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Valley of nightmares

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There was a person on the other side of the window.

Kaeya noticed the second they arrived. They were stealthy, he would give them that; Kaeya wouldn’t have noticed them if half his mind wasn’t always on the lookout, always keeping track of the shadows spreading over his surroundings. So when a new one had fallen over the corner of his desk—shaped like a pair of hunched shoulders and a lowered head— Kaeya had continued writing his report without even a hitch to his breathing, the line of ink under his hand smooth and straight as ever.

That had been eight minutes ago. Six minutes ago, the shadow had moved—confident in not having been seen—to a point where they could see the interior fully, keeping themselves to the darkness where the candles burning around Kaeya’s desk could not reach them. Then, three minutes ago, the shadow had settled, sitting on the corbel right under Kaeya’s window. That had made Kaeya frown; not even a tall person could ever hope to take a peek from there without risking to expose at least half of their head.

So they weren’t bothered with looking in.

They just wanted to listen.

What kind of conversations do you think I’ll be having alone in my office at three in the morning, my sneaky friend? Kaeya thought idly at the spy beyond his window, as he signed his report with a flourish and reached for the next.

He didn’t get up to investigate. He didn’t throw vague threats at the shadow, nor made any movements to let the person know they had been caught. If someone wanted to spy on him, Kaeya simply hoped they wouldn’t get too bored.

Bored people were dangerous. They were always the ones willing to do anything.

Surprisingly enough, nothing happened that night. Kaeya kept reading and writing his reports until four-thirty, when the sky began to threaten him with the colors of approaching dawn. He rose from his chair, stretched to make his shoulders and hips pop, then moved around the room to blow all of his candles, one by one.

He didn’t move towards the window. He wanted to—Archons, his curiosity was killing him by this point—, but he didn’t. Tonight, it was just a shadow at the other side of his windowpane, an amusing occurrence. But tomorrow, it could be something else—something interesting.

And Kaeya was bored enough to want to find out.

Goodnight, friend, Kaeya thought as he blew out the last candle, making the office go pitch dark.

No one came for his throat, and Kaeya was almost disappointed.


The next night, the shadow crossed Kaeya’s window around the time his pocket watch moved towards half-past three.

Kaeya wondered why they waited until so late to show up. It was flattering, in a way, that whoever was spying on Kaeya thought him social enough to have to wait until the dark hours of the night to do unspeakable things—or, at least, things worth spying him for. Maybe they figured Kaeya would be surrounded by people way past midnight. Maybe they thought Kaeya had a lover to send home so he could finish his work.

Maybe Kaeya should stop weaving silly stories about what the spy at his window thought of him, and actually use the side of his brain he could spare into finishing his reports.

He sighed into the silent room, turning a page on a report filled with Bennett’s erratic handwriting. Dealing with that was better than trying to decipher Klee’s drawings, sure, but not half as interesting. At least Klee’s drawings made Kaeya laugh at loud; Bennett’s reports, on the other hand, always ended up making Kaeya hurt for the boy.

Maybe he should invite the spy in. With a bit of luck, the ensuing fight would make an inkwell or two tumble over the still-unread reports, and Kaeya would be able to go home early tonight. That was, if four in the morning could be considered—

The shadow moved.

Kaeya reached for a blank sheet of paper and scrawled a line on it, random words, nothing else. It was just an act to make it seem like he hadn’t noticed the movement; people tended to freeze when something caught their attention.

Kaeya wrote one more line on his paper, then reclined back on his chair to go back to Bennett’s report once more.

Over the edge of the page, past the glass of his window, Kaeya saw a hooded head peek from the side.

Hello there, Kaeya greeted silently, letting his eye move slowly over the lines of a report he was no longer reading. It is so cold outside—would you like to come in? I have a blade under my desk with your name on it.

The person didn’t take Kaeya’s kind offer. Instead, the hooded head moved back, hiding once more, and didn’t show up again even when Kaeya started blowing out the candles at the end of the night. But a new idea was blooming in Kaeya’s mind: maybe they weren’t after him—  maybe they were after any information of the Ordo that Kaeya could have left carelessly on the desk, any hints about current or future Ordo missions that could be taking place.

