cold rage, sunlight - natasinim - 原神 (2024)

“Good morning.”

It should be a crime how cheerful he sounded, even with the slight breathlessness that accompanied his voice.

“I keep climbing higher trees every day to see if you'll stop following me around. Is the message not getting through to you?”

“Climbing…” Sethos started, hurling himself over the wide branch Hat Guy sat on. “Isn’t the word I’d use.”

He paid him no mind, adorned eyes set on remaining within the safe confines of the pages in the worn-looking book he read. His red make-up was, as usual, flawlessly sharp and colorful, even at this early hour.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading. Obviously.”

“What are you reading?”

He refused to raise his eyes, still, but his attention was no longer on the meaning of the words before him, and rather just on staring at them for the lack of somewhere else to stare. “When are you going back to the desert?”

“When are you going back to Inazuma?”

Now that caught his attention. Which was all Sethos wanted.

“Rude.” The side eye he offered Sethos lasted only a moment, but it fed something inside the Sumerian, and it immediately requested more. “I could well report you to the Akademiya for harassment and xenophobia.”

“Right, feel free to.” Sethos smiled, turned his head a bit and mouthed silently at the words he was able to read on the book’s cover, before saying them out loud. “History and Culture of Dadarazuna.”

Tatarasuna.” Hat Guy corrected him. It wouldn’t be so infuriating how bad his Inazuman was, if he didn’t speak so confidently. Despite that, he seemed determined to learn it.

“It’s where you’re from, right?”

“And what makes you think that?” He answered with the same indifference he always did, turned the page not because he was done reading it, but just so it looked like he did. Not like it was worth paying attention to, anyway.

“I’ve read that one, your clothes look like the traditional attires.”

“You can’t read Inazuman.”

“Well, your hat looks just like the ones in the pictures.”

“Hmpf.” Hat Guy closed the book with a loud thud. “Not like you can trust any of this author’s work on cultural references. What a bunch of bullsh*t gathered in a single book.” He seemed to finally acknowledge Sethos presence then, looking him up and down, setting the book aside. “And why exactly were you looking into documents on Inazuman culture, errand boy?”

“Oh, you see, I made a friend.”

He chuckled. To anyone, it would have sounded bitter, sarcastic. And maybe it was. Not that Sethos minded. “A friend?”

“Yes, it’s this eccentric student from Vahumana. Has a funny hat, flies around, ya probably seen him.”

“And what have you learned about this eccentric fellow so far?”

“A lot of Inazuman swear words, lemme tell ya.”

Another chuckle, except this time, it came from deep inside his chest, an urge he could not contain, the start of a giggle he could only manage to try and add a sarcastic tone to the end. It wasn’t a competition, surely, but if it was, Sethos would have scored a point.

“What do you have there? It smells terrible.” Hat Guy asked him, pointing at the lunchbox he brought with him. Sethos found himself more and more caught up with work in Sumeru City, at the Akademiya especially, now with its newest partnership with the Temple of Silence. Realistically, he had no reason to ‘run into’ Hat Guy as frequently as he did, other than because he purposefully took note of his usual schedule, all the different places he would go to avoid different people, when and where he usually had lunch. If he so wanted to, Hat Guy could surely avoid Sethos and, of course, he was no stalker or creep, he’d get the message and leave him alone. Hat Guy, however rude or indifferent he made his demeanor, indulged him, and that made Sethos think that perhaps he was as interested in Sethos as Sethos was interested in him.

“Lunch. Try it, you’ll like it.”

“Hm.” The more Sethos paid attention to him, the more fascinating Hat Guy was. Aside from the obvious reasons, of course, like being a Vision user or living in the Sanctuary of Surasthana - when asked about either of those, Hat Guy only said he ‘had a debt with the Dendro Archon’, as if that gave him any more answers than questions - Hat Guy was eccentric in a lot of ways. For example, Sethos never really saw him eating, not if he was by himself, and noticing that prompted him to always get a little extra lunch and spend half of his break looking for the guy so he could share some with him. At first, Hat Guy refused, and he kept refusing until Sethos annoyed him enough into at the very least trying what he was having.

