When he at last spots a tent among seamless heaps of white, Diluc wills his aching legs to trudge faster through the snow. Soaked from the waist down, it’s a miracle that he hasn’t yet turned into a block of ice.
It is terrible enough that the strange activity on Dragonspine he set on investigating turns out to be neither the Fatui nor the abyss but a group of hilichurls. Said hilichurls were cryo enhanced, which means Diluc had to put more effort in defeating them. To make it worse, a familiar man in blue suddenly jumped in mid-battle, despite knowing that his attacks wouldn’t be very effective against the enemies, if at all. The final straw to his streak of misfortunes is their accidental dip into the river when they’re bickering earlier, which left both men drenched to their bones.
Simply put, Diluc had… better days.
Footsteps which belong to no other than Kaeya follow right behind his trail, uncharacteristically slow. He must’ve had it harder than Diluc, being a cryo allogene and having lower basal temperature. Diluc can’t bring himself to care that much right now, when Kaeya is also to blame for their current predicament. At least he is generous enough to control his pace so Kaeya won’t lose sight of him, and to make sure that the younger man manages to drag himself inside.
Diluc feels some of his tension melting as he observes the camp’s interior. Not the most ideal camping location, but neither is this the worst he has ever slept in, and frankly anything is better compared to having to brave the snowstorm raging outside. He does a quick work of rummaging around the camp and discovers stuff likely left behind by its previous owner; a pocket watch, a metallic flask, and a journal, filled with entries yet not a name is written between its pages. Nothing useful, he concludes, and throws all of them aside.
Not unlike those trinkets, Kaeya is also being completely useless, having not moved an inch since he stepped into the tent.
“Your pants are wet. Take them off before you begin to freeze from the inside out,” Diluc barks at him.
It’s a trick Diluc learned from his three years long journey across Teyvat without the aid of his vision. Possessing his vision from a young age, it was only during those days that he realized how inconvenient traveling could become when fire can’t be ignited with a simple snap. On a brighter note, he learned to be less reliant on his pyro.
Half expecting a snarky comeback or a teasing comment, Diluc is mildly surprised to receive none. Assuming that Kaeya is simply too exhausted to argue, he busies himself unbuckling his own belt. The heavy accessory clatters as it falls to the ground. Next his boots and his trousers come off. Soon he is bare from the waist down save for his briefs, a pile of drenched clothes in one hand and his relatively dry coat in the other.
He turns to the other man. His mouth instantly gapes open at what he sees.
Of course Kaeya notices his lapse. “Is something the matter?” he asks.
“You…” Diluc trails off.
Kaeya gives his head a slight tilt. “Me…?”
“You call that an undergarment?!”
Because that abomination Kaeya is wearing can’t possibly be briefs. You see, Diluc knows what briefs are. He’s wearing them right now, for Archons’ sake. He’s also certain that briefs should not appear to be an impossibly tiny triangular piece of cloth, barely covering his cock and clearly designed without the intention of covering an inch of the skin of his buttocks, tied in place by nothing but a thin string looping around his waist.
One thing that Diluc knows for sure is that the cursed thing wasn’t among Kaeya’s possessions when they were still living together at the manor. If it had, he would’ve intervened, and so would father. It’s a dishonor to their family name.
In the present, however, Crepus is long gone, and Kaeya seems to be unaffected by his outburst. “It’s a thong,” he corrects, in his best imitation of innocence. A cheeky grin spreads across his face. “What, you like?”
Diluc’s face crumples as though he’s been forced to eat a very unripe, very sour grape that was picked by the most inexperienced errand boy at his winery, who has never seen live crops in his entire life before. Now, this is not a matter of liking or disliking, because to be frank Kaeya looks great in most outfits and a minimum of good in the rest, though Archons know if anyone will ever hear Diluc saying it out loud.
Somehow Diluc is taken back to the day he returned to Mondstadt and saw Kaeya for the first time since they were eighteen. He was a bit thrown off, and for a good reason. The tight corset, the shameless show of his chest—Diluc had his suspicions back then, but for them to actually be true …
“I left for a bit and you’ve turned into a town slut?” he hisses.
Kaeya bristles. “Rude. One shall not judge character based on mere appearance.”
