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“Aether!”

His voice is a loud shout in the night as he races towards the blond figure sprawled on the ground. There’s blood everywhere, but Xiao knows it isn’t his own.

Strong legs slide to a stop as Xiao fixes his gaze on the thin figure nestled in the traveler’s arms.

“Oh, Archons, no, no—”

His voice sounds hollow and forlorn as his hands tremble above Venti’s form.

The Anemo Archon smiles up at him, green eyes shimmering with fear and regret. He prepares to move, but Xiao braces a hand on his shoulder to keep him down.

If he moves, he will die.

“How did this happen?” Xiao demands. He hates how shallow and scared he sounds. Aether is silent next to him; they’ve seen Venti hurt before, but never like this. “How did this happen?”

“Relax, Xiao,” Venti’s voice was a quiet murmur as if he wasn’t spilling blood faster than wine fell into his gullet. Xiao wants to smack him because he’s acting like an idiot. “It’s just—a scratch.”

“Scratch my ass,” Xiao bellows, golden eyes brimming with fright as Venti’s eyes close. “Aether, we have to get him out of here, we have to get to a statue—”

“A statue won’t save him,” Aether stammers. “This is—Xiao, this didn’t come from regular combat—”

“You’re giving up on him?” Xiao wants to tear something in half.

Venti is bleeding out between them, the light fading from his usual glimmering gaze. How it happened, Xiao doesn’t care, because Venti is going to die if they don’t do something about it.

He can’t lose Venti. He won’t. He refuses to be alone again—

“Alatus,” comes a soft whisper. Venti is reaching for him, and Xiao latches onto his bloodied hand. “Don’t… worry. I’ll be okay.”

“How?” Xiao’s voice cracks; he can’t bear the thought of losing Venti. Not when he’s already lost so much. “How can you be sure?”

The bard sighs; black hair falls gracefully against his face as he rests his cheek against Aether’s forearm. The blond is trembling, unsure of how to respond to their dying companion.

“It’s been a long time… since I’ve slept,” he whispers, and a dumb smile spreads across his face. “I think I’m about ready for my nap. Don’t worry, dear Alatus, I won’t be gone long… I think.”

That stupid little laugh of his that Xiao’s come to love is the last thing Venti says. In a flash of light the bard is gone; when Xiao’s vision adjusts, he and Aether are greeted with a startling sight.

Nestled in Aether’s palms is something tiny, white, and trembling; instead of blood adorning its form, there’s only a cerulean glow.

Xiao knows this is Venti… no, Barbatos. This is Barbatos, the Anemo Archon, reduced to a trembling wind spirit on the brink of death.

He hates that this is how he’s forced to reveal himself.

“Venti—Barbatos,” he mutters, reaching out to circle the tiny spirit in gloved hands. “Please don’t die.”

“I won’t die,” comes the response, a frightful attempt at cheeriness during a dire situation. It sours on Xiao’s tongue and he swallows, unable to dislodge the lump in his throat. “I just… need sleep. I think.”

“You think?” Aether’s voice is full of disbelief. “Venti, what are you saying?”

“If I was to disappear like the wind,” the spirit mutters, unmoving in Aether’s hands, “then I think that would be okay. I’ve… lived a long life. A good life, too. Xiao, could you show me your flute one more time?”

The yaksha hastily manifests the instrument in question. It’s maroon finish is dull as he holds it in his hands.

In a flash of light a bright array fixes itself on the end of his flute. It glows the same azure as the Anemo element, with a large elemental symbol glowing at its center. Venti sighs, his form glowing dimly in response.

“It’s about time I take my leave,” he hums softly. “I’ve been looking forward to a… prolonged reprieve.”

“Venti, no,” Xiao whispers. There’s thunder in his ears; absently, he anticipates rain. “Don’t do this—”

“Be free, Xiao,” comes the response. The spirit is fading fast, and Xiao is powerless to stop it. “Like you were always meant to be. Tell Morax I miss him—tell everyone that I miss them. I’m going to miss everyone, but I think… I’m going to miss you most, Xiao.”

“Venti…” Xiao’s vision blurs with the rain; Aether is stiff and unmoving as he speaks. “Please, don’t go. I’m—I’ll miss—Venti, I love you.”

The words come tumbling out of his mouth; he does little to stop them. The idea that he’ll never see Venti again for as long as he lives pushes them into being, a sordid confession muddled with an undeliverable promise.

“... It’s time for my sleep,” is all that comes in response.

