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i watched the water unfold

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Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds. Those are the only images that come to him when he tries to remember anything about how he arrived on this cliff, so much so that he gives up fairly quickly to stop wasting his energy. 

Instead, he takes to memorizing the same view he sees every day: a well-worn path, only accidentally maintained by the fishermen coming up onto the cliff to survey the weather. Beyond it, a line of trees, the path slanting downwards as it snakes downhill back to the village below. Above him, the sky, bearing down on him for as long as he can remember. The ocean behind him, but he hasn’t seen it for who knows how long because he cannot turn around.

All very uninteresting.

For a while it was only fishermen he saw. They paid him enough mind to kindly ask for a good catch, which he happily provided every other time they asked, whispering to the fish through the wind to appear where the fishermen will be for the day. Might as well repay their kindness with kindness of his own when he’s able to.

So he gains the reputation amongst the dock workers and fishermen for only being able to grant wishes, sometimes, yet he doesn’t mind. This way they don’t demand too much of him and he can recover his dwindling supply of energy to fulfill the next “wish” when it comes along. A simple arrangement.

But on this clear day, something changes. Rather than the familiar band of fishermen that appear at the break of dawn, a woman appears with a young child in her arms and a flower tucked behind her ear. She kneels in front of him, placing the child in her lap, and reaches out to pat his head.

“Oh great bird statue, I know you only grant wishes sometimes, but if you have it in you today, I wish for my husband’s safety on his first mercantile trip since our little one was born,” she whispers, stroking the child’s hair and withdrawing her hand to hold him steady.

Being pat on the head pulls an emotion out of him he hasn’t felt in a long time. He thinks that if he still had a body, his eyes would be welling up with tears, but he pushes that thought aside to focus on calming the winds around the recently-departed ship holding this woman’s husband. With an extra push he also ensures that the winds will guide the ship to and from its destination without harm.

Satisfied, he summons a gentle breeze to let the woman know it is done, hoping she understands his meaning.

Seemingly she does, a bright smile growing on her face. “Did you feel that, little one? Your father will surely return home safely.”

The child frowns. “Do we have to ask it every time?”

The woman hums thoughtfully. “As much as I’d love to ask every day, I think the statue needs time to rest as well. Isn’t that right?” She turns towards him, expression expectant.

Who is he to deny her an answer? Another gentle breeze flits around her and her laughter fills the air.

“And I’m sure the statue enjoys the company. Don’t you like it when company is over, Xiao?”

“Not really,” Xiao grumbles. He hides his face in her neck.

The woman giggles, turning back to him. “I apologize if it’s been boring for you because the fishermen only come here to check the weather and ask you for favors. We’ve only just moved here, you see. If you don’t mind, I would like to keep coming here to keep you company and watch the ocean.”

He brings the wind up and down in a quick motion.

“I hope that was a shrug of approval,” the woman jokes. “If it wasn't, please send a stronger breeze to let us know if we’re bothering you.”

The breeze is light.

“Ah, I’m glad. As much as I love my work and attending to this little one,” she gives Xiao a teasing pinch on the cheek, “usually I’m alone with my thoughts. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone to talk to, wouldn’t you agree?”

If he had a head, he would be nodding vigorously. But translating that to wind is unwise, so he settles for another gentle gust of wind.

The woman ends up staying there to talk until the sun is high in the sky, Xiao having fallen asleep in her arms.

“And then-”

Xiao stirs, tugging at his mother’s hair. “Mm, I’m hungry,” he mumbles sleepily.

“Oh! Time really does fly when you’re having fun.” The woman pats his head one last time before standing up, gathering Xiao in her arms with a fond smile. “This was a lovely conversation. I hope you had as much fun as we did, oh great bird statue. We’ll see you tomorrow then.” She gives him one last wave. “May your day be a good one.”

When her form has completely retreated into the tree line, he feels a pang of loneliness.

 


 

For the next couple of years, every morning becomes much more exciting with the addition of the woman and her son, the latter still shy but slowly opening up with each visit. He tries his best to guide the winds for her husband’s ship on days he’s feeling up to it, but the woman seems to understand, only asking that of him every so often after hours of one-sided conversation that Xiao begins to partake in more frequently. 

In return, he learns more about his new companions. Apparently their visits to him began when the fishermen mentioned this cliff as a good vantage point to see her husband off for his daily trips to the mainland to sell his goods. The goods, from what he can pick up when listening to Xiao’s jumbled recollection of their daily happenings, are all smithed by the woman herself, which explains why they often leave at noon, Xiao’s hunger aside.

Their presence becomes such a common occurrence that when they stop coming for a period of time, he is worried at first. Nothing seems to be too amiss for her husband, whose ship leaves port less often than it used to but still consistently departs, so he distracts himself with guiding the ship as he has been to hold back his sense of dread.

That is until his usual crowd of fishermen casually mention the swell of their wives’ bellies one day, and he pieces together what’s happened, remembering the woman’s own growing stomach. His worry is replaced with relief, realizing that he simply had to be patient.

And his patience is rewarded when several months later, the woman returns with a slightly taller Xiao pulling her along and a small human in her arms.  

“I’m sorry we haven’t visited in a while, oh great bird statue,” she says to him, patting his head in apology as she sits down. “As you can see, we have a new member of the family.” She coos at the baby in her arms, giving her nose a kiss. “We’ve been quite busy, haven’t we Xiao?”

Xiao nods his head excitedly, stumbling forward slightly at the force. “Papa’s been home to take care of Ganyu and me and mama and,” he pauses to take a deep breath before continuing, “and I promised to be the best older brother there ever was!”

The wind excitedly swirls around them.

She laughs, tired but still full of joy. “It seems our dear bird statue agrees.” Her eyes drift close, only pulled awake by baby Ganyu in her arms grabbing at her hair. “Xiao, why don’t you tell it what we’ve been up to?”

He tries to keep up with the same old disjointed way Xiao tells of their lives, his winds barely able to react in time before Xiao launches into the next story, but neither of them mind. He speaks about his merchant father who’s finally found success with his trading and has to return to daily trips to keep up with new business, his lessons in smithing to help produce goods for his father to sell, and of his adventures as a new older brother, protecting his little sister from the evils of a small spider landing on her face.

“It was this big,” Xiao exclaims, throwing his arms wide open, “and I rescued her all by myself!”

The woman laughs so hard her whole body shakes. “Oh my little one. You are truly too strong for a spider to handle. I know Ganyu will appreciate it when she’s older, won’t you?” 

Ganyu babbles happily, tugging at the woman’s hair with one hand and her glaze lily pendant with the other. Xiao intervenes and gently removes Ganyu's prodding fingers, but he's interrupted by his stomach rumbling.

"Noon already?" The woman giggles and stands up, reaching for Xiao's hand. "Let's get home for lunch then. Goodbye, dear bird statue. We'll be back soon!" 

Xiao gives him a clumsy wave in his mother's stead, smiling brightly. 

If he could smile back, it would've been his biggest smile yet. 

 


 

The day starts out bright and sunny, but there is an overwhelming sense of dread within him. He can feel a storm coming, the cacophony of winds in the distance unsettling him, and it makes him wish he had his human form so he could pace around nervously. In the recesses of his memory, flashes of a storm and buffeting winds, visions that he has been unable to decipher but dredge up panic in him all the same. His spiral into anxiety is broken by the appearance of the woman and her children.

Ganyu runs up to him first. “Today mama’s going with papa on a trip!” she exclaims with stilted pronunciation. The memory of her first words not too long ago and her quick learning ease his mind for only a short moment before he realizes what she’d said.

Panic twists tighter within him and summons a frantic gust of wind.

“It seems the great bird statue doesn’t like that idea,” the woman says, giggling slightly. “Do not fret. This should be a quick trip to my sister to deliver much needed medicine for their sick daughter. I promise I’ll be back before tomorrow’s dawn so we can come and visit.”

He tries again, growing more insistent.

The woman simply shakes her head. “I’m sorry, but this is urgent.”

“He’s clearly trying to tell you not to go, isn’t he?” Xiao finally says, having stayed silent this whole time. He looks like he’s holding back tears. “Do you really have to go?”

“Oh, my sweet Xiao,” the woman kneels in front of him, “If we don't do this, your cousin Ningguang will be too sick to get better. You understand, don't you?" When Xiao solemnly nods, she continues. "I’ll be back by nightfall. Take care of Ganyu while I’m gone, alright?” She turns to Ganyu. “And my sweet Ganyu, be good for your older brother.”

Ganyu nods, hugging the woman’s leg. “And you be careful too!”

The clouds are deceptively calm when they leave the cliff and he hears their ship depart. Maybe he is worried about nothing and everything will be fine, right?

Wrong. By mid-afternoon the clouds morph into a dreadful dark gray and the sun retreats behind their impenetrable wall. The ocean churns and the winds scream.

He matches their screams with an internal one of his own as he focuses his energy on the winds, looking for the woman’s ship with a fervor he didn’t know he could still muster. He finds it already in the midst of the tumultuous waves, threatening to capsize at any minute while the crew desperately reign in the sails and cling to what they can to avoid going overboard. Using all of his remaining power, he demands control of the winds from the storm.

It doesn’t work.

In fact, it only serves to confuse the winds more. They toss and turn harder than before, uncertain of what to do, and the ship finally capsizes much to his horror. He frantically calls upon the winds to keep the crew above the water, but they do not listen. Out of options, he dives into the water himself, searching for the woman as he fights the waves engulfing and weighing him down, the anger of the storm raging above him.

“Please, save my husband first,” a voice calls out to him.

“I’ll save you all,” he screams, “I just-”

“You cannot save us all, dear bird statue, else you will be lost too. Please, as my last selfish wish, save my husband,” the voice interrupts him. 

“No! I refuse to let anyone die.” He tries one last time, extending all of his power out to every soul in the vicinity, reaching her husband, the crew, and finally her, and pulls.

...

When he comes to, the storm has calmed, and he feels the relief of the crew members he reached rushing through him, the steady pulse of earth nearby indicating the shore.

Did he succeed?

Something tugs at his hand and he looks down to see the woman’s face, eyes closed but smiling. Her breathing has stopped.

