“I hate dresses,” Jean mutters under her breath. “Stupid, heavy, cumbersome - might as well go to a fight in lingerie it’s at least more comfortable -”
Kaeya’s lips twitch as he calmly adjusts the collar of his dress shirt. “We’re trying to butter them up, not kill them,” Kaeya chides affectionately, twirls his Dandelion Queen around to hug her and kiss the top of her head. Jean squeaks and flails away from him, tries to right her hair and scowls up at him as she fails. Kaeya chuckles fondly.
“Let me,” he says softly, and Jean scowls at him, but allows his fingers to card through her hair and slowly pin her hair up once more in a cascade of ringlets and glittering hairpins. The loose locks frame her face in a heart-shaped embrace, a few pins bravely struggling to hold her voluminous hair in. “There. Much better,” he says, turns her to face the mirror.
Dressed as they are, they’re quite the pair, Kaeya likes to think. He’d chosen his outfit to match hers, Jean’s silky opal and cream dress resplendent as it hugs her figure and gives her an unearthly grace. Dandelions are embroidered up the side where her dress parted, giving a subtle flash of her legs with every movement. The heels were a bit higher than her usual, pretty gold metal shining in the dim light.
He’d loaned her the fur shawl that he wore to offer a more sophisticated note than the dress itself could give her, and she’d reluctantly agreed to the opera gloves and slightly more extravagant than her usual earrings.
The necklace had taken both him and Lisa’s work to convince her to wear, however. It was an opulent, gaudy thing, and Kaeya makes a note that he will have to make sure she doesn’t throw it out of the nearest window the moment the night is over.
Compared to her, he was wearing a less expensive - if no less flashy - ensemble. White was not his color of choice, so he’d coaxed Jean's servants into letting him wear a softer honey cream color palette instead, allowing it to highlight his hair and eye as stunning accent peices.
They’d begged him to wear a corseted waistcoat over the unbuttoned dress shirt, the back of the uncomfortable garment laced with golden strings. As though showcasing his (it must be said; nonexistent) wealth, golden-hued leather vambraces covered his forearms, though the cord tying them in place was a jewel-tone, glittering blue with respect to his Vision.
His hair had been pulled into a delicately high ponytail, smaller braids woven into it to add to his exotic appeal, and his earring had been changed out for a sparkly little set of paired earrings that were shaped like glittering teardrops of gold and cream. They rung like bells whenever he moved, and if they wouldn't give him away in combat, Kaeya would most certainly like to keep them.
“You’ve got it easy,” she grumbles.
In response, Kaeya flicks his nail-painted fingers against his eyepatch. One of Jean’s over-zealous maids had attached a delicate jeweled chain leading to the choker around his throat, where his Vision held a place of pride, nestled at the base of his throat. The girl had spent an awfully long time smoothing out his shirt until he’d lightly suggested she find herself elsewhere.
Not to mention the makeup both of them had been subjected to.
Jean at least had the grace to look a little guilty.
“At least I’m the sort of man who can pull it off,” Kaeya teases lightly. “Could you imagine Diluc doing as I am?” The now familiar hate curls around him, but wars with the fondness of the memory.
“Must I really wear - ouch!” Kaeya watches as his brother rubs his arm, scowling at the innocently smiling Master Crepus as he waves a sharp pin around.
“You’ve gotten taller since the last time I made you a suit, son,” he admonishes, and red hair tumbles to cover his face as he hides his pout behind his hair. “Now hold still - you can stay and watch while I make Kaeya his first suit, if you behave.”
Kaeya is no longer grinning, and Diluc’s eyes have lit up with clear, delighted mischief.
“You don’t have a suit yet?” He asks, the look of pure brotherly glee as bright as the lamps.
“Ahahaha… Just never had the time I guess and I really should get back to my lessons-” Kaeya bolts out of the room, pretends not to hear Diluc’s ringing laughter or Master Crepus’s own, more tolerant chuckle.
He pulls himself out of it, his Vision giving a grumpy hiss at the memory of that man causing him any joy after what he had done. Jean is looking up at him in concern, and he gives her a gentle smile.
