Before the news breaks out, Ganyu feels the earth-shattering sensation ring through her bones—
La Signora of the Fatui Harbingers is dead.
The stack of files she had been carrying drops to the ground, Ganyu herself falling soon after—a heavy, damning noise. Ningguang is rounding her desk in an instant, falling to her knees beside the adeptus secretary, gloved hands rubbing and down Ganyu’s shoulders.
“Lady Ningguang,” Ganyu rasps, arms cradling herself as a wave of nausea nearly has her keeling over. “Lady Ningguang, I—”
“I know,” Ningguang whispers. “I know.”
“Don’t be.” The Tianquan shakes her head. “Take as much time as you need. It’s alright, Ganyu, you can go.”
And so, she does.
There is a blonde woman on Ganyu's mountaintop today—the real thing, the true one, and not the dream of a woman at war. Ganyu knows this, because the woman in front of her is bruised, and battered, and tired; cracked porcelain of the person she once was.
And together they kneel amongst stubborn qingxins, flowers that grow on hard mountaintops where they should not; where neither of them should be but they are.
"La Signora is dead," the blonde woman whispers, quiet.
"She is," Ganyu agrees, equally as soft.
"But Rosalyne is not."
"She is not," Ganyu says, her eyes stinging with unshed tears, and her voice breaks on the final syllable.
And just like that, she is lunging forward, tugging Rosalyne into a tight embrace, fighting back a whimper at the way the taller woman grips at her bodice as if Ganyu were to disappear.
"I'm pathetic," Rosalyne whispers, her forehead dropping onto Ganyu's shoulder. She closes her eyes as the smaller woman's fingers rise to twist into her hair, unknotting the rose-shaped bun, letting pale blonde locks spill freely over pale shoulders. "I didn't— I don't want to die."
Not like that.
Biting back the start of what must have been a sob, the taller woman's shoulders heave, and Ganyu is gathering her into a tight embrace, whispering softly into her ear before she realizes it.
"You didn't die," Ganyu murmurs, her own voice thick with emotion. It catches in her throat, thick like honey, nearly trapping her words within her before she remembers who is in her arms and she powers through. "You didn't die— you're right here, safe with me. You're not pathetic, you want to live."
Have you been alive this whole time, preserved by the frost?
"I am so tired, Ganyu."
"I know you are— oh, I know." The half-adepti girl shudders, not wanting to imagine any other outcome.
"My Delusion as well— gone. All gone."
"I'm sorry," Ganyu whispers. What is it like to lose a Delusion? If Visions are ambition, what would it mean to lose something so similar, yet so much more dangerous?
"Don't be." Closing her eyes, Rosalyne presses her face against the bare skin of the qilin girl's shoulder. In a startling revelation, Ganyu realizes that the breath that leaves the taller woman's parted lips is warm. "I gave it up willingly. A final act of selfishness, all the way until the end."
"It doesn't have to be the end."
Rosalyne laughs, and it is a cold sound.
"The Tsaritsa and my fellow Harbingers believe I'm dead. Mondstadt has not been my home for centuries. They all think me a witch, anyway. I have nowhere to return."
"Stay with me," Ganyu says immediately, pulling Rosalyne even closer to her body, pressing a kiss to the top of the blonde woman's hair— soft, so incredibly soft, and Ganyu wishes she were taller now, a true qilin, so she could shield away this woman who has seen too much, has been denied of too much. "You can stay with me in Liyue. Or I— I can go with you. We can disappear together, Rosalyne, and I'll never leave your side. I—"
Ganyu halts in place, wide eyed and teary as she hiccups, smothering back a sob of her own.
"We can run away together, just like we wanted," she whispers. "It won't be a joke anymore, I'll do it. I'll leave with you."
"You can't do that." Rosalyne's words are fond as a small, rueful smile presses against Ganyu's neck. "You are an adepti, and you're too dedicated to your Archon; to your nation."
"I am also human," Ganyu retorts, breath hitching. "And I think we've established that selfishness is an inherently human trait but not necessarily in the wrong."
But then Rosalyne is silent.
"There is… something else you must know." Her words come slowly, regretfully, and Ganyu sucks in a breath, nods for her to continue. What she is not expecting is for the platinum blonde woman's shoulders to sag, helpless. "The reason I was given a Cryo Delusion was because a long, long time ago, I grasped a terrible power and used it to flood molten flame through my veins. I burned myself and no longer had a human form of my own— I was only able to maintain this body because of my Cryo Delusion."
Ganyu's eyes widen. Steadying her own shaking hands, she swallows harshly, chews on Rosalyne's damning words.
"I do not know for how much longer I will be human." Rosalyne's resulting laugh is breathy and condemning. "I do not know how much longer this form will hold before I lose control of myself."
The silence that follows feels damning.
"I don't care," is what Ganyu tells her, many heartbeats later, when she has stopped counting the thumps in her chest against the lack of noise.
"What?" Rosalyne does not seem to understand.
"I don't care," Ganyu repeats, quiet and stubborn. "I don't care how much longer you have. I will not leave you alone. I want nothing but to stay by your side for as long as I draw breath."
The look in Rosalyne's eyes softens.
The adeptus girl's lips simply press into a hard line. "You may not have your Delusion anymore, but I am Cryo myself. I will make myself cold enough for the both of us."
She creates a cottage for just the two of them, the mountain shifting in accommodation.
It is a quaint, quiet structure, with its stone walls and open windows. Ganyu fills their new space easily— thousands of years of living and you end up accumulating quite a bit. Furniture bought on whims but never placed during her busy schedule, plates and utensils gifted during holidays, souvenirs from foreign places that had never held a home until now.
Rosalyne helps her through it all, a quietness about her that borders on heartbreaking, but she smiles at Ganyu and gives her input when she's asked anyway.
"Don't place the piano next to the window," Rosalyne instructs, gentle like she always is with Ganyu, but subdued in a way that causes an ache in Ganyu's chest. "It will fall out of tune if it gets too cold. It may not ever be freezing, but the wind chill at night may affect it."
"Is that so?" Ganyu blinks, surprised. Suddenly grateful for her non-human strength, she easily maneuvers the piano over to the far wall, away from the window instead. "Thousands of years of living and I didn't realize such a sturdy-looking instrument could be influenced by just the wind."
Rosalyne chuckles, reaching out to brush a hand over Ganyu's hip.
"You've been a bit busy keeping your nation afloat, darling."
"Do you know how to play the piano, Rosalyne?"
"I used to." There's a faraway look in Rosalyne's eyes. "It's been quite a long time."
"You have the time now," Ganyu proposes hopefully. She turns around, wraps her arms around the taller woman's torso and sighs happily when Rosalyne chuckles again, pulls her in closer. "Why don't you practice?"
"So I can play something for you?"
"So you can play something for me."
And so they finish furnishing the cottage in quiet conversation, Ganyu taking every moment she can find to brush the length of her body against the taller woman, hoping to be some ounce of comfort.
How does one continue to live when they feel an hourglass tipping over? How do they move forward while knowing that their life will soon come to an end?
These are the questions Ganyu finds herself pondering as she gingerly washes the dishes after breakfast the next morning. Her gaze wanders through the glass windowpane behind the sink, where Rosalyne sits quietly to herself amidst their qingxin garden.
What could she be thinking about? Ganyu cannot help but wonder. What could a disgraced Harbinger at the end of a fuse think about?
And so, Ganyu continues to think all morning, even as she places their cups and plates away in their respective cabinets.
