readily.

"Hello! This is new." Jaskier squints at Roach, eyes still ridiculously blue even when they're reduced to slivers. Or maybe it's the teal - where does he find these colors? - shirt he has on today. "Who's this?"

Warmth washes over him at Jaskier's immediate characterization of Roach as a who instead of a what.

"Roach!"

"Interesting name." Though Jaskier's still looking at Ciri, Geralt gets the sense that the comment was for him.

"It's the name of my first bike and I just kept it over the years." He grunts, not sure why he's offering more but doesn't really mind.

Jaskier smiles. "So strong, silent, and sentimental, then?"

"Hm."

Chapter Text

Ciri wants to be a lion for Halloween - not because Geralt called her his lion cub when she was younger but because it's her school's mascot - and swears by her decision.

Geralt still double-checks, though, because the only thing more annoying than shopping for a Halloween costume is to shop for one at the last minute.

When she stands by her choice, he extends a hand with all fingers curled inward except for the little one. A pinky promise that she readily agrees to, wrapping her much smaller finger around his.

*

Later that night, he finds a lion fleece one-piece pajamas online. He learned his lesson the first year he took her trick-or-treating and now prioritizes warmth for her Halloween costumes. Tulle, as much as Ciri loves it, provides little protection against the late-October chill.

*

Ciri changes her mind three days later. "I want to be a hot dog."

"Why?"

"I like hot dogs." She states simply.

Geralt groans. "You pinky promised."

She shrugs and gives him her most angelic look. It's devastatingly effective.

Fuck.

*

Thankfully, she changes her mind again. Or rather, Jaskier changes it by mentioning that he'll be wearing a tiger kigurumi as his costume for the Fall Festival.

"Hm." Geralt tries to picture it and fails.

"A kigurumi-" Ciri pronounces each syllable with perfect clarity. "-is the Japanese word for one-piece pajamas that look like animals or cartoon characters."

It sounds like the very thing he bought for Ciri; he didn't know they made such things for adults.

Ciri peers up at him with the puppy dog expression that he really should be immune to by now but isn't. "Can I be a tiger like Mr. Jaskier? Please?"

"Thought you want to be a hot dog?"

"Hot dogs have mustard. Ew!" Her whole face scrunches up. "So, can I be a tiger?"

"How about a lion? It's a big cat too and you are my little lion cub."

Ciri ponders this for a beat before nodding decisively. "Okay."

Geralt heaves a sigh of relief and considers sending Jaskier a thank-you note.

*

There's no good way to say thank you for having a similar Halloween costume idea as a five-year-old in an email without sounding painfully awkward.

Geralt deletes the draft and goes to bed.

*

"Hey! I want to play with Dara before we go home." Ciri states when she walks up to him.

"Hm." Geralt raises an eyebrow in a silent critique of her manners.

"Hi, dad." Ciri smiles sheepishly. "Can I play with Dara before we go home?"

He catches Jaskier at the door connecting the classroom and the playground in his periphery. "Sure. I need to talk to Mr. Jaskier quick."

Ciri runs off before he finishes speaking.

Shaking his head, Geralt heads toward Jaskier and is inordinately pleased when Jaskier greets him with a wide grin, his shockingly bright blue shirt making his eyes electric in the afternoon sun.

"Hi there!"

"Hey." Geralt grunts, body humming and blood buzzing with something he can't quite name. "I want to say thanks."

"For what?" Jaskier blinks.

As it turns out, there's no good way to say thank you for having a similar Halloween costume idea as a five-year-old in person without sounding painfully awkward either.

It's actually worse.

Geralt stumbles over his words and backtracks to explain then trips over his own explanations. "...so, hm, thanks. I need to get Ciri home. Bye." His teeth click together as he shut his mouth, cutting off the disastrous rambling at last, and strides away. "Ciri, let's go!"

"Bye, Dara!" Ciri gives her friend a hug and almost hits him in the face when she twists around to wave at Jaskier. "Bye, Mr. Jaskier!"

"Bye, Ciri!" Jaskier shouts. "Oh, and Geralt?"

Geralt stops but doesn't turn around; his cheeks feel warm. "Hm?"

"You're welcome!"

*

Roach proves to be the right choice for the Fall Festival. When they pull up five minutes before the event starts, the parking lot is already full and the side streets are lined with cars. The designated motorcycle parking area, however, is blissfully empty.

Ciri removes her helmet and reaches up to help him with his. It's a well-practiced routine for them, working together as a team.

Geralt stores both helmets and their respective protective riding gear in the saddlebag. Glitter rains when he removes the lion kigurumi - Ciri insists that he uses the correct term - from the other saddlebag. It fits easily over her jeans and top, the elastic wrist and ankle cuffs help it stay in place, and the whole outfit is completed with an attached maned hood and fuzzy tail that hangs just above the ground.

"Rawr!" Her growl is as intimidating as a kitten's but Geralt affects a convincing cower.

*

They spot Jaskier as soon as they walk through the door.

It's impossible to miss him, really, tiger kigurumi and all. Jaskier looks as ridiculous as he always does, only tonight instead of Disney prince, it's a Pixar character.

Geralt hangs back while Ciri joins the gaggle of kids admiring Jaskier's costume and shrugs unapologetically when Jaskier shoots a look of mock disappointment at his lack of costume.

*

Despite his general dislike for crowded places and loud noises, Geralt finds himself enjoying the Fall Festival as he trails behind Ciri who is determined to check out every game booth and activity table. Her wonder and delight are contagious and he finds himself overly invested in a game of ring toss, eyes narrowed and hand steady as he throws. The ring spins and hooks around the peg. There are no prizes and he doesn't want one, Ciri's cheers are all he needs.

*

It takes a surprisingly short amount of time for them to get their slices of pizza and two bottles of water. Though Geralt supposes if there's a group of people who best understand and want to avoid the chaos hungry children can unleash, it'd be teachers and parents.

They find a spot toward the back with a good view of the stage.  

*

Unfortunately, the acoustics of the room are shit.

They can barely hear each other let alone Jaskier.

Geralt buys Ciri a cup of hot chocolate topped with too many marshmallows to chase away some of her disappointment. His own, however, sits heavily in his gut.

*

As parents rush out with their children in tow, Geralt chooses to linger. It's strategic to wait for the traffic to thin out before heading home themselves.

Plus, Ciri wants to say goodbye to Jaskier and it'll be easier to spot him with fewer people around.

They find him trying to shoulder a door open with an armful of pizza boxes.

"I got it!" Ciri bounces toward him and opens the door with far too much excitement and force.

Geralt regrets getting her the cotton candy. And the cupcake. And the ice cream. And the hot chocolate.

"Thank you, Ciri, I'll be right back." To accommodate for the precariously balanced stack, Jaskier shuffles sideways through the narrow door frame. He returns a moment later, arms free and smile bright.

Geralt doesn't return it, his brow furrowing as he takes in the sprawling mess, empty containers and crumpled napkins and overflowing trash cans, in the small kitchen and remembers the blank spaces in the clean-up section on the volunteer sign-up page.

Oh.

"I got this." He grunts, more bothered by the stain - most likely from holding the greasy boxes against his chest - on Jaskier's ridiculous tiger kigurumi than he cares to examine.

"You don't have to-"

"Go tell Jaskier about all the yummy food you had." He tells Ciri and rolls up his sleeves.

Jaskier blinks. "What?"

Ciri immediately launches into an extensive list, complete with an impromptu rating system, of everything she had tonight.

Geralt capitalizes on Jaskier's confusion and ushers him and Ciri out into the cafeteria. "I got this." He mouths, knowing better than to interrupt Ciri when she's on a sugar high. Something in his chest flutters when Jaskier, after a moment of hesitation, smiles and mouths thank you back.

*

They get home nearly an hour after Ciri's bedtime and it's another half hour before she's showered and tucked under her favorite blanket.

"What's your favorite part tonight?" He asks, brushing a kiss against her forehead.

"Jaskier's concert." She yawns right into his face. "The one just for us."

Jaskier, upon learning they couldn't hear him during his performance, unpacked his guitar. He sang to them like he was letting them in on a secret, quiet but certain. Something special shared only among the three of them.

Geralt hums. "That's mine too."

Ciri rolls onto her side and closes her eyes. "Good night, dad."

"Good night, my lion cub."

Chapter Text

The school sent out a mass email with a summary of the Fall Festival, how much they've raised and what the funds will go toward.

Geralt reads the paragraph thanking volunteers and remembers Jaskier, alone and exhausted at the end of that night. The memory tugs at his chest.

*

"Uncle Lambert!" Ciri tackles him to the ground with a running start adding the necessary momentum.

Eskel lifts Ciri up and pulls her into a hug.

Smirking, Geralt steps over Lambert and claps Vesemir on the shoulder. "You ready?"

"No." Vesemir replies in his usual gruff tone, not one for children though he did a fine job raising three. "But Eskel will help."

They're on house duty this year while Geralt and Lambert escort Ciri around the neighborhood. An arrangement they came up with the first year Ciri was old enough to go trick-or-treating and have kept up with since.

"Where's your costume?" Lambert sits up with a mischievous gleam.

"Where's yours?" Geralt retorts back, instantly wary.

"Here." Lambert unzips his hoodie and points at the bright orange jack-o-lantern shirt underneath. Like a cheater. "Now, where's yours?"

"Dad doesn't have one." Ciri calls over her shoulder as she twists around to show Eskel and Vesemir the tail attached to her lion kigurumi. They shower her with compliments.

"Yes, he does." Lambert jumps to his feet and throws a box he must have been holding behind his back to Geralt.

Geralt catches it with a frown that turns into a scowl when he sees a familiar company name and return address printed on the shipping label.

Ciri squeals, utterly delighted. "What is it? Dad? Can I open it?"

"Sure." Geralt sighs and accepts his fate. At least he'll be warm, he tells himself, as Ciri rips open the package and pulls out a lion kigurumi. In his size.

Fuck.

*

If Geralt bumps into Lambert as they make their way from house to house, it's only because he can't fucking see with the maned hood.

And his youngest brother is an asshole.

*

Ciri tires after two streets and Geralt carries her while Lambert checks the candy; a few years back, one house handed out gummy bears that were hard as rocks and long past their expiration date.

"How many candies did I get?" She mumbles against his shoulder.

"How much candy did you get?" Geralt is gentle when he corrects her grammar. "Hm, too much, probably." Out of the corner of his eye, he spies Lambert sneaking a full-sized Snickers into his pocket and pivots slightly so Ciri wouldn't see. The sheer amount of sugar in one bucket makes his teeth ache just looking at it. And Snickers has always been his brother's favorite.

Lambert salutes him before digging for more full-sized candy bars.

When they get back, the porch light is off and their candy bowl empty.

Eskel helps Ciri sort through her haul while Vesemir makes them a late - seven is late by a parent's standards - dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Lambert is watching the Super Monsters' Halloween special with more investment than Ciri ever did.

Geralt closes his eyes, letting the noises wash over him, content.

*

This week's newsletter covers the logistics of scheduling parent-teacher conferences, with a form attached listing all the available dates and times and asking parents to circle the three that work best.

Geralt skips that for now and flips the page over, the corners of his mouth lifting when he spots the familiar handwriting.

Hi Geralt!

Thanks again for your help last weekend! I really wasn't looking forward to cleaning up and you saved me from such a dreary fate. A true hero! Maybe I'll write a song about the valiant man who disposed of the army of empty pizza boxes with ease. It'll be a hit!

Jaskier

Chuckling, Geralt chooses the last meeting time on the three days he should be able to leave work early. Working with his family has its drawbacks - Lambert, for example - but it also has its benefits. He has some flexibility in his schedule.

On an impulse he doesn't think too hard about, he jots down a reply at the bottom.

I'm sure it will be.

It's the truth, Jaskier is very talented. They're still humming the song he played.

*

The confirmation for the date and time of the parent-teacher conference is printed on a sheet of neon yellow paper. Geralt's head hurt from just looking at it yet he can't stop staring at Jaskier's handwriting on the back.

You'll be the first to hear it.

There's no exclamation point, not a declaration but a promise, something he wants to keep. He pins it to the fridge with a glittery magnet.

Everything in his life is covered with glitter.

*

Geralt is immediately alarmed when the bell rings and the children of the Dandelion class file out in subdued silence instead of their usual chaotic chatter. While he prefers to have Ciri come to him, he pushes through the crowd of parents to get to his daughter.

Something's wrong.

Ciri falls into his arms with a whimper and buries her face against his neck.

"What happened?" He asks, careful to keep the phrasing of his question neutral; a tip he read in a parenting article that's supposed to facilitate better conversations.

"Jaskier wasn't here today." The warble in her voice breaks Geralt's heart. "Mr. Marx said he doesn't know where Jaskier is or when he'll be back."

"Mr. Marx?"

"He's a sub- Substi- I don't remember the word."

"Substitute?"

She sniffles. "Yeah. Substitute teacher."

A quick glance around the schoolyard shows multiple parents hugging their children and comforting them. All kids from Jaskier's class. "And how was your day with Mr. Marx?"

"Awful!" Ciri's whole body shakes with the force of her tears. "He- He said boogie breaks are a waste of time and he didn't sing to us and he called us stupid babies because we don't know how to be quiet-" She pauses to suck in a breath and exhales on a wail. "-I'm not stupid and I'm not a baby!"

"No, you're not." Geralt does his best to keep his fury at bay and his tone gentle. "You're my smart kindergarten girl."

Nodding, she turns her head and wipes her nose on his collar.

Geralt doesn't mind it one bit and rubs a soothing hand between her shoulder blades. "I'm sure Jaskier will be back soon."

"I miss him." Ciri sobs.

"I do too."

*

After they get home, Geralt sets Ciri up with a show on her tablet and a snack. Then he retreats to his office to call the school.

Because his kid left school crying.

He doesn't know when he became that parent - the kind who would kick up a dust instead of sweeping it under the rug - but he takes pride in it. He will always fight for Ciri.

Always.

*

The secretary apologizes as soon as he mentions his daughter is in Jaskier's class, which speaks volumes to how many complaints she's gotten about the bastard substitute teacher.

Before Geralt can raise the question of how the man even got the job, she launches into an explanation of how the district's substitute teacher policy works; when there is a substitute opportunity, the school sends out a mass notification to everyone in the substitute pool and the first one to respond has the job.

Valdo Marx - Geralt commits that name to memory - was, unfortunately, that person.

"Jaskier'll be back next week? He's okay?"

She sighs, her exhaustion audible. "I can't share personal information about our staff but I can assure you that Mr. Marx will not be returning to our school."

It bothers him not to know when Jaskier will return or what led to his absence but he pushes the unease down and thanks the secretary. Then, because he feels bad for this woman who probably has had and will have this same conversation over and over again on a Friday afternoon, he adds. "Good luck."

*

Geralt gives into every one of Ciri's demands that weekend. Her tear-stained face is still fresh in his memory and he needs her smiles and giggles to chase away the ache in his chest.

*

He wonders if Jaskier is alright, wants to reach out and just ask, and tries not to dwell on why the fact he can't sits heavy in his gut.

Chapter Text

Monday morning, Ciri makes Geralt promise that he would wait to see if Jaskier is there and take her back home if he isn't. Geralt isn't one to hate, let alone a man he's never met, but he makes an exception for Valdo Marx.

*

Jaskier is playing his guitar when they arrive and greets them with a smile that's a little brittle around the edges. He looks pale, like he's feeling under the weather, the rosy flush missing from his cheeks and brilliant blue eyes dimmed by the dark circles underneath them. His music is as lively as ever, though, and Ciri runs to join the crowd of kids gathered around him. However, he isn't singing and his voice doesn't carry across the playground like it usually does.

Geralt frowns, the worry he had on Friday and over the weekend doesn't dissipate at the sight of the teacher. If anything, it intensifies as he notices those small details. He should be happy that Jaskier is back yet he also thinks maybe Jaskier should have stayed home, dozing under a pile of blankets instead of shivering when the breeze picks up and wincing when the bell rings, loud and piercing.

Ciri could have missed one day of school and Vesemir wouldn't have minded if he brought her to the office-

The realization that he's willing to rearrange his day, his family's day, for Jaskier hits him like a punch to the gut. "Fuck."

The mother to his left clears her throat pointedly and accepts his mumbled apology with a terse nod before softening her features to wave goodbye to her son.

Geralt does the same and keeps his eyes on Ciri the entire time, his heart racing behind his ribs with something wild and fearful and totally unknown.

*

That panic doesn't fade as the day progresses. Instead, it becomes something less frantic and more fragile, thrumming gently in his veins and with his pulse. He doesn't know what to do, afraid of breaking it if he handles it wrong.

At pick-up, Geralt avoids looking for Jaskier but notices that he didn't walk his kids out anyway.

*

"Mr. Jaskier was sick today." Ciri tells him on the way home.

Geralt hums, easing his foot off the brake as they leave the school zone.

"That's why he wasn't there last Friday but he said he's feeling better today after sleeping all-" She drags the word out with something like awe in her voice. "-weekend. That's forty-eight hours!"

"How did you get forty-eight?" It's easier to focus on his daughter's math skills than the update on Jaskier's health.

Ciri launches into a rambling explanation about how many hours are in a day, how many minutes are in an hour and how many seconds are in a minute before circling back to how to add double-digit numbers.

He makes note of the way the top of her head peeks over the sides of the convertible carseat. They'll need to switch her to a booster seat soon.

"But I don't think he really sleeped for that long." She finishes with a definitive nod.

Geralt agrees, remembering the fatigue dulling Jaskier's bright features, but asks all the same. "Why don't you think he slept for that long?"

"Because he'd have to get up to go potty."

"Hm." There's nothing to say in response to that.

*

Over the course of the week, Jaskier improves steadily. He starts humming along with the cheerful melody from his guitar and even holds an impromptu concert during Thursday's Boogie Break.

By Friday, the tension wound tight around and under Geralt's ribs eases into something manageable, something still delicate but isn't in danger of being damaged. Which is good, because he wants it whole and kept safe even though he has no clue what it is.

He just knows that it's important.

*

It’s almost funny how parenthood constantly keeps him on his toes.

Almost.

Geralt can't see the humor as he peels the third apple of the evening with his brow furrowed in concentration. His grip is precarious at best and the peeler jarringly small in his hand but no less perilous, his fingers have fallen casualty to it far too many times before.

Ciri's preferences have changed. She still wants them peeled, but she no longer wants her apples sliced or halved because holding a whole apple and eating it like a corn on the cob is apparently the latest trend.

Though, as he watches Ciri gnaw on the apple, he can't help but chuckle at how adorable she looks and eats the two perfectly fine but rejected apples himself.

*

"What's this?" Eskel asks, tapping at Jaskier's note on the refrigerator with the bottles of beer in his hand.

"Nothing." Geralt resists the urge to smack his hand away. Despite having two brothers, he's always been a bit territorial about his stuff. Or perhaps it's because of them, hm.

Eskel passes him one of the beers with a too-perceptive arch of his eyebrow. "It's clearly something if it's up on your fridge."

Geralt grunts and twists the top off with a bit too much force. This isn't something he wants to talk about because talking means thinking and he's just gotten those thoughts to settle. "Break's over." He pushes to his feet.

"We just sat down." Eskel protests but rises to follow him upstairs to the loft, where they've been working on Ciri's new bed for the past hour.

Geralt spends the next hour regretting not purchasing the assembly package and pretending not to see Eskel's knowing smirks that are actually making him miss Lambert, who took Ciri to the movies so Geralt and Eskel can work on the bed and will no doubt bring her home with a stomach full of popcorn and candy and juice. It's a small blessing that Ciri doesn't like the carbonation - the bubbles taste weird to her - in sodas. At least juice has some nutritional benefits.

Eventually, Geralt breaks as they are hammering the decorative caps over the screws. "It's for a song Jaskier's working on. Ciri likes his singing."

Eskel laughs. "Well, that wasn't so hard, was it? Why didn't you just say so in the first place?" His tone turns contemplative, an invitation to analyze things further that Geralt has no interest in.

"Shut up." He says, both to himself and his brother.

*

Ciri loves her new bed. "It's my kindergartener bed!" She declares then demands a special dinner to commemorate the occasion - mac and cheese with chicken nuggets cut up and mixed in.

Geralt doesn't ask his brothers to stay, he's had enough of Eskel's knowing glances and Lambert had as much, if not more, sugar as Ciri. He does, however, clap them both on the back and thank them for their help before pushing them out of the door.

*

They are out of half-and-half. Again. 

Luckily, it's still early enough in the evening that there's enough time for a quick trip to the store without jeopardizing their nighttime routine.

Geralt buckles Ciri in; the booster should arrive in the next couple of days, another marker of how much and quickly she's grown. It's hard to reconcile this brilliant girl with the impossibly small newborn who slept on his chest.

"I love you." He whispers, brushing a kiss against her forehead. Putting his emotions into words is still a struggle for him but he makes the effort for Ciri, his little lion cub deserves to know that she is loved.

"And I love you!" Ciri wraps an arm around his neck, more of a chokehold than a hug.

He presses his nose into her hair, which smells like the movie theater, and holds her close.

*

The apples are positioned right next to bags of clementines, which makes sense since they're both favored by small children, though Ciri is decidedly against all things citrus. There's even a picture of a cartoon orange with arms and legs and a smile boasting about being an excellent source of Vitamin C because apparently anthropomorphizing fruit will make people more likely to eat them.

Geralt picks up a bag, maybe Ciri would be willing to try them now? His hopes are dashed when Ciri's entire face scrunches up at the sight of them.

"Ew!"

"Still don't like them?"

"Nope! But Mr. Jaskier does." She giggles. "He made the funniest face when I told him that I despise oranges."

Her vocabulary is really quite something, Geralt thinks with fond pride. Jaskier is doing a great job and he looks forward to discussing Ciri's progress at the parent-teacher conference in a few days.

He puts the clementines in their basket.

Chapter Text

After much debate - too much, really - Geralt leaves the bag of oranges in the truck. He's still not sure why he decided to buy them for Jaskier and wants the option to pretend he didn't. It's a choice he feels better and better about as he makes his way down the hallway leading to Jaskier's classroom; none of the parents he encounters have anything other than phones and cups of coffee in their hands. Definitely no fruit for the teachers.

Leaning against the wall, he pulls out his phone and scrolls through his photos to pass the time. As much as he hates the whole concept of social media and dreads learning it when Ciri inevitably starts using it, he does appreciate the benefits. Everyone seems to be on the same page that someone on their phone is to be left alone.

His phone chimes with a text notification, then chimes again. Loudly.

Geralt considers switching the ringer off; it's the polite thing to do when he's going into a meeting but he's always had a thing about missing calls when Ciri isn't with him. Even when she's with family, people he trusts with his life and his little lion cub. He compromises by turning down the volume before opening the messages.

The first photo is one of Ciri drawing what's either abstract art or a very large and very tangled yarn ball and the second is the drawing taped next to the only window they have in the office. It brightens up the place more than the fractured rays of sunshine filtering through the dirty glass.

"Geralt?" Jaskier calls from the doorway and smiles when Geralt meets his ridiculously blue eyes. "Sorry to keep you waiting, I always forget that these meetings run longer than expected."

"It's fine." He says, straightening up, and nods to the couple who are leaving.

"C'mon in!" Jaskier ducks back inside the classroom.

Geralt follows, tucking his phone back into his pocket and wishing for something to do with his hands. Maybe he should have brought the clementines, hm.

*

Thankfully, Jaskier slides a piece of paper across the table as soon as they sit down. It's a grid with various skills listed on one side and ability levels - does not meet standards, meets standards, exceeds standards - on the other with one more column for additional comments.

Geralt doesn't realize he was tense until he feels his shoulders drop upon seeing Ciri meets the educational standards in most categories and exceeds them in a couple.

"Ciri is doing wonder-" Jaskier clears his throat with a wince. "-wonderful. Sorry, I've been talking all day."

It's the second time that Jaskier has apologized for things outside of his control and Geralt hopes it's the last because he doesn't like it though he can't pinpoint why. "It's fine."

"The assessment results are pretty self-explanatory but if you have any questions I'm happy to answer them and we can move on to anything else you want to address."

"Alright."

Geralt reads Jaskier's comments, once, twice, and a third time just to give the other man a chance to rest his voice. His only real concern is that if Ciri doesn't feel challenged by the schoolwork, she may lose interest in learning. Except when he speaks, his words come out too blunt and without enough context. "I don't want her to get bored."

Talking has never been easy for him. He's gotten better over the past five years, with Ciri, having a captive audience and knowing that his voice soothed her helped. So he doesn't know why he can't seem to string together a coherent series of sentences now.

But before Geralt can explain, Jaskier is nodding as though he made perfect sense. "I understand that and I don't want her to feel not challenged, um, unchallenged? Anyway, starting next quarter, the librarian will help her find a book that fits her reading level for our one-on-one sessions and when we break into small groups, I'll do my best to pair her up with someone who's where she is. We've got a few in the class this year so that works out in our favor and theirs." His voice grows a little hoarse by the end and he clears his throat again.

"You should drink some water." Geralt points out helpfully and hopes his tone communicates that.

Jaskier blinks. "That's...quite a non sequitur."

"For your throat. It's dry." Geralt clarifies, fidgeting a little and forcing himself to stop. "And I think your plan sounds great. Thanks."

"Oh. Good to hear that we're on the same page. And, well, thanks for the concern but I've been keeping up on hydration." He reaches under the table and pulls out a water bottle, stainless steel by the looks of it, with a sky blue background that's barely visible under the overlapping stickers.

Geralt spots five Avengers, two My Little Ponies, six Minions, and four Elsas. The sight of the last one brings forth the chorus of Let It Go and he resigns himself to having that song stuck in his head for the rest of the day. "Drink."

Jaskier shakes the water bottle and arches an eyebrow when the telltale sounds of splashing water don't come. "Can't, I drank it all."

"Refill it."

"Ugh, no."

"Why not?"

Jaskier leans in, voice lowered conspiratorially. "The water from the fountain here tastes disgusting, just..." He shudders and pulls a face that reminds Geralt that this man eats the same food as the children he teaches.

The words slip out before he could stop them. "Not like strawberry milk?"

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

"Did you say strawberry-"

"What about her math skills?" Geralt interrupts then offers a small, apologetic smile for his rudeness.

Which Jaskier accepts with a roll of his eyes and a huff of laughter. "What about them?"

"Anything I can do to get them, um, to exceed standards?"

"Whatever you're currently doing, keep doing it. She had a good grasp of the concepts coming in and we're just building on those right now." Jaskier says, oblivious to the fact that Geralt has no idea what mathematical concepts he inadvertently taught his daughter and is grateful that he accidentally did.

That's good, Geralt thinks, he just has to play it cool and nod like he knows what he's doing. "But I'm not doing anything special, we just hang out." Shit.

"Then keep hanging out, you're doing more than you think." Sincerity underlines his every word. "Trust me, you're doing a great job. I've known that from the start."

For what it's worth, you did and are doing a great job.

Their first conversation, months ago at the orientation, in this same space, replays in his head with astounding clarity. "Still standing by that?"

Jaskier's eyes widen then crinkle as he ducks his head, bangs falling forward from where they've been swept to the side. "Yep."

*

They walk to their cars together.

It makes sense since Geralt is Jaskier's last conference of the day and they happen to have parked in the same area, easily spotted as theirs are the last two cars in the lot.

"Well, thanks for being my travel companion." Jaskier grins when they reach his car, a white sedan that's in desperate need of a wash. A fact he seems to realize at the last minute when he goes to lean against it, abruptly changes his mind, and starts digging for his keys instead.

"Wait." Geralt has his own keys in hand already and unlocks his truck with a press of a button. "I have something for you." Ciri isn't going to eat the clementines and there's no sense in them going to waste.

"Intrigue!"

The bag feels oddly heavy when he grabs it, and, because he can see Jaskier swinging his empty water bottle in his periphery, one of the bottled waters he keeps in the car, too. "Here."

Jaskier accepts them with a questioning hum.

"Ciri doesn't like them." He shrugs, aiming for nonchalant and having no idea if he succeeded.

"I know."

"She says you do."

"I do."

"And you should drink some water."

There's a mischievous glint in Jaskier's eyes. "Not strawberry milk?"

Heat pools in his cheeks. "Fuck."

Jaskier throws his head back and laughs, nearly dropping his armful of things if not for Geralt reaching out to catch the water bottle sliding out of the crook of his arm. Just in case, he takes the other two items as well.

"Thanks, Geralt." Jaskier says, face bright with the afterglow of laughter, and waves a hand between them. "For all this." 

"Hm." Geralt doesn't know what this is, which is par for the course with Jaskier, but he thinks he likes it.

Chapter Text

Jaskier is on before-school duty the week after the parent-teacher conference. He waves at Ciri with his usual cheer and catches Geralt's eye as he takes a long sip from his water bottle.

Geralt gives him a thumb's up then immediately cringes.

*

Things go back to normal, kind of.

He doesn't necessarily have a baseline for what normal was before Jaskier, so the only data he has to go off of is the fluttering warmth in his chest that seems to have settled as if it's always been there. Like breathing, normal and ordinary and nothing to worry over as long as it isn't disrupted.

Jaskier doesn't miss any more days.

So Geralt doesn't worry.

*

Inhale. Exhale.

Wave hello. Nod goodbye.

Inhale. Exhale.

Get a note. Write one back.

*

Ciri wakes with a runny nose that clears up by the time she finishes breakfast so Geralt thinks nothing of it and takes her to school. It's a shortened week with the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend; he doesn't remember having the Wednesday before off when he was in school but it's apparently a thing now.

*

On his way to work, Geralt realizes with a start that the upcoming five-day weekend will be the longest stretch of time they have gone without seeing Jaskier. The previous record was three days, Labor Day weekend in September then that Friday Jaskier was out sick and Ciri came home crying.

Fucking Valdo Marx.

Eskel would point out that it says something that it's easier for Geralt to direct his irritation at a past event than to figure out why he's bothered now but Eskel isn't here, so Geralt feels okay with his decision to continue cursing Valdo Marx.

*

"I don't feel good." Ciri's voice cracks with a pitiful whine as she slumped against him. Then she sneezes, loudly and messily.

One of the mothers at pick-up hands him a tissue before backing away with her kid in tow.

Geralt can't fault her caution, he would be doing the same if one of Ciri's classmates was sick too. He wipes her face clean and lifts her up, cradling her awkwardly with her backpack still on. "Let's go home."

*

This isn't the first time Ciri has gotten sick and won't be the last. Panic still gnaws at him as Geralt tucks his daughter into bed after a light dinner of soup and crackers. At least he knows what to do now, he tells himself, and finds some comfort in double-checking the settings on the humidifier.

It's a hulk of a machine that makes up for its lack of cuteness with double the capacity and previously belonged to Vesemir, who brought it over in the middle of the night when Ciri's previous humidifier, shaped like a pink butterfly, abruptly stopped working while she was battling a particularly nasty case of croup. Even now, years after she's outgrown the upper airway infection that's most common among preschoolers, Geralt is still haunted by the barking sound of her cough and the wheezing in her breath.

Croup is the fucking worst.

Ciri sniffles and blinks up at him. "Cuddle?"

"Of course." Geralt was already planning on staying close and is grateful for the foresight in replacing the twin-sized bed with a queen, despite the hassle of putting it together. He sits down on the bed with his back against the headboard.

Immediately, she curls up against him and tucks her head under his chin with her cheek resting on his chest.

Rubbing a hand comfortingly down her back, Geralt pulls the Elsa comforter over both of them and dozes off to Ciri's gentle snores and the humidifier's soft whirs.

*

Each time she stirs during the night, needing to blow her nose or a sip of water, Geralt is there to get her what she needs and soothe her back to sleep with a hummed lullaby.

*

His efforts pay off when, despite the congestion, her energy and spirit are high the next morning. Still, he keeps her home for the day, starting their long weekend early.

The secretary is understanding and wishes Ciri well and them a Happy Thanksgiving. She said she'll let Jaskier know but Geralt finds himself tapping out an email to Jaskier on his phone while Ciri is brushing her teeth. It seems rude not to.

"What are you doing?" She mumbles around her toothbrush.

By now, he's apt at translating Ciri's muffled speech. "Letting Jaskier know you won't be at school today."

"Can you ask him about the Thankful Turkey?" She rinses and spits, there is a smudge of toothpaste on her chin.

Geralt wipes it away with his thumb and wipes his thumb on his pajama pants. Something he would never have done prior to becoming a parent and is now worryingly common practice. "Hm?"

"I've been working on it all month and Mr. Jaskier said I'm really good with scissors!" Her face breaks into a wide grin that makes the moment it falls all the more painful to see. "Now you won't even see it."

Wanting to avoid her tears at all costs - crying will only make her congestion worse - Geralt quickly tacks the question onto the end of his message.

He checks his phone throughout the morning. There are no new emails. The disappointment he feels is on Ciri's behalf. Mostly.

*

Jaskier writes back around noon, which Ciri informs him is when they eat lunch at school.

Hi Geralt!

Thanks for letting me know and I hope she feels better soon! Please tell her that the Thankful Turkey will be waiting for her or you're welcome to come in and pick it up after school?

Jaskier

p.s. Wash those hands!

"We'll go pick it up today." He promises, feeling a pang of guilt for taking up Jaskier's free time, and limits his reply to a short affirmative.

Ciri's delighted squeal is cut off by a sneeze.

*

On a whim, he stops by the Starbucks that's strategically minutes away from the school, with the thought that he should bring Jaskier something for taking up more of his time, for making the extra effort to get Ciri her art project, for just...being himself.

It isn't until he's at the ordering screen with a nasally voice welcoming him to Starbucks does he realize that he has no idea what to get. He wonders if it's too late to back out of the drive-through lane and call the whole thing off-

A car pulls in behind him.

Fuck.

"Um." Geralt scans the menu and chooses the first thing he sees. "A latte."

"Hot or cold?"

"Hot."

"What size?"

"Small."

"A tall?"

"Yeah."

"What kind of milk?"

Geralt grits his teeth. "I don't care."

"The default is 2%-"

"That's fine."

"Will that be all for you today?"

"And a chocolate cake pop!" Ciri shouts. At least she waited until he was done ordering.

"And a chocolate cake pop." He sighs.

*

The parking lot is nearly empty by the time they get there, only ten minutes after the final bell but more than enough time for the school buses to depart and parents to pick up their children.

Jaskier is standing by the crosswalk, holding a paper bag and wrapped up in a green coat that's buttoned all the way up to his chin. He bounces on his feet when he spots them.

Geralt pulls into the closest spot available and rolls down his window as Jaskier jogs over to them.

"Hi!" He beams, a little breathless and visibly shivering, his jacket clearly inadequate against the late-November chill.

The sight bothers Geralt more than it should. How long has he been waiting out there? He hands Jaskier the latte in lieu of a greeting.

Jaskier's smile grows wider. He opens his mouth-

"Mr. Jaskier!" Ciri immediately commands his entire attention.

"Hello-"

A blast of cold air whips past. It hits Geralt in the face like a slap and freezes Jaskier mid-sentence.

Fuck, it's cold.