Throwing what seemed to be a cursory look over the papers on his desk, Kaeya quickly memorized how it all looked, how the papers laid on top of each other, the angle of the tip of his still-wet quill on its holder. They were just mission reports, after all—nothing the Ordo would freak over if made public. But if the spy on his window decided to pick the lock and look through Kaeya’s office while Kaeya made his way home, at least Kaeya would notice now come morning.

So he took one last look around the room—carefully making himself look at the window no longer than necessary—and stepped out of his office before closing the door softly behind him.

In the morning, everything was exactly the same inside Kaeya’s office as he had left it.

No one had been inside.


The third night, curiosity bubbling past the edge of his metaphorical cauldron, Kaeya left the window open as he worked. It was as cold as it had been the nights prior, but at least the wind was gentler now, enough that Kaeya didn’t have to worry about his reports taking a flight around his room. So it wasn’t farfetched to think that Kaeya would have liked to enjoy the nightly breeze, despite the cold temperatures.

At least, Kaeya hoped his sneaky friend would think so.

By the way the shadow hesitated when it finally made his appearance —fifteen to three, a new record—, Kaeya might have pushed his luck a bit too much tonight.

The shadow stayed, very well hidden in a nook on the wall far beyond Kaeya’s eyesight. But Kaeya had been waiting, his whole body so tuned to what could be happening outside that he could even hear the rustling of the fabric of the person's cloak. With the window open like that, there was no chance the spy could sit on the corbel like the nights prior; the wind would make their cloak rustle, and the sound would spill into Kaeya’s office. 

But the spy didn’t move from their nook in the wall, because they knew they would be caught, which meant—they were no rookie. The person spying on Kaeya had experience on the matter.

And patience. Far more patience than Kaeya could ever muster, it seemed.

It was three in the morning when Kaeya finally crumbled.

“Just get in and close the window,” he said, loud enough for his voice to carry towards the outside world. “It’s not a night to keep it open.”

It wasn’t. Temperatures had been steadily going down as Mondstadt moved into winter, and it was already impressive that Kaeya’s spy had braved the outdoors for hours as they kept watch at the window. The cold had nothing to do with the way the spy froze, however—Kaeya could hear their muscles locking into place even if he couldn’t see them.

“Don’t be stupid,” he called out once again, finally setting the quill inside his inkwell with a slow, practiced movement. “You know I’m here. I definitely know you’re there. Just make this easy on everyone, step in, ask your questions and then be on your merry—“

The shadow moved. Just—it wasn’t a shadow. The head poking past the edge wasn’t the head of a spy, or an assassin, or any other wild fantasy Kaeya could have idly conjured up in the dead hours of his day.

It was far worse, Kaeya realized as the person pushed back their hood and a cascade of hair fell down over familiar shoulders.

It was Diluc.

“What do you mean, ‘questions’?” Diluc asked softly, upper half of his body leaning into Kaeya’s office while the other half dangled over the darkness of the night. His arms were crossed in front of him, grabbing onto the windowsill, but the gesture seemed somewhat defensive, too.

Kaeya blinked at him, mouth too dry and brain too frozen to say anything but the truth. “I thought you were a spy?”

That made Diluc’s frown deepen. “You invited me in thinking I was a spy?”

“Or a climbing hilichurl. Or an assassin with a lot of patience and a kink for observing their victims. My ideas tend to get wilder the more bored I am.”

With a swift movement, Diluc pushed himself up and swung his legs over the edge of the window, sitting on it with one knee crossed over the other. His long, dark cloak trailed after him and swayed in the breeze, while his red mane of hair tumbled down over his shoulder freely when Diluc tilted his head to the side curiously.

Against the backdrop of the night, Diluc looked so beautiful that Kaeya’s brain sent tiny sparks on a journey down his spine.

“You’ve always had a wild imagination,” Diluc commented idly, looking everywhere but at Kaeya. “…You really didn’t know it was me?”

“…spending three nights in a row looking into my window,” said Kaeya," isn’t exactly what I would imagine you doing, Master Diluc.”

