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The Killing Clause

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He staggers back into the cave, gritting his teeth. “Fuck!” As soon as Geralt is far enough through the entrance that his body is fully concealed from view, the witcher falls against the damp, cool cavern wall, panting. Several strands of wet hair cling unpleasantly to his face. He pushes them back with a grimace. The rest of him is equally soaked from fighting in the mountainous terrain’s mist, and getting caught in the ongoing rainstorm. Geralt regrets leaving Roach behind after making the trek back to his temporary shelter while wet and injured.

The witcher shivers, and closes his eyes for a moment. He focuses on the musty, earthen scent of the cave and the clean smell of the rain around him. There’s a dull throbbing throughout his body, which means that Geralt will be badly bruised later. As his stomach gives a violent churn, the witcher is reminded of his high toxicity. Geralt’s legs shake, and a sharp stab of pain goes through his left thigh. Fuck. He shivers again.

The witcher opens his yellow eyes, squinting in the cave’s dimness— the Cat potion he’d taken earlier has worn off, leaving behind the fog of blood loss and exhaustion, as well as a throbbing headache. He sucks in a deep, calming breath and limps forward, one gauntleted hand keeping on the rock wall for balance. Geralt’s boots squelch. Only a little farther, he tells himself.

On the ground before him, the leather of his potions pack swims into clarity. Next to it are his waterskin and bed roll. The witcher half-falls to his knees, hissing as the large gash in his thigh burns, leaking more hot blood. The cave swirls alarmingly around him for a moment. Geralt’s ears ring. His skin feels increasingly clammy. Then he inhales a deep, cool breath, and glances longingly at his waterskin, licking a few errant raindrops from his lips. Later. After I’ve taken my potions.

The witcher shakily sorts through the bottles in his pack until he finds the three he needs: White Honey, White Raffard’s Decoction, and Swallow. He carefully pulls these from the bag, awkwardly reclining against the damp wall, and spreads his legs out before him. One hand keeps pressure on his wound. Once Geralt is no longer in danger of bleeding out, he’ll clean and bandage it. The witcher uncaps the White Honey, swallowing it in one go.

For a moment— too long— Geralt’s head falls back against the cavern wall and his swords dig uncomfortably into his bruised back as all the potions he’s taken abruptly stop working at once. He nearly slides completely sideways in his unaware state. Then the witcher’s nausea returns, his vision dims further, and he shivers once more. Somehow Geralt gets a hold of himself and pushes his body upright. It is neither a dignified nor a particularly graceful movement. What would Vesemir think if he saw me now? The witcher grimaces at the thought of his mentor, or anyone else, finding him in such a state.

Geralt shakes his head to clear it of such distracting thoughts, then fumbles about for the next two potions— he will have to take them together, as White Raffard’s Decoction is quite toxic. Like the rest of him, the witcher’s gauntlets are wet, so he grasps the glass bottles carefully. He uncaps both at once, wanting to be prepared. Then Geralt chugs the Raffard, nearly gagging at the abrupt, burning sensation which races through his leg, and the other wounds he accumulated while fighting the bruxa.

Moments later, he begins to feel toxicity bubble in his veins, so he takes the Swallow.

After this, the witcher’s body feels very heavy, and his eyelids are nearly impossible to keep open. Healing sometimes uses almost as much energy as fighting, which is why Geralt likes to have solitude while he does it— both for safety’s sake and to keep his guild from being badmouthed (not that that is very achievable most days). He breathes out a sigh, and shivers again. It will be dark in a few hours, and it is already cold against the bare, hard rock. He manages to untie his bed roll, and stumbles to his feet.

For a few seconds, he sways alarmingly.

Then, somehow, the witcher manages to take off his sword harness, and lays his blades at his feet. Stripping out of his soaked shirt and breeches takes more effort than usual, but it’s nice to be out of the clinging garments. Then Geralt sheds his underthings, and changes into a set of dry clothing. This seems to sap the last of his energy.

The witcher debates using Igni to start a fire, but determines that he doesn’t have enough energy to do so— he hadn’t gathered firewood before departing on his hunt anyway. And the rain will have made any suitable kindling too wet for a flame to spark. Not to mention that, with the leg wound, it isn’t a good idea for him to go limping around outside right now. So it’s a moot point. Fuck, that was stupid of me. Scowling, he takes a long swig from the waterskin, and eases himself onto his bed roll. Then the witcher sets the waterskin aside, and pulls his pair of swords closer, so that they rest snugly at his right side— opposite the cavern wall.

Geralt tugs the blanket over himself, turns sideways, and falls into a deep slumber.

°°°

The next time he wakes, the witcher feels desperately thirsty, and much too hot. As he sits up a few inches, the cool cavern air bites into his warm, sweat-coated skin. He shivers as he reaches for his waterskin. For the next few seconds, this is all the witcher focuses on. Then he notices the unnatural, scentless presence of another being. His gaze sharpens, and Geralt’s hand diverts its journey from the waterskin to his swords.

The witcher has just managed to unsheathe his silver blade when he feels himself being pushed against the cave wall. Geralt growls, managing one awkward jab with his weapon. But it’s a bad angle, and his sword is quickly ripped from his grasp. It lands— with a worrying clatter— by the cave entrance. He hisses, and struggles as the grip around his shoulders becomes firmer, holding him painfully still. The cut on his attacker’s face seals up as he watches, and his mind whirrs. Medallion’s still, quick healing, incredible strength, pale skin.

