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There’s a distinct breeze ticking at Xiao’s skin in the first moments of his waking, coaxing him out of his sleep and pulling him into consciousness. He reaches a hand out to silence his alarm, groaning at the blaring noises that bring him out of his stupor. He pulls himself out of his bed, and when the light blurring the edges of his vision fades into clarity, there’s an unfamiliar face looking him in the eyes.

Long hair, falling just at his collar bones.

Pale skin, unblemished across every inch of flesh.

Eyes, a luminescent jade hue, staring back at him.

It’s concerning to see a complete stranger staring at you first thing in the morning. It’s even worse when Xiao is supposed to be looking at himself in a mirror, and the image reflected in it is anything but him.

He does what any sensible person would do upon seeing an entirely different person where their reflection should be—presume it’s just some sick kind of dream, and pinch himself awake. So he yanks the skin on his forearm as hard as he can, then winces at the stinging pain. He looks up again to the mirror, and staring back at him is still the same boy, looking just as dumbfounded as Xiao feels.

He does what he deems to be the next most sensible thing to do when you wake up in a body that isn’t your own, which is to scream, voice rising from his lungs. The door to the room flies open at that, and there’s a blond boy with the most bewildered gaze looking at him.

“Venti, holy shit, are you okay?” he asks, and he looks so panicked that Xiao can’t even bring himself to worry anymore about waking up in the wrong body.

“I,” Xiao says, and he’s almost taken aback at how different the sound that comes out of his throat is. “I’m fine. I just saw a bug,” he reasons pathetically.

The boy looks equally unconvinced, but decides within a split second that it ultimately isn’t worth the effort of questioning. Xiao is immensely grateful for the stranger’s lack of concern.

“Breakfast is in the kitchen whenever you’re ready,” he simply shrugs, and waves off before shutting the door.

Xiao exhales again shakily, because despite his prior conclusion, he still refuses to believe that this is anything but a dream. He pinches his arm one last time for good measure, and is greeted again by stinging pain and a blooming bruise on his—is it even his arm?

He shakes his head. He decides disbelievingly that he might just be in a terribly deep sleep and walking through an unnervingly lucid dream, however much the sensation on his skin tries to taunt him otherwise.

 

 

+

 

 

When Xiao drags himself out of bed the next day, Chongyun is in the dorm kitchen, already halfway through his breakfast. From the corners of his vision, Xiao sees Chongyun watching him forage through their kitchen, eyes almost a little too intent for comfort. He takes a banana from the counter and pours himself a cup of coffee before taking a seat across his roommate.

“You’re back to normal today,” Chongyun notes over his bowl of cereal.

“What?” Xiao asks. He’s almost offended at the implication of not being normal coming from a boy that puts ice cubes in his cereal and milk.

Chongyun pops a cereal ice cube in his mouth, and Xiao winces in discomfort at the sight. “What, don’t you remember yesterday?”

Xiao narrows his eyes. “Is there something I’m supposed to remember?”

Chongyun cocks his head to the side like he’s the one that should be puzzled by the situation at hand. “You were just a little out of it is all,” he says thoughtfully. “Though by the looks of it, I guess it was nothing?”

Xiao looks back to Chongyun, just as confused as the boy across him seems to be. Chongyun looks like he’s about to continue, but his eyes catch sight of the clock, and he jolts out from his chair.

“Sorry, sorry, I’ve got to go to class! I’ll be home for dinner later,” he says, voice just a little panicked. He downs the rest of his cereal in a single gulp, ice and milk and all, and runs out the door before Xiao can even get a word out.

 

Despite what Chongyun said, however, Xiao thinks whatever he was pertaining to was absolutely something, and that the whole world is in on one massive joke against him. If Chongyun’s odd behavior at breakfast wasn’t enough to tick the gears in his head, the landlady is the next one who tries to test him.

“Good morning, dear Xiao,” she greets cheerfully. She’s in her usual spot by the dorm gate tending to the glaze lilies. “You know how to get to class today, don’t you?”

“Good morning,” he greets back. “I’ll be fine, Madame Ping, thank you for asking.”

He waves at her politely as he walks past, and furrows his eyebrows when he’s out of sight. He doesn’t quite understand why Madame Ping felt the need to offer him directions to class two months into the second semester of his second year in college, but he just shrugs it off as her old age just getting to her.

 

It doesn’t get any better when he makes it to the lecture hall—there are dozens more eyes looking at him than usual, and they’re all looking at him with some kind of familiarity he knows was never there before. He gets waves and greetings from people he’s sure he’d never spoken to before, and there are hushed giggles and whispers from people as he walks by them.

He shakes it off and drags out one of the seats beside Xiangling. She gives him a cheery wave, and when it comes to Xiangling at least, she just happens to be a consistent mass of sheer energy. He’s grateful for all the things she starts to tell him about her already eventful morning, letting it fill up the odd discomfort settling in the back of his mind.

She pipes down when their lecturer walks in, and he swears he catches Keqing giving him a surveying glance before she sets her things down at the table.

He gets his own things ready, turning his textbook to the numbers inscribed on the blackboard. He turns the pages of his notebook open next, but squints at an unfamiliar scrawl of words on one of the pages.

WHO ARE YOU!!!

Xiao presses a little closer to the notebook, fingers flipping deftly through the next pages—yet they’re all empty save for the one jarring question.

He’s pulled out of his thoughts when his teacher calls his name out.

“Xiao,” Keqing asks. “Can you read the next passage to the class?”

He shakes his head at the notebook, and waves it off as some kind of misplaced prank from Hu Tao. He shuts the notebook before grabbing his textbook and pushing himself up against the table.

Keqing interrupts him just as he’s about to read the passage. “Hm, it looks like you remember your own name today,” she laughs out. The rest of the class bursts into laughter, and Xiao, confused as he is, wants the world to chew him up and swallow him whole.

 

By the end of the day, the world has still kept him alive and intact, and Xiao comes to terms with the fact that there is something undeniably wrong.

He’s in the one of the verandas around campus with Hu Tao and Xiangling, enumerating all the things that had happened to him today—his conversation with Chongyun at breakfast, Madame Ping’s teasing greetings to him on his way to school, and all the giggles, whispers, and stares that followed him during all his classes.

“I just don’t understand what’s gone wrong,” he says, voice just a tinge exasperated.

Xiangling looks down thoughtfully, mouth full of food. “Now that I think about it, you were kinda weird yesterday,” she mumbles around her meat bun. “You were so friendly with everyone in class, and you even stuck around to talk to some of them after!”

“I did?”

She nods excitedly. “Yeah! You even responded to me when I was talking to you about my newest recipe before class,” she gasps, eyes wide like the realization of all that had happened was only dawning on her now.

Hu Tao’s eyes light up teasingly. “Ooh,” she giggles out. “Maybe you got possessed by a really friendly ghost!”

