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To Catch A Catfish

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Kaeya Alberich is a perfectly normal, healthy 23-year-old man. That’s what he keeps telling himself as he swipes through what must by now be hundreds of photos on his Smolder dating app. It’s a weekday evening as he lounges on the couch in his small apartment, and he could definitely be elsewhere, if he felt like it. It isn't like Kaeya is lonely, it’s really more of a hobby at this point. How many eligible singles (men or women, he’s not picky on that front) can there be in Mondstadt? Eventually he has to reach the end of the list, and Smolder will show him a big blank screen that says “lower your standards, moron”.

 

On the rare occasion that someone catches his interest and he swipes right, Kaeya has found that few people are able to hold his attention for long. Kaeya humbly considers himself to be funny and charming, but aside from a few who managed to shuffle themselves into his circle of friends, he has ended up unmatching with all of the people he’s spoken to on this godforsaken app. Once you begin talking to them, the majority of hot people are apparently either terribly boring or psychotic. There is no in-between.

 

First there is Childe, who had seemed friendly and well-adjusted until he had started the tangent about where he thought the best places to hide bodies are (blocked). Then there is Lisa, who he had gotten along quite well with. Eventually she told him she had become exclusive with a girl she liked, but she’s interesting enough that Kaeya does still text her occasionally. Lisa in his mental “acquaintances from Smolder” category. Kaeya had quickly matched and unmatched with Albedo, Mona, and Beidou each for their own flaws. Maybe being single is better after all, Kaeya ponders as he swipes without paying much attention. 

 

As the picture under his thumb changes with a flash of color, Kaeya startles, almost tapping the like button by accident. Thank the gods he misses, because there before him is the unmistakable face of his ex-best friend. Brother. Soulmate? Kaeya is at a loss for how to describe his relationship to Diluc Ragnvindr these days.

 

Staring up at him with eyes he would recognize anywhere is the man himself. Diluc’s face looks like it’s on the edge of becoming a glare, but Kaeya knows him well enough to recognize that the redhead is just uncomfortable. And no wonder, because it looks like the photo is professionally done, with Diluc in business casual and a neutral background. It could be the photo of him from Ragnvindr Corp’s website, for all Kaeya knows. He has staunchly refused to check it over the course of the last 6 years.

 

And there under the picture, as if to confirm that he’s not hallucinating, the caption says clearly “Diluc, 24”. Once his head stops spinning, Kaeya hesitantly clicks open the user’s profile. It looks minimal, to put it generously. The professional photo is the only one there, and the bio simply reads “Looking for companionship”. Kaeya snorts. To be fair, that does sound like Diluc.

 

Kaeya leans back into the sofa, contemplating. It may have been years since he last spoke to the man, but despite being the sole heir to a multi-million dollar tech fortune, Diluc has always been reserved. He had been nothing but kind to Kaeya until their falling-out, but to strangers the redhead often came off as cold or detached. To find him on a dating app is surprising, if not strange. Then it hits Kaeya like a bolt of lightning: this is a catfish. 

 

Peering down at the picture again, he nods to himself in confirmation. Diluc is a public figure, to the man’s reluctance. Even before he had taken over his father’s company as CEO, he would occasionally show up in the news due to his family’s standing and his own incredible accomplishments. At the age of 14, he was the youngest ever winner of the Knights of Favonius scholarship. The car bombing that killed Crepus Ragnvindr had made headlines for days, throwing both Diluc and Kaeya into the spotlight. It was that attention that had brought Kaeya’s own connections with the defunct Khaenri’ah Inc. into the open, and had lost him Diluc. 

 

The point is, pictures of Diluc are a dime a dozen online, and this profile is obviously using one of them. They didn’t even try very hard, with only the one photo and the bare-bones bio. Despite himself, Kaeya feels a bit offended on behalf of the heir. If someone was going to catfish as him, he would want them to at least put in some effort. 

 

Kaeya ponders reporting the account, and decides against it. Whoever is behind it will just move on to another profile. It would be better to play into the trap, waste their time, and get more info. Even if it is mostly fake, they might slip. Hell if he can figure out their actual location, he can skip right over reporting to Smolder and turn them in to the actual authorities. 

 

Cracking his knuckles, Kaeya exits the app and then reopens it. Instead of logging in he chooses the option to create a new account. Two can play at this game. After a quick google search of “celebrities of Mondstadt”, he selects a B-list actor who he thinks he can get away with impersonating in neck-down photos. He has no qualms about sending dick pics to a catfish if asked to prove his own “identity”. He just doesn’t want the account attached to his actual profile. He’s looking for entertainment, not to get doxxed.

 

Once he’s set up the new profile with a full host of googled images of this Rostam guy, he types up his bio. Through his web search, he knows that the actor plays an investigator on a semi-popular crime show. Cackling, Kaeya types, “Have you ever said ‘Fuck the police’ before? Here is your chance.” After a few moments more thought he adds “6’2” - and another solid 7”. That should do the trick.

