Chapter 1: 1
When Venti wakes, it is with the strange scent of sweet almond clinging to his clothes, and a vague recollection of how he’d gotten tucked gently into the branches of his tree. He doesn’t like the lingering taste of wine on his lips, because he much more prefers it going down rather than sticking around like an unwelcome guest, but that scent alone is enough to ease the lingering hangover--something he'd noticed he was more susceptible to, since the loss of his Gnosis. He may have been able to put down as many bottles as any immortal could, but this body certainly had a few drawbacks, as well.
This time, it’s easier to ignore than it usually is, and his intoxication at the time hadn't been so powerful that he couldn’t remember the rush of wind around him, rivaled only by a pair of comfortably strong arms. It had been years—even centuries, maybe, since he had come across Alatus, and still the Adepti managed to imprint so strongly on his thoughts that Venti found himself pink in the cheeks when he found the small cecilia flower that the other had left tucked against his cap.
For such an ungodly grumpy bastard, Xiao certainly did know how to leave an impression, didn’t he?
Venti would have a hard time getting him out of the forefront of his mind for weeks—and that certainly prove true as the days passed. Each one accompanied some sort of a wistful sigh and a wandering mind, the pluck of a string that seemed out of place for a few of his more popular pieces. When he sings, it's of an Adeptus who wore the face of a demon, but who was too pretty for his own good, in secret. He spins tales of Liyue, and of the beast who held back the demons, more fierce than any dragon. Maybe he's a little kind to Xiao in his stories.
Except for the parts where he points out how awkward he could be, how his most winning trait was how foolishly shy he was in the face of those who were willing to accept him. To say it was self-projection would be embarrassing, because Xiao was no more shy than the Geo Archon was a real 'blundering buffoon.' When he doesn't play, though... Well, he lets his mind wander to wondering if Xiao thinks of him just as much as he finds himself conjuring those sharp features to mind.
It’s Diluc who calls him out from behind the bar at the Angel’s Share, half ready to strangle the bard after his thirteenth dissociative smile: “Get out and don’t come back until you’re not tripping over yourself in puppy-love. It’s annoying.” Bless the Ragnvindrs for being so terribly blunt, because Venti had taken all of two minutes to give him a look of mock offense before the words settled in.
“Are you truly one to talk? In matters of love, don’t you balk?” Venti asked instead, giving a few other of the bar regulars a knowing look, earning a scoff from his red-haired acquaintance. Had Diluc’s hands not been busy with mixing a drink for a man at the bar, he might have thrown Venti out himself. The bard is quick enough to take the hint and slip out of the Angel’s Share, skipping from the door with not a drink to his name to show his lackluster efforts of playing that afternoon.
Honestly, how rude of Xiao to plant himself so firmly in his attentions. Hundreds of years and Venti had finally started to forget him and-- Venti’s nearly knocked over by a small child rushing down the street, barely stopping to apologize before running off to one of the various food stalls set up in the streets of Mondstadt; the details of which finally caught his gaze. Ah, no, he knew those decorations, and he knew this time of year as well, but it sank in his senses with the threat of stunning him.
Had Venti been so wrapped up in the thoughts of the other night that he’d nearly missed the full swing of Ludi Harpastum? He felt as if he'd travelled the city of his nation in a daze until Diluc had shaken him out of his reverie with such foolish words like 'love.'
No, Venti wouldn’t forgive this that easily.
Really, there was only one thing that could be done about this. If Xiao was going to haunt his every living moment of attention, he may as well be there for it, and Mondstadt’s yearly festival provided more than enough of an excuse for him to demand a little penance for the crime the Adepti likely didn't even know he was committing.
Chapter 2: 2
There is one way to get Xiao’s attention—and unfortunately for Xiao, Venti knows it.
He has the Traveler to thank for beguiling him with his stories of Liyue thus far; there are only so many ‘boy-Adepti’ that can frequent such strange places as the top of the Wangshu Inn, beguiled and won over by a dish that may not have screamed of sugar, but Venti knows that he won’t find him there. If the Traveler has already spoken to him in such a spot, Xiao will not linger in a place where he can be found again.
