"Dubrovnik. Prague. Bergen. Jaipur. Cartagena. The list goes on. And on," Signora says in a tight voice.
She holds the thick papers clipped together in her hand before she throws the whole stack on her desk.
Childe runs his fingers through his hair, pushing his back into the cushion of his seat. Body slack. He sits across his superior but the young agent's focus is barely on Signora.
Childe looks over her shoulder, at the terrible piece of an abstract painting on the wall; Signora's voice is naught but a fleeting air that brushes past his head.
"Tell me, Tartaglia, what part of an espionage mission you do not understand? Fatui works in the shadow and yet here you are, flaunting yourself to the public in every damn mission you took," She seethes.
Childe lets out a sigh.
He's been in this position before; acting like a reprimanded kid in front of Signora, receiving her glare as she repeats the same thing again and again.
It's getting dull.
What's the point of a good hunt if he can't play around with his Marks? It's always restrictions this and rules that and whatnots.
Childe is going to kill his targets in the end. Why does it matter how he's going to approach his mission?
"Tartaglia," Signora calls out.
Childe arches a brow. "I'm listening, Signora."
"You're not listening, you fool. You never listen to anyone and you don't follow orders. You pick your gun, you strut yourself out there, and you kill your target aimlessly; heedless of witnesses and evidence of your handiwork," Signora chides.
She sags into her seat. Her composure is as pristine as ever.
"The agency always has to clean up your mess. Do you know how much money it costs just to shut people up? You're giving too much opening for people like NRO, HUR, and SOA to manipulate. Even the CIA. And we don't want that," she adds.
Childe shrugs. "Hey, I complete my missions, save everyone, and bring peace to the world. Does it matter how I do it? The last Mark I killed? A man wanted in several states and I put an end to his warmongering days. That's what matters," Childe says with a flick of his wrist.
They both are aware it's only a half-truth. Sure, it's to keep the peace. That's part of the reason. It's Fatui's aim.
But the other reason is simply because Childe seeks the thrill of killing, of a good fight.
Childe's blue eyes twinkle at Signora's silence. He pushes his body forward until his elbows are resting on his knees.
"Besides, I'm one of the best agents the agency has. You can be angry at me however you want but we're short on useful skills nowadays and you know it. The recruits haven't finished their training yet. Fatui can't afford to put me behind a desk and play with papers and work as your office boy," Childe says.
Signora's murky expression barely softens but Childe notes how her glare has lost the tiniest bit of its flame. Signora still looks at Childe as if she wants to throw him into the meat grinder though.
Oh, well, no matter. Signora's tongue-lashing has come to an end. Childe knows it. Signora knows it.
He's going to leave the office with a mild reproval from the higher-ups. Sure, he has to deal with Signora's icy glare for days as always but Childe can deal with it.
Signora is quiet. She studies him for a moment. Childe lets her, returning her gaze with a mischievous glance of his own.
She scowls but finally lets out a weary sigh. It marks the end of their conversation.
Childe grins. He readies to get up but Signora's voice stops him midway.
"Tartaglia, if you won't change your habits, then we'll be forced to assign you with a handler," Signora states icily.
Childe blinks, mouth slightly agape. "No," he declines harshly. "No handler. That's not part of the deal. I work alone."
"Not breaking the directives is part of the deal, too. And yet you've broken every single regulation on the edict," Signora says. The corner of her lips curves upward slightly.
A handler. Of all things.
Childe has nothing against them but handlers are just there, reminding their assigned agents what they should and shouldn't do; how to approach and deal with everything, remind them of regulations; someone that's always there to monitor the agent's movement.
Childe avoids them religiously. The less he knows about the people from the Quartermaster branch, the better.
And now a handler for him? No. Definitely not.
This time, Childe is the one that glares at her. Signora tries not to show how much she enjoys his predicament.
"You're getting a handler, agent, whether you like it or not. Who knows? They might be able to keep you on your toes. Put an end to your unruly shenanigans, hmm?"
"I refuse. Assign a fucking handler to someone else but me. I don’t need one," Childe counters.
Signora raises a brow. "It doesn't matter what you want. The order came from the Tsaritsa herself. You're right. You're too valuable to be kept away, doing mundane tasks in the base, and rotting away. You belong out there. But, you're currently the only agent without a handler. The Tsaritsa believes by assigning you with one, it might, ah, rein in your bloodlust."
Childe stops. His gaze is calculative as he observes Signora: relaxed shoulders and a small knowing smile and a sure look from those cold eyes. The anger from her is just a ruse. The disappointment is probably not feigned, at least.
Childe bites his lower lip. "You knew I'd leave this room with a handler," he mutters bitterly.
Signora only hums. She stands up and makes her way around to leave her office.
Childe takes that as the only answer he needs.
"Come, Tartaglia," Signora beckons, "I shall introduce you to your new handler. We've assigned our best to you. Don't fret. You are his first agent, too."
Childe looks over his shoulder to stare at Signora's back.
If this is what the Tsaritsa wants, there's nothing much Childe can do against her wish.
A second later, he follows after Signora.
The elevator takes forever to get to the ground floor and Childe feels uneasy with the way Signora has been grinning sharply the whole time.
It's as if the elevator is descending to hell and Signora is the shepherd that will lead Childe to his downfall. Dramatic, yes. But this is Signora and Signora always plans.
Finally, the lift stops and the door opens. Childe quickly exits with a huff. Signora walks ahead of him, expecting Childe to follow her lead.
He obeys reluctantly.
Childe rarely gets to the ground floor. It's the area where the handlers are stationed, monitoring their agents through their bright screens and other devices.
He tails after Signora until they arrive at the last glass cubicle where a person is sitting in their ergonomic chair, facing the monitor in front of them.
Signora pushes open the glass door, entering the room with practiced grace. The person swiftly turns around at the sound, blinking at Signora first before their pretty amber eyes fall on Childe.
And then the person smiles softly and oh fuck, Childe thinks, that has got to be the most beautiful smile he's ever seen.
"Mister Zhongli," Signora greets, "This is agent Tartaglia, the one that's--"
Childe elbows Signora to stop her from talking. His blue eyes are still on Zhongli. Signora hisses and whispers something to him but Childe pays her no heed.
Zhongli is a tall man in a slim fit white formal shirt, dark trousers, messy ponytail, and a pair of glasses that's almost too big for his sharp face. There's a touch of weariness on him as if he hasn't left his work desk in days.
And yet Zhongli is still the prettiest thing Childe has ever seen in his life.
And Childe has seen and met a lot of people, considering who he is.
"Agent Tartaglia," Zhongli speaks and Childe knows he can drown himself in the sweet plumpness of Zhongli's voice forever, "I'm the handler that's been assigned to you by the Tsaritsa. As Signora has previously said, my name is Zhongli and I can't wait to work under you," Zhongli announces amicably.
Work under him, huh? Childe can think of a dozen ways how to make Zhongli work under him. And he knows exactly where Zhongli can wrap those gorgeous legs of his.
"Of course, mister Zhongli," Childe says sweetly. From the corner of his eyes, he can see Signora making a face at him. Yet she doesn't make a move to stop him.
Childe takes a few steps towards Zhongli until they're standing just a foot away. Zhongli seems a bit surprised when Childe dips into a low bow, takes Zhongli's hand in his, and gently kisses the handler's knuckle.
Childe straightens his back, a small grin forming on his lips. He doesn't let go of Zhongli's hand.
Instead, he pulls Zhongli a little bit closer, becoming bolder when all he receives is a confused stare from the other.
Zhongli fixes his glasses and places them neatly on the bridge of his nose with his other hand. That's too cute.
Everything Zhongli does is cute. This is their best handler? He should have asked to be paired with Zhongli in the first place. It's a good thing no one manages to snatch him away.
Or if someone already did-- Childe can deal with it easily.
"So, mister Zhongli, I'm sure we'll get to know each other better sooner or later. And I must say, I was nothing but eager the moment I knew I'd be assigned with a handler. And now? I'm even more elated to know it was you. I've heard nothing but the best about you," Childe compliments. The words roll so easily from his tongue.
He tugs Zhongli closer again. The handler frowns at Childe.
