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“Big brother, what is death?”

They had escaped the stuffy headquarters to enjoy Springvale’s autumn breeze. Days of good weather were numbered now that the end of the year was approaching slowly. The sun still claimed its place among the clouds though and Albedo decided it was a good day to draw.

“It’s the last goodbye.”

Klee tilted her head and brought a hand to her chin. She had observed Albedo enough to unconsciously mimic his mannerism. This one was a perfect reproduction of Albedo’s “I don’t entirely understand, do tell me more” face.

Klee was a child, how could he explain it simply?

“It’s like when you travel,” he tried again, “no matter how beautiful, you eventually leave the place.”

Klee nodded gravely. “Like mom, she’s always traveling.” She then gave him a big sunny smile. “Let’s go fish blasting now!” Albedo closed his sketchbook and got up, Klee’s hand held safely in his. Kids were so easily satisfied. (And now she’d get to see exactly what death was, he thought, with what she was about to do to those poor fish. A cruel thing, the cycle of life.)

Today’s drawing was unpretentious, something he could complete any other time, since the subject was so familiar. Something he could simply call ‘a day in life’.

The sketchbook grew fuller as the month passed and Albedo was no longer ‘a newcomer’ or ‘the new recruit’ but rather a constant in Mondstadt’s simple life. Alice came and went, Klee bombed more lakes, Albedo became a captain and everyday became dull yet comforting.

It was hard to describe, that feeling of belonging somewhere. When he first arrived in the city of freedom, alone and lost in more ways than one, he hadn’t expected it. Chalk wasn’t supposed to feel, to care about people. He could lose control anytime, he thought it’d be better to isolate himself. He didn’t particularly care about humans but he didn’t want to hurt them for no reason. As someone who would pity a bug and put it outside instead of killing it, what he felt was more akin to ‘don’t do harm aimlessly’ rather than any sort of attachment. 

It all changed, of course, things always changed unexpectedly. One day, Albedo found himself smiling at the sight of his sister terrorising fish with the cavalry captain. He tentatively brought a hand to his cheek, feeling how it was warm and how his lips were raised. Strange, his smile wasn’t usually that big, that genuine. He looked at the sea of blue and blond hair, focused on their maniacal laughter as they bombed the lake. Then, he couldn’t deny it anymore. He sighed to himself and wrote it in his sketchbook. I am forced to recognize how much I love humans.

Albedo wasn’t chalk anymore, that was his metamorphosis. He was a man walking among men, nothing out of the ordinary. His body was made of rock, or so he heard, but he made his decision. He’d never crumble, he wouldn’t be turned to sand by water. Albedo was human. Albedo would live, would grow, would change and would die of old age, not of erosion.

The stillness of chalk, the tumult of life. That feeling of otherness. He liked to think he had overcome it all. He had a sister, he had friends, he had a job he could be proud of. The truth of this world remained unknown but bit by bit, day by day, it became clearer, he felt he was closer. 

When his master left, he almost gave in, he almost let go. Now he could only be content, he had created a life for himself, one that was his own. He was full of life, and soon he discovered, full of love.

Kaeya was visiting again today, some would accuse him of merely using the alchemist as a distraction from his work, but Albedo knew better. They had become quite close over time, their shared origin only bringing them closer.

“It always astounds me, seeing Khemia again,” Kaeya was sitting at his usual spot around the laboratory island. Albedo had been testing different sorts of fertilizers on both real plants and ones he had pulled out of sketches. “It’s interesting that you focus your research on creation, one might think you’d be more captivated by the fatality of death. I hear that’s how it is in Liyue at least.”

Albedo shrugged, it wasn’t that death didn’t interest him, but wasn’t life so much more beautiful? Even though they went hand by hand, he knew which one he preferred.

“People are too harsh. Intellectuals love to pretend life only has value in its end.” In his pinched fingers appeared a branch, then a leaf, then a fruit. “See. Isn’t existence a miracle already just because it is. The most beautiful thing you can do in this world is simply be.”

“Oh my, dear alchemist, what a complicated way to call me pretty.” He smirked. With experience, Albedo could tell that smile was absolutely, indubitably, fake. 

