Adjusting to a brand new upper-class lifestyle--with vastly different cultural customs to boot--is one of the most complicated things that Kaeya’s ever experienced.
Not only does he stick out in this washed-out picturesque vineyard, the master of the household has a set of rules for Kaeya and Diluc to follow, too, no questions asked. Kaeya’s expected to be able to handle himself in a certain manner at all times, walk with his chin up and back set straight—it’s unbearably hard, especially after the grueling journey that he’s experienced, his Father constantly telling him to look down and pretend to be invisible—be chivalrous, courageous, quick-witted, elegant, and all the other knightly qualities in between.
Some of these aren’t quite as hard as the rest and Kaeya quickly takes to them, excelling at every subject that involves fighting and deploys his charming side—one that he’s discovered a long time ago, swindling travelers out of food supplies and belongings, far too young and weak to do any type of honest work.
Unfortunately for him, Kaeya is by no means the perfect child that Master Crepus wishes him to be—so unlike Diluc, the man’s pride and joy, the future heir of the Ragnvindr booze empire—so he encounters several hiccups along the way, the biggest one being music.
Kaeya fails to see a point in tuning his musical hearing, nor does he think it to be a useful skill. He supposes that it's very much one of those cultural differences, with Mondstadt being dubbed as the city of Freedom and Festivities. He doubts that it would even be appropriate of Crepus to showcase an orphan at the fancier events.
Three times per week, Kaeya and Diluc spend several hours holed up with their music teacher (ironically named Cretini), practicing the fine arts of key-smashing the piano in broken, high-pitched notes. Well, at least in Kaeya’s case; Diluc seems to have no problem with playing the more-complicated renditions of Mondstadt’s favorite composers' creations. Meanwhile, Kaeya thinks that with every session he gets more and more sick of hearing Ode to the Dandelion, frustration picking up exponentially whenever Cretini barks at him for being such an unscrupulous pupil.
Diluc being, well, Diluc, picks up on Kaeya’s seething anger within a few weeks, shooting concerned looks from his posh musician stool whenever it’s his turn to play. He doesn’t even have to look at the keys–a born natural, Cretini wails, ordering Kaeya to listen closely.
Kaeya wants to tell him that he’s tone-deaf just to get the cretin off his tight-pulled back.
Diluc finally takes pity on Kaeya’s poor, musically-challenged ass after the hardest session as of yet—Cretini, of course, like several before him, has shown him incredible hospitality by indirectly telling Kaeya to pack his messy music sheets and go back to the mountains—catching him by the sleeve when Kaeya stomps upstairs in the most dignified fashion that he can muster.
“Hey, I can help you with this, Kaeya, don’t pay him any mind," Diluc mutters, a deep-set frown unbefitting a thirteen year old boy marring his pale face. He fakes a cheerful goodbye after Cretini, scoffing afterwards. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s unfair to you, since this is your first time playing an instrument,” he then halts, frown replaced by confusion, “are—are you crying?”
Kaeya angrily sniffles, discreetly wiping at his nose. “No,” he says, pulling his hand free. Diluc’s fingers linger in the space between them before dropping back to his side. “Nothing else to expect from that cretin.”
He’s not jealous of Diluc, of course he’s not. He likes his playmate plenty, even if the redhead is better at basically everything that he does and—okay, maybe it does get frustrating at times, but where Diluc shines, Kaeya exceeds in his own way, selflessly completing the young master’s more difficult challenges whenever the opportunity presents itself. Perhaps it makes him feel good about himself. Perhaps it’s his own way of thanking the master of the manor. He’s young and he still doesn’t know.
Surprisingly, Diluc laughs. It’s a nice sound, one that Kaeya cherishes, seeing that the young master is always trying his best to live up to his father’s expectations, trying to appear more mature and serious than he really is. It’s enough for Kaeya to see Diluc flash a pearly-white smile for his worries to melt away and the manor to feel more welcoming—after all, Diluc would never tell Kaeya to leave just because he’s not talented enough to play the transitions between the notes smoothly enough for his taste.
“Good one,” Diluc snorts, a bit meanly, “never thought of that myself.”
“You’re far too proper for that, milord,” Kaeya teases, earning a light shove from Diluc. Kaeya curtsies him just to mess with the boy even further and jumps out of Diluc’s reach, mindful of the stairs. “I bet Cretin sleeps with those music sheets of his. Perhaps he should marry them as well.” Kaeya plucks a vase and pretends to dance around with it to the tune of the wedding march, making the young master giggle. Kaeya’s certain that the dirty implications of the first sentence slip past Diluc unnoticed. “Then he can be the one to leave to the mountains and live happily ever after.”
The offhanded comment freezes the gleeful grin on Diluc’s face. Determination shines in his vermillion eyes when he huffs, gaze burning Kaeya’s suddenly prickly skin. “Don’t ever let anyone say that to you again. They have no right to make comments like that. I won’t let them!” Diluc vows, chest puffing up.
An awkward, nervous laughter bubbles up in Kaeya’s chest, as his eye scans his surroundings, looking for something to latch onto in a desperate attempt to escape Diluc’s sudden bout of earnest fierceness. His palms feel oddly hot and moist. “It’s not very gentlemanly to talk back to adults, Master Diluc.”
“Well, it’s not very appropriate of them either,” Diluc huffs, foot tapping away at the staircase. “It’s only fair to stand up for yourself when—“
Overwhelmed, Kaeya waves a hand in front of Diluc, desperate to end this uncomfortable conversation. “Never mind all that, I can handle myself just fine, thank you.”
The petty comment makes Kaeya’s heart squeeze. “Please, just. Don’t go out of your way for me. I can handle a few perfectionist bastards.”
