It’s during his third run of the day that Geralt sees it. Half hidden behind dripping cherry blossom trees, a bright red sign proclaims Dandelion’s Café in blocky letters. The small shop is painted teal and looks like a lighthouse for hipsters.
Geralt hesitates. His legs burn. Sweat sticks his shirt to his back. The sun is harsh in the sky today. One drink couldn’t hurt.
A pleasant bell announces his arrival when he pushes the door open. A rich coffee smell lures Geralt one step in before his mind catches up with his eyes. He immediately wants to take five steps back. What the fuck.
Behind the expected wooden counter, a cheerful yellow wall dominates the room. Above the coffee appliances hangs a black chalkboard, where someone has scribbled a menu. Warm lighting and healthy plants overflow everywhere.
Overhead, a man’s warm voice croons something about love.
The counter is decorated with strands of fairy light, and behind it, the barista is in a flowery apron with what looks like flour smeared into his brown curls. He turns at the sound of the bell, and clear blue eyes pin Geralt down before he can retreat.
The smile that lights up his face is...something. So is the way his eyes flit down and then up again.
“Hello there!” he chirps. “What can I get you, stranger?”
Geralt is still trying to recover his senses. Between the plants and the mosaic tables and chairs, he feels claustrophobic. An older couple sits to his right, faces buried in the newspaper. The bright paintings hanging from the walls are crooked.
There’s a red Christmas decoration dangling from a light.
What the fuck.
He’s already shifted his weight back but. That coffee really does smell good. Geralt stares at the barista’s expectant smile, which hasn’t wavered an iota despite Geralt’s silence. Next to the counter is a display cabinet filled with cartoon cakes and colorful pastries.
A twinge in his stomach reminds Geralt that he hasn’t had lunch yet.
One drink can’t hurt.
Geralt takes a few steps forward. Slowly. He tears his eyes from the barista to scan the blackboard. What the fuck is a salted caramel rose tea?
“One small black coffee,” Geralt says.
The barista is bobbing to the song playing, fingers wiggling on the counter. “Of course!” he says. “For here or to go? Anything else I can get you? You look like you’ve had a long morning. One of our apple rose puffs? A cinnamon sugar lion knot?”
Geralt has no idea what those are. “Just the coffee. To go.”
“Okay!” Light on his feet, the barista rings up the order. “I’m Jaskier, by the way. I don’t think I’ve seen you before at Dandelion’s. What’s your name?”
Geralt doesn’t know why he asks. There are no other customers around. He has no reason to give his name to this stranger working at a café he’ll never frequent again. “Geralt,” he says as he pays.
“Geralt.” Jaskier drags out his name like he’s tasting the syllables on his tongue. It sounds different in his voice. Jaskier turns and moves to the coffee machine with the grace of a seasoned employee. “What were you doing that’s got you so worked up and sweaty?”
Geralt doesn’t remember other retail workers being this chatty. “Running.”
“In this weather?” Jaskier gasps. He sounds very impressed. “Oh wow. I could never. To be fair, I rarely run anyways. Not much needed at a café. Here’s our freshly brewed house blend, Geralt! Do enjoy.” He turns and thrusts a disposable paper cup across the counter.
It’s blue. Including the cap.
“It’s recyclable,” Jaskier adds.
“Hm. Thank you.” Geralt takes the coffee and leaves, turning away from the colors and the sounds and Jaskier’s gaze on his back. He won’t be coming back here again.
A block later, the coffee feels cool enough to drink. Geralt takes a sip and almost pauses in surprise. The flavor is nuanced, smoky and sweet. It may be the best coffee he’s ever had.
“Fuck,” he says to himself. Good coffee or not, he’s still never going back to that awful place.
Geralt is back at Dandelion’s Café two days later. He listens to the bell sound as he enters and despairs. It’s been days since he’s written a word. The yellow here is as bright as ever, the music of the same artist. Jaskier is manning the counter again, and a couple sits in the farthest corner, arguing quietly.
Jaskier grins when he sees Geralt and flings his arms open wide. He’s still wearing that floral apron. It gets uglier every time he looks at it. “Geralt! Welcome back! What can I get you today?”
Geralt didn’t expect him to remember his name. His white-blond hair always gains him startled looks, but no one remembers his name after only one meeting. “One medium black coffee,” he says. There’s no flour in Jaskier’s hair this time.
Jaskier grins wider. “You like our coffee! That’s good to hear. Anything else? A blueberry vanilla vegan scone? A turkey and bacon panini with fig jam? Our house special today is the roasted cauliflower with chives soup. For here or to go?”
Geralt never said he likes their coffee. How did Jaskier say all of that in one breath? “Just the coffee. To go.”
“Alrighty then.” Jasker rings him up, unperturbed. “Are you just not hungry or do none of our options appeal to you? Be honest; I like to hear honest feedback, and you look like an honest man.”
Does he? “I like simple foods,” Geralt says.
Jaskier cocks his head and hums to the music. “Oh, I never thought about that. Not the kind of niche we usually go for, you know. Is that a homegrown-preference? Or have you done some experimenting and decided it’s not for you?”
His family once survived on potatoes and plain bread. Fig jam was a fool’s dream. Geralt doesn’t know what to say so he says nothing.
“That’s fair,” Jaskier says like Geralt replied. He slides another blue cup across the counter. “Remember to recycle!”
Geralt hums in acknowledgment and leaves. The coffee is as good as before. He had hoped it was a fluke.
He doesn’t forget to recycle.
“Your deadline’s coming up soon,” Renfri says over the phone. “What’s the situation?”
Geralt is staring at his word document. It looks exactly like it did a week ago. Roach naps at his feet, her tag thumping against the floor. “Nothing’s changed.”
“Well, it has to. And soon.” Renfri has no sympathy in her. It’s why they get along. “You’ve tried the usual methods?”
“Yeah.” Of course he has. Running, going to the park, petting Roach, working out until his muscles ache; he’s tried them all. His writer’s block hasn’t budged in the least.
Renfri makes a frustrated noise. “Have you tried writing in a different location? That helped Regis.”
Geralt frowns. “I only write in my office, Ren. You know that.” She’s been his editor for three years.
“Yeah, and it hasn’t been working this time. Go pick a place that’s quiet and where you won’t be disturbed. Try getting some words out there. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else but you better do it. I’m calling again in three days, and I don’t want to hear any excuses.”
Geralt opens his mouth to protest.
Renfri hangs up on him.
He sighs. “Fuck you, too, Ren,” he says to the end tone.
Quiet. Won’t be disturbed. Not his office.
Those are the criteria Renfri set out for him. There are no places Geralt can think of that meet all three criteria.
Eskel wouldn’t disturb him, but he’s across the Continent and Geralt doesn’t want to be at his home without him. Lambert’s a lost cause from the start. If he phones Yennefer, she’ll laugh and hang up on him. And she’ll tell Vesemir, the snitch.
So it’ll have to be somewhere public then. The park? No, there are always too many people. He can’t write when he knows there are people at his back. The library’s got the same issue. Plus the librarian always glares at him when he goes like he’s still that ratty kid with mud on his shoes.
There...aren’t many other places he likes to go to.
Geralt decides to go for a walk. The fresh air will clear his head. On the way back, he veers off to seek the shade of the trees. When he looks up again, Dandelion’s Café greets him in red and blue. Well. He could do with a coffee.
This time, Jaskier is wiping down a table when he steps in. “Geralt!” he cheers like he’s a long lost friend. “It’s good to see you. More black coffee to go?”
It’s nearing noon. A teenage girl in a blue coat laughs with a boy her age, neither of them looking up at his entrance. Geralt nods and steps up to the counter. The singer who is always played over the speakers here is singing this song with a rasp to his voice. It sends shivers down his spine.
“I can’t tempt you with anything else today?” Jaskier asks. He’s persistent but oddly earnest. Like Geralt’s answer really matters to him. “If you like simpler fare, our cream of mushroom soup isn’t half bad, if I do say so myself.
Geralt hesitates. He shouldn’t. He has food at home that he needs to cook. He’s not that hungry. Jaskier’s eyes are very blue. “Okay,” he hears himself say. Damn it.
Jaskier beams. No one alive should be this bright all the time. Geralt should look away. People who stare at the sun for too long go blind.
He doesn’t look away.
“I knew I’d talk you around to my way of thinking eventually! Won’t you stay to drink your soup? It’s best served hot, and I don’t know where you’re going, of course, but I don’t fancy you drinking cold soup or trying to drink soup while walking. It won’t take more than five minutes, I’m sure,” Jaskier says, all in a rush. He’s leaning across the counter, and a curl of dark hair is threatening to flop in front of his eyes.
Geralt tries to pick his way through the flood of words. It does make sense. He likes his soups to be properly hot. He doesn’t want to spill soup on himself. It won’t take long and then he’ll be able to escape back to his apartment, far away from Jaskier and his everything.
