‘BREAKING NEWS: FAMOUS SINGER VENTI SAID TO BE IN A SECRET RELATIONSHIP WITH MONDSTADT CITY TIMES MAGAZINE EDITORIAL DIRECTOR.’
‘MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF SINGER VENTI LEADS FANS TO BELIEVE RUMOR INVOLVING NARCOTICS.’
‘HEADLINE: VENTI’S PAST RESIDENCE BEING RANSACKED BY FANS IN ANGER.’
Venti sighed, fumbling to find the remote to switch the channel. He didn’t want to hear this anymore, he was fed up with the rumors, fed up with everything. Nothing would change anyway, even if he denied the media’s lies.
People only believe what they want to believe.
Giving up on finding the remote, he slouched. The only thing he could do was hope no one was listening. That no one bothered to listen at all.
It was no use anyway, the volume coming from the bar’s TV was practically loud enough to reach the second floor. Preferring to be miserable than be humiliated, he got ready to leave. He was far too tired to tolerate anything at the moment.
He heard the TV turn off. Venti remained still, raising a brow.
“You really are helpless.” A familiar voice reached his ears. Diluc Ragnvindr, the owner of the bar himself. He wasn’t usually the one working behind the counter. Often times, he’d be locked away in his office, so hearing him speak made Venti crack a smile.
“I’m not helpless Mr. Ragnvindr, people are just cruel.” Venti raised both his arms, spinning around on the stool he was sitting on. Diluc held onto his shoulder, abruptly stopping him and his circular motion. Venti felt his head lean back, his blank face looking up at Diluc. His cheeks were dusted pink, eyes barely even open.
“I’m cutting you off, get out of my bar.” Diluc took away the glass resting in front of Venti, about to pour it’s remaining contents into the sink.
“You don’t need to be such a buzzkill!” Venti whined, slumping onto the counter top. His messy hair covered the sides of his face. Diluc looked over his shoulder, only to be met with a childish pout from Venti.
“Didn’t your doctor say you should avoid drinking?”
“Nope! he told me to avoid getting stressed and I get stressed when I don’t drink.” Venti grinned, resting his chin on his palm. “There’s only a few months left before the holidays start rolling in, you wouldn’t want to see me in disarray on such an occasion would you~?”
Diluc kept his apathetic expression. He wasn’t convinced. Not in the slightest. Venti had always been so infatuated with alcohol even before his condition. Diluc assumed it was his way of coping at first, although recently he noticed that Venti’s visits became more and more frequent. Frequent visits to a bar was never a good sign. Unless it was for his songs of course.
For a time, Venti was sober, Venti was happy.
He had found his passion in music and pursued his dream to perform for others. It was heart wrenching to think that it had also been the end of him. Specifically, his growing reputation.
One of Teyvat’s brightest stars, now wasting away pathetically in a pub.
“Venti.” Diluc’s tone was firm.
“You know your friend wouldn’t have wanted this for you.”
Venti fell silent.
Diluc could only hear the sound of his shaky breathing.
“Don’t bring him into this.”
Diluc inhaled sharply, feeling his throat tighten. He moved back to the shelves behind the bar top, pulling out another glass.
Venti heard it’s bottom touch the table.
“One more, and you leave. I was about to close up anyway. You’re the only one still in here.” Diluc said plainly, pouring him another glass.
Everyone left already?
He scoffed, realizing his efforts to turn off the TV was for naught. He blatantly mouthed a silent ‘Thank you’ to Diluc.
The bell on the bar door chimed as it creaked open. Venti felt his ears perk up at the sound, turning his head.
“Guess you aren’t alone then.”
Xiao was never one to go outside much. He preferred staying inside the comfort of his own home than to risk the chance of needing to interact with other people.
Though in his situation, he didn’t exactly have a choice. Ganyu, his older sister suggested he work on his talent for music, said it might earn him a few bucks at the least. He knew she meant well, but almost anyone could learn how to write songs, let alone play an instrument. There wasn’t anything special about him, nothing unique, nothing that stood out.
Apart from that growing tumor in his brain.
It happened by chance when he found an old untuned guitar in the dumpster behind one of the hospitals he got admitted to. Really that was all there was to it.
He was just an average person trying to get some loose change by busking around street corners.
He had to admit it was exhausting though. Struggling to find a way to live past the years he had left. Constantly asking himself if he was really working for the sake of living or just not dying?
Xiao sighed deeply, taking out a piece of wrinkled paper from his pocket as he jogged down the sidewalk. To his dismay, one of the strings of his worn out guitar had snapped while he was performing the other day, and he desperately needed new ones. Being the musically uneducated dunce he was, wasn’t even sure which strings were right, so he decided to bring the guitar with him, strapping it onto his shoulder.
He made his way across the street, seeing the store he’d often seek consultation from when it came to anything musically inclined.
Pushing the door open, he felt the cool breeze of the air conditioning brush past his face.
He scanned the aisles, expecting to see more people. Though he figured it wasn’t exactly normal for people to be here so early anyway.
“Oh, Xiao! I wasn’t expecting to see you today. What brings you here?” Aether, his blonde haired friend popped up from behind the check out counter.
Xiao once told him to try running a store after seeing how much he wanted to assist others when it came to instruments. It ended up being a success, since people would swing by every so often to ask for advice, other times there would be people like Xiao, who simply lacked knowledge when it came to this area of expertise.
Xiao unzipped the case on his shoulder, pulling out his guitar and meticulously placing it on the counter. He saw Aether visibly cringe at the sight. The wood’s color was starting to fade, it had pen writings and scratch marks all over it, some of the edges had even been chipped off.
He had always been careful with his things, it just so happened that the guitar was already in this condition when he first found it, apart from the missing strings. He took all of them off last night after one decided to snap. The writings had also been of his own doing.
Aether whistled, examining the state of what used to be an instrument. “I’m still wondering why you haven’t gotten a new one yet. This thing looks more like a standardized weapon than a guitar.”
Xiao rolled his eyes, breathing out a puff of air. “As long as it still works, there’s no need to waste money to buy a new one.”
He pointed to the stock of guitar strings on one of the shelves.
“You know, I can get this repaired for you.” Aether insisted.
“Just the strings, please.”
Aether sighed in defeat, taking out one of the string packets and picking up the guitar on the counter. “Give me a few minutes.”
Xiao nodded, his eyes looking elsewhere. He noticed that there were a lot of photos hanged in the store. Aether must have a thing for photography as well.
What caught Xiao’s attention was one particular photo, it was the only one that wasn’t hanged, the frame looked more lavish than the others. In the photo, he saw Aether with two other people. One had a stoic face, white hair and cautious red eyes.
The other was grinning ear to ear, he had braided black hair that faded to a bluish green hue at the tips, almost similar to Xiao’s. He had the features of something Xiao would consider somewhat pretty.
Aether noticed Xiao observing the photo and chuckled. “That was taken a long time ago. When I was still in highschool, I was in a band with two other members.”
“The person on the left, that’s Kazuha and you might recognize the other one as Venti.”
Xiao’s eyes widened slightly. “You were in a band with an idol?” Xiao wasn’t familiar with most song artists, but he did recall coming across an article about someone named Venti.
From what he’s heard on the news, Venti has been on hiatus for more than half a year now. And no one actually knew of the real reason to his sudden disappearance.
“I heard he hasn’t been seen since he got in some sort of scandal, ever knew what happened to him after?” Xiao didn’t know why he was so curious. It was irritating how he couldn’t stop himself from asking questions sometimes. Especially since he loathed sticking his nose where it shouldn’t be.
Aether shook his head, tightening the strings after attaching them onto the tuning pegs. “We haven’t been in contact for years now, his agency never lets him have time for himself anyway.”
Xiao shrugged, putting the photo back down.
“He’s a really nice guy, was the reason why I even got to liking music in the first place.” There was a hint of sadness in Aether’s eyes as he spoke.
“I wonder how he’s doing now, all the way back in Mondstadt. I was actually planning to hold a gig there, even bought train tickets. But something came up and I can’t even get a refund.” Aether knit his brows in disappointment.
Xiao scoffed, Aether’s schedule was always so unorganized. Mostly because he couldn’t say no to anyone who asked him for a favor.
Aether finished tightening the last string, hovering his hand over the fret board, letting out a satisfied sigh.
As Xiao was about to give him the payment, Aether gently pushed his hands back. “It’s on the house.”
Aether was one of the few people who knew of his financial problems.
Xiao hesitantly slipped the money back into his wallet, feeling slightly guilty.
“….Thank you.” He mumbled, staring at his shoes. He slid the guitar back into it’s case and slung it over his shoulder.
“You know, I still have those train tickets to Mondstadt. It would be a shame to let them go to waste.” Aether spoke as he rummaged through one of the drawers underneath the counter. He put them in between his fingers and held them up to Xiao’s face.
Xiao stared at them blankly, blinking twice.
“I don’t have anything to do there, why would I-“
“There’s a trusted clinic near there and they don’t charge much, I though you might-“
Xiao abruptly turned to face Aether, hearing his shoes skid against the polished floor.
“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have said that.” Aether rubbed his arms, looking away. If there was one thing Xiao hated most, it was unwanted help from others.
After a moment of silence, Xiao exhaled through his nose, his gaze still sharp and indifferent.
“It’s alright…I was just caught off guard. I’ll think about it.”
Aether sighed in relief, putting the small slips of paper in Xiao’s palms.
“Here, you can keep these for now, just make sure to decide before next week, they’ll expire by then.”
Before Xiao got a chance to respond Aether tapped on his shoulder.
“There’s a spot reserved just for me in one of the famous bars near the center of the city, you can perform a few songs if you want. For loose change.”
Xiao bowed slightly in acknowledgment, shoving the tickets in his pocket.
Xiao wasn’t sure why he accepted Aether’s offer. Whether it was for his own self benefit or just for the sake of not making Aether feel guilty.
He arrived in Mondstadt 2 days ago, and was lucky enough to have a place to stay in for the time being. Apparently, Aether used to live in a duplex when he was here, and happened to be good friends with the landlord.
It made Xiao wonder what kind of things Aether did when he worked in Mondstadt to be treated so highly.
He sat by the windowsill, phone in hand. He didn’t even notice how late it was. He felt it vibrate, seeing Ganyu’s caller ID flash on the screen. He swiped his thumb across the accept button.
‘It’s nice to see you haven’t died of starvation yet.’ Xiao scrunched his face upon hearing Keqing, his sister’s girlfriend, speak.
“What do you want?”
‘Heard you were in Mondstadt, Ganyu’s wondering how you’ve been.’
“Then why are you the one calling on her phone?” Xiao raised a brow, leaning his head back onto the window.
‘You know how shy she is-‘
‘Keqing, stop using my phone without my permission!’ Xiao heard his sister’s voice faintly in the background.
‘Sorry about that Xiao, how are you?’
“Fine.” He was straightforward.
‘And your hearing?’
Xiao paused, pressing his lips into a thin line.
“Well I’m not getting worse.”
‘But you aren’t getting better either, are you?’ Ganyu’s voice was filled with worry.
Xiao didn’t bother responding, bringing his knees close to his chest.
He wasn’t getting better.
Everyday he felt like this constant ringing in his ears. His head ached every so often. He couldn’t do so much as walk properly sometimes, feeling like the world would spin around him with each step.
‘I heard Mondstadt was known for it’s many concert venues. Why don’t you try performing at one?’
“Not exactly thrilled with the idea.” Xiao stared at his guitar in the corner of the room.
‘The sky is especially wonderful tonight, there are so many stars. It’s a perfect time to perform!’ Ganyu said with much excitement.
Xiao gazed out the window.
The sky was different tonight.
He heard Ganyu chuckle over the line.
“What’s so funny?”
‘Nothing, it’s just that….knowing we share the same sky, I can’t help but feel relieved. Those stars are watching over you while we’re apart little brother.’
“That’s cheesy, and I’m not little.” Xiao huffed, his cheeks felt warm.
‘Just…swear to me you’ll play tonight. Do it for your cheesy sister and Keqing.’
That was a lie. Xiao knew Ganyu. ‘Live to have no regrets.’ She’d say. She didn’t want him to second guess anything. Especially since they both knew his life was going to be a life short lived.
“Fine, I’ll do it for you, but not your girlfriend.”
‘Hey!’ Keqing raised her voice.
Xiao ignored her. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow Ganyu.”
‘Alright, take care.’