Xiao stares at her, wholly unimpressed and unblinking. Hu Tao pouts, sticking her tongue out at him, mumbling something about learning to loosen up. He wonders if, just maybe, Hu Tao is right—however outlandish the idea might be, it might also just be a good enough answer for the unsettling feeling tugging at his nerves.

 

 

+

 

 

He wakes up a few days later to clean white plaster and warm yellow lights staring down at him, the scent of flowers coming in from the planter by his window, and the sounds of early morning traffic melding into the blaring noise of his alarm.

He knows right away that it’s that same dream again, and he sighs to himself as he reaches his hand out to shut the alarm off.

The door cracks open while he debates his next course of action, and there’s a panicked yelp from outside. There’s light, rushed steps towards him, and a white mass of fur leaping onto his chest, nuzzling against his face.

The cat on his chest looks intently at him, almost as if it’s goading him on, and in near immediacy, Xiao feels his lungs start to fill up with thick air, pulsing against his throat and cutting away at his breath.

The blonde boy from last time comes in and grabs the cat just in time. “Paimon, what’d I say about getting near Venti!” He tosses the cat into what Xiao presumes is his own room, before running back to give Xiao a glass of water.

“I’m really sorry Venti! I promise my sister’s coming to take Paimon back soon, we just have to take care of her for a bit longer!”

“It’s fine,” Xiao wheezes out, even if he feels like his lungs are about to rip themselves out of his chest. He takes the glass of water gratefully. “I’ll be fine. I’ll head out for breakfast soon,” he says.

The boy nods and shuts the door on his way out. When Xiao is alone, he takes a few deep breaths, letting the air clear out of his lungs, and pinches his skin as hard as he can. Like last time, he hisses at the vivid pain, and he’s still in the same room, and he still sees the same set of furniture, the same unfamiliar face in the mirror, and the same view of the unfamiliar city from his window.

There’s a knock on his door. “Venti, are you still okay there?”

“I’ll be ready soon,” Xiao calls out. Though he doesn’t quite think he’ll ever be ready to live out every excruciating minute of this complete stranger’s day, he only resigns himself to the tides of his dreams and lets them carry him through the hours.

 

The most unnerving part of these dreams, Xiao noticed, was the continuity of it all, and the ways each moment threaded into the next.

“You’ve tied your hair up again,” Jean—he thinks that’s her name at least, if he remembers correctly—notes over lunch.

Xiao lifts a hand to where his hair is tied in a high ponytail and a flower clip he found lying around the boy’s room holding up his bangs, the same way he had last time.

How am I supposed to know how this absolute stranger ties his hair, Xiao thinks. “It’s just easier this way sometimes,” is what he says instead.

She looks at him, almost a little suspicious, and Xiao really wishes she just went with everything the way Aether did. Still, he doesn’t have the energy to prove his authenticity to her, so he simply lets her think whatever she wants.

“Well, it does look good on you,” she laughs with a soft shrug. “Though the braids suit your character a little better, I think?”

“I see,” Xiao says plainly, all for lack of any better response to give. The dream world seems to take pity on him then, because she glances at her watch and rises out of her chair.

“Well, I’ve a meeting to get to, so I’ll see you later!” she says with a pleasant wave. He waves her off politely before leaning back into his chair with an exhausted groan.

He checks the dream boy’s phone when she’s out of sight, swiping through his dozens of selfies and sure enough, he always wears his hair in twin braids. He’s starting to get a better grasp of the boy’s character too, so Xiao thinks he understands what Jean meant by her last remark.

He scrolls a bit further through spotify screenshots, photos with friends—some already familiar faces, some completely foreign, and screenshots of text messages and conversations that probably shouldn’t be saved in his phone.

He gets a notification from his roommate that he’d be home late that night. Xiao glances at the clock on the phone and sighs—there was still a long way to go until the end of the day, so begrudgingly, he wades a little further into the tides of the dream.

 

 

+

 

 

Xiao wakes up to planked ceilings, air made of ocean, and sunlight seeping into his room. Unlike the last time, the dream feels a little clearer, a little fresher, and a little sharper in his mind—he can still feel the grip of his lungs pulsing against his chest, smell the scent of foreign flowers melding in the air, and see the press of ink and unfamiliar handwriting against paper.

Uncomfortably enough, the memory of it feels a little too real, and there’s a daunting, unnameable sort of feeling festering in the back of his mind. He shakes it off, because a dream is just a dream, and he has more important things to worry about than odd dreams, so he lets the last bits of fantasy ebb away into nothing as he goes about his day.

That day, Xingqiu is the one who hounds Xiao at lunch, eyes boring into every crevice of Xiao’s skin.

“You’re creeping me out, please stop,” Xiao sighs out over his food.

Xingqiu gasps, petulant. “Well, I’m just making sure you’re the normal Xiao today!”

Xiao raises his eyebrow. “I’m perfectly fine, thank you,” he says.

Chongyun snickers at that, and Xiao snaps his head to him, affronted. He looks at the teasing expressions on their faces and squints at the pair. “You two were the ones who wrote all of that in my notebook the other day, weren’t you?”

Xingqiu cocks his head, and Chongyun follows. “Whaddya mean, notebook?” he asks.

“The messages in my notebook,” he explains. “And all the scribbles. It was you, wasn’t it?”

It’s Xingqiu’s turn to squint his eyes at him, head resting in the palms of his hand. “I hate to break it to you Xiao, but I’ve really no idea what you’re talking about,” he shrugs.

Xiao furrows his eyebrows at them, and simply shakes his head. “You know what, nevermind,” he sighs out. In perfect timing, there’s a ping to his phone, and he opens it to see his reminder for his work shift, so he gets up and excuses himself from his friends.

“Hope you remember how to get there today!” Xingqiu laughs as he waves him off. Xiao glares at him, but sends a resigned wave back their way.

 

The first thing he gets when he checks into work after school is a lecture from Ganyu about showing up to work late the other day, and his subsequent performance throughout that shift. He’s sure the entire ordeal wasn’t his fault, and Ganyu’s lecture is really just a meek scolding, and yet he still can’t help but feel horrible for disappointing sweet, kind, understanding Ganyu anyway.

“Oh, please don’t feel bad! I just want you to be more careful today is all,” she says, a soft smile gracing her face. She dismisses him after that, sending him back to work.

It’s not a particularly challenging job—just a paid student job at the campus library. It’s quiet, it pays just enough, and it requires him to work with the least amount of people possible. At least now, he thinks, he can get some solace from the buzz of attention that’d been swarming him.

He makes quick work of the books until there’s a sudden voice from behind him.

“Looks like you remember how to reshelve the books today, hm?”

Xiao jolts, but breathes a sigh out when he sees it’s just Zhongli. When the realization that it is Zhongli sinks in, his face flushes. Moments after that, his mind returns to its initial state of panic when he processes what Zhongli had said to him.

“I remember how to what?” he asks immediately.

