„…yes, of course. Home is wherever we’re together.”
That’s how long Aether has been stuck in his room in Wangshu Inn. That’s how long he hasn’t been eating. That’s how long he’s been thinking and that’s how long these words have haunted him.
That whole encounter… it should’ve made him happy, right? His sister was alive and well and remembered him, still cared for him.
…except he wasn’t so sure about that last part.
Aether covered his eyes with his arm. Honestly, he wasn’t really disturbed by the light of the setting sun. He could barely feel the soft bed under his body. The absolute mess that that evening caused in his head was occupying all his senses and draining all his strength.
Right now only Lumine’s cold face lit up the darkness and chaos of his mind. The expression that she wore was something he’s never seen on his sister before. Sure, she had quite the feisty character and would get angry easily. But she was also happy and energetic and… she had emotions.
The Lumine from a few days ago didn’t resemble the person he knew in the slightest. Cold. Unbothered. Somehow determined, though Aether had no idea what for. And when he reached his hand to her, when he asked her to go back home with him…
The usually warm, golden-brown eyes stared at him coldly as their owner looked down on her sibling. The silence was definitely too long, and the smile that Lumine put on didn’t feel true in the slightest. Then, finally, these words that she said softly, like a rehearsed line… And the unshakeable dread that they brought upon Aether.
Did she mean it? What she said about home. He wanted to think that these words sounded so weird because Lumine was shaken to her core, just like Aether. He wanted to believe that she was melancholic, maybe sad, that they can’t be together immediately. He wanted to believe all that so badly!
Right now, Aether wished he would cry. For the past two days he’s been tormenting himself, thinking about that evening and what it could mean. But, not even once would tears flow from his eyes. It’s like he was a cracking glass filled with water, but nothing was getting out. The water just kept pushing against the fragile glass and straining it; yet, it wouldn’t break.
And, to all the gods, he wished it would.
Aether couldn’t help but shake off the feeling that he was missing something. If his sister truly was the Princess of the Abyss and she wanted to kill all the gods and Archons…
Who wasn’t telling the whole truth? Was it Dain, as mysterious as the whole ordeal? Was it Lumine, blindly believing that the Archons were the source of all evil in Teyvat? Was it the Archons, hiding something from public knowledge?
Or was it… him? Just not wanting to admit what seemed to be so obvious?
Maybe he should… join her?
Aether suddenly sat up on his bed. No. He couldn’t. Even if the Archons weren’t completely honest, the Abyss wasn’t exactly righteous itself.
He couldn’t think straight anymore. Why was all this happening to him? Why did they have to descend upon Teyvat? Why did they become travellers? Why did all this have to turn out like that? Aether covered his ears with his hands. Thoughts like these were screaming and worsening the chaos in his head, not giving him a second to take a break. They were ringing louder, and louder, and louder, and…!
A voice broke through the havoc and the ringing. It sounded so clear, so pure, so perfect. In that instant, everything calmed down, like a sea after a storm. That voice brought Aether back to reality, to his soft bed, to the setting sun, and to the birds chirping outside his window.
The person came into the room. Aether looked at the moving door and at the silhouette that appeared from within the darkness of the corridor.
Ah… there it was. His reason. His cause, and his meaning. And although he couldn’t move a muscle, his eyes expressed more than a thousand words. Out of them all, only one made its way out of Aether’s dry, cracked lips.
„…Xiao…” He barely muttered, but just that was enough for the tears to finally roll down his face. It was also enough for the Yaksha to instantly appear by his side and wrap his arms around Aether’s trembling body.
„Xiao… Xiao!” Aether kept repeating his lover’s name while frantically gasping for air and clenching his fists on the adeptus’ shirt. All the sorrow that he was holding in and couldn’t let out for the last two days came back now with double the force. It flooded him violently and showed no signs of stopping, but Xiao just let him weep and gently stroked his head.
„I’m here now… I’m here…” His quiet voice dissolved into a whisper. He didn’t mention Aether wetting his shirt or digging his nails into his back. His unspoken wish almost escaped his lips: „I just wish I got here sooner.”
Although Xiao didn’t say it, Aether’s teary eyes reminded him of himself – the Xiao from a thousand years ago, who was struck with loss and tragedy like a lightning. He didn’t want to think it was too late for Aether to avoid at least some of the experiences that he went through. He couldn’t stand watching as Aether kept suffering, not able to choose a side in this weird conflict. That’s why… in that very moment, Xiao decided that he would do anything for Aether – just as he would do anything for him.
