The first time, Keqing meets her by chance.
(Later on, Mona will say otherwise— I’ve already told you it was fate, or something along those lines, and Keqing will fight the urge to roll her eyes but huff out a chuckle nonetheless, because she’s grown attached to this enigmatic astrologist, ridiculousness and all.)
In the moment, however, the wind blows through Keqing’s hair, and she blinks rapidly as the long grass of the Guili Plains rustles about her. Above, the late afternoon sky has stained itself in oranges and pinks, not a cloud to be seen, and Keqing would be promptly returning to the Wangshu Inn for her overnight stay were it not for a rather peculiar sight.
There’s a strange girl in the ruins tonight, her dark figure an intriguing silhouette against the dying light, and there’s something otherworldly about seeing her here, standing apart from the soft shadows that dance off dilapidated stone walls.
Something sparkles, and Keqing’s mouth parts in surprise as she notices the way water seems to playfully leap from this stranger’s hand, as if it has a mind of its own. From her fingertips, the water weaves in and out, around and around, before plunging downwards and rippling across the plains in waves; an ocean far from sea.
Keqing watches this all in fascination— she's met others with Visions before, of course she has, and she's watched Xingqiu wield his Hydro abilities with ease, but she's never seen anything like this.
The sky remains in its soft sunset, and yet there are stars in this girl's water, stars on this girl's clothes, and Keqing, transfixed, wonders if there would be stars in this girl's eyes as well.
But then pale green meets dark amethyst, and Keqing is tugged out of her daze the moment she realizes this strange girl is smiling back at her, eyes shimmering in amusement, and oh, there are stars there too.
"You're here," the girl says, clearly pleased. She beckons for Keqing to come closer, her sea of stars vanishing with the simple snap of her fingers. "It took you long enough."
Keqing regards her warily, although she cautiously approaches nonetheless. "Why do you sound as though you've been expecting me?"
“Because I have been, Lady Yuheng,” the stranger replies with a hum. She crosses the remaining distance with ease, surveying Keqing up and down before nodding in acceptance, hands on her hips, pleased smile quirking up into a confident smirk. “I will say, you’ve managed to surpass my expectations. For that, I will commend you.”
“Just what are you talking about?” Keqing asks, a hint of desperation slipping into her tone, because forgive her, but she is so, so painfully confused.
Her befuddlement earns her a laugh.
“My apologies, I should have introduced myself prior.”
Overhead, the sky has shifted, the first twinklings of stars peeking out from behind the darkening canvas. Oddly enough, the night sky reminds Keqing strangely of the young woman now standing before her, Mona’s purple and black leotard beautifully accented by intricate gold sequence.
“I am the Astrologist Mona Megistus, and it is my greatest pleasure to meet you, Lady Keqing, Yuheng of the Liyue Qixing.” A tip of a wide-brimmed hat, a barely repressed grin, the jingle of star-shaped hair ornaments on the ends of twin-tails. “Our meeting was foretold in the cosmos, and I do believe that you and I will come to learn a lot about each other.”
"You're quite the character," Keqing tells her, moments later.
Mona's only response is a self-satisfied smirk that has Keqing bursting into laughter, all the weight of a long day's work seemingly lifting off of her shoulders all thanks to this random girl's antics.
"I needed that," Keqing admits.
"I know," Mona says, chuckling. "You're welcome."
Keqing shoots her a questioning look.
Mona merely brandishes her hand out again, her mystical water splashing about, and then an aquatic sigil appears in a burst. The astrologist beckons her closer, and curiously Keqing closes the distance.
Amidst the sigil is what appears to be a constellation— Mona's constellation? Keqing knows little of the actual practice of astrology, but she's seen Sumeru's astrolabes before, famous for allowing those to read the stars, and without a doubt, Mona's aquatic blue sigil bears a striking resemblance to one.
Ah, so that's how.
"That must come in handy," she comments.
"On occasion," Mona agrees. She flexes her gloved hands, and Keqing observes them keenly, as though never knowing when water would leap to life from them again. "Hydromancy is a flexible art— it suits my astrological purposes well."
"Your water has stars in it," Keqing points out.
"Yes, it does," Mona tells her with a smirk. "My water can do many things."
"Oh? Like what?"
"Can it take my weary soul back to where I'm staying the night at the Wangshu Inn?"
"It can in exchange for some Almond Tofu."
"You have yourself a deal."
With that, Mona smiles and surges forward, a glimmer in her eye, taking a startled Keqing by the wrist. Their gazes lock, and a sphere of water rises around them.
"Do you trust me?" Mona asks.
It feels like she's asking for some bigger picture that Keqing can't fathom, at least not yet. So she ponders the question for just a heartbeat in time.
It's strange, because they've just met, because Mona is a foreign stranger and Keqing is a Liyue Qixing, because despite all of these facts, the only answer Keqing seems capable of saying is—
Mona's smile only seems to widen in elation, and with a laugh, the water encapsulates them both, and they're off, leaving the Guili Plains behind in the growing night.
She hands Mona the Almond Tofu, fresh out of Wangshu Inn's kitchen.
"Will I be seeing you again?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet." Mona lifts both hands in a nonchalant shrug. "We shall just have to see."
Keqing crosses her arms.
"You'll keep me guessing, then."
"I have to keep you on your toes."
Mona hums, and then with a dainty wave, she strides off into the evening, Keqing staring after her until the lantern lights of Wangshu Inn no longer cast upon the astrologist's figure; until Mona's ornate, starry hat fades into the nighttime.
The next time they meet, it’s a month later in the heart of Liyue Harbor, when Keqing has just left the Yuehai Pavilion after a meeting with the rest of the Qixing.
She finds the astrologist sitting idly in the Yujing Terrace, gazing at the red and black splattered fish that swim along the walkways. Mona is unmistakable, with her starry clothing and wide-brimmed hat amongst the few common folk who mingle around the terrace. Much to Keqing’s surprise, no one seems to pay much attention to the foreign figure, merely going about their business and leaving the the astrologist to hers.
Mona perks up when she draws near.
“There you are!” Mona exclaims, dusting herself off as she stands up, brushing off a stray lock of hair from her shoulder. “You'll always keep me waiting, won't you?”
I didn’t even know you were here, is what Keqing could say. She doesn’t though, because after a long day of dealing with people she has to see far too often against the wellbeing of her own mental health, Mona is more than a welcome sight.
“You can blame my coworkers for running overtime,” the Yuheng says instead with a shrug. Bless Ningguang for cutting in through the elders’ arguments, I thought we would never wrap up.
“Oh that’s right, you work with that Ningguang woman.”
“Can you read minds too?” Keqing asks.
Mona’s smile is sly. “Not quite. I’m friends with a certain traveler who asked me to scry on the Tianquan last time we convened in Mondstadt. Ningguang has suffered a great loss recently, so I was requested to see how she was doing.”
