All things considered, it’s not bad enough to warrant anyone’s concern.
He doesn’t intend to go to Jean about it. Really, it’s just a scratch—a shallow, stinging wound in his shoulder from where the hilichurl had fired the arrow, the skin around it tender and blistered from where the arrow had singed against his skin. He’s already bandaged it, of course, to staunch the bleeding. It should heal in no time.
But when he gets back to Headquarters, Jean insists on seeing him as soon as she catches sight of his bandaged shoulder.
“You took the new recruits somewhere dangerous,” she says to him, both of them standing in her office. She’s unwrapped the bandages he’d put on and she’s currently studying the injury with such disapproval that Kaeya thinks that his pride might have sustained a larger injury than his shoulder.
Kaeya coughs a laugh. “Don’t you think I’d have a bit more to show for if I’d gone somewhere dangerous?”
Jean does not look amused.
Really, despite what people might think of him, Kaeya doesn’t intend to give Jean a bad time. He just thinks this amount of careful scrutiny is unnecessary.
“I took the recruits east of Starsnatch Cliff,” Kaeya says. “You approved the paperwork for it last week. It wasn’t dangerous, but I suppose I got careless.”
He tries not to shiver. He’s had a headache since yesterday, and the headquarters are always kept cold enough to keep everyone awake in their offices, though today everything feels disproportionately frigid, cold in a way that’s impossible to miss even with the insulation of his Cryo vision.
“You’re ill,” Jean says, with certainty.
“I’m not. It’s just the weather,” Kaeya tells her. He smothers an ill-timed cough into his hand. Perhaps he might’ve caught a chill.
“That explains the injury,” she tells him. “You’re already unwell.” She sighs, raking a hand through her hair. “I expect you’ll hold off on any work until I deem you well enough to work again.”
“Jean,” Kaeya says, half-pleading.
In lieu of responding, she sets a hand on his shoulder—gently, as always, but Kaeya still has to bite back the grimace that follows. It’s a strange feeling, being healed—a sort of coldness, temporary numbness, the breathless sensation of wind.
It’s over in a flash. “I healed enough that it shouldn’t get infected,” Jean says. “Still, I think rest is in order… if not for your injury, then for the cold you seem to be coming down with.”
Kaeya hates feeling like this. “You didn’t have to do this,” he says, sniffling. “It wasn’t anything serious. I—” He turns aside quickly, buries his face into his elbow to sneeze. “—I appreciate the assistance, though… however unnecessary.”
Work can be a chore, but it’s still better than wasting away at home. He knows she doesn’t think any less of him after this, but the fact that she’s here, fussing over him as if he needs looking after, when he knows she already has so much to do, is…
“You can repay me by taking the next three days off,” Jean says.
“With all due respect, Acting Grandmaster,” Kaeya says. Half-pleads. “Wouldn’t you say that’s a bit excessive?”
“Not at all,” Jean says, “Perhaps it’s not enough,” in a tone of voice which suggests that, perhaps, this conversation has come to an end.
He heads to the Angel’s Share instead.
It’s raining when he gets there. Water trickles from the rooftops, accumulates on the overhang. He shuts his umbrella at the door, shakes the water off of it, and leaves it leaned against the wall outside, out of courtesy for the tavern’s wooden floors.
Jean likely wouldn’t approve of him drinking, either, but he isn’t technically disobeying her orders by coming here. Besides, maybe the alcohol will warm him up.
He expects to see Charles, as usual—it’s not uncommon for Charles to be here on weekdays, though Kaeya’s work with the knights usually ends much later, so he supposes it’s unusual for him to be visiting at this time.
Instead, Diluc stands behind the counter today, dressed for the job, his hair tied neatly out of his face as he works. The tavern is not especially busy at this time of day—most of the tables are empty, save for a few.
Perhaps, Kaeya thinks, his mandated time off work will not be as boring as he’d expected.
“Master Diluc,” he says, slipping into a seat at the countertop.