Another interesting thing Sethos noticed about him was his odd interest in the Sumeru Desert. Vahumana students would often specialize in one thing, and Hat Guy had a considerable pile of works on Inazuman culture and history. Still, Sethos often caught him reading about ancient desert artifacts and technology, but if asked about his interest in either Inazuma or the desert, the guy was always as vague as possible.

“So? Thoughts?”

“And prayers. Did you make this?”

“It’s a family recipe, c’mon.”

“It’s better than what you brought last time, I’ll give you that,” Hat Guy said as he took another bite, which meant he actually did like it. If he didn’t, he would simply not eat it, Sethos learned pretty quickly.

Possibly the most eye-catching eccentric thing about Hat Guy was that, well, he had no name. In the past few weeks, ever since they started to have what Sethos would call a conversation, or even friendly banter, often, he found himself looking around the Akademiya’s library for the works Hat Guy had published, which proved itself a challenge when every thesis he wrote was published anonymously. His name wasn’t anywhere, his results in tests and the credit for presentations were always attributed to either ‘Unknown’, ‘Unnamed’, ‘Anonymous’, or just not mentioned at all. For all he knew about the Akademiya’s rules and guidelines, that was an exception that Sethos rarely, if ever, saw when going through old files. He talked to the Scribe, the former Acting Grand Sage he found was friends with Cyno, but the guy didn’t seem too interested in Hat Guy’s complete anonymity either, just said it was requested by Lesser Lord Kusanali herself, and not brought up ever since.

He concluded that was a dead end, and resigned to just calling him Hat Guy like everyone else. For all it was worth, Hat Guy never asked his name either, even though Sethos was sure he knew who he was, not like he ever tried to hide it. Their conversations seemed to follow a progression of increasingly ridiculous nicknames for each other, and Sethos thought Hat Guy’s ‘errand boy’ and ‘busy bee’ could take the prize on that one.

They had lunch together almost every day when Sethos was in Sumeru City, and sometimes he'd find Hat Guy studying in the library, would quietly slip on the seat beside him and they would read or write together in silence for hours. He grew increasingly more interested in Hat Guy's thesis, lost count of how many nights he stayed up late reading his work, which was impressively extensive for someone who had been in the Akademiya for the amount of time he had. Hat Guy had such a way of exposing his views and research on a subject, even though his sources were often lacking, he described many elements with details and examples that were so specific and intricate, it made it hard to even dare make a case against his hypothesis. They were mostly about Tatarasuna, Narukami Island, or Inazuman culture in general, but Sethos found a couple of more recent documents - that he was pretty sure were also written by Hat Guy, as sure as he could be, at least - that delved into ancient cities and technology in the desert.

“Finals are coming, right?” He asked one day. They had been studying in a quiet gazebo near the Akademiya, it would be nice if it wasn’t so warm. For Sethos, the summer was way worse in the rainforest than in the desert; the humidity left you light-headed and way more sweaty. They had a big water bottle between them, strategically placed so it didn’t damage any of the books and documents they had spread out over the table, and Sethos couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a single drop of sweat on Hat Guy’s skin, he hadn’t even touched the water, his make-up infuriatingly perfect and his hair falling flawlessly smooth on the sides of his face. Sethos thought his hat was cool, he loved the design and the colors, but the guy looked so unbelievably good without it, too, his features were so delicate and fine they looked handmade, and when he was focused or relaxed, when he wasn’t frowning and spilling insults, his beauty was so immaculate he almost seemed like a doll.

“Oi! Are you having a heatstroke?”

“...Huh?” Hat Guy waved a hand in front of Sethos face. “What?”

“What do you mean ‘what’? You’re the one who asked.”

“Ah… Yeah, sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.”

“Hmpf.” He turned his attention back to the paper he had been marking and making notes on. His handwriting was so neat, it didn’t matter which language he wrote on. “Yeah, finals are coming.”

“What’s gonna be your project? Vahumana students need to do an end of the year project, right?”

“Yeah, I- How do you know so much, anyway? You’re not even a student.”

