“Master Diluc!” Venti exclaimed, spinning on his heel and holding his hands up. The man frowned at him, irritated and arms crossed—but handsome as ever. The crowd around him whispered and gossiped about how lovely it was to see the master of the Dawn Winery out and about. Venti put a hand across his chest, and faked an innocent laugh. “If this is about my tab, I am working on it. See?”
He held up his lyre, waving at the strings. Mora filled the bowl near his feet from the generous donations of his people that enjoyed his music. Said generous patrons who gossiped further as they watched Diluc confront the bard.
“I am not here about your bar tab,” Diluc said, raising a hand to push back his bangs. “I came to speak with you on another matter.”
“Oh?” Venti strummed a few notes on his lyre in a quick melody. “What sort of matter would bring you to such a humble bard?”
“Your expertise,” Diluc said, catching Venti’s interest. “I was hoping you would assist in appraising the value of a small collection of items. My own knowledge is lacking, and I would rather not be cheated during the transaction.”
“That sounds like an awful lot of work,” Venti said, strumming a few more strings. He would be happy to help Diluc, of course, but he couldn’t resist playing hard to get. “And as you can see, I am very busy entertaining these fine people.”
“I will forgive your tab in exchange for your services.”
Venti’s hand slipped on his lyre, resulting in an uncharacteristic screech. “Pardon?”
“I will forgive your tab.” Diluc turned his eyes toward the pile of Mora. “And your current collections can go toward other necessities.”
“Deal.” Venti would have done it for free, but he wouldn’t turn down Diluc’s generous offer—his tab at the Angel’s Share had…gotten a pinch out of control over the past month as he adjusted to life without his Gnosis. “My services are yours.”
“I appreciate it,” Diluc said. He looked at the crowd of people. “I will wait for you to finish up here at the bar. I would hate to disappoint your crowd by stealing you away too early.”
“I won’t keep you waiting long,” Venti said, waving and smiling brightly. He spun in a circle and pointed at the people ready for another tune. “It looks like I have time for a few more requests! What would you like to hear?”
“Tell us about the Four Winds again!” A small child cheered, jumping up and down. “The Winds!”
“How could I turn down such a heartfelt request?” Venti said, placing a hand on his chest. Diluc slipped away into the crowd as he spoke, not staying for the performance. Venti strummed out the opening chords and sang. “Let me tell you a tale.”
He focused on the music, allowing himself to think about what would be important enough to forgive his entire tab afterwards on his walk to the Angel’s Share.
“Instruments? You want me to appraise musical instruments?” Venti asked, trailing behind Diluc as they walked to the Winery. The man nodded in agreement and Venti hopped with a small gust of wind, feeling playful as they made their way down the road. “Branching out into new business ventures are we?”
“Not particularly,” Diluc said. He kept his eyes straight on the road, his beloved bird flying overhead. “Someone interested in a bulk purchase was hoping to barter rather than pay with Mora, due to some personal issues. The instruments are outside my expertise and I neither want to be cheated, or accidentally cheat him. With your knowledge, you would be in a better position to judge how much his wares are worth.”
“I can tell you if an instrument is high quality or not, but I’m not sure I can give you the sort of appraisal you’re looking for,” Venti said, crossing his arms. Knowing the value of an instrument didn’t know he knew the monetary value. “While I would love my tab to be forgiven, I don’t believe I’m qualified for this.”
“Your opinion will be enough,” Diluc said. “I’m sure you’ll be able to tell me if what he offers is worth the amount of wine he’s trying to purchase.”
“If you say so.” Venti spun around to walk backwards. “But you can’t blame me if I misjudge the prices.”
“Fair enough.” Diluc adjusted his coat and raised his hand in greeting to the workers in the fields as they approached the grape terraces of his winery. “Even if you are wrong, it’ll likely be a more accurate assessment than if I were to make the judgement myself.”
“I’ll try not to let you down!” Venti skipped ahead toward the main building of the winery. He hopped onto a wall to walk along the top. “When and where are we meeting your contact?”
“He should already be here,” Diluc said. “If the gentlemen arrived when his letter stated, Elzer will have him and his wares set up in the back to inspect.”
Venti helped himself to a gust of wind to rise high in the air. He laughed and pointed behind the house. “Oh! I see them!”
“Then we shouldn’t keep them waiting.”
Venti dropped to the ground and walked side by side with Diluc, though with far more pep and rounded the corner of the house to the side yard. An elderly looking gentlemen with a warm smile and clothes from Liyue bowed his head in greeting.
