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the me now and the me then

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Diluc wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of quiet sniffles and small hands shaking him insistently.

Groggily, he looks to his right and blinks, rubbing his eyes as they slowly adjust to the darkness of the room. “What...? Who–” 

“Diluc?” a hushed voice whispers, sounding on the verge of tears. “Luc, wake up, please.”

Wait.. He pauses at the familiar voice. He knows that voice. Memories of Kaeya waking him up in the middle of the night after a nightmare rush back to him and Diluc sits up so suddenly that the body next to him jumps back in surprise, backing away into the corner of the bed. He reaches to light the lamp on his bedside table and a small gasp comes from behind him. When he turns back, a bundle of blue hair peeks out from under the blanket and a wide lilac eye stares at him fearfully.

“Kaeya?” Diluc is confused. And shocked, but mainly confused. In front of him sits Kaeya, but also not Kaeya. From the looks of it, the boy is about ten years old, which means he’s from a couple years after his father took him in. 

Diluc looks around at his room. He’s pretty sure this is his room. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. But why is there a little Kaeya here?

“Y-you’re not my Diluc,” young Kaeya whimpers, seemingly close to bursting into tears. The boy continues to shift away from him and Diluc fears that he would soon fall off the bed. He moves to stop him, but it only makes him flinch and shift further back before Diluc’s hand reaches him. 

Right, he thinks to himself. This is younger Kaeya. He’s shy and doesn’t let anyone touch him except Diluc and occasionally his father. But he’s not Diluc right now. At least not the Diluc that this Kaeya knows.  

“You’re going to fall off the bed,” he says gently. Well, as gently as present Diluc could manage.

The boy turns to look behind him before quickly turning back to face the older man. He’s still shaking, but at least he stopped moving away.

“Are you okay?” he asks. “Did you have a nightmare?”

Young Kaeya doesn’t respond. He stares mutely at Diluc, observing him for a while before hesitantly nodding as if finally deciding to trust him.

“Is it the same one?” he tries.

He gets a small nod in response. The boy quickly looks down at his lap, attempting to hide the tears threatening to fall from his eye. 

Diluc sees them anyway. And when a single crystal drop falls, it sparks something inside of him. Something that he had a long time ago. Something that he shoved deep down inside of him. The desire that young Diluc had to protect Kaeya. To keep him smiling. To wipe away his tears and shield him from the harsh world. 

Instinctively, Diluc moves to pull the boy into him. Young Kaeya tenses for a split second before relaxing in his arms and pushing his head into Diluc’s chest. 

It’s not his Diluc, but his arms have the same warmth and he finds the same comfort he’s grown used to. Relief washes over him and small Kaeya finally lets the tears fall. Arms wrap around Diluc’s waist and small hands grasp tightly to the back of his shirt. Diluc holds the trembling boy and gently runs his hand through his soft hair, pressing small kisses into the top of head. 

“I’m sorry.” he says. “I’m not your Diluc, but I hope this helps. This is what he usually does right?” Or at least that’s what I did in the past, he thinks.

Silence. 

At the lack of response, Diluc thinks the boy won’t answer but the hands behind him clench tighter and young Kaeya nods into his chest. “It helps,” he whispers. “Thank you.” His voice is so quiet that Diluc has to strain to hear him.

Diluc holds the young boy in his arms and softly rocks him back and forth until the trembles stop and he’s no longer crying into his shirt.

After a moment, young Kaeya pulls away to look up at him. “Why are you bigger?” he asks.

“I’m not sure how you got here, but you’re in the future right now,” he starts carefully. “I’m your Diluc when he grows older.”

Young Kaeya tilts his head in confusion. “But where's big me?”

Diluc pauses at the question. He doesn’t know how to tell him without the boy breaking into tears again. There’s silence as Diluc ponders over his answer. “It’s complicated,” he says finally.

“Huh? What do you mean?” His little face scrunches up cutely.

