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"The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention" ~ Alan Watts


Kaeya Alberich wondered if the Archons were laughing at him right at that moment.

It was ironic that he, the Captain of the Cavalry, holder if the Vision of Cryo, was reduced to a mere frozen icicle, no thanks to a Cryo Mage’s attack. The only consolation was that Kaeya’s elemental burst did land and managed to end the battle in his favour. What he failed to consider was that he was a tad too close to the lakeside that he inadvertently got wet and the mage’s earlier cryo random attack caught him as well.

It was mortifying, Kaeya was silently thankful that he had no witnesses around. The night cloud, gray and intimidating, gathered above him, and he whispered a curse when it started to drizzle.

Lady Luck had truly abandoned him. He would be imprisoned in this cryo for a longer time than he would like.

Turned out that being trapped with one’s own thoughts for company could be pretty dangerous. What if another abyss mage decided to drop by? Or worse, those dreadful Lawachurls or Fatui assassins ambushing him when he could hardly retaliate.

Would his subordinates chance upon him during their patrol? Or maybe the traveler, who always seemed to be busy running errands for the greater good?

Or what if the hero of Mondstadt himself found him?

Just as he was entertaining the scenario, he became aware of some amount of heat coming from behind him. The cryo melted, freeing him but his legs gave way and he fell backwards—

—and right into the arms of a redhead he knew only too well.

Speaking of the devil.

They stared at each other, immobile, both uncertain how to react. Diluc’s arm was almost cradling his head, while his other arm was over Kaeya’s abdomen, supporting his hold on the knight. Their faces were only inches apart, and Diluc was radiating warmth that melted whatever residual cold that lingered in the air around them. There was an unmistakable concern in Diluc’s eyes, one that Kaeya had never seen ever since they severed their bridge and Diluc built a wall around him to keep Kaeya out and far away.

It had been too long since they had this close a proximity.

It was only when he regained control of his legs that he scrambled to get back on his two feet. Diluc released him – was there reluctance, Kaeya wondered – and he himself straightened his posture.

Kaeya dusted his knees, an excuse to not meet his gaze. “Ah, what a good time for Mondstadt’s Darknight Hero to appear.”

Diluc frowned. Folding his arms, “You know I hate that moniker.”

Kaeye managed a chuckle. Getting on the young Ragnvindr's nerves meant Kaeya was back in familiar territory and out of the awkward situation he was in awhile ago. “You have my gratitude, Master Diluc. You came at the right time. I was resolved to be left like a frozen statue, only to be freed by the morning sunrise.

“Such dramatic an answer would infer that you are otherwise unharmed.”

“But I am.” The moment he said this, Kaeya knew it was a lie.

Diluc held up a bloodied hand to prove a point.

Kaeya became aware of the ugly gash on his side and his shoulder. While they had missed his internal organs, the stench of blood was evident.

“How many were there?” Diluc enquired, taking a step closer to get a better look.

“Two mages and…ten hiirchurls.” It sounded like a complaint, but it was not, truly! For that number was nothing to a famed captain!

Diluc sighed in rebuke. “You shouldn’t be doing this alone.”

“Right back at you, Mr. I-work-by-myself vigilante.” Kaeya wrapped his cape – or whatever left of it – around his open wound.

Diluc, mentally criticising Kaeya’s choice in wardrobe, slipped his coat off and put it around Kaeya’s shoulder. The warmth was enveloping him further, that Kaeya had to furiously suppress an incoming blush.

“The winery is close by. You can spend the night while you get your wounds tended to.”

Kaeya blinked. Was Diluc actively welcoming him to what used to be their shared home, before the cruel hands of Fate separated them?

As if reading his train of thoughts, Diluc replied, “Leaving you here would be tantamount to sabotaging the Knights, which would leave Mondstadt in a more helpless state.”

“Are you finally acknowledging my measly efforts, Master Diluc?”

“Please start moving. I’d rather not be found out here any longer than necessary.”

They were, as Diluc had surmised correctly, closer to Dawn Winery than they were to Mondstadt. Diluc had started walking, and Kaeya followed suit, two steps behind. The redhead gradually slowed his pace that Kaeya eventually found themselves walking side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Obviously the other man had zero confidence in him, believing that he could just fall unconscious any minute from now. Kaeya made a face.

They barely exchanged words, not until they came across an out of breath Huffman. The latter gasped when he caught sight of them, and even more so he became aware of the state Kaeya was in.

“Captain! What happened to you? You're injured—” Huffman spluttered.

Kaeya forced a smile. He waved his hand in dismissal. “It’s nothing, really, just superficial wounds here and there. What brought you out here at this hour?”

“Well…” Huffman scratched the back of his head. “A small group of hiirchurls damaged a caravan belonging to a travelling merchant. He ran away seeking our help, but by the time we arrived, the hiirchurls were already taken care of. I suspect it was the Darknight Hero's handiwork, so I’ve been trying to track him, to see if he’s still in the vicinity.”

