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Her mother, grown softer in her middle age, often asks about her private life. In these moments, Jean can barely make out the remnants of the woman who raised her left in the woman who sits across from her, the expectation gone, leaving only something resembling a lingering regret. Her mother never says that she made a mistake in raising Jean, but it’s threaded among all her questions. All that which was once sharp precision and single-minded decisiveness, are vague hums and withheld opinion, as if offering Jean the wide expanse of space now, will make up for the narrow path she’d once decided on. 

Jean has very little to say, and very mild ways of saying so. She likes her work, feels obligated to it in the very way her mother had wanted her to be, and is good at it. These things should be enough, except her mother is a woman of firm resolve and strict wants, and those are the things that have stayed the same. So, they have the same conversations many times. Jean considers making her weekly visits to her mother’s house less weekly, and does not do so. She is, at heart, a filial daughter. 

Once, Frederica asks about friends. This strikes Jean as a change in strategy. Her mother treads carefully, the back of her neck prickles, neither of them quite sound like they truly believe Jean has friends —coworkers perhaps, her mother mentions plans of a dinner, that her sister will be there, that Jean should invite her own guests. Here, Jean stiffens, her mother pauses to glance at her, there seems to be a moment where they come to a standstill. Frederica knows that the romance novels that line her daughter’s shelves will only be just that, a line that she’s made. Jean knows that she can invite her coworkers and her mother will do as she’s done, weigh the options and decide what she thinks is best. 

“I’ll bring Kaeya,” Jean says finally. Her mother hums, and it seems to be in line with what she’d wanted. 

Jean tries to relax her shoulders. She’s always thought her mother preferred Diluc, and mostly she had. But it was Kaeya who stayed with the Knights, and Diluc who left them, and so it was Jean’s judgement that had won out, and it was her mother’s that had failed. 

“I’d like to meet him,” Frederica says, and Jean wonders how it’s possible that they haven’t. Seven years of the same office, and yet. 

 

/



Lisa leaves flowers in her office. The vase by her window, filled with fresh cecilia, or calla lily,  or aster, or lampgrass, sometimes a rare pair of violetgrass; selections from her potion ingredients that she separates a sample of for Jean. Kaeya had seen it and said, ‘She’s the feminine touch in your life, huh?’ voice rife with irony. Diluc had seen it and said, ‘Lisa’s work?’ and upon seeing Jean’s face, ‘She’s the feminine touch in your life,’ in the flat voice he always has. Eula had seen it, frowned, and said, ‘Having the librarian do decor for you? You’ve stooped low Gunnhildr,’ which had meant she also thought Lisa was the feminine touch in Jean’s life. 

Jean, who had never expressed a say in the matter, doesn’t think of them often. They fall behind her line of sight, meant more for her appointments and visitors than her, something to make the office seem more alive, less — what it is. Sometimes, she’ll open the window and pour a measure of water to keep them from wilting, and when the wind blows in, their scent will carry. It’s something Lisa does for her, so Jean wouldn’t say. But had it been something she’d done herself, it would be dandelions in the vase.



/



“Would you like to come to dinner?” She asks, a light touch on Kaeya’s shoulder. She’d caught him at the end of a shift, hair windblown from a late investigation, eye bright, expression caught unaware. Still in the offices, she’s sure he means to grab his coat and run out.

“Sure,” Kaeya says, offhandedly, he must think she means — today, the Cat’s Tail or that place in Springvale he likes — Vale & Ale, or — and here, the realization settles in, his hand still in hair, mouth already turning down to a frown, he says, “Ah. If it’s overtime —” 

“Next week,” She means, “With my mother. Barbara will be there.”

“Your mother?” He asks, an eyebrow raised. Late afternoon light, the glinting bronze of Favonius behind him, his long fingers and quizzical mouth, all the long hall that leads down to his office. 

“I’m surprised you haven’t met yet,” Jean says, knowing it’s not quite an answer. She struggles to find it. “She wanted to — she’d like to meet you.” 