It’s a favor from Rex Lapis (one that he knows he will pay for later by way of contracts and dealing, sure) that tells him he rarely leaves Guili Plains, and that is where Venti begins—standing on the curve of rock at the highest point of a set of ruins, with his hands cupped around his cheeks, mustering every bit of power in his lungs to scream.
“Alatuuuuuuuus! I brought you tofu! Aether said you liked tofu! Is my tofu not good enough? Does it not have the right stuff? Atlatus, how much you wound me, and I shall cry until your face I see!” He can’t keep a straight face, especially when Xiao appears before him, landing hard with the butt of his spear driving into the ground first to soften the impact. The sour expression Xiao wears suggests he is not impressed by Venti’s echoing shouts, but… it’s a scowl that softens when Venti’s laughter echoes out at the sight of him. "I’m afraid I’ve tricked you, old friend! I don’t have any almond tofu on me at all.”
He’s suddenly aware of the eyes on him dropped away, averting quickly with some defensiveness in his posture rising. “That’s not why I came. You’d wake half the dead of the Guili Plains shouting like a maniac. You were noisy.” Xiao accused quietly, though Venti, grinning like a fool, seemed impervious to whatever reprimand the other could offer.
“That was the idea!” He steps forward, closing the space between them without hesitation, prodding the other playfully at the front of the shoulder. “If I wasn’t loud, you would have just stayed hidden away in whatever dark corner you’ve situated yourself in, and ignored me.”
He’s right, but Xiao won’t give him the pleasure of knowing that. Instead, he gave a slow exhale through barely restrained tension in his jaw. “What do you want, Barbatos?” It lacks the quiet tenderness that Venti so distinctly remembers through his wine-haze before Xiao had brought him home, but that’s fine. He’ll wheedle that back out of him sooner or later.
“I owe you a drink,” Venti announces, but his hands are decidedly empty, and Xiao quirks a brow.
“You remember that?” He’d assumed it’d be lost in whatever hangover the other had been well on the way towards when he’d tucked him into the bows of his great tree. “I was being facetious. I don’t want anything.”
“Now now,” Venti scolds, grinning right up almost flush with Xiao’s face. When had Xiao let him get so close without noticing. “Don’t you follow the law of Morax, the God of Contracts? Isn’t demanding something in exchange for a service a contract? I owe you, so that means you have to let me make good on my debt, too.”
The Anemo Archon is right, the smug little bastard. Venti watches as Xiao debates with himself internally, firmly, on refusing him. He could give a hundred little excuses, that it was his duty to look after Liyue, that it was ridiculous to pull him away on whatever light-hearded adventure brewed behind the light in Venti’s eyes.
Really, he can’t find it in himself to refuse that smile. “...One drink,” he agreed, the sigh in his tone audible. He glares away, but if Venti looks closely, he can see red there on pale cheeks. He beams in response, and reaches for Xiao’s hand. Before the Adeptus can pull away, the winds are whipping around them both, lifting them upwards and into the air. Though Xiao has long since adapted into the flow of wind as Venti’s Blessing let him control, Venti moved as if he was the very wind itself, and
he spun around Xiao just as the updraft did, close the cradling him, before they’re up and going.
Xiao never likes not being able to get his footing, and truly, he could already fly—but Barbatos likes to show off when he can, and the Archon is more powerful with the currents that carry them than what he is used to. It seemed even without a Gnosis, that power was difficult to compare to.
“Great!” Venti announces, and Xiao has a hard time looking at him, because he is practically glowing, the hum of pleasant green along his cheeks a tell-tale sign of his magic through the tips of his hair, and the brightness to his eyes. How he managed to fit in with humans as well as he did was truly a mystery. “It should only take a few days!”
