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He feels utterly ridiculous.

Xiao surges into the air, propelled by Anemo energy swirling around him. He knows he should be vanquishing demons and using his Bane of All Evil on something relevant, especially when its use had detrimental effects on himself. 

Instead, he lands with ease and glares at the Crystalfly clutched loosely in his hand, as if it was the creature’s fault for his nonsensical decisions.

The absolute ridiculousness of it all. 

He didn’t care much for birthdays, or celebrations for that matter, and yet…Xiao found himself hoping that this occasion was special enough to see that mortal. 

Wishes were typical on birthdays, were they not? He stares at his enclosed fist for what feels like a whole lifetime before he finally swallows his pride and murmurs a wish into the Crystalfly.

“May you live a long, fulfilling life, Zhongli. And if you wish to meet me…” Xiao brushes his lips over his fist, daring to imagine for a second that it was the consultant. “Speak my name.”

As if on cue, he hears the faintest whisper of his name. He swears on Morax that sometimes the mortal’s timing was too perfect to the extent that it was a bit uncanny. 

But it’s no matter. He will always come at Zhongli’s beck and call. 

Xiao places the creature into his pocket and promptly vanishes into the air. He materializes in the building he has come to associate as Zhongli’s abode. 

It still gives him a rush, that the mortal willingly allows him into his home (he tells himself that it is merely because he is an Adeptus, but no other Adeptus had these frequent interactions with a human like he did). 

When the Anemo energy dissipates, he’s greeted by the familiar sight of Zhongli holding a steaming cup of tea. The consultant is poised—always so elegant and regal in anything that he does. 

He looks...too peaceful. Xiao doesn’t want to disturb him. For a moment, he entertains the thought of fleeing. But before he could, however, the mortal lifts his head and smiles softly at him. 

“Hello, Xiao. I’m glad that you can join me today,” Zhongli greets when Xiao fails to. He gestures to the seat in front of him with a sweep of his hand. “Do have a seat.”

“I don’t need to sit,” Xiao says—and then he sits, unrelated to Zhongli’s invitation (and without enthusiasm, of course). His heart swells at the light laugh he receives in return, and he has to grip his knees to get a bearing of himself. 

The silence that falls between them is comfortable, and he takes the opportunity to watch the human. Each sip that Zhongli takes is delicate, deliberate. His lashes are long, and his cheeks are flushed by the steam.

Xiao is, not for the first time, struck by his beauty. 

His eyes start to wander (not over the human’s body; he has a shred of decency)—and then widen slightly at the dish placed innocuously on the table. “What is this?”

“Almond Tofu,” Zhongli responds easily. He returns his cup to its plate and provides Xiao his full, undivided attention. “I heard from the traveler that today is your birthday, and I wished to give you something.”

“Thank you for your offering,” Xiao says automatically, too surprised to give one of his usual retorts. In truth, he hadn’t been expecting anything; to be able to spend time with the mortal was more than enough. 

“You’re most welcome,” Zhongli says with another one of his pretty smiles, and Xiao feels lucky to be constantly receiving them. He doesn’t think he’ll ever grow tired of seeing it. 

But then the mortal says something that makes Xiao both internally and externally groan in vexation. “What age did you turn today? Two thousand and one?”

“Very funny,” Xiao says with a roll of his eyes, though his chest is warming at the fact that Zhongli made a close estimate to his actual age. “All you need to know is that it’s more than you.”

“Is it?” Zhongli says in a conspiratorial tone, and the delivery of it even gives Xiao pause. There’s amusement dancing in his amber eyes, and he’s about to ask what the mortal means when he shifts to a different topic. “Go on. Your Almond Tofu is growing cold.”

“It’s intended to be enjoyed cold,” Xiao mutters, but he doesn’t protest when he picks up a spoonful and takes an experimental bite. It’s...good, for lack of a better word.

He makes a sound of approval at the taste and continues to eat. When he can no longer stomach the delicacy, he sets the dish aside and clears his throat to gain the human’s attention. “Zhongli.”

Zhongli hums in acknowledgement, though he doesn’t peer up from his tea. Good. It’ll be easier to tell him this way. 

“There was nothing for me to do today. So, I decided I’d find a Crystalfly for you—to put in your hair,” Xiao begins, averting his gaze out of nervousness. “I thought would look nice. The next thing I knew, I caught several more than I intended. I hope you don’t mind.”

Much to his chagrin, the worst case scenario happened: he recognized rejection when he saw it. Xiao winces at the boisterous laugh he receives and flicks his eyes back to Zhongli, frowning deeply. “If you didn’t want it, you should simply say so.”

“Oh, Xiao,” Zhongli murmurs once his laughter dissolves. The corners of his eyes crinkle with a fond smile. “I never thought you would do something as endearing as this. Thank you, I appreciate your gift.” 

“Of course.” Xiao blinks, almost owlishly, at the subversion of his expectations before he reaches into his pocket to procure the Crystalfly. “May I…?”

“Yes, you may.” Zhongli shifts to accommodate him, leaning slightly forward and tilting his head to the side. His eyes flutter close as Xiao places the Crystalfly into a lock of hair, and his heart pangs with intense yearning

“You look…” Xiao’s words die on his tongue when the consultant reopens his eyes. Beautiful is an understatement. He’s the lanterns illuminating the night, the sunlight after heavy downpour, victory after an arduous battle—all beautiful things. 

“Terrible?” Zhongli supplies for him with a playful rise of his eyebrows. Although Xiao knows that he’s joking, the self-deprecation makes something foul curl in his stomach.

“No. Never,” Xiao says a little too quickly to reassure him. His momentary embarrassment is worth it for Zhongli’s wide eyes and almost shy laugh. “I was thinking more along the lines of...lovely.”

“Ah, Xiao, you flatter me,” Zhongli says, touching the Crystalfly with the tips of his fingers. Before Xiao could reply, he continues with a twinkle in his eyes. “I have one last gift for you, though it’s not much.”

“That’s unnecessary—” Xiao starts to say, but his protest shrivels when he feels a hand touch his face and lips press against his cheek. His mind short circuits, and he can only stare at the mortal in shock. 

“Happy birthday, Xiao,” is all he’s offered as a response, and Xiao finds himself hoping he can spend many more birthdays with Zhongli.