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Vagabond

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"Another three orders of Dandelion Wine for table four."

Looking up, Diluc saw another of the nightly patrons leaning on the bar, wide grin on their face and a slight flush to their cheeks.

With a simple nod, he started lining up the glasses, bottle in hand and silently prepared the drinks, all while the patron kept talking about a near encounter with a Hilichurl. Kept speaking even after the tray was set up and ready to go.

“Was so lucky there’s was only one,” the patron slurred, grabbed the tray and wobbled back to their table, trying not to spill the drinks.

Diluc merely sighed, rolled his eyes and was prepared to go back to cleaning glasses, when the front door was opened. Glancing up and frowning at the downpour currently invading the warm tavern, the pyro hesitated only a moment before continuing his motions.

As he always does whenever this particular person enters.

“Master Diluc!” Kaeya greeted, shaking off the rain and taking the barstool. The ever-present grin was on his face, despite the annoyed glance he received from the bartender.

“Shouldn’t you be working, Sir Kaeya?” Diluc asked, setting up the glass he was cleaning and reaching for the champagne and absinthe, setting them down in front of the Knight.

“Done with the paperwork for the day and currently no imminent threat is present. Although I can always check the cellar if you worry?” the cryo offered a wink as he started mixing his drink.

“You set one foot in my cellar and I cut it off,” the redhead snipped back easily, not even looking up as he prepared another glass.

Smirking, Kaeya lifted the drink to his lips: “That almost sounded like you don’t trust me.”

“What gave it away? Maybe I should be more obvious next time.”

“The little twitch you do in your brow when someone is talking too loudly in your ear, or when they’re chewing with their mouth open.”

At the words, Diluc’s head snapped up, a glare directed at the cyro, who merely laughed, one elbow on the bar.

“Just like that! Perfect!”

“Why haven’t I banned you from here yet?” with a resigned sigh, the pyro mixed up another Apple Cider for someone in the back.

“Because I’m amazing and irresistible?” came the smug reply. “And I pay well.”

“None of those are true,” another glare, another bout of laughter.

“Then I don’t know. You tell me, Master Diluc?” Kaeya’s eye had a twinkle in it, the sort of amusement when they were young and unabashed. The one he had when they would run outside, in the rain, and laugh about who could catch more of the raindrops.

A pang in his heart made Diluc look away, down at the glass. Those were good days. Better than… this.

He missed them.

Saved from answering by a woman walking up and looking for the ordered Cider, the rest of the evening passed in a… not uncomfortable silence between the two. Kaeya would mix his Death Afternoon and Diluc would mix the others, putting up a new bottle if the previous one was used up.

This was the now. This was safe. This was… not as good. But it’ll do.

-{o}-

The rain had lessened, but it was still pouring outside. The sound of it against the wood and glass were filling the now nearly-empty tavern. Kaeya was one of the last patrons, still in the same spot. There was a drunk pair in the corner and one stumbling out at the moment, but in general, it was clearing out.

Diluc still hasn’t said anything to him, even if he was wiping the counter and tables. Even when he woke up the drunks, told them he was closing up and that they should head home.

He either doesn’t care the cryo is still there or is back to ignoring him.

Kaeya wasn’t sure which option was worse.

Drowning the remaining of his glass, the knight turned it upside down, indicating he was done. The redhead was back behind the counter, one eyebrow slightly raised in question.

Shrugging the knight stood up: “Can’t drink it all in one night.”

No reply, just a steady look. The only sort of look he got out of Diluc anymore. He’s grown to accept it. Try and read it. But it’s damn near impossible.

A moment of hesitation, before Kaeya gave a small nod: “Good night, Master Diluc.” And turned on his heel to walk out into the rain.

He thought he caught the pyro’s mouth open, a movement from the corner of his eye before it was closed again. A moment later, when the door was opened and the cold was creeping into the tavern he heard a reply.

“Sleep well, Sir Kaeya.”

And he walked out, closing the door behind him. He was instantly soaked to the bone, but couldn’t care less. As a cryo user, he had a natural resistance to the cold, but that wasn’t where the issue lay.

It was somewhere he couldn’t hide from the cold, no matter his Vision. From deep inside, spreading out and numbing his blood. A bitter smile was on his lips as he started walking towards his house.

Whoever says he’s the cold one, has never been on the receiving end of Diluc’s hate. Not like this. Never like this…

There was a time, long ago, when Diluc was all smiles and laughter. When he was as warm as the sun. But those days are long past, and he’s the reason for them…

Kaeya was so lost in thought, he barely caught another person rushing through the rain, hood up. Managed to twist his body out of the way, but their shoulders bumped anyway and the stranger’s hood slipped off slightly.

“Oh my apologizes, I didn’t see you there,” the knight was quick to say but unable to not glance at the stranger.

“No worries, my own fault,” there wasn’t much to see – most of their face lay in the shadow of their hood. But there was some orange hair, a shade darker than usual likely due to the rain. And eyes a striking yellow.

Something about those eyes made him pause. Like trying to remember a dream from long ago, fuzzy and clouded. Yet familiar. Before he could even utter another word, the stranger was moving again, heading for an Inn – likely where they were staying. Strange that he hadn’t heard of visitors in Mondstadt – maybe they just got here? He’d have to ask in the morning.

-{o}-

Watching Kaeya leave felt like he was the one standing in the rain, not the other man.

Diluc stood by the counter for a few seconds longer, simply staring at where the knight had been, then down at his slightly raised arm. It had been a stupid idea. It was for the better that he hadn’t managed to ask.

“Would you like to attend this year?”

As if he had a right to ask that. To ask for comfort. To ask for someone to stand there… He had a brother, once. Then he tried to kill him and drove him away instead.

Serves him right.

Clenching his palm into a fist, the redhead finished up with the cleaning, put away the bottles, stepped outside and locked the door. He ignored the rain bearing down on him, even if it always made him uncomfortable. And not only because he got soaked.

Only bad things happen on nights like this.

A scream. A beat of powerful wings. Icy rain. His father. The black flame of a Delusion. Blood.

So much blood… Bodies, strewn about.

His father. Dying. Turning to ash in his hands.

Their father, screaming in pain. “Make it stop. Please…”

He didn’t know who he was begging but then noticed the hand clasped atop his own, moving towards the hilt of a blade.

No.

“Please…” Diluc could tell it was a slow and painful death. Just… fading away. If only he could do something!

He could… Could make it easier… Less pained…

With trembling hands, sobbing, he raised the sword. His father smiled at him. Maybe even said ‘thank you’ but the boy couldn’t hear anything. The last noise he registered was the blade breaking skin as he opened his father’s throat, crimson liquid spilling out like fine wine.

And then his father was gone, nothing more but ash and dust.

Tears. Everyone was crying, even the heavens.

The rain washing the blood off his hands, his face.

Blood tears running down his cheeks.

Kaeya screaming.

Hands, pulling him away from the ashes.

More screaming. More crying.

Warms arms around him, holding him.

Numbness. He couldn’t look away from the massacre.

Words of comfort he couldn’t understand. Couldn’t comprehend.

‘How could anything be okay ever again?’

Looking at the sky, Diluc let the rain wash away the tears gathering there. It’s been years, and that night is never far from his mind. How could it be, if that’s not even the worst thing to happen?

Kaeya, saying he had something to explain.

Diluc, hardly feeling anything, the blood not washed off yet. Eyes hard and sore from crying. Wanting nothing more than his brother to comfort him. Wanting to comfort him back. He was their father.

A confession.

He wasn’t in a state to understand and hear everything. Not properly. But certain words stuck out.

Kaeya was a spy. A traitor. Been one since he was found.

More words, a pleading tone. Worry in his eye.

A voice in his mind hissing that Kaeya did this. He was a spy, a traitor. He set up the ambush.

A voice in his mind begging for him to see reason. That Kaeya is his brother and would never do this.

Diluc had no idea when he summoned his claymore, but he took a swing anyway. Kaeya at least managed to doge, still pleading, calling out to him. He didn’t care. He just wanted it all to stop. Whoever this liar was, this Kaeya, it wasn’t his brother. He’d never say that. Would never be reason for any of this.

So he screamed in pain and anguish, grabbing the weapon with both hands and striking. The other man’s eye was wide in fear, and he did his best to avoid the strikes, but parrying them was damn near impossible.

The pyro couldn’t even hear anything besides his own animalistic screaming and the beating in his ears. Not until the claymore caught fire. He saw it reflect in one blue eye. And then he kept attacking until-

With a frustrated growl, Diluc slammed his first into a wall, just to dislodge the memory. To have something else to focus on. Took a few seconds to just breathe, calm himself, ignoring the rain still coming down. Maybe he’ll catch a cold.

He just caught someone else dashing through the rain and let out a huff, heaved a sigh and headed towards the city gates. It’s a long walk back to the Winery and hopefully, he’ll have cleared his mind by then.

-{o}-

Arriving at the house he rents, Kaeya peeled off his soaked jacket and threw it over a chair to dry. Next were his gloves, turning them inside out as he set them on the table. His boots were lost somewhere between the bedroom and hall. When he finally did arrive at the bed, he fell face-first into it, not caring he was probably soaking it as well. Lovely.

Flipping on his side, the knight closed his eye and just… breathed. It’s always worse, this time of year. He wishes things were better between him and Diluc. That maybe, they could… just talk about it. But the pyro made his thoughts clear all those years ago.

The death of their father hit them both hard, Diluc more so. He was a mess that day, and Kaeya was worried out of his mind. Cerpus never knew of who he took into his family. And Kaeya was always too afraid to tell him.

Telling him on that day… Yeah. He wasn’t sure why he chose that day. Maybe because there was a connection and he just thought of it? Maybe because what could be worse than a death? Maybe it’d be just the right amount of insanity that Diluc would… wouldn’t react badly?

How wrong he was.

Finding him there, still bloodied and shaking, he first made sure his brother was safe. He wasn’t responding too much, but Kaeya still held him close, trying to calm him down. Told him things would be alright. But he couldn’t hide the horror in his expression as he watched the remains of their father be swiped away by the wind and matted into the muddy ground.

The rest of the knights that came were tending to the dead and most of them decided to head back. To report and… have this area checked. Figure out what happened. They weren’t going to get much out of his brother.

So he took Diluc off to the side, away from… everything there. They would have some privacy, especially with the rain. Maybe even for a… different conversation.

His heart started beating faster. A small tremble was going through him as he led his brother deeper into the forest. He’ll have time to mourn later.

So he thought.

“Diluc,” he said softly, trying to catch his brother’s eye. Panic was rising in him as well. “I have something to explain.”

He regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth, but the way the pyro’s eyes focused on him, Kaeya realized he couldn’t back out. Not now.

“I… I have to confess to you…” words were hard, his heart was beating in his ears. “I’m from Khaenri'ah… My- My real father left me here to spy on Mondstadt.” The words were jumbled.

Delusions were of Fatui origin but… maybe. Maybe it was connected somehow? He didn’t know. Maybe there was a grander plan here.

Then he saw Diluc’s head turn up, looking at him. Saw them widen and the way his breathing picked up.

Shit.

“Diluc, please, listen, I didn’t- I never wanted to-” of all the times for words to fail him, this is the worst.

“I didn’t want this to happen, I swear to you, I had no idea about-,”

He barely saw the claymore swing at his head. Barely threw himself backwards to avoid being decapitated. Barely caught himself in the muddy ground. And he knew at that moment, he made everything worse.

There was absolute hate in Diluc’s eyes, wide and half unseeing, hidden in the shadows and rain. Only burning with anger. It made Kaeya freeze, his own eye opening wide in fear.

Another swing and he stepped back.

“Luc, please, please, listen to me!” he called out, voice shaking. He barely caught the pyro’s arms tremble as well with each attack.

The next swing was barely deflected with his own summoned sword, but Kaeya didn’t want this. He didn’t want to fight his brother, not like this, not now. Not when the redhead was looking at him with such murderous intent.

“Diluc! Please!” he had to yell over his brother’s own screams, icy fear gripping his heart.

“Ple-,” he was cut off when the claymore slammed into his side, sending him sliding across the floor. Everything hurt and he barely caught himself on the tree. It was hard to see.

Then everything was lit up and he saw his brother’s flames licking up the weapon. A Vision. A fire so strong it wasn’t doused by the rain.

Diluc’s hatred of him. If it had been any other moment, with anyone else, he would’ve been impressed. As it stood, he felt nothing but fear and horror.

He was going to die. His brother was going to kill him. He closed his eye.

And suddenly, felt colder than ever before in his life. A shout of surprise made him look again, and he saw Diluc, panting and shaking, holding his still flamed blade. And he saw two icicles dancing around him, like a shield. There was one shattered on the ground, slowly melting.

It blocked the attack.

Just as suddenly, his left hand was freezing and he watched in fascination and wonder as something formed in his palm, bright blue with a snowflake. A Vision.

And the world stood still.

Neither of them dared to move until the flames were doused and the ice faded away. The pyro’s face was a mix of horror, fear and confusion. Kaeya wasn’t sure about his own expression, but he assumed it was along similar lines.

“Luc-,”

“Get out of my sight.”

The ice felt warmer than those words, that tone.

“I never want to see you again. You’re no brother of mine.”

And with that, Diluc, his brother, what remained of his family, left him there in the pouring rain, hurt and lost.

And Kaeya simply watched him, sliding to the ground, unaware he was crying until his vision clouded. And then he sobbed, loud as he pleased. Not like anyone was around to hear him.

Serves him right.

Wiping away a tear, Kaeya sighed shakily, before it turned into a wet laugh. Honestly, it’s been so long, he should be used to it. Accept it. But he can’t. He doesn’t think he ever will.

Maybe he should ask Jean if she can give him a task. A long one. At least for the next week. He doesn’t want to be here… He doubted Diluc wants him here.

Sighing, the knight crawled further onto his bed, pulled up the covers and readied himself for sleep. Well, try to, will likely take an hour or so before he finally does sleep.

It always gives him too much time to think.

So he settled in for more nightmares, but hoped maybe, just maybe, it won’t be the horror he faces almost every day.

Chapter Text

Being woken up by a knock on the door was not the way Diluc wanted to start in the morning. It was polite, accompanied by a soft call of ‘Master Diluc?’ but it was still too early. Probably.

With a sigh, the pyro sat up in bed and saw the scattered notes, lists and forms on the edge and now on the floor. The morning rays were peeking from behind the covers and there was an empty mug on the nightstand.

Right.

He fell asleep trying to distract himself with other things. It seemed to have worked. He doesn’t recall what he dreamt. But if the soreness of his neck is to go by, it was at the expense of his body.

“Yes, enter,” he called, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and cracking the stiff joints.

Adelinde softly opened the door, gave a bow and an apologetic smile before speaking: “Apologies, Master Diluc, but there is someone here who wishes to speak with you.”