Kaeya, a careful shape to his mouth, a hundred times better at subtleties than she is, always so quick to understand. Her mother would like these things, Jean thinks. They were things she wouldn’t like in Jean, but in Kaeya — his fine features, the way his first thought is to fix his hair, and not his papers, that he likes to rush out of his office, that it’s barely used, that a fine layer of dust lays over his desk. She’d like them, Jean is sure. 

“Sure,” Kaeya says, easy as anything. It’s rare that he shows it so easily. Still, it’s what Jean likes in him, that kindness. It’s what her mother wouldn’t, feeling it too reminiscent of both the daughter she raised and the one she had not. 



/



Tea break — which doesn’t happen very often for Jean, but she tries — have evolved into some sort of social night. Which pleases Jean, she likes when camaraderie is high between the officers. It boosts morale. 

She steps into the library and finds — two tables pushed together, a haphazard pile of papers, some books, many glasses and plates of takeout, a bubbling cauldron. Lisa going around and filling, re-filling cups, Amber holding hers out from across the table, her sleeve smearing the ink on her report, a half-page of lines gone for. Eula scowls, beside her, clearly the one who’d been telling her what to write, Kaeya on her other side, a near-mean smile on his face as he watches, entirely too amused and holding his cup away from Lisa’s pot, surely it’s not tea in there. Noelle with Klee, correcting her letters, Albedo across from her, mostly speaking with Nym, but glancing to her now and then. A few of the junior officers scattered around, chatting and eating. One across from Kaeya, looking vaguely uneasy. Kaeya, pushing out a chair with his heel, at the head of the table. It places him to her right, and both of them on the corner looking out to everyone.

She takes the seat, and reaches for a glass and a sandwich cut into triangles, the filling of smoked bass and sour cream. Not bad. Kaeya pushes his plate towards hers, three unfinished halves of — strawberries and cream, jam and cheese, mustard and lotus root? — he hadn’t taken bites exactly, but eaten by tearing pieces of. 

“Dinner, Thursday,” She reminds him, unsure if she has to. Always better to be safe. 

“Yeah,” Kaeya says, voice a very soft note like he hadn’t forgotten at all. They’re speaking in very low tones. 

Amber, from his left, twists her head, says, “Jean!” and Jean smiles at her, then possibly ruins it the effect by saying, “Reports are supposed to be in your own words, Amber.” 

“That’s not in the Handbook,” Eula says, a dismissive flick of her chin. “I’ve read it twice, front cover to back.”

“It’s very strongly implied,” Jean says, understanding that this is meant to be lighthearted and unable to make the joke. “One of the knightly values we’re meant to embody is integrity.”

“Kaeya,” Amber says, dumbfounded. “Jean. Kaeya.” 

Eula’s laugh is a sharp bark, and Kaeya’s is similar, but without the edge. Sometimes it sounds like wind chimes to Jean, pieces of glass clinking against themselves. There’s something here, Jean is sure. A movement somewhere in her chest, a swell. Or not. Like a faint wind behind a closed window, the rustling of the grass. Acknowledged, not felt. 

 

/



Jean’s sword had been a gift from her mother, and she polishes it at the very end of the day after every use. It’s meant to be on display, a prized sword from the time of Decabrian, set somewhere in the back halls of the Gunnhildr Estate where only those invited to look can look. In Jean’s hands, every citizen of Mondstadt has caught a glimpse of it, likely unaware of how it’s written their history. To Jean, this is fair. They have no need to bear the weight of it’s legacy, it’s her hands that have been shaped for it. 

Whatever name it had was lost against Decabrian’s winds and the passage of time. Her mother recalls this with a bitterness, but Jean holds the sword in her hands, runs her fingers against the flat of the blade,  hears it hum as her vision pulses, and knows that it doesn’t matter. It does not need a name to be a faithful sword. 

 

 

/

 

 

Kaeya shows up at her office with a vintage that Diluc has refused to give him for months, a bouquet of cecilias, and a box of pastries. 

She looks up and finds him by her door, knuckles against the wood frame, silvery rings catching in the dim light. He must’ve left and come back, finishing his shift for the day, and timing it so he’d catch her by the end of her two hours of overtime. “I’m not going to dinner with your mother without you, am I?” 

