The dread cannot escape him, not even waiting in limbo for justice.
It curls around him, urging him to fade into smoke as the fear prickles across his tongue. He can’t stop reliving each and every moment.
Dettlaff kneels restlessly on the cold cellar floor. His limbs rest, unmoved for an uncountable amount of time, and his brow furrows close. All that he registers is the memory.
Once, Dettlaff crouched in his shop, clutching a half-formed piece of wood and shaving it down with his claws in shuddering, agitated strokes that pierced the soft meat of his hand more than the doll-to-be. Boots clacked against the pavement outside of Beauclair’s toy shop, and a pair paused long enough to slide a letter under his door.
Even though Dettlaff listened with ears that grew hair with every passing second, he could not make out which set of boots had done it. Was it the crisp leather boots, or the chipped clay flats, or the muddy linen—
Regardless, a paper rested on the floor of the shop, a name scrawled on it.
Dettlaff’s shoulders had quaked then as they do now, as he leapt to his feet to open the door and stare into the crowd of countless humans, some turning their heads in vague interest at him. He hid his hands behind him, willing the claws to recede, and as he bolts the door shut and sinks to the floor, he looks down at the block of wood clutched in his newly human hands.
The wood is mangled beyond belief, the doll’s rudimentary face sliced clean through.
Now, lying in the dark cellar, there will be no more named letters, but Dettlaff’s hand hurts all the same—his phantom hand, the one he had used to squeeze the heart of that knight errant, the one he had used to commit further atrocities until he couldn’t stop weeping and his hand pulsed with such sorrow that there was no other choice but to tear it off.
All to save Rhena.
Syanna. She goes by Syanna now.
Dettlaff rests against the cold floor of Corvo Bianco’s wine cellar and leans against a wine barrel, kneeling in the darkness, waiting for judgement to be prescribed. He feels his body recede into itself, his stagnant limbs now the only connection with the outside world.
Time passes immaterial as Dettlaff waits and wanes, until he’s brought back down to a singular point of consciousness with the clank of metal boots on the cellar floor.
They’re here—they have sentenced Syanna—Dettlaff scrambles to his feet and limps to the door, pausing as a jolt of pain lances up his back. As immortal as he is, he has been without sustenance for days, weeks, months, never moving, and he is not invincible.
No Toussaint knight errant walks into the cellar, but Geralt of Rivia does turn to face him while opening another door. Though no light has entered the sloped hallway, Geralt stares directly at Dettlaff, eyes preternaturally wide, and gives him a short nod before disappearing into a room.
From the room, Dettlaff can hear the small hiss of steam and the bubble of liquids combining. He stays in the doorway and listens as Geralt uncorks vials and the smells of beasts waft through the air, one by one—katakan, slyzard, basilisk, leshen, wight—alchemical mutagens combining and decocting, mixing together and smelling of the same poisons the witcher drank before he and Dettlaff clashed blades.
When Geralt leaves, his shoulders spasm and sweat drips from his colorless brow, and he does not glance back at Dettlaff. Dettlaff watches him leave before taking steps down the echoing, empty hallway, stopping at the door to the laboratory.
The laboratory is now empty, devoid of mutagens and lit burners, and Geralt has placed all tomes back neatly on the shelf, pocketing his new decoctions on his way out.
Dettlaff runs his fingers down the side of one vial, and, unbidden, the smell of bruxae blood leaps out, calling to him. Vampire blood has been mixed here.
And yet, curiously, the smell of Regis is nowhere to be found—Regis, who had regained sapience and not ten minutes later requested Dettlaff to read aloud to him scientific papers; Regis, who had placed his tongue and teeth on Dettlaff’s wrist every night for years until Dettlaff could sense his own blood pumping throughout Regis’s veins.
Dettlaff doesn’t smell Regis anywhere in this laboratory, but if Regis is here, why wouldn’t he help Geralt?
Regis promised he would be here. He has to be here.
Dettlaff leans against the workbench, closing his eyes, letting his consciousness flake apart as he roams, searching for the remnants of his own blood in Regis. Where is he?
