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Matters of Trust

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The doors of the contraption swing shut on silent hinges. With a solid click, the lock snaps into place.

Fully encased in metal, Geralt closes his eyes. The air smells of blood, witcher blood, and that distinct monster stench that makes his nose itch – he ignores it, reaches towards the wisp of serenity taking shape inside him. Muscle by muscle, his body relaxes. The constant flow of sensory information eases. Geralt's breathing slows down to nothing.

When the mechanical hissing sets in, it's dull and far away. Drops of sticky condensation gather on his naked skin, unnoticed at first; they fall, their path down his body a prickling trail growing steadily more uncomfortable. Geralt frowns, shifts, inhales–

–and coughs, tastes the bite of toxins on his tongue. His instincts roar to life, piercing the forced lull in his thoughts, too late, as he feels the green-tinged gas enter his every pore, stinging his blinking eyes.

A rush of emotion: the smooth ceiling of a cavern, moss-covered walls; water dripping on his face, drip drip drip, consistent and unsettling; ropes around his wrists, a steady voice in the dark.

Drink.

Geralt swallows, chokes again as his throat burns

another voice orders him to breathe; same cavern, same walls but there's a tube in his mouth now, thin lips stretched around it; his body is on fire, his skin is melting; and all around him, heartbeats like his flicker and die like candles in a storm–

Geralt throws himself against the faint line of light seeping through the crack in front of him. He claws at his neck, his chest, wheezes out a groan that left his lungs as a scream.

The pain is always there and builds and builds and builds until all he longs for is darkness, the numbing touch of death to escape it all.

It takes hours, days perhaps: Finally, consciousness slips from his grasp.

***

Waiting usually comes easy to Regis.

After all what is a moment, a minute, an hour, a day to a century or four of experience?

Can time be truly wasted for someone with an eternal supply of it?

The blink of an eye, the snap of fingers – and kingdoms rise and fall, lives are born and ended, love is found and lost. Living even a thin slice of that eternity, it is hardly a surprise that most things deemed pressing at first turn out to be insignificant in the long run.

In this day, hour, minute, moment, Regis is restless, however. He is pacing from one wall to the other, there and back again, eyes and mind fixed on the sliver of moonlight crawling over the stone floor of his crypt. It's almost midnight: He wonders if they will make their move tonight, or if another idle day shall pass instead.

Regis pauses.

Maybe Dettlaff's rather impatient nature is rubbing off on him. Regis examines the twinge of frustration carefully and adjusts the thought. This situation is difficult for all of them. Surely the delay is justified.

The expected caw of a raven ends his musings. Regis crosses his temporary home in a few strides, murmuring a soft “There you are, my friend” to the bird landing on his desk. She's been with him for most of her life; her plumage is now dull and thin, betraying her age, but her eyes remain alert.

The White One approaches.

"Geralt?" Although the witcher's presence is always welcome, it's... not the information he hoped for. “And the mill. Any movement yet?”, he presses. She stares back and repeats herself, feathers ruffled with anxiety.

The White One approaches. Beware.

Regis' brows draw together. A warning? To his knowledge, much unlike cats, ravens are indifferent to witchers. Some of his informants seem to like Geralt, given the small treats he slips them here and there to be left in peace. It was a badly-kept secret for some time, but even a botched attempt at silence is a gift these loyal birds wouldn't grant just anyone.

Nevertheless, a raven never lies. Regis gives his friend her reward, a round pouch filled with all kinds of seeds and berries, and watches her fly out the bird-sized hole he created just for this purpose.

Before the vampire can decide what to make of her cryptic words, a stiff breeze wafts in, carrying the promise of a storm. Instinctively, Regis lifts his head, his sensitive nose catching the ever-present scent of death and decay that surrounds his home, a touch of rain – and the animalistic smell of something primal, something monstrous.

It's difficult to make out which kind; an insectuoid, perhaps, were it not for the lingering, mammal-like tang to it. Regis's frown deepens. Another problem on his ever-growing list.