He heard the line beep as the call ended, tossing his phone to the side.
He bit the inside of his cheek in thought.
Just for tonight.
Venti could feel someone laying their eyes on him.
Absentmindedly, he covered the side of his face, hiding behind the back of his hand. The person staring at him walked forward, he heard their shoes thud with each step.
“Welcome to Angel’s Share, what can I get you?” The lack of emotion in Diluc’s voice contradicted his supposedly warm greeting.
“My friend, Aether, he said there was a spot reserved for him here.” Xiao lightly scratched his cheek.
Venti’s eyes partly widened at the mention of his former colleague’s name. He took another sip of his drink, feeling it warm the back of his throat.
“You know Aether?” Diluc laid both his hands on the counter, eyeing Xiao.
“We go a long way back, said he had something coming up so I’m here to fill in for him.” Xiao bit the end his tongue, that was a lie. He wasn’t exactly filling in for Aether, more like finding an efficient way to get easy money.
He brought out his phone, showing a picture of him and Aether together.
Diluc nodded twice in acknowledgment, holding his chin.
“You’re free to swing by any time then. Though I doubt you’d want to play tonight, as you can see there’s no one else in here.”
He looked over his shoulder, craning his neck to the side.
Xiao pointed his finger at the other male who almost choked on his liquor. He silently turned away from Xiao.
Xiao thought he looked oddly familiar. Like he’d seen him before.
“Wait, aren’t you that famous singer? Venti was it?”
Xiao recognized the color of Venti’s hair as he pondered back to the photo he saw in Aether’s store the other day.
Venti sighed in defeat, he spun his chair around to face Xiao, who was mindlessly studying his features.
Venti looked far different in person compared to the photo. He had no shine in his eyes, his rosy cheeks were sunken and pale, his joyful grin now a depressing frown. His hair wasn’t even braided anymore, just falling loosely on his shoulders.
“So it is you.” Xiao had to hold back the urge to poke Venti’s face to see whether he was real or not, convinced he was a different person.
“You willing to have me as your audience?” Venti muttered under his breath, chin resting on his hand.
Xiao stood still for a while, debating whether or not he still wanted to play.
If it was any other person he wouldn’t have hesitated, but it wasn’t.
It was Venti, the person known for having a voice that could rival Celestia in it’s shining glory.
He heard the feedback of a microphone, the sound ringing loudly in the air, making him cover his ears in defense, feeling his head throb.
“Sorry about that.”
Diluc adjusted the mic stand, dragging it to the center of the small podium in the bar.
“Knock yourself out, if you need me, I’ll be in my office.” Diluc waved his hand, his keys jangling as he opened the door behind the bar station.
Xiao wiped the sweat off his hands, rubbing them on the hem of his shirt. He carried his guitar with him and sat on the chair positioned behind the microphone.
He looked back at Venti who was cheekily waiting for him. Like he was taunting him, watching his every move.
“What? You got stage fright or something?” He teased.
Xiao ignored him, holding onto the guitar rested on his lap.
He inhaled sharply, fingers hovering over the strings.
Then he started strumming.
Venti closed his eyes, listening to the somber melody that filled the air. It started off softly, almost like a lullaby cooing, the speed gradually picked up as it reached the chorus. It felt like he was in a trance, that he was being liberated from everything, lingering above air, where no else could reach him. No one else would hurt him.
When the instrumental came to an end, Venti was shaken back to reality, opening his eyes to stare into familiar darkness.
He wanted to be aloft the clouds again, he perceived it like some sort of drug that he couldn’t seem to get enough of. He needed more of it, something temporary to numb the throbbing ache which was his heart.
He couldn’t remember the last time he felt like this. For a moment, he could see. He could see everything so clearly that the image was practically burned into his mind.
Xiao coughed awkwardly, waiting for any kind of reaction from Venti who looked lost in his headspace.
“What do you think?” Xiao inched to the edge of his seat impatiently.
“Who composed it?”
Venti pursed his lips in thought. Never had he heard something so subtle yet powerful enough to leave such an impact on him. He waved his hand, calling Xiao over to sit.
Xiao reluctantly complied, leaving his guitar on the chair.
“It’s beautiful. The rests could use a few tweaks but overall it was really well written.” Venti smiled at him.
Xiao struggled to reciprocate the enthusiasm Venti had. He looked away doubtfully.
Venti pat him on the arm, grinning.
“You could get far with that if you added vocals.”
Xiao scoffed, crossing one of leg over the other. “I don’t sing, the lyrics I write aren’t exactly fitting for my voice..”
Venti chortled, swirling his drink.
“Shame, sounds like it would’ve made a good song.”
Xiao wearily eyed Venti, distancing himself from his seat. He didn’t like how quickly he loosened up to him, it made him uncomfortable, people who trusted too quickly made him uncomfortable.
Though Venti said nothing afterwards, continuing to take small sips from his glass. Xiao expected him to continue the conversation after seeing how lively he was earlier, turns out he was mistaken.
Quietly, he waited for Venti to say something, anything. Strangely enough, this was the first time he actually wanted to talk to get to know someone, a celebrity at that.
He pressed his lips.
“So uh….I’ve been meaning to ask since earlier.” Xiao shifted in his seat, catching Venti’s attention.
“Why haven’t you been looking at me this whole time?”
An estranged laugh escaped Venti, startling Xiao, making his ears twitch at the sound.
“Archons- I haven’t had a good laugh in ages.” his wheezing died down.
Xiao was unsure of what to do.
Did I just make a joke?
Was that supposed to be funny?
He asked himself.
“You wanted me to look at you? You’re pretty bold for someone who seems so anti-social.” Venti snickered.
Xiao swerved his head around to face him, furrowing his brows in embarrassment. “No it’s nothing like that-“
“I’m only kidding.” Venti raised his hands defensively.
“I’m blind you see, I apologize for my manners—I mean I was pretty sure I was facing in the right direction..” Venti leaned sideways, picking up the walking stick he laid on the floor earlier.
Xiao felt his stomach churn at that. “..Sorry” was all he managed to say, he didn’t want to ask anything else after.
“It’s alright, it’s only temporary, at least that’s what the doctors say.” Venti slouched forward, sliding his arms onto the counter.
“They said I got it from stress, which is ironic considering how carefree and amazing I am.” Venti’s smile seemed forced this time. It made Xiao uneasy.
So that’s why he went missing.
“At least you don’t get to see shitfaces that annoy you everyday.” Xiao tapped his fingers onto his thigh almost rhythmically, similar to how one would play keys on a piano.
At least you’re not dying.
He felt ashamed for thinking that way.
Venti tried to contain himself from having another laughing fit. “Did you just…try to comfort me?”
“No I didn’t.”
“You totally did.”
Xiao rolled his eyes at him, folding his arms.
“Say, I never got your name.” Venti gently put a hand on his shoulder, like he was double checking to see if he was still there.
“Xiao.” He uttered, not missing a beat.
“That’s a nice name, I know I can’t exactly see you, but I have a feeling it fits you real well.”
Xiao turned his head slightly, looking at the other’s face, his expression softening.
“Venti’s got a nice ring to it too.” It slipped out of his tongue.
Venti snorted, shrugging one of his shoulders. “Yeah sure, if you wanna be named like one of those Starbucks drink sizes.”
Xiao felt his lips curl up, not bothering to hide what felt like a smile.
“So, Xiao…” Venti started, Xiao felt his hairs stand up as his name rolled off his tongue.
“You don’t happen to be free this weekend do you?”
Xiao checked his phone, looking into his reminders, unsurprised to see nothing there but a few doctor’s appointments. “My life’s not that interesting, I’m free most of the time.
“That’s no fun! See, this is why you’re always so alone.”
“Says the person hiding away in a bar.” Xiao retorted.
“Touché.” Venti lightly shoved him.
“In any case—There’s this friend of mine, she’s holding a concert at the plaza in a few days time, I figured you’d want to go there, considering how desperate you were to play earlier.”
“I’m not desperate. I just figured performing in front of someone like you would be worth more than a few crowds.” Xiao grimaced, what was he saying? The way he worded it could lead one to assume he was desperate.
Venti grinned at him. “So are you calling me special?”
“How nice of you.” Venti mumbled sarcastically.
“Are you gonna come or not? You’ll be my plus one!”
Xiao stared at the ceiling for a while, pondering to himself.
“I’ll think about it.”
Xiao was convinced he had a knack for getting dragged into things.
After he went home the other day, he was surprised to see his messages flooded by an unknown user. Realizing it was Venti, he cautiously peeked outside his window.
Just how exactly did he get my number?
The next few days, albeit hesitant, Xiao found himself waiting in front of the entrance to the venue. He had his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket, starting to feel the chilly air as winter crept closer.
He looked around the area, eyes scanning the numerous crowds to find Venti who was nowhere to be seen.
Xiao started to get a feeling that he’d been stood up. He didn’t exactly arrive on time which was why he expected Venti to already be here.
After half an hour, he prepared to leave. Slightly disappointed.
It was an absurd feeling.
There was no use for a sick person to be familiar with someone of Venti’s stature.
‘His agency never lets him have time for himself anyway.’ He recalled Aether’s words.
Xiao tried to be understanding. Venti, after all, was still a public figure, to be seen with the likes of him would probably just damage his already depleting reputation even further. Maybe he’d just use this as an opportunity to visit that clinic Aether had told him about. His knees felt weak just thinking about it.
He heard a car pull up behind him.
Turning around, he saw Venti’s face behind the window. He stumbled backwards, loosing his footing at his sudden appearance.
The window rolled down, squeaking against the door frame.
“Ah, he’s here?” Venti tilted his head at the driver.
“Yes sir.” A woman spoke from the front seat. She had blonde hair tied into a neat ponytail, eyes colored cerulean. To Xiao she looked a little…tense.
Xiao lightly knocked on the door.
“Yeah, sorry about that. Punctuality isn’t exactly something I’m known for.” Venti shifted in his seat to face him.
“I didn’t think you’d actually come.” He beamed at him.
“I was actually just about to leave.” Xiao blurted out.
“Oh don’t be like that.” Venti turned the car’s door handle, hearing the lock click.
“Come, get in!”
They sat in silence, the driver who Venti introduced as Jean, was finding a better place to park to avoid large gatherings.
Venti pat his knees lightly, like he was drumming to a song.
“Did you read my messages?” He finally spoke up, breaking the tension.
“I did, how did you get my num- wait.” Xiao paused.
“How are you able to send and read messages?” He changed his question.
“Easy, I have Jean for that.”
Xiao almost felt sorry for her.
The car came to a stop behind a few food stalls. Fortunately, the lot was wide enough for the vehicle to park in.
Venti reached under his seat, pulling out his foldable walking stick.
Xiao stepped out first, holding the door open for Venti. He offered his hand for support.
Venti graciously accepted, giving his hand a subtle squeeze and slowly rising from the car seat.
They were escorted to one of the blow up huts in the plaza. Xiao unconsciously kept looking back at Venti, checking if he was able to catch up to their speed.
Venti, despite being handicapped, had no problems with their pace. He’d gotten used to it over some time.
Xiao felt something hitting the back of his shoes. He heard Venti giggle behind him.
“What are you doing?”
Venti was lightly touching the heels of Xiao’s shoes with his cane as they strolled to the side.
“It’s so I know you’re right in front of me.”
Xiao lowered his head, rubbing the back of his neck hastily. He’d let it slide for now.
After a few minutes they found a comfortable place to rest. Xiao left Venti a space on the bench, waiting for him to sit down.
“That reminds me, I forgot to give you this.” Venti dug into the teal backpack strapped on his shoulders. He clumsily took out a piece of paper from the front pocket, handing it to Xiao.
“After hearing your performance the other day, as soon as I got home I picked up a pen and started writing.” Venti looked elated, like he’d been waiting for the perfect moment to show Xiao.
Xiao looked at the paper, the words were all close together and sloppily written, but most of it was legible enough to understand.
He leaned forward, trying to read it better in the light.
He hummed quietly, gaze softening.
This felt like Venti.
Everything about it felt like Venti.
He barely even knows Venti.
But somehow he could tell he poured his heart into writing the verses. Somehow, he knew this was him. No one else could write this way, his messy penmanship proved that.
“You don’t like it? I mean it’s just a suggestion, I haven’t written anything in foreve-“
“I like it. It’s…nice.”
“Really? Hell yeah! I still got it!”
Xiao didn’t know what else to say afterwards.