“That’s not what I said,” he put the branch on the island and adjusted his gloves by tugging at their ends. He directed his own smirk at Kaeya. “But if you must know, yes, I find you are rather pretty.”

In a second, the captain’s mask crumbled. His face turned as red as Klee’s hat. Albedo only chuckled; they could be two playing this game - he too knew how to be a tease.

Kaeya scoffed, though his cheeks were still dusted pink. “You’re so dishonest.”

“I’m actually rather truthful, it would be irresponsible for an alchemist to willingly spread lies after all.”

Kaeya’s blushing eventually subsided and the rest of the evening went by pleasantly, Lisa even visited for tea. Kaeya heated the water as Klee distributed the cups Albedo kept in one of his cabinets, with the help of Sucrose. Lisa slumped into the nearest chair, busying herself with watching them at work. The laboratory was now equipped with it’s own dinette, making it far more convenient for their little get together. Eating and drinking among toxic chemicals might have sounded most entertaining, but it wasn’t safe enough with Klee around.

“My correspondent in Sumeru wrote to me about the recent conference they attended. Apparently it was on self-deception in conjunction with healing. How it can help and how it does not,” it was the usual development, Lisa going on and on about whatever current interest she had and Kaeya making a sagacious comment every now and then. “Denial is in itself a bad way to cope of course, but this new perspective is rather interesting.”

Kaeya crossed his arms. “But deceiving others, let alone yourself, is a most detestable thing, no?” 

Sucrose was silent, happy to just listen to the two debate while sipping on her tea. (Albedo also suspected she wasn’t as comfortable around Kaeya as she liked to tell him yet, but she would reach that point eventually.)

“Well, sometimes, deception comes from the desire to protect. Lady Küber of Fontaine established denial as the first stage of grief, which intrigued me at first. But it all makes sense, doesn’t it. When hurt, our first instinct is to shield ourselves, and what is denial but a shelter from reality.”

Albedo himself was only half paying attention. Psychology wasn’t exactly his field of interest plus he wasn’t feeling his best if he had to be honest. Too many all nighters seeming to take a toll on his frail body. Instead, he paid attention to Klee, making sure she wasn’t too bored by their grown-up conversation. That way, he was able to immediately see when she inadvertently knocked off her own cup from the coffee table. It fell to the ground and broke with a cracking sound.

Her lips were wobbling as she looked at him. “I’m sorry big brother Albedo, Klee didn’t do it on purpose.”

He only patted her head, he wasn’t mad. If it broke, then it was defective from the start. Defective things weren’t worth keeping. He picked up the broken porcelain from the floor and didn’t cut his fingers.

“Worry not, I’ll simply buy another set.”

Everything had its place, everything had its purpose. Once the purpose wasn’t fulfilled anymore, the item should be disposed of. Albedo’s balance was most necessary, but it was a fragile thing. It couldn’t afford mistakes or second guessing. The fact that he was able to enjoy the afternoon tea with friends was the result of years of abiding to a strict code of conduct. ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’ they said. Albedo partly agreed: prevent it from breaking in the first place.

The sunset hues invaded the now empty laboratory as Kaeya picked up the cups one by one. “I swear, that Lisa, she never helps clean up,” he grumbled to himself.

Albedo chuckled lightly. “Well, I can argue t -” he interrupted himself with a cough. Then another. And another. The coughing didn’t seem to subside, to a point where it started to hurt.  He gripped at his throat, it was as though something was stuck in it, keeping him from breathing. His head was throbbing, pulsing even. His eyes burned, his throat burned, everything burned.

“Albedo?” Kaeya’s voice was barely audible, because of the thumping, because of the burning. Even his vision was turning hazy. “Albedo!” It was louder this time. Hands were holding his shoulders. “Albedo, your- you’re glowing!?”

It all stopped in a second, the noise, the burn. All crushed by the weight of realization; the scorching feeling on his throat, the itching. It all came from one place: his star.

Albedo, for how long are you going to pretend that you are human?

 

He woke up the next morning, in a bed that was evidently not his. The room was dark and it only took one hand to his neck to confirm that his star was back at a normal temperature. All that remained was the headache but it wasn’t as bad as before. The door opened with a creak.

“Oh you’re awake already,” Kaeya was dragging a chair with one hand, a Good Hunter packet was in his other. He sat himself right next to the bed and scrutinized the alchemist.