He’s dressed nicely for the evening, a shirt that he saves for nice events, that flows down his frame like water, softening all his edges, dark pants, and heeled boots. She closes her eyes, exhales. Her slacks are dark grey, her shirt is the Favonius standard issue. She had thought to bring a better coat, yes, but nothing else. 

She fixes her desk, she shrugs on her coat, she makes her way to Kaeya, and keeps them stopped by the doorway,  clustered against the frame, looks up and — looks. He’d swapped his earrings, the teardrops — his first gift from Diluc, he can never go longer than a day without wearing them — for a dangle of feathers. It’s a good decision. Her mother would like them. Jean likes them. 

“Your earrings are nice,” Jean says faintly, the back of her neck prickles. There’s a discomfort under the surface there, in the words, a mix of tension and unease, displeasure at — the dinner. She wants dinner with Kaeya, sure. But she wants him to flag a table down at whatever restaurant, or lead her to a quiet corner on the upper floor of the Angel’s Share, and she wants to bring her paperwork, and have him be annoyed, that he looks so nice and all she’s doing is handing over reports for him to look over, and have him grab a pen and start filling things in anyway, that Diluc will be bartending and he’ll look up and nod as Jean waves, Kaeya looking the other direction like he hadn’t been watching. She’ll buy him four glasses of Death, and they’ll split a bottle, and Kaeya will order something complicated and expensive and ask for no parsley, and she’ll pay and they’ll find the strays wandering the alley behind Good Hunter and they’ll both kneel to pet the cats, scraps of leftover takeout as their bait. 

She doesn’t want — dinner with her mother, the quiet appraisal, the sweet smile Kaeya gives anyone and everyone over the age of 45, him chatting with Barbara pretending he doesn’t know they’re watching, her mother proving everything he thinks of himself, that his tableside manners matter, that he’s something meant to look pretty and elegant, that his worth is based off how well he can fill a role, that her mother will place him under the same scrutiny she’s gazed at Jean with all her life because Jean — 

“You should hold these,” Kaeya says, the wine and pastries placed gently into her arms. “It’ll make it look like you tried.” 

It’s a good decision. He readjusts how he holds the flowers, they make him look—



/



Frederica needles a very fine thread and finds only that her daughter has always been honest. It’ll take her another evening to realize Kaeya’s a liar.

Jean walks Barbara home, and comes up with nothing to approach the silence with. Everything she thinks to ask, has already been answered and exhausted by the first half-hour of the meal, over a salmon dish Kaeya had carefully flicked the bits of parsley off, and a side of carrot salad Barbara had left untouched that Jean made her way through as she spoke about the Cathedral and the Sisters. They’d let her have a few glasses of the vintage, and her cheeks are still flushed pink, but still too shy to do anything but sneak a couple glances at Jean every now and then. 

“Kaeya,” Barbara says, voice soft. Jean had been mistaken. 

“He’ll be fine,” Jean answers quietly. There’s a brief moment, where Barbara stares up at her and her eyes look wet, and Jean flutters her fingers in the air, if — and it’s over, Barbara blinking and her eyes only look blue, and Jean’s hand stays at her side. She would’ve, had Barbara — if Barbara —

But Barbara only tilts her head, and says Thank you in her small, sweet voice. Jean knows how to spot a liar’s smile, but all she’s ever been able to do is offer the grace of belief, a simple nod, a hand of farewell. Another silent walk back.

Kaeya’s smile is dazzling in the dark parlour, a bottle from her mother’s own collection, one of them looks at Jean when she enters and the other doesn’t, she very badly wants to make him leave the estate. The house she grew up in, and the manor grounds she trained on, the grass black behind the windows, but bright green in the summers, soft underfoot as she’d swing practice swords at her cousins. This parlour where she’d sit at her mother’s feet and listen to discussions she never understood, but now pours over in an endless array of reports and notices and policies moving on and off her desk. Kaeya asking about a painting she once told him about, the portrait of Vennessa in her mother’s study, the one that would make Jean walk down the long hall every few hours to glimpse at. He’d been crying when she mentioned it, the foyer of the Ragvindr manor, her hands stilling on the bandages as he tried to keep her shoulder from getting wet, she’d looked up and seen the family portrait that Master Crepus had hung up, and been reminded. It’s odd that he brings it up now. 

