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Skipping Stones

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Kaeya turns ten years old when he and his father finally arrive in Mondstadt.

Or, at least, he thinks he does--he’s never been very good at keeping track of the dates, and his father hasn’t said a word to him since the day they’d left Khaenri’ah, his expression clouded and his eyes firmly set ahead at the horizon. For a tempting moment, Kaeya almost wants to mention it to the man, a part of him helplessly curious to confirm the date, but he dismisses the idea a moment later.

Someone like him has no place thinking about such useless things.

“We’re here,” his father’s voice says at last, his words almost tonelessly aside from the heavy weight in them, and it’s then that he finally kneels in front of Kaeya, his hands digging into Kaeya’s shoulders hard enough to bruise.

Kaeya flinches back, wants to squirm away from his father’s touch, but one look at his father’s face tells him that the man isn’t looking at him, that he perhaps hardly even knows where he is. The deep blues of his eyes are shrouded in a distant fog, his jaw clenched with the memory of a war from before Kaeya was born, one that Kaeya’s been made to be a part of since the day he could walk.

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

He snaps to attention then, because his father almost never says his name, and something about the sound of it in the man’s mouth feels wrong, enough that his skin prickles with unease. While he doesn’t fully understand his father’s words--not that he’s ever truly understood him, really--he nods instinctively, hoping that the frantic motion might appease his father and allow the man to release him.

In reality, Kaeya’s feet are sore from walking and his throat is dry and the bandages covering the right side of his face feel suffocating, even in the cool wind of the approaching autumn. He doesn’t want this to be his chance, doesn’t want to be the last hope or anyone’s hope--he wants to lay down somewhere, somewhere preferably cool and dark and close his eyes against the pounding headache in his right temple and sleep until no one expects anything from him anymore.

But mostly, he feels an apathetic, blank nothing. 

That should be a good thing--it’s what he was trained to do, after all. But it makes him incapable of understanding these things, understanding the desperation in his father’s voice or the mixture of emotion in his eyes as he looks back at their homeland. He doesn’t understand the pride his father has in their nation, the hatred he holds towards Mondstandt, the ambition that drove him to raise his only son in service of the Khaenri’ah army, to bring him here and abandon him in a distant land.

He doesn’t say any of this, of course. It isn’t his place to question, and after a long moment, his father’s grip finally slips away from his shoulders, and the man stands up.

For a moment, his father actually pauses, his hands fluttering with something dangerously close to uncertainty as a hand lands in Kaeya’s hair, the touch so gentle that Kaeya barely recognizes it. His father pushes his bangs away from his face in a careful motion, studying his features for such a long second that Kaeya wonders if they’ve become frozen in time.

The man nods, more to himself than anything, and Kaeya almost thinks about saying something, maybe a goodbye or a stay safe or a please don’t leave--

Then the weight of his father’s hand disappears altogether, slipping out of view into the pockets of his coat as he turns on his heel, and Kaeya blinks at his turned back. He feels like a door has been shut on him, something cold and almost painful creeping dangerously close to his heart, and he presses a small, uncertain hand against his chest, as if to check that everything is still alright.

As far as he can tell, nothing is actually wrong, but the sight of his father’s back, moving through the crowd and slowly away from him, feels like it hollows something out in the pit of his stomach. The gnawing emptiness grows wider, expanding until his father’s form is nearly swallowed up by the horizon, and for a wild moment, Kaeya wants to run after him, to cling to the trail of his coat and beg him to take him along, because all of the sudden he wants to be anywhere but here.

In fact, he wants it so badly that he actually does , his body moving forwards in a frantic stumble without his permission until his foot catches on one of the overturned cobblestones, sending him sprawling to the ground, the rough ground breaking open the skin of his palms.

It stings, badly enough that tears reflexively prick at his eye, but maybe he’s too shocked to really, properly cry, his breath coming in too-short gasps as he pulls himself unsteadily to his feet.

There’s a strange sense of loss within him, the emptiness solidifying as he thinks that he’s forgotten something, that he’s lost his chance-- this is your chance, Kaeya --at something that he might never get back.

He swallows hard around the uncomfortable tightness in his throat, willing his breaths to calm as he turns his gaze downwards, no longer able to see even a shadow of his father’s form and no longer willing to try.

