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On a sunny Thursday morning, Diluc opens the main door of Dawn Winery to find Aether waiting on the front step, Paimon bobbing gently in the air behind him.

“Hey,” Aether says. “The Adventurer’s Guild told me you had a commission, and you asked for me?”

Diluc nods. “Thanks for coming,” he says. “Remember that time you helped me make elemental bait – the one we used on those slimes?”

“Oh, yes!” Paimon pipes up. “There were so many slimes!”

“Indeed,” Diluc says. “Well, all the leftover elemental bait’s gone missing.”

Paimon emits a little squeak of dismay. “But there was so much of it left! That’s a lot of slimes!”

“So you want us to look for it?” says Aether, practical as usual.

“No,” Diluc says grimly. “I know exactly where it is.”

“Oh, okay,” Aether says. “So you want us to retrieve it, then?”

“No,” Diluc says.

Aether frowns slightly, looking puzzled. “So…”

“I want you to bring the esteemed Cavalry Captain out for a drink this evening,” Diluc says.

“Kaeya?” Aether looks even more puzzled. “What? Why?”

“While I retrieve my elemental bait from his apartment,” Diluc says.

“Ah,” Aether says. “Okay. Sure, we can do that.”

 

***

 

True to his word, Aether shows up at Angel’s Share that night, Kaeya by his side and Paimon happily chattering away to them both. Once Diluc receives word from Charles – who’s behind the bar today – that they’re there, he sets out for Kaeya’s apartment and discreetly picks the lock.

Kaeya’s apartment is neat and sparsely decorated. Diluc glances around, lost in thought. Kaeya isn’t an idiot by any means: if he’d genuinely just wanted to test out the elemental bait, he’d have snuck a tiny bit of it and Diluc would’ve been none the wiser. The fact that the entire box of it disappeared means that Kaeya wanted Diluc to notice it was gone, and to come looking for it. So…what exactly is Kaeya up to?

Diluc taps his finger against his lip thoughtfully. When they were kids, Kaeya’d always hidden his treasures under his bed. Diluc hesitates briefly, glancing toward the open bedroom door. Going into Kaeya’s bedroom unasked feels a little like invading Kaeya’s privacy, but on the other hand, he’s pretty damned sure that Kaeya meant for Diluc to come looking for his elemental bait, so…

He heaves a sigh, heads into the bedroom and looks under Kaeya’s neatly-made bed, and sure enough, the box containing his elemental bait is under the bed.

“You’re lucky there aren’t any slimes in the city itself,” he mutters. “Or you’d be swimming in slimes by now.”

Diluc carefully takes the cover off the box and unwraps the elemental bait. As far as he can tell, it’s still fully intact – so Kaeya didn’t actually want any of the elemental bait. And thankfully, he seems to have left the bait carefully wrapped up in its slime-proof packaging.

More importantly, there’s an envelope tucked into the corner of the box that definitely wasn’t there before. It’s blank except for a “D.” scrawled on the front in Kaeya’s hand.

Diluc opens it, extracts the single sheet of paper inside, and unfolds it. There’s a map of the area just outside Mondstadt hastily sketched out on it, with a big red “X” marked over the area right around Thousand Winds Temple. On the side of the crude map, Kaeya has scrawled the name of one of Diluc’s informants, which Diluc happens to know is also one of Kaeya’s informants. Underneath the name, there’s a date (tomorrow) and time (10 pm).

Diluc purses his lips. The informant in question had sent word two days ago – which, very coincidentally, also happens to be the day Diluc’s elemental bait went missing – that there had been a suspicious spike in hilichurl activity around the outskirts of Thousand Winds Temple. Diluc had actually been meaning to check that out this very evening, if it hadn’t been for his elemental bait going missing.

So if Kaeya had this information, he had to know that Diluc also had it. So he was suggesting that – what – that they investigate it together?

Diluc sighs, irritation that he’s done exactly what Kaeya wanted him to do warring with an odd, possessive kind of pride that he’s the one Kaeya wants watching his back, not one of his precious Knights.

Pretty damned presumptuous of Kaeya to assume that Diluc doesn’t have plans the following night, anyway. Maybe he should not show up to teach Kaeya a lesson, Diluc thinks grumpily, even as he’s mentally calculating what time he should leave the Winery to get to Thousand Winds Temple on time.

He shoves the piece of paper in his pocket, tucks the box of elemental bait under his arm, and, grumbling to himself, lets himself out of Kaeya’s apartment, locking the door carefully behind him.