Why would Venti want his approval in the first place?
He was far more talented and experienced.
Far more sympathetic and caring.
“Venti? Is that really you?” A mellow voice spoke from behind them.
“Ah, Beidou! So nice to hear your voice.” Venti turned around to face her. He gestured his hand to Xiao.
“This is Xiao, my new music buddy.”
“Xiao, meet Beidou, the host of tonight’s main event.”
Beidou towered over Xiao, crossing her clasping her hands loudly. Her lips formed into a smirk.
“You from Liyue?”
“How’d you know?”
“Just a feeling.” Beidou cackled, aggressively patting him on the back. Xiao would surely feel sore the next day.
“Xiao’s going to be playing with the other band members!” Venti pulled on Xiao’s arm, yanking him forward.
“Great! You’ll fit nicely next to Xinyan.”
Xiao hurriedly moved a few steps back, nudging Venti with his elbow. “You never said anything about a band!” He tried to lower his husk voice.
“You’ll do just fine, you’re a musician right? Just you know—go with the flow?” Venti murmured, eating his own words.
“The hell is that supposed to-“
Xiao was interrupted with Beidou pushing him forcefully from behind.
“Come along little man!”
Xiao let himself be dragged backstage, carrying his guitar with him. His fingers felt stiff, his body rigid. He covered his ears. Everyone was so loud. He just wanted to get this over with and go someplace quiet. Somewhere away from people.
A girl in pigtails bounced next to him excitedly. “Ya’ must be Xiao! I’m Xinyan.”
Xiao nodded, avoiding eye contact.
“Venti said you were pretty darn good with that thing. And Venti almost never gives out compliments!” She pointed a finger at his banged up guitar.
“Yer obviously an amazin’ player then.”
Xiao shook his head, looking up at her stoically.
“He’s just exaggerating.”
Surprisingly it wasn’t so bad, performing in front of a crowd and all that. He found it more pressuring to play in front of Venti. Or was he just more anxious around Venti in general? He wasn’t sure.
The audience roared, applauding loudly as the music came to an end. Xiao glanced at Xinyan, if not for her he would have probably messed up by now. Her notes were precise and easy to follow, Xiao didn’t have any difficulty adjusting.
He thanked her for that.
Backstage he saw Venti clapping his hands, the smile on his face reminded him of the one he wore in the old photo.
It seemed genuine. It’s amazing how much a smile can do to a person.
He looks like a child. Xiao scoffed.
Beidou emerged from the crowd, climbing onto the stage. They cheered at her appearance. Xiao used the commotion as his chance to escape the scene, sneaking behind the curtains on the set.
He felt a pair of hands gently shake his shoulders. “Xiao! You did such a good job!” Venti erupted in laughter.
“Why are you laughing at me then?”
“I can’t help it! You sounded like you were about to piss yourself earlier.” He wheezed, hitting him lightly on the chest.
Xiao peeled Venti off of him. “I did not.”
“In all seriousness, thanks for not backing out. You could have said no if you wanted to.” Venti knit his hands together, his thumbs touching.
Xiao sighed heavily, grabbing Venti’s hand and turning it over so his palm was facing upwards. He felt his hand twitch at the sudden contact.
“What’s this supposed to be?” Venti’s tone was filled with curiousness.
“You put your money there and hand it to me.” Xiao tapped on Venti’s palm twice with his finger.
Venti howled out in laughter, wiping the hot tears that came out of his eyes. “Gosh- I know you were funny but this too much!”
“You owe me this, I usually hate playing in front of people but for you I-“ He stopped mid-sentence.
Venti’s lips parted for a moment, before he reached into his bag again, this time pulling out a wallet. He flipped it over to Xiao.
“Here! Will this suffice?”
Xiao looked around the place. “Don’t you need someone else to verify the amount you’re giving or something?”
“Why would I need to? I’m handing over my whole wallet!”
Xiao stared at Venti’s face, looking into his eyes. He couldn’t tell whether he was joking or not.
“That’s too much.”
“Are you kidding? I’d be willing to pay more and it still wouldn’t value as much as your little performances.” Venti grinned cheekily, putting his hands on his waist.
Xiao squinted at him, leaning forward.
“What’s the catch?” He assumed monotonously.
Venti pouted at him.
“You wound me.”
“What’s the catch, Venti?” Xiao repeated his question, firmer this time.
Sucking his teeth, Venti grumbled something incoherent.
“I’m willing to continue compensating you….if you help me.”
Xiao blinked at him, straightening his posture. “Help you with what exactly?”
“You said you write a lot of songs but don’t have a pretty voice for it. Well- let me be your pretty voice.”
“Who says I don’t have a pretty voice?” Xiao quirked a brow.
“I have a prettier one.” Venti bragged.
They both bubbled out in laughter, Venti’s slightly louder than Xiao’s.
“It’s only until I get my vision back, I mean. You could help with maybe writing up my latest album, it’s been on hold since well…forever.”
“So what you’re saying is, you want to use me to help you get your life back?”
“Don’t word it like that, you’re making me look bad!” Venti folded his arms in disappointment.
Xiao felt a knot twisting in the pit of his stomach. This didn’t feel appropriate. He was basically going to live off of a blind person for his own gain. It didn’t sit right with conscience.
Then again, he didn’t have anything else to turn to. Sure he could get a job here, but what then? There was no guarantee that he’d be able to sustain a stable lifestyle. A lifestyle that would fit his life span.
As heavy as his heart felt, he needed the money. Whatever it was that was keeping him alive. He needed to make sure he’d stay until he found his purpose. Even if it was just for a bit longer.
He hesitated. “When do we start?”
Venti giddily skipped closer to him.
“As early as next week! But for now, let’s get some rest.”
Xiao nodded silently, scanning the area to find Jean. Maybe he’d be lucky enough to catch a ride home with them, since they were unofficially…work partners?
He didn’t have the right word for it.
“Isn’t Jean going to pick you up?”
“You make it sound like I’m a child getting picked up from school—no. She left a few minutes ago.” Venti sighed.
“Then how are you going to get home?”
“I live pretty nearby actually.” Venti scratched his neck. “You can go on, I can get by just fine on my own.”
Xiao watched him doubtfully. Something about the way he said that bothered him. He looked sluggish, and pale, like he’d fall over at any moment. It was similar to how Xiao’s form was when he was still a teenager.
“Do you…want me to walk you home?”
Xiao was shocked at himself. Normally he would have reacted differently and just leave him be. He needed fo keep in mind that their relationship with eachother was strictly professional, and that the slightest things could lead to misunderstandings. After all, Venti wasn’t his friend. He wasn’t anything to him. He was just an acquaintance who happened to have benefits.
Venti shook his head hastily, his hair swishing from side to side. “No no! It’s alright, I know my way around here pretty well.”
“I’m fine Xiao.” His eyes glistened, emphasizing on the word ‘fine.’
He wasn’t fine. Someone like him would know whether someone was fine or not.
Xiao swallowed a lump in his throat. Stubbornly, he took Venti by the arm dragging him forward.
Perplexed, Venti stared at him in silence.
“Which way to your house?”
After asking around for the right directions, Xiao was finally able to somewhat pinpoint Venti’s address.
Venti remained unusually quiet the whole time, dragging his feet as he walked alongside Xiao. He didn’t know where this was going or how it all unfolded. He just knew he felt safe. Safe around Xiao.
Xiao’s gaze never left him. He outstretched his arm behind Venti from a distance, like a protective barrier, in case he ever tripped.
Venti stopped in his tracks, alarming Xiao who unskillfully bumped his arm onto his back, briskly retracting it before he could notice.
He saw Venti hovering his hand above his own head.
“What are you do-“
Before he could finish, Venti rested his palm on the top of Xiao’s hair. Upon realizing how soft it was, he ruffled it with his slim fingers.
Xiao grabbed onto his wrist, grimly taking it off of his head.
A quiet chuckle escaped Venti.
“You’re just as tall as me!”
Xiao gaped at him, the tip of his ears turning a shade redder. He scowled, folding his arms.
Venti turned away from him, grinning, holding his hand out in the air to touch the gate in front of them. Feeling it’s cold steel, he exhaled.
“I guess we’re here.” He lowered his head, soft spoken.
Xiao stalked over to the side of the porch, like he was checking for something. He gently tugged on Venti’s shirt, guiding him to the door.
“Thank you, Xiao.”
“Could you repeat that?”
Venti rolled his eyes. “I said thank you.”
“It’s just business.”
Venti snorted, covering his mouth.
“Make sure to call me~”
“And have Jean answer for you? No way.”
He slowly retreated from the steps, grimacing at Venti’s smug face.
Today was nice.
“So what you’re saying is…You signed a deal with a man you met with a week ago?” Zhongli, Venti’s old and knowledgeable friend gaped at him.
“More or less.” He tilted his hand left and right.
“You’d have to be either plain out ruthless, or just incredibly stupid.” Zhongli rubbed the bridge of nose in distress.
“I’d like to think the former.”
Venti swatted his hands at him.
“But enough about me! How have you been holding up? I heard the modeling industry has currently been going through some big changes.”
“I don’t like to think much of it, although the sudden evolution of this generation, overwhelms me sometimes.”
Zhongli exhaled deeply, leaning back into his seat, tea in hand.
“Have you maybe considered you’re just too old for these kinds of things?” Venti pressed.
“Do not insult me.”
Venti giggled, his shoulders trembling. Recently, he started calling up old acquaintances just to catch up and chat. His doctor said social activities were healthy for people like him. He didn’t really get what he meant by that.
“I appreciate your effort to get in touch with me. Regardless of how annoying you are.”
“Awww, don’t get all sentimental on me now!” Venti hit him lightly on the shoulder, almost missing.
“And I do hope you be careful with this….Xiao.” Zhongli said his name like an unsolved riddle.
“Nah! He isn’t like that, he’s really nice.”
“I meant it the other way around.” Zhongli asserted firmly.
“You must not risk getting attached to someone who might leave you in difficult times. It will result to both parties being affected.” Zhongli knew of Venti’s tendency to cling onto people who made him feel secure.
Venti’s cheery expression disappeared. He sunk into his chair.
“I know that….”
“I also hope that one day, you’ll finally let yourself be happy again.”
Venti inhaled sharply, repositioning himself on his seat.
“I don’t know about you Zhongli, but I think it’s starting to come back to me.”
Xiao felt numb.
A few days ago he decided to go to the nearby health center for his monthly check up.
He really wished he didn’t this time.
The tumor was growing.
And he was told that his hearing was gradually getting worse. Apparently, and quite obviously, being surrounded by loud instruments or anything loud in particular would only damage his hearing further.
When he was younger, he’d been oblivious to his disease. Though it had somehow developed into something more severe when he turned 20 a few years ago. He’s always been so sickly as a child, going in and out of hospitals to get treated.
He’d been advised to stay away from any clamorous sounds for the time being.
Everything was just piling up on him. Not to mention that he had to work in poor living conditions. He needed something to keep him sane at the very least.
It was just a viscous cycle, test after test, specialist after specialist. Nothing was improving. Nothing was changing.
Eventually, he’d just lose his hearing completely. Assuming the tumor doesn’t turn into a brain cavity and kill him first.
Perhaps, if he’d gotten it treated sooner, it wouldn’t have gone to this extent.
It made him feel nauseous.
He rubbed his eyes, turning to the desk next to his bedside. He reached for his phone that lay flatly on the surface, squinting at the screen’s brightness.
He winced, blinking his stinging eyelids. A part of him wanted to sleep, yet his restless mind kept his thoughts running, unable to succumb to slumber.
He heard the pitter patter of rain on the rooftop as it poured outside, ultimately distracting him from getting any shut eye.
About to put his phone back down he heard it buzz.
Reluctantly opening the notification, he stared at the screen.
[ Yo! I was wondering if
I could come over ᕙ(`▿´)ᕗ]
Xiao knit his brows, taking another glance at the time, second guessing himself.
Why on earth was he texting so late.
[Go to sleep and stop bothering Jean.]
[I’m already outside your door ( ˘̀︹˘́ )]
Xiao’s eyes widened slightly at this. He shot up from his laying position, swinging his legs off the bed and kicking away his blanket.
He dashed to the window, peeking outside the fogged glass.
He saw two figures standing by his door, one he assumed was Jean and the other was the ever persistent songwriter.
Xiao lightly banged his head on the window, contemplating to himself.
It’s not your place.