“Okay,” he says again.
Jaskier actually bounces on his feet, not unlike Roach when she’s excited. “Great! Here, go take a seat, I’ll bring your food to you when it’s ready.”
Geralt nods and turns away before he can say ‘okay’ for the third time in a row. He picks the table in the corner, as far away from the teenagers as possible. The café is still so small that he can see Jaskier at the counter.
The painting hanging from the wall to his right is of a man in a white dress and a woman in a heavy trench coat. Between them is a campfire. Geralt can’t make any sense of it. He checks his phone for lack of anything else to do.
There’s a text from Yennefer, sent from two hours ago: Send me a picture of Roach
As usual, there is no context whatsoever.
Geralt texts back: Not home right now
When there isn’t an immediate response, he assumes she’s busy with a case. Of everyone he knows, Yennefer is the most successful. As it probably should be.
The only other notification is from Renfri, who sent him an emoji of eyes. Geralt doesn’t bother responding to that one.
He tucks his phone away. Jaskier is the only movement within eyesight, so it’s only natural that Geralt looks at him. He’s humming to the music, swaying on his feet. Geralt doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jaskier be still for more than three seconds. He can’t fathom having that much energy.
The current song fades out. Another starts, this time with the voice of a woman joining in. It’s jaunty and catching, so much so that Geralt almost doesn’t mind the lyrics. But now that he’s sitting down and it’s quiet but for the whirl of the café machinery and Jaskier’s humming, he hears:
So hold me like you used to,
So tight I’d bruise you,
I’d bruise you,
I’d bruise you too.
It’s not music he’d expect from a café, but then, nothing about this café matches his expectations anyway. Something about the juxtaposition of the lively melody and the shadowy lyrics pulls at him, and Geralt listens intently for the rest of the song.
Maybe that’s what his chapter is missing. It’s full of shadows but shadow can’t exist without light.
Jaskier skips up to him, plate in hand. “Your meal, my good sir,” he says with a ridiculous little flourish.
Geralt gives him the look that comment deserves. He’s been told his glowers could make a soldier wet his pants, but Jaskier just grins and dances away. There is nothing about him that Geralt understands.
The coffee he knows but the soup he tastes tentatively. It’s creamy and smooth, the flavours delicate upon his tongue. Geralt huffs. Of course the food here is as good as the coffee. The universe loves nothing better than to fuck with him.
He’s scraping the bowl when an idea plants itself in the back of his mind. Geralt stares out the window on his left and tries to fit everything together. This novel is by far the most complicated one he’s ever written.
A shadow falls over the table.
He’s never heard Jaskier’s voice that soft. Geralt peers about the café. When did those teenagers leave? When did that old lady come in and start knitting a neon orange scarf? When did Jaskier move so close?
Jaskier’s looking at his plate. His empty plate. When did he finish his coffee? “Do you want a refill?” Jaskier asks.
Geralt shakes his head. His fingers itch for his keyboard. He moves to stand up and take the plate but Jaskier gets there before him. “Nu-uh, let me take that, thank you. Glad you enjoyed your soup; try a panini next time, okay? I have it on good authority that they’re amazing.”
Geralt should protest the assumption that he’ll be coming here again, much less taking Jaskier’s food recommendations. He grunts instead and makes his way back home.
Two hours of steady writing later, Geralt stares at the wall. “Fuck.”
Geralt can hear Renfri’s smug little grin in her voice. “A coffee shop is a great place to write. Very...traditional,” she says.
“Shut up. I’ll get the draft to you in a week.” He hangs up on her before she has the chance to do it to him.
Geralt doesn’t know how to approach the subject with Jaskier. So he just...doesn’t.
“You’re earlier than usual,” Jaskier says when Geralt reaches the counter. His gaze touches briefly on the shoulder bag that weighs down Geralt’s right shoulder, but he doesn’t comment.
Odd. Geralt was almost expecting him to.
“What will it be today, Geralt? Are you going to take me up on that panini offer?” It’s eight in the morning. How is Jaskier this perky and talkative? Maybe he’s not a human. He could be a pixie. A hyperactive one.
There are three tables occupied for breakfast and for once, Geralt had to wait in a queue. He’s not come in at a mealtime before. Geralt has had time to squint at the blackboard and the display cabinet. He still doesn’t know what he wants.
He nods and hopes Jaskier will fill the silence.
Jaskier doesn’t disappoint. “Oh, brilliant! A chicken pesto sound good?”
Geralt nods and adds, “A large black coffee.”
Jaskier flashes a quick smile and then says, with a note of hope in his voice that bewilders Geralt, “As if I could forget. For here?”
Geralt hums in agreement, pays, and makes for the table that he sat in last time before Jaskier can continue holding up the line on his behalf. The wall is to his back, the window to his left, and there’s no one sitting to his right. His line of sight to the door and the counter are clear. For his purposes, this will suit just fine.
He takes off his bag and sets down his laptop. As always, the stupid little smiley sticker that Renfri stuck on the top of his laptop as a joke makes his eye twitch. That was the night he vowed to never again go drinking with both Renfri and Yennefer.
It takes Jaskier longer than usual to get to him, but Geralt doesn’t mind. Today, the voice overhead sings a merry sea shanty that warns of nymphs and creatures of the deep. Geralt looks at the cherry blossoms outside the window and thinks of pirates and criminals.
He places his hands on the keyboard and types.
When Geralt surfaces for air, the café is considerably quieter. The only other patrons are an old man and his two daughters. Jaskier is close, watching him with a smile that Geralt hasn’t seen before. “Hey,” he says.
Geralt usually notices when people are watching him. How long has Jaskier been standing there? “Hey,” he echoes.
Jaskier looks at his laptop with open curiosity but all he does is place a plate on the table. The panini is still sizzling a little. Steam rises from the coffee mug. “Your coffee and panini, my fine gentleman,” he says with a different dramatic flourish.
Then, he leans in closer as if telling a secret and asks, “Do you need the café wifi?”
Oh. “Yes. Please.” Microsoft Word is fine but Geralt prefers working on documents that automatically update. He’s had far too many incidents with unexpected crashes. Once, Roach jumped on his keyboard and managed to erase ten whole pages of work.
Jaskier smiles. There’s a mischievous glint in his eyes, a boy sneaking off to the cookie jar. And bringing Geralt along with him, apparently. “It’s lute. L-u-t-e.”
The only thing that comes to mind is Geralt’s history teacher. The one who sneered at him the most. “The...instrument?”
“Yeah. It was my favorite as a child. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play but never had the chance.” Jaskier leans back and sighs, a hand pressed to his forehead. Geralt thinks he saw a painting of a fainting Victorian lady in the same position once.
“If you want to be a lute player,” Geralt tells him, “you won’t have much competition.”
Jaskier turns a wary expression on him. Roach is more threatening than he is. “I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a compliment or an insult.”
Geralt hums and turns back to his laptop. It’s only when Jaskier has huffed and returned to the counter that he notices his faint reflection in the laptop screen.
He’s smiling. Been smiling. Just a little.
Two hours later, Jaskier is at his table again. The old man and his daughters are gone, replaced by two women in suits talking over pink-frothy drinks and a mother and her toddler daughter enjoying a cake that resembles a cartoon bear.
Come quell your daughter’s hunger…
The sailor shanties have also shown no signs of stopping. If the coffee wasn’t so good, Geralt would have left without looking back a long time ago.
Jaskier bounces on his toes with the beat until Geralt looks at him. He’s standing with his hands clasped behind his back, and his gaze keeps darting between Geralt and his laptop. “Can I get you anything else?” he asks, although this is clearly not a professional visit.
How long will he be able to keep that pretense up? “No, thanks,” Geralt says, just to see.
“Oh.” Jaskier squirms. He glances at his feet and then at Geralt again. The male singer appears to have turned into a sheep, complete with incessant baa-ing.
Geralt takes a sip of his cold coffee. He might actually want a refill.
That didn’t take long. “Hm?”
“Can I ask you a question?” Jaskier looks at him with big, big eyes. He really does remind Geralt of Roach when she wants something.
Geralt makes a non-committal noise.
“It might be a little personal.”
“What are you doing?” Jaskier bursts out at long last. He’s rocking back and forth now, still to the beat of the nonsensical sheep song.
Geralt hides a small smile in his mug. He takes another sip. When Jaskier looks like he might vibrate out of his skin, he relents and says, “Typing.”
“Well, I can see that! But—you’ve never been here for so long! Or bought a laptop! Not that I want you to leave, you’re always welcome, but you can’t blame a man for being curious.” Jaskier pauses. “Unless you’re actually doing something super secret; in that case, please don’t kill me for asking.”
Jaskier’s breath control is impressive. Geralt knows a few navy men who couldn’t do better.
