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The sounds of footsteps echo down the hall, bouncing off of the walls. Childe doesn't bother to move or look up. It seems a little early for them to be bringing him a meal, but it's hard to keep track of the time in here. There aren't any windows in his prison cell, after all.

He hears someone stop right in front of the bars, but he doesn't hear the usual accompanying sound of a metal dish clanging on the floor. Instead, there's the sound of more feet hurrying down the hallway, the jangling of a ring of keys, and the screech of neglected hinges swinging wide.

If they've opened the door, he could try to escape, find his Vision and his Delusion and get out of this place. But the cold stone wall and floor are numbing his back and his ass, and those are the only parts of his body that don't feel like he's been stabbed with a thousand knives.

He doesn't move an inch.

Not until he hears a very familiar voice begin to speak.

"Heard a rumor that a Fatui Harbinger had been arrested," says the last person in Teyvat Childe would've thought would come for him. "I was expecting it to be Dottore."

Childe raises his head from where it had been resting on his knees. His ears hadn't deceived him. There, on the other side of the now-open cell door, stands Scaramouche in all his glory, with his hat, his shorts, and his sandals all in attendance, looking down at Childe dispassionately. Two guards are standing nearby, looking scared stiff. One of them's clutching their keys defensively in front of them, as if to ward off evil.

"Disappointed?" Childe asks Scaramouche, mustering up an approximation of a saucy grin. The man's come all this way, after all. He deserves the full Childe experience, little as Childe cares to perform it right now.

Childe expects the answer to be an unequivocal 'yes'—he's left the door wide open for it, after all—but Scaramouche passes the opportunity by, opting instead to just purse his lips and look Childe over critically. It feels like he's peeling back Childe's skin with his eyes to see what's underneath. "Surprised," he says, after a moment. He takes a few steps forward, into the cell and into Childe's space. "Now, come on, I don't have all day."

The gentleness of his hands belies the harshness of his words, and his perfectly neutral expression doesn't match one or the other. He helps Childe to his feet, avoiding the cuts, scrapes, and bruises where he can see them. And where he can't, he somehow still seems able to sense when he's encountered a particularly painful spot and readjust, even though Childe knows he hasn't flinched at the pain.

Childe can't help an unwarranted surge of anger at this. He doesn't want to show Scaramouche any weakness.

Unfortunately, Childe's body betrays him in this as well. He stumbles on his way up, knees buckling, and he falls heavily against Scaramouche's shoulder.

He expects to be shouted at and shoved away, but he isn't. Lightning-quick, Scaramouche reaches out and catches Childe before his knees hit the stone, holding him up with the startling strength secreted away in that small frame. And Scaramouche doesn't even take the opportunity to mock him. Just turns his head a fraction and raises his voice to address the guards. "Not above torture?" he asks, in a dangerous voice.

Childe watches the two of them recoil in unison, through the gauzy veil hanging off of the back of Scaramouche's hat. "We didn't do anything to him! Honest!" one of them blubbers. Childe strongly suspects they've seen Scaramouche in action, very recently. He wonders what the man did to the last guard to get in his way. Scaramouche could unleash the sort of swift and decisive violence that Childe has always found exhilarating. So he's a little sorry he'd missed it. But not quite sorry enough to lie, just to see it again now.

"Hmph," Scaramouche says, apparently accepting their protestations. He turns his attention back to Childe. "Used Foul Legacy when you didn't need to, then?"

"I needed to," Childe says, roughly.

"Of course you did." His tone doesn't hold any of the scorn Childe expects from those words. Just a grim sort of resignation. He shifts from one foot to the other, redistributing Childe's weight. "Will you need me to carry you? Because I imagine that would be an excruciating experience for both of us."

Childe grimaces. "No," he answers. "Just… give me a second."