"I… share your enthusiasm, agent Tartaglia," Zhongli says.
"Oh, please. Do call me Childe. Or, well, it's Ajax, which I presume you already know. Being a handler and all. Though, I prefer Childe so there's no need for the codename. We'll be working together, after all," Childe teases.
Again, he pulls Zhongli to his side until they're almost chest to chest.
Childe can scent the fruity flavor perfume from Zhongli and it makes Childe want to rub his cheek against the man's nose.
"I see," Zhongli mutters. There's something in his voice now. An odd tone.
Behind them, Signora sighs.
"I'll be putting my life in your lovely hands then," Childe says. His arms go around Zhongli's slim waist, hands going lower and lower, slowly reaching for Zhongli's ass and--
Strong hands swiftly make a hard grab for his wrists, twisting Childe's arms roughly and turning him around with a terrifying speed before Childe is slammed face-first against the glass wall. Hard.
The person in the next cubicle doesn't pay attention to them.
Childe groans, mind slightly distorted.
"Agent Tartaglia," a voice whispers.
Childe opens his eyes to see Zhongli's reflection on the glass. The man beams at him but there's no warmth in the twitch of his eyes and the curve of his pretty lips. He leans closer, still caging Childe's wrists with his hands.
Zhongli's elbow is digging into Childe's back, pressing his body against him, and immobilizing Childe completely.
Childe can't even stir.
"Do keep your hands to yourself, lest something unsavory might happen to them. Your arms are imperative for your missions, yes? Please do remember that," Zhongli says calmly. Childe almost shivers from the way Zhongli's breath touches the tip of his ear.
Childe says nothing when Zhongli gently lets him go. Then Zhongli backs away, fixes his glasses again, and smiles at both Childe and Signora.
"I will take my leave for a moment to procure a cup of tea. It's been a while since my last break. I shall return shortly," Zhongli amends. He leaves the room quietly, taking a couple of files with him.
Childe exhales slowly. He takes a deep breath. Once. Twice. Peering at Zhongli's ass as he walks away. He catches the glance Zhongli throws his way. Amber eyes gleam beautifully under the white lights.
"Holy shit," Childe mutters helplessly. He blinks at Signora, who merely gives him an irritated look. He puts a hand on his chest to calm the rumbling heart.
"That's so fucking hot," Childe finally says.
Screw everything else. Childe is going to make it his personal quest to fuck Zhongli.
"What do you think of Cuba?"
"Focus on the mission, agent Tartaglia," comes Zhongli's voice from the earpiece. Childe thumps his fingers on the table.
"I quite like Havana. I'm not sure why. It's probably the architecture. Or the colors." Childe looks around. At the people. At the buildings. At the cup of coffee he's just ordered. The taste is quite strong. Not his kind of drink.
He doesn't understand how Zhongli can stand the flavor.
Childe takes another sip nonetheless. "Or maybe it's the coffee that piques my interest, too," Childe jests.
A small hmm comes from the receiver. "Agent Tartaglia, your target is closer. He's a few blocks away, inside a bookstore. It's a local's favorite gateway around here."
"Think he's meeting someone?" Childe asks. It's odd… to rely on someone to be his eyes and ears. Childe doesn't like it but since it's Zhongli… well, then. Zhongli is an exception.
Childe has to play nice with Zhongli because he's pretty.
They've been working together for three weeks now. So far so good. Childe thinks he's getting closer to get in Zhongli's pants.
Can't hurt to be confident.
Zhongli makes a sound, there's a brief but low static before he hears Zhongli's voice again. "Possibly. There are four other people in the shop with him but none of them have attempted to initiate a conversation with your Mark. You may wait before you can ghost him once more."
"Got it. Just a few more minutes."
Not much to say about his target. A former doctor from a rogue militia, now working with dangerous mercenaries in the far west. He aims to weaponize a deadly disease and then sell his product to the highest bidders.
Cliche. But people will do anything for profits.
"Your target is leaving," Zhongli instantly adds a moment later.
Childe hums. "Time to get to work."
Unfortunately, his current guy doesn't pose any fun. He's old. He's out of his game. He's just waiting for time to catch up to him while he spreads his poison and greed all over the place. Childe looks at his watch. It's going to be afternoon soon.
He can just go to the bookstore before his Mark makes his exit. Shoot him and leave.
Childe tosses a few coins on the table and stands up. But he stops once Zhongli speaks up.
"Agent Tartaglia, remember: you're not supposed to be seen. No evidence of Fatui's involvement must be found," Zhongli reminds him quickly.
Childe narrows his eyes. "The quicker we get over this, the better."
"Agent Tartaglia," Zhongli presses. Childe huffs. He stares at the road ahead. Cars are everywhere. The city is too loud.
He ponders for a moment and imagines the disappointed look Zhongli might wear if Childe breaks another rule again.
And then he's reminded of Zhongli's small smile whenever Childe brings him a cup of fresh mint tea or maybe some sandwiches because Zhongli is the type of person to work himself hard until he falls asleep on his desk.
Childe admits he's a bit worried.
Anyway. The mission. Right.
"Fine," he says eventually. "Predict the route he's taking. I'll handle the rest." It's going to take a while and Childe needs to exercise more effort than he's previously planned but he'll get it done.
Zhongli answers with a lightness in his voice, "Of course, agent Tartaglia."
Childe's lips involuntarily quirk into a small smile.
When night falls, Childe walks upon the wet floor when he's sure it's safe. The safehouse is secluded and falling apart.
In a tub filled with spilling water, a fried body stays still, lifeless. The small dead radio floats on the water after it's accidentally fallen from the cabinet nailed to the wall, killing the occupant.
Or that's how it's supposed to look like. At least.
Childe tips the target's face up with the toe of his boot. The head lolls to the side like a stringless doll. Childe hums under his breath. The man is cooked from the inside out.
Dead. That's done then.
Another Mark is killed. He doesn't even get to use his gun. But Childe doesn't feel that down. This time when he comes back, he has Zhongli waiting for him.
Childe grins and straightens his tie. "It's done," he says to Zhongli.
"Understood. I will send the report to Signora at once," the earpiece crackles with Zhongli's voice.
A beat and then, "I'm glad you're unharmed, agent," Zhongli assures. His voice is soft.
Childe almost swoons. Almost.
When he returns, Zhongli waits for him in his large glass office just as Childe has suspected.
The chair swirls when Zhongli turns around to welcome Childe back.
A repetitive exchange after every mission.
Childe waves at him, realizing how he's spending more and more time going to this side of the base just to see his handler. It's not necessary and yet here he is.
And if Childe stops in his tracks when Zhongli softly calls out his name then no one needs to know about it but Childe.
Childe casually pushes the body with the sole of his boot. The body rolls from the log and falls into the swamp beneath.
The crocodiles swim towards the fresh meat and begin to drag the body below water, the sound of splashing and flesh-tearing is loud in the brackish mangrove swamp.
"That's considered a clean kill, right? No evidence or anything."
"An unorthodox approach but I suppose it's effective," comes Zhongli's voice.
"It gets the job done," Childe replies.
The water turns red as powerful jaws continue tearing at the offered meat. Childe tucks his pistol away.
"One less cartel boss to worry about," Childe eagerly states.
Zhongli chuckles. "Indeed. Well done, agent."
Voices are coming from a distance. Childe cranes his neck to look at the approaching people; just local villagers passing by.
"You should leave before your presence attracts someone," Zhongli suggests.
"On it. And oh, Zhongli?"
"I finished the mission in less than a day. Don't I deserve a reward or something," Childe teases.
"And what kind of reward do you have in mind, agent?"
Childe hums as he strides away. "Maybe I can take you out for dinner?"
Childe can almost imagine the amused look on Zhongli's face. "Another time, agent. Now please return immediately."
Childe grins. "Yes, darling."
Zhongli lets out a faint squeak. Childe pretends not to hear it.
The handler is too adorable for his own good.
"You don't like this gift?"
Zhongli gives him a small smile before he focuses on his work again. "I do. But to accept a gift from the agent I'm assigned to is rather unprofessional. Hence, I can't accept it."
