There's something in the air.
Something suffocating, something foul trying to get in Venti's lungs, something akin to the feeling of drowning, or at least that's what he thinks it would feel like, to have water make him succumb in its embrace.
Venti takes a deep breath, just because he can, just because he isn't, in fact, drowning. He's just sitting on a stone like many others in Mondstadt, high enough so he can bask in the beauty his land manifests every day.
Nothing is out of the ordinary, not since he came back to wander among his believers. The sun is shining, the water is flowing down the rivers and on the shores, the winds call to him and ask for guidance with the attitude of a busker: leave a mora to us, a mora for your thoughts, a coin in exchange for freedom for the rest of your life. It's a song he used to sing himself, back in the days.
Well, that thought makes him feel old.
The day is, in poor words, beautiful. Venti shouldn't feel so miserable. Venti hates, in fact, feeling miserable, so there's no point in thinking about new friends, old friends, and then new friends again. No need to compare the traveler to the warrior, the bard, the other Archons.
Venti sighs, his breath becoming a wisp of air dancing down towards Dawn Winery. He's not too far from one of his own statues, and that's a coincidence, thank you very much, it's not like he knows that Aether and Paimon pass by this specific statue more than all the others. It's because, you know, dandelion wine is just really easy to retrieve when you are around here.
And he LOVES dandelion wine, okay?
More than apples, maybe.
"Well... Although lately it depends where the apple comes from, doesn't it?" He admits to his lyre, laughing in a subdued manner.
"Why are you here again?" A voice calls behind him, and Venti snickers.
He turns to look and Diluc raises an eyebrow at him, stuck once again in his favorite pose: arm crossed, judging the world (and probably even his Archon).
"I like this place!" Venti smiles his brightest smile, sure that it'll blind Diluc enough to divert any unnecessary question about that empty barrel he left some days ago in the cellars.
"Aether isn't coming today," Diluc comments, freezing him on the spot.
Grass is so interesting. So green. So nice. Grass. Great.
"I checked with the Adventurer's Guild," as you should, Venti hears, like an unvoiced reprimand. "He usually tries to be in Liyue a day and here the other. He alternates and takes the oddest requests, apparently."
"He takes the most difficult ones," Venti comments, staring at the Anemo Archon's Statue. "He gets hurt, a lot."
Diluc moves at his side, looking at him: "Some people are helping him," he offers, as if that could calm the billowing sense of frustration that is becoming Venti's most annoying companion.
"I know," Venti isn't stupid, far from it. But he likes to pretend. It's also nice to be able to express himself fully for what he is, though. He has the weird luck, in this time, to have two humans of Mondstadt know about him. And Aether. And Paimon. And… maybe her? He never pried.
"Not to be the bearer of bad news, but you staying here isn't inconspicuous at all. Some people might make a connection," Diluc observes, pointing at his lyre.
Venti shrugs, it's not like he's trying to sink his Barbatos identity with his bard persona. "Even if that would happen, they couldn't have any chance to prove they're right. The Fatui made sure of that," he laughs, pushing away the feeling of dying from his chest.
Diluc, to Venti's surprise, genuinely growls at the mention of the organization. "What did they do?" And the tone is clear, Diluc is ready to march into their headquarters and start burning everything if Venti just says so, so Venti stops him, hand shaking in front of him.
"No, no, please it's not so bad!" Even though, maybe, it is. "They just took away something from me. Aether… He―"
"If Aether needs help I'll make sure to tell him I'm available, then," Diluc interrupts him, eyes searching and body rigid with tension.
Venti doesn't doubt that. So he smiles: "Thanks."
Diluc clears his throat, looks at the Archon's Statue with a frown still visible on his face. "Even though the Anemo Archon tells us to be free and live freely, it doesn't mean we are so ungrateful to never help them in return." He looks back at Venti, bitterness in his tone. "They just have to trust us."
"I'm sure they do."
"So why are you moping here, instead of stealing my wine?"
Venti tries to suffocate with air, back suddenly rigid and eyes searching for a way out: "I don't know what you're talking about, Master Diluc."
"I was thinking of opening a bottle of my oldest dandelion wine, if the Anemo Archon allows it," Diluc explains, eyebrow raised and arm crossed.
Venti nods, can't stop nodding actually, putting his lyre away and standing up with a bit too much energy, if Diluc's step back is anything to go by:
"Lead the way, my lord, lead the way!"
Maybe, after the wine, Diluc will also be gentle enough to give him more intel on, you know, how to meet up with Aether without looking like a moping stalker? That would be the dream.