Don’t get attached.
He dug his nails into his palms, displeased. Clicking his tongue, he made a beeline for the stairs.
Xiao swung the door open, seeing Venti’s confident expression.
“I knew you’d come around sooner or later!”
“Why are you here?” Xiao glanced at Venti, then at Jean who was already walking back to the car, unfazed.
“Didn’t I tell you last week?” Venti quirked a brow.
Xiao tightened his lips, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. He was usually slow to anger, but when it came to situations like these he had a very fragile and thin patience.
“Go home. It’s late, and I need sleep.” Xiao held onto the doorknob, delicately pushing it back closed. Venti put his arm through the space in between the door, keeping it from being shut.
“The fact you were still awake means you can’t sleep.” His eyes looked eagerly right past him. The faint sound of pouring rain only grew louder.
Venti pointed his finger upwards. “Jean said your light was still on.”
“Please.” He begged, his voice tremulous.
Xiao faltered, groaning inwardly. He let go of the knob and let the door creak back open.
“You shouldn’t believe everything Jean tells you.”
Venti chuckled, welcoming himself inside his apartment.
Xiao allowed him to walk ahead of him, guiding him up the stairs and into his room that was apparently filled with clutter. Clothes were sprawled everywhere. There was a sea of lose papers scattered in one corner, while empty packets of food occupied the rest.
He felt guilty for being relieved that Venti was blind. Xiao sat him down on one of the chairs, steadying him.
Venti mouthed a quiet ‘Thanks’ before digging into his bag.
“Okay! So I’ve written a few things down.”
Xiao lumbered across the room, sitting down the floor and leaning against the side of his bed. He looked at Venti longingly.
His words were a blur, he couldn’t discern anything he was saying. The only thing he could focus on was Venti’s eyes. His life filled eyes as he talked about something he was deeply passionate about. The look he had on his face, Xiao wanted to see it more. He wanted to see him more.
His head swam, feeling a dizzying sensation overcome him. It came back again. The shrill noise that echoed within in came back again.
“Are you even listening?” Venti pouted, folding his arms.
“I am.” Xiao glimpsed at him, trying to drown out the continuous ringing in his ears.
“Something tells me you’re no-“ He was cut off by the deafening rumble of thunder as lightning struck from outside.
Venti fell forward on his knees, shaken.
His face turned pallid, his bottom lip trembling.
Xiao jolted on his feet, rushing to his side, hearing his desperate heaves for air. He felt Venti’s hand grip tightly onto his shirt, reassuring himself.
“Are you alright?” He couldn’t think of anything else to utter.
Venti’s body shook violently, tears were threatening to fall and dampen his cheeks.
He looked up at Xiao helplessly, trying to follow the sound of his voice.
“Don’t laugh.” He croaked.
Venti cleared his throat, his irregular breathing calming down.
“I wasn’t….I wasn’t scared before.” He started.
“But…now I can’t see anything, and storms like this tend to…affect me in some way.” His hands fidgeted.
Xiao wanted to do something. Combined with the inability to see, hearing loud and explosive sounds like thunder must have a different effect on him. On top of that, he must have been used to being independent, relying on no one but himself. He had to face everything by himself.
“I’m sorry I lied to you….I just didn’t want to be alone tonight.” Venti sniffled, his voice frail and hoarse.
“You don’t need to apologize.”
Xiao rested a hand on the small of his back, caressing it gingerly.
Venti leaned his head onto Xiao’s shoulder, choking back quiet sobs.
Xiao felt his heart ache as he heard those words again. He wasn’t even sure of his own intentions, who’s to say he wasn’t just projecting onto Venti, that he wasn’t just using him.
He didn’t want to be thanked.
“I realized, you never even asked me why I went blind in the first place.” Venti’s words were muffled as he spoke into Xiao’s sleeve.
“I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable by asking. Plus, I don’t really need to know all that, the way I see you now won’t change.” Xiao whispered, trying his best to console him.
“And how do you see me as?”
“Someone who’s not boring to talk to.”
Venti chuckled, giving him a small apologetic smile before exhaling.
“My friend took his own life 8 months ago.”
Xiao lapsed back into silence, listening to him intently.
“I was just on my way to check up on him when….” His eyes started to water again, he swallowed the lump in his throat.
“I saw him bleeding out in a bathtub, body already stiff and cold. Then I just ran, I couldn’t feel my legs as I ran far away from his house.”
Xiao held him close, letting him sob onto his shoulder.
“Later on, the authorities said they had found traces of my presence on the night of the incident, and I had to be held as a suspect for murder.”
“Regardless if I was proven guilty or not, it made it to the headlines within hours. They all thought it was my fault.”
Xiao pat his back gently. “It’s not though.”
“Part of me still thinks it is..”
Venti bit the inside of his lip, eyes downcast. “It eventually got to my head, I couldn’t live with myself thinking I could have saved him if not for the stupid argument we had earlier that morning.”
“I already knew how much he was going through and yet I….”
“Then everything just…dimmed, until I could see nothing at all. Only a few people know of this, like that bartender you met with a few weeks ago.”
“I'm sorry for ranting, I feel like I’m slowly making you into my personal safe house.” Venti chortled, eyes puffy.
Xiao peeled one of Venti’s hands off of him, tracing small circles onto the back of his palm.
“You should stop apologizing all the time. Safe houses don’t like it when you do that. It’s annoying.”
He closed his eyes, letting Venti wrap an arm around his craned neck.
‘You told me you were gonna call me, and the next thing I know is you’re all over the news.’ Ganyu’s voice was shaky over the phone. Xiao was unable to tell whether she was frustrated or elated.
“I’m sorry, I had meant to call sooner but…”
Ganyu sighed. ‘It’s alright….I was just worried.’
A few days ago, Xiao received a message from Beidou informing him of a video that went viral on the internet. It was a video from the plaza concert 2 weeks prior.
The camera was fixated on him as he strummed on his unsightly guitar. The comments varied from praise to indifference, mostly due to the fact his name had been unheard of.
It had to be a publicity stunt planned by Venti’s agency, he assumed.
Xiao rested his head on his desk, his cheek lay flat against the surface.
Ganyu was always the type to fret over everything. But how could she not though? Considering how Xiao’s health has been as of late.
‘So…You’re making it big in Mondstadt huh?’
“Not really, I just needed the cash.”
Ganyu exhaled through her nose, pondering.
‘Xiao, you know I could always send you some money…’
‘It’s not going to change any-‘
“It changes everything. I thought we talked about this.” Xiao grumbled in annoyance.
“I’m going to die either way, I don’t want to leech off of you just so I can die slower.” His muscles tensed, feeling his own voice reverberate within his rib cage.
‘Don’t say that.’ Ganyu’s tone darkened.
‘Please don’t say that.’
“I’m sorry, I just… I had a bad day.” He felt his brows crease.
‘That new friend of yours…’ Ganyu trailed off.
‘…Promise me you won’t get hurt.’
Xiao’s stomach sank, feeling beads of cold sweat form within his palms. Just what did she mean by that?
“I’ll try.” It was half-meant, mainly because he wasn’t even sure what she was trying to imply. But he was willing to do anything to keep his sister from being hell bent on worrying about him.
Hearing the call drop, he tossed his phone to the side, running his hands through his disheveled hair. He then rubbed at his temples, another headache forming behind his already burning eyes.
It’s not like he wanted this to happen. He thought back to the video.
It’s not like he wanted to be exposed to the public in the first place.
Fortunately, Venti didn’t get as much heat as he’d anticipated. In fact, some of his supporters were thrilled with the idea of his return, regardless of how or who he planning to do it with. The mere presence of him out in the open was enough to jostle the media awake.
Despite being busy, often times Venti would swing by his apartment for a chat, or they’d go out occasionally to eat food at a cheap diner, talking about all sorts of things whether it was work related or not.
And Xiao felt selfish. Keeping someone like Venti by his side, was something he had no right to do.
Venti belonged up there among the other stars, and Xiao was not one of them.
He’d never shine as bright as them. The only thing he could do was be his sky. The everlasting pitch black darkness that spread overcast the world. That was him.
For stars like Venti do not shine in day, but in night.
He wanted to keep being selfish, even if it was just for a little while longer.
September was about to come to an end and for the first time Xiao actually felt grateful for it.
He grew tired of the indecisiveness of the weather, he’d settle for something more balanced for the next few months. It lowered the chances of him catching a cold.
Venti was sitting on the couch across the room, phone in hand, eyes remaining closed, he looked like he was listening to something.
Xiao meandered over to his side, gazing onto his peaceful expression. Upon noticing the unworldly tangled earphones that hung from both sides of his face, he sat closer.
His hands gingerly took them off his ears, careful as to not wake him. Meticulously, he undid the puzzle that intertwined the wires, loosening the knots and straightening them out.
Letting his curiousness take over him, he tucked one of the buds in his ear.
Despite never hearing it before, the silvery voice that rung through his head was enough to lead him to one conclusion.
It was Venti.
Looking back at said person, he pursed his lips in thought, sinking back into realization. He almost couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe he was so open to someone like him. Someone far out of his league.
He felt something tug at his shirt forcefully, startling him.
Venti, who was now awake, blinked at him with wide eyes. His cheeks were flushed pink, chin wrinkling.
“Xiao!” He squeaked, hitting him on the shoulder with his clenched fists.
“What?” Xiao inched away from him.
“Don’t tell me you—Ah, it was supposed to be a surprise!” Venti whined bitterly, burying his face into his palms.
Xiao pressed his lips into a thin line, hurriedly unplugging the earphones and placing it beside Venti.
Venti huffed, squinting his unfocused eyes at him. “For someone who doesn’t talk much, you sure like to stick your nose in other people’s business.”
Xiao rubbed the back of his neck, clearing his throat in embarrassment.
“Is that going to be released with the rest of your album?”
“Yes, but don’t you dare try and change the topic!” Venti chuckled, pointing a finger at him.
About to utter a response, Xiao felt a stabbing pain emerge in his head. Unintentionally, he let out a strained groan, alarming the man beside him.
“Hey—Is there something wrong?” The concern in Venti’s voice made Xiao anxious. He didn’t want Venti to worry about him just yet, not when he still had himself to take care of.
“It’s nothing, just a migraine.” He mumbled, holding back the urge to vomit as his surroundings blurred with each move. It wasn’t a migraine. He knew this.
“Migraines are never good.” Venti frowned.
He lifted his legs off the couch, sitting upright. He pat his thighs, tilting his head at Xiao who was left in confusion.
“Lie down.” Venti insisted.
Xiao furrowed his brows, dismissing the idea. “No.”
“Don’t be a baby, and lie down.”
“Aren’t you treating me like one right now?”
Venti crinkled his nose, huffing. “You know, I think you’d make a better philosopher than a musician.”
Hesitantly, Xiao complied, lousily resting his head on Venti’s lap. He was too tired to resist, deciding that bantering would only drain his already decreasing energy.
He crossed his arms, easing his tense nerves as he felt Venti’s warm skin from underneath his head.
Venti gave a satisfied sigh, leaning back into the couch.
“See? It’s not so bad.”
Xiao turned his body sideways, leaving Venti with only his broad back to prod with.
“This is bad for your blood circulation.”
Venti stifled in a laugh, patting Xiao’s hair gently with his small, delicate hands. Xiao’s shoulder’s sagged, his arms now comfortably curled close to his chest.
They stayed like that for a while. Neither of them talking, neither making so much as a quiet sound. Xiao wasn’t used to this. He wasn’t used to being so close to someone, both physically and….emotionally.
He closed his heavy eyelids. “Are you always this intimate with strangers?”
Venti breathed out a dramatic gasp, tilting his head forward.
“Don’t you think we’re well past strangers by now?” Venti smoothed his fingers through Xiao’s hair, gently massaging his throbbing temples.
“The only thing you know about me is my name.” Xiao breathed out a puff of air that almost sounded like a scoff.
“Not true, don’t insult me just because I can’t see you!”
Venti exhaled, making Xiao fluttered an eye open.
“Since I don’t see anything…The one thing I can do is touch. Just feeling through everything, so I can see you. I can’t exactly hold myself back if there’s another person next to me.”
“So you’re always like this with other people?” Xiao raised a brow, slightly disappointed at that fact.
Venti stammered, his cheeks darkening into a reddish hue that was left unnoticed by Xiao.