On the other hand... This might offer a distraction from his restlessness, no matter how brief.

Fastening his vest properly, Regis grabs for his supply bag on his way out. Might as well gather some herbs while he's out – Geralt usually doesn't mind tagging along, and Regis doesn't mind giving him half of his pickings for the company.

With new purpose, the vampire gets as far as putting the key in the crypt's lock before the very door shakes under heavy knocks. His senses zero in on whoever is on the other side – rattling breaths, unsteady steps; the rasp of a hand against worn wood that creaks pitifully under the added weight – and the smell is stronger now, overpowering, almost.

“Regis...”

It's barely a whisper, no, a plea and Regis' eyes widen as he jumps to action, just shy of ripping the door from its hinges. That voice–

“Geralt”, he breathes. The witcher – his witcher – stumbles with the loss of his support, eyes half-lidded in a face paler than death, but it's the near-black lines of his veins disappearing into the folds of his dishevelled armor that make Regis' stomach turn with sudden dread.

One step, that's all Geralt manages. Knees buckling, he rasps, “Help me”, trying and failing to grasp Regis' sleeve on his way down; with movements faster than any human's, Regis catches him, drags him up until they're chest to chest and the witcher's head lolls against his neck. He hisses at the fever-hot touch of Geralt's skin on his own.

“Geralt, what in the world happened? Geralt?!”

There's no response.

The witcher goes slack in his arms.

*

Regis is little more than a blur as he carries Geralt inside and frees up enough space to lay him down, darting off to gather whichever supplies occur to him in that instant.

The makeshift cot allows just enough room to be comfortable for a man of Geralt's size, not that the witcher is currently aware of it. Indeed he barely twitches when Regis returns; a bowl, mortar and pestle, strips of cloth, herbs, various vials, and other medicinal equipment clatter to the ground. Not a second later, Regis' fingers dig beyond the collar of Geralt's jacket for a pulse – a second passes, then two.

Nothing.

Gritting his sharp teeth, the vampire holds himself back enough not to rip the intricate gear to shreds. Even with the knowledge how it works, the various clasps and strings won't cooperate instantly, slipping out of his shaking hands over and over.

Regis closes his eyes. Focus.

His next attempt goes smoothly; piece by piece, the armor falls away to reveal the witcher's sickly-white skin. With all barriers gone, he can hear the struggling heartbeat in Geralt's chest – slow, so, so slow – and places his hand over it.

“This is grave”, he mutters, feeling it throb weakly, too weak to keep him alive for much longer. “My dear Geralt, what did you get yourself into this time?”

Despite his pallor, the witcher is burning up, drenched in sweat and– Something else? Leaning in, Regis registers a green, sticky substance clinging to the dips and valleys of Geralt's scars. Up close, it's easier to distinguish as the source of the stench clouding Geralt's natural scent.

Poison?

His every instinct is screaming at him to stay away from it; frowning, the vampire quickly wets a clean cloth and starts wiping down every trace of the substance from Geralt's now-naked body. Not before taking a sample, though – if his hunch proves correct, an anti-toxin will be needed.

The water he wrings out is murky, and smells foul. Repeating the same motions, Regis's eyes trace every bit of skin for additional injuries. He finds very little: There's faint marks of human nails on his jaw, neck and chest, healed enough not to be an immediate concern. Scrapes and shallow cuts along both arms indicate a skirmish, more likely a fall. No infections, no bruising beyond what's to be expected.

Again, he leans close and inhales deeply. Geralt's blood – usually of a pleasantly vibrant quality – is... out of balance, in a way, like a perfectly still pond disturbed by a stone falling in its midst. How the ripples of this corruption will affect him cannot be measured or predicted.

If it weren't for that, Regis would say Geralt caught an especially nasty strand of the common cold.

Aside from the fact that witchers physically can't catch anything, of course.