Diluc’s lips pursed; it was the closest thing to a flinch Diluc would ever allow himself among others. “You really did notice from the beginning, huh?”

“In your defense, it wasn’t that you’re not stealthy enough. I’m just always waiting for someone to come for me.”

At that, Diluc finally looked at Kaeya. The lights of the candles around the room painted colors on his skin, colors of warmth and fire—but all of them paled beneath the intensity of Diluc’s eyes as he pinned Kaeya to his chair with… a soft look. “That sounds tiring,” Diluc said.

Kaeya’s heart skipped a beat. “And yet I never look as exhausted as you do right now.”

If the candles put lights on Diluc’s skin, they also accentuated the dark shadows right under his eyes, the tiredness at the corners of his mouth. Diluc’s pride usually carried him through the day so that nobody could ever tell whether the young master was reaching his limit, but now—

Now, surprisingly— amazingly— Diluc was stripped down of his pride and left to slouch forward on Kaeya’s windowsill, as if the long nights spent awake and about were finally taking their toll on him.

But it made no sense. It had just been  three days.  Diluc couldn’t possibly be at this point just from three nights of idle spying.

…Right?

“…May I come in?” Diluc asked, never mind that his feet were already hovering over Kaeya’s carpeted floor.

Kaeya licked his bottom lip, straightening himself in his chair. “I already said you could.”

“Yes. When you thought I was here to kill you.”

“I haven’t let go of the possibility entirely yet, but—“ Kaeya pointed at one of the armchairs in front of his desk with a hand. “Sit down before you fall on your face.”

Diluc frowned, some of the usual fight coming back to his tired eyes—but he ended up giving in without a word. He slid from the window to the floor and then turned around to close it, before moving himself across the office and just—flopping on the armchair Kaeya had pointed at with a drawn-out sigh.

The scene made Kaeya raise his eyebrows, his one eye open wide in surprise.

Diluc, both of his eyes closed and head tilted back against the armchair, spat: “Don’t comment.”

“Did you get run over by a stampede of mitachurls? Because you look like it.”

“One: no. Two: what part of ‘don’t comment’ don’t you understand?”

Kaeya dropped an elbow onto his reports, his chin resting on the center of his palm as he spoke. “I’ve always had trouble with stupid orders coming from people falling asleep right in front of my eyes. A most-damning trait, but not everyone can be perfect like you, Master Diluc.”

Diluc snorted, and Kaeya’s eyebrows fought to rise up towards his hairline even more. “I don’t know why I’m surprised  you  don’t sound tired despite the late hour. You were always a night owl.”

Something soft and warm uncoiled deep in Kaeya’s chest—the same way it always did when Diluc acknowledged their past together in some way or another. “And you always slept like a log the moment your head hit the pillow. So, what’s wrong? I doubt your hero duties are keeping you up, the city has been unusually calm lately.”

Diluc sighed again, but regained some of his usual composure, as if the whole five seconds he had sat on Kaeya’s armchair had been enough to give him some of his energy back. He now sat rod-straight against the back of the chair, arms crossed over his chest and right leg thrown over his left.

The shadows under his eyes still took the bite off his expression, though. “Nothing’s wrong.”

“Ah, so you’ve just been coming to observe me like a creep for no reason?”

Diluc opened his mouth and closed it a few times, like a fish, as a soft blush overtook the pallor in his cheeks. “I’m not a creep —“

“The constant looking through my window in the dead of the night could have fooled me.”

“—Shut up,” Diluc spat, but that thing hanging from his lips was definitely a pout, and Kaeya hid a smile on his palm. “It’s—nothing. I just needed some fresh air.”

“At my window?”

Diluc looked away. “What do you want me to say, Kaeya?”

“…you don’t have to tell me anything,” Kaeya said after a beat, making his voice sound softer than it did in his own mind, taking the bitterness out of it as the words went out of his mouth. “I just… I just want to make sure you’re alright, Diluc. Because both of us can agree that this?” Kaeya made a gesture that covered the space between himself and Diluc across the desk. “This isn’t… normal.”