That’s right, the Jade Chamber was sacrificed. Briefly, Keqing wonders whether all of Mondstadt is up-to-date with the happenings of their neighboring nation, or if Mona simply knows these things from the stars. It’s probably a combination of both.
“You do astrological business dealings with Lumine?”
“Business dealings?” Mona looks repulsed at the very notion, and she shakes her head vehemently. “No, no, I never use astrology for profit. Nevertheless, Lumine and Paimon have helped me in the past. I do all my readings for free, but this scry was also a special favor for friends.”
“For free?” Keqing raises an eyebrow.
“Yes, for free,” Mona confirms, and then there’s that telltale sparkle in her eye. “And with that being said, you must understand the situation I am in. I don’t tell just anyone this, so treat me to dinner? I can’t pay you back in Mora, but I can accompany you on that expedition you were assigned today— the one about investigating the earthquakes at Nantianmen?”
“Of course you know about that,” Keqing says, somehow unsurprised. “Are the celestial bodies really that specific?”
“When you learn to read their movements like I have, you’d be surprised how willing they are to open up in conversation.” Mona smirks.
“I guess it can’t be helped then,” Keqing sighs, dramatically. What’s the harm? She was already heading out to eat anyway. “Have you ever been to Liyue Harbor’s best restaurant?”
They sit at Wanmin Restaurant not long after, Mona admitting to never sticking around long enough to try the famous restaurant. As the waiters bring out their spread of dishes, Keqing tells her about Xiangling, the young chef who had risen in popularity ever since she’d started taking over her father’s restaurant.
“She’s rather… experimental with her concoctions.” Keqing wrinkles her nose. She picks up her chopsticks, deciding whether to indulge in the chicken or shrimp first. “There was one time I was going to hire her for a small banquet, but all her sample dishes included lizard and slime.”
Mona laughs, most definitely picturing a distressed Keqing surrounded by strange foods.
“Well,” she says, settling back in her seat and she takes a spoonful of Black-Back Perch Stew. “I’m glad she’s able to make a living out of her talents.”
"Speaking of which, that reminds me— why do you not use astrology for profit?" Keqing wonders aloud. It's a question that's been nagging her for a while, since she’s aware that Liyue's own fortune tellers bring in quite the crowd. "Surely, many people would come to you for your accurate readings, and you'd have more than a sufficient, sustainable income."
"My readings are truths, are they not?" Mona asks in return. Unheedingly, she picks up her knife, skillfully twirling it around her fingers. Keqing watches the action in curious fascination, sees the way the look in Mona's eyes becomes contemplative.
“I don't believe people should need to pay to learn their truths,” the astrologist explains. “The blind girl shouldn't need to pay me to know the man she's in love with is too ashamed to return home, despite how he misses her. The boy on the bridge shouldn't need to pay me to know that his father won't return. People must already give up so much in return for the necessities to stay alive— they shouldn't have to give up more just to hear something they may or may not want to know. If it’s a truth that concerns them, it should be their right. The value of fate is incalculable, after all.
“That being said, there is practicality too,” she continues. “Astrology is to be used to gain insight into reality and observe destiny itself. It’s not to be used for mundane affairs. As I once explained to Paimon, if an astrologist thinks that their arts can solve all problems, they will be forsaken by the starry ether. If there’s no transaction involved, then I am free to choose where to employ my talents at will.”
Keqing nods, finding Mona's passionate display to be rather moving. Having lived in a nation where many are bent on solidifying their wealth from as early as possible, hearing such an outlook is… refreshing.
"I can really respect that," she tells the other girl truthfully. She picks up a piece of chili chicken, trains her eyes on it before looking back to Mona. "Practicality aside, I think that's very selfless of you. I know many others who would jump at the opportunity to establish a monopoly on such things. You easily could, with your proficiency."
"Who am I to discourage others from taking up astrology themselves?" A shrug rolls off Mona's shoulder, and she twirls her hair around a finger, sounding almost confused at the prospect. Keqing smiles to herself— how endearing. "We should never stop chasing knowledge. If only more people wished to seek more truths themselves— I have no doubt they'd be drawn to the prospect of astrology as well. I, for one, would love to teach others hydromancy, given they follow the right principles and showcase the proper understanding."
Distractedly, Mona flourishes her right hand out, a splash of vibrant water deftly dancing atop her fingertips. Keqing's eyes follow the movement in captivation. Despite having witnessed some of Mona's grander aquatic feats, she still finds herself charmed by all of the other girl's abilities, no matter how small in size.
"You're so skilled," Keqing says, earnest in her compliment. "It's like the water is an extension of you."
"Well, speak for yourself," Mona replies, good-naturally. She reaches for her previously neglected pair of chopsticks, and Keqing raises an amused eyebrow as Mona leans over the table to pick up a piece of shrimp, plopping it into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully. "You're called 'Driving Thunder' around these parts for a reason."
"So you do know how to use those," Keqing comments in an off-handed manner, to which Mona smirks, snapping the chopsticks open and closed. "And I didn't know that title was still going around."
She earns a quizzical look.
“Why wouldn’t it? With everything that’s been going on in Liyue, you’ve done the furthest thing from fade into obscurity.”
“While I appreciate the compliment,” Keqing smiles, sheepish. “I’m not sure it’s completely accurate.”
“Oh?” Mona leans forward imploringly. “Do tell.”
"I used to greatly overestimate my abilities," Keqing admits. "Recently, I came to the realization that there was so much I couldn’t do. I… I used to think I could take the place of an Archon. I was too proud, and I thought I could take on responsibilities that turned out to be far beyond my abilities. I needed to take a step back and reevaluate."
“Well, I can certainly applaud your self-awareness,” Mona chuckles. “I say this as someone who holds a lot of pride, myself.”
“You sound like someone who possesses quite a bit of self-awareness as well,” Keqing points out.
“Perhaps,” Mona muses, bringing her teacup up to her lips. “However, as humble as you've become, I do think it's fair for you to think highly of yourself.” She takes a sip, then pulls back, staring at the steaming liquid consideringly. Then, a smile blossoms, folding over the rim of the cup. “It's warranted— and if you don't believe you're worthy now, then at least eventually. After all, you're destined for greatness, Keqing. You're amazing.”
Taken aback by the other girl's blunt words, Keqing flushes. Across the table, Mona lets out an amused peel of laughter, and suddenly, the napkin in the lavender-haired girl's lap is very interesting.
"Did you see that in one of your astrological predictions?" Keqing mumbles.
Mona simply smiles, eyes crinkling into perfect crescent moons, and the delightedly smug way she cocks her head makes something stutter in Keqing's chest.
