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Obvious Joke About Horns

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“...Ganyu?”

 

Keqing’s voice cuts without warning through the silence, interrupting the white noise of papers shuffling and parcels bumping against shelves.

 

In the few years since the passing of Rex Lapis, Keqing’s relationship with the Yuehai Pavilion Secretary has changed dramatically. They’ve gone from cold, clashing colleagues to… friends. Close friends?

 

She isn’t about to push her luck. But what was once a stern nod to the secretary on her way into work every morning has since shifted into a warm smile and soft greeting that is returned in tandem. They have pleasant conversations, work together more often, and even have lunch together on occasion.

 

Even now, after delivering a couple of invoices to Keqing’s office, Ganyu kindly offers to tidy up for her, and with the room in such disarray as it is, she can’t very well turn down the friendly gesture. But even so, sitting on her hands while a friend cleans up for her is disgraceful. She insists they work together, but Ganyu politely declines with no room for argument, telling her to continue her paperwork.

 

This leads them to where they are now, Ganyu’s name rolling off Keqing’s tongue in a careful question from where she sits at her desk.

 

Across the room, the woman in question perks up, turning away from the shelves to look at her.

 

“Hm?”

 

Keqing’s gaze travels to her hair, where it ultimately rests on the hard, black horns adorned with two thin red stripes atop her head.

 

Curiosity has been tearing at her—gnawing past her flesh and down to her bones until she just can’t ignore it anymore. Her words catch in her throat, pausing, before tumbling out.

 

“What do your… horns feel like?”

 

Ganyu stops. It isn’t a sudden halt, but rather her movements slowly subside. Keqing knows it’s a touchy subject, but if she’s taken aback, she doesn’t betray it. Her composure holds as she places the last parcel on the shelf before turning back to Keqing.

 

“My… horns?”

 

Whatever blush she expects to erupt never comes, its place held by a simple smattering of pink. Her reaction is indiscernible; hidden by her affinity for concealing her emotions when it’s convenient. Her expression is just a focused, almost stern curiosity that would nearly match Keqing’s own were it not for her furrowed brows.

 

“I…” Keqing hesitates as she puts her thoughts into words. “I was looking the other day, and I made an observation about how the light shines off of them. It made me wonder what kind of texture they have… just— a personal curiosity.”

 

Inwardly, she winces at her phrasing. I was looking.

 

If Ganyu catches the implication, she doesn’t acknowledge it. The woman merely hums so quietly it’s almost inaudible as she shifts slightly.

 

“They’re… smooth. Like… a carved stone.”

 

Keqing’s eyes are drawn to her horns again and she blinks.

 

“Huh…” A question crosses her mind, one that she feels might be a weird request. But as it comes to her, it leaves her mouth just as quick. “Can I… feel them?”

 

Ganyu’s reaction is so slight that anyone would miss it. Her eyes widen—just barely —before any surprise is gone in the blink of an eye. She doesn’t smile, doesn’t give her a look of shock or embarrassment. Rather, her lips remain in a thin line and she keeps her expression steady, blank, as she blinks in contemplation.

 

“I—“

 

“Yes…”

 

“Huh?”

 

There’s a pause before Ganyu nods.

 

“Yes. You may.”

 

Like a fool, Keqing doesn’t move. She simply stares in awe, taken aback by the unexpected answer.

 

“I— Really?”

 

“Yes,” Ganyu repeats.

 

Another pause. One that seems to last for an eternity until Ganyu blinks, and the Yuheng realizes she hasn’t moved. Slowly, she pushes her chair out from her desk and stands up as the awkwardness begins to set in. She carefully rounds the desk, and in a few steps, she’s face to face with Ganyu.

 

It’s… an odd feeling. Standing in front of her coworker, granted permission to touch her out of pure curiosity.

 

She thinks to reach for the horns, and her hands twitch—but Ganyu moves before she does. It takes Keqing a moment to process what’s happening; the other woman’s body lowers until one knee touches the floor, and then another. Once Ganyu is settled in front of her as though kneeling to royalty, she dips her head, allowing easier access to her back-curved horns.

