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each breath you take is mine

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Geralt hasn’t been in Cintra in a long, long time.

It’s the first time he’s been below the Yaruga in most of a decade, and most of the city has been rebuilt since the Slaughter. He doesn’t recognize much at all. Still, it’s still a certain kind of familiar. Narrow cobbled streets lined with tall lamps, rowdy taverns filled with noise spilling out their open doors - Cintra is much the same as any city, now that the war has eased up. And that, he doesn’t mind, especially if it comes with a good drink and some gold to be had, at the end of the day.

It takes some finding to work out where they’re supposed to meet. Naturally, Ciri’s picked the grimiest hole in the wall she can find, the sort of tavern and inn tucked away in the underbelly of the city, down a warren of alleys and populated only by the sort of locals who squint at him as he steps through the door. Nothing he’s not used to, anyway.

His daughter, however, is easy enough to spot. Her ashen hair would mark her in a crowd, but even without it, he’d know her anywhere. She’s close to the fire, surrounded by rough looking characters, tankards scattered about the table. She shouts to be heard over them, her laugh clear and joyful, and he’s amused to see she’s got a barmaid in her lap, one arm looped around her waist. Her hair is cropped practically short, but her pale eyes light up as she spots him. Some things, they don’t change.

“Geralt!” Ciri gasps, and then she’s unceremoniously untangling herself, scrambling over the table to hurl herself into his arms. She’s certainly not a girl anymore, but she still does this every time they meet, and it makes Geralt’s heart clutch, thinking of the child she once was. He’d never ask her to stop. “You’re here! Finally!” She pulls away, but only far enough to look him over, her hands clapped tight to his arms.

“I’m early,” he tells her, but a smile curls the corners of his lips. He jerks a chin at the table behind her, and the many curious pairs of eyes watching them. “Seems you got things started without me.”

Ciri clicks her tongue and crosses her arms over her chest. “You didn’t expect me to sit and do needlepoint while I waited, did you?” she asks.

He shrugs. “It’s been a while,” he points out. “You’re probably rusty at it anyway.”

She swats at his arm. “I’ll pick up my embroidery when you do,” she says. She smiles at him, so bright it warms him better than the fireside ever could. “Come on. You probably want to get rid of your bags. I’ve a pair of rooms upstairs.”

“Ooh, dear,” the barmaid calls, and when Geralt glances back, she’s leering goodnaturedly. She can’t be more than twenty five. It seems fantastically young to him, now. “That’s your da?” She whistles, and the men next to her laugh. “Make sure you bring him back down here.”

Ciri points a finger at her. “Gross,” she says with feeling, and even Geralt laughs at that. “Follow me, Geralt.”

The stairs they climb are narrow, steep, and creak ominously under their weight. Geralt shifts his bag higher on his shoulder to stop from dragging it against the grubby walls. Not the worst place he’s spent a night, if he’s honest, but high up on the list. Ciri leads them down the hall to a pair of doors, side by side. “All yours,” she declares, opening one, and gesturing grandly.

Geralt steps in, bending his head so as not to bump it against the ceiling. The bed is bowed in the middle, and he has one tiny window, dirty enough he can barely see the lamplight outside. “Hmm,” he says, tossing down his bags. “Palatial.”

“It’s got character,” she corrects. There’s no furniture outside of the bed, so that’s where she sits. She hesitates, and Geralt notices for the first time the fine lines gathering at the corners of her eyes. The elven blood runs true, but so does her human side. They’re getting older. “If I’m honest, I wanted to be - well, safe.” This is when Ciri looks most like the girl he raised: uncertain, worried.

“Smart,” he says, nodding. The Lion Cub of Cintra was a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t see her silver hair and confident bearing and put two and two together. There’s always someone that believes the old stories. “I like inconspicuous.”

“I knew you’d say that.” She beams at him. She holds out her hand and he takes it, sitting heavily next to her. “I missed you,” she says. “We’ve all missed you. I saw Zoltan and Dandelion in Novigrad and they told me they haven’t seen you in months.” She gives him a look, one that reminds him too much of Yennefer.

“Has it been that long?” Geralt asks. He looks away, unbuckling his scabbards and slinging them over his legs. He hadn’t realized he’d let things get that far. He nudges his bag closer with a toe and pulls out the tools he needs to clean his blades. He’s...needed some time, since he sent Ciri off on the Path. Geralt spent so much time letting fate jerk him around that once it was done with him he just wanted time to make his own choices. There’s no table here for him to use, and the room isn’t big enough for him to settle on the floor, so he uses his lap, spreading the oilcloth over his thighs and pulling his swords out. “Hadn’t noticed.”

It’s not untrue, necessarily. More that every time he had noticed, he’d sidestepped it. He bends over his blades and begins to meticulously clean them. A witcher walks the Path alone. That’s how it’s always been, that’s how it’s supposed to be. His friends are good people, but most of them, they don’t understand how it works. He stays in one place too long, he starts to get restless, like his skin doesn’t fit right. So he has to move on.

The rest of them are settled. Dandelion is still with Priscilla, and if that isn’t a sign of things changing, Geralt doesn’t know what is. And yet here he still is. A witcher doesn’t die in his bed, they say. But when there are no monsters left, what happens to the ones who hunt them?

“Geralt.”

He stills. “Stop worrying,” he tells her, the corners of his mouth turning up. “I’m fine.” He tucks his hand around hers. “Spent the summer on Ard Skellige, if you were wondering.”

“I know,” Ciri says darkly, but she squeezes his fingers. “If Cerys hadn’t written, I would’ve thought you’d slid through some portal and disappeared.”

“That’s your trick,” he points out, and it earns him a smile.

It doesn’t last long. “Are you alright?” she asks, brow curving in concern. He supposes with parents like him and Yen, he couldn’t expect to dodge a question she wanted answered. “You look...tired.”

Tired, sure. “Long day on the road,” he tells her, instead of anything he’s actually thinking. A half-truth, and they both know it, but Ciri sighs, lets his hand go.

“Well.” She stands. “If you want to unwind some, you know where I’ll be.” She pauses at the door. “You’re really fine? I can bring up some ale, you can regale me with tales of what you’ve done while you’re gone.”

A sweet idea, but he really is tired after riding all day. “Go on,” he says, waving her off with a hand. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

Ciri smiles at that. “You’re right,” she says. “We do.” And she slips out the door, back into the noise downstairs.

Geralt can hear the voices call out as she heads back into the tavern, and he bends over his swords again, relaxing into the rhythm of cleaning and sharpening them. They’ve got time. It’s got nothing to do with how the thought of it all makes him feel so, so weary. He rubs a hand over his eyes and exhales through his nose, bringing his cloth back to his sword.

