There’s a new face at Angel’s Share.
Being a frequent goer and an even more frequent performer at the bar, Venti knew everyone who worked there, and the usual crowds that would gather there.
There was Noelle, the eager and hardworking waitress who greeted everyone with a friendly smile, always so welcoming and kind. Kaeya was a mysterious man that seemed to know the bar’s owner, Diluc Ragnvindr very well. The man would often visit with his close friend, a pale, tall woman with red hair and tired eyes during the later hours of the night, though Venti had an inkling that it was because they liked to annoy Diluc until the man would eventually kick them out of his bar. Lisa was an experienced bartender, her charming smiles and nonchalant personality making her a favourite amongst the customers, as she made the strongest - and strangest - concoctions. Cyrus and Stanley are also regulars at the bar, and Venti often sat down to drink with them during slower nights.
Venti knew everyone who walked in and out of the bar, except for this man.
He was tall and lithe, the apron he had on tied neatly on his trim waist, emphasising his slim build. The man had long, dark brown hair that faded off to an ombre orange hue tied neatly into a low ponytail, his bangs framing his face in an effortless way. His slanted eyes were a bright amber, lined with red eye makeup that made them pop out even more. He had on a singular earring on his left ear, and the neutral, emotionless look on his face made the mysterious newcomer look aloof and elegant. Immediately, Venti could figure out the man was definitely not from Mondstadt, and was perhaps of Liyuen or Inazuman origin.
“Taking a picture would last longer, ya know,” A low, sarcastic voice drawled, making Venti look over at a smirking Kaeya.
“I wasn’t staring for that long,” Venti huffed, taking his seat next to the taller man, who chuckled at his words.
“Sure you weren’t. There were practically laser beams shooting out of your eyes,” Kaeya teased, making Venti scowl at him.
“I just didn’t know who he was, and was wondering if he’s new,” Venti argued half heartedly, already helping himself to Kaeya’s drink, taking a large swig of it. The two of them were friends long enough that neither of them batted an eyelash about it.
“Lisa mentioned he’s a new recruit. All the way from Liyue too. Not really sure how he passed the Diluc Ragnvindr’s job interview,” Kaeya replied, looking over at the man, who was now wiping the glasses dry.
Venti snorted at that, knowing full well what Kaeya meant. Diluc’s ways of hiring people were… unorthodox to say the least. The young man was very particular about managing his business, and had so many trials and tests if one wished to apply for a job under him. Even Venti couldn’t escape the treatment, and he was supposed to just be their performer four nights a week. He let out a shudder reminiscing his firsthand experience under Diluc’s grueling training. Whoever this new bartender was, he must have impressed Diluc greatly.
“What are you two cuties talking about, hmm~?” A sweet, feminine voice greeted the two men. Lisa smiled at them, pretty green eyes sparkling with merriment as she looked at her favourite regulars.
“The new pretty boy over there,” Kaeya said, gesturing towards the man he and Venti had been talking about for the past ten minutes.
Lisa hummed and she looked over her shoulder, letting out a little ‘oh!’ when she turned back towards them.
“The newbie! That’s Zhongli. Isn’t he such a cutie?” Lisa cooed, a playful smile on her lips when the man now known as Zhongli greeted some of the customers entering the bar, a gentle expression on his previously emotionless face.
‘Zhongli. Huh. Pretty name for a pretty man,’ Venti thought to himself.
“He’s a sight for sore eyes, that’s for sure. My question is why did he decide to work in Diluc’s bar, of all places, when he could be, I don’t know, modelling or something?” Kaeya said, taking a sip of his alcohol.
“Like, Diluc perpetually has a stick up his ass. I mean 24/7, around the clock, 365 days all year around,” Kaeya added, earning a snicker from Venti and a barely hidden giggle from Lisa.
“It’s to beat the shit out of people. Specifically, annoying, pesky people named Kaeya.” A deadpan voice interrupted their little gossiping session. Diluc looked at the three of them unimpressed, arms crossed over his chest.
“Speak of the devil, and he shall come! How do you do?” Kaeya exclaimed, not looking the slightest bit apologetic as he grinned at the bar owner, who was looking more and more close to beating Kaeya up.
“Can it if you don’t want to get banned from here. Again,” Diluc sighed exasperatedly, moving to take away the used glasses.
“Don’t be like that, Diluc. The boys were just curious about our Zhongli over there,” Lisa said sweetly, mirth in her eyes.
“Oh. What about him?” Diluc muttered, swatting Venti’s hand from sneaking another bottle like he was a particularly pesky fly, making the other man yelp indignantly.
