There are few things more impressive than towering piles of paperwork. Methodically divided into stacks, each to be thoroughly read and debated before an official stamp could come within the vicinity of the bottom margin, before a pen can engrave a flourished signature onto it to mark its fate — being stashed away into an archive, never to be opened again probably. Cavalry Captain Kaeya Alberich, nursing a headache, takes one look at the mountain on his desk, one look at Huffman sitting on the opposite side of the room, and, with his unwaveringly sharp wit, makes a quick decision.
He slaps a hand over his forehead — ouch, the tension on his temples! — and winces. "Ah, I completely forgot."
Looking up from his own considerable pile of paperwork, Huffman turns to him with a puzzled frown. "About what, sir, if may I ask?"
"About the thing," Kaeya says, standing up and making his way to the door. "You know the one."
"Sir, I don't think I do."
Kaeya smiles amicably. "Then you should pay more attention to your duties."
Then, without waiting for a reply, he takes his leave.
After a long day, there is no better place to be than Angel's Share.
Today, however, seems so long it is not even midday yet, and Kaeya can be the most patient man when needed but even he can only take so much. Inside his head is an incessant thudding, a nail trying to breach his skull from inside out, and every twitch of his facial muscles strikes sharp pain across his forehead. The truth is simple to grasp: he is tired. Earlier, there were hilichurls lurking around Springvale, and now he is supposed to deal with the third petty thief of the week when all he wants to do is—
The Archons grant Kaeya the grace of having Patton nowhere in sight; it would be no issue to chat the man into letting him in when the tavern is closed, but the ache he feels is already mind-numbing enough. Smiling and talking, it all sounds like a chore. To his luck, the front door is unlocked — he is not in the mood for surprising the owner from behind.
Morning is the tavern's cleaning time — the chairs are propped up on the tables, the windows are open to air the place, and Charles has a mop and a bucket. The interior is fresh, a balm against the sweltering summer sun. Kaeya sighs and immediately regrets it, as the movement rattles the curse lodged in his head and he winces.
"Sir Kaeya!" greets Charles', from somewhere to his left. "Is everything all rig—"
"Shouldn't you be working at this hour?"
Diluc's voice, even when coated with reprehension, sounds like the crackling of a fireplace.
And Diluc looks like... Diluc. Except he ditched the coat due to the heat, and his sleeves are rolled up, and his ponytail is slightly higher, slightly crooked. He is sitting on a bench by the counter, scribbling on a piece of paper with gloveless hands exposing the burn-marred skin of his fingers. Kaeya wants to kiss him until he wipes that scowl off his face. But he is in too much discomfort for such strenuous activities for now, so, instead, he waves politely at the two other occupants of the room.
"Good morning, Master Diluc, Charles." His smile wavers as his head throbs. "What a lovely summer day, isn't it?"
All it takes is a glance. A pair of red eyes assess his current state and Kaeya could swear he hears Diluc sigh even though outwardly he does no such thing. He sets his notes aside, and turns to Charles. "Do me a favor and go check the stocks for me. And you," he points at Kaeya, "upstairs."
"Bossy," Kaeya chirps. "I like it when you get commanding."
Diluc throws him a flat look and doesn't respond, of course. Kaeya pays half a mind to Charles scurrying away and out of the back door, eager to evade them, but his thoughts are too muddled to come up with anything — a quip, a scathing comment, or a playful farewell. Turning on his heels, he makes his slow way to the staircase, meeting Diluc by the bottomest step.
"You are ill," says Diluc. "And you go to a tavern instead of the infirmary."
"It's a headache," Kaeya waves him off. "I've taken the appropriate medication already, I'm just waiting for it to kick in."
Despite the nausea, his balance is stable enough that he doesn't worry much about climbing the stairs. Yet, he is quite aware of Diluc trailing right behind him, and even if a small part of him screams that he shouldn't be so eager to trust, he knows for a fact Diluc is still too kind to let anyone fall down a staircase in a moment of weakness.
"Regardless," Diluc chides. "Strolling around town will only make it worse."
"Which is why I stopped by, don't you think? A tavern is sure to have a spot for me to rest."
