By all means, Childe had gotten off far too lightly.
Invading a foreign god’s lands, awakening his ancient archenemy to raze his people, desecrating his corpse, why, the Lord of Geo had every right to pierce Childe where he stood with the might of a small mountain. As fond as he was of Her Royally Icy Highness, he was not so foolish as to think her protection held as much weight in this distant land as it did in Snezhnaya. His removal, in fact, would handily sate both the riled Liyue populace as well as provide the Fatui with a prime scapegoat, an overambitious leader who besmirched the Tsaritsa’s good(ish) name.
So by all means, the fact that he was currently sitting in Liuli Pavilion, dining with said archaic lord, engaged in amiable conversation with the apparently not-so-offended archon himself, why, it could only be a mercy from Celestia. A testament to the patience and goodwill of the blessed and benevolent Rex Lapis.
He still wanted to punch that Wangsheng bastard in the face.
Zhongli sat across from Childe, tall in his seat, dressed to the nines as always. Though he wasn’t much taller than Childe himself, his back seemed straighter, his conduct filled with more poise than he’d ever had at any of their past meals. His presence loomed over him in a way that would make any other diner uncomfortable, had they been been the one to sit across from him. It was the aura of a god. As for Childe, it just pissed him off.
So Zhongli was finally showing his true colors after the past year of his company. After the past year of keeping tabs on him, he reminded himself. It’s no wonder he held himself with such grace now that he didn’t need to lower himself to lead on nosy harbingers.
Well, a nosy harbinger. Signora had been under no such delusions, apparently. He’d remember that.
The bastard raised his cup to his mouth, sipping from the china. Childe mused if his lips were as soft as they— nope, not doing that. (Not anymore.) Said lips turned up slightly as he began the 37th banal conversation topic of the evening, taking full advantage of the fact that Childe had been in no position to refuse an invitation to a final send-off meal, a mockery of their previous shared repasts now that the wool had been pulled from his eyes. Social politics and actual politics demanded he appease the God of Geo. “This coconut milk has a refreshing flavor to it. I see now how one could attribute the taste to a legendary adeptibeast.”
“Heh, yeah, you all sure looked like fools then.” Zhongli hummed into his cup. “Though in the end I guess I was the fool on the wild cocogoat chase, chasing your dead ass around the city.” Perhaps that choice of words was too obviously bitter to respond to a god with, even if he kept a light tone in his voice. Nevertheless, Zhongli made another unaffected hum into his meal.
Zhongli opened his mouth, as if he was about to continue on, unabated, pausing as he glanced at Childe’s face. The god’s lips pressed into a thin line at the sight. If he’d missed the sugared spite dripping from his words, he saw it now. Ah, he must be scowling. He forced himself into an easy grin, only to be rewarded with a full on frown. Zhongli’s brow had an uncharacteristic furrow to it, as if pondering a matter intently. Don’t hurt yourself now, Childe taunted, if only from the safety of his mind.
“Tartaglia,” that name, “are you—“
“Y’know, Morax, I think I’ve had my fill,” a transparent lie, diners at the Liuli Pavilion invariably faced the temptation to empty their wallets here at the sight of the succulent foodstuffs, “I’ll be retiring for the night.” A less obvious lie. He was going to pack, board the first boat to Snezhnaya, and wash those amber eyes from his mind. He was sick of them.
Without waiting for a reply, Childe left the mora for the bill and then some and made to leave, frowning a bit as he did so. This was the god of cold, hard mora that he was paying yet another extravagant sum for. Again. He turned on his heel to snatch back his funds, but his partner— no, associate— wilted a little at the gesture. Damnit. Fine, the ex-Mora mint can keep his coffers stuffed for another day. He huffed as he pushed past the doors and out into the street.
The air was crisp in Liyue Harbor, carried by the winds from the chill waters, the harbinger shuddering at the cold poking at the exposed skin near his navel. His heart belonged to Snezhnaya, sure, but alas, the frost never agreed with him. It made him sluggish and his reaction time slowed, which was part of why he was the vanguard and didn’t stay back to defend the homeland itself.
And so, if anyone were to ask why he dawdled in front of the restaurant as long as he did, weighing the merits of walking against commissioning a rickshaw long enough for a tall and handsome and infuriating man to follow him out into the night, he would blame it on that very cold.
Zhongli said nothing, just stood next to him and stared out into the open street alongside the harbinger, waiting. Patient as stone. Childe hazarded a glance. His jaw was sharp, and like stone, Childe imagined punching it would be more likely to slice up his own hand than deal any type of blow to the impassive god. (He imagined kissing it would cut his lips.)
Still, looking at him now, Childe’s hands itched, for a fight or for some other way to get this ill temper out of his system. The feeling was overwhelming, but to initiate a brawl with a deity, however diminished, in his own city, that would be a colossally stupid idea. So Childe took the marginally safer, still colossally stupid option, and suddenly grabbed a fistful of Zhongli’s stupidly perfect clothes and rammed his mouth against his stupidly soft lips. The god suddenly tensed up under his grip— (shit, had he taken it too far—) before melting into his touch. And suddenly a year of imagination solidified in his hands.
Zhongli cupped his jaw in turn and kissed him deeper, teeth grazing against his lower lip. This was not the first time he’d done this in his several millennia of life. They breathed each other in, close enough for Childe to smell the warmth of the Liyuen stoves in his hair, just as Zhongli drew out the chill of the first Snezhnayan snowfall of the year from somewhere deep in his bones. Childe wasn’t nearly as delicate in his own processions as he took his turn to direct the spontaneous make-out session, teeth not quite clashing, and yet probably a bit too close. It was messy and tinged with a sense of desperation, but he finally started to fall into an easy pattern—
Until the hostess of the Liuli Pavilion informed them that the patio of the building was not intended for the passionate culmination of a lover’s quarrel. Zhongli pulled away, damn him, coolly smiled at her, and slipped his hand into Childe’s, at which point his mind blanked and he could only think—
Why was he doing this.
He needed to make his way back to Zapolyarny Palace soon. Instead he was leading on a mark who he needed nothing from. But he wanted. Oh did he want. He wanted to kiss him until he ran out of breath, he wanted someone to be pressed against a wall (he wasn’t picky who), he wanted to taste the divine.
And he still wanted to punch him in the face, archons be damned.