Childe blinks, looking at Zhongli. "Unprofessional? Why does it matter? I'm only doing this because I want you to like me," he answers curtly.
It's not as if Childe is hiding his intention from Zhongli. He wants to fuck Zhongli and he knows that Zhongli knows it. Though his handler can be a bit dense, Zhongli is not a fool.
It's glaringly obvious from the way Childe's hungry gaze often wanders to Zhongli's body. Especially to his ass.
Childe can only sheepishly apologize whenever his handler catches him staring. Though Zhongli never stops Childe's advances.
He can wait a little bit longer. It's not like he's looking for more than a fuck from Zhongli.
Maybe they can be friends with benefits. Fuck buddies, as people like to call it.
Childe won't mind.
Hah. Childe smiles. If only he can be that lucky. One step at a time.
For now, the agent observes the beautiful jade hairpin in his hand instead. He's bought it from his last mission in Beijing.
Zhongli stops typing. His fingers hover above his keyboard. Childe gazes at Zhongli from where he's sitting on the table beside his handler, waiting for his response.
Despite his gentle demeanor, Zhongli is a hard man to read. And sometimes when Childe thinks he's had Zhongli figured out, Zhongli does and says something that entirely distorts Childe's view of him.
Just like their first meeting. The firm hold. The hard gaze. The fleeting harshness in his voice. Hidden away by his gentleness. Maybe. Who knows when it comes to Zhongli.
But it's not like Childe cares too much to unravel the Fatui's best handler.
It takes some time for Zhongli to answer but when he does, his voice is apologetic. "I truly can't accept it, agent. I'm sorry." His amber eyes flash to the floor for a short second before Zhongli resumes working.
The stream of intel is written deftly on the screen.
Childe rotates the hairpin in his hand, not sparing a word to Zhongli.
A minute passes and the silence lingers. Childe hops from the table and gently fastens the hairpin into Zhongli's ponytail.
The handler goes still.
"There you go," Childe says. He tips Zhongli's chin up to see how his gift looks on Zhongli. The jade hairpin looks perfect on him. Beautiful.
Zhongli's hair is a bit messy and his shirt is a bit unkempt. But it's a rather endearing sight. Especially with those ever-present large glasses on him.
"Looks good on you," Childe whispers. He stands up and stretches his back before he wordlessly leaves the cubicle.
Childe doesn't see the tint of red flush on Zhongli's face as the handler softly runs his fingers across the precious gift.
One bullet. Two bullets. The thug groans. Childe tsks. The man stirs, trying to reach out for his gun on the floor. Childe kicks it away before he presses his boot on the man's chest.
He's already dying. Better make it quick.
"Olezka, where is he?" Childe asks in his mother tongue. The man laughs, blood pours from his mouth.
"Too late… too late. All of you dogs of Fatui… for the greater good they say…" the man rasps.
Childe shoots him in the head. The man falls and dies. Useless.
"Zhongli, you have their location yet?"
Yes," comes Zhongli's voice. "We know they're in the mine but to pinpoint their whereabouts will be impossible as long as they're in there."
"And agent Tartaglia? Agent Pedrelino has already gone in despite his handler suggesting otherwise."
"What?" Childe cries out, appalled. No way he's letting Pedrelino, of all people, steal his fun. These people are his to kill.
"Then I'm going, too!" Childe snarls. Outside, the snow is hard on the skin but it's not too cold. Besides, he's used to the cold, having grown up in a wintery village.
"Agent Tartaglia, I suggest--"
"I know you're going to disagree, Zhongli, but--"
"--I suggest you take the east entrance. There's an opening there. It's a tight fit but you'll be fine. It'll take you quicker to Olezka and his group before they reach the other end of the mine."
Childe blinks. Oh. Zhongli is helping him.
Zhongli's low sigh can be heard from the earpiece. "I've been monitoring you for a month, agent. I know how you operate. Rather than attempting to persuade you and failing to dissuade your stubbornness, I should guide you to take the least hazardous option."
Childe smiles fondly. Glad to know he's not the only one that's learning his pair's bad habits.
"How many are there?" Childe questions. He exits the small cabin.
"Including your target? Nine. His subordinates will try to stop you from reaching him. Furthermore, I won't be able to communicate with you when you're in the mine."
Of course. That's fine.
"Quickly. They can't leave with the nuclear blueprints," Zhongli states hastily.
His handler doesn't need to tell him that.
Childe tightens his black glove, readies his pistol, and braves the snow.
When he reaches the mine and ambushes his target, Childe successfully brings down at least four of the mercenaries.
The bullets are loud as they're fired in the mine and Childe is glad he's wearing protective gear to shield his ears.
Agent Pedrelino rushes in a moment later and kills the rest but their main target manages to flee amidst the shooting.
"Go," Pedrelino orders loudly. He reloads his gun and snaps the magazine into place. "There's more coming from the back. I'll get rid of them while you follow the scurrying rat."
Childe doesn't hesitate to run after his target.
Olezka is nearing the exit. Childe can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He lifts his gun, stance steady, eyes wide in delight as he watches the man run wildly like a wounded rabbit.
Childe fires a shot. It hits his target in the back.
The man crumples down with a surprised groan. Childe goes to him and snatches the scroll holder from the Mark.
"You…" Olezka gasps and Childe shoots him twice in the chest, watches quietly as his target gurgles and twitches before he finally died. Blood carpeting the dirty ground.
Childe smiles. "That was fun," he says.
Time to return to Pedrelino and tell Zhongli of the good news.
Zhongli blinks. "Out?"
"Yes, Zhongli. You and me. Go out. For a drink. Or maybe for some food. It's what normal people do."
"We're hardly normal, agent."
"Hmm, true. But there's nothing wrong with spending time with your coworkers," Childe persuades him. He circles the glass office. Outside there, everyone is busy with their assignments.
Inside here, Childe tries to separate Zhongli from his work. His handler has been wearing the same gray shirt for the past two days and he looks like he might pass out any time.
He knows Zhongli is their agency's best handler and yet Childe can't help but worry. Zhongli works religiously and fills his body with nothing but coffee and biscuits.
He doesn't want Zhongli to hurt himself.
Childe comes to genuinely enjoy Zhongli's company after all.
Besides, it does Childe no good if his handler can't function properly while he's monitoring and guiding Childe during his many missions.
Zhongli can compile the incoming stream of intel later. He's already burdened with endless work as it is.
Right now, Childe needs to feed Zhongli and helps him get some rest.
"I thank you for your offer, agent, but..."
"No buts, Zhongli. We're going. You look pale. The work can wait."
"It can. Ask anyone else to replace you this evening. Ganyu is there. So is Hu Tao."
"I do not wish to burden them. They have their duties to tend to," Zhongli says.
Childe frowns. "Come on," he turns Zhongli's chair around so he can face the older man. Zhongli hunches on his seat and Childe bends down to meet those tired amber eyes.
"For me? Please?" Childe asks in a hushed tone.
Zhongli lets out a sigh. He looks around for a moment, contemplating before he reaches out slowly for his long beige coat.
Childe smiles softly at the other.
Zhongli dons his coat. He chances a glance at Childe and the agent isn't too sure what kind of expression he makes right now but Zhongli somehow looks a little dazed as he watches him.
Zhongli clears his throat and looks away, tucking loose strands behind his ear. That's when Childe notices the jade hairpin.
"You're wearing it."
"It's a gift," is all Zhongli says.
Childe knows. But he feels strangely happy anyway.
The dive bar they're in is old but regulars still flock to the place as if it's made just for them.
Childe sits on a stool, elbow props on the bar table as he enjoys the flutter in Zhongli's eyes. Childe takes a swig of whiskey every time his throat goes dry. He can already feel the tingle in his fingers.
Zhongli has had a few drinks, too. And Childe realizes that Zhongli talks a lot when he's drunk. Well, he always talks a lot but this time it's a little bit different, Childe notes.
Zhongli babbles almost incoherently to the poor bartender, pouring pointless trivia that comes out more as slurred words string together. And the bartender only smiles awkwardly, unsure how the topic goes from fortified wine to a Chinese teapot.
