It's midnight when Xiao finally manages to free himself from the wedding festivities, sputtering apologies and cursing whoever designed the absurd ceremonial clothes. They are cumbersome, attention-grabbing, and impractical, and people giggle at him as he climbs the stairs of Wangshu Inn two at a time. He must look rather strange, a newlywed fleeing from his own marriage ceremony and tripping over his own clothes.
He doesn’t care.
He’s at the corridor, inside the room. The door slips from his grasp, and slams behind him with a little too much force. The silence that comes afterwards is sweet.
The first thing he does—should have done hours ago—is strip off his ceremonial robes. They land on the floor with a heavy thump. He breathes a sigh of relief as he finally feels wind against his skin, and again when he finally gets his old clothes back on.
Venti still isn't here. Xiao huffs and resists the urge to check the corridor. There is no reason for Venti to be here, anyway. As far as he can tell, Venti is still part of the celebration below, his voice joining the crowd’s below. If Xiao squints, he can just make out Venti, dancing and laughing, light on his feet despite his robes dragging on the ground, drink in hand.
No, drinks in hand, Xiao corrects himself. Two glasses, both full and unspilled. He hopes the night doesn't end with him having to carry a drunken Venti up several flights of stairs. He will still do it, of course—he would just rather he didn't need to.
It is not fair, Xiao thinks, the kind of power Venti has over him. That the Archon could just hum, or whistle, or strum his lyre strings, and Xiao would go quiet, prepared to fulfill his every request. But Venti is not a tyrant, nor a dictator, and so he gives Xiao the freedom of his own head. Any thoughts that distract Xiao are his own.
They had released a lantern earlier, in accordance with the tradition, writing their wishes on different sides of the same paper. Xiao remembers going completely red as the echo of Venti's wish reached his ears, and the knowing smirk from his husband as he took Xiao's hand and brushed his fingers over Xiao's knuckles.
“W-what are you doing?”
“Thinking about you,” Venti had said simply, and Xiao was horrified to find that he could not hide his face, with a mask or otherwise.
The door swings open and Xiao startles, reaching for his spear out of instinct and grasping only the air.
“Not a demon,” comes the voice from the doorway, and Xiao smiles despite himself.
Venti stands there, the moonlight streaming from the window carving him from brightness and shadow. He is clad in his usual outfit as well—“Why does ceremonial garb have to be so heavy?” Venti had whined earlier, plucking at his heavy robes. Xiao had only just seen him for the first time after weeks, and had not responded, too busy picking his jaw off the floor. The only trace of the ceremony left is the brush of green and gold along his lashes and the faintest marking of purple on his forehead where Xiao had pressed them together.
“Not going to invite me in?”
Xiao swallows. “You hardly need an invitation into your own home.”
Home. It’s a foreign word on Xiao’s tongue, and it should sound wrong, it should sound strange, like a jarring, dissonant note.
And yet, Venti is stepping closer, a strange soft light in his eyes, and he’s pulling Xiao closer by the fabric of his shirt, and—
And oh, oh, Xiao was wrong. He’s not going to die the way he thought he would, crushed under the weight of his karmic debt. No, he’s going to die of Venti, of the happy little noises he makes into the kiss, of the brightness of his grin and the crow of triumph he lets out when Xiao clings to him even as he pulls away.
“Married an adeptus,” Venti sings. “Going to write a ballad about that.”
“You wouldn't dare.” Xiao’s voice is hoarse and shaky. He would have been ashamed of that, maybe, if it was because of anything else, anyone else.
Venti hums, pressing another kiss to Xiao's lips. “You're right. A ballad won't do,” he says as he twirls his fingers in Xiao's hair. “I'll just sneak it into the history books. ‘Oh, Children of the Wind, let it be known on this day, 2045 years after the Archon War, Barbatos of Mondstadt finally, finally married Alatus, the Adeptus Xiao, Conqueror of Demons, Vigilant Yaksha, terror to almond tofu.”
“Too detailed?” Venti guesses. "Fine, into a children's book then. It'll be called ‘Where are the Archons Now?’ and in the end there will be a line. ‘Rumor has it that the Anemo Archon married a grumpy adeptus from the neighboring land, and that they are very happily living in secret together.’” He beams, and it does terrible things to Xiao’s heart. “It'll be a bestseller.”
“I do try.”
“But you love me anyway.”
Xiao nods fervently, throat dry. Venti kisses him again, backs him inside. The door slams closed from a phantom wind, rattling the entire room.
“Don’t wake the neighbors,” Xiao murmurs.
“They shouldn’t have fallen asleep then.”
Venti looks down at him, innocent. “Why not?”
“The innkeeper—” Venti cuts him off with another kiss, running a hand down his back, fingers cool against Xiao’s heated skin. “The innkeeper—” Xiao tries again.
“—is probably used to strange noises by now. Besides,” Venti says, rolling his eyes. “I’m not going to slam the door again. I'll be more careful next time.”
