Xiao adores Aether's hair like he adores every other part of him. He could watch Aether hum a little tune as he brushed his crown of gold threads in the morning for hours on end, dreaming about running his fingers through the braid-curled strands. If only he could anytime he wants—Xiao prefers to keep the wish to himself out of sheer courtesy.
But today, as he watches Aether struggle to unweave his braid, wincing every time he pulls on the tresses, Xiao frowns.
"You'll damage them," he stops him by the wrists, "sit down."
Aether blinks, questioning, but plops himself onto the edge of their bed.
Xiao sits behind him, trying not to melt from the warmth Aether radiates, and brushes the ends of his hair. "May I?"
With that, he picks up on where Aether left off, unraveling the braid with utmost caution and undoing every knot he finds. He finds it strange that the strands are somewhat coarse to the touch because he knows Aether takes good care of them; the jars of silk flower oil and sweet flower hair masks on their vanity table would tell.
Xiao clicks his tongue upon finding small leaves in Aether's hair. "What happened?"
"Ran into a particularly determined dendro samachurl."
"I see." He plucks them out gingerly and disposes them on the floor. "And... you don't mind having your hair touched?"
"Not at all, I love having my hair played with," Aether chatters, "I find it relaxing. Especially when it's—"
He cuts himself off, stiffening, but the adeptus catches on anyway. Xiao may not be able to see his face, but Aether's body often betrays him in many ways, like the way his ears turn pink. Especially when it's you.
So he merely replies with a hum, tucks the information away in the part of his brain he reserves for Aether, and continues untangling his hair.
"Is—is it not a common thing in Teyvat?"
"Do you not like having your hair touched?"
The corners of Xiao’s lips tug. "Depends on whose hands do the touching."
He relishes in the way Aether's breath audibly hitches.
"...Would you like to lean on me?"
"Come." Xiao scoots to accommodate Aether between his legs before pulling the blond against his torso, earning a soft gasp of surprise. Xiao doesn’t blame him. The position is barely sexual, but it's rather intimate with the amount of body heat and physical contact shared between them.
The adeptus tosses the half-undone braid to Aether’s chest, wraps his arms just below Aether’s and resumes his handiwork, leaning his chin on the blond’s shoulder.
He feels Aether melts into him and smiles at his sigh of contentment. "Good?"
"Mhm," the traveler shivers when Xiao’s breath ghosts the shell of his ear, "Xiao?"
He takes an unsteady breath. "I don't think I have enough energy left to… Um. If you want to—"
Xiao kisses his temple. "I won't do anything."
"Oh." Aether relaxes further against his torso. "Okay."
The following moments are quiet, filled only by the faint sound of grasshoppers of Dihua Marsh and the occasional rustle of Aether’s hair, and it isn’t until Xiao finishes disentangling Aether’s hair that he notices the soft snores emitted by the traveler.
Earning no response but the steady breaths, Xiao huffs before slowly settling on a fond smile. A genuine one, a smile that buds from the happiness and contentment brimming in his swelling heart, all because Aether trusts him enough to watch over him while he sleeps, all because he knows Aether loves him.
“What am I going to do with you?” he whispers to the night, gently brushing away a stray lock of hair from Aether’s forehead.
Fumbling a little, he gathers Aether's figure in his arms—warm, real, fits so perfectly in his hold—and scoots him to his side of bed gently, careful not to wake the traveler.
He sighs upon realizing Aether has yet to clean himself, but it certainly isn't the first time this has happened, and it's not like Xiao has the heart to rouse him from his sleep. Not when Aether looks like this.
Xiao brushes a light finger down the side of his face, admiring the flutter of Aether's eyelashes and the serenity of his features before leaning down to press a kiss between his eyebrows, light as dandelions in the wind.
"Sweet dreams, Aether."