Diluc stared at the rising sun and sighed. Rubbing his eyes, he tried to hold back an oncoming headache to no avail. Another night done and Diluc was reminded that clearly he was the only one in this damn town who cared enough to patrol and actually try to protect the citizens from the Abyss Order and their hordes of monsters. That the beloved Knights of Favonius were knights in name only and that became more and more apparent every day. Turning his back on the rising sun, ready to return to the Tarven and make sure it was in one piece before he returned to the winery, he paused and scowled at who was walking towards him.
“Long night, Mister Diluc?” Kaeya said with a smile, eye twinkling with amusement.
“Actually, I just woke up. I wanted to see the sunrise, Captain.” Diluc replied hotly.
A lie, one they both knew about, but one that would be kept between them, or so Diluc hoped. Jean hadn’t spoken to him about his little nightly routine, so he assumed she either hadn’t been told or had and decided to keep her mouth shut. From what his sources said, Kaeya hadn’t spread the word around town either, so Diluc hoped it would stay that way. That, however, meant the Cryo user loved to tease him about it and he couldn’t really argue back unless he wanted to reveal himself.
“Ah, how marvelous. Personally, I always thought the sunrise looked better from the winery, but that’s just me.” Kaeya said flippedly and Diluc grit his teeth.
“If you have nothing of purpose to tell me, I will be on my way. I am a busy man, unlike some people.” Diluc snapped.
Kaeya’s eye twitched and Diluc felt a flash of pleasure at his annoyance. It was quickly gone from Kaeya’s face and Kaeya pressed a hand to his own chest, gasping.
“Good sir! I will have you know I am a very hard working Captain! I am on my way to a quest after all!” Kaeya said with fake outrage.
Diluc raised an eyebrow.
“Oh? A quest? This early?” Diluc said boredly.
“Evil waits for no man, after all! But as you said, you are a busy man and I have to get going. I do hope you enjoy your day. Why, you might even have an eventful night! At the Tavern, I mean. I do hope I’ll see you there when I am done!” Kaeya laughed and winked, as if it was some special secret between them and Diluc resisted the urge to hit him.
The man just got under his skin! Continuing on his way, Kaeya pat him on the shoulder as he passed and that was odd because Kaeya hadn’t dared to touch him in years and Diluc resisted the urge to pull away when Kaeya gave a friendly little squeeze as well. Diluc frowned, but Kaeya didn’t look at him and Diluc watched as Kaeya disappeared over the horizon before shaking his head.
“Miserable man.” Diluc muttered annoyed before walking away.
Kaeya never returned. Not that night. Not the day after or the day after that. He was gone so long that Diluc wasn’t shocked when he saw Aether and Paimon leave a few days later, rushing out of town, clearly on a mission. Diluc tried not to think about the ball of anxiety growing in his chest, the feeling that something was wrong and that Kaeya was in the dead center of it. Trying to keep himself from worrying, he focused on protecting the town and taking care of the Tavern and Winery, throwing himself into his duties with vigar. If he didn’t think about it, then there was nothing to worry about, right? If he just kept going, he didn’t have to stop and consider what had kept Kaeya from returning home, right? It seemed like a good idea for a while. Until the day it wasn’t.
One afternoon, before the Tavern was even open, Diluc was standing behind the counter when Jean walked in, looking determined and yet, tired.
“Grand Master Jean. Rare to see you here. We aren’t quite open yet, but I suppose I can pour you a drink. What will you have?” Diluc said calmly.
She flashed him a smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. That’s when he noticed something clenched in her hand and he felt his stomach start to sink. He placed the glass down and looked at her, taking note of her red rimmed eyes and slightly disheveled appearance. He swallowed.
“Diluc… I’m so sorry.” Jean whispered as she held out her hand.
A bloodied eyepatch was all Diluc saw before his world went black.
He woke up on a table, Jean leaning over him and a cold cloth to his forehead. He sat up, the cloth falling to his lap and soaking his pants, but he didn’t care. He stared at her, trying to find something in her eyes that told him that this was some kind of sick prank. That Kaeya would walk in at any moment and he would be fine, laughing alongside Aether about how he made the “cold and unfeeling” Master Diluc faint. But there was no joy, nothing, just empty sorrow in her eyes.
“Diluc.” she started, but he held up a hand.
“Is he…?” Diluc trailed off.
She looked down and rubbed her thumb over the eyepatch.
“I don’t know. The Traveler… he brought this back. Along with Kaeya’s jacket. He said… there was a lot of blood. But no body. He tried to look for Kaeya, but he lost the trail eventually, even with Razor’s help.” Jean explained.
Diluc tried to swallow, but his throat felt tight. Was that it? All he had to bury was an eyepatch and an old jacket? All that was left of his…? Diluc closed his eyes.
“What happened? Where did he go?” Diluc growled.
Jean straightened her back.
“We got a report. Good intel from a reliable source.” Jean started.
He slammed his fist on the table.
“That’s not what I asked, Jean! I don’t give a damn how good you thought the intel was!” Diluc snarled.
Jean closed her eyes and let out a breath.
“A group of Abyss Mages were spotted near Springvale. More than once and always around the very edge. The people were scared, so I sent Kaeya. According to the townspeople, Kaeya came and got rid of the mages with no problems. He should have been on his way back with no issues. But when Aether went out there, he found the eyepatch and jacket on a trail leading away from Springvale and Mondstrat, heading towards Wolvendom. To be honest with you, Kaeya should have been back that day, but he was heading away from Mondstrat. And I don’t know why.” Jean explained calmly.
