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You’ve Seen Where the Heart Is (You’ve Seen It’s Color)

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Resolve was never something that Childe lacked. Living under the rule of the Cryo Archon, it took an abundance of it to avoid freezing up and shattering like the Hydro element he wielded. One wrong step and all of his hard work would be for naught. He was the youngest of the Harbingers, but still held just as much power, wealth, and renown; he still felt the pressing weight of every responsibility, every order, and mission. The mask on his head weighed heavier than any crown he could imagine.

The assignment in Liyue was meant to be easy. It was already a city where the walls had ears and gathering intel was practically second nature to him. He hadn’t expected to run into any problems. In fact, he ran into the opposite of a problem- he never would have imagined that the Geo Archon was the most singularly unsubtle being to ever exist. 

That was where his troubles began. 

Zhongli wore his own symbol blazoned across his back, with bronze dragon scales glittering on the front of his jacket. They seemed to shimmer whenever they caught the wind as if crying out for his attention. It was obvious. It had to be obvious to everyone else as well. Who could miss the amber eyes that glowed with an intensity brighter than any cor lapis he had ever seen?

Not that Childe considered himself to be an expert on rocks. 

Though, Zhongli had tried to remedy that on multiple occasions with rambling lectures about lines of fracture and cycles of metamorphic rock. Childe had forced himself to sit through numerous such lectures in the process of getting to know his target. 

Childe never meant to let his guard down, but by the time he’d noticed how far it had slipped, it was already far too late to do anything about it. 

It was here and now- with his hand closing around something that crystallized in his fingers with searing heat, that he hesitated. He could feel the hitch of Zhongli’s breath around his hand. The steady, rock-solid beat of the Geo Archon’s heart fluttering against his glove. 

There was no telling what expression was on his friend’s face. 

Part of him had hoped that Zhongli would put him in the ground, preventing him from having to choose between his country and his friend. Between the Archon he owed his loyalty, and the one he’d rather give it to, had he been given a chance.

Now, with his hand sunk into Zhongli’s chest, he felt the full brunt of the indecision he’d been pushing down for months. 

He had expected the fight to be much harder, with more wounds to show for it than just a cut on his forehead, though said cut was doing its level best to move all the blood inside his body outside of it. He’d expected to have to fight the Traveler (and had been hopeful that they could defeat him if Zhongli would not), but Zhongli had put a stop to that. Even now, Childe could hear yelling from behind the spires of rock that caged both the Traveler and their floating friend. 

Caught between the heartbeat pulsing against the back of his hand and the glowing gaze that saw through the cracks in the ice that Childe had always hidden himself under, the conflicted Harbinger couldn’t bring himself to rip that glowing core from where it belonged.

He felt himself sway slightly. The delusion that made this act possible wasn’t meant to be used for any meaningful length of time, and the extended use was beginning to take its toll. Zhongli winced at the small movement.

Childe opened his mouth. For what? To apologize?

A gloved hand gently circled the thin skin of his wrist.

Zhongli’s deep timbre rumbled around his fingertips, shooting through his body like lightning. 

“It’s okay.”

Childe tensed in surprise, his fingers curling tightly around the gnosis as Zhongli pushed himself back. The god stumbled to the ground. Clenched in Childe’s bloodless hands was a crystal that pulsed with more light than any pyro-tempered noctilucus jade. 

No, this was wrong, this was all wrong. This wasn’t how things were supposed to happen.

Zhongli’s usually tidy and trim coat tails laid in disarray where they fell against the earth. It was sacrilegious. His mind’s eye flashed back to the scene of Rex Lapis hurtling into the ground at top speed in the middle of the Rite of Descension. The effect was the same. 

Stunned, Childe missed the approach of heeled boots on worn rock. 

He’d chosen this place specifically for this battle. A cliff overhang near one of the large waterfalls near a long abandoned depth shrine. He figured the overhang would give Zhongli an edge, while still keeping up appearances that he picked this fight with the intent to win. 

“Good job, ragazzino.”

Something shuddered in his soul at the high timbre of an all-too familiar voice. Signora .

She wasn’t someone that Childe could fight one-on-one, and to make matters worse she hadn’t come alone. There were almost a dozen agents trailing behind her like loyal dogs. 

From the dirt and rock, Zhongli looked up at him. There was something inscrutable in those bright eyes. 

Ragazzino, what are you waiting for? Your mission is complete. Hand it over and let me take care of the rest. You’ve done well.”