Despite being a stubborn little shithead when he wants to be, Diluc surprisingly relents. Kaeya hopes that it’s not due to his clipped tone or bashful expressions. He does not like showcasing such weakness to the young master of the house. “Whatever,” Diluc exhales, clearly not done with proving Kaeya’s own worth to him. It’s oddly touching. “You can do what you want, but you shouldn’t take it just because they think you’re less than them. You’re not,” then, just to make sure that everything is fine, he adds, “do you want to go catch frogs with me?” and Kaeya instantly agrees, already excited for their little frog races. Adeline called it animal torture, but the boys disagreed, always releasing the traumatized frogs into the wild afterwards.
As they go back home, clothes wet and dirty, leaves stuck in Diluc’s messy hair after he’d fallen into the bushes trying to collect his disobedient contender for the frog race, Kaeya agrees to try out Diluc’s piano lessons for beginners.
Unlike Cretini, Diluc is a patient teacher—just like with sword fighting whenever he dutifully waits for Kaeya to pick himself up before attacking. He understands Kaeya’s flaws and makes use of his strengths, his precision and timing, if not music ear.
Most important of all, he makes the stupid Ode to the Dandelion fun.
They squeeze in together on the fluffy stool, Diluc humming along to the melody, lean fingers flying over the ivory keys. Kaeya accompanies him, a bit slow to follow, but steadier than ever before. Diluc doesn’t shy away from praise and constructive commentary. The maids avoid the piano area just to grant the boys a sense of privacy, cooing over the positively adorable image of the Ragnvindr kids playing together.
“You’re doing great, keep trying,” is all that Diluc says whenever Kaeya messes up and perhaps that’s all that he's needed to hear in order to start liking this hulking piece of musical furniture. No interruptions, no yelling, just compassion and understanding.
Kaeya spends a week under Diluc’s tutelage, calling it quits only whenever he notices Diluc’s pale fingers lagging behind. There’s something sacred in their time together, playing the stupid passages over and over again with the moonlight spilling in through the windows and the maids quietly inviting themselves into their personal bubble to light extra candles.
Diluc nearly conks out a few times, always the early-riser, yawning and leaning into Kaeya’s side, sleep-warmed. Kaeya nearly has to drag the boy upstairs, keep him from stumbling along. He’s always there to dutifully wish Diluc a good night before slinking to his own room.
On the 9th day, there is a test.
Cretini seems to be in a particularly nasty mood, pleasantries forgotten even with Diluc. Kaeya automatically falls into the foulest mood possible while Diluc shoots him his patented distressed look, quietly mouthing 'good luck'.
Just to spite Kaeya and make sure that his insecurities are running high, Cretini lets Diluc go first. Kaeya watches the boy’s fingers fly over the keys as though on auto-pilot, and dreads the finishing notes, a heavy feeling resting in the pit of his stomach.
“Splendid job, Master Diluc,” Cretini warbles after his very brief commentary, ever the suck-up, and points his hawk-like nose in Kaeya’s direction, upper lip subtly curled upwards to show his disgust. Drama queen. “I wonder if I can say the same thing about you, boy.”
“You didn’t even let me begin, Sir.” Kaeya summons his most charming smile, making the teacher subtly roll his eyes. Diluc bristles, glowering at Cretini with a look of someone about to cause trouble, but Kaeya subtly shakes his head to defuse it.
It goes as well as one might expect.
Kaeya barely gets through the passage before Cretini unleashes his unsolicited criticism, yelling at Kaeya to continue playing whenever he halts, taking it as a sign to listen before starting over. Ode to the Dandelion fades into the background of the manor, replaced by Cretini’s obnoxious voice, and despite trying his best to focus on the former, Kaeya finds it harder and harder to hear, no less think with all this fucking yelling—
“Are you even trying? I sure hope that they make music from whence you came, boy, because this god-awful lack of musical hearing would make the esteemed citizens of Mondstadt cancel all festivities for the following decade!” Cretini comments, cleaning his tiny, high-class glasses. The ear-splitting bang of the piano’s keys that follows is enough for the old man to drop his posh little handkerchief.
“I sure fucking hope not, Sir, because if it’s anything like this flaming garbage, then I don’t want anything to do with it!” Kaeya yells, rising to his feet. Diluc opens his mouth but immediately shuts up after the music teacher shoots him a warning look. So much for standing up for someone, huh?
Fueled on by his passionate hatred for anything piano-related, Kaeya slams the instrument's lid down, kicking at the stool. The teacher seems equal parts taken aback and annoyed by Kaeya’s little fit. “Y-Young man, sit back down this instant! You’re in a lot of trouble—“ he starts, but Kaeya cannot be bothered to hear out the rest, already brushing past the duo.
“I don’t care! I hate it anyways.” Kaeya considers flipping the man off for good measure—oh, he knows that he’s in trouble, can’t wait for the evening to come and for Crepus to go straight for the jugular, perhaps even force Kaeya to officially apologize to the old fart; best case scenario, Cretini won’t take him back and Kaeya will be free of this bullcrap—but Diluc’s voice momentarily clears the fog of anger clouding his head with a concerned call of his name.
“Master Diluc, you will sit down and continue the lesson if you know what’s good for you!” Cretini warns before Kaeya even has the chance to react and the redhead freezes with his hand reaching out to Kaeya’s skinny frame frozen in the exit. “There’s still well over an hour left.”
Diluc says nothing, expression unreadable when he settles down on the stool, shooting Kaeya an apologetic look.
It’s enough to send Kaeya sprinting out of the manor and past the vineyard.
Diluc, no matter how much Kaeya secretly hopes for it, doesn’t follow.
There’s a pinch to his nose when Kaeya finally settles down next to a sunsettia tree at the outskirts of Ragnvindr residence, curling into himself and aching. As the time goes by and the sun sinks lower into the picturesque horizon, Kaeya longs to leave Dawn Winery behind, travel to new places where he doesn’t have to be perfect all the time and no one expects him to be a perfect copy of Diluc Ragnvindr, no one expects him to play the stupid piano three times per week and be kind to douchebags who have nothing better to do in their lives than bully children.