If Diluc had tensed upon hearing this information, he hid it well behind his impassive face.

Kaeya smiled sweetly at his subordinate. “Alas, I cannot be of service. Master Diluc and I did not come across any suspicious character on our way here.”

“Oh, is that so...” Huffman paused. “If I may say so, Sir—seeing you two together is a rare sight.”

Diluc closed his eyes to maintain his businessman air. “I requested for Sir Kaeya to escort me to the winery. I had a feeling that trouble was in the air.”

Kaeya almost dropped his cheerful countenance upon hearing Diluc's white lie. Lying to Huffman brought back memories as to how they used to cover for each other when they were kids, when they were caught cooking up some mischief. They would giggle over it once they were off scot free, and give each other knowing winks even after many days had passed. It was a secret that only they knew, a world that only they inhabited, and nobody else.

Kaeya missed those childhood moments. He felt the pit of his stomach drop.

Noticing that Kaeya had tightened his grip on his coat, Diluc bowed his head to Huffman. “We really should be going now. Keep up the good work.”

Kaeya gave Huffman a small wave. Huffman stared at their retreating back wordlessly, forgetting to wish his superior farewell.

“Don’t think I’ll thank you for what you did there,” Diluc murmured.

“What, giving you an alibi?” Kaeya said. “I wasn’t expecting a thank you, so please don’t worry. Besides, I thought we’ve agreed that I’m the one indebted to you? Are we keeping tabs now?”

Diluc did not answer.

Kaeya bit his tongue. He reminded himself that Diluc hated him, and it must have been difficult for him to lift a finger to help him back then. Worse, taking him back to his place to be nursed to health. Kaeya was really reduced to nothing more than a damsel in distress. His ego could not take any more bruising for one night.

Huffman would probably spread the word around, reminding him of his moment of defeat.

Appearing as weak in front of Diluc was the last thing he wanted. Diluc would probably bring up Kaeya’s failure once in a blue moon – he knew him the best, after all – but Kaeya had a reputation to maintain. Diluc already had zero patience whenever the Knights of Favonius were concerned, but Kaeya would rather not have Diluc getting outright disgusted with him. Kaeya doubted he could persevere if Diluc added disgust to his wall of shame.

“Being silent is unlike you,” Diluc remarked.

“I didn’t think you’d want to hear me speak.” Kaeya tilted his head. “Besides, are you okay yourself? Did the hiirchurls put up a fight?”

“Nothing I could not handle.”

“As expected from Master Diluc Ragnvindr.”

“It’s a good thing too,” Diluc resumed. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have run into you when I did. You’d probably get a brain freeze if you were frozen a moment longer.”

“You really think so lowly of me, huh.”

Diluc had no time to answer, as they had reached Dawn Winery’s front door. Adelinde opened it obediently, giving a sharp gasp when she realised who was it that Diluc had brought home. Kaeya sheepishly stepped inside, shook the coat off and handed it back to Diluc, while Adelinde made a fuss over his injuries.

“Is he spending the night, Master Diluc?” Adelinde asked as she made a list of the first aid kit she would need.

Diluc nodded.

“I’m sorry to intrude,” Kaeya said.

“If I had known you’d be here, I’d prepare your old room,” Adelinde said. “Please give me some time, I’ll do that just right after I get a few things.”

“He can use my room in the meantime,” Diluc said dismissively. “Follow me.”

Kaeya stared at him. The night was full of surprises, he was starting to wonder if Diluc had hit head head when he took care of the hiirchurls. Diluc narrowed his eyes at him, as if daring him to provoke him.

Wisely, Kaeya obeyed without another sound. The last thing Kaeya wanted was to be kicked out, again.

Of course Kaeya remembered where Diluc’s room was. Down to the littlest of details, nothing was out of place. Not even a speck of dust dared to settle on his belongings, and it even carried the same scent as they were kids.

Kaeya mentally kicked himself at the sense of nostalgia.

“Take a bath,” Diluc said, “while I get you some clothes.”

Kaeya closed the bathroom door behind him. He undressed, dumping his bloodied and soiled clothes in an empty basket. The warm water against his skin was refreshing, although he did grimace in pain when the water ran down his wounds. Once done, he dried his hair and wrapped a clean towel around his lower body.

The bedroom was empty. Diluc had gone out, leaving a clean pair of clothes on his bed. Before Kaeya could do anything else, there was a knock on the door.

“Sir Kaeya.” It was Adelinde. “I believe I should prepare some meal for the two of you. Master Diluc has agreed to help you with your wounds. He’ll be along shortly.”

Kaeya slid his legs into the pants. It was fortunate that he and Diluc did not differ much in their built. He found a glass of plain water and some painkillers at the side table, which he popped into his mouth.