Venti’s form flickers as thunder crashes around them. The rain pelts against his face, fat drops sliding to the ground below. In a blink, the sprite is gone. The end of Xiao’s flute hums a dull blue until going completely dim.

The two of them stand there in shock. Aether has no words when he stands, blood soaking his stomach and clothes. Xiao can’t hear above the raging storm.

Time keeps moving however, something even the most ancient of beings is not impervious to. Xiao flicks the flute into the air; it disappears in a burst of golden light.

When he stands again, he looks up towards the moon. How funny it is that there’s been such intense rain without a cloud in the sky.

 

***

 

“The forecast for today is—”

“Liyue beauties: season four—”

“BREAKING NEWS: scandal brewing between Inazuma and Sumeru—”

Xiao lets out a heavy groan, chucking the remote at the wall. It hits with a dull thud before falling to the floor.

There is nothing worthwhile happening right now; he leaves the television on some animated program as he stomps into his kitchen.

There’s apples available in his fruit bowl; gifts from Ganyu. She’d come by earlier that week, like she usually did.

He didn’t have the heart to tell her that he stopped eating apples long ago.

His gaze drifts from the apples to the spear hanging just above his television. How long has it been since he’s taken it down to train?

How long has it been since he’s had to?

He doesn’t linger on it for long; he’s got lunch with Zhongli and Ganyu later that day. He has bigger things to focus on.

In the years since they rescued Aether’s sister—Lumine, if Xiao remembers correctly—the world has undergone massive changes. Two thousand years later, technology was at its peak; it was two thousand years ago when he’d have to get used to boat travel instead of the wind, and now humans were gallivanting about in massive steel birds called “planes” that took mere minutes to reach their destination.

It was a new age of prosperity, and Xiao found himself lacking in several aspects.

For one, as an all-powerful immortal adeptus, confining himself to a highly limited society compared to those of the past was a feat he struggled to cope with daily.

Like seriously, vision permits? Two thousand years ago Xiao would’ve been able to strike fear into the eyes of mortals as cutting winds burst forth from poised fingers.

Now, he uses a soft breeze to wipe away the dust accumulating in his apartment every few weeks or so.

Besides, what could the Qixing even do to an immortal adeptus? As far as he was concerned, he didn’t have to obey any of these “laws” put in place by mortals who lived for what amounted to seconds of his life.

Xiao wasn’t stupid, though, and he wasn’t about to mess around and find out.

And if he really thought about it...

… What was truly scary wasn’t that Xiao could suffer such severe consequences, it was that he was actively shucking away his freedom in favor of restricting himself to these rules.

What would Venti think of this new world?

He hopes the late Anemo Archon would at least be happy to see human life thriving.

Well, “late” isn’t the proper word; but it isn’t right to say he’s alive either. It’s been two millennia since Barbatos walked the mortal plane, taking the title of “Mondstadt’s absentee Archon” to heart. Xiao knew the truth, however. In no reality would he ever forget the fear reflected in those glowing eyes.

He wonders how Venti would deal with being Mondstadt’s Archon in the present. They’d been self-sufficient for thousands of years, and it remained true even now; they’d dealt with the freedom-loving Barbatos in the past, and they’d continue to deal with it now.

Xiao only hoped he could reflect their resolve in the shadows of his heart, his fears assuaged with the idea that Venti would praise him.

“You’ve grown compassionate, Alatus! I’m impressed, my dear adeptus.”

It’s sweet, but all it is is a reminder and he doesn’t want to think about their parting. He shoves the pang in his heart deeper as he reaches towards the refrigerator for water.

He’s learned to appreciate food more, too. After Venti sealed himself away to sleep, Xiao had started eating apples. It was difficult, incredibly difficult, to get into the habit of chewing whenever something entered his mouth. Apples could be sweet, bitter, sour, all shades of flavor and Xiao hated it.

But he’d do it for Venti. Venti, who would take an apple over mora for a simple song. Venti, who would gorge himself on sweet wine, who would laugh and celebrate each day as if it was his last.

It was difficult for Xiao to take that same sort of cheer into the future, and eventually, he gave up. Venti’s story would have to be told from a third person perspective, from an adeptus who suspiciously knew too much, who concerned himself with the Anemo Archon over the late god of his land.

It wasn’t his fault, he reasoned. Venti had made him fall in love.

Maybe that’s why… it was so difficult now. Eating an apple had once seemed like second nature, but now he could barely stomach the taste, or the memories that came with it.