 

He narrows his preferences so they match Fake-Diluc’s profile exactly, to ensure that the man will pop up sooner rather than later in his suggestions. Sure enough, the third photo is that familiar face. Kaeya swipes right and waits. And waits. And waits . Eventually after flipping his social media apps open and closed for the third time he decides that the catfish must have caught on and swiped left on him. Ah well, now he has a side account ready in case the need arises again.

 

In the morning, Kaeya groggily smacks at his phone when his alarm goes off. He blinks in confusion at the notification on his screen. “It’s a Match! - You’ve matched with Diluc”. He wonders for a minute if he’s still asleep until his memory of the night before catches up with him. The catfish has liked his profile. Outstanding. As his morning coffee brews, Kaeya taps his way to the message screen in the app to send a quick “Hey!” to the catfish. He may as well strike while the iron is hot, and making the first move makes him feel like he’s got an advantage.

 

Kaeya doesn’t expect the catfish to reply for a while. After all, it is early morning and the match had come in during the middle of the night, so the other user is probably asleep now. To his surprise, he sees the bubble pop up indicating that Fake-Diluc is typing. Is this catfish nocturnal?

 

Diluc: Hey

Diluc: Just to be clear before we get off on the wrong foot, I don’t do this often. In fact, it’s my first time. A friend made my profile for me, and then coerced me into using it. But if that’s alright with you, we can give this a try.

 

Weird angle for catfishing, but alright. Kaeya will bite.

 

Rostam: No worries at all! I don’t do this often either, but I’d be happy to give it a try. I’m just getting ready for work, how about yourself?

 

Kaeya pours his coffee into a large mug and watches the typing bubble in a bit of a daze as he sips it delicately.

 

Diluc: Me too. I work in tech. Your profile said you’re an actor? You must have long hours, so I won’t take up too much of your time. Feel free to message whenever, though I can’t promise I’ll reply instantaneously. My days can get quite hectic. I imagine it’s the same for you.

 

Kaeya is not sure where this is going. He doesn’t feel like he is being catfished, and this conversation seems no different than the one he had with Lisa when they first matched. Perhaps this particular catfish plays the long game? Interesting…

 

As Kaeya dresses and drinks his coffee, he shoots off a few more messages to try and cozy up to Fake-Diluc. He keeps it to general topics, like the weather today and places around Mondstadt that they each frequent. Kaeya avoids anything too intimate, not wanting to scare off the catfish or get caught playing a role he isn’t very familiar with yet (he really needs to do a more thorough web search of this Rostam guy later). Eventually, Fake-Diluc tells him that he is heading to the office, and bids him good day. Cordial enough.

 

Kaeya does the same, heading downtown to the law firm where he works as a junior attorney. It is glorified grunt work, but Kaeya knows that it is just the first step on the corporate ladder for him. At the very least it keeps food in his mouth and a roof over his head. He limps through the mindless paperwork and e-mails for a few hours until he is blessedly released for his lunch break. 

 

He runs into Amber in the elevator as he’s clicking open his phone. She is a paralegal who is even more overworked than he is, and he feels no shame when she eyes him curiously as he clicks open the Smolder app.

 

“Looking for someone, Kaeya?” she asks teasingly. He likes her, and the two are on friendly terms, but it isn’t like they see each other outside of work. Checking his messages, Kaeya sees that there’s nothing new. Radio silence from Fake-Diluc then.

 

“Actually I’ve already found them. I’m reverse-catfishing,” he tells her as the door opens with a ding. Amber follows him as he strides out the doors of the building and toward the cafe on the corner of the street where he eats lunch almost every day.

 

“You’re reverse what now?” she asks with confusion. “Catfishing? Is that allowed?”

 

Kaeya lets out a dramatic sigh. “I’m not the one catfishing, they are. And they’re posing as someone I know, so I have a moral obligation to stop them. I’m just obscuring my identity for my own protection while I enact justice.”

 

Amber rolls her eyes as they get in line for the cashier at the cafe. “It sounds to me like you’re bending over backwards to justify yourself, but I guess that’s what you went to school for. Whatever, you know the law as well as I do. Just don’t get yourself into trouble. I don’t want to have to pick up your workload if you get fired.”

 

Kaeya waves his hand absently. “I won’t, I won’t. The catfish won’t even know it was me, and I’m not going to do anything illegal anyway. I’ll be breaking the app terms of service at worst. Nothing serious.”

 

“Oooookaaaaay,” Amber says, drawing the word out doubtfully. They reach the front of the cafe line and purchase their food. Kaeya shrugs off Amber’s offer to share a table in favor of walking a handful of blocks to the tiny city park he’s familiar with. There is rarely anyone else around here, and if people are present they usually leave him alone, which he appreciates. He can hear himself think here.