“Don’t mind me, love,” he says fondly. “It’s a good memory, no matter how tarnished.” Jean looks unconvinced, but stretches up to kiss his cheek. He dips down to let her, smiles ruefully.
“You aren’t lying to me, are you?” she asks sternly, and he smiles again for her, winks.
“Promise I’m not. I’ll tell you about it on the way, if you’d like.”
At his words, Jean lights up like the sun.
Does it matter that Jean is about to laugh in Grand Master Varka’s face? Oh heavens no, not at all. The man had taken one look at Kaeya, and in Amber’s words, he had ‘gone through more shades of red than a firework’.
Lisa did hope that someone had taken photos, because the look on Varka’s face when Kaeya had come in, escorting Jean through his new home had simply been divine.
Though Lisa was woman enough to admit the sight of them would certainly be part of the gossip circles in Liyue, Snezhnaya, and Mond for weeks, if not months. Jean had of course made a splash in her clothing, silky dress over sunkissed skin, but Kaeya…
My goodness. If Lisa hadn’t found herself very firmly taken in by Jean, she could almost admit to wanting to climb Sir Kaeya like a tree. All that white contrasting against his honey-hued skin ought to have been outlawed, if the reactions from those around her were any sign. There was to be light, mingling conversation before dinner, so that Kaeya and Jean could sweet-talk the purses into opening their wallets for an evening.
And for that, Jean had required an escort. It made sense for it to be Jean and Kaeya - they were using his home, after all, to make an orphanage for the children and tween-year children to live in, safe from the predators of Mond’s darker side.
It did not make Lisa any less jealous.
Snagging a glass of sparkling cider, Lisa wanders closer to the pair.
Kaeya gives her a light smile and dip of his head, before returning to the conversation at hand about… Liyue performers? What an odd topic. His hand is possessively settled around Jean’s waist, not quite restraining her, but not allowing her to wander as she pleased, though Jean seemed not to mind, chatting lightly away to another woman about what it meant to be a knight.
Ugh. Boring. She catches Jean’s eye, and Jean smiles widely, wiggles her wine glass subtly in hello. The pursestrings that Jean was talking to seemed to take her action as encouragement, and started talking louder.
Lisa winces on her behalf and moves on. She was not the best here - if only Sumeru representatives had been around, she’d at least be able to talk shop about the books she’d gotten to browse after Kaeya had generously donated them.
While, by rights, Grand Master Varka was the one in charge of Ordo Favonius, Kaeya had engaged in a brief, but fierce war with the organizers to make it clear that this event was being hosted by Kaeya himself and Jean, as they were the ones in charge of starting the orphanage rather than the Grand Master himself.
It had been a low blow, to cut across Varka’s support network so harshly, but Kaeya could not find it within himself to care. Kaeya stands at the head of the table and can feel the vindictive satisfaction as a fuming Varka was escorted to a side table with his aide and several of the ‘old guard’ of the Ordo. Jean enters the hall, and the room hushes as she gracefully makes her way to the head of the table.
With a flourish, Kaeya pulls the chair out for her, allows her to seat herself gracefully before pushing the chair in. Lisa is given a place of honor at her left, and Kaeya takes the seat on the right, but does not sit.
“Please!” Kaeya smiles widely, offers a sweeping gesture of his hand out. “Have a seat. The food will be out shortly.” The guests murmur as they sit, and Kaeya settles down, observes the various dignitaries with a slightly amused smile.
Lady Ningguang and Lady Beidou were both within easy hearing range, having been in town due to a dispute along the Mondstadt/Liyue border that had required some delicate footwork between the two to handle, and across from them sat the Fatui contingent.
Il Dotorre. The supposed savior who had been offered a gracious place by Varka after his service rescuing the city from a vicious drake. The first few courses were served and eaten in silence, the hall falling in an appreciative hush of the divine cooking. Noelle had been in charge of cooking with Barbara, and he could tell the way the food blended with Liyue and Mondstadt’s tastes that the girls had quite a bit of fun experimenting.