“Master Diluc, it is good to see you in person,” the trader said. “I am grateful you’ve agreed to consider my proposition.”
“It is good to meet you as well,” Diluc said, returning the smile. Venti grinned at the young man’s face, amused that his smiles were reserved for strangers in business more than his friends and peers. “This young gentleman is Venti, a renowned bard from the heart of Mondstadt. If you allow, he will be assisting in assessing the value of our trade.”
“I see no problem with that,” the trader said, placing his hands behind his back. “It is a pleasure to meet you, young bard.”
“Likewise,” Venti said, bowing with a flourish of his cape. “I look forward to seeing what you’ve brought.”
“Only the best my craftsmen have to offer.”
Diluc hung in the back with Elzer as Venti stepped up to inspect the instruments. The care and quality was evident in each piece, and he found himself unable to resist picking up an erhu from the selection and playing a short melody.
“Beautiful,” the trader said, smiling. “Your skill is impressive.”
“I love music,” Venti said, humming along. He stopped after another bar of the song, replacing the instrument on its stand. “It’s been some time since I have had the privilege of playing an instrument of Liyue.”
“I hope you find more opportunities in the future.” The trader clasped his hands together and asked, “Shall we talk trading?”
“Of course,” Diluc said. He approached the table of instruments and beckoned Elzer closer with an order paper. “How much were you looking to purchase?”
The remainder of their conversation went smoothly. The trader had a client who wanted Mondstadt wine at a concert event, though the importing fee was more than he could afford on such short notice. Trading spare instruments for the wine was the best he could do, and Venti felt the trader was offering a fair price for what he wanted.
An agreement was made, leaving the trader very happy as he packed the instruments in their cases, and loaded his cart with the desired barrels of wine.
“What will you do with the instruments?” Venti asked as the maids carried them into the main house. “Do you play any, or are you planning to resell?”
“I have not decided,” Diluc said. He cleared his throat and followed the maids inside. “Would you care to stay the night? It’s getting late and I would hate to make you walk home after requesting your presence all the way out here.”
“I will graciously accept your hospitality, Master Diluc,” Venti said, exaggerating another bow. “And hopefully that will also come with the offer of a drink now that my tab is paid and can start anew?”
“I only charge for drinks at the bar,” Diluc said, shaking his head. He followed the maids into the house with the last of the instruments. “Though I will not hesitate to lock you in a guest room if you become too inebriated.”
Venti snickered under his breath.
Late in the evening after a full meal and three glasses of wine, Diluc requested Venti take stock of the instruments.
“Tell me what they are, so I can write it down,” Diluc said, holding a piece of paper. “I am likely to forget otherwise.”
“I’d be happy to instruct,” Venti said, sipping from another glass. He felt warm and pleasant, happy to be inside with good company and beautiful instruments. “I need to remember the name of the trader, myself. If I am ever in Liyue again, I would like to pay him a visit.”
“Is that so?”
Venti nodded. “I have been meaning to pick up another flute. I seem to have misplaced mine over the years.”
“There was a flute in this collection, if I recall,” Diluc said. He stepped closer to the cases, pulling out a slim one. He held it out to Venti. “Would you be looking for something like this, or is it the wrong kind?”
The offered flute was a modern instrument, though Venti found the sound to be pleasant when he tested it.
“Yes, something like this would be perfect.” Venti held it away from his mouth and grinned. He already made plans in his head to visit the trader’s shop when he next visited Liyue to bother his favorite block-head. “The sound is lovely.”
“You may have it.”
Venti stared up at Diluc, who had turned away. “Pardon?”
“I have no need of it,” Diluc said. He cleared his throat and stared at the pile of instruments. “You may take your pick of any of these. Surely instruments are better suited with someone who will appreciate them rather than collecting dust in my home.”
Diluc avoided looking directly at Venti, shifting on his heel—the man was embarrassed, but why?
“I couldn’t possibly take so much for free,” Venti said, keeping a close eye on the master of the house. “This collection is worth at least ten barrels worth of your finest wine. That’s quite a bit more than my tab.”
“As I said, you are welcome to it,” Diluc said. “Again, it is better they are used. Consider it a thank you for your assistance with Dvalin if you must.”
Venti felt a warm smile spread across his face. Oh, how adorable it was when Diluc thought he was being tricky! It was written across his face: Diluc planned it all from the start. He Bartered with instruments in order to give Venti a gift of thanks.
