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Silver Words, Violent Deeds

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Geralt quickly rolls to the side, bringing his sword arm up as he gets to his feet. Just in time too— the definitely-not-a-gargoyle swoops down, screeching loudly enough to make the witcher wince. “Fuck!” An upward thrust of his silver weapon dissuades the beast from attacking further. Almost silently, it swoops upwards again, then becomes impossible to see through the thick tree branches. It’s probably gone off to find a good spot to ambush him. Too bad that won’t work.

“Just had to be a garkin, didn’t you?” Geralt mutters, yellow eyes roving over the mostly-obscured sky. The woods are quiet, save for the sounds of his own panting breaths, and footsteps. All the local woodland creatures, wisely, have decided to fuck off. He frees his medallion from where it’s gotten tangled in his hair; the piece of jewelry will hopefully alert him to the garkin, or any other monsters (vampiric or otherwise) in the area.

As the witcher warily creeps forward, he lowers his sword to waist-height. Geralt keeps his free hand hovering over his small potions pouch. Unfortunately, he only has one Moon Dust bomb, no Black Blood— he entered this fight thinking that the monster he was dealing with was a gargoyle. But there’s enough Vampire Oil to last for a few hours more; one does not journey to Toussaint without it. As for other anti-vampire supplies, though, the witcher is fresh out.

When he’d taken the contract, Geralt had asked to look over the victims’ bodies, see what knowledge of the monster he could gain that way. But there had been no bodies to examine— the victims being buried already— so he’d had to go off the villagers’ descriptions of the beast. In retrospect, the villagers had been mistaken. Very mistaken.

Should’ve prepared better, Geralt thinks. There’re always vampires in Toussaint.

But potion ingredients, and other vampire-specific witcher supplies, are expensive. Not to mention, most anti-vampire potions, like Black Blood, are also quite dangerously toxic. So after he’d taken the contract, the witcher had decided to do a quick survey of the area, and gather more information before approaching the beast. He regrets that now.

A sudden, choked-off scream reaches him, and the witcher breaks into a sprint. “Shit!”

The smell hits him first. Sickly sweet, with a tang of iron. It’s blood. Then the sound— almost like something is wading through mud, or a thick swamp— reaches his sensitive ears. Only there are no swamps in Toussaint. Geralt wrinkles his nose, lifts his sword, and stalks forward until he’s hidden behind a tree.

He stops, and takes in the scene.

The monster’s back is to him, and its wings hang loosely, tips brushing the ground. Its shoulders move rhythmically up and down as the garkin chews on its latest victim— that’s the origin of the mushy sound he’s hearing. The wolf’s-head medallion vibrates against his chest, and Geralt frowns thoughtfully. There are two ways to go about this: he can try to sneak up on the beast while it’s distracted by making a meal of the latest poor dead bastard, or, knowing what he’s dealing with, Geralt can go back to the village and better outfit himself for a future encounter.

A particularly loud squelching sound tears the witcher from his thoughts.

Geralt grimaces as he sees most of a human digestive track slide down the garkin’s throat. Then the vampire turns, long strands of bloody drool hitting the forest floor as it hisses. He gets a good look at the beast’s sharp, bloody teeth. The witcher’s nose wrinkles as the garkin’s foul breath hits him. He’s seen enough.

Geralt casts Igni, and charges forward. The monster shrieks, making him wince again, and lashes out with its deadly claws. He leaps back, landing in a crouch which turns into a roll as the garkin surges forward. The witcher regains his footing and swipes at the monster. But the garkin backs away. Geralt edges forward again, only narrowly avoiding disembowelment as the monster snaps and swipes at him. There’s a brief feeling of fire over his cheek and then the witcher feels the warm trickle of blood. He’s been cut. “Fuck.”

Suddenly, the garkin’s head snaps up— it’s scented his blood.

Though the witcher is prepared to defend himself, he’s still not quick enough. Abruptly, one clawed hand is pushing him, and the air is expelled from his lungs as Geralt hits the ground hard. His vision briefly goes fuzzy and his skull throbs from the impact. A wet, foul strand of drool splashes his neck, and the witcher has just enough awareness to bring his sword up. He buries it to the hilt in the meat of the monster’s shoulder and gets an eyeful of hot, stinging, foul-smelling blood in return.

The garkin screams, and leaps off of him— taking his sword with it. Shit.

Wiping the worst of the blood from his eyes, Geralt hurriedly pulls his other sword from its scabbard, and moves forward. While the steel blade will do for a little while, he’s fucked if he can’t get his other sword back. The garkin, now standing in the middle of the small clearing, looks as if it wants to leap into the patch of empty sky above it. Thankfully though, the monster is grounded because of its shoulder wound. But that does not mean it isn’t still dangerous.

Wounded monsters are, almost always, more dangerous monsters.

Geralt can hear the garkin panting, smell the unpleasant stink of its blood, and can see the wound sizzling slightly— that would be the Vampire Oil and the silver taking effect. The beast’s head swivels, watching Geralt’s every move carefully. Its long, deadly clawed fingers twitch anxiously. While the monster is injured, it isn’t going to die anytime soon. Unfortunately.

He takes a moment to regain his breath, and to shake off the last of the lingering dizziness from his earlier tumble. He’ll have to be smart about this, as diving towards a monster is, generally speaking, not a good battle tactic. But Geralt needs his silver sword back, and the only way he’s going to retrieve it is by getting closer to the vampire. A difficult task.

The witcher quickly casts Aard, which makes the monster stagger back a few feet. He takes the opportunity to move in closer, steel sword held aloft. Just as Geralt lunges for the teasingly-close hilt of his silver sword, the garkin regains its balance, and swipes at him with one powerful hand. He goes flying, and hits a tree.

“Shit,” Geralt hisses wheezily. At least two of his ribs are broken. He tries to get up, but the pain makes spots appear in his vision. Every breath feels like he’s inhaling fire. Can’t pass out now. The garkin lumbers closer. Geralt hastily casts Aard again, and staggers to his feet. The witcher can feel his ribs grinding together, and his breathing is harsh and loud in his ears. He has to grab a nearby tree as his vision swirls—

Time to wrap this up.

Fortunately, the garkin isn’t doing much better than him at this point; his silver sword is still being put to use. The witcher staggers forward, snarling. By some miracle, he hasn’t lost his potions pouch yet. He feels around the inside of it until his fingers close around the object he wants: his only Moon Dust bomb.

The garkin lunges, and Geralt barely manages to sidestep. If only the beast would fucking hold still. He jabs blindly at the monster, and it snarls. Geralt casts Igni, catching the bomb’s fuse alight. Then the witcher tosses it, and staggers away. But not quickly enough.

Sensing his retreat, the garkin runs at Geralt and manages to rip through the thinner armor covering the witcher’s left arm. He hisses at the sudden, sharp burst of pain, and spins, sword up to ward off the monster’s attack. Then the bomb explodes. This makes the witcher’s already-unsteady footing more unstable.

Geralt falls to the ground with a pained hiss.

As the Moon Dust burns the garkin, it shrieks. His ears ring. Then the monster falls forward. The last thing the witcher sees as he twists around frantically is the garkin’s body rapidly descending toward him. Shit. Geralt raises his sword and—

 

“Ughhhhh,” he groans. Yep, those ribs are definitely broken. Fuck.

“Ah! I see you are finally awake. It appears that at least some of what they say about witchers is true, then— you are healing quite remarkably quickly in comparison to the severity of your wounds. That is good.”

Geralt’s eyes snap open. The hell? He blinks, and the blurry figure before him— seated by the bed in which the witcher is lying— slowly comes into focus. The stranger is a late middle-aged man with a pale complexion, and short, mostly-gray hair. He’s dressed simply in a worn tunic, black trousers, and brown leather boots. The witcher frowns as he meets the stranger’s dark, slightly-unsettling gaze. “Why’m I not dead?”

The other man blinks, looking almost offended by Geralt’s suspicion. “I rescued you. Pulled you out from under that foul beast’s corpse, as it were. You were fortunate to have skewered it through when you did, and doubly fortunate that I happened upon the scene as quickly as I did. Otherwise I fear that your story may have had a different ending. A much less happy one.”

Despite his situation, Geralt’s heart lightens somewhat at confirmation that the garkin is, in fact, dead. At least there’s probably still coin to be gotten out of all this; it’s not like he enjoys getting beat up for free, after all. Now to find out the identity of his helper. “Who are you?”

The man sits up, and clears his throat. “I am Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy. But that is a long name, and life is short. You may call me Regis. And you are…”

“Geralt. Geralt of Rivia,” the witcher replies. He sits up slowly, wincing. The sooner I can get out of here, the better. Before the other man— Regis— can start asking questions, or worse. In his experience, people who help witchers rarely do it out of the goodness of their hearts. He looks around for his armor and swords; they’re nowhere to be found. Then Geralt realizes that his medallion is missing too.

He shifts forward, toward the edge of the bed.

Regis stands abruptly, looking perturbed. “What are you doing, Geralt?”

The witcher takes a moment to catch his breath. “Leaving.”

This answer, apparently, is the wrong one. At least, that’s what Geralt takes away from Regis’ sudden change of expression. “Oh, no, no, no. You are in no condition to be leaving! At least not anytime soon. No, I cannot, in good conscience, allow it. Please, I insist, Geralt, lie back down.”

Geralt pauses to blink the stars from his eyes. One of his legs is already swung over the edge of the bed. He meets Regis’ worried black gaze. “Witchers heal fast,” he assures gruffly.

Unfortunately, the other man does not look appeased. At all. Too bad. Geralt brings his other leg around, and huffs. The sudden brush of a cool hand over the witcher’s shoulder makes him start. Of course, this reminds Geralt of his broken ribs in a most unpleasant manner. Fuck!

He doubles over, focusing on not passing out, and then, when he’s recovered, Geralt sits up again. In this time, Regis has, apparently, left his side. As the witcher looks up, he sees the other man turn around, a cup in his hand. Regis offers it to him as he takes his earlier seat.

“I believe this may provide you some relief, Geralt.”

Warily, Geralt takes it, and peers inside: the liquid is vaguely purple, and oddly thick. He inhales, and grimaces slightly. Potent, whatever it is. “I’m not exactly in the habit of drinking random… concoctions,” the witcher says gruffly.

Regis nods. “A wise policy to have. It is only a pain-killing substance— willow bark for the inflammation and to dull the discomfort, lavender to sooth, and honey to mask the taste. Since it may serve to assuage your doubts, might I add that my profession is that of a barber-surgeon?”

Geralt raises an eyebrow. “Barber and surgeon— have trouble choosing just one?”

Regis smiles thinly. “Indeed I did.” He falls silent, but doesn’t show signs of leaving Geralt the hell alone. Damn. Well, let no one say that I never take risks. Geralt downs the concoction swiftly. Then, grimacing at the aftertaste, he wipes his mouth on his sleeve.

“Hmm. Does the taste truly bother you that much?”

Despite himself, Geralt is… surprised by the question. No one’s cared enough to ask how he feels before. “It’s fine. Most humans won’t notice,” he replies stiffly.

Regis arches an eyebrow. “I was under the impression that witchers were human as well.”

Now it’s Geralt’s turn to arch an eyebrow. Well. “Depends who you ask…”

The barber-surgeon snorts. “Don’t most things? Now, if you would, please stay still. The medicine should take effect shortly.” With that, Regis stands, and moves off again. Geralt shuffles around until his legs are on the bed again, then rests his back against the pillows.

Once he’s settled, the witcher takes a look around.

The dwelling is small, but extremely neat— save for the corner that seems to have been taken over by books and laboratory equipment. Looks as if Regis is more surgeon than barber. In the other corner is the fireplace, a sturdy wooden table, and a few chairs. Nearby is a stone slab, and some cabinets— the kitchen. Then, closer to where Geralt is, there’s the empty tub, a bureau. There are also two small windows: one in front of Regis, and another next to the door. He can’t quite see out of either window, but makes a note to check later.