“It’s good to see you well, Lady Beidou,” Kaeya says with a smile. “Your shipping transport - you did get the repair materials, yes?” Beidou blinks, surprised at being addressed, before a smile curls her lips.
“I did, thank you,” she confirms. “I must say, I hadn’t expected that you were such a high-ranking Knight of Favonius - the way you spoke about your work, I simply thought you were just another Knight taking a sabbatical!” She gives a light laugh, and Kaeya smiles with all his sweetness.
“Well, just because I’m the Calvary Captain doesn’t mean that I don’t need to learn more about myself now and again,” Kaeya deflects the hidden question. “And that besides - the safety of the Liyue-Mondstadt border is of great importance to the Knights.”
Some of the tension eases.
Thank Barbatos for the silver tongue he’d honed.
“It seems a shame,” the woman who is speaking spears a thinly sliced cut of pork, marinated in ginger and oyster sauce, “that a Vision so like the Tsaritsa’s is simply a political envoy of Mondstadt instead of part of the diplomatic process.”
Conversation around them stills, and the air seems slightly chill. Jean doesn’t stop eating, instead delicately plucks her napkin from her lap and dabs daintily at her lips, gives off an air of unconcerned nonchalance. The woman’s Vision is equally on display as her most loyal knight’s, a pretty little tiara of Anemo green.
“Then clearly it’s just as much a shame as the fact that an envoy like yourself instead shares the winds of Barbatos than that of your beloved Archon,” Kaeya says sweetly. “Though I must confess, Anemo or Cryo, both of us serve our respective countries with full-hearted devotion.” A glitter of frost-blue winks from Kaeya’s Vision. The air seems even chillier.
Wisely, the representative backs down, and everyone breathes slightly easier.
“I confess to some curiosity,” Jean’s eyes flick up to Il Dotorre, and her shoulders tense slightly. “Most Knights often seem to enjoy telling the tales of how they got their Vision - but there hasn’t been so much as a mention from you, Sir Kaeya.” The title is full of disdain, and Jean has to fight back her instinctive urge to slap him, as she always does when he alludes to her loyal knight in some derogatory manner.
Kaeya doesn’t even seem to notice the slight. “Mm. It’s not for dinnertime conversation,” Kaeya says dismissively, flicks his fingers to a side. “The events surrounding my Vision are… difficult, to speak of. Perhaps after dessert, if you’re so inclined?” The slight quirk of his lips upwards, a gentle but smug dismissal, and an expectation to agree. He clearly knew that the man wouldn’t, would so easily step into a lightly arrayed verbal trap.
Il Dotorre was no match. “It can hardly be so off-putting so as to put me off a meal,” the man says, and he would have continued, if not for Kaeya’s sharp look. His Vision winks lightly in the candlelight.
Even dressed in all of his finery, the soft honey and cream visage of her Knight is an intimidating one. Her loyal knight sets his cutlery down, the sound loud in the hushed silence. The winds around Kaeya are unmoving, though Jean had no doubt that had he still been holding his knife and fork, frost would have started to make an appearance upon the metal.
“Don’t be so arrogant, sir,” Kaeya chides, and someone drops their fork. “When I say it is not dinnertime conversation, I include anyone who may be able to hear our words - while you may be more than capable of stomaching the events, you can hardly speak for every person who is dining with us. My guests - all of my guests - are my main concern. As a diplomat for the Fatui, I would have thought you would know such etiquette. If not, then I’ll have to request that you vacate the premises and that a different envoy is dispatched. Diplomatic relations with Snezhnaya are always of utmost importance, and an antagonistic relationship will do nobody at this table any good.”
The man looked like he’d just been slapped by a fish, and the Liyue contingent was all hiding smiles behind their hands - or in the case of Beidou, smirking openly - at his rudeness being rebuffed so politely. The air warms once more, and conversation resumes, though there is still a hush at the startling realization of how coolly the envoy had been slapped down.
