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string of pearls

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By the time Gorou took his first steps into so-called adulthood, he had spent most of his life among the ranks of the army. Sleeping shoulder to shoulder with his comrades, sharing stories from their past, drinking by the fire… Pleasant habits he had grown to cherish.

In times of war, every dinner was a party, because every night could be the last one for some of the gathered soldiers. Their existences were precariously hanging on a thread, a golden string that could be cut in the blink of an eye without leaving any trace behind.

Nobody paid much attention to birthdays. Gorou wasn’t sure whether it was a unique tradition of the Sangonomiya troops or a worldwide custom, but that was the environment he was raised in. What was there to celebrate when a pawn of the Shogunate could slit your throat at the slightest distraction? Life back in Fort Fujitou had been nothing but survival, with the continuous nagging fear lingering at the back of every soldier’s mind.

For someone like Gorou, who had been trained to fight since birth, and who was taught how to wield a bow before he learned how to spell his name, peace was an unfamiliar concept. He hadn’t known it for a long time, perhaps never: training was a daily test, and serving under Her Excellency’s lead was a never-ending battle against injustice.

It wasn’t surprising, then, that Gorou’s world would be shaken from the inside out at the end of the war. With the peace talks gone like water under the bridge, and the contrasts between the Resistance and the Shogunate quelled… What was left on Teyvat for him? What purpose could he possibly serve after casting aside his weapon, the only companion he had ever known?

His days in Bourou Village turned into a tangle of boring chores, repeating over and over in an immutable loop. Gorou woke up at dawn, went for a run down the seashore, and trained with his bow. He ate with his fellow soldiers, attended silent meetings with Her Excellency, and took naps under the sun's rays. He replied to the readers of That’s Life , mailed them out to Yae Publishing House, and forgot about it until a new batch would come in, dropped in front of his door like disposable trash.

And Gorou’s nights… Those mysterious, vast canvases of star-sprinkled skies above his head, when the only sources of warmth and comfort had once been the crackling bonfire and the alcohol in his veins, were now made of painful nothingness.

No war meant no celebrations. No comrades to raise a glass with. No motivational speeches to give before an assault. No long walks along the beach to soothe his worries about the incoming battle. Gorou couldn’t help but feel like the world had lost part of its shine, that delicious, trembling thrill of danger that led people to cherish every hour they were allowed to live.

Bearing such concerns in his chest, Gorou was naturally unfazed when May rolled in and, along with it, his birthday hovered on the horizon. He forgot about the date most years, remembering either at the end of the day, or only thanks to Her Excellency mentioning it in her greeting. And, when he did remember, Gorou still didn’t feel in the mood to party.

Kazuha had a different opinion on the matter. He broached the topic one day, when they were sitting on the wooden stools outside Shimura’s restaurant. His silver locks tied up in a loose high ponytail, Kazuha was stirring his soup with slow movements of his bandaged hand, deep in thought.

“I understand your reasons for not celebrating,” Kazuha said, as soft-spoken as ever, his voice gentler than the warm sea breeze on a summer morning. “However, please let me treat you to a nice meal, at least. You have done so much for Inazuma, and for me… I wish to repay your kindness.”

Gorou buried his nose in his bowl, desperate to avoid his gaze. He knew that, if he stared for too long in Kazuha’s red irises, he would end up accepting anything he’d ask. That was just the effect the man had on him and his weak heart. “Thanks, Kazuha, but there’s no need. I did my job, and that’s it.”

He was a soldier, after all. Protecting Watatsumi Island and its people was part of his duty as a general, much like shielding the innocent and the poor. His open opposition to the Vision Hunt Decree was a natural consequence of his morals. And, about Kazuha… Wasn’t it honorable for a man to do whatever in his power to relieve the pain of his loved ones?

“Not even a private dinner?” Kazuha changed his offer a little, making it sound more appealing to Gorou and his needs. “Before my life as a wanderer began, I used to celebrate every worthy occasion at Uyuu Restaurant with my dear friend. The food is delicious, the sake of the finest quality, and the atmosphere in the upper-floor rooms isn’t as busy as it is on the ground floor.”

Gorou thought about it. There was more than the eye could see behind his opinion of birthdays and their role in people’s lives. He wasn’t a shallow man— a bit naive, perhaps, and inexperienced in any field that wasn’t war. However, he rarely disliked something: when he did, it was always for a good reason.

What were birthdays if not a reminder that he was aging? During his years of service, how many soldiers had lost their lives before they could reach his current age? Gorou remembered their faces, one by one. They were engraved in the back of his eyes with blots of permanent ink.

