The night was crying.
Keqing wasn’t one for metaphors and similes and fancy diction that stemmed from the storytellers she listened to as a child, but this one was almost a fact. The sky was crying, mourning in tandem with the rest of the nation over the death of a god that had been with them since the very beginning.
She could see it beyond herself and the thousands of ink-stroked paperwork on her desk, beyond her window and over the inky black sky where the stars twinkled and dropped itself down to the bright, doleful lanterns below. Perhaps even Celestia was in mourning itself, knowing that its longest archon had long perished in an assassination attempt that no one could ever fathom in a thousand years.
As much as she hated to admit it, she wished now that Rex Lapis had stayed with them for another day.
Selfishly, she hoped that everything happening now was only temporary, and the flood of paperwork on her desk (including and not limited to: death certificates, influx taxes, et cetera ad nauseum) was something she didn’t have to deal with for no longer than a week. For once in her work career, Keqing felt overwhelmed by the work given to her, and she had to close her eyes to suck in a deep breath and pinch her nose.
She massaged the bridge of her nose as she continued to inhale and exhale. It was a trick that used to work when she was taking care of an especially annoying client from overseas, but now it seemed that it no longer had the effects she coveted.
Another deep breath in. She pushed it out with her diaphragm.
It yielded no results.
When methods yielded no results, it was obvious what to do next— try something else.
So, she pushed out her chair, let it squeak painfully on the wood that echoed through the chambers of her office, and picked herself up from her sitting position. She decided that a break would be best, as much as it pained her to admit.
The sky was dark, so much so that only the tear-like lights of the sky were the only things speckled above. She squinted upwards, regarding it for no other reason than to stall herself, and then she was on the move.
The hallways were quaint and quiet, as expected at this time of night. Really, only she would be burdened enough to want to stay so late at work. She had even insisted on it the night before— every secretary and labour worker in Liyue was tired and overworked, and there was no use in overworking them further during a time that was fragile to them the most. She had sent everyone away, and she did not regret it.
Well, almost everyone.
She had no idea where that secretary had gone off to, and she assumed that she, too, was defeated by the innate desire to rest. Surely, Keqing was about to succumb to it too, if Ganyu had.
Keqing breathed in the cold night. Not even the grasshoppers decided to play their song tonight. This week was a state of uncertainty, and she blamed no creature on the soils of Liyue to feel it.
She, however? She didn’t know how to feel, really.
If anything, she was more numb to the news than anything else. The whispers had come to her first, and the only regret she had was feeling only frustration that she would have much to clean up instead of appropriately mourning.
Well, no point in looking back now and unburying that hatchet. She was on duty, and she was the Yuheng of the Liyue Qixing— there was no honor in deciding to do anything but work, to feel anything but desire to work.
The first few sobs had caught her off guard.
Keqing had put her foot forward when the third sob came out, choked and unhappy. It was quiet, not even half as loud as the melodramatic displays out on the streets, but something about it felt… uneasy, to her. She couldn’t place why.
She froze where she stood, turning her head left and right to try and locate where the sobs were coming from. When no other sound alerted her, Keqing wondered first if she had hallucinated them, or if she had become so tired that the sobs were her own involuntary reaction. It could explain how uncomfortable she felt in the moment, but it didn’t explain why she was hesitating so much in the middle of an outdoor banister.
There was a muted sniffle, and then the release of another sob. It sounded like it came straight from the unhappiness of the heart, and Keqing was lightly reminded of the streaks of stars that looked as if they were mourning in the sky.
She quickly realized why the sobs were bothering her so much. They were familiar, even though she had never heard them before.
Keqing almost tripped on the stairs to come down, her eyes searching the dark bushes and the trees that surrounded the area. To her chagrin, she found nothing.
Then another soft cry guided her to the very end of the bushes, where she stalked quietly with feet trained to sneak. She put her hand on her hip, where her smallest dagger laid, though there was no need for violence the moment she turned a sharp corner.
Beyond the bushes, Ganyu was sitting on the grass, her hands in her face. She cried freely, her shoulders shaking with the tension of her sobs and the soft noises coming through the small cracks in her fingers.
Under the tearful moonlight, Keqing could make out the tiny droplets of watered tears coming down from her cheeks, down to her chin, and down to the dewy grass.
In that empty garden, Keqing found the first blossoms of remorse in her heart. There was no use in resisting human empathy, and she felt the squeeze of her throat when Ganyu sucked in another breath to cry again.
She didn’t need to see anything else. Clearly, Ganyu came here to mourn on her own, and Keqing was only sorry she had walked into it.
She turned on her heel as quietly as she could and walked away. The sight was probably a sign from the gods to let herself rest. With that burden in mind, she picked up her paperwork in a neat stack and hid it under her desk, then gathered her things to leave.
As a forethought, Keqing kept the lantern on to the nearest entrance Ganyu laid. The very least she could do was leave a light on.
On the way home, the stars followed her every movement. They did not disappear, nor did they move around like the bustle of citizens during their god’s final moment. They only continued to watch her, and Keqing was glad to have the company.
There were streaks of navy that followed her through the chill of the night. The twinkles in them acted as eyes, ones that looked down upon her in a way that made her feel quite uncertain even in herself.
Something warm and wet streaked down the side of her cheek. She slowed her walk, but did not stop, and raised a free hand to her cheek.
Keqing couldn’t feel what was left on her glove, but she could already guess. She pulled her glove back from her face to cheek, and sure enough, her fingertips had gone dark with the wetness of a tear.
Another streak came through her face, and this time, she paused in her walk. She frowned at the ground in between her feet, where a circular dark spot had appeared. Her tear had already made its first contact with the pavement. Perhaps she really should tone down with her pace in life.
It made no sense.
She wasn’t sad. Somber, maybe, but she knew enough that she wasn’t about to start crying over it. She had no personal connection to their god— she respected him enough, but not to this degree of familiarity. No person in Liyue would ever consider Keqing a sentimental person either.
Then, why is the sky crying with her?
A week had passed.
Liyue and its skies were no longer grey in misery, but they weren’t cheery as they were before either. At the very least, the children were playing in the streets and the men drank to their heart’s content on their days off, but Keqing could still feel the off-white impressions coming from her people.
Or, maybe it was just her.
She hadn’t met Ganyu’s eyes all week. There was no animosity between the two of them, and Ganyu didn’t seem to know the dilemma that fought in Keqing’s head, but the guilt was there, and the guilt was heavier than the stack of paperwork that had been cast upon her as the Yuheng.
There really wasn’t a need to be guilty, really. Seeing Ganyu like that was a complete mistake, and she had left as soon as she realized. There was no need to feel like she had done Ganyu a disservice and brought upon the greatest sin in the world, but she felt like it.
And, worst of all, she didn’t know how to fix it.
A woman hovered next to her uncertainly, her back bending slightly backwards with the weight of the papers in her arms. Without even glancing in her direction, Keqing said, “Put them down behind me on that walnut table. I’ll take care of it later.”
The woman squeaked out a response, and did just that. Without missing a single stroke in her report, Keqing dipped her quill in the ink well and continued to write.
Beyond her peripheral vision, Keqing was mildly aware of the stare she was getting from another person. She stiffened slightly, but continued to write and pretend she was oblivious to her other surroundings.
It was futile, however, and she stupidly made the mistake of showing she was capable of multitasking when her assistant (or, not assistant— she hired and rehired too many to count them) was standing much too far from her.
Ganyu cleared her throat. “Um, Lady Keqing…”
She sounded uncertain. It made Keqing feel instantly defensive, even if there was no use in being so.
Keqing put down her quill and twisted her upper body to look at her. She let a polite smile grace her lips, but she wondered if it looked more rueful than anything else. “Can I help you with anything?” she asked, and even to her ears, she sounded dismissive and rude. She tried not to wince.
Ganyu was undeterred. “Why, yes, I was actually— well.” She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Keqing was growing more uncertain in her presence by every tick of their clock. “Lady Ningguang asked me to help you with your duties, for as long as you need my help. Or— or if you’d like it at all, of course.”
During any other day, Keqing would have taken it as an insult. She would have waved Ganyu off and marched herself to the Jade Chamber to pick a fight with her friend over her competence with her job, but it almost seemed now that it would have happened in another lifetime.
“I would appreciate that more than you could know,” she said genuinely, and she relaxed into her chair. Even Ganyu seemed to sag her shoulders in relief. “I’m trying to finish copying these transcripts for the rest of the Qixing, but I have a stack left to go. Can you help me start them?”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Ganyu said proudly. She made a move towards the stack behind Keqing, but she seemed to freeze in place. “Oh, that— that wasn’t a joke. I realize now it might have sounded as such, but—” She shook her head at her own rambling, and breathed out a laugh. “Nevermind.”
Keqing cracked a smile at that. Ganyu always seemed so refined when she spoke with others, notably when she was brought as an emissary of Liyue. She rarely saw this side of Ganyu, one that was especially human, and she found herself liking it.
She directed Ganyu to the desk adjacent to hers, a desk that was usually reserved for her assistant or to be occupied by someone she was meeting with, but once Ganyu had settled herself into it, their space looked almost natural.
It made her a little prideful, deep in her chest, but she was mostly guilty. It pressed on her lungs like a book press.
Ganyu’s lips curled into an easy smile as she tackled the work in front of her, and that seemed to finally teether Keqing over the edge. She put down her paper and looked straight at Ganyu, then blurted out, “I saw you cry in the gardens. It was a private moment for you, and I’m especially sorry for intruding on it.”
Ganyu looked at her plainly. Her jaw was relaxed, and Keqing shifted in her seat. “So. Uh. I’m sorry,” she reiterated, in case Ganyu didn’t hear her. Or misunderstood her words. Or something of the sorts.
And then Ganyu split into a kind smile, though slightly strained, and put down her own papers. “That’s alright,” she said simply, and Keqing couldn't believe how easy that was to diffuse. It was almost like she was talking to an apparition of Ganyu, one who wasn’t so easily meeked by things like this. As if it was an afterthought, Ganyu meekly added, “I’m sure everyone in Liyue has shed a tear for Rex Lapis at this point, and I’m not at all embarrassed by it, especially if I was only seen by you.”
Keqing pushed her lips into a thin line. Not me, she almost said, and it laid on her tongue like salt, but she refused to let them spill out of her mouth.
Ganyu knew, even if she refused to say them. “Would you like to go on a walk with me?” she asked kindly, and the surprise was not hidden well on Keqing’s face. Ganyu pressed her lips together, but she pressed them only for amusement instead of concealment. “Please, don’t feel inclined to agree. I only offered because walks let me think.”