 

Pulling out his phone as he nibbles on his kebab, Kaeya flicks once more to the message screen on Smolder and mulls over what to say.

 

Rostam: So do they ever unchain you from your desk at that tech job? I just grabbed lunch so I’m free for half an hour or so.

 

Kaeya clicks into another app (checking the weather forecast - gods, maybe he really is lonely), but to his surprise a Smolder notification pops up before five minutes have passed. He taps it before it disappears.

 

Diluc: Regrettably not, but I’m currently on my government-mandated 15 minute break. I usually get my nutrients in then. What’s for lunch?

 

Kaeya considers and decides it won’t do any harm to send a picture. He snaps a photo of his hand holding his kebab, making sure that there’s nothing but the ground in the background, and sends it.

 

Diluc: Ah, kebab. That’s a bit...nostaglic. It looks good though, and I’m glad one of us is getting fresh air. Is your filming going well today?

 

Rostam: Well enough! The repetition can certainly become tedious, unfortunately. I always appreciate my breaks in full. Alone time is not to be squandered!

 

Diluc: Too true. Well, I won’t intrude then. Perhaps we can catch up later tonight?

 

Rostam: Tonight it is! Don’t let them keep you from me too late ;)

 

Kaeya grins and locks his phone, sliding it into his suit pocket. At least Fake-Diluc is polite. He finishes his lunch and stands up, brushing himself off before heading back to the office to slog through the rest of his work day. The thought that he’ll have someone waiting for him afterward is a cheerful one, even if it is just a catfish.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Kaeya drops his keys on the hook inside his apartment door, peels his suit jacket off and flops with a sigh onto his couch. Home at last. He stretches out his socked feet and lays flat on the surface, thanking the gods that he managed to get a couch long enough to fit his full length. Kaeya likes his work, technically, and thinks that it’s important, but it sure does wear a guy out. Casually, he pulls out his phone from his pants pocket and opens it to Smolder. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t heard back from the catfish yet, but he figures a poke won’t hurt.

 

Rostam: Have you escaped with your life?

 

Half an hour of candy crush later (it’s soothing, ok?) he gets his response.

 

Diluc: It was a close call. They almost forgot to open the padlock, and then I would’ve been trapped all night. 

 

Kaeya laughs out loud. It is helpful that the catfish shares his sense of humor. It makes things...smoother. Especially without the alcohol that paves the way during most of his face-to-face social interactions.

 

Rostam: I’m grateful they decided to let you free then. I would’ve been quite lonely all by myself tonight. 

 

To his surprise, Kaeya realizes that it is true. He spends most nights alone in his apartment or bar hopping with friends. Somehow being in a loud bar with a drink in hand can almost feel lonelier though. The conversations are minimal, or cursory. Kaeya scolds himself mentally. You’re not stupid, don’t get attached to the catfish just because you have no one else to talk to.

 

Rostam: So what’s your evening routine? I confess, mine is typically not very exciting. Dinner, lounging, the occasional outing. That’s about it.

 

Diluc: I prefer to stay in, but usually something along those lines as well. I enjoy reading and chess. I join games online sometimes. Do you know how to play?

 

Kaeya’s a bit surprised. In his memories, the real Diluc was excellent at chess, winning multiple national competitions over the course of their childhood. He guesses the catfish must’ve come across old news stories referencing as much. He doubts the man has time to play these days, acting as CEO.

 

Rostam: I know the rules, but I’m not particularly good at the game. I doubt I’d be enough of a challenge to interest you.

 

Diluc: I think I’ll be the judge of your interest to me.

 

Kaeya feels a small thrill, even though he knows this is a game. He tries to pick up the thread.

 

Rostam: You certainly interest me, Sunshine. You seem very intelligent, well-spoken, and gracious. Not to mention gorgeous.

 

A few minutes pass with no response, and Kaeya wonders if he accidentally came on too strong. Isn’t this the point of Smolder? Isn’t this the point of catfishing? Now the catfish is supposed to play along, flirt, and ingratiate themself with him. 

 

Diluc: I appreciate your kind words. I’m afraid I might not live up to that impression should we ever meet in person, as I’m often told that I come off as...inexpressive. But I’ll do my best.

 

Hmm. Once again Kaeya is stumped. This really doesn’t seem like catfish behavior to him, not that he has been catfished before. He reacts in the way that feels natural to him.

 

Rostam: I’m sure that you’re even more pleasant in person, Darling. No need to rush, of course, but I’m very excited to meet you someday.

 

Diluc: I’ll consider a meetup once I’ve ascertained that you’re not a serial killer. But yes, I’ll look forward to it.

 

They chat until Kaeya glances at the time in the corner of his screen and realizes with a start that it’s 10pm. 

 

Rostam: You’ve distracted me Sunbeam, it’s 10 in the evening and I’ve forgotten to eat dinner. Give me a minute to take care of that, and I’ll be right back.

