It’s always been like this.
You, running forward at full speed. Him, desperately chasing behind, watching as you push on further and further away.
“You’re joking,” he whispers because that’s what this has to be, right? Some sick, twisted joke that can’t be real because if it is—if it is real, then—
If it is real, then Xiao doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself.
“I’m sorry,” you whisper, cradling his hands in yours. “But we have time. Baizhu said that I still have two months to live, and I’ll only start to grow weak in the final days. There’s still so much time for us to spend together, so—”
“So much time?” Xiao lets out a broken laugh, turning his eyes towards the midnight sky as if asking Celestia above why this had to happen to him, why this has to happen to you. “For every second you’ve breathed, I’ve lived a hundred years. Two months is nothing,” he spits. “There’s no time left.”
You keep quiet at that.
Xiao closes his eyes, hating how even now, you stroke his knuckles with the pads of your thumbs, knowing that he prefers this physical intimacy to any spoken words. He hates that he, a mighty adeptus, can be read so easily by a human. Hates how he knows he'll miss this same sensation when you’ve been handed to the God of Death in two months.
“I can bring you to Cloud Retainer,” Xiao says, pulling you closer to him. “He has cures that will make you immortal, so—”
“I don’t want that,” you whisper. “I don’t want to cheat death.”
No, of course you don’t. Because ever since Xiao met you, you’ve always refused that kind of assistance, too busy being a stubborn adventurer that declines all help from the magical spirits of Teyvat. You’re the kind of fool who likes to ignore preferential treatment, who purposefully evaded Xiao on your travels so you could experience the real world without the strength of a thousand spears by your side—a brilliant ploy until you ended up backed against a cliffside by enemies, pushed to the brink of death until his golden eyes caught sight of your figure falling to the ground where even then, you refused to whisper his name.
Xiao opens his eyes, and there’s nothing but pain in the twin ambers as they stare at you with longing.
He was fine with you evading him in the past, comfortable with you sprinting away because he knew that eventually, somehow, somewhere, he would find you. There would always be a way to catch up with that godly speed of his, and there was nowhere he couldn’t find you.
But now, you’re going to go to a place he can’t follow.
“Please,” he mumbles, pressing his forehead to yours. “Don’t be stubborn about this. Your pride is nowhere near as important as your life.”
“But my humanity is,” you respond, and when you speak to Xiao in such a voice, strong and confident and determined all in one, the adeptus finds it hard to believe that you’re carrying an illness best known for stealing its host’s strength. “And we promised. When we began this—whatever this is—you promised me that you wouldn’t ask me to give up my humanity to survive. It—it was a contract, Xiao. You can’t go back on that.”
“A contract?” The adeptus laughs a broken laugh, much too bitter and wholly unsweet. “The God of Contracts is dead. My master’s will has no bearing here.”
A long pause.
“He left me, just like you plan to.”
You say nothing.
Your grip is robust as you hold Xiao’s hand, the bones beneath retaining their strength of structure, but now that the adeptus senses the elemental flow within you, he can sense how it moves at a more languid pace.
The disease is far progressed, he realizes abruptly, suddenly struck with the realization that the two months you proclaimed to have was a gross overestimate. There truly is no time left.
“I love you, Xiao.” You lift a hand to his cheek, and it’s unfair how you stare into his eyes with a gaze so expressive that it seems to capture the whole world within it: Xiao’s whole world, all of it orbiting around the life-filled pupil shining black in the center. “But you deserved to know. Soon, I’ll be gone, and you’ll have to start thinking about—”
“About what?” the man counters, beginning to feel defensive. “I refuse to busy myself with unneeded thoughts while you still walk this land.”
“No, Xiao.” Your lips are pursed and your eyebrows are scrunching up the way they always do when you get frustrated with him, when you’ve made up your mind and you’ve just begun to set on changing his. “You can’t pretend I’m not going to die. It’s—it’s part of life, part of me being human, and I’m not going to let you live a lie in my final months—”
“Why not?” Xiao wants his face to flare with anger, but the way your entire expression abruptly softens tells him that he’s doing a poor job of conveying it. Damn the bloody tears that have begun to stream down his face—and curse them for daring to do so when he’s given them no permission.
“Listen, I know you aren’t used to death, but—”
“I am used to death,” Xiao snarls, but it makes him look like more of a wounded dog rather than the illuminated beast he is. “Every single person I’ve ever cared about has died on me, but never have they chosen to—”
“I’m not choosing!” you blurt in response, and now you’ve finally begun to look properly angry. “I’m—I’m a human, Xiao, and I belong to a human world. I know you love me, but I won’t be me if I let you give me an adeptal cure.”
And that’s the awful truth of it, isn’t it?
Xiao fell in love with someone he knew would leave him. It would have been too kind if he fell for another immortal, or even a human who could be tempted to obtain the same longevity Xiao has; of course, something in him made him fall in love with you, one of the only humans in the world who was destined to die.
“Please,” he whimpers. Pathetic isn’t it? A distinguished adeptus, slayer of thousands of demons, begging at the feet of a human. “Please let me take you to a healer. You can live. We can live. I just—I just want—”
“I can’t.” Your kiss is featherlight against Xiao’s forehead. “I don’t want to be immortal, Xiao, and—”
“You don’t have to be immortal,” he croaks. “Just not mortal. Just live long enough for me to love you some more. I just want to—”
“No, Xiao. I want to die a human. Deep down inside, I think you want that, too.”
“No!” It’s the first time he’s raising his voice at you, but he can’t calm himself down now. “I want you to be alive! That’s what I want!”
And then Xiao sobs. It’s the ugliest sound he’s ever heard, raw and primal and nowhere near as devastating as the pain he feels in his heart, but you don’t move, simply holding him close until he’s just barely trembling with the aftershocks of his misery.
“We have time, Xiao. We still have time to be happy together.”
“There’s no time,” he responds. “No time unless you take a cure.”
“A magic cure?”
“An adeptal cure.”
“I can’t, Xiao.”
“I’ve given you my answer. There’s nothing else to say.”
“Lie to me, then.”
And wouldn’t that be so sweet? For him to get to believe, even for a short second, that you might not slip from his fingers?
A troubled look crosses your face, worried and hesitant and pained all at once—and then Xiao can’t help but wonder if this would even be the first lie because you’ve certainly known about this illness for a long time. His mind races back to when you finally stopped avoiding him, calling his name for the first time and claiming a change of mind that had brought you to want to get to know the adeptus who spent so long chasing you whenever you crossed paths, an exchange that took place right on the brink of Liyue’s border, just outside that awful snake-bearing doctor’s hut where he—
Xiao banishes the thought from his mind.
“I won’t lie,” you say, brushing his hair back. “You love me because I don’t lie to you.”
It’s a true statement, but Xiao can’t decide right now if he hates that or loves that about you. Because for all his affections, the weeks he spent watching over you while you stubbornly declined his help and the months he spent chasing you when you ran from him after and the years he then spent thinking about you at the forefront of his mind, he can’t stop you from dying just like everybody else.
Pathetic. It’s pathetic.
When Xiao next looks at you, he understands that you were never the mesmerizing blessing he thought you to be. No, you were nothing but a curse, meant to plague his heart now until the end of time as retribution for everything he’s ever done, everything he will do when this cruel world steals his last sliver of happiness away.