There’s really no reason for Geralt to tell Jaskier. Even asking like this is intrusive. Jaskier is meant to be a barista and nothing else. This is surely against some employee conduct code. Geralt is going to tell him to fuck off. Nothing good comes of him revealing his profession.
“I’m a writer,” is what comes out of his mouth instead. Damn it.
Jaskier’s entire face lights up. Geralt may as well have told him he’s royalty. “A writer? What do you write? What genre? Can I read it? Are you secretly famous? Do I have a secret celebrity in my humble café?”
Geralt blinks. That wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. Most people scoff and tell him he’s not verbose enough to be a writer. “Urban fantasy and no.”
Jaskier pouts. His lips are pink. “You won’t let me read your writing? Or you aren’t famous?”
“No,” Geralt says. It’s even the truth, mostly.
Jaskier pouts harder. When Geralt does nothing but look at him, he heaves an enormous sigh and slumps. He’s the most dramatic person Geralt has ever met. “Oh, very well. Be your quiet, mysterious self. I mean it, though, you’re always welcome. Are you sure you don’t want a refill and a pastry?”
You’re always welcome. How can Jaskier say that so flippantly? He doesn’t even know Geralt. Perhaps Jaskier treats everyone with the same open arms.
“I could do with a small coffee,” Geralt allows.
Jaskier grins and picks up his plate. “On it! I’ll put it on your tab.” He throws a wink over his shoulder and skips off before Geralt can get his wits about him.
What the hell was that about? Since when does he have a tab?
When he’s writing, Geralt often forgets to take breaks for food and water. It’s why working at home suits him. Roach will nudge him if she wants either, and he’ll follow suit.
It looks like he won’t have to concern himself with that at Dandelion’s Café either.
Around noon, there’s an influx of customers. The bell rings nonstop. Geralt shrinks back into his seat and keeps his eyes on the newcomers. It was quiet and peaceful. He had even managed to tune out Jaskier’s humming. Now, he can’t even hear the music.
Geralt grits his teeth and endures it. At least no one pays attention to him.
Jaskier takes a minute to chat with every customer. He knows most of their names and asks for the ones he doesn’t know. He asks after family members, work updates, and milk preferences. All the while, he flits about like a hummingbird in flight.
When they first met, Jaskier said he doesn’t run much. Geralt thinks running would be much easier than Jaskier’s chaotic bustling.
Jaskier has a friendly smile for everyone. It’s not the one that blinds Geralt nor the soft, quiet one. He doesn’t coax anyone else into ordering more food. But Geralt can’t have his eyes and ears on Jaskier every second.
He turns back to his laptop screen.
The rush dies down around 1:30 PM. There’s only Geralt and three teenage girls left. One has an obnoxious giggle. He can hear the music again.
After summers of fasting,
I feel hunger at last.
The person fifteen year old me
Would be proud to have known.
When the last to-go customer leaves, Jaskier throws himself in a chair not far from Geralt with a groan. He slumps across the table and mumbles into his arms, “Lunchtime is always the worst.” It’s the first time Geralt has seen Jaskier even remotely approaching a normal level of cheer.
Maybe he’s human after all.
Geralt’s coffee is cold again. He drinks the last of it anyway. Jaskier’s hair is a mess.
Two songs pass before Jaskier stirs again. Geralt was wondering if he’d fallen asleep. A still Jaskier is strange.
With a loud whine that makes the teenage girls giggle, Jaskier bounds up to his feet. Then, he turns to Geralt before he can look away. There’s an imprint of the table design on his left cheek. Geralt hasn’t written a word in twenty minutes.
“Do you have a preference for lunch?” Jaskier asks with a tilt of his head. How can he see with his hair in his eyes like that? Why is he so sure that Geralt will stick around? Or even want lunch? He should say something about those presumptions. It’s insulting.
Geralt makes a negative sound.
“Great!” Jaskier’s smile crinkles his eyes. “Any dietary restrictions? Allergies? Foods you inexplicably hate with all your heart?”
Geralt doesn’t make a habit of choosing food based on his heart. But… “Cilantro,” he grunts.
“Ah.” Jaskier nods. “The dreaded cilantro soap gene. Don’t worry, I rarely use cilantro. How about a cheese and beef crepe? With a hot reishi mushroom cacao drink? You’ve had more than enough coffee for one day, I think.”
Geralt doesn’t need someone nagging him over caffeine of all things. As long as he pays, why does Jaskier care? And he has no idea what mushroom is doing in hot cocoa. But he’s liked everything else that Jaskier has given him.
“I’ll try it,” he says reluctantly. Then, “You haven’t had lunch either.” It’s been five hours since Geralt walked in and Jaskier hasn’t taken a single break. That’s normal in the army, but Nenneke has told him repeatedly that he’s to “stop that nonsense at once.”
Jaskier blinks at him. Several times. His eyelashes are long. “You noticed? Aww, Geralt, I’m touched!” He’s beaming again. “How about this? I’ll eat lunch if you let me eat it at your table. I don’t like to eat food alone. It always makes me feel like I got stood up or something.”
Geralt has never understood the concept of abandoning a date. He understands why someone would stand up Jaskier even less. Also, this trade-off is the most illogical and biased one he’s ever heard, and he’s friends with Yenn. Why would he give up his space and his quiet for Jaskier to eat?
Then again. If his barista collapses, he won’t get lunch. The lack of coffee would be a shame. It’s not such a big sacrifice. It’ll be just this once.
“Fine,” Geralt says and watches Jaskier skip to the backroom. His hair is still a mess.
Geralt stares down his mug. The fuck? How do mushrooms taste this good?
“I know, right?” Jaskier nods sagely. He’s sitting across Geralt with a bowl of soup and a neon blue drink. “Makes no sense. But it tastes fantastic and it’s good for you! A two for one deal! How’s the writing going?”
Geralt is at the end of a chapter. It’s the most progress he’s made in a month. “Good.”
Jaskier leans forward. He really has no concept of personal space. Nenneke would tell him to ‘enforce personal boundaries for Melitele’s sake, Geralt’ but Jaskier is as threatening as a kitten. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what you’re writing? I won’t tell another soul.”
Geralt takes a bite of his crepe. It’s delicious. In the silence comes:
I know your fingernails are the colour of rust.
And your veins are empty of dust
But our voices collide with each howl of the tide.
Sometimes, Geralt wants to understand the things that the two voices sing about. Most days, Geralt knows some things are better off unknown.
“Oh, alright,” Jaskier sighs when Geralt doesn’t react to his pout. “I’ll stop asking. Do you like your food?”
This, Geralt can answer. “It’s good. Did you cook it yourself?”
Jaskier throws back his head and laughs. His neck is long and pale. His laugh is unfettered and rich. “I wish,” he chortles. “Most of the preparation is done by my friend, Triss. I just heat things up and cook the batter in a pan.”
That’s good. Geralt can cook basic meals and that’s it. Jaskier makes all the drinks, he knows that. Anymore is too much. Not that Jaskier isn’t already too much.
“I never see anyone here but you,” Geralt says.
Jaskier glances about the café. If he's looking for new customers or assessing the whispering teenage girls, there’s not much to find either way. “Don’t tell,” he says, low, “but I’m not much of a morning person. Triss gets here at a godless hour and does all of her magic then. I just show up when we’re set to open.”
The café opens at seven am. It’s still earlier than most people get to work. And that wasn’t what Geralt was asking. He can feel the deeper register of Jaskier’s voice in his chest.
“You’re the only barista here?” he clarifies.
“Ah, yeah.” Jaskier shrugs. “Most of the time, anyway. I hire a few part-timers to take over on the weekends. Gives the kids some pocket money and gives me some time to myself.”
Geralt stares at him. Unless this place is a chain, there’s no way it’s big enough to warrant a manager. “You’re the owner?” He looks young, acts flighty. Not at all like a businessman.
This time, Jaskier’s smile is sheepish. How many smiles does he have? Geralt only has the one and he rarely uses that one as is.
“Weird, right? Been mine for, oh, going on six years. Time really flies, huh? It feels like just yesterday I signed the papers.” Jaskier acts nonchalant but he can’t be more than thirty. He must have been so young when the café fell upon his shoulders. No choice exists without sacrifices, this Geralt knows.
After a second, Jaskier raps his knuckles against the table. “She’s my baby, my bright yellow Dandelion.” He’s swaying to the music, still. There’s pride and melancholy entwined in his words.
It’s like watching a cloud block the sun. Geralt almost misses the cheerfulness. But this is the first time he’s felt as if he could reach out and touch something solid. Light and shadow. He’s never met anyone who’s only one and not the other. It’s a relief to know that he still hasn’t.
Geralt, who is mostly shadow, would have been extinguished if Jaskier was all light.
