Work Header

Under the Layers of Progressing Autumn Clouds

Chapter Text

From the depth of his chest something burned. It burned and it burned and would not stop. Everything was burning, but it wouldn’t stop


His lips parted but no sound came out, his screams shoved back down his aching throat and the cries of help were in vain.


He had never felt such pain in his life. 


He was going to die here, he was going to die, he was going to die. 


But the worst of it all was that he wanted to die. He couldn’t endure it much longer, the relentless torture, the ripping of flesh, the constant bleeding, it was all too much. There was nothing he could do about it either, he could barely think straight through all the pain. If death could give him even a second of peace, he would gladly welcome it with open arms. 


But death never came, and neither did peace. 


Time was barely a concept. He didn’t know what day it was, what month it was, how long it had been let alone how much longer he would stay alive for. It simply wasn’t important in the eyes of a dying man. 


“Tsk tsk… the experiment was unsuccessful.”


Good. He would finally be discarded like everyone else. 


At long last the moment he had been waiting for had come. His return to nature, perhaps as a cloud in the sky, light and fluffy and silently roaming the earth. Watching as the seasons changed, lingering over the views of Liyue autumn, sleeping in the dragonspine winters as nothing but a layer of mist. He would finally be at peace again. 


He almost smiled as the freezing waters engulfed him, sending all his senses into a mad frenzy as his scorching body fought with the stark temperatures. Further and further he fell into the deep, the frozen surface moving away from him as he sank. He kept sinking until his back hit the bottom, sending waves of electric pain through his numbing meridians. 


It wasn’t a bad place to rest for eternity. 


But after what felt like centuries of wishing for death, he didn’t want to go. There was someone waiting for him to return, to return from the haunted ruins and shake his head at the lack of evil spirits. To flick him on the forehead telling him how silly he was, then treat him to dinner at Wanmin restaurant. To punch him playfully as he joked, to ramble about books to him, to practice wrestling with him and to poke fun at him every day. To smile at him from under the orange candlelight, to plan his next adventures with him and laugh at his endless supply of dry popsicle sticks. 


He wanted to cry, but no tears fell. He was no longer capable of crying, but his eyes stayed open as if unwilling to accept their fate. 


Silence surrounded him as he lay still as stone, unblinking at the surface of the lake, feeling the last of his energy drain bit by bit until he was nothing but an empty shell. 


Soon his eyelids drooped and his vision began to shutter. This was the end. 


As if by miracle, the frozen river water began to part as he saw a figure reach down to him, reach their hand down at him as the early morning sunlight highlighted their outline. It was a beautiful sight, and as much as he wanted to take their hand he had not an ounce of energy left to do so. 


The hand latched onto his limp body and began pulling him up, the moment when all went dark and his eyes began to close.


It wasn’t his Xingqiu. 

Chapter Text

Chongyun opened his eyes to see the top of a cave where a tangerine hue flickered with the candles lit around the room. His body felt stiff and heavy as he twisted his neck to look around. 


“He’s up! He’s up!” 


A green haired girl beckoned to a man in a white lab coat with his legs crossed in the corner and his teal eyes flickered slowly over to him.


“I’m glad those five warming bottles didn’t go to waste.” He clicked his tongue and knelt at Chongyun’s side as he hurriedly tried to sit up, only to slip and fall back down. 


“Don’t move.” The man hissed. Chongyun didn’t need to be told twice. 


“I-I’ll go get B-Barbara, though she might be b-busy right now.” The green haired girl stood up and adjusted her circular glasses so that they sat higher up on the bridge of her nose. She gave a nervous little smile before picking up a nearby satchel and hurrying out the entrance of the cave. Somehow Chongyun felt more awkward once she was gone, as the teal-eyed man now stared down at him with his arms folded. 


“Let’s start with the basics, my name is Albedo, what’s yours?” 


Chongyun felt the words get caught in his throat and grimaced. He tried again but his mouth only hung open like a gaping fish. Albedo produced a large notepad from inside his long coat and began to scribble furiously. Chongyun watched him curiously like a wide-eyed rabbit, lying still as stone. 


“You have Liyue features. Are you from Liyue?”


Chongyun nodded lightly. He didn’t want to think of Liyue, the customs, the clothing, the food or the people. He wanted to forget all of it. 


“Then I shall notify the Knights of Favonius to send you back once you’re fully reco-” 


Albedo was cut off by Chongyun frantically shaking his head and pleading gaze. It caught him off guard how much the mood of this person had changed mentioning his return.


“I guess not then. Is it because of… the…?” Albedo trailed off. Chongyun felt pathetic as he nodded. It really only just dawned on him now that he was well and truly alive. He hadn’t died, but how much difference had it made?


Albedo rummaged around his pockets. “I also found… I’d assume it’s yours…” 


He held up a vision. Chongyun’s vision. He hadn’t seen it in a long time, and now he could barely recognise it. Within the sky blue pigment now flowed a swirl of scarlet red. 


He didn’t want to look at it. 


Albedo politely pressed it into Chongyun’s palm under the thick cotton blanket that covered him. He appreciated the gesture, but he wanted nothing to do with that vision anymore. The vision felt heavy in his hand. It could crush him at any second.


“We couldn’t move you to a more suitable location given the recent snowstorms brewing up here.” Albedo sounded apologetic as he turned away. 


Chongyun wanted to reassure him that it was alright, that lying on the ground in a cave wasn’t so bad, but he had no way of communicating that through a head nod. He decided to lie quietly instead. 


An uncomfortable silence blanketed the cave. 


“I didn’t think you would survive that lake.” Albedo commented quietly. “Seemed like you were stuck down there for a while too.” 


“Back to business, does it hurt anywhere?” Albedo glanced down at his pad and then to Chongyun. 


Everything hurted. Though now it was more centred around his chest. 


Chongyun shook his head no. 


“Are you sure?” Albedo gave him a questioning look, but Chongyun only nodded. 


“I noticed-” Albedo was interrupted by the abrupt sound of footsteps as the glasses girl from before scurried back to them. Behind her followed another girl whose hair was tied up in two curly pigtails and wore a big smile on her face. 


“Back already?” Albedo asked. 


“Barbara was already on her way here.” Glasses girl huffed, panting as she took a seat at a nearby desk. 


“I forgot to mention their names earlier.” Albedo gestured over to the glasses girl, “That’s Sucrose-” 


“And I’m Barbara!” Barbara cut him off excitedly. “It’s nice to meet you! I’m so glad you woke up!”


Chongyun’s head was spinning from Barbara’s high pitched voice but tried to muster up a smile anyways. 


“What’s your name?” 


“He doesn’t seem to be able to speak.” Albedo interjected, and Sucrose perked up. 


“U-Unable to s-speak?” She repeated. 


“Well that’s okay! I’m sure your voice will come back sooner or later.” Barbara grinned down at him. Chongyun didn’t feel very optimistic. 


“I’m just going to check if your bandages are still intact… Can you sit up? Albedo, come lend me a hand!” Barbara urged. Albedo hurried over and kneeled at his side again. 


Chongyun attempted to sit up but flinched as he felt an arm circle around his shoulders. 


“Be gentle! Look! He’s shaking!” 


“S-Sorry.” Albedo quickly withdrew his arm once Chongyun was sitting upright. His breathing was ragged and uneven as he tried to lean against the wall, and now that he was vertical his body felt feverish. 


“There there, lean against the wall if that’s easier.” Barbara adjusted the blankets so that he stayed warm. “I’m just going to take off your clothing-” 


Suddenly feeling flustered, Chongyun shook his head as a hand flew up to clutch his chest. He then realised that what he felt was the soft material of a clean set of pajamas. 


Barbara looked somewhat apologetic. “We’ve seen you already… if that’s what you’re concerned about.” 


Chongyun only gaped at her. 


“Don’t- Don’t look at me like that! I’m not a pervert! I’m a doctor! It’s part of my job!” She protested, pinning her hands to her hips like a sulky child. Albedo chuckled to himself and Sucrose went slightly pink


Chongyun slowly loosened his grip on his clothing as Barbara unbuttoned his top. He closed his eyes as she readjusted his bandages and applied ointment on patches of his skin that were bruised to a dark purple shade. 


“These stubborn bruises.” She muttered. “Haven’t reduced a single bit since the last time I saw them.” 


So they had seen the scars then , Chongyun realised. And probably the stitches too


“Then… D-Do you know h-how you ended up in that lake?” Sucrose asked. Chongyun thought about it then nodded. He had a rough idea.


“He can tell us all about it once he’s well enough to write.” Albedo then poured a cup of water and handed it to Chongyun. Just as Chongyun was about to reach for it, Albedo pulled away and changed his mind. “Never mind, you can barely lift a finger.” 


He raised the cup to Chongyun’s lips who reluctantly drank from it. The water felt refreshing as it entered his system, and he finished the entire cup. 




Chongyun nodded. He felt as if he had woken up again for the second time and his throat was no longer dry. But he still would not be able to talk, and he didn’t think it would be possible for the rest of his lifetime.


“Once you’re better, we’ll take you to Mondstat. The environment is nicer there for recuperation.” Barbara helped him put his shirt back on again and Chongyun could only nod. 




In the past he could never have imagined that his first visit to Mondstat would be like this. It was one of the destinations that Xingqiu had rambled about seeing, and there was a time when Chongyun could sit down with him and watch him flip through pictures and descriptions in awe. 


He liked the sparkle in those autumn eyes as they swept over pages and pages of words. It was ethereal like fireworks and delicate like silk. Chongyun could spend an entire afternoon at his side, listening to his low mutters. 


He imagined Xingqiu by his side instead of the presence of strangers he didn’t know, reminiscing on the past when Xingqiu spent hours at his bedside reading books to him. That lovely voice guiding him through the feverish dreams full of endless fields of Qixin flowers. 


“I think he’s falling asleep.” 


“Let’s lie him down again… shhh…” 


Xingqiu. His Xingqiu. The Xingqiu he would never meet again, the Xingqiu he could never meet again, the Xingqiu he should never meet again. 


The person who now would only remain as a once lovely dream from his past. Existing only when he entered a state of slumber, where then could he see that warm smile.


It would be for the best if he let go. 


Sorry Xingqiu, goodbye Xingqiu


Although his recovery was a slow one, Albedo, Sucrose and Barbara continuously encouraged him and were careful in tending to his needs. He had heard all about the friendly reputation of Mondstat, but experiencing it for the first time was eye-opening. There were no contracts, trades, deals or conditions, these young Mondstatians only sincerely hoped for his full recovery. 


He would often wake up finding Albedo staring at his blackboard, chalk in one hand and notepad in the other. Hair falling over those blue eyes as he frowned in murmuring to himself. 


“The meaning of this world… the meaning of this world…” 


Sometimes he woke up to find a few pieces of paper in his lap. Artworks of random things in Dragonspine, from flowers to rocks to hilichurls to seelies, Albedo drew them all. 


“I bet you miss going outside. You can look at this.”


So then it became a common occurrence, finding loose pieces of art lying around him upon opening his eyes. Although the paintings were slightly on the abstract side of things, Chongyun found them interesting to stare at, wondering if Xingqiu would appreciate Albedo’s style of drawing too. 


Sucrose tried to be around as much as possible, but she was so quiet that sometimes Chongyun didn’t realise her presence in the room until Albedo asked seemingly rhetorical questions that was then answered by the green fluff ball hidden in the corner. She wasn’t very talkative, and had a bit of a stammer, but Chongyun found her very comfortable to be around. 


As a person she was extremely caring and attentive to detail, bringing Chongyun all sorts of things from her trips like a squirrel sharing their pinecones. The first time she brought him a large ripe sunsettia and explained how its freshness was the result of a special spray she developed in her earlier days. It tasted good too, but Barbara didn’t want Chongyun eating anything cold in Dragonspine, so he was only given a small piece. 


The second time came as a shock to Chongyun as he was presented the skull of some reptile upon a second of waking up. He wasn’t particularly afraid of bones, but it certainly wasn’t the sight he preferred to see right after coming to his senses. Sucrose apologised profusely for scaring him, but still explained the entire bone collection in her room that she unfortunately could not bring along with her as her satchel would run out of space. 


The third time Sucrose came stumbling into the cave with the bud of a mist flower cupped in her palms. Chongyun watched curiously as she sprinkled some sort of catalyst powder that caused it to bloom immediately into its most desirable shape. Sucrose happily let him hold it in his own shaky hands, almost dropping it as she passed it over. 


Chongyun stared at the flower for the entire morning until its petals finally dropped and fell to the ground in pieces. It greatly upset him and he spent the afternoon trying to piece the flower together from its broken petals. 


Albedo must have said something to Sucrose about it, as she came in the next day with a large potted mist flower plant which she set right next to his make-shift bed on the ground. It sat there for nearly half a week until Barbara arrived to check on his health. She disagreed with something as cold as a mist flower plant next to a recuperating patient in the low temperatures of Dragonspine, and Chongyun let her move it further away. 


Soon he had recovered enough to get up on his own and walk around the cave for a few minutes. It was painful at first. Chongyun felt distraught that he was learning how to walk for the second time in his life, like a toddler stumbling over their own feet. Thankfully Albedo had a keen eye and was always in time to catch him whenever he began to topple over. If he had earned new bruises he wouldn’t hear the end of it from Barbara who had specifically warned him not to overwork himself. 


But Chongyun hated troubling other people. Perhaps it was a general Liyue thing, he figured, but nonetheless he wanted to recover quickly to return the favour. As an exorcist he had become so used to helping others that when the situation was reversed he felt greatly uneasy, and he didn’t plan on getting used to such a position either. 


An exorcist. He hadn’t thought about that in a while. The last time he had performed an exorcism was before the Moonchase festival two years ago- 


He shook his head. It would do no good thinking about things he would never experience again. He wasn’t sure if he would ever have the strength to perform an exorcism ever again, and the idea of it depressed him. 


“Want to try walking outside? It’s a bit cold, but Barbara won’t know if it’s only for a short while.” Albedo offered. 


Chongyun gazed up at him and nodded. It did get stuffy in the cave sometimes. Fresh air would be nice. 


Albedo wrapped a coat around his shoulders as he helped Chongyun up on his feet. His legs still felt like jelly, but they were getting steadier day by day. Chongyun’s grip tightened on Albedo’s arm as he stumbled a little. Albedo patiently waited for him to find his balance again and Chongyun could feel those teal eyes bore into the side of his head. 


“Sorry. ” He mouthed. 


They trudged slowly out into the open air of Dragonspine as Chongyun felt the cold hit his face. Two years ago he wouldn’t have found such temperatures to be cold, but things had changed. His body’s entire biology had been messed with, and he felt just as vulnerable to the cold like any normal person would. 


It was both laughable and regrettable. 


“Just squeeze my arm when you want to go back.” 


Albedo led him through imaginary paths that he had probably travelled too many times to count, and Chongyun focused on putting one foot in front of the other on the uneven snow-covered surfaces. 


“I know a place with a good view, it’s a little bit far, think you’ll manage?” Albedo asked. Chongun nodded enthusiastically, and they continued to walk at the pace of a tortoise. 


“This bit is a little steep. Just let me know if you change your mind.” 


Chongyun could do it. It was only a small slope, and he had already made it this far anyway. Gradually, he made his way up the hill with Albedo eyeing him like a hawk. 


“Well done.” Albedo encouraged. There was still a tiny distance left to go and Chongyun clenched his teeth as he exerted much effort in making the last steps. 


Exhausted and panting for air, he gazed out into the spacious view of frosty white. It was truly beautiful. His eyes almost didn’t know where to look after staring at a blank wall for days. He liked… 


His eyes fell on a familiar structure sitting in the corner of the scene. 


A ruin guard. 


He froze. 


His breathing stalled. 


Where was he again?


A ruin guard. 


A ruin guard. A ruin guard. A ruin guard. 


A ruin guard a ruin guard a ruin guard aruinguardaruinguardaruinguard.


He wanted to scream but nothing came out of his mouth. He wanted to scream so badly that his body shook and trembled like a leaf. 


Faintly in the distance he could hear Albedo, but he had no idea what he was saying or what he was doing. 


He only wanted to scream and cry yet it was these two things that he was utterly incapable of doing. Utterly incapable. No matter how much his body pushed itself to do so. The tears didn’t form and neither did his screams, there was no way to get it out of his system. 


Get it out. 


Get it out! 








Barbara’s distant reprimanding took him out of his feverish slumber. 


He was back in the cave, where Barbara stood flailing her arms in Albedo’s face as Sucrose tried to mediate in between them. 


“I told you not to take him outside yet! Look what happened!” 


“How was I supposed to know a ruin guard would set off a panic attack? It wasn’t even a functional one!”


“Well his condition is worse than before, his fever is back again, all my progress and you just… just…” 


“H-How about we c-calm d-down first… w-wait I th-think he’s a-awake…!” 


Barbara whirled around to look at Chongyun square in the eyes as she knelt down to pick the wet towel off his forehead. “You agreed to let this irresponsible alchemist take you outside?” 


Chongyun nodded apologetically. 


“It’s not your fault. He’s the bad guy here, don’t feel bad. Just blame it all on him. And don’t feel bad, you did nothing wrong, just focus on recovering.” Barbara babbled as behind her, Albedo irritatedly rolled his eyes. 


Sucrose only looked grateful that the arguing had come to a stop as she breathed a sigh of relief, holding a timid thumbs up to Chongyun as Barbara laid a new towel over his forehead. 


He had to admit they were growing on him. Maybe staying in Mondstat for the rest of his life wouldn’t be such a bad idea, and while contemplating it he felt his mood lift. 


He also felt bad for Albedo, who had offered to help him exercise out of concern for his mental wellbeing. Chongyun hadn’t known that the very sight of a ruin guard… 


The imagery of a ruin guard flashed in his mind, causing him to flinch and the towel to slip off his head. 


Barbara seemed to have guessed his thoughts as she quickly readjusted the towel. “Try not to think about anything that may upset you. Positivity! Positivity is extremely important to healing, so eradicate those negative thoughts okay?” 


Chongyun nodded lightly, careful not to shake the towel off again as it rested heavily on his burning forehead. 


He tried to think about something positive, but his mind kept wandering to Xingqiu. 


It was unfair how quickly a happy memory could turn into a sad one. 


No more negative thoughts , Chongyun repeated Barbara’s words in his head, think positive .


He finally decided on imagining the shape of a mist flower in his head. Tracing the royal blue outline of the petals and the way they fanned out in full bloom. The way they grew beautifully when tended to with sufficient water, the way he was handed a singular bud that he waited days for to bloom, and when it finally did, he had shown it to…



In his dream Xingqiu sat on the windowsill of a hot autumns night, fanning himself while reading over the drafts of his book. 


“Do you think people will read it?” He asked. Chongyun stared at the pages of messy handwriting and smiled. 


“Of course. At least, I would.” 


Xingqiu gave him a funny look. “That’s because you’re you. You’d read anything I write and say it’s good.” 


Chongyun could only chuckled dumbly at that response. He didn’t need to read it to know it was good. 


“I think you should publish this one day. People will read it.” 


“Okay. When it’s published I’ll make sure you get the first copy. All signed, free of charge.” Xingqiu winked at him. Chongyun just smiled dumbly at the boy on the windowsill who gazed up at the moon for inspiration. Sometimes he would stare at him and forget what he was doing and continue to stare until Xingqiu became annoyed at his staring. 


“Pick a flower.” 




“I said, pick a flower. Don’t you have a preference?” 


Chongyun thought about it. He liked Qingxins, he liked Mist flowers, both were very nice. 


“Mist flowers.” He replied, earning another funny look from Xingqiu. 


“You have a simple taste.” 


“Then why did you ask?” 


“No reason. Just needed a favourite flower for the main character.” 




“You’re not going to ask about the main character?” 





Chapter Text


It only took him nearly a month before he was able to take his first steps towards Mondstat City. Barbara had specifically arranged a time when she was free to accompany him, and Albedo warned him about all the attention he was going to get just by standing next to Barbara. 


Albedo helped him walk out of the Dragonspine mountains, mentioning that he had chosen a better route this time - one that didn’t have ruin guards anywhere in sight. 


They were barely out of the mountains when Chongyun began to experience first hand what Albedo had meant. Barbara got greetings left and right, and everyone wanted to stop whatever they were previously doing to indulge in idle chatter with her. 


Chongyun watched patiently with Albedo next to him as Barbara was approached by pretty much everyone in the vicinity of the camp. 


“Pass along the message to Cyrus for me, thanks Barbara!” 


“Don’t you find this historical document utterly enlightening? Ms Iris always finds the most interesting things, don’t you agree, Barbara?”


“Try some of this hot soup, Barbara, freshly made, only taken off the stove a few seconds ago! Is it to your liking? Tell me, has my cooking improved at all?”


“Barbara! Barbara! Do you think my dad will come home soon?” 


Chongyun couldn’t understand how Barbara wasn’t absolutely exhausted by all the social interaction. Sucrose looked petrified and practically hid herself in Albedo’s shadow as he tried to convince Barbara to cut the conversations short and get on with important business. 


After a lot of hugs and goodbyes, they continued on their journey, being careful not to walk too quickly out of consideration for Chongyun. There was once or twice when Sucrose got distracted by a few sweet flowers growing in wild grass, and seemed as if she had forgotten all that existed in the world as she picked them until they made a thick bundle in her hands. 


Despite the walk being strenuous, Chongyun found the Mondstat terrain exceedingly fascinating. It was different from Liyue, more rocky in a sense, more grassy, more green, and even the trees looked unfamiliar. 


They took a few breaks in between the trekking, and paid their respects at the Anemo Archon statue before entering Mondstat. There, Chongyun gaped at the gigantic tree towering over Windrise. He also caught a few glimpses of anemo crystal flies, which were bright blue instead of the glowing gold he was used to seeing. 


“The b-breeze must be g-good lately, there’s a lot more w-windwheel asters h-here than usual.” Sucrose murmured. She must really like flowers. 


It was late into the afternoon by the time they reached Mondstat. Barbara was quickly swamped by her fans and Albedo rolled his eyes at the scene. 


“Good afternoon Barbara!” 


“Good afternoon, Swan, Lawrence!” 


“Ah hello Barbara, interested in some fruit today?” 


“Oh, no thank you Quinn, maybe next time!” 


“Don’t you think my flowers are pretty today, Barbara?” 


“Yes they’re very beautiful, Flora, just like you!” 


Catching a short moment of peace, Barbara turned to them. “How about you guys go on without me? I’ll meet you at headquarters in a bit-” Barbara waved a small goodbye before her attention was quickly caught up in fifteen conversations happening at the same time. 


“Th-that’s the Mondstat i-idol for y-you.” Sucrose stammered. Her eyes did drift over to Flora’s flowers and lingered for a while. 


“C’mon Sucrose, we have work to do.” Albedo nudged her. Sucrose went pink in the cheeks and quickly returned her focus to the mission at hand. 


“R-Right. Let’s go.” 


Mondstat was just as lively as Liyue, Chongyun had missed the bustling city, the laughter, the chatter and the sweet smell of food. He wondered how different Mondstat food would be to that of Liyue cuisine. In the past weeks cooped up in that Dragonspine cave, Albedo, Sucrose and Barbara took turns feeding him what they felt was the “good Mondstat meal” and the differences couldn’t be more stark. 


Although he loved sweet things, Chongyun found it difficult consuming the sugary desserts that Sucrose enjoyed as a main course. It was then that he found out how much his tongue could burn from overload in sugar. 


More concerning than Sucrose’s cooking however, Albedo seemed to treat cooking as an experiment. Most of the ingredients on the plate didn’t look edible to Chongyun and he was pretty sure that the neon stuff was derived from slimes. 


Barbara was easily the best cook out of the three, but it was a pity she could only bring food two or three times a week due to her busy schedule. Her sweet madame chicken was by far the best thing Chongyun had eaten in roughly two years, and almost choked on it as Barbara urged him to slow down. 


If only he could share these experiences with Xingqiu. 


Chongyun shook his head and looked up at the large Mondstat buildings. The architecture was very… Chongyun didn’t know how to describe it other than ‘Mond style.’ He liked it though, especially the wind mills, those were mesmerizing to watch. 


But the stairs. There were so many stairs. It wasn’t like in Liyue where the stairs were mostly inside buildings, Mondstat stairs were everywhere, Chongyun would rather just scale the wall instead. Was this why people from Mondstat were so tough and strong? Chongyun didn’t know. 


“We’re here.” Albedo announced. They stood outside a grand building looking to be around four floors high, making Chongyun feel very small. He could hear the sounds of sparring somewhere, and it felt… homely. 


“Did the Acting Grand Master pull an all-nighter again?” 


“U-Uh we… we weren’t paying attention… Sir Kaeya.” 


“Don’t act-” 


“Kaeya.” Albedo interrupted. Chongyun stared at the tall man who slowly turned to scan him up and down with only one visible eye. 


“So this is Yun?” He asked. 


Yun. The name Chongyun wrote down for them. He would need to get used to hearing that. 


“Nice to meet you, Yun.” Kaeya held out a hand to him. Chongyun remembered such a custom in Mondstat and gingerly took it. His grip was strong and Chongyun felt nervous as his hand was shaken up and down too many times to count. Why did such a strange greeting exist?


“Let’s find Jean. She’s probably in her office with Lisa.” Kaeya pushed open the two large doors that creaked open on its metal hinges. Albedo gave Chongyun a reassuring pat on the shoulder as they followed Kaeya inside. 


The hall was large and lined with cleaned mopped tiles on the ground. Hung upon the walls were pieces of landscape artwork and potted plants stood on either side of each door. 


“Look.” Albedo pointed at a painting, “I drew that.” 


It was definitely worthy of being displayed in the main hall of such a grandiose building. 


“Come on, follow me.” Kaeya was holding the door open on the left. Inside, he could already catch a glimpse of the Acting Grand Master who was so often talked about, even in places outside of Mondstat. Chongyun walked inside not knowing what to expect.


“My name is Jean. It’s nice to meet you, Yun.” She held out her hand and Chongyun shook it slowly, still unused to the strange custom. She had a set of lovely blue eyes like Barbara’s and a polite smile, her demeanor completely from her younger sister. 


To her right stood a tall lady with emerald green eyes and silky brown hair. She wore a large violet hat on her head which complimented her purple dress. Chongyun figured that this was Lisa the librarian whom Barbara was terrified of angering. 


“Oh, he’s a little cutie~”

“Please take a seat, Yun.” Jean gestured towards the chair and Chongyun quickly took a seat. His legs hurt from all the walking and the drowsiness was already catching up to him.


Kaeya closed the door behind them and crossed his arms. “There’s some pad and paper for you to write on. Albedo notified us that you have trouble talking.” 


Chongyun picked up the fountain pen and weighed it in his hand. Maybe Mondstat pens were just heavier. 


“I take it you’re from Liyue?” 


Chongyun nodded. 


“How about you write down what you experienced before Albedo found you?” 


Chongyun froze. He looked up at Albedo who sensed his discomfort immediately. 


“Ahem, this is a sensitive topic, Jean.” Albedo picked up the pad of paper, “Is there any way you could write down the questions you have and let him answer them in his own time?” 


“That’s not a bad idea.” Jean mused. “Apologies for my directness, it was slightly out of line. However, while I can give him some privacy, it’s important we understand his situation today. No good will come from prolonging such tasks.” 


“Will that be alright for you, Yun? You can use our library if you like~” Lisa smiled. Chongyun nodded. That would be okay. He just needed some space. 


“Fortunately I wrote down the questions in advance.” Jean took out a note from her drawer and handed it to Chongyun. “You may answer them in any order.” 


Lisa walked towards the door and rested her wrist on the handle. “It’s just on the opposite side of the hall. Both doors lead to the library, take your time~”


Chongyun nodded and walked out of the office by himself. He took in a deep breath once the door was closed and felt a sense of relief. Being around new people was tiring. He never needed to be in such situations in the past - Xingqiu was always there to ease the atmosphere and do all the talking. Now that Xingqiu wasn’t by his side he felt like a half of him had disappeared. 


He sighed. A guard stared at him from across the hall. Embarrassed, Chongyun made his way over and entered the library. 


It was large and spacious, the shelves made of dark wood and polished immaculately. Books were everywhere , on the shelves, in the shelves, next to the shelves, and sometimes lying around on tables and floors. 


All of a sudden he felt sad again. 


He liked stories, but he liked listening to them more than reading them. He couldn’t help but imagine the kind of smile on Xingqiu’s face if he was ever introduced to this library. Knowing him, Xingqiu would make his own forte out of books until he was barely visible and live in it for days. 


Chongyun let out a small smile to himself. 


His silly Xingqiu would definitely like this library. 


He sat down at a nearby table and began reading the questions. It had almost been too long since he last read something that it felt new all over again. Thankfully his ability to read remained deeply rooted in his brain and it wasn’t too difficult after a moment of getting used to. 


Out of nowhere, Chongyun heard the sound of a hilichurl which scared him half to death. He peered down the balcony at the lower floor and caught a glimpse of a girl dressed in rouge pink. 




Numerous possibilities flickered through Chongyun’s mind as he registered what he saw. Had some strange human decided to fall in love with a Hilichurl? Was this the product of their relationship? 


Wanting to barf at the idea, Chongyun took a step back - his foot landing right on a copy of The Fox in the Dandelion Sea. He stumbled backwards in surprise, landing squarely on his behind and watching in dread as books tumbled downwards to the bottom floor. 


There was a moment of silence in the library as the few people in it turned to stare at him. 


“You dropped your books down here.” 


Chongyun heard a girl’s voice from underneath the balcony. He scurried around the library, down the stairs and towards the girl as his face turned tomato red. 


The girl didn’t seem too offended by his clumsiness and handed him the fallen books. Her gaze however, stopped on a copy in her hand. 


“Oh. I was actually looking for this volume of Hilichurl Cultural Customs.” She said, and took the book back. “Thanks. I’m Ella Musk by the way, what’s yours?”


Chongyun blinked before remembering the little keychain of conversational responses Barbara had personally made for him. He took it out of his pocket and flipped through the cards, eventually finding the right one and showing it to her. 


“Yun.” Ella read aloud, then glanced at his face. “You can’t talk?” 


Chongyun nodded. 


“That must be a pain. Even Hilichurls need to talk to each other. I hope you find your voice one day.” 


Chongyun flipped to another card. "Thank you."


Ella didn’t say anything as she buried her nose in the book and Chongyun awkwardly returned to his spot upstairs. He had forgotten that he had an actual task to do, and quietly sat down. 


Mondstat had some very interesting people. 


Lisa closed the door and smiled slyly at Albedo. “You know much more about him than you let on.” 


Albedo rubbed his chin. “Yes, but that’s not to say I know everything.”


“I can’t imagine how he ended up in the bottom of a Dragonspine lake. Then surviving to tell the tale.” Kaeya dropped into a chair and crossed his legs. He had the look of interest plastered all over his face. 


Jean, as always, was in a state of deep contemplation. “You also mentioned his vision.” 


Albedo nodded. He whipped out a drawing he had done on that mysterious vision back when Chongyun was out cold. It was mildly perplexing to say the least. Jean, Kaeya and Lisa all gathered around to stare at the drawing curiously. 


“I-I’ve n-never seen anything l-like it b-before.” Sucrose pointed at the red marks. “It s-seems that he used to be a c-cryo user, th-then something may have happened…” 


“The poor kid is completely mute. Not only can’t he speak, I’ve noticed that he’s incapable of even making basic sounds like coughing, sneezing, yawning, screaming, the most he can do is a bit of heavy breathing…” Albedo found it bitter to think even about. 


“So it’s not just a speaking issue then…” Lisa murmured as she cupped a cheek in one hand. “It’s a pity, I would imagine him having a cute voice to match that adorable face.” 


“Lisa. He looks nineteen at most.” Jean deadpanned.


“Sorry sorry~ what can I do? I like complimenting pretty faces.” Lisa sighed. 


“C-Can we t-talk about the-those stitches?” Sucrose poked Albedo in the arm, but everyone had heard her. 


“Stitches?” Kaeya repeated. 


Albedo grimaced. He hadn’t wanted to bring up the topic, but Sucrose’s concern was understandable. 


“He’s completely ridden with scars, and his back looked like it had been cut open before then sewn closed-” Albedo described, but stopped at Jean’s shocked expression. “Yeah.” He added awkwardly. “It’s not nice to look at.” 


“Then we can only hope that the boy trusts us enough to write down his experiences truthfully. I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to.” Lisa looked genuinely sympathetic. 


“Moving on-” Albedo coughed, “He mentioned that he wanted to settle down here, preferably with some work to do.” Albedo glanced at them one by one. “Any takers? I don’t want him anywhere near my lab, he seems a bit clumsy.” 


“Well it’s not like he can join the Knights of Favonius in that state, even if he wanted to.” Kaeya pointed out. 


That only left Lisa. 


“Hum~ I guess library work would suit him well, if he’s fine with it of course.” Lisa shrugged. “Kaeya, doesn’t your dear brother Diluc own Dawn Winery and Angel’s Share? Surely you could bring it up with him, just to give little Yun some options.” 


Kaeya chuckled. “We’ll see how that goes. I’ll try my best. Diluc may want to see the boy before making any offers though, knowing his careful temperament.” 


“Then the matter is settled~ If we run out of options we can always ask Barbara for help, she’d get him a job in ten seconds flat.” Lisa smiled and Jean nodded in agreement. 


“Alright, now shoo, all of you. Get out of my office, I still have work to do.” Jean waved her hands at them.


“Awww you’re no fun, can’t we loiter in here a bit more?” Kaeya teased.


“No. This room is strictly for work and work only.” 


“Okay then, Acting Grand Master .” 


“Please don’t say it like that.” 


“Okay. Cya~” 


Chongyun knocked on the office door. 


“Come in~” Lisa’s humming voice came through. Chongyun twisted the handle and pushed, inside only stood Jean and Lisa who seemed to have been discussing other matters. 


“Finished?” Jean asked and was met with Chongyun nodding. He handed over the pad of paper and the fountain pen he struggled to write with to her as she scanned over it curiously. 


“Thank you, I apologise if it was a lot to ask.”


Chongyun shook his head. He took out the keychain of responses and flipped through them. He needed to get used to finding these and probably add a few of his own. "It’s okay," he held up. 


“I’m glad. Albedo mentioned that you wanted some work around Mondstat, would you be alright working for Lisa in the library for the time being? You can always switch to something else as the options open up.”


Chongyun nodded gratefully. He really wanted to do something other than rest, sleep, eat, and rest again, as if they weren’t already the same thing. 


“Perfect. It’s… Monday. You can start tomorrow.” Lisa smiled. “If you’re feeling well enough to, that is.” 


Chongyun nodded again. Anything but being stuck in a cave all day would be fine. 


“We also arranged a temporary room for you in the Adventurer’s Guild. It is a bit small, but they’re friendly and offer it free of charge.” Jean slid a letter across the table. “Just give this to Katheryne at the entrance of the city, she’ll recognise the seal and know what to do.” 


Katheryne? Chongyun found that name oddly familiar. He took the letter and thanked both Jean and Lisa before heading off. The Knights of Favionius were really nice, he thought, nicer than the Millienth. 


He exited the Headquarters and realised that he had to descend all those stairs again and mentally groaned. His legs were going to hate him for this. 


Chongyun didn’t find Mondstat to be particularly large compared to Liyue Harbour, but it was tricky to navigate unfamiliar places nonetheless. The sun was already beginning to set once he had finally found Katheryne at the entrance of the city. 


Seeing her for the first time came as a shock to him, because Chongyun swore on his exorcism that this was certainly not the first time he had seen her. His memory might be a little hazy after two years, but this was unmistakably the same Katheryne he had seen working in Liyue Harbour. 


“Ad astra abyssosque!” She greeted him in some language he couldn’t understand, “Welcome to the Adventurer’s Guild. How may I help you?” 


Chongyun gave her the letter from Jean. 


“Oh, you’re little Yun!” 


Little Yun? 


“I’ve prepared a few basic things for you on the Acting Grand Master’s request.” Katheryne took out a bag, “there’s a map for you to navigate Mondstat, the key to your dorm at the Adventurer’s Guild, some mora - you’ll have to pay that back later, and some personal items.” 


Chongyun nearly toppled over under the weight of the bag. He felt extremely unfit. 


“I hope you enjoy your stay here, the Adventurer’s Guild always welcomes you to join our organisation!” 


He thanked her quickly and left, sitting down on a nearby bench to sort through the items. What he really needed was the map… and the mora, he hadn’t eaten all day and his stomach rumbled. 


Up ahead, the Good Hunter came into view. Chongyun remembered Barbara saying something about the nice food they served, and considered it for a moment as the delicious smell of food wafted filled his nose. There wasn’t anything to consider about it when on an empty stomach. 


Chongyun walked up to the counter and stared bewilderedly at the menu. Most of the options he had never tried… It was slightly intimidating. He only had limited mora and he had to spend it with care. 


“Welcome to the Good Hunter. How can I help you?” The girl from before the counter asked. 


Chongyun stared blankly at the menu. 


Where is the rice???? The Jewellery Soup??? The Almond Tofu?????


“I haven’t seen you around, would you like some recommendations?” 


Chongyun nodded as she explained the menu. All the names flew over his head as he tried to keep up with her words. 


“What do you think?” She asked. 


Chongyun stared back at her, feeling sweat form on his brow. 


“Did I speak too fast…? Ahem, let me repeat that slowly for you.” She pointed patiently at the names on the menu as Chongyun followed. 


“Recently the Calla Lily Seafood Soup has been trending lots between our customers. The soup is exquisitely clear, and I strongly recommend it if you enjoy crab.” 


Chongyun didn’t have any particular affinity to seafood, but he knew someone that did. He had almost decided on it out of old habit for Xingqiu. 


“No? Then we have our renowned specialty, Pile ‘Em Up. It’s main ingredients are potatoes, steak and cheese. More specifically, it’s three thick juicy slices of steak with melting cheese and potatoes sandwiched in between.” 


Chongyun shook his head. It sounded like a lot of cheese which he wasn’t very fond of. 


“Okay… picky eater huh? We always have the classic Flaming Red Bolognese. It’s exactly as it sounds, has a dollop of meat sauce and…” The waitress stopped at Chongyun nodding his head and smiled. “Great! One serving of Flaming Red Bolognese, that’ll be fourteen mora.” 


He counted the money carefully and handed it to the waitress who thanked him and got to work. Having nothing better to do, Chongyun continued to read the menu even after he sat down at a table. 


He somehow didn’t notice Sweet Madame on the menu when he was panicking earlier, otherwise he would’ve just gone with that. Or a singular chicken skewer would’ve been fine, fasting was also a form of mediation. 


The breakfast selection didn’t look half bad, but some of the other options confused him. 


Who would eat a Cold Cut Platter? It was just a plate of meat? And the sticky honey roast looked like a day of stomach pain gathered in one plate. Plus it had carrots, and Chongyun never ordered anything with carrots out of habit. 


His eyes scanned more names of strange dishes and felt hollow. Xingqiu would’ve liked to try all the seafood options, especially that Golden Crab. If he ever did, Chongyun wouldn’t be there to see his smile or hear his excited gasps-


“I have more questions.” A voice cut Chongyun out of his trace as he glanced up to see Albedo, who then dumped a pad of paper and pen on the table. “Let me order a steak first.” 


Chongyun watched dazedly as Albedo quickly slapped a few coins on the counter and hurried back. 


“Something on your mind?” Albedo asked, sitting down opposite of him. 


Chongyun shook his head and tried a small smile. He flipped through the ring of responses at top speed and showed Albedo the card. "It’s okay." 


He was slowly getting used to this. 


Albedo raised one eyebrow as he poured two cups of water and set them down on the table. 


“Listen, I know you didn’t write down the truth.” 


Chongyun stiffened and began fidgeting with his fingers. How he wished for something like a popsicle stick to fiddle with at a time like this. 


“And I didn’t expect you to either.” Albedo said. “I’m going to cut to the chase- I think I’m around eighty percent confident in my guesses-” 


He began saying things that made Chongyun feel terrified by his intelligence. There really wasn’t anything that escaped those keen teal eyes, and at times he really wanted Albedo to stop talking because most of the things he said were dead right. It was like Albedo had the ability to investigate his memory and pick out parts at random. Chongyun felt numb by the end of his speech. 


“So I want you to fill in some of the blanks- judging by your expressions I believe most of my hypotheses are correct?” Albedo pushed the pen and paper closer to Chongyun. “I won’t give this information away to anyone else if that’s what you’re worried about.” 


If Albedo kept his word then that would be okay. Chongyun didn’t think he could hide much from this man anyway - behind those teal eyes probably sat a mind of infinite knowledge. Albedo had figured everything out already. Plus, he didn’t like lying, and Albedo was a good person.