“Albedo,”

Was that it? Was he going to shout at him, revile the inhuman liar he was? Earlier he had said he despised deceivers.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“...”

Kaeya crossed his arms and his legs, his eye was firm, unimpressed. 

“And the last time you ate?”

“...”

Albedo lowered his gaze to his hands, feeling bashful. He could hear a disappointed sigh as a packet was dropped onto his lap.

“You can’t keep doing this to yourself. Look at me.”

With difficulty he raised his head, his fear of seeing Kaeya’s displeased face coming true.

“You’re going to eat, you’re going to sleep and tomorrow you’re going to tell me what’s wrong with your star.”

He got up, leaving the chair next to the bed. “Eat while it’s still hot,” he said more gently. The door creaked once again and he was gone.

 

//

 

“I knew I’d find you here, I thought I told you to rest.” Kaeya closed the door of the laboratory as he entered. It was late in the afternoon, after sleeping for a few hours, Albedo decided it was time to investigate what was going on with himself. “Klee was worried about you.”

Kaeya looked tired, his hair a little ruffled. His many accessories glowed dimly under the light.

“I didn’t know you got a new necklace,” Albedo changed the subject. In truth, he had noticed it a while ago. There was hardly a thing about Kaeya he didn’t notice. It was a regular gold chain, beautiful in its simplicity. It drew the eye to his chest.

“It’s very pretty, does it have any special meaning?”

Kaeya sighed, admitting defeat. Albedo could be very stubborn when he wanted to.

“You know how dogs have collars to indicate they belong to someone.” His fingers played with the gold chain, twirling it between two digits, it shimmered under the candles’ light. “I wanted to claim ownership over myself.”

He sat on the stool next to where Albedo was standing, turning his body to the left so he could face him.

“The… issue with your star, do you think it’s because of them,” he looked around as if to make sure no one was listening. His voice was lower when he continued, “Khaenri’ah, I mean.”

Albedo thought about it, telling Kaeya the truth of his nature. For so long, it had been a distant fact that he chose to ignore, now he wondered if it was something he should hide.

“What if it is, then. What would you do?” Albedo wasn’t human, but Albedo was from Mondstadt. His only fear was that he’d have to fight Kaeya to protect it.

“Then I’ll keep you safe. Even if Khaenri’ah comes today, I already know where my loyalty lies. My heart was buried in Mondstadt long ago.”

“Oh, then how do I do it?”

“What?”

“How do I dig it out?”

Kaeya’s heart, one of the wonders of this world, he thought. It was protected, guarded by the prison of his ribcage. No one had access to it, not anymore. A treasure kept safe in a golden chest. The way Kaeya’s cheeks heated up made him hope the frozen cage was melting, bit by bit.

“You’re incorrigible. You should stop joking before I start taking you seriously.” It was back, his teasing, absolutely fake smile. The one that betrayed his fluterness, his lack of assurance.

“What makes you think I’m not serious? '' Albedo hadn’t noticed how close their faces were until Kaeya’s breath ghosted on his lips. He leaned backward, not knowing if he should close the gap or run away. Amusement flashed in Kaeya’s eye, with a hint of ‘I won’. He leaned even more toward Albedo, his smile growing by the second as the other man leaned away, until the both of them stumbled and plummeted on the ground, the stool falling with a pang in the motion.

Too close. Too warm. Too much. Kaeya was now on top of him, their faces closer than ever.  Were they kissing? Was it finally happening? 

Constantly. He questioned it all the time. Was he allowed to love? Wasn’t that too much to ask for someone like him?  (He stopped doubting his ability to a long time ago, it became all but too obvious with Kaeya around.)

But he could tell Kaeya had his own doubts too, the all-knowing cavalry captain had turned silent. Were sinners like them allowed to have this? For that he didn’t have the answer, the way Kaeya’s eye reflected the setting sun made him want to risk it anyway.

“I’m sorry… I- You deserve better.” That was an excuse, a bad one at that. They seemed to want the same thing, they were so close, so close to getting it. But Kaeya had chosen to live a loveless life. Self-castigation? A kind of repentance? No matter, he didn’t want to force himself on the other man. He wasn’t ready yet, but Albedo was very good at waiting. He got up, removed himself from underneath Kaeya while touching him as little as possible and put some distance between them. Dust had collected on his shorts; it had been a while since he last sweeped the floor.

