Venti wakes to warmth, to sunlight, and a comforting weight all over him. He yawns, stretches as much as he’s able, and finds himself unable to stop smiling.
Xiao is curled up against his chest, clinging tightly to him, face firmly situated among the ruffles of Venti’s shirt. His breath, and he has the slightest of smiles that twitches as he dreams. Venti resists the urge to prod him awake.
He can get used to this, he thinks, waking up indoors wrapped in soft blankets and his husband slowly crushing the air out of his lungs. It’s nice, if a bit suffocating.
Xiao stirs in his sleep, and Venti immediately moves to shush him, passing a hand over his hair and running his fingers through it—it’s impressively soft hair and Venti resolves to do something to it one of these days. He has plenty of time, after all.
A mew interrupts his elaborate schemes, and he lifts his head as far as it will go to observe. A cat, a damned cat sits on the floor beyond the bed, washing its paws as calmly as you please and shedding everywhere.
This is not what Venti signed up for.
It all started two weeks ago, with Venti minding his own business in Mondstadt and being a law-abiding citizen. It wasn’t by choice, though, but by coercion.
Zhongli had driven him away from Liyue and told him in no uncertain terms that he was to follow tradition and stay away from Xiao until they were officially married or else. Venti had stuck out his tongue and dodged the giant meteor crashing down from the sky before heading off in a huff.
And there he remained in Mondstadt, just underneath the tree at Windrise, composing ballads and love poems for his upcoming wedding that he may or may not be invited to after that little stunt. Venti was just considering sending a breeze Xiao’s way, and whether or not that counted as visiting, when he noticed the bird.
It was a very fat bird, a finch puffed up until Venti couldn’t see its beak amidst the golden feathers. It hopped and chirped in sophisticated tones, far from the flock that gathered at Venti’s heels. When Venti reached out to it and trilled in the back of his throat, it stared at him disconcertingly and didn’t move a single fluffy muscle.
It had to be Xiao.
There was no other explanation. Xiao’s true form was a golden-winged bird, as Venti has so often heard, but he had never specified what kind of bird. The bird was exactly as adorable as Venti expected Xiao’s true form to be. It all fit.
“Hello, my dearest.” He winked. “Knew you’d come.”
A blank stare.
“Don’t be shy,” Venti said. “I know it’s you.”
The bird blinked at him.
“Aw, come on now. No one can see us. You can change back.”
Another blink, this time accompanied with a shake of feathers.
“No? All right then. Here’s a song I wrote just for you!” He cleared his throat and strummed the first few notes on his lyre. It was a silly little song, about flower petals and cat hair, made solely for the purpose of making Xiao laugh. The bird did not laugh, only cocked its head to one side.
Unfortunate. Venti had to try harder.
“Not to your tastes?” he guessed. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a giant slime, edging hopefully closer. Behind it trailed a half-dozen little ones, frantically hopping to the tune.
The bird almost nodded.
“All right, something else then.”
After about an hour and a half of going through all his new songs and reciting poetry, Venti was bored. He had the entire monster population of Windrise swaying their heads and setting up an impromptu choir to accompany the lyre, and not a word nor a peep from the little bird. If it was anyone else, Venti would think Xiao was playing hard to get.
But on the other hand, it was Xiao. The first time they met, he confessed his love. They got engaged before Venti even knew his name.
A different strategy was in order, then.
“Come on,” Venti said, edging closer and putting on his most mischievous smile. “Let me see your face, please.”
The bird chirped.
“It’s a lovely face. Everyone thinks so.”
“I don’t care what Zhongli thinks,” Venti said with a confidence that he did not feel. “Come on. You wouldn’t have come here otherwise.”
A burble, this time.
“I love you too.” Venti was quite sure that was the right thing to say. He threw a wink the bird’s way, just for good measure. “Now please.”
And the bird shifts, growing and changing, and Venti sits up. And then he starts screaming.
That was definitely not Xiao.
“Greetings, Anemo Archon.”
“Cloud Retainer,” Venti wailed. “What in the name of the Seven—”
“—One does not think it is appropriate for you to make other romantic advances given that you are rumored to be engaged.”
“I-I thought you were Xiao!” Venti covered his face with both hands. “Oh Archons, this is the most embarrassing thing—”
“—One appreciated you singing about one’s beauty.”
“You know what? Let’s forget that ever happened.” Venti peeked out from between his fingers. Cloud Retainer looked smug, as smug as a crane could possibly look. “So, please make it quick.”
