Xiao had surveyed his apartment at the top of his couch, eyes jumping from one empty box to another. There was still so much to unpack and his clothes weren’t even folded neatly as he liked. He sighed, dramatically laying back to his sofa, feeling all the tiredness from all the moving that he had to do alone.
Still, he felt satisfied.
Through blood and sweat and tears, which are mostly tears from all his breakdowns, of working his ass off as a writer and other part-time jobs, he was finally able to move into his new apartment. His recent home wasn’t even as comfortable as his new couch that even his cat, Venti, jumped when he first set foot in it.
The apartment wasn’t that big but it was perfect. He had his own room, the kitchen was nice, and there was even a balcony. The walls were pretty thin, but the neighbors were quiet enough for him to be satisfied. The gods had probably pitied him and tried to be good to him for once.
Venti meowed, jumping to his chest in which Xiao released a small oof with the sudden weight on top of him. He chuckled softly, his hand reaching for the top of Venti’s head, and petted it.
It’s just Venti and him from now then. Xiao thinks that he’ll manage. Everything will be fine.
Everything did not turn out fine.
The day was supposed to be as normal as it started. Xiao was busy staring at his PC, watching as the cursor blinks back an empty document at him. Perhaps it was the new environment that’s why inspiration doesn’t come to him like it used to be. A groan escaped his lips as he stretched his arms.
He could use a break for a minute or two.
He stood up, walking out of his room. He expected to see his cat laying either on the couch or on the floor but saw nothing.
“Venti?” he called, anxiety coming up his guts as he started to search for his cat. He rummaged the entire apartment, from the cupboard to the boxes that were left from all the moving that they did.
‘He’s probably just somewhere inside the apartment,’ Xiao convinces himself as he sat on the couch, trying to even out his breathing. He shut his eyes off, leaning his whole body to relax, but once he opened them back he had felt his soul leaving his physical body.
The door to the balcony was wide open. And Xiao was now sure that Venti is definitely somewhere not inside his apartment.
Venti liked wandering outside too much. He loves his freedom more than anything. If it were the usual place, Xiao could have let him and be at ease, but then, they just moved in not even a few days ago. They were still new here, and there things that both of them still don’t know.
Unsightly thoughts flooded his mind. What if Venti gets lost? What if something happens to him while outside? What if his neighbors don’t like cats and hurt Venti?
Xiao winced, his hands moving on their own to reach for his phone to dial Aether’s number.
“Venti’s gone, help me look for him,” he says as fast as he could when his call was answered.
“Eh?” Xiao had heard some rustle on the other side of the phone before Aether replied. “Hold up, gone? Where did he go?”
He sighed exasperatedly. He stood up and went on his way to the balcony, and just as he expected, Venti wasn’t also there. “I don’t know?” he replied, panic clearly visible in his voice.
Aether hummed, “You have to calm down. He’s a cat. He’ll probably be back sooner or later.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“I’ll help you look for him, ‘kay?” Aether assured him.
“Okay,” he replied and the call ended.
He leaned on the railings of his balcony, his head hurting with all the worry that dawned on him. He rubbed his temple in annoyance and frustration. The sun was already preparing to set down, and he was sure that he hadn’t laid an eye on Venti for hours. If only he had checked on him instead of staring at his blank document, then maybe he wouldn’t have left. But then, it’s also his fault that he left the door open.
Xiao was ready to put everything and blame himself even more.
Until he finally saw Venti.
The cat stared back at Xiao’s widening eyes, a frown forming on his face. Venti looked directly at him as he suddenly jumped from the railings of the apartment next to him to his own, looking too smug for his own good. He, then, sat in front of Xiao, who realized at that moment that there was a small cooked fish on the cat’s mouth.
“Venti, what the fuck?”
Xiao picked him up and narrowed his eyes on him. Venti seemed to understand his predicament as he looked back at him with mischief and faked innocence at the same time.
Xiao felt the headaches forming inside his head.
Venti was in the other apartment. And he even stole a fucking fish.
“Listen here you little shit,” he glares at the cat, who started chewing the fish in a mocking manner. “Don’t go stealing food from god knows where! I’m literally spending all my salary on your cat food,” Xiao hissed, all the worries he had were gone and now replaced with disbelief.
Venti struggled from his hold and jumped away from him, walking back inside in a confident manner.
Xiao can only groan as he followed the cat back inside. He mentally reminded himself to buy something for the neighbor that his Venti just bothered (and stolen from). The other part of his mind urged him that he can just pretend that he did not know anything.
The latter sounded far too tempting for him.
When it happens again the next day, Xiao had deliberately chosen to ignore him. He was too busy to care and too desperate to write something because of the nearing deadline that his editor reminded him of. He was just halfway through his work, and he was desperate to finish.
And even though a part of him was worried for Venti, the logical part of his mind screams back at him that needed to write to pay his bills (and to buy Venti’s food).
Venti could definitely take care of his own for a couple of hours.