The place seems… too quiet to be near a town. Besides, he doesn’t remember passing by any settlements while hunting the garkin. There’s also the fact that the barber-surgeon doesn’t look like he could move Geralt by himself. Hmm.

“I trust that mutton stew is acceptable?” Regis asks, suddenly standing nearby.

Geralt nearly startles again. Gods, he’s quiet. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s… fine.” Regis holds out a bowl, and Geralt stares for a moment at his long, pointed nails, then he blinks. Must be seeing things. He hurriedly takes the proffered bowl, and feels his stomach almost clench because the soup smells so appetizing. Could get used to this kind of treatment.

They eat in silence for a while, and somehow manage to finish their soup at nearly the same time.

“Thank you,” Geralt says stiffly.

Regis merely sets his bowl aside and dabs at his mouth with a napkin. “Perhaps I should be thanking you, Geralt, for ridding us of that dreadful beast. Who knows when another witcher may have otherwise graced us with their presence?”

Geralt blinks sluggishly, suddenly feeling quite tired. “Yeah. Seems… a little secluded out here.”

The barber-surgeon shrugs gently. “Perhaps. But those who find themselves in need of my services often have a way of divining my location. Besides, solitude, I believe, is of great assistance to a patient’s recovery. Speaking of— how are you feeling? I must confess, I have never had the pleasure of treating a witcher before.”

Geralt stirs from his food-induced daze. “Hmm. I’m fine really— long as my cuts are clean, and my ribs bandaged… not many people’d help me out like you have. It’s appreciated.”

Regis waves a hand dismissively. “Bah! Most people, I find, are fools. Tell me: is there anything else I can do before leaving you to rest, Geralt?”

The witcher blinks, once again surprised by his strange host’s generosity. “A bath would be nice. If it’s not too much trouble. Don’t want to make the place stink of garkin blood.”

Regis nods. “Consider it done.”

 

Geralt blinks. Can’t fall asleep in here. Poor Regis has done enough. He yawns widely, and feels fumblingly about for a towel. He dries off quickly— who knows when the barber-surgeon will be back from his ingredient-gathering? The witcher pulls on his spare set of clothes, grateful he’d packed them in his work bag; the rest of his things are still back at the village, along with Roach. He drapes the damp towel over the side of the tub. After that’s done, the witcher goes to sit on the bed, not trusting himself to do much more with his injures.

 

“Witcher? Geralt?”

“‘egis?”

“Yes, very astute. I have returned from my plant-gathering.”

Geralt sits up, wincing slightly. Either Regis’ potion is less effective than he claimed, or it really has been several hours. Need to get moving soon, collect Roach and the reward. The barber-surgeon’s intense black stare sends a wave of alertness through the witcher, for some reason. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed.

“Hmm. Sorry for all the trouble. Give me a bit longer and I’ll be out of your way.”

Regis frowns briefly, and sets his bag down. Then he pulls the chair closer to the bed, and sits. “Nonsense! It is no trouble at all, and I would have to be either quite hapless or heartless to toss you out now.” The witcher opens his mouth to object, but something in the other man’s expression stops him. Then Geralt happens to glance out the window, and his heart falls. It’s dark. No way I’m getting anywhere until morning.

The barber-surgeon seems to sense his acquiescence, for he goes about opening up his satchel, pulling out various bottles and bandages. “Good, good. I am glad to see that we are in agreement. Now, shall I tend to your wounds?”

 

“If I may be so bold: what brings you to Toussaint?” Regis asks. Geralt blinks. Several hours have passed since the barber-surgeon’s offer to patch him up, and they’re now sitting at the small table. The witcher is nursing a bowl of soup, and has just downed another of the barber-surgeon’s healing concoctions. Regis must see his surprise, and mistake it for offense, because he hurries to apologize: “Forgive me the intrusion, Geralt, I meant nothing—”

“No, it’s fine. I was just… surprised.” No one’s asked me that before.

“Ah. Indulge my curiosity then, and tell me: what is there for a witcher to do in fair Toussaint?”

Geralt snorts. “Really? Not that much. I… wasn’t sure what to expect here, if I’m being honest. But so far, the place is living up to its name: land of sunshine and wine, and all that.”

Regis nods, taking another sip of his drink. He sets the glass down. “But what of our land’s other moniker: ‘land of vampires?’”

The witcher sighs. “Yeah. Gotta admit, it’s lived up to that as well.”

Regis arches a brow. “Really?”

Grimacing, Geralt scoops up the last spoonful of soup and sets the bowl down with a slight clatter. “Yes. Didn’t believe it myself before I came to Toussaint. That’s actually why I’m here— thought I’d see if there was coin to be made hunting vampires.”

Regis’ gaze flickers, and a shadow passes over his face for a moment. “And have you? Made coin hunting vampires, that is? I imagine some would pay dearly to be rid of the beasts.”

Geralt swallows, feeling slightly uneasy. But he can’t help but smile a little at his companion’s naivete. “Don’t hunt most kinds of vampires, actually. Higher vampires, they’re nearly impossible to kill, so most witchers won’t go after them except in groups, and then only when there’s no other option. They’re a sentient species, too.”

Regis snorts. “A pacifist witcher? That is something quite unexpected indeed, Geralt.”

The witcher shrugs, feeling on edge, for some reason. “Well most of what people say about witchers is… inaccurate,” he summarizes lamely.

The barber-surgeon frowns, apparently sensing his unease. “Ah. I apologize, Geralt. I do not mean to mischaracterize you or your illustrious guild. I am merely curious.”

The witcher nods, barely catching a yawn. “Hmm. ‘s fine.”

“You, I think, are in need of a bed.”

Geralt blinks. “What about you?”

Regis waves one hand, apparently unperturbed. “I do not sleep much, witcher— I find the nighttime to be too conducive to thinking. Come, let us get you into bed.”

 

Geralt ends up staying with Regis for the following week.

This is mostly because, at first, he is still horseless. Without Roach, and with his ribs in the state that they are, he isn’t going to get far. After this is no longer a problem— Geralt wakes up one day to the sound of Roach’s whinnying because, apparently, someone from the village found out where he is and dropped her (and his coin) off— the witcher chooses not to depart immediately. So he stays, and tries to listen to the barber-surgeon’s precise, sometimes-irritating instructions. Namely that Geralt doesn’t move much, and that he eat and drink when and what Regis orders him to. Privately, the witcher admits that even if he had left, he’d soon have had to stop somewhere to get treatment.

Even with the barber-surgeon’s expertise, and Geralt’s witcher-mutations-enhanced healing, broken ribs are still a hassle to care for.

Although he’s somewhat out of it that first week, or distracted by Regis’ endless questions, or by the appearance of the barber-surgeon’s patients (it seems that people do know how to find him if they need him), none of these things stop the witcher from noticing the growing number of odd characteristics his host displays. Geralt’s earlier observation about Regis’ sharp nails wasn’t a delusion: the barber-surgeon wears a pair of faded black gloves around the rest of his patients, claiming that it is to promote cleanliness. Neither does Regis ask Geralt to vacate his bed, not even when Roach, and the witcher’s supplies, make their way to his dwelling. This either means that the barber-surgeon has some other resting place, or that he isn’t sleeping. But Regis’ positive mood never wavers, and his black, not-quite-human eyes remain merry when he teases Geralt about something-or-other.

There’s also the fact that the witcher’s armor and medallion remain mysteriously out of reach.

There’s also the fact that Regis is fast, and unnervingly graceful for a mere barber-surgeon.

There’s also the fact that, although he does get patients, Regis lives largely in isolation.

Geralt also stays because he suspects that Regis may be a vampire, and he’s a little afraid of what might happen if he tries to leave. The barber-surgeon obviously knows that Geralt is a witcher— but whether the other man plans to do anything based on that information? He doesn’t know. What reason would a higher vampire have to nurse a witcher like him back to health? What reason would a higher vampire have to serve as a physician to humans at all? Not for the first time, he wishes life were simpler— but it isn’t.

So even if Regis is a vampire, Geralt’s not sure what he’s going to do.

Once again, he finds himself asking: Does being a monster necessitate evilness? Or do evil circumstances necessitate monstrosity? The fact that Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy has provided Geralt with better care and more kindness than he’s experienced in a long time— maybe ever— amplifies his indecision. Though the witcher hates to admit that Regis’ kindness is a factor in his decision-making process at all. Witchers aren’t supposed to base their decisions off of emotion. Besides, even the worst, most vile, evil people can occasionally be kind. This is as true for monsters as it is for humans.

If Geralt is going to act, he needs to be absolutely certain of who— what— he is dealing with first.

 

In the second week of his unexpected visit, the situation changes. Geralt has, slowly, begun to regain his strength and mobility. His ribs are still far from healed, but his witcher stamina makes doing basic things like walking easier. The barber-surgeon is still reluctant to allow him to do much, but Geralt is stubborn.

They reach a middle ground eventually, and Regis allows the witcher to help him with small tasks: cooking, organizing ingredients, recording patients’ symptoms. It is… an odd but not necessarily unpleasant deviation from life on the Path.

But though pleasant it may be, the urge to move onward lurks in the back of his mind, as does the question of Regis’ monsterhood. A portion of Geralt— not insignificant— is eager to depart before he is forced into making a decision. For if he is confronted with unquestionable proof that Regis is a vampire, the witcher is unsure if he’ll be able to walk away. Regis is right in stating that witchers aren’t exactly known for being peaceful. Geralt quietly begins to gather his belongings, and it doesn’t escape his notice that his armor and medallion make an equally quiet reappearance.

It happens when he’s helping Regis cook dinner.

Geralt doesn’t have the most refined pallet, but he does have an appreciation for good food, partly because of his enhanced senses, partly because he needs to eat a lot. Of course, he usually has neither the time nor the coin to enjoy the finer cuisines the Continent has to offer, so this (extended) stay in Toussaint has been culinarily eye-opening. It helps that his host is as well-versed in the usage of edible herbs as he is in their medicinal properties.

Regis is also generous with the contents of his pantry. Therefore, Geralt has actually found himself looking forward to cooking— something he usually doesn’t mind doing, but also an activity that the witcher doesn’t particularly anticipate.

He doesn’t even mind playing Sous-chef to Regis.

 

“Geralt, are you nearly done with those onions? I need them for the next step of the— oh dear,” the barber-surgeon murmurs. The witcher hisses, pressing the edge of his shirt against his sliced palm in hopes of stemming the blood flow. Damn it. Once again, Regis’ unnaturally quiet way of moving has startled him. The cut, though not particularly deep or dangerous, throbs. For a moment, Geralt is half distracted by this and the renewed pain in his ribs from his abrupt movement. He is also preoccupied by the flare of annoyance he feels at the thought of having to scrub more blood out of yet another shirt.

Then the witcher glances up.

Regis is quiet. Geralt looks at the barber-surgeon: his already-pale face has taken on a sickly pallor and there are beads of sweat dotting his forehead. Regis’ black gaze, usually warm and intelligent, is cool and closed off. His pupils are slightly dilated. And his teeth— they aren’t teeth. They’re fangs. Geralt’s heart falls in a way that he refuses to call dismay. But then, he figures, he has more important things to be concerned about right now. Such as not being eaten— sucked— alive.