“I’m not always like this with other people, I’ll admit.” He murmured, withdrawing his hands from Xiao’s hair. “I’ll stop if it makes you uncomfortable.”
Xiao lifted his head slightly above Venti’s thighs, craning his neck to face him.
“I’m not uncomfortable, so don’t stop.”
Venti’s lips parted, before cracking into a gleeful smile.
Xiao felt confident today.
And that was saying something since the only time Xiao would ever feel confident was when he was alone. But now he wasn’t. He had someone. He had Venti.
Days had turned to weeks and weeks into months. All of it was spent with Venti.
He didn’t know what came over him, but Xiao had changed their usual meeting spot, inviting Venti over to one of the old parks he used to visit with Ganyu as a child. He couldn’t tell whether it was nostalgia that had convinced him, or he just wanted to see Venti’s face in a different setting. Both reasons were weird, he stressed. Either way, it didn’t place itself as a hindrance to their work. They’d only meet up to exchange lyrics or ideas for new songs. The rest was all improvisation.
Patiently, he perched himself atop one of the abandoned stone tables next to the trees, subtly swinging his legs back and forth as they hovered above the grass.
He’d gotten used to it by now, arriving later than the scheduled time, and waiting 30 more minutes for Venti who would follow.
Upon hearing a car pull up by the entrance he couldn’t help but feel his lips curl into a smile. While it was embarrassing, he didn’t even bother to care at the moment.
He hopped off the table, landing wobbly onto the ground, his legs pulling him forward towards Venti’s direction, the chill breeze brushing past his face.
Venti giddily arose from the passenger’s seat, grinning as he heard Xiao’s distant footsteps that grew louder as he neared.
“Hi.” Xiao spoke first, breaching the short silence that sat in the space between them.
“Hi!” Venti replied more enthusiastically, waving his hands at him.
“I feel like I’m dropping off my child for a playdate.” Jean groaned from the driver’s seat, rubbing her hands on the steering wheel as she eyed the both of them.
Xiao could only cough in response, meekly dragging a flustered Venti by the arm. He gave Jean a small nod of gratitude for the escort.
“Stay safe you two.” She offered them a warm smile before driving off.
Venti perked his head up at him, waiting for Xiao to walk forward.
Xiao boldly took his hand, squeezing it firmly. This was far different from letting Venti hit the back of his shoes with his cane. This involved actual touch, something Xiao had alienated ever since he was a child. But he was too far gone to turn back, he’s been wanting to do this at the very first sight of Venti.
Venti yelped, keeping down his excitement under the maroon scarf that wrapped itself around half his face.
For what felt like years, they walked under the thousand lights that adorned the park. Xiao’s gaze never left Venti, who beamed as he trudged behind him. He wouldn’t have said this before, but something about Venti’s occasional smiles left him at loss for words. And for every single time he’d look at him, even if Venti couldn’t see him, he’d feel like the luckiest person in the world.
He didn’t deserve this.
He didn’t deserve him.
But he was willing to take the risk and steal Venti, to hide him away from the rest of the world and keep him close until he drew his very last breath.
Nothing was holding him back now, by whatever being had possessed him to be uncharacteristically touchy-feely, he was grateful for it.
Tonight was going to prove that.
He lead Venti to a gazebo. It was dusty and covered with countless vines, and yet it still took his breath away. Maybe it wasn’t the place that affected him, but the person he was situated next to. Xiao stared up at the structure’s ceiling, the daring moonlight peeking through the gaps.
“Xiao.” Venti called out gently.
“You mind telling me where we are?”
Xiao’s face almost faltered at those words. He’d been too caught up in the desire to show Venti around not quite processing that he still couldn’t see. Sheepishly, he pulled Venti closer to him. Close enough for Venti to hear his beating heart.
“I know you can’t see anything, but trust me, it’s beautiful.” Xiao mumbled unknowingly, eyes darting around his surroundings, admiring every detail like a picture from a story book.
Venti giggled, wrapping his arms around Xiao’s waist, making his body go rigid, his lips pursing shut.
“I don’t need to see anything, everywhere with you is beautiful to me.”
Xiao felt Venti’s words tug at his heart. His pulse started to race, sweat trailing down from his neck to his collarbone. This wasn’t good for his health, Venti wasn’t good for his health. He meant that both literally and metaphorically.
At any rate, he would have ran away by now, this was too much for his closed mind to comprehend. And yet he stayed still, welcoming Venti’s warm embrace.
“Sorry—Did I go too far?” Venti worriedly gazed at him.
He didn’t even realize how long he’d been standing like that, not even uttering a response.
Xiao wanted to say more, but he felt some sort of spell being cast onto him, restraining his words from spilling out. He couldn’t say anything else. Instead, he reluctantly mirrored Venti, outstretching his arms around his covered neck.
“Can you take me back here once I can see again?” Venti’s innocent expression made Xiao feel paranoid.
The sad truth about Venti’s simple request was something Xiao wasn’t ready to accept. That by the time Venti got his sight back, he might not even be here anymore.
He wasn’t ready to tell Venti that. Not when he was already recovering from his depressive nature.
They’d play pretend for now, everything would be fine for now. For as long as he could keep his facade up.
Venti dug his head deeper into Xiao’s embrace, waiting for his answer.
He didn’t even notice how he was holding back his tears.
“I’ll take you to all my favorite places, since you don’t seem to get out much.”
He scoffed. He was trying to be positive, but with every word that escaped his mouth, his eyes would water, obscuring his vision.
Venti hummed, tightening his grip around him.
“That’s rich coming from you.”
Xiao could only respond with a quiet sigh, resting his chin on Venti’s head.
“Xiao, do you know how to dance?”
“I don’t dance.”
“Sure you do.” Venti pulled himself off of him, repositioning his hands onto Xiao’s shoulders. He guided his heavy arms onto his waist, moving in a swaying motion, shifting his weight between his legs.
“God—You’re so bad at this.” He laughed heartily, leading on Xiao’s clumsy steps.
“I didn’t agree to this.” Xiao protested, looking away from Venti’s face.
“And yet you still do it.”
They continued to rock left and right, hair swishing along stuttering movements.
Venti hummed a peaceful melody as they danced, though it failed to calm Xiao’s rapidly beating heart. He was new to this feeling. The feeling of being nervous yet strangely wanting more.
He wanted to stay like this for a while.
If possible, he wanted to stay like this forever.
“Venti.” He found his name rolling off his tongue subconsciously.
“What is it Xiao?”
“Why are all your songs about love?”
Venti chortled at that, leaning his forehead lazily onto Xiao’s shoulder.
“What else is there to write about? Agony, sorrow, pain?”
“They all come from the same thing anyway, and that is the thing us humans like to call love.”
Xiao nodded, raising his arm up to twirl Venti gently.
“Have you ever been in love Xiao?”
Xiao felt his throat go dry. He didn’t have an answer for that. It’s not that he didn’t want to answer, it’s because he couldn’t. He wouldn’t know; he wouldn’t know how it felt like, to be in love.
“I’m not sure. But if there’s one thing I do know, is that I’ve felt all that agony, sorrow and pain before.”
“And Is it because of love?” Venti tilted his head up to face his neck, his breaths kissing the air around his bare skin.
“No. It’s….something else.”
Venti pursed his lips, blinking at him. He would normally keep asking, but this time he fell silent. It unsettled Xiao.
“I won’t pry, since I know you’re not ready to tell me.”
Xiao felt his throat tighten, the air around him thickening with every breath he took. This was too much for him.
“I’ll wait for you, Xiao.” That was the only thing Venti said afterwards.
December came by quicker than Xiao had hoped. He had nothing against it of course, he just wasn’t fond of celebrating the holidays with other people knowing he could very well stay peacefully at home with his own priorities to attend to.
Ganyu’s calls became less frequent, while Xiao was relieved that she wasn’t so worried anymore, he couldn’t help but miss her fuming voice whenever she would scold him over the phone.
Venti practically begged him to meet at his place for a change. While he was hesitant at first, he couldn’t decline. They were making progress, steadily. And Venti was never one to complain, he would always message him if he had his extra inputs. He didn’t have to; he didn’t have to bother messaging Xiao about what he wanted to interchange in some of the songs.
Because by some inexplicable way, he’d always make Xiao’s writings even better than they initially were.
That’s a full time songwriter for you.
Jean offered him a ride to Venti’s manor, claiming that her boss wanted him to have the finest experience fit for someone of his stature. He didn’t get what Venti meant by that.
“They’re holding a special ‘Christmas Gathering’ over there.” Jean sounded drained, slouching her tight shoulders.
“Isn’t it a bit too early for that?”
“Beats me, they always do this.”
Arriving at the familiar front gate, he was dropped off near the entrance.
While he’s seen the manor numerous times already, it never failed to surprise him with each visit. It was large enough to overshadow the neighboring houses, it’s elegance fit for someone of great nobility, making Xiao feel out of place.
But if this was at the request of Venti, he’d dare not decline it.
He staggered behind one of the tall trees in the front yard, staring at the driveway as more and more cars started pulling up, Xiao assumed they were Venti’s well esteemed guests.
This was something he had not been prepared nor had the energy for.
He felt something jerk the back of his collar, pulling him away.
“Xiao, is that you?”
Recognizing his voice, Xiao breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, what are you doing out here? It’s freezing.”
It was freezing. At least enough to make Xiao’s teeth chatter at the cold. Or was it just him? He wasn’t sure. Lately he’s been sensitive to lower temperatures like this. While it wasn’t a sign of anything bad, it didn’t look like anything good could come out of it either.
Venti leaned into his ear, whispering.
“I was looking for you.”
Xiao knit his brows, removing his burgundy coat and dropping it onto Venti’s thin frame. “Nevermind that, let’s go inside.”
Before he could move any further, Venti tugged at his shirt.
“I don’t wanna go back in there, it’s suffocating.”
Xiao swerved his head around, looking inside the clear windows and seeing tons and tons of people chatting away without a care. Some held onto their liquor glasses throughout the entire event, intoxicating themselves with alcohol, while others spent their time talking about the latest gossip.
It did look suffocating.
“My manager told me this was a good start to being welcomed back into the industry, though it was originally just supposed to be me and you.” Venti drooped his head, eyes fixated on his furred shoes.
Xiao huffed, seeing his own breath escape from his mouth due to the frigid atmosphere. He grabbed onto Venti’s arms, carefully guiding him away from the yard.
“What did I tell you about apologizing.” he muttered gently.
He squeezed his hand, reassuring him of his presence. Although they contrasted eachother in personality by a landslide, they both hated anything involving socialism.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Can you take us to my room? It’s the first thing you see on the second floor once you get in.” Venti said that with a certain shyness to his tone. Xiao nodded to to himself in acknowledgment, scanning the surrounding area. He gingerly pulled Venti through one of the back doors, curling his fingers around his weightless wrist.
They slithered in between clusters of people, making their presence unnoticeable by shielding their faces with sleeved arms. Fortunately, everyone was too preoccupied to even glance their way, which gave them the perfect opportunity to escape the banquet and keep time to themselves.
Xiao scurried over to the staircase, legs bolting forward without hesitation, he looked back to check on Venti expecting to see an uncomfortable frown but instead encountering a wide smile. Before he could question it, Venti zoomed ahead of him, finding his way into the bedroom and leading Xiao inside. He tiptoed next to one of the drawers, flicking on the lights.
“Gosh, I haven’t touched that thing in ages.” Venti retracted his hand away from the light switch, wiping off the coat of dust on his finger. “You don’t exactly need light in my situation.” He explained, shrugging both shoulders.
Xiao’s eyes darted around the room, examining the walls, the decor, the furnishing. Everything.
And everything practically screamed Venti.
The wallpaper was viridescent, covered with small emblems that patterned the top of the design. The curtains that blanketed the wide windows were translucent, the afternoon light seeping through the fabric and bouncing off the gleaming surfaces.
Posters upon posters plastered on random places on the walls, along with a few framed pictures of Venti’s achievements throughout his career.
He sat himself on Venti’s lofty bed, flopping his back onto the soft mattress, feeling it bounce at the sudden movement.
Venti aimlessly searched through one of the mini fridges situated in the corner of his room, pulling out an unopened bottle of what Xiao might have guessed was champagne. Venti grinned at him, shaking the bottle in one hand and raising his eyebrows.
“I don’t drink.” Xiao mumbled, spreading his arms wide across the bedsheet.
“More for me then!” Venti cheered, sticking the corkscrew into the top of the bottle.
