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Self-Defence Classes

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Jaskier knows he should be working. He should be figuring out the kinks on his latest song, or following through on the dozens of emails he’s got sitting in his inbox. He should be setting up another meeting with his manager, calling around some venues to see if they’ve got performance slots or open mics in the next three months, or even - horror of horrors - actually looking for a more viable day job.

What he’s actually doing, as all these ‘shoulds’ drift unheeded across his mind, is scrolling through a royalty free image site looking for a suitable photo to use for his Twitter header. It’s an important job, he tells himself. Very important. How will anyone take him seriously as an artist if his Twitter header is wrong? And then, of course, he needs to update the profile image - and update all his other socials, too. If he wants to be a serious musician, he needs to have a consistent style, something that’s recognisable.

He’s hopping between tabs of generic concert photos, totally bored, when the phone downstairs begins to ring. He’s down the stairs and grabbing the phone before the next image even has time to load.

“Hello? This is Jaskier speaking.”

“Good afternoon. This is Mrs. Timmer calling from St. Lebioda's. I’m looking for Mr. Rivia? I tried to get hold of him on his primary mobile but no one has picked up.”

Shit. That’s Ciri’s school. Jaskier immediately feels panic claw at him. “He’s at work.”

“Do you know when he’ll return?”

“Not till this evening, but he’s usually got his phone on him…” Jaskier takes a steadying breath. “Is everything alright? Is it Ciri, is she okay?”

“Unfortunately I can only discuss this with a parent or guardian. Do you have another number for Mr. Rivia?”

“I can try to call his boss…” Jaskier’s sure he’s got Vesemir’s phone number somewhere. If not, he’s definitely got Eskel’s, and if he’s lucky they’ll be on the same shift. “Or I can…”

“We really do need a parent or guardian.”

He swallows. “I’m… I’m one of Ciri’s guardians,” he says. It’s not technically a lie. He’s an adult, and Ciri lives with him and Geralt around half of the time. That must count for something. “Ciri lives with Ger… with Mr. Rivia and I. When she’s not with her mum, I mean.”

This is fine. This is fine, and not really lying. He just needs to know that Ciri is okay, and if this is the only way to do it… he’s sure that Geralt will forgive him.

“And your name is?” Asks the receptionist.

“Jaskier,” he says, “Jaskier Pankratz.”

There’s the sound of typing. He holds his breath. “Let’s see…” the receptionist mutters, the keyboard clacking away in the background, “Ah, yes; you’re listed here in our records at Ciri’s address. Mr. Rivia and Mr…” She trails off. When she talks again, her tone has totally changed: gone is the accusatory, defensive intonation she was using before. “Oh! Mr. Pankratz, yes. Yes, certainly, if you could head down to the school right away that would be very helpful.”

“Ciri’s okay, though?”

“Yes, she’s fine. Unfortunately there was an incident today involving another student and so we need someone to come down.”

“Okay, right. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“We’ll see you then.”

Well, that was easy. Easy enough. He runs back upstairs for his wallet, throws on a pair of shoes, grabs his car keys and dashes out onto the drive.

 


 

Jaskier arrives at the school nearly ten minutes later, his old yellow VW Beetle struggling somewhat over the last mile or so. He pulls into an empty spot in the wide carpark and heads towards the reception. He has to be buzzed in, and waits outside, nervously fiddling with his keys. He peers inside - he can’t see Ciri, or anyone, for that matter.

The door finally buzzes and he pulls it open, heading for the reception desk. The middle aged receptionist - the one he spoke to earlier, he assumes - greets him.

“Hi,” he says, “I’m Jaskier. Jaskier Pankratz. I think we spoke on the phone earlier about Ciri?”

“Oh yes!” She says, “Of course. Mr. Borel - the headteacher - he’s just sorting everything out, so you can wait here for a moment and I’ll let you know when he’s ready to see you both.”

“Both?” He wonders if Geralt had finally picked up his phone. If he had, he was going to have a lot more explaining to do a lot sooner than he’d hoped.

“Yes! Thankfully we managed to get through to Ciri’s mother, she’s on her way now.”

Fuck. Fuck, shit, fuck.

“Ciri’s… mother, you say?” He tries not to betray how he’s feeling. Yen will almost certainly send him packing.

“Yes, we left both her and Mr. Rivia messages and she called us back just after I spoke to you. It’s really wonderful that you’ve both decided to come down, it really helps our students to have a really solid support network like this.”