She had no idea what she needed to think about, but she found herself agreeing to Ganyu’s request before she even finished her last sentence. “Alright. Only for ten minutes.”
When Ganyu smiled, Keqing knew she agreed to that as well.
Their papers were neatly sorted into piles, and Keqing mused the fact that she liked to stack hers on the right corner of her desk, whilst Ganyu liked to keep hers to the left. It was such a trivial thing to think about while they walked out together under the greeting of the sun, but she couldn’t help but think of it.
“The moon was beautiful yesterday,” Ganyu said lightly, and Keqing understood it immediately. Idle chatter, light conversation, however other people called it— she wasn’t a fan of it. But because she was here to right a wrong, however silly it seemed to her now, she couldn’t find it in herself to turn Ganyu away. “It shone brightly over Liyue.”
“I didn’t really see a difference,” Keqing said candidly. At Ganyu’s silence, she realized her mistake. She backtracked her words, and added, “But yes. The sky would seem awfully dark without it.”
Ganyu smiled at that, and Keqing resisted the urge to release a breath of relief. They continued to walk together, far enough that a small child could fit in between them comfortably, but close enough that people walking across from them may recognize them as companions. It felt a little odd to Keqing somehow, to be somewhere outside of work with an acquaintance she spent most of her life avoiding.
Though, with Ganyu’s eased shoulders and with the way she carried herself, even Keqing was mildly fooled into thinking that they were closer friends than they had been. It made her slightly wistful.
“Keqing,” Ganyu began, and Keqing almost tilted her head to listen to her. She opted to walk slower instead. “I’m not sure if you knew, but Rex Lapis spoke of you fondly.”
Keqing avoided a crack in the sidewalk by mere millimeters. She cleared her throat before proclaiming, urging her voice to stay still, “Did he, really?”
“Yes. Many times. Mostly to my dismay,” Ganyu answered, and she laughed slightly under her breath. There was no sadness in her words, despite the rueful look in her eyes as she surveyed the land while they carried on their walk. “I told him that you were disrespectful. He kept trying to urge me to mend a bridge with you, as fragile as it may be, because he admired your defiance.”
“I…” Keqing wasn’t expecting to hear that. Not even in a thousand millenia. She truly didn’t know what to say to that, other than, “I’m sorry for your loss, Ganyu. I had no idea he was so…”
“I’d help you with your adjectives, but I’m sure my prattling would bore you,” Ganyu said, and there was no distaste in them. Keqing allowed herself to laugh airly. Ganyu tilted her head, hands still behind her back, and looked towards the mountains in the distance. Her eyes glistened, and the way the light hit them made Keqing think she was going to cry again. Yet, somehow, she didn’t seem as sad as Keqing associated them to be.
“My biggest regret in life was not holding up his advice.” Ganyu sighed, their walk almost slowing to a pace that was sure to drive Keqing insane, but then she abruptly continued walking at their comfortable pace. Keqing almost had to jog to catch up. “You’re a wonderful person, Keqing. And I don’t mind what you say because I hoped that maybe, we could become friends. Someday. If you want it.”
As sure as those words seemed to be spoken, Keqing could hear the slight edge of hesitation to them. She remembered how she told people that she could sense where people faltered in their handwriting, and which parts held their most emotions from the ink strokes alone, and the ones who listened to her became doubtful. She was sure of her intuitions though.
Just like she was sure that Ganyu was only mere seconds away from turning away and asking her to forget what she said, attributing her far-fetched words to her afternoon sleepiness.
Keqing surprised herself by saying, “I wouldn’t mind in the slightest.”
Then Ganyu smiled, slow and approachable, and Keqing didn't regret her last second words.
“Oh, but I’m—” Keqing blinked, taken aback by her forgetfulness, “—I’m still sorry, if it still counts. If there’s any way to make it up to you, please, let me know.” She meant it. To the very bone.
Ganyu shook her head, but the twitch in the corner of her lips betrayed her. “He really had your character down to a T, then,” she observed, but it was spoken so quietly that Keqing wondered if she meant to say it out loud. “Do you want to keep walking with me? We can go back, if you’re anxious to work again.”
“I’m only surprised you aren’t,” Keqing told her good-naturedly. As soon as she accepted her position as Yuheng (and perhaps even before that), she aspired to be as hardworking as Ganyu.
Ganyu pursed her lips. It seemed like she touched a tender wound, and Keqing opened her mouth to atone for that, but Ganyu beat her to it.
She motioned for the both of them to sit on a bench that faced the mountains. It seemed like Ganyu had chosen the perfect spot for them to rest. Keqing took her offer without another word.
“How acquainted are you with the history books, Keqing?” she asked, and her words came out like a murmur in a library.
“I studied them as soon as I was able to read,” she confessed, and she hoped it didn’t come off as something arrogant.
Ganyu didn’t seem to think that way. She smiled slightly at that, looked at their feet, then back at the mountains. “I’ve lost enough loved ones that I lose count sometimes. It’s why I detest war— it does nothing but separate people, from both sides,” she said quietly, and it was like she spoke them to the sky. “I used to feel guilty about it. That I was weak, and I was doing a disservice to them for spilling tears about my losses instead of bringing myself to do something about it. But then I’ve come to realize that my tears, and my sadness, are almost like a tribute to the ones I’ve lost.”
Keqing nodded her head slowly to that. They made sense. And, with Ganyu living the lifetimes she had, Keqing wasn’t surprised to hear that wisdom. She was slightly puzzled, maybe, but she understood them enough.
“I’ve lost people dear to me before, Keqing.” Ganyu turned her head to look at her. There was true content in her smile, but there was also grief. What an odd mix. “And I may mourn them for the rest of my life, but I will never regret letting them into my heart. To me, tears have never been just about the pain, but the reminiscence of what joy they left with me too.”
She should have been grateful to be told such a tale on loss and human mortality. In fact, she was practically an advocate for it.
Yet, Keqing could only find guilt in herself.
She’s never lost more than a pet in her lifetime. It wasn’t fair to compare it.
Somehow, Ganyu saw the turmoil in herself before it reached her in its capacity. She leaned over the space they made in between themselves, and then reached for her hand. She squeezed with the gentleness of the qilins in her scrolls, and Keqing felt the familiar aches in her eyes.
“I don’t know if I’m making sense, or if I sound like I’m lecturing, but…” Ganyu shrugged her shoulders helplessly. The clouds shifted and parted, and the sun shone on the softer curves of Ganyu’s jaw. Keqing looked down at their connected hands to avoid staring.
It felt like a bridge.
It may not be fully built, but Keqing felt it, and she was determined to continue building it. She wasn’t an esteemed architect without reason.
“I’ll get it someday, and I’ll keep it in mind,” Keqing promised her. Ganyu’s eyes crinkled in the corners at that, like she said something unintentionally funny, and Keqing rose to her feet. She stretched her arms over her head. “Let’s get back to work then, shall we?”
When they came back, not even three minutes later, Keqing felt lighter. Like as if a child’s weighted blanket had brushed off of her shoulders, Keqing felt like she could run ten laps around the entirety of Liyue and not get tired.
She didn’t understand why, but something about the constant glancing towards Ganyu and the promises of becoming tentative friends was almost… astonishing to her. It almost felt childish. She was too delved into her work to ponder it further, but the slight squeezes in her chests never left.
“Would you mind getting me some eye drops?” she asked a passing servant. Keqing smiled sheepishly. “Staring at all of these reports are making my eyes hurt.”
To the servant’s credit, she did nothing besides bow to her.
“Are you alright?” Ganyu asked beside her, worry etched into her features.
Keqing waved off her worry.
“Just some sore eyes,” she told her. “It’s pollen season, anyway.”
Ganyu seemed happy with that enough to look back at her own desk. Keqing frowned to herself when she looked away. She flexed her fingers and rested them on the table, letting the gentle aches come in waves through her hand muscles.
She never had a problem with pollen season before, she mused. Maybe she was getting old.
It was more of a rash decision, really, when she decided to buy two tickets instead of one to see a famous storyteller. She saw him on alternating weekends when her schedule allowed her, but she loved seeing him alone.
She couldn’t use the same excuse, however, when she willingly came up to Ganyu, set the tickets in front of her papers, and asked, “How do you feel about seeing some entertainment next Saturday night?”
“Oh!” Ganyu’s eyes widened, and she straightened her back. Her words took on an awed note. “Are these for…?”
“If you were guessing Tea Master Liu Su, then yes.” Keqing found her confidence again, even if it was still slightly shaky. Ganyu’s reaction meant she received Keqing’s outlandish offer well, even if Keqing herself was still apprehensive about the whole thing. She quickly added, “You don’t have to go, if you’re busy— or if— you don’t want to. Obviously.”
“No— I mean, yes, but,” Ganyu began, and she stumbled on her words. She restarted, and Keqing finally noticed that she looked slightly flushed. “Well, I’m not really sure if you want me there— I— I’ve never been, so I wouldn’t know what to do, that and…”
Keqing was mortified.
She realized when Ganyu began to fidget and her tips of her ears were beginning to flush a cherry color.
“No! I mean—” Keqing took back her tickets in an instant, and Ganyu looked up at her, slightly alarmed. Keqing cleared her throat, willing herself to calm down, and told her, “These are tickets for an outing for two companions. I told the ticket seller that they were not for an, erm…”
Date, she was going to articulate, but somehow they got lodged in her throat like they were gigantic crab apples.
Ganyu got the gist of her words anyway, thank archons.
She looked calmer now, though Keqing was left to stew in her embarrassment as she said, “Well, I don’t have much to do on the weekends, so I don’t see why not.”
“Wait, really?” Keqing was dumbfounded. She thought, in the very least, she had to cajole Ganyu into agreeing to come. She blinked twice, then got a hold of herself, and said, “That’s good! Great, I mean! Do you— uh, do you want to meet there, or here, or at your house or…?”
Ganyu’s eyes were full of mirth. She answered, “If it’s no pressure on you, I’d love to meet you there.”
Keqing felt like a gong had been struck in her abdomen. It was an odd feeling, but it was welcome nonetheless. She beamed back, and unlike the strained smiles she made at meetings and through the streets, it was genuine.
“It’s a—” date, her mind betrayed her, and she beat it down as best as she could, “—it’ll be a good distraction from work.”
“A needed one,” Ganyu said gravely. Her eyes followed the laid out papers in front of her. Even as efficient as she was, Keqing was only human (with Ganyu being half so). She was worried that if they continued their work at the pace they worked at, they would become more oiled machine than human. Hence, the entertainment tickets.
(At least, that’s what she told herself.)