“Regis,” he says quietly, hand automatically gripping the pathetic kitchen knife a little tighter. Not like it’ll save me. But the witcher is physically incapable of not defending himself, even if it is futile. Nobody wins in a fight against a higher vampire, the best one can do is to not die. The barber-surgeon twitches at the sound of his voice, and there’s a certain alien sharpness to his features for a moment. Then he takes a step forward. Geralt raises the knife, and Regis—

Blinks, and his face regains its usual softness. Though he’s still pale, the other man suddenly looks more human. “Geralt? Oh. Oh my, I— I am terribly sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Come, let me bandage your hand before it becomes infected,” Regis stammers. He takes another step forward, and Geralt tenses. His grip on the knife turns white-knuckled. Regis’ puzzled expression changes to one of dismay, and hurt briefly flashes through his eyes as the witcher’s heartbeat accelerates. “Geralt?”

Ignoring the other man’s suddenly pleading tone and conciliatory posture, Geralt slowly backs away. When Regis shows no signs of moving, the witcher quickly strides across the room and starts gathering his things. With slightly-shaky hands, Geralt sets the knife down and dons his double scabbard. At this, Regis— who has moved across the room and now stands only a few feet from Geralt— flinches. The witcher tenses momentarily, but when the barber-surgeon remains motionless, he continues gathering his belongings.

The atmosphere is tense, and they are both silent. From the corner of his eye, Geralt watches Regis relax slightly as he realizes that the witcher is not going to attack him. But when the witcher shoulders his pack and heads for the door, Regis steps forward. Geralt tenses again and comes to a standstill. He shoots the other man a sharp, warning frown. Damn it all. Still don’t want to fight him. “Move.”

Some unpleasant emotion flickers through Regis’ eyes again. “You are not honestly leaving at this very moment? It is dark out, Geralt! There are monst— at least wait until morning. I can leave for the night if it will make you feel better. Please, do not be foolish, witcher.”

Geralt grits his teeth, and his hand tightens around his scabbard’s strap. “Move, Regis. Now.”

“Geralt! Please, let me explain—”

“What?” he hisses, hurt despite it all, damn it. “That I’m stupid? Just some fucking idiot witcher, to be jerked around in your games.” He takes another step forward, intent on getting the fuck out of here, despite the fact that it’s night (and Regis is probably right about the monsters. Well, the other monsters, that is).

Regis— the higher vampire— jerks back as if he’s been slapped. “No, Geralt! Never! I just— Wait, let me explain, please. Stay!”

Despite himself, Geralt jerks to a stop. He doesn’t move. Blinking, and feeling slightly dazed, he resists the compulsion. Then he turns his harsh, yellow eyes upon Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy. The monster he was beginning to think of as his friend. Regis frowns, and meets his hard gaze. “I am sorry, Geralt,” he says quickly. “I did not mean to—” Regis cuts himself off with a glare from the witcher.

Geralt feels his fists clench subconsciously. The door’s just inches away. He growls. “First you insult me, then you compel me? Not proving yourself to be very ‘peaceful,’ Regis.” The older man, higher vampire, wilts for a second. Then he sighs, and in that, at least, he sounds utterly human.

Something in the witcher’s chest clenches.

“I am sorry, Geralt. I did not mean to compel you. I would never intentionally do so. Now if you would just be patient, we can talk properly, and I will tell you—”

“How you thought I wouldn’t notice,” Geralt interrupts, now really on a roll. “I admit, you had me fooled for a while. But you slipped up. The barber-surgeon living in isolation? Roach’s convenient appearance? My armor and medallion disappearing? How you always move a little too quickly and quietly, don’t seem to eat or sleep quite enough. Nails slightly too sharp…” Geralt huffs, swallowing. He continues, more quietly, “Then there’s the way you reacted to the knife. The blood.”

Regis’ dark eyes glimmer: he looks hurt. The vampire swallows. “You- you cut yourself on purpose?

Geralt snarls. “No. That was just a happy coincidence.” He reaches out unseeingly, yanks the door open, and walks stumblingly through the cold, dark night towards Roach. Then he angrily loads her saddlebags. Regis doesn’t try to stop him.

Geralt rides off into the night like the wild hunt itself is after him.

 

He stumbles into a small inn several hours after sunrise. It takes all of the witcher’s willpower not to merely grunt at the innkeeper and throw his coin purse at their head. Geralt sighs, wincing at the fiery ache that the motion sets off in his ribs. Why the fuck did I think riding Roach in this state was a good idea? Oh, right.

“Do you have a room?” he growls.

The innkeeper, looking half-terrified, nods. “Y-yes Sir. A-are there any other services you require?”

Geralt nods sharply. “Food and shelter for my horse, and a bath. Please.” He empties his coin purse out on the desk. “And breakfast for myself as well.”

 

Ten years later…

With both outright weariness and worn amusement, Geralt enters the tavern. It has been a while since he’s been anywhere near Novigrad, and he is eager to see this business his friend has bragged so readily about inheriting— apparently, the old owner had been something of a fan of the bard’s. If the witcher is remembering correctly, his friend had been planning to rename it The Chameleon, or something of that sort. It’s been a while since he last saw Dandelion. The bard ‘retired’ from the road— stating his intent to keep spreading word of Geralt’s glory through more sedentary (if no less spectacular) means— about a year ago now.

This visit isn’t exactly planned, but neither will it be a complete surprise; Geralt has been drifting North for some time, and has sent word to his friend that he’ll be in the area soon. Within the next few months. Dandelion knows him well enough by now not to press for a more firm arrival date. Geralt will get there when he’ll get there.

Exactly two months after his last letter, the witcher is happy to finally reach his friend’s place of business, and see it with his own two eyes.

The crowd is small enough— it being mid-afternoon— that when Geralt walks in the door, heads turn. Some stay turned, wary, others look away and ignore him. The bard, he’s a little cross to see, hasn’t noticed his arrival. Instead, his friend stands behind the bar, deep in conversation with a patron. The witcher frowns slightly as some instinct prickles at the back of his mind.

That patron looks familiar for some reason.

He approaches the bar and takes a seat, unobtrusively, a little away from Dandelion and his enraptured customer. Then Geralt blinks, frowning as the melody of the customer’s voice reaches his ears. Then he hears the sound of an almost-forgotten chuckle. Quite unable to help himself, the witcher blurts out, “Regis?”

Both his friend and the other man— presumably Regis— still. Then they turn to him, both with expressions of surprise, although the exact nature of their surprise differs. On Dandelion, it is a pleased surprise. On Regis, the expression borders on wary.

“Geralt! I’m glad to see that you’ve finally made it— and it only took you two months this time. But… it seems you know Regis?” Dandelion inquires pleasantly.

Geralt meets Regis’ hesitant black gaze. “Yes, we met in Toussaint years ago. He saved my life there,” the witcher replies slowly. He watches a metaphorical curtain descend over the higher vampire’s eyes. Then the witcher feels his friend perk up.

“Well, that sounds like a story,” the bard comments hopefully.

Geralt snorts. It certainly is, old friend. “Before your time,” he answers lowly.

His friend frowns briefly, then nods. “I see.” He’s learned that ‘before your time’ means one of two things: either the story he’s asking about is too convoluted to tell in that moment, or it is a subject which Geralt is unwilling to talk about. Surprisingly, at times like this, the bard can be oddly understanding.

“How do you know Regis?” Geralt asks his friend, staring insistently at Regis the entire time.

Dandelion opens his mouth to reply, but Regis beats him to it. “Actually, we do not know each other. Or rather: I have just made your bard’s acquaintance. You see, Geralt, I am in Novigrad for a medical convention— all the finest physicians attend, as do the best herbalists and other merchants. I heard a piece of local gossip which claimed that the very bard who made the White Wolf himself so very famous had set up shop here, and I could not resist using the opportunity to find out if it were true.”

His brow furrows momentarily, and the witcher feels a spark of concern for the bard, before he’s distracted by a thought. “Toussaint is awfully far from Novigrad. Seems like a long trip.”

Regis smiles, but it is a small, sad specimen of a smile. “Ah. You see, my— Geralt, ten years is a long time. I have moved on from the sunny shores of that fair southern duchy since we last met.” Despite himself, Geralt frowns, feeling another spark of… something.

Dandelion clears his throat. “Well… it looks as if you two have some catching up to do! I’ll let you get on with it; tend to my other customers. Geralt, I expect to see you later, preferably without the armor, or that customary witcher’s grimace. Regis, it was a pleasure meeting you. For now, adieu.”

Regis inclines his head at the bard, then the full weight of his attention falls on the witcher. The higher vampire slowly brings his drink to his lips, and sips. Geralt, who has no drink, merely observes. Gods, this is awkward, he thinks. Finally, Regis sets his glass down, and sighs softly. Between his parted lips, the witcher catches just a hint of fang. His pulse lurches for a moment, and the barber-surgeon’s sharp eyes flicker to his face, before he turns his gaze to the window.

“I must confess, this meeting is… unexpected,” Regis says slowly.

Geralt snorts. “Got that right.”

The barber-surgeon hums in agreement. He brings his drink up to his lips again and the witcher watches his throat pulse with every swallow. Regis sets the empty glass down. “How did you come to know Dandelion? He seems… not quite your type.”

Geralt frowns, feeling defensive of his bard— or perhaps he’s just wary of higher vampires (especially this higher vampire) poking their noses into his business. “He’s not. Met him after I left Toussaint. Was traveling around, looking for work, and he recognized me— well not me, but what I am— and decided to tag along. Couldn’t get rid of him, and just never lost the habit.” Despite his initial hesitation to discuss this subject, Geralt can’t help the note of fondness that creeps into his voice. Regis nods, apparently satisfied.

They lapse into silence again, but then Geralt blurts out, mostly from habit, “What about you?”

Regis chuckles softly. It is not, entirely, an amused sound. “Ennui, Geralt. It comes to all of my ilk every so often; one might even say it is the curse of my kind. I simply tired of my existence in Toussaint and so I moved on.”

Before he truly thinks it through, the witcher finds himself asking: “And where do you live now?”

Regis gives him a sharp, but amused look. “Ah. That, I think, is a story for another time— I have a prior engagement to get to. And that is only if you are interested in catching up?” The higher vampire tilts his head slightly and sends the witcher an inquisitive look.

Suddenly feeling dry-mouthed, Geralt replies, hesitantly, “Yeah. I am.”

Regis nods. “In that case,” he stands, “I will see you later— assuming you are staying here?”

Geralt, still dry-mouthed for some reason, can only nod. After a second, he regains the use of his voice. “Yes.”

The higher vampire’s dark gaze holds his own, then Regis’ eyes slide away. “Until nightfall then, witcher.” He leaves his coin next to his empty glass, and walks away. Geralt can’t quite keep himself from watching Regis’ retreating form as the higher vampire reaches the tavern’s door and exits.

When he is finally gone from view, Geralt blinks, feeling as if he’s just woken up from a deep slumber, or been released from a spell. He frowns contemplatively at the now-empty doorway. What have I gotten myself into?

 

After Regis’ departure, Geralt sits alone for a bit at the end of the bar. Dandelion returns, and brings him a drink. He nurses it appreciatively; his friend has always had good taste when it comes to alcohol. The bard smiles at him as he moves around, taking orders, talking to other customers, and delivering drinks and food. The tavern’s crowd gradually swells, but Geralt remains isolated, an island in the sea of people. A while later, the bard brings Geralt food, which the witcher is grateful for.

When he’s done eating, Dandelion leads him upstairs and shows him where he’ll be staying. It’s a small room, but extremely clean, and there’s a large tub in the corner. Geralt’s impressed to see that the window even gives him a somewhat decent view of the Novigrad skyline. The small table has a vase with flowers in it and two chairs. He raises an eyebrow at his friend. “Impressive.”

The bard grins— he too has seen his fair share of shitty inns. “Thank you, my friend. I quite enjoyed putting everything together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I’ve got to get back to tending to my customers. Please let me know if you need anything else.”

Geralt nods, setting his bag down. “Will do.”