“Never thought I’d see a new worker here! How come he didn’t give up and run away after your torturous trials?” Kaeya jokes, though there was curiosity evident in his voice.
“I don’t torture people, asshole. And Zhongli is a very capable man of many talents. Besides, a face like his could probably attract more potential customers,” Was Diluc’s reply before disappearing to the back with the used glasses.
“Why don’t you two say hi to him instead of gossiping behind his back? Here, I’ll call him.” Before either Kaeya or Venti could react, Lisa called Zhongli over, who tilted his head at the woman questioningly as he walked over.
“Hello, Miss Lisa. Is there anything I can be of aid with?” A deep, calm baritone. Hooooly shit. Can this man get even more attractive than he already is?
“Zhongli, this is Kaeya, and this is Venti,” Lisa gestured to them respectively, pulling Zhongli closer gently by the arm. “They are regulars here, and are good friends of ours. Venti here plays music some nights too,” Lisa added.
“It is a pleasure to meet you both. My name is Zhongli, and I am new here. Please forgive any mistakes I might make,” Zhongli said, a pretty smile on his face as he greeted the two men.
“Nice to meet you too, Zhongli. You’re a polite one, huh? Nothing like Lisa over here,” Kaeya teased, laughing when Lisa simply threw a balled up tissue at him.
“Miss Lisa is very nice to me. She helped me settle in a lot,” Zhongli said simply, ever so courteously. His amber eyes turned to Venti, who tried his best not to tense up under such an attractive man’s gaze.
“You must be Mister Venti, the musician Master Diluc talked about,” Zhongli stated, eyes twinkling.
“Only good things, I hope,” Venti laughed, leaning back against his chair.
“I’m afraid not all of his words were exactly kind, but I told him I would make the judgement myself,” Zhongli replied sweetly, making Venti’s ears redden slightly.
“That’s great then. I hope we can be friends,” Venti said, sincerity in his tone as he grinned at Zhongli, who smiled kindly in return.
Zhongli is a very interesting character.
In the few months since Venti had gotten to know Zhongli, the man was knowledgeable and wise, but had little care for financial literacy. More often than not someone would have to pay for him -usually an exasperated Diluc or occasionally a very amused Kaeya- when the forgetful man would leave his wallet at home before coming to work. Zhongli was polite and elegant, but would not hesitate to kick any unruly customer if they dared make Lisa or his other coworkers uncomfortable. He spoke of many things, and was an expert in things most people were unaware of (Venti’s pretty sure Zhongli knows every single rock that exists on Earth) yet the man rarely talked much about himself, only offering small, vague parts of his life. He was an enigma, magnetic and mystifying, and it made Venti want to unravel every part of the man.
“Venti, did you know that some pieces of our planet’s surface are made up of zircon crystals ageing around 4.4 billion years?”
“Did you know slate and pumice are types of igneous rock?”
“It’s interesting to note that rubies and sapphires are made up of the same mineral, corundum. Have you seen one up close, Venti?”
‘Fucking hell,’ Venti thinks to himself as he watches Zhongli ramble, ‘I’m trying to get into the pants of the hottest nerd I’ve ever seen.’
Lately, the two of them have been meeting outside of their working hours, often consisting of Venti showing Zhongli around Mondstadt or cafe hopping together. Venti liked seeing Zhongli all excited and happy at the prospect of experiencing new things, so he made sure he spared some time to hang out with the other man.
Besides, Zhongli is a very attractive man. And Venti is not immune to attractive men.
“...Venti? Are you listening?” A curious voice interrupted Venti’s increasingly explicit thoughts, making Venti nearly drop the cup he was holding.
“Yes! I was. Sorry, I was a little distracted,” Venti replied, sitting up straighter in his chair.
Zhongli looked at him, his head tilted so cutely it made Venti want to reach over and kiss him silly.
“I apologise. My friends have frequently told me that I tend to ramble a little bit too excessively, and the topic must have been boring you,” Zhongli mumbled apologetically, staring at his cup of green tea with the demeanour of a sullen puppy.
“No, it wasn’t boring at all! I should be sorry, I should’ve paid more attention. I like it when you talk about your interests,” Venti reassured frantically, squeezing Zhongli’s hands together with his, hoping to convey his sincerity.
Zhongli stared at their hands clasped together on the table, eyes wide before he looked at Venti.
“It’s fine, not everyone is into geology.”
“But it is still interesting! Besides, I like seeing you talk about the stuff you like. You get all animated and it’s cute,” Venti replied, grinning cheekily when he saw Zhongli’s cheeks redden.
Zhongli seemed speechless at the reply, mouth parted as if to say something only to close it.
Venti didn’t need an answer to know, though.
Zhongli’s pretty smile was enough for him.