“Do not fret, my friend,” she whispers. It is silent, but he can barely hear her even as she has her head laid on his knees.

Wait, knees?

“So you did have a human form once.” She reaches a hand up to cup his cheek, bringing his attention to the wetness on his face. “Thank you for watching over us all this time, oh great bird statue.”

“No,” he whispers back. “No, no.” He pushes as hard as he can with his energy but nothing comes out. 

NO.

“You’ve already saved all you can. You can let me go.”

“No!” he yells. Is this what his voice sounds like, hoarse and melancholy? “You can’t leave Ganyu and Xiao alone.”

She laughs sadly. “They won’t be alone. They’ll have Zhongli and they’ll have you.”

“I’ll help you. I’ll come back after I’ve recovered-”

“Oh, dear bird statue, I’m already gone.” 

Her body is too light, too transparent for a human’s. His knees are shaking beneath her body, his hands barely holding steady as he claws at his chest to release anymore energy, anything.

“Let me go.” 

“Why? Why did you let go?” he manages to choke out.

“You didn’t have enough for me.” She sighs. “The entire crew would’ve drowned if you’d overextended yourself. Even now, you’re hurting aren’t you?”

“Yes, but that’s because you’re dying.” His hands fall limply to his side. He’s lost all feeling in his legs.

“Dead, dear bird statue.” She falls silent for a moment and he’s almost certain she’s gone, but she opens her eyes one last time and looks him in the eye. “Guizhong.”

“Huh?” Is it her soul fading away or his tears that’s making it difficult to make out the shape of her body?

“My name is Guizhong. I don’t think I’ve told you that.” Her giggle sounds like she’s out of air. “And yours?”

He chokes on his first attempt. “Venti,” he finally manages.

And then she’s gone.

 


 

His consciousness bursts into awareness and he’s back on this miserable cliff again.

Was that all just a horrible dream? With what little energy he has left, he follows the wind around the village, horrified at the destruction in the storm’s wake. Boats strewn about, docks splintered, houses destroyed as the villagers look upon all of it, devastated. Sluggishly, he returns to the cliff and fades away, too tired to think of anything more. 

He doesn’t know how long he stays dormant, only waking up again to a rustling in the treeline. If he had eyes, he’d be squinting in the dark to try getting a better view of the lone figure approaching him with heavy steps, the moon hidden behind the last remains of storm clouds. 

Xiao finally kneels in front of him, eyes red and face stained with tears.

“She’s gone, isn’t she?” Xiao asks quietly.

It takes everything to summon even the smallest of breezes, but he does anyway.

“You tried to warn us that day, didn’t you?”

The wind caresses his cheek as gently as it can.

“Can you,” his voice breaks, “can you bring her back?”

All is still.

Xiao’s face crumples and he collapses in front of him, curling into himself and clutching an all too familiar glaze lily pendant in his hands. He silently cries along with the boy, wishing to the universe that he could hold him and tell him everything is going to be fine.

Chapter Text

A decade passes as if it were a millennium. The familiar feeling of a certain ship leaving port and cutting through the winds no longer greets him in the early morning, nor do the bright eyes and warm smiles of the family he has come to adore.

The occasional visits from the fishermen, all of whom don somber expressions whenever they look out at the ocean from atop the cliff, are the only thing that rouse him from his dazed state. He wishes he could do more to help them recover the damaged village, but he is often barely conscious, guilt and grief a heavy burden.

That is until one day, without warning, he is awakened into alertness by the very same ship that had been ported for so long, the winds making way for its sails with ease as it begins its routine journey once again. Vision blurry and thoughts unclear, he tries hard to discern if his mind is playing tricks on him.

“Hello bird statue,” a quiet voice says from in front of him. When his awareness is finally clear, he recognizes the head of light-blue hair and the shy smile. The wind reaches out to hug her.

“I’m sorry we haven’t come to visit for so long.” She approaches and kneels in front of him, leaning into the breeze. She looks to be on the verge of tears. “Papa’s been mostly trading inland but he thinks it’s time for him to traverse the waves once more. May I ask if you could bring him home safely?” Her voice cracks and she looks away, unable to stop her tears.

He cries for the girl in front of him, old enough to understand the permanence of death but far too young to know grief as deep as this. The breeze swirls around her in promise.

“It’s been so long but it still hurts,” Ganyu says after a beat of silence. She tries to steady her uneven breaths. “I want to thank you for trying your best to save mama back then,” she hiccups, “and thank you for saving papa. If we had lost both of them, I-” her body shakes, sobbing as she crawls forward and gives him a hug.

He doesn’t know how long they stay there, crying together and letting all their sadness out, but by the time she leaves it is far later than she and her family would usually stay. A light draft dries her tears and tries to comfort her as she stands up shakily.

“Thank you, bird statue. I need to go but next time I promise I’ll bring Xiao too. I think he needs to see you as much as I did.” Ganyu gives him her best smile and waves as she descends the cliff, leaving him to wonder just how Xiao has been dealing with all of this, now bearing much more responsibility than before.

He isn’t left wondering for very long when Ganyu returns next week with her older brother following close behind her as she excitedly kneels in front of him.

“Good morning bird statue! Look who I brought.”

The breeze dances around them happily.

“It’s nice to see you too,” Xiao says quietly, kneeling beside his sister. “I’m sorry we haven’t visited in a while. We’ve been taking over the forge since…” he trails off, looking out at the ocean. He shakes his head and continues. “Papa is busy trying to fully restart his business overseas to better support the village’s recovery. There have been many things to do.”

Ganyu smiles. “Did you know that Xiao’s incredible at forging the goods papa sells? I only get to help out after everything is done.”

“Polishing and cleaning is just as important as actually making the goods. Besides, you’ve been making progress with your forging lessons. You could probably start making things soon.” 

A gale of agreement.

“You’re just being nice to me because you have to.” Ganyu pouts.

A gale of disagreement.

“We’re not trying to placate you. We all have a role to play,” Xiao says, patting his sister’s head with an amused huff. “Speaking of roles to play, we cannot stay long.” He stands up and helps Ganyu up as well, bowing slightly to him. “I promise we’ll come back soon.”

“You mean you promise you’ll come back soon. I’m here every morning,” Ganyu teases.

Xiao rolls his eyes and tugs her away. “Yes, that’s what I meant. See you soon, bird statue.” The siblings both give him subdued but hopeful smiles and make their way home.

And see them soon he does. From that day onward the siblings visit together daily, much like they used to do, and his heart lightens as he watches their shared burden of grief slowly but surely lessening.

 


 

After a certain point, Ganyu once again becomes the only one to visit in the mornings because their father’s business explodes in demand and Xiao needs to spend more time at the forge. He notices the toll on Xiao when the latter occasionally visits with Ganyu, the bags under his eyes a clear indication of his exhaustion.

Lost in his thoughts on how to tell Ganyu to tell Xiao to sleep better, which she probably does, but specifically that he’s telling Xiao to sleep better, he almost misses the rustling in the tree line late one night.

It’s very unusual for him to get visitors at this hour, that is for certain. He prepares himself to scare off the intruder with the wind, but as the figure gets closer, he recognizes the familiar silhouette. 

“Good evening bird statue.” Xiao heaves a sigh as he sits down in front of him. “I’m sorry if this is bothersome, but I have to tell this to someone who isn’t Ganyu because she’ll worry.”

A light breeze to his shoulder encourages him to continue.

“Papa has been coming home later than usual. The first time it happened, we were obviously worried,” Xiao starts, rubbing a hand down his face, the bags under his eyes becoming more prominent, “But now, it’s been happening more frequently at regular intervals. I suspect he’s been… seeing someone.”

Oh?

“A few years, someone from the commerce guild on the mainland offered to help papa get back on his feet, presumably because they liked his business? I don’t know the details of the arrangement, but it’s what kept us away from financial ruin all these years.”

A gust brushes against his back, soothing.

“But now that papa has returned to trading, I suspect that he’s been meeting with his sponsor. He keeps returning with gifts and always has this faraway look when he explains where he got them from. I don’t like it.”

Without much to say, the wind stays still.

“I’m probably just being too protective, aren’t I?”

He can see Xiao’s mind racing with all his theories on his father’s mysterious sponsor and tries to tickle his cheek to snap him out of it.

“Maybe,” Xiao finally says. He reaches over to rub his head. “Thank you for listening, bird statue. If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit here a while longer and clear my head.”

Now, he isn’t opposed to having the company at all, but given that he’s positioned precariously close to the edge of a cliff and Xiao is clearly sleep deprived, mostly asleep when leaning against him, there are many issues with these visits. The wind can only do so much to jolt Xiao awake, and even with that he runs the risk of scaring Xiao into leaning forward off the cliff.

His worry also extends far beyond accidentally killing Xiao when the young man begins to appear every night, looking more and more haggard as he seemingly gets less and less sleep. Their one-sided conversations become less like a conversation and more like Xiao’s stream of thought as he sits closer to mumble quietly about the things changing around him, about his father’s work and mysterious sponsor, about Ganyu’s budding interest in their cousin Ningguang’s business ventures, about his own outlook on life and what he wants to do for the future.

And when he’s out of things to say, Xiao stops speaking altogether, instead leaning against his side and facing the ocean, out of his visual range. Yet he can feel Xiao all the same, his soul’s energy radiating warmth that he hasn’t felt in a very long time. It alarms him how easily he can push against him with his own energy and Xiao’s soul relents, an indication that his exhaustion runs deep if he’s not resisting him. 

He surely has to do something about it, but what? On this particular night, basking in their intermingling energies as his consciousness fades away, he wishes he had the ability to convince Xiao to take better care of himself.

 


 

There is no tree line, no dirt path, no sky to greet him when he next awakens. Instead, he is in what looked to be in a small human room with minimal furnishings. The energy surrounding him is familiar, but he cannot quite place where he is.

He moves his eyes around the room and hears a noise to his right, so he turns his head. Turns his head? He looks down and sees his human form, finally noticing how his knees wobble from disuse. A dream? 

“Who are you?” a voice asks from his right. He whips his head in that direction again - that noise must’ve been the door opening - and takes in the familiar figure in front of him.