She thought, catching his eye as her mother reminisces, he’d wanted to forget about it. He looks, instead, like he’s afraid she’s forgotten. 

Very badly, she wants him to leave. She touches his knee. 

He doesn’t smile then, looks at her hand, and then her mother, and then stands. As they walk back, in the inky dark and cold air and a long silence that stretches out, pointed but never unbearable, Kaeya says, voice the same quiet Jean’s had been with Barbara, “It would’ve been nice, to see more of the house.” 

He grew up in the Ragvindr Estate, it would’ve been more or less the same, she thinks. Dark wood panel and endless carpets and lines of family portraits, things you weren’t meant to touch, and things you could ask about, and things that would break and no one would ever agree on who’s fault it was. Sunlight and lowlight and afternoon light, and a childhood that feels so far away you’re not sure it ever really happened, or if it was just a very long dream. It’s the library, her mother’s study, and the courtyard they used for training that Jean remembers most vividly. 

She thinks, those rooms would’ve been what he wanted to see. And, she thinks, it’s those rooms she wants him to see least.



/



The most sentimental item in her office is a paperback collection of Vera’s Melancholy that Jean’s had since she was a novice knight. Most of the pages of the third volume are stained purple from the time Diluc borrowed them and spilled grape juice on it, otherwise, any damage is due to multiple rereads. Still, every other copy is in decent condition, well-worn and lent out as asked for. 

Jean reads them when she has a free moment, and sometimes she bites the inside of her lip, waiting for the wonder to hit. It ends up only being the blood in her mouth. Spreading over her teeth, like wine sinking into the page.

Love, for her — feels like a shaky breath away from someone’s shoulder, both of you looking away. It feels very hard for her, and nothing at all like she thought it would. 



/



On Tuesday, Amber comes by her office, chipper disposition dampened and a hand scratching the back of her neck. She’d messed up an investigation and lost track of some treasure hoarders, and — here, she frowns deeply, — she probably needs Kaeya’s help. Jean asks an aide to bring him, and says, “I’ll treat you to lunch.”

Amber blinks at Kaeya’s smile, and he dances his fingers over the point between her two shoulder blades as he pushes her forward, out the door and out of the office. The Cat’s Tail, because Kaeya likes the cats, and Jean likes the pizza, and Amber likes both. 

Jean thinks, first — they must be busy, that’s why there’s a crowd, second — there’s a promotion of some kind, that’s why there’s a crowd, and then — commotion. There’s a commotion. 

She cuts her way to the center, brief requests to make way, all these people buzzing with excitement, and finds her sister. Pressed as close to the wall of the building without touching it, a frozen smile as a grown man tells her he loves her, and others exclaim for her autograph, that they want to hear her sing, that they’re big fans of her, and Jean takes a sharp breath to calm herself. A slow rise of anger that she hasn’t felt for a very long time, hand placed above her sword.

She raises her voice, says, — “Sir Kaeya,” as Barbara blinks up at her, “Could you escort Sister Barbara to a safer environment?” Then, “Outrider Amber, with me,” gazes out and finds Swann and Aramais, at the other end of the crowd, clearly having tried and failed to control it, “Officer Swann, stay, Aramais call for backup, all free personnel are to report to the Town Square, there’s been a public disturbance.” Finally to the crowd, still hungrily focused on Barbara, protesting, watching her for sudden movements. 

Jean waits for Kaeya with her hand curled over the hilt of her sword, her vision pulsing, her body between Barbara and these people, angled to cover her. The mob is uneasy, but unwilling to go against her authority and step closer. Still shouting things at Barbara. Exhales when he finally makes his way through and has Amber apprehend the grown man. It’s him she deals with first.

Kaeya touches her elbow, Jean looks at the man, Albert, saying he’s the leader of Barbara’s ‘Fan Club’, that he followed her here, says, “Take her inside. Lock the doors. Evacuate the premises of everyone but staff, if you have to.” 





