Diluc Ragnvindr nearly stumbled at his doorway when he saw them.
He scanned the first floor of his tavern, praying that his eyes were just playing tricks on him, but the moment his gaze fell on the bluenette cavalry captain at the counter, harsh reality hit and he could feel his blood start to boil.
Charles, oblivious to Diluc’s state of mind, moved aside to allow his employer access behind the counter. Diluc immediately put on a composed facade, patting Charles’s shoulder as he thanked him for the day.
Kaeya Alberich gave Charles a cheery smile and some tip to get him moving.
“Good day to you, Master Diluc,” Kaeya wished him, sounding a little too mischievous than usual.
“Explain,” Diluc, barely in the mood for preambles, said through gritted teeth.
“Hmmm?” Kaeya tilted his head, turning on his charms.
Diluc was having none of it. He snatched Kaeya’s glass, hissing, “What is a Fatui Harbinger doing in my tavern in broad daylight?”
Kaeya glanced over his shoulder. In the furthest corner, Tartaglia - Childe, he corrected himself - was engaged in an animated discussion with an impeccably dressed gentleman with a ponytail. The duo seemed to be in their own world, ignoring the looks that they were getting from the others.
“It is what it is,” Kaeya replied.
“Enlighten me before I light them on fire.”
“Short version, they’re on a date.”
It took all of Diluc’s self control to not blurt out in disbelief. His lips pursed tightly, and to those who knew him best, only his slightly widened eyes would give him away.
“Long version,” Kaeya resumed, fingering his glass in Diluc’s hand, obviously enjoying the reaction he was inciting in the redhead. “The four of us - the traveler, the two of them and little ol’ me - just came back from Liyue and the traveler is carrying out several requests from Mondstadt. He insisted that he would be able to handle it alone, and suggested that we wait for him somewhere.”
“So why here?”
“Ah, that.” Kaeya smiled a little guiltily. “Tartaglia - Childe, at the moment - insisted for the best of what Mondstadt has to offer for Mr. Zhongli.”
“You brought them here.”
“The reputation of your wine did, Master Diluc. Mr. Zhongli appreciates a good drink.” Kaeya did bring in business for Diluc, the least he could do was to be grateful!
Diluc reined in his displeasure. It would not do declare war at that moment, what with the number of bystanders around, the sheer timing and their location. He knew of Tartaglia’s bloodthirsty reputation, but Diluc knew it would be better to bid his time.
“Additionally, he has taken a liking to the little traveler,” Kaeya said. “I think we can wait a little bit more before real danger sets in.”
“We?” Diluc echoed, a little too loudly.
Kaeya maintained a smile, keeping up their appearances. Even Zhongli had turned to look once in his direction, and when his eyes met Diluc’s, the former nodded once in greetings. Childe did not seem to appreciate this transient loss of his attention, but he glanced at Diluc all the same.
Diluc was momentarily taken aback.
Childe grinned and waved once. That done, he poured another round for his companion.
Diluc needed answers, but Kaeya would not surrender them easily.
“This is a serious issue,” Diluc remarked. “Is the Acting Grandmaster aware of this development?”
“The traveler promised to see to it that she does.”
“And what is your role in this?” Everything that Kaeya had told him thus far only highlighted the fact that the Knights could not be trusted wholly. Not without some risk.
“My role?” Kaeya paused to consider. “I’m just here for the ride.”
If the intensity in Diluc’s glare could kill, Kaeya was certain he would have combusted, reduced to mere ashes precisely where he sat. Kaeya sighed and, in a gamble, let his fingers fall on Diluc’s gloved ones.
“I’m not ratting on Mondstadt’s secrets, so please don’t worry,” Kaeya said coolly, caressing Diluc where they touched. He was pleasantly surprised that Diluc did not yank his hand away immediately.
Perhaps the redhead’s shock and confusion at this gesture had frozen him.
When Diluc did manage to shake off his stupor, his other hand grabbed Kaeya’s intruding fingers. “You—“
“I paid for that drink, Master Diluc,” Kaeya reminded him.
Grunting, Diluc released him. Kaeya clutched the glass closer to his person.
