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.
Hello I am still not over Venti offering a "private performance" to Aether (and Paimon) during Jean's story.
Thank you all for the lovely feedback! I hope I can keep up with everyone's expectations.
Thanks to Misty and Iridania for joining the party and help me defeat the typochurls! They know almost nothing of Genshin but still know that Venti is kind of, you know, smitten.
As Diluc said yesterday, after sending him off with another bottle of delicious wine, there is no point for Venti to stay near a statue the whole day.
So he's not around! He's… a bit farther away, hm, he just had to kindly ask some hilichurls to move - read: swiftly pass judgement upon them and make them run for their lives.
Usually he's not so inclined to fight! He just wanted that spot. Badly. For reasons. And if that helped out Dawn Winery too it was just a bonus, ehe. He could ask for a bounty! Payment? In dandelion wine, obviously. Or cider, but it should be a very good one.
His new spot is, dare he say, perfect. Nobody can see him from the statue, but he can see enough to pretend to be passing by, if necessary.
After all, it isn't like Aether knows he has to come over and say hi, so Venti doesn't… Well, he can't complain, that is. He can't even blame Aether, or Paimon, or whoever is lucky enough to help Aether this time! Yes, Venti could ask if Aether wants to hang out, sure, but what if he answers "no"?
Then things would get awkward.
Like, really awkward.
Maybe Aether only needs him for healing purposes! So the Anemo Statues are more than enough. No need for a (definitely not) tone-deaf bard in his party, hm?
Yes, definitely pointless to ask, right? Yes.
Better to wait.
Or go over to the winery.
What? Wine was a good choice! Always a good choice. It helped him not feeling. Not feeling was good.
Wasn't it? Oh, well.
"Sorry, I think I heard wine being mentioned?" asks a lilting voice out of the blue.
Venti's lips scream a really pathetic thing that he did NOT ask them to scream, making Captain Kaeya chuckle behind him.
"Oh, so sorry. I didn't want to startle you," apologizes the other, not an ounce of guilt in his tone. "I just saw you here, again, and I was wondering how comes the most famous bard in all of Mondstadt is so leisurely wasting his days. Care to enlighten me about that?"
Venti twitches his nose, but has to admit that the mischievousness in this man's tone is kind of reassuring. "Captain Kaeya, I didn't expect to see you here!"
Kaeya's smile gets brighter than the sun and colder than a cryo regisvine: "Please, just Kaeya is fine. I heard great things about you."
"That's troubling," Venti laughs, scratching his nose and looking at a very interesting sweet flower: "Were they good or bad things?"
"Aether claims you are as skilled as people say. He has a tendency to joke a lot about this with other bards we meet around.” He shrugs, as if the sole concept of stopping the Traveler from creating mayhem is fruitless. Venti is very tempted to press him for more details, but Kaeya sighs, pouts, and continues with a sudden wistfulness: “Diluc likes to compare my drinking habits to yours. Apparently, I have a rival." He sits on the rocks in front of Venti, his back cracking when he tries to stretch a bit.
The moment is gone and Venti waves goodbye to the chance of getting more information on Aether’s jester side. He won't address the Diluc topic, he’s not stupid enough to even try that.
"Your bones are loud," Venti decides to say, unable to hide his veiled concern. For better or worse, Kaeya is one of his people. He wonders if they are close enough to the statue to justify a little help. Probably not. But maybe?
Kaeya laughs, one hand over his heart and the other on his aching hip: "Aether pushes me around a lot. Especially on the front lines. But it’s my own doing. I shouldn't have told him that I was a bit too free for my likings, now he's always asking me for help."
Venti bits down the desire to express his envy: "Is he that bad?"
"Nah," Kaeya stretches his legs, basking in the midday sun. "I just wanted to see your reaction," he admits, closing his eye and tilting his head towards the sky.
"Ah," Venti tries to find something else to say, but he doesn't know if that would be wise, or just playing into Kaeya's waltz of a conversation.
The chuckle he gets is a clear confirmation that no answer would be the right one to get away from this.
" Really annoying, the Captain can be, when no one is watching, and just this poor bard can see," Venti comments, plucking the strings of his lyre.
Kaeya laughs again, free and unapologetic. "Does your Traveler know, that you are like this?" He sing-songs, following the same rhythmics. "Or do you pretend to be another, when you are vis-à-vis?"