Eventually, she decides to stop thinking because all of the answers she finds makes her unbearably sad, and her chest is already tight enough.
Instead, she grabs the watering can from its proper place on the shelf near the threshold, stepping outside to the unfairly bright sky outside.
"Would you like to help me?" Ganyu calls out to Rosalyne, who has been running her thumb over the same qingxin petal for nearly half an hour now. She remembers when Rosalyne used to be able to cast ice from her fingertips, and then there is the terrible realization of yet another act that the taller woman has been deprived of. Still— "The flowers have been missing you recently."
"I would love to."
The small smile that flickers across Rosalyne's lips is enough to make the terrible knot in the qilin girl's chest finally unfurl, and when their hands brush the moment Ganyu passes the watering can over, she lets out a breath she hadn't known she was holding.
Yes. Yes, she can breathe. And in front of her, Rosalyne remains breathing. So long as they are together, she can breathe easily.
Or at least, Ganyu breathes easily until she spies a familiar silhouette standing by the cliff side and nearly has a heart attack.
"Lady Ningguang?" Ganyu yelps, startled. She immediately rises to her feet, leaving an equally-surprised Rosalyne still kneeling amongst the qingxins. "What are you doing here?"
At the sound of her name, Ningguang turns, her brow furrowed in confusion.
"Here?" The Tianquan repeats, her intelligent wine-colored gaze briefly flickering to Rosalyne before returning to Ganyu with a knowing degree. She leisurely begins walking over to the garden. "So I am in a physical place. Your domain, Ganyu? I see… How peculiar. The last thing I recall is lying down in bed for the night and drifting asleep."
"So you are dreaming?" Rosalyne questions, not appearing to be in any further distress than she had been prior to Ningguang's sudden appearance. She resumes her watering of the flowers. "That is how I used to arrive in this place as well."
"Fascinating." Ningguang hums. She joins the other women amongst the flora, lightly touching a white, ivory petal. "This body doesn't seem any different from my waking one—the body still asleep in my bed."
"If I am being honest, I still do not understand how my domain seems to snatch people from sleep," Ganyu admits before sharing a meaningful look with Rosalyne. "But the last time it did so, I could not help but feel as though fate had a hand. Perhaps you are here for a purpose, Lady Ningguang."
"A different one from the Harbinger you are hiding?" the Tianquan asks innocently.
The former Fatui barks out a laugh. "Presumably so, Lady Tianquan."
Ganyu lightly swats her arm. "Play nice."
Rosalyne sighs. "Yes, darling."
Ningguang remains ever unflappable, keen amusement dancing across her face at the display. "It's good to know you still have some bite, Crimson Witch of Embers. And here I was, believing the news of your death."
"For all intents and purposes, I might as well be dead." Rosalyne offers one raised shoulder in a shrug before waltzing her fingers across Ganyu's waist, resting them there with a semblance of finality. "This is probably as good an afterlife as I can get."
Until I truly die. The words go unsaid.
Ganyu hears them as if a bronze bell were tolling in her ears; a subtle reminder that their time on this mountaintop is not as infinite as either would like. Perhaps the domain would remain forever, but would Ganyu find it in herself to return?
Ah, the qingxins will wilt…
Ningguang does not know of Rosalyne's impending fade into oblivion, does not know that one day, Ganyu could wake up to an empty bed with no one else to fill it.
Ah. Her chest aches again.
"You plan to stay here forever?" Ningguang asks, raising an eyebrow. "Because if it's for Ganyu, it truly is forever."
Rosalyne chuckles. "Does that not sound paradisiacal?"
Ningguang laughs at that. "Suit yourself. I suppose it would be, for the both of you."
"Until she grows tired of taking care of me," Rosalyne simply says, as if she's intending to stay for that long version of forever; the extended stay Ganyu wants for her.
"Ah," Ningguang agrees sagely, "that may become a problem."
"I would never!" Ganyu exclaims indignantly, and she wriggles her way into the blonde, taller woman's arms. She knows that they're teasing but the knowledge of Rosalyne's ticking time has Ganyu on edge, and when she peers up at the former Harbinger, bottom lip quivering, Rosalyne seems to soften. "You know that I will never tire of you, right?"
"If you were anyone else, I would have doubts." Rosalyne says, affectionate as she runs a hand across the fabric of Ganyu's bodice. "But you've had the same job for thousands of years and by some miracle, you still leave for work every morning."
"What a fascinating existence you are, Miss Ganyu," Ningguang croons.
Meanwhile, Ganyu feels her face heat up.
"You're one to talk, Lady Ningguang," she mumbles.
"When Ganyu gets passionate about anything, she devotes herself wholeheartedly to the cause," Ningguang continues, addressing Rosalyne now with a slow, steady nod. "The list that holds her attention is not very long, but your name is certainly written on it now, La Signora. Surely, you know this already—that Ganyu will stay by your side regardless of action."
"I will remain here," Ganyu blurts out, red-faced but determined nonetheless, and when she meets Ningguang's wine-colored eyes – eyes that hold far too much wisdom for Ningguang's fleeting lifespan – Ganyu feels something steel in her heart: never will she leave Rosalyne's side. "No matter what."
Rosalyne says nothing, speechless as her single uncovered eye gentles, endeared. Not taking her sights off Ganyu, she opens her mouth to address the Tianquan who continues observing them silently.
"I never would have imagined that I would receive this talk from you, Lady Ningguang." Rosalyne chuckles. Her hands catch around the petals of a qingxins. "And yet somehow, it seems fitting. Although, I will say—I doubt I will escape this conversation without a threat on my flickering livelihood."
"Oh, certainly," Ningguang agrees, absently peering at her nails. "If you hurt our precious Ganyu, you will wish your life truly ended back in Inazuma."
"Lady Ningguang!" Ganyu gapes, abashed.
Ningguang merely tips her head back to laugh as Rosalyne dismisses Ganyu's concern with a wave of her hand.
"I deserved that," Rosalyne accepts before regarding Ningguang thoughtfully. "You should consider becoming the next Geo Archon, Lady Ningguang. With your wealth in Teyvat, influence over Liyue, and weight to your threats, you might as well already be one."
The way Ningguang snorts can only be described as such: unladylike.
"I would rather perish with my humanity than ascend to Celestia," the platinum-haired woman merely says with a scoff. "The era of gods is no longer."
"Perhaps in Liyue." Rosalyne shudders. "I doubt the Raiden Shogun is going anywhere anytime soon."
Ningguang smirks. "And on that note, I must say farewell."
Rosalyne laughs, the lightest Ganyu has heard in a while. "Naturally."
"Thank you for visiting," the half-adeptus girl adds. "Even if it was just as much a surprise for you as for us."
"It was a pleasure." Ningguang smiles as she stands, brushing off her qipao. "So, how would one theoretically leave?"
Ganyu immediately looks at Rosalyne, only to find the other woman already staring at her.
An uncharacteristically wicked smile blooms across Ganyu's lips.
"Well, Lady Ningguang, you see—"
"If you weren't so capable," Ningguang says the next day as they stride down the halls of the Yuehai Pavilion, "I would have you fired."
"I do not believe my actions would warrant such a response," Ganyu refutes, hiding her amused grin. "Regardless of how capable I am."
"You pushed me off a mountain."
"It was during off hours." Ganyu pauses. "Also, you were dreaming."
"Why did it feel like you were waiting for that moment?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about, Lady Ningguang."
"You're lucky Liyue cannot function without you."