After unpacking a bit, he heads out to check on Roach; Dandelion’s tavern doesn’t have an attached stable, unfortunately, so he’s set his horse up at a nearby one that the bard recommended. When he gets back, Geralt takes a long, hot bath and shaves. He dresses in a clean set of clothing, and feels, for some indiscernible reason, jittery. There are still a few hours until sunset. He heads downstairs to find his friend; The Chameleon is closed in preparation for the dinner rush, so the bard, and several of his wait staff, are in the kitchen washing dishes.

Geralt picks up a cloth and begins drying.

 

He sets down his glass, chuckling at Regis’ wit. Dandelion’s taste in wine is nearly as good as his taste in ale. Geralt had originally wanted to have ale with their meal, but the bard had insisted that the witcher “Not act a complete barbarian” and that he drink wine with his fish fillet. So, knowing how stubborn and petulant his friend can be, Geralt had acquiesced. He does not regret that choice now, as the wine does seem to pair well with his meal. Regis has also opted to follow the bard’s advice.

They’re seated at a more private table in the back corner of the tavern. It is still somewhat noisy, but much less so than by the bar. It is also, for now, less crowded, as most of the customers are not here to consume a solid meal, but a liquid one. That is more easily done by the bar. “Your friend seems to have done well for himself,” Regis comments.

Geralt blinks, his attention returning to his dinner companion. He nods. “Yes, he has. And I must say, I’m impressed. Dandelion’s matured since I last saw him.”

Regis hums thoughtfully. “And yet, by comparison, you are all so young.”

The witcher tenses slightly at those words. At the reminder of what, exactly, Regis is. He finds that he doesn’t want to be reminded. So far into the evening, or, come to think of it, since he first ran into the barber-surgeon, he hasn’t thought about what Regis is. Perhaps intentionally. This is the first time it’s been directly mentioned.

A particularly loud laugh coming from across the room startles him.

Regis has fallen silent too, and as Geralt looks at the higher vampire, Regis meets his yellow eyes. The barber-surgeon’s mouth is pursed in a thin line and he looks as if he has come to some kind of conclusion. An unpleasant one. The witcher’s hand tenses around his wine glass for a moment, before he sets it down, not wanting to accidentally shatter it. It would not do to cut himself here. Not with his present company.

Regis, sharp as he is, notices this as well. “Perhaps this is a conversation best held in private?”

Geralt hesitates. In his silence, the increasingly-raucous sounds of the other tavern-goers become noticeable, and intrusive. Regis is still looking at him. He’s waiting for an answer. “Sure,” Geralt says, standing. “Let’s get out of here.” He has questions, and the higher vampire is right. They’re the type that are best asked in private. Where no person will be disturbed by two monsters conversing frankly.

He leads Regis through the crowded tavern, and as they walk up the stairs, the sounds of boisterous laughter, shouting, and flatware scraping over dishes fade away.

 

Geralt unlocks the door and they enter his room. He gestures to the small table. “Take a seat.” He and Regis sit at the same time. For a few awkward moments, they’re silent— the only noise is the faint, disembodied sounds floating up from the tavern below. “So…” the witcher finally says. Regis quirks a brow, amused. Geralt grimaces. He’s really going to make me do all the talking, huh? He begins with an easy question, the very one which had set this meet-up in motion. “Where are you living now?”

The barber-surgeon looks faintly amused. “Maribor. I have a shop there, and also perform my barber-surgeon’s duties. I find Temeria to be a nice change of pace from Toussaint. And you, witcher?”

“Hmm. Everywhere. And nowhere. The Path isn’t exactly conducive to… settling down.”

“I see.”

They lapse into silence again. Geralt shifts in his seat, and tries to ignore the eerie feeling of Regis’ eyes watching him. He frowns faintly.

“What is it?” Regis asks.

The witcher sighs. Best to get it over and done with; that’s what they’re here for. “How old are you?”

The higher vampire looks amused, again, and his black eyes sparkle. “Four hundred and sixty-seven years old.”

Geralt raises an eyebrow. From what he knows of vampires, that isn’t young. “How long have you been a barber-surgeon?”

“Fourteen years now. I took up the profession to make amends for the errors committed during my misspent youth. Not that I ever truly can,” Regis says grimly, frowning.

The witcher tenses, barely able to repress a sigh. This is the unnamed thing he and Regis have been dancing around. Doesn’t seem like circumstance made Regis act out. And ‘errors’ is an awfully delicate way of saying murders. Geralt pulls himself from his reverie. The barber-surgeon sits quietly in front of him, body language open and accepting. Regis meets his questioning yellow gaze.

“And now?” he asks coolly. Despite his resolve, memories of the barber-surgeon caring for him, all those years ago, creep into Geralt’s head. As if the witcher’s subconscious is trying to persuade him that the being before him is not a monster. Or, considering that Regis is one, that monsters are capable of change.

Regis’ tight expression slackens somewhat, though his features turn sorrowful. He closes his eyes. “I am an addict, witcher, and this fact is what has caused my struggles. Yet for a long time— far too long— I did not realize it. In fact, I reveled in bloodshed.” The higher vampire sighs. “No, I do not partake now. Never again will I allow myself to indulge in blood.”

Despite himself, Geralt is surprised. He takes a moment to observe the higher vampire. “Why?” Regis blinks open his eyes, seemingly puzzled. But the witcher remains silent. For what Geralt really means is: ‘We both know you didn’t have to.’ Is it enough if a monster changes? If they truly mean it?

He wants it to be. Selfishly, he wants an excuse to be able to keep associating with this higher vampire. To not have to fulfill their roles of ‘monster’ and ‘hunter.’

Geralt also remembers how Regis treated him like a person.

Regis smiles sardonically. “You meant to say, of course, witcher: was my change of heart voluntary?” Geralt’s pulse thuds more quickly at the display of verbal bluntness, and Regis’ black eyes skitter to his chest for a moment, then back to his face. He feels caught out. But the witcher remains silent— what could he say? The higher vampire is right. And Regis is still looking at him. After another moment, he nods slowly.

The barber-surgeon’s gaze grows distant. He rests a hand atop the table and looks past Geralt. “No,” he answers quietly. “It was not.” The witcher stills. For the first time tonight, apprehension squeezes his mind. Regis observes this, and sighs. “But that does not mean it went unappreciated— if only after the fact. My change may not have been self-motivated, Geralt, but that does not mean it is insincere. I no longer wish to cause harm.”

Geralt frowns, staring at the face of his... acquaintance? Regis’ sharp nails tap distractedly against the tabletop. The witcher finds his hand reaching for his companion’s pale one before he’s consciously decided to act. The feel of Regis’ cool flesh is a shock to his system. The higher vampire’s fingers immediately cease tapping, and his eyelids fly open. His black eyes bore into Geralt’s yellow ones for a moment, then his focus turns to their touching hands. What am I doing?

Regis frowns thoughtfully, continuing to hold still. Awkwardly, Geralt clears his throat and removes his hand. Regis’ mouth twitches again, and he can’t tell if it’s from relief or something else. The barber-surgeon’s gaze becomes questioning.

“I’ve made bad decisions too,” Geralt says stiffly. “Before- before Dandelion joined me, do you know what people called me?”

“No, I do not.”

“The Butcher of Blaviken,” the witcher says regretfully, “and rightly so.” He sighs. “Somehow the bard was able to see past that. It’s entirely thanks to his help that I was able to… rehabilitate my image.” Geralt looks away from the higher vampire’s suddenly intense expression.

“He seems a remarkable person.”

The witcher chuckles, feeling a pang of fondness for his exuberant friend. “That he is.”

Regis looks down at the table again, where his hand is resting. Geralt’s own hand lies only a few inches away. Those spare inches feel almost magnetic. The higher vampire stares at their close-yet-far hands for a long time.

They fall silent again. This time, however, it isn’t awkward, but almost… peaceful. As if they don’t need to say anything else. Geralt is unsure if he’s ever experienced another silence like it.

Regis suddenly stands, as if also sensing that their evening has reached its natural conclusion. Geralt follows suit. They walk quietly— silently, in Regis’ case— to the door. The barber-surgeon pauses, so he does too. Then he reaches for the doorknob. A sudden surge of… of something rushes through the witcher. Perhaps it is reluctance.

Somehow, Geralt knows, if he says nothing now he will not see Regis again. He doesn’t want that. 

“When are you free?” he blurts out. The higher vampire’s hand stills on the doorknob. He half-turns, and there is curiosity in his eyes. “I mean— when are you not… at the convention?”

Surprise. Regis looks surprised. “Ah. Well, the schedule varies from day to day. But I do not plan to attend every event. Perhaps we could luncheon tomorrow… if you would like?”

The witcher nods. “Yes, I would.”

Regis looks satisfied. “I shall be in the banking district. Does sometime around noon work?”

Geralt nods again. “It does.”

Regis is silent for a moment, and his brief glance is searching. “Goodnight, Geralt.”

“Goodnight, Regis.” The higher vampire turns the doorknob and steps into the hall.

 

They meet at a small café the next day. Compared to the heavy conversation of the night before, their current talk is light. Geralt asks how the convention is going so far. Regis inquires about his catching-up with the bard. They lapse into a pleasant silence. This is something the witcher appreciates; Dandelion has never quite learned how to be quiet.

Geralt finishes his sandwich. Regis takes a final sip of his tea. They pay.

They both seem to hesitate in the street outside the café. A few passersby shoot the witcher and higher vampire annoyed looks. Geralt wants to ask when Regis would like to meet again, but a part of him shies away from this presumptuousness. It feels rather clingy. And he’s learned better than to get too attached to anything. Besides, the barber-surgeon is not here to entertain Geralt.

“It feels rather awkward to ask, but are you amicable to meeting again?” Regis asks.

Geralt blinks, pleasantly surprised. Then he snorts, both amused and relieved. “I was just about to ask that myself. And yes, I am.”

Regis offers a half-smile. It amuses Geralt now, that half-smile— it’s to hide his fangs. “That is good! But I fear I will be occupied nearly all of tomorrow. Perhaps the day after?”

He nods. “Works for me. Would you like to meet at Dandelion’s tavern again, for dinner?”

The higher vampire offers another small smile. “Indeed I would. Until then, Geralt.”

 

When the witcher returns to the tavern and notifies his friend that he and Regis will need a table for dinner in a few days, the bard snorts. “Again? You’ve been seeing an awful lot of Regis,” he comments, sounding almost jealous.

Geralt opens his mouth to reply, but closes it. Dandelion doesn’t know Regis is a vampire, he reminds himself. And the witcher isn’t going to be the one to tell him. It’s not his place to. “It’s been ten years since I last saw him, Dandelion,” he reminds the bard instead.

His friend hums, raising an eyebrow. “And would you care to tell me why that is?”

Geralt frowns momentarily. But, perhaps his bard is merely worried over their friendship. He has not, exactly, clarified that his and Regis’ relationship is… different. He softens his expression slightly. “We had… a falling out, before. I’m not going to abandon you, Dandelion.”

The bard grins broadly. “Ah! I was not worried about that, my dear witcher, but thank you for the reassurance,” he bluffs. “I’ll make sure to set aside a table for you and Regis.”

Geralt nods. “Thanks.”

 

Dandelion ends up seating them at the very same table as before. Geralt tells himself not to think of it as ‘their’ table, but despite his resolution, he finds that label creeping into his thoughts anyway. Tonight his friend is serving roast boar, so the witcher is able to at last drink more good ale. He and Regis are both on their second drinks and have fallen silent, nursing them. The Chameleon is quieter tonight, and what background noise there is blends into an almost-pleasant hum.

“Forgive me if this is overly saccharine, and too presumptuous a statement, Geralt, but I found I missed our little get-together yesterday. Tell me: what did you do in my absence?”