He should have said something--should have asked for more details on the mission, for directions on where to go or what to do, for nothing and anything that would have made his father stay for even a moment longer.

A crowd of people, small groups of twos and threes talking amongst themselves, filter in through the city square, their bodies blotting out the traces of the path his father walked. Night market vendors start to trickle into the corners of his vision, setting up their stalls along the busy streets, and warmth and laughter and chatter shroud him like a blanket. People smile at each other, conversation passing between them as easy and light as the wind the city is so famed for, and all around him, the city of Mondstadt slowly comes to life.

Kaeya thinks that he has never felt so alone.

It should feel like nothing, like everything is supposed to feel, but instead Kaeya thinks it feels a lot like confusion.

As he looks around himself, there’s absolutely nothing that he recognizes here. The colors are different, the people are different, the grass and the trees and the air are different, and despite how deeply ingrained his mission is in his mind, he finds that he simply doesn’t know what to do next.

He’s not sure how long he stands or where he goes next, but when he stops wandering aimlessly about and blinks back into proper awareness, he’s standing in an alleyway, close to the back door of another building. There are now stormclouds brewing on the horizon, the sky dark above him, and he thinks maybe he’d come here for some semblance of shelter, for a place to at least hide from the rain.

Back in Khaenri’ah, he remembers liking the rain--it was such a rare occasion that when the clouds opened and water snaked down the dry sands, nearly everyone stopped what they were doing to run into the torrent, to feel the cool chill of the water against their skin.

But this storm feels different, here in Mondstadt, the wind that the country is so famed for whipping through the thin fabric of his clothes and his hair and threatening to blow him away if he isn’t careful.

It’s different, unsafe and foreign, and so his body has taken him here for shelter, to this place where he hears laughter and warmth coming from the other side of the door. Something about the sound, so close to him and so far away all at once, feels like it hollows out a place inside of him. 

He wraps his arms around his stomach, unsure of what to make of the newfound emptiness in his chest, pressing his back against the wall and sliding down until he’s sitting on the wooden floorboards.

If no one notices him, he can stay here, maybe, just until the storm passes.

He’s not sure how long he sits like that, his head leaning tiredly against the wooden railing of the back porch, his uncovered eye blinking at nothing as he listens to the muffled sounds and tries to imagine, for a second, being a part of that. 

At the very least, he’s there for long enough for the rain to properly start up, and the water sticks to his skin through the thin fabric of his shirt and the chill seeps into his bones. He can’t help the way his body trembles underneath it, cold in a way he’s never been before, and he hardly knows what to do about it.

Close his eyes like he’d wanted to, maybe, let the sounds of rushing water and distant conversation lull him into a sleep that he thinks may never be long enough.

Then, rather suddenly, the door cracks itself open, the chatter inside of the tavern becoming clearly audible through the crack of light in the door. He jumps at the disturbance, blinking through the sheets of rain at the surprised looking face in front of his--it’s a boy his age, his skin as pale as the snowflakes Kaeya’s heard about in the stories, his eyes and hair so red that Kaeya feels warm just from looking at them.

For a moment, they simply look at each other, the boy’s hands frozen against the door frame, and then--

“I thought I saw something out here. What are you sitting here for? It’s raining. You’ll get sick ,” the boy says, like Kaeya isn’t distinctly aware of the first fact and rather apathetic to the second. He’s never gotten sick from the cold for as long as he can remember, something about him protecting him from the effects of the chill.

A part of him maybe wants to explain this to the boy, but the words feel like they’re buried underneath a layer of ice, settling heavily in his cold stomach and refusing to come to him. It doesn’t matter, anyways, because the boy is already leaning down, wrapping his hands--so, so warm against Kaeya’s icy skin--around Kaeya’s arm and tugging him upwards in such an insistent motion that Kaeya has no choice but to follow.

Kaeya’s hair and clothes drip rainwater onto the floor as the boy drags him inside, but the other doesn’t seem to care, persistently pulling him to the side so that the shadows nearly conceal them from view. He doesn’t know where the boy is taking him or where they are, instead finding himself oddly mesmerized by the redness of his short, fluffy hair, the stray, soft-looking wisps of it sticking up wildly in the back.

He’s never seen anyone who looks like this boy in his homeland, no one with such fair skin or such a delicate sort of set to his eyes--he’d be sunburned beyond repair in less than a week in Khaenri’ah.