Diluc closed his eyes. Kaeya was heading away from Mondstrat. He had purposely gone away from Mondstrat. Or maybe…?
“Are you sure he went willingly?” Diluc asked.
“According to Aether, there were no signs of a struggle and no signs that Kaeya was forced. The townspeople even said he took that trail on purpose, stating he was going to take the scenic route back when asked.” Jean stated.
Diluc couldn’t think of any reason why Kaeya would go toward Wolvendom. Unless…?
“Could he have been heading towards Dawn Winery?” Diluc asked.
Jean’s brow furled.
“He hasn’t been there in ages. Why go there now?” she asked, confused.
Jean paused and tapped her chin.
“Though, I have been getting some odd reports from various Knights I talk to…” Jean trailed off.
“Odd reports?” Diluc demanded.
“Lately, Kaeya has been acting oddly. Even Aether pointed it out. He’s been spending a lot of time alone. Taking on more and more missions outside Mondstrat. I have been concerned for some time now.” Jean admitted.
Diluc felt the acid on his tongue and looked away. He grabbed the cloth, just to have something he could twist between his hands.
“And you never thought to talk to him?” Diluc demanded.
“You and I both know that’s impossible. Kaeya only tells you what you want to hear.” Jean crossed her arms, eying him as if he should know better.
And dammit, he did know. He knew Kaeya like no one else. If he didn’t want to tell you something, he would talk in circles until you were so turned around, you forgot what you were asking him. Diluc hated it and hated that Kaeya was so good at it.
“And it’s not like I had anyone else to go to.” Jean continued.
“Stop it.” Diluc growled.
“I’m stating the truth. What would you have done if I came to you with my concerns? Nothing.” Jean replied.
Diluc turned his head away. Jean sighed.
“I did have Aether try to talk to him. Kaeya seems shockingly attached to him, but even he couldn’t get through.” Jean said and Diluc huffed.
“So the basic line is we have no idea where he was going or what kind of intel he had.” Diluc stated.
He needed to cut off this emotional talk. He needed facts, not emotions. Emotions never did anything for him before and he couldn’t afford to cling to them now. Jean eyed him and nodded.
“We are stretched thin as is, Diluc. I will ask Aether and Paimon to keep looking for him, but if I need them, I can’t afford to leave Mondstrat unguarded.” Jean stated.
Diluc got up and nodded.
“I will reach out to my sources. See, if there have been any updates with the Abyss Order or any talk of people with a grudge against Kaeya or the Knights.” Diluc said calmly.
He had a plan. That was something to cling to. As long as he had a plan, he was in control. He ignored Jean’s worried eyes as he moved towards the door.
“Diluc.” Jean called as he pulled the door open.
He turned to her and she frowned.
“The Tavern is opening soon.” she reminded him.
He blinked at her, startled before he nodded, pulling himself back to the real world. He couldn't just go out and hunt them down now. He needed to open his Tavern first. He held the door open for Jean and she nodded. She paused before him and held out the eyepatch. He swallowed as he took it.
“May Barbatos look over him.” Jean whispered before she left and Diluc could only swallow down his bitter feelings.
“He doesn’t need Gods to help him. I will find him.”
He lost track of the days without food or water, where he was, or what was happening. Any attempts to move was met with a wave of dizziness so strong that, even though he had nothing in his stomach, it rolled violently and he would have to lie back down. Sometimes, Kaeya wished he hadn’t left without breakfast that day, but he pushed that thought from his mind. This was no time for regrets. However, if he was going to be honest, he was pretty sure he was going to die down here. He heard the guard pass by for probably the hundredth time and wished with all his might he had his sword. He had lost it during the fight and his Vision was malfunctioning, which left him just about fucked.
He closed his eye and let out a long, slow breath before trying to sit up again. His head spun and he squinted, trying to keep his wits about him long enough to at least sit up. He only got up on his hands and knees before he was violently kicked over. The snickering laugh of his kidnapper made him scowl as he rolled over and eyed the man. Some Anemoboxer Vanguard with a violent streak who had nothing better to do apparently.
“Aw, poor baby. Trying to get up, huh?” the man sneered.
Kaeya rolled over and smirked. If he had nothing else, he had his oh so charming personality. Perhaps he could annoy the man to death? Worth a shot.
“What can I say? A body like this shouldn’t be left on the floor.” Kaeya stated.
He stretched a bit and even though it made his head spin, he could still see the lust hidden behind the man’s mask. If all he had left was his wit and his looks, he could make due. He had before after all.
“You really are a cocky son of a bitch, huh?” the Anemoboxer demanded, shaking himself from his lust.
Kaeya grinned and leaned against the wall.
“What can I say? I’ve been told I’m irresistible.” Kaeya stated boldly.
The fighter snorted and Kaeya just barely blocked the kick aimed for his ribs. They were pretty much powder at this point, considering how often they were kicked. He was actually shocked his lungs hadn’t been punctured yet.
“Knights of Favonius scum, you don’t think we know about you?” the man demanded with a sneer.
Kaeya raised an eyebrow. Well, that was a bold statement.
“What have you heard? That I’m devilish handsome? A quick study? Or an absolutely amazing dancer? Because all of those are true, I’ll have you know.” Kaeya said sweetly.