“Zhongli sent you to deal out divine retribution for my little escapade?” Cloud Retainer only stared blankly at him. He tried again. “Don’t hit the lyre. Spare it my fate.”
“One is not here for justice. Unfortunately.”
“Oh.” Somehow, that did not calm him in the slightest.
“As you are aware, Rex Lapis is currently arranging your upcoming marriage to the Conqueror of Demons.”
“He merely sent one here to inquire regarding your opinions on the after-wedding activities.”
Venti dropped his hands, just a little. “The…honeymoon?”
“To one’s knowledge, there is no honey on the moon, and one imagines it would be a most tedious journey for the bees if there are any, since the moon does not have any native flowers.”
“You’re missing the point again.”
“Ah. Indeed. One does not believe it is Rex Lapis’ intention to send you to the moon to cultivate bees or flowers.”
Venti made a pained face at her.
“No matter. So, your preferences?”
Venti tried a different tack. “Why are you asking me, and not Zhongli?”
“He is not speaking to you.”
Cloud Retainer flapped her wings, exasperated. “He refused and was quite adamant about it. One then drew lots with the other adepti to inform you.”
“Indeed. Your preferences then?”
Venti thought for a moment before answering. He could have requested wine, more than enough to keep Dawn Winery in business for years, or the entire yearly apple harvest from Liyue. “My wants are simple,” he announced. “Some solitude and absolutely no cats!”
Back to the matter at hand, there is definitely a cat, against Venti’s express wishes. Possibly multiple cats, although Venti doesn’t feel quite up to investigating. He glares at it, hoping this can be resolved without the need to resort to violence.
The cat stretches at him, yawning. Cat hair dances through the sunbeams that cut through the room. Venti sniffles and wipes his nose.
“Well, my good friend,” he hisses across the room, not wanting to wake Xiao. It’s rather hard to assume an intimidating pose with a sleeping adeptus draped all over your chest, but Venti manages. “I shall have to challenge you to a duel! I’m sure you’ll be a worthy opponent.”
The cat blinks at him, and he takes it as agreement. As with all other duels, the challenged chooses the weapons at hand. It turns its back to Venti and presents him with its tail.
“Insults. How appropriate!” Venti says, with his brightest smile. The cat looks on, unimpressed, and begins to step towards him.
“No. Don’t you dare.” The cat places a deliberate paw on the bed. Venti sneezes, a loud yelp that echoes in the silence of the room, and Xiao stirs.
“Hgm?” Xiao mumbles.
“Sleep, love,” Venti says, but the emotion of the moment is ruined when he sneezes, louder this time. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and grimaces. “Ugh.”
Xiao lifts his head and blinks, sleepy-eyed, his hair a tangled mess. “Good morning,” he says softly, and rises to kiss him. Venti barely has time to shove him away before he sneezes, directly into Xiao’s face.
Xiao blinks at him, the corners of his mouth twitching. “Archons bless you.”
“I hope the Archons bless me too.” Venti sits up and throws his arms around Xiao. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re awake. Dearest husband, protector of Liyue, Conqueror of Demons, please rescue me from this horrid, despicable, inexplicably adorable monster threatening my well-being.” He points to the foot of the bed, where the cat has made itself comfortable among the covers.
Xiao frowns. “But that’s Wei the cat.”
“I like Wei the cat.” Xiao gets up and lifts the cat gently by the scruff of its collar. It swings, uncomplaining, from his grasp, tail twitching. “Wei is a very good cat.”
Venti sniffles again. “Well, Wei can be a good cat outside, if you please.”
Xiao blinks, slowly and deliberately, and Venti is suddenly struck by how much he resembles Wei. “If you insist,” he says, finally, and carries Wei out the door with utmost care.
“Well, now I feel horrible,” Venti announces to the room before getting out of bed. His cloak is on the floor, crumpled and balled up along with Xiao’s singular sleeve. He smooths them out, tosses them back on the bed, and turns to explore the room. After all, what other chance would he have?
(On one hand, Xiao did tell him that he lived here now, that this was his home, as if Morax was the type to let Venti stay in Liyue for longer than an hour.)
He pokes through the drawers and the closet, searching for any hint of life. There are no changes of clothes, no spare shirts or pants or spear tassels, just a dried wreath of flowers that Venti recognizes from their last meeting, the ones that he wove into Xiao’s hair.