From how he saw it, indulging in carefree celebrations was disrespectful towards those men who weren’t given a chance. Young people who, had they survived the war, would be leading bright and cheerful lives, rather than the empty, confusing state of existence Gorou had going on.

The advice he received from others couldn’t shake his beliefs. Her Excellency had tried countless times to convince him that the loss of lives resulting from the war was not Gorou’s burden to carry, that he had done a flawless job as a general, and that nobody would blame him for the soldiers' deaths.

“War is cruel,” Kokomi used to say. “On the battlefield, it’s my life or yours. Soldiers know what they’re risking. They’re willing to give their everything for the sake of what they hold dear. You have nothing to feel guilty for, Gorou.”

Gorou wished it wasn’t so hard to believe.

But Kazuha had a talent for tempting him with utmost ease. If not the occasion, it was the offer that Gorou was dying to accept. A meal alone with his boyfriend, enveloped in the thick warmth of candles and the cozy atmosphere of a restaurant… Something that rarely happened as of late.

If he accepted to go, Gorou knew that Kazuha would wear his best outfit. He would get all dolled up for him, and tie his hair in the prettiest ways he knew— he would be drop-dead gorgeous for sure. How could Gorou pass up such a golden opportunity to see his beloved at his peak beauty? Time spent with him was hardly ever wasted, perhaps the only moments when he truly felt alive.

“Alright,” Gorou accepted the invite. “But please, let’s make it private, okay? I don’t want to be at the center of attention for too long. Just us will be perfect.”

Though Kazuha’s composure hardly ever cracked, Gorou had learned to read his emotions from the tiniest details— the curve of his lips, the wrinkles on his forehead, the glimmer in his eyes. And what he saw in that instant was nothing but the purest joy.

“Sounds good to me,” Kazuha said. “I’m looking forward to our date, my general.”

Gorou felt dizzy.



Slowly but surely, the idea grew on Gorou.

After accepting Kazuha’s proposal on a whim, guided by selfishness and greed (and by his loving heart, that is), he had sought Her Excellency’s advice, fearing he might have accidentally trampled all over his own principles. But she had laughed, sweet as ever, and simply said, “Gorou, you worry too much! Enjoy your day.”

And thus had begun yet another game of waiting for Gorou’s poor soul. Kazuha was skilled at keeping secrets: whenever Gorou dared to ask him for more details, curious about what the big plan would be, the ronin’s answer never changed. “Sit still, my love,” Kazuha would say. “Wait for the moment to come.” Something Gorou was terrible at.

If he pouted, Kazuha would scold him. “I cannot risk ruining the surprise for you,” he said. “I promise it will be perfect, and that you won’t regret placing your trust in me. For now, though, you must exercise patience.”

Gorou tried. Gods knew he tried. He tried his damn best . His dog instincts were difficult to suppress sometimes, his tail wagging along with the flutters of his emotions, his ears twitching whenever something caught his attention. If that wasn’t enough to keep under control on a daily basis, with his dog blood came also one more urge to resist: a deep-rooted, insatiable curiosity.

But despite his attempts at following Kazuha, sneaking behind him as he left their rented room at Komore Teahouse, the man was too slippery for him to keep up. A gust of wind, a blink of the eye, and Kazuha was gone— nowhere to be seen, as if merging with the air itself.

“Trust me,” Kazuha insisted after Gorou resorted to begging and bawling. “I will make sure you have the best birthday of your life, Gorou.”

It was unfair. Gorou wanted to know everything. What they would do, how they would need to dress, what they would eat… He had never celebrated a birthday before, and wasn’t aware of the customs of the occasion. A scrap of information would have been enough to quench Gorou’s thirst— yet, not a word escaped Kazuha’s sealed lips.

Gorou was powerless before Kazuha’s stubborn silence. Believing his optimistic promises, and trusting Kazuha’s reliability and resourcefulness, was everything he could do.



The first half of the month went by smoothly, the fateful date approaching gradually like a ship drawing closer on the horizon. Their sojourn in Inazuma City went on longer than they had originally planned, and Kazuha was scheming behind Gorou’s back for his birthday celebration.

Except, the last time they met for lunch before the big day, Kazuha was paler than a ghost. They were sitting at Shimura’s restaurant, as usual, both taking a break from their busy schedules.

While Kazuha discussed complicated things over at Kamisato Estate, matters of swordsmithing and lost family lineage, Gorou withdrew to the warehouse of Yae Publishing House, where he signed autographs and wrote reviews all afternoon long.

On that day, there was no trace of the laid-back Kazuha he had grown to know and love. He was unceremoniously perched on his wooden stool, his eyelids heavy, circles darker than ink beneath them. If they hadn’t slept together, Gorou might believe he had pulled an all-nighter.

