He couldn’t remember the time he got his Vision.
All he could remember was the pain of continuously fighting, shedding blood of countless enemies and taking lives as if they were his daily meal.
It had been painful, so painful he had begun feeling numb to the way that body after body, they all kept turning cold in between his hands. Fighting for a god that wished for nothing except for bloodbaths.
However, nothing could compare to the atrocious feeling of having his own wings ripped out, a bird deprived of his own wings, a creature of the sky who had lost his own home, unable to return for as long as he would live.
That had been his name.
A name of which, in a faraway past he almost couldn’t remember anymore, he had once been proud of, only to then become an ironic reminder of just how much he had lost.
But then, somehow, in-between one massacre and another, suddenly he could fly again.
It had been nothing like flying with his own wings, but the feeling of his hair being caressed sweetly, the breeze gently nuzzling his cheeks, was almost one and the same.
He remembered feeling confusion at the time.
Why would the Anemo Archon decide to give him such a gift? He was nothing like the other legendary men who had received that blessing. He did not represent freedom, nor was he as kind as the breeze.
How could somebody think he was deserving of such a gift? Him who killed, him who served the devil.
He remembered refusing to use the Vision at first, feeling undeserving of it. But the call of the wind had been too strong, there was no way he could have kept away from his real home, the skies.
He had felt a bit more alive after that. Just the tiniest bit.
And then came Morax. Morax who ended his despair and saved him from slavery, Morax who binded him to yet another contract, but never asked of him to kill another soul.
Just to protect.
And so, Xiao found in that a use for his Vision. And even though Morax had never asked him to kill, he kept killing, just for the sake of protecting what the Geo Archon, his savior, had wanted to keep safe, his Liyue.
He had become an Adeptus, and kept killing, although he hoped that at least that time, he could be forgiven because of the cause he was fighting for.
The demon inside him hadn’t agreed with the sentiment.
It all had reached a breaking point one day after a particularly gruesome battle, when he had felt as if his body was about to break, his soul on the verge of shattering due to his demon howling and screaming for more blood.
Take more, kill more.
It had kept saying.
It had taken him a while to understand that the reason his ears had kept ringing was because of his screams, so loud they were about to split his head open.
He couldn’t feel anything other than the pain and suffering, his body in shatters and his heart being devoured by the gluttony of his own demon, that wanted more, more .
It was with a humorless laugh that he had realized he was about to become just like all those evil beings he had kept fighting throughout his life.
An empty vessel for a bloodthirsty demon.
Falling to his knees, mask slipping off his face, blood flowing from his wounds to clot the green grass underneath him, he resigned himself to his destiny, thinking that maybe, maybe , he could finally atone for all the sins he had committed in the past.
And then, it came.
As soft as the breeze, as fresh as the winds he felt while flying back when he still had his wings, came the sound of a flute, a sweet melody reaching his ears, slowly taking the place of the incessant ringing.
It had felt as if he was being purified from inside-out.
First, the ringing in his ears had died out. Then, his mind had started cleaning, thoughts finally becoming rational once again.
And then, as if by miracle, his wounds had started healing, the soft melody bringing him a peace of mind he hadn’t felt in centuries.
He was alive. And for once, he was glad about it. For once, he felt as if living was okay for him, and not just a way to atone for each and every of his sins.
He had felt like crying. And indeed, it hadn’t taken him long to notice the tears silently streaking his face, clearing the blood still mattering his cheeks.
He felt at peace. Truly.
Only for a second he had wondered who it could have been, how could have that happened, and then, closing his eyes with a quiet smile, he had thought—
Ah, it must have been him .
Lost in the pit of despair as he had been, only one being could have rescued him, and not even for the first time.
Once again, the lord who had blessed him with his Vision had come to his aid. Once again, the Archon had given him something like hope.
Xiao truly wondered just what that God saw in him. Just why he kept choosing to help a monster such as himself.
He had kept wondering and pondering, still remaining kneeling in the middle of that clearing, with his head tipped up towards the skies, almost in a prayer, his tears still quietly streaming down.
And, although the first time he had decided to use that blessing as a way to keep fighting and atone for his sins, he then had decided that maybe he could choose to be kinder to himself.
That wasn’t to say that he had decided to forget all the evil he had done, but just, to not be as harsh and give himself a chance.
A chance for a better life, a life of which he could be proud of.
After that, he had started silently looking into the Anemo Archon. He had found out his name was Barbatos, and that in the years he had taken various different forms, although nobody quite knew which was the current one.
Apparently, the Archon had gone missing. Or more like, he stopped appearing as the “God”, and probably started going around as his disguised self, looking over the people of Mondstat quietly.
Xiao had pretended that the fact that he would probably never get to meet his benefactor didn’t pain him.
Morax, or Zhongli— the name his Archon had begun to use lately to mix in with humans—, would from time to time question him, having noticed his curiosity about the Anemo Archon, but Xiao would always refuse everything, claiming he had no interest in such a person.
Xiao felt no need to meet Barbatos, just as he didn’t feel the need to meet other humans and interact with them, contrarily to what Zhongli seemed to suggest every now and then.
No matter how he had decided to not be as harsh on himself as before, he still steered clear of humans. Such incomprensible creatures to him.
He didn’t understand how his Archon could be so at peace with interacting with them.
He was happy observing everything from the height of Wangshu Inn, his now designed place where he could silently observe from afar all the while eating delicious food.
He had taken quite a liking to a particular plate, almond tofu.
And so the years passed, although he didn’t really care much for counting anymore, considering for just how long he had already lived.
Pretty much nothing had changed in his life.
Nor did he get to meet Barbatos, who seemed to be more ephemeral than the winds themselves, nor did he get to finally feel as if he had been forgiven for everything he had done.
The nightmares kept plaguing him, but he tried to do his best and not fall prey to them, instead fighting for the best of Liyue while always keeping in mind the soft melody that had brought him back from madness.
He took up playing the flute.
From time to time, he would sit on the railing of Wangshu Inn and try to play by memory the song that had saved him. And, although the memory was as fresh as it had been yesterday, what came out from his own instrument never quite seemed to match what he had in mind.
There were times when he felt frustrated by that. But again, had it been a normal song like any other, it probably would have never managed to reach him.
He wondered if he would ever get to hear it again. If he would ever get to witness the performance in person, looking in awe at the being that brought back a meaning into Xiao’s life.
All he could do, however, was sigh and pray for the day that that wish would come true.
Xiao raised his head from the plate of almond tofu he was eating, getting up from his seat to slightly bow at the voice that had called him. As usual, Zhongli stood tall above him, a gentleness to his gaze like no other.
“Today, somebody— well, you could call them a friend of mine—, is coming to visit. I’m usually the one who goes, but they said they haven’t been in Liyue in so long they wanted to drop by for a bit.” The Geo Archon informed him, his eyes turning a bit unsure.
Xiao tilted his head, not understanding why he was being told that.
“Ah, right. You are to come with me. That person is— a bit of a character. So go easy on him.”
Ah, so it was a him.
The yaksha momentarily wondered why his presence was necessary to the meeting, his eyes turning suspicious at that.
“I see. I’ll be there. Who might this person be?”
It was with a mysterious smile that the other answered, “You’ll know once you’ll meet him.”
And so, Xiao found himself near the entrance of Liyue Harbor, foot impatiently tapping on the ground. Whoever was to come, apparently, was already more than half an hour late, and even though time was merely a construct, that still didn’t mean he didn’t value punctuality.
