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in strawberries, cigarettes, and a birthday cake

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There are two things that always keep Xiao awake at night—first is that he likes Venti, very much to the point that his heart couldn't handle it sometimes, second is the fact that Venti is his best friend and best friends aren't supposed to fall in love with each other.

Xiao didn’t know when it started—the restless nights thinking about how his friend looked exceptionally good on the past few days… the rapid heartbeat that roared inside his chest every time his eyes lay upon him... the surges of heat he gets when he talks to him… Xiao woke up one day and realized that maybe Venti wasn’t just a friend to him anymore.

“When are you planning to tell him?” A woman’s voice disrupted Xiao’s daydream. With a cup of coffee in hand, she stood beside him on the railings, face too curious to hear about his answer. “I won’t and I can’t.” 

“Why not?” She asked, taking a sip of the cold beverage she was holding. “It’s not that easy, Ganyu.” Xiao sighed as he continued to watch Venti from afar, laughing with his college blockmates as they talked about interests they have in common. The blue-haired lady let out a soft chuckle, “I was like that before too. With Keqing, I mean. But… you know, the water would remain still until you do something that would divert its course.” 

Xiao knew for himself that he didn’t want to make any progress to their relationship—or at least for now—and he swore he’d rather stay as friends with him because then, he wouldn’t worry about Venti leaving him if ever they break up. He wanted to be in the safe zone. “I don’t want things to change.” Ganyu nodded and patted him on the back, “I understand where you’re coming from.” 

After a few more minutes of chatting, she bid her goodbye to him as her girlfriend texted her to accompany her, and now Xiao was left alone leaning on the balcony’s railings. He didn’t want to be there, gatherings with people he doesn’t recognize were never his thing, but because Venti insisted that he should go, he had no choice but to be present.

Xiao was supposed to be with Venti the whole night. However, since the latter was the antithesis of unsociable, the former was left on the spot watching his friend talk to different sorts of people. He didn’t mind, of course, for he thought that if that’s what makes Venti happy, then it’s okay for him too. 

The night was growing deep, the light illuminated from the full moon above him was getting brighter, and the breeze that touched his skin was getting cooler. It was getting cold, he thought, so he picked up a stick of cigarette from the pack in his pocket and lighted it up.

But the pleasure he got from the cigarette didn’t last long as he noticed that Venti stood next to him. He quickly extinguished the fire out of it, throwing it out right after he felt his presence.  “Why did you come here? You hate it when I smoke.” 

“Yeah, but I’d rather inhale all that smoke than stay there.”

“Why? Is there someone bothering you there?” 

Xiao was about to move towards the group where Venti stayed for a while, but the latter held him back and laughed, “It’s nothing, Xiao. I just like being with you more.” 

Venti held his hand and intertwined his fingers with him, his thumb brushing Xiao’s, wind blowing the braids of his hair. The thing that confuses Xiao the most is whether or not Venti feels something whenever he does things like this—or when he caresses his hair when he sleeps on his lap, or when he tells him everything’s going to be okay after a long exhausting day—does he feel the same rush inside him like Xiao? 

How can someone say the words “I like you!” so nonchalantly? Xiao wonders about this all the time. But then, he remembers that this is Venti. And Venti likes everyone, maybe that includes Xiao. 

He stared at his excited best friend as he counted every person passing by down the road from the balcony’s view, then he continued thinking, “Does Venti feel the same sentiments as me?” 

He tried to remind himself not to get confused with being comfortable as to being in love. Maybe Venti just likes it when he’s around, maybe he only thinks of him as the closest friend he has in every touch he does, maybe he was just being nice… because after all, being nice is his expertise. 

“He’s exceptionally nice to you,” Xiao recalled the words Ganyu always tells him whenever he vents to her about the frustrating push-and-pull relationship he shares with Venti. Then, he sighed because, for him, that didn’t mean anything much for he was his closest pal so of course, he’d be extra nice to him.

“You look worried, Xiao. What are you thinking right now?” 

“Do you… like me?”

Without hesitations, he responded, “Of course, I do! You’re my best friend!” 


The first person who greeted him a happy birthday when the clock struck 12 o’clock, on the 17th day of April, was Venti; the first notification he saw on the screen of his phone was his name, wishing he would have a great day ahead, with emojis the two of them frequently use. It felt like it was their little secret and it was enough for Xiao to start his day with a small smile on his face. 

They had Saturday classes on his birthday. Even though every day felt like a chore for him, that day was an exception because there’s something he can use as an excuse to convince Venti to spend the whole day with him.

Well… actually, even though there wasn’t anything marked on that day, he would still try to persuade his friend to be with him and his friend would gladly comply. Both of them like the company they offer each other, so it’s nothing new that they spend a lot of time together—in fact, it was almost becoming a habit for both of the lads. 