Three hours later, many warnings, many fines, and an arrest made under suspicion of stalking, Jean steps into the Cat Tail’s with Amber following her, and finds Barbara still with Kaeya, seated at a table in the corner, by the window. A cold pizza and two drinks, one untouched. Barbara’s hands in her lap, and her head staring down at her slice. Kaeya with an elbow on the table, and his chin tucked against the flat of his palm, his free hand somewhere under the table, Jean thinks, under both of Barbara’s. 

She takes a seat. She says, “Sister Victoria has told us that many of the Church staff have often complained about Albert hanging around the Cathedral. That he often follows you, and that she and the other sister have wanted to report the matter to the Knights of Favonius, but have restrained themselves from doing so, because you insist it’s nothing. That, often, you speak in defense of him and his actions.” 

“Acting Grand Master,” Kaeya says, Jean holds up a hand. 

“Barbara?”

“Ah,” Her shoulders hunch, “Yes. It really isn’t a bother. HIs methods aren’t — ideal, I think. But, they’re of good intent, so I don’t see the need to punish — um. Please forgive him — Really, he doesn’t mean harm.”

She doesn’t look up at Jean once. Kaeya looks at the table, mouth pressed into a line. Amber reaches out to hold Barbara, a gentle stroke along the line of her arm.

Jean frowns. “What happened today, was dangerous to both you and the members of the crowd. I understand that he and the others may have not meant harm, but the actions born from those intentions threatened both public safety and caused public disturbance. This cannot happen again, and I’d like you to work with us to ensure so.” 

Barbara nods to the table, mute. Jean looks away. “As an added precaution, Albert has been arrested. His activities should be ceased for the time-being.”

 

 

/



When her parents divorced, Jean hadn’t — 

It was Barbara, she was sad to let go of, and so it was Barbara, who was the first person that came to mind when Jean thought of who she wanted to protect. She hadn’t known how else to show it. They were no longer sisters, though her mother said that they would always be sisters, it was just — her mother wasn’t as much a mother as she was a Master of Knights, and Jean was a daughter in that she had the Gunnhildr name, and that meant that she was meant to be a knight. So when her mother said sister, it seemed like more like another thing she’d deemed unworthy of Jean’s attention, concerned it would distract her from the path she’d set. 

Barbara hadn’t written either, though that seemed to be for the same reason. 



/

 

 

“That,” Kaeya says, following her into the office and speaking just as the door falls shut. “That was cruel.” 

They’d sent Barbara back with Amber as her detail. Jean has reports to get through, Jean has an arrest case to write, Jean has many things to do that have nothing to do with Kaeya nor would be helped by his presence. 

She says, “Please.”

His mouth is still pressed into that blank, straight line. “Jean,” He says, which is rare, and unfair and they are in her office, which is where she is most Acting Grand Master, and least Jean. There is one difference between the two, and that is discretion with regard for the law. They both know this. 

“Captain Kaeya,” She says, and then she has nothing to say. And then, “I don’t think I handled that incorrectly.”

“As an authority figure, sure,” Kaeya says, voice edging into a territory that’s very rare for him. “As her sister, you don’t think that should’ve gone differently?”

“You were there,” Jean says. “Were you not? Was that not enough?”

“She didn’t want me, she wanted you,” Kaeya says. “She always wants you.”

Jean is silent, and a long moment passes, a steady downturn of Kaeya’s mouth he keeps forcing back into a straight line. Finally, “She wants you.” And then, “You’re better at that than I am, won’t you just —” breaks, because she can’t listen to what her voice does. 

“No,” Kaeya says, “I’m not — that’s not —” 

“You had dinner with my mother,” Jean says, though they both wish terribly she hadn’t. 

“You — you can’t say that,” Kaeya says, and there’s that edge of desperation he’s been trying to keep out. “You didn’t want me there.”

“My position — ” Jean starts, trying to find even ground, “Makes it difficult.”

“Ah,” Kaeya says, voice going cold. Ah, Jean thinks, there it is. “Just like with Sister Barbara?” 