The Geo Archon seemed to share his feelings, seeing as to how he heavily sighed once a particularly strong gust of wind blew right in front of them.
Xiao didn’t even have the time to reflect on that thought, that seemingly out of nowhere— to be more precise, directly from those winds themselves—, a presence made itself known in the form of a rather small person, a cheeky grin adorning his face.
The man? Boy? Had soft green emerald eyes and short black hair, which then extended in two azure braided locks to the side of his face, contributing to highlighting even more the boyish features of the other person.
His lips were upturned into a playful smirk and his eyes, surrounded by thick lashes, were sparkling with a light that Xiao had never thought possible in a human.
Which, the yaksha was starting to think was indeed not the case, given the sudden lump in his throat, which was constricting due to the familiarity he could feel emanating from the boy.
It was as if he could hear it all over again, even more clearly than before, the sound of that flute bringing back clearness to his mind, the smell of the fresh breeze surrounding him in a loving embrace.
Oh, how he had missed that feeling.
But then, could this be—
He felt his heart taking off from his chest at the mere thought, suddenly the way the Geo Archon had asked for his presence making sense.
The boy sauntered with a skip to his steps towards Zhongli, the white flower tucked in his beret bouncing along with him.
Only then did Xiao notice the slight frown present on Zhongli’s face. Just as the yaksha was about to ask what the problem was, the boy opened his mouth.
“Ah, Morax —”
“I told you, I go by Zhongli now.” The Geo Archon stoically intercepted, the frown deepening.
“Ah, yes, yes, right~ So I was saying, Morax it has been way too long~”
“It has been merely a few months. I would say, it has been way too short, on the contrary.”
The boy pouted, his lower lip looking about to burst with the way it was being exaggeratedly pushed outwards. Just to put that additional effect, it even started wobbling.
“Morax don’t be such a stick in the ass, you don’t want the younger ones to turn into annoying old men such as you, right?”
It took Xiao around three seconds to realize that the boy, who had then turned towards him with a wink, was talking about him.
How long had it been since somebody had referred to the yaksha as the young one? So long he couldn’t even remember.
“Huh—” was all he managed to mutter before the other was all over him, eyes even more sparkly than before and small hands taking his own.
Xiao felt slightly embarrassed by that, but made no move to detach himself, way too surprised to do anything.
“Ah, you must be Alatus! I’ve heard so much about you from Morax~ How have you been adapting to your Anemo Vision? I hope you found no problems with it! But would you look at that frown, you’ve already taken after that block-head, haven’t you— Ah, what a tragedy!”
Xiao was astonished to say that the only word he could come up with to describe the person he had been wanting to meet, for god knows how many centuries, was— annoying.
Extremely, at that.
“My name isn’t Alatus anymore.” He gritted out, an annoyed edge to his tone, removing his hands from the other’s grip. “It’s Xiao.”
“Ah— There it is.” The boy groaned with theatrics worthy of a professional actor, “look what you did to the boy, Morax! Way to ruin such a cute face. Even uses the same retorts as you. Can’t believe this.” The other kept muttering, shaking his head in a dramatic way.
Xiao wanted to punch himself at the way his face flushed slightly at the compliment.
“Barbatos, please, you’re overwhelming him.” Zhongli piped up, probably in an attempt to prevent Xiao from having an existential crisis.
“Eh~ But I was just trying to get to know him.” Again, the pout. The yaksha began massaging his temples, feeling the ghost of a killer headache behind his eyes. “Also, I’ve told you many times to call me Venti!” He added in a whine.
So it’s okay for him to call us with old names we don’t like, but if we call him with his old name, he’ll bitch about not wanting to be called that.
“Well, whatever, since I’m the guest here, I brought a gift! Ta-da, a bottle of exquisite dandelion wine to share just between the three of us! I’m the best, right?”
Forget being annoying, that person was a downright menace.
Barbatos— Venti? The Anemo Archon was an extremely obnoxious person.
It took Xiao three minutes since his appearance to understand that, and it took him the same amount of time to understand that he’ll probably be forever haunted by the fact that that was the same person who had saved him from his tragedy.
The dreamlike image he had had of the Anemo Archon had completely been shattered.
Gone was the slightly mature feel he had perceived from the sound of the flute, the look of knowledge embedded with a taste of freedom he so longed for. Gone was the kind and warm smile, all encompassing and forgiving.
Instead all he could imagine now was an annoying brat that talked too much and was way too happy for Xiao’s liking.
He had once thought of the Archon as a gentle breeze.
More like a hurricane . He thought bitterly.
The more the bard spoke— as he had learned was the Archon’s current profession—, the more he wanted to run and hide behind a rock to cry about his disappointment.
Venti was a heavy drinker, evident by the now raging flush high on his cheeks after one too many glasses, and a hard party animal. In fact, it was around every ten minutes that he would get up, announcing that he would perform yet another song for the public of the restaurant they were eating at.
People were happy. Xiao was not. Zhongli simply sighed in resignation.
It was right after another one of those performances that he abruptly stood up, grumbling something about needing to get a bit of air on his own.
The place they were at was a restaurant in the main city, one of the fancy ones Zhongli could afford only because he was one of the important people. Even though, at the end of the day, it was always Xiao who had to pay for the broke Archon.
He still did not understand how that worked.
The restaurant was right next to the sea, so nearly every balcony gave out to the expansion of blue, the smell of it bringing the yaksha a much needed sense of peace.
He took a moment to think, to reflect on how could the Archon differ so much from the image he had conjured up during the centuries, the moon being his only witness during that starless night.
It was with a sigh that he leaned on the railing, observing the way the moonlight reflected on the sea, creating patterns of light on the crest of its waves.
He was saddened. He had spent so many years looking up to that person, hoping that one day he could meet them, only to—
“Why are you sad, Alatus?”
Xiao jumped in surprise.
It wasn’t an everyday occurrence that somebody could sneak up on him unnoticed, so he felt quite uneasy about finding the Anemo Archon right next to him, elbow resting calmly on the railing as if he had been there for more than a few minutes already.
The yaksha tried not to be distracted by the way the moon lit up the other’s face, the flower tucked in his hat and his braided strands swaying gently to wind.
“Are you disappointed? Was this not what you expected from me?” Venti asked gently, a corner of his lips slightly curled up.
Xiao could only stare in confusion. Something was different. The person in front of him was still the chaotic Venti, but at the same time— there was something completely different about him.
The air around him now seemed calmer, as if the impetuous winds had finally decided to rest and give way to a much gentler breeze.
“I’m—” Once again, Xiao found himself speechless in front of the Anemo Archon, who merely chuckled in response. The yaksha lowered his gaze, all of a sudden feeling way too exposed.
“I’ve heard that many times by now. I’m supposed to be a god, right? But look at me, mingling in-between humans, getting drunk and playing blasphemous songs for them. Disgraceful, isn’t it?” Another chuckle.
When Venti noticed that he would still stubbornly keep his head down, he tilted his own a bit, making sure that his eyes would meet Xiao’s.
They were much softer, the yaksha noticed.
They still held that mirth in them, but they were also so much more mellow, a quiet understanding in them.
Xiao kind of wanted to cry.
“Don’t be shy, Alatus. We’ve known each other for so long. We deserve a proper first encounter, don’t you think?” Venti asked, head still tilted down to look him in the eyes.
Xiao felt his heart of stone crumble just the tiniest of bits at the sudden, sweet touch of a finger under his chin, raising his face towards the bard’s.
Venti was looking at him directly, as if there was no other being in the world beside him. The Archon’s attention was completely on him, and the yaksha had to call upon all of his self-control to not squirm in place.