Zhongli cocks his head to the side, like a little puppy that’s just been scolded for something it doesn’t even realize is wrong yet. “You were going around asking for help with everything yesterday,” he says a little inquisitively, and Xiao starts to feel like this is all turning into a grand prank with the whole campus in on it. “You don’t recall it? Perhaps you were a bit sick, then? Are you sure you’re feeling better—”

Xiao cuts him off, because when Zhongli starts to ramble about something, he really never stops, and Xiao doesn’t think he’s in the right state to listen to him prattle on about Xiao’s physical wellbeing right now. “I’m fine,” he says resignedly. He excuses himself from Zhongli, retreating to the shelves further inside the library while the man makes a futile attempt to stop him.

When Xiao is finally alone, he ducks behind the cover of some of the shelves, digging through his backpack until he finds the lecture notebook he’d been looking for. He flips past the familiar scrawl of his own handwriting, going through the pages until he finds the ones filled with foreign doodles and dainty penmanship. He scans through the mess of ink until he finds what he’s looking for.

WHO ARE YOU!!!

Xiao looks to the writing in the notebook, still entirely disbelieving. He runs his fingers over the pigment, examining the penmanship that isn’t quite like any of his friends’ at all. The feeling he’d tucked away in the back of his mind knocks against his consciousness incessantly, and Xiao can’t ignore the feeling even if he wanted to.

He hears Ganyu call out for him, and he really doesn’t want to hurt her feelings any more than he already apparently has—so he takes a pen, leaves a little scribble of a response on his notebook for peace of mind, tucks it away in his bag like the memory of those dreams, and gets back to work.

 

 

+

 

 

Clear as they had been at the start, the dreams sink away into the crevices of his consciousness, tucked away and hidden from his memory. His friends’ snide remarks and teasing quiet down, and eventually, he all but forgets those odd dreams.

It’s when he wakes up again a few days later to foreign ceilings that the memories come flooding back into his head: the expanse of blue sky adorned with clouds and sun, the tufts of white flowers settled outside the windowpane, the blank white ceiling above his head, the mirror across his bed, and the face reflected in it that was anything but his.

He hears a familiar voice from outside his door and the muffled meow of a cat he knows he shouldn’t be anywhere near. He puts his face in his hands and groans, because he isn’t looking forward to living out every excruciating minute of this boy’s life again.

He gives himself a futile pinch on his skin once, then twice for good measure, but the world around him remains unshifting—so with a pained sigh, he drags himself through it.

 

Even in his dreams, Xiao still isn’t able to resign himself from the little Liyuen voice in him telling him to be a good student and keep up with his studies. He’s still the ever diligent student when he goes to class, taking neat notes and listening attentively to the lectures.

This should be fine, but apparently, the boy in his dreams isn’t that kind of character, because one of his redheaded friends is giving him an almost offensively perplexed look.

“You’re taking notes,” he says, a little amazed.

Xiao raises his eyebrow. “Am I not supposed to?”

“You normally don’t care about anything other than your majors,” he says.

“Oh,” Xiao responds lamely. “I just liked the topic today?” he tries to reason.

The man still looks utterly unconvinced, but their professor taps at the board, calling them out on their conversation, and Xiao is grateful for it.

When his friend takes his eyes off of him, Xiao flips past the other pages in the boy’s notebook. If this dream boy really didn’t care about his studies, then it really wouldn’t hurt for Xiao to look away just this once, right?

Every page is filled with doodles, stray rhymes and phrases, and the barest of attempts at listening in class. He finds lines of notes and song, arrays of symbols just familiar enough from mandatory music classes. There are even messages that look like they were meant for the boy beside him—Diluc, apparently—all of which were received with annoyance or illegible pen scribbles that probably meant to deter the boy.

He flips a little further past until he finds an empty page in the notebook, and winds his fingers a little tighter around the grip of his pen. He lets his mind flit through the memories of the past dreams, and hesitantly, carefully, he spills his thoughts out onto paper.

 

 

+

 

 

He can still see the fragments of his dreams blurred out around the corners of his vision when he wakes up in his own bed the next day—his roommate, their fat white cat, his grumpy red-headed friend, the nice upperclassman Jean—and every bit of them feels so tangible in his memory that it almost feels like it wasn’t just a dream.

He looks around his room, and there aren’t any telltale signs that anything has changed while he was asleep—it’s the same planked ceilings, the same dormitory furniture, the same view of glaze lilies and silk flowers in Madame Ping’s garden, the same Liyue he’s always known.

Still, there’s a feeling he can’t quite place in the back of his mind while he drags himself out of his bed, readying himself to go through his day—the feeling of just knowing he’d forgotten something, yet still couldn’t for the life of him bring himself to recall in clarity.

From the corner of his eye, he can see one of his notebooks left ajar on his desk, pages flipped open to one with a mix of his own familiar handwriting and the slim print of another’s—and it’s then that everything comes rushing back, and all the pieces in his mind snap together.

He picks the notebook up, eyes darting between the first ‘WHO ARE YOU!!!’ that had been left behind the first time, the ‘My name is Xiao’ that he had scrawled out during his library shift, and a conclusive response in the same, foreign handwriting:

thanks for the help, but i already figured it out the second time around! ☆⌒(≧▽° )

 

 

+

 

 

The next time he wakes up to a Paimon-induced morning allergy attack is the time he finally understands what’s going on in these dreams.

The realization comes in the same way he is pulled out of his sleep every morning—the blurs of haziness in the approaching moments of his waking, and then a sudden, indescribable clarity, all the details lining up in his vision. The idea of his dreams contort from fantasy into an undeniable reality, tangible in every shape and form.

When Aether apologetically drags the cat out of the room, Xiao races towards the boy’s desk and grabs the familiar notebook he sees on it, and he flits past pages of song lyrics and notes until he finds the familiar scrawl of ink he’d been looking for. The ‘Who are you?’ he’d written a few days past is now followed by a phrase in penmanship he’s already begun to grow acquainted with.

my name’s venti! (o^ ^o)/

Xiao stares the name down like it’s going to come to life and explain the absurdity of the entire situation. With the way things are playing out, he wouldn’t be surprised if it actually did. The name, however, only remains as ink on paper and stares at him in taunting silence.

Venti.

Venti, bright eyed and cheerful and everything Xiao just happened not to be.

Venti, in his second year of university, majoring in music composition.

Venti, deathly allergic to cats, yet for some reason was living in an apartment with his roommate’s cat named Paimon.

Venti, a boy all the way in Mondstadt, with whom Xiao has unknowingly entered this crazed routine of swapping bodies with.

 

 

+

 

 

The switches come more frequently from that point on, with what had once been weekly routines turning into near daily occurrences. The chaos Venti brings into his life is far more than Xiao thinks he can manage—and Xiao has always prided himself on his rationality, but waking up every few days in Venti’s body has clearly thrown too much of that out the window.

On one of those days, Zhongli taps his shoulder after work, greeting him with a gentle smile.

“Do you need any help with your classes today, Xiao?” he asks.

Xiao turns his head to the side. “I,” he stutters out, confused. “I don’t need any help?”

Zhongli looks back, equally confused. “You asked me for help with your history homework yesterday though,” he says, puzzled. “Though I was glad you reached out to me for help,” he adds cheerfully.