“I… yes. It’s great.”

“If you don’t mind, you can just take a seat in our waiting area,” she gestures to a few chairs leaning against the far wall, “and I’ll let you know when we need you.”

“Thank you. I’ll… go wait, then.”

He turns to leave, when she suddenly speaks again. “And, Mr. Pankratz, I also wanted to apologise for my tone on the phone.”

He frowns. “It’s fine, really. You were just doing your job.”

“Yes, of course, but… well, it was highly unprofessional of me. We really are dedicated to ensuring that all kinds of families are…”

She’s cut off by the ringing of the entrance door. Yen. She spots Jaskier through the glass immediately, looking furious.

He wonders, vaguely, if he might be able to make a quick escape. Probably not.

“Ah, one moment…”

The receptionist buzzes her in. She strides across the lobby, and Jaskier automatically backs away, trying not to trip over his own feet.

“How can I-” the receptionist begins.

“Yennefer. I’m here to see Ciri. We spoke a few minutes ago.”

“Of course. The headteacher is just talking to another student’s father, and then you can go through. If you want to wait just here, I’ll let you know when we’re ready.”

“Fine.”

Yen turns to Jaskier, who’s trying his very best to blend in with the trophy case bolted to the wall.

“Yennefer!” he says, trying to sound upbeat, “lovely to see you!”

Yen waits until the receptionist has bustled back into the back room behind the desk before rounding on him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I picked up a call from the school.”

“And?”

And I was worried about Ciri, and they couldn’t get hold of Geralt. So I just thought…”

“Oh, yes, just thought. What did you tell them?”

“Nothing! I just said that Geralt was at work, but I lived with him. She,” he gestures towards the empty reception desk, “asked me to come over.”

“Only because no one else could, Jaskier. They clearly don’t need you now I’m here.”

“I think you’ll find, Yennefer, that they called me too.”

“They called Geralt. You just… happened to be there. Go home.”

“And what if I refuse?”

“You can’t refuse, because I am telling you to fu-”

“Ah! You’re here!”

They both turn at the sudden intrusion into their argument. A round, red-faced man stands in front of them wearing an ill-fitting suit and what’s clearly supposed to be a disarming smile.

“You must be Ciri’s mother. A pleasure to meet you,” he says, gripping Yen’s hand in a handshake. Jaskier winces - he’s been on the receiving end of one of Yen’s handshakes more than once. The headteacher, to his credit, doesn’t seem phased. “And, ah, you’re Ciri’s step-father, I assume?” He says, turning to Jaskier.

Oh, bollocks. A lot of pieces fall into place all at once. So that’s why they were happy to call him in. And it would also explain why the receptionist was so apologetic. He’s about to correct him, but Yen gets there first.

Actually, he-” She begins, but finds herself interrupted.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” says the man, totally ignoring her, “Very good, nice to see such a… modern family. I’m Mr. Borel, Ciri’s headteacher.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Borel, but-”

“Now if you will excuse me, I’ve just got to go and see the other student’s father, so I’ll be just one moment.”

“But-”

“Just wait here, and my receptionist will call you when we’re ready.”

He sweeps past both of them and down the corridor. For a moment, they’re both speechless.

“What an absolute arsehole,” says Jaskier, as soon as the man has turned the corner.

“Hmm,” agrees Yennefer, crossing her arms across her chest.

Jaskier slouches against the wall, looking the picture of a naughty schoolboy. “You think Ciri’s gotten herself into trouble?”

“You think she hasn’t gotten herself into trouble?”

“Fair,” Jaskier chuckles.

Yen examines him, for a moment, before speaking. “You really should leave, you know.” She says.

He slouches even further down the wall. “Bit late now, don’t you think? How will you explain that to him?” He nods down the corridor that the headteacher had disappeared down. “He’s probably told Ciri we’re both here, now, anyway…”

Yen groans. “Fine. Fine. But I’m doing all the talking. As far as anyone is concerned, you’re just… moral support. For Ciri. Clear?”

“Abundantly.”

They stand there, in stony silence, for a couple of minutes, before the receptionist reappears.

“All ready!” She says, infuriatingly chipper. “I’ll show you to Mr. Borel’s office now.”

She bustles ahead of them, leading them down the corridor. They stop at a wooden door, upon which she knocks.

“Mr. Borel,” she says, “Ciri’s mother and step-father are here.”

Yen and Jaskier share a look, but say nothing.