“Xiao!” he answers, voice hoarse from disuse. “Where am I?”

“How did you know my name?” Xiao takes a cautious step forward and holds his hands up defensively.

“It’s me, the bird statue.” He tries to prove himself by summoning the wind, but nothing happens.

What?

“I can’t seem to get the wind in here but it’s me.” He wracks his mind for a way to prove himself. “Oh! You told me you burned your shin when you dropped your tongs a few days ago. How is that by the way?”

Xiao drops his hands but still eyes him warily. “It’s better now with some healing salve.” 

“That’s good. I was worried for you.” He nods to himself happily, momentarily distracted by the unfamiliar weight of the movement and almost falls over from the momentum.

Luckily, Xiao reacts fast enough to catch him before his head hits the ground. “Be careful. Let’s get you seated on the bed so you don’t hurt yourself.”

He flinches when he registers feeling on his skin, unused to the touch, prompting Xiao to pull away. “Sorry, I’m just not used to,” he pauses, gesturing vaguely at himself, “touching.”

“I’m guessing it’s not the same as when we pat your head?” Xiao settles next to him and gingerly keeps his distance.

“Yes, oddly enough it feels different, like you’re actually touching me. Let me see if I can figure out why.”

When he finds a comfortable position to sit in after some shuffling around, he channels a bit of his energy to figure out where they are. As far as he can tell, they’re not in the real world, but they’re not in the spiritual realm either.

“Xiao, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“The last thing I remember was falling asleep, leaning against you I think.” 

So they were still on the cliff? “From what I can tell, this space is the union of our two energies, manifesting in the form of a dream. I’m not exactly sure how it works, but I guess this happened because you’re still sleeping against me.”

Xiao shrugs. “If that’s what you say.” He turns to him to give him a proper look and he has to resist the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. “Is that actually what you look like? Or am I making something up?”

“This is what I remember looking like when I had a human form.” He looks down at himself again, poking his thighs and biting the inside of his cheeks. “I miss being able to move.”

Xiao shoots him a sympathetic look. “I can imagine. Sitting still up on that cliff all day and listening to us talk must be pretty boring, isn’t it?”

He shakes his head. “The cliff part is boring, but I love listening to you talk. I enjoy the company.” He giggles to himself, playing with his hair, braided like how he remembered it. “And now I can actually respond to you! I’ve had so much I want to talk to you about.”

“Like what?” Xiao asks, yawning. “How am I tired in a dream?” he mutters to himself.

“That’s the first thing I want to talk about - your sleeping habits.” He crosses his arms in an attempt to look serious. “I’m worried about you Xiao. You can’t keep coming to visit me when you’re this tired. Do you know how hard it is to keep you from falling off the cliff with just the wind? I’m barely able to keep you upright right now.”

The way Xiao’s face reddens in embarrassment is endearing enough that he has a hard time keeping a straight face, but he holds strong. “Shall we make a deal then? If you sleep properly in your bed, I’ll come visit in your dreams so we can talk. No more endangering yourself while I’m unable to help you, alright?”

The blush on the other’s face only deepens. “I don’t need an incentive to take care of myself.”

“But clearly you do if you’ve been neglecting sleep, the most important thing almost any being needs to do.” He pouts. “I’m not trying to nag you. I just,” he takes a shuddered breath, not expecting all of this to come out, “I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

Xiao exhales slowly, nodding. “I understand. I promise I’ll get more sleep, regardless if you end up in my dreams.” He holds up his pinky. “Do you want to swear on it?”

He looks down at Xiao’s hand. “What?”

“Do you not know how to pinky swear?”

He shakes his head.

“I can show you, but I have to touch your hand, is that alright?”

When he nods, Xiao picks up one of his hands and curls all the fingers until only the pinky is extended. He links them together. “There. I pinky swear I will take better care of myself. If I break this promise, I’ll have to swallow a thousand needles.”

“What??” He pulls back in alarm. “I don’t want-”

“Sorry, it’s just an expression,” Xiao says quickly, holding his hands up. “I don’t actually have to swallow a thousand needles. Or any needles for that matter.”

“Oh.” He stares at Xiao for a moment before he bursts into laughter. “I’m an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Xiao says as he lets out a snort of his own. They sit there laughing at each other until they’re reduced to giggles, finally settling down when Xiao yawns again, his form flickering slightly as his body begins to wake up. “I think I’m-”

“Waking up? I think so too. I can barely see you now,” he says softly, reaching over to grab Xiao’s hand only to go through it. “We can talk more tomorrow night. Rest now, Xiao. And if you really need me, I’ll always be up on the cliff.” He stands up and mentally prepares himself to lose all movement again, already relishing the thought of being able to return to this dream.

“Wait, what’s your name?”

“Venti,” he manages to say before blinking awake atop the cliff as dawn breaks. Beside him, Xiao stretches and comes into his view.

“Was that all real, Venti?” Xiao says, stumbling on his name. “Venti,” he tries again, “can you hear me?”

The wind dances around him happily, but it peters out quicker than it usually does.

“Venti?”

His vision goes black when he tries again.

Chapter Text

He gets the feeling that he’s been asleep for a while when he awakens to the break of dawn again. His energy is back at an acceptable level, but his entire being feels as sore as if he’d just expended all of it too quickly.

“Bird statue!”

Is he so tired that he doesn't even register Ganyu sitting directly in front of him?

“I felt the wind pick up. Are you awake?”

A slight breeze of affirmation.

She pats his head, sighing with relief. “Thank goodness. You’ve been unresponsive all week and we’ve been so worried.” She seems to remember something and stands up abruptly. “I’ll be right back - I have to tell Xiao you’re alright!” 

As she leaves, he feels the familiar prickle of energy that comes from her father’s merchant ship breaking through the wind and the waves.

Oh no. How could he be so careless, sleeping for a whole week? What if something bad had happened? 

Sluggishly, he flies towards the ship and prepares to coax the winds when something very odd happens.

Rest, wind spirit. I’ll handle this.

Around him, only the waves churned, and the wind didn't have a voice. Does that mean the water just spoke to him?

Yes I did. Now go. I can handle this ship from now on. Or maybe we can trade off, whatever you prefer. But we can figure out that arrangement after you’ve appeased your friends.

True to the voice’s word, the water around the ship holds strong and guides it along without it so much as rocking. Well, if the water says it can handle it, then who is he to argue?

Giving the water a quick thanks, he flies back to the cliff in time to see Ganyu and Xiao jogging towards him.

“Ven- bird statue. I’m happy you’re awake.”

The breeze gives both of the humans a gentle pat on the head. He hopes that it conveys how touched he is by their worry.

“Xiao told me he had a dream about you being in trouble,” Ganyu says, leaning in to fake-whisper at him, “but he told me that while trying to hide the dopiest smile I’ve ever seen, like he had a really good dream and not a foreboding one. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?”

The wind tries to shrug nonchalantly. Xiao shrugs along.

“Mhm.” Ganyu narrows her eyes in suspicion but then shrugs with them. “Whatever happened, I’m just happy you’re back with us, dear bird statue.” She gives him and Xiao one last examining look. “I’ll leave you two alone then, since it’s my turn at the forge, right Xiao?”

“It is?”

“It is now,” Ganyu says as she hastily retreats down the cliff, a knowing smile on her lips. 

“That… was something,” Xiao says when Ganyu is no longer within hearing range. He sits in front of him and gives him a quick pat on the head. “Now, as for you, who is the one who really has to take care of himself here, hm?”

A gust swirls around him indignantly.

“Dreaming takes that much out of you, right? So we shouldn’t do it so often.”

The wind sadly agrees.

“And if the dream space is made from both our energies, then that probably means I have to be out here sleeping beside you.” Xiao holds a hand to his chin and thinks for a moment. “Would you mind if I slept here every,” he pauses to hum thoughtfully, “every month?”

Surely that’s not healthy for a human? A breeze of disagreement.

Xiao swipes some of his hair out of his eyes. “I want to do this. I’ll make sure to sleep in front of you where you can see me so you’ll know I’m not about to fall off the cliff in my sleep, is that fair?”

Tentatively, the wind messes with his hair again, moving it back in front of his eyes.

“We can figure out the details the next time we meet. But for now, you need to rest.”

When the wind promises to heed his advice, Xiao stands up to leave, giving him one last pat on the head. “I’m holding you to it. If I’m taking care of myself, you have to as well.” He waves and descends the cliff.

Well then. Now that him and Xiao had a schedule, perhaps he could schedule something with the water, which technically would count as resting because he’s setting up future time for rest, right?

Probably not, but he does it anyway, sticking near the coast to find the water that spoke to him.

It’s you again. Things go well with your friends?

Yes, and now he has a schedule he’d like to work out if the water were willing.

Every two weeks? Sounds good to me.

Then they had a deal.

 


 

Sometimes during lonely days on the cliff, unpleasant thoughts of the future creep to the forefront of his mind. Will he only be bound to see Xiao in dreams forever, watching him age until it’s no longer healthy for him to be sleeping on the cliff? 

But fretting too much about the future only ruins the limited time he has with Xiao while they dream. And every dream is a precious memory that he clings to desperately, numbering them mentally to make them easier to recall for days such as these where he’s spiraling.

So on this overcast day, trying to calm his uneasiness as he awaits Xiao’s monthly dream visit, he loses himself to the memories of their dreams to quell his troubles.

 

-- 2 --

 

They are sitting across from one another on the bed. Xiao reaches over to pat his head out of habit and he doesn’t even notice he's crying until Xiao is pulling him into a hug.

“Venti?”

“D-don’t stop, p-please,” he sobs, burying himself into Xiao’s neck. “T-these are happ-py tears, I p-promise.”

A hand runs up and down his back. “I’m going to lie us down, alright?”

He nods, letting himself be pulled down onto the bed, and tries to steady his breathing.

“I’m sorry,” he says between hiccups. “I just haven’t been touched in a while.”

“It’s alright,” Xiao murmurs into his hair. “Take all the time you need.”

When he’s calmed down, he thinks about how nice it is to be like this with Xiao, feeling safe in the embrace of a familiar presence. “Can we do this every time we’re together?” he asks without intending to. His hand can’t move up to shut himself up fast enough, the tips of Xiao’s ears already burning red.