He can’t find Regis in the vineyards of Corvo Bianco. He can’t find Regis on the streets of Beauclair or in their home in Mére-Lachaislongue.
Dettlaff’s pulse leaps in his ears, his own blood rushing and filling with the sweet sting of panic once more. Why is Regis not here?
Regis had promised he would be here. Regis had promised.
He had promised, all that immutable time ago, when—
Dettlaff touches down in the courtyard of Tesham Mutna, Regis’s blood calling to him. Smoke reforms into bone and muscle and teeth and Dettlaff opens his eyes to see the Toussaint nobility arranged before him, crossbows aimed at him from all sides.
He smells a lick of sweat drop from the captain of the guard’s ear, and he senses a soldier’s finger twitch on the trigger, but they withhold their fire.
In the middle of the battalion stands Anna Henrietta, her jewel-encrusted dress catching all of the fading light in this early evening. Next to her, in leather still smelling of combat, Rhena smiles.
Not Rhena. Syanna.
Dettlaff steps forward—why did you deceive me why did you make me fear for your imminent death why did you order me to slaughter them—and from amongst the crowd, Regis steps in front of her.
“Dettlaff,” he says, “they did what you requested. Syanna is here, amongst these ruins, within the three days you demanded. Now uphold your end of the bargain and hear her out.”
Regis’s skin hangs more than Dettlaff remembers, and his grip on Syanna’s wrist seems shaky at best. And Dettlaff knows that Regis can summon up within him as much vigor as their ancestors before the Conjunction to rend him limb from limb if he has to, but this Regis does not seek out war. This is a Regis that had collapsed in Mére-Lachaislongue after a night of preening stems from wildflowers, bits of potion staining his hands, and Dettlaff had cut a neat slice through his own wrist and pressed it to Regis’s lips until his breathing evened and pallor returned to his neck.
Dettlaff can almost taste his own blood that pumps through Regis’s veins, and Regis now wraps his hand around Syanna’s arm.
So Dettlaff nods, and looks Rhena in her eyes as she starts to speak.
Rhena says, “You helped me avenge my own childhood, and for that, I am not ashamed.”
Dettlaff thinks of clinking beer glasses with a knight errant. Not ashamed.
Rhena says, “For their actions, those men deserved to die. Maybe not by my hand. But they did deserve it.”
Dettlaff thinks of sitting across the bootblack stand from a man with an airy laugh as the bootblack polishes their shoes. Not ashamed.
Rhena says, “But I did deceive you, Dettlaff. And I know that I cannot ask your forgiveness for that.”
Dettlaff thinks of a decade ago, a woman who saw his claws and fangs and didn’t balk, but stood there and asked question after question until Dettlaff had stepped out of the shadows to show her his true skin.
Dettlaff thinks of the letter, a threat to send him his loved one’s finger if he did not run the knight through with his claws, use his own monstrosity to save her.
Dettlaff wets his lips. “No,” he says. “You cannot.”
Rhena—Syanna, she goes by Syanna now—stops her halted explanation short. “But I don’t know what else to give you to assure you of my intentions, that I not now, nor have I ever deceived you to harm you.”
Shielding her with his body and clutching onto her with a thinly shaking hand, Regis breaks contact and reaches out to Dettlaff. Dettlaff feels his blood mate’s hand on his shoulder, part of him buried deep in his veins.
“Harm me,” Dettlaff snarls, his own jaw elongating and tongue growing thick between shifting teeth. “You could never do more than temporarily wound me at best. I will outlive you; I will outlive you all!”
Regis presses his own unclawed hand into Dettlaff’s shoulder—focus, focus.
Dettlaff closes his eyes and feels the ground of Tesham Mutna, the ground that so many vampires have walked before to their eternal imprisonment. Will they string him up here as well? Will he be condemned to millennia in a cage, hidden from sight and mind, forever?
“Just tell me this one thing,” he growls. Before they leave him to the rats in punishment. “You had one more victim, one more perpetrator of your wrongs who you would send me to kill. Who was it? Who owes their life to the luck of being the last one on the list?”
