‘You don’t have to be an errand boy on Windblume Festival,’ they said. ‘You can enjoy the night after offering the flower to the Anemo Archon,’ they reassured him, after he looked at them suspiciously.
Aether would like to question these people now, ask them why then he still had to do another favor to said Anemo Archon even after everything happened like they said and there was nothing left to do for the others. Even Dvalin could take time to appreciate the festival from the Stormterror’s Lair, so why couldn’t Aether simply meet with his other friends too?
Venti was one of his closest friends now, it was true, but Aether was a bit sad about having to go back to the Mondstadt’s Cathedral plaza to meet someone for the bard. Aether thought of taking the waypoint together with Venti and Paimon, but Venti said he and Paimon would go to the Angel’s Share first and Aether should take the waypoint nearest to the Cathedral instead.
Windblume was the festival of freedom and love, but Aether was stuck on a quest for someone else and alone. So much for trying to have fun at the end of his day…
Even from the top of the Knights of Favonius’ building, Aether could listen to the music played by the bards, see the flower decorations, and watch some people walking around the city – mostly couples enjoying their dates and others in family outings.
Watching this made him miss a certain yaksha that was probably back at the inn where he lived, and one that Aether would have liked to spend the festival with. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to convince Xiao to visit Mondstadt yet, so maybe he should just pay a visit to the Wangshu Inn after the event ended, or maybe on the next day, to see Xiao again.
Gliding down from the waypoint, he stopped at the foot of the Barbatos’ statue, trying to see if there was anyone there waiting for him. Venti hadn’t specified who Aether had to meet, so he believed that it would take a long time for him to meet the person as he walked around the plaza, but still couldn’t find anyone different from the usual crowd that frequented the place.
Finally, he tried asking some people if they saw anyone out of ordinary there. Only Nora, the little girl that was playing tag with Timmie and some other kids, gave him a hint of something. She pointed to the statue and said that she thought she had seen someone up there in the Archon’s hands, but she wasn’t sure if it wasn’t only a figment of her imagination perhaps.
Aether furrowed his eyebrows, looking up to the hands of the statue. Would someone really be there right now? If this was the person he needed to meet, did Venti tell them to wait there?
The traveler sighed, resigning himself to having to climb the Anemo Archon’s statue to check the rumors. Well, this person better be especially impressive, otherwise Aether will steal a bottle of the Windblume Festival-exclusive Applebloom Cider from Venti the next time they meet for making him go through all of this for something unimportant.
Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult to go up the statue, as he could walk some ramp for a while before having to climb, but the problem was with the height of it at the end. The question here wasn’t being scared of heights, it was only that Aether preferred to climb walls when he could at least see them, what hardly happened in the middle of the night.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for him to reach the top, as he climbed by the side and ended up on the statue’s head. He hoped that the believers wouldn’t find it blasphemous for him to be at such a place. You know what, he would quickly jump on the arms of Barbatos and walk to the hands of the statue because he was sure that the hands were an okay place for him to be without offending anyone.
The problem with his plan was that he didn’t calculate the distance well, and although he jumped on the arm without any problem, he lost his balance to one side after landing. Oh, he was going to fall… At least, he had his gliding wings with him while free falling from the Anemo Archon’s statue.
What a great way to spend the night of the Windblume Festival, huh. Lonely, on a mission, and falling from a statue’s arms.
Said traveler didn’t have much time to react to the person calling his name and the familiarity of it before he felt himself being held against someone’s body, being carried by the person and landing on the ground slowly.
This felt too familiar…
“Xiao?” Aether looked at the person holding him, seeing the similar teal colored hair and the beautiful eyes that always stared at him with something akin to wonder.
“Aether,” Xiao repeated, worriedly checking his body for injuries. “How many times will I have to ask you to be careful?” He said in an exasperated breath, as exasperated as he could show himself to be.
“I’m sorry!” Aether apologized, but he wasn’t focusing on anything else other than the presence of the yaksha here. He didn’t waste a moment before hugging Xiao tightly, feeling happy about having him so close to him again. “I missed you…”
“I… I missed you too,” Xiao let out a small sigh, before returning the embrace with a similar strength.