Chongyun reluctantly picked up the pen and answered the first question in the best handwriting he could muster. He heard the waitress set down a plate of food as he continued writing. 


“Your Flaming Red Bolognese sir.” 


“Thanks Sara.” 


“You should eat first before answering the questions. Are you sure one serving of bolognese is enough?” Albedo swirled the glass of water in his hand. 


Chongyun put down his pen and reached for chopsticks- where were the chopsticks???


In his hand however, he found himself holding a fork. What was he supposed to do with a fork if he’s eating noodles? 


It shouldn’t be that hard, he thought, and attempted to stab the noodles. Albedo stifled a laugh and Chongyun felt a little stupid. 


“Here. Might be easier if you use it this way…” Albedo took the fork from him and demonstrated how easily the feat could be accomplished. 


Alas, Chongyun managed to feed himself a forkful of bolognese like a true champion. He was thoroughly disappointed though, that the dish wasn’t spicy. It was just very herby and tomatoey. 


The title of this dish was simply too misleading. 


He sighed. Now that he didn’t have difficulties dealing with excess Yang energy, he almost missed it. Not only did his overload of Yang energy disappear, so did the majority of his cryo powers. He was reduced to a substandard exorcist at best. 


“Your steaks sir.” 


“Thank you Sara.” 


Chongyun looked up to see Albedo setting two steaks down on the table. He cocked his head questioningly at Albedo who pushed one steak towards him. 


“You have a big appetite. It’s on me.” 


Chongyun smiled gratefully. He had heard of the reputation of Mondstat’s steak and was eager to try. 


“Ah, I'll show you how to cut it.” Albedo picked up the knife and fork and began cutting the steak into organised chunks. Chongyun found this ability very cool. 


“You can try cutting the other half, knife in your right hand and fork in your left… unless you're left handed, then it’s reversed. Then again, everyone differs in how they eat, so just do whatever is comfortable.” Albedo’s words were comforting to Chongyun as he slowly sliced through the meat. It wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be, though he definitely lacked experience and practice. Perhaps this could be a form of meditation? 


“Do you miss Liyue?” Albedo asked. 


Chongyun nodded without thinking. Then quickly shook his head. Liar, he thought to himself. 


“You really don’t plan on going back?” 


Chongyun nodded stubbornly. How would he face his Aunt who hoped for him to become the greatest exorcist of all time? How would he face his friends? His Xingqiu who liked listening to him read stories? How could he tell stories if he was going to be mute forever? And and.. How could he possibly let Xingqiu know… 


“Hey hey.” Albedo snapped his fingers in Chongyun’s face. “You’re making that face again- the one where you look like you’re about to cry. Are you worried about something?” 


Chongyun shook his head no. There was nothing to worry about. He just needed to stay hidden in Mondstat for as long as it required for everyone to forget about him. To forget he had ever existed. Everyone would be happier that way, no questions asked. 


“Alright, eat up. I’ll walk you to the Adventurer’s Guild once you’re done.” 


He lay awake in his bed that night feeling nostalgic. 


This was the start of the life he never thought he would live. Just a regular, ordinary person in Mondstat. 


The Chongyun who once lived in Liyue Harbour, ate popsicles and read stories would become nothing but a shadow of Yun. 


He had to let go of it all. 


He’d rather die than for any of his old acquaintances to see him again, and he felt this way knowing fully well what death felt like. What hell felt like. 


Chongyun rested an arm over his eyes, and fell into a restless slumber.


Sorry Xingqiu, goodbye Xingqiu. 




“Oh no.” Xingqiu’s amber eyes flickered nervously over to Chongyun. “You didn’t eat this dish… did you?” 


“HAHAhahahHHAHAAHhahahahahHAHAHhhahahaha why?” Chongyun laughed, the food tasted hot and tingly on his tongue, that was all. 


“No no no no no Chongyun let-let’s go home-” Xingqiu tried to reason with him, but Chongyun felt extremely light. Lighter than a heron feather, lighter than the air and the clouds. 


“Xingqiu! Look, the moon is beautiful tonight, isn’t it?!?!?!?” Chongyun pointed at the round mooncake in the sky. 


Xingqiu looked a little too stunned to speak as his face began to flush. It was probably from all the alcohol he insisted on drinking. “Ch-Chongyun let’s uhhh yeah, let’s follow the moon! We could follow it all the way home! How does that sound?” 


“But Xingqiu! Why waste a night loitering at home when we could be doing so much more at this inn???” Chongyun grabbed at Xingqiu’s hands and pulled him out of his seat. 


“Th-that Chongyun please don’t say things like that in public.” Xingqiu was a ripe tomato at this point, being dragged along by Chongyun to the centre of the balcony where people began to stare at them. 


Chongyun didn’t care who watched them. Today the moon was full and round and he felt high. He hoisted Xingqiu onto his shoulders like a sack of potatoes as Xingqiu began to beat at his back. 


“What are you doing? Put me down- Chongyun!!!” 


Chongyun raced around the inn like a burst of wind, laughing at the breeze in his face and ignoring the pleading Verr Goldet who gawked from behind the counter. He spun round and round until he felt dizzy and Xingqiu was too tired to continue protesting too loudly that it pierced his eardrums. 


“Xingqiu, if I could spend every day for the rest of my life with one person, that person would be you.” 


“W-What are you even saying?!?! W-We already do????” 






“WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” Chongyun sprinted up and down the stairs, feeling the rush of energy through his system turn into adrenaline as he knocked over a few things here and there, maybe a vase, maybe a painting, it was all good fun. 


“Chongyun- I’m going to be dirt poor by the end of this.” 


Chongyun could vaguely feel his shoulder digging into Xingqiu’s stomach as he frolicked around the inn like a mad man. He then stopped at the second highest floor of the inn and stared out into the vast landscape stretching out below them into the infinite beyond. 


“Xingqiu, do you trust me?” He asked quietly. 


Xingqiu barely heard him. “Of course. Why?” 


Chongyun felt a smile flowering on his face and stepped onto the ledge. “BECAUSE I TRUST YOU TOO!!!” 


“Hold on- wait, wait wait wait what are you doi-” Xingqiu frantically tried to pull free from Chongyun’s grasp but Chongyun's grip was as stubborn as a cryo whopperflower. 


He leaped out into the open starlit sky and shrieked into the night, feeling the wind lap violently at their clothes as they fell like a pair of shooting meteors. 


The moment was too ethereal. Chongyun landed very calmly on the edge of a small bamboo raft, splashing water onto the river banks and soaking his shoes completely, as if he had been waiting for this moment his entire life. 




Chongyun gently set the shivering boy down on the river bank. It was only then that he noticed Xingqiu’s tear-stained cheeks. His mind blanked as he felt his heart drop a thousand miles into the earth.


“... Xingqiu? Why am I standing in the river? And why are you crying?”

Chapter Text

Chongyun rose early and arrived at the Knights of Favonious Headquarters before Lisa had even arrived. Porthos and Athos still let him in after a lot of persuasion that involved lots of clumsy handwriting and misunderstandings. 


He sat in the library a little unsure of what to do. It was completely devoid of people at this hour, so he busied himself with putting away loose books lying around on the floor and tables. On a corner he found a wooden bucket and a mop which he then used to clean the floors until they were shinier than the surface of a mirror. 


It was quiet. Chongyun paced about the room staring at volumes of books lined along the shelves in interest. There were a few he recognised from the long afternoons he spent at Xingqiu’s side, reading book after book until one of them fell asleep. 


His personal favourite was Moonlit Bamboo Forest. It wasn’t too short or too long, and it had a unique plot. Living alone in a forest didn’t sound half bad when Chongyun thought about it, now that he had nobody and was a nobody. 


It would be better for everyone if they all thought he had died. It would make things a lot easier, a lot less emotions to deal with, and a lot less trouble thrown his way. He could make a living on his own, afterall he had made it this far already in Mondstat thanks to the warm-hearted people who inhabited the place. 


But the thought of dying in that frozen lake crossed his mind and he found it chillingly appealing. 


No, Chongyun, don’t think like that. 


He patted his cheeks and tried to perk up. Though he wasn’t exactly happy to have survived, he wasn’t exactly unhappy either. He just didn’t think that far and now he didn’t know what to do, is all. 


Mondstat was a nice place. He would settle down like a normal person, blend in with the crowd, it was all going to be okay. 


The door creaked open and Chongyun jumped. 


“Here already? You’re very early. Wyratt said you arrived at half past six.” Lisa yawned. She took a proper look around the room and raised her eyebrows. “You cleaned the entire place?” 


Chongyun nodded. 


“I can already tell you’re going to be one of the best assistants~” Lisa smiled. “You’ve done all the work here, let’s go get breakfast. My treat~” 


Chongyun played it safe with pancakes and a fried egg. He missed the taste of Liyue cuisine to start his day, the rice, the jewellery soup, or even the occasional Inazuma miso soup. If he ever got the chance, he would go to Inazuma in a heartbeat. If only Xingqiu would be there to join him. 


“Does a little cutie like you have a special someone?” Lisa asked, picking at her Fisherman’s Toast. 


The question caught Chongyun a little off guard. Such questions were usually phrased differently in Liyue, with more subtlety rather than directness. Phrases such as “ Ah… reaching marriageable age soon? ” or “ A young man like you must have many girls vying for you… no? Nonsense! Then have you met my neighbour’s father’s mother’s cousin’s nephew’s daughter? A lovely girl, very stunning physique, well educated and most importantly of all - wealthy background haha… ” 


“Given your lack of response I assume there is someone then?” Lisa smiled smugly at Chongyun. He didn’t know what to say… though it didn’t matter since he couldn’t speak anyway. He gave in and nodded, but didn’t want to continue the one-sided conversation any further. 


“Are they waiting for you in Liyue?” She coolly sliced through a corner of her toast in one swift move. 


Maybe. Chongyun didn’t want to think about it. The idea of Xingqiu persistently waiting for him back in Liyue was too much for his heart to handle. He prayed silently to the Archons that Xingqiu would have long since moved on.


Forget me, Xingqiu. Make new friends with other people, let me be nothing but a short chapter of your life. I’ll be happy for you, and you’ll always have my blessing.


“Are you worried that they won’t like you for your flaws?” 


Lisa gestured for Chongyun to try one of her Mondstat Hash Browns and he carefully stabbed one in the centre with his fork to pick it up. Chongyun shook his head. Xingqiu wouldn’t dislike him for being mute, he knew that much at least. 


“I have two theories as to why you won’t return to Liyue. Want to hear them?” Lisa leaned closer. 


What was he afraid of? Chongyun nodded bravely. 


Lisa was visibly delighted. “One, you feel guilty... Or two, they would feel guilty if they found you in this state.” 


First it was Albedo, now it was Lisa. Chongyun felt that he had stumbled upon the two smartest people in Mondstat. 


“Ah, the troubles of young people. Always so sentimental~ they were the good old days~” Lisa crunched down on a hashbrown as Chongyun quietly finished his. Today’s breakfast meal was arguably the best he’d had in two years - the pancakes were mellow and fluffy, the egg was cooked to perfection, and the hashbrowns were surprisingly crispy. Perhaps Xingqiu would like them- 


He needed to stop thinking about Xingqiu. 


It would do no good dwelling on such pointless thoughts.  


Let him go let him go let him go.


You’ve said your goodbyes. 


It’s time to let him go. 


Book after book Chongyun quietly signed in and out as Lisa disappeared off to have her afternoon tea break. He saw the familiar face of Ella who continued to make Hilichurl noises once Lisa wasn’t there to scold her for being loud in the library. Sayid introduced himself to Chongyun earlier and began musing about a variety of topics, from his homeland Sumeru to the fascination he had with Mondstat’s culture. Something about romanticism and something about bards… Chongyun listened quietly and nodded along, pretending to understand. 


Now he sat all alone in his chair. All the books had been put away and he had carefully logged every book that had been signed in or out, quickly becoming a lengthy and comprehensive list. He didn’t want to read another book either, they simply didn’t interest him as much when… 


No, he couldn’t think so negatively. He thought of Barbara’s words and tried to manage a smile. 


Think positive! That’s how you live a long and happy life~ 


It felt a little unnatural, but it would be fine after some practice, and he was good at practicing. 


“Ms Lisa, I’m sure you have it in the restricted section- wait wrong words- I know you have it in the restricted section, Ms Lisa-” 


“Mona dear, the restricted section is restricted for good reason~” 


The door flung open and in walked Lisa with a shorter girl following closely behind her in persistence. She had long black hair swept into pigtails under a purple hat that matched the rest of her clothing as well as green cat-like eyes. 


“If you’ve read the book, Ms Lisa, you’d know that it really doesn’t belong in the restricted section-” 


“Oh! Mona dear, let me introduce you to the new temporary assistant working here: Little Yun?” 


Mona glared down at Chongyun as if inspecting him, and suddenly Chongyun felt very nervous. He stood up awkwardly as the chair legs screeched against the wooden floorboards. 


Should he try to shake hands or something? 


He slowly held out a shaky hand to which Mona completely ignored. Chongyun felt embarrassment creep into his cheeks as he pulled his hand back to scratch his head. 


“Yun? Albedo mentioned him before. And he’s not little at all, Ms Lisa, you make him sound the same size as little Klee.” Mona commented as if Chongyun was just a block of air. 


“He’s almost twenty.” 


“Oh.” Mona clicked her tongue. “Maybe you are a bit small for a near-twenty year old.” 


Chongyun didn’t know what to say. Then he remembered that he was mute. He mustered up a small smile instead.


“I’m Mona. Anyways-” Mona turned to face Lisa, “-About that book…” 


Lisa audibly sighed and adjusted the purple rose in her hair. “Fine. But not a word from Jean do you hear?”


Mona nodded happily and watched as Lisa ventured into the back room to find the book, muttering to herself and shuffling things around in the process. 


“Hey, you.” 


Chongyun flinched and looked over to Mona. Her emerald green eyes were scarily piercing. 


“You’re that exorcist who went missing two years ago from Liyue Harbour. Do you know that missing posters for you are still stuck up everywhere?” 


He averted her gaze and tried not to think about it. Let those posters stay up for as long as they wanted to, Chongyun wasn’t going back. 


Mona sighed. “I don’t go prodding around in other people’s business, mind you. I’m just curious as to why I can’t read your future.” 


Well neither could Chongyun. He shrugged with a small smile at her and hoped Lisa would come back soon. 


“This has never happened before… It’s like I’m seeing someone else’s future instead. But it’s too detailed… too strange…” 


“What are you telling him, Mona? Not bad mouthing me are we?” Lisa held up a chunky old book in her hand and Mona’s green eyes lit up. She excitedly snatched it from her and rubbed her palms over the hardcover. 


“Thanks Ms Lisa, bye Ms Lisa!” Mona walked out of the library with her nose buried in the pages, almost bumping into the wall as she tried to pass through the doorway. 


“That Mona~” Lisa shook her head and chuckled. “She’s just as transparent to other people as other people are transparent to her.” 


She then binked down at Chongyun wearily. “Did she offend you with her words? Got a blunt mouth, that one.” 


Chongyun shook his head no. He had gotten used to hearing lots of interesting phrases directed towards him throughout his childhood by a certain someone. 


“Ah… what was I doing again?” Lisa put a finger to her chin then abruptly perked up. “My tea! It’s probably cold now… ah… silly me…” 


Lisa’s eyes flitted over to Chongyun. Speaking of tea… I actually have a bag of Qingxin tea sitting in my cupboard, I couldn't get used to the taste, do you want it?” 


Chongyun nodded earnestly. He would give anything for a taste of home right now. 


“Alright, I’ll drop it off at the Adventurer’s Guild later. Ah… nothing beats a nice cup of Valberry tea~” 


If only he had rice buns to go with the tea, then it would be the perfect late evening meal for a night of moon gazing. 


But the moon in Mondstat just wasn’t the same as the moon in Liyue. Neither were the sunsets or the sunrises, the mountains or the rivers. 


Nothing was the same anymore, never again. 


He just needed to get used to it , everything will be fine


With a heavy heart, Chongyun tried to smile. 


It was the most chaotic and lively dinner Chongyun had in a long time. He missed this kind of group setting, the darkening skies and the blending of voices in the background as cool breeze ruffled his hair. 


He had just been introduced to Albedo’s little friend - though she seemed to be more of a little sister to him - Klee, an adorable girl with two blonde pigtails and a strange obsession with… bombs. Nevertheless, Chongyun found her very cute and understood why all the Knights of Favonius enjoyed spoiling her. 


“Lampy Yun Lampy Yun!” She grinned at him, her pigtails bouncing up and down, “Have you ever been to Mondstat’s Ludi Harpastum festival?” 


Chongyun shook his head. 


“Lampy Yun? Why not just Yun?” Mona asked, not taking her eyes off the book. She was so engrossed in it that she had fed pieces of sauteed mushroom into her cheek after missing her mouth. Even then, she didn’t bother to wipe the sauce off her face and asked Klee to do it instead. 


“His hair is the colour of small lamp grass when it glows!” Klee smiled, reaching up to pat his head. “And it’s super duper soft!” 


“Let’s keep our hands to ourselves, Klee, you’re turning what, twelve this year?” Albedo gave Klee a stern look. 


“Yup! I like the number twelve too.” Klee swiveled to stare at Chongyun again with her big scarlet eyes. “You’re going to love the upcoming Ludi Harpastum festival in Mondstat! I’ll show you all the fun games if you like, Lampy Yun, I’m actually very good at most of the throwing activities because of my practice with throwing bo-” 


“Ahem.” Albedo cut her off, “Yun is a bit sensitive to his surroundings, Klee. Let’s not scare him with your Jumpy Dumpties too much.” 


“Awwwww okay… Lampy Yun doesn’t seem to mind though…” She bit her lip and made large puppy dog eyes. 


Chongyun flipped to his most frequently used card. “It’s okay.” He smiled. 


“See! Lampy is okay with it!” Klee stuck out a tongue at Albedo who rubbed his face tiredly with one hand. “What festivals do you celebrate in Liyue, Lampy Yun?” 


Chongyun took out the pen from his pocket that he now took with him everywhere and flattened a piece of napkin on the table. 


Moonchase, Lantern Rite, among others.” He wrote. His memory of being tricked into trying Xiangling’s strange food at the Masterful Chefs Competition during Moonchase almost made him gag. But even then he still missed Xiangling's experiments. 


“Ohhhhh that’s cool! I think I’ve heard of the Lantern Rite Festival from Amber.” Klee beamed at him. 


“Oh yes, very lively.” Mona commented distractedly from behind her book. Chongyun didn't know how she could read one thing and listen to another at the same time. Perhaps she had seen this conversation in her oh-so-very-skilled fortune telling. 


“Amber’s parents were from Liyue, you’ll meet her sometime, she’s everywhere.” Albedo explained. Amber sounded like a nice person. Chongyun was getting used to meeting new people it didn't seem so scary anymore.


“I haven’t seen her around in a while, I kind of miss Baron Bunny.” 


“I don’t understand how anyone can miss something that may explode at any second.” Mona muttered, fortunately Klee didn’t seem to have heard her. If she did, she paid no mind. Chongyun felt that this group dynamic was certainly unique.


“I’ll draw Baron Bunny for you if you miss it that much.” Albedo offered, swallowing a spoonful of mint jelly. 


“Really!? Yes please! You’re the best artist in all of Teyvat!” Klee’s face glowed brighter than the sunset. “Can you draw Lampy Yun too?” 


Albedo gave her a confused look. “Why?” 


“He’s pretty.” Klee blinked innocently. Chongyun felt his cheeks heat up immediately and tried to drink some water out of habit, only to miss the cup and knock it on the floor instead. Luckily it hadn’t broken, and there wasn’t much water left in it to begin with. Embarrassed, Chongyun picked the glass back up and set it down on the table, wishing the ground would open up and swallow him inside. 


“Hah… you’re really clumsy.” Mona had finally looked up from her book. “Wait- Klee, you’ve never asked Albedo to draw me! You don’t think I’m pretty?”


Klee looked frantic as she searched for a response. “Yes of course you’re pretty! Lampy Yun is just prettier.” 


Mona gaped for a solid ten seconds, glaring at Chongyun before returning to her book. “Weird tastes I suppose.” She muttered under her breath. 


He could get used to this. The idle chatter and the moments of surprise. Any place could become home if you stayed there long enough, right? 


He just needed some time.



Xingqiu had the look of mischief plastered all over his smug smile as he squeezed Chongyun’s shoulders. 


“You’ll try those for me won’t you?” He pointed at a plate of what looked like death. 


“Th-That doesn’t look very appetising…” 


He was sure they were Fullmoon Eggs, but at the same time he also wasn’t. For starters it had a mysterious blue sheen to it, and the colour of the eggs seemed off. Not to mention that the entire thing looked stone solid. 


“Ah! This is one of my many new masterpieces- I present to you The Loach Pearl Moon and the Cor Lapis Egg.” Xiangling beamed at them. 


“Loach pearls… C-Cor Lapis???” Chongyun stammered at the long name. 


“Yup! No worries, they’re soft after being boiled for three days straight- definitely edible.” She assured them. 


Xingqiu nudged his arm. “My stomach hasn’t been well recently… I can’t just eat anything before you’ve tried it first…” 


Chongyun sighed and closed his eyes. He swallowed the entire thing whole before even tasting the flavour in fear that he would spit it out and upset Xiangling. 


“How does it taste?” 


Chongyun mustered up a polite smile. “Good.”  


He had no idea what it tasted like, only that the texture was concerningly rock-like and that it was having a hard time travelling down his oesophagus. 


“Then try this! My next work of art… Butterfly Parcels!” Xiangling squatted to take something out from under the table. 


At least the name didn’t sound too bad- WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE ARCHON GODS WERE THOSE REAL BUTTERFLIES?!!?!?!?!


Xingqiu sniggered as Chongyun almost teared up. 


“Try one! Better than the usual Jade Parcels I promise!” Xiangling was so eager to show off her work that it was difficult to refuse. Moreover, Xingqiu would personally feed it to him like last time if he tried to decline them. 


There was no end to Xiangling’s creativity. Lotus Lizard Tails, Electro Tofu, Luminescent Rice and Frog Noodles… by the time Xingqiu was happy with how much tasting he had done Chongyun was a bloated lantern. 


“Ahhh… don’t look at me like that Chongyun dear… Chongyun sweetie… Chongyun darling… Chongyun honey…” 


He really couldn’t stay mad at him for more than a second. After all it was part of his training too - his reputation of being easily drunk on Yang energy had circulated as far as to the outskirts of Qingce Village. 


But at the end of the day some of the dishes he tried weren’t all too bad… and Xingqiu always ate the spicy dishes for him despite having a sensitive stomach. 


His Xingqiu was always so considerate of him. 


His Xingqiu was the best.

Chapter Text

After a long day of writing, Xingqiu gazed up at the red sky over Liyue Harbour. 


Bustling people came and went as boats sailed in and out. Behind every cloud lay a tinge of honey as if hiding an overripe yellow tomato. The clear water swayed in gathered waves as if welcoming those arriving and bidding farewell to those departing. Mountains in the distance displayed their evergreen trees like proud creations of art and the choppy landscape surrounded the city. 


There was no better place in the world, yet Xingqiu couldn’t help but feel hopelessly incomplete. 


Heat pooled over his skin as he walked out onto the busy streets. Perhaps a good meal at Wanmin restaurant would spark some much needed inspiration. 


The air was salty as he strolled, book in hand and visualising his characters walking beside him, bantering with each other like fire and ice. Storytelling from Iron Tongue Tian filled his ears as he passed the crowded area. He tried not to focus on it too much. It was more fun listening to stories for the first time when Chongyun was by his side, or rather, it was more fun to watch Chongyun’s subtle expressions rather than listen to stories. 


The big dummy was oblivious to his surroundings when immersed in a tale no matter how sharp his senses were. Xingqiu knew this more than anyone. 


The windows began to light up one by one with a swirling orange glow as Xingqiu neared Wanmin restaurant. The night was falling yet the liveliness of Liyue Harbour would continue into late at night. 


“Xingqiu!” Xiangling called out to him, “I haven’t had dinner yet, want to eat together?” 


He smiled. “Give me a discount for indulging in my company?” 


She rolled her eyes and clipped a strand of loose dark hair back behind her head. “For the second son of the Feiyun Commerce Guild, you’re shockingly stingy towards your friends.” 


Xingqiu chuckled as he sat down on a tall stool. “I’m feeling hungry, let’s go with Crab Roe Tofu and Stir-fried Shrimp.” 


“You sure you don’t want to try my new special, Iron Shrimp Crackers? They’re very crunchy.” Xiangling offered with hope in her eyes. 


Xingqiu only shook his head. “Not feeling up to it today, Xiangling, I’m craving light foods.” 


“Okay… One Crab Roe Tofu and one Stir-fried Shrimp, dad!” 


“Coming right up!” Chef Mao hollered from the back. Xiangling took a seat opposite of Xingqiu and began pouring some tea. 


“What are you having today?” Xingqiu asked out of courtesy.


“Oh! Nothing interesting, need to finish the leftover Jueyun Chili Chicken from yesterday- might’ve put too much spice in there… our customers choked on it.” She sighed. 


“Your spice tolerance is simply god tier.” Xingqiu took a sip of tea. Qingxin tea, he hadn’t tasted that in a while. 


“Well, how’s that book coming along?” Xiangling handed him a pair of chopsticks. 


“Same as usual.” Xingqiu grumbled, “It’s just so hard to come up with ideas.” 


“You could mention our restaurant in one scene, then when your stories blow up, we’ll be rich and famous!” Xiangling grinned. 


“Very funny, you know I don’t do free advertising.” 


“It was a joke… worth a shot...” Xiangling muttered. She scooped out a serving of leftover chili chicken from under the counter into a bowl and began heating it over the stove. The fire complimented the ginger splashes of light over the walls from the setting sun. It was golden hour, the best hour of the day yet it only lasted for as long as the blink of an eye. 


“You look kind of sad again.” 


“Huh?” Xingqiu raised his eyebrows at her, “Me? Haha, what do you mean?” 


“I don’t know, it’s never been the same eating together since Chongyun…” 


Since Chongyun disappeared.


“Sorry.” Xiangling apologised quietly, “I still can’t get used to seeing you alone by yourself.” 


Xingqiu smiled at her, “I’m not alone, I have you and Hutao and even Xinyan or Yanfei… I’m not sure how I seem lonely to you.” 


“Whatever, I just… can’t help but wonder where he is sometimes…” Xiangling looked up towards the sky at the lazy clouds. 


Xingqiu didn’t wonder about it sometimes , he thought about it every single waking moment of his day. He recalled the days leading up to his disappearance and went paranoid over what could have prompted the big dummy to leave without saying goodbye. 


Maybe it was the way he kept feeding him Xiangling’s weird food, or when he dragged him to Xingyan’s concert and laughed so hard his belly hurt. Maybe he had overstepped Chongyun’s boundaries that he never knew existed. 


Or perhaps even because Xingqiu spent less time with him after befriending the eccentric Hutao. Perhaps Chongyun felt left out, perhaps he was jealous, even. 


Or… it was because of the sneaky kisses Xingqiu stole when they were in private. He was never quite sure how Chongyun felt about those, and sometimes he was sure Chongyun left because he didn’t feel the same way. 


Whatever the reason, it had been two years and not a single sign of him. 


Xingqiu had long since begun his resolve to practice sparring so that when one day Chongyun returned, he would beat him fair and square in a fight and interrogate him until there were no questions left unanswered. 


The big dummy just needed to appear even once across the face of Teyvat. 


Yet it was like his entire person never existed. The posters came to no avail and quickly fell apart in the rain and wind. Nevertheless, Xingqiu periodically put them back up again despite his parents saying that it was a waste of printing money. 


No amount was equal to gaining some answers, it would be worth it in the end. 


“Your Crab Roe Tofu and Stir-fried Shrimp, beloved customer of ours!” Chef Mao set two bowls down on the table and grinned at them. “Eat up! You’re a growing young man, has your family begun preparing for your future marriage prospects yet?” 


Xingqiu felt a lump grow in his throat. “No, haha… my brother takes priority for now…” 


“Well then! Our Xiangling is always availab- ow!”


“Dad! Stop trying to marry me off to random people! Especially not my friends!” Xiangling scolded her red-faced father, poking him with the blunt end of her chopsticks. 


“Now now, your dearest father just wants a few grandkids, is that too much to ask? Plus, marriage isn’t a shameful thing dear… and look at what a beautiful girl you’ve grown up into, just like your mother- ow! Fine fine, I’ll leave… enjoy your meals, kids.” 


Chef Mao scratched the back of head as he disappeared back into the kitchen to greet more customers. 


It was a rather comedic scene to watch as it unfolded, but Xingqiu only felt sour as he thought of marriage with some high-class, strutty, oh-so-very-educated, well-mannered, polite and porcelain doll-like daughters of rich families. He’d rather be a single chopstick forever. 


“Sorry about my dad, you know him, he likes overthinking my future too much.” 


“No harm done.” Xingqiu reassured her as he began peeling the shell of a shrimp. It crackled under his fingertips and he had the urge to feed it to… 


Old habits die hard, they say. Xingqiu chewed on it thoughtfully and felt empty despite the shrimps settling in his stomach. 


“When do you think you’ll finish the draft of your book?” Xiangling asked, she shoved a chopstick full of chicken into her mouth and her cheeks bulged like that of squirrels. 


“Probably in a month or so, then it’ll be the editing stage and the beta reading stage and all that jazz.” 


“Will there be illustrations? I liked the ones in your first book, ``Something legend something sword?” 


“Maybe.” Xingqiu rolled his tongue over a spoonful of tofu before swallowing. “I commissioned an artist named Albedo to illustrate A Legend of Sword for me. I could ask him again, though the trip to Mondstat last time was a disaster.” 


“Oh I remember! The carriage broke and it was raining and you were in the middle of nowhere.” 


“Not fun.” Xingqiu grimaced upon the memory. “That’s why I’m not too keen on the idea.” 


“The illustrations are worth it though.”


“I’ll consider it.” 


Xingqiu thought about that day in the thundering weather when one of the wheels on the carriage broke from a horrible and gnarly twig. He was already in a particularly bad mood that day, and being stranded in the middle of nowhere was the last straw.  It was unlike him, but he cried and cried and wished Chongyun was there to be at his side, tell him that everything would be alright and brave the obstacles together. To tell him that life was full of ups and downs and that it would be fine if they faced them together, that in the eyes of their future selves these events would be nothing by little ripples in a calm pond.


But Chongyun wasn’t there, he’d left without saying goodbye and Xingqiu had never felt so upset with him before. He’d promised to be there for him, with him, at his side no matter what happened, yet as much as Xingqiu hoped to see his figure come towards him in that pouring rain that day, Chongyun never appeared. It was like lightning had struck him in the heart realising that his best friend had left him all alone, and that if he was ravaged by wild boars or died there in the wilderness, Chongyun would continue to live blissfully and ignorantly wherever he was. 


It was from that day on that Xingqiu always carried a little bit of blame for Chongyun in his heart. A fiery, angry, and unacknowledged resentment that kept him awake at night. 


And on that little bit of exasperation, he published his first book. He had even hoped to himself that Chongyun would appear on his doorstep, knocking and asking with a betrayed look on his face as to why he didn’t get the first copy, why he wasn’t the first one to lay eyes on the words and pictures pooling on the pages, why hundreds of strangers were able to read it before him. 


Chongyun did not appear, not even a glimpse of his shadow that allowed for Xingqiu’s imagination to take off and weave little fantasies of their own. It was a cold fact that he had left and had left for good. 


Once this reality dawned on him like a crushing boulder to his chest, Xingqiu cried for days. None of his family noticed, and he couldn’t help but remember that if Chongyun was there he would have noticed his reddened eyes in half a heartbeat, sit him down and whisper to him gently, trying to cheer him up with seafood and silly stories of their childhood. 


But Chongyun wasn’t there and so Xingqiu had no one to cry to. His brother eventually noticed something wasn’t right and brought it up with his parents, but Xingqiu was bitter and didn’t want to talk. They hadn't been there for him in the past like Chongyun did, it just was not the same. He spent at least months wallowing in despair, sometimes resorting to crying sessions with Hutao when she had a rare moment of freedom. He felt bad afterwards because Hutao was not the type of person who was good at comforting words and must've felt very awkward. Thus, he sucked it up and tried to get on with his life. 


Once his novel gained popularity in Inazuma and certain areas in Liyue, Xingqiu felt no joy. It was like eating sweet cough drops as a remedy for broken bones. 


It was like his life had lost its light. 


Xingqiu gazed up at the progressing autumn clouds. 


Just where are you, Chongyun?

Chapter Text

The streets of Mondstat were busy as Chongyun began to feel dizzy trying to find the locations of all the people on the list Lisa had given him. There were only a few overdue books but Lisa had given him the entire day to do errands which he was grateful for because he’d rather spend time outside than being cooped up in the dim library. Perhaps he’d ask Jean if there were other job options later… Being a librarian’s assistant was awfully dull. 


Right now he was walking in the direction to Mona’s residence marked with a red dot on his map. She seemed like the kind of person to borrow a lot of books and forget to return them, so Chongyun wasn’t surprised to see the familiar name. 


He passed the local blacksmith and the scent of burning iron wafted to his nostrils. It was a nostalgic smell and he suddenly missed his days when he could still swing his claymore. The wolf’s gravestone that Aunt Shenhe had gifted him had long been shattered into smithereens, marking the end of the happiest times. 


Forget the wolf’s gravestone, Chongyun doubted he could even lift a prototype archaic with his current state. The muscles he so carefully trained had withered to the point of non-existence, all that was left were skin and bone and even that couldn’t always support him through a day of mild work. 


He looked away from the blacksmith and sighed. 


The sound of clanking iron began to fade as he continued travelling down the street to Mona’s house. He was almost curious to know the kind of place Mona lived in, from his impression of her he would’ve expected her to camp outside the city walls under a bridge. 


Perhaps he was thinking too harshly of her from the way she rejected his handshake. Chongyun shook his head. Like Barbara said, he needed to think more positively, about both himself and other people. 


Mona’s house came into view and Chongyun picked up his pace. He had barely reached the stairs when the door flung open and Mona stared at him as if she had expected his arrival. She stretched out a hand holding up a battered book that was on the verge of falling apart. 


“You’re here for this, aren’t you?” 


Chongyun nodded and took the book into his hands. Mona then craned her neck to search the vines that covered the edges of the doorframe. She gingerly picked out a large mushroom that Chongyun had never seen before and proceeded to take an enormous bite. 


“Good stuff. Won’t need to spend mora on lunch today.” She said through a mouthful and closed the door at the astonished Chongyun. He could only assume that this was a recurring habit of hers. 


Still in awe, Chongyun read the next name on the list. A girl by the name of Glory, it seemed. 


Nice name , he thought to himself. Mondstat names were vastly different from those in Liyue, but there was a simplicity to them that evoked a sense of elegance and grace. 


Usually sitting on a bench near the bushes .” The description read. It was wholly too vague, and Chongyun thanked Lisa internally for marking the map with a red pen for him because without her help he would be hopelessly lost. Once he neared, however, he realised that there were multiple people sitting on benches and Chongyun felt sweat form on his brow. 


Which one was Glory?


He spotted a girl wearing the green adventurer’s uniform that he saw everywhere in the guild dormitories. Was Glory an adventurer? Surely Lisa would have added that in her description if she was?


Chongyun looked over to the other girl sitting on another bench. She had a strip of fabric tied over her eyes as she sat, quietly murmuring something about Godwin and something about Lord Barbatos. 


He didn’t want to make rash assumptions but that girl looked, very, uh… how to put this… Blind. 


It must be very difficult to be blind, Chongyun thought to himself as he approached the girl in green uniform. He scribbled a quick note on his knee that said, “ Glory? ” as he held it up for her to read. 


She smiled politely at him and put a hand to her chest. “No… sorry, I’m Alfry from the Adventurer’s Guild. Glory is that girl over there with the long auburn hair.”


Chongyun blinked. Was it really the blind girl then???? 


He apologised and hurried over to Glory. At the sound of his footsteps, she perked up and faced his direction. 


“Is someone there?” She called out. Chongyun felt a bit awkward that he couldn’t talk to her… She relied on listening to other people’s voices yet it was the very thing Chongyun didn’t have. 


He stumbled back over to Alfry and held up a card. “ I’m mute .” 


Alfry looked confused but nodded. Chongyun began scribbling furiously on a slip of paper. 


“Can… you… ask… Glory… about… her… overdue… book…?” 


The handwriting was appalling, but Alfry understood its meaning. She followed Chongyun over to Glory and greeted her. 


“Morning Glory, it’s Alfry, the weather has been good hasn’t it?” 


“Indeed Alfry, the sun feels very nice on my back.” Glory smiled. 


“Right well, you see, I have a little librarian next to me who can’t speak. He wants to know the details about your overdue book.” Alfry explained. 


“Ah…” Glory’s face fell. “Not being able to speak must also be very difficult… Please tell Lisa that my mother will return it this evening.” 


“Thanks! Wait- how do you read books?” Alfry frowned. 


“Barbara will read them to me occasionally when mother is too busy with her duties. My siblings too, if they’re feeling kind.” 


That made a lot of sense. Barbara was not labelled as Mondstat’s idol for nothing. Chongyun thanked Alfry and quickly left, the situation was too awkward to stay in any longer. 


Next on the list was Donna, who wasn’t far from the entrance of the city. Chongyun wandered over with Mona's book bouncing in his bag as he walked. There weren’t too many people around, so Donna was easy to spot. 


She seemed to be in a daydream as Chongyun approached her, muttering something about her dear sweetie pie Diluc. Must be someone very popular amongst the ladies. 


Chongyun held out Lisa’s note she had written for him to use. “Lisa the Librarian wants to know the details of your overdue book.” Donna read out loud and her face visibly paled. “Oh… uh… the Fox and the Dandelion Sea volumes… I actually got that out for Flora… Flora?” 


A little girl turned from her flower stand and stared wide-eyed at Chongyun. “Is my book overdue again?” 


Chongyun nodded and Flora nimbly retrieved the book from her bag. It had a nice turquoise cover with the image of a fox on display in dusty orange. He liked the look of it and made a mental note to read it in his free time. As he bent down to slip it in his bag he felt a small prick at the tip of his ear. 


“The cecelia flowers really suit you, librarian boy!” 


Chongyun blushed bright pink as he felt for the cecelia flower wedged over his ear and smiled. “ Thanks. ” 


“Oh you don’t speak? That’s unfortunate… because you seem nice, I present you with the special exclusive Floral Whisper’s top tier elite VIP card!” She placed a small cardboard rectangle with daisies drawn over it with a thick marker into Chongyun’s palm. “You get one free flower from me each day, as long as you remember to visit me!” 


Chongyun chuckled silently and nodded, then heard Donna giggle loudly from behind them. “Roses are red, violets are blue, my little boss has fallen for you!” 


“Donna! Stop that! I will deduct your pay and tell Mister Diluc that you had a crush on the Darknight Hero!” Flora warned her as her cheeks started to burn to the shade of an overripe sunsettia. Donna gaped at her and began to apologise profusely. “Flora… he-he can’t know about that…!” 


Chongyun found the situation amusing and patted the top of Flora’s head, the citizens of Mondstat were lovely. 


He took a quick glance down at the list… Klee? 


There was only one line of Lisa’s cursive handwriting: Good luck finding her!


What was this supposed to mean???


No wonder Lisa had given him the entire day off. 




Chongyun looked up at a boy standing in front of him, looking around the same age as Flora and Klee. He wore a betrayed look on his face as his eyes darted from Chongyun to Flora to Chongyun to Flora and finally settled on Flora.


“You gave him the special exclusive Floral Whisper’s top tier elite VIP card?! I only got the exclusive Floral Whisper’s top tier VIP card!!!” He cried, “Do you like him or something?”


Flora wrinkled her nose at him. “Sorry Timmie, but we’re over. I have fallen for another and can accept your heartfelt emotions no longer.” 


Chongyun felt that Mondstat kids were - although more free-spirited - very weird. 


Timmie looked like he was about to cry and Chongyun didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure if Timmie would appreciate his love rival trying to comfort him, but he patted Timmie’s head all the same. 


Timmie sniffed as he pressed his lips into a thin line. “I-I guess I can understand why you like him. You have my blessings, Flora, but there will always be a spot in my heart reserved just for you. So long, dearest Flora.” 


Chongyun held back a laugh and his shoulders began to tremble as he tried to hide his growing smile. This was almost better than watching Yunjin’s operas. Almost. 