 

Something in Keqing twists abruptly, and she feels her face warm. This is a strange scenario. A beautiful woman kneels in front of her, in the private confines of her personal office, as she prepares to lay her hands on her. It feels intimate, now, when she thinks about it.

 

And the object of interest is her horns, no less—the feature that she is always steering attention away from. Why should Keqing be pardoned, then, from such a strict guard?

 

She realizes how long she’s been gawking when Ganyu shifts, face obscured, quietly sucking in a deep breath. Only then does the Yuheng finally clear her throat, mustering the strength to move.

 

Carefully as though she could break, Keqing reaches her hand out to touch Ganyu. Her fingers connect with hair first and both girls seem to freeze for a moment. The strands of hair feel like silk against her fingers, and her gut churns deeper at the contact.

 

Cautiously, her hand moves further until the pads of her fingers hit the base of one of the horns. The adeptus twitches, but otherwise does not move. Keqing watches for any more reactions; finding none, her hand slides over the horn.

 

She starts by playing the backs of her fingers along the horn, getting a good feel for its texture. It’s solid—definitely more dense than a normal bone. And yet the surface is smooth and easy, with a nice satisfying polished feel. It’s pleasant against her skin, and she runs her knuckles up to its tip before evaluating it as well. The end is rounded enough, but were it pointed outwards, it could still easily cause damage with enough force. Luckily, the curve of the horns keeps them tucked close to her head in a safe shape.

 

Ganyu still hasn’t made any outstanding movements, so she continues. She switches to laying her hand across the horn, and soon her other hand is moving to join it until she’s gripping one in each hand. Briefly, she stops and tries to discern the woman’s expression, but her pale hair obscures her face, hiding all but the deep yet seemingly calm breaths she’s taking.

 

“Um, Ganyu,” Keqing says. “Are you alright?”

 

“Yes.” The reply is quick, quiet, and final.

 

“Okay… I’m, uh, almost done,” she mutters. As she speaks, her thumbs brush over the red stripes running down her horns. “I’m just curious about these markings—“

 

Mm—!

 

They both freeze. Beneath her, Ganyu is completely still, her deep breathing coming to a complete stop.

 

Seconds pass.

 

That was a moan. She just moaned.

 

The sound almost seems to travel through her body, until it settles into a blush that she can feel down to her very core. She doesn’t move an inch, muscles stuck in place from sheer surprise.

 

Moments continue to pass, and still neither of them make a sound until Keqing cracks under the pressure.

 

“G- Ganyu—“

 

Click.

 

The door opens.

 

“Keqing, have you— Oh?”

 

The intrusion is so sudden, so completely unexpected, that Keqing jolts, eyes widening like a deer in candlelight. Ningguang stands in the doorway, pipe in hand, eyes resting on the two of them as their heads whip around to face her. Her expression is inconvenienced, but the mirth and bemusement hiding there are unmistakable.

 

And so, with her subordinate on her knees in front of her, horns in her hands, Keqing says the last thing to help her in this situation.

 

“K- Knock first!!” She all but yelps as she retracts her grip. On the floor, the adeptus looks mortified. Her eyes are wide, and her face is red all the way to the tip of her ears.

 

Ningguang sighs under her breath.

 

“...Right. I do apologize for the interruption, Ganyu, but I’ve been searching for you. I need—“

 

Wait! ” The Yuheng snaps. “Why are you just apologizing to her!? Apologize to me!

 

The woman scoffs.

 

“For you, I don’t feel nearly as remorseful. Taking advantage of the poor secretary in your office is hardly becoming of the Yuheng. I’m disappointed, really.”

 

The Tianquan is only antagonizing her to get a rise out of her, and Keqing knows it, but she still fumes.

 

“I was not— I was just—! Just feeling her horns!”

 

“Precisely. Such an indecent act, and the door isn’t even locked. You shouldn’t be surprised that you were caught,” Ningguang says. Underneath her words hides a sneer.

 

“In—? It’s not indecent! It’s just her horns!” Keqing insists. At this comment, Ganyu seems to shrink into herself, looking down and refusing to meet eyes with either of them.

