Destiny is Merely a Series of Coincidences - Chapter 18 - opalescent_cheetah - 原神 (2024)

Chapter Text

Together, they turn the hourglass around.

~

Shenhe
Angel’s Share is quieter at this time of day.

Shenhe finds herself enjoying it, from the way the sunlight casts itself across scuffed wooden tables to the soft lull of easy conversations. It’s so blissfully empty, it almost feels like a secret hideout.

It is, in a way. When Ningguang had questioned her choice of location, Rosaria had explained that she liked to spend her free time here simply because her “insufferable colleagues” - as she put it - were less likely to disturb her. It almost feels like an honour to be invited along.

“So, how do you know Shenhe?” Ningguang asks lightly, one hand swirling her glass around. A bubbly, colourful liquid seems to sparkle within it; Rosaria treated them all to Mondstadt’s finest alcohol-free beverages, and it was clear from the moment the drinks arrived that Mondstadtians mean business, no matter the beverage.

“I’ve been wondering the same thing!” Beidou chimes in before Rosaria can reply. “You’re more of a social butterfly than I thought, Shenhe!”

Rosaria snickers at that. “Not really,” she says, and that devilishly familiar smirk is back. “When we first met, she was trying to kill me.”

“I wasn’t–”

“Trying to kill you?!”

“…When you first met?”

The entire table erupts at the statement, so much so that the few other patrons turn their heads to look at them. Shenhe shoots them each a cutting glare, and they quickly return to minding their own business.

“How long have you two known each other?” Ningguang asks, one eyebrow delicately arched.

“Oh, a while.” Rosaria raises her glass to her lips. “How many years has it been now, Shenhe?”

Sixteen. She knows they both have it memorised.

“A few,” she says instead. It feels too sacred to say aloud.

Nobody else has ever really known about them: about their whispered secrets and shared laughter, about the chunk of fox meat wrapped in cloth or the footsteps hidden behind an avalanche. Nobody else saw their reunion beneath moonlight; nobody else has tasted the sweetness of the night air from the rooftops. Those moments are theirs and theirs alone, and when Shenhe looks into Rosaria’s eyes, she knows she feels the same.

It takes her a second to realise a strange silence has descended upon the table. There’s a gleam in both Ningguang and Beidou’s eyes that Shenhe doesn’t quite understand, but it’s gone as soon as they blink.

“Yes,” Rosaria says, breaking the silence, “you could say we’re quite well-acquainted.”

Yes, quite. Sometimes, Shenhe thinks it strange - the time they spent together was so short, and yet they understand each other better than anyone else can.

After all, back then, they were each other’s only friends, and those childhood memories may as well be carved in stone. Rosaria has lingered like a shadow in Shenhe’s mind since the very first time they hunted together, following her even as the years passed and she grew older.

“Has Shenhe told you how she met us?” Ningguang asks.

“I’ve heard a bit,” Rosaria replies, and Shenhe almost shakes her head incredulously when she thinks back to the interrogation. “Hard not to. She made the news even here.”

Beidou whistles. “Look at you, Shenhe! Achieving international fame already, and you’ve only been back in the mortal realm for, what, a couple of months now?”

“I simply did what I had to,” Shenhe replies.

“Oh, come on, you don’t have to be so modest - you froze an entire tsunami!” Beidou says, wagging her drink at Shenhe so hard that it almost sloshes over. Ningguang takes it from her and puts it back on the table, rolling her eyes fondly. Rosaria, reclining in her own chair with drink in hand, simply looks on in amusem*nt.

Shenhe knows, then, that she wouldn’t change this moment for the world. And when Rosaria glances across at her over her glass with a twinkle in the corner of her eye, Shenhe can’t help but smile.

~

Rosaria
All too soon, it’s over.

Ningguang stands, smoothing down her dress, looking as well put-together as ever. Beidou downs the last of her drink before pushing her chair back, adjusting her cloak.

Rosaria doesn’t look at Shenhe, not yet. It would be like acknowledging that she is really, truly going to leave.

Except… Shenhe isn’t moving. Rosaria hasn’t heard her chair scrape back against the wood floors - even Ningguang and Beidou are gazing at her quizzically now. When Rosaria finally looks over, she sees Shenhe picking at her ropes, almost as if she has no intention of getting up to go.

“Shenhe?” Ningguang taps her gently on the shoulder. “We’re going.”

“I know.” Shenhe is quiet for a long moment before she finally stands up. “Ningguang, Beidou… I’ve come to quite like it here.”

“It is lovely, isn’t it–”

“I’d like to stay.”

The words land like a meteorite, and Rosaria almost chokes on her own spit. “You want to what?”

“Stay,” Shenhe repeats, gazing at her strangely. “Is that unusual?”

“…A little,” Rosaria manages.

“Not at all,” Beidou says reassuringly, wrapping one arm around Shenhe’s shoulders and pulling her close. “One taste of the rest of the world and you’re hooked, eh? Trust me, I know the feeling.” Her grin is dazzling; if she weren’t wearing an eyepatch, Rosaria thinks she might’ve winked.

“Are you one hundred percent sure about this?” Ningguang asks seriously.

“I am. I’ve thought about it for a while.”

A while. How long is a while? Three nights? Sixteen years? Rosaria swallows thickly, suddenly thankful for the ease at which she can conceal her own emotions.

