Possibly the two worst words to be put together in any context, says Barbara, Deaconess of the Favonius Church and sister of Standing Grandmaster of the Knights of Favonius Jean. Despite being a rising star, a beauty, Mondstadt’s pride and joy, there was nothing she could stand less than being stared at.
Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, being caught in the act.
Feeling her face heat up as the amber gaze took her in carefully, she gave it her best attempt to make it seem as though she had decidedly not been staring and was actually just giving the woman a passing glance. Of course, making this decision took a few seconds, and by the time she was finally able to avert her eyes, there came that notable prickling feeling of being watched and being judged .
Wanmin Restaurant: a title name that attracted visitors from all over Teyvat like a siren’s song. And like any susceptible sailor, Barbara was none more able to resist than any other. This, of course, was a course set by her sister, Jean, after a hypocritical argument over Barbara’s unflagging work ethic.
“You’re going to pass out one of these days, Barb,” Jean scolded, finding the deaconess still singing into the night’s sky-- a lark’s duty is never finished.
And since she was feeling especially saucy that night, the rising star only sniffed and shot back, “Like my dear sister, I only live to serve. If there ever is a time I yield in my efforts, this is the time to slaughter me and reduce me to one of the whispers of Barbatos’ howling wind.”
And then she was smacked across the head (gently, as Jean could never bring herself to genuinely harm her little sister) and dragged by the arm back home. When the deaconess finally awoke with a sore throat the next day to the call of the plump finches that so adored nesting outside her window, she peeked over the edge of the couch’s padding to find her sister fast asleep, papers scattered around the floor, and pencil loosely gripped in her dangling fingers. Dark circles lined the Grand Master’s eyes like bruises, and Barbara gave a pained scoff. She couldn’t find the voice to reprimand her sister, but she had a very good alternative in the form of the woman’s partner.
Lisa ended up sending Jean home early, and Barbara couldn’t help but feel a bit smug.
The healer was snapped out of her thoughts as sharp footsteps made their way to her bench, and she sprang into action. Gathering her uneaten food (food she could have been eating instead of ogling the nearest woman), she hastily stood to her feet in an attempt to escape. Instead of getting anywhere, however, she found herself tripping over her own feet in an attempt to gain the convenient knowledge of Cicin Mages and their disappearing acts. She knew she should have pursued her younger follies of becoming a magician.
Despite her desperate pursuits, the poor young woman only got a few steps before a warm, kindly voice that just barely rose above the bustle of the streets froze her on the spot.
“Hey, I don’t bite.”
Barbara looked down at the tiled street. Maybe, just maybe, if she didn’t move, the woman would move along and she would be spared from an eternity of embarrassment and ridicule and public humiliation. She closed her eyes tightly, praying to Barbatos more fervently than she ever conceived was possible that He may spare her.
But this was Liyue, and her God did not exist here.
“Ma’am…? Or--” the voice was closer.
“Ma’am, yes,” Barbara confirmed, believing a curse had been set upon her to speak. “Though I did not know dogs could learn the human dialect.”
There was a stagnant pause.
“You into bitches, then?”
Thoroughly slandered and indignant to such libel, the deaconess whirled around on her heels, face flushed and fists balled at her sides. “You--” and though she was so inclined to speak more, the words traitorously caught in her throat as she took in the beauty before her up close. It was completely unfair she had to look up at such an angle just to meet her eyes, and the woman had the audacity to lean down just to make them face-to-face. The healer had half the mind to slap the woman, but Barbatos did not condone senseless violence, so she did not allow herself the liberty.
Her twitching fists did not go unnoticed by her aggressor. The curly-haired woman obviously had to stifle a smirk.
“‘m Xinyan,” the Liyuan lady introduced, placing both hands on her hips placatingly. “You’re not from around here, are ya?” It wasn’t much difficult to tell, Barbara inwardly scoffed, feeling much out of place with her paler skin as people passed them on the street. Liyue wasn’t as known for its disgustingly pasty crowd as Mondstadt was, after all.
“No,” she responded instead, her eyes wandering to the beautiful tufts of dark curls framing Xinyan’s face. Bright yellow and red highlights decorated her fringe like embers coiling into the night sky.
Barbara felt completely outdone. Was this what people saw when they stared at her ? A dark-eyed, majestic beauty that captivated the coldest hearts?
Taking a deep breath, the deaconess stood up straight and straightened out her frills, running her hands down her skirts delicately, yet with a purpose (what purpose, she did not quite know yet. But she could fool the Liyuen beauty). She could not quite look the woman in the eyes, for she was certain she would fall right in without further prose. “You may call me Barbara,” she added after some thought.
A soft, dark hand found its place on her shoulder, and she flinched, though it did not seem malicious in its intent (as she so found many hands of the numerous men whose fingers seemed to love to wander).
“Yes. Quite astute,” Barbara drawled, eyeing the hand on her shoulder with mild distaste. Noticing, Xinyan apologetically removed it, a sheepish look on her face. While a small gesture, the healer felt somewhat more comfortable under the scrutiny of that intense face. Something in the amber eyes said I understand , and something ached in Barbara’s heart so strongly she chose to believe it.