“When I first stepped out your door,” Geralt says, choosing his words with care, “I told myself I wouldn’t be coming back here again.”
Jaskier’s jaw drops. He swivels his head to direct the full force of his indignation at Geralt. Leaning back as much as he can in his chair, he presses a hand to his heart. “Geralt!” he squawks.
Geralt continues before Jaskier can unleash the rant that he can see on his face, “I always keep my word. Even if it’s to myself.”
Jaskier’s mouth works. For once, nothing comes out. Geralt suspects this achievement would warrant a medal of some sort in another city. He waits.
When the minutes crawl past and Jaskier does nothing but flail and splutter, Geralt sighs. “Jaskier. I’m here, aren’t I?”
It takes a second but. The grin that reaches Jaskier’s eyes is the ray of sunlight that breaks through the clouds.
Geralt’s met very few people in his life he’s willing to break his own rules for. To see this one glow is more important than keeping his armor on.
Two damn minutes and I’ll be fine…
Every day, Geralt tells himself that he’ll stop indulging Jaskier today. He’ll concentrate on his work and the music that burrows under his skin. He isn’t here because of a barista who doesn’t cease having lunch with him and rambling about new drinks he’s been considering.
Geralt thinks Jaskier should content himself with his ‘vegan chocolate charcoal latte with soy milk’. Jaskier tells him that he shouldn’t cage his imagination like that.
Geralt is an urban fantasy writer. His imagination is fine.
One Saturday, he forgets himself and his feet take him to the café without his permission. When he opens the door, there is a blond girl behind the counter. Some country song about being cheated on is playing. The voice is unfamiliar.
Geralt turns on his heel and closes the door behind him.
A week in, Geralt asks Jaskier about his tab. The one that Jaskier keeps referring to. Jaskier smiles and waves his hand. “Your company is payment enough. Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re a terrible businessman,” Geralt says. He thinks he should protest something about this arrangement but he doesn’t. He’s done far worse than enduring Jaskier for an hour or so in exchange for food.
Two weeks in, Geralt turns in his first draft. He’s already feverishly writing another. The premise haunts him. A monster hunter, human but not. Ostracized from society but for his light and dark, two different people, each with a half of his heart.
He still doesn’t let Jaskier read his work. This time, he doesn’t even know why.
Dandelion’s Café has a different house special each day. It’s “our brand” Jaskier claims. Geralt thinks it’s just an excuse to keep foisting different meals on him. Early on, he told Jaskier that he’d be fine with a simple sandwich everyday.
Jaskier reacted like Geralt had suggested he should murder his pet. He threw such a fit about nutrition and health, a stern finger pointed at Geralt’s face the entire time, that since then, Geralt has resigned himself to his fate.
Most of the food and drinks Jaskier gives him are fine. Onions are good. They do find out that Geralt isn’t a fan of salted caramel rose tea, though.
His phone rings as Geralt is stepping out of the shower. He frowns. It’s around the time he should be heading out the door.
Few people have his number. He picks up. “Geralt Rivia.”
“What the fuck did you hand me,” Renfri demands.
Geralt stops rubbing his towel over his wet hair. Fuck. His first drafts are usually rough but he was actually okay with this one. “It’s that bad?”
“I stayed up until two in the morning to finish reading it!” Renfri sounds pissed. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done that? I’m too old for this shit.”
Geralt could point out that Renfri is three years younger than he is. He keeps his mouth shut. He wants to keep his balls where they are. So he waits until she curses him out a few more times to ask, “So, it’s fine?”
He swears he can hear her rolling her eyes. A special Renfri talent. “Of course it’s ‘fine’, you idiot. I’ll have my revisions back to you in a week. Maybe less than that. Keep writing in that coffee shop of yours; it’s good for you.”
Geralt hates it when she says things. “I have something new.”
“Oh my gods, already? I take it back, you can start living in that coffee shop. It’ll do you and our bottom line a world of good.”
Geralt hangs up. Wouldn't want to be late.
“Who do you have playing?” Geralt asks a month in. It’s always the same two voices, together or separate. Sometimes, the songs are the same. Sometimes, he thinks there are new ones he hasn’t heard before.
Some get stuck in his head. When he was writing the last chapter, one in particular kept his fingers moving. Geralt even looked up the lyrics but found nothing. The only place he hears those songs are in Dandelion’s Café.
Jaskier chokes on his red velvet latte and has a coughing fit. That’s unfortunate.
Geralt continues eating his giant spinach raviolis. For something that’s colored green, it tastes pretty good.
“Oh my gods, are you trying to kill me, Geralt? Here I am, choking to my death, and you don’t even have the human decency to give me a pat on the back?” Jaskier gasps out, half bent over. He’s wearing an apron decorated with donuts and cookies today.
“You were coughing,” Geralt points out. “You didn’t need my help.”
“Still would have been nice to have it,” Jaskier huffs. “I’m too young and pretty to die.” He coughs a little more into his sleeve for emphasis.
Geralt refuses to think of Jaskier and pretty in the same sentence. “Hm,” he says.
“Geralt!” Jaskier protests, all mock indignation. “What sort of friend are you?”
Geralt also refuses to think of Jaskier and friend in the same sentence. “Your lunch is going cold.”
For the rest of the meal, Jaskier makes deeply offended noises and complains to his salad that Geralt is cruel and mean and well, the only path to forgiveness might be a sneak peak at Geralt’s rough draft.
Geralt shoots that thought down quickly, to many mournful cries.
It’s only later, when he’s preparing Roach’s dinner, that Geralt realizes Jaskier never answered his question. It’s unusual. Normally, Jaskier is delighted when Geralt asks something of him.
But Geralt isn’t one to tread where he isn’t invited. So he lets the matter drop.
Geralt has a standing appointment at nine on the second day of each month. It used to be every week and then every two weeks, but he’s been...better these days. He wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat only three times a week.
Sometimes, he even dreams of long, rambling conversations. Those are the pleasant ones.
Geralt doesn’t know how to tell Jaskier. Or why he has to. He owes Jaskier nothing, much less what he does with his time.
It’s almost something he can believe, too. Right up until he’s standing at the front of the queue, looking at Jaskier’s smiling, expectant face.
It would be like abandoning a starling.
That’s the only reason Geralt opens his mouth and says, “I’ll be back after lunch.”
Jaskier tilts his head in that curious way. “Are you going somewhere?” Normally, Geralt arrives at eight and leaves at two. He needs time to walk Roach; run laps around the park; stare at the sky; love the silence; dread the silence.
If he stays too long with Jaskier, he might come to expect him and that won’t do.
“Hm.” Geralt waits for more questions, more innocent curiosity. It’s who Jaskier is. There’s no malice in it. Maybe that’s why he allows it when he would rip into anyone else for asking what Jaskier sometimes does.
But Jaskier only smiles and hands him a take-away bag. “I’ll be waiting,” he says and surely he can’t mean that the way it came out. “You won’t believe what my upstairs neighbor did last night. And don’t forget to recycle!”
“I won’t,” Geralt says and leaves before more words fall on his tongue. The song today is slow and beseeching, and he carries it with him:
If I’m good,
Will you come back?
If I’m good,
Will you come back to us?
Yennefer was the one who suggested Nenneke to him. He would have rejected anyone else, but Yenn has scars on her wrists and parents she hates. To think he’s weak for needing help would be to think that she is, too, and Yennefer is one of the strongest people he knows.
Geralt went. And he’s kept on going.
Nenneke rarely speaks first. Instead, she sits and looks at Geralt until he does. And he does without fail each time.
“I met someone,” he says today, and it’s not what he meant to.
“He’s—a barista. Runs a café. Never stops talking. Never stops moving.” Geralt pauses. What else can he say? What words could possibly encompass Jaskier? “He’s cheerful, all the time. He keeps on trying to get me to try ridiculous drinks.”
“When did you meet him?” Nenneke asks. He can read nothing from her voice and face.
“Three weeks ago.”
“Do you spend a lot of time together? You sound like you know him well.”
This feels like a trap. Geralt should have kept his mouth shut. “I write in his café,” he says. “It helps me concentrate.”
Nenneke smiles. He suspects she’s laughing at him on the inside. “Everyday?”
Geralt tries not to squirm in his seat. Nenneke often brings that out in him. “Only on the weekdays,” he says. That’s when people work, isn’t it? It’s not unusual.
Nenneke is definitely laughing at him on the inside. “Well, Geralt, it sounds like you two are good friends. Would you say that you’re comfortable with your boundaries in this relationship?”
“We’re not friends,” Geralt says.
“Why not?” Nenneke asks.
That, Geralt has no answer to.
“Would you say that you’re comfortable with your boundaries in this relationship?” Nenneke repeats. She’s the most patient woman he knows. Granted, her only competition are Yennefer and Renfri.