The man snorted and Kaeya hissed as his hair was grabbed and he was dragged to his knees. Kaeya raised his hands, trying to get him off, but the man shook him and Kaeya had to choke back a moan of pain as his wounds on his back ripped open. He could feel the blood rolling down his skin.
“We know all about you. About what you’ve done. About what kind of man you really are. And you are going to pay.” the man hissed angrily.
“I really… don’t know what you are talking about.” Kaeya groaned as he was dropped.
A sharp kick to the chin and Kaeya’s world started to fade away as his body hit the floor. The man scuffed loudly.
“I can’t wait to watch the life fade from your eyes.” he muttered and Kaeya’s only thought was.
Diluc had gone through just about every channel he could for any kind of intel about Kaeya’s whereabouts with no luck. No one knew anything. Anyone with issues against the Knights or Kaeya himself were investigated and released, each lead ending with no resolution. It was maddening, the stress was unbearable, but Diluc quickly realized he wasn’t alone. Aether was rarely in town longer than a few hours before he was off again, chasing down some sort of lead or clue and Diluc was grateful that the young man was taking this so seriously, going where Diluc couldn’t. He could only hope Kaeya would appreciate it when he got back.
Diluc had to remind himself to say it would be ‘when’, not ‘if’, Kaeya ever came back. The very thought that Kaeya might never walk through the door of his Tavern again sent Diluc into such a state one night that he ended up shattering a glass with his bare hand, making his customers jump and his bartender rush forward to wrap his hand.
“It’s fine. I do apologize, but I think I am going to head home. Can you close up tonight?” Diluc asked and his bartender nodded.
Diluc left soon after, but he didn’t go home. He patrolled the town, took out any invading hordes and over all, tried to keep his mind off Kaeya until a new lead could come in. He just hoped the new lead didn’t end with his brother’s dead body.
Kaeya woke up as he was dragged from his cell. Carried through the long, twisting tunnels of the underground, he thought about Mondstrat, about home and about Diluc. He wondered if anyone had noticed he was gone. He wondered if anyone would come looking for him. Aether probably would, but he was almost scared that the young man and his ragtag team would be taken as well. Kaeya was a Knight and even he hadn’t been able to stop them from taking him, what was Aether and his team supposed to do?
There was a small part of his brain that hoped Diluc was looking for him, that small part that remembered Diluc as his big brother, who cared and loved him. It had been years since that small part had been so loud, usually it was drowned out by alcohol and missions, but now, with nothing, but time on his hands and left alone with his thoughts, that part had gotten louder and louder as days passed.
He hissed when he was thrown to the floor, shaken from his thoughts as he looked up at the Fatui mage before him. The mage smiled, a truly wicked look and Kaeya didn’t have a moment to think before she brought the Electro attack down on him. He cried out before managing to bite his lip and curl up slightly. He vaguely heard the laughter of the mages and other members around him and he forced himself to block it out.
The attack ended and he slumped to the floor, but not for long before her heel dug into his back and he jerked. She ground down, digging it into the already ripped flesh and he choked back a scream.
“Aww, the poor, little knight.” she cooed mockingly.
There was a chorus of laughter and Kaeya tried to breathe through his nose. Just breath, that’s all he could do as she hit him with the attack again. He jerked and twitched violently, trying not to give into the pain. The attack ended again and he was struggling to stay conscious.
“He’s holding out a lot longer than I thought. How boring.” the mage muttered annoyed.
“I wanna hear him scream!” a boxer yelled out.
Kaeya mentally flinched at that. Everything already hurt so much, he couldn’t imagine what else they could do to him. His eye fluttered close, only to jerk back open when he was forced over onto his back.
“This little bitch won’t scream, huh?” one of the large gunners demanded.
Kaeya groaned as he was slammed against the ground. He froze when he felt a hand on his hip, tugging at his pants.
“Then I’ll make him scream.” The gunner whispered darkly.
Diluc rubbed his eyes and threw the notes into the fire with rage. He watched as the notes burned to nothing, but ashes and wished he could do that with the whole world. Maybe from the ashes, Kaeya would rise, like some sort of phoenix. Diluc slumped into a chair and groaned.
“I am losing my mind.” Diluc muttered harshly.
He pulled his hand away and covered his mouth, staring into the fire. He wondered if he was even looking for a living person anymore. Was it already too late? What if Kaeya was…? He hiccuped and buried his face in his hands. God, he had wasted so much time. Chasing down false leads and dead ends while his brother, the only person he had left, was rotting away somewhere, his body probably already picked apart and eaten by animals. He may never find Kaeya’s body, he really would only be left with a coat and eyepatch to bury. Should he start the funeral arrangements? He didn’t even want to think about it.
He pulled the eyepatch from his pocket, remembering all the people who asked about it. Kaeya had never truly, to his knowledge anyway, told anyone why he covered his eye. His father had never even asked about it and told Diluc that his brother would tell him in time.
“He told me something all right.” Diluc muttered to himself.
That night was still burned into his memory, like a bad movie playing on repeat. On a dark, storm night, Kaeya coming to him after their father’s death, telling him the horrible secret that he had kept for so long, unburdening his soul to the one person he trusted above everyone, looking to Diluc to accept him, only for Diluc to be overrun by rage. He remembered attacking Kaeya, the way Kaeya’s eye widened in fear, how he just barely protected himself before his Vision activated for the first time and that was it. Kaeya and he were done. No longer was it them against the world, Diluc had cut all ties and Kaeya had been left behind. Now, all these years later, Diluc was realizing how much he missed it.