“Timmie… Flora, Lampy Yun!” Klee’s shrill voice appeared behind them. Chongyun breathed a sigh of relief - he wouldn’t need to go hunting around Mondstat for her anymore. 


“Hello Klee!” Timmie tried to brighten up. “What are you doing today?” 


Klee jumped up and down on the spot. “Just the usual - tweaking my Jumpty Dumpties when Jean isn’t looking. What about you guys?” 


“Timmie and I are no longer together anymore.” Flora shook her head and feigned a sorrowful look in her eyes. “My heart now lies with… wait- did you just call him Lampy Yun? Is that his name? I thought it would be Charming Charles the Seventh or something fancy…” 


“No no, his name is Yun, but his hair is the shade of small lamp grass when it glows, so I call him Lampy Yun.” Klee explained to her with much patience. 


Flora seemed to take great care in mulling this over. “But I can’t introduce him to my family as Lampy Yun… it needs to be something stunning and dazzling like, like Soaring Sebastian or Astonishing Anthony.” 


Chongyun had a slight suspicion that Donna’s habits had greatly influenced Flora’s imagination as it visibly ran wild. Kids… strange creatures indeed. 


“Uh… I don’t quite understand… is Lampy Yun not a good name?” Klee questioned. 


Timmie stepped forward and interrupted them. “If you had a daughter, Klee, would you let them marry some random guy named Lampy Yun? Absolutely not, but you’d let them marry someone cooler like… like… Fred! Or John… or… Timmie…” 


Chongyun felt that he needed to steer the conversation away somehow before it escalated to the point of no return. He could only hope that Flora wasn’t being serious about introducing him to her family… he would die. 


Turning to Klee, Chongyun held up Lisa’s note to which Klee squinted at. “Lisa… the Librarian… wants to know… the details of your… overdue book.” 


Chongyun watched as Klee’s face paled by a few shades. 


“Uhm… Big brother Lampy… I uh… may have…” Klee looked up at him with puppy dog eyes. Chongyun only felt a wave of dread in his stomach - this couldn’t be a good sign. He cocked his head questioningly. 


“I may have… buried it.” Klee finished. 


Chongyun blinked at her. Buried it??? What do you mean, ‘buried it’????? Who buries books???


Klee looked guilty. “I was burying my bombs up in the mountains because I didn’t want Jean to find them but I-I accidentally buried the book in there too… I was tired from all the digging so I decided to leave it and dig it out later…” 


The book is probably decomposing , Chongyun thought to himself and imagined the air around Lisa turning electric. The hair on his arms began to stand up at the very image. 


“L-Lampy Yun… I can take you there… it’s not too far…” Klee offered. 


What else could he do? Chongyun nodded and Klee’s spirits lifted.


“I’m going on an adventure with Lampy Yun! Whoopee!!” She beamed at him. How quickly the mood of a child could shift was beyond Chongyun’s comprehension. He gave a small smile to her and folded his note back up to keep in his pocket. 


“I want to go too…!” Timmie leaned in and whispered, “ I can pick flowers for Flora! Because that’s what heroes do right?” 


Chongyun nodded and was reminded of a certain someone who also loved playing the hero and felt sad.


“I heard that.” Came Flora’s sharp response, “You don’t need to pick flowers for me anymore, Timmie. I’ve got Lampson now.” 




Chongyun almost choked on air. It was one surprise after the next… Kids really liked to make up the strangest names. 


“That’s okay, Flora. You can accept my flowers… as a friend.” Timmie gave her a pure smile - one that Flora had no way of turning down unless she had a heart of stone. 


“Okay then… that would be appreciated, Timmie.” She responded with a hint of sincerity and Donna’s giggles filled the air. 


“But wait, Timmie, you need permission from your mother don’t you?” Klee asked and Timmie’s face instantly fell. 


“Yeah…” He replied, “That may be a little problematic.” 


It had taken a lot of persuasion from Timmie and Klee for Sister Grace to give in. She gave Chongyun so many subtle warnings that he now felt completely responsible for the lives of two whole children and began to fidget nervously. 


He didn’t realise that Klee’s definition of “not too far” was literally to Starsnatch Cliff. 


Why she believed that she had to bury bombs in a place as far as Starsnatch Cliff, Chongyun had no idea. He could only assume that Klee had lasting trauma from Jean. 


“Yay! Off we go to Starsnatch cliff! Wee!” Klee hopped cheerfully through the fields. Timmie followed after her, occasionally picking a few flowers here and there to add to the ever-growing bouquet. Sometimes Chongyun suspected that there was some wild grass mixed into that bouquet but only chuckled to himself about it. 


“Big brother Lampy…?” Klee bounced over to his side like a ball of fiery flames. “You won’t… you won’t be upset with me if I may have forgotten where I buried the book… right?” 


Internally, Chongyun sighed. Externally, Chongyun smiled down at her and shook his head. There was no good coming out of losing his temper with a child, not to mention that he had suffered from far more troubling matters at the hands of a certain someone. 


“Yay! Lampy Yun is the best!” Klee circled around him then joined Timmie in picking some flowers before running off again. Chongyun tried to keep up with her pace but she was very speedy for her size. If he lost them, he would die of guilt. 


“Big brother Yun…” Timmie nudged Chongyun’s side. “I don’t see why Flora would choose you over me… but anyways. You’re not too bad… let’s call a truce?” 


Timmie held out a small hand. Chongyun smiled and shook it gently, almost afraid of how fragile kids could be. 


“Great! May the best man win!” Timmie pumped his chest proudly and Chongyun couldn’t help but laugh silently. Kids were so cute. 


Over the vast fields they trekked through the landscape of Mondstat as Chongyun admired the view. It was beautiful… but it always felt as if something was missing. No matter, he just needed some time to appreciate the differences between Mondstat and Liyue… is all. 


The amount of energy that kids had was beyond Chongyun’s understanding. As a person who had barely recovered from his injuries, Chongyun felt the fatigue take over his body as they travelled. 


“Ah, Lampy Yun! There’s a hilichurl camp up ahead… let me show you the power of my Jumpty Dumpties!” Klee yelled. Before Chongyun could react, he watched as Klee produced her stash of bombs and began hurling them at the hilichurls with terrifying precision. 


In this aspect, Klee was a lot more useful than Chongyun currently was and it was unnerving to say the least. 


From that moment on, Chongyun followed the kids even closer than before despite it taking up more energy than he could provide for himself. He worried for more appearances of hilichurls because they were unpredictable and risky to be around, Klee had gotten lucky that it wasn’t a large mob of mitachurls and abyss mages. 


“Did you like my performance? Big brother Lampy?” Klee peered up at him with innocent eyes. Chongyun smiled as he nodded, but he wished he had the voice to remind her to be careful around such mobs. 


“I’d much rather wield swords, swords are cool.” Timmie mused. Chongyun agreed with him, swords were very cool, and beautiful too. He had even practiced sword-fighting for a while to help… 


“Ahhhh! Help!!!” A cry alerted all three of them as they glanced up ahead. A man was being attacked by multiple hilichurls and was curled up on the ground in fear. 


Chongyun didn’t know what to do, but his first instinct was to grab Klee and hug her close to prevent her from throwing any bombs. If her Jumpty Dumpties landed anywhere near that man, both he and the hilichurls would likely not survive to see the next day. 


“W-What do we do?” Timmie stammered. 


Right at this moment, Chongyun watched a blur flash into the scene and swiftly take out all the hilichurls, who he recognised at a glance was the Knights of Favonius’s Calvary Captain: Kaeya. 


“Mister Kaeya!” Klee broke free from Chongyun’s arms and sprinted over to the tall and dark-skinning man. She barely came up to his waist when standing next to him. Chongyun watched awkwardly as Kaeya bent down to pat Klee’s head. 


“Th-Thank you, thank you.” The man shakily stood up and thanked Kaeya countless times. 


“It’s quite alright Mr Pallad, but it’s beginning to become a frequent occurrence, do stay safe and try not to venture out to risky places like this.” Kaeya advised the pale and shivering man. Mr Pallad looked ready to topple over at the slightest blow of wind. 


“And you, Klee.” Kaeya frowned down at the beaming girl, “What brings you here?” His blue eyes gave Chongyun an icy glare. 


“It’s a long story… I may have buried a library book around here… but now it’s overdue, so big brother Lampy is here to collect it with me.” Klee explained and Kaeya’s expression softened a little. 


“I see.” He said, then a horrified expression passed his face. “You call me Mister Kaeya yet you call that blue boy as big brother ?”


Klee gave him a sweetly innocent smile. “Aren’t you a bit old to be my big brother though?” 


Kaeya looked like he had been struck by lightning as he glared daggers at Chongyun. “Me? Old? Hah… kids these days think anyone over twenty is old… Anyways. Enough talking, I’ll accompany you to find that book, lest you run into more dangers along the way.” 


“Okay!” Klee began to skip away and Chongyun tried to catch up with Timmie scampering at his side. 


“Captain Kaeya… about that promotion at the Adventurer’s Guild…” 


“You have my sincere apologies Mister Pallad, however, the Knights of Favonius have no direct authority for meddling in such affairs within the Adventurer’s Guild, nor do we have the ambition to.” 


“Why… that’s understandable Captain Kaeya, but if you’d give it a second thought… maybe…” 


Klee had begun digging at a spot in the ground that had been clearly disturbed in the past. She must not have buried them very deep, as within moments the corner of the book was coming into view along with many other Jumpty Dumpties. 


With a heave, Klee pulled the book out of the ground with much struggle. In the motion of doing so, the wind abruptly picked up and the little four leafed clover on Klee’s red backpack rattled and broke free from its shackles, gliding off into the wind. 


It was a moment of absolute chaos. 


“DODOCO!!!” Klee cried out, and in the corner of his eye Chongyun saw Timmie move. 


The young boy had jumped out without thinking, opening into the air to reach for Dodoco, not realising that beneath him was no longer solid ground but an endless blue sea. 


Not hesitating for even a second, Chongyun burst forward. He leapt off the edge and took off into the sky, focusing only on Timmie whose hands now clutched onto a very crinkled Dodoco. 


Time slowed as Chongyun’s arms enveloped Timmie as he braced for impact with the water’s surface, feeling a horrible, terrifying lurch in his stomach as memories began to emerge in his mind. 


The frozen cold water. The numbing, the pain. The ice above him that trapped him within the lake, the scratchy plants ripping at his skin, the rough rock digging into his flesh. The suffocation, the tingling as he lost all senses, the vision blurring, the light dimming, the endless falling, the eternal suffering. 


Chongyun’s hold on Timmie tightened as he felt the water surround them like a trap, trying to capture their souls and hold them captive until the end of time. 


Don’t panic, don’t panic. 


He wanted to go mental. The urge was stronger than anything he’d ever felt in his life. He wanted to lose his mind so he wouldn’t need to deal with the suffering, the suffocation, everything , but he couldn’t do that. 


Timmie was still in his arms, and unlike him, Timmie was a boy who still had a very bright future ahead of him. 


Chongyun tried to balance himself with the surface of the water as he began kicking with his feet and paddling with one arm. Slow and steady, slow and steady, just a little bit further and they would be at the ocean’s edge. Just a bit more and he would be able to stand up on the sand, he just needed to hold on a little bit more. His fingers and joints began to numb but he didn't care.


Just a little bit more. 


He swallowed many gulps of salty water but ignored the searing pain in his lungs as he spluttered. He had promised Sister Grace to return him safe and sound. He would return Timmie to safety if it was the last thing he did. 


His body as his foot touched the sand below and relief flooded through his tired body. He pushed through the ripples and finally stumbled out of the water after what felt like a millenia, choking silently through the white hot pain as he lay Timmie on the ground.


As if by a miracle, Chongyun managed.


He wasn’t a complete waste of space. 


Timmie coughed out a few mouthfuls of water as he stirred. Up ahead, Kaeya, Klee and Mr Pallad were racing down the hill with ghostly pale faces. 


“LAMPY YUNNNNN!!!!! TIMMIEEEEE!!!!” Klee’s crying could be heard from a mile away as she was overshadowed by Kaeya. The Cavalry Captain was exceptionally agile as he arrived in front of them within a matter of seconds, sweat rolling down his brow and eyes full of concern. 


It was fortunate that Timmie had not even a scratch, only that he was slightly spooked and shivering from the cold. 


“Thank Lord Barbatos…” Kaeya muttered as he wrapped his coat around Timmie. “And you-” He turned to Chongyun, “-I don’t even know what to say…” 


Droplets of water dripped down from Chongyun’s hair and face and made dark spots on the light ground. He kneeled in the sand feeling very shaky, both physically and mentally. He was afraid of what may have happened if he had lost his mind in the water… it was too close… too close. 


Klee’s eyes were watery as she wrapped her short arms around Chongyun as much as she could. Her hug was a tight one as she began to bawl and Chongyun could do nothing but gently ruffle her hair. 


He was also faintly aware of Mr Pallad’s eyes on him. It was uncomfortable, but Chongyun shook off the feeling and tried to muster a smile to show that he was alright. 


“...Put on my coat, young man, you’re shaking from head to toe.” Mr Pallad took off his green adventurer’s coat and handed it to Chongyun, who in turn felt grateful as he did feel very, very cold. 


At the sound of Klee’s crying, Timmie seemed to have sobered completely. He held out Dodoco in his palms and Klee took it as fat tears rolled down her chubby cheeks. 


“Thanks Timmie… thank you Lampy… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” She nestled in Chongyun’s lap and continued to tear up with her apologies, holding Dodoco tightly to her chest like it was the most important treasure in the world. 


“Ugh… What am I supposed to say to Sister Grace? Troublesome, very troublesome.” Kaeya muttered and put his face in his hands, then turned to look Chongyun in the eyes. “But regardless, thank you, Yun. Because of you, Timmie is alright.” 


Chongyun was also very glad that Timmie was alright. 

Chongyun knew there were bound to be weird questions whenever Xingqiu’s sunset eyes sparkled. He watched as Xingqiu ruffled those frilly white sleeves and smiled playfully at him like a child. That ocean hued hair being tossed with the hot afternoon breeze as that singular earring swayed like a silent wind chime. 


“Has your family mentioned your future marriage plans yet?”  


The question caught him completely off-guard. 


“Huh?” Was all Chongyun could muster up as an answer. 


Xingqiu laughed. It was such a lovely laugh and Chongyun dared to say that it sounded better than Yunjin's opera singing. And Chongyun really enjoyed Yunjin’s Opera singing. 


“Big dummy.” Xingqiu smirked, “Has your family really never said anything about it before? Ever?” 


Chongyun looked away. “Maybe once… or twice… I can’t remember.” 


The turquoise gem at Xingqiu’s collar shimmered with the light passing through the leaves above them. 


“What do you think?” Xingqiu cocked his head to the side. 


Chongyun felt a little confused. “What do you mean, what do I think?” 


“Marriage. It’s a beautiful thing isn’t it?” 


Chongyun wasn’t quite sure what Xingqiu wanted him to say. “Yes…?” 


Xingqiu laughed again but Chongyun couldn’t understand why. He put down his book in the grass and leaned closer. 


“What, you don’t want to get married someday?” 


Chongyun felt his face begin to flush. It was probably the heat. “Of-Of course I do. I just haven’t really… thought about it before.” 


Xingqiu’s smile widened. “Then let’s think about it together, under this apple tree, while we still can.” 


Chongyun wondered what had sparked such a topic in Xingqiu’s brain but went along with it anyway. “Sure.” 


“If you want to marry someday… have you ever thought about who they would be? The kind of personality they would have…? The kinds of things you’d have in common…?” 


Chongyun shook his head. 


“Think harder. This will be your marriage after all.” Xingqiu urged. 


Chongyun only wanted to return to that story they were reading… This topic was unfamiliar territory for him. 


“Uhm… I’d hope they’re really smart and interesting…” Chongyun tried. 


“Oh… so like… Eldest daughter to the head of the Jiaguo Agricultural Guild, Xiumei?” 


Chongyun had seen her a couple of times before, but the memory of her was hazy. He shook his head. “No.” 


“Hmm… What about the third daughter to the head of the Yuwan Entertainment Guild, Lichun?” 


A very stunning person whose dancing was renowned throughout Liyue Harbour, yet Chongyun despised the idea of marrying them. “No.” 


“Ah… maybe the youngest daughter to the head of the Construction Guild, Maosheng?” 


Absolutely not. Chongyun didn’t even recognise the name. “No.” 


He heard Xingqiu’s dramatic sigh. An everlasting silence fell between them as the branches above them groaned lightly. Night was falling, and the city began to brighten against the darkening azure sky and the ships gradually docked in the calm waters. 


“Then… who do you want to marry?” It was a question barely louder than a whisper, yet Chongyun heard it clearer than the stars twinkling from far away. 


And for some reason, Chongyun couldn’t look away from Xingqiu’s cor lapis eyes.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, Kaeya explained everything to Timmie’s mother who was more than displeased with the situation but also understood that no one was really at fault for the entire ordeal. It was just an unlucky sequence of events that happened to occur where fortunately no one ended up hurting themselves. 


Word spread quickly around the Adventurer’s Guild and the Knights of Favonius. Chongyun had returned all damp to the library where Lisa was waiting patiently to give him the next day off, and not to worry about the books that were thoroughly soaked through. 


Along with the books, his little keychain of responses was also damaged beyond repair. It was paper and ink, afterall. Chongyun washed up and spent the rest of the night making new cards to clip to the metal ringlet, feeling his eyes droop as the ink stains began to blur. 


Before he knew it, he had fallen asleep at the desk and woken up the next morning incredibly sore. There was a nasty crick in his neck as he stretched and gazed sleepily at the keyring in his hands. 


Looking out the window at the sun high in the sky, Chongyun believed that it was probably afternoon already. His stomach rumbled noisily and Chongyun prepared to go to the Good Hunter for a good meal. He ran a hand through his knotty hair and hastily combed it before leaving the dorm, locking the door and descending the stairs. 


By coincidence, Mr Pallad was lounging around the reception desk and noticed Chongyun then gave a friendly wave. Chongyun waved back politely as he exited the Adventurer’s Guild, barely closing the door when he heard a high pitched squeal. 


“Lampy Yun!!!” It was Klee, accompanied by Albedo. Chongyun smiled at them in greeting. 


“Join us for lunch? Klee insisted that it’s our treat.” Albedo offered, his ashy hair clumping around his collar. He never seemed to wear anything else than that white lab coat… although Chongyun suspected that he had multiple spares. He nodded to Klee’s delight as she circled around him and danced happily. 


They wandered to the Good Hunter and passed many knights and adventurer’s along the way who gave him curious glances. This made Chongyun nervous all over again - he wasn’t used to the attention even after making a name for himself as a talented exorcist in Liyue. It seemed that news travelled at the speed of light in every nation, whether it be Liyue or Mondstat. 


“Hah… don’t be nervous, people just like to look at beautiful things…” 


Chongyun’s pace staggered a bit and Albedo stalled too. “Something wrong?” 


“Are you feeling unwell?” Klee asked frantically with Dodoco quivering on her backpack. 


Chongyun shook his head. He felt fine. It was fine. 


They arrived at the Good Hunter only to see Mona already there, waiting with one leg crossed over the other and drumming her fingers on the tabletop. A book nestled cosily in her hand and her heels clacking impatiently on the stone floor as her forest green eyes looked up to glare at them. 


“I just knew you’d be late. How am I supposed to eat if you aren’t here, Albedo?” 


Albedo crossed his arms in defense. “Look, I only let you freeload off us because I find your knowledge on astrology mildly interesting at most. Not our fault you keep spending all your mora on fortune crystals that don’t even work.” 


Mona looked offended. “They do work! You’re just too ignorant to understand.” 


“Oh yeah? Then show me!” 


“Only if you become my disciple.” 


“Uh… Mona? Albedo? You guys can fight but can we feed Lampy Yun first?” Klee’s voice broke the arguing as the two glared daggers at each other. 


Mona pouted and Albedo sighed. “Yeah, let’s eat first. Yun must be hungry.” 


By the end of the meal, Chongyun was stuffed. Klee kept insisting him to try different foods and feeding him spoonfuls of her favourite dishes, all under Albedo’s jealous staring. 


“Didn’t think I’d be replaced so quickly…” He muttered under his breath. 


Klee wouldn’t take no for an answer until she felt satisfied that Chongyun had eaten enough. “You’re a growing boy, Lampy Yun! And then you’ll grow taller like me! Did you know that I grow everyday? Pretty cool huh? Though I wonder how big brother Albedo can see the difference because I can’t…” 


He probably wasn’t going to be growing vertically if Klee’s persistent feeding became a routine thing. 


“Klee, didn’t you mention something about Springvale earlier?” Albedo distracted her to Chongyun’s utmost gratitude. 


Klee’s face lit up. “Ah! Yep! I want to take big brother Lampy to meet my friends in Springvale!” She pulled at Chongyun’s arm. “They’re very friendly and will like you a lot!” 


It was nice that the kids in Mondstat liked him, back in Liyue he never had many opportunities to befriend children. Somehow he felt more comfortable being around children than adults. Perhaps it was the innocence and simplicity to their minds that he didn’t feel pressured or judged in their presence. 


It was the most comfortable he had been around others since leaving him. 


Chongyun quickly took a liking to Springvale as it’s small figure appeared in the distance. Klee hopped along up ahead as he followed slowly since Albedo informed earlier that the route to Springvale was a rather safe one. It was only at these words could Chongyun relax a little when accompanying children out in the vast plains of Mondstat. 


Albedo had gone back to work and seemed to trust Chongyun with Klee even though he barely trusted himself.


“No worries. I fear for the poor hilichurls that manage to stumble upon Klee.” Albedo shrugged and Klee giggled in response. 


Now that they were at the border of Springvale Village, Chongyun could say that the name was definitely fitting. Despite the seasons changing from late autumn to winter, the entire place seemed to emit a kind of joyful atmosphere similar to that of spring. It was close to Mondstat city yet the mood was completely different, an evergreen feeling of peace and tranquility. 


Children were playing on the side of the road as Klee ran up and greeted them happily. “Good afternoon!” 


“Afternoon, Klee! Ah- who’s that?” The group turned to Chongyun who was still a few metres away. He smiled and waved at them. 


“That’s Lampy Yun! The one I told you guys about last week, remember? Pretty and nice and doesn’t talk?” Klee reminded them. 


“Ohhh…” They murmured in unison. One boy in the group stood up and ran over to Chongyun, holding out a small hand. 


“My name’s Pepe. It’s nice to meet you, Lampy Yun.” 


Chongyun bent down and shook his hand as the other kids followed. 


He quickly learnt their names. Lily was with one with freckles over her cheeks, Finn was the one with dark brown hair, and Eve was the one with thick framed glasses. 


Chongyun sat with them in the grass and listened to their stories about Mondstat, their versions of popular tales like The Fox in the Dandelion Sea or The Legend of Vennessa. Kids talked about everything, from the food they ate that morning and the annoying things their mothers did to make them eat vegetables to what they dream of doing after becoming an adult. They had aspirations, many of them, and Chongyun found them fascinating. 


They also seemed to be particularly lively whenever Ludi Harpastum was mentioned so Chongyun figured that the festival must be a common favourite amongst the kids. He too, wanted to experience Ludi Harpastum and understand the culture of Mondstat a little bit more. 


“Yo- fancy running into you here.” Chongyun heard a voice and swiveled around to see Kaeya. He waved in greeting at the Cavalry Captain who gave him a nod in return. 


“Mister Kaeya!” Klee ran up to give him a hug as Chongyun stayed seated in the long grass with the kids. “I brought Lampy Yun here to meet my friends! Are you doing your daily patrols here again?” 


Kaeya grinned at her, patted her head with adoration in his eyes. “Yeah! Hilichurls trying to steal food from carts again, nothing out of the normal.” 


The floral scented air swept past and Chongyun inhaled the sweet scent of pollen. As he zoned out of the chattering, he felt his senses prick up and gazed into the distance. Standing in the shadows of a half-timbered house was a girl around Klee’s age with two ebony braids on either side of her head, staring back at him. 


Chongyun slowly stood up without realizing. The kids must’ve noticed who he was looking at as their blurry voices tried to make their way into his ears. 


“Oh that girl? She’s really strange, but it’s funny because her name is Hope.” 




His bottom lip trembled and his mouth went dry. Chongyun was afraid to even blink in fear that what he was seeing wasn’t real. He could numbly feel the ground beneath him as he took a step towards her, holding his breath. 


She too, took a step into the sunlight, the entirety of her becoming clear as day. Her shoulders trembled as her big brown eyes widened with shock.  


It was her. 


It was really her!


Both of them dashed towards each other at the same time, stumbling and breathing heavily as Chongyun pulled her into a tight hug. If he could still cry, he would be bawling his eyes out, tears staining his cheeks and running down his face like a river. If she could still cry, Chongyun knew she would be doing the exact same. 


Yet neither of them could make a single sound as they clutched each other tightly refusing to let go. Chongyun was deathly afraid that all he saw was an illusion, but holding her in his lap he knew that she was real. Like himself, she had survived as well, the little fighter was breathing and living in his arms. 


He wasn’t aware that the village had begun to gather around them in confusion, he couldn’t hear anything but her uneven breathing and his own thumping heartbeat. When she finally looked up, Chongyun felt his chest hurt even more as he saw the ghastly scar in the corner of her forehead. He wanted to cry, out of sadness, out of grief, out of happiness, out of relief, he really, really wanted to. 


And so did she. 


Hope. It was Hope. She was Hope. It was the best name the village could’ve given her. 


And he was Yun. Just Yun. Simple and ordinary Yun. 


Neither of them could return home, but they were alive. So painfully alive that it hurt. But only with life can miracles be witnessed, and they were each other’s miracles. 


Late into the night, well after the tavern had closed, Kaeya sat at the mahogany counter swirling his drink. The glass reflected the mandarin glow as he turned it in his hands, chin resting on the back of his hand as he propped both arms on the counter. 


“I’m beginning to feel that our suspicions may be correct.” 


Diluc’s scarlet eyes glowered as he wiped the counter of any stains. He didn’t say anything, but Kaeya knew what he thought. 


“The village named her Hope because she appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night, feverish, bloody, and one foot in the grave. Yet she made a full recovery- well, everything but her voice.” 


Kaeya recalled the incident from a year ago, one that baffled the citizens of Mondstat as they guessed at her origins. It remained a mystery, one that was never mentioned again until Yun came along. 


“Get to the point.” Diluc’s voice was dangerously low. 


Kaeya’s dropped the usual smirk and felt his face become stony. “They remind me of those children that Dottore took and never returned.” 


A glass smashed on the ground, piercing the hollow silence of the quiet tavern. Diluc avoided all eye contact as he swept up the mess, but Kaeya knew his movements lacked energy. 


Neither of them wanted to think of that time again.


“Neither of them can talk.” Kaeya added. “Not even a squeak. It doesn’t take a genius to guess why that is.” He swore that Diluc’s eyes glazed over as he said this. The red head was awfully transparent at times. 


“I never told you this but… Brook also mentioned once that Hope has a number branded into her back. I forgot the number, but branding strikes me as a major concern, don’t you think? Ah… you should’ve seen the way they hugged each other… the scene still saddens me to think about…” 


Kaeya felt the glass disappear from his hands and realised Diluc had swiped it away. “You’re drunk.” He said softly. “Go home.” 


Despite feeling completely sober, Kaeya didn’t argue with him. “Alright. Goodnight.” 


He left Diluc alone in the tavern knowing that neither of them would have a good night of rest after being disposed to such questions. The answers they had been searching years for were finally beginning to surface. It was about time they received closure. 


It was a hell on earth.


No one could speak. No one could cry. “It makes things easier,” He said. 


It was like being suffocated while still being able to breathe, because without air you physically suffocate. Without emotional release, you internally suffocate. All those feelings suppressed in a dark tornado wrecking havoc inside your body. 


Most of the prisoners were children, but there were lots of adults and even some middle-aged. 


Chongyun barely remembered what life was like before all of this. When one stayed in a dark place for too long, your thoughts became dark, your memories became dark, your personality became dark and eventually you became nothing but an empty vessel containing darkness. 


He thought of that familiar smug smile yet even that felt distant. 


At first he was worried. He worried about whether he could still return to his Xingqiu, return to that warm smile and let their lives be the same as before. Let everything be normal again.


But they were naive dreams. 


He could never return to Xingqiu.


If by a miracle he made it out alive he still would never return to Xingqiu. 


Chongyun vowed to himself that he would avoid Xingqiu like the plague. Like black and white, sun and moon, land and sea. Xingqiu could never find out, never. Chongyun would rather stay here forever than let Xingqiu know what happened. 


He was deathly afraid, more than the mad scientist, more than his experiments, more than the way his vision was turning red, of Xingqiu finding out the truth. 


He lay limply against the wall, feeling like a corpse ready to be buried. 


In those lowest moments, he felt a bundle of warmth curl up at his side, spreading heat to his chest that he hadn’t realised that he so dearly missed. 


He would have cried if he could. For himself, for his future, for Xingqiu, for the girl shivering at his side. But no tears fell and that was that. 


They would await death with open arms, smiling in relief as he arrived, eager to take his hand and be whisked off to a realm of nothingness. 


They just needed to wait. 


And Chongyun was good at waiting.

Chapter Text

It became the routine for Chongyun to visit Hope everyday after work, communicating with her through writing. Her handwriting was a little unorganised with a lot of spelling mistakes, but it was nothing Chongyun couldn’t understand. Neither of them wanted to separate, but Ms Brook was always the one to usher him away when night began to fall.


“You can always visit her tomorrow, get some sleep, young man.” She looked skeptically at him, then sighed awkwardly. “Thanks for spending time with her even though I’m not aware how you two were acquainted in the past. I’ve never seen her so close to anyone like that before…” 


Chongyun learnt that Hope had been here for about a year. She appeared in the middle of the night and collapsed right outside the city wall, bloody and broken and gasping for air. It hurt knowing what she had to go through, it hurt knowing what she went through before that as well. 


It still felt surreal. Everytime she leaned on his side he had to remind himself all over again that she was alive, Hope was alive and well and a healthy, breathing girl. She was so strong. 


Hope told him many things. About her life back in Qingce village, her house and her garden patch and the stray cats she made friends with before being kidnapped. She preferred apples over sunsettias for their auspicious and vibrant red pigment, and missed the traditional music back in Liyue because she couldn’t get used to Mondstat’s bard music. Barbara’s singing was alright, but Barbara rarely visited Springvale because of her duties in the cathedral. Her real name is Yanshu, but she preferred Hope now that she lived in Springvale. She wasn’t sure how to get along with other people, because no one understood her, or at least tried to. 


In turn, Chongyun told her that he was from Liyue Harbour, and that he had visited Qingce village in the past as an exorcist and perhaps they had even passed by each other as strangers. He told her about how he used to wield a large claymore that his aunt gifted him, how he used to avoid anything hot like the plague and how he would listen to Yunjin’s famous operas whenever she gave them free tickets. 


We used to listen to storytellers in our free time as well .” Chongyun wrote.


Who’s ‘we’? ” She asked, and Chongyun’s pen staggered. 


A friend .” He wrote. 


Are they really important to you? ” 


Chongyun nodded.


Then why aren’t you going back to Liyue? ” She frowned. 


I don’t want them to know what happened. ” He admitted, then proceeded to write, “ Why aren’t you going back to Liyue? ” 


I don’t have anyone important to me back in Liyue. Maybe the stray cats, but stray cats aren’t people .” She wrote. “ My mother married a second time after my father passed. My stepdad is really mean, and mother treats my step-siblings better than me because she’s afraid of upsetting him .” 


Chongyun felt sad for her. “ That’s okay. We can be each other’s important person then .” 


Hope smiled a little smile and nodded. “ I’m really happy that you’re alive .” 


Me too .” 


He always rose early in the morning for his shift because sometimes Lisa would dismiss him early if there was nothing else to be done. On this particularly cold winter morning however, Chongyun found Lisa already in the library, yawning from behind a book as he entered. 


“Morning cutie~” She greeted. “Go be a darling and light up the fireplace for me please~” 


Quickly lighting a match, Chongyun set the fire wood alight with flames. They burned and hissed at him, disintegrating into ash as sections of rough bark turned black. 


“Morning Yun.” 


Chongyun almost jumped at Jean’s voice. Since when was she here


She apologised for scaring him and cleared her throat, her azure eyes emitted faint sparkles of gold as they reflected the flickering fire. 


“I have a job offer for you.” She announced, “Diluc has a position open for you at the Dawn Winery for basic everyday tasks such as chopping wood, gardening and cleaning. Are you interested?” 


Chongyun nodded enthusiastically and Jean smiled. “Work starts today. You better hurry over, Diluc expects you to be there at seven in the morning.” 


He thanked her as he hurriedly headed for the door. If Diluc expected him there at seven, he had about half an hour to walk all the way to the winery in the dark- 


“Are you forgetting something, little Yun?” Lisa’s voice made him turn. She held out a purple pouch and laid it in Chongyun’s hands. “I’m reluctant to let go of such a wonderful assistant… but I suppose the wages at Dawn Winery will be much higher~” 


Chongyun felt a little sorry all of a sudden, but Lisa waved for him to go. “So long, little Yun, see you around! Come visit me whenever, I’ll just be in the library~” 


And with that, Chongyun set off for Dawn Winery. 


He wondered if it was named Dawn Winery because it looked most stunning at the break of dawn. Chongyun travelled up the path and found himself standing before the grand building. He gaped in awe at the fancy architecture and the countless rows of grape vines. 


“Ah… are you the young man Master Diluc has been expecting to arrive?” 


Chongyun saw a middle-aged man approach him slowly. He nodded quickly and the man smiled in greeting. 


“I’m Tunner… though pals in the winery call me Old Tunner. I’m just a farmer here at the Dawn Winery, let me show you to Master Diluc…” He offered. 


Chongyun followed him inside the winery and gasped at the magnificent interior. If he thought the exterior looked like a mansion then the interior was a palace. Red carpet lined the tiled floor and a marvelous chandelier glowed down at them, filling every corner of the room with a golden light. 


Lisa was probably right about the higher wages. 


“Oh… look! Do you think he’s the new worker?” 


“My my… he’s a charming one…” 


“What to do… I had my eyes set on Conner but now…” 


Maids had already begun working and light pooled onto the floor as they drew the lilac curtains open. The stone fireplace was already burning, candles were lit and artworks hung on the wall in expensive-looking frames. To his left, a strange vase caught Chongyun’s eye and he stared at the exquisite colours and intricate patterns. 


“I’m glad you accepted the offer, Yun.” 


Chongyun looked up to see who he believed to be Master Diluc. His hair was really as vividly red as Klee had described to him, a bright vermillion the same shade as his eyes. 


“I apologise for the late notice, but I believed you would prefer working at the winery over the library run by the Knights of Favonius… always so inefficient… not worth working for…” 


… inefficient? 


Chongyun didn’t have an opinion on the matter and just blinked. 


“I forget you can’t speak, forgive my careless social abilities.” Master Diluc sighed. “Let me introduce you to Elzer, he’s the executive chairman of the Mondstat Wine Guild, so you’ll be answering to him most of the time. He’ll set you daily tasks that will range from chopping firewood to shopping errands, as I usually prefer to abstain from matters of the winery. He’s also the one who distributes the wages and manages the place, so if anything’s the issue, go to him. Everything clear?” 


Chongyun nodded. 


“Great. I hope you have a good time working here.” With those words, he gestured for him to go towards a greying man in the corner who Chongyun believed to be Elzer. 


Elzer smiled at him and as Chongyun neared him he noticed that some patches of his hair had completely whitened. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Yun. I’ve never seen Master Diluc care so much about the winery’s affairs until he requested that I open a position for you haha! I’m glad, I’m glad…” 


“Anyways.” He straightened his collar. “How about I introduce you to all the staff and show you around the winery? Then you can collect some firewood to store in the warehouse for the coming winter.” 


Elzer introduced him to the employees at the winery who were all very polite. It was a large winery so there were many maids cleaning the place, mopping the floors and wiping the windows until it gleamed. 


Adelinde was the head housemaid, Conner was the winemaker, and Ernest was the warehouse manager who Chongyun now followed awkwardly as the warehouse doors were pushed open. 


“We don’t have much firewood stocked up, and coal gets expensive, so we need this warehouse to be filled within the next two weeks or so before it becomes too rainy.” Ernest yawned. “There are a number of places you can go to for tree-chopping, but definitely not around the winery. Master Diluc would not appreciate ugly stumps littering the place. Elzer would cry. But don’t go to Wolvendom either, I’ve heard recently that rifthounds have begun to appear in the area… it was a mob-filled place to begin with! Even though it’s a long walk, I recommend you go near Springvale since the path leading there is safer and frequented by merchants, you’ll be fine. I mean you could go southwest but trees are fewer and you’d end up in Dragonspine! You don’t want to end up in Dragonspine even though the pinewood there is to die for… that place is as cold as Snezhnaya I’ve heard. Especially the river, don’t fall into the river or else you’d never make it back out! It’s unfortunate the number of kids who drown there… just stay away from Dragonspine and Wolvendom, neither are particularly pleasant places. Springvale is the best option, young man, especially if you’re on grocery errands, most of the time Springvale has everything we need… Mondstat City can be a little far if you’re tugging a cart with you. Oh and bring a horse! We have lovely horses. We keep a few in our stables because Elzer just couldn’t bring himself to sell them off… back in Master Crepus’s day we had a lot more! One of every breed and colour, it was grand! Grand, I tell you. Grand, until they sold off Pickles. *sniff* Anyways, I recommend you take Teddy, or Bella, both are very diligent when it comes to pulling the cart. Stay away from Ebony though, she’s a wild one and will bite your head off. Master Diluc is the only reason why she’s still here… nasty horse. Oh my, look at the time… Let’s get going! Time flies when you’re working at the winery! And no dilly-dallying understood?” 


Ernest was the most talkative person Chongyun had ever met in his life. He nodded in understanding at Ernest’s wide grin, but remembered that he didn’t have a claymore with him and tried to mimic a swinging action. 


Ernest frowned then let out a long “Ahhhhhhh how could I forget!? How are you supposed to cut trees without a claymore? Ahh silly me.” He proceeded to lead Chongyun into their toolshed where many items were starting to rust and cobwebs covered the corners of the ceiling. 


“Aha!” Ernest pulled out a Waster Greatsword and held it out for Chongyun, who took it carefully and weighed it in his hands. It was heavy. No… he was too weak. Feeling slightly ashamed, Chongyun set his mind on recovering his fitness at least to the point where claymores no longer felt heavy. 


As if adding salt to the wound, Ernest patted him on the back, almost sending him flying forward. “Pretty strong for a skinny stick like you eh? I was worried that wood-cutting would be too difficult of a job for you, but it seems I worried for nothing!” 


Ernest showed Chongyun how to strap a horse to the cart. It wasn’t a difficult task and Chongyun quickly learnt how to do it by himself. Teddy was an obedient horse with a chestnut coat and dark brown mane, standing silently as Ernest explained all the ins and outs of maintaining the horses and the carts. 


It was a lot to remember, but Ernest was happy to lend a hand whenever he needed so Chongyun wasn’t worried. He was also glad that he could potentially spend time with Hope as he worked in Springvale, and couldn’t wait to see her again. 


“I think that’s everything.” Ernest murmured after another decade-long speech. “Off you go. If anything happens, just ask the villagers in Springvale. They’re always happy to help. Or come back to me of course, I’ll usually be doing odd jobs around the winery. Or Elzer, he practically never leaves his desk.” 


Chongyun set off down the road with Teddy pulling the empty wooden cart at his side. The chilly air was fresh and cool on Chongyun’s skin as he smiled. He liked being outside, immersed in nature. It felt a little bit more free. 


Hope sat on a log distantly from him. Chongyun made sure she wasn’t too close in fear of risking her safety as he hacked away at the trees. She remained quietly seated in her spot, shoes digging into the soft mud and sketching away in her book. 


They found peace in each other’s presence. A kind of peace that Chongyun hadn’t felt since… 


Shaking his head, he swung the greatsword at the dent in the bark and watched as the trunk began to fall away from him. It crashed to the ground and alerted the nearby Hope who flinched but continued drawing. 


He cut through the wood and found a nearby stump to chop the chunks into smaller chunks, fitting sizes to be burned in the fireplace. Sweat rolled down his brow and he wiped it with the back of his aching hands. Two years ago he would’ve been working at three times the current speed. 


“Hope! Lampy Yun!” 


Chongyun recognised the voice at once to be Klee’s and saw the girl dressed in red bounce joyfully towards them. Behind her, Albedo followed with his hands tucked in his trouser pockets, smiling in greeting and taking his time to enjoy the scenery. Chongyun waved at Albedo and Albedo waved back. 