The duchess of Toussaint steps forward, eye to eye with Dettlaff. Her immaculately perfumed hair sparkles in the dusk. “It was me,” she says.
Syanna aborts a movement forward, staring her sister in the eye, and opens her mouth without words.
Anna Henrietta does not waver. “Dettlaff van der Eretein, I should have been the last to die by your hand.”
“And you stand next to her?” Dettlaff asks, fangs crowding his words. “You would protect her, even after that.”
“Yes,” Anna Henrietta says.
Regis still clutches onto Dettlaff, obscuring her full form from him and holding him back. He has no trust for Dettlaff to stay his ground, even though Dettlaff’s fight was never with the duchess.
Anna Henrietta places her own hand on Regis—her hand on his beloved—and Regis steps aside to make room for her. “I’m not asking you to forgive her,” the duchess of Toussaint says. “If you value the lives of us humans more than you desire to kill us in escape, I am simply asking you to not take your revenge upon her.”
Syanna stands behind her sister and looks—not shocked nor scared by the revelation of her assassination attempts made public. Syanna looks at peace.
Dettlaff wavers. “What would you have me do instead? Forget this? Forget that she—used me, tricked me?”
“Of course not. And that will be taken into account. But we need time to arbitrate justice, and killing her won’t bring them back.”
It won’t bring Rhena back, either.
Dettlaff does not nod, but he doesn’t spike Syanna through the heart, either.
From behind her, Regis says, “Dettlaff will stay to await justice if he is housed away from Syanna.”
“Where do you propose?” Anna Henrietta asks.
From behind Dettlaff, a gravelly voice speaks up. “Well, you have given me an entire estate.” Dettlaff doesn’t have to turn around to know this is the witcher who Regis called a friend.
Regis nods. “If you do not know how to ensure he remains at the estate, I will stay as well. Dettlaff has no more reason to go where I am not.”
Anna Henrietta holds a moment, and then nods sharply. “Agreed. We will send for him at Corvo Bianco when we decide our judgement.”
Dettlaff continues to stand in the center of the Tesham Mutna courtyard as the guards pack up their weapons, leading the nobility away.
Syanna meets his eyes as she turns and gives him the smallest of nods before she disappears with her pack. She doesn’t look back.
Regis’s voice is hoarse and so thin when he says, “Come on, Dettlaff,” and Dettlaff’s shoulder is so cold without Regis’s touch. The urge to restore blood to the healing vampire is so strong, but as the three of them travel in silence to Geralt of Rivia’s estate, Regis does not look at him or brush against him once.
Now Dettlaff stands against the empty laboratory that smells faintly of bruxa, faintly of his home and kin, and he doesn’t know why Regis isn’t here.
He doesn’t know why Regis left him alone.
Dettlaff has to go find Geralt.
For the first time since following Regis back to the vineyard, Dettlaff takes a step outside of the wine cellar.
Light peaks over the distant mountains, casting a warm glow on the baked earth. He twitches an ear to hear the rustling of vineyard workers in their nearby homes, awaking and preparing for the day, not yet heading into the fields. He pulls his cloak tighter over himself, aware that he can no longer blend into a busy city street to pass unnoticed, and takes the short jaunt to the main house, tension easing from his cramped limbs with every step.
The main house is empty as well, the hearth cool and the dining table untouched. Here, Dettlaff can smell traces of Regis—not his blood, but his aftershave, the dust of his notebooks. Dettlaff follows the faint trace of his Regis to the bedroom, and he twists the bedroom knob open ever so quietly, opening the door on its silent, well-oiled hinges to find it empty as well.
A painting of a young Princess Cirilla of Nilfgaard, dressed in frilly pink, pouts down at him as Dettlaff surveys the room. Geralt is not here, and it does not smell of his new mutagens, so he hasn’t slept here since his laboratory experiments. Dettlaff can, however, use the traces of his dead kin in the mutagens to track Geralt down.
