“Come here,” Venti says breathlessly. He flaps his hands at Xiao as he sits up. Once Xiao’s close enough to touch, Venti snatches his hand. It isn’t warm in his own; the leather of his gloves are far too thick for that — but when Venti squeezes, Xiao squeezes back. Venti traces the back of his hand with his thumb. Xiao shudders at the contact. It would have been imperceptible if Venti wasn’t searching for his every reaction.
“I’m gonna— I’m gonna breathe with you,” Venti says.
“Okay?” Xiao doesn’t understand why. Venti can’t bring himself to speak of it. Not yet. He just… he needs...
Venti closes his eyes. He follows the air in and out of Xiao’s chest, letting himself be carried along on the current. Xiao still doesn’t breathe deeply enough, like he’s afraid of how far his lungs can expand.
“Venti…” Xiao says softly. Venti can feel his voice all around him. He finds shelter in the reverberation. He’s alive. His death didn’t break the loop. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to matter.
“What happened?” Xiao asks. “Didn’t you convince those humans to leave?”
He says it like a simple statement. Like he had asked Venti if he remembered to get apples from a fruit vendor, or if he knew what song he wanted to play for a performance.
Venti doesn’t answer. He focuses on the swirl of Xiao’s breath. He pulls Xiao closer, relishing in the dip of the mattress as he sits at Venti’s side.
He feels— lonely. And scared. He hasn’t been so shaken apart by loss in centuries. He forgot just how badly it stings. Xiao is here, and he’s alive, but it isn’t enough. He could leave at any moment, leave Venti alone all over again. At what point is he breathing with Xiao, and at what point is he forcing air through flattened lungs?
“Don’t make me talk about it,” Venti says, when he finds his voice again. Xiao makes a soft noise of assent — he’s so sweet, just the sweetest thing, and then he was dead at Venti’s side — and Venti gets an idea.
It’s a terrible idea. He knows that. But it’s out of his mouth before he can check the impulse.
“Can you kiss me, Xiao?”
Xiao tenses at his side. Venti cracks an eye open, searching his expression for what he may see there. He had expected hope to blaze through, but all he sees is shock. Does he think this a dream, or perhaps a nightmare? Venti can’t tell.
“Please?” Venti whispers to him. He knows it’s selfish to ask. It’ll mean worlds more to Xiao than it will to him. But he wants comfort, and not only does he want a body close to his own, he wants this body close to his own. He wants Xiao all around him. He wants to be assured Xiao can’t leave.
Venti has never liked staying in one place. He’s never liked feeling anchored. Zhongli has fought with him over that very thing countless times.
But here, and now, he wants nothing more than for them to stay together.
“Why would you want to kiss me?” Xiao asks. He is cute, when he scrunches his nose in confusion like that. “I don’t… I don’t understand."
“Many reasons. You’re beautiful, I’m sad, and I want you closer.”
Xiao flushes a brilliant shade of red. His nose stays scrunched. “You do?”
“Please don’t make me ask again,” Venti says, a little desperately. Xiao searches his expression. Venti must look particularly desperate, because he gives in with a tiny nod.
Funny, how Xiao seems to know the motions. He shifts a little closer. Venti squeezes his hand again, hoping that he’ll take it as encouragement. Xiao leans in, his eyes half-lidded, then fully closed. His mouth parts slightly. Venti wonders if he has experience, maybe with a companion long gone, or if centuries of passing by humans taught him anything about how they love.
Whatever the answer, Venti meets him halfway. Xiao’s mouth is softer than it looks. He kisses gently, as if afraid of hurting Venti, afraid of showing how badly he must want this.
Venti scoots closer. He rests his free hand at the nape of Xiao’s neck. His finger trails along a scar just under his hairline, the skin gnarled and raised. He kisses the corner of Xiao’s mouth, then his nose, then his mouth again. Xiao remains stiff as a statue, though he at least attempts to kiss Venti back.
Venti pulls back. He doesn’t miss the flash of disappointment in Xiao’s eyes. So he does want this. He must be scared. “Don’t be nervous,” Venti whispers. “Does it feel alright?”
“I like it,” Xiao responds instantly. Venti bites back a giggle. “I… am not good at this sort of thing.”
“Well, I’m excellent at this sort of thing,” Venti says. Xiao looks like he wants to ask about it, but he closes his mouth. “Just relax. Follow my lead.”
