"Xiao? Are you around?"
His attention was caught as he heard a voice. It had been some time since Aether had left for Inazuma, saying he needed to go meet the next archon.
And now he was there, calling for him.
"I am. Sorry, this is sudden, but can we spar?"
Rare times he asked for it so directly. He nodded, taking a fighting stance. They'd crossed weapons before, and while it was obvious that Aether struggled to cover his back, he was more than a decent fighter. On his focused moments, at least. This time wasn't one of those.
Blind eyes. Contained anger. Carelessness. Xiao could see all of that in him. He took off his mask, lowering his spear.
Aether froze, his eyes turning colder as he screamed.
"What are you doing?!"
"Is this what you really desire to do?"
"Of course it is! I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't!"
No use to talk.
"Very well, then."
He didn't exactly contain himself, but he tried to have most of the blond's attention to avoid him getting badly injured.
Aether took quite the amount of hits, on his ribs, his back, arms and legs until Xiao was able to pull the sword out of his hands, and Aether trembled, falling to the grass. The frustration was still there, but the anger was gone. The spar was over. Taking off his mask and saving his spear, he looked at him.
"I'm back here, but not for long, honestly. Inazuma... Inazuma was tough. No, not only that, I- I met Lumine, before departing there."
Now that caught Xiao's attention. Turning to him, he could see how Aether bit his lip, frowning.
"Is she okay, then?"
"She is. But she won't come home. Not... Not yet. She doesn't want to. I don't have time to save nations, I- I need to talk to Baal, or- Or defeat her, I don't care! But I couldn't leave Thoma like that either! It's not fair for them to be stripped of their visions!"
"That's how living is."
"I... You're right. Sorry."
Aether sighed, starting to talk, finally opening about the other part of his trip. "There's a resistance, and they need me back soon, but... The next time I cross swords with the Shogun, I'll have to come out winner. There's no other option. And I still have no plans on how to achieve that."
"You should rest for the night. It won't make you stronger going at it in your mind."
"You're right. I should be happy I made it out. There's... There's so much people that don't."
He was kind. Even when he shouldn't. Xiao sighed.
"At the very least, I'm glad to see you unharmed."
"Xiao..." Aether sighed, looking up at him with a little smile. "I knew that seeing you was the right option. I considered talking to Venti or Zhongli, but... Nevermind. I'm happy to see you, too."
He didn't reply to it, there was no need to.
"You should eat."
"Yeah, I should. Wanna come over the teapot?"
"I guess spending some time won't be bad."
"It won't! I'll make good food, I promise!"
He took out the teapot, allowing them to enter it.
Xiao was silently relieved that Aether seemed somewhat back to normal.
They ate, and soon went to sleep. Xiao would normally leave and go back to Liyue. But for this one time, it would be nice if Aether could have at least peaceful dreams, not minding the archons and the unfairness of the world.