“Are you okay?” Gorou asked. Kazuha nodded faintly, absent-mindedly taking a bite off his shrimp tempura. “You don’t look that great, Kazuha.”

A shrug was the sole response Gorou received. He stared at Kazuha, baffled, watching intently as the man stuck an entire fried shrimp in his mouth, only to realize halfway through the process that it wouldn’t fit. He almost choked on it, water being his only savior. Yeah, something was clearly off.

What had he learned from Her Excellency’s teachings? Gorou dug through his memories in search of the notes she had given him upon hearing about their relationship going official. Secret Manual for Dating and Romance, chapter three, article twelve: “based on a behavioral examination, if Kazuha refuses to open up about his problems, changing the subject and waiting for him to feel ready is a general’s best option.”

“I’ve signed so many copies today,” Gorou obeyed the command, mentally thanking Kokomi for her precious advice. “As soon as I finished going through a batch, that sly fox lady came and brought more… I swear, she must enjoy laughing at my suffering.”

Normally, Kazuha would have giggled at that. He would have rested a hand on Gorou’s shoulder and told him not to be silly— that, of course, Lady Yae did not hate him. She was a tease, and Gorou offered the most endearing reactions: there was nothing deeper to it.

Instead, Kazuha kept quiet. He barely nodded to show he was paying attention, and continued to eat his tempura undisturbed. A lump of tension blocked off Gorou’s throat, turning breathing into a tough task. Could he be angry, maybe?

Gorou had to make another attempt. Just in case, just to be extra sure he wasn’t guilty of any disgraceful mistake. “We should climb up to Narukami Shrine one of these days. With my luck, I’m sure we’ll draw a good fortune slip! Might be helpful with whatever you’re working on with the Yashiro Commissioner.”

Once again, there was no reaction from Kazuha. He chuckled under his breath, though no trace of amusement could be seen in his eyes. It wasn’t common for him to fake smiles and be that awkward around Gorou, so… Worries were bound to rise.

He had no choice but to rely on the Secret Manual again. What would Her Excellency do in his shoes? Gorou closed his eyes for better focus, rummaging through the depths of his memories. Article twelve-bis: “if everything else fails and Kazuha won’t cease acting out of the norm, take a deep breath and face him openly.”

No way out but raw honesty, huh? Time for Gorou to drop the careful poking and charge in with the difficult question. “Hey, Kazuha, hm,” he started. “Is something wrong?”

“Not really,” came Kazuha’s rather obvious lie. “Don’t worry about me.”

Gorou wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Cunning people like Guuji Yae or Kamisato Ayato managed to fool him easily, weaving riddles and trapping him in the most embarrassing situations.

But he had the experience of a seasoned soldier on his back, and he had taken enough men under his wing to recognize such blatant lies. That, and Kazuha’s deceiving abilities weren’t a honed skill.

“I am worried,” Gorou said. He reached for Kazuha’s hands over the counter, holding them between his palms. He felt the softness of his gloves under his fingertips, and the rougher texture of the bandage on Kazuha’s right hand. “I’ve known you for years now, and living together has taught me how to tell when you’re upset. Did I do something?”

Kazuha’s face twisted with guilt, his eyes widening in surprise. He probably thought his acting was on point, and that Gorou wouldn’t be observant enough to read in between the lines. “You are absolutely not to blame, Gorou.”

“Then, what is it?” Gorou insisted, his ears wiggling nervously. “Please, Kazuha. You asked me to trust you, but you know you can trust me as well.”

“Hm…” Kazuha lowered his gaze to his empty plate. “I was merely considering whether the birthday celebration I have been planning will be to your liking, after all.”

Oh, that was his concern? Gorou wasn’t sure if he should be happy or disappointed, after wasting so much time overthinking his possible faults. His tail decided in his stead: it began wagging happily on the spot, following the inaudible hum of his relieved heart.

The customer sitting next to Gorou groaned in annoyance and moved his stool far from him and his hysterical tail. Kazuha noticed his movements from the corner of his eye and laughed— the first genuine laugh of the day.

“Any time spent with you is great, Kazuha,” Gorou said. “I wouldn’t mind eating a sandwich in the backyard if it meant being by your side.”

A dark blush coated Kazuha’s cheeks. Gorou couldn’t help being a little self-conscious about the sudden confession. They were in public, with more than one pair of ears unwillingly overhearing their conversation, something neither of them was too fond of. Still, what he said was nothing but the purest, simplest truth.

“I know, Gorou.” Kazuha freed his hands from Gorou’s grasp, an embarrassed pout forming on his lips. “I’m grateful for that. I simply want to make sure you have a wonderful day.”

