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Empty Spaces

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After dark at the Angel’s Share… Lumine closes her eyes and listens to the bustle of activity in the tavern, conversations that meld together into a mass, the strumming of lyre strings, the quiet clinking of glasses and silverware. The evening invigorates it into something different than its muted presence during the day. It’s comforting, reminds her that this world is full of people, each with their own warmth in their hearts and their own burdens to carry. It brings her back when she starts to feel too detached.

 

When she opens her eyes again, it’s to Diluc standing behind the counter in front of her. He’s busying his hands wiping down glasses with a soft cloth. When she smiles at him, his brow creases slightly in confusion, not unkindly.

 

If she thinks of this world as a mystery to be solved, her own burdens feel a little lighter.

 

“Maybe I should join you on your little escapade,” Kaeya says from the stool beside her, leaning on one elbow in her direction. He’s swirling a wine glass in his hand; she doesn’t remember how many he’s had since they started talking. “Traveling the countries of Teyvat sounds way more exciting than being a knight. Romantic, really.”

 

Diluc turns his attention to Kaeya, distinctly unimpressed. “Romantic? Don’t kid yourself. She has far better things to do than babysit you. Don’t cause her more unnecessary problems than you have already.”

 

Kaeya laughs, the same artificial one that doesn’t quite reach his eye. “… Worried you’d miss me? I don’t recall you being so worried about my feelings when you ran off for three years.”

 

“I think you’ve had one too many,” Diluc reprimands without missing a beat, his gaze cold and unflappable. “You’re tapped out for the night. Sober up and go home.”

 

Lumine glances between them. Diluc is wiping the same glass that’s been in his hand for the past few minutes, its already shining surface catching the light above his head and reflecting the red of his hair. Kaeya stares forlornly into his near-empty wine glass as if Diluc might feel pity and retract his sentence. There’s a background tension that always seems to be present when the two of them are in the same room.

 

A memory catches Lumine’s mind: “And if I did have one too many, what then? You’d throw me out along with the trash?”

 

“—The same way you threw out father’s legacy?”

 

“I see no reason to cling to things that have outlived their purpose.”

 

“Hey, Paimon,” Lumine turns to her companion, “I think we should get going, anyway.”

 

Paimon gives her an affronted look, a small glass of grape juice sloshing around in her hands as she floats carelessly above the countertop. “Whaaat? But Paimon isn’t finished eating, yet! I wanted to try more of the menu!”

 

Lumine laughs indulgently, taking the glass from Paimon’s hands. Paimon pouts but allows it, doing a little tumble midair as she obediently makes her way toward the door. Lumine places the glass on the counter and slides it gently in Diluc’s direction.

 

“Thanks for dinner, Diluc. Have a nice night, Kaeya.”

 

Diluc nods and Kaeya smiles. Lumine stands from her seat and follows Paimon toward the exit, holding out her hand as Paimon flips and flits like an energetic crystalfly on their way out.

 

.

 

“I really don’t get it,” Paimon muses as they meander through Mondstadt, the night sky bright with stars above them. “Why don’t those two get along? And why do they still hang around each other if they hate each other so much?”

 

Lumine hums thoughtfully, her eyes on the horizon. When she’d been able to traverse the universe with her brother, individual worlds had felt so small. Now, with that power stripped from her, this world feels massive, like a universe in itself.

 

“Traveling this world,” she begins, turning to Paimon as they walk, “I’ve met so many different people, done so many different things… I’ve never really felt lonely. But I think that’s only thanks to you.”

 

Paimon looks surprised, her eyes becoming wide and round. She appears to become flustered for a moment, fidgeting bashfully in what Lumine recognizes to be a mixture of happiness and pride.

 

“Well…”

 

“If I hadn’t met you and didn’t have you here guiding me now,” Lumine continues, stopping in place and looking skyward, “this world would have only felt… empty. I would have looked at the horizon and been consumed only by thoughts of how far my brother was beyond it. I would have stayed a stranger in this world.”

 

Lumine allows herself a moment to imagine it. She thinks of herself walking this world alone, an alien world devoid of familiarity, no people or connections to call her own. The land surrounding her becomes cold, dark, and empty. It stretches on for an unimaginable distance, leaving her feeling incredibly small and lost. The one place—the one person— familiar to her is somewhere she can’t go, a star buried in that horizon. She’s powerless; pushing the air from her lungs, it’s like drowning.

 

But Paimon appears in her line of sight and the vision dispels.

 

What would happen, if…?

 

“I think I’m beginning to understand the people of this world a little. It almost feels like home.”

 

It feels like there’s something looming over her back. At the end of it all, what decisions are awaiting her? What would she gain? What would she lose? I’ll miss it here when I move on, are the words she doesn’t say.