 

Diluc: ...what are you, a child? Who forgets to eat? Regardless, I have a few matters to attend to myself so I have to go for the night. I’ll just speak to you tomorrow.

 

Rostam: You wound me. Fine, do what you must! And sleep well tonight.

 

Kaeya closes his phone, and goes to scrutinize the contents of his fridge. He wonders vaguely if he ought to get out more. Maybe he can convince Lisa to get a friendly drink with him. Kaeya is already asleep later that night when he gets a reply on Smolder at almost 2 in the morning.

 

Diluc: You too.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Kaeya sweeps into the pub where he’s meeting Lisa the next evening, his head swiveling as he looks for her dark blonde hair. He sees her at a table, and to his surprise Kaeya spots a familiar face next to her. Jean Gunnhildr is a senior attorney at his firm, and he hadn’t even known that she and Lisa were acquainted.

 

Lisa smiles softly at him as he sits down. “Kaeya, you already know my girlfriend, Jean, right?”

 

Kaeya’s eye widens. “Girlfriend? So Jean is the one you dumped me for? Small world…”

 

Lisa giggles as Jean’s face turns a rosy pink. “I didn’t dump you, Kaeya,” Lisa protests. “We never even went on a date! Besides, Jean was the one who asked me out and beat you to the punch. She’s so delightfully assertive, don’t you think?”

 

Jean’s face is hidden behind her hands as she groans. She adds, “Lisa told me that we were meeting her friend Kaeya. I assumed it was you, but I didn’t know you two had met on Smolder. Sorry if this is awkward...let’s just consider this a night out as friends, and put our work relationship aside, shall we?”

 

Kaeya waves his hand in agreement. “That’s preferable for me too. And as Lisa said, there was never anything particularly romantic between us, so you don’t have to worry about that. Thank you both for meeting me tonight! I just felt like being social, after the way work has been recently.”

 

Jean and Lisa both nod sympathetically, aware of the fast pace at which Jean and Kaeya’s firm works its employees. A waiter stops by, taking the food and drink orders for the table, and Kaeya reaches into his pocket as he feels his phone buzz with a notification.

 

Diluc: Don’t forget to eat at a normal human time tonight. 

 

Kaeya smiles and types back “already on it” before he looks up and realizes that he’s missed a question. Lisa is staring at him expectantly. He raises an eyebrow, and she repeats herself.

 

“I asked if you’ve met anyone new on Smolder since we last spoke, but it seems like you’ve already answered that question for me. Was that a new special someone? You cheered right up as soon as you saw the notification.” 

 

Kaeya feels the heat of embarrassment rushing over him. “Sort of,” he drawls, swirling the ice in his glass of water to buy time. “Yes and no? it is a long story.”

 

Lisa raises her eyebrow in return. “We have a full dinner’s worth of time, Kaeya. Why don’t you tell us about it?”

 

The blue haired man lets out a long sigh, but relates the full story to the girls as their meal arrives. He can tell that Lisa is holding back her laughter almost the entire time, while Jean just eyes him with interest. The storytelling gets slightly easier once he makes headway on his glass of wine.

 

“And so,” Kaeya asserts after swallowing a mouthful of honey roast. “I’m working on finding out any information that I can about this catfish. I can’t very well let them steal the identity of my…” brother-...friend-....love-.... “Diluc,” he finishes lamely, struggling once again to define their relationship.

 

Lisa does laugh this time now that he’s done talking. “Your Diluc?” she inquires, eyes sparkling. 

 

“Yes, the Diluc I knew personally as opposed to the fake one I’m talking to now,” Kaeya explains, backtracking ever so casually. 

 

“Hm,” Lisa hums, sing-song. “Well, fake Diluc or not, you seem to be enjoying their company. I don’t think that’s so bad, do you Jean?”

 

Jean pats down her mouth with a napkin as she murmurs her agreement. “Well, talking with them is fine, although I’m not sure that making a fake profile to do it was the correct reaction. I guess I can’t argue with the importance of preserving your privacy, as long as you don’t extort anyone…”

 

Kaeya chuckles, delighted. “My dear Jean, have you ever known me to have a single nefarious bone in my body?”

At her unimpressed silence, he and Lisa both break into simultaneous fits of laughter. Fair enough. The check comes, and Kaeya insists on paying the bill for the whole table since he had asked them to meet in the first place. Outside, he watches a bit wistfully as Jean and Lisa walk off hand-in-hand, headed toward home. Kaeya turns toward his own lonely apartment, shoving his hands into his suit pockets as he’s buffeted by the evening breeze.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Three weeks into their budding friendship, Kaeya finds himself at home after one too many drinks, and he cannot stop himself from messaging Fake-Diluc despite it being after midnight. Somewhere deep down he finds himself wishing he had a way to contact the real Diluc, but that’s not an urge he’s feeling up to unpacking at the moment.

 

Rostam: Why are you so nice to me?

 

Even though Kaeya’s not expecting a reply, one still comes.