And Ganyu allows herself a smile.
Rosalyne occupies herself with the piano when Ganyu is away.
Despite centuries of not playing, despite losing herself amongst the frigid colds of Snezhnaya and forgetting who she once was, Rosalyne feels her fingers sink into ivory keys with a familiarity that has been seared into the marrow of her bones, aching and true. Her hands dance across the piano as if time had never been the issue, and as the music slowly rises up through the room, a melody piecing itself back together, a stitch in this suspended space, Rosalyne remembers.
"Ah," she murmurs to herself, "I would sing this to Rostam, wouldn't I?"
She doesn't sing now; probably couldn't even if she wanted to. Although the melody remains, the music accompanying without pressure, the lyrics are all but lost to time.
That's alright, she figures. After all, it had been her song for Rostam, and its meaning should have been laid to rest along with him.
But her hands keep moving, body slightly swaying as she trails up and down the octaves, and Rosalyne swears she smells the faint scent of dandelions on a warm breeze from outside.
"And… roses?" she wonders aloud.
Her hands cease, the music coming to abrupt halt.
From the corner of her eye, just out the window, she sees a flash of purple, and Rosalyne is off the piano bench in a heartbeat, whirling around to get a better look, and—
Her single platinum-gray eye meets a pair of bright, vivid green.
Then she blinks, and the sight is gone.
For a moment, Rosalyne is silent.
"...Have I gone deranged?" She shakes her head. "Ganyu will love to hear about this."
The sun is rising one morning when Ganyu realizes there is a woman in hues of indigo on their mountaintop today.
"So," the woman muses, gazing around at her surroundings, eyes dwelling on the qingxins stubbornly growing from the rocky mountain earth. She doesn't seem to notice Ganyu yet, continuing to idly observe her surroundings, "this is where the Harbinger woman resides now."
"She is no longer a Harbinger, Ei."
The words leave Ganyu's lips before she can prevent herself, and the half-qilin girl bites back a small, pleased smile as Inazuma's Archon whips her head around in surprise, clearly still not used to hearing her name being called, even after all these centuries.
"Ganyu," Ei greets, dipping her head in a courteous nod as she steps closer. Her surprise melts away easily, something amused yet somewhat blank at the same time taking its place. "This is a lovely domain you've created."
"I tried my best," Ganyu responds, a note of pride in her cadence. "This place is my home now."
"But it is more than just your home," the Archon comments, and immediately Ganyu hardens her expression.
"I am not sure it was wise of you to come here, Ei."
"No," Ei muses, musical, "perhaps not."
Ganyu steps forward. "Please, Ei, you are a friend, and I do not want—"
"Ganyu, you do not need to defend me. The Raiden Shogun came here to speak with me."
Her breath hitches as a familiar hand squeezes her shoulder, and Ganyu instinctively reaches up, threading her fingers through Rosalyne's. When she glances up at her lover, she finds the blonde woman's expression to be grim, taut with something foreboding.
Ganyu purses her lips. "Ei wasn't who you saw the other day, was it?"
"No. I remember the green eyes," Rosalyne says, her eyes beseeching. "But the Raiden Shogun came here to speak with me."
Ei nods, the corner of her mouth twitching.
"Yes," the indigo woman agrees, "to speak."
"Not to finish a job?" Ganyu questions warily.
Ei waves off the question easily. "I do not leave my work half complete." She pauses. "Usually."
Rosalyne slowly exhales, her shoulders tense.
"I should have ended her life at the time, though. Forget the gnosis—she hurt my Sara," Ei mentions nonchalantly, twirling a strand of silky midnight hair on one finger, and Rosalyne flinches. "She nearly killed someone I hold most dearest."
Meanwhile, Ganyu tightens her grip on the taller woman's hand.
"I am not here to defend her actions," she murmurs, catching the way Ei's lips curl upwards. "And I am not someone who can forgive her when I have no right to do so. But regardless," Ganyu raises her chin, meeting Ei's unreadable gaze, "I do know that you aren't here to kill her."
Besides her, Rosalyne sucks in a sharp breath. Ganyu does not falter.
Ei smiles. Melancholic, peaceful, a tinge of sadness, the smile of someone who simply wants to move on.
"You've always been sharp. Far sharper and more mature than I."
Ganyu shakes her head. "You don't give yourself enough credit." She swallows. "You let her go, after all. You broke your own rules."
"I never was able to thank you for that," Rosalyne suddenly interjects, "actually."
It's staggering, the way the taller woman does not manage to meet Ei's eyes, and Ganyu is stunned into silence as that iridescent, violet gaze narrows for a moment, as if judging what might be true.
"I was a second away from killing you."
"And yet, I somehow still stand here." Rosalyne's palms open and close without purpose. She brushes away a long lock of platinum blonde hair, as if trying to give herself something to do, laughing quietly to herself. "Even after I humiliated myself in front of you."
Ei sighs, pushes a strand of violet over her shoulder.
"I wanted to kill you."
"You should have."
"But I thought it was sad." Ei looks away, staring out over the horizon. As though if she looked hard enough, she could find a present that did not feel so grim. The Archon pauses, then. "You did not ask for forgiveness back then." The Cataclysm, Ganyu remembers. Rosalyne, aflame and angry, protecting the country her lover had died for, only to be shunned by those same people. "But what about now?"
Ganyu says nothing, merely reaches for Rosalyne again, squeezing longer, elegant fingers.
Rosalyne squeezes back.
"I do not regret giving up my body for Mondstadt," she says, low. "I never meant to be a monster. It hurts to be called as such. But will I ask for forgiveness for that act? Absolutely not." Then, Rosalyne's shoulders finally slacken. "As for my actions in Inazuma, while I cannot claim to understand or apologize for the purpose of the Tsaritsa's orders, I still do not know whether I can truly apologize for what transpired with Kujou Sara. She was an obstacle and I was performing my duty. If anything, however, I am sorry that she had to get involved; that it had to be her."
Ei simply nods. "I expected as much."
Rosalyne smiles wryly. "It wasn't personal."
"You were just carrying out the will of your Archon."
"A stubborn one, isn't she?" Ganyu comments.
Rosalyne rolls her eyes. "That's rich, coming from you."
"In a way," Ei muses, "you are not too different from Kujou Sara. It weighs heavily on her soul, however, how many tragedies she has caused in the name of my eternity."
"Good." Rosalyne shrugs, looking as exhausted as ever. But there is a light in her eyes that had not been there before; she stands straighter, more reminiscent of the proud woman she once was. "She is a better person than the both of us."
Ganyu gapes at the clear double-edged jab.
Meanwhile, Ei tips her head back and laughs.
"Rosalyne-Kruzchka Lohefalter," the Electro Archon says, her lips caressing the sounds of the former Harbinger's full name—it comes as a surprise to no one that Ei somehow knows its existence. "Perhaps in a different universe, we would've been comrades."
Rosalyne smirks, straightens ever-so-slightly. "Perhaps so. That is, if you would've been comfortable as the comrade of a witch."
After Ei leaves, Ganyu immediately leads them both back into bed.
"I should have never opened the door," Ganyu laments as she fluffs her pillow and pulls an amused Rosalyne back under the covers. "I will never leave these four walls ever again."
"You have work tomorrow," Rosalyne points out. She smirks to herself as Ganyu merely burrows herself further into her body—all that work to prepare her pillow, and the small thing still prefers to cling to Rosalyne. "And besides, it was a good conversation to have."