“Alright, then. Take this.” Ningguang fishes out a pouch of Mora and pushes it into Shenhe’s hands. “It should keep you covered for some time. I’ll extend your booking at the inn, too. How long do you plan on staying?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Shenhe replies, still squished up at Beidou’s side. “Please don’t worry about it. You’ve done so much for me already… I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

“Nonsense, it’s no trouble at all. I’ll make a stop at the inn before we leave. Remember to stay in contact, alright? If you need anything…”

Rosaria, still seated at the table and feeling blissfully ignored by the rest of the group, lets the conversation fade into the background. Her thoughts have never been so loud.

Shenhe wants to stay? Here?

…With me?

No, she chides herself. It’s not about you. Why would it be? Shenhe has spent the last sixteen years hating you.

Somehow, the last few nights say more than sixteen years ever could.

~

Shenhe
It is a sunny afternoon in Mondstadt. A young boy stands on the bridge, throwing breadcrumbs at pigeons; Shenhe has already been here long enough to know his name is Timmie. Dandelions sway in the wind around them, and crystalline waters glisten in the sunshine.

“You’d better keep in touch with us,” Beidou says, wrapping Shenhe in a bear hug. “Tell us everything!”

“That would be a very long letter,” Shenhe murmurs, as Beidou laughs and lets her go. She still can’t quite believe she’s doing this: making impulsive decisions, staying in Mondstadt, staying with her.

Ningguang’s words ring in her head, then: everyone needs a reason to stay. I hope you can find yours soon.

Those words have hovered in her mind since she first heard them. Shenhe has already found reasons all across Liyue Harbour, and now, she has found the most compelling reason of all, right here.

She turns to look at Rosaria, standing just a little further back with her arms crossed tightly over her chest. So much time has passed, lost to bitterness and betrayal, lies and misunderstandings. It is time that Shenhe wants to - and will - make up for, now that she knows the truth.

She is not the only one who wants it. Shenhe remembers the way Rosaria had looked at her last night: like they were nine years old, when they wished those perfect nights could last forever. Back then, the circ*mstances drew them apart, but fate has given them a second chance. Shenhe would be a fool not to take it.

Together, they see Ningguang and Beidou off, and watch as their shadows disappear along the path back to Liyue Harbour. There is no turning back now. Rosaria has moved to stand at Shenhe’s side, and when Shenhe turns to face her, she feels… lighter, somehow.

“You’re staying,” Rosaria says softly, as if she can’t quite believe it.

“I’m staying,” Shenhe echoes.

“Why, though? Aren’t you going to miss Liyue Harbour? Your friends?”

Shenhe gazes at her for a long moment. Mere days ago, when she looked into Rosaria’s eyes, all she could see were fragments of her past: memories of loneliness, betrayal, hurt and anger. That face had been a portal to times Shenhe had been sure she’d left behind her.

But now, when Shenhe looks at her, all she sees are future possibilities. Rosaria’s presence - the cool glint in her eyes, that windswept hair - is a reminder of how much they’ve both grown, and how much more growing they have yet to do. They have been separated for so long, time and distance yawning like a chasm between them, and the past three nights helped Shenhe realise that she cannot let it grow any wider.

After all, Rosaria might be the only person in the world who really, truly understands what it’s like to spend a childhood walking on the edge of darkness, isolated from the world. Shenhe first met her when they needed each other most; now, with their childhood troubles behind them, fate has brought them back together again. Perhaps it is a reminder of where they came from; or perhaps it is simply an opportunity for Shenhe to learn more about the mortal realm, and about Rosaria, who has settled so comfortably within it.

Whatever the case, it is a second chance, and Shenhe is not going to squander it.

~

Rosaria
Shenhe is silent for a long, long moment. The question hangs between them; all Rosaria can hear is her own heart, beating a fraction too quickly. Shenhe is staring right into her eyes, her expression deep and raw and vulnerable. Rosaria has known these eyes for a lifetime, and they have never looked at her like this.

“Of course I’ll miss them,” Shenhe finally replies. “But you’re my friend too. And I wanted to spend more time with you.”

For a moment, it feels like all of the air has been whisked out of Rosaria’s lungs.

You’re my friend.

My friend.

Every part of her body feels lighter, somehow. Decades-old wounds are finally healing; that black cloud of misunderstanding finally seems to dissipate. Rosaria exhales, gazing anywhere but at Shenhe - the look in her eyes is too heavy, too vulnerable, and Rosaria feels like it’s slowly picking her apart.

In a way, it is. That look in Shenhe’s eyes seemed to peer right into Rosaria’s soul, finally extracting the weight that has hung over her for sixteen years.

“Archons above, you’re such a sap,” she manages. “And so impulsive. You’re lucky I took the day off.”

“So that we can… hang out? That is what mortals say, isn’t it?”

“That’s one way to put it. Hey, how much have you seen of Mondstadt’s wilderness?”

“Not much,” Shenhe says, confirming Rosaria’s suspicions - after all, none of her investigations led them far outside the city walls. “Is that where we’re going?”

“It will be… once we have some steeds. Have you ever ridden a horse?”

~

The question answers itself as soon as Rosaria sees Shenhe in the saddle.

Her back is ramrod straight, her hands pulling the reins up close to her chest. When the horse moves even the tiniest bit, she seems to tense, her shoulders raised up around her ears.

Rosaria exhales heavily. “Archons. You weren’t kidding.”

“I told you. I go everywhere on foot.” The horse shifts its weight, and a gasp catches in Shenhe’s throat. “Master used to have me carry rocks up and down the mountain every day as a part of my training. I’ve never needed a horse.”