“We’ve known each other.. For long?” He inquired, almost shyly, still not used to being regarded so fully. He felt as if the bard could see right through and inside himself, see his own heart and grasp it with his small hands.
“Sure we do. I’ve played many times for you, remember? And you’ve sent me your prayers and hopes for many centuries, by now. I always listened. And prayed.” Venti explained, punctuating each of his last two sentences with a slight tap to the yaksha’s chin, only to be followed by a slight caress to his jaw before detaching his hand.
“How I’ve longed to meet you.” The bard then added with a sigh, something akin to a shy smile gracing his features.
“Me too.” Was out of Xiao’s mouth before he could even control it. This time he fully felt the warmth settling on his cheeks at the mishap. The Archon’s smile widened at that.
“Ah~ So it wasn’t just me who was impatient to meet my other half~” Venti teased, smirk back in place as if the momentary calmness had never happened.
Xiao flushed even harder at that, feeling the whiplash from the sudden change. This Archon — as changing as the winds themselves.
“Other half— What does that even—”
“Eheh, you’ve said it yourself, didn’t you? You always wanted to meet me as well— So we’re just like star-crossed lovers! Romeo and Juliet! The sun and the moon! Maybe I should’ve come earlier and taken you away from Morax~” Venti snickered, no traces left of the calm breeze from before.
The hurricane was back full force.
“We are not— My contract is with Zhongli! He is the Archon I serve, no matter if the Vision I received is yours.” Xiao gritted in embarrassment, suddenly feeling stupid for falling for that bard’s stupid tricks.
And once again, Venti’s eyes softened.
“I know.” He said, expression as sweet as honey, “your loyalty is one of the first things I liked about you, after all.”
And then the Archon smiled, his eyes crinkling up cutely while the breeze blew through his hair, braids again gently swaying to the wind.
Venti looked ethereal in that moment, with the moon reflecting off his eyes while giving him a halo of mysticity. For a moment, he truly looked like the Archon he was supposed to be.
For the second time that night, Xiao felt like crying.
And maybe a tear he did shed, considering the small hand that then came to his face, thumb gently swiping over his cheek in a loving manner.
For a moment, the yaksha closed his eyes, letting himself bask in the moment.
For so long he had waited for that moment, that he didn’t quite know what to do with himself. So he simply let it go on as long as the deities from above would let him, enjoying the sweet touches to his cheek.
When he opened his eyes, gold meeting emerald, he felt a rush of emotion he had no way to put a name over.
It was overwhelming, indescribable, something he hadn’t felt ever since that day he had been saved by the sound of the flute.
It was encompassing.
But he also felt fear. Fear that once again, he would lose what he had found, that he would spend even more centuries once again looking for his light.
But then, just as if the Archon could hear his thoughts— and well, maybe he could.
“I’m here, Xiao . And I’ll be for how long you’ll let me.”
More tears overflowed, while the yaksha stood there in silence, and Venti kept wiping each one of them off, with the patience of a saint, not a single word being said.
And then, with a last smile and the warmth of a thousand suns in his eyes, Venti left his side, going back to the other Archon still waiting inside for them, but not without a silent promise to once again find their way to each other.
After that, it was as if the centuries he had gone wishing that he could meet the Anemo Archon had never existed.
Behind every corner, next to every tree, down every road, there the bard was, with his big smile always ready to greet him and his big mouth ready to chat his ears off about the latest useless rumors he had heard.
The yaksha always feigned total disinterest in those talks, barely dignifying the bard with an answer.
Nevertheless, he jealously kept each and every of their conversations in a secret corner of his brain.
Xiao still didn’t understand how could the obnoxious Venti coincide with the boy who had wiped his tears that night on the balcony. There was a gap way too big between how the Archon usually acted in the day, and how he had acted then.
He was about to start believing that that had been naught but a fever dream, made up by his subconscious to save him from the disappointment of meeting the disaster boy.
Venti was always loud, laughter echoing everywhere he went while he strummed along with his lyre. He was constantly ready to raise his glass and end up passed out on the table of whichever unlucky place they ended up into, not to mention the way he always ended up surrounded by humans in such a natural way, making sometimes Xiao wonder if the other truly was an Archon.
The yaksha couldn’t deny the way he almost felt jealous of that. There was no way he could be that friendly with so many humans, scared by the thought of what could happen.
Venti always played the lyre, but never took out the flute. Venti always delighted everybody with his songs, but never the song he had played for Xiao back then.
Although his heart never failed to be swayed by the other’s tunes, it was still—
He was embarrassed to admit just how much he longed to hear it directly from the bard himself. But he never asked. And Venti never brought it up.
There were times when, later in the night after a particularly fun party, the Archon’s smile would noticeably soften, his small hands coming to Xiao’s hair to stroke it and play with his locks.
Uselessly, he always tried to hide the way his cheeks reddened at that, eliciting small, happy giggles from the other, which rang like clear bells to the yaksha’s ears.
Sometimes, he wondered if the way his heart skipped a beat, only to then start again with a slightly faster pace, was at all normal. He chose to ignore the fact for the sanity of his mind.
There were, of course, moments when Venti also terribly irritated him. For example, whenever he deliberately chose to keep calling him Alatus, even though the bard perfectly knew what his name now was.
The other’s excuse was “ Eh ~ But Alatus is such a pretty name, it would be a waste not to use it!”
Needless to say, Xiao wanted to punch Venti each and every time the bard would come up with some excuse like that.
Ah, also, apparently, the bard seemed to have some kind of fixation with the yaksha’s tattoo, coming from time to time next to him to trace the lines on his arm with his chubby fingers.
Xiao always complained about it, but in truth secretly enjoyed the action.
Even when he was alone, he ended up in some way or another thinking about the Archon.
In particular one night, he found himself pondering over the bard while sitting on the peak of one of Liyue mountains, a few white flowers next to him swaying quietly to the wind.
So, Venti, huh— That’s the name he goes by now .
Gently, he caressed the petals of one of the white flowers, a flash of the one sitting on the bard’s head coming instantly to his mind.
His tunes are— Nevermind.
He sighed, plucking the flower he had been touching tenderly and bringing it up to his face, studying it up close.
Although the species wasn’t the same, Xiao still couldn’t help being reminded, the pure white of the petals being a stark resemblance. With a quiet huff, he tucked it inside his tunic, paying attention to not losing it while flying off back to his home, Wangshu Inn.
Later on, a pretty weirded out Xiangling informed him of the name of the flower— the Qingxin.
And if, after that, the yaksha looked up all the places where it could possibly bloom, nobody had to know.
It was a few nights later that Venti noticed the addition to his usual get-up.
Xiao was sitting on the rail of the Wangshu Inn, flute in his hands as he lazily blew a few notes to pass time while dangling his legs in the air.
He particularly liked nights like those, with the full moon illuminating everything and the stars drawing unseeable patterns in the sky, which looked so vast from where he was sitting that he almost felt as if he could fall into it and get lost.
Just as he was about to start a new song, he felt more than heard the bard’s presence, who attacked him from behind and threw his arms around Xiao’s neck.
Hadn’t it been for Venti’s strong hold, the yaksha would’ve probably fallen off the height of the Inn.
“Alatus~ I’ve missed you!” The boy chirped, spirits as high as usual. Xiao merely sighed.
“It’s only been a few days, Barbatos.” He offered with an unamused stare once he turned around, pocketing away his flute before it could fall off from the railing. The Archon pouted.