“If you want to,” Xiao answers, averting his gaze as his face reddens to match his ears.

Silently, he burrows closer, hiding his blush in the crook of Xiao’s neck.

 

-- 4 --

 

“I think I’ve figured out why I’m so tired after these dreams,” he says proudly into Xiao’s neck.

Xiao pulls away and gives him an amused look. “Oh?”

“Sustaining my human form seems to take the most out of me. If I can revert to my elemental form, I’ll use half as much energy.”

“Let me guess. Is your elemental form,” Xiao pauses for dramatic effect, “a bird?”

Venti reaches up to rub Xiao’s head in the same way his is usually rubbed. “Yes! I won’t be able to speak while in that form, but I suppose it’s not much different when I’m a statue.”

“But at least you can move as a bird?”

“But at least I can move as a bird. And head pats are still much appreciated,” he affirms. “Half the time as a human, half the time as a bird. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not at all.”

“Then I’ll talk to you later. Thank you Xiao,” he says before releasing his human form. He just catches Xiao whispering cute as he coos happily, finding comfort in the gentle arms that hold him.

 

-- 7 --

 

Xiao’s energy is erratic and lethargic at the same time when they enter the dream, his face scrunched up as if he’s holding back something.

Wordlessly, Venti pulls them onto the bed and tucks Xiao’s head into his neck, the other taking steadying breaths that do not steady him at all.

“There was rain yesterday,” Xiao begins after a moment, his voice muffled, “and I thought I was fine. It’s rained so many times since then.” He looks up at him, eyes watery, and Venti has to resist the urge to pull him in closer and never let him go.

Instead, he strokes his cheek, trying to comfort him. “Xiao,” he whispers, catching his tears with his thumb.

“I thought I was fine,” Xiao insists. “And then grief hit me all at once while I was eating lunch of all things.” His expression is pained as he closes his eyes, eyebrows furrowing. “I miss her.”

Tentatively, he cards his fingers through Xiao’s hair, starting slowly to allow the other a moment to process the sensation. His heart melts when Xiao leans into his touch. “I wanted so much to comfort you that night, you know? This time, I’m here for you Xiao.” He presses a kiss to the top of Xiao’s head and the tension in Xiao’s shoulders releases ever so slightly. “Tell me more about her.”

With a shaky sigh, Xiao does.

 

-- 9 --

 

“Someone’s trying to restore the abandoned funeral parlor in the village,” Xiao mentions offhandedly as he braids Venti’s hair.

“Oh, the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor? I remember seeing that once.” Venti nods and leans forward to allow Xiao more leverage.

“Right that- wait, how did you know that? I haven’t talked about it before,” Xiao says, confused.

“I,” Venti pauses, humming to himself, “I don’t actually know.”

A long-forgotten memory comes back to him:

 

Boats docked, people lively, sun bright overhead. He is walking arm-in-arm with a fellow wind spirit, passing a funeral parlor with a large sign about a discount as they make their way into the bustling market ahead. He giggles to his companion.

“We fit right in! The humans have no idea,” he whispers to them.

“Yeah but we have to return soon or they’ll notice,” they hiss back. They wave at a granny looking at them curiously from a stall. “Hurry up!”

“Alright, alright. I just wanted to get this flute.” He drags them to the stall the granny is at. “We don’t have to stay in our human forms to make beautiful noises from this thing. Isn’t that neat?” 

“Then they’ll definitely notice we’ve been gone,” they groan. “How many times do we have to be told to stay away from the coast?” 

He rolls his eyes. “But they’ll surely forgive us when we return with some entertainment, right?”

They sigh, defeated. “Fine, lead the way.”

 

“Oh.” 

“Oh?” Xiao asks, resuming his braiding.

“I’ve been to the village before. Not as the wind, but as a human.” He gestures at himself, “I remember passing by the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor on the way to a market. We bought a flute.”

“The summer market maybe?” Xiao offers.

“Yeah, I think so.” Venti sighs. “It’d be nice to go again.”

“I’ll bring you there,” Xiao blurts out, his face reddening. “One day, when you can exist outside of these dreams.”

He nods happily to hide how his eyes fill with tears. “I’ll hold you to it.”

 

-- 11 --

 

“I hate Childe,” Xiao grumbles as soon as they’re settled into bed.

“The sponsor? The one that may like your father too much?”

“The same one.”

Venti huffs and begins massaging Xiao’s scalp. “Surely he can’t be that bad.” 

“He’s disgusting. The way he ogles papa when he thinks no one’s looking.” Xiao fakes a gag and leans into his touch. “If he wasn’t so rich I’d be more willing to try to get rid of him.”

“Does your father like him though?”

At that, Xiao is silent.

“Gods, he does, doesn’t he?” Venti laughs. “You couldn’t get rid of him even if you tried because your father wouldn’t want that.”

Without another word Xiao buries himself into Venti’s chest. “Please don’t remind me,” his muffled voice says. 

“As long as he’s happy, there’s not much we can do about it hm?” 

Xiao hums and leads Venti’s hands back into his hair. “Unfortunately.”

“I’ll make sure to tell him off if I see him,” Venti jokes and begins massaging his head once more.

He hopes Xiao can’t feel how fast his heart is beating when the other agrees by nuzzling further into his chest. 

 


 

“Venti, I’m here,” Xiao says softly, pulling him out of his thoughts. 

A gentle breeze beckons him closer.

“I missed you."

He tries not to kick up the wind too much, but he agrees.

Giving him a fond smile, Xiao lays down in front of him. "Tell me about it when we see each other soon. Good night, Venti."

 


 

Worries of the future blur his thoughts and make it difficult for him to speak properly, his speech jumbling up every time he tries to say anything. Frustrated, he burrows into Xiao's chest and pouts to himself.

With an amused huff, Xiao lets him in. “Something on your mind?”

“The future,” he answers honestly.

Xiao gives him a thoughtful hum and begins to rub soothing circles on his back. “If it is any solace, I worry all the time about the future. It was so much simpler as a child, when the only thing I had to think about was what we’d eat for lunch the next day or what we’d talk to you about.”

“Hey! I only let the most-prepared people talk to me. I hope you haven’t been slacking.” Venti puffs his cheeks out in mock-offense.

Rolling his eyes, Xiao pokes one of his cheeks until it deflates. “But now I worry about so much more than that. The forge, papa’s trips, Ganyu’s new internship with our cousin Ningguang,” he pauses to give a pointed look at Venti, “you.”

He flushes under the attention. “Me?”

“Would someone who didn’t care about you sleep on a cliff one month a night?” Xiao gives his forehead a light flick.

“I guess not.” He laughs to himself. “Don’t worry about me Xiao. I know you still will, but I’m sure we’ll figure things out. I have to believe that or else I’ll go insane on that cliff.”

“Not if I can help it,” Xiao says with such conviction that Venti's heart twists with emotion. “We’ll find you a way out of this. Together.”

Emotions overwhelming him, he can only return to burrowing into Xiao’s neck. “Thank you Xiao,” he whispers tearfully, ignoring the sudden foreboding feeling growing within him.

 


 

He is not expecting to wake up from his dream-induced sleep to an unfamiliar face.

The red-haired man kneeling in front of him wears a serious expression, only broken when he perks up at what he thinks is his awakening. “Hello bird statue. I’m glad we can formally meet.”

Formally meet? The wind swirls confuse-

“I can hear you totally fine. You don’t need to use the wind on me,” the red-haired man says. “Let me explain. You can call me ‘Childe’ by the way. I am Zhongli’s sponsor.”

Oh, that sponsor.

“Yeah, that one. You know, Zhongli talks about you frequently, as do Xiao and Ganyu. You have quite the amount of power left for someone who got swept away in a storm caused by the God of Storms.”

Storm? God? 

...

Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds. 

Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds.

Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds-

“Hey! Slow down. Don’t think too hard. Just try to remember without pushing yourself,” Childe soothes, patting his head.

Remember? Yes, he does remember. He is in his elemental form and he’s trying to escape the quickly approaching storm. His friends are panicking. They had stayed out too late at the coast and they needed to return to the forest or else-

The storm is here. 

The wind screams.

He screams. He tries to protect himself but it’s not enough. It’s not enough. Hard ground meets him. He tilts his head up, spreading his wings to leave, but they no longer move.

He cannot move-

“Shh, it’s okay. Breathe, or I guess mentally breathe,” Childe says, pulling him back to the present. The gales around them slowly calm down as Childe continues to stroke his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was that bad.”

At least he remembers now.

“At least you remember now,” Childe agrees. “Which is a good thing, because a storm like that is about to happen again.”

No. How do we stop it?

“We can’t.”

What??

“Look, it’s not a thing that can be stopped.” Childe sighs defeatedly. “The God of Storms doesn’t purposely send these storms out. It’s just a force of nature, you know? The cycle of nature is constant and unyielding, and it has decided to send a storm out every fifteen years or so, like clockwork.” 

But they must be able to do something about it, right?

“Right, we can protect anything in its wake. I’m here to ask if you can help me keep this village and its surrounding areas safe.”

How can you do that?

“I’ve been digging around in too many libraries to count, but I’ve finally found some texts containing a protection spell that can last as long as it’s being maintained.” He pulls out what looked to be an ancient tome. “I think this is what the village used to have over it until it deteriorated, maybe because the people forgot about it after so many years of not being affected by the storms.”

But how does-

“Oh, right, I was in the middle of explaining that wasn’t I?” Childe looks around, nodding to himself when the coast is clear. Closing his eyes, his body turns translucent and watery as drops of water flit around him. “I’m the water spirit responsible for the other two weeks in our schedule.”

Oh! Why didn’t you come find me sooner?

“I wanted to but I didn’t want to stress you out without having an answer for the storm first.” 

That’s fair.

“I also maybe had some selfish intentions with a certain merchant…” he trails off, expression growing fond.

That’s gross.