A minute later, Diluc came in with the first aid kit.

“Lie down.”

The order was concise, that Kaeya skipped making jokes. As he settled on the bed, something outside caught his eyes.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Kaeya asked, curious.

“Hm?” Diluc tossed a handful of cotton balls into a bowl containing some disinfectant.

“Why’re you being so nice to me tonight?”

Diluc started to work on the wound on Kaeya’s shoulder. “It’s not the first time I saved you when you screwed up.”

Kaeya ignored the indirect insult to his fighting skills. “But it is the first time you brought me home after all the heroics.”

“Like I said, I can’t ignore someone in trouble…” Diluc trailed off.

Kaeya perked his ears. Was he imagining things that weren’t there? Dare he put his life on the line and tease Diluc even more? “Especially me?” He grinned mischievously as he finished his companion’s sentence.

Diluc pressed the cotton with a little too much force, making Kaeya yelp.

“What’s that for?” Kaeya hissed.

“Stay still, will you?”

“Go easy with me, I’m the patient here! It’s bad enough that I’m vulnerable right now!”

Diluc gawked at him. “So being vulnerable bothers the great captain too much, huh.”

“I—“ Kaeya turned to look away. “Only in certain situations.”

“Such as now?”

“Y-Yes.” Was he pouting? Was there a truth serum in whatever medicine that he had gulped down just now?

“Good.”

There was no malice in his tone, only relief. Kaeya knew him enough to figure out the unspoken. No more words were exchanged as Kaeya observed Diluc at work.

“You’re so good at this,” Kaeya said in a low voice the moment Diluc was almost done with the bandages. “I could never get them to be this neat.”

“It’s really nothing.” Diluc rose and washed his hands.

“Tell me,” Kaeya said, “did anyone tend to you when you got hurt?”

“I handled it myself. On those rare occasions that I did sustain any injury.”

Kaeya reached for his hand with some regret. “You could’ve come to me.”

Diluc snorted despite himself. “And blow my cover?” And let you see how weak I can be?

“I wouldn’t think any less of you.” Kaeya gave Diluc’s hand a gentle rub. “I never have. You’re the most capable person I know, and if there’s anything I can do for you, just ask.”

Diluc did not yank his hand away. “I’ll think about it.”

“My door is always open for you.” A pause. “Or window, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Diluc snorted again when he suppressed a snicker, which came out as an undignified sound. Amused, Kaeya pulled him towards him, making him sit down on the bed.

“Thanks for helping me back there,” Kaeya said softly. His hand stole over Diluc’s messy bangs, tucking whatever tuft of hair that was long enough behind his ear.

Diluc shivered slightly at this tender gesture, but he did not withdraw.

“Maybe you should tell Adelinde than she won’t have to prepare another room for me,” Kaeya teased, taking Diluc’s response towards his breaching his personal space as a favourable one. “At least, not for tonight.”

“How brazen of you.”

“But you won’t object to that suggestion.”

“Don’t stoop me down to your level.”

Kaeya laughed with mirth. “Another thing, if I may ask…”

Diluc arched an eyebrow.

“Is that…a teleport waypoint out there?” He pointed towards something, some distance away from the window, on the cliff overlooking the field.

Diluc glanced up. “Yes.”

“Since when has it been there?”

“The traveler activated it some time ago. It’s not too far from the winery, which is rather convenient.”

“Huh.” Kaeya stared at him. “We could have just used it rather than take a long hike here.”

“I suppose.”

“That would have saved us from bumping into Huffman on the way too.”

“...”

Kaeya had to chuckle at the realisation. “Oh, you sly, sly fellow. If you wanted to spend more time with me, you could have just asked.”

Diluc wanted to deny whatever allegations Kaeya was suggesting because he would never resort to such lowly tactics, but Kaeya’s laughter drowned his feeble protests. Trying to hide his embarrassment, he made a move to leave.

Kaeya caught his forearm, still yet to recover from his laughter. “No, please, don’t go.” He wiped the tears that had brimmed at the corners of his eyes.

The winery owner waited for Kaeya to recollect himself.

When Kaeya did speak, it was with newfound gallantry. “Allow me.”

Realising there were no way out and that his cards were all on the table, Diluc relaxed, permitting himself to be drawn closer to Kaeya that their lips came into contact. It was gentle, nostalgic and, much as Diluc hated to admit it, sorely missed. How years of anger, betrayal and ego had denied them of this exchange, this moment. How they yearned for each other, more than they could ever imagine. Diluc tried to avoid applying pressure on Kaeya's injuries, but Kaeya was having none of it - let the painkillers do their job, and please, dear Archons, let them have this, free from all ego and pretenses.

“You know,” Kaeya whispered when they broke the kiss, “I should have made you carry me all the way here.”

“…Don’t push your luck.”