 

***

 

The next morning, Aether shows up at Dawn Winery with a bouquet of small lamp grass in one hand, and Paimon in tow. The blue bulbs are glowing gently in the late-morning sun. He thrusts the bouquet at Diluc, who frowns at it then looks at Aether questioningly.

“They’re from Kaeya!” Paimon chirps obligingly.

“He said that it looks like there might be a thunderstorm tonight and he thought you might need something to light the way, so that you don’t get lost,” Aether says. He shrugs. “Kaeya said you would know what he meant.”

Diluc scowls. “I can find my way in the dark just fine.”

Aether shrugs. “We’re just the messengers,” he says in eminently reasonable tones.

Diluc eyes the bouquet darkly. “Did he make you two pick all those flowers, too?”

“Oh, no,” Paimon says, eyes wide. “Kaeya picked them all for you himself!”

Diluc isn’t too sure what to say to that, so he just settles for frowning harder.

“He really did,” Aether says. “We saw him picking them, actually. This morning.”

“Shouldn’t the Knights of Favonius have better things to do than pick flowers,” says Diluc.

“I guess everyone needs a hobby,” Aether says, completely deadpan. Diluc eyes him narrowly. Aether stares back at him, wide-eyed and angelic. Diluc sighs, and, capitulating, takes the bouquet.

“Thanks,” he says.

“Where are you going tonight, Master Diluc?” Paimon asks curiously.

“Please don’t answer that,” Aether says. “We’re not going to pry into the details of Diluc’s date,” he says to Paimon severely.

“Wha– ” Diluc blinks. “It’s not a date,” he says, deeply indignant, at the same time that Paimon exclaims excitedly, “oooh, a date!” She does a little twirl in the air.

“Have fun,” Aether says. He gives Diluc a little wave, then retreats down the Winery’s wide front path.

“It’s not a date!” Diluc calls after Aether’s retreating back. He sighs when there’s no reply, then raises a hand to rub at his temples. It’s only 10am and Kaeya’s already giving him a headache, and the idiot’s not even here.

 

***

 

Diluc spends the day taking care of some administrative matters at the Winery, then has a light dinner. As the sun begins to set, he swings on a light cloak, pulling the hood on over his head, and sets out for Thousand Winds Temple.

He finds Kaeya waiting for him at the outskirts of the ruined temple, lounging insouciantly against a low stone pillar. By unspoken agreement, they hide in a large clump of bushes just the edges of the ruins, and settle in to wait.

And – Diluc’s missed this more than he’s willing to admit: he’s missed Kaeya, missed having him around all the time. Kaeya shows up at Angel’s Share at least a few times a week, always when Diluc’s at the bar – not that Diluc has paid special attention – but it isn’t the same. And it’s entirely Diluc’s own fault for pushing Kaeya away in the first place, all that misdirected grief and rage and hurt all those years ago, and now maybe it’s too late to fix and these scraps are all he deserves.

He’s jolted out of his gloomy thoughts when two Abyss mages show up and begin to give orders to the scattered group of hilichurls loitering around the ruins. According to what Diluc overhears, they’re setting up a new camp in the area to spy on Mondstadt, relying on the resident Ruin Guard to keep the Knights from coming into the area to patrol.

On hearing this, Diluc gives Kaeya a sidelong accusatory look. Kaeya responds with a lopsided grin, the curl of his smile seeming to say, well, I’m here, aren’t I?

The rumble of thunder in the distance makes Diluc glance up at the gloomy sky, brow furrowed. The first fat drops of rain start to fall shortly after. The Abyss mages depart hastily, the Pyro one seeming to be in a particular hurry, and the hilichurls scurry for cover as well.

Diluc tugs his hood a little further over his head. Next to him, Kaeya doesn’t seem particularly bothered, turning his face up to the rain, a small smile curving his lips.

“I think,” Kaeya says, turning to Diluc, “we should wait a week or so – let the Abyss mages finish setting up their camp, then we can take the whole operation down. If we do it too early, they’ll just move everything to a different location, and then we’ll have to track them down all over again.”

Diluc nods slowly. “Makes sense,” he says. “Next Friday, maybe?”

“Works for me,” Kaeya says.

The rain has gotten much heavier now; there’s lightning overhead and the rain is pouring down in sheets. Kaeya’s hair is matted down and even that little lighter streak in his fringe that Diluc’s always secretly itched to run his fingers through has darkened from the rain. Diluc stands, tugging Kaeya up with him.