“I told you—”
“To call you Venti, yes, I will once you’ll put through your thick skull that I want to be called by my current name as well .”
At that the bard pouted even more, his lower lip wobbling as usual, until his gaze lowered and his eyes landed on something in the area of Xiao’s chest.
“What is that?” Venti inquired with curiosity, his lips parting slightly in surprise. The yaksha, confused, lowered his eyes as well, only to feel his cheeks flushing slightly at the sight of the flower still sitting tucked in his tunic.
“Ah, that is—”
“What a pretty flower!” The Archon exclaimed, elated expression on his face and eyes sparkling in wonder as he bent slightly to admire the little thing from up close.
“What is it called?” Venti continued in excitement, peeking up from his forward-bent position to look at Xiao in the eyes.
The bard apparently had a fixation with staring at the yaksha up close. Xiao’s stuttering heart did not approve.
“Qingxin.” He muttered, eyes wandering aside to look at everything but Venti. The Archon was close, way too close.
Venti smirked, the other’s shyness not going unnoticed.
“Hm~ I didn’t take you to be a flowers lover.” The bard snickered, one hand coming up to hide his smirking mouth.
“Y— You’re right, so— Uh, here.” And then, lord smite him or something, Xiao took the flower from his chest and outright pushed it against Venti’s own, who instead looked as if the yaksha had grown another head.
And then the bard flushed.
The always composed, always teasing Archon, had the gall to flush after everything he had put Xiao through.
He wanted to throw himself off the railing at the way his brain instantly thought ‘cute’ at the sight of the other’s cheeks slightly painted in red.
After a few seconds, in which Venti evidently was floundering with what to do, the bard decided to tuck it on the free side of his hat, a shy smile still gracing his features.
“Thank you.” Venti whispered, eyes sparkling under the light of the stars.
Xiao could only stare in silence at the sight in front of him.
“Ah, Xiao, you’re here!!” A voice screamed out of nowhere, completely bursting the bubble that had engulfed the two and startling them out of their reverie.
“I was just hoping to find you here, I’ve come up with a new almond tofu recipe and I absolutely wanted you to try it— Huh, am I interrupting something?” Xiangling asked, her usual loud voice slightly faltering at the end, seeing the two looking outright flustered.
“Ah, no, we were just chatting.” Xiao explained, trying to calm down his frying nerves. He pretended not to hear the muttered ‘yes’ that came from the other.
“Ah, that’s fine then! Come here, I’ve brought you my samples.” The girl piped up, ushering the two towards the nearest table and making them sit down.
“So, I took into consideration your latest suggestions, and I’ve come up with a few variation to my usual plate, this time—”
As Xiangling started going off about whatever changes she had made, Xiao couldn’t help the small huff of laughter that left his lips, an unconscious smile spreading out on his face.
It was true that he couldn’t stand being near humans, what with their unpredictability and the way he was scared of hurting them, but somehow he could just bear this one human.
Xiangling was a cook who usually came to Wangshu Inn to help around whenever a hand was needed, so it was obvious that Xiao would end up meeting her some way or another, seeing as he practically lived there.
She had explosive energy, which the yaksha couldn’t quite stand, but her dishes were out of this world and she made quite a mean almond tofu, which instead greatly pleased him.
So they kind of ended up being acquaintances. Not friends, mind him. He had no friends. But he didn’t mind the girl, that he had to admit.
It was while he was having these thoughts that he felt a stare boring right into him, so he turned only to find Venti completely fuming, the biggest pout ever sitting on his face.
“Huh? What?” Xiao dumbly asked, lips parting in confusion.
“You laughed!” Venti accused, still looking as if he had done the most terrible of things.
“Uh, yeah, I guess I did.” The yaksha nodded, even more dumbly.
“You’re smiling!” The bard added, lamenting.
“Uh, am I?”
“You never laugh or smile when you’re with me!” Venti full-on whined, looking almost on the verge of tears. Xiangling looked as if she wanted to hightail and run out of there. Xiao shared the feeling.
“Yeah, because you’re annoying.”
Pin drop silence.
Xiangling let a wheeze pass through her lips.
Xiao tried keeping his face straight.
Venti looked more affronted than a dog whose food had been refused.
“Huh, sorry?” The yaksha tried, although the apology felt weird on his tongue. He had said the truth, after all.
At that, Xiangling burst out laughing obnoxiously, tears streaming down her face at the strength of it, while all the other tables turned to look at them with a mixture of annoyance and amusement.
Venti, on the other hand, got up and started walking threateningly towards Xiao, a worrying smile on his face. The yaksha started fearing for his life.
“Oh, so I am annoying, huh?” And then, the Archon jumped on him, fingers coming to Xiao’s mouth to stretch it painfully while he kept laughing evilly.
That must have been quite a scene.
A God bullying an Adeptus, all the while a human laughed her ass off right next to them. Had somebody told the old him something like that would’ve happened, he would’ve probably scoffed in disbelief.
He couldn’t help the freeing laugh that bubbled up his throat, even while his mouth screamed in pain, at how his life had completely changed thanks to one annoying bard.
It took him a few seconds to notice how Venti had weakened his hold on him, and was now looking at him with a weird look, something like affection swimming in his eyes.
Once again, Xiao chose to ignore it.
A few hours later, bellies satiated and almost dozing off, they found themselves still there on the balcony of the Wangshu Inn, but this time with no one else around given the late hour.
“That was exhausting.” Xiao sighed, leaning on the railing and resting his cheek on his hand. Absentmindedly, he observed the last people downstairs leaving the Inn, the lights of the country-road illuminating them softly.
“I would say that it was rather fun, on the contrary.” Venti grinned, coming right beside him while lightly fiddling with the yaksha’s gift tucked in his hat.
“Yeah. Exactly.” Xiao deadpanned, turning to glare at the Archon who only snickered in answer.
“I didn’t expect you to be friends with Xiangling.” Venti piped up all of a sudden, lightly caressing the railing while looking down. The yaksha slightly widened his eyes, not expecting the comment.
“I wouldn’t say we’re friends.” He grumbled, still not ready to admit he had made a friend out of a human.
“You’re so not honest.” Venti chuckled, turning towards the yaksha to lightly flick him in the forehead.
Xiao slapped his hands on his pained forehead and then glared at the other, who was still looking way too smug for his liking. He then proceeded to grab the fat on the Archon’s cheek and stretch it as far as he could in retaliation.
“Ouch, ouch— I get it, stop!” Venti pleaded, only to glare back once the yaksha had finally released him from the torture.
“Payback.” Xiao muttered, and went back to admiring the stars in front of him, ignoring the way the bard was still pouting at him.
“So old and so wise, and yet you still act like a kid.” The Archon huffed.
Look who’s talking .
“And here I was about to praise you for going as far as getting your first human friend! I see you still need my godly guidance.” Venti nodded proudly to himself, putting his hands on his hips.
Xiao was about to open his mouth to retort, when, taken by a sudden thought, he stopped to stare at the other.
The Archon, who was expecting another one of the yaksha’s deadpan retorts, tilted his head in confusion, not understanding the sudden silence.
Xiao stared, and stared, as if trying to look for the answer to the question that had plagued him for years in Venti’s own emerald eyes.
Venti’s eyes that both resembled a tempest and the calm sea caressed by a fresh marine breeze at the same time.
The Archon, seeming to now understand the seriousness of the situation, settled on leaning against the railing as well, a small small playing on his lips as if he already knew what was about to come.
The yaksha ignored the spark of irritation at the way the other always seemed to know everything that there was to know about him.
