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The first time it happened, they were still boys.

“Kiss me,” Kaeya said and Diluc’s face went terrifyingly blank, absolutely empty. He stepped forward and kissed Kaeya without a flinch of hesitation, so swift it didn’t even feel like anything. Yet Kaeya instantly craved more.

Diluc blinked and cocked his head to the side. “Did you say something?”

They sat among the vines, shaded by the tall plants rustling in the hot summer breeze. Both boys wore light, cotton shorts and loose tops. Diluc had his hair bound up behind him, a tumble of red as bright as the sun when it bled against the horizon.

“Kae,” Diluc said. “Hey.”

Kaeya blinked. Blinked both eyes, for both were uncovered. He and Diluc had been chasing each other through the rows of vines, tumbling and scrabbling as children do, and the eyepatch had simply fallen off. Kaeya had scrambled back to search for it and that’s when he’d done it, that’s when he’d looked at Diluc, rosy as dawn, lovely as moonlight, and the words slipped out.

“Here,” Diluc said. “I found it. It’s OK.”

He held out Kaeya’s eyepatch. Kaeya took it in trembling fingers. Never take it off, his father had said. Not even once. Not even for a moment.

He hadn’t mentioned why.

Kaeya brushed his hair out of that strange eye of his and prepared to put the eyepatch back on. But Diluc was watching him, his lips just slightly parted. Kaeya knew how they felt now, how they tasted, but he’d gotten only the barest sip, a teasing suggestion that lacked the true essence of what Kaeya craved.

He held his hair out of the way and looked Diluc right in the eyes.

“Kiss me,” he said.

And again Diluc’s face went perfectly still, like the surface of puddle as it evaporated off the road. Diluc looked through him, empty as a doll, and leaned forward.

This time, when their lips met Kaeya fisted a hand in Diluc’s hair and held him there. Diluc did not resist and Kaeya drank up everything he wanted, everything he could reach. He pressed their clumsy, childish mouths together, jabbed his tongue past pliant lips, and sipped until his chest was full. Diluc let him, devoid of any force of will.

There was something cold in that kiss. No matter how Kaeya pressed, Diluc never pressed back, he never returned the embrace. Wherever Kaeya licked, he found nothing but a shell.

But it was better than not kissing him at all.

Kaeya took. Not just that day. Any time he thought he could, any time they were shielded among the vines or hidden in some tiny nook of the mansion. Kaeya would slip off his eyepatch and look Diluc in the eyes and take from him again.

Diluc never grew any warmer, but he always complied.

#

Kaeya dashed through the streets of Mondstadt. He leapt down stone steps, rolling when he hit the ground. He popped back up to his feet, but his prey already rounded the side of a building.

Kaeya sprinted after the man. In the dead of night, with every lantern snuffed out, he had to navigate by starlight alone. It made the Fatui dressed all in dark clothing a slippery man to catch. When Kaeya rounded the building, he struggled to make out any movement down the alley ahead.

Homes pressed in on either side of him, deepening the night’s gloom. Normally, these twisting, secret passages between the buildings of Mondstadt were Kaeya’s favorite corridors, the pathways he preferred when he needed to move swiftly and secretly. But that meant they were also the first choice of everyone else looking to disappear.

The moment Kaeya had discovered the Fatui attempting to break into the Knights of Favonius headquarters, he’d known the chase would drag him here. If only he could have crawled out of his office window faster and snatched the man before he got away. But Kaeya had been just a bit too slow and after gliding down to the ground, he’d had no choice but to run after the would-be intruder.

He didn’t even know what the man wanted. But anyone dressed like a Fatui and scaling the walls of the headquarters in the dead of night couldn’t have any benevolent plans.

So Kaeya pursued him. Until now, at least. The damn alley was so dark and so close that Kaeya could do little more than feel his way down it, praying to all the Archons it didn’t branch at the end.

It didn’t, but when Kaeya reached the end and turned, he found only more darkness ahead.

He raced through the winding pathways between buildings. Could the man have slipped into a door? But these were mostly residential homes in this part of the city. If the intruder had broken into a house, surely someone would be screaming, yet the night lay deadly, perfectly still, as still as a puddle evaporating off the roadway.