“We should find shelter,” he says, “before you catch a cold.” He gives Kaeya a little shove toward the broken-down stone walls around the sides of the ruined temple.

Kaeya puts up a token protest, but is surprisingly pliant as Diluc herds him towards the scant shelter of the stone walls. He stumbles a little in the near-pitch darkness, almost stepping on Diluc’s foot.

With one hand still on Kaeya’s shoulder, Diluc reaches into his pocket to draw out a few stalks of the small lamp grass that Kaeya had sent him via Aether that morning. Kaeya glances over to see what Diluc’s doing, and in the faint glow from the lamp grass, Diluc can see Kaeya’s uncovered eye light up.

“I see you received my gift,” he says, sounding casual, but even in the near-darkness, Diluc can tell that Kaeya’s smile is genuine.

“I did,” he says. “And Aether thought you were inviting me on a date, so thanks a lot for that.”

“You’re very welcome,” Kaeya purrs throatily, and outright grins at him.

Diluc scowls back and walks a little faster in retaliation, and Kaeya, fully occupied with looking at Diluc, yelps when he walks into a large rock.

The rock whirrs loudly, and then there’s the tell-tale, very familiar whine of a Ruin Guard powering up.

“Damn it,” Diluc says, and quickly goes from walking ahead of Kaeya to tugging urgently on his arm. They hurriedly dash away from the Ruin Guard as its eye lights up and it gets ponderously to its feet. Diluc briefly considers just taking out the Ruin Guard – one Ruin Guard is unlikely to pose a problem to him and Kaeya together – but they’re trying to be stealthy here; destroying the Ruin Guard would serve no purpose other than to let the Abyss mages know that they’d been overheard.

Kaeya slips one hand into his, the wet, slick leather of his gloves slipping against Diluc’s, and hand-in-hand, they run toward the opposite side of the ruined temple, booted footsteps splashing as they run. Thankfully, the Ruin Guard doesn’t come after them – they seem to have made it out of the detection radius just in time.

There’s a little alcove with a broken bit of ceiling overhanging it, providing some scant shelter from the rain, in the walled corner of the ruins that they finally end up at. Diluc herds Kaeya into the alcove, then realizes abruptly that he’s still holding Kaeya’s hand. He coughs awkwardly and hurriedly lets it go.

Oddly, Kaeya doesn’t make any smart remarks, and when Diluc chances a quick glance at him, Kaeya’s looking away, cheeks faintly pink. The sight does something strange to Diluc’s heart, and it’s suddenly a little difficult to breathe.

He also notices, suddenly, that Kaeya’s starting to shiver. They’re out of the rain but it’s still chilly and damp in the little alcove they’re in, and while Diluc’s cloak and heavy coat have sheltered him from the worst of the rain, Kaeya’s clothes…well. Diluc would sooner swallow a slime whole than admit that Kaeya looks good in his chosen outfit, but what he will say is that those clothes are not particularly practical for keeping Kaeya warm.

Silently, Diluc slips his cloak off and drapes it over Kaeya’s shoulders. Kaeya shoots him a surprised look, then grins.

“S-such a gentleman as always, Master Diluc,” he teases through chattering teeth.

Diluc sighs. “I should just let you freeze,” he grumbles, and pointedly ignores Kaeya’s soft laughter. He briefly debates the wisdom of lighting a fire, but decides against risking it in case they’re seen. The Abyss mages and hilichurls seem to have dispersed due to the rain, but one can never be too careful.

Instead, he shifts closer to Kaeya so that they’re sitting back-to-back. Since he can’t light a fire, sharing body heat is probably the next best thing. Can’t let Mondstadt’s esteemed Cavalry Captain die of a chill, after all.

Also, Jean will probably kill him if he lets her right-hand man die through neglect.

Behind him, Kaeya sighs softly, then leans back against him, shoulders relaxed. Diluc draws his legs up to his chest, arms draped loosely over his knees, and breathes slow and deep. The pitter-patter of rain outside their little dry alcove is calming, and behind him, Kaeya finally stops shivering, his back warm and solid against Diluc’s.

 

***

 

The rain eventually lessens, and Diluc and Kaeya trek back to Mondstadt, their damp clothes sticking to them uncomfortably. By the time they get close to the city, it’s past midnight.

At the crossroads in front of Mondstadt, Diluc nods a farewell to Kaeya, then turns toward the road that leads to Dawn Winery.

“Wait,” Kaeya says, putting a hand on his arm. Diluc turns.