Before Dettlaff leaves the bedroom, he feels one more scent prick its way into his nostrils. Dettlaff stands at the foot of the bed and hesitates his hand before finally pressing it on the neatly folded sheets in front of him. The linen scrapes at him, though it doesn’t cause enough discomfort for him to pull away. Dettlaff inhales, and is finally hit with a faint scent of Regis—a scent of want.
Dettlaff absentmindedly pats the bedsheet back to its unruffled state, and remembers before the letters showed up, when Beauclair was a just another city chosen so Dettlaff and Regis could disappear in the crowds together, every passing day Regis taking one more step, blanched knuckles gripping onto Dettlaff’s shoulder—the same shoulder Regis held as he warned Dettlaff not to slaughter Syanna.
Every passing night Regis burrowed his head into Dettlaff’s shoulder, arching into his hands, body half-transformed between human and vampire as he used his waning strength to carve lines into Dettlaff’s back, want and need and desperation a garbled mess in his throat as Dettlaff worked him through it.
Dettlaff smooths the sheets on Geralt of Rivia’s bed and feels the memory of Regis’s hand on his shoulder, a weight of concern and protection as he sided himself with the humans against Dettlaff, smelling of adrenaline and the preparation to kill Dettlaff if necessary.
Dettlaff closes the bedroom door behind him and follows the scent of new mutagens into the vineyard.
He sees a shock of white hair peeking up amongst the sprawling vines, bare of any fruit, and unhooked metal armor lies to the side in the shade of a tree. Dettlaff walks to the row of vines where Geralt waits, and his feet blend into mist as to not make a sound.
Staying only in the cellar might have been self-imposed, and even though he sees no reason for Geralt to impose it upon him in addition, Dettlaff would rather not give him a reason to.
Geralt turns and nods at Dettlaff before he arrives, though there’s no human way he could hear him approaching.
Dettlaff hangs back, uncertain. Aside from their first and only clash of blows, he has not interacted with this witcher—or any witcher—before.
The witcher looks away to inspect a single branch in his vineyard, holed through and yellowing, before scratching a description in his notebook.
“Good morning,” Geralt says, reaching into the vines to break off the small stem and tuck it into the book, turning back around to him.
Dettlaff inclines his head. He looks around the sprawling estate, the section of vineyard next to them all fresh dirt and slats, waiting for the first seedlings to sprout, and he does not know how to ask Geralt if Regis has abandoned him.
He could fog into mist right now; he could disappear into the current of the air and fly with his ravens and locate Regis, no matter how long it would take. However, if he did so, the first thing that would await him when he reformed would be Regis’s teeth in his neck, rending him limb from limb, because Dettlaff vowed to stay.
Regis’s words to Anna Henrietta were correct. Dettlaff has no more reason to go where Regis is not.
Geralt shifts his weight with some discomfort, the silence stretching longer between them. Dettlaff has come to no conclusions for how to ask the witcher about this.
The morning sun cuts across the sky to glare into his eyes, which flinch, unused to anything but the kettle-black of the cellar.
Geralt waves a hand to break the stillness. “Come, let’s sit.” The witcher walks to the tree, nudging his discarded armor aside with a toe, and sits back against the tree, covering himself in the shade.
Dettlaff walks back with him and stares as the man gestures at him again, freely inviting him to sit in the space next to him. Dettlaff has met this man a handful of times, and in at least one of them Geralt’s stated goal was to kill him, so he gingerly adopts a meditative pose in the shade.
“Why are you doing this?” Dettlaff asks, his vocal cords stretching unpleasantly over words that haven’t been spoken in so long.
Geralt glances at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Which part? Kicking over my armor? Shit wasn’t that valuable; it was my tourney armor but there’s been enough guts on it that you can’t even make out the crest anymore.”
A breeze picks up and rustles Dettlaff’s hair. “Holding me here. You wanted to kill me—you wanted to kill the Beast of Beauclair, complete your contract, witcher, and yet you haven’t. You sheltered me.”
Geralt drapes a hand over his face as the sun finds cracks in the leaves and presses into their eyes. “Contract changed,” he shrugs. “The duchess wants a fair judgement, you didn’t kill Syanna, Syanna didn’t kill the duchess…” Geralt trails off.
