For a while after that day, Paimon thought that they had gone back to normal. Traveller would do her little traveller things and Paimon would pop out occasionally, whether it be for idle chats or to remind her not to go too far.
Recently, however, it felt like Traveller had been avoiding interacting with her by sending her off with others. Today, she was helping out Wanmin Restaurant with some menu ideas. Granted, she was initially excited to fulfil the task she was given, but there were only so many new recipes to taste-test before she figured it out for the excuse that it was.
For whatever reason, Traveller was slowly distancing herself from her. Paimon even noticed that she had stopped calling her “Emergency Food”, and it stung more than she thought it would. That was their thing… wasn’t it? Even though she initially hated it, it secretly pleased her that they were close enough that she could be given a nickname. It was the same for her, in a sense: no matter how many nicknames Paimon doled out, Traveller was always just Traveller to her. They made quite a pair, Paimon thought. Paimon with Traveller’s sole nickname, and Traveller being the only exception for Paimon. Except... perhaps not any longer.
Hot tears rose unbidden in her eyes and she wiped at them angrily. Did Traveller not want to be her friend anymore? Maybe the unexpected dessert from that day had been her goodbye present, and she was being left here as an eternal taste-tester. Countless scenarios whirled through her mind, and tears kept falling. Paimon suddenly heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and quickly ducked her head in an effort to hide her face.
“Paimon! I’ve got another recipe!” someone said. It was probably Xiangling, but Paimon was too embarrassed to look up and make sure. “Well actually, it’s the same as the last five, but this time I’ve added one more chili… hey, are you ok?”
Caught, Paimon slowly raised her eyes to meet Xiangling’s. What was one supposed to do in this situation— ask whether this was the correct place for the rejected companions to go? Before she could say anything, however, she caught sight of a rather unsettling expression on Xiangling’s face.
“Could you cry into this for me? I want to try some recipes with your tears,” Xiangling coaxed, obtaining a bottle out of nowhere and pushing it into Paimon’s hands. Paimon looked down at the bottle, then back at Xiangling with alarm. Forget this, she should beg Traveller for her permission to be Emergency Food again. There was a higher chance that she would actually become food the longer she stayed here.
Quickly getting out of her seat, Paimon made a break for the door, only to be halted by the combined effort of Xiangling’s polearm and a fiery blast from Guoba too close to her cloak for comfort.
“Don’t leave, Paimon! I was joking, kind of!” Xiangling cried, holding onto her foot.
“Kind of? Paimon almost became a Grilled Tiger Fish!”
“Actually, considering you can fly, a Chicken-Mushroom Skewer might be closer…” Xiangling mused. “Wait, that’s not the point!”
It was at that moment that Traveller entered. All three (four, including Guoba) froze, and Traveller looked back and forth between them a couple times.
“I can leave if you’re in the middle of something…?” she asked, to which Paimon and Xiangling both responded with a resounding, “No!”
Paimon immediately flew over to Traveller, clinging to her arm.
“Paimon’s sorry! Paimon will stop with the annoying comments, just don’t leave Paimon here!” She bawled. Traveller looked at Xiangling, bewildered.
“I asked you to watch Paimon for a while, what happened, exactly?” she asked. Xiangling let out a nervous laugh and looked away, scuffing her foot on the ground.
“I just wanted some of her tears…”
Traveller sighed, pressing a hand to her face.
“How about this? Instead of Paimon’s tears, I can give you some of Dvalin’s claws,” she said. The change in Xiangling was immediate. She dashed forwards, reaching out to clasp both of Traveller’s hands in her own, a giant smile on her face.
“Really? How many? That would be wonderful!” she cheered. Traveller, with somewhat of a strained smile, freed one of her hands and deposited three claws neatly into Xiangling’s awaiting grasp.
“Those were for Razor…” Traveller lamented quietly. Xiangling looked up from having been admiring the claws and Traveller started suddenly.
“By the way, are you done with whatever it was you had to get done?” Xiangling asked. Traveller’s eyes widened and she started sprinting for the door.
“Thanks for the reminder! Come on, Paimon!” she called over her shoulder. Paimon, who thought she’d been forgotten and ultimately left to her fate at the restaurant, found her eyes tearing up again as she raced after her. Reaching the waypoint at the entrance of Liyue Harbor, Traveller took a moment to hold Paimon securely as they both disappeared in a flash of blue light.
To Paimon’s surprise, it seemed they had arrived at the waypoint at the base of Starsnatch Cliff. She wondered what they were doing there- they didn’t often get commissions around these parts, and Traveller didn’t come here that much in her own time either. Contrary to the haste with which they left Liyue, Traveller was taking her time making her way up Starsnatch Cliff, even straying in a different direction to pick cecilias a couple times.
