BP = Before Present
JANUARY, 10 YEARS BP, LIYUE
Outside he passes by a Ginkgo tree, green and brimming with vivid viridian. How lovely would it be to be one of those leaves, free to travel with the wind once they separate from their mother.
Xiao is one of the few and the last to break and hold the fixed hierarchy burned into his kind.
He is a senior among the adepti, the most feared and respected of the Yakshas after his last remaining kin leaves. Even Pervases, his junior, falls in battle.
The stratum may as well as not exist, with only one remaining who carries it within their body. It dissolves into the mind of history, forgotten and unnoticed by pen and paper. The humans or anyone else past the lifetimes of the last generation of Yakshas get to know how their Vigilant Guardian is at the bottom of the pyramid in his kind, labeled as “Omega”.
So when Xiao runs out of the “painkillers” Rex Lapis provides him that suppresses not only the wrathful deities of lore but his heats as an omega as well, he is painfully reminded of what he once was.
The karma taunts him when his knees fall weak, when the overwhelming instincts he's hidden and buried under a painful past hits him all at once that it almost breaks through his methodically crafted exterior, it makes it harder for him to hold a sense of himself at the moment than it should be.
Everything in his nature as an omega comes back to him — it's been far too long that it's unfamiliar and too uncomfortable for him to experience. A burning river of fire pools in his stomach, like wildfire proliferating within a forest. His limbs feel weak and wobbly, as if the bloodstained muscle in them had been reduced to the soft, rosy fragile arms those mortals loved in their significant others. His consciousness is hazy, his mind battling with his inner self; it's almost similar to when he is battling the karmic debts within him — only that the omega hazes his vision and sense of judgment with soft clouds of lust and thirst for attention until it's all he can think about, and it's almost pleasant, in a way, he thinks.
Xiao forces himself to stand. He growls whenever the omega inside whines, reminding it that the others are gone, no one here can help, no alpha to mate. Xiao briefly wonders if he could call for Ganyu, to tell his colleague to fetch the necessary things to handle this and surround his quarters with large chunks of ice with her newly acquired vision, but when he feels the despised feeling of slick snaking down his thighs, he holds that thought off and focuses on arriving to his room.
He still has Qingxins in his vase, recovered from a mission a few days ago to keep his mind clear. Sure, it may be at the edge of withering already, but the cleaning properties of the flower will surely help Xiao get this profuse amount of desire to spread his legs subside until he can tell one of the adepti to- no, maybe he should get Mountain Carver to seal him in one of the Ambers near his abode so he can avoid himself from falling under the gaze of his lord in this condition.
Xiao’s almost a few steps away — he distracts himself by cursing about not having a pocket domain, debating the pros and cons of having a heat which only had one reason under each column. The pros was that the omega overpowered the karmic debt so much (thanks to Xiao’s dutiful “painkiller” taking) that Xiao could barely hear but whispers of the Karma. The disadvantages were clear — Omegas on heat were particularly vulnerable, and Xiao was given to be out of commission due to that fact, thus giving the monsters and remaining lamentations to creep up on Liyue too close—
And Xiao’s so close, to the point he can feel the cool feeling of iron through his glove, and he's about to turn it, chew the bitter petals of Qingxin when—
Xiao almost breaks the damn handle under his grip, the scent of tea and earth of his master fills his mind and the Omega spikes his heartbeat, beating rapidly like a madman on a drum, shrieking at him to throw himself at those godly arms that could give him what he yearns for but Xiao restrains himself, refuses to look under the gaze of Cor Lapis and nods at his master. “My lord,” Xiao prays to no one in particular that his voice doesn't crack as he speaks.
“Are you okay?” Rex Lapis touches him, and then a wave of white that gradients to black washes over Xiao, knowing he is far far too gone.
Adepti do not sleep. Even if they do, it’s only to break away from the reality that’s far too cruel for anyone to handle for so long.
Xiao has not slept since Rex Lapis ordered for him so after Bosascius disappeared, when Xiao no longer felt his last comrade’s presence on the wind, under the soft whisper of the Dihua Flute played for him by a neighbouring friend.
Xiao used to eat dreams, always bitter and seldom sweet. Today, he dreams instead of being forced to feast upon them.
He dreams of a movie that tastes sour yet sweet simultaneously, as if the taste would make his lips pucker up like when the mortal children ate those curious candies of theirs.