 

Ningguang scoffs again, making the Yuheng’s blood boil.

 

“At any rate, Ganyu, I see that you’re busy, but I need your assistance at your earliest convenience. I’ll be in my office.”

 

The woman turns on her heels before Ganyu can even manage a weak, “Yes, ma’am…”

 

The moment Ningguang disappears, Ganyu bows her head with a quiet, “I’m sorry,” before slinking out the door within seconds. Keqing’s mouth opens, and closes again.

 

She lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, and slowly rounds her desk again, slumping into her chair.

 

“They’re just horns,” she mutters. “It’s not like… she…”

 

Wait. She moaned. Why would she—?

 

Keqing’s brows furrow.

 

 


 

 

Yanfei is her own indelible beast, quite literally. She’s a half-adeptus who holds the position of top legal advisor in Liyue, and carries an aloof air that few can match. Aside from Beidou, she’s the only one Keqing has seen talk back to Ningguang whilst matching the woman’s attitude with her own snark. In truth, Keqing would love to have her as an assistant.

 

Actually, no, she’s witnessed Ganyu snap at the Tianquan exactly once in the years they’ve been working there together. And, the following profuse apologies aside, it was a little hot.

 

With that thought, Keqing purses her lips indignantly as she ascends the stairs to the Heyu Tea House to meet Yanfei on request. When she reaches the top, she’s greeted by Fan Er’ye.

 

“Miss Yuheng!” He exclaims, grin reaching all the way to the wrinkles by his eyes. “It’s an honor to have you. What can I get for you?”

 

Truthfully, she didn’t come for the tea. But sitting down for a chat without ordering anything would be incredibly rude, so she wears a smile and tells him, “I’ll have whatever you recommend.”

 

“Certainly,” the man says with a nod. Keqing gives her own curt nod in response, before turning around. Right away, she makes eye contact with Yanfei, who sits in the corner chair at the farthest table. The girl’s face is neutral, but she feels an underlying smugness there; one that never seems to fade.

 

Keqing approaches the table, taking a seat next to her.

 

“Thank you for coming, Yanfei. I imagine it wasn’t easy to find time in your schedule,” she begins. The tea house is just about empty—not even Liu Su stands upon his storytelling stage.

 

“But of course! After all, I presume the Yuheng of all people might make good use of my services?” She pushes a terribly thick book onto the table. “Now, would you like a rundown on my prices, or do you know them already? Or, does a woman of your wealth even need to hear them?”

 

“No, I— Ah,” a younger man sets a cup of tea on the table with a curt bow, and Keqing thanks him with a nod. “Oh—but I’m not here for a legal audience. I actually just hoped to ask for some… advice, essentially.”

 

“Ah, advice! Definitely one of my favorite avenues. Now, for this you can expect a fee of about 180,000—“

 

“Not legal advice,” she interjects.

 

“Hm?”

 

“It’s more of… personal advice. Not even advice, really. Just a few questions that I had.”

 

“About?” Yanfei asks; her tone goes a bit dry.

 

“It’s actually regarding… Ganyu. Will you hear me out?”

 

The half-adeptus seems to perk up at this; Keqing swears she even saw her antlers twitch.

 

The girl then hums. “Hmm… typically, I charge about 180,000 mora for advice, especially after taking time out of my busy schedule…”

 

“Are you—“

 

“— But. Because this is about Ganyu, who I consider to be like an older sister to me… I’ll give you a 179,900 mora discount,” she says with a grin.

 

A moment passes, until Keqing gives in with a sigh, reaching into her pocket and slapping a coin onto the table.

 

“Fine. Will you answer my questions?”

 

“To the best of my ability!” She exclaims with a Liyue salute that somehow reeks of sarcasm.

 

“Right,” the Yuheng mutters. “Well, for starters…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I wanted to ask… can you tell me more about your horns?”

 

Yanfei blinks, and the look on her face is one of genuine surprise.