“Venti.” Xiao mimicked the tone of how a father would scold their son. Venti pouted, lousily putting the bubbly liquor back into the refrigerator, leaving the corkscrew in.
“Then what else is there to do? Don’t even get me started on writing, I’m too bummed to even do that.” Venti sank next to Xiao, eyes blankly looking up at the ceiling.
Xiao shifted his body, turning to face Venti. He leaned the side of his head onto his palm, taking in his breathtaking features. His hand reached out to touch Venti’s hair, feeling him flinch at upon contact.
Xiao twirled the colored strands in between his fingers, letting it slide through the gaps.
“You don’t braid your hair anymore.”
“Where’d you get that from?”
Venti averted from his touch, pulling back his tangled hair, bashful.
“I mean, what’s the point? I can’t even see myself in the mirror.”
Xiao exhaled through his nose, sitting upright. He nudged Venti on his side, telling him to flump down on the carpet next to the bed.
Obeying in confusion, he sat in front of Xiao, his small back facing towards him.
Xiao yanked a thin hair tie off his wrist, thankful that he wore it today.
With swift movements he buried his hands into Venti’s hair, combing it with his slender fingers. He divided the back of his hair into two parts, grabbing one bunch and leaving the rest to hang loosely on his shoulder.
Skillfully, he intertwined his strands of hair into a simple, low braid on one side.
Venti gently reached up to touch the braid, eyes widening at how neatly it was done.
“You’re good.” Venti commended, smoothing his styled hair.
“I used to do this with my sister when we were younger.”
Venti made a quiet ‘Ahhh’ sound, staring off into the distance. As soon as Xiao was about to tie off the second braid, he felt his hands pause, hovering lightly above his head.
Venti perked his head up, holding onto the braid Xiao left unfinished.
“Is something the matter?”
Xiao felt the walls cave in, a wave of nausea washing over him. He watched as his hands twitched uncontrollably, his fingers went stiff to the point he couldn’t even bend them. He was panicking now, reeling back to realization. That he hasn’t escaped his fate, that his life was bound to end sooner or later. That there was nothing else that could prevent the inevitable from happening.
Venti fearfully called out his name. “Xiao?”
All Xiao could manage to respond with, was a hum; a hum that sounded like a dog whimpering. A helpless cry that came from within his hollow, deteriorating body.
“Venti..” His voice was barely a whisper.
Venti knit his brows, curling his hands around his, putting them in a secure envelop of warmth.
“Hey, you gotta tell me what’s going on.” Venti’s usually playful voice had become stern.
Xiao didn’t want to.
He didn’t want to tell Venti, not when he still had the strength to fight back, not when he still had the strength to buy himself some time.
“I don’t…want to worry you.”
Venti’s lips parted, he leaned closer to Xiao, still holding onto his trembling hands.
“Whether you’re fine or not, I’ll still be worried, because I care.” He said those words so gently; gentle enough to convince Xiao it wasn’t going to help if Venti found out another way. A way that didn’t come from him directly.
Venti had every right to know.
And so, he sucked in a deep breath, feeling his lungs contract. He gazed deeply into Venti’s eyes, seeing the concern that sit behind them. While it broke his heart to tell Venti, he wasn’t so selfish as to keep it to himself any longer.
Venti’s grip on his hands tightened, his knuckles turning white from the force he exerted.
“You are?” Venti’s voice was shaky, like he couldn’t yet process the weight behind Xiao’s words.
“And I’m not going to get better.”
Venti fell silent, his smile was wobbly, struggling to hold it up, he desperately tried to stop himself from breaking down.
In his mind, he pleaded and pleaded for it not to be true. That Xiao’s sickness was only going to be temporary. Though he’d be lying if he said he didn’t notice anything the past few days.
How Xiao barely even touched his food whenever they ate out, lying about being too full to stomach anything down.
How Xiao wouldn’t respond to him sometimes, and he had to repeat everything to him over and over.
How Xiao’s stamina was slowly decreasing, and they’d have to take a rest even if it was just a short walk.
Venti couldn’t see the expression on Xiao’s face, but something urged him to cup his his cheeks. They were damp, meaning that Xiao was crying. Meaning that Xiao was too tired to hold back his tears.
How long has been Xiao bottling up his feelings?
How long has he been fighting alone?
How long does he have left.
A flurry of questions pulled at Venti’s thoughts, clouding his head. He wasted no time, spreading his arms open, wrapping them around Xiao’s shivering form.
“Thank you for telling me.”
Xiao felt his bottom lip quiver at those words, snuggling into Venti’s embrace. He didn’t want to let go of him, he wanted to be curled close to his body for now, feeling his warmth.
“We’ll get through this together, so stay strong for me.” Now Venti’s tears were spilling out, gracefully trailing down the sides of his ashen face. He wanted to do something; something that would keep Xiao’s mind off his pain.
“Do you paint your nails?” Venti couldn’t think of anything else.
“You know what, nevermind, I was planning to paint them either way.” Venti clumsily felt under the bed, reaching for a nail polish bottle he’d left untouched since he first lost his sight.
“I have…Acoustic Neuroma, by the way.” Xiao mumbled, resting his head onto Venti’s chest as he searched for the missing bottle.
Venti hummed, pretending to listen. In truth he didn’t want to hear any more of the details, he didn’t have the heart to even imagine what Xiao was experiencing.
“I don’t really know much about it…But I do know it initially wasn’t supposed to be fatal.” Xiao continued.
Venti swallowed a lump in his throat, blinking away the tears that pricked the corner of his eyes. “Have you not tried surgery?”
“It’s too late for that now…There’s a chance I’ll just sustain nerve damage after, and eventually die either way.”
“Im sorry.” Xiao weakly whispered.
“What did we say about apologizing?” Venti tried to smile, finally retrieving the nail polish.
“Alright, give me your hands.”
Xiao gawked at him, pursing his lips tightly. “Do you even know what color you’re holding?”
“I’m not sure, is it pink?”
Venti chuckled, unscrewing the lid and pulling out the brush from the lacquer, the strong scent of chemical filling the air.
“I’m not so sure I trust you with that.” Xiao scoffed, staring at his limp hand in Venti’s.
“I may be blind, but I have a knack for these kinds of things!” Venti persuaded, already coating the nail on his thumb.
Xiao flinched at the cool liquid, turning away from Venti to let him do his work. He stared out the window, noticing that the sky was already starting to dim.
But there he saw it.
Something that made his uneasiness momentarily disappear.
“Looks like it’s snowing.” He mumbled, the volume of his voice quieting down.
Venti grinned upon hearing that.
“Oh! I’ve heard people say, that if you watch the first snowfall with someone, you’ll be together for a very long time.”
Xiao smiled, it was a weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. “That sounds nice.”
“But why not forever…” Venti asked himself.
Xiao blinked, biting the inside of his cheek.
“Why only for a long time, and not forever?” Venti’s eyes were downcast. Xiao felt his heart ache, his ears were ringing again.
“Because the universe is cruel, and it must break things if they’ve been happy for too long.”
Xiao continued to stare at the falling crystals of snow, not bothering to look back at Venti’s face, for it would only hurt him more.
Venti sighed inwardly, wiping a bead of sweat off his forehead.
Xiao lifted both his hands, analyzing Venti’s work.
“What do you think?”
He smiled, looking at the sloppy smudges of excess polish that were painted outside his nails. It was messy and unpleasant to look at, and yet he couldn’t stop his lips from curling up.
“It looks great.”
Those two words were words Xiao didn’t expect to hear in a hospital. The nurses he was already familiar with, greeted him as they walked in to check his vitals and change his IV fluid.
Venti wanted to accompany him on his monthly check-up for December, and as much as he wanted to oppose the idea of him being admitted for monitoring, he couldn’t win against Venti’s best wishes.
His health was declining at a rapid pace, and it was eerie to think he didn’t even notice his illness was about to reach its final stage in a few months time.
Venti, being the persistent person he was, offered to pay for his hospitalization fees.
He said it was strictly for work ethics, but Xiao didn’t believe that.
Venti sat next to his bed, settling for the plastic chair that was provided by the hospital. He was studiously writing something down, letters overlapping eachother, making the sentences inky and discernible. He wondered if Venti was planning to make Jean decode everything he wrote once he could see again.
“What are you writing?” Xiao didn’t even notice how hoarse his voice was, it felt like sandpaper being rubbed onto the back of his throat. He coughed, making his head pound at the sudden movement.
Venti paused to hand him a bottle of water that had been on top of one of the coffee tables.
He gratefully accepted, chugging down the lukewarm drink.
“I’m just jotting down a few ideas for the refrain you started the other day.”
“Are you referring to the one I spent hours working on?” Xiao mumbled sarcastically, leaning back into his pillows.
“Yeah! Couldn’t wait to finish it after you told me about it.” He gleefully replied, tucking a stray lock of hair behind his ear.
Xiao noticed Venti was starting to wear his hair like how he used to, keeping his signature braids, with Xiao’s assistance of course. He claimed that no one could do it better than Xiao.
He stared at Venti regretfully, he didn’t like this. He didn’t like keeping Venti in here, in a hospital. Everything about this place set Xiao off, he could only imagine what Venti was feeling, thinking he had to go here everyday just to get his work done.
“Venti, I think you should go home for today.” While he enjoyed his company, Xiao wasn’t selfish enough to let him be cooped up in here. It wasn’t healthy for him, what Venti needed was a safe environment where he could recover; an environment that would let him heal and get his vision back.
This definitely wasn’t the place for it.
“I’m not leaving no matter how hard you try to convince me!” Venti challenged, smirking at him.
“Venti, it’s Christmas for god’s sake, you should be out there celebrating with your friends.” Xiao raised his voice, careful not to strain his brittle throat.
“And I decided, I’d rather spend Christmas with you.” Venti set down the notebook he was writing on, giving Xiao his full attention.
“Why?” Xiao sounded distraught.
“Because I’m scared, that’s why.” Venti shuddered, standing up and pushing back his chair.
“There’s going to be plenty more opportunities to celebrate in the future, but how do you know you’ll still be here?”
Xiao dug his nails into the sheets, fighting back the tears that threatened to prick at his dry, unfeeling eyes. He was powerless, he couldn’t do so much as comfort Venti without breaking down himself.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.” Venti fell back into his chair, eyes staring down at the floor, hoping that Xiao couldn’t see any traces of his tear stained cheeks.
He shuffled closer to him, dragging the chair from underneath.
“I was supposed to buy you a present, but I realized, I don’t really know any of your interests, even after I’ve known you for almost 5 months now.” Venti poked a finger at Xiao’s arm.
“I like Almond Tofu.”
Venti’s head perked up, hurriedly inching even closer to Xiao upon hearing him speak.
“Almond Tofu? Can’t say I’ve heard of it before.”
“It’s a dish I usually order at a restaurant in Liyue.” Xiao sighed heavily as he reminisced. He felt Venti lean his chin on his sagging shoulder, silently listening to his every word. Xiao turned his body to face him, careful not to lay on his sore arm that had been jabbed by countless needles during his stay here.
He reached under the mattress, turning a switch to adjust the railings that guarded his bed.
Venti exhaled, climbing next to him. He caved himself into Xiao’s chest, wrapping an arm around his side tenderly.
“Xiao, what is your greatest wish? You know—a Christmas wish.” Venti tried to keep their conversation going, he wanted to hear Xiao’s voice more, afraid that he’d forget it over time.
Xiao hummed in thought, rubbing Venti’s arm with his weak hand.
Venti felt his cheeks warm at those simple words. He cleared his throat, burying his face into what seemed like the crook of Xiao’s neck. Attempting to laugh it off, he pursed his lips.
“That’s the most cliché thing I’ve ever heard.”
Xiao snorted, chuckling in between a few coughs.
“Yeah? Then what’s your Christmas wish?”
“My wish?” Venti dared, raising a brow.
“I wish to see the world again; to go to every beautiful place on this earth and see it with my own eyes.” He smiled.
“And I wish to see it with you.”
“Isn’t that basically the same as my wish?”
“It’s not the same! Yours isn’t as specific.”
Venti huffed, crossing his arms. He squirmed his body away from his embrace to let Xiao have a better look at him.
“I’ll try.” Xiao uttered, he gazed longingly at Venti, who was sitting with wide eyes.
“I’ll try to live long enough for your wish to come true.”