The omega in him takes over most of his remaining consciousness until he can only watch and listen. There is no shame in a dream — so Xiao pretends that it is Rex Lapis, the one who saved him and freed him from cruelty is the one who takes him, that petrichor is the scent that fills his head, loosened brown hair that lazily tickles his chest, arms with the color of earth adorned with the glow of geo that holds him close and tight. It's almost too possibly surreal for a dream, especially for one of Xiao’s.
Xiao wonders if this feeling had infested far beyond gratitude and loyalty.
Make-believe Rex Lapis growls in his ear, like the rumbling earth he dominated with, tinged with a small amount of self control left and whispers something akin to a question. Xiao can't decipher it and whines when the one above stops, clawing against skin until his wrists are restrained, pinned down above him.
Rex Lapis repeats it, snarling.
“Do you want me, Xiao?”
Archons, even the voice is perfect. Xiao must be so far gone if this imaginary Rex Lapis even had the smallest habits of the real one, like how his chest rumbles and purrs, reminding Xiao of his true form. The dragon coils around him, protective, and speaks to his omega about safety that elicits a sound out of him he never thought he could make in his life.
He feels his wrists free, a large palm against one of his, long fingers interlacing with his, and he feels the most secure he's ever been. Xiao thinks for a brief moment, that this is a reward, a long deserved guerdon for all the suffering he has borne, so he squeezes back, savoring the pleasure in this dream and circles an arm around Rex Lapis’s neck and draws him near.
Xiao remembers a distant memory; the sight of his lord walking the streets of Liyue disguised as a human, how his eyes crinkled with happiness much different than the one he showed among the adepti, how he laughed freely, his limitless curiosity and love for Liyue forever unsatiated. He remembers how Rex Lapis seemed to be much more alive, free like Xiao wished to be, under that human mask that might have been his true self all along. Xiao lets the name fall from his lips, whispers words he would never dare say in the overworld, buried in his dreams and heart forever.
“Make me yours, Zhongli.”
Like a dream, everything after that is a blur.
Xiao can hear the slapping of skin against skin in rhythm with his pulse, and he gasps and hears himself something incoherent when he feels something hit his prostate — yep, that's definitely a dick, a long and girthy blessing from Celestia that fills him up so well and spreads his wall a tad bit than they should be. Xiao’s too far into his well prolonged heat that he can't help but whine, pleading and crying for more, harder, faster, to the person above him.
Then there's a bite on his shoulder in addition to something spilling, like a glass of milk tipped over. Xiao feels warm and fuzzy inside and out, his body sticky, but he feels the omega subside for now, thank goodness(although this has never happened before), but this is a moment of ease, so he lets himself rest and drown in the scent of petrichor and the sound of steady breaths.
There are 2 things Xiao learns when he wakes:
- He hadn't vomited his guts for so long that the sudden feeling makes him want to die.
- He was so, so very wrong.
Xiao barely has the time to register what's happening before he wakes up with a discomfort in his stomach and is padding to an empty vase in a corner. He's too preoccupied with vomiting his guts out that he doesn't realize the lack of clothes in his body until the feeling of heaviness falters.
He panics, so to say. When his golden gaze falls upon a lump on his bed, steadily rising and falling, a different kind of heaviness wakes him, the type that makes him pray to gods he didn't rely much upon.
A sharp intake — his feather light steps make it beside the bed, and Xiao leans over to look.
The splayed out chestnut locks and smudged crimson around their eyes makes Xiao realize the reality harder.
It's not a dream. Yes, now, Xiao realizes, that it was not a deserved reward for his suffering, only another sin to add onto his pile to atone for.
Xiao backtracks, and finds it weird that his world is much quieter. There are only whispers of his debts, but there is no Omega, no whining and pleading to debauch himself at the next person.
His breath makes haste.
A Yaksha’s heat lasted about 4-7 days in human time. The shortest heat Xiao witnessed was among one of his kin, remembering those three days where he cared (not fought) for his fellow Omega. Yet Xiao doubts that half a day has even passed.
How whorish of you, to seduce your master like that.
Xiao takes his clothes strewn around the floor, takes a damp towel and lightly cleans himself, refusing to fall for the murmurs of insult in his head. He sees the moon, bright and full in his glory, and Xiao looks back, to his master who looks ethereal under the moonlight.