Xiao struggles to not gape, suddenly deeply aware that he might be in over his head. “Days-?” He half-shouts over the rush of air. The skies were always louder, somehow, than even the shouts of humans that roam the earth below. The winds were stronger, but they bow to the Archon guiding him.
Venti just laughs, and the wind buffets them as it carries them towards Mondstadt. Xiao can think of little more than how the chill that normally comes from moving along the winds is stifled by the warmth of Venti’s hand clasping his own.
By ‘drink,’ Xiao quickly learns that Venti means ‘Ludi Harpastrum has two days left, and I expect you to be my company for it.’ It’s not in so many words as that, and truly, Venti doesn’t even have to say it aloud for Xiao to get the hint, but as they land somewhere high atop Mondstadt, undoubtedly unnoticed by the citizens enraptured by the festivities in full swing, a discomfort wells somewhere in his shoulders, spreading tension through them in a way that was hard for Venti to miss.
It only causes a moment of apprehension, in which he looks over with a falter to the bemused smiles that had accompanied their surprisingly short journey. Normally a flight anywhere near the border of Mondstadt, on the few occasions that Xiao had tried, took close to a day. Venti had them on the top tower of the Knight of Favonius’ headquarters in a little under an hour.
He offers resistance when Venti tries to tug them forward off of the cliff; Xiao does not think that the playful deity will truly let them fall to the ground with any real impact, but he does not budge.
With how pliant Xiao had been in going along with his antics thus far, his sudden hesitation is at least a bit concerning. Venti lingers for a second, not willing to let his hand go, but a certain awareness of the other’s restraint is enough to sober the silly little grin he’d been wearing since they’d lifted off on Liyue.
“Afraid of the unknown? That’s unlike you.” It’s not quite a tease, but it’s light enough to not hold any heaviness as he pries for a little bit of an explanation. Xiao frowns further.
“I know your people live particularly free, but they are still humans,” Xiao reminds slowly.
Venti remembers the other’s careful avoidance of humanity all at once, forgotten with just how easily Xiao had gone along with him; to his credit, he may not have been human, but Xiao had moved around him with surprising carefulness compared to how Venti remembered him usually greeting the Archons on their visits to Morax, so long ago. Did Xiao consider him human now too, in a way? The thought is laughable, but he can’t make himself even chuckle at it.
Instead, he takes a step away from the edge, lessening the tension between their arms. When he smiles, it’s with a little encouragement. “Humans who have carved this city from the wilderness and live safely within the walls,” Venti reminded carefully. It’s how his rule had deviated so far from Morax, who had been steadfast in offering guidance to his people, even if it was only once a year. Venti was proud of what his followers had been able to attain, but he can see Xiao’s hesitations lingering still. “What are you afraid of?”
“I do not wish to hurt them.” With anyone else, Xiao may have been abrupt and passed off such concerns as inconveniences. Venti can appreciate his honesty, though.
“You are my guest,” Venti reminds, steadfast. “But you assume that I’ll let you hurt them.” Wayward god and hands off as he may have been, he had no question that he would be able to defend his people. So often did he leave them to their own means, to fight their own battles with just a touch of divine intervention when necessary. Xiao was not a force that he would leave them to their own devices with.
But if he thought that Xiao was any real threat, he would not have carried him on the fastest winds to have him visit, too. That knowledge is what has Xiao pause, before he took a step forward with a measured exhale.
“Lead the way, then.”
His compliance earns him that warm smile again, and Venti chooses a particularly out-of-the-way spot to lower them to the city streets below.
Ludi Harpastrum tended to benefit most bards that knew how to take advantage of the city’s love of festivals. Normally, Venti would have been among their numbers, singing in the streets and taverns with no small shortage of ditties and ballads to his name. Surprisingly, he finds himself enjoying the weight of Xiao’s hand in his own where he’s wrapped his fingers around his palm, tugging him towards the main street.
“Do you have any Mora on you?” Venti asked, grinning a little sheepishly as he realized that he wouldn’t be able to treat the other to any of the stalls without it, and Xiao paused to lift a single brow.