No, he hadn’t done well. Blood dripped from his forehead all the way down his face, before falling onto the leather of Zhongli’s boot. 

He turned, unaware of the wild look in his eyes that was so far removed from the guarded mask he always wore around the other Harbinger. The tightly wound ice in the shape of a woman was as elegantly put together as always. Not a single hair out of place. 

His eyes flicked back to Zhongli's chest. The god was trembling. Whether from pain, or the shock of losing his gnosis, Childe wasn’t sure. He couldn’t bring himself to look at his friend’s face now that he’d looked away. He had no idea if Zhongli was in any state to fight- gnosis or no. 

Childe knew he wasn’t strong enough to fight Signora on his own, and Zhongli’s rock prison was keeping the Traveler caged, no matter how many swings of their sword sparked off of the spires holding them. 

The gnosis burned in his palm.

He came to a decision.

“No.”

Signora stopped in her tracks. Childe didn’t look up, his gaze still pinned to the scuffed surface of Zhongli’s coat. 

“No? Ragazzino, whatever do you mean?” Signora clucked her tongue at him. As usual, she wasn’t taking him seriously.

Her mistake. Childe had an idea. A monumentally stupid idea, but one that would prevent the Fatui from getting their hands on Zhongli’s gnosis. He still had a choice. He’d thought that it had been made for him long ago, but so long as he breathed, there was still a choice he could make. 

“I’m sorry.” Childe’s words were meant to be for Zhongli alone, but judging by the sudden silence from the Traveler's cage it wasn’t as quiet as he’d hoped. 

He let out a nervous, breathy chuckle before turning around.

“I said no. Signora. You can’t have it. You can’t have him.” 

He shoved his hand into his own chest, gnosis and all- and let go. 

A sharp intake of air from behind him was the last thing he heard before everything was drowned out by the sound of his own gasp. It felt like there wasn’t any air in his lungs, like there had never been air in his lungs. As hot as the gnosis had been in his hand, it was exponentially hotter burning in the center of his chest, pulsing with each rapid, feather-light beat of his hummingbird heart. 

The breath he managed to heave in his lungs scorched down his throat like blazing sand on a hot day. It was heavy, hard to breathe through, and felt like drowning. Every muscle in his body tensed as he was blinded by senses he didn’t have names for, and consumed by a completely unfamiliar power.

Electro currents raced underneath his skin, either a figment from his mind or actual sparks from the delusion he’d been using. Blood boiled in his veins, forming a smoldering map of his body that he had never been aware of before. 

Zhongli’s gnosis blazed behind his breastbone as shards of rock cracked off the ground and rose into the air around him like fireflies. 

The land hummed all around them. His arena of choice was composed of rock that he could feel like an extension of himself. It would have been easy for Zhongli to bury all of them and come away without a scratch. Why? Why wouldn’t he- why would he...

The world seemed to sway. Clawed hands grabbed at his hair, dislodging his mask from its perch. It cracked as it hit the ground, bouncing before coming to a stop with a staccato clatter that seemed out of place in the sudden silence of the overhang. The sound a stark contrast to his heavy breathing. 

For a moment all he wanted to do was smash a mountain and reshape it simply because he could. Rock could be molded like water, transitive from lava to obsidian. It was vast- not infinite, but larger than he could possibly hope to comprehend. Pulling at his awareness like stars in a dark sky were vast wells of underwater aqueducts beneath his feet. He could reach out to those and wash the entirety of Liyue away. It would be so easy.

Behind him, Zhongli attempted to push himself up off the ground on shaky legs. 

Childe looked up at him through his fingers, a foreign glow reflecting off the dark and torn leather of his gloves. He wondered what he looked like, with a god’s power consuming him from the inside out. 

A stone skittered, sent clattering by a high-heeled boot. 

His head turned at a speed that normally would have snapped his neck, fixing his gaze on Signora.

Signora, who could do no wrong- resting on her laurels of seniority while the people she was meant to lead did all the hard work for her. She was a true reflection of the Cryo Archon, never doing anything herself. Using pawns. Using good people, people that were much better than him, to do horrible things.

Childe knew that he wasn’t a good person. Judging by his trembling and shifting form, he hardly counted as a person at all. Sharp claws had burst forth from the leather of his gloves, unraveling the seams around them. Annoyed, he tore them off completely, accidentally scoring lines into his own flesh with the unfamiliar points. 

He felt faster and his entire being buzzed with a feeling not unlike the vertigo of losing your footing when you were far above the ground. There was no time for him to take stock of everything that had changed in his tremor-filled, quaking form, Signora wouldn’t give him such an opportunity. 