“He’s not here. We’re not on good terms anymore,” Diluc responds. He immediately regrets his words when tears start welling up in the boy’s eyes. 

“You’ll leave me?” young Kaeya cries. “Diluc doesn’t love me anymore?” The boy pushes him away and Diluc’s heart breaks at the devastated look on his face.

“No! That’s not true!” he quickly denies. “I will always love you.” Diluc reaches to pull Kaeya back into his arms only for the boy to slap his hand away.

“Then where am I!?”

Diluc sighs. “Something happened between us,” he admits. “I got angry and kicked you out.”

The boy is silent, but the look of betrayal is clear on his face and he seems close to crying again. 

In a desperate attempt to quell the ensuing waterworks, Diluc tries to get the boy to sleep. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes. “This must be shocking to hear, but it’s late now Kaeya. Let’s sleep and we can talk about this more in the morning, alright?”

Diluc takes his silence as agreement, turns the lamp off, and lays back down in bed. He was about to sit up again at the lack of movement beside him, but he then hears small shuffles indicating the boy was moving.

Kaeya positions himself as far away as possible and turns his back towards Diluc. Something inside him almost reaches to pull the boy closer, but he stops himself.

~

Just as he was about to drift off, Diluc feels the bed shift. Old floorboards creak under silent footsteps.

“Kaeya?” he calls.

The noise stops and Kaeya debates on whether or not he should go. Run, his brain decides, and the boy quickly darts out of the room, door closing shut behind him.

Diluc panics. He stumbles out of bed and hurriedly pulls on his clothes to run after the boy.

He catches Kaeya’s arm at the front door, but the boy struggles in his grip.

“Let go!” he cries.

“No, you’re going to run off. Tell me where you’re going.” he demands. “I don’t want you to get lost.”

“You’re not my Diluc! I want him back!” The boy is close to hysterics. “I’m going to go find him. You don’t want me here anyways!” 

“No–” 

The boy’s screams cut him off.

“That’s not what I meant.” he says exasperatedly, but it’s useless. Young Kaeya doesn’t hear him right now. The boy is inconsolable as he violently pulls against him. Diluc’s grateful that he sent his staff home for the week. He doesn’t know how he would explain this otherwise. He’s about to pick the boy up and bring him back inside when a voice breaks through the shrieks.

“Kae?” someone calls out. 

Chapter Text

30 minutes ago.

Kaeya is startled awake at the feeling of someone warm snuggling into his back.

Huh? Who the fu – Kaeya tries to think back to last night. ??? He doesn’t remember sleeping with anyone yesterday. He got home late last night after completing a long mission. He didn’t even go to Angel’s Share or have any drinks.

Kaeya silently moves off the bed to turn on the lights.

At the loss of the warmth, the boy on the bed throws an arm out, searching for the body beside him. “Kae?” he mumbles sleepily. “Where did you go?”

Kaeya freezes at the voice. What the fu– He must be hallucinating, he thinks. That sounded like Diluc. A younger version of him, but still Diluc. He quickly walks to the door and blindly searches for the light switch.

When a soft glow lights up the room, he turns back to see a familiar tuft of red hair peeking out of the blankets.

??! He really must be hallucinating now. 

Disturbed by the light and not being able to feel anyone next to him, the small bundle sits up. When he lifts an arm up to rub groggily at his eyes, the blankets fall away and Kaeya gasps.

The boy blinks the sleep out of his eyes and looks around the room. His gaze stops at Kaeya and he pauses.

Red eyes stare into lilac blue. !!? Both owners shocked by the sight in front of them.

“Kae –ya?” the boy says.

“Diluc?” Kaeya sputters.

“Why do you look so much older?” the redhead inquires, eyes narrowing. “Wait...where am I?” he asks, finally noticing the lack of familiarity in the room of Kaeya’s apartment.

“I think you’re in the future,” Kaeya offers tentatively, grasping the situation they were in. “You’ve moved forward in our timeline.”