She is not dead. Dettlaff is not dead. The only ones that are dead died by Dettlaff’s own hand, died because of Syanna’s word, and their deaths might be justified but nothing justifies forcing Dettlaff to slaughter the unarmed—
“Geralt,” Dettlaff bites, “where is Regis.”
Geralt removes the hand over his face. “Ah,” he says.
“He didn’t just leave me,” Dettlaff spits. He wouldn’t. He owes enough to Dettlaff, he wants to be around Dettlaff, and Regis wouldn’t just run.
Once upon a time, Regis had given Dettlaff his ring. Once upon a time, they had dreamed about the future, positing which mountain nook or quiet forest to build a home in, build a hearth in. Once upon a time, Dettlaff had prized the ring on his hand, right up until the moment it spattered with human blood and Dettlaff had—
“He wouldn’t leave you, either,” Dettlaff says. Not with that scent memory in Geralt’s bed.
Geralt sits up in a way that Dettlaff thinks a Northerner considers a serious pose. He’s close to Dettlaff, almost knocking knees, but he isn’t on the verge of attacking. Lines lay deep in Geralt’s face, framing his eyes, his muscles thrum with superhuman strength, but he looks tired, underneath it all.
“You know about Regis’s addiction,” he says.
Dettlaff gives a curt nod.
“To find you, we needed a potion with agitated vampire blood. The only way we could get some in time was to string him up—”
“—in Tesham Mutna and leave him to suffer,” Dettlaff finishes, fingers curling into claws. “But—when I saw him—he was composed. He hadn’t relapsed.”
He’s sitting taut as a string, waiting on the precipice of confirmation. He remembers the moments he doesn’t want to remember, but those moments are over.
“He hadn’t relapsed,” Geralt agrees, and something inside Dettlaff loosens. His claws scrape the dirt, digging aimless holes and wandering.
“Where is he?” Dettlaff asks again. “He is supposed to be here.”
“And he has been, and he will be,” Geralt says. “But he—in finding you, he took a potion to enhance his sense of smell, and he was driven mad with bloodlust, and we found you, and we convinced Syanna to meet with you, and he held it together better than anyone I’ve seen. But everyone has a limit.”
“Where. Did he go.”
“Tesham Mutna,” Geralt says, and reaches out to grasp Dettlaff’s shoulder before Dettlaff can dissipate away. “Listen to me: he’s not relapsing. He’s not being caged or looking for blood. But he wanted to look at the corpses of the vampires who did and vow that there will never again be an opportunity for them to do so. He’ll be back soon.”
Geralt’s hand is warm to the touch, so much warmer than Regis. He’s still mostly human, though, and Dettlaff could tear through the sinews of Geralt’s wrist and take flight in an instant if he wanted.
But Geralt is steadying him.
Geralt’s hand on his shoulder is the first touch not associated with death—a game of dice in the center of the ducal square with humans he decapitates an hour later, Dettlaff’s claws through Regis’s stomach, Regis’s hand stopping him from moving toward Syanna—the first touch not associated with death since—
Candles lit in the laboratory at Mére-Lachaislongue, Regis brushing a shock of hair out of Dettlaff’s face, his laughter echoing with faint ravens’ calls, Dettlaff kneeling between his legs, wrapping a hand around his thigh, Regis’s half-grinning choked cry—
Dettlaff pulls his shoulder from Geralt’s grasp but doesn’t fly to the wind to retrieve his beloved.
“Soon,” he confirms. The touch hurt, but the lack of contact—the lack of anything steadying Dettlaff except for the slight breeze on the wind—hollows him out.
“As soon as he can,” Geralt says, and reaches a hand out to disturb the sun’s rays. “Day’s coming on. Marlene should be making food by now; would you like to join?”
They walk through the vineyards back to Corvo Bianco together, Geralt’s hands firmly in his pockets, Dettlaff offering to carry his discarded armor for him. They don’t touch, but somehow Dettlaff feels it all the more.