A beat of silence passed, and it was enough for the guilt of her first impression to sink in.
“I want to, erm, apologize for my earlier… comment. I was taken off-guard, and I did not mean to--” get caught staring, she was about to say. She coughed daintily into her fist, “--to let such a comment slip.”
“You’re pretty enough to forgive easily,” the dark-skinned woman said simply with a blinding grin.
A dark scowl creased Barbara’s face as she pleaded with her heart to settle down and for the blood to flow somewhere other than her face. “I appreciate it,” she gritted out. This only elicited a jolly laugh from in front of her, and if her heart skipped a few beats, well, it must have been only imagination.
(The small smile that crept onto her face? That couldn’t have been more than a trick of the light.)
“Join me,” Xinyan invited, reaching out a hand and sweeping it toward her table. When Barbara stiffened and unconsciously took a step back, the woman revised her statement. “If you’re free for the evening, that is.”
“I’d… I suppose I could spare some of my time for you,” she declared, ignoring the sirens blaring in her mind. The other woman gave another bright smile, golden eyes like tiny stars in her head.
(And though the images of the men wriggled through her mind like maggots, she forced those thoughts down.)
“Come along, then,” Xinyan insisted. Barbara followed more slowly, hitching her bagged mora meat higher up in her grip and awkwardly trying to manhandle her satchel back over her shoulder. The box of Liyuen delicacies balanced precariously in her pale hands, and she cringed as she felt them shift inside with her jostling. She had been planning on shipping some to Jean, along with a “gentle” reminder to take a break, too.
“Do remember to take a break, or my next ballad may be about how much my sister abuses and neglects me. Do not let me return to Lisa complaining about your overworking yourself, or I shall break down crying, and you will watch and feel bad. This is not a threat, but a promise.
“With much love,
Gracelessly, she let her belongings tumble out of her grip onto the table before smoothing the back of her skirt and sitting down. The other woman watched, arms resting on the back of the other chair, body slumped.
“Here for vacation?” she asked as the healer gently placed the box of foodies on the floor beside her.
“Indeed,” she sighed, side-eying the street. “A traveler escorted me here by request of my sister.” She chose to leave out the fact her sister was, in fact, the Standing Grandmaster of the Knights of Favonius Jean. If Xinyan didn’t recognize her already, she certainly would be able to put two pieces together if given that.
“Ah, really? I ran into a traveler the other day. They invited me to join them on a short adventure-- had a lot of fun,” she added, finally taking a seat and stretching languidly.
Barbara did not look at the way the muscles in Xinyan’s arms rippled under her beautiful, dark skin. She did not gulp, blush, or look away. In fact, she was able to keep a normal conversation going as well as prevent her eyes from wandering.
“Do you go adventuring often?” Barbara asked, bringing her gaze back to Xinyan’s face.
“Ah, well, not really,” she answered, scratching the back of her neck with a sheepish grin. The deaconess could not help but return the smile. “I’m not all that into fightin’ and stuff. I get more joy from doin’ more musical stuff.”
Barbara hid her excitement very well, forcing her face back into one of vague disinterest. “Is that so?”
“Yeah! I’m a rising star ‘round these parts, you could say,” Xinyan sighed, sitting back harshly in her chair and letting it dip backward before falling back with a sharp sound. “Y’know, you’re from Mondstadt, right?”
“Aha! Well, I’ve heard there’s a rising star back there, too, right?”
Barbara nodded slowly.
“Gah! I’d love to meet ‘er. Seems like a lovely fella. I’ve only heard rumors, though… Say, have you ever met her?”
Barbara nodded very slowly.
“Well, I never! What an honor! Mind if you tell me a little about her? I’ve always dreamed of collaborating with other artists from all across Teyvat!”
Barbara made the mistake of looking into those bright, rounded puppy eyes, and she bit the inside of her cheek and looked away.
Barbara nodded extremely slowly.
“W-well she’s… she’s… she’s not the star everyone makes her out to be,” the deaconess admitted, watching as Xinyan’s eyebrows scrunched up.
“She presents herself to be this… big, outgoing superstar... a-and a pious member of the church, but she--” but she’s none of that, in the end. She’s just a big gay disaster who climbed to the top through nepotism. Also, the only reason she’s revered is that she’s youthful and pretty and men like to look at her; she has a ways to go before she ever becomes close to as wonderful and angelic as people make her out to be-- “but she has her flaws, too,” she decided on, hoping her face hadn’t given away her internal struggle. The other musician gave her a thoughtful glance, before nodding, face serious. Something crossed her expression that resembled realization.
“I want to meet her.”
Xinyan paused, as if deciding her next move, shrugged subtly, then reached a hand across the table, slowly, as if any sudden movements would scare the deaconess off. Tough suspicious, Barbara let the musician take her hand in hers. “You said you weren’t busy, right?” The deaconess nodded, watching curiously as the woman before her took a deep, calming breath. Then, gently, she brought her knuckles to her glossy lips. In the fading light of the evening, a gentle glow highlighted Xinyan’s form, and she couldn’t help but suck in a breath in anticipation. The general bustle and chatter of the Liyuen streets faded away until it was just they.
“I wish to learn more about you, Shining Idol.”