Before he's aware of it, Geralt is stretching across the console to open the passenger side door. "Get in. Um, unless you have to get going." He hastily adds when Jaskier stares at him owlishly.

"No, no rush." Jaskier moves around the front of the truck and climbs in. "Phew, thought I was going to turn into a popsicle."

Ciri giggles.

"Here's your Thankful Turkey, as promised." He passes the bag to her, elbow bumping against Geralt's shoulder in a burst of proximity that ends as quickly as it began.

"Thank you!"

"You're so welcome!" Settling back into the seat, Jaskier takes a sip of his latte and his eyes close with a contented sigh. "Thanks, Geralt."

"Anytime." He says and finds that he means it.

Outside, the wind howls but Geralt feels only warmth, listening to Ciri and Jaskier's chatter.

Chapter Text

With no extended family, Thanksgiving is like any other dinner they'd had at Vesemir's house. Just on a different day and with a different menu. Though Ciri still refuses to eat turkey after Lambert took her to see them at a petting zoo, not because they're adorable but because they frightened her with their bald heads and weird necks and she doesn't want to eat something that looks super scary.

Instead, Vesemir makes her a chicken burger and Geralt loads up her plate with side dishes.

Geralt brings his usual, a sweet potato casserole that involves a fair amount of preparation but little chance of messing it up. Ciri helped with the marshmallows, eating one for every five she placed in meticulous rows. A ratio they worked out after one memorable Thanksgiving spent at the hospital because she had unexpectedly thrown up and Geralt, panicked, rushed her to the emergency room. The medical bill was quite memorable too.

She rambles the entire drive, mostly about the whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie - the only part of the pie that she'll eat - and he's given up on trying to convince her otherwise.

The most important lesson he's learned about parenting is to choose his battles wisely.

*

Lambert is haphazardly throwing two store-bought salad kits into a glass bowl when they walk past his car.

"Uncle Lambert!" Ciri bangs her fist on the window. She's already recovered from the cold, her congestion cleared and her energy high.

"Shit!" Lambert jumps, dropping both bags of croutons. They scatter amidst the empty chip bags and torn candy wrappers littering both the seat and the floor on the passenger side.

"You said a grownup word!" Ciri crows, delighted and gleeful at how the tables have turned.

Lambert rolls his eyes playfully. "I am a grownup."

"Jury's out on that." Geralt snorts and guides her away from Lambert's indignant shout.

Eskel is inspecting the porch, his arms laden with three pies - pumpkin, apple, and pecan - and his foot tapping at various spots where Geralt can see the wood is cracked.

Looks like they've got themselves a spring project.

The front door opens to reveal Vesemir, looking faintly amused at his sons. "No loitering."

"Grandpa!" Ciri rushes into his arms. "I brought you a surprise!"

"Wonderful!" Vesemir exclaims with such enthusiasm that it's hard to believe this is the same man who raised three boys with clear expectations of where to be and what to do and when to do it precisely to avoid any surprises. He picks her up, with care for the paper bag in her hand, and carries her inside.

The two brothers exchange a look of amusement, the stern father figure from their childhood and teenage years morphing into the doting grandfather who gives into each and every one of Ciri's demands will never stop being hilarious. Though they wouldn't dare to laugh about it where Vesemir can hear them.

"What did I miss?" Lambert joins them with the salad cradled in his arms.

"Ciri has a surprise." Eskel says.

"Vesemir must love that." There isn't a trace of sarcasm in Lambert's tone. He, too, knows how Ciri has their father, a man of iron and steel, wrapped around her little finger.

After all, it takes one to know one and they're all in the same boat.

"Oh, and we're fixing the porch come spring." Eskel adds, stepping into the house.

Lambert agrees easily and heads in as well.

Geralt follows, closing and locking the door behind him gently.

*

The Thankful Turkey, its body made of cardboard and its feathers construction paper, is proudly displayed at the center of the table. On each colorful feather is something Ciri is thankful for, the majority of them are her favorite foods. Some of the letters are reversed, which Jaskier reassured is normal in both his weekly updates and at the parent-teacher conference, but her handwriting is neat and mostly the same size.

He wisely doesn't point out the misspelled words. Ciri, for all her sweetness, doesn't take outright corrections well and especially poorly if it's after the fact. Geralt learned the hard way - multiple tantrums and too many tears - that a more subtle and gentle approach is better for everyone involved.

Of the ten feathers, hot dog is written twice, first on its own and again with mac and cheese. Five more were taken up by chocolate, cake pop, pizza, fries, and ice cream. With Geralt and Vesemir each having their own, it left Eskel and Lambert to share the remaining feather.

Lambert is already talking about getting more construction paper so Ciri can make one just for him.

"And I can make one for Jaskier!" She exclaims, her arms flailing out with excitement. The green bean speared on her fork goes flying across the room with the motion. "And Roach!"

"Make one for your Uncle Lambert first." Lambert reminds her.

"Oh, okay." She shrugs and stabs at another green bean, nonchalantly dismissive as only a child is capable of.

Lambert's face contorts into what could maybe pass as a pout if one were squinting and feeling generous about the definition of a pout.

Ciri is neither of those things as she bursts into giggles.

*

Eskel nudges Geralt's side. "Did you get your song?"

"Hm?"

"From Jaskier." Eskel draws out the syllables meaningfully.

Geralt grunts, annoyed to be reminded of their last interaction.

Their too-brief chat in Geralt's truck was cut short by Ciri's sudden announcement that she has to go potty now. In the frantic scramble to get her into the school to use the bathroom before an accident can happen or the school closes, Geralt can't remember if he said goodbye to Jaskier, not for a lack of manners but a lack of opportunity because Jaskier left so quickly.

Like he didn't want to be there in the first place and only stayed to be polite.

The nagging thought that he inconvenienced Jaskier further, the last thing he had wanted to do, persisted for two days and just when he's gotten it to finally shut up, Eskel has to open his stupid mouth.

"That's a no, then?"

"The salad, please." Geralt turns toward Vesemir, ignoring his brother with practiced ease.

Vesemir passes him the bowl, peering at the contents with his brow furrowed. "Where're the croutons?"

*

"Thankful Turkey? More like a shopping list." Lambert comments as he serves himself another slice of pecan pie.

Ciri's face lights up and Geralt predicts what's coming next with a resigned sort of accuracy.

"Can we go to the store tonight? Dad! Please, please, please?" Her voice increases in pitch with every please.

Geralt sighs. "We'll go to the store tomorrow." They'll end up with a basket full of sweets and greasy foods. Which, on second thought, isn't the worst way to spend a long weekend.

Tomorrow clearly isn't the answer Ciri was hoping for. She spends the next half-hour poking at her slice of pumpkin pie - the whipped cream is long gone - with a long-suffering air that gives Geralt an alarming preview of what life will be like in ten years. A moment he's most certainly not ready for, both because he thinks she's growing up too fast as it is and he's fucking terrified of what the teenage years will hold.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and feels a headache coming on. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Lambert's shit-eating grin. It falls when Geralt takes the last slice of pecan pie.

Lambert kicks at his chair under the table. "Asshole."

"You said a grownup word again!" Ciri shrieks happily.

*

Within ten minutes of their shopping trip, Geralt realizes that he made several mistakes.

The first is limiting Ciri to one of each item on her Thankful Turkey list, leading to the choice to forgo a shopping cart. Which brings him to his current predicament of his right arm bent awkwardly to carry most of their purchases, balanced precariously on top of the premade pizza, and his left hand growing numb from holding the carton of ice cream as he waits for Ciri to decide between waffle fries and curly fries.

Briefly, he considers telling her she can get both but he knows he has to stand by his earlier words. As much as he regrets them.

"Shit." The ice cream slips out of his grip, fingers cold and clammy from the condensation. It rolls across the floor, coming to a stop by a pair of scuffed sneakers and a familiar voice.

"Geralt?"

With a peculiar combination of dread and anticipation, Geralt drags his gaze upward from the ice cream to the mismatched socks to the dark-colored sweatpants to the frayed hem of a yellow hoodie to a stubbled jawline softened by a wide smile to blue eyes crinkling at the corners.

Jaskier.

Chapter Text

For a surreal moment, Geralt wonders if he's dreaming. The store's fluorescent light spills over Jaskier's features and throws everything off-kilter. He feels his awareness switch to a new setting as he catalogs the details.

Jaskier looks more casual than Geralt's ever seen him, including the tiger kigurumi that was basically pajamas, soft and rumpled like he's just gotten out of bed or ready to crawl back into it. His eyes are a paler blue in the artificially-bright store, bringing the shadow lining his jaw into sharp contrast. The stubble is unexpected yet he can't really figure out why the thought of Jaskier with a beard is a surprise, a pleasant one, like the thick curls of chest hair peeking out under the stretched collar of his t-shirt. Something that he would never wear to work, the opposite of dress shirts buttoned up to the throat and sweaters with the high rounded collars.

The realization that this isn't the Jaskier from school but a different one, one more relaxed and less polished, slams into his gut and sends his stomach twisting in a way that should be uncomfortable but isn't.

"Mr. Jaskier!" Ciri waves, her breath fogging up the glass door of the freezer section that's probably been open for far too long. "I'm almost done!" She promises with absolutely zero context.

Jaskier sends her a thumb's up, which she misses entirely as she immediately returns to weighing the merits of frozen potatoes, and furrows his brow at Geralt in silent inquiry.

"She's choosing what kind of fries she wants."

"Alright." Jaskier accepts the explanation easily, well-versed in the baffling logic of children, and bends to pick up the ice cream. Instead of handing it back to Geralt, however, he puts it in his cart.

Geralt stares, a little puzzled but not displeased. If Jaskier likes the ice cream, he can have it. But he should get one that isn't slightly melted and covered with germs and dirt from the floor-

Jaskier tilts his head. "C'mon, put the rest of your stuff in here before more of them escape."

Oh. That makes more sense. "Thanks."

"It's the least I can do for all you've done for me."

Geralt wants to ask what that means but his elbow is starting to hurt from being locked in position and Jaskier is nudging the cart in his direction so he starts to set his armful of items down.

For a man who orders from the same menu as the children he teaches, Jaskier's cart is remarkably well-stocked with fruits and vegetables. The box of brightly-colored cake pops stands in sharp contrast next to the bag of apples and the frozen pizza seems out of place next to the whole wheat pasta and low-sodium marinara sauce.

"We don't eat like this every day." Geralt feels compelled to clarify, a hint of defensiveness seeping into his tone and his posture. An unpleasant consequence from the first parenting group he joined when Ciri was only a baby; he lasted all of one-and-a-half meetings before he had enough of their unsolicited and conflicting advice, dispensed with condescension masked as concern for a single father. He doesn't consider himself to be thin-skinned but the assumption that he isn't and wouldn't do his very best to be a good father to Ciri makes his combative streak flare like goddamn fireworks.

Except there's no need for any of that here, not with Jaskier, who has had faith in Geralt's parenting skill since their first meeting; the only and last time Geralt was gruff in their interactions. The insight is as rare as it is fleeting, slipping out of his mind when Jaskier speaks.

"I know." He eyes the new additions in his cart. "These're the things on her Thankful Turkey, right?"

Geralt nods, impressed by Jaskier's attention to detail. "My brother said it's a shopping list."

"Let me guess, Eskel?"

"No."

"Well, must be Lambert then."

"Correct."

"Yes!" Jaskier pumps a fist in the air, delighted and dramatic.

Ciri whoops distractedly from behind him. A quick glance over his shoulder shows that she's still engrossed in her task and has widened her choices to include tater tots.

Geralt thinks he should tell her to hurry up, the ice cream is melting and keeping the freezer door open isn't environmentally friendly, but he doesn't want this moment to end. "You remembered their names."

"Ciri talks about them a lot."

"What about?"

"The amount of candy Lambert sneaks her and Eskel teaching her how to trip kids who are mean." Jaskier schools his expression into one of exaggerated dismay. "I may need to have a word with them. A stern one."

"I think having to share a feather on the Thankful Turkey is punishment enough."

"Fair point." Jaskier concedes with a chuckle. "Though that wasn't my intention when I told Ciri that her uncles can share one. I just figured, you know, as brothers do."

Geralt hums, skeptical. "Lambert is awful at sharing."

"I said as brothers do, not as brothers do happily."

"What I'm hearing is that you knew that they wouldn't be happy about it." Geralt points out with an arched brow, feeling playful in a way he hasn't in a long time. And witty too, or so he hopes. It's honestly surprising that he's able to keep up with Jaskier's banter so far.

Jaskier throws his head back and laughs, baring the long line of his neck. "Oh, touché."

"What's so funny?" Ciri bounds up to them, a bag of regular fries in hand.

"Your uncle Lambert."

Ciri nods, solemn, and slips into a British accent that Geralt suspects is a result of those toy collector videos on YouTube. "Yes, he is quite silly and he says loads of grownup words."

Jaskier snorts and it shouldn't be charming but somehow, unfairly, is.

Geralt can only shrug, his words having left him now that he's aware that he has them. Damn it.

"I hear he's also bad at sharing." Jaskier says in a conspiratorial whisper.

"He is!" Ciri giggles. "He's coming to our house later with paper so I can make him his own feather. And one for Roach. And one for you!"

Jaskier seems stunned. "Me?"

"Duh!"

Geralt steps in where his daughter's manners falter. "We're thankful for you."

"That's, that's really nice to hear. Thank you." Jaskier says, pink staining his cheeks, and clears his throat. "So, um, all done with your shopping then?"

"Yeah- Wait a minute." Ciri narrows her eyes at Geralt's empty arms. "Dad, where's my stuff?"

"Right here." Lifting the shopping cart up the handle, Jaskier tips it forward to show Ciri its contents. "The ice cream tried to escape earlier."

Setting the fries down firmly on the ice cream carton, she tells it sternly to stay.

It's adorable and Geralt is reaching for his phone to take a photo before he realizes he has an audience. And that it isn't his cart.

Jaskier meets his eyes with a fond smile that's edged with a bit of teasing. "Go for it."

*

They make their way to the checkout lane where Ciri immediately moves their items on the conveyor belt. It's her special job when they go shopping, one that she takes pride in, though it really started as a distraction tactic from the tempting shelves of candy.

Geralt would rather not go through the hellish nightmare of having a screaming child in his arms and abandoning a cartful of groceries again.

"I can help the next person in line!" The clerk at the next lane calls before Jaskier can start placing his purchases on the belt.

Jaskier looks over at her, chewing on his lip. "Guess that's me."

"Guess so." Geralt grunts.

For a beat, neither of them moves. Then Geralt shuffles to the side so Jaskier can maneuver his cart around, his shoulder brushing against Geralt's chest.

"See you on Monday, Ciri." He gives her a cheerful wave before turning to Geralt, his voice quiet. "Bye, Geralt."

"Bye!" Ciri yells.

"Have a good weekend-"

"C'mon, dad!"

Jaskier chuckles, understanding. "You'd better go."

"Hm."

*

Lambert shows up at his front door, as promised, with a stack of construction paper. Eskel is right behind him, apparently also wanting a feather of his own.

Ugh.

They are as competitive for Ciri's attention and approval as they are with, well, everything else. She's delighted by their antics, though.

Geralt snaps several photos of his brothers pretending to be turkeys to send to Vesemir. The old man loves a good laugh. He's trying to decide which one best captures their ridiculousness when his thumb slips and the photo of the shopping cart fills the screen.

Something warm flutters in his chest at the sight of his things mixed with Jaskier's. He can't wait to see the updated Thankful Turkey, with Jaskier's name added.

Chapter Text

Over the weekend, the temperature drops significantly. There is a thin layer of frost on the ground when Geralt drives Ciri to school on Monday.

Throughout the week, he only catches glimpses of Jaskier in the mornings, as the teacher is quick to usher the children through the door right as the bell rings so they wouldn't be shivering in the cold. The afternoons are equally rushed, with Jaskier sending the children out and saying quick goodbyes before ducking back into the warmth of his classroom.

It would be disappointing, if not for the smiles Jaskier sends his way whenever their eyes meet.

*

The weekly newsletter talks about the importance of practicing sight words at home with several tips on how to incorporate these drills into daily routines. Ciri reads them aloud from her position on his lap and he's so proud of his lion cub that he can't help but hug her a bit tighter.

She squirms and squeals about being trapped - Eskel and his insistence on teaching Ciri the basics of self-defense is to blame for this - and Geralt lets her go before her flailing elbows connect with his nose. Only to pick her back up when she demands to play again. They repeat the same game of him holding her in his arms and her wiggling out of them with too much delight for an actual child abduction scenario.

The mere thought of someone daring to steal his daughter away makes his stomach sink and suddenly what they're doing doesn't seem as fun.

"Just hugs, okay?" He tells her softly, spinning her around so he can look into her eyes.

If she's confused by the shift in mood, she doesn't say anything. Instead, she wraps her arms around his chest and squeezes with all her might. Which is not inconsiderable.

His breath leaves him in a huff and his next inhale is full of the sweet scent of chocolate in her hair.

Wait. Chocolate?

*

Chocolate milk was served at school today, which doesn't shed light on why Ciri's hair smells like it since she opted for a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of having a hot lunch.

Geralt makes his peace with the fact that not all mysteries can be solved and sends her off to play in the living room with the strict instruction to keep her vast collection of Legos on the rug.

For something so small, they hurt like hell when he steps on them.

He waits until she's engrossed in the catapult she's building before returning to the table with a glass of water. The newsletter is where he left it before they got distracted and on the back is another note from Jaskier.

Hello Geralt!

How did the new additions to the Thankful Turkey go? Hope your brothers are now freed from the terrible fate of having to share! Did Ciri enjoy her feast of fries and cake pops and ice cream? A most excellent combination, I'm sure!

Stay warm! Winter, as they say, is coming!

Jaskier

Again with all the fucking exclamation points, Geralt thinks fondly as he glances over at the Thankful Turkey sitting prim and proper - one of Ciri's new phrases - on the kitchen island. She ended up adding four feathers to her Thankful Turkey, one for each of her uncles and one for Roach and one for Jaskier. Eskel and Lambert had demanded that she kept the original feather bearing both of their names so they can be mentioned twice, a dubious honor shared with hot dogs that Geralt didn't hesitate in pointing out. Neither of them appreciated his insight.

Roach's feather is the same burnt orange as Geralt's and, much to his brothers' chagrin and Geralt's glee, Jaskier's is twice the size of other feathers and in a sunny yellow that Ciri claimed is her teacher's favorite color.

He pulls out his phone and takes a photo then struggles for the next ten minutes with what to write in the email. Everything he types sounds awkward and perfunctory. Sighing, he slides his phone back into his pocket and stands to prepare dinner.

*

Later that night, with Ciri tucked into bed and the house quiet, Geralt tries again.

Ciri didn't get a stomachache so I consider it a win. As for my brothers, they found something else to whine about, see for yourself.

He finds it easier if he didn't talk about himself. Though it was nice to run into Jaskier at the store, the sentiment doesn't seem to translate over in text.

*

Jaskier's reply is waiting for him the next morning.

It's not often that I find myself speechless but I just, wow! I'm going to keep this photo for bragging rights! Thank you!

Geralt doesn't struggle with a response this time, he knows exactly what he wants to say and how to say it.

Thank you. For everything you've done and do and will do.

Jaskier doesn't write back but it doesn't bother him. He knows he said the right thing because it's true.

*

Ciri wants to go to the Polar Express, a real-life train ride loosely based on the film. Which she hasn't seen and ran off to play with her stuffed animals about fifteen minutes into the movie. Despite her lack of interest, she's still set on going for reasons Geralt can't fathom beyond the fact that several of her classmates have been already and she feels left out.

After a long conversation that involved, thankfully, the normal amount of tangents about what are good and not-so-good reasons for wanting to do something, Ciri decides that she'd like to experience the train ride to form her own opinion instead of listening to those of her classmates.

Geralt buys the tickets, wincing at the exorbitant prices.

This better be the train ride of a lifetime.

*

It's decidedly not the train ride of a lifetime.

There is a line when they arrive, which is the norm for events geared toward families. Geralt keeps Ciri entertained with several rounds of I Spy and a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. After an hour, though, he caves and hands her his phone. It's another thirty minutes before the line starts moving and the gate opens.

What he sees isn't promising - there are more lines.

As it turns out, the line they were in is the line to get into line to board the train.

Just thinking about it makes his head hurt and Ciri's face crumbles at the thought of more waiting. They persevere and shuffle into their second line of the already long day. At least this one moves faster, though not significantly and too slow for some of the younger kids who must have missed their naps that afternoon.

One family left with a screaming toddler in tow and another decided to employ the divide-and-conquer method with one parent taking one child to the car and the other staying in line with two older children.

Geralt sends them sympathetic glances but knows better than to offer advice or help; experience has taught him that those gestures aren't always appreciated.

*

Finally, they're aboard the train.

Ciri falls asleep before they reach the Christmas Village and scowls at the elves when they startled her awake with their entrance.

"What's your name?" One of the elves asks.

"No, thank you." Ciri says, her words are polite even if her tone isn't, and buries her face against his chest.

"She's tired." He offers lamely but the elf's already danced away in a cloud of glitter.

Throughout the performance, he tries to coax her into watching with little success. She drowses with her head on his shoulder and only perks up when the hot chocolate and cookies arrive. The influx of sugar gives her a boost and suddenly she's giggling and dancing in her seat, way too chipper considering her previous mood.

The energy crash on the car ride home is going to be spectacular.

Geralt can already feel the headache forming behind his eyes.

*

Ciri rings the keepsake silver bell all the way home.

It's both the best and the worst thing because it keeps her entertained and makes his head pound.

"That was so much fun!" She punctuates each word with an aggressive chime of the bell. "Let's do it again next year!"

"We'll see." Geralt winces.

"Please?"

"You slept through half of it."

"But I really liked the other half!"

"You do know we can have hot chocolate and cookies at home, right?"

"Our house is not a train. It's not the same!"

"We'll see, okay?" He hopes she'll forget about it by next December.

Ciri rolls the bell from one palm to another, thinking. "Or maybe Uncle Lambert can take me?"

"Yes." Geralt says instantly, choking back a laugh. And just like that, his headache is gone.

Chapter Text

They spend the weekend setting up the prelit artificial Christmas tree that Ciri fell in love with at first sight. Geralt strongly suspects the Frozen theme song playing in the background was the deciding factor. 

The tree is the exact same height as their living room ceiling and required both a trim of the topmost branch and the removal of the obnoxious chandelier that came with the house for it to fit. 

Ciri absolutely loves it, though, so it was worth every effort. 

Plus, he had a good reason to finally get rid of the chandelier. Win-win.

*

The school is having a Holiday Party/Toy Drive, a combination of words that makes little sense until he reads the rest of the flyer. For the donation of a new toy, students and families will enjoy a free breakfast-for-dinner provided by local restaurants and participate in seasonal crafts. Geralt frowns at the rather specific description for the toy donation, did people bring used toys in the past? Shaking his head at the thought, he calls for Ciri. "I need your help."

"Okay! What is it?" She bounds over with her usual enthusiastic kindness that's both endearing and worrisome, should the wrong person try to take advantage. They've had talks about what to do when strangers ask for assistance; namely, to find him so they can do it together. Because Geralt likes to be helpful too, like helping a child predator with a punch in the face and a call to the police.

"Can you guess based on this?" He hands her the flyer and watches with pride as her blue eyes scan the rows of letters, narrowing with concentration.

She glances up, beaming. "You need help shopping and lucky for you, I'm great at shopping!"

*

They leave the store with two boxes of Legos sets, one to be donated and one to add to Ciri's collection. It's probably not how shopping for others should go but, well, Geralt is a bit of a pushover when it comes to his daughter. A fact he readily admits and has accepted a long time ago; unlike Eskel, who likes to pretend he's immune to Ciri's charms but is wrapped around her little finger like the rest of them.

Also in the bag are a rechargeable handwarmer and a pair of gloves for Jaskier, both in the sunny yellow that Ciri insists is his favorite color.

Presents for teachers are common, if not outright expected, this time of the year. He's always opted for gift cards for Ciri's preschool teachers but his gut says it's too impersonal, too detached and too cold. The opposite of who Jaskier is and how he makes Ciri and Geralt feel.

On more than one morning, he's seen the teacher rubbing his hands together or tucking them in his pockets. He remembers those long fingers wrapped around the paper coffee cup and the contented curve of Jaskier's smile as he sipped his latte in Geralt's truck, brown hair haloed in the afternoon sun and blue eyes sparkling against the green of his coat. The memory pulls at something in his chest.

*

Ciri brings Jaskier's gifts to school the next day. It makes no sense to wait until the end of the semester to give them to Jaskier, as other parents tend to do. Timing matters and the sooner Jaskier has the gloves, the better.

Then maybe this tugging sensation under his ribs will finally let go.

*

When he arrives at pick-up that afternoon, Jaskier beckons him over with a wave of his hand, clad in sunny yellow.

Geralt goes, slowing only to scoop Ciri up.

"Hi." Jaskier smiles, the same curve of his lips but different at the same time, soft and a little shy.

It reminds Geralt of their run-in at the grocery store. His eyes flicker down to the neckline of Jaskier's sweater, a rich and vibrant purple that brightens up his features and everything around him. "Hey."

"Thank you for my presents."

"You're welcome!" Ciri grins. "I picked them out because my dad's bad at shopping for things that aren't food."

Geralt's mouth falls open in mock-betrayal.

Jaskier's shoulders shake with poorly-hidden laughter, biting at his bottom lip. "We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and that's why it's important to work together. I think you did a great job. Both of you." His gaze doesn't leave Geralt's, blue eyes huge and earnest. "Thank you, again."

"You're welcome, again." Geralt hums, pleased as always when he knows he's done something right.

*

Geralt navigates to the volunteer sign-up page for the Holiday Party/Toy Drive. Scrolling to the bottom, he adds his name to the clean-up list.

*

A distant but familiar chime, repetitive and annoying, snaps Geralt out of his light doze. He fumbles for his phone with racing thoughts and clumsy fingers, mind instantly awake though his body is still playing catch-up. Through the sleep still in his eyes, he sees Lambert's name on the display.

Ciri is with her uncles for the afternoon, they picked her up after school to work on a top secret project that Geralt knows is his Christmas present. Everything should be fine, he knows this logically, but his heart still trips over itself as it thuds rapidly in his chest. "What's wrong?" He grunts, well-aware that he's overreacting and irrationally terrified anyway.

"Were you sleeping? It's only five-thirty." Lambert's amused voice rings out. 

Geralt scrubs a hand over his face, relieved and annoyed. If Lambert's teasing him, then nothing catastrophic has happened. "Shut up."

"Dad's asleep?" Ciri asks in the background and his mouth instinctively curls upward at the sound of her voice. "It's not bedtime yet."

"I'm up." Geralt sits up and rolls his neck, it cracks satisfyingly. "What do you want?"

Lambert clears his throat, more for show than any actual need. "So, a little lion cub tells me I'm taking her to the Polar Express next year."

"Hm." Geralt has a bad feeling about this.

"Well, the thing is, next year is just so far away-" Lambert drags each word out with great exaggeration, eliciting a string of giggles from Ciri. "-why don't I take her next Saturday?"

"What?"

"As an early Christmas present."

Geralt lets his head fall back against the couch, huffing out a laugh. Lambert hates shopping and it really shouldn't be a surprise that he would see the Polar Express as a way out of it this year. Possibly every year, going forward. Assuming he survives the ordeal. "Sure."

He assumes Lambert gave Ciri some indication that he said yes because the next thing he hears is a happy shriek followed by an exclamation that he's the best dad then a series of stomping sounds that's probably Ciri jumping up and down with joy.

"Why is it that you get the credit when I'm the one taking her?" Lambert grouses.

Geralt chooses not to dignify that with a response. "What time are you going?"

"Let me get the tickets and call you back."

Typical Lambert. Making plans and promises before doing any research. "Fine."

It takes less than five minutes before his phone rings again.

"Six o'clock." Lambert sounds shell-shocked. "And what the fuck did I just get myself into?"

*

There is a doodle of a stick figure giving a thumb's up on the back of this week's newsletter.

Now I owe you two songs!

Geralt adds the sheet of paper to their fridge, pinning it in place with another glittery magnet. It leaves a few specks on his fingers, he wipes them off on his jeans.

*

Geralt prides himself on his organizational skills. It's always been his strength and has only grown since becoming a father. So when he realizes he's double-booked next weekend, his brain refuses to process the error as anything but an impossibility. One that is disproved quickly when he looks at his calendar again.

The Holiday Party/Toy Drive and Ciri's second Polar Express trip are on the same day, overlapping by an hour.

"Fuck."

Ciri is looking forward to both events and he loathes to disappoint her. So he puts his organizational skills to fixing this mistake and finds a compromise.

They will attend the first half of the Holiday Party/Toy Drive, hopefully get Ciri to eat something nutritional there because Lambert will definitely be plying her with sugar, then Lambert will pick her up to take her to the Polar Express while Geralt stays to fulfill his clean-up duty.

Lambert agrees after a snarky remark about Geralt's age, falling asleep before sundown and forgetting plans.

Geralt was going to warn Lambert about the lines but he just can't remember everything because he's so old. Such a shame.

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that motorcycle weather has come and gone, Geralt decides to take Roach to the Holiday Party/Toy Drive. The chill in the air is offset by the rays of sunshine peeking through gathering clouds, making the trip to school pleasantly brisk instead of uncomfortable.

It'll get colder once the sun sets but Lambert is picking Ciri up and bringing her home in his Jeep so she'll be fine and Geralt would rather endure a freezing ride home than deal with the headache that's hurried parents and tired kids at the end of the night.

When he removes the box of Legos from the saddlebag, specks of glitter cling to the glossy cardboard surface. He doesn't bother brushing them off, it's a pointless fight and he doubts any parents or volunteers would mind. After all, complaining about glitter at a toy drive for children is akin to complaining about sand at the beach.

A battle lost before it's begun.

*

Jaskier is seated behind a fold-out table inside the door, bundled in a familiar green coat and flanked by two large bins that are half-full of toys already. Surrounded like this, he looks smaller, almost delicate.

Geralt blinks, startled by his own thoughts. Delicate?

"Hi there!" Jaskier waves at them with his usual enthusiasm. His coat sleeve pulls up with the motion and reveals a strip of pale skin dusted with dark hair and a flash of red - festive, Geralt's mind supplies - hinting at what he's got on underneath.

Ciri sets the box of Legos down on the table then immediately goes around it to peer into the bins to see what other families brought, promptly folding her arms across her chest when Jaskier reminds her to look with her eyes, not her hands.

"Impressive." Geralt comments.

When Jaskier glances up at him, there's a smile dancing in those blue eyes that look impossibly bigger from Geralt's higher vantage point. "It's the teacher voice." He says, fingers curling into air quotes, the sharp lines of his cheekbones softening with his grin.

The word delicate flits into his mind again, or perhaps it never left. It's confusing as hell and makes no sense. Jaskier is almost as tall as Geralt, for fuck's sake. In all of their previous encounters, Jaskier could meet Geralt's eyes without tilting his head and the fact that he is now causes Geralt's gut to clench in a way that's more unsettling than uncomfortable. He finds himself shuffling to the side of the table and lowering himself down into a squat, to bring their eyeline back to equal.

And just like that, the strange sense that Jaskier is delicate is gone and the tight coil in his abdomen loosens. "Can you tell her to eat her vegetables?" He asks, the words come out quieter than he meant for them to be, incongruently intimate for the subject matter. "My brother's taking her to the Polar Express later and I'm hoping to temper the sugar high." He affects a fake shudder.

Jaskier leans in, his voice in a matching, mischievous whisper. "What's in it for me?"

"I'll help with clean-up again."

"A decent offer, but I've got volunteers for that."

Geralt hums disbelievingly. He checked the sign-up this morning to get a sense of how long he needs to stay and his name is the only one listed under clean-up duty.

"Volunteer. Singular." Jaskier amends, a bit sheepishly. "But I have it on good authority that he's excellent at it. A true hero. A friend of humanity."

His pulse trips at the compliments, a baffling mix of exaggeration and sincerity that he has no idea what to make of but thinks he can figure it out if he just stared at it long enough. Like those notes he has pinned to his fridge, promises and stick figures and way too many exclamation points.

"I think there's a song about him..." Geralt quirks an eyebrow, hoping the joke comes across as he intended. When it does, he is unbelievably pleased with himself.

"Okay, okay! You win! I'll do as you say." Laughing, Jaskier holds up his hands in mock-surrender before abruptly bringing them down to wrap around himself when the door opens and a gust of wind blows in. He shivers.

Geralt wants to tell him to buy a warmer coat. Which is a ridiculous thing to think, let alone say, so he swallows it down and clears his throat. "Tell Ciri to eat some vegetables at dinner?"

Ciri's head pops up at the sound of her name. "Huh?"

"Please eat some vegetables at dinner." Jaskier winks. "If there's any to be eaten."

Well, that doesn't sound reassuring at all.

*

The cafeteria is packed when they walk in, too warm and too loud, and smells strongly of-

"Bacon!" Ciri shrieks, dragging him toward the food tables set up in the back.

Now Jaskier's wink makes sense. There is likely no vegetables on the breakfast-for-dinner menu tonight. Bidding his hopes of her having a somewhat nutritious dinner goodbye, Geralt goes with a wince. Her hold on his hand has slipped in her haste, leaving only two of his fingers in her grip and at the mercy of her insistent pull.

Fuck, that hurts.

*

Like the Fall Festival, the line moves quickly and orderly.

Geralt declines a plate for himself, having eaten an early dinner at home already. It's common knowledge that food often runs out at these events and he figures he'd need his hands free to tend to Ciri as she eats. He opts for water instead of coffee, though it sounds heavenly, because hot liquid in an open cup is just asking for trouble.

Maybe he can grab one at the end of the night.

Ciri thanks each volunteer, preening at their compliments of her good manners, as they load her plate with a spoonful of scrambled egg, one pancake, two strips of bacon, and an Oreo. She eats the Oreo before they sit down in the same spot toward the back of the cafeteria.

*

An older kid walks by with a plate piled high with bacon, topped with a single Oreo.

Geralt's eyes widen with a mix of admiration and horror.

*

The principal gets up on the stage and gives a perfunctory speech that Geralt only hears half of since the acoustics of the room are still shit. It's fine, though, Jaskier isn't performing tonight so it's not like they're missing anything important.

*

Ciri has a blast making a snow globe out of a mason jar. It's predictably glittery, so much so that Geralt can barely see the lion figurine inside the glass. They take a quick detour to set it safely in Roach's saddlebag.

Jaskier is still at the same table, the collar of his coat turned up to ward off the chill that's settled into the air, and fiddling with something in his hands. Something small and in the sunny shade of yellow that Geralt has come to think of as Jaskier's.

Warmth floods through him, heating his blood and prickling his skin, as realization clicks.

It's the handwarmer.

*

They make their way through the rest of the crafts booths, stopping only when Ciri expresses an interest. Which only happens twice, as her expectations are high after the snow globe. She wrinkles her nose at the coloring table and deigns to make a paper snowflake because it requires the use of scissors. Her disinterest, however, works in their favor as their time at the Holiday Party/Toy Drive is, if Lambert's text that he's on his way can be believed, coming to an end.