“Sounds like you were the horse,” Rosaria says wryly. “Besides, you’re not here to train. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in trekking cross-country when I don’t have to.”

If Codi could hear her now, they would probably call her a lazy bastard. But this isn’t Dragonspine: this is Mondstadt, where the world is a little softer, a little kinder. In Mondstadt, Rosaria can breathe easy. She can rest.

And she can choose not to hike halfway across the country, if she doesn’t feel like it.

“Come on. You’re as stiff as a rod up there,” Rosaria says, reaching out to help Shenhe down from the saddle. Shenhe leans on her, exhaling in relief when her feet touch the ground.

“We’ll just take the one horse,” Rosaria tells the stablehand, before turning back to Shenhe. “You can ride with me.”

It isn’t until they are both in the saddle that Rosaria realises this might have been a terrible idea. Shenhe is close - too close, her chest pressed right up against Rosaria’s back, her arms tightly encircling her waist. Rosaria had almost forgotten how strong she is.

Still, it is faster - and easier - to tour the countryside on horseback, so they set off anyway.

And if Rosaria is being honest with herself, she doesn’t quite mind the closeness.

~

They spend the afternoon exploring the wilderness, and Rosaria watches with a strange sense of fondness as Shenhe experiences everything Mondstadt’s countryside has to offer. It’s nicer, following her around like this, when there’s no bad blood between them. In fact, everything feels brighter now that she can stand right at Shenhe’s side, quietly amused by her curiosity. That porcelain face is as inexpressive as ever, but Rosaria has long since learned to read the glint in Shenhe’s eyes - today, it sparkles like sunshine.

It’s early evening by the time they reach Starsnatch Cliff, their final destination. Rosaria walks ahead, guiding the horse by the reins; Shenhe remains in the saddle, calmer now than she was a few hours ago. Rosaria can only wonder if it has something to do with the valberry she’s eating.

She has to hide a smile at the thought. As they were passing through Stormbearer Mountains, Shenhe had asked curiously about the valberry bushes, so Rosaria leaned down from the saddle to pick one of the fruits for her.

“Here, try it.” Casually, she tossed it over her shoulder, knowing Shenhe would catch it with no trouble. The sound of Shenhe biting through its tender skin followed, before a moment of quiet contemplation, and then–

“Oh, archons.” Shenhe audibly took another bite before groaning in delight. “These are your wild plants?”

“Sure are. They’re a great pick-me-up… I eat them a lot when my work brings me out here.”

As soon as they’d dismounted, Shenhe made a beeline for the nearest valberry bush. She picked as many as she could find, gathering them in her arms and even passing some off to Rosaria to hold for her. Now, she’s still cheerfully making her way through her snack stash, her hands and mouth stained with sticky pink juices.

“Watch it,” Rosaria says, amusem*nt lining the words. “At this rate, you won’t have room for dinner.”

“This is dinner,” Shenhe replies. “I wish we had plants like this back home.”

“Would’ve saved you a lot of crummy meals, huh?” Rosaria thinks back to the times Shenhe offered her stalks of medicinal herbs; to this day, she still hasn’t tried one, and she’s not sure she wants to. “Alright, we’re nearly there. This is the perfect place to watch the– f*ck, they’re here again?”

Two people’s bodies are silhouetted against the golden sky. They’re sitting close together, one’s head resting on the other’s shoulder. Rosaria has to bite back a grimace.

“Is something the matter?” Shenhe asks, between mouthfuls of valberry.

“Our spot’s been taken,” Rosaria mutters. Still, she pulls the horse further up the mountain, waiting until they’re close enough for the couple to hear its footsteps. The pair finally look up, their faces brightening, and Rosaria’s frown deepens of its own accord.

“Marvin, look! Love has touched another pair of beautiful souls!”

Rosaria halts in her tracks. Love?!

“Oh, Marla, it’s so romantic! It reminds me of the days when we first found one another. Do you remember those blissful times, horseback riding through the countryside, your arms so delicately wrapped around my waist?”

This isn’t what it looks like–

“Oh, Marvin, I do remember! It was perfect!”

“Oh, Marla, you’re perfect!”

“Ahem.” Rosaria pointedly clears her throat, trying to keep her face level. “Are we interrupting something?”

“Not at all, not at all!” Marvin says brightly, taking Rosaria’s free hand in both of his. “It’s simply so lovely to see young love blossoming amidst the cecilias, just as ours did.”

“Did it hurt your legs, jumping to that conclusion?” Rosaria replies dryly.

“Jumping to conclusions?” Marla echoes. “Are you two not together?”

“No, obviously not–”

“We are,” Shenhe replies at the same time, turning to look at Rosaria quizzically. Rosaria isn’t quite sure what expression she makes back - her brain can’t process the mix of surprise and confusion fast enough for her to school her face into something neutral. She can deal with unruly criminals and sharp-tongued bandits, but this? How is she supposed to respond to this?

“Oh, this is simply too cute,” Marla gushes, and Rosaria tears her gaze away from Shenhe. “Are you two here to watch the sunset?”

“We were,” Rosaria mutters. “But we can find somewhere else.”

“No, no! Watching the sunset from Starsnatch Cliff is a rite of passage in a budding relationship,” Marvin declares. “You should stay, and feel your deep adoration for one another blossom beneath the blazing trails of this beautiful star, just as Marla and I did! You must watch the sky turn to fire, and remember that your own love shines just as bright!”