“Why did you give me your Vision?”
It was as simple as that.
The doubt that had tormented his eternal life ever since he had received the blessing of the winds. Him who did not represent freedom, him who killed mercilessly.
Why did the Archon choose him?
Again, Venti smiled, warmth creeping into his eyes, that same warmth that enveloped the bard each time silence settled between them.
Wordlessly, the Archon moved away from the railing, and for a second panic settled into Xiao’s chest, who instantly tried to reach out towards the other.
Venti knew, of course he knew, and he briefly grasped the yaksha’s hands into his own, giving them a caring squeeze.
The bard’s hands, which usually looked small, now instead were the image of comfort and managed to calm down Xiao’s agitated spirit.
Once again, Venti detached himself, and it was with a gasp that the yaksha now noticed the flute materializing in the bard’s hands.
Xiao’s ears started ringing, the anticipation being so high that he involuntarily started filtering out whatever sound his brain didn’t register as the upcoming flute.
Venti sat down on one of the chairs.
Xiao’s hands started sweating, grasping onto something he couldn’t even recognize in the state he was in.
And then it began.
It was all he could hear. Sweet, warm, as loving as the embrace of a mother. A melody that, just by listening to it, could make you feel as if you’re soaring in the highest skies.
Once again he could feel it.
The wind caressing his cheeks, hair flowing around with each strand being carded caringly by the breeze.
Something burst inside of him, his brain suddenly not computing with the thought. It almost felt as if it hadn’t even been his own. Was it his voice who had whispered that? Or was it the Archon’s?
In that moment, as taken as he was by the sound of the flute, he couldn’t even discern which were the thoughts flowing inside him because of the music and which were his own.
Slowly opening his eyes, which he hadn’t even noticed he had closed, he startled at the fact that what he had grasped on initially was nothing other than his own mask.
The mask that he had always worn to kill, to torture.
Oh, how I wish —
Oh, how he wished that for once, he could wear that mask not to commit atrocities, but to instead dance to the sound of that same flute, the one being played by the God he had so longed to meet.
He took a moment to admire the bard.
His deft fingers flying through the flute, his braids moving in sync with the way he would follow the rhythm with his head.
The flower he had gifted the Archon still prettily adorning his hat.
Seeing as Venti was keeping his eyes closed, Xiao couldn’t help but notice the long lashes, fanning his cheeks in an angelic way.
In that moment, the bard was truly the image of a cherub playing to the yaksha the song of his own Eden entrance.
For a brief second, Venti looked up, directly at him, and he felt his breath stop at the way the Archon’s pupils were brimming with emotions, as intense as burning flames.
And Xiao was right in the middle of that arson.
It lasted for merely a few seconds, after which Venti once again closed his lids. But that had been enough to leave him winded.
Then, he closed his own eyes.
And there he was, up in the skies, higher than he’s ever been, in a sea of clouds, dancing as if there was no weight on his shoulders, as if he was simply a man with no duties that had to be fulfilled.
As if it was simply him, Xiao.
He danced with the moon as his witness, and the Archon’s voice whispering sweet nothings into his ears through his music.
Sooner than he had wanted, the performance was already over.
Venti, with a soft sigh, dematerialized his flute and stood up, taking small steps until he was once again standing next to the yaksha, who had merely kept staring with his mouth slightly agape the whole time.
For a second, Xiao wondered if he had imagined the way the bard’s eyes looked slightly humid.
“So.” Venti began, looking weirdly awkward. “Did you like my performance?”
The yaksha could only nod in answer, words still lost on him. Then, for some reason, the Archon chuckled.
“You’re crying. Again .” Venti huffed, but still with an amused smile, as he brought a hand up to wipe the other’s cheeks. “Seems I have a talent for making you cry.”
Xiao jumped at that, bringing his own hands up to feel his wet face. Indeed, he had cried, again. But somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to be frustrated by the fact.
On the other hand, he couldn’t help the elation coursing through his body, because that— That had just happened.
Although it seemed as if it had lasted for only a few heartbeats, he had actually heard it again. With his own ears.
Just the thought seemed to bring even more tears to his eyes, which he hurriedly wiped away.
“To answer your question—” Venti began, and then did something that made even more speechless the already wordless yaksha.
The Archon brought his arms around Xiao’s waist and moved closer, closer until his face was resting between the yaksha’s neck and shoulder.
Useless to say, Xiao once again felt as if he was burning in the middle of flames.
“I wanted to give you freedom.”
That was all Venti whispered against his neck, lips barely a ghost of touch on skin. That was, however, enough to make Xiao quiver right under the bard’s hands.
Standing was all he could do, the overload of information being too much on the yaksha’s poor brain.
The way Venti was grabbing the back of his tunic, the way the other’s breath was tickling his neck. The way the Archon’s words made him want to cry all over again.
Xiao was so gone all he managed to do was to put his own head on Venti’s shoulder, shutting his eyes closed.
“What is freedom?” The yaksha murmured, grasping weakly with his hands the other’s clothes in an awkward attempt of grounding himself.
That was another of the questions that had always plagued him. What made someone free? What made someone not?
Was freedom necessary to be happy? Was not being free the equivalent of not being alive?
He could feel in his own chest the way Venti hummed while he thought about the answer.
Then, the Archon slightly raised his head and turned it towards him, barely enough so that they could lock gazes while Xiao was still resting on his shoulder.
“I don’t know. What is freedom?” The bard grinned. The yaksha gaped in confusion, eliciting a giggle from the other.
“How could I know, I’m the one who asked.” Xiao grumbled, a mild glare being sent to the Archon.
“You’re right. What could freedom be— Who knows?” Venti wondered in a playful manner, letting his arms fall to prop one of them on the other and put a finger on his lower lip.
Xiao did not mention the disappointment at losing his resting spot.
“To me, it could be flying wherever I want, whenever I want. It could be drinking until I pass out with nobody to tell me if that’s right or wrong. It could be playing until the sun rises not caring about the people complaining.” Venti started listing, raising one finger for each point.
“But again— It could also be this.” The bard added and then took one of Xiao’s hands into his own to bring it up between them, sweetly intertwining their fingers.
“This could also be freedom, could it be not?” Venti offered, soft, soft smile on his face, with his warm, warm eyes trained on the yaksha, who was by now on the verge of combusting.
Too many feelings in one night. Too much to process for his loner brain.
“At least, this is my freedom. The real question now is—”, and then, Venti moved to bring their intertwined fingers to his lips in a soft press, so imperceptible it could almost have been a sigh, “what is your freedom?”
Xiao was spellbound.
By the words he was being told, by the actions he was being subjected to, by the person himself that was standing right in front of him.
He could simply listen with his eyes slightly glazed over, lips parted in a soundless sigh that felt as if he was being emptied of his own soul.
“That is your homework for the next time!” Venti piped up, releasing the yaksha's hand to pluck something out from his hat.
Xiao was still too confused to understand what was happening, still trying to piece together the events of the last minute. Maybe his soul had truly left his body.
Then, something was being presented in front of his face.
Xiao balked, confused by the sudden intrusion, and tried to focus on what was standing in the way between his and the Archon’s gaze, only to find—
“Wait, this is—”
“It’s a Cecilia! It’s a pretty important flower to me.” Venti hummed, lightly caressing the white petals of the flower he usually wore on his hat.
“I thought it was only fair to give you mine, since you gifted me with such a pretty flower!” The Archon explained, bringing a hand up to the Qingxin prettily sitting on his head.