The witcher snorts. “No, it’s not too personal. And it’s probably more mundane than anything you’re imagining, Regis. I took Roach out of the city, let her stretch her legs. Then I had my swords sharpened, restocked some of my other supplies.”

The barber-surgeon raises an eyebrow. “Ah. I do not find that boring at all, my dear witcher. I must say, your profession fascinates me. For rather obvious reasons, I have not crossed paths with many other members of your guild.”

He feels momentarily taken aback at the endearment, ‘my dear witcher,’ but Geralt determines that it is, somehow, something he doesn’t really mind. Though he knows he should. But he is only amused by it, and Regis’ statement. “I understand.”

Regis hums. His eyes are merry. “Yes, I believed you might.”

Geralt uses the lull in their conversation to finish off his ale. He doesn’t miss the way Regis’ gaze lingers. It sends a prickle of nerves through him. The witcher can’t quite decide what to do with the sensation, so he ignores it.

When Geralt sets down his tankard, Regis meets his gaze, and his eyes still maintain their warmth. The witcher finds himself almost basking in it. This causes him to feel a pang of alarm, which he quickly dismisses. When Regis had compelled him before, he’d been able to fight it.

Not that he believes the higher vampire would compel him again.

“I have heard quite a great many things about witchers— as I believe I stated when we first met— and again, I am of the mind that a great deal of this ‘information’ is incorrect; perhaps malevolently so. This is all to say that I am, still, curious. May I ask you a question, Geralt?”

The witcher blinks, processing Regis’ words, how he feels about them. The past, for both of them, is a tricky beast. But Regis has, so far, been honest with him about his own past. And maybe a part of Geralt admires not just this, but the barber-surgeon’s almost brutal honesty. Maybe a part of him admires the higher-vampire’s ability to reflect on his own darkness while not allowing it to consume him. Maybe he just feels like telling Regis more about himself.

“Perhaps this is a conversation best held in private?” Geralt murmurs, reusing Regis’ earlier words.

His companion’s black eyes sparkle with mirth. “Indeed.” Regis rises to his feet. “Shall we?”

 

Regis asks him all sorts of questions. Some are easy to answer. Some amuse him. Some make Geralt pause. Some make him feel a sharp, aching sense of loss. Some he can’t answer. Some he won’t. By the time the higher vampire is done asking questions, the tavern below has quieted. Many of the lamps and candles around the neighborhood— which they can see through the room’s window— have been extinguished.

It’s late. Later than he expected.

Regis seems similarly taken aback by the time, though he hides it more adeptly than Geralt. They both get to their feet, an echo of the last time they were here. Again they pause at the doorway. This time, however, he feels nothing but a tired sort of peace. It is… strange, but pleasant, that he now knows someone who he can simply be around. The number of people Geralt knows that this is true of is small, rare. Precious.

When they both continue to not move, still hovering by the door, Geralt arches a brow in silent question. Regis blinks, frowning softly at him. “I am going to try something, Geralt,” the barber-surgeon murmurs quietly. “Do stop me if this is unpleasant.”

Geralt is about to ask, ‘Try what?’ when Regis leans forward and it becomes obvious what he’s ‘trying.’ The witcher feels a brief flicker of hesitation, surprise. But when Regis’ lips touch his own, it’s as if a bolt of lightning runs through him. Geralt kisses back.

Lust. That’s the source of this almost magnetic… pull between them. That, and respect, understanding, are why he feels so drawn to the higher vampire.

After a moment, Regis pulls away.

Geralt blinks, feeling a little scatterbrained from their kiss. The kiss, his revelation, are both… extremely unexpected, but not unpleasant. Either way, he feels a little justified in his surprise. The witcher has no idea how higher vampires view same-sex coupling, but among humans it can be… a dangerous predilection to have; he has learned this through personal experience. Regis’ display of affection is daring— Geralt adds it to his (growing) list of reasons that he admires the higher vampire.

Regis, he realizes, is studying his face to gage his reaction. “That was…” Geralt trails off, searching for an appropriate word. Regis frowns briefly. “Nice,” he finishes, trying his best to look encouraging. Mostly that involves not grimacing. Or outright glaring.

The barber-surgeon’s returning smile falls a little flat. “‘Nice,’” he echoes. Geralt watches the gates slam shut behind Regis’ eyes. Oh no. Before he can even open his mouth to explain that, ‘No, nice is good— excellent in fact, especially coming from a witcher. Witchers don’t get many nice things,’ Regis’ hand has grasped the doorknob and he’s opened the door and stepped silently into the dim hall.

“Goodnight, Geralt,” he says, before walking away.

The witcher steps forward hastily, in an effort to catch the higher vampire, but he is already gone. Not for the first time, Geralt curses the vampiric species— though probably for different reasons than any other witcher has before.

 

“What’s with you? Dinner with Regis not go according to plan?” Dandelion asks the next morning. It’s just him and Geralt here for now. No staff, even. Geralt looks at him sharply, to determine if the bard is teasing him, or worse. But there’s no judgement in his friend’s eyes, only a soft pity.

Geralt looks away, frowning. “We had… another misunderstanding.”

“Ah. Well don’t let it linger for ten years this time, Geralt.”

He blinks, and looks at the bard again. Dandelion is calmly drying another shot glass.

The witcher stands abruptly, and marches to the tavern’s door. “I won’t.”

His friend blinks after him, frowning, then mutters grumpily to the shot glass, “Guess he won’t be helping me dry dishes then, will he?”

 

That night, when he finally returns to The Chameleon, Geralt is in a foul mood. Dandelion must read it in the wicked gleam of his eyes, if not the tension in his shoulders. They both know that he was unsuccessful in finding Regis. Damn stupid fucking vampire, Geralt thinks unkindly.

Though his feelings sting, Regis’ evasion also wounds his pride— there’s nothing a witcher hates more than an unsuccessful hunt. Thankfully, his friend chooses not to comment on Geralt’s tardy presence, or the absence of his barber-surgeon companion. Instead he seems content to play silent sympathizer to his woe, as barkeeps often do.

Later, when Geralt is good and fuzzy-headed, the bard pats him on the shoulder and says firmly, but not unkindly, “Go upstairs and sleep it off. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

Nodding absently, the witcher lurches to his feet, and stumbles upstairs to do just that.

 

Geralt goes out again the next day, a growing sense of urgency in the back of his mind. He’s been in Novigrad for five days now, and Regis has been here even longer. How long until he leaves again? If nothing else comes of it, he’d at least like the chance to explain himself. But that damn bastard vampire is continuing to live up to his species’ reputation as hard-to-catch.

He doesn’t find Regis.

He doesn’t find Regis the next day either.

 

Geralt takes Roach out for a good, long ride the following day. He has tried to find Regis, and as a witcher, that’s saying something; Geralt is generally better at finding things (or people or monsters) than the average human. So at this point, Regis avoiding him is the higher vampire’s own fucking fault. Although, looking back, perhaps calling your first kiss with someone ‘nice’ is not the most reassuring thing a person can do. But still. The barber-surgeon is the one who ran off afterward, leaving him no change to explain. That’s on him.

Beneath him, Roach whinnies, as if agreeing with his assessment. He gives her a gentle pat. “Thanks, girl.” They turn around, and head back into the city. It’s getting dark, and even witchers like to be home before sunset.

 

“Geralt.” He whirls around, steel sword drawn. When he sees who he’s pointing his weapon at, the witcher freezes, blade tip inches from Regis’ neck. Good thing it’s not silver. Regis looks pointedly down at the sword, then pushes it away gently— but with enough supernatural force that Geralt has no choice but to lower his weapon. He briefly feels a chill run up his spine. Then the barber-surgeon steps forward, and he’s distracted again.

“What’re you doing here?” the witcher asks. He immediately wants to slap himself. Great way to make Regis think that you are interested in him. He sighs, and amends, “How did you know where to find me?”

Regis’ harsh frown softens somewhat. “Your scent. Well that, and I paid a visit to Dandelion.”

Ah. “I see.” Regis’ frown returns. The witcher feels no small amount of irritation at the thought that he is the cause of it. But Regis is the one who ran away. Let him wallow for a bit.

Finally, the higher vampire looks up and meets Geralt’s eyes. “I came to apologize,” Regis says. “I fear I was overly bold a few nights ago, since it appears that my sentiments are unrequited—”

“Who told you that?”

Regis blinks. “You did, Geralt.”

Did I?”

Regis blinks again. He cocks his head in a very puzzled manner. “Did you not?”

The witcher growls. “No.” He strides forward, and backs a suddenly-pliable Regis into the wall.

 

Geralt groans softly and Regis hisses. The higher vampire is all mouth tonight, and rather forceful in how he crushes their lips together. Despite this, the witcher never catches even a hint of fang. And instead of being off-putting, Regis’ cool flesh only fans the flames of Geralt’s desire. He leans in for another kiss, and feels as if the vampire is going to pry apart his very mind using only his lips, and clever tongue.

The barber-surgeon makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat when Geralt pulls away, slightly breathless. The witcher grins ferally, and dives back in, seeking more of Regis’ pleasured sounds. He is unafraid to here and now. This space— Regis’ small, rented room across town from The Chameleon— feels safe, like it’s outside of both time and consequences. The higher vampire runs one clawed hand down the witcher’s back.

This time, it is Geralt who makes harsh, demanding noises.

Somehow, they manage to get half-undressed and then Geralt is falling onto the bed. The scratchy blanket is a shock of sensation against his bare back. Regis stands above him, eyes black pools of need. He fumbles with Geralt’s boots, his own, then steps away. The witcher pants for a few moments, then throws a confused look at Regis.

The barber-surgeon smiles placatingly, a hint of dangerous heat behind it, and his gaze. It makes a small thrill run through Geralt. “Forgive me the awkwardness, Geralt, for I ask this not out of curiosity but necessity. Have you done this before?”

Geralt snorts, though it is an affectionate, rather than disdainful, noise. Thoughtful of Regis to ask. “Yes. Have you?”

Regis smiles. There’s a hint of fang to it. “I have. May I touch you now?”

Please.”

 

Afterward, they break apart, and Geralt all but falls limply atop the bed. He grunts, working on regaining his breath. Regis seems to have stolen it. Along with his ability to think.

The higher vampire chuckles. Geralt turns his head, and arches a brow. “I must confess,” Regis says, not even bothering to pretend to be out of breath, “this has proven to be quite enlightening.”

“Hmm?” Geralt grumbles, still mostly incapable of thought. Though he’s getting there.

“You, my dear Geralt, are my first witcher.”

Geralt blinks. He rolls onto his side, and meets Regis’ soft gaze. The other man is also lying on his side, propped up on an elbow as well. “You’re my first higher vampire.”

Regis smiles again, eyes crinkling. Something in the witcher’s chest feels melted. “To firsts then.”

Geralt rolls his eyes and snorts. “To firsts.”

 

They couple again the night before Geralt’s departure from Novigrad. Four days have passed since the first time, and this is the third time they are together. The first was all wild passion and indulgence, the second something fierce, almost battle-like. This time is softer, slower, more bittersweet. Neither of them know when (if) they’ll see each other again. He tries not to think it, but Geralt finds the worry: It was ten years before. How long this time? is present in his mind no matter how he tries to banish it. As their breaths quicken, heartbeats crash, and sweat mingles like tears on their skin, Geralt tells himself: Remember this.

This time is the best of all.

 

The next morning Geralt is back in the stable, preparing to return to the Path once again. He has just filled Roach’s last saddlebag when someone clears their throat softly behind him. The witcher spins, having a good idea of who it is— Dandelion has already said his goodbyes. And he’s right. It’s Regis.

The higher vampire leans against a post, arms crossed. When he sees that he has Geralt’s attention, the barber-surgeon straightens up. “Where will the Path take you next?”