“I always thought your existence was art in itself.” He wiped his shorts without avail. The dust couldn’t seem to go away despite his efforts. “I’m fine with just observing for now.” The center island separated them now - it would have been so easy for Kaeya to walk up and close the distance. He did not.

The next day, Albedo set off for Dragonspine. After more rest, he was much better and nothing seemed to be wrong anymore. No star glowing, no throat hurting. Still, there was one place he needed to check. Kaeya had caught him leaving from the Knight’s headquarters, probably having already guessed where he was heading. He hadn’t left his side ever since, nor had he opened his mouth.

Wordlessly they walked, shoulder to shoulder, on the path leading to the frozen mountain. The awkwardness between them was painful. Albedo took a deep breath for courage and spoke up.

“Kaeya… I promise I don’t have any hidden intention in asking this from you, but could you take off your shirt.”

The cavalry captain stopped in his steps. He looked at Albedo with a look of both bewilderment and concern. Still, he let him continue.

“It’s a hypothesis, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong but I need to check nonetheless.” He slipped his bag from his back and opened the front pocket. “The other day I had been working on a potion for Sucrose, though it should be completely harmless, it’s possible that inhaling too much of it’s fumes could be the cause of my… throat ache.”

He pulled out a capped vial filled with a glowing green liquid out of his bag.

“If you're fine with it, I’ll make you breathe it for five minutes while checking your vitals.”

He wanted to make it as quick as possible, he’d hate to make Kaeya uncomfortable. He did have an aesthetically pleasing chest, but that was not the question. Focus on the heartbeat, focus on the breathing, he reminded himself. He wouldn't touch, he wouldn’t look, Kaeya had already rejected him. But he couldn’t help but stop and stare at what seemed to be an especially deep scar. One that had healed already, but would never disappear.

“Thanks.” He retreated a few steps away. “Everything’s in order, you can put your shirt back on.” 

Too late, Kaeya had noticed his lingering gaze.

“Don’t you think it looks montruous, all those ugly cuts,” he joked.

Well, that was the last thing on his mind, but he wasn’t going to say it aloud.

“I don’t think that.” Albedo hated how easily Kaeya denigrated himself. “Every once in a while, I envy your scars. They add to your charms, they mean you’ve lived, you have a history.” He turned his attention to his own skin which was mostly hidden by his various layers of clothing.

“My own body is too much like a blank canva, see. No mark seems to ever remain. No change. It reminds me of my inhuman nature.” 

He said it so plainly, his greatest secret, as if it were nothing. And perhaps it was, Kaeya had probably figured it out already, it was fine.

He smiled at the cavalry captain, a smile that showed his teeth. A rare sight. The sun hitting his face made him crinkle his eyes half close.

Kaeya went to put back his shirt as he shook his head.

“My scars are nothing to brag about. There’s no grand story of heroic adventures.” He traced with a careful finger his longest one; the one that started at his shoulder and finished on the opposite hip. “Just regrets, a reminder with a bitter aftertaste. No matter how many times I apply balm, they can’t seem to fade.” The regrets stayed too, that was a given. Kaeya had never looked so vulnerable, never let himself be seen that way.

He shut his eye close for a moment, seeming to be debating something with himself.

“These scars, most of them at least, were kindly given to me by my former brother, Diluc.”

A secret for a secret, there, a fair trade. 

“Is he dead?”

“He might as well be. It was the night his father died. I told him the truth. About who I was, about Khaenri’ah.” Kaeya chuckled wryly. “He wasn’t too happy about it.” 

“Now he’s gone and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do when he comes back. Do I pretend nothing happened? I want to let it go, I know it was my fault but…Is it strange of me to think it’s unfair?”

Kaeya’s expression wasn’t controlled anymore. He didn’t hide his hurt. 

“The scars, they don’t fade. Every once in a while I almost forget, the details of that day have become a blur. But every once in a while, when I move my arm, it hurts.” He moved his left arm up and down as if to demonstrate. “I don’t know what to do Albedo, I- Why does it still hurt?”