“Right, right.” Childe waves his hand, clearing his thoughts. “Anyway, this protection spell will require both of us to be dormant from now until the storm, which is coming in the next few months. The spell is most potent when you’ve built up power for at least a year, but we clearly don’t have time on our side for this.” Childe chuckles humorlessly, rubbing a hand down his face. “We’ll be exhausted beyond belief, but it’ll be worth it.”

Then how will Zhongli be safe…?

“Zhongli is a good man. If I ask him to watch over me while I am asleep, he’ll do it.” Childe sighs worriedly. “This also means both of us can’t, well, interact with the people we’re trying to protect for the next few months.”

That’s awful!

“It is, isn’t it? You have one last dream scheduled though, don’t you? Make it count.” Childe stands up, reverting into his human form and giving him a grin. “I’ll see you on the other side then, wind spirit. Rest well. I’ll handle the last few trips before I sleep, but you should get to slumbering as soon as you can.”

Rest well too, Childe.

 


 

This is the last visit before the storm and yet he’s spent most of the dream silent, his voice failing him every time he musters up the courage to speak about it.

Of course Xiao notices something wrong the moment they enter the dream. He gets them into bed and props Venti’s head against his shoulder, running gentle fingers through his hair, staying just as quiet to give him the chance to talk.

Xiao is too good to him. How can he not tell him what’s going to happen?

“There is a storm coming, Xiao,” he finally murmurs into Xiao’s shoulder. The fingers in his hair stop.

“You mean like the one that,” Xiao hesitates, “the one that took mama?”

Fear runs through him as he nods, nudging his head into the fingers to prompt them to continue. They begin stroking, but slower than before.

“What will happen?”

He longs to lie and tell Xiao that nothing bad will happen, but he knows their time is short. “I will protect the village with Childe. We’ve figured out an ancient protection spell that should be maintainable if we both work together.”

“Childe? What?”

“Oh, he happens to be a water spirit. Don’t tell him I told you that though,” he says quickly. “But he has also been helping me take care of your father’s ship while I recover from these dreams.”

Xiao huffs in disbelief. “He’s not as bad as I thought.”

Smiling fondly to himself, he presses a gentle kiss to Xiao’s shoulder. “He isn’t.”

The fingers stop again. Xiao pulls back, tilting his face up by the chin, searching. “What will happen to you then?”

“I don’t know,” he admits quietly. He wants to bury himself into Xiao’s chest, never leave, and ignore all of this, but he can’t. “I’ll be drained beyond belief. Too tired to exist for at least a few weeks, maybe months.”

“Can I help?”

“The village needs to be prepared. Our spell won’t be at its full power, so we need everyone to be ready to hunker down and stow away anything that could be easily destroyed,” he rattles off, remembering what Childe had relayed to him before he entered this dream. 

“We can do that. I’ll let papa and Ganyu know so they can help out too.” Xiao’s eyes blaze with determination, before his gaze softens and he bumps their foreheads together. “But you still haven’t answered my question. What about you? How can I help you?” he asks quietly.

He furrows his eyebrows. “Just,” he eventually sighs and closes his eyes, avoiding the strong gaze boring into him, “hold me for a while longer, please?”

Xiao obliges, pulling him close, so close that Venti can feel how fast his heart is beating. His breathing is shallow, almost panicked.

Cupping Xiao’s face with his hand, he tries to put on his best reassuring smile. “Don’t be scared Xiao. Everything will be alright.” He wipes away a stray tear, gut wrenching at the thought of being the cause of Xiao’s tears again.

“Come back to me,” Xiao whispers, leaning into his hand. “Don’t leave me behind.”

“I would never even dream of it,” he says with conviction.

He doesn’t ever want to leave Xiao.

So he won’t. Not if he can do everything in his power to make sure they succeed. “I have to preserve my energy until the storm to make sure the protection spell will be as strong as possible.”

Understanding dawns on Xiao’s face, his lips pulling into a tight, worried line. “This is our last dream for a while, isn’t it?”

Venti hums.

“Then we should wake up now, shouldn’t we? Or you should at least be in your bird form,” Xiao points out, voice barely above a quiet breath, as if trying to prevent those words from being spoken into existence.

He knows they should stop, but for once, he wants to be selfish before he commits the biggest selfless act of his life. So he simply shakes his head and presses closer to Xiao, greedily memorizing every sensation to prepare him for the cold, lonely months without the warmth of his embrace.

Chapter Text

Everything is still when he awakens from his deep slumber to Childe gently patting his head. It is early enough in the morning that the sun has yet to peek its rays over the horizon.

“Xiao left you a present I see,” Childe notes, holding the glaze lily pendant around his neck up so he can see it. 

His stone heart skips a beat - Xiao is too good to him.

“We can both be sappy at our loved ones after we deal with this storm,” Childe chides without malice as he activates the protection spell. His expression turns serious. “It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we focus our energies evenly around the area we want to protect. Are you ready?”

Gales of determination answer his call.

“Then let us begin.”

Energy flows out of them and into the sky, a barrier slowly taking shape and enveloping the coast, the village, and some of the forest deeper inland. It’s not painful at first, feeling all his precious energy leaving him at such a quick rate. Childe looks like he’s handling himself fine, so perhaps-

AH!

Childe yells in front of him, falling to his knees. “I,” he gasps in pain, “I don’t know why I didn’t expect that to happen,” he manages through gritted teeth.

His mind burns with pain and he has to use all his mental will not to scream with the wind and lash out. The glaze lily pendant hangs heavy around his neck. He tries not to think of anything other than going back to strong arms around him, gentle fingers in his hair, the warmth of his beloved. Beloved? Yes, that’s what Xiao is to him, isn’t it? 

He really, really wants to see Xiao again. 

Like a mantra, he chants to himself quietly so that Childe doesn’t hear, his consciousness slipping away the more they continue pouring their souls into the spell. At least it’s working, he thinks, the barrier’s energy crackling around them and its borders thickening ever so slightly with each passing second.

“Looks like it’s working,” Childe confirms, crawling slowly towards him. “The storm hasn’t arrived yet, but we’ll need to brace ourselves for when it hits.” He reaches him and leans back with his back. “Do you mind if I just sit here while we wait?”

Not at all.

Their energies mix with more resistance than him and Xiao, but he doesn’t mind. Having the friendly presence nearby will help their recovery before the storm, the impending doom somehow lulling him into a shallow slumber.

Then the pain hits without warning and they’re both rudely awakened by the storm, the agony being indescribably worse than what they’d felt while feeding the barrier. The energy they’d put into the barrier reaches back at them, tendrils wrapping the already-fragile remainder of their souls to bear its torment at them.

Childe is writhing in front of him, taking physical damage as his body flickers between his human and elemental form.

Revert to your elemental form and hold onto me, Childe!

“Will do,” Childe grits out, his form dissipating into water droplets and wrapping around his stone body. “Guess being made of stone has its advantages.”

Not enough for him to want to stay like this.

A choked laugh comes from the water droplets. “I bet.”

Around them, the ocean churns and the winds scream in discordant harmony, assaulting all his available senses for what feels like an eternity. His mind cannot process anything else other than the storm raging around them, all of its destruction and anger and pain and destruction and anger and pain and destruction and anger and pain and-

Flashes of a storm and buffeting winds, beating down on him like he is nothing more than a fly to a giant. 

He crashes, his body cannot move, his cries are lost.

He is not ENOUGH.

But you don’t have to be. I’m here. We’re all here. Come back to me, Venti, please.

…? 

The warmth around his neck burns against everything, more radiant than the storm. Of course, how could he forget something so important, so precious? 

He holds and holds and holds onto the warmth and never lets it go. He doesn’t let go when finally, the pain slowly but surely lessens. He doesn’t let go when the cacophony recedes far, far away from them, until all that’s left is the ringing in his head.

He doesn’t let go when Childe releases him, collapsing into a puddle just as the world fades around them into nothing.

 


 

When he awakens, they are no longer on the cliff and he is lying on his back.

He thinks he’s lying down in some sort of field - a wobbly field at that, seemingly trying to rock him to sleep. Around him there is only an endless void through which he cannot see anything, not even himself.

Should he try to find Childe? “Childe?” He doesn’t recognize his voice, distorted from exertion.

“Hm?” Childe hums from beside him. Ah, so he’s here.

“I’m… so tired.”

“Me too, wind spirit. Me too.”

His eyes feel like they’re drooping shut. “Does that mean we did it?”

“I think it does,” Childe replies drowsily.

Then they can afford a few minutes of sleep…  

Don’t sleep, my dear spirits! a quiet voice urges. Well, if the voice insists, then he’ll try to stay awake for longer.

“You can call me Venti by the way,” he says after a while. “I think we count as friends now.”

Childe chuckles beside him. “You think so? Then you can call me Ajax.” 

He can hear Childe, no, Ajax’s breaths evening and remembers the voice. “Don’t sleep, Childe. Ajax.”

“Huh? Why not?” Ajax asks, words slurring together.

“Because a nice voice asked us not to.” 

You will not be able to return to your loved ones if you sleep, dear spirits! the voice insists again.

“Oh. I heard it this time.”

He hums tiredly to himself. “Sleep is nice. But I love Xiao more than sleep, I suppose.”

Yes. Use your love to stay awake for just a little while longer, the voice says. Fight to return back to the world of the living!

“But fight for how much longer? I’m done fighting.” Ajax sighs forlornly. “I’ve been fighting too much.”

“Can you fight just one last time for Zhongli?” He speaks with as much urgency as he can muster, but he’s exhausted.

A different sigh from Ajax, fond. “I think I can do that. I miss seeing him.”

Push with all your might, dear spirits, the voice tells them , and do not stop pushing until you’re fully awake!

“Push with me, Ajax?” He reaches a hand out to his side. A hand grabs his.

“The pleasure is mine, Venti.”

The darkness of the void transforms into a bright light… 

 


 

The fingers stroking his hair stop as soon as he begins to wake up.

“Don’t stop,” he whines softly. A huff comes from above him, but the fingers continue. He makes a contented noise, allowing his eyes to stay closed for a little while longer.

Wait, wake up?

His eyes fly open as he shoots upright in the bed, pulling a startled noise from the person stroking his hair. When he turns, Xiao looks at him with concern.

“Venti?”

