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Diluc straightens his ponytail with a huff, leaning heavily against the counter to finally give his feet a bit of a rest. It’s already early afternoon at Angel’s Share and he’s finally getting his first breather since arriving that morning. It was a busy day at the coffee shop, as the morning rush bled into the lunch crowd with no hint of a lull in between. As the owner of the shop Diluc certainly has the authority to grab a break and let his staff cover the gap, but unfortunately he’s a workaholic and a bit of a micromanager. If he can handle as much of the day-to-day workings of his shop himself as possible then he will.


It doesn’t help that his staff, while friendly and hardworking, just never seem quite as capable at making drinks as he is. Bennett tries so hard but he’s got terrible luck. Diluc has forbidden him from touching anything mechanical except the cash register after he had to pay for repairs the third time within a week. Xiangling has a tendency to add ingredients that the customer didn’t request into the coffee to “see how it turns out”. Diluc is beyond done with talking down angry customers shouting that they didn’t want slime in their latte, even if the tingle is kind of nice. And Sucrose is efficient and methodical, but after the steamer backfired in her face and made her cry, Diluc refuses to relive that experience. 


So it falls to Diluc to personally make each drink that’s handed from Bennett at the register, to himself, and finally to Sucrose who cheerfully tops each one with whipped cream or cinnamon or whatever the order requires before calling the associated customer’s name. Xiangling has been relegated to food orders only, where at least the increasingly long-winded titles for her artisan breakfast sandwiches and baked goods is more of a draw than a turn-off. 


The only problem is that after pulling espresso shot after espresso shot for hours and having to smile cheerfully at every customer who makes eye contact with him over the bar, Diluc is exhausted. He has only himself to blame for being too soft to let go of any of his current staff and replace them with more reliable employees. 


Diluc glares toward the left wall of the shop where he knows Margaret’s Cat’s Tail cat cafe is being run next door by the fearsome twin terrors - Diona and Qiqi. He’d swipe them in an instant for their beverage crafting skills, but Diona hates him for his family background in the wine industry, and Qiqi seems to instantaneously wipe him from her memories every time he leaves. Diluc idly contemplates reporting the Cat’s Tail for violating child labor laws, then tosses the idea as he’d bet money Margaret has forged backup documents to account for her employees. It wouldn’t be worth his time. Plus he’d feel guilty about the cats.


A delicate cough startles him out of his thoughts, and he glances across the bar to take in a man he’s never seen before standing there. Diluc isn’t usually one to notice such things, but he notes warily that the man is gorgeous. He’s got navy hair with lighter highlights in a low ponytail and bangs that entirely obscure his right eye. The eye that is visible is a piercing icy blue, and the man’s skin is richly tawny. And boy is there a lot of it, Diluc thinks as his eyes drag down over the large open v of the man’s white button up under his suit jacket. 


The man coughs again, and when Diluc glances back up at his face he knows he’s been caught looking. The taller man is smirking so Diluc tries to fight down his blush. From experience it’s quite a sight when he flushes because of his already vibrant hair, and he’d prefer to avoid the issue.


“Please order at the register, sir,” Diluc instructs, trying to distract him. He gestures down the bar toward Bennett who gives the man a friendly nod. 


“Ah, it’s you I actually wanted to speak to, sunshine,” the man says softly as he leans forward across the bar. Diluc is torn between eyeing the way the movement makes the top button of the man’s shirt strain over his chest, and being affronted at the invasion of his space. He vies hard for the latter option.


“Please don’t lean on the bar sir, it’s not sanitary. We make food here. What did you need to speak to me regarding?” 


The blue-haired man laughs in a beautiful tinkling way Diluc refuses to think further about. “Hmm, well I was here on my boss’s orders, but now that I’ve seen you I think that’s less important than getting your number. What do you say, my robin?”


Diluc gives him the most unimpressed face he can muster, which is barely different from his usual non-customer-service expression. In a near monotone he says, “I’m afraid the shop is for customers only, Sir. If you’re not going to purchase something, I must ask you to leave.”


