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Geralt could hear soft, pained wailing the moment he reached the edge of what he’d come to think of as Regis’ cemetery, his heartbeat speeding up just the barest touch as he recognised the voice, pinpointed the source of the sound.

Regis. Regis was injured, or otherwise hurt, or… something.

Geralt tore the door to the crypt open, feeling the hinges give under the force, and descended the stairs at a gallop, as fast as his legs would take him.

He found Regis writhing in front of the fire, his dark eyes glazed, staring up at the ceiling, his normally kind face twisted with pain.

Geralt sniffed the air, expecting the distinctive scent of vampire blood, but only smelling the herbs and other normal smells he associated with Regis, and with his home.

Not an injury, then.

Regis’ eyes snapped to Geralt before he could think further, soft, pained recognition flaring in them.

The smallest measure of relief washed over Geralt--at least Regis was still there, still knew who he was.

He knelt down beside his friend, placing a steadying hand in the middle of his chest. His pulse was faster--faster by double--than usual, but it still seemed slow and steady.

Regis sobbed, a soft, pitiful sound that Geralt had never heard from him before.

“What do you need?” Geralt asked, hoping Regis was still aware enough to answer.

A sad, bitter laugh spilled from his lips, which answered more questions than Geralt had asked. Regis was still in there, still perfectly lucid, and whatever he needed was going to present a challenge.

That was fine. Geralt had travelled out here exactly because he had nothing better to do, though he’d been expecting quiet company instead of an urgent task.

“D-doesn’t…” Regis trailed off, curling into himself as an obvious wave of agony tore through him.

“It does matter,” Geralt growled angrily. If Regis could stop being a selfless, noble son of a bitch for just one second…

Exist,” Regis choked out.

Geralt frowned. How could he know what he needed if it didn’t exist?

“You mean it’s rare?” Geralt asked, figuring that even Regis, in this much pain, might have a little trouble lining up words and thoughts.

Regis shook his head. “Hypothetical,” he gritted out.

Geralt hesitated, then took some yarrow he’d picked up along the way out of his pouch. It was the only remotely safe painkiller he had on him, and maybe it wouldn’t work, either on whatever was happening to Regis or on vampires in general, but it had to be worth a shot.

Geralt needed him halfway coherent if he was going to explain what the hell he meant.

He shoved the flowers into Regis’ mouth, not giving him any chance to object. There was no point in holding his nose until he swallowed, but hopefully enough had passed between them that Regis would trust him, even in this state.

Geralt could hear Regis chewing, which seemed like a good sign.

After several minutes, a soft sigh of relief escaped Regis’ lips.

“How’s the pain?” Geralt asked.

“Incredible,” Regis groaned. “But dulled. Dulled enough to explain myself.”

“No time like the present,” Geralt prodded.

Regis closed his eyes, sadness washing over his face. “I’m afraid I might need you to use your witcher ingenuity to find a way to kill me, my friend.”

Geralt raised an eyebrow. “How about we explore another option or two first?”

“I suspect it would be easier to accomplish-” Regis paused, tensing in pain for a moment, gritting his teeth. “Than finding the blood of my mate.”

“Your mate?” Geralt asked.

He supposed he knew vampires mated, but…

Regis didn’t seem the type to never mention something like that. Or, for that matter, to mate in the first place.

“And you hit upon the problem. Hypothetical, non-existent mate. I wager I’d have a difficult time finding one in this state. And thus my punishment is perfect.”

Punishment. Regis had been intentionally cursed.

The other vampires thought Dettlaff really was dead. That was the story they’d spun, after all, to protect him as he escaped and to soothe the fears of the residents of Beauclair. A fiction convincing enough to have put Regis in real danger.

It was obviously a carefully thought out punishment, to require a blood addict to drink from his mate--a mate he didn't have, who they knew he didn't have.

And even if he did have one, or found one, there was every chance he might kill them in the attempt, overcome by bloodlust.

A fate worse than death, whichever way you looked at it.

Geralt swallowed. This was his fault. Regis hadn’t gotten away quickly enough, and the other vampires had already exacted their revenge.

“So we find you a mate,” Geralt said.

That same bitter laugh rang in his ears.

“You make it sound so simple.”

“I didn’t say it’d be easy. What do you need from a mate?”

“Sentience,” Regis began, as though that wouldn’t be obvious. “Willingness,” he added. “And… I would need to care for them.”

“You care for everyone,” Geralt pointed out.

Something unidentifiable passed over Regis’ face. “Perhaps.”

His whole body tensed again, a cut-off moan making Geralt’s heart ache. He couldn’t leave Regis like this, not for a moment longer than necessary.

A plan was beginning to form in his head, but it was the kind of plan that made his stomach churn. Ill-considered, almost certainly doomed to make things worse in the long run.

“So if I rode to the docks…?”

“And found someone willing to trade coin for, uh, services?” Regis asked, one eyebrow raised in what almost looked like amusement. “You fundamentally misunderstand what a mate is. It has nothing to do with… physical intimacy, and doesn’t even require it. It is a deeper, more profound thing than that.”

Geralt pursed his lips, suitably chastised.

“Okay, so, it’s not about sex, but… desperate times and all…”

“Do not necessitate tying one’s soul to a stranger for eternity,” Regis said.

A strong sense of deja vu washed over Geralt at that.

And yet, for whatever reason, the new plan forming in his mind made him feel calmer than the last one. At least he’d been here before.

“How about a friend?” Geralt asked.

Regis’ eyes widened. He opened his mouth to object, but something else washed over his face. Something that told Geralt that would work, whatever Regis was about to say.

“Geralt, I couldn’t-

Geralt held up a hand to stop him.

“But it would work,” he said.

Regis turned his face away, looking to the small fire glowing beside him. “Yes,” he said softly, like a child admitting to some misdeed.

“Then it wouldn’t be the first time I tied my soul to a friend’s,” Geralt said. “In the interest of saving their life.”

“I’m not dying,” Regis said. “That is more or less the point of this.”

“And I’m not walking away and leaving you in agony.”

“It’s too much. You don’t understand,” Regis objected.

“Also not new,” Geralt pointed out. He was used to not entirely understanding things and still rushing headlong into them.

Anything else would have been out of character.

The more he thought of this, the better the plan seemed. A neat solution, if ever there was one.

Geralt had spent so much of his life tied to another person that he was actually starting to miss the feeling. Regis, at least, wasn’t in the habit of using him for his own means.

Besides, like he said, it wasn't about sex. It was about closeness, a personal bond.

They already had that. This would just be… a more formal version of it.

It wasn't as though Geralt was likely to get any other serious offers. Shani walking away still stung.

Neither Triss nor Yen were speaking to him at the moment, and he wasn’t sure he wanted them to, either.

Most of the other people he could ever have imagined himself having anything serious with were dead, or spoken for.

Regis was all he had left, and he wasn't about to watch him go mad with pain if there was another way. Any other way.

Besides, breaking curses was what witchers did.

“Will it hurt me?” Geralt asked. “Injure me in any way?”

Regis shook his head. “Of course not. I understand it’s very… pleasant, in fact.”

That was all Geralt needed to know.

“Then how do we…?”

Regis bit down on his lower lip, fangs digging into it. The look was almost endearing, but Geralt wasn’t about to give in.

The obvious thing, the thing Regis wasn’t saying, was that he didn’t have a whole lot of options.

One, really. One friend left, one strange, desperate witcher who’d lost too many friends himself to have the heart to lose another one.

Regis had died for him once. Geralt was willing to do the same.

Whatever Regis might say, or think, this was hardly a fate worse than death for him. Not if it worked. Anything was better than leaving Regis to suffer.

“Tell me,” he growled.

Regis swallowed.

“It’s very simple. Trivial, even. All it takes is the intention in your heart to take a mate, and a kiss-”

Geralt lunged, pressing his lips to Regis’.

He wanted to be Regis’ mate, to save him from the fate that had befallen him for being Geralt’s accomplice, to put an end to his suffering.

It was the very least he owed him.

Regis’ lips were soft under his, slack with surprise, the barest reciprocation making Geralt’s heart leap oddly in his chest, a feeling he couldn’t quite name.

It was… strange, to kiss Regis. He was cool to the touch, but not by any means cold. His skin was smoother than Geralt had expected, the hair on his cheeks much softer than Geralt’s own beard. An odd, deceptively delicate thing under him.