He takes the water from his fridge and shimmies over to a cabinet on the corner of his small Liyue apartment. Living in the city had been Madame Ping’s idea, of course, and he’d already spent so much time at Wangshu Inn—sorry, Wangshu District, the entire area had been converted into housing and shopping centers with the modern age—that moving into the harbor just made sense.

But now, everything seemed… dim.

Well, everything was dim ever since Venti sealed himself inside that flute. Xiao knows the only reason he’s stuck around this long is to welcome Venti into the modern age, but with each year that passes, the likelihood of that happening becomes less and less appealing.

From what Venti had uttered about finally pursuing rest, Xiao wouldn’t put it past him to finally converge with the winds. Even now, thousands of years later, the same idea appealed to him as it had so long ago.

He was old. He was tired, exhausted; last of the yakshas, living longer than any of them had ever intended to.

Now, he did it for Venti, for the false hope that he’d make his return. That he’d make things right again.

That he’d make Xiao feel… justified.

But it was just speculation. Empty promises that grew emptier the longer Xiao stuck around, silent and lonely as the world moved past him.

No one is impervious to time, and the hurricane raging in his heart finally seems ready to head to the poles.

 

***

 

“Xiao!”

He offers a hollow smile towards Ganyu; she’s waving at him with bright eyes. The horns on her head shimmer maroon in the setting sun. Even after all these years, no one’s even given the adeptus a second thought.

Zhongli is sitting next to her, a slim leg crossed over the other as amber eyes peruse a menu. They’ve decided to meet for dinner at Liuli Pavilion this time, its traditional Liyuean architecture a grandiose silhouette against the Sea of Clouds.

It’s nostalgic, Xiao thinks.

The winds rush in his ear, brought in from the sea. The breeze is a slight comfort, and in his heart he longs to return.

“How have you been?” Zhongli’s voice is deep and elegant like usual, a stark contrast from his casual attire. What had once been a suit made of woven strands of golden jade had been replaced with casual shorts and a vacation shirt. Zhongli’s dressed like this for the better part of a decade, Xiao knows. He’s really acclimated well to the changing times.

“Same as usual,” Xiao offers, taking a seat next to the third member of their little party. Aether is staring at his phone, eyes wide with concentration. Xiao huffs and taps his arm; the blond starts, slamming his phone down with a blush. “What’s up with you?”

Aether rolls his eyes; even after all this time, he still looks every bit the child he was when he first came to Teyvat so long ago. “Snezhnaya ended up getting a new Archon a little while ago,” he confesses, “I was just… looking at a video of them. Apparently they’re some hot stuff.”

“Aether has a crush on them, that’s all,” Zhongli hums over the menu; Xiao’s eyes widen as Ganyu covers her mouth in a giggle. Aether groans at him, covering his ears with his hands.

Xiao takes a moment to admire the scene. The four of them, together, like they’d been for the past couple thousand years.

It was a scene Xiao would never tire of. A scene that served as a reminder that he was never truly alone, no matter how often he thought he was.

Maybe that’s why it had been so easy to come to a decision.

Apparently, Ganyu noticed the sour look on his face, as she calmly asked, “Xiao? Is everything all right?”

He sighs. Might as well get it out.

“I’ve been thinking recently,” he begins, casting his gaze across the sea; the water glimmers with sunlight. It doesn’t soothe his nerves. “About returning to the wind.”

There’s silence between the four of them. Xiao feels like he should justify his reasoning—

“Ah, that’s okay,” Ganyu sighs sadly; when he looks over to her, she has a look of bittersweet understanding on her face. “We’ve all lived a long time, and you’ve had it especially harder than the rest of us… so I understand.”

“I as well,” comes Zhongli’s quiet hum of approval. “It’s understandable, the type of eternal rest you seek. I’m thankful you thought to tell us instead of leaving us in the dark.”

Xiao bows his head; even after all this time, Zhongli still demands a type of reverence from him that’s been hard to break out of. 

He’s glad they understand; he knows that if Zhongli chose to permanently return to the earth, or if Ganyu chose to scatter into a sea of snowflakes, he’d be understanding of their decision.

Aether’s staring at him; his golden eyes are wide saucers, but Xiao can’t deny how they’re full of acceptance.

“I’m gonna miss you Xiao,” he sighs loudly, slinging an arm around the adeptus’ neck. Xiao rolls his eyes and smiles, but it does nothing to ease the bitterness in his heart. “Promise you’ll come see us before you go?”

“Of course,” he breathes. “I wouldn’t just disappear without a word.”

“Good,” Zhongli says quietly. “That’s good.”