Diluc doesn’t look up. He looks—uncomfortable, somehow. There’s a slight furrow to his eyebrows, a slight tenseness to the way he holds himself. Kaeya doesn’t know if he’s worn that expression all day—if something’s been bothering him—or if this is just routine irritation, an expected response to Kaeya’s unexpected presence.
Kaeya clears his throat. “You’re working here. What’s the occasion?”
“There is no occasion,” Diluc says. “Charles has been putting in more shifts than usual this week, so I offered to take this one off his hands.”
“Oh?” That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Diluc usually concerns himself with. Kaeya leans forward, lowers his voice. “How convenient. If I had to say, I would’ve guessed you were here gathering intel for the Darknight Hero’s latest outing… though, I don’t think this is the right time of day to do it.”
“I am aware,” Diluc says pointedly. “Incompetent as the Knights are, I would at least expect them not to be out drinking during work hours.”
The accusation is familiar. Arguing with him feels like second nature to Kaeya, now—ever since he’d gotten back to Mondstadt, they have never really seen eye to eye on much other than their shared interest in keeping Mondstadt safe.
“You wound me,” Kaeya laughs, though the laugh catches itself wrong in his throat, and suddenly he’s twisting aside to cough into his shoulder. “My work at the Knights is essential—who would I be to neglect it? I’ve simply had a last-minute change to my schedule.”
He shuts his eyes briefly. He can feel a slight, growing prickle in his nose, and the tavern is not nearly crowded enough such that the conversation around him is going to drown out the sneeze he knows will inevitably follow.
“Your uniform is damp,” Diluc says, deceptively unassumingly. “You should be careful not to catch a cold in this kind of weather.”
Oh, how cruel. He must know. Kaeya ducks into his arm, pressing his sleeve as closely to his face as he can to muffle the sound of the sneeze that follows.
“...bless you,” Diluc says—another formality he’s grown up with and never dropped. When Kaeya meets his eyes, he doesn’t even have the decency to look surprised. “Perhaps you’ve already caught one.”
“How insightful of you,” Kaeya says, sniffling. “Really, I have no idea how you came to that conclusion. Now, when you’ve finished congratulating yourself for that impressive deduction, will you make me a Death After Noon?”
To Kaeya’s surprise, Diluc doesn’t protest—simply busies himself with making the drink. Kaeya slumps forward on the countertop, propping his head up on one arm. He thinks he could fall asleep here, though Diluc would never let him hear the end of it. His head still hurts—he supposes that the walk in the rain hadn’t done it any favors—and his body feels heavy; it’s taking him more effort than usual just to stay awake.
He’s not sure why he’d come. The disappointment from Jean still stings, and he’s not looking forward to three days of being cooped up in his room at the headquarters, with no enemies to take on and nothing but his thoughts to keep him company. He’s sure the Knights he looks after would be willing to see him, but something about having to face them—of having to shatter their vision of him as some sort of infallible captain—doesn’t sit well with him.
Besides, if Jean doesn’t say anything to them, he’s sure he can tell them he’s been on some sort of risky, three-day solo expedition instead of…
He’s startled out of his thoughts when Diluc sets something down in front of him. It’s not what he’s ordered. He’s too congested to tell what it is just by the steam, but judging by the looks of it...
“How strange. I didn’t realize Death After Noon came served in mugs,” Kaeya says. “Or hot, for that matter.”
“If you intend to keep your voice, this should be a preferable option,” Diluc says.
“Oh? I can’t imagine it to be good for business for you to deliberately change your customers’ orders.”
Diluc scoffs, turning away. “Then consider it free of charge.”
Diluc, at times, can be so casually, infuriatingly considerate. Kaeya lifts the mug carefully, unwilling to meet his eyes as he takes a sip. It’s tea. Why Diluc keeps a stock of it when it’s not on any of the Angel Share’s menus is beyond him. The warmth of it is a relief—moreso than he thinks any alcoholic drink would’ve been. There must be something herbal in there too, for the way it soothes his aching throat.
The steam loosens his congestion. It’s not long before he’s setting down the mug, reaching for napkins in anticipation for a harsh, breathless sneeze, and then another.
