tawny owl and black blood coursed through geralts veins, sizzling hot, like a swarm of angry hornets itching beneath his skin. the sound of his steady pulse pounded in his head, louder than the peeling of the mourning bells ringing out from beauclair’s grand cathedral - the news of sir milton de peyrac-peyrans murder having spread like the plague amongst the court. his breathing was ragged, faltering. no longer in time with the rhythm of his steps. geralt knew. he knew he was going to die here. no, it was more than that - he wanted to die here. he would be letting down the duchess, sure, but after all, what did he excel at more than the art of letting people down? the beast may go on to harm others, yes, but then so would he. was this not the lesser evil?
the clanking of the creatures razor-blade sharp claws squealing through the air like chalk scraping down slate startled geralt out of his thoughts. he feinted at the last minute and spun into a half-pirouette to parry the blow. his momentum was off-balance, however, and his bad leg - that vicious old wound that reminded him of everything he wanted to forget - crumbled underneath him. the pain was searing hot, rending through him like an iron poker pulled from the fire. geralt expected the beast to pounce on the opportunity, to cleave his flesh in twain and drain the life from him whilst he was rendered vulnerable, doubled over in agony and defeat. but it didnt. indeed, when geralt raised his head in weary curiosity, he noted something akin to pity in the beast's eyes - although it was quickly snuffed out. geralt lifted the back of his (trembling) hand to his mouth and wiped a little blood trickling from the corner of his split lip, then spoke.
“why do you delay the inevitable? you could have run me through - finished this game as i lay prone on the floor.”
the beast paused, seemed to consider this for a moment, and delivered his rebuke: “true, i could have. just as i could have run you through rather than continue this interlude of dialogue. but there would be no honour in such an action.”
“honour is something that concerns a murderer so greatly?”
“a murderer, i may be... but do you not feel as though you are a man speaking into a mirror, witcher ?”
geralt attempted to laugh. it came out bitter and strangled, rattled his lungs with a cough. “enough. let’s fight.”
“very well. if it be your wish.”
hanging parry. riposte. parry. pirouette. parry. they danced together in a wild frenzy, the metallic sound of sword clashing with claws echoing through the largely empty portside warehouse. the beast was fast, however, and geralt only managed to land a handful of successful counter-attacks between its near impenetrable defences. he drew the hilt of his silver sword backwards, preparing to thrust offensively. as the tip of geralt’s blade met the creature’s flesh it suddenly disappeared into a mist. geralt strained his ears and focused his senses, listening for the sounds of breathing or stiffened leather boots against rotting floorboards to betray the location of his foe. it was too late. the creature - a higher vampire, geralt now knew - was silent as the grave.
the beast materialised in front of him, claws set on a course to rip out geralt’s heart. this was it. there was no way he could evade the blow. geralt closed his eyes. no witcher had ever died comfortably in his bed, this was a truth universally known. he was ready. he was ready to die penniless and alone. he was ready to be laid to rest by the duchess and promptly forgotten about. he was ready to become a futile legend, alive only as a half-truth preserved in the ballads of the great master dandelion. geralt inhaled, breathing deep the humid southern summer air for the last time, and braced himself for the inevitable. but to his utter confusion - despite the distinct sickening squelch of skin and organs being torn apart - the impact never came. the witcher opened his eyes, yet he found himself unable to believe what he saw before them. and that scent, unmistakable - the scent of wormwood, basil, sage, aniseed and… cinnamon.
“you were to stay where you were - regenerate.” the beast snarled, though there was no real venom in the affected edge to his voice.
“i know you are in trouble. my friend, i beg, let me help you.” the oh so familiar voice urged in reply. it’s soothing cadence didn’t even waver, didn't quake in fear or pain, despite the gaping hole in it’s owner’s abdominal cavity .
“i’ll help myself.” there was true fury in the beast’s words this time. he punctuated the sentence by thrusting his hand through the wound it had left even further. the muscles and tendons along his arms quivered with an inhuman rage.
“no! he is my friend ,” regis cried out, his throat catching around the word (for it conveyed so little of what he truly wanted to say).
at this, the beast retracted his arm from the bloody sinew in which it had burrowed itself like a wretched worm. and then, quicker than geralt could blink, he was gone. the two men - one the epitome of humanity, the other barely human at all these days - were left alone, frozen in a state of bewildered silence. they were ghosts to each other, for each man had thought they would never see the other again.
