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picking thorns through the daffodils

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Venti enjoys having a captive audience. He can play whatever he wants for as long as he wants, and all Jean will do is hum along if the song speaks to her heart. She’s a much more receptive listener than the last Dandelion Knight he tried to play for, who would only call him a distraction and chase him out of her office! 

Ah, Vennessa. Venti doesn’t often get close to humans, but she was always a special one. Even Celestia saw it. He hopes they’ve treated her well.

It’s amazing how many new songs Mondstadt can come up with in-between his naps. Five-hundred years have given way to what must be five hundred-thousand songs! Venti isn’t even certain he can learn them all before his next nap. He’s put in a decent effort, at least. He’s even written a few of his own. 

The one he plays now is Sansa’s. She has potential, though her lyricism leaves something to be desired at the moment. Venti is certain that, by the end of her life, she’ll be a renowned bard. He hopes she sticks with the profession long enough to blossom. 

Jean works on her endless duties, trapped at that cherry-colored desk of hers. Venti keeps playing. Right as the song comes to a close, the wind carries a specific prayer to him. 

Venti… I wish to see you.

“Xiao!” Venti calls out, slapping his lyre’s strings so the sound comes to an immediate stop. A breeze picks up his voice and filters through Jean’s open window, well on its way to whatever part of Liyue Xiao must be in. 

Jean gives him a baffled look. “What did you just say?”

Venti giggles. “Sorry Jean, but I must be on my way. My beloved is calling for me!” He knows the archetypical term is boyfriend, but it doesn’t quite fit. Boyfriend is a term for young couples and for boys. Xiao is hardly either. 

“I didn’t hear anything,” Jean says.

Venti taps his temple. “It’s up here,” he says, and gives her one last wave as he makes his exit. She’s clearly baffled. He doesn’t often listen to prayers — they’re mostly for strength, and the people of Mondstadt are already so strong by their own right! — but he’s learned to make an exception for one particular adeptus. 

He used to travel to Liyue on his own wings. He’s so much faster than a glider, as improved as they’ve gotten since the last time he was awake. The problem with that is that using his Archon form, as similar as it is to this one, is such a pain, and it’ll be weird if any of the sisters see him. Then Xiao might get weird if he sees Venti in his Archon form, and Venti just trained him out of calling him Barbatos constantly! The drawbacks far outweigh any benefits.

He gathers scraps of Anemo energy to boost him up to the top of the Cathedral. From there, he grabs his glider and takes flight. It’ll still take a while to get to Liyue, but knowing Xiao, he’ll meet Venti right at the border. A grin stretches over his mouth. 

This thing between them is still so fragile and new. Poor Xiao had pined for centuries while Venti slept. Of all the ways they’ve almost entered each other’s orbit, this recent period of wakefulness is the first that they’ve truly spent any time together. Xiao may be gruff and direct, and for all divine shadows cling to his skin, he has one of the kindest hearts Venti has ever seen. You poke the adeptus and he bleeds his love all over you! 

He’s a very dutiful creature, that Xiao. Venti has always liked dutiful people, even if he’s found duty too close to a shackle for his own tastes. Xiao devotes himself wholly to anything he cares for: to old blockhead Morax, to protecting Liyue, to honoring the memory of his fallen comrades (and taking Venti to the shrine of an old Yaksha was definitely one of the odder dates Venti has ever been on), to the Traveler who carefully broke down his walls brick by brick, and now to Venti himself. 

Sometimes Venti thinks about spending two years in Fontaine and avoiding the Hydro Archon’s notice just for the fun of it all. Sometimes he thinks about going back to sleep, despite wanting to see the Traveler’s odd new journey through to its end. 

For Xiao, he stays awake. He’s never stayed awake for a lover before. That’s the problem with entering anything with a human. Once he took a nap (a short nap, too!) only to wake up and discover that his latest lover had lived most of his life without Venti! It was an incredibly awkward conversation to wake up to. 

Venti could sleep for however long he wants and not have to worry about Xiao growing old. No, that isn’t the problem at all. The problem is that Xiao would miss him, and that it would hurt his feelings, and Venti is incredibly unused to being missed. He doesn’t want to hurt Xiao’s feelings, either!