Kaeya shook that thought aside. The walls and street around him glowed blue in the faint light of his Vision, the only thing he had to see by now. It revealed nothing. The stone wouldn’t tell him which way the man had fled, but a kernel of hope wriggled into Kaeya’s chest as he began to recognize this particular pathway.

It terminated in a dead end.

Sure enough, one final turn left Kaeya in a little corridor that ended at the walls of the city. They were far too tall and smooth to climb, devoid of any features the Fatui could get a finger or toe on. That didn’t mean the man wasn’t trying. He glanced over his shoulder, frantic, then made a lunge at the wall, but only hung on for a second before sliding back down to the ground.

Kaeya slowed, leaving some space between himself and the intruder. With desperation narrowing his options, the Fatui might try anything.

“Let’s make this easy, shall we?” Kaeya said. “It’s past my bed time.”

The man spit at Kaeya, drawing a knife.

Kaeya sighed. He could dig out a blade as well, but there was only one sure thing in knife fights: everyone bled. And Kaeya really didn’t feel like getting stabbed tonight.

He called on his Vision instead, letting the magic gather in his hand like a bee buzzing in his clenched fist. It should have been enough to protect him, at the very least. Or perhaps he could freeze the man’s feet to the ground. Maybe he could—

Footsteps behind him. Kaeya whirled just in time to throw up a wall of ice and deflect a knife to the back.

But he was far from saved.

Now the other Fatui was at his back and rushing toward him. Kaeya turned, meaning to put up another wall of ice, but he couldn’t summon his Vision again so quickly.

He braced, hoping to at least dodge the worst of the damage from that glinting knife. Then someone leapt on the Fatui, tackling him to the ground.

All Kaeya saw was a blur of black, then two figures wrestled on the street. Red hair flashed, bright as flame, bright as a boy’s first kiss, lovely as sunset at the end of the world.

“Idiot,” Diluc snarled up at him, “get the other one.”

Kaeya jolted back to his senses. The second Fatui was sneaking around Kaeya’s wall of ice, a knife clutched in his hand.

Kaeya rushed at him. It was probably stupid, but at least that meant it caught the Fatui off-guard. The man grunted as Kaeya slammed into him, knocking him against a wall. Kaeya scrabbled for the man’s wrist, twisting it until the knife fell free. Still the man struggled, at least until Kaeya brought his knee up into his crotch and the Fatui doubled over in pain.

Kaeya iced his wrists behind his back, leaving a foot between the man’s shoulder blades to press him to the ground. When he turned, he found Diluc binding the other assailant’s wrists.

“Good work,” Kaeya said.

Diluc did not respond.

He concealed his face behind a mask and wore only black from his boots to his gloves. Only the slim, pale column of his neck remained exposed and Kaeya drank in the sight. He stepped closer, almost involuntarily. Diluc glared up at him from where he knelt on the ground holding the man in place.

“Well,” Diluc said. “Go on. Do it. Question him.”

“Right.”

Kaeya crouched before the Fatui, who glared and spat. Kaeya caught him by the jaw, squeezing hard.

“Now now,” he said. “Be nice.”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s not very nice at all,” Kaeya said. He backhanded the man so hard the Fatui blinked, eyes unfocused. The stud in Kaeya’s glove left a jagged bruise on the man’s cheek.

“Let’s try again,” Kaeya said. “All I need to know is who sent you here and what you were doing trying to get into that building. You know you could have just waited until morning and knocked. We’re very friendly, I promise.”

The Fatui pressed his lips into a tight, thin line. Diluc yanked the man’s head back by his hair. Kaeya finally drew his knife, pressing the blade against his neck. But no matter how either of them pressured or threatened, the man refused to break.

Finally, Diluc growled in frustration and said, “Do it.”

Kaeya paused.

“Do the thing,” Diluc said. He waved vaguely at his eye.

Kaeya’s blood went cold.

He forgot about the Fatui restrained in the alley with them. He forgot about chasing them, about digging out their secrets, about everything but that flippant suggestion.

“Do what?” he said, but his voice came out so thin there could be no doubt.

“Kaeya.” Diluc said no more, just fixed him with a hard look.