“…I guess it isn’t,” Diluc said. His gloved hands rested on his lap, fingers tangled together, and Diluc was looking at them as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. “I apologize for interrupting your night.”

“Like hell you are,” Kaeya replied with a roll of his eye, which earned him a glare from Diluc for his troubles. “Alright then, don’t— don’t tell me about it if you don’t want to talk. But at least… get some shut-eye on the couch over there, okay? You really look like you can’t even stand on your feet.”

“May I remind you that I climbed up here?” Diluc said, but he was already looking towards the couch at the other side of Kaeya’s office almost longingly.

Kaeya smirked. “No, you don’t have to remind me how creepy you are,” he said and then, before Diluc could retort, he added: “Really, just go rest. I’ve spent a few long nights on it—I know for a fact it’s a pretty comfy couch.”

Diluc regarded the couch for a long moment. Then, to Kaeya’s veiled surprise, Diluc got up and actually walked there, taking his long coat off in the process. Underneath, Diluc was wearing simple house wear: a soft-looking blouse with sleeves pooled around his wrists, and a pair of warm pants that made a gentle frou-frou noise as Diluc walked.

How many times had Kaeya seen Diluc dressed like that in the past? Walking the long hallways of the manor or even the Winery, clad in his most comfortable clothes as he cradled a cup of warm tea in his hands and his sleepy eyes begged Kaeya to please shut up and go to bed already. How many times had Kaeya  stolen  those shirts for himself, just because he liked the look on Diluc’s face when he discovered Kaeya wearing them—?

Off the point. The point, Kaeya forced himself to admit, was that Diluc hadn’t been dressed as the Darknight hero for his vigilante work, nor was he dressed as someone who had just left his shift at the tavern and had taken a detour instead of heading straight home.

He looked as if he had been home for hours before suddenly throwing a cloak over his shoulders and deciding to climb the city walls just for the sake of it.

And that, Kaeya could swear on his life, was not something Diluc would ever do.

Not unless something was wrong.

“…It is a comfortable couch,” Diluc said as he sat on the edge of it, coat draped over his lap. He patted one of the pillows as if testing its firmness, and his eyes were still on it when he asked: “what will you do, in the meantime?”

Kaeya pressed his tongue against the back of his teeth. What did Diluc want him to do? He probably wasn’t keen on the idea of being his most vulnerable around people, much less around Kaeya, but—

“…I have reports to finish,” Kaeya said slowly, hand reaching to pull some strapped sheets of paper closer to him. “But if it’ll make you rest easier, I can take them home with—“

No,”  Diluc suddenly said, and the vehemence behind the single word made Kaeya’s eye snap back towards him. “I mean—that won’t be necessary. Besides, this is your office, so…”

When Diluc didn’t seem ready to add anything else, Kaeya sighed. “Alright, then. I’ll be here if you need anything.”

“…Thank you.”

Diluc was on his side, back facing Kaeya, by the time Kaeya’s heart calmed down enough for him to actually read a sentence on his report. It wasn’t like Kaeya was nervous, or scared; those were far too simple emotions to explain what Kaeya was feeling right now. It was all just so… unexpected. 

Once upon a time, this—one or the other padding across the hallway and entering the other’s room without knocking, slipping under covers on nights where they needed reassurance, or to curl around a warm body, or to hear advice from the one they trusted most—, this was the norm. But that wasn’t them anymore. Now, they were just smirks and narrowed glances across a bar’s top; they were the biting cold of newly-formed ice and blood sizzling on hot iron.

Diluc coming to Kaeya’s office in the middle of the night, not to put up a fight but to rest, made no sense. If he was in danger, he was perfectly capable of handling it on his own. If he had problems he needed advice for, he had people he could rely on, people he trusted . If he wanted to sleep somewhere else, half of Mondstadt and then some would willingly pull the covers of their own beds down for him.

Diluc didn’t need Kaeya, and that was a truth Kaeya repeated to himself as Diluc’s breathing deepened at the other side of the room.

But then... why was a tiny voice at the back of Kaeya’s head reminding him that Diluc could have ended up anywhere else, with anyone else, but had instead come to Kaeya’s office three nights in a row—?