 

 

-

 

 

 

“You still carry that?” Geralt asks. He’s not sure why he’s so surprised to see it in her hands, the silver sword he gifted her the day they left White Orchard for good. It’s certainly seen use: the handle has been replaced, the runes reworked over scratches and nicks, but it’s still a good, solid blade. Should be, too. He paid an incredible amount to have it made.

Ciri hands the sword to the blacksmith, a middle-aged man with the calloused hands that speak of a great deal of experience. “Of course I do,” she says, affronted. “It’s a good sword.” She gives the smith the coin owed, and then turns back to Geralt. “Besides, it was a gift, you see. One of my most cherished possessions.”

Geralt ducks his head at that, a smile making his eyes pull into crescents. “Must be a nice guy, the man who gave you that.”

They walk from the shop out into the bright sunlight, and Ciri shrugs. “So-so,” she says, wobbling her hand. “Good taste in a blade, though.”

Geralt chuckles. “I love you too,” he says. It never fails to warm him, the affection in her eyes. He got lucky with the Law of Surprise. He got lucky with her.

“Well, look what we’ve got here,” Ciri says. The street opens onto a promenade, and there’s a message board at the end. “This wouldn’t be a witcher contract, would it?” Her fingers tap on a thick piece of parchment, stamped by the city magistrate. “Ooh, a terrible beast is prowling the city streets. Whatever will a pair of witchers do?”

“This is what you want to do?” Geralt asks. “I thought we were going to catch up. Spend time together.” He waves a hand. “Or, uh, you know. What families do.”

Ciri rips down the notice with a determined tug. “This is what our family does,” she points out. “We fight monsters. Besides,” she looks up at him with another winning smile. He can see the new lines around her eyes and mouth, and a faint new scar spidering down from her hairline. “I love a good mystery.”

He looks down at the paper in her hand. A large beast stalking the night. No injuries, but plenty scared, and pets are going missing. “We probably need a hobby,” he says.

“Speak for yourself,” Ciri scoffs. “I’m just fine.” Together, they head away from the marketplace and up the broader, well-maintained streets of the richer part of the city. “What do you think? Vampire?”

“Not making any guesses until I see some clues,” Geralt says.

“Spoilsport.”

The address leads them to a grand house, because naturally, a magistrate lives in a place like that. A guard at the door eyes them with suspicion, taking in their well-worn, mud-crusted boots and matching scarred faces. “We’re here for the contract,” Ciri says, with the kind of authority Yennefer wields, and breezes past him into the building. Geralt shakes his head and follows after her.

The magistrate is a nebbish little man who near collapses in relief at the sight of them. He gives them little information to go on, just a location in the poorer part of the city, close to their tavern, and the name of a man who might have seen something, maybe. Ciri glances at Geralt and then bites her lip, stifling a smile. Same old, same old.

“Well, that was useful,” Ciri sighs as they emerge again. The afternoon is growing long, and the streets are becoming crowded. “I suppose we’ll have to go look for ourselves then, won’t we?”

“Sounds like.”

They try to make their way to the witness, but the further they go, the more tightly-packed the streets become. “Oh damn,” Ciri says. “I forgot what today was.” Geralt raises an eyebrow. “It’s the celebration of the rebuilding of Cintra.” She shakes her head. “All these people. We won’t get a crack at any signs left by the creature.” Geralt pauses, head tipped. “What?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says. “You’re good at this.”

“Of course I am,” she says, but she’s preening, her shoulders a little straighter. “It’s my job.”

“Sure is,” Geralt agrees.

Getting any further is beginning to look like a fool’s errand. They can muscle past the knots of celebrations, but no one’s going to be forthcoming on a day like this, and certainly not after they’ve had a few drinks. His eyes scan the street, alighting finally on a store near the crosswalk. “Apothecary?” he suggests, jerking a thumb at the sign. “I could use the chance to restock.”

“And buy some supplies to face a vampire,” she says.

They push towards the storefront. “Not saying that until we have proof,” Geralt cautions again, as Ciri steps through the door. “Foolhardy to assume you know the truth.” He pauses in the doorway, head cocked, nose in the air. Something smells familiar, but he can’t put his finger on it.

“But you taught me to trust my gut,” Ciri laughs. “Oh!” She spots the proprietor and her brow furrows. “I beg your pardon, do I know you?”

The man behind the counter is slim and unassuming, dressed in a smart waistcoat and shirt buttoned right to the collar. His eyes are black and expressive, his hair a dark grey. “I do believe you do,” he says, offering her a smile, even as his gaze slides past her to Geralt. “Hello, Cirilla.”

“Regis,” Geralt says, thunderstruck. He inhales, and it’s as though it’s the first breath in a very long time. “Didn’t know you were in Cintra.” His voice sounds unsteady to his own ears, wobbled by shock. He hasn’t seen Regis since they parted in Toussaint.

“Regis! Yes!” Ciri holds out a hand and shakes Regis’ enthusiastically. “It’s so good to finally meet you under less stressful circumstances.”

“I quite agree,” Regis says. He skirts around the counter. “Your lives aren’t in any sort of unavoidable peril, I trust?” He smiles at Geralt. “At least, no more than the usual for a witcher?”

“Not as far as I know,” Geralt says.

“Good, then come in, close the door. We wouldn’t want anyone thinking the witcher has lost all sense of his manners.”

Abashed, Geralt steps inside and closes the door behind him. “I was raised by wolves,” he admits, and he finds himself reeling Regis in for a tight hug. This close, all he can smell is the anise and wormwood he remembers. “Hello, old friend.”

“It’s been a long time,” Regis says, quiet and low, and as Geralt slides away, he feels some weight lifted off his shoulders. Maybe Ciri was right to worry, if just seeing an old friend makes him feel like this. “Cirilla! Your father told me you’d chosen the Path with him. It seems to suit you well.”

He’s not wrong. It’s been a long time since Eredin pursued her, and Ciri’s lost her hunted look. She stands straighter, chin up, eyes bright. She wanted this, she chose it, and though Geralt always worried, he’s proud of her. She’s grown and thrived. He’s glad she’s here. “I had a good teacher,” she says, throwing a look over her shoulder at Geralt. “Vesemir, I mean.”

“Of course,” Geralt agrees. His eyes meet Regis’ over her head, and they share an amused look.

“What brings the two of you to the beautiful city of Cintra? I would think it’d be perhaps a bit precarious for someone with your background.” He gestures at Ciri.

“I could ask you the same,” Geralt says. “Last I heard, you and Dettlaff were headed to Nazair.”

“Oh, you’re not wrong,” Regis says. He steps past Geralt to flip his open sign to closed. “We did spend quite a while down there. It was important to establish ourselves in a new place. One without the, ah, history, of Toussaint. Nazair seemed to be appropriately far away.”

“How is he?” Geralt asks.