Venti is a bit impressed, just because the Captain's voice isn't so bad, and the jab is kind of really well made. It makes him a bit angry. Like, how dare he, sitting by Venti's side and actually talking with decent rhymes.
" No matter which face I decide to show, his affection for me would only grow," Venti hums, calling a breeze to mess up Kaeya's hair.
Kaeya sputters when his own hair prevents him to reply, sending him a stare that is half annoyed, half amused: "Yes. Aether seems to like the mischievousness in people, doesn't he?"
"You lose," Venti comments, stopping the music.
"Well, that was a given. I could never win against the best bard of Mondstadt, could I?"
Venti snorts, because okay, he definitely likes Captain Kaeya, although... His body is kind of weary of the azure ice of his Vision. Ironical, since Venti gave him that.
"Ah, very good, I managed to make you relax a bit!" Kaeya claps his hands three times, and Venti can't help but stare at him in surprise. "Since you are now in a good mood, would you like to join me in a little game?"
Venti tilts his head to the side, looking at the party Kaeya left in front of the statue. They seem tired, but with no will to move anytime soon.
"Oh, they don't want to come. They prefer juice," Kaeya explains with a shrug. "Kids."
"Shouldn't you be the responsible one, then?"
Kaeya stands up with a huff, cleaning his pants and offering Venti a hand: "Diona would probably convince Bennet to do something unsafe in the winery, and Barbara would blame me for everything. No thanks. Diluc would skin me for that. As if I needed to give him any more reasons to be angry at me."
Venti accepts the help after putting away his lyre, nose itching: "Diona?"
"What? Not a fan?" Kaeya asks, pulling him up, then releasing him the moment after, clenching and unclenching his hand in confused interest.
"Definitely a fan, but also, allergies." Venti busies himself with cleaning his own clothes, making sure to look absolutely pedestrian, or as pedestrian as he can pretend to be. "Poor me has a really bad case of cat allerg— atchoo!" He groans, because really? He's supposed to be a god. "Case in point."
Kaeya blinks, looking around. "There's no cat here right now." He stares back at Diona, who's now leading everyone far from the winery like she's the new party captain, but Venti sneezes again, making him startle. "Wow. Peculiar."
"Annoying," Venti says, blowing his nose with a pale green handkerchief.
Kaeya chuckles, patting his back. “Let’s go then, I have a story to tell about Aether’s playfulness almost making us die at the hands of a Treasure Hunter bard.”
“Sounds like a mouthful.”
“That’s what Aether said, before he started hitting him with his flute.”
“A flute,” Venti tries, really, to imagine one of the Treasure Hunters being a bard and that bard using a flute as his instrument of choice. “How…?”
Kaeya laughs, patting his shoulder and steering him in the direction of the winery. “Aether asked him to make us hear a ballad, then proceeded to talk about you like you were a god among bards and how he needed to dispose of garbage, so that Barbatos wouldn’t have to waste his winds for more of that music.”
Venti blinks, lets himself fall down a gentle cliff, his cape working as a paramount glider, and Kaeya jumps right behind him, pretending not to notice Venti’s eyes darting around in utter confusion - and embarrassment, but Venti really, really hopes that Kaeya won’t notice that.
“He was completely tone-deaf, the poor lad.” Kaeya adds, left hand supporting his right elbow. He lets his chin rest on his right fist, a pensiveness Venti can’t quite discern if it’s fake or not. “Also he stole that flute from a little child from Qingce Village, so Aether was probably making him pay for the child’s trauma.”
“A tone-deaf treasure hunter, who pretended to be a bard with a stolen flute?” Venti’s head is kind of spinning at this point.
“As I said, it was a story worth telling,” Kaeya laughs, picks up a carrot from a stand they are passing by, and puts it in a pouch. “By the way, Aether learned how to make Barbatos’ Ratatouille and I swear he’s making us eat only that until he gets it - and I quote - just right. He sent me to buy onions from two different shops today and I need to take a bath yesterday. The stench is still in my satchel,” he mourns, showing him said item. “Couldn’t you choose a different recipe to love? It’s getting ridiculous.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Venti starts running towards the backyard of the winery, because he really wants to drink. Now. And get Kaeya drunk as soon as possible too, because this? This was a mistake.
“Oh, don’t you now?” Kaeya sniggers at him when they sit, calling over an acquaintance and asking for the best drink they can have.
(Kaeya is dead under the table before Venti even starts feeling tipsy.
Alcohol is truly a faithful friend.)