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A Home

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The door to the tavern swung open and a party of four people entered. Diluc quickly glanced at who arrived and upon seeing familiar Lumine’s face, he concentrated back on the child sitting by the bar. With characteristic child-like concentration Klee, who was left under his care for the evening, had been enthusiastically drawing on the paper provided by Lisa. He still wondered how he got roped into babysitting but Jean did deserve an evening spent with her wife so he could bear watching a kid and occasionally praising her efforts. However, if Lumine was here, it meant he would be…

 

‘Good evening, Master Diluc~’

 

Razor, Kaeya, Amber and Lumine all sat by the bar, together with Klee taking all the available space. Diluc had half a mind to scowl at the offending presence of Kaeya but seeing as Klee immediately lit up as he looked at her drawing, he let it slide. They knew each other so it would be mean to the kid if he glared at one of her favorite people.

 

‘How did the hunt go?’

 

Lumine put their head on the counter, sighing deeply. Razor seemed to contemplate petting them but Amber’s loud voice interrupted him.

 

‘We didn’t find anything! Those anemoculuses are so elusive, it’s so frustrating!’

 

‘No orbs. Some bird meat though.’

 

Diluc nodded, pouring Lumine a glass of their favorite juice. He was surprised there was no order from Kaeya yet but the man seemed to be focused on talking to Klee. After all the underage clients got their drinks he even looked at Kaeya, ignoring a strange clenching in his chest as he got ignored. The little girl put down her crayon and looked at Kaeya with sparkling eyes.

 

‘Hey, Kaeya, what does a “home” mean?’

 

The blue eye blinked, visibly surprised, but then his usual smile slipped back in. He made an exaggerated thinking pose and thought for a moment.

 

‘It’s the place you come back to when you want to rest for the day, like your room in the headquarters.’

 

Their conversation attracted the attention of other guests. Various examples poured from all sides and Klee nodded, even though he could see she was a bit overwhelmed with the information. He probably should’ve stopped them but the uncomfortable feeling in his chest got stronger, stopping him from taking action.

 

‘Klee doesn’t understand… Does Lumine know the right answer? Miss Jean always says to ask Lumine if Klee doesn’t know something…’

 

The Traveler’s eyes for a moment looked terribly distant, as if they saw something far, far away from the tavern and their companions. It was but a blink of an eye yet Diluc understood. Home was where “he” was. After a moment they smiled at the girl.

 

‘I think it’s a little bit of everything? Everyone has their own version of home. Amber has one, right?’

 

Amber nodded vigorously, her mouth full with the food she had been inhaling for a while. As she chewed through it she smiled widely and looked at Klee.

 

‘For me, it’s my grandpa’s house! It always has that nice atmosphere and smells of sweets! What about you, Razor?’

 

‘Lupical.’

 

The boy’s immediate answer made Amber chuckle nervously. She still struggled with understanding the concept he spoke about. Lumine smiled softly and gently pet his head. Razor leaned into their touch, his eyes shining with trust and adoration. He was an adorable boy. Kaeya watched their antics, but soon turned to Diluc with a teasing smile on his face.

 

‘Well, what about Master Diluc? What is a home?’

 

Even though he anticipated this question, he still remained silent, trying to gather his thoughts. The answer should be obvious, right? The home is where your loved ones are. Even so, he couldn’t say it, the words refusing to come out of his mouth. He knew why he couldn’t swallow the lump in his throat.

 

His home was long gone, vanished in black flames.

 

Everything he loved, treasured, took for granted had disappeared that night, dissolving in his hands like a cotton candy put in water. Only an empty house and a cold blue eye remained, freezing his soul to the very core. His eyes automatically trailed to the fireplace by the counter, it’s warm glaze turning furious black in his mind. They used to sit in front of a fireplace in the manor, listening as Crepus played a piano with a gentle smile. Every piece of memory stabbed him, yet his face remained blank. He had to get used to it.

 

‘Home is a warm place.’

 

His prolonged silence created an awkward atmosphere. Only Klee remained unaware of it, stifling a big yawn with her small hand. That was probably his only chance to escape this conversation. Diluc wiped his hands and carefully avoiding looking at Kaeya he swept the crayons from the bar and put them in the bag Klee brought them in.

 

‘You can decide how to draw a home tomorrow. Charles, I will be back, take care of the tavern.’

 

The man saluted and took Diluc’s place. Klee’s eyes were drooping dangerously and Diluc suspected he would need to carry her, but he didn’t mind. As long as he was away, just for a moment, to collect himself, it was alright. He took the girl’s hand but before he could make an exit, his sleeve got grabbed by Lumine. Their brown eyes shone with understanding and he hated how his powers flared at the sight. They didn’t do anything wrong, there was no reason to be mad at them.

 

‘I think that… Even on ashes, a new home can be built. It might not be the same but… it’s still a home.’

 

He had no idea whether they said it to him or themselves, but Diluc nodded stiffly and went out of the tavern. The cold air outside filled his lungs, slowly dispersing the smoke and bitterness collected in there. Klee looked at him and squeezed his hand. Diluc leaned over to hear her better.

 

‘I think I like Master Diluc’s home the best. In a warm place I can keep my treasure safe, right?’

 

He inhaled deeply and nodded, hoping he reassured the girl. The rest of the way to the headquarters went quietly as it seemed that Klee got tired of playing. He deposited her in one of the knights’ hands and turned around, just to be greeted by the familiar man staring at him. He was aware Kaeya went after them but a part of him hoped he just wanted to reach Ordo Favonius, not Diluc. They stood in silence for a long moment, just staring at each other, until Kaeya opened his mouth.

 

‘Nice of you to take care of Jean’s kid.’

 

‘She does a lot for the city. I can take care of one child.’

 

He still couldn’t read Kaeya’s expression. Emotionally tired, Diluc felt tempted to just bolt away from the man and go back to the manor using the fastest road. Pyro energy inside him seemed to lick at his skin, wanting to burst and destroy the source of his distress. Recently, those flames had been his only comfort. What a joke, the very thing that destroyed him was also his salvation.

 

‘Well then, I will be going. We had been running around all day after all.’

 

Diluc watched Kaeya’s back as the man disappeared, the pain in his chest back with double strength. He used to be a home too. Left alone under the streetlight, Diluc suppressed a chuckle.

 

‘Sometimes, the ashes poison the ground so much nothing can grow there anymore, Lumine.’

 

He didn’t dare to hope for a future anymore.