Two days before Childe leaves, Zhongli gives him a gift, and Childe collects a debt.
Zhongli gasps around a mouthful of cock as Childe pulls sharply at his hair, bringing him up to kiss the tip, then slamming him all the way back down. He convulses a little as Childe pushes his dick over the hill of his tongue and downwards against the soft palate, and it fits so tightly, so perfectly in his throat that Childe thinks, perhaps, Zhongli was made for this.
“So good…” Childe grins through a shudder, “Tsaritsa, You’re… nngh… so good for me…”
Zhongli tenses up, taking Childe in deeper than what Childe thought was possible, and Childe throws his head back in midst of the sparks of pleasure.
There is no way he’s human, he thinks hazily. Gods… a god... he’s a god.
It’s this thought that spurs him into jerking his hips upwards, selfish in his chase for release. Because gods are supposed to be infallible, unbreakable, and perhaps if Childe believes hard enough then the notion will become reality and he’ll be able to keep Zhongli in his palm forever and all to himself—
Zhongli moans low and long, his lips glistening with spit and precome leaking from the corners of his mouth as he completely, utterly surrenders.
And that does it for Childe; the sight of the infallible, the unbreakable, being brought to his knees… by Childe’s dick.
He groans and comes into Zhongli’s slack mouth, stars exploding behind his eyelids, and Zhongli makes a small throaty noise before swallowing it all as if it were simply water.
After that, Childe hoists a boneless Zhongli up into his lap, finishing the other man off with deft strokes of his fingers and whispering sweet nothings in the other man’s ear as Zhongli trembles to completion.
“Rex Incognito,” Childe reads from the cover while towelling off his hair, “There’s something funny about the fact that your parting gift to me is a novel about Liyue’s most glamorised folklore. I thought you told me that fantasy wasn’t really your thing.”
Zhongli’s mouth twitches upwards, but his eyes always smile much more than his lips do. “One must occasionally venture outside the realm of their status quo,” He simply says. “And I thought you might enjoy the genre.”
Childe laughs. “I think I will. Though the way you speak so fondly about it makes me think that you did actually enjoy it.”
“Very much.” Zhongli gazes fondly at the novel. “The largely embellished recounts do not sway me in the least. Instead, I believe it is emblematic of the love that the people of Liyue hold for this country… and for their god.”
Childe puts the book down onto the table, and Zhongli follows the motion with his eyes. “Rex Lapis, huh? You make him sound like a pretty benevolent guy.”
The consultant looks upwards. “...Indeed.”
One day before Childe leaves, Zhongli invites him to tea.
“How long will you be away?”
It’s a tough question to answer, because it carries the implication that Childe will be back. And although he takes pride in his silver tongue, for some inexplicable reason the idea of lying to the consultant feels like taboo.
(Then he remembers the flush across the older man’s cheeks, the trust in his eyes, the moments within the last week where they had laid amongst the sheets after sex with their fingers intertwined, and, okay, maybe there’s a small lie by omission somewhere within the equation.
But Zhongli never asked, and Childe never brought it up, so in his books it's as good as none.)
“I don’t know.” He replies.
“...I see.” Zhongli takes a sip of his pu’erh tea, and Childe watches the way his lips catch onto the rim. “Regardless of how long, I will be eagerly awaiting your return.” He smiles.
Childe pauses, his cup halfway to his lips. It’s been a long time since anyone bothered to wait for him, he thinks.
“I still owe my debts to you, as per our covenant.” Zhongli continues, and Childe almost spits out the leaf juice because, really, the few times that the other man had sucked his dick over the past few days has been so life-changing that it was probably already enough to repay Childe in full. Plus interest.
But Childe doesn’t refute him, for obvious reasons. Instead, he takes another chrysanthemum and longan slice and pops it in his mouth.
“There’s a certain phrase for this type of arrangement,” He says in an attempt to fill the empty space in the conversation, “It’s called 'friends with benefits'.”
“Friends with benefits.” Zhongli parrots slowly, rolling the words along the surface of his tongue.
Then he smiles, and nods. “Friends.”
“There’s been a change of plans.” Childe gets told by La Signora as soon as he sets foot into a perpetually blizzard-stricken Snezhnaya.
“Tsaritsa’s orders for you are to locate the Geo Archon of Liyue,” She says, turning around to look him in the eyes, “And retrieve their elemental gnosis.”
To kill a god, Childe rephrases in his mind with a tight-lipped smile. Ambitious.
“It will be done.” He says, because if Tsaritsa believes in his potential to fell a deity, then by what right is Childe to refuse?