His usual attire is devoid of any accessory, and instead they hang from in Xiao’s grip, so as to not wake Rex Lapis with their clattering against each other Xiao would've made as he dressed himself.
Truly unpleasant. The Great Winged King Alatus, reduced to what he once was: a vessel for spawns.
Xiao lays a hand against a flat stomach, and he breathes in cool air, lets his vision become dark once again before he makes his escapade from the lone window.
The scent of the flower fields remind him of his past — the one before he was shackled by his old master. He remembers the way he formed butterflies from leaves, linked flowers to crowns for children, laughing alongside before he was dragged into this war, forced into the mold of an immortal warrior.
He wonders, if he could give this child even just a glimpse of that life, a life without suffering, even if he may be thoroughly tainted by evil and their blood. Could Xiao give them a life of joy and sadness and love — the simple lives humans lead, the very ones Rex Lapis admires for finding so much satisfaction within them?
Could Xiao, once again, be able to smile?
He whispers gently, to the one inside him, a proof of his once gentle past that he loved.
No one shall ever carry or bear witness to this suffering. Not mortals. Not Rex Lapis. Not the little one inside him.
“ I can't guarantee that I will love you perfectly,” Xiao pledges after he steps away from the window, steps rhythmically beating against the earth. He looks up — how long has it been since he's had time to admire the stars? Fake as it may be, it is still a sight worth praising.
A gust grazes Xiao’s feet when he stops to stare and trace the glimmering lights.
“But, will you give me a chance? To heal my broken soul, to regain the small naivety I can't help but shouldn't miss?”
Xiao realizes that despite all the war and blood he has shed for the divine, his origin still remains, hidden and tucked away.
The gods, powerful and all-knowing as they are, cannot change Alatus.
“Let me love, for once, to care for again and not fight, and it would be enough.”
Xiao becomes one with a breeze headed to Jueyun Karst.
Morax wakes with a small shudder, and finds his bed empty, devoid of his Yaksha.
What he doesn't know is that his life becomes a bit more empty of Xiao.
What he also doesn't know is that he just laid with Xiao in his heat.
Well, something might be more important than that.
“I need to reside in your domain,” Xiao speaks again, impatience tickling his skin. “I am asking you a favor, Cloud Retainer. Do not make me repeat myself.”
“Is that the tone one must use in asking?” Cloud Retainer’s voice reverberates in the small cave, and Xiao knows, despite their unfamiliarity, what she is asking for.
Yakshas do not plead. Xiao, in all his stubbornness and pride, does not beg.
But, maybe, Xiao can afford to make an exception for the life he carries.
Xiao purses his lips, hesitant.
Cloud Retainer waits.
The temple-like gates glow blue. Xiao does not ignore the small sound of satisfaction his fellow adeptus makes, and enters the dimension.
Xiao finds Cloud Retainer at the entrance instead of the end, and he sees the way her posture is straighter than usual, no doubt the cause of the pride from being able to make the most respected adepti aside Morax say ‘please’.
“What does the Conqueror of Demons want? One does not want to be distracted with my mechanics much longer.”
Xiao looks around, uses his ears and heightened senses to feel the space around him, feeling relief when there is no one else but the ones he is aware of.
“There is no one else here,” Cloud Retainer huffs and tilts her head. “One does not need to be so cautious.”
Xiao tries to find the words, and decides to go with the easiest.
Were cranes capable of choking? Should Xiao know what to do if that were to happen?
Xiao pushes through. “I have decided to take care of it, but I do not know how. So, I have come for you in guidance.”
“Come with me,” Cloud Retainer turns her back, silent with only those few words spoken, her prior joy absent. “And do not dare to use your Evil Conquering Ritual in one’s domain. It is dangerous.” She places a narrow leg on a mechanism. “Walk with me, Conqueror.”
Xiao follows. For once, he doesn't know what is to come.
Is it refusal, or acceptance?
“If you must know,” Xiao starts, his mind flickering back to the reasoning in his head that flashed through as his harsh winds ran through Jueyun Karst. “I did not come here because of your presumed gender. I thought you would be much more knowledgeable than Moon Carver and Mountain Shaper, being you… as you are and being the closest to Guizhong, who was closest to humans out of us. And… your domain.”
“That is fair,” Cloud Retainer finally speaks again at the end of the mechanisms, and opens a wall leading towards a simple haven suffice for rest. “But Rex Lapis was much closer to Guizhong than me, no?”