“Is this a dream?” Venti rasps, leaning over to poke Xiao’s shoulder. “This feels real. But the dreams felt real? Where am I?”

“In my room. And yes, this is real.” 

The sunlight hits him at just the right angle and he squints, realizing it wasn’t ever day in their dreams. That had to confirm it, right? “How?” 

“I don’t know. You appeared at our doorstep right after the storm, unconscious and,” Xiao’s face turns an interesting shade of red, “completely naked save for the pendant I gave you. You’ve been asleep for two weeks now.”

He looks down at himself, clothing unfamiliar but the energy attached to it one that’s grown accustomed to and pendant still holding on despite all its been through. He beams at Xiao. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I can do.” Xiao stands up, seeming to realize something. “Would you like something to eat?” He tilts his head, looking unsure of himself. “Do you even eat?”

“I do, I think.” Venti pokes his stomach experimentally. “Might as well try, right?”

Half a meal later, Xiao clears away the dishes and starts talking to Venti about what’s been happening in the village since the storm while he listens along, content to hear the sound of Xiao’s voice again. He doesn’t even realize he’s been still until Xiao clears his throat pointedly.

“Venti?” Xiao waves a hand in front of him. 

“Xiao?” He answers easily without moving.

“You haven’t moved in a while,” Xiao says, tone suggesting that that should mean something to him.

“Ah! Force of habit.” He shakes his head a little, entertaining himself with the sensation of his hair moving. “Is this better?”

Xiao gives him a fond smile. “Whatever you like. I was just making sure you were feeling well.”

“You’d think after all those dreams, I’d be a little better at being human,” Venti says, sighing unhappily.

“You’ve been trapped as a statue for years. It’ll take time to get accustomed to moving again.”

“I know.” He moves his arms up and down, figuring it won’t hurt to start practicing now. “Until then, you’re free to let me know if I’m being unnerving.” A yawn escapes him and he decides to slide back down onto the bed, his head heavy. How is he still so tired?

“I’ll be happy to be your movement reminder,” Xiao jokes, patting him on the head. “Take a nap. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

A mild sense of panic bubbles up within him. What if this is all just a dream? “Can you sleep with me?” he asks without thinking.

Despite however many times they’ve laid next to each other, Xiao still manages to look scandalized at the question, making a noise that Venti hasn’t heard him make before.

“I’m afraid,” he admits, at which Xiao’s expression goes impossibly soft, “afraid that this is all just a dream and I’ll be on that cliff when I wake up again.”

“I promise you this isn’t a dream,” Xiao says as slides under the covers with him. “But I’ll stay with you, however long you need.”

Waking up next to Xiao the next morning, the sunlight framing his face and the very real arms around him, he’s inclined to believe this is real after all.

 


 

It takes another week before he can stay awake for an extended period of time and comfortably stand up without having to lean against Xiao, at which point they decide he can go out and walk around the village.

“It’ll be good to stretch my legs after, well, several years.”

Venti feels a little bad about Xiao’s mildly horrified expression, the latter already reaching over to support him. “I can carry you-”

“As much as I’d love that, I need to start practicing. What happens if you’re not there to carry me, hm?” 

“I could carry you as well, bird- Venti,” Ganyu quips from the doorway.

“Ganyu!” Venti makes a poor attempt at getting up out of bed but Ganyu is there to catch him before he can fall.

“Xiao, you’re supposed to make sure he doesn’t exert himself,” she tuts as she moves to pat his head. When she realizes what she’s done, she quickly pulls back. “I’m sorry!”

Venti leans his head forward and nudges her hand. “I don’t mind.”

Ganyu giggles and pats his head, turning to Xiao. “Now I understand why you always look so lov-”

Xiao coughs.

“Look so… happy? Whenever you return from your cliff sleepovers.” She shifts her gaze back to Venti. “You’re lovely, Venti.”

“Please, not as lovely as you are. Look how you’ve grown.” He sighs wistfully. “I’m sorry I’ve been asleep while you’ve come to check up on me.

“I’m happy you’re awake now,” Ganyu says with a relieved smile. “But before we head out, I just need to talk through how...”

Venti tunes out the siblings, happily letting their idle chatter fill the air as he stares out the open window, the wind beckoning him to join and dance. 

Accepting the invitation, he closes his eyes and flies with the gales high up into the sky, around the house and through the village and on and on and on and into the forest where there is-

There is? There is nothing here. Nothing left, where is everyone?

Up, the air demands. Up!

So up and up and up and up and up and up until he’s falling and grasping at the air with his arms and the wind cries out for their lost spirit, desperately calling his name as he tries to scream back but he can’t-

“Venti!” Xiao shakes him gently, cupping his face. “Hey. You’re here with us. You’re alright.”

His body tremors, his eyes cannot open and he’s still falling, further and further down until he’ll meet the hard ground and his end and suddenly Xiao is in his space and he’s holding onto Xiao’s something but he doesn’t know what it is and he doesn’t care.

“Venti?” Xiao tries again.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps out, gripping tighter on whatever part of Xiao he is holding. A flight such as that one should have been easy had he been at his full power, an uneasy pit forming in his gut as he realizes that something’s horribly wrong. What is wrong with his energy? Why is the forest empty?

“What do you need?” Xiao runs fingers in his hair. He times his breaths with the length of Xiao’s strokes.

“The forest,” he says, hardly above an out-of-breath whisper, “I need to return to the forest and find out what happened to the other wind spirits.”

“Alright. Ganyu, do you want to come along?”

With a vigorous nod, she offers a hand to Venti and helps him out of bed. “More than anything. It’s only fair we help you when you’ve helped us.”

“There is no need for debts between us,” Venti manages to say with a small smile, gladly allowing Xiao to support him and sinking closer to his side. “I’ll show you how to get there.” 

The uneasy pit grows heavier and heavier until they are at the forest edge and he can feel everything and nothing in the air. The wind does not dance, does not give him a chance to breathe.

It is suffocating.

“There’s,” he gasps, “there’s nothing here. Where did they all go?”

“They left,” Childe says, appearing in front of them with Zhongli in tow. “They couldn’t bear what happened after the storm, so they’ve moved.”

“Bird statue. No, Venti, they left this here for any remaining wind spirits that may have survived,” Zhongli says gently, holding out a ball of green light. “There is a home waiting for you if you wish to return them.”

Venti readily accepts it with an outstretched palm. To any wayward spirits that survived: We cannot bear the grief of losing so many of our kind. If you have found this, you may follow this home and we will welcome you again with open hearts. Be safe.

Home. He hasn’t been home in so long. Yet his heart yearns not for the company of the other spirits, but for the people surrounding him now, people he’s come to call his friends. The thought of never seeing Childe, Ganyu, Zhongli, Xiao ever again makes him shudder.  “I don’t know,” he says finally, heaving a sigh. “I couldn’t even return now if I tried - I’m too weak.”

“You do not have to decide now. You are welcome to stay with us until you have recovered sufficiently,” Zhongli offers, nodding at Xiao and Ganyu. “If you tire of doing nothing, I am sure your help will be appreciated around the forge.”

“Thank you,” Venti says, trying to keep the energy in his voice. “There’s something wrong with me, but I think it has to do with my separation from the other wind spirits. It’s far easier to recover near a similar energy, but I’ll make do.”

“I don’t think it helps that you’ve been trapped in your elemental form for so long. It seems like your body’s essentially rejecting that form in favor of your human form.” Childe gives him a concerned once-over. “Have you tried returning to your elemental form recently?”

“Not at all.” Trepidation creeps into him as he concentrates and commands his body to revert to its elemental form.

Nothing happens.

He tries again.

Nothing happens. 

Nothing happens.

He is not going to cry right here. He will not. “Why?”

A guilty look flickers on Childe’s face, already mid-apology, but Venti holds his hand up to stop him. “It’s not your fault. I offered to help and I regret none of it.”

“I know, and I’m sorry anyway. The protection spell might’ve pushed you over the edge. You should still have command of the winds but I don’t think you’ll be able to control as much as you used to.”

“So no more ship wrangling?”

“Unfortunately not. If it’s any solace though,” Childe gently pats him on the head, “I’m finding it quite difficult to return to my elemental form as well, for different reasons, but I think that storm took quite a toll on us. The fact that you even returned at all surprised me, if I’m being honest.”

He can barely keep his voice from shaking. “And why’s that?” 

“Your soul was hanging on by a thread even if you were able to recover your energy like nothing had happened. You were slipping away.”

“But he’s here now and that’s all that matters,” Xiao cuts in, pulling Venti to his side. “Will he be fine?”

Childe nods. “Without the other spirits it’ll be difficult but he’ll manage. You can help by just being with him.”

“Then we’ll be with him,” Ganyu says. “Let’s get you home and put some lunch in you. I’m sure you’re starving.”

Gods, he’s going to cry, isn’t he? He tries to hide into Xiao’s shoulder, mumbling a quick “thank you” as his thoughts race. 

What is he going to do now?

 


 

A few days later, he still doesn’t know what he should be doing, but knows it’s not helping that with Xiao and Ganyu busy at the forge, he doesn’t have much else to do other than sleep or memorize every detail of Xiao’s room for the nth time.

Far too similar to how it was on the cliff.

Restlessness brews within him as he tries to keep his mind off of how useless he feels. Today is a good day at least - he can stand for more than a few seconds without getting dizzy from fatigue. Might as well take advantage of his temporary mobility. He takes careful steps out of Xiao’s room and towards the forge that juts out of their quaint home, accessible by a metal door, the sounds of metal upon metal growing louder as he approaches it.

All he sees when he pokes his head through the door is the strong dips of Xiao’s back, years of smithing defining his muscles through his shirt. He ducks his head to hide a blush, only to catch Ganyu’s quiet giggle from his side.

“Bored?” she asks with an amused lilt in her voice

He looks at her, surrounded by many newly-forged goods that need to be polished and cleaned, and nods.

“If you’d like, I can teach you how to polish these up.” She sweeps her hand around at all the things around her. “I could definitely use the help.”