Such devout offerings to one’s Archon should be rewarded.
“I would like to pay you for them all the same,” Venti said, holding the flute closer to his mouth. He touched it to his lips, drawing Diluc’s attention. “Would a song suffice?”
“Considering the player, I may owe you the difference.”
“Such flattery, Master Diluc!” Venti said. “You are in high spirits this evening.”
“Where would you like to perform?” Diluc asked, dodging the subject. “I’m sure the others in the house would appreciate your music.”
“I’d prefer a private performance.” Venti took a step closer and patted Diluc’s chest. “Perhaps your study or bedroom?”
“The study,” Diluc said, turning away. Venti caught the dusting of pink on his cheeks and grinned wider. “Follow me.”
The small study held a desk and two large, plush guest chairs. Diluc took a seat in one before the desk, folding his gloved hands together. His stiff posture betrayed his nerves, and Venti stood in the center of the room.
He knew the perfect song.
“Many years ago, I played this song for a certain grumpy Adeptus blessed with an Anemo Vision,” Venti said, closing his eyes. He thought of the Dihua Marsh many years ago, and the young Yaksha that loved his music. “It can soothe even the most tortured soul.”
“My soul is hardly tortured,” Diluc said, lying to himself as much as Venti. He knew of the heartache that plagued the young man who had cried out so long ago for someone to save his father. “Though I look forward to the song.”
The song returned to his lips and fingers as easily as the first time he played it. The soothing melody washed over them both.
Diluc relaxed into the chair, his eyes shutting with a wistful smile until the end of the song.
“This young bard has a question for the master of the house,” Venti said. He played another few notes, stepping closer until his knees brushed against Diluc’s. “If you would be so kind as to answer.”
“Yes?” Diluc opened his eyes and started when he realized how close they had become. “What did you want to know?”
“Should I consider these gifts an offering to Barbatos?” Venti asked, setting the flute on the table. “From a man of Mondstadt to his Archon?”
“Is it an offering if you purchased them with your time and a song?”
What a thoughtful answer! Diluc continued to be such a shrewd businessman.
Venti hopped onto his lap, knocking the wind from the man’s lungs. He wrapped his arms around Diluc’s shoulders and leaned in close until the tips of his braids brushed blushing cheeks.
“Be honest, Master Diluc.” Venti pushed back red hair to better see his eyes. “Were you planning to give me the instruments from the beginning? Was asking for my appraisal a way to hide your gift?”
Diluc did not answer right away, and Venti drew out an answer by touching his cheek and waiting patiently.
“Yes,” Diluc said, swallowing. “We would not have been able to subdue Dvalin without you, and your only thanks was our failure to protect you from the Fatui.”
“As your Archon, it is my job to protect you,” Venti said, tapping Diluc on the nose. “Don’t you think?”
“I am not so sure,” Diluc said. His hands rested on the arms of the chair, not touching Venti in his lap. “You’ve sacrificed your power to make sure we are free, so it is even more imperative that those who know you should protect you.”
“How devout,” Venti touched Diluc’s cheek. “How should I bless you in return?”
“That is not necessary,” Diluc said, his breath picking up. “Enjoy the instruments and play them for Mondstadt. That’s enough.”
“What if I want to bless you?” Venti asked. “You are free to refuse, but do you truly wish to deny yourself a blessing from your Archon?”
Diluc swallowed, sinking deeper into the cushion. His grip on the chair tightened and Venti kissed his forehead.
Perhaps Diluc needed a nudge in the right direction.
Venti closed his eyes and hummed, allowing himself to shed his mortal attire. His wings freed themselves from his back, spreading wide in the room. Diluc sucked in a breath and Venti was treated to wide pupils as Diluc’s eyes took in the extra light from his glowing form and the white of his Archon outfit and wings.
He may no longer have his Gnosis, but he was still the Anemo Archon.
He was still Diluc’s Archon.
“Why the shocked face?” Venti asked, touching Diluc’s cheek yet again. He took Diluc’s hand and pressed it against his bare stomach. “You already knew you were with Barbatos.”
Diluc swallowed. “I did.”
“Venti the Bard is a very disarming persona, isn’t it?” Barbatos touched their cheeks together, nuzzling closer to Diluc’s ear. He sat heavily on Diluc’s thigh, making his weight known. “I shall ask again: How should I bless you in return for such devout offerings?”
“The song…the song was enough.” Diluc’s voice stuttered and his hand trembled. “Seeing you like this—in this form—is enough.”