Upstairs, the lights are off. Diluc makes no move to change that, and neither does Kaeya — the dim illumination that comes from the lower floor is comfortable, it allows him to rest his sight enough to soften a tiny bit of the pain. They find themselves a table; Diluc takes the pair of chairs on top of it and sets them in place so Kaeya can take a seat.
However, Diluc does not join him. Kaeya watches him set out to leave and startles. He takes Diluc's wrist in a tight grip before he can process the implications of his actions. "Where are you going?"
"To get you a glass of water," Diluc says matter-of-factly. "And something to eat, if I can find it."
"I'm fine," Kaeya says.
"You look about to faint."
"I don't— neither water nor food could change that, since I'm rather nauseous," he explains, "It's a headache, and as I said before, I'm properly medicated."
Diluc regards him way too attentively, and Kaeya feels a faint spark of irritation. He refrains from tugging at Diluc's arm but the urge was there, which adds to the pile of micro dissatisfactions of the day and he lets go, defeated.
The screeching sound of the other chair being dragged over the wooden floor reaches his ears and, soon enough, Diluc sits down beside him.
They are close, Kaeya reckons. Awfully so. Diluc is not the kind who appreciates public displays of affection, and even if now there is no audience for the two of them, Kaeya can't help but become mildly self-conscious of the way their knees touch. This little relationship of theirs is a private thing — another one of their secrets, and delicate since it's another one they share. He brushes off his own hesitance because Diluc is as stubborn as they come and his own entire thing, separated from Kaeya's sphere of influence except when they overlap at the margins.
Kaeya props his elbows on the table and presses the heel of a palm to his uncovered eye.
There is no question, no words spoken — a touch to his nape ruffles the sweat-sticky hair there, and Kaeya tenses up for a second, then breathes out. Diluc undoes his hair tie, fingers carding through dark strands so slowly it feels like care.
He does it again. And again. And again. Each time untying a hidden knot of tension in Kaeya's body, realigning his focus into the right aim, and instilling satisfaction directly into his veins.
"Would taking the eyepatch off help?"
A few or many years before, Kaeya would probably snap at him in the only way he knows — oh so you're that eager to strip me or how uncouth, abusing my moment of weakness to pry. But then again, a few or many years before, Diluc would not have asked this, so Kaeya sighs and nods. Diluc undoes the string around his head and Kaeya catches the eyepatch with his free hand before rubbing his knuckles against the mess on the right side of his face.
Diluc's fingers sink into his hair until Kaeya can feel his palm flat on the back of his head. Nails scrap delicately over his scalp and that wrenches a moan out of him that would have him embarrassed if it wasn't so good.
"Come," Diluc says, and Kaeya feels the lightest of tugs, more a suggestion than anything, yet he follows it promptly to sag against Diluc.
His hands fall limply on his lap and he nuzzles closer, eyes shut as he rests his forehead on Diluc's shoulder. A sturdy thing, that shoulder; but remarkably comforting. They sit there in a half-hug, Kaeya curling against him like a child hiding from the dark, and Diluc never once stops his dedicated caress.
Scratch, comb, twirl. Scratch, comb, twirl. If Kaeya pays attention, there is almost a rhythm to it.
Diluc's hands have always been firm. When they were kids, it was almost impossible to pry those little fingers away from what they wanted to cling to — and sometimes, that was Kaeya. Years of arduous training and destructive flames gave him a confident grip. Yet, he plays with Kaeya's hair like the bloodiest thing these hands have ever done was thread a needle or methodically slice fruit.
It would be odd if it wasn't so endearing. Kaeya noses his neck, biting back a smile, and Diluc rests a cheek to his forehead. The sweet pressure soothes at least half of the remaining pain, so, as a reward, Kaeya intertwines his fingers with Diluc's free ones.
The caress becomes more and more like a massage, pressing at the right spots on the back of his head, then down to his nape, and back up again. A point behind his ear has Kaeya sighing in relief, shoulders slumping.
"Are you sure you're not a healer?" he asks jokingly.
The reply s is not much of a laugh — more like a snort or a punched-out breath that moves Diluc's chest in a way that lets Kaeya can notice at every point they touch.
Then, when Diluc talks, his voice sounds like a smile. "The medicine must be kicking in."
Oh, Diluc, Kaeya wants to say. What medicine?