“Sap,” Venti mutters, trying and failing to hold back a smile. The windwheel asters and the cecilia are brittle under his fingers, but the dandelions—
—The echo of Xiao’s wish sounds in Venti’s ears, and he finds himself grinning uncontrollably. He must look quite mad, cradling dead dusty flowers in his hands and beaming at the sturdy and inconspicuous doors of an empty cabinet.
“Venti?” comes the voice from the door, and he immediately shoves the wreath back into the closet, slamming it again—he’s going to get in trouble for that—before turning, just in time to see Xiao enter, breathless and cat-less.
“Hm?” Venti says, reaching out for him. Xiao leans into the touch before speaking.
“I asked Verr Goldet to control Wei.”
Xiao pauses. “She said that it could not be controlled and that there is no point in trying.”
Venti frowns and sneezes again. “How rude. And its hair is all over your clothes too.”
“—You can wear mine!” Venti says, brightly, and he knows it’s a good idea from the way Xiao turns red all the way down to his neck and sputters like a boiling pot.
“And-and what will you wear?” he says, once he’s recovered.
“Hm.” He didn’t think about that. “The stuff I wear as an Archon?” he suggests. He still knows the shape of the clothes, can feel it against his skin with a thought or a snap of his fingers. The next noise out of Xiao’s mouth is one of distress.
“N-no, thank you.”
Venti considers his other options and hits upon a solution. “Well, if you want, I’d keep my own clothes and you could wear my other—”
“—No. Oh no. Nononono.” Xiao coughs and clears his throat. “No.” His face is even redder than before. Venti didn’t know that was anatomically possible. “Not today,” he mutters under his breath.
“Well, I’m all out of ideas.”
Xiao takes a deep breath, an attempt to regain his composure. “You are the Anemo Archon. You can blow the cat hair off. Safely.” A cough. “Without the need to change your clothes.”
“Oh. Well, I didn’t think of that.” Venti twitches his fingers, and a warm gust of wind sends the objects of his torment far away. “There. You’re safe to cuddle now.”
Xiao grumbles, but he doesn’t protest when Venti hugs him and pulls him down to the bed. In fact, most of his protests are reserved for when Venti pulls away.
“Come on, let go of me. We need to have breakfast. Almond tofu,” Venti offers, but he knows it’s a lost battle.
Wei the cat stares daggers at them when they finally make their way downstairs. Beside it, the innkeeper—Verr Goldet, he thinks her name was—wears a matching glare, although she still wears her customary smile.
Yesterday’s events come rushing back to Venti and he laughs nervously, gripping Xiao’s hand for support. “Sorry about the noise last night.”
“Oh no, it’s fine,” she says flatly. “I don’t mind. You did wake up Wei though. It gets cranky without sleep.” She strokes the cat absentmindedly. “Sorry about its invasion of privacy. You know cats.”
“Do I ever,” Venti says, keeping his distance. Xiao glances at him curiously, but he avoids the gaze.
“It’s almost as if it wanted revenge,” she continues, giving a pleasant nod in Xiao’s direction. “Good morning, Xiao. Congratulations on your marriage. I wish you both health and happiness.”
“Thank you,” Xiao says, awkwardly.
Venti clears his throat. “We were just talking about how nice the weather is!” They talked about no such thing. “Perfect for a stroll outdoors.” Far from here and that cat, he adds internally.
“Good idea. Enjoy yourselves, lovebirds.”
Venti is about to do just that when Xiao pulls him into a quiet corner.
“Everyone will recognize us as soon as we walk out of the inn,” Xiao whispers. “After all the chaos yesterday—”
“—You embarrassed?” Venti says, raising an eyebrow.
Xiao flushes and Venti takes the opportunity to give him a quick kiss. “…No.”
“Well then, what’s the problem?”
“They will attempt to congratulate us.” Xiao shudders. Venti squeezes his hand. “Or worse.”
They end up taking the scenic route to the charming and provincial Qingce Village, Xiao wearing a different shade of eyeliner, Venti with his hat tilted the other way. Xiao had deemed it enough of a disguise.
“I don’t see how we won’t be recognized,” Venti says, as they pick their way through the forest of bamboo.
“Your people have never once remarked that you bear a resemblance to the giant Archon statue outside the church,” Xiao offers.
“Well, to be completely fair, I never wear those clothes.”
Xiao flushes and looks away. “News from the harbor rarely reaches Qingce,” he continues, as if Venti never said anything. “No one will recognize us.”
They reach the top of the stone steps, and Venti hears a gasp.