On first glance, the raging fever seems to be the biggest drain on Geralt's strength. Thankfully, his kind works just like humans in that regard; after covering him in every blanket in his possession, Regis sets his remaining supply of White Willow, Meadowsweet and Yarrow to brew before returning to the witcher's side.

His gaze is automatically drawn back to Geralt's neck, to the darkened veins that inch closer to his chest. Regis narrows his eyes. A sudden hatred bubbles up for whatever – or whoever – did this to him. For an instant, he considers checking Geralt's bag for hints with which to determine the possible culprit, a diary or a bestiary of sorts – but one glance at his friend's slack face and Regis discards the idea.

He takes the kettle off the fire and pours the clear tea in a mug. While it cools, Regis cups Geralt's face with his left, carefully lifting first one lid, then the other. Even unconscious his pupils are contracted to slits, the bright gold of his irises unnaturally large. The surrounding sclera is a deep, bloodshot red that makes Regis wince in sympathy.

How he even managed to drag himself to Regis' doorstep in this state... He shakes his head solemnly. Geralt'll have some serious questions to answer once he wakes.

Stubbornly, the vampire banishes the thought of any other alternative from his mind.

Taking the tea, Regis raises Geralt's head as he places the mug against his lips, opening his mouth with gentle pressure. Sip by sip runs into the witcher's throat; suddenly, a flash of pain crosses Geralt's face and he turns away with a huffed groan, lids fluttering, flirting with consciousness.

Regis almost smiles.

“No Resonance this time, just tea. Drink, my friend.”

Trying again, Geralt swallows with some difficulty, once, twice, then he clenches his jaw, teeth resolutely shut. “Good”, Regis hears himself praise distractedly – his eyes are locked on the witcher's mouth, however, where the pointed tips of fang-like canines dig into his lower lip.

In all his time at Geralt's side, that particular mutation had remained hidden from sight. Or did it? Regis remembers seeing a big smile on the witcher's face here and there, rare as it was. And much like his eyes, a beast-like set of teeth shouldn't have escaped his attention...

Inspecting them closer turns out to be a challenge. Half-awake, Geralt jerkily evades Regis' inquisitive touches. Even a mildly judging “Please stop, I don't want to hurt you” doesn't help; lips thinning to a determined line, the vampire digs his thumb into Geralt's cheek, forcing his jaw open for a moment, just long enough to confirm–

Only his heightened senses save his fingers from getting bitten clean off as Geralt snaps, an inhuman growl rumbling deep in his throat. Regis finds himself on the opposite side of the room with his fangs bared in a matching snarl and his claws itching to show.

Then he blinks. Wrestling back control from his more feral instincts would be easier were Regis fully regenerated; as it stands, the other caught him utterly off-guard.

Geralt, on the other hand, behaves like an entirely different being than mere minutes ago. His intense gaze pierces Regis, sizing him up like an intruder, an enemy to be torn apart if need be, and only now does the state of his eyes seem more permanent than the mere bruising he previously observed. Even the hand he holds himself steady with is clawed, talons sharp and hooked almost like a griffin's.

To all intents and purposes, they look like mutations, more severe than anything Regis has seen except for some wild speculations in manuscripts of dubious origin. More severe, certainly, than anything he's witnessed on Geralt's body to date.

Do a witcher's mutations get progressively worse with age?

Highly unlikely, he denies, mind racing through every possible scenario he can think of. Geralt never mentioned anything of the sort when talking about Vesemir, and for a moment, Regis dwells on how little he actually knows about their kind. A clearly avoidable mistake, in hindsight.

Meeting Geralt's eyes, the doctor can't help but worry about his unchanged paleness, and how far the black tendrils of his veins have reached, coming together between the arch of his clavicles.

Then it all falls into place: the toxins, the fever, the corruption of his blood; the missing injuries and now, the progressing mutations...

Regis looks at what his friend has become and whispers,

“Oh Geralt, what did you do?”