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"Diluc… Kaeya… What in the world happened?"

Kaeya's arm is slung over Diluc's hunched shoulders. It's the way Diluc has to grip on his arm to keep him up and standing that wrenches Albedo's guts. So does the torn clothing, the blood blotching the fabric, Kaeya's features wracked with pain. Albedo wishes he could look away.

But this is his duty. Study, alchemy lab, unofficial infirmary of the Knights of Favonius. He's tended to plenty of nasty wounds, in and out, cut and stitch. It's just jarring when the person he least expects — the one person he dreads — to see is brought here, labored breathing and all.

"Please," Diluc says, "take care of him."

Diluc's veins are thick with tension in his arm. Kaeya slumps as though he's weightless. There's blood splattered on the marble floor. Albedo pales, and it isn't his clean-freak nature that's draining him.

Albedo reaches out to Kaeya — brings his other arm over his own shoulders. He's cold to the touch.

"But…" Albedo gulps. The smell of blood is stark. "What about you?"

Albedo blinks at Diluc in worry. He's not in great shape, either. Cuts and bruises and coat ripped haphazardly. But Diluc just shuts his eyes, helping Kaeya towards Albedo for support.

"I'm fine," says Diluc. It's more or less a whisper, and hardly convincing. "Him first, Albedo."

Albedo, reluctant as he is, nods. He understands. Just the fact that Diluc has stepped in the Knights' headquarters is phenomenal — there's no doubt that he wants fresh air as soon as possible. Diluc waits until Kaeya's weight carefully shifts onto Albedo, who keeps an arm firm around his back, before leaving. Albedo doesn't miss the pause at the door and the glance he throws over his shoulder.

Heavy lump in his throat, Albedo gazes at Kaeya. He's trying to take deep, deep breaths. The pain he's experiencing is immense from the looks of it.

"Kaeya?"

Kaeya sucks in a breath. In a moment of composure, the grimace is switched to Kaeya mode — a smile. It's one of the weakest things Albedo has seen gracing Kaeya's handsome face.

"Don't make that face," Kaeya lightly says. He tries to laugh too, but stops when he realizes it strains his abdomen. "Wrinkles aren't good for you."

"Kaeya," Albedo repeats, strict. "What did you do? How did this happen to you?" Kaeya huffs at first, averting his gaze. But he does tighten his grasp on Albedo's waist. Even through his clothes, Albedo feels the chilling touch of his fingertips. "Kaeya… Were you at Dragonspine?"

Kaeya sighs.

"There was an unusual number of treasure hoarders up there." Kaeya takes another breath, voice gruffer than usual. He tilts his head up to glance at Albedo. The glint in his arctic blue eye is furious. Scarily so. "Albedo, they broke into your campsite. They trashed the place. I watched them ruin all your research equipment and papers. You've spent years on those."

Albedo, too, closes his eyes. Because that sort of news hits him hard, hard — his research is everything to him — but above anything, Kaeya is trembling. Kaeya is cold, and Albedo can only think of how he can have his jovial knight back.

"Do you sincerely believe that I care more about some papers than your life?"

Kaeya's lips curl into a soft smile. They're not as rosy as they should be.

"Sort of?" The dead silence prompts a husky chuckle from Kaeya. "Alright, yes, I know. But there's nothing I wouldn't do to protect you and the things that you hold dear to your heart."

Albedo rubs Kaeya's broad back.

"Then you should know better than to do something as reckless as this."

Something almost comes out of Kaeya's throat. But it's something that puts a burden on him, because he nearly doubles over, hissing at the pain. The noise Kaeya lets out is strangled. Albedo reacts quick, taking a wider stance for steady ground.

"I promise I'm fine, Albedo," Kaeya says, having to grit out fine.

Albedo ignores him. "You need to sit."

Step by step, Albedo guides Kaeya to the chair behind his study desk, pulling it out in advance. As soon as Kaeya is settled in and leaves Albedo's arms, he shakily sighs. It's hard to tell whether it's out of relief or disappointment.

Albedo's eyes travel down to the problem area. The dark, deep complimentary red on Kaeya's navy garments — foolishly, Albedo hopes it's a mere illusion. But he places his palm on Kaeya's stomach, a very gentle touch, and faint blood transfers to his hand.

Kaeya's blood is real and visceral. Albedo can touch and sniff it in skepticism all he wants, but the proof is there. Albedo is calm for the time being, but he wonders if this is right — if perhaps he should learn from Kaeya and let himself sink in rage once in a while.

Albedo takes a careful breath.

"Kaeya, can you take off your clothes?" Albedo walks off to the lab portion of the room, where there's running water and towels among other items. "I need to clean you up. Just the top is fine."