Xiao has to stop his jaw from dropping when the gears in his head click.

 

WHY WOULD YOU ASK ZHONGLI FOR HELP IN HISTORY, Xiao writes out, making sure every bit of pain is carved onto the little yellow post-it.

i’m just helping you out with your crush!!! is what Venti replies the next time.

?!!?!? HE ISN’T???? is what Xiao writes in response, absolutely taken aback by Venti’s statements.

is too!!!  Venti writes back. besides, i ask albedo for his homework all the time!!!, and Xiao’s memory flashes with the vision of the white haired boy wordlessly sliding him a notebook full of answers minutes before the class started.

“Why,” is all Xiao manages to choke out.

Albedo looks at him, perplexed. “Because you’d fail your classes if I didn’t,” he responds plainly, and Xiao is too shocked to even reject him, and wordlessly copies the homework.

If that isn’t enough, Xiao literally gets knocked over when Hu Tao and Xingqiu leap onto him another day demanding a continuation of their rap battle from yesterday.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he chokes out while Xiangling and Chongyun simply laugh at them from the sidelines. Chongyun wordlessly opens his phone and shows Xiao a video of him (Venti), Xingqiu, and Hu Tao, indeed, having a rap battle during lunch, and Xiao feels a vein pop somewhere in his body.

 

WHY ARE HU TAO AND XINGQIU CHALLENGING ME TO RAP BATTLES?!?!!? he scribbles exasperatedly.

why not!!! let me have fun with your friends!!! is what Venti writes in response the next time, and you should stop being so cold around my friends!! ヽ(`⌒´メ)ノ scribbled underneath it.

I’m just being myself, Xiao writes back, affronted at the accusation. He does, in fact, try to rack his brain for anything he might’ve done to warrant this, and all that comes to mind is him pointedly dodging Lisa’s attempts to hug him and smother him with affection or running away from Kaeya’s attempts to drag him out drinking. He thinks Venti is just being overdramatic.

well you’re not supposed to be yourself in my body!!! is what Venti snaps the next time they switch places. On top of it all, cranky gremlin!!! is scrawled onto his cheek, and Xiao thinks he’s near ready to sprint his way to Mondstadt to get back at Venti.

Instead, the next time he wakes up in Mondstadt, he scratches out ‘FOOL’ across Venti’s forehead. Aether catches him writing it that night, wordlessly takes a picture of it, and passes it around to all his friends. Xiao snickers when he hears the ring of notifications from Venti’s phone before tucking himself into bed that night.

He learns the next time they switch places that Venti isn’t the kind of person to back down from a fight, and there’s an even wider myriad of words and insults peppered over Xiao’s body—and it’s then Xiao starts to accept that this might be getting out of control.

He pulls out a piece of paper from his notebook and a marker. Some rules and suggestions, he writes out, and tapes it to the wall across his bed before he goes to sleep.

1. Stop being so friendly with everyone.

2. Stop messing around in my body.

3. Please pay attention in class.

4. STOP trying to set me up with Zhongli. I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON HIM.

For good measure, he starts marking down any important dates on the usually unused calendar on his wall—Xiangling’s birthday, work shifts at the library, exam dates (he can only pray that he doesn't switch places with Venti on these days, because god forbid he let the boy take his tests.), the days it’s his turn to cook dinner.

When he wakes up again in Venti’s body, unlike the organized calendar and to-do-lists he’d made, he finds a printout of a wikihow article on how to braid hair taped gloriously to the mirror . There’s a little note written neatly at the bottom of it.

please learn how to tie my hair properly! i have an image to maintain! (ᵔᴥᵔ)

“Piece of shit,” he murmurs out. Still, he picks up the hair ties Venti leaves by the mirror and gets to following the article.

If Aether passes by a few moments later and sees Xiao struggling to follow Venti’s wikihow tutorial on braids, he says nothing of it. He doesn’t say anything either when he comes out of his room later in the same high ponytail and his bangs tucked upwards with a small flowered-clip. He probably thinks Venti’s just been having some off days lately, and today might just be another one of them.

Xiao wakes up in Liyue the next day, and the rules he’d so meticulously curated have, of course, been reworked by Venti. He stares at the familiar scribble against his own bold handwriting.

1. Stop being so friendly with everyone. they’re your friends! be nice to them! (*・ω・)ノ

2. Stop messing around in my body. they’re just little jokes, we’re all having fun!!! loosen up!!!

3. Please pay attention in class. i’m a music major, i don’t know anything about engineering!

4. STOP trying to set me up with Zhongli. I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON HIM. well that’s not what everyone else seems to think!  ☆ ~('▽^人)

His eyes drag painstakingly over their handwriting, and Xiao really starts to wonder how much longer he can handle this tirade for.

 

 

+

 

 

If there’s something that’s been any good about his switches with Venti, it’s that it only ever happens during days where his schedule is filled with general education subjects and lectures. He goes to class, sits down, takes some notes (something he wishes Venti would do in his body too), goes back home and to bed, all like finely-tuned clockwork.

It’s such a basic student routine that Xiao almost forgets he’s a music major, and he almost feels his soul pry its way out of his throat when he sees the note Venti leaves on the mirror.

practical music class today, get ready for a presentation~

He feels it settle back into his body when he sees a second note on Venti’s desk attached to a USB and a stack of papers.

hope you're not the one in my body today, but if you are, just play the recording and read the paper out! (✧ω✧)

He picks up the paper and sees a myriad of foreign words and text he can’t even begin to comprehend. Xiao looks at it intently, and it all looks so well-thought out that he almost doesn’t believe it’s Venti’s. He flips through the pages, his mind faintly registering the array of musical notes before him. His lips quirk up at the corners, a strange blossoming in his chest at the sight of it—it was nice, he guesses, to see something Venti loved as much as he did this.

 

The presentation goes perfectly well, and he learns a little later from their friends that it had in fact been a major requirement on Venti’s part, and that he’d slaved away for nights and hours over it. Xiao feels a little bad about it, even, knowing that the time he’d had to spend in Xiao’s body was taking away the time he could’ve used to work on his song.

Kaeya and Aether were the first ones to jump onto him after the presentation followed closely by the rest of their group. They shower him in cheerful greetings, warm congratulations, and all these things Xiao is grateful for but knows he doesn’t really deserve.

He sighs resignedly as he watches them crowd together, discussing where to go for the rest of the night. “Actually,” he cuts in their discussion. “Can we do another day?”

They all look to him, almost a little surprised at the way he rejected an invitation for a night out.

“What’s this, Venti rejecting an invitation for a night out?” Kaeya asks, eyes looking into him curiously.

“I think I’m just a little too tired today,” he excuses weakly.

“That’s right, you haven’t been sleeping, have you?” Jean says, eyes a widening in realization. “I’m sorry, we should’ve thought about that first.”