And because he's not that big of an asshole, Geralt coaxes Ciri into using the bathroom before Lambert arrives. It's one thing to not warn his brother about the lines and quite another to subject him to the heart-stopping panic of hearing the words I need to go potty while on the freeway.

She's old enough to go by herself so Geralt is spared from the fate of rushing through the men's room with her eyes covered until they get into one of the stalls. It's probably the toughest challenge he's had to face as a single father, figuring out which public restroom to bring his daughter into that would result in the least amount of trauma for the both of them.

"All done!" Ciri announces as she skips toward him.

He takes her hand into his, hiding a grimace at the dampness between her fingers and on her palm. She's never had the patience to stand by the air dryers until her hands are dry. "Let's go find your uncle."

Chapter Text

Because their plan is for Lambert to drive up to the front of the school, thereby avoiding the annoyance of finding parking, Geralt is entirely unprepared to see the familiar silhouette of his younger brother standing in the hallway and talking to Jaskier.

Shit.

He needs to put a stop to this, who knows what kind of dumb bullshit Lambert is spewing-

"Dad, it's Dara!" Ciri tugs on his hand, hard, and is moving without waiting for an answer. "Dara! Dara! Over here!" She calls, so focused on her friend that she completely misses her uncle as she drags Geralt past the Toy Drive table.

Jaskier doesn't notice them, head tilted back once again and looking up at Lambert.

Geralt's stomach twists with something too sharp to be hunger pangs, the shock of it silencing the greeting on the tip of his tongue and stilling his steps mere feet away from Jaskier and Lambert. Close enough to hear their conversation.

"-going to be around anyway, you should come by and hang out."

"Oh, um." The handwarmer is on the table, no longer in Jaskier's hands. "That's very kind of you but, um, I can't. I'm Ciri's teacher and that'd be, er, I think, a bit inappropriate."

Lambert says something else and Ciri is chatting animatedly with Dara but Geralt can't make out the words, not with the thudding of his pulse. A different sort of realization dawns, cold and awful and the opposite of what he felt moments before when he saw Jaskier holding his gift.

Jaskier is his daughter's teacher.

All those notes and smiles and moments that Geralt has collected over the past months are just Jaskier doing his goddamn job by being polite and responsive and accommodating. He probably leaves doodles on the back of every newsletter and remembers the entire class's Thankful Turkey lists and uses too fucking many exclamation points all the time and makes small talk when he runs into parents in stores and looks at everyone with those stupidly blue eyes.

Geralt isn't special, despite how Jaskier makes him feel or how he feels about Jaskier-

Oh.

Fuck.

He's always too slow in deciphering what the various aches and flutters in his chest mean. It took him years to finally understand that the pangs in his heart when he was with Yen weren't the good loving-someone-too-much kind that he read in a Hallmark card when he was trying to salvage their marriage with flowers and chocolate. And now it's taken him months to realize what's been fluttering under his ribs this entire time with Jaskier. The thought that he's gotten faster offers little comfort, not when he's been such an idiot without even knowing it and, shit, does Jaskier know?

Geralt hopes not, the possibility of it is mortifying, not only his own humiliation but also any discomfort he could have caused Jaskier.

"Dad?"

Ciri's voice snaps him out of his thoughts and based on the impatience on her face, it's not the first time she's tried to get his attention. Which means there's a good chance he'll agree to whatever she's about to ask. "Hm?"

"Can Dara and me have a playdate over winter break?"

"Of course."

Both kids cheer and break into what looks to be a well-rehearsed victory dance while Geralt exchanges numbers with Dara's mother and plans to coordinate their schedules. After that, Dara leads his mother off toward the cafeteria and Ciri is pulling him toward the door.

"Dad, c'mon! We have to find Uncle Lambert!"

Geralt is pretty sure those lines aren't going anywhere but he keeps the comment to himself. "He's behind you." Gently, he spins her around and waits for the recognition to kick in.

Ciri launches herself at Lambert's back a second later. "Uncle Lambert!"

Lambert doesn't crash into the table, and by extension, Jaskier, but it's a near thing. "I'm under attack!" He cries out playfully, earning giggles from Ciri and a chuckle from Jaskier.

And suddenly, Geralt can't stand to be in that hallway. "You guys better get going."

"Yeah! We can't be late for the lines, Uncle Lambert!"

"For the what?" Bewilderment has always looked hilarious on Lambert except nothing seems funny to Geralt right now.

"Have a good time!" Jaskier calls out cheerfully. "And I'll see you at clean-up, right, Geralt?"

A grunt is all Geralt can muster and he's aware of how dismissive it sounds the second it leaves his mouth.

Jaskier must know it too. His voice is as expressive as those damn blue eyes of his, though the hurt confusion isn't one Geralt ever expected or wanted to hear. "Oh, okay. I'll- I'll see you around then."

*

Lambert got a parking spot right outside the doors because of course he did on the one night Geralt wishes his brother had stuck to the plan and didn't go into the school and never spoke to Jaskier.

But maybe it's for the best that Geralt knows now. So he can stop reading into things and acting like a fool and, worse, making Jaskier uncomfortable.

What a fucking mess.

*

While Lambert retrieves Ciri's heavier winter coat and a fleece blanket from Roach's saddlebag - she'll need both to ward off the cold while they wait outside and probably even after they board the train where the heating was just above adequate - Geralt helps Ciri with the seatbelt. She insists she can do it by herself, and he knows she can, but he needs something to do with his hands. He feels like pulling his hair out.

"Are you okay?" Ciri asks, her delicate brow furrowed with concern. She's always been perceptive. Too perceptive, sometimes.

"Yeah, just a little sad because I'm going to miss you so much." It's not necessarily a lie. He will miss her. He always does.

She accepts this with a wrinkle of her nose that says she thinks he's being silly and kisses him on the forehead. "I love you, lots and lots."

"I love you, too." Geralt ducks out the backseat and claps Lambert on the shoulder, startling when his brother pulls him in for an one-arm hug. "I'm fine."

"You suck at lying." Lambert huffs but releases him with a pat on the back and slides into the driver's seat.

Damn it, even Lambert can tell? Geralt sighs, watching the jeep's taillights until they fade into the night.

*

A woman is at the Toy Drive table when he walks back inside.

Jaskier's absence isn't the relief Geralt thought it'd be.

*

He gets himself a cup of coffee and retreats to the side door of the cafeteria's kitchen, the same one that he found Jaskier trying to shoulder open at the Fall Festival with an armful of pizza boxes.

It's strange to be at the school without Ciri, almost like he's trespassing now that his reason for being here is gone. He wants to leave, to go home where it's quiet and he can be alone. Which is a tempting thought but then he remembers the stain on Jaskier's cartoonish tiger kigurumi and fuck, he has to stay.

It's not even a choice.

*

The coffee is shit and tastes bitter as fuck.

He gets another cup, resolutely not looking for Jaskier in the crowd but finding him anyway, the red sweater like a beacon and so fucking bright that it hurts Geralt's eyes.

*

Lambert texts that they've arrived at the Polar Express and are now waiting in line.

Geralt wants to ask what the hell he said to Jaskier but tells them have a good time instead.

*

People start to clear out by the time he's halfway through his third cup. Geralt drains the rest of his coffee with a wince and tosses it into the trash before tying the bag with a twist of his wrists and taking it to the dumpster outside.

The sooner he gets started, the sooner he'll be done. And he can go home and regroup before seeing Jaskier on Monday-

"Geralt."

Geralt swears under his breath and as much as he doesn't want to, he turns around. The same hurt confusion in Jaskier's voice isn't something he can ignore again.

Jaskier is fidgeting with sleeves of his sweater, pale fingers in stark contrast with the bright fabric. "Did- Did I do something that upset you?"

"No." None of this is Jaskier's fault but he hasn't the right words to explain it so he repeats the one he does have. "No."

"Then why-"

"Jaskier! A little help?"

Geralt doesn't know if he's disappointed or relieved that Jaskier's question was cut off by one of the teachers standing in the hallway with a box of mason jars in her hands.

"I- I have to, to go but, um, can we talk after?" Those ridiculously blue eyes are wide with uncertain hope, which is a huge fucking improvement from earlier that Geralt finds himself nodding. "Good, good. Um, please don't leave?"

"I won't." It's not even a choice.

Chapter Text

"Hello, can I help you?" Jaskier does his best to maintain a polite tone as he assesses the man who just walked through the door. Not that he looks particularly dangerous but his demeanor isn't exactly reassuring, his eyes darting from corner to corner and his face scowling at the sudden blast of noise from the cafeteria. Maybe he's lost? Or disoriented?

Jaskier hopes he doesn't have to call 911. The kids may love the flashing lights and loud sirens of emergency vehicles but the parents decidedly won't. Neither would his principal.

"I'm here to pick up my niece." He says, there's something familiar in his cadence, something that eases the tension gathering between Jaskier's shoulder blades. "For the Polar Express."

Oh. There's where Jaskier's heard that speech pattern before, the same lack of inflection and drag of vowels.

Geralt.

Though he's fairly certain that this man is either Eskel or Lambert, Jaskier remains careful with the wording of his question and doesn't give away any information. Can't be too safe when it comes to kids' safety. "What's your name? And her name?"

"Lambert. Ciri."

Even the short answers are the same, but Geralt has steadily become more verbose over the months. Funny, too, and delightfully charming and wonderfully considerate and absurdly sweet and gloriously handsome-

Nope, Jaskier reminds himself, nope. Nope, nope, nope. That way lies madness and heartbreak and possibly unemployment. He's the man's daughter's teacher, for crying out loud. And Geralt adores Ciri, their interactions are too cute for words and the health of Jaskier's heart, and he's only being kind to Jaskier because, well, he's Ciri's teacher.

Geralt has probably been bringing Ciri's previous teachers drinks on cold days and emails them interesting articles and volunteers at all school events and smolders at them when they are wearing ratty sweats because it's just a grocery run and no one will see anyway...

So. That's that. And whatever Jaskier's been building up in his head needs to stop. Starting with helping Geralt's brother, er, Lambert. Who has a name and hates to share.

"I've heard so much about you!" Jaskier grins. "Congrats on getting your own feather!"

Lambert squints at him with confusion for a bit before rolling his eyes. "You're the famous Jaskier then?"

Famous? That's a flattering thought. "Yep!" Jaskier preens.

"How did you get Geralt to volunteer, for clean-up duty, too? He hates cleaning."

Jaskier frowns, thinking back to how readily Geralt jumped in at the Fall Festival and how his name was the first on the clean-up list for tonight and how he offered again just an hour ago in exchange to get Ciri to eat her vegetables. It doesn't make sense and he wants to ask, but, as it's already been established, that way lies madness and heartbreak and possibly unemployment. So he gives a response that doesn't actually answer the question. "Geralt is one of the best volunteers, he's great. Really. So helpful and strong and, just, so kind. The conqueror of pizza boxes and destroyer of messes. A friend of...humanity." He realizes he's babbling and trails off awkwardly, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.

"Huh." Lambert is staring at him with, quite frankly, an unnerving glint in his eyes.

Oh shit, he just waxed poetic about Geralt. To Geralt's brother. That's not subtle, not fucking subtle at all. "Um, you're lucky to have him as a brother, that's all I'm saying and don't you have a train to catch?"

"I do." Lambert nods, slow and considering. "You know, I've never heard anyone talk about Geralt like that."

Well, fuck. "Probably because not many people talk like me, I, er, talk a lot. That's me, a talker. Actually, I think I prefer wordsmith-"

"Not even Yen."

"Who?"

"The ex-wife." Lambert explains.

Jaskier's mouth clicks shut at the mention of Geralt's ex-wife- Nope, Ciri's mother. Got to get those roles right.

"What are you doing for Christmas?"

The non-sequitur is a jarring but appreciated diversion. "Nothing. Well, not nothing just not on the holiday. I'll be visiting my family after with the ticket prices being the insanity that they are." His dad actually praised him for the sound financial choice, spoken like the accountant that he is.

"You'll be around then?"

"Yeah."

"That's good, and since you're going to be around anyway, you should come by and hang out." Lambert offers.

Jaskier wishes he could accept, really truly does, but professional and personal boundaries have to be maintained. Geralt is the parent of his student. Not to mention, that way lies madness and heartbreak and possible unemployment. "Oh, um. That's very kind of you but, um, I can't. I'm Ciri's teacher and that'd be, er, I think, a bit inappropriate."

Lambert's eyebrows fly up. "Are you serious?"

"Yes." Jaskier replies primly, donning professionalism like a shield. "You have a train to catch and a kindergartner-" He uses the term on purpose, a reminder to himself of Ciri's role. "-to ply with sugar."

Thankfully, Lambert recognizes and accepts the pivot with a shrug. "Any tips on finding them in this crowd? Or can you make an announcement to get them to the principal's office?"

"That's above my paygrade, I'm afraid." Jaskier chuckles. "Where are you supposed to meet-"

"Uncle Lambert!" Ciri doesn't quite tackle Lambert into the table but it's a near thing.

"I'm under attack!" Lambert flails.

Jaskier can't help but chuckle at their antics but his amusement vanishes when Geralt's voice, sharper than Jaskier's ever heard it, cuts in.

"You guys better get going."

Ciri gasps. "Yeah! We can't be late for the lines, Uncle Lambert!"

"For the what?"

"Have a good time!" Jaskier tells Ciri before turning to Geralt, who is looking away with his face gathered into a frown. "And I'll see you at clean-up, right, Geralt?" A disgruntled noise is all he gets and Jaskier is stunned by the hurt lancing through his chest. "Oh, okay. I'll- I'll see you around then."

Geralt walks away, tall and silent.

And Jaskier doesn't want to be sitting down anymore, not with how small the dismissal made him feel. He flags down a coworker to cover the table so he can go get something to eat. Even though his appetite is gone.

*

Did Geralt hear how Jaskier embarrassed himself, and Geralt by extension, with his gushing praises? It doesn't seem likely since Ciri leapt at Lambert as soon as she spotted him and Geralt was right behind her so they couldn't have been there long.

Did Geralt regret volunteering? That doesn't make sense given how he'd offered again when he was crouched next to the table and sharing Jaskier's personal space.

Did Geralt really want Ciri to eat some vegetables at dinner? Which sounds so ridiculous that Jaskier dismisses it immediately.

The thing is, he doesn't know what he did wrong, if anything at all, to make Geralt, whose hair shines silver and eyes glow gold, turn metal-cold.

*

The breakfast-for-dinner is a big hit with the kids, judging by the fact that almost all of the food is gone by the time Jaskier gets to the food table. He settles for two cold pancakes topped with bits of bacon and forces the whole thing down with the most atrocious coffee he's ever had. 

*

It bothers Jaskier, the not knowing. Because if he doesn't know what's broken, then he can't fix it. And he desperately wants to, needs to, repair whatever upset Geralt.

But he can't do that if he doesn't know.

*

Jaskier is absolutely not hiding out among the crafts booths. He's helping drum up interest for the coloring table, which is unfairly sandwiched between the paper snowflake table and the beaded candy cane table. How are crayons supposed to compete with scissors and beads?

*

The only way to know is to ask. It's what Jaskier teaches his kids, which Ciri is one of, and he'd be a hypocrite if he doesn't follow his own lessons.

So, that's what he'll do. He'll ask Geralt and go from there. The worst thing Geralt can do is ignore him and walk away, which he's already done once.

*

Jaskier finds Geralt in the cafeteria, cleaning up like he said he would. It occurs to him that he never considered the possibility of Geralt ditching his volunteer duty. "Geralt."

Geralt swears under his breath.

Which isn't a promising start, but Jaskier soldiers on. "Did- Did I do something that upset you?"

"No." A pause. "No."

"Then why-"

"Jaskier! A little help?" It's his coworker, balancing a box of mason jars that will most definitely be dropped if he doesn't get there soon. She's notoriously clumsy.

"I- I have to, to go but, um, can we talk after?"

Geralt nods. It's as if all of his words have disappeared.

"Good, good. Um, please don't leave?"

"I won't."

Jaskier holds on to those two words like a promise.

Chapter Text

Geralt throws himself into cleaning the small kitchen and only realizes that he should have paced himself when the place is spotless twenty minutes later.

And now he's left alone with only his thoughts for company until Jaskier comes back.

"Fuck."

*

Lists have always been his go-to when he's faced with a problem that seems insurmountable, be it a step-by-step guide for how to proceed or a comparison of pros and cons, so that's where he starts.

First, it's obvious that he needs to apologize. Not only for any discomfort he's caused, but also for how he behaved earlier. Those eyes and that voice should never carry that hurt confusion again.

Second, they should reestablish the boundaries between them. Teacher and parent. Except Geralt can't imagine -  doesn't want to - a world without doodles on the backs of newsletters and quiet conversations he replays in his head before sleep. But this isn't about what he wants.

Third, hm, he wonders if speaking with Ciri would be a good idea. She's clearly attached to her teacher and loves those doodles as much as Geralt does-

Damn it! That's exactly the kind of thoughts he needs to stop having.

Which is going to be nearly impossible because, as his untimely realization pointed out, Jaskier has been on his mind for quite a while now. Long enough that he doesn't remember not thinking about his daughter's teacher, like that Toss a Coin to Your Teacher song that was stuck in his head for weeks.

Fuck, now that song is back in his head.

And along with it, the memory of Jaskier, face shadowed by the hood of his ridiculous tiger kigurumi and voice intimately low in the empty cafeteria.

It takes him a moment to realize he's humming.

Oh valley of plenty, oh valley of plenty...

*

His phone chimes in his pocket, it's Lambert. Geralt watches the screen until it changes from an incoming call to a notification of a missed call, he doesn't want to talk to anyone. Not his brother, not Jaskier. He has to with the latter but can ignore the former.

Except his phone rings again and he suspects it'll keep ringing because Lambert has got stubbornness down an art form. One of those nonsensical and vaguely violent ones that Eskel swoons over. That, and everyone in his family knows he hates missing calls and will think that something's wrong.

Geralt hates to worry them, even if that person is fucking Lambert.

"How're the lines?" He asks in lieu of a greeting.

"Rage-inducing." Lambert doesn't sound angry. In fact, he sounds downright happy about it.

Geralt hears a chorus of muffled agreement from the background. The sound jars his thoughts but they click into place a second later. Of course, the only thing Lambert loves more than bitching about inconveniences is bitching about them with other people. He can see it now, Lambert fitting right in and commiserating with a group of parents. "How's Ciri?"

"Playing with other kids. Look, they didn't say the kids have to stay in line."

Actually, Geralt is fairly certain that there are at least three signs that state children should stay with their guardians at all times but he trusts Lambert with Ciri so he doesn't bring it up. "Just don't get us banned."

Lambert snorts.

"I'm serious, the only way this night can get worse is-"

"Shit, so I did fuck something up? With Ciri's teacher?" Lambert's voice is lower now, no longer a performance for his audience of long-suffering parents. The background noise quiets a bit too, as if Lambert has turned his back or cupped a hand over the microphone on his phone.

Geralt doesn't know how to answer that. It's not Lambert's fault but a part of him does blame his brother even as another part is grateful for shedding light on what an idiot he's been. His silence is apparently answer enough because when Lambert speaks again, it's in a rushed, defensive whisper.

"I don't know what the big deal is, honestly. I just invited the guy to come hang out on Christmas and he said no. So what?"

Geralt is going to strangle him. "It's inappropriate." The words taste bitter in his mouth, as bad as the fucking coffee. "He's Ciri's teacher and I- I think I made, fuck, make him uncomfortable."

"You didn't, you don't." Jaskier says from behind him.

Geralt almost drops his phone. "I have to go. Have a good time, I'll see you later."

Lambert's shout of protest is cut off with a jab at the end call button.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, Geralt turns around.

Jaskier is standing a few feet away, so close yet so far. "Hi there."

"Hey."

*

For a few minutes, neither of them speak, just looking at then away from each other. Jaskier's words hang in the silence between them and echo in Geralt's head, making his blood buzz and his heart hum. 

You didn't, you don't.

Short and succinct. No other way to interpret them and no hidden meaning to decipher, not that he has that particular skillset to begin with. The clarity should give him comfort, and it does, but it's outweighed by the uncertainty of what to say next and the fear of making a mess of things again.

Jaskier clears his throat. "So..."

"Hm."

*

"As much as I love how we're just standing here and brooding, we can't stay in the cafeteria forever." Jaskier starts again. "We should, er, talk?"

"Yes."

"Just so you know, I can't read minds."

"Wish you could." Geralt tells him sincerely.

*

"What's your number? I'll call you." Jaskier pulls his phone out of his back pocket, nimble fingers poised over the keypad.

Geralt makes an inquiring noise. All of his words seem to have abandoned him. Bastards.

"You did alright there on the phone. Earlier."

Right, earlier. When Geralt was dumping his worries at Lambert's feet. Unfounded worries, he reminds himself as he gives Jaskier his number.

"Great. Now, I'll go outside and call-"

"No, I'll go. You stay here. You don't have your coat."

Blinking, Jaskier smiles, surprised and pleased.

The sight of it does something to Geralt's pulse.

*

In contrast to the heated building, it's fucking freezing outside. Geralt stays near the side door, soaking up as much of the warmth as he can. He answers his phone before it could complete the first ring. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"You don't." Jaskier's voice is both familiar and new in his ear.

It is easier to talk when only one of his senses is full of Jaskier. "I thought I did."

"Why?"

"I thought the things I did, hm, crossed a line. That they were inappropriate."

Jaskier huffs. "You heard what I said to Lambert."

"I did."

"You do realize there's a difference between thoughtful gestures like coffee and an out-of-nowhere invitation to spend Christmas at your house?"

"My dad's house." Geralt corrects, the thought of Jaskier at his house is too much at the moment.

"Not the point and we're getting off track." Jaskier sucks in a breath and his next words rush out with the exhale. "I liked them, the things you did. Maybe a little too much."

Realization dawns. Maybe he won't strangle Lambert after all. "I liked doing them for you, maybe a little too much too."

"Oh." Jaskier sounds dazed. "That's, that's good."

"Yeah."

"Hey, Geralt?"

"Hm?"

"Do you think you can talk to me without the phone now? Because I'd really like to talk more about this face to face." Jaskier paces into the kitchen and walks right up to the threshold. "Come inside."

Geralt remembers the first item on his list. "Let me apologize first."

"You don't need to."

"I do." He plants his feet but he can't help leaning forward, just a tiny bit, something tugging in his gut and demanding he close the distance between them.

Jaskier rolls his eyes. "No, you don't. And as the recipient of the apology, I think I should have the final say."

"It's important to me."

"Just so you know, this is the pushiest apologies I've ever gotten."

"Will you just let me do this?"

"The. Pushiest."

"Please." 

"Fine, go on then. Apologize for how you've made me uncomfortable even though you didn't."

The thought that Jaskier appreciated, welcomed, his attention sends a thrill down his spine. He wonders if it always will and thinks the answer is yes. Which is why this is important. "That's not what I'm apologizing for."

"It's not?"

"No, I want to apologize for walking away, for making you think you did something wrong."

Jaskier's smile eases into something more thoughtful but just as warm. "In that case..."

"I am sorry." Geralt says sincerely and gently.

"Apology accepted. Now come inside." Jaskier extends his hand.

Geralt takes it, pressing their palms together and folding his fingers over Jaskier's, and walks through the door.

Chapter Text

They are sitting at one of the cafeteria tables, across from one another, and each holding half-a-cup of lukewarm coffee. Not much was left in the pot and neither saw the point in making a new one.

Jaskier has one leg stretched out to the side on the bench with the other bent and pressed against Geralt's under a table that's far too small for one grown man to sit at comfortably, let alone two.

"You're my daughter's teacher." Geralt keeps his eyes on the table, can't bring himself to look at Jaskier, who liked the things he did, maybe a little too much, when he rips the Band-Aid off of the elephant in the room.

The words hang in the air, weighing it down and pulling it taut.

After a drawn-out moment, Jaskier clears his throat. "Only for another semester."

Geralt's head snaps up. "What?"

"I'm only her teacher for another semester. So, er, if you're, you're alright with waiting until then, we could maybe see each other outside of, well, here." Jaskier waves a hand around before shoving it through his hair, tugging at the ends. "I get it if you don't want to wait but it's a non-negotiable point for me. I love my job and my kids too much to jeopardize it and I'm not big on secrets. Hate them, actually. Can't keep them at all. You should hear the stories my dad has of all the surprise parties I've ruined-"

"I can wait." Geralt wants to reach out, to hold Jaskier's hand again or to smooth down the errant strands, just to touch. He doesn't.

Jaskier blinks, his eyes are so stupidly blue. "Yeah?"

"Yes. I want to do this right. We both deserve that." The thought of hiding Jaskier, bright and loud and energetic in a way that's overwhelming but not exhausting, is a wholly unpleasant one. Not to mention he can barely navigate a normal relationship, let alone manage the intricacies of a secret one.

A hopeful smile blooms across Jaskier's face. "Good, because I'd really like to see where this goes."

"I'd like that too."

"And, um, would Ciri?"

The question catches Geralt by surprise and it takes him a second to answer, unsure why he needs to in the first place. It's abundantly clear that Ciri adores Jaskier. "Of course, you're her favorite teacher."

"That's very sweet, but, um it's not quite what I meant." At Geralt's blank stare, Jaskier puts down his coffee cup. "Bringing me coffee." He lifts one hand, palm facing up. "Inviting me to your dad's house." He lifts his other hand, palm also facing up. Then he raises one as he lowers the other, making the motion of comparing the two and finding them unequal before dropping his hands. "Not quite the same, right?"

Geralt nods hesitantly. He understands the difference in the gestures but struggles to see how it applies to how Ciri feels about Jaskier. She talks about him all the time, thinks he's the funniest and smartest, is in awe of his height for reasons Geralt still can't grasp, listens to his directions and, more impressively, follows them. Jaskier might have brushed it off as a result of his teacher voice earlier-

Oh.

"You're her favorite teacher." He says again, slowly, and tries to work out how to put the sudden shift in perspective into words.

Jaskier nods, somehow seeming to know that Geralt needs quiet to think right now.

"Her favorite teacher." Geralt holds out one hand, like what Jaskier did a moment ago. The visual presentation helps. "Her dad's..." Calling Jaskier a boyfriend feels presumptive. "...friend." He holds out his other hand at a higher position.

"Exactly."

Geralt considers this. He can't see Ciri objecting to them dating but at the same time, he can see her being confused by it. Or maybe she'll jump with joy and give him a series of increasingly enthusiastic high-fives. Or she won't care at all, though that seems as likely as her reacting negatively to Jaskier having a bigger role in their life. There is only one way to know for sure and he's dreading the fuck out of that conversation. "I'll have to talk to her."

"You'll do fine." Jaskier states with a certainty Geralt finds comfort in before tilting his head, a lopsided smile on his lips. "So, friend, huh? Are we friends?"

Geralt thought they were but the way Jaskier asked the question makes him wonder.

Are they friends?

He knows that Jaskier plays the guitar and uses way too many exclamation points and is great at managing rowdy kids and rude adults. But he doesn't know what Jaskier would like from Starbucks or his hobbies or the names of his family members.

On one hand, the answer is a resolute yes. But on the other, it's a decisive no. Which leaves them somewhere in the middle and still a ways away from anything...more.

"I think it's a good place to start." Geralt whispers, almost afraid to speak any louder, remembering that absurd superstition about how saying a wish out loud will cause it to not come true.

"I agree." Jaskier's voice is pitched just as softly.

*

They chat about other things, trading childhood stories and learning more about each other.

As friends do.

This is nice, Geralt thinks as he watches Jaskier tell as well as act out a story from his college days with animated features and gestures.

Whatever this is between them is nothing like the harsh fall and harsher landing he had with Yennefer. No, theirs is a slow and steady climb toward something worthwhile waiting at the top.

Better, he corrects himself, this is better.

*

Summer always was Geralt's favorite season as a kid. It's a break from the routine of school when he was younger, an opportunity to make some extra cash as a teenager, and a way to track the various steps toward adulthood. Where there are no more summers, not the way they used to be and not in the way they used to mean. Work doesn't stop because it's June and August doesn't mark the beginning of a new year.

He didn't know how much he had missed it until Ciri started school and he realized that she will get to experience the magic of summer and he, too, through her eyes. They have a whole list of things planned, waterparks and camping and barbecues, things to look forward to.

Now he can add one more to the list.

*

All too soon, it comes to an end.

Lambert texts that they are on their way back and Geralt should really be there when they arrive.

Jaskier drains his coffee in one sustained gulp. "That's gone straight to the heart." He croaks as he throws the paper cup into the trash can.

The black of the garbage bag highlights the fact that it's the only item in there, with Geralt having already taken out all the trash and put in a fresh bag.

In a show of solidarity, Geralt finishes the rest of his cup and tosses it in too, grimacing all the while. That coffee is fucking atrocious and he can't wait to brush his teeth when he gets home.

Except, he realizes with a start, that Jaskier's mouth must be flooded with the same burnt bitterness. Like his own. And just like that, the residual taste of the horrible coffee is less horrible and a little sweeter.

*

They lock up the school in companionable silence. A different kind of tension thrums between them, anticipatory and exhilarating.

"You took Roach?" Jaskier frowns as they step into the parking lot, empty except for Geralt's motorcycle and Jaskier's car, still in need of a wash. "It's freezing."

"I'll be fine." Geralt pulls his protective gear out of the saddlebag. The jacket, meant for winter weather, is waterproof and fleece-lined, with reflective details on the black leather that give it the appearance of armor. "It's a short ride."

"Right, right. Short ride. Makes sense, you're zoned for the school and all." Jaskier sounds a little dazed.

Geralt looks up from the zipper and flushes when he catches the appreciation in those blue eyes. The heat curls in his belly and stays there, keeping him warm all the way home.

Chapter Text

The house is dark when Geralt pulls into the garage. He makes sure to turn the porch light on before he grabs a quick shower to wash the smell of bacon out of his hair and chase the lingering chill away.

Keeping an ear out for the front door, he dresses himself in a gray hoodie and a pair of pajama pants that his eyes have mostly become desensitized to. Just in time for Ciri to find him another pair of truly outrageous pajama pants for Christmas. He doesn't really know how she's going to top a bunch of cats eating pizza in space with lasers shooting out of their eyes but he supposes that's half the fun for her. The other half is everyone's reaction when Geralt opens his gift; last year marked the first time that Vesemir couldn't keep a straight face.

He's combing his fingers through his wet hair, tugging through the tangles with a wince, when his phone lights up with a text from Lambert.

Ciri's asleep.

Then another.

Open the door.

And another.

Hurry up.

Geralt tucks his phone into his pocket, it buzzes with Lambert's incessant messages all the way downstairs and to the front door. Not for the first time, he regrets the unlimited texting their shared phone plan offers.

*

Lambert is standing by his jeep. "Took you long enough." He grouses. "It's fucking freezing."

Geralt walks over, sockless feet hastily stuffed into a pair of sneakers that have seen better days, and fixes a warning glare at his brother for swearing around his daughter.

Which Lambert shrugs off easily. "She's asleep."

Tucked under the fleece blanket, Ciri is out like a light. Her head is canted to the side, she is snoring a little, there is a smudge of chocolate on her chin, and she is the most perfect thing Geralt has ever seen.

Carefully, he unbuckles her seatbelt and wraps one arm around her back and the other under her knees. She stirs slightly when he lifts her but soon settles against his shoulder with a contented sigh.

For a second, it's like she was an infant again, preferring to sleep on his shoulder instead of the crib Vesemir built or the swing Eskel splurged on. Then the second's over and she is five and times passes way too fast.

Brushing a kiss against her temple, he stores the memory of this moment away with all the others that he never wants to lose.

*

Ciri rouses just enough to let him brush her teeth; dental hygiene is a priority in their house, especially with her getting her permanent teeth. She bats at his hand as he wipes away the smudge of chocolate and trail of toothpaste with a warm washcloth, eyes drooping closed.

"Good night, my lion cub." He tucks her into bed with her favorite stuffed animal, a wolf he won at a carnival game that cost more than simply buying one in store.

"Good night." Instinctively, she reaches for its snout and in doing so, opens her hand that's been closed this entire time.

A silver bell lands on the carpet with a muffled chime.

He freezes, holding his breath.

Ciri burrows further into her pillows with the wolf cradled in her arms.

Geralt tiptoes out of the room, the goddamn bell clenched in his fist.

*

"I'm sorry." Lambert blurts out as soon as Geralt walks into the living room. He's standing with his hands buried in his pockets and his left foot scuffing against his right. It's the posture Lambert adopts whenever he needs to own his fuck-ups.

Geralt has seen it many times throughout the years, first when Lambert was a rowdy kid then more when he was a mischievous teenager and thankfully rarely now that they are, for the most part, responsible adults. The sight of it is so familiar that he feels the same affectionate ache in his chest to either forgive his younger brother or help him make amends. "It's fine."

"I was just trying to help." Lambert continues on as if he hadn't heard. He sounds so fucking miserable that whatever annoyance Geralt felt at Lambert's overstepping evaporates.

"It's fine." He repeats. "And you did."

"What?!"

Geralt shushes Lambert with a glare, holding up a hand and listening for any sound of Ciri waking. Thankfully, he hears nothing.

"What?!" Lambert exclaims again at a normal volume, which is still too loud in the quiet house, and doesn't give Geralt a chance to respond, skipping straight to crowing. "I fucking knew it! So is he coming around for Christmas?"

"No."

Lambert pulls a face, looking somewhere between offended and confused. "You said I helped."

"I didn't say you helped in a good way."

"Hey!"

"And don't try to help again."

"Fuck you!"

"But it worked out alright." Geralt feels the corners of his mouth tug up at the memories of you didn't, you don't and maybe a little too much.

It should be impossible to leer while making gagging noises but Lambert, annoyingly, manages somehow.

"Shut up, we're friends."

Lambert waggles his eyebrows. "Friends?"

"Friends." Geralt states flatly and firmly.

"Teachers make for some hot friends- Ow!" The silver bell bounces off of his head with a lovely chime. "What the fuck?"

"He's Ciri's teacher, so we are friends."

Lambert stares at him for a considering beat, his expression losing its playfulness as he bends down to pick up the bell. "You're allowed to be happy, you know?"

"Hm."

"I'm serious. There was no vow of celibacy in the divorce papers."

Geralt arches an eyebrow. He definitely hasn't been celibate over the past few years, though he hasn't dated anyone since Yennefer either. Well, a case can probably be made that they didn't exactly date either. They just fell into bed and kept falling into bed, at his apartment and her condo then their house, with biting kisses instead of actual words. If they'd talked, had a real conversation, he probably would have known that she thinks a wedding ring was a shackle with a diamond and a child wouldn't have made her stay.

"Okay, not celibate but my point stands!" Lambert shakes the bell for emphasis. "You're allowed to be happy and Jaskier talked about you like you hung the fucking moon. He called you a friend of humanity, what the hell does that even mean? And Eskel said you keep some note about a song on your fridge-"

Geralt is rapidly approaching if not already past his threshold for all the talking he's had to do tonight and once Lambert gets going on one of his rants, it'll be a long while before he shuts up. So he draws in a fortifying breath and cuts his brother off. "We're waiting until he's not Ciri's teacher anymore."