Xiao levels her with a stare.
“Ah,” Cloud Retainer realizes. “That is fair,” she huffs in amusement.
Both adepti can hear their former ally laughing at the crane’s implication. “That blockhead? That's a good joke! Morax, knowing how to take care of pregnancy!”
“One is aware of the concept of ‘secondary genders’ yakshas are designed yes, and the one you are assigned with.” Cloud Retainer hums, picking a stray gear and places it on one of the many shelves. “One is surprised you have decided to care for a spawn, Alatus.”
“Reality is fickle,” Xiao is transfixed by the endless sky in domains and wonders if there is ever an end to it. “In order to survive, change is necessary. If the mind does not want it, then one cannot change, even if gods will it.” He sucks in air and hisses at one of the whispers, and continues, “I am born of the wind, constantly everywhere and feeling everything. Along with the reformations we see, we too, seek to adapt.”
“A child is an unpretentious yet powerful being,” Xiao draws his gaze down and rubs his stomach. “If I could find a small piece of solace and give them a glimpse of what my past comrades wished for, then it would be worth swallowing my pride for and taking a risk.”
“A noble purpose,” Cloud Retainer surveys the space, seemingly thinking of something. Before Xiao can think of another thing to say, the adeptus shoots him another question. “Where, do you think, should we place the bed?”
FEBRUARY, 10 YEARS BP, LIYUE
The Lantern Rite draws near.
“Why is she here?” Xiao monitors Ganyu who stands by the door, face flushed rouge and fidgeting nervously. He turns to Cloud Retainer with the glare that made weak gods falter, and snarls. “I thought I told you clearly with clarity that this stays between us two.”
“Ganyu is necessa-”
“She is not necessary.”
“Ganyu is necessary,” Cloud Retainer blindly ignores his anger and continues on with her blueprinting. “She has access to the essentials you need from the Harbor, where both of us are not willing to go, and she can do it without any suspicion.”
“Congratulations, Conqueror of Demons.” Ganyu smiles warily at him, placing two packages by bed, which have been placed by the corner per Xiao’s wave of a hand. “Have you decided on the name yet?”
“One has been persuading him, but the Yaksha cannot make a choice so easily,” Cloud Retainer sighs, finally drawing herself away from the sketch and sits near Xiao. “Ganyu will also deliver the child, as One cannot do that in this form.”
Xiao raises an eyebrow. “You are capable of shape-shifting, are you not?”
“Yes,” the crane admits, but looks at Xiao that tells him that there will be a but. “One has no experience here, whilst Ganyu here has at least witnessed it. In these cases, experience is more valuable than knowledge, Conqueror.”
“The child who killed a beast with her waistline?” The windborne yaksha watches Ganyu’s face explode with garnet and choke out a scandalized gasp, horrified eyes directed at Cloud Retainer.
“I did not tell you that,” the adeptus of the abode coughs, making an effort to not laugh at the memory.
“Be proud,” Xiao tells Ganyu as he digs through the packages. “That monster was a threat to Liyue, and you exterminated it, cleansing our land of it.”
“Speaking of monsters, Conqueror.” Cloud Retainer catches his attention, a beady eye meeting gold ones. “It will be nigh impossible for you to eliminate miasmas in Liyue as you go further into this matter. One advises you to take it easy, and confide in Rex Lapis.”
“Rex Lapis does not know?” The half-Qilin parrots, flabbergasted. Xiao did not tell Rex Lapis? Xiao, who's closest confidant was technically Rex Lapis?
“I do not plan to tell him,” Xiao confesses with a stricken face, a hand gripping his knee. “It is not in our contract to tell him every aspect of our lives and be devoid of secrecy,” the adeptus adds when both females demand an explanation with their facade.
He can see the realization in their faces somehow, the other factor of how he came to bear a child.
“But the child will be tainted if you are to accumulate even more debts during their stay in your womb,” Cloud Retainer objects, disapproval seething out and stenching the air. “One forbids it, Yaksha. As long as you are under one’s care, you are to not do anything that compromises this youngling’s life.”
“I know!” Xiao effectively quiets them with a yell very rarely heard and bites a gloved thumb, a cutting-edge glare directed at the ground. “I do not wish to taint this child with my burdens as well. But if I let Liyue be overrun by monsters I am responsible for, then the contract…”
The contract will be broken, and I will be punished under the Wrath of the very land we live on.