Kaeya swallowed, but his mouth grew no less dry. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

They hadn’t spoken this much in years. After Crepus, they drifted apart, ricocheting away from each other in their hurt. Sometimes Kaeya ghosted through the Angel’s Share, watching Diluc at the bar. But he never approached. If they spoke, it was because Diluc needed to kick Kaeya out at the end of the night.

Running into the “Darknight Hero” like this, working with him — it was more contact than Kaeya had gotten in years. And in truth he’d savored it. Some small part of him even dared hope it could be the start of something, the spark that re-lit that persistent fire that always burned when they were near each other.

But what Diluc suggested now … it would not save them. It would not relight anything. What Diluc suggested now would destroy them.

Because it meant he knew.

It meant he’d always known.

“You’re wasting time,” Diluc said.

“I don’t...” Kaeya trailed off, voice weak.

Diluc lunged at him, grabbing his eyepatch and yanking it off over his head. He shouted, far too close, “Just do it.”

Kaeya scrambled to cover his eye with his hand. He lurched to his feet, backing away. Diluc followed, marching toward him until he backed Kaeya up against a wall and pinned him in with his arms.

“Demand the information,” Diluc said. “Then we can both be done here.”

“When did you know?” Kaeya said.

“What?”

“When?” he said. “When did you know?”

Every summer at the winery flashed through Kaeya’s mind. Every stolen kiss in a hallway, in a closet, in an abandoned pantry, in the vines Crepus tended. How many of them did Diluc remember? Every time, his face went so horribly, horribly blank, but was some part of him conscious and aware? Kaeya had simply assumed...

He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat, setting a hand over his churning stomach.

The Fatui rustled. Diluc bit out a curse, stalking off to kick one man and punch the other until they both lay still and groaning on the ground. Then he faced Kaeya again.

“If you aren’t going to help, I’ll do it myself,” he said.

“How long?” Kaeya said. “Please.”

Diluc stilled, narrowing his eyes behind his mask. He balled his hands into fists. “Long enough,” he said.

He hefted one of the men over his shoulder, hauling him off into the night to drop him on the doorstep of the Knights of Favonius.

Kaeya should have picked up the second man. He should have helped. But he stumbled out of the alley, suddenly unsteady on his feet, not caring if the Fatui took the headquarters or the whole damn city.

#

Kaeya was drunk long before he set foot in the Angel’s Share several nights later. He pushed past the man Diluc paid to stand outside and look for people like him, look for people so drunk they stumbled into the door frame before they even made it inside to slam their fist on the bartop and demand another drink.

Diluc narrowed his eyes. He tended his own bar more often than not, too much of a control freak to leave it to others. Kaeya didn’t need to be sober to know he’d find him here tonight.

“Wine,” Kaeya said. “Your best one.”

“No,” Diluc said flatly.

He moved off to help someone else, someone more deserving of his attention. Kaeya couldn’t even argue that point. He never intended to. But he didn’t intend to let Diluc go, either. This wasn’t about what either of them “deserved” anymore.

He stumbled along the bar, shouldering into someone on a stool. Kaeya nearly took the person down with him before they shoved him back, rising from their stool with an indignant grunt.

“Watch it, asshole.”

Kaeya swiveled his attention to the voice, vision so blurry he could make out nothing about his opponent other than their impressive size. Great. He balled his hands into fists, eager for the first swing.

“You want it?” Kaeya said. “Go ahead.”

The person lunged, fuzzing into a haze of color. Kaeya braced for the strike, but it never arrived. A shadow passed before him and the next moment someone had him by the front of his shirt.

“Enough,” Diluc said. “Get out.”

“He provoked me!”

“Out,” Diluc snapped.

Kaeya presumed this meant him too, but it was not his footsteps that stomped away and out of the Angel’s Share. Diluc kept a hand fisted in his shirt, even when Kaeya put his own hand over it to steady himself. Fiery hair filled his vision, a bright flame among the bleary, alcohol-smudged gloom of the bar. Kaeya clung to it like a beacon leading him home, a signal fire guiding him through the dark.