“Oh, Mr. Adeptus is back!” a little girl cries, barely three meters away. “Oh, and I didn’t even have to release a lantern!”
Xiao makes a noise of horror beside him. “Mr. Adeptus?” Venti says, stifling laughter. “I thought no one here knew you.”
“I have no idea. Look, maybe we should just go—”
“—no, no, we should let her finish. She seems to know what she’s talking about,” Venti says, all mock seriousness. He beckons the girl over and she beams, rocking on her heels.
“Thank you for returning my stolen doll, Mr. Adeptus,” she says, breathless. “I thought I’d never get it back.”
“You’re welcome,” Xiao says with barely any hesitation. Venti nearly bursts with pride.
“I’ve only ever heard this story from the travelers,” he says instead. Xiao stares at him.
“Oh, the blonde twins?” the girl pipes up. “I remember them. I told them I wanted to make Mr. Adeptus smile.”
Venti snickers and gives Xiao his sternest glare. “Why do you not smile for this poor girl, Mr. Adeptus?”
Venti shakes his head at him and bends to whisper in the little girl’s ear. “You know, he smiles if you hug him.”
Her eyes go wide. “Really?”
“Venti, whatever you’re telling her—”
“—Shush, you.” Venti nudges the girl towards Xiao, winking at him over the girl’s head. “I guarantee it. Go on.”
The girl beams before throwing her arms around Xiao, a large, exaggerated grin, as if she was trying to demonstrate the concept of it. Xiao blinks and pats her on the head, and Venti watches his face soften and the corners of his lips turn up, and his heart is full.
“So much for not being recognized…” Venti says as they pick their way back down the stone path.
“It’s a lost cause. They’ll recognize us everywhere.” Xiao clears his throat. “With the way people are going to react, we might as well just go to Liyue Harbor.”
“Since people are going to bother us no matter where we go, we might as well just go to the city.”
Venti glances at Xiao curiously. His face is perfectly blank and calm, but the grip on Venti’s hand tightens, and the color on his cheeks is high. “…If you say so,” Venti says brightly. “Care to fly there?”
“…Won’t that be conspicuous?”
Isn’t that the point? Venti wants to ask, but he decides Xiao deserves a small modicum of respite from his own embarrassment. “No, you’re right. We should walk.”
Xiao wrinkles his nose. “Is there nothing…faster?”
“Well, I could turn back into a wisp. I don’t know what you can turn into—” Venti remembers the encounter with Cloud Retainer and shudders. “—but I bet it’ll be faster than walking all the way.”
Xiao considers this. “I doubt the mortals would take kindly to a large finch transforming into a—”
“—so you are a finch—”
“—transforming into a human form outside their city gates.”
“We’ll hide in the bushes,” Venti says, waving a hand. “It’ll be fine.”
Xiao gives the matter some thought. “A human suddenly emerging from the greenery does not seem less suspicious.”
“Don’t be silly. It’ll be two humans. Don’t forget, I’ll be there too.”
Zhongli and his Snezhnayan diplomat are waiting at the bridge into Liyue Harbor, and Venti is treated to the delightful sight of Zhongli refusing to look both him and Xiao in the eye. It must be difficult for him, watching his loyal follower cavorting around with someone as reckless as Venti, but he can’t say he has any sympathy.
“Hello, hello, hello!” Venti calls, waving his free hand as high as he can. Xiao raises a diffident arm beside him. “Always nice to see you, Mora—” Xiao clears his throat, and Venti immediately revises his statement “…Mora-less blockhead.”
“As to you too,” Zhongli says, leaving out the customary insults with perfect composure. If his eye twitches at how Venti curls his hand back around Xiao, he hides it well. “I was made aware of your presence and decided to take Childe here to be officially introduced. Childe, this is Venti and my…old friend, Xiao.”
“Right,” Childe says, in the tone of a man who has painstakingly practiced this greeting beforehand. “I was at your wedding. Quite festive, if I do say so myself.”
“You weren’t invited,” Xiao says bluntly. Venti elbows him, hard. “You had no reason to be there.”
Zhongli coughs. “I took the liberty of inviting Childe for educational purposes, so that he may be able to experience firsthand the local traditions.”
“Really now,” Venti says.
“Really,” says Childe, seriously. “He gave me homework. We’ll have a pop quiz next week and an examination after that. About chopsticks, he says, and wedding traditions. What an odd combination.”
Zhongli sighs. “If you had simply read the book I lent you about Liyue customs, I would not be forced to employ such drastic measures. As I recall, you had skipped the chapter on courting traditions entirely.”
