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Heart in the Clouds

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"Tell me you love this. Tell me you're not miserable."

Embedded in those sentiments is a viscerality that softens the edge normally found in Xiao’s tone, one that is noticeable enough to humble the Yuheng into a silence. In fact, it’s as if their environment had grown quiet, as well — the sharp hum of the stratosphere but white noise, the singsong of birds migrating farther and farther north.

She tears her eyes away from his, opting to study the newfound tremble of her hands instead. “Why would I be miserable?” It is a query intended for him but one that did not quite reach...not while it’s something she’s yet to answer for herself.

Something in her heart of hearts tells her she should do that soon.

In her mind, she’s worked out the basis of it: they had been spending an inordinate amount of time together.

That couldn’t be helped. Now that the Qixing played a bigger role in Liyue’s safekeeping, Keqing had devoted even more of her life to working her days away. Most of the adepti had acknowledged that and acted accordingly, growing more and more absent by the minute...that is, all but one.

When Xiao wasn’t tethered to Wangshu Inn’s rooftop, he was hovering over the Yuheng — closer to her than her own shadow. He would make it known some days, manifesting in the Jade Chamber with a plate of almond tofu sat in his lap and Ningguang at his side notifying him of the Qixing’s current developments. Then, there were days when his presence was but a passing thing — something she would catch wind of during her lunch break or on her walk home. He’d deemed it his obligation as a guardian Yaksha, and as unnecessary as Keqing felt it was, she’d coerced herself into accepting it.

After that is when she’d draw a blank.

Keqing tends to the nape of her neck, head still dipped and eyes hanging low. Her days off had normally been spent in solitude. All she’d ever known was loneliness, which she’d curbed by working clandestinely off the clock. Spending time with other people, or rather an adeptus, had been a tossup in her routine. Their typical hangouts were simple. She would accompany him aboard his favorite rooftop, almond tofu and shrimp balls in tow — and if not that, then he was fixed in a lotus pose upon her kitchen counter … watching her cook, listening to her read, toying with her belongings (to her chagrin).

Today, when she posited that nothing could compare to a mountaintop view, Xiao had sought to prove otherwise. Cue the pair perched atop a cloud several hundreds of feet above said “mountaintop view”. She’d been up in arms to start, critical of the pressure ringing in her ears and the goosebumps invading her skin … but it wasn’t long before a vibrant, streak of orange permeated her line of sight. Following suit was a mosaic of purples and reds and pinks that scraped every corner of the sky — some but a backdrop to the other clouds surrounding them, others caressing layer upon layer of Liyue’s stone forests.

The past few hours they’d spent there, Keqing had wanted to speak — to say something more profound than “It’s so beautiful up here”. To be speechless is all she seemed capable of nowadays, or at least where Xiao was concerned.

Until he’d severed the silence himself just moments ago, she was under the impression that he had not noticed.

That’s also when she noticed something crucial about the answer to what she’d been thinking circles around: it could be helped, after all.

Slowly lifting her head, the Yuheng dares her eyes to return to where Xiao is sitting. Given his age, he had never struck her as somebody who appreciated the magic of a view.

It’s only when she really — really, really — drinks in the golden flecks gleaning his amber eyes and the contrast of his teals and greens and blues to the setting sun that she realizes how utterly wrong she was.

“No, I don’t think I can be miserable.” Keqing lifts her legs and hugs them close to her chest, both arms draping themselves over her kneecaps. She feels a warm light engulf her as the sun begins its descent into the night.

“Why, I’m up here sitting on a cloud...having spent several hours reminded of just how beautiful Liyue is — ” The warmth stretches past her, casting itself onto Xiao next.

Her eyes widen. Her heart skips a beat...several beats.

“ — And I’m up here sitting on a cloud… ” The faintest of laughs spills from Keqing’s lips. She averts her gaze once more, cheeks a rosy red. “… With you.”