 

Diluc: Probably because you’re the only guy on this app I’ve talked to for three weeks without getting an unsolicited dick pic from.

 

Kaeya laughs loudly, the sound ringing off the walls around him before he muffles himself so he doesn’t wake his neighbors.

 

Rostam: Sweetheart, you have some depressingly low standards. I, for one, pledge to only ever send you dick pics if so solicited.

 

Diluc: I wouldn’t mind, if it was you.

 

Kaeya feels his mouth suddenly go dry.

 

Rostam: Is that a request, Beautiful?

 

Diluc: If you’re comfortable, I wouldn’t mind seeing more than what’s on your profile.

 

Rostam: Show me yours, I’ll show you mine.

 

Kaeya stares at the ceiling, wondering if the truth of his catfish is about to be confirmed through the indisputable results of bad photoshopping. There’s no way that the catfish has nude pictures of the real Diluc. His phone pings and he hurries to unlock it.

Diluc: [Image attached]

 

Kaeya stares in bewilderment. Once again it is a familiar facade looking back at him, natural resting bitch face on full display. This time though, Diluc isn’t in a professional setting. He’s in a bright white marble bathroom that Kaeya recognizes instantly as the en suite to the real Diluc’s bedroom. His long crimson hair is down and unbound, and he’s also shirtless. Kaeya curses softly to himself as he rakes his eyes over broad shoulders, soft pink nipples and a well-defined abdomen. The boy he remembers had been lanky, not tall, but still with a frame large enough that he hadn’t grown into it yet. This Diluc certainly surpasses his expectations. Kaeya feels his mouth watering as he looks for the signs that the image has been photoshopped. This isn’t an image that’s floating around online, unless Diluc has somehow gotten his phone hacked. 

 

Saving the photo, he texts it to Lisa. Does this look photoshopped to you? He taps his toe nervously against the hardwood floor as the bubble indicating that she’s typing pops up. 

 

Isn’t it a bit late to be looking at pictures of shirtless men, Love? It’s after midnight. But no, that doesn’t look photoshopped to me.

 

Kaeya shoots her an apology for the lateness of the hour, and a heart emoji. Then he flicks back to stare at the image again. The redhead’s face looks older than in Kaeya’s memories, his jaw sharper than when they were teenagers, though his features are still delicate. He startles as the typing bubble pops up on Smolder.

 

Diluc: Well? I showed you mine. Please tell me you’re not off masturbating.

 

Rostam: My apologies, Lovely. I was just taken by surprise. You’re quite good looking, you know? Give me a minute so I can reciprocate. 

 

Diluc: Fine.

 

Kaeya can hear the scoff implied in the message and smiles. He strips off his own shirt, trying not to feel too self-conscious doing it in the open air of his living room. Then he turns on his phone’s selfie camera, trying to hold out his arm at such an angle that his head and the background of his apartment are cut out of the frame. He takes a handful of shots, then flicks through them to pick the best one (why does it matter? This is a catfish). He drops the chosen image into the messenger on Smolder, and within a minute, Fake-Diluc is typing.

 

Diluc: Neck-down?

 

Kaeya tries not to feel disappointed at the lack of reaction.

 

Rostam: Sorry Kitten, in my line of work you can’t be too careful with identifiable nudes floating around online. I hope this is still satisfactory?

 

Diluc: It’ll do for now.

 

Kaeya lets out a long breath of relief that the other isn’t demanding headshots. He flicks back up in the chat to stare again at the picture Fake-Diluc had sent. Later as he’s falling asleep, he still can’t get the mental image out of his head. All that milky skin, framed on top by red, red, red.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

As if a dam has broken, Kaeya starts exchanging almost daily pictures of himself with his catfish. He feels like he’s having an existential crisis. Each picture is a thirst-trap with his beloved’s features attached to it, and not a single one is clearly photoshopped even though Kaeya knows they must be. He reciprocates, but to his frustration he never gets a reaction warmer than acknowledgement. And all the while, he and Fake-Diluc chat about their days, their hobbies, their friends and coworkers. It’s all perfectly normal Smolder getting-to-know-you interaction.

 

It doesn’t help that Kaeya can’t stop thinking about the pictures. He’s been in love with Diluc since middle school, and maybe asking for sexy photos with his face attached to them was the wrong choice. He has no idea whose body is being shopped onto Diluc’s, or if the catfish has somehow gotten their hands on actual shirtless photos of the real man. Maybe Diluc is being catfished too, from a separate account? It makes his head spin. 

 

He feels bad for the way that the photos affect him, since regardless of how they come into the catfish’s hands, they aren’t meant for him. Each time he gets the notification “Diluc: [Image attached]”, he experiences a Pavlovian response in which he can feel the blood rushing south. He is not going to get off to ill-gotten thirst-trap photos. He’s not.