The other man holds up his hands defensively. “Fine, fine, no need to be touchy little firecracker. I’m not going to extort it from you, I’m not that kind of man.” He saunters over to the register where Bennett has been waiting patiently for them to finish talking. 


Without even glancing at the menu behind the counter, the gorgeous man rattles off, “Large, Quad, Nonfat, No-Whip, One-Pump Mocha,” as Bennett’s fingers start furiously dancing across the screen of the register trying to keep up. Diluc can feel his right eyebrow start twitching as the man makes pointed eye contact with him and ends with, “for Kaeya.” At least he follows by slipping a 20 into the tip jar, which is the only reason Diluc doesn’t hop the counter and strangle him for his performance. 


After the asshole (Kaeya, Diluc’s brain supplies unhelpfully) pays for his drink, he saunters over to watch Diluc pull his four fucking shots of espresso. The redhead wonders if the man is a sadist, and he’s just chosen his order so he can get off on Diluc’s suffering. Diluc is petty enough that he ignores him rather than giving him the satisfaction of a customer-service smile. What’s he going to do, fire himself?


Once the godforsaken thing is done Diluc slides it over to Sucrose to top and deliver. She calls his name and Kaeya thanks her politely, but he’s still eyeing Diluc even as he wipes down after himself. Kaeya grins and calls over to him, “I liked watching you work, but it’s too bad you weren’t the one to call my name. I’d have liked hearing it in your voice.”


Diluc makes an entirely involuntary noise of disgust. He turns and announces loudly to his staff, “I’m going on lunch,” already reaching for the ties to his apron as he walks briskly toward the back room. He tries but fails to tune out Kaeya laughing behind him.


That’s the first time Kaeya visits Angel’s Share to torment Diluc, but unfortunately it’s not the last. He doesn’t come every day, but Diluc now finds his steady routine being interrupted multiple times a week by the insufferable man. And each time the asshole seems to find new and creative ways to ruin Diluc’s day. 


If he continued to order the same obnoxious drink each time that would be one thing. But on each visit he spouts off a different but equally heinous crime against coffee. Sometimes when he seems to be feeling spicy he’ll also order a food item to Xiangling’s delight and Diluc’s horror, since it means he sits down in the shop to eat it.


Diluc isn’t sure why the blue haired man gets under his skin so badly. It’s not like he’s the only one with a terrible drink order, or a snarky attitude, or even the only one who hits on Diluc every time he walks by the bar. He even tips consistently and well, which is not something Diluc can say for all of his regulars. Something niggling in the back of Diluc’s brain whispers it’s because he’s pretty and you like him, a thought that Diluc smashes flat each time it rears its head.


At least, blessedly, the man always comes by in the quiet of the afternoon rather than during the morning rush. The downside is that there are often no other customers in the shop for Diluc to use as a distraction. This means Kaeya feels free to sidle up to the counter across from him and try to flirt while Diluc makes whatever concoction he’s been cursed with that day. Diluc has gotten excellent at ignoring him since he’s pretty sure the taller man is only flirting in the first place to get a rise from the redhead.


It’s a few weeks after Kaeya first started tormenting him when he finally cracks Diluc’s silence. Bennett slides the cup over, and Diluc looks at it blankly. He reads the order, then looks down at the cup again. The order reads Almond milk, extra dry Earl Grey steamer, which is tame enough by Kaeya’s standards. But for some reason there is already a tea bag in the cup that Diluc doesn’t recognize. He picks up the cup and takes a whiff. Definitely Earl Grey.


Diluc looks up at Kaeya, who’s smiling at him expectantly with his arms crossed. Diluc curses internally, then asks, “are you kidding? You brought your own tea bag? You know we have Earl Grey, right? What, are mine not good enough for you? ”


Kayea waves his hand airily as he grins. “Mine is Khaenri’an,” he says with a note of condescension in his tone. Diluc hates him. He clenches his hand on the side of the counter tight enough that he’s surprised he’s not denting the metal, then takes a long deep breath to gather himself before releasing it. He can’t let this blue-haired smirking gorgeous asshole get to him.