Xiao was just about satisfied with his work when he noticed that the sky had already gone dark. He walked out of his room, rubbing his tired eyes as continued to his kitchen. He called for Venti mindlessly, pulling a pack of instant noodles from his cupboard.
He heard a faint meow and footsteps outside his apartment before Venti finally came in from the balcony door. Xiao was pouring hot water on his cup when Venti decided to hop to the countertop and pry, and it was only then when Xiao noticed that the cat had something in his mouth again.
“Is that a fucking chicken?”
Xiao, 26, nearing his death because his cat had kept stealing from his neighbor. Venti’s going to be the end of him.
And the audacity of his cat to have better food than him. How dare he.
Unfortunately, it had become a habit for their first week.
Venti hangs out in Xiao’s apartment every morning where he should be, and then Xiao notices that he’ll be gone around noon, jumping to the next apartment like it’s his own home. He’ll go back home during dinner, sometimes with food in his mouth.
Every time Venti does, the dread in Xiao’s stomach increases too much.
A groan escaped his lips in frustration. He really needs to do something for all that food that was being stolen from his neighbor who seemed to have so much better daily food than he had ever had.
It must be nice to not be broke.
Saturday came. Xiao was hanging his laundry on his balcony when his eyes had drifted to take a glance to the next apartment. As far as he can remember, he still hasn’t had the chance to meet the person that his cat had been bothering and he can only hope that they’re nice enough to not hurt Venti.
Just as he continued to work, a small movement caught his attention from the inside of the said apartment.
Xiao froze on the spot.
Venti was pawing the glass door of the balcony, his meows only vaguely being heard. He was acting as if he wanted to go outside but can’t.
Fear filled Xiao’s small figure. He dropped his responsibilities and rushed outside with only one goal in his mind.
Take Venti back.
“Why is he even in there in the first place?!” he hissed under his breath when he had reached the door. He rang on the doorbell without putting some thought into it, only then realizing that he had no idea what he would say to get Venti back.
He fidgeted on his place, second-guessing his existence and life decisions at that moment. He mentally scolded himself, he should have just called Lumine or Aether for help instead of rushing ahead and knocking on a stranger’s door just to get his cat.
Venti can surely find his way home, right?
Hell, he didn’t even know what to expect of his new neighbor since he had locked himself inside, chasing after his deadlines that he had no time to go outside and socialize as a normal person would probably do.
Xiao was ready to turn his back and pretend that everything will be alright even if he doesn’t do anything when the door opened, stopping him from his tracks.
He found himself staring at a broad shoulder of a man, wearing a loose sweatshirt that rested nicely on his body. Xiao dragged his eyes up to see the person’s face who was probably a head and a half much taller than him. His brown hair was a little disheveled as if it was quickly combed by his hand to make it presentable. Xiao, for a moment, thought that he felt his mouth going agape, thinking that he’s looking at a god.
A polite smile made its way to the man’s lips, tantalizing gold eyes meeting Xiao’s own, and all that he can ever think about is that he is too hot for his own good.
“What can I do for you?”
A deep voice snapped Xiao out of his internal panic at the way too handsome guy right in front of him, suddenly remembering the reason why he was there in the first place.
He cleared his throat, attempting to save his dignity before speaking.
“Uhh, I’m Xiao, from next door, I just moved in,” Xiao introduces himself first, trying his hardest to not avert his gaze from his neighbor’s eyes. “I recently found out that my cat has been treating your place like a second home and I’m sorry for that, I swear I’ll do something for you for all the bother that he did.”
He bowed his head, then stood up straight. He sighed, before looking back again at the man’s eyes. “Second, I think he’s inside your place right now, can I please have him back?”
The person went silent for a second. Xiao thinks he saw realization dawning on the man’s face as he chuckled. “He had been feeling at home in here. So you’re his owner.”
‘Man, his voice is deep,’ Xiao thinks to himself before replying, “Unfortunately, I am.”
“Interesting,” he says, amusement not even being concealed from his voice. Xiao unconsciously huffed, earning a delighted chuckle from the man.
He hummed, widening the door that Xiao was enough to see a glimpse of what’s inside. “You can call me Zhongli,” he introduces himself and Xiao only nodded.
Zhongli paused for a second, “Do you want me to get him, or do you prefer to enter?”
Xiao blinked, his mind rushing in with several assumptions. It was already a bother to Zhongli by merely being there, and the fact that he was already being inconvenienced by Venti who stole food from him several times. If he let Zhongli get his cat, he’ll spend his time and energy looking for him. He didn’t want to trouble him even more. But, he’s still a stranger. He can’t just enter a stranger’s room so easily, right?
‘He’s hot,’ his mind supplies unhelpfully. He can’t possibly kill Xiao.
“Xiao?” Zhongli called, his body leaning against the doorway. Xiao thought that he looked like a model so effortlessly, and oh, wow, he is so tall.