Maybe it had been his own cluelessness about how cruel the world was. He had just assumed Kaeya would still be in Mondstrat when he returned. Just believed that his brother wouldn’t die or disappear in the four years he was away. Maybe it showed how childish and stupid he still was. And yet, during those years, Kaeya had never been far from his mind and that loneliness was almost all consuming now.
He missed Kaeya, having someone by his side, having a companion who knew all the deep, dark parts of him and didn’t judge him for them. He thought they had been equal in that regard. Maybe that’s why it hurt so much when he learned just what Kayea had hid from him. Because he thought they knew everything about each other and it turned out to be a lie. But could he blame Kaeya? Kaeya had been a child, forced into a role he never wanted. He wasn’t sure he would have done anything different. Maybe, maybe if he had been willing to listen, they could have gotten over this hill and been stronger as brothers.
“And now, we might never have another chance.” Dilub muttered.
Kaeya stared at the gruesome scene before him, holding his arm and trying to understand what had just happened. The icy creation jutted into the sky like some sort of twisted sculpture. He could hear the choked screams of the dying Fatui members and felt a grim satisfaction knowing they would die in the most painful way possible. Some had been impaled, others frozen solid and Kaeya was just standing there, staring as the blood trickled down from where his would be rapist hung, impaled by the chest. His Vision had never reacted so violently, but he couldn’t say he was mad this time.
Kaeya turned slightly and started to walk, only to collapse, his body burning with exhaustion and hunger. He looked longingly towards where Mondstrat stood in the distance before his eye closed.
“An icy pillar? Appearing out of nowhere?” Diluc said as he stood before Aether, Paimon and Amber.
“Yeah, we got a report of it last night, near the edge of Wolvendom. We are heading out right now to check it out.” Amber stated.
“Paimon said we should stop by here and see if you had any information on it!” Paimon declared proudly.
Diluc frowned, brow furled.
“Unfortunately, I have nothing, but I’ll come with. That is right near where one of my suppliers is. I want to be sure they are ok.” Diluc said.
“Ok, we better head out then.” Amber said cheerfully.
Seeing it up close was something completely different than hearing about it. Diluc could only stare in awe at the large icy structure, amazed and horrified by what looked like people trapped inside. Vaguely, he noted that Aether and Paimon were wandering off, but the two could handle themselves. He wasn’t concerned.
“Are those Fatui members?” Amber said in shock.
“Looks like it. But what happened here?” Diluc muttered, feeling some delight at the sight of the dead Fatuis.
A few less monsters in the world if you asked him. But, how had this happened? Some sort of new monster they didn’t know about yet? A rogue mage? There were so many questions and not enough evidence to come to a conclusion that made sense.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen anything like this. Should we… try to help them?” Amber asked with uncertainty.
Diluc hated that idea immediately.
“No, let them suffer. If this happened to them, then they deserved it.” Diluc said calmly.
He was not about to waste his time helping monsters who had gone out of their way to kill people. They were getting their just desserts if you asked him. But he kept those thoughts to himself. He didn’t need Amber running back to Jean and getting some lecture from her later.
“Mister Diluc! Amber! Come quickly.” Paimon suddenly yelled.
Diluc and Amber turned to her, waving frantically from the other side of the ice.
“What is it?” Amber called.
“It’s Kaeya! We found Kaeya!” she yelled.
Diluc’s heart stopped and he bolted towards the floating child. He turned the corner and saw Aether holding Kaeya, who lay unconscious and bleeding. The blood pool around them was large and Diluc could just barely hold back the panic at the sight of it.
“Kaeya!” Amber said with a gasp.
“He’s shaking so much.” Paimon whimpered in fear.
Diluc pulled off his jacket. He had to focus. Kaeya needed him to focus.
“Wrap him in this. He lost a lot of blood. He’s going into shock.” Diluc said quickly.
“Do you think he…?” Paimon asked, looking back at the ice statue before them.
“I wouldn’t be shocked.” Diluc muttered.
He slipped his arms around Kaeya and picked him up. He hated how thin he looked. For a second, Kaeya’s eye fluttered open and he stared at Diluc blankly, causing Diluc to hold his breath.
“Luc.” Kaeya muttered before he closed his eye again and slumped against Diluc’s chest.
“Luc?” Paimon muttered confused.
“We need to go.” Diluc stated quickly.
“We are so far from Mondstrat. Will he be ok?” Amber asked.
“Forget Mondstrat, we are heading towards the Winery.” Diluc commanded.
He started off before anyone could argue. Aether took a place by his side with Amber on the other, keeping their weapons in hand and handling any monsters on their route. Diluc just held tight to Kaeya, promising to every god he could think of that if they kept Kaeya alive, he would do everything in his power to fix the relationship between them.
“I promise you, I will help you heal.” Diluc swore to Kaeya.
Diluc sat in his room, staring at Kaeya with gentle eyes. They had made it to the Winery and thank god he had several competent people on his staff. At the sight of Diluc and Kaeya, they had immediately taken Kaeya from him and started to wrap his wounds, gathering materials to make food and medicine for when he woke up and reaching out to the Winery’s personal healer before Diluc could even give a command. He was incredibly grateful to all of them for taking control because he could be honest when he said shock had started to settle in. His brain had gone fuzzy, struggling to figure out what steps he needed to take to keep Kaeya alive. Without them, he was sure Kaeya would have died in his arms.