“Aren’t you supposed to be paying for my drink?”
Venti laughs again, perhaps a little more embarrassed than he would have liked to admit, bringing his free hand to rub any rising tension from the back of his neck. “Right, right- listen, I will make good on that before Ludi Harpastrum’s end. Mark my words! A drink to you I will extend-” The rhyme does little to sooth Xiao’s evident doubt, but Venti’s smart enough to use the brief distraction to work them into the crowd gathering in the streets below, and he can only hope the teasing it enough to keep him from tensing with discomfort among the throngs of people.
Fortunately, Venti only has to try to distract him for so long before the gasps of childrens and adults alike begin to fill the air around them, with more than one hand reaching to point upwards to the top of the church. Though the statue of Barbatos above was traditionally not used until the last day of the Harpastrum, it seemed the wall surrounding it was more than fitting for the several figures that stood above the crowds below. Xiao squinted, and though he could see many of them prepping gliders, the crowd’s wonder at the figures was more than a little confusing.
Venti clarifies quickly, knowing those postures quite well. “It’s the Annual Gliding Competition. Whoever passes through the city’s gate first is given quite the reward.”
“They’re launching all at once?” Xiao asks doubtfully, unable to see how it was something reasonable to do for fun, much less competition.
Venti tilts forward up on his tip toes to see past a taller citizen infront of him, clearly at least a little invested in the sport. “They don’t all usually make it this far. Someone will win out.”
“That’s foolish, it sounds like-” The response is cut off, perhaps in part by the way Xiao’s eyes turn to the groups as they launch from the high wall all at once, Gliders of all colors, shapes, and sizes spreading at their arms.
“They look so fragile up there,” Xiao whispers under the roar of the crowd, his eyes trained on a particularly quick Glider clad all in red. “Like birds. Only you would convince them to do such things when they break so easily.”
“The Gliding Competition is something that they thought of all on their own. I only gave them the encouragement to spread their wings.” Venti only smiles, and in the cover of the crowd around them, he gives Xiao’s hand in his own a reassuring squeeze. Of could the Adepti, so familiar with how fragile humans could be, would worry of such little things. “They’re more sturdy than you know.”
As am I. It’s unspoken, but the softness in Venti’s voice, the sheer affection he holds for the people of his land still, takes Xiao by surprise. For a moment, their eyes meet again, and Xiao remembers a battlefield of blood and misery and the softness of that tone wrapping around him, too, for some mysterious reason.
He’s never felt a kinship for the people of Liyue in the same way he feels for those of Mondstadt in that moment, but then again, the people of Liyue share another god’s Blessing entirely. He seems almost as if he’s about to say something, before someone shouts near them, the cheers of the crowd beginning to spoil into something of horror. The Ordo Favonius’s Outrider had clearly been mere minutes away from her next victory this year, her risky shifts and natural skill carrying her high enough above her opponents that she’d be able to safely swoop the gate behind them—until half of her Glider snapped at the wing, cutting her height and control to nothing.
She’s too high up—a fall from that height will kill her.
Xiao’s tense in that moment, and Venti can tell that he’s ready to jump in. Spur of the moment and steadfast, Venti sidesteps closer, wrapping his arm around Xiao’s waist and keeping him in place.
“Let go-?! She’s going to-”
“Watch,” Venti whispers, because he knows his people, he knows their innovation, he knows their brilliance-
Amber takes a sharp breath, reaching upwards for the thick scarf that makes up the ears of her bow as she falls, dragging it quickly down to hang on the wrecked frame of her Glider, hooking it into the mangled mess of light wiring that made up the frame. It’s clumsy but quick and truly, a miracle of work. Her new makeshift wing is not enough to carry her far by any means, but she swoops low enough over the crowd that a man nearly gets his hat taken off, and the Adeptus and Archon feel the breeze together as she makes a roll-landing right through the gate.