"--and it's called Zisha. A purple clay. It has excellent porosity and heat handling properties," Zhongli explains politely.
"Okay," the bartender replies weakly, throwing a glance at Childe.
The agent pretends not to see the call for help. Childe downs another glass. It feels hot in here and he's getting tired.
"Zhongli, finish your dinner. It's getting late," Childe says.
He puts the glass down on the counter and waits for the other man. Childe can still drive. It's no big deal.
Zhongli spares him a glance. His cheeks flush and his smile wobbles. He grabs Childe's hand.
"Are you sober, Childe?" Zhongli asks.
Childe likes how his sobriquet rolls from Zhongli's mouth. At least Zhongli remembers not to call him agent in public.
Childe nods. "Absolutely. I'm a hundred percent sober," Childe replies, inebriated.
The handler smiles. "Ah, yes. I am sober, as well," Zhongli says drunkenly. He straightens his glasses.
They look at each other for a moment before they giggle.
Their foreheads touch, fingers entangle in a light grip, and Zhongli drops his head on Childe's shoulder. Childe can feel the heat from Zhongli's skin, the ticklish kiss of Zhongli's long eyelashes on his chin.
Childe plays with the soft dark hair, loves how the locks feel so smooth on his fingers. It feels like he can be stuck in this ridiculous moment forever.
Eventually, Childe breaks away from the tender embrace. "Hurry. Finish your steak and your burger and…" Childe stares at the food on the bar, "...and your french fries and mushroom soup and-- Zhongli, why did you order so much? You can't even finish them."
Zhongli looks up at Childe and blinks warily at him. "I can finish everything I've ordered."
"Can you now?" Childe arches a brow.
Zhongli nods. "Observe," he says and twelve minutes later, Zhongli has emptied every plate. A huge serving that's meant for five people. Childe can only stare helplessly. Zhongli has a black hole for a stomach.
At least Zhongli doesn't look as pale and weary as before anymore. It's a small blessing.
"That's impressive." And Childe means it.
Zhongli smiles mischievously. "I have an impressive mouth," he responds. Childe laughs. Okay so maybe Zhongli is still a little bit drunk. Childe is, too.
"Come on. Let's go home. You can stay at my place for the night," Childe says. He's not driving to Zhongli's place. Not when the man lives so far away near the edge of the city. Childe is too tired for a long drive.
"Okay," Zhongli whispers. "Okay. Thank you, Childe."
"It's fine." Childe fishes for his car key. "Don't worry, I'll get us home safe and sound," he assures, dangling the key in front of Zhongli.
The handler frowns. "Childe, that's not a car key. That's your phone."
"Wrong," the bartender cuts in. She sighs. "It's his wallet. You both are drunk. Better don't drive and call a taxi instead. Trust me, you'll get home safer that way."
They comply with her suggestion. Childe can get his car tomorrow. Whatever. Or buy a new one. He's got enough money to buy seven more luxurious cars. It doesn't matter. Childe doesn't want to think for a moment. His head is a bit heavy.
They get off the taxi and Childe pays the driver. The car drives away and Childe stands beside Zhongli while the man studies his neighborhood.
"It's quiet," Zhongli points out.
Childe hums. That's one of the reasons why he likes it here. It's quiet and people mind their own business.
Childe pulls Zhongli along with him towards the sumptuous condominium.
"The highest floor. That's where I live."
"Yeah," Childe answers lightly.
They enter the elevator and Childe presses the button to the highest floor.
It doesn't take too long for Zhongli to stumble into his arms, stare at Childe momentarily before he surges forward to kiss him.
The agent makes a face at that. He pushes Zhongli away gently. His lips feel hot from the messy kiss. "Zhongli, you're drunk."
"Not that drunk anymore," he says slowly. Zhongli removes his glasses and pockets them into his coat. "Childe, I know you want this, too. It's just sex, yes?"
"Just sex," Childe repeats. Can't believe Lady Luck still favors him. Of course, Childe wants this. He's been waiting for this to happen for a while.
"Yeah, sure," Childe breathes. His grin is sharp and dangerous when he reclaims Zhongli's lips into a hungry kiss; hips grinding feverishly against one another, desperate to chase delicious friction.
The elevator continues going up until they finally reach Childe's floor. The door opens but none of them make a move to go out.
Zhongli quickly removes his belt, his shoes, and his coat. He throws them to the floor, uncaring of the possible dirt.
Childe only unbuttons his pants and pushes them down to his knees.
The door closes. It's already late. Childe can be sure no one will call for the elevator and catch him fucking Zhongli in the lift.
"Childe," Zhongli calls out breathlessly. He curls his palm on Childe's nape to pull the man's face to his. Zhongli bites Childe's lower lip playfully. The younger man only groans at that.
Childe grips Zhongli's hips, fingers tearing into the loose trousers, and quickly pulling it down completely until Zhongli is bare below there.
They kiss sloppily, lips draw closer, tasting, breaking apart only to dive back in for more. Childe wants to mark Zhongli's face, devours the escaped whimpers, and fucks Zhongli so hard he's going to remember the shape of his cock for weeks.
And Childe plans to do just that.
Childe pushes Zhongli against the cold wall. Zhongli bucks and draws his face away from Childe to let out a loud moan once he feels Childe's fingers probing his entrance.
It's dry and Childe assumes it must have stung for Zhongli when the other man winces slightly.
Childe draws his hand away and reaches for the lube in his back pocket.
Zhongli sends him a look but he says nothing.
Childe pours several drops on his fingers, eyes never leave Zhongli's flushed face, and throws the bottle over his shoulder as he resumes preparing Zhongli.
The handler stifles his voice. Childe immediately purses his lips.
"Stop that," Childe says as he grazes his mouth along Zhongli's neck. "No one's going to hear you scream here. There's only the two of us. I'm going to be severely disappointed if you don't cry out when I shove my dick up your ass."
Zhongli huffs. He fidgets but welcomes the wet intrusion. "That's…" the handler gasps, nails digging into Childe's scalp. The man adds another finger and then another, curling the digits slowly and mercilessly, eliciting every delightful moan from Zhongli. "...vulgar, agent," he chokes out.
Oh. Childe blinks. He crooks his fingers in the wet walls, observing the ever-changing looks on Zhongli's face. Tears gather in Zhongli's eyes, his mouth quivers when he throws his head back. His whines echo in the elevator.
"Again," Childe mutters. He noses Zhongli's jaws and nibbles at his neck, his bottom lip. "Say that again." He pulls his fingers out, enjoying the disappointed whimpers Zhongli makes.
Childe hoists him to settle Zhongli down on his groin. The handler spreads his legs and places them on Childe's hips.
"Hurry. Please," Zhongli begs.
His fluttering hole is only a push away from the tip of Childe's aching cock. It'll be so easy to slip inside, wet and pliant and ready and Childe can't wait to make a mess of the man.
He rubs his girth along the curve of Zhongli's ass, teasing him and pushing Zhongli's shirt up to reveal the perky pink buds. Childe laps at one of the nipples and bites it lightly, his hands going to those plump cheeks and squeezing them.
Zhongli sobs prettily.
"Call me that again," Childe orders. He drops Zhongli slowly on his dick, pushing the head in. Zhongli hastily grips Childe's shoulders.
"Childe," Zhongli gasps out.
"Not that one. The other one, handler." He pulls his cock out, merely poking the head in and out, purposely trying to drive the handler crazy.
Zhongli squirms in his arms, desperately trying to lower himself on Childe's cock but the agent's hands keep him firmly in place.
"You know-- oww!" Childe hisses when Zhongli pulls his hair. The other man looks down at him, pressed against the cold wall, glaring at Childe with a fiery impatience in his beautiful amber eyes.
Childe gulps. His dick twitches.
"Agent," Zhongli whispers and Childe almost melts from the delicious chill in Zhongli's voice, "You will put your cock in me and you will not delay with this prolonged teasing. You will fuck me and you will do it now. Am I understood, agent?"
...that's so hot.
Childe can only nod, heart racing at the way Zhongli rolls his hips perfectly as he waits for Childe to enter him; those commanding pretty eyes never stray away from Childe's face.