Compared to Ganyu’s years of experience, he’s substantially slower at lessening the piles around them for the first few weeks, but he soon reaches a pace that he finds acceptable. It’s not that the act of polishing itself is difficult; it’s learning how to efficiently use his energy to finish as many as possible. But when all is said and done, there is catharsis in watching his efforts come into fruition whenever he finishes the last piece in a pile.

For the first time in a few weeks, he doesn’t feel like a burden.

If Xiao notices his pleased smile, he doesn’t say, instead brushing his hand against his and pulling him out of his thoughts. “At this rate, we’ll have to teach you to forge too,” Xiao teases, placing a cleaned nail into the pile. Ganyu snorts at the forge, her steady rhythm faulting for a second.

“Maybe you’ll just take over and put Xiao and Ganyu out of their jobs,” Ajax jokes from the doorway.

He’s almost tempted to throw his rag at the water spirit but stops himself. “Ajax! What brings you here?” 

“Venti, my lover,” Xiao glares at him, “my friend lives here and I like to visit sometimes. Is that so bad?”

“Depends on if you’re distracting said ‘friend’ from their job.” Venti pokes his tongue out.

“Hey, it wasn’t me who convinced him to take the day off. Technically.” Ajax beckons him to follow. “We need to figure out the barrier situation if you have a quick moment.”

Giving Xiao a reassuring look, he stands and walks with Ajax. “Something wrong with it?”

“Not currently. It protected the village well this time, but we’ll need to start feeding it energy early and often if we want to make sure it’s good for the next storm without us going through all of that again.”

“I thought you said it needed a year’s worth?” The path they’re taking begins winding up a cliff. Are they…?

Ajax nods. “Yes, but spread out over the course of several years so we don’t exhaust ourselves. The spell is meant to be long term and not for burning through everything all at once. If we’re smart about it, we can feed the barrier without a noticeable dip in our energies.”

At the top of the cliff, the familiar sight makes his eyes water. “I haven’t been back here since-”

“We can leave if you want. This doesn’t have to be done today.” Ajax pats his shoulder and gives it a squeeze.

“If what you say is true, we should get started today.” Kneeling and touching the spot where he used to be, he tilts his head and gives Ajax an apologetic smile. “But if we could make it quick today…?”

“Definitely. We can always make up for it another day if you’re prepared to sleep for the rest of it.” Ajax chuckles and holds out his hand, water pooling at his fingertips. “You ready?”

Hands outstretched so his palms face the sky, he nods and calls the winds.

The next thing he knows, he’s waking up next to a worried-looking Xiao running a shaky hand through his hair.

“If you furrow your eyebrows any harder, they might fall off,” Venti mumbles, poking his finger between Xiao’s eyebrows and swirling around as if to unwind them.

Xiao gently bats his hand away and uses his other to tap a finger indignantly on his scalp. “Then you should stop draining yourself so much and collapsing.”

“I suppose this means I’m still pretty weak.” Venti huffs, giving Xiao an apologetic smile. He seems to be giving many of those out lately. “You’re stuck with me for a little while longer.”

“Stay as long as you need,” Xiao says, carding his fingers through his hair again. “We really appreciate your help at the forge. But even if you couldn’t help us in that way, you’d still be welcome to stay as long as you’d like.”

With a deep breath, Venti closes his eyes and moves his head along with Xiao’s hand movements, nuzzling deeper into his touch. “I promise I won’t collapse anymore after barrier duty,” he promises, “but I have to do it every day.”

“I know. Do you want me to start coming with you? So that we can share our energy?” 

He lazily opens his eyes and they twinkle with amusement. “It’ll just be like those daily visits you used to do.” He giggles. “Except this time instead of you visiting me, we’ll both be visiting the cliff.” 

“I think I much prefer it that way though,” Xiao admits, running a gentle finger down his cheek. “Being able to really talk to you is quite nice.”

He hopes Xiao can’t feel how hot his face is. “I agree.”

 


 

Every morning, Venti and Xiao meet Ajax on the cliff and feed the barrier a small amount of their energy. And every time when they’re finished, the winds grow more and more insistent, begging him to return home.

Home. Often his heart sinks at the thought of seeking out his fellow spirits and returning home. He longs to know what happened that stormy day, to see the fellow spirits he hasn’t seen in years. But if he returns, will they still accept him? Flightless and powerless? Human?

Even if the spirits did welcome him back, to leave the warmth of polishing by the blazing forge, the laughter of the family that’s taken him in, the cozy safety of being in Xiao’s arms after a long day, makes his heart sink further. 

How can he possibly go now that he’s so attached to them? Yet if he stays, he risks being an unnecessary burden should something happen to him, vulnerable in his human form and unable to fully control the winds as he once did. What value did he have to them? He can’t polish as well as Ganyu, can’t forge as well as Xiao - he will need years to truly feel useful in any capacity.

In his musings, he barely notices both the lack of progress he’s made on the pile of forks and the lack of gentle admonishment from Ganyu. Turning to his side, his apology dies in his throat when he realizes Ganyu is no longer sitting next to him, her polishing rag replacing her on her chair. Xiao had gone to bed an hour ago, a particularly large order tiring him out faster than usual.

With a slight amount of alarm, he leaves the forge and goes to Ganyu’s room, only to find the door open and her not inside it. He checks Xiao’s room, Xiao already asleep, and raises an eyebrow, trying to think of where she can be. Where would he go if he needed to think?

Well, there is one place. 

He leaves a note for Xiao in case he wakes up. Grabbing a jacket, he heads to the cliff, plucking the wind to pick up a familiar energy signature at the top. A head of blue hair confirms his suspicions as he walks up behind her loudly so she isn’t startled.

“I can’t catch you if you fall.” Venti sits next to Ganyu and dangles his legs over the edge. “Not anymore at least.”

Ganyu laugh is strained. “I don’t plan on falling. Just up here to think.”

“Anything I can help with?” He coaxes the breeze into bringing the fresh scent of the sea towards them, taking a deep breath and sighing contently. Only the sounds of the rolling waves fills the comfortable silence between them, a small part of him missing the time spent on the cliff for halcyon moments like this. The present catches up to him again when Ganyu makes a contemplative noise next to him.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” she starts, scooting backwards to pull her legs up to her chest. Her head falls into the space between her knees. “I want to go to the mainland and continue my work with Ningguang in person.”

“But you’re afraid to leave the forge alone for Xiao to handle, right?”

“Right. I know papa and Xiao will tell me to go, but who will take over? The forge isn’t a one-man job.”

“You say this like I can’t take over your job,” Venti teases.

Ganyu lifts her head, guilt on her face. “Oh! No, I didn’t mean it like that. I just don’t want you to feel obligated to stay,” she says. She opens her mouth and closes it again, holding back a question.

“Go ahead,” Venti urges.

“Are you staying?” she asks shyly. “I’ll miss you if you return home. But I’m not trying to guilt you into staying!”

He’s poised to say ‘I don’t know,’ but the words die on his lips when he realizes that yes, he does know, but he’s afraid to admit it. Patting her head in understanding, he forces out a wet chuckle. “I want to stay, but I can’t knowing that I’m being a burden-”

“You aren’t a burden at all,” Ganyu interrupts, eyes fierce.

“But I can’t keep up with you or Xiao in the forge and I don’t have any other skills,” Venti says, sighing with melancholy. “What else do I have?”

“Your worth isn’t determined by what you can do,” Ganyu insists. “And even if you can’t keep up with us, you can practice - we don’t need you to be at our level right now. We’re just happy you’re here with us.” She smiles to herself. “Xiao would definitely say so too, I know it.”

His worries don’t dissipate completely, but the relief that washes over him frees him, enough that he accidentally summons a delighted breeze. “Then by that token, this means you should go and pursue your dreams. Go work with Ningguang!” 

Ganyu lets out a melancholy sigh of her own. “I know you’re right, but it still scares me.”

Venti stands, holding his hand towards Ganyu. “Then let’s be scared together. The next chance we get, let’s tell your father our plans. I know he’ll be supportive, no matter what you choose.”

Taking his hand, Ganyu gives him a resolute smile and they head back together.

 


 

There is a strange tension in the air when they’re finished charging the barrier a few mornings later, Xiao and Zhongli having a silent conversation with their eyes while him and Ajax finish up.

“Venti,” Zhongli calls to him with a slight nod, “how are you feeling today?”

“Awake and not tired at all,” Venti answers proudly.

“That makes it a full week where you’ve felt fine. I think this means your power’s as recovered as it can be,” Ajax agrees. “This calls for a nice meal to celebrate!”

He allows himself to be swept along for the ride, noting how silent Xiao is throughout most of their meal, his thoughts clearly not with them. His questioning gaze is only met with a slight shake of his head. Later.

Later comes when they’ve finished at the forge for the night and Xiao is running his fingers through his recently-unbraided hair, detangling it for him.

“Venti,” Xiao says, almost like a question.

“Hm?” He is not quite awake, but he fights against his heavy eyelids, realizing Xiao is trying to explain what happened before.

“When you were missing after the storm, I came to visit the cliff every day hoping to find you, but you weren’t there. No bird statue, no pendant, like nothing had been there at all,” Xiao says quietly. 

“How long was I gone for?” 

“Four months and seventeen days.”

Xiao-” 

A finger is placed on his lips to shush him. “In those four months and seventeen days, no, even before that. After our last dream,” Xiao takes a shuddered breath, “I worried every day, not knowing when I’d next see you again, or even if I would ever see you again.” 

His mouth parts in surprise when Xiao cradles his face in his hands, giving him an intense but adoring gaze. “Because I wouldn’t be able to tell you how much I want to hold you.” He plants a kiss on his forehead. “How much I want to kiss you.” A kiss on his nose. “How much I want to love you until we’re nothing more than dust on the earth.” A kiss to the corner of his mouth. “Wherever you go, whether you return home or stay here, I will love you with every bit of my soul.”

His tears startle Xiao into pulling away but he pulls him right back. “Xiao. Xiao.” He cannot stop himself from speaking the name of his beloved over and over again. “My beloved Xiao,” he murmurs as he leans in to plant a chaste kiss against Xiao’s lips. “You needn’t tell me of your love for me to have felt it all this time. I can only hope that you can feel the same from me.”