If Kaeya wasn’t so used to wearing layers and layers of masks, if the world had been kinder to him, maybe he would have been crying. Yet, his eye was dry. ‘Crying’ was traced all over his face, from his furrowed brows to his trembling lips, but no. No tears. (Do tears necessarily need to be shed for it to be considered crying? Albedo decided that no, perhaps that drowning sadness was sufficient.)

Their destination was what the people of the Adventurer’s Guild had baptized the “heart cave”, a name that betrayed nothing of the actual eeriness of the site. They encountered numerous treasure hoarders on the way but Kaeya made a quick deal of getting rid of them, not letting Albedo lift a single finger. (They also pointely and carefully avoided Fatuis, knowing that it wasn’t worth risking their safety when they were only the two of them.)

The place was exactly as Albedo remembered. Nothing seemed amiss. The heart stood proudly at the very end of the grotto. 

It glowed red and it pulsed. Thump. Thump. Thump. A growing pressure at each beat. His - their, it was Durin’s too he guessed - heart was so big, hidden in a cave. Strange veins connected it to the roof, like roots, like vines that creeped higher and higher, overtaking the rocky walls. 

Thump. Thump. Thump. It was strangely warm there, the cold didn’t reach the heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. It never stopped, the beating, the pressure. The plants had turned red too, there were red particles in the air. A strange ecosystem, unlike anything else. If he pierced his sword into the core, would it come out dyed red too? Would there be blood? (and would he survive?)

“This is..?” Kaeya looked unsure, was he scared to say it out loud?

“Yes. You’re the first person I bring here.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“And the giant bones outside?”

“Durin’s ribcage.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“And if something were to happen to it, would you…”

Thump. Thump.

“It’s hard to know, but I’d rather not risk it.”

He spent his time inspecting each corner, each stone. Kaeya just stood there, bewildered by the sight of Albedo’s heart. It thumped and it was so so big.

“Albedo.” 

Outside the cave, Dragonspine was imposing. The air was freezing, the wind was howling.

“How do I protect your heart?” He said it so softly, almost as if he didn’t want to be heard. But Kaeya was mistaken, hearts weren’t to be kept in icy prisons. Being here, by his side was enough. Kaeya didn’t have to be a mountain.

After each and every speckle of dust had been carefully inspected once, then twice, Albedo could finally draw his conclusion. Nothing was wrong with the heart, he wasn’t being corrupted, the fumes didn’t get to his head: Albedo was merely burned out, to put it simply. People usually passed out after spending days without sleeping, in his case, it was accompanied with the glowing of a star. It was something to write down. 11 days without sleep was close to his limit, apparently. More than that and he was afraid he’d reach the point of no return.

“Come on, we’re done here, let's head out.”

He made a move to leave but Kaeya stopped him, grabbing his arm. What was he- Thump. Thump. Thump. His heart was beating so loudly. Was Kaeya finally..?

No. His face was far too tense.

“Fatuis.” A hydro and a cryo one at that. He didn’t doubt Kaeya’s fighting prowess but he had unfortunately met his match.

“Let’s lea-”

“You go. I'll distract them.” 

What. The worst was that he was serious. Kaeya could be so stupid sometimes. He was already standing at the ready, sword pulled out.

“You idiot.” He grabbed Kaeya’s arm and made a run for it. Even the Fatuis seemed caught off guard by their tomfoolery. One man dragging the other while he was uselessly waving his sword at nothing.

They ran and ran and slipped and fell. Kaeya found the whole ordeal funnier than it actually was, annoyingly laughing aloud.

“You. Are an idiot.” Albedo was out of breath.

Kaeya kept laughing as he got rid of the snow that had accumulated on his clothes. He was so dumb, he was so dumb and Albedo loved him. Now that everything was fine, now that Albedo was back to being a regular human with a strange tattoo that glowed sometimes, loving him was all that was left to worry about. He got up too, ready to get back at Kaeya by bringing his cheeks to a shade of pretty pink. Kaeya’s eye was gleaming as Albedo began to stand up, but the light left his gaze as the alchemist slipped again. This time, the fall felt different, less amusing.

“Albedo?”

Crack .

Great, he just had to crash head first into a rock. 