Amber and Aether had returned to Mondstrat to speak to Jean and send more knights to the ice sculpture. He had no doubt she would want to talk to him as well, but that could wait. The whole world could wait if he was going to be honest. Kaeya was his only concern right now. He idly reached out, only to pause, pulling his hand back before he could brush some hair from Kaeya’s face. He had lost that right a long time ago.
It seemed to take some time before his brain fully processed that Kaeya was alive, badly injured, but alive and now he found himself, once again, on shaky ground. Where did he go from here? Did he heal Kaeya and then push him away again, go back to the routine they had landed in after he returned? Did he attempt to reconnect with his brother? If he did, would Kaeya accept it? Or push him away? Diluc sighed and rubbed his forehead, feeling his head begin to pound. He needed sleep, but the idea he would be leaving Kaeya alone wasn’t something he was comfortable with.
“I’ll sleep later.” Diluc muttered before he yawned loudly.
Diluc spent the night by Kaeya’s side, eventually losing the battle and falling asleep in the early hours of the morning, only to be startled awake by a sudden thump. Looking up, he groggily stared at the empty bed before his eyes drifted close again. Wait… empty? His eyes snapped open and he looked around, finding Kaeya standing by the door with a startled look on his face, like a child who had just gotten caught doing something wrong. The sheets from the bed were wrapped around him and there was a book on the floor that Kaeya clearly knocked over when he tried to leave.
The brothers stared at each other and Diluc wanted to say something, maybe to demand where he thought he was going in his condition, but a blossoming red stain on Kaeya’s shirt caught his attention first. Diluc sighed and stood up.
“You’re bleeding. Get back to bed. I will call for the healer.” Diluc stated calmly.
Kaeya flashed him a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Why, Master Diluc! At least buy me dinner first before taking me to bed. I will have you know I’m not that easy.” Kaeya teased lightly.
Diluc flushed immediately, almost rising to the bait when Kaeya started to sway.
“Master Diluc. I didn’t know you were a twin. Or are you a triplet?” Kaeya slurred before his eye rolled back in his head and Diluc yelped as he managed to catch Kaeya before he hit the floor.
“This is why I told you to go back to bed!” Diluc hissed, but Kaeya was already unconscious and Diluc huffed.
There was a knock at the door made him jump, startled.
“Master Diluc? Are you alright?” the maid called and he sighed.
“We are fine. Please bring me more bandages and some soup!” he replied as he picked Kaeya up and placed him back on the bed.
He idly tucked Kaeya in before pausing. He hadn’t done that since they were kids and yet, his heart gave a soft flutter when Kaeya let out a light sigh and settled down immediately, breathing with a slight hitch, but for the most part, comfortable. Diluc heard the maid come back and met her at the door, taking the supplies from her and ordering that he not be disturbed for the rest of the day. She bowed and left, leaving Diluc alone once more.
He stood by the door for the longest time before looking down and blinking. How funny it was that Kaeya would knock over the one book in the room that was left from when their father was alive? He chuckled, amused and yet annoyed by the Fates who kept trying to push them together. He put it back on the shelf and moved to Kaeya’s side. He took his time rewrapping Kaeya’s wound before leaving him to sleep. Diluc turned his attention to the window and became lost in thought.
Kaeya woke up again sometime later. He was clearly not in his right mind, but Diluc wasn’t sure if he could deal with Kaeya being, well, Kaeya right now anyway, so it was fine. He fed the man some soup and then laid him back down, Kaeya stayed awake though, staring at the ceiling as if trying to figure something out.
“You should get more sleep.” Diluc encouraged gently.
Kaeya turned to him and he seemed uncertain. He squinted at Diluc as if he wasn’t sure what Diluc was doing. As if Diluc was some sort of imposter or something. Kaeya’s masks were down and Diluc was seeing the real Kaeya for the first time in years. It was alarming and Diluc had to stop himself from shifting nervously.
“Why am I here? You hate me.” Kaeya stated blankly.
Diluc blinked, startled. Hate? He was angry as Kaeya, still grieving their father and he certainly hated the Knights for their hypocrisy, but he had never hated Kaeya. He hated the secret that Kaeya had burdened him with, burdened them both with, but hate Kaeya? Never.
“I never hated you.” Diluc replied.
Kaeya scuffed and looked away.
“You left because you hated me.” Kaeya said softly.
That was like a slap to the face. Diluc grit his teeth and let out a breath.
“I didn’t leave because of you… not completely anyway. I was… upset. I was grieving. And I was angry. I had to leave.” Diluc explained calmly.
“You left me behind. Like I meant nothing.” Kaeya stated, voice cold.
Diluc looked away and crossed his arms.
“Would you have come with me? After what happened?” Diluc asked and Kaeya closed his eye.
“In a heartbeat. If it gave me a chance to prove myself again.” Kaeya whispered.
Diluc swallowed and rubbed his face. He had considered it for a moment before he left, but he had discarded the idea almost immediately. Maybe he shouldn’t have. Maybe they both had been too stubborn, too hot headed and hurt. Maybe if they had both stopped for a moment and tried to fix it, they wouldn’t be where they were now. But the past was in the past and he needed to focus on fixing their relationship now.