"It's already been a second," Scaramouche grouses. But he doesn't move, just keeps holding Childe steadily. Pressed to Scaramouche's chest like this, Childe can feel the man's heartbeat. He wants to say something like 'so you do have a heart after all.' But he holds his tongue. If he hadn't known that already, he does now. And he's a little afraid that if he acknowledges it, Scaramouche will… Well, he doesn't think Scaramouche would take it very well. Whatever is happening right now seems… fragile. Like it's all teetering on a knife's edge. And Childe just… doesn't have the energy to navigate it. All he wants at the moment is to steady himself again, listening to the even sound of Scaramouche's heartbeat pumping just a touch faster than his own.

And Scaramouche… seems content to let him, for some reason. He could just drop Childe, even just lower him back to the ground, but instead he's continuing to stand here, holding up Childe's weight, gripping him in something very like an embrace.

"His things," Scaramouche says. He's speaking to the guards again. "Where are they?"

Childe tunes out whatever the guards respond. Scaramouche will take care of it, he's sure. He just needs to focus on getting his feet back under him. His legs feel a little bit like rubber, and he wobbles dangerously at first, but he manages it, and he pushes back from Scaramouche, who holds onto him a moment longer than Childe would've expected.

He looks at Scaramouche's face questioningly.

Scaramouche doesn't make eye contact. "Don't push yourself," he says, in a monotone that gives away nothing.

'No,' is Childe's first thought. 'Why not?' is his second. He's still frowning at Scaramouche's wiped-blank expression when the guards scurry back with all of his stuff: his weapon, his mask, his Vision, his Delusion.

Scaramouche turns to take them.

He fastens the Vision to Childe's belt, his thumb grazing Childe's skin in the process and sending an involuntary shiver through him. Scaramouche doesn't even pause to acknowledge it, though, as he slips Childe's Delusion into its usual hiding place. Then he sets Childe's mask at a jaunty angle in Childe's hair, secures his bow to his back. Childe starts to feel more like himself, like Scaramouche is piecing him back together.

And then Scaramouche steps back.

"Anything else, while we're here?" he asks, voice still flat. "I don't want to have to come back here if you realize you've forgotten something." There's a dangerous glitter in his eyes. And Childe is suddenly sure that if he were to ask Scaramouche to kill every single guard in this whole damn prison, Scaramouche would.

"No, nothing," Childe says. "Let's go." He takes his first steps forward, and Scaramouche moves to follow, his hand coming to rest on Childe's lower back as they proceed down the cell-lined hallway that should take them outside. Guards silently watch them pass, with their hands hovering near their weapons. Childe half-expects whoever's in charge to suddenly change their mind, or for this to be a trap. He half wants it to happen, wants to prove he could fight, even like this, if he really had to.

He's… both relieved and disappointed that he doesn't get that chance. No one tries to get in their way or stop them. They pass through the main entrance of the prison without obstacle or pursuit.

With his first breath of free air in a fortnight, Childe asks, "So what's the plan? Would rather not stay in this town a second longer than we have to."

"I've already procured a cart. This way." The hand on Childe's back nudges him to the left.

Childe huffs, but he lets Scaramouche direct him nevertheless. "Thought of everything, have you?"

"I'd rather not stay here any longer than I have to, either," Scaramouche says.

The cart and its driver are waiting for them a short distance away, though it's far enough that when Childe collapses into the back, his sore and disused muscles aching with strain, he's grateful that it wasn't any farther. Scaramouche jumps daintily in after him, and then, with a word, they're off.

They both remain silent as the cart driver takes them out of town on the main road. Childe tries not to make eye contact with any of the people they pass on the way. He figures they're probably trying not to make eye contact with him either.

He also doesn't look Scaramouche's way. But he can't help but be hyper-aware of how close Scaramouche is sitting. With every rough patch the cart goes over, his shoulder or his elbow bumps into Childe's arm. There's enough space available that either of them could move away and stop this from happening. But neither of them do.

Childe has always been someone who craved physical contact, whether from family, friends, lovers, or foes, whether at home, in bed, or on the battlefield. So he at least has an excuse. Scaramouche, on the other hand, has always hated to be touched. He loathes it, avoids it at all costs. And yet today he hasn't let Childe get more than a few inches away from him since the moment he stepped into that cell, and he's been touching Childe constantly, leading him around, holding him. It's bizarre as hell.