In this moment, perhaps losing this flicker of life would be the cruelest punishment.
Xiao can't say that their master is the father.
One doesn't need to be an adeptus or human to see the Yaksha’s strife.
A Qilin prefers to stride on clouds and water, fearful of harming a single strand of grass; they only drink pure spring water and whole grains, for they are divine beings, and therefore do not include nature’s flesh in their diet. They take great lengths to never hurt another, and take great risks to punish the wicked.
A Qilin becomes fierce if a pure soul is held by those of malevolent intent.
Xiao is pure and is tainted by malevolence simultaneously. The debts have become one with him, inflicting great pain and clouding his purity.
Ganyu remembers her human father, how he became one with death and how his eyes went dim, the life within them completely darkened by death.
“Be proud,” she hears the Yaksha say once again, praising her feat instead of the method.
“-if I let Liyue be overrun by monsters”
Xiao battles against the malicious. But for the coming months, he cannot risk doing so. So, Ganyu the Adeptus helps.
“I will take over your duties,” Ganyu echoes, fists clenching and unclenching by her sides repeatedly until it becomes something like a looped image. “I am a Qilin, and we punish the wicked and protect the pure against evil.”
“But the lingering gods-”
“Are no more,” Ganyu prays deep in her soul that cutting the highly ranked among the adepti off doesn't bite her in the ass. “It is also in my contract to exterminate monsters and cleanse our land of it,” the half human kneels, placing a hand of Xiao’s to pull off the finger digging into his flesh. “Change demands one to rest and be kind to themselves.”
“I cannot abandon my contract. My battle for Rex Lapis and Liyue, I-”
“You are a kind soul, Xiao.” Ganyu beams at her ally, brushing a thumb over his knuckles. “Physically and spiritually, you are incapable of abandoning anyone, and may never do so in the years to come.”
“Don't you realize, Xiao?” Ganyu leads his hand and places it on top of the hardly noticeable bump that is only a few weeks old. “You are bringing life to this land. Cleansing does not only include purging it of evil, but also purifying it with joy. With your change, this child, and your whole existence, you are bringing glee upon our home.”
Ganyu cannot see his eyes when she stands, his head hanging low, silent and solemn.
“Will you let me help you in clearing Liyue, Conqueror of Demons?”
The yaksha bows.
“Do what you may,” Xiao raises his head and sees Ganyu’s face lighten. “But,” he sees her lips fall. “You will take my Vajra and Censer.” Xiao cuts in before Ganyu can object. “A Qilin’s soul may be much purer than that of us other adepti, but these will suffice and aid in keeping your human half protected. “
Ganyu opens her mouth, but Xiao swoops in, knowing what is to come.
“And do not use the excuse of me not having one. I know how to make myself new ones.”
Ganyu examines the objects with childish curiosity, anxious to meet his expectations yet elated to be able to help one of her allies.
“Thank you for your consideration,” Ganyu bows and excuses herself. “I hope you are able to come up with a name, Conqueror of Demons.”
Xiao clicks his tongue. “You may call me by Xiao. There’s no place for titles here.”
“Goodbye, Xiao,” Ganyu giggles and lets Cloud Retainer walk her out, feeling much lighter and warmer.
Later on, the Yuheng finds Ganyu asleep during on one of her breaks, an advertisement to being a midwife in her hands.
MID-FEBRUARY, 10 YEARS BP, LIYUE - ADEPTI SUMMIT
Morax sees a string.
He sees an invisible thread connecting Xiao to Ganyu and Cloud Retainer, drawing them closer inch by inch in every day that passes.
Today the Adepti gathers and meets, reporting to Morax about their duties.
Morax overlooks the glance Xiao gives him when the Yaksha finishes his discussion about the recent monster activity, but cannot bear to ignore it when Xiao pads to Cloud Retainer and Ganyu, nodding and making comments to their discussion once in a while instead of standing in a corner near his seat.
Morax forcefully tears his attention away, closes his eyes to focus on the reports of those who are yet still to finish.
When he opens them again, he sees distance.
Morax sees a ravine he cannot cross, a space devoid of soil where he cannot make steps nor make pillars rise to walk with, thoughts and words that are forbidden to him.
“Rex Lapis,” Xiao bows and greets, taking Morax’s habitual raise of his hand as dismissal and heads towards the gates.