Keqing settled into her desk. It was a perfect day to work, if she said so herself. The birds were too busy making their nests to sing, the sun criss-crossed the clouds in a way that wasn’t distracting, and no one came in to bother them about further complaints in the Harbor. It was perfect, and one of the few flawless days she was allowed in her work environment.
Unfortunately, her mind had other ideas. She couldn’t think of any other way to diffuse it (and had even tried to meditate for half an hour in their gardens), and the night ended with her slumped and defeated against her desk.
Her only solace was the shy, amused glances that Ganyu would shoot her way whenever she groaned or scribbled a sentence out. Her brow would darken with worry at a few intervals, but Keqing only had to wave her off or make a dry joke to ease it as best as she could.
Ganyu had even told her to rest easier when it was time to go home, and Keqing could only afford a muted nod her way.
She didn’t know how to tell her that the cause of her distractions stemmed from thinking about the storyteller, and what to wear and how to act and what to order while they sat and listened in the tea house to maximize her experience.
Not even when she sat with the Qixing did this distract her so much. She couldn’t lay her finger on it, and all she knew was the uncomfortable feeling in her lower abdomen that caused her to shift and squirm in her seat when no one was looking.
Nightfall came faster than she expected it to come.
The stars in the sky twinkled while she packed up her things, and Ganyu was long gone by the time she was ready to go. It made her disappointed in the very back of her mind, but she allowed herself to be optimistic when thinking of the weekend ahead.
Four servants were loitering by the door. They whispered in low volumes, enough to mimic the cries of the wind and the incessant grasshoppers, but Keqing could pick out her name spoken on their tongues. It made her lip curl in distaste.
“I didn’t know there was a party going on today,” she commented aridly.
Her dry tone caused them to look at her in unease. Once, Ningguang had told her that her humor was so dry that some had trouble discerning her words as sarcasm, rather than truth. She never had a problem like that with Ganyu, she noted in her mind, because she always knew— why didn’t they?
“There wasn’t,” one said meekly. Keqing gazed at her blankly. “We were just about to go home.”
“I hope you all have a safe trip home then,” Keqing said, not unkindly. She fixed her glove with a finger, and the servants stared at anywhere but her. She blinked. It hurt.
“Lady Yuheng?” one asked in worry.
Keqing cleared her throat as subtly as she could. “None of you happen to have eye drops, do you?”
Keqing dropped more liquid into her left eye. She blinked twice, then looked forward again.
Just in time too, apparently, because Tea Master Liu Su had cleared his chest of congestion to move onto another story. Idly, she picked up on pirates and treasures, but it all came into one ear and out of the other.
She was distracted again.
Not due to thinking about this night, no, because it was going well and ran smoother in ways she never could’ve imagined. She ordered tea that Ganyu commented was one of her favorites, in which they chatted about tea without a break for awkward pause, and every story told so far had her enraptured to listen to the very end— at least, as best as she could, distracted like this.
Ganyu’s gasps whenever Liu Su spoke of a twist or accentuated his words startled her every time. Ganyu’s laughter brought upon the images of the bell she wore on her chest, and Keqing couldn’t think of it as something entirely bad. She noticed and remembered, more than the memorable stories of the storyteller fifteen feet in front of her, Ganyu’s reactions and fidgets and soft sighs at certain denouements and conclusions.
It was also the first time Ganyu had dressed up in something other than her wear at work, and it was beautiful and formal and so much like Ganyu that Keqing had to blink away the aches in the back of her eyes whenever she looked. The way her eyes felt, it was almost as if she was looking at a god that no mortal was allowed to see, but it made no sense.
This was just Ganyu.
Yet, perhaps “just Ganyu” was what elicited her responses quite so well.
When Tea Master Liu Su paused to take a tea break, Keqing leaned slightly over to her to speak in private murmurs. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in something other than your work clothes, Ganyu,” Keqing remarked.
It was a simple statement— clothing was a safe topic that she knew how to handle, and it was one that she used to fill the spaces of quiet with her friends and patrons.
But Ganyu ducked her head as if she was embarrassed, and Keqing could see the telltale rose-colored shades on the tips of her ears. Keqing tried not to comment on it. Or stare.
“Well, I— might have spent some time coordinating it,” Ganyu admitted quietly. She was staring at her tea and complimentary biscuits, a forefinger rubbing on the side of her porcelain. “I’ve never been out somewhere like this before… so I had to get it right.”
Keqing felt a mix of feelings hit her in the chest. She started with the lower concern first. “Well, I think you look beautiful, Ganyu. You blend right in with everyone else,” she said matter-of-factly. It was the honest truth, and she didn’t understand why Ganyu looked so flustered by it. She moved on to her next concern. “I know you said you’ve never been here before, but have you never seen a storyteller? Ever, Ganyu?”
There was no judgement in her words. She made sure of it.
Ganyu seemed to sense that as well. She slumped in her seat, took a sip of her tea, then told her honestly, “I’ve seen many. Mostly, I listened to their stories on the sides of the streets, or when I’m off in another part of Liyue to speak on the behalf of Rex Lapis.” Keqing noted that his name didn’t sound quite as melancholic on her tongue anymore. “But never like this.”
Keqing understood immediately. Private showings like this were rare to come by, and the pressure to even show up was enormous. “Did you ever want to go to something like this?” she asked curiously.
Ganyu’s smile was genuine, but strained. “Alone? Not really.”
The meaning was clear as the glitter in her tea.
“Let me take you somewhere else then,” Keqing offered. It rushed out of her mouth before she could plug it up, and they continued to tumble out of her like a broken dam. “Not tonight, of course. But I know many theaters in Liyue, as well as other tea houses— or anywhere that you’d like to request for my company.”
Ganyu looked at her like she saw something new. Like she had found a new star to rule their night sky, forever by her side.
Keqing found herself liking it.
“Theater houses,” Ganyu mused. She looked down at her tea again. At Keqing’s questioning stare, she continued, “I’ve always wanted to see a play in one. I’ve watched theater troupes in the street, but never in houses.”
She couldn’t help it. Her mind rushed with thoughts of sitting on a dark balcony with Ganyu, whispering and murmuring about the actors on stage and the plot of the play in front of them. Now that their night was almost over, she could visualize Ganyu’s reactions with perfect retrospect— kind laughter, hard grips on the chairs during action sequences, muffled gasps behind her hands.
Keqing couldn’t wait.
Keqing, ever the courteous one, offered to bring Ganyu home.
Ganyu declined, only to tell her that she’d like to see Keqing get home safely herself. Oddly, Keqing felt no dispute from it. If anything, seeing Ganyu beam at her in relief like that had already made it all worth it.
Despite the promises of getting her home safely and bidding farewell right after, Ganyu gently led her away from the path towards home. She promised it would only take a couple minutes.
There was a garden of Qingxin flowers here. Ganyu delicately admitted that it was her doing, and her guilty-pleasure hobby.
Crouching in front of them, Ganyu used the moonlight to look at her flowers. She took a spade and gathered the soil around one, and gently set it down into a pot decorated with white freckles that reminded Keqing of the stars.
Ever the gentle one, Ganyu. She refused to pick flowers.
Keqing came home with a light pot containing her Qingxin. She didn’t keep a garden, nor did she know how to, but she made a note in her head to read up on how to care for one as soon as possible, even as busy as she was.
(Plus, how could she refuse, when Ganyu hesitated so tenderly and smiled so fondly when Keqing held out her hands to take it?)
The stars had guided her all the way home, and they too seemed brighter than the night before.
Keqing rubbed her eyes after setting down her small cup of water beside her plant. They itched, not ached this time, and she had already run out of eye drops. Perhaps an added ten more minutes of rest in the morning would help, as well as a nice cold bath.
Something clanged to the floor with the weight and density of a pebble, but it was too dark in her room to check. She noted in her disarrayed thoughts to check on it when she woke up.
Keqing laid herself to sleep, settled into her sheets, and dozed off into a dreamless sleep.
Meanwhile, the galaxy watched her, its flow of stars and the endless stream a personification of remorse.
Being human, unfortunately, had finally taken a toll on Keqing.
As much as she found glory and satisfaction about being a mortal who accomplished deeds she knew would have been looked down upon by those in Celestia (she held her tongue with this one, never to speak of it out loud, but she thought of it on days when she held her chin too high to the sun), it seemed that the world liked to humble her about her humanity.
Thus, there she was, head down on her desk with scrolls and stamps scattered around her elbows and forearms. Her eyes ached, both from behind and in front, and her lower head throbbed incessantly, forcing her to keep awake, but holding her in a position where it was impossible to work.
Being burned by the sun was less frustrating than this.
Keqing sighed weakly, rolling a fountain pen (gifted to her by gods-knew-who, she couldn’t remember), up and down on her table. When she flicked it particularly hard, it struck against a paper weight (one gifted to her from Ganyu on a cloudy, not-too-chilly morning almost a fortnight ago), rendering it motionless.
Keqing sighed, again. It came out more irritable.
She banged her forehead against the table in complete frustration, snaking her arms around herself in self-defense. Perhaps she could allow herself to nap for six and a half minutes. It would at least give her the time she needed to reflect on how useless she felt.
Due to how drained she felt, or simply because it mingled closely with the soft pitter-patters of the rain outside, Keqing didn’t hear the soft footsteps coming towards her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sleep on the job before, Lady Keqing,” Ganyu remarked. Her tone was one of playfulness. Even her title came off as such.
Keqing raised her head, then winced. The blood flowed back into her head, causing her to blink groggily to let the dancing spots of black disappear from her vision.
“Good evening, Ganyu,” she slurred. She didn’t even attempt to straighten herself out.
Her eyes blinked away the grogginess, and she looked straight at Ganyu’s curled lips. Unlike the nobles and the businessmen she was so used to being accompanied by, her lips suggested something light. Something soft, gentle, and subtly concerned.
Ganyu hummed under her breath. She put down something next to Keqing’s elbow, and Keqing looked down. She realized then that Ganyu had been carrying a plate of food for her. Bread, with a side of warm milk. Both were steaming, condensating the silver platter and filling Keqing’s nose with enticing scents. She was almost lulled back to sleep by it.
“If I hadn’t known better, I would have assumed you were a zombie,” Ganyu said, and though she meant to say it as a jest, there were some underlying tones of worry to it.
“M’fine,” Keqing answered, and she said it almost like a defense to herself.
Warm hands came under her jaw. They were firm, obligating her to raise her head, but they never forced her. Even through the gloves, Keqing could feel the warmth through them. Which was odd, as she remembered Ganyu’s hands to feel slightly cool to the touch— had she been the one to prepare her warm meal?
