Kaeya liked to drink.
Everyone in Mondstadt knew that, and no one could dispute it. Kaeya himself made no secret of it. He’d tell anyone who asked that “Death in the Afternoon” was his favorite beverage in the whole of Teyvat.
The problem was that Kaeya liked wine...perhaps a bit too much.
It’s not to say he was a sloppy drunk, or spending too much Mora on the stuff, or even blacking out and waking up places he wasn’t supposed to be or didn’t remember getting to. No, not at all. Kaeya always handled himself with grace, charm, and a hint of aloofness that helped to draw people in. After all, when one deals in secrets, one must look tantalizing and pleasing to the eye. Everything about Kaeya was meant to be alluring and mysterious. And for the most part, he was.
There were few who knew him personally, behind the mask of affability, flirtatiousness, and wit. You only saw as much of Kaeya as he wanted you to, and even his rare bedfellows couldn’t claim to know him.
But Diluc had his suspicions.
He had known Kaeya for a long time, and though his father had never truly adopted him, had come to think of him as an annoying younger sibling. Indeed, Kaeya had gone against Diluc and stubbornly joined the Knights of Favonious, the most useless force in all of Teyvat. Fitting, really; indeed, Kaeya had climbed the ranks quickly by being only a fraction more useful than others in his class.
Diluc, of course, oversaw all of the business at Dawn Winery, and liked to know who was visiting his tavern even when he wasn’t there. He knew how often Kaeya was in the tavern and what he ordered, and it was very rarely any proper sustenance.
At first, Diluc thought that it was none of his business. If Kaeya wanted to drink himself to liver disease, so be it. But the more he quietly observed, the more it became a problem he simply could not ignore. And despite the shield he put up around his emotions and true intentions, Diluc cared quite a bit.
About Mondstadt. About the Traveler’s quest to find their sibling. About Jean and her many affairs.
Damn it. He really didn’t want to care about Kaeya.
Diluc stared at the papers in front of him, not really seeing the endless numbers. They all meant something, of course. Costs of running the winery, the tavern’s earnings, employee wages...they all tended to fade into the background, which is probably why he liked doing his accounts when he couldn’t otherwise sleep.
Diluc sighed in frustration, pulling his hair up off his neck and into a high ponytail. He sat back in his chair, staring out the half-open window, letting his mind drift off as he stared into the heavens.
He’d seen Kaeya recently, trailing behind him as usual like a lost puppy, bumbling into his affairs. It was...almost charming. It reminded Diluc of when they were younger. Kaeya desperately wanted to do whatever he was doing, looking at him with sparkling eyes...back when he had two eyes. Begging to be allowed to play along.
Because Diluc knew Kaeya well, due to keeping quiet tabs on him, he could tell when Kaeya changed anything about himself. And Kaeya...had lost weight recently.
It wasn’t a noticeable change, and Kaeya hid it very well, tightening the fashionable corset-like brace around his waist to give him a more pleasing allusion of curves there. But while it certainly got him attention whenever he flirted openly in the tavern, it was hiding something. Which was really just like Kaeya. Insolent brat.
Diluc leaned forward, elbows on his desk, leaning into his clasped hands as he thought. Kaeya looked pale, too, his eyes lacking that true mischievous sparkle. Was he ill? That would explain the weight loss, but...no, there was something else…
Diluc scrubbed his hands over his face. This was ridiculous. He’d just go to the tavern himself and observe. Kaeya would slip up eventually if well-plied with alcohol.
It was probably nothing. But then, Diluc thought, when was it ever “nothing” with Kaeya?
Diluc took up a quiet spot at the top of the tavern, choosing a ledge where he had a good view of the bar. A bard he wasn’t familiar with was singing and playing her instrument, and patrons were eagerly throwing her tips, perhaps more because she was beautiful and not for her talent, but Diluc didn’t consider himself a connoisseur, nor was he here to critique her performance.
As expected, Kaeya was at the bar, the center of attention, as usual. But...more drunk than Diluc had expected. Kaeya could finish a bottle of Dandelion Wine no problem, would be near the end of a second bottle without showing signs of being drunk. Now, it was as if he’d finished a bottle and then some, and he’d only had a few glasses! Diluc grunted. Yes, something was...off. He could smell it as easily as he could smell an overly fermented grape.
As the night wore on, Kaeya seemed to be getting worn down. Odd; even at his most exhausted, Kaeya would never dare show such a thing to an audience. Diluc watched him reject several advances that clearly wanted something else from the secret keeper. Not entirely out of place either, but, then again, if it suited his purposes, Kaeya would sleep with anyone but a hilichurl if he thought it would get him juicy intel.
Hm. This was adding up in a way that Diluc was uncomfortable with.
Diluc saw Kaeya step away from the bar a moment and took his chance. He slipped into the tavern’s kitchen and grabbed some ingredients. He himself liked a heartier meal, but Kaeya preferred the taste of something lighter and sweeter. Diluc prepared a version of his “Once Upon a Time in Mondstadt” that wasn’t so overwhelming, adding a bit of fruit and mushrooms to appeal more to Kaeya’s tastes.
He didn’t think Kaeya was stupid enough to fully starve himself...but, he grabbed some bread rolls as well, lightly toasting them, just in case. If Kaeya had been doing something as stupid as skipping meals, a meat-heavy dish would only make him feel ill, and that would defeat Diluc’s purpose.
Diluc had taken off his jacket and tied up his hair to cook, so he realized he must’ve looked less like a gentleman when he told his bartender to go on home. Kaeya was closing out the tavern, as usual, but Diluc wasn’t above locking him inside so he could assess the younger man’s condition.