Awkward silence took over, and Diluc became painfully aware that the six-fingered bard had started playing a romantic serenade on his lute. One that Diluc was not familiar of.
“Childe’s request,” Kaeya supplied helpfully. “He’s paying him good money.”
“Hm. Amazing what mora can achieve these days.” Diluc reached for an empty glass to clean, just to give his hands something to do instead of summoning his claymore. Or strangling Kaeya there and then, which, given their proximity, seemed more and more tempting, especially how Kaeya’s throat bobbed up and down as he downed his drink.
Diluc knew better than to fall for his deliberate ploy. Clearing his throat, “Have you learnt more about what the Fatui is plotting?”
Kaeya relayed a brief account of their experience in Liyue, the Golden House, and how Zhongli came to join their merry band, with Childe on board.
In the background, in their small little bubble, Childe and Zhongli were being too lovey dovey to Diluc’s own liking that he became distracted from what Kaeya had to say. Those Fatui scums were wearing his patience thin in more ways than one, as it turned out.
Zhongli had closed the distance between the two of them, probably because Childe had switched to a quieter tone. The ponytail was dangling between them, and Childe twirled it playfully, in a way drawing him closer.
“Were they behaving like this the entire way?” Diluc had to ask. He did not bother to hide his disdain.
“Would you believe it!” Kaeya burst out laughing. “Honestly, now you can understand why there is no way I can sit there with them at the same table?”
“As long as the Fatui is not actively kicking you away, you should be fine.” Diluc would not care, either way. Really.
“Contrary to what people might say, I still have some dignity and decency.” Kaeya sighed comically. “I can’t be a busybody around them. Who knows what Childe might do to me.”
“You have no problem doing exactly that in other situations.”
“I’m serious.” Kaeya propped his head using his free hand. “Maybe one day you should join our little expedition and see for yourself.”
“And deal with you around the clock? I’ll pass.”
“You say it as if it’s a bad thing.”
Kaeya quirked an eyebrow.
“You and your...secrets are frequently bad news," Diluc stated.
"Touche." Kaeya leaned back. “Speaking of secrets, Mr. Zhongli is well aware of Childe’s, but that hardly stopped him. And now we have a high-ranking Fatui agent engaging another man in a blatant PDA in broad daylight. Can things get any more peculiar?”
Diluc really could not find any response to that. Childe had stood up and sauntered to where they were, and fortunately not while they were conversing.
“You have a great place,” Childe complimented the owner. “I can see how you have earned the captain’s approval ratings.”
Diluc managed a formal smile, one that betrayed no emotions. “Thank you.”
That was curt, even by his standards. Childe made a few more attempts at inane chatter, and even Kaeya could tell that Diluc was hoping for it to end soon. Sensing Diluc’s discomfort, Kaeya skillfully suggested ordering more things, and Childe took it up enthusiastically, retiring to Zhongli’s side with the menu clasped over his bosom.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Kaeya said, “I feel sick watching them.”
“Go home then.”
“I can’t. I need to keep an eye on him, just in case.” Kaeya gestured at one of the glass bottles on the shelf behind Diluc. There was a clear reflection of the two lovebirds on the speckless surface.
Diluc had to admit it was an good plan, given the scenario. Trust Kaeya to be resourceful in gathering his intel.
“Then again,” Kaeya said, “he probably had figured it out. Which was why he came over here.”
“Maybe he just wanted a word with me.”
“You, who obviously have a bone to pick with the Fatui?” Kaeya paused. “Actually, you could be right. He might be toying with you. With all of us.” His expression changed to a contemplative one.
“You’d better watch your back.”
“...Is Master Diluc worried about me?”
One corner of his eyebrow twitched. Of course Kaeya would treat it as a joke. Diluc hated how he could not tell what Kaeya was thinking, and how the latter could just brush off any queries with a smile and smooth talk. If things between them were different, he would have come clean and tell Kaeya that yes, he was concerned for him, for Mondstadt, and how Kaeya was always tiptoeing with his life on the line and danger in the shadows.
Instead, “You don’t need me to worry about you,” Diluc said simply.
“That’s the thing...” Kaeya murmured in a low tone. “Seeing them has made me realise that I want you worry about me.”