Kaeya nearly fell when Diluc yanked him forward. They were moving, Kaeya taking twice as many steps as Diluc as he stumbled to keep up with his long, angry strides. Perhaps patrons stared, but Kaeya couldn’t tell with the whole world swaying around him. Diluc dragged him up the steps, wove around tables and finally shoved open a door with his shoulder.

Diluc threw him and Kaeya careened forward, not stopping until he hit a bed and sprawled across it. He only barely managed to roll over onto his back and blink at the spinning ceiling.

“Sober the fuck up,” Diluc said.

Then he slammed the door shut and Kaeya was alone.

#

The ceiling eventually steadied, but Kaeya’s thoughts remained tumultuous. He didn’t bother moving, didn’t bother even taking off his boots as he lay on the mattress, probably getting mud on the sheets. Sobriety seeped in, thorny prickles of coherent thought he’d been trying to avoid for days.

Diluc knew. He knew. At some point between that stolen kiss in the vineyards and today, the memories had returned.

Kaeya rubbed a hand over his eyepatch, as though he could scrub away the evil eye beneath. He didn’t know how it worked. It wasn’t like anyone had ever explained the gods damned thing to him. He’d simply been abandoned at Crepus’s doorstep and told never to use it.

Eventually, the sounds outside the door softened and dimmed. When the door opened again, the bar beyond lay dark and empty.

“Time for you to leave,” Diluc said. “I presume you’re sober enough now. And even if you aren’t, I’m locking up.”

“How long have you known?” Kaeya said.

Diluc sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Kaeya, leave.”

Kaeya jolted to his feet, stomping across the room even as his head swirled from lying down so long. He snagged the front of Diluc’s shirt and wrenched him close. “How long have you known?”

Diluc glanced aside, looking at the floor instead of Kaeya’s eye. “I don’t know,” he muttered. “I was … 14 or 15, I think.”

“And you never stopped it. You never said anything. You never did anything about it.” Kaeya had only gotten bolder as a teenager, bolder and greedier. The thought of the things he’d done back then – the thought of Diluc knowing about all of it – left him cold and trembling.

Diluc finally met his gaze. “No,” he said. “I didn’t.”

“I used you,” Kaeya said.

Diluc swallowed. “They were like memories, I suppose. I was confused, but I also... They weren’t bad memories.”

Nausea twisted Kaeya’s stomach. How much might have been different if Diluc had simply said something? Kaeya wouldn’t have taken, he wouldn’t have stolen, not if he knew. But he was a scared kid sneaking around, pilfering what he thought he could never have, the greed growing and growing every time he took. And the whole time, Diluc knew.

Diluc reached for him, peeling away the eyepatch. Kaeya squeezed his eye tightly shut.

“Just do it,” Diluc said. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

“No,” Kaeya said, but it came out far too fragile, as brittle as ice melting in the sunlight.

“Open your eye,” Diluc said. “Get what you came here for.”

“Diluc.”

“Shut up.”

Diluc slipped his hand behind Kaeya’s neck, pulling him in, pressing their lips together, forcing the truth out of their bodies if not their mouths. Kaeya melted against him, sinking into the kiss, a real kiss, a kiss freely given. It felt different from those other ones. Diluc pushed against him more firmly. He snuck his tongue into Kaeya’s mouth. He burned with something the magic of Kaeya’s eye snuffed out to turn him into a hollow, pliable doll.

But he also pulled away after only a moment.

“If you want more than that, you’ll have to take it,” Diluc said.

“Please,” Kaeya said, but Diluc did not so much as blink.

Something curled tight in Kaeya’s chest, a scar patching itself over with broken shards. It cut him open even as it papered over the hole in his heart. Diluc’s taste lingered on his lips, so much warmer than ever before. No matter what happened next, he knew he couldn’t have that; he would never have that.

But he could at least have something.

Kaeya opened his eye. Diluc met his gaze unflinching.

“Love me,” Kaeya said and this time Diluc did blink, confusion flickering across his face. “Just for tonight, love me.”

Diluc’s eyebrows knotted for an instant before his entire face went slack, eyes dulling, lips parting, every line relaxing. He made no move, but when Kaeya cupped his face he closed his eyes and returned easily to Kaeya’s lips, cooler this time, softer, grayer. Kaeya savored it all the same, holding Diluc there until they had to part to gasp for air.