Childe huffs and starts rambling about how his time could be better spent learning fighting techniques and dueling. Venti wonders what Zhongli sees in this guy, other than his endless supply of Mora.
“Anyway,” he says, after an uncomfortably detailed description of violent assault. “Xiao and I should be going, so good luck, you crazy kids. Hope your, ah, lessons work out.”
“You have somewhere to be?” Zhongli says. He doesn’t wait for the answer before handing both Venti and Xiao neat rows of heavy red envelopes, embossed in gold and ink. “Please give these to the children.”
“Tradition?” Venti says.
“Tradition,” Zhongli confirms.
“Cool,” Childe says, earning glares from all three of them. “We gave out those packets earlier, me and Zhongli.”
“You and…Zhongli?” Xiao repeats darkly.
“Yeah!” Childe says, with a smile. Zhongli purses his lips. “People kept congratulating us. Who knew that Zhongli’s payday could be such a momentous occasion? The chef at Wanmin even offered catering services.”
“Oh,” Venti says. “Congratulations.”
“Not you too.”
“—Never mind,” Zhongli says, cutting into their conversation with ease. “Xiao, Venti, please see to it that these envelopes are properly and fairly distributed to the children of Liyue. I must assist Childe with appreciating the local customs.” And with that, Zhongli marches Childe back into the city with evident displeasure, and the only thing they leave behind are dusty footprints.
“…Do you think they’re about to get married?” Xiao says hoarsely, as soon as they’re out of earshot.
“Let’s not dwell on it,” Venti says, because he doesn’t have the answer. The red envelopes Zhongli gave them weigh against his palm, and he looks around eagerly for a child to pawn them off on.
There. He spots a child barreling towards them, barely half his height, running with her arms spread out. She has a talisman stuck in her hat, a basket strapped to her shoulders, and a perfectly blank expression on her face.
She slams directly into Xiao and ends up sprawled on the stone, only the barest hint of a breath leaving her lungs. Xiao immediately helps her to her feet, apologizing for the inconvenience. The girl clings to his sleeve to steady herself.
“Please excuse Qiqi,” she says. “Qiqi was going to collect herbs.”
“It’s quite all right.”
“Are you hurt? Qiqi can help.” She reaches out, her fingertips glowing with energy. Her eyes flick to their faces, and she blinks. “You two look…familiar.”
“You were hurt yesterday. You fell from a high place. Dr. Baizhu was laughing at you.” She lowers her hand. “He laughed very loudly. He even spilled Qiqi’s coconut milk.”
Venti grimaces. “Well, never mind that!” He pulls one particularly fat envelope from the bunch and hands it to Qiqi. “Here.”
“Oh.” Qiqi releases her grip on Xiao’s sleeve to hold the envelope in both hands. “Qiqi congratulates you on your marriage.”
“The other couple who came by earlier looked confused when Qiqi congratulated them. They did not seem to realize they were married. Or maybe they forgot.”
Xiao coughs loudly as Venti laughs. “The other couple?”
“Yes. Qiqi forgot what their names are. But they helped Qiqi with the Cocogoat.” She blinks, still grasping the envelope with both hands. “A Cocogoat is a legendary adeptibeast.”
Xiao’s brow furrows. “I’ve never heard of a…Cocogoat before.”
“It does not make coconut milk,” Qiqi adds helpfully. “Only coconuts make coconut milk.”
“That is all. Qiqi wishes you both happiness. And coconut milk…” she trails off, staring into the distance. “Tasty coconut milk…”
They’re well on their way into Liyue when the sea of people begins to part, scandalized murmurs rippling through. That’s never a bad sign, Venti reasons, so he pulls Xiao to a stop as they both try to see over the heads of the crowd.
“Hu Tao!” Venti says, because it is Hu Tao, dragging a giant sack, shovel slung over her shoulder. She waves and sets a course towards them.
“Oh, if it isn’t the happy couple!” She giggles. Xiao blushes, but doesn’t disentangle himself from Venti. “Don’t forget that special honeymoon “buy one, get one free” discount expires soon! You have to take advantage of these things as soon as they come up. Saves you a lot of grief and Mora!”
“Ah, we’ll keep that in mind.”
“I also told Zhongli that I’d throw in free cadaver collection, but he just stared at me.” She huffs and crosses her arms. “Aiya, some days I don’t know what to do with that man. He even has a day off today, and I can’t find him anywhere, and he’s tall enough to see in a crowd. Almost as if he’s avoiding me.”