Her own hands came up to wrap around Ganyu’s wrists in an instant. Her heart halted in her chest, if not only for a couple beats, before it resumed under the cognizance of being held by someone she trusted.
“Your eyes look like galaxies,” Keqing almost said. Simply for the fact they do. She wished idly that she had spoken it out loud, if only for the justice that Ganyu would know.
But she was so tired that nothing came past her lips, and they settled on her tongue like salted candy.
“You have dark circles under your eyes,” Ganyu told her matter-of-factly. Keqing realized that she had been holding her close to inspect her. “You wave off any person who comes to check on you, you look like you haven’t slept in days, I haven’t seen you take a break for lunch— and I just can’t help but think you’re overworking yourself, Keqing.”
Her name was no longer said as a gibe at her. Neither was it said in utmost respect, used only between colleagues.
It was said so gently, like she was afraid that Keqing would break like crystals in her hands.
Keqing sucked in a deep breath. She squared her shoulders and straightened her back, sparsely leaning on her elbows for support. “You’re right, I have been,” she said candidly. She wrung her hands. “But I’ll be fine.” Everything will go back to normal after all of this. But Ganyu saw right through her.
She watched Keqing shift and look at the contents on her table, blatantly refusing to meet her eyes.
“You shouldn’t overexert yourself,” Ganyu told her. Keqing didn’t have to look to know she was frowning. “It’s better to do work in intervals than all at once. Feeding your body the nutrients it needs is essential to your health and happiness. Sleep— that’s also very important. A nice, warm bath at the end of a long day could serve you well too, if you like those.”
Keqing only hummed at that. She nodded her head sluggishly, having her eyes closed for the majority of Ganyu’s ramble on self-care. She knew it was rude to act that way, but what choice did she have? She was only mere seconds away from passing out, and hopefully this blatant display of lethargy would speed Ganyu along in leaving her be. Perhaps she could write a long-winded apology when she was better suited for it in the morning.
Ganyu took her hands in hers. Keqing blinked. Her eyes were fierce, staring back at her. “I’m here for you, in any capacity you need me.” Keqing had never seen eyes quite so beautiful. “I know you think that you have to be responsible for everything, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Keqing stared at her. She blinked owlishly. And then, slowly, she let out a laugh. It came out more airy and quiet, but it was enough to let light into Ganyu’s eyes. Galaxies, nebulas— Keqing wondered if it was possible to become an astronomer like this.
“People probably tell you this a lot, but you’re an admirable woman, Ganyu,” she said sincerely. Her voice was still hoarse from misuse. They were slightly slurred as well, and Keqing credited her boldness through her sleepiness.
Ganyu smiled despite it. She let go of Keqing’s hands after a drawn moment, leaving them cool. “Everything on the plate is yours. A chef in the Harbor helped me recreate them. I hope you like it.” She beamed at Keqing, and the weariness of her bones felt no more.
With one last look at Keqing, one that invited her to say something (though Keqing stupidly didn’t take the offer), Ganyu straightened and walked away. She did, however, turn to wave at Keqing, and concluded her nighttime visit with a joyful, “Enjoy your food!”
What a strange woman, Keqing thought to herself. But a very thoughtful one.
Well, bread and milk wasn’t hard to gather anyway. Even so, it was kind of her to provide a humble meal— it beat anything she ate for the past few days, which consisted mostly of faucet water and carrots. She made a mental note to thank Ganyu again in the morning.
Bread and milk, Keqing mused to herself. She almost laughed at the absurdity of the situation. She treats me like I’m a child. But it’s…
Kind of her, she wanted to finish. She couldn’t though.
Ganyu provided her with chopsticks, which in hindsight, was odd to provide with something as easy to consume as bread. Ganyu’s thought process revealed itself, however, when she pushed the bread aside to pick up a golden shrimp ball, still steaming with its crust wonderfully rich in breading.
She thought back to a couple weeks ago. Ganyu had asked her what she liked to indulge herself with, and Keqing had answered her in passing. She had thought it was a question of mere curiosity, or one to be kind and to uphold a useless, quick conversation as most did. And maybe that was the reason, but it was the fact that Ganyu had remembered (and that she was tired beyond belief) that set her off.
And the fact that she was so kind as to take the time to make it.
She began to cry.
She never imagined tears could hurt so well. It had been so long since she had allowed herself to cry, and the aches in her eyes and the insolent throbbing of them did more than just surprise her. It scared her, somewhat, but she couldn’t stop them from falling even if she tried.
It hurt so bad that it felt like she was squeezing things out of her eyes with each tear to the ground, forcing her to take in deep breaths and to set down her chopsticks in an attempt to calm herself.
It was the sound of crystals hitting on the floor that startled her the most.
Keqing could barely see through her tears, but she saw enough to identify them: crystals, almost in the shape of jagged stars that streaked the sky. They came in all colors, but the purples and blues scared her in ways she couldn’t imagine.
She caught her crystal-like tears in her hand. She held on to them desperately, willing them to disappear, wishing them away like they were a bad dream.
“There are stars on my hand,” Keqing murmured to no one. She said it to the benefit of herself— if she didn’t, she knew she wouldn’t believe it. She almost didn’t. “I’m crying stars.”
Her tone was flat. She said it like she was telling herself it was raining outside.
The rain started to fall harder, though they didn’t fall half as fast as her tears did.
She watched herself cry for who knew how long. Under the pitter-patters of the rain, she could hear the tinkles and the bells of her stray tears dropping to the ground. It reminded her so much of Ganyu, of the way Ganyu walked beside her and paced herself that was delightfully on par with hers.
The tinkles of Ganyu’s golden bell was all she could think of, and Keqing didn’t know what to make of it.
“Ganyu…” The name tasted like salty tears on her tongue.
“Am I crying for you?” she asked faintly. It was lost under the tinkles of these crystals, and the rain outside the door.
She was more than grateful to be alone. At least then, she could pretend the answer was no.
Keqing shook off her hand, relieving her of her sins, and stood up to pick up her coat. The scratch of her chair on the ground was a discordant noise against the melodious sounds of her tears.
Baizhu was a forthright man. He wasted no time in giving her a prognosis, and a name to her supposed disease.
“You have star tear disease,” he said flatly. When Keqing looked at him barrenly, he only chuckled. He put away some herbs on a shelf as he spoke methodically. “The disease is too rare for others to give it a better name. In any case, it goes straight to the point— wouldn’t you say?”
“I’ve studied every disease recorded in history thus far,” Keqing said, and she said it almost like a hiss. “I’ve never heard of something like this.”
“If you’re accusing me of lying, I wouldn’t waste my breath,” Baizhu answered. He turned his head over to her briefly, only to emphasize his next words. “Your tears are involuntary. Your eyes ache, they itch, and you have trouble sleeping at night because you feel like something heavy is resting on them. Am I right?”
Keqing chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Yes,” she admitted. Baizhu smirked at her smugly, then continued with his sorting.
“The first encounters of it came from Inazuma,” Baizhu continued. Keqing held her tongue, wishing to skip the history lesson for a way to fix it, but she knew it was either him or the forgetful young girl at the counter. “It spread to all corners of Teyvat not soon after. It’s not terminal, if that’s what you’re concerned about, but it’s quite the hassle to have.”
“Then how do I cure it?” Keqing asked him. She tried not to let her impatience show, both by voice and body language.
Baizhu glanced at her. She seemed to have failed at doing so.
His lips curled in thought, and he paused briefly to look up at the ceiling to think. His snake was awfully quiet.
“There’s no known cure. At least one on record,” Baizhu told her simply. He sounded neither sorry nor disinterested. “But, some people have been cured of it. They just don’t know how it happened.” Baizhu held up his finger, sensing her incoming questions. “There’s no use in looking for a survivor to press for questions. The last recorded account of the disease was almost a hundred years ago. It would be futile to try and find something now."
Keqing deflated at that. So, what? Was she meant to cry painful, pebble-sized crystals for the rest of her life?
Baizhu answered her question without looking at her. “It starts with sore eyes and ends with blindness. Takes a while for that to happen though.”
“Great,” Keqing said sardonically. She relied on her vision (both her eyes and the one lying limp at her hip) to do everything in her life. It made her chest feel a little tight at the thought of no longer having it, but if what Baizhu said was true, then she had time. At least, for now.
“Are there any temporary cures?” she asked instead. Baizhu glanced at her. “I’ll pay any sum you require from me.”
“Don’t cry,” Baizhu said smartly. He chuckled at his own joke, and then answered her seriously. “Qiqi should have some eye-irritant herbs to help with the pain. If you mean stopping them, even temporarily, I can’t help you there.”
Keqing hopped off of his chair, and she almost reeled back when Baizhu faced her entirely. His face was grave. “And, heed this warning,” he said seriously. He pointed a herb at her. “Do your best to avoid anything, or anyone, that incites your tears. You’ll only progress your disease the more you cry.”
“You told me it was involuntary,” Keqing mused.
“Most of it is.” Baizhu paused, for whatever reason. “And sometimes it isn’t. You know how life can be.”
“I’ll write that up for you on a doctor’s note,” Keqing quipped. Baizhu only waved her off, no longer regarding her.
As she hopped off her seat, however, Baizhu stopped her with a simple hand. Keqing looked up at him. He continued to sort through the medicines in his cabinet, looking as nonchalant as ever; Keqing could spot the miniscule grimace on his lips however, and it was enough for her to cock her head towards in confusion. Baizhu suddenly dropped his shoulders, sighing heavily through his nose, then moved his glasses upwards with two nimble fingers.
He continued not to look at her. "The best thing I can say to you in this situation, Miss Yuheng," he said dryly, hands turning the capsules on his shelves, "is to let it happen. You may regard as something otherwise to it, but there is no respect in hiding the inevitable. Try as you must, but do not resist."
Keqing made little sense of his words, but she could hear the sincerity of them. "I'll try. I think."
She went up to Qiqi a couple awkward seconds later and, after a few qualms regarding her prescription, got the medicine she needed. Keqing came out of there with a heavier weight on her chest, but there was too much work to do, and she couldn’t afford to wallow in her self pity.
“Keqing!” Ganyu waved her over with a bright smile.
Keqing almost drew back, as if she was burned by something hot in an oven. She came up to Ganyu involuntarily, and blurted out, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“Aren’t you?” Ganyu asked her, but her smile conveyed nothing but friendly banter. She looked over to her side, a wistful look in her eyes, and then looked back at Keqing. Her hands were behind her back, but it was easy to gather that she was feeling… out of place. “I wanted to get some groceries before coming back. It’s our lunch break.”
Lunch already? Keqing spent more time at the pharmacy than strictly necessary. She was already beginning to draw up plans in her head to double her work efforts when she got back.