Diluc threw a dish towel over his shoulder, absently clearing up the bar. He only glanced up when Kaeya returned and sat heavily on a barstool.
“Trouble you for one more glass, barkeep?” Kaeya held the wine glass aloft by the stem, wriggling it in the air above his head.
“A glass of water, perhaps,” Diluc replied, snatching the glass before Kaeya could drop it. “I think you’ve had enough for one night.”
“Aw, you’re no fun,” Kaeya pouted in an exaggerated manner. “If I’m out to spend Mora, what do you care if I’m drunk?”
“As much as your drunken stupor befits a useless organization such as the Knights of Favonious,” Diluc began, pouring a whiskey glass full of cold water and sliding it towards Kaeya, “I’ll not have you walking out of here like a newborn horse.”
“Me? In a stupor?” Kaeya snorted. “Never!”
“No?” Diluc raised an eyebrow, pretending to be very busy with cleaning Kaeya’s wine glass. “Perhaps passing out from lack of sustenance is more your style?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kaeya wilt a bit. “I should’ve figured you’d find out.” Kaeya lifted his glass to his lips, his hand shaking before he clasped the glass in both hands. “I...didn’t think you cared, Diluc.”
“I care about all of Mondstadt,” Diluc spat. “That includes its Cavalry Captain.” Kaeya winced, so Diluc tried a different tactic. He crossed over towards Kaeya, looming over from from behind the bar. “What’s troubling you that you’re not feeding yourself?”
“Nothing.” Kaeya shrugged. At Diluc’s scowl, he laughed, holding up his hands. “Honestly! Nothing’s changed! I have a small stomach, so I never really eat very much, anyway, and wine tastes so much better than any food I’ve ever tasted.”
Diluc made a face. “Your fondness for alcohol confounds me. But there must be more to it than that.”
Kaeya chuckled. “And so the secret keeper must give away his secrets.” He sipped at his water again. “Things have been a bit...complicated, recently. You might think the knights are useless and, for the most part, you’d be right. Most of them are just better trained citizens, with about a fraction more bravery. But because of that, it’s up to the leaders, like the Acting Grand Master and myself, to make the Knights look good.”
Diluc scoffed. “No wonder the Knights are falling apart, if the only ones keeping them together are you and Jean.”
“Yeah, okay,” Kaeya said, sounding defeated, and Diluc felt something like guilt twist in his gut. “But...that’s the truth of it. I deal in intel do the Knights appear smarter, and Jean takes care of the public image of the Knights. Amber represents the youthfulness a Knight should have, but that’s about it, I’m afraid. It’s a lot to handle, and it can get stressful for all of us.”
“I see.” Diluc frowned. “You’re taking on more than you can handle.”
Kaeya shrugged. “I’m a Cavalry Captain. I have some standing in the Knights of Favonious, even if I never asked for any responsibility. And, if I don’t interrupt my day to eat, then there’s more time for me to work.”
“Idiot,” Diluc growled.
“Not really,” Kaeya replied, downing the rest of his glass. “Just because I’m not eating very much doesn’t mean I don’t eat at all. Anyway,” he grinned, though Diluc wasn’t convinced, “nothing for the ‘Dark-knight Hero’ to worry himself over.” He stood up carefully, stretching. “Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s been a long night, and I’d like to spend at least some of it in my own bed.”
“I told you,” Diluc snapped, “you’re not leaving this tavern wobbling like a newborn horse! Sit back down before I force you to do as I say.”
“Kinky,” Kaeya giggled, nonetheless obeying. “What else did you want, oh esteemed gentleman of Mondstadt?”
“For you to eat something in my presence,” Diluc presented the dish with a flourish. “A protector of Mondstadt, however useless, should not go to bed hungry.”
“I think I’ve drank too much wine to be hungry!” Kaeya replied, looking a bit nervous. “Besides, I like my meals a bit lighter and sweeter.”
“I only made a quarter of my usual recipe and added plenty of fruit and mushrooms to taste,” Diluc replied, turning his back to reshelve a few bottles. “The least you can do is honor my effort by tasting it.”
There was a long silence, only broken, finally, by a long sigh from Kaeya. “All right, Diluc. I’ll play along.”
Diluc dutifully kept his back turned, knowing the last thing he would want were he in Kaeya’s position was someone watching every move he made. Still, he listened to the scraping of forks and knives, and, perhaps, the subtle growling of an underfed stomach.
“How is it?” He asked after a moment, finally turning around to refill Kaeya’s glass.
Kaeya looked a bit flushed, but Diluc was glad to see that the plate had been partially cleared. “It’s...really good. When did you get this good at cooking?”
“When you own a tavern, you pick up a few related skills.” Diluc let a small smile cross his lips in satisfaction. “I’m glad it’s to your tastes.”
Kaeya shifted on the bar stool, clearly feeling a bit awkward. “Thank you. I really don’t want to keep you from your own bed…”
Diluc dismissed the notion with a wave. “I am used to long hours, and I can sleep until the afternoon, if need be. Please, finish your food. There’s no rush.”
Kaeya smiled shyly and eagerly dug into the meal. Diluc purposefully didn’t watch directly, but from how swiftly Kaeya was eating, it seemed like he hadn’t had any kind of decent sustenance in a while.
And Diluc was absolutely not feeling sorry for him. Not at all. It was Kaeya’s choice to stupidly overwork himself, and it was his fault for skipping meals just because wine somehow “tasted better.”
Diluc certainly did not send Kaeya out the door with an extra portion or two and a bottle of Dandelion Wine to wash it down. And he absolutely did not refuse Kaeya’s Mora for it all.
That would just be bad for business, after all.