The boy leads him up a set of stairs, this floor of the building much more isolated, practically empty, and stuffs him into one of the chairs.

“I’m Diluc,” he says, before promptly grabbing Kaeya’s hands, the motion drawing Kaeya’s gaze downwards. 

He hisses in pain as the action rubs against the broken skin of his hands--the bleeding has somewhat stopped, but the scratches are no less painful, and Diluc jerks his touch away immediately, like he’s been burned. Almost instantly, Kaeya finds himself actually missing the other’s touch, the lingering warmth of Diluc’s skin tingling pleasantly across the stinging in his palms.

“Oh, sorry--! I didn’t see…ah, wait here, okay?”

Kaeya nods, as if he has much of a choice in this situation, watching in mild bemusement as Diluc darts away at top speed, his short, fluffy hair bouncing with every step. His head vanishes from sight as he disappears down to the first floor again, and Kaeya simply curls up further in the chair he’s been assigned to, waiting for his return.

The boy is absent for a little too long, and the tavern is warm and safe in a way that Kaeya’s never really been, and somewhere in between the space of Diluc’s departure, Kaeya nods off into a half sleep, awakened only by a quiet shuffling near his feet. 

Distantly, he registers the sensation of a warm, wet cloth being pressed against the skin of his hands, and his features twist into a wince at the pain of it. The gentle motions against his hand stops abruptly, and this--the idea that he would actually stop after hurting Kaeya--is surprising enough that he forces his eye open once more.

Diluc is kneeling by the side of his chair, carefully cradling Kaeya’s hand in his palm, attempting to wipe the dried blood from Kaeya’s skin with a damp towel. From where Kaeya’s hand is trapped between these two things, he feels like he’s somehow growing warmer, the place where their hands are conjoined almost seeming to glow with a pale, reddish light. 

Kaeya feels the lingering drops of rain slowly begin to evaporate from his skin, an outside warmth trickling in through his palms and up his arms, fluttering to a stop in the pit of his stomach. It’s then that he catches sight of the red orb hanging at Diluc’s waist, the glassy surface shining softly with the light of the boy’s elemental magic.

This, too, is surprising--it’s not that Kaeya’s never seen a Vision before, but he’s certainly never seen it in someone so young, if Diluc is really around the same age as he is. He knows his father had always hoped he’d awaken to his, always paying extra attention to him on the days when the hints of Kaeya’s still-uncontrollable Cryo abilities had manifested in some accidental way. 

The boy in front of him now has very clearly done what Kaeya could not, his control over Pyro immaculate as the heat from his hands snakes into his clothes and neatly evaporates the wetness from the fabric as well, all without leaving a mark on Kaeya himself.

His touch is warm, kind in a way that Kaeya’s never really felt before, and he finds himself leaning into it even after most of him is dry, blinking at Diluc with a slow sleepiness that he shouldn’t allow himself to feel. He’s right in the heart of enemy territory, according to his father’s teachings, and it is here that he must be the most alert.

But Diluc is frowning in concentration, and Kaeya can’t stop looking at him, at the flush in his pale cheeks and the slight furrow of concentration in his brow as he starts to wrap Kaeya’s hands in thin strips of bandages, much softer than the ones that shroud Kaeya’s face. Every so often, Diluc pauses in his motions to look up at Kaeya, studying him carefully for his reaction before he continues, as if he’s afraid of hurting Kaeya again, and each occasion of this flutters pleasantly in Kaeya’s chest.

“There,” Diluc says as he ties off the bandage with a small, lopsided bow, and the smile that lights up his face then is even warmer than his magic had been. “Now you’ll be okay.”

He speaks with such a firm conviction that Kaeya almost finds himself believing the other, nodding absently along with the statement. It’s almost impressive--Diluc knows nothing about him, not his name or his face or his origins, and his words are still lined with such soothing reassurance that it starts to melt at the painful cold in Kaeya’s chest.

Kaeya looks down, thinking that he should perhaps thank the boy, but the words still don’t come. He hears his father’s stern voice in his head, warning him not to grow attached, to remember his role, that someone like him should know nothing but his own purpose.

“So, what’s your name? What were you doing out there? Are you lost? Can I help?”

The questions come so quickly that Kaeya only really catches the first one, which is just as well—he’s not sure how he would answer the others, anyways, not without giving himself away.