“Did you find what you needed then?” Keqing asked her. She hoped the answer was yes— it would mean they would get to walk back together.
“No, um…” Ganyu looked embarrassed. “There’s… more stalls than the last time I came here. All of it looks so good, and there’s so many options that I just, well.” She gesticulated vaguely around her. She was overwhelmed.
Keqing made up her mind in an instant. “I’ll help you,” she said, and Ganyu’s eyebrows shot up in complete surprise.
“Oh, no! You don’t have to do that, I know we’re already behind schedule, and—” Ganyu stammered.
“Nonsense.” Keqing walked past her shoulder, then looked back to look at her pointedly. “Well? Are you coming? The sooner we get the food you need to stay healthy, the sooner we can get back on schedule.” She couldn’t stop the twitch in her lips from using Ganyu’s own echoed, lecturing words from the day before.
Ganyu’s relieved slump was all she needed to know to cement her decision.
Keqing’s eyes prick with tears in the middle of picking fruit. Ganyu was too busy listening solemnly to the short woman running the stall, nodding along and leaning in to look at the fruit selections she spoke of, so Keqing turned her head the other way. She blinked, and caught a stray star coming down her cheek. She pocketed it discreetly.
She didn’t know why such simple things like Ganyu’s focused expressions and the satisfied smiles at successfully picking out a fruit from a bunch could bring her to tears. She knew her tears were involuntary, but she couldn’t help but heed Baizhu’s words— there are triggers to this, and she needed to be careful.
She prayed to all the archons to give her a sign that it wasn’t for the reason she thought it was. What a sight, really, to be a blasphemous person seeking solace in beings that probably relished in the galaxy pooling in her eyes.
Contrary to popular belief, Keqing didn’t like working.
She got things done, diligently and on time, of course— she just didn’t consider it a worthwhile diversion, as most have perceived her to be. Work was work. Sure, some of it could have its amusements, and she tended to enjoy it more than her other coworkers, but it couldn’t compare to any of her real hobbies.
If anything, she wished ardently that she could go outside and enjoy the twenty percent off nationwide sales going on in the market and peruse to her heart’s content. There was also the nice pottery store that opened across the kiosk for mora meat, and she had been dying to take a peak inside for days now. Keqing sighed ruefully.
Shopping was a discipline. She wished her companions could see that, or anyone at all— it got lonely at times, to be out there looking at price tags alone.
Keqing gave herself a strict five minute break, balancing a paint brush on her pursed upper lip as she stared outside the window. She did calculations in her head while she rolled the paint brush around, considering how much mora she could potentially spend in the next few days during the flash sales.
There was a snort behind her, and Keqing dropped the brush in surprise.
Shoulders hunched upwards in self-defense, she whirled around to face Ganyu, who was hiding her smile behind a potted plant. It didn’t work quite as well, especially when her eyes crinkled at the corners and twinkled in a way that reminded Keqing of stars on an especially enraptured night.
“Sorry,” Ganyu began, and the mirth in her words suggested that she really, truly wasn’t. She put down her plant in the corner of her temporary desk, still adjacent from Keqing’s. Neither of them have bothered to move it. “I just wasn’t expecting… that.”
“Expecting what?” Keqing asked her rather hotly. She didn’t know what she was so defensive of. All she knew was that her shoulders were squared, her words were rushing out of her mouth, and her body heated wherever Ganyu placed her eyes on. In other words, all over her face and neck.
Ganyu regarded her. She was moving her hand around, sealing her lips together tightly as she thought of a way to explain herself. She gave up eventually, instead lowering herself onto her chair and touching the leaf of the green plant. “You just seemed so… foolish.”
Keqing gawked at her.
Before Keqing could ask her to clarify, Ganyu let out another laugh, then shook her head. She seemed to be in a rather good mood— it was infecting Keqing, even when she continued to mourn her lost shopping opportunities in the back of her mind. “I almost said ‘dorky’, but I’m sure you would have things to say about that specific adjective even more.”
“I still do!” Keqing argued, but it sounded weak even to herself. The quirk of her lips betrayed her good-naturedness even further. “Is that really a way to treat and describe me?” she said in a faux snotty tone.
Ganyu faced her, eyebrows up in complete defiance. She tapped her chin. “Ah, yes. Her Eminence, the Yuheng. I apologize for depicting you as ‘charming’ with my words.” She said it with such confidence and verbosity that they stared at each other, then burst into laughter.
Keqing scrunched her brow and looked at her curiously, a smile still graced on her lips. “You make no sense, Ganyu.”
Ganyu only shrugged. “You were playing with that paint brush on your lips like a child. It was— I still can’t fully make sense of it, but I hope you know what I mean.”
“‘Childish’ would have sufficed.”
“You, childish? Dear me, Rex Lapis must have died twice.”
Keqing only laughed at that, work on her desk and the break timer in her head forgotten.
“That’s not the word I’m looking for, no,” Ganyu clarified gently. There was something behind those eyes, beyond the mirth and levity— Keqing couldn’t place it, just as Ganyu couldn’t place her wording, but it was there, new and captivatingly beautiful. “It was… sweet, for lack of a better word.”
Keqing’s eyebrows peaked upwards. “Sweet?” she echoed. “By looking at me fidget with a paint brush?”
Ganyu shrugged helplessly at that. “I’m well aware that you’re human, Keqing, but things like that, it makes me realize just how human you are.”
“Well, what does that mean?” Keqing asked, not in an accusatory manner, but out of genuine question.
“It means I think that you having fidgety habits was both a surprise and not.” Ganyu offered her a pen. Keqing realized that she had come in from her lunch break to work, as she should be. “Even Her Eminence, the Yuheng has charming, human qualities, I suppose.”
Keqing’s ears burned at the tip, for a variety of reasons. For once, Ganyu’s eased teasing of her title was welcome in every regard, though it made her spine tingle in ways she couldn’t understand. They’d gone from full, respected titles to Lady Keqing to Keqing to back to her title, but with friendly, teasing undertones. It was new, and different, yet not so different, and signified a change in their work relationship, one just as pleasant as seeing the waxing moon become full. A beautiful cycle.
Secondly, and not lastly, she was practically certain that Ganyu was trying to say that she was cute.
“Would you like to go shopping with me tomorrow?” she blurted out, because how else could she deal with the notion that her coworker who was currently a foot away from her was pretty much comparing her mannerisms that of something adorable?
Ganyu looked surprised, to say the least. She recovered quick, however, and answered, “Are we going after dusk?”
“Any time you’d like to,” Keqing responded in kind. The tension in her shoulders was slowly ebbing away.
“Well. I do need a new pair of sandals for indoor wear. Would you happen to know where to find some?”
“Oh, of course I do. I suggest you let me do the talking though.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully, blissfully unaware of Ganyu’s amused eyes. “The man who runs the shoe store likes to negotiate with his patrons.”
“Are you suggesting that I don’t know how to bargain, Keqing?”
“No. I’m merely implying that there’s a chance you might have lost your edge after all these years.”
Ganyu laughed merrily at that. Keqing likened it to the tinkle of her tears. It was beautiful to hear, but the similarity and the memories it brought on dampened with too many woes.
Ganyu wiped her tears away with her palms. Alarmed, Keqing brought her chair closer, but Ganyu waved her away. “Sometimes, tears come into my eyes when I laugh too much,” she explained, and Keqing relaxed. “I don’t mind it. It just shows me how happy I am— especially when I’m with a friend like you.”
Somehow, the admission made Keqing’s heart glow. Her tongue was too tied together to respond in earnest.
She felt the sting in the back of her eyes. They threatened to spill, but she held it together as best as she could.
“Oh!” Ganyu stood up suddenly. “I’ll be right back. I forgot to water the plant. Could you get started on the files for me?”
“I’ll probably get through half of your pile before you even start to make your way back down here,” Keqing boasted, and Ganyu gave her a muted smile in return.
Once Ganyu’s back was turned, Keqing wasted no time. She pulled out a cloth from one of the compartments in her desk, and bent over to let the tears spill onto it. They were involuntary, yet again, but her trigger was becoming clearer by the day— she didn’t let herself dwell on it.
She grimaced, feeling her eyes burn and scrape out the last of the tears with grating friction. They escalated in pain with every new morning. Even blinking didn’t seem to help, and she was tempted to use the special eye drops given to her by Qiqi. Though, she knew Ganyu would be back soon enough, thanks to her neverending efficiency, and she would question why Keqing’s eyes had become so glazy.
And, Keqing knew she would be much too prideful to answer her honestly.
Once she was sure there was nothing left to cry for, Keqing bundled up her cloth and threw it in her bin under the desk. She will dispose of it accordingly, but that was for later that night, when there was no one around to judge her (all except for the infinite stares of the stars).
She straightened up and took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes to adjust them and dull the throbbing pain in the back.
Keqing turned her body to stare at the window next to her, just as Baizhu instructed. Staring at faraway things would help with the pain, he claimed.
She stared back at the stars in the sky, breaking through the dark clouds of the night. She asked them softly, for the reason of their meddling in her happy moments.
They offered her no answer.
Keqing blinked back more tears. This time, they were willed to existence from her own deliberate frustration.
It seemed that her work weeks sped by faster than she imagined them to be.
There were moments in that timespan she wished more than ever that the citizens of Liyue weren’t so lazy with their licenses and dues, but each problem came with its own set of gratification— which, weirdly, came in the form of a persistent, stubborn secretary who stuck by her side through it all.
Keqing had almost found it demeaning at first, wondering in the forefront of her mind if Ganyu cut her work pile in half only because she thought of her as incapable. It even once sparked an argument, when she was deathly tired in the middle of the night and Ganyu was relentlessly patient, but all’s well that ends well. That little tiff ended in them covered in goosefeathers from a pillow thrown too hard at Ganyu’s head, and a shared memory that Keqing clung so tightly onto.
And those memories kept coming, like shooting stars that would land directly on her lap for her to keep and enjoy forever. Even in between all the complaints and overdue licenses and unpaid taxes, Ganyu would find ways to settle in between the chambers of her heart through smiles and quiet rebuttals and tenacious tugs of the elbow for her to get out of her desk.
It almost made the painful tears that sprang every night worth it.
But when she’s there, whenever Ganyu is humming a tune in the empty chamber to fill the silence while they work together, it’s like those tears were nonexistent.
“Do you have any plans when you get home?” Ganyu asked out of the blue.
Her soft, melodious voice blended so well with the windchimes that tinkled past that Keqing almost didn’t listen. She put down her fountain pen. “What?” she said.