"Not even my arrows could have pierced the thick atmosphere." Ganyu shakes her head. "Ningguang has visited us already. She understands the situation, right?"
Rosalyne presses a kiss to her head, right between crimson horns.
"Go to work tomorrow, darling. Else Liyue will ignite into flames."
"As you wish," Ganyu finally concedes with a sigh, closing her eyes. "But only if we can stay in bed all day. Today is Sunday, after all."
"The day of rest," Rosalyne comments.
"The day of rest," Ganyu agrees, smiling.
Sunday, the day of rest and forgetting of all worries despite the clock ticking on the wall.
(Ganyu throws a towel over it before clambering into Rosalyne's lap, searching to seal their lips together like a promise.
It is everything and more.)
She’s having tea, Ganyu away at the Harbor, when a witch in shades of purple strides up to her stone table.
"Lisa Minci," Rosalyne murmurs, surprised.
Looking positively delighted at the blonde woman knowing her name, Lisa's perfect lips curve up into a pretty smile just as a gust of wind blows by, stirring up chestnut brown hair.
"La Signora," Lisa greets kindly, extending a hand as if approaching an old friend and not one of Mondstadt's former worst enemies.
"Please," Rosalyne shakes her head but receives Lisa's grip firmly, "call me 'Rosalyne'. La Signora perished back in Inazuma. How have you managed to find yourself in Ganyu's realm?"
"Well, Rosalyne, I had some help from a certain Electro Archon." Lisa winks. The little lamp at the tip of her purple hat sways. "Last time, my coordinates were slightly off, so I wasn't able to materialize properly."
Rosalyne nods slowly. She gestures for Lisa to take a seat across the table, motions for the other woman to pour herself some tea. "So, that was you before. How did you know you could travel here?"
Did the Tianquan say anything?
As if reading her mind, Lisa giggles. Crossing one leg over the other, she leans forward in intrigue.
“Don’t worry,” she singsongs, an amused, almost musical lilt in her voice. “You’re still dead to the world. It was just a certain someone who asked me to find you. Consider me privy to the secret, but no worries— I won’t tell a soul.”
Rosalyne’s eye narrows. “You better not. For Ganyu’s sake.”
“For her sake.” Lisa hums in agreement, a curt nod. “But judging by your reaction, there are others who have visited.”
"Not entirely willfully," Rosalyne says with a shrug. "While Ei sought this place out using what I can only assume were her powers as an Archon, I, myself, initially arrived unintentionally in my sleep, as with another party more recently."
"And the 'you' who is in front of me currently?" Lisa inquires.
"My real body," Rosalyne discloses with a chuckle. "In my most dire moment, an entrance appeared before me. Most likely, it was Ganyu's doing, and her effect on this place."
"Fascinating!" Lisa claps her hands together, charmed. Her emerald eyes twinkle as she relaxes in her chair, elegantly picking up her steaming tea and blowing. "As you must have guessed, my true body is also currently asleep. Adepti powers are truly something else. Meanwhile, it appears that we, regular humans, can only find our way to this place while not awake."
“Dimensional dream travel.” Rosalyne chuckles, unable to help herself. “Leave it to Sumeru Akademiya's most brilliant student to figure it out.”
"Only in the past two hundred years," Lisa corrects immediately, and her teacup returns to its platter. "If I am correct – and I know I am – you precede that time frame."
The blonde woman arches an eyebrow. "As did Zandik."
The Purple Witch of Rose merely flicks her hand dismissively, clearly uninterested in discussing the object of such scorn. "He was cast out, and for good reason. Dottore's unethical experiments were, and continue to be, the farthest thing from brilliant."
"And yet, he and I both ended up as Fatui Harbingers," Rosalyne considers thoughtfully.
"And yet," Lisa repeats, green eyes glimmering again, dangling a mouse in front of its predator; danger behind the tranquil expression, "you have forsaken them."
"I had no choice."
"That’s not correct," Lisa chides nonchalantly. "You could have crawled back and begged for forgiveness."
Rosalyne crosses her arms, unimpressed. "That sounds humiliating."
"But you would have been accepted." Lisa smiles, tips her head in that unfortunate gentle way that reminds Rosalyne of Ganyu. "Perhaps not without question, not without a struggle. But you could have reclaimed your position regardless. Yet, you didn't. Why?"
The former Harbinger sucks in a breath. "Why, indeed?"
"Because you are running out of time."
Lisa watches her expectedly, keen eyes flickering across her face.
"How did you—" Rosalyne frowns, inexplicably having to remind herself to breathe. "How could you possibly—"
"There were reports of your research," Lisa explains, allowing her expression to twist into something mournful, regretful. "Back in the Akademiya. You wrote them yourself, and then left them in a hurry when you ran back home to save Mondstadt. And so I read about a type of arcane magic that turns your body to liquid flame; about the power you embraced in a moment of desperation." Then, she pauses. "I also know what can happen now that you no longer possess a Cryo Delusion."
Rosalyne straightens. “So you know that my time is dwindling.”
“I know that you would rather spend that time in the company of someone you love,” Lisa replies. Her fingers tap absently at the table, as if playing the piano, “as opposed to the frosty company up in Snezhnaya.”
“Just as you would rather spend your remaining life in Mondstadt instead of in the suffocating erudition of the Akademiya?” Rosalyne counters.
Lisa’s smile widens a fraction. “This conversation isn’t about me.”
“But it could be.” Rosalyne tilts her head.
Lisa cocks her head in kind, matching Rosalyne’s pale gaze with her own. “You’re the one with less time.”
“Time.” Rosalyne tips her head back and groans. Overhead, the sun has just begun its descent across the sky, hiding itself behind a cloud. “Always about time. I had so much of it—centuries, even.”
“Was it enough?” Lisa asks.
Rosalyne shakes her head.
“It was, but then it wasn’t. Not when it was pulled from me so abruptly.” She pauses, casting a forlorn gaze over her shoulder at the cottage that had become her home. Suddenly, she wishes Ganyu was here. Wistful, she sighs. “And I had just gotten used to the climate here, too.”
"You worry about the adeptus girl." Lisa sees through her too easily, to the point where it's almost concerning. Her gaze is gentle, yet leaves Rosalyne vulnerable, her knowledge and scrutiny a level above any other—truly, the scholars in Sumeru would probably murder for even a glimpse of what knowledge Lisa Minci has. "Even though she will live on without you."
Startled, Rosalyne laughs. "Now you're just saying nonsense. I love her, Purple Witch. I will worry about my Ganyu from the grave. And then I will smile and watch her fall in love with Liyue Harbor all over again. And then…"
"I will wait." Rosalyne shrugs. "Until I can hold her properly again."
“You trust her that much?”
“Of course.” Rosalyne’s fingers tap against porcelain. “If there is one person I can trust to keep me tethered through the strongest of winds, it is Ganyu.”
“Are you referring to yourself as a kite?”
“What do you believe?”
Lisa fixes her with one final, inscrutable stare. "You have thought much about this, Crimson Witch."
“Two witches.” Rosalyne's back feels oddly light as she gathers her empty teacup along with Lisa's beside the edge of the table. “Not enough time to live. Enough time to fantasize about what happens after. Well, I suppose after all of that, I should have all the time in the world to ponder my regrets, yes?”
The woman across the table looks amused. "That would be the case, yes."
"Would you like more tea?"
And Lisa laughs, a tittering, gentle noise; bells. “Actually, do you have any wine? Let us toast to what comes after.”