Kaeya shook his head and refused to give in to the temptation to smack his palms against his cheeks. He had more self-control than this, damn it.

If Diluc wanted to hijack Kaeya’s couch, then so be it.

No matter how much Kaeya longed for the old days, they just no longer had to do anything with him.

Anything. At. All.

Almost half an hour went by without any major incident. Diluc slept soundly and breathed deeply, and Kaeya actually managed to finish his second-to-last report of the night. Just one more, and he would be free for the night.

He was just thinking that when movement from the couch made Kaeya’s head snap up. It was Diluc, of course, still curled away from Kaeya but body far tenser than it had been just a few moments ago. Diluc had draped his own coat over his torso, but his legs were bare except for his pants and a pair of black socks.

Kaeya was intimately aware of how cold those feet could get during the night.

With a sigh, Kaeya rose from his chair. Opening a cabinet in the wall, he grabbed the blanket he always kept around; he hadn’t been lying when he had said he spent some nights in the office, after all.

He had planned to cover Diluc with the blanket, but looking down at him hurt more than Kaeya could have anticipated. Diluc’s expression was tight, uncomfortable from the cold and the tense posture his body had taken to keep warm; and yet, with locks of hair curling against his cheek, and his usual glare nowhere in sight, Diluc looked—young. No, not young especially, just—he looked like the Diluc in Kaeya’s memories. The Diluc who smiled easily and held flowers up to Kaeya’s cheek to see if their color matched that of Kaeya’s eye, and the Diluc who would throw his arms around Kaeya’s waist and hold him close.

The Diluc who didn’t exist anymore.

Kaeya sighed; if there was a fool in the room, it was him. For holding on to a past that could never come back.

So he unfolded the blanket and put it softly over Diluc’s form, making sure the ends of it were tucked around Diluc’s shins and under his feet.

Diluc’s expression didn’t ease, nor did his body relax beneath the blanket. If anything, his frown became deeper, and a muscle in his jaw jumped as Diluc ground his teeth together.

Kaeya frowned, body acting on its own accord as he sat on the very edge of the couch and nudged Diluc’s shoulder with his hand.

“Diluc?” he called softly, and when he got no more answer than a feeble whimper, Kaeya grabbed Diluc’s shoulder and shook him gently, trying to wake him up. “Diluc, are you okay?”

Diluc didn’t wake up. His lips parted in a gasp just as his body curled in tighter on itself—he was muttering something against the fabric of the couch, the way his eyebrows pulled over his closed eyes transmitting more fear and pain than what Kaeya could hear in his voice. Mouth suddenly dry, Kaeya leaned forward and shook Diluc forcefully, calling Diluc’s name without bothering to keep his voice down. 

He had to wake Diluc up.

“Diluc? Come on, wake up, it’s just a bad dream... Diluc? Diluc!

Diluc snapped awake with a wet gasp.

His hands, curled on themselves until now against his own chest, reached out and grabbed the front of Kaeya’s shirt.

“Dont—!” was all Diluc said before consciousness finally returned to his eyes, and Diluc realized he wasn’t dreaming anymore. He looked around wildly, trying to make out his surroundings as he fought to breathe in and out, in and out, past the erratic beating of his heart.

They were sitting so close that Kaeya saw it all through Diluc’s eyes: saw Diluc recognize his office, remember why he was there. Saw Diluc realize that his fingers were buried deep on Kaeya’s shirt, knuckles firmly pressed against Kaeya’s collarbone.

Saw him—as he let go of Kaeya with a shudder and put some space between them—pull up the walls that Diluc usually kept around Kaeya. The same ones that had started to crumble before Diluc had even made it inside Kaeya’s office.

Kaeya sighed, tugging at the ends of his shirt to stop the neck of it from digging into his skin. “Is that why you look so exhausted?” Kaeya asked, pointing at the now-even-darker shadows under Diluc’s eyes with his chin for good measure. “Nightmares?”

Diluc looked away. The petulant tilt of his chin was back. “It’s none of your business."