"Oh. Oh."

"Not a word to Ciri. Remember what happened with the Disneyland trip."

Lambert winces at the reminder that he almost spoiled their Disneyland trip by telling Ciri about it. Four months in advance. She'd been so inconsolable at the thought of having to wait that Geralt almost cancelled the whole thing. "Alright, she knows about you two being friends?" There's no innuendo attached to the word this time.

"Not yet. I'll have to figure out how to break the news." Which means calling his therapist and, fuck, more talking. But that's not until Monday, so at least he has some peace over the weekend. As much as one can have with a five-year-old.

Lambert nods once, solemn, then he smirks. "Can I tell Eskel?"

"Only if you leave right now."

"...bye!"

*

Eskel texts him when he's plugging his phone in before bed.

Looking forward to hearing your song this summer.

Geralt feels no guilt about leaving his brother on read; he's done with words for the night.

Except, he thumbs over to his call history and stares at the string of numbers at the top. Jaskier's number.

What happened earlier this evening doesn't quite seem real. He adds it to his contacts, thinking having a name attached to it will ease the uncertainty churning in his gut. It doesn't. On an impulse that he'll regret tomorrow, he texts Jaskier.

You were right. It was freezing.

It turns out he doesn't have to wait till tomorrow, he regrets his choice immediately and locks his phone so he doesn't have to see the evidence of his stupidity.

Only to have it light up with a new message.

Glad that you survived the ordeal! I still can't believe you took Roach!  

The multiple exclamation points shouldn't be endearing but they are, just like Jaskier.

It wasn't too bad. Better than dealing with that parking lot.

Jaskier's reply pops up almost immediately.  

Few things are worse than that parking lot, I'll grant you that. And it wasn't too bad? You literally just said it was freezing!!

Smiling, Geralt sinks back against the headboard and taps out another response.

Chapter Text

Over breakfast, Ciri declares that she had enough excitement yesterday, her intonation exactly like Geralt's, and demands a lazy day. 

Pajamas and lounging and time spent at home.

Requests that Geralt is all too happy to oblige, feeling sleep-deprived himself from chatting with Jaskier until after midnight and still waking up before his alarm, his circadian rhythm annoyingly punctual.

He pours himself a second cup of coffee before settling in for some board games. These days, he doesn't let her win both because she can hold her own and, according to the parenting articles, losses build perseverance and sportsmanship. She's always been determined, his little lion cub, and never discouraged for long but she is a sore loser. As all kids are and, really, some adults, too.

Her scowls are cuter than Lambert's

*

Geralt takes a photo of their lunch - ham and cheese sandwiches with veggie straws on the side - and sends it to Jaskier, wondering whether veggie straws count as vegetables.

Jaskier's reply comes when he's rinsing the plates.

Only on weekends. So, you're in luck, my friend!

It's as though Jaskier is determined to drop the word friend in every conversation, a reminder for this new stage they're navigating together and a hint of what's to come later.

*

The sky has been overcast all day. When the rare rays of sunshine brighten their backyard, Geralt makes the most of this opportunity and coaxes Ciri outside for some fresh air. They keep to the lazy day agenda, curling up under a pile of blankets in the hammock, which he'll need to disassemble and store away before the first storm hits. 

He listens to Ciri talk about everything and nothing, her voice a continuous stream of words flowing in his ear and curling around his heart. The hammock rocks as she grows more animated. Instead of stopping her, he tightens his arms around her and drops one foot down. He would always support her, steady her, no matter what.

*

There are several texts waiting for him when they get back in the house, where Ciri immediately runs upstairs to use the bathroom. The first is Jaskier announcing that his afternoon project is to clean his apartment and the rest are exclamations documenting his progress.

Ugh, I hate vacuuming!!

Dusting!!! Yes!!!

Almost turned on the dishwasher by accident, that'd have been a disaster! I like my granola bars unwashed, thanks!

They catch Geralt off-guard, they don't seem to require a response but not responding isn't an option either. Not to mention they're also absolutely confusing, what does the dishwasher have to do with granola bars?

So he asks.

And learns that Jaskier's kitchen is severely lacking in cupboard space and he's resorted to using the dishwasher for storage. It's both perfectly reasonable and utterly absurd. Just like the man himself ever since they met; Jaskier strumming his guitar and talking in songs and looking like a goddamn Disney character.

Then Geralt figures he should acknowledge Jaskier's other texts, so as to not appear rude.

I don't mind vacuuming. Your enthusiasm for dusting is misplaced.

Jaskier writes back a few minutes later.

Sounds like we'd make quite the team! How are you with laundry?

There is a smiley face that's winking at the end of the message. It's fine for what it is but Geralt prefers Jaskier's hand-drawn version better.

I just throw everything in the wash.

Jaskier sends back a wall of text stressing the importance of separating one's laundry and demanding an explanation for this atrocity, punctuated with several smiley faces that are decidedly not smiling.

Geralt snorts, knowing Jaskier isn't actually upset though he can't pinpoint how he knows.

Almost everything I own is gray and black.

I've noticed. Especially last night.

The lack of exclamation points tilts the tone away from playful and toward flirtatious. Geralt’s heart skips a beat, remembering how Jaskier’s gaze snagged on his leather jacket and how Jaskier’s appreciation affected him in turn. It’s heady, the knowledge that Jaskier finds him attractive. And new, so new that he has no idea what to say. He doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or relieved when Jaskier messages him again, this time with exclamation points. 

So why the gray and black anyway? And don’t say it’s because you have a kid! I work with kids all day and my clothes survive just fine!   

Then I have nothing to say.  

Geralt texts back, his mouth curving into a smirk that freezes when he realizes the house is too quiet. 

"Ciri?" Geralt calls. It's been a good twenty minutes since she went upstairs. 

"I'm not doing anything!" She yells back.

Which is alarming and not reassuring at all. Fuck.

*

Ciri's sink is covered with streaks of toothpaste that she won't let him rinse off. "It's my multidisciplinary masterpiece!"

Geralt just knows that is a term Eskel taught her, most likely on one of their museum trips.

Eventually, they reach a compromise. He can clean the sink if he takes photos of her art first. Both of which he does under her watchful eyes.

Then they sit down and have a serious talk about items in the house that are tools and not toys, with the toothpaste being one of them and the sink being another.

She nods solemnly and promises not to do it again.

He knows better than to hold her to that; she is five, after all. But he appreciates the sentiment.

*

Ciri holds an impromptu rock concert with the silver bells, screeching and shaking the bells until they fly out of her hands and jumping on and off of the couch.

Geralt records part of the performance and shares it with his family. He only describes it to Jaskier, though, having not yet discussed their new friendship with Ciri and therefore can't ask his daughter's permission on showing her teacher her, hm, questionable musical talents.

He makes a reminder to call his therapist in the morning, they need to sort this out as soon as possible.

*

Jaskier announces that he's celebrating a job well done with takeout because he's just cleaned the kitchen and wants to enjoy the fruits of his labor for a bit longer.

Geralt can't argue with that logic. He finds that he doesn't really want to argue with Jaskier at all.

*

The rest of the evening passes quickly; dinner, bath and bedtime. Then, at last, blessed silence.

As much as Geralt adores the sound of Ciri's voice, the constant chatter is a lot of input. Especially when he's already fatigued from the late night before. Maybe he should turn in early and make up some of the sleep deficit.

He texts Jaskier instead and chuckles when Jaskier says he's going to bed soon because he needs his beauty sleep and enough energy to deal with a roomful of kindergartners tomorrow.

Good night, Jaskier.

Good night, Geralt.

*

Next week continues in much of the same pattern. 

Geralt goes about his normal routines with Jaskier's texts fitting neatly into them. As familiar as his smiles across the playground and his doodles on the back of the classroom newsletters. They exchange nods at drop-off and pick-up, the same as they did before, but when their eyes meet, their gazes hold for a second longer. 

It's easy. In ways Geralt both expected and didn't.

Expressive and effusive, Jaskier isn’t hard to get. He tells Geralt what he thinks both asked and unasked. It's a flood of information to wade through but at his own pace. Jaskier seems content to just text Geralt his thoughts with minimal input required but he is just as happy to read and respond to what Geralt sends. There are no complaints or demands for improvement of Geralt's less-than-stellar conversational skills, which is somehow both a relief and a source of stress.

Maybe his therapist is right in that he's too skeptical of anything that comes without a fight, but he doesn't think that's it in this case. He isn't in danger of losing Jaskier's attention or at risk of competition stealing it. 

Still, something’s not sitting quite right under his skin, an itch to do more. To contribute more than follow-up questions, take the initiative and start a new topic, and let Jaskier know that the burden of keeping their chats going isn't solely on his shoulders. That it's shared. 

Because Jaskier isn't hard to get but he should be hard to earn. 

And Geralt is more than happy to make the effort. He wants to.

Chapter Text

Before they embarked on their first road trip, Geralt had looked up activities to entertain Ciri on the drive. Among the suggestions of coloring books and Lego building trays and finger puppets was a list of silly get-to-know-you questions.

He ended up giving her the tablet after an hour. He couldn't keep pulling over each time she dropped something - markers, Lego blocks, or finger puppets - and he had to keep his eyes on the road so he couldn’t read the questions. 

So the list sat, folded and forgotten, in the glove compartment of his car for months.

It's in his hands now. 

Geralt skims through the questions, finds one he deems acceptable, and texts it to Jaskier.

If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be?

*

An hour later, Jaskier hasn't replied.

It occurs to Geralt that perhaps he should have just asked Jaskier how many siblings he has.

*

Thankfully, Jaskier writes back while they're finishing up dinner. Which is really just Geralt waiting for Ciri to eat the third of a chicken nugget and five peas left on her plate. 

That's a surprisingly hard question to answer! What's yours?

Fuck. He should have anticipated this and been ready with an answer. The realization is obvious in hindsight and offers nothing helpful in this moment. 

I don't know. 

Well, I feel like this warrants a discussion! Call me after Ciri's in bed?

Geralt blinks. They haven't talked on the phone since the night of the Holiday Party. It's not really a conscious decision, at least not on his part, but now he wonders if Jaskier's been texting him because he thought it's what Geralt prefers. Yet another incident where Jaskier is making more of an effort.

Yeah. I'll call you.

*

Jaskier picks up after one ring. "I've narrowed it down to my top three choices."

Geralt only has one; the lion. Because Ciri is his little lion cub. "Let's hear them." 

"Well, I think I'd like to be a penguin, they're quite dapper."

"They're black and white." He points out. "Thought you'd prefer something with more color, like a peacock."

"Huh, good point. I do look phenomenal in turquoise."

"Not sure I've seen you in that color."

"Is that a request?" The flirtatious note in Jaskier's voice is both unmistakable and hesitant.

Geralt wants that tentativeness gone and answers before he can second-guess himself. "Yes."

"Noted." Jaskier hums happily. He sounds like he's smiling. "Now, what’s yours?"

“Lion. Ciri and I dressed as lions for Halloween.” He elaborates before Jaskier has to ask; it’s not as effortful as he thought it’d be. And, because he can guess what the next request will be, he sends the photo of him and Ciri wearing the kigurumis to Jaskier. It’s on his phone anyway, as his home screen wallpaper. 

“Please say there are pho- Oh, what’s this? Geralt! You look so fluffy!” Jaskier laughs, voice melodic with glee. "I'm going to have to update your list of alliterative attributes. Strong, silent, sentimental, and sweet." 

"Hm." 

*

The next morning, instead of beckoning the children inside from the warmth of the classroom, Jaskier steps out into the yard.

In a turquoise cardigan, buttoned halfway over a white t-shirt, with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows.

Geralt's mouth goes dry. Both at how unfairly good Jaskier looks and the knowledge that Jaskier looks like this just for him.

His fingers are stiff from the cold and trembling a little from how warm the rest of him feels as he taps out a text.

You really do look phenomenal in turquoise.

*

For all the time Geralt spent with his therapist - a handful of phone calls, multiple emails, and one in-person session that he managed to fit into his schedule by skipping leg day at the gym - to figure out how to broach the subject of him potentially dating Jaskier, the actual talk with Ciri is disproportionately short.

The recommendation was to keep to what is happening instead of what will potentially happen. His therapist was adamant on waiting until the relationship is well-established before a proper introduction, cautioning that it will do more harm than good if he built Ciri's hopes up only to disappoint her.

And, well, what is happening is that Geralt would like to be friends with Jaskier. So that's what he tells her, sitting on the couch together on a Saturday afternoon.

"I'd like to be friends with Jaskier."

"I'm already friends with him." Ciri announces smugly.

"That's, that's good." Another recommendation was that he shouldn't try to plan the conversation in his head. He notes, a little wryly, that her response definitely isn't something he could have predicted. "Is that okay with you? If Jaskier and I are friends?"

"Hm."

Geralt can't tell if her grunt means yes or no. "Ciri? Is that okay with you? And use actual words, please." 

It's uncanny to hear Vesemir's words come out of his own mouth. He makes a mental note to call his father later. And maybe buy him a bottle of scotch, as both a thank-you and an apology for his taciturn teenage years. 

She heaves a sigh of great inconvenience. "Yeah, it's okay."

It can't possibly be this easy, can it? "So you're okay with me being friends with Jaskier? He's your teacher, you know that, right?"

"Of course I know! I've been in his class all year!"

"Right. That...makes sense." Geralt is at a loss. It really can't possibly be this easy?

For a fleeting second, he almost tells her that he wants to date Jaskier. He bites those words back. While he is still distrusting of things that come without a fight, without misery and struggle and pain, he knows better now than to go starting one just for the sake of having one. He settles for checking with Ciri again. "And you're okay with us being friends?"

"Yes."

"It means I will, hm, talk to him more when we see him."

Her response unhelpfully misses the point again. "I talk to him more than you do."

"This isn't a competition." He sighs. 

"Only because I'm winning!"

Clearly, she's been spending too much time with Lambert. And Eskel. Both of his brothers are assholes.

"Just to make sure we're on the same page. I'd like to be friends with Jaskier, who is your teacher, if that's okay with you?" He’s taken aback when she jumps to her feet with a huff. 

This is it, the storm he’s been waiting for because everything has been sailing along far too smoothly. She's going to scream and cry. She’s going to tell him how weird it is for her dad and her teacher to be friends. She’s going to think he’s an awful father. 

He thought he’d feel vindicated, that he’s right to be skeptical of how easy everything is but he doesn’t. Not at all. Not when he was actually hoping for the best, that maybe he could have nice things without worries of breaking them. He braces himself for the worst. 

Face scrunched up and hands curled into fists at her sides, Ciri inhales sharply and exhales on a shout. "I don't know why you're asking me over and over and over when I already told you! It's fine! Stop asking me!"

Wait, what? 

Caught completely off-guard, he goes with his instincts and tries to help her calm down. "You’re right, you did tell me. I'm sorry." Leaning forward, he wraps her in a loose hug and waits for her to loop her arms around him before tightening his hold. He runs a soothing hand down her spine and feels terrible for the tension he can feel coiled there. 

They stay like this, for a handful of minutes, while Geralt’s mind reels from the sudden turn of events. Ciri’s angry with him because he was annoying her. It’s so much smaller than what he was dreading a moment ago that he feels a rush of relief.

"I forgive you." She sags into him, dropping her head onto his shoulder. "And you can be friends with Jaskier as long as you know that he's my friend first."

"Yes, I know."

"And that he likes me more."

"Wouldn’t have it any other way." 

"And that I like him more."

Well, that one’s probably a tie because he likes Jaskier quite a lot, albeit in a different way. But he wisely keeps that opinion to himself. “Okay.” 

No need to rock the boat when it’s clear skies ahead. 

Chapter Text

What animal would make a great driver?

You know, I'm beginning to sense a theme here… Are you, by the very adorable and probable chance, asking me questions off of a list? 

Caught, Geralt calls Jaskier. 

"I'm taking this as a yes, by the way." Jaskier says in lieu of a greeting. 

"Hm." 

"You're ridiculous." 

On paper, it's an insult. But in Jaskier's fond voice, it's a compliment. One that Geralt accepts with his customary grunt. 

Jaskier laughs, bright and crisp. The sound reverberates through the phone and flutters in Geralt's chest. 

*

After much deliberation, Jaskier chose birds, bemoaning how his freshly-washed car was already tarnished by them and theorizing that being car owners themselves would deter them from crapping on his. 

Geralt went with monkeys since he's seen video evidence on YouTube. Though, on second thought, he wouldn't want to share a road with them but couldn't come up with another answer when Jaskier granted him a do-over. 

*

"Dad! Dad! Look!" Ciri shoves a piece of paper into his hand as she runs into his arms at pick-up. "Can I bring the White Wolf?" Her favorite stuffed animal is more gray than white now, age-worn and well-loved, but no one dares to mention an update to the name. Not after the tantrum Eskel inadvertently caused.

Geralt makes a noncommittal noise, knowing better than to agree to what he doesn't know. He can't see what's on the paper with her head in the way. 

She pulls back just enough to scowl at him, clearly unimpressed with his lack of enthusiasm and agreement. 

He takes the opportunity to read what's in his hand. 

It's the classroom newsletter announcing Pajama Day on the Friday before Winter Break to celebrate all the hard work the Dandelions have put in this semester. There will be a viewing of a thirty-minute animated film in the afternoon with hot chocolate and popcorn provided. The kids can bring a stuffed animal to cuddle with during the movie as long as it fits in their backpack.

"I think the White Wolf will have a great time." He turns the newsletter over. His stomach drops when he sees that the back of it is blank. Like last week's. 

Jaskier has stopped leaving him notes since they began texting. Which makes sense given that they can actually have a conversation instead of these one-way messages. He tells himself to stop being hung up on losing something small when he has more than he could ever imagine. Though he misses Jaskier's handwriting more than he thought he would.

"I think so too! This is the best thing ever!" Her face lights up with such unbridled joy that it soothes the pang of disappointment away. 

Geralt tries to match her excitement and finds it not difficult at all; her happiness is his happiness. "The best thing ever! The bestest!"

"Yeah!" She giggles. "And Jaskier said he's going to put marshmallows in the hot chocolate! I'm getting five!" 

Normally she wants double that amount but there wasn't a hint of a whine in her tone. It's so surprising that he has to ask. "Only five?" 

Ciri shrugs. "I'm five." 

It takes him a second to connect the dots, scattered as they are. "You get marshmallows based on your age?"

"Yeah." 

Geralt blinks. That's kind of genius, actually.

Impressive.

*

Teacher appreciation gifts start making their appearance toward the second half of the final week. They're a topic of great interest for the kids, as all presents are. 

Jaskier doesn't open any in front of the children but Ciri knows what he's received anyway because kindergartners are apparently incapable of keeping secrets. She reports her findings on their way home. So far, Jaskier has gotten a box of markers - the fact that some of them are metallic is emphasized greatly -  and three gift cards in addition to the gloves and handwarmer Geralt and Ciri gave him last month. He'll likely have more tomorrow as it's the last day of the semester.

"Dad?" 

"Hm?" 

"Can we give Jaskier another present?" 

"We already gave him one, remember? Two, actually." Geralt hasn't seen the handwarmer since the Holiday Party but Jaskier wears the gloves every day; the flash of yellow brightens up the dreary wintry mornings.

"Yeah, but now everyone else is giving him presents and I don't want him to think I don't like him anymore." 

Geralt's heart clenches, alarmed and helpless. He wants to pull over and climb into the backseat to wrap her in his arms, cuddle her close and hold her tight, shield her from anything and everything that makes her feel like just being herself wouldn't be enough, even though it's not a battle he can fight for her. But god, he wants to. That same unshakable resolution to protect he's felt since he first saw her has only strengthened as he watched her grow.

The light turns yellow and he slows to a stop though he could have made it through the intersection before it turns red. He turns and calls her name, waiting for her eyes to meet his before speaking.

"He knows you like him even if you don't get him another present or any presents. You don't need to get anyone things to make them like you. And Jaskier already likes you, remember? You're friends."

"Oh yeah, I forgot." She is hilariously surprised for a moment, then perks up with a bounce - as much of one as she's allowed with the seatbelt across her chest and lap - all of her previous distress gone as though it's never been there to begin with. "Well, I want to get him another gift because I'm his friend!"

That's a much better logic and one that Geralt supports fully as he shakes off the mental whiplash from the quick turns of her mood. He really should be more used to them by now. "Sure. What're you thinking?" 

"A cake pop!" She beams. "And one for me too!"

The light turns green and Geralt eases his foot off the brake. "And one for you too, what?" 

"Please?" 

"Okay, but you have to be efficient tomorrow morning so we can stop by Starbucks." 

"No lollygagging!" She giggles as she shrieks her current favorite saying that she learned from Vesemir and one that Geralt heard frequently growing up, though it was usually directed at Lambert.

The sound of his father's words in his daughter's voice brings a smile to his face.

*

What's your favorite Starbucks drink?

Peppermint latte!

Tall and hot, reminds me of a certain someone I know! 

It's such a bad line that even Geralt can tell. He really shouldn't feel flattered by being compared to a coffee order, something so ridiculous that it circled back to charming. Impossibly and unexpectedly.

Just like Jaskier.

A whirlwind of color that disorients as much as it delights.

Another text comes in as he's tapping out a reply.

Yeah, I know, that was bad... Let's move on!

Hastily, Geralt deletes what he'd written - something pedantic about a tall at Starbucks is actually a small - and asks what kind of milk Jaskier prefers.

I'm not picky as long as there's whipped cream! 

Why? 

Geralt's mouth curves in a smirk with a playfulness he didn't know he was capable of until Jaskier. 

No reason

What? What is happening? Are you being coy, Geralt? Coy doesn't fit with the alliterative scheme I've worked so tirelessly on! Unless, of course, you'll accept sassy? Though that's not really the same thing, is it?

No. 

I'm adding stern to the list unless you answer my question, my good sir!

Something flutters in his chest at being called Jaskier's, even if it's only in passing. 

Ciri wants to bring you a cake pop tomorrow and I thought it'd be better with coffee. 

Oooh! I can't wait! Debating if I should add Starbucks to the list... 

Well, it does fit with your alliterative scheme. 

Jaskier sends back three laughing emojis - Ciri has educated him on the correct term - and Geralt hears that bright and crisp sound in his head, feels it flutter in his chest.

Chapter Text

All too soon, Ciri's first semester of kindergarten comes to an end. And with it, a slew of emotions that Geralt isn't quite prepared to deal with.

Pride, of course, at what she has accomplished. She is working at a level above the standard in all areas, according to Jaskier's hand-written note, all neat lines and elaborate curls, on the bottom of her latest progress report. It's proudly displayed on their refrigerator, pinned next to dandelion art she made on her first day of school.

There's also excitement for what the spring semester will bring. He looks forward to learning through her eyes; a frog's life cycle was never as entertaining as when she explained it to him via a song Jaskier wrote for the lesson. It was a catchy one too; Geralt found himself humming it under his breath for weeks and preferred it infinitely more to Let It Go. If he never has to hear that song again, it would still be too soon.

And confidence, too, now that they have gotten past the rather steep learning curve. Geralt knows how to reload Ciri's lunch account, who her friends are, and what extracurricular activities are on which days of the week so he doesn't get a lecture when he asks about computer class on Tuesday when he should have asked about art.

Yet he also feels like he's lost something precious, there's a twist in his chest at how quickly the last four months have gone by and if it will always go by that fast. Terrified that he'll wake up one day to a house that's too quiet and has too little clutter. It seems just like yesterday when her tiny fingers could barely wrap around one of his own and now they're walking hand-in-hand across the parking lot.

Giving her fingers, tucked securely in his grip, a light squeeze, Geralt resolutely doesn't think about the day that she won't need to hold his hand at all.

*

The bell rings right as they arrive.

Instead of waiting on the sidewalk with the other parents, he follows Ciri into the schoolyard, with Jaskier's cake pop in his coat pocket and Jaskier's drink cradled protectively against his chest. 

She had wanted to be responsible for the cake pop, because it's her gift to Jaskier, but after nearly dropping it twice at the coffee shop, she handed it over to Geralt with no more than a pout. Another indicator that she's growing up, though this one brings more relief than nostalgia. He does not miss her tantrums.

His ears are still ringing from her piercing scream and there's a wet patch on his shoulder from her tears, all because he dared to push the White Wolf's snout down to zip the backpack without asking for her permission first. A rookie mistake that he deeply regrets. It took ten minutes to calm her down, with apologies and cuddles, then another five to convince her that the White Wolf's snout would be just fine before she let him close the zipper.

The Dandelions shuffle into their spots along the painted line leading into their classroom, a clever way to keep the mornings less hectic. Geralt hovers awkwardly next to Ciri, feeling enormously aware of his height.

Korin is carrying a large gift bag and absently swinging it side-to-side. It hits Geralt on the knee, twice. "Are you Ciri's dad?"

"Yes, I'm Geralt." He introduces himself as he did the last four times they met, more as a demonstration of polite conversational skills than an effort for the boy to remember his name. Ciri's dad suits him just fine.

"He's Jaskier's friend!" Ciri announces proudly and at a volume that is far above her outdoor voice, enough to carry to the crowd on the other side of the fence.

Korin squints at him and states, just as loudly. "My dad isn't friends with Jaskier."

It takes a considerable amount of effort to keep his attention on Korin and not look back to gauge the other parents' reaction. The back of his neck prickles as he imagines their stares. His gut clenches at the memory of Jaskier, fingers locked in his hair and eyes so damn blue, telling Geralt about loving his job and not wanting to jeopardize it.

"But I'm Jaskier's friend!" Korin continues with a grin, oblivious to the distress he just caused, and removes the tissue paper to show Geralt the tin beneath. "That's why I got him popcorn!"

"Put that back!" A woman, likely his mother, shouts.

If she was paying attention, it's a good bet that others are too. Fuck.

Korin shoves the tissue paper back dutifully, though not carefully. 

"I didn't get Jaskier anything because my mom forgot." Fiona, a girl who Ciri calls her twin, says in a small voice from a few spots ahead.

"He knows you like him even if you don't get him anything." Ciri offers.

Despite the dread clawing down his spine, Geralt feels a surge of pride at his lion cub for not only remembering his words but also using them to help her friend.

"Hi, Geralt!" Dara waves from the back of the line. "I got Jaskier a gift card!"

"Hi, Dara." Geralt waves back and is startled when the other kindergartners take it as encouragement to come closer. Next thing he knows, he's surrounded by them. Their voices blur into each other, overlapping and overwhelming. 

"I have oatmeal cookies for Jaskier!"

"I don't like those!"

"I like chocolate chip cookies!

"Peanut butter cookies are better!"

"I'm allergic to peanuts!"

Geralt's head spins.

"One, two, three, eyes on me!" Jaskier's voice rings out clearly over the cacophony.

Like magic, the children turn toward him and answer in unison. "One, two, eyes on you!"

Geralt catches a few sympathetic looks from the other parents and nods back stiffly, all too aware of the paper cup in his hand. It's one thing to bring something generic like popcorn but quite another to show up with a customized latte. Maybe he should keep it-

"Dad!" Ciri pokes his elbow none too gently. "You said I can give Jaskier the coffee."

Well, shit. He can't back out now. "Be careful." He waits until she has both hands wrapped tightly around the cup before letting go and holds his breath until it’s transferred safely to Jaskier, who takes a sip immediately with an exaggerated sigh of contentment.

Now that the issue with the coffee is, literally, out of his hands, Geralt feels himself beginning to relax. There is still the possibility of a fallout but he's always been better at reacting to a situation than trying to anticipate one. Or it's just as likely that everything will be okay-

She pokes his elbow again. "Cake pop!"

He hands her the paper bag and watches her present it to Jaskier with a flourish. 

"Thank you so much!" Jaskier beams at her before addressing the rest of his class. "Okay, let's get inside before you all turn into popsicles!" 

Despite the squeals of laughter, the kids are surprisingly disciplined as they reform the line and call out goodbyes on their way into the classroom. Then, it's just Geralt standing in the schoolyard with Jaskier.

"You okay?" Jaskier asks, glancing over his shoulder to check on his students putting their things away in their cubbies.

"Fine. Better, now." Geralt amends when Jaskier arches an eyebrow at him. It's a little unfair how well Jaskier can read him. "Just, wasn't sure if getting you the coffee will, hm, jeopardize anything for you."

"Huh?"

"We have an audience."

"Oh." With a thoughtful furrow in his brow, Jaskier's gaze flickers over to the fence. "I didn't think about that but now that you mentioned it, I guess this-" He glances down at the latte. "-does have the potential of being seen as a little, er, too friendly? Though I really don't have any frame of reference. I mean, no parent's ever brought me a latte before."

"I've never brought a teacher a latte before."

"So what you're saying is that I'm your exception?"

The same possessive thrill sparks down his spine at Jaskier referring to himself as Geralt’s. "Yes."

"And I adore that, so please don’t stop..." Jaskier's grin is brighter than the sunny yellow of his gloves. "...but maybe, you know, not here."

Geralt hums his agreement. Not here, where Jaskier is his daughter's teacher and should be treated as such. Now that it's been pointed out, the rule of thumb is startlingly obvious. If he hasn't brought coffee for any of Ciri's former teachers, then he shouldn't have gotten one for Jaskier.

"I should get inside." 

“Enjoy your movie.” 

“I will. And, um, Geralt?” Jaskier's voice is soft and his eyes softer, crinkling a bit at the corners. “Thank you, for looking out for me.

"Anytime." And he means it, anytime at all. For Jaskier. 

The moment hums between them, gentle and quiet. Like the now-familiar flutter in his chest. 

Chapter Text

At pick-up, Ciri runs toward him with the White Wolf clutched in one hand and her backpack swinging in the other.

"Hi, cub." He lifts her up easily, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "How was your last day?"

"Good!" She raves about the hot chocolate, the short animated film, and the surprise boogie party. 

Geralt's eyes meet Jaskier's across the schoolyard. The teacher holds his hands out, palms facing up and touching, then he opens and closes them like a book.

Something he should read, Geralt guesses, probably in the classroom folder Jaskier has been using to communicate with parents. He nods back.

Jaskier smiles, his hair a golden halo in the afternoon sun, and ducks back into the classroom.

*

Ciri doesn't ask to be put down and Geralt is more than happy to carry her. They stop by the school buses so she can show off her newfound height to her classmates who are waiting to board.

"I can't wait to be tall." She declares as he digs his keys out of his coat pocket. "I'm going to be as tall as the sky!"

He hands her the keys so the White Wolf can unlock the truck with her pushing his paw into the button. It takes her three tries. "Wait just a little bit, alright? I won't be able to pick you up when you're as tall as the sky."

She makes a considering noise as she climbs into her booster seat. "Okay, just a little bit."

"Thank you." Geralt buckles her in, tugging on the seatbelt to make sure it fits snugly.

"Dad?"

"Hm?"

"Don't worry if you can't pick me up, I'll pick you up and carry you places."

His heart swells and feels too big for his ribcage, a peculiar sensation he's come to know as part of parenthood. "Sounds like a plan to me."

*

Geralt checks the classroom folder while Ciri is washing her hands; good hygiene is a year-round requirement in their house and especially important during flu season. He finds a sheet of paper, folded in half with small blue dots where the marker bled through the page.

Hello Geralt!

Ciri absolutely rocked it at the boogie party today! Wishing you both a very happy Winter Break! I can't wait to hear all about it when I see you both next year! 

Jaskier

p.s. I can tell you're judging my very excellent joke and finding it wanting, so please remember that I rescued you from the horde of wildlings this morning and reevaluate your reaction thusly!

Geralt's mouth curls upward instinctively. He was kind of judging Jaskier's joke and who even uses thusly these days?

Ciri bounces into the room, her face lighting up as she grabs for the note with slightly damp hands; washing them for twenty seconds uses up most of her patience. "He listened!" 

"Hm?"

"I told Jaskier he should write you notes again because I missed them." 

Geralt hasn’t considered the possibility that Ciri would miss them, too caught up in his own reaction to their absence. As they read Jaskier’s note together, he threads his fingers through her hair, brushing out the knots. His own thoughts, however, are not as easy to untangle. 

*

Later that night, he talks to Jaskier and is touched that Jaskier is troubled too. Ciri is a priority for both of them. 

"I’ve been using them to talk to you and when we started texting, well, I just, stopped writing them." Jaskier’s usually smooth cadence is halting as he works through his own thoughts. "I forgot they're not supposed to be just for you."

"I did too. I missed them but I didn't think she would too. I didn't ask. But, hm, we know now." 

"That's true. And I've said it before but it's worth repeating, you did and are doing a great job, Geralt. She knows how to speak up for herself." 

"Pretty sure she was born that way." 

Jaskier chuckles. "Pretty sure it's more than that, so just accept the compliment and say thank-you." 

"Thank you." He clears his throat. "And we’ll get better at this, being..." 

"Friends." Jaskier finishes, the word charged with potential. "Phew, what a day." 

Geralt hums his agreement, thinking back to this morning at the schoolyard. 

They're both learning as they navigate this in-between stage of what he hopes will become a relationship. It's not easy and they may not always get it right but they're doing it together. 

That counts for something, for everything. 

*

It hits him the next morning, when the house is still quiet, that the next time they see Jaskier will be in January. Hence the joke. Until school resumes in three weeks, the intersection point of their lives is unavailable.

Yet another reminder of Jaskier's role as Ciri's teacher.

At least they can talk and text to stay in touch, unlike the other long weekends before where he couldn't do anything but wait and try his best not to think about those blue eyes and warm smiles and honeyed voice. He still did, of course. And he knows he will again, though he has photos and phone calls now.

There's something more real about being in the same place and breathing the same air. It's the difference between listening to a CD - a relic now - and going to a concert.

A distinction Vesemir didn't understand, grumbling about paying an exorbitant amount to listen to music Geralt already owned but chipping in for half of the ticket anyway. An arrangement that seemed unfair when his friends' parents simply bought their tickets but Geralt appreciates the lesson behind it now.

Ever since he became a father, he's been thinking more about his childhood.

When he was up all night with Ciri, his hand spanning the length of her back, he wondered if Vesemir paced the hallway too.

When he worried about Ciri's picky eating, he remembered Vesemir indulging his grilled-cheese-only phase and reminded himself that he liked vegetables, eventually.

When he helped her memorize his phone number in case of an emergency, he heard Vesemir's gruff voice telling him to call if he needed something the day he moved out of his childhood home. 

Geralt followed that advice, calling his father whenever things broke, be it an appliance or his marriage. Still does, actually. But now he wonders if needing something isn't a requirement like he thought it was. 

Because Ciri can call him, anytime and with no reason, and he'll always be happy to answer. 

He makes a mental note to call his father; he doesn't do that enough.

*

Despite his best intentions, he doesn't get a chance to call Vesemir until the end of the work week. Ciri kept him plenty busy and, he admits with some guilt, so did his evening chats with Jaskier.

Not to mention working with his father makes a phone call feel redundant; after all, they just saw each other. But he knows that it's not the same even if he can't pinpoint why.