"We keep getting visitors," Rosalyne muses that night, long after Lisa has left. From the porcelain bowl in front of her, she picks up noodles with her chopsticks, having gotten rather good with the utensils despite Ganyu's insistence that there's a perfectly good drawer of spoons and forks in the kitchen. "I'm never prepared, yet I feel like I am no longer surprised either way."
"That's good," Ganyu enthuses, hiding a giggle behind her ceramic spoon. "You have some entertainment when I am away during the daytime. Although," she shoots Rosalyne a pointed look, "I cannot say I imagined coming home to you and Lisa Minci day drinking outside."
Rosalyne chuckles, sipping at the broth in her soup. "She was good company with a keen mind. It's been centuries since I was at the Akademiya, but… a part of me wonders what I would have been like if I never left." Then she snorts. "Although, I suppose Lisa ended up leaving to return to Mondstadt as well, albeit for different reasons. Perhaps we have that in common."
Ganyu grows silent. She stares down at her soup.
"Lisa Minci is very beautiful."
Rosalyne pauses in her spoonful, raising an eyebrow.
"Don't you think so?" Ganyu frowns, maintaining her downcast stare, brow creasing.
"I'm sure Mondstadt's Acting Grand Master agrees," Rosalyne says with a dry laugh before she reaches across the table, cups Ganyu's cheek, smoothening the pad of her thumb over soft skin. Then, crooning—"But Lisa is not as beautiful as my Ganyu."
Ganyu squeaks, quick to hide her reddening face in her hands.
"That's unfair," she whines, yelping again as Rosalyne runs her hand over a pair of sensitive horns. "Oh, you're awful!"
"But you love me," Rosalyne prods, smiling, and oh, perhaps everything up until now was worth it—all of the hurt and loss and hardship, all of the humiliation and defeat, maybe this made it all worth it.
This simple moment in their cottage atop a flower-covered mountain, when Ganyu swallows and bashfully nods her head in a way that makes Rosalyne want to scoop her up and never let go.
"I do," Ganyu mumbles, shy like a lamb, and Rosalyne wishes she could freeze this moment in time, outside world be damned. "I really love you, Rosalyne."
Rosalyne rounds the table before she can stop herself, magnetic and drawn forward as if this was what destiny had planned all along. She gathers a stammering, flustered Ganyu in her arms in an instant, leading them both to the bedroom, fingers tugging at the red string encompassing Ganyu’s entire being.
Let us be embraced by this moment that won't come again.
Maybe the flames of the Crimson Witch died out long ago, maybe even the embers as well. But on this night, otherwise the same as any other, Rosalyne holds Ganyu and burns bright, bright, bright.
To whatever the new day brings.
"Ah." Ningguang blinks in surprise, up to her ankles in flowers. "It appears I am here again."
Rosalyne wordlessly hands her a trowel.
Ningguang accepts it, bemused.
Ganyu giggles, brushing herself off before standing up. "I'll grab us some snacks. Lady Ningguang, feel free to make yourself at home."
She hurries off to the cottage.
"So," Ningguang drops to her knees, next to Rosalyne and in front of a fresh bed of dirt, "what are we planting?"
"Ganyu wanted glaze lilies," Rosalyne explains, gesturing to the blossoms she had already planted before pointing at the flowers still waiting to be transplanted into the raised beds of dirt, meticulously prepared by her lover. "They cannot usually grow atop mountains, as I'm sure you must know, but Ganyu is an adeptus and her powers are mysterious. Thus, we will plant."
Then, she smirks. "Although, I do not know how much the Lady Tianquan wishes to get her hands dirty."
Ningguang rolls her eyes good-naturedly. "I'll have you know, Witch, I came from nothing. Growing up, I had no choice but to struggle in the dirt. I know when such activity is necessary."
"A self-made woman." Rosalyne nods in approval. "I like that. You should have no trouble planting the rest."
Ningguang chuckles. "Yes, ma'am. Are you not going to help?"
"In a bit." Rosalyne waves her off, then makes a show of sitting on her heels. "I've been at this for a while now. A woman needs to know when to rest."
And if Ningguang suspects anything, her wine-colored eyes reveal nothing.
In this place for the both of them.
And perhaps a few others.
"You know how to play piano?" Lisa asks. She is reclined on the nearby couch, wide-brimmed hat on the cushion over, her feet tucked beneath herself. Sitting in the living room with a teacup and saucer, Lisa curiously watches the blonde woman sit in front of the instrument.
"A remnant of my brief time as a regular mortal," Rosalyne replies, chuckling under her breath. Her fingers dance up a scale. "To think, I loved singing so much back then."
"Mondstadt must have been very different," Lisa remarks.
"Oh, it was." Rosalyne sighs, a faraway look in her eye. It hadn't been until recently that she'd been able to recall it—a kinder, gentler time. A time before the Cataclysm, before Celestia had reigned hell and ruined everything. "The world was different. I was different."
"I wore a wide-brimmed hat like yours, for starters." Rosalyne hums to herself, allows her hands to sink into a familiar, warm chord. "Both of my eyes were working, too. And I wanted to learn. There was so much I wanted to learn."
"Do you ever miss being the Crimson Witch of Flames?" Lisa asks.
"Do you ever miss the peak of your power?" Rosalyne asks in turn.
Lisa smiles, and it is a haunting sight. "I was scared of myself."
"Imagine realizing that you've abandoned your mortal body in exchange for flame," Rosalyne replies sardonically. Her fingers continue moving on their own, a piece from a time long gone playing itself across ivory keys.
"Lightning was coursing through my veins." Lisa sighs. "I could feel power surging through every inch of my body. Never had I felt so alive. A single fingertip had enough Electro to kill a grown man. It was thrilling. It was—"
"Terrifying," Rosalyne finishes.
They share a laugh. The piano piece finishes.
Rosalyne stands from the bench and slowly moves to join Lisa on the couch.
"Already done practicing?" Lisa inquires.
Rosalyne smiles, dry as a Sumeru desert.
"I am tired."
Lisa's resulting smile is sad.
"Terrifying," she says.
Rosalyne finds that she agrees.
Ganyu arrives home one day at the same time a different Fatui Harbinger does. She has just materialized within their cottage and is about to join Rosalyne outside when she hear it—
"Tartaglia," Rosalyne says, stunned.
Ganyu immediately ducks back inside, eyes wide. She creeps into the kitchen, peering through the sink window; catches a head of ginger hair and she strains her ears to listen.
"Ah, I go mostly by 'Childe' now, actually." His smile is sheepish, hands lazily shoved into his pockets. If he's surprised to see her, the ginger-haired man gives no indication. "Do you still prefer 'Signora'?"
Rosalyne pauses for a moment, then shakes her head. Her smile is exhausted, drained.
"No. Here, I am 'Rosalyne'."
"This isn't a dream, is it?"
"No, not really." Rosalyne looks to the space past his head, into the distance. "I am somewhere far away."
"But you are alive."
"...Yes." Rosalyne's hesitation to admit so is palpable. Ganyu's heart aches at the knowledge she might not be around for much longer. "But Snezhnaya cannot know. Teyvat cannot know."
Childe nods slowly. "Why do I get to know?"
"Because even with your foolhardy behavior," Rosalyne says flippantly, and Ganyu is reminded of his prior, foiled attempt to drown Liyue Harbor, "I know that you have enough sense to know when to keep your mouth shut.
Immediately, Childe tosses his head back and laughs, throwing out a salute. "Yes, ma'am. You can count on me."