La Signora looks him in the eyes for a long moment — Childe’s not exactly sure what she’s searching for — before she snaps her gaze and gestures towards her meek-looking servants. Two of them each bring over a crystal goblet and a tall bottle of fire-water, and the one walking towards Childe has them balanced so precariously on the safetray that Childe is prepared to catch a faceful of glass at any moment now.
“To your success,” La Signora cocks a grin as her servant pours the gold-tinted liquid into her glass, before she raises it high into the air. “And to the glory of Tsaritsa.”
Childe holds up his own full glass in response.
“The glory of Tsaritsa.” He echoes, but the words ring hollow.
Later when he gets back to his temporary quarters, the first thing he does is start to pen a letter back to a certain consultant.
His half-empty bottle of fire-water gleams in the candlelight like liquid amber, and for yet another night Childe allows himself to feel unreasonably giddy under the pretense of inebriation.
He returns to Liyue two weeks later. The first thing he does is take a deep breath and relish in the crisp and familiar ocean scents of the harbour.
The second thing he does is head directly to Wangsheng Funeral Parlour.
“Welcome back.” Zhongli greets him, and Childe is absolutely fixated on the way that his eyes carry the afternoon light, the way his mouth curls, how his face is set aglow. Happiness looks so gorgeous on him.
He’s tempted to say I missed you, but that seems just a little too intimate for the label that he’s already stubbornly placed on this relationship. So he simply smiles widely, strides up to the taller man, and catches his lips into a kiss.
Zhongli lets himself be caught.
They end up entangled on a small settee in one of the back rooms where Zhongli does most of his consultations, and Childe really hopes that the walls are thick enough to block out the inevitable sounds, because no matter how close Zhongli is with the other employees around here, Childe is not, and he has never been one for sharing.
“I want to do something different this time,” He murmurs into Zhongli’s hair, breathing in the elegant silk flower scent that always seems to pervade throughout the parlour and condense onto its inhabitants. “Something more.”
“Mm...” Zhongli makes a noise while Childe threads his hands into dark locks. “I am yours.”
Childe’s breath catches in his throat.
“...Mine,” He whispers before he dives back into Zhongli’s soft, humid mouth, snaking his hand around a thin waist and over the hill of his backside.
First goes the coat, then the tie, then the buttons, until Zhongli is left dishevelled under him with his shirt torn open and pants undone. Childe looks no better; there’s a wild gleam in his eyes and a flush across his cheeks as he nips at Zhongli’s earring, before trailing down his jugular and sucks at the other man’s clavicles.
It’s only when Childe has a hand eagerly stroking Zhongli’s length and his face kissing against Zhongli’s chest that he realises something is off.
He takes his mouth off the pale skin and stares. There’s a mole right above Zhongli’s left nipple and a pretty blush across the planes, but when he brings his hand up and places it on Zhongli’s left pectoral, he can’t feel a heartbeat.
“Ch… Childe…" Zhongli whines softly, bucks his hips, and spreads his legs. Childe immediately discards all irrelevant thoughts out the window.
They end up fucking on the settee, making do with a small vial of conveniently located lotus oil. Childe discovers that a couch is not exactly the best place to have sex on, especially when Zhongli is taller than the furniture is long.
He also discovers that Zhongli is, surprisingly, quite flexible. And very, very pretty when impaled on his dick.
Childe doesn’t let himself forget that he still has an objective to achieve, but he also doesn’t fight the notion of putting it off. A man has got to have priorities, he reasons, and his biggest priority for the past few weeks has always been neatly wrapped up in a bespoke overcoat and bejeweled ties.
Then Signora starts harassing him via carrier pigeon, and Childe knows his time is up.
My dearest little Tartaglia, Childe reads from the latest letter, and he can already feel himself throw up a little, I’ll have you know that my part of the job is complete. I suspect that you may be having some difficulties on your end, given your lack of communication back to Snezhnaya.
He starts zoning out at that point, because he knows how the rest of it’ll go. It’s always the same thing: Signora writing the few initially personalised lines, then merely acting as a proxy for the Tsaritsa’s demands; for progress, for control, for loyalty.
You have one month remaining, the writing starts to slant towards the end of the letter, and the ‘o’s gradually begin to look more like ‘e’s. Locate the Geo Archon. We will not wait for you.
…It’s not that Childe has no idea where (who) the Geo Archon is, but moreso the fact that he doesn’t want to accept it. He doesn’t even want to think about it.
It’s a thought that’s clung to him with its talons digging into his shoulders, ever since he opened that damned cover to Rex Incognito back during his last day in Snezhnaya. Childe has given some serious consideration to the idea of going around Liyue to document the colour of each citizen’s eyes... but really, he knows that it will just be a moot endeavour.