"No, there was no need for a prediction to tell me something so wonderfully inevitable at all."
“Ah!” Keqing yelps, immediately reaching to grab onto Mona as the ground beneath them trembles.
Mona, for the most part, looks rather undeterred, reaching around Keqing as the tremors continue to comfortingly pat the other girl’s arm. Traveling to Nantianmen had been no trouble at all, with Keqing knowing the shortened routes and Mona being well-accustomed to traversing terrain, being unable to teleport to places she hasn’t visited before— I needed a stronger visual connection to the area, the astrologist had explained, that, or a strong connection to a specific person on the other end to transport to.
“So there are earthquakes,” Mona ponders. Gradually, the shaking earth starts returning back to normal, and Keqing heaves a breath, trying to casually let go of her friend. “Could it be that they were caused by more of those Geovishaps we fought off earlier?”
“Perhaps the greater concentration of Geovishaps has something to do with it?” Keqing sighs, brushing herself off as she regains her footing.
“That could be it,” Mona agrees. She chances a look at their surroundings before flicking open her sigil with a splash of water. “Oh, we’ve come quite close to Mount Hulao.”
“We have.” Keqing frowns, something in the distance catching her eye. “Say, is that a little girl over there? Beneath that big tree with… blue veins?”
“How strange, I can’t get a read on the environment.” It’s Mona’s turn to frown, and casting her sigil away, she starts walking towards the tree, Keqing not far behind. “Come! We should talk to that girl. This isn’t the place for someone so young to be playing around.”
Not even five minutes later, Keqing already has regrets.
“You’re a little early…” the little girl trails off, turning to face Mona and Keqing with an oddly dreamy expression that sends shivers down Keqing’s spine. “Are you two here to witness the resurrection of the most ancient, most awe-inspiring individual in Liyue’s history?”
Keqing immediately raises an incredulous eyebrow, and she sees Mona look her way questioningly, as if the Yuheng actually held any answers.
“The resurrection?” Keqing asks slowly.
“The adepti thought to suppress it with trees,” the girl giggles, and Keqing feels very, very not safe. “Hah! Fools! Little did they know that after thousands of years… the trees that hold the beast shall surely become one with the beast…”
From where she stands a ways away, Mona shoots Keqing a warning glance, no doubt feeling the same strange vibes from this strange child.
“And lo,” she continues, “It shall stretch wide its arms, and unfurl its body, and reach out with its roots… And the ley lines of the world shall heed its call—”
“Keqing,” Mona hisses lowly, not daring to interrupt the small child. She side-steps closer, reaching out to brush her fingertips along the sleeve of Keqing’s shirt.
“—I imagine any significance we presume to have in the world will vanish for good.” The girl giggles once more, beaming up at the two young women as a shadow passes over her face. Keqing shudders at the creepy image— this had not been what she had planned for this excursion. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I don’t quite follow,” Keqing laughs warily, the sound holding no humor. Subconsciously, she takes a step backwards, Mona following suit.
“Oh, don’t worry…” The girl grins toothily, and that’s the last straw. “You will see.”
“Or, we won’t!” Mona interrupts, her voice a pitch higher than normal, and with that, she grabs Keqing’s wrist, that familiar sphere of water rising around them once more, whooshing them out of Nantianmen without another word.
“I am never going back to Nantianmen in my life. Ever.” Mona is indignant when they flash to Keqing’s residence in Liyue Harbor. She paces in front of Keqing from where the other girl sits on the bench outside.
“What, because of one creepy little girl?” Keqing grins, teasing.
“And because of the evil dragon sealed beneath that tree!” The astrologist crosses her arms. “There was a gravestone nearby, and I do not want to be around whenever this Shi Zhenzi creature emerges like that child said it would. Plus, my vision was frighteningly obscured in that region— never again.”
“If that dragon ever were to resurrect, I suppose it would be my job as the Yuheng to deal with it,” Keqing considers. “It would be awfully terrifying on my own…”
“At the very least, Ningguang would accompany you.”
“And Ningguang has Captain Beidou of the Crux to accompany her!” Keqing informs her, grinning. “Which means that I would still be left out.”
Grumbling under her breath, Mona groans, plopping down the bench besides the Yuheng. She bumps their shoulders together.
“So I suppose I could be of assistance to you.”
“I knew I could always count on you, my predestined friend.”
“See, now you’re just using my words against me!”
Keqing’s peal of laughter rises up to the skies above, over Liyue Harbor, perhaps reaching the heights of those stars Mona seems to treasure so much.
Her days start revolving like this: she carries out her Qixing duties, continues with her expeditions across Liyue, and mentally starts calculating the odds that Mona will show up, unprompted as per usual—
“To Cuijue Slope, right? I’ll join you.”
“I haven’t stopped by in a while? Well, how about you think twice about venturing to Mingyun Village next time if you wish for my presence so badly!”
“I’ll accompany you to Qingxu Pool tomorrow, sure. The heavens know I need a break after dealing with all those meteorites! I would just like to say, I’ve dealt with enough Fatui Harbingers for a lifetime.”
Today, however, is slightly different.
“It’s your day off,” Mona says, seemingly materializing besides Keqing as the lavender-haired girl casually throws tiny chunks of bread at the fish of Yujing Terrace.
“Yes, it is,” Keqing hums. “Ningguang mandated that everyone take a break today.” She lifts a shoulder in a shrug before tossing bread at a rather large koi. “Truthfully, though, I believe Captain Beidou has Ningguang more wrapped around her finger than anyone else realizes.”
“So I suppose the rumors I overheard of them being lovers were true,” Mona comments.
“It’s Liyue’s worst kept secret.” An idea occurs, and Keqing smirks. “Mona, you could scry on them, couldn’t you?”
“Would you rather me just gouge my eyes out?” Mona replies coolly, much to Keqing’s immense amusement. “Because surely, the end result is the same.”
Keqing laughs, finally turning to flick her last piece of bread at a small white bird that had been perched nearby.
“Something tells me this wasn’t what you had planned when you came to find me.”
“Not in the slightest,” Mona agrees, miffed. With a flourish of her hand and that trademark splash of dynamic water, there’s a blue shine as her sigil appears. Murmuring to herself, Mona chews her bottom lip, spinning the outer ring of the sigil before appearing satisfied with what she sees.
“And so that purpose was…?” Keqing prods, ever the curious one.
“Right!” Mona snaps her fingers, the sigil disappearing once more. The astrologist smiles. “I know you’re never one to sit around, so how about visiting Mondstadt for the day?”
For all of her travels around Liyue, Keqing’s never actually been to Mondstadt before. She’s been to the Stone Gate many times, but never has she ventured beyond that, let alone to the City of Freedom— there’s always been too much to do in Liyue alone, with all her ambitions of transforming Liyue into something completely new.