“Can’t imagine that.”
She grins. “Anyway, that offer only stands as long as Zhongli’s a consultant in the funeral parlor, so better cash in soon!”
“…Because you’re going to fire him?”
“Hm? Oh no, no,” she says. “But on one hand, he does cost us a lot of money. Need to cut down expenses somewhere! It’s just good business practice!”
Xiao snorts at that, and Venti gasps. “Hu Tao, you made him laugh. Do it again, do it again!”
The glint in Hu Tao’s eyes only spells danger. “Well, I could tell him about this one prank I played on Zhongli—”
“—No,” Xiao says with finality, although it’s a little hard to take him seriously when his chin is hooked over Venti’s shoulder. Hu Tao grins at them and turns away.
“Wait!” Venti says, fumbling with the envelopes in his hand. “Take one of these—Zhongli said it was a tradition.”
“Oh, so this is his Mora?” Hu Tao laughs and plucks one from Venti’s hand, tossing it in the air and catching it. “Well, well, well. This is a first!”
“Spend it wisely!” Venti calls after her. She spins around and sticks her tongue out.
“Unlike Zhongli!” she yells, before disappearing into the crowd.
“So many people,” Xiao mutters into Venti’s ear as they continue further into the harbor. “So little respect.”
“We can always spend the day somewhere else,” Venti returns, one hand coming up to rest of Xiao’s back. His voice is low and soothing. “No one said we had to stay here.”
Xiao thinks for a moment, about how people stare and shout congratulations at them as they pass, how merchants attempt to sell them merchandise for newlyweds—good-luck talismans and furniture and bassinets. All of that because of Venti’s hand in his.
“It’ll be fine,” he decides. “Let’s just stay away from people.”
“We still have those envelopes though. Just say the word and I’ll pass them all off on an unsuspecting kid so we can leave.”
“Hm,” Xiao says, and doesn’t bring the subject up again. Despite the constant tension in his spine, the bustle of the city streets is bearable. Venti bears the brunt of the social niceties, anyway, and all Xiao has to do is try not to look hostile and keep a firm grip on Venti lest he be swept away by the crowd.
“Let’s buy a snack!” Venti says suddenly, pulling them to a stop outside a small restaurant.
“You don’t even have Mora.”
Venti holds up one of the red envelopes and shakes it. The coins inside jingle.
“You’re a menace.”
“Interesting choice of pet name,” Venti says before turning to bargain with the chef. He’s better at it than Xiao is, for some unknown reason, and Xiao lets his mind wander. Inside the small kitchen is a vaguely familiar figure, and in the corner, two blue-haired youths share a platter of dumplings. One of them looks up and—
“—Adeptus Xiao?!” It’s that exorcist kid. It’s that exorcist kid and his best friend who never shuts up. “What-what are you doing here?”
Xiao holds a finger to his lips frantically. Venti hasn’t noticed yet, too engrossed in the popsicle the size of his head the chef is handing him.
“N-never mind,” the kid says, and returns to his dumplings. His friend goggles openly at Xiao and Venti.
“Oh good, you’ve found some children,” Venti says, licking the giant popsicle. “Go on, go on!”
Mechanically, Xiao reaches into his pocket and pulls out several red envelopes. He watches the two stare at them with horrified eyes.
“Um…” Xiao says, holding out two of the envelopes. “I…May it bring you good luck.”
“He doesn’t bite,” Venti pipes up. If anything, it only disturbs them further.
The exorcist’s friend is the first to accept the packet, bowing deeply before Xiao. “My name is Xingqiu, at your service. This is Chongyun, my…ah…”
Chongyun turns red and looks away. Xingqiu inhales and turns back to them. “Anyway, this is Chongyun. I—We congratulate you on this…joyous occasion.”
Venti laughs. “No need to be so formal.”
“Oh.” Xingqiu pauses. “Were you two…from the sedan chair incident yesterday?”
“No—” says Venti.
“—Yes.” Xiao blinks. “I mean—”
“—It never happened,” Venti says firmly, squeezing Xiao’s hand. He manages to look menacing even with a slowly melting popsicle dripping all over his hand. “No one saw anything, so it never happened.”
“Mm,” Xiao says, instead of a proper answer, and he holds up the remaining red envelope. The exorcist kid—Chongyun, was it?—steps forward to receive it, refusing to meet his eyes. He, at least, has the tact not to mention the events of the previous day, although Xiao is certain that the spectacle would have been visible even to them. Instead, the kid murmurs congratulations and apologies about not being able to attend the wedding. Neither of them mention the fact that they were not invited.