Gorou was outright flattered by the love and attention Kazuha was dedicating to something as trivial as a birthday celebration. He wouldn’t dream of saying that out loud, of course, not willing to hurt Kazuha’s feelings. Birthdays were a big deal for him, apparently. “I’m sure I will.”

When they left Shimura’s to return to their duties, Kazuha’s confidence seemed to have been rekindled by Gorou’s honest feelings. The smile on his face finally saw its reflection in his eyes, all traces of worry gone.

But much to his discomfort, Gorou couldn’t shake off an awful feeling.



The whole situation of his birthday showed Gorou his biggest flaw: he over-thought even the simplest matters. The only times he managed to cast aside that corroding habit was in the heat of battle, when instincts took over and the theory didn’t matter. Her Excellency dictated the objectives from the rear line, and Gorou was free to choose the means to pursue them.

It follows that his bad feelings often turned out to be crafty illusions, pointless moments of discomfort he inflicted on himself. Kazuha was right in saying he worried too much, and so was Kokomi, when life was meant to be taken lightly in times of peace.

“The light of freedom shines bright above Inazuma again,” Kazuha had told him once. “There is no reason to dwell on the past. Let go of your fears and focus on the present, my general.”

Her Excellency hadn’t hesitated in warning him as well. “Gorou, taking things too close to heart might exhaust your relationship in the long run. I took the liberty of writing a manual of tips and tricks to guide you through the worst times.”

Kokomi’s strategy was perfect. Gorou struggled to process his emotions unless he filtered situations through the lens of war: seeing his happy future with Kazuha as an ultimate conquest, he used Her Excellency’s rulebook to navigate the hardships.

All sorts of advice were hidden among those pages. Managing stress, picking up social cues, common relationship issues. Gorou was far from an expert in the field of romance and, as such, Kokomi’s help was immensely appreciated.

Yet, despite the awareness he was worrying too much, despite his blind trust in Kazuha, despite his low expectations… That one time, Gorou’s gut feeling was absolutely correct.

The main street of Inazuma City was enveloped in eerie silence. Kazuha had told him to show up in front of Uyuu Restaurant at seven in the evening and, like clockwork, Gorou was perfectly on time. Nobody was around, though, not a glimpse of Kazuha’s silver locks to be seen.

Maybe he had gone ahead inside the restaurant. Gorou slid the door open and, as he stepped past the threshold, a shower of confetti assaulted his eyes. The colorful paper scraps flew in the air and tangled in the fur of his ears, the loud popping sound rendering him deaf for a solid minute.

“Happy birthday, Gorou!”

When Gorou opened his eyes, his heart sank.

Instead of a room booked for just the two of them, instead of a private dinner made of secrecy and intimacy, instead of a dolled-up Kazuha ready for their special night… What greeted him was a full-fledged crowd .

Everyone had gathered at Uyuu Restaurant, from familiar faces to people Gorou had barely heard of. “What’s going on?” he asked, his tail instinctively hiding between his legs. “Did something happen?”

“Whatcha think, silly puppy?” Arataki Itto’s boisterous laughter made Gorou’s chest tremble with its echo. The oni was sitting on the right side of the counter, busy sipping soft drinks next to his gang. “We’re here to celebrate the birthday of Inazuma’s best boy, the pointy-eared general, the fluffiest soldier of the army! Want me to sing a song for ya? I can rap and—”

“Kindly do not ,” the Yashiro Commissioner cut in. His sister promptly covered his mouth with her hands, talking over him more politely: “I do not believe it will be necessary, Itto.”

That was… Gorou’s worst nightmare, to put it simply.

“We’ve booked the whole restaurant for the night,” Yoimiya said. After popping the confetti, she hurried back to her seat with a huge grin on her lips. “So, sit tight and enjoy the party! There’s food, drinks, and even fireworks outside!”

Thoma fetched the broom from behind the counter and swept away the mess of confetti on the floor. Gorou stood at the entrance, petrified in shock: how did that happen? What had become of the romantic date he had been fantasizing about? What was left of the requests he had made to Kazuha?

“Come sit with me, Gorou.” Kazuha’s soft voice tickled his ears. Gorou met his gaze, not missing the sharp glimmer of guilt shining in his red eyes. “We asked the chef to prepare your favorite dishes.”

Kazuha clung to his arm, gently leading him towards their seats. Every other table had been pushed aside, except for a large one in the center of the room, where heaps of food and drinks had been arranged carefully. It was a feast, indeed: Gorou wondered how much money had gone into that.

Kazuha sat at his side, with Her Excellency in front. The Kamisato siblings and Thoma occupied the left side of the counter, while the Arataki Gang had hoarded the opposite end of it. Even Kujou Sara was there, their rivalry left behind, and— oh no, was that Guuji Yae approaching him?