Xiao shakes his head. “It’s fine, really,” he says, smiling softly. He lets the rest of them pool together, picking out the next best date in their calendars to celebrate. He marks the date dutifully on Venti’s phone, and after a few more moments, parts ways from his friends.

When he gets back to their apartment that night, the first thing he does is plug the USB into Venti’s desktop. He navigates through the files until he finds the one he’d submitted for the presentation and clicks play on it.

He’d already heard it once that day, but even now, there’s something absolutely entrancing about Venti’s music. He closes his eyes and lets the melody unfurl around him—the soft cadence of the piano, the gentle strums against strings, the delicate hums of Venti’s voice.

It was a really good song, Xiao writes on a post-it later that night and sticks it on the mirror. I liked it a lot.

 

 

+

 

 

(The post-it note is gone from the mirror the next time Xiao wakes up in Mondstadt, and there isn’t a response to it to be found anywhere else in the room. When he gathers Venti’s things for school, he finds the post-it tucked away inside Venti’s drawer, settled among little trinkets and photos with Venti’s friends.

There’s a little tug at his chest, a soft thrum in his veins, and the barest of a smile gracing his face.)

 

 

+

 

 

For all the chaos that had preceded it, things begin to get a little better from then on. They learn how to seamlessly work their ways around each others’ days and lives, habits, routines, and quirks ingrained in each other like ink imprinted onto paper.

Xiao wakes up in Liyue one day to find Venti bought himself his own calendar, already marked with all the important dates like aether’s birthday! (づ ̄ ³ ̄)づ, plans with diluc and jean! ☆ミ(o*・ω・)ノ or homework due, ask albedo for answers! (-ω-) zzZ

However lackluster they are, Venti learns how to start at least writing down what he sees in class. The notes are still disgracefully unusable, but Xiao appreciates the effort anyway. He doesn’t expect Venti to understand it anyway, so he just takes a little extra time to study instead.

Xiao still doesn’t get how to braid Venti’s hair right, but Venti only laughs it off and buys him hair ties with ribbons and flowers and other little trinkets attached to them. For his sake, Xiao takes awkward selfies using them on Venti's phone, and Venti always leaves him cheerful little notes scribbled over the pictures after.

They move between each other's lives in seamless clockwork, and Xiao would never let it slip to Venti, but somehow, part of him starts to look forward to these days. The post-it notes stuck all over their walls, the assortment of photos Venti leaves in his phone, the doodles scribbled all over his notebook when Venti drifts off during class, the audio files Venti intentionally leaves on display on his desktop.

The memory of all of these days starts to fill their own space in Xiao’s chest, and he feels them against the pulse of every one of his heartbeats. The blossoming flowers and blooming stars are a foreign feeling, but Xiao hardly minds it.

 

 

+

 

 

Xiao wakes up in Liyue half an hour past his alarm—though if he was being precise, it was Chongyun that woke him up half an hour past his alarm, shaking Xiao awake, telling him that he was going to be late for class if he ignored his alarm any more than this.

He jolts out of bed, thanking Chongyun for waking him up. He rushes through his morning routine, shoving his school supplies into his bag, eyes not even sparing a glance at the teasing looks Chongyun was sending his way or the newly marked dates on the calendar.

There’s a suspicious pile of flyers for the Lantern Rite stacked on his desk—Xiao already knows they’d been collected by Venti and just thinks the boy took interest in the Liyuen festival. Xiao couldn’t stop him from going if he’d wanted to, so he doesn’t spare a second glance and rushes himself to class.

 

When Xiao gets to school, it feels like the day after the first dream he’d traded with Venti. His friends giggle at him when he approaches them after class, and Hu Tao is looking at him in an ominous, almost teasing sort of way.

“What are you looking at me like that for,” Xiao deadpans.

Hu Tao giggles cheekily. “Oh, it’s nothing. You have work soon, don’t you?”

“I do,” Xiao sighs out. At this point, he just assumes that Venti had forgotten about his shift the day before and left it to Xiao to deal with the brunt of it. “I remember when my shifts are, alright?”

“I know, I know,” she sings out. “Don’t worry about it!”

Xiao stares at her blankly, completely untrusting, and she sticks her tongue out at him. He thinks he’s getting an odd sense of deja vu from this interaction. “Oh, just go to work now, alright!” she laughs out, pushing Xiao away from their group and towards the library.

Xiao is about to turn around and argue back, but Hu Tao runs off before he can get a word out, sending him a teasing wink and an enjoy your day his way—so he simply sighs, and decides it would be easier to just move on from it.

 

It would be easier, at least, to just move on from his friends’ odd reactions, but it’s difficult to do so when even Ganyu is looking at him with a knowing sort of smile when he clocks in at work.

“Ganyu,” he says slowly. “Is there anything wrong?” Meaning, there is something wrong with the way you’re acting, and I really need to know why.

Ganyu blinks at him, a little surprised, but just smiles at him sweetly. “Oh, it’s nothing, Xiao,” she laughs out, and Xiao knows that, at this point, it is most definitely not nothing. He’s about to open his mouth to respond again, but he watches the way Ganyu catches sight of something that makes her smile a little wider and swallows his words.

Zhongli comes up to the library counter, greeting Ganyu and Xiao with a gentle smile and a bow. Xiao leans away from Ganyu to greet him back, and from the corner of his eyes, watches Ganyu slip out of the counter and deeper into the library.

The gears in his head start to move slowly, edges rattling against each other as he begins to make sense of the situation. “Zhongli,” he says, voice teetering between a greeting and a question.

Zhongli smiles at him, but it’s different from the teasing smile Ganyu had been giving him—it’s a little fonder, a little more intimate. “Xiao, I was hoping to run into you,” he says. “I was just wondering where we’re going to meet on Saturday?”

Xiao stares at Zhongli, and the syllables tumble past his tongue faster than he can process them. “Saturday?” he asks.

Zhongli tilts his head to the side, a little perplexed. “Yes, Saturday,” he replies. “We’ll be accompanying each other to the Lantern Rite, yes?”

Xiao blinks at Zhongli once, and the realization comes slowly, then all at once—mind flitting back to the pile of flyers on his desk, the teasing jabs from his friends, the knowing looks from his coworkers. The gears in his head are all spinning, and the entire situation, he thinks begrudgingly, screams of Venti.

“The train station,” Xiao responds, pulling out the first location he can come up with on the spot. “Will that do?”

Zhongli smiles. “Of course, I’ll see you then,” he says lightly.

“Yeah,” Xiao says, voice a little more strained at the edges. “I’ll see you.”

 

When he gets back to the dorm, the first thing he does is to take a post-it note and stick it onto the calendar with unmatched aggression. He failed to see it earlier, but now he can see the ‘lantern date with zhongli! ⊂( ´ ▽ ` )⊃’ clearly on the calendar, and his own ‘WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT’ scrawled beside it. He hopes Venti will feel the frustration emanating from it the next time they see each other.

He stares holes into the calendar, then resignedly picks up the stack of flyers Venti left on his desk. His face twists when he leafs through their contents—they’re all date spot advertisements, annotated with little sticky notes and unwarranted date advice from Venti. He glazes over the notes, letting a sigh slip past his lips.