Fragile, almost, though Geralt knew better than to think he could break Regis even if he wanted to. Regis was one of few creatures for whom killing Geralt would be practically effortless, if he ever decided to.

In his heart, though, he trusted that Regis would sooner kill himself than do that. Indeed, he’d proven more than once that harm coming to Geralt was unacceptable to him.

Geralt backed off, his chest heaving and his eyes wide, surprised at himself.

He didn’t feel any different, but then, he hadn’t last time, either. Not really.

Some part of him had imagined that a formal mating arrangement, something with weight and history, might be more intense, more obvious at least.

Regis sighed softly, pain leaving his features for a moment.

“Delightful as that was,” he began. “If you’d let me finish, you would have heard to the palm of the hand.”

The tips of Geralt’s ears burned so fiercely he was glad they were in the dark. He wasn’t prone to blushing--there was even a legend that witchers couldn’t--but right now, he felt like an idiot.

And as though his eagerness to kiss Regis had been a little…

Well, eager.

Instead of dwelling on it, he took Regis’ hand in his own, plucking his glove off and then raising it to his face.

Regis looked frightened. Geralt had never seen him like this before, but he understood.

If there was the faintest glimmer of another way, though, Regis would have been howling at him to stop.

As it was, he lay there, face twisting in pain every so often, but obviously resigned to his fate. Grateful, even, beyond the uncertainty.

Pressing a soft kiss to the palm of Regis’ hand was the easiest thing in the world, and Geralt knew that the wish in his heart to become his mate was sincere.

Motivated by a desire to save one of his oldest and dearest friends from pain that, Geralt suspected, would have killed him from the shock if he’d been mortal, but sincere nonetheless.

He pulled his own glove off and offered his palm to Regis, suddenly wary of rejection. What if Regis couldn’t bear to do this, to bind himself to a scruffy witcher who brought nothing but trouble and misery with him whenever they met?

His worry was soothed a moment later as Regis’ lips touched the palm of his hand.

What felt like a lightning bolt rushed down Geralt’s spine, sudden and intense, but not painful. Not painful at all.

Warm pleasure bloomed in the pit of his stomach, a sense of deep, utter contentment settling over him.

Oh.

That was more like what he’d been expecting, but he hadn’t been ready for it.

Regis’ back arched off the ground, and for a moment Geralt thought it was simply more intense for the vampire, but then a soft groan of pain escaped him.

Right. This was only part of the solution.

The second part was a lot riskier.

But if Geralt was in for a copper…

He might as well be in for a crown.

Geralt lifted Regis’ slight form, pulling him up to his knees, and closed his eyes as he guided Regis’ mouth to his neck.

There were other ways, he supposed. He might have bled himself into a cup, or opened a vein on his wrist, but no. No, this seemed like the right way.

And if Regis did drain him dry…

No, he wouldn’t. All of Geralt’s senses told him that this was safe. He trusted Regis.

“Geralt,” Regis murmured, shifting against him. The sound was broken, one part pain, one part unspeakable gratitude.

The agony of Regis’ fangs sinking into Geralt’s neck was white-hot, but only for the first moment.

Pleasure seared its way through Geralt’s veins, pooling low in his belly, making him feel tight and tense so quickly his head spun.

He was suddenly very, very glad Regis wasn’t pressed against him at hip-level. His reaction to being bitten was immediate, and, uh… textbook.

Those tomes about raising humans to keep had been right about what happened when a vampire they weren’t afraid of bit them.

He hoped, desperately, that they were wrong about vampires being able to taste arousal in blood. Or failing that, he hoped that Regis would be too busy recovering to care, or notice.

Geralt had expected Regis to drink from him until he felt light-headed, but the whole thing was over in perhaps two mouthfuls, Regis withdrawing his fangs gently and lapping at the wound.

Every touch of his tongue sent another jolt of arousal spiralling down, but Geralt had been through worse things trying to save someone.

Much worse things. Regis was a sensible man. He would have known Geralt couldn’t help his reaction, and wouldn’t judge him for it.

After a few moments of breathing heavily, Regis pushed back, moving to kneel on his own, without Geralt’s support.

The pain was gone from around his eyes.

Geralt swallowed.

“That worked,” he said, knowing it to be true.

Regis nodded. It was a rare day when he was silent.

“I expected you to take more,” Geralt said.

Resignation swept over Regis’ face, but his features finally settled on tired fondness, a look Geralt was used to seeing on him.

“Can you wait until morning for an explanation in full?” Regis asked. “Sleep… calls to me.”

Geralt nodded, suddenly exhausted as well.

At least his evening hadn’t been uneventful.

“I can wait,” he said. “Mind if I…” he gestured at the space in front of the fire, the desire to curl up there, even on the stone floor, overwhelming.

“There is a bed,” Regis offered.

Geralt shook his head, already moving toward the warmth. His bones were too heavy to even crawl his way to a bed just now.

A few seconds later, he found a soft pillow being shoved under his head and a blanket draped over him.

Sleep took him before he could so much as murmur his thanks.

***

Regis woke to the familiar dark of his crypt, though the noises he could hear coming from above ground told him that the sun had risen some time ago.

It took him much, much longer than it should have to realise that he was holding someone’s hand.

That there was someone curled up behind him.

A few seconds of surprise ended as Regis remembered the events of the night before, already a hazy memory.

Geralt.

But Geralt had gone to sleep in front of the fire, and yet now…

Now he was holding Regis more or less the way a child would hold a stuffed animal for comfort.

Oh.

He’d expected…

He’d expected a continuation of the close friendship he enjoyed with the witcher. He’d expected that Geralt’s feelings toward him wouldn’t have been nearly strong enough to form this kind of bond.

When he’d agreed, Regis had been imagining a platonic life partner, a man who’d always be there for him, love him like a brother.

Which wasn’t entirely consistent with the witcher in question having curled up beside him in the night. Without managing to wake Regis in the process.

That was another side-effect of the bond, he supposed. Geralt hadn’t registered as a threat to him in a long time, but he’d still been aware of him.

Now, he knew for certain he was safe. Hurting one’s mate was…

Well, not strictly impossible, but not something either of them had the capacity for. They were both capable of great destruction, but not cruelty.

“What the…?” Geralt murmured as he woke, tightening his grip on Regis momentarily while he assessed his surroundings.

“Did you move me?” he asked after a moment.

“I believe you moved yourself,” Regis said calmly. This development had the potential to be upsetting, so he planned on being cautious in addressing it.

“I don’t…” Geralt trailed off, and a moment later, Regis heard him swallow thickly. “Oh. Yeah, I… guess.”

“Perhaps you were cold,” Regis said, as though he had warmth to offer. He knew why Geralt was here, but he hadn’t known it would happen, and he wasn’t sure how to explain.

“I needed to touch you,” Geralt responded, conviction in his voice, and no panic, no uncertainty.

That was… unexpected.

“Ah,” Regis said, then cleared his throat delicately. “I imagined… I believed… that is to say…”

“Might as well tell me,” Geralt said.

It hadn’t escaped Regis’ attention that Geralt’s nose was pressed to the back of his neck.

He wondered if it had escaped Geralt’s, though.

“Like vampires themselves, all mating bonds are unique,” Regis said softly. “I expected ours to be that of old friends promising to look after each other until the end of their days. Comfortable, like a well-worn pair of boots.”

Geralt’s hand moved away from where it had been curled around Regis’ waist, and before Regis could stop him, the other man was standing.

“Sorry,” Geralt said. “I was half-asleep when I came to join you. Won’t happen again.”

Regis bit down on his lip, closing his eyes. He was grateful Geralt couldn’t see his face, because he was certain that his feelings on the matter were written on it as plainly as if they’d been printed in bold black letters.

He had to make a choice, and he had no idea what the right path to take was.

Perhaps Geralt would have preferred not to feel attached to a vampire. Not this attached, in any case.

He could lie. Say it was an early effect of the bond, that it would pass. Maybe it even would, if they parted ways now.

Geralt had done more than enough for him. The least Regis owed him was to let him keep his freedom.

“No need to apologise,” Regis said evenly. “I just never imagined you as a cuddler.”

Geralt snorted, and Regis could hear the embarrassment in it, but decided it was kinder to pretend he hadn’t. That this was all normal, and expected, and nothing to think twice about.