A flash of ‘Kaeya’ went through his sleep-addled mind before he schooled his expression into that of a perfect host.

The only way he’d ever see Kaeya in this place was if he came to investigate under orders or stopped by while out with the Traveller.

“Of course,” he said, giving a small nod. “I’ll be with them in a moment. Thank you.”

The maid gave another nod and proceeded to leave, closing the door softly behind her.

Diluc let out a sigh and forced himself to stand up. Even if he wasn’t in a mood to deal with people, he had a duty and a reputation to uphold. So he got dressed, put his mane of red hair into a ponytail and went to greet his guest.

 

“… in a moment, please, take a seat,” was heard from downstairs as Diluc descended the stairs. Followed by shuffling feet and movement of chairs. Good.

Stepping into the foyer, the Diluc saw three strangers – two of them in the process of sitting down, while the third was standing in front of the vase, inspecting it. Their face twisted into a slight frown, apparently noticing it didn’t fit with the rest of the decor.

A spike of anger shot through the pyro – no one but him is allowed to be upset at that ugly thing. It was a gift from Kaeya when he finally returned after so long away. No one else got to judge it.

“I’d kindly ask you to not touch the priceless items in my home,” Diluc spoke up, loud enough for everyone to hear.

The people at the table – two strangers and two maids – all turned to him, slightly surprised. The maids gave a court, quick bow and excused themselves. The stranger by the vase, raised an eyebrow, looking right at the pyro, unimpressed.

And there, Diluc saw it. The eyes. Eyes that seemed to pierce his very soul and made his blood run cold. A striking turquoise and pupils shaped like diamonds.

Eyes like Kaeya.

-{o}-

Hiding a yawn behind his hand, Kaeya walked into the Grand Master’s office bright and early.

“Oh, good morning Captain Kaeya. You’re up early,” Jean offered a smile as she looked up from her paperwork.

“Figured I’d talk to you before getting flooded with work,” he offered an easy smile back, taking a seat in front of her table, his legs dangling off the side of the handle.

“Of course, what can I help you with?” she sat up a bit straighter, face turning more serious. She was aware Kaeya wasn’t someone who asked for favours often and if he needed information, it was likely something he’d follow up on his own.

He thought back to the person he saw last night, in the rain. The way their eyes stood out, unlike any he’s seen in Mondstadt. Eyes he can even now vividly imagine.

“Did we have any new arrivals in the city yesterday? Strangers, maybe even from far away?” he didn’t want to spook her and couldn’t explain why he had the sudden need to know who that person was. If they were alone or not.

Jean furrowed her brow for a moment before looking at her desk and rummaging through the papers scattered about. She put away a few after they weren’t what she was looking for, before finally pulling one with a satisfied nod.

“Lawrence mentioned in his daily report of four strangers arriving, yes. They claimed to have been travellers and came to visit a ‘distant relative’. Apparently, Mondstadt is the closest area for them to rest,” her brow twitched, not fully convinced apparently.

“Strange that I haven’t seen any but the one,” Kaeya mused, rubbing his chin in thought.

Setting down the report, the Grand Master looked at him: “Do you think this is something we should be concerned about?”

The Captain hesitated before answering, not looking at her: “I’m not sure yet, but my gut is telling me they’re trouble…”

They locked eyes and stared at each other for a few seconds before Jean nodded. “Your gut feelings have proven worthwhile and correct in the past. I trust you do handle this situation as you see fit.”

“Why thank-,” before he could finish, she held up a hand.

“I do ask, however, that you don’t outright create a scandal. It is entirely possible they are not the cause but simply caught up in something. Please, handle the matter delicately.”

Smirking, the cyro stood up: “Grand Master Jean, when have I ever handled a situation carelessly?”

She simply smiled and shook her head. “I fear the day you do, Kaeya.”

“Well then, I assure that day is either never going to happen or far, far away in the future. And by then, Master Varka might be back,” he winked, hearing her chuckle and gave a slight bow. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some things I’d like to understand.”

“Good luck and stay safe,” Jean offered as a farewell, waving as he turned and left her office.

Well then, time to gather some information.

-{o}-

“Ah, Master Ragnvindr I presume?” someone from the table called, knocking him out of his frozen state.

The stranger by the vase gave one last look before walking towards their companions. And only then did the pyro finish his walk down the stairs.

“You presume correctly,” composing himself, Diluc looked at the strangers more closely.

The one by the vase was tall and lanky, yet had a certain way of walking that likely meant they were comfortable wielding a blade. Their hair was mostly hidden by a hood, yet a ponytail of purple seemed to hang out of it.

“Apologise for the early hour, we simply could not wait any longer,” the same one spoke as before. He was well built, dark hair, the beginnings of a stubble, an easy smile on his face and…

“Well then, I’m sure you have a perfectly good reason for this visit?” his eyes were the same lilac-blue as Kaeya’s. It was unnerving.

Diluc walked to the table, past the purple-haired stranger, feeling their gaze on his back as he took a seat. He suddenly felt caged in his own home.

The third one – dark green hair with streaks of white in it, braided tightly into a crown atop her head, her eyes a matching colour – whispered something to the speaker. He listened, nodded and whispered something back.

Diluc waited patiently, looking at the two who were seated, trying to ignore the one staring daggers into his back. Subconsciously he put his left hand on his Vision, reassured by its warm pulse.

 “Forgive us, we have travelled far and are weary,” the blue-eyed one spoke with an apologetic smile. “We forgot our manners.”

The pyro felt his heart rate spike but simply gave a nod. No need to show these strangers now tense he was feeling.

“My name is Ihtald,” he started, giving a slight bow of the head. “My companions are Terwy,” and pointed to the one standing. “And Egith,” and the green-haired one who gave a nod back.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Diluc looked at the two, then glanced back at the one behind his back. “By your names, I can see you’re from far indeed.”

“Indeed,” Ihtald gave a soft chuckle. “We’ve travelled far to come here and find you, actually.”

A chill went down Diluc’s spine at those words, eyes widening and his grip tightening over his Vision. All eyes were on him, he knew, and suddenly became acutely aware of the stranger behind him.

“Me?” he breathed out, trying to calm his beating heart.

-{o}-

Walking down towards the Market District, Kaeya hummed a tone, keeping his steps light and body relaxed. There were multiple ways to get the information he needed, but given the sensitivity of it, the most discreet would be best.

“Good morning Sara,” he greeted, sauntering over with a wave. He does have to buy some stuff to make some Fruity Skewers later.

“Oh, morning Sir Kaeya!” she called back, a wide smile on her face. “What can I help you with?”

“Oh, the usual,” the cryo grinned. “And any fresh gossip, of course.”

Sara laughed and prepared the fowl and mushrooms, setting them in different boxes for him to take.

“It’s a bit early for interesting gossip sadly,” she commented as she prepared. “But last night’s storm seemed to have brought in a few new faces.” Ah, exactly what he needed to know.

“Oh? I guess folk from Lyiue are visiting more often now.”

“I don’t think they’re from Lyiue,” she hesitated but spoke none the less. “One of them came to buy some ingredients and take out. Never quite seen someone like that. Was friendly enough, but seemed strangely confused,” she packed up the lunch and offered it to him. “Like they had no idea what most of the things were.”

Kaeya stood still for a moment, gaze distant.

Hard ground, little to no light. Cold stones all around.

Carefully cultivated plants. None of them beautiful.

Someone working with flasks. Preparing something. Was it food?

The stories of time past. When the people didn’t live underground.

“Captain Alberich?” Sara’s voice brought him back. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” he lied easily, giving a charming smile. “Just… lost in memory.”

He doesn’t even remember the place much anymore. It’s all just… fragmented memories.

“People in Snezhnayan likely haven’t seen much of what Mondstadt has to offer,” she added as he gave the waitress some Mora for the food.

She looked at the ground for a moment: “I’ve never really met anyone from there. The only ones I know about are the Fatui diplomats but I can’t really say I know them well,” and she shrugged.

He hadn’t thought that those strangers would be from Snezhnayan. Usually, they’d be informed of any new citizens. Though if they really are simply travelling, it’s possible they’re not here in any official capacity.

“Thank you, have a good day Sara,” with a bow, Kaeya turned and headed towards the gates. He’d still like to talk to a few people.

-{o}-

Diluc was already going through the upcoming fight in his mind. Where all the exits were, which one of these strangers would be the biggest issue. He could feel the rising temperature of his Vision reacting to his emotions.

Suddenly, the man laughed: “Oh, I’m sorry, that came out wrong!” There was a grin on his face, eyes slightly amused. It didn’t really help.

“You don’t say,” the pyro commented but remained tense and ready.

“We were looking for Crepus, your father,” Ihtald elaborated. “It would seem he’s not here.” And there was a look in his eyes, one the pyro couldn’t name.

“My father has been dead for four years now,” Diluc’s voice didn’t betray the sorrow and pain he still felt whenever he thought of that day. “I’m sorry that your journey has been for nought.”

Ihtald hummed, eyed the redhead and gave a sympathetic look: “My condolences for your loss then. But I’m still hoping this trip will be worth it.”

A pause, the two men looking at each other, each wearing a mask to hide their true feelings, intentions. Diluc saw Egith twitch slightly, her eyes going from the man to the person behind, before settling back on the pyro.

“Your father,” Ihtald started, noticing no one else was going to speak. “He has – had – something that belongs to me. I would appreciate it being returned to me.”

Diluc’s body felt cold, swallowing heavily at the words. Flashes of what these people could be after going through his mind.

Black, fingerless glove. The red crystal orb in the middle.

Ursa the Drake, black chains around her. Black mist surrounding everything else.

His father, turning to ash.

The same glove on his hand as he hunted down Fatui.

Dark fire, like a different sort of burn.

“And what would that be?” Diluc asked, keeping calm and steady. The pulse of his Vision grew stronger. “Most of my father’s things have been lost, though there is a chance something remains.”

Ihtald gave a tight smile, a slight twitch in his mouth the only indication he didn’t like hearing that. It was gone in a moment however as he offered a polite nod: “I fear what we’re searching for isn’t something just… laying around. And I don’t think Crepus would have revealed or even known its true value.”

The pyro clenched his jaw and gave the man a steady glare: “Then I fear you will not find it. This conversation is fruitless,” and he paused, tilting his head just slightly. “Unless you would care to be more specific of what it is you’re looking for?”

There was a shift behind him, Terwy moving closer to their companions, eyes on the man. Even Egith looked from one to the other and he caught the way her hand was slowly forming into a fist. But he never looked away from the big man.

A few seconds of tense silence engulfed them all before Ihtald let out a sigh and shook his head: “No, I don’t think we can do that. If your father didn’t leave a message or information about it, nothing can be done.”

He stood up, his companions instantly next to him, all three looking at the pyro: “Apologise for wasting your time, Master Ragnvindr and thank you for your hospitality.”

Diluc said nothing, only stood up and gave a nod of the head. “Good luck with your search.”

Escorting them to the door personally, the pyro was feeling some of the tension leave his body, yet a twisting in his gut told him this wasn’t the end of it. A court goodbye later, and he was standing by the door, watching them leave.

“Increase security at the estate,” he said, not looking away, but knowing Adelinde was already next to him. “Inform me if you even catch sight of them near here.”

“Understood, Master Diluc,” the Head Housemaid gave a bow. “Shall you inform the Knights of Favonius?”

A pause, before he spoke with clear displeasure: “I believe I must.”

-{o}-

As he neared the front gates of Mondstadt, Kaeya saw the two Knights stand more at attention, each giving a salute.

“Captain Albrich,” they said in unison before dropping their arms. “Is there something you need?” 

“Just some information, no need to worry,” the cyro waved his hand casually, looking at the gate guards. “Lawrence,” at his name, the man stood up straighter. “You submitted a report that four strangers came to the city yesterday?”

“Yes sir!” Lawrence replied instantly. “They were seeking shelter from the storm and a place to rest while they looked for someone.” He faltered a little after that. “I… didn’t judge them to be a threat.”

Letting out a hum, Kaeya rubbed his chin in thought: “Of course, of course. We welcome all weary travellers. Would be rude otherwise.” He offered a smile before speaking again: “I don’t suppose you pegged them from where they hail?”

“Afraid not, Captain,” the knight rubbed the back of his head. “It was raining, so naturally, they had cloaks and were huddled. And although only one spoke, I didn’t catch any accent.”

“They didn’t even have much them,” Swan spoke up, glancing away when the cryo turned his attention to him. “I mean, if they travelled from far away you’d expect them to have a cart or something…”

“Not unless they needed to keep things to a minimal…” Kaeya mused. “Basic supplies for survival perhaps… Not unheard of, but certainly strange.”

“They did just leave,” Lawrence spoke up again. “Bright and early too.”

At that, the Captain snapped his eyes to the man: “They did? I don’t suppose you know where they were heading?”

“No sir, sorry. Just that they took the right path, likely towards the Windwail Highland.”

“They could be going to Liyue. Or some other village…” Swan said, shuffling his feet slightly. He was just trying to be helpful.

“Maybe… Either way, they’re gone now, and there’s a chance they won’t be back.”

“Oh, well, only three left,” Swan added, blinking. “I… imagine they’ll come back for them.”

Kaeya stopped for a moment, looking at them, before turning around and snapping his head upwards, to the rooftops and walls. His eye was scanning and checking every spot he could see for someone or something up above, maybe even following him.

“…Sir?” the guards asked carefully, on edge because of his reaction.

“…Inform me when the others return. Or if you see the last one leave. I must check on something,” was all the cryo said before turning on his heel and walking back into the city, leaving two very confused knights behind.

 

Walking up to the Goth Grand Hotel in a rush, anyone could tell that Kaeya was a man on a mission at that moment. There was a beating in his ears, and he kept scanning alleyways and corners, a hint of paranoia creeping into his body.

“This is Fatui-,” Luke, the guard by the door, started but faltered when he caught the look in the knight’s eye.

“Favonius business,” Kaeya said coolly, staring the man down.

Luke swallowed before speaking: “W-What business is that?” his voice shook only slightly.

“Important. Business.” The air around them grew a few degrees colder as the Vision reacted to its owner’s feelings. “Now let me pass.”

Without another word, the guard stepped aside head down. Kaeya didn’t even wait for anything else, opening the door and walking right towards the reception area, past the group of confused Fatui people.

“Excuse me-,” the receptionist didn’t get to finish that.

“I need to speak with the head delegate,” the cyro cut them off, voice hard and cold. “Right now. Knights of Favonius business.”

He was aware of the eyes on him, the people of Snezhnaya confused and unsure about what is going on. But he needs answers. He needs to know of these four strangers are from the icy land or… something else.

“…Just a moment,” the receptionist spoke carefully, got up and disappeared into a different room.

He really hopes he’s wrong. Otherwise, this all just got more complicated.