Regis’ hands flutter to a stop against the buttons of his waistcoat. “Better,” he says. “I’m afraid the damage our friend Syanna caused will take many years to undo, but thanks to your kindness, I believe that he no longer blames all humans for her actions. Growth indeed.”

“And now you’re here.”

“It can be dangerous for a higher vampire to stay too long in a single place, should he wish to live among humans. It seemed prudent to give Dettlaff some space, as well as give myself a change of scenery.”

“So, Cintra.”

“Cintra, yes. A bit of fate again, it seems.”

Fate. Of course. “Something like that,” Geralt agrees, and behind them, Ciri presses a hand to her mouth and laughs.

 

 

-

 

 

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Regis says, settling a bowl in front of Geralt. “I’m afraid I wasn’t planning on having any house guests any time soon.”

“We’re not picky,” Geralt says, sliding his chair in. It’s clear, from the clutter that’s gathered, that Regis has been here for a while now. The apartment is one room, not spacious, but not nearly as cramped as their rooms in the tavern. There’s a bed tucked in the corner, surrounded by precarious piles of books and papers, and the desk below the window is covered in tinctures and potions. Up here, too, the odor of herbs is lessened, and Geralt catches a whiff of Regis’ true scent, something earthy and cold, like graveyard soil.

“Truly,” Ciri agrees. “I’ve spent enough time sleeping rough and eating jerky that anything hot and fresh is a luxury.” She reaches for a spoon and digs in. “Oh, this is good.”

Geralt’s not surprised. Regis has always been a good cook, yet another skill he’s picked up in his long life. “Fish stew. Seems familiar.”

Regis seats himself neatly, his own bowl in front of himself. “I thought it appropriate,” he says. He turns to Ciri. “Did you know, we made this once, when we were on the road.” He glances slyly at Geralt. “We’d caught some fish for dinner, and Geralt was in a great sulk, but I daresay a bellyful of warm food brought him around.”

Ciri snorts with laughter. “A sulk. That does sound like him.”

Geralt remembers it. Dandelion injured, and all of them in danger. He’d just discovered Regis’ true nature and sent him away, and it seemed to him the only path was to send them the rest of them after, to keep them safe. It’s bittersweet, remembering it: Milva’s sharp tongue and Cahir’s protests. “That’s not how I remember it,” he lies. He takes a spoonful of soup, and the spices are rich on his tongue, heavy with memories.

“He’d decided he must be a martyr,” Regis continues. “He must face his considerable burden alone, not endanger his companions any longer. Truly a noble gesture.” He’s smiling at Geralt, a soft, fond quirk of his lips as he reminisces.

“And what did you say?” Ciri asks him.

Geralt shakes his head. “Told me to sit down, shut up, and cut the carrots.”

Ciri points a spoon at him. “These are the stories you never tell me,” she complains.

“A man must have a few secrets to himself,” Regis says, his voice quiet in that thoughtful way. His gaze meets Geralt’s and something passes between them, nostalgic and only a little sad. The two of them have lived a long time, and they know what it’s like, to remember friends long gone. The ache never really goes away. “Besides, if he gave you all the good tales right from the outset, I believe you’d never stop ribbing him.”

“You’re not wrong,” Ciri laughs.

As Regis starts in on another story, one from their time in Toussaint with the hansa, Geralt leans back and watches the two of them. It occurs to him that he hasn’t been this relaxed, this content in a long, long time. Maybe this was actually what he needed, a break from the road, from the job, the Path. He’s weary, worn, and he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. It’s been a long while since he took a moment to breathe.

He bends over his soup, swallowing another mouthful, and when he glances up again, he finds that Regis is watching him, steady and warm in the lamplight. Caught, he looks away quickly, but it’s long enough, fixed enough to give Geralt pause. They’ve known each other a long time, but it occurs to him that there’s a lot he doesn’t know about Regis. He’s got a whole wealth of history they’ve never discussed. Maybe they should.

“So, what is this contract the two of you have decided to pursue?” Regis asks.

“A vampire,” Ciri declares, and then immediately holds out a hand. “The lesser kind, of course. A monster prowls the streets at night.”

Geralt shakes his head. “We don’t know that it’s a vampire,” he points out, again, longsuffering. Regis laughs.

“Well, if it is, I daresay I could lend my expertise.” His lips lift in a smile. “Besides that, I do have a few other skills at my disposal that would make my presence useful in your hunt.”

“You’re sure?” Geralt asks. “What about the store?”

“It is the celebration this week,” Regis points out. “None would look askance if I took a day or two to partake in the festivities with the rest of the city.”

“Then it’s settled,” Ciri says. “We can head out tomorrow, first thing.”

“That’s ambitious,” Geralt tells her. She rolls her green eyes at him, and he remembers, suddenly, cold mornings in Kaer Morhen, having to drag her out of bed for training. Things have certainly changed since then.

“Just like we used to, eh, old friend?” Regis says.

“Just like old times,” Geralt agrees, and he’s looking forward to it, despite himself.

 

 

-

 

 

“There’s been another encounter,” Ciri announces as she walks into the apartment. She has her silver blade over her shoulder again, the handle rewrapped. “The smith says that the delivery boy heard something in the night, only a few blocks north of here. We’ve a place to start.”

Geralt leans back against the counter, a mug of tea in his hands. A handmade blend by Regis, he recognizes a few of the notes, like berbercane and mint, but the rest is a mystery. One that’s already waking him up, it seems. “Sounds good. What’s the plan?”

She can hear the test in his voice, but she just raises an eyebrow and throws herself down on a chair. “Seems simple. Go talk to the delivery boy, and look for signs before any of the morning traffic can erase it.”

“Alright,” Geralt says. He sets his mug down and straightens. “You wanna take the kid, we’ll look for clues?”

“Why do you get to have the fun?” She makes a face. “I did the legwork.”

Geralt taps a finger against his nose, and behind him, Regis speaks. “While you have a great many skills at your disposal, I believe that your father and I have a slight edge over you when it comes to the senses.” He touches Geralt’s elbow and glances down at Geralt’s mug, a question in his eyes. Geralt gives him a quick quirk up of his lips and a nod. It was good, exactly what he’d wanted.

“I suppose you’re right,” Ciri sighs. “Anyway, without you, it’ll be easier to work the beautiful woman angle.” Geralt opens his mouth, closes it, and Ciri grins at him, the scar on her cheek twisted with it. “And the two of you need to catch up, of course.”

There’s something loaded about the way that she says it, some sort of implication that Geralt isn’t quite catching, but he shakes it off. He hasn’t seen Regis since Toussaint, he’s got some stories to tell. “Sure,” he says. “Meet up tonight? Sundown?”

“Sundown,” Ciri agrees. She steals his mug and takes a long gulp, before setting it down with a clatter. “Five gold coins says it’s a vampire.”