He can be lost in those eyes forever, as the poet says.
"Okay, okay, just…" Childe pushes in slowly, inch by inch. Savoring the sudden heat engulfing his cock. Zhongli makes a move to shift his gaze away but Childe grabs his chin and forces Zhongli to look at him.
Zhongli fights back a whimper. Lips part, eyes muddle.
"Don't look away, Zhongli," Childe warns. "I want you to remember this. I'm the one that's fucking you right now. These are my bite marks all over your skin, my cock inside you, and my kisses that bruise your lips. You better remember this forever because I'm not handing you to anyone. From this moment on, you're mine. You hear me, Zhongli? Mine." Childe hisses and harshly plunges his whole girth with one thrust.
Whatever Zhongli wants to say dies on his tongue as soon as Childe slams into him.
"C-Childe. Yes. Yes," Zhongli hoarsely says.
He wraps his legs around Childe's waist, body moving with each hard thrust. Both hands are now around Childe's neck, gripping the younger man tightly as he bucks up and down on Childe's dick.
The sound of skin slapping against skin oscillates around them. The wet squelches from Zhongli's needy hole and his demanding moans drive Childe to fuck the man harder.
"Zhongli," Childe gasps out the name. "Zhongli," he says again.
Zhongli cups his face, kissing Childe's cheek, his forehead, and his nose; feels Childe's teeth biting into his neck and his chest as the handler vigorously meets every vicious thrust.
"I'm here, Childe," Zhongli mutters. He clamps tightly around Childe's dick.
Childe swallows his groans just so he can meet Zhongli's lips halfway and kiss the man desperately, hungrily. Tongue pushing in and lapping at everything he can reach. Zhongli's muffled moans are wet and needy.
Not enough. Once is not enough. There's no way he can let Zhongli go now that he finally gets a taste of him. Zhongli fits perfectly around his cock. Fits perfectly in his arms.
And he's very responsive to Childe's kisses and touches in a way no one ever has - in a way that makes Childe wants to own him completely and keep Zhongli all to himself.
And Childe is a greedy man. He never likes sharing.
"Childe," Zhongli whispers against his lips when they finally break the kiss. "Childe, more - ahh… right here…" Zhongli sucks on his right fingers and pulls them out with a wet pop. Childe watches him, transfixed.
Zhongli brings his fingers down to spread his hole further, Childe's precum dribbles out.
Zhongli shoves one of his fingers inside him as Childe relentlessly pounds into him. Zhongli whimpers. The flood of lust creeping into his veins.
"You're hot, do you know that? I swear, fuck, it's so hot inside you, Zhongli. Feels like I'm going to melt," Childe drawls.
Zhongli laughs breathlessly at that. Just like Childe, he's nearing his limit, too. He pecks Childe's lips.
"You - oh - say that when - Childe, there, faster, please - when… when I barely show any skin," Zhongli mutters but then he moans when Childe gives one particular forceful thrust.
"Don't care. You're showing me a lot of skin right now," Childe says smugly.
Childe wraps one arm around Zhongli's waist and slaps his free hand on the wall beside Zhongli's shoulder. He drops his head on Zhongli's neck, inhaling the scent there as he presses Zhongli's body further into him.
Childe wants to taste everything.
The plaintive whines Zhongli makes are getting louder and louder, nails moving and chaffing at Childe's nape, pleading him to fuck him harder. More more more.
Childe is close. Just a little bit more. He needs to--
Childe thrusts once, twice, thrice and he grips at Zhongli's waist to steady the man once he spills everything inside Zhongli, intensely riding out his orgasm.
Zhongli keens, back curves like a bow when he comes, shooting his seed on Childe's abdomen, toes curling and digging into the back of Childe's legs.
Childe doesn't pull out. Instead, he kisses Zhongli softly. Gently. Runs his fingers over Zhongli's disheveled hair and brushes them from his eyes so he can look at Zhongli.
Zhongli pants, body drapes over Childe tiredly, drowns in the aftermath of their lovemaking. Zhongli smiles a bit, though, when he notices Childe staring at his lips again.
"You can kiss me if you wish so, Childe," Zhongli says.
Childe doesn't need to be told twice. He kisses Zhongli without the previous roughness, imprints the taste and the scent into his memory, and treasures the little hums Zhongli makes when Childe's cock stirs within him.
They part but only for a moment. Childe kisses Zhongli again and again and the other man only chuckles fondly into the kiss. Childe only pulls away when Zhongli playfully pinches his cheek.
"Childe, please pull out."
Childe blinks. He ponders for a moment. "How about another round?"
Zhongli frowns. "Right now?"
Childe shrugs. "Sure." His dick slowly goes hard inside Zhongli.
Once is not enough.
Zhongli only hums. "Very well. Last one but not here."
Childe lets out a grin.
They end up fucking three more times in Childe's bed that night. Clothes are thrown all over the floor.
No one is complaining.
A month passes by.
Childe wakes up a bit later that morning. Satin pools around his lower body. His chest bare.
Light squints from the windows. Gold and sunshine encase the bedroom. The stretch of morning hums quietly.
Childe sits up, messes up his hair, and looks at the rumpled spot beside him.
It's empty. For a moment, Childe feels a touch of disappointment gripping his chest. Did Zhongli leave already?
Though it doesn't last long when he hears the clattering of plates from his kitchen. Childe listens in and he catches the soft tune of Zhongli's singing voice.
Childe quickly wears his pants and makes his way to the kitchen.
"Morning," Zhongli says first. He doesn't turn back to acknowledge Childe, focusing instead on the breakfast he's preparing.
"Morning," Childe replies quietly. His steps come to a stop when he stands next to Zhongli, staring at the other man. The sizzle from the pan is not too loud.
"You're making Crespelle for breakfast. Really? Didn't we have this last night?"
"Crespelle is one of your favorites, is it not? You can eat them as many times as you want and never grow bored," Zhongli quips. They both know it's one of Zhongli's favorites, too.
There are many witty remarks he can say to that but Childe falters as soon as the handler glances at him.
Zhongli's eyes are bright. Playful. Silly little secrets in his gaze. A blanket of stardust in the way his eyes meet Childe's and then he smiles, soft fingers reaching out to fix Childe's scruffy hair.
Zhongli's cheeks are tinted pink and he smells of cinnamon.
Childe grips Zhongli's wrist and kisses those fingers one by one, entangling their hands together, heart softening when Zhongli chuckles. Childe swears he can look at Zhongli forever, just like an enshrined precious memory.
"Something catches your eyes, Childe?"
Childe doesn't know how to answer that, confused by the ticklish petals in his chest. He has no name to describe what he's feeling. Not yet.
"Maybe," Childe says instead. Zhongli resumes cooking. Childe stays by his side until he's done. Their shoulders bump and time touches them once more.
"You've been an obedient little boy lately and I don't doubt we have our dearest Zhongli to thank for that."
"Zhongli is an excellent handler," Childe says with a shrug. It's a fact.
"As I said before, I don't doubt it," the Tsaritsa says.
Childe has known his superior for a while but it's quite rare to see such fondness trickles from her person. Zhongli must be someone dear to her, Childe assumes.
The Tsaritsa leans back into her seat to slide open a drawer, producing a file. She places it on the desk.
Childe assumes it's his new task.
He doesn't hesitate to take it and read the content, his eyes narrowing as he reads everything.
"I assume you're familiar with the name Ella Yarna. No patronymic. We've been tracking her down for eight years but she's good at covering her tracks. After she affiliated herself with the Khun Sa and Zevallos, she got herself involved in four separate civil disorders in two continents - one in which she purposely started and managed to get thousands of innocent killed."
"What did she gain from it?" Childe asks. Her crimes go and on. His Mark is wanted in a dozen countries. More or less.
"Everything," the Tsaritsa utters. She studies Childe as the agent continues to read the file, standing vigil in front of her. "She dealt with illegal trading before but her main focus was supplying firepower to her clients. Amid the war, she used to be one of the most sought suppliers."
"And she smuggled people," Childe adds offhandedly.
"Yes. She's good at both finding and hiding people. Lost or dead. We sent our best agent to disrupt her plan to start full-scale human trafficking in Makassar years ago. Her husband - her most prominent benefactor - was killed in the process. After that, she went dark."
