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the me now and the me then

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Diluc wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of quiet sniffles and small hands shaking him insistently.

Groggily, he looks to his right and blinks, rubbing his eyes as they slowly adjust to the darkness of the room. “What...? Who–” 

“Diluc?” a hushed voice whispers, sounding on the verge of tears. “Luc, wake up, please.”

Wait.. He pauses at the familiar voice. He knows that voice. Memories of Kaeya waking him up in the middle of the night after a nightmare rush back to him and Diluc sits up so suddenly that the body next to him jumps back in surprise, backing away into the corner of the bed. He reaches to light the lamp on his bedside table and a small gasp comes from behind him. When he turns back, a bundle of blue hair peeks out from under the blanket and a wide lilac eye stares at him fearfully.

“Kaeya?” Diluc is confused. And shocked, but mainly confused. In front of him sits Kaeya, but also not Kaeya. From the looks of it, the boy is about twelve years old, which means he’s from a couple years after his father took him in. 

Diluc looks around at his room. He’s pretty sure this is his room. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. But why is there a little Kaeya here?

“Y-you’re not my Diluc,” young Kaeya whimpers, seemingly close to bursting into tears. The boy continues to shift away from him and Diluc fears that he would soon fall off the bed. He moves to stop him, but it only makes him flinch and shift further back before Diluc’s hand reaches him. 

Right, he thinks to himself. This is younger Kaeya. He’s shy and doesn’t let anyone touch him except Diluc and occasionally his father. But he’s not Diluc right now. At least not the Diluc that this Kaeya knows.  

“You’re going to fall off the bed,” he says gently. Well, as gently as present Diluc could manage.

The boy turns to look behind him before quickly turning back to face the older man. He’s still shaking, but at least he stopped moving away.

“Are you okay?” he asks. “Did you have a nightmare?”

Young Kaeya doesn’t respond. He stares mutely at Diluc, observing him for a while before hesitantly nodding as if finally deciding to trust him.

“Is it the same one?” he tries.

He gets a small nod in response. The boy quickly looks down at his lap, attempting to hide the tears threatening to fall from his eye. 

Diluc sees them anyway. And when a single crystal drop falls, it sparks something inside of him. Something that he had a long time ago. Something that he shoved deep down inside of him. The desire that young Diluc had to protect Kaeya. To keep him smiling. To wipe away his tears and shield him from the harsh world. 

Instinctively, Diluc moves to pull the boy into him. Young Kaeya tenses for a split second before relaxing in his arms and pushing his head into Diluc’s chest. 

It’s not his Diluc, but his arms have the same warmth and he finds the same comfort he’s grown used to. Relief washes over him and small Kaeya finally lets the tears fall. Arms wrap around Diluc’s waist and small hands grasp tightly to the back of his shirt. Diluc holds the trembling boy and gently runs his hand through his soft hair, pressing small kisses into the top of head. 

“I’m sorry.” he says. “I’m not your Diluc, but I hope this helps. This is what he usually does right?” Or at least that’s what I did in the past, he thinks.

Silence. 

At the lack of response, Diluc thinks the boy won’t answer but the hands behind him clench tighter and young Kaeya nods into his chest. “It helps,” he whispers. “Thank you.” His voice is so quiet that Diluc has to strain to hear him.

Diluc holds the young boy in his arms and softly rocks him back and forth until the trembles stop and he’s no longer crying into his shirt.

After a moment, young Kaeya pulls away to look up at him. “Why are you bigger?” he asks.

“I’m not sure how you got here, but you’re in the future right now,” he starts carefully. “I’m your Diluc when he grows older.”

Young Kaeya tilts his head in confusion. “But where's big me?”

Diluc pauses at the question. He doesn’t know how to tell him without the boy breaking into tears again. There’s silence as Diluc ponders over his answer. “It’s complicated,” he says finally.

“Huh? What do you mean?” His little face scrunches up cutely.

“He’s not here. We’re not on good terms anymore,” Diluc responds. He immediately regrets his words when tears start welling up in the boy’s eyes. 

“You’ll leave me?” young Kaeya cries. “Diluc doesn’t love me anymore?” The boy pushes him away and Diluc’s heart breaks at the devastated look on his face.

“No! That’s not true!” he quickly denies. “I will always love you.” Diluc reaches to pull Kaeya back into his arms only for the boy to slap his hand away.

“Then where am I!?”

Diluc sighs. “Something happened between us,” he admits. “I got angry and kicked you out.”

The boy is silent, but the look of betrayal is clear on his face and he seems close to crying again. 

In a desperate attempt to quell the ensuing waterworks, Diluc tries to get the boy to sleep. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes. “This must be shocking to hear, but it’s late now Kaeya. Let’s sleep and we can talk about this more in the morning, alright?”

Diluc takes his silence as agreement, turns the lamp off, and lays back down in bed. He was about to sit up again at the lack of movement beside him, but he then hears small shuffles indicating the boy was moving.

Young Kaeya positions himself as far away as possible and turns his back towards Diluc. Something inside him almost reaches to pull the boy closer, but he stops himself.

~

Just as he was about to drift off, Diluc feels the bed shift. Old floorboards creak under silent footsteps.

“Kaeya?” he calls.

The noise stops and Kaeya debates on whether or not he should go. Run, his brain decides, and the boy quickly darts out of the room, door closing shut behind him.

Diluc panics. He stumbles out of bed and hurriedly pulls on his clothes to run after the boy.

He catches Kaeya’s arm at the front door, but the boy struggles in his grip.

“Let go!” he cries.

“No, you’re going to run off. Tell me where you’re going.” he demands. “I don’t want you to get lost.”

“You’re not my Diluc! I want him back!” The boy is close to hysterics. “I’m going to go find him. You don’t want me here anyways!” 

“No–” 

The boy’s screams cut him off.

“That’s not what I meant.” he says exasperatedly, but it’s useless. Young Kaeya doesn’t hear him right now. The boy is inconsolable as he violently pulls against him. Diluc’s grateful that he sent his staff home for the week. He doesn’t know how he would explain this otherwise. He’s about to pick the boy up and bring him back inside when a voice breaks through the shrieks.

“Kae?” someone calls out.