Cloud Retainer and Ganyu both follow the Vigilant Yaksha’s actions and scurry after him, their calls reminding Morax of a small puppy chasing after their owner.
Xiao is growing farther and farther apart.
Perhaps it was inevitable, the growing distance between them and the pang in his soul.
Would Xiao stay if Morax called for him? Would he come?
The name is on the verge of Morax’s lips, but he swallows it down when his dragon hearing perceives Ganyu’s next sentence.
“How about Kai?”
“Wha-” Xiao sputters — has the adeptus ever made a sound like that around Morax’s side? “I told you not to speak of them here!”
A bitter feeling sets in when he sees Xiao check back at him at the entrance, trying to look for any signs Morax might've heard. Morax closes his eyes again, this time the reason being spite instead of focus.
Morax thinks back to a month prior, where Xiao moaned wantonly with desire he had never expressed before, whispered to Zhongli to make him his — and he did, marking Xiao’s body with bites and gentle bruises.
He sees the same skin and finds them clear of any marks, pure and untainted.
He thinks back to when he awoke in the glow of the remaining moon, cold and alone. He thinks of Xiao's smile that appeared moments before his Yaksha disappeared to wherever he resided secretly. He thinks of Kai with wrongfully directed animosity, curious of who this being is and what it is that makes them so special that Xiao forbids his new confidantes from speaking their name in his court.
Xiao is hiding someone from Morax.
Morax does not like it.
For once, he is powerless and is incapable of something.
When Morax sees Ganyu out in the Marsh clearing unwanted guests with a bow in hand and a few healing bruises, dread overcomes him. The Vajra that hangs on her neck and the censer on her hips leave him stunned.
When he asks about it, Ganyu beams and replies with “A gift from someone, Rex Lapis.”
From Xiao, is left on the wind unsaid, but the familiar appearance of those items implicate enough.
Morax is one with the land, and does not see Xiao after that. He feels the Yaksha sometimes, although rarely, and there's a panic in his heart when he thinks of the possibility that Xiao is dying.
As Morax and Xiao grow apart, the time for change nears as well.
END OF MARCH, 10 YEARS BP, LIYUE
“I am not wearing that.”
Cloud Retainer makes a sound of annoyance and slaps his arm with an outstretched wing. “Fool, do you want to suffocate your child? Wear the hanfu!”
“I don't know how!” Xiao hisses back with a following snarl. His bump is still small — his normal attire should be fine, and plus, he doesn't know how to move and wear those long dresses with two long, hanging sleeves, even if he has seen some women in them on the roads when he happens to pass by.
“That is why I'm here, Xiao,” Ganyu, gentle as always, takes Xiao’s arm in a firm grip and lays the hanfu hanging in the crook of her arm on the bed (which had been upgraded from a thin sheet for a blanket to one made of Silk flower purely by the way, courtesy of Ganyu) and smiles at Xiao. “Take off your clothing?”
“My pants?” Xiao inquires with a raise of his brow.
“I've brought pants and underclothes for you to wear as well,” Ganyu nods, and looks at Cloud Retainer, then back to Xiao. “Shall we wait for you to change into them outside?”
Xiao huffs, kicking off his boots and slips off his one billowy sleeve. His gloves come off next, then his pants. When he changes into the pants Ganyu bought with her salary, he calls both of them back in as he takes off his skin tight top.
“What?” Xiao tilts his head at the staring, unashamed of his bare upper body.
“You…” Ganyu starts but stops. Her mouth opens again, but closes, and that happens twice more.
“Just say it. I won't get offended over something like a comment.”
“You… aren't swelling. Your chest, I mean.”
Cloud Retainer’s laughter only makes Ganyu flush harder. “A Yaksha’s pregnancy is not the same as a humans,” the crane manages to wheeze out.
Xiao sighs, and hands a piece of clothing to Ganyu. “Yakshas do not feed their young milk,” he explains, pleased when the half-qilin starts to mindlessly dress him in robes. He looks at her actions carefully, with the intent of perfection when he does it by himself tomorrow. “We are born of the world,” Xiao continues. “the earth, the grass, the sky, the wind, the sun and everything that nature has to offer. We nurture our young in the world, bathing them in the sun, soaking them with the rain, tickling them with grass. We grow and come back to our mother and ancestor, nature.”
“You treasure the world just as a Qilin does?” Ganyu looks up from her work, curiosity in her eyes. Xiao laughs — it's like he can still see her younger self. Good. Each shard of innocence from the past will make her more likely to enjoy life as it goes on.