“Kaeya,” She says, and this feels like even ground. It’s easier when they’re trying to be far away from each other. Moving out of reach. Not worth grasping for. 

“Do you know,” Kaeya says, voice one note, which is flat, which is ice, which is very light and far away as if it’s not about him or them or Barbara or anyone or anything at all. “You mistake acting as Grand Master as acting as the Dandelion Knight.” 

The truth in that, is that Jean has always thought of herself as the Dandelion Knight once she was granted the title. It had never been that to her — a title. It had been a step into herself. Into what she was meant to be. 



/



In retrospect, Vera’s Melancholy was never quite the romance Jean read it as. A lot of it was cheap science fiction pulp, and some of it was poorly constructed fantasy, but at the heart of it — a misunderstanding of the crux of love and fate. What Vera wants and what she’s meant for, how it fucks her — and everyone else with her — over. 

Possibly, Jean understood it far better at sixteen than she does now. Possibly, she was much more moved by the loss of innocence because she hadn’t lived through it yet. 

Still, Jean’s favourite volume is the third one. Diluc had blamed the spill on Kaeya, and then — everything ended up happening, and it was forgotten about, and no one had thought to replace it. But, brittle pages and harsh memory aside, Jean’s favourite passage was — With so many stars in your possession, why come to steal my brilliance? 

Except, all that it proved really, was she never really understood the romance. The line had always made her think of Cape Oath, of looking up and seeing every constellation that every person, living or gone, made-up or myth, real or forgotten, had been born under. 

She loves that starry sky. That all the lights made the sky look like it was unfolding on itself, the distant crash of water far under her feet, that it was a brilliance for Mondstadt and Mondstadt alone, something you could only witness here.

Kaeya hates the view from Cape Oath because he doesn’t like heights. It moves him to silence —  the horizon blurring water into sky, the vastness of the ocean, that endlessness — because it terrifies him. Jean has never pointed out that he always looks down instead of up. 

Diluc had told her once, that he always preferred to stay on the beach and walk along the shoreline to hunt for seashells, that he didn’t like to go into the water. That year, Jean had given him a set of jewelry  for his birthday, silver made to look like scallop and conch and starfish. He’d worn it for New Years a month later, and she’d thought he looked like a mermaid. Like somehow, she’d dragged him out of the sea.

Love feels like that. 



/



Jean has to take Kaeya to Starsnatch, which isn’t better, but it’s where Amber’s investigation is. Kaeya frowns at the cliffside even before they make their way up, but the unhappiness on his face has been there for the past few days anyway. Jean places the matter aside, because they have work to do. 

A lot of it is Jean helping Amber with the practical work as Kaeya rattles off the markers of Treasure Hoarder activity, the common traces, how they set up camp, how they cover their footsteps, what ends up being left behind, what doesn’t, says, “Amber, there’s crushed glass right by your feet,” while being quite the distance away.

“So, were they here?” Amber asks, a hand on her hip and a glare at Kaeya that’s reasonably passed off as misdirected frustration with the investigation. 

“It’s a passable case,” Kaeya says, “They’ve probably moved to lower elevation. The temple’s a possible bet, though it’s crawling with hilichurls.”

“Why wouldn’t they stay near the cliff?” Amber asks, “It has a good view of the Thousand Winds Temple, and provides them with cover and high ground.”

“The area’s too conspicuous,” Kaeya says, frowning at her. He’s disappointed. “It’s a date spot. Too many passersby could spot them,”

“Fine,” Amber says, she turns to Jean, “I’ll get some detail to keep an eye on the temples, in case it really is their target. Also, um, I’d like to request for a leave of surveillance.”

“Granted,” Jean says. "Report to Captain Lawrence for anything further. This seems to fall under her division."

She looks at Kaeya, tilts her head. Amber says goodbye then, mostly only to Jean, and Kaeya watches her for as long as she can, even when she’s less than a speck in the distance, like he could count the seconds and time her return to Mondstadt. 

Jean, as he does, knows that measure by heart. She also knows that she’d allotted half an hour more to this excursion that is now a pocket of free space, and there is a conversation she should have with Kaeya that she’s been meaning to schedule in somewhere and hasn’t. The problem here is that Jean always tries to use her time efficiently. 