Chapter Text

Watching the target moving around Mondstadt was easy enough – the rooftops and alleys allowed for clear viewpoint and hiding spots. The guards – were they all knights? – patrolled but none of them had the high ground so really, keeping to the roofs was best.

He wasn’t entirely sure why they had to spy on the Captain, but at least the view was nice. The swagger in the movements exude confidence – had the people in the market area wrapped around his finger. And since everything was so open here in Mond, he didn’t even need to change his position to keep an eye on the knight.

At least, until he decided to go for the gate.

Sure, there was some chatter, but it was impossible to hear and reading lips requires a better angle.

“Maybe he’s just leaving?” where would he go though? Didn’t he have a job to do?

It’s what you’re here to figure out, dumbass.

Sighing, he jumped across a few more rooftops to get a better angle – closer to the walls. Not a clear line of sight – so he jumped down, landing lightly. The red cloak blended better with the tiles than the walls, but keeping in the shadows would prevent anyone from seeing him.

Or, so he thought.

Whatever the guards told the Captain, set him on edge. In an instant, he was tense as a bowstring, eye darting from one side to the other, looking for something. Or someone.

I’ve been had…” the thought made him grin somehow because that just meant this would be more interesting.

Without much else, the target started moving further into the city, pace quick. He followed, needing a few seconds to get back atop the roofs – and he saw the knight go to the… hotel was it?

Clicking his tongue, he moved closer, going up the other side, avoiding the strangely dressed people around the building. Surprisingly lax security here. But he couldn’t see much inside, even if there was some commotion.

He’d listen for a bit, see what this was all about and then report back. He’s had a few hours, what the boss does with the information isn’t his concern.

-{o}-

Later, when he thought about it, Diluc realized these strangers, even if they wanted the Evil Eye, wouldn’t get it.

The escape, the last act as his anger-filled self. Destroying the Delusion had been hard.

He tried so many things. At moments, he could even feel it trying to convince him otherwise.

But he did it. Left it as a parting gift.

The last thing he received from his father.

Maybe they didn’t know that. Maybe they weren’t even Fatui? They didn’t look like it.

The eyes. All of them had eyes similar to Kaeya…

Was there a connection he was missing? Could they actually be from Khaenri'ah? What were they doing here then?

Did Kaeya know?

Why do you care?

They wanted something from his father. But they didn’t know he had died. So apparently, it wasn’t something personal, otherwise, Crepus would have told his children- … child, about it.

Would he have? He hid the Delusion. Who’s to say he hadn’t hidden more?

No matter what he thought, he had to let the Knights of Favonius know. He’d of course do his own to investigate, but this might be bigger than just the Ragnvindr family.

-{o}-

Watching the Fatui delegate shift under his hard gaze, Kaeya tried to feel anything but worry and anger. He didn’t like not knowing. Things like this especially, because they’re right in front of his face.

The anniversary is coming up.

The itch in the back of his neck hasn’t left, but he shouldn’t be surprised the Fatui are keeping an eye on him now. That only added to his seething as the delegate finally sat down. They were on edge but anxious, unlike the cyro. He was just on edge.

It’s in three days. He needs to distract himself. Diluc is finally back this year, so he doesn’t have to go.

You still want to.

“Captain Albrich, what can I do for you?”

There are so many things he could ask, could demand. But this isn’t about the Fatui schemes and plans. This is about something potentially worse.

“Have you recently gotten word of new arrivals from Snezhnaya?” he asked bluntly, eyes hard.

“I-I don’t see how that’s important! And we can’t divulge such information!”

“I don’t care about it, I just need an answer,” Kaeya could feel the cold seeping from him, exhaled, took a breath and calmed down. “I just need to know if a group of four new arrivals is from Snezhnaya or not.”

A pause, the delegate blinking and unsure. Finally, they spoke: “No. There was no word of our people coming. Which they always do.”

“So these aren’t Fatui.”

“No.”

“Would you inform the Knights of Favonius if any would have arrived?” he wasn’t sure if it was just him, but his breath was slightly visible at this point.

The delegate swallowed: “If any high standing person would come, I imagine we would be required to, yes.”

Kaeya thought back to that feeling – how something didn’t’ fit, that something was wrong. He hated that he was right. This isn’t a grand scheme – not like any he’s used to, but a small operation.

A moment of silence, before the knight gave a nod and stood up. “Thank you for your cooperation.” And with that, he left.

-{o}-

Silence hung around them as they walked, careful of the eyes and ears still paying attention to them in this area.

“…What do we do now?” Egith asked, glancing around. “The boy apparently doesn’t want to cooperate.”

“He was just the easy way,” Ihtald waved off her concern. “There are other ways to get what we need.”

A pause in conversation before the two noticed their third companion wasn’t following anymore. Turning around, they saw Terwy staring down at something on the ground. Green and blue, swaying gently in the wind.

“Something the matter?” Ihtald walked up and looking down at the plant.

He saw Terwy’s hands move as they signed an answer: ‘It is pretty.’

“I think it’s called a ‘Glass Lamp’ or something,” Egith frowned. “Such a strange flower.”

Ihtald looked at the plant, bent down and plucked it from the ground. Terwy followed the movement, yet signed nothing else.

“We cannot fail…” looking at the Lamp, he crushed it in his hands, smelling the sweet fragrance. “Our people are counting on us. We cannot afford to be distracted,” and he put a hand on their silent companion’s shoulder. “I know you understand. When all is over, we can take some back home.”

A pause, and then a simple: ‘Understood.’

“Good. Now let’s go back. Oser should have collected some information by now.”

-{o}-

Diluc was taking the shortcuts towards Mondstadt, but he still hated, for once, how far the Winery was. Situations like this, it’d be great to have a faster way of communication.

Part of him wondered if he would run into those strangers again, and what would happen then? Would they fight? Try and talk some more? He honestly wasn’t sure which he preferred.

This path took him thought some of the more hostile territory and areas, but nothing he couldn’t swiftly deal with. Anything that seemed like it would require more than a few swings, he dashed past.

At least, up until he got closer to Mondstadt.

There were sounds of a fight, the growls of Hilichurls and someone grunting under their breath. Instantly, Diluc had his claymore ready, running towards the fight.

He flew off the cliff and slammed down heavily atop two of the archers, knocking them to the side. The person in trouble appeared to be using a bow, orange hair moving with their quick movements. A red cloak blended well with some of the Hilichurls, but the pyro didn’t have much more time to see if they were alright.

“Hey, I was handling it just fine!” they called, loosing another arrow. He caught a slight glow on the arrowhead right before he turned around.

Diluc didn’t reply, instead focusing on the fight.

The two enemies he knocked down recovered and were reloading their shots, while he apparently got the attention of a shield using Mitachurl. Lovely.

Charging at the wooden shield and igniting his weapon, Diluc tried to finish this as quickly as he could. The wood caught fire, so he dashed behind the large enemy and swung at the archer, slicing it down the middle as it fell down.

“Damn, that was hot!” was a comment thrown his way and Diluc barely kept his eyes from rolling.

A Hilichurl’s arrow hit him in the shoulder, but he used that pain to fuel his fire and bore down on the second archer. They ended up burned to a crisp.

The stranger had dealt with most of their own enemies, only two fighters remaining, so he focused back on the Mitachurl. And just in time, as the half-burned shield came and slammed into him, knocking him to the side.

It let out a roar and called to attention the two fighters – correction, one. One got an arrow through the mask and head, dropping dead.

With two more enemies to go, he knew this would be over soon. But then the stranger yelled something out – something he couldn’t hear over the growls and burning.

An arrow flew by, not hitting anything and he was confused-

An explosion rocked his world, knocking the redhead into the wall, back of his head smacking into the hard rock. The two Hilichurls were blown up along with him, scattered limbs and burned bones.

Diluc’s vision swam, his breathing came hard.

How many explosive barrels were in that shot?

The stranger came running to him, and he caught black lines across their face, bangs of orange in their eyes. Their lips moving, but everything was blurred.

Great. He should’ve just sent a letter.

And then he blacked out.

-{o}-

Leaving the Goth Hotel, Kaeya was feeling more agitated than before. Potential enemies had come to Mondstadt and no one was able to give him proper information. To make matters worse, he was fairly certain someone is watching him.

Or, was. The feeling of eyes on his back wasn’t present as much as before, so perhaps he lost his stalker? Or maybe they just got better at hiding their presence.

Sighing, the cryo rubbed the back of his head, realizing news of his recent actions was likely already spreading. His best bet if he wanted to avoid questions and looks would be to head back to his office and try to do some more paperwork.

And research more of what he learned. Even if there’s not much for him to go on. It’ll serve as a nice distraction.

It always rained on the anniversary. Like time was forever marked by what happened and it just… never moved on.

Like Diluc likely hasn’t.

But Diluc wasn’t there. No one knew where he was, what he was doing. Just that he was alive.

The Vision glowed softly and steadily. It was still warm.

The first time, there were many people. Everyone knew who Cerpus Ragnvindr was, and that he died.

Just not how he died.

So Kaeya stood there, in the rain, the only remaining family of Cerpus Ragnvindr, because Diluc wasn’t there, because Diluc couldn’t stand being here… and because no one knew what happened between them.

That he was basically disowned.

He mourned not only his father but his brother that night. And every night after that.

Traitors and liars don’t get to mourn. But he did.

His office was blessedly empty and the curtains were still pulled. Good. He didn’t want to deal with the beautiful day when his mood was this sour.

There were reports on his desk, some simple accounts of what happened, most, however, such that he would have to approve of whatever was being requested. He would likely start with the ones of unusual reports, however. It’s what he’s currently invested in and any bit of information would be wonderful.

A knock on the door sounded after a few minutes, and he looked up.

“Come on in,” he called, holding the papers in his hand.

The door opened and a tiny figure stepped in, footsteps soft. Her face held a smile, as usual, and her backpack was bumping with her movements.

“Klee, what a pleasant surprise,” Kaeya smiled widely, always happy to see the young Knight.

“Hello,” she chipped, walking up to him. “Klee has a message for Captain Kaeya from Gate Guard Lawrence.”

That instantly got his attention as the cryo sat up straighter, his expression turning more serious.

“Really? What did he say?” he tried to keep his voice light, for the little one’s sake.

“Um…” she seemed to take a moment, a finger on her lips. “He said that…” her brows furrowed in concentration. “That I should tell you that he saw someone leave?” Klee sounded unsure and directed her gaze to the Captain.

“Oh, yes,” the stranger. That would explain why he hadn’t gotten the feeling of being spied upon. “Did he happen to mention when?”

“Klee doesn’t remember… A lot happened after and something smelled really good too…” the Spark Knight’s shoulders slumped, a look of guilt on her face. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright, you did well Klee.” Kaeya stood up and walked up to her, gently patting her head. “Thank you.”

Before she could reply, there was a commotion outside the office.

Confused, the two shared a look before the cryo went and opened the door, seeing a few of his fellow knights rushing out of the building.

“What’s going on?” he asked as Wood moved passed him.

The knight stopped, gave a salute and spoke: “Something happened outside the city. Master Diluc was just brought back, unconscious and wounded.”

Kaeya had no idea when he moved, but next thing he knew, he was running out the doors towards the Cathedral.

-{o}-

Jean leaned back in her chair, feeling her spine pop back into place after hours of sitting bent over. There was a pile of neatly stacked papers, filled out and ready to be delivered or archived on her right, while a set of to-be-finalized sat on the edge of the left.

But as she looked at the unfinished stack, she thought back to Kaeya. To how he was starting another investigation of his, usually something darker than befitting a knight.

But we need those sort of investigations …” she sighed, eyes closing.

Much as she is ashamed to admit it, the Knights cannot do everything they wish, especially with the more sensitive tasks. It’s why she’s always approved Kaeya’s excursions and private missions. If he wouldn’t do it, someone else would.

Someone already does.

At least this way, it’s still under the Knights’ banner. If something happens to him, to the mission, she can try and lessen the blow. Try to take the blame.

Just like she would sometimes, way back then… They’d trade off the blame depending on what had happened.

A training session gone too far.

A fight breaking out between fellow knights.

Late night trips to fight and practice.

A bittersweet smile came to her face as she recalled those times, and how it somehow still stayed the same…

A knock got her out of her reverie.

“Enter,” she called, sitting more properly.

“Acting Grand Master!” a knight was out of breath, one hand on the handle still. “Master Diluc Ragnvindr was just brought in. He’s been hurt.”

Chapter Text

The world passed in a blur as he ran, jumping over any objects in his path. The long bang of his hair whipped wildly after him, a blue blur.

-{o}-

It was raining that day when the maids found him out in the vineyard and brought him to the house.

There was so much chatter, so many adults talking and doing things, it was hard to pay attention to it.

The little drenched boy was given a fluffy blanket but hasn’t said anything while he waited in the foyer, the older people fussing about.

That’s when a wild mop of red hair came closer, a boy the same age as him, and offered a warm smile.

“I’m Diluc,” he said, smiling wide, two teeth missing. “What’s yours?”

The other boy hesitated, cold expression meeting the warmth and melting quickly: “I’m Kaeya.”

Diluc plopped down on the couch next to him, uncaring that he was likely getting rain on his clothes. He didn’t even care about the mismatched eyes of the boy sitting next to him.

“Why were you out in the rain?” it was an innocent question.

“…I’m not sure… My father left me here…” it was an honest answer.

The anger in the red eyes could cause fires: “What a meanie! Well, I’ll have father take you in and then you won’t ever have to be left behind again!”

Kaeya offered a weak smile, pulling the towel closer to himself: “That would be nice,” he whispered.

-{o}-

A guard tried to stop him, but he didn’t even slow his dashing. Just slammed the doors open, eye wide and panting.

“Where is he?!” the yell echoed in the cathedral, the people there turning to look at him.

Jean approached, a worried look on her face: “Barbra is looking at him right now.”

-{o}-

He found him, crying, under the covers.

Couldn’t remember what woke him up – maybe the storm outside? He just knew his brother needed him.

“Kae?” they were still kids. Still afraid of simple things.

There was a sniffling, he saw the bundle under the blanket still. He walked closer.

“It’s okay Kae,” he repeated softly. Didn’t want to pull the covers off, so he sat on the bed.

“Luc,” a head peeked from under the blanket, eyes red-rimmed. “W-What are you doin’ here?”

“You’re crying…” he said it like it was an explanation.

“Yeah… Sorry,” he sat up then, the blanket still wrapped around him.

“What’s making you sad?”

A pause, the crack of lightning. Both of them jumped a little, reaching for each other.

“…Bad dream…” was the soft reply. “Someone wanted to take me away…”

Warm hands on cold ones, eyes wide and fiery: “I won’t let that happen!” he said with all the conviction a child could. “Neither would father! No one is going to take you away!”

A moment of silence, hesitation, then softly: “…Promise?”

A warm smile, wide and reassuring: “I promise!”