“I’m, uh… We’re working with the General to come up with a shared project between the Darshans and the Temple.” It wasn't exactly a lie, you see, that project was actually in the making. It wasn't why he knew the entire academic calendar of Vahumana, specifically, though. Was he being too much of a creep?

“Oh, right. You're from the Temple of Silence.” Sethos perked up at that, eyes trained on the way Hat Guy’s pen stopped mid sentence and he raised his head to look at him. “I’m doing a thesis on Tulaytullah.”

“That’s your final project?” Sethos blinked. Something stirred inside him, it made him want to jump around and take Hat Guy by the hand so he'd join him on his excitement. He remained sitted, however, only leaned forward a bit to peek on what Hat Guy was studying about. “Why not something on Inazuma? I thought that's what you were going for.”

“It was, but I said everything I had to say about Inazuma. To be honest, I’m quite bored of it.”

“I see… And why Tulaytullah, exactly? Your other works on the desert were focused on Dahri technology.”

“So you've been keeping up with my finals and my past thesis.” Sethos opened his mouth, then closed it when he felt heat climbing up his cheeks. He cleared his throat, thanked his ancestors profusely for his dark skin; if he was as pale as Hat Guy, he'd be making fun of him for the foreseeable future. “Don’t worry your pretty head about it, bee, I don't mind having fans,” Hat Guy snickered.

And then Sethos had lost his attention again, just like that, he always said things that left him at a loss, his heart pounding in his ears and face flushed like he had a fever, then looked away as if it was nothing, nonchalant and ignorant, or consciously oblivious, of Sethos’ reaction. The tips of his fingers twitched, his feet stimmed under the table, rocking back and forth impatiently, waiting for Sethos to take action.

“I can take you to the Temple’s library,” he blurted out, if only for the sake of Hat Guy looking at him again. “You can probably find useful material there.”

It wasn't necessarily forbidden for outsiders to visit the Temple of Silence. It was, however, not traditional, and his people hadn't had outsiders, much less foreigners, step into the Temple and go through their carefully curated and preserved library in, well, at least a few decades. They had opened their doors, and they were planning on making copies and summaries of the works in their library to send the Akademiya, in a friendly gesture, but this was essentially letting a stranger into their home, his home, and into his people's most intimate history and culture, some of them never before shared with the rest of the world, documents of incalculable cultural and academic value, all for Hat Guy to use as he pleased for an end of the year thesis.

“Really?” Was all he had to say. He raised an eyebrow, his eyes back on Sethos, his attention back on Sethos, and if he did this, surely Hat Guy would be interested, surely he would understand. He was always so careful, so certain in his works, there was nothing that annoyed him more than seeing a wrong thesis, and he couldn't contain himself from writing a counterthesis on it.

“Yeah, sure. Since we're friends, I'll make an exception for you.” Sethos smiled. It shouldn't be a problem if he stayed there too, as was his duty, anyway, as the leader of the Temple, yeah, he was the leader now, if he thought this was reasonable, who would argue? “Have you ever been to the desert? I can escort you-”

“No need, I know my way around the desert.” He started to gather his things, then, and Sethos realized he had probably spent the last hour or so doing way more staring than working, and lost track of time. He started to gather his things, too. “Just tell me when and where to meet you, and I'll be there.”

“Alright.” He fumbled with his papers, clumsy. He was always at least a bit amazed at how confidently, how gracefully Hat Guy moved, like he had had way more time to practice everything than anyone else, and he was often infuriatingly efficient and quick on everything he did. It was mesmerizing. “Ah, have you had lunch today yet? I didn't have time to meet you, but I can bring you some snacks later if you want-”

“Already ate,” he said simply, slinging his bag over his shoulder. He strapped his hat to it, instead putting on the Akademiya’s Vahumana beret, and just as he stepped out of the gazebo, Hat Guy stopped, if only briefly, and turned his head back to Sethos. “Thank you,” he said, and it was probably the most sincere thing Sethos ever heard from him, almost nothing besides a soft murmur in the quiet, reserved gazebo, lost in the wind after Hat Guy flew away.