“Kaeya,” She says, somehow feeling it won’t make him move, reaches for his wrist. It’s a gentle tug, something she hasn’t had to do since — Diluc, she supposes. Kaeya would follow him first, and no one else second. Years ago, she’d drawn the conclusion that Kaeya goes along with her because she shares the same quality of seriousness as Diluc. It was a very easy conjecture. Straightforward, mostly correct — and Jean prefers efficiency to a more accurate answer.  

“You see that island?” He says, as she draws them to the edge. She does see it, a faint outline in the distance. “Captain Eula and I once ice-bridged ourselves over there.” 

“Ah?” Jean asks, recalling no reports made of such an incident. Just the one request made by Eula for extra personnel regarding an assignment by Stormbearer Point, and Kaeya frowning as she’d told him he was the only free hand they had. 

“We were very drunk,” Kaeya says. “It was possibly the middle of the night.” 

“You know Diluc says never to believe you,” Jean says. 

Kaeya looks at her then, except his eye keeps drawing off to a point behind her, where the land falls off into nothing and makes it seem like they too, are on the precarious edge of something. 

“I make up for the imagination you both lack,” Kaeya says, and then, softer, “I thought you’d like to know. It was a funny story.”

He looks out to the sea properly, and Jean would like to know. Except not for the reasons he’d like to tell her for. There’s one — where they bridge the gap — which is that Jean likes to hear about Eula, that her officers are getting along with their most contentious captain, that the officer who was previously the most contentious, has also tried. They’re usually very careful in avoiding each other.  

“Gunnhildr was originally sworn to the Thousand Winds,” Jean says, grasping for something. “Our clan origins date back to here, and it’s around Starsnatch, actually, where the Gunnhildr Estate should be. Though, the land ended up in Brightcrown during the time of Decabrian’s rule. It was built just after his fall, I think.” 

“It has the best view of both cities,” He says. 

It also overlooks a lake, not a sea. 



/



Jean’s second favourite of Mondstadt’s heroes, is Amos. The first is always Vennessa.

Among the Knights, it’s usually split between Arundolyn, Rotsam, and Rosalyne — brothers forged in battle, who’d sworn themselves to each other, the fairest maiden in all the land who’d locked herself away in a far away tower, waiting for the land to be saved; a tragic battle, two tragic loves, a knight who’d died the moment his heart did, and a maiden who’d come back to find her dreams broken. Jean likes them well enough. Still. 

Amos tends to be unpopular because desperation is heroic only when someone is pushed to the brink, not when it’s borne out of love. Even as she shot her last arrow and doomed them both, she’d only wanted for Decabrian to look at her. When Arundolyn placed down his sword, he’d wanted the gods to bear witness to his pain. When Rosalyne burned herself into flame, she’d wanted for the world to bear witness to her pain. When Amos cocked her bow, she’d only wanted Decabrian to see that she had loved him. This stands to Jean, as the most noble way to love. In observance only to yourself. Ruining only yourself. Her arrow never pierced his heart, only her own.

Her mother always thought of Amos as stupid. This, Jean finds ironic. Her mother likes Kaeya. 



/



Jean’s mother sends a note asking for another dinner. Jean leaves it on her desk for a day and a half, and finds a carrier by her desk just as the sun begins to set, her office awash in orange and pink. 

“She said to wait until you sent a response,” says Celia, looking more to Jean’s shadow falling over her, than to Jean. 

“Of course,” Jean says, reaching for a blank page, her pen, the best wording to strongly hint that she would be coming alone, regardless of Kaeya’s availability. 

Her mother’s hair is pulled into a strict twist of a bun that Jean tries on herself sometimes, and finds that she looks just like the woman in front of her, give or take twenty years. It’s an exercise that’s half-painful, half-satisfying, like all meaningful experiences are. She looks behind Jean, as if Jean would’ve changed her mind, and then lets her in. 

Her mother, across from her, two cups of coffee both taken black, and a very noticeable silence where someone should be speaking. It strikes then, that it’s a very real possibility that her mother asks for her to bring someone else along because it’s Jean that she doesn’t like, and not her lack of personal connections. Still, Jean has nothing to say to that.