He can only conclude that this being must be another vampire. A higher one, at that.

Despite knowing that he is probably very fucked, Geralt kicks out with his free leg— which happens to be his left— momentarily forgetting that he hadn’t bandaged it before falling asleep. Though the wound has mostly scabbed over, he feels it reopen with the movement, and begin to bleed. Shit. The vampire’s eyes narrow, and he inhales audibly. Geralt shivers again, feeling cold for multiple reasons, only one of which is his fever.

“Imagine my surprise,” the vampire says matter-of-factly, “when I stumbled upon an insensate witcher, looking like a delectable morsel for me to feast upon.” Geralt struggles again, bringing a hand up in an attempt to form a sign. The vampire grabs his wrist, and presses it above his head, into the wall. Then he leans forward so that his weight rests on Geralt’s injured leg. He winces. “As if that were not enough,” the vampire continues, “said witcher happens to be injured, and his blood smells quite… appetizing.”

Geralt grunts as the vampire’s sharp nails ghost over his vulnerable wrist. Fuck, this is bad. He tries to think of something, anything, he can do to get himself out of this situation, but comes up blank. He is tired, feverish, and rather desperately thirsty. The witcher can also feel the blood from his reopened leg wound soaking into his pants. The vampire leans forward, seemingly intent on smelling the blood beading in the scratches his claws have left in Geralt’s wrist.

The witcher bucks upward, ignoring the pain this movement causes in his thigh, and manages to shift the vampire a few inches. This is enough for him to bring his hands up, and form Aard. The vampire is flung into the opposing cave wall, which cracks alarmingly at the impact. Geralt coughs at the ensuing puff of dust, and stumbles to his feet.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he hisses, seeing how far his silver sword still is. Not gonna make it.

True to his prediction, the vampire mists before him, and sets one booted foot firmly on the hilt of the witcher’s weapon. “I imagine that, had you been less injured, this ploy would have worked.” Geralt glowers. What can he say? The vampire is right. Well, one last thing to try, I suppose. Although his heart is pounding, and his surroundings becoming increasingly fuzzy— both from the fever and his overuse of signs (forming even one is proving to be difficult), Geralt decides to use Igni. He sends flames toward the vampire—

Who laughs. “Oh, witcher! A valiant attempt, I will admit. Alas, it is… lacking.” Geralt exhales loudly, and brings his shaking hands up in another attempt to form Aard. If I can just get him to fucking move a little more— but as he forms the sign, Geralt’s knees buckle, and his vision tunnels, going gray. Fuck, he thinks. Fuck.

°°°

It’s warm. He’s warm. Too warm. Frowning tiredly, the witcher shoves aside his blanket, and fumbles for his waterskin. He finds it easily, and squints at the firelight’s brightness while opening it. Wait. Geralt splashes water all over himself in his haste to sit up. He freezes. The vampire is sitting across the fire, back against the wall. His arms are draped loosely over his bent knees. In the flickering firelight, his black eyes appear mirthful, and he meets Geralt’s gaze with a smirk.

“Drink, witcher. From your flushed countenance, I would say that you need the hydration.”

Geralt warily brings his waterskin up to his lips, then freezes, struck by a thought. He lowers his hand a few inches and his brow furrows. “How do I know that you didn’t— didn’t put somthin’ in it?” The air seems to waver around him. Distantly, Geralt realizes: I’m still too hot. He kicks off the rest of his blanket, and shivers.

The vampire sighs. “You will simply have to trust that I did not. After all, I believe we are both wise enough to realize that if I desired to kill you, I would not need to stoop to such base measures to do so.” It takes him a moment to parse the meaning of those words.

“You’re strong ‘nough to do it… without poison?” he clarifies.

“Indeed,” the vampire replies, sounding amused.

“Hmm.” Geralt blinks slowly, and glances down at the waterskin. His tongue feels thick. Well fuck. The vampire’s logic is sound. Might as well drink. Poison would be preferable to being sucked dry anyway. He gulps down a significant amount of his water, sighing afterwards.

Between sating his thirst and kicking off his covers, the witcher is feeling much better. Still hot, but not dangerously so. The fire actually begins to feel… nice. Without realizing it, Geralt is already listing sideways, almost lying down again. He shakes himself. Stay awake, Geralt, you fucking idiot. But the witcher’s very bones feel like jelly, and the cave’s chill is suddenly biting. Not to mention, his muscles throb, and his bruises ache.

Geralt is jolted from his doze by another question: “What is your name, witcher?”

“What’s yours?” he challenges dazedly.

A short laugh. “You may call me Emiel Regis. Or simply Regis.”

“Geralt,” he grunts. “of Rivia.”

Regis is quiet for long enough that Geralt feels his consciousness slipping away again, though he tries to stop it. This leads to a series of embarrassing startles, as he repeatedly nods off. The higher vampire eventually murmurs, “You need not fear that I will kill you in your sleep, Geralt.”

He snorts. “We’ll see… ‘bout that.” The witcher briefly contemplates attempting another sign, but is forced to admit that he doesn’t have the energy for it. Besides, Regis hadn’t drained him when he’d gone unconscious the first time, so… Perhaps the best thing he can do is to rest, in order to be more prepared to face the higher vampire later. Geralt slowly lies down and closes his eyes.