Ganyu giggled at her faraway tone. She marked another document and added it to the rightmost pile. She tilted her head slightly to look at Keqing, a comfortable smile on her lips. The sight was so comforting and familiar that Keqing’s eyes ached, and her tip of the tongue began to formulate an excuse for it. Instead, Ganyu beat her to her words, and replied, “It’s a weekend. We aren’t required to stay here for any longer than a quarter past three. Do you have plans to fill that extra time?”
Keqing shrugged at that. She began to work again, reluctantly, with eyes scanning her work but ears tuned towards Ganyu. “I can’t really say I do. How about you?”
Ganyu had gone so quiet that Keqing glanced up towards her in concern. “Well,” Ganyu said, and something in her voice offered no further intel, “the same would be said for me. Or, I think people call it ‘free’ these days.” Her smile was genuine, and the mirth in her eyes made Keqing smile back in reproach.
“Huh,” Keqing simply answered. She sat back in her seat and tried to focus back on her work, now that their small talk was over. She wasn’t much for one in the first place, but if Ganyu tolerated it, then she supposed she would as well.
So, she was free today, and so was Ganyu. That was nice.
She felt Ganyu’s eyes linger on her for a moment longer until they turned away, and Keqing snuck a look at her in confusion. It wasn’t like her to get so apprehensive like that, especially now that they had grown especially closer in the last few weeks— at least, that’s what she hoped was happening. Had she done something wrong?
Did Ganyu need to talk to her about her penmanship but she was afraid she would offend her in some way? Did she have something in her teeth? Did this have to do anything with their days being—?
She sat up so fast that Ganyu almost streaked the paper in front of her with ink. “Are you alright, Keqing?” she asked, and the concern was evident in her voice and facial features.
Keqing, however, chose not to respond to that. Instead, she blurted out, “Would you like to do something with me today?”
It came out in such a rush that it took a couple seconds for Ganyu to compute it. Once it did, a fair blush settled on her nose and cheeks. “Do you mean as a …?”
“What? Oh! That— that’s not what I—” Keqing stammered. She shook her head so fast that her vision blurred together, and she blinked back the heaviness in her eyes. She took a deep breath, pushed in her chair a little closer, and restarted with a calmer, “I mean, after work, would you perhaps like to… go on a— uh—” She searched her brain desperately for something that friends could do on sunny weekend afternoons, and ended up completing her question as, “Go on a picnic?”
She wished someone with a spear could take her out now.
“A picnic?” Ganyu echoed.
Well, she guessed there was no better way out than to own up to her mistakes. “Yes,” Keqing confirmed with as much bravado as she could muster. She even nodded her head firmly, and winced back her embarrassment. “It’s a beautiful day today. It would be a shame to spend it indoors.”
Ganyu looked fascinated by the turn of events. At least there was no evident refusal in her features, and Keqing counted that as a win. “I suppose so,” she said simply.
Keqing understood Ganyu’s brevity as a chance to redeem herself. “So… after work, do you mind coming with me to pick up a blanket and some food, so we can— can—” Once again, she scoured her brain for something that wasn’t stupid to say. Unfortunately, her brain was so deteriorated by the notion of spending her afternoon watching the sunset with Ganyu that she said, “So we can watch Liyue’s sun fall over the horizon with some nutritional meals in front of us to brave our walks home?”
Ganyu’s lips twitched. She looked like she was trying desperately not to laugh. Keqing, on the other hand, tried desperately not to weep out of pure embarrassment.
You just told her you wanted to watch a sunset with her with dinner to boot! she accused herself, and she entertained the idea of letting herself fall through the cracks of the dock to drown.
Instead of teasing Keqing (and rightfully so), Ganyu dipped her head slightly, smiled, and said, “It would be an honor to, Keqing.”
Two and a quarter hours later, Keqing had gathered the blankets from her house and purchased enough food from the market to feed a small village. She’d been so caught up in making sure Ganyu had enough to eat while they were out that she didn’t realize she was lugging a twenty pound basket until Ganyu laughed, but the crisis of her life was averted when Ganyu laid her hand on her forearm and said that Yaoyao would love to have what they didn’t get to eat. That, at least for the time being, was enough to stop the pressure cooker in her stomach from exploding.
Ganyu directed them to the base of a tree on the smallest mountain they found. Keqing opened her mouth to point out that the mountain was too small to see the rest of Liyue, but Ganyu stopped her with a simple gesture. Trust me, she mouthed, and Keqing couldn’t find anything in her body that was ready to complain.
She should have trusted Ganyu in the first place, she was quick to realize, because as soon as she spread out their blanket in front of the tree and sat against its base, her eyes were greeted to the sparkles of the backlit leaves and the sunny marks left on the ground.
Keqing squinted. She knew these kinds of trees— they were often marred with red and gold, and green to fill the negative spaces. Yet they were covered in pale browns.
And, she thought bitterly, she couldn’t see farther out than she used to.
She made a mental note to visit Baizhu in the morning.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Ganyu gushed. She took a seat next to Keqing. She left exactly a person-sized gap between them, and Keqing didn’t know whether to interpret that as a good or bad thing. She decided to settle on the latter, just for her own sanity. “I come up here sometimes. When I need to think clearer.”
“This is your sanctuary then?” Keqing asked her curiously. At her nod, Keqing added, “It feels like I’m overstepping being here.”
“Don’t be,” Ganyu assured. She brought the picnic basket closer to them, playing with the handle with a fiddling finger. “I invited you here. I wouldn’t have stopped our ascent if I didn’t want you to see this with me.”
Keqing didn’t know what to say. She voiced that out loud.
Ganyu passed her a sandwich in return. “Well, that’s okay,” she said sincerely. “I used to think that silence with you was an awful thing to have. That you didn’t like me in your presence when you were quiet. I see now that it’s your form of meditation— and comfort.”
Keqing marveled at her perception. She wondered, only for the time being, if Ganyu knew more things about her than she let on. It didn’t scare her as much as she thought it would.
They shared a couple more pleasantries about the day in between bites of their food, all the while the sun began to dip lower and lower over the horizon.
“Could you pass me the… it’s under all of the—” Keqing pointed vaguely into the picnic basket. At her waggling, Ganyu plunged her arm deeper into the basket and fished around. “Yes! You’re holding it. Can I have it?”
Ganyu passed her a pocket-sized novel. Keqing took it from her gratefully, and took a smiling bite of her sandwich. She pressed her back closer into the tree, sighing in relief at the relaxation taking over her body.
At Ganyu’s amused look, she explained, “I bring a novel with me for leisure. You don’t mind, do you?”
All at once, the self-consciousness took her. How rude Ganyu must think of her, to bring something to shut her out when she invited them out here. Keqing began to lower her book to the ground.
“You’re reading A Legend of Sword?” Ganyu asked her instead. There was a chord of awe in her tone, and her eyes widened when she finally recognized the cover of the novel Keqing was holding. Keqing raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I asked Yaoyao to find me the first volume in Liyue for months. We haven’t been able to find it since, and you’re holding one right here.”
“Oh.” Keqing wasn’t anticipating that— but she would be lying if she said it didn’t excite her. “Well, I kinda had to dig around for connections to get one especially shipped for me from Inazuma. Are you a fan?” she asked, and she tried her best to keep the wonder from dwelling in her voice.
Ganyu scooted a little closer to her in her awe. “I’ve been reading the other volumes since they came out!” she said excitedly. Keqing’s heart pumped exactly twice. “Could you tell me what happened in the first volume? I— well—” Ganyu blinked, then leaned back. “I was assuming you’ve already read it, or part of it, that is.”
Keqing snorted. She put the novel back in her lap, then riffled through the well-loved pages for Ganyu to see. “I’ve read it about six times,” she said proudly, and Ganyu’s mouth opened in a small ‘o’ in shock. Keqing felt like she was twelve again, reading in her parents’ garden after getting out from her daily studies. But now she was twelve, and she was twelve with a girl who saw her just as much as she saw the novel in her hands.
She wondered if Ganyu would like to see the collection she upheld, and if her novels could take the force of crystalized tears on its pages.
The reminder of her starry tears almost made her grimace.
Keqing opened to the first page. Without thinking, she asked, “Would you like me to read it to you? At least before we watch the sun set?”
And when Ganyu nodded her head yes, she took the last bite of her sandwich and began to recite the words on the pages. "Even if Emperor Sher's ambitions are realized, how will anybody benefit from it?" she started, and Ganyu clambered up beside her and laid her head on her shoulder.
Keqing didn’t mind it one bit.
She was forever conscious of the weight on her shoulder, the one that drooped and jerked upwards every now and again, until she stopped reading right before finishing the second chapter to ask, “Are you alright, Ganyu?”
“Yes. I am.” Ganyu raised her head to look at her. “Did I do something that looked like I wasn’t?” she asked her worriedly.
Keqing placed her forefinger in the spine and closed it, then regarded her companion. The sun was beginning to paint the trees orange. At least, she knew by heart that it would— but the trees and the sunlight looked more murky brown.
And Ganyu’s eyes on her stayed a brilliant violet, refracting the shades beneath them.
Ganyu stifled a yawn. Keqing tilted her head at her. “You’re tired,” she said matter-of-factly. “Wouldn’t you rather rest?”
At Ganyu’s hesitation, she added hastily, “I wouldn’t be offended. You weren’t when I pulled out a novel during a picnic with you, so I promise I won’t be when you take a nap now.”
Ganyu frowned. “I don’t take naps outside of the one I take in the early afternoon,” she mused, and Keqing was inclined to agree with the oddity of it— though she still stood by with her words. “But… if you really wouldn’t mind—”
“I wouldn’t.” Keqing moved further left to allow her more room. “Lay your head down. I can read to you as you fall asleep, if you’d like.” She picked up her novel to accentuate her point.
Ganyu smiled at her gratefully, eyes already droopy and tired, and she stretched her arms once above her head before yawning and laying her graceful head on Keqing’s lap.
They both froze.
Then, in a flurry, Keqing shifted her lap just as Ganyu moved to sit three feet away from her like a startled gazelle, and they stared at each other with wide, baffled eyes.
“Oh! You meant— lay my head beside— I didn’t— you see, I’m really—” Ganyu sputtered, and the poor woman’s face was gradually becoming rosey by the minute. “Keqing, I’m so sorry—”
“It’s fine.” Keqing shook her head. “It’s fine! I promise. You’re fine. It’s what I— you’re right, it’s what I meant, I’m just—” Her mouth dried. “Ticklish?”
She didn’t know why the lie slipped out of her mouth so easily. Indeed, she meant for Ganyu to lay her head on the picnic blanket instead of on her, but, well… something about seeing Ganyu so worried that she messed something up was more than enough to coerce her to give a white lie.