“It’s late,” Kaeya says, “and we’re both still drenched. It’ll take you at least another hour to get back to the winery. You might as well stay at my apartment tonight.”

Diluc hesitates, thinking. Kaeya’s not wrong; Diluc’s wet clothes are uncomfortable and starting to chafe, and truth be told, he is a little tired. He does have a small apartment of his own in Mondstadt that he bought some time back and uses infrequently, but both he and Kaeya know that Diluc hasn’t stayed there in a while, so the apartment is bare of supplies.

If Diluc’s totally honest with himself, he has, to his surprise, rather enjoyed himself this evening, the time spent with Kaeya like a precious, unexpected gift dropped into his lap, and he finds himself a little reluctant for the night to come to an end.

“Alright,” he says, finally.

They enter the gates of the city together, and Kaeya leads the way to his apartment. Mondstadt is silent and still at this time of night, save for the guards at the gate talking in low voices, and the occasional yowl of a stray cat.

In the warmth of Kaeya’s apartment, Diluc takes off his wet coat and hangs it over the heater to dry. Kaeya does the same with Diluc’s cloak, which he’d worn all the way back, then heads into the bedroom and reappears a few moments later with a clean set of his own clothes for Diluc to change into.

The loose shirt fits well enough on Diluc, though the pants are a little long. He and Kaeya are of much the same build, although Kaeya’s a little taller than he is. The shirt and pants are soft and well-worn, and the knowledge that he’s wearing Kaeya’s clothes makes Diluc’s heart beat a little faster for reasons he refuses to examine too closely. Behind him, Kaeya is uncharacteristically silent as Diluc bends to gather his discarded wet clothes.

Diluc beds down on the sofa, turning down Kaeya’s offer of the bed – not only is he not going to put Kaeya out of his bed in his own home, but also, sleeping in Kaeya’s bed is a little bit too close to something Diluc adamantly does not let himself think about.

The night passes uneventfully, and in the morning, Diluc wakes just as the sun is rising. He changes back into his own clothes but leaves his coat, which is still damp, off. Just before he leaves, he wavers, then gives in to temptation and peeks into Kaeya’s open bedroom door.

Kaeya’s still sleeping peacefully, clutching his pillow, a small smile on his lips. He looks so sweet and vulnerable that it makes Diluc’s heart hurt a little. As Diluc turns to leave the room, Kaeya murmurs softly, “Diluc – ”

Diluc freezes, caught. He turns around slowly.

Kaeya, however, still appears to be fast asleep. He nuzzles his head into his pillow, clutching it tighter, mumbles Diluc’s name again then lapses into silence. Diluc takes a deep, shaky breath, then lets it out slowly.

As he’s leaving Kaeya’s apartment, coat slung over his shoulder, Diluc is so distracted that he walks right into Amber, who’s passing by right outside. Amber jumps back and gapes at him, eyes round. “O-oh, Master Diluc! I’m so sorry!”

Her gaze flicks from him, to Kaeya’s front door, then back to Diluc, and her eyes grow even huger. Diluc can practically see her leap to the wrong conclusion.

There is, however, no good way of explaining why he’s coming out of Kaeya’s apartment at dawn, half-dressed, without going into the whole Darknight Hero thing, so, well.

“Good morning, Amber,” he says courteously. “My fault – I wasn’t looking where I was going.” There’s a long, awkward pause where Diluc isn’t sure whether to say more and Amber’s clearly dying of curiosity but too polite to ask.

They’re interrupted by the arrival of Aether, who looks from Diluc, to Kaeya’s front door, to Amber, and grins. At Aether’s side, Paimon perks up when she sees Diluc.

“Master Diluc!” she says, waving at him enthusiastically. “How was your dat–mmph!”

Aether claps his hand over Paimon’s mouth. He shoots Diluc a quick glance, lips quirked up, before releasing Paimon and turning to Amber.

“Hey, Amber,” he says. “Do you want to get breakfast with me and Paimon?”

“Ooh, I’m starving!” Paimon exclaims, successfully distracted.

“Sure!” Amber says happily. She waves to Diluc, then she and Aether turn to head in the direction of Good Hunter. Diluc makes a mental note to ensure that Aether’s apple cider is on the house the next time he visits Angel’s Share.

Behind Aether and Amber, Paimon turns and gives Diluc a huge, exaggerated wink before doing a happy little spin in the air and zipping off behind the pair.

Diluc sighs.