It’s so strange having a place to visit consistently. A person to consider whenever he makes a decision. He had thought it would be a pain; that was why he had never let any previous lovers in anywhere closer than the circle of his arms. Relationships always seemed like a chain of their own. 

He hasn’t been in this one with Xiao long enough to know whether or not it’ll become a chain. For now, though, it feels like the rush of a freefall, made all the more joyous by the knowledge that hitting the ground won’t hurt. He never thought that being known would feel so safe.

He lands on a hill overlooking Stone Gate. “Xiao! Are you around?” he calls out, letting the winds spirit his words away. Ah, the beauty of taking an Anemo user as his beloved is that it makes communication so simple. Xiao shuts out the prayers of his country’s humans, but for the few he cares for, he’s always waiting for the wind to carry their calls to him. 

There’s a distinct crack of energy in the air before Xiao appears just an arm’s length from Venti. He’s on high-alert, his spear in one hand and his eyes constantly scanning their surroundings. His other hand drifts to his waist where his mask hangs.

Venti has seen him fight with it, though Xiao had tried not to let him see. He’s terrifying. No wonder he can take on gods and win. Venti would hate to be on the receiving end of that spear! If it ever turned against him, he doesn’t know which one would break first: his heart, or his body.

“Are you hurt?” Xiao asks in lieu of a proper greeting.

“Nope! I just got here,” says Venti.

“Where are the enemies?”

“Somewhere else, probably.”

Now Xiao just looks lost. “But you called for me.”

Venti takes a step closer. Xiao lets his spear shimmer to nothing. “You called for me first. I just wanted you to know I was coming.”

Xiao tilts his head, a bit like the way dogs do when they hear a peculiar sound. A little furrow creases his brows and his lips tug down into a frown. “You didn’t have to answer. You never have to answer me.”

“But I wanted to,” Venti protests. He steps closer, breaking into a bubble of personal space he knows for a fact no one else is allowed entry into. Xiao doesn’t even like to get close enough to others to hand them things. Whenever he wants to give something to the innkeepers, he sets it on a table and walks away. 

Xiao says it’s because mortals can’t handle adeptal energy for long. Venti just thinks the reaction is born of fear. 

“I have nothing to offer you,” Xiao says.

“Hmm… how about a kiss for the effort I took to get here?” Venti asks, laughing softly. He doesn’t expect anything from it. They’ve done the whole mutual confession of affection for one another song and dance, and they’ve embraced just a time or two, but it’s always been on Venti to take initiative. 

He thinks Xiao gets a certain look when he wants to be kissed. His breath stills in his chest, as if stolen, and he steals a glance down at Venti’s lips. Then his eyes grow hard and stay trained right on Venti’s. 

Now, he simply leans in and presses a chaste kiss to Venti’s mouth. When he pulls away, he stares resolutely down at the ground. His cheeks are dusted over with a rosy pink. 

Venti is delighted. He takes one of Xiao’s hands and squeezes it. “I didn’t expect you to do it!” he says, laughing. 

“You told me to,” Xiao says, still fascinated by the grass beneath their feet. 

“I was joking.”

Xiao rips his hand away. Seems as if Venti has upset the poor thing. “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it,” he says. 

If this were anyone else, they wouldn’t mind. Even Vennessa, as serious as she was, would roll her eyes and indulge Venti’s antics for as long as she could. Venti likes Xiao enough to know he has to be gentler with him. He doesn’t have experience with things like sarcasm and jokes. Strange to think that he’s so involved with such a grave person. 

“I’m sorry, Xiao,” Venti says, entirely earnest. “I came here because I heard you say that you wanted to see me. I thought we could spend time together. Did that change?”

Xiao, face red, shakes his head. “I have no right to ask these things of you. You should have ignored me.”

Venti rolls his eyes. “I’m not going to do that.” Seeing that Xiao still isn’t giving in, he tries a different tactic. “Will you spend time with me?”

After a heartbeat’s hesitation, he nods. “I do not know what we could do together.”

“Right, right. You’re not one for hobbies or fun.” Venti claps his hands together. “Well! I know you don’t like the city, so visiting the harbor is out of the question. Hmm… the waters in Sal Terrae run warm, and the saltiness makes it easier to float! How about we go swimming?”

Xiao lets Venti pull him along by the hand. Neither of them are skilled swimmers, but they still have fun.