After some moments of simply enjoying being on his boyfriend’s arms, Aether decided that they should really move somewhere else before the people on the plaza started noticing them. Especially because Aether had literally fallen from the statue and Xiao caught him with his Anemo powers which were always bound to bring attention to him everywhere.
“We should,” Aether cleared his throat, letting go of the hug, “we should probably leave… Some people are staring.”
Six-Fingered José, for example, was staring at the two of them as if they would become his next subject of inspiration, and Aether did really not want that, thank you very much.
“Alright,” Xiao answered, after realizing what Aether meant, moving to take Aether’s hand on his so the two could walk away.
They walked until they arrived next to one of the Whindmills in the city, the one closest to the Knights of Favonius headquarters.
Happy with the handholding and with seeing Xiao being the one to initiate it, it took a while for Aether to remember that he climbed the statue for a reason, and unfortunately it hadn’t been to meet his yaksha boyfriend again.
“Wait!” Aether stopped Xiao, startling him. “I still have to find someone for Venti…” He said with a sad tone of voice.
Xiao stared at him silently. Then he looked at their intertwined fingers.
Aether looked at Xiao, also wordlessly.
“Uh, were you, by any chance, the person Venti wanted me to meet?” Aether blinked at Xiao, after his brain seemed to start functioning normally again.
Aether was supposed to meet someone near the statue, and Xiao had been the only unusual person in said place. Did Venti really--?
“Yes,” Xiao answered his first question, probably not reading his mind about the second one even if the answer could fit as well.
"I see," Aether nodded in understanding. “But what were you doing on the top of the statue too? Did Venti ask you to go up there to wait for me?”
“No…” Xiao looked at the side, facing away from Aether’s eyes. “I met Barbatos in Liyue, and he told me that I should be here today, at this plaza, to meet you, but there were too many people close so I decided to hi-- climb up high so they would not see me…”
“Oh, I understand,” Aether nodded at him. Though it was a scene a little funny to imagine, Aether would never make fun of Xiao for preferring to stay away from people. He understood his hesitancy about it and respected the fact that Xiao enjoyed the quiet places. But now, there was one more part of what Xiao said that interested him. “So, you just came here to meet me?” He smiled, feeling giddy about it.
“Mn,” Xiao agreed with a nod, tightening his hold on Aether’s hand for a while.
Even if Xiao didn’t know about the Windblume Festival, he was still here on this night and came to the city just to see Aether. What an amazing turn of events, huh.
“Then I’m happy,” Aether stated excitedly, kissing Xiao’s cheek quickly, before he lost the courage for it. “I won’t have to search for anyone else and I can spend the rest of the night with you!” He celebrated. Then he backtracked a bit, feeling like he was getting ahead of himself with the conclusions there. “I–I mean! I will spend all the time you’re staying here with you, of course. I’d never pressure you to stay more than you wanted, of course…”
“I know,” Xiao smiled reassuringly, still seeming a bit shy.
“Okay,” Aether nodded at the other, feeling relieved. “Are you okay with getting something to eat together? I haven’t eaten anything since the afternoon.”
“Lead the way…”
Aether happily lead Xiao through the streets of Mondstadt, showing him the places that he knew and pointing out all the Windblume decorations. They talked about the traditional architecture of Mondstadt, about the flowers scattered everywhere they went to, and they also reminisced about the Lantern Rite.
(It had been the event which brought them even more close together, so it wasn't a surprise that they would still be fond of it even a month later.)
Although Xiao was alright with him finding anywhere to eat, Aether tried to find the most peaceful place in the Market district, as he knew Xiao wouldn’t feel too comfortable with crowded spaces.
Seeing as the ‘Good Hunter’ had some available tables on the side of the Cat’s Tail and no clients sitting there, Aether thought that it would be the perfect place for them to have their dinner.
The Mondstadt cuisine of course wasn’t similar to Liyue’s, so Aether took time in explaining to Xiao the ingredients of the dishes offered by Sara, to see what he would like to experiment. They ended up choosing some Fragrant Mashed Potatoes and Mondstadt Hash Brown, paired with Wolfhook juice and Mint Jelly for dessert.
The two were sat down at the table of the restaurant, waiting for their meal to be served. Aether was glad for the privacy of the place, as they both were hidden away from the people walking on the main street.