“Then all I am left with is a selfish request.” Barbatos tilted Diluc’s head up by the chin and kissed his forehead. “Take me to bed, Master Diluc.”
Warm breath shuddered over his neck as Diluc dropped his head onto Venti’s shoulder. His hand trailed down his stomach and settled on his waist. Diluc held onto Venti and tugged him closer into an embrace, careful of the wings on his back.
“Lord Barbatos,” he whispered. “Venti.”
“Relax,” Venti said, laughing into Diluc’s hair. Perhaps he had shared too much of his Archon self for the poor man. He brushed his hands through the strands, flapping his wings to spin up a burst of wind in the room that scattered the papers on Diluc’s desk. “It’s not that serious.”
Diluc snorted into his neck. “I suppose it isn’t.”
He stood, holding Venti by the back of his thighs. Diluc tilted his head back and accepted Venti’s kiss as he leaned down. The broke apart only long enough for Diluc to open the study door and travel to the bedroom. The light from Venti’s form lit the dark hallway and he giggled, amused at the thought of getting caught by one of Diluc’s many maids.
Venti bounced on the mattress as Diluc set him down. His wings covered the full length of the bed, white feathers floating in the air with each flap. Venti grabbed him by the coat and pulled Diluc down on top of him and drew him into another kiss.
The man’s weight pushed him into the mattress and Venti hummed, shoving Diluc’s coat form his shoulders. His gloves and the rest of his clothes followed, leaving Diluc naked as he hovered over Venti, his fingers trailing over the gold circle on his chest.
“Would you like me to leave this on or take it off?” Venti asked, stretching his Wings. “Perhaps Barbatos is too much for you? I can be a simple bard again.”
“Your wings are beautiful,” Diluc said, drawing his hand across Venti’s chest to touch the feather. “Like a bird.”
And oh, how Diluc was fond of his birds.
“I’ll keep it then,” Venti said, pulling Diluc into another kiss. “You are being blessed by Barbatos, so I should look the part.”
Diluc snorted, his shoulders relaxing with each subsequent kiss. As his arousal became more known between them, Diluc grew more bold and his hands touched more. He tugged Venti closer and kissed harder, grinding their waists together.
“Yes, please,” Venti said, nipping Diluc’s ear. He held the man between his thighs, welcoming the heat as Diluc slipped inside. The man shuddered and held still, trembling harder as Venti surrounded him as if scared to move. Venti kissed his cheek and bucked his hips. “You can be rough. I may be the weakest Archon, but I am far from mortal.”
“I’ve noticed,” Diluc said, voice rough with want. He kissed Venti again, digging his hand into the feathers of the wings with one hand while the other held tight to his waist. “How did we get here?”
“You seduced me with an offering,” Venti replied. His wings twitched in time with their moving hips. “You may know me better than the clergy in my church.”
“I have never been a devout man.” Diluc pressed his forehead against Venti’s and closed his eyes. He held Venti close, his fingers digging into the white fabric of his robes. “Though perhaps I could learn to be.”
“I accept wine as an offering, too,” Venti said, groaning as he pulled Diluc closer. “Lots and lots of wine.”
“That you will have to pay for.”
Diluc cut Venti off with a kiss, shoving him hard into the pillows and picking up his pace. He gave Venti no chance to form a proper rebuttal, kissing his neck and shoulder to draw out moans over complaints. Diluc placed a hand between them, tending to Venti’s need with a gentle touch.
“Venti.” Diluc bit his neck and clutched at his back. They were close and Venti threw his head back as Diluc shivered. “Venti, please.”
Diluc came first, shoving his face in a pillow to hide the helpless sound he made. Venti petted the back of Diluc’s head as he drew out his own finish and joined him in relaxing into the blankets.
“In the morning,” Diluc whispered, falling asleep on Venti’s shoulder. “May I hear you play the flute again?”
“Of course,” Venti said. He kissed Diluc’s head and used a tug of wind to pull the blankets over them both. “In exchange for a glass of wine.”
“Naturally,” Diluc said, his breathing deep and even. Already dozing, he mumbled, “I’ll give you a barrel.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Venti said. He kissed Diluc’s forehead again and exhaled, allowing his wings and Archon clothes to fade away back into hiding. He snuggled close under the blankets and hugged the man close. “Goodnight, Master Diluc.”
He received no answer, Diluc already asleep.
Venti was quick to join him, smiling and greeted with dreams of delicious dandelion wine.