Almost two weeks later, when Sethos had business back home, he extended the invitation to Hat Guy again, and after a few failed attempts, finally managed to convince him it would be easier if they traveled together, since they were headed the same place at the same time, anyway. He planned on spending the rest of the month at the Temple, although Hat Guy insisted he wouldn’t stay more than two days, at most, and Sethos couldn’t change his mind, it didn’t matter how many tours around ruins and other ancient temples he promised him.

“I’m not going on these things.” Hat Guy crossed his arms, eyeing the two sumpter beasts Sethos was about to rent for them. “How long will it take us to get there like this? A whole day?”

“About five hours.”

He scoffed. “Yeah, no way.”

“How do you suggest we get there, then?”

He stared at Sethos for a moment, his delicate eyes hidden from the sun by his decorated hat, indifferent and so obviously perceptive at the same time. His make-up looked brighter today, a warmer, more orange shade of red, and Sethos wondered if it was intentional or just his imagination. Hat Guy sighed, long and purposefully dragged out, almost a grumble.

“Come on,” he said simply, turning around and headed towards the arch that led into the desert, beyond the Wall of Samiel.

“Wait!” Sethos went after him, grabbing Hat Guy’s bag as he passed by it, since the man seemed so keen on traversing the desert by foot he hadn’t even bothered taking it with him. “It’s gonna take double the time if we go on foot, y’know,” he said when he caught up with him, already crossing the city’s borders.

“Obviously.” Hat Guy nodded, kept walking as if he hadn’t heard him.

Sethos frowned. “You’re not planning to-”

“I suggest,” he took off his hat, and it merged into an anemo conjuring circle on his back, the one he always used to fly, “you hold on tight.” Then he offered Sethos his hand.

He took it, and as he felt his feet being lifted off the ground, decided he’d be better off holding onto Hat Guy’s entire arm. He gained some height, not the usual gracefulness in his movements,Sethos clearly weighing him down.

“Hm. This isn't gonna work,” he pondered, and Sethos was about to suggest the sumpter beasts again when Hat Guy had another idea, and that was how he found himself, almost an hour later, finally spotting the oasis by the Temple in the distance, sandy wind on his face and a heavy bag on his back, his arms draped over Hat Guy's shoulders, and Hat Guy's arms around the back of his knees.

Piggyback riding the guy wasn't on Sethos plans by a long shot, and yet, here he was. He would be lying if he said he didn't enjoy it, though. Hat Guy was definitely not happy about it, but still insisted on flying there, and it was so new, Sethos had never flown before, naturally, and even holding onto someone's back, it felt incredibly liberating. He thought he understood him better now, his fleeting, maybe arrogant, nature. Maybe he'd be arrogant too if he was as amazing as Hat Guy, if he could do half the things Hat Guy could as effortlessly as he made it look.

Speaking of effort.

“Aren’t you tired?” Sethos asked. It had been an hour, after all, and while they had bantered for most of the first half of their trip, they had fallen silent for a while now. Sethos brushed his nose against Hat Guy’s nape, right beside the electro sigil he had there. He didn't ask about it, but he did wonder why would an anemo user have an electro sigil in such a place.

Hat Guy startled, then, which was even more curious. Was the mark sensitive? Sethos tightened his grip on Hat Guy's shoulders when his surprise caused their flight to waver.

“No, I’m not tired,” he replied sternly, clenching his teeth. “Don’t do that.”

“My bad.” Did it hurt, maybe? The mark didn't look like a scar, but it didn't look like ink, either. There wasn't, once again, a single drop of sweat running down his neck, and he had been carrying Sethos on his back, flying under the desert sun, for an hour straight, and yet he wasn't tired, wasn't even showing signs of being tired. He got more fascinating the more Sethos noticed about him. “We’re here, just by that oasis.”

Hat Guy frowned. “There’s nothing there.”

“Yet.”

He felt a little dizzy, even, once his feet touched the ground again, a little out of balance. He imagined how weightless Hat Guy must feel all the time, wondered if he still got that whiplash, or if the sky was now just an extension of the land for him.