Annoyance bubbled under Kaeya’s skin so close to the surface that some of it spilled over, making Kaeya click his tongue and roll his eye as he pushed himself to his feet. “ Fine . Be that—“

A strong hand wrapping itself around Kaeya’s wrist made him fall back onto the couch.

“Where are you going?” Diluc asked in a whisper, fingers digging into Kaeya’s skin.

When Kaeya turned towards Diluc, Diluc had the same expression he had been wearing upon waking up: confused, painedAnd Kaeya felt a painful tug in his heartstrings, because it didn’t matter that Diluc kept pushing him further and further away—he  never  wanted to see Diluc hurt. Not even if Kaeya himself was hurting because of Diluc. “I’m done for the night,” he said softly, letting Diluc hold on to his wrist. “If you want to stay here and sleep, be my guest. Just leave the keys with the knight at the door before you go.”

Diluc’s expression closed off, and any trace of fear was suddenly gone. But his fingers didn’t release Kaeya for even a moment—so Kaeya felt the shiver that went through Diluc as if a strong wind had hit his naked skin.

And he still wouldn’t meet Kaeya’s eye.

Again, Kaeya sighed. Then he flopped back against the back of the couch, keeping his eye on the ceiling. The only place they touched was there where Diluc’s nails left half-moons on Kaeya’s skin. “Or I can stay,” Kaeya proposed, “and you can tell me what the hell is going on with you.”

After a long pause, Kaeya felt the cushions behind him shift when Diluc let his side rest on them as well, head resting on the back of the couch. Kaeya could see a spark of red on his peripheral, but nothing else. Still, it felt as if Diluc had finally let go—as if he had finally exhaled the long sigh he had been holding in his lungs, though no sound left his mouth.

“It’s the same nightmare every night.”

Kaeya turned towards him, only to find Diluc looking down, to his fingers against Kaeya’s dark skin. Kaeya felt the need, deep in his chest, to twist his hand in Diluc’s grip and hold his tightly. 

He didn’t. “Nightmare?”

Diluc nodded. “I’m—I’m at the tavern. It’s the end of a shift, so the windows are dark and the tavern is warm in the candlelight. I’m alone. The place is silent. And then—“

“Then…?” Kaeya prompted him when Diluc fell silent.

Diluc looked up, fixing his eyes on Kaeya’s. “Then I see you walk down the street.”

The gravity in Diluc’s voice made goosebumps appear on Kaeya’s skin, but he hid it with a smirk. “Certainly a thing of nightmares, my taking a stroll at night.”

Diluc’s fingers tightened around Kaeya once more as he shook his head. “There’s something wrong with you. I don’t know how I know it, but I do. You’re walking slow, away from the tavern, as if you know where you’re going despite the darkness around you. But I  know  there is something wrong with you so I… I leave the tavern and I follow you. But I don’t catch up to you until we’re outside of Mondstadt.”

Diluc was shivering, eyes once more averted to the side. Taking the new silence between them as a chance, Kaeya reached out and pulled at the blanket with his free hand until it was draped over Diluc’s shoulders like a shawl. His coat had fallen on the ground in a heap, forgotten.

When Kaeya leaned back, Diluc’s eyes had returned to him.

“What happens next?”

“…I call your name but you don’t answer," Diluc continues. "Your back is towards me, and you’re not listening—so I reach out and grab your arm. That’s when I realize you’re cold. There is ice on your clothes, and your hair, and your skin. It’s a thin layer but I can see it. I can feel it.

And then you finally speak. You say ‘can’t you hear it?’

‘The Abyss is calling.’”

Kaeya’s mouth was dry as sandpaper. He tried to clear his throat discreetly. “Ominous,” he said, feigning levity, but his heart was pounding inside his chest. Diluc could probably feel it against his fingertips.

“Your voice sounds weird,” Diluc kept going. “In the dream. The words alone already make me feel—but your voice is even worse. It sounds distant. Like you’re speaking from far, far away. I try to pull you back towards the city—“ Diluc’s hold tightened, “—but you manage to slip away and you keep walking. And I can’t, I can’t let you go like that, I’m— I’m terrified .”