“Come in, please.” The headteacher’s voice is muffled by the thick wood. The receptionist gives them a last smile before opening the door, then heading away. Yen sets her shoulders, takes a breath, and strides into the room, Jaskier following behind.

There’s already a small group of people waiting in the room. Ciri stands in one corner, looking flushed - but smug. In the other corner is a boy Jaskier doesn’t recognise, fiddling with his phone. Seated next to the head master’s desk is an older man in a suit - an expensive suit, Jaskier notes. The boy’s father, he assumes.

The headteacher smiles as they enter. “Ah, welcome!” He says, cordially. “I really am sorry to have to call you all here like this,” he nods towards the boy’s father, too, “but unfortunately this sort of behaviour requires immediate attention. Would you like to take a seat?”

He waves a hand towards the two chairs placed next to the one currently occupied by the angry-looking man. Jaskier sits, but Yennefer does not.

“I’d prefer to stand,” she says, placing her hands on the back of the chair. Jaskier peers up at Ciri in the corner. They both look back at Yen. Both of them know that look.

Jaskier shuffles his chair a couple of inches away from her.

“As you know,” says the headteacher, “My name is Mr. Borel. This,” he nods towards the man, “is Edmond Gifford. He’s the father of Boris, here. The other student involved in this… incident.”

Yen gives Edmond a curt nod, which he returns.

“Mr. Gifford, this is Yennefer Vengerburg, Ciri’s mother, and Jaskier Pankratz, her step-father.”

Ciri’s eyes widen. Jaskier spots her look of shock, and shakes his head just a fraction. She bites down on her lips - clearly stifling a laugh. She looks even more smug, her expression clear: You’re going to be in trouble, later.

“Good, good. As you will have heard, there was an incident today at the beginning of lunch, and we-”

“She attacked my boy!”

“She what?” Yen turns her gaze to Ciri. Her cheeky expression vanishes, and she suddenly looks cowed.

“Thank you, Mr. Gifford.” Mr. Borel sighs. “Yes, unfortunately that is the case. There were multiple witnesses, including teachers.”

Yen blinks a couple of times. She ignores the adults in the room, and instead talks directly to Ciri.

Did you attack this boy, Ciri?”

“Yes, but-”

“There you have it!” Mr. Gifford leaps up, pointing an accusatory finger at Ciri, “I see no reason why we need to continue this charade, Sir. The girl admits to it, and she’s clearly not sorry-” Ciri smirks, at that, “It’s a clear-cut issue. She must be punished for assaulting my boy.”

“That is why we’re here, Sir…”

“Then get on with it, for Melitele’s sake. I’ve got other things to do than sit around waiting, you know.”

“Ciri,” says Yen, totally ignoring the increasingly enraged man, “What happened?”

“He wouldn’t leave me alone!” Ciri stepped forwards, hands raised, “I told him to fuck off-”

“Ciri!” Mr. Borel cuts her off, “that is not appropriate language for school. If you can’t be more polite then I’ll have to ask you to remain silent.”

Ciri huffs. Yen looks furious. “I told Boris to leave me alone,” Ciri says, clearly trying to reign herself in. “I told him to go away loads of times and he didn’t.”

“That’s hardly reason to assault him,” says Mr. Borel, tapping an impatient finger on the desk.

“Well that’s not why I did it, is it?” Says Ciri.

“Then why-” begins Boris’ father, but Ciri shouts over him.

“He snapped my bra strap!”

Yennefer and Jaskier speak at the same time.

“He what?”

“Excuse me?”

Their voices are equally venomous - equally dangerous. The headteacher doesn’t seem to register the sudden, icy atmosphere.

“Even if that is the case, Ciri, you cannot resort to violence. It’s just not acceptable. If Boris was bothering you, you should have told your teacher; not escalated the situation.”

“I did tell my teacher! I told her the fifth time it happened, two weeks ago!”

“Well, then.”

“And she told me to ignore him! She said that he was only doing it to get a reaction out of me and if I ignored him then he’d stop.”

“And yet you still neglected to take that advice and chose instead to physically attack Boris?”

Ciri throws her hands in the air, exasperated. It’s clear she’s had this argument before.

Jaskier leans forwards. “Are you telling me,” he says, pointing at Mr. Borel, “that one of your teachers told Ciri to ‘ignore’ this… this creature continually harassing her?”