“Ah,” he felt his face heat up. He really needs to stop ogling Zhongli like a thirsty high school teen who just had puberty. Xiao averted his gaze from his tempting pretty face, “If you don’t mind me entering.”
“Of course,” Zhongli smiled and walked into his place. Xiao followed behind him, anxious and determined to finally get Venti and to get back to his apartment as soon as possible because him being in this man’s presence is a bad idea.
Xiao decided that it would be fine to quickly retrieve his cat then he can pretend to not know Zhongli again and be strangers because he is not very much interested in him just because he’s hot.
But then, he remembers that his cat is an asshole.
When both of them had stepped inside the living room, Venti was dashing across the room with the energy that Xiao never thought he had. The furball jumped on the coffee table, almost pushing a cup off of it in the process.
“Venti,” Xiao called, forgetting the man standing beside him, “let’s go home now, shall we?”
Venti meowed, jumping from the table to the couch, and laid himself there like it’s his own home. When Xiao made a move to come to get him, Venti stretched on his arms, whining like a child being scolded by their parent.
An exasperated sigh escaped Xiao’s mouth. “So you’re betraying me now,” he hissed, bumping his nose softly against Venti’s “after I came all the way here when I thought you were dying.”
Even with Venti’s attitude, Xiao felt relief washing over him when he did a quick scan of Venti’s body and found out that he isn’t hurt. His cat is safe. He’s fine. There was nothing wrong with him. His lips formed into a smile, placing a quick kiss on Venti’s head.
Zhongli, who Xiao had slightly forgotten, made his way beside him, reaching to pet Venti with a gentle smile on his face. Xiao only watched him, not knowing what to say. He was ready to say his thanks when Zhongli looked back at him.
“Cute,” He says, looking at Xiao’s eyes.
Xiao was taken aback, his face flustering completely red, “Eh?”
Zhongli averted his gaze as if he didn’t say anything and continued to scratch Venti’s chin, who purred with the attention. “I quite enjoy his company so you don’t really have to worry every time he’s here,” he states, completely ignoring Xiao’s red face, who was still in shock.
‘Did he just call me cute? Or is it Venti that he’s calling?’ his mind swirled with questions and the fact that Zhongli stood so close to him and is gentle with the way he handled Venti didn’t help at all. A man can’t possibly be hot and perfect at the same time, right?
Xiao wanted to pinch himself on the spot. Why is he even thinking about these things at the most inappropriate time? He cleared his throat, hoping that it would also clear his mind. He turned to Zhongli, and wow why is he so tall, who apparently also decided to look at him.
“Still, just tell me how do I make it up to you,” Xiao spoke, determined to meet his gaze, “I’ve bothered you too much already.”
“Say Xiao, are you free tomorrow night?” he says, his voice smooth and Xiao was enthralled to listen intently. Zhongli leaned his body a little towards him, which caused him to be frozen in his place. He can clearly smell the faint cologne on Zhongli’s clothes, his mind going a little fuzzy with how close their bodies are. “Would you like to go out for dinner?”
Xiao managed to nod before he quickly averted his gaze from those eyes. His face flamed red, earning a soft chuckle from the other.
“I’ll be looking forward to it,” Zhongli replied, a satisfied smile planted on his lips.
Xiao steps out of the apartment, Venti in his arms, and Zhongli following him on his way out. A frown etched on Xiao’s forehead, still not processing if Zhongli actually asked him out or he was just dreaming awake.
Had he perhaps made imagined everything?
Just as when he opened his door to his place, he took a deep breath and faced Zhongli who was in his own doorway who was probably watching him for politeness.
“Is the dinner, uhm, my peace offering then?” Xiao asked, confusion visible on his face.
He heard him hum, his deep voice being music to Xiao’s ear.
“Well, you can say that,” Zhongli leaned against the door, a smile on his lips. “I’d like to call it a date?”
“A date,” Xiao mumbled to himself, realization dawning onto him. He nodded. “I think got it.”
Zhongli’s face brightened with his response. “See you then, Xiao.”
That was the last thing he heard before he scrambled his way back into his apartment. When he was sure that the door was closed, he felt his knees weaken with the interaction.
Venti jumped from his arms to the floor and watched him place his hand on his chest where he can suddenly feel his whole heart beating out loud.
He sat there behind the closed door, the back of his hand on his flustered face as the details of their talk replayed in his mind. It certainly didn’t help that his mind chose to remember how tall Zhongli was, or how cute his hair is, or how soft he looked when he petted Venti on his head. Xiao imagines if how would those hands feel against his.
And oh, he asked him out. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and internally screamed.
Xiao, who probably looked stressed enough, just got asked out by Zhongli who looked too good for this world. The gods have blessed him.
Venti meowed. A smug look on his cat face. And Xiao laughs softly, reaching to pet Venti on his head.
“You’re an asshole,” he says to him, a chuckle bubbling out of his mouth, “but at least I got a date with a hot guy thanks to you, so consider yourself forgiven.”