Then, for the umpteenth time that night, the bard moved to do something that made Xiao want to pour a bucket of ice-cold water on his head.
In a swift movement, Venti reached behind the yaksha’s ear and tucked the flower there, proceeding to then fix the wild strands of hair together with it.
“You should smile more.” The Archon suggested out of nowhere with a sparkle in his eyes. “You look much prettier when you do, Xiao.”
And then, just as quickly as he had destroyed the last bits of Xiao’s sanity, with a quick smile Venti disappeared in the wind.
It was one of those days.
One of those days in which Xiao forgot all the tiny steps he had taken towards forgiving himself, and went back to the self-loathing and heartless monster he once was.
Being at the Inn hurt. Seeing all those humans, hanging around without a care, not a burden on their shoulders to weigh them down.
It made Xiao want to show them, in their nightmares, just what it was to live in constant fear.
Xiao knew that those thoughts were simply born out of his depression, and most of the time he could keep them at bay with no problems.
But, on days as that one—
He left for one of the flying islands. He especially chose the one with a small temple built on it, maybe in some attempt to be closer to the gods and away from people.
Maybe, at least, they would try to sooth and purify his dark thoughts.
It was with a sigh that he looked up at the rumbling skies, the weather pretty much reflecting his mental state.
At least the temple would give him shelter from the pouring rain.
He had forgotten, however, of a single being who wouldn’t care about how far and how high the island was. Or about the raging tempest.
All it would’ve taken that person, after all, was to call on his winds and take him up there.
And indeed, it didn’t take long for Venti to make his appearance, a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in his other.
“Quite a place you’ve chosen to admire the view today.” The Archon greeted, sitting beside him without even asking permission and opening the bottle.
“I wanted to be alone.” Xiao stated, hoping that the other would get the hint and leave.
He was afraid.
He knew that if the bard remained, he would’ve said or done something he would have regretted for sure.
“Mh~ I can quite see that.” Venti hummed, pouring the two glasses and moving one towards the yaksha, who, to the bard’s surprise, accepted the wine.
Xiao never accepted the wine.
“But still, it took me so long to find this place. I didn’t even know it existed.” The Archon continued, taking a sip from his glass.
Without another word, Xiao took the glass and downed it in one go, appreciating for once the terrible taste of the alcoholic drink.
More like, he appreciated the way it burned down his throat and made him not think for a second.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Venti asked, voice as soft as the sound of his flute. The yaksha hated how even the sound of his voice reminded him of that.
Ah, this isn’t good.
He was beginning to feel irritated.
“As I’ve said, I want to be—”
“Why are you running away, Alatus?”
Xiao saw red.
It took him barely a second to stand up and yank the Archon from the front of his garments, making Venti stand with their faces merely a breath away.
The rain was now pouring over them.
“What the fuck do you know about me?” Xiao growled, raising his voice for the first time since they had met. He could feel the way his eyes were burning, traces of the old beast surfacing in anger.
In return, Venti simply looked at him, as if none of that was bothering him at all. He looked as calm as ever, and that irked the yaksha even more than before.
“Stop calling me by that name! Stop talking as if you know everything! Stop treating me as if you know me personally, when you couldn’t even bother to show up to my face for centuries!”
And hadn’t it been for the way they were standing forehead to forehead, he would’ve probably missed the way the bard slightly flinched at that, his eyes clouding for the tiniest of moments.
A small part of Xiao cried in regret. A much bigger one made that reaction fuel to his fire.
“That name is my personal grave. How can someone be called Alatus, when they’ve lost the same thing that name symbolizes?! I felt my own wings being plucked away, and in that same moment, my name lost any meaning.” Xiao growled, angry tears streaming down his face as he started pounding on the other’s chest with his closed fist.
“But how could you know? You’re not me, you weren’t there to feel my pain, to feel my anger, to feel my desperation. There’s no way you could understand how it felt to lose the only part that made me, me . There’s no way you could understand—”
Xiao knew that what he was doing was useless. He was simply lashing out on someone who didn’t deserve it, someone who had only been good to him, someone who openly showed, again and again, that they cared.
I wanted to give you freedom.
The Archon had said.
“Just because you suddenly arrived and gave me your Vision doesn’t mean that you can understand what I went through. Not when after doing that, you didn’t bother showing your face for another five hundred centuries.”
Xiao’s voice was hoarse, his heart was constricting, and something inside of him was pleading him to stop.
Stop venting on the only person who had helped him heal.
Venti merely kept silent, accepting the way his chest was being attacked, the way the yaksha was screaming at him, all with his impassive gaze.
No. Not impassive.
He was simply listening. Absorbing everything Xiao had to say. Once again, he was healing him in the only way that at that moment could help the yaksha.
By becoming the object of his hatred.
They both knew how useless that was. But none of them stopped it.
“You never bothered.” Xiao croaked, his voice now a complete mess. “So stop trying to bother now.”
After that, it was silent for a few moments, the rain having long soaked their hair and clothes, which were now sticking uncomfortably to their skins.
But none of them cared.
Xiao, then, took a step back, releasing the other’s clothes and letting his arms fall down, fists clenched.
After all he had said, he didn’t even have the courage to hold the Archon’s gaze, and so he let his own fall to the ground, afraid Venti could see the regret and self-hatred burning in there.
“I see.” The bard whispered, raising a hand to tenderly caress the yaksha’s cheek, “I’m sorry.”
All it took was one second of hesitation before raising his gaze, and then, Venti was already gone, the only thing left behind him being the empty hole in Xiao’s chest.
It took him a moment to notice, in anguish, that in his anger he had missed the Qingxin still tucked in the bard’s hat.
Xiao had, for the lack of a better term, royally fucked up.
It hadn’t even taken him an hour to deeply regret what he had done and what he had said, mentally berating himself for the rest of the day.
After that, he had thought that he could’ve just apologized in the following days, knowing for sure that Venti would end up popping up from somewhere before he even knew it.
However, the days passed with no contact from the other.
As soon as the Archon’s absence went past the week, Xiao started feeling afraid.
Afraid that he had truly made the Archon decide to close any kind of relationship with him.
Honestly, the yaksha wouldn’t have faulted Venti after how he had acted. A downright selfish bastard he had been.
Every day was passed in agony, with him checking every corner with the hope of finding the bard passed out there, after a heavy drinking session with his favourite wine.
It kept going until one day, he was so distracted he almost managed to impale himself on Zhongli’s polearm, making the Geo Archon’s worry shoot to the skies.
“Xiao, just what has happened?” The older man inquired, checking that the yaksha was actually alright.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Xiao gritted, trying not to sound too rude towards his Archon.
You’re so not honest. Venti had said. Right he was on the money.
“I can see that there is something worrying you. Does it have anything to do with the fact that I don’t see Barbatos loitering around anymore?”
And hell, why did Zhongli have to be so perceptive at the worst times.
Xiao, not knowing how to distract the other from the matter anymore, decided to tell the Archon everything that had happened.
At the end of his explanation, he turned towards Zhongli, only to find him with his head in his hands.
Xiao blinked in confusion.
“Seriously, you two..” The Archon murmured with a sigh, leveling the yaksha with a look of resignation.
“Barbatos acts as if he knows everything about you because he does .” Zhongli offered, which only contributed to confusing him even more.
“Wait, what? What do you mean?” Xiao asked, trying to make sense of what the other had said.
“Probably the only one who can properly explain it is Barbatos, but— He’s known about you since forever. Even before me. And not simply in a ‘I know about your existence so I gave you my Vision.’” Zhongli started, raising from where he was sitting and inviting Xiao with a nod of his head to follow him.