Once they reached the peak, Traveller rummaged around in that odd pocket dimension of hers and brought out— was that a blanket? Paimon always forgot how many things Traveller carried around, considering that you couldn't even see a bag anywhere on her person. The blanket was unfurled and set on the ground, followed by at least forty dishes, making Paimon’s eyes grow wider with each one that emerged.
Finally appearing to take a rest, Traveller met Paimon’s stare and grinned sheepishly.
“Ah… surprise?” she offered. Paimon still wasn’t quite sure she knew what was going on. It couldn’t possibly be bad— there was food, after all! She made an eager dive for the dish closest to her, before stopping and looking at Traveller who was still standing and watching her. What if this was the true goodbye meal, and Traveller was going to abandon her as soon as she was distracted by all the food?
“Do you not like it?” Traveller asked, crestfallen. Paimon looked anywhere except Traveller before taking a deep breath and gathering her courage.
“Are you going to leave me?”
There. She said it. Strangely, the confirmation that she was waiting for didn’t seem like it was going to appear any time soon. She hesitantly glanced at Traveller’s face, only to be met with different emotions conflicting on it. Worry. Sadness. Contemplation. In the end it looked like sadness won out, and tears gathered in her eyes. Paimon didn’t know whether she should feel offended or not. Shouldn’t she be the one crying here? Traveller reached a hand up to her cheek, now wearing a surprised expression.
“Oh… sorry, Paimon. I think I ruined your party,” she said sadly. The words took a second to sink in.
“My party?” Paimon questioned.
“It was supposed to be a surprise party for you, a Pep-up Paimon Picnic Party, if you will.” She let out a watery chuckle. “And I’m crying.”
Paimon was floored. This entire time she had been waiting for a buildup to some horrible ending, but instead Traveller was putting together a celebration? For her? She pointed a finger at Traveller.
“You made Paimon worry!” she accused. “Paimon thought you didn’t like Paimon anymore…”
Her eyes began to well up again, but this time Traveller was there to sweep her into a hug.
“Of course I still like you!” she exclaimed. “Come on, the food’s going to get cold.”
Putting her concerns aside for the moment, Paimon enthusiastically started eating. Traveller selected a couple things for herself and poured out glasses of apple cider for the both of them. She was uncharacteristically chatty throughout their meal, telling Paimon about the various troubles she had encountered whether it was miscalculating the number of berries she needed, or being unable to contact people in order to ask them for their specialty dishes. Paimon was moved by all the effort Traveller went through for her. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had thrown her a party, and a picnic party even less so. Stress and crying aside, this might be the happiest day of her life, she thought.
The surprises didn’t end after their meal, it turned out, as Traveller took a multitude of flowers out of her inventory and asked if Paimon would like a flower crown. Finding out that the sword-wielding traveller had such a hobby was a small shock, but she was intrigued nevertheless and sent her floating crown to her pocket space in preparation. She watched as nimble fingers expertly wove together silk flowers, glaze lilies, and qingxins, tucking in a glowing dandelion seed here and there. Traveller held up the finished product for her inspection.
“It’s pretty,” Paimon began, “but why did we come all the way to Mondstadt if you were only going to use Liyue flowers?”
“Oh…” Traveler looked down at the flower crown in her hand, seemingly noticing that detail for the first time.
“I chose this place because it overlooks the beach where we started our journey,” she said, and Paimon was once again touched at how much thought Traveller had to have put into today. Not wanting to be flooded with emotion, however, she tried directing the conversation back.
“How’d you get so good at making flower crowns, anyways?” she inquired, and Traveller’s eyes grew distant.
“I used to make them a lot with my brother,” she murmured. Paimon really wanted to cry now. She had one job.
“I think that’s why I suddenly got upset earlier,” Traveller continued, oblivious to Paimon’s internal struggle. “Once I find him, we’ll probably have to leave.”
She turned to Paimon and gently set the flower crown on her head.
“But I’ve made such good friends here I’m not sure I want to anymore,” she finished, and stepped back, admiring her handiwork. Paimon looked back at her with large eyes. They stood there like that for some time, before Paimon tried talking again.
“Paimon was wondering, if you go…” she trailed off, suddenly nervous. She fiddled with her fingers, looking to the side. Her next line was said hesitantly, quietly. Traveller had to strain her ears to hear it, but once she did Paimon was enveloped in the biggest hug yet and twirled around, not caring if her flower crown fell off.
“Could I go with you?”