He wants nothing more than to leave, but he doesn’t think that Diluc would follow. Perhaps he would even forget that Kaeya existed to begin with. Perhaps he'd breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that there wasn’t someone living in his shadow and slowly encroaching on his spotlight.
Diluc who craves his father’s and instructor’s approval more than Kaeya’s rebellious company.
Diluc doesn’t look for him until its late evening and the sun has fully set, maybe wanting to grant Kaeya some space to vent his frustrations. Kaeya hears the young master calling his name before he sees him, a small spot of ruby on a canvas painted with blues. He climbs the tree with cat-like grace and remains quiet when the boy comes close, a pang of guilt stabbing him needle-sharp once he sees how genuinely sad and distressed Diluc looks.
Needless to stay, he doesn’t stick around his hiding spot for long. Within 30 minutes, Kaeya heads back towards the manor, moodily kicking at the little stones in his path.
When he opens the door, the first person he sees is Crepus, already dressed in night-time clothes. Diluc stands in his father’s shadow, peeking from his side, a concerned frown pulling at his face.
Kaeya determinedly tries to keep his expression impassive and avoids looking at the master of the manor at all costs.
Silence falls, heavy and pregnant, and Kaeya does not need to see Crepus’ face to know that it harbors that quietly disappointed expression. He’s been on its receiving end a handful of times before and each one has felt like a punch in the gut for days afterward. However, Kaeya’s never stepped out of line like this before. He dreads to think about the punishment, but readies himself for it nonetheless.
“Will you yell at me as well, Sir?” Kaeya asks, so quiet that he doubts Crepus hears him. There’s another beat of silence and Kaeya braces himself for an earful, perhaps even something worse, but the response is unexpected to say the least.
“Don’t speak such nonsense, child.” Crepus dismisses. Besides him, Diluc sighs, tension unwinding from his small body. “My son was kind enough to update me on Sir Cretini’s treatment of you. Please know that I condemn such behavior and think that it’s unbefitting, especially for someone in his field. Let’s just say that starting tomorrow, you are free of piano lessons.”
It’s Kaeya’s turn to be silent. Incredulous, he blinks, hardly believing this fortunate twist of events. “Sir, with all due respect, wasn’t it your intention to have Diluc and I excel at—“
Crepus raises a hand to stop the boy’s sputtering. Diluc appears to be just as confused as Kaeya, looking between them. “I know what I said, Kaeya. However, things have changed. If I had known that you harbor such hatred towards our grand piano, I never would’ve signed you up for this unpleasant experience in the first place. I cannot say the same to you, Diluc. Keep up at it. Tomorrow, 10:30 am sharp. Make sure to welcome your new music teacher.”
“Yes, Father,” Diluc says and bows, seemingly okay with the outcome. Kaeya thinks that he will never understand Diluc’s appreciation of keyboard instruments. Crepus moves towards the table and only then does Kaeya notice a large case resting on it. The older man unlatches it, and with extreme care, he removes an old looking lute. Kaeya’s not necessarily taken in, but his interest in piqued.
“This dear right here is one of very sentimental value to me, my child,” Crepus says, extending the instrument to Kaeya. The boy looks at it as though it’s an alien waiting to land into his hands, unsure how to accommodate it. “Before calling it quits, I suggest you give it a try. Maybe you will find it to your liking.”
There isn’t much room for argument and Crepus’ wishes are clear as day to Kaeya, but in one last bout of defiance and lack of self-esteem in relation to anything instrument-related, he pleads: “Sir, perhaps music simply isn’t my path to take. I wouldn’t want to disappoint.”
There’s a little glow in Crepus’ russet eyes, one that Kaeya is far too young to decipher or go against. He’s not sure what to make of it when the master tells him, “Nonsense, Kaeya. I insist. Take very good care of it. After all, I trust you enough to make sure that it finds a home in good hands.”
The smile on his face is kind and welcoming enough for Kaeya’s face to go red and warmth to pool in his stomach, one that he hasn’t felt for a very long time. He thinks back to the stormy night and his father’s last words before the man faded away with a clap of thunder. He wonders if he’d be anything like Crepus if their circumstances were different.
“Leave it to me.” Kaeya says and cradles the wooden beauty, feeling its weight in his arms. He plucks at one string, a distorted note filling the silence of the manor, and something about that lonely sound fills Kaeya with an odd sense of pride and determination. Diluc looks on in wonder as Kaeya meets his curious gaze, smiling slightly, wordlessly sharing his joy.
The kindness that Crepus shows him, gives the instrument a certain kind of appeal, and it takes no more than two days of debating for Kaeya to pull the instrument into his lap in the privacy of his room. He tries not to make too much noise, lest the maids, or even worse Diluc, overhear his clumsy attempts at plucking the array of strings.
The sounds that the lute produces make Kaeya feel nostalgic, recollect his long journey to Mondstadt and the towns past, with bards playing in the streets and local taverns too expensive for Kaeya and his father to enter. He barely sleeps that night, plucking away until the night sky turns pale pink at the horizon. He rises before Diluc and manages to catch Crepus right before the man turns to collect his travel coat.
His sparkling eye is a dead giveaway and the master huffs a laugh. “I take it that you enjoyed it?”
“Oh yes! Very!” Kaeya nearly trips over his words in his excitement, but quickly tries to collect himself and appear dignified despite the kid-like joy filtering into every part of his being. “Would it be too much to ask to receive tutelage?”
“Not at all,” Crepus hums, deep in thought as he puts on the garment. “I think I have just the right person in mind. If all goes well, you can start within a few days. There won’t be a particular schedule to follow.”