It was a whispered admission, but Kaeya’s heart skipped a beat at the emotion in Diluc’s voice just the same. “Diluc…”

“And when I finally manage to put myself in front of you, I see it. You’re not wearing your eyepatch. And instead, there is darkness. Darkness so deep, and it looks…” Diluc’s voice turned into a whisper so soft, Kaeya wouldn’t have heard it if he hadn’t been sitting so close. “It looks like Father’s body did while the Delusion’s power consumed him.”

Kaeya felt like his heart was fighting to climb out his throat and break free through his mouth. How many times he had wished for Diluc to care about him once more? To show concern for him? But now that he was there, teary-eyed and clinging to Kaeya— Kaeya just wanted to get up from the couch and leave. Disappear. So he didn’t have to deal with the guilt of making Diluc put on such a face.

The guilt—and the pleasure, rolling thick and hot deep in his belly because yes. He had wanted this for a long time.

It was that more than anything else that made him want to claw his insides out of himself.

“…Is this why you’ve been coming to my office?” Kaeya asked instead.

Diluc nodded. “I needed to make sure. That you were still here.”

“I hadn’t realized that mattered to you.”

“It’s not about that,” Diluc said. As if to give more weight to his words, his fingers finally set Kaeya’s wrist free. There were red marks against the dark skin, and Kaeya couldn’t tear his eyes away from them. “It’s about what you choose.  Stay, betray Mondstadt—do whatever the hell you want. But have it be your choice.”

Kaeya’s heart, so full of energy and movement just a few moments ago, dropped to the bottom of his ribcage and stayed there, like a bird shot from the sky. His voice, however, was clear and even when he said, “so if I decide to leave—to leave everything and go back to what little is left of Khaenri’ah—you wouldn’t care. Is that what you’re saying?”

Diluc hesitated. When he turned his head, his long mane of hair fell between them like a curtain, shutting Kaeya out. “I think I was very clear on what I meant.”

“Ah,” Kaeya said, even though Diluc’s words couldn’t be considered a reply. “I see.”

They were silent for a long moment. The cold night hair had taken over the room, and at some point the wind had blown some of the candles scattered around, leaving mostly the moonlight to illuminate the place. Kaeya looked around at his little office—the office that had once sat Diluc, the office that felt more like a home than the scarce apartment he had in the city ever did— and then sighed. “Well. I’m not going anywhere—not for now, anyway. Will that be enough to appease your nightmares, Master Diluc?”

A fiery eye pinned Kaeya to the sofa with a glare through the curtain of red hair. “What do you mean, ‘for now’?”

Kaeya smiled, letting the slow unfurling of his lips soon become a grin. He kept his eye on Diluc, watching as he grew tenser and tenser, eyes narrowing as if he just knew —knew that Kaeya was planning something.

So when Kaeya pounced, wrapped his arms around Diluc, and then fell back until his back was against the cushions and Diluc was sprawled on top of him—Kaeya knew Diluc could have moved away, if he had wanted to.

But Diluc didn’t.

“W-what are you doing!?” Diluc managed to say from where his mouth was pressed against the folds of Kaeya’s shirt. He wriggled about, but his fighting against Kaeya’s —admittedly weak—hold on him was half-hearted at best.

Kaeya laughed, and he wondered if it only sounded empty in his ears, or if Diluc could hear it too. “You said you kept coming here to make sure I hadn’t left, right? So there you go, constant reassurance even while asleep.”

Kaeya could feel more than see Diluc’s skin growing hot through the thin material of his nightshirt. “I’m not—I’m not going to sleep with you, Kaeya!”

“Well, of course you’re not going to sleep with me. I like my dates to take me out to dinner first. Actual sleep, however, I think is feasible like this.”

Diluc groaned. “I’m going to—“

“Sleep,” Kaeya said, and forced Diluc’s head down onto his chest with a hand at the back of Diluc’s neck. Surprisingly, Diluc didn’t fight it. “If the nightmares come back, you’ll realize I’m right here and you’ll go back to sleep. Everyone wins.”