“Well, Jaskier-”

“That’s Mr. Pankratz, to you.” Jaskier’s head snaps around at Yen’s voice. Her chin is in the air, her expression defiant. She gives him the smallest nod.

“Mr. Pankratz… we take these sorts of accusations very seriously at our school-”

“Clearly not,” spits Yen, moving to stand beside Jaskier, “or else one of your fine teachers wouldn’t have advised Ciri to simply ignore the boy harassing her. Do you truly think that’s good enough?”

“Ms. Vengerburg-”

“No, I’m talking now. You allowed this boy to sexually harass my daughter. I could have you fired. I should have you fired.”

“That’s not what-”

“Ciri.” Yen speaks over him, ignoring him, addressing her daughter. “You say this was a repeat incident?”

“Yeah.”

“And has he done this to anyone else?”

She snorts. “Like, half the girls in our class. He’s a shithead.”

The headmaster gasps. “Ciri!”

“What? He is! He’s been creepy around loads of us.” She pauses, and there’s a little smile on her face. “They cheered when I tossed him, it was great.”

“You what him?”

Ciri looks, for the first time, a little nervous. “Ah, well…”

Boris' father takes this time to speak up. “You mean to tell me you don’t know what she did?”

“No. We don’t,” replies Jaskier, “yet why do I suspect you’re going to tell us?”

His face grows even redder. “That… that little devil, she grabbed my poor Boris and threw him! Threw him right over her shoulder!”

Jaskier has to bite back a laugh. Yen, blessed with a better poker face, turns back to Ciri. “Well?”

“I didn’t throw him over my shoulder, gods.” Yen raises an eyebrow. Ciri sighs. “I just… threw him. He’s not that much bigger than me and he was off balance anyway so I just… threw him. A bit.”

“Oh gods,” Jaskier is giggling, now - he can’t help it. “Is that one of your dad’s moves?”

Ciri blushes. “Maybe.”

“She is extremely lucky that Boris wasn’t hurt,” says Mr. Borel, trying to regain control of the situation. “We simply cannot tolerate-”

“This kind of behaviour, yes, yes we get it.” Yennefer is clearly done with this situation, now - bored of the prattling of these men. “You’ve decided that this boy’s right to harass the girls in his class is more important than the girls’ right to defend themselves, you’ve made that perfectly clear.”

“I didn’t say-”

And so,” Yen continues, louder, “you’ve decided that Ciri must be punished. Is that it?”

The headteacher looks like this is firmer ground. “That is the case, yes.”

“Finally we’ve reached a concept you appear to understand. And you intend to, what? Suspend her?”

“Well, as this is a first offence…”

“What? No!” Mr. Gifford jumps up, “You have to expel the little beast!”

“That is not how this school runs, Sir,” says the headteacher, calmly. “There’s a three-strike policy. Ciri’s punishment will be severe, but we try to avoid expelling students. Perhaps a managed move, should the behaviour continue…” he looks thoughtful, for a moment, then continues, “Ciri will be sent home for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, she’ll spend the day in isolation-” Ciri groans, at that, but he continues, “-and we’ll arrange a restorative meeting with her form tutor, head of year, and of course Boris will attend as well.”

Boris' father splutters. “That’s not good enough!”

“That is policy,” says Mr. Borel, sighing. “But if this happens again, then I will have no choice but to ensure a more severe punishment.” He stands, pushing back his chair and heading towards Yennefer and Jaskier. “Ciri needs to leave the school premises. I hope you both understand the severity of her behaviour today. The school and the home must work together to curb these sorts of things, you know. I expect you will punish her in whichever way you deem suitable?”

Yen frowns, and Jaskier can tell she’s only seconds away from screaming at the man or striking him - so he stands and grabs her arm, gently, tugging her back.

“Oh, of course,” he says, looking over Mr. Borel’s shoulder to where Ciri stands in the corner. “Punished, certainly. Very severely. We’ll see to that.”

“Thank you.”

Yen gives him a sideways glance, and he squeezes her arm once more before letting go. “And, ah… when he’s back from work, I’ll make sure Ciri’s dad gives you a ring, shall I? I tell him all that’s gone on here. I’m sure he’ll be very keen to speak to you.”

He glances at Yen - a little conspiratorial look - she blinks, once, then gets it.

“That would be ideal, yes. Mr. Rivia obviously needs to be a part of this conversation.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” says Jaskier, nodding. “So - if that’s quite all - we’ll be taking Ciri home, then?”