When Kaeya walked backward, still cupping Diluc’s face, Diluc followed. As though he wanted to. As though he longed to fall with Kaeya to the mattress and tangle among his limbs.

Love me.

And by all appearances, Diluc did. He responded to every touch. He shed his clothes willingly. He returned to Kaeya’s mouth every time they had to part for even an instant to pull off shirts or boots or pants. He got hard when Kaeya touched him, as though genuinely aroused by the kisses Kaeya sprinkled down his body. His breath deepened when Kaeya took him in his mouth, when he licked and sucked and dove all the way down him.

If he was slightly too cool, Kaeya ignored it, shoving Diluc’s legs wider, using his hand and mouth at once until the whimpers and whines above him sounded so real anyone would believe them.

Kaeya pulled up off Diluc’s cock, gazing up the long, pale line of his body. Ragged breaths shivered in his chest. A flush lit his cheeks. But his eyes stared dully up at the ceiling.

“Look at me,” Kaeya said.

Diluc did not respond.

Kaeya crawled over him, taking him by the chin. “Look at me, Luc,” he said.

Diluc looked.

Kaeya reached down, stroking Diluc’s hard cock, examining every crease in his face, every fleck in his eyes, to wait for the reaction that surely had to come. He was hard. He was blushing. Pre-cum wet Kaeya’s hand when he thumbed over the tip. But Diluc gazed right through him.

Diluc smiled, vacant as a vase without water, and put his arms around Kaeya’s neck. He didn’t pull, however, just left them there, like a strange, chaste hug as Kaeya stroked him off.

His face hardly changed when he came. Kaeya only knew from the wetness in his hand, from the way Diluc’s cock twitched. He looked down, searching for the evidence where it dried sticky in his hand.

Diluc sighed, one pent breath escaping. Yet when Kaeya looked back up he found the same emptiness as before.

“Do you feel good?” Kaeya said.

“Yes,” Diluc said.

“Did you like it?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like me?”

“Yes.”

Kaeya braced on the bed, hanging his head, hunching over Diluc. He ground his teeth, but his eyes burned nonetheless, burned in a way Diluc didn’t, couldn’t. When the first tear fell, splashing from Kaeya’s cheek onto Diluc’s and rolling off his skin, Diluc made no move to wipe it away.

“I love you, Kaeya,” Diluc said, arms still draped around Kaeya’s neck.

“Tonight,” Kaeya said. “You love me tonight.”

“Tonight.”

Kaeya dragged in a rattling breath and swallowed the rest of his tears. “Good enough,” he said.

He did not afford Diluc enough time to recover, but Diluc made no protest when Kaeya entered him, squeezing in with fingers first and then the hard girth of his cock.

Even here, Kaeya was left cold. He plunged into Diluc, seeking the heat he knew lurked within him, the fire that burned in that kiss earlier.

It wasn’t there.

Still, Kaeya spread Diluc’s legs, gripping his thighs, almost bending him in half to thrust into him. Diluc’s body clenched him tight. His hips tilted to allow Kaeya deeper. But his arms lay limp around Kaeya’s neck and his breaths rasped without heat and his eyes gazed up at the ceiling unseeing.

Kaeya released his legs, crushing Diluc under him, clutching him against his body. It made his thrusts sloppy and strange, tangling their bodies inconveniently. Kaeya just dug his nails into the pliant body beneath him and held on more tightly.

He drove each thrust into Diluc like he could pound the memory into him and make it real, make it solid, make it tangible. When Diluc remembered this – and he would, apparently, remember this – Kaeya wanted it to come back in color, he wanted it to come back loud and bright and vivid. He fucked into Diluc as though if he just dove deep and hard enough, it would startle something real out of these fractured secrets.

The end neared, but Kaeya pushed it back. Diluc was too quiet, but no matter how hard Kaeya thrust, his hushed breaths didn’t change. He took everything the same way he’d taken all those stolen kisses when they were boys.