He missed Geralt’s touch already, a dull ache settling in his heart.

That thought was enough to make him roll over, face Geralt so that he could at least look at him.

“You drank from me,” Geralt said. “You gonna be okay?”

Regis laughed softly. Geralt had, inadvertently, given him another gift in trying to help him. “One facet of the uniqueness of this particular bond is that at present, the thought of drinking from anyone but you is… repulsive. Physically repulsive, not just psychologically. I don’t think I could touch anyone else, and even if I could, I wouldn’t enjoy it enough to be a danger to them.”

“Huh,” Geralt said softly. “Is that… common?”

Regis took a moment to consider his answer. “Yes and no. Obviously, it is uncommon for a vampire to have any desire not to drink from humans. So this specific effect is not common. However, it is… part of what taking a mate is supposed to be about. Finding someone who can make up for your own… inadequacies.”

“So I should expect…?” Geralt asked, trailing off, obviously not sure how to finish the question.

“Some benefit from this, yes,” Regis said. “Although I can’t immediately think of a way in which you might be inadequate.”

Geralt chuckled at that. “Maybe I don’t have cat eyes anymore,” Geralt said.

“You do,” Regis said. “This would be something you actually want to change. Perhaps subconsciously, perhaps not. Perhaps even more than one thing. I may yet discover other changes, but that one is… particularly profound. I can’t thank you enough for the peace you’ve granted me.”

“Hey, if I’d known it was that simple all this time…” Geralt trailed off. “I don’t regret it. Already lost you once.”

Regis couldn’t help smiling at that. “Your kindness, as ever, does you credit.”

“Do you need anything? Before I go?” Geralt asked.

“Nothing I can’t manage myself,” he said. There was a residual weakness that Regis was almost used to now, but he’d survive.

And, aside from anything else, having a mate would make him stronger, speed his recovery. Especially a mate like Geralt, who could give even a higher vampire a hard time when it came to strength and speed.

It was surreal to think of himself as having a mate. He’d never expected to take one--or rather, never expected to find anyone who’d have him. Not even for the sake of his friendship.

He’d definitely never expected it to be Geralt. Not in all of his long years.

Much as he might have liked the idea.

“Look after yourself, Regis,” Geralt said, strapping swords and belts about his person.

“And you, Geralt.” Regis nodded to him, his heart sinking in his chest.

Some part of him--some stupid, hopeful part--had thought that perhaps Geralt would stay. At least for a little longer.

The thought that he might leave for good crossed Regis’ mind, blind panic pushing out all other thoughts for a moment. He knew what Geralt’s relationship with Yennefer had been like. It seemed that the moment Geralt bonded with anyone, he immediately felt the need to escape them.

An ache settled in the pit of Regis’ stomach at the thought of not seeing Geralt for months, perhaps years, but he knew better than to try and stop him. Geralt would only grow to resent him if he turned into a needy mess now.

Geralt simply nodded to him, and then walked away.

***

On the way back to Corvo Bianco, Geralt ran into a merchant selling Ofieri linens, and for reasons he didn’t entirely understand, walked away with an armful of them.

Normally, he trusted Barnabas-Basil with things like this. The most he’d done about the decor in the vineyard was hang a few weapons and paintings on the wall, display a suit or two of armour.

Perhaps it was time he did pay it some mind, after all. He’d never really had a home before, not one that was his own, and his alone.

He picked a handful of wildflowers, too, on the way back, savouring the sweet fragrance and smiling to himself at the thought of brightening the place up with them.

Almost everyone who knew him would have assumed he’d gone mad, or been replaced by a doppler who didn’t know him at all.

It felt right, though. It was what Geralt wanted, all of a sudden, now that he’d solved all of Toussaint’s immediate witcher-relevant problems. He wanted to rest, to enjoy the small pocket of peace he’d carved out for himself.

Barnabas-Basil greeted him in the large main room of the house, as ever, and accepted the linens with a raised eyebrow, but a small hum of satisfaction once he was done appraising them.

“Excellent choice, sir,” he said approvingly. “I see you have a keen eye for quality.”

Geralt shrugged. All he’d done was touch them and decide he liked the softness.

“I… thought it was time I took a closer interest in this place. Made it more… mine.”

The majordomo nodded in understanding.

He was a smart man. One of the smartest Geralt had ever met, right up there with very old druids, sages, and the vampire who’s company he’d just left.

Thinking of Regis, Geralt cleared his throat. “Uh, I should let you know now that it’s… possible that a man will come to visit, maybe when I’m not here. He’s a surgeon and a healer by trade, soft-spoken, grey hair. Name’s Regis. If he does show up, make sure he’s comfortable. He’s a friend.”

It was probably better not to try to explain that he was a vampire, and now Geralt’s mate. He trusted Barnabas-Basil, and maybe it was something he could understand, but it seemed like a big risk to take right now. Especially considering recent vampire-related events.

“Of course, sir,” the other man nodded. “He will be well taken care of.”

“Thanks.” Geralt smiled.

It was nice to be home.

***

A stab of guilt hit Regis square in the gut as he materialised in Geralt’s bedroom, the knowledge that he was absolutely overstepping a boundary making him deeply, fundamentally uncomfortable.

The discomfort of distance was worse, though. Worse by several orders of magnitude. It had started out painful and developed to the point of being unbearable as the day progressed, until he couldn’t stand it anymore come nightfall.

Geralt, as it turned out, wasn’t exactly sleeping peacefully either.

Regis’ heart sank. He thought, perhaps, that he could spend a few minutes here, soothe his own stress at being separated from his mate, and then disappear without Geralt ever knowing he’d been present.

Right up until he found Geralt tossing and turning in his bed, reaching out for a body that wasn’t there.

Regis’ body.

The vampire swallowed, uncertain about what he should do. Geralt had left in a hurry this morning, and his feelings should have been clear.

Except… when were Geralt’s feelings ever clear, to anyone, himself included?

In the few moments he was paralysed by indecision, Regis found his choice taken away from him. Geralt had woken, pretty golden eyes staring directly at the intruder in his room.

Regis froze, not sure what to expect. Anything from being attacked to unceremoniously thrown out seemed likely.

Instead, Geralt lifted the quilt he was lying under and shuffled back, the invitation clear.

It took Regis a few moments to remember how to shift to his mist form so he could shed his clothes quickly enough to save Geralt getting impatient.

Well, most of his clothes. He knew well enough to leave his underwear and shirt on.

The moment he curled up in the space Geralt had just been sleeping in, his warmth still present in the sheets and the mattress, Regis felt a weight lift from his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said, regretting that he’d done this to Geralt, to both of them. If he’d only been more careful, if he’d avoided the obvious trap of a young woman screaming for help…

But then, he never would have been able to forgive himself for that, either.

Perhaps to a lesser extent than trapping one of the best and most noble humans who’d ever walked the earth into a magical marriage with, firstly, a man, and secondly, a vampire.

Regis was fairly sure that was the order in which Geralt would care about each of his more disagreeable characteristics. Humans were very strange about such things.

“Don’t be,” Geralt said. “Glad you’re here.”

Regis’ heart leapt in his chest, the out-of-sync beat knocking him off balance.

“That isn’t what I was apologising for,” Regis pointed out, unsure he wanted to have this discussion, but feeling he owed it to Geralt.

“I know.” Geralt smiled a small, indecipherable smile at him. “Still glad you’re here.”

“Oh,” Regis said softly. For once in his life, he found himself at a loss for words.

“Go to sleep,” Geralt said. “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

The morning sounded promising. That meant a whole night within arm’s reach of his mate.

Regis closed his eyes, allowing Geralt’s familiar heartbeat to lull him to sleep.

***

Geralt smiled across the table as he watched Regis put a dent in the over-generous spread Marlene had produced for breakfast when she’d heard he had a guest.

She’d recognised Regis as a vampire right away. Something about her time as a wight gave her sharper senses when it came to things like that.

She’d also confessed to having had a vampire friend or two in her younger days, and Geralt decided not to push further on that subject. He supposed Orianna had been around for a long time.

Regis had charmed her anyway, from the first moment, because that was what he was like. Good with people.

“I’ve never seen you eat this much in one sitting,” Geralt said after a moment, astounded that Regis had easily been keeping pace with him and was still eating eagerly now that Geralt was well and truly sated.