“That we shall,” he hears Regis mutter softly.

°°°

An unknown amount of time later, Geralt jolts awake. I must have been asleep for quite a while, the witcher determines, for strong sunlight is streaming in through the cave entrance. Although he still feels slightly achy, and a bit off, his head is much clearer. He sits up, ignoring the stiffness of his muscles, and untangles himself from the blanket.

“I was beginning to wonder if perhaps your wounds were more dire than I had previously believed.”

Geralt goes very still, and his jaw clenches. Fuck. I forgot about him. “Like that’d be a bad thing for you— an easy meal?”

“Ha,” Regis comments absently, standing from his eerie crouch. “Very amusing, Geralt. But no. We vampires prefer live meals. The freshness is… invigorating.”

He swallows in disgust, going tense again. “Then I suppose that I should prepare to die soon, right?”

The higher vampire’s long, sharp-tipped fingers clench for a moment, then relax. A strange expression ripples over his face before quickly disappearing. “No. I… have not quite decided what I want to do with you, witcher. Your tenacity yesterday intrigued me.”

“Hmm. A stay of execution; how noble of you,” Geralt mutters dryly. But he is confused.

Regis must read this on him, or perhaps he has another way of telling the witcher’s mood, for he says: “When time holds no meaning, as is the case for my species, one must become… inventive in how they stave off mental decay. You have caught my interest, Geralt of Rivia.”

Great. So now I’m supposed to be a vampire’s play-thing; Eskel and Lambert would be so proud. “Hmm,” the witcher responds. He stretches, and slowly stands, repressing a wince as the stiffness that movement brings. “Well, if you want to keep me alive, I need to eat.”

°°°

Regis asks him questions while he eats. Regis asks him questions while they’re sitting by the fire, as Geralt is stretching, or checking on his injuries, or trying to meditate. About the only time that the higher vampire doesn’t ask him questions is when the witcher is trying to sleep. Even then, however, it is not a guaranteed thing. Geralt thinks that he may go mad from the constant pestering. And it’s not like I can really do anything about it, he thinks morosely.

He begins planning an escape.

°°°

Over the next three days, Geralt keeps an eye out for his swords, or armor.

Worryingly, neither are to be found, not even outside the cave. However, his potions pouch is still where he’d left it, and doesn’t appear to have been riffled through. So it seems that the witcher’s best chance of escape is to down a vial of Black Blood and toss Vampire Oil in Regis’ face. Also fortunate is the fact that he is nearly healed already, and so, when the opportunity arises, he will be ready to seize it.

Although Geralt is also worried that he might not survive for much longer. The higher vampire periodically sends him looks which can be described as nothing other than hungry. While the witcher doesn’t frighten easily, he is continually put on-edge because of Regis’ behavior, and the fact that he is practically defenseless— Igni has proven to be ineffective against the higher vampire, Aard minimally so, and he doubts that Quen or Axii will be of much use either. Again, he is forced to conclude that the best way out is through. In other words, Geralt has to be patient. Fuck.

“What troubles you, witcher?”

You, he doesn’t say. “Nothing.”

“If that were true, then you would not look so grim.”

He sighs. “I wish that you didn’t constantly look like you want to fucking eat me.”

A pause. “Who ever said that I do not?”

He stands, fists clenched, muscles taught. “Regis…”

In a flash, the vampire pins Geralt against the wall. Despite himself, the witcher’s heart beats rapidly. Regis hisses, nails biting into Geralt’s neck. Shit. “Careful, witcher. I have not made up my mind yet. Do not tempt me.” The higher vampire chuckles.

He holds perfectly still for a moment, mind spinning. Regis stays silent. “Do it then.”

“What?”

“Kill me. It’d be a better use of my time than sitting here, doing fuck all.”

Regis blinks. Then the pressure of his sharp nails lessens. He lets go of Geralt. The witcher moves away slowly, catching the tail end of the higher vampire’s very bemused expression. “I— I do not wish to kill you, currently, Geralt.”

“Then start fucking acting like it.”

Regis is abnormally quiet for the rest of the day, and the fire is a little bigger that night.

°°°

He doesn’t think of himself as a complainer, or as being a needy person. But, Geralt is forced to admit, as he sits on a rock at the cave’s entrance— staring out at the same fucking trees as yesterday— that he is bored. Appallingly, mind-numbingly bored. The witcher itches for something to do, and his fingers have been absently drumming against the rock for the past half hour. Once again, he exhales, and attempts to meditate the discomfort away. It’s nothing, he tells himself. Nothing. You’ve dealt with worse.

And it’s true. He has.

But this is a different kind of discomfort. One which, evidently, he is not quite immune to yet. He exhales again. Loudly. It may even be called a sigh. “Witcher.”

Geralt opens his eyes, and offers Regis, who now stands before him, a stony stare. It’s one which has intimidated plenty a villager, or so he’s intuited. “What?”

“I… have been told that humans need frequent interaction in order to maintain their internal balance.”

His brow furrows, partly from embarrassment. “Are you asking me if I’m bored?” The answer, of course, is yes. But unless that’s specifically what the higher vampire is asking him, then Geralt isn’t offering up any specifics.

“Would you perhaps like to spar?”

The witcher blinks. “Yes,” he says quickly. “Give me my swords.” Regis hesitates. Geralt very nearly groans aloud in frustration. “It’s not like I’ll be able to hurt you— not without my potions too.” Come on, you bastard vampire.