-{o}-

“When did this happen?” he wanted nothing more than to run in there, but everything hurt and he knew he had to calm down.

“We’re not sure, but word came to us a few minutes ago,” Jean was holding herself, eyes glancing towards the medical wing.

“How-,” Kaeya choked on the word, had to close his eye and swallow before trying again: “How bad is it?”

A pause, her eyes sympathetic: “I’m not sure, I haven’t gone in yet. I knew you’d rush over so I wanted to wait for you.”

-{o}-

He was ten when he first noticed the changes. Had been with the Ragnvindr family for about two years now.

The yellow eye had started gaining colour – the edges began turning black. The vision on it was blurring slightly, but maybe it was just an infection or something.

Telling father and Diluc, the two were naturally worried. Taking him to a healer proved they had no clue what it was about, that the right eye seemed fine yet had some strange properties. Perhaps it was simply a mutation and was slowly transforming.

“Is he going to die?” Diluc had sounded so terrified – the thought hadn’t even crossed Kaeya’s mind.

“No, no, it shouldn’t even hurt,” the healer assured. “The sclera is likely going to turn fully black in a few days, however.”

It was true. The eye slowly blacked over but seemed normal. At least, up until the last shreds of it were black. Then, the screaming started.

The entire manor was in a panic, Diluc never leaving his brother’s side, Crepus, calling for any healer and alchemist he knew. Kaeya was crying, trying to claw at his right eye, but his brother’s hand stopped him each time.

Hours later, he calmed down, breathing still hard and tears dry on his face. No one had been able to figure out what happened.

All Kaeya knew was that he couldn’t see through that eye anymore. It was the day he started wearing eyepatches.

-{o}-

Walking into the medical part of the cathedral, Kaeya’s face twisted. He always hated the smell of healing remedies and herbs.

But all that was gone when he saw Barbra standing over Diluc’s prone form. In an instant, his long legs carried him over to the bedside.

The redhead’s breathing was laboured, his clothes burned, hair matted and burn marks on the whole of his right side.

“What-?”

“An incident with explosive barrels,” the Sister was quick to explain, not looking up. “Luckily someone brought him in, otherwise he would be much worse.

-{o}-

He was twelve when everything started feeling too hot.

It was training day, all the young knights having to test their metal against seniors. It was the day Diluc would show off his training and hard work.

Except the trainer was better than him. Years older and much more experienced, the redhead was hardly a teen so it was no surprise he couldn’t do much.

But every time, he got back up.

Body bruised and numb, he’d wipe the sweat off his brow, eyes focused on the Knight in front of him.

Kaeya even tried to convince him to leave, that there was no point collapsing from exhaustion. He didn’t listen.

The passion in his strikes, the burning desire to live up to his father’s dream – to become a knight he never was able to – it pushed him onwards.

And if the spark of anger against his trainer pushed him too far, well, no one could really tell.

After all, one mighty swing and his weapon caught fire, taking everyone by surprise. The flames met metal, singed it, and Diluc barely caught himself when a round crystal appeared in his hand.

A Vision. A pyro vision.

Panting he stared at it, before smiling wide and promptly passing out.

-{o}-

Pacing along the room, Kaeya kept fiddling with the coin, while Jean sat and was ready to offer any help she could.

Barbra was doing all that she could, but the damage was extensive. At least there wouldn’t be any lasting wounds.

On his fifth round, the cryo noticed something on the stand by the bed. Walking over, he saw it was a letter.

“The stranger left that,” the hydro explained, noticing where he was staring. “Hastily written but apparently he couldn’t stay.”

Staring at it, Kaeya picked it up and was about to open it, when a gauntleted hand grabbed his own.

“Let him read it first,” Jean’s voice was comforting yet commanding.

But it made him realize she fully believed he would wake up. Good. Made him think so too.   

-{o}-

It wasn’t strange to see people stay back and train some more. What was strange, were the flames lighting up the area.

In the darkness of the evening, it made him worry.

Walking closer, he saw the scorch marks all around the area, the dead grass and the destroyed dummies. The thing that caught his attention most, however, was a figure slumped on the floor, trembling.

Crying.

Frozen by the sight, he couldn’t move or speak. The discarded claymore told stories of use and the smell of burnt hair and clothes was prime in the air.

Then, the figure stilled, head tilted slightly. Red eyes met blue.

The edge of the burned sleeve was used to quickly wipe away tears, hands still shaking, but he was moving before he was aware of it.

“Luc, hey, hey,” his voice was soft, comforting.

No reaction, just a glance away. So he moved closer, kneeling down. “Luc, look at me,” and he gently took his face in his hands.

The eyes were red-rimmed, soot and bruises on his face, a hard line on his face. But he met it with an easy smile. “It’s alright,” he said softly. “You don’t have to hide your tears from me.”

-{o}-

“I’ve done all I can,” Barbra let out an exhausted breath, wiping her brow. “He just needs to rest now and should wake up in a few hours.”

It was already leaning into the evening, the sunset rays casting the room in bright orange. Like flames licking up the walls and all around them. But Kaeya was only feeling the cold dread in his gut.

“Thank you,” he managed to find his voice, slightly hoarse and unsure. He cleared his throat, and offered a smile: “I’ll stay here until he does.”

There was a fear deep in his chest, that this was a message by the strangers - that Diluc had run into them, lost, and ended up like this. Somehow, he felt guitly for it.

-{o}-

The clash of steel echoed into the night, moonlight reflecting off the blades and water. Grunts and shuffles, marks left in the dirt and discarded clothes were around the two.

Figures, shaded by the moonlight, seemed to dance. A claymore parrying the lighter attacks, the sword twisting past the heavy blows. Footwork perfectly timed and almost predicted.

A mess of red hair, moving into the other’s personal space, only to be avoided by jumping back, blade twirling.

A flash of a blue eye right before an upwards strike, hitting the raised blade but forcing the other to dig in the heels.

They shared a look, eyes steady, panting and out of breath. And then they laughed, their bodies going lax as they both collapsed on the ground. Dust rose from their forms, their sound of joy echoing into the woods.

“Ouch… I can’t feel my arm.”

“That’s because you tried blocking my attacks… At least I didn’t cut your outfit.”

“Not my fault you’re too slow to dodge properly.”

“You’re just really fast okay?”

A pause, another shared look, followed by more laughter.

They had some more time before one of the servants would likely come looking for them. At least at this point, there won’t be a full-blow panic when they get back home this late.

“The stars are beautiful,” they were laying opposite, yet with their heads close to one another.

“You always say that… It’s been almost a decade. You still aren’t used to them?”

“…I don’t remember seeing them back… Back then. I never want to leave them.”

A different word, there at the end. They both knew that. But they both understood as well.

“Don’t worry, no matter where you are… the stars and moon are the same.”

A silent promise. Similar to the one they made years ago. They didn’t need to see each other’s face to know the other was smiling, that they would do everything they could to keep that promise.

A reminder they would always find each other.

-{o}-

“How long has it been,” Jean spoke up, each of them sitting on opposite sides of the bed. “Since we’ve all been together like this.”

A pause, Kaeya looking at her, elbows on his knees and offered a tired smile: “Before that fateful day.”

Her look instantly turned, almost pitying, but she glanced away. “I still sometimes think of the old days.”

“We were a menace, yeah,” and the soft chuckle that escaped him was genuine.

She chuckled as well, posture relaxing a bit: “Perhaps, but we all learned much from you two.”

-{o}-

“Still don’t think it’s a good idea to have us teach the younger ones.”

“Oh c’mon, what’s so bad that we can teach them?”

“I don’t know, maybe where to stab someone to slowly bleed them out because you want information and that gives them time to consider a painful death or cooperation.”

“…Yikes Luc, that’s your first thought?”

“What’s yours then, Mr Shady?”

“Shady, really?”

“Answer the question.”

“Hmm… Oh! Only fair I go for the way to stab someone in the back, breaking their spine and simultaneously penetrating the heart.”

“…And you think mine is harsh.”

“Yours is slow and painful.”

“At least it’s useful.”

“Hey, quickly killing someone is useful!”

“Gods above, we need to find something else to teach them… These are still mostly kids.”

“…What if we just demonstrate a fight?”

“…Speed versus strength?”

“The usual.”

“Perfect.”

“I know I am.”

-{o}-

They were both weary and tired as the day neared its end, but Diluc had yet to wake up. So they stayed.

“You know you don’t have to be here,” Kaeya spoke, eye still focused on the redhead. “I know you must be really busy.”

Jean sighed, leaning back on the chair and staring at the ceiling: “I do yes, but I also want to be here.” And she looked at him then: “He’s my friend as well.”

A bitter laugh escaped the cryo’s throat, eye closed. He didn’t speak further.

“…What happened, Kaeya?” her voice was soft, gentle. She knew the gist of it – a fight, the gift of a Vision, Diluc leaving… But it didn’t feel right that it was just because Crepus had died.

The Captain didn’t look at her, didn't look at either of them, his eye glued to the ground as he fiddled with his fingers. After minutes of anxious silence, he whispered: “I betrayed him.”

-{o}-

Due to the storm, no one really knew of the battle happening off the side of the massacre. People were too busy trying to understand what had happened.

Two individuals were focused on something entirely different. One on survival, the other on the simple desire to end the pain.

The rain pouring down was creating a soft fog that deep in the forest, obscuring parts of their visions as well.

Kaeya was just trying to evade the attacks, trying to calm his brother down, pleading and begging for him to listen. His chest hurt, both from the deep breaths and the pain gripping his heart, while his arm was numbing with each attempted block and parry, tears mixing with the rain.

Diluc couldn’t even see much past the burning anger in his eyes, the red hair almost flowing like blood with each swing, and the sheer anguish in his chest. His whole body was trembling, tears streaming down his face, eyes wide and wild as he put all his strength into the swings.

The one who could think the most clearly came to the realization, he was likely going to get killed. Trapped between a claymore and the trees, he could make a run for it but… But it’d just serve as confirmation of what his brother is likely thinking.

That he’s a traitor. That he deserves to die.

Except he hasn’t ever done anything. He knew that. Didn’t help the guilt, however. He just knew that if he died at Diluc's hands, the redhead would never forgive himself.

The other, however, had no qualms with trying to hack this stranger to pieces. He didn’t see a brother, but some sort of interloper who was pretending to be so, pretending to destroy everything he held dear. He wanted them to hurt and be in pain, just as he was now.

But it looked and sounded so much like his brother.

The reasonable voice was drowned out by his anger, to the point his claymore was engulfed in fire and he was hardly aware of it. He would burn the abomination in front of him if he had to.

They were both shaking, from pain and sorrow, from the cold rain seeping everywhere and the anger coursing through them. Neither would even see the extent of any injuries until later. Because just as the final blow was to land, the Gods intervened.

The icy shield forming around Kaeya gave them both pause, and seemed to clear the redhead’s mind. The flames flickered and died, while the icicles remained circling their new owner. The cryo vision glowed in the dark night, a soft mist emanating from it. It was cold.

“Get out of my sight. I never want to see you again. You’re no brother of mine.”

That was colder. Part of Kaeya wished he would’ve been killed instead – that would somehow be less painful.

Diluc was lost in his own head, his own guilt that he almost killed Kaeya. So he had to get him away, as best he could. The words left his mouth without his prompting, but it had to be enough.

The bond that should have been forged stronger with the death of their father, was shattered beyond repair and left in the muddy ground of the forest.

They were the only ones who knew the truth. Kaeya simply told the people he got his Vision because of the massacre and that Diluc was so ravaged by pain he couldn’t stay any more. The new hostility when he returned was simply because of the years they spent apart.

Both hoped that no one would ever find the truth. Especially the other.

-{o}-

When there was a groan from the bed, both of them snapped to attention, eyes on the shifting form.

“Hey, hey, easy,” Jean moved first because Kaeya had frozen mid-move. He didn’t know if his presence was welcome.

“What… happened?” Diluc’s voice was hoarse, pained and he winced whenever he moved.

“Explosive barrels,” the Grand Master explained in short, offering a weak smile: “Someone found you and brought you in.”

“Ugh, that ginger,” he frowned at the memory, opening his eyes. “Were they alright?”

“Perfectly, even left you a letter,” Kaeya found his voice, a false grin on his face. His eye was busy checking the redhead for any more injuries.

Glancing at the paper, Diluc rolled his eyes and didn’t try to reach it: “Well, at least I was the only one caught in it. Honestly, how do the Hilichurls do anything if they have to move around those things…” and he got ready to get up.

“Maybe you should rest some more,” Jean put a hand on his shoulder, trying to keep him from standing.

Glancing out the window and seeing the dark sky, he muttered: “I’ve clearly rested enough.” And then seemed to remember something. “I needed to speak with you anyway.”

Kaeya tried hard not to let the pain of being ignored show. He sat here, patiently, just… relieved. But he knew he deserved the cold shoulder.

“I’m sure that can wait until tomorrow,” the anemo sighed, hands on her hips. “Honestly, you’re still as stubborn as ever.”

“Some things never change,” the cryo added.

For a moment, the pyro snorted, looking slightly abashed, before glancing at the Captain. And in his eyes, there was… a look. One hard to name.

“…Ka-… Sir Kaeya,” he cleared his throat but held his gaze. He could do this. He could tell the Captain about what he knew. “I think there are some very dangerous people in the city.”

A pause, the silence heavy in the air. The three shared a look, a mix of understanding, worry and determination.

Kaeya, at that moment, recalled the stalker he had throughout the day. And that thought made him shoot to his feet. The other two shouted in surprise and worry, but he didn’t listen. A single thought ran through his mind.

They knew where Diluc – hurt and unable to defend himself - was. They could be listening in on this very conversation.

So he breathed out: “We’re being watched.” And that set them both on edge as well.

Silence. Eyes trying to convey conversations, but they couldn’t work like this. Not when they were all still tired.

“I’ll see you later,” the cryo spoke up, faking a smile. “The knights still have an old room available for you, Master Diluc,” he added, seeing red eyes widen in understanding. “See you back at Headquarters Grand Master,” he added, Jean, returning a nod.

And with that, he turned on his heels, fully prepared to scout the area more and find his tail. Still, it was obvious back there they were aware of it, but in his panic, he hadn’t been able to convey the message in a more subtle way.

 

Walking down the steps of the Cathedral, Kaeya was running through scenarios in his mind. The way Diluc had hesitated to speak – but it was likely just because he was there. Yet how did he know about the strangers? Unless there were more, in which case, this just got more complicated.

Lost in thought, he needed a second to realize there were three figures standing a bit off of the entrance of the Knights of Favonious HQ. Nothing out of the ordinary, people loitered there all the time. Except his gut clenched when he looked at them and saw them turn to him.

Feeling a rising fear in his chest, he approached more slowly, eye scanning them, trying to calm his breathing. Because as he got closer, one of them seemed… really familiar.