"What's wrong?" Vesemir grunts.

...there's his answer, his father thinking he'd only call if something is wrong. Fuck. "Nothing."

"Is it Ciri?"

"No, she's fine." He just listened to her sing to all of her stuffed animals as part of her bedtime routine.

"Is it work?"

"No."

"Are you in trouble?"

"No."

"Do you need money?"

"No!" Geralt inhales deeply and blows it out in a sigh. "I just wanted-"

"Piece of shit!" A muffled but familiar voice shouts in the background.

"What's Lambert doing there?"

A beat of silence.

"Fixing the disposal." Vesemir admits reluctantly.

"Again?" Geralt chuckles. It was clogged not even a month ago, when Vesemir poured half-a-pot of leftover stew down the drain; his father's faith in the disposal's capabilities is horribly misplaced. His amusement quickly fades, however. "Why didn't you call me?"

Vesemir sighs. "You've got Ciri."

"I don't mind." It wouldn't have been ideal, with bedtime and all, but he could have made it work.

"I know. You've always been good about helping out."

The approval in Vesemir's voice soothes the twist in his gut. "Hm." 

"Now, what's this call about?"

Geralt clears his throat, feeling ridiculous. "...to say hi."

Vesemir snorts. "Hi." 

They fall into a familiar quiet, neither the talkative sort and both more comfortable to speak through their actions. This short exchange, without expressed purpose or specific point, feels monumental. 

The silence is broken a few seconds later by a loud clang that’s followed by a string of swears in the background.

"I'll let you go. Call a plumber if Lambert floods your kitchen." Though Geralt doubts it'll get that far, Lambert is actually the best with home maintenance out of the three of them. 

"He better not." Vesemir grunts. "Thanks for the call, kid."

A pang of nostalgia shoots through him, he hasn't been called kid in years. It’s nice. "Night, dad."

Chapter Text

Instead of enrolling Ciri in a childcare program, Geralt decided to bring her to work with him. They rearranged the main area to add a small desk by the window, with fluffy rug and low bookshelf for her books and the special stuffed animal lucky enough to come on a field trip that day.

She spent the first week fascinated by the copier, giggling at the error messages as she unloaded and reloaded the paper trays.

This week, she's cutting up construction paper and gluing the pieces onto a poster board. Each time Eskel passes by, he makes sure to stop and study it for a moment before, as he would with a painting at the museum, before nodding to himself and walking away. Much to Ciri's delight.

*

What animal would you give wings to?

Horse.

Jaskier writes back almost instantly. He's been on his phone a lot more often since break started, trying to stem the rising tide of boredom as he bemoaned during their chat last night.

An image flickers in his mind, some cartoon Ciri loved last year.

Pegasus?

Exactly!

And I know it's a bit boring but I was obsessed with mythology as a kid. Who doesn't want a flying horse, right?

I don't.

Lies! You have Roach, a man who has a motorcycle is a man who wants a horse.

Yes to horse. No to flying horse.

Geralt! Where is your sense of adventure?

Must have left it in my saddlebag.

Dots appear on the screen, indicating that Jaskier is typing. They disappear then reappear only to disappear again.

His phone rings; it's Jaskier.

"Hey-"

"Please tell me that if you had a horse, you wouldn't name her Roach?" Jaskier's demand is tempered by the sheer glee in his tone, like he wants to be right as much as he wants Geralt to prove him wrong.

"Hm."

"Oh! Oh ho ho! You scamp! You absolutely would!"

"It's a good, solid name." Geralt defends.

"It's an insect!"

A laugh bubbles out of his throat at Jaskier's scandalized shout. "It's also a fish."

Jaskier's response is a series of faux-outraged noises.

*

Geralt waves his brothers into the small kitchenette to pitch them the gift idea he has for Vesemir.

A new garbage disposal with the highest horsepower available.

If their father is going to continue putting his faith in the disposal, the least his sons can do is get him one that's worthy of it. The newer model is a bit pricey but manageable split among them, with Lambert chipping in a smaller portion as he will be handling the installation.

Both Eskel and Lambert agree immediately, as Geralt expected. Their father is a difficult man to shop for; there's very little he wants and what he does want, he buys for himself. He's scolded the three of them for frivolous gifts in the past.

A disposal is perfect, something useful but of a higher quality than what Vesemir's frugal sensibilities will allow.

The matter settled, they start preparing their respective lunches - a sandwich, a thermos of soup, and a plate of bagel bites.

"How're things going with you and the hot teacher?" Lambert asks as he punches in the cook time on the microwave.

"Fine, we're friends." Geralt answers flatly. "And don't call him that."

"Why? You don't think he's hot?"

Geralt refuses to take the bait. He turns to shoot Eskel a commiserating look of annoyance at Lambert's antics, only to feel betrayed by the knowing smirk on Eskel's face.

"He definitely thinks the teacher's hot. He kept that note about the song on the fridge for months."

"You both suck." Geralt grumbles into his sandwich. He doesn't correct them.

*

Jaskier doesn't talk to his family often, preferring to limit his interactions with them to small doses and with a country in between. Still, he's thrilled to see them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

The flutter in Geralt's chest beats a little slower at the thought of Jaskier being away. Which is ridiculous because it's not as though he sees Jaskier now, but there's something different about knowing Jaskier is in the same city and Jaskier being on the opposite coast.

"I'll miss you." The words slip out quietly before he can bite them back.

"Good. Because I'll miss you." Jaskier whispers back, his voice a caress against Geralt's ear.

*

They wake up to a snow-covered backyard and flakes drifting in the air. Ciri races through her morning routine and drags Geralt outside to build a snowman before he can finish his coffee. Thankfully, she doesn't sing the build a snowman song from Frozen. Except it's playing in his head now that he thought about it.

Fuck.

*

Christmas, much like Thanksgiving, is a quiet affair for their family.

Geralt told his brothers long ago to prioritize experiences when it comes to gift-giving for Ciri. Partly because he isn't in the habit of making her wait for a holiday or her birthday when it's something she truly wants and partly because, well, he has a hard time saying no to her.

The only exception is the damn Elf on the Shelf kit that Lambert likes to threaten him with.

Eskel renews their memberships to the art museum. A natural choice since he's been taking her there since she was still a baby, telling her about art as she dozed in the stroller then later keeping careful track of her as she toddled around. The two of them have a standing monthly museum trip that's too adorable for Geralt to tease his brother about.

He has no such reservation about Lambert's movie dates with Ciri; his younger brother's excitement for the latest kids film and overpriced candy matches if not surpasses his daughter's. Though Lambert had already given Ciri her gift by taking her to the Polar Express, he still got her a set of movie tickets in his bid to be the Best Uncle Ever.

"Bonus present!" Ciri shrieks when she rips open the envelope. "Yay! Movies!" Then she drops the tickets to tackle Lambert with a hug.

Geralt picks them up and slides them into his wallet.

*

Of all the horrific colors and designs and prints he was steeling for himself for, Geralt didn't expect to see a pair of blue flannel pajama pants in the box. He lifts them up and checks for any writing or rhinestones. There is nothing. "They're, hm, less colorful than I expected."

"Blue is a color." Eskel points out placidly.

"What are you planning?"

Ciri giggles, leaning against Vesemir, who looks as baffled as Geralt feels. "Don't worry, dad, we aren't giving you a false security at all."

"False sense of security." Lambert corrects under his breath.

"Yeah. Not giving you a false sense of security." She widens her eyes, all angelic innocence.

Geralt plays along. "Oh, good. So you're not going to trick me later today, right?"

"No! We're waiting till next year!"

Eskel drops his face into his hands as Lambert looks at the ceiling.

Vesemir shakes his head at them but his eyes are amused.

*

Why did I think it's a good idea to spend a full week here?

There's a dejected-looking emoji at the end of Jaskier's text.

Something tugs in Geralt's chest as he remembers their conversation last night.

Jaskier's joy at seeing his family wore off by the third day, when his father asked when he was going to come work for the family accounting firm. It's not a new demand, neither is his belief that Jaskier's job as a kindergarten teacher is a phase Jaskier will outgrow given enough time. After five years, his father's patience is running thin and his temper quick.

Want me to call?

Always! But it's a bit early, isn't it?

It is. They usually talk on the phone after Ciri is in bed but he has a rare window of free time with the pizza for dinner in the oven and Ciri on her tablet upstairs. And he thinks Jaskier can use a friend right now. 

It's fine. I'll call you.

*

The pizza ends up being slightly burnt around the edges.

A small price to pay to have made Jaskier's day a bit better.

*

On New Year's Eve, Geralt agrees to wake Ciri up to watch the ball drop.

She hides under her pillow when he turns the light on and elbows him in the nose when he tries to rouse her. He gives up after that and watches the countdown with a penguin-shaped cold pack on his face.

*

January is gray, the sky is overcast and snow turns to slush as soon as it hits the ground. Not exactly an auspicious start to the year. Geralt hopes the weather improves when school starts in a few days. 

His phone chimes.

Home sweet home!

Welcome back.

When Geralt glances out the window next, he sees just a hint of sunshine through the clouds.

Chapter Text

Geralt's aware that he missed Jaskier during the break but doesn't realize just how much until he sees Jaskier again, standing on the sidewalk and greeting each child with a brilliant smile. That fluttery sensation in his chest picks up speed, makes his breath catch. 

"Jaskier!" Ciri runs, dragging Geralt with her with surprising strength. 

He follows, keeping an eye out for other children and any icy patches. Winter hangs in the air and lingers on the ground in piles of gray snow shoveled to the edges of the parking lot. 

Jaskier beams and wiggles his glove-clad fingers in a wave, the yellow bright against the green of his coat. The one that's not quite warm enough, if Geralt remembers correctly. He frowns but says nothing. This isn't the time or the place.

"Ciri!" A voice calls from behind them.

Ciri turns and flings herself at her friend. "Dara!"

Despite their best efforts, they couldn't coordinate a playdate over winter break; first with Dara's family's travel plans for the holidays then with the boy catching a cold from his cousins. His mother was apologetic but Geralt honestly didn't mind. Playdates, like most social interactions, weren't his forte and he dreads making small talk with the parents. 

Which he has to do now, as Dara's mother asks how their break was. He keeps his answer short before volleying the question back, nodding along while she talks about family traditions, and tries to pick out Jaskier's voice from the background.

It's jarring to hear that familiar lilt amidst the other noises when Geralt has had Jaskier all to himself for the last three weeks. But at the same time, Jaskier is here, seen and heard with his own sense instead of through his phone. 

He considers it a fair tradeoff. 

*

That night, Ciri falls asleep quickly, exhausted from the excitement of the day and trailing off in the middle of telling Geralt about her goal to write five hundred words. The number seems high to Geralt but Jaskier approved it and he trusts Jaskier's judgment.

Jaskier is a fantastic teacher.

*

Geralt notices a sliver of white peeking out through Ciri's gums when he's flossing her teeth. It's not causing her any pain, so he banks his panic. A quick search on his phone tells him it's something called shark teeth, when the permanent tooth comes in before the baby tooth falls out, and quite common.

"I'm a shark!" Ciri, predictably, is thrilled to have something in common with an apex predator. Her current favorite book, picked up at the school book fair last semester, is full of factoids about dangerous animals. "Like the song!"

No, not that-

"Baby shark, doo, doo, doo..."

Fuck.

*

Hello Parents!

It's great to be back in the classroom! We had a very productive week reacquainting ourselves with our routines and talking about our goals for the upcoming semester. The kids are all super excited to learn and we'll definitely be kicking the academics up a notch with more independent work!

As always, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you!

Jaskier

On the back of the paper is a stick figure wearing a chef's hat with a speech bubble containing the word BAM!

The reference eludes Geralt for a moment before it clicks; it's a catchphrase from a cooking show. He pins the newsletter to the fridge, arranges it so that it's at Ciri's eyeline. She'll appreciate it and maybe Eskel won't spot it immediately that way.

*

He adds the new tidbit - cooking show references - to his mental list of things he knows about Jaskier so far. It's not extensive by any means though it does grow steadily with every conversation and message and interaction. 

Some are probably wrong, maybe it wasn't a cooking show but merely one of the pop culture things that he doesn't get but knows anyway. Others change on a daily basis; Jaskier's favorite color seems to depend on his mood and the availability of clean clothes. A handful, such as Jaskier's disdain for Valdo Marx that Geralt shares wholeheartedly, are absolute certainties. 

Geralt keeps track of them all, these little discoveries that may look like nothing but mean something to him, and learns Jaskier one detail at a time. 

*

They have dinner at Vesemir's house on Sunday.

"How's school?" Vesemir asks. 

"Super duper good!" Ciri says through a mouthful of spaghetti. 

Geralt nudges her elbow. "Chew, swallow, then talk." 

She chews, swallows, then points an accusing finger at Vesemir. "Grandpa talked to me first!"

"I did. I'm sorry." Vesemir says easily, the words flowing in the way that they hadn't when Lambert was a teenager too angry to explain his actions to a father too quick to assume the worst. Apologies were a grunt with a quick clap on the shoulder or an extra serving of bacon at breakfast. 

The first time Vesemir said sorry to Ciri, Lambert's eyes nearly popped out of his head. Now he snickers and helps himself to another slice of garlic bread. 

"It's okay." Ciri scoops up another bite but doesn't bring it to her mouth yet, heeding Geralt's instruction. "We made bird feeders out of toilet paper rolls!" 

Eskel makes an inquiring noise and she's off describing all the materials they used and every step of the process, all thoughts of dinner forgotten. 

Geralt watches her and, not for the first time, wonders how he got so damn lucky with such an amazing kid. He does, however, remind her to take a break and eat her food when minutes tick by. 

No one is surprised that when she complains that her pasta is cold, Vesemir gets up to reheat it in the microwave. 

*

Geralt wakes in the middle of the night with a full-body ache and his phone wedged under his chin. The last thing he remembers is asking Jaskier what dessert he could eat forever - they finished the list of animal questions yesterday and he found a new one with a food theme - then closing his eyes as he listened to Jaskier go through his top three choices...

Shit. 

Squinting against the brightness of the screen, he sees there are two texts from Jaskier, both sent just after eleven.

I'm choosing to take you falling asleep during my ode of love to tiramisu as a compliment to the soothing quality of my voice!

See you tomorrow! 

Slowly, Geralt heaves himself out of bed and shuffles into the bathroom. He splashes some water on his face before cupping his hand under the faucet and drinking a few mouthfuls to ease the scratchiness in his throat. 

It's back as soon as he lies down. He tries to ignore it as his eyes drift closed, hoping he'll feel better in the morning.

*

He feels worse. His throat is sore, his head swims, and his nose hasn't stopped dripping since his alarm jolted him awake at six. 

Fuck. He hates being sick. It always hits him like a truck, nothing a good day's sleep and some hot soup won't fix but annoying as all hell. 

Even before having a kid but especially after having a kid. 

Sighing, Geralt reaches for his phone; he can't take Ciri to school like this. 

Eskel answers on the first ring. 

"Can you take Ciri to school?" He grunts, voice rough and tired. "I'm sick." 

"Yeah, you sound like shit. Tell you what-" There's the crashing grind of a blender in the background, cutting out his words. Fucking Eskel and his green smoothies that look radioactive. 

"What?" 

"How about I take her to breakfast too? Give you a break."  

Geralt takes back every bad thing he's ever thought about Eskel and his kale obsession. 

*

Vesemir tells him to take tomorrow off too and hangs up before Geralt can disagree. 

*

Geralt dozes until he hears the telltale sounds of Ciri moving about in her room, snippets of singing and shuffles of movement as she keeps herself occupied until eight per their morning agreement allowing him the privacy of getting ready without his daughter barging in on him in various states of undress. 

His eyes drift shut again, only to open when he feels a small hand on his shoulder. 

"Dad?" 

"Hey, cub." He tries for a reassuring smile. "Listen, I'm not feeling too good. Your Uncle Eskel will be here in a bit to take you to breakfast and then school, okay? So you need to get dressed." 

"Okay." She nods, face scrunched up with worry. "Do you want a hug?" 

"I do. So much. But I don't want to get you sick." 

"Oh, um, do you want one of my stuffed animals?" 

"Sure, can I have the unicorn?" He chooses a less-coveted one that she won't miss. 

"Of course!" She runs off and is back a moment later with the stuffed animal. "Feel better, dad." 

Tucking the unicorn against his chest, Geralt finds that he already does.

Chapter Text

The sound of the front door opening snaps Geralt out of the light doze. 

"Who's ready for pancakes with the Best Uncle Ever?"

"Me! Me!"

Sitting up with a groan, he steels himself before pushing to his feet and drags himself downstairs, where the loud noises are.

Ciri, thankfully, is dressed and ready for school. "Dad!" She starts to run toward him and pouts when he stops her with an outstretched hand.

"Don't want to get you sick." Geralt repeats, his chest twisting in a way that has nothing to do with the cough climbing up his throat. He gets, for lack of a better word, emotional when he's sick. Needy for comfort. Something about the way his head is all stuffed up makes everything too quiet, too alone. It's fucking annoying.

Eskel claps him on the back, the brief touch grounding and purposeful; his brother knows him well. "I got her."

"Thanks." He turns to Ciri. "Have a super duper breakfast and a super duper day at school. How does hot lunch today sound?"

"Good." She shuffles her feet, her usual enthusiasm for hot lunch missing. "Are you going to be okay?"

Geralt draws himself up taller, it's more effortful than he'd like to admit. His tired body protests but the discomfort is worth seeing some of the worry fade from his daughter's eyes. "I'll be just fine. Just need more sleep."

"Are you picking me up?"

Eskel cuts in with a dramatic gasp, his acting is terrible but enough to distract a five-year-old. "That'll ruin the surprise! No, no, I should be the one to pick you up." 

Ciri's attention immediately snaps over to her uncle. "What surprise?"

"I'll tell you over chocolate chip pancakes." He steers her toward the front door. 

Geralt bites back the protest against excessive sugar first thing in the morning. An exception can be made today. "Have fun, I love you."

"I love you! Bye!"

Catching Eskel's eye, Geralt nods his gratitude.

Eskel accepts it with a tilt of his head.

The door closes and then the house is silent.

*

Instead of going back upstairs, Geralt slumps into the couch with some cold medicine and a granola bar. He washes both down with a glass of water.

Everything in his Netflix queue is a kids show and as much as he enjoyed the Octonauts, he really doesn't want to watch their underwater adventures yet again. He scrolls through the various titles and categories. Nothing catches his interest and he's about to give up when he finds a competitive baking show.

Jaskier likes cooking shows, his fuzzy mind supplies, and that seems like a good enough reason to check it out. As the episode loads, he texts Jaskier about the change in their drop-off and pick-up routine; Eskel is on the approved persons list but still, a head's up is always appreciated. 

Geralt tucks his arm back under his head and zones out to accented voices talking about cake.

*

Disappointingly, no one says bam.

*

He's half-paying attention to the interview - another childhood anecdote about bread floating in through one ear and out the other - when his phone buzzes under his hip. It must have slipped out of his pajama pants pocket when he slouched down to lie sideways on the couch. The arm pillowed under his head has gone asleep, the pins-and-needles sensation draws him further back into awareness as he digs his phone out.

Hey! Just checking in on you. Eskel said you've got the plague?

And before you ask, no, he didn't invite me to any family gatherings. I can't decide if I'm offended or not? Probably not, I guess?

Geralt chuckles, a raspy sound of both relief and amusement. Eskel, for all of his teasing of Geralt's attraction to Jaskier, knows where the lines are and which ones he shouldn't cross.

Fingers hovering over the keys, he searches for a witty response through the cotton stuffed in his head and finds nothing. He glances at the time and finds that it's mid-morning. The fact that Jaskier is texting him, in the middle of the school day, hits him so unexpectedly that he's tapping out the question before he can think it through.

Shouldn't you be working?

And immediately winces at how abrupt it sounds. He's in the middle of trying to fix his mistake when Jaskier's replies pop up in quick succession.

Who says I'm not? Prep period! It's a thing!

I can text and staple papers at the time! Multitasking! Also a thing!

Both things I'm quite good at, in case that wasn't clear!

Shit, I just knocked over the stack!

The flurry of messages, each with a winking emoji at the end except for the last one, calms some of his frazzled nerves - Jaskier wouldn't be texting back if he's upset - but it's overwhelming, too.

Geralt can barely keep up with Jaskier's quick wit on a good day and right now, he's nowhere near his best with his thoughts muddled and his body sluggish. The chatter from the show turns from soothing to grating as he tries to think of something, anything, to say. He switches off the television and regrets it when the ensuing silence thunders in his ears.

Fuck. He hates being sick, betrayed by his own immune system and saddled with this unfamiliar vulnerability. It's goddamn uncomfortable. He should probably nap, get some more sleep like he told Ciri he would, but he doesn't want to stop talking to Jaskier. Doesn't want to be alone.

Call?

His phone rings a second later.

"Hey."

"You sound better than I expected." Jaskier's voice is accompanied by the click of a stapler.

"Eskel exaggerates."

"That he did, I was picturing you wasting away."

"Not quite." Not anymore, anyway.

"Are you drinking enough water?"

Geralt glances at the empty glass. "Probably not."

"I'd say something about the irony of me reminding you to stay hydrated but I don't think you're in a state to appreciate it."

A memory tickles at the edge of his thoughts, something about the school's water fountain tasting disgusting. He opens his mouth and whatever he was going to say comes out in a cough. Right into the phone. "Ugh, sorry."

"I really think you should go get some water. C'mon, you'll feel better."

The cajoling tone is one Geralt hasn't heard before; it's as novel as it is effective. Shuffling into the kitchen, he refills his glass and sips at it as Jaskier counts quietly under his breath. Little noises that smooth away the sharp edges of loneliness. 

"Ha, done!" Jaskier declares triumphantly.

Geralt wonders if he did any ridiculous hand gestures with it, like a fist pump. He can see Jaskier so clearly, his tall frame moving gracefully around a room full of too-small tables and chairs. Fuck, he's still at work. "I should let you go."

"Only if you want to."

He doesn't and says so, too drained by this hellish cold to try to be considerate. He just... wants. And is stupidly relieved when Jaskier grants it. 

"Then I'm all yours. Well, for the next, er, twenty-two minutes, anyway."

It's more than Geralt expected, it's also not enough. He'd take twenty-two years and still want more. A sentiment that matches how he's feeling, raw and not fit for words. "Hm."

"Why twenty-two, you ask? Because that's the amount of time I have before the kids are back from music class and demand to see their writing packets. Quite the enthusiastic bunch for words, those Dandelions." A rustle of papers. "So, anything else I can do for you until then? Remind you to eat, maybe?"

Geralt's stomach twists at the thought of food. "Not hungry."

"Promise me you'll eat something later?"

It's that cajoling tone again and it's just as effective as it was a minute ago. Geralt catches himself looking into the fridge to see if they had any leftovers before he's aware of moving, maybe he'll have the mac and cheese from two nights ago- "Ugh. That's cheating."

"What?"

"Your voice. Hard to say no." Geralt closes the fridge and shambles his way back into the living room, curling up on the couch again.  

Jaskier chuckles. "Is that so? I thought it just puts you to sleep."

"It's nice. Makes me feel-" Less lonely, but he doesn't say that. "-better." 

"Well, then. Want to hear the rest of my ode to tiramisu?"

"Start from the beginning. I'll stay awake this time." Fatigue creeps up on him, the last word disappears into a yawn that he can't quite stifle. 

"Absolutely fine if you don't. I'd prefer it if you don't. You sound tired, Geralt, I think you need a nap." Jaskier's voice is gentle, hushed. "Rest, darling." 

Geralt's eyes blink closed, half-asleep already, and drifts all the way there with Jaskier's praises about the edible miracle that is tiramisu in his ear. 

Chapter Text

The first thing Geralt notices when he wakes is that his headache is gone, followed by a sense of déjà vu when he finds his phone tucked in the crook of his neck and a text from Jaskier.

Sleep well! And eat something please!

It's time-stamped roughly two hours ago, which must be when Jaskier's prep period ended.

I did and I will. Thank you.

As he stands, he takes a more thorough inventory of his body. His nose is still congested and a trace of fatigue lingers in his limbs but he's feeling considerably better than before. The gnawing loneliness in his chest is gone, though he isn't sure if that's a result of getting more rest or having Jaskier's voice in his ear. His stomach rumbles, the return of his appetite another promising sign.

He scarfs down the leftover mac and cheese and an applesauce pouch. If his diet resembles that of a kindergartner, at least no one's around to see it.

The thought doesn't bother him as much as it did earlier.

*

Darling, he hears Jaskier's voice curling around the syllables and wonders if he dreamed it.

*

The blow-dryer is shoved to the back of the cabinet and Geralt briefly considers skipping the step before kneeling down to dig it out from under the sink, Vesemir's caution that wet hair worsens a cold at the forefront of his thoughts. It's something Geralt's heard many times before, always accompanied by the rumble of the blow-dryer and the sensation of his father's hand brushing through his hair, that it's become part of their family tradition. 

One that Geralt continues with Ciri, though he has taken it a step further by warming up her pajamas with a quick blast of hot air before turning the blow-dryer to her hair. The toasty treatment, as she dubbed it. 

And she's not wrong, Geralt notes as he pulls on a pair of pajama pants, bright green and littered with tacos, a Christmas gift from two years ago, and finds them quite toasty indeed. 

He's wrapping the cord around the handle when he hears the front door opens. Hastily, he shoves it into the cabinet and rushes downstairs. 

*

"Dad! Dad!" Ciri's jacket is hanging off of one arm as she runs toward him. 

Eskel trails in behind her with a pink cardboard box bearing the logo of a local donut shop - the surprise he promised her this morning.

She skids to a stop about an arm's length away. "Are you better now? Can I hug you?"

He should say no, just because he's feeling better doesn't mean he isn't still contagious, but she's looking at him with such hope that he can't bring him to deny her again. "A quick one."

Instead of crouching down as he usually does, Geralt remains standing so her arms are wrapped around his hips and her head is pressed against his stomach, keeping his face away from hers.

Ciri squeezes him tightly for a few seconds before she releases her hold with a giggle. "Your tummy is talking!"

"What's it saying?"

"I don't know!" She laughs, poking at it with a finger that has dirt caught under the nail.

"I think it's saying you should go wash your hands."

Ciri throws her head back with a sigh that's too dramatic for a five-year-old. "Dad!"

"He's right, cub." Eskel says. "Plus, the sooner you wash your hands, the sooner you can have your surprise."

Geralt wonders if it's still a surprise when she knows what it is but wisely keeps quiet.

"Fine!" She huffs, stomping toward the bathroom.

"Wash them for twenty seconds!" Geralt calls over his shoulder.

"I know!"

The two brothers share a look of amused commiseration over her mercurial moods.

"You're looking better." Eskel hands him the box of donuts.

A quick peek beneath the lid reveals a dozen chocolate donuts with rainbow sprinkles, Ciri's favorite.

"Hm." The familiar smell of fried dough and frosting is tempting but he doesn't reach for one since he doesn't have Ciri's permission. A tantrum may just bring his headache back.

"Must be that nap Jaskier said you took. Nice guy. He says hi, by the way."

"Thanks for not inviting him over."

Eskel snorts. "No other holidays in January or else I would have."

Geralt rolls his eyes, not dignifying the obvious bluff with a response.

*

Eskel and Ciri trade goodbyes with a complicated handshake that they invented while waiting for breakfast this morning; at one point, they both scratch their ears. 

"I'll see you tomorrow." Eskel tells her though Geralt gets the sense that his brother is really talking to him, a reminder that he's supposed to take another day off.

Once upon a time, Geralt would have bristled at the implication that he's weak or that he will do as he's told. Parenthood has changed that, humbled him beyond what he could have ever imagined. He needs to get well as quickly as possible to take care for Ciri. Two full days of doing nothing are better than two weeks of functioning at half-capacity. 

His lion cub deserves him at his best.

*

"You still have to eat your dinner, okay?" Geralt pours her a cup of milk in a bid to ease his own guilt at how many sweets she's consumed today, surely the calcium will offset all that sugar.

"Okay!" The word is slightly muffled as she takes a bite of her donut.

"Good. What do you want for dinner?"

"Leftover mac and cheese!"

Fuck.

*

Thankfully, Ciri forgives him easily enough.

It might have something to do with him pulling her against his side so her head is resting against his abdomen, and rumbles his confession and apology while pretending to be the voice of his stomach.

*

Lambert calls around five and asks them what they want for dinner.

Ciri immediately demands a cheeseburger with fries.

Geralt silently despairs at the lack of vegetables in his daughter's diet and briefly considers making her a bowl of peas to go with her dinner before deciding to call it a day. He does, however, draw the line at milkshakes.

"But how will I reclaim my title as her favorite uncle? Eskel took her to breakfast and got her donuts because you won't let me talk to Jaskier." Lambert grouses but there is no actual anger underlying his words.

"You can talk to him." Geralt slouches further into the couch and resists the urge to tip his head back, needing to keep an eye on Ciri as she hacks away at a stack of grocery store advertisements with scissors. "Just, you know, with supervision."

"Fuck you, I totally helped."

"Hm."

"Ungrateful asshole." Lambert scoffs, a burst of static in Geralt's ear. "Alright, I'll be there in an hour- Hang on. What? Fine, here."

Before he can ask, Geralt hears the shuffle of a phone being passed.

"Don't come in tomorrow." Vesemir's gruff voice barks the order in his ear, solid and familiar and a little awkward. Like the handful of hugs he's received from his old man.

Geralt smiles. "I won't."

"And dry your hair."

"I did."

"And eat some vegetables."

Geralt sputters around a chuckle. Like father, like son.

*

Instead of just dropping off their dinner, Lambert joins them. 

Geralt appreciates it, his energy waning fast while Ciri's seems bottomless, and decides to forgive his brother for getting him a veggie burger - the old man said you need to eat some vegetables  - as he watches them duel with pickle spears. 

*

Ciri offers him another stuffed animal at bedtime. 

Geralt picks the narwhal, figuring he might as well continue the horned creature theme. He ends up taking the jellyfish too since the two are best friends in the book series Ciri loves. 

*

Third time's the charm, it seems. Geralt stays awake for the entirety of Jaskier's ode to tiramisu, only to learn that it is only his second choice as far as a dessert he could eat forever goes.

"What's your first choice then?"

"That's a story for another night, darling. You need to get some sleep."

His guts tightens, pulling taut as the faint echo in his mind grows louder and into something real. Darling. He didn't dream it, then.

Jaskier's breath hitches. "Sorry, um, that's not really something friends say to each other, is it?"

"It's, it's fine." He clears his throat, dry for a different reason than it had been all day. "I like it."

"You do?"

Geralt's never been good at words but Jaskier is, and he doesn't think Jaskier would mind him borrowing some. Might even appreciate the effort. "Yes. I did, maybe a little too much."

Jaskier makes a small noise, soft and low and pleased. "Good, I liked calling you that. Maybe a little too much too." 

Chapter Text

Maybe a little too much.

It doesn't feel right to end their conversation then. Not after exchanging the same five words that started this new and wonderful thing between them. 

And hearing them now, in the quiet of the night and through his phone, brings Geralt back to that night at the school's Holiday Party. He remembers Jaskier, a hazy silhouette in the doorway and his outstretched hand the only things in focus, and is hit with a surge of want to reach out and hold on. But he can't. 

Because Jaskier isn't here, only his voice is. 

And Geralt isn't ready for silence yet. "What's your first choice? The dessert you can eat forever?" He asks again, hoping that Jaskier will indulge him. 

Jaskier lets out a throaty chuckle that flutters in Geralt's chest. "Lemon bars." 

Sinking further into his pillows, Geralt smiles. "Because of the color?" 

"Well, that's certainly a factor."

*

They talk, trading questions and quips. Geralt's gotten a bit faster but he's still not as quick as Jaskier and doubts he ever will be. 

Jaskier doesn't seem to mind, waiting patiently for Geralt to gather his thoughts. 

A task that's becoming increasingly difficult as his congestion worsens. "My head feels like it's going to pop." He grabs a tissue and turns away from the phone to blow his nose, twice. Both attempts fail. 

Jaskier makes a small, sympathetic noise. "That's the worst."

Geralt's nose squeaks as he inhales. "Ugh." 

"You already took some cold medicine?" 

"Yeah, just waiting for it to kick in." He took another dose before calling Jaskier. 

"There has to be something else you can do in the meantime?" 

"Not really." It's a nice idea but Geralt's used to toughing it out. 

Growing up, Vesemir had his hands full with the three of them and Geralt tried to help out as much as he could; sometimes, that meant not making more work for his father. Not to mention his brothers would have given him so much shit for complaining about a little head cold because he would have done the same to them. Had done it, in fact, multiple times. 

Karma's a bitch and so is having brothers. 

Jaskier is quiet for a few seconds. "Hey, what do you do for Ciri when she's all stuffy?"

The question catches Geralt off-guard but he knows the answer and knows it well after weathering through five flu seasons with a tiny girl who's the center of his world. "Run the humidifier and prop her up with an extra pillow." 

"Well, there you have it!" Jaskier says triumphantly. "Get the humidifier and an extra pillow. I knew there's something else you can do in the meantime." 

It takes Geralt a moment to figure out what just happened then another to drag himself out of bed.

*

He falls asleep to the quiet whir of the humidifier and with his hand curled around his phone, holding onto the memory of Jaskier's voice crooning sleep well, darling.

*

Only to be jolted awake to Ciri's indignant cry. 

"You're crushing my unicorn!" 

His head drops when she unceremoniously pulls the stuffed animal out from under it. Belatedly, he recalls that he couldn't find an extra pillow last night and grabbed the nearest thing. Shit. 

"Not so close to your face." Geralt tugs gently on her elbow so she's not holding the unicorn against her chest. "Remember I'm still sick, okay? And I was sleeping on it." 

"Why were you sleeping on it? It's for cuddling!"

He searches for an answer that will hopefully get him out of trouble with his daughter. He finds nothing. "I'm sorry." 

She stares at him for a beat, fierce disapproval etched on her face that's still plump with residual baby fat. It's both unbearably cute and kind of intimidating. 

He reaches for his phone, wanting to document this moment as he does with all of her moments, and is pinned with a stern look that no five-year-old should have. 

"Dad! No phones when you're in trouble!" 

"Sorry." 

"For?" 

"Hm?" 

"What are you sorry for?" 

Oh, right. He's explained to her that a blanket apology isn't enough and she needs to be more specific when she's making amends. It's a good lesson, he just didn't expect it being turned around on him. "I'm sorry for using your unicorn as a pillow." 

Her eyes narrow. "And?"

"I'm sorry for trying to use my phone when I'm in trouble." 

And just like that, her expression brightens. "It's okay." 

How quickly and easily and genuinely she forgives humbles him each and every time. "Thanks, cub." 

"But you can't have the unicorn back. That's the conse-" She stumbles over the word and recovers nicely. "-consequence of your action." 

"Okay, that's fair." He allows himself to bask in the knowledge that he's taught her well and tries not to dwell on the fact that he was just lectured, rightfully, by his daughter. 