“Very well.” Regis disappears in a puff of smoke, returning with the witcher’s swords.

Geralt’s hand’s nearly shake as he puts on the halter, and withdraws his silver blade.

“Ahem.” He blinks, and looks up. The higher vampire stands loosely, arms crossed. He seems amused. “Ready, witcher?”

°°°

They break several hours later, and Geralt sheaths his silver blade, breathing heavily. Though sparring with Regis was very difficult, he’s picked up on some useful tricks. And, now that he’s healed more, Geralt is confident that he could probably hold his own against the higher vampire if he had access to his potions. Now I only have to make that happen. Unsurprisingly, Regis hovers in a not-quite benign way as the witcher recovers. He wants the weapons.

Reluctantly, Geralt unstraps the harness from his back, and holds it out. But when Regis grabs on, he doesn’t let go. For a moment, the swords are held between them, as if in a tug of war. “Geralt.” The tone isn’t quite upset, but it’s getting there. A warning. The witcher barely stops himself from gritting his teeth. But he does.

“I would feel more comfortable if you let me keep them.”

A snort. “As if I would give you access to something with which you could injure me.”

Geralt does grit his teeth at this. That’s the plan. “We’ve both seen how likely that is to happen. I may be good, but I’m not that good.” Regis meets his gaze, and his eyes are… considering. Fucking finally.

“Very well, witcher. You may keep your swords.” The higher vampire’s grip goes slack, and Geralt scrambles to his feet, taking the full weight of his weapons.

He feels a rush of near-dizzy relief. “Thank you.”

°°°

The next part of the plan is a bit trickier. And a lot more dangerous.

“I need a bath,” Geralt says the next morning. While this is not an untrue statement, he is also used to going for much longer periods of time without bathing. However, he did work up quite a sweat yesterday, and the witcher has also not had an opportunity to give his— admittedly near-fully healed— wounds a thorough washing yet.

Regis inhales, nose wrinkling slightly. Geralt tries not to take offense. “Perhaps.”

He waits a moment. “I’ll need to take my bag.”

The higher vampire gives him a scrutinizing look. “Whatever for?”

“I have special oils. To help with… witcher stuff.”

Regis’ brow arches. “How do I know that this is not some sort of scheme, Geralt?”

“I’ll leave my swords here. Not much I can do with a bag, and a set of clothing, is there?”

The higher vampire smirks. “No, I suppose there isn’t.”

°°°

The lake that Regis takes him to is fairly hidden; downhill from their campsite, tucked behind a thick grove of trees. He might not have found it by himself. Geralt mentally tracks their path, and memorizes where all the roots, rocks, and uneven ground lie. He will be running back up it later. Hopefully. The witcher tries not to act too nervous, or suspicious. Fortunately, Regis doesn’t seem to notice that anything is wrong.

The lake’s water is clear and refreshing. Geralt takes a moment to fill his waterskin, and sets his bag down on the shore. Then, awkwardly, he halts. “Are you going to keep watching?”

Regis smiles in that irritating, mischievous— almost dangerous— way he has. “I might.”

Geralt shoots him his most displeased glare.

“I suppose if it makes you that uncomfortable, I could turn around.”

“Good.”

He waits for Regis to, pointedly, turn his back before stripping. Geralt carefully moves the Vampire Oil and Black Blood to the front of his pack, and loosens their corks slightly. Then he grabs his bar of soap. It would be suspicious if he didn’t actually clean himself up after deliberately asking for an opportunity to do so. The witcher also withdraws a spare outfit in case he needs to act more quickly than anticipated. He bathes.

Regis keeps his back turned the entire time, although he doesn’t stay quiet.

When Geralt is dressed, the higher vampire approaches him. This is it, he thinks nervously. But the witcher decides to wait to act until they’re a bit closer to the forest. He can run, quite quickly when he needs to, but… he’ll need every advantage he can get. And if Regis is too addled to avoid trees, well. That’ll be all the better for the witcher.

As they reach the tree line, Geralt stops. He reaches subtly into his pack. His fingers close around the bottle of Vampire Oil. He curses mentally. Don’t think I have enough time for Black Blood and Vampire Oil… “Geralt?” The witcher rapidly uncorks the bottle, and throws its contents at the higher vampire. The potion hits Regis square in the face, and he staggers back as it takes effect, hissing.

Geralt drops the empty bottle and bolts.

°°°

Come on, come on. Nearly there! He’s panting, and sweating, and his leg muscles are cramping, but the witcher doesn’t stop running. For a while, he could hear Regis’ agonized screams, then a more bestial shrieking. The higher vampire is quiet now, but Geralt is not naive enough to think that he’s killed Regis. The witcher clears the trees, and the cave is only a little bit farther up the hill. He pushes himself: faster. Faster. Faster. Then his swords, conveniently placed by the cave entrance, are almost within reach.

He’s closing the final distance when everything goes wrong.

The witcher’s form is suddenly swallowed by a dark shadow. He hears the near-silent flap of massive wings. Geralt spares a glance over his shoulder and pales. “Shit.” Then the gigantic bat swoops down from the sky, and barrels into him, sending them both sprawling. He is mere feet away from his swords.