Tearing his eyes from Kaeya, Diluc fills the cup with hot water to steep his precious Khaenri’an Earl Grey. He pours out the almond milk and gets to work making a frankly obscene amount of foam. Diluc tops off the tea and pushes the thing toward Sucrose, shaking his hand off after as if he’d just accidentally touched a sea creature.


Sucrose pops a lid on the cup and hands it off without needing to call for Kaeya. Diluc can feel his ice blue gaze even without looking, and he keeps his eyes down as Kaeya takes a sip. Even so he can’t help his head jerking up when the taller man lets out a soft, “Oh”. 


Diluc looks at him questioningly, wondering if he’d somehow made it wrong. Kaeya shakes his head with a soft laugh. “You made it perfectly,” he assures Diluc, “it’s just that I haven’t tasted this flavor for quite a long time. I only recently found this tea at a specialty store. It’s rather nostalgic for me.”


Diluc feels a flush creeping up his cheeks, which is familiar, as well as a pang of empathy with Kaeya, which is not. He knows well enough what it’s like to miss a taste you can’t seem to replicate. In particular, there are a few drinks that his father used to make before his death which Diluc can never get quite right despite knowing the full list of ingredients. 


“I’m glad you enjoy my drinks,” Diluc says without thinking, only realizing his mistake when Kaeya’s grin widens until it’s splitting across his face. “Sir,” he adds on as though that’s going to salvage the situation. 


“I can never go to any other coffee shop again. They just don’t make my orders right. Plus they don’t have baristas nearly as pretty as you,” Kaeya says with an accompanying action that could be a wink, or just a blink. Diluc isn’t sure. 


Diluc decides that the only possible course of action is to ignore Kaeya until he leaves, so he turns around to wipe down everything he can think to whether it needs wiping or not. Kaeya lets out a dramatic sigh, but after a few more moments he does mercifully leave. Despite himself Diluc feels a bit sad about it which is ridiculous.


What’s even more ridiculous is that after his bold announcement, Kaeya stops visiting Angel’s Share without warning. After a full week in which the blue haired man doesn’t show his face once, Diluc starts to wonder if he’s scared him off somehow. Maybe Kaeya has gotten tired of Diluc being so short with him, or he finally found another barista who suits his tastes better.


His zoning out is interrupted by Bennett asking, “any idea when your boyfriend will be back?”


Diluc’s eyebrows shoot up. “My what?” 


It’s only Bennett’s wholesome enthusiasm that keeps Diluc from firing him on the spot. “You know who! Kaeya hasn’t been here all week. I thought you two were finally starting to get along after last time.”


Diluc rolls his eyes aggressively. If that was Bennett’s idea of ‘getting along’, he’d hate to see what the kid considers ‘disagreeing’. “That man and what he does with his time is none of my business. And don’t call him my boyfriend, that’s disgusting.”


Bennett shrugs. “Whatever you say boss.”


Diluc is about to tell him off for calling him ‘boss’ too (at least say manager, Bennett) when the bell above the door tinkles and a customer walks in. Diluc straightens up and puts on his customer service smile, giving the newcomer a once-over. Surprisingly the man sort of reminds him of Kaeya. 


The new customer has a crop of messy ginger hair and blue eyes, but the thing that reminds him of his regular nuisance is the suit the man has on. He’s wearing a well-tailored grey suit (Italian maybe?) over a burgundy button-up. The top few buttons are unfastened to show off a v of chest. Maybe he and Kaeya know each other, Diluc thinks to himself as the man swaggers toward the register to order.


“Hi sir! What can I get for you today?” Bennett chirps, hands hovering over the register. 


Although Diluc has never seen this man in the shop before, his blue eyes barely skim over the menu before he lists off his order. “I’ll take a large java chip blended coffee with double chips and extra caramel drizzle. Oh, extra whip too.”