And still Kaeya was about to come. The thought twisted in his belly, a putrid taint of nausea swirling through his arousal. But his body responded anyway, curling tighter around need with every desperate jerk of his hips. Diluc was cold, but not frozen; mute, but not silent. Kaeya clung to what heat he could find deep inside Diluc. He clung to those little hitching breaths, the scrape that wasn’t quite normal exhalation. He held it within him, in the place trembling with desire and tingling with sensation and seizing up close and tight.

He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing in the musk on Diluc’s skin, focusing on the press of their bodies, digging his teeth in until he could taste the fantasy he’d built. It held on long enough for Kaeya to come inside Diluc, moaning against his skin.

He stayed like that as long as he dared, though Diluc said and did nothing to move him away. Then Kaeya dragged them both under the sheets and pulled Diluc against him.

“I love you,” Kaeya said, hugging him close, pressing it into his skin over and over. “I love you. I love you.” Reassuring Diluc.

Reassuring himself.

#

Kaeya slipped on his eyepatch in the morning. He shrugged into his shirt and tucked it into the high waist of his pants, hardly breathing as he went. Then he scooped up his boots, not bothering to put them on before he tip toed toward the door.

He paused with his hand on the knob. Kaeya steadied himself before glancing over his shoulder, back toward the tousled bed and the man beneath the sheets.

Diluc was sitting up.

Ice flushed through Kaeya’s body. He froze, teeth grinding, eye going wide.

This was not the Diluc of the previous night, the pliant, dull-eyed Diluc he’d fucked on that mattress. This Diluc set his mouth in a hard line and narrowed his fiery eyes.

“Couldn’t even bother to clean up?” Diluc said.

Kaeya could apologize. He could rush back. He could try to explain. He could fall to his knees and beg for the forgiveness he didn’t deserve.

But he didn’t.

#

When Kaeya crossed the bridge out of Mondstadt, he still held his boots in one hand. The guards shouted in surprise to see the Cavalry Captain fleeing the city half-dressed, but Kaeya didn’t heed their voices. The pigeons startled up, wings beating the air as they dashed away. Kaeya hit the road outside the city and he ran and ran and ran.

#

“Use your mouth,” Kaeya said and the man before him dropped to his knees.

Kaeya flipped the eyepatch back down as the man dove onto his cock, bobbing along his length. Kaeya gripped his hair, reclining against the wall behind him and leaving the man to his work. Perhaps he’d disobey. Perhaps he’d remember this. Perhaps he’d look at Kaeya with keen accusation.

But Kaeya doubted it.

In the two decades that had passed since that night with Diluc no one else had ever looked at him like that. No one else had ever remembered. They all simply did as they were told and left smiling and sated for reasons they would never recall.

Someone rapped on the door, but didn’t pause a moment further before bursting in. They glanced at the man on Kaeya’s cock, then rolled their eyes.

“Stop playing around,” they said. “He’s back.”

Kaeya pulled his companion off his cock. He jerked in Kaeya’s hold, desperate to obey his command, but Kaeya kept him back. “Again?” he said.

“Again.”

“Shit...”

Kaeya flipped up his eyepatch to issue a hasty, “go, leave,” then fit himself back in his pants and relaced them. The person in the doorway observed all this with a scowl, but as they marched down the hall of the inn beside Kaeya, all they said was, “Actually gonna end it this time?”

Kaeya didn’t bother responding. It should have ended two decades ago. The fact that it hadn’t meant it probably never would.

The sun yet lingered over the horizon when they exited the inn. This afternoon, they’d collected their spoils off some unlucky merchant, then turned in early to waste it on drink. The inn stood just off the road where they’d accosted the merchant and even if the owner wasn’t already sympathetic to Snezhnaya and the Fatui, what could he possibly do when 10 of them stomped in with swords and knives jangling on their hips?

Not to mention Kaeya’s Vision.

After fleeing Mondstadt 20 years back, that Vision won Kaeya these disreputable friends. He didn’t mind. They made their ambitions and feelings clear — if Kaeya fought with them, he could stay with them. No pesky questions about who he was, where he came from, what lay beneath his eyepatch. His willingness to use his Vision for their various nefarious adventures was all the Fatui needed to take him in.

So why couldn’t Diluc just let him go?