Even Venti knew that was far-fetched; that it was impossible. They both knew that, and yet they hung onto it and never let go, clinging onto the false hope it gave them.
He was glad to know Xiao still had enough strength to stay hopeful at least, even after things would only get worse from here on out.
Venti felt something soft and warm make contact with his lips. It was barely a peck, but it made his heart flutter.
“What was that?”
Xiao stammered, awkwardly looking away from his dazed face.
“…It was a kiss.”
“Please tell me it was from you.”
“There’s no one else in here you idiot.”
Venti grinned widely, holding onto Xiao’s face and pulling it close to his; close enough for their foreheads to touch.
“Good, now do it again.”
Xiao stared at Venti’s lips, gingerly running his thumb over it, tracing small circles. He melted into the kiss first, waiting for Venti to kiss back. And so he did, kissing him back like it was the end of the world.
They pulled apart, lightly panting for air.
Venti tilted his head at him, unable to stop a smile from forming.
“Why’d you kiss me in the first place?”
“Isn’t that how mistletoe works..?”
Xiao swallowed, eyes darting around the place.
“We’re under mistletoe?”
“One of the nurses put it there earlier.”
Venti made a sound of realization, cuddling near Xiao. He closed his eyes, listening to his steady breaths; breaths that reminded him that Xiao was still here.
“Merry Christmas Xiao.”
They lay in eachother’s arms, neither one letting go. Xiao stared up at the ceiling, smiling to himself. Regardless if there was no mistletoe in the first place, he took Venti’s hand, and gently planted a kiss on the back.
After that day, things only went downhill.
Xiao’s condition only got worse as each day went by. What was supposed to be simple monitoring turned into permanent hospitalization. He reached the point where he couldn’t even stand up without toppling over. He was too weak to even get out of bed. Sooner or later he’d only rely on a machine as his lifeline, thinking his lungs would soon give out.
He grew thinner, paler, sicker.
His food palate had been limited to only mushed meals or liquid, since he couldn’t stomach anything solid down without throwing up.
The bags under his eyes were horribly dark, hinting that he couldn’t sleep without waking up into a fit of coughs.
Though lately, he’s constantly been slipping out of consciousness, dozing off longer than he normally should.
But what tugged at Venti’s heart the most was Xiao’s weak hearing.
Voices appeared muffled to Xiao, leaving Venti no other option but to always be near him so he could at least understand what he was saying. Venti was ashamed and felt selfish for thinking about his own desires; thinking that Xiao would never get to hear him say anything if his time ever came.
He didn’t want Xiao to leave like this; he didn’t want him to leave without even giving Venti a chance to properly see him.
He cared about Xiao so much, even if he didn’t even know what he looked like.
And so he stayed with Xiao for every minute of every day, going against his agency’s better judgment. He didn’t want to leave Xiao alone, not when he knew how painful it was to be alone. The fact he was dying made it infinitely worse.
He didn’t want Xiao to die alone.
He tried so hard to think of another reason but kept going back to the thought. That his only reason for staying so close to Xiao was because he knew he’d be gone soon.
“Xiao?” He softly cooed out his name.
Xiao grunted something in discomfort, eyes not even opening to look at him.
“Do you need anything?” Venti lightly held onto his shoulder, terrified to feel his bone almost sticking out of his flesh because of how thin he was. Xiao mindlessly grabbed Venti’s hand, shakily tracing letters onto his palm.
Venti flinched at how cold his fingers were; they were too cold. He strained his ear to hear Xiao’s labored breaths, each breath took more effort than the last, it unnerved him.
He didn’t even know how much pain he must be going through, only because he’d never complain nor tell if anything hurt.
But he could tell.
He could tell from the small winces Xiao made whenever he touched something remotely sensitive.
Venti perched himself adjacent to Xiao, he reached out his hands and cupped his face like he always did, trailing his thumbs across his features and visualizing him in his mind. His cheeks were sunken, not like how they used to be, his lips were chapped, the surface of his skin dry and rough.
“What…are you even doing.” Xiao murmured, voice barely even audible.
“I’m looking at you.”
Venti continued smoothing his sharp features with his hands, picturing every crease and pore as he ghosted his fingers over Xiao’s jawline.
“I bet you’re real handsome.” Venti mused, making Xiao scoff at him.
“You…probably need…another eye test.” He chortled weakly.
Venti wordlessly kissed his cheek, forcing a smile at him.
“About that, there’s something I have to tell you.” He felt the pit of his stomach churn, his heart hammering loudly in his head.
Xiao gently squeezed his hand, telling him to continue.
“Lately, I’ve been seeing little flashes of colors..sometimes, distorted figures.”
“My doctor said it’s a sign I might regain my vision in a few days.”
Venti turned away from Xiao, lightly scratching on his right cheek. He didn’t want to celebrate his healthiness in front of a dying person, it made him feel disgusted with himself.
“You don’t…seem too happy about it.” Xiao’s raspy voice reached his ears, making him bite the inside of his quivering lip.
“I thought….this was what you wanted.”
Venti shook his head, sucking in a deep breath of air to calm down. He scolded himself, feeling the familiar hot tears spill out on his already damp cheeks. He can’t cry, he mustn’t cry in front of Xiao again. It would only make him feel worse, and Venti didn’t want that. Not when Xiao was already in so much pain.
He wasn’t willing to become a burden to Xiao anymore, he didn’t want Xiao to feel like it was his responsibility whenever Venti felt bad about himself.
Xiao’s shaky voice wasn’t helping. He was struggling to speak; struggling to respond to Venti’s babbling nonsense, and yet he remained silent, afraid to break his heart with his words.
“Are you…afraid to see…what I look like?”
Venti felt his heart shatter.
A strangled sob ripped out of his aching chest. The tears didn’t listen to his pleas, they just kept streaming down his face. He couldn’t deny it anymore; he couldn’t deny that he was afraid.
Maybe he was lying to himself when he made that wish.
If regaining his vision meant the cost of seeing Xiao slowly withering away, then he’d rather be blind for the rest of his life.
“I…don’t resent you for thinking..that way.”
Venti was a coward; a coward that chose to run away from his problems rather than facing them head on.
He didn’t deserve Xiao’s sympathy.
He didn’t deserve Xiao’s every word, knowing that they may be his last.
It only scared him more when Xiao didn’t say anything else after.
Xiao hummed, his energy was too depleted to say anything else for the day.
Venti sighed in relief, easing his tense muscles.
“I should probably leave you to rest, being around me all the time isn’t good for your health.” He teased, about to leave his bed.
But when he felt a gentle tug on his shirt, he knew Xiao felt otherwise.
And so he stayed right by his side.
“Gosh—I really didn’t expect this.” Aether gaped at them over the phone, eyes flicking between Xiao and Venti who were both looking away from the camera, cheeks turning red.
“I wanted to Video Call because I was concerned, and here I see that my two friends are well off and now a sappy couple…”
Venti raised his hands in defense, waving at a bewildered Aether.
“Listen—I can explain.” Venti stammered, averting his blonde friend’s gaze. Recently, his sense of sight was starting to improve well enough for him to recognize figures, albeit still quite fuzzy.
“I don’t even wanna hear an explanation at this point, I knew something was gonna happen when Xiao started looking all
doe-eyed at your photo!” Aether folded his arms, setting down his phone by his desk.
“Oh?” Venti raised his brows, turning his head to face Xiao.
Venti bubbled out in laughter, holding the phone closer for him.
“In anyway, I’m glad that you’re both safe, though I’ll admit it pains me to see you like this, Xiao…”
Xiao swatted his hand at the phone, dismissing Aether’s negative thoughts. He rolled over on his side, leaving Venti to do the talking.
“Don’t mind him! He’s always like that.”
Aether nodded in acknowledgement, rubbing his chin. He wasn’t lying when he said it had hurt to see Xiao in this state. Of course Venti was the one next to him at present, but Aether knew so much more about Xiao, judging from the years they’ve spent together as friends.
“I only wanted to see how you guys were doing, I’ve still got some things to do and I’m sure Xiao needs rest…”
Venti bid him goodbye, waving his hand at him, being left with a black screen when Aether dropped the call. He shifted in his seat, looking at Xiao who was curling his legs closer to his chest.
He was shivering.
Venti couldn’t do anything to help with Xiao’s pain, but his mere presence soothed him in little ways.
He massaged Xiao’s back, rubbing his hands to warm his chilling skin.
Venti tried to look for something to distract Xiao with.
His eyes landed on a blurred shape of what he assumed to be a guitar in the corner of the room. He staggered over to it, clumsily holding it up and bringing it back to Xiao.
“Xiao, is this yours?” Venti called out loud enough for him to hear.
He grumbled, cautiously turning his throbbing body to look at whatever nuisance Venti was up to.
He affirmed, nodding his head.
Venti opened his mouth in awe, admiring the instrument. Sure it didn’t have the same feel as a normal guitar would but he was certain this was a vintage model.
He noticed the marker writings on the wood upon closer inspection, blinking at it rapidly to get a better look.
There were illegible sentences written on the sides and on the body of the guitar, which he couldn’t quite read yet.
“Hospitals…always..run out of paper.”
Venti eyed him, still holding onto the fret board. Xiao was probably referring to the time he’d been sick when he was younger.
“So…I always wrote on this…instead.” He stuttered, taking in another breath to voice out his words.
“Do you have…a marker on you?” The question caught Venti off guard, but nonetheless, he sneaked his hand into his bag rummaging for a sharpie.
He handed it to Xiao curiously.
Xiao feebly removed the lid, shakily writing onto the guitar as Venti held it in place.
Nothing but the subtle squeaks of the marker rubbing against the hard surface could be heard.
Satisfied, he set down the marker, weakly taking the guitar from Venti’s steady hands.
“What did you write?”
“I want you to…read it when…I’m gone.” He mumbled, covering the sentences he wrote with his palm.
Venti swallowed a lump in his throat, biting the edge of his tongue as he heard those words.
He could do nothing but nod in response.
Xiao blinked at his guitar, having a sense of sorrow tint his eyes. He hadn’t used it since he got bedridden, his fingers were to jittery to even play the right chords.
Venti felt Xiao stare at him, he covered his face in embarrassment. He didn’t realize how self-conscious he was when he could still see, only now noticing.
He saw Xiao pick something up from the cabinet beside his bed. It looked like pliers.
He grabbed onto the neck of his guitar and clipped off one of the strings, alarming Venti. He held onto Xiao’s wrist to stop him, only to see he was too late.
“Why did you do that?” A soft whine escaped Venti’s throat, looking pitifully at the broken guitar.
Xiao ignored him, pushing the stringed instrument back into the leather case. He turned away from Venti, holding onto the string he had mercilessly plucked off.
Venti watched him wearily, speechlessly wondering what he was up to.
He saw Xiao’s fingers slightly tremble as he coiled the copper string into a small circle, tying a lousy knot at the end.
“It was in perfectly good condition I don’t see why you—“
He was cut off by Xiao sliding the string through Venti’s finger, delicately pushing it back as though it would break if he wasn’t careful enough.
Venti parted his lips, looking at Xiao’s makeshift ring around what used to be a bare finger.
“It’s cheesy…I know.”
“I…saw it from…a movie I watched once.”
His words hung in the air, and Venti patiently waited for him to continue. Holding onto his breath as he inched himself closer than he already was.
“It’s…also the reason….why I met you in the f-first place.” Xiao choked out, hacking into another fit of breathless coughs. Venti soothed his lower back in an attempt to stabilize him.
He looked back at his hand.
“It’s perfect.” About to kiss him on the cheek, he felt a sheen of fresh tears gloss over his eyes, startling Xiao.
“Wh…Why are you crying?”
“It’s because can see you.”
Xiao was running out of time.
Venti was by any means no medical expert, but even he knew this.
From the way Xiao wouldn’t even respond to him when he whispered his name.
From the way Xiao’s face would distort every few seconds, groaning out in pain.
From the way his breaths were merely strangled gasps of air, not even filling half of his hollowed lungs.
But Venti tried; he desperately tried to shake away his thoughts, focusing on one thing, and one thing alone.
Which was the fact that Xiao was still here.
And Venti could see him with his own eyes.
He wasn’t looking at the wires, the tubes, the needles.
He was looking at Xiao.
And Xiao was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes on.
He never took his gaze off of him. He gave Xiao his full, undivided attention, not wanting to waste a second by looking away.
He filled his thoughts with him, every paragraph, every phrase, every word that Xiao had said was engraved into his mind, repeating over and over and over.