 

“My horns?” She asks incredulously, to which Keqing nods her affirmation. Yanfei thinks. “Hm. Well… they’re sensory organs, so I can use them to detect th—“

 

“Sensory organs!?” Keqing feels sweat forming at her forehead. “So you can feel with them?”

 

The girl regards her with a curious hum.

 

“Yes, I can.”

 

“Does that… apply to Ganyu?”

 

Especially to Ganyu.”

 

Keqing pales, putting a knuckle to her lip in thought. That little bit of information alone fills out a big piece of the puzzle, but there are still quite a few missing.

 

“...How can you feel with them? I thought they were just bone.”

 

“As I was saying, they’re sensory organs used to detect vibrations in the air. Think of them like… the lateral lines on a fish. The difference being that they’re much more receptive, because vibrations are detected more easily through the water than the air. That’s what the red stripes on her horns are.”

 

“I see,” she starts, words struggling to leave her. “So, hypothetically, if someone were to touch them… they’d be very sensitive to that?”

 

“You… did you touch Ganyu’s horns?”

 

“I paid you to answer questions, not ask them,” Keqing reminds her. Her face feels hot as she takes an indignant sip of tea.

 

Yanfei puts her hand over the 100 mora, and slides it back to Keqing.

 

“So you’re telling me Ganyu let you touch her horns?”

 

“I didn’t say that, you inferred it.”

 

“I’m good at guesswork.”

 

Keqing groans, dragging a hand across her face. She doesn’t know Yanfei that well; she really doesn’t want to get into this with her. But nonetheless…

 

“I just asked her if I could feel them, out of curiosity, and she said yes. That’s all,” she says.

 

Wow, ” Yanfei manages before breaking into a laugh. “Aw, are you gonna tell me she kneeled for you, too?”

 

“Uh—“ Keqing sputters. “Well, she did, but—“

 

“Huh?”

 

“...What?”

 

“...Really? I was joking…” the girl almost mutters. “That’s…”

 

“What? Is that significant?”

 

Yanfei folds her arms, leaning back. “That’s part of an old ceremony that hasn’t been practiced since around the Archon War. Not a lot of people know about it, but Ganyu was alive then, so…”

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“Ah, for an adeptus that has horns, that’s the most sacred part of their body. It’s extremely sensitive, and it represents their pride, and all that. My friend Moon Carver has a beautiful pair of antlers—quite admirable—but if anyone were to touch them, they might just get impaled on them instead.”

 

Seeing Keqing’s unamused expression, she goes on.

 

“...At any rate, during the Archon War, the adepti would kneel and allow their master of that time to touch their horns to show their unwavering loyalty. Typically that was the ruling Archon of their land. It was, y’know, a show of submissiveness, and all that. A way of telling their Archon that they’d fight to the death for them or whatever. Though I imagine they did it for lovers, as well.”

 

Keqing’s breath catches in her throat, and she flushes.

 

“That’s—“ she sputters, “If they’re that sensitive, why would she let me touch them?”

 

“Mmm,” Yanfei lets out a long hum, looking the Yuheng over. A few seconds pass before she speaks again. “Would you say you find Ganyu attractive?”

 

What? That has nothing to do with this! You’re getting off topic!”

 

“Come on, you want to solve this puzzle, don’t you? I’m genuinely trying to help here! I won’t tell a soul, you have my word.”

 

She doesn’t feel even a shred of goodwill behind those words, but it’s hard to tell what Yanfei is thinking. Regardless, she caves.

 

“If I were to say yes, what would you tell me?”

 

The girl’s lips curve into a grin.

 

“Well, if you are, in fact, attracted to Ganyu… she knows.”

 

Keqing swears her heart stops for a second, before rational thought returns to her and she shakes her head. There’s no way.

 

“What makes you say that?” Her expression is stern, and she folds her arms much like the girl across from her is doing.

 

“Do you know what olfactory receptors are? They’re nerve endings in the nose that detect scent. Humans have about six million, and dogs have around three-hundred million at most. The Qilin has more or less the same amount.”

 

Keqing raises an eyebrow.

 

“What’s your point?”

 

Yanfei’s smug grin remains intact, and her head gains the slightest tilt.