“I have feared any kind of indulgence for so long,” Regis explained between mouthfuls. “Denied myself almost all comforts out of some combination of atonement and concern that if I enjoyed anything, anything at all, I might not be able to stop.”

“And now…?” Geralt asked, unsure what exactly had changed.

“Now I have an anchor,” Regis said. “And ironically, that has set me free.”

Geralt wasn’t sure he entirely understood, but he got the general picture. Something about the mating process had changed some part of Regis that he’d always been ashamed of.

He trusted Regis to know himself. He’d been doing a good job of it so far.

“So keep the larder stocked for you,” Geralt said. “Got it.”

Regis looked over at him. “That almost sounded like an invitation to stay,” he said softly.

Geralt blinked at him. “I thought… I assumed the invitation was implied.”

Something that Geralt wanted to call embarrassment flitted over Regis’ features, despite the fact that it didn’t quite seem to fit with what he knew of his friend’s personality.

“Ah, well… I suppose it’s been stated clearly now,” Regis said. “If I’d realised before…”

“I’ve been collecting strays from around the entire duchy and you didn’t think you were welcome here?” Geralt asked, raising an eyebrow.

Regis opened his mouth, then closed it, huffing a laugh. “I suppose I am a bit of a stray,” he said.

“You don’t have to be,” Geralt said. “If… if it’s safe for you to stick around.”

“I have borne my punishment,” Regis said. “Tradition and custom has been satisfied. I may not be entirely welcome, but I will be permitted. And you know how I feel about the company of other vampires.”

“You sure they’re not gonna be unhappy that it didn’t last all that long?”

Regis chuckled. “I think they’d consider the solution a far greater punishment than the initial curse.”

Geralt’s heart sank.

This was the second time he’d bound someone to him who didn’t want to be there. He really needed to take a lesson from that.

“I do not share their opinion,” Regis assured him just as despair was about to set in.

Geralt looked up, surprised.

“I only fear that I have put you in an uncomfortable position. Your need for contact was not something I could have foreseen.”

“You came to me this time,” Geralt said. Not that he was complaining.

He’d always liked having Regis around. Always felt a little safer in his company, slept a little easier knowing that he was keeping watch, even if he was asleep as well.

“My need for contact is less of a surprise,” Regis said. “I simply imagined myself more able to resist.”

Geralt smirked. “You calling me irresistable?”

A smile played around Regis’ lips. “In a manner of speaking.”

Geralt remembered, in that moment, the intensity of the arousal he’d felt when Regis sunk his fangs into him.

Part of him wanted to ask if Regis had enjoyed it, too, if he’d gone to bed hard and wanting, overwhelmed like he could never quite remember being before.

Geralt was the first to admit that it didn’t take much to turn him on. Witchers were like that, he supposed, based on the reputation they’d acquired for themselves as, uh, promiscuous.

Unlike Regis, Geralt wasn’t inclined to deny himself much of anything--if he went without, it was because he had no choice.

He’d often had no choice.

He just wasn’t sure if this was one of those times. Or if he should even bring it up.

Or, hell, if he even wanted to bring it up.

He got halfway through thinking that he’d never seen Regis like that before discarding the thought as bullshit.

It’d never been so intense, but he remembered their time together, the warm glow of giddy arousal in his belly when Regis cast an eye over him, when he smiled Geralt’s way. At the time, he’d ignored it. Forced himself not to think about it.

Yen would have killed him. Possibly literally, back then. Back when they still seemed to have something.

Regis had been everything she wasn’t, and Geralt had wanted that.

Still wanted it.

Dammit.

How did you even seduce a vampire? Especially a weird vampire, and Regis… Regis was weird, no matter which way you looked at him.

Geralt’s attention came back to the present when Regis sighed and leaned back in his chair, one hand laid over his belly, thumb rubbing idly at the coarse fabric of his clothes.

His head was tilted back, eyes closed, and he looked more content than Geralt had ever seen him.

A tiny bubble of joy welled up in Geralt’s heart at the thought that his mate was beautiful.

There were… a lot of things about that thought that came as a surprise, but Geralt let the thought wash over him as fact.

He had a mate. It was Regis. And Regis was beautiful.

All of that was impossibly exciting in ways Geralt had never known he could get excited before. The joy felt so pure, childlike, and he’d thought he was far too world-weary to feel anything like that.

“So tell me,” Regis said after a long moment of silence. “What’s next for Geralt of Rivia?”

Geralt shrugged. “Wait for someone to put a bounty on a monster head, I guess,” he said. “Know of any causing trouble?”

“Aside from myself, you mean?” Regis drawled, amusement laced through his tone.

“You’re mostly harmless,” Geralt said. “And cutting your head off wouldn’t accomplish much.”

“You couldn’t, anyway,” Regis said. “Not now.”

Geralt nodded. He’d sensed as much.

“You couldn’t hurt me either, could you?”

Regis shook his head. “But then, I could never have hurt you. Not the bright-eyed witcher with so much righteous fury, such a strong sense of what was good and right that anyone who wanted that for themselves couldn’t help but follow him. I suppose that’s why I got what I did out of the mating. I have always wanted your certainty for myself. And now I have it, in a way that most benefits me.”

Geralt hummed, considering that. He still hadn’t quite worked out what he’d gotten out of it, though he did feel… different, in some indefinable way.

“I can practically hear the cogs turning in your brain,” Regis said. “Trying to work out what you could possibly have admired about me.”

“Your patience,” Geralt said without a moment’s hesitation. He’d admired a lot of things about Regis, but his unflappable patience was what Geralt envied. What he would have liked for himself.

The thing was, he didn’t feel any more patient than usual.

Regis smiled at that. “Flattering, thank you. And do you feel an overwhelming sense of the vastness of eternity settling over you?”

Geralt shook his head. He would have noticed something as existentially challenging as that.

“And yet you are content to wait here for your next task, rather than returning to your Path. And in the last twenty-four hours you’ve acquired new linens and a house guest, who would indeed like to take advantage of your hospitality.”

Geralt was relieved to hear that Regis planned to stay, but he could tell there was a conclusion coming, and he wanted to know what it was.

Regis smirked at him. “You’ve developed my nesting instinct,” he said after a moment. “Which, to you, is patience. The patience to sit in one place and be content. Your own personal much-craved peace.”

Huh.

Geralt turned that thought over in his head a few times, and then decided that it made sense. It definitely explained the linens.

“I picked flowers, too,” he admitted.

A slow, warm smile spread across Regis’ features, his fangs catching his lower lip.

Geralt tried not to stare at them.

“A charming mental image.”

“Nesting instinct?” Geralt asked after a few moments, realising that while the idea made sense, it was the first he’d heard of it.

“Perhaps you’d rather I referred to this place as your lair? People do like to make vampires seem vastly more sinister than they are.”

“Witchers, too,” Geralt said. “But… no, I get it now. I guess I just never thought of you as much of a nester.”

“Lack of opportunity,” Regis said. “But I am always eager to call somewhere home. Some of the fondest memories of my life come from travelling with you and our mutual friends, but… given a choice, I prefer to stay put.”

Geralt hummed at that.

Maybe, when Regis said he’d stay, he meant he’d stay. Permanently, even.

That same excitement welled up in Geralt’s chest again.

“Well, when you think you can move again, I’ll give you the tour of the grounds,” he offered.

Regis smiled at that. “In a moment, my dear. In a moment.”

***

Some part of Regis had expected the discussion of their sleeping arrangements to be awkward. He’d expected, for a start, to be informed at some point that the guest room had been made up for him.

That never happened. Instead, Geralt rose from his armchair in the cosy little side room adjacent the main hall, informed Regis that he was going to bed, and then walked away.

Which, Regis supposed, was awkward in its own way. At least he wouldn't have to argue the logic of sleeping in the same bed, though.

He gave Geralt a few minutes to get comfortable, and then rose himself and slipped into the bedroom.

Geralt was already curled up, and to someone who couldn't hear his heartbeat, he might even have appeared to be peacefully asleep.

Regis knew better.

All the same, he set about undressing the traditional way this time, in no particular hurry.

After a few moments, he could feel Geralt's eyes on him, studying him intently.

It shouldn't have bothered him. His mate was allowed to look at him, obviously.