“I missed you.” Kaeya whispered and that hurt too.
Diluc bit his lip as Kaeya’s eye welled up with tears.
“I missed you so much and you weren’t there.” Kaeya choked.
“I’m sorry.” Diluc muttered.
Kaeya forced himself to sit up and when Diluc moved to help him or push him back down, Kaeya pulled away.
“Don’t touch me!” Kaeya snapped and Diluc froze.
Kaeya almost looked… scared. His eye was wide and his breathing was coming out quick and shallow. He was staring at Diluc like he was something diseased, but his eye was unfocused.
“Kaeya?” Diluc called.
Kaeya slammed back against the wall and soon it was covered in ice. Diluc’s eyes got wide and he stared in horror. Kaeya was shivering and shaking, looking like he was one second from bolting or maybe attacking. Diluc slowly sat back down, making sure to keep his movements clear and easy to see.
“It’s ok, Kaeya. I won’t touch you. I just need you to breathe with me, ok?” Diluc said slowly.
Kaeya gave a jerky nod and seemed to calm down a bit. Diluc made a show of taking in a deep breath, holding it until Kaeya did the same and then letting it go. Over and over again, Kaeya copied his breathing until he finally slumped against the wall and Diluc was able to help him lay back down. Kaeya grabbed his wrist when Diluc went to move away and Diluc paused.
“They were going to…” Kaeya trailed off, squeezing Diluc’s wrist and it took a second before it fully processed through his brain.
Diluc swallowed the absolute rage in his chest. He hoped Jean and the Knights would take care of the ice and the mages in it, because, if not and he went there, he couldn’t be held accountable for what he did next. Diluc sat down and gently took Kaeya’s hand in his. Kaeya peeked at him and he seemed so young, so small and Diluc had to remind himself that they were grown men and not small children under the care of his father. That he couldn’t just crawl under the covers with Kaeya and hold him like he used to when Kaeya woke in the middle of the night, screaming from his nightmares. As much as he wanted to.
“You did what you had to. You saved yourself.” Diluc replied and Kaeya nodded slowly.
Diluc thought to pull his hand away, but it was comforting. For both of them. It had been so long since Kaeya and he could be in the same room and not be at each other’s throats, both verbally and physically. Eventually, Kaeya fell asleep again and Diluc sat by his bedside, refusing to move until Kaeya woke up.
Diluc stretched and felt his back pop. Sighing, he rubbed the back of his neck, staring out the window. Kaeya had started to wake up, so he had left to give the man a chance to wake up at his own pace and not have Diluc standing over him like some sort of mother hen. Diluc took the time to take a shower, rinse off the last few days of dirt and dust that had collected on his person and just get his body moving again. He finished up and grabbed a clean shirt and pants, feeling ever so slightly better as he walked back to his room.
The door opened and Kaeya stood there. The brothers looked at each other and Diluc paused. Kaeya seemed startled, probably hoping to leave while Diluc was gone.
“Breakfast is ready if you are interested.” Diluc said after a moment.
Kaeya looked at him and flashed a small smile.
“I would like that.” he replied softly.
Diluc eyed the clothes Kaeya was wearing, noting all of them seemed ruffled and wrinkled. Not even including the bandages around his eyes that were at least a day old.
“Do you wish to clean up first?” Diluc asked.
He slipped easily into the role of the host since he often had to host people here at the Winery and Kaeya seemed to understand.
“Yes, thank you.” Kaeya replied.
Diluc nodded and went into his room.
“The Traveller brought you some clothes and other toiletries from your room. Here, a change of clothes.” Diluc handed them over and Kaeya stopped.
Right on top was a new eyepatch, one that certainly wasn’t from his collection, and Kaeya stared at it for a long time before he looked at Diluc.
“I might be a while. Hair this lovely takes time.” Kaeya smiled, but it was simple.
Not his usual cocky smirk or superior smile. It seemed to him that both of them were on uneven ground and even Kaeya, a master of his words, seemed unable, or maybe unwilling, to put his masks back up.
“I’m sure you know where the restroom is. I will be here if you need something.” Diluc said and Kaeya nodded before walking away.
Diluc made sure to stay close by, just in case Kaeya needed him, but Kaeya came back some time later and they headed towards the dining room. As the maids set out the food, Diluc watched as Kaeya tried and failed to slip into his overflirtious persona. He seemed to struggle with his words, unable to focus and quickly became frustrated.
“It seems my silvertongue is failing me today.” Kaeya said when they were finally alone.
Diluc raised an eyebrow.
“You mean your overly flirtatious personality isn’t helping you with my staff.” Diluc stated blandly.
Kaeya flashed a smirk, but it was forced.
“It seems you found people that you can trust to protect your father’s legacy since last I was here. That’s quite a feat.” Kaeya stated simply.
Diluc paused before eyeing Kaeya. Diluc took a second and then spoke.
“Our father’s.” Diluc said.
Kaeya stopped, his fork pausing in mid air before he slowly looked up and stared at Diluc. He seemed completely floored, mouth opening and closing before he physically shook his head and narrowed his eye suspiciously.
“What?” Kaeya whispered.
“Our father’s legacy. I hired people to protect our father’s legacy.” Diluc repeated.
Kaeya swallowed and lowered his fork, placing it back on the plate. He seemed to have no idea what to say. Diluc waited for him to get over his shock.