They fall back into comfortable silence. The sun is warm on his skin when a waiter comes to take their orders. When she whisks away, menus in hand, Ganyu and Zhongli have struck up conversation again.

Xiao takes one more moment to observe his friends.

For some reason, the idea that all of his last friends are supportive is… comforting. Maybe it’s the justification he needs; seeing that he can at least leave them without his burdens settles lightly on his soul and lifts his spirits.

His mind flits back to the flute, back to Venti. For a moment, as the other three engage in light conversation to get away from such a morbid topic, he lets himself remember the glowing blue wisp with a pained look in its eyes.

I’m sorry, Xiao wants to tell the wisp. I’m sorry I could do nothing to save you.

Especially when Venti had saved him. Watching him disappear in a burst of feathers as Xiao suffered from a torrential rain would never sit well with him.

But even if it wouldn’t… he could still accept it.

Venti had sought rest, in the end, so even if he’d been able to do something, it wouldn’t have done anything to appease the god. Venti was where he belonged, and like a lovesick fool, Xiao longed to be with him.

Returning to the wind brought with it a sense of peace. Like walking home after a long day, greeting an old friend you haven’t seen in ages. The ease it brought with it like a cool summer breeze massaged away the apprehension pooling in his gut.

He’s lived long, seen many things. Now… it was time to rest, like so many had before him.

Overall, he wasn’t upset by his decision. He’d look forward to it. A return to a home away from home, or maybe, his real home all along. Perhaps he should go to Mondstadt, and let himself be scattered like dandelion seeds.

Maybe he’ll take the flute with him. Play one last ballad before he goes, just like the bard from his memories.

Venti would like that, he surmises. I wonder if he’s waiting for me beyond the breeze.

It’s a foolish thought, spurred on only by Venti’s ignorance of his confession. It wasn’t a yes, wasn’t a no. All it did was make Xiao wait.

Dinner comes and goes along with the day, there’s stars glittering above the harbor by the time they decide to part.

“Tell Lumine my decision,” Xiao tells Aether, who nods and waves farewell before leaving down the street. He watches Ganyu and Zhongli bicker like siblings as they wave goodbye to him, leaving down through the glowing harbor.

As he takes his own leave, the wind is a gentle caress against his form.

 

Please, stay a little while longer. Don’t go.

 

***

 

He doesn’t notice the flute with Venti’s array is missing until he actively goes looking for it.

He's in a frenzied panic across his apartment, unsure if he picked it up and played it recently and forgot to put it back, or if it was stolen.

All he knew was, he came home after a long day of doing nothing and the flute was nowhere to be found. Usually, he wouldn’t have cared, mortal possessions never held much weight to him to begin with, but this flute was important because:

  1. It held the last traces of Venti.
  2. It was given to him by Venti.

“Aether,” he gasps into the phone when it picks up, unable to hear the other end of the line over the fear rushing to his gut, “Have you seen my flute recently?”

“What?” Comes the tired reply on the other end. “Xiao, I haven’t been to your house in like a year, what—”

“The flute,” he growls, tossing his couch cushions to the ground for the fifth time. The afternoon sun is seeping in through the blinds. It’s annoying when he’s trying to prevent a complete freak out. “The one Venti gave me, remember?”

Silence. Xiao can hear the cogs turning in the blond’s head.

“You lost it!?”

“I didn’t lose it!” He retorts back, but his heart is hammering in his chest. The flute is gone, but it can’t be gone, where could it even go? “I came home from work earlier and found my door unlocked, bedroom ransacked, and the flute is gone. My clothes were all over the floor and—the flute, Aether! It has Venti’s little sigil or whatever on it! If the idiot’s actually alive then someone stole not only a precious relic but the Anemo fucking Archon!”

He ignores Aether’s wheezing laughter from the other end of the phone; he won’t allow himself to take this lightly. The last thing connecting him to his lifelong love is gone, there’s no way he can settle until he finds it.

“You were actually robbed, shit,” Aether says when his laughter subsides; Xiao wants to punch him. “And they took the flute—you don’t think it could be treasure hoarders?”

Xiao tched; of course, even an organization as slimy as the treasure hoarders had managed to make a name for themselves in the modern age; knowing of Xiao’s precious flute would no doubt entice them, but to be as brazen to steal from an adeptus…

“Can you and Lumine go look for it?” He whines, unable to take the anxiety peaking in his chest. “I need—I need the flute, Aether, I don’t know where it is and I don’t know where to look—”

“Woah, Xiao, calm down,” Aether’s voice trembled on the other end as the adeptus let out a strangled cry. For the first time in the modern age, a wave of dark hatred he thought he’d buried so long ago comes bubbling to the surface. He grits his teeth in pain, and forces himself to think of the melody of that flute and a thin figure illuminated by moonlight.