The moonlight shone down on the group, and with two of them having their hoods down, it was easy to see their faces. Their hair and their eyes. Especially the one in the middle.

Kaeya started feeling numb, like he couldn’t breathe and that his throat was stuffy. A slight tremble went down his arms as he looked into those familiar clear lilac-blue eyes.

“Ah,” the man spoke, a warm smile on his face, eyes locked onto the knight. “There you are.”

The voice was still the same.

A wild storm, rain pouring down.

The exhaustion clinging to him, making him drag his feet.

The hope and anger in the eyes as the words were spoken.

“This is your chance. You are our last hope.”

And the sudden abandonment.

Near hyperventilating, Kaeya was frozen to a stop, unable to look away from the eyes he last saw more than a decade ago.

“It’s been a while, son.”

Chapter Text

Watching Kaeya almost run out of the Cathedral made them wonder just how bad this situation really is.

“Fucking idiot,” Diluc hissed, wincing as he twisted and pulled on a wound.

“Can you blame him for being worried?” Jean shot him a glare, slightly satisfied he was in pain at that moment.

“Of course not,” he admitted. “But running off on his own, right after telling us someone is watching us?” and his deadpan look made her deflate a bit. “He’s being a reckless idiot.”

“Reminds me of someone else I know,” the anemo muttered, avoiding his look.

He didn’t answer, instead looking down at his bandaged hands: “How long have you been here?”

Sighing, she sat back down: “Since you were brought in? Hours at least.”

“And Kaeya?” Jean tilted her head in confusion.

“We got here together and never left your side.”

Diluc froze, eyes defocusing for a moment. Kaeya was here for hours, waiting for him to wake up.

Why? Why would he bother? Diluc didn’t deserve that sort of concern. And it’s not like it was the first time he had been exploded and burned.

Ah, he probably wanted information. Had to be it. The cryo was likely doing his own thing, as usual, and wondered if his own accident was somehow connected. Maybe the stalker was just an excuse for him to leave after being told there are people in the city.

“You’re thinking really loudly over there,” Jean’s voice brought him back to his sorry state.

“Nothing, just chiding myself for being careless.” He waved her off. “If Kaeya wants to go off and get himself killed, he can be my guest.”

The Grand Master gave him a very unimpressed look, her arms crossing: “I never pegged you for a liar, Diluc.”

He looked away, frowning. She didn’t even need to try and catch his lie. It was taking all his willpower not to go rushing off after the Captain.

“…Why are you like that?” and she sounded sad, eyes softening. “Acting like you hate him, pushing him away every chance you get?”

The temperature suddenly flared, his eyes turned to her and she could feel sweat collecting on her brow.

“Why?” and the word was hiss out, teeth bared. “Because it’s the only way I can keep him safe.”

She tried to speak, but the redhead pushed ahead: “Because I destroy everything I touch! Because I’m nothing more than a weapon to be aimed and used! He has every right to hate and be disgusted by me and I’ll never put him into a position where he would have to pretend otherwise!”

The air was stuffy and suffocating, Jean’s eyes wide in horror and shock. Sitting there, shell shocked, she couldn’t stop the pyro from throwing the covers off, grabbing his things – including the letter – and leaving.

“I’ll see you later,” he said coolly, the temperature slowly lowering, and left the room.

Jean sat there, staring at where he had been, before lowering her head into her hands and trying to calm her breathing.

-{o}-

There was a pounding in his ears, his body feeling cold and numb, breath coming out in soft, white puffs.

The man in front of him was still smiling, eyes boring down into him with such intensity it almost made his head spin. Those same eyes he saw in his nightmares and fear when he would see them again. He could hardly even see the other two strangers, the world fuzzy past the figure in front of him.

There was a voice, screaming in his mind, that he should run and hide and fight and scream . But he couldn’t get his voice to speak aloud, too tight with fear.

“Nothing to say to me?” and he sounded so smug, self-satisfied that Kaeya clenched his fists.

You abandoned me!” he wanted to yell.

Left me alone, with strangers in a strange land! ” the accusation burned in his mind.

“You don’t get to walk back into my life, pretending nothing happened!”

But none of that made it past his thoughts, as he shakily managed to speak: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

It took all his focus to keep his voice from shaking, but the delivery was cold and hard, and he was aware he was digging his nails into his palm.

And he laughed. The bastard had the audacity to laugh, head thrown back. The two other people seemed confused, yet did nothing.

“I see,” he spoke again when he regained himself, amused. “This area is crowded indeed,” and he glanced back, to where the knights were eying them a bit suspiciously.

The cryo was grateful for that – it kept him from a bigger outburst. It made him keep himself in check – can’t have his fellow knights see him break down, could he?

“Where would you wish to talk, then?” he continued on as if he couldn’t read the Knight in front of him.

Maybe he really couldn’t. Not like he knew the first thing about him.

“I know a lovely tavern, down near the market district.”

-{o}-

As soon as the fresh night air hit him, Diluc felt himself calming down. The anger and self-hate he usually keeps deep down manifested itself so quickly, he feared he would have lit something on fire.

Exhaling deeply, he walked to the edge of the wall, eyes closed, just… breathing. He will have to apologize to Jean later. It’s been… years since he raised his voice, against anyone, especially like that.

Rubbing his face, the pyro inhaled the cold air, feeling it burn slightly, exhaled, his breath a slight puff. He needed something to get his mind off whatever happened…

There was a crinkle as the letter he had stuffed into a pocket let itself be known. Frowning, Diluc figured he might as well.

Hello hot redhead

Annnnnd he already hated where this was likely going.

Hello hot redhead

I really hope you wake up and read this because if not, I might’ve accidentally killed one of the most gorgeous people I’ve ever seen.

Wanted to apologize for that by the way. I didn’t know those… whatever they were had exploding barrels. Who taught them alchemy?

Either way, thanks for saving my ass – I hope to be able to… repay you properly *wink wink*

Not sure when I’m gonna be in the city next, but I’m sure I’d notice your pretty head in the crowd, so if a handsome, charming fellow walks up to you and asks you out, don’t punch me him in the face – thanks.

Hope you feel better soon

O.

Rolling his eyes, Diluc looked at the piece of paper as if he could convey how unimpressed he was to the one who wrote it. If he were lucky, he wouldn’t run into them again.

When was the last time someone called you gorgeous?

Gritting his teeth against the voice in his head, he crushed the letter and stuffed it back into his pocket. He could deal with his own personal issues later when he was alone.

But that came after his meeting with Kaeya and Jean, and then the apology he owed the latter. The sooner he finished here, the sooner he could go back to his isolation.

Turning towards the Headquarters he walked slowly, wanting more time between seeing Kaeya again and having to see Jean’s face. But as he neared the end, he saw a group – more like three facing one.

Facing Kaeya.

His vision reacted in an instant, and he was grateful he wasn’t holding anything flammable as walked closer.

-{o}-

Still hardly able to form words, Kaeya wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. Not as much as he should.

But these people were.

Suddenly, all the amusement faded from- … from his father’s face, replaced by a falsely kind mask.

“Ah, Master Ragnvindr,” he called and Kaeya felt a whole new wave of coldness engulf him. “What a surprise seeing you here.”

How did his father know Diluc? When had that happened? How much did either of them know?

His mind spinning, the Captain barely remembered the redhead’s earlier words – about how he knew there were dangerous people about. Was he talking about this group? How did they meet then?

“Ihtald,” Diluc’s voice was hard, yet polite. And the name sounded wrong coming from his tongue. “I see you found your way back safely.”

He still stood there, frozen, just barely able to turn his head to see the pyro walking up to the group, displeased. It put his father into his blind spot, but given how cold he felt, he imagined the ice would react before he could.

“And you seem to have run into some trouble?” Ihtald raised an amused eyebrow, and the green-haired woman snorted into her hand.

Diluc took it all in stride: “Standard thing – have to keep my winery safe.” And then his eyes turned to the cryo. “And Mondstadt.”

A whole-body shiver ran down his spine at the words, because the tone was the same as back then. The same coldness that was worse than whatever powers he could inflict.

“I had no idea you were such a… protector,” it came out as an insult almost, he and the green-haired one amused.

“Someone has to,” and the distaste in the redhead’s voice was clearly meant for the Knights.

“Well, then we should let you go on your way,” Ihtald gave a mocking bow of his head. “Good night gentlemen,” and with a meaningful look thrown Kaeya’s way, he left.

The woman shot them both a smirk and went after, while the last member – still hooded, didn’t even glance in their direction, simply walking with their companions. They were the only one of the trio fully tensed however and didn’t seem to want to involve themselves in the verbal exchange.

-{o}-

The two waited, made sure the trio was far away before either of them dared to breathe out.

Kaeya was still close to panic, still unable to move or form proper words. Diluc, however, didn’t seem to have any such qualms.

“I should have known,” he hissed, eyes burning into the cryo. “Of course you would be working with them!”

It took him a few seconds to process that, but when he did, Kaeya took a step back, eye wide and stammering: “W-What?!”

“It’s no wonder they knew where to look!” the pyro frowned. “You told them about the Delusion! You’re working with them to-,”

“Are you fucking serious right?!”

Their combined high emotions swirled around them, creating a soft wind that moved their hair and bits of dust off the ground.

“I’ve seen them! Their eyes are just like yours!” Diluc growled back, swinging his arm in a wide arc. “I would have thought you’d do better to try and keep whatever you’re doing here secret.”

“I’m not working with them!” Kaeya doesn’t remember the last time he yelled, but here he was. “I had no idea they were even here until just now! Which, surprisingly, you’ve known before!”

“They came to my home this morning! I came here to tell you as soon as I could.”

“And you’re here, accusing me of – of working with them, why? Because we share the same eyes?!”

“You admitted to me you were a spy years ago! Is it really such a stretch to think these are the people you’re spying for ? Especially after what happened to father?”

And that felt like a slap to the face because Diluc was right , but for the wrong reasons. He suddenly couldn’t breathe, back in the forest on that rainy day, feeling the same hate-

A strong wind suddenly whipped around them, knocking both of them away from each other, even knocking them on their backs. It broke whatever focus they had on each other, as they heard booted feet moving down the stone steps.

“Enough!” Jean stood there, back straight, eyes wide and mad, hair whipping wildly around her, the strong wind visibly swirling. “I’ll not have you two bicker like children in the middle of the square at this hour!”

Both of them blinked up at her, stumped, shared a look and glanced away ashamed. Slowly, they got to their feet, Diluc wincing as he still hasn’t fully healed, Kaeya taking a couple of calming breaths.

“Good,” she said, arms crossed, standing between them. “Now I believe we all have something to discuss. Inside,” and she walked past.

“Jean-,” Diluc’s words were cut short by the glare she gave him, and the redhead had the decency to look away, ashamed.

“We were-,” Kaeya tried, but was met with the same expression, a swirl of wind to the face.

“In. Side.” She repeated slowly, eyeing them both, and then walked away.

The guards in front of the HQ scrambled to stand at attention, yet the Grand Master didn’t even glance in their direction, simply walked past and through the door, leaving it open.

-{o}-

“So… that was him?” Egith asked on their way back.

“Yes,” Ihtald held a grin, almost proud. “He’s grown up quite well.”

“Certainly took more after his mother,” she commented, glancing at the side.

He let out a short huff, choosing to ignore her comment: “Where is Oser?”

She simply shrugged, so he turned back to their third companion.

Terwy looked up, bangs under their eyes and signed: ‘He said he would rest.’ At the confused tilt of the man’s head, they added: ‘Interesting day.’

“I swear if he’s getting drunk…” Egith sighed, rubbing her forehead.

“He did his job, I suppose, so we can let him rest,” Ihtald didn’t look at her, but saw the disgusted frown on her face.

“Why must we keep him around? He’s nothing but a hindrance.”

“He is our best scout and infiltrator.” Came the easy reply.

“I don’t like him.”

“You don’t have to,” and she got a glare for her comment. “Do your job, as he does his, and you two won’t have to interact much.”

-{o}-

Getting up, neither tried to help the other, just made their way towards the opened door. The guards in front didn’t dare look at them, looking wildly into every other direction.

The hallway was as bright as always, sparsely decorated, militant. As expected. There were two Knights in the hall, each by their own door – Wood and Wyratt. They also didn’t seem interested in looking at the two.

The door to Jean’s office was open, so Kaeya moved first, quickly followed by Diluc, who closed it afterwards. Jean was looking out the window behind her desk, arms crossed over her chest.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” her voice was still hard but lacked the anger from before.

The two moved at the same time, Kaeya moving to the right, leaning against the table, while Diluc went to the left, sitting down on the slightly raised platform between the railings.

Silence.

It lasted a minute, the pyro looking down between his feet, the cryo’s head tilted towards the map hanging on the wall. Neither spoke or looked at the other, up until the Grand Master turned, hands on her desk.

“We best be quick,” her voice was quiet, but her eyes were steady. “What do we know about these strangers?”

It was clear she wasn’t about to try and get them to explain what had happened, something they were grateful for.

“They came to Mondstadt yesterday,” Kaeya spoke up, glad to have something more official to focus on than his own emotions. “There were four of them, from what Lawrence explained, although it’s possible they’re not all together.”

“Do we know where they came from?” Jean looked between them, saw them tense and readied herself for an answer she wouldn’t like.

The redhead looked up at the Captain, and there was a look in his eyes, almost worry, but it was ignored when Kaeya said: “Khaenri'ah.”

A tense silence settled over them – Diluc looking away, the Grand Master’s eyes widening. But there was no more elaboration, and the cryo himself was as tense as a bowstring.

“…I see…” she gave a nod, filing that away for later. “Do we know their names?”

“No-,”

“Yes.”

A shared look, the redhead clearing his throat before speaking again: “Their leader, I believe, is Ihtald. The green-haired woman is named Egith. And the final companion, purple-haired from what I saw, is Terwy. Whether or not those are their true names, I cannot say, but that’s how they introduced themselves.”

Nodding, Jean quickly scribbled that down before motioning with her hand for him to continue.

“The three of them arrived at the winery this morning,” Diluc picked up, gaze still down. “They were looking for my father.”

A pause, the room a strange mix of coldness and heat, but it was cleared quickly by an almost invisible breeze.

“Why?” the anemo asked, clearly confused. “He’s… dead.” She hesitated to say it, and neither of the two gave a reaction but she knew better.

Sighing, he looked up, and seemed exhausted: “He had something that they wanted back. Asked me about it, but didn’t explain so I couldn’t tell them anything other than his things were lost.”

Jean nodded, adding another piece to this strange puzzle. She was just about to speak again when the Captain beat her to it.

“They’re after me.” His voice was so small, whispered and slightly shaky, that neither of the other two was sure they heard him.

“No,” the pyro shook his head, making Kaeya look up in surprise. “No, they couldn’t. Ihtald said he was looking for something that my father had. Something that belonged to him. He wouldn’t talk like that if it was a person.”