Diluc, being Diluc, refuses to acknowledge this. Instead, he holds his chin up high, then utters in his most commanding tone, “either way you’d better have something to say in defense of wearing that.”
Kaeya makes a casual wave of hand. “Oh, come on, Diluc. This is just fashion,” he argues meekly, then begins to, for the lack of better word, wiggle his butt a little as though to prove his point. “But if my underwear bothers you that much, would you rather have me take it off?”
Diluc’s jaw—and definitely nothing else—hardens at the taunt. Had it been anyone else, Kaeya would’ve gotten what’s coming for him, alright. Not every man is chivalrous with the mental fortitude of Stormterror’s Lair as he is. Nor does a lot of people practice abstinence in this nation worshipping the literal God of Freedom.
Kaeya doesn’t actually proceed to strip himself down, thankfully, but the mischievous glint in his eye doesn’t guarantee that he won’t cross that line if he thinks it would elicit a reaction from his sworn brother, or if he’s bored enough. Diluc knows how Kaeya plays his games, after being subjected to them for so long.
Very well. Not his problem, then. Kaeya can have his stupid ass frozen solid, literally, defending that obscene article he dares call a piece of clothing.
He watches as Kaeya curls into himself and starts rubbing his hands together. The storm shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon, and despite the sun still hanging above the horizon chills have begun to seep under his skin, dulling his senses. At this rate, they’re sure to have a long and even colder night ahead.
Diluc closes his eyes, accepting of his fate. It is what it is. Besides, Kaeya is extremely due for a lesson or two about dressing modestly.
There is no way of telling the exact hour in their secluded camp, but judging from how Diluc’s stomach has recently emitted growling sounds, it must be around the time he usually has his dinner when Kaeya finally breaks the heavy silence between them.
“It’s getting dark. Can you light a bigger fire?” the cavalry captain almost whines. Vapor comes out of his mouth as he speaks.
“No,” is Diluc’s curt reply.
If Kaeya picks up the irritation in his tone, he doesn’t comment on it. His expression looks serious as he rubs on his chin. “Right, that would be rather counterproductive with this meager amount of firewood. Should we huddle closer to conserve warmth, then?”
Kaeya blinks. It can be pinpointed to the exact seconds when his eye grows wide, then squints as he comes to a realization that Diluc is being petty , of all things. The corners of his lips quirk up into a nasty grin. In their childhood, his threats of not speaking to each other after Kaeya pissed him off in some way never lasted more than a day. That said, it has always been amusing to see him try.
“Haha, as you wish, Diluc.”
Kaeya licks his lips, withdrawing to his corner of the camp. Even so, Diluc can still feel his gaze locking on him, waiting for his facade to drop, resembling an animal observing its prey. Not one to give in so easily, Diluc sets on paying him no heed by focusing on the spot on his wrist where his glove ends instead, which has been bothering him. A cryo shooter hilichurl from their earlier battle has managed to nip him there, and the ensuing wound has become red and itchy over time. He prods on the hardened skin and clicks his tongue when a slight burning pain erupts as a result.
This, unfortunately, piques his companion’s interest, who then cranes his neck to earn a better view and knowingly nods once he does.
“Frostbites,” Kaeya remarks, lifting his own gloved hand to demonstrate. “Here, try moving your fingers like this. I also got them a lot ‘cause my elemental attacks sometimes backfired.”
Diluc raises a skeptical eyebrow but obliges anyway. It turns out that the movement somehow does help ease blood circulation. Although the scratch where cryo-enhanced arrowhead broke skin remains, his hand is feeling less numb already, and the nagging pain is lessening.
“It worked,” he flatly declares.
Kaeya beams. His star-pupiled eye crinkles. “See? I’m not too bad a partner to pass a snowstorm with!”
Diluc has a lot of reasons to disagree on that, the first being they wouldn’t be stuck here to begin with if not for Kaeya’s fault. But the night is still young, and Diluc would rather not waste his energy bickering with the insufferable captain when he needs it for their trip down the mountain tomorrow. Without him initiating another argument, the two easily slip into silence once more.