The crowd surges around them, jostling them both, but they’re close enough to not get separated or run over as Amber is lifted above the crowd who cheers for their Four-time winner of the Gliding Championship. It leaves Venti laughing with the adrenaline of the show as well, while he tugs Xiao gingerly out of the rush of the crowd hoisting their Outrider along.
Even Xiao is impressed, because he doesn’t seem to realize the little, breathless smile lingering just-barely on his features. Venti could kiss it away, really, for the warmth that it inspires in his chest—but he worries he would never see it again, if so. “How did you know she’d manage?”
Venti only shook his head, grinning again. “I didn’t. If she didn’t pull that off, I would have buffered the fall, but… You have to let them live, sometimes. People deserve that freedom, don’t you think? To fall, and to catch themselves. To save themselves without relying on someone always silently watching.”
Xiao struggles to not think of the implication of those words for the rest of the afternoon they share. The city offers enough more than enough in the festival to keep them busy, between the free samples of food and drink each stall tries to win over new customers with, to the game booths that Venti drags him to.
Xiao wins the test of strength eight times before the man running it nearly begs him to stop. Venti is suspiciously good at throwing darts, and Xiao watches him for any tell-tale signs of glow to his hair, stunned when he finds nothing but a playful wink and a smile turned his way.
The night approaches unexpectedly fast, for what little time feels to have passed, and Venti shows Xiao his favorite place in the city: clasped in the hands that are a mirror-image of his own, settled comfortably against the soft stone there. For the second time in a far too short amount of time, Xiao finds Venti curling warmly up at his side, dozing off.
He has promised him two days. This time, when he carries Venti to the grand tree in the fields outside of the city, he sits against him in the boughs, standing guard until he, too, drifts to sleep.
Barbatos has slept often in the boughs of his tree, nestled in the comfort of knowing that he could usually catch himself on the threat of falling if he rolled a little too far. The base of each branch is generally impressively thick, so it’s rarely a problem in the first place.
This, however, does not make any of it particularly comfortable. With his own hat or a particularly thick bustle of leaves serving as his regular pillow, the god is sure there are many more comfortable places to rest. Unfortunately, so few of them are easily accessible in the guise of ‘Venti.’ For this reason, and this reason alone, he’s moderately surprised when he finds himself not only comfortable when he starts to rouse on the last day of the Ludi Harpastum, but warm, as well. He can tell by the wind that he is in his tree once more, but there is something else there. It’s not amiss, but it’s certainly new.
With a hesitant blink, he was very careful not to move or shift—and he was rewarded, because of it.
He had long wondered if the Adepti of Liyue slept as often as they might need to. Barbatos has spent many a year in sleep—either in the doubt that his people needing him, or the lingering regret over certain mistakes. Xiao’s expression is surprisingly peaceful, in sleep. His back is curled against the tree itself, and the mixed strands of the colors of his hair brush forward against his cheeks where his head has tilted forward. At some point, he’d let Venti’s head rest back against his lap, which explained the warmth and the softness under his shoulders—if one could consider the pleasant muscle that made the other’s thighs a little firm under him ‘soft,’ which Venti very much did.
Xiao is prettier without the weight of the world on his shoulders, Venti thinks. It’s an expression that he feels privileged to, because he is so very certain that he is the only one who has seen Xiao like this in a very, very long time. Did even the other Adepti lower their guards around one another, in their strange formality and their divinities? Just short of gods themselves, did they allow one another kindness, or had war hardened them even now?
His hand moves of its own accord, lifting slowly enough to try and not disturb the other, and brushes against Xiao’s cheekbone. The touch has the Adeptus tense all at once, inhaling sharply as his hand snapped up, catching Venti’s. Tension had bled through him as his eyes snapped open. Venti catches his pupils narrow like blades, catlike and alarmed that he wasn’t alone. The grip on his hand is enough to bruise and make his bones ache. Barbatos has felt worse.