Is he comfortable? Jaskier likes to ask endless questions, but he never pushes Geralt to answer. He suggests endless variations on drinks and meals but always waits for Geralt’s nod. He wants nothing from Geralt but his company, waving off even his coin.
“Yeah,” Geralt says. “I guess I am.”
When Geralt returns to the café, Jaskier is sweeping the floor and humming loudly to himself, wiggling his hips to the beat like a fool. A familiar teenage girl in a blue coat is laughing at him from a table. Jaskier has a rich, strong voice.
“Geralt!” The humming cuts off as Jaskier whirls to face him. The delight on his lips remains a mystery to him. “There you are! Have you had lunch yet? Are you prepared for the tale of my neighbor’s scandalous affair with her vacuum machine?”
“No and no,” Geralt says. He makes to head for his usual table, but Jaskier throws the broom to the ground and grabs him by the hand. Caught off guard, Geralt freezes. He can’t remember the last time someone besides his family or Yenn moved to touch him.
Jaskier’s hand is warm. He has calluses that Geralt didn’t expect.
Jaskier blinks at him as if he hasn’t done something incomprehensible. “Come on, Geralt, come sit with us! It’s just the three of us, and we won’t be able to talk if you’re all the way over there! Ciri here doesn’t bite, do you?”
Ciri giggles and shakes her head. She can’t be older than twelve, her face still round with childhood.
“There, see, you’re safe! Sit with us, please?” Jaskier turns wide, pleading eyes on Geralt.
Geralt opens his mouth to refuse. He has no idea how to interact with children. Jaskier mustn’t start thinking he can get everything he wants from Geralt with a few sweet words and some puppy-eyes.
“Only if you bring me some more of that mushroom chocolate drink,” comes out of his mouth.
Jaskier grins and tugs him to Ciri’s table. When he goes off to pick up his broom and make their food, Geralt’s palm is warm.
Cirilla Cintra, Geralt learns, comes to Dandelion’s Café after school and whenever she wants to skip class without someone telling on her. Sometimes she brings her best friend, Dara, with her. Her favorite drink is the lavender latte, and she adores the wolf-shaped puff pastries on display.
She speaks to Geralt with a warrior’s fearlessness and a child’s innocence. Her eyes are bright green, her head held high with a regalness that reminds him of Yenn. He’s no expert on children but she doesn’t strike him as a standard one.
Geralt has certainly seen her grandparents around, dark-haired and arguing. They come at three to collect Ciri. Calanthe sweeps in like a queen, Eist her amused shadow. They order a blood orange frappuccino to go.
“See you later, Geralt!” Ciri waves on her way out.
Calanthe glares as if he has personally offended her, her ancestors, and possibly everyone alive.
Perhaps Jaskier just attracts strange people.
The flow of people in the afternoon is slower than the morning rush. Even so, he can see Jaskier tiring. His energy wanes with the setting sun, though he still has a smile for everyone who walks up to his counter.
Geralt planned to go at four. Instead, he stays at his little corner table and tells himself he’ll leave soon. Jaskier is clearly an old hand at this. Must be if he’s been doing this for six years. The clock ticks on.
Finally, Jaskier gently teases the last customer out. It is a quarter after six. They are the only ones left. Geralt stands up and doesn’t know what to say.
As always, Jaskier fills in the gap for him. “Whew! It’s been a day. Thanks for sticking with me, you really didn’t have to.” He leans against the closed door. Somehow, he still has the energy to smile.
“Hm.” Geralt casts about for an excuse. “I was brainstorming. Couldn’t lose my train of thought.”
Jaskier’s eyes laugh at him, though his mouth does not. “Ah, of course. Brainstorming, very important. Did you think of something new for your mysterious novel which I may not see?”
Mostly, Geralt listened to the singer whom Jaskier will not name and argued with his protagonist in his thoughts. He nods.
“That’s good.” Jaskier sweeps his gaze across his café and sighs. His shoulders slump. End-of-the-day Jaskier is very different from beginning-of-the-day Jaskier. Geralt can’t decide which one he prefers. A tired Jaskier almost seems like someone he won’t disappoint.
When he turns back to Geralt, the curl of his lip is sheepish. “Well, brainstorming or not, I’m sure you have plans for your evening. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Geralt knows a dismissal when he hears one. Even so, he asks, “Do you need help? Cleaning up or...getting home?” It’s none of his business, he knows, but he’s met far too many predators in his lifetime. Jaskier would be easy prey, loud and merry as he is.
Jaskier’s smile is sunshine-bright. “You’re my knight in shining armour, Geralt, you really are,” he says. “I can’t let you help me clean up without paying you, though, and I normally go home around seven. I can’t possibly keep you.”
“You’ve no problem keeping me any other time,” Geralt says. “And I owe you at least a night’s wage in free pretentious drinks. Where do you need me?”
There’s a gleam in Jaskier’s eyes, a twist to his smile. But all he says is, “If you insist. Would you wipe down the tables and stack up the chairs?”
Ah, manual labor. His old friend.
Jaskier’s right; it does take them half an hour to clean-up. Afterwards, Jaskier turns to him and says, “Since you won’t let me pay you in coin, how about I show you a secret? It’ll be worth the time, I assure you, and it’s not dark quite yet! Spring is so wonderful.”
Geralt was honest; he has no other commitments this eve. He rarely has any at all. He’s stayed this long to keep Jaskier safe from his foolhardy self. Surely, a few more minutes won’t hurt. If it makes Jaskier happy…
“Alright,” he says.
Leading him by the hand—for the second time today—Jaskier takes him to the back of the café. A tall fence blocks their way, but Jaskier winks and leads him to a door on the far right side. It swings open with a push.
Hand in hand, they step through.
Geralt breathes in. Pollen and sap, flowers and green things. The small space sandwiched between the café and a warehouse is sprawling with plants. Once, there may have been an order and a reason to this explosion of color and life. Now, there’s only chaos, nature left to run wild.
The only man-made contraption sits in the middle of the clearing, sheltered behind large trees. A metal outdoor swing, the attached bench clear but for a few leaves and flower petals. The trampled plants on a path there seems to indicate regular use.
“What do you think?” Jaskier asks, drawing Geralt's attention back to him. He’s fidgeting a bit, as nervous as Geralt has ever seen him. It’s an...endearing look on him. A secret, he said. An important one, it seems now.
Geralt is surprised to find a hand still in his. He squeezes experimentally, mindful of his strength. What an unfamiliar act. Not unpleasant but unfamiliar. “It’s beautiful in the way of wild things,” he says. “I’m honoured.”
It’s the right answer. Jaskier’s lips curl at the corners. “My grandfather cultivated this garden when he had time. He was an avid lover of all things floral and sweet, of which I'm told my grandmother was one. He was the one who passed this café on to me, you know. I've not much of a green thumb so I've just been letting it grow as it pleases.”
“Do you sit there?” Geralt asks, tipping his head towards the swing.
“Sometimes. It has the loveliest view of the sunset. I would share it with you, but it’ll have to wait. The height of summer, that’s the best time.”
“Then I’ll wait,” Geralt replies. “Will you let me walk you home?”
Jaskier sighs, all dreamy mischief. “Why, of course. As if I’d refuse you. Today has just been the best day.”
Geralt doesn’t know which part he’s talking about. But it has been a good day. They leave, nudging the door closed behind them. The cherry blossoms have all fallen without Geralt noticing, shy green leaves peeking out instead.
Jaskier lives a five minute’s walk from the café, a bare few blocks from Geralt’s apartment.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Jaskier checks again as they walk together.
Geralt rolls his eyes. “Yeah.”
“Okay, just checking! Now, did I ever get around to telling you about my neighbor’s sordid love affair with her cleaning products between introducing you to the fierce delight that is darling Cirilla?”
No, he didn’t. Geralt gets an earful until they stop in front of a modest one-story house. Jaskier’s smile is sweet, his eyes soft. Geralt doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to let go of Jaskier’s hand.
“Thank you, Geralt,” Jaskier breathes. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
As if Geralt could stay away after this. He nods. “Tomorrow.” His voice comes out low and raw, but Jaskier doesn’t seem to notice. He just squeezes Geralt’s hand again. Then, he lets go.
While Geralt is still trying to recover from that, Jaskier unlocks his door and slips into his house. “Good night, Geralt,” he says, turning to look at him over his shoulder.
Geralt forces himself from his stillness. “Good night,” he says and finally manages to turn away. His hand is cold now.
Eskel returns after half a year away and calls a mandatory brother’s night in. In practice, this mostly results in them chugging down a six-pack of beer and shooting the breeze over Mario Kart. Lambert is, as always, a prick.
“It’s not my fault you two are suckers,” Lambert cackles after he trips Eskel up again.
“Well, I see you’re still your pleasant self. You can say goodbye to your souvenir.” Eskel mutters. “How about you, Geralt? You still hiding in your apartment 24/7 like an albino hedgehog?”