 

Kaeya lasts a good two weeks before he snaps. He opens the notification and sees his photo of the day. It’s an artful high-angle shot of Diluc, fresh out of the shower with his hair dark and wet. Water droplets stream from where one tendril is framed around a nipple, down to where a fluffy towel rides low on his hips. A trail of red hair starts midway between his belly button and the towel, and travels down past the hem. 

 

Kaeya throws his phone down, throat dry, and hops into his own shower. He finally, finally concedes and touches himself until he comes embarrassingly quickly, thinking of that red hair. The remorse is instantaneous, even while his dick gives a final valiant twitch in his hand. Once he’s out of the shower wrapped in his own towel, Kaeya takes an almost identical shot to the one the catfish had sent him, making sure to keep his long blue hair out of the picture. He sends it off, and once again receives nothing but acknowledgement in the form of a “thanks”. Kaeya wonders if he ought to just delete Smolder off of his phone and save himself while there’s still time. It’s probably too late, he’s already lost his mind.

 

Kaeya also questions his sanity because his catfish isn’t behaving like a catfish. They’ve never asked him for money, never asked to meet or for them to take their relationship to the next level. Kaeya’s starting to wonder if the catfish has just decided he’s not interesting enough to extort. He takes full offense, given the quality of the thirst-traps he’s provided to them. Still, there’s always room for him to be surprised.

 

Diluc: Are you really 6’9”? 

 

Rostam: What?

 

Diluc: Your profile says you’re 6’9”. I have a hard time believing it though. Do people even get that tall?

 

Kaeya quickly clicks to his own profile and scans it to see what the catfish is referring to. When he sees it, he laughs so hard that it probably looks from the outside like he’s having a breakdown.

 

Rostam: Sweetheart, that’s my dick size. I’m 6’2” tall with a 7” dick. Men list that on Smolder all the time.

 

Kaeya can feel Fake-Diluc’s blush through the loud silence of the chat, and he has to repress another fit of giggles.

 

Neither Kaeya nor Fake-Diluc have sent anything that would actually qualify as a dick pic, for which Kaeya thinks he’s grateful. He’s not sure if he’s being strung along, or if Diluc himself is just too shy to ever have taken a dick pic. Though it isn’t like the catfish needs an actual Diluc picture for that, any light-skinned redhead would do.

 

Kaeya is working late one night, probably the last one left in the office, when he gets the usual notification, “Diluc: [Image attached]”. He hesitates to click it while he’s in his tiny office, surrounded by paperwork, but he figures there’s no one left to see it besides him. He opens the notification and chokes.

 

There’s Diluc, laying on his bed with his head thrown back, long throat exposed as his crimson hair pools around him. The firm lines of his body run down the frame uninterrupted, as the man isn’t wearing a single article of clothing. He must have taken the shot with his phone timer, because everything from the crown of his head to his knees made it into the picture. Between his spread legs he palms at his erection, flushed pink in contrast to his pale hand.

 

Kaeya clicks the picture closed, eye wide, and sees that Fake-Diluc has sent another short message while he was looking at it.

Diluc: Thinking of you

 

Kaeya curses softly, jostling his chair as he shoots upright. He is lucky no one else is around, because he’s already visibly hard in his pants. He stumbles toward the bathroom, double checks that it’s unoccupied, and locks himself into the stall furthest from the door. He unzips his pants and hisses as the cold bathroom air hits him, but he doesn’t really care as he jerks off with very little coordination, remembering those long creamy legs spread just for him. Kaeya finishes with a cry, muffled by his other hand just in case the janitor is lurking around outside.

 

Panting, Kaeya catches his breath as he leans heavily against the stall door. Fuck. Fuck. He cleans up after himself, making sure that everything is orderly before he unlocks the door and goes to wash his hands. Staring at himself in the mirror over the rushing water, he notes that he can just see the flush on his cheeks. He slaps cold water onto his face, trying to rid himself of any evidence of his actions. 

 

Heading back to his desk, Kaeya slumps into his chair. His phone blinks with a Smolder notification, which he opens hesitantly.

 

Diluc: Too much?

 

Kaeya hurries to reply.

 

Rostam: Never from you, Gorgeous. I’m just in public at the moment, so you’ll have to wait a bit for me to reciprocate, unfortunately. 

 

Diluc: That’s fine. I can wait.

 

Kaeya runs a hand through his hair, irritated that he’s so affected. This isn’t actually Diluc. Whatever he thinks is between them, it isn’t real. He wishes forlornly that it could be though. The connection he’s feeling, the attraction. He wants them with the real Diluc.

 

Kaeya pushes away from his desk and gathers his things to begin the trudge back to his apartment. Once there, he wastes no time setting up his photo back to the catfish. Once his clothes are off, it’s so incredibly easy to get hard as he remembers the photo of Diluc and the subsequent message: Thinking of you. “I’m thinking of you too, babe,” Kaeya mutters, letting himself imagine that it’s actually Diluc he’s been talking to as he runs a hand down his body.