“C’mon Hope! Let’s go explode some fish!” Klee circled around Hope who reluctantly gave in to her enthusiasm. She followed Klee over to a nearby pond and watched in concern as Klee’s bombs began to go off in the water. 


Albedo leaned against a nearby tree as Chongyun returned to work knowing that the kids were still in sight. 


“I read your answers to my questions.” He said. 


Chongyun nodded and tried to smile at him. Albedo didn’t return the smile, his gaze only hardened. 


“I originally wanted to figure out a way to recover your voice.” He admitted. “But it doesn’t seem possible… how he even manages to wipe your voices entirely is still a mystery to me. I’m sorry.” 


Chongyun put down his claymore and fumbled for his ring of responses. “ It’s okay .” 


Albedo didn’t look convinced. “Did he really…?” He was almost reluctant to ask the question in his mind. 


“Did he really… slice open your back? And… and…” 


Chongyun nodded quickly with a small smile and reached for his claymore again. 


“And… you don’t know what he… put?” 


Chongyun shook his head. It was the most painful experiment conducted on him yet he had no idea what was going on, or why the results turned out the way they did. Nothing really made sense, his surviving didn’t make sense, but he chose not to dwell on the questions too much in fear of remembering things he didn’t want to remember. 


If his thoughts lingered too long on something significant during the day, he was bound to dream about it, so he tried to focus on the good things. The positive things. 


“He… didn’t use any anaesthetics? Pain killers?”


Chongyun shook his head again. They didn’t have the privilege and a lot of test subjects died solely from the pain. They weren’t seen as people - not by the mad scientist - they were just numbers. He was 97 and Hope was 108 and so on. When one died it was simply the discardation of a number, nothing more and nothing less. 


Albedo didn’t look happy. “I… I’ll try researching more on the matter…” His teal eyes met Chongyun’s light blue ones. “... I’m going to do my best to help you recover.” 


Chongyun felt a little bit emotional with Albedo’s words. He blinked and looked away, flipping to his most useful card, “ It’s okay .” He flipped to the next card. “ You don’t need to .” 


“You don’t need to… what?” Klee had returned with Hope, who looked in bewilderment at the fish in Klee’s hands. 


“Know.” Albedo finished. “You don’t need to know, Klee.” 


Klee gave him a questioning look. “Oh… okay… I still think you’re hiding something from me… wait- are you hiding my Jumpty Dumpties again? I think I was missing one earlier!” 


Albedo laughed and patted her head. “Really now? Maybe you should count again.” 


Chongyun watched as they began counting her Jumpty Dumpties together. He felt a light poke to his leg and bent down to Hope’s level. She had written something in her book for him to read. 


“Klee is interesting… but I feel sorry for the fish. It reminds me of him.” 


He felt his heart become heavy as he read her writing. He dwelled on what to do for a moment before pulling Hope into a big hug, ruffling her dark hair as he did so. 


Even without exchanging words between them, Chongyun was sure that Hope understood what he meant. 


By the time Chongyun had stacked a corner of the warehouse high with neatly chopped firewood, the sun had set and the sky was a dark shade of violet. The winery seemed almost like something out of a fantasy story at night, alone and secluded from all else but nature. 


“Good work today, Yun!” Elzer complimented him from behind his desk, “See you tomorrow, get home safe- oh.” His face fell as his gaze landed on a beige letter. 


“I know it’s after hours right now but… since you’re heading to the city anyways… could you perhaps deliver this letter to Master Diluc in Angels Share?” He asked. That would be no problem for Chongyun, it wasn’t like he had other plans to begin with. He took the letter and waved goodbye to Elzer as he set off on the dark road back to the city. 


The night became chilly as he walked and he recalled his younger self who never used to feel cold at all. His younger self who found frustration in combating his excess yang energy and on many occasions made rash decisions out of spite. He remembered that time he willingly dived into that Dragonspine lake and earned himself a serious fever. How funny that he would end up in that very same lake again, no longer tormented by excess yang energy but on the verge of death nonetheless. 


Chongyun saw the view of Mondstat city come into view and he sighed. It wasn’t as bright as Liyue Harbour at night, and it paled greatly in comparison. The blurry silhouette of windmills still spun slowly with the evening wind. Perhaps he would venture to the top of one sometime later, just to see what it was like up there. 


Swan and Lawrence greeted him in unison as he passed through the Mondstat entrance. He caught sight of Katheryne standing still as stone at her usual spot and wondered if she ever got a break. It amazed him that she worked so diligently, never moving an inch away from where she was supposed to be. 


He made a right turn, he was sure that Angels Share was somewhere in the area. 


It didn’t take long for him to find the right place, especially due to all the ruckus and noise it made in contrast to its bleak and quiet surroundings. And there were tables full of empty beer bottles outside… It was quite a telltale clue. 


“Ah… Welcome to Angels Share dearest customer! We have a discount- wait, are you even old enough to drink?” The man outside the tavern eyed him suspiciously. 


Chongyun didn’t know what the legal age for drinking was in Mondstat, but he assumed he was old enough. Back in Liyue the rules around drinking weren’t as strict, so alcohol was no unfamiliar substance to him after a certain someone liked seeing him do dumb things while drunk. 


He nodded at the man, who didn’t look very convinced but gave in anyway. “Whatever, you don’t seem like the lying type, and Master Diluc is serving the customers today so he’d know what to do with you.” 


Chongyun took that as permission to go inside so he grasped the cool handle and pushed the door slowly. Inside, the tavern was just as cosy as the rumours made it out to be, if not more. He wasn’t sure how to describe the interior design other than that it was simply relaxed and laid-back. Exactly the kind of setting people would enjoy after a long day of work. 


It would take a blind person not to notice Diluc immediately with his flaming red hair and that he stood directly in the line of sight with the door. Diluc had noticed him too, staring with those crimson eyes as Chongyun stiffened at the gaze. And not only was Diluc staring at him, so were the row of people seated on the tall wooden stools. 


He only knew Kaeya, the rest were unfamiliar faces. Though the lady with ghostly pale skin and layered, wine-red hair had the most intimidating appearance. 


“Yun? What are you doing here?” Kaeya asked. Chongyun quickly took out Elzer’s letter and laid it on the counter. 


Diluc picked it up and flipped it over in his hands. “Thank you, Yun. But Elzer shouldn’t have made you run errands after hours, I shall speak to him about it next time.” 


Chongyun shook his head in disagreement. “ It’s okay .” He held the card up for Diluc to read. 


“...Oh? This is the boy you were talking about?” The pale lady spoke up. Her voice was flat and upon a closer look, Chongyun noticed that her irises were pink. 


Kaeya cleared his throat. “Let me do a quick introduction.” He began gesturing at the seated customers one by one, “This is Rosaria, this is Venti, and this is Amber. Everyone, this is Yun.” 


They greeted him politely… Well, Venti and Amber did. Rosaria’s expression barely even flickered. 


“Since you’re already here, join us for a while?” Kaeya patted the empty seat next to him and Chongyun decided to take it. 


Diluc passed him a list of non-alcoholic beverages and Chongyun picked the Berry & Mint Burst without much thought. In the past mint was just the go-to flavour for everything, yet now he almost regretted choosing so hastily because the other options looked nice too. 


He watched in fascination as Diluc whipped up the drink in a series of graceful movements. The blink of an eye was all it took for a tall glass filled with blue liquid and decorated with berries to appear before him. Chongyun took a sip and gasped at the flavour - it was unlike anything he’d ever had before, and probably his favourite thing since arriving in Mondstat. 


The stool next to him scraped the ground as Amber sat down, grinning and holding out her hand. “I’m Amber, it’s nice to meet you!” 


Chongyun shook it and smiled back. 


“I heard you’re from Liyue! My parents were from Liyue! They tell me all sorts of stories and experiences and I must go sometime to see it for myself!” 


Her energy was through the roof, but it was enjoyable and Amber seemed friendly. She talked about the foods that her parents would make and the traditions that they kept and was glad that Chongyun agreed with some of the things she said. She also showed him Baron Bunny - the one he had already heard lots about from Klee - which worried him a little because Klee said that Baron Bunny exploded like her Jumpty Dumpties. 


Either way, Amber didn’t seem like the careless kind and Chongyun didn’t concern himself any further over whether Baron Bunny would explode on them. 


The group around him chattered lots, drank lots, and laughed lots. It was the kind of lively setting that Chongyun missed, but it was still different from home and gradually Chongyun couldn’t help but feel a little bit nostalgic. 


I’m going to get some air .” He wrote on a napkin. 


Amber smiled. “Okay! The balcony upstairs is really nice so come back down whenever you’re ready.” 


The second floor was much quieter than the bottom floor and darker too. Through the dim lighting, Chongyun found the door which he believed would lead him to the balcony from the small draft that came through the gap beneath. He pushed it open and stepped out. The night had fallen and this was the time that the city went to slumber. 


He hadn’t realised that another person was already on the balcony, so when he sensed their presence he slammed the door shut with a loud bang out of surprise. 


It was just Venti, the one Kaeya had introduced earlier and kept begging Diluc for a 100% discount. 


The atmosphere was somehow awkward as Venti did not turn around to look at him or acknowledge him in any way, yet he was sure that Venti was aware of his presence. They stood in a strange silence for about a minute before Venti finally spoke up in a soft tone. 


“Durin, why are you disguised in the body of a boy from Liyue?” His dark braids ruffled in the cool breeze. 


Chongyun was at a loss for words. 


Is this guy drunk? 


Venti turned to look at him with curious aqua eyes. “Stop pretending, I know it’s you.” 


Chongyun was more than confused. Maybe it was the bad lighting? Maybe this guy was a little blind? Durin? Who’s Durin? Is this guy hallucinating…? 


A large smile cracked on Venti’s face at Chongyun’s confusion. “I’m just joking with you, Yun. The usual bard behaviour… ehe.” The bard shook his wooden lyre as if it explained the situation, but it really didn’t. 


Yeah… he was convinced this guy was drunk. 


What a way to start off his first personal encounter with a Mondstat bard. 


Chongyun waved politely before returning inside the warm tavern. He felt that the air inside was somehow fresher than the air he just breathed outside on the balcony and pressed himself up against the wooden door. 


Then it struck him that he hadn’t smelled a single trace of alcohol on that weird bard. 

He could feel the ground tumbling towards him as he walked. Thankfully, Xingqiu was at his side, holding him… upright? Was he even upright? 


“Your alcohol tolerance is terrible.” Xingqiu remarked with a smug smile on his face. “It’s so terrible that it’s appalling.” 


Chongyun made an unusual whiny sound. “I’m noooooooooot it’s o g e y.” 


He felt steadier with Xingqiu sharing half his weight. An arm… oh was that his arm? Oh how cool. His arm slung around Xingqiu’s shoulder who held onto it like a lifeline. 


“C o m p l e t e l y ogey.” 


Xingqiu kicked at his shoes. “I have to convince myself we’re speaking the same language.” 


Sure they were. What else could they have been speaking? Squirrel-tongue? That didn’t sound too bad. Squirrels were cute. He killed a couple squirrels by accident once and buried them under an apple tree, hoping they would be happy about the replenishing stock of apples. Then he proceeded to mourn them for a week, bringing pinecones to that tree every single day and praying for their peace. 


Chongyun sniffed and felt his eyes water. 


“Oh no… what is it now…?” Xingqiu muttered. 


“Squirrels!” Chongyun cried. He began to sob, choking on his tears in the process as Xingqiu gave up and sat him down on a nearby bench. He felt Xingqiu’s warm hands grasp his own and looked up through his swimming vision. Xingqiu’s face was a complete blur, like someone had smudged a beautiful painting with the tip of their rabbit-hair brush. 


“What’s wrong with squirrels?” He asked, a hint of amusement laced in his voice. 


“They’re dead!” Chongyun wailed. “They’re dead because of me… I wasn’t careful enough…” 


Xingqiu was laughing as he kneeled before Chongyun. He felt annoyed at his laughing and tried to kick his feet in response. But he missed, multiple times. Now Xingqiu was purposely dodging his attacks. 


“Shhh.” Xingqiu cupped Chongyun’s face in his hands and began to wipe away the tears with his thumbs. “They’re running around in the afterworld, eating pine cones and making lots of friends with other little critters. They’re having lots of fun! There’s no need to be sad.” 


Chongyun hiccuped as he nodded along. That made sense. It would be okay if the squirrels were having fun. 


“But… but…” His bottom lip began to quiver, “They didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones…” 


“They’re loved ones would understand. They’ll meet again, and once they meet again they’ll have a big, long conversation, and then everything becomes clear, and no one is sad, because they’re together without any misunderstandings or worries. All the squirrels live happily ever after eating pine cones and lazing in the sun… or whatever squirrels do that brings them joy.” 


Okay. That sounded okay. Everything made sense when Xingqiu explained it, and his tears gradually came to a stop. 


“But… I would be really sad if you left one day without saying goodbye.” Chongyun squeezed those warm hands. He hated the idea of parting with Xingqiu for too long, he was more used to being around Xingqiu than being by himself. Growing up so far, they did everything together, eating together, walking together, hanging out together and even napping together as kids. Even napping together now. If he bothered to do the math, he was sure that they spent more hours in a day in each other’s presence than without.


“Big dummy. Why would I ever leave you? Especially without saying goodbye? I wouldn’t leave you even if you wanted me to leave. I’d stick to your side like glue and you wouldn’t be able to get rid of me, even if you got sick of my antics, my pranks, my nasty tendency to get in trouble, you’re never getting rid of me, silly.” Xingqiu’s amber eyes sparkled up into his. 


Chongyun let out a hearty smile. “Okay.” 


“Okay? Great. Let’s go home.” 


“Can we get some pet squirrels?” 



Chapter Text


A singular snowflake rested on his nose and Chongyun sneezed. 


“Snow!” Klee tugged at his sleeve and Hope’s eyes began to brighten. “Lampy, look, it’s snowing!” 


Chongyun smiled at the falling white and nodded. He didn’t think it would snow in a Mondstadt winter, but perhaps it wasn’t surprising since it was so close to Dragonspine. He enjoyed the sudden cold but at the same time it was a new feeling, the prickly sensation in his toes and the shivering in his fingers. 


The scenery began to pale as slowly everything became covered in a shade of light frost. On the rocky pathway winding through the small village of Springvale, they all saw a cloaked figure hurry towards them holding a bundle of fabric.


It was Brook, huffing and puffing as she waved to the children who were already rolling in the ground making snow angels. “Hey! Put on some warm clothes before playing, hey! Are you kids listening?” 


Chongyun helped her gather the children and made sure they were all wearing enough layers. If there was anything he’d learnt from being around kids was that they were horribly prone to getting sick despite all the energy they had. 


Klee pouted as Chongyun adjusted her grey coat collar. “I want a red coat… my one from last year doesn’t fit anymore.” 


Hope waddled over in her small red boots and untied the red ribbon in her hair and then looped it around Klee’s wrist. Her little fingers made a neat bow tie and Klee’s face lit up. 


“Thanks, Hope! I like it very much!” 


Chongyun felt himself smile at the two girls. Witnessing such friendships made him feel warm inside, like a hot water bottle pressed against his chest on a cold winter’s night. 


In the distance, the boys had already begun building their snowman by gathering sticks and twigs and begging Brook for some spare buttons from her sewing kit. 


“Fine, but if you lose them, you won’t be getting any dessert at tonight’s feast!” Brook marched off with her hands at her hips. 




He could feel the tugging at his sleeve again. 


“Lampy Yun, sit with me at the feast?” Klee beamed up at him with her pearly white teeth. “I know all the tastiest dishes with only one glance!” 


Chongyun nodded as snowflakes were shaken out of his damp hair and onto the ground. 


Timmie had also wandered towards them during their conversation and was busy picking the bits of snow off his jacket. “Yun, we need your help making the snowman’s body.” He declared with a serious look on his face. “It’s really important that you do, none of the other adults want to help us, they’re all preparing to celebrate the first snow.” 


Chongyun began rolling a large snowball as the other boys tried their best to contribute. They managed to conjure up a decent sized one before moving onto the next. The head was a tad crooked and slightly triangular, but the kids didn’t mind as they went straight to work decorating its face and scavenging for the perfect set of twigs as arms. 


Timmie was especially particular about having a “realistic” snowman. “We can’t use that twig, Klee, snowmen are supposed to have three fingers not two.” 


“Haha Timmie you’re so silly! We can just split one in half to make an extra finger!” 


Timmie’s horrified expression was one that had Hope chuckling silently at Chongyun’s side. “Absolutely not! If someone split your finger in half, Klee, would that give you six fingers? No! It gives you two halves of one finger!” 


Klee bounced up and down on the spot as if she found the conversation amusing. “It’s not like Mr Snowman knows how to count, Timmie, he’ll be fine!” 


The case was finally settled once Chongyun discovered a twig that had three “realistic” fingers - the perfect number - much to Timmie’s delight, and the now broken twig was abandoned to the side. 


“Lampy Yun always finds the best things!” Klee grinned and Hope nodded along. Chongyun wasn’t too sure about that but smiled anyway. 


A very blank snowman stood before them in Xingqiu’s large family courtyard. It had an uneven smile created from expensive, shiny buttons that glittered like black pearls and two beady eyes of sapphire blue gemstones, probably sourced from Xingqiu’s mother’s jewellery box. It had an old straw hat that Granny Shan no longer used, two sticks for arms and no nose. 


“No.” Xingqiu shook his head, his amber eyes darkening as his eyebrows furrowed. “I cannot bear to stand the sight of carrots, they make me nauseous. That strange orange colour, eugh, not to mention the weird wrinkles…” 


Chongyun chuckled. “Then… what shall we use?” 


Xingqiu paced about the courtyard in deep consideration. “I think a pine cone could work.” 


“It would be a rather rounded nose.” 


“Still better than a carrot. Come on, don’t you have a shed for firewood at home? Surely we’ll find a few pine cones in there.” Xingqiu grabbed Chongyun’s arm and began leading him out of his gigantic house. 


“Young master, where are you going this time?” Servant Xu called out to them. 


Xingqiu’s footsteps stalled for a moment as he answered quickly. “Chongyun’s place, don’t worry, I’ll be back in time to celebrate the lantern rite.” 


It was only at this did servant Xu’s expression relax an inch. “Alright, take care.” 


It was the last time that Xingqiu ever set foot inside his house. 


“Lampy Yun?” 


Chongyun’s daydreams were interrupted by Klee’s voice as she waved her little palms in his face. 


They had finished with the snowman, and it was a very detailed one at that. Feathers were spiking outwards from the head, instead of a carrot the kids had used a bread knife, and in terms of hat, well… It was more like a shoe. 


The only thing that vaguely made sense was Hope’s scarf that had been wrapped snugly around the snowman’s fat neck. 


“Do you think it’s good?” Klee asked, and despite the exotic features Chongyun had to admit that the creativity was admirable. 


Timmie stepped forward and gestured at the feathers. “Ahem, let me explain these feathers, this one’s dropped by Charlie, as you can see from the big brown spot, and this fluffy one was dropped by Charlotte when that pesky traveller scared her half to death! This one belongs to Charles when he laid an egg, and this one belongs to Chad after he disappeared and never came back like my father, and-” 


Timmie’s eyes suddenly began to water and Chongyun placed a hand on his head in condolence. He sniffled a bit before continuing his presentation. 


“I really miss Chad. He was pretty cool. I felt like I could tell him anything, you know? A true friend, real chill, and he wouldn’t judge me for putting milk before cereal unlike all the others. I just hope he comes back to me.” 


I would be really sad if you left one day without saying goodbye.


Why would I ever leave you?


“It’s alright, Timmie.” Klee patted his back. “My mother once told me that in the winter, birds do a thing called uhhh… My… Miger… Miga… Migraines! Yeah, they migraine, and then they come back when it’s not cold anymore!” 


“You really think so?” Timmie blinked with watery eyes. 


Klee gave him an extra hard pat on the back. “Of course! My mother is always right! She’s really smart and knows everything! I miss her sometimes, but it’s alright because I have big brother Albedo, Mr Kaeya, and Lampy Yun looking after me.” 


His chest tightened. He missed Shenhe and he missed his mother and he missed everyone back in Liyue. But how was he to go back? 


“Get back inside, you lot! You’re all becoming snowmen yourselves!” Brook’s gravelly voice resounded through the village and they all scampered into the warmth of their houses. 

Xingqiu stared at the glowing lanterns floating in the violet sky. The chattering of passersby, the passionate storytelling of Rex Lapis from Iron Tongue Tian, the loud clanking of pots and pans from Wanmen restaurant and the moon gazers lined up along the buildings facing the deep blue harbour. 


He sipped his qingxin tea with a book in hand as the rest of his family sat around the table marvelling at this year’s decorations. The colours were more saturated, the lanterns were brighter, the silk curtains were prettier, the art was more intricate, yet none of it piqued his interest. It all felt soulless. 


“Is the book not to your liking, young master?” Servant Xu whispered. “You haven’t flipped a page in quite a while.” 


Xingqiu didn’t answer him. 


“You haven’t touched the food either, I’d say the squirrel fish is very well made-” Servant Xu stopped mid-sentence as Xingqiu’s face darkened. 


Just like the way Chongyun had always avoided carrots because of him, he had also avoided squirrel fish like a plague. Servant Xu should know better. 


“Forgive me for being nosy today, young master.” Servant Xu lowered his voice. “At least pretend to be merrier, after all today is the Lantern Rite, and your father has been hoping for dinner with the whole family for at least a month.” 


Xingqiu put down his book titled Humour From Tianheng, which was ironically named given that the poems were barely a pleasant read let alone funny. He swallowed a chopstick full of Qingce stir fry and chewed on it slowly, letting the taste sink in and disappear on his tongue. Average. The mushrooms were overdone and there was not enough spice. 


He sighed. If not for late snow this year, the children of all ages in liyue were bound to have started stacking their snowmen early this morning. They would be all over the streets scavenging for things to use as limbs and noses, hats and eyes. Granny Shan was particularly popular during this time for giving out old toys and tips for rolling perfect snowballs. 


The last time he made a snowman was also his last Lantern Rite with Chongyun. Everything was normal, perfectly normal, he couldn’t have asked for a happier time. 


“Pine cones?” Chongyun’s mother murmured. She had the same face as Chongyun, doll-like with a gentle seriousness and soft blue eyes. Unlike Chongyun, she had ebony black hair which she braided into a low bun stuck with a singular silver hairpin. It always made him wonder what Chongyun’s late father looked like. 


“I think I collected a bag of them, since you liked gifting them to the wild squirrels.” She ruffled Chongyun’s hair and pulled a little at his ears. “They’re in the cupboard, go get them yourselves, I’m a little tired so I’m going to take a nap.” 


“Are you feeling okay?” Chongyun asked, the concern evident in his eyes. 


“Mmm, of course. Go have fun with Xingqiu and don’t come home too late, wake me up so we can watch the fireworks together.” 


Chongyun didn’t look too convinced, but his mother squeezed his cheek and chuckled. “Ah, that personality of yours is just like your father’s. Shoo, off you go, young people should spend more time outside than in, take me to see the snowman once it’s finished alright?” 


“Okay mother.” 


“See you, dearie.” 


It was the last time he had seen Chongyun’s mother, and soon the two disappeared as if they had never existed. Their house was rented out to a new family, and no one had heard of them since. 


He hated that Chongyun never told him that he was moving or why he was moving, or where he was moving and whether or not they could stay in contact. There was no address left on a note, no explanation, no nothing. He was just left in the dark. 


If he ever met Chongyun again, there was so much he wanted to say to him, so much that he wouldn’t be sure where to even start. And there were a lot of pranks that Chongyun needed to fall for to make up for the sudden disappearance. 


“Happy Lantern Rite!” His family cheered in unison as they raised their cups towards the exploding fireworks in the sky. He too, raised his own with a heavy arm, wishing on the biggest firework despite the bitterness weighing in his chest. 


Where are you, big dummy? 


Chongyun swallowed a bite of Mondstadt grilled fish. It was juicy and practically melted in his mouth. Klee wouldn’t stop piling food onto his plate however, and it was difficult to say no when she insisted with adorably large eyes. 


It was chaos inside the community hall with the entire village crammed into one large room, not to mention the hundreds of dishes almost hanging off the edge of the tables. Many people opted to stand instead of sit as it created more space, but overall it was warm, a little too warm. 


The celebration was rowdy and lively and there were many people who offered him beer - to which he wisely declined. 


Soon, the kids were ushered to bed. Hope gave him a long hug and he ruffled her hair as she looked up. After the kids had left, there wasn’t much for Chongyun to do so he quietly excused himself and went home too. 


The journey home was quiet and he took this opportunity to collect his thoughts. He found peace in solitude and dug his hands further into his coat pockets, finally understanding why some people hated winter when it was his favourite season. 


Unsurprisingly, Mondstadt city was even rowdier than Springvale. It seemed that celebration of the first snow was an ancient tradition like the Lantern Rite back in Liyue. The usually dark windows were still lit deep into the night, with laughter booming from inside and the clashing of thick beer glasses as people drank with gusto. All the seats at The Good Hunter were occupied and Sara was looking a lot more than just tired. 


The Adventurer’s Guild dormitories, however, were relatively quiet. It seemed that everyone was out and about enjoying the company of others in bars and taverns, ordering enough food to last them the entire year. 


He passed through the main hall and up the stairs towards his room. There were a few adventurers playing cards at a table and chattering about their latest quests and those to come. It sounded like fun, being an adventurer and travelling all over Teyvat, much like being an exorcist but less skill specific. 


The door shut behind him with a click and Chongyun leaned against the hard wooden surface. 




He had mixed feelings about the topic. 


Lighting a candle, Chongyun tidied the room and looked for the bag of qingxin tea that Lisa had given him. With a small triumphant huff, he pulled out the bag from the depth of his drawers and opened it on his desk. The sweet smell of qingxin hit him with a pang of nostalgia, evoking memories that only made him feel lonely. 


A knock on the door sparked him out of his trance. He wandered over and opened the door, wondering who on earth needed to see him at this hour at night. 


It was Mr Pallad, looking a little tipsy, red in the face and swaying slightly on the spot. “Hah… Good evening Yun, was wondering if you *hic* had some spare bandages? Oh man, I have a *hic* quest tomorrow and I’ve just run out…” 


Chongyun turned and went back over to his half-opened drawer. He definitely had some leftovers, he just needed some time to find them… 


He felt a hand abruptly grip his shoulder and almost jumped in fright. Whirling around, he realised that Mr Pallad was close, far too close. So close that he could smell the stench of alcohol in his breath and see a nasty glint in those hazy eyes. Before he could react, an arm had reached below his waist and yanked him forwards as he toppled into Mr Pallad’s tight embrace. 


At this point he had begun struggling and trying to wriggle free but Mr Pallad was not only taller but stronger despite his average build. His mouth opened to protest but nothing came out as his breathing quickened. Everything was happening too fast, so fast that he could barely comprehend what was happening. 


“Shhhh don’t be like that~'' He could feel Mr Pallad’s breath on his neck as the man’s hold on him fastened. “We’re just going to have a lil bit of fun.” 




He began to panic. 


He tried to kick at the shins but in the process he lost his balance and found the world spinning instead, only realising that Mr Pallad had shoved him over the bed when his back hit the cold mattress. 


“Playing hard to get? You were practically asking for it that day near Starsnatch cliff.” 




It was a moment of utter terror as he felt Mr Pallad’s breath on his neck, the iron grip on his wrists and the feeling of his shirt being ripped open. The sound of fabric tearing at the seams sent chills down his spine. His thoughts were in jumbles as he became vaguely aware that his collarbone was now completely exposed and a hand had made its way underneath his thigh. 


He shut his eyes in fear of seeing more of Mr Pallad’s intoxicated expression. Nausea welled up inside him as the sensation of the man’s lips on his skin made him want to throw up. 




How do you get out of a situation like this? 


He was getting pins and needles in his arms with how painfully hard Mr Pallad held them down, like two shackles bounding him in position. 


“Dad! Not in front of my friends!” Xiangling tugged desperately at her father’s thick arm. Chef Mao looked at her incredulously. “What’s wrong with giving my daughter safety advice? Listen carefully, if some runt tries anything on you, all you do is-” 




“-Give them a swift kick where the light doesn’t shine.” He smiled proudly and Xiangling burnt a deep shade of crimson red. 


Chongyun mustered up all the energy he could and gritted his teeth. 


Mr Pallad sucked on his neck like a leech, the gross clicking sounds emanating through the room. 


Ignoring it to the best he could, Chongyun stretched out a leg and sent a swift kick upwards straight into the very centre with utmost concentration. By reflex, Mr Pallad jerked away and curled up into a ball, howling with pain as his legs rammed against each other. 




Taking this opportunity, Chongyun swiped his jacket and dashed out of the room, knocking over the bag of qingxin tea and almost tripping down the stairs as he descended to the ground floor then out into the cold winter night. 


Only when the freezing air hit his cheeks did he feel a little safer, a little calmer and a little… lost. 


He really wanted to cry. 


And now he had nowhere to go… again. 


A silent sob welled up in his throat and he shivered at the realisation of the recent events. He didn’t want to think about it, he didn’t want to think about the saliva left around his neck, the bite marks on his skin, the bruising that was quickly surfacing around his wrists, he wanted to pretend it never happened. 


You’re too trusting. 


If only Xingqiu was around to keep him away from people with ill intentions. 


He really was too trusting. 


He walked around the city, alone, not knowing what to do or how to deal with, with… he didn’t want to think about it. 


Where should he go? Where can he go? Is there anywhere he can go? 


There was nothing more lonesome than standing in the middle of an unfamiliar street unsure of what to do next, without a comforting soul or the warmth of day. 


Just, emptiness all around. 


Was there anyone he could go to? He didn’t know where anyone lived… no, that was a lie. He knew where Mona lived. 


Chongyun shook his head. They weren’t even that close, they just had meals together often that’s all. 


But was there any other option? He shuddered at the thought of returning to his room and… 


No. He’d rather try staying at Mona’s place for a night. 


It was harder to navigate Mondstadt city when it was dark, but Chongyun managed to locate Mona’s house without too much trouble. There were more mushrooms growing out the side of her door frame, and the vines hanging from above had grown so much longer that it almost touched the ground. 


He raised a hand to knock and hesitated. 


It was so late at night. What was he doing, disturbing a girl when she was probably sleeping? 


Feeling horrible, Chongyun withdrew his hand and shoved it in his pocket. Before he could turn away however, the door slammed open with a loud thunk. The wood rattled as the leaves above swished like a falling green curtain. 


Mona’s sharp eyes scanned him up and down and then she sighed. “I knew you were going to knock on my door at a peculiar hour. Come on in.” 


Feeling grateful, Chongyun politely stepped inside and took off his shoes, he almost tripped again with how shaky he was still feeling. Mona’s house was… exactly how he imagined it to be. Books strewn all over the place with dog ears and bookmarks, a half-eaten sandwich on the table and beside it an entire alchemy set was laid out under the dim glow from a dying candle. 


“Don’t mind the mess, I find it cosier this way.” Mona gestured for him to sit down on the couch as she picked her sandwich back up. “Make yourself comfortable. But only for one night, understand? This is no homeless shelter, though if you’re looking for a new place, the tenants in the room next door just moved out, so you can try there.” 


He used to believe that Mona exaggerated her future-predicting ability, but now he was absolutely, totally, and wholeheartedly convinced of her skill. 


It was a breath of relief that someone could understand what he needed without him spelling it out on paper. 


“Blanket.” Mona dropped a thick blanket on him and topped it off with a pillow. “It’s gonna get cold tonight. Want some Cecilia tea?” 


Chongyun shook his head. 


“Alright. Bathroom is just down the hall. My room is on the left, don’t knock unless it’s really important because I’m a light sleeper.” Mona kicked a box full of books to the side with her heel. “If you can’t fall asleep there is always my article for the steambird you can proofread.” 


Chongyun nodded and tried to muster up a smile. 


Mona only frowned. “Would you like some ice for… um.” She pointed at her own neck. “That?” 


Embarrassed, Chongyun pulled his coat collar higher up in effort to cover the ugly red marks. He shook his head, Mona had done enough already. 


“Well I’m getting some for you anyway.” Mona disappeared into the kitchen and Chongyun felt his cheeks burn. Despite the stingy personality, she was a lovely person by nature. 


After a sequence of clashing and clanking of utensils, the slamming of a cupboard door, and incoherent hisses, Mona emerged with an oddly shaped chunk of ice wrapped in a purple towel. 


“Had to improvise. Should do the trick.” She shoved it in Chongyun’s hands and yawned. “I’m going to bed, I hope the couch isn’t too uncomfortable. If it is, oh well. You’ll survive.” 


Chongyun hurriedly took out a card. “Thank you.” 


Mona rolled her eyes at him. “It’s nothing. Just basic decency. And because I have yet to figure out why I can’t read your future.” 


She narrowed her eyes at Chongyun’s puzzled expression then shrugged. “Nothing for you to worry about, go to sleep. Night.” 


He blew out the candle and laid down on the couch. 


Tired of thinking so much, Chongyun closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep. It took a lot of shuffling and adjusting, tossing and turning, but in the end he was able to fall into a deep, deep slumber. 


Xingqiu twirled a silk flower in his hands. They sat in a quiet corner, sipping qingxin tea and admiring the setting sun in the distance. The sky darkened to a shade of midnight blue, twinkling down at them as the chilly breeze picked up and brushed the ends of their hair. 


“I feel like drinking a little bit today.” Xingqiu waved at the waiter. 


Chongyun tried to brush his hand downwards. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” 


“It’ll be fine, my tolerance is much higher than yours.” Xingqiu smirked. Chongyun watched him place the order and continued to sip his tea. 


“I don’t think you’ve ever told me about how your parents met.” 


“How my parents met?” Chongyun repeated. “No, I don’t think you’ve asked that before.” 


Xingqiu chuckled. “Well? I’m in the mood for a story.” 


Chongyun put down his teacup with a clink. The porcelain rubbed against his fingertips as he recalled the way his mother explained it to him. “My mother and father trained to become exorcists under the same teacher in the village. Childhood friends, or fellow disciples, I suppose.”


He blinked at Xingqiu, who blinked back in expectation. “That’s it???” 




“Things like, how did your father propose, how did your mother react, how did their teacher react?” 


Chongyun thought about it. “Well, I think my mother proposed that they get married. She’s a straightforward person. Father was overjoyed, and the wedding was good I think. Their teacher was happy for them too? I wasn’t there to witness it so I wouldn’t know.” 


There was a luminescence in Xingqiu’s eyes as he listened. “So they married out of love then?” 


Chongyun nodded. “Yes. Of course.” He thought back to all the late nights his father spent writing stronger talismans to ward away evil from his mother, often resulting in piles and piles of scrunched up paper littering the floor at dawn. 


Xingqiu sighed. “My parents married out of benefits for the family business. A transaction, really. They eventually liked each other, but lots of things could’ve gone very wrong.” He looked out to the reflection of moonlight over the harbour. “I would never marry someone I didn’t love.” 


It was subtle, but Chongyun could pick up on the uneasiness in Xingqiu. “... Is there something wrong?” 


Xingqiu’s sunset eyes flickered over to him. “Just the usual, father doesn’t support anything I do, and it’s like he purposefully gets on my nerves.” 


He downed a cup of wine and wiped the corner of his mouth. “Apparently writing stories will damage my reputation or something about daydreaming not being a good look. Then they complain that I’m not at home enough, but why would I stay home when all they do is nag? And my mother, I’m what, seventeen? Yet she’s already trying to arrange my marriage alongside my brother’s. It’s infuriating, rating girls based on their skills, looks and family background. Infuriating.” 


“Mhm.” Chongyun agreed, but wasn’t sure what to say. He sipped at his tea but it was empty, and the teapot was no longer warm. “Then… tomorrow let’s do something to make you feel better.” 


There was a sparkle in Xingqiu’s eye as he suggested this. Xingqiu reached over and took Chongyun’s restless hands into his own warm ones, lightly squeezing the tip of each finger to ensure better blood circulation. 


“I’d like that. Let’s go to the nearby ruins, we haven’t been in a while.” 


“Are you sure? We’ve been there so many times already.” 


“Hmm? Then where do you want to go, snowflake?” 


“... You come up with the strangest names.” 


“Is that so? Popsicle princess?” 




Servant Xu had been anxiously waiting for Xingqiu to return home and gave a relieved sigh once he saw Chongyun hobbling towards him with Xingqiu draped over him like a flailing ragdoll. 


“Holy Archons do you two know how late it is? Thank goodness the Master is on a business trip today, but if the Madam finds out about- HOLY ARCHONS YOUNG MASTER ARE YOU DRUNK????” 


Chongyun smiled sheepishly. “He may have had a few too many cups of lychee wine.” 


“Precious young lad I thought you were more responsible than this to let him drink-”


“My popsicle princess is sooooooooo cute~” Xingqiu buried his face into the crook of Chongyun’s neck. 


Servant Xu looked like he was on the verge of a mental breakdown. “Enough!” He shook his head. “I see nothing I hear nothing I am nothing. Let’s get him to bed first.” 


They helped Xingqiu to his bedroom - which was harder said than done. Every two steps Xingqiu would make some comment that seemed innocent by nature but came out completely wrong, and Chongyun could only hope that servant Xu was being paid a hefty salary. 


“Heyyy pretty boyyyy *hic* how about you stay the night at my place? I promise I won’t do anythingggg. Look at me, *hic* I’m harmless! Absolutely harmless… hehe.” 


Chongyun staggered under Xingqiu’s weight as the other boy’s legs were currently no more useful than jelly. “Xingqiu, I can’t stay the night, sorry.” 


“But whyyyyyy? We have so many rooms. Or you could stay in my room. The bed is big enough. Don’t you remember? We used to sleep together all the time when we were little! And you snored haha! It was so cute.”


“Young master if you keep clinging so tightly to Chongyun I’m afraid-” Servant Xu lowered his voice as Xingqiu walloped about. “-I’m afraid the other servants would get the wrong idea.” 


“Wrong idea? Ideas can’t be wrong, *hic* they’re just ideas. Like me and Chongies, we’re together. Just together. Together forever.” 


“Chongyun, how much did he drink?” 


Chongyun shook his head in dismay. “I think like, one or two…” 


“That’s not too bad.” 




“Chongyun, I hope you know that I’m gravely disappointed.” 


He would have laughed but he didn’t think servant Xu was in the mood, so he held it in instead. 


“You help him to the bed, I’ll go get something for him to sober up.” Servant Xu left faster than Chongyun could even reply. 


Fortunately, Xingqiu didn’t try to make things difficult as Chongyun helped him trudge towards the neatly-made bed. The green-haired boy laid down obediently and stared at Chongyun’s face with a devilish grin. 


“You smell nice.” 


Chongyun unwrapped the blanket and carefully rested it over the smiling Xingqiu. “Can’t say the same about you.” 


Xingqiu tried to sit up but failed to and plopped right back down. “You don’t like how I smell?” The devastation was evident in his tone. 


Chongyun smoothed the blanket down with his hand. He chuckled at Xingqiu’s childlike manner and withdrew his hand. Before he could, however, Xingqiu latched onto his hand with an iron grip. 


“Answer my question.” He ordered with utmost seriousness, the look that Chongyun had no choice but to give in to. 


“You smell amazing. Like silk flowers. But currently, you smell like lychee alcohol.” 


Xingqiu’s eyebrows furrowed into a frown. “That’s not fair. I’d like the way you smell even if *hic* you drank ten jars of lychee alcohol.” 


Why were they even talking about this? Chongyun tried to pry his hand off but Xingqiu held onto it like a stubborn child. “Let go of my hand? I need to take off your shoes.” 




He felt his hand get released and he quickly went to undo the clasps on Xingqiu’s fancy boots. They came off easily, though Xingqiu almost kicked him in the face at one point. 


“You can take off my clothes while you’re at it.” 


Chongyun had a mind blank. “... What?” 


“It’s uncomfortable to sleep in this coat you know.” 


He swore that Xingqiu was smirking at him. He could feel it. That smug gaze. “Alright, be more specific next time.” 


“No *hic* promises.” 


Chongyun helped the boy sit up so that he was somewhat upright. He was a little wobbly but it would only take a moment. It should only take a moment. He hoped that it would only take a moment. 


Ah how naive he was. What the heck was this thing? 


He leaned in further so that his forehead was almost touching Xingqiu’s chin. He was vaguely aware of the close proximity, the way that Xingqiu’s breathing hitched and his own heartbeat began to race. 