A weak and bitter chuckle escaped the cryo, making both of his friends look up in surprise. The expression on his face conveyed how wrong that line of thought was.

“Ihtald… Is my father.” The words were heavy on his tongue, his limbs suddenly feeling cold. “I’m sure he imagines he owns me.”

Another heavy silence, and then suddenly, the whole room felt like a furnace, Diluc’s vision glowing bright, his eyes wide and horrified.

“I’ll kill him.” The words were uttered with such conviction, such anger that it made the other two stand up and get ready to stop him from moving.

“Diluc,” Jean warned, already on the other side of her desk. “You can’t commit murder-“

His gaze moved to her and she felt pinned, her skin too tight and breathing stale air.

“Hey, hey!” Kaeya called, stepping closer, his own icy fear meeting the fiery anger, soothing it. “Calm down. You can’t touch him, not yet, but if we get him…” he left the option open.

The pyro looked at him, eyes clearly not seeing much, blinked and slowly the temperature of the room returned to normal. The promise of… vengeance or some twisted justice made him think more on it for the future, not the present.

Kaeya didn’t want to think about what pushed the redhead too far, he didn’t think he even wanted to know.

For you.

“What are we doing then?” Diluc asked, voice hard but seemingly placated for now.

“We need more information…” Jean sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Kaeya-,”

“I’ll give you all that I can but… it’s not going to be much,” the Captain understood instantly. “I hardly remember most of my time back in Khaenri'ah.”

“Any little bit will be helpful,” the anemo offered a kind smile. “If they’re after-… After you,” she forced herself to say it. “Then we need to up security around you.”

“No, no, don’t do that!” the cryo put his hands up, eye focused. “I have a better idea.”

Two sets of eyes settled on him, and he just gave a nervous grin. “They don’t know what I’ve been doing here.”

A moment, before Diluc was hyper-focused on him again: “Absolutely fucking not!”

It took them both by surprise but he didn’t seem to care: “You’re not going to walk up to them, pretend to be a spy to see what you can figure out!”

A voice in Kaeya’s mind screamed ‘ He doesn’t think you’re really a traitor’ but he pushed it away.

“It’s our best chance to learn what we can.” He tried to explain, tried to keep his voice from shaking, from showing how much he didn’t want to do this.

“No, it’s too risky,” even Jean was shaking her head, clearly displeased. “There’s nothing stopping them from nabbing you and leaving.”

“You have such little faith in my skills?” he tried to joke but was met with two stony and unimpressed looks. “Ouch, rough crowd.”

“We’re still missing one,” the pyro spoke up. “The report said there were four. So far, we’ve only seen three.”

“Maybe Jean was right – the fourth one could be unconnected in all of this.”

“Still better to veer on the side of caution,” the Grand Master lightly shook her head. “Perhaps we’ve simply not had the pleasure of making their acquaintance.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Diluc ground out, clenching and unclenching his fist.

“From now on, we should work under the assumption they’re paying attention to everything we say and do,” Jean leaned onto the desk, eyeing both of them carefully. “While the more people that know the better, this is turning into a sensitive matter. Nothing leaves this room.”

They nodded, fully understanding the weight of the situation.

“Maybe we could spy back on them?” the redhead offered.

“Can try, but I don’t think they ever communicate in such a common tongue…” Kaeya sighed, rubbing his face. “If I could-,”

“No,” the other two shot him down instantly. “We’ll work without it then.”

Rolling his eye, the cryo put his hands up in surrender: “Okay, okay, you win.”

Jean gave a nod, turning back to her notes, but he caught Diluc looking at him with a distrustful expression.

Maybe he still thinks you’re a traitor.

“You can stay here tonight,” the anemo offered, looking up at the redhead. “It’s far too late and you’re still hurt. Barbra can come and check your wounds again in the morning.”

Loath as he was to admit it, Diluc knew he was in no shape to move around for such a journey, especially when they would likely be spied on from now on.

“Thank you,” he nodded his head.

“I’ll show you to your room,” Kaeya offered before he could think better of it, taking all three by surprise.

A pause and then the pyro nodded again: “If you wish…”

-{o}-

The walk was silent, neither of them really knowing how to start a conversation. Not after what happened outside.

“Here you go,” Kaeya stopped by a door, giving a smile.

Diluc nodded, a small smile on his face as well before he looked at the door. There, on the doorframe, was a scratch mark, carved into the wood.

C. D. R.

Kaeya, using a small knife and carving the initials into the wood.

Diluc, laughing, trying to stop him, but not trying too hard.

Jean, keeping an eye out for any senior knights.

“Done,” he said, a self-satisfied grin on his face.

“You’re crazy!” the redhead was covering his mouth, trying to hide his laughter.

“They might not even notice,” she walked over, eyeing it.

Captain Diluc Ragnvindr

Inhaling sharply, the pyro swallowed, eyes closed and put a shaking hand on the initials. Those days… so long ago…

Kaeya hesitated, wanted to reach out and pat him on the shoulder, but decided against it. Instead, just offered a grin: “Get some rest. Barbra is going to be here tomorrow.”

As he turned and left to head to his own room – just a few doors down – the cryo heard a whisper: “Thank you.” When he turned around to check if it really happened, the door was closed softly.

“…Good night, Luc.”

Chapter Text

The room, while emptied save for the bare minimum, was still the same. The curtains were drawn, and right under it was the bed, neatly made. The frame was even singed still.

Walking closer, Diluc ran his fingers over the surface of the desk – it was worn and used, yet solid as ever. Some remaining spilled ink that couldn’t be cleaned off was still visible.

Have they really never let someone else take this room?

With a sigh, the pyro sat down on the bed before dropping back onto it, let out a soft groan. The day has been long and painful and laying down like this already felt so much better.

Closing his eyes, he almost lost himself quickly, before forcing himself to get up. He can sleep in a bit after he’s made sure of something.

-{o}-

Kaeya waited a few minutes, just to be sure no one would come in and check on him, before taking a deep breath and walking to the window.

Looking down at his hands, he saw them tremble and couldn’t help the anxious smile appearing on his face.

This is such a dumb idea.

He didn’t have many more options, however. This was the best way to handle the situation and it didn’t put anyone else in danger than him. He just hoped that it would work as he intended.

Opening the window as silently as he could, the cryo stepped out, closed it best he could, and jumped down, landing in a silent roll.

Step one, done.

Dusting himself off, letting out a quick breath and ready to walk, the feeling of eyes on him made him pause.

Did they already have someone set up to follow him? Maybe they were just waiting for something like this. Twisting his neck back to see, Kaeya caught a familiar figure jump from the window, landing heavily on their feet, one hand balancing them out.

-{o}-

“You’re in no condition to be playing vigilante right now,” Kaeya said, eye narrowing as the redhead straightened up.

“And you’re in no position to be such an idiot,” Diluc replied, his gaze focused and slightly annoyed.

A pause before the cryo tilted his head: “How did you know?”

Scoffing, the redhead stepped closer and looked him dead in the eye: “You gave up far too quickly. I knew you would do it regardless if we approved or not.”

“I don’t need your approval,” crossing his arms the knight frowned slightly. “And since Jean hasn’t set up a personal guard or anything, I’m free to do as I please.”

Dilcu’s mouth twitched slightly, but he sighed and looked out towards the city: “Ihtald is a force to be reckoned with – it’s stupid if you think you can take him on by yourself.”

“He’s my father,” the word was hissed. “I’m fully aware of what he’s capable of.”

A pause, both of tense and sharing a look, before the pyro blinked and looked at the ground, whispering: “…Is he really? Your father?”

Kaeya swallowed and nodded. “Yes. A bit older, but I never… forgot his face…” and his voice grew weaker as he finished the sentence.

Diluc balled his fists, jaw locked but inhaled deeply before looking at the Captain. “And you want to face him alone?”

The cryo almost thought that was… concern in the redhead’s voice. But it couldn’t be. It shouldn’t be.

“Well you can’t exactly stop me, but joining me would be counterproductive to my plan,” he offered a weak smile and a shrug.

A momentary hesitation before the reply came: “I’ll kick your ass back if I must.”

And Kaeya laughed because that was a very Diluc thing to say, especially with such conviction and seriousness.

“How about you kick my ass for show and I get on with my plan?” the idea came suddenly, unbidden, and slightly bittersweet, but it might work.

“…You want me to… fight you? Because…?” the pyro clearly wasn’t on the same page though.

“Hey, if I want to convince them I’m spying for them, having someone who mistrusts me would be perfect. Especially someone like you.”

Especially since you already do.

“No,” was the curt and unimpressed reply. “That’s dumb.”

“C’mon,” the cryo grinned. “Haven’t you ever wanted to punch me in the face? In public?”

The pout on Diluc’s face was hilarious to watch, especially since he was clearly trying to find a way to deny it, but failing. In fact, he said nothing for a solid minute, just stared at the knight, face twisting in annoyance, consideration, suspicion and maybe a hint of amused disbelief.

Kaeya waited until the redhead sighed, shoulders slumped and only then laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Someone is going to die…”

“Of fun!”

He really should’ve seen the punch coming.

-{o}-

“How dare you!” the yell echoed in the dark market district. The few people still around all turned to the commotion, seeing the Cavalry Captain stagger from a punch to his face. Master Ragnvindr stood there, fists clenched and anger in his eyes.

“Can’t take honest criticisms?” Kaeya smirked back, wiping the back of his mouth with his hand.

“Not from the likes of you!” Diluc stood straight, glaring down at the slightly hunched knight.

People looked away, not wishing to involve themselves. It was bound to happen – the first anniversary since the young tycoon’s return, there was bound to be some harsh words exchanged. Especially if the Knight was drunk, evident by the red on his cheeks.

“Well I’m sorry, but I figured having someone there was better than no one!”

“You hardly count.” 

Two people were very interested in the argument, however, but they didn’t move closer. Not yet.

“Oh, of course, the golden son returns, all hail!” and the cryo gave a mock bow, but nearly tripped over his feet.

“At least I’m not a stumbling drunk!” the pyro growled back and shook his head. “I’m done causing a scene – good night, sir Kaeya.” And with that, he turned and walked away, back up the steps.

“Oh who’s the childish one now!” he called after the redhead. “Just gonna walk away?!” no response. “FINE!” and now it was his turn to walk away, hiding from the people pretending not to listen.

-{o}-

While the punch and yelling was true, the anger and words weren’t. Kaeya, despite his slightly tipsy state, was fully aware of that. Because he knew, he knew perfectly well what it was like when facing down the wrath of Diluc Ragnvindr.

The air gets hot, too hot, your skin feels like it’s too tight, his eyes seem to have a glint of fire in them.

None of that was present. But then again, hardly anyone besides himself knew what a real fight would look like.

There was movement behind him, then a slow clap and an amused voice: “Quite the show. Is he always like that?”

Snorting, Kaeya kept his back to the strangers: “No, just with me. I’m pretty sure he just waits for me to screw up.” And he turned around.

Staring at his father’s face, so clear and real, it made him shiver. He could blame it on the alcohol. But in that moment, his expression was welcoming and understanding and… and Kaeya almost wanted to go there, go to him, and be hugged.

Focus.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to talk about it?” Ihtald offered, taking a step closer.

“…’m too sober for it…” the cryo muttered, looking away, but staying where he was. He saw the green-haired woman – Egith was it? – keeping her distance.

“Then let’s go get a drink,” his father gave a soft laugh. “There’s a bar not far from here and I’ve yet to taste Mondstadtian wine.”

“I’ll show you the best,” even faking the smile was hard because just agreeing with the man made him sick. But leaning slightly over the man, he raised an eyebrow: “I… got some Mora, but not enough for your whole group…”

“Oh, not to worry,” Ihtald was suddenly standing next to him, hand on his shoulder. The contact made the Knight feel cold and exposed. “Only I and Egith are going to be joining you.”

Giving a weak grin, Kaeya nodded: “Great. Let’s go then.”

-{o}-

Diluc hadn’t walked very far before ducking into an alley and jumping up the wall. Maybe this wasn’t part of the plan, but like hell he was going to leave Kaeya all alone.

As he climbed up the nearest building, he caught three figures moving towards Angel’s Share – one of which was easily the Captain. Especially since the people still out and about were looking anywhere but at him.

There was a twisting in his gut, guilt and sorrow at what he had to do back there. But it was nothing new to him.

It’s easy to be a monster when you’ve done it your whole life. People aren’t even surprised anymore.

In a way, it’s like Kaeya with his flirting and charming smiles. No one really suspects what’s behind it all because that’s all that most of them had ever known.

Except his doesn’t hurt anyone else.

No matter. He had a job to do, and he’d do it even if his body was protesting every movement. He just hoped he wouldn’t run into either Terwy or that fourth-maybe-maybe-not-connected stranger.

-{o}-

Walking into the tavern, it was already lively and most people were a few drinks in. Perfect.

“We’ll take the second floor,” Kaeya said as he walked up to the bar. “I’ll have my usual, but my friends here,” and he motioned to the two people behind him. “They’re going to have some Dandelion Wine.”

“Comin’ right up,” Charles nodded and started preparing the glasses.

“C’mon, we get more privacy upstairs,” the cryo nodded and started heading towards the stairs, hearing two sets of footsteps behind him.

The top was, as usual, empty. With the exception of one.

“Don’t mind him,” the knight said casually, nodding towards the slumped form of Bruce. “He’s barely awake.”

“I didn’t know Mondstadt let its so-called protectors drink on the job,” Egith frowned at the drunk man, before taking a seat, further away from the opening to the first floor.

“He gets nights off,” Kaeya shrugged and took a seat opposite her.

“I was talking about you,” came her snide reply, giving him a side-eye look.

“Now now, no need to be so hostile,” Ihtald was ginning as he sat down next to Egith. “He is treating us, after all,” and directed his gaze to the cyro.

“Where’s your third wheel?” Kaeya wanted to keep the conversation casual, curios and he knew he had to be careful.

“They don’t like crowds,” the answer was accompanied by a hand wave. “Tell me more about what that argument was?”

-{o}-

There was a small campfire going on, the four tents pitched and covered by branches to let them blend in more with nature. Soft footsteps on loose earth signalled the arrival and Terwy sat down on a log by the fire.

“You’re back early,” came a voice from inside the tent behind them.

A pause before it was opened and Oser walked out and sat opposite them. Looking up, they signed: ‘They sent me to check on you.’

“Aw really? Don’t you trust me?” with a hand to his chest, he gave a wink.

Terwy was unimpressed.

“Ouch, you wound me.”

‘I am about to.’

“You’re just jealous ‘cause they don’t tell you all the stuff too.”

A twitch, turquoise eyes sharp and narrow.

“What? It’s true! I don’t care myself but I know you do.”