He clutched onto Xiao’s thin hospital gown, pulling himself closer to embrace his boney form.
He traced his fingers along the sides of Xiao’s face, moving away stray hairs and admiring his peaceful expression.
In fact, it was too peaceful.
But Venti would listen for his rattled breaths, as a reminder everytime he would doubt Xiao’s best efforts to keep fighting.
“Xiao?” He would say his name every 5 minutes to reassure himself, and Xiao would reply with a quiet hum to answer.
“I’m almost finished with our album.”
He emphasized on the word ‘our.’
Because it was true. Without Xiao, he never would have bounced back from the stump in his career, he never would have escaped his fear of the world, he never would have gotten his sight back if not for him.
Everything was because of him.
And it hurt to think that the cause of his devastation would also be him.
“Xiao, thank you…for getting me this far.”
“Thank you, for making me love music again.” He whispered into Xiao’s ear, afraid he didn’t hear him.
He wanted to keep going, but he didn’t want to intrude Xiao’s concentrated thoughts to hang on to whatever strength he had left. He wasn’t even sure if Xiao could still hear him.
But he didn’t care, he wanted to keep talking. He wanted to keep acknowledging him. He wanted Xiao to see he wasn’t being treated like a dying person, but as a person who held a special place in Venti’s painful heart.
He peeked out the window, seeing the sky fade to nightfall.
It was nice to see it again, the sky.
But not as nice as he felt when he stared earnestly at Xiao’s features. It didn’t matter how pale his skin was, how dry his lips and how heavy his bags were.
Because nothing would ever ruin the image he had of Xiao.
Nothing would ruin how alluring Xiao was to him.
He snuggled himself closer, caving into the arm Xiao left open for him to crawl next to.
And he stayed like that, he didn’t know how many hours had passed by with him just leaning sideways and adoring Xiao.
“…Why are you…still up…” A pained wince escaped from Xiao’s lips.
Venti fidgeted with his fingers, lowering his head.
“I’m just looking at your face.”
Xiao let out an inaudible scoff, feeling his sides hurt while doing so.
“My…face is not something worth marveling at…”
“…..What’s the…real reason?”
Despite Xiao not even fluttering his eyes open to look at him, he saw right through Venti’s facade. He was transparent, his emotions were just overflowing out of every pore in his body.
“I’m scared to close my eyes and not see you when I wake up.”
He felt a guttural sob rip out of his chest, melting into Xiao’s stiff embrace. He was so afraid, he said he’d be strong but nothing could ever prepare him for Xiao’s final moments.
“….I’ll be right here.” Xiao didn’t stammer when he said that. Which gave Venti hope, looking at him under a new light.
He closed his eyes, the sound of Xiao’s continuous breaths lulling him to sleep.
Venti felt the sun kiss his closed eyelids, making him stir amidst his undisturbed slumber.
He had a wonderful dream last night, giving him a mild inspiration to add to the chorus of the final song in the album.
He couldn’t tell if he was in a good mood because of the dream or because of the image of Xiao’s face popping into his head.
He felt his lips quirk up into a smile.
But then he felt that something was off about the air that surrounded him.
Something was wrong.
He couldn’t hear Xiao’s breaths anymore.
He kept his eyes tightly shut, curling his legs close to his chest and repeating the same thoughts in his head until it felt like hysteria.
He didn’t want to see it.
He didn’t want to see anything.
He’d just close his eyes and hope the dreadful ache of his heart would go away and that Xiao was just sleeping. If he couldn’t see it; it wasn’t real.
It wasn’t real.
His shoulders lightly wavered, chin wrinkling.
He didn’t want to see the world anymore.
He didn’t want to see a world without him.
He wanted to go back to how it used to be, when he still couldn’t see anything. Where everything was just pitch black. Where everything he wanted to envision would just be behind his eyes and not right in front of him.
He was a coward that way, but he was too scared to turn around and open his eyes. Too scared to know how he would feel to see Xiao when he opened them.
Venti squeezed Xiao’s hand.
It was cold, so terribly cold.
Venti felt his bottom lip wobble.
He slowly lifted up his eyelids, already feeling the tears build up in the corner of his eyes.
And his world fell apart.
There lay Xiao’s unmoving body, heart without a pulse, without a soul, without so much as a twitch that would tell Venti he was still there.
Venti’s trembling hands made it’s way to cup Xiao’s face. He leaned in closer, peppering his cheeks with a million kisses, each one more passionate than the last.
It didn’t sink in yet. That he was gone.
But when it finally did, his heart shattered.
A horrid cry tore itself out of his throat.
He felt his lungs burn, throat aching as he let out a shrilling scream that hurt his ears.
Every sob that escaped him made his shoulders jerk up, body wreathing as his heart was being torn apart by grief.
He didn’t even care if anybody heard him.
And so he continued to sob into Xiao’s empty chest, pounding his fist onto it lightly, as though he was trying to pump his heart back to life.
He had so much things he still had to say to Xiao, so much things he wanted to do.
It wasn’t fair.
He didn’t know Xiao long enough yet, he hasn’t seen Xiao’s favorite park yet, he hasn’t taken Xiao back to his favorite restaurant yet.
Nothing could stop his wailing, even as he felt the nurses pry him off Xiao’s body.
His name kept ringing in his head, fearful that he’d forget it.
Venti didn’t attend the funeral.
He didn’t want to see the funeral.
He repeated the same nuisance he’d been voicing in his thoughts for the past 4 days now. He remained locked in his room, not even bothering to eat or bathe.
Venti didn’t even bother doing anything.
Because everything he did reminded him of Xiao.
He lay flat on his bed, numbly staring at the ceiling. His eyes were dry and puffy from crying. He didn’t even notice he had stopped, growing too accustomed with the tears.
His phone constantly kept buzzing, countless messages and missed calls flooding his notifications.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
He appreciated the concern, but he didn’t have the energy to reply to any of them, putting his phone on silent mode and tossing it far away from his side.
His ears perked up at the knock he heard on his door, thinking it was old fashioned for people to still be doing that when doorbells existed.
Sluggishly, he lurched himself over to the window, peeking through the gaps of the closed blinds.
He saw a young woman waiting outside his door, she had light blue hair that fringed the sides of her petite face.
She had rosy cheeks and plump lips, and her eyes were full of life.
He wasn’t heartless enough to turn her down, now when she looked so pure and kind hearted.
He reluctantly turned the knob, hearing the door creak open.
She smiled at him warmly, clasping her hands together in gratitude.
“Sorry…do I know you?” Venti raised a brow, rubbing an eye with his knuckle.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you in person, you may know me as Ganyu, Xiao’s sister.”
Venti’s eyes widened as she spoke.
He pulled himself back to realization, making knots twist in his stomach.
He was so fixated on how awful he’d been feeling, that he didn’t even make time to think about how she mourned Xiao’s death.
The one person Xiao kept rambling to him about when he had nothing else to say.
The one person who made Xiao’s expression soften just upon the mention of her name.
The one person that stood by Xiao all his life.
He felt disgusted with himself. He didn’t even think to call Ganyu when Xiao was still alive and breathing in the hospital. She didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to him.
Venti couldn’t imagine what it must feel like for her, and yet there she was standing there, looking at him with the sweetest eyes he’d ever seen.
“I heard you were with Xiao during his last moments..”
“…But I wasn’t—-“
She walked closer to him, spreading her arms wide open and wrapping them around his shoulders.
“Thank you so much, for everything…”
Venti wanted to cry again. He felt remorseful for not attending the funeral now.
Ganyu’s grip was firm and secure, but at the same time it was so gentle.
He felt something drip onto his shirt, realizing Ganyu was now sobbing into his chest as they embraced.
She let go first, wiping at her eyes in embarrassment.
“I apologize…for my informality.” She bowed, still sniffling.
“No, it’s okay.” Venti reassured.
She bent sideways, picking something up from the doorstep.
It was Xiao’s guitar.
He’d almost forgotten about it, too caught up in his grief to get to reading whatever message Xiao left behind.
“He wanted you to have this.”
She gingerly rested it in his arms.
“I still have to make a few arrangements and sign a lot of documents…But if you ever feel the need to call me, please don’t hesitate.” She offered him a small piece of paper, tucking it into his folded arms.
She bid him farewell, walking away from the porch and waving.
Venti forced a weak smile, closing the door and hearing it click shut.
He clutched the guitar near his chest, unzipping the case with a shaky hand.
He pulled out the instrument, peeling off the case and setting it aside.
Numerous sentences were neatly written on the surface, making Venti tear up.
All this was Xiao.
Everything about it was Xiao.
He read through some of the writing on the side.
‘Why do hospitals always smell so weird?’
‘Ganyu needs to eat more, she’s already fine the way she is.’
‘I can’t find the right word to put in this song I’m writing.’
Venti chuckled, smoothing his hands across the letters.
Xiao had always been so observant with everything around him.
He turned the guitar over so it lay flatly on its back and the sentence just below the sound hole caught his attention.
He held his breath as he read it.
To my first snow,
my first kiss,
and my last love.
An wobbly arrow was drown underneath the words, pointing inside the guitar’s hole.
Curiously, Venti pulled back the remaining strings to reach inside, feeling his hand make contact with an envelope.
He jerked it out of the guitar, stumbling at the sudden force.
He flipped over the white envelope, examining it.
Carefully, he peeled flap open, slipping out the folded piece of paper inside it.
He prepared himself, holding back the urge to breakdown.
I don’t usually write things like this but I figured, there are some things I won’t be able to say to you in person.
Not because I don’t want to, but because of the little time I have left.
If can read this, it means you’ve finally regained your vision, and I’m glad.
First of all, I’m sorry I lied to you.
I’m sorry I lied about there being a mistletoe as an excuse to kiss you because I was impatient.
I’m sorry I lied about being fine whenever you asked me if I was okay.
I’m sorry I lied about making your wish come true, when I know I’m not strong enough to do that.
I’m sorry for a lot of things, like not being able to see you off when you finally release our album.
For whatever it’s worth, please promise me you’ll pull through with it.
I know you worked hard on it, and hey, I put in my fair share.
I only spent 7 months with you, and I feel that it’s not enough.
I know you feel that way too.
But my favorite month with you would have to be December.
Although every day I spent with you was special, December was the month that swayed me the most.
The way you passionately stared at me when you got paint all over my nails.
The way your lips caressed mine so gently that it made my heart flutter everytime I thought about it.
The way you just lay by my side, embracing me so tightly as though every minute could have been my last.
If I could go back to December, and relive all those little moments we had again, then I’d want nothing more in life.
And I didn’t have an answer to your question before, but I do know.
Yes, I have been in love, I’ve been so helplessly in love with someone I know I have to leave soon, and I hope he doesn’t resent me for it.
I wrote the address to the park we visited behind this letter, in case you wanted to see it with your own eyes.
Though you might not want to accept it at first, I hope you fulfill your dream to see the world.
And I’m sorry you’ll have to see the world without me.
Thank you, Venti.
For making every second of of every day worth living.
I love you,
Venti’s eyes kept scanning up and down the letter, drilling every word into his head.
He tightened his lips, holding back his tears in fear of ruining the paper.
He pulled it close to him, lightly planting a kiss on the corner, recalling some of the pleas Xiao wrote.
As much as it tore his heart, he needed to accept it.
He needed to accept seeing the world with dull colors, less vibrant without Xiao’s endearing smile.
He needed to go to all of Xiao’s favorite places, without him.
He needed to sing the songs he wrote at concerts for people to hear; for people to know of the man he loved with his entire being. He wanted to tell them how much he meant to him and how unfair the universe was to take him away.
While his heart wasn’t ready for a lot of things, he would try; he would try to piece himself back up again.
To not regret being taught by the blindness that haunted him for months.
Thinking back on everything, he lead on one thought.
That he resented Xiao for only one thing.
He wish he never met Xiao sometimes.
Maybe then he’d allow himself to be loved by another person,
he’d let another stranger’s name become something he was too familiar with,
he’d let another’s touch make his heart ache when it wasn’t present.
But he didn’t want to, because he met Xiao.
He never wanted to fall in love again, not because he was afraid.
But because he’d never love another person as much as he loved Xiao, and he was sure of that.
He was willing to move on with his life, but never from the one that gave his life meaning.
He looked at his hand, tears welling up at the sight of Xiao’s ring, and then he smiled.
Thank you for making me see the beauty of the world.