"I mean it," Rosalyne warns. "You mustn't tell a soul. Even your precious xiansheng."
"I won't, I won't!" He raises his hands in surrender. "I promise, no one will hear a thing."
"Snezhnaya already mourned for you, anyway, you know?" Childe chuckles. "You got a whole half a day of halted, snowy activity."
Rosalyne snorts. "Half a day. Wonderful."
"Hey, I'm serious. You're sorely missed among our ranks."
"I'm sure I am." Deadpan.
"Arlecchino misses you the most," Childe also notes, nodding once more. Then he frowns, as if still gripping about the idea of truly never seeing her again. "She will mourn for you more, most definitely."
"She loved me," Rosalyne murmurs, something fond in the way she blows out an amused breath. Meanwhile, Ganyu startles at the simple three words—there was someone else? Someone else who had loved Rosalyne like this? "The poor thing was constantly vying for my attention. I hope she doesn't do anything too rash following my death."
And Childe is quiet for one more moment. Ganyu mentally counts the seconds.
"...Your death, huh? Arlecchino really can't know the truth?" He frowns, and Ganyu frowns with him. "She's already begun to spiral, actually. Her erratic tendencies of vying for control have been… concerning, in so few words."
With a sigh, Rosalyne fixes him with a hard look. "I cannot let any word get out that I survived the encounter with the Shogun. And even if I were to reveal myself to her… I doubt it would be much help. I am a catalyst for her anger, not a trigger nor a stem. She will realize this in due time."
"But beyond that," Childe prods, moving to sit down as well, "you're tired, aren't you?"
"In short, I am." Rosalyne chuckles, running a hand through ivory petals. Belatedly, Ganyu watches her takes notice of where Childe sits, just beyond the clusters of qingxins, careful not to accidentally squish a single flower. "How odd—I feel like I don't have to act in front of you, boy. We've become more alike these days, tiring the more we touch beyond Snezhnaya. But perhaps more appropriately, I feel resigned." To my fate. To my death.
The unspoken words ring loud in Ganyu's ears, and she swallows the lump in her throat with great effort.
"How much longer will that form of yours last?" Childe asks the question slowly, as if he somehow dreads the answer. It's funny, actually, now that Ganyu thinks about it—a little over a year ago, Rosalyne had been sure that he'd hated her. They had never been the closest of coworkers, after all. "I remember something Dottore said long ago, about your Delusion. And your dependence on it."
"You can tell that I no longer possess it?"
He just shrugs, his smile turning wry. "You're less frosty."
Rosalyne laughs at that, shoulders shaking at the irony of it all. "You're right, I'm but a few embers now."
"I do not know." Sobering, the mirth flees from Rosalyne's body, sinking into the mountain grass beneath them. She shrugs, helpless. "I fear that one of these days, I will simply no longer be. That my weak flame will be snuffed out by the wind."
Childe only looks down, fiddling with his own Vision. "You don't want to die, do you?"
"I don't want to leave Ganyu behind," Rosalyne replies, thumbing a qingxin, staring out over the mountaintop at the beautiful sunset that casts its soft gaze over them. Once upon a time, that had been the only view from here—mere months ago, yet it feels like an eternity. "I do not want to die, because I want to be by her side, so I cling to what embers I have. Selfishly, a part of me is grateful that I was bested by the Raiden Shogun, because I no longer must be on the frontlines."
"Fighting never was your forte," Childe murmurs.
Rosalyne smiles, tired. "It is exhausting, struggling for century after century. I never set out to fight for the Fatui. I am grateful for the Tsaritsa, but once upon a time, I merely wanted to be a researcher."
And Ganyu thinks of Sumeru and its lush landscapes, desolate deserts, and all-encompassing, overwhelming knowledge; of Lisa who had found the answers to Rosalyne's dream, only to realize that such power was far from what she truly wanted. Ganyu thinks of Ningguang, thanking Rex Lapis that the Lady Tianquan had never resorted to such lengths for Liyue; had never needed to.
"I wanted to learn," Rosalyne says wistfully. "And then I wanted to return home to Mondstadt to be with my love. I never wanted all of this."
"What can I do for you?" Childe asks, helpless. His hands tremble.
Ganyu feels herself trembling alongside him. They cannot ignore this—their shortening window of time looming over their shoulders. Not for the first time, Ganyu wishes in her thousands of years of living that she had spent it learning more. Perhaps, in a different world, she could have truly frozen time.
And Rosalyne smiles, chuckling weakly; feels more sand pile in the bottom of her metaphorical hourglass.
"Just wish for my happiness, boy. For whatever little time I have left."
Just like before, Ganyu feels it before she sees it.
Unlike before, the feeling isn't earth-shattering, but instead, something slower, subtler. A creeping ice, freezing over the smallest cracks in her bones, entangling its way through her body like thorns on vines, and the more she moves, the tighter they enclose around her aching heart.
A chill runs down her spine, and the first time, Ganyu feels cold.
She leaves work early, Ningguang's eyes flashing in concern but the Tianquan does not protest, only fixes her composure and sends Ganyu off with haste.
When she arrives at their mountaintop, it is midday but the sun is already setting; redder than usual, a stain across the sky of blood, of flames, of endings.
Ganyu hates it.
She tells Rosalyne this when she clambors ungracefully into their bed, falling into Rosalyne's waiting embrace and gripping onto the taller woman. Perhaps, if she can hold tight enough, make herself cold enough, it will be enough to meld her lover together again.
"What an annoyance," Rosalyne murmurs affectionately, her thumb weakly rubbing circles into Ganyu's back. "I am literally falling apart, and yet my life has never felt so whole. You've brought me quite the conundrum, little love, but I've had so much fun."
Ganyu shakes her head, bottom lip trembling.
"Stay with me," she begs. "A little longer. We still have so much left, so what can I— I need to do something for you!"
"Darling," Rosalyne tells her, soft yet firm. "You've already done everything for me."
"But there must be something—"
"Take care of our flowers, love." Rosalyne closes her eyes, seemingly at peace. Desperately, Ganyu cannot take her eyes off her. "Ningguang will be back. Much like you, that woman works too hard, so relax with her in the new days. Water the glaze lilies. You can give her the watering can I used."
Ganyu whimpers inaudibly.
"And Lisa," the blonde woman continues, smiling. "She is a big fan of tea, so if there's someone you wish to spend your breaks with, she will be there for you, in this place for all of us."
"You have touched so many lives in these past weeks," Ganyu says, fondly; swallows. She reaches up, smoothens Rosalyne's hair from her eyes. "You have so many friends."
"Isn't that funny, how it works?" The former Harbinger laughs quietly to herself. "Centuries of keeping myself at arms length only to crumble in my final moments. Childe will not return here, but I hope he finds happiness beyond the Fatui. He and I are similar—we both grew weary."
"And in your weariness," Ganyu says, "you found your way to me."
"I did." Rosalyne smiles, eyes still closed. "If you ever see Ei again, please give her my thanks."
For giving me this second chance, no matter how brief.
Ganyu curls in tighter, nods.
"I will. I promise."
"Ganyu," Rosalyne murmurs into periwinkle hair. "Ganyu, I am so tired."
"I know you are," Ganyu whispers back, her words caught in her throat. "I know."
"Do you think I will shiver before it happens?"
Ganyu laughs, a wet and broken sound. She kisses Rosalyne's forehead, leaves her lips there because she wants the sensation seared against Rosalyne's pale skin.
"If you do, it certainly will not be from the cold."
Ganyu doesn't remember falling asleep.