Geralt swallows. Roach nickers softly as Regis approaches, and her tail twitches. He absently runs a soothing hand over her flank. “I’m not sure yet. Think I’ll head South for a while,” he says. It comes out more defensive than he intends. Or perhaps it’s not defensive per se, but honest. Too honest.

Regis apparently thinks so as well, for something sad flickers in his deep black eyes. “I see.”

“And you?” the witcher asks awkwardly.

“I leave tomorrow. My shop has sat empty for long enough.”

For a while, the only noise in the stable is the soft swishing of Roach’s tail.

“We need not speak of… of this again, if you do not wish,” Regis says quietly.

Geralt blinks, something unpleasant lurching in his chest. ‘This.’ He aches in some indiscernible way. But perhaps— no, it is better to take Regis’ kindness, his proffered out, now. How could … whatever it is they’ve shared this handful of days, this strange, unnatural intimacy, last? He’s a witcher. And Regis is a higher vampire. He knew, going into this, at least a part of him did, that it couldn’t last; ‘No witcher dies in their beds’ is the common saying.

What it really means is: no witcher dies happy.

But looking at the man— being— person before him, the witcher is weak. Regis is fiddling once again with his bag, eyes lowered. Quiet. Waiting for Geralt’s words. Waiting for the blow that by all rights, looking at what they both are, should have come ten years ago. Only this time, the weapon is not silver.

The witcher sighs. “If I’m ever in need of supplies and in the area, I’ll look you up.”

Regis’ sharp-nailed fingers still. His eyes are warm. “I look forward to it. Safe travels, Geralt.”

“You too.” With that, Regis nods, and walks out of the stable. Geralt forces himself to turn back to Roach and finish stowing the last of his belongings. Still, he cannot help but feel a slight tug of loss at the barber-surgeon’s departure. Had to happen, he tells himself sternly. You can’t have stayed here forever.

 

One month later, Geralt has made a little progress in his long journey South. The witcher crossed the border into Aedirn— specifically circumventing Temeria— a week ago, and he’s just taken another contract. For a succubus, this time, from a ne’re-do-well brothel owner. Not that, generally speaking, he finds there to be anything wrong with brothels. Or, he supposes, with succubi either, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. If this one proves to be unaggressive, he’ll let her go.

Regis’ offer still sits in the back of his mind like a sliver, or a wound that’s become infected, and Geralt’s doing his best to excise it. He certainly doesn’t plan on taking the barber-surgeon up on it.

The problem is not precisely that Regis is a higher vampire— though that is a part of it— but rather what the witcher fears he’ll expect of Geralt.

Although Regis has proven to not be the most static of beings, compared to Geralt and his almost wind-blown lifestyle, the higher vampire is sedentary. He has his books, his patients, his shop. And he seems to be content with that. Geralt, in contrast, has Roach, his bed roll, his potions, and that is all. If he’s lucky, he’ll find himself with a full coin purse and no additional scars. If he is unlucky, he’ll be injured and run out of town. Such is the life of a witcher. He would never ask Regis to give up his happiness just to pursue this thing he seems to have with Geralt. Also, Regis is a higher vampire.

All this, of course, is based on the presumption that Regis would even want to attempt a long-term, long-distance relationship with him. Maybe he doesn’t. The higher vampire may have meant his statement as more an offer of somewhat-periodic, emotionally-detached sex. Or maybe, if he does, it won’t work out, and Regis will have to start all over again because of it. But that’s beside the point. The point being that it is a bad idea for Geralt to get involved with Regis in any intimate capacity; more than he already has been, anyway. So he takes the succubus contract, glad for the distraction (and coin).

 

He meets the brothel-owner at dusk, and has him clear out the remaining customers and working women, which the man grumbles about. But compared to the amount of coin he’s been losing to the succubus, one night of lost profits is a small sacrifice to make.

“Are ye sure you’ll be up to the task, Witcher?” the man asks as he hands the building’s key over to Geralt.

If I had a coin for every person who asked me that. “Yes. Don’t come back until morning.”

What Geralt doesn’t tell the brothel-owner is that although the succubus will be gone come dawn, she may not be dead. With some… persuasion, succubi can often be motivated to move elsewhere. That’s what he hopes will happen here— without the ‘persuasion.’ The witcher doesn’t relish taking contracts on sentient species.

As the sun fully sinks, he swallows a Cat potion, and sits on a bed— one which appears to have been unused, at least for the last several hours— and waits.

Several hours later, the Cat has worn off, and he is feeling slightly stiff and cold. Although it is only early autumn, this close to the mountains the harsh winter weather creeps in early. He places a log into the fireplace and casts Igni. Behind him, there is a slight displacement of air.

“Ah, I was wondering if the place was closed for the night.”

Geralt tenses when he feels a soft, rose-scented hand brush through his hair. Slowly, he gets to his feet and turns around, hand on the hilt of his silver sword.

The succubus is a small, lithe woman, with porcelain skin and perky breasts. She wears nothing other than an untied red robe. Her mahogany hair falls over it in loose curls, and contrasts nicely with the color of the robe and her pale skin. When he turns, she does not move, instead making a show of running her gaze along his body. When her eyes— robin’s egg blue— find his, they widen briefly. “You’re a witcher. I’ve never had a witcher before.”

He frowns. “And you won’t. I’m not here for sex. The owner hired me to get rid of you.”

Her pink lips form a delicate pout. “Oh dear, that is rather unfortunate.” Suddenly, she appears besides him, and runs a clawed-hand threateningly through his hair. “I was hoping this would be fun.” Her breath is sweet and warm on Geralt’s face.

He steps back. “Never said I was going to kill you. As long as you agree to leave this place, I’ve got no problem with you. Otherwise, I do.”

The succubus studies his face, meets his serious yellow eyes. She sighs. “Well I suppose that’s not so bad a deal. I’ve been here for a while anyway. Yes, alright. I’ll move on.”

Some of the tension eases from his shoulders. “Good. Be gone by morning, and don’t come back.” The witcher turns to leave.

“Wait!” Geralt spins around. The succubus looks at him beseechingly. “Are you sure you’re not up for a romp before you go? It’d be a pity not to, since no one’s around.”

He actually takes a step back, and the only thought that flashes through his mind is: Regis. “No, thank you.” Geralt turns, and hurries from the empty brothel.

 

This year, he decides not to winter over in the dusty, vacant halls of Kaer Morhen.

Geralt thinks he may actually be driven insane if he’s left alone with his thoughts all winter— there isn’t much to do at the old keep besides think, after all, and that won’t lead him anywhere good. Thinking too much, he knows, inevitably leads to reminiscing. To growing nostalgic about the year’s warmer months, delicious food and drink consumed, friends gone, and good company had. Not that his life contains many of these things, but even witchers sometimes fall victim to reminiscing.

More specifically, he fears that if he does stay at Kaer Morhen, he’ll think about Regis. And Geralt can’t do that. The witcher still believes that his earlier decisions regarding the higher vampire were appropriate, even if he may not like them.

So he decides to work through the winter in order to keep his mind off of sensitive topics.

 

By the time he stumbles across the Aedirn-Temerian border and makes his way into Maribor, winter is in full-force. The snow is piled high, with more coming down, and the cold nips at Geralt’s fingers, ears, and nose. The shrieking wind is piercing. His and Roach’s breaths twirl from their mouths and mingle in great white puffs. Folk have been stingy with their payments because of the harsh weather, and as a result, he’s had barely two coins to rub together for the past several weeks.

That was before he took on the werewolf.

It was a stupid thing to do, and looking back, the witcher knows that he shouldn’t have taken the contract. But though he’d been low on supplies, and hadn’t had a moment of good rest for weeks, Geralt had not been able to refuse the job once he’d seen the scared faces of the village children, or the worn sag of their parents’ shoulders. So he’d agreed to kill the beast— with the winter storms descending, the village would soon be impassable until spring. In that time, the beast would be able to kill the remaining villagers two times over. The witcher simply couldn’t allow that to happen.

Now Geralt is nursing several long, deep gashes across his back, bruising to his ribs, and a bite on his calf that he hopes won’t become infected. And his coin purse? Still empty. The villagers chased him out as soon as he dumped the werewolf’s head at their gate. His potions supply is nearly gone, as are most of the rest of his supplies. He used the last of his bandages yesterday, and most of them already bear fresh bloodstains.

Geralt halts Roach to down the last of his Swallow. His stomach churns, growls angrily, and he nearly spits up the potion. Ordinarily, the witcher can deal with the taste of his various brews, but that’s when he has something in his stomach to steady him. It’s been several days since Geralt has had a good meal; the last of his coin went towards buying oats for Roach.

He shivers, feeling warm despite the coldness of the air. Not a good sign. The witcher growls, and urges Roach onward. Well, Regis, looks like I’ll be keeping my promise after all.

 

A pounding at his door disturbs Regis’ evening tea. He glances out the window— it’s late, but not so late that all of the lingering daylight has been filtered from the sky. But this does not perturb the higher vampire much; as a barber-surgeon, he is used to maintaining unusual hours. Regis grabs a candle and pads silently downstairs. He takes a moment to light a few more candles in the shop, then unlocks the door.

“Geralt!”

“’lo, Regis… I’m out of supplies.” The witcher holds Roach’s reins loosely in one hand, and his other rests on the doorframe, seemingly supporting most of his weight. Geralt’s eyes are bright and slightly glassy, his armor torn and dirty. Regis’ gaze flickers to Roach’s saddlebags. Suspiciously empty. He opens up his senses and inhales. Blood, some of it fresh. And underneath, the smell of infection. Oh dear.

“Go inside and sit down. I’ll take Roach to a nearby stable for some well-deserved rest and sustenance,” the barber-surgeon says softly. The witcher nods slowly, shouldering his pack and one of his horse’s saddlebags. Regis quickly grabs the other and sets it inside the doorway. The higher vampire hears more than sees Geralt slump into one of the shop’s chairs. He shuts the door softly, grabs Roach’s reins, and hurries on his way.

 

There’s a hand gently shaking his shoulder. “Wake up, Geralt.” That’s Regis.

He blinks, and slowly makes his way back towards consciousness. The witcher sits up, and his gaze darts around the room before settling on the higher vampire. Regis is still standing close, directly in front of Geralt. His eyes are narrowed, lips pursed, and brow furrowed. Concerned. He’s concerned for Geralt, even though it’s been months since they last saw each other, and the witcher has more-or-less barged in, demanding the barber-surgeon’s time and attention.

A hot flash of guilt runs through him. Regis must see this because his expression softens. That cool hand returns to rest on his shoulder. Strange to think that I once would have been disturbed by the mere idea of Regis’ touch.

“Later,” Regis says gently. Geralt nods. “Now, tell me about your wounds.”

 

He hisses as Regis applies the slightly-warm, salve-covered bandages to the gashes on his back. The smell is bothering him as well, because of how odd it is— honey, garlic, ginger, and something else. The fact that these are combined with the ginger, clove, and valerian concoction Regis had him drink makes it an even stranger mixture of scents. But at least he’s clean now and more or less comfortable, sprawled out shirtless on the examination table. As the barber-surgeon’s hands move over a particularly sensitive part of his wounds— his poor, abused ribs— Geralt’s back muscles twitch, and he grunts.

“I am sorry, Geralt,” the higher vampire apologizes softly.

“Hmm. ‘s fine,” he replies dazedly— the brew Regis gave him seems to be working.

He feels the barber-surgeon gently pat a layer of bandages over the salve, and then he feels the ghost of movement as Regis moves to look at the bite on his calf. “Fuck!” Geralt hisses, as Regis carefully picks up the leg. The wound throbs and the barber-surgeon’s normally cool hands feel like ice against the puffy, hot skin; it’d almost feel good if it didn’t hurt so much.