“Yes, that’s-”

“Good. Right, then; come on, Ciri!”

Ciri obeys immediately, dashing towards them.

Yen gives the headteacher one long, icy look as Jaskier quickly herds Ciri out of the office.

“It was nice to meet you, Sir,” she says, poison dripping from her tongue, “it’s been very… enlightening.”

“I… ah… likewise, Ms. Vengerberg. I look forward to hearing from Ciri’s father so we can further discuss-”

“Yes, yes.” She waves him off, “Understood.”

She shoots a final look at Boris and his father, then turns on her heel and strides from the room.

Yennefer finds Ciri and Jaskier a little way down the corridor, out of earshot from the headteacher’s office, giggling.

“Ahem.”

They both turn to look at her, quickly stifling their laughter.

“Ah, mum, I…” Ciri looks genuinely remorseful, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have-”

“None of that.” Yen cuts her off. “Don’t apologise, to me or that boy. Unless they make you, which I’m sure they will. What an ignorant little shit your headteacher is.”

Ciri snorts.

“D’you think they will make me apologise?”

Jaskier sighs. “Restorative meeting, he said,” he says, leaning against the wall, “that sounds an awful lot like that bastard kid sits there and feels smug while you say sorry.”

“Urgh.”

“It’s fine, I’ll teach you the fine art of the fake apology on the way home.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s very good. Very convincing. And useful, too.”

Ciri grins again. “And… are you going to tell dad?”

“Are you kidding?” Jaskier laughs, “Obviously, yes.”

“Shit.”

Yen waves a dismissive hand at her. “Ciri, do you really think he’ll be taking that boy’s side in this? If anything, he’ll buy you a present…” she thinks, then turns to Jaskier, “Very nice move, by the way, telling Mr. Borel that Geralt would talk to him. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.”

“He might want a meeting with him, too,” says Jaskier, moving away from the wall and beginning down the corridor towards the front doors. “You can get a front-row seat to that. Tell them that you want to show, what is it… a united front? He seemed keen on all that holistic crap, tell them, I don’t know..” he puts on an elevated accent, “We don’t want the divorce to to negatively impact Ciri's education.

Yen smiles, despite herself. “Not a bad idea...” She places a hand on Ciri’s shoulder as they make their way past the reception desk and through the large, double-doored entrance. “Does that ‘united front’ include step-fathers?”

Jaskier feels himself blush, and Yen turns away from him, towards Ciri.

“Have you had lunch, Ciri?”

Ciri kicks at a stone on the path, sending it skittering across the carpark. “No. It happened right outside the restaurant and they wouldn’t let me in.”

“Right,” Yen puts a finger to her chin in thought, “I suppose we’ll do that first, then. What do you want?”

Another stone goes flying across the carpark, narrowly missing a huge Jeep parked in a spot marked headteacher. “What?” Says Ciri, frowning.

“For lunch,” says Yen, absent-mindedly, “what do you want? Anything.”

“Wait… anything?”

“Sure. Pizza, burgers… your choice.”

“Can we… can we go to McDonalds?”

Yen winces. “Yes,” she says, looking pained. “We can go to McDonalds.” She turns to Jaskier, who’s stood, hand in pockets, waiting to awkwardly be told to leave. “You’re coming, I assume? Step-father?”

Jaskier blinks. “What?”

“You’re coming? Or have you suddenly developed a refined palate?”

Jaskier reels, but tries not to show it. He’s not sure Yen’s said this many words to him at once ever without a significantly more devastating blow on his character. She’s certainly ever invited him to lunch - even if it is just McDonalds.

“No, yes! Right. I’d love to join you. If that’s… okay?” Truly, he’s not sure if he’d really choose to spend the rest of the day with Yen, but... well, Ciri’s still a little shaken up, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want a chance to continue bitching about her obnoxious headmaster.

“Sure. Ciri?”

Ciri glances between Yen and Jaskier, looking suspicious.

“...Alright,” she says, brows knotting together, “Yeah. But!” She holds a warning finger in the air, and suddenly, somehow, she looks a lot like her father, “No fighting! Got it?”

“Understood,” agrees Jaskier.

Yen doesn’t say anything - just nods.

“Good, then.” She says, straightening up like the picture of authority - even though she’s a head shorter than both of them, “McDonalds it is.”

“Come on, then,” Says Yen, heading towards the spot where her Jaguar is parked. “Did you drive, Jaskier?”