He strode up the road now, ablaze in the waning light, his massive claymore dragging alongside him through the dirt of the road.

“Aren’t we getting a little old for this, Sunshine?” Kaeya said, setting his hands on his hips.

Diluc just kept pacing toward him. Even with silver streaking through his hair and creases around his eyes, he burned bright in the final gasps of sunlight. Time had carved brutal ticks into his face. With each year, with each of these strange, sporadic, ill-fated reunions, the lines dug deeper, as though this rift between him and Kaeya pressed some terrible weight into Diluc’s very skin.

Finally, Diluc stopped, leaving a few paces between them, hand tightening on the hilt of his claymore. He dressed much as he always had. That same thick black coat that made him look like some suspicious, perching bird. He even wore a vest under it, ever the proper gentleman.

Meanwhile, Kaeya had ditched everything that reeked of Mondstadt. He dressed like his Fatui companions, which meant mostly black aside from the slashes of blue in his long coat and along his boots. The others wore masks, but Kaeya had kept his eyepatch instead. It was the only way to be assured of his control over the power lurking beneath it.

“We aren’t old,” Diluc said.

Kaeya scoffed. The ache in his low back and lines hugging his mouth refuted that.

“It’s past time you came home,” Diluc said.

“Aw, are you going to tell me that my home is wherever you are?” Kaeya said. “How very sweet, but I left that behind long ago, darling.”

Diluc’s lip curled. He hefted his sword. Kaeya unsheathed his far lighter blade and called on a trickle of power from his Vision. He didn’t intend to let Diluc break another perfectly good blade with that sledge hammer he swung around.

Diluc launched toward him, still surprisingly fast despite his age and the weight of his weapon. But Kaeya was faster, always had been. He danced backward and out of range of the wide sweep of Diluc’s blade.

“Come home,” Diluc said as he swung again.

Though Kaeya held his blade defensively, he used his Vision to deflect Diluc’s strikes, calling up spikes of ice that took the brunt of the blows. It turned the area in front of the inn into a treacherous field of broken icicles and sprays of snow. The Fatui backed off, wise enough by now to avoid getting caught in the struggle. They all knew Diluc; when he showed up, they simply dragged Kaeya out to fend him off again. Diluc snarled and snapped, the two of them fought, and eventually Kaeya employed some dirty trick to slip away. It didn’t take much. Diluc fought perfectly by the book, each swing precise and predictable. A bit of ice under his feet, a clump of dirt thrown at his face, a smack with the pommel rather than the blade – there was always some underhanded way for Kaeya to knock him off balance and run away.

But Diluc always came back.

Two decades. Two decades of this cyclical fight, but neither of them ever truly won.

And all of it because of that night.

“Can’t you let this go?” Kaeya said, swatting Diluc’s claymore aside. It chipped his far thinner sword, but he no longer cared. “How long will you force us to go back to that?”

“As long as it takes,” Diluc said. He stomped forward and Kaeya had to roll to the side to dodge his sword.

As long as it takes.

With the path Kaeya was on, he didn’t expect to see true old age. But even one more wretched decade of this would be too much. One more decade of that night hanging over his head. One more decade of dreams of Diluc’s face going so slack, so vacant when Kaeya commanded his love. Just for tonight, yet it still chased Kaeya now, no matter how far he ran.

No, he couldn’t do another decade of this. He couldn’t do another day.

He charged. Diluc lifted his big, heavy sword, but Kaeya didn’t even slow. When Diluc swung, Kaeya smashed his sword against the claymore. Metal chipped off, but Kaeya’s sword didn’t shatter entirely, not yet at least. So Kaeya drove down the blade, riding along the sharp edge of Diluc’s sword until they were hilt to hilt, so close Kaeya could count every line etched into Diluc’s face. Their blades trembled, but both Kaeya and Diluc held firm, digging their feet into the dirt.

“Order it,” Diluc said. “Order it and I’ll leave forever.”

Cold washed through Kaeya. He faltered and Diluc overpowered him, shoving him back. Kaeya lost his footing, but Diluc grabbed the front of his coat before he could fall and dragged him around the side of the inn. All Kaeya could do was cling to the hand fisted in his clothing and try to keep up.