“Best wishes, dearest General Gorou,” the fox lady said, her pink nails sinking in his hair to ruffle it up. “I hope you will enjoy the celebration and, of course, the presents we have oh-so-diligently chosen for you.”

“P-Presents?” Gorou’s voice came in a high-pitched squeal. He pulled away from Yae’s teasing pets, seeking the comfort of Kazuha’s warmth. “You got me presents?”

“Why of course, Gorou!” Her Excellency chirped. “It wouldn’t be a proper birthday party without some gifts.”

Gorou gulped, his throat suddenly dry. He was flattered, sure… But he wasn’t used to such attention, to having the spotlight on himself for so long. The venue must have been beyond expensive, not to mention the catering, and they even purchased gifts…

“Relax,” Kazuha whispered in his ears, sending chills through his body. “Do not worry about the money. The Kamisato Clan and Yae Publishing House contributed to this night.”

How was that information supposed to make Gorou feel any better?! Now he owed Guuji Yae a favor. He could already imagine how many times he would have to squeeze himself inside a woman’s dress to repay that debt…

Thoma clapped his hands, drawing all attention upon himself. “Enough chit-chat. Let’s dig in, shall we?”

The party kicked off with a frantic race to hoard the food. The buffet was lavish enough to feed the hungriest stomachs, leaving plenty of room even for a ramen-eating contest between Arataki Itto and Lady Yae. Everyone ate and drank, toasted in Gorou’s honor, and got seconds of any dish they fancied.

Throughout the whole meal, Kazuha didn’t speak. He stayed by Gorou’s side, sipping on his sake and nibbling on his food, without saying a single word. He laughed at jokes, naturally, and clung to Gorou whenever the mood felt right. 

But Kazuha seemed ashamed of what had come out of the evening compared to their original plans. Though Gorou didn’t know what went on behind the scenes, and though he couldn’t call himself satisfied with the night, he didn’t doubt that Kazuha had a solid explanation to offer.

And, in all honesty, Gorou couldn’t deny that being the target of so much earnest affection was heartwarming. It was a feeling he had rarely experienced in his life, a luxury he didn’t take for granted.

Once dinner was out of the way, it was time for surprises. Kazuha’s mouth brushed against the tip of Gorou’s ear as he whispered, “I hope the cake is enough to make up for our missed date.”

Gorou quivered, the first hints of drunkenness amplifying the heat of Kazuha’s breath on his fur. He watched quietly as Thoma and Kazuha retrieved a small package made of glossy red paper, with the symbol of the Kamisato Clan printed on the side.

The golden ribbon came off. Kazuha wasn’t wrong: the cake was amazing . A chocolate sponge base with strawberry filling, to combine Gorou and Kazuha’s favorites, and even more chocolate sprinkled on top.

“Hope you’ll like your cake,” Thoma said, wielding a knife to slice it evenly. “Kazuha chose the flavor, while I baked it. Happy birthday!”

Gorou was at a loss for words. When the first slice was cut and placed on his plate, he was still unsure how to express his gratitude. Aside from Kazuha when they were at home, nobody had ever cooked for him. The idea that Thoma had taken time off his busy day to bake a cake for him made his eyes tear up.

“Thank you,” was all he managed to mutter. “I’m honored.”

If accepting a cake had been tough, receiving gifts was even harder. What face was he expected to make as he unwrapped the packages? How to properly voice his appreciation without putting down the presents or sounding fakely enthusiastic? Life in society was hard.

Gorou somehow survived the process with no signs of hurt feelings in the room. The taste of his friends (could he be as bold as to call them that?) were on opposite ends of the spectrum: Itto had caught a huge beetle for him, insisting it would win him every fight, while Her Excellency had purchased a book series he had been craving to read for months.

Ayaka and Thoma had worked together to knit and embroider mittens for him. “They will keep your hands warm in the humid winters of Watatsumi Island!” Thoma commented with a bright smile. Knowing his hobby was making clothes for the stray puppies that roamed Hanamizaka, Gorou couldn’t chase away a tiny bit of offense from the back of his mind.

Yoimiya had handmade a book for him. When Gorou opened the tome with trembling fingers, he almost choked on his breath: the story told the adventures of Kazuha across Liyue and Mondstadt… but with small drawings of Gorou placed next to his boyfriend.

“So, the story behind this book is a little special!” Yoimiya exclaimed. “I made the drawings, but the plot… Kazuha wrote it all by himself. It’s a collection of letters he wrote to you during his journeys but didn’t get to send! I’m sure you will love it, it’s so heart-warm-ing .”