"Until now," Childe murmurs. "But why now?" He questions.
If his target is as good as the Tsaritsa admits, then it's odd for her to appear out of nowhere.
The Tsaritsa's face sours.
"That's what we want to know. Hence, why I'm handing this mission to you. Scaramouche will be your shadow should you require his aid. Mona is his handler. Your main concern is to stop Ella Yarna. It's reported she'll be attending a ball in Hamburg. The KGB has been breathing down our necks after they spotted her in Chelyabinsk last week. It's a nuisance. Get it done."
Childe bites back the flurry of objections. Scaramouche. Really?
Still, he's curious about one thing. "Why did you pick me?"
The Tsaritsa smiles. "Because, Tartaglia, your handler is very familiar with her. His insight will be very valuable."
Zhongli says nothing when Childe hands him the file.
He opens the file, reads it, and closes it back. Nothing on his face gives away what he truly thinks.
"Hamburg then? She'll be hosting a masquerade ball there and we have less than five days to depart," the handler says.
Childe's lips purse. "You're familiar with our target."
"I do," Zhongli admits. "The only thing I can say about Ella Yarna is that she's quite guileful and deceptive but she always keeps her words." Zhongli heads back to his desk. "I'll prepare everything we need."
"You're not going to stay here?" Childe prods. Bemused that Zhongli wants to leave his office without being prompted to do so.
"No. Not this time," he announces.
Childe wants to ask Zhongli what's his connection with their target but he knows Zhongli enough by now to know that he won't tell Childe anything he doesn't need to know.
Even if Childe pushes for answers.
Other than the pilots and two of the flight attendants, there are only Childe and Zhongli aboard the private jet heading for Europe.
Zhongli's attention is on his laptop, fingers clicking on the keys, expression unchanging. Childe sits across him, switching between staring at the view outside and gazing at Zhongli's face.
Childe wonders if he can fuck the stiffness out of him. Zhongli has been rather curt and precise for the past couple of days, denying Childe's kisses even. It's terrible.
He knows they've got a big Mark to hunt but it doesn't hurt to loosen up a bit.
"Agent, you're staring," Zhongli points out without looking at him.
"That's because you're pretty to look at."
Finally, Zhongli flicks a glance at him. "Childe."
Childe tilts his head, eyes brighten. "What? You're worried the attendants might hear us? They won't bother. They're paid to serve us and to mind their own business."
Zhongli furrows his eyes. "Are you nervous?"
"No. I'm frustrated."
Zhongli instantly understands what he means. "Oh."
Zhongli cranes his neck to look at his surroundings for a moment. He sighs and closes his laptop. "You're quite fortunate that I truly adore you, agent Tartaglia."
"I know," Childe cheekily says. Zhongli sets aside his laptop and makes his way towards Childe. Zhongli drapes himself on the young agent's lap.
Zhongli initiates the first kiss, slowly and carefully, tasting the air. When he pulls away, his glasses turn a bit to the right. Childe fixes Zhongli's glasses for him.
"You're still wearing the jade hairpin."
"Shouldn't I? I like the gift," Zhongli says.
"As you should. It took me some time to pick the right gift." Childe wiggles his brows.
The handler smiles at the response.
"Then I'm eternally grateful, agent Tartaglia."
It doesn't take a long preparation before Childe finally gets to bury himself inside Zhongli again. It's been days since he gets to fuck the other man.
Zhongli rides him strenuously, biting his fist to muffle the moans but Childe doesn't like to see the bruise forming under the strong teeth so he pulls Zhongli's hand away and kisses the man instead.
Zhongli instantly melts into Childe's arms, eyes moisten as Childe rolls his dick inside the soaked inner walls.
"Childe," Zhongli whispers, panting. "Childe," he says again.
Childe kisses Zhongli's forehead. "I'm here, Zhongli."
There's turbulence or two but it doesn't deter the pair from continuing their lovemaking. Sometimes Childe fucks him harder. Sometimes tenderly.
Their breaths mingle and Childe continues to move his hips.
Afterward, Zhongli curls in Childe's lap, body bare when Childe wraps him in a thin blanket.
The flight attendant doesn't meet their eyes when she delivers the bottle of wine. Then she scurries away.
Childe studies Zhongli's hands. His palms are hardened, calloused. Childe has noticed it for a while.
"You used to wield guns before. Too many times. Too frequently," Childe remarks. He should know. His hands carry the same marks.
Zhongli says nothing for a moment. When he speaks, his voice is low. "You would be correct."
Childe hums. "An agent?"
"Before you joined the Fatui, yes. I resigned and chose to serve in the Quartermaster branch as a handler instead. It feels wrong to abandon the agency entirely."
Childe wants to ask Zhongli's given codename but he decides otherwise.
He watches Zhongli for something amiss like he's done before. Only this time, he watches Zhongli as Tartaglia instead as Childe.
He gazes at the amber eyes, remembers the way sometimes Zhongli carries himself when he thinks no one's looking, how he can easily disarm Childe despite him saying it's just a stroke of mere luck.
He remembers Zhongli's strong grip and the shrouded weariness and temper in his eyes; ones that Zhongli doesn't wear as his first skin anymore.
Childe remembers an old tale about the Fatui's infamous past agent whose name is slowly forgotten and he lets out a small, "Oh."
I suppose it's not that far-fetched.
"Childe, what's wrong?" Zhongli asks.
"Nothing," Childe answers. "Just wondering if I left the stove on."
"Childe," Zhongli chides.
Childe laughs. Silence falls.
"Why did you quit being an agent?"
Zhongli opens his mouth. Closes it. Then opens it again. "I suppose, I believe I've finished my duties."
"Hamburg. Picturesque. Easy on the eyes," Childe says.
"Going to this masquerade ball is a mistake. It's definitely an ambush," Scaramouche pipes in.
"Shut the fuck up, Scaramouche."
"You shut the hell up, rat."
"I believe agent Scaramouche might be correct. However, going to the Bal Masqué is our only best chance to find our Mark," Zhongli offers.
"Of course, Zhongli, I agree with you." Childe nods. Beside him, Scaramouche gapes.
"You're agreeing with your handler but not with me? We're both in the Harbinger branch, you idiot. Show some respect."
"I'll show you some respect when you finally grow taller than me," Childe says sweetly, looking down at Scaramouche.
His fellow agent kicks his kneecap. Childe yelps. Zhongli sighs. Mona busies herself by checking the lush hotel rooms, preparing every necessity they need.
It's the Jacuzzi that garners Childe's interest but that's for later. After they're done with their mission.
"We have everything we need," Mona reports as she comes out to the balcony and stands next to Zhongli.
"We have determined every possible escape route just in case. There will be security cameras, as always, and Ella Yarna's guards carry their weapons with them all the time," Zhongli adds.
"Not abiding the 'no guns allowed inside' act, huh? Remarkable."
"They're thugs, Scaramouche."
"It's called sarcasm, Mona."
"Well then. We'll begin tomorrow," Zhongli says to divert from further argument. Zhongli looks cute with his hair styled into a bun.
Makes Childe wants to kiss him silly.
"Come," Zhongli requests them to follow him. They stop in front of a large round table. Appliances and paper sheets untidily spread on the pristine surface. Zhongli pulls a tablet from his bag and clicks the middle button.
Soon, a 3D map appears above the screen. It's an illustration of the building where the ball will be held.
Zhongli flicks a pen in his hand and points at the eleven dotted marks on the building. "The exits are located here. Four on the ground floor with two emergency exits for VIP. Two on the second floor. And two on the third floor. There's a landing pad on the rooftop but I doubt our Mark will use it."
Mona tilts her head. "Why not?"
"That's not how she operates," is all the answer Zhongli gives. He continues explaining every little detail of the mission. Childe listens intently, interrupting occasionally to give his own opinions.
When the discussion almost reaches its end, Zhongli hesitates but eventually, he voices out his concern, "Perhaps, I should be the one to infiltrate this party instead of agent Tartaglia."
"You?" Scaramouche squints.