“Next ti—never mind.”
Venti laughs, leaning forward. His braids brush Xiao’s face. “Silly adeptus,” he murmurs into Xiao’s ear. “I’m just teasing you. Forgive me.”
“...There’s nothing to forgive,” Xiao says. He's having trouble thinking, what with Venti so close. He tugs at that stupid giant bow that keeps Venti’s cloak fastened, muttering darkly. It distracts him from how Venti traces patterns on his bare arm, the humming energy at Venti’s fingertips making the tattoo glow.
“You know, Zhongli was in the corridor earlier.” Venti laughs, pulling away as soon as Xiao has freed him of his cloak. “Honestly, the way he was puffed up, I thought he was going to come up with some stupid tradition again and say I'm not supposed to be alone in the same room with you for a year, or that—that physical contact between newlyweds is frowned upon unless they have signed documents and a seal of approval in triplicate.”
“There is no such tradition.”
Venti huffs. “Well, how was I supposed to know that? Anyway, he glared at me for ages before stepping aside. I think he's still mad at me.”
“Mad at us,” Xiao corrects, because the incident a month ago had involved both of them, although Zhongli had never scolded him for it.
“Hm, no, he was definitely mad at me specifically. According to him, It’s all my fault.”
“I went along with it.” Xiao is nothing if not fair. “I agreed to it.”
“You did, didn't you.” It's not a question, not the way Venti says it, his eyes sweeping Xiao up and down. “Who would have thought?”
He doesn't respond, only stares. Venti looks beautiful like this, hands on hips, smirk firmly in place as he steps back into Xiao’s reach, hair aglow and eyes bright. Xiao presses forward to kiss him.
They end up curled together on the bed, Venti singing softly. His chin is hooked over Xiao’s head, Xiao's face buried in the ruffles of his shirt, their limbs tangled together. In the darkness, Xiao can hear the sound of Venti’s wings fluttering against the covers.
“Am not,” Xiao mutters.
“Don’t worry, as long as it doesn't set off my allergies, I’m good.”
Laughter bursts from Xiao, surprising both of them. “What kind of a god has allergies?”
“Me! I’m one of a kind.” Xiao can hear the wink at the end of that sentence. He snorts despite himself and Venti coos at him before going back to his song.
It’s new, Xiao thinks, or at least it’s one he hasn't heard before, about a wind that brought the dream of freedom across the land, and the wishes it carried along. It’s nice—Xiao has never encountered a song of Venti's that he didn’t like—but Xiao craves more.
He knows he shouldn’t speak of desire, not of hopes or dreams, for fear that his wishes would come into the world stillborn. But here, he thinks it couldn’t hurt, not this time. Not when the request is so small, and when Venti’s songs sound so much like peace.
“…Will you play it again?” Xiao whispers into Venti's chest. “The song…from Dihua Marsh.”
It sounds like a prayer. Perhaps it is.
Venti nods, still singing, and the melody changes, turns into a gentle wordless tune. Xiao has only ever heard it played on a flute, amidst the whistling of the reeds and the chill of night air against his skin. But here, in the safety of an inn room, his hands unstained, head clear of voices and pain, and Venti's arms wrapped warm around him like a promise of protection, like he’s something worth protecting—
—A thumb swipes over his cheek, comes away wet with tears. “You’re crying,” Venti says, and he’s shifting away and Xiao doesn’t want him to go. “Did…did you want it played on the flute? I’m sorry. I can—”
“—Please stay,” Xiao says, grabbing Venti’s arm. “It doesn’t mean anything.” If he’s being honest, he doesn’t know what it means, only knows he doesn’t want Venti to leave and that Venti…
Venti isn’t leaving. He’s sitting back down, holding his hands out for Xiao’s, fingers brushing gently over his scars and calluses. Xiao swallows, trying to put words to emotions, but the only thing that comes is a wave of fresh tears.
Venti curls back up around him, stroking his hair as Xiao rubs furiously at his eyes and tries not to cling to him as though his life depends on it. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Venti whispers. “I got you. I got you.”
Xiao allows himself to believe it, just for a while.
It’s several long minutes until he recovers, hiccupping despite his best attempts to remain dignified. Venti doesn’t laugh at him, just smiles and brings their foreheads together. Xiao doesn’t think then, only closes the last few breaths of distance between them and shuts his eyes.
He ends up hiccupping against Venti’s lips and Venti giggles.
“Oh, my silly adeptus,” he breathes, taking Xiao’s face in both hands. “You know I love you, right?”
"Yes." There is very little Xiao is certain about, not anymore, but he is sure about this.
“Oh.” His eyes are very round. “G-good.”
“Good,” Xiao repeats. He reaches out to touch Venti's braids, curls one around his fingers. He’s smiling now—he hadn't noticed he was. “Good.”
Venti grins, grins, and pulls him closer, making a noise of pure delight as Xiao kisses him back.
Xiao dreams that night, and that night, his dreams are sweet.