°°°

When he hits the ground, all the air is knocked from Geralt’s lungs. The witcher becomes even more breathless as the weight of the enormous bat settles upon him. He grunts, but stops struggling when he sees the size of the monster’s claws, and fangs. Oh fuck. The bat suddenly morphs, and then, there’s Regis, one hand fisted in Geralt’s collar, kneeling menacingly over him. His black eyes are devoid of any warmth or mischief. Furthermore, his face is blotchy, and the whites of his eyes are red. Burned, the witcher thinks. Geralt pants, and can’t help but tremble a bit as Regis’ fangs extend. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.

The higher vampire exhales sharply, then yanks Geralt up by the front of his shirt, and shakes him. “That,” Regis says coldly, “was a mistake, Geralt. A deadly one.” The feeling of his teeth slicing into Geralt’s jugular is agonizing. The pain, however, is only momentary, as the witcher soon passes out.

°°°

More woods. Gleaming blackness, a cool touch, distant and incomprehensible murmuring. Darkness. Blue sky, no visible tree branches. Darkness. Thirst. He swallows, and looks around— a cup is being held to his lips. Geralt gulps gratefully, and closes his eyes again. More darkness.

Coldness. Not just a touch, but real cold. The witcher frowns, and attempts to pull his covers up. Then comes that cool touch. “Just a moment longer, Geralt. I am merely changing your bandages.” A dull spike of alarm runs through him at that terribly familiar voice, but the witcher is too out of it— and too fucking cold— to really be able to react much. He frowns at the distant sting, strong smell of alcohol, and the slight jostling as cloth and some liquid are blotted against his neck.

Darkness.

°°°

He is in a cabin. A rather decrepit cabin— patches of sunlight stream in through the many small holes in the roof, and the walls— but a cabin all the same. A fire is even crackling in the slightly moss-covered fireplace. It throws Geralt for a long moment, because the last thing he remembers is being at the cave, and—

Oh fuck.

Well, I’m not dead, the witcher thinks, very confused. That is something undoubtedly positive about the situation. But he can’t think of much else at the moment. It’s never a pleasant experience to wake up somewhere you don’t recognize, especially when you do so feeling weaker than you remember being.

Geralt absently brings a hand up, and yes: his neck is bandaged. So that did happen. He tries sitting up. The room spins, and he can feel his forehead beading with sweat, can hear his own too-fast heartbeat. That’s not happening, then. “Shit,” Geralt curses, a bit breathily. This isn’t good. He can’t imagine what purpose keeping him alive serves, for the last thing the witcher can recall is a very pissed-off higher vampire chasing after him, intent on bringing the wrath of the gods down on Geralt. But he is sure that whatever purpose his continual survival serves, it isn’t pleasant.

So he grunts, and tries again.

This time, Geralt manages to stay sitting up, although he nearly vomits doing so. He’s breathing hard again, and his forehead and neck are already damp with sweat. The sound of his own heartbeat is deafening. Picturing Vesemir’s disappointed face is enough to get Geralt on his feet. Although, this doesn’t feel like much progress when he immediately has to slam his weight against the wall to keep from falling flat on his face. The thin wood shudders ominously at his sudden impact, but holds. He closes his eyes, and exhales slowly. Come on, get moving. Regis could be back at any moment.

°°°

The cabin is truly, abysmally, tiny. And yet, he’s only made it halfway to the door. Geralt estimates that it’s been at least a dozen or so minutes since he woke up, so this is truly pathetic. Currently, the witcher is taking a breather, leaning heavily against the small table and rickety chair. His ears are ringing, he feels cold again, and his limbs prickle. He closes his eyes and sucks in another breath. “Alright.” Geralt slowly eases himself off his perch, and shuffles forward.

The door creaks, and opens.

Stupidly, Geralt freezes. His eyes dart around, looking for anything he can use to defend himself with. But there’s nothing— and even if there were, he is in no state to use it. All that runs through his head is a litany of curses. Regis steps through the doorway, a handful of carrots, and a dead hare, in his arms. The witcher is still frozen in place. The higher vampire sees him, and blinks. They stand there, both still and silent, for what feels like an eon.

Automatically, his hands come up to form a sign— Aard— then Regis is upon him.

The higher vampire’s hands are cool, and surprisingly gentle as they grip Geralt’s. Though this does not mean that his hold is weak; far from it. The witcher’s ears ring, and he feels breathless panic overwhelm him. He fights against it, and Regis. The higher vampire’s eyes flash red. “Sleep, Geralt.”

The witcher barely realizes that he’s falling, such is the rapidity with which his legs buckle, and vision darkens.

°°°

As he wakes up, he becomes hungry. Or rather— Geralt wakes up because he is hungry, and he smells meat roasting, vegetables cooking, and liquid boiling. The small cabin is still warm, but now it is also filled with the scent of food. He’s pretty sure that it’s been at least two days since his last meal. The witcher’s mouth waters, and he sits up with a grunt. Then he sees Regis, holding two bowls of stew, and Geralt’s stomach sours. His jaw clenches, and his fingers form fists in the blankets. The air practically vibrates between them from the intensity of their gazes; Geralt’s antagonistic, Regis’ carefully unrevealing.

“I imagine you must have some quest—”

“Where the fuck are we?” his statement is deliberately blunt. Unimpressed. Harsh.