Now that she’s taken a step back to reevaluate, though, she figured it would be a nice break alongside a good opportunity to see how a city with no ruling Archon functions.
As it turns out, however, as soon as they touch down onto Mondstadt’s famed bridge, Keqing quickly realizes that there definitely won’t be enough time for such introspection during this visit alone.
Mondstadt is just as Keqing had imagined— the streets are wide and the sun pours in, its citizens lingering under outcrops to gossip, trading folk bustling here and there (not unlike Liyue), and stone walls standing protective but not obstructive, just enough to grant a sense of security.
Keqing marvels at it all as she steps through the gate, and a moment later, Mona’s hand slips into hers.
The astrologist shrugs.
“Wouldn’t want you getting lost.”
“Yes, yes.” Keqing rolls her eyes playfully but doesn’t protest. It’s her first time in a new city— she’d prefer not to lose her way, and holding hands is as good a method as any.
“Wonderful,” Mona chirps, before tugging her in some direction, leading them up the nearest staircase. “Let’s be off! Quick, we don’t want to miss this!”
‘This,’ turns out to involve the famed Knights of Favonius, and Keqing watches in awe as the Acting Grand Master clashes swords with another of the knights— a young man who wields his sword with ice, his long blue hair whipping about him as he parries off a blow.
"Kaeya's going to lose," Mona mutters under her breath.
"How do you know?"
"I foresaw it when I appraised the stars, of course. Not that it would've changed my bet even if I hadn't. Kaeya owes me money now— yesterday I told him he'd lose a challenge against Jean without any foresight, and today, I collect."
The look on Mona's face is incredibly smug, and Keqing stifles a giggle at the sight of it.
"Did you bring me here to watch you claim your reward?"
"In part." Mona tips the brim of her hat with her free hand, leaving just her grin visible. "It's also a good lesson: never make stupid bets against an astrologist. The stars never lie, after all."
"Duly noted." Keqing chuckles.
They stand in a clearing beside the Favonius Headquarters. A few other knights are gathered— apparently it's a treat to watch Jean in combat, and from what Keqing is witnessing, they aren't wrong.
In particular, there is one other spectator who stands out— an elegant-looking woman who dons a hat in a similar fashion to Mona, garbed in a royal purple dress, her hair held in place by a single purple rose. The woman's gaze never leaves Jean's figure, not even for a moment, and is that… pride, Keqing identifies?
She doesn't dawdle on her thoughts for too long, because just as Mona said he would, Kaeya loses in a spectacular fashion— his sword flies through the air, thoroughly disarmed by Jean's prowess, skidding to the ground a good distance away, another sword pointed at his throat.
"Told you," Mona mutters, and Keqing bites her lip to restrict her huff of laughter.
A minute later and Kaeya is sighing as he hands over some Mora to Mona, briefly greeting Keqing before wishing her well.
"I wish I could've properly met you, but our talented Acting Grand Master put me on hilichurl duty since I lost," he'd chuckled, not even putting up a fight. "I'll see you two later, then."
"Good luck out there," Keqing had called after him, receiving a short wave from his departing figure in return.
Looking up at the sky, Keqing tilts her head questioningly— it's not even noon yet. She turns to raise the inquiry to her friend.
"So, Mona, what should we do n—" Keqing cuts herself when something across the clearing catches her eye.
It's the woman in purple she'd spotted before, standing rather close to Jean, raising a hand to cup the blonde-woman's cheek as her other dabs at the sweat that had accumulated on Jean's neck. From where she stands, Keqing can't see the Dandelion Knight's expression, but judging from the serene look of pride on the other woman's face, Jean is almost certainly smiling as well.
And for all of her lack of romance, Keqing's seen that same expression before— she's seen it on those days she accidentally finds Ningguang hidden on an out-of-the-way staircase, Beidou's confident voice unmistakable as the two women would find comfort in each other, even during the long workdays when Beidou would sneak away from her ship to visit; when Keqing would smother her startled squeak and quietly back away, leaving her coworker and the pirate to their own devices.
Liyue's worst kept secret.
Nevertheless, Keqing raises an eyebrow at such an intimate showcase of affection.
"Grand Master Jean and that woman, are they…?"
"Really?" Keqing can't help but be doubtful.
"At least, not yet."
"Ah, so the situation is like that. Do they know?"
"They're figuring it out. Lisa thinks Jean is oblivious, but Jean simply doesn't know how to indulge in herself— let alone in anything other than her work." Mona clicks her tongue. "As someone who's taken commissions from the Knights of Favonius on occasion, it can be rather frustrating, watching the two of them dance around each other. I don't know how they manage to function with all that tension, given how they're almost always hovering around each other."
The corner of Keqing's mouth quirks up.
"Are you the more straightforward type, Mona?"
"I guess you could say that," Mona says, consideringly. She tilts her head, the compass-shaped ornaments on the ends of her twin-tails jingling. "Although, you seem like you would be rather blunt about expressing your feelings as well."
"Once I have an understanding, why wait?" Keqing shrugs. Her arm brushes against Mona's. "It would be a waste of time."
"That, I can agree with," Mona says, huffing out a laugh, squeezing Keqing's hand. Then, there's a telltale glitter in her eye, the astrologist's lips pulling back in a sly smirk. "Say, Keqing— you'd consider yourself good at swordplay, wouldn't you?"
Keqing stares back at her friend quizzically.
"Considering how I've studied swordplay my whole life, yes, I'd say I'm quite skilled."
"Perfect." Mona beams. She turns away, letting go of Keqing's hold – the other girl definitely doesn't mourn the loss of contact – to stride forward with a happy wave of her hand at the Acting Grand Master. "Jean! Are you still looking for opponents? My friend from Liyue here is rather the swordswoman herself!"
Keqing's eyes go wide as her gaze meets the friendly, yet challenging smile of the Dandelion Knight.
Well, this surely is shaping up to be quite the day off.
By midday, their little sparring session has attracted quite the crowd.
Jean is more than a worthy opponent, and Keqing finds herself genuinely grinning in exhilaration from every clash of their blades, every parry. She hadn't gotten the chance to properly speak with the Acting Grand Master before their match had begun, but in a way, as Keqing's lightning-charged blade strikes against Jean's windswept sword, she laughs and finds comfort in their conversation of combat— as well-spoken as she is, sometimes Keqing would prefer to let her actions do the talking.
The crowd surrounding them cheers as Keqing hurls a lightning stiletto into the air, leaping to it before plunging down from above. Jean, all quick reflexes and persistence, meets her blow head on, the clang of steel against steel ringing through the clearing.
It all comes to a close with a final bang— Jean whipping up one final gale of wind, dandelions dancing on the gusts, and Keqing blending into the shadow of her blade, thunder clapping as she throws her blade out to point the tip at Jean's neck just at the moment the other woman holds the edge of her sword up to Keqing's.