But this strange bond wasn't done settling yet. Regis wanted to be near, but feared reaching out to touch.

Geralt had invited him to share his bed, but for sleep.

And it wasn't that he was so desperate for sex that that was what was making him uncomfortable. Even if this was Geralt, a man he’d always…

Well, wanted. No point in lying to himself.

Every point, perhaps, in lying to Geralt. If he’d been too afraid of losing a friend to say anything, he needed to be doubly afraid, now. Losing his mate’s approval would break him.

Perhaps this was a more torturous curse than the initial one.

“Do you even need to sleep?” Geralt asked after a moment. “I mean, normally. Regularly.”

Regis looked up, thrilled to have the distraction from his own thoughts. “Of course. I am still a creature of flesh and blood.”

Geralt hummed at that. “Good. I wouldn't want you just… humouring me.”

A smile turned up the corner of Regis’ lips.

“I had worried that you might think I was taking advantage,” he said.

Geralt raised an eyebrow.

“Humans are very warm. You especially. Even if I didn't need to sleep, I’d take the opportunity to be near one I knew I could trust.”

“I didn't know that,” Geralt said. “Starting to think I tied myself to a man who has a lot of secrets.”

“They are all yours to ask after,” Regis said. “You already know about the darkest chapters of my life. You know what I am at my worst. I won't hesitate to tell you anything you might be curious about.”

“Am I your first mate?” Geralt asked, leaping at the opportunity.

Regis nodded, unsurprised the question had come up. “Yes,” he said simply, for once in his life not rushing to qualify his statement.

Geralt hummed, apparently taking that information in his stride.

“Dettlaff changed because of Syanna, didn't he?”

Regis swallowed, not entirely sure he liked the direction this conversation was going in. All the same, he sat down on the edge of the bed.

His hand landed in the centre, near enough to soothe his need to be close to Geralt for the moment.

“I believe so,” Regis said softly. He’d had time to think about this. “I think… I suspect they were very ill-suited to one another. Detlaff would have admired her confidence, and because it was twisted in the first place, he got something… else.”

Geralt sighed. “Thing I'm learning about crowned heads is that they're not good people.”

Regis couldn't help smiling at that. “An important life lesson for one who deals with them so often. I believe that… in time, the influence will wane. Once Syanna dies.”

A moment of silence passed between them, and then Geralt took a breath to speak.

“I'm afraid of turning you into a monster,” he said, his voice surprisingly soft.

Regis blinked at him. “And here I was, celebrating how much more human I can already feel myself becoming.”

Geralt swallowed. “Witchers aren't human.”

“And you also can't catch it from them,” Regis said. “Although I think I’d make a very good witcher, if I found myself in a position to be one. Though I'm not sure the mutations would take.”

“Would you want them to?” Geralt asked. “Would you want to be stripped of all your feelings, turned into little more than a killing machine?”

Regis’ heart ached for his mate. “You know you have feelings, my dear Geralt. I could name a hundred times I've seen you display the depth of them, good and bad. But most recently… you took an incredible risk to save a friend, with no thought for the consequences for yourself. And I can see that decision is causing you no small amount of pain now.”

Geralt shook his head. “Not the decision. Just… I can't… I don't understand how I feel. Or why.”

Regis made a soft, pained sound, and finally crawled into the bed beside Geralt, curling up close to him, but not quite touching.

His heart leapt into his throat as Geralt reached out to squeeze his hand.

“You need to give yourself time to understand,” Regis said softly, a sense of calm washing over him.

Whether or not Geralt understood, Regis did. He could feel love and want rolling off his mate, and while he could see both feelings were a surprise…

He also knew that they were the result of their new bond breaking down a well-sealed door. Which was bound to be difficult to deal with.

Geralt, in spite of his age and experience, pouted.

Regis felt his eyes widen with delight, but tried to stop himself from smiling.

“Why the palm of the hand?” Geralt asked after a moment.

“Supplication,” Regis said. “Not unlike humans promising to love, honour, and obey.”

“Huh,” Geralt said. “But on both sides?”

“Naturally. All vampires are equals.”

Geralt raised an eyebrow. “But I'm not your equal.”

“Quite,” Regis agreed. “You are in all possible ways my better.”

Geralt narrowed his eyes this time. “That’s not true. We've both done a lot of good. Made a lot of mistakes, too.”

“Your generosity in calling my past transgressions mere mistakes only proves my point,” Regis said.

“You regret it and you learned from it. It was a mistake. Mistakes should be forgiven. Not necessarily by the people they hurt, but…”

“But by surprisingly kind witchers who desperately want to believe the world is a fundamentally good place?”

Geralt smiled wryly.

“I do so envy your youth,” Regis said. “But I am glad to have the benefit of it now. It is vastly easier to see the world through your eyes when I-”

He cut himself off, fearing he was on the verge of saying too much.

Judging by the look on Geralt's face, the pause had not gone unnoticed.

“Discussion for another time,” Regis said, though if Geralt pushed he would have found it difficult not to give him the answers he asked for.

If it would have been hard to refuse Geralt anything before, it would be outright impossible now.

“Another time,” Geralt agreed after a few moments. “Night, Regis.”

“Good night, Geralt,” Regis murmured, settling himself down to sleep next to his mate.

***

Geralt woke to the extremely unusual sensation of fingers in his hair, playing lightly with the strands, brushing them out with great care.

“Regis?” he asked, suddenly really hoping it was Regis, and not someone else.

“I can stop,” Regis said softly, his fingers stilling.

“Don’t,” Geralt said, though he’d intended to say something more like it’s okay.

It wasn’t that he wanted…

Well. Maybe he did want this, rather than just neutrally not minding it.

The fingers continued, blunt claws scratching lightly at Geralt’s scalp from time to time, making him hum softly with pleasure.

“You’re enjoying this,” Regis said, his voice lilting upward in delight.

Geralt nodded, sighing happily. This was too much. Too intimate. But he couldn’t bring himself to care right now.

He liked it when Regis touched him. He’d even almost come to terms with that.

“Good,” Regis purred after a moment, still slowly working his fingers through Geralt’s hair. “Forgive me for not asking beforehand. I was overcome with the urge to groom you.”

“Consider yourself forgiven,” Geralt murmured, Regis’ fingers already lulling him back into a doze. “And consider this blanket permission to do… whatever you need.”

Regis made a soft, curious sound. “Kind of you. And please assume that you’re welcome to do whatever you’d like to me, as well.”

Geralt smirked. “You say that now, but…”

“I assure you I would say it after whatever just crossed your mind,” Regis said.

Nothing in particular had crossed Geralt’s mind, but he swallowed all the same. Regis was offering him anything he wanted.

Geralt wasn’t sure yet what that was, but it was nice to know that when the time came, he wouldn’t have to worry too much about asking.

He would ask, though. He trusted Regis not to hurt him, but he didn’t necessarily trust himself not to inadvertently hurt Regis.

Which was ridiculous, because he could recover from just about anything, but…

Geralt also didn’t want to upset him. The thought made him feel sick.

“So is grooming a vampire thing, or a you thing?” Geralt asked, turning to face Regis but pushing his head up into his hand, encouraging him not to stop petting.

Regis chuckled. “A vampire trait, I believe, though I am not the ultimate authority on such matters. I don’t really… despite what I said about all vampires being equal, I’ve never quite been on equal footing in a romantic relationship with one.”

“Dettlaff?” Geralt asked, turning his head to look up at Regis. He’d assumed…

The look on Regis’ face told him he’d assumed wrong. His nose wrinkled, disgust written all over his features.

“Have you thought… all this time…” Regis shook his head. “No, Geralt. Think of him as a brother to me. It would be like you sleeping with one of your fellow wolven witchers.”

Geralt wet his lips. “Uh…” he began, unsure how to break this particular news to Regis.

Regis’ eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Whole castle full of young men with no women around,” Geralt said by way of explanation, not sure why he felt the need to defend himself.

He’d assumed people had figured out that was commonplace. Besides, a witcher didn’t need to fear accidentally hurting another witcher. They were physical matches for each other, where normal humans often weren’t.

“I suppose…” Regis cleared his throat. “With Ciri, then.”

Geralt felt himself make exactly the same face Regis had made moments earlier, and understood instantly what he meant. It was unthinkable.