Young Diluc blinks at him, as if trying to comprehend what he was saying. “If I’m in the future, then where is the older version of me?” he points out.

This is the question Kaeya was afraid of. He doesn’t want to answer, but the boy stares at him expectantly.

“You hate me. We don’t get along anymore.” he says simply, looking away from the boy. He refuses to elaborate.

The redhead pushes for an answer. “But why?”

“I did something bad,” Kaeya replies hesitantly.

Young Diluc’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He gets out of bed and walks around to pull Kaeya back to bed. Sitting him down, he gently lifts Kaeya’s head to meet his eye. “If you did something bad, then apologize. I will always forgive you because you’re Kaeya.”

Kaeya smiles weakly at the honest confession. “It’s not that simple, Diluc. I did something terrible and I hurt you. I don’t think it’s forgivable.”

“Don’t be silly, Kaeya,” the boy chides. “We’re Kae and Luc! Our bond is stronger than that. I won’t leave you just because we had a bad fight.”

Kaeya is close to tears at this point. What is wrong with him? He doesn’t even remember the last time he cried. Did seeing younger Diluc melt the ice he built up around his heart?

Diluc falters at his silence. “Would I?”

The first tear falls and Diluc panics, wiping them away with the sleeve of his shirt. 

“I did, didn’t I?” and Kaeya breaks down.

“Please don’t cry,” the young redhead pleads. Diluc hates it when Kaeya cries. The droplets shimmer as they flow down the man’s tan skin and small Diluc’s heart breaks at the sight. He vowed to never be the reason for Kaeya’s tears but here he was, crying because of him.

“Take me to him,” he demands, walking across the room.

“Huh..?” Kaeya’s confused.

Young Diluc rummages through Kaeya’s closet and pulls out his clothes, shoving them at him. “Take me to my stupid future self,” he repeats. “I want to talk to him.”

“It’s 3 AM in the morning Diluc,” he points out.

The boy raises an eyebrow at him. “And?”

Kaeya sighs and reluctantly stands to put on his clothes.

~

When Kaeya’s finally dressed, the boy grabs his hand and drags him out the door, barely giving the older man enough time to lock it behind them.

Mondstadt is quiet at night. Only the occasional knight walks around, patrolling the city. Kaeya has half a mind to thank every archon in Teyvat that they don’t bump into anyone on their short excursion to the Dawn Winery. He has no idea how to explain why a 12 year old Diluc was dragging him through the streets in the middle of the night.

As they near the grape fields of the Ragnvindr residence, Kaeya stiffens and pulls them to a stop, knowing he isn’t welcome here. The boy looks back at him inquisitively and he only shakes his head to the silent question on Diluc’s face, gesturing for them to proceed forward. Kaeya scolds himself internally for being unable to say “no” to the redhead, past or present.

He ignores the red eyes staring at him skeptically as they continue on their way.

The two make it to the sign indicating their entrance onto Ragnvindr property when a loud scream echoes through the air.

Diluc’s eyes widen and he pulls hard at Kaeya’s arm, hastening their pace.

“Kae?” he calls out.

Chapter Text

Present.

“Kae?” someone calls out. 

Young Kaeya immediately stops and frantically looks around for the source of the voice. “Luc?” he chokes.

They hear a pair of footsteps approaching and Diluc looks up to see a younger version of himself dragging Kaeya towards the Dawn Winery. At the sight of the boy in his grasp, young Diluc lets go of the man and breaks off in a sprint towards them.

“Kae!” he exclaims. 

Young Kaeya rips his arm away from his hold and throws himself at the other boy who catches him. He immediately starts bawling the second familiar arms tangle around him.

“What did you do to him?” The younger redhead snarls at Diluc, anger flickering through his face. “Why is he crying?”

“I didn’t–” But the boy ignores him, already shifting his attention towards tending to the boy in his arms.

“Kae? What’s wrong? Tell me what happened. Did he hurt you?” The questions tumble out of his mouth worriedly as he pets the distressed boy. “Why are you crying?”