“There you are.” He hears, and immediately he smacks the pigeon off from the windowsill and crumples the letter into a ball, probably all very haphazardly and very conspicuously. Nice.
“Need me?” He turns around with a smile that he hopes is charming enough to cover for all the ‘oh shit’ness going on in his brain.
Zhongli pauses from where he stands in the doorway, his line of sight bungeeing down to where Childe is hiding one hand behind his back, then back up to look Childe in the eyes.
“I was wondering if you would join me this evening to take a stroll along the boardwalks.”
Childe remembers that he has work to do: documents to sign, Ekaterina’s quarterly reports to look through, affluent clients of Northland Bank to kiss the asses of.
“Of course.” He says in a heartbeat. Zhongli’s smile is absolutely radiant.
He had praised himself the first time he killed a person - for feeling very little and very reasonably. It was also the moment when he finally accepted the fact that there won’t be a place for him in heaven.
So then, gods, why was it so hard? One more blasphemy on top of his towering pile of sins should be nothing, he thinks.
(He knows why. The problem with this extrapolation is that Zhongli is neither human nor unwilling to offer himself up to the blade.)
It shouldn’t be this easy, Childe thinks as he peppers soft kisses along the length of Zhongli’s cock and watches as the other slowly gives himself up like a sacrifice at the altar. It can’t be this easy.
The messenger birds come and go. Signora’s writing becomes hastier by the week.
But Childe is a patient person. He knows by experience that there’s a right time to strike.
So he waits, and waits... and waits.
Thunder rolls in across the harbour. There’s fury in the waters and frost in the air. He is running out of time.
“Childe,” Zhongli says one day in Childe’s residence with two volumes of The Troupe’s Collection in one hand and a Snezhnayan-Liyuen dictionary in another. “You are restless.”
Childe stops tapping his foot. “Am I?”
“Come here,” Zhongli shifts the dictionary to under his left arm and motions Childe to sit at the edge of the bed, “Tell me of your troubles.”
He obliges sitting next to him, but doesn’t do much more than that. Zhongli doesn’t say anything, but he looks like he understands. Childe realises it’s possible that he already knows, and the notion really doesn’t surprise him at all.
A long stretch of silence.
The consultant sighs shallowly. He places the books in his hands onto the bedside table, before moving himself to the floor and fingers at Childe’s belt.
“W-woah, what are you—”
“Repaying a favour,” Zhongli simply says as he pulls down the zip. Childe doesn’t have the heart nor breath to tell him that at this point he is the one that should be owing the favours.
Zhongli leans in and mouths wetly at Childe through his underclothes. Then he flicks his gaze upwards, and Childe drowns in lucid amber.
He grabs Zhongli by his tie and smashes their mouths together, relishing in each clack of teeth, every bruise that forms on their lips. Zhongli sighs into the kiss, his hands gripping Childe’s thighs as he simply accepts the other’s tongue into his mouth like Childe is the deity to be worshipped here.
He drags them both to fall back onto the bed, and Zhongli ends up straddling Childe’s hips with his long, long legs. His face is stoney as usual, but there are cracks — the crimson of his lips, the mist in his eyes.
Childe twists their positions, shucks off their pants and tears open their clothes. He cups Zhongli’s length in his hand and he can feel it, hot and heavy with need.
He wants this, Childe thinks almost incoherently, he wants to submit... to a mortal— to the enemy.
It’s a terrifyingly intoxicating thought: Rex Lapis has felled countless primordial horrors and levelled the fiercest mountainscapes, yet he too, just like the mortals, can succumb to such senseless debauchery.
Childe reaches over to the side of the bed and grasps the small, inconspicuous vial of lube that he’s kept there since the day after that first drunken incident. It becomes a bit of a blur after that. One finger inside Zhongli becomes two, then three, until Childe suddenly finds himself with Zhongli’s leg over his shoulder and slowly pushing into a tight, wet, heavenly heat.
He must’ve been going way too slowly in his efforts to savour this feeling, because Zhongli suddenly writhes and bucks his hips up, effectively fucking himself deeper onto Childe’s length with a sharp inhale.
Childe grins around a gasp. “Eager?”
Zhongli responds by shamelessly straightening his back and taking him in even more.
“Move.” Zhongli whispers hazily, and Childe can’t seem to deny him even if he tried.
He fucks the consultant in long, deliberate strokes, heady from the way that Zhongli tightens and jerks when Childe changes the angle every so often and rams straight into his prostate.