They stare at each other wordlessly, chests heaving, deep breaths wracking through their bodies as the adrenaline wears off— though, the emotional high remains and Keqing finds herself grinning up at the knightly woman, satisfied.
"I think we can call this a tie," Jean proposes lightly.
"I'm very much fine with that," Keqing agrees. She steps back, relaxing in stance as Jean does the same, and whirling around, she finds a smug Mona standing on the edge of the crowd. “You!”
“Me?” Mona asks innocently.
“Yes, you! There you go again, throwing me into things!” Keqing puffs out a cheek. In a flicker of light, she whisks her blade away. “Today was a day off!”
“But you had fun, right?” Mona prods, and it’s rather unnecessary, because she knows the answer and almost definitely just wants to hear it from Keqing herself. "So it wasn't a waste of time."
Nevertheless, the Yuheng sighs, ultimately deciding to humor her friend— her first visit to Mondstadt and thanks to Mona, she’s already become acquainted with the Grand Master herself. Not a bad first trip at all, and there's still the rest of the day.
“You’re not incorrect,” she admits. A quick glance to the side makes her aware of the dispersing audience. “Although, I wasn’t expecting to be sweating as much as I am in front of such an audience.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” Jeans says with a smile, having withdrawn her sword as well. “I’ve never fought someone with your style before. I really enjoyed myself! As expected of a Liyue Qixing.”
Keqing blinks in surprise. “Oh, you knew who I was?”
“I inferred,” Jean says, good-naturally. “Mona’s mentioned you before, Lady Keqing.”
“Has she?” She casts a curious look at Mona, who pointedly looks away, offering only a shrug.
“Plenty,” a new voice affirms teasingly. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Lady Yuheng.”
It’s Lisa, who had sidled up beside Jean, wrapping herself around the blonde woman’s arm. There's blatant affection virtually oozing out of every action, every touch and glance, the way Jean’s head leans towards Lisa’s, magnetic; Keqing genuinely wonders how either woman could possibly be oblivious to the other’s feelings.
“Please, just ‘Keqing’ is fine,” she says hastily, oddly flustered.
“Well, I hope you're enjoying your visit to Mondstadt, cutie.” Lisa’s voice is as sugar sweet as her appearance would suggest. Keqing swallows. Somehow, Mona’s hand finds its way into hers once again, and Keqing can only assume Lisa took notice, because the older woman gets a glimmer in her eye as if she likes what she sees, letting out a knowing laugh.
“Do you remember the first time you came to the city, Lisa?” Jean asks curiously.
“Of course!” Lisa beams. “I enjoyed what I found here so much I ended up returning to stay!”
Returning to stay… what she found…
For some reason, the implication makes a certain pink dust across Keqing’s cheeks.
“Maybe one of these days, you’ll end up staying too, dear,” Lisa continues, and Keqing has to do a double take.
“Me?” She sputters. “Why would I ever stay in Mondstadt?”
“Why not?” Lisa hums. “Perhaps you might find something in Mondstadt for you as well.”
“Like what?” Keqing furrows her brow, much too flustered to think properly.
“What, indeed?” The librarian muses, her smile mysterious. Strangely, it almost reminds Keqing of Ningguang’s mystifying expression whenever the topic of Keqing’s personal life comes up. She shudders at the thought of these two women ever meeting. “But I suppose that’s for you to find out!”
“Apparently so,” Jean says, amused. “Unfortunately, Lisa and I must return to our duties now, as there’s a mound of paperwork waiting for me to complete.” She sighs, but smiles nonetheless. “I really do hope this visit treats you well though, Keqing. Be a good tour guide, Mona.”
“Yes, yes,” Mona finally says after being quiet for so long. Her tone is impatient, but the smile on her face says otherwise— Mondstadt really has become her home. “She’ll see all our best spots.”
“Oh, and could you stop by Angel’s Share sometime soon? Diluc has been wanting to ask you about Abyss mage whereabouts. He thinks you may be of help with locating.”
“Has he? I suppose I can see what I can do.”
“He also wishes to pay you for your services.”
“How many times must I tell him that I do not use astrology for profit?!”
“May you find Mondstadt fruitful,” Lisa says charmingly to Keqing, ignoring their companions trading brief business. Flourishing her hand, she produces a single electrifying rose to pass to Keqing, smiling when her purple lightning flashes in tune with Keqing’s own Electro.
And, with a final wink from Lisa to Mona, the two women wave their goodbyes and walk off, arm-in-arm, back in the direction of the Knights of Favonius headquarters.
There is a brief moment of silence. Then—
“Well?” Keqing huffs out a laugh, turning to her companion. “Where are we off to next, my tour guide?”
As if being snapped out of a daze, Mona blinks before shruggings, squeezes her hand.
“That depends. Are you hungry?”
“Relatively so, yes.”
“Then I guess this is as good a time as any to visit Diluc’s tavern. Come, Angel’s Share is this way!”
"Next time we're in Mondstadt," Keqing says as she stands on her doorstep, back home in Liyue, the nighttime sky on full display overhead, "I wish to meet this Fischl girl you've become such good friends with. She sounds like quite the character. I hope our paths cross one of these days."
"Yes, it's a shame she was away on a quest today," Mona agrees. "If you think I'm eccentric, Fischl is another thing entirely."
"Really? So do you think I'll find her more entertaining than you?" Keqing asks innocently.
"Of course you will!" Mona exclaims with a snort, and Keqing throws her head back and laughs loudly. "And don't think I don't see what you're doing! I won't fall for it! Even I can't compete with Fischl, and I'm at a disadvantage as you've certainly gotten overly accustomed to me." Mona sighs theatrically. "But then you'll see! You'll realize she's not your brand of entertainment, and then you'll come running back to me!"
"Because whatever would I do without the Astrologist Mona Megistus?" Keqing wonders aloud with a giggle.
"Just think back to before we met about how boring and dull your life was," Mona says flippantly, waving a hand, water sploshing effortlessly through the motion.
Keqing grins, shakes her head. She keeps her eyes trained on Mona's water, spies the stars in the droplets, a perfect reflection of the twinkling ones above them.
"It's funny though," she remarks, "How I can no longer imagine such a time when you weren't on my mind. It wasn't even that long ago."
Mona pauses, her dancing water coming to a halt in midair. She turns to look at Keqing, something unreadable in her eyes, and Keqing stares back, briefly wondering if she should learn some astrology too— perhaps then Mona's starry expressions would become easier to understand.
Somewhere in the universe, a comet streaks through the sky.
The moment breaks.
In a flash, Mona pulls down her hat, covers her entire face.