One note reads out ‘you better be grateful for all this! (ノ `Д´)ノ’, and Xiao thinks that he really should. As much as Xiao had wanted Venti to stay out of it, it’s hard for him to lie about Zhongli, because Zhongli was—he was just Zhongli. Objectively attractive, well-off, kind hearted, honors student—if anything, it’s more difficult to dislike Zhongli than to like him.

He should be happy to have a date set up with someone he likes—someone he thinks, at least, he should like—yet as it is now, Xiao does not know where he stands.

“Really,” Xiao mutters to himself. “Why would you do that?”

 

Xiao wakes up the following days in Liyue, and the note Xiao put up festers silently on his calendar alongside the flowered date. When the night before the date comes, Xiao wonders if Venti is ever going to feel the frustration he’d tried to channel in the note.

Xiao wonders if he wants Venti to, really, if it meant him going on the date with Zhongli instead. He looks to the stack of flyers still strewn across his table, and he thinks about the detailed itineraries and excited little notes Venti had left behind.

Perhaps it would be good if Venti went on the date instead, Xiao thinks, because the boy clearly wanted to attend the festival much more than Xiao did. Maybe Zhongli would have a better time with Venti in his body instead of Xiao, too. He knows it would be better, at least, yet there is a lingering voice in the back of his head that wills it not to be.

Drowsiness takes over the nagging voice at the back of his mind, and in his sleep, he does not dream of busied streets and lantern lit skies. Instead, he dreams of clear blue, sweet air, and crisp white flowers. He dreams of secrets, and they are hidden in bright green eyes and wide smiles, in pale fingertips and deep blue hair. He dreams settled among stars, and while he does not know it yet, he dreams about the things he wants but cannot have.

 

 

+

 

 

On the day of the Lantern Rite Festival, Xiao wakes up to Liyue—to the same sounds of ocean, the same sight of lilies and silk flowers, the same feeling of his own skin and bones. He spends a moment trading glances with the ever deteriorating dormitory ceiling, and lets out a resigned sigh.

He drags himself out of the bed, picking out a set of clothes to wear for the day. Summer is beginning to peek out through the last stretches of spring, so he puts on something light and comfortable, and knots his hair into a low ponytail. He spares the mirror one last glance, and for the first time in a long while, gives a light pinch to his arm before he goes.

Zhongli gets to the station a few minutes after Xiao arrives, greeting him with a gentle wave. “I’m sorry, it took a bit of time to get past the crowd in the station,” he apologizes. “Did you wait long?”

Xiao shakes his head. “It’s alright, I just got here too,” he says. “I shouldn’t have asked to meet somewhere so crowded,” he adds.

Zhongli chuckles lightly. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he says. “Shall we get going then?”

Xiao ends up following through with the itinerary Venti had set up for him without his consent. They walk past the city streets down to the harbor marketplace where most of the festival was taking place, the clamor and energy around the city reaching its precipice.

They walk through the harbor, trading lighthearted conversation over food and festivities. Xiao tries to treat Zhongli, as per Venti’s grande dating advice, but Zhongli politely refuses each time. By the time the sun begins to set, they’ve already walked through nearly the entirety of the harbor, stopping to rest by the lantern of the skybracer.

“I haven’t seen the Mingxiao lantern this close in a long time,” Xiao says, a little amazed at the grandiose of it all. He’s a little sad Venti didn’t get to see it, actually—he thinks the boy would’ve loved it.

“You aren’t much for coming to the festivities after all,” Zhongli laughs. “I was even a little surprised when you’d asked me to come with you today.”

Xiao snaps his gaze from the lantern to Zhongli at that, and finds the man gazing at him intently, looking at Xiao like he was trying to unearth something from beneath his skin.

Xiao tilts his head nervously. “Is there something wrong?”

Zhongli shakes his head and lets out a light chuckle, turning his gaze back to the lantern. “I was just making sure you were the Xiao I knew today,” he says, and Xiao’s heart drops at it.

“I,” Xiao stutters out, scrambling to find the words to respond to Zhongli.

Zhongli places a gentle hand on Xiao’s shoulder. “You don’t need to worry about it, Xiao. I enjoyed the day in your company, and that’s what matters most, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Xiao gets out, trying to sound as calm as one can after your date brings up the possibility of you being an entirely different person. “I enjoyed it too.”

Zhongli lets out a small hum. “Though, I think we both would have enjoyed it more if there wasn’t someone else on your mind, hm?”

Xiao’s face flushes at that, and Zhongli only laughs amusedly.

“I’m sorry,” he barely manages to get out, though he still isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to be sorry for.

Zhongli smiles. “It’s alright, really, Xiao,” he says. “I don’t know who it is you’ve had on your mind these days, but I can tell they’ve been making you a lot happier.”

His face is still a little warm, and Zhongli laughs at him again. “I did enjoy today, really,” he says, and his voice is as amused as it is assuring. “I hope it goes well for you.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it at least,” Xiao says, finally breaking his own silence. “Thank you for today, Zhongli.”

There’s an uproar of voices shortly after that, the crowds of people gathering to watch the Mingxiao lantern finally set off. They watch the precipice of the Lantern Rite in silence, and Xiao wonders why he can’t help but feel some strange sort of relief at how the day played out. He shakes his head, tucking it away in the back of his mind, bringing his focus back to the warm glow of the sky in front of him.

 

He makes his way back to the dorm, ignoring Chongyun’s teasing when he comes in and goes straight for his room. The stack of flyers Venti had collected and annotated for him are still on the desk, and there’s a yellow post-it note on top of them all.

after putting this together, i realize i’d much rather be the one going on this date, but if it does end up being you, you better make good work of it! Q(`⌒´Q)

Xiao sighs at the message, and wishes Venti really did listen whenever he told him he never had a crush on Zhongli. He takes a blank post-it note from his drawer, writing out a message for the next time Venti wakes up in his body.

I had fun, but it didn’t work out. You won’t need to try and set us up anymore.

He looks at the message for a moment, and adds a little belatedly before putting it up on the calendar, You would’ve enjoyed the Lantern Rite though. I hope you can see it next time too.

 

 

+

 

 

 

He wakes up to the same rickety dorm ceilings and the scent of the ocean breeze the next day, and the post-it and the calendar are still staring at him from his wall, completely unchanged.

And another day.

Another week.

Another month.

He wakes up to the same scenery for so long, he starts to wonder what exactly it was he’d been expecting to see when he woke up, as if he’d ever known a life other than this one. He flips the page of the calendar, and the next month is completely bare of any plans or post-it notes. He has half a thought to try and message Venti himself, but when he goes through his contacts, he realizes they’d never even bothered to put each other’s names or numbers in.

The memory those days erodes away from his consciousness, and it’s carved away from his chest and leaves it void and wanting. It goes so slowly, so painstakingly, that when there is only muscle and bone left of it, Xiao can’t even remember what it was that used to be there before—if there was even anything that had been there before.