Lambert roars with laughter. Geralt takes the opportunity to zip past him and fling him off a bridge. The air promptly turns blue with his cursing. Serves him right, the fucker.
“Something like that,” Geralt says. He knows it’s a mistake as soon as Eskel and Lambert both abandon the game to turn on him, sharks smelling blood in the water. Yoshi breezes past the finish line, securing his victory, but at what cost.
“You heard that?” Lambert says to Eskel.
Eskel nods, solemn. “I did.”
Lambert grins and gets to his feet. Eskel puts the controllers away and walks towards the kitchen. Geralt looks at the distance between the couch and the door. Maybe if he leaves his shoes behind...
“Get him!” Eskel yells from the kitchen.
Lambert has already tackled Geralt around the waist with a battle cry like the feral brat he is. An unfortunate lamp crashes to the floor, a victim to their grappling. Geralt gets an elbow to his gut and retaliates by going for Lambert’s sides.
Lambert shrieks like a little girl and flails. One of his hands whack Geralt’s ear, and he hisses. Why did he get saddled with such an uppity little brother?
While he’s distracted, Geralt flips Lambert off of him and resumes his dash for the door, only to be blocked by Eskel, who idly waves a bottle of vodka at him. “Don’t even think about it,” Eskel says with a smile that almost looks friendly.
Damn it. Any combination of two versus one between the three of them always results in the one losing.
Geralt groans and lets himself be herded back towards the couch, where he joins Lambert.
Eskel makes a face at the shards of broken lamp glass on the floor. “You two are paying for that.” He places the vodka on the table and goes back to the kitchen.
“Fuck that, who has money?” Lambert mutters with his usual sourpuss expression. “Look at what you did, Geralt. You’re such a shithead.”
Geralt crosses his arms and leans back with a small smirk. “Not my fault you’re a sucker who’s ticklish.”
Lambert’s eye visibly twitches. He really should attend those anger management courses Geralt recommended as a too-honest-joke at his expense two years ago. Or at least get a therapist, for fuck’s sake.
They were discharged years ago, but the scars yet linger on their bodies and minds. Some days, Geralt knows, Eskel still can’t bring himself to look at his own face.
“What was that?” Lambert snaps.
Eskel slams three shot glasses and a bottle of bourbon on the table. “Shut up, Lambert. For once, we’re not talking about you today. We’re talking about Geralt’s new and improved social life.”
“Pity I can’t say the same for your haircut,” Geralt says automatically.
Eskel and Lambert exchange a grim look. Then, Eskel cracks open the bourbon and starts pouring. The vodka follows soon after.
Two bottles later, they’re all on the floor. The ceiling is spinning above Geralt’s head. Lambert is laughing like a hyena somewhere on his right.
“A barista! A coffee shop! Could you be any more stereotypical?” he hollers between his ugly guffaws. “Next you’re gonna tell me you’ve started buying grandpa sweaters!”
Geralt is fairly certain Vessemir would forgive him eventually if he threw Lambert out the window. Which he will. As soon as he figures out how to get to his feet. In the meantime, he grumbles, “Shut the fuck up.”
Lambert does not shut up. This is what Geralt has to put up with.
“Jaskier, huh?” Eskel muses, halfway across the living room. Geralt has no idea how he got there. There’s a tangerine lying not far from him. Geralt wants to eat it. “What’s with you and people whose names begin with ‘y’?”
“Nooo. Jaskier’s name begins with ‘j’.” He has it saved in his phone. Not that he knows how Jaskier convinced him to exchange numbers. Geralt suspects witchcraft.
“How does that even work?” Lambert wonders.
A vague movement at the edge of Geralt’s eyesight. He thinks Eskel is nodding. “Language,” Eskel says sagely.
“Language,” Geralt agrees. He reaches out a wavering arm and grabs the tangerine.
“Fucking language,” Lambert says.
There’s a beat of blessed silence. Geralt has the damned sheep song stuck in his head. He picks at the tangerine rind.
“So where is this coffee shop?” Lambert asks just as Geralt is ready to enjoy his spoils of war.
Geralt musters all of his energy and manages to throw his handful of tangerine peels at Lambert. The resulting infuriated howling makes one of the neighbors bang at the wall and yell for them to shut up.
The tangerine is sweet and juicy on his tongue.
Tell me the truth to me, love
Does my hair look as nice
As it did when you once tied it up in your eyes?
“Geralt!” Jaskier yelps when he stumbles in on Monday. “Are you okay? You look like my mate did after he failed an exam due to plagiarism, went on a four day blender, and then met the wrong end of my guitar!”
Geralt...doesn’t even know where to start with that one. He ignores it, as he usually does when Jaskier says one of his Jaskiery things. “My brother came home,” he explains. It’s already ten, so there’s no line behind him. Jaskier is free to keep him at the counter for as long as he wants.
Jaskier plants an elbow on the counter he claims is sanitary and rests his chin on his fist. If he stays like that, his back is going to hurt. “Oooh, you have a brother? What’s he like? Is he as good looking as you? Will I be seeing him around?”
Geralt had his mouth open to answer, only for his train of thought to come screeching to a halt.
Uhh. He shuts his mouth before he looks like the goldfish that Lambert killed a day after they got it.
Jaskier stares expectantly up at him as if he hasn’t just turned Geralt’s world upside-down for the nth time since they’ve met. He has long eyelashes. Long and fluttery.
(Yenn would probably be jealous. Geralt learned far more about makeup than he ever expected to during their brief and disastrous attempt at dating. The one time he tried to do her makeup for her is never to be spoken of again.)
Words. Right. He’s a writer. He can do words.
“I have two brothers,” Geralt says.
Jaskier looks like Christmas has come in time for the wayward Christmas tree bauble he still has hanging on one of his lights. It’s almost July. “Two brothers? Oh, wait, are you the middle child? That would explain so. Much.”
This is not, in fact, the first time someone has said this to Geralt. It was one of Nenneke’s comments during their very first session. Still, he asks, “What is it meant to explain?”
Jaskier flaps his free hand. “Oh, you know, this and that. So you are the middle child?”
How descriptive. “Yeah.” Damn Eskel for being born a week before him. He really is an overachiever at everything.
“Makes sense, makes sense.” He nods to himself. The distinctive bell chimes with the arrival of another customer, and Jaskier’s lips twist into a moue of disappointment. Does he really have nothing better to do than chatter at Geralt?
Apparently so, because Jaskier heaves a heavy sigh, straightens up, and flips his hair back in a move Geralt’s near certain he saw one of the actresses do in the drama shows Eskel pretends he doesn’t like. “Well, if you’ve got a hangover, there’s nothing better than our carrot ginger apple juice. What do you say?”
At this point, Jaskier could offer him a ‘pickles and fermented egg smoothie’ and Geralt would probably like it. He nods and adds, “Something greasy?”
Jaskier props a hand on his hip. “Well, obviously. Clementine and honey couscous sound good?”
“Hmm.” Geralt drops a few coins in Jaskier’s so-called ‘stylish pen home’, which is really a repurposed vase, before he can stop him. Considering Jaskier always loses his pens, Geralt’s just started treating it as a tip jar.
Ignoring the half-hearted protests, Geralt takes his usual seat. When his breakfast is delivered by a Jaskier who shoots him a playfully sullen look, he takes a picture and sends it to his brothers.
Eskel sends back a string of astonished-face emojis within five minutes. Then: I’ve been after you to eat healthy for decades and a pretty barista is all it takes??? I’m telling Dad
Ugh. He can already picture Vesemir’s constipated face when he gets the news. Geralt replies: Snitch. And I’ve always eaten healthy
You ate Temeria-brand noodles for three years
Okay, fine. But who had their shit together in uni? No one, that’s who. And Army pay only went so far. In lieu of an actual reply, Geralt just sends an image of Temeria-brand noodles that he has saved on his phone at all times.
He fancies he can hear Eskel’s tired sigh from here.
Half an hour later, Lambert responds: You lucky bastard. Where the hell is this place? I want to go
Geralt scoffs. Thieving little brothers. Find your own
Besides, he’d never live it down if they found out he likes eating those fluffy wolf-shaped taro pastries.
Yennefer is forever busy running her legal empire, but once a month, she deigns to take a few hours to catch up with Geralt over dinner.
This time, he’s running a few minutes late because three toddlers threw a tantrum and knocked over four drinks an hour ago. Their mother apologized profusely but the damage was done and the spill was spreading.
Jaskier had turned wounded, pleading eyes upon him. And well, when Geralt was a child, he would oft bring home small, hurt creatures. Vesemir tutted, and Lambert teased, but he's released many a healed bird to the wide blue.
So, of course he caved and helped clean up the mess. Yenn might just skin him alive for this one.