The boy only sobs harder. “You left me. You don’t love me anymore,” he wails.

His younger self glares at him and he winces. He’s never been on the receiving end of his own glares. 

“I guess I really am stupid, aren’t I,” the smaller redhead mutters to himself. “Two crying Kaeya’s. The future me has to be stupid at that point.”

Diluc turns to the other blue-head silently approaching them. He nods his head towards the two younger versions of themselves beside him and looks questioningly at Kaeya, silently asking if he knows what’s happening.

The man only gives him an unhelpful shrug before looking away, refusing to meet his gaze.

“What are you talking about Kae?” younger Diluc counters. “I do love you. I will always love you, silly. I’m yours remember?”

Small Kaeya looks up at him. “And I’m yours,” he echoes.

“Mhm. We promised! I would never leave you,” Luc assures the other.

“But the other Diluc said–”

Luc cuts him off with a finger on his lips. “Don’t listen to him Kae, he’s stupid,” he says, looking pointedly at the older redhead. This earns him a little giggle from Kae and a small whisper of “That’s you Luc!” 

“Please, I’m not an idiot,” he deadpans and Kae falls back into his arms, erupting into a fit of giggles.

Luc watches the boy adoringly before leaning down to whisper something into his ear. 

The blue-headed boy pulls back to stare at Luc, his lilac eye shining. “Yes! Yes! Can we, can we?!” His excitement makes Luc smile and he presses a kiss to young Kaeya’s eye.

Diluc turns away from the scene. Young Diluc always had a knack for making Kaeya smile effortlessly, but he has since lost that talent. The Kaeya now hides behind his wall of ice and wears the mask of a fake smile he learned to perfect. 

It was the first time Diluc saw their past bond from an outside perspective. He thinks bitterly about the current state of their relationship. His younger self looked at Kaeya like he was the world. Can we return to what we had before? He wonders.

“Yes, but you have to convince Mr. Grumpy-head over there.” The boy laughs when Diluc grumbles at him, offended. “I’ll take care of big you.”

“Okay!”  Kae agrees, the smallest of smiles on his face. 

The two separate and Kae shyly walks up to him while Luc wanders off to Kaeya, who’s standing awkwardly at the scene.

“Um...” little Kaeya trails off.

“What is it?” he asks.

“Uh.. Luc wants to help you and big Kae make up. He doesn’t want you guys to fight anymore,” the boy explains.

Diluc blinks. “It’s not that simple Kaeya,” he snaps. “We can’t just forget what happened and pretend everything is okay again.”

Little Kae shrinks back into himself like he got hit, and Luc glances back at them worriedly, watching to see if he needs to step in.

“Ah...I’m sorry. It’s not like that,” Diluc says, softening his tone. “What I meant was that we both made mistakes and I’m not sure if it can be fixed. It might be hard to go back to what we had before.”

Kae tilts his head at him. “But don’t both of you want to be together again?” he asks.

Diluc sighs. “I do, but Kaeya probably doesn’t want that. I haven’t exactly been the nicest to him.”

“He does!” the boy tells him. “Luc told me big Kae cried earlier when they were talking. I’m sure he misses you. I miss Luc lots and lots whenever he has to go for knight training,” he admits sheepishly. “And Luc always tells me that if you do something bad–”

“You should apologize,” Diluc finishes.

Kae looks at him, surprised, before remembering that the man he was talking to is also Diluc. 

“Yes! Talk to big Kae and apologize to him,” he encourages. “Even if it doesn’t work, at least you know you tried. You’ll never know if it works or not if you don’t try. Besides, I’m pretty sure big Kae would forgive you because you’re Diluc!”

Diluc stares at the boy in front of him. He can’t believe he’s being lectured by a 10 year old Kaeya. He considers the younger boy’s words before deciding that trying won’t hurt anyone. “Okay,” he sighs defeatedly. “I guess we can try.”