Gorou had managed to hold back the tears up to that point. But that… that was the fatal blow to his self-control. He turned to face Kazuha, his vision blurry, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Kazuha? But when—”

“Last time I traveled to Liyue,” Kazuha spoke unusually fast, his cheeks aflame. “I was strangely homesick. I missed your presence so much, that I couldn’t cease writing letters to you. Captain Beidou called me lovebird for the entire voyage, because I stayed up late at night to compose poems and scribble until dawn.”

Gorou remembered that trip. Kazuha had left a few months prior, to accompany Beidou on a small tour of the coasts of Liyue and Mondstadt. He had been writing to Gorou, though, so where did all those additional letters come from?

“I— I don’t know what to say,” Gorou stuttered. “It’s such a special gift, I— I love you, Kazuha.”

The whole crowd held their breath (Yoimiya gasped loudly) at that unexpected confession. Though everybody knew they were dating, it was hard to catch them in the act of displaying affection, both too shy to do anything too bold in public.

Kazuha shyly averted his gaze. “I love you too, my general.”

Gorou knew how much it cost him to be so open outside of the privacy of their room. Faced with Kazuha’s cute efforts at being more vocal, he couldn’t help falling in love with him a little more. Helplessly, and deeply.

The final gift was the most offensive of them all. Guuji Yae handed him a pliable package tied up with a pink ribbon. “Something that will help you during your next job,” she cooed.

A golden kimono of the finest silk awaited under the wrapping paper. “Is this…” Gorou mumbled, unfolding the dress to have a better look at its fabric and shape. “Is this a woman’s outfit?”

“Why of course,” Lady Yae smirked. “But that aside, you forgot to check what’s underneath. There’s more to my present than just another dress, you know? Hurts me that you’d think I am this boring.”

Groaning in annoyance at the unpleasant gift, Gorou checked the remaining contents of the package. He found some stationery products, a brand-new pencil case, and all the tools of a good writer. Every item had Ms. Hina’s face printed on the label.

“Oh, man, is that—” Itto jumped in, diving his nose in the pencil case. “Is this Ms. Hina’s official merchandise?! Woah! Gorou, you lucky dog!”

Gorou glared at Guuji Yae, earning nothing but a teasing grimace in return. He had found out about her lies, about how she had been using an alter ego to sign his responses to people’s questions and to advertise her magazine. Nobody else but Kazuha was aware of Ms. Hina’s real identity, nor had the faintest suspicion that Gorou could write altogether.

The core of the party ended on that bittersweet note.

The drinks were still flowing in their glasses, though, and the general enthusiasm was far from being extinguished: Gorou had a feeling the celebration would continue until morning, going strong through the dark hours of the night.

As he skimmed through the book drawn by Yoimiya, Gorou took stolen glimpses of Kazuha. Sitting on the edge of the table to listen in on the others’ conversations, he looked so handsome. He had worn his best outfit, just as Gorou had hoped, and his hairstyle was one he remembered complimenting in the past.

Maybe the moment was ripe for their date to be forced into motion.



The first touch of the breeze hit Gorou’s stomach in a fierce slap. The cheers and the liveliness of the party had turned the restaurant into a cozy and festive atmosphere, a suffocating heatwave he had struggled to sneak away from.

Gorou would have loved to stay indoors, if he wasn’t overwhelmed by the unusual amount of social interaction of the evening. Ayato, Thoma, Ayaka, and Yoimiya were challenging each other to some game Gorou had failed to grasp the rules of, and the remaining guests were loudly cheering them on.

But no— Gorou was past his limit. He needed a pause, some quiet, and maybe a private conversation with his boyfriend. What place was better for that than the rooftop? Tall enough for him to breathe in the fresh air, surrounded by the branches of maples in bloom, and with a beautiful view of the starry sky.

The palace of Tenshukaku stood proudly on top of the hill, with the Statue of the Omnipresent God at its feet. Gorou shivered whenever he remembered what happened before those gates— how Kazuha had leaped forward to stop the Shogun’s attack, and how his actions had boosted the troops’ morale. Behind his thick layer of modesty, Kazuha was a hero, someone Gorou would always look up to with pride.

“Hello,” Kazuha’s voice awoke him from his trip down memory lane, as if he had been summoned by Gorou’s thoughts. “How are you holding on?”

Gorou waved at him, then patted the tiles at his side in a silent invitation. Kazuha took the offer, their sleeves brushing together as he sat down beside his boyfriend.

Gorou sighed. “I’m great, really. Just needed a tiny break from the noise.” His ears twitched to prove his point. He knew Kazuha would understand: they had both been blessed (or cursed) with the same sensitive hearing, after all.