A bald majordomo awaits Geralt as they enter the house, a starched ruff adding an extra layer of pomp to his appearance. Dettlaff doesn’t need to be beheld by someone who would know him only as the Beast of Beauclair, and he turns to retreat.
“Ah, Sir van der Eretein,” the majordomo speaks up. “Geralt assured me you would poke your head out of the cellar at some point. There is a barrel or two we were thinking of opening to celebrate the end to… the unfortunate events at hand, but only if you would be amenable, of course.”
The majordomo is peering at him through perfectly round eyeglasses and waiting for Dettlaff to speak. The majordomo knows who he is; Geralt has not kept Dettlaff’s company—his imprisonment?—a secret from the very humans who were Dettlaff’s enemies not too long ago.
Dettlaff swallows; he has no answers for this man. “Forgive me, but I would not be amenable.”
“No problem at all,” the majordomo assures, quick to respond. “Festivities can be had without tapping from the stock. Though, you both must excuse me, I have to prepare the wood panelling; Marlene should be in at any minute.”
“Wood panelling?” Dettlaff asks. Centuries of rudimentary carpentry, an appreciation for wood in any of its uses, have piqued his interest.
Geralt shifts his weight. “I’m having BB renovate the guest room. Might be needing it earlier than originally expected.”
“Why would you be needing it?” Dettlaff raises an eyebrow. “I know Regis shares your bed.”
Geralt coughs, slightly reddening, though Dettlaff is not quite sure of the cause. Is it because Regis also shares Dettlaff’s bed?
The majordomo, BB, continues without a hitch. “The wood panelling is Nilfgaardian mahogany, of course, and we were thinking a rounded trim.”
Dettlaff has spent countless hours measuring wood pieces and slotting them into place, usually on a minuscule scale to perfect a small ship that children will gaze at in his shop, their tiny eyes round and wide. “How were you planning to standardize the cuts?”
The majordomo, whose name turns out to be Barnabas-Basil, leads him to the upstairs guest room that has been gathering dust and shows him blueprints, measuring tools, some spare lumber used to practice the angle of the cuts necessary to round the corner trim.
The man does not hesitate around him or show any indication that he is aware that Dettlaff killed four of his brethren. He never addresses Dettlaff’s inhuman identity, though the weight of the wood he asks Dettlaff to reposition on the wall is more than a human can carry, let alone hold up to the moulding.
Downstairs, Geralt opens the door for an old woman who radiates so much resilience, and the hearth soon alights. When Geralt looks to the second floor balcony, as Dettlaff shifts a piece of lumber spanning the width of the wall for Barnabas-Basil to mark, he can hear Geralt’s heart skip an oh-so-slow beat.
Geralt ascends the stairs to let them know that Marlene’s stew is on the table, and—“BB,” Geralt crosses his arms, “are you making our friend do unpaid labor for you?”
“Geralt,” Barnabas-Basil says sternly, from somewhere atop Dettlaff’s shoulders, “a team of woodworkers couldn’t do this for me. Sir van der Eretein is really one of a kind.”
“Thank you,” Dettlaff says, not insincerely.
“You’re welcome. Put me down now?”
He lowers Barnabas-Basil to the floor.
Barnabas-Basil adjusts his askew eyeglasses and holds out a hand to Dettlaff. “Your assistance has sped up this process immeasurably, and if you would like recompense from the Corvo Bianco coffers, just say the word.”
“Oh, my coffers?” Geralt harrumphs, but he smiles nonetheless.
Dettlaff eyes the hand extended to him. Of all things, a human offering him a hand…
Hundreds of years ago, Dettlaff places the cooling corpse of a monster in front of a sleeping farmer, nudging the human’s hand towards a knife as he snores. The farmer’s heart is beating in his wrist, and because of Dettlaff, he will stay alive at least another sunrise longer.
Rhena reaches out her hand to shake Dettlaff’s for the first time, and Dettlaff’s nerves are jumping wild, claws fully extended, hair prickling on his scalp, but she stands before him, fearless, and offers her hand. Dettlaff extends it, ever so slowly, so that he doesn’t slice her palm on accident, until his mutating skin touches her warm hand.