“Nn… Ah... ” Zhongli moans lowly, his eyes ducking away behind the lids, and Childe thinks that it’s so unfair how even his eyelashes are ethereal.
And then, in the midst of all the pleasure, Zhongli paws at Childe’s hand and pulls it towards his chest, shakily unfolding it so it rests flat just above the diaphragm.
Childe’s movements slow to a halt.
He inhales. Slides his fingers up the pale valley of Zhongli’s sternum—
And feels the faintest thrum of sheer power light up beneath his fingertips.
(It would be so easy, he thinks, to reach in. Take, and run.)
Then, Zhongli’s eyes crack open like the slow fracture of a tectonic plate, and Childe’s throat fills with ash.
A test, he realises. He presses his fingers into the bone, but not enough to breach the skin. An ultimatum.
They stay still for a long moment, just like that; Zhongli’s fingers loosely clutching Childe’s wrist, and Childe’s hand on Zhongli’s chest. He’s acutely aware of the fact that Zhongli is able to snap his forearm as easily as he breathes. But Childe knows that he won’t — the hand on the chest is absolute proof of that.
Take it, a small voice screams in the back of his mind — the one that never allows him to forget his purpose. Do it, do it do itdoit—
“Childe,” Zhongli says quietly, his eyes burning bright, “Take it.”
Instead, he wordlessly slides his hands up to Zhongli’s face and shoves his fingers into the other man’s mouth.
And then he fucks Zhongli rougher and faster than ever before, letting his bubbling anger and frustration seep through every fibre of his being, into every thrust; his raw red hatred towards Tsaritsa, towards the gods, towards this cursed, fragile thing inside the one he l—
Zhongli throws his head back and quakes beneath him— weak, pliant, open, and Childe can’t help but think that all these tremors jolting through both of them are the aftermath of a great catastrophe barely diverted. He rolls Childe’s index finger beneath his tongue and Childe is suddenly, utterly smited by the realisation that he is fucking one of the most powerful beings on the continent.
“Zhongli,” He growls, but there’s another name — one much, much more sacred — that follows silently in its wake.
Zhongli gasps brokenly loud around Childe’s fingers when the latter angles his hips and rams into his prostate — his face flushed wantonly and his eyebrows knotting together. He lets the overflowing saliva drip from this mouth, messily coating Childe’s fingers up to the knuckles as his eyes slide shut again.
Childe wants to desecrate him. Mark him— claim him whole, so that he loses all divine right and Celestia will deny him at its gates. And maybe then... maybe maybe maybe Childe can finally keep something good in his life for once.
He inhales, summons up a swell of strength and flips the other onto his stomach. Zhongli spasms around him and keens as his cock scrapes roughly against the sheets of the bed, his back arching like the long stretches of the Yaoguang Shoal.
Childe is close and his thrusts are starting to stutter. Zhongli doesn’t look much better, moaning with his face half pushed into the sheets, his hands weakly clutching at the pillows and his lips agape and slick.
Childe grips the god’s hips so hard that there will surely be bruises tomorrow. The sight makes him drunk and heady with power; the way he can reduce something so almighty into something so small, so desperate beneath him...
...but then, when Zhongli’s luminous eyes slide backwards to meet with Childe’s, he suddenly realises how little power he truly holds to the face of the sublime.
He suddenly understands, with every fibre in his being... that these lucid eyes are issuing a command.
So he sucks a deep breath, and takes a hold of Zhongli’s loosened ponytail, his fingers curling into the silken strands.
And, in a mirroring motion to that first night, so many weeks ago, Childe pulls.
Zhongli jerks backwards — the most filthy moan Childe has ever heard — as gravity forces him to take more more more of Childe into him and Childe keeps pulling, all the way back until Zhongli is arched against Childe’s chest and his nape slots into the junction of Childe’s neck and shoulder, his mouth wide open in silent reverence, his quivering chest— his gnosis bared out for all of Celestia to see... his utter submission.
Childe buries his head into Zhongli’s neck, his thighs staggering to a halt. He chases the scent of the canyons, the cliffs, the terraces of Qingce and the falls of Nantianmen— of Liyue, in all its temporal, earthly glory, and comes harder than he has ever before in his life.
“I’m not your first.” Childe grumbles two hours later, sitting awkwardly at the end of the bed. He knows there’s no value in bringing this topic up, but he’ll latch onto any kind of distraction right now just avoid the large, archon-shaped elephant in the room.
Zhongli looks up from where he’s trying to wipe the dried come stains from Childe’s sheets. He’s wrapped in one of Childe’s Sumeran microfiber bathrobes and his hair is damp and unbound. The sight is so painfully human.
“No,” He agrees, “You are not.”