“You think that you can keep it safe? That I won’t simply take it from you as well, ragazzino?” Her words were purred but her foot took another unconscious step back. 

“I’d like to see you try,” Childe growled out past a sharpened smile. 

Signora twisted her hands and summoned ice from the river behind her. 

Childe roared and pivoted his foot to brace behind him, sending a tremor through the mist in the air. Signora’s ice spears collapsed in on themselves before they could reach him- or more importantly, before they reached Zhongli. 

With Signora’s opening volley, Childe bent and dug his claws into the solid rock beneath him- shooting spires of it underneath Signora’s entourage as he launched himself forward. A hasty shield of ice blocked the kick he sent at her side. Compromise her footing, attack from an unexpected direction- he couldn’t rely on Fatui training here. 

With a stomp, he freed a large chunk of stone from the ground and then kicked it into the air. Punching through it covered his hands in a shell of razor-sharp Geo crystal. With another twist he clawed through her icy defense before spinning away.

Interesting. Why had he been so afraid of her? 

She brushed shards of crystal off her gown. “One lucky shot does not a victory make.” 

“Do you ever get tired of being so insufferably pretentious?” He clawed at her again.

That seemed to make her mad. With a quick motion to the agents that had avoided his opening volley, Signora started attacking in earnest, motioning for them to join the fray with her. Normally he would have a difficult time with so many Cryo and Electro opponents, but this time he wasn’t limited to weapons he could conjure from water vapor in the air.

Come to think of it- 

He clawed into the side of an invisible agent to his left. 

Blood was just a mixture of water and minerals. He could sense it as surely as the rock all around them. 

Another stomp sent a large chunk of the ceiling onto a group of freshly conjured Electro Cicins and their Mage. Turning away from another attack, his follow-through tearing through someone’s throat, reaching out and drawing a spear of blood from their body. One that he flung straight through a Cryo Gunner. 

The appalled look on Signora’s face was delightful. 

“Are you scared, Signora? It doesn’t feel good when your powers are at the mercy of another’s whims, does it? When someone can freeze your progress-” he started to crystalize the blood in her hands with a snap, “just like that?”

“The Tsaritsa should have never made you a Habringer,” Signora hissed. 

He pouted at her, “Now you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”

From behind her back, she raised a double barreled shooter of her own conception. Pyro and Electro currents slammed into his chest and sent him reeling. She followed it with an enhanced kick at his neck. 

He blocked with a forearm and watched in a detached manner as she ripped through the tattered sleeves of his jacket, her Cryo-imbued foot skidding off what looked like scales.

What was he doing? Rex Lapis was a god of war. Here he was using the gnosis as a normal- if not powerful -vision.

Signora took his moment of inattention to call hundreds of shards of ice and sent them all hurtling in his direction.

His fingers flexed, and with an unbearable sensation of being torn apart at every seam, Childe threw himself forward on foreign legs. He whipped his tail around and slammed it into Signora, sending her sprawling into the water. That didn’t stop him from doggedly pursuing her into the waterfall’s basin and snapping at her with a maw full of teeth. 

He writhed away from the water being manipulated into ice around him, sending his own torrent of water at her, pushing her down further. 

Let her drown. She could freeze him solid- it didn’t matter. So long as she could never touch him.  

She pushed frozen water into the gaps between newly formed scales. The ice beginning to spread underneath his scales as he pushed her deeper into the water. It was less painful than the horror of becoming something wholly unfamiliar that he’d just experienced, like an itch trying to compare with the pain of burning alive. 

Childe stopped clawing at the woman and pushed her away, turning and hitting her with another slap of his tail until she bounced off the rocky bottom of the waterfall’s basin. He found it easier to maneuver underwater in this form- not that water had ever been foreign territory to him.

Despite his obvious newfound advantages, Signora wasn’t giving up. She formed spires of ice and pushed them at any perceived weakness. Only a bone shaking roar kept them from stabbing into his eyes. He gagged on the water that entered through his open maw and froze.

There was new blood in the water. There was Zhongli’s blood in the water. Suddenly, drowning Signora didn’t seem to hold any relevance at all. With one final snap and shake of his maw at her outstretched arm he kicked off the bottom of the basin. Quick as a fish he surfaced, tossing his head back and forth as he tried to clear his vision. 

A smudge of gold caught his attention. On the edge of the waterfall’s pool, Zhongli knelt in the water, eyes wide open and staring right at him. 