How dare that… that lowly wretch spurn him? Il Dotorre paces the length of the hallway outside of the banquet hall, seethes. He’d come prepared for another soft-hearted Knight of Favonius, some fool too short-sighted to concede to the glory of the Fatui, and he got… Argh!
This could not be allowed to stand… unchallenged .
What a menace, this man was. Kaeya twirls his drink ‘round the stem as he idly listens. Jean had gone off with Lisa to recuperate after that stressful dinner, and Kaeya, as the host and primary donor, was left to seduce those with the money to donate for the cause.
Already, the budget - if all things held true - would be a good starting point to feed, clothe, and bathe all children for a year. Lessons were of course run by the church and the Knights, and Kaeya had answered honestly that no child was obligated to the Knights beyond becoming a law-abiding citizen.
Mournfully, Kaeya teased that he did hope that if they became Knights, they avoided the truly terrifying jobs as he didn’t want to go grey before his time.
The laughter had been joyously sweet before Il Dotorre had cornered him.
Or tried to.
Kaeya had deftly slipped around the man, forcing him to meet Kaeya in the middle of the floor. He was a snake, and Kaeya had deliberately made light of his Vision’s manifestation, erasing some details and outright omitting others, though those omissions were clearly what he was most after, given his insistence on pressing the subject.
“While I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another as colleagues, I do have other guests to attend to as well - I would hate to be seen as lacking in my manners,” Kaeya says the words as charmingly as he can, even as his Vision grumpily hisses and spits at having to play nice and sugar and sweet for the vile snake.
His fingers touch the Vision in silent chastisement, a reminder to behave. Kaeya glances round the room as is his habit. When his initial scan shows no sign of sunshine blonde, Kaeya takes another, longer look around.
Jean is gone, and Lisa, too, is starting to look worried. Kaeya can feel how his Vision trembles, worry and fury mixing together to emanate a light glow of blue even under his fingers.
“... and really, how masculine can you be if you choose to paint yourself as frivolously as a woman?” Il Dotorre was still speaking. By the winds of Barbatos’s wings, would this man shut up?
“So speaks the man who wears a mask to every function as though hiding a hilichurl’s bare end,” Kaeya says pleasantly.
Il Dotorre’s mouth hangs open.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to meet with Lord Alberich - Noelle asked me to pass on a hello for her while she handles the catering.” Noelle had said no thing, but the jolly man would understand Kaeya’s need to use him as a diversion. With a light pat to the man’s shoulder, Kaeya frees himself at last, weaves through the crowd and curses his height. He was easily the tallest person here save Lady Beidou.
Oh. Now that was a thought. Kaeya passes them by, and at the Liyue delegation’s curious looks, he subtly rolls his eye, waves his wine glass in the man’s general direction. Beidou and Lady Ningguang both stifle smiles, and are kind enough to intercept him as he tries to push his way through.
Thank goodness. Free at last.
The halls are silent when he escapes to them, and Kaeya frowns.
No. Not silent. This oppressive feeling… Kaeya quickens his steps. Jean would never use this technique of her own free will.
Hold on Jean. If you’re in danger, I’ll stop them. By any means necessary.
A tap on Jean’s shoulder obligates her to turn away from her enthusiastic discussion with the jolly Lord Alberich about potions and their medicinal qualities. After sparing the Lord a gentle smile, she obediently takes a look.
“Ah - Elder Lange!” She curtsies, and the man bows back. “How may I help you?” The man gives her a smile that feels a little greasy, but she has to ignore it and smile politely regardless.
“Might we speak alone? There’s some business that came up with the Ordo.” Jean blinks, frowns a little.
“Lisa is a fully qualified member,” she protests, and Elder Lange doesn’t quite scowl.
“This is sensitive information, Sir Jean. The Librarian does not have the clearance to speak in regards to this.” Jean bristles, but Lisa shakes her head.
“He’s right, you know. I’m just a librarian. I’m not involved in any of the training or combat aspects, so it’s probably better for everyone if I keep my input away from it.” Lisa pats Jean’s arm, and the girl reluctantly sighs, steps away.