“It’s just me,” he offers, softly, to bring Xiao back to the tree, to the other arm curled around Venti’s shoulder—and away from whatever battlefield waged in the dreams that the fates were kind or cold enough to offer one of the scariest living weapons to ever roam the lands. Xiao’s hold loosened, and he relaxed with a quiet, tense breath.
Instead of pulling his hand back from the tight grasp, Venti double downs, and lets his palm brush up against the other’s cheek. Xiao looks as if he might want to flinch from the kindness of the touch, but he steels himself, and instead closes his eyes again.
“You trusted me enough to sleep here,” Venti points out, no shortage of pride in his tone.
Xiao doesn’t have an easy answer for it, but he’s spent so long being cold and hard and sarcastic that it makes him afraid to ruin the small motion of affection. Instead, he simply tilted his head gingerly into the brush of Venti’s thumb, reminding himself that he’d have to work much harder than normal to hurt this bundle of fresh breezes and cheeky comments. “Was I supposed to sleep on the ground below?”
Venti laughs, and slowly tilts himself to sit up, sitting with his legs dangling over the edge of the branch. “No. I just didn’t expect it. You’re welcome to come nap with me whenever, you know.”
“You have a bad reputation for oversleeping,” Xiao answered with no hostility, and it makes the Archon snicker.
“I suppose I do. Maybe I just need someone who will wake me up on time.” Venti answered, his tone perhaps a little wistful. It’s not as suggestive as it could be, but before they can linger on it, Venti pushes himself from the branches of the tree. He hovers there for a moment, the wind holding up his weight as if it were nothing. “It’s the last day. I’ll let you go back after this.”
His hand is extended again. Xiao wonders if it’s a curse to be sent back to what he has in Liyue, or if being so intrinsically involved with Barbatos is more dangerous than fighting the evils of the world alone.
Xiao’s hand fits against Venti’s like a glove, no matter how different the callouses of the lyre and the spear may be.
The Anemo Archon drops them to the ground gently not far off from the bridge, just out of sight for the power of flight to be noticed as strange, and together, they make their way through the crowds again this time, neither needing the food that Venti picked off of free platters for them, nor the sweet wine handed out in small, disposable cups made of paper and wax to get more product out by name to coax the festival’s patrons back for more later.
“Have you ever heard of the Ludi Harpastum’s final day?” Venti asks, when he notices the crowd starting to form again. Xiao, who knows very little of festivals and things that could be considered fun outside of Liyue and battles that humans dared not cross, shakes his head.
“But I’m sure you’ll tell me?” The words normally come more dry, but he thinks he could listen to Venti talk about the simplicity of the festivals of Mondstadt’s people all day.
“It’s not that far off from the handball games of Liyue, if you really think about it. On the final day, the one who has won the most games of the festivals will choose a maiden to throw a harpastum to the crowd.” Venti takes his wrist this time, not wanting to occupy his hands too much. It doesn’t take much coaxing this time, though Xiao still seems a little hyper-aware of being surrounded by humans so close—humans who did not know all of the tales of Adepti, and their place in the world. Mondstadt’s civilians continued to live with a surprising lack of care for such formalities.
“Are there not injuries?”
Venti frees his wrist, and his gaze leaves Xiao up to the statue of Barbatos at the church’s courtyards among every other citizen of the town. “Sometimes. Usually the throw falls short, and the fastest of the town will chase forward. The one who picks it up or catches it will usually have a year of happiness.”
“How would a children’s toy guarantee that?” Xiao asked, with some small skepticism rising to his tone. He could understand the touch of magic, should there be one, but… this was a very elaborate game simply played by humans.
Morax would likely chide him at this point, and tell him some long story about how faith in something had long guided the attentions of humans, no matter how misguided that faith may be. The strange creatures had the ability to will practically anything into existence, and that had been proven time and time again.
“Why don’t you see for yourself?” Venti asks, his gaze bright as he flashes up to where so much of the attention of the crowd lingered. Xiao had scarcely realized that Venti’s hypotheticals and explanations had been a lead up to the climax of the festival itself. A maiden stood alone, clasped in their god’s stone hands at his statue, and Xiao could see the little bundle of red wrapped carefully in her hands. The crowd is thrumming to life already again—and without much more warning than that, the harpastum is chucked with considerable force down to the crowds below.