He waits for Xiao to nod before moving again. Venti’s hand sneaks up until it rests against the back of Xiao’s head. He uses the grip to pull him closer. Xiao sways with the movement, his hand scrabbling out to find purchase on Venti’s knee. That’s better, but—
Venti opens his mouth. Tries to deepen the kiss. No tongue, but it could do with a little more pressure, a little less dryness. Xiao answers with a firmer kiss, capturing Venti’s bottom lip with his own.
They pull away, just to look at each other. Xiao’s eyes are hazy, unfocused. Somewhere beneath there still remains fear, Venti can tell.
He wants him closer. He wants Xiao to stop looking so scared. Can’t they just rest for a day?
Venti loops his other arm around Xiao’s neck. He plays with the fabric that flutters down from his collar. He traces the patch of bare skin between his shoulder blades and delights in the shudder he can feel ripple through Xiao’s muscles.
Xiao glances down at Venti’s lips. Venti answers the look with another kiss. When Xiao’s eyes drop halfway closed again, looking almost like a cat caught in a sunbeam, Venti falls back against the bed. He pulls Xiao with him.
Now, the pleasant haze leaves. Only fear remains. Xiao moves to pull away; Venti tugs him back down.
Xiao’s knees bracket Venti’s legs. He spreads them further, as if any touch between them could burn them both. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Xiao says, keeping a careful distance between them.
“What makes you think you’ll hurt me here?”
“I… don’t know,” he admits.
Venti runs his hand through Xiao’s hair, scratching at his scalp. Xiao shivers again. Venti presses a kiss to his cheek, his jaw, then settles his mouth over the fluttering pulse in his neck. Xiao bites back a gasp; Venti tugs his hair until he lets it free.
“I want you close,” Venti whispers into his skin. “You won’t hurt me here. I trust you not to. Can you trust yourself?” And when Xiao doesn’t answer, he adds: “For me?”
“For you,” Xiao whispers back. Venti presses his lips to his pulse-point once again, feels the confirmation that Xiao is here and alive. He pulls Xiao closer until he’s a warm weight settled over all of Venti. Xiao is nothing but wiry muscle, but he’s in every one of Venti’s senses. He lets Xiao’s breaths grow quick and harsh against his ear as Venti sucks a mark that won’t stay into his neck, rests in the lingering scent of soap he must have used from a bath the night before.
Venti breathes with him again, and the puffs of air against Xiao’s skin make him shiver all over again. “I can feel you when you do that,” Xiao says.
Venti nips at his jaw. He presses a biting kiss to the skin there, shocked by the way Xiao’s breath catches. He encourages it to flow through in a gentle exhale. “What’s it like?”
“Comforting,” Xiao answers.
“Good.” Venti kisses his neck again, gently pushes at his head until he tilts his neck to give Venti better access. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
Xiao doesn’t answer with his words. He answers instead with action: shrugging off one of Venti’s arms, kissing his knuckle, then pressing his arm into the bed, above his head.
He threads their fingers together.
Venti pulls back just enough for Xiao to see his smile. “You’re learning! Good.”
Taken by a sudden burst of courage, Xiao leans down. He captures Venti’s lips with his own. His kiss is light, butterfly wings against his skin. Something warm and insistent blossoms in Venti’s chest. Venti uses his free hand to scratch at Xiao’s scalp again. He trails it down his shoulder, along his side, coming to rest at his hip where his mask would normally rest.
“You’re very beautiful. Do you know that?” Venti asks.
“I have no need for beauty.”
“I know. I still appreciate it, though.”
Xiao’s face grows redder. “You…” he trails off, trying to summon the courage it must take for whatever he wants to say next. “...are also very beautiful.”
Venti smiles up at him. Tentatively, Xiao smiles back. Venti doesn’t answer with words, not this time. He pulls Xiao down for another kiss. He nibbles at Xiao’s lips, delights in his answering sigh. Pulls at his bottom lip until he sighs. Runs his free hand back up over the window of skin in the back of his shirt.
The day wears on. They stay here. They kiss until they’re breathless, until they can breathe together. Until Xiao relaxes against him, melts against his hands, surrounds Venti and keeps him from thinking of anything outside of the four walls that contain them.
This is a terrible idea. Venti knows this. But he wonders if they both need this. If love has to accompany affection, or if this affection can simply stand on its own.
Maybe this will doom them both. But for now—