“I’m not…” Kaeya trailed off.
“But you are. And I had no right to take that from you. You were just as much his son as I was. He loved you just as much as he loved me.” Diluc replied.
Kaeya looked away. For a second, there was a flash of something on his face, but whether it was anger or fear, Diluc wasn’t sure.
“How can you say that? How can you say that now? You made it clear that night that I wasn’t welcome here anymore. That I wasn’t welcome to call myself his son anymore. You disowned me.” Kaeya demanded.
“And I was wrong. I was wrong then and it was wrong of me to keep it up all these years. I took what wasn’t mine to take. I made a decision that our father would be ashamed of and one I plan on fixing. Starting today.” Diluc explained.
Kaeya tilted his head to the side.
“Why? What changed? Because I went missing for a few days? Suddenly you had a change of heart?” Kaeya asked.
Diluc stopped, his heart sinking.
“A few days? Kaeya, you were gone for almost a month. That’s not a few days.” Diluc said hotly.
“Oh, you are right, that is quite a bit longer, but I still do not understand. You left for years and that didn’t change your mind. Why did this?” Kaeya seemed to be searching his face for something, something Diluc hoped to convey.
“You know how they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’? It’s shockingly accurate. The longer I went without seeing you, knowing that you were out there, somewhere, maybe hurt or even… (Diluc swallowed hard) I found myself missing you.” Diluc idly played with his own utensils, unable to look Kaeya in the eye any longer.
Kaeya sat back in his seat and crossed his arms. Diluc could see his shields and masks going back up and mentally cursed. Had he shown his hand too early? What was causing Kaeya to shut down again? Kaeya often found meaning in words that other people didn’t and Diluc was not someone who took the time to think that way.
“I see. So it was loneliness then? Feeling a bit sorry for yourself?” Kaeya asked calmly.
Diluc lightly tapped his knife.
“Yes and no. I have felt lost for a very long time. Ever since Father died, I have felt like the path I walk is shaky and unstable. I would… appreciate having someone to walk with.” Diluc finished.
They were quiet, the only sound of the maids moving around in other rooms echoed throughout the empty room.
“Did he teach you that? The Traveller?” Kaeya asked suddenly and Diluc nodded.
“Yes, he has been quite helpful in opening my eyes about things I have been blind to. I’m sure you agree?” Diluc asked.
Kaeya chuckled and nodded.
“He is quite persuasive when he wants to be.” Kaeya admitted.
“And very open minded. Something I am, admittedly, not used to.” Diluc sighed.
Kaeya nodded and then looked away.
“It’s not going to be easy, you know. I can’t say I am not angry about all these years.” Kaeya said.
“And I wouldn't expect anything else and I am sure we will continue to butt heads… but I would rather us try. Before it’s too late.” Diluc said softly.
Kaeya sighed. It seemed to him that Kaeya was taking his words to heart, but also had a hard time letting go.
“I would… like that. A lot. I want to try.” Kaeya replied.
Diluc felt a surge of hope for them both, but he knew it would be an uphill battle. Both of them were angry and hurt, years of mistrust and bitterness wouldn’t disappear overnight, but he hoped, maybe just a little bit, they could return to the bond they had before their father died. Diluc got up and moved to Kaeya’s side. He paused and then held out his arms. Kaeya wasted no time and they held each other for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Diluc closed his eyes and felt the tension from his shoulders disappear. As if a weight had been physically removed from his body and he felt lighter than he had in years.
Eventually they settled down again, side by side, Diluc refusing to let even physical distance come between them again. Much like when they were children, they spoke to each other in hushed tones, no barbed words or angry threats, though there was some teasing and mocking, it was light hearted. Eventually, the food and plates were cleared away and Diluc turned to Kaeya.
“Do you… want to… talk about it?” Diluc asked lightly.
Kaeya nodded and looked at the ceiling.
“My main mission was to go to Springville, but the night before, I heard whispers of a clan of Fatui mages in Wolvendom planning an attack right near the Winery. I was going to track down any information I could find and report back to the Knights when I was ambushed. There were, unfortunately, too many of them for me to handle by myself. I’m not exactly sure when they knocked me out, but when I woke up, I was in a cell and they didn’t give me enough time to make a plan after that.” Kaeya paused.
Diluc wanted to ask more questions, but he figured it was best to let Kaeya work through it on his own.
“Why they attacked me, I am not sure. It doesn’t seem like it was planned. I think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t see anyone of value the entire time I was there, so I assume they didn’t even tell their higher ups that they had me.” Kaeya trailed off, brow furling.
“But everyone knows who you are. They had to be stupid if they didn’t use that to their advantage.” Diluc muttered, uncertain.
“They definitely knew who I was. They mentioned it often that they knew ‘exactly what kind of man I was’. Which makes me wonder about what intel is going around about me, but that’s a question for another time I believe.” Kaeya leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms.
Diluc couldn’t understand the thought process. Kaeya was a very important member of the Knights. By handing him over to their higher ups, they could have done any number of things to Kaeya to bring Mondstrat to its knees, so why didn’t they?
“Maybe they were trying to prove something.” Kaeya said after a moment of silence.
“Prove something?” Diluc asked.
“They said they were going to break me.” Kaeya muttered.
“They wanted to bring you to their masters already broken and ready to talk. They wanted to prove themselves by taking down a Cavalry Captain.” Diluc stated.