No, that wasn’t safe- he wasn’t safe. Signora could still freeze the water!

Wheeling around, he splashed and surged up to where Zhongli was, pressing the crown of his head against Zhongli’s unyielding chest to try and push him back out of the water. A warbling sound came from deep in his lungs. Pleading.

Bare hands came to hold the sides of his massive head. “Childe, you’ve already won. You’ve done enough.” Fingers that he’d always thought of as elegant twisted in the damp mane of hair crowning his head. They pushed through the strands where a mask might have once sat, untangling the ruff as they went. 

Sluggishly, he blinked and gave his head a slight shake. The movement pressed his snout into the soft skin of Zhongli’s forearm. The surprising heat of it tickled his nose.

There was a splash from the other side of the pool.

He turned his head and saw Signora glaring at him from across the river, holding her hands stiffly and with one of her arms bleeding at an odd angle. She was missing a shoe and part of her mask. All of her agents were scattered around the shattered battlefield. There was hatred in her gaze, but she turned around and retreated behind a rocky outcrop leading downstream.

With a snort, he splashed at her retreating form with his tail. 

Zhongli took the dragon’s head firmly in his hands, forcefully tilting it back to look at him. “Come back, please .” 

Childe let out a rough low noise, half purr, half rumble. 

“Please.” Zhongli pressed his forehead against the crown of scales bridging between two bright, serpentine blue eyes. 

How could he refuse such an order?

Like water returning after a surge, Child felt pulled apart as he let go of the fear and the anger that had driven him to such extremes. There was a rush around them as water moved to fill the area that had been displaced by his previous form. 

Childe let himself fall forward, Zhongli’s arms catching his diminished human form by the shoulders, before he could faceplant into the pool. 

He opened and closed his mouth before forcing out a rasp. “Zhongli.”

“Hush.” Quick fingers combed through his hair, before moving to catalogue all the injuries that he could reach. 

“S-sorry.” Childe blinked. He found himself turned on his back, with his head and shoulders cradled against Zhongli’s thighs. “F-for everything. I’m sorry. Heh, never said that to anyone before.”

His chest was heavy, and it was more than just emotions weighing him down. A trembling hand reached up to try and pull the gnosis from his own chest. He had no idea if he would be able to remove it.

Zhongli startled and covered his hand with both of his. “Don’t-”

“ ‘ve gotta give it back.” Childe managed through his mangled throat. 

“You’ll die without it with these injuries.”

Damn it, Zhongli pointing it out made him hyper aware of every ounce of pain that had crammed its way into his body. What had been minor annoyances in one form were vastly more serious when condensed onto a form that was altogether too human. 

Reaching up a trembling, blood-covered hand, he brushed aside Zhongli’s bangs. Childe let his thumb linger against the skin, resting just below the red rimming his eyes. “I don’t deserve it.”

Zhongli took one hand to smooth back wet ginger hair that had grown tacky with blood. “You think I’d just let anyone borrow my gnosis?”

Childe’s eyes softened, “Zhongli.”

With his dwindling strength, Childe surged up just far enough to press his lips against Zhongli’s. The touch ignited that warm feeling beneath his breastbone yet again. It had banked itself into embers, but was now stoked back into a roaring fire.

Moving his other hand, he grabbed the length of Zhongli’s hair and pulled him closer. He began to feel the heat rising from his chest to his throat. He arched his back and kissed Zhongli even harder, trying to urge it higher. 

He felt the moment it passed from his lips to Zhongli’s in a dull flash of heat. The pressure in his chest eased. Then the strength in his limbs deserted him as blackness started to encroach on the edges of his vision. Without Zhongli's hold he would have slipped under the river's surface.

Zhongli was saying something and trying to shake him awake. 

The last thing he saw were those two blazing points of cor lapis.

 


 

The first thing to return was his hearing. Around him were the distant chattering of cranes carried forward on the wind, and beyond that, the ambient sounds common to any port town. The creaking of boats, the muffled movement of the masses, and gulls that cried out sharply. 

In the distance he could even hear that woman who never stopped screaming about Zhongyuan Chop Suey. Still in Liyue then, a place that he’d come to think of as meaning home. However, this didn’t feel like his room at the embassy. Not that he wanted to be back in that room.

“But his hair…”

“I don’t know what it means either.”

Celesita, Venti, helpful answers only.”

“I’m telling you, the only stories like this I’d heard involve-”

The second thing that he noticed was that behind his eyelids, everything was unbearably bright. He didn’t want to fathom opening them. He tensed against the brightness out of reflex and the speaking voices cut off sharply.