“...Kaeya,” he answers, so softly that Diluc clearly has to strain to hear him.

Diluc tilts his head to the side , blinking owlishly at him as he sounds out the name. “Kae...ya?”

The sound of his name in Diluc’s gentle, quiet voice tugs at something in Kaeya’s chest, feels like he’s found something he hadn’t known he’d been missing. He nods in response, privately hoping that Diluc might repeat it to soothe that strangely selfish part of him.

The boy does, this time with more enthusiasm as he perks up. 

“It’s pretty!” Diluc tells him honestly, the fluffy strands of his hair bobbing up and down as he nods for emphasis. “I like it.”

Kaeya’s never been told that before, either, that any part of him is worth liking.

Apparently forgetting the remainder of his questions, Diluc pats gently at his hands before fairly bouncing out of his chair. 

“I’ll go get you some food. Then when everyone’s gone, you can meet my father. I think you’ll like him.”

Diluc is gone again before Kaeya can protest and when Kaeya dares to peek over the second floor railing, he can just barely make out the top of Diluc’s fluffy head waddling through the crowd. 

While Kaeya sits here, his arms still wrapped uncertainly around himself and his mind thinking of his next move, Diluc makes several trips up and down the stairs over the next couple of hours. 

First he brings Kaeya a small platter of neatly arranged crackers and fruits--”I don’t know what you like, so I just put a lot of stuff on, there’s an apple? And some grapes!”-- and then, when Kaeya takes a bit too long to swallow it down, the food sticking painfully in his dry throat, Diluc presents him with a cup of water.

“My father owns the Dawn Winery, but we’re not supposed to drink his stuff…”

Next is a spare blanket, one that smells faintly of the boy himself, like warmth and toasted cinnamon and grapes, and that one gives Diluc momentary pause as he makes several failed attempts to throw it around Kaeya’s shoulders. Eventually, it lands rather unevenly on Kaeya’s head, the other half of the bulky fabric falling down to cover one side of him, at least, and Diluc seems to deem the job complete.

“I fall asleep here a lot, so we always keep this in storage. You can have it, though.”

Finally, when enough things have gone missing to draw attention and Diluc has constructed something resembling an elaborate nest for Kaeya, he returns with a man who must definitely be his father, as promised. 

“So this is where you’ve been all night..I was wondering if I had a pair of particularly large mice in my tavern,” the man says, his voice even and gentle, an older--but no less kinder--version of his son’s.

“I found him outside,” Diluc begins to explain, and Kaeya doesn’t hear the rest, instead casting his gaze down to the blanket around him and rubbing at the soft fabric with his fingers, leaning his head into the warmth and the scent. 

He looks up only when the floorboards in front of him quietly creak, shifting under Diluc’s father’s weight as the man kneels in front of him.

Kaeya hesitantly meets his gaze, unconsciously clutching the blanket more tightly around him, something painfully nervous twisting his stomach. He’s never been very good at speaking to adults, much less ones he doesn’t know, but when he finally dares to look up at him, he sees that the man is not unlike his son, his red eyes gentle as he gazes down at Kaeya.

“You don’t have anywhere else to go, do you?”

Kaeya swallows, thinking of this is your chance and seeing the wild look in his own father’s face, an expression devoid of love or familial connection or anything of the like, but mostly he’s looking at Diluc, at his curious face peeking out from behind his father’s leg, his eyes wide and hopeful and so, so warm.

The bandage around his hand tingles with heat, and he releases the edge of the blanket to slowly curl his free hand around it, the cloth tickling gently against his skin, his fingers brushing against the crooked little bow.

He shakes his head.

Diluc’s father smiles, an expression tinged with the faintest hint of sadness.

“Come, then,” he says, extending his hand to Kaeya. “Let’s go home.”



The churchyard is nearly deserted by the time Kaeya steps through the gate, which doesn’t really come as a surprise to him, considering the dismal state of the weather and the time of evening. He readjusts his umbrella in one hand as he tucks his package more securely against him with the other, slowly making his way to the hill at the end of the area.

He recognizes a few of the names he passes by, familiar memories inscribed on the stone plaques marking the names of the long dead, but no one he knows personally--not yet, at least.

It’s even less of a surprise when he spots the solitary figure sitting at the top of the hill, fairly curled into a ball and staring out into the horizon ahead, looking but not quite seeing the setting sun ahead of them.