Kaeya’s never been a stranger to spontaneous decisions, so the statement only serves to fuel his bounciness. He bids his farewells to the master of the manor and runs to the library after Crepus lets it slip that they have several books dedicated to plucked instrument theory. After all, he likes to be well-prepared for anything coming his way.
Andreas is one of the part-time winemakers with many interesting stories to tell. In his youth, he and his family were a band of performers that stumbled their way across the lands, only to reach Mondstadt at the height of its festivities. Captivated by the freedom and its people, they’ve finally settled down.
Kaeya likes the man well enough, and while he’s not as nice as Diluc when it comes to criticism, his good humor keeps the boy sticking around. Not to mention the fact that he relates to Kaeya’s struggles of settling down in a completely new place after having spent the bigger chunk of his life wandering about.
The first song that Kaeya learns is an easier rendition of what Andreas claims to be the wanderers’ anthem. Intended for beginners, it’s not nearly as bouncy as the songs spun by the bards, but Kaeya likes it and polishes it every single day for a few hours at the time, too focused on perfecting the riff to sing along. He decides to wait until his fingers repeat the motions without him having to watch the neck of the lute the entire time.
Andreas leaves him to practice on the porch and that’s where Diluc finds him after his own horrendous music lesson. Unceremoniously, the young master plops down next to Kaeya, leaning into the boy’s space and analyzing the instrument as though trying to run combinations in his head, find a way to make it sound the best.
Kaeya shies away, cheeks aflame. “Don’t stare,” he mutters, fingers freezing in place.
Diluc smiles, shrugging. His feet kick out before him and the sun is bright enough to nearly blind Kaeya when its rays hit the glorious mane of Diluc’s ruby locks. “I know the melody by now,” he brags, humming the ballad’s intro. Kaeya grows even hotter than before. “I like how it sounds. Will you play it for me?”
“I don’t think I’m good enough yet…”
Diluc purses his lips, “Pshaw! Of course you are. I heard you plenty of times and you’ve definitely improved.” There goes the discreetness… Kaeya’s tried to keep it down to avoid this, secretly wanting to impress the other with the completed version of his labor.
Diluc presses on, of course, and who is Kaeya to say no to that face? “Fine,” he caves in with an exaggerated sigh and eye roll. Diluc tries to pinch his cheek for that, unsuccessfully. “But I am not singing it.”
“But that’s the whole idea of it.”
“Fine, be that way. You’d make a pretty lousy bard.” Diluc crosses his arms in one last show of defiance, but Kaeya ignores him, lightheartedness overtaking him. The young master is so cute sometimes, especially when he’s trying too hard. A soft laugh builds up in his chest.
“Perhaps one day I will sing it to you, milord, and you will be positively blown away by my raw talent. And then you’ll be green in the face recalling this conversation, wishing that you had exchanged your horrendous clunky box with keys for the far more superior lute.”
“Maybe in your dreams.”
“Dreams can become reality, Master Diluc,” Kaeya closes his eyes and brings the lute closer, tuning the strings. “Just wait and see.”
“You are so full of it,” is all that Diluc says as he waits for Kaeya to finish fiddling around and the sounds of the lute finally fill the air, gentle in the late August wind.
Kaeya mentally goes over the lyrics and something about them strikes him as painfully familiar as he looks over Diluc’s frame, the boy’s eyes closed. He is softly humming along, a subtle encouragement for Kaeya to keep up at it.
Years later, he still wonders whether this was a mere coincidence. Perhaps Andreas simply knew.
The lyrics fade away in his mind and his thoughts get occupied by Diluc and the way his puffy strands are being ruffled by the gentle breeze, the honey-sweet smell of the swaying wildflowers, the warmth of the stone porch under his thighs, its heat rivalling the one gradually building up in his chest, painful in the best way imaginable. Kaeya looks over at Diluc bathed in the golden hues of rapidly fading summer and sees nothing else, doesn’t want to see anything else, doesn’t want to hear anyone else but Diluc humming away, the happiest Kaeya’s ever seen him, accompanied by distant bird song.
Kaeya forgets the world around them, forgets the fact that he’s been playing the same few notes over and over, and when Diluc finally looks up at him, wine-hued eyes squinted and glistening in the sunlight, Kaeya feels his brain short-circuiting despite being at complete peace. It's a funny feeling.
He falls in love and he falls hard.
Diluc’s never been great at recreating melodies via hearing, but Kaeya catches him trying to do so nonetheless after having snuck out of his room for a forbidden midnight snack. Diluc’s playing is muted, but he continues to run over the combinations over and over again to bring Kaeya’s ballad to life.
It might be Kaeya’s bias speaking, but the song sounds way better on the lute. He’s touched by the painstaking effort, though.
Cheeks warm, Kaeya’s back slides down the wall, away from Diluc’s periphery and safe from getting discovered. He doesn’t know how long he spends listening in on the other, the cookie held in his hands dissolving with miniscule bites. He wonders whether he should show himself, but decides against it. Kaeya wants to steal this private moment for himself, like a little secret kept between them, and smiles whenever he hears Diluc muffle curses after minor slip-ups, ones that the young master would never use if he knew that someone was around to hear them.
Kaeya thinks that he would like to hear Diluc’s rendition one day. He reckons that it would be lovely.
Kaeya doesn’t dare to enter the manor until he’s certain that Diluc is gone for good.
A different kind of pain pulls at his injured stomach when he gathers the leftovers of his measly belongings and looks over his old room one last time. Diluc’s made it very clear that he is no longer welcome in the premises of Dawn Winery. Kaeya’s not about to test the Master’s statement.
He knows that Diluc is not above accidentally murdering him with the sheer amount of power that he possesses. He’d rather stay out of the way of his dear brother’s explosive fire.