Then the pain hit him. Dunking him into the harsh reality he’d floated through during the minutes it had taken him to awaken.

A choked back gasp and a half-swallowed whimper were the only slips in his composure. They were forced down out of instinct. It wasn’t safe to show weakness. The scrape of his throat made him swallow again reflexively. It worsened the pain, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that right now.  

He was lying down on a soft-yet-unfamiliar bed. 

“Childe.”

That voice he knew. It had resonated in his very soul. Zhongli, Zhongli- Zhongli. He was safe

A hand brushed over his face like a warm beam of sunlight. He tilted his head to nuzzle into that warmth only to tense when the movement alerted him to pain that lurked beneath his stiff muscles. 

“Don’t move.” That voice was the Traveler’s. 

He couldn’t resist trying to croak out a smartass response, “N-no-ah- shit.”

“I’ll go and get Baizhu,” an unfamiliar tenor said as it swiftly retreated, presumably out the door. 

The mattress dipped under someone’s weight and a shadow blotted out the brightness. Cautiously he cracked open one of his eyes to see Zhongli leaning over him with lines of worry etched in the pinch of his brows. 

“Your face-” Chile stopped to take a pained breath, “ ‘s gonna stick like that.” 

Those golden eyes- he’d been so worried they would never be filled with light again, and Gods wouldn’t that be a travesty- rolled.

“Don’t be stupid,” he said in a low voice positively thick with affection.

He forced his other eye open so he could take in all of Zhongli’s face, “Tooooo late.”

Part of him expected Zhongli to pull away at that reminder of what he’d done (one of the many things he’d done that were beyond apology), but he instead simply leveled an unimpressed look at him. The Traveler passed Zhongli a glass of water so the man could hold it gently to Childe’s lips, one hand behind his head to help him drink it without choking. Childe felt a little more like a person after downing half the water. 

Passing the glass off to the table beside the bed, Zhongli leaned close enough for the end of his hair to brush against the hollow of Childe’s throat. 

In a low voice Zhongli rumbled, “It wasn’t too late.”

He was confused a moment before he realized Zhongli was continuing their earlier thread of conversation. To his horror, Childe could feel emotions welling up in the corners of his eyes. He blinked them away. “It almost was. Why? Why trust me?”

Zhongli’s bare fingers were feather light where they cradled the sides of his face, reminiscent of the way he’d held onto a dragon’s last shreds of sanity. They tilted his head and he bent down to close the distance. 

The contact jolted through Childe like a living thing. Melting him into the mattress as warmth bloomed in the empty space where Zhongli’s power had made a home for itself. It nestled between his heart and his lungs and beat in tandem with a heartbeat not his own. A steady, unyielding rhythm as sturdy as the land beneath his feet. 

He could feel the rush of blood rising to Zhongli’s face when he raised leaden arms to embrace him back. Every movement felt like slogging through mud but he had to reciprocate. Childe attempted to put everything into his actions because his words could never hope to convey the full extent of his emotions. 

Water dripped onto his cheek.

Blinking, he realized that he was pulling water from the air. Tiny rivulets of condensation spooling around his fingertips like affectionate strings. It felt… different somehow when compared to how he normally manipulated the element.  

“Ah, gross, it’s like watching my brother kiss someone,” the childish voice returned, sending the Traveler into a fit of giggles.

With a sigh, he fell back against the pillow with a frown. Looking over he saw a short teen with two braids in his hair, a bow lazily slung over his shoulder and a lyre more carefully settled at his waist. At his shoulder was a familiar face from Bubu pharmacy with a zombie, a snake, and a rather conspicuous looking leather bag in tow. 

“Zhongli, I believe I said to refrain from exciting the boy,” Baizhu chided. 

The man in question coughed, and the heat of his embarrassment visibly rising to his face. 

Childe groaned, then glared at Zhongli when his eyebrows twitched in amusement. He hadn’t expected they would have an audience so soon after everyone had left. Luckily not everyone was paying attention, the little zombie helper was quietly pestering the green kid for stories about some kind of flower. 

The pharmacist set a bag on the bed and nonchalantly pushed Zhongli out of his light before examining the patient. He was covered in wounds that had been seen too while he was unconscious. Swaths of gauze wrapped around scrapes, cuts were stitched, and the bruises were covered in the remains of a tacky salve that stuck to the sheet he was under.

After propping him upright against some pillows, the man went to work looking him over. “Now that he’s awake it doesn’t seem as if there’s anything he won’t recover from. The other situation seems to be well in hand, so I wouldn’t look a gift snake in the mouth.”