The sneezes leave him suppressing a shiver, ducking more thoroughly into the napkins to blow his nose softly. He waits for the ‘bless you’ he knows is going to follow.
Instead, it never comes. When he looks up, Diluc isn’t looking at him.
Perhaps he’s worried about catching this. Kaeya doesn’t know what he has to worry about. Diluc is always fine—he never seems to succumb to the colds Kaeya gets whenever something’s going around, or whenever the seasons change and the temperature dips.
Except, Diluc isn’t fine.
Kaeya watches as he turns away and his shoulders jerk forward only slightly, in a display that’s so carefully contained that it’s entirely silent.
Diluc doesn’t turn back around. Kaeya watches, disbelieving, as he jerks forward again, this time raising a hand to his face for another sneeze, so quiet Kaeya thinks it can’t possibly be relieving.
“Diluc,” Kaeya says.
Diluc turns on his heels to look at him, frowning. He looks… defensive, as though he’s embarrassed to have been caught in the act.
Well, Kaeya supposes he could go about this differently.
“This,” he gestures to the mug of tea Diluc’s made him, “is delicious. Will you teach me how you do it?”
Diluc’s expression softens just a fraction, his shoulders untensing slightly. “It’s a mix of dried Qingxins and Glaze Lilies I procured from Liyue a couple months ago.” He retrieves a small pouch of dried flowers from the countertop and sets it in front of Kaeya. “Two spoonfuls of this and a full glass of hot water, and half a teaspoon of honey… though, be sure to heat the water before you put the flowers in.”
“Thank you,” Kaeya says. “I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I tried?
Diluc’s eyebrows furrow slightly. “I… suppose there would be no harm in that.”
Kaeya stands, leaving his half-finished drink on the table, and joins Diluc behind the countertop. He busies himself with following Diluc’s instructions—he grabs another mug from the shelf and uses the rest of the water Diluc’s heated, stirs in a handful of flowers and more honey than Diluc had advised.
Diluc likes his drinks sweet—that’s another fact that Kaeya learned, in childhood, and never managed to forget.
“Here,” he says at last, holding the mug out for Diluc. “You can let me know how well I’ve done.”
Diluc blinks, surprised. He takes the drink. “I was under the impression that you…” He wavers, clearing his throat with a soft cough. Kaeya doesn’t miss the slight wince that follows. “...were making this for yourself.” His eyes slip shut as he turns away by just a fraction, lifting a hand to shield his face from view. His shoulders raise with a shallow, desperate breath, and then he jerks forward with a sneeze.
“Don’t pretend you don’t need it as much as I do,” Kaeya says, stepping forward to press the back of his hand to Diluc’s forehead. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?” Diluc’s always run warm, even before he’d gotten his vision, but Kaeya thinks this must be a little warmer than usual. It’s not anything he hasn’t suspected, and the slight shiver that tremors through Diluc’s shoulders is proof enough.
“I don’t—” Diluc pulls away from him quickly. “—n-need…” He muffles another sneeze into his hand.
“You should be resting,” Kaeya tells him.
“I’m fine,” Diluc insists, sniffling, averting his glance. “I’ve… always run hot.”
Part of Kaeya wants to say, Hypocrite. Part of him wants to ask, do you not feel entitled to the same kindness you bestow upon others? You did the same for me, just now. How is this any different?
But when he takes another look at Diluc—his shoulders hunched slightly, his posture tense, his face flushed as he procures a neatly folded handkerchief from his pockets—he thinks he understands.
“I must say, I’m glad to see you here, rather than somewhere more dangerous,” Kaeya says lightly, slipping past Diluc to return to his seat. “I would certainly sleep better if it were to stay that way.”
He means, take care of yourself. He means, I still worry. It’s been years since he’s been able to be so honest with Diluc. It’s been years since he’s been so honest at all. After all, what has honesty ever done for him except sever the ties that matter?
“...Thank you,” Diluc says quietly, unexpectedly, holding the drink carefully with both his hands, as if it’s something precious. Kaeya watches him take a sip.