Jaskier spots the little look of disgust that crosses her face - an expression she reserves for his beloved yellow beetle. “I did, yeah.”

“You can meet us there, then? At that retail park down the road.”

Jaskier smiles, sweetly. He knows that the reason why they’re taking separate cars is because there’s only one passenger seat in her Jag, yet it still feels like a dig.

“Got it. Meet you there, then.”

“Meet you there.”

Ciri gives him a quick wave before sliding into the passenger seat of the car, which he returns, then heads towards his own rather less expensive ride. He tugs the door open, winds down the window, gives the CD player a quick thump, then sets off, following close behind the shiny blackness of Yen's Jag.

 


 

It’s nearly half past three when Geralt finally bursts through the front door. He makes a bee-line for the lounge, following the sound of voices.

“I came home as soon as Ves would let me… I’ve got four missed calls from the school, three voicemails, and-”

He looks up. Yen has Jaskier pinned to the far wall, his arm twisted behind his back, while Ciri perches on the sofa, a paper bag full of sweets clasped in one hand.

“...What the hell is going on?”

They all turn to look at him. Ciri at least looks a little guilty - Jaskier giggles, and Yen unhands him, like nothing’s even happening.

“We’re teaching,” she says, simply.

“Teaching what?”

“Self-defence.” It’s like it’s obvious.

“I’ve got a voicemail from a teacher going on about… unacceptable physical force, or something. What happened?”

“Ciri was merely demonstrating to one of the other students a very… valuable lesson,” Says Yen, with a dangerously sweet smile.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning your daughter threw one of her classmates to the floor using what I’ve been assured is a move you taught her.”

“Ah.”

“Hey!” Ciri jumps off the sofa, spilling sweets as she did, “That’s not what happened.”

“No?” Says Geralt, raising an eyebrow, “so you didn’t throw them?”

“Oh, no,” Jaskier laughs, “she definitely did.”

Ciri purses her lips. “He was annoying me! He kept creeping on me and the other girls and he snapped my bra strap again so I just, you know. Threw him. Like you showed me.”

“You - you threw -” he suddenly registers what else she’d said. “He snapped your bra strap? Again?”

“Yes! I told my teacher but she told me to ignore him.”

Geralt is, apparently, speechless. He flops down onto the sofa. “But that didn’t work...” he says, after a long pause, “So you threw him?”

“Yep.” She doesn’t even look guilty. He peers at the other adults - Yen looking typically unreadable and Jaskier positively giddy.

“And the headteacher-” Geralt begins, but gets cut off by Jaskier.

“Was a complete dick.”

“He’s not… incorrect,” concedes Yen, folding her arms across her chest. “He was dismissive of Ciri, and then when I - when we both questioned him, he merely doubled down.”

“And the other kid?”

“Getting off without so much as a slap on the wrist, by all accounts.”

Fantastic.” Geralt sighs, rubbing his face.

“I told the headteacher you’d ring him when you got home,” says Jaskier. “He said he’d be waiting for your call. He seemed very keen to talk to you.”

“Did he, now?”

“I suspect he’s hoping that out of the three of us, you might be the reasonable one,” Yen adds. Her expression makes it clear that she doesn’t think this is the case.

“Reasonable?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“He expects me to be reasonable after he told my daughter that she can’t defend herself? And let the little shit who’s been harassing her get away with it?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“For fuck’s…” He spots Ciri’s cheeky grin, and grimaces. “This will certainly make for an interesting conversation.”

Geralt stands, pulling his phone from his pocket. He begins to cycle through the missed calls, looking for the right number. He finds it, then turns to Yen.

“Are you…?”

“Going home? Absolutely not. I want to see how this plays out. That little shit wouldn’t listen to me or Jaskier. I want to hear what he has to say to you.”

Geralt rolls his eyes. “If I get in trouble-”

“Then it’ll be your own fault for shouting at Ciri’s headteacher.”

“Fine. Just… don’t say anything, okay?”

She nods, with a little grin. Geralt goes to hit the call button, when Jaskier speaks up.

“Ah, Geralt,” he hesitates, “there is… one thing…”

“Oh? What else? Did one of you slap him?”

Yen snorts. “I wish.”

“Not that. Nothing like that! It’s just, well… they called the house first, and I thought - you know - I was worried about Ciri, so…”

“So?”