He forgets the secrets of those days that he’d tucked under his tongue and in the palms of his hands. He forgets the petty arguments they traded over post-it notes and school notes, and the cheeky insults pressed with ink onto skin. He forgets the scent of dandelions and cecilia in the air, and he forgets what exactly it is he’d been expecting to see when he woke up as if he had ever known a life other than Liyue.

Soon enough, he forgets him.

 

 

+

 

 

The rest of the school year passes by wordlessly after that, almost as if the storm that had swept through those days of his life had never come in the first place. The last bits of spring wash away into summer, and before he is even fully aware of it, his semester reaches its dull end.

With the term done, he begins getting ready to move out of the dorms and back home. He starts clearing out his drawers, packing his belongings into boxes to send back to Wangshu. It isn’t too much effort to get through it all—he’d never been someone of too many possessions.

That in particular is why the unfamiliar notebook buried underneath his textbooks and readings catches his eye.

“Chongyun,” he calls out. The boy’s walking past his room, lugging his own boxes and belongings into the living room. He pops his head into Xiao’s door at the sound of his name.

“Need help?”

“I’m fine,” he says, lifting the notebook up to Chongyun’s line of vision. “Is this yours? It was in my drawer.”

Chongyun squints, then shakes his head. “Never seen it in my life,” he says. “Maybe you just forgot about it?”

“Yeah,” Xiao replies, and it sounds like he’s convincing himself of it rather than agreeing with Chongyun. “That’s probably the case.”

Chongyun kicks the door shut with the heel of his foot, and Xiao is left alone again, fingers running inquisitively over the notebook. Cautiously, he starts leafing through the pages—and it’s such a menial, mindless action, yet there’s a distinct familiarity in the way he searches through it.

Where he’d expected to see a blank expanse of paper, he finds instead pages filled to the brim with marks of ink and scrawls of writing. He keeps flipping through the pages, and everything about it seems so trivial—little doodles of dandelions and cecilia, random lines of rhyme, and blocks of ink scratching out ineligible text.

It’s the last page that rips the air from his lungs: a neatly written composition, lines filled with notes and trebles. He scans over the rows of music, notes and symbols he’s sure he hadn’t seen since his mandated high school music classes.

They should be practically unfamiliar to him—yet somehow, the memory of them seems so distinct that he can’t bring himself to put the notebook down. He flips through the composition, the melody of the song unfurling in his head, and everything about it feels like a memory he can’t quite place.

It feels like everything is coming together while it all falls apart, because he knows the melody that comes from this composition, and he knows every tilt and scribble of that handwriting. He knows all this and yet he can’t still remember those eyes or that voice or that laugh or that boy, and all that flits in his mind are the pesky images of dandelions and the forgone pulses of his heartbeat.

 

 

+

 

 

The memories of those days are hidden among the nebulae, and the stars make Xiao dream. Sometimes, he dreams of years past when he’s approached by a boy—maybe just about the same age as him, or just a little older. His hair is tied into a neat ponytail, softly framing foreign features, pale skin, and bright green eyes.

“Can I help you?” Xiao asks, cautious as one would be when approached by a complete stranger.

The stranger looks at him as if he was perplexed by Xiao’s reaction. “It’s me, Venti?”

Xiao tries to dig through his memories, looking for any sort of mention of this name and face, but he comes up empty-handed. Xiao is about to open his mouth, but the boy interrupts him rushedly.

“Oh!” the boy gets out a little laugh. “Sorry, I must’ve gotten the wrong person.”

“...It’s alright,” Xiao says awkwardly, because the boy is still looking at him, jade eyes twinkling with a look that was just somewhat a little expectant, and Xiao really isn’t sure how to go about it. They trade glances for a few moments more, and Xiao is the first to break contact, eyes darting to the side.

“I’ll be on my way then,” he gets out nervously, “If there’s nothing else I can help you with?”

This seems to jolt the boy out of his trance, then if only for a moment, his expression softens into something unreadable—almost like disappointment. It’s gone faster than Xiao can process it before melding into a practiced sort of grin.

“Not at all, I’m really sorry for bothering you again,” he says, tone mild and polite. He begins to walk away before Xiao can get another word out, only briefly turning back to wish him a Happy Lantern Rite.

When the sun falls back into the sky, the stars sink away and take Xiao’s dreams with them. His dream recedes away into nothing, and the boy goes with it, his figure melding away into the crowd of people on campus till he is just another wave in a sea of unknown faces.

He dreams of a boy that is as foreign as he is familiar, and when he wakes up, the dream is already long forgotten.

 

 

+

 

 

His dreams come like waves on a shoreline, splashes of water that retreat backwards before Xiao can understand the sensations on his skin. He dreams of a life that does not belong to him, and he wakes up the same way each time—arms outstretched, hands grasping at air like he is trying to hold the ocean in the palms of his hands.

This time, he wakes up to the sound of his phone blaring obnoxiously at his bedside. He leaves his phone be until it stops ringing, and after barely a second of silence, the caller comes back. He groans, hand reaching out to pick up the call on his phone.

Xiangling’s voice springs out of the other end of the line immediately, telling him about the Windblume Festival in Mondstadt.

“Xinyan’ll be performing,” she says in a flurry of words. “And there’ll be so much good food and so much music and Hu Tao and Xingqiu and Chongyun already said they’d go, so won’t you please come with us too?” she begs, and Xiao can practically feel her eyes looking up at him expectantly through his phone.

Xiao sighs. “I don’t think I have a choice, do I?”

Xiangling giggles cheekily. “I’ll send you the details right now! I’ll see you soon,” she laughs, and puts the phone down. It’s only a few seconds until his phone buzzes with a notification. Xiao opens the message, eyes scanning over the photos Xiangling had sent him.

He scrolls through the photos—they are pictures of a campus he has never been to, flowers he has never seen in bloom, and a city that is not his. They are unfamiliar to him, because Xiao has only ever known Liyue, all oceans and stone peaks.

At least, they should be unfamiliar to him, yet he can’t help but feel like he knows this place. There are memories he shouldn’t have ringing dully in his ears, pulsing against his head like they’re threatening to spill out. He keeps scrolling through the photos, trying to chase after the last bits of nostalgia and anticipation blooming in the back of his mind.

He comes out of it with more questions than he does with answers, venturing far enough only to be met by an expanse of cloudy haze that he can’t seem to uncover. He doesn’t figure out why Mondstadt seems so familiar to him, and he doesn’t understand what the foreign city means to him—still, he thinks he’s getting a little closer.

 

 

+

 

 

 

The feeling doesn’t dissipate like his dreams do, bits and pieces spilling out between his fingertips before he can grasp the debris in his palms. This time, however blurred at the edges, everything feels a little more real—a little more tangible.

His friends pick him up at Wangshu, and they take the train for the Windblume Festival together. Xiao is just barely listening while Xiangling lists out their itinerary for the festival, most of his mind flitting to the blurred images of Mondstadt that’d been festering in his head.