“That’s all I can think of.” Kaeya said.
Just then, there was a knock at the door and Diluc frowned as he stood up. He nodded to the butlers, who opened the doors quickly and effectively to show Jean was standing there.
“Acting Grand Master. I wasn’t expecting you.” Diluc said calmly.
He knew she would show up eventually, but he had been hoping for more time.
“I apologize for the sudden visit, but I wanted to make sure Kaeya was alright.” Jean said gently.
Diluc raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. Kaeya chuckled and stood up from the table.
“Jean, it’s nice to see you and I appreciate you coming to check up on me.” Kaeya said and Jean let out a breath of relief.
“Kaeya, thank Barbartos you are ok.” Jean said happily.
Kaeya winced and rubbed his chest, where the bandages could easily be seen under his shirt.
“A little bruised and beat up, but I’m in one piece, thankfully.” Kaeya admitted.
Jean took a step forward and before he realized it, Diluc found himself taking a step in front of Kaeya, a clearly protective move to anyone who saw it. Jean paused, startled as she eyed their positions before she relaxed and smiled. Kaeya seemed just as shocked, but Diluc didn’t seem to notice. Even the butlers shared a look and the maids flashed each other a smile as they stood behind him.
“It seems you two have managed to finally sit down and, as they say, clear the air?” Jean asked gently.
Diluc paused and blinked before he flushed deeply and coughed into his hand.
“Shall we move to my office?” Diluc said quickly, already heading towards the office before they could reply.
Jean and Kaeya shared a look before following him. With the door closed, Jean coughed and straightened her back.
“With the help of The Traveller and Amber, we were able to destroy the ice… statue that contained the mages who attacked you. Most of them had passed away, but a few were taken in alive and we will find out how this happened and where their orders came from.” Jean explained.
“Jean, I don’t think there were any orders to attack me.” Kaeya stated.
Jean’s brow furled.
“What? What do you mean?” Jean asked, confused.
Kaeya sighed and explained to her what he had just told Diluc. Jean listened calmly, rubbing her chin with a frown.
“So you think it was just a coincidence?” she summarized.
“In a way, yes. I think I surprised them by finishing the other group a lot quicker than they expected, but they were able to get the upper hand by ambushing me out in the wild.” Kaeya stated.
“So, the attack on Springvale was probably just a step to their plan, hoping to get someone from the Knights out from behind Mondstrat’s defenses.” Jean replied.
“Yes, but whether they expected it to be me or someone else, I am not sure.” Kaeya stated.
“The main focus is they had a plan to attack a Knight, but according to Kaeya, none of the higher ups knew about it.” Diluc muttered.
“So, a low level attack that just happened to be successful. What a mess.” Jean sighed, rubbing her forehead.
“And an embarrassment.” Diluc snarked.
Kaeya shot him a look and Diluc winced mentally. Diluc sighed and straightened up.
“But at least this will be kept under wraps for right now, I’m assuming?” Diluc asked Jean.
“Yes, for the most part. Most of the Knights didn’t know Keya was missing. I told them he was on an extended mission.” Jean admitted.
“Ah, smart thinking.” Kaeya stated.
“Very underhanded. But I understand the reasoning… this time.” Diluc grumbled.
Jean smiled as Kaeya yawned and settled down in his chair.
“I appreciate your understanding, Master Diluc. Kaeya is a high ranking member of the Knights and if the citizens were to learn that he was missing, I fear they would start to panic, especially after everything with Stormterror… I mean Dvalin.” Jean corrected herself.
“In the long run of things, I hate lies and I hate secrets, but this one I will look past. I would love to speak on this more. However, Kaeya has had a long month and is still healing. If you wish to speak to us more, perhaps tomorrow would be best?” Diluc said and Jean nodded.
“It’s barely noon.” Kaeya said amused.
“And you need rest. I’m sure the Acting Grand Master understand that as well as I do. I will show you out.” Diluc stated.
Kaeya chuckled as they walked away. When they got to the door, Jean stopped and turned to him.
“Please let me know if there is anything you or Kaeya need. I am sure The Traveller will be by later.” Jean stated.
“I will be sure to keep you informed.” Diluc grabbed the door and opened it for her, but she just stood there.
Jean smiled and placed a hand on his arm.
“I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you two like this.” Jean whispered.
Diluc frowned and then sighed.
“It has been a long time coming. I’m just glad…” he trailed off.
Jean, as if knowing what he was going to say next, squeezed his arm before pulling away. He watched her leave before closing the door and turning around, only to jump when he found Kaeya standing there, amused.
“Can I help you?” Diluc demanded.
Kaeya’s smile just got wider.
“Well, Master Diluc, I simply wanted to know what room I am expected to use while I heal? Surely you don’t expect me to sleep in your room the whole time?” Kaeya teased.
Diluc blew a sharp breath out and rolled his eyes before waving him along.
“Fine, I’ll show you to your room.” Diluc stated.
As he passed by, Kaeya bumped his shoulder lightly and leaned in.
“Thank you, Diluc. I mean it. I know it killed you to agree with Jean. But you did… for me. So thanks.” Kaeya whispered.
Diluc coughed into his fist, trying to hide a smile.
“I have no idea what you are talking about. Now come along.” Diluc said walking past him.
“Same ole Luc.” Kaeya laughed.