“Yet I destroy it with every second of the ritual I bear,” Xiao nods nevertheless, faintly remembering his elders teaching him how to respect their Mother Nature.
“That is why I sought you out,” Cloud Retainer brushes Ganyu’s arm with her feathers and hums appreciatively when she steps back and sees Xiao, adorned in a traditional Liyuean hanfu.
“Are the monsters laying low?” Xiao slumps down on his bed, sighing in relief. “You are not corrupted at all, I hope.”
“No,” Ganyu giggles and takes out Xiao’s original Vajra and censer. “Thanks to you, I am pure as spring water.”
“That is good,” Xiao lets the corner of his lips lift a bare centimeter, and caresses the spare ones he made for himself. “And Rex Lapis?”
“The Rite of Descension is to happen soon,” Ganyu reports. “The Tianshu is the one who will be doing the honors this year,” she adds. “But Rex Lapis is only a tad suspicious, perhaps worried. He once encountered and came to me, inquiring about my activities of purging evil.”
Xiao sucks in a breath. “How did that go?”
Xiao knows there is a limit to the amount of time he can hide this from Rex Lapis and a ticking clock to how long he can slack off from battles. So he steps out to kill weaker enemies as much as Cloud Retainer and his own psyche warns, so as to not give the impression that he has disappeared or worse, abandoned his duty. Rex Lapis is one of the earth, and can feel what enters and leaves his land with terrifying clarity. But Cloud Retainer shelters him in a domain, a place separate from the soil, and therefore, Rex Lapis is unaware of his whereabouts while he takes refuge here after slaying miasmas outside.
Soon, Xiao will have to fully cease from killing, and care for the baby.
Only one dares to test the patience of stone.
OCTOBER, 10 YEARS BP, LIYUE
“I have completed my Midwife training!” Ganyu flaunts a thin piece of paper in front of Xiao, grinning for ear to ear as she hands it to him and brings out the dishes she has packed beforehand. “Just in time for your labour!”
“What is that?” Xiao places his hands back on the grass, leaning on his shoulders. He breathes in the Autumn air — Instead of food cravings, Yakshas craves for interaction with nature during pregnancy, so Xiao has been taking more walks often, Cloud Retainer often being his company to watch over him. Xiao’s grown close enough to his companions to openly admit that being able to drag that old crane out of her domain and gears was just a pleasant bonus.
“It is a profession for people who give medical care for people in labor,” Ganyu hums, handing him a plate of her special dish, Prosperous Peace, and adds a small dish of Almond Tofu. “Please, don't eat the dessert first,” she chides when Xiao reaches for a spoon.
“Fine,” Xiao huffs, knowing the other won't let it slide if he disobeyed. “I thought you said that you had experience in this,” he remembers Cloud Retainer saying in their first rendezvous, eyeing the few Qingxins peeking out from Ganyu’s basket.
“Going over the basics will make it much more safer for you,” Ganyu gleams when the rice hits her tongue, exploding with flavour. “I have also spoken with Cloud Retainer and asked them to provide mental support for you.”
A scrunch of the nose. “Why would I need moral support?” Xiao asks with defiance. The yaksha would've thought that his mental state was good enough as it is alone, seeing as he had battled and carried his enormous debts for years and still retained his original self.
“It's just another precaution,” Ganyu gestures for him to eat more. “Women in labour often experience mood changes from their hormones, and in your case, the karmas you have accumulated may cause an influx of…”
He sees and hears the implication.
“You think I will taint my child in my distress.” Xiao summarizes. He places the spoon down and picks up the fabric of his dress, padding towards the cave leading to the domain.
It makes him realize a possibility he never thought of. A possibility so cruel and so vile, yet so likely to happen Xiao could hate himself before it even happened.
“You misunderstand!” Ganyu chases after him, appetite gone. “I worry for the child’s safety equally as you do and wish to secure his life as much as possible!”
“I know you meant no offense,” Xiao sees his reflection on Ganyu’s wide eyes. He is afraid, Xiao realizes. It's akin to same fear he sees when his enemies realize their oncoming death, he thinks.