 

***

 

Diluc spends the next few days alternately looking forward to the day he’s going back out to the ruins with Kaeya, and then convincing himself that he’s not looking forward to it, because what the hell is wrong with him. His patrols as the Darknight Hero during the week are more or less uneventful, which is fortunate because he may or may not be a tiny bit distracted.

On Tuesday, it occurs to Diluc that Kaeya hasn’t shown up at Angel’s Share for half a week.

It’s stupid to get worried just because Kaeya hasn’t gotten a drink in four days. Diluc knows this. And yet – it’s as if after finally giving himself permission to think about Kaeya, his brain just won’t let him stop thinking about the damned idiot.

Completely against his better judgement, Diluc lets his patrol that evening take him past Kaeya’s apartment. He hesitates on the doorstep, grimacing.

“What am I doing,” he mutters to himself, pinching the bridge of his nose.

As he turns to leave, the front door opens. Kaeya strolls out and comes to a dead stop two steps in front of Diluc. He looks at Diluc in surprise, then beams at him.

“Master Diluc!” he says. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Diluc grunts in reply. He can’t quite stop himself from looking Kaeya up and down, just to make sure he’s alright. Kaeya seems cheerful enough and doesn’t have any visible injuries, which, to Diluc’s immense irritation, does make him feel a little better.

“So, what brings you to this part of town?” Kaeya asks curiously.

“Patrolling,” Diluc says shortly.

Kaeya arches an eyebrow. “Oh? I wouldn’t have expected that Mr. Darknight Hero would find much to do in the middle of the city.”

“Don’t call me that,” Diluc says, scowling at him. And then, because his brain-to-mouth filter seems to have developed some kind of malfunction, he mumbles, “I see your drinking habits have improved.”

Kaeya’s visible eye widens. “Why, Master Diluc!” he says coyly, putting one hand over his heart and looking absolutely delighted. “Did you miss me?”

Stupid Kaeya and his stupid smile. Ugh. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Diluc snaps.

“Actually, I was supposed to accompany Sister Rosaria to Angel’s Share yesterday,” Kaeya says. He starts to laugh. “But Sister Barbara caught her trying to sneak out of evening prayer and guilted her into staying, so she had to cancel.”

Diluc has to duck his head and bite his lip to stifle a smile, because honestly, that is a pretty funny mental image. Kaeya grins conspiratorially at him, and for a moment it’s almost like old times, without the years of secrets and guilt and anger and regret between them, and gods, that hurts more than Diluc wants to admit.

He clears his throat, turning away. “Good night, Kaeya.”

“Sister Rosaria and I’ll be at Angel’s Share tomorrow!” Kaeya calls after him as he walks away. “You’ll be there, right?”

 

***

 

On Wednesday evening, Kaeya shows up at Angel’s Share with Sister Rosaria, just as he’d promised. Diluc is behind the bar, only because Charles is off today, and absolutely not because Kaeya had asked him to be there.

As Diluc serves Kaeya and Rosaria their drinks, Kaeya leans forward and hisses, “we need to talk.”

Diluc raises an eyebrow. He glances over at Rosaria, who looks completely uninterested as she takes a sip of her ale, then back at Kaeya, who’s looking at him expectantly.

“Talk about what,” he says.

“You know,” Kaeya says.

Diluc frowns. “No,” he says, “I don’t.”

Kaeya rolls his eyes - or, well, eye. “It’s about this Friday,” he says under his breath. “We have a problem.

Diluc sighs. He glances at Rosaria again, who’s still studiously ignoring the two of them, then eyes Kaeya and jerks his head toward the door leading out back. Kaeya beams at him and immediately hops off his bar stool to go around the side counter. Diluc scowls at him as he ducks out from behind the bar.

It’s quiet and cool outside; since it’s midweek, business is pretty slow and there aren’t any customers sitting out back. Diluc shuts the door leading back into the bar, then raises his eyebrows at Kaeya.

“Well?” he says.

“One of the junior Knights wandered into Thousand Winds Temple yesterday,” Kaeya says. “He saw the hilichurls setting up camp, and immediately returned to Headquarters and filed a report.”

“How shockingly efficient,” Diluc says. “So?”

“So the Knights now have to do something about it, obviously.”

“I don’t see how that concerns me.”

“What, no snide comments about the Knights actually getting something done?”

“I do note that nothing’s been done yet,” Diluc tells him tartly. He crosses his arms over his chest.

“Ah, there’s the Diluc I know and love.” Kaeya smirks teasingly.

“Ha ha ha.”