Regis swallows. Then the higher vampire rises carefully from his seat at the small table, and walks towards the bed with one of the bowls. Despite himself, the witcher’s pulse flutters, and he begins to feel tendrils of adrenaline bloom in his nervous system. Regis halts about a foot away from the bed. “I will not— you will come to no further harm here, Geralt.”

The witcher has no self-preservation apparently, or he’s run out of fucks to give. Whatever it is, for some reason, Geralt replies: “Yeah, that’s fucking likely” then snorts. The higher vampire’s lips thin, and his eyes flash with what looks like— but probably isn’t— distress.

“For what it’s worth, I am sorry, nay, contrite, for my actions. The harm I have caused you.”

And I wish that I hadn’t thrown that Vampire Oil in your face, Geralt thinks sarcastically. His stomach growls. “Whatever you say, Regis. Are you going to feed me or not?” The higher vampire’s eyes flash and his nostrils flare for a moment. He looks angry. But then, just as rapidly, he appears to cool off, and hands the witcher a bowl.

°°°

After he’s done eating, Geralt feels sleepy again. But despite how very much his body wants him to simply curl up under the blankets, basking in the feeling of being full, and the fire’s warmth, the witcher doesn’t let himself. Instead, he props himself up against the pillows and watches Regis through half-lidded eyes. Of course Geralt’s vigilance won’t actually stop the higher vampire from doing anything, but it does make the witcher feel slightly better. He stifles another yawn, and scowls, crossing his arms grumpily. A thought grabs his attention.

“Where’s my stuff?”

Regis looks up from the fire, which he’s been tending to. “That is unimportant, at the mo—”

“What? Worried that I’ll try something again?”

“As a matter of fact, I am. Higher vampires are no more immune to pain than humans, witcher,” Regis answers stiffly.

He snorts. “Well, lucky for you, I don’t have any more Vampire Oil; though I’d use it if I did.” Regis glares, standing sharply from his crouch. He looks angry. “Oh dear. Have I angered you?” Geralt murmurs dryly.

The higher vampire snarls, and marches across the room, until he’s looming over the bed. His fangs are extended. “Do not,” Regis says shakily. He lets out one, loud exhale. “Do not test me, Geralt.”

“Or what?” the witcher snaps, irritation finally bubbling over. He is frustrated by all this. “You’ll kill me? Yeah, I’ve already seen that you have a penchant for violence, Regis. You don’t scare me— you’re pathetic. A fucking child has more self-control than you do.”

Regis blinks, eyes going wide. His fangs retract, and all of a sudden, he staggers back, looking almost as if Geralt had thrown more Vampire Oil on him. “I- I,” he stammers, swallowing convulsively. “You’re right.” Then he mists up and disappears. Geralt blinks.

°°°

For whatever gods-forsaken reason, he waits.

If he were well, the witcher suspects that he’d be pacing. But he isn’t well, and so all he can do is sit up in bed and stare at the cabin door, watching the light change as time passes. When the cabin grows dim, Geralt staggers out of bed and throws a few more logs onto the fire, then takes a moment to stretch, and relieve himself. After that, he ladles himself some more soup and returns to bed to eat his meal.

He thinks as he eats.

Ordinarily, if Geralt were stranded without supplies, it would not be that big of an issue. Sure, it’d be inconvenient, and the witcher would be quite annoyed at the loss of his potions, but he’d survive. Now though. Now is a different story. He might be able to survive for a day or so, but as weak as the witcher is, he wouldn’t last for much longer than that— Geralt can’t exactly hunt at the moment, has no fucking clue where he is, and is currently incapable of protecting himself from the elements, let alone a larger threat like a predator or monster. His conscience wouldn’t let him leave either; Regis is clearly a threat to humanity, and a danger to himself as well.

So one way or another, Geralt needs to figure out a way to deal with him

°°°

“Geralt.” Regis says his name in barely a whisper, but it is enough.

It’s late. Probably after midnight. The witcher stirs, and sits up. “Hmm?” He blinks in the dark, and finds Regis’ shadowed form sitting motionless in a chair beside his bed. A patch of moonlight hits his face, making the higher vampire’s eyes glitter eerily. Despite himself, Geralt’s nostrils flare, and he becomes a little more alert.

Regis must sense this, because he shifts subtly, leaning slightly back. “Would— would you like to hear my story, witcher?”

“Yes.”

°°°

Regis talks. He leans forward, and steeples his sharp-clawed fingers, arms resting on his knees. The dappled moonlight, the quiet, and his own sleepiness instills the cabin with a slightly unreal, dream-like atmosphere. Geralt listens as the vampire tells him of social isolation, painful awkwardness, a burning desire to fit in. To have somebody like him.

“Drinking did this, for me. It became that— that elixir, that cure-all which I thought would make things better… And it did, for a time.” The higher vampire speaks of his descent, from there, into debauchery, a drifting away of the few who were close enough to care, a falling in with the wrong crowd. Being warned that he was too conspicuous, told to stop.

“But I, in my arrogance, my hubris, ignored these warnings. For what could a group of mere humans do to me?” The higher vampire pauses, lips pulled into a tight, mirthless, and self-reproaching smile. It’s an expression which nearly takes Geralt’s breath away— he recognizes it from himself. At this point, Regis explains how he soon separated from most other vampires to drink— freely, wildly, monstrously. The witcher feels his stomach churn, at some of the descriptions of Regis’… episodes. Fuck, he thinks.

But Regis doesn’t stop talking.