It does sting a little bit, if he’s completely honest. But in all fairness, Zhongli has probably been around since the genesis of Teyvat, and a few hundred millennia is an awfully long time to stay a virgin.
“Then who was?” He asks whilst knowing fully well that he doesn’t want to hear the answer. But he’s been wanting to ask this for a long time, and the question is especially burning now that he’s seen how naturally Zhongli can take dick in both ends.
Zhongli lets a small, private smile grace his lips, and Childe feels a cauldron of hot, ugly jealousy bubble up in his ribcage.
“Her name was Guizhong.” He says, and Childe almost chokes on air because he’s read enough Liyuen history books to recognise that name. “It did not last very long, but it was memorable all the same. She was very… hm… forthright, let’s say, in more ways than one.”
Childe almost passes out on the spot.
He can already see it in his mind — an unassuming little stone slab sitting somewhere in the vast stretch of the Guili Plains, with its ancient script carved in stone: The God of Dust pegs the God of War.
The cripplingly hilarious thought of some poor historian stumbling across it one day and slowly transcribing it to modern language with dawning, visceral horror is enough for him to instantly let go of all the animosity he has ever harboured towards her.
“But that is all in the past,” Zhongli says quietly, and, oh, right. Gods may be immortal, but they are certainly not infallible. “My contract is now with you.”
Childe blinks. Then he realises that this, currently, is the very situation that he’s been trying to dodge.
But Zhongli is looking at him so earnestly, and Childe can’t bring himself to tell more lies.
“You’re aware of who I am.” He says. It was meant to be a question, but the inflection isn't there.
Zhongli smiles with his eyes. “Yes.”
“I trust you—”
“You shouldn’t trust me,” Childe laughs, and the sound is so, so ugly. “That’s the problem. Nothing good will ever come from being around me.”
Zhongli peers into his eyes for the longest stretch of time, searching past the last rim of blue and into the black cesspool of his deepest, darkest fears.
“‘The innamorati are a stalwart feature of every commedia dell’arte.’” He finally says, and Childe immediately recognises this as a devout recitation of the section titled ‘The Lovers’ in the first volume of The Troupe’s Collection. “‘They are the epitome of romanticist ideals, and should they seek the happy ending that they desire, it is certain that they will find it.’”
Childe says nothing, and Zhongli is unsurprisingly undeterred by this passivity. In a rare moment of initiative, Zhongli takes his hand and laces his fingers into the other’s colder, stiffer ones.
“There’s no happy ending for me.” He croaks, unable to look away, and it’s nauseating now that it’s out in the air, because he’s lived his entire life thinking— knowing that there’s only so much happiness he’s allowed to have before the divine forces (— before Tsaritsa —) will laugh at him and sweep the rug from under his feet.
Zhongli gazes into his eyes. “I do not believe that.”
Perhaps if he were more patriotic, more faithful, then he would have ended the conversation here. Maybe push the other down and finally plunge his hand into his chest in a hopelessly feeble attempt at redemption.
But even then… he can see it: Rex Lapis’ intense golden orbs searing into his own, thawing out Childe’s heart as much as Childe is violating his.
“Snezhnayan fairy tales don’t believe in happy endings.”
Zhongli tightens his grip.
“But you are not in Snezhnaya.” He murmurs, and each syllable rumbles through Childe like slow, earthly tremors. “Here, you are within my domain… and by thus, I grant my decree for your happiness.”
Childe swallows, feeling a terribly large, dry lump at the back of his throat. He breaks eye contact and gets up to snatch a bottle of baijiu that has been sitting on his shelves for Celestia knows how long — a priceless fifty-years aged distilled spirit from one of the Bank’s richest clients. But he really can’t care less. — tears the seal and flicks off the cap before chugging down three whole mouthfuls. The bitter liquid burns in his nostrils like a cold wind.
After downing half the bottle, he hiccups pitifully. “You’re not my god.”
Zhongli smiles. “That is okay.”
Childe is absolutely lost for words, so he simply looks back down at the bottle in his hands in a futile effort to seek its guidance.
Liyuen alcohol really is stronger than anything he’s had in Snezhnaya, he thinks dimly.
All he really wants to do right now is to completely numb his mind, so he lifts the bottle again and swallows the rest in one gulp. Zhongli makes no move to stop him.
Finally, with enough liquid courage running through his veins, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and asks, once again, “Why?”
Zhongli’s eyes move away to look past the morning horizon, far beyond where Childe can pinpoint.
“No matter who we are, no matter what our faith,” He murmurs, “We must never forget that we all have the same capacity for love.”
And for Childe, it is a reasonable enough answer.