Geralt shakes his head. Bullheaded, his daughter. “I’ll take those odds.”

Her smile is sharp. “I can’t wait to take your coin from you,” she teases, and then she’s gone again.

Regis laughs, and Geralt turns to him. “Hmm?”

“She may not be your blood,” Regis says, “but she is certainly your daughter.” His smile is warm and fond.

“She is,” Geralt agrees. He sighs, shifts his weight off his bad knee, and reaches for his swords. “Ready?”

“Always,” Regis tells him.

They find themselves outside a ramshackle renting house, one with a broken foundation and a precarious lean. The fall air is ice cold this early in the morning, and there’s frost on the sad little garden out front. At the corner, Ciri is speaking to the delivery boy, a gangly teenager with his attention fixed on her. She doesn’t look at them once.

Geralt doesn’t have much to go on, not yet - there are no obvious paths, no blood or sharp scent in the air - but he waits, and he watches. He catches the boy pointing, down the narrow alley behind them, and that’s as good a place as any to begin. “How are you liking Cintra?”

“Not as temperate as Toussaint,” Regis says, a bit regretfully, a half step behind him. “And I must admit, I do miss the wine.”

Geralt snorts. “I’ll get B.B. to send you a case of the next crop,” he says. He doesn’t visit Corvo Bianco much anymore. Anarietta isn’t particularly interested in seeing him in the Duchy, for one, but there’s just something about the vineyard that feels too...idyllic. Like he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. The last time he was there, he lasted a week before he took a few bottles from the cellar, congratulated his steward on his good work, and got as far from Toussaint as he could.

He’s starting to realize he’s been doing a lot of running, lately. The problem is, he’s got no idea what he’s running from.

“You’re too kind,” Regis says.

Geralt looks over his shoulder to find him pink-cheeked in the cold, despite his anatomy, eyes bright and shoulders relaxed. In Toussaint, he’d still been healing, dependent on Dettlaff despite how miraculously whole he looked. Now, Regis looks more like the man Geralt met in Fen Carn, his hair dark and thick, his face less lined with worry and pain. It’s a relief of its own.

Regis’ brow furrows in question, and Geralt realizes he’s been staring. He clears his throat and turns away.

They don’t talk about it, but they fall into step, each taking one side of the alley as they sweep down it. It’s Geralt who catches it first. “Got it,” he says. The city of Cintra saw a lot of destruction during the slaughter, but there’s nothing manmade that would cause the scratches climbing down the brick wall. He runs his fingers across them. “Deep. Whatever caused this is big, strong.”

“Certainly.” Regis looks upward, frowning at a windowsill above their heads, and then he’s gone, dissipating into smoke. Geralt glances around the alley and waits, one eye on Regis’ smokey form winding high into the air and then back down. As he reforms, he drops something into Geralt’s hand. “It seems Cirilla was not far off with her vampire estimate,” he says.

The claw in Geralt’s hand is long, heavy, and curved. It flattens at the quick, a clear sign of a humanoid, but too heavy for any bruxae or alp, too big for a katakan. “Hmm,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Considering our monster’s habit of hunting at night, and the appearance of this claw, it seems likely we are dealing with a mula.” Geralt shakes his head. He’s heard mention of it, of course, in Vesemir’s books, but this is one he’s never encountered. “A revenant, of a type. Quite similar to a vampire. I’ve never heard of finding one this far north.”

“A revenant?” Geralt asks. He turns the claw over again, memorizing the razor sharp tip of it, the ebony colouring. “That mean we’re looking for a grave, then?”

“I would hazard a guess, yes.” Regis says. “This might prove a challenge in a city so recently ravaged by war.” One hand hooked in the strap of his bag, he gestures further down the alley with one sweeping gesture. “Shall we follow the trail?”

“Let’s go.”

On cobble, following a humanoid, the trail is faint. When he leans down, he can catch a trace of the heat of the mula’s oversized feet, visible against the shine of the fast-melting frost. The streets are narrow, barely a shoulder’s width wide, tucked between tall buildings. Geralt can see the marks left of the Slaughter, new brick bright against the dull of the old. It would have been a struggle for the creature to make it through here. “Look,” Geralt says. Tucked in a crevice beside an old doorframe, there’s a tuft of coarse hair.

Regis slips by him, brushing past Geralt’s chest in the tight space, and Geralt can smell anise, wormwood, and graveyard earth, oddly appealing. “This confirms it,” Regis says, plucking it from the crevice and bringing it to his nose. “Our culprit is a mula.” He tucks the fur away into his bag.

“You said it’s a revenant,” Geralt says. He looks past Regis, breathing clouds into the morning air, and to the end of the narrow street, where their trail disappears. Damnit.

“Indeed. Often confused with a vampire, the mula is, ah, a restless soul.” Regis lets Geralt take the lead, the two of them making their way to the cramped courtyard where the alley terminates. “I’ve little experience with them, I’m afraid, but the cause of their resurrection is said to be tied to an improper burial and some sort of unfinished business.”

“Like a spirit?” Geralt asks. He cranes his head, examining the walls around them, the grubby paving stones, but their quarry is well and gone.

“Mmm, something like that, but it’s very heavily tied to emotion.” Regis frowns. “I’m afraid I’ll have to consult my texts, but it seems that our revenant friend died recently, badly, and without ceremony.”

Geralt shakes his head. “Well, maybe Ciri’s had more luck than we have,” he sighs. Still, it’s a beginning. There haven’t been any deaths yet, and mulas are said to be sentient. It’s circling its prey.

“If I may?” Regis says, and Geralt inclines his head in agreement. Once more, Regis dissolves into nothing more than smoke, spiralling around the small open space. He pauses at windowsills Geralt can’t reach from here, touching on the rooftops, before alighting again in front of him. “Nothing. It’s clever.”

“Might be harder than we thought,” Geralt says, and Regis smiles at him.

“Lucky then, that you and your ward are so fond of challenges.”

Geralt laughs. “I guess so,” he agrees.

 

 

-

 

 

They set themselves to combing through the side streets, but it seems a futile task. The higher the sun gets in the sky, the busier even these shaded, quiet back streets become. They pause by an abandoned house and Geralt sighs, ready to call it a day. He turns to speak and that’s when Regis disappears between the space between one breath and the next.

Geralt’s stomach drops. “Regis!” he bellows, whirling to the spot where he’d stood, his silver sword in his hand so fast he barely registers it, the movement entirely instinct. There’s only one place he could have been taken. With his free hand, Geralt sketches the sign for aard, the explosive force blowing the door to the dilapidated house into splinters.

He dashes into the dimly lit building, body immediately tensing into readiness. There’s a crash above him and a window shatters, grubby glass showering over him and throwing light across him. Geralt recoils, shielding his eyes and dodging almost entirely on instinct when he hears the flap of leathery wings overhead. Growling, the mula smashes into the ground an inch from Geralt’s head, and Geralt rolls into a crouch, sword at the ready.