Drinking led to more drinking, and a lack of companions led to a loss of constraint. Soon enough, humans began to take notice of him. Then came the torches, pitchforks, angry villagers. Regis had had to flee the last village he’d lived in, or risk being decapitated. “I assure you, Geralt, though it would not have killed me, it would have been endlessly… unpleasant. I did not want to risk it.” Being isolated, and clear-headed for the first time in years made him think about his lifestyle and choices. But it was not smooth sailing, and the higher vampire still felt drawn to drink. “For at this point— having alienated any being who could remotely say that they cared for me— what else was I to do?” Regis draws in a breath, and falls silent.

Geralt frowns, mind nearly spinning from the influx of information, and feelings. Complicated feelings. Uneasy feelings. He has always thought that there is no such thing as a ‘lesser evil’— still does— but in the few years since he first left Kaer Morhen, Geralt has learned that morality is rarely black and white.

The minute creaking of Regis’ chair draws his attention outwards again.

The higher vampire is leaning back in his seat, and looks exhausted. He seems to sense the witcher’s attention on him, for Regis opens his eyes, and stares at Geralt, looking quite mournful, for a long moment. He clasps his hands together, and looks down at them. “Then I came across you, Geralt, and thought: at last. Here is a meal which I can feel guiltless about consuming. He is a witcher, and if this one has not personally injured my kind, other of his guild have. But you were hurt, and after our… introduction, I realized that even this was not so simple as I may have wished it to be. So you are right, witcher: I am a monster, and you are also correct in believing that a mere child, a human child, would have more control than I currently possess over myself.”

The cabin stays silent for almost a minute after Regis concludes his speech.

“So that’s what you were doing out in the woods,” Geralt mutters aloud, mostly to himself.

Regis blinks, looking quite confused.

The witcher feels embarrassed, sleep-deprived, and frankly a bit overwhelmed by what the higher vampire has just told him, too. “I… I couldn’t figure out what you were doing out here— everything I’d ever learned said that higher vampires were city-dwellers, or at least lived somewhat near civilization. For… you know. Better access to blood, and all that.”

The higher vampire is silent for a bit longer, mouth pursed. Then, smiling faintly, he looks up at Geralt. “What else did they teach you about vampires in that strange witcher school of yours?”

°°°

Over the next two days, Geralt regains his strength— aided by his potions, when Regis finally lets him have his stuff back— and figures out where they are: about a day’s journey to the village where he picked up this contract. It’s been nearly two weeks since he left the village, so on the outer edge of the timeframe he gave the alderman. But hopefully, Roach and his things will still be there. And if his horse and supplies aren’t, well then. Geralt will be very angry indeed.

He is able to think about all this in peace, for the higher vampire has, of late, become quiet.

It disturbs Geralt, for he knows that he should not give a damn about Regis, and tells himself this. But it has been said (by Vesemir, Eskel, and Lambert) that Geralt is a bit of a bleeding heart; his fellow witchers also say that his kindness will get him killed, but he ignores this. And while he is most certainly still furious at Regis for his earlier actions, and unsure about how wise a decision it is to let him live, ultimately the witcher feels like he cannot justify killing the higher vampire.

Sure he has killed— and will continue to dispatch— monsters for doing things that are as bad or worse than what Regis has confessed (and done) to Geralt. But he also reminds himself about the grays of the world. The witcher hates taking contracts on sentient beings, and avoids violence as much as possible when he is forced to confront a thinking creature. He has found that humans are capable of being (often are) more monstrous than some monsters. One of the most important factors in his potentially-fatal decisions is if the creature exhibits signs of remorse, or a desire (and capability) to change.

And this is where Regis’ words make their full impact. The higher vampire has not changed— not yet— but Geralt sees the potential for change in him. He does not wish, never wishes, in fact, to cut this off by ending someone’s (something’s) life. Yet he also has to weigh the possibility of future harm against the promise of change, and evaluate which is more likely. Potential is wonderful, but if not acted upon, it is as useless as a week-old pile of shit. Change requires real, deliberate action.

So the question, he tells himself, is if Regis is capable of— and willing to— change?

°°°

Regis is quiet over those two days, but he is also attentive. He brings Geralt things when the witcher needs them with such rapidity that he almost fears the higher vampire is capable of telepathy (Regis had assured the witcher that he isn’t). In a way, Geralt almost dreads being well enough to move around on his own again, as much as he is itching to get out on the Path, retrieve Roach, his coin, and move on. For he knows that, one way or another, he will have to make a decision regarding Regis. And some decisions, he is painfully aware, cannot be unmade. Whatever he decides will change things— whether for good or bad.

If Geralt didn’t know better, he would almost say that Regis is also waiting for him to make a decision.

°°°

On the third day, he wakes before the sunrise and goes outside for a walk. The near-complete solitude is perhaps the only pleasant aspect of this situation; Geralt doesn’t need to worry about monsters or predators because of vampiric territoriality, apparently. Right. So what are the benefits and drawbacks of either choice? the witcher asks himself once he’s found a good spot to pace in— a small clearing, with tall, lush grass, and a large rock to sit on. Huffing, Geralt unsheathes his steel sword, and begins going over his footwork while he thinks.

