Dandelion couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t worried, but his mind was heavy. He tossed and turned in the bed until he started to fret he might wake her, and then he slipped out of bed quietly and put on his clothes to leave her in peace. A drink might help him sleep, or two… or three.
The tavern below their room was all but empty, the barkeep putting the chairs up on the tabletops as he prepared to lock up for the night, the maid sweeping the floors. They were surprised to see him, and from the muted looks they offered he guessed they had, as he imagined, been eavesdropping through the thin walls of the place while he and his lady love were having a tiff.
Gossips… they were almost as bad as snoops.
As if in sympathy for his obviously troubled mind, the man offered him a bottle and told him he was welcome to sit in there alone, and so that was where he was when the first hour of Saovine struck with an eerie resonance that clanged from the bell tower at the other end of the city. Twelve long gongs, ringing clear through the cold night, announcing the end of another year.
And Dandelion was alone in the near dark with nothing but a bottle of vodka and some of the heaviest thoughts he’d ever had in his life.
A father at fifty? It wasn’t the most unheard of thing in the world, in fact, it was relatively common among older men who married younger women. But they weren’t married and they’d never discussed in any great seriousness the likelihood of tying that knot together. Not that he wanted anyone else. She was the last great love of his life. There would be no one after her. That much he’d already decided.
Nyannah had said it in the plainest of words: a child would change everything.
And yet… he found himself quietly thrilled by the prospect of change so severe he didn’t even know what to expect from it. Nearly fifty, and he’d stopped expecting life to surprise him, yet there it was.
Although he’d never really liked children all that much. They were loud, obnoxious little disease-carrying pests with runny noses, dirty hands and faces and clothes that were never clean no matter how often they changed them. Most of them seemed to possess only two words in their vocabularies: no and mine, the former of which they seemed to love using whenever asked politely to carry out some task, the latter attached to anything and everything, whether it actually belonged to them, or not. They ate everything in sight, cost more money feed and clothe than entire infantry units and had an insatiable desire for every shiny thing that crossed their paths.
And they couldn’t be left alone for even a second, otherwise they’d end up poisoned, maimed, broken or, under the very worst of circumstances, dead.
How could he be expected to keep someone else alive? He could barely keep himself alive most of the time.
His stomach churned, a mixture of anxiety, uncertainty and intrigue making it roil just beneath his ribs. Pouring another drink into his empty cup, he swallowed the warmth of it in a single gulping shot and immediately poured himself another.
“Boy, you’ve really stepped in shit this time, Dandelion.”
The unexpected sound of that familiar voice startled him so severely he nearly dropped the cup from his hand and fell out of the chair, but when he turned toward the direction it’d come from there was no one there. He’d only had two shots, surely he wasn’t drunk already. Quickly sloshing vodka into the cup with trembling hands, he downed it and shook his head, as if he believed it was the spirits making him hear voices on the night the veil between the worlds was so incredibly thin a ghost could walk right through it.
“You, someone else’s father… I think I might be fucking sick. Or rather, I would if I could actually get sick.”
It came from the other side of the room that time, and when he turned toward the voice, he swore he saw a swift shadow dart behind him. He nearly screamed like a startled little girl when he turned to find the flimsy shade of his best friend standing beside the table with his arms crossed. He was grinning in that cynical and unconvincing fashion Geralt had about him.
“Geralt…” he stammered.
“Does she know anything about you at all? She can’t possibly to have carried on with you as long as she has, long enough to find herself in this dreadful predicament.”
“She knows everything about me. Everything important. Things that would send other women running, but she stays. She loves me. Really loves me.”
“Then why is she so terrified right now?”
“Because love is like that, I guess. You know that better than anyone. Yennefer scared the shit out of you.”
“What Yen and I had was different.”
“Different,” he scoffed, “yes, that’s the right description for it. Different in the sense that it was downright indescribable by any other terms.”
“What I had with Yennefer was real.”
“What I have with her is real,” he insisted, feeling a little angry that someone who didn’t know the first thing about it had the nerve to question the authenticity of his emotions, especially considering that someone was supposed to be his friend. “She’s my little Buttercup. She’s the realest thing I’ve ever known.”
“So you love her?”
“Does the sun love to rise in the morning, tangle its golden rays around the moon and…”
“Dandelion, enough with the posturing. You haven’t answered the question. It was simple enough. Do you love her?”
“Yes, Geralt. I really do.”
“Do you want to be a father?”
“I think so, I mean… I’ve never been a father, Geralt. What if I… What if I can’t…?”
“Love someone more than you love yourself?” he asked, tilting his ethereal head and cocking his brow. “Because that’s what it takes, Dandelion. If you can love that child more than you love yourself, then you can be a father.”
“You loved her like that,” he remembered. “Your child surprise.”
“Yes, I did.”
“She was your destiny…”
“And maybe this child is yours.”
“Oh, ho, so now you believe in destiny?” he smirked. “I see how it is. But tell me something, Geralt, weren’t you ever afraid?”
“All the time.”
“Look, there are no what ifs, Dandelion, only what is. You will either be a father, or you won’t. Only you can decide.”
“Well that’s not entirely true. It isn’t my decision at all, is it? It isn’t my body, for one thing. I can’t control the choice she makes in the end.”
“No, maybe it’s not your decision, and you certainly can’t control her, but if you tell her that you want this she won’t be so afraid. Are you really that dimwitted that you can’t see her biggest fear staring you right in the face? You saw her with those children. The way she stared at them with longing. She wants this, and she wants it with you, but she’s terrified of what you’re thinking and not saying. She’s afraid that this will ruin what you have together, but it won’t and only you can tell her that. You have to reassure her, otherwise…”
“It will all fall apart,” he finished the revelation with an understanding grin. “Say, when did you get so wise to all this? You were never very good at it, if my memory serves me, and it does. I may be getting old, but my memory is impeccable. In fact, I recall you being relatively oblivious when it came to matters of the heart.”
“I had this friend once,” he started, “who talked of nothing but matters of the heart. I learned a lot from him, even if he really had no idea what he was fucking talking about most of the time.”
“Thanks, Geralt,” he nodded. “Hey, I don’t suppose we could have a drink?” He held up the bottle. “It’ll be just like old times.”
He smiled then, not a leer, but a genuine smile. “I wish I could, Dandelion. I wish I could.”
And just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone and Dandelion was alone in the tavern on Saovine, the night when the veil between the worlds was thinnest, on the cusp of a new year with a half-empty bottle of vodka he didn’t even feel like drinking anymore.
Stoppering the bottle, he pushed his chair from the table, climbed the steps until he reached the room he shared with her, and for a moment he just stood outside the door marveling at the prospect.
He was about to turn fifty, and he was going to be a father.
A better father than his own father had been. Because he knew how to do something his father never did: love.
But first he had to tell Nyannah that he wanted it.
All of it.
Her, their child, their life together.
He wanted it all.
Of nothing else had he ever been more certain in his life.