Diluc grimaces internally. Another nut with a complicated order, fantastic. As Bennett hands the cup to him and Diluc starts pulling the ingredients together, the ginger man slides down the bar to hover directly opposite from where he’s working. This too is reminiscent of Kaeya, and Diluc is starting to wonder if he’s just going to have to resign himself to people acting weird around him while he works from now on.


“You own this shop, right?” a cheerful voice carries from across the counter. Diluc’s eyes shoot up to meet the ginger man’s blue ones. That’s the second time he’s been asked in just a handful of weeks, and it’s strange because it’s not exactly common knowledge among those who aren’t regulars.


“I do,” he replies cautiously before he pops the drink in to blend to drown out further conversation while he takes a few seconds to consider. What’s with people wanting to speak to the shop owner recently?


As he pours the drink into the waiting cup, the ginger man continues as if he hadn’t been rudely interrupted by a high-powered blender. “Has anyone spoken to you yet about protection?”


Diluc stares at him as if he’s grown a second head. “Protection? Protection from what?”


“Oh you know, this and that. There’s lots to fear around these parts. It would be terrible if such a prosperous shop as yours fell prey to looters or something similar,” the ginger man says breezily, his stare intense over the bar as Diluc sizes the man up. Something about him screams danger, but it’s not like Diluc hasn’t kicked out the odd interloper from Angel’s Share before. 


“Are you threatening me, Sir?” he asks with a squint, about to continue when the shop bell tinkles and he’s interrupted by the surprise of who his new arrival is. 


“What the hell are you doing in my territory, Tartaglia?” Kaeya’s voice comes far sharper than Diluc has ever heard it before, cracking like a whip. The air takes on an electric charge as the ginger slowly turns around to face Kaeya. 


“Your territory? I wasn’t aware that the Knights of Favonius were dabbling in the coffee industry these days, Alberich,” the ginger man puts his hands casually into his pockets as if anything about their conversation made sense. Diluc is having a hard time following, but the one thing he’s sure of is that Kaeya is on his side. 


“It’s a bit of a new development, but you can rest assured that it is in fact, my territory,” Kaeya gives a dangerous smile that gives off the impression of a carnivore baring its teeth. “Why don’t you get the hell out of my shop, Harbinger?”


The ginger (Tartaglia, thinks Diluc) holds up his hands placatingly. “Fine, fine, I don’t want to step on any toes accidentally. I’m just getting my coffee, see?” The man picks up the beverage that Sucrose had placed silently on the counter. Without breaking eye contact with Kaeya, he heads toward the door and steps around the man. 


“See you on the streets,” he says to Kaeya with a last threatening smile before he pushes through the door. The shop is silent as Kaeya lets out a long deep sigh. 


“What the fuck?” Diluc curses after a moment. “What was that about Kaeya? Who was that guy? What do you mean by your shop?”


Kaeya approaches, running a hand through his hair with irritation at the exchange that had just occurred. “I’ll explain. Don’t snap at me Firecracker, I’m just trying to help you out.”


Diluc crosses his arms and glares at the blue haired man impatiently. Kaeya begins, “that man was a Fatui agent, a high-up one called a Harbinger. Have you heard of the Fatui?”


Diluc has, so he nods. They’re a group of Snezhnayans who do underground black-market deals around the city, but also have a polite diplomatic front for day business. Kaeya continues, “they have a protection racket across half the city that my colleagues and I have been trying to dismantle by stealing their clients. I work for the Knights of Favonius.”


“So you’re with the mafia?” Diluc exclaims with disbelief. The Knights are another group, this one more closely affiliated with the intelligence arm of the state government. They may have the silent approval of the authorities, but they do their own underground dealings. In fact, Diluc suspects that they played a part in the death of his father.


“More like the anti-mafia,” Kaeya explains with bemusement. “Though it’s hard to keep up with the ridiculous amount of funding and connections those Snezhnayan bastards draw from. Either way, you can consider your shop under the protection of the Knights. Just tell them as much if they come back, and they should back off.”