It offers his mind ease. When he exhales out his anger, he can hear Aether calling his name on the phone.

“Xiao! Xiao!” The adeptus reaches for the rectangular device; it’s on the floor, and when he picks it back up, the glass is shattered. He doesn’t remember slamming it against the ground. “Xiao, please tell me you’re okay—”

“I’m fine,” he hiffs, shaking his head. “Look. I need to find that flute. I can’t—Venti’s still sealed to it, or at least he is if he isn’t dead. I don’t know what I’d do if… if anything happened to him.”

He remembers the sorrowful confession that came tumbling from his lips. Archons, Venti trusted him way too much, he wasn’t fit for these very real emotions when he couldn’t even look after the one he loved. An agonizing pain worms its way into his throat at the thought of the flute getting hurt, or worse, if Venti was still alive and got hurt.

He didn’t know how he’d deal with the consequences of bloodshed in Liyue when you had to have a permit to keep your vision on your body, but he’d manage.

“Xiao, just… don’t do anything rash.” Aether’s voice is a quiet plea through the phone; Xiao nods his head even if Aether can’t see. “I’ll talk to Lumine. And Zhongli, and Ganyu, and ask them if they have any idea where it went. We’ll get the flute back.”

Xiao nods. “O-Okay.”

He spends another hour talking to Aether, and then Lumine, who sounds just as agonized as he is; both twins promise to help him find the flute.

When he hangs up, he’s alone again. There’s an obvious void in his apartment where the flute once sat. It’s dark and hollow.

The force of the hurricane moves further towards the poles.

 

***

 

It’s been a week and the flute is still gone.

Xiao loathes to return to his house. He doesn’t want to be greeted with the sight of an empty stand where the flute once stood.

Thousands of years, he’s had it in his possession. For thousands of years he’s protected Venti, who he isn’t even sure is alive any more.

He let the flute get stolen, he’d been irresponsible, and now he would most likely never see Venti again. All of this waiting for Venti to wake up, and for what? Just for his flute to get stolen from him.

He felt so stupid. He felt so pained. He longed to see Venti again, to see a bright smile behind the mouth of the flute, lips twisted into a perfect embouchure. But no, he’s spent the last week looking for the flute, browsing online listings and media outlets for anything about an ancient Liyuean artifact turning up out of nowhere. He talks to law enforcement, talks to the Qixing, even makes a surprise visit to the adepti in Jueyun Karst for a split second to see if it turned up there.

In the end, nothing. His apartment was hollow after a week, and his heart missed the most it had in years.

All of these events just solidified the notion that he should let himself go into the wind. The one thing he was holding on to was gone, robbed, stolen, taken from him in the absolute rudest fashion.

He’d kill whoever took it. Appropriate punishment for an appropriate crime.

… No, he had to think about this. His apartment complex loomed above him; he couldn’t keep pushing himself on Aether like he had been. As much as he enjoyed their help, they deserved their privacy, not a needy, lonely yaksha with nowhere to go.

He craves the sound of that flute, calling him home. He longs for it’s comforting tune in the face of danger, offering him solace in the darkest of times.

It sounds so clear, so pristine to him, that it stirs a longing deep in his heart. All he wants is to get that flute back, get Venti back.

Anything to keep him tied to what he once had.

He closes his eyes and shakes the thought away. He was tired, so tired. The thought of fading into the wind sounded so appealing—

The flute was still playing.

What he’d thought was just a vivid memory was not, in fact, a memory, but was instead the actual sound of a flute coming from somewhere above him. It hadn’t even registered as he began his ascent, but he’d recognize the sound and the tune anywhere.

He breaks into a sprint up the stairs. He can’t get to his apartment fast enough, but the flute is still playing.

Don’t let this be a dream, please don’t be a dream—

He makes it to his door and fumbles with his keys. His heart is pounding in his chest; the flute falters only once he thrusts his keys into the lock and swings the door inwards.

His apartment is silent. He strides in with the force of a raging storm.

His kitchen is empty. So is his living room. With a strangled shout he barrels into his bedroom, eyes wide as he’s greeted with a yelp from a dark figure.

No way—

“Xiao!”

He’d recognize those shimmering emerald eyes anywhere. This time, they make him fall to his knees.

Venti doesn’t seem to notice, all blue braids and passionate cheer as he sets the flute down next to him on the bed.