Regis sighs from somewhere above him. “I do not believe you told me what creature gave you these wounds.”

Geralt blinks, and lays his head atop his folded forearms once more. “Was a werewolf.”

There’s a beat of silence. For some reason, his tired brain observes that it is a displeased silence.

“I see. How long ago was this?”

“Three days? Four?”

“Tt. Well for now I shall simply apply salve and wrap the wound. If this proves ineffective, we can try alternative methods.”

“There’re potions we can use too, I’ll give you the ‘cepie,” he mumbles.

“I look forward to it, Geralt,” Regis replies. Only the witcher doesn’t hear it. He’s asleep.

 

Geralt jolts awake to the sound of glass vials being moved. The witcher blinks, mind whirring aimlessly for a moment as his gaze roves over his surroundings. He’s shirtless, and the blanket covering him has pooled around his waist. The late morning light wraps the room in a soft glow. Geralt feels less feverish than before, although his calf still throbs. He is also quite desperately hungry. The witcher blinks again, and sucks in a breath. Right. Regis’ shop. That’s where I am.

As if summoned by the thought, Regis appears before him. He has two familiar-looking potions bottles in his hands— they’re from his own potions bag. “Forgive me if I woke you, Geralt,” the barber-surgeon says, “I was only trying to see if I could decipher the contents of your potions bag, and if they would prove useful to your recovery. How do you feel?”

He opens his mouth to reply, but the loud growling of his stomach interrupts him. “Better,” he says lamely.

“And hungry,” Regis comments.

 

Although Geralt’s seen Regis eat before, it still surprises him somewhat that the higher vampire has a fully-stocked kitchen in his small apartment which sits above the apothecary shop. Regis feeds him eggs, fresh bread, cheese, and sausages. It is a feast compared to his recent meals, and the witcher feels a bit like nobility while he’s eating. He also has the uncomfortable suspicion that he’s being rude because he is so focused on his food. Ordinarily, the idea of not following social mores wouldn’t disturb Geralt much, but not offending Regis feels important.

He finishes chewing and pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts. Regis is leaning on the counter across from him, enjoying a cup of tea. “Sorry for eating all your food,” he says. “How’ve you been?”

Regis raises an eyebrow at Geralt’s distinct lack of tact. He looks both amused and also slightly irked. “I’ve been well enough since we last met. But perhaps I should be the one asking you that question, witcher.”

He grimaces. Touché. “Well, I didn’t get far…” Geralt’s going to say more, but his words seem to die on his tongue. The statement is unintentionally, and uncomfortably, close to having a double meaning.

Regis blinks. “No, you most certainly did not.”

Geralt sighs. No, I didn’t, did I? For how hard he tried to avoid this exact scenario, the outcome of his efforts is laughable. If he were more like Dandelion, the witcher would almost say that he and Regis seem fated to keep running into one another. But he is not like the bard, so Geralt dismisses such dismal, saccharine thoughts.

That looming, unspoken tension— the ‘thing’ between them— swells oppressively. The witcher feels as if he’s suffocating beneath it, the black weight of Regis’ eyes, and the unsaid things between them. Especially those yet-unspoken words which the barber-surgeon so clearly wishes to release. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come here after all.

But I’d be dead if I hadn’t, Geralt recalls; Regis has saved his life twice now.

The higher vampire is the one to finally break their silence. “Come, Geralt, I want to check on your calf wound. And I do believe that you promised to share the recipes for your witcher potions with me.” Geralt stands a bit unsteadily, and follows Regis down to his shop.

 

Five days later, Geralt has mostly recovered from his ordeal, thanks largely to Regis’ expert and precise care (and his mutations). In fact, he’s almost well enough to consider leaving, and the barber-surgeon seems to be aware of this fact as well. The ever-present, unspoken tension between them is at an all-time high, and it feels as if things are on the cuff of boiling over.

Even though he is mostly healed (and has been for the last several days) they haven’t touched in a non-platonic way yet, haven’t kissed, haven’t been together either. But they’ve looked. Some of their words— both Geralt’s and Regis’— have been heated. The witcher has to acknowledge that that old pull he felt towards Regis back in Novigrad, back ten years ago even, is still there.

But they haven’t talked yet, somehow, and the witcher hopes he’ll be lucky enough to get away without discussing his unresolved feelings. Another day passes, and every time Geralt glances at his restocked potions bag, Regis twitches, and looks away. But he still doesn’t say anything. So Geralt doesn’t mention leaving, and neither does the higher vampire.

Yet, he has to leave eventually, if only because Regis cannot support both of them indefinitely.

The witcher is also keenly aware of the debt he owes the barber-surgeon, and while he came here without coin, and out of desperation, he fully intends to pay Regis back. But he can only do that if he gets paid, and he can only get paid if he takes on contracts. There aren’t any contracts to be had now. He can’t pay Regis back (yet). But Geralt also can’t stay with Regis forever.

So the tension simmers in both their minds and body language. Geralt counts himself lucky that Regis hasn’t snapped yet and kicked him out— the witcher would deserve it if he did— and even more fortunate that the higher vampire hasn’t forced a conversation about what they are (or are not). Of course, as soon as he thinks this, Regis brings the subject of up.

Geralt is sitting on a stool in the corner of the shop, sharpening his swords, and Regis is sorting ingredients behind the counter when it happens.

“My dear Geralt,” Regis says, setting down the container of something-or-other he’s holding, “I believe it is high time we talked.”

The witcher’s heart lurches in his chest at that endearment. He hadn’t even realized until now that Regis has stopped using it. And his traitor heart beats faster at its abrupt return; this surely doesn’t go unnoticed by the higher vampire. Damn. He remains silent, taking a moment to set down his silver sword.

“Alright. Talk.” The words are clipped, and Geralt’s internal tension bleeds through in them.

Regis huffs, actually sounding frustrated for once. It puts Geralt even more on edge than he was before. Although this is a conversation perhaps best held privately, neither of them moves. He leans back against the wall. Regis fiddles with a few jars of ingredients. The space between them feels cavernous. “It has not escaped my notice that your arrival here was perhaps not solely based off your desire to see me…”

The higher vampire’s look is open and searching, but not accusatory. Though he bristles anyway. “I… you’re not wrong, but—”

“Well, witcher, what do you have to say for yourself?” This is the coldest he’s ever heard Regis’ voice be. That coldness stirs something deep in Geralt. He feels almost burned by it; all of the barber-surgeon’s accusations are right. But not for the reasons that Regis thinks.

He panics. “I do have... feelings,” Geralt mutters, looking down at his swords. His heartbeat thrums quickly. Regis is still. He’s still for so long that Geralt quickly glances up to make sure that he’s there. He is. Regis meets his gaze, and his eyes are lukewarm: mollified, but not entirely satisfied with Geralt’s answer.

“I stayed away because I—” because I care for you “because of them.” I didn’t think it was right.

Regis picks up a jar and places it back on the shelf. He picks up another. And another. “I see,” he responds softy.

So that’s it then, the witcher thinks, half-relieved, half-despairing. He asks if I care and I tell him I don’t want to and… and he’s letting me go. Geralt stands. It feels like there’s iron in his heart— something cold, hard, and bitter.

“What are you doing?” Regis asks quietly, back still turned.

“Going for a walk. Need... to think.”

“Ah.” The exclamation is sad. “I hope it is enlightening.”

 

Geralt barely gets a block away before the acrid smell of smoke and the piercing shriek of a woman’s screams reach his nose and ears. Fuck. Isn’t this just typical? He breaks into a run.

 

“Mommy!”

“Daisy! Kit! Somebody help, please!” The woman— the children’s mother and homeowner— gesticulates wildly at the burning building. Some men have already grabbed buckets and more step forward to help. Other people, neighbors, passersby, mutter to themselves, or cast pitiful glances at the unfortunate woman.

Geralt keeps back from the crowd a little, analyzing the scene. It’s obvious that the fire is too big to be extinguished by mere bucketfulls of water, and he doesn’t want to interfere if there’s nothing he can do. The witcher turns his attention to the more pressing concern— the children.

The house is two stories tall, and both children stand at the open— but barred— window. Smoke billows from the roof, and as he observes, the ground floor is quickly engulfed by a roaring wall of fire. He can feel the heat from here. With a sinking feeling, Geralt determines that the children will die. Even if they were able to jump, no one— not even him— can get close enough to catch them in that heat. Going into the building is out of the question as well. The only reasons the children are still alive are because they still have oxygen and that the second story hasn’t completely caught on fire yet.

For a moment, he considers using Quen, but even that wouldn’t protect him for long enough to get to the children. Igni is obviously of no use in this situation, and Aard, the only thing that might work, is too unpredictable; he could end up collapsing the house on top of the children, killing them anyway.

As the witcher desperately looks around for a way to prevent the children’s deaths, Regis appears. He feels a sudden, near-overwhelming sense of relief. The higher vampire’s sharp eyes quickly take in the scene, and he frowns. His gaze flickers to Geralt.

The witcher shakes his head. “It’s too hot, and I— can you?” his question is desperate, cut-off and hasty. Geralt’s heart is pounding and his mouth is bitter. He hates being helpless.

Their earlier discussion, any lingering hurt or tension between them, is forgotten in this moment. The witcher still trusts that Regis will be willing to help, despite his actions. If anyone is durable enough to enter the burning house and survive, it’s Regis.

Regis purses his lips for a moment, then nods. His expression is both eerily grim and resigned. “Yes. I can.” The higher vampire ignores the warning shouts of the crowd and walks into the flames.

 

Several minutes later, the fire is still roaring, and Regis has not returned.

Geralt barely contains his desire to start pacing. He’s moved to the front of the group, ready to act. It’s been too long— are vampires, even higher ones, vulnerable to fire after all? He can’t remember.

He can’t remember and yet he asked Regis to walk through fire for him. “Fuck!”

As he’s about to step forward to do something immensely stupid, the house groans ominously. His heart leaps into his throat and the witcher feels like he’s choking. Then about half of the roof collapses, and Geralt fears the worst. He can’t stop himself from shouting, “REGIS!” Several heads swivel and seem to notice Geralt’s presence for the first time; he ignores this.

The witcher makes to move forward, but one of the bystanders— a burly man— grabs his arm and stops him. “Are ye mad, witcher? If your friend is in there, it’s too late.”

‘NO!’ Geralt wants to scream. But he doesn’t. His emotions are not for these people to see, to- to gawk at and gossip about later. Regis— he can’t be… no. And if he is— then it’s all his fault. Because he didn’t think about the consequences. It’s been proven already that when Geralt asks, Regis does, without thought to what he’ll have to sacrifice. I should have known.

That’s why he’s avoided the higher vampire: because Geralt knows that he is no good for Regis. This only proves it. The higher vampire has been the one to make concessions for him, he’s been the one to strive to meet Geralt’s needs, he’s been the one to accept him over and over again when Geralt runs away and slinks back like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs. Even now that he’s admitted he has feelings for the higher vampire, but doesn’t want to act on them, Regis has not been angry with Geralt.

Regis would be— will be— has been the one to sacrifice his happiness, because he thinks Geralt’s happiness is worth it.

When the man feels Geralt slacken, he released his grip on the witcher’s arm. “I’m sorry,” he says; the condolence almost sounds genuine. Geralt nods once, sharply, and the man walks away. He turns his burning, blurry gaze to the remains of the house, and waits. Regis can’t be dead.

Seconds later, there’s a great crashing sound, and some of the burning rubble by the collapsed front of the house falls to the street. People shout warnings, and he feels an abrupt surge of hope. Soon enough, a small hole appears in the wall, and Regis’ soot-covered face becomes visible. “Geralt!”