“Anyway. I talked to Master Jean and told her I’d take care of it. Problem is, she doesn’t want me doing it without backup – ”

“As she shouldn’t,” Diluc interjects pointedly. Kaeya is reckless enough on his own; he certainly doesn’t need encouragement to be any worse about it.

“ – so she’s planning on sending a small contingent of Knights with me to take out the camp.”

“That’s nice,” Diluc says blandly. With some effort, he shoves down the completely unreasonable feeling of disappointment that wells up. “So it looks like you don’t need me this Friday, then.”

Kaeya makes an irritated noise, and Diluc has to bite back a tiny smirk of victory at managing to rile him up. He must’ve not hidden his amusement all that well, though, because Kaeya eyes him suspiciously for a long moment.

“Thought you didn’t trust the Knights to get this done properly,” Kaeya drawls, seemingly recovering his good humor.

“I don’t,” Diluc says pleasantly.

“Guess you’ll have to be there to make sure it gets done properly, then.”

Diluc sniffs. “I have no intention of working with your precious Knights,” he says.

“Yeah, I thought not,” Kaeya tells him cheerfully. “So, we’re still on for Friday, then?”

Diluc blinks, feeling a little like he has whiplash. “I…suppose?”

“Great!” says Kaeya brightly. “Oh, just one little thing, though…we’ll have to, er, let the Knights know they aren’t needed for this one.” He beams at Diluc expectantly.

“What?” says Diluc.

“Great talk,” Kaeya says cheerily. He waggles his fingers at Diluc. “Bye now!” He ducks through the side door and back into the bar.

“So what in the Archon’s name do you want me to do?” Diluc demands of the empty air.

 

***

 

Hands tucked behind his back, Diluc clears his throat, trying his best not to fidget.

From behind her desk in the Knights of Favonius Headquarters, Jean stares at him.

“Well, it’s all rather irregular,” she says slowly, “but I do suppose it’s fine, just this once. I’ll re-assign the Knights who were supposed to accompany Captain Kaeya to the ruins.”

“Thank you,” Diluc says.

“And,” Jean hesitates before adding, with a small smile, “strictly off-the-record – I’m really happy to see you and Captain Kaeya getting along again, Master Diluc.”

“We’re not – we’re not getting along,” Diluc tells her, indignant. “We’re working together. Unwillingly, I might add.”

“Yes – oh, yes, of course.”

Diluc stares at Jean suspiciously. “Are you laughing at me?”

Jean clears her throat primly. “I would never.”

 

***

 

Friday dawns bright and sunny. Aether and Paimon show up at Dawn Winery first thing in the morning, with a bouquet of small lamp grass again, and a small package tucked under Aether’s arm.

He hands Diluc the package first. “Kaeya said you left this behind.”

“Ah,” Diluc says, taking it. It’s probably his cloak – they’d left it draped over the heater at Kaeya’s place after their first reconnaissance trip to the ruins and he’d forgotten to take it when he left the next morning. “Thank you.”

“He also sent these,” Aether continues, presenting Diluc with the bouquet of small lamp grass.

Diluc raises an eyebrow, taking the bouquet. “Thunderstorms again tonight?”

Aether shrugs. “Kaeya just said to tell you that he’s looking forward to seeing you tonight.”

Diluc blinks, and, to his horror, feels his cheeks grow warm. “This,” he tells Aether hastily, “is not what you think it is.”

“Okay,” Aether says.

“It really isn’t.”

“You’re all red, Master Diluc,” Paimon says, choosing the worst possible moment to develop powers of observation.

“My hair’s always been that color.”

“No, no,” Paimon protests. “Your face is all red, too.” Aether makes a small, choked noise that he attempts, very poorly, to disguise as a cough. Diluc scowls at him.

“…it isn’t even Windblume,” Aether says sadly. “If you two weren’t my friends, I’d definitely be charging a premium for this.”

“I’m not dating Kaeya.”

“But Kaeya’s great, though!” Paimon interjects. She beams at Diluc, bobbing slightly in excitement.

Diluc opens his mouth, then shuts it. He finds that he doesn’t quite know what to say.

“He bribed Paimon with a sword, once,” Aether says by way of explanation.

“Why am I not surprised,” Diluc says.

“It was very shiny!” Paimon adds happily.

“I’m sure it was,” Diluc assures her, stifling a smile.

“Paimon’s never seen Kaeya send anyone else flowers before!” Paimon says, nodding vigorously to emphasize her point. “He must really like you, Master Diluc.”