Kaeya beams at him and slips his smaller hand into Diluc’s, pulling him towards the other two. “Come on! Luc is waiting for us.”

Chapter Text

Kaeya stares down at the young boy in front of him. 

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Kae and I are going to help you guys make up,” Luc repeats, patiently.

“Yeah, about that...I don’t think so. I’m gonna head home. Sorry.” He tries to leave, but he’s stopped by small hands tugging on his coat.

“Kaeya,” Luc whines.

No. Kaeya is not going to look at him. He knows he’ll cave the second he sees those red eyes and pouting lips. He does not need to deal with this at 3am.

But Luc is insistent. Arms wrap around his waist to prevent him from moving.

Sigh.

“Look Diluc, it’s pretty late don’t you think? I should really go home and get some sleep. You should be asleep too. We found big Diluc and little Kaeya. You can stay with them until we figure out how you two got here. I’ll come back tomorrow to see you.”

He tries to unlatch Diluc's grip, but it only tightens around him.

“No! Don’t leave me!” Luc begs. “Can’t we at least try?”

He stares up at the sky and debates whether or not it’s worth risking to look at Diluc because he’s a weak, weak man when it comes to him. Fuck it, he decides. He gently pulls at Diluc’s arms and the boy reluctantly lets go. Kaeya kneels to level his height, urging his heart to remain strong before looking up. He will not fall for the eyes. He will not fall for the eyes.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but some things in life can’t be fixed, Diluc. You’ll understand that more when you grow older.”

Luc frowns, eyebrows furrowing and lips falling further into its pout.

No. No no no, no.

“We haven’t even tried yet. How do you know it can’t be fixed?”

He hums thoughtfully before replying, careful in his answer. “Okay, why don’t we look at it this way. Say you have a plate.”

He forms a simple plate with cryo and gives it to Luc who takes it in his hands, confused.

“It’s your favorite plate and you treasure it very much. But one day, you aren’t careful. You accidentally drop the plate and it shatters.” 

He knocks the plate out of the boy’s grasp and it falls to the ground, breaking immediately on contact and causing Luc to gasp in shock.

“You’re completely devastated. It was your favorite plate after all.”

Luc bends down to try and pick up the pieces, but Kaeya grabs his arm to prevent him from doing so, not wanting him to get hurt. 

“Now say sorry to the plate.”

Luc looks up at him, head tilting cutely.

“Go on,” he gestures.

“Sorry..."

“Did the plate go back to the way it was before?”

There’s silence and Kaeya almost thinks Diluc doesn’t hear him until tears well up in the boy’s eyes and he shakes his head, voice small. 

“N-no.”

“Do you understand now?” he asks softly. “Why some things can’t be fixed.”

“Yes, b-but I didn’t mean it,” Luc sobs, arms hugging tight around Kaeya’s neck. “I’m sorry plate. I’m sorry Kaeya. I didn’t mean to drop it.”

Kaeya holds him, hands rubbing soothing circles on Diluc’s back in an attempt to console the boy. But he’s also close to breaking down himself.

Archons, please protect him. He’s too good for this world. 

Kaeya is so close to caving and doing anything Diluc wants of him that it takes every cell in his body to remain strong. He won’t allow the walls to come down. He mustn’t.

“I know, Diluc. I know you didn’t mean it and it’s not your fault. It was me who was careless. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”

“It’s okay. Don’t b-be sorry. I forgive you,” Luc cries into his neck.

A small crack appears.

He lets out a shaky laugh, tears falling unwillingly. “Thank you, Luc. But that’s not for you to give. Big Diluc needs to make that decision on his own.”

Feeling wetness from above him, the red fluff against his neck moves slightly, pulling away just enough for small hands to wipe away his tears.

“Don’t cry,” Luc pleads.

Kaeya smiles sadly. “You’re crying too.”

“Only because I don’t want to lose you,” Luc sobs. 

A larger crack.

“You won’t lose me silly,” he says, forcing a smile. “I’ll always be here for you even if we’re not together.”