“So… the issue is, Geralt, they uh… got the wrong end of the stick, a little.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I think ‘congratulations’ are in order,” says Yen, raising a single eyebrow. “It appears you’ve just acquired yourself a husband.”

What?”

“They… assumed I was Ciri’s step father,” says Jaskier, looking guilty. “And, look, we were going to correct them-”

I was going to correct them.”

Thanks, Yen - but, well, they just shoved us into this meeting with this kid’s dad and there wasn’t really an opportunity to say anything, and if I had said something, they’d have kicked me out! Oh yes, they’re really keen to have a parents-and-random-housemate meeting, sure.”

“So… he thinks…”

“He thinks that you and Jaskier are married, yes.” Says Yen. She says it so easily - so simply - but her eyes are sparkling.

“...Right.” He’s not sure what else he can say.

“So,” she tilts her head to one side. “Are you calling him, or?”

“Okay. Fine. But behave,” he thinks, for a second. “All of you.”

He hits the button and listens to the dial tone, waiting. After what feels like an age, a receptionist finally picks up. “Hello. Yes, this is Mr Rivia. Yeah… Ciri’s dad. I had a voicemail from..? Yes, okay.” He lapses into silence, staring at the ceiling, tapping an inpatient foot. He sighs. Jaskier, Yen and Ciri are watching him with interest. Then another voice crackles to life in his ear.

“Mr. Rivia?”

“Speaking.”

“Ah, marvellous. This is Mr. Borel, Ciri’s headteacher.”

Geralt doesn't respond - merely waits for the man to continue. He does, after a long silence.

“I… was assured that the message would be passed along to you about Ciri’s little… incident today?”

“It has been.”

“Right, right…” Geralt can sense the nervousness in the man’s tone. Good. Clearly he’s still somewhat shaken from his experience with Yen and Jaskier. “I just think that we really need to make sure we're all on the same page about Ciri’s behaviour going forwards.”

“Of course.”

The teacher seems to be happier with this. “I’m glad you agree, Mr. Rivia. Very glad. So I-”

“I’d like you to explain, once more, what actually happened,” says Geralt, cutting him off, “Just so I’m fully aware of the situation.”

“Oh! Yes, of course. It’s fairly simple. Your daughter - Ciri - assaulted another student while waiting in line for our on-site restaurant.” Geralt allows another long silence, until the teacher is forced to continue. “Ah, to be precise, she… she threw him, I’m afraid to say, in what I’ve been told is a martial arts move. Entirely inappropriate outside of a club or gym, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

“And is that everything?”

“I… yes, Sir, I’m sure you can-”

“Why did she throw him?”

“Pardon me, Sir?”

“I taught my daughter that move. We train together. Those moves are only to be used in self-defence. Was my daughter defending herself?”

“Obviously no-”

“Because I’ve been informed by Ciri and her mother that she was responding to continued harassment from this boy.”

“I’m not sure-”

“In fact, Ciri told me that he’s put his hands on her multiple times, and that while waiting in the queue he snapped her bra strap. She also informs me that she isn’t the first girl he’s done this to.”

“I-”

Geralt continues, voice getting just a little louder. “When I asked her what your school’s reaction was to this continued sexual harassment, she told me that one of your teachers had told her to ignore him. Is that right?”

“The school has a very strict policy for these sorts of-”

“Does it? So explain to me, then, why my daughter is being punished for defending herself and her peers while this boy-”

“Boris.”

“While Boris is allowed to continue this behaviour?”

There is a long, heavy silence. Yen and Jaskier are watching Geralt, waiting. Ciri, still perched on the sofa, seems to have forgotten about the sweet still in her mouth.

Finally, Mr. Borel speaks. “The school is dedicated to-”

“Has he been sent home, like my daughter? Has he been…” he looks towards Yen, suddenly unsure.

Isolated,” she mouths.

“...Isolated? Or is he attending classes as usual?”

“I cannot discuss the education of our other students with you, I’m afraid, Mr. Rivia. It’s quite against our safeguarding-”

“So he’s not being punished, then?”

“Due to our safeguarding policy I can’t-”

“Understood. I think I’ve heard enough, Mr. Borel. I’ll speak to Ciri about her behaviour. Is that all?”

“Mr. Rivia, I really want to impart the seriousness of-”

Geralt hangs up on him. He looks at the others’ expectant faces. “What a prick.”