“…Right.” Rosaria stifles a deep sigh, wondering how this escaped her consideration. She had only wanted to show Shenhe something beautiful - something akin to the aurora borealis they never got to see together. It was never meant to be romantic, of all things.

She sneaks a glance at Shenhe, who has returned to happily munching on her valberries. Did she misinterpret this too?

Shenhe’s expression, as picturesque and innocent as ever, betrays nothing.

“We’ll leave you be,” Marla is saying, fishing around in her satchel. After a moment, she pulls out a handful of white flowers, and passes them to Rosaria. “Please, take these - freshly picked cecilias, symbols of a love at once tenacious, deep and true. Have a wonderful date.”

She winks as she departs, arm-in-arm with Marvin. Rosaria wishes this was the end of it - instead, she hears them gushing right until they’re out of earshot. This time, she cannot stifle a deep, long-suffering sigh.

~

Shenhe
“Are you alright?” Shenhe asks, descending from the saddle with Rosaria’s help. Something about the exchange seems to have troubled her - her brows are tightly knit now, a frown tugging at her lips. It’s a stark contrast to the way she looked earlier: relaxed, and free, all the worry-lines gone from her face. Shenhe rarely sees her with such a gentle expression, and now she can only wonder how to get it back.

“Why did you tell them we were together?”

“Because we are,” Shenhe replies, and Rosaria’s breath seems to catch in her throat. “We travelled here together, didn’t we?”

“That’s not–” Rosaria exhales slowly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Shenhe, they were asking if we were a couple.”

“…A couple of what?”

“Lovers, you dumbass.”

This, at last, gives Shenhe pause. The rest of the conversation slowly starts to make sense, from the flowery tongue with which the strangers spoke to their strange insistence at bringing love up in every sentence. She’d had no idea what travelling together had to do with romance, sunsets and flowers… until now, anyways.

“…They thought we were wheels?”

The crease between Rosaria’s brows deepens. “They thought what?”

“They thought we were like Beidou and Ningguang,” Shenhe amends. “A pair of connected wheels.”

Rosaria finally breaks into an incredulous smile. “Is this what the adepti teach you?”

“No, Master rarely discusses such topics. I learned from one of Beidou’s crewmates,” Shenhe says. “But I don’t understand - why would they think we were a pair?”

Rosaria shrugs, absentmindedly playing with the cecilias in her hand.

“People like that just love jumping to conclusions,” she says, pulling a flower from the bunch and smelling it. “Have you eaten one of these before? It’s fragrant… but I can’t imagine that means it tastes very nice. Your herbs don’t smell half bad, either.”

Shenhe leans in closer, and Rosaria holds the flower up to her nose.

She’s absolutely right - the plant smells divine. What is it about everything in Mondstadt being so sweet?

Shenhe’s gaze drifts back to Rosaria at the thought. The sun is setting now; her wine-red hair seems to glow in the light, and even her porcelain skin looks warmer beneath the tangerine sky. Shenhe can’t help but think that this view is even lovelier than the sunset.

After all, she has seen a million perfect sunsets from the peaks of Jueyun Karst, where she can stand higher than the clouds themselves and watch as the setting sun turns them to fire. But this… this is a sort of beauty she has never laid eyes on before.

“Teyvat to Shenhe,” Rosaria says, waving the flower in her face and interrupting her train of thought. “You’re staring.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Shenhe’s gaze drops back to the cecilia, swaying gently in the stiff breeze coming in from the ocean. “Should I eat it now?”

“On second thought…” Rosaria leans over and tucks it in Shenhe’s hair, right beside the white jade comb. “This is better. It matches your headpiece.”

Shenhe reaches up to gently touch the flower, and something unknowable stirs deep in her chest.

“I thought you wanted me to eat it,” she murmurs.

“Nah. I’m not actually familiar with the medicinal properties of cecilias,” Rosaria admits. “I’d rather avoid poisoning you on your first day living here.”

Living here. It’s the first time either of them have said it aloud - that Shenhe will be living here now, in Mondstadt. It’s… thrilling. It’s real.

“And what are you smiling about now?” Rosaria asks, a playful lilt to her voice. When Shenhe looks up, she’s wearing that lopsided grin again, and Shenhe revels in its familiarity.

Shenhe can’t help but smile, too. “Nothing, it’s just… this is all truly happening. I’m here.”

“Well, obviously. Where else would you be, on the moon?” Rosaria huffs out a laugh. “Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet.”

“Of course not.” Shenhe looks at her for a long moment, watching the way the light softly traces her features. How could I ever?

~

By nightfall, they have returned to Angel’s Share.

They’re here to meet up with Rosaria’s friends. Shenhe spots them immediately: as she and Rosaria walk through the door, the two people sitting at the bar cheerfully wave them over, and the redhead mixing drinks acknowledges them with a nod. As Shenhe takes a seat on one of the barstools, she subconsciously reaches up to adjust her headpiece, resisting the urge to take it off and fiddle with it.

“Well, it seems miracles do happen after all! Rosaria, making friends of her own accord? I never thought I’d see the day.”

Shenhe looks up, making eye contact with one of Rosaria’s friends: a man dressed in regal shades of blue. He looks elegant and confident, with furs draped across one shoulder and long hair flowing down past the other. He nods at her, and Shenhe blinks owlishly back.

Rosaria, meanwhile, scoffs and rolls her eyes. “The true miracle will come when you can greet people properly.”

“Ah, yes, how rude of me. I appear to have forgotten my manners.” The man slides down from the barstool and wanders across to stand before Shenhe. He bows cordially, peering up at her from beneath his long hair. “It is a pleasure to meet you, friend-of-Rosaria. The name’s Kaeya - Mondstadt’s one and only cavalry captain. And you are?”