He revealed the Temple of Silence gates for him, opened them, and invited Hat Guy in. He was good at keeping a straight face to anything Sethos showed him, but the telltale sign of his interest was how unusually he seemed to be truly paying attention to what Sethos was saying. It wasn’t that he didn’t listen to him on other occasions, but he never seemed like he was listening, kept a bored stare and a dismissive attitude and would surprise Sethos the day after with a comment about that same topic he supposedly hadn’t been paying attention to.

And oh, how good it felt to have his full, sincere attention. He felt a strange pride in watching Hat Guy spend the whole night studying books from the Temple’s library, and even more pride when his people, although careful, seemed just as curious and interested in him. He was respectful, politer than Sethos expected him to be towards the people of the Temple, he’d never seen him bow and smile so much at the Akademiya, and when he commented on it, Hat Guy immediately fell back into a frown and muttered something about how he wouldn’t be disrespectful when being hosted in Sethos’ home.

The children especially loved him, and as much as Hat Guy denied it, he reveled in their attention, showed them little tricks with his anemo, and when Sethos said he had traveled to the desert on Hat Guy’s back, they all wanted a piggyback ride as well, Hat Guy glared at him like he was about to murder him.

For a short while, it was almost domestic. Hat Guy would have his meals with him, a room for himself, and unrestricted access to the library, on the condition that Sethos supervised him, which didn’t seem to be a problem for him. For Sethos, however, it proved itself a challenge when he noticed Hat Guy would simply… Not sleep, at all. He did spend the whole night studying, wouldn’t even take a break, and when Sethos woke up in the morning on one of the reading mats, all of the books were neatly organized and there was a blanket draped over him.

Hat Guy denied, of course, but Sethos knew it had been him. He saw a different side of him during those days, a softer, gentler side, relaxed and laid back. Sethos asked him one evening if he adjusted well, if he was comfortable or needed something else, to which Hat Guy replied, with a distant, almost nostalgic look, that he was fine, that the Temple reminded him of the village where he grew up.

“Tatarasuna?” Sethos asked, to which a shadow crossed Hat Guy’s eyes, like it tainted his happy remembrance.

“Yes, Tatarasuna…” he murmured, got up and announced he was going back to the library, not waiting for Sethos to say anything else. That same evening, Sethos woke up in the middle of the night, and Hat Guy wasn’t there. He looked for him in his room, but it was empty, and he didn’t seem to be anywhere in the Temple.

Sethos found him, his clothes precisely, outside, neatly folded over a rock near the oasis, and in the clear waters, impossible to miss, Hat Guy was bathing. It was impossible to miss because his body glowed, and it attracted fireflies and dragonflies like a colorful aura around him. Sethos had seen the lines that shone with the anemo color around his body, from under his clothes, but he thought they were connected to the use of his vision, the flow of his power as he channeled it. Like this, it was like the glow came from under his skin, from gaps that seemed carved into it, and the light flickered gently as if connected to his heart, like his soul was shining, and his reflection on the calm, crystalline waters made him look ethereal, an immaculate spirit that had blossomed from those very waters. It made him look like a divinity.

Then he turned, and Sethos felt heat rising all over his body, he looked away from him and quickly retired back into the Temple, an embarrassing tingling sensation on his lower stomach and a slight stirring in his pants that was utterly disrespectful. He decided to stay in his room for the rest of the night, didn’t think he had the courage to face Hat Guy then, knowing he had seen Sethos watching him.

Hat Guy, however, seemed to have different plans. A while later, when Sethos was finally almost falling asleep, he heard a knock on his door, and his stomach fluttered again, like he knew exactly who it was, could feel his presence on the other side of the sandstone.

And there he was, dressed but not wearing his kimono, his ornaments or his hat, his hair still slightly wet.

“Well, here’s the spying little bee.” Hat Guy crossed his arms, a smirk raising the corner of his lips. “Ran back to the hive I see.”

“I- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“I’ve been thinking…” Hat Guy lowered his eyes, staring at nowhere specifically. He didn’t seem mad at Sethos, and he dropped his teasing attitude quite fast, uncrossing his arms and motioning towards Sethos' room. “Can I come in?”