He’s dressed in surprisingly modern clothes; black skinny jeans, slip on shoes, a baggy t-shirt adorned with a massive Anemo sigil.

He looks completely different, and yet, entirely the same.

As if he’d never left.

“Xiao?” Venti tilts his head to the side. “What’s wrong? Oh, wait, this is your house, right? I just kinda woke up here a week ago and assumed it was your place.”

Xiao is in shock.

“This can’t be happening,” he whispers. Venti laughs, and oh yes, this is most definitely happening.

“What’s wrong, adeptus?” Venti chirps, and Xiao worms his hands to his face in shock and relief… and confusion. How is this happening? How is Venti here?

What is going on?

“Venti—did you—you woke up?”

“Well, yeah,” the Anemo Archon rolls his eyes, smiling. “Not sure how I’d still be bound to the flute if I was awake.”

“I thought you were dead,” Xiao doesn’t try to stop himself from speaking. “I thought you’d gone on and become one with the wind—”

“Well, I wanted to,” Venti retorts, exasperation lacing his tone. Xiao’s not sure how he’s supposed to take that. “But then someone had to go and confess to me right before I went to sleep, and I couldn’t exactly be relieved of all burdens after you expressed those feelings to me!”

Xiao stares at him, golden gaze unmoving. Venti’s features soften, his green eyes crinkling at the edges with a smile.

“I mean, really, if I knew you felt that way I wouldn’t have even thought about eternal rest! If you really must know,” Venti giggles lightly, and it’s the most Venti thing Xiao’s seen in (quite literally) eons, “I love you, too, Xiao.”

As much as the confession is sweet music to Xiao’s ears, he’s still reeling from the shock that Venti is here, Venti’s alive, he’s not dead he never was—

“You’re telling me,” Xiao gasps, he feels short on air, the vision on his wrist is doing absolutely nothing to help him and he internally scream-laughs at the irony, “You were asleep the entire time?”

Venti shrugs and smiles. “Obviously. I said I was going to sleep, and I did! I’m not sure how this is so difficult to understand.”

Xiao strains to make sense of this situation. Venti is in his house—in his bedroom, he screams internally—and is acting like his presence isn’t the biggest bombshell he’s ever put on the poor adeptus.

Not to mention, he’s dressed completely casually, as if he didn’t sleep away two thousands years of history.

“Why are you dressed like that?” Xiao manages to question; he can feel his mind going blank with shock, Venti’s here, why is he here, why did he suddenly decide to wake up after all this time—

Venti blinks owlishly and snickers. “When I woke up, which was like, a week ago mind you, I was back in my—er, I was back to being Barbatos, I should say. When I finally got back to looking like good ol’ Venti, I knew waltzing around in getup from two thousand years ago was probably not the best idea once I saw whatever electro-powered rectangle thing is hanging in your living room.”

The television. Venti found the television, and for some reason, Xiao finds that absolutely hilarious. He laughs to himself, but it does nothing to ease his nerves.

“And then, I dunno! I looked through your closet and found clothes like this. Walked around for a bit, shifted into… whatever it is I’m wearing now. I don’t know, but it’s kinda comfy! Thought this would be way more appropriate to walk around in now that everything’s so… minimalistic.” The ex-bard smiles and laughs to himself. He is completely ignoring Xiao at this point.

“Anyways,” Venti begins again, clapping his hands together, “Thanks for watching over me all these years! But ah, I should probably return to Mondstadt. Make sure my nation’s still fine and all—”

“You’re leaving?” Xiao scoffs, but his eyes are wide. Venti stares at him, all green and blue and Xiao realizes how much he’s missed him. “Just like that, you wake up, tell me you love me and you’re leaving?”

Quiet falls on the face of the Archon in front of him. Golden eyes stay focused on Venti’s form as he shifts off of the bed, striding over to where he sits on the floor. Slim knees bend and Venti’s crouched in front of him, green eyes twinkling above a soft smile.

“Xiao,” he begins, soft and light, “For two thousand years I followed you around on the tip of a flute. I might have been asleep, but I could tell my place of rest followed you wherever you went.”

A pale hand reaches towards him, and he darts his arm out, gripping it as if it would fade away. Venti smirks at him, but there’s nothing malicious held in his gaze.

“These past two thousand years…” he whispers, leaning closer to Xiao, “... You travelled around Teyvat, something you never would have done so long ago. You finally left Liyue, and wherever you went, you took me with you. So…”

Venti makes a “hmph” and suddenly stands; Xiao releases his wrist, but that pale hand stays outstretched. It’s waiting, he realizes. An offer presented unto him.