Later, Jean would scold herself for her lapse, allowing herself to be steered away from the safety net that was Lisa. The way his hand tightened around her arm makes her flinch, and before she can protest, she’s shoved into the hall rather than towards Varka.
“Your clan denied my betrothal offer to your sister.” Jean’s opinion of the meeting immediately spiraled downhill.
“My sister is a nun of the Holy Church, Elder Lange - she will never be marrying as tradition has stated,” Jean says irritably. “I made that explicitly clear in the refusal.” The man’s hand tightens further. Jean tries to pull her Vision awake, to rally the winds in her defense-
Nothing. Not even a whisper in the halls. A wink of light catches her eye, and she can see the man's ringed hand shine in the moonlight.
“That was a mistake,” the Elder says, eyes narrowed. “You have done this city a disservice by remaining a knight. By now, your mother was already pregnant with you and had two other children besides.”
Jean sees red. Her hand snaps out, the ringing slap of her fingers against his bony face making the Elder’s head hit the wall.
“ Don’t talk about my mother, ” Jean hisses, backs away from him as she rubs her arm.
“We’ll talk about you and your wretched family however we damn well please.” The sound of another voice makes her freeze, and Jean glances in the reflections of the decorative mirrors, can see that more men have melted out of the shadows. “You think you’re better than us? You Gunnhildrs always act so hoity-toity, flout your supposed devotion to the city, but we see how you look at that foreign mutt you call a Calvary Captain, how you look at your Librarian. He’s not even back for two weeks and he’s dragging women to carry his half-blooded spawn for him.”
Again, Jean tries to summon her Vision, feels a feeble flicker against her fingertips as it attempts to respond.
“If you’d at least married the Ragnvindr boy, you would have at least been doing your duty. But no, you just had to go for the adopted slag. You look at him like you love him, you foolish girl. Sullying a pure bloodline.” They close in, and Jean steps back, into the wider space that had ceased to be a safe place. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure your value is equal to his, worthless whore.”
“Oh will you?” Kaeya’s voice is sudden in the empty space of the threat, making all of them jump. Ice cracks across the ground, traps feet and hands in their hungry maws, winds around bodies in a snake’s caress. Kaeya materializes behind her, his arm wrapping firmly around her waist and tugging her closer in silent, possessive protectiveness. “Did you honestly think I wouldn’t notice you were harassing my Grand Master?”
One of the boys laughs, and if Jean wasn’t so relieved, she would have told him to shut up, to allow her to keep them from a surely humiliating beating.
“Grand Master? Do you lick her boots and body with that tongue, mutt?” They’re idiots. The whole lot of them, Jean thinks in numb disbelief. Cold is rolling off of Kaeya in waves, spilling diamond-dust fog in a fine, opaque cloud over the floor. Their taunts peter out. They're starting to realize how precariously their lives are balanced on his mercy.
“Tell me one thing. If Jean had not been here tonight, would you have gone after Sister Barbara? Would you have hurt her the same way you filthy creatures planned on assaulting my Grand Master?”
Jean’s breath catches.
For herself, she would have offered them leniency. It had not crossed the path of more than just mere words, hurtful and cruel that they were.
But to do this to any other… to attempt this against her sister…
There were lines no one could cross. Even one as forgiving as herself could not stomach them. Though they had not hurt her yet, their very actions had threatened her sister.
"Don't…" Jean swallows her nerves. "Don't make a mess, please. It takes time to clean blood off the floor, and your home doesn't need that kind of trouble."
Kaeya's laughter is a viciously soft thing. When he speaks again, that terrible, beautiful rage is gone from his voice, replaced with his cold satisfaction.
"As it pleases you, my Grand Master."
The posters go up, Jean's hand pressing them against the wall to make sure they stick. Kaeya is beside her, humming as he idly makes sure his poster doesn't slip down the stone.
Six young men and Elder Lange.
The posters stay up for the courteous three weeks, and are taken down only a mere handful of days before the master of Dawn Winery returns.