Chongyun clears his throat. “Um, if you’re looking for more…uh…people to give these to, Xiangling and Xinyan are out back.”
“The…chef?” Venti says, brows furrowed. “Right! Xiao, we can go give our compliments—”
“—I would really rather not—”
“—compliments for her excellent food, even if it was a bit spicy.”
Venti waves it off. “I’m sure it was an accident.”
“It was not,” Xingqiu says. “She’s funny like that.”
“Well, people must have the, er, freedom to do whatever they want with their food.”
“Poison,” Chongyun coughs.
“Food,” Venti says, uncertainty creeping into his voice. “Now, if you’ll both excuse us, we’ll leave you to your date—dumplings. I meant to say dumplings.”
At least, Xiao thinks as they leave the restaurant, they are now equally embarrassed.
“Just one more visit. She told me she’s staying here,” Venti announces, knocking on the door to the guesthouse room. He squints at the hastily scribbled directions on his palm. “Or at least, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Where else would she be found? Recklessly gliding through roofs again?”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Venti says stubbornly. There’s enough amusement in Xiao’s tone that he’s willing to continue. “And you liked the almond tofu she made you, don’t lie.”
“It didn’t have slime condensate, unlike the other one.” Xiao makes a face. “It had a very low bar to clear.”
Venti laughs and pulls him closer, all the better to kiss a smile back on his face. He has just succeeded, has just made the tension bleed from Xiao’s shoulders when door slams open and they spring apart.
“Venti!” Amber yells, in a voice that rattles their ears and makes heads stick out and shush them three doors down. “And…ah, Xiao.” She taps them both lightly on the shoulder, giggling. “Nice to see you both.”
“It’s nice to see you too,” Venti says.
“Says the guy who didn’t invite me to the wedding.” Amber puts her hands on her hips. “I still haven’t forgiven you, you know!”
“You turned up anyway,” Venti reminds her.
“Well, I had to! You gave me no choice.”
“I guess you also had no choice but to crash into the roof of Wangshu Inn,” Xiao says dryly.
“Hmph, well,” she says, crossing her arms. “I didn’t know they had such tall buildings in Liyue! I’d have adjusted accordingly!”
They’ll be here all day if this goes on any longer, and even Venti is impatient to get back somewhere private. “Never mind that! We have a gift for you.” Venti holds up the last red packet and watches Amber’s eyes widen. “Don’t spend it all at once now!”
“This isn’t that much Mora, though…”
Venti frowns. “You should be grateful.”
“No, I am, but this is barely enough to buy dinner.”
“Zhongli. Of course. How he hasn’t keeled over from starvation is still a mystery.”
“Zhongli?” Amber frowns at him, and Venti realizes that he’s made a horrible mistake. “What’s that? Who’s that?”
“If you’ll excuse us,” Xiao says, cutting in, and Venti has never loved him more than in this exact moment. “We really must be going.”
“Oh, right, I’m supposed to leave you two alone.” Amber giggles again. “Have fun.”
“I’m sorry for today,” Venti says softly, as soon as they’re alone. “I didn’t realize we would have to talk to quite so many people.”
“I…it’s fine. I agreed to it.”
“That doesn’t make it— No, you know what? Let me make it up to you,” Venti says. “Let me take you somewhere I know.” He has one hand around Xiao, the other brushing hair from his face, perfectly and utterly composed. Like he can’t hear Xiao’s heartbeat, like he doesn’t notice how warmth creeps across Xiao’s cheeks.
“…We’ve already been to Mondstadt.”
“I don’t mean Mondstadt.” Xiao must look confused, because Venti continues. “It’s a really romantic spot, out of the way and peaceful…I thought you’d like it. I meant to take you there before.”
“All right,” Xiao says, as if the decision is some sort of hardship. He’s not fooling anyone, he knows. Verr Goldet had taken one look at him and pronounced him hopelessly besotted just a few days ago, and that has definitely not changed.
Venti grins and Xiao is suddenly glad they’re alone, because the winds that lift them into the air and sends them soaring above the clouds are far too strong to ascribe to a mere Vision holder. He can’t help the sound of surprise that bursts from his throat, and Venti’s arms are around him, Venti’s lips against his own, Venti’s wings spread against the backdrop of blue sky.