They arrived right in front of one of the Geo Archon statues, and stopped there.
“We Archons.. Can to some grade feel a connection with the people we give our blessing to. The strength of that connection differs from Archon to Archon, but— It was Barbatos who told me about you.”
Xiao stilled, not knowing how to digest that information.
Venti had told Zhongli about him? But how could he know?
“He told me about this child of his who was lost and needed help. So I asked him, why don’t you help him yourself? Want to know what he said?”
The yaksha nodded, eyes boring holes into Zhongli’s face side.
“He said that he felt inadequate. That after he gave you his Vision, you started revering him as God himself, so he was afraid. He’s always wanted to meet you, but never dared to because he didn’t want to disappoint you.” Zhongli chucked. “What an idiot.”
And idiots indeed they were. Both of them.
“It was so exasperating, having him talking my ears off about you, and then having you trying to sneak around to dig up any information you could find about him. You both longed so hard for each other, but still maintained your distance in fear of god knows what.” The Archon sighed, staring at Xiao with an unimpressed stare.
The yaksha felt more and more ashamed as he recalled the words he had told Venti at the temple.
He had told the other he couldn’t understand him, that he couldn’t know.
Xiao told off Venti for not bothering to come and meet him, when the bard didn’t purely in fear of how the yaksha would have reacted.
They both were so, so stupid.
“Since neither of you had enough galls to make the decision, I myself invited Barbatos here. Of course, I didn’t tell him you would be there as well, otherwise he would have never come. And so, I finally got you two to meet.” Zhongli chuckled, an amused look in his eyes.
“Xiao, you still don’t know him well enough to notice it, but— The panic I saw in his eyes as soon as he laid his eyes on you. Barbatos is usually very energetic, but that day.. That was him trying to cover up the way he was moments away from fainting due to the shock.”
“You tricked us.” Xiao gaped, not believing that his master was capable of such a thing. Maybe he still had lots to learn about his Archon even after all those centuries.
“Well, it was either this or another five hundred years of pining. And there’s no way I could’ve standed a single more second of Venti singing about his lost other half.”
The yaksha felt his face heating up at that last sentence.
So that time at the restaurant— it wasn’t just a thing said on the spur of the moment.
“I— Don’t know what to say.” Xiao muttered, truly at a loss for words, staring up at the stony face of Zhongli’s statue.
“That’s quite alright. I don’t know what you should say as well, but I do know what you should be doing. And I bet you do as well.” And with that, the Archon leveled him with an expecting stare, knowing that that would get Xiao up and moving as it usually did.
And so the yaksha did.
With an awkward apology and a few words of gratefulness, Xiao took off towards the place Zhongli described him, an enormous tree in Monstadt near a statue of the Anemo Archon.
Surely, it wouldn’t be a quick search, but he knew that once he got there, he’d be able to feel the Archon through his own Vision.
It was in the distance that he heard a faint, “Don’t forget to bring him flowers!”
And so, he decided to do a quick stop before going to the bard, to pick-up a little gift to give as a peace offer.
Putting a hand on the trunk of the tree, he looked up towards the higher branches, the moon peaking in-between them.
It was weird.
It was as if the tree itself was embedded with a mystic power that permeated the whole surrounding area, ultimately concentrating in the place where the Anemo Archon statue stood, giving it an almost celestial glow.
Xiao swore he could feel Venti’s presence coming right from the innermost parts of that gigantic tree, probably an effect of how much the Archon spent resting there.
That place felt as much of a home to Venti as Wangshu Inn was to him.
Silently, he called the winds to carry him up, until he could see, on one of the branches, a figure daintily sitting while staring down at something.
It was with a blow to his heart that he noticed the Qingxin caught between Venti’s hands, his small fingers twirling the flower around mindlessly.
The bard didn’t even raise his gaze when he felt Xiao landing right next to him.
“So you came.” Venti started, tucking the flower back into his hat, still staring far ahead of him.
Xiao wanted to get angry, to scream, because how could the other keep such a calm behaviour? How could he just sit there without insulting Xiao for how he had acted?
He wanted the Archon to be mad at him and make him regret each of his words. He needed to receive a punishment, otherwise there would be no way to dissipate the guilt welling up inside him.
But— That wasn’t Venti’s way of doing things. The Archon probably didn’t even feel any resentment towards him.
“Why did you disappear without a word?” Xiao inquired, taking a step closer while being mindful of not falling down.
The bard simply continued sitting, legs dangling in the air as if there weren’t 20 meters up in the air while standing on the branch of a tree.
“You said you wanted me to stop bothering, so I did.” The Archon answered, still infuriatingly not looking at him.
The yaksha huffed, starting to lose his patience.
“We both know that—”
“That’s a lie.” Venti sighed, clasping his hands and twirling his fingers around. “I guess I was afraid. Again. I didn’t want to take the risk and find out you truly wanted me gone.”
Finally, the bard looked up, only to give Xiao, the most sincere, but terribly sad, smile.
The yaksha ached. He couldn’t bear to see the other like that.
Venti was happiness, sparkling energy, obnoxious laughter accompanied by drunken nights and stupid shenanigans.
But Venti was also the sound of his flute and comforting smiles. Small hands tracing patterns on the skin of his arm, following the lines of his tattoo.
Venti was home in a way that nobody else had never felt like before.
And Xiao knew, somewhere in a minuscule corner of his heart— or at least hoped—, that the same was for the bard.
However, now Venti’s eyes looked as if he had eternally lost that same home they had been sharing in each other’s heart.
“Again?” Xiao barely managed to get out, remembering what Zhongli had told him. How the Archon was afraid of not being adequate in comparison to the yaksha’s expectations.
Venti sighed, going back to twirling his fingers around.
“It’s a long story. Do you want to sit down?”
Xiao, incapable of taking any more of that emotional distance, instantly sat down and proceeded to lay on the bard’s shoulder, slotting his forehead between Venti’s shoulder and neck.
The yaksha wasn’t normally one for physical touches or having the need to stay close, but he was, for lack of a better term, touch starved .
He had gotten so used to the Archon’s presence that his sudden absence traumatized Xiao in a way he couldn’t have thought possible.
He needed the closeness, he needed to feel the way their blessings met and mingled together, in a dance not of supremacy but of familiarity.
His heart burst at the sound of Venti’s chuckle and the way he sensed the bard relax under him.
Xiao couldn’t help the way his eyes closed when he felt the touch of tender fingers to his arm, once again attentively tracing the pattern of his tattoo on his skin.
Hadn’t it been for the fact that they were about to have an important discussion, he could’ve probably fallen asleep then and there.
“I’m listening.” Was all Xiao said before the Archon started his tale.
“Mh~” Venti mumbled softly, oh so tenderly caressing the other’s arm, “where to start.”
“Usually, before giving someone my blessing, I tend to start feeling their thoughts, their prayers, their wish for freedom. That’s what connects me to them at first.” The Archon began, legs swinging playfully in contrast to the somber tone of his voice.
Xiao found relaxing the way he could feel the bard’s throat vibrate against his forehead.
“I always enjoy getting to know the ones that could potentially end up becoming the bearers of my Vision, so in a way, they always already feel like children, or even friends sometimes, to me.” The bard chuckled, although the sound felt pretty empty to the yaksha’s ears.
Xiao wondered just how many secrets were actually hidden behind those emerald eyes.
“But with you, it was different.” Venti’s voice took an even more serious edge. The yaksha’s clenched his eyes, afraid of what was about to come.