Xiao always liked the way Venti smells. He knows for himself that he doesn’t like sweet scents, but he finds himself seeking the sugar-sweet perfume that gave off a warm and comforting vanilla scent of Venti in a sea of people. Xiao wasn’t fond of strawberries before, but Venti is, so he started to look for strawberry tarts in the glass counters of every dessert shop they visit. Xiao would always try to pick his lighter and cigarette when he’s stressed, but then he’d remember that Venti had weak lungs so he wouldn’t.

Xiao was secretly holding onto the tiny glimmer of hope he had in mind—even though he didn’t want to assume anything, even if he told himself he’s alright with having no progress in their relationship at all, he’d always think of the possibility that maybe Venti likes him back. 

It’s the way Venti takes antihistamines just so he could play with Xiao and his cat. It’s how Venti takes Xiao’s hand whenever he knew the latter was feeling nervous or troubled about something. It’s because Venti would always be there for him whenever he’s having breakdowns, whenever he wants to let the pain out of his chest, whenever he’s having difficulty breathing because everything was suffocating him. 

The little things he does for him, the comfort in between the spaces of his fingers, the way he’d always pick Xiao over any choices…

Or, when Venti desperately called his name while he was lying on the hospital bed because he overworked himself. He never thought someone would actually speak his name that way—it made him ecstatic that he shed some tears when he saw Venti’s worried eyes.

Maybe Venti likes Xiao.

… because he wouldn’t hold his hand like he missed his touch so much when they’ve never been apart from each other. 

“Venti, do you like someone?”

“I do.”

“Who?”

It took him long to answer the question. Venti stopped walking and so did Xiao. The former smiled and pinched his cheeks as he spoke, “Someone with the taste of strawberries in their lips or a slight scent of nicotine in their clothes.” 

“Then would you—“

“Oh? It’s Diluc.” 

Visible confusion was seen on Xiao’s face, his eyebrows were furrowed but his eyes appeared more like they’re pleading, “Huh?” He uttered while Venti was looking on his phone. “I received a notification from Diluc, inviting me to his winery later with Kaeya, Albedo, and Rosaria,” he paused and faced Xiao, “What were you saying?”

“I-I was just wondering if you can go to my apartment later… to celebrate my birthday,” there was disappointment in the way he spoke, “but it seems like you can’t.” 

“Yeah… I’m afraid I can’t go, Xiao.”  

He wanted to protest and convince him to be with him instead. However, the words felt like a lump stuck inside his throat. He just smiled and nodded. “I’m so sorry—“

“It’s alright, Venti. After all, we already spent too much time together today. I’m satisfied with that.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mhm.”


But it wasn’t really alright.

Xiao spent the remaining hours of his birthday sulking in his dark, chilly apartment while rewatching the same old movie he and Venti both loved. Everything went like a blur for him after that—he just received a few calls from the twins and his concerned friends from Liyue, then he decided to spend the rest of the night sleeping as he wasn’t really expecting anyone or anything. 

Maybe he miscalculated everything, that he was wrong all along, that maybe Diluc was the one he had in his mind whenever they’re together.

It hurt him more than he expected it to be. There was a constant uneasiness inside his heart that made him want to check his phone from time to time, expecting a message from Venti would appear. He felt annoyed about it, but he figured out there’s nothing he can do. It was his fault to think that they were more than friends when they weren’t.

Then, Xiao reached the point where he didn’t want to think about it anymore, so he thought it would be nice to put himself in deep slumber.

However, after almost an hour, the sound of the doorbell echoed on the four walls of his apartment, maybe because it was too quiet in there, that it woke Xiao from his sleep. He grunted irritably as he walked towards the front door, “Who is it?!” 

He was welcomed with a breathless Venti wearing a party hat on his head, panting so hard while holding a bag in his right hand. “V-Venti?” 

“I came here from there as fast as I could,” he spoke in between his uneasy breaths, “because I-I wanted to see you.”

Xiao’s eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly open due to surprise. He didn’t expect him to be here, at a very late hour, when he was supposed to be in someone else’s winery, enjoying the most out of the night. There was silence between them, only the ticking clock and the irregular gasps of air could be heard, but it was comforting. 

Then, Xiao realized something while in the scene—why, for all the time he was crushing on Venti, he didn’t worry about not hearing the words “I like you” out of his best friend’s mouth or not getting any form of declaration that would reassure him, or why he didn’t mind settling for their usual shenanigans instead of hoping for Venti to show obvious signs of his love.

... because he believed that it can be expressed in some other ways.

Like at that moment, affection came in the form of a birthday cake, slightly-bent candles, and a panting Venti.

Or, it was always there—the taste of strawberries in his lips or the slight smell of nicotine lingering in his clothes. 

"I'm not late, right?" A soft smile slowly formed on Venti's face as he tried to catch his breath, "Happy birthday, Xiao." 

How do you tell people you like them?

You don't, or at least that is what Xiao believes. 

You just make them feel it.