“Show-off,” Xiao murmurs as they spin in mid-air. The mountains of Liyue look like children’s toys, this far up, but they’re rapidly leaving even those behind.
“It’s like you don’t even know me,” Venti says. He’s in his Archon outfit now—when did that happen?—and Xiao has to squint at him for how brightly he glows. “We’re going down!”
Xiao screws his eyes shut and prepares for impact, for the sudden jarring of his bones and the jolt of his teeth. It never comes. He is set down on his feet gently, in a field of dandelions and wildflowers. The border between Liyue and Mondstadt.
“You planned this out, didn’t you?” Xiao says as Venti drops to his knees and starts digging in the dirt. He had buried a bottle of wine here for just an occasion. Now, if he can only find it.
“Of course!” It would be just like Morax to declare the border technically his domain and tunnel through to ruin both the wine and the fun. Venti digs faster. “You sit back and relax and we’ll have drinks in a few seconds.”
“Drinks?” When Venti looks back at him, he’s sitting awkwardly against one of the trees, hands clasped on his knees. “Is that the best idea?”
“Of course it is. You’re so adorable when you’ve had a few drinks. Aha!” The bottle is still sealed, no residual energy and no evidence of tampering. “Found it!”
“I’m proud of you?” Xiao offers. Venti laughs and sits beside him, passing him the uncorked bottle. After a moment’s hesitation, he snuggles up against Venti and shuts his eyes.
Venti picks some dandelions to weave into Xiao’s hair, sending the fluffy seeds flying. Xiao wrinkles his nose when they land on his face.
“Tickles,” he says. “Stop it.”
“They’re just dandelions,” Venti protests. “They carry your thoughts and wishes on the wind!”
“Well, to the Anemo Archon. Or the ones you love.” Venti shrugs, slightly, so as not to dislodge Xiao. “Depends on who you ask.”
Xiao hums and falls silent, and Venti finishes setting the flowers in his hair. “Something bothering you?”
“I’m just wondering,” Xiao mumbles. “What are wedding traditions in Mondstadt like?”
“Nothing like Liyue traditions. For one thing, they’re allowed to see each other a month before the wedding.”
The corners of his mouth turn down. “Not my fault.”
“I know, I know. Why do you ask?”
“I just think…” Xiao hesitates, choosing his words carefully. “I think it is rather unfair that the ceremony was composed mostly of Liyue traditions.”
“Well, it would have been weird to have Mondstadt traditions in Liyue. You don’t even have a cathedral or a Seneschal or—or a giant statue of your Archon.”
A blink. “You’re telling me that if the ceremony had been in Mondstadt, that it would have involved…the giant statue of yourself and the large church dedicated to your worship?”
“Something like that, yes. Would that have been a problem?”
“…No. Was there anything else? Anything…more achievable?”
Venti whispers something in Xiao’s ear and watches his entire face flush red before he covers it with both hands.
“No.” He vigorously shakes his head. “No. No way.”
“Just an idea,” Venti says innocently.
“Not your best idea,” Xiao says. He coughs and Venti pats him on the back.
“Well, there’s also another thing, but I don’t think—”
“Well, you know, in Mondstadt, it’s considered polite—not that I resent what actually happened in any way, of course—but it is generally considered traditional to, ah, actually ask the person you want to marry before declaring that you’re engaged.”
“Ah…” Xiao looks away.
“Just a simple proposal, you know.” The words rush out of him. “No need for anything grand! It’s easy. Just—” He pulls dandelions from the ground hastily. “—at the Windblume Festival, for example! You give your beloved some flowers, you say something heartfelt and sincere, and then when the mood is right, you just tell them.”
“Like this.” It would be best to demonstrate, Venti reasons. He picks a few more dandelions—a true Windblume bouquet might not need quite so many, but the shape reminds him of the flower ball they tossed yesterday—and sits in front of Xiao with a flourish, holding out the dandelions and looking into his eyes. “My dearest adeptus, will you do me the great honor of marrying me?”
Xiao swallows and takes the dandelions from his hand, breathing in the scent with the faintest of smiles. “Yes. Of course I’ll marry you, Venti.”
“You just did yesterday, my silly adeptus,” he says, giggling. “Or have you forgotten?”
“Mm.” Xiao cups his hands around the dandelions and whispers softly to them, letting the breeze blow them out of his palm. His voice, his wish, drifts all around Venti. “I wanted to do it right.”
“Sap,” Venti says, but there’s no bite in his words. “Come here then.”