"No," Childe declines immediately. "My OP. I'm going." Zhongli has chosen to abandon operating in the main field exactly because he's tired of killing.
Childe doesn't want to put Zhongli in that position anymore.
"Agent," Zhongli begins.
"Zhongli, I can do this. It's not my first time," Childe persuades.
"I know Ella Yarna better, agent."
"I can do this," Childe emphasizes again.
Zhongli sighs. He massages the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses upward.
"Very well," the handler relents. "In that case, let us hope everything will go as planned tomorrow."
Childe wears a dark maroon suit, fashioned with a tie and black dress shirt. Orange hair slicked back. He stares at the half-mask for a moment before he finally wears it.
The theatre before him is decorated with colorful lights as people with different masks begin to flock and enter the place. Some come with a pair, some come alone, and some come with a group.
Childe knows some of these people. Rich folks from all over the world. Businessmen and politicians. They reek of money and corruption.
However, Childe still wonders for a moment if they truly know what it is that Ella Yarna does behind their backs. Or if they are her accomplices, too.
It'll be bothersome if they are.
It means Ella Yarna has friends in high places to protect her, which might explain the reason for her disappearance. Money and power get everything going these days.
"Childe?" Zhongli's voice pierces from the earpiece. "Is everything well?"
"Yep, just looking around. How's Scaramouche doing?"
"He has entered the eastern building. Agent Scaramouche will be at the high ground so he may serve as another pair of eyes for you. Handler Mona will assist him."
"Right." Childe sighs. Better get this done as soon as possible.
Childe enters the building without looking back. As always, he puts his trust in Zhongli.
"Ah, monsieur, you're far away from home. You're alone here, I take it?" A feminine voice addresses him.
Childe turns around to face the owner of the voice. He raises a brow at the small woman with long platinum blonde hair. Even under her excessively decorated mask and cream blue gown, her beauty is radiant.
Her red lips curve into a small smile at his silence. "Come, monsieur, dance with me."
"...she knows who you are," comes Zhongli's unsure voice.
Childe says nothing as he offers her his hand. "Can't say no to a pretty lady." He grins.
His Mark takes Childe's hand gently, placing her palm on Childe's shoulder. They spin together under the chandeliers. The classic music guides them.
"You're far away from home as well, my lady," Chile whispers to her. His fingers itch to grab the pistol hidden under his suit.
But Zhongli whispers, "Don't be reckless." And Childe takes those words to the heart.
Ella Yarna chuckles. "I no longer have a home, monsieur. My country doesn't want me anymore. But I shall carry the language I was born with wherever I go. Even in death. Even when I'm stripped of everything."
"Agent Tartaglia, a suspicious truck has entered the premises. I'm still not sure if it's… give me a moment," Zhongli says.
Childe looks over his shoulder. The main entrance is heavily guarded. There are guards stationed at every door.
Then Childe peers closely at the chandeliers above. He can see small devices blinking red. They're attached to every chandelier.
Childe bites back a curse.
Ella Yarna hums. "You're a smart man, agent. It's such a shame that you have to be here when you're not the one I'm looking for. Désolée, my trap ensnared the wrong prey. However, not everything is lost."
Their dance doesn't stop. Childe looks back at her. His practiced smile stretches along his lips.
"That hurts my feelings. Never thought I wouldn't be good enough to entertain a fine lady," Childe jests, "Tell me, if you would be so kind, why is it that you're here after years of hiding in the shadow? Seems incautious."
She hums, pretending to ponder. "I admit it is indeed unwise of me to be so open in public like this but you see, a woman's wrath lasts forever."
"Anger can make you stupid, I agree," Childe responds.
Her eyes twitch but she makes no move to indicate Childe's words have offended her.
There's a loud sound coming from behind them. Footsteps getting nearer and nearer. The people around them quiet down, looking bemused and lost.
"Agent Tartaglia," Zhongli speaks from the receiver. "You are surrounded. Agent Scaramouche will be your sniper. Be ready."
"Who is it that you want?" Childe quickly asks her.
His Mark tiptoes and leans closer to him. Her red lips touch his ear. "Morax, I know you're listening. I'm here for what I'm owed," she whispers.
Childe pushes her away harshly.
He quickly grabs his pistol and pulls it out.
There's a ping and the explosives around the chandeliers detonate. The impact sends almost everyone to the floor.
Glasses break around them and the balustrades begin to crack and crumble down like feeble stones.
People scream. Many unable to flee from the falling chandeliers. Amidst the commotion, Ella Yarna has taken a hasty leave, shielded by her men.
"Fuck," Childe swears and quickly makes his way towards the exit to chase after his target. The back doors are forced open by a group of men. They have rifles in their hands.
Despite the destruction, Ella Yarna still sends her subordinates to die for her. That's fine with Childe. More for him.
"Agent, make sure you stand near the west wing. Agent Scaramouche can provide for assistance."
"No way," Childe hisses stubbornly.
That tone stops the agent.
"Don't be a fool. Listen to me. Stay close to agent Scaramouche's line of sight," Zhongli orders.
Childe sighs. "Fine." He looks around him. He can't save everyone but hopefully, Mona has alerted the people that can.
He has his priority.
Ella Yarna's men come from him, firing a round of bullets. Childe hides behind the balustrade, concealing his face away from the slowly rising flame around him. Did they lit the building on fire a second after the detonation?
Childe peers to the side, counting the many heads he needs to shoot. Eight. Childe crouches and rushes towards the thugs, using the destruction around him to conceal his presence.
A precise bullet hits one of the men. Childe looks outside at one of the buildings; knows for sure Scaramouche is perched somewhere with his favorite anti-materiel rifle.
Childe fires his shot. One. Two. Three. Bodies fall limp on the floor. He hides behind a wall, the rain of bullets flies all around him.
One of the guards appears from his right and Childe quickly avoids the incoming kick. He slips his heel under the man's weight and pulls, hurtling his attacker to the floor. Childe shoots the man in the head.
Childe breathes. Waits for a moment. And he continues shooting. A couple of the flying bullets graze him. Childe pays no mind to his wound.
Scaramouche becomes his second pair of eyes as the sniper brings down the ones Childe can't see in the burning theatre.
"Ella Yarna is heading towards one of the available vehicles behind the building. She's in agent Scaramouche's blind spot. He can't spot her," Zhongli reports.
"I got it!" Childe confirms loudly. He kills the last man, reloads his gun, and runs towards the exit. The black smoke fills the air.
He runs past many lifeless bodies. He doesn't have the luxury of time to check up on anyone.
Childe's lungs hurt from holding his breath but he doesn't stop. His vision blurs for a fleeting second and his back still hurts from the sudden force from the explosion.
Childe coughs. The taste of fresh air soothes his pain.
He dashes towards the ruined parking lots.
"Be careful, agent. She's closer. Her men are with her," Zhongli supplies.
"Affirmative," Childe says back. He lowers his gun and keeps his fingers away from the trigger. Childe leans back against the wall, peeking slightly to his left at the barren area.
He can hear the incoming sirens from a distance.
Someone clicks their guns. Childe quickly retreats behind the wall again. A barrage of bullets crosses the air just next to him.
"Agent Tartaglia," Ella Yarna speaks his name sweetly. The footsteps of her thugs are loud against the pavement as they make their way towards him. "If I killed you, would Morax suffer the same pain I felt when he killed my husband? When he ruined my dreams?"
Childe doesn't answer her.
"Childe," Zhongli says, "There's more of them coming to your location. You can't possibly kill all of them in your state."
Childe chuckles. He wipes the blood from his arm. A stray bullet almost hits him. "Zhongli, I'm sturdier than I look."
"Retreat for now. We can--"
"No. I can do this."
He tears the earpiece and keeps it in his pocket. A bold and stupid move but Childe needs to finish it right here. Ella Yarna is after Zhongli.
Morax, she said. Childe grits his teeth. He's not letting her anywhere near Zhongli.
Still, Zhongli is not wrong. There's more of them this time, ready to lay down their lives for the woman they follow.
Childe quickly runs towards one of the cars and hides behind it. He avoids the gunfire, shooting at the incoming thugs one by one.