“Er,” says Diluc.

Aether outright laughs, then. “Enjoy your not-a-date,” he says. “C’mon, Paimon, let’s go.”

“It’s really not a date,” Diluc calls after them despairingly as they leave.

 

***

 

That evening, Diluc meets Kaeya at Thousand Winds Temple to destroy the Abyss mage camp, as agreed. They manage to dismantle two of the hilichurl towers right at the back of the camp before being noticed; and even after that, the hilichurls go down easily enough.

The Abyss mages prove to be a little tougher, especially since there are four of them and the last one sneaks off to call in three mitachurls as backup while Diluc and Kaeya are occupied with the others. They end up fighting back-to-back, facing off against the Abyss mages after taking out the mitachurls, and Diluc doesn’t even have to think, it’s so instinctive to cover Kaeya’s weak spots and let Kaeya cover his after years of training together.

They take out the first Pyro mage together, after which Diluc sees Kaeya finish off the second Pyro mage out of the corner of his eye as he sends a wave of fire at the two mages in front of him. Then Kaeya is pushing him down, sending a bolt of Cryo over Diluc’s shoulder to freeze the Hydro mage just as it’s winding up to try to trap Diluc in one of its bubbles.

“Thanks,” Diluc says. He turns to smash the Cryo mage one-handed with his claymore as it begins chanting a spell, its spindly arms outstretched toward Kaeya.

“Right back at you,” Kaeya says cheerfully as Diluc spins around, brings his other hand up to grasp the hilt of his claymore and, two-handed, slams his claymore down on the frozen Hydro mage, shattering it. Ice shards fly everywhere.

Kaeya idly flicks a stray chip of ice off his arm, then dusts his hands off, looking around. “Well, I think we got them all,” he says. “Now we just need to destroy the remainder of the camp.”

Diluc nods. He heads to the western side of the camp to start dismantling the structures there, while Kaeya moves over to the eastern side of the camp to do the same. As he works, Diluc can’t quite help the stray thought that pushes into the back of his mind, that it’s going to feel kind of lonely to go back to working on his own after this. He quickly squashes that thought; no point wanting what he can’t have, after all. He reminds himself firmly that this was a one-time thing, him and Kaeya working together.

After about an hour of work, they’re pretty much done destroying everything the hilichurls put up. Kaeya comes over just as Diluc gets to his feet, brushing some dirt off his coat.

“All done?” Kaeya asks.

Diluc nods. “Let’s head back,” he says.

“Wait,” Kaeya says.

Diluc looks at him questioningly.

Kaeya, uncharacteristically, seems to be at a loss for words for a moment.

“Look,” he finally says hesitantly, “I think we both know that either you or I could have handled that group alone. Not easily, but either of us could have done it.” He huffs a wry laugh. “Obviously, yes, it’s good practice to go with backup, but neither of us is particularly adept at following rules, are we?”

Diluc stares at him.

Kaeya sighs. “Come on,” he says. “You’re not going to make me spell it out, are you?”

Diluc doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, so he doesn’t.

“You always have to make things difficult,” Kaeya complains. He looks away. “I wanted to go with you, okay? I didn’t want to do this with someone from the Knights. I wanted you.” His face is open for once, honest and sincere –  so much like how Kaeya had been around Diluc, before; and Diluc is momentarily transfixed.

“Damn it.” Kaeya rubs a hand over his mouth, looking frustrated at Diluc’s silence. He turns away. “Forget I said anything. I should’ve just – ”

“Don’t,” Diluc says, soft, catching Kaeya’s arm to stop him from turning away. “Don’t go. I just – fuck.” He stops, scrubs a hand over his face. Kaeya turns back toward him slowly.

“I,” Diluc begins, then pauses, doesn’t quite know how to put everything he wants to say into words. “I…don’t know how you can still stand to be around me after how I treated you. I’ve regretted what I did for – ”

He stops when Kaeya places a gentle finger over his lips.

“I was at fault, too,” Kaeya says. “I should have told you the truth earlier.” He purses his lips. “You know,” he says haltingly, “I don’t know what will happen in the future, but – ”

Diluc shakes his head. “Just promise me one thing,” he says. “No more secrets. Whatever happens in the future, we’ll deal with it together.”

Kaeya looks at him searchingly for a long moment, then nods slowly. “Together,” he says, and smiles, and he’s so damned beautiful and Diluc loves him so very, very much.