The witcher runs forward, ignoring the deadly heat. “Step back, Regis! I’m going to get you out.” He waits for Regis to disappear from view before he casts Aard. The crowd’s murmuring sounds like a low buzz in the witcher’s ears; he ignores it. The house shakes at his use of the sign, and the hole is now larger. Geralt wipes the sweat from his eyes. Once more should do it.

He casts Aard again, and has to leap back as a large portion of the wall falls to the street, scattering sparks. Several brave people rush forward and dump their buckets on the rubble so it can’t catch any other buildings alight. Regis appears, coughing. Geralt holds his breath and tries to peer through the billowing smoke. Does he have— Yes. The barber-surgeon is holding the children. He carries one over each shoulder.

A few other people must see this as well, for several men, the children’s mother, and Geralt all rush forward. The higher vampire quickly sets down one of the children and grasps the first— unconscious— by the wrists and swings her over the void.

“Let go!” Geralt calls when he’s ready. He grunts as the girl’s sudden weight hits his chest and arms. He hands her off to someone else and hurries back. He and Regis repeat the process with the other child.

Then Regis steps forward. It’s hard to tell from here, with his face obscured by soot and smoke, but it looks as if the barber-surgeon is frowning. “Step back, Geralt!” he calls. The witcher quickly obeys, nearly stumbling in his haste.

Regis steps forward, and it’s like the smoke engulfs him for a moment— his body disappears into a gray cloud, then reappears, standing on the ground. He coughs, brushes off his clothes, and walks away from the building.

Geralt is frozen for a moment, in shock, and the crowd is completely silent behind him. Then he regains his senses, and rushes forward. The witcher nearly tackles Regis in his haste to hug the higher vampire. Regis is a solid, real presence in his arms. He smells like smoke, and singed cloth, but he does not appear to be hurt. Although he’ll never be able to wear his current set of clothing again.

All thoughts of leaving, in this moment, are gone. For now, he is only relieved.

“May I remind you, my friend, that we are in public?” Regis murmurs.

“Don’t care.” But Geralt steps back after another brief moment more anyway. Then he sees that the crowd of witnesses— the crowd of witnesses who have just seen undeniable proof of Regis’ inhuman nature— has grown. Fuck.

When Geralt and Regis break apart, the onlookers get their first proper look at Regis. After a beat of shocked silence, chaos ensues—

“MONSTER!”

“Devils!”

“Cursed beast!”

“Begone, you vile whoreson witcher, and your evil familiar too!”

“I believe it may be best if we made a quick departure, Geralt,” Regis says roughly.

The witcher swallows the lump in his throat. “Yeah. You’re right.” He’d never meant for this to happen. For Regis to expose his true nature because of Geralt... because of the higher vampire’s feelings for Geralt.

The angry, frightened people melt away as they approach; yelling is one thing, but actually fighting ‘monsters’ like he and Regis is another. Even the mother whose children they just rescued glances at them fearfully. Her children are laid out before her, both unconscious but still breathing. With treatment, they should recover.

They hurry away, and Regis lets them into the shop through the back door.

 

They stand in front of the recently-closed door for what feels like an age, just catching their breath. Regis’ breathing sounds hoarser than usual and he is rather spectacularly dirty, now that Geralt has a moment to look. The higher vampire’s clothing is burned through in some places, singed in others, torn, and blackened. But any extra skin that the witcher can see still maintains its normal abnormal paleness. He only realizes he’s staring when Regis’ brief touch brings him out of his reverie.

Regis’ gaze is dark, and his black eyes seem to almost blend into his sooty features. Geralt finds himself captured for a moment before he blinks, and his gaze slides away. The barber-surgeon’s breathing is loud and raspy in his ears. The stink of smoke is all-consuming.

“I will be fine, Geralt,” Regis reassures, stepping past him. Wordlessly, Geralt follows. Is it that obvious that I’m worried?

Regis leads them into the main shop, where he carefully draws the blinds, flips the window sign to ‘closed,’ and locks the door. The witcher is still silent, thinking. The higher vampire pauses briefly to cough, then walks to the counter. That small display of weakness undoes Geralt.

He surges forward, until Regis is boxed between the counter and himself. The barber-surgeon raises an eyebrow in question. “Thought I...” he trails off, unable to finish the statement; ‘lost you,’ is what he can’t make himself say. The urge to touch, to confirm that Regis is still here, that he’s okay, is nearly overwhelming. His hands itch with it. But Geralt restrains himself.

Never,” Regis growls. He crushes their lips together.

The kiss is frantic. Several vials are knocked off the counter when the higher vampire switches their positions, pushing the witcher against the counter. Geralt grabs a handful of Regis’ hair. The kiss deepens.

“Up— let’s go... upstairs,” he suggests ineloquently.

Regis nods. His eyes are dark. “A fine idea, my dear.”

Geralt shivers, and electricity tingles up his spine.



Afterwards, they don’t talk.

They really, really should. Especially after what they just did (again). Especially after Geralt’s earlier words, his resolution to leave, have both been so swiftly, and totally, refuted. There is obviously something lasting, something enduring, between them. No matter how Geralt may try to deny it, or ignore it, it’s obvious now. To both him and Regis.

Which is why, when he’s sure Regis is asleep beside him, Geralt slips out of the room, gathers his things, and heads out into the cold night to collect Roach.

 

I’m in love with Regis, Geralt tells himself on the walk to the stable. He lets the words sit heavy in his mind. He doesn’t dismiss them, or try to deny them. It’s the truth, and if he’s being honest, it probably has been for a while now.

His footsteps are heavy and loud and alone. His breath is visible and solitary. The night’s chill feels suitable for running away. For that is what the witcher is doing. But it’s for a good cause.

Unlike what the common fables say, contrary to the ballads His friend sings, love is not redeeming. Nothing fundamentally changes because someone loves another person— Geralt won’t stop being a witcher because he loves Regis, and Regis won’t stop being a higher vampire because he loves Geralt. Monsters will still kill people and so somebody will still have to kill monsters. Love won’t stop the Path from calling to him. Love won’t stop the world from needing witchers. So although he’d like to stay, feels each step he takes away from Regis like a heavy, sinking weight around his heart, Geralt doesn’t stop walking.

It’d be cruel of him to stay, even if he and Regis may both wish he would.

It’d be cruel because Geralt can’t stay with Regis— he can’t give up being a witcher, it’s what he is. If he tried to stay, he’d only make Regis suffer through more of the same bullshit Geralt’s already made him put up with. And he doesn’t want to jerk Regis around, doesn’t want to be cruel. So, because Geralt loves Regis, he knows the best, the kindest, thing he can do is to let the higher vampire go.

He may hate Geralt (and this brings a lump to the witcher’s throat) but that is for the best. At least he won’t be ensnared by his feelings for the witcher any longer, he won’t have to wait on Geralt, and think himself lucky to receive scraps of the witcher’s attention. No, better to let Regis go, so he can find true happiness later.

 

If he thought it was cold earlier, he was wrong. Both Geralt’s and Roach’s breath billows upward, into the oppressive night sky (nearly the color of Regis’ eyes, but flatter, lifeless) where they are devoured. The moon is crisp and full, allowing Geralt to see the path before him fairly well. It is quiet— both because most creatures are hibernating and because the snow muffles most noise. He is glad for the silence, even more than usual. The stars are bright pinpoints of light and everything seems still and remote and piercing beneath their gaze— as if they have watched the witcher’s actions and have found them lacking.

He grimaces. Gods, I’m beginning to sound like Dandelion. Geralt sighs, and watches absently as the white puff of his angst disappears.

 

By his estimations, Geralt is a mile from Maribor when his progress is halted.

He’s riding along, content to listen to the sounds of Roach’s breathing, and her sturdy hoofsteps, when the sky begins to dim. The witcher frowns, and worries, briefly, about incoming storms. But a quick glance upward reveals no clouds, only the strange fog.

Then the fog condenses, and swirls low about the path before him. “Surely you were not thinking of leaving without saying goodbye?” comes a sad, disembodied voice. Geralt starts, and Roach whinnies beneath him. That’s Regis’ voice, he realizes.

The witcher brings Roach to a stop. The fog swirls, gaining more of a humanesque form. “Regis?”

“You could not have evaded me, Geralt, even if I wished that you might. So it is best that we are honest with one other.” Regis abruptly materializes on the path ahead of him.

He almost asks, ‘How?’ but then he remembers the stunt that Regis pulled this— yesterday?— afternoon. He’s still a higher vampire even if he doesn’t use his tricks around you, the witcher reminds himself. Geralt’s mouth is dry. “I—”

“At least tell me why.”

He sighs, and his heart thumps painfully in his chest. Geralt swings himself off Roach, and walks quietly towards Regis, who flinches away as he draws near. The witcher feels stabbed through by this small display of hurt, even if it’s well-deserved. He’s done nothing but run from the other man, after all. Regis is owed an explanation.

Despite knowing this, Geralt draws a blank. What could I possibly say to make him understand?

After an agonizing silence, Regis speaks. “I would never keep you from the Path, Geralt.” The statement is quiet, nearly confessional. Geralt stiffens. His heart gives one painful thump. A soft tension hangs in the air. How can he— but that’s exactly the problem. Geralt can’t be with Regis fully if he’s also on the Path. How can he still not realize that?

Regis’ mournful eyes watch him, waiting.

The witcher swallows, feeling a sudden desire to stall. But this has gone on for long enough. He needs to let Regis go. “I’m no good for you, Regis. You should just forget me.” Geralt walks back to Roach and silently settles himself in the saddle.

“Wait!”

The witcher pauses, reins still held loosely. Regis’ eyes are large and pleading. Compelling, in the strictly-emotional sense of the word. “What?”

“Let me see if I understand your reasoning correctly before I lambast it. You are choosing to leave m— go away because you do not believe a relationship between us would be healthy?” Geralt, after a beat of hesitation, nods. “Because you are a witcher, and therefore believe that it would be wrong to entangle an outsider with someone whose life is devoted to the Path?” Again, he nods. Regis growls. “That is the most idiotic thing I think you have ever said to me, Geralt. And, may I add, it is utterly false. No good comes from self-sacrifice— believe me, I have lived long enough to have tried it.” Regis lets out one self-deprecating chuckle.

Geralt blinks. He opens his mouth to protest, to explain, to… something.

“Come with me. To Toussaint.” The witcher stiffens. “What is the harm in at least attempting a… relationship?” Geralt remains silent, though his chest feels compressed. Like Roach is sitting on him. He grips the reins tighter, and frowns. Regis looks so unhappy; it makes him ache. The witcher exhales slowly, and tries to make himself move. But he can’t.

“I will not force you into something that is unwanted, Geralt. If you truly wish to be done with me, then I shall let you go. But please consider my offer. Do not— do not leave merely because you think it is the noble thing to do,” Regis pleads softly.

Geralt swallows, feeling a great swell of affection and a momentary wave of fear crowd his chest. This vampire... his wild, passionate, caring, long-winded, stubborn vampire. Regis’ chest stills— he has even stopped breathing, waiting for the witcher to speak. And that- for some reason, that small gesture, of hope, of faith in him even after all the times he’s run, even after all his betrayals, his small acts of violence against Regis’ heart, breaks him.

He’s tired of running.

“Guess I could try it out. Hear they have a bit of a vampire problem in Toussaint anyway. Might need a witcher to solve it,” Geralt says quietly.

Regis looks up. His smile is hesitant at first, but warm. So warm it’s like the noon summer sun washing over the witcher’s skin. “Indeed? In that case, I suppose this witcher could perhaps use a trustworthy barber-surgeon as a traveling companion?” he asks hopefully.

“Yeah, yeah he could,” Geralt murmurs. Regis grins a sharp, fangy smile. The witcher pats Roach’s rump. She snorts in contempt. “Hop on, Regis.”

“To Toussaint?” the barber-surgeon confirms.

“To Toussaint.”