The realisation dawned on him that he had not a clue how to undo this… this… contraption that held together Xingqiu’s coat. It was a circle, a very fancy circle, the kind you’d expect to have some sort of key or mechanism locked behind it. 


“Pfftttt big dummy.” Xingqiu laughed from above him. He felt a hand slither into his hair and ruffle it playfully. “There’s a clasp behind it. Pull towards the top left corner and it should come undone.” 


He tugged at it and as promised the large button thing came loose. The one at the collar was fairly similar, and soon enough the jacket was open. 


How he had never taken note of Xingqiu removing his jacket, he didn’t know. 


“Help me take it off, my arms feel heavy.” 


With a reluctant sigh, Chongyun gripped the edges of the expensive fabric and began to peel it outwards, letting the material slide off Xingqiu’s stainless white blouse and off his shoulders, unknowingly leaning closer and closer in the process. 


In one very swift move, the room spun and Chongyun found himself back pressed against the bed with Xingqiu smiling down at him with a rather dangerous shimmer in his tangerine eyes. He stared up at him, with his hands still gripping either side of the jacket that hung around Xingqiu’s elbows. There were a pair of hands gripping his waist. It wasn’t his own pair of hands. A scorching heat quickly crept up to his face and he blamed it on his abundance of yang energy. 


It was a moment of pure chaos in his mind. 


“W-What are you doing?” 


“Nothing.” Xingqiu broke into a hearty laugh and let go of his waist. He grabbed Chongyun’s hands that had been mindlessly holding onto Xingqiu’s jacket, and pulled Chongyun back upright. “I like seeing you flustered. It’s cute.” 


“Didn’t you say that your arms felt heavy?” Chongyun muttered as he quickly got off the bed and turned away. 


Xingqiu held onto one hand and didn’t seem willing to let go. “You fell for that?” 


Chongyun gave him an unimpressed look. “I trust what you say. Don’t lie to me.” 


“Hmph, you’re too trusting.” Xingqiu’s grip tightened and his gaze softened. “But I won’t lie about the important stuff, is that good enough for you?” 


He mulled it over in his head and finally settled on a short nod. 


A knock on the door interrupted their silence. “Young Master? Chongyun? The sobering congee is ready.” Servant Xu called out. Chongyun opened the door and thanked him for the congee. 


“I’m sorry that you have to deal with the Young Master when he’s clearly misbehaving.” Servant Xu put a hand to his tired face. “Don’t mind him if he’s a bit weird around you, a lot of kids are weird during puberty haha… I’ll go now.” 


Chongyun held the bowl carefully and blew on the steaming congee, inspecting it as he mixed it up with the porcelain spoon. There were bits of vegetables and cubes of meat mixed within, as well as a faint smell of vinegar. 


He sat down on a chair next to the nightstand, just close enough to feed Xingqiu the congee. Under the orange light emitted from the lamp, Chongyun watched as Xingqiu’s face scrunched up upon smelling the congee. 


“It smells like vinegar.” 


“There’s vinegar in here because it helps you sober up.” He explained, blowing on the spoon and holding it to Xingqiu’s lips. Xingqiu reluctantly swallowed the spoonfuls one by one, until the bowl was empty and nothing else was left. 


“You must’ve been really hungry.” Chongyun took out his handkerchief to wipe Xingqiu’s mouth. “Are you still hungry? I can go get you something-” 


Xingqiu had grabbed his hand again, interrupting his train of thought as the heat seeped through his fingers and pulsated throughout his hand. 


“Chongyun.” Xingqiu’ eyes locked on his. They were fiery and sincere, so sincere that it was intimidating and difficult to match his gaze.


“Hmm?” He mustered.


“I love you.” 


He felt the bowl slip from his other hand and before he could react, it clattered against the wood and shattered into pieces on the ground. 




“Ah- oh no…” Chongyun kneeled beside the fragments and gathered them up into his hand. 


Xingqiu had leapt off the bed and snatched his wrists. “Don’t pick them up! What if you cut yourself?” 


Chongyun smiled a little smile. “It’s just porcelain, not glass.” And before Xingqiu could reply he quickly added, “I’ll go call for servant Xu then… it seems the vinegar didn’t work, you’ll probably forget all of this in the morning.” 


He didn’t have the courage to look at Xingqiu as he hurried out of the room to look for servant Xu, who was fortunately already close by. After he explained the situation - leaving out unnecessary details - he left the manor as if he was running away from home. There was a lot he needed to think about, and a lot of jittery feelings he needed to sort through. He could only hope that Xingqiu wouldn’t blame him for panicking on the spot. 


The next day Xingqiu woke up later than usual and Chongyun fidly waited outside the Feiyun Commerce Guild for the other boy to get ready. He had a rather uneasy night of sleep, tossing and turning in his bed wondering lots of things. At some point he got up for a glass of water, only to find his mother in the kitchen with the lights off staring blankly at the wall. She smiled at him and told him to sleep, but it didn’t sit right with him at all. 


“What are you thinking about?” Xingqiu appeared beside him, yawning and stretching. 


Chongyun shook his head. “Nothing. Let’s go.” 


The wind billowed over the hills as they walked along the path leading out of Liyue Harbour and around Mt. Tianheng. Along the way, Chongyun collected pinecones in his pocket in case they passed by any squirrels and Xingqiu laughed at him each time that he did so. 


Chongyun wondered what pinecones tasted like to a squirrel. Perhaps a little oily and a little dry, he hoped that the squirrels ate more nutritious foods than just pinecones. 


Xingqiu turned to him. “How many ruin guards do you think will be guarding the place this time?” 


He thought about it and mused. “Last time there were two… so, two?” 


“Interesting.” Xingqiu commented, massaging his temples. “I wonder where they came from, and who keeps making them.” 


“It doesn’t matter, you’d make me take care of them anyway.” Chongyun grumbled, and to that Xingqiu let out a hearty laugh, then abruptly stopped.


They had arrived at the deserted ruins towering above them, and no ruins guards were in sight. 


“Got lucky this time.” Xingqiu smiled and took Chongyun’s hand. The two walked side by side into the large underground space stretching below the ruins that were lined with stone and lit with torches. A few old wooden boxes sat in the corners and one wall had collapsed into a mound of rocks, revealing the room on the other side. 


Chongyun squeezed Xingqiu’s hand. “We’re here now, what was it you wanted to do?” 


A mischievous look flashed over Xingqiu’s eyes and Chongyun knew that it couldn’t be anything good. Chilli-eating, romance-reading, there was even one time that Xingqiu tried to make Chongyun learn Yunjin’s dance routine and to this day he still cringed internally at the memory. 


“Hide’n’seek.” Xingqiu grinned at him. 


Confused, Chongyun gave him a weird look. “We stopped playing that a long time ago.” 


“Ah, but this time I brought a blindfold.” Xingqiu whipped out a thin black material and his grin grew wider. 


So he was going to be the blindfolded seeker then, Chongyun thought. Hide’n’seek games with Xingqiu were never fair to begin with, so he could never expect many victories. He tied it around his eyes and fastened a loose knot at the back, being careful not to pull out any hair. 


“Ready when you are.” He sighed. 


It was very difficult to navigate the ruins without sight. At one point he was sure that he’d walked in circles three times and was utterly lost, only when Xingqiu’s contagious laugh echoed from the next room was he able to find his way back to the start. He followed Xingqiu’s light footsteps diligently, bumping into the wall here and there but ultimately never losing track of Xingqiu for too long. 


Until he couldn’t hear Xingqiu anymore. The footsteps stopped and suddenly Chongyun felt nervous. 


“...Xingqiu?” He called out, only to hear his own voice bounce off the cold walls and back to him. Where was he? 


His arms stretched out in front of him in search of a nearby surface. Now that Xingqiu was purposefully making things difficult, his head felt a little dizzy from the loss of direction. 


“Xingqiu?” He tried again, standing silently in waiting for a reply. No reply came, and now he was considering whether or not he should take off the blindfold. 


Just as he was about to reach up for the fabric covering his eyes, he felt a cool breeze pass by and heard Xingqiu’s soft voice directly in front of him. “I’m right here, big dummy.” 


Before he could say a word, he felt his own hands being taken in a pair of very warm ones and  was pushed back harshly against the wall. “Wha- mnph!” 


He no longer had control over his own mouth as a pair of soft lips pressed onto his own. Warm and fuzzy like fireworks against a black night sky, burning into his very soul and being. It was like his spirit was being lit aflame, raging furiously with each passing second of intimacy, an eruption of sparkling sensations he was far too unfamiliar with. 


His breathing was ragged as Xingqiu continued to work his way into his mouth, keeping an iron grip around his waist as if he would run away at any moment. Though that was unlikely, given how frozen he was and that he could barely feel his legs. 


It only then occurred, through the messy shambles that were his thoughts, that they were kissing. 


The kind of kissing that occurred between couples.


And it made him feel incredibly shy. 


Gradually, Xingqiu’s lips slowed to a halt against his numb ones. He felt a hand snake up into his hair and with a light tug the blindfold came undone. Time seemed to stagger as the material slid down his face and down to the floor and he was met with a stunning pair of sunset amber eyes inches away from his own. 


Xingqiu smiled at him and cupped his cheeks. “I didn’t forget what I said last night… I love you.” His voice was hoarse, and there was a slight quiver in his tone as if he had been waiting to do this for an eternity. 


Chongyun’s heart flipped and somersaulted against his ribcage. Xingqiu’s hands must’ve been very warm, since his face felt on the verge of boiling hot. Any hotter, and the yang energy would make him drunk. 


“Well?” Xingqiu asked expectantly, “Are you going to give me a reply?” 


He tried to think of something to say, but all that came out was “I- I- I, uh?” Which made him feel silly for being so tongue-tied and slow to react. He waited for Xingqiu to laugh at his dumbness, but Xingqiu didn’t tease him for it and remained serious. 


“Did you… like it?” 




“I didn’t…” Chongyun began, and Xingqiu’s face fell so quickly that he almost forgot what he planned to say. 


“...dislike it.” Admitting this made him embarrassed all over again as he quickly looked away at the ground, but Xingqiu caught his chin and turned his face back so that they were staring directly at each other again. 


Without a word, Chongyun was pulled into a tight hug. He could feel Xingqiu’s chin digging into his shoulder, the sudden relief flooding through them both in that quiet moment of peace. Their heartbeats falling into a synchronised rhythm, like ships in the harbour rocking over the rolling blue waves.


“Don’t scare me like that.” Xingqiu murmured into his burning ear and began running his hands over Chongyun’s back. 


They stood like that for a while, melting into one another unwilling to separate, being each other's most valuable treasure. 


Xingqiu shifted a little and breathed into Chongyun’s neck. “You’re so adorable when you’re shy.” 


He could feel that mean smile on Xingqiu’s face, the mischief in those autumn coloured eyes, the faint whiff of lychee alcohol on his jacket from the night before. He just knew that all these little details would be etched into his memory forever, like carvings on an ancient tombstone of cor lapis. 


He would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

It was an exceptionally chilly morning in Mondstadt, one that Chongyun woke up sneezing and drying his nose to. Pale light shimmered through the starry curtains that hung over the frosty windows, illuminating the room in a dim blue hue. 


The couch came as a surprise to his sleepy brain, but after a moment of sobering from his drowsiness he remembered the previous night’s events - and he shuddered. His body felt numb under the warm blanket as he stared up against the ceiling. 


Something was amiss, yet he couldn’t figure out what. 




Chongyun shifted to see that Mona had just trudged into the living room in her pyjamas and a large mug of something steamy. It smelled like coffee. 


“Are you working today? If not, help me get some books from the library.” Mona yawned and stretched both her arms before looking over to Chongyun. He shook his head and gave a thumbs up - it was Sunday and he didn’t work on Sundays. 


“Great.” He heard her mumble as she rummaged around the kitchen, once again banging drawers and cupboard doors until she found what she was looking for. 


“Catch.” Mona said, and Chongyun had only seconds to react before the philanemo mushroom fell to the ground. He managed to catch it just in time, earning an impressed look from Mona, who shrugged her shoulders and turned away. “This is all I have. Hurry and get ready, I don’t want anyone else getting their slimy hands on those books. Hah… I really waited a whole month for them.” 


It didn’t take long for him to get ready, there really wasn’t much to do other than splash ice cold water onto his face and run a hand through his knotted hair. 


They set off towards the library and Chongyun had trouble keeping up with Mona who was about as impatient as a treasure hoarder finding a chest. Eventually, they arrived in the room of dimly lit bookshelves and dust-collecting pages. In the few weeks that he had begun working at Dawn Winery, the place had really taken a turn for the worse. 


Lisa was happy to see him, commenting that if he ever wanted an easier job she would welcome him with open arms. He didn’t find it likely, unless Mr Diluc decided to lay him off and he had nowhere else to go. 


For Mona however, it was no time for chit-chat. She slapped a comprehensive and crumbling list of books she wanted into Lisa’s hands and demanded that the previous holder of the books stopped renewing their issue. Soon they had begun discussing titles that Chongyun had never heard of, so he wandered off on his own to scour the newest arrivals on the shelves. 


There were many unfamiliar covers of all kinds of cover designs and binding styles, to which Chongyun carefully browsed through one by one. Other than the unfamiliar titles, there were many books that Chongyun was far too familiar with - books that had made it over to Mondstadt from Liyue. Rex Incognito, Records of Jueyun, String of Pearls… Chongyun had read these all back when he was… 


Nevermind. He shook his head and trailed his finger over the spines of each book until it stopped at one that caught his eye. His fingertips gripped the leathery cover and pulled it out of its place, feeling heavy in his hands and even heavier once he read the title. 


It was quite the beautiful cover, vibrantly coloured and detailed in its design. A kind of abstractness that allured to him in the art splashed over the surface. 


Inside, he felt a little part of himself fizzle and die out like a dwindling flame. 


A legend of sword - it was that book, the one Xingqiu had written under the burning candlelight late into the hot Liyue evenings. 


He flipped the book over in his hands and stared at it in contemplation. 


“Are you done browsing yet? I can’t carry all these books back to my house.” Mona’s sharp voice interrupted his thoughts and he quickly shifted his focus over to the mountainous pile on Lisa’s desk. She looked irritated to be issuing so many books so early in the morning, as the air began to electrify all around the room. 


Plucking up every ounce of courage he had, Chongyun went over to Lisa’s desk and added his book to the toppling pile. Lisa gave him a curious look and a smile broke out over her face. “Is this the first time you’ve borrowed a book out of our library?” 


He nodded. 


She chuckled and went back to logging book titles and names in her swirly handwriting. “Let me know your thoughts on the book once you’re done. It’s quite a rare gem in the rough.” 


He too, believed as such. Xingqiu dedicated countless hours of hard work into plotting and editing, the amount of effort was beyond anything Chongyun had ever witnessed from him. He could remember every little detail of every gaze from those deep amber eyes, glazed over from fatigue and reddening from strain. The undisguisable yawns and aching back pains from sitting at a desk all day. The feeling of Xingqiu’s shoulders as Chongyun kneaded them with care after a long session of writing. He remembered it all. 


He wondered if Xingqiu still remembered him. 


Not having many possessions came as a perk when moving to a new residence. The landlord was easygoing and with Klee being adamant on helping him the migration was an easy process. Other than having to pass by Mr Pallad in the hallway - who had the nerve to approach him - there were no complications and he was lucky enough to move in immediately. 


The new place was larger than the small single bedroom dormitory in the Adventurer’s Guild, and while that was a good thing, it also emphasised the hollow feeling in his chest when Chongyun stood in that empty room by himself. 


It was a nice place though, the floorboards creaked less, the doors closed with a gentle click, the lock seemed reliable and there was even a kitchen! He could potentially learn how to cook new recipes for… himself. 


Maybe Mona would be keen on trying Liyue cuisine if he made too much, since they were neighbours now. 


If there was one thing he really liked about the place was perhaps the calm smell of old cedarwood lingering in every corner. It would smell even nicer if he decorated the place with flowers. 


“Hah… I think that’s everything. Phew… you really don’t have much stuff in here.” Mona wiped her brow and adjusted her large purple hat as Klee danced around her in circles. “For all the hard work we’ve done…” Mona raised her eyebrows at Chongyun, “Treat us to lunch?” 


He nodded as Klee bounced up and down at Chongyun’s feet. “Yay! Lampy is treating! Does that mean I get an extra serving of grilled tiger fish?!” 


It probably wasn’t wise to let a child her size eat another serving of grilled tiger fish when she already ate five servings daily. But a smile like that was simply impossible to resist, and Chongyun reluctantly agreed. 


As usual, the Good Hunter was busy around this time. Albedo was already waiting at an empty table, drumming his fingers on the surface as he stared at his sketchpad with a pencil stuck behind his ear.


Chongyun felt a tug on his sleeve. Klee was beckoning for him to bend lower and so he did. In a hushed voice, she gestured towards a far table in the corner where two familiar people sat. 


“There’s Amber and Eula.” She whispered, and paused before she continued, “Some people think they’re friends, but I think they’re girlfriends .” 


Then came a wave of uncontrollable giggling as Klee began to blush at her own words and Chongyun helplessly caught people staring from nearby tables. If it weren’t for Mona’s abrupt cough, he would’ve forgotten that she was there. 


“I can still hear you, Klee. If you speak any louder, Amber and Eula will hear you too.” Mona rolled her eyes at Klee, then crossed her arms in defeat. “But yeah I agree.”


Chongyun let his gaze linger over the couple for a few seconds as he smiled. Then he remembered a certain someone and his smile dimmed. 


He shook his head and realigned his focus on the present. Klee had run off to give Albedo a hug so he and Mona loosely followed behind the bounding ball of crimson red. 


“What took you guys so long? And what were you guys talking about?” Albedo pulled Klee into a big bear hug and she shuffled into a more comfortable position on his lap. She beamed up at him. “Hahahahahahhahahahahah nothing!” 


What a way to convince someone. 


Albedo frowned. “So you can tell Yun, but you can’t tell me?” He feigned a hurt expression to Klee, who was reddening from trying to think up an excuse. 


Chongyun and Mona had barely sat themselves down when Klee blurted out a sentence that almost made them fall off their chairs. “When are you getting married?” 


Albedo’s expression blanked as a pink tinge slowly crept up on his cheeks. “Why… Why do you ask that?” 


Klee’s grin didn’t falter. “Flora told me that if you married and had a baby, then I would be an aunty! I wanna be an aunty.” 


Mona began wheezing her lungs out at the side of the table as Chongyun held back a silent laughter. Albedo looked as if a lightning bolt had struck him right on the head, even the ends of his hair looked as if to be prickling upwards. 


“I think you should stop hanging out with Flora, Klee.” Albedo said with a dangerous patience in his tone. 


Cocking her head to the side, Klee didn’t sense anything amiss. “Why? Flora is really smart.” 


“She’s a bad influence.” Albedo coughed and quickly pulled out the menu to change the subject - even though they had eaten here enough times to memorise the entire list. “What would you like to have today, Klee?” 


It would be a long meal of Albedo trying to talk Klee out of having an extra serving of grilled tiger fish. Anything was unhealthy in excessive amounts - was what Albedo tried to tell her, but Klee’s love for fish was only second to dodoco, so after an arduous debate Klee successfully obtained her fish and ate in pure bliss. 


She really reminded him of Xingqiu when he was a child. 


Although, he never stopped acting like a child when it came to Chongyun. The mood swings, tantrums, mischief - he had seen it all. 


And he missed it. 


He missed it a lot. 


A late winter’s evening was the perfect temperature for a light doze. He had unpacked his few things and arranged some furniture around the room with great effort - though he had become stronger after weeks of chopping wood and hauling around a heavy claymore. Despite all the work to organise the place, it still felt barren and Chongyun couldn’t help but let out a small sigh. 


He shoved the bed into the corner of the room and flattened out a newly purchased sheet that was a size too big, wrestling with the edges that were so difficult to tuck under the mattress. After all the hassle, he could finally flop onto the bed and stare at the wooden ceiling. 


He closed his eyes and breathed. 


It had barely been a quiet moment when he heard light knocking on the door. Slightly groggy, Chongyun pushed himself off the bed and went to open the door. 


On the doorstep, stood Amber - the friendly outrider whose parents were from Liyue - and Eula not far behind her, staring at him with arms crossed and a haughty look. He thought back to what Klee had said to him this afternoon and mentally shrivelled like an old prune… had they heard what she said? 


Amber grinned at him and held out a thick, battered-looking book. Its pages had dog ears and the cover looked worn and frequently used. “I heard you had moved in next to Mona - and that you have a kitchen now! So uh, I don’t know if I’m being rude but-” She placed the book into Chongyun’s hands. “-this is my grandfather’s ultimate recipe book that he compiled, they’re all Liyue dishes, so I thought you might appreciate the taste of home…” 


He opened it to a page that displayed a worn photo of fluffy rice buns and felt a smile spreading on his face. All of a sudden it felt a little emotional as he frantically took out his stack of cards and flipped it to “thank you.” 


Amber seemed relieved as her brown curls ruffled in the breeze and she exchanged an excited glance with Eula. 


“She was stressing about whether or not you’d find her nosy for this.” Eula deadpanned, and a shadow of a smirk passed over her expression as she watched Amber burn up brighter than the ribbons in her hair. 


“I- You’re not supposed to tell him that! Eula!” Amber protested, then seemed to remember that Chongyun was silently standing there and quickly regained her composure. “Haha, well, uh, I’m glad you like the book! We’re- we’re going to go now…” 


Chongyun gave a grateful smile and waved goodbye as they left as one very flustered brunette and the other woman whose laugh could be heard from two blocks away. 

They had risen at the brink of dawn to wade through the cool waters of Dihua Marsh, feeling the weeds graze their skin and fish kissing their ankles. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Xingqiu’s grand idea to wake up earlier than a farmland rooster and trudge sleepily in the muddy banks, it had been Yanfei’s idea. 


“It clearly states in the The Historia Naturalis Liyue that there’s a rare species of Horsetail that stands alone on the banks of Dihua Marsh. It’s colour is that of the clouds at sunset and apparently if you grind it into a powder and mix it into your ink, it makes the writing water-resistant.” She repeated monotonously. 


Xingqiu straightened up his back and rubbed his waist. “We get it. You’ve said that a myriad of times in this short period that we’ve been searching.” 


“But why is it that I can only find the purple variety?” She asked exasperatedly, weaving her hands through the waters and examining the colours of nearby Horsetails. 


“And why is it that you’ve dragged along us two, and not one of your other companions?” 


It was Yanfei’s turn to straighten up her back at the two boys. “No one else will believe me, will they? Only the well-educated and adequately-experienced young master of the Feiyun Commerce Guild will believe such a variety of Horsetails exist.” 


“That’s because I’ve witnessed it at an auction once. My question now is why you want this silly hydrophobic Horsetail so badly. Is it to prevent your documents from being ruined by your tears of misery when the tofu sells out in the evening? Or is it to resist your client’s tears after they see the rates you charge for legal advice?” Xingqiu’s remarks sent Yanfei’s eyes glowering a shade of neon green. 


“Oh? That’s rich coming from someone whose handwriting isn’t even legible, oh wise one.”


Chongyun was quick to sense that things were about to go sour and quickly interrupted the banter. “L-Let’s move over there, Xingqiu, I think there might be more Horsetails.” 


He tugged on Xingqiu’s flowering sleeve and led him far enough so that both parties could work in peace. Yanfei wouldn’t even be able to see them with the huge boulder sitting between them like a shield of protection in case she decided to hurl any fireballs at them. 


“My handwriting is legible.” Xingqiu said in all seriousness. He was like a little child, trying to prove what little they had to show. 


Chongyun chuckled and eyed the waters for Horsetails. “Alright alright, your handwriting is legible.” 


They continued looking for a while until Xingqiu pulled out a Horsetail and began to examine it curiously. “Come look at this one.” He held it up and beckoned for Chongyun to get closer. 


Also very curious, Chongyun waddled over and leaned in to inspect the pigment of the Horsetail… it was indeed a little lighter in colour than others, though it could be due to orange glow of the sunrise- 


He suddenly felt a soft kiss on his cheek and almost jumped in surprise which caused him to lose his balance. An arm circled around his waist as the two of them plunged into the water with a great splash, making ripples in mirror-like water. 


“Are you guys alright over there?” It was Yanfei's voice, but Chongyun could barely register what she said as he sat in the cold water with Xingqiu hovering above him. Droplets dripped down from Xingqiu’s hair and onto his cheek, rolling over his skin and back into the clear water. Xingqiu smiled a mischievous smile, and Chongyun felt his entire body go rigid from one look. 


“We’re fine.” Xingqiu replied casually, then leaned in close to kiss his jaw. “Absolutely fine.” 


“Xingqiu- stop playing around-” Chongyun tried to pry himself out of Xingqiu’s grip but it held him firmly like steel. 


“Only if you promise to go to the hotspring with me.” 


Chongyun gave him an unimpressed look. “That is as likely as this,” He reached for the stalk of a nearby Horsetail and yanked it out of the soil, “being the water-resistant variety.” 


“That’s unfair, don’t you know how rare-” Xingqiu stopped mid-sentence upon glancing at the Horsetail in Chongyun’s hand. 


Feeling like something was off, Chongyun craned his own neck to look at the freshly picked Horsetail. 


In all its full majestic glory, reflecting the early dawn light, was a staunch Horsetail pigmented like billowing clouds on a hot Liyue sunset.

Chapter Text

It had been a busy morning at the winery. Chongyun’s legs ached from all the lifting and heaving of heavy wooden barrels of wine. 


He straightened up and wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. Winter was starting to subside, and the faint traces of spring were beginning to appear. The temperatures were increasing little by little, flowers began to bloom through the crack in the pavement, and the horses in the stables were becoming more restless in stuffy afternoons. 


Elzer had been greeting clients all day, Adelinde was constantly refreshing the tea, and even Hillie and Moco hadn’t a spare moment to gossip about whatever was written in the latest steambird article. 


Chongyun loaded the last barrel of wine onto the cart and Elzer sent the client off, laughing and chatting about the long-time business partnership and whatnot. 


“Imagine buying dandelion wine for Valentine's day… how unromantic.” 


Chongyun perked his ears up at Hillie and Moco’s conversation near the entrance of the winery. It suddenly all made sense, the sudden spike in sales on the day before the fourteenth. 


“Ah… you don’t even have a boyfriend though.” 


“Shhh that’s not the point-” 


“No dawdling, everyone, we still have another order. The client should be here anytime soon.” Elzer clapped his hands together and a round of tired grunts came in reply. He sighed and grumbled something about the business peaking during Master Crepus’s time. 


“I heard this order’s a big one from Liyue.” 


“Funny that, I heard the same thing from Adelinde.” 


Chongyun felt a nudge at his side, and he turned to see Ernest standing next to him patting his forehead with a handkerchief. “Well, let’s get the last batch over and done with earlier rather than later.” 


They headed over to the dusty warehouse that Adelinde would probably faint at the sight of. He could imagine her horrified expression and the impatient tapping from her feather duster as she gave a lecture on cleanliness and hygiene. Thank goodness she never set foot in this area of the winery. 


The horses neighed in greeting as he and Ernest passed by. Ernest, who clearly had a soft spot for animals, stopped to feed them each a carrot while waving for Chongyun to hurry up and start loading up the wagon with wine barrels. 


Although it was difficult work, Chongyun was grateful for the exercise and that he had gained a little muscle in his arms in the past month so he no longer looked like a twig. It was troublesome, but progress was progress and he wasn’t about to complain. 


Ernest dragged away the full cart and Chongyun took a moment to breathe. A crystalfly was hovering around his head in an unbound dance. It’s pale wings glittered and it fluttered for a moment before landing on Chongyun’s head. It felt a little ticklish in his hair, and as he chuckled the crystalfly bristled then quickly took off and left in the wind. 


“Yun!” He heard Ernest’s voice from afar and he turned to see him jogging towards him in a hurry. “They’re here! They’re here!” 


Chongyun nodded in response but quickly stilled after seeing the people who marched behind Ernest with their sleeves rolled up and ready to help. They were from Liyue, judging by their clothes, and Chongyun recognised one of them to be Suling - an ironworker on Beidou’s ship, who had helped refine his claymore in the past. 


How could he have forgotten? 


Panicking, Chongyun dashed behind the warehouse and tried to think up an excuse to leave and disappear. He racked his brain like it was full of water, maybe… maybe he needed to use the restroom and it was really urgent - but the bathroom was inside the winery and he would still need to reveal himself. Maybe… maybe… 


The footsteps came closer and Chongyun prepared to make a dash for the trees, only to see a red haired man emerge from the shadows without a sound. 




He gave Chongyun a knowing look before making a turn around the warehouse to greet Beidou’s crew. 


Ernest’s confused voice was right round the corner as he gasped. “Ah? Master Diluc? Why are you here?” 


“To greet our clients.” Came Diluc’s rough voice. 


“O-Oh, yes- but where’s Yun?” 


“I sent him on an errand, he won’t be back for a while.” Diluc lied as if it was second nature. “Welcome to the winery, I hope Captain Beidou is doing well?” 


“Yes, yes, she’s doing very well. We’re hoping to celebrate her birthday tomorrow with only the finest wine from Mondstadt.” Mr Suling’s deep voice came and the rest of the crew laughed heartily. 


Chongyun leaned against the warehouse wall and slid down to the ground. He listened to the sounds of shuffling footsteps and clanking of wooden barrels sliding into place on the squeaking cart. Only when the sounds of men’s chatter and clattering wheels faded into the distance did Chongyun dare to peek at them from behind the warehouse wall. 


He hoped that none of them had seen him. 


He also wished from the bottom of his heart for Beidou’s happy birthday. 

“Twas on a deserted moonlit night that the hero approached the vile dragon’s limpid lair…” 




Xingqiu jolted upright to see Yanfei scrutinising him with those snarky emerald eyes. 


“Nothing.” He murmured and poked at the gleaming dumplings in his bowl with his bamboo chopsticks. The night had fallen, the lanterns had brightened, the stage was set for dazzling performances, the tables were set with Xiangling’s brilliant dishes, yet all he couldn’t immerse himself in the scene. 


He no longer fit in such animated environments, the oversaturation of colour and sound was about as interesting as a cookbook. 


Beside him, Yanfei huffed in annoyance. “So many people wish for the opportunity to attend Beidou’s birthday event yet you sit here, looking like the grand buddha themself, dozing off and muttering about books. Unbelievable.” 


He felt misunderstood. “I’ve been hitting a writer's block okay? It’s not easy trying to meet deadlines, and I’ve pushed it back by a month already.” 


Yanfei looked at him with an insincere pity in her eyes. “Sure. I bet it’s going super well, with the water-proof ink you made out of a singular horsetail that you bought from me for triple the market price.” 


Xingqiu didn’t say anything to that. He hadn’t even used that ink, it just sat on his bookshelf like a little archon waiting for it’s day to finally see light. If Yanfei knew about it, she’d probably throw her thick books of laws at him. 


He didn’t want to continue the conversation. Looking up, Beidou and Ningguang sat on the opposite side of the round table, laughing and chatting like a pair of protagonists. Xiangling was nowhere to be seen - probably whipping up more dishes with her infinite supply of creativity, and Kazuha sat high above them on the ship’s mast, wine cup in hand and whistling at the sky. 


Xingqiu wondered if losing a friend felt the same way for him too. 


The sound of a guqin’s strings being plucked resounded through the ship, gathering everyone’s attention towards the stage. Yunjin appeared from behind the pine folding screens and struck a pose under the glowing moonlight as the sorrowful melody faded into the scene like that of a dream. 


It was the classic opera of the Butterfly Lovers. 


He wondered why such an opera would be performed on Beidou’s birthday, but taking a quick glance at Beidou, who only had her eyes on Ningguang, Xingqiu hurriedly retracted his gaze and pretended not to have seen anything. 


Everyone knew of this opera. It was one of the most renowned operas in all of Liyue, but could only be performed by the best. 


He remembered the first time that he’d attended this opera with Chongyun, and he, just like Beidou, couldn’t focus on the opera but instead stared at what he found to be more beautiful than any performance in Teyvat. He loved the way that emotions flickered over Chongyun’s glistening eyes like he was a transparent sheet of thin silk. The moment when Chongyun shed tears at the part where the couple turned into butterflies was engraved into Xingqiu’s mind like a stone carving. He had teased him about crying afterwards, but he secretly found it adorable for such an aloof person to become so emotional over a story. 


Now, all these things were just a memory. 


The opera came to an end and everyone clapped and cheered as Yunjin’s dazzling smile brightened the room. She hopped off the stage and took a seat next to Xingqiu as Xinyan prepared for her performance. The contrast between the two would be huge. 


“What made you choose to perform Butterfly Lovers?” Yanfei asked curiously. 


Yunjin shook her head and her long dark hair swayed with her movements. “No no, Ms Beidou personally requested that I perform Butterfly Lovers. It came as a shock to me too! I would’ve preferred to perform Damsel in Distress but I guess it’s just not the same when Ms Shenhe isn’t around.” 


Xingqiu cocked his head to the side and frowned. “I thought she was settling down in Liyue Harbour?” 


Yunjin shook her head again as a sad smile crossed her face. “I lost all contact with her about a year ago. She just wasn’t the same after Chongyun…” 


Xingqiu’s face darkened at the news and Yunjin trailed off without finishing her sentence. “Interesting.” Was all he could muster. 


After a few rowdy performances from Xinyan and a few rounds of drinking dandelion wine, Beidou stood up abruptly and held up her wine cup. 


“Firstly I’d like to thank everyone for coming today. It is truly a blessing from the archons to have so many companions with me both at sea and on shore.” 


A great smile stretched over her face as she paused. “I’d like to thank all my men for their unwavering loyalty and the efforts they have contributed to the state of our ship. I swear on my vision that there is no better crew of people out there, and I am grateful for the support you all have given me when times were tough in the past year. Without you all, I would be nowhere.” 


A round of cheering came from her crewmates but quickly quietened down as Beidou continued. 


“I’m thankful for my wonderful friend Madam Xiangling for preparing these delicious dishes with so much enthusiasm, I hope you can continue to test out your new works on my men - as long as they aren’t lethal.” 


Xiangling burned a shade of deep red as she said this, but hurriedly nodded happily in response. 


“Lastly, I’d like to thank the one and only Tianquan of Liyue Qixing, Lady Ningguang, even though you have a strange taste in food, funny priorities, and a stubborn temperament.” She paused to take in the disapproving look that Ningguang shot at her and her voice softened. “Even though you send me on silly errands, scold me for breaking rules, and discourage me for drinking so much, I’m glad to have you as a moody collaborator, a chess partner, my number one critisisor, but most importantly, the only person I’d be willing to spend the rest of my life with.” 


Beidou’s crimson eye glittered as she took Ningguang’s gloved hand and placed a delicate kiss on the back of her fingers. Before anyone could say anything, Beidou snatched a nearby wine bottle and took a long swig, wiped her chin, then proceeded to yell, “MARRY ME NINGGUANG!!!” 




A loud thud resonated through the quiet night as Xingqiu realised that Kazuha had fallen out of his spot on the mast and landed on the deck in shock. 


But no one had their attention on him, everyone held their breath for Ningguang’s reaction. 


Ningguang looked just as stunned as everyone else in the room, her scarlet eyes shimmering brighter than the stars in the night. “You want someone as intolerable as I am?” 




“Someone who manipulates others for their own personal gain?” 




“Someone with unpredictable mood swings fifty three times a day?” 




“Then…” Ningguang paused, her eyelashes trembling a little. “... Why not?” 


The crowd erupted in utter chaos as cheering and whistling burst all over the glowing ship. Kazuha seemed to have recovered from the fall and was clapping amongst the congratulatory shrieks of blessing. Beidou looked ecstatic, she picked up Ningguang and whirled her around like she weighed nothing before pulling her into a tight hug. 


“I’m so happy I could swim all the way to Inazuma!” She shouted, and in a split second she put a frazzled Ningguang back down in her seat and dashed towards the edge of the boat, diving into the sea without a second thought. 


It was fortunate that in her moment of impulsiveness she had muddled up the directions and ended up swimming all the way to Guyun Stone Forest instead, otherwise the crux fleet would likely have never caught up to their overjoyed and infatuated captain. 


“And then Lady Ningguang scolded her for drinking too much and being so rash, it was really a sight to see.” Xingqiu recalled the lively night in all its detail. “Why didn’t you go?” 


Hutao shrugged her shoulders and continued to scan over the account book. “I have no interest in such events. It sure sounds lively though, but I’d rather stay with Whiskers and Mittens, they’ve been having marital problems recently.” 


Xingqiu didn’t question how two stone lions could have marital problems. 


After a period of silence, Hutao finally spoke up again. “Didn’t you think that… maybe…” 


Xingqiu waited for her to finish her sentence, but she retracted it and rearranged the words again inside her head. 


“What?” He asked, feeling a little impatient. 


Her eyebrows furrowed into a frown as she chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Before Chongyun… uh… left… Was there anything that… was strange about him?” 


She asked so painstakingly slowly that Xingqiu wanted to pull his hair out. “What do you mean?” He grumbled. 


Hutao’s blossom pupils flickered a little. “You really didn’t notice anything?” 


That was a loaded question. There were things that Xingqiu couldn’t even put into words or describe with vague accuracy, and he didn’t want to think about it either, because it hurt to recall those times. 


“Just spit it out already, Hutao.” 


“Fine, fine.” Hutao fumbled in her pile of documents and produced a rather old and worn-looking parchment. It looked like a list of records from a while ago. She slid the paper over to Xingqiu and pointed at a particular row in the middle which also caught Xingqiu’s eye. “I was looking in some old records and happened across this…” 




It was the burial information of Chongyun’s father. The location, the date and time, it was all there. 


“He was buried during my grandfather’s time.” Hu tao said. “The anniversary date is actually in a few days… I thought… maybe you should go visit?” 


Xingqiu said nothing as he stared at the name which bore the same last name as Chongyun’s. He felt a little chilled all over, since he had never known where Chongyun’s father was buried, let alone visited with him. 


“Gah, I’m not even supposed to reveal client information so you’re the only exception! No one can hear about this, understand?” She fumed, and Xingqiu nodded quickly. 


He would go on the anniversary date, it was in a few days after all. 


In truth, he was itching to go immediately, but a small thought inside his head wouldn’t leave him alone. 


What if Chongyun was also there? 


“I’m not interested in any engagements with anyone!” Xingqiu seethed. It was such a simple idea, yet his parents wouldn’t see eye to eye with him at all. 


His mother tried to keep a faltering smile on her face as she stroked her husband’s arm nervously. “A’qiu, we just want the best future for you. Can’t you at least meet them and try getting along?” 


“Absolutely not.” He shook his head despite his older brother giving him a warning look. 


His father looked ready to explode. “We’ve been too soft on you as parents, Xingqiu, we let you have fun everyday reading silly stories and practising useless martial arts, yet you won’t even consider any of the options your mother and I have so carefully picked out for you? Ungrateful child, how did I raise such a son like you?” 


“Why must we expand our business relations through marriage? How can you even consider that as an option in this day and age? Father, I believe that it is completely possible to strengthen our connections through quality trade and negotiations instead of pawning off your son to some random girl from a wealthier background than us!” He slammed his chopsticks on the table as his father’s face grew redder than a tomato, trembling all over as he pointed a shaky finger at him. 


“You ungrateful wrench, how- how have I raised you to be so disobedient like this? Unbelievable, absolutely shameless.” 


Xingqiu didn’t bother listening to his father’s nonsense for any longer and stormed out of the dining room, past servant Xu who hurriedly called out to him, and out the doors of their home. He ignored servant Xu’s pleas to return as he ventured out into the rain in nothing but his everyday coat, without even having checked if he had his wallet on him. 


He gritted his teeth as the droplets of water splashed on his head and rolled down his collar, chilling him to the bone in that cold winter weather. It was freezing outside, but he didn’t plan on going back inside even if he froze to death. He stared at the ground in contemplation, at the wet pavement beneath his numb feet, and stilled when he noticed a familiar pair of shoes in front of him like a breath of fresh air. 




There stood his Chongyun, staring at him worriedly with a yellow parasol embroidered with silk flowers, eyes full of weariness. 


Without a word, Xingqiu leapt into those open arms and nestled himself in Chongyun’s warm embrace. The other boy patted his back reassuringly, still holding the parasol above him to block away the splattering rain. 


“How did you know I wanted to see you?” Xingqiu murmured into Chongyun’s neck. The hand patting Xingqiu’s back hesitated for a moment before continuing. 


“Had a hunch.” He replied, his voice sounded slightly hoarse. “I have keen senses, remember?” 