He uncapped the bottle of sake he had brought with him. He poured two cups, careful not to spill it outside, and inhaled sharply to calm his nerves. The air smelled of flowers and alcohol, so different from the salty scent of Watatsumi Island. Gorou wondered if he would ever get used to it.

Kazuha took a shy sip of sake. Loud noises from the restaurant below them reached the rooftop. The competition seemed to have reached its peak, their friends screaming at the top of their lungs.

Gorou had never heard such high-pitched notes before. “They’re going at it, huh?”

Kazuha nodded politely. “The hotpot game is in full swing,” he said. “I assume that Thoma is going to win this round as well. Ayaka has already been eliminated from the competition.”

“Thoma is on another level.” Gorou chuckled. He took a quick taste of his drink, shivering as the bitterness met his tongue. “I saw some weird stuff being slid inside that pot. The Yashiro Commissioner shows no mercy, does he?”

The silence that fell over them was uncomfortable and tense. Kazuha was a quiet person by nature and cherished the long pauses sprinkled between their conversations, while Gorou was more of a talker. But his job as a soldier often drained his energy, so he had learned to sincerely appreciate the comfort offered by his boyfriend’s silent company.

But that… That was different.

It was painfully obvious that Kazuha had something to say. His gaze flickered all around the landscape, unable to land anywhere and stand still. Once again, Gorou recalled Her Excellency’s advice: he would wait for Kazuha to speak on his own, whenever he felt ready to open up to him.

“I’m sorry, Gorou.” Kazuha’s apology eventually came, swift as lightning. “I know this isn’t what you expected for your first birthday party.”

“Well, yeah— I did imagine things to be a little different.” A sparkle of hurt crossed Kazuha’s eyes, and Gorou hurried to finish his sentence. “But everyone was so sweet with me… I felt their love, and it was a nice change of pace.”

Kazuha kept his lips shut tight. There was more to it, wasn’t there? Gorou had yet to hear an explanation behind the change in plans, something he thought he deserved. But seeing Kazuha so contrite stripped him of any will to be selfish.

Gorou tucked a tuft of hair behind Kazuha’s ear. They were close, the body heat spreading in the space between them like fire, and his throat was on fire. Gorou swallowed— it took him his best effort to stop himself from kissing Kazuha right then and there.

“The plan was for us to be alone,” Kazuha mumbled after a while. “And I would have loved it if things had actually gone that way.”

Gorou held his hand. Kazuha hesitated before squeezing his palm, their fingers locking together in a tight grip. “Did something happen, Kazuha?”

And thus, the truth was finally out. “I came to Uyuu Restaurant to book a room for us,” Kazuha explained. “I didn’t notice that the Commissioner was there with Thoma and Miss Ayaka. When they heard about your birthday, well… They suggested we celebrate it together.”

As he listened to Kazuha’s tale, Gorou couldn’t stop staring at him. He was beautiful under the moonlight, the silver rays reflecting in the hairpin holding his ponytail up.

“I tried to reject the offer politely,” Kazuha continued. “But there was nothing I could do to convince him. He insisted that you would enjoy being surrounded by warmth and love at your first real birthday party, that you deserved it, and… I was swayed.”

Gorou understood the situation now. He was certain of Ayato’s best intentions— the fact he had paid for the venue was incredibly generous of him. In the end, Gorou had more fun than he had initially expected upon stepping inside that crowded room. “I’m not angry, Kazuha.”

“I am, though.” Kazuha kept his gaze low, refusing to meet Gorou’s eyes. He often did that when shame took over. “I resent myself for this.”

Gorou hugged him. A spontaneous embrace, on the clumsy side— Kazuha awkwardly wrapped his arms around him too, burying his nose in the curve of Gorou’s neck.

It hit Gorou then, how much he had missed their moments of intimacy. They had spent the last few nights apart, even in bed, because Kazuha’s nervousness pushed him away from Gorou’s affection. A single hug could solve so much— Gorou’s worries were already beginning to fade.

“It was fun, Kazuha,” he said. “Thanks for tonight. It wasn’t bad at all.”

Something broke inside of Kazuha. His self-restraint, the mask of composure he wore at all times, cracked beyond repair. It only came off when Gorou was around; nobody else had the honor of seeing Kazuha wearing his heart on his sleeve.

“I’m glad, Gorou.” Kazuha teared up, his voice cracking slightly. “I spent the past week worried you might hate this day. I had one task and I failed miserably. I was sure you would have an awful time.”

“Hey, I can see the good intentions in people! I thought you knew me well by now,” Gorou chirped. Kazuha chuckled against his collarbones, and Gorou trembled, the alcohol suddenly rushing to his head. “Anyway, we did get a short date in the end.”