It wasn’t anything that he particularly needed to listen to anyway, he affirms when they get to Mondstadt. He follows them wordlessly as they venture around, making brief stops between game booths and food stalls while they kill time before Xinyan’s performance.

“This is really good,” Xiangling hums out over a mouthful of some drink.

“I think you’ve said that about everything we’ve eaten so far,” Xingqiu laughs.

“Because it really is!” she huffs out, cheeks a little red.

“It tastes familiar,” Xiao says. “Like something I’ve had back in Liyue?”

They turn to him, and Xiao wonders if he’s said something wrong, because Xiangling is looking at him questioningly.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like this in Liyue before, though?” Chongyun cuts in.

Xiangling nods. “Mixes like this with dandelions and flowers and all that aren’t really common in Liyue,” she says thoughtfully, less like she’s disagreeing with Xiao and more like she’s thinking up some way to try it out with her own cooking. “Maybe it’s something your landlady in Wangshu let you try? She’s from Mondstadt, isn’t she?”

Xiao thinks that Xiangling is probably right too, because when Xiao presses his mind for it, he doesn’t think this is anything he’d ever had in Liyue before. The blooming flavor of sweetflower and dandelions sits foreign in his mouth, but Xiao can’t get rid of the lingering familiarity filling all of his senses.

A bump to his shoulder pulls him out of his trance, and he looks up to a girl a few inches taller than him with an apologetic look on her face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see where I was going,” the voice gets out sincerely.

Xiao shakes his head. “It’s alright,” he responds. She smiles at him gratefully, and Xiao’s eyes follow her as she walks ahead into the crowd. He watches her join a group of some other people just a little further ahead, and Xiao can’t help but narrow his eyes at the sight of them.

His ears catch a few names to match to the faces—Diluc. Jean. Kaeya. Aether. He’s never met them in his life, he’s absolutely sure, yet that indescribable feeling of nostalgia is ringing painfully in his ears again.

“Xiao!”

The ringing comes to a sudden stop when Hu Tao calls his name out. His friends are a few steps ahead of him, waiting for him to catch up to them. He looks back one more time, but she and her friends are already long gone in the crowd.

 

They get to Xinyan’s performance on time, and she performs perfectly well, met with resounding cheers and applause. She joins them shortly after her performance to watch the rest of the stages set for the festival. They exchange greetings and congratulations, easily falling into relaxed conversation with each other while the festival meets a small pause.

The crowd, all at once, starts to cheer at the next set of performers that come onto the stage. There’s a tap to the microphone, then a voice ringing through the speakers. His head snaps to the stage at the sound of that voice, eyes falling straight onto the boy by the microphone.

It takes a single note for all the pieces to come together—it comes to him in waves, crashing straight into him until he’s surrounded by an ocean of memories and dreams.

The flavor of Mondstadt specialties he knew so well. Friends that’d wordlessly let him copy homework for classes he didn’t have a single idea about. The white cat that knocked the air out of his lungs every morning. The plastered walls and ceiling, and the mirror in the corner that looked back at him with a face that wasn’t his.

The face that was on the stage right now.

He remembers everything.

The song—he remembers this song. The familiar strum of guitar strings and the distinct tenor of the boy’s voice, the anxiety that’d coursed through his veins while presenting it to a class that wasn’t his. A post-it with his own handwriting tucked away in the corner of a drawer. The next songs—these are some of the ones he’d found in the upper right corner of a desktop screen. They were hardly completed then, but now the coalesce of melody and rhythm flows through his ears.

The last song is different. It doesn’t emerge from the blurry haze of his dreams, but instead from an unfamiliar notebook that’d been tucked away like a secret waiting to be found. He can see the scrawl of ink coming to life, the melodies blossoming around him, and Xiao wonders if, right now, he is still waiting.

The music comes to a stop, and the boy bows, thanking the audience for their time. He turns away to the back of the stage, and wordlessly, Xiao breaks out of the crowd and runs. He ignores his friends shocked looks, only shouting that he’d meet them back again for dinner.

He runs, and there are cecilia blooming in his lungs, dandelions pulsing across every one of his heartbeats, and the long emptied space beneath his ribs is finally being filled whole again, every moment he knows filled with him. He runs through the caress of breeze against his skin, through the flowers blooming in the cracks of concrete, and to the familiar gleam of jade turning his direction.

He stops in front of the boy and stares at him wordlessly, breath heavy. He blinks at Xiao, eyes wide in shock, but they melt into a fond look of recognition and familiarity. And Xiao knows those eyes—he’d known them like his own, and known them like he’d seen the world through them.

The boy—no, he has a name—it’s Venti. Venti smiles at him. “You finally made it, huh?”

“You remember,” Xiao breathes out. “You’ve been waiting.”

He grins at Xiao, and Xiao sees every dream that has ever tied them together, every drop of ink pressed into skin and paper, and every moment they’d spent dancing around each other.

“It wasn’t too long,” he grins, all teeth. “Just a year or so. Did you like the song?”

Xiao groans at the rhyme, and Venti only laughs, hands wrapping around Xiao’s wrists, pulling him closer. He looks into Xiao’s eyes, and there’s a devious sheen atop the expanse of green and blue.

It almost feels strange, Xiao thinks, being in front of each other like this after the months they’d spent in each other’s bodies. He looks at Venti through his own eyes, and he reminds Xiao of the stars—the ones that lulled him into telling sleep, that lifted him into dreams, that gleamed over their myriad of secrets.

Venti slots their fingers together and gives a rousing grip to his hand. There’s a knowing look in Venti’s eyes—Venti was no star, no dream, no secret. He was simply a boy, warm hands, soft smile, and beating heart. “You haven’t answered the question yet,” he grins.

Xiao looks away, face a little flushed, and Venti only giggles at the response. “I liked it then,” he mumbles out. “But I like it a lot more now that I’ve heard the finished piece.”

Venti looks at him, and it’s all fond and indulgent. “I take it you and Zhongli didn’t work out that day?” he asks.

Xiao turns his head back to Venti. “Not at all,” he says, the semblance of a smile on his face. He could save telling Venti off about it for later.

“Xiao,” Venti says. The syllables roll from Venti’s tongue and echo into Xiao’s head, silencing that unnameable feeling that’d been festering in the back of his mind for weeks and months at a time.

“It’s my name,” Xiao says plainly. “Though I’m sure you’ve already figured that out by now?”

Venti laughs, memories flitting back to the petty messages shared between them across what’d apparently been the expanse of time and space. Venti’s hands reach out for the back of Xiao’s neck, eyes gleaming brightly at him, and their breaths graze against each other’s faces like the foreign breezes that’d roused them awake every morning.

“It’s nice to finally see you,” he says, eyes curving into crescents.

“Yeah,” Xiao laughs back, letting the boy pull them even closer. “It’s nice to finally see you too, Venti.”

 

 

 

and even if you may already have forgotten our secrets,

i still want to listen to your silly stories.