 

Once he’s ready, he sets his phone to take a burst of shots on a timer, grateful that he already set up a pile of books to act as a phone stand so he doesn’t have to waste time now. It feels a little awkward stroking himself while he knows he’s being photographed, but he’s just beyond the edge of not caring. He comes again, this time with Diluc’s name in his mouth. Kaeya lies on the bed, chest heaving as he allows himself a few minutes to wallow in regret before he goes to check the photos.

 

He winces a bit at the blur that the movement of his hand creates in most of the photos, but eventually finds one that he deems satisfactory. Kaeya crops out his own face and shoots the photo off to Fake-Diluc, then hurries to the shower to clean himself up. After some good, old-fashioned shower moping, he wraps himself in his fluffiest towel and checks his phone to see the catfish’s response. He almost drops the device on the floor.

 

Diluc: ….Kaeya…. ?

 

Kaeya swears in each of the languages he knows, checking and double checking the photo for anything identifying. He sees nothing. His face is cropped, the background is neutral and dim, even his hair is out of the picture. He doesn’t have any identifying marks or scars below his neck, so what the hell gave him away? He responds to the catfish.

 

Rostam: ???

 

Kaeya waits with bated breath as the other types their response.

 

Diluc: You’ve got that vase. The stupid vase you made yourself in high school, and tried to give to me but it was so ugly I wouldn’t take it. I know it’s you, Kae.

 

Kaeya feels his heart race. It’s true that the vase is on the bookshelf in the background of the photo, but he hadn’t bothered moving it since the only people who would ever recognize it are himself and Diluc. So that means…

 

Fuck.

 

That means that Diluc is the catfish. The catfish isn’t a catfish, it’s his actual crush. Kaeya has been talking and exchanging photos with the man he loves for months and he thought it was fake. He literally just got off twice to a picture ( a real picture, he marvels) of Diluc all while hiding behind a fake profile. Which has just been exposed. Oh gods.

 

Kaeya has no idea what to say. He should explain himself. It isn’t like he had any bad intentions, but the situation really does not look good for him. So he does the only thing he can think of. Rapidly, he exits the chat, clicks to the account settings, and deletes his account. Then for good measure, he logs back into his (now entirely unused) Kaeya Alberich account and deletes that too. Finally, he deletes the Smolder app off of his phone. There, done.

 

Regretfully, he realizes that he’s forgotten to save Diluc’s photos to his phone before deleting his account. Whatever, it’s better this way. He hadn’t earned them properly anyway. Not knowing what else to do, he calls Lisa to tell her everything.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Kaeya is at his desk the next day nursing his depression hangover when Amber enters his office and gives him a once-over. “Rough night?” she asks, giving him an unsympathetic once over.

 

“You could say that,” Kaeya mumbles, sinking deep into his chair. 

 

“Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone’s here to see you. Reception sent me.”

 

Kaeya groans, wondering which of his pissy clients has an emergency terrible enough to merit showing up without an appointment. At this Amber does shoot him a sympathetic frown, but leaves him to it as she makes for her desk. Kaeya heads to the entrance of the law firm, bracing himself for confrontation.

 

And it’s a good thing too, because the last person on earth who he expected to see is waiting stiffly in the lobby, radiating displeasure. Turning as he hears Kaeya approach, the redhead who’s been haunting his dreams fixes him with a glare. Diluc puts his hands on his hips, and Kaeya debates running. Unfortunately that would be a terrible look for him in his place of work. Kaeya slides up beside him, but before he can get a word in Diluc interjects.

 

“Were my nudes not good enough for you, is that it?” he accuses in an annoyed tone, though Kaeya knows him well enough to hear the hurt underneath. Kaeya makes an apologetic smile toward the receptionist, who is watching their interaction with her mouth wide open. 

 

“Not here, Luc,” he hisses under his breath as he starts pulling Diluc toward the door. Kaeya lets out a sigh of relief as Diluc allows himself to be tugged along. At least the explosion won’t be happening in his workplace lobby.

 

Kaeya leads Diluc to the park where he had eaten lunch the first day he messaged the redhead on Smolder. Finding it blessedly empty, he turns to the other man, who is staring hostilely at him with his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. Kaeya takes a deep breath, eye closed.

 

“Let me explain?” he asks nervously, watching Diluc closely to make sure that those hands aren’t about to take a swing at him.

 

Diluc grunts and gestures for him to go on. “So, first of all, sorry for pretending to be someone else when I talked to you. I have a very good reason for that.”

 

Diluc raises his eyebrows, so Kaeya forges forward. “I ran across your profile on my normal account first, and when I looked at it I didn’t believe you were...you? It just didn’t seem like the sort of website you would be on. So...I thought you were a catfish…”

 

“You thought I was- what?” Diluc’s eyebrows crunch together in confusion as he stares at Kaeya. 