Louis de la Croix tugs on his sleeve to offer him the empty bootblack chair.
Milton de Peyrac-Peyran laughs, tinged with wine, and offers him a cursory clasp on the elbow.
Blood spills. Blood always spills, and Dettlaff invariably ends up the one to spill it.
But Geralt did grasp his shoulder, and didn’t waver from Dettlaff’s gaze as he did so, unafraid to maintain the contact. And Geralt had been present for one of Dettlaff’s murders.
So Dettlaff looks at Barnabas-Basil’s outstretched hand, and gingerly takes it in his own. No claws come shooting out, no hair sprouts, no joints pop. He stays human, and no emotion bites at the back of his throat, no panic swims in his jaw. So he shakes the majordomo’s hand.
“I will not be needing any of your estate’s money,” Dettlaff says, willing his voice to calm. “I am doing this to—” atone “—help.”
“Well, then thank you for your help,” Barnabas-Basil says.
Having assured Dettlaff he wouldn’t open the wine cellar barrels, the majordomo does however open a bottle of the auspiciously named White Wolf wine newly produced in Belgaard.
“BB,” Geralt protests, “it’s—eight in the morning—”
“Geralt,” Marlene tsks, ladling porridge into her bowl, “this is Toussaint. This is your wine. Enjoy it, even at eight in the morning.”
Geralt’s cheeks pink, but he doesn’t complain as BB passes him the bottle, and fills his own glass up as full as the rest of them.
Dettlaff drinks the aptly-named wine, watching Marlene and BB try to weasel the story of how the new Coronata and Vermentino vineyards gave up their historic rivalry after a half hour in Geralt’s presence. Geralt keeps shaking his head and smiling as Marlene prompts, “And then you discovered that it wasn’t Liam or Matilda sabotaging each other…”
“I fulfilled the contract!” Geralt protests, and his glass is empty twice over and his cheeks cannot turn any more scarlet. “I investigated the saboteur to the extent of my abilities, and it turns out I was successful! There’s really nothing more to it.”
“You got paid your weight in wine, though,” Barnabas-Basil announces, not bothering to adjust his askew eyeglasses.
“Speaking of which, would you please…” Geralt trails off, looking at Dettlaff expectantly. Dettlaff can’t say that he’s used to anything but Regis’s (horrible) moonshine filling him with a vague warmth—and the moonshine usually kicks him square in the head before he can pass through the pleasantness first, but then again, he hasn’t eaten since facing Syanna, so maybe that explains the airiness around his head.
Dettlaff grabs the bottle of White Wolf, feels that it’s empty, and then reaches for the dregs of the second bottle that someone snuck onto the table in the interim of the conversation. He holds it out to Geralt, who wraps his own hand around Dettlaff to take it.
Dettlaff doesn’t withdraw his hand.
Geralt’s hand is overly warm, calloused, but smooth enough, and equally as noncombatant as the last time he touched Dettlaff.
Geralt takes this in stride, twisting the bottle to pour himself another finger of wine, still wrapped around Dettlaff’s hand, and Dettlaff considers—
The first time he touched Geralt, it was to kill; the second time, it was unintended; but this time, it is welcome. It’s the repetition that edges away the inherent feeling of bile rising in his throat, returning less and less to the fears of combat and slaughter.
Geralt moves to drag his hand back, but Dettlaff keeps them together.
“Sorry,” Geralt says, “I know you don’t— you didn’t really want me to—”
“No,” Dettlaff corrects him. “I do want you to.”
Geralt raises an eyebrow. “So… you would like me—uh, people—to touch you?”
“Yes,” Dettlaff decides. “I think I would like touch to become repetitive, and by becoming repetitive it becomes welcome. Do you understand?”
Geralt nods. “I do think so,” he says. “You don’t do this often, do you?”
“Not with any human—” since Rhena, “not with anyone beside Regis, in so long.”
“Oh,” Geralt says, impossibly soft, eyes wide as ever.