He’s never seen a mula before, and he’s not sure he really wanted to, considering the beast before him. It’s big, bigger than any vampire he’s ever seen, with long pointed ears and vicious fangs. Oversized leathery wings stretch over broad, muscled shoulders and enormous red eyes. It takes everything that Geralt has not to look away, as desperate as he is to find Regis again. Instead, he listens. He can hear the thunder of his own heart in his ears, and the low growl from the mula’s throat, and finally, another heartbeat, fast, startled. To his left. “Regis?” he calls again.

“Caught me by surprise,” Regis mutters. In front of Geralt, the mula straightens, large black eyes fixed on him. Sizing him up. Regis was right. It’s clever. Geralt doesn’t like clever, not when he can smell Regis’ blood. “I was not expecting anything so bold from a nocturnal creature.”

“It’s scared,” Geralt replies, and the mula snarls. Geralt resists the urge to snarl back. “Are you alright?”

“Worry not, it’s but a scratch.” There’s a rustle and shift, and then Geralt can feel the warmth of Regis at his shoulder. He doesn’t drop his ready stance, but something in him stirs, eases. He feels better, knowing where Regis is, knowing he’s alright. “I’m afraid my shirt has suffered a bit, however. Pity. I was quite fond of it.”

The beast before them takes a step forward and Geralt shifts without thinking, his free hand swinging blindly back to find Regis’ chest, putting him between the two. He feels Regis’ heartbeat against his palm and he pulls back after a second, feeling strange. He knows, logically, that Regis can look after himself. Still, the scent of Regis’ blood is in the air. It doesn’t make him particularly interested in taking risks.

“Geralt,” Regis murmurs, and Geralt shakes his head.

“Later,” he says. He jerks his chin forward. “You go high, I’ll go low?”

“Of course,” Regis agrees, and Geralt senses the shift in air pressure as Regis dissolves. He knows, with Regis’ speed, he doesn’t have to give him the time to position himself. He just lunges at the mula, sword high.

Geralt is the distraction, and a good one. He’s faced more than a few vampires in his day, and it’s never fun. This one may be just a cousin to a vampire, but it’s still fast for its size, strong, and relentless, focused on the obvious threat of Geralt’s blade. It bolts at him, swinging one long-taloned hand at Geralt’s middle. Its thick claws scrape against the heavy leather of Geralt’s armor, forcing him to twist away, tumbling across the dusty floor. He lands in a crouch, one ear craned for the sound of Regis, the whisper of his movement. He spins his sword in his hand, a deliberately flashy movement designed to catch the mula’s eye, and it works. Clever, but not clever enough.

It drops low, readying itself for a leap, when Regis springs onto its back and buries his viciously long claws in its throat. The mula roars, arching back and trying to throw Regis off. Geralt’s rarely seen Regis like this, talons out, face furrowed in his vampiric form, and every time, it’s life or death. It gives him a flash of adrenaline, diving in to take advantage of the opening, his blade sinking deep in its gut.

The beast knows when it’s beat. The instant Regis pulls back, it shakes like a wounded dog, shuddering and whining, panicked. It dissipates into smoke, tossing both Regis and Geralt onto the dirty floor, and whirls away, out the shattered window.

The two of them are left, shoulder to shoulder, breathing hard. “Didn’t know they could do that,” Geralt says. His sword glistens with dark blood. Regis is heavy against his shoulder and there’s something reassuring about that. For the first time since their encounter, Geralt gets a chance to look him over. His features slide back to something more familiar, claws shrinking back into his hands. There’s a long cut over his shoulder, but it’s shallow, already finished bleeding. Geralt’s shoulders drop in relief.

Regis catches him looking. “I told you,” he says quietly. “I’m fine.”

“I know,” Geralt says. “It’s just…” He trails off, frowning. Just what? He’s not even certain what he meant. He knows Regis can look after himself. He’s been doing it for centuries, after all. But after you’ve seen someone you care about melted into a pillar in front of you, it’s hard to let go. If he didn’t do what he could to help Regis, could he ever forgive himself?

Regis regards Geralt for one long moment, eyes unreadable. “Alright,” he says finally. He stands up and dusts himself off, grimacing at the tear in his shirt. “I don’t think our mula friend will be back any time soon. It’s most likely retreating to its lair to lick its wounds.”

“Sounds about right.” Geralt gets to his feet and tugs his scabbards into his hands. He slides his jacket off his shoulders and holds it out to Regis. “Don’t, uh, want to attract attention.”

“Of course,” Regis agrees, though he stands for a moment, holding the leather in his hands. “Smart.” He pulls it on, finally, and Geralt can hear him inhale. It smells like him, Geralt realizes. He swallows.

“It’s bleeding,” Geralt says. He jerks his thumb at the dark trail behind them. “We should try to follow it, while we can.”

Regis looks...different, with the jacket on. Geralt thinks of what Regis told him of his history, running with a rough crowd. Maybe this is something like what he looked like back then. “A good idea. Let’s get to it before any foot traffic can conceal the signs.” Regis smiles at him, and with a graceful hand, gestures him to the empty doorframe.

 

 

-

 

 

They follow the trail for a few blocks, but the thing is smart. They find a plundered laundry line and shredded, bloody cloth, and the footprints disappear onto the rooftops. They lose the trail in an hour. By the time the sun is high in the sky, Geralt sighs, taking a seat on a doorstep and rubbing his knee. “This reminds me of Toussaint,” Regis says.

Geralt squints up at him, watches him stretch his back. “Hunting a vampire who doesn’t want to be found?”

“Indeed,” Regis says. “And back at your side.” He hesitates, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “I admit, that is a part I am greatly pleased to repeat.” His gaze turns thoughtful. “I do not regret leaving Toussaint with Dettlaff, it was a necessary thing. I do, however, regret losing touch with you once more.”

“Hey, it’s not your fault,” Geralt tells him. “I’ve never been good at writing letters.” He should get better. Yen’s always complained about it, but Geralt’s a man of few words. Besides, he’d rather catch up in person, especially with someone like Regis. Half the pleasure of talking to him is the way he speaks, verbose and charming. It never fails to make Geralt smile.

“We must agree to each accept part of the blame,” Regis suggests, “and make the most of your time in Cintra.”

He didn’t come to the city to meet Regis, but he’s certainly not looking that gift horse in the mouth. “That’s an easy enough promise to make,” Geralt says. “Especially if you’ve got some of that mandrake moonshine of yours to share.”

The idea of kicking off his boots and spending a night with Regis, drinking and catching up - even with the mula attack, Cintra is becoming more of a break than he’d thought it’d be. Seems like the older he gets, the harder it is for him to remember how to relax, to take a moment to breathe. It might have something to do with how the future stretches before him, open, sure, but empty. He walks the Path, but he doesn’t know where he’s headed, not anymore.