 

 

It happens again, a couple of weeks later. Venti is deep in his third jar of dandelion wine, made all the sweeter by the crisp night. Liyue gets humid during the summers, but it’s still early enough in the season that his clothes don’t constantly cling to his back. It makes him miss Mondstadt just a little. The winds there feel cleaner. 

Though Mondstadt doesn’t have Xiao, who is entirely why Venti is perched on the roof of an old house. This village used to be a lively mining hub according to the stories the Traveler has told him. Now it only holds ghosts. He’s put the few he’s come across to rest after some young exorcist nearly scared them all into the sea. They may not be his people specifically, but a soul is a soul, and Venti loves to bring others peace.

Now, there are no ghosts. Only wine, stars, and an adeptus curled up against his side. Their arms barely brush whenever Venti brings the jar to his mouth. He thinks about getting closer. He’s wanted to. Xiao is so warm. He rested his head in Xiao’s lap for just a moment earlier until the logistical nightmare that would be trying to drink without covering his beloved in wine showed its awful face. 

He gets an idea. He pats his lap. “Go on. Rest your head here,” he says.

He expects Xiao to refuse. It might be a bit too intimate for where they find themselves. That, and it’s vulnerable. Even when Venti kisses him, there’s a thread of awareness that never leaves Xiao’s being. It’s as if he expects a Ruin Grader to pop up behind them the moment he closes his eyes. 

Xiao quietly shuffles down and rests his head against Venti’s thigh. His eyes dart up and then away, as if wanting confirmation but fearing too much to seek it out directly. 

“Perfect,” coos Venti, and threads his free hand into Xiao’s hair. “Isn’t this nice?” He runs his fingers through Xiao’s hair, which is far less tangled than he had expected. He gently teases out the few knots he does encounter. Before long, he’s simply stroking his hair, and Xiao lets his eyes half-close in contentment.

Venti takes another sip of wine. Somehow, it tastes sweeter than it did before. “We should stay here all night, just like this,” Venti says, amused at the idea. Sitting in one place, with the stars as their blanket and the dawning sun as their guide to wakefulness. It’s impractical, and probably a little painful, but definitely romantic. 

He feels Xiao tense. “All night?” he asks.

“Hehe, maybe well into tomorrow, too!”

Xiao stays tense. Venti scritches at his scalp until he sighs and his shoulders finally drop. “Okay,” he says, resigned. 

Venti pauses. Xiao tenses up again, so he resumes his scritches until he relaxes just a fraction more. He didn’t mean anything by the comment. He would hate staying in one place for that long. 

Xiao must, too. He gets antsy anytime they spend longer than half a day lazing about. He’s too tied to his duty to take a real vacation, but he accepted Venti’s proposal so easily. He can’t like it. Looking down at him, it’s clear that he doesn’t.

Why won’t he just say it?

It must be a misunderstanding. Venti strokes the nape of his neck, watching the way a shiver rolls through his shoulders and down his spine. “I didn’t mean it,” Venti says. “I’ll let you go at midnight. Okay?”

“Okay,” Xiao says. This one, at least, sounds genuine. 

 

 

At first, Venti thought Xiao can’t take a joke. A massive karmic debt doesn’t allow for things like a sense of humor to properly develop. He was willing to put up with that. His beloved, as wonderful as he is, has to have some kind of flaw. Some people chew with their mouths open. Others are massive sticks in the mud. 

Xiao is a little bit of a stick in the mud, but even a stick in the mud wouldn’t take every stray thought that escapes Venti’s mouth as prophecy. If Venti says he wants an apple, Xiao will trek to the other end of Luhua Pool to get him one. If the sun is too bright, Xiao will find a tree for them to take shelter under. If the night is too cold, Xiao will search the plains for a single piece of flint to start a fire with. 

After a while, he mistakes it for generosity. Venti understands wanting to do something solely to make your beloved happy. He likes playing goofy songs with terrible harmonies because of how stupidly giddy he feels when Xiao chuckles. Xiao prefers actions to kind words. Of course his affection would manifest in kind gestures.

That would be fine if Xiao only gave Venti sweet things. But he’ll get to his feet and go do whatever Venti didn’t actually suggest even if it’s clear he doesn’t want to. He never protests. He just obeys.

Venti develops a theory, and he decides to test it. 