How long did they remain like this? Silently hugging and trying to calm each other down (though it’s not a surprise that Xiao was the one who did most of the calming). An hour? Two? Three? No one could tell for sure, but by the time they loosened their arms and fell onto the bed, night has fallen and no birds chirped anymore.
„Why didn’t you come to find me earlier?” Xiao looked into Aether’s slightly swollen, but still beautiful eyes. He tucked a loose strand of hair back behind his lover’s ear. „You know I got back yesterday morning… and you’re free to bother me anytime.”
Aether thoroughly examined Xiao’s face. He was trying to see if the usually cool, emotionless yaksha resembled his sister’s face.
But no. Although serious, the adeptus’ face wasn’t stern nor cold – instead it showed Aether just how much he was worried about him.
„Why aren’t you responding?” The man furrowed his eyebrows.
Ah. Just now the blonde discovered how much he hated seeing Xiao look so troubled. He put his hand on Xiao’s cheek and stroked it, smiling slightly.
„I think… I don’t know. I was tired, lost in my thoughts, and…”
„And?” The Yaksha brought his head closer to Aether’s and whispered right into his mouth.
„I was scared to look you in the eye. I couldn’t bring myself to think about you and I didn’t want you to see me like this.” Aether’s voiced trembled as he could feel his lover’s warm breath on his lips. It was so weird – they spent nights far more… intoxicating than this one, yet this time felt so intimate in so many ways, he could feel his vision getting blurry and his cheeks getting hot. That, of course, didn’t remain unnoticed by Xiao, whose lips soon formed a subtle smirk.
Within a matter of seconds, the Yaksha twisted his body and Aether was left breathless as he found his hands pinned down above his head.
„It would seem your sister has been occupying your thoughts for way longer than she should have… I might need to remind you of myself so you don’t forget about me anymore.” Xiao lowered his head and spoke quietly, brushing his lips against Aether’s ear. The blonde didn’t even have a chance to ask how Xiao knew that he was so down because of Lumine.
„Hm? Should I?”
At that moment, Xiao already knew he achieved his goal as Aether gasped sharply. His smile only widened when Aether spoke with a trembling voice:
„Stop teasing me, Xiao!”
The Yaksha chuckled, but his sparkling eyes soon noticed the uneasy expression his lover was wearing.
Aether lifted his gaze at Xiao’s beautiful face.
„Tell me about her.”
„Tell me about Lumine.” He spoke softly, looking right into Aether’s eyes.
„Uhh… Now? In this position?”
The Yaksha chuckled again. „Is there a problem with that?” He paused for a second before speaking up again. „Tell me about the Lumine you remember. About the Lumine you know from your childhood and all the time that you spent with her, traversing countless worlds.”
Aether blinked, not understanding the situation he found himself in. Nevertheless, he took a breath and closed his eyes, preparing to take a dive into the deepest buried memories in his mind.
What he thought would be hard, came to him surprisingly easily. When he opened his mouth, words came out much more freely than he’d expected. He talked about how they grew up and how Lumine would always scold him. He talked about their various adventures and troubles in different worlds, or about what Lumine enjoyed. How she was when she woke up, how she was when she was hungry, how she was so brave and feisty. He talked about so many things, of bigger and smaller importance, but all of them painted a beautiful picture of his sister before their eyes.
This time, there weren’t any tears. Just a small smile appeared on Aether’s face, and when he finally opened his eyes, he found himself to be much more at peace than before.
Xiao lowered his head once more. This time, he rested his forehead on Aether’s and kept quiet for a long time before finally speaking.
„This Lumine that you just told me about… She’s still there, somewhere. And I swear on my life that I’ll help you find her and bring her back.”
The Yaksha couldn’t have known just how much these two sentences meant to Aether and how much comfort they brought to him. No, not just these words – all of the Yaksha’s support, all of his patience, his kindness – all of that made Aether fall in love with Xiao all over again.
„Yet, I can’t help but get jealous.”
„What?” Aether was suddenly brought back to reality by the adeptus’ sudden comment. He sighed before continuing.
„I know it’s your sister, but I can’t help but want to bite your neck and hear you speak my name instead of any other person’s.”
Aether kept silent for a few moments, not able to say anything. But soon enough, he started laughing right in Xiao’s face.
„If that’s how it is… Then I’ll use it as my reason to spend more time with you. After all, I need to make some memories first in order to be able to speak about them to other people… Right?” He chuckled once again while Xiao softly placed his lips on Aether’s.
„Do we need a reason for anything, though?”
He looked into Aether’s eyes, which expressed all that his voice couldn’t say.
„You’re almost right. Because, Xiao…”
He joined their lips together once more before whispering right into them.
„…you’re my reason.”