“That explains why you fought so hard to save him. Should have told me, Regis,” Geralt said softly.

“If it had come to a choice between the two of you…” Regis began. “I would have chosen you. And I did not wish to put the full burden of that choice on your already overladen shoulders.”

Geralt swallowed, feeling the weight of everything that meant sinking into him.

The words romantic relationship floated back to him, and what had sounded like an offhand remark about vampire customs suddenly meant so much more.

This was…

He supposed he’d known, really. What else was a mating bond if not a romantic relationship?

Regis had been trying to ease Geralt into the reality, and just now, he’d slipped. He’d slipped, and Geralt suddenly knew how he felt.

All the air seemed to leave the room as the enormity of that washed over him.

“I’ve upset you,” Regis said, mournful, taking his fingers away from Geralt’s hair.

Heart pounding, Geralt reached out to take his hand. “Just thinking,” he promised, squeezing Regis’ cool, thin fingers.

“Your heart is beating like that of a deer who’s spotted a panther,” Regis said softly.

He wasn’t wrong, and Geralt was afraid, much as he liked to pretend that never happened. But he wasn’t afraid of Regis. Not exactly, anyway.

He was afraid, mostly, of screwing this up. Like he always screwed things like this up.

How many chances had he lost? Too many to count.

And Regis was here, and Regis was stuck with him, and he didn’t seem to mind. Being stuck with Geralt seemed to make him happy in a way Geralt had never seen him before.

“You told me what you expected from this,” Geralt said slowly. “And I took that to mean it was what you wanted, but…”

Regis smiled a soft, sad smile. “But I have said too much.”

“No,” Geralt corrected. “You haven’t said enough. Time for a little more honesty.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather pretend this is all a dream? Because I fear you won’t like what I have to say.”

Tell me,” Geralt pleaded.

He had to know.

Or… he did know, and he was just realising that he knew, and how long he’d known for, and he needed to hear it. Wanted to hear it.

“I have adored you from more or less the moment we met,” Regis said softly.

Geralt could feel his pulse pounding in his ears, so Regis could definitely hear it, loud and clear. And yet somehow, Regis remained so calm, so still that he could have passed for a statue.

Geralt didn’t want him still.

The look on Regis’ face as he let go of his hand nearly broke Geralt’s heart, but he reached out further, curling his hand around the back of Regis’ neck and pulling him down.

If Regis hadn’t wanted to move, he would have stayed put, and no amount of force Geralt was capable of would have moved him.

But Regis did move, giving in to Geralt’s silent demand, sighing the softest, sweetest sigh Geralt had ever heard as their lips met.

A lightning bolt of arousal shot down from Geralt’s lips to his belly, a needy groan escaping him as Regis shifted, pressing Geralt down into the bed with one hand.

If Regis had said he loved Geralt, it might have rung hollow, put him off the whole idea.

But to be adored. To be adored by this kind, gentle man who had all of eternity stretching out in front of him, who’d already known more than Geralt ever would…

To be chosen by someone with practically infinite choices. That was more than Geralt had ever hoped for. Ever even realised he could want.

Regis backed off a half-inch, panting heavily.

Geralt wasn’t sure he’d ever heard him pant before. He didn’t even need to breathe.

All of a sudden, he could smell arousal rolling off him. The scent made Geralt’s stomach clench, an answering need building inside him.

“This is not the reaction I was expecting,” Regis said after a few moments of silence, his voice rough.

Geralt had learned his lesson, though, about what Regis expected not necessarily having anything in common with what he wanted.

“But you want it,” Geralt said. He was sure of that.

“I can barely conceive anyone refusing you,” Regis said. “But then I imagined… naive of me, perhaps, to think your interest lay solely with women.”

Geralt chuckled. “You’re underestimating how much witchers get around,” he said, and then immediately regretted it.

Regis wasn’t just another conquest.

Back when they’d first met, he would have been. He would have been a notch on Geralt’s bedpost, a did you know I slept with a vampire once tale to tell.

Not now, though. Not now that Geralt was so ready to slow down, and settle, and keep the company of one of his closest and most loyal friends for as long as he could hang onto it.

Besides, as a distinct pull of emotion reminded him, Regis was his mate.

And Geralt wanted to make love to his mate. They hadn’t even started yet, and he was already imagining the dozens of ways and places and positions he wanted to do it in.

“This would be quite the experience to add to your list, then,” Regis said.

Dammit. He’d taken it exactly the wrong way.

“No,” Geralt said immediately. “Not to add to my list. That wasn’t what I meant. I’m sorry.”

“Forgive me for seeming so fragile, but what would this be for you, then? What could Geralt of Rivia possibly want from an aging vampire?”

“What if I just want the vampire?” Geralt asked. “All of him. Everything he wants to give.”

“You imagine you’d enjoy this?” Regis asked, but he sounded less cautious now. Less cautious, more intrigued.

Geralt wet his lips. “Well… anyone who can keep a succubus happy for an extended period of time has to be…” he trailed off, searching for an adjective that wasn’t too vulgar, but encompassed the whole of what such a person would have to be.

None came to mind, so he chose the next thing that did. “Great in bed,” he finished pathetically.

Regis chuckled. “How single-minded of you,” he teased. At least he seemed to be warming up to the idea again.

“Are you pretending to be a blushing virgin?” Geralt raised an eyebrow. “Because we both know you’re not even close.”

“It’s beginning to sound like you’ve spent a great deal of time considering my sex life,” Regis purred, finally settling himself on top of Geralt, knees planted either side of his waist, weight leaning back on his hips.

More or less exactly where Geralt wanted him.

“You know,” Regis continued. “This body is, strictly speaking, entirely virginal.”

Geralt’s eyebrows shot up, shock and a surprising stab of arousal leaving him temporarily speechless.

“You look surprised,” Regis said, his incredible talent for stating the obvious on full display.

“Because I am,” Geralt responded, not sure what else to say.

“And you smell excited,” Regis added perceptively.

“Again…”

“Because you are.” Regis nodded. “Quite. Interesting. I would have thought you a man who favoured experience over, uh, breaking new ground.”

“We just covered this,” Geralt pointed out, not sure why they were still talking instead of tearing each other’s clothes off.

Well, no, that wasn’t true. If he’d ever thought about it, he might have known that it’d take a lot of talking to get Regis’ clothes off.

“So it’s the best of both worlds? A wealth of experience in an untouched body?”

“Regis…”

Above him, Regis’ eyes lit up with mischief.

He was teasing. He’d been teasing for a while, and Geralt had fallen for it.

With a growl, Geralt surged up and flipped them over, taking advantage of Regis’ surprise to overpower him--since there was no other way he could have managed it.

If Regis didn’t want to be underneath him, Geralt couldn’t possibly keep him there.

As it was, Regis’ eyes lit up again, heat burning in his gaze this time. His tongue darted out, just for a moment, wetting his lips in anticipation.

Another stab of arousal hit Geralt square in the gut, his cock beginning to fill with blood.

“Gorgeous,” Regis pronounced softly, clearly delighted with this turn of events.

“You just gonna lie there?” Geralt asked, suddenly unsure of himself.

“I had planned to,” Regis said. “I’m curious to see what you’ll do, though if you’d prefer I took charge…”

The tiniest spark of worry made Geralt’s stomach tense. He hated having control taken away from him, and he wasn’t great at giving it up willingly, either.

“I thought not,” Regis murmured, kindness in every syllable. He reached out, laying a hand on Geralt’s chest.

Over his heart, Geralt realised a moment later.

This was for him. Letting Geralt take the lead wasn’t necessarily what Regis would have preferred, but it was what would make Geralt comfortable.

Taking a few deep breaths to get his thoughts in order, Geralt leaned down, making as if to meet Regis’ lips, then veering off at the last moment to kiss just under his ear instead. He hummed as he nuzzled the soft skin there, breathing in the sharp scent he’d always associated with Regis.

Except now, it was the most inviting thing he’d ever smelled. Heat built in the pit of his stomach as he kissed his way down Regis’ neck, his cock growing heavy between his legs.

A low, soft keen escaped him, need welling up in his chest. He wanted so much that he couldn’t decide where to start.

“What do you like?” Geralt asked, the urge to please his mate irresistible now that he’d decided they were doing this, that they were about to cross this particular line.

“I’m very fond of you,” Regis said softly.