He is terrified and lost, for far too many reasons. He is petrified of the thought of tainting this child, of denying them of a future he wanted them to have, refusing them of freedom he was shackled away from. Xiao doesn't want to be the one to blame — no, Xiao doesn't want anyone to blame. Not the world, himself, nor themselves when his child stumbles in their life or is prevented from living a life they wish to live. Xiao is terrified of himself, of imprisoning his child with his responsibilities and things he failed to achieve and failed to control.
Yet Xiao is lost on how to do that. That's why he's strayed away from humans and the others for so long, hasn't he? How would Xiao protect them from the destruction he carries, to avoid them from becoming part of his ‘collateral damage’? How do you raise one with a gentle touch? How does a parent coo at their child, lull their young to bed? How did his parents, their faces forgotten, make him smile, again? Would he be able to satisfy his child with just butterflies made from leaves and clumsy flower crowns?
“I can't guarantee I will love you perfectly,” the wind whispers his oath from back then.
But what if his love wasn't enough?
Xiao fears even his own wishes for his child. What if this is just a mere excuse to change himself? Archons, what if he begins to see his child as a tool and excuse for change?
An infant is a creature so pure, any misdeed against them a serious crime. They are meant to be our future, a sense of peace, a world of happiness by just existing and breathing. They are not tools to be utilized, their achievements not meant to be added onto yours to raise yourself on a pedestal and not meant to be a stain in your record when they pursue lives you disagree with.
In the distance, he hears someone screaming, and finds himself realizing it's his own voice as he comes down from the high of pain.
“You are far from that, Xiao,” Cloud Retainer lulls by his bedside that is ridden with sweat and blood, feathers brushing against his Huadian. “The very moment you thought of those things, worried for your child for their sake and not yours, set you aside from them.”
Did he, really?
Ganyu appears in his vision, a smile brighter than the sun on her face.
The cries washes away his exhaustion like how the rain washes away the impurities of the wind, how the lakes and rivers nourish the land, how the sun alone makes people grin and laugh and make them forget their fears, how the moon and stars guide those who are lost in the dark.
This child is Xiao’s family and Cloud Retainer and Ganyu’s beloved nephew. He is light, joy, clarity, a blessing, the adored nature, a miracle, a twinkling star, a spring breeze that brings change and introduces new beginnings and futures, a sunset that is farewell to his painful past, a new world and universe to Xiao, and everything that is good in the world.
Everything that is good in the world.
“Yijun,” Xiao lets go of his tears when he touches the pure skin of his child, devoid of the burdens he was so terrified he would pass on. “His name is Yijun,” he repeats to himself when Ganyu lays the infant on his chest and sheds even more tears of goodness and relief and joy when he finds himself capable of soothing Yijun’s cries.
“A wonderful name, Xiao.”
A deity’s life is long and the end is hard to see — moments of happiness, may it be as short as seconds or as long as years, are hard to find in the cruel reality all mortals and gods live in.
Tianheng in the south, Yaoguang in the east, Jueyun in the west, Qingce in the north — All desolate and devoid of life. Liyue is vast, yet even one haven is hard to find.
How perfect could it be?
Xiao laughs — of pure happiness and nothing else. His world is silent, empty of the whispers and taunts. There is only him, Yijun, Ganyu and Cloud Retainer. For the first time in centuries, his guard falls down. For the first time in the millenia, he thanks the world for being here.
His former thoughts amuse him. Shackle this child down from their happiness? The fear of not loving this small yet powerful miracle enough?
Because how could Xiao love this child lesser than they deserved, if not more than enough?
Xiao does not belong only to Morax no longer, but belongs to Yijun as well.
No, maybe he has belonged to this bundle of joy before he was even born. Maybe, he started belonging when he decided to nurture him.
Yi is for the joy and harmony this child brings to Xiao and his home.
Jun is for the king that Xiao would not hesitate to give his life for.
Xiao nuzzles against a head of green and takes Yijun’s hand, melting when fingers dyed with the great earth graced with the glow of Geo curls around his pinky.
Xiao and Yijun’s bond is not a contract, not even one signed or written with blood or love. There is unconditional affection, no standards nor conditions for Yijun to fulfill, no equal terms that must be negotiated for both parties to benefit the same.
Xiao thinks of nothing else, only thinks of the smiles that refuse to fall from their faces, of how soft Yijun and how fragile he feels against Xiao, how Xiao feels capable of loving and protecting.
There is peace, a moment of solidarity, a new path that strays away from pain towards happiness, and a newfound family.
The Ginkgo blooms and sends a gust of golden fans.