Kaeya shuffles a little closer. He looks a little hopeful, and heartbreakingly unsure. Diluc turns to him, cups Kaeya’s face with both hands, and tilts his own face up. He kisses Kaeya with everything he has, I’m sorry, I’m so glad you’re here now, and I love you, I love you, I love you.

Kaeya responds with enthusiasm, kissing Diluc back until they’re both breathless, their hands all over each other like they can’t decide where to touch first. Diluc slides his hands under Kaeya’s jacket and shirt, greedily petting over warm, smooth skin.

“Kaeya,” Diluc pants as Kaeya shoves his coat off his shoulders. He shrugs it the rest of the way off and lets it drop to the ground. Kaeya immediately starts tugging on Diluc’s vest, and Diluc obligingly raises his arms to let Kaeya pull it all the way off. “Kaeya, wait, nngh – out here in the open?”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Kaeya laughs breathlessly. “Besides – do you really want to wait till we get back to the city?”

“Not really,” Diluc admits, because oh gods, he wants Kaeya naked right now. He’s so hard that he might actually die if he doesn’t get Kaeya’s clothes off in the next thirty seconds. And Kaeya seems to feel the same, because the way he’s grinding their hips together, neither of them is going to last long enough to even get half their clothes off.

“Been waiting for you my whole life, ‘Luc,” Kaeya pants, and right, okay, there’s absolutely no way they’re making it back to the city for this. And Diluc is perfectly fine with that, he thinks, as he tugs a smiling Kaeya to the ground and practically tears his shirt off.

 

***

 

They head back to Mondstadt just as dawn is breaking. Diluc may or may not have amassed a small collection of bruises from all the rolling around they did on the ground last night. He’s never felt better.

Beside him, Kaeya’s got a definite bounce in his step.

“Someone’s in a good mood this morning,” Diluc says.

“I can’t imagine why,” Kaeya teases, and turns to grin at him. Diluc promptly drags him in for a kiss.

Kaeya responds so enthusiastically that in the mutual fumbling, they tip right off the path and fall into a bush. Diluc is kneeling over Kaeya and in the process of undoing Kaeya’s belt, his coat discarded nearby and his own shirt already hanging open, when there’s a surprised yelp from somewhere nearby.

“Oh, dear Archons,” says a familiar voice from above them, sounding very, very tired. They look up to see Aether standing on the path right next to them, covering Paimon’s eyes with both hands.

“What is it?” Paimon demands, flailing around vigorously in a futile attempt to free herself. “Paimon wants to see!”

“Give them a minute, Paimon,” Aether says.

“Good morning, you two,” Kaeya says cheerfully, completely unrepentant. He pulls Diluc’s coat over his lap to hide the very obvious bulges in both his and Diluc’s pants.

Diluc clears his throat sheepishly, clutching his shirt closed with one hand. “Good morning.”

“Oh, hello!” Paimon says brightly, having been freed by Aether. She waves at them. “You’re all red again, Master Diluc.”

Kaeya bursts out laughing as Diluc scowls. “Out on a commission?” Kaeya asks.

“Yup,” Aether says. “And we’re going to get on with it and leave you two to. Uh. Do whatever it is you were doing.”

“Drop by Angel’s Share later,” Kaeya says. “I’ll treat you to a drink.”

“Wine?” Aether ventures with a hopeful air.

“Apple cider,” Diluc chimes in firmly. “And your drinks are on the house.” He shifts his gaze to Paimon. “Both of you.”

“Ooh, thanks, Master Diluc!” Paimon says, looking delighted.

“Hey, how about me?” Kaeya asks.

“Not you,” Diluc says.

“Aw,” Kaeya says. He nudges up against Diluc seductively, voice dropping half a register. “Any way I can persuade you, Master Diluc…?”

“Nobody’s doing any persuading until Paimon and I leave,” Aether says sternly. Kaeya grins wickedly, eyes crinkling at the corners as he laughs heartily, and Diluc can’t take his eyes off him. He licks his lips.

“Leaving now,” Aether says loudly. “Bye!” He scurries away, Paimon in tow.

The moment Aether leaves, Kaeya leans in and presses his lips to Diluc’s, still laughing softly.

“You’re an idiot,” Diluc mumbles against Kaeya’s lips when they part for breath.

“Yeah,” Kaeya says, “but I’m your idiot,” and the confidence with which he says it, no hint of any hesitation or uncertainty, fills up some of the cracks in Diluc’s heart that he’d never, ever expected could heal.

“Damned right you are,” he says, and tugs Kaeya close for another kiss, and another, and another.

 

End.