Kaeya Alberich was perplexed to see Charles exiting the tavern before its closing time.
“Sir Kaeya, we’re closed for the night.”
“But why?” Kaeya almost wailed in disappointment. “I had a long day, can’t you reconsider?”
Charles smiled guiltily. “Now is not the best of time—“
“Is the young master in there?” Kaeya asked, flicking a finger. “I take it he’s not in a good mood, from what you’re saying.”
Charles gave a small yelp.
Kaeya patted his shoulder dramatically. “Fear not, allow me to take it from here.”
Charles paled in record time, obviously uncomfortable at the idea of Diluc having to deal with his number one headache when he already had a new cause of concern. Diluc would fire him the next morning without hesitation.
“Trust me on this, my good man. I’ll solve Master Diluc’s problem.” Kaeya grinned. “It’s my job, after all. I won’t let any trouble come to Mondstadt’s number one bachelor.”
Charles stood motionless, staring at Kaeya as he disappeared into the tavern, unable to shake off a sense of impending doom that only seemed to be compounded by Kaeya’s almost roguish smile.
- + -
Of course Diluc would greet him from behind the counter with a lethal glare.
“Didn’t you see the sign that we’re closed?” Diluc growled.
“I’m not here for a drink, Master Diluc,” said Kaeya, holding his hands up in the air in surrender. “I can see something is troubling you.”
Diluc tossed his head. “It’s your presence.”
Kaeya faked a hurtful expression. “Why the harsh accusation? I am only trying to help.”
“You can help by leaving me alone.”
Kaeya did not answer. Instead, he shoved his hand into his pocket and produced a paper.
“Was this the reason?” He asked gravely.
Diluc glanced at him, and recognising the cursed note, it took all of his self control to not swing his claymore and burn both the paper and Kaeya out of existence.
Kaeya, surprisingly, was not wearing a smug expression. He placed the paper on the countertop and sat down.
“I saw this on the message board outside Cat’s Tail Tavern.” Kaeya folded his arms, his eyes on the note. “An anonymous public love letter addressed to one Master Diluc Ragnvindr.”
‘Master Diluc Ragnvindr,
Your dashing good looks are a blessing to Mondstadt. You have been in my thoughts ever since the day I laid my eyes on you. Please accept my confession!”
Diluc, had he been a lesser man, would have gagged loudly.
“I’m surprised you didn’t tear this down along with the board,” Kaeya added.
Diluc sighed heavily. “How could I? There was a crowd surrounding it and when they realised I was there, everyone was looking at me.” Diluc shuddered at the recollection. “I just came back from an important meeting with a business partner, I couldn’t get any of my employees to take that note down—“
“Then you owe me one for getting rid of this.” Kaeya folded the paper in two, so that neither of them had to read it anymore. “Do you know who could have written it?”
“My first suspect would be Donna,” said Diluc. “I might be wrong. I’ve known that she has been...interested for some time but...I would never have expected she would pull off something so bold.”
“And shamelessly obnoxious.”
“This just reeks of desperation.”
“You know you’re the number one heartthrob since a long, long time ago. Frankly, I’m just surprised this only happened today.”
A disgusted snort. “Spare me.”
Kaeya folded his arms. “Would you like me to investigate properly? Maybe Diona might have noticed something.”
Diluc narrowed his eyes at the thought of involving the knights. “I’m not even prepared to trust you.”
“What if you paid someone to do this, as a sick joke to play on me?”
“Why would I—“
“You wouldn’t let me lead a peaceful life.”
Abruptly, Kaeya clenched his fists, banged the counter and stood up in anger at the blind accusation. “I would never treat your love life as a plaything, Diluc! You might see me as a sick bastard, but even I draw the line at making your life miserable. Take my word for it!”
That silenced Diluc from making further speculations. His watchful red eyes searched for any sign in Kaeya’s face that the latter was lying. Having found none. Diluc pulled a stool and sat down, seemingly resigned to his fate.
A sigh. “I was not thinking right,” he murmured loud enough for Kaeya to catch. “But this is not a state I’d like to be in.”
Kaeya seemed to have calmed himself after Diluc’s apology. “Having an anonymous admirer who’s too obnoxious in her or his chase?”