Wait.. Crack? Albedo wasn’t supposed to crack. He felt something form - or rather break - on his head. It grew in size, like a fissure. No, no, no. This wasn’t happening, right?

Erosion, the stillness of chalk. Rocks crumbling into dust, into nothing. No, no, no, no, no! He couldn’t crumble, not now. Not ever. He was human, humans didn’t shatter. He was human. He was human, he was human.

The tiniest bit of chalk fell into his hand. It was the exact same color as his skin. Then another one, just like snow falling. Except it wasn’t freezing nor melting, it was blunt and hard, and it fell from Albedo’s fractured head. Rubbles, dust everywhere. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. He gripped his head tightly, laughing and crying at the same time. His voice was unstable, full of panic. “I’m falling apart, that’s it, I’m, Kaeya, I’m-” Another rubble fell, so small but no less frightening.

“Albedo, calm down. Breathe .”

“I DON’T NEED TO BREATHE CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT KIND OF MONSTER I AM!” He didn’t have time to feel bad for blowing up at him. More and more fragments were falling.

“Do it anyway, come on, follow my lead.”

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale. 

Reluctantly, he complied.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

It helped, somehow. Once he calmed down, Kaeya took away the hands that were still gripping at his hair and stood before him. Albedo could see the genuine concern in his face.

But he was so, so tired.

“Do you know how to fix this?”

“... no.”

“Alright.” In a swift motion, he pulled Albedo’s body into his arms. One hand under his knees, the other securing his head. “I’ll find a way.”

Slowly, as to not shake Albedo too much, he walked them to the campment, where Albedo had installed his work station, only stopping to make an ice bridge since they couldn’t afford to glide there.

When they arrived, he gently laid Albedo on a carpet on the floor and started looking around.

“Have you heard of ‘golden joinery’?”

What did this have to do with anything? Couldn’t he see they were in a rush, that Albedo was literally losing parts of his head?

“...You mean the pottery technique?” 

“Hm. I’ve read it in a book, seems it’s a common practice in Inazuma.” Kaeya did mention how he liked to read non-fiction works to cool down. He looked around the cave with a small frown, seemingly looking for something. “Wood won’t be enough, we need charcoal,” he muttered to himself. “You wouldn’t own a furnace, would you now, dear alchemist?”

Albedo would have answered him right away if his head wasn’t filled with a storm of unpleasant thoughts, half of them concerning Kaeya’s inadequate calmness and his sudden interest for the art of fixing pots. He knew if he opened his mouth right now, only bad things would come out.

Thankfully, the cavalry captain eventually found what he needed, having visited enough to roughly know where things were.

“Apparently, it’s a way to restore and preserve cherished objects, keeping them longer while admiring the beauty of their fragility.” He continued. “So, do you think it can work?”

“What.” The word came out too harshly but he couldn’t help himself. He had more pressing issues than whatever Kaeya was planning.

“Fixing this”, Kaeya pointed to his own head, “with gold.”

Oh. That wasn’t such a bad idea, considering the only difference between Albedo and a vase was the shape. No, it was worth a try.

He slowly nodded, he trusted Kaeya’s judgment.

When all was set, the charcoal, the furnace, the fire, Kaeya brought his hands behind his neck and undid his necklace. Earlier, he had shrugged off Albedo’s objections, saying that his well-being was worth more than a piece of jewelry.

Silence fell as the gold slowly melted. Albedo didn’t dare move. One movement and he’ll fragment into even more pieces. There was a trail of white dust on the floor.

“Alright,” he heard Kaeya say after a while.

The now liquid chain bubbled under the extreme heat. Gold, his master’s sobriquet, gold, the final step of alchemy. Interesting. Who would have known it took all but a simple crack in his hardened shell for him to reach it. How ironic, reaching perfection thanks to his imperfect nature.

Kaeya twirled the liquid metal in its pot and nodded to himself. Albedo distantely wondered, now that the ‘collar’ was going to become part of him, if it meant he belonged to Kaeya. (Strangely, he realized he didn’t mind the idea.)

“It should be ready now. Will you give me the honor?”

The process had been explained to him over and over again, but he couldn’t help but be worried. Performing kintsugi on a human was unheard of, after all. Ah right, I’m not human , he realized bitterly.