“I’m taking you with me.” It’s a short and simple request, but all Xiao can think of is yes, yes I’ll go with you. Anywhere you want. “Won’t you come with me, Xiao?”

He pauses, though he already has an answer.

He reaches for Venti’s outstretched palm and smiles, lacing their fingers together. Venti’s awake, Venti’s here, and even if Xiao is shocked to see him after all this time, the elation that the wait is over and they can finally be together again like this brings a warm smile to his voice.

In his heart, he always desired freedom. He wasn’t about to reject such an offer any time soon, especially not from Venti.

“Of course I will.” Xiao says, standing off the ground. His legs are wobbly with shock but Venti’s grinning at him again and he knows things are going to be okay. 

 

***

 

aether i found the flute

6:41

 

you did where? wait shit lemme tell lumi she just hopped on a bus to wangshu

ugh i hope she doesn’t get stranded

6:52

 

venti woke up and took it with him for a week

6:54

 

oh okay makes sense

6:57




EXCUSE ME

8:39



***

 

“I love this view.”

The sound of crashing waves echoes dully in Xiao’s ears as he turns to look at Venti.

He digs his hands deeper into the sand; grains plant themselves firmly beneath his nails, rough bumps against his skin.

It’s comforting, in a way.

“You were asleep for a long time,” Xiao whispers. Teal hair is fuzzy on the edges of his vision as he looks at his companion. There’s a smile hinted on his lips. “It must be nice to be back underneath the sun.”

Venti’s been awake for close to a year now. During that time he acquainted himself with the new world, Xiao at his side; for a year, the two of them skirted around a possibility of romance, ignoring Ganyu’s questioning, Zhongli’s obliviousness, and Aether’s poor attempts at being a wingman.

Now, however, sitting on the beach like this, just the two of them warm and content, their natural desire comes to them with ease.

Venti hums. It’s light and airy and makes Xiao’s heart yearn.

“The ocean is beautiful, it serves to amaze,” he says lightly. His eyes are wide and full and swimming with affection when they connect with Xiao’s. “But that isn’t the view of which I sing praise.”

Venti’s still looking at him when Xiao’s skin blooms rubescent, and the Archon laughs, warm and inviting. Xiao shakes his head with a smile and tosses a bit of sand over Venti’s pale legs.

Yaoguang Shoal was beautiful this time of year, but it couldn’t compare with the Archon sitting beside him.

He looks over his shoulder; Aether, Ganyu and Zhongli have decided to join them this time, though they sit far away enough to allow them their space. Xiao’s thankful for their forethought, unsure of what he’d do if they listened to their flirting.

“I still remember what you told me,” Venti says quietly, and there’s fingers brushing his own beneath the sand. A pale leg twists sideways so toes can brush against his shin, light and warm. “I don’t think you know how happy you made me.”

Xiao clears his throat; he’s thought about their parting for an amount of time equal to decades. It played on repeat for every day that passed without Venti near him.

Now that the archon of his dreams is sitting next to him, playfully batting sand at him against a backdrop of waves, he can finally pause that broken record.

“It made you happy?” He questions, but he’s smiling.

Venti nods and laughs. Dark hair presses against Xiao’s shoulders as Venti leans into his touch, and for some reason it just feels right. Even if they have an audience, Xiao still wraps an arm around his companion’s frame before pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

From the content sigh that escapes Venti’s lips, he thinks it’s worth it.

“So happy,” Venti muses, gaze focused on the ocean. “Because I know how difficult it was. You always spoke about how human feelings weren’t your forte, and yet… you still found enough strength inside of you to commit to surprisingly raw emotion.”

“I have you to thank for that,” Xiao whispers against dark hair. Slim arms wrap around his waist as Venti pulls away, but not too far. Just enough for jade orbs to stare into his own. “You’re… an inspiration to me.”

“... I love that, Xiao,” Venti whispers. His cheeks are red and for once Xiao knows it’s not because of alcohol. “I really do.”

“Venti... I love you.” The words roll off of his tongue with ease, as smooth as the wine that filled Venti’s cup millenia ago.

Venti smiles. He leans forward, and Xiao can see the sun reflected in his emerald depths; the Anemo Archon’s face is a brilliant rainbow of blue, green, yellow, and red, and oh, how Xiao has missed it.

Xiao’s already tilting his head to meet Venti halfway, but golden eyes stay fixed on the Archon next to him instead of closing. Venti pulls away slowly and smiles sheepishly, his green gaze fixed on something behind them.