Finally, her mother says, “He’s very beautiful,” her hands circling her cup in unsteady movements, as if she’s unsure whether to hold or release.

“Kaeya?” Jean asks, knowing it must be so, it’s just — she thought her mother would’ve mentioned something of more — importance, first. 

Her mother watches her like she’s guessed as much, and offers a roll of her shoulders. Then, “Once, Eustace Lawrence proposed a match to me. Of you, with that daughter of his — Eula, I believe? She’s one of your captains. You were sixteen at the time, and they hadn’t disowned her yet, then. I watched for her at Ludi Harpastum that year, and when I saw her, I was struck by how beautiful she was. She must’ve been the prettiest girl there.”

Frederica, in her attempts to be soft, often tells Barbara she’s grown into such a lovely girl. She used to say that Diluc was cute, and that he’d grow up handsome. When she speaks to other parents, and to their children, she makes notes of how sweet their faces are, of how fine one’s hair is, how dazzling their eye colour. Only once, at eighteen, when Jean was made Master of the Knights, did her mother look at her in the full uniform, and say — 

“Mother,” Jean says.

“Sometimes, I think that’s the marker of how good of a knight you are,” Frederica says,  “That so many beautiful children are offered to you. It’s just like it would be in a heroic tale, is it not?” 

“I,” Jean says. 

“I know,” Frederica smiles, faint and ironic, “It’s how I know I raised you too well. You don’t care about those things at all.”

The day she’s named Grand Master, Jean wants only to look like Vennessa rising at the Great Oak. In every depiction of that moment, she’s alone. In every good depiction of that moment, a light breeze accompanies her.

“Still,” Frederica says, hand curling around her cup. There’s a rare smile on her face, a trickster’s smile, all the severe air Jean recognizes her by, gone. “He’s just your type.”

“Mother,” Jean says, but it comes out softer now.

“I imagine, with much shorter hair, he’d look just like that painting of Vennessa.” 

It’s what she’d told him that night. Looking up at the Ragvindr portrait, saying that — the first time she saw him, she thought he’d walked out of a painting. One hung in her mother’s study. The same brown skin and steeled gaze and narrow shoulders. It had been the most personal thing she’d ever said to him. That she loved that painting. She dreamt of it. That it was what she loved most in the manor house. 

Kaeya had laughed then, a real sound, and told her: “You sound like you’re in love with it.” It had been the last time she saw him smile for a very long time. 

 

 

/



Jean thinks of her mother with — at her worst, a careworn frustration that has been beaten down to an emotion it is not; at her best, with a deep, unmoving respect that resembles love as much as her love resembles it.

Barbara, with a helpless frustration and a fondness she’s unable to express. The choice she made was to grant her sister all the freedom she could, which felt like the best she could do at the time, and a coward’s choice now.

Kaeya, she can reach. Kaeya, she can understand. He’d looked at the Estate that day, and did his very best not to imagine the rest of it. She knows he thought of the Ragvindr Manor, she knows he looked around the halls and committed everything to memory and tried not to rewrite anything, tried to keep the experiences different. There’d been a period of his life where he had been very happy, there had been a moment that night, where he’d been tempted to think there could be another time like that. 

Jean doesn’t know how to offer that back to him. She doesn’t know how to tell these things to him. That this house had been very quiet, and very lonely. That her childhood didn’t have any racing down the halls, or dinners by the fireplace and warm cider and a parent reading out a story, the grounds weren’t free for her to explore. This house, the daughter it raised, doesn’t know how to be any of those things, and this house, the daughter it raised, doesn’t know how to make it any of those things. She doesn’t want to give Kaeya what it was, she doesn’t want to give Kaeya what it is. 

Jean’s heart is Mondstadt, and it’s winds, and it’s walls. It’s a painting hung up in her mother’s study. It’s a sword meant to be on display, nameless and in use. 

She hates very few things, simply because she wasn’t shaped for hate. Two of them have to do with Kaeya: That he’s unhappy. That he would accept.