An eye roll before a reply was given: ‘I am not talking about that.’

“Oh!” and he sat up excitedly. “Did you know Mond has redheads?”

That was met with a head tilt and a confused nod.

“Really? Cause I didn’t! Not ‘till I met one – well, he saved my ass but whatever – and I exploded him! Never seen someone with hair like that I tell you!”

Terwy paused, sitting straighter, eyes wide.

So far, they’ve only met – seen – one redhead. It doesn’t seem like a common colour here. Though they haven’t exactly been looking for them…

But no… Even Oser wouldn’t be dumb enough to potentially get involved with someone who might have what they need. Right?

Especially since Oser knows there’s a connection between the two… somehow. Apparently, they’re rivals? But there was no way he was that much of an idiot.

Besides. He said he exploded the redhead. Last he saw Ragnvindr he was talking with the Cavalry Captain. Surely he’d have been bedridden for longer if that had happened.

Instead of replying, they just rolled their eyes.

“What? You don’t get to talk ‘till you’ve seen him!”

‘Just do not let it interfere with your job.’

“Pfft! As if!”

A pause, the sound of fire crackling before Oser spoke up again: “Ya think he’d wanna come back with us? I mean, who can resist all of this?”

Abruptly standing up, Terwy just turned their back and walked to their tent. Behind them, they heard a chuckle: “Good night to you too!”

Mercenaries.

-{o}-

“Ah childhood rivals,” Ihtald shook his head as Kaeya finished his tale. “Add in resentment and it’s a perfect mix of baseless accusations.”

“At least he doesn’t have any pull left with the Knights,” Kaeya shrugged, giving a grin.

It got easier as the alcohol came, but there was still anxious worry in the pit of his stomach. Mostly it was him retelling, with big changes and omitted truths, about his rise with the Knights. His father was enthralled by the tale, listening with rapt attention.

Egith remained mostly silent, fiddling with a strange… box? It was simple yet seemed intricate, especially when bits of it moved and shifted, sometimes even lighting up slightly. She caught him staring and raised an eyebrow.

“What’s that?” he moved his chin in the box’s direction. “You’ve been fiddling with it for most of the evening.”

There was another click, a pale blue light appearing before she shifted something again and it was all back to normal.

“A personal invention of mine,” she said casually. “I like making things.”

Shrugging, the cryo finished his drink: “Fair enough.”

“I have to ask,” Ihtald was looking at him, eyes narrow, and it made his skin crawl. “Why do you cover your eye?”

A shot of fear went up him, followed by anger and disdain. But he pushed it all down and offered a crooked smile: “Not beating around the bush huh?”

Giving an innocent shrug, his father said nothing but waited for the answer.

Pouring himself another drink, Kaeya cleared his thought: “Not sure what happened, but it fell sick? Can’t see through it anymore and it looks pretty bad, so I cover it up.”

For a moment he thought he saw excitement go through both of them before Egith resumed with her tinkering and Ihtald gave a mask of false sympathy.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he did sound genuine, yet there was a look in his eyes. One of barely concealed victory. “Perhaps when you come back with us, we can try and find a cure.”

Kaeya felt everything slow and almost freeze at those words. He suddenly felt colder than ever before in his life, breathing seemed impossible and his vision blurred – was he passing out? Nothing moved, no one spoke and there was a pounding in his ears, his heart going wild.

‘…when you come back with us… ’ the way it was said, so sure and confident.

“What?” he croaked out in the end, throat scratchy and dry, eye open wide, a fine tremble going through his body.

-{o}-

Perching atop the houses was natural at this point, but his body was still healing and protesting the position. Didn’t matter, however. Diluc kept his eyes on the tavern, eyes catching every movement and shadow he caught in the windows.

What are you doing?

Patrons were coming and going, but at this hour it was usually getting more filled than empty. Charles will have his hands busy.

He probably doesn’t want you here.

Eyes scanning the other rooftops, he checked for that stalker Kaeya had mentioned. No one else seemed to be up high besides some birds. Either he’s missing them or they’re not even here.

After how you treated him? Just stay away.

…He knew he was in the wrong. Could tell by Kaeya’s body language, later on, the way he held himself. He was afraid.

And you made it worse.

But seeing them like that… It was like out of the nightmares. Of how the cyro would return home – his real home – and abandon everything. The fact he thought they wanted the Delusion… that Kaeya knew about it… Anger ruled over him in that moment and he knew he fucked up.

You jumped to assumptions. Typical.

Just another regret, another reason to avoid the cryo. Another reason he needs to stay away.

-{o}-

Jean was still standing by her desk, looking down at the notes and feeling a twisting in her chest.

‘Ihtald is my father.’ She knew… that she would have to ask about it. Later. When things weren’t a mess. She was never privy to much of Kaeya’s past, only that he hailed from a different country entirely.

Diluc seemed to know, however. More than he was letting on even. Maybe she could even ask him about it? …No, he’d not say a word to her.

Sighing, she glanced at the country name and memorized it – not like she was going to get any sleep. Might as well get a head start on some research. Assuming they even had any books on the matter…

It’s how she found herself in the library, the low lit lamps casting it in soft lights and shadows. Lisa as at her desk, as usual.

“Jean, dear, what can I do for you?” she asked with a fond smile, leaning her chin on her open palm.

“I need any books you have on a country,” and the librarian simply raised a curios eyebrow: “Khaenri'ah.”

-{o}-

“That’s why I’m here,” Ihtald said as if that explained everything as if that was the most obvious thing. “To bring you home.”

Home.

Hard land, rocky walls, no sunlight.

Strange plans, luminescent crystals and fungi.

All sorts of unknown creatures, lurking on the edges of the light.

He’s forgotten the taste of the air, the feel of the stones. It’s been so long. And he can’t lie – not to himself – and say he doesn’t miss it.

“You are?” his voice is still a bit shaky, but now less afraid and more confused.

“Why else do you think we came here?” Ihtald had smile on his face, reaching over the table and put his hand atop Kaeya’s.

The contact felt off, like someone else was there, sitting in his spot and having to deal with this. He didn’t want to be here.

“Reports?” somehow, he managed to speak, but couldn’t move his hand.

Part of him didn’t really want to.

“You… sent me here to gather information, right?” and finally, he pulled his hand away, closer to his chest and couldn’t hide the confusion from his face.

His father’s expression seemed to soften but he didn’t try and reach for him again. His words were soft: “Yes but… there is more to it, son. Much more.”

What reason could there be for that?

For leaving me?

For abandoning your own son?!

“What do you mean?” the shake in his voice was because of the rage simmering right under the surface but had to calm it. To cool it.

A pause, Ihtald looking around, Egith pretending not to pay attention and then a whispered: “Not here. Not like this.”

It wasn’t as cold as it should’ve been but Kaeya blamed that on the anger burning inside. He was so close, so close to so many questions he had for years.

“I can’t just leave.” He bit it out, looking at the table.

“Why not?” his father actually sounded confused.

“Because-!” and he cut himself off. What can he really say? What reason can he give without letting himself be found out?

“Because,” he tried again, calmer. “I have a high position in the knights. I’m able to get much more information than anyone would expect. I’m more useful where I am right now than anything else…” and the words came out easily because it’s true. But he had no intention of actually using it like that.

“Kaeya,” and his name on the man’s tongue still made his insides turn on themselves. “You have a much more important role than you can ever imagine. This here? It’s nothing compared to what you can do back home.”

A pause, them staring at each other. There was an open honesty in Ihtald’s expression that caught him off guard.

“It’d be suspicious…” the cyro whispered, looking away.

“It wouldn’t matter.” Determination. “Nothing would matter once we got back home.”

Kaeya couldn’t respond, just swallowed and looked down at his hand on top of the table. He couldn’t lie to himself here and say he wasn’t tempted. That he wouldn’t want to see his country again.

But it hasn’t been his country in years. He doesn’t even remember anyone from then. Barely remembers the basics.

Maybe that’s why you should head back.

“I understand this is much,” Ihtald spoke again, getting the knight’s attention. “And the time is late. How about you think on it, and then decide? We can wait a few more days.”

A few days. Somehow, he’s surprised even though he knew he shouldn’t have been. Of course, they’d wait a few more days for him. But he also knows for sure that they would stay a few more days.

He can plan with that.

“I’ll… do that,” he nodded. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Now, shall we pay and leave?” and the smile was friendly.

Chuckling, Kaeya nodded and stood up. “I’ll meet you outside,” and headed down to the bar while the other two stepped out.

“Already done?” Charles raised an amused eyebrow.

“Long day,” came the reply, followed by some mora. “Good night.”

“Good night sir Kaeya.”

-{o}-

Outside, the moon was high and the air was cool.

“You think he’ll actually come?” Egith asked, pulling her cloak tighter around herself.

“He will,” Ihtald nodded. “He’s my son. He knows what must be done.”

There was movement in the corner of his eyes that caught his attention. Looking up, there was nothing, but a strange feeling came over him none the less.

“Is Oser already back?”

“No. As far as I’m aware he’s back at camp. Why?”

A pause, eyes scanning the surrounding area: “Someone is watching us.”

The door opened and they both relaxed slightly as Kaeya walked out, a smile quickly snapping on his face.

“Need an escort?” the tone was joking but cautious.

“Maybe you do,” Egith grumbled, rolling her eyes.

“Always,” and he winked though, with only one eye, it was more of a blink.

“We’ll speak more tomorrow, yes?” Ihtald spoke up, looking at his son. “You should get some sleep.”

“Right,” the cyro gave a tight smile but nodded. “Good night then.”

“Good night.”

And they watched him leave.

-{o}-

Kaeya walked slowly for the first bit, just until he was out of their line of sight before breaking into a run. His body was shaking, his breathing coming in quick and shallow.

Words turned and twisted in his own mind, over each other with each other to the point it was hard to tell what was what and who said it.

He was walking blindly, but his feet knew the way to the HQ. He just had to get there. Tell the others what he found out.

All of it?

As much as he can without sounding like a madman anyway.

“Kaeya!” and the call of his name made him turn so quickly he saw the world as a blur, sword extended and releasing a blast of ice.

If they wanted to take him back right now, he’d make them fight for it. He didn’t want to leave like that. Didn’t want the choice taken from him. Not again.

But the ice melted, soft steam enveloping the alley he was standing in. Through the mist, it caught a mess of red and black.

“Diluc,” he breathed out, confused as the world moved back into focus. “What are you doing here?”

So many reasons spun through his mind but no, no he can’t jump to conclusions. Not like the redhead himself does.

“I was keeping an eye on you,” the pyro said easily, face stony. “Just in case.”

If Kaeya would have been more sound of mind and not torn apart by his inner struggle and emotions, he would have read the tone, not just the words. But as it was, the words by themselves made his blood boil.

“Are you… fucking serious?” the words were breathed out in anger, eye wide open. “You don’t trust me that much?!”

Diluc blinked, surprised and took a step closer, mouth open: “That’s not-“

“Save it!”  Kaeya yelled, body shaking. He felt cold and burning at the same time and didn’t want to be here either. “After all of this, you still don’t trust me!”

“Kaeya, I didn’t-,”

“Why can’t you ever just – just let me be?!” he didn’t want to hear excuses. Not now, not for this. He was so bloody tired. “Why do you have to make every move I make so much harder!”

The pyro realized he wasn’t going to get a word in edgewise and stayed silent, just looking. Waiting, not even moving away or flinching.

Good. He deserves it.

“Guess what, brother !” and the word was spit out with such venom, the redhead did wince but stood steady. “You keep trying to prove how I don’t belong here?!” and he took a step closer, could feel the hot tears down his face. “I don’t know where I belong either!”

His whole body was shaking, by anger, by too many emotions, by pain and sobs and things he didn’t want to deal with right now. And Diluc, oh mighty Diluc, stood like a pillar in the dark, unmoving and reacting.

Why did you expect anything else?

“I’m done taking the blame for your every mistake,” Kaeya hissed lowly, as if daring the pyro to say something back. “I’m done being your punching bag. You don’t get to pretend you’re doing this for anyone but yourself!”

And he turned and walked away, still shaking, trying to calm himself but ended up taking ragged breaths instead.

Years of pain and sorrow had manifested in the worst possible way, fuelled by his own past coming to claim him. Kaeya didn’t want to deal with any of this. Didn’t want to pretend and have to be someone he wasn’t anymore.

He was so, so fucking tired.

Chapter Text

Standing there, watching Kaeya half stagger half run away was more painful than Diluc would be willing to admit.

But he didn’t follow. No matter how much he wanted to make sure the cyro got back safely, that he would be okay, he stood still and waited, because he knew his presence was not welcome. At all.

The words Kaeya said repeated in his mind and he didn’t even try to clear them. He had no right.

I deserve his anger. His hate.

And if that meant standing there, letting the knight pour his feelings and anger out, then that was what he would do. Part of him was glad that Kaeya finally spoke his mind about it – justified all of Diluc’s own self-hate.

Even with this, you make it about yourself.

‘You don’t get to pretend you’re doing this for anyone but yourself!’

He was right. Try as he might and pretend he’s serving a greater justice, all the pyro’s really doing is fulfilling a self-interested desire to be something he’s not. To try and do something good instead of just fucking everything up.

You think a year of this will make up for the years you spent all over Tyvat, killing and torturing others?

He stood there, for another few minutes, numb and disconnected before forcing his feet to move towards the Headquarters. If he’s not there in the morning, Jean won’t be happy.

-{o}-

By the time he got to the gates, he had calmed down yet his stride remained fast. The guards seemed surprised but said nothing as the Captain rushed past them without a word and headed for his own chambers.

What a fucking day.

He had two- no, three public outbursts today, clearly on edge, and the guards aren’t blind. He can’t even keep his shit together in front of his men, how is he supposed to keep calm when faced with his own father?

It was your own idea.

Slamming the door shut, Kaeya leaned his back against it, taking in quick and ragged breaths. He could feel himself tremble and shake, could feel the usual cold sensation creeping up his fingers, his arms, up to his neck until it felt like he was being strangled by his own panic.

Only then did he notice he was still crying. The liquid was hot against his cheek, dripping down and he focused on that sensation. Tried to calm his breathing, past the coldness, past the fear and pain and anger.

In 1, 2, 3, 4 - hold 1, 2, 3 - out 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - repeat.

It took a bit, but he managed. Wasn’t the first time he recovered from something like that, but it’s been a while since it’s been this strong. His Vision was casting the room in a pale light, like moonlight and the cyro almost laughed.

The day was barely ending and yet it feels like it’s been a month. He really needs to sleep. Even though the nightmares will come, anything was better than standing there, overthinking.

As he walked towards the bed, Kaeya passed the full-body mirror on the way. Usually, he’d ignore it, but he caught his own reflection.

The deep bags under his red-rimmed eye, tear tracks, skin paler than usual… He looked like a mess.