Over half of the firewood has burned through into black char now, while the fire itself flickers worryingly every now and then each time a particularly strong wind blows, making crackling noises. Or so Diluc thinks, until it dawns on him that a similar sound is also coming from another source, namely Kaeya’s subtly shivering form.
His teeth are chattering. He seems to have attempted to wrap his wing-like cape around himself for warmth, but to no avail. No surprise there, given how light that thing is. Damn him and his dysfunctional layers of clothing.
Diluc sighs. “Come closer to the fire, Sir Kaeya, the knights are ineffective enough with their captain alive, much less dead.”
Though Diluc won’t admit it, it’s a bit concerning that Kaeya doesn’t immediately respond to his jab, blinking a few times as if to shake himself out of a daze.
“Ah. Master Diluc has at last decided to open up his heart,” Kaeya teases. He doesn’t say much else before taking up his offer, however. The warm light of the fire should have lit up his face, but his long bangs cast a shadow over his expression instead.
“You’re trembling,” Diluc notes.
Kaeya shrugs in return. “Well, I am cold.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t be, have you worn normal briefs rather than dressing like a whore,” Diluc mutters.
At that, Kaeya’s back straightens up so abruptly that Diluc goes alert on reflex, thinking they’re being ambushed by monsters or something along that line.
The captain turns over to fix him a challenging glare. “What’s next, is us being stuck on Dragonspine also somehow my thong’s fault?”
“I didn’t say that—”
“—yet. It’s written all over your face.”
Diluc grits his teeth. “It’s inappropriate !”
“Yet it serves its purpose,” Kaeya cuts in, not missing a beat. “You know just how tight my pants are. Should I wear briefs, as you so kindly suggested, the lines would definitely be seen through. Do you really think that’s more proper? For the entire Mondstdt to be able to guess what kind of underwear their cavalry captain is wearing?”
In the past, Diluc was grateful to have Kaeya as a constant presence by his side, smooth-talking over the toughest of his obstacles. One of Kaeya’s strong points is making everything he says seem logical. These days, Diluc feels that the skill is more often than not putting him at a disadvantage. More importantly, there’s no way he is letting Kaeya sway his principles on what’s considered proper underwear with that silver tongue of his.
Diluc crosses his arms. “Wear proper briefs from now on. End of discussion.”
Kaeya lets out a childish huff. There’s an awkward pause before he is speaking again.
“Is it the color?”
“You seem to harbor such a deep hate on my thong. Maybe the color is bothering you? Should I wear one in a different color next time—red, perhaps?”
Diluc opens his mouth then forces it shut again. “Wha—hold on. You… you have them in other colors?”
“And what about it. I’m not a brooding guy whose entire wardrobe is made up of funeral clothes.”
Diluc absently wonders if that’s how the whole town views him now, a gloomy guy who perpetually looks like he’s on his way to a funeral ceremony, because honestly he doesn’t see anything wrong with his daily attire. It’s proper, it’s practical. None of his maids has ever confronted him on his tastes either, though perhaps they’re just glad that him wearing all-black means less work of scrubbing blood stains off them since he started going on frequent vigilante-ing spree.
When he focuses back on his current situation, he finds that Kaeya is staring at him and stifling a chuckle. “Don’t get too worked up on what I said, though. Rest assured that you’re still the most eligible bachelor in all of Mondstadt, regardless of your hideous coat,” he drawls.
Diluc snorts. “I don’t take advice coming from a man who thinks the ladies truly see the appeal in rat tails,” he says. It feels like a victory to see Kaeya’s grin being wiped off his face for once.
A strong gust of wind rattles the fragile constructs of their tent, and all of a sudden Kaeya is shivering again, more violently than before. Shivers, okay, that’s actually not a bad sign, Diluc decides, gears spinning in his head. Shivering is the body’s innate mechanism to generate heat in response to a cold environment. Definitely nothing to worry about, especially because it’s Kaeya in the point of matter here, and he doesn’t even care about him that much in the first place.
He’s already reaching for the younger man’s lean shoulders before he finishes that train of thought. Kaeya unconsciously relaxes into his touch, already breathing easier once their skins make contact, so Diluc lets him.
His resolve to burn that Archons damned thong to ashes once they’re back in town still stands, though.