“At first, all I could hear were screams and pleads of help. Usually, listening to someone’s thoughts is a delightful experience for me, but yours— They were pure agony. It was so painful I myself felt like crying each time I heard your voice. Your mind was so dark, obscured by terrible thoughts that begged for death. The freedom you wanted was some other kind of freedom.” The yaksha felt Venti tremble under him for a second.
“You wanted to be freed from your own life.” The Archon squeezed the words out of his throat, that sentence evidently taking a painful toll on him.
Xiao was shocked to learn just how wrong he had been that day on the floating island.
It wasn’t simply a matter of understanding or not. Venti was talking as if he himself had stood there, feeling what was going on through the yaksha’s mind as if they had been one and the same.
“Every day, I listened, and listened, and it made me so sad . I wanted you to wish for a life of freedom, not for your life to be taken away. I wanted to be your strength. And so, I decided to grant you my Vision. Of course, I don’t think of myself so high as to think that you would finally be fine. But I thought it could help, at least a little. But instead—” Venti raised his hand and pinched Xiao’s nose, making him yelp from the surprise.
The yaksha opened his eyes to glare at the other, who simply looked back with an amused stare.
“You, always the rude one, chose to ignore my blessing. Still can’t believe it.” The bard pouted, crossing his arms.
Xiao felt like a chastised child, so he instinctively looked to the side, feeling a bit of guilt.
Again, Venti chuckled, although that time it actually seemed more heartfelt. Going back to a softer smile, he resumed his tale.
“I still remember the first time you finally accepted my gift and took flight. My breath was taken away by the happiness and gratefulness I felt coming from you. It was so overwhelming I started crying. Nobody had ever felt so grateful to me. To you, the Anemo Archon, the being who gave you back your lost wings, was truly a God. I actually felt a bit embarrassed of myself in that moment, because there was no way I could resemble the holy being that I seemed to be in your mind. And so—” Venti stopped and sighed, his expression turning regretful.
Xiao, given what he had heard from Zhongli, probably guessed what was about to come.
“I decided that I would forever keep my distance, so that you could keep close to your heart that image you had of me as your strength. That was enough for me. So, I told Morax to help you. But really, I had asked that idiot to lend you a hand, not to bind you to another contract.” Venti grumbled, actually sounding annoyed for once.
The yaksha laughed under his breath at that, or at least until he felt a hand sneaking upon his, the warm touch making something tumble in his stomach.
“However, as I’ve said before, your loyalty is the first quality of yours that I liked. No matter how much serving under someone had hurt you, you chose yet again to let yourself be bound to another. I was surprised to see how, no matter who it was you worked for, you did it to the best of your abilities. Even, if it brought you to the brink of madness.”
Images of a bloody meadow, mask abandoned to the ground while the yaksha screamed in agony, flashed through his mind.
The Archon gave another one of those, sad , sad smiles, which made Xiao’s heart break in two, because—
True. That was probably one of the worst memories of his life, but at the same time—
“Your flute was my saving grace. It doesn’t matter what led me to that moment, but the fact that I got to hear that— I probably wouldn’t be the same now, if that hadn’t happened.”
Xiao tried his best at being sincere, but even he knew how bad he was with words. He wasn’t one to speak much, especially about feelings, but somehow the hand holding his own kept giving him a kind of strength he had never had before.
Venti giggled, the apple of his cheeks slightly reddening, a rare sight considering how it usually worked the other way around, with the yaksha ending up in a flustered mess.
“I know. Even then, I felt the rush of emotions you had, and even then , I found myself so overwhelmed. So I decided to keep to myself, for years, decades, centuries, afraid of you , you who regarded me so highly. But then that idiot Morax had to go and play his stupid tricks. He ruined everything!” Venti once again started grumbling, annoyance getting the better of him. It was as if looking at a stomping child.
“Because of him I got to meet you, and— you got to meet me. I panicked so hard at the time. Even though you probably didn’t notice. You were there, finally, after wanting to meet you for so long, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.”
“So adorable just as I had imagined you, but with eyes filled with tempests.” The Archon turned towards Xiao, who was simply in trance, absorbing everything Venti had to say as he was a sponge.
As taken as he was, the yaksha barely reacted to the umpteenth praise thrown his way. Still, his body betrayed him in the form of the usual flush sitting high on his cheeks.
“Me, on the other hand— I’m so lame, aren’t I? Must’ve been a disappointment.”
Xiao was about to open his mouth and protest, that no, Venti was anything but lame and disappointing—
But then the bard smiled one of his big, warm smiles, and proceeded to intertwine their fingers together, swaying their hands one way and another in a playful manner.
It was while putting their foreheads together that he concluded his tale.
“But! I don’t regret the way I am. This is how I chose to live, and I would never change it for anything in the world. This is my freedom .” Venti grinned, and soon as he whispered that last word, it felt as if the winds all around them rose as if worshipping the same sentence that had been uttered by their God.
The bard giggled at that, his braids glowing softly as the winds caressed them and his eyes finally back to their usual spark, the moon finding home in them.
It was ethereal.
So ethereal, Xiao didn’t even notice the way he pressed forward, he didn’t even notice the yelp that escaped the bard’s mouth, he could only sigh as their lips met and molded together, a touch so unique it could be considered even more wonderful than the best sights of Liyue.
When they separated, it was with a kind of shyness that came only after a gesture like that, shared between two lovers that had no experience in the matters of hearts.
“I’m happy I got to meet you.” Xiao whispered, resting his forehead against the other’s. “I don’t care if you’re exactly like I had imagined you, because the person I got to meet was so much more than the entity living in my head.”
“I’m happy that you chose to bless me with your Vision. I’m happy that you listened to my pain and sent someone my way. I’m happy you played your flute for me in the moment I was about to lose myself.”
The yaksha had probably never said so many words together, but somehow, they didn’t feel even the tiniest bit close to what he actually wanted to express.
It was in that moment that he decided to take out from his tunic the Cecilia he had picked on his way there, taking Venti’s hands and pressing the flower into them, burning the image of the bard gently grasping the flower Xiao had gifted him with a tender smile into his brain.
“I don’t know what this feeling is, but it’s something so overwhelming and encompassing that I find myself wondering how could one body contain such powerful emotions. But still, it’s there. It’s there when you touch me, it’s there when you speak to me, it’s there even when you merely look at me and all I can do is stare back and hope that you feel these same emotions as me—”
And Xiao didn’t even know if there were any other words left to be said, but anyway, he would’ve never found out because of the armful of Venti he suddenly found himself with.
Once again, lips meeting and dancing, that time even more intensely than the first, and somehow, it felt as if a new contract, although of a totally different kind from his precedents, was being formed between the two Anemo boys, with the moon being their only witness.
Later than night, while they were still cuddling close together, a question popped up into Xiao’s brain. One that definitely needed an answer.
“But why do you keep calling me Alatus?” The yaksha grumbled, although his grumpy voice in no way did intimidate Venti, who minded his business while weaving a flower crown for the other.
“It’s the name you were carrying when I got to know you.” The Archon simply answered, lips turned upwards as usual.
“And even though it may be a bad memory to you, to me, it has a special meaning that I’ll never forget. I’ll always cherish the name that brought you to me.” Venti grinned while giving the finishing touches to the crown, putting it on the yaksha’s head with a small applause.
Xiao remained silent for a total of three seconds, in which he thanked all the lords above for giving him Venti, the real blessing of his life.
He then proceeded to kiss the hell out of said blessing for the umpteenth time that night.