He moves again swiftly and carefully, fires his shots, reloads, avoids and hides, slowly as he makes his way towards his target.
Childe can't get a clear shot of her.
Ella Yarna doesn't make a motion to leave. She watches him instead, following his every move.
His steps are getting sloppier. The fatigue is slowly getting to him. Childe dashes forward regardless.
That is until his legs stumble and one of the thugs takes the chance to shoot at Childe. He moves to steer clear from their lines of fire. Childe is too slow, however, and a bullet pierces his shoulder.
He groans and leaps behind a nearby hiding spot.
"How long can you keep this up, agent? No one is coming for you. I've made sure of that."
Childe breathes slowly. Blood pouring from the wound. There's a sound of boots twisting on the ground. Childe looks to his right only to feel the butt of a gun being slammed against his head.
Childe falls and his sight darkens.
Childe's eyes flutter weakly.
"You came." A feminine laughter.
He looks around slowly. He's in a cell. Possibly in an abandoned warehouse. It's dark and he can barely breathe properly. Everything aches.
"You came for him?" Ella Yarna says to someone.
There are screams. Bullets ricocheting. The sound of people running. Running away from something. Or someone. Bones breaking. Gurgles and pleads for mercy at the person they're dealing with. Childe can't see anything.
Ella Yarna continues to laugh.
Childe groans from the pain.
"You killed my husband," she accuses bitterly.
"Yes. My only regret is that I failed to kill you, as well. And Guizhong died for my failure. You murdered her," the hard voice speaks so very slowly. Dangerously. Just a passing whisper. A venom in their voice.
The sound of another bullet echoes in the warehouse. And another. A body falls.
"If you wished to die so terribly, you should have come to me instead of orchestrating all of this. Instead of involving the innocents."
Childe chances a glance at the darkness.
He sees… Zhongli. Or maybe someone who wears Zhongli's face. There's no gentleness in those eyes. No kindness. Only a steadfast aim to punish without hesitation. Blood splatters across his face.
But Childe knows it's not Zhongli's blood.
Gasping on the floor is their Mark, bleeding in two different places.
Zhongli lifts his gun, points it at Ella Yarna's head, and shoots. She stills.
Childe closes his eyes. The last thing he sees is Zhongli coming towards him.
"So. I've been fucking Morax all this time."
"The infamous killer. A legendary agent of the Fatui. Going to be honest with you, I never imagined Morax would be really cute. Or have a fat ass. I think it was really hot how you effortlessly killed those people. I almost got a hard-on just thinking about it."
"Childe," Zhongli sternly says.
Childe raises his arms in surrender. The infirmary bed is uncomfortable but Childe isn't going to complain. Especially after he's managed to convince Zhongli to suck him off the morning prior.
Zhongli massages his temple. Childe stares at him. His gaze is fond.
"You knew who I was, didn't you?" Zhongli questions. Childe only smiles.
"Figured it out when I fucked you on our way to Hamburg."
"What? You asked."
"You could at least be less vulgar about it."
"Less vulgar? Zhongli, I've buried my dick inside you more times than I could count. I've bent you over every surface in my home and fucked you raw. And--"
Zhongli surges forward to kiss him, slowly and gently, his cheeks and ears flush red. He climbs onto the bed and lies down next to Childe. Their lips stay connected and Childe hungrily deepens the kiss.
They break away.
"Don't do that again," Zhongli murmurs. He cups Childe's cheek. "Do you understand? Never again."
Their foreheads touch. Childe closes his eyes. He breathes easily.
"Can't promise. But I'll try. For you."
Scaramouche glares at him. Childe smirks.
"Ass," is all the shorter man says as he walks away. Mona smiles at Childe.
"He's very glad you're okay," she assures.
"I'm not!" Comes Scaramouche's voice.
They return to Hamburg to stay in the same luxurious hotel two weeks later. Only he and Zhongli.
Childe dips himself in the Jacuzzi. He inhales. And exhales. The nocturnal sky is beautiful. Golden dust fills the ether.
The water comforts his body.
Childe hears a splash. He looks up to see Zhongli entering the large jetted bathtub. He's naked without a single string on his skin.
Childe watches the way Zhongli moves until the older man finally sits down on Childe's lap.
"That's turning into your favorite spot. I can tell," Childe teases.
Zhongli only hums. His hair is loose as he nuzzles his face against Childe's chest. Zhongli doesn't remove his big glasses, however.
"Keeping that on?" Childe asks.
Zhongli kisses his nose. "Don't be silly. You love it when I wear my glasses."
Childe doesn't deny it. The glasses make Zhongli look more adorable.
The handler boldly rubs his ass against Childe's slowly hardening dick. Childe sucks in a breath. He clenches Zhongli's hips to guide him to grind faster.
Childe playfully bites Zhongli's nipple, fingers skimming along the wet thighs, hands going lower and lower.
When he finally reaches his prize, Childe quickly pushes his thumb inside Zhongli. One of his hands rubbing the pulsing hardness.
Zhongli gasps, squirming on Childe's lap. "Childe," he breathes needily.
"You're frustrated, lyubimy?" The endearment slips past his mouth without Childe realizing it. He blinks, repeats the endearment again and again.
He looks up at Zhongli. Beloved. Dear. Darling.
Childe chuckles. He kisses Zhongli lovingly. The heat beckons him to taste all of Zhongli, to fully claim him as his.
Zhongli responds beautifully to him.
Childe feels like there's something incomplete. Something that's missing and he thinks about Zhongli's sweet smile and his gentle eyes.
The way Zhongli wears Childe's shirt in the morning every time he spends another night at Childe's place. It makes Childe warm imagining Zhongli in his home.
Zhongli's footsteps in Childe's home. Zhongli's books and trinkets clatter on the floor. Zhongli's morning kisses and him preparing breakfast with Childe together.
Childe thinks maybe he can be complete with Zhongli. Even if they take things slow, even if it takes Childe forever to make Zhongli adore him the way Childe adores him.
That's fine. Zhongli is enough for him. Childe wants Zhongli, including all the parts he doesn't know and understand.
He kisses Zhongli some more. And perhaps there's something different in the kiss this time because Zhongli breaks away and looks at Childe oddly.
"What's wrong?" He questions.
Childe removes Zhongli glasses and places the object delicately on the dry surface. He pecks Zhongli's nose, his chin, and his eyelids. He encircles his arms around Zhongli's back, brushes his cock against Zhongli's hole.
"Nothing," Childe answers. He enters the man slowly.
Zhongli staggers, spreading his legs further to let Childe breach him. He loves it when Zhongli is greedy for his cock.
Once Childe is finally fully sheathed inside, Zhongli takes a short breath and begins to raise his hips. He pauses and descends on Childe's dick, rolling his ass to relish in the fullness.
Childe lets Zhongli take the lead. He brushes his thumb under Zhongli's left eye. "You know, I think I'm in love with you," Childe confesses.
Zhongli stops. He gazes at Childe. "You think?"
Childe ponders and then he grins. "Nah. I don't think. I know I'm a hundred percent utterly and hopelessly in love with you."
Zhongli's smile is an answer enough, his eyes shine beautifully.
And that's where the problem lies: Zhongli's eyes. Childe realizes that's the first thing he comes to love about Zhongli.
It's the simplicity of Zhongli that makes Childe fall so deeply in love with him.
Childe bends Zhongli slightly, pulls out, and thrusts back inside. Zhongli moans, fingers digging into the wet orange hair.
The rest of the world can wait. For now, Childe has something precious in his arms that he wishes to cherish forever.
The next morning, Childe finds Zhongli in the lounge room. He doesn't wear any pants, donning only Childe's shirt. His hair is messy and there are bite marks all over his skin.
Zhongli spots Childe and he quickly puts his tea down. He goes to Childe, giving him a tender morning kiss. Childe reciprocates. He thumbs Zhongli's cheek, puts his hand on Zhongli's waist.
"I love you, Ajax," Zhongli whispers once they part.
Childe has to hold back his grin.
He kisses Zhongli feverishly again and says those three words back to his lover.
Childe will smile a gentler smile from now on. Live life to the fullest. And love Zhongli with all of his heart.