Xiao scarcely knows to look at the way the girl wavers dangerously on the edge of the statue, or to try and track the ball that’s already soaring through the sky. Venti, however, knows that she will be fine—and he’s much more focused on his own objective.
It’s cheating. Venti knows it is cheating… but is the one who catches the harpastum not also known as the one blessed by the favor of Barbatos himself?
The tips of his braids let off a soft, subtle glow that goes unnoticed by those around him, Xiao included. For a moment, it seems as if the ball will fall short, until the strangest gust of wind swings it upwards. It’s a careful amount of work to make it look like it was bouncing out of every hand that reached for it, until it landed with the gentlest ‘thud’ against Xiao’s chest. It falls into his stunned hands, and it’s another beautiful little expression that Venti isn’t treated to often. Surprise as the crowd circles them both, and cheers for Xiao, a dozen different people congratulating him and clasping the poor Adeptus on the shoulder, clearly unaware that he was far, far more than simply another lucky human who had supposedly been blessed by Barbatos himself with the harpastum this year.
He’s nearly swept off from Venti, jerking his head back to reach for him as the crowd moved them along. Though there were more than two taverns in the city, the drinks slid Xiao’s way are from all manners of private stock and price. The one who catches the harpastum is truly celebrated, after all, a sign of good luck to come for all of them. Venti manages to grasp his hand, entwining their fingers before they can be separated—and truly, Xiao finds himself surprised that Venti doesn’t partake in just as many drinks as he likes from all of the ones offered Xiao’s way. They’re paraded from tavern to tavern, until they finally end up at a place that Venti calls ‘one of his favorites,’ even though the red haired man behind the bar looks like he could throw Venti out by the scruff if the bard hums even an off-tune verse.
He had partaken in only a few drinks, when they settle in a comfortable corner in the Angel’s Share. Despite his love of wine, Venti clearly wants to stay sober, just to enjoy seeing his city welcoming Xiao in such a way. Xiao may not have been this fortunate, feeling a little light-headed and warm in the cheeks, but the citizens of Mondstadt had been more than welcoming, he was starting to find. He sits in the corner with his...nineteenth? Twentieth? Free cup since he’d caught the harpastum, and Venti slides into the seat next to him.
“I told you,” he teases as the hours fade through the day, and people finally start leaving the two of them alone to celebrate the close of the festival. “I would get you that drink, didn’t I?”
Xiao scoffs, and turns to the other with a little sway. “I don’t think this counts.”
Venti only grins, setting his elbow on the table. “Then what would count.”
“A drink from you,” Xiao started, trying to find just the right words to try and hold the other to this odd little contract that both knew they didn’t have to keep. “Instead of all of Mondstadt.”
Venti seems to ruminate over the words carefully, before he takes the cup from Xiao’s hand, tilting back a swallow. Xiao starts to open his mouth, to point out that this might mean Venti owes him even more, before lips are over his own, and Venti parts them both between them to slip the sweet taste of wine past Xiao’s own. Venti is slow and deliberate, feeding him just a sip of the borrowed drink in the shadows of the tavern, and Xiao does his best not to choke on it for his shock when Venti pulls back once more.
His smile is a little more sly than normal. “There, Alatus,” he offers, “Before on your deal you may rethink, from me you certainly had your drink.”
Xiao could kill him for the play on words of all times, but he’s clumsy, pleasantly tipsy and flush with warmth that was hardly the alcohol on both of their tongues. Too busy to look mortified and play it off as unpleasant, he grabs Venti by those soft cheeks, one in each hand, and kisses him right back.
He would be damned if he allowed another Archon to direct his fate and fade out of his life again.
That's the finale for this one! Thank you sticking along for the ride! It's an ending that might not be a permanent ending but it's certainly an ending for this particular story.