Kaeya wonders when he’ll see the other again. He knows that it won’t be a pleasant reunion, but Diluc would never be able to stay away from his motherland for too long. There was an entire Ragnvindr legacy to look after, one that he’ll have to take on alone instead of having Kaeya by his side, a silent shadow of support; his late father’s dearest wish, one that was doomed from the very start.
Kaeya’s glad that the man’s passed away before he’s managed to find out what a despicable rat his adopted son is.
A leech underserving of the care that’s been provided to it.
The lute sadly sits on Kaeya’s old writing table, already coated in a layer of dust.
He remember Crepus’ words, comments of Kaeya’s trustworthy hands and care, and he aches, aches for the years gone by and the future that he’s inevitably destroyed with his weighed confession. He supposes that the timing wasn’t the best, but Diluc, his precious Diluc, deserved to know the truth.
He doesn’t expect forgiveness, nor understanding. He doesn’t think that he understands himself either, has lost himself in this play. Forgot all about his role, his duty, loyalties. Has lived in an illusion of selfless love for far too long.
He wishes for his love to die a calm death, for this burden to disappear. He can only hope that Diluc will manage to forget all about him; after all, who could harbor any lingering affection and attachment to someone who’s lied their way into your household?
Kaeya leaves the lute behind, feeling himself undeserving of it. Diluc is free to do whatever he feels like with it.
There are no final goodbyes. The maids steer clear of him and the pelting rain is cold against his back, Dawn Winery fading into the distance, its welcoming lights no more than fireflies going out on Midsummer’s eve.
Diluc orders for the grand piano to be moved to the basement. He takes it upon himself to securely cover it and stack boxes upon it so that it blends into the wall, shapeless.
Alcohol has been a dear companion to Kaeya ever since he’s turned eighteen.
Taverns are his go-to locations to gather intel of any kind, and while some owners aren’t exactly crazy for him, Kaeya always manages to make himself feel right at home. It’s important to note that he rarely goes out to drink for the pleasure of it, always in possession of ulterior motives and obsessed with the delicious leverage of having the upper hand, making it his personal job to mingle as much as possible. Drinking without a clear-cut purpose was an activity reserved for depressed alcoholics, a hedonistic ritual that Kaeya would only indulge in for that extra bit of courage, or whenever he was feeling particularly shitty about himself as a human being existing in a meaningless society.
So to say, not often. Not publicly, at least.
Kaeya has a reputation to uphold—one that he’s carefully constructed over the years filled with noble deeds and the shiny title of Cavalry Captain—so it’s only natural for him to say yes when Huffman anxiously invites Kaeya and his squad for a good old round of Dead After Noons at the finest tavern in town – Angel’s Share.
Kaeya turns over every single plausible excuse to leave once he sees Diluc Ragnvindr working the bar that night. Just his splendid luck.
He’s been trying to steer clear off the older man, only visiting the tavern whenever his sources told him that Diluc was out of town. While their broken relationship was by no means fixed, Diluc would sometimes deem it… appropriate to converse with Kaeya about anything strictly work-related. Even then, their responses would be kept short, and more often than not hurtful, intent on probing at old scars, still raw.
Still raw, Kaeya thinks, as he drinks his sizeable share and pretends to be engaged in the festivities, conversing animatedly and keeping an eye out on Diluc who very obviously tries to avoid meeting his gaze. He’s got the high ponytail today and the men perched at the bar do not withhold from begging for the graceful bartender’s attention. Naturally, the redhead ignores the bothersome patrons but doesn’t deem it fit to sternly warn them about the blatant disregard of his personal space.
It’s this mindless drinking spurred on by a petty sense of jealousy that causes Kaeya to get too buzzed for his liking, growing louder by the minute with Amber glued to his side and looking all kinds of uncomfortable, sipping at her grape juice. For the loudmouthed girl to be embarrassed on his behalf, Kaeya knows that he has to be making a complete cringe-worthy fool out of himself in a desperate attempt to get Diluc to look over and acknowledge him—I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.
Around midnight, a handful of Huffman’s pals pour into the tavern. One of them carries a lute securely strapped into its case and the conversation naturally shifts to music.
“That reminds me,” says Agatha, one of Huffman’s associates, someone whom Kaeya’s been trying to romance for a brief period before losing interest, “I remember Sir Kaeya bragging to me about knowing how to play the lute.”
Kaeya balks at that and nearly chokes on his wine, cursing internally. She’s loud enough to turn some heads and suddenly it feels like the entirety of Angel Share’s patrons have varying levels of attention pinned on him, the esteemed Captain of the Favonius’ Knights.
He wishes to turn back time and reclaim this extremely private piece of information shared with a random auburn-haired woman in a moment of pure weakness and intoxication.
The Knights and Huffman’s friends squish together around their small table, buzzing like a bunch of excited bees. Before he knows it, Kaeya is subjected to slurred chants of “play a jingle for us, Sir!” His refusals get shouted over by a bunch of drunkards as Huffman’s friend X presses the lute into his fingers without waiting for Kaeya’s approval.
The weight of it is familiar and something unravels in the back of Kaeya’s throat.
At this point, everyone is looking at him.
Even Diluc, a glass and a rag held in his hands, face carefully impassive.
He’s looking and Kaeya yearns, a faded memory of a golden August afternoon and blindingly red curls flashing before his eyes. He closes his eyes to steady himself, get rid of the fairy tale-like imagery, but to no avail – Diluc is still there, older but still the same. Still dyed in ruby reds and soft oranges. Still magical.
Despite his better judgement, Kaeya flashes the toothiest, fakest smile that he can muster, causing his table to hoot in appreciation.
“Mondstadt’s finest knightly Bard Kaeya, at your service!” he bows dramatically and the knights clap with the exception of Amber who looks vaguely concerned; a misplaced child acting as a grown man’s security blanket. He should be ashamed of himself. “Please note that I do not take any requests and I play for tips!”