As expected, when he reaches the elegant restaurant she chose this time, perfect black nails are tapping on the table. Even though she must have been dashing around far more than Geralt has today, Yenn doesn’t have a single strand of hair out of place.
“Delighted you could join me,” she drawls, glancing at her diamond-studded watch. “Six minutes and forty-one seconds late.”
Geralt grunts an apology and sits across from her. They’re at a corner table, which is their usual compromise. He knows she favors the luxe lifestyle because of her countryside beginnings. She knows he has PTSD. They both know any more compromise would result in a repeat of the ‘Nuclear War’ as their breakup was termed by their friends.
He glances over the menu quickly. Nothing is comprehensible. He’ll order a steak then. No matter where they go, a steak is typically reliable and edible.
After the waiter takes their menus away, Yenn smiles, slow and wicked. “So, Geralt…what’s this I hear about a café you spend all your time in?”
Geralt makes a face. “Who told you?” He knows Yenn’s spy network stretches far and wide.
“Ren.” Yennefer swirls her glass of wine and softens ever so slightly at the mention of her girlfriend. “She says she’s never seen the stuff you’ve been throwing at her. Thank you for that, by the way. It’s so much better when she’s...energetic.”
He holds up a hand. “You’re welcome and let’s keep it at that.” The last time Geralt slept on the couch at their place had been education enough. “She was the one to suggest a change of scenery.”
“There’s a change of scenery and then there’s a new home away from home,” Yenn says dryly. “And this is sounding like the latter.”
Geralt sips at his water and says nothing.
Yennefer sighs and inspects her perfectly-painted nails. “Am I going to have to go directly to the source?”
Geralt already made the mistake of introducing Yennefer to Renfri. The thought of Yennefer and Jaskier meeting without any prior mediation is terrifying. “For a lawyer,” he says, “you break the law way too often.”
She sniffs. “I break the law just enough,” Yennefer corrects. “And if I hadn’t, you’d still be dating that bitch, Fringilla.”
He holds back a grimace. She might have him there, but that was once. Accidentally go on two dates with a fascist and no one ever let you live it down. “Is she still serving out her sentence?”
“Mm-hm. Eight years left to go.” Yennefer looks far too pleased. “Well?”
Geralt sighs. There’s no use arguing with Yenn. If he doesn’t tell her now, she’ll just hunt Jaskier down and corner him with a knife of blackmail and lawsuits. “I’ll tell you but only after I tell him,” he bargains.
Yennefer frowns a little but nods. “Fine. I’ll be able to get the information either way, but I know you have those pesky morals.”
...Geralt knows how to pick his battles.
He takes out his phone, ignoring the disapproving looks of the other patrons at this blatant breach of high-class etiquette. Like he cares. Finding Jaskier’s contact information is easy enough. Almost every night, he asks Geralt to send him a picture of Roach.
He texts: An overprotective friend of mine wants to know more about you. She’s planning on searching the internet. That okay?
Not five seconds later, Jaskier responds with a smiley face, a thumbs-up, and a sunglasses emoji. Followed by: Sure! What’s a little cyberstalking between friends?
Figures. All of his friends are so fucking weird. Jaskier fits right in.
Putting away his phone, Geralt says, “He says it’s fine. His name is J-A-S-K-I-E-R and he owns Dandelion’s Café.”
Yennefer notes this down in her phone. No one gives her evil looks. Classist hypocrites, all of them. “I’ll get back to you within a week,” she says briskly.
When Geralt asks about it the next day, Jaskier just waves his hands about. “I don’t have anything to hide, so why wouldn’t I give my consent?” he says.
Geralt looks dubiously at his turmeric latte. He’s not so sure about this one. “There’s a concept called ‘privacy’.”
“Pshhhh,” Jaskier says. “Privacy is a myth. Also! Cyberstalking is a door, not a window. Anyone who cyberstalks must be willing to be cyberstalked in turn. I can’t wait to see what kind of friends you have.”
Geralt’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Jaskier does end up replacing his turmeric latte with a vanilla bean one, though, which is much more to Geralt’s taste.
Two days later, Yennefer calls while he’s in the park with Roach. “I must say, Geralt, I think your standards have improved. Your love life isn’t in the dumpster anymore. Now, you qualify as a hobo somewhere in the disgusting streets of Novigrad, at least.”
“You’re ever the encouraging soul, Yenn,” he says and throws the stick for Roach.
“Oh, I know. Jaskier Lettenhove graduated from Oxford University. Looks like he’s still in contact with some of his uni friends; some of them are pretty big names in the music industry. From would-be superstar to a café owner, sounds like kind of a downgrade, doesn’t it?”
He frowns. “Yenn.”
Geralt was a retail worker once. He doesn’t believe in the concept of unskilled labor. The way Jaskier adds a touch of joy to every person who walks through his door is surely a gift far more precious than any spoiled idol shrieking about fucking in the club on the radio.
“Yes, yes, you’re a socialist rebel, I know. Got the café and plot of land from his grandfather’s will and a solid stock portfolio from his parents. No living relatives, no suspicious criminal activity, and no fascist leanings that I could find.”
“That was once,” Geralt can’t help but point out.
“Which is once too many,” Yennefer says firmly. “I’ll still have to meet him, of course, but your Jaskier looks pretty on paper, if somewhat boring. Since I’m in a kind and generous mood today, I’ll let you arrange the meeting within the next two weeks.”
“Should I bring a water sprayer?” Geralt lightly scratches behind Roach’s ears when she comes up to him, tail wagging, and throws her stick again. He would protest that Jaskier isn’t his but that would only be throwing fuel on the fire.
Yenn’s voice is honey-sweet. “Only if you want to die. Ren says hi by the way.”
“Your deadline’s coming up soon, dipshit!” comes the loving scream from the background.
“Hi, Ren,” Geralt says. “Bye, Ren. Bye, Yenn.”
Roach bounds back with the stick in her mouth. Geralt kneels next to her and says seriously, “You’re the only one I can count on, girl.”
Yennefer: Okay I hate him but you have my permission to fuck him
Geralt: Yenn what the fuck
Yennefer: Tell him that his frappuccino tasted like crap and I want the recipe
When Jaskier places Geralt’s tahini date chai tea latte in front of him, he says, “I met your ex, by the way! She’s really scary. Sexy but scary. Ten out of ten, would not repeat again.”
That is not an unusual experience with Yennefer. “She said to tell you that your frappuccino tasted like crap and that she wants the recipe.”
“That bitch,” Jaskier says in his usual cheerful tone. A toddler three tables over turns to stare at them. The mom doesn’t notice. A tragedy in three parts, Geralt thinks.
“My matcha coconut frappuccino is a family special ripped directly from a vegan mom’s cooking blog. She thinks she can get her hands on it that easily? Hah!”
The matcha coconut frappuccino is pretty good. He can’t fault her for that.
“What’s her number?” Jaskier demands, hands on his hips. “I need to set the record straight.”
The miniature Renfri that lives in Geralt’s head cackles and says that nothing about her is straight. Geralt ignores her. He should probably refuse Jaskier before another Cold War starts. It would be the right thing to do.
Unfortunately for the world at large, Geralt is not going to be the one standing in the middle of a showdown between Jaskier and Yennefer. He gives Jaskier Yenn’s number.
Half an hour later, Yennefer texts him an emoji of a knife and: He gave me the recipe but don’t think you’re off the hook
Of course not.
Yenn’s version of retribution is texting every single one of their shared contacts the address of Dandelion’s Café. Simple yet brutal. As expected of Yenn.
Geralt learns of this one evening when Lambert sends him a selfie of himself and Jaskier, a shit-eating grin on his face. Leaning in from behind the counter, Jaskier has his new-friend smile on. It’s one that Geralt sees most often when children come toddling towards the pastry display, stars in their eyes.
Lambert is holding a glass of something light pink. Non frothy. It must be that new drink Jaskier is trying out.
Lambert: I have no idea what the fuck strawberry rose almond milk tea is but fuck you for keeping it from me
Classic Lambert. Geralt takes this for the declaration of approval it is and sends back: Dad will be glad you’re finally trying to lower your blood pressure
Lambert replies with a big fat middle-finger emoji. Brat.
Jaskier says, “Your brothers are sweet. Still not as good looking as you though.”
Geralt doesn’t know what to do with this matter-of-fact statement. No one thinks towering, scarred veterans are sweet. Or good looking. “When did you meet Eskel?”
“Two days ago.”
Ugh. Geralt texts Eskel: Sneak
Eskel replies with a smiley-face and: He seems nice. Definitely a step up from Fringilla
“Don’t be fooled,” Geralt says when Jaskier drops by again. “My brothers are the worst.”
Most days, Geralt can handle the crowds. But he had a particularly bad nightmare last night; Jaskier was a hint less cheerful this morning; he disagrees with half of Ren’s new suggestions on the manuscript; it’s been a bad week.