“Shenhe.” She hesitates, wondering if she, too, should add any grand flourishes to her introduction. Nobody has ever greeted her quite like this; for a moment, the tiresome assumptions of strangers back home seem almost favourable. They’d immediately jump to calling her an adeptus or a witch, and even if she could get a word in, it wouldn’t matter much.

Now, she has the opportunity to get as many words in as she’d like, but her throat is dry.

It is Rosaria who saves her.

“She travelled here from Liyue just last week,” Rosaria explains. “Shenhe, you’ve met Kaeya, who’s a bit of an asshole–”

“Hey!”

“–And this is Albedo, chief alchemist of the Knights of Favonius, who is not as much of an asshole–”

“A fair assessment,” Kaeya interrupts again. “He’s got a secret evil twin to play that part for him, after all.”

Albedo sighs good-naturedly. “Are you ever going to let that go?”

“–And Diluc is that perpetually angry redhead behind the bar,” Rosaria finally finishes.

“I heard that,” he says, not even bothering to look up.

Shenhe simply nods at them, unsure how she should respond. Of all the ways people have introduced her to new friends, this is by far the strangest one.

“Well, I can see why you two are friends,” Kaeya pipes up, his voice laced with amusem*nt. “Are you sick of us talkers, Rosi? Had to go find yourself a quiet girl from out of town?”

“Are you sure you want me to answer that?” Rosaria turns her attention to the bar before Kaeya can get another word in. “Hey, Diluc! Could you fix me up with some dandelion wine? The stiffer the better… your brother’s in too good a mood tonight.” Kaeya interrupts her with a sharp laugh, which Rosaria promptly ignores. “And add on a valberry co*cktail for my friend here. Put it on my tab.”

Diluc nods coolly, pulling a notepad from his shirt pocket to write it all down. Kaeya calls out to him, asking to add another drink to Rosaria’s tab, but Diluc offers no more acknowledgement than a roll of his eyes.

“Hey! I paid last time we were here,” Rosaria objects, glaring at Kaeya, but there is no venom behind her words.

“Well, it’s not like you can’t afford it… the Church pays you awfully well considering you show up once in a blue moon to stand around doing nothing.”

“Says you, cavalry captain missing half his cavalry!”

Shenhe glances quickly between them, her confusion mounting. This time, she can’t resist taking her headpiece off - carefully, so as not to dislodge the cecilia flower still tucked into her hair - to run her fingers along the teeth of the comb. It’s strange, the way they speak to each other: it’s insulting, enough that Shenhe would pound someone’s head into the table if they dared to talk to her that way, and yet Rosaria and Kaeya are laughing together like old friends.

Eventually, Shenhe’s drink arrives, offering her another means of distracting herself. She picks up her glass, carefully swirling the beverage around with her straw. Blocks of ice clink against each other in a liquid so bright Shenhe is loath to believe it’s ingestible - but then again, it wouldn’t be the first thing about Mondstadt to surprise her.

Rosaria leans over then, bumping Shenhe’s shoulder with her own.

“I’d like to propose a toast,” she says, her glass held aloft. “To Shenhe, who has decided to stay here in Mondstadt, with us!”

With you, Shenhe thinks, and something warm stirs quietly in her chest. When Kaeya and Albedo raise their glasses, Shenhe follows suit, and the resulting clink sounds like windchimes.

A mortal signifier of appreciation, or community. Shenhe can’t help but think back to that night on the Jade Chamber, when she and Aether, along with dozens of friends and strangers alike, raised their drinks to the sky. Mere months ago, Shenhe could not have imagined that she would do such a thing not just once, but twice, and each time with different groups of people.

That warmth flickers behind her ribs, gentle and soft. It feels like gratitude; how lucky she is, to be surrounded by so many friends.

Rosaria turns around to look at her again, and taps her glass against Shenhe’s once more.

“Cheers to us, too,” she says. “For clearing out those treasure hoarders, and ensuring the people of Mondstadt can safely live another day.”

“Cheers,” Shenhe echoes, that warmth spreading into a tiny, perfect smile.

~

Rosaria
“Shenhe, wait–”

It all happens so fast. One moment, they’re drinking and laughing, the night passing in a blissful haze of gold. The next, Shenhe is slamming the door behind her, hard enough to rattle the walls. The tavern falls eerily silent; even six-fingered José momentarily stops singing, and if Rosaria weren’t so preoccupied, she might even have felt a sense of relief.

Right now, though, all she can feel is anger, laced with a burning sense of worry.

“You!” she snarls, snatching the collar of the man on the ground. She pulls him up, just enough to look him dead in the eyes. “Keep your hands to yourself, or I’ll personally send you off to see Bartobas.”

The man’s Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows, quickly sobering. “D-Do you mean Barbatos?”

“Did I stutter?”

He shakes his head, and Rosaria roughly tosses him aside before storming out of the tavern.

How typical. He’s just another drunken idiot, filled with enough liquid courage to make a scene. It had all been going so well before that: Rosaria had been sandwiched between Kaeya and Shenhe, two of her favourite people, and Shenhe seemed to be settling in well enough despite the newness of it all. That telltale tension never quite eased from her shoulders, but Rosaria still caught her smiling in that soft, statuesque manner so unique to her. Her blunt honesty coupled with Kaeya’s playful charm had made for the most amusing banter, and even Shenhe seemed to realise it.