“…how do you win with this?”

“Well, taking care of Master Diluc has to be a good excuse not to finish my reports.”

Diluc groaned again, even going as far as dropping his forehead right on Kaeya’s breastbone. “You’re impossible.”

Kaeya chuckled. “Yes,” he said, and tightened his arms just slightly around Diluc, willing him to relax. “But honestly—you can’t keep going on like this. If this helps you sleep…”

“We’re not kids anymore,” Diluc said, but Kaeya could feel his muscles relaxing almost one by one. “We can’t just—flop on top of each other like this and call it a night.”

“Why not?” Kaeya asked back, even though his throat was dry and his heart was lead under Diluc’s cheek. “There’s no one else here. And no one has to know, Luc. We can even forget all about it once you wake up.”

Diluc said nothing for a long moment. His breathing started to deepen, ribcage expanding under Kaeya’s palms. His hair had spread over them both, soft like silk under Kaeya’s fingertips. The blanket Kaeya had covered Diluc with earlier pooled around the small of Diluc’s back; Kaeya reached out and dragged it upwards to protect Diluc from the cold of the room.

And then Diluc sighed. “You haven’t called me ‘Luc’ in a long time.”

Kaeya’s hands froze. The old nickname had just slipped; that wasn’t like him. “I’m sorry.”

“…It’s alright.”

Diluc breathed out, and Kaeya felt his warm breath against his chest. In other circumstances..., in other circumstances, his body would have burned with the need to press Diluc against him, to wrap his thighs around his hips, to look for friction. But not tonight; tonight, Kaeya’s heart was too heavy in his chest for anything beyond wanting to have Diluc close.

Tonight, Kaeya felt too lucky having this to even dare to ask for more.

So he stayed still under Diluc, eye on the moonlit ceiling of his office as he pretended not to feel the prickling of tears right at the corner.

“…Luc?” Kaeya whispered into the silence, just before he realized he was slipping again. Not just for the nickname—but for the way his fingers at the back of Diluc’s neck were rubbing circles into his scalp, the way Kaeya used to do when they were younger.

Head titled into the caress, hands softly curling on Kaeya’s shirt, Diluc whispered back, “mhm?”

“…It won’t be my choice,” Kaeya finally admitted, choking on the truth of his words. “When the time comes, I won’t—I won’t be able to choose. But I want you to know that if I could… I would choose you. I would choose to stay with you. Always. Even if you don’t want me to.”

Nothing broke the heavy silence Kaeya’s words created. Diluc stayed still, breathing heavily against Kaeya’s chest. Outside, Mondstadt seemed to be holding its breath—or maybe that was just Kaeya projecting, breath caught in his chest as he waited for Diluc to say something, anything.

When he didn’t, Kaeya frowned and reached out to push some of Diluc’s hair away from his face. “Diluc?”

He was asleep. He was the picture of contentment, lips parted as he breathed and long eyelashes fluttering against his tinted cheeks. His hand, close to his face and curled against Kaeya’s shirt, was lax, and his breathing was heavy and deep, coming from the very bottom of his lungs.

Kaeya swallowed a groan, letting his head fall back against the arm of the couch. That was alright, he told himself—it was what he had wanted. For Diluc to finally sleep without nightmares. Kaeya didn’t need Diluc to listen.

When Kaeya convinced himself Diluc was truly asleep, he reached up towards his own face and sneaked his fingertips under the taught fabric of his eyepatch. He felt the cold first—piercing, penetrating, freezing the very bed of his nails. Then his skin got used to the feeling, and he felt the ice—thin like a flake, like the scale of a fish, right on the curve of his cheekbone—

Kaeya quickly pulled his hand back, nausea rolling in his stomach. 

He couldn’t believe Diluc’s nightmare had been so close to the truth. The Delusion part had nothing to do with Kaeya, but the rest— well. It wasn’t like it mattered. Not for now, anyway.

But a part of Kaeya wished. A part of Kaeya hoped— maybe.

Maybe, like in the dream, when the time came—Diluc would go after him.

And his fingers would leave those red marks on his skin again as he forced Kaeya to stay.