At noon, Geralt leaves his laptop behind Jaskier’s counter with his permission and slips by the lunch crowd. Nowadays, the chime of the bell as the door opens is as familiar to him as Roach’s “I’m hungry” bark.
Outside, the sunlight is overwhelming. He has to raise a hand to shield his eyes. The summer heat hits him all at once. Wildflowers bloom all around the café. Jaskier does not try to tame wild things.
He stretches out his stiff muscles. Walking along a path he would never have known existed were he alone, Geralt steps into the overflowing life and color that make up Jaskier’s little garden. The swing squeaks when he sits down.
But no. The birds sing. The bees hum. He fancies that even here, he can hear Jaskier’s laugh. Perhaps he can hear the whisper of green things growing.
Geralt sits there for a long time.
When he returns, the crowd has all cleared out. A stern-looking woman sits near the back with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in another. At the sound of the bell, Jaskier turns and for the first time, there’s something strained in his smile.
I can hear the cannons calling
As though across a dream.
And I can smell the smoke of hell
In every stitch and seam.
Even the singer seems more melancholic today. Looking at the dark shadows under his eyes, Geralt wonders if Jaskier hasn’t been sleeping well either. His Mondays are almost always a hit or miss.
Some Mondays, Jaskier is grinning from ear to ear, dancing around the café to the music all day long. Other Mondays, he’s pouty and sullen, his forehead wrinkled and his head often bent over a notebook with a pen he’s begged from Geralt.
Clearly, today’s more of a miss. Yet as soon as he sees Geralt, Jaskier’s smile becomes one in truth. “Where did you go?” he asks.
I knew you would forget
Forget me not.
“It’s the height of summer now,” Geralt says on impulse. “You said you would show me the sunset.”
With the musky air and the mosquitoes that lurk beneath sheltering leaves, no one would want to stand amongst the knee-high grasses. Geralt offers to— he’s faced far worse than a mosquito bite—but Jaskier shoots him a disbelieving look and tugs his hand until he sits next to him on the swing.
It isn’t that wide of a swing. Their thighs press against each other, and he’s never been more grateful that his shorts fall below the knee. If Geralt tilts his head slightly, he could rest on Jaskier’s shoulder.
Their hands are still tangled together, even though their palms are sweaty.
Although he was bouncing on his feet the entire afternoon, Jaskier has been suspiciously silent since they left the café. The silence unnerves him more than the noise.
“What’s wrong?” Geralt asks, turning slightly to look at him. He’s never had to ask before; Jaskier would always tell him.
Now, Jaskier laughs, soft and rueful. “Sorry, have I been acting weird? It’s nothing big. I’ll get over it within the week.”
“You can act however you like,” Geralt says. “And you can tell me whatever you like.”
Jaskier twists until he’s facing Geralt with a gentle tilt of his head. For once, there’s no smile on those pretty lips. His gaze is assessing. “You really mean that,” he states more than asks.
Geralt hums in agreement. Of course he does.
“Most people don’t,” Jaskier says. Stripped of its cheer and pep, even his voice sounds different. “They say they do but they don’t, not really. Geralt, oh Geralt, you really are too good.”
“No, I’m not.” Geralt shakes his head and swats away some gnats. The sun is barely touching the horizon. They’ll be here a while. “If you’ve ever read my books, you’d know that.”
Jaskier huffs and gives Geralt’s hand a reprimanding squeeze. “Which I totally would! Except you won’t tell me what your books are! Besides. I’m sure your books are just as Geralt-ish as you are.”
Geralt’s lips twitch. “Geralt-ish?”
“You know.” Jaskier waves a hand over Geralt. “Geralt-ish. Hard dark chocolate shell, melted milk chocolate filling.”
Geralt blinks. “I...can honestly say that that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me.” He might have to use that line in his next manuscript.
“It’s true, I am a creative genius,” Jaskier brags, as airy and empty as a balloon.
When Geralt raises his eyebrows at him, however, he exhales and deflates. Jaskier looks down at their intertwined hands and plays with Geralt’s fingers for a few minutes.
Geralt waits. He wonders where the calluses on Jaskier’s fingers came from. Beneath the shadows of the trees, fireflies flash and dance.
Finally, Jaskier murmurs, still looking down, “I don’t want to be forgotten.”
The golden light shades Jaskier’s hair in shades of brown and red. Geralt rarely sees Jaskier under natural light. He lightly squeezes his hand and continues to wait.
“I just…” Jaskier frowns, shakes his head a little. “I’ve been hitting a wall in one of my side projects and it’s frustrating. Whenever this happens, I always feel like…like I don’t really matter. Don’t you ever feel like you mean nothing to the stars and to the earth both?”
Geralt rubs his thumb in circles on the back of Jaskier’s hand as he thinks. Isn’t this what his supernatural protagonist is struggling with right now? He gives the answer he’ll eventually give his protagonist, “Isn’t it enough to be something to the people whose lives you touch?” The mage princess, the laughing bard, the yearning sorceress.
Jaskier meets his eyes with a smile that’s bittersweet. It’s not a smile Geralt has seen before, and it ranks low on his list of Jaskier smiles. “I’m...I’m really just a background figure in most people’s lives, Geralt. I know that if I were to disappear tomorrow, I might be left as a footnote in a few people’s books, but no one would devote a chapter to me.”
A heartbeat of silence that hangs breathless in the air until Jaskier continues, looking blankly into the distance, “And besides. Everything I do. Everything I am. It’s all temporary, like these fireflies. You have your books, which you have yet to let me read. They touch thousands of lives, I’m sure. They’ll live on after you’re gone. I have nothing. I want to be remembered.”
The loneliness that sings in Jaskier’s voice is one that Geralt recognises. Although the sky's alight with fire and gold, Jaskier is awash in the most shadow he’s ever been since they’ve met.
His hand is warm and sweaty in Geralt’s grip. This imperfect being of light and shadow is one that Geralt thinks he might be able to understand one day. For now, to be able to touch him is more than enough.
“I would,” he says, quiet.
Jaskier glances back at him. “What?”
“You said no one would devote a chapter to you. I would.”
They leave before the sun even finishes sinking.
In the darkness that Geralt is most at home in, Jaskier traces the scars on his chest with a feather-light touch. When Geralt looks for revulsion, questions, pity, he finds nothing but sincere awe.
“If you’d write me a chapter,” Jaskier whispers, “can I write you a song?”
A smile and a kiss before lips press against his ear. Jaskier presses the words into his skin like it’s a secret, the melody one he sometimes hears in his dreams, “So one last time, love, come and rip my clothes. Get a grip, we're grownups. Let’s wander, till the fuckers demand an encore.”
Geralt doesn’t manage to recover his words until afterwards. They’re curled in Jaskier’s bed like enclosed parentheses with nothing in-between. No clothes, no secrets, not even a singing voice he knows by heart.
He props himself up on an elbow and says, incredulous, “You listen to your own music everyday?”
Jaskier laughs. “What can I say? I’m a delight. Is that a yes, then? Because I must confess, darling, you’ve been my muse for quite a while.”
“Only if you let me dedicate my next book to you.”
“Yeah?” A teasing smile, a kiss on the scar that wraps around his ribs.
“Yeah. You make good coffee. Vital to the writing process,” Geralt says. He hasn’t had coffee in weeks. Jaskier’s gotten him hooked on mushroom hot chocolate and matcha lattes with smiley faces.
Jaskier hums the tune of a song Geralt has heard several times. The one about the unfairness of love and robot vampires, he thinks. Now that he knows it’s Jaskier, has always been Jaskier, he doesn’t know why he ever thought that it could be anyone else.
Only Jaskier could be that ridiculous. Could lay bare all of Geralt’s despair and hope without effort.
“You drive a hard bargain, but I accept.” He can hear the smile in Jaskier’s voice, but he can’t see it.
That’s alright. There’s always tomorrow. This chapter has no page limit.
To Geralt: So I know I said I’d only write one song for you but I may have gone a little overboard. Also, now I’m hungry? I’ll be sure to bring some of Triss’ tarts home. Happy anniversary, dear heart!
Dark Chocolate Shell, Melted Milk Chocolate Filling
Label: Toss a Coin to Your Artists
Produced by: Priscilla Callonetta
Artists: Jaskier ft. Essi
- Ringing Bells
- One Medium Coffee
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
- Oh Fishmonger
- White Knight
- Salted Caramel Rose Tea
- My Darling Roach
- A Lingering Dream
- Swinging Lives
- Dark Chocolate Shell, Melted Milk Chocolate Filling
- Book of My Life
To Jaskier: As promised. Happy anniversary. Bring home a cup of your new blood orange frappuccino for me.
The Witcher by the White Wolf
Dedicated to my beloved, who will never be forgotten.