And then that drunken idiot had sauntered over, squeezing himself between Rosaria and Shenhe. He’d draped one arm over Shenhe’s shoulders, leaning in close to her ear.

“Hey, beautiful,” he’d slurred. “You’re not - hic - from around here, are you?”

“Don’t touch me,” Shenhe had replied, her voice eerily steady.

“Oh, relax, I’m not doing–”

“Are you deaf? She asked you not to touch her,” Rosaria snapped, shoving the man away from Shenhe.

It wasn’t enough.

“You don’t - hic - really mind, do you?” he’d said, sidling back up to her. “C’mon, talk to me, I just wanna–”

“Enough,” Shenhe hissed before Rosaria could interject, and in one swift movement, had risen from her seat and pinned the man’s head to the wall. “Say one more word and I’ll make you eat concrete.”

He’d laughed, giddy and drunk. “I can think of other things I’d like to - hic - eat.”

Shenhe had stayed silent for a long moment, her breaths visibly quickening. She pressed her arm even harder against the man’s throat, hard enough that his own breaths became laboured, the drunken stupor in his eyes morphing into something closer to fear. Soon enough, he was clawing at his throat, his mouth opening and closing like a fish as his skin started to turn blue. Had Shenhe held him there any longer, he might have passed out.

“Go eat sh*t,” Shenhe had finally responded, throwing him carelessly to the ground before storming out of the tavern.

~

Shenhe
Something has gone very, very wrong.

Shenhe is sitting on the cold cobblestones outside the tavern, shrouded in shadow, one hand gripping her comb while the other clutches her pounding head. Her very brain seems to spin, a hint of panic thrumming through her veins. She feels like her ropes have fallen too loose. Like she’s losing control.

That accursed beast stirs beneath her skin, slipping through years of discipline and self-control. A familiar evil surges within her, acrid and dark. She wants to scream, or cry, or break something.

She doesn’t, though. Visions of splintered trees and deep craters flash behind her eyelids, and Shenhe takes a deep breath. She knows she’s better than this - that she is more than the evil that festers within her, even in these moments when all it wants to do is burst out. After all, was it not her who stayed perfectly in control, even as she stood beneath that great tsunami with anguish lighting a fire beneath her skin?

That Shenhe feels like a stranger. Now, it is as though she has become a little kid again: like she has returned to a version of herself that was lost and terrified, choked up by the demons she hid beneath mortal flesh. Everything had happened so fast: everyone’s voices had blurred into a chaotic amalgam of noise, and nothing seemed to slow the thrash of her hummingbird heart. All of it had been compounded by the strange, sharp flavour of her drink.

The drink. That’s it. When Shenhe had wrinkled her nose after a single sip, Rosaria had explained that she was probably tasting the alcohol. The sweet flavour of valberry juice had been hiding an unusual bitterness - something completely different to the medicinal taste Shenhe was used to. This bitterness was sharp, chemical.

She had continued drinking, though, unsure whether she was doing it more out of a liking for valberries or respect for Rosaria. The drink had settled strangely within her, like a soft fire in the pits of her stomach. At first, it made her a little more confident, enough that she found herself bantering with Kaeya, as if he was one of her old friends too. He had even complimented Rosaria’s choice in company, and Shenhe had never felt so proud.

But then, she felt her inhibitions loosen further, and with them, her rigid self-control. Her body didn’t quite feel like her own anymore; it was as though cracks had appeared within her. The noise and commotion she’d been trying so hard to ignore was suddenly explosive, and her beast itched to slip through the gaps and respond to it all. It was easy enough to sit here when it was just her and the lovely, fruity drink Aether had prepared for her, but tonight, she found herself drowning in a conversation that was moving too quickly amidst an ocean of other loud patrons.

And then that man showed up, and whatever self-control Shenhe had clawed back slipped through her fingers for good. Normally threats would be enough to make someone like him back off - Shenhe would know - but this man was different. He had… laughed. Like he was enjoying it. His response had only heightened Shenhe’s confusion: what could he have possibly wanted to eat?!

Everything about the interaction kindled the blackened evil within her. The fear, the disgust, the disorientation… it was all enough to throw her over the edge, and she had really, truly hurt him.

Maybe he deserved it; after all, if her usual threats and harmless shows of strength didn’t work, what else could she possibly have done? But Shenhe didn’t care. She had sworn never to let her curse bring harm to another mortal, ever again, and yet here she was: losing control and hurting someone. She was almost as disgusted at herself as she was at him.

Now, Shenhe runs her fingers along the teeth of the comb as she tries to slow her breathing down. One, two. Cloud Retainer’s soothing voice echoes in her head. Three, four. That’s it. Calm down, child. You are alright.

The tavern door creaks open behind her, but Shenhe doesn’t look up. She stays where she is, even as heels click onto cobblestone, taking careful steps towards her.

“Shenhe?”

She finally opens her eyes, and suddenly, everything feels just a little bit clearer.

~

Rosaria
When Shenhe looks up, Rosaria’s heart breaks just a little at the expression on her face. It is like cracked porcelain: perfection, crumbling slowly to reveal a jagged darkness within. Hints of bright blue glisten in the depths of her irises - the very same colour Rosaria first laid eyes on over a decade ago, when she watched as Shenhe’s cursed reared its head.

“Are you okay?”

Shenhe shakes her head, silent. Rosaria lets out a soft sigh before moving to sit beside her, just close enough for their shoulders to brush.