"Was that just an observation, or did you think that one through?" The astrologist's voice is perfectly composed despite how her body actions say otherwise.
"Yes," Keqing replies, equally as steady, though she cracks a grin that she knows Mona can't see.
"You're a pain," Mona complains.
"Speak for yourself," Keqing teases.
After Mona leaves, Keqing lies in bed, deflating comfortably into the mattress, and starts counting the days until she sees the other girl again.
Or maybe she'll have to stop.
There's someone calling her name in the distance.
"Keqing, where are you?!"
There's a sharp inhale, and a figure appears at her side.
"Ningguang, you have to run—"
"As if I'm leaving you!" The Tianquan says hotly. In an instant, Ningguang is on her feet, hands clenched at her sides. "You just rest for now, I'll protect you."
Without another word, Ningguang summons her Jade, and the fighting resumes.
What had just happened again? Keqing groans softly. Her whole body hurts. What had happened?
There's a succinct pounding on her head, and her ribs ache something fierce. The ground beneath her is hard, and there's a pinching sensation of rock against her back— oh, that's right.
I suppose I can add 'getting knocked out by a Ruin Guard' to the list of Never Again's, she aimlessly thinks, fighting to stay awake.
It's not like she had gone searching for a fight, but when she'd offered to scout out the area nearby Qingce Village after yet another strange earthquake, the last thing she'd been expecting to find was four functioning Ruin Guards lying in wait, with an extra Ruin Hunter to top the whole experience off.
She’d managed to defeat a single Guard by herself, back when it was still singled out, before getting overwhelmed by their numbers.
Damn those rotating arms. Keqing winces. Not to mention the homing missiles— she’s never been one to curse, but to take a page from Captain Beidou, those things hurt like a bitch.
There’s a louder crash of rusted metal from somewhere, and suddenly Ningguang is crouched by Keqing’s side, panting heavily.
“Another one down.”
“Three more,” Keqing mutters.
She’s never heard the Tianquan curse before either.
“I should have taken Beidou or Lumine with me,” Ningguang says through grit teeth.
“That’s what I told myself, too.”
“We both should’ve had better foresight.” Ningguang’s laugh is dry.
Foresight. Belatedly, Keqing wishes Mona were here— she would’ve detected the danger ahead, surely. Would she ever see Mona again? Is she dying? She can’t really tell, her head hurts too much; whole body hurts too much. If she closes her eyes, could they open again? Ah, what a sad way to go.
Somewhere faraway, Ningguang’s desperate voice tells her to stay awake.
Mona. She wishes Mona were here.
A jade screen is summoned. Keqing hears the explosions as the projectiles explode against it.
Against her will, her eyes flutter closed.
And yet, the roar of rushing water snaps them back open.
She opens her eyes and sees a sea of stars.
“Who—” Ningguang whispers.
“Mona,” Keqing gasps, choking on a sob, never looking away from the shimmering violet figure, a silhouette against a reflection of the celestial sky.
After that, it’s like the battle is over in a flash.
Together with their catalysts, Ningguang and Mona are more than a match for the remaining three Ruin Machines. Keqing watches the entire spectacle from a safe distance, Mona providing the opening Ningguang had needed to move the Yuheng beneath the canopy of a large-rooted tree.
The astrologist herself had fought with a fury that Keqing had never witnessed before— casting phantom after phantom on her enemies, cloaking herself in an illusory torrent, summoning waves of starry water, all while keeping an eye on Ningguang, who had regained herself enough to cast flurries of enchanted jades across their impromptu battlefield, like meteorites hurtling across the sky.
And the Yuheng is tired. Very, very tired. Still, she forces herself to stay awake.
Somehow, though, it’s enough.
“Mona,” Keqing says weakly when the combat comes to a close, shock still coursing through her body as she struggles to sit up, still not believing her eyes that the astrologist had made it just in the nick of time. “Mona, I—”
Her voice breaks into a cough, and as the older woman returns to her side, Ningguang’s concerned arms instantly reach out to steady her, one hand on her shoulder, the other rubbing circles onto her back.
“You idiot! Don’t move!” Mona, having dispatched the final Ruin Hunter, immediately turns away from the carnage, closing the distance in a flash, skidding to a halt and dropping to her knees right in front of Keqing.
Jade green eyes that Keqing had grown so used to seeing full of starlight are now cloudy pools of worry, and guilt tugs at the Yuheng’s heart as she meets the genuine, raw concern flooding Mona’s gaze. She doesn’t like the frown on Mona’s lips, Keqing realizes. She never wants to be the cause of it again.
“I’m sorry,” she blurts out.
Mona shakes her head, merely reaching out to curl her fingers around Keqing’s right hand. Without thinking, Keqing finds herself grasping at Mona’s hand, taking comfort in the warmth of the touch.
Absently, she realizes that they’re both wearing gloves. Well, I suppose we’re both that type, aren’t we?
“Why’d you try?” Mona asks quietly.
“Thought there was only one of them,” Keqing grumbles.
“You idiot,” Mona repeats, and Keqing lets out a hoarse chuckle. There’s a cool splash of water, and Keqing feels the mild burning sensation in her thigh begin to ease.
“Yes, I’m aware.”
“Well, I just thought I’d make it clearer,” Mona huffs, but the relief is evident in the way her shoulders slag. Keqing feels the weight on her chest start to lighten— Mona’s eyes look much clearer now, despite the crease of her brow. “Although I suppose you must be feeling better if you can find humor.”
“I’m much better now that you’re here,” Keqing says boldly.
Mona barks out a surprised, hoarse laugh. “Just what has gotten into you now?”
“I just nearly died, Mona. I’m not really concerned about what I’m saying at the moment.” Then the Yuheng winces. “That, and I think I may have a concussion from when I hit my head.”
“That’s a very valid concern,” a third voice chimes in, and it’s only then Keqing remembers that technically, Ningguang is the only reason she can sit up at all right now. That’s another weird occurrence— in her befuddled state, Keqing vaguely remembers a time when she and the Tianquan would never collaborate on such excursions. Now here she is, confiding in Ningguang more than any other Qixing.
There have been a lot of interesting developments as of late, Keqing notes mentally. Ouch, her head hurts. Too much thought. She’s definitely not in the right state of mind for such introspection, that’s for sure.
“We should bring you back to Liyue Harbor and get you checked out, Keqing," Ningguang suggests gently. Huh. A mere few months ago, Keqing hadn’t known Ningguang was capable of such a tone. So much change— ow. Time to stop thinking. Keqing closes her eyes, knowing that she’ll be okay, that everything will be alright, feeling Ningguang shift slightly behind her. She doesn’t need to open her eyes to know that the older woman is scrutinizing Mona.