There must be something in the bard’s music, that even Diluc was swayed by Kaeya’s honeyed ramblings. After all, the captain had just indirectly confessed that he was envious of the pair.
Damn this man for breaking his calm, collected front.
Diluc sighed. “So the esteemed captain is not above jealousy, I take it?”
“Why don’t you try hanging around with them for a day and see if you can handle it?”
This was the second time Kaeya had invited him to come along with him—them. “...Are you drunk?”
Gravely, “I can’t afford to be drunk now.”
“Damn it, Diluc, you have no idea how I’ve missed you.”
That ignited something. Kaeya’s eye was burning with resolve, with his fists on the table. Diluc felt like the world had stopped spinning. Kaeya had dropped the titles, and his emotions were raw and exposed.
Diluc placed his wiping cloth aside. “It’s not that easy—“
“Why does it have to be complicated, pray tell?”
“We made it complicated ourselves...At least, I did.” Kaeya sounded moroseful. “I’m sorry.”
That alone was tantamount to a declaration of affection, one that Diluc had suppressed and denied all these years. It seemed that all they needed was a nudge in the right direction.
When Kaeya finally made eye contact, Diluc left his spot at the counter, making his way to the staircase. Something in his body language made Kaeya stand up and follow him upstairs, to the confines of his private space.
The very next day, Diluc joined the party.
+ + + EPILOGUE + + +
“I had a wonderful sleep last night!” Childe announced at the bridge, scaring a few of the pigeons away much to the chagrin of a nearby boy. “After such a hearty dinner, it really puts one’s mood right!”
“Now you agree how important is good food to all of us!” Paimon exclaimed.
They were at the main gate. The traveler had just accepted a bounty, and Childe had volunteered himself and Zhongli for the excursion.
Kaeya was the last to appear. He apologised profusely for making them wait.
“Sir Kaeya, did anything hold you up?” Zhongli asked. “You are rarely a man of tardiness.”
Kaeya sourly wondered if Zhongli had even realised that he did not join them when they left Angel’s Share last night. “It’s nothing. Shall we get moving?”
They had taken several steps forward when the traveler heard another set of footsteps coming their way. Turning around, they saw Diluc approaching.
“M-Master Diluc?!” Paimon blurted out on behalf of everyone’s surprise.
“I just thought you might need some extra help,” said Diluc flatly.
Predictably Paimon started floating around him to dote, but Diluc did not miss a small, genuine smile on Kaeya’s countenance. Kaeya finally clapped his hands, encouraged them to get a move on, and casually held Diluc’s arm in a pretense to lead him to their destination.
Zhongli saw this exchange, opened his mouth to comment, but Childe placed a knowing finger to the former’s lips and shook his head.
+ + + OMAKE + + +
Jean was sitting in her office, nursing an imminent headache.
“You’re telling me that a Fatui Harbinger was in Mondstadt, drinking merrily in Angel’s Share in the company of one who suspiciously sounded like his significant other, and is now off with the Honorary Knight, our own cavalry captain, and Master Diluc Ragnvindr himself to handle a few mundane errands?”
“Err...” the knight who took the traveler’s message glanced again at the report, making sure he did not paint a wrong picture. “Yes, that’s exactly it.”
“Oh, my.” Lisa gave an amused chortle. “I’m surprised Master Diluc would drop everything just like that and tag along.”
Jean signalled for the knight to leave. Once he was gone, she spun her chair to face Lisa. “Was this Sir Kaeya’s plan all along?”
“Why, Jean, you would know that he would stop at nothing to see his mission completed and Mondstadt's safety—“
“Did it have to involve parading the Fatui and the mysterious stranger in front of Master Diluc to drill a point?” Jean pointed out with some dread.
Lisa blinked innocently. “What point might that be?”
Jean kept silent. Somehow she had a suspicion that Childe was not as oblivious to Kaeya’s unresolved tension with Diluc as he would make it to be.
“Could they have planned it?” Jean asked loudly.
Lisa smiled cryptically, pushing a cup of warm afternoon tea to her superior by means of answering.
Subsequently Jean wondered if Lisa might have had a hand in it too.