“What are you doing here, Sir Kaeya?” Diluc asks flatly, before Kaeya even makes it halfway up the hill, and Kaeya suppresses something of a wry smile.

Despite calling out his presence, Diluc does little more than that to acknowledge him, refusing to turn around or even move from where he’s rooted in place. He doesn’t make any active attempts to banish Kaeya from his presence, though, which Kaeya takes as an open invitation to close the distance between them, coming to a stop right next to Diluc’s sitting form.

“It’s raining,” Kaeya says lightly, holding the umbrella out until it shields Diluc from the sheets of falling water. “You’ll get sick.”

If the words stir at a memory in Diluc, he doesn’t show it, his breath sighing out in something of a quiet huff as he reaches up a hand to tuck a lock of his soaked hair behind his ear. He looks rather pitiful like this, as soggy as he is, and up close, Kaeya can see the minute trembles that wrack his frame as his body attempts to fight off the chill of the rain.

One of the many drawbacks of not having been blessed with the best element, really.

“You’ve been here all day?”

Diluc doesn’t answer, but Kaeya doesn’t need him to, really. Between the two of them, he knows a part of Diluc is still grieving, that the wound of his father’s death is still raw and open in a way that Kaeya’s already learned to cover up some time ago.

At the very least, he’s stopped waking up blaming himself for the way things had gone down, if only because he’s already collected his punishment for it. Diluc isn’t so lucky in this regard, but Kaeya wouldn’t be surprised if he never is--the ghost of his father’s blood still stains his hands to this day, after all. 

To the rest of the world, on most days, Diluc seems like he’s moved on, too. But Kaeya’s a little too familiar with the pattern of his behaviors, his tendency to grow slowly more closed off the closer the day of his father’s death came.

Another moment passes before Kaeya decides to sit, frost curling around his palms as he freezes a little stand for their umbrella into existence, allowing it to properly cover the both of them without his further attention. It’s a small umbrella, though, and Kaeya really has no choice but to sit himself closer to Diluc than the other would perhaps have liked, but maybe it’s a testament to the other’s current emotional state that he says nothing of it.

“At any rate,” he says evenly, measuring his words with a deliberate casualness that makes Diluc glance at him in suspicion. “I brought this.”

Kaeya extracts the paper bag he’s been hiding in his coat, gently tilting it to the side to slide out its contents, three glasses and a bottle of Master Crepus’ finest Dandelion wine. He’d lifted the drink--without express permission--from the wine cellar of the Angel’s Share a couple of days earlier, but he freely neglects to mention that particular fact to Diluc, who blinks blankly at it in distant confusion.

“For another year older. Would be a pretty sad birthday without at least one drink.”

Instantly, Diluc narrows his eyes, tensing with something dangerously close to rage, the rainwater soaking his clothes evaporating in an instant from how fast his temperature spikes. 

“I don’t--”

“You don’t, but you don’t think he does? This was always his favorite day, and you know it.”

Confusion stays Diluc’s hand from blasting Kaeya into a smoking crisp, and Kaeya takes the opportunity to set one of the empty glasses in front of the plaque with Crepus’ name. 

The engraving on this one is slightly uneven, done in the familiar slant of Diluc’s left hand--the Knights wouldn’t allow Crepus to be buried in this yard, citing his death as an outside incident, but it hadn’t stopped Diluc from memorializing his father here anyways.

He uncorks the bottle, pausing to take in the always welcome scent of Mondstant’s finest drink before tipping a healthy amount out into Crepus’ cup.

Diluc stares at it when Kaeya is done, and Kaeya doesn’t think he’s ever seen the other look more lost in his life. Rainwater drips from his bangs and into his eyes, droplets clinging to his too-long eyelashes, and Kaeya vaguely realizes that they’re close enough that he can almost count each individual one.

They haven’t been this way in a long time--he can barely remember it, really.

“That’s...he’s not really there,” Diluc finally says, in a voice so uncertain that Kaeya doubts that Diluc can even convince himself.  “His body, I mean, it…”

Kaeya remembers it well, remembers watching Crepus’ still form slowly dissolve into nothing, the curse of the Delusion eroding what little remained of him by the time Kaeya had arrived on the scene. He remembers the way Diluc had clung to the shreds of his father’s clothing then, his hands trembling so violently that he’d nearly dropped them when he’d brought them close to his chest.