“I promise tomorrow I will make you a plate of Almond Tofu again,” Aether swore, as he remembered that Xiao preferred dishes with the same texture as said meal and Mondstadt didn’t offer any of those that he remembered. “If I knew you’d be here I would have made it and then our dinner could’ve been perfect…” He lamented, in a pout.
“Spending the time with you is perfect enough,” Xiao replied, staring at him intensely.
Xiao’s stare was really something else… Sometimes, Aether felt like Xiao could see through him and understand everything about him that he didn’t know yet. But Aether discovered that he wasn’t afraid of it.
“I feel the same,” Aether couldn’t help but to comment, gazing softly at Xiao.
They didn’t talk more after that as their dishes were brought to the table and they ate in silence. Aether couldn’t explain how happy he was about spending time with Xiao like this, especially on this Windblume festival, so he simply enjoyed the occasion.
This dinner reminded him of the day with Razor and Bennett, the day of the releasing of the Mingxiao Lantern, and every other day in which he and Xiao had been able to have ‘dates’ like this.
The two had already finished eating and the dishes had been taken from their table, when Xiao started talking again.
“I have a question,” he announced, while holding his drink in one hand and using the other to support his chin.
Aether prompted him to keep going.
“We have tasted one of these dishes before, have we not?” Xiao stared at him, as if recalling some memory. “This one with the jam… Was it the one we shared with those two adventurer boys at the inn?”
“We did!” Aether assured him, smiling, “it was this one… You had told me later that you had liked it, so I remembered to order it today. Did you still enjoy it?”
“I did. Although I am inclined to say that I preferred your friend’s version of it,” he said thoughtfully.
“Oh, I agree! Razor’s version was the best,” Aether nodded. He looked around to see if Sara wasn’t near him to listen to him talking about it. “And Razor will be happy to hear that! He and Bennett ask about you sometimes, you know?”
“Ah,” Xiao exclaimed, the awkwardness in the tone a bit out of his character. Was he getting shy again? “I saw the boys today when I was outside the city. They were walking together and passed by me, so I greeted them…” He confessed quietly.
Aether was fairly sure that it would be very difficult for Razor and Bennett to accidently walk by Xiao so easily, as the yaksha always preferred to not be seen, but he accepted Xiao’s story. Not accepting it would mean that Xiao made it so the boys could see him, and he could interact with them, and Aether would cry thinking about the implications of Xiao opening up to them a bit.
He wouldn’t cry today. He wouldn’t.
“Oh, then it’s good that they saw you today… I was sure that they were about to go to Liyue to try and see if they could find you walking around,” Aether laughed.
He still couldn’t believe how Razor and Bennett imprinted on Xiao like this, since they had interacted only once, but he was glad that they were fond of him as well. And that Xiao wasn’t annoyed by their behavior.
“Perhaps. Perhaps one day they can come to the inn again, so we can all meet once more,” Xiao offered, trying for a nonchalant tone.
Aether could hear the nervousness in his voice, though, so he reached out to hold Xiao’s hand again, over the table.
“Whenever you’re okay with it, I’ll definitely invite them again…”
After finishing their drinks as well, Xiao asked Aether to follow him this time, as he had something to show him as well. Aether nodded, not expecting to be carried again by the yaksha as he used his anemo powers to run through the streets of the city, stopping in a deserted street.
(Aether was only glad that he was already used to fast ways of transportation, otherwise it wouldn’t have been pretty if he had become nauseous while in Xiao’s arms.)
“What do you have to show me?” Aether asked, after the two sat down, facing each other, in one of the secluded benches next to the walls of the city.
All as well, as there was no high-speed involved in sitting down and appreciating the moment.
“I have learned that today is a special day for the people of Mondstadt, and it is a tradition to offer Windblumes to their Archon and to people they adore or love,” Xiao started, using the same voice he did whenever he wanted to tell Aether something important. “I did not know about it until I met your friends earlier and they explained to me the meaning of the Festival,” he added.
“Yeah, they explained me that recently, too,” Aether said, “I was chosen as the Windblume Star and I had to choose a flower to offer for the Anemo Archon, as a representative of the city of sorts…” He looked in the direction of the Cathedral, thinking about the celebration of a few hours ago. “I chose Cecilias, as I know Venti is fond of them, and I think they could be the Windblume flower this year…”
He didn’t know why Xiao had started talking about the tradition of the festival exactly, but he thought he might as well share what was his role in it. He had genuinely enjoyed the festivities and being able to share a good time with almost every friend in Mondstadt.