A few coins land on the table to spur him on and Kaeya dramatically kicks out his chair to stand on it, swaying dangerously. Amber latches onto the side of his pants to steady him while Kaeya plants his free foot into the tabletop, earning a deep scowl from Diluc.
Without thinking much into it, Kaeya inhales, gathers the dwindling remains of his liquid courage and starts playing, the melody still perfect even after all these years. How befitting.
The patrons of Angel’s Share seemingly hold their breath when Kaeya’s soft voice carries over the tavern, momentarily snuffing out the raucous laughter outside. Kaeya knows that they’re expecting him to be a clown, an obnoxious entertainer; instead, Kaeya experiences the familiar fading of his surroundings as he plays his sad little ballad and Diluc seemingly freezes in his periphery as though Kaeya’s struck him with Cryo, pretty eyes widening.
Recognition. Pure and simple.
Kaeya would laugh if he wasn’t so damn miserable.
Desperately, he tries to put years-worth of feelings into the refrain, words that he couldn’t bring himself to say back when he still had a chance, too inexperienced and shy to perform in front of the love of his life. A song that he didn’t bother to think too deeply into until he was old enough to process his muddled emotions towards Diluc Ragnvindr, his playmate, friend and sworn brother.
And so she spins, his maiden fair,
The sunset caught in ruby hair,
Will you be mine, my maiden fair?
My heart, it yearns,
To find you here.
Will you come home, my maiden fair?
The sun won’t rise without you, dear,
My days have gone, the cold is near,
She laughs and says: “I will next year.”
Kaeya thinks that he does a pretty good job at carrying himself with dignity until the very end despite feeling anything but, his little performance followed up by heated applause and the local drunk Nimrod sobbing passionately to his right.
Strangely, he can see why.
As though on autopilot, Kaeya stiffly sets the lute down, chest heaving. He didn’t think that he’d be exerting so much effort.
He isn’t too sure which one is worse; the post-stage fright or Diluc’s heated gaze drilling into the very depths of his frosted soul from the corner of Kaeya’s periphery, making him weak in the knees.
He gathers the scattered remains of his courage and risks a glance up.
The glass shatters at Diluc’s feet.
Kaeya observes as Diluc positively shakes, as though there’s too much of something for him to contain in that broad frame. He doesn’t know what it is exactly—Kaeya suspects it to be anger, perhaps even disappointment—but before he can even begin to analyze Diluc’s surprisingly expressive body language, the man rushes out into the backroom, forgoing the clean-up of the shards crunching under his heeled boots.
It turns out that the glass isn’t the only thing that shatters that night.
Kaeya grimaces—he doesn’t dare to call it anything close to a fake grin—and firmly turns down all and any requests to play something “more fun”. “Sorry for the misinformation, I’m afraid that this is the only song on the repertoire. Thank you for being a lovely audience, but I must take my leave. It’s really quite late.”
There are protests, Amber rises from the chair to either stop him or help him stumble back to his small lonely apartment, but Kaeya flees the scene before any of them can get to him. Before he can make an even bigger fool out of himself.
Because if anything, Kaeya’s always been good at shirking off responsibility at the right times.
The night air is surprisingly crisp, clearing Kaeya’s swimming vision just the slightest bit. Smokers crowd the door of the tavern, paying the Captain no mind when he heavily leans against it. His heart hammers away at the back of his throat and Kaeya briefly considers his options ranging from alcoholic coma at his apartment to jumping off the highest building that he can find, when he sees the Man.
Kaeya doesn’t exactly remember his name, nor can be bothered with it, only ever having dealt with this oaf on certain occasions. He does recall the satisfactory arrest and the hefty sum of money that the guy’s father had thrown away in a desperate attempt to save his only son from Mondstadt’s justice system.
Kaeya was no stranger to dealing with hooligans and bandits of various backgrounds, but something about this snobby merchant’s son and his proud smirk when he strutted past Kaeya on his way to freedom, purposefully jangling the heavy handcuffs to spite his captor, made his blood boil. Made voluptuous heat gather behind the collar of his shirt, sticking it to his neck.
One thing led to another, naturally. He was by no means Kaeya’s type—too tall, too buff, too scruffy, too everything but Diluc Ragnvindr— but he fucked well. Well enough for Kaeya to come back for more, a feat unachieved by most.
Kaeya doesn’t believe in signs sent by the universe, but if this isn’t one, then he’s doomed.
As though in a daze, he swims through the crowd with the grace of a fish missing a couple of fins and his palm harshly comes down on the table top, rattling the stacked mugs of Diluc’s cheapest beer.
The Man’s group complaints and curses at the filthy knight butting into their perfectly legal business, but it’s enough for Kaeya to shoot them a blood-curdling smile to shut them up. “Good evening, gentlemen. May I borrow your friend for a bit?”
His… partner raises a fine eyebrow as though confused, but there’s already a wolfish grin pulling at his lips. Kaeya fights back the urge to roughly pull at his coarse dark hair when the bastard exhales a cloud of smoke tinged with something right into his face. He positively hates it, but Kaeya would be a hypocrite if he were to say that he hasn’t gotten high with him before.
He does a very bad job at pretending to be shocked. “Now why would the Knights need me at this hour? Come to arrest me again, Sir?” he leers and it seems that his buddies catch on, punching each other none too discreetly, whispering something amongst themselves. Leave it to the overgrown brat to brag about his escapades.
Kaeya pays him no mind. “Now,” is all he says and the dude seems to be in a good enough mood to obediently follow after.
“Are you in one of your moods, Alberich?” he slurs and Kaeya feels the large hand creeping up to his waist before he sees it, harshly slapping it away.