“Clearly you don’t believe that, from how long you’ve been sitting here. You’re here, I’m here--he’s here, too. Maybe just not all the way.”

A slow shudder runs its way down Diluc’s spine, one that has nothing to do with the chill of the rain, and Kaeya is so close that he can hear how carefully Diluc inhales, like he’s trying his hardest to hold himself together.

“...Kaeya,” he says, whisper-soft, and the sound of his name in Diluc’s voice tugs at that familiar sensation in Kaeya’s chest, the feeling like he’s found something he hadn’t known he’d been missing.

He tilts his head to look at Diluc, a crooked sort of smile tilting his lips upwards, the years of his own grief and regret threatening to well up in his throat at once. Automatically, driven by an instinct he’d hoped--and failed--to bury, Kaeya slowly extends his arm in an open sort of invitation.

“I know.”

Diluc blinks at him, once, twice, and then he leans himself hesitantly into Kaeya’s touch, gradually at first, and then all at once. As soon as his body makes contact with Kaeya’s arm, Diluc presses himself all the way into Kaeya’s side, turning his face into Kaeya’s shoulder to hide his expression when Kaeya winds his arm around Diluc’s waist.

Like this, he can feel the way that Diluc’s next ragged breath nearly tears through his body with the force of it, the other gritting his teeth against the wave of emotion. Kaeya holds him through it, wisely pretending that the liquid heat seeping into the fabric of his clothing is nothing more than residual drops of rain, that the sound of Diluc’s barely-there, stifled gasps are lost in the shower around them.

To his surprise, Diluc doesn’t pull away even after he’s calmed himself, keeping his face pressed into Kaeya’s shoulder long after the last of his shudders die away. With how close they are, Kaeya catches wind of Diluc’s pleasant scent, toasted cinnamon and the traces of grapes cloaking his senses in a gentle warmth.

“...your birthday was his favorite day, too, you know,” Diluc finally mumbles after a pause, just barely lifting his head from Kaeya’s shoulder to look at him, a hint of redness rimming his eyes, and Kaeya is surprised at how warm the statement makes him, as matter-of-fact and deliberately flat as the delivery is.

“How could I forget. Guess we’ll just have to come back here for that, too, huh?”

“You’re overstaying your welcome. I should charge you rent.”

Kaeya laughs, tightening his grip around Diluc’s waist as he leans forward, picking up the bottle of wine to pour himself a glass, as well. He makes one for Diluc, too, putting barely half an inch into the other’s cup, but his generous consideration of the other’s low alcohol tolerance earns him little more than a familiar glare. 

“So you say, but what would you do without me?”

Clinking his glass gently against Crepus’, he downs at least half of his glass in one take, his own tolerance a bit too used to his usual concoctions to be much affected by the plain wine.

Diluc narrows his eyes, first at him, then at the miniscule amount of the drink in his own glass before he stubbornly reaches for it, his expression twisting slightly as he drains his glass. He makes a face, but from the way he so gently sets his empty cup beside his father’s, Kaeya knows that Diluc harbors a different sort of fondness for his father’s creation all the same.

They sit there in a long bout of silence, until enough time passes for the rain to come to a stop, the night slowly clearing itself as the clouds roll away. Diluc is still leaning against him, perhaps more heavily than he normally would were it not for the faint flush of alcohol in his pale cheeks, and Kaeya decides that they’ve probably spent long enough here.

He’s debating on what he should do next, on if he should quietly take his leave to give Diluc the rest of his night alone, when Diluc’s thin fingers hook into his sleeve, tugging insistently on it.

“It’s late,” Diluc says flatly, but his gaze unsubtly shifts to the shadow of the Dawn Winery in the distance. “You can’t stay here.”

“Oh? Am I allowed a place in the noble Ragnvindr manor?”

“As if you have anywhere else to go.”

A warm memory flutters pleasantly in Kaeya’s chest, and he looks down at Diluc, studying the other’s face. The Diluc of now is a distant echo from the first time Kaeya had seen him, his mouth now unused to smiling and his eyes no longer quite as innocent, but Kaeya loves it--loves him --all the same.

Almost instinctively, he glances down at his hand, as if expecting to see the gentle wreath of bandages, made crooked by a child’s inexperienced fingers.

He shakes his head.

“I suppose I don’t.”