“That is nice,” Xiao gave him a small smile, “You are nice.”
Aether blushed. He didn’t know why it was so easy for him to get flustered around Xiao when the yaksha was being like this
(he knew why, he was very much in love). Well, at least it was a mutual thing, as he had caught Xiao’s blush occasionally, whenever he did something that could be considered bold regarding his affections.
They had come such a long way with their relationship and Aether was happy that they had each other now, even if he had trouble putting it into words sometimes.
Xiao looked down at his own waist, briefly, grabbing something from a bag positioned beside his mask, before staring up at Aether again.
“I had been strolling around Mondstadt before I got into the city. Watching the crystal flies in the air, I could not help but to think that they would look nice adorning your hair, so I wanted to catch one of them for you…”
Having said that, Xiao showed Aether his hand, where a collection of crystal cores sat on it.
“I had meant to grab only one, but I became distracted and ended up with this amount,” Xiao snorted a bit to himself, before holding one of the cores on his hand. “I could not think of a flower to offer you, as I am not familiar with ones that are not glaze lilies or qingxins, but I thought that perhaps these butterflies would portray the same meaning if I gave you them instead…”
“Xiao…” Aether said breathlessly.
Did Xiao have to look so soft and so bashful while showing Aether the butterflies and telling him all of this? So unfair!
Don’t cry, he repeated to himself once more, feeling like he was about to tear up.
“I want to see if I was right about your hair,” Xiao offered with a smile that very much resembled a light smirk.
Cute in a moment and… like this in the other. He was going to be the death of Aether.
“May I?” He reached towards Aether’s braid with one of the crystal cores.
“You may,” Aether nodded, feeling his face get warmer than when he accidentally got too close to Bennett after he had used his Pyro burst.
Carefully, Xiao placed the cores into the knots of Aether’s hair.
Aether could only stare as the other seemed concentrated on his hair, fixating the decorations so that they would not get loose with Aether’s movements. It was as if he was in deep thought about the position of each crystal core, as to not make a mess of whatever image he had pictured in his mind when he first thought about it.
“Done.” Xiao announced, staring up from Aether’s hair to look at his (red) face.
“Hi,” Aether mumbled stupidly, watching Xiao’s face awfully close to his. He was so unfairly pretty…
“Hi,” Xiao parroted amusedly.
“Were you right? Does it look good?” Aether asked, a bit self-consciously.
“Uhm,” Xiao nodded at him, reaching out to hold both sides of Aether’s face tenderly. “It is better than what I imagined… I could have never predicted how beautiful the result would be,” he concluded.
Then, Xiao smiled one of these small smiles Aether had come to associate with his ‘really happy’ ones, and kissed Aether’s forehead.
Aether felt his own lips turn up at the corners with the action, and put both of his hands on Xiao’s arms, to hold him close and to remember that he was real and here and his.
The kissing on the lips came not soon after, as it was becoming almost natural for them to express their affection with each other like this – although it almost always only happened on closed doors. Maybe it happened outside this time because of the music playing far away, or because of the dandelions falling from the sky, or even the moon illuminating that corner where they were and especially Aether’s hair contributed to it.
Perhaps, it just happened because it felt right in that moment, as the two wanted to express the feelings they had trouble expressing with words.
If the meaning of the festival was that a person should feel loved, Aether guessed that it was the one thing accomplished with everything that had happened to him during it. He had been chosen as the Windblume Star, he had been able to meet with his friends from the city and he could also spend time with Xiao right when it was ending…
Next time… Next time he would make sure to have Lumine with him on this festival too.
(Aether ended up getting teared up a bit, thinking about Lumine, but he didn't exactly cry. So he was still winning.)
“Happy Windblume Festival, Xiao,” Aether grinned at the other, embracing him once more after their good share of kisses.
“Happy Windblume Festival, Aether,” Xiao returned the hug, mumbling the words against Aether’s neck.
It was a happy festival, indeed.
(Aether was going to buy all the Windblume Festival-exclusive Applebloom Cider Diluc had in stock just for Venti. Even if he had to pay them with the mora from the daily commissions from a year. He has never been more thankful for being fooled like this by the bard.)