“I remember, I remember.” Xingqiu buried his face deeper into Chongyun’s neck. “I remember everything about you.” And then he began to cry, his shoulders shook and his grip on Chongyun tightened. Whether it was out of sadness or happiness or raw emotion, Xingqiu didn’t know. All he knew was that holding Chongyun was a special feeling like no other, his safe place and his treasure. 


He inhaled this heavenly scent and slid a hand up into Chongyun’s hair, only to find that his entire back was soaked with rainwater. Xingqiu pulled away and frowned at Chongyun, noticing that he had left a damp spot on Chongyun’s shoulder. It was only when he looked up did he realise that Chongyun had been tilting the parasol in his direction to shield him completely from the rain. 


“You big dummy.” He scolded softly and took Chongyun’s freezing hand into his. “Let’s go somewhere.” 




“If it’s with you, anywhere is fine.” 




“Let’s go to Wanmin restaurant, we can sit by the stove to dry up.” 




Chef Mao was more than happy to let them sit by the stove as they each ate a steaming bowl of warm crab roe tofu. Under the glow of the crackling fire, Xingqiu stared at Chongyun’s pretty face as he ate. The rim of his eyes were a little red and slightly misty, but it was likely due to the orange firelight smoothing over his skin. 


He didn’t know what he would do without him. 


“A-Are you going to… stop staring?” Chongyun looked at him briefly and then quickly looked back at the fire. 


Xingqiu propped an arm on his leg and leaned closer. “No. Just keep doing what you’re doing, I like admiring beautiful things.” 


Chongyun bit his lip and Xingqiu had the urge to bully him a little. “Hey, what were you doing outside of my house? Waiting to propose? Surely you didn’t come empty-handed thinking I’d say yes?” 


The question seemed to trouble Chongyun as he stammered and tried to think of an answer. Xingqiu took this chance to put his bowl in his lap and grab Chongyun’s hand, kissing it softly and smiling evilly at the blushing boy. He was about to tease him some more until he noticed a patch of dark skin peeking out the edge of Chongyun’s sleeve. 


Sensing the change in demeanour, Chongyun tried to pull his hand away but failed with Xingqiu’s iron-like grip. Xingqiu gently pushed the sleeve up and narrowed his eyes at the ugly purple bruise corroding a patch of Chongyun’s skin. 


“How did this happen?” 


He watched as the pretty boy answered nervously. “I was wandering around a construction site and a chunk of timber fell on me.” 


Xingqiu squeezed Chongyun’s hand. “Don’t walk near such places in the future, or else… I’ll make you try all of Xiangling’s spiciest dishes.” 


Laughing at the poor boy’s horrified expression, Xingqiu began applying hydro to the area of bruised skin and watched it lighten up a little, but a few days would be required for the entire thing to completely fade. 


Xingqiu carefully pulled the sleeve back down and kissed the back of that hand again. 


With this person, he was so happy, so happy that he never wanted to leave.

Chapter Text

He found that time flew when one was unbothered and undisturbed. A week passed and the signs of spring grew ever the stronger. His breath made floating fog in the air as he exhaled at the late morning sunrise from the top of the city walls. One leg dangled out in the wind as he wrapped the warm scarf tighter around his neck. 


It was his day off, yet he couldn’t help but get up early out of habit. He wasn’t hungry either, so the next best thing was to sit atop the city walls and stare out into the beyond. What he was looking for, he didn’t know. But looking at the road which led to Liyue, to his home, sparked memories of the beautiful Liyue flowers which blossomed diligently each year. 


He sighed. 


It was like looking at a different life. 


“Good morning!” 


Chongyun almost lost his balance as he heard the voice of a young girl from behind him. No one frequented the city walls, so he hadn’t a clue who would be disturbing his peace at this hour. He whirled around to see a girl with lavender hair and olive green eyes staring back at him. A singular braid crossed the area above her forehead which was covered with neat bangs and two roses stuck out from either side of her head like ears of an elf. 


“I’m Noelle.” She smiled and held out her armoured hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Yun. Barbara’s told me all about you!” 


Chongyun took her metallic hand and shook it slowly. 


“Have you been feeling well recently?” She asked. 


Chongyun nodded, but he wasn’t sure why she was asking. Barbara did visit him a few times for health checkups but nothing was amiss. 


Noelle brightened. “I’m glad! I was hoping you’d join me on a mission to Wolvendom, actually. Barbara is in need of wolfhooks for their medicinal properties, and any leftovers will be used as dye for materials needed in the upcoming Ludi Harpastum festival. Jean asked me to bring someone else just in case, but everyone is busy, and I can handle this kind of work on my own! I’ll do most of the work, don’t worry! You won’t even need to lift a finger.” 


It didn’t sound too bad. He hadn’t planned anything for today either, so Chongyun nodded. 


“Is that a yes! Great!” Noelle beamed. “How much time do you need to prepare? Have you had breakfast? What are your preferences? Do you prefer coffee or tea? Water is fine too, a valid choice indeed. Are you allergic to anything? Or perhaps you have any dietary requirements? Is your skin sensitive? I can bring you a hat. Or recommend a suitable skincare routine. Have you had rashes in the past? Hives? Bad reactions? Is your hair feeling dry lately? I have a homemade recipe for shampoo…” 


His day had barely just started and he was already regretting everything that led up to this moment. If he didn’t react, maybe she would stop talking… 


They hiked through the barren Wolvendom trails. Noelle continued asking questions left and right so much that Chongyun couldn’t answer with a simple head shake. She carried on a one-sided conversation as they walked deeper into the damp forests, keeping an eye out for shiny purple berries hidden in the grass and shrubbery. 


“I heard you were a claymore user and I thought, Great! I’m a claymore user too!” Noelle beamed at him, who was panting while she barely broke a sweat. “Also, don’t worry about the rifthounds, I came here many times before and they never showed up. Though I’m sure I can take them on by myself! You just stay put and watch or even critique my techniques later! There’s always lots of room for improvement, so your feedback would be much appreciated. Otherwise, don’t worry and leave it all to me, you know, like a dutiful maid should.” 


Yeah, he wasn’t going to argue with that. If Noelle was happy to do everything then Chongyun would let her, trying anything would probably get in her way. In all honesty, he had never encountered rifthounds in his life and had only heard about them from adventurers who had been to Inazuma, and was quite intrigued to see one for himself. 


Afterall, most adventurers like exaggerating stories to the point where the truth becomes diluted with false details. Until he had met one personally, Chongyun didn’t concern himself too much with adventurer’s tales. 


“Ah! Look, there’s a bunch over here.” Noelle pointed at the ground and they began picking.


The hooks were incredibly prickly and had to be handled with care. Sometimes Chongyun even found a few stuck to his clothes and pried them off excruciatingly slowly since he was worried that ripping them off too fast would create a hole in the fabric. Soon, Noelle’s large bucket was filled halfway with round purple berries. She was an extremely efficient worker, so nimble with her hands that it scared Chongyun the rate at which she collected the wolfhooks. Like some sort of specialised machine made solely for this job. 


Chongyun suddenly perked up and Noelle glanced at him. “Something wrong?” 


He thought he’d heard some rustling. Perhaps it was just the bushes, or a squirrel. There were many squirrels in Mondstadt after all. He shook his head at Noelle who swiftly went back to work. 


But he heard it again, and the hairs on his skin began to prick up as he jumped back, barely missing the large claws that would have otherwise pierced the flesh on his back. 


“Get behind me!” Noelle shouted as Chongyun scrambled over to pick up his claymore, gulping as several purple and golden eyes began to emerge from the shadows. As the closest one came into view, he stiffened in realisation that those adventurer’s tales had not been exaggerated one bit. All of it was extremely accurate, from the bony structure devoid of all flesh to the fangs that dripped with gleaming saliva. Every single one of them looked starved and ready to pounce as Chongyun’s grip on the claymore hilt tightened. 


They moved in a flash before his eyes. Everything was too fast, too sudden for his eyes to comprehend. Noelle had her blade wedged between the teeth of one rifthound as another tried to attack at her armour. “It’s okay, Yun! Just stay back, I have a shield!” 


Chongyun took a few steps back as a rifthound tried to approach him, growling like it hadn’t eaten for days, but was knocked in the back of the head with Noelle’s large whiteblind. To their horror, it barely even blinked and sent a couple fierce swipes in her direction instead. 


It should be fine though. It should be fine. Noelle has her shield up, it would be okay. 


Yet her movements staggered and her breathing went ragged as they attacked from all directions. The situation wasn’t looking good. Despite her clearly struggling, she stubbornly yelled to him during the fighting. “Don’t come close, go! I can handle this myself!” 


But that wasn’t the case. Not when she began to shake all over and her face became sickly pale. Not when she cried out in pain as a rifthound managed to strike her in the ribs. 


He couldn’t just stand and watch. Taking a deep breath, Chongyun charged in to join her just as she fell to the ground. His blade clashed angrily with their fangs and their claws, sending flocks of birds in distant trees to race off towards the sky. Cold sweat rolled down his forehead and nose as he swung at them clumsily, his technique was awful and his posture was barely a passing grade, but there was nothing he could do about it. 


No, there was still something. He squeezed his eyes shut and channelled energy through his long since dilapidated meridians and felt the surge of cryo particles generating through his system. The pain was already beginning to kick in but he pressed on, letting the stream of light blue frost infuse his claymore. This was no time to think about how much it hurt to use his tampered vision. 


His knuckles turned white at the thought of running, even though these rifthounds terrified him more than any other creature had. Their glowing, ravenous eyes instilled a kind of fear within him that felt much too familiar. Up close, he could smell blood in the air, whether it was his or Noelle’s or blood from a previous victim, it was putrid and made him want to gag. 


Instead, he clenched his teeth and tried his best to lead them away from Noelle who was writhing and coughing in the grass. Blood dripped down from his leg that had just been sliced open and his knees wanted to give way. Out of the corner of his eye, he felt a shiver creep up his spine as he noticed that she had just choked out blood darker than the normal shade of scarlet red. 


And from this moment of carelessness, he felt a poke in his shoulder followed by the excruciating pain of fangs digging into his flesh. Electro stunned his body but he kept a tight hold on the claymore hilt as he swung furiously at the creature to no avail. Just as he thought that his entire shoulder was going to be torn off, he felt the gigantic monster above him go limp and collapse to the side. 


With a thump, the creature hit the ground and spasmed as if it were in pain. 


This seemed to frighten all the rifthounds as they froze, their flaming eyes filled with uncertainty as Chongyun found himself standing back up, one hand clutching his bloody shoulder as the other arm pointed his waster greatsword in their direction. 


He leapt forward without thinking, yet this seemed to be the last straw for the rifthounds as they backed away into the shadows, leaving no traces that they had ever arrived except for the rancid air of blood, his torn shoulder and a quivering Noelle.


There wasn’t time for him to process what had just happened as he knelt down at Noelle’s side. Getting to safety was the number one priority and Chongyun wouldn’t focus on anything else until he was sure that Noelle would be alright. She was barely conscious as he shakily carried her onto his back and wobbled forward, limping as red began to seep into the material of his trousers. 


It began increasingly difficult to walk as his head began to spin. He wasn’t sure how much blood he had lost, but it was probably a considerable amount. He wasn’t even sure where he was in Wolvendom and only tried to follow the same path back out. The weight of Noelle’s head on his ripped up shoulder wasn’t making it any easier either, but he walked and walked until he saw the familiar uniform of the Knights of Favonius, who quickly noticed them and began panicking at their grisly state. 


It was only once he was certain that they weren’t hallucinations from all the blood loss, did he allow himself to pass out as the earth tumbled toward him and everything went black. 


Chongyun returned home late at night once Xingqiu was ready to go home. He felt tired. So tired. But he had to be careful not to wake up his mother, otherwise- 


“Where have you been?” 


A low voice emerged from the darkness of the room. He could make out the faint outline of his mother sitting at the table, posture rigid and unmoving. Chongyun swallowed nervously and rubbed the bruise on his arm, feeling uneasy all over. 


“Just… with Xingqiu.” He answered truthfully. 




“I told you not to hang out with that boy.” His mother’s cold voice resounded through the cold air. “I told you not to hang out with him.” 


“Mother, I-” 


“You don’t listen to me anymore, do you?” 


Chongyun tensed and quickly walked over to his mother, grabbing her hands in his. “I’m sorry, mother, he… he really means a lot to me.” 


His mother didn’t even look at him while she spoke, as if caught in a trance or a nightmare.


“You won’t listen. You just won’t listen.” Her voice shook as she spoke, and Chongyun felt her hand grip the bruised part of his wrist and tighten like a steel cord. “Why won’t you listen?” 


Chongyun winced as her hold tightened and stinging sensations began to emit from the bruise. “Mother… that hurts…” 


She didn’t seem to have heard him, only repeating the same sentences over and over in a frenzy. “Listen to me, A’Yun, listen to your mother, don’t go near him. Don’t go near him. Don’t go near him. Listen to me, A’Yun, are you listening?” 


Using his other hand, Chongyun ran his fingers through his mother’s thinning black hair to pull out some of the tangles. “I’m listening, mother, how about I help you to bed? It’s dark outside, you should be sleeping.” 


Only at this did his mother seem to react. She ever so slowly craned her neck to look at him, eyes still covered in a layer of mist and began stroking and ruffling his hair. “My good boy, my lovely boy, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, help me to bed will you?” 


It wasn’t difficult to help his mother to bed. She had been losing a lot of weight, so much that it hurt to see her bony figure as Chongyun gently laid the thick blankets over her, arranging the pillows so that they would be comfortable to lean on. He also didn’t forget to fetch a cup of water to leave on the nightstand, in case his mother woke up again and couldn’t get up for a drink. 


“Goodnight, mother.” 


“Goodnight, my son.” 


He left the room, but left the door open in case she called for him at night and he wouldn’t be able to hear. Finally, he was able to sleep. He really, really needed a good night of sleep. 


Chongyun woke up to sounds of knocking on the door, and since he hadn’t even bothered to change his clothes from last night, he swiftly slid out of bed to greet the person on the doorstep. 


It was aunt Shenhe. 


She looked at him with worried eyes as Chongyun invited her inside. “I… I haven’t bought breakfast yet… maybe you can keep mother company while I go get something?” 


Shenhe nodded as Chongyun hurriedly washed up and ventured outside to buy breakfast. He could finally breathe again. The house quickly became suffocating and he felt guilty to admit it. 


“Three mora meat.” He said to the vendor, who quickly counted the change and handed him three brown packages. 


Chongyun stalled in the street in a daze, purposefully spacing out for a while before deciding to head back home. He counted the steps it took to reach his house, and once he arrived he took a deep breath before entering… only to be met with sounds of frantic sobs. 


He rushed into his mother’s room, almost dropping the packaged mora meat in the process, to find her teary-eyed and gripping Shenhe’s hands so tightly that she was wincing. “Where is he? Where did he go?” 




His mother turned at the sound of his voice and relaxed instantly. “Where did you go?! Don’t leave me like that!” 


Chongyun hurried over and gave his mother a tight hug. “Sorry, I was out buying breakfast, aren’t you hungry?” 


She didn’t look very convinced until he showed her the three brown packages. “Oh, thank goodness, as long as you didn’t go meet with Xingqiu, thank goodness.” 


He didn’t say anything as he unpackaged the mora meat for his mother and handed it to her. She took it and began eating, finally smiling and chattering like she used to. “My son is so caring, such a lovely boy I’ve raised.” 


Shenhe stayed silent as she chewed through the food. She looked as if there was a lot she wanted to say, but couldn’t with the current situation. 


“Did you sleep well, A’Yun? You’ve got dark circles around your eyes… Was it because of me? Mother is so sorry, A’Yun, I’m so moody lately, maybe my menopause is starting early… Forgive me alright? Mother just feels a little confused recently, and get some more sleep, you look so tired.” She pinched Chongyun’s cheek and smiled. Chongyun couldn’t help but smile back and nod lightly. He would try to sleep more, though lack of sleep really wasn’t something he even considered an issue as of late. 


“Jiejie*… How about we consult Mr Baizhu for a checkup-” 




Chongyun watched as his mother’s eyes flared up like a bonfire. 


(*Jiejie means “older sister” in Chinese, much like Unnie/Noona in Korean and Onee-san in Japanese. This can be used to address any female older than oneself )


“There’s nothing wrong with my health, Shenhe, I’m completely fine. I’m just feeling a bit weak lately, there’s really nothing wrong.” His mother smiled, her breathing ragged and strained. 


Shenhe didn’t say anything after that. 

Once his mother had fallen asleep again, Chongyun and Shenhe quietly left the room. 


It was a little difficult to find words between two people where neither liked taking the initiative to talk. 


“How long has she been like this again…?” Shenhe asked, creases forming on her forehead. 


“Since a day or two after the Lantern Rite festival.” Chongyun replied. 


They fell into a solemn silence. 


“She really won’t let you out of her sight.” Shenhe sighed. “You’d only been gone for a few minutes before she started getting anxious.” 


Chongyun glanced at his mother who was now sleeping peacefully in her bed through the half-closed door. “Can you… ask if Mr Baizhu is free? Maybe he can do a checkup while she’s asleep.” 


Shenhe nodded. “I was thinking that too, she can’t continue like this at all.” 


As if by miraculous streak of luck, Mr Baizhu happened to be free and came over right away. He listened carefully as Chongyun told him about his mother’s erratic behaviour and how quickly she’d been losing weight as well as hair. He then checked her pulse and a shadow passed over his face. “She… she seems to have a normal pulse. A little weak, but it shouldn’t be affecting her mental state or behaviour.” 


Chongyun didn’t know how to feel upon hearing this. Was this meant to be good news or bad news? A weak pulse was an easy fix right? But then what explained her mood swings and strange temper? 


“I’ll write a prescription for boosting general health and regulating mood swings… I doubt this is the cure, but this is the best I can do for now.” Mr Baizhu scribbled down a note and handed it to Chongyun. “Keep me updated, I’ll see if there’s anything I can figure out later.” 


“As for the payment…” Shenhe reached for her wallet but Mr Baizhu shook his head. 


“No need. I can’t take a patient’s money if I haven’t fully cured them.” 


He left as quickly as he came, and Chongyun somehow felt even worse about the situation. He was truly grateful to have aunt Shenhe here with him - he wasn’t sure how well he’d be coping otherwise. 


Shenhe gently took the note from his hands. “I’ll collect the prescription from the pharmacy, you stay here and watch over your mother.” 


All Chongyun could do was sit at his mother’s bedside feeling useless. 


Maybe he was useless. 


“Where shall we go today? Hmm? Any ideas, pretty one?” Xingqiu elbowed him in the ribs playfully. 


Chongyun smiled at him. “I’ll go anywhere you go.” 


Xingqiu’s grin widened. “You better remember those words.” 


“Okay. Just say the place, and I’ll go.” 


“Hmm… let’s go to Wanwen Bookhouse. I’ve been meaning to buy a few new sequels.” 


They walked side by side through the streets of Liyue. Chongyun listened to Xingqiu ranting about his family and occasionally zoned out. He couldn’t help but feel tired. Really tired.


“I want to read you something. What do you want to hear? Records of Jueyun? Legend of the Shattered Halberd? Tales from the Waves?” Xingqiu squeezed Chongyun’s hand. “Hey, are you listening?” 


Chongyun nodded. “I’m listening. You can read me anything, I don’t mind.” 


Xingqiu laughed as they climbed the vermillion red staircase to Wanwen Bookhouse where Jifang, Muchen and Gaofei were working as always. 


Xingqiu greeted them cheerfully as he went straight to the newest arrivals and began to browse. He would pick up a book, flip through the pages, sometimes a few more, then put it back down or keep it in his arms depending on whether he liked it or not. Chongyun liked watching him read, there was a sense of peace in those eyes as they roamed the inked pages with great care and interest. 


Jifang was usually very adamant on customers paying first, and reading later. However, Xingqiu was such a frequent customer that they stopped paying him any mind a long time ago, and treated him like a VIP. 


He wandered deeper into the bookstore where more bookshelves stood quietly in rows. It seemed that other than him and Xingqiu, there wasn’t anyone else strolling around the bookstore during this time. Chongyun inhaled the sweet scent of cedar wood and musty books, and tried to relax in the surroundings. Faint sunlight poured through the aisles and pooled on the ground in rings, grazing his skin and indicating the promising spring. 


He stopped in the sunlight and closed his eyes to feel the warmth coarse through his body. It was so warm. It was nice. 


Chongyun took great effort in opening his eyes again, merging back with reality as he did so. Hearing footsteps, he turned to smile at Xingqiu only to be roughly shoved into the bookshelf and kissed until he was breathless. He could feel the shivers running up and down his spine, threatening to get him drunk on yang energy at any moment. Xingqiu then moved to kiss his jaw and his neck, one hand caressing his scalp and the other rubbing his upper arm. 


“Xingqiu- We’re… we’re in the bookhouse…” 


Xingqiu didn’t seem to care as he placed one last kiss on Chongyun’s hand, still holding him tightly like he would run away at any moment. Truth to be told, Chongyun’s entire body felt like jelly every time Xingqiu did this sort of thing, and he wouldn’t be able to run away if he wanted to. If not for the other boy holding him upright, his legs probably would’ve given in a long time ago. 


Xingqiu chuckled. “Don’t worry, I checked. No one else is in here except us.” He cupped Chongyun’s cheek with one hand and looked him in the eyes. “If you’re too uncomfortable with this sort of thing, I won’t do it again.” 


Chongyun’s mouth felt dry. “I… it’s alright.” 


He heard Xingqiu’s laugh and relaxed a little bit in his arms. Chongyun had never noticed how nice Xingqiu smelled, like the silk flowers around Wangshu inn. It was intoxicating. 






“I… Is it alright if I won’t be able to accompany you very often this week? O-Or even the next?” 


Xingqiu kissed the crook of his neck. “Sure.” Was all he said, and he moved the kissing up to his jawline. Chongyun was a little surprised to hear this. 


“You won’t ask me why?” 


Xingqiu chuckled lightly. “If you don’t want to tell me why, then I won’t ask. You’re not obligated to be with me all day everyday.” 


Relief washed over Chongyun like a cool river on a hot summer’s evening. 


“Hmm? What were you so tense for? Nervous that I wouldn’t let you out of my grasp?” Xingqiu teased, massaging Chongyun’s upper arm muscles until they had softened. “Or are you planning to run away while I’m not looking?” 


“No, I-” 


Xingqiu pinched his cheek and grinned smugly. “It’s too late even if you managed to escape me, I’d hunt all over Teyvat and check every nook and cranny, you aren’t getting rid of me that’s for sure.” 


“I really wasn’t- Mmphfff.” 


Another rough kiss was pressed over his mouth until Chongyun struggled for air. Xingqiu was such a bully, not giving him the slightest moment to even protest against his advances. Once Xingqiu was finally satisfied, he pulled Chongyun away from the shelf and into his embrace, kissing Chongyun’s shoulder through the fabric of his clothing as his arms wrapped around the waist like two unyielding chains.


“Big dummy, I’m just teasing you. No need to get so worked up.” 


“You’re so mean.” 


He would never forget how lovely Xingqiu’s laughter sounded while breathing right next to his ear. 

Chongyun returned home with some lunch he bought along the way for his mother. He hoped that she would eat a little bit more this time - she’d only finished half of the mora meat from this morning. He’d picked out all of his mother’s favourite dishes specifically, full moon eggs, jade parcels, and jewellery soup. She wasn’t a picky eater, but she did have her preferences. 


“Mother? I’m home.” He said as he entered the house, slipping off his shoes and stumbling towards his mother’s room. 


“A’Yun? You’re back from the exorcism?” His mother’s voice came softly. 


He’d almost forgotten about that. “Yeah.” He lied. There was no way she’d let him leave the house if it had anything to do with Xingqiu. 


“Ah… I smell something nice, did you bring back jewellery soup?” His mother’s nose seemed to be sharp as ever. 


“Yeah.” Chongyun entered the room with a tray and gently set it in his mother’s lap.


“Put it on the nightstand for now.” She said, and Chongyun did as he was told. 


His mother smiled at him and reached a hand towards him lovingly. All of a sudden, she grabbed his collar and pulled him closer with such abrupt force that Chongyun didn’t think she could exert. “I’ve raised a liar.” Her light blue eyes hardened as they fixated on a spot below Chongyun’s chin… on his neck. 


Oh no. 


Chongyun began to stammer. “M-Mother t-those are just bug bites.” He tried. 




He was chilled to the bone. He’d never heard his mother so upset with him, let alone swear at him. 


“Do you think I was born yesterday? Hmm? Is it fun? Lying to your own mother who raised you since birth and taught you right from wrong? Is it?” 


Chongyun had no words, his mother had never been so temperamental with him in the past, and now he was unused to treading around her on eggshells. It felt like anything he said and did was unfilial and would earn a round of scolding from his mother, who was currently breathing very heavily and trembled from head to toe. It really scared him. 


“Why him? Of all people? WHY HIM? WHY MUST YOU CONSTANTLY GO TO HIM?!?” Her voice became so loud that Chongyun winced. She then calmed down a little with great effort and continued. “Do my words hold no meaning to you anymore? Is that why?” 


Her eyes glistened with a shackled rage as she shook him angrily by the shoulders. “Mother only wishes for your happiness, do you understand? Why can’t you trust me? Stay away from him, he’ll only bring you trouble. Stay away from him, okay? Listen to me, A’Yun, stay away from that boy. You can be around anyone but him, alright?” 


His mother’s eyes were wild and crazed as she repeated her words until Chongyun had no choice but to give in. 


“I’ll stay away from him in the future.” 


He could feel the tears welling up as he said this, suffocating him from inside out. His hands began to tremble and he quickly hid them so that his mother wouldn’t see. 


She rolled his eyes at him. “You think I’d trust your words after all the lies? You really are naive for your age.” 


Despite what she said, she seemed merrier now that Chongyun said those words. He, on the other hand, felt so horrible. So, so horrible. He felt sick to the stomach.


“I’m going to the bathroom.” He mumbled, then quickly raced out of the room and to the nearest window, hurriedly pushing it open and bending over to throw up outside. His insides burned as he vomited all the contents from this morning, as if his stomach could feel the betrayal from having its food taken away. 


He felt a hand on his shoulder and jolted upright to see his aunt Shenhe handing him a handkerchief. She didn’t even bother hiding the concern she had for him, as they both heard the soft giggling that turned into aggressive cackling echoing from his mother’s room. 


At that moment, the most horrible thought he’d ever had entered his mind. 


His mother went crazy. 




He refused to believe that the person in that room, lying on his mother’s bed, was his mother. There had to be a mistake somewhere. The gentle and kind mother who never lashed out at anyone couldn’t possibly be that… that woman. 


But she was. 


And Chongyun threw up again. 

A warm candlelight coloured Albedo’s face in gold. His eyes flickered as the chalk scraped roughly against the blackboard as Lisa, Sucrose and Barbara watched in curiosity. 


Once he was done, he stepped back and admired the map of his ideas and threw the chalk to the side, turning to the three others and crossing his arms. “Let’s go over the events again.”


He cleared his throat. “From what we know, the rifthounds attacked Noelle first since she was protecting Yun. Thus, she was inflicted with corrosion first and as the poison entered her system she was no longer able to protect Yun. Yun generated a small amount of cryo and tried to protect Noelle then earned a bite to the shoulder and cuts in his leg from the claws. However, Yun didn’t seem to be poisoned at all, without any of the symptoms that a corroded patient should have, yet he still hasn’t woken up despite Noelle having woken up already as a corroded patient, this is likely due to that mysterious fever. Correct?” 


Barbara nodded. 


Albedo pursed his lips in thought. “Not only was he not poisoned by corrosion - when he should have - the rifthound that bit his shoulder collapsed and died, according to Noelle. Correct?” 


Barbara nodded again. 


“We sent a few men back to find the rifthound, and sure enough there was one lying on the ground, lifeless and already beginning to decompose.” Lisa said. 


Albedo drew a tick on the blackboard next to some writing. “That confirms it then. A rifthound bit Yun, but instead of poisoning Yun, the rifthound died on the spot… interesting” 


“What could this mean?” Barbara asked in a low voice. 


“I think… I think Yun’s blood is somehow more poisonous than the corrosion from rifthounds.” Albedo mused. “There’s simply no other explanation that makes sense.” 


Barbara gaped at him. “Yun’s blood is poisonous? How can that be?” 


Albedo grimaced as he looked over to Sucrose. “Did you bring the bugs?” 


Sucrose held up a glass jar that contained all kinds of bugs she had collected and set it on the table. Barbara paled as they squirmed and wriggled against the transparent walls. 


“Thanks Albedo, now I’ve lost my appetite~” Lisa crossed her legs and looked away from the jar of creepy crawlies. 


Albedo didn’t even blink. “My pleasure, Lisa. Barbara, did you collect a sample of Yun’s blood?” He asked as he unscrewed the lid of the glass jar and set a small bug on the table. 


Barbara brought out a small vial of dark red liquid. It had taken a lot of convincing from Albedo but Barbara agreed in the end on the terms that all would be for a good cause. He took the vial and popped the cork open, swirling it gently before tipping one drop on the unsuspecting bug. 


Lisa, Barbara and Sucrose watched in horror as the bug hissed and shrivelled once a drop of red made contact, its body darkening as it writhed against the surface of the table and eventually stopped moving. 


It had died, and its corpse was almost completely blackened. 


This had definitely caught Lisa’s attention. “Try another one.” She said, and Albedo repeated the process. The second bug also died in the same manner, and the third and the fourth. 


Sucrose couldn’t watch anymore and shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “C-Can we n-not b-bully the bugs a-anymore? You’ve p-proven your th-theory, Albedo.” 

Albedo handed the jar of bugs back to her but kept the vial of remaining blood. He gingerly picked a flower out of a nearby vase and stuck its stalk into the vial of blood, watching as the light petals became darker than the night sky and fell to the ground. “Now the question is, what caused Yun’s blood to become so lethal ?”

Chapter Text

He was no longer sure how to face his mother, or what to do when she bawled into his arms and wept like a young girl. The last time he’d seen her cry this much, was during his father’s funeral ceremony. From then on, she’d always been the cheerful, soft-hearted mother who raised him without any complaints. 


Chongyun patted her hair. 


“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.” She sniffled. It was probably the only sentence she’d said in the last month that actually sounded like her. 


“It’s okay.” Chongyun continued to stroke her thinning hair, concerned that with each stroke her dark hair came out in tangles between his fingers. She was losing hair at such an alarming rate, even after he had spent an entire afternoon coaxing her into drinking the herbal soup that Mr Baizhu had prescribed. 






“Let me tell you a story, before… before I completely lose myself.” She looked at him and smiled such a sad smile that his insides began to churn. 


“What are you talking about? You’re going to be fine.” Chongyun reassured her even though he didn’t even believe his own words. He really was a liar. 


His mother only nodded and squeezed his hand. “A long time ago… before your father and I even got engaged…” 


“That is a long time ago.” Chongyun agreed. 


“I know, right?” His mother’s face brightened up. “We were so young haha…” Her smile soon faltered, and she continued the story. “Our Bixie village is one predominantly populated by our exorcist clan, you know that right? Well, there are also a few miscellaneous families living there amongst the clan who don’t associate themselves with exorcism. Mere neighbours, co-workers, friends, you know, average people.” 


His mother shifted underneath the covers into a more comfortable position and Chongyun helped arrange the pillows. 


“I was so immature back then… freshly graduated from studying exorcism under our teacher. It was one of the first exorcism commissions I’d ever taken on, since it was within the village and close by, it didn’t seem like a difficult case. I was so naive, so naive.” His mother began rocking back and forth, as if caught up in a trance. “I accepted this commission, went to their residence early in the morning, and grasped an understanding of the situation. An evil spirit had settled in the house, apparently, doing little things like knocking things over and making loud sounds in the night to prevent the family from sleeping. It was a craft spirit, a very craft one indeed.” 


“At first, I didn’t think too much of it. Crafty spirits were hard to deal with, but I believed myself to be smarter than the average spirit, and had no trouble exercising them in the past, with or without my teacher’s aid. This particular spirit was very good at hiding, and that became problematic when it came to pinpointing it’s exact whereabouts. You wouldn’t understand the trouble, A’Yun, all you do is sit in a room and your yang energy dispels them haha, but it’s not so easy for other average exorcists like me. It took a lot of time and patience to lure the spirit out, and even then it was able to dodge my talismans. Just barely, but it did.” 


“The husband and wife of the household thankfully weren’t disappointed with my efforts and urged me to keep trying even if it took a few more days. Grateful for their considerate thinking, I spent some time in that house, and happened to make conversation with their daughter. On first impressions, she seemed like a strange child. A little quiet, a little reserved, but liked to watch me attempt my exorcisms.”


“I thought she was cute. Just a curious, well-behaved and polite girl. But things were not as they seemed, and I quickly caught on through our conversations that she somehow knew more about the spirit than anyone else in the family. It wasn’t difficult weedling information out of her, given her young age, but it also was a difficult reality to swallow.” 


“She would ask me why I had to exorcise the spirit, expressing her desire for the spirit to remain in the house - or more specifically, with her. She spoke of the spirit as if she knew it personally, and when I asked why she wanted the spirit to stay, she smiled and said: Well, it tries to protect me when mother and father hit me with the old timber floorboard.” 


“I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner, she had bruises up and down her limbs, and compared to her brothers she seemed malnutritioned, weak, and lacking the lively vigour that a child her age should have. The abuse seemed to be long term, and she had made friends with the spirit since she had no one else.” 


“It was quite the dilemma. My teacher had always taught me that as exorcists, we pretend to be oblivious to everything else that occurs within a family’s private home. We see nothing and hear nothing, only focusing on the spirit and the exorcism at hand. We do not engage with any of the client’s other personal matters. It is the unspoken rule amongst professional exorcists. So with that in mind, I reluctantly exorcised the spirit despite the girl begging me not to.” 


“I was a coward. Really, I told the girl that everything would turn out alright, that her parents still loved her, and that they just had a twisted way of showing it. That she can always talk to her friends and her brothers. Thinking back, it was an ignorant thing to say, and I really wished that I’d alerted the village head to do something about the situation.” 


“The parents paid me the promised sum, and I left. I married your father soon after, and left the village to come here.” 


Chongyun watched as his mother’s eyes darkened. 


“But news circled around to me about a year later, that the parents had beaten her to death.” 


A chill ran down Chongyun’s spine as he heard this. His mother was now shaking beneath the covers, the whites of her eyes slightly bulging as she squeezed his hand so hard that it hurt. 


“Anxious about the matter, your father would put up talismans everywhere in fear that the spirit would seek revenge. After he passed, nothing happened, and I soon forgot about the matter. It was difficult trying to raise you on my own, so such memories weren’t worth my attention.” She sighed sadly. “But I made the mistake of returning to the village over a month ago, for the funeral of my teacher who’d passed from old age. You know, I told you about it.” 


Chongyun had been listening quietly. It was a lot of information to process all at once. “Then…? Why are you telling me this…?” 


“She won’t forgive me. She just won’t forgive me. She’s plotting her revenge… A’Yun, she keeps showing me scenes from the future, A’Yun, you must believe your mother, stay away from Xingqiu… don’t trust a word he says, don’t go near him, he’s a horrible and vile vixen who’ll bring destruction and despair to our lives… Please promise me you won’t visit him anymore…” Her eyes were beginning to tremble again, an indicator that her mood swings were about to happen again. 


He swallowed nervously and squeezed his mothers’ hand. “I… won’t visit Xingqiu anymore…” These words were really difficult to say. Xingqiu wasn’t a horrible person, he’d known him for the majority of his life, how could Xingqiu willingly hurt him? Whatever this spirit was, they were tormenting his mother with blatant lies. Perhaps… Perhaps they needed to hold an exorcism for his mother. 


It seemed that any time he promised his mother to stay away from Xingqiu, she’d calm down and fall asleep. His mother dozed off peacefully in his arms and he gently lay her back down for her to rest. 


Sorry mother. If you’d let me break one promise in my life, let it be this one. 

Shenhe was just as stunned to hear about her story as he was. They sat in the living room in silence contemplating the issue, solemnly drinking day-old tea. 


“I think we should hold an exorcism.” Chongyun said, and Shenhe didn’t seem to reject the idea. 


“It’s worth a try… even though I’m not sure how a spirit is able to withstand being in close quarters with someone overflowing with the abundance of yang energy. If your mother is really possessed with a spirit, an exorcism is absolutely necessary.” Shenhe looked at Chongyun’s fatigued expression and sighed. “I can do it. After all, I’m a bit more experienced than you are.” 


He nodded. Exorcisms of spirits possessing human people were already regarded as some of the most difficult cases, let alone exorcising a spirit from your own family member. It sounded like an utter nightmare. 


He was grateful for Shenhe.


He wasn’t sure how else he’d be coping otherwise. 


“I… I’ll go buy some dinner.” He suggested. 


Shenhe nodded at this. “Okay. Enjoy the fresh air, I’ll watch over your mother.” 


Chongyun left the house with a basket in hand. The evening was beginning to dark as the lights turned on in adjacent houses. Perhaps he’d get something from Wanmin restaurant and listen in on the storytelling from Iron Tongue Tian whilst the food was being prepared. 


He walked lifelessly through the street clutching the basket, mind wandering and spacing out in the warm evening air. His eyes did linger on a patch of glaze lilies blooming by the side of the road, and was reminded that these were his mother’s favourite. He gingerly kneeled down to pick a few of them, pinching the flower by the stalk and cleanly snapping it off, lining them up neatly on the edge of his straw basket. 


Once he had a small bundle, he stood back up and continued towards Wanmin restaurant as it quickly came into view. As usual, many customers were lined up waiting for their food, eating at tables and laughing heartily over their meals. He could spot Chef Mao and Xiangling rushing back and forth in the kitchen, and stiffened when his eyes landed on a familiar group of people dining together at the usual spot. 


Xingqiu, Hutao, Yanfei, Xinyan, and even Yunjin. They were giggling over something that Hutao had just said, even though Hutao wasn’t laughing at all and found the situation awkward. 


Chongyun quickly turned around and stumbled in the other direction. He didn’t even know why he did, his legs just instinctively took him away. His palms were sweaty against the rough handle of the basket as he gripped it tighter. Why was he running? What did he have to hide? 


Not paying attention to where he was going, Chongyun bumped harshly into some random stranger and tripped towards the ground, causing the glaze lilies to scatter everywhere. “Watch where you’re going!” He faintly heard the stranger huff, but was too absorbed in trying to collect the glaze lilies back into his basket. The wind picked up, and he wasn’t able to catch a single one as they all escaped into the breeze, gliding far away into some unknown distant land. 

Xingqiu sat at Wanmin restaurant deshelling a plate of stir-fried shrimp. 


“You’re seriously eating stir-fried shrimp for breakfast?” Yanfei muttered as she blew on her hot cup of silk flower tea. 


Xingqiu glared at her. “You’re literally eating a whole sweet madame? By yourself?!?”

She wrinkled her nose as she chomped on the left chicken wing. “Good point.” 


“Alright, alright guys, I’m tryna have a peaceful morning here.” Xiangling ate her leftover rice buns as Guoba sat sleepily in her lap. For someone as lively as herself, she really preferred quiet mornings over chaotic ones. “Oh, hold on, there’s a new customer.” 


She swiftly jumped out of her seat - dropping an irritated guoba on the ground in the process - and ran behind the counter, where Xingqiu knew there was a stool to make her seem taller than she actually was. A girl around Xiangling’s height decked in a heavy suit of armour was staring bewilderedly at the menu. 


“Morning! Are you looking for any dish in particular?” Xiangling greeted with her signature smile. 


The girl blinked her olive green eyes in confusion. “There… there are a lot of dishes I’ve never seen before…” 


“That’s alright! I can explain them in detail for you… do you have any dietary requirements? Vegetarian? Oh, where are you from? I can make all sorts of dishes ranging from Mondstadt to Inazuma!” Xiangling offered. 


The girl seemed a little relieved at this. “R-Really? I’m from Mondstadt… would you perhaps be able to make… pancakes?” 


Xiangling stifled a laugh. “Pancakes? Of course! One serving coming right up!” She disappeared into the back room to collect the ingredients as the lavender-haired girl sat down on the table next to them. 


“What brings you here all the way from Mondstadt?” Yanfei asked politely. “I’m Yanfei by the way.” 


The girl’s eyes dimmed as she fiddled with her gloved fingers. “My name’s Noelle, it’s nice to meet you… I’m here to buy something for a friend.” 


“Oh? What do you plan on buying?” Yanfei twiddled a chicken bone in her fingers. 