*

Eskel arrives as Ciri is deciding between her blue sweater with purple stripes and her purple sweater with blue stripes. 

They look identical to Geralt but he knows better than to share his opinion. Instead, he waits for her to choose neither, well-versed in how these things tend to go, then helps her zip up the green dress with tiny dinosaurs. 

Which was the first thing she picked. 

*

"I love you!" Ciri squeezes him around his midsection. 

Geralt grunts as the air is knocked out of him and hugs her back just as tightly. "I love you, too. Have a super duper day." 

"What about me?" Eskel asks, clapping Geralt on the shoulder. 

"Hm." Geralt makes a show of considering it. "You can have a super duper day too." 

Ciri giggles. "We match, Uncle Eskel!" 

Eskel beams like he's won the lottery. As he should, Ciri's joy is brighter than any gold. 

*

While waiting for his tea to brew, Geralt takes a quick inventory of his body. The soreness is gone, except for the crick in his neck from sleeping on a stuffed animal. Both the congestion and the sore throat are still present but the stuffiness is localized and doesn't make his head feel like it's filled with cotton.  

A vast improvement from yesterday and one that allows him to appreciate the rare quiet in his house, to find it calming rather than overwhelming. 

*

His tea is perfect and he drinks it without any interruption. 

*

Around mid-morning, Jaskier texts him. 

Ciri tells me that you've committed a crime of stuffed animal cruelty! Against a unicorn, no less! Geralt! How could you?

Geralt can almost hear Jaskier's mock-indignation, blue eyes dancing with mirth, through the screen. 

You told me to elevate my head.

With a pillow! Not a creature of legend!

Well, Geralt has no comeback for that. At least not a good one. Pointing out that unicorns don't exist won't help his case any, especially since he's already admitted his guilt to Ciri. He racks his brain for something clever, something impressive, to say.

Nothing comes to mind except for I wish you could call me. 

Jaskier mentioned last night that he has a team meeting during his prep period today; February is apparently quite the eventful month for reasons Geralt isn't aware of but is sure he'll learn about in the coming weeks. 

It's fine, it really is, that Jaskier can't call him. Geralt doesn't expect Jaskier to drop everything for him and would never want that but it doesn't mean he isn't missing the sound of Jaskier's voice. 

A chime interrupts his thoughts. 

Meeting's about to start! Wish me luck!

Good luck.

*

It occurs to Geralt, as he half-watches the baking competition show where everyone is overly polite and no one says bam, that he's bored. 

A feeling he's entirely unfamiliar with since becoming a parent and perhaps even before then. He doesn't know what to do with this listlessness crawling over his skin but he knows someone who does, someone who has annoyed him plenty when bored over the years. 

He calls Lambert.

"What do you want?" 

"I'm bored." Geralt smirks. After all, karma's a bitch and so is having brothers. 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Geralt feels significantly better and says so with confidence when his father calls to ask if he needs another day off. Vesemir still makes him promise to take it easy and cut out early if he doesn't feel well. Old age has turned his father into a mother hen, all stern doting and gruff worries. Geralt considers pointing this out but decides against it; he rather likes this new side of his father. 

*

How are you feeling this fine morning? 

Better.

More words please.

Much better. 

What an improvement, we've gone from one word to two!

That's doubled. 

Huh. That's...true. A 100% increase is nothing to sneeze at.

Was a pun?

No! Yes? Can I take the credit even if it's unintended?

Sure.

You are the soul of generosity even though I see we're back to one word answers! So does feeling much better mean I'll get to see you today?

Yes. 

Excellent! I'll have a welcome back surprise for you! 

*

Geralt makes Ciri her favorite breakfast - scrambled eggs with extra cheese - and revels in how nice it is to be back in their normal routine. 

Ciri, however, disagrees. Sighing wistfully, she loads up a forkful of eggs. "I miss chocolate pancakes."

*

Jaskier greets him with an enthusiastic wave. The motion lifts open his unbuttoned coat to reveal the cardigan underneath. A flash of turquoise highlighted by the green of his coat and the blue of his eyes that makes Geralt's throat go dry for reasons that have nothing to do with the cold he's getting over. 

Oh.

*

Lambert arches a brow when he sees Geralt. "You're looking awfully chipper. You must have really missed work."

"Hm." Geralt makes sure his brother can see him rolling his eyes. 

"Or maybe it's us that you missed?"

"No, that's not it." Eskel chimes in with a shake of his head. 

Lambert makes a considering noise. "Oh wait, you dropped Ciri off at school, didn't you?" 

Geralt thinks he should have stayed home. 

Eskel snaps his fingers. "He did!" 

"Say, Geralt, did you see your long-distance teacher friend this morning?" 

"Ha!" Eskel snorts.  

"What the fuck does that mean?" Geralt scowls, almost certain his brothers are referring to Jaskier but the words make no sense. 

Lambert saunters off with a whistle.  

*

Geralt thinks about this physical distance between Jaskier and him that can't be crossed yet. They talk, they text, but they do not touch. 

Grudgingly, he admits that Lambert might be right. This thing between him and Jaskier is a little like a long-distance relationship. One that's between two people living in the same town and separated only by a schoolyard. 

*

February, as Jaskier mentioned, is an eventful month. Geralt stares at the monthly calendar, the same grid of dates as it's always been but instead of one or two events, there are four. One for each week of the month with Dental Week being the first. 

*

Ciri's tooth falls out the day before the dentist is scheduled to give a presentation to her class. Any relief she feels from no longer having a wiggly tooth is washed away in a torrent of tears because she won't be able to show off her shark teeth.

Geralt holds her close, quiet after his attempt of cheering her up by humming Baby Shark backfired spectacularly. 

*

The thing is, he wants to know if Jaskier's sweater is as soft as it looks, if Jaskier's hair will be more silky or fluffy, and if Jaskier's hand still fits into Geralt's as perfectly as it did on the night of the Holiday Party. He wants to touch - of course he does - but he can wait. 

Because for all that he doesn't know, Geralt has learned plenty about Jaskier, too. His mental list grows daily with something new to discover, something intriguing to mull over, and something dear to hold close. 

It's the absolute opposite of all other relationships Geralt has had. Well, just the one, actually. Just Yen. But the point still stands. 

When he met Yen, he wanted to kiss her because he didn't know her, had no idea how different they were in what they wanted out of life and from each other. And once he did know, he wanted to kiss her to stop more incompatibilities from being revealed.  

With Jaskier, Geralt wants to kiss him because he does know him and wants to keep knowing him. Each discovery is so utterly delightful that he isn't bothered by the lack of physical contact. Not when he already feels so close, with a different kind of intimacy, to Jaskier the way they are right now. 

*

Hello Parents!

We've been keeping tracking of the number of days we’ve been in school as a way for the Dandelions to work on their counting skills. And I've got some great news...all the kids are math masters who can count to 100 in groups of 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 25s, and 50s! Just in time for our 100th Day celebration next week! 

Jaskier

"Turn it over!" Ciri pokes at his elbow and, when he asks her to wait, bounces on her toes with impatient excitement. 

Geralt sighs, fond and exasperated, and flips the page over. 

Hey Geralt!

Did you know that you can also count to 100 by 4s? If not, I strongly recommend you ask Ciri about it! She's a math master and figured it out all on her own! I'm sure she'd be happy to help you! 

Jaskier

"Ciri." He glances up, frowning with feigned confusion. "Did you know that you can count to 100 by 4s?" 

"I do!" 

"Can you help-"

"Yes!" She cuts him off with a beaming shout. 

Geralt can't help but grin back, so damn proud of his lion cub. 

"So you start with 4 then 8 and 12..."

*

Later that night, Geralt looks up 100th Day celebrations. Just to get a sense of what it is and to avoid any surprises. There are enough of those in parenthood already. 

What he finds is complicated and baffling. He expected the tutorials for elaborate art projects but wasn't prepared for the many, many photos of children with gray hair and glasses and walkers. 

There was nothing like this when he was at school, at least not that he can remember and he would have remembered it; it's ridiculous enough to be burned into his memory. A quick call to his father confirms this and the two of them share a moment of stunned silence, marveling at how different kindergarten is now. 

*

When the 100th day of school comes, Geralt walks up to the playground with his nerves in a coil that tightens more and more with each kid in plaid and bow ties and white wigs that they pass. Not every kid, of course, but enough of them to make him question if he missed a last-minute notice. 

Except, he reminds himself, Jaskier sent another note stating that he has everything covered and he didn't say anything to Geralt last night about a change of plans. 

Still, the coil doesn't loosen until he sees Ciri's classmates in their regular clothes, not a single drawn-on wrinkle or cardboard cane to be seen. 

"Have a super duper 100th day." He drops a kiss on the top of her head. 

She giggles. "No, it's have a super duper uper 100th day!" 

Geralt has no clue if the new addition is a permanent thing or just for today, but he repeats it dutifully anyway. "Have a super duper uper 100th day." 

*

When he arrives to pick her up that afternoon, Ciri has on an impressive paper hat made of strips of construction paper decorated with a variety of stickers that, if Geralt had to guess, added up to 100. 

"I have a crown!" She strolls toward him with the poise of a princess. 

Playing along, Geralt bends the knee. "You look very regal, Your Highness." 

"Thank you!" She preens and spins slowly to show him all sides of her crown. And the fact that she forgot her backpack. 

"Ciri-" 

"Your Highness, I think you forgot something." Jaskier's voice, tinged with an audible smile, cuts in. 

Geralt lifts his gaze from his daughter, spots the familiar backpack on the teacher's arm, and meets Jaskier's eyes. 

"Oops, I forgot. Thank you!"

"You're welcome." Jaskier nods. "Hi, Geralt." 

"Hi." He squeezes out, tongue-tied, as he takes in details this unexpected proximity offers. The pinstripes on Jaskier's pants that he didn't notice this morning. The gold flecks in Jaskier's irises that he thinks are a product of the afternoon sun. The smear of purple paint on Jaskier's hand that's being offered dramatically. 

"Rise, my good sir!" 

Geralt takes it and lets Jaskier pull him to stand, realizing with a flutter in his chest that yes, their hands do still fit together perfectly. 

Chapter Text

The school parking lot is decorated with pink and red balloons tied to the fence. Belatedly, Geralt remembers the email from the parent-teacher association about making things more festive that he promptly deleted. 

*

Hello Parents! 

We will be having our Valentine's Day party next week during our cooperative play time with a card exchange at the end. Students are allowed to include a piece of candy or a small snack with their cards as long as it is peanut-free. To make sure the exchange goes smoothly and quickly, please have your child write their names in the "from" section but leave the "to" section blank. There are 18 students, including your child, in the Dandelion class so please make sure you have enough cards for everyone! 

Jaskier

*

Ciri insists on making Valentines for her classmates. After much deliberation in the candy aisle about which one she'd like - there are always extras and she's long figured out that the leftovers will be hers - she chooses lollipops and puts a bag of seventy-five in their cart. 

"Dad!" She pouts when Geralt exchanges it for a smaller bag of twenty-five. 

"We only need seventeen and what's twenty-five minus seventeen?" He reminds her when she continues to peer at him hopefully. 

"...eight. But I want to make one for Jaskier so I'll just have seven." She shuffles her feet. "That's only enough for a week." 

It's a bit presumptuous of her to think that she'll get a lollipop a day for a week but, well, she's not wrong. Geralt's not above bribing her with sweets to have her finish her vegetables. It's a necessary evil of parenting and all the judgy assholes he met at the parenting group who said they don't bribe their kids were lying. 

Ciri wraps her arms around him, tilting her face up and resting her chin on his abdomen, eyes wide and, goddamn it, impossible to say no to. "Please?"

"Hm." 

*

They get the bag of fifty. 

Geralt tells himself it's a compromise and not a defeat. 

*

Taking a deep breath, he steels himself and braves the treacherous waters of Pinterest for Valentine's Day crafts. 

Alone.  

He's learned his lesson about having her browse through ideas with him. That year, they spent hours transforming Twinkies into Minions with cardstock, sharpies, googly eyes, tin foil, and hot glue; by they, Geralt meant him. Ciri lost interest about five minutes in. The phone call he got from the preschool informing him that Twinkies aren't a healthy option, which he knew but there was no dissuading Ciri, was adding insult to injury. 

It's far better to curate a handful of options for Ciri to choose from. His sanity will not survive making miniature flower pots out of toilet paper rolls for the lollipop flowers. The lollipop flower idea, on its own, is solid, though. He finds one with less than five steps and a printable template - the key to do-it-yourself projects at home - and pins it to his board titled Ciri: Kindergarten

*

Ciri chooses superhero lollipops, which involves cutting out masks and capes then gluing them to the lollipops. 

Geralt breathes a sigh of relief. 

Maybe this year they can be done in under an hour. 

*

Geralt is done cutting out the masks before Ciri has finished with the capes. "Want some help?" 

"Yes, please." She slides the remaining pages over to him without looking up, her eyes narrowed and face scrunched up in concentration, 

Fondness washes over him in a rush. "Hey, cub?" He whispers because he knows better than to disrupt her focus. 

"Huh?" 

"I love you." 

"I love you, too." She says the words like a reflex. Without pause, without hesitation, without all the mental hoops Geralt has had to jump through. 

The fact that his daughter, at only five years old, is already better at communicating her feelings will never cease to amaze and humble him. And, in rare and honest moments, validates his efforts as a parent. 

Because, as Vesemir told him when Ciri was born, after the elation had worn off and the panic of being a single father kicked in, that all a parent can hope for is that their child will be better than they were. 

And she already is, in every way Geralt could have hoped and every way he couldn't have imagined. He presses a quick kiss on the top of her head and picks up his scissors. 

*

Ciri signs her name on her classmates' Valentines - all seventeen of them, Geralt checked three times - with an impatient scowl, her handwriting growing uneven and messy. When she gets to Jaskier's, however, she slows down and prints each letter with the utmost care. 

"Jaskier is special!" 

Geralt agrees wholeheartedly. 

*

He doesn't get Jaskier anything. Not for the lack of wanting to, because he does. So very, very much. But he has a rule to follow, one that they established when he brought Jaskier a personalized latte. He should treat Jaskier as he would Ciri's other teachers. 

But next year...

Geralt hopes, with that familiar flutter in his chest, that they'll get to spend Valentine's Day together.

*

As it turns out, gluing a tiny mask onto a small sphere is more difficult than he thought. He keeps tearing the paper as he tugs the ends close. 

Sighing, he prints another page of the template and cuts out more masks. At least the capes are staying on nicely. 

"You can do it, dad!" Ciri cheers him from the living room, playing with her Legos. 

*

Geralt realizes, forty-five minutes into this losing battle against the glue stick, that he can just use tape. Everything goes smoothly after that. Thank fuck. 

*

Valentine's Day arrives and he makes heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. 

Ciri pretends to feed bites to the giraffe whose birthday is today, a justification that's awfully convenient when Geralt tells her not to bring her stuffed animals to the table. Especially considering the giraffe had its birthday last month when she wanted to get a book of glittery stickers for the party.

After he points this out, she changes tactics. "The giraffe is my Valentine!" 

"I thought I'm your Valentine." Geralt arches an eyebrow then drops it when she doesn't look up from her plate. 

"You're both my Valentine! The giraffe is my breakfast Valentine and you're my always Valentine!" Ciri scoops up the last of the whipped cream with her fork and points it at him before bringing it to her mouth. "Can I get a refill for whipped cream?" 

Well, as her always Valentine , how can Geralt say no? 

*

"Dad! You didn't get Jaskier a Valentine's Day gift!" Ciri slams into him, nearly knocking him off-balance; she's getting bigger each day. The bag in her hand, white with her name spelled out in four different colors of glitter, smacks into his knee and leaves behind a sparkly imprint. 

He catches Jaskier's amused look across the schoolyard. "Did other parents?" 

"Fiona's mom got him a mug because she forgot before!" 

Geralt hums, remembering the small girl saying something about her mom forgetting Jaskier's teacher appreciation gift. "That doesn't sound like a Valentine's Day gift." 

"That's not the point!" Ciri stomps her foot. 

"What is the point? And remember, use your words clearly and nicely." 

"The point is that you're Jaskier's friend and you forgot!"

"We're still friends even though I didn't get him anything, remember what we talked about?" 

"Yeah, but-"

"It's true." Jaskier cuts in. He's in a pink dress shirt today, the material pulling taut as he crosses his arms to ward off the chill still lingering in the air. "We're still friends even though I didn't get him anything either." 

"Oh, okay." Ciri is immediately mollified and, not for the first time, Geralt is impressed by just how good Jaskier is with children. "But you can't forget next year." 

"I won't." Jaskier says with a soft smile that Geralt wants to touch but can't. 

Not yet. 

Instead, he slips his hands into his pockets. "I won't either." He say, a promise to both Ciri and Jaskier.

Chapter Text

Jaskier is on after-school duty this week. His green coat clashes horribly against the bright orange vest. 

"You look like a carrot." Ciri informs him in a tone that's impossible to tell if she meant it as a compliment. 

"Oh, huh. Really?" Jaskier peers down at himself, a little startled. 

"He looks like a carrot, right, dad?"

Geralt clears his throat, buying himself an extra second to come up with a response that will appease both of them. He's got nothing. "Um." 

Ciri nudges him, expectant. "Dad!"

"Carrots are healthy. They're good for you." 

Jaskier laughs, a sparkle in his eyes that are crinkled at the corners. 

Geralt smiles.

*

The last event in February is Chinese New Year. 

On Chinese New Year's Eve, a Friday, Jaskier sends the kids home with a tradition for them to share with their families and to participate in it if they choose. 

"I want fish sticks for dinner!" Ciri exclaims, waving a strip of paper in his face and scrunching up her nose when he flinches. "Jaskier says it's important to have fish on Chinese New Year's Eve because the word fish sounds like extras and it's good to have extras at the end of the year!" 

"We can do that." Geralt tugs on her seatbelt to make sure it's properly tightened then eases out of the backseat and away from the danger of getting a papercut on his nose. 

"And it's okay if I don't finish my food because we're supposed to leave some to show that we have extras." 

"You sure? You love fish sticks." He's learned over the years that it's important to address potential concerns beforehand and the earlier the better. 

"Oh, right." She falls quiet.

Geralt takes this opportunity to back out of the parking spot without distractions. 

"Maybe I don't have to eat all of my veggies?" 

"I thought it's about the fish?" Honestly, he doesn't particularly care if they partake in the tradition but if they are, he wants to make sure they do it right. It's the respectful thing to do. 

"Yeah."

"So it has to be the fish, right?"

Another stretch of silence. 

Geralt waits for the group of parents with their kids in tow to move completely out of the crosswalk and onto the sidewalk before making his turn. "Well, we don't have to do it?" 

Ciri frowns. "But I want to." 

"Okay, then you can leave a bite behind." 

"But I don't want that."

"Then we don't have to do it at all."

"But I want to."

"Then you can leave a bite behind." 

"But I don't want that."

Sighing, Geralt can feel the beginning of a headache building around his temples. He wonders if this will be another circular conversation that has no end and makes him dizzy. He hopes not. 

Oh good god, he really hopes not.

"I know!" Ciri throws her hands up in the air with a whoop before bringing them down to point at him, her eyes meeting his in the rearview mirror. "You should have fish sticks too and then your fish sticks are my fish sticks so if you leave some on your plate and it'll count for me too!"

"What?" 

It takes the rest of the drive home for Geralt to decode Ciri's logic. The tradition is, as far as Ciri's understanding of it goes, a family-oriented one and will be considered observed as long as one of them has some fish leftover. 

Her idea is a good idea except Geralt wasn't planning on having fish sticks for dinner. Because he'd rather save them as a quick dinner option for her and because he's learned soon after losing his teenage metabolism and energy that he needs to eat well to feel well. Especially to keep up with the sleep deprivation from caring for a newborn and the boundless energy of a toddler and, now, the complexities of a kindergartner's thoughts. 

Some days, he thinks he prefers the constant physical fatigue over this mental exhaustion. But both are a small price to pay for this amazing little kid of his. 

*

Geralt takes a photo of the sliver of a fish stick left on his plate. It was supposed to be a whole one but Ciri kept demanding another bite. 

Then another.

And another. 

He sends the picture, along with a slightly dramatized retelling of events, to Jaskier and gets a phone call a few seconds later. Jaskier's bright laughter brings a chuckle from his own throat, a fond rumble that matches the flutters in his chest. 

*

As February comes to an end, so does the wintry chill in the air. 

Spring approaches and they're one step closer to summer. 

*

Eskel convinces Vesemir to host a barbecue on the first weekend of March, partly because Vesemir has the space and partly so they can assess the porch that's in need of repairs. A project they'd agreed to tackle back in November. 

The weather is nice enough that Ciri can play on the front lawn, kicking an imaginary ball with Geralt that she insists he keeps missing despite his best effort, while his brothers inspect the wood and note the materials they'll need. 

"What the fu- fox say!" Lambert catches himself in time as he pulls the splinter out of his thumb. 

"Oh! I love that song! I haven't heard it in quite some time!" Ciri is absolutely delighted, both at the rediscovery of a beloved - cursed, in Geralt's opinion - song and the chance to use her new phrase. She started saying quite some time last week and hasn't stopped adding it onto the end of every sentence. At least she's over her British accent phase. 

"Do you want to listen to it?" Eskel asks, already reaching for his phone because he knows what the answer will be. "I can find it on YouTube."

"Yes!" Lambert shouts at the same time as Ciri. 

Geralt grimly wonders, not for the first time, why his brothers are like this. 

*

"But there's one sound that no one knows..." 

The song has been playing nonstop for the past twenty minutes because Eskel is an asshole who found a video with it on loop. 

"What does the fox say!" Lambert screeches at the top of his lungs. 

Geralt winces and, glancing over his shoulder, finds Vesemir with a similarly pained expression. They're in the kitchen, slicing up the tomatoes and rinsing the lettuce for the burgers, tasks that Eskel eschewed in the pursuit of the elusive Best Uncle Ever title. But both of them break into a smile when Ciri giggles through the chorus with her uncles clapping enthusiastically, albeit offbeat, in the background.

Sounds that didn't used to be in this house. 

His father wasn't one for words - still isn't though he makes an exception for Ciri - but none of his sons minded; they preferred the stern silences and gruff orders to the angry shouts that led to broken bones and kicked-in doors, to the violence that tainted their childhood before Vesemir took them in. He put a roof over their heads, food on their plates, and structure in their lives. Things that he hadn't had growing up, from the fragments Geralt could piece together over the years. 

His advice on parenting - all a parent can hope for is that their child will be better than they were - made sense; Vesemir wanted his sons to be warm and fed and safe, seemingly simple goals that carried the weight of hardship. Not to mention Vesemir gave them much more than beds, meals, and rules, he gave them a home. So who cared that it was a quiet one? 

But now, with Ciri, it's different. Geralt wants his daughter to have a home that is loud for the right reasons, with excited squeals and uncontrollable laughter and, he resignedly accepts, truly horrible music. 

"What is your sound? Will we ever know?" The trio sing the top of their lungs, not at all in sync or on key. 

Happiness has never sounded so awful and wonderful at the same time. 

Chapter Text

As the weather grows warmer, Ciri starts asking if she could stay and play for a bit after school. She's been coveting the purple swing - the other seats are blue - for quite some time and hasn't had much success with it being the hot commodity at recess. 

Geralt sees no reason to deny her request. After all, other parents do the same. Jaskier joins them sometimes too and he will take any extra time with Jaskier he can get. 

Today, it's sneaking glances across the schoolyard while Jaskier patiently answers questions about the upcoming standardized tests. 

Ciri tips her head back. "Higher!"

"Sit up first." Geralt waits until she's facing forward before giving her another push on the purple swing. 

*

Geralt isn't worried about the standardized tests. He isn't not worried because he suspects he'll always worry about Ciri in some way but he isn't stressed about the assessment the way the other parents do.  

"-what about the sight words-" 

"-we're practicing them now-" 

"-what's the right reading level-" 

Tuning out their chatter, he focuses on Ciri's brilliant smile as she wins another game of tic-tac-toe against Dara. She's always been good at strategy games, picking up tips from Vesemir and testing them out on Eskel; Lambert is banned from teaching her his tricks since they mostly involve some form of cheating. They've done their best to make learning fun for her, reading the rules out loud together and breaking them on purpose so she'll correct them. Even counting cards - which is frowned upon, Lambert, what the fuck - was made into a math lesson. 

Then keep hanging out, you're doing more than you think.

Jaskier's words replay in his mind and he's suddenly back at the parent-teacher conference, sitting across from Jaskier and meeting his blue, blue eyes peeking out from underneath his bangs.

Geralt's lips curve up at the memory. 

*

Hello Parents! 

The Dandelions are going on a field trip to the local petting zoo next Wednesday! This will be a great lead-in for our science lessons coming up and a chance for us to enjoy this nice weather. 

We will be leaving the school at 9:45 and returning at 2:00 on the day of the field trip so please make sure your child arrives on time and has a packed lunch since hot lunch will not be available. Also, because we will be at a farm, your child should wear something they (and you!) wouldn't mind getting muddy. And, as always, appropriate footwear only! 

Space for chaperones is very limited so if you're interested in helping, please fill out the attached form and return it as soon as possible. I will be selecting two chaperones on a first-come basis with priority given to those who haven't been able to join us in the past. 

Thank you!

Jaskier

For a very, very brief moment, Geralt considers filling out the chaperone form. He wants to experience the trip with Ciri instead of hearing about it after the fact and, well, the additional time he'd get to spend with Jaskier is tempting. But the thought of being surrounded by small children with too quiet footsteps and too loud voices makes him shudder. He barely made it out of the mob - a slight but mostly accurate exaggeration - alive when he dropped off Jaskier's teacher appreciation gift; corralling more children in an open space is going to be a nightmare. 

Geralt is well-aware that he can barely keep up with Ciri and she'll be running circles around him in a few years' time. Lambert says it'll be a few months but his brother doesn't know shit. 

*

Ciri brings her permission slip to school the next day. 

The chaperone form is folded and tucked into the recycling bin. 

*

Jaskier makes no mention of it but Geralt feels compelled to explain himself in a way he didn't when he skipped the pumpkin patch field trip in the fall. Ciri named the pumpkin and refused to let anyone cut into Pete ; Pete lived to the very ripe - it was a sickly grayish green by the end - of five weeks on their kitchen counter then Geralt spent an hour disinfecting the area. 

"I'm not good with kids." Geralt scrubs a hand over his jaw, his words muffled behind his palm, self-conscious though there's no reason to be. Everyone has different strengths and interacting with children isn't one of his. Which is fine. But Jaskier is so, so good with them that Geralt feels strangely inadequate to be admitting this. 

Vulnerable. 

Like he's sick again and wants comfort and company. Wants Jaskier. 

This is the last place he should be feeling this way. At the end of the school day, standing next to Jaskier and watching Ciri play a confusing hybrid game of tag and  hide-and-seek with her classmates in the schoolyard. 

"Nonsense. You're fantastic with Ciri." Jaskier bumps his shoulder against Geralt's, half-a-second of contact that has Geralt rocking back on his heels to stop himself from swaying into Jaskier's personal space. 

There are other parents around them, a group chatting by the fence and one reading on his phone by the sandbox, all waiting for their kids to tire before heading home. Which isn't happening any time soon based on the way they are, impossibly, gaining speed as they chase after each other.

Geralt's exhausted just looking at them. "I meant other people's kids. That's why I can't chaperone the field trip." 

Jaskier clicks his tongue in acknowledgement - a new detail to be added to Geralt's mental list - and nods with understanding. "It's okay, we already filled the spots." 

"Oh, good." He should be relieved that Jaskier has help but there's a knot in his stomach. 

Jaskier glances over at him, quick and concerned. "Geralt?" 

"I'm fine, just wish I could have helped." 

"Trust me, you helped." The corners of Jaskier's lips quirk up. "It's tough enough choosing a chaperone without favoring one of the parents." He brings a hand up to his forehead, as though to shield his eyes from the afternoon sun, and winks at Geralt under the cover of shade. "You saved me hours of agonizing over if I should go with my heart or, well, my life." 

"Your life?" Geralt arches an eyebrow, the earlier melancholy dissipating and replaced by disbelieving amusement. 

Jaskier shudders. "Hell hath no fury like a parent scorned." 

"Didn't realize petting zoos are so popular." 

"It's less about the field trip and more about the fact they promised their kid they'd be going." 

Geralt winces. He hates disappointing Ciri and can see how that'd be an issue. Not one that Jaskier should be dealing with, though. It's on the parent to manage expectations and make promises they can keep; better to surprise the kid with good news than to have to deliver the opposite. "In that case, you're welcome." 

Jaskier chuckles under his breath, a whisper of the crisp sound Geralt's come to adore. 

He wants to reach out, pull Jaskier closer and feel the vibration of that laugh against his chest and compare it to the flutters in his heart- Wait, something snags his train of thought. "Your heart." 

"What?" 

"You said if you should go with your heart or your life." 

Jaskier shuffles his feet, dragging his hand through his hair and ducking his head. "I did say that, didn't I?" 

"Yes." Geralt thinks about asking for clarification but the pink stealing across Jaskier's cheeks is all the answer he needs. 

*

Ciri scored above her grade level on her reading assessment. It's not really a surprise but Geralt is stunned by the sudden surge of pride, fierce and fond, that almost knocks him off of his feet. 

Dimly, he realizes this must be why people have social media accounts. He doesn't have any - the whole thing overwhelms him - but if he did, he'd be bragging about his brilliant, fantastic, amazing, wonderful, phenomenal kid with way too many exclamation points right now. Everyone needs to know just how remarkable Ciri is. 

Geralt settles for sending his family a photo of the result, zoomed in on the score and the stick figure giving a thumb's up that Jaskier drew, with a short text. 

Best kid ever.

Chapter Text

The field trip goes well. Ciri regales him with stories about the various animals she got to pet - turkeys, thankfully, were not present - and the novelty of having lunch outside. 

"We eat lunch outside over the summer." With gentle hands, Geralt pulls a piece of hay out of her hair. He doesn't know how it got there but he guesses shenanigans were involved. 

Ciri huffs. "It's not the same." 

He decides to be obtuse on purpose, mostly because the unfairly adorable way her cheeks puff out. "What if I get some hay bales, hm?" 

"No!" 

"A tractor?" 

"No!"

"Or maybe baby chicks?"

Ciri squeals. 

Geralt realizes his mistake a moment too late and has no one but himself to blame. 

"Can we really? Please? Dad! Please?"  

"Um." 

*

It takes most of the drive home to dissuade Ciri of the idea of having baby chicks as pets. None of the practical reasons appealed to her and Geralt had to resort to the emotional. Namely, her love for chicken nuggets and the uncomfortable truth of just what they're made of. Where their food comes from is not a new conversation, they'd covered it when Ciri made the connection between ham and Peppa Pig because both are pink, but she's still taken aback each time. 

Geralt doesn't really like reminding her that meat comes from animals but it is a good lesson and, well, desperate times calls for desperate measures. 

He was this close to losing the argument against turning their tool shed in the backyard into a miniature barn. 

*

Vesemir's porch repair is coming along nicely with their combined skills. Eskel has carefully mapped out all the repair spots and checks them off one by one while Geralt handles the bulk of the physical labor with Lambert in charge of the more complicated tasks. His youngest brother really is quite skilled, a fact that Geralt will only voice when he wants to fluster Lambert. Nothing shuts his loudmouth little brother up like an unexpected compliment. And Geralt is prepared to dole one out if Lambert keeps harping on and on about the new cordless sander he got. 

Gerlat doesn't really need to know about how lightweight it is, or what a difference not being restricted by a cord makes, or how quiet it is that everyone can hear the words of endearment that Lambert is cooing. 

"How did I ever live without you-" 

Fuck, he's had enough. "Hey, Lambert! You're doing a great job, keep it up!" 

Lambert makes a choking noise and trips over his words. "Tha- Thanks, I guess." 

"Hm." Geralt ducks his head to hide his smile. 

They work silently for the next ten or so minutes and Geralt savors each one. A sense of peace settles over his mind as he listens to the sound of Vesemir and Ciri reading Charlotte's Web flowing through the partially opened window, interspersed with the whirs and hums of power tools. 

Then Eskel joins them and points out how uncharacteristically quiet Lambert is, ignoring Geralt's annoyed glare with the kind of unholy glee only the middle child is capable of. 

*

March passes quickly. Empty branches are filled with budding leaves seemingly overnight and somehow they are at the halfway point of the semester already, with spring break right around the corner. 

*

There's music playing when they arrive at school that morning, the Friday before spring break. 

Though Jaskier isn't on before-school duty this week, he's in the schoolyard and, for lack of a better word, dancing. Or, more accurately, he's flailing his limbs and tossing his head like a dog shaking off excessive water after a bath. He looks positively possessed and absolutely adorable. The kids love it, mimicking his movements while, miraculously, still being mindful of their classmates. 

Ciri joins in immediately, windmilling her arms as she skips toward the impromptu dance party. 

Geralt shares a look of amused confusion with the woman standing next to him. She's someone whose face he recognizes but whose name he never asked and won't bother asking; they're not really even acquaintances. Both of them turn their attention back to their respective kindergartners. 

When the song ends, Jaskier bows deeply. "And that is how you boogie!" 

The children burst into cheers and so do some of the parents.

Jaskier starts, as though he didn't expect an audience over the age of five. Pivoting on his heel, he bows at the parents as well. His cheeks are pink from exertion and maybe a bit flustered too at the unexpected attention. Complemented by the white sweater and the morning sun, he looks warm and soft. 

Just like spring. 

*

Spring break isn't the first stretch of time that Geralt has gone without seeing Jaskier nor is it the longest. Yet the days seem to drag on, more so than winter break, probably because there are no festivities to serve as distractions. 

Or maybe after these two weeks, it will be April and that's only two months away from June. 

And the end of the school year. 

*

They are out of half-and-half, again. 

Geralt doesn't think they've had that much mac and cheese lately but the empty pint-sized carton in his hand is irrefutable evidence. They just got it on Saturday, damn it. Faced with the reality that he's let their diet slip this break more than he'd usually allow, he scans the contents of his fridge for another dinner option. 

The near-empty shelves stare back. 

"Ciri!" 

She doesn't look up from her tablet. "Huh?" 

Good thing Geralt knows just how to get her attention. "I have a surprise for you." 

Her head snaps up. "What is it?" 

"We're ordering pizza!" 

"Yay!" 

They can start eating healthier tomorrow. 

*

Ugh. I have to go grocery shopping.

Jaskier's text is accompanied by a string of food emojis that, in Geralt's best guess, are what Jaskier plans to buy at the store. 

Me too.  

Geralt writes back and is startled when his phone rings a second later. Though he really shouldn't have been. Jaskier likes to switch from texting to calling without warning. 

"So, I have to go to the store tomorrow." Jaskier's voice is light, cheery and incongruent for talking about chores. "You know, the one you go to. Or I assume you go to, since that's where we ran into each other."

That's right. Over Thanksgiving weekend. Jaskier with a hint of stubble and in a yellow hoodie like he'd just rolled out of bed. 

"I do. Go there, I mean. It's a good store." Geralt resolutely doesn't fidget; he's simply winding the loose thread on the hem of his t-shirt around his finger. 

