The wine is stolen, of course, Dawn Winery but a small shape below the cliff, on the other side of the water.
He sits with his legs crossed on a tree branch, sipping occasionally from the bottle. The birds’ symphony whirls around him, and it sounds unspeakably sad to him; the song’s the same as it’s always been, and usually, he is happy to hum with the wild choir. Today, a quiet storm brews in birdsong.
The melancholy isn’t in the words or the strings of the song , he thinks. It only needs to be in the heart of the one who sings along.
He sips. He could finish the bottle now, gulp all that’s left in one go. He could fall off the branch and off the cliff and crash all the way down below, or perhaps he’d call some wind to cushion his fall. The sun rises oh so slowly, tinting the sky pretty pinks and ornery oranges.
Dawn Winery at dawn. There could be a cheeky song there, but he only feels heavy. If he tried to make up a song now, it’d only make the wind cry, and it’s too early for such a thing.
Even the wine barely tastes like anything.
Venti sighs, leans back far too much and falls. Gravity comes to carry him home; his knees slip off the branch and he falls on his back in the lush grass. The bottle smashes on the ground, but none of the glass shards hit him.
In fact, he falls softer than he thought he would. Not that he likes pain; he doesn’t particularly care to hurt himself dropping from a tree’s height, but he expected more of a shock on his fake old bones.
A flute whispers behind him, distantly. Rather than wine, Venti tastes bamboo shoots and sugar on his tongue. Ah, so he isn’t alone.
“Good morning,” he tells the ghostly presence, drunken haze just barely slurring his tone. The boundary between Liyue and Mondstadt is a vague one, and these cliffs grow Jueyun Chilis and dandelions both. He doesn’t move at all.
“Lord Barbatos. Return to Mondstadt,” Xiao’s voice says after a long moment, when the sun’s just barely climbed above the horizon. He’s been closer than he’d intended to let Venti believe. “There is nothing but monsters here.”
Venti is still sprawled on the grass. He giggles, his short frame shaken with each tremor. “There’s also you right now.”
Xiao’s flat stare says did I fucking stutter, but Venti won’t grant such a depressing thought with an answer. “What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” He tries again, and for all that he looks like a tipsy lost child he is an archon, and he knows Xiao is too stiff not to respect his authority at least a little. He’s curious. Xiao usually doesn’t come so far out— even if they’re just past Stone Gate, his attention is usually turned much farther South.
Xiao’s arms are crossed, and his expression is moody as usual. “I hear the cries for help from all those who walk Liyue’s paths,” he says neutrally.
Ah. Now that’s a little embarrassing.
Venti giggles again and says nothing more.
Xiao sighs, stalks forward, and slips his arms under Venti’s knees and back. They're both hopelessly short. They must look ridiculous, but the embrace is warm.
They disappear in a flash of cyan, and the wind carries them to the winery ahead. They mingle like this... Xiao must taste apples and wine.
When they reappear suddenly Venti can’t help but snort at Diluc’s shriek. His red eyes are heavy with sleepiness; he’s likely not gotten much rest. Venti doesn’t know whether he’s returning from a nightly adventure or waking up for a daily one. Regardless of how tired the master of the Winery is, he looks ready to take out his claymore...
But when he recognizes Venti, he stills, eyes narrowing. There is a tense silence as the master of the Winery and the immortal Adeptus stare each other down, stature notwithstanding.
“Take proper care of him, mortal,” the Adeptus demands suddenly, and Venti chokes, laughter bubbling up uncontrollably. Xiao’s manners leave much to be desired, and he can’t help but wheeze at the sheer haughtiness of the demand.
(The contempt, Venti knows, is a show he does not truly believe in, to keep others at a distance; he will not call out the Liyuen boy on his lies, just as Xiao respects the privacy of his grief.)
Unfortunately for Venti, his mirth ends as he is promptly dropped on the floor, and Diluc stares down at him with a mix of worry and judgement, no doubt smelling wine on him.
Xiao disappears just as abruptly, though his presence lingers.
Diluc hoists the mildly frazzled bard to his feet, and Venti muses that people— whether their souls dwell below, or tower over his short human form, are watching over him, and his heart is not quite so heavy anymore.