“You truly came to our aid earlier, stranger,” Ningguang says, surprisingly not suspicious in the slightest. In fact, is that… gratefulness Keqing hears? “Did I hear correctly that your name is Mona? If you wish, you may accompany us as well. I assume you are a friend of Keqing’s?”
There’s a breathy chuckle from Mona.
“I would say so, yes.”
“Something like that,” Keqing mumbles. For some reason, she feels her face get warm. She tries not to think too hard about why the word friend somehow doesn’t sit right— both for the sake of her dignity, and her growing migraine.
“So more than friends, it is,” a fourth voice interjects with a laugh, amused. Beidou. That’s right, Keqing had forgotten about her, Ningguang having initially gone with the captain, Lumine, and Paimon to check in with the nearby village. “The Fatui near Qingce Village have been dealt with, and all the villagers are accounted for. I’ve sent our traveling friends off to return to the Harbor already. I had no idea there’d still be Ruin Machines in the area, though. Had we known, we would’ve rushed here sooner.”
“Good, I’m glad everyone is safe,” Ningguang says, nevertheless comforted by this information. “And it’s alright, Mona was able to provide ample assistance.”
“Wait, what did you say about…? We… what—?” Mona stutters, still caught up on Beidou’s prior comment. Even from her voice alone, she’s clearly flustered, and Keqing is definitely disappointed that she’s absolutely concussed the first time she hears the astrologist in such a state. “Keqing and I, we— That’s, well—”
It’s not usual to hear Mona at a loss for words. Keqing can’t help herself— she smiles, still not opening her eyes.
“Ignore her,” Ningguang says pointedly, although she’s clearly just as entertained as Beidou. “Now, my captain, can you please make use of your muscles and carry Keqing back to the nearest waypoint? Poor Mona still looks beside herself with worry.”
It's the last thing Keqing hears for a while.
When she finally comes to, Keqing blearily pries her eyes open as light streams into her vision like water pouring through a cracked dam. Her head still aches, but not with the hammer-like pounding that had been there before. Testing out her reflexes, she grunts softly as she opens and closes her hand. Sore, but not broken, and she’s faced worse before.
She’s lying on a plush bed, the silk sheets beneath her smooth and soft to the touch. Judging by the familiar ceiling decoration, she’s in Ningguang’s house, no less. She’s been here before— the older woman having invited her for tea and company many times these past few months.
“Welcome back to the world of the living,” a familiar voice says, and Keqing laughs despite the throbbing in her ribs. “You’ve gotten all fixed up now— your bones, at least. Dr. Baizhu took care of those. The soreness might take a little longer.”
Keqing smiles to herself. With a little effort, she manages to prop herself up on her pillow, resting comforting in something closer to a sitting position than outright lying down, prone, like she had been just mere moments ago.
“You’ll stay with me for a bit, won’t you, Mona?”
Opting to remain staring at the ornate ceiling, Keqing blindly reaches out her right hand.
There’s a moment’s pause, a sharp inhale; Mona takes her hand, intertwines their fingers.
“Yes,” Mona says quietly. There’s a shift at Keqing’s bedside, and she sees that telltale celestial-decorated hat from the corner of her vision. Mona keeps her head dipped, hiding her eyes beneath the wide brim. “Because we’re both well aware that if I leave you to your own devices, you’ll prance right in range of yet another Ruin Hunter and try to take that monstrosity on all by yourself as well.”
“So that means you’ll come with me when I go revenge-hunt some Ruin Machines?” Keqing asks.
“You’ve gotten cheekier,” the astrologist notes.
“Near-death experiences do that to you,” the Yuheng replies. In actuality, it’s how you act, and I want to be closer to you. “It’s how I cope.”
“Well, for starters, I suggest that you don’t go vengeance-searching for Ruin Machines at all,” Mona replies dryly. She pauses again. “…But yes, if that ever is in your plans, please do try to get in touch with me first. I was in the middle of work, when…” The astrologist shakes her head. “It was lucky that I’d felt that something was wrong and felt the need to scry on you, then and there. You nearly gave me a heart attack, Keqing.”
“I’m sorry,” Keqing murmurs, somber. She sighs, tapping her thumb against Mona's soft skin.
They lapse into silence.
"I just can’t believe this!" Mona finally exclaims, lifting her head and Keqing's eyes go wide as she meets Mona's incredulous jade gaze, the other girl's expression pinched tight as if she just can't quite fathom what had just transpired. "Up until I met you, I thought I was the most reckless person I knew— always appearing without notice, constantly dragging others into my business… And then here you are, breaking my record time and time again by a landslide! I look tame compared to you! I cannot believe I've been usurped by a stuffy member of the Qixing!"
"Excuse you!" Keqing laughs, unable to help herself after such a hilarious display. Her ribs hurt. She particularly doesn't care, it just feels good to let it out. "This stuffy member of the Qixing could have you evicted and banned from entering Liyue ever again!"
"You would not dare," Mona challenges, haughty as she crosses her arms. "Not that such a ban could stop me from just teleporting over the border anyway."
"Is the Great Astrologist Mona Megistus above the law?"
"If it means she gets to see you more often, then yes, she is well-above the law."
"I—" Keqing's mouth opens and closes wordlessly. Then she ducks her head, face quickly turning red at the astrologist's blatant endearment. She's grateful her lavender hair had been taken out of its typical twin-tail fashion, just this once— at least now, there's a curtain to hide behind.
A thought occurs.
“Mona,” she says slowly. “Have you ever been to Qingce village before?”
“I can’t say I have.”
“Then…” Keqing trails off. She thinks back to Mona’s prior explanation— I can only teleport to places I’ve been before, or…
Mona simply laughs, watching the realization hit the Yuheng as though she’d been tackled by a wild boar.
“We haven’t even known each other that long.”
“I know. How do you think I felt when I found out?”
There’s another beat of silence.
“I believe you still may have me beat in recklessness,” Keqing finally mumbles. “I wasn't even aware it was a race.”
"Then in that case, with my slight lead, I have to widen the gap even more."
"And how do you plan on doing that?"
"I plan to do it like such—"
In one smooth motion, Mona takes her hat off and leans forward, her free hand reaching up to push away lavender locks and cup Keqing's cheek. She brings their foreheads together as Keqing inhales at the close vicinity. Their noses brush, and the Yuheng can feel the span of Mona's breath against her face – an entire cosmos in her ringing heartbeat, the pressure of a meteor making its way across the celestial sky – quicker and more anxious than what the astrologist would otherwise let on.
"Lady Keqing of the Liyue Qixing," Mona says slowly, seriously, deliberately, like the turn of the planets, "I am in love with you."
“I would kiss you, but I don't think I could hold myself back, and I’m a bit injured at the moment,” Keqing says, just as serious, although a smile cracks through the act at the same time a similar expression blooms across Mona’s lips.