"It is. Fantastic ambiance." 

"Ambiance." Geralt says flatly, knowing Jaskier will take it as a challenge - an invitation - to be as ridiculous as he likes. 

Jaskier accepts it readily and dramatically. "Fluorescent lights. Numbered aisles. Oldies music." Each item is delivered with more flair. 

"You forgot the food." 

"Minor detail." 

"Tell my empty fridge that." 

"Fair point." Jaskier concedes with a chuckle then he clears his throat. "So, um, listen. I, I'm not saying we should meet up but I usually do my grocery shopping around two because it's not a good idea to shop when you're full or hungry, trust me, I've learned that the hard way. And, well, I couldn't stop someone from going to the store around that time and, um, nor would I avoid them. If I knew them. If they did." 

It takes Geralt a few seconds to sort through what Jaskier just said. And once he does, he feels that familiar flutter in his chest again. He can make two o'clock work, maybe take Ciri out to lunch and go to the park before stopping by the store on their way home. "Good to know." 

"Good to let you know." 

"Hm." 

"Well, maybe I'll see you around, Geralt."

"Yeah, definitely."

Chapter Text

Ciri goes to work with him, as she did over winter break, though their schedule is more flexible now that the weather is nicer and they are no longer confined indoors. Vesemir's only complaint about Geralt arriving late or leaving early is less time with his granddaughter, grumbling when Geralt worked from home so Ciri and Dara could finally have their playdate that was supposed to happen over winter break. 

Well, work might be too generous of a term since Geralt got practically nothing done. His productivity already takes quite a dip when he's pulled out of his normal routines and it was further diverted by the stress of keeping track of two kids. 

He gave up after an hour, putting his laptop away and joining them in the bubble wand fight where he was outnumbered and severely outskilled. Ciri took a photo of the giant bubble, somehow still intact, in Geralt's hair as proof of her and Dara's victory.

It's the new wallpaper on Ciri's tablet. 

*

Geralt finds Jaskier in the coffee aisle. It's fitting, in a way, as the drink is a popular choice for a first date. Except, Geralt reminds himself, this isn't a date. 

"Hello! What a crazy random happenstance bumping into you like this!" Jaskier tips his cart up on its back wheels in greeting. He's in a loose beige sweater and a pair of well-worn jeans that are frayed at the knees. His hair is mussed, bangs hanging over the thick-rimmed glasses that are sliding down the bridge of his nose.

Geralt wants to reach out and nudge them up. He grips the basket with both hands instead. "Completely coincidental. A total accident." 

Jaskier's delighted grin flattens when he peeks around Geralt. "Wait, where's Ciri?" 

Fondness spreads through Geralt's chest at the realization that Jaskier wanted to see both of them. "At the movies." 

"What happened to lunch and the park?" 

"Lambert."

Jaskier snorts. "Why am I not surprised?" 

"Because you've met him." Geralt points out with equal parts regret and pride, a combination only his youngest brother can inspire. Lambert is single-handedly responsible for one of the best and worst nights of Geralt's life, a rollercoaster of emotions that he'd very much like to avoid a repeat of. His stomach swoops, though, when he sees the smile tugging at the corner of Jaskier's lips. 

"Good point. So he's still vying for the elusive Best Uncle Ever title then?" 

Hm. With the events of the Holiday Party fresh in his thoughts, Geralt sees Lambert's action in a new light. When Eskel caught onto the rather specific timing of Geralt's grocery trip and pried the plan out of him that morning, Lambert was suspiciously quiet in the background and left the break room without a single teasing remark. 

Soon after, Ciri's excited shouts echoed in their office as Lambert announced that he's taking her to lunch followed by a matinee and therefore needs to take a half-day. The only reason Vesemir allowed it was Ciri's glee at the chance to play hooky; the latest term added to her ever-expanding vocabulary. And Geralt agreed because there was no convincing her that grocery shopping is better than going to the movies. 

And now Geralt is standing in front of a coffee grinder that really needs a good cleaning, with Jaskier. Alone. 

Oh. 

"I think he was going for Best Brother Ever, actually." 

Jaskier blinks, the blue of his eyes a paler shade under the fluorescent lights and slightly tapered in confusion. "Huh?"

"He set us- Um, set this up." Geralt waves a hand between them, the shopping basket hanging in the crook of his other elbow. 

"In that case, Lambert's got my vote." 

"Not Eskel?" 

"Absolutely not!" Jaskier affects a look of mock-seriousness, crossing his arms over his chest in contemplation and leaning forward to rest his weight on the cart. It rolls forward. Geralt stops it with his foot. 

"It's because he didn't invite you over, isn't it?" 

"Yes." 

Geralt goes along with the bit, nodding solemnly in agreement. "A grave offense." 

"Exactly! Whereas Lambert said I should come hang out, which, by the way, is really quite an eloquent turn of phrase. I see he's learned from the best." This blatantly teasing tone is new. 

Geralt files that away carefully. "Yes, I talk good." He deadpans. Although he's doing better at holding up his end of the conversation these days, he'll never be the wordsmith Jaskier is. And that's perfectly fine. This isn't a competition he's trying to win, he just wants to show Jaskier that he will and is making an effort. 

Jaskier snorts. "Oh, and Eskel brought me bad news-" 

"What? When?" 

"He told me you got the plague! And I know, I know, don't shoot the messenger, blah blah blah, but I was…worried." The last word is no more than a whisper. Jaskier shuffles his feet, a sudden display of shyness that has no right to be as endearing as it is and brings to mind two other words he's spoken in the same tone. 

Rest, darling

The memory rushes over him in a wave of heat and Geralt's back on his couch, sleepy and feverish and somehow content, with Jaskier's voice a rumble in his ear. He feels warm, a buzz in his veins and a tingle on his skin- 

"Excuse me." A woman squeezes past him. The wheel on her scrapes against the shelf, an irritating noise that matches the glare she sends their way. 

Right. They're in the middle of the fucking grocery store. 

Clearing his throat, Geralt shifts so he's standing next to Jaskier rather than across from him. "It was nice, you worrying about me. Thank you." He murmurs as he puts a bag of flavored coffee beans - white chocolate macadamia nut, Lambert's favorite - in his basket. 

A thank-you gift, one that will never be explicitly stated as such. Geralt has to draw the line somewhere. 

"Anytime." Jaskier's voice is still pitched low but Geralt hears every syllable loud and clear. 

*

Geralt almost never comes to the store on weekday afternoons, both his work hours and Ciri's school schedule prohibit it. It catches him by surprise how deserted the place is, especially since all he knows are the rush of people shopping after work and the meandering weekend crowds that treat the grocery store like a destination. 

The sampling tables don't help dissuade lines of customers from lingering but there are none today. 

Jaskier eyes the folded up table, propped up against the back wall of the deli section, with no small amount of disappointment before selecting a block of artisanal cheese with the resigned air of a man going off to war. 

*

They zig-zag down the aisles in no particular order, walking side-by-side and filling their respective cart and basket with various goods. Jaskier's, like before, contains a wide selection of fresh produce, lean meats, and pantry items. Geralt consoles himself that at least the bag of coffee and carton of half-and-half match thematically. 

It's a kind of domesticity that Geralt hasn't experienced before, scanning for the best deals and debating the merits of various flavors of potato chips. Why are there so many? And is there truly a difference between salted and lightly salted? 

Geralt gets a bag of each and promises to inform Jaskier of his findings. 

*

Jaskier chooses the smaller cups of yogurt though the larger is priced lower per ounce. 

Geralt points this out with a bump of his shoulder against Jaskier's. 

"But it won't fit in the fridge." 

As it turns out that Jaskier's apartment isn't only severely lacking in storage but also space overall, resulting in a smaller refrigerator that requires a bit of creative maneuvering to make everything fit. He likens his approach to putting his grocery away to a game of Tetris, maximizing every inch of every shelf. The larger container, like the O piece, puts him at a geometric disadvantage. 

Geralt doesn't realize he's humming the Tetris theme until Jaskier bursts into laughter. Instead of stopping, he hums louder, thrilled that he can make Jaskier as happy as Jaskier makes him.

Chapter Text

Easter is sort of a non-holiday at their house. Ciri was traumatized by an Easter Bunny on their first egg hunt and the memory stuck. They haven't been to another egg hunt since. As angry as he was when his daughter screamed and ran into his arms, Geralt can't help but feel relieved that it's one fewer community event they have to attend. He's never been comfortable with the idea of kids picking up random things from the ground and eating what's inside, it just seems so completely counterproductive to, well, keeping them safe and healthy. 

Not eating what she finds on the floor is one of Ciri's first lessons for a good reason. 

Instead, he buys her chocolate eggs and gummy bunnies and candies that are repackaged in pastel. The practice makes no sense to Geralt, surely the kids don't care if the wrapper is red or pink as long as the Kit-Kat inside tastes the same?

At least it all goes on sale the day after the holiday once it's no longer seasonal - whatever the hell that means - and Geralt takes full advantage. By late-March, their Halloween stash is running low if not out completely and the post-Easter sale is when he stocks up. 

Ciri doesn't get candy every day but it's close enough that it might as well be. Sometimes as a reward for a job well done, other times when she asks nicely but mostly just because Geralt likes seeing her smile. The extra lollipops from Valentine's Day disappeared rather quickly, with some help from Lambert who asked Ciri for a lollipop each time he visited and preened when she granted his requests without hesitation. 

For an only child, Ciri is unexpectedly generous and happy to share. It's one of the many things he loves about her. 

*

Okay, that's not true. 

It's one of the everything he loves about her. 

*

Easter falls on the last day of spring break, which makes the following Monday the heist day as Eskel calls it. His brother is as invested in explosion-prone action films with elaborate car chases as he is in paintings that look like someone accidentally spilled something on the canvas. 

Ciri says it's abstract - those museum trips are really improving her vocabulary - and Geralt thinks the only abstract thing about it is why anyone would like it in the first place. 

They make plans to raid the grocery store before school, having learned from two years ago that all the good candy will be gone by the afternoon. 

On their way to the piles of leftover Easter candy, they pass the coffee aisle. 

Geralt remembers the way Jaskier's glasses were sliding down the delicate bridge of his nose. 

Huh, there's that word again. 

Delicate. 

But unlike the first time Geralt used it to describe Jaskier, there's no confusion though his stomach still tightens at the thought, he now knows it's a good thing. 

It matches the flutters in his chest.

*

Geralt wraps her in his arms, backpack and all. "Have a super duper uper day." 

"No, it's super duper uper luper day!" 

He has no idea when she tagged on another word but goes along with it without question. "Have a super duper uper luper day. I love you." 

"I love you too, bye!" Ciri yells into his face as she pulls away from the hug. Her breath smells like the chocolate bunny he gave her in the car. 

As he straightens up, he catches a glimpse of Jaskier from across the schoolyard. 

Jaskier is wearing the same loose beige sweater that he had on during their accidental encounter at the grocery store - a daring choice for someone who works with a roomful of kindergartners - but he's traded the well-worn jeans for a pair of dark-colored slacks for a more professional look. A small detail that reminds Geralt, once again, of the temporary lines they have drawn between them. 

It's April now. 

Two months until June. 

*

The big announcement on their first day back from break is that Jaskier ordered caterpillars and the children will get to observe their transformation into butterflies. They should arrive by next week. In the meantime, the Dandelions are learning about the things organisms need to survive. 

"Plants need water and sunlight and nutrients." Ciri stands in the center of the living room while Geralt, Eskel, Lambert, and Vesemir watch her lecture from the couch. "Sometimes nutrients come from dirt but not all the time. Water has nutrients too." 

Vesemir nods. 

Eskel does the same. 

Lambert mimes taking notes and is elbowed by Geralt. 

Ciri threatens to take away their recess, an effective deterrent among kindergartners if the Anton episode last semester is anything to go by. Geralt hasn't heard of any more of Anton's misbehaviors from Ciri in months. Seemingly satisfied with their promise to pay attention, she carries on. 

"Animals need food, water, and shelter…" 

*

There is a new voicemail alert lighting up his phone when Geralt comes back from heating up a late lunch in the kitchen. He almost drops the bowl of soup in his haste to unlock his phone. 

His heart jumps up into his throat when he sees it's from Ciri's school. The fact that the voicemail is from the principal only increases his anxiety, it climbs higher as he listens to something about an incident outside and having a talk about behaviors and ways to solve problems

Geralt calls back right away and when no one picks up, he leaves a message with his heart still in his throat the entire time and each word was a struggle to force out. Then there's nothing to do but wait...

...and try not to imagine all sorts of scenarios that would warrant a call from the goddamn principal.

Is everything okay?

He texts Jaskier, not expecting a reply since they're in the middle of Math Corner right now, and feels better after. 

For a while. 

*

The silence in the room - Eskel turned off his radio and Lambert is being uncharacteristically quiet - presses down on him now instead of the comfort it offered thirty-six minutes ago. 

Not that Geralt's counting. 

Ciri is fine, he tells himself as he adjusts the ringer volume again, worried that he'll miss the call back and guilty that he missed the first one. There was no trace of urgency in the principal's voice and logically, he knows that they'd ask him to come in if it was something serious. Which they didn't. 

Still, he calls the school again and hangs up when he's prompted to leave a message. 

*

Geralt scrubs a hand down his face and tries to keep his eyes off of his phone, only for them to find the clock on the wall instead; it's thirty minutes before he needs to leave to pick up Ciri. If they don't call back before then, at least he can find out what happened from her. He prefers hearing her side before anyone else's anyway. 

Just like Vesemir did for all three of them, though it took them a while to learn and appreciate what the gesture meant, with Lambert taking the longest but he got there eventually. 

*

"It'll be fine. Children make mistakes and learn from them." Vesemir's hand is a comforting weight on Geralt's shoulder, anchoring him when he didn't even realize he was adrift.

"Don't know if there's a mistake to learn from." He's unwilling to pin any blame on his little lion cub without all the information even though Ciri probably is at fault. Probably.

Vesemir huffs and squeezes his shoulder. "Go find out, then. It's close enough to pick-up that you might as well get there early and see if you can talk to someone in person."

It's a good idea but he arches an eyebrow anyway. "Trying to get rid of me?"

"Yes!" Lambert shouts, the sound of his voice almost jarring after the long stretch of quiet. "Get out of here!"

Geralt huffs and makes his way toward the door, kicking Lambert's chair on his way there.

Chapter Text

It's a fifteen minute drive between the office and the school. Geralt alternates between going slightly above the speed limit - only about five over, not enough to get him pulled over - to get there faster and slowing down for more time to settle his nerves. 

Shouting at the principal won't improve matters and more importantly, may reflect poorly on Ciri. Like father, like daughter. An old fear that he's mostly quashed and rarely rears its ugly head anymore. But when it does, it's a fight to beat it back. 

There's always that tone of surprise when people complimented Ciri on her personality. 

She's not quiet at all! She's so outgoing and friendly! What a sweet kid!

The not like you was left unsaid but Geralt hears it all the same. He doesn't blame them for drawing the wrong conclusion, he's well aware of what kind of impression he leaves. No, the fault lies with him. His frowns and scowls. His broad build and shock of white hair. His lack of words and non-existent charisma. 

All of his flaws that were assumed by others to be Ciri's too, until she proved them wrong by being the amazing kid she is. Except, if Geralt had been better, maybe she wouldn't need to prove anyone wrong at all. 

The playdate with Dara was the first one where it was just Ciri and another kid instead of a group gathering or a birthday party. And he knows it's not a matter of Ciri's popularity but his own social ineptitude; he imagines being a single father doesn't help either. None of it has been easy but he's done his best and constantly tries to do better, read more and listen more and learn more so he wouldn't fuck it all up. Wouldn't fuck her up. And he thought he was doing alright, except he has a voicemail from the principal on his phone-

Shit! 

Geralt slams on the brake to yield to a driver who clearly has no idea how roundabouts work. 

Taking a steadying breath, he exhales slowly. Now isn't the time to get lost in his damn head. He needs all his wits about him when he speaks to the principal. 

*

The principal, a middle-aged man who wears his Pokemon tie and receding hairline with an easy confidence, tells Geralt. "Ciri pushed another student at recess." 

Geralt sits up, alarmed. His knees bump against the desk that takes up half of the office, a windowless room that's brightened up by the numerous drawings taped to the wall. Ciri knows how to defend herself, Eskel's seen to that and then some but he's always stressed that she has to be discreet. Hence the tripping. "She pushed someone?" 

"Yes. And when he fell, he hit his head against the slide." 

This isn't like Ciri, not at all. She knows not to escalate a situation. "Is the other kid okay?" 

"Yes. Both students were able to return to class but we're obligated to inform the parents of any incidents involving potential head injuries." 

"Did he push her first?"

"From what the on-duty teacher saw, no. They were talking and then she pushed him. And that was the only physical contact they had." 

"Is it someone in her class?" 

"I cannot disclose that, unfortunately, but you're more than welcome to ask Ciri."

"I will." He frowns. "How much trouble is she in?"

The principal offers a reassuring smile. "Not much. Kindergartners are still developing their social skills and I've already spoken to her about different ways to solve problems that don't involve putting our hands on other people."

That feels like the end of the conversation. Geralt stands. "Right. Hm, thanks." 

"You're welcome. And thank you for coming in, it's always nice to see parents who are involved." 

The principal probably means it as a compliment but it does little to lift Geralt's mood. His lion cub was called to the principal's office today. It's the kind of parenting first he never wanted to have and hopes to never experience again. 

*

As he makes his way to the schoolyard, he realizes that he didn't ask why Ciri pushed the other student.

It's fine, he'll just ask her. He prefers to hear it in her words anyway. 

*

Jaskier is with Ciri when the bell rings, holding her hand and standing by the door leading into the classroom.  

Geralt goes to them immediately. "Hey." 

"Hi." Ciri doesn't jump into his arms the way she usually does. "Jaskier has something to tell you." 

"Hm?" 

"Are you sure you don't want to tell him yourself?" Jaskier's voice is soft, encouraging, but ultimately ineffective when Ciri shakes her head. 

"Can I go play in the sandbox?" 

It's unclear whose permission she's asking for. Geralt exchanges a puzzled glance with Jaskier before nodding to Ciri. "Yeah, go ahead." 

*

They move to sit side-by-side at one of the metal tables the kids use to have lunch outside when the weather permits. A beat of silence passes. It hangs between them, stagnant, in stark contrast to the easy flow of their text messages and phone calls. 

"I got your text." Jaskier says. "Sorry I didn't text back."

Geralt shakes his head. "It's fine. Figured you'd have your hands full. Just...felt like I had to do something." 

"Right." Jaskier clears his throat. "So, she pushed someone today." 

"I heard." 

"The kid's fine." 

"Heard that too." 

"Happened at recess." 

"Hm." 

"I wasn't on duty. Sorry." 

At that, Geralt turns and notices the drop of Jaskier's head. "Hey, look at me." Blue eyes peer up at him, contrite when they don't need to be. "You've got nothing to apologize for. If anyone needs to say sorry, it's my kid. Fu-" He scrubs a hand over his face, still processing the news. "She pushed someone today."

"She did but she was kind of, um, justified? Still shouldn't have done it though." 

On the playground, Ciri is conquering the monkey bars with determination. 

"Justified? What the hell did the other kid do?" 

"Language." Jaskier chides with a lift of his eyebrows. "And nothing terrible or malicious, just, kid stuff. Being overly curious and not knowing when to stop with the questions." 

"What?" 

"He wanted to know why Ciri only has a dad. And no mom." Jaskier's voice is full of sympathy. 

Geralt wants to lean into it with how suddenly off-kilter he feels. 

"Now I see why she wanted me to tell you." 

There's a hand on his knee, the warm weight of it steadying and grounding. "Hm?" 

"She didn't want to tell you because she doesn't like making you sad." 

"I'm not." The denial is automatic but hollow. He ducks his head, not wanting Ciri to see whatever expression is on his face. 

"You don't look it but I can tell that you are." Jaskier points out, somehow reassuring Geralt that his pretense of being fine is intact and seeing through it at the same time. 

Instead of being stunned or unnerved, as he did in the beginning, by how well Jaskier can read him, Geralt only feels comforted. 

"I won't pretend I know what you're feeling or what to say in a situation like this."

Something about Jaskier's tone makes Geralt think he's about to say but and is proven correct a second later. Maybe he can read Jaskier just as well. And isn't that a thought to hold onto? 

"But, for what it's worth, I don't think she pushed him because of the question. At least, that's not the only reason. She told me she pushed him because he kept asking." Jaskier clarifies when Geralt grunts his confusion. "Well, her exact words were he won't shut up about it." 

Despite everything, Geralt can't help but snort, the unexpected humor knocking loose some of the dread coiled in his chest. He still needs to speak with Ciri. It won't be the first time they've talked about Yen, a missing part in their life Geralt's done his best to fill. 

Most days, the absence is barely felt, if at all. Then there are days like today, rare as they thankfully are, when the hole Yen left behind seems fathomless. 

"Hey, it'll be okay. You'll talk and figure this out."

Geralt sighs. "No other way around it, I guess." 

"Nope. Have to use your words, I'm afraid. But, really, it will be okay. She's a good kid and you don't get one of those without being a great parent." Jaskier squeezes Geralt's knee before taking his hand away. "Now go and rescue your daughter." 

The monkey bars appear to have won this round. Ciri is hanging from them awkwardly, both hands gripping one bar, one foot hooked over another, and the other foot kicking at nothing. 

She lets go when Geralt tells her to and he catches her easily. 

Chapter Text

It's been almost six years since Yen left. Geralt wonders if she ever got what she wanted - to be free , to have everything - and hopes like hell she did. 

Because he can't help but think sometimes that though they both paid the price for their failed marriage, he got the better end of the deal. He is so fucking happy with Ciri that despite the way Yen left, he is still thankful to her. 

Even as his gut twists with dread at the thought of explaining her absence. 

It's a topic he'd covered extensively in therapy. How while Yen was selfish to leave, he was equally selfish in trying to make her stay. With a kid that she had made crystal clear she didn't want but he thought he knew her better than she knew herself and she'd change her mind. 

He didn't. She didn't. 

They learned that sitting in the doctor's office, staring at a gray blob on a black screen. Both of them cried at the reality that they were going to be parents to a little girl, for different reasons. 

But that's not the kind of truth for a kindergartner. 

Geralt's still kicking himself for how he handled their first conversation when Ciri came home after her second day at preschool with a family tree diagram. Telling his three-year-old that her mother doesn't want to be a part of their lives would always be something he regrets. 

Since then, he's been searching for the right words with little success, stubbornly ignoring his therapist's reassurance that there's no such thing. What kind of father would he be if he didn't try? 

He hadn't known what to say each time Ciri brought home a Mother's Day gift that she made at school with no one to give it to. They sit in her art box, like any other paintings or crafts. And he doesn't know what to say now, crossing the parking lot with Ciri's hand in his. 

Geralt catches a glimpse of Dara and his mother in the peripheral and keeps his eyes forward; there are cars around. 

*

"So." He brushes a hand through Ciri's hair after buckling her into the booster seat. "You want to go home and talk about what happened today or do you want to get some ice cream first?" 

Ciri's face instantly lights up. "Ice cream, please!" 

It's probably not the best parenting move to reward a kid who got into trouble at school with ice cream but Geralt isn't ready to have that conversation yet. Or ever. But he'll settle for a small delay. 

And he just wants to see her smile. "Let's go, then." 

"Yay!"

*

Their favorite ice cream shop is a little local place that serves only six flavors but each one is uniquely theirs. Tucked into the corner of the shopping center, it's conveniently located next to a walking trail. 

With their ice cream in hand, Ciri's in a cup and his own in a cone, they stroll down the path. Neither of them speak for a while. Ciri is engrossed in picking out the Lucky Charm pieces from her Cereal Milk ice cream and he's busy managing his Mango Lime Chili sorbet that's melting fast in the afternoon sun. 

When Ciri was younger, they always ordered one serving and shared so what she couldn't finish wouldn't go to waste. If he's paying $4 per scoop then he's making damn sure that he gets every penny's worth. Ordering something for himself is a recent development and pleasant novelty, one that he wishes he could savor more - he quite likes the tartness with a kick at the end - but the napkin he's holding underneath the dripping cone is already sticking to his palm. He debates using the second one he has tucked in his pocket but decides against it. 

Ciri may need it later. 

*

There's a stone bench at the fork in the road, their unofficial turnaround point for their walks. It looks out at an overgrown field that's home to various animals that they've spotted on their walks. Rabbits, squirrels, groundhogs, and on one memorable occasion, a snake. 

They sit down so Ciri can finish her ice cream soup . She coined the term when she first had ice cream and it was too adorable to correct. Now Geralt lives in a world where melted ice cream is considered soup. 

A woman with a stroller jogs by, she returns the thumb's up from Ciri with a big smile. 

"Do you want your mom?" The question catches Geralt by surprise. It's not the one he planned to ask and definitely not how he would ask it even if it was but it's been knocking around in his head this whole time-

"No." Ciri punctuates her answer with a loud slurp. 

He feels compelled to check. Sometimes she doesn't hear him when she's distracted and she seems fully focused on scraping the bottom of the cup for every drop. "You don't want your mom?" 

"No."

"So you do want her?" 

"No!" 

Geralt has this strangest sense of deja vu that he's been here before, in the unenviable situation of being the cause of his daughter's ire. "Are you sure you don't?" 

"No! And stop asking me! You're being annoying!" She throws her hands up in frustration and tips over the cup in the process. The good news is that it was nearly empty; the bad news is that whatever was left is now splattered on her jeans. Her favorite pair. 

Survival instincts kick in and Geralt is on damage control, dabbing up the mess with the second napkin that he had the foresight to save. "There, it's okay, see?" 

Ciri nods, a pout still on her lips. "I don't like you asking me the same thing over and over again."

Understanding clicks and Geralt sighs. "I'll try not to but you do know there are nicer ways to handle that, right?" 

Her pout deepens into a frown. "Yeah. I can tell them to stop, walk away, or find a teacher. I should not put my hands on other people. Personal space is important." She's clearly reciting what the principal told her earlier. 

Geralt has to bite back a smile. "I noticed pushing isn't on the list." 

"...no." 

"Did you push him just because he was annoying?" 

"Yeah." 

Just like Jaskier said, it wasn't about the question but rather the repetitiveness of it. Still, Geralt needs to check. For his own peace of mind. "Not because he was asking about your mom?" 

"No."

"Because you don't want her?"

"Dad!"

"I promise it's the last time. Today." He adds. They'll certainly have this conversation again - maybe next month or a year from now or when she's a teenager - and although Ciri likely won't remember it, he only wants to make promises he can keep.

She huffs. "No." 

"How come?" 

"Because she doesn't want to play with me and if someone doesn't want to play with me, I can't make them and I should go find someone else to play with."

It takes a second for Geralt to decode that she's equated being part of their lives to play with me in true kid logic. Simple, almost too simple, but also correct. He tried to make Yen stay when all she wanted was to leave. A hard-learned lesson that his five-year-old has already figured out. "How did you get so smart?" 

"Because I have you!" She says with such certainty that leaves no room for doubts in his heart. 

The sudden rush of relief has his heart humming in his throat. "Hm." 

"I love you." 

His voice comes out in a croak as he wraps her in a hug. "I love you too."

*

While Ciri is playing with her Legos, Geralt texts his brothers and calls his father to update them on what happened today.  

Eskel re-emphasizes that tripping is really the best course of action. Lambert is a mixture of proud and offended that Ciri has broken his record as the youngest called into the principal's office. Neither of them mention Yen in a show of consideration that might be mistaken for dismissiveness to anyone outside of their family. 

The conversation with Vesemir lasts under five minutes, with Geralt giving a succinct summary and Vesemir only saying four words back. But they're exactly the four words Geralt didn't know he needed to hear. 

"You did good, kid." 

"Thanks, dad." 

Chapter Text

Hello Parents!

I have some fantastic news! The caterpillars are here and we'll be observing them and learning about the butterfly's life cycle over the next few weeks! As we follow the caterpillars along on their exciting journey, students will take turns recording what they see in the class journal. The opportunity for them to discuss and write about what they see will make this learning experience much more meaningful and fun! 

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Jaskier

There's no note or drawing on the back of the newsletter, only a number.

68

And though Geralt has no reason to think Jaskier has changed his mind, he still feels a rush of relief at the confirmation that they're on the same page. He's never been good at reading between the lines, not in school and not with people, and he's always had shit luck with his guesses. But he thinks that he just might be able to get it right this time. 

Summer break starts in 68 days. 

*

Geralt is reminded, once again, that parenthood is full of surprises when he asks for Ciri's first impression of the caterpillars. 

It's not what he expected. At all. 

"They all live in a cup! They have to share!" She sounds so utterly scandalized in the way that makes it clear she's an only child. 

*

Does cereal count as soup?

Geralt blinks, once, twice. Jaskier's text does not morph into anything more sensical nor does it have anything to do with the photo of his guitar that Jaskier sent three days ago.

They've been talking on the phone more lately. A slow shift neither was aware of until Jaskier mentioned offhandedly a week ago that their conversation was about to lose its spot on the first page of the message log. In response, Geralt sent him a photo of last night's shrimp stir-fry and absolutely did not blush when Jaskier exclaimed over his cooking skills. 

And if his cheeks felt warm when he promised to make it for Jaskier someday - someday soon - then it was only because he had his phone pressed against his face for the better part of an hour.

Geralt only has a total of five conversations in his phone. One with Jaskier, one with his family, two for autopay notifications, and one from Ciri's pediatrician reminding him of her upcoming annual well-visit next month. 

The nurse, when he called to confirm the appointment, assured him there would be no shots. Thank fuck. Last year, Ciri gave him the silent treatment for the rest of the day even though he was just trying to protect her from communicable diseases. 

But he supposes it makes sense that Jaskier has pages worth of conversations. Jaskier is, well, Jaskier. Geralt can't imagine anyone not wanting to talk to him or keep talking to him once they start. Even if - especially when -  he likes to pose absurd food questions then play the devil's advocate when Geralt chooses the sensible side.

Their debate on whether hotdogs should be classified as sandwiches was a heated one. Geralt said no because he isn't crazy, only to question his sanity when Jaskier managed to convince him that since hotdogs share the same fundamental structure as cheesesteaks, they are, in fact, sandwiches. 

Geralt glances down at the question again and decides two can play at this game.

Yes. 

Jaskier's replies come quickly, the same way he'd speak if they were talking on the phone.

Wait, what?
Geralt? Is that you? Or did someone steal your phone?
Am I actually talking to Lambert?
Eskel?
What is happening? 

Chuckling, Geralt starts typing. 

Yes, this is Geralt. No one stole my phone. 

That's exactly what a phone thief would say.
A phone thief who thinks cereal is soup!

And so is melted ice cream. 

A second later, his phone lights up and Geralt answers it before it can finish its first ring. "Hey." 

"So it was you?" Jaskier's laugh is a little higher than usual, incredulous and delighted. "You're full of surprises." 

"Hm." 

"Cereal is not soup, Geralt."  

"If you eat it with a spoon, it's soup." He says with the air of a man with the winning hand. This is fun. He's starting to see why Jaskier enjoys it. 

"I eat ice cream with a spoon, that's definitely not soup." 

"It is if it's melted." 

"What? No! No one thinks that!"

"Ciri does." 

Jaskier makes a contemplative noise. "Does she now?" 

Geralt pulls the phone away to frown at it before lifting it back up to his ear. "Are you actually changing your stance on the word of a five-year-old?"

"A very bright five-year-old. And, you know, now that I think about it, cold soup is a thing. I saw it on Top Chef." Jaskier's tone takes on a dreamy quality. "Watermelon and tomato gazpacho." 

Geralt wonders how hard it is to make. "Sounds like a smoothie."

Jaskier laughs. "It does, doesn't it? But it's most definitely a soup. A cold soup. Like cereal." He says the words slowly, like he's testing them out. "Well, you've convinced me, my good sir. Most excellent work." 

There it is again, that flutter in his chest at being called Jaskier's , something ready to take flight in the summer sky. He clears his throat. "Sounds more like Ciri convinced you."

"And you taught her all she knows so just accept your victory gracefully." 

"Hm."

*

The next week, Ciri reports that the caterpillars are doing well and are getting into position at the top of the cup. 

"Jaskier said we have to be super careful because if we move the cup then the caterpillars can fall and then they can't go through metamorphosis." Each syllable is said with great care and emphasized with a nod of her head. 

It's not an easy word for a kindergartner and she said it perfectly. Geralt gives her a high-five, so very, very proud of his little lion cub. 

*

The week after, Ciri comes home with another update. "The caterpillars are all wrapped up in crystals." 

Geralt wonders if he misheard. "They're wrapped up in what?"

"Crystals?" 

"Are you sure?"

"...no." Her voice takes on an unsure lilt that makes Geralt's heart clench. 

"Or maybe it's a word that sounds like crystals?" 

"Um, yeah. I don't remember how to say it. It's where the caterpillars go to change into butterflies."

"Hm, I know what you're talking about but I don't know the word either." Geralt pulls out his phone. "Let's look it up and we can learn it together." It's not a total lie, he has a vague idea of the word but he'd like to be sure if he's going to teach it to his daughter. 

"Okay!" 

*

The word is chrysalis

"The caterpillars are in their chrysalis." She pronounces it perfectly after practicing it repeatedly. 

Geralt wraps her in a tight hug. "Like this? Am I a chrysalis?" 

"No, I'm not a caterpillar! I'm a human!" She wiggles free with a squeal.

*

By pure chance, Ciri and Fiona both decided to wear their unicorn dress to school. 

The two girls have an impromptu celebration on the sidewalk, which mostly consists of linking arms and spinning in circles. 

Geralt shares a glance with the man he assumed is Fiona's father. An assumption that's confirmed when the man introduces himself with a firm handshake and small talk about work schedules - his wife works nights so he handles the drop-offs. 

"Dad!" The two girls run up with expectant looks that immediately make Geralt wary. A quick glance at his new friend says he isn't alone in his trepidation. 

"We want to match again tomorrow!" Fiona says. 

"With the Frozen dress!" Ciri adds. 

"Which one?" Geralt crouches down to hear her better. In his periphery, he notes Fiona's father doing the same and his opinion of the other man increases. 

"The blue one." 

Geralt scans through his mental catalog of Ciri's wardrobe, there are two blue Frozen dresses, one with a sparkly shell and the other-

"With the tutu?" Fiona's father asks. 

"Yeah!" 

Ciri nods in agreement, bouncing on the balls of her feet. 

"Sure." 

"Okay."

Both girls cheer.

Chapter Text

"We moved the chrysalis to the butterfly garden!" Ciri announces as she bounces into his arms, a proud beam on her face from having said the word correctly.

Geralt takes the opportunity to pretend to be a chrysalis again and laughs when she reiterates her status as a human person . Loudly. For the entire schoolyard to hear.

*

As it turns out, Ciri and Fiona want to match dresses every day.

He feels like he should have seen this coming as he shares a commiserating look with Fiona's father before they exchange phone numbers to set up playdates so the girls can check out each other's closets.