“Are you sure?” Ganyu asked, and the anxiety in her voice was still shot up high. It was gradually coming down the longer Keqing held her gaze. “I could still— if you’re that ticklish, I could lay on the blanket, or the grass, or I could sleep somewhere else, I wouldn’t want you to feel like I have to lay on you, or—”
“Please, I swear to you that it’s fine,” Keqing swore. She knocked her head on the tree bark behind her. It made a dull thunk. “You’re okay, Ganyu. It was my mistake. Come here.”
Her bravery came from all the adrenaline, it seemed. She knew for a fact that once Ganyu had fallen asleep, there would be nothing but embarrassment left in her system. But that was something for her to ponder later, once Ganyu was assured that nothing was her fault.
She could feel Ganyu’s stiffness on her lap as they settled back into their places. Keqing decided not to comment on it— after all, she too was stiff as a board, barely letting herself take in a deeper breath than what was considered shallow so she could focus the words in front of her. They muddled together in her eyesight, however, and she was much too stubborn to put it down, count to ten, and try again.
Keqing blinked back the blurriness. Even putting the words two feet in front of her face wouldn’t help.
Yet it wasn’t the fuzziness of the words that wholly distracted her; it was the warm weight on her lap, the droopiness that came with it just minutes later, and the soft inhales and exhales she could feel if she laid still enough.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ganyu’s soft hair and muted horns enticed her to look just as much as it whispered to her to touch and caress.
She entertained herself with the thought of letting herself go, and allowing her gloveless fingers to comb through baby blue hair that felt much like clouds. At least, that’s what she imagined. Keqing wouldn’t let herself dream to know— even if the answer was lying right on her lap, literally.
And those horns— she wondered if Ganyu liked having those touched as much as she thought them to be.
The aches behind her eyes pulse with a tension she hadn’t felt before. They’ve become an inconvenience to her day to day life, but now it was becoming more so an aggravation. Like teaspoons pressing from the very back of her sinuses, forcing her to blink and draw in deep breaths as if she was drowning.
She sucked in a breath and turned her head quick enough to let the first of the crystals fall to the dampened grass beside Ganyu’s head. There is no sound, except for the sounds of Ganyu’s deep breaths and her quickened heartbeat.
They come in quicker strides this time around, one after another, and as per usual, there’s nothing she could possibly do but to let them fall.
Her eyes focus on the woman on her lap, face so serene that the tears in her eyes well up for the briefest of moments before falling again.
There’s nothing to cry about at the moment.
Yet her body knew there was, and kept her mind in the dark.
She thought that if she cried enough, there would be enough star tears on the soil to rival the stars in the sky at night.
There are enough scrolls on the ground to coat her own flooring.
Keqing follows the words in her journal with a blunt pencil, forcing herself to blink, reread, and blink again with every new line or break in the page.
But all she could really focus on were the constant Ganyu, Ganyu, Ganyu, in her own handwriting, recording every instance she had to turn her face away when Ganyu greeted her or kept her head close to the edge of her bed after recounting a day spent with Ganyu by her side.
She mulled over the implications with precise conjectures, even as her own head felt light and pounding with the breach in thoughts.
Keqing tore the first page of her journal.
If she had carry this burden, this disease, for the rest of her life, then so be it.
She tore the second page.
Her crystal-like tears littered her desk, and all over her hands, mimicking the redness of blood. They hurt beyond like anything else in her life, making her head so light and full of agony, a star explosion in the very center of her brain that continued to create her solid, jagged tears.
The stars outside of her window streak along its navy canvas, downwards and beyond the mountain. They look as if they’re mourning with her.
Baizhu had warned her about her eyesight, many many times. Keqing brushed his warnings off the first few times she came to see him, though now she regretted not heeding his advice.
Even now, in the brightest section of her office, with a lamp shining down onto her desk and a thousand lumens concentrated right where she was, she couldn’t seem to read the neatly printed words laying in front of her. Not even squinting could help her now.
Frustrated, Keqing leaned back and groaned. She pinched the bridge of her nose and massaged, taking in neat, even breaths to let herself relax. Perhaps it was the stress that was getting to her.
“Is it my handwriting?”
“Hmm?” Keqing snapped her head up to look at Ganyu. She almost dropped her pen.
“My handwriting.” Ganyu nodded to the report in front of her. There was a latent smile on her lips as she did so, betraying her amusement with the situation. “Are you having trouble reading it?”
“What? No. Of course not.” Keqing blinked back her surprise. She shifted her weight in her seat and cleared her throat, pretending to reorganize the pages by tapping it on the desk as slowly as she could. “I was just a little tired. Reading late last night and all. Your handwriting is perfectly fine, Ganyu.”
In fact, it was more than fine, she wished she could say. Ganyu’s handwriting was calligraphic, and even reading it was like following the lines of an art piece.
It was only a shame she could barely let her eyes focus enough to read it.
The silence in the room finally settled on her like a cold blanket.
“So—” Keqing cleared her throat again and winced. “Did you need me for anything?”
“Huh?” Ganyu looked somewhat startled by her response. She blinked once, then shook her head. “Oh, no. I was just, um, stopping by.”
Her hesitance wasn’t lost on Keqing. “Are you sure?” she pressed slightly. She leaned in on her chair, furrowing her brow. The action seemed to make Ganyu a little more nervous, so Keqing drew back.
“Yes! Yes, just…” Ganyu made vague motions with her hands. She clasped them in front of her to stop it. “It’s just that… well… ever since you no longer needed my help with your work, you’ve been…”
Keqing tilted her head. She waited patiently for Ganyu to finish, though when it was apparent that she wouldn’t, she asked, “I’ve been, what, exactly?” She tried to let her words land softer than it did, but Ganyu’s slight flinch back told her otherwise. Keqing held her tongue to prevent any more slip ups.
“You’ve been quite distant with me lately,” Ganyu finished. Her defiant words summoned the courage in her, and she squared her shoulders to continue her avalanche of confessions. “I understand that you are no longer in need of my assistance, though I was under the impression that we’ve…”
Ganyu seemed to struggle to get the last few words out, until the last of her words dissipated into the wispy morning.
Keqing understood her immediately, the conclusion accompanied by the sharp stab behind her eyes. She ignored it as best as she could. “That we’ve bonded?” she guessed. The high octave of her voice forced her to clear her throat. Again.
She prayed Ganyu didn’t notice. Repetitions in actions were unbecoming of a person.
Ganyu made vague gestures with her hands again. “Yes,” she said, though it turned out more like a squeak. “And I was worried. That perhaps, you were sheltering yourself again. From me. Or everything else.”
The awkward staccato of her explanation made Keqing’s brain short-circuit. It was such a far cry from the proudly exasperated Ganyu from the past few days (not to mention the utter poise that one night stayed late) that her mind couldn’t wrap around the one she was seeing now: an apprehensive, borderline shy, Lady Ganyu she knew nothing more than the emissary and secretary for the Liyue Qixing.
It made her eyes sting.
“It’s not like that,” Keqing immediately blurted out. Ganyu’s eyes widened a quarter of an inch, and Keqing took to scratching the side of her neck worriedly. “You’re my friend, Ganyu. And I’m happy to call you that. I just so happen to have been— I’ll be honest, because you’re my friend and all, but this week hasn’t been the greatest for me.”
Ganyu’s shoulders slumped in relief. Though, once the rest of Keqing’s words settled into the forefront of her mind, they squared again.
“If you require any more assistance, I would be more than happy to give it to you, in any capacity you need it,” Ganyu told her, and then immediately blushed a scarlet red. She began to stammer her words, and the low fidgeting of her hands made Keqing self aware of her own actions. “I— I mean, in a— in a professional capacity, of course. You needn’t be so shy about work around me, and…” Her voice softened and muted away like a fizzing fire.
“I got it, Ganyu. Thank you,” Keqing said. She cut her off for Ganyu’s sake, and for the sake of her own sanity as well.
Ganyu shifted her weight from foot to foot, then cleared her throat by placing a delicate hand on the base of her chest. The clock on the wall behind her ticked its heavy tune, and Keqing felt like drowning under the pressure.
But then another tick passed through the walls, and Ganyu asked her, “If you’d like, and your schedule permits it, it would be quite nice to be with you at the festival.”
“The festival?” Keqing echoed. Once the words left her mouth, however, the words muddled together in her brain and she almost slapped herself behind the head. The festival!
“Yes, well...” It was clear that Ganyu had thought her reaction to be something negative. Keqing raced for ways to fix it while she rambled on. “I came here to ask you if it was something you’d like. But, I see now that you would rather be left alone, and I wouldn’t want to intrude—”
“Yes!” Keqing’s voice was almost a shout. It startled Ganyu, who almost had to take a step back from the surprise of her volume. Keqing had to force her blood to stop boiling over the surface. “I mean, yes. I would love to go with you, Ganyu.”
“You do?” The surprise in Ganyu’s voice almost made her wince. “I mean, are you sure, Keqing?”
“A hundred percent,” Keqing answered. She pushed most of the papers away from her desk to make room for her planner, wisely opening the spine and onto a blank, bookmarked space to show her resilience to Ganyu. “When are we meeting?”
“It may seem a little last minute, but it’s the day after tomorrow. Right after sunset at the Harbor,” Ganyu informed her. She fidgeted with a knuckle on her hand, and it took everything out of Keqing to rip her eyes away from it and meet Ganyu’s wry smile. “It also happens to be my mother’s birthday.”
“Oh.” Keqing had no idea what to say to that.
Before she could make up something that she would regret, Ganyu gave her a little laugh. “Her grave isn’t in Liyue. Instead, every year I watch the stars in her favourite place. I would really like it if you considered joining me.”
“Ganyu…” Now she really didn’t know what to say. “Are you sure that’s something you’d want?”
She couldn’t fathom why Ganyu would ever want to share it with her, out of anyone else.
But when Ganyu smiled at her like that, her eyes carrying the light and the canvas of the galaxy above them, how could she refuse?
“A hundred percent,” Ganyu said, and laughed at the tease.
“I’ll do everything I can to be there then,” Keqing told her. “That’s a promise.”
And when Ganyu smiled at her, relieved and so beautiful, Keqing went home and cried a wistful mass of her stars.
The redness of her blood acted as its water, and it was only fitting that Keqing would gather them in a small blanket later that night to toss them into the flowing river. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes, and Keqing didn’t want to see the reminder of her ceaseless disease for as long as she already must.
They ache longer these days, they form around her eyes in more blood than yesterday, and the crystals are larger, sharper, and harrowing with every step she took to fall in love with Ganyu.