“Is your curse still under control?” Her gaze rakes over Shenhe’s body; every rope is still in place, wound tightly across her shoulders and back. “Do you… need any help?”

Still, Shenhe does not speak. Rosaria stays by her side, patient, quiet. Without thinking, she places a hand on Shenhe’s back, gently rubbing circles along it. Eventually, Shenhe raises her head, and her eyes are crystalline with sadness when they meet Rosaria’s.

“Are you scared of me?” she asks, voice small.

“Scared? Of you? Ha! That’s a funny joke, Shenhe.”

“I’m serious.” Shenhe’s voice breaks. “A few night ago, you said I was dangerous, and then I - I hurt that man, and now you’re asking about my curse again–”

Rosaria squeezes her eyes shut for a moment, drawing in a deep breath to steady herself. She’s not drunk - she never gets drunk - but she’s had enough wine for her head to start buzzing, and that alone is making it just a little too hard to focus.

“That bastard got what was coming to him,” she says eventually, leaning closer to give Shenhe’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “In fact, I’m going to ask Kaeya to make sure he really gets his dues.” She pauses for a moment, trying to properly word her next sentence. Maybe it’s the tingling in her fingertips, but the warmth of Shenhe’s body, and the hard muscle rippling beneath her skin, are far more distracting than usual. “I asked about your curse because… I want everyone to be safe. You, as much as all of Mondstadt… well, except for that idiot back in the tavern.”

“You’re not upset?”

“Obviously not. I would’ve beaten that guy to a pulp myself if I weren’t out here with you. Besides, Shenhe…” Rosaria draws in a deep breath, dizzy with the alcohol and the scent of mountain herbs. She traces the braided ropes running across Shenhe’s back, close enough now to notice the glistening threads of reddish-gold woven into them. “Nobody else here knows about your curse. Your master isn’t here, nor are your friends–”

“But you are,” Shenhe interjects.

“Yeah. So if you can’t control it… I need to know.” Then, I can help you, and we won’t have to repeat that awful day from so many years ago.

That day, Rosaria had been the catalyst of so much pain and destruction. She remembers the anguish in Shenhe’s eyes, wreathed with blue fire, and the cracks that snaked through the soil. If that were to happen again, it would put not one, but two of the things dearest to her in danger: her newfound home, and her oldest friend.

~

Shenhe
Rosaria is close - so close.

It isn’t like when they were on horseback, and the closeness of her body was born of necessity. Out here, they could sprawl out on the ground, limbs stretched out as far as possible, and still not touch each other. And yet, Rosaria is sitting right beside her, one arm draped across her back, her hand resting comfortably on Shenhe’s shoulder.

It’s hardly the most unusual thing she’s experienced today, but Shenhe still can’t help but marvel at it. She has never seen Rosaria so relaxed; the usual tightness in her muscles, as though she is always bracing for danger, seems to have momentarily dissipated. Quietly, she wonders if this is what alcohol does for someone of an ordinary constitution. If so, she can’t blame Rosaria for frequenting the tavern as often as she does - or for being able to drink several glasses before Shenhe even finished one.

Regardless, she rather likes this new side of Rosaria. In her presence, a comfortable warmth stirs beneath Shenhe’s ropes, and although she cannot put a name to it, she knows it’s a feeling she wants to bask in.

So she does. She leans into it, into her, resting her head comfortably against Rosaria’s shoulder. When she draws in a deep breath, all she can smell are roses and smoke, sweet and bitter all at once. All she can feel is Rosaria: soft skin and hard bone, the curve of her shoulder, the warmth of her touch. It’s… grounding, and slowly, Shenhe feels her breathing slow. Almost subconsciously, she lets go of her comb, letting it rest idly in her lap. She isn’t sure how long they stay there, silent save for the sound of their breaths. For once, Shenhe doesn’t even need to count them; the rhythm comes naturally.

She’s so caught up in Rosaria that she doesn’t notice the door creak open again. It isn’t until a shadow falls over them both that Shenhe startles, shifting out of Rosaria’s embrace to look back. She finds Albedo standing behind them, a strange expression on his face.

“Are you two alright?”

Rosaria sighs, quiet enough that only Shenhe could possibly have heard it, before drawing her hand away and turning around.

“We’re fine. How’s the drunken bastard? Make sure Kaeya gives him a few good whacks on my behalf.”

Albedo smiles, shaking his head slightly. “You two really have a one-track mind. He’s handling it.”

“Good. I’d hope so.” Rosaria rummages around in a pocket, pulling out a tattered box of cigarettes. “I need a smoke, so we’ll stay out here a little longer. You two go and enjoy yourselves. Don’t worry about us.”

“Alright. As long as you’re both okay,” Albedo says, hovering for a moment longer before heading back inside.

Once the door has shut again, Rosaria flicks a match to light her cigarette. Embers crumble from its tip as she draws in a breath, holding it for a moment before exhaling in a cloud of grey.

“Why do you smoke so much?” Shenhe finds herself asking.

Rosaria raises an eyebrow, inhaling again.

“Why not? It helps calm the nerves.” When she speaks, smoke billows from between her teeth. “You wanna try some?”

“What?” Shenhe blinks, her gaze dropping to the cigarette before returning to Rosaria’s face. “…How?”

“Here, I’ll show you. Just breathe in when I breathe out, okay?”

Shenhe nods mutely, watching as Rosaria takes another drag before she leans even closer, enough that Shenhe feels like she’s swimming in an ocean of pink and maroon. Rosaria brushes one hand lightly along her jaw, tilting her head until their mouths are level. Then she breathes out, slow and careful, and Shenhe inhales the steady stream of smoke that flows from her lips.