“Ah, that I can certainly provide.” Regis holds out a hand to him and Geralt takes it, accepting the help to his feet. Regis is lean, wiry, and even if Geralt expects his vampire strength, something about it always takes him a little aback. There’s a lot Regis hides behind a pleasant smile. “Your knee is bothering you, isn’t it, my friend?”

Trust Regis to notice something like that. Another sign he’s getting old, the way the old injury flares up. Regis still holds his hand, steady and warm. Geralt considers this, but he doesn’t pull away. “Probably shouldn’t be running around in the cold,” Geralt says begrudgingly. “I’m not a kid anymore.” The invincibility of youth lasts a little longer when you’re a witcher, when you really can shake off almost anything, but his knee is a reminder of exactly how foolhardy that can be.

Regis tucks Geralt’s fingers into the crook of his elbow, like a gentleman, and Geralt blinks at him, amused. “I’m sure I’ve got a poultice that will help,” Regis says, and Geralt lets him take the lead. “I daresay anything is better than the sort of abuse you heap on it daily.” He remembers their days on the road with the hansa, Regis looking after all of them. It’s an easy enough thing to slide back into that old habit with him.

“I stretch it,” Geralt protests. “Daily, even.” It’s a lie.

Whether it’s vampire senses, or just their long history of friendship, Regis sees right through him. “That’s a lie,” Regis says, and his smile broadens. “Come. There’s plenty of time before Cirilla agreed to meet with us.” Geralt catches a flicker of something tender in Regis’ gaze before it slides away. “Let me look after you, and then we can sample some moonshine and tell stories.” Like he wasn’t the one just injured by the mula.

Let me look after you. The phrase, the sudden speed of Regis’ heartbeat, and Geralt’s tongue is more tied than usual. “I guess that’s a fair trade,” Geralt says, voice gruff. There are pieces sliding into place, some signs rising to the surface, and he’s going to have to do some thinking of his own, soon.

 

 

-

 

 

When Ciri returns to Regis’ apartment that night, she finds the two of them settled in front of Regis’ small fireplace, mugs in hand, laughing. Regis has an ankle folded over his knee, his shirt collar unbuttoned, and Geralt’s got his bad leg propped up on a stack of books, one of Regis’ fragrant poultices bound tightly around his knee. His moonshine is mostly gone, leaving him pleasantly warm and loose. It always did pack a punch.

“A couple of lushes, the both of you,” she declares, shutting the door to the stairs and sliding her scabbards off her shoulder. “Left me to run around Cintra solving a mystery while you sit around like a pair of old dogs, trading war stories.”

“Wolf,” Geralt insists, and Ciri rolls her eyes. “Old wolf.” He taps the medallion around his neck.

“You must forgive us, Cirilla,” Regis says. “We’ve had a quite trying day. We found our monster, you see.”

Her eyes get big with excitement. “I knew it!” she says. “It’s a vampire, right?” She pulls Geralt’s mug out of his hand and takes a sip of what’s left. “Ooh, that’s good,” she murmurs.

“Regis is good,” Geralt says absently. “And no. Hand over your coin.” He holds out his hand. Ciri frowns at him and puts his cup back in it.

Regis laughs. “It’s a cousin of a vampire,” he says. “A mula. I suppose you are both right, in the end.”

“A mula?” Ciri says. She wrinkles her nose. “That doesn’t win me my coin.”

“You’re supposed to be on my side,” Geralt says to Regis.

“I always am,” Regis says warmly.

When Geralt finally stops smiling at Regis and looks away, he finds Ciri watching the two of them, amused. “Well, she says. “Since I won’t find my coin here, and you’re in no state to do anything further on the contract tonight, I’ve suddenly found myself with plans for the evening. Elsewhere.” She drops a kiss onto the top of Geralt’s head. “Imagine that.”

“Are you sure?” Regis asks. There’s a hesitance to his voice. “There is more than enough moonshine to go around.”

She grasps his hand and squeezes it. “You’re kind,” she says, “but I’ve a lonely barmaid to return to.” She winks at Geralt, and he stares back, a little too warm from the moonshine to follow. “Have a nice night.”

Geralt nods to her and she whirls down the stairs and out the door. “Sometimes I don’t understand her,” he admits, letting his head tip back against the chair.

“We’re not young anymore, my friend.” Regis laughs for a moment, then his face turns somber. “I’m sorry if I was the reason she left,” she says, and Geralt is even more confused. “I’m afraid I’m not as subtle as I’d hoped to be.”

It sounds confessional. Geralt raises an eyebrow. “I don’t follow,” he says.

Regis’ mouth works for a moment, and Geralt’s lips pull up a bit. It’s always funny when Regis is at a loss for words. “You mean to say you haven’t figured it out yet?” Regis asks. He ducks his head. “Ah, we do make quite the pair.”

“I’m waiting,” Geralt says gently.

Regis takes a deep breath and sits forward in his seat, planting both feet on the floor. “I’m in love with you,” he says conversationally, and Geralt’s stutters in his chest. “I’m not certain when it started, but I knew it when I saw you again in Toussaint.” He laughs, rueful, and he won’t meet Geralt’s eye. “I love you.” It’s softer this time, like he’s figuring out how it sounds out loud.

Geralt has to pull his mug into both hands to steady himself, listening to the thunder of his own heartbeat. He’s not - well. He’s a witcher. He knows how to read a situation. He’s not surprised, not truly. What he’s surprised about is how it makes him feel. Like he’s standing on a cliff, toes hanging off the edge. “I don’t - ”

“I know,” Regis says, too fast. “I didn’t mean to presume.” His voice is a little sad, but mostly resigned. He’s spent a lot of time thinking about this, and he’s decided the outcome already. “But I knew the secret simply wouldn’t keep any longer, and I wanted to tell you myself.”

“Regis,” Geralt says, and Regis stills, falling silent. “I was trying to say…” He trails off, shakes his head. “I don’t know what to say, honestly.”

Because he doesn’t. Regis sees the best in him, he always has. He’s stood by him through war, through death, thrown his life on the line no matter what Geralt asks, and even if he didn’t. Since the djinn broke the spell with Yen, he can’t say that he’s felt that kind of affection from anyone, and Regis and Yen are...vastly different creatures.

“Don’t worry, my friend,” Regis says. “You needn’t say a thing. I promise I didn’t entertain any foolish fantasies of us walking the Path together. I knew what this confession would entail.” He stands in a rush, his empty mug in his hands. “I’m sorry. We were having such a pleasant time. I’m afraid I’ve ruined our evening.” He taps his long fingers against the ceramic, uncharacteristically fidgeting. “Please, help yourself to a drink. I must - I must go.”