“Not here.” Kaeya hisses as the dude’s table breaks out into wolf whistles and wanton moans. If he was sober, he’d freeze them and hack away until there was nothing left, no more than a handful of frost.
“Well, as it happens, this is a very important occasion,” The Man halts and Kaeya wants nothing more than to bash his head in, “you’ll have to give me a serious reason if you want me to come with.”
He probably doesn’t expect for Kaeya to lunge for his jaw, squishing it between deadly-cold fingers, pushing frost into the skin, a clear warning; however, when Kaeya comes close enough to his ear to whisper “I’ll pay you 50000 Mora to fuck feelings out of me”, he is more than happy to oblige.
He takes him to the first darker alley in the vicinity. Kaeya makes sure to tell him that he wants it rough and lets the hooligan man-handle him with the practiced ease of someone working the fields.
It feels pretty good, Kaeya thinks, hitting the back of his head into the stone wall behind him. He reckons that the biting would hurt if he were anything but piss-drunk. The Man knows what he likes, which spots make him twitch and respond. It’s almost enough for Kaeya to forget why he asked for this in the first place, too lost in the sensation of being held and wanted, when the reason behind it materializes at the end of the alley, casting a long shadow over the drunken couple about to copulate in a weak attempt to alleviate stress and forget shame.
Kaeya silently watches Diluc whose presence is that of a ghost, soft-angled face carefully void of any emotion. He makes no move to say or do anything, leg hooked over his partner’s side—admittedly, they haven’t gotten around to the truly good parts yet, and Kaeya is almost glad that Diluc hasn’t caught him with his pants down, lost in a moment of misplaced passion—as the voyeur tenses, shoulders visibly tight and chest heaving a bit too much for it to be normal.
The Man notices Kaeya’s lack of sensual responses not long after. He peels his scruffy face away from Kaeya’s opened collar, gears turning slower than usual.
It’s enough to make Diluc’s fingers curl into tight fists. “I’m going to ask you to leave,” he grinds out and Kaeya hears it, crystal-clear--the anger rearing its ugly head. It’s an emotion that he’s been associating with his sworn brother for quite some time now; Diluc practically owns it. A heat wave brushes over Kaeya’s exposed flesh, a stark contrast against the otherwise cool night air.
The Man is clearly either too drunk or dumb to recognize danger when it’s breathing right into his face, alive and aflame, like a feral phoenix waiting to strike. “Get bent, bartender,” he flips Diluc off, and before he can occupy Kaeya’s mouth, the latter puts a hand between them, shoving slightly.
He doesn’t know why he does it. Perhaps he wants to avert the inevitable disaster of Diluc going ham on the poor intoxicated asshole, his thin eyebrows twitching in a familiar way, claymore already materializing on his back.
Maybe he doesn’t want Diluc to see Kaeya kiss someone else right in front of him. He may be petty, but he isn't cruel.
The Man looks at him as though he’s just slapped him across his greasy face. Kaeya smirks, ignoring Diluc bristling in his periphery, much like a snarling hound about to lash out to cause irreversible damage. “My, you sure have no idea with whom you’re dealing with, sweetheart,” he drops the sugary little word in just to annoy Diluc even further, “I’d rather not have my coat singed, nor do I wish to sweep up your smoking remains and deliver them to your grieving father, alright? I know that I’m a knight, but I am far too tired to save you.”
The taunt is like a verbal backhand across the Man’s face as he shoots Kaeya an acidic look. Kaeya challenges him to a vicious stare-down, daring the oaf to lay a single finger on him. A layer of frost crawls up the wall, forming tiny spider webs on the worn-out rocks.
He submits, not one to handle two enemies in this state, lust long-forgotten when he clumsily zips his pants. “You’re a fucking bitch, Alberich,” he hisses and Kaeya doesn’t have it in him to look anywhere but straight ahead. The unnatural heat wave flares up at the insult that Kaeya’s heard plenty of times, a meaningless word with no weight behind it.
“So I’ve been told.”
The Man doesn’t dare to brush past Diluc, followed by his heated gaze the entire way down.
Kaeya quietly readjusts his clothes, waiting anxiously for Diluc to speak up, condemn him, spit in his face. Attack him, perhaps.
None of that comes.
“Right in front of Angel’s Share?” Diluc vaguely gestures in the direction of the tavern. There’s blatant frustration and awkwardness reflected in that light jerk of his hand. “Seriously?”
Kaeya feels annoyance creep up as he fixes his tousled hair, frowning. Leave it to the Young Master to lecture him about his bad life choices. “Oh, I wouldn’t dream of soiling Mondstadt’s favorite anti-hero’s home turf,” he laughs, bitter. “Couldn’t wait to patrol? Ready to bring me to justice for fucking someone in plain sight? I can clap if you’d like me to.”
The question punches the air out of Diluc’s lungs. Trying to appear dignified, he sucks in a harsh breath, attempting to steady himself. It doesn’t fly, not with Kaeya who’s know the Ragnvindr heir for more than a decade. Not when it’s Diluc, the boy whom he’s loved since the very start.
The next thing he says leaves Kaeya gaping, feeling colder than before and not necessarily due to the sudden lack of body contact. He feels naked with his thin summery garb and golden accessories.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t be out patrolling the streets in search of your bony ass if you had it in you to properly deal with your feelings, Sir Kaeya.”
The night sounds of Mondstadt fade into the background, as Kaeya’s vision blurs and he seethes, sees all red, nothing but Diluc’s red, illuminated by the blinking streetlight overhead casting an ethereal glow across his milky skin, forming a sunset-orange halo above Diluc’s thick curls. He looks like a painting of a saint, the Archon of Sunset and the unfortunate owner of Kaeya’s pathetic heart, haunting the latter’s memories like the maiden in the song. His name is inscribed into Kaeya’s mind and despite trying his damned hardest to root him out of there for years, Kaeya’s been entirely unsuccessful.