It tastes disgusting.

No amount of respect for Rosaria could get Shenhe to keep her face level. The acrid taste of ash assaults all of her senses, bitter and fiery all at once. She coughs gracelessly, wondering how long it will take for her mouth to feel normal again.

“Don’t worry. The first time is always the hardest,” Rosaria says, patting her lightly on the back. “You’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

“I think one time is enough,” Shenhe replies hoarsely.

“Not your thing, huh?” Rosaria takes another drag, looking perfectly unbothered. “Fair enough. Like I said, it’s not for everyone.”

“It helps you, though?”

“Yep. I’d wager that if you had to work with the other Sisters day in, day out, you’d pick up the habit too.” She tsks under her breath. “I swear, you’d need the patience of a saint to deal with that lot.”

“They seemed nice enough,” Shenhe murmurs.

“Maybe to you - you’ve only met one,” Rosaria snickers. “Don’t tell me Sister Grace has already succeeded in converting you.”

“Did you really follow me around for that entire day?”

“Only during my working hours,” Rosaria replies coolly, blowing smoke into the night air.

Shenhe isn’t sure whether to be more impressed or annoyed that Rosaria managed to tail her for so long without her noticing. When she looks at Rosaria now, however, the feeling that takes over is a strange sense of softness. Rosaria holds her gaze, a tiny smirk lifting the corner of her mouth.

It feels surreal. Shenhe still can’t believe that after years of pain and anguish, friendship and betrayal, she would find herself sitting at Rosaria’s side again. That Rosaria would be looking at her like this. That in the span of a single day, they would’ve gone horseriding together, watched the sunset, and shared a cigarette. As disgusting as it tasted, Shenhe cannot get that moment out of her head, from the warmth of Rosaria’s breath to the softness of her touch. And before that, when they had been sitting so close together… Shenhe can’t remember the last time she felt so at ease without meditating.

She shuffles closer again now, leaning over to rest her head back on Rosaria’s shoulder. Rosaria seems to startle, her body momentarily tensing against Shenhe’s, but she doesn’t push her away.

~

Rosaria
“Can we sit like this again?” Shenhe asks, looking up through her lashes, and Rosaria swears she feels her own heart stop.

“…Sure. If you want to.”

“I do. I think this will help me more than the cigarette.”

Rosaria huffs out a laugh. “You sound just like Barbara.” She reaches across with her free hand, draping it over Shenhe’s shoulders again and pulling her close. “She’s all, ‘oh, Rosaria, smoking is bad for your health… prayers and friendship and smiles will solve everything!’”

Shenhe breaks into a smile. “She sounds funny.”

“That’s one way to describe her.” Rosaria takes another drag of the cigarette, swirling smoke in her mouth as she looks down at Shenhe, still resting against her side. Rosaria has never seen her like this: relaxed and comfortable, her characteristically statuesque body now softer around the edges. Even that tiny spark of iridescent blue has faded from her irises.

Love has touched another pair of beautiful souls!

Rosaria frowns as Marla’s voice materialises in her head. She knows what this looks like - they’re sitting the same way Marvin and Marla were on Starsnatch Cliff, their bodies close enough to form a single silhouette.

She shakes the thought away. Those hopeful, sun-soaked citizens of Mondstadt can believe what they’d like; they’re optimists, after all. Rosaria has never shared their penchant for romance or flights of fancy.

This is simpler than that. She is merely doing her duties as a friend, and as a protector of Mondstadt. Someone like Barbara might call her kind-hearted, or sweet - or soft, that age-old voice whispers in the back of her mind - but Rosaria knows she’s just doing what’s necessary and right.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t nice, though. She is soft - softer than she ever was before, now that life in Mondstadt has sanded down her sharpest edges. She’s soft enough to stay like this, and soft enough to let herself enjoy it, even if it’s just for a little while.

After all, her head is still ever so slightly dizzy, and Shenhe is so warm, all gentle curves and soft skin. Even beneath the stench of smoke, Rosaria can detect the fragrance of wildflowers: qingxin, valberries, and the cecilia that’s still in Shenhe’s hair.

She smiles, just a little, before butting her cigarette out on the ground. Almost instinctively, she leans over, resting her head on Shenhe’s. Shenhe exhales softly, snuggling closer into Rosaria’s shoulder.

“Feeling better?”

“Yeah.” When Shenhe smiles, Rosaria feels it against her skin. “Thank you.”

She squeezes Shenhe’s shoulder. “You really are such a sap.”

“I am a lot of things, according to you,” Shenhe replies lightheartedly, and Rosaria has to bite back a laugh.

After all, she’s right. Shenhe is a dumbass and a sap, but above all, she is finally Rosaria’s friend again. And while Rosaria would never admit it aloud, she is soft enough to know how much that one simple word means.

Destiny is Merely a Series of Coincidences - Chapter 18 - opalescent_cheetah - 原神 (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Moshe Kshlerin

Last Updated:

Views: 5691

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Moshe Kshlerin

Birthday: 1994-01-25

Address: Suite 609 315 Lupita Unions, Ronnieburgh, MI 62697

Phone: +2424755286529

Job: District Education Designer

Hobby: Yoga, Gunsmithing, Singing, 3D printing, Nordic skating, Soapmaking, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Moshe Kshlerin, I am a gleaming, attractive, outstanding, pleasant, delightful, outstanding, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.