Head still whirling, Geralt stares as Regis dissolves into smoke, seeping from the cracked open window, and disappears. It’s unlike him to run from something, but Geralt doesn’t blame him, not really. He’d offered out his heart, with no belief that Geralt would even think before letting him down easy. He knows the urge to escape after something like that. It turns out that even after hundreds of years, these things don’t get easier.

Geralt presses his knuckles against his mouth and stares into the fire. He’s had companions over the years, and some he’s travelled with for a long time. But looking for work with Dandelion is not at all the same as hunting with Regis. He snorts. Dandelion would be the first to say that he’s one of a kind, but it’s Regis that Geralt’s thinking about now. He understands Geralt, in a way not many others do. He knows loss, he knows the wanderlust, he knows what it is to have the monster as part of your nature. His friendship is so, so important to him. Geralt thinks about the sheer shock and relief he’d felt upon seeing Regis again in Toussaint.

Regis was so sure that Geralt wouldn’t think before answering. Maybe he should.

 

 

-

 

 

“Something happened.”

“Ciri.”

“A witcher knows.” Geralt shoots her a dark look. “Am I wrong?”

He rubs a hand over his eyes and steadfastly ignores the urge to glance over at Regis. “We’re on the job. Drop it.”

“Alright, alright.”

It’d seemed wrong to just up and leave Regis’ place without talking to him first, so Geralt had dozed off in the worn out chair in front of the fire, waiting. As the first sunlight filtered into the room, the embers long burned cold, Regis had slipped back in, corporeal once more. He’d seemed surprised to see Geralt there, and determined not to address what had happened. It was frustrating.

So here they were, speaking to a man whose house had been broken into by a giant beast with black eyes. “You believe me, don’t you?” the man asked. He clutched at his nightclothes, clearly unsettled by the night’s visit, but unharmed. “Oh, shit, how will I pay for the window?”

“You’re in the presence of two witchers,” Regis says soothingly. “I assure you, we are taking your words with the utmost faith.” He’s always had a skill with humans. Geralt remembers the bootblack and the way Regis had charmed the story out of the boy. He’s so sure, steady.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ciri murmurs to Geralt, pitched only loud enough for him to hear. Geralt casts a sidelong look at her, bracing himself for more well-meaning interference. “Why would the mula target him.” Ah. Back to business, then. Geralt frowns at himself. He’s not usually so distracted. “The place the delivery boy saw it was halfway across the district.”

A fair point. Geralt considers. “Regis said that the revenant was motivated by one of two things: a careless burial, or strong emotions tied to unfinished business.”

“I have it,” Ciri says, slapping his arm. She charges forward to join Regis and the man. “Excuse me,” she says, interrupting their witness mid-babble. “Do you know of anyone that’s gone missing lately? Someone you knew, perhaps well?”

The man blinks at her. “I...no. Why?” His eyes get even wider. “Does that matter? Are people going missing? Should I worry?” Geralt rubs a hand over his face.

“What about Borys?” A woman peers from a crack in the door. The man’s lover, likely, or maybe his wife.

“What about him?” the man asks sourly. Regis raises an eyebrow at Geralt over his head. This is beginning to sound promising. A jilted lover of hers?

The woman shuffles out of the door, clutching a shawl around her shoulders. “Borys is, ah, an old friend.” Definitely a lover. “Witold at the butcher’s says he ain’t been round in over a week and Borys ain’t ever miss a day of work in his life!”

“I’m so glad you’re keeping tabs on him,” their witness tells her. The woman draws herself up to her full height, outrage blazing in her eyes, and Geralt takes a step back. He’s got no interest in involving himself with this.

“We’ll bring your home invader to justice,” Regis says, but neither of them are listening anymore, too enmeshed in their own argument. “Ah, well. I did try.”

“You did,” Geralt agrees, and he offers Regis a smile. Regis does his best to return it, but soon, he looks away.

The three of them retreat to a safe distance, their boots loud against the uneven cobble. The sky above them is darkening with the threat of rain. “Looks like we’ve got our mula,” Ciri says, her eyes alight. She’s still new enough to the job that there’s a certain excitement to it - to piecing together the clues, to the fight at the end. Sometimes, Geralt misses that. It’s harder when what drives you is obligation, or maybe stubbornness. No one else can do what he does, so he keeps going.

“It certainly seems that way,” Regis agrees. “The difficult part now is finding a man with no grave.”

Harder still in the poor end of town, where someone can lay down in an alley and die and not be noticed for days. Poviss to Nilfgaard, it’s the same the world over. “Gives us a place to start, though,” Geralt says.

“And I’ll be damned if I leave Cintra without that contract filled,” Ciri says. She cocks her head, mouth sly. “Another five gold says I get to it before you do.”

“You didn’t win the first five,” he points out, but she waves him off. She’s plotting something, but Geralt’s too smart to try to tell his daughter what to do. “I’ll take that bet,” he says, knowing full well that he’ll lose.

“Perfect.” He opens his mouth to reply, and she shakes her head. “Don’t wish me luck. I don’t need it.” She taps the medallion at her belt and grins at him. “I’ve got a headstart.” In a blurred flash of light, she blinks away.

Geralt can only laugh. “Fighting dirty,” he grumbles.

With Ciri gone, it’s just Geralt and Regis in the empty alley, the storm clouds gathering above them and the fighting couple still noisy a block away. Regis shifts his feet, his hands clasped tight around the strap of his ever-present satchel. “Well, it seems as though today has been fruitful,” he says. “We should see if we can find anyone who knows about this Borys fellow.”

“We ever gonna talk about this?” Geralt asks.

Regis looks more like prey than Geralt has ever seen him, shoulders hunched and looking for an escape. “We don’t have to,” he insists. “If I’d had my way, I never would have told you at all, but I knew it wouldn’t remain a secret much longer. As such, I’d rather avoid any more humiliation, if it’s alright with you.”

A fat raindrop lands on Geralt’s nose, splattering across his cheek, but he’s not going anywhere. “Seems like you’re having a conversation in your head, but you’re doing the talking for me.”

That startles a laugh out of Regis. “You’re right,” he sighs. He turns to face Geralt, finally. “I’m not being fair.” He tips his face up into the drizzle. “I’m afraid,” he says. “I value your friendship deeply, and I would never want to do anything to jeopardize it.”

Geralt nods. “I remember Dettlaff and Syanna,” he says. He steps closer, slow, easy steps. “Vampires love deeply, you said.” He’s got that feeling again, like he’s standing at a cliff’s edge.

“But once we’re there, there is no turning away.” Regis shrugs his shoulder, a bittersweet smile on his face. “I’m sorry, my friend.”

“Don’t be,” Geralt says, and he carefully cups Regis’ face in his hands. “I’m not.” He stands at that precipice, and he leaps.

