I’ve been trying for a while to figure out the shape of a just-after-the-disaster fic for Diluc (to go with the one that I wrote Kaeya), and I think, on the second round of revisions, that I’m actually starting to feel it properly out. But this has involved carving off big chunks of prose that I liked but that simply didn’t serve the story, including my original opening scene. I doubt I’m going to be able to repurpose this particular chunk, so! Throwing it up here just so that it exists somewhere in the world.
Outrage carries Diluc all the way back to the Dawn Winery. He turns his back on Jean's stricken face, on the shock in the other knight's eyes, on the waving banners bearing the symbol of the Ordo he had been until this morning so proud to wear. The rage beats in him like a drum, drives him as he saddles a horse, rides out the gate, gallops down the road until his mount stumbles, sweaty and shaking, into a limping, lurching walk that carries him the rest of the way to the winery gates.
As stablehands rush to take the horse and help him from the saddle, he realizes that he's just as spent. His shirt is soaked through with sweat, and his hands are trembling. He stumbles when his feet hit the ground. Only one of the stablehands, catching him, keeps him from a fall. Diluc should thank the man and he knows it, but instead he shrugs off the hand on his arm and strides jerkily into the manor, leaving them behind to deal with the wreck he's made of the horse.
"Master Diluc," Adelinde says, and she's not quite smiling, can't, under the circumstances, but relief spreads over her face like clouds parting at the sight of him. "Welcome home."
The words ring strange in his ears, hollow, like the sudden hollowness of the front hall. The other servants peer at him from the sides of the room or the door down to the kitchens, quiet and subdued, and it adds to the eerie sensation that the house, for all its staff, is empty without Father in it. Empty like Diluc's chest. He feels like he's been sliced open and scraped out.
From behind, of course. All those knives in his back--no wonder they've cut something out of him.
Without the rage pulsing in his blood, Diluc is left drained, weary, unsteady on his feet. The tired loss of betrayal is all that he can feel pricking at him anymore. He thinks of Eroch extending a hand to dismiss him, Kaeya drawing his blade against him, and has to pause to fiercely blink back tears.
"Father's accounts," he says to Adelinde, when he's sure it won't come out choked. "I need to look at Father's account-books. The ones at the mansion didn't cover everything."
She hesitates, looking him up and down. He can see her taking in the circles under his eyes, the pallor of his face, the sweat-stiff rumpled shirt and the mud splattered up his legs almost to his knees.
"I'm sure Elzer can get them together for you," Adeline says. "Should I have the cooks bring something out for you while he's doing that, Master Diluc?"
He hasn't eaten since yesterday. Breakfast yesterday morning, Diluc thinks, the memory vague and distant as if there was a month, not a day, between now and then. His stomach roils, nearly revolts at the mere memory of it. He shakes his head.
"I'll meet him in Father's office," he say shortly. "There's no need for delay."
Adelinde frowns, and he sees her gaze flit to the door he'd left open behind him. An undermaid scurries to close it, taking that was a signal, but she was looking through to the courtyard.
"With all respect, Master Diluc, shouldn't you wait for Master Kaeya to arrive? I recall you saying that he has the better eyes for this sort of work."
The rage he'd thought drained roars up from its embers at that name, that title attached to it. "No. He knows better than to come."
He doesn't know quite what his face looks like when he says that, but Adelinde pales, and he takes a deep breath and tries to master himself. His servants deserve better. He can see Elzer in the door to Father's office, hesitating there on the verge of coming down. Elzer doesn't cringe, but he does frown.
Diluc regrets his tone, but not his word. Betrayal sits heavy in his gut like shards of glass, swallowed in innocent trust and shattered by revelation. He remembers Kaeya, last night, standing soaked through at his bedroom door. He doesn't recall the words, really, the words almost don't matter, except for the knife laid bare amidst them as the illusion dropped away. All he can think about is Kaeya's dry eyes.
"Elzer," he calls, starting up the stairs. "One other matter, before the accounts. You'll know the paperwork for all of this."
A man who can't grieve for Father, he thinks, doesn't deserve to bear the Ragnvindr name. He keeps Kaeya's passionless face in his mind's eye the whole time, and it makes the instructions so much easier to give.