Dettlaff doesn’t know if the witcher has gotten his point yet. “And since I know that Regis has shared your bed…”
A chair immediately scrapes back and Marlene says, “I—market, I have to go to the market—”
Barnabas-Basil adjusts his eyeglasses, face as impassive as ever, and he inclines his head as he makes a hasty retreat. “Wood panelling,” he offers, before he is gone out the door.
Dettlaff considers. “Why did they leave? Did the humans not expect this?”
“Something, something, tact, high society,” Geralt agrees, waving a hand in the air to explain. “But you’re… sure?”
Dettlaff wants to be better. He wants his moves, his interactions with others, to be governed by something else than the tang of fear as he considers, Will I have to kill you? Regardless of whether Syanna is freed by her sister, Dettlaff wants to be free of the shadow of her notes on his doorstep.
He needs to teach himself comfort again.
“Geralt of Rivia,” he says, “I am tactfully asking to touch you.”
“Wonderful,” Geralt agrees.
Someone stands first, Dettlaff can’t rightly say who, and the witcher is relaxed, so nonplussed around him, waiting for Dettlaff to make the first move.
Dettlaff steps forward and—
Smoke curls around the windows of Corvo Bianco, coalescing outside, and Dettlaff smells him. For the first time since sequestering himself inside a cellar, Dettlaff can smell his own blood thrumming in another.
Dettlaff waits a second, hand poised against Geralt’s chest. Waiting for him. Waiting for his beloved.
“Alright,” Geralt says after the second has passed. “You definitely do not need to touch me if you don’t want to.”
The estate door creaks open and Dettlaff runs to throw it open, to see—his blood brethren, his beloved, his Regis—for the first time since they stood on opposite sides of a battlefield.
Regis blinks at him and takes a second to survey the surroundings. “Dettlaff,” he smiles, “I see you’ve come out of hiding in my absence.”
He reaches out to Dettlaff, and Dettlaff remembers intertwining their fingers and feeling Regis’s ring on his hand, but Regis stops before touching him. Is he—remembering the pain, remembering the war, remembering holding onto Dettlaff to not attack Syanna?
Dettlaff bridges the gap this time, intertwining his own fingers with Regis. “I never want to face you in battle again,” Dettlaff tells him. “It’s…being alone is miserable. You holding me back is miserable. I would like to touch you again.”
Regis runs his other hand down the side of Dettlaff’s face. “Of course,” he says. “I never want to face you on the battlefield, either. I’m glad you’re out of the cellar. Next time you’re blackmailed, will you let me know?”
“Next time you leave the estate to sequester yourself in Tesham Mutna, let me know,” Dettlaff counters, but he’s nodding, and leaning into Regis’s touch—familiar, cool, smelling slightly of ink and leather.
Behind him, Geralt pushes his chair to the table. He stands behind them, still relaxed, but considering. Unsure of how this is going to proceed.
“Ah,” Dettlaff smiles into Regis’s neck. “Geralt seemed amenable to the idea of joining in touch.”
Regis looks between them, and cracks a smile—and Dettlaff thought he would never see this look on the vampire’s face again, canines visible as he relaxes in an unassuming and relieved smile. “I didn’t expect that you and Geralt would interact as such in the one day that I left, but it’s a welcome development.”
Geralt speaks up. “And I would like to continue to interact as such with you here, as well.”
Regis clasps his knuckles around Dettlaff’s. “Of course, Geralt. There’s nothing I’d like more.”
Dettlaff feels Regis’s calloused hand in his own, the connection of blood and promises between them. He turns to the witcher and offers his other hand.
Geralt holds Dettlaff’s hand. Dettlaff can’t feel him like he does his beloved, but the contact is calming, and peaceful, and reminiscent of the way Geralt brushed through leaves in his vineyard, and the care with which he gave each one.
There are no claws threatening to shoot out of his hands this time. Dettlaff feels, for the first time in a long time, succinctly at peace.
He tugs his mouth into a smile, and Regis crosses the open doorway into what could one day become their home.