Kissing Regis is like nothing he’s ever felt. It’s not fireworks or shooting stars, it’s coming home. There’s nothing desperate about the way Geralt parts his lips under Regis’, the way he sighs at the scrape of Regis’ fangs. They leapt. And now they’re flying. The rain begins in earnest and Regis’ arms find their way around Geralt’s waist as he leans in, All he can smell is graveyard earth, a now familiar scent.

After a moment, they part, and Regis stares at him searchingly, dark eyes shining with emotion and chest heaving as rain runs down his face. “You’re certain?” Regis murmurs. “I cannot take this back, Geralt, I don’t think I could bear it.”

Geralt’s hands settle against the bow of Regis’ collarbone and he watches water soak through his waistcoat. “I’m sure,” he agrees. He strokes his thumb over the pale skin and Regis’s hands fly up, gripping his wrists. “I think I’ve been heading here since Toussaint. Heading back to you.”

Regis exhales. His hands are warm in the cold of the downpour. “This is - I - ”

“Yeah,” Geralt agrees, and Regis laughs, and leans in to kiss him again.

The rain is starting to seep through the leather of his jacket, and he’ll probably regret that later, but right now? This is exactly where he wants to be.

 

 

-

 

 

Ciri wins the bet. Geralt doesn’t even try, if he’s honest. He knows she’s on the job, and she is. By the next night, she’d solved it all and put old Borys to rest, no fight even needed. Poor man had gone out drinking, mourning his lover, and taken a fall in an alley. With everyone celebrating the rebuilding, none had caught sight of his boots poking out from under the mess. Until Ciri, naturally.

In the meanwhile, Geralt spends his time at Regis’ apartment, catching up amidst the clutter. Every once in a while, he catches Regis looking at him, tender and a little disbelieving, as though caught in a dream. He understands. He never thought he’d feel like this with anyone. Settled. Like nothing has changed, but everything has. Regis still chides him about his knee, but now Geralt can reel him in and kiss him to quiet him, and it’s so, so good.

“Where are you headed now?” Geralt asks. They’re sitting at Regis’ wobbly table, the remnants of breakfast in front of them. He leans back in his chair, mug of tea in his hand and feet bare against the worn floorboards. He feels a little guilty, if he’s honest. They’d met up to spend time together, and Geralt’s found his world reorienting a little, instead.

“Brugge, I think,” Ciri says. Her eyes are steady and fond, taking in the way Regis sits close, how Geralt’s hand is holding his, under the table. He’s not hiding it, not really. It’s just - well, it’s just for them. Besides, he knows better than to try to conceal anything from Ciri. A witcher knows, after all. She smiles at him, broad and affectionate. “I got word there’s an issue with a leshen near the capital. Haven’t seen one of those in a while.”

Geralt nods. “Solid plan,” he says. He considers apologizing for a moment, but she catches his gaze, eyes sliding to Regis and then back to him, and she gives him a nod. Approval, he supposes. He nods back, mouth wry, and her grin turns sharp. He’s spent whole decades of his life looking for her, looking after her, and now she’s doing the same. It floods his chest with warmth. “Sure you don’t want to stay?”

“Yes,” Ciri says firmly, assured. So confident in her choices. If he’s helped her get there in any small way, he can take pride in that. He is proud of her, and of the woman she’s become. “I think I’ve grown weary of Cintra. Wanderlust, I suppose.”

His daughter to the bone. “I’ll see you at Midwinter, in Novigrad?” Since Vesemir’s death, Kaer Morhen had seemed colder and emptier, and they’d all scattered. Somehow, it was Novigrad they drew back to, in the winter. Dandelion, an honest businessman. He thought he’d never see the day.

“Of course.” Geralt stands and scoops Ciri into a hug, warm and tight. He knows she’s grown now, and she has her own life to live, but he still misses her, when she’s gone. “Bring him,” she murmurs. Her voice is low, but neither of them have any illusions that Regis doesn’t hear. “And presents!”

“Deal,” Geralt laughs. He lets her go, but not far, his hands still resting on her shoulders. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” she says, thumping him in the chest with a finger. “And write sometime! Zoltan was throwing around the idea of a hunting party for you, last I saw him. Perhaps you could remind him that you’re alive?”

“Alright, alright,” Geralt says, and after pulling her in to kiss her head, he lets her go. “I love you.”

“I love you too, old man.” She turns to Regis. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you again, Regis, truly.”

“And you,” Regis says. “Your father has always told such tales of you. It’s a delight to meet the woman and see she lives up to all the stories.”

Ciri beams, smile like starlight. “Of course I do,” she says. “I am a very talented witcher.”

“Modest, too,” Geralt says dryly. His chest aches in such a bittersweet way.

After a pause, Ciri sighs. “Alright,” she says. “I’m off. I’ve got another stop before I leave the city.”

“The barmaid, I presume,” Regis says.

“I’ll tell her you said hello,” she says, and with a wink, she’s out the door once more.

The small room seems dimmer after she’s left. Regis lifts Geralt’s hand, pressing his lips to his knuckles. “It never gets easier, does it?” he says.

Geralt shakes his head. “The older I get, the more final goodbyes I say.” There’s always a part of him that worries for her, but they’re long past the point of Geralt charging in to save the day. She has her own life, and she knows the dangers of walking the Path. So as much as Geralt would like to keep her safe, he’s known from the start that the best thing he could ever do for her is let her make her own choices. And if they lead her away from him? He has to let her go.

“The past week has been an educational one for me,” Regis says. His thumb rubs rhythmically across Geralt’s scarred knuckles. “If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Cirilla defies the odds. She’s very capable.”

“She is,” he agrees.

“And you?” Regis asks. The late morning light slides warm and bright across the floor. “Where do you plan on going next?”

“No idea,” Geralt says. He hesitates, that cliff’s edge feeling returning. “Where do you want to go?”

Regis stares at him, dark eyes wide and shining, surprised. “There aren’t a lot of places I haven’t already seen,” he says, and he steps forward, crowding into Geralt’s space, “but I daresay they’d all be new with you.”

“I don’t want to pull you away from your life here,” Geralt begins, but Regis is already shaking his head, his hands curling around Geralt’s hips.

“This was never a permanent stop, my friend. I was always going to have to leave.” He tips his chin up. “Maybe it’s time for us to follow your Path again, hmm?”

Regis always understands it, his need to keep moving, keep the road under his feet. Geralt shakes his head, one hand curling around the back of Regis’ neck. “Never thought I’d meet someone who wanted to do this with me,” he admits.

“We’re not young, but we’ve still so much to learn,” Regis tells him, and when he kisses Geralt, he can feel his smile against his lips.

When he came to Cintra, Regis had said it was fate. Geralt’s starting to think that maybe he’s right.