“Ah… Yeah, sure.” He moved so he could come inside. Sethos felt a little embarrassed about his surely disheveled state, and made quick work of looking for a hair tie and any clean shirt he could find, since he didn’t bother wearing one to sleep, usually, but it felt wrong to stand in front of Hat Guy half dressed like that, especially after… Well, it felt wrong. “What have you been thinking?”

“Back in the oasis, I only saw you because I felt you there.”

Sethos frowned. “What…?”

Hat Guy wandered over to his bookshelf, his racks and his open wardrobe he now wished he had tidied up. He ran a finger over the wood and sandstone surfaces, rubbed the sandy dust between his index and thumb. “You should be able to feel it, too,” he said, took one of Sethos’ book, ran over the pages. It was an old collection of poems dedicated to King Deshret and his priests. “From what I've studied, as the leader of the Temple of Silence, you should be a descendant of the god Hermanubis, or at least, a vessel of his soul and power.” He stopped at a page that showed a painting of Hermanubis guiding his followers into Tulaytullah. “But I don't feel the presence of a god inside you.”

He closed the book, put it back in place carefully. “Once divinity enters your body, it never really leaves.” He got closer to Sethos, and even though he stepped back to give Hat Guy space, he only kept getting closer. “It takes root inside you, and when it’s gone, the roots stay,” Sethos felt the back of his knees hit his bed, and Hat Guy only stopped then, they'd be face to face if Hat Guy wasn't slightly shorter. He put a hand over Sethos’ chest. “They wrap around your organs, the deepest parts of you, and when divinity is ripped from us, its roots stay lodged inside, like a parasite.”

Us. When divinity is ripped from us.

“Can you still feel it, Sethos?” His name rolled out of Hat Guy's tongue in perfect Sumerian pronunciation. Hearing him say it for the first time like that, half murmured and so close, made Sethos' head feel lighter, something stirring in his chest. “I can.”

Hat Guy slid his hand up, and whatever was stirring in Sethos' chest followed the movement, from his sternum to his collarbone, until the tingling reached his neck under Hat Guy’s fingertips.

“What… What are you doing?” He whispered, slowly raising his own hand to place it over Hat Guy's.

“You and I, we're the same. You can feel it in me, too.” He took Sethos' hand upon his own, brought it to his own chest. His skin was cold, but there was a flickering warmth underneath it. Sethos sought it, brought it fourth, it was this urge inside him, to reach it, hold that warmth in his palms, it was familiar and unknown. He closed his eyes, and he swore he could visualize it behind his lids, this small core of raw, unbridled electro power. “Godhood was taken from me, just as it was taken from you.”

Sethos opened his eyes, and in Hat Guy’s purple irises, he could see the greenish glow of his own stare. He moved his head forward, just slightly, the electro energy coursing between them like a magnet, faint but still there, buzzing in his ears, pushing them closer like it wished to reconnect, to bond and grow stronger.

“Ow!” He pulled his hand back, rubbing the leftover stinging of getting shocked.

Hat Guy laughed. “It’s a pitiful residue of power, really, but when they resonate, it’s enough for a little spark.”

“That’s… Incredible,” Sethos said, his awe hadn’t been gone completely, even if the stupor had passed, like a spell broken. “Which god were you a vessel for?”

Hat Guy chuckled bitterly, lowering his gaze. He absentmindedly rubbed his nape, and it took Sethos a second to remember the electro sigil engraved there. “Wouldn’t you like to know, errand boy.” He looked up at him again, a small, almost sympathetic smile on his lips. He observed Sethos for a few seconds, then stepped back, moved towards the door. “I’m quite tired. I’ll be retiring to my room, now.”

“Wait-”

He stopped by the door, turned just enough to give Sethos a side-eye. “You should take care of that.” Then left.

Another surge of heat took over him, and Sethos covered his face with embarrassment for the mortifying tent in his pants. If Hermanubis was benevolent, he’d strike him down at that very moment.

“So, how was your trip?” Nahida asked him. It was evening, he had been back for a couple of hours now, mostly studying his findings at the Temple. He was grateful for the space Kusanali gave him, but she would always pry a little, eventually. He supposed it was better when she pried with his knowledge and consent.

“Fine. Productive.”

“Hm,” she moved from the doorway, entered his room uninvited, as always. “And how’s your new friend?”