Ciri bursts out laughing. Geralt can’t help but smile, too. He’s proud of her: proud of her for standing up for herself, for doing something when all the adults around her were encouraging her to do nothing. But… he’d promised her grandmother he’d look after her: promised that she’d flourish, that he’d take her under his wing. He knew, of course, that Calanthe would be delighted by the whole affair, but he can’t risk her getting expelled. He can’t risk even the slight possibility that someone, somewhere, will decide he’s suddenly unfit to be her father.

“Look, Ciri,” he says, “I get it, I really do. But you can’t just throw people around. You’ll get in even more trouble, and then the school will be after us,” he gestures at himself and Yen, “too.”

“My point exactly,” says Yen. “Hence the self-defence lessons you so rudely interrupted.”

He sighs. “Meaning?”

“Look, darling, your methods are perfectly fine in your line of work, but unfortunately Ciri’s going to have to learn to be a little more… subtle. As demonstrated today.”

“Subtle?”

“Twisting an arm, pain points, knowing exactly where to kick an ankle to bring someone down… knowing which personal defence items are illegal, which aren’t, and which might be.”

And,” Jaskier adds, looking pleased, “the art of the fake apology. How to confess without actually confessing. Getting away with murder. The masterful skill of saying only what someone wants to hear while never actually implicating yourself further…”

Geralt looks between them, aghast. “Thank the gods she’s got you two around, then,” he says.

“Indeed. Geralt,” Yen places a comforting hand on his arm, “it’s all very well having her know how to throw a boy twice her size over her shoulder, but unfortunately that sort of thing doesn’t really fly in the playground. We’re just ensuring she’s got, hmm…”

“Plausible deniability,” finishes Jaskier, helpfully.

“Exactly.”

Geralt glances at Ciri, who’s grinning like a little cat. “I hope you two understand the monster you’re going to create,” he says.

“She’ll only be a monster if she actually practices the moves I showed her. Geralt; I’m sure you know some self defence that isn’t all… punching and throwing and showing off?” Geralt nods. “Good. Do try to include some of that into your routines, hmm? While I’ve nothing against our daughter throwing some incorrigible little shit into the dirt, I do have a problem with getting calls from the school while I’m halfway through a meeting, and I’ve no desire to deal with her headteacher again for at least six months.”

“But-”

“Geralt.”

There was no arguing with that tone. “Fine. But how am I supposed to demonstrate? If she doesn’t use proper technique she could dislocate someone’s elbow, and there’s no way they won’t expel her for that.”

“Use Jaskier.”

Jaskier splutters, and they both turn to look at him. He’s blushing, furiously. “I-” he starts.

“He’s very easy to demonstrate on. And I assume,” she fixes him under a gaze that Geralt can’t quite read, “he’ll be extremely willing.”

“Well, if it’s - you know - for Ciri…”

“There, see? Perfectly happy. Thank you, Jaskier.”

Jaskier makes a little noise of assent. His ears have gone pink.

“Wonderful.” She smiles at them both - her famous, everything-is-settled smile that never leaves room for argument. “Well, it’s been a truly lovely day but unfortunately I really do have to go,” Yen grabs her phone and her bag from the side and heads towards the front door. “Jaskier, we… should do this again, sometime. What was it Ciri’s headmaster said? It’s good for her to have a modern family.” She clicks open the door, then turns, as if remembering something. “And by the way, Geralt, next time you get married, you really ought to invite me. See you next week!”

And with that, she’s gone.

“So…” says Jaskier, drawing the sound out, playing with it, “I’ve had a… a morning, but I’ve got some work to finish so… yes. I should go and…” he points, vaguely, up the stairs, “...go and do... that. See you later!”

Even Geralt can see his flushed face, the skin hotly pink on the back of his neck as he dashes past, and stumbles up the stairs in a rush. Ciri jumps up from the sofa and leans through the doorway.

“See you later, stepdad!” She shouts after him, grinning.

Geralt looks down at her, trying to force himself to scowl.

“What?” She asks, the picture of innocence. Geralt tries his very best to look at least annoyed, but he suspects it isn’t working. He can’t help but imagine the look on Jaskier’s face - even now - when he was mistaken for Geralt’s… for his… well.

Ciri grins. “I’m gonna head up too,” she says, “I’ve got, like, loads of homework to do.” She heads towards the staircase too, but pauses at the bottom, one hand on the rail. “You’re blushing, by the way. Adorable.”

Geralt barely has a chance to defend himself - to argue back - before she gives him a final, infuriatingly cheeky smile and then dashes up the stairs.