it was the witcher who began to move first, albeit rather stiffly - both out of shock and from the toll the fight had taken on his body and spirit. the toxins from the potions he took earlier had cleared themselves from his bloodstream entirely, yet his heart still hammered in his throat. his fingers shook as he sheathed his silver sword. his legs felt as though they belonged to someone else altogether as he drew closer and closer to the spectre from his past. slowly, geralt took regis’ face in his hands, ran the pads of his weathered fingertips over the jaw, the cheeks, the chin of the man he never thought he would hold again. the skin was slightly elastic and pliable, for it had not yet completely fused together. but it was real. by melitele, modron freyja - hell, by whoever was listening - regis was real and in his hands again. without hesitation, geralt flung his arms around regis, the intimacy that he so feared from others coming as naturally to him now as the need to breathe air.
the memories came bubbling up then. he could see flashes of regis’ melted body against that wretched column in stygga castle. he could see the malice and hate and cruelty on vilgefortz’s face, illuminated grotesquely by the light of the fire that spewed forth from his wicked hands. he could see himself, crying out helplessly, unable to tear his gaze away as the mage robbed him of the man he had come to care for like no other. geralt had sat with the guilt of it for so long that it became a part of him. he carried it with him everywhere he went. it was heavy on his shoulders, heavy in the pit of his stomach, heavy in his limbs.
“i’m so sorry. i’m so sorry,” geralt chanted fervently, as though confessing his deepest and most shameful sins to a priest of the eternal fire, “it’s all my fault. i should never have asked it of you, the price you paid--”
“was a price i was fully aware of from the moment i chose to follow you,” regis cleared his throat, the weight of the confession almost embarrassing to him, “and, given the chance, i would do it again. if it were for you, i would die a thousand deaths.”
“please don’t. for my sake, please don’t. i can’t bear to lose you again.” geralt choked on his words, his emotions so intense that he could feel them burning and pulsing in his chest. he dragged his thumb across regis’ cheekbone again, traced the line of his smooth jaw, ran his fingers lightly over his lips, delighted in the feeling of regis’ warm breath tickling his skin.
regis smiled sadly then. “you know i am not in the habit of making promises that i cannot be certain i can keep, but i promise that i will try for you. heavens know i owe you as much.”
the guilt clawed at geralt’s heart yet again. he was owed nothing, he knew this. it was he who owed regis everything. and yet he couldn’t help it, the question he was not worthy of speaking tumbled out of geralt’s mouth nonetheless,
“perhaps…. perhaps it’s selfish of me to ask, but why … why didn't you look for me? when you had healed, when you got your strength back. you could have come back to me. i could have taken care of you. i could have taken you to kaer morhen, i could have--”
“my friend, i…. i thought you were dead. i heard the ballads, the stories told in hushed whispers in each and every tavern or inn south of the yaruga. i heard how geralt of rivia, the legendary white wolf, was stabbed by a pitchfork during the rivian pogrom of 1268. i heard how he lay there, bleeding out, amongst the open sewers and waste. i heard how lady yennefer of vengerberg lay beside him, one of the continent’s most powerful sorceresses, dying like a common rat in the filthy streets,” regis paused and winced for a moment, the memory clearly pained him so much so that he could still hardly bear to speak of it. then he laughed - heartily, and with such tenderness that geralt could not help but smile for the first time in a very long time - and continued, “it is rather amusing to think that all this while, as i have been staring up at the night sky yearning for answers, you have borne witness to the same stars as i.”
geralt was rather unsure what to say in reply to that. regis had always wielded words so beautifully, so honestly and purely, that he felt any sentence he could offer would merely sully the moment. he was a man of action after all, and so an action would have to suffice. geralt moved the hand not cradling the side of regis’ face to cup the back of the vampire’s head and threaded his fingers through the velvety hair at the nape of his neck. he hesitated briefly, suddenly aware of how dry his mouth felt. geralt’s tongue darted out of his mouth to wet his lips. inch by inch, he began to crane his head forward, closing what little gap remained between them. he looked regis in the eyes, searching them for some kind of sign that he should stop. when he was satisfied that there was no such indication, geralt kissed him.
it was a little awkward at first - regis’ fangs and geralt’s teeth clacked together as they collided and their noses bumped against each other uncomfortably. soon, however, they fell into their old rhythm. it wasn't life-changing, the world didn’t stop moving, no giants or gods applauded, but it was theirs . it was for them and no one else, the whole duchy be damned. they kissed until geralt’s lungs demanded that he surface for air. regis and geralt stood there, chests heaving, as they grinned at one another so wide that it made their cheeks ache. it wasn't until regis’ thumb carefully swiped underneath his eye that geralt realised he was crying.
curious. he did not weep for vesemir - the only father he had ever known. he did not weep for coën, for leo, for berengar or for lambert - his brothers in arms stolen from him too soon. he could not even weep for cirilla - his ward, his daughter, his… something more. but now, standing in this filthy warehouse saturated with the stench of sardines and herring baking on a hot summer's day, geralt wept.