“I wouldn’t go so far as calling him a ‘friend’.”

“But you do like him.”

“He’s useful.”

Nahida sat by his desk, moved to light the lamp she had given him to help him study at night. ‘I don’t need it’, he had insisted, he could see perfectly well in low light, the moon shining through his window was enough. ‘You shouldn’t force your eyesight’, she had said, and gave him the lamp anyway, it was never much effective to argue with her. “I’m glad to see you hanging out with someone other than the Traveler. I was concerned you wouldn’t make a single friend at school, you know.”

“I told you, he’s not my friend.”

She pouted. “You spent the weekend in his home, all the way to the desert.”

“It was for research.”

“You enjoy his company.”

“He’s nosy and loud. Hard to avoid.”

“Does he not remind you of someone?” She spoke, a different tone to her voice, one he was all too familiar with. He shot his head up, and just as he guessed it, her eyes shone with the green hue of her power.

“Get out of my head.”

“You still miss him terribly. It’s a good thing to move on.”

“Stop prying into my thoughts, Buer.”

“And you want him, too. The night in the oasis, you wanted him to-”

“Buer!” He shouted and got up, his chair falling backward with the suddenness of it.

The green glow died down. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice back to its natural soft, cheerful edge, and not the dazed slowness of when she was inside someone’s head. “I just think you shouldn’t push him away. You haven’t been thinking of Ajax-”

“Do not,” he interrupted. “And stop reading my mind. You don’t do it for my own good, you do it because you’re an intrusive control freak. Leave me alone.”

She looked disappointed, guilty, even, if he didn’t know she was incapable of genuine emotion.

“You’re right, I apologize.” She got up as well. “I should give you privacy to handle your own affairs.” Nahida moved to leave, conjured herself a little dendro stool so she could reach the door handle. “I do mean it, though. He likes you, don’t push him away.”

Once again alone in his room, Wanderer rubbed the bridge of his nose, a headache making its way to the back of his head with the image of two different sets of glowing green eyes that annoyed him for two very different reasons.

It was summer in the rainforest, which meant uncomfortable, humid heat for a couple of days, and then a heavy storm for the next. The rain in Sumeru City was also different from the rain in the desert, and while in Lower Setekh the scarce rains brought with them a cool breeze and freezing nights, in Sumeru City they made the weather somehow even more suffocatingly warm, a dense, damp heat that seemed to come from the ground instead of the sun.

Sethos stood at the entrance of the Akademiya, pondering if he should wait for the storm to pass or make a run for it. It wasn’t like the rain bothered him that much, but he would have to leave the documents he was carrying behind and come back another day to pick them up again. Another handful of students seemed to be wondering the same thing, watching the rain outside next to him, and some others, clearly more prepared ones, stopped by to open their umbrellas before heading out.

And others, very specific ones, wore a big hat at all times, and needn’t be worried about the weather.

“I’m guessing you didn’t bring an umbrella,” Hat Guy approached him, only because Sethos stared at him like a lost puppy. f*ck him, he really did remind him of that stupid Snezhnayan.

“Yeah… I’m still not that familiar with the sudden changes in weather here,” Sethos laughed, a little nervously, almost.

“Hm.” He stared at the small pools of water forming outside. Lightning crossed the dark clouds above them, illuminating the scenery for a second, and he felt an uncomfortable shiver running up his spine. He let out a defeated sigh the moment he heard the thunder. “Let’s go.”

“Huh?”

Hat Guy offered his hand, and when Sethos took it, he pulled him close enough so that his hat covered both of them from the rain. “Step on my foot and you’re on your own.”

Sethos nodded earnestly, holding onto his arm tightly. It was annoyingly endearing how carefully he watched his step as they left the Akademiya, until Hat Guy decided he wasn’t fond of the idea of stepping into a puddle, and flew them to Sethos’ place instead.

“This is where you’re staying?” He asked once they landed in front of a little house by the edge of town.

“Yeah. Perks of being friends with the General Mahamatra, I get my own place in the city.”

Hat Guy chuckled, standing close to Sethos to keep him more or less dry as he unlocked the door. “Yeah, tell me about it. I’m friends with the Dendro Archon.”