“I did. But I couldn’t rest easy knowing that I never would have the chance to tell you,” Xiao whispers, stroking a thumb against his cheek. “I’m glad you’re here now so you can hear it yourself.”

“And I’ll be here for much longer.” Venti smiles. “I’m staying, Xiao. This,” he waves his hands around the room, “you are where I call home, where I want to return to when my spirit needs rest. There’s no place I’d rather be than by your side.”

Xiao starts to cry and he can do nothing more than cry along with him, happiness filling him to the brim. “I almost left, not because of anything you did, but because I was afraid you’d think me useless enough to want me gone. But Ganyu talked me out of leaving based on a false assumption.”

“You’re not useless at all,” Xiao insists, brushing his thumb against his cheek. “Why would you ever think that?”

The same anxieties push their way out into words. “I can’t forge or polish as well as you or Ganyu. And I can’t even control the winds as strongly as I did before.” He looks away, ashamed.

“The first two things are things you can learn slowly. I don’t need you to be perfect from the start.” Xiao gently tilts his face back so they’re facing each other again.. “And you don’t need to move oceans for me to love you. Just to have you here with me is enough. Though,” he gives one of his cheeks a teasing poke, “you have already moved oceans for me, but I don’t expect you to do that every time you want my attention.”

Venti sniffs. “I’ll just have to find other ways to show my affections for you then.”

“As long as you don’t collapse afterwards, I’ll eagerly await them.” Xiao shakes his head with a small smile. “Honestly, I thought you wouldn’t want to stay because you’ve grown tired of the forge. As you can tell, the daily routine can be monotonous.”

Like the cliff is left unsaid, but Venti understands. Letting out a thoughtful hum, he shifts so he’s on his back. “I don’t mind. But I think a break in monotony could be good.”

Xiao props himself up on his elbow and brushes aside his bangs, tracing the shape of his face with his finger. “What are you thinking?”

“Have you ever wanted to travel?” Venti wrinkles his nose, tickled by Xiao’s explorations.

“Yes, but with the forge and papa needing to sell every day...” Xiao trails off.

“Now things are different, aren’t they? Since your father is busy with Ajax, maybe he’d be more willing to open up a store here. I remember that he mentioned the village’s popularity increasing and his buyers being interested in going to a physical location.”

“He did.” Xiao nudges at his arm with his elbow so he can rest his head on Venti’s shoulder.

“What if we got your father to allow us to close the store some days so we could go around and sell the goods, like traveling merchants?”

“I think I understand.” Xiao’s hair tickles his chin as he nods. “This way papa can also take a well-deserved break while we get to mix things up.”

“Exactly! Let’s tell your father tomorrow then, about our new plan,” Venti tells Xiao, eyes twinkling with excitement. 

“We will.” Xiao gives his neck a kiss, huffing in amusement as it turns red. “But first, some sleep.”

“And some extra kisses?” Venti asks hopefully.

“And some extra kisses,” Xiao says, leaning up to plant more delicate kisses all over him.

The next day, when Zhongli has agreed to both Xiao and Ganyu’s proposals, he tells Xiao that he thinks the extra kisses gave them the good luck they needed for things to work out and Xiao only buries him in more in retaliation for his silliness.

 


 

In the blink of an eye, an entire year passes. So much life, joy, and change happens so fast that he can’t help but be overwhelmed every morning when he wakes up to a scene that he’s since memorized: a sleeping Xiao, hair mussed up, face relaxed, and chest rising and falling in even intervals. 

This morning finds him internally shaking with excitement as he slips out of bed and prepares breakfast, realizing that today is a year from when he’d woken up in Xiao’s bed after the storm. Do they do something special for this occasion? A part of him finds it morbid to celebrate such an event, but it is a joyous thing after all. He never thought he’d ever find happiness like this again, resigned to die on that cliff as a statue. 

But here he is, actually moving around and preparing breakfast for his beloved. By the time he’s setting aside a portion for Xiao, familiar arms snake around his waist, his cheek receiving a kiss from behind. “Store day?”

“Store day.” He tilts his head to the side until his lips just brush against Xiao’s. “Your father and Ajax are taking the afternoon shift, so we’d better get ready soon.”

“I’ll certainly be faster than you.” Xiao dodges the teasing swipe of his hand and catches it, giving the wriggling hand a kiss. “I’ll love you even if you don’t spend far too long on your braids.”

“They only take me five extra minutes,” he whines, sticking his tongue out, “but I’ll keep that in mind next time you pull on them-”

The rest of his sentence is smothered by a piece of bread that Xiao shoves into his mouth, but the red tips of Xiao’s ears tell him all he needs to know. He gives Xiao a cheeky grin as he finishes up and they head up to the cliff to feed the barrier, then return to the store to open it up for the day.

It takes the arrival of the mailman for him to notice that the morning had bled into the afternoon and lets out a laugh while the mailman hands him their letters. With an odd look, the mailman leaves with a wave as Venti finds two particular letters of note in the pile: one a pale gold with a light blue seal and the other a forest green, a breeze wrapping all around it. 

Excitedly, he runs up to Xiao, mid-conversation with Zhongli and Ajax. “Xiao, 

Zhongli, Ganyu sent something!" He hands him the golden letter. 

“Do you want to read it together?” Xiao asks, breaking the seal.

Waving the green letter around, he shakes his head. "Tell me about it later. I have this letter to read first."

He heads back to the forge and hunkers down on the floor, prepared to be incapacitaed either by tears or laughter. And that’s exactly how Xiao finds him when he comes back, rolling on the floor and clutching at his stomach in uncontrollable laughter. 

"Venti…?" 

“The spirits tried playing the flute we gave them last time and one of them blew the other straight into a tree,” he finally chokes out when he’s able to speak. A giggle escapes him and he rolls onto his back to look up at Xiao.

Xiao sits on the floor beside him, letting out an amused snort as he helps him to sit up. "Glad they’re doing well. It seems that Ganyu's doing well too, if the amount of excited cross-outs in the letter is anything to go by.”

“Ooh, let me see.”

Traded letters and another laughing fit later, Xiao persuades him to get off the floor so they can pack for the next day. 

“A travel day, remember?” Gently, Xiao gives his forehead a playful poke and a kiss.

“We haven’t forgotten to pack anything once,” Venti says with amusement, but allows Xiao to order him around for what they’ll need the next day.

Their mental lists consist of all the goods they plan on selling, some extra gifts for the spirits, and an extra reminder to buy the specialty apple jam they previously skipped out on if they see it again. 

“I can’t believe I let you convince me we didn’t need it.” Venti pouts over his pack, completely packed with space left for the aforementioned jam.

“Only because I didn’t want to be wasteful,” Xiao shrugs, “but you’ve proven that you won’t waste it so I’ll allow it this time.

Venti sniffs, only mildly offended. “I’ll leave some extra space for almond tofu of course.”

“A man after my own heart.” Xiao gives his cheek a kiss.

“I’d like to think I already have it.” Wrapping his arms around Xiao’s neck, he reciprocates with a cheek kiss of his own.

“You do.”

Venti hides himself in his neck, the tips of his ears burning against the coolness of Xiao’s cheek. “Xiao! You can’t say nice things like that without warning me.” 

“I’m warning you now,” Xiao says, turning his face so his lips are against his ear. “I love you,” he whispers.

Exploding from affection isn’t a way Venti thought he could die from, but he’s undoubtedly feeling like it’s possible now. “You’re, ugh,” gods help him, he can hardly think straight, “you’re incorrigible! You’re lucky I love you so much.” He pulls away with one final kiss to Xiao’s neck and holds his hands up to his face to try to cool them off. “I’m taking a shower and you’re not invited.” He scurries away to the bathroom, turning one last time to give Xiao a fond look. “I love you too.”

After he emerges from his shower, Xiao tells him that they’re fully packed and jumps into the shower himself, leaving Venti to lie in bed and wind down for the night.

He only notices something suspicious when Xiao leaves the bathroom and quietly pads away from their bedroom, bursting through the doorway with a beautiful slice of apple pie.

“I wasn’t sure if you wanted to do anything special for your ‘I’m not trapped as a statue anymore’ anniversary,” Xiao starts nervously.

“Oh, Xiao, you didn’t have to.” Venti jumps out of bed and takes a large bite of the slice. “This is delectable, my love.”

Taking a bite of his own, Xiao hums in agreement. They take turns feeding each other until the slice is no more, at which point they crawl back into bed and Xiao pulls him into his chest. The increased sugar intake must make both of them drowsy because they stay in that position, silent for quite a while. 

“You know, mama used to tell me there were two things we had to remember when we visited you,” Xiao eventually murmurs into his hair, his hand rubbing up and down his back in a familiar soothing motion.

“Oh? And what were those things?”

“One: pat you on the head. Two: you’ll grant our wish if we’re nice to you, sometimes.”

Venti laughs. “Well, she wasn’t wrong.”

“And they’re all technically still true now, I think,” Xiao quips. “I also had my own secret third thing: you’d talk back at us with the wind if we talked to you.” He bumps his chin against the top of his head. “But I’m glad you can talk with your mouth now. Your voice is music to my ears.”

“Hey, what did I say about saying nice things without warning?” 

“Sorry. Do you want me to try again?”

Huffing, he moves his head slightly up to displace Xiao’s chin. “I think you’re missing another important thing though.”

Xiao raises an eyebrow at him. “And what’s that?”

“Four: he’s deeply in love with Xiao.”

It takes a lot of willpower not to shake Xiao at the adorable shade of red he turns, silently congratulating himself for flustering him in revenge.

“I see why you ask me for warnings,” Xiao mumbles, closing his eyes in embarrassment. 

Venti giggles into the kiss he gives Xiao’s nose. “And I see why you don’t give them.”

They break into peals of laughter, unable to stop, until their breaths finally even as they tire from the physical strain of laughing and they drift off again, tangled with each other in a mess of limbs.

As his consciousness slips away, he reminisces on who he used to be, the carefree wind spirit that was trapped on that cliff, shouldering the weight of responsibility for the village, but doesn’t lament the loss of his past life. Especially not when the present held the forge, his fellow spirits, his beloved friends, Xiao

A bright future awaits them after all.