They sit at the edge of the Stone Gate. Xiao has a book of Liyuen poetry and reads from it, all at Venti’s request. He’s not very good at reading with the proper emotion — every word sounds like a funeral rite, not an ode to the beautiful mountains and shimmering waters! — but Venti likes the calm lull of his voice. Venti wishes he could capture his cadence in a song. 

“Do you want me to read another?” Xiao asks. 

Venti sees his opportunity to strike. “I was thinking of something else. Move to Mondstadt with me, Xiao. I don’t have a place for you to stay, but I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to find one. I’m friends with some very powerful people, as you know!” 

“Move to Mondstadt permanently?” Xiao asks. He sets the book off to the side and fixes Venti with a grave look.

Venti mirrors his gaze. “Yes.”

Something wars in Xiao’s expression. Venti’s hands itch, wanting to cup his cheek and soothe his turbulent soul. Of course it’s an unreasonable request; Venti wouldn’t have asked otherwise. 

“I have a duty to Rex Lapis,” Xiao says.

“Then say no,” Venti says. “Go on. Tell me.”

Betrayal wins the war. “What are you asking of me?” Xiao asks. Venti’s heart cracks in his chest. Xiao sounds so miserable. What makes it worse is how it proves Venti’s theory right. Xiao listened to all of Venti’s silly facetious remarks and interpreted them as orders. As if Xiao was a soldier to command, not a partner to stand in solidarity with. Just where did he pick up such an awful idea?

“Xiao,” Venti begins softly, “You can tell me no. You know that, right? I’ve never ordered you to do anything.” Doesn’t he know that about Venti? He loves freedom more than anything else. What kind of hypocrite would he be to command someone else, let alone someone already so trapped in place by duty? 

Xiao shakes his head. “Who am I to disobey the Anemo Archon’s orders?”

Venti is struck silent by the admission. Venti isn’t his Archon! And even if he was, it wouldn’t matter! “Xiao, Xiao…” Venti tuts when he finds his voice again. “Relationships don’t work like that.”

Xiao looks away, guilty. “I told you when we started this that I did not understand it.”

“I know. And I should have listened to you,” Venti says. He places a finger under Xiao’s chin and tilts his head until their eyes meet. Xiao looks at him like he wants to be kissed, so Venti obliges, soft and sweet. “Can you forgive me?”

“You don’t need my forgiveness,” Xiao says.

“Maybe Barbatos, the Anemo Archon, doesn’t. But Venti, your beloved, would very much like it.”

Xiao still hesitates. Venti continues on.

“What’s between us isn’t one-sided. It’s a process of giving and taking. We can ask things of each other. I’ll never force you to do anything, no matter how annoying I may get about it. If I get really annoying, then simply bop me in the mouth and tell me to be quiet!” 

Xiao would never do that to anyone. If they annoyed him enough, he’d snap at them to leave and then teleport away. He’s always indulged Venti’s theatrics, no matter how annoying he must be. Guilt plucks at Venti’s heart; were those outbursts another order he didn’t mean to give? 

“We’ll have to compromise sometimes, Xiao. If there’s something I need from you and you can’t give it to me, then tell me. We can work out something that works for both of us. Okay?”

Xiao still looks uneasy. Venti wonders if he’s ever been afforded a choice this large before. “I…”

Venti smiles at him. “It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it?”

Xiao nods. 

“It’ll be uncomfortable for a little while. It’ll get easier, though. It’ll leave you happier in the long run, I promise.” Venti kisses his cheek. “Now, my dear adeptus, what do you want to ask of me?”

He thinks a less stalwart being would chew on their lip. Xiao simply glances away, deep in thought. “I can sense a disturbance by Qingxu Pool. I need to investigate.”

Investigate. He means he’ll need to destroy a fallen god’s dreams. How dreadful.

“Okay,” Venti says.

“Will you come visit me after? And… play a song for me?”

If that’s what Xiao wants of him, to bandage his wounds and soothe his heart, then he can do that. 

“Always,” Venti says.

Xiao rests his head on Venti’s shoulder. Something in the atmosphere seems to change. Xiao doesn’t move, but it’s as if his soul breathes a sigh of relief. 

Venti wraps an arm around his shoulders. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. It’ll get easier every day, and they have so many to spare.