Finally, Diluc threw Kaeya against the side of the inn, slamming his back against the wall. He still held his claymore, though Kaeya had dropped his sword somewhere along the way. The eaves of the structure hung over them, casting an early gloom though the sun still burned along the horizon in a final flare of orange.

Diluc released his sword to push Kaeya against the building with both hands. “Tell me to love you,” he said.

That cold seeped through Kaeya again. He had to cling to Diluc’s fists to stay upright, even with his back to the wall. “What?” he said.

Diluc leaned closer, so close Kaeya could smell him more than see him. The heat of his breath tickled along Kaeya’s jaw. He tilted his head to speak right in Kaeya’s ear.

“Tell me to love you,” Diluc said. “Make me do it. Here. In Mondstadt. I don’t care where. Just do it.”

Kaeya’s legs tried to crumble beneath him. Only Diluc’s hands kept him up.

All these years, and Diluc didn’t even have the decency to chase him for revenge.

“Why?” Kaeya said.

“After all this time, you really have to ask that?” Diluc said.

“I don’t understand,” Kaeya said. “What I did to you...”

Diluc’s eyes narrowed. His mouth tightened. His hands clutched at Kaeya a little harder. “Maybe it’s all I know,” Diluc said. “Besides, you’ve been doing it all our lives.”

“I didn’t,” Kaeya said, but his own protest came out sounding as fragile as a single breath amid a windstorm. “It was only that time. Only that time was like that.”

“I know,” Diluc said. And, truly, he did know. Because despite Kaeya’s power, despite how it worked on everyone else who’d ever experienced it, somehow Diluc always knew.

“Then why?”

Diluc removed a hand from Kaeya’s jacket to press it against his throat instead, gripping hard enough to threaten but not actually choke. Then he used his free hand to peel away Kaeya’s eyepatch.

Kaeya squeezed his eye shut, but Diluc just said, “Look at me,” and Kaeya obeyed.

“Say it,” Diluc said. He pressed in closer, increasing the pressure on Kaeya’s throat. “Say it.” But the words couldn’t have fit past Diluc’s hand even if Kaeya wanted them to. “Make me love you,” Diluc said, and he covered Kaeya’s floundering mouth with his own.

Diluc offered this one kiss, freely given, delivered without coercion, then he pulled back. Their panting breaths mingled between them. The hand on Kaeya’s throat eased.

“Tell me to love you,” Diluc said again.

For a long, frozen heartbeat, Kaeya said nothing. He watched the blush on Diluc’s lips, saw the softening of those harsh lines lacing his skin, observed the nervous hitch of Diluc’s breath. Kaeya’s heart leapt into his throat. He nearly begged. He nearly dropped to his knees and pleaded with Diluc for another of those kisses, for a lifetime of them. But there would only be that one, Kaeya knew. The rest, he would have to take.

“Fine,” Kaeya said.

And though he spoke quietly, the words needed no volume to arrive thick with unnatural power.

“Fine, Luc. ...Love me. Love me for the rest of our lives. Love me so much you can’t stand it. Stay with me forever. For as long as we live.”

Diluc’s whole face relaxed. For one brief instant, Kaeya thought it relaxed of its own accord. Then that blank passivity stole through Diluc’s features, slackening them even as Diluc’s grip loosened.

#

Birdsong roused Kaeya from his sleep. Sunlight pattered into the spacious bedroom. Open doors allowed the misty dawn to coil over the plush rug. Even from where he lay tangled in blankets and still wrapped in the warm haze of sleep, Kaeya saw the vines beginning to unfurl as the sun dripped over the vineyard.

Kaeya drew a deep breath, dragging in the scent of the winery, of the morning, of the man beside him in bed. He rolled over and nestled into a plume of red hair. Diluc murmured when Kaeya slipped an arm over him and kissed his bare, freckled shoulder.

“Good morning, Sunshine,” Kaeya said.

Diluc sighed into Kaeya’s embrace.

“Wake up,” Kaeya whispered into his ear. His throat tightened around the words. His eyes burned, even the one he kept covered. Something prickled at the corners, but he stuffed it down.

“Wake up and love me.”