Noelle bit her lip. “I… actually don’t know. I’m going to have to look around… would you happen to know any good gift stores nearby?” 


Yanfei swivelled to look at Xingqiu. “That’s your area of expertise.” 


Xingqiu shrugged. “Not really. It depends on the person. Their age range, preferences, and personality are all contributing factors to a suitable gift.” 


Noelle thought for a moment. “Barbara told me he was nineteen… that- that’s about everything I know.” 


It was Yanfei’s turn to stare bewilderedly. “Is that all you know about him?” 


Noelle nodded. “Unfortunately. He can’t talk, and I’d only just met him recently.” 


“That might be a bit difficult trying to pick a present then.” Xingqiu commented, swallowing a juicy shrimp in his mouth and chewing thoughtfully. “Why are you buying him a present again? Late Valentine’s gift?” 


A horrified expression passed over the face of the petite girl. “I-I- No! Of course not! He… He-” Just as she was about to finish her sentence, Xiangling popped back out with a plate of pancakes, looking fluffy and topped with fruit. “Ah, it took me longer than usual, sorry!” 


She sat back down and broke off another piece of rice bun. “So what were you guys talking about?” 


Yanfei stared at the pancakes and her face lit up. “Oh! Why don’t you buy him some food? Everyone likes food.” 


Noelle frowned. “I was thinking that when I came here… but… it might expire before…” 




“Before he wakes up.” She finished, and stared sadly at the plate of pancakes. 


“Eh? What do you mean? My dad used to always pour a bucket of cold water on my face when I slept late into the afternoon hahaha- Ow! Yanfei, why are you pinching me?” Xiangling swatted Yanfei’s hand away and gave her a hurt look. 


“There- There was an accident and I… It was all my fault.” Noelle’s eyes began to tear up and Xiangling quickly realised what she meant. 


“D-D-Don’t cry! Uhm, we… we’ll help you find the perfect gift! Don’t cry, he’ll wake up for sure!” Xiangling thrusted a pile of napkins towards Noelle in a frenzy and Xingqiu put his face in his hands. He found the situation oddly comedic. 


“That’s right! Xingqiu and Xiangling are the best at giving gifts! Meanwhile, I have other matters to take care of, ta ta~” Yanfei hopped out of her seat and slapped a few mora on the table. “See you later Xingqiu ~”


“Yanfei-” Xingqiu gritted his teeth. 


“Have fun~” She disappeared so quickly that a trail of smoke was left in her footprints. That crafty lawyer always knew how to get herself out of every situation. 


Noelle blew her nose loudly into a third napkin and the sobbing began to subside. “I feel terrible, it’s all my fault… Oh, Jean was so angry with me…” 


Xiangling patted her on the back. “It’s alright, everyone makes mistakes. Now, how about we think about the kind of gift he’d appreciate?” 


Hearing this, Noelle’s crying stopped as she pondered the question. “I… Sucrose might’ve mentioned that he likes mist flowers and qingxins.” 


“That’s a great idea!” Xiangling smiled and then her smile faltered. “Only that… those flowers can be a little on the expensive side.” 


“We could check the prices at Bubu Pharmacy first? I actually don’t know many official places in Liyue that sell flowers.” Xingqiu suggested. 


“Alright. I’ll let my dad know where I’m going, otherwise the old man will throw a fit.” Xiangling chuckled, then pushed the plate of pancakes closer to Noelle. “Eat up, food always lifts the mood! We can set off once you’re done.” 


Noelle nodded gratefully as Xiangling disappeared into the kitchen once again. 


Xingqiu wasn’t particularly in the mood to play the righteous hero on this particular day, but he made the effort to talk to the solemn girl anyways. “What’s your friend like?” He asked. 


Noelle flinched. “Ah- He… he’s super nice. Really kind. He agreed to help me without hesitating… but that’s what got him into this state… Ah I-I’m going to cry again sorry. Nope, wait, no, I’m good. I’m not going to cry again, nope.” She was trying hard not to let those tears drop and it was visibly threatening to fall from her eyes. 


“It’s alright to cry, I mean, it’s healthy to cry if you’re feeling sad.” Xingqiu popped another shrimp into his mouth. 


Noelle shook her head stubbornly. “No no, I’m good. I really am. I don’t need to cry. It’s alllllllllll good. Dutiful maids don’t cry.” She fanned herself with those metallic hands as if that would make the tears evaporate faster. 


Xingqiu didn’t question where the dutiful maid part came in and just nodded enthusiastically. “Cool! Well uh,” He wracked his brain for a question that wouldn’t bring up sad memories for her, “does he wield a weapon?” 


This question seemed to have struck something in her memory nonetheless, as Noelle’s eyes watered again and she began sniffling dramatically. “He broke his claymore trying to protect me… I really shouldn’t have asked him to go to Wolvendom with me… then we wouldn’t have gotten attacked by rifthounds… and he would be fine right now… eating breakfast with Mona, Albedo and Klee…” 


“Albedo?” Xingqiu repeated. That was a familiar name, and he had yet to contact him about the illustration commissions for his new book. 


Noelle blinked her olive green eyes. “You know him?” 


“Yeah.” Xingqiu replied. “I visited the last time I went to Mondstadt, he illustrated my book for me.” 


“Oh! Wait- Oh! You’re… uhhhhhh you wrote… uhmm… I actually don’t really read that much sorry.” Noelle apologised. 


“A legend of Sword.” Xingqiu sipped his cup of cold silk flower tea. “It’s alright, not many people know of it.” 


“Hey! I read every page of it!” Xiangling had emerged from the kitchen and was pouting like a child. “It was good!” 


“Thanks, Xiangling.” Xingqiu smiled. 


He was glad someone liked his book so much, but it wasn’t the person he’d hoped to tell him that. 



“Eh? Th-The price…” Noelle stammered. 


Behind the counter sat the little zombie girl, who now had a special tall stool that she used to greet customers. “Qiqi thinks there is nothing wrong with the price. Mist flowers and qingxins last for a very long time, like Qiqi.” 


Qiqi stared at them blankly. 


“Can’t you lower the price even a little bit?” Xiangling asked in the most polite tone she could muster. 


“No. Qiqi must not get scammed like Mr Baizhu.” 




“I mean, qingxin flowers like to grow on the mountaintops and peaks of Liyue, so it takes a lot of effort to gather. Mist flowers on the other hand, are acquired from melted ice flowers, which accounts for the high price as well.” Xingqiu mused. He had visited the Bubu pharmacy before to buy mist flowers for Chongyun, but later on he’d just ask Yanfei to drop fireballs on the occasional one in the wild. She was not impressed, but did it anyway in the promise that he’d recommend her services to his other acquaintances. 


Noelle sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t be so picky, he did save my life after all.” She paid for the bouquet of flowers and they headed out the door. 


“Bye bye.” Qiqi waved robotically at them, and with a slightly confused look on her face, Noelle waved back. 


“Is she… even old enough to work?” Noelle asked, she had lowered her voice even thought they’d left the pharmacy. 


Xiangling giggled. “Despite her looks, she’s actually really old. Mentally, she’s still a child.”


“Alright.” Xingqiu put his hands on his hips. “What do you think? Satisfactory?” 


Noelle pursed her lips in thought. “Maybe… maybe a vase would be nice? As an extra token of my sincerity.” 


“That’s a great idea!” Xiangling agreed. “I know a nice antique shop with lots of vases, let’s go!” She bounded ahead with Guoba in her arms and Xingqiu couldn’t help but wonder how she had so much energy to go about her day. 


“Your friend sounds like a good person.” Xingqiu commented, to diffuse the awkward atmosphere. 


“Y-Yeah.” Noelle agreed. “Though… we’re all a little worried about him…” 


“How so?” 


“He… He smiles a lot. But sometimes when he thinks we aren’t looking… he seems really sad. Barbara told me not to pry too much, so I don’t know all the details, but I think he’s hurting a lot inside and just won’t show it.” Noelle’s pace staggered. “I really hope he likes my gift… he’s only recently healed from previous injuries and now…” 


Xingqiu really couldn’t handle another round of waterworks from this girl. “It’s okay! It’ll be fine! Your friend- uh, he sounds, he sounds like he’s a real tough chap! You know? Lovely guy. Probably just needed some rest. Good things happen to good people! He’ll pull through, maybe he’ll wake up as soon as you return to Mondstadt!” 


“You really think so?” Noelle asked through teary eyes. 


Xingqiu wanted to yell, “No, of course not!” But he clamped his mouth shut and nodded eagerly instead, feeling his right eyelid twitch a little. 


“Hurry up guys, we don’t have all day!” Xiangling hollered at them from up ahead. They crossed through the street of bustling people and arrived at the antique shop. 


It was Linlang’s shift today, and she was ecstatic to see Xingqiu. “Ohhhh Young Master of the Feiyun Commerce Guild! Have you come to purchase something today?” 


Xingqiu shook his head, feigning an apologetic tone. “No… I’m here to help my friend pick out a new vase.” He gestured at Noelle, whose eyes were already widened at the prices. 


“This… this is my monthly salary…” She shook her head, hair flying everywhere, and patted both her cheeks. “It’s worth it! It’s worth it!” She repeated to herself. 


Xingqiu couldn’t quite grasp how this girl could talk to herself so much. 


“Right.” Linlang’s eyes fell on Noelle and she waved at some of the vases in their collection. “What kind of flowers do you plan to showcase?” 


“Mist flowers and qingxin!” Xiangling answered for Noelle, who nodded quickly. 


Linlang mused at the row of vases, her eyes scanning each one in deep thought. “This one has quite unique glazing… this one’s elegance lies within its simplicity… oh this one was purchased at a very high price… and this one is easy on the eyes…” 


Noelle looked dizzy. “Uhhh… that’s a lot of options…” 


Xingqiu sighed and pointed at an intricate vase in the corner decorated with a pair of butterflies fluttering within a dainty bamboo forest. “That one seems adequate.” 


Linlang’s eyes lit up at the suggestion. “Ah! As expected, the young master of the Feiyun Commerce Guild has a good eye for valuables. The art on this vase was actually inspired by the opera of the Butterfly Lovers, quite a romantic twist, no? The sky blue butterfly would complement the mist flowers, and the amber butterfly would complement the qingxins! Marvellous pick, young master, marvellous pick.” 


She seemed to have forgotten who was the actual buyer here, but Noelle seemed to like the vase as well and slammed the mora onto the counter. “I’ll take it!” 


“Wonderful!- Eh? Oh yes. I'll package the vase for you, friend-of-the-Young-Master-of-the-Feiyun-Commerce-Guild.” Linlang quickly busied herself with the vase. 


Xiangling huffed lightly. “Jeez, they really don’t miss any opportunity to suck up to the-Young-Master-of-the-Feiyun-Commerce-Guild huh.” 


Xingqiu rolled his eyes at her as Noelle carefully received the large box. “Thank you!” 


“No worries, come again!” 


Noelle clutched the box as if it was worth a million mora. “Thanks Xiangling, Xingqiu. I really appreciated your help today, and hopefully you two can come by for tea when you visit Mondstadt!” 


“It was our pleasure, Noelle. I’ll definitely visit you in Mondstadt!” Xiangling grinned. 


“Goodbye! Thanks again!” 


Noelle left with the flowers and the vase. 


It was a pity, Xingqiu rather liked that vase. 


“Twas on a deserted moonlit night that the hero approached the vile dragon’s limpid lair…” 


It was a bright and sparkling day in Liyue as they sailed around Wangshu inn on the rented bamboo raft. The stark and complete opposite to the opening line of his favourite book. 


Xingqiu smirked. His gaze lowered and fell on the boy sitting in his lap, who’d fallen asleep so quickly - he could usually last at least two more books. 


Chongyun’s skin was almost translucent under the sunlight, pale like that of a porcelain vase. Has it always been so pale? How much time had he spent indoors lately? 


It had been a while since they last spent time alone together. 


And this person had the nerve to fall asleep! 


Though he did look very tired. 


Xingqiu put the book down without bothering to bookmark the page he was on. He studied Chongyun’s features up close, counting the few spots on his face and then counting his eyelashes. After a while of staring at him like this, Xingqiu did admit to himself that he felt a bit creepy and sighed. He felt for Chongyun’s hand and brought it up to his lips, kissing it gently and sucking lightly on that soft skin. 


Chongyun’s hands smelled faintly of herbal medicine. Xingqiu frowned. Perhaps he had smelled it wrong? No, that was definitely the smell of herbs from Bubu Pharmacy. He’d been there enough times to know. And… was that…?


Xingqiu brushed Chongyun’s sleeve downwards to find the ugly purple bruise from a week ago, and it had deepenend in pigment. Not only that, it had a strange shape, unlike the usual bruise. Kind of like… something had wrapped tightly around it. 


He sighed. Was the big dummy wrapping his bandages too tightly again? He applied some hydro to the area and heard Chongyun stirr in his sleep. 


“Mmm not a liar…” He mumbled. 


Xingqiu chuckled, the big dummy was so cute sometimes. “Are you sure?” He joked. 


Creases began to form on Chongyun’s forehead as his eyebrows furrowed. He faintly shook his head, “Mmm not… Please… Please don’t hit me…” 


Had he heard that right? 


Hit him? Why would he ever do that? Chongyun could be so silly sometimes. 


Xingqiu clasped Chongyun’s hand in his, leaned in and placed a kiss on those trembling lips. “Why would I ever hit you? Big dummy.” Chongyun’s entire body seemed to relax at these words and Xingqiu smiled. He kissed that beautiful neck over and over as the unsuspecting boy unconsciously clung onto his clothes like a little squirrel. He liked that. He wouldn’t mind if Chongyun acted a little more clingy, but knowing his shy nature he doubted it would happen. 


“No one can hurt you, silly.” He breathed into Chongyun’s ear that had turned pink at the tips. Even in his sleep, he was so nervous to be touched. 


The raft rocked gently in the clear waters as Xingqiu held the sleeping beauty in his arms. It was the perfect afternoon, nothing could ruin this moment. It was just the two of them on a raft gliding over the shimmering Liyue waters, surrounded by various fish and lotus flowers beginning to bloom. The sun shone down on them in blessing, and Xingqiu wholeheartedly believed that all he needed in this lifetime was everything that accompanied him on this boat: His snowflake, and his book. 


Happiness was as simple as that.

Chapter Text

Chongyun’s excuse that day was that he’d gone to pay his respects at his father’s grave. It was the most convenient excuse given that it was his father’s anniversary, and that his grave was located far away - near the clan’s village. However, he felt an intense shame in his heart for using his father’s death to take a day off away from his mother - who’d only been spiralling faster and faster into madness day by day - and spend it with the person that his mother had grown an unreasonably deep hatred for. 


He apologised to Xingqiu for falling asleep, but Xingqiu laughed and said that it was still quality time well spent. Relieved, Chongyun could return home knowing that this had been the happiest day for him in the past month. 


“Mother, I’m home…” 


He took off his shoes and entered the gloomy house. It was beginning to darken, and no candles had been lit to fill the room with light. 


“Welcome home, A’Yun, come here and let mother see your face.” 


Chongyun walked through the hallway and passed his reflection in the window, causing him to freeze up all over. His… His neck was covered in obvious dark spots… He hadn’t even noticed when Xingqiu kissed him there. It… It must’ve been when he was sleeping. 


He broke out in a cold sweat as he heard his mother’s call again. “A’Yun? What are you doing? Come give your old mother a hug.” 


“J-Just a moment.” He felt the panic rising as he nervously searched the living room for a scarf. To his relief, there was one draped over the coat hanger, and he quickly wrapped it around his neck, checked that there were no spots showing, and took in a deep breath before entering his mother’s room. 


It was far too obvious as a disguise. Dread welled up in his stomach as he smiled at the woman sitting up in her bed, beckoning for him to venture closer. He gave her a stiff hug and pulled away quickly, not daring to look into those cold blue eyes the same shade as his own. 


“Hmm? You’re wearing a scarf in this weather?” She murmured, her eyes glinting with suspicion. 


“It gets colder at night.” Chongyun replied. He could feel it coming, the scolding, the screaming. 


He felt her cold hand caress his cheek. “My sweet boy…” 




Chongyun was in so much shock that he barely registered what had happened. His cheek began to sting and tears were threatening to fall onto the pale sheets. She had clearly slapped him across the face, yet it was his chest that felt a stabbing pain. 


“My sweet boy won’t listen to me.” 


In the dim moonlight, he could see that she was no longer smiling. She didn’t look like his gentle mother, she couldn’t possibly be the same woman. 


“Goodnight-” Chongyun tried to leave but felt a prickling pain at the top of his head as his mother gripped his hair so forcefully that he heard a few strands being pulled out. He winced, biting his lip to hold back the tears. 


“Why can’t you stay away from him? You were doing so well, you didn’t leave the house for an entire week, but you just couldn’t resist when the opportunity arises could you? My poor boy, what has that evil piece of scum done to your brain? How did he brainwash you? Let me tell you now.” She leaned closer to his ear. “He’s a liar, just like you are. He will lie to you, just like the way you do to me. And in the end,” His mother let out a shrieking cackle, “He’s going to ruin your life in a way you could never imagine. So don’t, don’t trust him. Not a single word. Mother is begging you nicely, A’Yun, don’t trust anything to do with the likes of Xingqiu.” 


She finally let go of his hair and Chongyun stumbled backward. He probably would have bruised his hip on the dresser if not for Shenhe rushing in to catch him. 


“Jiejie! No matter how angry you are at him, you shouldn’t hurt him!” Shenhe’s voice was just as shaky as Chongyun’s insides. 


His mother let out a hollow laugh. “Me? Hurting him? Hah! Hahahahahahahah! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Preposterous! Hilarious! You should know what his so-called ‘friend’ does to him in the future.” She paused to catch her breath. “Shenhe, I’ve told you this before and I’m going to say it again. You’re not welcome here anymore, get out. I don’t want you anywhere near me or my son, or even the clan. None of us wants you here, so stop trying to interfere with our private matters.” 


Chongyun was stunned. He couldn’t believe the words she had just uttered - and it apparently wasn’t even the first time that Shenhe had heard it. Glancing up at Shenhe, the corners of her eyes were red and swollen as she maintained eye contact with his mother. The madwoman was smirking like she’d won a trophy for getting a reaction out of them. 


“Chongyun.” Shenhe said, her voice was dangerously low. “Go somewhere else. And close the door behind you, I have some words for your mother.” 




“Go.” She ordered, and Chongyun didn’t need to be told twice. He reluctantly left the room and closed the door, but couldn’t help listening in from the corridor. 


The expression on Shenhe’s face was more serious than anything he’d ever seen in his life. He was scared. Scared of what may happen to Shenhe, to his mother, and to himself. When was there going to be an end to all this? 


“Jiejie, Xingqiu has been Chongyun’s best friend since childhood, so what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Can’t you see? What you’re being shown may not necessarily be the reality, it’s what the spirit wants you to see, Jiejie, stop hurting the person you love most.” Her voice was steady, though he could hear a few tremors here and there, it was a better job than Chongyun could’ve ever managed. 


“Shenhe, that kid is vile. He’s taught my son to be a liar, and now my son will trust an outsider over his own mother. Who’s fault do you think this is? A’Yun is still young, he’ll understand when he’s older the sacrifices that I’ve made for him as his mother.” 








Not being able to hold himself back, Chongyun pushed the door open without thinking. Shenhe’s expression was something he’d never forget, the tears running down her face and the pain in her eyes as she glared at his mother. He felt so winded, like all the breath had been sucked out of his lungs. 


“I’m not a monster.” Shenhe slowly shook her head and after what felt like an eternity, she added, “You are.” 


And in that moment she began reciting the first lines to the exorcism. The room temperature dropped drastically as the air became infused with cryo. A light blue talisman was summoned into the air and hovered for a split second before Shenhe’s voice dispersed it into a million particles. 


“Take your true form!” 


The cold light in the room gradually dimmed as silence and darkness took over. If not for the tears still gleaming on Shenhe’s cheeks, Chongyun could hardly believe that what had just taken place was not a dream but a stark reality. 


He watched as his mother’s shoulders began to shake. She clutched her stomach and threw her head upwards. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” She stopped abruptly and smiled. “Shenhe, perhaps you should take your silly exorcisms elsewhere. My son and I have a lot we need to talk about.” 


It was a long session of “talking.” Or rather, screaming, as he kneeled at his mother’s bedside throughout the night. His knees ached and some of his hair was pulled out on the odd occasion. Everything was hurting. But he could barely feel it. 


Shenhe had left. She had looked at him with an apology written across her face, and disappeared into the night. He didn’t know when she would be back. Perhaps never, he wouldn’t blame her. 


His right cheek had swollen considerably as he looked at his reflection in the mirror. He could barely recognise the person staring back at him. He was tired, hunched over, red in the eyes and trembling non-stop. 


He applied some cryo over that cheek, feeling it sting harshly like a swarm of angry bees. He no longer knew what to do. They had consulted Mr Baizhu, attempted an exorcism, yet neither of them had done anything to improve the situation. 


And for the first time in a while, Chongyun wished that his father was still alive. He wished for a person who would know what to do in this kind of situation, protect him and console him, tell him that he wasn’t as horrible as his mother described him to be. If his father were still alive, perhaps the talismans would have prevented this mess. Perhaps he would’ve stopped his mother from returning to the village and none of this would have happened. 


He felt so bitter about it all that he was imagining a life where his father hadn’t passed away, after he’d used his father’s passing as an excuse to see Xingqiu. Oh, the irony. 


Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure appear in the doorframe and he almost felt his soul leave his body. It was only Shenhe. She stared at him guiltily as she held up a basket of food. 


“I bought breakfast.” 


Chongyun nodded in response. He wanted to thank her, but his voice felt a little caught up in his throat, so he nodded instead. 


Shenhe’s gaze fell to the floor. “I’d overlooked something before performing the exorcism… your mother… she… she’s unwilling to let the spirit go.” 


He understood what she meant. Spirits could only be chased away when the possessed individual desired for them to leave, otherwise, it was near impossible for the exorcism to be successful. 


“I don’t think I can face her today. I’m sorry.” 


He didn’t think he could either. But he wasn’t so heartless as to desert his own mother. He just needed to hang on a little while longer.


“That’s okay.” Chongyun tried to pluck up a smile even though his cheek began to sting. “You… you should get some rest. You look so tired.” It was a hypocritical thing to say, but Shenhe didn’t point it out. 


“You too.” 


She left without thinking twice. 


And Chongyun was left all alone in a nightmarish hell.


In his hands he clutched the old piece of paper that Hutao had given him. He had sneezed on it once, after the dust flew up in his face and entered his nostrils. 


He had never known that Chongyun’s clan lived in a village located in Minlin, and he grimaced at how he had never bothered to ask. 


The walk was long, all walks were long when they were in solitude. 


“Twas on a deserted moonlit night that the hero approached the vile dragon’s limpid lair…” He muttered to himself softly. It was a good starter to a story, and it had stuck with him since the first time he’d laid eyes on it. Saying it over and over again became a subconscious habit, when his mind wandered and his attention drifted over the peaks of Liyue’s mountaintops and over the horizon. 


He stopped by a road sign. 


“Bixie Village straight up ahead.” He read out loud. He looked up the stony path that led towards what seemed like a deep valley covered in mist. The whole place emitted a quiet aura, very fitting knowing the characteristics of Chongyun and his relatives. 


Xingqiu walked a couple of steps and felt the sky above him darken. He hadn’t noticed any clouds in the sky when he set out, so he hadn’t brought an umbrella. Darn it. His pace quickened along the cobblestone footpath weaving through the tall uncut grass. There were many shrivelled plants poking out of the cracks, as if in an attempt to reach the sunlight but had given up halfway. 


He stopped to catch his breath and glanced up again. There was another road sign - one that looked much newer than the previous one. The wood did not show any signs of rotting, and the handwriting looked to be dark and clean. 


“Outsiders are not welcome and are advised by the Liyue Qixing to turn back. Landslides and dangerous wild boars up ahead.” 


Xingqiu raised an eyebrow at this. Whatever, he was capable enough of handling a couple wild boars. He continued stubbornly as though led along by a taut rope, with each step more hasty than the previous. His impatience was catching up to him. 


Relief washed over his body once the village came into view. It was surrounded in a thick layer of light fog, visible enough for outlines of the houses to show through, but not completely clear enough to know whether or not some shapes were people or scarecrows. A little eerie, but it was the kind of scene that Xingqiu expected to arise out of a fairytale. 


Fascinated, Xingqiu descended down the old rickety staircase that wobbled underneath his weight, and wandered deeper into the village. Strangely enough, there had been no landslides on the way here, nor a single wild boar in sight. 


Only, the further he walked, the more something felt off about the place. Overturned bowls were left on tables, animal coops were emptied, and despite the dim lighting, no candles were lit inside of the gloomy houses. Not to mention that the farms were left unkempt, various bird nests rested on the roofs, and some patches of the ground had a strangely dark ink-like splatter. 


It was only until he’d passed a couple of dilapidated houses did he realise that the entire place was utterly and completely deserted. The signs of abandon were everywhere, from the toppled bucket by the stone well and the thick cobwebs embedded in the corners of musty un-polished windows. Everything emitted an air of frosty turbulence. 


“Hello?” Xingqiu tried, only for his voice to echo around the valley and circle back to him. 


He hadn’t walked into the wrong village had he?


He returned back to the village entrance and read the large sign with big bold lettering. It clearly stated “Bixie Village.” So he was in the right place then. It just didn’t feel right. 


Chongyun’s clan were known for their skilled travelling exorcists, however, that still didn’t explain why the entire village looked ransacked and empty. Xingqiu scanned his map again, he had marked out a small red dot on an area next to the village where Chongyun’s father was supposedly buried. He chewed on the inside of his mouth and decided to go there first. 


He was about to continue when he felt something underneath his shoe, poking at the sole of his foot. 


Moving his foot away, Xingqiu looked down. 


A familiar tassel looked up at him through the mud. 


His heart froze as he bent down to pick it up, flipping it over through his fingers to examine it carefully. It was missing many of its strands, and the colour had faded so much that it looked grey, but there was no doubt that it was the very tassel that he’d personally gifted to Chongyun. The same one that he spent an entire night making, fiddling with the strands until the knot took a pretty shape, he wouldn't be satisfied with a subpar tassel to match someone as good-looking as Chongyun. 


And Chongyun’s delight was something he’d never forget. The glint in those pretty blue eyes as he carefully tied it to his waist belt, twice, in fear that he’d lose it somewhere on their adventures. In that moment, Xingqiu was happy to make him a hundred more tassels if that was the kind of reaction he’d be rewarded with. 


Instinctively, Xingqiu’s hand felt for the one that Chongyun made for him, also dangling from his waist. 


What was the meaning of this? 


Xingqiu gripped it tightly in his hand. A thousand possibilities swarmed his mind as he felt the knot dig into the skin of his palm. Why was this here? Left in the dirt? What was it doing here? There was no doubt this tassel belonged to Chongyun, so why… Why wasn’t it with Chongyun? 


Where did he stand in Chongyun’s heart?


He brooded it over in his mind as he continued to trek through the village towards the burial site. 


His heart was heavy as he neared the graveyard. There were many tombstones standing in neat rows across the field, some cracked and some infested with wild plants. He was about to begin looking for Chongyun’s father’s name on the tablets when a figure caught his eye. 


The figure of a tall woman with long hair, standing with her back to him, not far away. 


Xingqiu stiffened. His heart dropped. He didn’t expect anyone to be here, but if there were to be anyone, he had expected it to be Chongyun. 


The woman seemed to have heard him arrive and slowly turned around. 


It was Shenhe. 


Xingqiu sighed. Of course it was. Yet it was a rare opportunity that she’d make an appearance in his life again, he hadn’t seen her in over two years either. 


She stared at him with lifeless eyes. “Were you looking for Chongyun?” 


Xingqiu swallowed and nodded. There was something about her that greatly saddened him, despite them not having gotten along in the past. He walked towards Shenhe and glanced down at the grave she was standing by. Two graves actually, standing side by side. At the foot of the grave, lay a bouquet of wild glaze lilies, dripping with morning dew and cleanly cut. 


It was a couple’s grave. The one on the right was Chongyun’s father’s and the one on the left… 


Xingqiu’s heart skipped a beat. 


“She… She passed away? W-When?”


Shenhe looked up at him silently. “The date is on there, read it for yourself.” 


Two years ago. About a week from now. Around the same time that Xingqiu had last seen Chongyun. He couldn’t believe it, what had he been doing back then?


“Back then…” Xingqiu frowned at Shenhe. “You said to me, you said to me… that they moved away.” 


Shenhe shook her head. “I said they left. I didn’t say anything about moving away.” 


Xingqiu’s heart began to race, thundering nervously in his chest like continuous bolts of lightning. “Then… then you don’t… you don’t know where they… I mean, Chongyun, is?” 


Shenhe shook her head again. “I’ve been searching for two years.” Her voice was low and helpless. “I don’t know where he is either.” 


“What do you mean?” Xingqiu felt the impatience rising in his tone, but he didn’t care. “If he isn’t with his mother then where could he be? Could he be with his clan? Where is his clan? I’m going to go speak with them.” 


“They’re gone too.” Shenhe snapped. “Look around, do you see them anywhere?” 


Xingqiu looked around. He felt overwhelmed by the realisation. What was he doing? Where was Chongyun? Where was his clan? He could only feel that something sinister had happened, and that thought alone was enough to make him panic. 


“Tell me everything you know.” His jaw clenched as he held eye contact with the woman who was now slightly shorter than him. 


Shenhe’s eyes narrowed at this. “Why should I?” 


Xingqiu had no words. 


A pained expression crossed her face. “Sometimes I wonder if… perhaps… Jiejie was right about you.” 


He didn’t understand what she meant, so naturally, he had nothing to say. He felt the light rain splatter on his hair and shoulders as the sky darkened a few more shades. The coldness of the air forced him to come to terms with this hollow reality. 


“Why didn’t he tell me…” Xingqiu murmured helplessly. Shenhe didn’t answer him and turned around to leave. She strode away so swiftly that she’d already made it to the first row of gravestones when Xingqiu noticed she was leaving. 


He hastily yelled for her to stop, and to his surprise she did. Her footsteps came to a halt, but she didn’t look at him, or show the slightest intention of waiting for very long. 


“He’s… He’s alive though, isn’t he?” 


He barely recognised his own voice. It sounded foreign, broken, almost. 


The silence seemed to last forever as he waited for Shenhe’s reply. 


“I don’t know.” 


Her figure dissolved into the rain, disappearing so quickly that the whole interaction felt like a dream. But it wasn’t a dream. Xingqiu felt his legs give way and found himself kneeling on the ground, the glaze lilies in a mess by his side, and the gravestones an undeniable reality. 


It had become a routine for Chongyun to sneak out early in the morning, before the sun rises, to sprint towards Xingqiu’s residence. He’d stand outside for a while, staring at the house knowing that Xingqiu was fast asleep inside, and then reluctantly leave, in fear that his mother would notice his absence. 


Chongyun stared at the large doors guarding Xingqiu’s family. He hadn’t seen him in a couple of days and he wondered if Xingqiu missed him at all. Perhaps he wouldn’t even have noticed, given the large friend group he was always surrounded with. His heart felt a little heavy as he stood there alone in the middle of the empty street. Not even the vendors or shop owners had risen to start their day, and other than the dim moon there was no other source of light. 


He breathed. 


He had to leave now. 


Sighing, he was about to turn when a pair of arms caught him from behind, snaking around his torso and pulling him into a tight embrace. He could smell the strong scent of silk flowers as Xingqiu smirked into his ear. “How adorable.” 


“What… what are you doing?” Chongyun asked, his voice was slightly hoarse, and he hoped Xingqiu wouldn’t notice. The swelling in his cheek had reduced enough for his face to look normal again, but it had taken a lot of cryo for the nasty red colour to fade. Shenhe was on the verge of tears to see his distorted face, and was about to have another row with his mother if not for him desperately holding her back.


“I could ask you the same thing.” Xingqiu’s warm breath made Chongyun shiver ever so slightly. “Isn’t that a little creepy? Waiting outside my house each day and then leaving without saying hello? Don’t tell me you’re actually practising for a marriage proposal?” The more Xingqiu spoke, the more Chongyun felt heat creeping up into his cheeks. 


“No! I-” 


His words were cut off from Xingqiu’s mouth moving onto his. It was so sudden that his brain barely had the time to react and all thoughts flew out the window as they held each other so tightly that it was hard to breathe. He felt Xingqiu’s lips lower towards his neck and he sobered so quickly that it hurt, pushing the other boy away with an unexpected force that he’d accidentally summoned. 


Xingqiu looked at him questioningly. “What’s wrong?” 


Chongyun couldn’t meet his burning gaze. “I… you can’t… don’t do that.” 


He could feel Xingqiu’s frown without seeing it. “Don’t do what?” He repeated, the confusion evident in his tone. 


“Don’t kiss me there.” He was grateful for the darkness disguising his burning cheeks. 




It was a difficult question to answer. 


“We’re… we’re out in the open.” Chongyun tried, only to be met with Xingqiu’s low chuckle. He stepped closer to Chongyun and took his hand, leaning in so close that their noses almost touched. 


“So I can kiss you there if we’re not in the open?” He didn’t bother waiting for Chongyun to answer and yanked him back into his arms. “Alright, I’ll just kiss you elsewhere for now.” He aimed for Chongyun’s face but stopped when he abruptly turned away. Xingqiu then raised Chongyun’s hand, his lips barely grazing the soft skin before feeling the tension in Chongyun’s posture. 


Xingqiu looked up. “What’s wrong?” He asked again, this time more seriously than before. 


Chongyun knew the other boy could sense his nervousness like it was second nature. “N-No kissing.” He then quickly added, “Just for this week.” 


Xingqiu’s silence was petrifying. “Why?” 


“I… I need to go.” Chongyun tried to wriggle out of the tight grasp but Xingqiu was not willing to let go. 


“Alright, alright, you don’t need to tell me why.” Xingqiu sighed. “Can I hug you at least?” 


That should be fine. Chongyun leaned into his embrace and trailed his hands over Xingqiu’s back, feeling calmness wash over him in a way that he really missed. 


“Hey, Chongyun.” Xingqiu brushed his hands through Chongyun’s hair like a comb. 




“If you were able to master your yang energy and rid the world of all evil spirits someday… what would you do after that?” 


“Roam the world by your side.” Chongyun didn’t even need to think twice about his answer. He’d only realised how cheesy it sounded now that it was said out loud. The scorching heat returned to his face as Xingqiu pulled away to gaze into his eyes, a dangerous look that made Chongyun feel rigid all over. 


“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that.” Xingqiu nuzzled Chongyun’s neck, barely resisting the urge to go rampant on him right there and then. He reminisced on the way they had first begun to touch each other affectionately and smiled at the memory of Chongyun being helplessly kissed by him in those deserted ruins. A flame alighted in his chest and all he wanted was to recreate that scene again. Mischief glinted in his eye and he swiftly thought up another clever plan to bully his little snowflake. "I heard recently that evil spirits have been sighted near Dunyu Ruins and Lingju Pass, let's go sometime? Maybe you'll finally get to exorcise an evil spirit the traditional way this time." 


"Really...? You think I'll actually see one this time?" Chongyun didn't sound as excited as he had hoped, but the way he innocently trusted him was already so appealing that Xingqiu didn't care. 


"Doesn't hurt to try." Xingqiu pressed his forehead against Chongyun's and resisted the urge to do anything rash to the big dummy. He was so naive and Xingqiu found it cute. 




Although it was nice to be held with such care, Chongyun couldn’t help but feel jittery inside as he remembered the time limit he’d given himself. He shifted in Xingqiu's stubborn embrace and found himself well and truly trapped like a squirrel in a steel cage. 


“I really need to go now… let me go?” 


Xingqiu raised his hand to fix a stray strand of Chongyun’s hair, only for Chongyun to flinch away. They stared at each other awkwardly and Xingqiu broke the silence by laughing. “Calm down, I’m just fixing your hair.” 


Chongyun smiled and nodded. It was a smile that felt off to Xingqiu for some reason, but he didn’t think too much of it. After running his hands through that soft hair a few times he finally let Chongyun go. He held onto that slender hand reluctantly, not wanting to let go at all. 


“Let me go?” 


“Only if you let me kiss your hand.” 


Chongyun gave in and nodded. There was no helping this person. Xingqiu readily plopped a loving kiss on the back and beamed at him. “I don’t ever want to let you go.” 


“It’ll only be for a little while.” Chongyun reassured him, and Xingqiu finally let the slender hand slide out of his, feeling an emptiness in his chest watching the other boy leave in a hurry. 


He found himself quite laughable at how clingy he had become. But he really could not deny the nervous feeling in his chest as Chongyun disappeared from view. 


It would only be a little while. 


Just a little while.

Chapter Text

With fingers crossed, and toes if he could, Chongyun entered the house like a silent breeze. He had equipped himself with a fresh batch of popsicles from Wanmin Restaurant as his excuse in case his mother became suspicious. There also wouldn’t be any marks left on his skin as evidence this time. He’d become increasingly wary of his reflection as much as he disliked paying so much attention to his appearance. But he’d catch his face in the mirror, in the window, on the silver cutlery, and he’d practice smiling. A realistic, believable smile that his mother couldn’t fault. A smile that seemed to dig beyond whatever warmth he had left in him until he could do it even when his chest felt colder than stone. 


He looked down the hall towards his mother’s room. The door was closed, and the house was quiet. He would need a cup of water before he was ready to face her early morning tantrums. 


Chongyun set foot inside the kitchen and squinted into the grey room. It wasn’t the sunniest room in the house, but it used to be the liveliest. Back when his mother used to cook his favourite dishes, humming little melodies when she thought he wasn’t home, wooden spoon in hand and watering plants on the windowsill. 


But now… now it wasn’t anything. It was the place where he would meet his doom, Chongyun realised, as he slowly registered the vague outline of her mother sitting in the dark at the dusty dining table. Her hands clasped together, back towards him and utterly unmoving. 


Utterly terrifying. 


“Where did you go?” She asked without turning around. 


“How did- How did you even…” Chongyun stuttered. “I thought you were too weak to walk-” 


“Answer my question.” The ghostly outline began to shift to face him, and under the pale traces of early morning light, his mother’s face looked as if to be made of glazed and peerless clay. 


Chongyun shook the bag of popsicles in his hand a little in defence. “I ran out of popsicles. I bought more from Wanmin restaurant.” 


“Is that so? Let me see them.” 


As calm as he could be, Chongyun walked over and opened the bag for her to see. He was afraid to be near this woman who he no longer recognised - he never knew when she would snap. 


His mother glanced inside the bag and nodded, a seemingly good sign to Chongyun and he held back a sigh of relief. She smiled and visibly relaxed at the sight of the clear popsicles neatly arranged in his bag. 


“Good… good. You must be careful of that yang energy, my son. Your health is important, stock up more in case you forget…” She reached up towards Chongyun’s face but in a moment of panic he flinched away like it was a burning slate of iron. 


His mother blinked up at him as he fumbled through his mind for the right words to say. Before he could think of any, she pinched his cheek and chuckled in a low voice. “I’m feeling hungry. Make your poor old mother some jewellery soup?” 


Chongyun nodded with her still squeezing his sore cheek and waited for her to let go. Once she did, he began looking for the ingredients in a daze, vaguely aware of his mother’s gaze glued to his every move. 


It proceeded to be the calmest half an hour that he’d shared with his mother for the past week. She watched him as he washed the vegetables and cleaned a few dishes of their dust. She watched as he patiently sliced the tofu into even chunks, gathered lotus seeds out of the heads and broke inedible leaves off the fresh snapdragons. In the boiling water, the lotus seeds soon paled to a shade like that of pearls, the snapdragons remaining rich in colour but gaining a sheen of transparency like high-quality jade. 


Once it was ready, Chongyun scooped the contents out into a porcelain bowl, mixing it carefully with a spoon to reduce the heat as he placed it before his mother. She smiled at him, in a way that resembled the person he once knew, and slowly sipped at the nutritious soup that steamed vigorously in the early winter morning. 


“It’s good…” She commented through a mouthful of tofu. 


Chongyun nodded. It should be a relief to hear her enjoy the food, and he was hoping she’d put on more weight given how sickly she appeared, but he felt tense all over with every moment that passed where she wasn’t in a fit of rage. It should be a relief… but why couldn’t he feel relieved?


“If only my son were as good as this soup.” Her eyes flickered dangerously and only at this did Chongyun feel relief wash over him. 


“You went out to see him again, even when I told you… told you so many times…” 


He nodded tiredly. “How did you know this time?” 