“But I want to stay with Kaeya forever,” Luc wails. “I love him. I love you.”

Kaeya can feel his heart breaking and he doesn’t know how to answer him. He doesn’t know if he can answer him. Because when was the last time he heard those words? When was the last time Diluc looked at him with anything but hatred and disappointment in his eyes? When was the last time they were honest with each other? 

But Luc doesn’t seem to expect a response. He rubs furiously at his eyes and continues.

“Before I had Kaeya, I was all alone. There was no one to play with and it was so boring,” he sniffles.

Why is Diluc telling him this?

“But then I met Kaeya and he made everything so fun. He tells me the most amazing stories and we go on the best adventures.”

He remembers. He remembers reading through Crepus’s extensive library and spinning wild tales to ensure that he would always have something new to tell Diluc. He remembers not wanting him to get bored, ...to get bored of him, so he took it upon himself to explore every crevice of the winery to ensure he could always take Diluc on a journey he would enjoy.

The first wall collapses.

“Whenever I get sick or hurt, Father and the maids would tell Kaeya not to bother me, but I always missed him lots so he would sneak into my room at night to come see me.”

He remembers. He remembers waiting until everyone was asleep before tiptoeing across the hall to where he knew Diluc lay awake. He remembers holding him in his arms and whispering fond adorations into his hair until Diluc would finally fall asleep.

The second follows.

“Soon, it wasn’t just when I was sick or hurt. Kaeya started coming in every night because we had become unable to sleep without one another. That’s when I found out that he has nightmares. Sometimes he doesn’t do anything and just sits there blankly. It scares me you know. He never tells me what they’re about, but he says it’s the same one every time. I want to be stronger so I can protect him from them.”

He remembers. He remembers the maids glancing in disapproval and Crepus saying that it’s okay, they’ll grow out of it. But they never did. He remembers sitting up in cold sweat and tears with the voices of bygone days ringing in his head. He remembers waking Diluc and seeing not anger, but worry in those red eyes he loved. He remembers falling asleep again to the soft whisper of reassurances in his ear.

A third.

“Do you still have nightmares,” Luc asks.

“...Sometimes,” he answers honestly, but the boy looks so visibly defeated that he almost wishes he lied instead.

“I’m sorry I’m not there to protect you.”

He doesn’t know what to say again. What can he say? It’s okay? I’m used to it? But Luc saves him from the choice again.

“We made a promise to be together forever and Ragnvindrs don’t go back on their words.”

He remembers. He remembers linking their pinkies in an oath. He remembers telling himself that night that he would always be there should Diluc need him. He remembers praying to every archon to not let anyone or anything take him away from his side. He remembers. He remembers. God does he remember.

The fourth wall shatters.

“So can we? Can we try just once to fix it? I know you said it won’t work, but we’re not plates, Kaeya. Maybe it can work. Maybe we can fix this.”

He’s speechless.

Ever since that night, he had believed that he didn’t deserve him. Didn’t deserve his love. Diluc was the sun in Kaeya’s world and he hated himself for being the one to extinguish his light. But here was Diluc, a younger Diluc, telling him that maybe the light had not gone dark like he thought it had. Maybe there was still a chance. He doesn’t believe that he has the right to stand at Diluc’s side again, but maybe, just maybe, he could get a chance to prove himself.

And he takes it. He falls for the eyes. 

Every single wall he had put up and every single mask he had ever worn comes down then, succumbing to the relentless red spark desperately pounding on the other side. And he lets them. He’s tired of hiding. He’s so, so tired. Maybe he can bear his heart out once more to the one person who’s owned it from the very start.

“Sure. Let’s try.”

Luc beams at him and even after all the tears, Kaeya still thinks it’s the loveliest smile he’s ever seen, and he can’t help but smile back. Diluc always shined bright, didn’t he? He will get his light back, no matter what it takes. And this time, for sure, he’ll make sure to protect it.