“You know what I’m asking.”

“But I’m afraid I’m not sure of the answer. I was hoping you were about to show me what makes witchers so enticing to so many people.”

Geralt snorted. “Hell if I know,” he sighed, going back to kissing his way down Regis’ neck, moving to his collarbone as he hit the base of it, shoving his shirt out of the way, then tugging at the lacing in the front to loosen it, wanting it off if he was going to keep exploring.

“You have many appealing qualities,” Regis murmured, threading his fingers through Geralt's hair.

That, finally, gave him a surge of inspiration. He moved on from trying to tug Regis’ shirt off, since Regis wasn’t being any help at all, instead pushing the hem up and out of the way so he could continue his path, pressing light kisses all the way down Regis’ chest and stomach.

The reaction he got was what he’d been looking for; a soft gasp of need, Regis’ body squirming under him.

Geralt licked his lips as he neared his destination, pressing a wet kiss just under Regis’ navel.

It occurred to him to wonder, then, if vampires were just… born, the way humans were, or whether this was all part of the illusion. Did all vampires bother with this level of detail in their human forms?

Gods, what was he about to find in Regis’ underwear?

Whatever it was, it was definitely interested in the proceedings. Geralt stared for a moment, not daring to tug at the laces for long seconds.

He glanced up at Regis, who was looking at him like he was…

Well, edible.

Which, Geralt supposed, he was. From Regis’ point of view, anyway.

With a surge of courage, Geralt plucked the laces of Regis’ underwear open to find…

A more or less average human cock. A little bigger than was entirely in proportion, but otherwise completely normal.

The tiniest surge of disappointment hit him, and he immediately felt guilty for it. He wasn't kneeling here, undressing one of his oldest friends, for the sake of an exotic cock.

It would have been a nice bonus, though.

Regis chuckled, making Geralt look up. “You were expecting different?”

Geralt wet his lips. “Maybe?” he answered, aware of how tight his voice was.

“Give me some prior notice next time, and that could be arranged.”

“You can…?” Geralt cleared his throat. “Uh…”

“Exercise some amount of control over the appearance of my human form? Yes, with a little effort. Are there other changes you’d like to request?”

“No,” Geralt said without having to think about it. Of course he didn’t want Regis to change for him. “No, you’re perfect.”

Regis looked at him with so much love in his eyes that it froze Geralt on the spot, his heart pounding in his chest all over again.

“You are impossibly sweet,” Regis said. “And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

Geralt hummed, bending down to nuzzle Regis’ cock, pressing another wet kiss to the base of it. Regis cried out, half a word that never quite formed, and gods yes, that was exactly what Geralt wanted to do. He wanted to make Regis forget all his words, wanted to reduce him to pleasure and need and leave him gasping and spent.

That was what a good mate would do. That was what it would take to really satisfy him, this time, anyway.

Geralt suspected there was a lot of fucking to the sound of Regis’ voice in his future.

Eager to see what other sounds he could get Regis to make, Geralt slid his lips over the head of Regis’ cock, lapping the first bead of precome away from the tip and rolling it around on his tongue, memorising the taste.

It wasn’t human, but it wasn’t unpleasant either, a little sweeter than Geralt had come to expect. Regis’ fingers dug deep into his shoulder, his nails suddenly blunted, which was just as well. Regis could really have left a mark if he wanted to, and Geralt knew that.

That made his restraint all the more endearing, since it was so obviously deliberate.

A shuddering breath left Regis as though it’d been knocked out of him, the faintest whine at the end telling Geralt he had the right idea.

His own cock was throbbing between his legs, and while he normally tried to keep it quiet that he loved doing this, it wasn’t something he needed to hide from Regis. He reached down, stroking himself through the thin summer leggings he was still wearing, a moan welling up in his chest unexpectedly.

Regis moaned in response, so that was probably the right idea, too. Geralt closed his eyes and relaxed his throat, swallowing Regis down as far as he could, taking one last breath through his nose before angling himself so he could push a little further, stopping with his nose pressed against the impossibly soft skin of Regis’ belly.

Geralt closed his eyes, sucking eagerly, his tongue working at the underside of Regis’ cock, throat already protesting at the pressure but his own cock throbbing in response, the feeling of being stretched to the limit making him leak into his leggings, driving him to shove a hand inside them and grip himself while he sucked on Regis.

The sound of Regis panting and gasping spurred him on, encouraged him to experiment and test and tease, every whimper and murmur and strangled cry for more filling Geralt’s heart to bursting, every fibre of his being rippling with pleasure because Regis was enjoying this.

This was what having a mate was about. Taking pleasure in their pleasure.

Geralt hadn’t realised that anything could feel this good. His whole world had narrowed down to the weight of Regis’ cock in his mouth and the searing heat in his belly, the urge to come building and building until he was right on the edge, tears in his eyes from sheer desperation.

He groaned in defeat as he felt Regis’ orgasm hit, the first spurt of fluid in Geralt’s mouth making him give up his already tentative hold on his own control, coming all over his own hand as he rolled the taste of Regis around in his mouth, committing it to memory.

Either he should have stuck to sucking vampire cocks in the first place, or the mating thing was affecting his sense of taste, too, because he never wanted to suck any other cock again if Regis was going to keep being honey-sweet when he came.

When Geralt finished swallowing around him and licking him clean, he looked up to see Regis panting, his chest heaving with the effort, dark eyes glazed and staring up at the ceiling, mouth slack so that his fangs showed, glinting in the small amount of light creeping under the door.

Geralt’s heart felt so full it was in danger of bursting, knowing he did that to his mate and yeah, okay, probably the mating bond was affecting that, too.

But at least he knew it was happening, and it definitely wasn’t the worst thing that’d ever happened to him. Far from it.

“Oh dear,” Regis said after a moment, voice rough and thick with lust. “I’m afraid that was terribly enjoyable.”

Geralt snorted, heaving himself up the bed to snuggle next to Regis.

“Good,” he murmured, letting his head fall against Regis’ shoulder, hoping desperately that Regis would take the hint and hold him again.

He did, a moment later, which was even better than Geralt imagined it would be. A soft, happy sound rumbled in his chest, contentment washing over him like he couldn’t remember ever feeling before.

“I will want you again,” Regis said. “Now that I’ve had a taste of what you’re like.”

“No argument here.” Geralt sighed happily, letting his eyes fall closed.

“Vampires are renowned for being quite insatiable,” Regis continued.

“Still not complaining,” Geralt said, turning onto his side to look down at Regis. “I’m okay with this, Regis. Happy, even.”

“You cannot know how it warms my heart to hear that,” Regis murmured, searching Geralt’s face. “You are wonderful, Geralt.”

Geralt settled back down, content with that answer and convinced now that Regis was okay, that they were both okay. That for once, something Geralt had done on impulse to save someone he cared about hadn’t ended in tears.

“You’re not so bad either.” Geralt chuckled, snuggling closer to Regis’ body and breathing his scent in deeply.

“You do understand that you’re stuck with me now, don’t you? Mating is a lifelong commitment and vampires are nothing if not intense creatures. I will never leave you.”

“Was kinda hoping you’d say that,” Geralt confessed. Unconditional love for the rest of his life sounded good right about now, and he couldn’t think of a better person to have it from than Regis.

“I do not begin to understand you, my love,” Regis said. “But I am eager to have the opportunity.”

***

Witcher stamina, as it turned out, had not been exaggerated at all. Geralt was perfectly capable of keeping up with a vampire, even a vampire who was currently enjoying the undivided attention of a new mate, who happened to be a man he’d wanted up against a wall from approximately the moment they’d met.

He had been gentle, the second time, stroking Geralt’s cock alongside his own, tentatively learning the shape and feel of him, kissing everywhere he could reach with aching tenderness, basking in the scent and sound of his mate enjoying himself, his heart full enough to burst with sheer, unbridled joy.

Rounds three through seven had been rather less gentle. Indeed, frantic might have been a better way to describe them, Geralt waking up from a nap and pressing Regis into the mattress, fucking him as though he’d just realised he was nearly impossible to break. Hard and fast and without pause, leaving Regis stunned and wrung out in the aftermath.

Regis’ head had still been spinning when Geralt stroked him to hardness again and demanded the same, and had pulled and tugged and bitten until Regis had given it to him.