Albedo did try to keep his eyes open during the whole thing - the researcher in him taking over, ready to file this as a new experiment - but it was all too blinding, the gold, its reflection, Kaeya’s careful hands.

The warm metal on his skin felt… odd. It wasn’t uncomfortable per say, since, as a being made of rock, temperatures didn’t really affect him, but it was so unlike anything he’d felt before. The strange tingling of heat wasn’t new, but that sensation of being quite literally filled, that unique texture, thick, not quite liquid but not solid either; and the mortification of letting himself be seen wholly, with all his fragility and flaws, it was all so foreign to the chalk man.

“Let’s let it sit,” Kaeya said once it was over. He had meticulously filled all the cracks, making sure to not spill outside the lines. He’d never forgive himself if he were the one to disfigure the perfect Albedo.

Some time later Albedo awoke to the sight of Kaeya hovering over him, his gaze planted on his forehead.

“I think it’s ready,” he whispered.

Albedo finally dared to move after hours of avoiding doing so. He didn’t crumble this time, he didn’t fragment into pieces. He felt dizzy when he sat up, but that was it.

He traced the extent of his injury with a careful finger. It was still a bit sticky, with the air of the mountain being so humid, it didn’t finish drying just yet. The gold highlighted his cracks, it drew roots on his left temple. He wondered if he should hide it, considering for a moment how stupid he would look with an eyepatch on the side of his face. Him and Kaeya would match at the very least. Unconsciously he had stopped tracing, instead covering the mark with his palm. Kaeya noticed and took his hand into his own, away from his face, with such delicacy undeserved by someone who had just proven how made of rock he truly was.

“Don’t worry, your oh-so-perfect beauty shall not be tainted by this scar.” He grinned, a smile that tried to be mischievous but ended up too honest . “It adds to your charms.”

He had just fractured his head, he shouldn't move too brusquely. Still, he couldn’t stop himself as he jumped in Kaeya’s arms, making them fall backward on the cold floor, Albedo on top.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you. But I’m fine now, everything is going back to normal.” 

Kaeya was a cryo wielder, but he always felt so, so warm. His smile, his embrace, his everything.

“I don’t think we get to choose that we’re ok.” He brought a hand to Albedo’s hair, playing with the end of his braids. He smelt like flowers and snow, with a hint of metal.

Albedo took this as a permission to bury himself even more into Kaeya’s chest - the latter didn’t rebuff him and he took comfort in that fact.

“Come on, let’s stop thinking. I think we went through enough emotions today.”

He listened as Kaeya’s breathing evened out and his heart calmed down. After a few minutes, Albedo figured the other man must have fallen asleep. His eye was shut close and his eyelashes were pretty and long.

“Kaeya.” 

“Hm?” So he wasn’t asleep . Albedo raised his head a little, to meet Kaeya’s gaze.

“Is it ok for me to like you?”

From his position it was easy to catch on the captain’s increasing heartbeat, though the blushing of his cheeks betrayed it anyway. Once again, he was speechless.

They stayed there a moment, just staring at each other before Kaeya finally admitted defeat.

He sighed, hugging Albedo even tighter. “I guess it is.” Liquid warmth bloomed in Albedo’s stomach. His own eyes were glued to Kaeya’s lips. “I’m going to kiss you now.”

“Please.”

 

//

 

They took the trek back to Monstadt the next day, hand safely in the other’s. At the Knight of Favonius headquarters, many glanced not so discreetly at Albedo, at his new gilded scar, but no one dared say anything. It was not like the alchemist particularly cared.

Of course, Klee had the loudest reaction. She gasped while pointing at Albedo’s head. There were tiny stars in her eyes.

“So cool, is it a constellation?” She turned to Kaeya. “My brother has the coolest tattoos doesn’t he?” She jumped excitedly, her heavy backpack bouncing with her.

The cavalry captain chuckled at her side. “That he does.”

The stillness of chalk, the tumult of life; Albedo was the bridge that joined them both. Because of his creation, he would never be wholly human. But the way he felt, the emotions in him, the way he loved made him so much more than a piece of rock. There was no use in denying his constitution, it was a fact he would come to accept. Kaeya squeezed his hand once, twice as they were walking to Springvale.

Albedo was chalk, Albedo was human.