Option one: killing Regis. Undoubtedly, this will permanently prevent the higher vampire from (unintentionally) causing more harm. It would also be justice for those people whom he has already caused to suffer. There will be no chance of Regis slipping back into old, bad habits either. But there are also downsides to this choice. Clearly Regis regrets his actions— or at least, he is working towards doing so. He did not (still has not) killed the witcher when he could have. Multiple times, in fact; Geralt may be confident, but he also isn’t stupid. As he’s thought before, Regis has demonstrated that he has the ability to change.

And if Geralt kills him, he prevents that.

A major downside in the fatal choice is that, by destroying the higher vampire, the witcher will also destroy all his potential for good. Regis is quite intelligent, and, when he wants to be, personable, and attentive (as he has demonstrated these past few days by caring for Geralt). Higher vampires live for a very long time, and so there is no knowing how much good Regis’ raw skills could do if honed and put to use. The witcher does not want to be responsible for this deprivation.

But again, there is the question of justice.

Would it be just, to allow the higher vampire to continue living when he, callously, had not allowed his victims to do the same? And would it be a base betrayal— of Geralt’s very nature, his guild, his family— to allow this monster to walk away? He’s not sure. For, just as Regis has the potential for good, there is also the possibility of more evil. The higher vampire has already started down that path, and if Geralt allows him to live, there is a chance that he will come to regret that choice, and will have to deal with Regis later. Or perhaps one of his brothers, or Vesemir, will face the vampire. And what would they say when they discovered that they’re cleaning up one of Geralt’s messes?

“Fuck!” Geralt abruptly stills, allowing his sword to fall to the ground with a clatter. Then, panting harshly under the bright sun, he wipes his forehead, and drinks deeply from his waterskin.

“Very impressive, Geralt. May I ask what has made you so disturbed?”

He jumps, then scowls. The witcher doesn’t think that he will ever become accustomed to a higher vampire’s ability to move without detection. For a man who is used to sensing everything, it is quite eerie. When Regis raises a brow, Geralt realizes that he has been silent for too long. He sighs, and picks up his sword, sheathing it to buy more time. Perhaps honesty is the best approach here, the witcher decides.

“I’m trying to determine what to do… about you.”

In a blink, Regis is next to him, sitting with his legs crossed in the grass by Geralt’s rock. “Ah. I thought you might be. Have you come to any conclusions?”

He’s awfully calm for a man who might be facing a death sentence. The witcher frowns, and props his elbow on his knee, leaning forward to look down at the grass. “Not conclusively. I—” he sighs. Honesty, Geralt reminds himself. “I’m having a bit of trouble because I don’t know if you are going to change. I see the potential for it, which is a point in your favor, but potential is about as useful as horse manure, unless you use it. If I- If I let you live, and you don’t change, well. That’s no good. But if I kill you, and that potential is wasted…”

Regis is silent. Geralt is almost too lost in his own spinning thoughts to notice this.

“This is all assuming, of course, that I would let you kill me,” Regis says, sounding darkly amused. Geralt tenses, and his hands suddenly itch for his silver sword. The higher vampire must notice this, because he looks up, openly and earnestly, at the witcher. “I am not saying that I would stop you, Geralt, but it is… difficult to suppress the desire to live. Even if one does not deserve it.” He nods, and relaxes again. They return to their study of the grass, the meadow.

Abruptly, Geralt stands. Regis blinks up at him. “I’ve made my decision.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

°°°

The next day, Regis sends him off with a full potions pouch, polished swords, and a heavy coin purse. He also gives Geralt the better part of two dried hares, and some seasoning herbs. The witcher’s armor is returned to him— mostly cleaned and patched— as well. As Geralt is just outside the doorway, holding his bag, he stops and looks back at Regis. The higher vampire is leaning on the doorframe, fingers gripping the wood tightly enough to make it creak. He looks almost nervous.

“I… cannot thank you enough, witcher— Geralt— for this. Frankly, I owe you a life debt.”

Geralt, uncomfortable with such bold proclamations, swallows, and shifts about on his feet. “Well, don’t make me regret it,” he replies gruffly. Regis just laughs. They both fall silent, and look at the other. The quiet draws out. I should go. But Geralt doesn’t quite want to leave yet. “Have any ideas about what you’ll do, or where you’ll go?”

Regis’ gaze turns distant, contemplative. He sighs. “A change of location, I think, would… be beneficial for my new-found sobriety. As for a profession— well, it will require some study, but I have always been fascinated by the workings of the body. And if I do say so myself, I am already something of a decent herbalist. I think I could take to the profession of barber-surgeon quite nicely. And where better to begin such a profession but where the necessary ingredients grow plentifully: in Toussaint.”

Geralt blinks. That’s more of a coherent plan than I had expected. Hearing such a detailed idea of Regis’ future gives the witcher some hope that maybe this won’t turn out awfully after all. “Well, I’ve never been to Toussaint, but I have heard that it’s nice… perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to see it for myself someday.”

Regis inclines his head, eyes twinkling with amusement. “Perhaps you shall. Until that day arrives, may your travels be safe— or as safe as they can ever be for someone of your profession— and your coin purse full, witcher.”

He nods, and offers the higher vampire a small returning smile. “Thank you, Regis. I have a suspicion that if you put your mind to it, you could someday be the best damn barber-surgeon there ever was.” Regis is still laughing as Geralt turns around and begins to walk away. The witcher smiles a bit. It’s good to be on the Path again. And despite the fact that he has said goodbye to the higher vampire, he somehow doubts that their parting will be permanent.