None of which had been quite enough to satisfy them, so they’d continued on, barely pausing between times, apparently determined to wear each other out.

And then, finally, Geralt had fallen asleep, and Regis had been too emotionally and physically exhausted to do anything other than curl up beside him and sleep as well.

Now, he was awake again, and he ached in the most delightful way, and there was an array of pretty bruises and scratches blooming over Geralt’s neck and chest that he didn't feel at all guilty about.

Because Geralt was his, and now he was covered in Regis’ scent and his marks, and everyone would know.

Well, every vampire would.

More importantly, he would know. He would remember looking down on a sleepy, satisfied witcher and knowing that he’d done that.

The thought alone was enough to make his cock stir, though he doubted either of them would be up to anything more than awkward fumbling for a while, and cuddling Geralt was, at present, vastly more appealing option.

Geralt made a soft, interested noise the moment Regis wrapped his arms around him again, giving away the fact that he was awake.

“Good evening,” Regis murmured against Geralt’s shoulder, loosening his hold a little in case Geralt wanted to move.

“Evening,” Geralt repeated, as though the word was foreign to him. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“As a naturally nocturnal creature, I have an impeccable sense of where the sun is at any given moment,” Regis said.

“Like I said, I’ll take your word for it,” Geralt said, stretching just a little. He didn’t seem as though he wanted to move, so Regis stayed put as well.

He would have been happy never to move again. Their scents mingling in the air around him, seeping into the blankets, made Regis happier than, perhaps, he’d ever been before. He could cheerfully have rolled around in the bed for hours, nuzzling the soft fabrics and delighting in the clear and present evidence that his mate had been happy, and satisfied.

“You weren’t kidding about feeling safe to indulge, huh?” Geralt said. “I’ve fought dragons and walked away less sore.”

Cold dread settled in the pit of Regis’ stomach. “I never meant to hurt you. You should have-”

He was stopped mid-sentence by Geralt turning over to face him. “Not complaining,” he said, smiling a slow, warm smile. “Not complaining at all.”

Regis breathed a sigh of relief. “Ah. The good kind of sore.”

Geralt hummed in agreement.

Satisfaction, the kind that had weight and depth and substance, curled up in the pit of Regis’ belly like a housecat in a patch of sunlight.

Geralt had always felt like fate. Like the guiding hand of the universe showing Regis where to go, and his final thought as he’d been melted into the floor at Stygga, before overwhelming fear took hold of his mind, had been ah, so that’s what this was.

But then fate had another plan for him, and Geralt, it seemed, was still at the centre of it.

“Do you know,” Regis began, reaching out to twirl a strand of Geralt’s hair around his finger, fascinated by the silken softness and dying to comb it out. “I think you may well be my destiny, if vampires have those.”

Geralt snorted. “Not much of a destiny.”

“Perhaps not everyone needs to live a life so dramatic as Geralt of Rivia,” Regis said. “I wonder if I’ll get an apology when Dettlaff sees fit to rejoin society.”

“Good luck with that,” Geralt said, which Regis suspected summed up his chances nicely.

“Mm,” Regis agreed. “Still, I may dream. And I cannot bring myself to regret the course our lives have suddenly taken.”

“You wouldn’t break it? If you could? Knowing that you’re not in danger anymore, I mean,” Geralt asked, and there was so much weight to the question that Regis felt as though he needed to hold it with both hands.

“It is by no means impossible to break,” Regis said carefully. “Geralt, if you would prefer not to have this…”

“No,” Geralt said quickly, his eyes widening. “No, I… I want…” he swallowed.

“Take your time,” Regis said softly, resting his hand in the centre of Geralt’s chest, the beat of his heart too fast under Regis’ fingers.

“Yennefer broke the bond I had with her,” Geralt said. “And then she was mad when it worked.”

“Ah,” Regis responded, the first spark of understanding setting off a chain of it. Geralt had once loved Yennefer very much.

Stories his friends told suggested that Yennefer had very much liked having a loyal pet witcher, for a time. That time, it would seem, had passed.

Regis’ heart ached for Geralt, though he could not be overly sorry about whatever had occurred between them. It had offered the opportunity for Regis to love him as he had always so desperately wanted to.

Wholly and completely, every part of him, his wonderful sense of justice and his unfortunately short temper, the good and the bad, the light and the dark.

“Geralt…” Regis began, unsure how to phrase what he wanted to say.

Perhaps the simplest way was the best.

“I am yours,” he said, forcing himself not to elaborate or qualify, watching Geralt’s face as the weight of what he was saying settled on his beautiful, wonderful mate, a man anyone should have considered themself lucky to have.

“I was yours before this and I would still be yours if you asked me to break this bond with you,” Regis added, unable to stop himself.

“Yeah?” Geralt asked cautiously.

“Yes,” Regis said, holding Geralt’s gaze steadily.

Geralt breathed an obvious sigh of relief.

“That’s what I needed to hear,” he said. “I want this. I want… you. For your patience, and your kindness. And even your sense of humour, but I’m never repeating that if anyone asks.”

Regis chuckled, untold relief washing over him.

Geralt was his. He could feel it, in the bond between them, but hearing Geralt say it, hearing that he understood and wasn’t alarmed by his feelings…

That was what he’d needed, too.

“So you’ll stay?” Geralt asked, hope obvious in his voice.

Regis smiled, and his heart felt warmer than it had in centuries, and how could he possibly say no to that?

“I will,” he promised, planning to take that very seriously indeed.

***

Geralt sighed a satisfied sigh as he lay back on the blanket he and Regis had spread out between the vines furthest from the villa, out of the way of prying eyes but directly in the beautiful autumn sunshine.

He could smell the grapes ripening on the vines, and they’d need to get to work harvesting them soon, but for now, this served as a little sanctuary for the two of them.

Regis leaned on one elbow beside him, reaching out to trace patterns on Geralt’s skin.

Life was good. Geralt spent most of his time these days sated and happy, Regis by his side or close enough to it, keeping Toussaint safe from whatever monsters happened to make nuisances of themselves and spending the rest of his time in the garden, or in bed.

“You are stunning in the light,” Regis said. “I should like to see you in it more often, before the winter comes.”

Geralt nodded, transfixed momentarily by the way Regis had changed since he first arrived in Toussaint. His hair had grown thicker and darker, black streaked with grey now instead of grey streaked with white, still as unruly as ever.

He’d mentioned that he was still healing. What Geralt hadn’t realised was that he’d never seen Regis at full strength.

He was starting to, though, and that knowledge satisfied some deep, unknown need in him to see his mate happy and well cared for, his needs met, his life easy and peaceful.

Vampires, Geralt was learning, were lazy creatures. Curious, and prone to fits of obsession, but fundamentally lazy.

When Regis wasn’t desperately untangling an idea he’d had, he mostly lay around in patches of sunlight with a straw hat over his face and a discarded book hanging from his hand, fast asleep.

Picturing it now made Geralt smile.

“Now, what could possibly bring such a wonderful expression to your handsome face?” Regis asked, grinning down at him, fangs bared. He didn’t bother to hide them anymore, not when it was just the two of them, and it always made Geralt feel like he was seeing some intimate part of him. More intimate than when he was naked.

Which was one of his favourite ways to be, as it turned out.

“You,” Geralt confessed. “I was thinking about how… happy you seem.”

“Ah.” Regis nodded. “I believe I wear approximately the same expression when I think of you.”

“I really hope Dandelion never hears about this,” Geralt said, suddenly realising that one or other of his friends was bound to show up eventually.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Regis said, reaching out to curl a strand of Geralt’s hair around his finger. “I’d rather like to hear him explain this in ballad form. I do so enjoy his work.”

Geralt snorted. “Only ‘cause you’re not the starring character, trust me.”

“I think I’d quite enjoy stardom,” Regis said, finally lying down beside Geralt. “Although it would perhaps not be the wisest course of action.”

“Yeah, people get edgy around vampires,” Geralt murmured, letting his head rest against Regis’ shoulder and focusing on his slow, soothing heartbeat.

“I can’t imagine why. I’m positively charming,” Regis said, his fingers carding through Geralt’s hair.

“Still. Probably better if I keep you all to myself.”

Regis laughed a soft, delighted laugh, and pressed a kiss to Geralt’s forehead. “You will get no argument from me, my love.”