Kazuha glanced up at him, confused. “Did we?”

“Right now.”

Without giving Kazuha a chance to reply, Gorou pressed their mouths together. Kazuha blinked in confusion, then eagerly kissed him back. His lips tasted like sake, with the faint aftertaste of chocolate. If they were at home, Gorou had no doubts: he would devour him on the spot, surely not stopping at a mere taste of his tongue.

When they parted, out of breath, Kazuha pulled him by his wrists for another kiss. Through the haze of the alcohol, Gorou lost track of how much time they spent like that, chasing one kiss after the other, never satisfied enough to let go, always longing to feel each other for a moment longer.

Gorou’s lungs were on fire when they stopped. They both sat back on the rooftop, their cheeks flushed from the intensity of the kisses. Such heat was rare as of late, with all the errands they both handled every day. Gorou hadn’t realized fully how much he missed feeling Kazuha’s lips against his own.

“Oh,” Kazuha said out of the blue. He slid his hand inside the pocket of his pants, looking for something. “I almost forgot your birthday gift.”

Gorou’s heart skipped a beat. “Another one? But the book—”

“That was from me and Yoimiya ,” Kazuha said. “This is something from me only. Please, Gorou, show me your hands.”

Ignoring the faint hint of confusion at the back of his mind, Gorou did as he was told. He held out his arms, palms facing up, and watched as Kazuha placed both of his hands above his own. Something soft fell in between Gorou’s fingers, though he couldn’t see what it was just yet.

“It’s nothing extraordinary,” Kazuha warned him. “But I sincerely hope it will bring you the best of luck.” He moved his hands out of the way, allowing Gorou to glance at the gift.

It was a simple omamori which, from the simple embroidery and the few loose seams here and there, had probably been handmade by Kazuha himself. Gorou could imagine him as he worked on it. Asking Ayaka to teach him tricks to polish his sewing skills, staying up late at night to make sure Gorou wouldn’t suspect a thing.

“It’s—” Gorou found himself in tears, unable to hold them back. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, his heart full, his emotions overflowing. It was the most thoughtful present he had ever received. “I don’t know what to say, it’s— Thank you, Kazuha. From the bottom of my heart.”

Kazuha’s smile widened, his tension gone at once. “I’m happy you don’t find it to be a mundane gift,” he confessed. He ran a finger on the omamori , showing Gorou the details of the craft. “I slid some dried maple leaves and a single Sango Pearl inside, to represent both of us.

Nothing had been left to chance, every detail studied with sincere care. The string that kept the omamori together was decorated with hand-carved wooden pendants (Kazuha’s secret hobby), and the ribbon was tied in the shape of a dendrobium flower. The symbol of the battlefield, where they had met and fallen in love.

“It’s such a wonderful gift,” Gorou said. “How could I ever repay you, Kazuha?”

Kazuha pressed a tender peck on Gorou’s lips. “You don’t have to, my general,” he whispered, a breath away from his mouth. “When I’m traveling far away, hold it close to your chest. Our hearts are connected across the oceans and the mountains. It will be like having me at your side, playing gentle lullabies on a leaf for you.”

Well aware of Kazuha’s instinct to wander and of his inability to stay in one place for too long without growing sick, Gorou had come to terms with the occasional distance. Kazuha came and went when he pleased, freer than the wind, and tying him down to Inazuma would be a selfish act Gorou wouldn’t dream of.

Though dozens of miles may divide them, as long as their mutual feelings were alive and blooming, they would forever be connected. Their love wasn’t so weak as to lose a battle against space. It was destined to last for eternity, just like Inazuma itself, and perhaps even a while longer.

But how to express his feelings? Gorou wasn’t much of an intellectual, and definitely not the wordsmith in the couple. He had other means, though— actions were louder than words in his book.

He kissed Kazuha again, with more enthusiasm than before. He poured all of his love into the movements of his lips and tongue, dying to show Kazuha just how much he cared for him.

Kazuha leaned into Gorou’s touch, melting in every kiss, sometimes parting from him for the time of a giggle, but instantly diving back in with the same drive. When Gorou’s hands landed on his waist to pull him even closer, Kazuha let out a small gasp.

Sometimes, being in love with Kazuha came in the form of a tidal wave washing over Gorou, with powerful emotions swirling in his chest and stealing all the air in his lungs. At other times, it was akin to a tranquil breeze, a gentle caress over his body that made him feel alive and cared for.

Their relationship was fickle, it never grew stale or boring. It flowed like the winds on the green hills of Mondstadt, and stood firm and proud like the millennial mountains of Liyue. It charged up the air between them like the thunderstorms of their homeland, impossible to control.

And Gorou wouldn’t have it any other way.