When Xiao turns, he knows it’s because of their companions.

He can see that all three are staring; Ganyu looks embarrassed even at this distance, Aether is giving him a thumbs up, the mad man, and Zhongli is staring owlishly at them with visible confusion.

Xiao grins at them and twirls his finger in the air. Turn around.

Ganyu gets the message right away, lunging for Zhongli’s wrist. They disappear over the dune a second later, leaving Aether to chase after them.

The two of them break into laughter. Xiao removes his hand from the sand, grains still clinging to his palm as he moves to cup Venti’s face, giggles giving way to soft smiles as their gazes meet once more.

Venti is so, so pretty. His sparkling silhouette is a breath of fresh air that Xiao gulps down with the intensity of a drowned man; he might as well be drowning, he thinks, because Venti suddenly steals his breath again with a question.

“May I kiss you, Xiao?” Venti asks softly, politely. His face is red against the pale sand beneath them, leaning into Xiao’s touch.

The adeptus nods. His heart flutters as the words leave his lips, “Of course.”

He ignores the way the wind around them flutters when their lips meet in a gentle kiss. It’s slow and soft and everything Xiao’s ever wanted wrapped in a single moment.

Venti’s the one who deepens it, Xiao will say later, but in his heart he’ll never be sure. All he knows is that for the first time in his life he feels like getting drunk, drunk on the sickly sweet taste of Venti’s mouth, light like cecilias and rich like wine. His heart is hammering in his chest when a sand-covered hand braces against it, content blooming beneath.

When they part, Venti has a smirk on his face. Xiao rolls his eyes as those sweet lips press against his cheek, a huff of a laugh escaping through his nose.

“How long have you been waiting for that, Xiao?” Venti asks quietly, and the hand on his chest dances upwards until settling beneath his jaw. Venti is warm, and to Xiao’s relief, very much alive.

“Honestly?” Xiao leans forward and peppers a light kiss to Venti’s lips, short and teasing. “Ever since we met.”

“Wow, that is a long time,” Venti giggles, and his eyes contain the same look of delight plastered on his face. “I thought your dislike grew with each new rhyme.”

Xiao hums. “Never.”

Venti responds with a smile and another soft press of his lips to Xiao’s own.

“Good,” he sighs when they part. “I don’t know what I’d do if the person I’m in love with secretly hated me.”

They’re a hazy bundle of warmth on the sand, pale arms and limbs intertwined as the sun sinks lower in the sky. Venti’s breathing is slow and content as he nuzzles against Xiao’s chest.

Sleep looms at the edges of Xiao’s vision; with Venti pressed against him like this, he readily welcomes it’s comforting embrace.

His dreams are soft and slow, with high cliffs and a light breeze, white flowers waving distantly in the wind. It smells like a long lost home, and when Xiao turns, Venti stands there to greet him with open arms.

 

“Wake up, you two.”

Xiao opens his jaw and yawns. Venti’s arched against his chest like a cat, arms locking when a short whine vibrates in his throat.

Aether’s standing over them with his hands on his hips. When Xiao sits up, an entire side of him is sore. It wasn’t a good idea to sleep like this on the beach, but he couldn’t care less, not when Venti is pressed against him like this.

“They slept the afternoon away,” Ganyu’s voice is light but seems so far, “How are you both?”

“Amazing,” Venti purrs into Xiao’s chest, “I missed this a lot.”

“Are you feeling better?” Aether asks gently; Xiao’s senses prickle ever so slightly as he recalls their last meeting.

“Mhm,” Venti sighs, and it’s with much difficulty that he tears himself away from Xiao’s chest. The latter allows Ganyu to help him up, then attends to Venti. Slim fingers settle in Xiao’s palms as if it’s where they’ve always belonged. “It’s amazing what a couple thousand years of rest can do for your bones!”

They stand there, the five of them, all warm and smiling and gazing at the sea. What had once held a sense of finality for years upon years of loneliness now held with it the sweet smell of hope mixed in with the salty wind.

Xiao inhales, fingers entangling around Venti’s. The bard reciprocates with a smile.

He isn’t sure how he’d been so ready to fade into the wind just days ago; Venti’s fingers wrapped around his own seem so vivid and so real that he’ll beat himself up for even thinking about fading away without holding them in his hands one more time.

He lets Venti guide their little troupe out across the shoal, waves lapping against the sand a short distance away.

He’s missed this, he thinks, smiling to himself as Venti whisks them away into the wind.