Perhaps it's a mercy, for when she wakes up, she is alone.
There is no time to cry, no time to mourn.
Because then, out of the blue, there is a knock at the door.
Ganyu does not know how she makes it to the threshold, does not know how much time elapses as her feet carry her on its own towards the gentle rap of a knuckle on wood.
It is Lumine.
Quiet, intelligent Lumine, with her otherworldly white dress and flowers from a time long gone strung through her hair, a distinct lack of her typical floating companion alongside her.
"Lumine," Ganyu breathes out the moment her mind catches up.
"Ganyu," Lumine greets in kind, smiling and waving.
"I—" Ganyu swallows. She looks over her shoulder, at the empty cottage. Then back to Lumine.
"I was looking for Rosalyne," the blonde girl with golden eyes says, her smile small but earnest. "Ei helped me find this place. Lisa helped me travel here. I had something to return, and… I had a few things to say to her."
"Ah." Had Lumine been upset when the Raiden Shogun allowed for Rosalyne's survival?
"It was pretty important." Lumine smiles sheepishly. "I apologize for taking so long to come here, but a crisis in Sumeru accidentally ended up eating away a lot of time. I'll tell you about it later, in Liyue Harbor, but suffice to say, this is definitely my final time dabbling in anything dream-related for a while."
"Lumine," Ganyu says, more than a little desperate as tears pinprick at her eyes. "Lumine, I'm sorry, but if you're looking for Rosalyne, she's not here right now."
"Oh, no, no, that's alright!" Lumine laughs. "I was just letting you know why I was here. I already spoke with Rosalyne. Just now, actually."
Ganyu's eyes widen, swears her heart stops beating.
"Rosalyne," Lumine points over her shoulder in explanation, giggling. "She's waiting for you, over there. Told me to wake you up, too, since it's nearly noon."
"Rosalyne is… here?" Ganyu asks in disbelief.
"She's waiting for you," Lumine repeats, her smile something mysterious. "Anyway, I'm sure you two have much to talk about now, so I'll be on my way. Talk to you soon, Ganyu!"
And then Lumine is gone, vanished into thin air.
Stupefied, Ganyu can only stand by the threshold, gripping the door frame in open-mouthed shock, wondering if Lumine had actually ever been there to begin with.
"Are you just going to stand there forever?" A voice calls.
Ganyu's eyes immediately snap to the voice.
And there she is—amidst their qingxins and silhouetted by the sunrise, Rosalyne stands taller than Ganyu remembers in recent memory, her single pale gray eye watching her expectedly, affectionately.
"Rosalyne," Ganyu says, stunned.
"Ganyu," Rosalyne replies, amused.
Ganyu's feet move on their once more, flying across the flower petals, like chasing a red string of fate, launching herself into the arms of the woman who's made her feel so much.
"She gave it back."
Ganyu halts, qingxin petals tickling at her ankles. Confused, she blinks up at the taller woman, arms refusing to budge from where they wrap around Rosalyne's waist.
But then the sound of Rosalyne's inhale is shaky, her hands nearly trembling as her enclosed right hand opens, within it lying a small glass orb whose light blue sheen rivals that of a Vision from the gods itself.
"I'm not entirely forgiven," Rosalyne says, huffing out a quiet laugh, "but Lumine told me to work on it by living a more peaceful existence."
"Your Cryo Delusion," Ganyu whispers, holding her breath. "Oh… Lumine had been in possession of it?"
Rosalyne nods, a disbelieving laugh escaping her lips.
"The Shogun had given it to the little mouse. Apparently, she'd left the final decision of the Delusion's fate in Lumine's hands." Rosalyne chuckles to herself, and her fingers nearly tremble as a thin mist of ice hisses around the orb. There is awe on her face, as if it was the first time she'd ever seen such a thing— as if she can't believe she holds the power of Cryo in her hands once more. "Truthfully, I cannot blame Ei for thinking it was appropriate. If there were any single person to utterly despise me, that pesky traveler would be the one."
"But she didn't hate you," Ganyu says, feeling a smile grow across her face. "She returned your Delusion to you. She called you by your real name."
"Either she has the patience of a saint, or she's a real fool," Rosalyne replies dryly. "But I suppose that either way, I'm grateful nonetheless."
"You have your Delusion back," Ganyu whispers, stunned back into a momentary, quiet contemplation. She rests her head against Rosalyne's chest, hears the taller woman's pulse against her ear. "So, does this mean…?"
Rosalyne laughs, reaching up to stroke Ganyu's hair. "My body has never felt more frigid, love. I'm afraid that you're now stuck with me for an unprecedented amount of time."
And Ganyu beams, reaches up to tug Rosalyne down insistently.
Together, they fall into a heap among their stubborn flowers, their blossoms that choose to bloom in a place where they should not thrive, and Ganyu lifts a palm to Rosalyne's cheek before sealing their lips in a new promise—one encased in ice, cold enough to weather through any incoming storm, warm enough just for the two of them.
When Lisa lays her eyes on her, emerald green eyes crinkle into crescent moons, the relief evident and weightless.
"Oh, thank the Archons," Lisa breathes, striding up to where a very-much-alive Rosalyne sits at their usual tea table and tossing her arms around the platinum blonde woman's shoulders.
Rosalyne makes a strangled sound as Ganyu giggles, clearly entertained.
"You're just in time for tea, Miss Lisa," the half-adeptus girl chirps, happily still on cloud nine since the events earlier that morning. She sits to the right of Rosalyne, occasionally knocking their ankles together.
"I see that I am," Lisa replies, winking as she takes her own seat, across from Rosalyne before sighing. "I heard from Lumine what happened earlier. She assured me that you were fine and well, but I just had to see for myself."
"You, as well?" Another voice interjects, and Ganyu somehow manages to brighten further.
"Do you know how foolish I feel?" Ningguang says drily, walking up to the tea table. "Me, the Tianquan of the Liyue Qixing, clearing my schedule to take a nap and pray that I show up in the right place."
Rosalyne smirks behind a sip of her tea. "You were worried about me, Lady?"
"I was worried about Ganyu, Witch," Ningguang retorts, but the relief in how her shoulders relax is evident. "She looked like a walking corpse at Yujing Terrace yesterday. Although," she scrunches her nose as she settles into the last seat, "I cannot imagine you looked much better."
"I looked far worse," Rosalyne says, flippant. "My Ganyu is always beautiful. I am a witch with one eye. This shouldn't be hard to picture."
Ganyu groans and buries her face into her hands as Lisa and Ningguang share a laugh.
"This combination of people feels dangerous," she mumbles.
"You have no need to worry, Ganyu," Ningguang says dismissively.
"This feels like the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Lisa adds, propping herself up on an elbow and grinning. "So, it sounds like your dream travels are far different than mine, Lady Tianquan. Care to share?"
"You call yourself that easily now," Ganyu observes quietly to Rosalyne as their new friends converse.
"Hm?" Rosalyne cocks her head. "What do you mean?"
"A witch," Ganyu replies, giggling. "Before, I thought you had an aversion towards the word."
"Ah, that." Rosalyne shrugs, looking back at Lisa and Ningguang. "I suppose the first time Ningguang called me as such, it did not feel harsh. It felt like power. And then I met Lisa, and I figured—how bad could it be, no? She calls herself a witch, and she is brilliant. How bad could it be, to be a witch who has cheated death twice, if that is who I am associated with?"