“I haven’t paid you protection money, and I can take care of myself thanks” Diluc retorts warily. He doesn’t really want anything to do with the Knights, even now that he knows Kaeya is one of them.


Kaeya snorts. “Free of charge for you, Sunshine. I decided as much the first time I came in here, so don’t worry about it.”


Diluc stares at him, weighing his options. As much as he hates the Knights, he hates the idea of paying the Fatui for protection even more. And if Kaeya is offering him the Favonius name to toss around for free, isn’t it in his favor to accept?


After giving Diluc some time to contemplate, Kaeya breaks the ice that’s formed between them. “Is it ok if I order my coffee now? It’s been a long week, and I’ve been looking forward to tasting another of your drinks since my last visit.”


Diluc gestures with his chin toward the register, and then changes his mind after half a second. “Wait-” he interrupts before Kaeya can start listing off his order to Bennett. “This one’s on the house. As thanks for kicking that asshole out of my shop. Don’t order anything too crazy though,” he narrows his eyes at Kaeya, who laughs brightly. 


“Okay, okay. A hazelnut latte, then.”


Diluc’s mouth would’ve gaped open if he were a lesser man. “I didn’t know you were capable of ordering drinks that normal. Wow.”


“I’m a man of varied tastes!” Kaeya protests, leaning yet again on the counter while Diluc works. 


“Hmm...varied is a strange way to say mediocre,” Diluc teases as he pours the espresso into Kaeya’s cup. 


“You wound me, Firefly,” Kaeya says with a dramatic hand placed to his forehead as he pretends to swoon. Diluc ignores his theatrics and slides the cup down to Sucrose. 


As Kaeya picks the finished beverage up from the counter, he gives Diluc a warm smile. “I’ll be back again soon, for real this time.”


“Don’t strain yourself,” Diluc replies in monotone with a straight face. Kaeya chuckles and Diluc feels a weight lift from him at the idea that the man hadn’t decided to never return after all.


Kaeya returns the very next day, much to Diluc’s despair and delight. Diluc looks down at Bennett’s scribbled handwriting on Kaeya’s cup as the blonde slides it over: Small double extra extra dry cappuccino.


Diluc raises an eyebrow at Kaeya. “You’ve got something against milk?”


Kaeya scratches the back of his neck, chagrined. “I’m actually lactose intolerant.”


Diluc stares at him unblinking as he tries to process that fact. “But I’ve made you plenty of dairy milk drinks. What the hell, Kaeya? You’re aware that we have non-dairy milk right?”


Kaeya lets out the long-suffering sigh of a man who’s had this discussion uncountable times before. “Yes, I’m aware. It’s fine. Avoiding dairy is...more of a guideline than an actual rule.”


Diluc snorts. “Doesn’t it make your stomach all…” he trails off, making a spell-casting sort of gesture toward Kaeya’s midsection. 


“I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, isn’t it rude to ask your customers about their bowels?” Kaeya makes a disapproving face at Diluc that the redhead scoffs at. Kaeya has spent too long making bad jokes and flirting for him to be affected at this point.


“You’ve moved beyond just being an average customer wouldn’t you say Mister Knight?” Diluc rebukes as he starts steaming the milk to death. 


Kaeya waits until he’s done to answer. “If I’m more than just a customer, does that mean you’d say yes if I asked you out?”


Diluc stares down at the cappuccino, pretending to think the matter over. “I would say that that would be a bit difficult considering I don’t even have your number.”


Kaeya stares back, surprised. After he gathers himself, he replies, “Oh, well if that’s all.” The taller man pulls out a pen and grabs a napkin off the counter, scribbling furiously on it. When he hands it over the bar to Diluc their hands touch, and Diluc has to fight to keep a straight face. 


“Text me!” Kaeya calls as he picks his barely-a-cappuccino off the end of the bar. 


“I’ll consider it,” Diluc calls back, hiding a smile as Kaeya bursts out through the door of his coffee shop.