It’s tiring, but love tends to be.
“Feelings,” Kaeya huffs, toying with the word as it slides off his tongue, poisonous. Diluc harbors the face of a man who knows that he’s just made a hefty misstep. “Feelings? Alright, let’s talk about feelings, Master Ragnvindr.”
Kaeya takes a brave step forward, filled with determination. Diluc doesn’t budge, but he doesn’t expect him to. Intimidation tactics have never worked against him. The redhead could cleave him in half in the blink of an eye if he wanted to. Kaeya thinks that he would let him. “I’d like to know what in the ever-loving fuck has made you think that you have any right to control what I do and how I deal with the shitstorm that is my life. Who gave you the right to barge in on us? Did you think that I needed to be saved from a big bad stranger? Let’s talk about that, shall we?”
Diluc looks pained, like he’d rather be anywhere else but here, and while Kaeya relates on a soulful level, this has been long-time coming. Something that he’s been keeping down ever since Diluc ran off, falling off the face of the continent for three long years. “I don’t know how to deal with my feelings? It’s about time that you’ve taken a good look at yourself, Diluc, because I sure as hell don’t remember the last time you’ve taken the initiative to do anything.”
Kaeya is close enough to shove at him now, but instead he settles for stabbing a merciless finger into the older one’s chest, making sure it doesn’t linger. Diluc, despite trying to keep a perfect pokerface, looks scared. Anxious to hear the rest. “I’m sick of it and I’d like to remind you that I wasn’t the one who childishly ran away at the mere mention of feelings. More than once, mind you. You’ve no right to comment, Master,” Kaeya ends with a flourish of his hand, faking a laugh.
If anything, he can shrug it off. He’s been through so much with this—this menace that he doesn’t think it can hurt worse.
Diluc seizes his wrist, squeezing. It's quite painful, but Kaeya makes no move to remove the offensive limb nearly searing indents into his flesh. “Stop it, Kaeya,” he orders, “shut up right now or I swear to Archons, I’ll—“
It’s like they’re thirteen all over again and Diluc’s making empty threats that Kaeya knows he'll never go through with. However, that doesn’t stop him from leaning into his personal space, defiant. “You’ll what?”
A myriad of emotions flash by in those angelic vermillion irises, seemingly glowing in their intensity. Kaeya can see him visibly wrack his brain for the appropriate action to take, only to realize that there is none. Not as long as Kaeya is involved.
There is no right way to deal with this.
“I—“ Diluc utters out, lips chapped, and when he licks at them, Kaeya mindlessly repeats the motion, skin buzzing from the sheer amount of stress. Diluc’s scorching gaze boldly follows the inconspicuous action. There’s an unforgiving hand tugging at the back of his head to bring Kaeya down, and the sheer amount of tension nearly makes him implode.
“Make me,” he says, two little harmless words meant to be taunting, challenging, but they come out breathy instead, much like a winded plea that Kaeya’s been holding onto ever since he’s turned thirteen.
Diluc Ragnvindr doesn’t need to be told twice and he follows up with a searing kiss, fully crashing into Kaeya, something desperate. He’s unbelievably hot–warmer than Kaeya remembers him being back in their younger days, Diluc’s frame curled into Kaeya’s during the stormy nights—touch like flame against exposed skin, grabbing at anything available. Hair, clothes—an unfortunate barrier that Diluc wants to melt away.
It’s pretty apparent that Diluc is an unexperienced kisser, technique sloppy and filled with teeth—and who would even want him, Kaeya muses, with that sour face and sarcastic attitude hiding underneath a put-together façade. It’s like hoping for a frog to turn into a charming prince, only for the said prince to turn out to be a lion in disguise. He guesses that he would happily take one for the team and get this horrible, horrible man off the market. Kaeya’s the only one who can do it.
Kaeya easily guides him along, letting his spoiled young master take control of the kiss, as his brain melts into a puddle of mush, like Cryo meeting Pyro. Diluc burns him, but Kaeya doesn’t mind, certain that there’s frost caught in those ruby curls.
It lasts for forever, but it isn’t enough. He guesses that it won’t ever be. Kaeya nearly whines when Diluc’s slick mouth pulls away, the poor man’s face the color of his mussed locks. Breathing heavily, he wipes at his mouth, and Kaeya instantly catches him scanning the area, clearly mapping out any possible exits.
It sends an electrifying pang of panic through his being.
“Don’t you dare run away,” Kaeya begs with his fingers twisted in Diluc’s sleeve because there’s nothing else left for him to do with the young master standing a hair’s width away. Closer than they've been in years.
The tone of his voice seemingly snaps Diluc out of the panicked thoughts bolting through his head, and Kaeya inevitably catches a tiny glimpse of that golden child living in his memories, seated on the porch of Dawn Winery. “I wasn’t planning to,” he mutters, so quiet that Kaeya barely hears him. Diluc still seems all kinds of tense and painfully awkward, but Kaeya cannot find it in himself to call him out on it or tease. “Same goes both ways,” he adds, seemingly just as scared of Kaeya’s potential disappearance.
It’s hard, seeing Diluc make weak attempts at honesty when he’s spent long years stonewalling Kaeya and firmly pushing him aside. Kaeya feels as though he isn’t meant to witness any of this. He supposes that he isn’t, feeling more so like a complete stranger than a family member, but Diluc manages to surprise him by gently holding onto his wrists, peering at their scuffed boots as though they’re the most interesting thing to ever grace Teyvat.
“Come home, Kaeya,” is all that Diluc says, and who is he to refuse a direct order from his liege? The love of his life?
With a firm nod, he takes Diluc’s hand and lets himself be led away, no more than two shapes disappearing into the darkness of the Mondstadt’s winding pathways.
Unlike the maiden fair, he refuses to wait another year.