(“Ningguang,” Rosalyne says later, when Ganyu and Lisa are off in their own world, chattering away about the healthy benefits of consuming qingxin.
“Mmhm?” The Tianquan makes a noise of acknowledgement, cocking her head to one side in indication that her name had been heard.
Rosalyne falls silent. Then—
“I have never flown a kite before.” She wrings her hands out, marveling at how they respond without faltering, without failure. She could play piano with these hands. She could tug at some string. “Even during my youth in Mondstadt, I was too preoccupied with my songs or studies to ever fly one. But I enjoy the idea of it and I will have much free time in the upcoming days, so I… I think I would like to try.”
Ningguang blinks. Slowly, a smile takes over.
“I see. I will send Ganyu home with a kite one of these days.”
“You can take your time.”
“Nonsense. We must remedy your lack of a proper childhood immediately.”)
The final surprise of the day arrives late at night, beneath a brilliant starry sky, long after Ningguang and Lisa bid their farewells for the time being with promises of more kites, more flowers, more tea.
Rosalyne, eager to be on her feet after weeks of feeling frail, sees the figure out the window as she’s finishing up the dishes. The hot water stings her skin, a clear reminder that the vision is real, and Rosalyne sighs, picking up the final plate and reaching for the towel.
But then Ganyu is there in an instant, smiling up at her with something unreadable in her eyes. Delicately, she takes the plate from the other woman’s grasp, her gaze shifting towards the door.
“It’s okay,” she says reassuringly. “I think there’s something you need to do first.”
“I’ll be back,” Rosalyne promises, and then she’s reaching for the door handle, quietly making her way outside.
Arlecchino stands amongst flowers, looking horribly out of place in the signature fur coat all Harbingers wear while bracing Snezhnaya’s treacherous cold. But then again, Rosalyne wonders if she, too, had looked so out of place—how had Ganyu seen someone like her, dressed to literally murder, and accept her with open arms?
It is with that thought in mind that she steps forward, purposefully rustling the grass, just enough to make her former ally turn around; enough to make Arlecchino freeze in shock.
“Rosalyne,” she whispers.
“That is my name,” Rosalyne replies, the corner of her lip quirking up. Ah, she’ll miss this banter.
“You’re here,” Arlecchino says, her bottom lip trembling.
Rosalyne pauses, hesitating.
“Perhaps,” she settles on.
"Rosalyne," Arlecchino repeats, reaching for her. The X’s in her eyes stretch wide, hopeful and almost childlike. But it has always frightened Rosalyne, deep down in her heart, how she has always been able to affect the woman in front of her like this. "Rosalyne, please. Let's go home, Rosalyne."
"I can't, dear," Rosalyne smiles gently. "I'm already home, where I am supposed to be. And you… you're dreaming."
The fleeting hope vanishes, and Arlecchino’s expression crumples.
“I’m dreaming,” she echoes, distant. Then her shoulders sag, a rare showcase for the proud Harbinger. “Yes… This makes sense. You— you are dead, Rosalyne.”
Rosalyne hums, considering. “Yes. La Signora has been dead for weeks now. And Rosalyne…” Taking another moment to think, she ponders to herself. “In truth, the woman you knew had not been Rosalyne for a while.” She spreads her arms. “I am what is left.”
Stripped of her prior hatred, only the tiniest embers of anger, far away with Snezhnaya and Sumeru and Mondstadt. No more titles, no more lies, no more war. Without an eye, without the flames, with Cryo filling the cracks that a lifetime of loathing had left behind— more whole.
She is what is left, and the Rosalyne that stands on this mountaintop has never been more whole.
“What is… left?”
“Yes,” Rosalyne says. “I was able to find her, beneath all the rubble—the Rosalyne who I thought perished during the Cataclysm.” Her smile softens. “But I was not alone. I had some help.”
"...Was I not enough?" Arlecchino asks, vulnerable in ways that Rosalyne knows she cannot afford to be, back in Snezhnaya. A part of her heart aches at the knowledge— a part of her that wishes she could go back in time, be a little softer around the edges, teach Arlecchino about what it truly means to live. “Was I not enough to make you stay? Was it the others? Were they too harsh on you?”
“You were never the problem, dear,” the woman formerly known as La Signora murmurs. “Nor were our colleagues. But you and I, we were dealt an unfair hand. The world was unfair to the both of us.”
"I could have burned it down for you."
Rosalyne chuckles. "I had already done a fair job of burning it all down myself, that's what got me into this mess. I had enough of the hatred."
“But in this place,” Arlecchino looks around, taking in the gentle sway of flowers, “you are happy?”
Rosalyne laughs. “I have never been happier.”
Arlecchino nods, sucking in a breath and looking up. A myriad of stars twinkle above them—a sight they had never been able to see from Snezhnaya, with its clouds and storms and snow.
Almost imperceptibly, Rosalyne watches the princely woman sigh in content.
“This dream,” Arlecchino murmurs, closing her eyes, fading into starlight. “It is so peaceful.”
“Yes.” Rosalyne smiles. “Yes, it is.”
Light footsteps rustle through the flowers, and Rosalyne lets out a peal of laughter as she easily catches Ganyu’s smaller frame.
“Silly,” she chides, cradling Ganyu against her taller body. It never fails to amaze Rosalyne how delicate it feels to hold Ganyu—cloudlike, dreamlike. She has seen illustrations of qilin before, likening them to the puffy white condensation above, but she’s never seen Ganyu in her adeptal form before. Perhaps one day. “I told you I would be back.”
"You told her it was a dream," Ganyu murmurs. She sinks into Rosalyne's embrace, burying her face into the taller woman's chest as if desperate to remind herself just what is reality. "You chose to stay here with me, even though you have your Delusion back?"
"Oh, Ganyu," Rosalyne chuckles, fondness aching from every pore in her body, "there was never any doubt. Even with my Delusion keeping my physical body grounded to what is real, I have no desire to fight anymore. Not when a chance at a life with you sounds so much more fulfilling."
It has always been Ganyu who saved her, after all. Ganyu, with her kindness and wisdom, who has given and given and shared this sacred space with her; who taught her to let go of the past she’d blindly clung to, to find reasons to fuel her hatred instead of finding a truer reason to live on.
“I wouldn’t be here without you,” Rosalyne tells her honestly. Together, they seem to drift back to the ground, finding purchase in the flower bed. Rosalyne pulls Ganyu onto her lap, chuckling at the way the smaller girl immediately straightens, a musical noise of content leaving her lips as Ganyu stretches to rest her cheek against the top of Rosalyne’s hair.
“Without me?” Ganyu questions.
“Never without you,” Rosalyne replies. “In another universe, a more prideful Signora most likely met her end to the Shogun, unwilling to fight for her life without someone like you by her side.”
Ganyu frowns, pulling back to meet Rosalyne’s pale gray eye. “I don’t want to think about that world.”
“Then let’s not,” Rosalyne coos, coaxing Ganyu down to meet her lips. “We don’t need to think about such things anymore. I am here. You are here. We are both alive, in this place, together.”
With her free hand, she casts out ice across the qingxins, their mountain flowers, their pride and joys, before letting it melt. The water sinks into the earth, nourishment for the ground and its children, and Rosalyne laughs at how Ganyu squeals in delight at the display.
“We’re together now,” Ganyu finally says, breathless and happy, their mouths brushing; stardust and powdered snow. “We don’t need to joke about running away anymore.”
Rosalyne smiles. “We do not. Not anymore.”
Here is to our future, here is to our happiness— dancing to the sky and beyond this world.