*

It takes a while for the caterpillars to transform into adult butterflies.

Ciri's report on the lack of activity grows more listless with each day. A sentiment that's shared among her classmates as they wait for the butterflies to emerge.

*

Jaskier is on before-school duty and holding an impromptu question-and-answer session on the playground.

"Will the butterflies come out today?"

"What's taking so long?"

"Can you tell them to hurry up?"

Geralt sends him a shrug that's maybe a little more amused than sympathetic.

"Now, now, Dandelions! Patience is a good lesson to learn." Jaskier says, projecting his voice to be heard over the chatter.

"Waiting is boring!" Ciri complains right into his ear as she hugs him goodbye.

Geralt lets her go with one extra squeeze, following her with his eyes as she skips up to Jaskier, who greets her with a sunny grin that sends a flutter through Geralt's chest.

Some things, some people, are worth waiting for.

51 days.

*

"Brush your teeth, then we'll cuddle and say good night." 

"Okay!"

Geralt then heads into his own bedroom to sort through his laundry; he's learned over the years to make the most out of the small chunks of time he gets. He pulls a pair of jeans out of the tangle of t-shirts, wincing slightly when he realizes they were still damp from being knotted together.

"Dad?"

Geralt glances up, surprised. "Hey, what's up?"

"I can't find my toothbrush."

"It's not by your sink?"

"No."

"Did it fall on the floor?"

"No."

He tries to think of where else a toothbrush can be and draws a blank. "Where did you put it this morning?"

Ciri shuffles her feet. "I don't remember."

"Can you try?"

"I don't want to."

"Ciri-" He cuts himself off with a quiet sigh. There's a beginning of a whine in her voice and a tantrum right before bedtime is a disaster he'd very much like to avoid. "I'll go look."

*

Geralt checks her bathroom first; maybe she simply missed it somehow.

No such luck.

*

Eventually, he finds the toothbrush in the kitchen, by the junk drawer that he really should clear out at some point. The suction cup pulls free from the counter with a pop.

He should head back upstairs, keep their nightly routine on track, but a parenting sixth sense has him pulling the drawer open instead. And right there, staring him in the face is a pile of candy wrappers, all printed with jack-o-lanterns or bats.

His first thought, bizarrely enough, was this explains why their Halloween stash ran out faster than expected. Then the realization hits and he can't help but close his eyes upon impact.

Ciri took candy without asking and hid the evidence.

It's the last part that gives him pause. Kids are still working on their impulse control, often acting without fully considering the consequences. The fact that she hid the wrappers, however, tells him that she not only knew the consequences but also wanted to avoid them.

This is the kind of discovery no parent wants to find right before bedtime.

Fuck.

*

Geralt can hear Ciri singing to her stuffed animals as he walks back upstairs and, despite his original resolve to address the fact she's been sneaking candy right away, he finds himself reconsidering.

She's tired and he is too. As much as he tries to be patient with her, he knows he's nearing his own limits. Probably best to leave the matter for tomorrow. It's not like an extra day will make a difference considering he's already months late.

*

As soon as he closes her door behind him, Geralt reaches for his phone.

"What's wrong?" Vesemir answers with his customary greeting.

Geralt slumps into the couch. "Ciri's been sneaking candy and hiding the wrappers-"

"Let me guess, under the sink?"

"What? No. In the junk drawer." Geralt sits up, confused and more than a little alarmed. "Why did you say that?"

"That was your hiding place."

"What?"

"You used to chew up all my gum and hide the wrappers under the sink."

This is definitely news to Geralt. "What?"

"And you stuck the gum on the pipes. That was hell to clean."

"I don't remember that."

"Trust me, I do." Vesemir sounds almost amused.

Geralt wonders if years in the future, that's how he'll sound telling Ciri about this candy incident. "What did you do, hm, when you found out?"

"I showed you what I found. You apologized, offered to clean it up, and promised to never do it again before I could get a word in."

"Hm." He doubts it'll be that easy with Ciri but he supposes he can hope-

"Probably won't be the case with Ciri."

Or not. 

Silence stretches between them.

"Talk to her." Vesemir offers, stiltedly, the recommendation as unfamiliar as the words themselves.

Geralt would snort at the absurdity of his father, the most reticent man he's ever met, offering this advice but there's a lump in his throat at how far they've both come and changed because of the amazing little girl sleeping upstairs. "I will. Tomorrow."

*

The next morning is a hectic race to get out of the house.

He decides he'll wait till after school.

*

Vesemir lifts an eyebrow when Geralt explains why he hasn't talked to Ciri yet.

*

No, he's not procrastinating. And Jaskier agrees. 

It wasn't the right time, waiting was the right call.

I knew I liked you for a reason.

Just one?

I have a list.

*

"Hey cub, we need to talk." Geralt tells her softly.

As it turns out, those four words have the same effect on kids as they do on most adults. Ciri is quiet, fidgeting with the hem of her rainbow striped shirt - the same one Fiona has on - as they walk toward the car.

*

Her face crumples as soon as she sees the pile of candy wrappers on the coffee table, tears streaming down her cheeks that Geralt can't wipe away with his sleeves fast enough.

"It's okay, it's okay." He scoops her up with an arm under her knees and the other around her back, sitting down on the couch with her head tucked under his chin. "You're not in trouble."

"I'm not?" She hiccups.

"Well, you are in a little bit of trouble." Geralt backtracks hurriedly. 

"Are you mad?"

"No." And that's the truth. He's more confused and concerned than angry. "I just want to figure out what happened. Can you help me?"

Sniffling, Ciri nods and tells him that a few days after Halloween, she really wanted a Snickers but didn't want to interrupt his phone call. So she got it on her own.

"I understand that but there's more than one wrapper here."

"Well. It's- I, I thought maybe I can have a second one..."

"And a third and a fourth?" He prompts when she trails off. "All the way up to eight?"

"Yeah."

"That's way too much candy."

"I know."

"Is that why you hid the wrappers?"

"Yeah. If I put them in the trash then you'd see, that's what happened to Uncle Lambert when he was little."

"I see." Geralt needs to find out just what kind of childhood stories his brother has been telling his daughter.

"I'm sorry."

"For?"

"I'm sorry for eating candy without asking."

"And?"

She struggles for a few seconds until Geralt points at the pile of wrappers. "And I'm sorry for hiding the wrappers."

"It's okay." He hugs her a bit closer. "But remember how I said you're in a little bit of trouble?"

Her nod is accompanied by a sob.

Geralt works hard to hold onto his resolve. "What happens when you're in trouble?"

"...consequences."

"Yeah. So there's no candy for the next eight days, okay? Because you had them early."

"Okay."

"And for hiding the wrappers, um." Shit, he's at a loss. "What do you think should be the consequence?"

"I'll throw my trash away?"

"You should already be doing that."

"I'll throw your trash away?"

Geralt considers this; it's a good suggestion. "Let's try that."

*

Later that night, when she admonishes him for the third time as he's preparing dinner and tossing the corn husk in the trash, he reconsiders and negotiates with her to shorten her tablet time by fifteen minutes for each day she has to go without candy. 

Chapter Text

The butterflies have finally emerged from the chrysalis, though they aren't quite ready to take flight yet. 

Ciri trips over her words as she tells him about how wrinkly their wings are and how weird it was to see them feed on the orange slices instead of flowers. 

Geralt knows his daughter well so instead of taking the right turn that will bring them home, he makes a left toward the grocery store. 

Sure enough, she asks a few seconds later. "Dad, can we get some oranges?"

"Of course."

*

The elementary school has accounts across different social media platforms, none of which Geralt follows but Eskel does. 

Thought you'd want to see this. 

Accompanying his brother's text is a photo of butterflies taking flight against the backdrop of an empty school yard and clear blue sky. No kids are shown in the photo - the teachers are good about protecting the children's privacy - and the only hint that they were there was the shadows on the ground. 

Geralt spots Ciri's shadow almost immediately. The side ponytail is distinctive and surprisingly easy to style once her hair grew out longer. 

Thanks.

He writes back, opting not to mention that Jaskier already sent it to him earlier that day. Eskel was being thoughtful and Geralt has enough social awareness to know that pointing it out is a dick move, even if Eskel won't be offended. Plus, he'd rather not give his brother more ammunition to tease him with.

*

"It's going to be my birthday soon." Ciri states with all the gravity a soon-to-be six-year-old can muster. Which is a lot, surprisingly. Then again, birthdays are serious matters. 

"Yes, it is." 

"I want to go to the bouncy place we went to for Dara's birthday and I want cheese pizza and chocolate cake."

Not for the first time, Geralt is grateful to have a child who knows exactly what she wants. 

*

The bouncy place, as it turns out, charges an arm and a leg for their all-inclusive birthday package. Geralt scrubs a hand over his face before fishing his credit card out of his wallet to put down a deposit.

His mood improves, however, when he learns that by all-inclusive, they'll not only handle set-up and clean-up, but also the invitations and party favors and food. 

And candles, too. "Do you prefer six individual ones or one shaped like the number six?" 

Geralt remembers the way she gleefully blew out her candles one by one last year. "Six individual ones, please." 

*

Head's up. Ciri's going to invite you to her birthday party tomorrow.

Geralt hopes Jaskier will know how to handle this because he sure as hell doesn't. It feels like crossing the boundary they've established and carefully maintained but there's something sweet about his kid wanting her favorite teacher at her party. 

That's very sweet of her! But, you know, I can't say yes. 

Though he expected this answer, Geralt still feels a pang of disappointment and worries how Ciri will handle it.

I know. What will you tell her? 

The truth. I'm her teacher and I can't go around making exceptions. 

Not yet, anyway. 

Jaskier's last text is accompanied with a winking emoji.

Geralt doesn't include one with his. 

Not yet. 

*

"Jaskier said he wants to come but since he couldn't go to Dara's, it wouldn't be fair if he came to mine. Because he's our teacher and he should treat us the same." Ciri tells him as she hands him her backpack, unzipped with her lunchbox almost falling out, so she can go play in the sandbox. 

Geralt zips it up before setting it in the crook of his elbow. "That makes sense." 

"And I asked him if he can come next year when he's not my teacher and he doesn't have to treat us the same." She lowers her voice to a whisper. "He said yes!"

Geralt catches a glimpse of Jaskier through the window; the apple green of his shirt is both a shock and surprise, Geralt didn't know they made a checkered pattern in that color but Jaskier, in that inexplicable way of his, wears it well. "Hm." 

42 days.

*

The Lego Minifigures mystery bags are both a blessing and a curse, more of the latter if Geralt and his wallet have anything to say about it. Ciri's adamant on collecting the entire set; they have six Elsas but no Anna. 

They are, however, the perfect party favors. Kids love them and parents are relieved to not have to deal with another bouncy ball or, ugh, noisemaker. 

He's learned to check the bags first, throwing out the kazoos and whistles and party horns, before giving them to Ciri. It's the only way to have a quiet car ride home.

*

Ciri's actual birthday falls on a Wednesday. Geralt makes her thirteen mini-pancakes with chocolate chips carefully placed on top to spell out Happy Birthday.

She eats five of them and all of the chocolate chips. Geralt gets the syrup for the remaining eight that are now his breakfast. 

*

That night, they head to Vesemir's house for dinner. Ciri is absolutely delighted to find a balloon arch on the porch and even more so when she learns that they're not only there for decoration but also for her to pop. With supervision, of course. And the glitter-covered skewer that Vesemir presents to her. 

"Best! Gift! Ever!" She runs into Vesemir's arms, jumping up and down as she hugs her grandfather, who hastily hands the skewer to Geralt so she doesn't bump into it. "I love you, grandpa!" 

Vesemir brushes a careful hand through her hair; he knows better than to ruffle it now. "Love you too, cub. Happy birthday."

*

Eskel's gift, one that he already discussed with Geralt, is a Lego-themed summer day camp that runs Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It's important to keep some semblance of routine doing a longer break and the schedule will still allow her to join them at the office two days a week. 

Ciri squeezes him in thanks, leaving glitter all over his shirt. 

Lambert gets in one good laugh at Eskel's expense before he meets the same fate when he shows her the season pass to the water park, though judging by the way he wraps his arms around her just as tightly, he doesn't mind the glitter. 

None of them do. 

*

The three brothers clean up the balloon pieces on the porch in companionable silence. Through the open window, they can hear Vesemir reading the first chapter of the Little Prince, a recommendation from Jaskier in lieu of a gift this year, to Ciri. 

"Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the..."

*

Ciri falls asleep on the way home, her hair a golden halo around her tilted head as they pass under a streetlight. She seems older, somehow, since his last glance through the rearview mirror. An unmistakable shift that he can't place. 

He's still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he has a six year-old now. A not-so-little girl who will not hesitate to trip someone in self-defense, who's getting better at sitting still while he brushes out the tangles in her hair, who knows more words than her peers but loves making up new ones because why not? 

The lump in his throat grows and he feels slightly idiotic as he swallows it down. It's fine that she's turning- 

No, she turned six. 

She is six. 

And six is fine. Six is great. 

It's not sixteen and two years away from leaving for college. 

It's not twenty-six and maybe living in a different city with a job he hopes he understands enough of so he can talk to her about it. 

It's not thirty-six and-

Fuck. Geralt stops his own melodramatic thoughts with a swear that's too loud in the quiet car. 

Ciri stirs, raising her arms over her head in a half-stretch. "Dad?" 

"Hm?"

"Are we home yet?" 

"Almost." 

"Okay." She yawns and drifts off again.

Geralt watches her as much as he can while keeping an eye on the road. The knot in his gut loosens when she snuffles in her sleep, a sound she's made since she was a baby. 

She's still his little lion cub. 

*

Ciri's birthday party goes off without a hitch. 

Geralt is so grateful to the staff that he almost gives them a hug.

Almost. 

He settles for leaving them a rave review on their social media page, using Eskel's account.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, in the quiet of the night, Geralt marvels at how much he's learned in the six years he's been a parent. 

The plot of children's films, the lyrics to nonsense songs, and the names of characters that his daughter has long since lost interest in but he hasn't forgotten. Because each one is associated with Ciri. And as much as he'd like to scrub the Gummy Bear Song clean from his head, he wants to keep the memory of her infectious giggles and uncoordinated dancing more. 

Also, he takes back every bad thought he's ever had about Baby Shark. 

*

Hello Parents! 

Can you believe we only have a month to go before summer break? I definitely can't! But we will make the most of our time together and there are some big events coming up! 

First, we're starting our sun shelters project this week! It will span the rest of the semester and culminates in designing a structure that reduces the warming effect of sunlight on an area! Kids will be asked to bring in building supplies later this month, so start collecting up any cardboard boxes or plastic cups or glass jars you have around the house! 

Second, we'll have our new Picnic with Parents event the weekend after Memorial Day! In an effort to be more inclusive and considerate of different family make-ups, we've decided to combine the Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dads event into a joint event that'll have double the fun and treats! We hope you can join us! 

Third, kindergarten graduation! I've included the order form for the cap and gown, it's the same as last year so if you've got an older child, please feel free to reuse the set. 

Phew! That was a ton of information! I hope everything was conveyed clearly but if not, please let me know and I'm happy to answer your questions! 

Jaskier

p.s. We will still make crafts for the special grown-ups in our students' lives so don't panic about shopping for gifts! I got you covered! 

Slowly, Geralt lets out the breath he didn't know he was holding, the tension in his body draining away at the thought of not having yet another Mother's Day gift added to Ciri's art box. The lightness is unfamiliar but definitely something he can get used to. 

*

"We need to protect Mousesack!" 

Geralt has no idea who or what a Mousesack is and informs Ciri as much. 

She gasps, appalled by the fact he doesn't know about something he's never heard of. "Mousesack the Mouse!"

"Is that a show?" He takes her hand as they cross the parking lot.

"No! It's our new friend and he got sunburned..." 

*

He figures out quickly that Mousesack is part of the sun shelters project but it takes him a bit longer to determine if Mousesack is an actual animal or an imagined character. It's the latter, which Ciri informs him with an eye roll eerily reminiscent of Vesemir.

In his defense, he's heard stories of class pets before and they did just have live butterflies for their last science curriculum. 

Neither rationale ends up holding much weight when he tells Jaskier, who is still laughing long after the story is over. If it were anyone else - namely, his brothers - Geralt would be embarrassed, even annoyed, but it's Jaskier and those emotions have no place where Jaskier is concerned. 

Instead, Geralt continues to scrub away the dried yogurt on Ciri's coveted Dora the Explorer bowl. He really should have rinsed it this morning or at least let it soak first. 

"You're adorable." Jaskier's laughter trails off into chuckles then a quiet sigh full of fondness. It travels through the phone, and fills the empty space of Geralt's kitchen. 

"Hm." Geralt wonders what it would sound like in person, over the rush of running water and by his side. 

27 days.

*

The first step to improving Mousesack the Mouse's quality of life is figuring out the problem he's dealing with. In this case, the sun. 

"We need to gather up all the information we can before we make a plan!" Ciri states with authority.

They settle in on the couch to learn about the harmful effects of UV rays. Geralt has an arm around her shoulder, tucking her snugly against his side, and holding the book they checked out from the library - part of a Science for Kids series that Geralt almost picked up at the last book fair - with his other hand. As they make their way through the article, written in plain language to simplify the more complex concepts for children, he makes a note to see if he could order it online. The hardcover spine digs into his palm but it's a minor discomfort, easily ignored as they read together. 

*

Except for the technical terms, Ciri was able to read it on her own. Her small finger underlines each word so she doesn't skip a line by accident. 

Geralt feels a surge of pride that culminates in a kiss pressed against the crown of her head. 

And maybe an impromptu smoothie trip before dinner. 

*

Instead of handing her Mother's Day craft over quietly, as she's done over the previous years, Ciri presents the giant ladybug card with flourish. The wings, two red semi-circles with matching black dots affixed to a larger black circle, open to reveal a slightly blurry photo of her beaming at the camera and a strip of paper with Because of you, I am: printed on it, the last part left blank so the kids can add their own personal touch. 

Ciri wrote loved lots and lots.

Which is all Geralt ever hoped for, wished for, wanted for his daughter. 

Carefully, he pulls his little lion cub into a hug, paying special attention not to squish the ladybug. It's definitely not going into the art box. He's going to pin it to the refrigerator and never take it off. 

*

"Did it take you a long time to make?" He positions the magnet so the ladybug's wings can still open. 

"No! I was so fast that I made five! I'm really good with scissors, you know?" 

Geralt blinks. "Five?" 

*

There are three more ladybugs in Ciri's backpack for other special grown-ups in her life. 

She is always right because of Vesemir, having fun because of Eskel, and a trouble maker because of Lambert.

Geralt can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they see the cards tomorrow for another barbeque at Vesemir's. Lambert's expression will be hilarious for sure. Geralt makes a note to have his phone ready.

But there are only four, so where's the fifth one? 

"I gave it to Jaskier already." Ciri tells him when he asks. "He said we can make as many as we want for all the special grown-ups in our lives so I made one for him too."

It's so unexpectedly sweet that he's caught off-guard in the pleasantest of ways. "Hm, did he like it?" 

"Yeah! He said it's a super duper uper luper card!" 

Jaskier using Ciri's favorite phrase and the words she made up is just the latest proof, in a long list of many, that he's a wonderful teacher. Geralt smiles. "It is very super duper uper luper. What did you write?" 

"Huh?" 

"For the card? Because of you, I am..." He rephrases when she gives him a blank look. "Because of Jaskier, you are..." 

"A happy dandelion!" 

Geralt makes a noise that he wouldn't describe as a coo but others might. "He must have been happy to see that." 

"Well, actually. He blinked a bunch of times and had to go blow his nose." Ciri frowns. "I hope he's not getting sick again." 

"No, I don't think he is." Geralt is both amused and endeared, maybe a bit more of the former than the latter, at Jaskier's reaction. "I think he was just really happy to get a card from you." 

"Oh, good! Phew!" She wipes away an imaginary sweat drop from her forehead and flicks it at him. 

He ducks with ease. 

Chapter Text

Geralt was right. Lambert's face as he reads Ciri's card is hilarious. His expression shifts from touched to confused to shocked. Until, finally, it settles on smug. 

"That's right, cub! We are double trouble!" 

"Double trouble!"

*

As the sun shelter project moves into phase two, Geralt starts to see how expansive it really is. 

The Dandelions gather data on temperature, mark the passage of time, and observe the effects of shadows. Now they are drafting a blueprint, drawn with crayons. 

Geralt watches as she colors the roof - gray, like the empty tea tin Vesemir donated to the cause  - because last week's experiments taught them clear plastic does little to block out sunlight and tissue paper is too fragile.

19 days .

*

The process of plan-and-make repeats itself as the Dandelions construct sun shelters out of different materials and learn if they worked or not. It's brilliant on multiple levels, engaging the kids academically and encouraging them to view failures as chances to improve. 

Ciri is less likely to become frustrated to the point of tears when her latest Lego projects tumble down or when she gets the spelling of a new word wrong. 

Jaskier is a fantastic teacher. And Geralt can't help but wonder if Ciri's teacher next year will be able to meet the very high standards Jaskier has set. 

*

He tells Jaskier as such the next day, sitting together at one of the metal tables on the playground as Ciri chases her classmates in a game of tag after school.

"Thank you." Jaskier says softly. "And fret not, Essi is a wonderful teacher, the best of the first grade bunch if you ask me. Ciri will adore her." 

"Hm. Speaking of that, we need to talk." Immediately, Geralt wants to kick himself for the words he chose and hastily clarifies. "It's nothing bad."

Jaskier glances at him with barely-concealed amusement. "I didn't think it was. So, what is it?" 

"I don't know what to tell her. About us. This summer." 

On the playground, Ciri tags Dara but instead of transferring her role as the tagger to him, they've decided to team up. Much to their friends' very, very loud delight, the cacophony of yells and laughter almost drowning out Jaskier's next words. 

"That we're friends. That I'll be around more to hang out." 

"That's it?" 

"Until we know for sure this is what we both want, yes." 

Geralt can't help but feel a sting of rejection. It makes him bolder than he usually is, than he should be given where they are. "I know I want you." 

Jaskier startles and shifts closer, his voice pitched low. "I want you too, that's not in question here. You, er, you said your therapist recommended holding off the relationship announcement until we're well-established."

Oh, right. Geralt remembers that session now and with it, how he kept pushing when he first brought up the subject of being friends with Jaskier to Ciri and how that annoyed her. All because he couldn't believe things could be that easy. 

If he's being honest, he still doesn't quite believe it but at least he knows better than to make it difficult for the sake of it. 

"Good point." Geralt presses his shoulder against Jaskier's. "We should, hm, date."

"Bingo." Jaskier leans into the touch briefly before moving away. They're still at the school, after all. 

Geralt never thought he'd be dating someone who says bingo unironically but here he is. Here they are. 

11 days.

*

Geralt waits until bedtime to talk to Ciri, figuring a mellow setting would be best. "Hey, cub?" 

"Yeah?"

He tucks the blanket under her chin. "Remember when I asked you'd be okay if I'm friends with Jaskier?" 

"I'm already friends with him." She yawns, burrowing into her pillow. 

"I know. And, well, with summer coming, I'm thinking maybe we can hang out more together." 

"I get to see Jaskier over the summer?" 

"Yes." 

Pure joy washes over her face, removing all traces of fatigue. "Woohoo!" 

Hm, maybe bedtime wasn't such a good choice after all. 

*

There is a package from an unfamiliar vendor waiting on their porch. 

Geralt slices open the tape with some trepidation, still haunted by the time Ciri bought a giant lollipop without his knowledge. It could have been worse, he supposes. He's since turned off one-click ordering on his account. 

His stomach swoops as he takes in the contents in the box. A set of graduation cap and gown in the same shade of blue that he's seen on the school's logo. 

Goddamn it, there's something in his eye. 

*

Ciri finds him a while later, asking about a snack before dinner. 

"Dad?" 

"I love you." He envelopes her in a hug, trying to memorize how she fits in his arms now, while she's still a kindergartener. 

"I love you too."

"You're graduating soon."

"Yep."

A beat of silence passes. 

She pokes his side. "So, um, can I have a brownie bar?" 

*

"You are- Wait, this can't be right!" Vesemir squints at the growth chart hanging by the door frame. It's shaped like a giant ruler and cost Lambert less than $10 of materials to make. A much better deal than the $50 price tag Geralt saw online.

"It is!" Giggling, Ciri struggles to balance on her tiptoes. 

"You're 3 feet and 9 inches tall?"

"Yep!" 

"Really?" 

"Yep!"

"Alright, I'll mark it down." Vesemir uncaps the marker slowly, drawing the moment out-

She drops her heels down. "I tricked you!" 

Vesemir gasps with exaggerated shock - another side of his father Geralt never expected to see - as Ciri gives Lambert a high-five for their shenanigans. 

Double trouble, indeed. 

Geralt leaves his very comfortable spot on the couch. "Let's find out how tall you really are, cub." 

She stands next to the ruler again, this time not on her tiptoes. 

"3 feet and 6 inches." He announces. "And how many inches total is that?"

Ciri's face scrunches up with concentration. "42 inches!" 

Just tall enough for the spiral slide at the water park that she couldn't go on last year. 

"Yes!"  She rushes to tell Eskel, who's setting up the inflatable pool in the backyard, and takes Lambert with her because that's the Double Trouble way.

Shaking his head, Geralt watches as his father writes today's date on the ruler. In his periphery, he can see the faded lines marking his and his brothers' growth on the door frame. Two generations of history on one wall, recorded by the same man. 

"Dad." 

"Hm?" 

"Thanks." There's so much more he wants to say but all he manages is one word.

Vesemir's clap on his shoulder, though, tells him that his father heard him loud and clear. 

*

Picnic with Parents is held in the school's courtyard, where two long tables are set up and lined with assorted pastries. 

Geralt makes small talk with Fiona's dad, whose wife is at her sister's baby shower, while their daughters toast their matching outfits with matching donuts. 

A year ago, he'd have laughed at the idea that he'd be enjoying a school social event. He's happy to be proven wrong. 

Fiona drops her donut on her dress. Her father rushes off with a hurried good-bye. 

Ah, parenthood. 

Geralt's musing is interrupted a moment later when Ciri drops her donut on her dress in solidarity. 

6 days.

*

Mousesack's new home has popsicle sticks for walls and a roof made of cardboard, providing a wide swath of shade. For a construction held together by glue and tape, it looks surprisingly sturdy. 

Ciri's first collaborative engineering project is a masterpiece.

Geralt is fully aware that he's biased. He prints the photo at the drugstore kiosk and pins it on their fridge. 

*

Graduation day comes. 

Ciri walks across the stage, regal in her robes and with the cap perched perfectly on her head. 

Geralt sniffles but his hands are steady as he films her.

Eskel scrubs a hand over his face.

Lambert blows his nose with the crumpled napkin that Vesemir, who's dabbing at the corners of his eyes with his thumbs, found in his pocket.

*

Geralt goes to collect Ciri after the ceremony, his father and brothers already out in the parking lot. 

Jaskier gives her a double high-five. "I'll see you around, okay?"

"You should come to the Coast with us next week."

"It's a water park." Geralt explains when Jaskier tilts his head in confusion. 

A water park isn't where Geralt envisioned taking Jaskier, what he's already planned, for their first date - a ride on Roach followed by dinner at the taco truck Jaskier's been meaning to check out. Then again, none of this was what he pictured when Ciri started kindergarten and somehow everything he's ever wanted.

"Sounds good to me." Jaskier smiles. 

Geralt can't wait to see that smile in the sun and at night, on weekends and holidays, outside of school and maybe in his home. 

Ciri cheers. "And we're both tall enough to go on the spiral slide!"

Chapter Text

Ciri is delighted when she learns Jaskier hasn't been to the Coast before and decides that showing him around properly - her fake British accent making a reappearance - is her goal for the day.

Jaskier goes wherever she leads him. Geralt follows them, chiming in with his own commentary and smuggling them drinks and snacks from the many pockets on his cargo shorts; charging $5 for a bottle of water isn't overpriced, it's robbery. 

Despite not interacting with Jaskier as much as they would have had they been on a date, it's still a rush to be next to him. To be seen together. To be with him without concerns about boundaries. 

The swoop in his stomach complements the flutters in his chest nicely.

Neither compares to the buzz in his blood when Jaskier climbs out of the pool after going down the spiral slide. The white long-sleeved rash guard is nearly translucent, clinging to the slope of his waist and the dark patch of chest hair. 

*

It's both surprising and not how well Jaskier fits into their lives. The line drawn between them last semester, at times blurred but never crossed, is all but washed away after their visit to the Coast. 

Any trace that remained is scattered in the winds when Geralt takes Jaskier on their official first date. 

*

"You're letting me ride Roach?" Jaskier's eyes widen and he just stares at the helmet in his hands. 

Geralt is confused. "Never said you couldn't." 

"It was implied." 

"When?" 

"When you told me you named her after your first bike."

"What?" 

"It's sentimental."

"That's why I chose it for tonight." Geralt points out.

Jaskier flushes and slides the helmet on. 

*

They fill their July with more motorcycle rides and food trucks, a backyard barbeque where Geralt bribed his brothers to not bring out the baby photos only to be betrayed by his own father, and many more water park adventures both to escape the scorching heat and to get the most value out of their season pass. 

And, of course, the steady stream of texts throughout the day and the whispered phone calls at night.

*

Their first kiss is simultaneously timid and thrilling. A fleeting press of lips that feels forbidden after months of controlling their body language to avoid any appearance of intimacy. 

Their second and third kiss are placed at each corner of Jaskier's mouth as Jaskier threads his fingers through Geralt's hair to pull him in, deepening their fourth kiss with a murmur of please.

Their fifth and sixth and seventh kiss are spent learning the taste of Jaskier's cherry chapstick, the heat of Jaskier's mouth, and the sounds he can pull out of Jaskier with a nip on the bottom lip. 

Geralt adds them all to his mental list of Jaskier things, then goes back for an eighth and ninth and tenth and many, many more. 

*

Fiona's father contacts him after the class assignments went out to see if their daughters are in the same class again. 

The answer, unfortunately, is no. 

Equally unfortunate is the girls' decision to wear matching outfits for the entire first week of school so they can find each other on the playground. 

Geralt hopes they'll forget all about it in a month. 

*

Wait, school is starting in a month? 

Fuck.  

*

The chocolate chip pancakes are getting cold. 

"Ciri!" Geralt tries to keep the irritation out of his voice though this is the fourth time he's had to call her down for breakfast. 

"Hold on!" 

It'd be counterproductive, he reminds himself as he closes his eyes, if he lost his temper. They won't get out of the house on time with the requisite cuddles after and they really can't be late for her first grade orientation. 

He pours himself some more coffee. 

*

"They're cold." Ciri pokes at her pancakes with a finger. 

"That's what happens when you take too long getting ready." He doesn't offer to heat them up in the microwave. She needs to learn that there are consequences, however small, to her actions. 

"Oh." Ciri sighs and takes another bite with a pout. 

Although, hm, it is her first grade orientation and he made those pancakes to commemorate the occasion. She should enjoy them. 

Geralt drains the rest of his cup and goes to rinse it in the sink. On his way back to the table, he grabs the whipped cream from the fridge and the sprinkles from the cupboards. 

This isn't giving in. It's a compromise. 

*

Ciri finishes her breakfast in record time and has her hands washed and shoes on while Geralt cleans up. 

"Dad! C'mon! We're going to be late!" 

Oh, the irony. 

*

Essi is a petite woman with a soft voice and side-swept bangs that nearly cover one of her eyes. She, too, plays the guitar and greets them with a song which wins Ciri over immediately and leaves Geralt wondering if musicality is an employment requirement. 

"Let me show you where you'll put your stuff." 

While Essi gives Ciri a tour of her new classroom, Geralt reads over the welcome packet. The daily schedule for first graders is similar to that for kindergartners, academic lessons in the morning and extracurricular activities in the afternoon, now on different days of the week. 

He pulls out his phone and updates them in his calendar; art class is moved to Mondays and computer lessons to Tuesdays and, god damn it , he'd just got them memorized. 

*

Time seems to speed up after the orientation. 

As the days in August dwindle down, Geralt can't help but think about how they'll be returning to the place where he and Jaskier first met with slightly different roles.

Jaskier will be a teacher instead of Ciri's teacher. 

Their summer together has eased any trepidation Jaskier felt, with Ciri's best interest at heart, but only confirmed what Geralt knew months ago. He wants Jaskier, wholeheartedly and always. 

Tonight, one week before the start of the fall semester, they'll tell Ciri that they are in a relationship.

*

"I think in a relationship is too vague. A friendship is a relationship, after all." Jaskier blurts out as soon as Geralt opens the door. 

"Jask-"

"Should we say dating instead? That sounds better, right? But does she know what dating means?" He's practically vibrating with nervous energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet and fingers twisting in the hem of his royal blue t-shirt. His hair is ruffled, Geralt wouldn't be surprised if he's been running his hands through it. 

"Yes-"

"I mean, of course she does because your daughter's vocabulary is way above her grade level but does she know what it means means, if you know what I mean?" 

Geralt's answer is to slot their mouths together.

Jaskier tenses, lips still moving around a muffled word but then he's kissing back with a happy sigh that's more felt than heard. His hands move to grasp at Geralt's shoulders while Geralt's settle at his waist. 

"It'll be okay. Don't overthink it." Geralt whispers when they pull apart. "We'll just tell her and go from there." 

"Yeah, I'll follow your lead-"

"Tell me what?" Ciri asks, peering out from behind Geralt. "And why were you kissing? Are you a couple?" 

Jaskier makes a choking noise.

"Yes, we are a couple. That's what we were going to tell you." Geralt answers calmly. 

"Oh, okay." 

Clearing his throat, Jaskier kneels down to be at Ciri's eye level. "Are you, um, okay with us being a couple?" 

"Yep." 

"Are you sure?" 

"Yep." 

"I mean, are you really-" 

"She's sure." Geralt intervenes before Ciri gets irritated by the repeated questions. He's learned that lesson the hard way but Jaskier doesn't have to. 

Jaskier glances up at him, his brow furrowed. "Are you sure that she's sure?" 

"Yes." Father and daughter say in unison.

*

It's the first day of fall semester.  

"I'm ready!" Ciri dances into the kitchen in her watermelon dress.

Geralt frowns though she looks adorable. "I thought you were going to wear the popsicle shirt and shorts?" 

Fiona and Ciri did not forget about their matching plan as he had hoped. 

"Oops! I'll be right back!" 

*

Jaskier is waiting on the sidewalk by the designated motorcycle parking. "Good morning, first grader!" 

"Hi!" Ciri launches herself off of Roach and into Jaskier's arms. 

Geralt retrieves Jaskier's peppermint latte - for reasons beyond Geralt's understanding, peppermint syrup is available year round - from the saddlebag, pleased to note that the custom cup holder kept it from tipping over. 

It couldn't protect the cup from glitter, though. 

Jaskier winks as he accepts it, angling his hand so their fingers brush together. "Thank you." 

"Any time." 

They each take one of Ciri's hands, bracketing her between them. 

"Ready, spaghetti?" 

"This spaghetti is ready!"