Diluc’s frown deepened that it almost looked like his eyebrows were knotted together. “I’d rather not have any.” Having said that, he would not want to be forced to reject someone's romantic advancement. The last thing he wanted was to be treated as someone’s beloved without being able to reciprocate, stuck in an unwilling partnership. He had no idea who this person could be, after all. Channeling his anger, he grabbed the note and incinerated it with his Vision.
Kaeya rested his cheek on one hand. “Master Diluc is asking too much. On the other hand, I’m compelled to agree. Having more than one admirer is already too many for us to handle.”
“Did you say ‘us’?”
Kaeya clicked his tongue at his blunder. “Ah. Apologies. It was a slip.”
“Don’t lie. You meant every word.” Diluc moved closer to him as realisation dawned on him. “You’re upset too.”
Kaeya jolted despite himself. Diluc had just hit the bullseye.
“Why should I?” Kaeya managed a nervous laugh in a poor attempt to deflect.
Diluc would not let him off that easy. “A simple yes or no would suffice, Kaeya.” He wondered if beneath Kaeya's discontent was a mutual feeling that had resurged after all these years, and if they had been two idiots for far too long.
Kaeya gulped. He never knew just by dropping his title Diluc could incite some emotions within him. There was fire - fury? - in Diluc’s eyes, indicating he was in a no nonsense mood. Kaeya found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Diluc was still waiting.
Kaeya exhaled slowly to release the tension that was building up. Things were rarely simple between them, that he could not give Diluc a likewise simple answer. Mustering enough courage, he brought his face closer. “Call me selfish, but If I ever find out who posted this…”
“I would give that person a piece of my mind.”
By now Kaeya was practically breathing into the redhead's ear. “That that person will have to get through me first. I don’t appreciate that I have competitors for your attention.”
A small smile threatened to sneak into one corner of Diluc’s lips. “Captain, you need to make your intention clearer than the note if you want to persuade me.”
“You’re difficult to please, aren’t you?” Chuckling, Kaeya traced a playful finger along Diluc’s jaw, drawing him closer and pulled him for a kiss. It was shorter than they would have liked it to be, with the counter between them, but it felt right and well-deserved, after the years of pent up yearning.
A moment of silence lapsed, but it was not of hostility nor awkwardness. Kaeya would strike it as a win.
“Diluc,” Kaeya said slowly.
“The next time anyone tries to confess to you, do us both a favour and say that you’re already off the market, noble etiquettes be damned.”
+ + + EPILOGUE + + +
One week later found Venti swaying his legs sideways playfully on his stool. Diluc was away from the tavern, but coincidentally the traveler and Paimon were around, so Venti had invited them for a chat to catch up.
“Were you looking for Master Diluc?” Venti asked.
“Not really,” answered the traveler. “We’re here to collect our daily commission reward from Charles on his behalf.”
“Oh? Is this a separate commission, not from the Adventurer’s Guild?”
“You’re right, and it’s really simple,” Paimon floated excitedly around her companion. “And yet Master Diluc is paying us handsomely.”
“I wonder if this has something to do with the public love confessions he had been getting on a daily basis? I saw the note would be up in the morning, but gone by the afternoon. Is it your doing?”
“Any idea who the perpetrator could be?”
“None. Sir Kaeya was looking into it, but lately there have been more notes than usual that he suspected that more and more people were tempted to announce their undying love to Master Diluc too. Some were even poems.” Paimon shrugged helplessly, but finding the domino effect rather amusing. "Poor Diona, she must be stressed out seeing her message board end up as love confession board."
Venti smiled. "No doubt."
“It must be difficult to be popular like Master Diluc. He’s probably really unhappy about it.”
“Is he?” Venti considered. "He's taking this quite well. I would have imagined he had marched up to Diona and insisted for her to take the board down."
The traveler paid for their drinks - except Venti’s because his tab would probably burn a huge hole in their mora - and they walked out in tandem. They saw an even bigger crowd gathering around the notice board.
“That’s odd,” Venti observed. “Didn’t you say that you’ve removed the love note?”
“We did,” said Paimon, confused. “Could there have been another one?”
When they did get close enough to see for themselves, they gasped.
There was an official notice at the top:
To whom it may concern,
Any more of this and the Knights will start viewing this as an offence.
Below the warning, there was a new note from the unknown admirer. However, the lovesick message had been rendered illegible, for across it there was an unmistakably angry scrawl:-