“That’s fine!” Mona laughs, the sound carefree and light like the clouds. Again, she nudges their foreheads together, like cats when they show affection. She closes her eyes. “This is fine for now.”
“Just lay with me?” Keqing asks, moving over to make room.
“Tell me if I accidentally hurt you?” Mona hesitates.
“Should the case arise, I will.” Keqing pauses. “But I know you won’t.”
“You’ve always had so much trust in me.”
“I suppose so. Do you think I was in love with you from the start?”
“Who cares?” Mona shrugs, settling onto the bed next to Keqing, who immediately wraps her arms around the starry-garbed girl’s midriff, closing her eyes. Mona chuckles, resting her cheek atop Keqing’s head. “We’re here now, that’s all that matters.”
(When Ningguang arrives later, she opens the door to the sight of two bodies laying in the bed, Mona curled almost protectively around the Yuheng, Keqing's face burrowed in the crook of the enigmatic girl's neck.
In her sleep, peaceful and unbothered, Keqing looks much younger, Ningguang notes. Oh, how much responsibility this girl has on her shoulders.
Chuckling to herself, Ningguang leaves the bag of takeout food on a nearby table before stepping out of the room.
"Place the extra blankets at the foot of the bed," she instructs softly, touching Beidou's arm with the lightest of touches. "Although, I don't actually think they'll be needed."
"Oh?" Beidou smirks, already nudging the door open.
"See for yourself." Ningguang laughs. "I know you want to."
Not even a minute later, and Beidou is quietly closing the door, leaving the two sleeping girls to their rest, uninterrupted.
"They're both so young."
"I wish I'd met my soulmate when I was that young," the captain comments.
"We're not that much older," Ningguang smiles, rolling her eyes good naturally. Then she pauses. "Do you think they're really soulmates?"
"Well," Beidou shrugs. "I'm no astrologist, but it takes a special kind of person to worm their way into Keqing's heart like that."
"She is a rather stubborn individual," the Tianquan agrees, although there's a notable cadence of fondness. "I've said this before, but you two are rather similar."
"And it did take a very special kind of woman to wind her way into this heart of mine," Beidou hums, laughing at the way Ningguang's mouth snaps shut, cheeks dusting pink. With a signature charming grin, the captain easily takes the white-haired woman's hand, tugging her insistently down the hall. "Come, my heart. Let's leave our friends to rest and enjoy the remainder of our night.")
She’s confined to her bed for a while.
Mona, still having work to do, isn’t able to visit everyday, but Keqing finds that that’s more than okay— they both are busy people. After all, just because the Yuheng is stuck in bed doesn’t mean she can’t look over paperwork.
Still, that doesn’t stop Mona from showing up at night, steaming Almond Tofu in hand and a grin in tow.
“Sorry I’m unable to stay for very long,” she apologizes, and Keqing waves her off, chuckling.
“Will I be seeing you again?” She really doesn’t need to ask at this point, but she likes hearing Mona’s voice anyway.
Although, really, some things just don’t need schedules; sometimes they just happen.
“As soon as possible," Mona says sheepishly.
“Whenever the stars align?” Keqing suggests.
Mona shrugs, grinning.
It’s always sooner.
She soon starts walking again, and they fall back into their old habits.
Mona probably realized that Keqing had grown to take the spontaneity in stride.
Thus, it’s their old habits, but with a lot more hand-holding, a lot more surprise hugs, and a lot more trips to Mondstadt on random whims.
Keqing loves every minute of it.
“Say, Mona, did you have any idea?” Keqing asks, late one night, Mona having teleported them both to Starsnatch Cliff after a long day of work.
“Any idea of what?”
"Did you have any idea that we'd end up like this?" she clarifies, gingerly raising their intertwined hands with a small smile.
"Oh," Mona whispers. The astrologist takes her time in answering, Keqing taking much comfort in the way Mona absently runs a thumb over the back of her palm.
They're not wearing their gloves this time. Keqing likes that just fine, likes the way their bare hands can press against each other, the sensation of bare skin against bare skin unlike any other.
"I suppose I knew that we'd be important to each other," Mona says simply. "I had been observing the movements of the celestial bodies, and the feeling just came. I needed to go to the Guili Plains, because I just knew you'd be there." She pauses. "Now, what 'important' meant, I hadn't any clue at the time. I've met many people recently that have become important to me— Lumine and Paimon, for example. You… well, the stars didn't disclose to me that much, so I came to Liyue with an open mind."
"You really had no expectations?" Keqing prods. She props herself up on an elbow, grinning cheekily— an expression she'd definitely picked up from Mona herself. "Absolutely none? No predictions?"
"Even I couldn't have predicted that you'd be such a workaholic," Mona teases.
“Hey, I’m making exceptions for you,” the lavender-haired girl says defensively. "I'm taking more time off these days."
“Oh, I’m so honored.” Mona’s smile is as sly as midnight.
“You should be,” Keqing huffs.
“I will admit, I really am.” Mona turns her attention back up to the night sky above.
Keqing follows her lead, training her eyes on the glimmering stars. She picks out her own constellation, Trulla Cementarii, before chancing a glance over at Mona, only to find the astrologist lost in thought.
“I’m grateful that you think I’m worth your time, Keqing.” Mona’s voice is so earnest, it catches Keqing off guard.
Keqing’s mouth opens and closes.
“What are you talking about? Of course you’re worth my time— I—” Keqing feels her face warm, the embarrassment at the sentiment sinking in, but she pushes on anyway. “I’ve gained many friends these past few months. I’ve found common ground with people I never thought I would be able to. Ever since Rex Lapis’s departure, there’s been so much to do, so much to get done. And yet, despite everything that could occupy that space, I am always wondering when I'll see you next, Mona.”
Mona rolls over onto her side in an instant, and Keqing finds herself face-to-face with the young woman she's become so enchanted with; become so attached to. Her heart thuds against her ribcage, threatening to come loose. Despite the darkness, Keqing sees Mona clearly— perhaps clearer than ever before.
It's really quite an inconvenient time to remember how breathtakingly beautiful Mona is— Keqing's not sure her heart can take it.
"Do you mean it?" Mona questions, her voice quiet but serious. She pushes herself up on an elbow, grip tightens in Keqing's hand, desperate.
"With my whole being," Keqing replies, equally as hushed, because she’s serious about this too.
As serious as the planets in orbit across their sky, Keqing finds herself drawn into this girl’s gravity.
There are stars in this girl's water, stars on this girl's clothes, stars in this girl's eyes, and now, as Mona dips down – slow, deliberate, the path of a planet across the celestial ether – Keqing responds in kind, tilting her head up, threads her fingers in the night sky and smiles serenely in stardust, her lips meeting the stellar cosmos, heart bursting in her chest like a supernova, like a new star being born.