“The other situation?” Childe asked flatly.

The Traveler stepped up from the foot of the bed and opened their hands. Nestled in their palm was the shattered fragments of something glassy and blue. A tinge of dread crept up his throat. Hands itched to reach out and snatch back something that never should have been separated from him.

“Is that my-”

Baizhu waved a hand and gestured vaguely. “It was your vision, yes, but before you jump to conclusions, keep in mind that it seems you’re doing quite well without it, if that bit of Hydro manipulation is any indication. Besides that, there’s also the matter of your hair.”

“What’s wrong with my-” his words trailed off as he reached up and tugged on the hair that laid over his forehead to see it better. The base of his hair seemed a tinge darker. Like the rust colored rocks that surrounded mineral deposits. The tips were shot through with a blue that he felt nearly glowed, like strands of noctilucus jade. 

Oh no, oh- he glanced at the teen with green hair and eyes who was the spitting image of the statues of the Anemo Archon, then back to Zhongli with his glowing cor lapis eyes and the hair that faded into the same shade. 

“Like I was saying before he rudely interrupted me by waking up,” the Anemo Archon complained, “I’ve never heard of something like this happening outside of vision wielders that ascended on their own. Though it could make quite a romantic ballad the way you two went about it.” 

“Venti, if you’re not going to be helpful-” Zhongli sighed. 

The pint-sized Archon held his hands up and walked back out the door. After a moment of indecision, the Traveler followed suit. 

“Well, I can see you clearly have some things to discuss. Just treat his wounds like I told you and have him drink the medicinal teas in the order I prescribed them,” Baizhu snapped his bag shut and hurried out of the room with his zombie daughter in tow. 

With all distractions removed, a tension set in. The room suddenly felt very still. Just the two of them.

“Are you alright?” Zhongli asked.

Childe sank back into the pillows keeping him upright. “I think I should be the one asking you that. I gave it back, didn’t I?”

Zhongli gave a half-hearted attempt at a shrug, “I feel the same as ever, except different.”

His huff got caught in his chest and he winced, “That clears up nothing and yet, I know exactly what you mean. The concept of a gnosis is something that I barely comprehend and for you it’s just something you’ve lived with all your life. We’re breaking new ground, aren’t we?”

Zhongli huffed softly at his pun. “There are old tales, saying that a gnosis is a manifestation of the aura of one’s soul. A vision lets one practice that ability before it crystalizes.”

Childe blanched at that, “You let me rip out part of your soul ?!”

“Childe,” Zhongli’s eyes glanced upwards as if asking for patience, “I gave it to you.”

He shook his head, “You- I, you don’t have to call me that. Childe was my code-name.”

“Well what would you like me to call you?” Zhongli asked, leaning closer. 

He gave a stiff-shouldered shrug. “Honestly? Whatever you like. I’m not exactly fond of my real name either.”

“My dear, have you heard how many names I’ve been given?” Zhongli deadpanned.

His fingers twisted in the neat length of Zhongli’s hair. It was like silkflower petals against his scraped knuckles. “Pffth, yeah, okay you win.”

“Mm, what do I win?” Zhongli rumbled against his shoulder.

“I think you know,” Childe said, bringing up his hand and pressing a kiss to Zhongli’s hair as it slipped through. 

The look he got in return was so unbearably fond that Childe could hardly withstand the creeping feeling of being known. Zhongli reached out and tugged on a piece of hair that had fallen in front of Childe’s noctilucus jade eyes. 

“Mhm. I can guess.” Zhongli caught his wandering fingers in a warm grip. 

Their hands settled together on top of the blanket, hopelessly intertwined.

Childe found his voice again after staring at their hands stupidly for a moment, “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me now. Though you may have to start remembering to bring mora if you’re to be treating me to dinner from now on. I don’t think they’re going to let me withdraw anything from my accounts in the future.”

Zhongli tilted his head and grinned in a way that let a shadow of the dragon within show. “Did I mention that the Qixing were prepared to move on the bank as soon as your move was made? Tax fraud is such a nasty business.”

Childe laughed until he had to lean his forehead against Zhongli’s shoulder for support. 

The Archon let him stay there as he began to softly recount the things he’d missed while he was out. Moving on from banal topic to juicy gossip with all the candor of someone’s aunt. They didn’t talk about what would happen now or in the future. They didn’t need to. Childe had made his choice, and it was now set in stone as surely as their heartbeats were intertwined.