 

“Have you ever heard the saying that a dog can smell your fear?”

 

“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do… with…”

 

Keqing’s words catch in her throat. As the final puzzle piece falls into place in her mind, she pales.

 

Oh.

 

“Now you’re getting it!” Yanfei coos. “For example, right now, I smell Cortisol and Epinephrine coming from you, which tells me that you’re stressed and embarrassed. Bingo?”

 

“Oh my god,” she mutters under her breath, hiding her face in one hand.

 

“But of course, these rules apply to every emotion out there! So, if you’ve ever been particularly excited by looking at Ganyu, your system’s nitrogen oxide and noradrenaline will spike, and she can detect it.”

 

Unable to respond to her shameless little biology lesson, Keqing allows her to prattle on.

 

“And so, Ganyu is almost always aware of what you’re feeling. Which means she knows that you’re attracted to her, and that is why she let you touch her horns. Case closed.”

 

There’s a short pause while Keqing processes what she’s heard.

 

“It… It does add up,” she mutters, face still obscured partially by one palm. “Whenever I’m particularly stressed, she usually asks to take on some of my workload. And when I’m upset, too. Even if I don’t show it, she seems to know, and she’ll keep me company. So, it’s really because of her sense of smell…?”

 

“Correct.”

 

“And she can detect… everything I feel?”

 

“Everything.”

 

“Including…?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Now fully burying her face in her hands, Keqing wants to scream, faced with the newfound realization that Ganyu has known every single time she’s been even a bit embarrassed, nervous, or even… aroused, Archon forbid. Humiliation seeps through her. How had she not considered that? She knew about the adeptus’ heightened sense of smell, but such a thought never occurred to her.

 

She’s never going to recover from this.

 

“Now then. Was that all you needed?” Yanfei asks, taking back the 100 mora that she’d previously slid back to Keqing. “I do believe I’ve earned this.”

 

“Tch…” Keqing rubs her temples. “Sure, it’s yours.”

 

With a satisfied hum, Yanfei stands up, pocketing the coin.

 

“Hey now, look on the bright side,” she assures, though her voice is anything but comforting. “Having permission to touch her horns is a good sign, no?”

 

You’re free to go, Yanfei ,” Keqing says sharply. “Thank you for your help.”

 

The girl grins, though it’s a fleeting sight as she quickly passes her on the way to the staircase.

 

“Let me know if you need my services again, Miss Yuheng ,” Yanfei calls as she leaves. “And don’t expect such a steep discount, next time.”

 

As the adeptus disappears, she sighs.

 

“Right…”

 

Her break is already over. But somehow, the thought of going back to the pavilion doesn’t exactly entice her. A minute passes, and she doesn’t leave her seat.

 

…Perhaps she’ll do some reading on animals.

 

 


 

 

Though not one of its members, Ganyu is always welcome among the Crux Fleet. Conveniently, tonight, the Alcor is in port. On an evening stroll, she boards it to catch up with her good friend.

 

…And soon regrets it.

 

Beidou’s laughter fills the air upon hearing her recollection of the earlier event, reaching every corner of the ship.

 

“That’s our girl!” She shouts, giving Ganyu a pat on the back that nearly knocks her off her feet. “But hey, I imagine knowing the effect you have on the Yuheng must be a nice ego boost, eh?”

 

Flustered as she may be, Ganyu musters a smile.

 

“Actually… it is. When I walk into a room, she gets really happy, like a puppy seeing its owner… but she keeps a totally straight face the whole time. I feel bad for unintentionally prying, but… I admit, it is quite amusing.”

 

Her soft tone is a stark contrast to the haughty laugh of the ship’s captain.

 

“The Yuheng? Really?” With a wave of her arm, Beidou beckons to her crewmate. “Hey Furong, come get a load of this!”

 

As a small crowd gathers, Ganyu laughs nervously.

 

On second thought, perhaps she shouldn’t have said anything. But at least, she tells herself, the Crux Fleet’s gossip shouldn’t reach the Yuheng’s ears anytime soon.

 

……Hopefully.