Just like her tears, there was no stopping her heart from wanting Ganyu so ardently.
The festivals in Liyue have always been a spectacle. It brought her great pride, for one thing, and for another, well— the shopping sales don’t hurt one bit.
Keqing glanced back and forth from each stimuli her senses could pick out, from children and their lanterns to old men and their alcohol and a certain funeral director running around handing out coupons for her business.
It’s bright and colorful and her eyes could only stare long enough at one lantern in front of her for a few seconds before she had to turn away, and she knew that even without the deterioration of her disease, the effects would have been more or less the same. Liyue was breathing with happiness and love, teeming from the heart with a comfort that put Keqing at ease.
It was either the atmosphere of her beautiful nation, or the beautiful girl holding her lower back to guide her through the crowds that brought her that comfort anyway.
They walked slowly, mingling with people they barely knew as if they had been friends since primary school. It was an arduous event at first, to engage in small talk and to walk so languidly when they could have been moving, but Keqing was quick to change her mind when she noticed the ever-so slight smile placed upon Ganyu’s lips.
It was a reminder to her that coming out here tonight was not a choice of her own, but of the stars in her eyes and the heart that burdened her love for this woman beside her.
Ganyu looked at her once, before averting her eyes away to speak to a young boy at her knee’s height to assure him that they would stay a while longer to wait for his parents, then back to her yet again.
“Did I do something weird?” Ganyu asked her out of the blue.
“Weird?” Keqing echoed. She pulled down the cookie from her lips to speak (even Yuhengs could indulge in sweets now and again). “What makes you say that, Ganyu?”
“You’ve been looking at me all night,” Ganyu replied. Her brow furrowed in confusion. Behind her, a lantern whiffed out, darkening her features further. “At first I assumed I had something in my teeth, but I checked twice and you still kept… looking, I suppose.”
“Was I?” Keqing’s throat burned in embarrassment, feeling as if Ganyu had caught her with her hand stuck in the cookie jar. “I’m sorry. I’ve been spacing out.”
The truth was, her eyesight had been getting gradually worse by the day. She had to use reading glasses when people weren’t looking, for Celestia’s sake, and being this close to Ganyu still wouldn’t allow her the mercy of seeing her features as easily as before.
Ganyu nodded her head to that, thankfully buying her flimsy excuse. Another lantern was dimmed away by another shopkeeper, and children squealed in feeble fright. The excited chatter of the people around them crescendoed louder, though Ganyu’s voice was as clear as ever.
“If you’d like to go home, I wouldn’t mind it,” she said gently. She placed her hand in Keqing’s and squeezed, and the simple act alone made the colors in Keqing’s eyes blur together like a frightful painting. “I know you’ve been wearing yourself thin all week.”
“What? No.” Keqing slipped her hand away from Ganyu, and then regretted the action immediately. She shook her head. “You wanted me to come with you. It wouldn’t be good for me to leave you so soon.”
“We’ve been walking around speaking to more people than you usually permit yourself to in a year,” Ganyu said gently. “Plus, you must be sick from all the food we’ve been sampling. I told you to try their vegetable options, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
Ganyu’s light reprimand of her choices in evening snacks made Keqing laugh. “People are starting to head home or to go stargazing. It’ll be stupid of me to go home now.”
“You could be right,” Ganyu said, completely unconvinced. “But if you’re tired, then there’s no point in keeping you any longer.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Keqing teased.
“I was the one to ask you to stay in the first place. Turning you away is the last thing I would’ve wanted,” Ganyu said gently. Three more lanterns faded away into the dark night.
Her soft admission took Keqing by surprise. So much so, in fact, that it took her exactly two and a half seconds to respond. “I’m fine, Ganyu. I promise.”
Ganyu merely frowned. Her features relaxed a moment later, and she took Keqing’s hand yet again. An apple-sized lump lodged into her throat at the action.
“I won’t keep you for any longer then,” Ganyu said. She tugged on her hand towards her. “Let me take you somewhere before we head home.”
Keqing kept her mouth shut, leaving herself wordless and compliant to anywhere and everywhere Ganyu could possibly take her. Ganyu could bring her all the way to the moon, and Keqing would follow to every corner and crater they could find.
It took a while, and lots of blind trust in the dark, but Ganyu finally brought her to the peak she spoke so highly about— an old bridge on top of the mountain, looking down at the city and under the greatest stretch of the stars.
Liyue was quiet here, with little light left to allow its people to sleep and stargaze. It let the stars shine above them in brilliant colors, and it was the first time that Keqing realized that she had been missing some colors and shades all this time.
The stars were bright and wonderful, but their color was nearly dull— as if the very essence of them conveyed a kind of melancholy only she could interpret.
She turned her head, trying to find solace in Ganyu’s eyes, as she often did when she drowned in her responsibilities.
They, too, continued to look beautiful. Yet, their color was misplaced. Dull, nearly grey.
Her first thought was to mourn it. She could never see those colors ever again, not even as she spent most of her weeks painting Ganyu’s mind into the forefront of her mind out of fear she might never see it again, but now it was happening in real time, deteriorating in front of her like stone walls and age.
Her next thought was to cry.
She wouldn’t dare.
“My mother used to bring me here,” Ganyu explained, and she didn’t once glance to look at the turmoil that fought in Keqing’s mind. Instead, she leaned on the ancient railing, one that even Keqing was too hesitant to test its aging strength. Though, she followed her lead not a moment too soon. “I didn’t see her often, but during the days I did, she’d bring me some flowers and a blanket and lift me onto this railing. I’d ask her about the stars and their stories all night until she was tired of it, then she’d bring me right home and onto my bed.”
“What did she tell you about them?” Keqing asked, and she swallowed the bile that threatened to rise in her throat from the effort of keeping everything in.
Ganyu pondered that for a moment. When she answered, her voice was no longer wistful. It was only full of wonder, as if she was reminiscing the words her mother used to give to her. “She told me lots of things. Heroes trapped in the constellations, tragedies, mothers and daughters and wives who cried over men that never came back to them.”
“Did she tell you a lot?” Keqing asked again, and what a stupid thing to ask, she thought.
“Many,” Ganyu answered with a laugh, no judgement in her tone. “She told me that there were an endless amount of stars in our world, and that their stories are birthed with every heartbeat. Once, I told her I’d make her tell me every story until I knew everything, and I remembered she only laughed at me.”
“She’s nothing like you then,” Keqing mused, and Ganyu turned her head slightly to her to smile ruefully. “If I had said the same thing to you, I bet you wouldn’t have it in you to say no.”
Ganyu huffed, and Keqing let out a laugh under her breath. Ganyu shook her head, then answered, “Maybe. But it’s difficult not to give you what you want in the first place.”
Keqing waited for Ganyu to let her words sink in and draw back in embarrassment, though she never did. Ganyu only tilted her head upwards, eyes widening slightly at the expanse of the sky and the embrace of the stars above them.
And Keqing’s only thought was that she was beautiful.
So beautiful, in fact, that between the universe and the ground beneath her, Keqing could barely allow herself to breathe.
The first crystal tear fell to the river below, and it didn’t hurt quite as much as the ache in her chest.
And of course, Ganyu noticed.
She turned her head, a mix of shock and awe on her face, before it lessened to a look of concern. “Keqing,” she said, startled, and Keqing herself refused to speak even a whisper of a breath. “You’re crying stars.”
It was said so matter-of-factly, and in a way that seemed like it was common knowledge, that Keqing almost laughed.
“Keqing,” Ganyu tried again, and her voice took on an edge of desperation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
A million reasons came to bubble over the surface.
Because it would have burdened you.
Because it can’t be helped.
Because my stars are a story composed of you.
When Ganyu placed her hands on both sides of her face, caressing and gentle and feeling for each sharp crystal that cuts across her face and down to the floor between them, her tears come faster. Keqing no longer had the grit to keep them away.
“Does it hurt?” Ganyu asked, and her voice was only a whisper away from being louder than the twinkles of her starry tears.
“Sometimes,” Keqing croaked out. “I’ve gotten used to them.”
Ganyu’s face twisted slightly, and Keqing regretted her words. “I mean,” she started again, and her voice is louder, though just as delicate, “does it hurt that much to be in love?”
How could she be in a state to lie?
“Yes,” she answered, reluctantly and ashamed.
“Don’t you remember what I told you?” Ganyu asked her, and she sounded bruised and hurt, as if Keqing had twisted the chambers of her heart. “Crying isn’t just because you’re hurt. It shouldn’t have to be.”
Because crying can come from loving and adoring something so much, it would take the courage of tears to convey— that was something she noted in the back of her brain the first time she saw Ganyu cry. And it was something she didn’t know would draw a breath out of her lungs so fast.
“I don’t know what you want me to do, Ganyu,” Keqing said. She hooked her fingers on top of Ganyu’s wrists, allowing them to hang loosely.
“Why are you crying?” she asked, and the question was so innocent and laced with nothing but genuinity that it took Keqing long seconds to comprehend.
“I don’t know,” she replied. It’s the most honest thing she’s ever said out loud and to herself. “Baizhu said they were involuntary. It’s a disease. But that’s as far as we know.”
“So why are you crying?” Ganyu persisted.
She finally figured it out once another tear fell, less agonizing to conjure and full of light refracting the shine around them.
It took her three and a quarter of a second to realize the color and the beauty of the galaxy and the moon and of Ganyu’s eyes had returned, sought after only a mere snap of a second when the revelation had been drawn towards her chest.
And it only took her half a second to say, “Because I love you, and I can’t imagine being without you as much as the sky is without its stars.”
Then Ganyu laughed, bubbly and full of joy from a line taken out of a novel they both read that past week, and Keqing couldn’t find it in herself to cry anymore.
It occurred to her, for the first time since, that her starry tears were not meant as a punishment for her love, but a gift.
A push in the right direction.
Ganyu kissed her under the witness of the quiet universe, and the stars in her eyes don’t hurt quite as much anymore.
When she saw Ganyu for the first time in her next life, crystal tears fell onto the palms of her hands.
She’s beautiful, was her first thought.
Ganyu silently slid her starry tears out of her hands (it feels almost practiced, as if she's been doing it for most of her life) and she cried freely, not understanding why, but knowing that these tears were from a promise, a contract being fulfilled.
"Why are you crying?" Ganyu asked her softly. Ganyu. How did she know that?
There was a pause. And then, "I think they’re for you."
The stars always knew, after all.
They knew so deeply of their love and blessed her with tears to remind her every day, and in every life.
The night began to cry once more, and it did not weep out of grief, as Keqing had once thought.