A moment of hesitation, before he reached back and undid the strap of his eyepatch. Held it up a second longer, before gently lowering it, watching as his right eye stared back at him.

It was still gold on black, still unsettling. It felt wrong, seeing it when he couldn’t see with it – like it wasn’t his. Carefully, he reached up, traced the socket with his fingers and then reached up above his brow.

Using two fingers, he pressed his nails against the skin. Not hard, just enough to feel it, to scrape. Slowly, he pulled his fingers down, down the brow, across the eyelid and down his cheek. The result were two angry, red lines – like a scar. Like a mark that his eye was damaged, that there was something wrong with it. Poof, other than the strange colour.

Looking at himself there, the sudden urge to smash the mirror took him over. Fist already formed, he took a swing but stopped halfway – barely. Stood there, staring at himself in horror, at his shaking arm, before swiftly turning and going to bed. Just plopped down, face-first into the pillows, and prayed sleep took him quickly.

He didn’t want to be awake anymore.

-{o}-

Jean had no idea how long she has been in the library, going through three different books. Because that’s all they had on Khaenri'ah. The country was mostly an unknown, with random reports, rumours and some tales of bards.

While she wasn’t sure about the authenticity of these, it at least gave her an idea of what the people are – or could be like.

Mostly, their advance alchemy and inventions. How the legend of ‘Gold’ goes and what their experiments have brought on the world. It’s unnerving, but she files it away in a part of her mind for later.

Maybe she could ask Barbatos.

A commotion – again – caught her attention. An instant thought of her friends came to her, so she stood up and rushed towards the hall.

There, at the staircase, she just barely caught a glimpse of blue and white and felt how the temperature of the area was cooler than it should’ve been.

What happened?

Turning to the guards, she didn’t even have to ask before Wood spoke: “Captain Albrich just returned! He seemed… upset.”

Sighing, Jean put a hand to her head. Of course, he left. But at least he came back, so nothing too bad must’ve happened. She should probably go check on Kaeya, but maybe letting him calm down a bit isn’t a bad idea.

That was the plan anyway. Until she saw Diluc slowly walking in.

He was tense, that much was obvious. And the way his face was masking any emotions, told her of an inner struggle. She connected the dots, though hoped she was wrong in them.

“Good evening,” he said coolly, giving a bow of his head.

“Evening,” she nodded back.

They stared at one another for a few seconds, the anemo seeing how haggard and tired her friend was.

“Talk with me a moment,” she said, nodding to her office and walking there. There was a hesitation before the pyro’s footsteps were behind her.

-{o}-

He didn’t want to be here. This was the last place he wanted to be. And yet, Diluc still walked in and closed the door, stopping a few steps in front of the desk and resting his hands behind his back.

“…What happened?” Jean asked, softly, looking at him from the other side of the desk.

“Reconnaissance.” His tone was curt and simple, almost like a knight reporting to a superior.

“You went ahead with Kaeya’s plan?” she sounded more tired than surprised.

“Yes.”

“Even though we agreed not to?”

“He was going to do it either way. I thought it’d be better if I tried to help.”

“And how did that work out for you?”

A pause. He clenched his fists, locked his jaw and squared his shoulders. He knew it wasn’t an accusation, but it was hard to hear it as anything else.

You fucked up.

“Could have gone better,” he admitted, hoping the guilt wasn’t showing. “Although Sir Kaeya was the one gathering information. I suggest it best to ask him about success.”

He saw Jean’s hand twitch, her brow furrow. Shit. Something he said gave him away.

“That again.” Diluc blinked, unsure what she meant. But her expression hasn’t changed and she was frowning now.

Opening his mouth to ask, she cut him off: “Whenever you two have an argument, you sound so detached.”

She wasn’t wrong. Removing himself from any closeness to Kaeya was his go-to tactic in dealing with the fallout. Usually, people aren’t aware there’s anything wrong, because they don’t know better.

And whose fault is that?

“What happened?” and her voice, while concerned, was firm. Her eyes held the determination and stubbornness of a friend who has had enough.

“Bad timing and a misunderstanding,” the pyro explained, not looking at her.

“I’m not asking about tonight.” And he looked up. “I’m asking about that day, years ago.” A pause. “What happened between you two?”

And he wanted to laugh. Because it’s exactly the same, isn’t it? Bad timing and a misunderstanding. It’s how it’s always gone – ever since that day. Just that this time, the roles were reversed.

And he didn’t try to kill you.

“I almost killed him,” he admitted and it was the first time he’s confessed that out loud, to another person. “I would have.”

Jaen’s eyes opened wide and she took in a quick gasp. He could tell she was trying to understand it all, forming events in her mind and he could already tell she was wrong.

“That…” she started, cleared her throat and masked her expression. “That explains a few things…”

Shrugging, Diluc spoke: “It’s not your concern.”

At those words, it was like a window was cracked open during a storm – papers got picked up and scattered, a hot wind blew against his face and anything light started swaying.

“It is my concern,” Jean almost hissed, eyes narrow and voice hard. “You two – both of you – are my friends. And I’ve had to sit on the side-lines, watching you two go from brothers to strangers at best, enemies at worst. Do not , tell me it’s none of my concern.”

Diluc swallowed and braced himself for a possible fight – years of fight or flight instincts kicking in. But the wind was slowly dying down as the anemo calmed her breathing. She always had more control over her Vision than most.

“Tell me what happened.” And it wasn’t a request or a question. Not a hint of sympathy. Just a demand.

“…” the pyro hesitated, glancing towards the door before looking her in the eyes: “It’s not my secret to tell.”

Judging by the way she locked her jaw and glared at him, that clearly wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. But this was Jean. She knew there were things that weren’t meant for everyone. That people had their secrets and their own issues. She understood.

Didn’t mean she was giving up.

“Then tell me why you two are still at each other’s throats. I understand… healing takes time, but this…” and she motioned to his person. “It feels like you two don’t even want to get along anymore.”

And at that, he did laugh. It was broken and cynical, with his eyes holding pain and guilt not many would even understand. But she waited, let his laugh turn into a choked sob before he collected himself.

“You have no idea how hard we want to try,” and his voice was shaky, his eyes hurting. “But no matter what we-… what I try to do, I make it worse.”

Jean’s expression took on a sympathetic look, but she took in a breath and braced herself for something that was clearly going to be hard: “So what… you just, give up?”

The pyro’s eyes snapped to her, head tilted in confusion: “Give up? I just- what’s the point? I clearly can’t make it better – I make it worse! And Kaeya-!” he choked on the name, swallowed and tried again. “Kaeya clearly wants nothing to do with me!”

“That’s a damn lie!” He hasn’t heard Jean curse in years, and it stunned him to see her so upset. “Kaeya cares about you just as much as you clearly care about him! But whatever happened between you two, it made you blind to each other’s hints and attempts! To boot, you don’t even try and talk about it!” she slammed her fist against the desk, sending more papers scattering.

“There’s nothing to talk about! I fucked up-“

“And now you’re just not going to bother anymore? Because it’s not easy or simple? Because it’s easier to just let him hate you than try and make amends?” her words cut into him almost as much as the wind blowing through the room. “I never took you for a coward, Diluc. You always tried to make things right, to do the right thing, no matter what! And yet here, with Kaeya of all people, you give up so easily!”

He couldn’t say anything to that, just stand there and take it. Let her words sink in, wrap around his heart and pull.

You’ve been running.

Do you really even want to make amends?

Coward.

“He deserves better,” Jean spoke more softly, stepping closer slowly. “So do you. You both deserve to… to clear the air. If you fucked up, then you have to fix it. You owe it to him. And if he doesn’t want to accept that…” she trailed off, looked away.

He shouldn’t. He should stay away.

“It’s his choice. And I know you’ll respect that.”

I will.

“But by not even trying anymore… You’re not giving him the option, at all. You’re taking his choice away.”

Just like his father…

“So… just… keep trying. For both your sakes.”

He stood, shell shocked, thinking about everything and nothing and he could feel his walls breaking down. Blinking to stop the tears made them come out faster and he wiped them away quickly, before nodding.

“Thank you… Jean. I-,” he cleared his throat and gave her a grateful smile. “I needed someone to kick my ass.”

She chuckled softly, set a hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “Anytime. Now go to sleep. You look like shit.”

He wished her good night, turned and walked up towards his chambers, heart heavy but hope finally blooming in his chest.

-{o}-

It took too long for him to fall asleep. His mind wouldn’t quiet, his thoughts running wild. But at least he didn’t have to deal with the nightmares yet.

He wondered if Diluc made it back safely.

He was worried about what Jean would do when she found out what he had done.

He didn’t want to think of what plans his father had in store.

But it was hard not to think about any and all of that. He was the reason for all of it after all. But now that he’s started down this path, he’ll have to walk it until the end.

Either alone, or with anyone willing to stand by his side.

[x]

By the time he made it to his bed, he was barely standing.

The day had been long and painful, both mentally and physically. The burns and wounds were the easier part to handle, however. It was his own personal thoughts that would torment him this night.

He already knew he’d be reliving the events with Kaeya. Seeing how differently it could’ve gone. How many things he could’ve done better.

Seeing the details of his feelings and actually paying attention to them.

And yet despite that, there were words of encouragement underneath it all. They’re not as loud as the other thoughts, but maybe, maybe they’ll help. He really hoped they’ll let him do what has to be done.

He doesn’t want to leave Kaeya by himself any longer.

[x]

The day had been exhausting and she was more than ready for bed. Even still, she was awake and thinking.

Thinking on the words and confessions she heard today. Of the emotions they revealed to her willingly, and the deeper – hidden ones they thought no one would ever see.

She did, however. She always was able to read them. The perks of growing up together as they did.

And she really hoped that she made the right call. In the end, it seemed so sure, yet doubt always made her worry.

Because not everything can be solved so easily. Especially something that’s been festering for years.

But she trusts they will manage and she’ll help them.

-{o}-

The next day, everyone was awake by the time Barbra arrived. Jean was the only one who had actually left her room, having a job to do, while Diluc and Kaeya stayed in their chambers, brooding.

But when the time for the check-up came, they all met in the pyro’s room.

“Hmm, the healing is going more slowly than I thought,” the hyro admitted, her hands hovering over Diluc’s bare yet scar-ridden back. “Have you been resting as I instructed?”

“More or less,” came the reply and no one really corrected it.

“Well, I’d say another day or two and they should be fully healed.”

“Good thing I’m used to burns then,” the pyro tried for a joke but only got concerned looks in return. Rolling his eyes, he instead focused on putting on his shirt.

“Thank you, Barbra,” Jean gave a grateful smile. “We’ll make sure he doesn’t exert himself too badly.”

“Anytime,” was the Sister’s cheery reply. “If anything bad happens, be sure to call me. Until next time,” with a wink and a twirl, she was gone, humming as she left.

“Well, good to know you’re going to be fine,” the Grand Master turned to the redhead who was sitting on the bed, looking at the ground. She noticed Kaeya hadn’t moved from the chair and was silent this whole time.

“…I’ll leave you two to talk.” And with that, she left, closing the door softly behind her.

 

A few moments passed in silence, neither looking at the other before the cyro sighed and got to his feet.

“Well, you’ll survive. Good to know. I’ll let you rest,” and he turned to leave.

“Kaeya,” the call of his voice stopped him, surprise all over his face.

Turning, the two looked at one another for a second, two, before Diluc swallowed, looked away, sighed, and faced him again.

“I have to… apologize.”

And the words came out easier than either expected. The room felt tense, yet remained at a steady temperature.

“I’m sorry,” Diluc continued on, a sudden frantic look on his expression. As if he was afraid if he didn’t speak quickly enough, the Knight would leave.

“I’m sorry about last night.” Start small. “I should’ve chosen my words more carefully, given what you were doing…” a pause. Neither moved.

“I wasn’t there looking for you to – to do anything. I was looking out for you, in case those people tried anything. Tried to take you, or – or attack you. Or something!” his hands were twisting with each other and he wanted to look away but forced himself to keep his gaze on Kaeya.

“The amount of stress you’re under…” he took a breath. “I should’ve known better. Waited for you to at least get back not… Not corner you in an alley like that.”

Another breath of silence, before Diluc offered one last time: “I am sorry. I hope you… You know I didn’t mean it in such a way.”

And that made it sound so final. Like that’s all he had to get off his chest and that Kaeya would leave now.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t tempted.

“I’m sorry too,” the cryo choked out, a weak smile on his face. “For attacking out of the blue like that…”

“Had it coming,” and the redhead gave a small grin in return.

Another beat of awkward silence. Of both of them, wanting to say more – to talk about more. But neither brave enough for it. Not yet. Start small. It’s a process and they’ve just begun.

But it’s a start.

“I’m… probably going to try and talk to them again…” Kaeya said, shifted on his feet. “I could… use some backup?” and the tone was hopeful.

“Of course, absolutely.” Diluc didn’t even hesitate, standing up. “Just say when and where.”

“Well… We don’t even really know where they’re sleeping or something. And… we might want to tell Jean what I found out last night.”

“Ah, yeah, right, of course.”

Another pause. Them just looking at each other, both anxious yet… relieved. Then: “Kaeya?”

“Yeah?”

“…I made you a promise, years ago… I’m going to keep it. No matter what.”

‘No one is going to take you away.’

“…Thank you, Diluc.”

-{o}-

“Ah, I see you’ve returned,” Ihtald smiled as the two entered the room.

“Hey, new day new info,” Oser shrugged, leaning back on the wall. “Unless you got another job for me?”

“Did you encounter any trouble?” he looked at Terwy, who was standing by the door, unmoving.

‘No,’ was the signed reply. ‘Avoided a group of slimes.’

“Could’ve taken ‘em.”

“And probably exposed yourself in the process,” Egith rolled her eyes from where she was by a desk, fiddling with a contraption.

“Hey, I’m the sneaky one here! And they’re not bad either,” Oser nodded towards their silent companion, grinning.

“Well, you can prove us by doing your job,” Ihtald crossed his arms. “A bit of a harder target than last time.”

“Pfft, Mond has no hard targets.”

“Knights of Favonius Headquarters.”

“…Shit.”

“You’ll be spying on the Acting Grand Master.”

A suppressed snort escaped Terwy’s lips as the mercenary’s mouth opened wide.

“Oh c’mon! You’re trying to get me caught!”

“At least we wouldn’t have to pay you then.”

“No one asked you, Eggy!”

“Enough!”

Silence, everyone turning towards Ihtald. “My son is likely still unsure about his loyalties. Understandable. While we focus on his rift between Ragnvindr and what happened there, you’ll get us the information.”

‘What is the plan?’ Terwy stepped a bit closer, unsure.

“For us, it’s stalling and getting as much out of Ragnvindr as possible. You don’t have to know more.”

A moment of agitation came to their face before Terwy bowed their head lightly and stepped back.

“Now then… Let’s get to work.”