“That’s pretty insane. Mind sharing how that happened?”

“Some other day, maybe.” He stood in the doorway while Sethos stepped inside.

“Thanks for the ride.” He pointed at his soaked hat. “And for the umbrella.”

“Don’t call it an umbrella.”

Sethos laughed. “Right, my bad.”

He considered his options, then. As much as his hat covered them, there was only so much it could do against windy rain, and as a result, their clothes were quite damp. The longer he stayed in the rain, the more the water soaked through, and it was already uncomfortable. He thought about going back to the Sanctuary of Surasthana, going back to his papers and his books. He thought about going anywhere else, he’d like to avoid Buer for now, anyway, but as he stared at Sethos, still holding his door open, and his house looked quite cozy, warm and dry, he could spot a couple of desert tapestries hanging from his walls, and an unmade bed by a half-opened window Sethos should probably close before his sheets were unsalvagable. As he stared at Sethos, with another flash of lightning above their heads and the unrelenting melody of fat raindrops hitting the ground, the smell of wet earth filling their brief silence and Buer’s words echoing in his head, he came to a conclusion.

“Hey, uhm- I’m sorry about that day, back in the desert. I didn’t mean to spy on you while you bathed, that was kind of creepy of me, and it wasn’t my intention, I was just looking for you, and later in my room that was-” he scratched the back of his head, averting his eyes for a moment, “a natural reaction, and it was really disrespectful, and I swear I don’t think of you like that-”

Before Sethos could finish, Hat Guy flew inside and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, the suddenness of it made Sethos stumble back and the only reason he didn’t fall on his butt was because Hat Guy held him upright.

“I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t think of me like that.” He closed the door behind them with a gush of wind. His eyes wandered down to Sethos’ lips, and it made him feel younger, the recklessness of taking yet another lover, after the fiasco all his past ones had been. He knew Sethos would be no different, he’d leave him, one way or another, they all did, and even if he had been, at some point, a vessel for divinity, at the end of the day, Sethos was only human.

Still, it felt exhilarating to kiss him, to allow Sethos to hold him and pull him into bed. He was so gentle, his lips caressed every inch of his skin as he undressed him, tanned hands stopping at every piece of clothing so he could ask if that was okay, if he could take this off, if he could touch him there. It made his chest ache and his head reel, he wasn’t sure if he was more annoyed or turned on by it.

Sethos could hardly believe it was actually happening, when it downed on him that the Hat Guy was grinding down on him, undoing his pants and pushing him down on the bed to ride him. It had been a while since Sethos last had anyone, and he did his best to make it last, but knew there was only so much he could do when the man over him started to glow and picked up his pace, his thoughts were back to that oasis, to the divine energy they shared, Sethos was sure he could feel it resonating again between them when he threw his head back and closed his eyes, the tips of his fingers tingling where they touched the other man’s thighs.

When they were done, Hat Guy slumped beside him, threw an arm over his eyes. It was the first time Sethos had seen his make-up smudged, and what he believed was a lone drop of sweat running down his temple. As the sound of their panting mingled together in the now quiet room, Sethos realized,

“Hey, look.” He brushed his fingers gently against the other man’s cheek, admiring his soft, flawless skin, it was almost unnatural how perfectly unblemished it was. “The rain stopped,” he said, still a bit out of breath.

Hat Guy moved his arm, uncovering his eyes. He looked up, out the window, to the slowly clearing sky outside, the droplets of water creating patterns on the window, and a single ray of sun that passed through them and into the room. He turned his head toward Sethos, the sunlight in his eyes, starkly green on his brown, honeyed skin, his hair wildly disheveled beneath his head, a couple of half-unmade braids amidst it, and he mourned the divinity stolen from him. Sethos would have made a great god.

“It did,” he murmured, leaned his face into Sethos’s hand, if only slightly, if only so he could better listen to that thrumming energy flowing in his veins, forever dormant, just like his own. It had been a while since he’d last done it, but for that evening, he let the forgotten promise of greatness lull him into sleep.

cold rage, sunlight - natasinim - 原神 (2024)

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