His mother only threw her head back maniacally and laughed before taking a deep breath to scoff at the ground. “The smell of silk flowers on you is so strong it’s giving me nausea.” 


Right. He’d forgotten about her sharp sense of smell. And now it was time to pay the price. 


A burning sensation hit him so viciously he toppled back a few steps, feeling a boiling liquid seep through his clothes as he looked down. The bowl now had a crack running through it sitting upturned on the kitchen floor. Cubes of white tofu were splattered into smithereens like pieces of broken white jade. Barely having the time to register what had happened, Chongyun braced himself for more impact as several objects were hurled his way. A pen, a coaster, a spoon, a book… then nothing. 


Thinking that the attacks had stopped, Chongyun looked up just in time for something sharp and solid to make contact with his forehead. It was thrown with terrifying precision and force, so much that Chongyun hissed in pain as the feeling of something warm trickled down his face and down to the floor, landing on the glassy surface of a shattered photo frame. Hot tears pricked at his eyes as they focused on the image of his father, his mother, and a young boy sitting on their lap, wide-eyed and grinning from ear to ear. 


At the same time, his mother seemed to have stopped hurling things at him. She too, stilled in her place and was unable to utter another word as they both stared at the broken photo frame on the ground stained with something red. Neither of them moved. It was like they were stuck in time and unable to go on. Unable to accept the reality of it all, the stark contrast between the past and present. 


She looked petrified, almost. On the verge of a breakdown, maybe, with the glassiness in those timid pupils. Her hairline now receded more than it had in the past three years, fatigue appearing as creases in her skin, the pinkness in her lips now a faint grey wisp marking the end of her youth. It hadn’t occurred to Chongyun how much she’d aged in the past month alone. 


But it did occur to him how much she’d changed. 


Chongyun suddenly felt very lightheaded, and he couldn’t figure out why. It was a bit concerning - the way that he knew his rationality was leaving him while also not being able to do anything about it. He just felt… calm. If calm was the feeling of not feeling anything, then he was definitely more calm than he’d ever felt in perhaps his whole life. So calm that he didn’t even react to the sounds of footsteps barging in through the front door, the clicking of heels as the familiar voice of Shenhe resounded through the walls. 




Neither of them responded as they remained frozen in the lifeless kitchen. His mother seemed to have drowned in the world of her own, laughing hopelessly to herself as he noticed black spots in his vision. Huh, very interesting. 


“Chongyun- What in the world… Chongyun? Chongyun!” 


He wasn’t quite sure what happened after that. 



A little part of him was disappointed from waking up. He didn’t quite feel ready to face anyone or anything. As much as he was grateful to Shenhe for tending to the injury on his head, bandaging it thoroughly after applying all sorts of hand picked herbs, he wondered what would have happened if she had left him to bleed out on the ground. Perhaps he would have died, and perhaps that would have been easier for him than waking up to the coldness of it all. 


“I… I thought… maybe you would want…” Shenhe trailed off as she handed Chongyun the family photo that was now missing a suitable frame. Spots of crimson had seeped into the paper, flowering over the image as if a decoration. 


“The frame… it’s beyond repair. But I can buy a new one if that’s what you want, I’ve seen that there’s a decent antique shop-” 


“It’s fine.” 


“...Okay. Have you had breakfast yet? Maybe you’ll feel better after eating something…” 


“No. I’m not hungry.” 


“... that’s okay. I helped your mother to bed and she’s sleeping right now so-” 


Shenhe’s words were cut off from the abrupt sounds of knocking on the front door. It was an unsettling sound, distant and unfamiliar. 




Chongyun flinched at his own name being uttered in a voice all too familiar. Panic rose in his throat as he shot Shenhe anxious looks, unable to say anything in fear of being heard. Understanding his gaze, Shenhe nodded and headed towards the door, opening it halfway to the cheerful visitor. 


“Oh! Ms Shenhe! Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for Chongyun-” Xingqiu’s lively voice was almost painful to listen to, as Chongyun curled up into a ball, feeling the wound on his forehead burn and sting more fiercely than it did before. 


“He’s not at home.” 


“Oh… Huh? He’s really not at home? Where is he then?” 


“I don’t know.” 


“Ah… alright… but- his shoes are right there.” 


“Those are mine.” 


“I’m pretty sure those are-” 


“Apologies, Chongyun really isn’t at home, and I don’t know where he is.” 


“Ms Shenhe, I have something important I need to tell him.” 


“Unfortunate. I’ll let you know when he comes home.” 


“Hey- Hey!” 


He could hear the sound of the door shutting as it drowned out Xingqiu’s voice. After a while, they heard Xingqiu’s footsteps leave and Shenhe let out a deep sigh. “I apologise if I went overboard. Although not to your mother’s extent, I never took a liking to the boy.” 


Chongyun shook his head slightly. “It’s fine. It’s better that way.” 


Shenhe seemed to want to question his words but decided not to. “I do find it strange that your mother wasn’t woken up by all the ruckus. Should I check up on her?” 


After a moment of thinking, Chongyun shook his head again. “No. Leave her be. There’s no point anyway.” 


“I… Okay. I’ll… I’ll come back later in the evening then. You should get some rest, and don’t worry about dinner… I’ll bring it over.” 


“See you later.” 


“See you later.” 


Chongyun waited for Shenhe to leave the house. Once she was gone, he hugged his knees and buried his face behind them. It was strange, he felt annoyed when people were around him and he also felt annoyed when he was all alone. He hated being in such an irritable mood, yet he couldn’t help it. He really wished every problem would just fix itself and life would go back to normal. 


If only his mother hadn’t contracted some damned evil spirit. 


Thinking of this, Chongyun felt an irresistible rage in his heart as he stared at the photo clutched in his hands. In a moment of fury, he snatched a nearby pen and hastily scribbled out his mother’s face with the dark ink, splattering it all over so that he wouldn’t have to see her face more than he needed to. 


Only when her entire figure had completely disappeared into a patch of pitch black darkness was he finally satisfied. He dropped the pen in his hands and slammed the photo face down on the tabletop, breathing heavily as he closed his eyes and fell into a long, peaceful sleep. 


It was a different feeling, waking up to see the sun setting outside the window. In his grogginess he took in the sight of the orange hue colouring the walls of his house with warmth. As much as the room looked heated, it was cold. He was cold. Everything was cold, and something wasn’t right. 


Chongyun pushed himself off the couch with wobbly legs and knobbly knees. He wasn’t thinking straight after such a long period of rest. What finally sobered him was the sight of the photo still lying face-flat on the table, unmoved and untouched and still stained with a dark red. 


He shook his head and blinked. The house was too quiet. That’s what unnerved him. It was far too quiet, and it had been that way for so long that he slept throughout the entire day. 


Something was wrong. 


A foreboding feeling overwhelmed him as he staggered down the hall towards his mother’s room. Every step felt like a bad omen, only heightening the chill in the air as he pushed the door open. And as his eyes were cast upwards to the centre of the room, where a woman’s limp body swayed gently in the evening air, hanging from a bedsheet tied to the joist in the ceiling, he wondered what it was like to finally be free. 


He wondered if he’d ever be free. 


Noelle putting flowers at Chongyun’s bedside scene. Cut to Mondstadt. Chongyun is in his hospital bed, and Noelle is putting the vase of flowers next to his bedside. Barbara mentions that Lisa had contacted Cyno and Collei for help, as Sumeru would be more experienced in this field. While they are talking, Chongyun begins to cry tears. Tears of blood. 


A pair of metallic gloved hands set a vase of brightly blooming flowers on the birch double drawer nightstand. The room was quiet as Noelle carefully rotated the vase until the pair of fluttering butterflies were centred so that it captivated one’s attention. Next to it, Chongyun lay unmoving on the white hospital bed. 


“Don’t worry, he will wake up for sure.” Barbara put a consoling hand on Noelle’s shoulder, but Noelle only nodded slightly and hung her head. 


“It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have brought him to Wolvendom… then he wouldn’t be like this right now…” Her olive eyes began to water as Barbara hurriedly handed her a handkerchief. “Hah… I really am not cut out to be a knight.” 


“That’s not true! Everyone makes mistakes, even knights!” Barbara shook her head earnestly as she recalled the scolding Noelle had received from Jean. It was difficult to watch, but there was no stopping her sister when it came to such affairs with the Knights of Favonius. 


Noelle gently wiped her eyes and blew her nose noisily. “I just hope Yun wakes up soon, I don’t think I’ll stop feeling guilty until I’ve had the chance to properly apologise.” 


There wasn’t anything Barbara could say to that, so she continued to rub Noelle’s shoulder as they both stared at the unconscious person who was the new trending topic of discussion amongst Mondstat commonfolk. 


“He will wake up soon.” Barbara reassured her. “At least, Lisa has contacted Cyno and Collei from Sumeru, so they’ll be here in a few days. If there’s anyone more experienced in such fields - it’s them.” 


Noelle seemed to feel a little relieved at the news. Sumeru was known throughout Teyvat for its elite collection of highly intelligent individuals and academic research. They were on good terms with Mondstat, but more importantly, they were reliable. 


“Now that you’ve delivered the vase, how about we go get lunch? I hear there’s a special at the Good Hunter right now.” Barbara mentioned, trying her best to change the subject. There would be no use dwelling on negative things that one couldn’t do anything about, and Noelle needed rest herself. It couldn’t have been an easy feat, dashing all the way to Mondstat only two days after waking up from a coma, with injuries yet to properly heal. Barbara would have liked to scold Noelle herself for making yet another rash decision without telling anybody, but seeing the state of the lavender-haired girl, Barbara could not utter such discouraging words. 


How this panicked, emotional and impulsive person managed to obtain such a dazzling vase was beyond Barbara’s imagination, but she didn’t question it too much. What’s important was that Noelle was back in one piece with not another scratch. 


Still, Barbara hoped within her heart that Noelle could’ve at least hinted the idea to her before setting off alone again to such a far place like Liyue Harbour. What if the reckless girl had been attacked by monsters along the way? Barbara could not bring herself to imagine the outcome. While Noelle was a knight in training and fully decked in armour on a daily basis, it was still not ideal to make such a tiring journey with such poor health. 


Noelle sighed and nodded at the idea of lunch. They were about to turn towards the door of the hospital wing when the sounds of heavy breathing began to echo throughout the brightly lit cathedral. 


Sweat had formed on Chongyun’s brow. He was tensing up in his sleep and his hands gripped the blanket so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. Before Barbara or Noelle could react, two streams of thick red blood trailed down from the corners of his eyes. 


The rolled over his pale skin and down the side of his face, falling onto the snowy sheets and staining it with crimson. Like dark flowers blooming in mid-winter, they formed pools beside Chongyun’s ears, increasing in radius with each second that passed. 


He… was crying blood.



On the distant moonlit road, he chased his wispy lover who twirled and danced against the wind. A beauty, with skin paler than pearl, and blue eyes gentle like glaze lilies. He latched an arm around that enticing waist and began to nuzzle that exposed nape, sucking affectionately as if it were coated in honey. 


“Where have you been?” 


He was met with no response, only the silence of the endlessly dark sky that stretched out far and beyond. He was about to ask again, before he felt the soft material underneath his fingers begin to shift like a snake shedding its skin. 


He looked down at him. Everything he wore from head to toe had transformed into an alabaster white, covering him like a thin sheet of snow, similar to that of traditional funeral garments. 


“Where have you been?” He tried again. In desperation, he slid a hand up to grab Chongyun’s chin and twist his face towards his own. He was about to lean in for a kiss but was stilled at the deathly vacant expression on Chongyun’s face. Grey eyes empty and rimmed with red, harbouring dark circles below the depths of his lids. Pupils void of life, barren and drained of energy. He looked so tired. 


“Chongyun?” He shook him slightly, “Chongyun?” 


The person in his arms reacted a little to his words and in response he smiled. 


It was a smile that broke Xingqiu’s heart to pieces. 


A sunken smile, ghostly and light, followed by two streams of crimson flowing down from the edges of those soulless eyes. Instinctively, Xingqiu reached up to wipe away the streams of scarlet red. “Chongyun…?” 


Chongyun’s eyes lowered and he followed that dejected gaze, finally noticing the gravestone standing gloomily in front of them. New and lacking any moss or cracks, clean and immaculate if not for the rain water beginning to drip down on its cool surface. 


In that devastating moment Xingqiu began to sober up. He felt the realisation wash over him as his grip around Chongyun tightened. 


“Please don’t tell me…”


Was this… a dream? 


Xingqiu cupped the face of his crying lover and continued to dry those dark tears lingering on that dilapidated face. “Tell me, Chongyun,” His voice broke as he tried to force the words out, “Where are you, Chongyun?” 


Chongyun only shook his head in despair. “Don’t come looking for me… I can’t be with you.” 


Xingqiu felt the panic rising in his throat. “No no no, tell me where you are- tell me where you are! Where are you? I’ll come and find you, I’ll come and-” 


“Look at my hands.” Chongyun smiled sadly. He raised his shaking hands as Xingqiu’s eyes trailed down to stare at them. They were drenched in blood, flaming red like the vermillion stairs to Wanwen Bookhouse. “There’s nothing left for me.” 


He grabbed those trembling hands in his and kissed them. “Don’t say that, don’t say that, I’m here for you, I’m here… just tell me where you are…” 


Chongyun shook his head wearily. “Let me go?” 


Xingqiu froze at those words. His heart felt ready to shatter as he trailed his gaze up to the smiling boy in white. “Don’t- don’t say that- don’t you dare say that-” He gripped Chongyun’s body so hard that he expected the other boy to wince, to cry out in pain and ask him to be gentle, but there was nothing of the sort. He took a deep breath and tried to regain his composure. “I’m not letting you go. Never. Not until I receive an explanation- you can’t do this. Do you know how much I regret letting you go that day? I can’t let you go, do you know how much it hurts to hear you say that?” 


Chongyun only pressed his forehead against Xingqiu’s as a cold sweat broke out on his brow. 


“I’m sorry.” And with those words, Chongyun’s body began to dissipate into the fog as a billion tiny snowflakes, being blown to pieces like ash in stormy winds. He frantically grabbed at the loose particles in vain, shaking as they gradually disappeared into non-existence. 


“Come back! COME BACK! COME BACKKKKK!!!!!!!!!”


He screamed so loudly he felt his lungs would burst and his eardrums would bleed, but the snowflakes never came back, and neither did his lover. 


“Come back… come back… where are you? Come back!” 


“I’m here, I’m right here, don’t cry, I’m right here.” 


Xingqiu bolted upright in a cold sweat and felt a pair of warm hands tightly squeezing his own. 


It was his mother. She peered worriedly at him as she dabbed at his forehead with a soft fluffy towel, ushering for servant Xu to go and prepare food. 


“My boy… How can you be so careless? Mother was so worried when you fainted just outside the city gates in the rain… thank goodness your friends recognised you and helped you back home- otherwise who knows how long you would’ve stayed out there…” She finished wiping his face and patted his leg through the thick blanket.

“I… How long have I been sleeping?” 


“Hah… three whole days. Silly boy, how could you stay outside in the rain for so long? Now you have a stubborn fever, silly boy.” 


In his grogginess he recounted all the previous events and felt a wave of mourning pass through his chest. He felt for his jacket pocket but flinched in realisation that he wasn’t wearing his jacket, and it was nowhere to be seen in the room. 


“Where’s my jacket?” 


His mother gave him an amused look as the corners of her eyes crinkled. “The servants washed, of course. How could we let you sleep in- wait! What are you doing?” 


Xingqiu had tried to shuffle out of bed and put on his shoes only to be stopped by his frantic mother. “I’m going to get my jacket.” 


“Silly boy, get back into bed- servant Xu! Bring his jacket here!- My son, why are you in such a hurry to put on your jacket? You’re still burning up and the doctor recommended a week of bedrest…” 


Xingqiu said nothing as he waited impatiently for servant Xu to bring his jacket, who hurriedly brought it over like it was a chest of gold. “Here, young master, it’s clean and completely undamaged, no rips or tears anywhere and you have many spares so don’t worry-” 


He snatched the jacket from servant Xu’s grasp and flipped it over until he found the right pocket. Sticking one hand in, he felt his heart skip a beat at the emptiness within. 


“Where is it?” He asked, and began to get out of bed once again. His whole body trembled as he tried to walk on legs that felt so numb they wobbled with each step. “Where is it?” 


“My son, what are you doing- get back into bed!” 


“Where is it? Where is it?” He repeated over and over as he scrambled out of the room and looked throughout the hallway. Servant Xu had tried to lead him back towards bed but Xingqiu shook his arm off with a rare air of fury. “Where is it?” 


“Where is what, young master?” Servant Xu called out to him, but to no avail as he scampered around the house, past several servants who looked onwards in disbelief as his eyes searched every crack and corner. He could vaguely hear his mother in the background, ordering for the doctor to be summoned immediately. 


He didn’t care, he needed to find it. His eyes danced over the pine-backed tea chairs, his feet took him past the floral screens, his hands carelessly rummaging around the calligraphy set on the dining table before moving to the porcelain teapot containing nothing but tea leaves and water. He didn’t care that he was making a mess of things. He didn’t care that brushes and paper weight had clattered on the wooden floor in the process, the ink that splattered over the shiny tabletop, the pages of words that were fluttering around the room as if caught up in a whirlwind. He wanted one thing yet he could not find it. 


“Young… young… master…” Servant Xu huffed behind him as he tried to catch up. “I… I, wait, are you looking for this?” 


Xingqiu barely glanced at him but his eyes froze on the thing in his hand, dangling from one finger and rocking back and forth in the air. The mere sight of its torn and wrangled appearance was enough to tear at his heartstrings. 


Chongyun’s tassel. 


“Yes. Yes it is. Yes yes yes.” Xingqiu snatched it into his own quivering hands and sank to the floor. He cradled it like treasure as tears began to fall from the corners of his swollen eyes. “Yes, yes it is... It’s his.” 


He felt his body relax as his world spun. Soon, he felt the floorboards at his side and his vision turning black as the dishevelled tassel stayed firmly locked in his tightened fists, refusing to let go ever again.

Chapter Text

The young master hadn’t been the same since. For days he did not leave his room, wrapped up in a bundle of blankets and refusing to eat. Servants were beginning to speculate over his abnormal behaviour the day that he woke up and wild theories had begun to spread. Some even believed that the young master had gone mad from his fever. Such theories were obviously ridiculous - Servant Xu understood more than anyone that the young master was quite sober and clear headed. Just… 


Standing next to the beside and holding a tray of food, Servant Xu was at a loss of how he was supposed to convince this stubborn boy to eat something. His faint figure was barely visible in the dark lighting of the room where all curtains had been drawn. 


“Young master?” 


No reaction. 


“Young master.” Servant Xu tried again, but still no response. 


Thinking hard, servant Xu sighed and set the tray down on the cuihua desk with a loud clatter. He needed to say something, but what to say was a difficult question. 


He recalled that strange day when Chongyun appeared on the steps of their household, hesitating to knock and getting drenched in the cold rain. There was reluctance in his eyes, but more than that there was a dark hollowness that servant Xu couldn’t describe. Something wasn’t quite right about the boy that day, but servant Xu was in no place to inquire about the personal matters of the young master’s friends. 


He awkwardly cleared his throat and nervously assembled appropriate words into the right phrases within his mind. “Young master… that tassel…” Servant Xu paused. “It’s Chongyun’s, isn’t it? The one you made for him?” 


At this, the young master shifted below the blanket. Servant Xu took this as a sign that he was correct, though he had been confident that the tassel was unmistakably Chongyun’s anyway. How could he not recognise the item that the young master poured his heart and soul into making? 


Servant Xu took a deep breath. “I… He didn’t leave without saying goodbye.”


Xingqiu’s shallow breathing hitched as he said this, and servant Xu swallowed anxiously knowing how much weight the following words would hold. “The day that you were out on Captain Beidou’s ship with Xiangling… Chongyun actually… he…” 


By now, the young master had sat up. His eyes were hazy and darkly circled as they narrowed on servant Xu. “He… what?” 


“He was looking for you… I think. He didn’t knock, but I opened the door to him by coincidence and found him standing there in the rain.” 


Xingqiu glowered at him and the temperature of the room dropped by a couple degrees. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner? 


Servant Xu also asked himself the same question. He had watched the young master grow up, from a witty child to a moody teenager and now… a lost and forlorn young adult. If it was anyone who understood that eccentric personality and strange habits more than servant Xu himself, it was Chongyun. He too, was fond of the good mannered boy who became the target of Xingqiu’s pranks from an early age. He was also fond of the friendship the two boys shared - anyone could see how close they were. 


And they were inseparable. Late nights together in the study reading each other books and poems, only for servant Xu to find them asleep on each other’s shoulders in the morning. The poems that the young master wrote for Chongyun - as peculiar as they became - were densely filled with sincerity. 


And despite preferring the heavy claymore, Chongyun had dedicated time to practising the sword so that he would be able to help the young master train. It would take a fool not to notice the way that Chongyun was holding back, taking great care not to inflict injuries on the young master but neglecting to care for the bruises he’d earned himself. 


The spiritual connection that the two boys held was truly unbreakable. 


Servant Xu had wholeheartedly believed this for the longest time. 


He believed that the two would both grow up to be each other’s support, each other’s closest companion. Even with this belief, it still came as a shock when he came to realise that the young master’s love for Chongyun had long since transformed from platonic feelings to a passionate, fiery love. 


Seeing the two that day in the ruins only confirmed his suspicions. 


He could see how much this person meant to the young master. He saw the confusion and hurt in the young master when he stumbled upon the cheerful landlord who was renting out Chongyun’s home to a new family. He saw the denial when the young master impatiently traversed around Liyue with “no particular reason.” He saw the solemn acceptance when the young master simply stopped caring. Or at least pretended to. 


It was an act that fooled most people. Only few remained who understood the young master’s true feelings, and servant Xu was one of them. But he’d always convinced himself that there would be no benefit for the young master to know the truth. That he was better off believing that his best friend had moved away without telling him anything and was purposely hiding from him for reasons unknown. 


Servant Xu could convince himself no longer after watching the way that the young master had thrown himself at that tassel. The way he wouldn’t let go of it even when the doctor tried to wrestle it out of his fingers. The way he was looking at servant Xu right now, with such internalised suffering and pained determination to know the truth about the person he cared about most. 


“Your father happened upon us just when he was about to leave and invited him in to dry up.” Servant Xu remembered the events that followed afterward and resisted the urge to cringe. “Your father… he…” 


“What did my father do?” Xingqiu grabbed his arm, his hands trembling as his bottom lip quivered. 


“He sat him down at the dining table and explained your… situation.” Servant Xu hesitated. “Your father requested that he talked some sense into you and encourage you to be open to the idea of marriage traditions that-” 


“-Generations of our ancestors have preserved and passed down.” Xingqiu finished servant Xu’s sentence with a sharpness in his tone that was enough to cut through rough paper. 


“...and what did Chongyun say?” 


“He said that he wouldn’t be much help, and he also said that you were sure to be matched with a kind and loving girl worthy of your righteous nature. He…” Sweat rolled down his brow as servant Xu continued. “...He said that he’d congratulate you and wished you all the best.” 


The silence was so deafening that servant Xu couldn’t look him in the eyes. 


“So… so he left because… because he thought I had to get married? No, that’s not right- he wouldn’t leave because of that… right?” 


Servant Xu watched as the young master desperately tried to get out of the bed. “Wait, young master, where are you going?” 


“I need to speak to my father.” 


“Y-Young master! You cannot do that!” Servant Xu tried to stop the young master from getting up, but he struggled against someone who had been trained in martial arts even if they were weak in health. 


“Why not?” Xingqiu snapped. “That old man has to be part of the reason why Chongyun left.” 


“Even if- even if you’re angry or upset, acting impulsively in front of your father will not change the fact that Chongyun left!” 


Xingqiu fell silent at this. He had his feet planted on the ground yet he was no longer attempting to get up. With a small choke and a sob, he raised his teary eyes at the person who had been serving him since childhood. “Then, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to find him? How do I tell the person I love, the person I’ve always loved and will continue to love, to come back to my side?” 


At a loss for words, there was nothing servant Xu could say or do that could comfort the young master. What the young master needed was not empty comfort but one particular living, breathing person - and that was beyond his capabilities of finding. 


“I’m sorry young master.” He apologised softly. “Forgive me for overstepping my boundaries today. I’ll- I'll reheat the food.” Servant Xu picked up the cold tray and hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him with a soft ‘click.’


He knew that the young master would prefer to spend some time alone. 



He had told Shenhe that he just needed some time alone. 


It was a lie that he couldn’t even bring himself to believe, but Shenhe didn’t question it. He walked up the dusty road that wound through the grass and over the hilly bend, uneven footsteps to match his uneven breathing. 


He needed to be alone with one person, but that person wasn’t with him and there was nothing he could do about that. It was his fault that he’d sent him away in the first place. 


The cold breeze ruffled his hair and chilled him to the bone, sending goosebumps over his skin. Dry shrubs scratched at his ankles as he trudged on lifelessly over the abandoned path. The listless flowers no longer held its vitality, and all surroundings seemed to have lost their colour. 


Chongyun glared up wearily at the ruins.


This time, he was going to find an evil spirit and exorcise it. He would do it with his own hands, see it with his own eyes, and banish it from this realm forever. He would succeed this time - he had to. 


He hated how useless he was. Even after being told by countless people from his village that he wasn’t to blame, that it was an inevitable outcome, that there was nothing he could have done, Chongyun could not help but feel the guilt weighing down on his shoulders like an ever-looming demon. 


None of those people understood how he felt. In that instant his first feeling had not been one of grief but instead one of relief. The realisation brought sickness to his stomach and he felt nausea throughout all of the funeral ceremony, clenching the rough white fabric of his funeral garments and biting so hard on his lip that it bled. Perhaps if guilt had a flavour it would be the metallic iron taste on his tongue. 


The smell of burning incense followed him after the ceremony and so did the imagery of his mother lying peacefully in her coffin, hands clasped together and hair neatly braided like she would in her youth. A thick, dark mark ran below her chin like a polluted river filled with ash, running so rapidly that one would easily be swept up within. 


“The poor boy’s been orphaned.” 


“Aiya, pitiful thing. First his father, now his mother, good people they were, didn’t deserve any of this.” 


“I heard from the village elder that she was possessed by an evil spirit, d’you think it’ll be passed onto us?” 


“Shhh, don’t let the boy hear you. He’d be upset to know that the village elders didn’t do anything about it.” 


“Tsk tsk, she must’ve committed a grave crime in her past life, to die at the hands of an evil spirit as an exorcist. Retribution, I tell you, retribution.” 


Chongyun wondered if he was being punished for something he did in his past life. It was a silly thought because he never did believe in past lives, but the helpless feelings arose and he wanted to blame something out of his control and believe that his mother’s passing was an unavoidable ending. 


But he couldn’t. He was the one to blame and looking for excuses only deepened his anguish. 


It was his incapabilities, his selfishness, and his lack of care that killed his mother. His impatience, his ingratitude, his stubbornness. If only he hadn’t blamed everything on the evil spirit, perhaps now his mother would be alive and well. If only he had trained hard enough to be able to exorcise such spirits, his mother wouldn’t have been tortured to such a state. 


If only. 


Now, his mother lay underneath the ground never to be unearthed again, never to cook for him or nurse him through his fevers. Never to bid him good morning or goodnight, never to smile at him in a way that lit up the whole room. Never to tell him stories about her youth, about his father, or her adventures on exorcising spirits, he would never hear her lovely voice again. And she’d barely left anything behind in her wake, she spent modestly and worked quietly and so her passing left no trace. The only thing he’d had left of her was a creamy white handkerchief embroidered with the markings of a talisman, but other than that, nothing else could be found. She was simply gone, and it had happened so quickly like an instantaneous firework fading into the dark, its glittering sparks never to be seen again. 


He felt something wet on his cheek and froze. One tear followed the next and soon he was a sobbing mess on the ground, tears flowing down to the dry concrete floor and making grey spots layered on top of each other. A month’s worth of crying compressed in his chest finally gave way like an opened dam, the rushing waters bursting forth without any signs of slowing. The pain of a month’s worth of suffocation had finally caught up to him in the form of a throbbing pain squeezing his chest so hard that he struggled to breathe. 


Through his blurry vision he caught sight of a shadow on the concrete surface silently approaching him from behind. His heart seemed to skip a beat as only one person came to mind, there was only one person that he wanted to see, and only one person that he wanted to feel. 




His hopes were shattered into pieces as he felt a pain in the back of his neck from a sudden blow that caused him to see spots of black. Using the last of his strength, Chongyun craned his neck to look up at the person towering over him, smiling down at him with a row of neat teeth and gleaming, crimson red eyes, before his entire body fell towards the ground. 


It was not his Xingqiu. 


The library had been thoroughly tidied by Lisa the morning of Cyno and Collei’s arrival in Mondstat. They all sat around the long fragrant cedar table warming their hands on a hot mug of coffee and sipping the fluffy foam. 


“I’m going to spare the formalities, since I’m sure we all understand the situation.” Jean crossed her arms over her chest and looked over to Cyno and Collei. “Lisa filled you two in on the situation through the letter, I presume?” 


Cyno nodded as his expression remained sullen. “Ms Lisa’s writing is concise and masterful as usual. We have a good grasp on the matter.” He looked over to Collei and nodded. 


Collei picked up on this as her cue to talk and perked up. “Y-Yes. We were told that this person named Yun was likely to be one of Dottore’s experiments and the various pieces of evidence that support this conclusion.” Collie paused. “There’s something else you all should know: A few years ago, we caught Barnabas on the outskirts of Sumeru.” 


“Barnabas?” Kaeya murmured. “That wrinkly prune of a man? Dottore’s dog?”


“Kaeya. Not the time.” Jean warned through clenched teeth, only for Kaeya to let out a hearty chuckle. “Just lightening the mood since the air is feeling heavy.” 


“That’s a shame since I spent an hour cleaning the shelves.” Lisa yawned. “Anyways, Collei darling please continue~” 


“We used various tactics to weedle information out of him, including detailed knowledge of Dottore’s recent experiments.” Collei took out a brown file and placed it on the polished tabletop. She opened its contents and took out a stack of papers with neatly written words covering the cream-coloured surface. “It seems that Dottore has been investigating Dragonspine for crimson agates - he’s been collecting them for a while now.” 


“Crimson agates?” Albedo repeated and rubbed his chin. “As in… fragments of Durin’s crystalised blood?” He gingerly picked up one of the documents and scanned it in deep thought. 


Cyno nodded. “Yes. Exactly that.” 


“Not only that, he’s been abducting people of all ages from all over Teyvat to conduct experiments - it’s disgusting.” Collei scrunched up her nose at the written confession in black ink. “He leaves their corpses wherever he thinks people won’t discover them, it’s absolutely sickening.” 


Jean’s face hardened at this as her blue eyes glowered. “That’s dreadful, I can’t believe Yun managed to survive… it really is fortunate that he did…” 


“We have had a few survivors in our area, though none of them made it in the end,” Collei’s voice became a little shaky as she said this, “and we noticed some… common traits amongst them. Dottore seems to have done something to their lacrimal glands that prevents them from crying, and the more obvious one being that all of them are mute, not to mention that all of them suffered from underlying trauma.” 


“And that matches Yun’s description perfectly.” Kaeya muttered, he seemed to have forgotten about his coffee as it cooled on the tabletop. 


“Uhm-” Barbara raised her hand politely, “-I have a question.” 


Cyno nodded. “Go on.” 


“If… If Yun can’t cry, then why did he cry blood the other day?” The concern was evident in her eyes as she clasped her hands together as if amidst a prayer. 


“He… cried blood?” Collei swallowed. Cyno’s eyes dimmed and neither of them spoke for a while. 


“Well?” Albedo drummed his fingers against his mug. 


Collei lifted her violet eyes and sighed. “Previous research has shown us that… a person can feel so much grief that the intensity of their emotions forces the lacrimal glands to open- but a lot of damage is done to the eyes in the process, hence why blood is mixed in with the tears… he will likely never be able to cry pure tears.” 


“That’s horrible.” Barbara blinked furiously, reaching for her handkerchief as Lisa patted her shoulder comfortingly. 


“Then… How do we wake up the little cutie?” 


Cyno folded his arms again and shrugged.


“We wait.” 


In the middle of a bustling, lively day of business and contracts in Liyue Harbour, Xingqiu sat unmoving at his desk as if made of stone. In his hand sat a slender brush coated in a layer of ink that had long been dried from the long period of inactivity, slowly seeping upwards into the soft white bristles. 


They were standing in his kitchen on a nice and quiet day when everyone else was out minding their own business. He had cleverly snagged the recipe on how to make popsicles from Xiangling early that morning, folding it up and carefully slipping it into his pocket in case of losing the item of such great importance. 


“Why… why are we in your kitchen again?” 


Xingqiu grinned at the familiar person standing in the doorway, looking around shyly at the surroundings. “Let’s make something together.” 


Cooking together was a rare activity between them, since it was more convenient eating at Wanmin restaurant where they could catch up with Xiangling and the others. Not to mention that Chongyun’s mother was a great cook, and his family had servants to do all the cooking for them. 


“I… I’ve had enough of Xiangling’s dishes, Xingqiu, let’s do something else?” 


Before the timid person could back away, Xingqiu latched onto his slender hand and dragged him into the centre of the spacious kitchen. On the counter he had already prepared all the necessary ingredients, some that he’d personally foraged for in the wild to ensure its freshness. 


“Nope, I just wanted to make popsicles.” He chuckled and watched patiently for Chongyun’s reaction. 


Chongyun seemed a little stunned at the idea but nodded slowly. “Alright. Why do you want to make popsicles?” 


“For you of course, big dummy.” Xingqiu poked the tip of his nose and laughed at the hint of pinkness appearing over Chongyun’s cheeks. “For that funny excess yang energy of yours.” 


“R-Right. Do you even know how to make popsicles?” 


Xingqiu wanted to snort. How hard could making popsicles be? Xiangling had given him a thorough explanation and told him that it was easy and to just trust the process. “Of course. It’s all written out in steps.” He waved the recipe in his hand and Chongyun seemed to relax. 


“Then… I’ll grind the mist flowers corollas, you can chop the qingxins?” 


“Sounds good.” Xingqiu nodded. “The mortar and pestle is over there, be careful- I don’t want you hurting these pretty little fingers.” He left a kiss on the back of Chongyun’s hand and turned away, grinning to himself imagining how red the other person was blushing. 


They worked in a peaceful silence, with only the sounds of stone softly bumping against each other through thin blue petals frosting at the edges, and the clumsy work of a knife against a wooden chopping board. Xingqiu awkwardly cut through the flower stem and regretted ever thinking that making popsicles was an easy task. Thank goodness Chongyun was far away and didn’t suspect his skills… yet. 




Xingqiu jumped at the voice and was in the middle of replying when he felt a sharp pain shoot through his fingertip. “Yea- AH!”


He involuntarily hissed and dropped the knife on the counter with a loud clatter as Chongyun appeared at his side at lightning speed. He snatched his hands and inspected them carefully as a noticeable bubbling ball of red began forming in the middle of Xingqiu’s finger. 


“It’s fine-” Xingqiu tried, but was abruptly cut off. 


“It’s not fine! You told me to be careful but you’re not careful with yourself.” Chongyun protested as he quickly began applying cryo to the area to stop the bleeding. His expression was contorted into a frown and Xingqiu couldn’t help but find that this kind of care and attention was so sweet that it wiped away any feelings of hurt or pain. 


“I can heal myself, you know.” Xingqiu reminded him, but Chongyun ignored his comment and continued to create a temporary bandage of frost that formed a ring around his finger. Kind of like traditional wedding rings from Mondstat - to this thought, Xingqiu felt his chest do a little flip. 


“I’ll cut the qingxins, you can grind the mist flowers- or sit down somewhere.” 


Xingqiu wanted to say that he was fine again, but stopped himself and just nodded instead. “Anything you say, honey.” 


Chongyun made a disgruntled noise but didn’t say anything after that as he quietly chopped the qingxin flowers into neat pieces. Sunlight fell over his soft hair and covered his skin in a layer of translucent gold that made his entire person seem to glow. Staring at the back of this person, Xingqiu found himself unable to tear his eyes away from someone so sweet in personality and graceful in their movements, he wanted to have the sight all to himself and keep it forever. 


Hatching another greedy master plan, Xingqiu grabbed a nearby apron off the hook in the wall and closed in on the unsuspecting person bathed in light. 


Chongyun had heard the hasty footsteps and was about to turn around when he felt the sudden hot breath running down his shoulder. A hand was trailing its way up his chest and he stiffened realising that Xingqiu was practically hugging him from behind. 


“What are you…” He didn’t finish his sentence as his eyes fell on the apron and realised that Xingqiu was just putting it on for him. But this was really… just… a little… His heartbeat pounded at the feeling of Xingqiu’s hands slowly working around his waist to tie the strap into a knot. It was so slow that Chongyun suspected he was doing it on purpose, but couldn’t find the words in his mouth to question it. His thoughts were jumbled into a mess as he tried to resume the chopping, trying his best to ignore the distracting yang energy threatening to burst forth in his chest as he felt Xingqiu’s chin rest on his shoulder. 


“You’re very good at this, how about we do this more often?” 


Chongyun felt the vibrations of Xingqiu’s voice travelling up his neck and his face grew hot. After a long, arduous silence, Chongyun felt a little whine build up in his throat and gave in. “You’re such a bully.” 


“A bully?” Xingqiu repeated with a fake surprise, and something in his tone sent warnings through Chongyun’s mind that he was treading dangerous waters. The apron was already tied, yet Xingqiu wasn’t retracting his arm or showing any intent to. 


Chongyun hurriedly tried to change the topic. “A-Are you finished with the mist-” 


He wasn’t able to finish whatever he was saying as Xingqiu swiftly pushed the knife and chopping board to the side and flipped him around to peer directly into his eyes. Their faces now alarmingly close as Xingqiu’s nasty smirk made Chongyun’s legs feel like jelly. 


“Forget the flowers.” 


Chongyun found Xingqiu’s sweaty hands intertwining with his own as he leaned in. 


“Let me show you what a real bully looks like.” 


“Young master?”


Xingqiu grimaced as he heard the annoying voice of his pesky servant. 


“Young master, you’ll catch a cold.” Servant Xu draped a coat around his shoulders. 


He said nothing. He could barely register the warmth from the fabric covering his body - it was like life had stilled and stopped him in his place. A punishment, maybe, for assuming things about Chongyun in order to protect his pride. He’d convinced himself a reality that was false, a reality that let him go about his day without needing to deal with any guilty feelings - or any feelings at all. It was so cowardly, so… unrighteous. 


Now the bitterness of an incomplete reality was slapping him hard in the face. It was a harsh wake-up call that left him undeniably and utterly lost. The events that unfurled in the mere span of a few days had left him wallowing in helplessness and confusion as if blindfolded in a thick fog. Nothing made sense, the more he thought about the past, the more he felt that he was missing something, something very important. 


“Mr Albedo sent a letter… would you like me to read it out for you? Young master?” 


Completely distracted by his thoughts, Xingqiu gave the slightest of nods as his eyes remained unfocused at the dull scenery beyond his window. A bird fluttered away from the barren tree, a leaf blew over the grey footpath, wild flowers peeked out of the cracks in the concrete, so desperately trying to fight till the arrival of spring. 


“Dear Xingqiu. As I am sure you are aware, the agreed deadline for the illustration submission of your new novel is slowly approaching. I'd like to inquire about the specific date you intend to arrive in Mondstat, so that necessary preparations can be made in advance. I look forward to reading and illustrating your masterful work as I did last time. Sincerely, Albedo.” 


Servant Xu shuffled uncomfortably after he finished, as if expecting some sort of response. He awkwardly crinkled the letter paper as he shifted from side to side. “Well…? Young Master?” 


“Next month.” 


“NEXT!- Sorry, I meant, next month?!” The poor servant spluttered, losing his usual calm composure. “The deadline IS next month!” 


“Then when do you think is appropriate?” Xingqiu replied in a monotone voice. These days he hadn’t put much thought into the upcoming publication of his novel, in fact, he could barely remember the contents of the story. All of it felt insignificant if that person wasn’t there to witness it by his side. 


Servant Xu’s jaw fell open as he gaped like a fish out of water. The young master must have completely lost it to be asking someone like him for advice. This made servant Xu increasingly cautious as he pondered the question in his head. He wanted to suggest going as soon as possible, but given the young master’s current state he doubted this would be a good idea. Plucking up the courage from every cell in his body, servant Xu scrunched up the letter in his hand. 


“Leave in one week.” 


The young master bit his lip. “Two weeks.”