 

“A catfish, yes,” Kaeya continues. “Like, one of those people who pretends to be someone else to get-”

“I know what a catfish is,” Diluc interrupts. “Why did you talk to me on a fake account then? Why didn’t you just report me if you thought I was lying?”

 

“I didn’t like the idea of someone using your face for their own gain...so I thought that maybe by talking to them I could get more info, and then take them to the authorities. I guess if you were really a catfish, that might’ve worked. But it turns out...you weren’t.”

 

Diluc looks puzzled, but Kaeya’s still trying to plan five moves ahead to keep himself from being strangled. The redhead presses on mercilessly, “So you made the fake account so I wouldn’t know it was you I was getting nudes from?”

 

Kaeya chokes a little, scrubbing his hand down his face. “Something like that.” 

 

Diluc walks closer to him, eyes smoldering, and Kaeya tamps down hard on his fight or flight instinct. “Then why did you ghost me once you realized I was the one you were talking to? You hated finding out it was me that much?”

 

Kaeya laughs weakly, unable to avert his gaze from those burning amber eyes. “No...no, I’m glad it was you Luc. I was just...gods, I was embarrassed ok? it is not every day you get exposed for soliciting nudes from your childhood friend. I mean- I liked them well enough…”

 

Diluc’s face is close enough now that Kaeya can pick out the freckles dotting his cheeks. Kaeya swallows, hard. Diluc asks, “you liked them, did you? So it wasn’t just me getting off to it?”

 

Kaeya blurts out, “Gods, no, Luc. You’re- have you seen yourself? I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you in months.”

 

Diluc smiles, just a quirk of his lips but there nonetheless. “Then what are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

 

“Thought you would never ask,” Kaeya says quickly, the words coming out so fast they blend together before he pulls Diluc in close by the lapels of his coat, crushing their lips against each other. 

 

Diluc smells like warmth and honey, and his skin feels heated against Kaeya’s. Kaeya nips at his lower lip just to hear the redhead’s reaction, and he receives a growl for his trouble. The noise sends a flutter through him, and he files the knowledge away mentally for later. Diluc is taller than he remembers from high school, but still smaller than Kaeya. The man slots perfectly against him, and Kaeya finally feels like he’s where he belongs.

 

Kaeya pulls away to gasp for air, as Diluc takes the opportunity to kiss down his jaw to his neck. A slight brush of tongue against the skin there sends a shudder through Kaeya, and he has to jerk away. 

 

Diluc stares back at him, looking a little dazed. Kaeya protests, “Baby, you can’t even imagine how much I want this with you, but I’m literally on the clock. Now. I have to go back to work.”

 

Diluc shrugs. “Call in,” he suggests. Kaeya’s morals battle adamantly against his lust, and to the surprise of no one, his morals lose. He whips out his phone. 


“Jean?” he asks when his call is answered. “It’s Kaeya. I had to run out, I’m feeling under the weather. Yeah, I should be back tomorrow. I think?” he questions, glancing at Diluc, who is watching him like a feral animal.

 

“Ok, thanks, see you,” Kaeya says with relief, hanging up the call. Turning to Diluc, he asks, “your place or mine?”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

As Kaeya lays in bed that night (in! Diluc’s! bed!), he knows already that he’s not going into work tomorrow. His new lover is aggressive, and he can still feel the scratch marks down his back stinging, not to mention his sore muscles. Diluc is nested between Kaeya’s arms, nose pressed to his bare chest as his legs lace between Kaeya’s. He’s like a little cat, Kaeya thinks as he cranes his head down to kiss the top of Diluc’s fluffy head.

 

Kaeya plays with the vibrant ponytail behind his love’s head, tangling his long fingers into the thick curls. It’s been a long time since Kaeya has had the privilege of touching Diluc. He startles as Diluc stirs, not as asleep as Kaeya had imagined. 

 

“Do you ever wonder what would’ve happened if Father hadn’t died?” Diluc’s mumble makes its way up to Kaeya. “I wouldn’t have lost you in that media circus. I missed you so much after that, on top of grieving for Father. I always wished you would come home, so I could apologize for the things I said.”

 

“Aw, Luc, you didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t leave because of that. You know how it is with the press. I had to get out or they’d tear down everything your Father left you in my wake.”

 

Diluc pulls away to look up at him, eyes glimmering. “Yeah?” he asks, a little wetly. “You didn’t leave because I was such a bastard to you?” 

 

Kaeya laughs. “I mean, maybe that’s why I ran away on the first day, but it isn’t what kept me from coming back. I was trying to protect you, and eventually it was too much to get past even if I wanted to find you. I never stopped loving you though.”

 

Diluc burrows into Kaeya’s neck. As he strains his ears, Kaeya hears a muffled reply. “I never stopped loving you either, Kae.”

 

It isn’t quite what they had before, but as Kaeya strokes gently over Diluc’s back he thinks that he could get used to this too. He’s looking forward to finding out.