"You're in for a treat," Kaeya teases from his seat. It earns him an unimpressed glare from Albedo.

While Kaeya undoes his needlessly intricate outfit, Albedo tucks a collection of materials in his arms to bring to the desk: towels, disinfectant, gauze. He shoves away journals and texts from his desk to make room for a small wash basin filled with lukewarm water.

Kaeya has tossed his bloodied garments onto the floor, much to Albedo's chagrin. He's not quite in the mood to lecture him about it, though. Albedo's study is barely warm enough to comfort a man who'd just returned from Dragonspine. If that wasn't enough, Kaeya has to have his torso bare for Albedo to work on his wounds.

Albedo's hands are attentive. They've done intricate alchemy work before. Cleaning several blade-cut wounds in a toned abdomen isn't the worst. It's only the fact that Albedo somehow shares the pain whenever Kaeya winces and hisses that hinders his work. But for Kaeya's well-being, it's no obstacle he can't overcome.

"You bled a lot," Albedo absentmindedly mutters. He swabs disinfectant over a particularly long cut that nearly stretches across Kaeya's full stomach. Kaeya squirms under him, so Albedo squeezes his thigh.

"It's nothing," Kaeya lies.

Albedo's eyes flit up to Kaeya's while he's crouched in front of him. He knows Kaeya thinks his glares are just 'cute', but he shoots him one anyway. As expected, Kaeya smiles at it.

The final step is the bandages. Albedo takes the roll, circles around Kaeya's torso after his wounds have been sufficiently dried. They glow a dark red but no longer bleed. Albedo's fingers trace over the bandage to press it down, firm, and he finds himself losing his gaze to the myriad of scars across Kaeya's torso.

There's… so many. One outlining a rib bone, one splitting his navel in half. Two on his sides. Or maybe it's three. One slash that nearly leads to the nearest clavicle. So close to his heart. He traces each one he finds. It's like a puzzle, and he tries to piece every scar together — but he doesn't know what the end picture is supposed to be.

"Albedo. Hey."

Albedo almost gasps. How long has it been? He blinks at Kaeya, who's now reaching for him.

Kaeya's fingers curve around his wrist. Albedo is tugged towards him and his gentle, gentle eye-smile.

"Don't pay attention to those," Kaeya whispers. "Look at me."

By some force, Albedo is seated on Kaeya's lap, straddling him in spite of his hesitation for the fresh-wrapped injuries. But it's a natural pull that keeps him steady there, and Kaeya's will that draws Albedo's attention to his face. He looks at him, as had been asked of him.

Albedo's fingertips flutter on Kaeya's face. A hand with a slight tremor cups Kaeya's cheek, just below his eyepatch. He thumbs his icy skin, trails over his defined cheekbone. Kaeya smiles through it.

"You're so cold," Albedo utters. Kaeya's lips are still pale, so he touches them. They're cold too.

Kaeya massages Albedo's wrist, sneaking beneath his sleeve.

"Hm." A chuckle through the nose. "You're pretty warm."

"Kaeya," Albedo calls, delicate.

Is it him yearning? He isn't sure. But Kaeya doesn't mind. Kaeya answers, tender lips on his.

Kaeya moves, slow and languid. Albedo's never kissed a pair of lips so chilling — Kaeya's always so heated — but he realizes he's stealing away the frost. Kaeya is warmer and warmer the more they kiss, so Albedo wants to do exactly that more and more.

Kaeya's arms wrap around Albedo into a surprisingly possessive hug. They bring Albedo closer, chests pressed against each other. Albedo keeps his palms on Kaeya's face — he likes how he can feel the flow of warmth into his cheeks. And Kaeya's arms hardly budge, either. Not even after their kiss breaks for a need to catch their breaths.

Albedo feels Kaeya's breaths disperse on his lips. They're hot, damp huffs of air. Warm. Kaeya's face crinkles into a smile, a rather silly one at that. Albedo kisses away the twinge of pain that's left on Kaeya's forehead, which he thanks with a chuckle.

"Thank you," Kaeya says. "I'm not cold anymore. Not one bit."

Albedo raises his brow doubtfully. Kaeya's hand slithers down to his thigh for a firm grip. Albedo does his best to avoid yelping — instead, unfortunately, he blushes.

"Are you sure?"

Gaze hardened, Albedo stares. In realization, Kaeya's lips turn into a pout.

"Well…" He leans forward, eye sparkling. "Maybe I'm still a bit cold. I think another kiss would do the trick."

Albedo cards his hand through Kaeya's locks, smiling. He takes Kaeya's hand off his thigh and instead holds it — just for good measure.

"That's what I thought."