And Scaramouche has been acting… off this whole time, on every front. Even his opening line back in the cell had been strange. In retrospect, it had sounded like… like he'd just been going through the motions. Like he'd rehearsed it, practiced the little opening jab at Childe that would be expected of him, but he hadn't really felt it and couldn't even feign it properly. Childe mulls this over for a while, not sure what to make of it.

Once they're clear of the outskirts, out on the open, empty road, Childe finally voices the question. "So, that was a line, right?" he asks, looking sidelong at Scaramouche. "You did know it was me that got arrested, didn't you?"

Scaramouche doesn't even try to stick with the bullshit about Dottore. "It was easy enough to guess," he says.

"So, why? Why come here?" Childe asks. He wants to know.

But Scaramouche just evades answering. "Should I not have?" he asks.

Childe doesn't know how to read him today. Him even showing up to help Childe in the first place had already been out of character for him. Scaramouche likes leaving people to deal with the fallout of their own actions. He seems to get some kind of sick thrill from it, sometimes. This Scaramouche, who isn't rising to any of the bait Childe dangles in front of him, who's touching him but not arguing with him, is an anomaly. Childe doesn't know how to deal with a Scaramouche who's so frighteningly blank.

"I didn't need your help," Childe says. "They would've let me out eventually. Or I would've gotten out myself."

Scaramouche doesn't react. It's like he didn't even hear Childe.

Childe lets out a frustrated noise. "Why did you come help me?" he demands.

The corner of Scaramouche's mouth twists downward. It feels like a victory. A small one. "Must we discuss this right now?" Scaramouche asks. A little bit of emotion has snuck into his voice, for the first time that day. He sounds… wrung-out.

Childe can't bring himself to insist. He's tired, too, and everything still hurts. He shakes his head and turns away to watch the scenery go by.

He dozes off, he assumes, because the next thing he knows, his shoulder is being shaken and he blinks his eyes open to the blurry sight of bare knees right next to his face.

"We're stopping. There's an inn," Scaramouche's voice says from right behind him. Or… above him? Childe sits up, his muscles protesting the motion, but before he can finish turning around, Scaramouche has already hopped out of the back of the cart. He's holding a hand out, an impassive look on his face. With every passing second, it feels more and more like Childe must've dreamed the whole thing. Scaramouche wouldn't have actually let Childe sleep on his damn lap… right?

Childe lets Scaramouche help him off the cart, into the inn, and—after a quick exchange with the innkeeper—up the stairs to a room with two beds. And he doesn't complain about the assistance, even though it stabs at his pride. It isn't as if Childe would've been able to manage it on his own. He's reached his limit, it looks like.

Still, he can't help but wrest himself free from Scaramouche for the last few steps between the door and the nearest bed, kicking his boots off one-by-one on the way, stripping off his gloves, and tossing aside his mask and his bow. He collapses onto his back on the mattress with a groan of relief. He really should've also taken off his jacket before doing that, but, hey, you know what they say about hindsight. He's slept in less comfortable situations, though—for example, in a bare and windowless prison cell, for two weeks straight—so he's perfectly content to just close his eyes, focus on something other than how much every part of his body hurts, and try his best to sink back into the slumber that the motion of the cart had lulled him into.

But Scaramouche intercedes. Childe feels hands pulling at his jacket clasps one-by-one, then at the buttons of the shirt underneath. He keeps his eyes shut and lets it happen. Scaramouche nudges him onto one side and then the other, slipping his arms out of his sleeves and pulling both jacket and shirt off, leaving Childe's chest bare. He feels cool air on his newly-exposed skin, and suppresses a shiver. He's not completely sure it's from the cold.

Thin fingers graze his sternum, whispering over a place where Childe knows he still has yellow-green bruising.

"Are you in pain?" Scaramouche asks.

Childe's first instinct is to say no, as though lying might help him save face this late in the game. His second instinct is to say 'obviously,' as scathingly as he can manage. But he doesn't really want to point out just how clear his weakness is, even after all of this. And he still doesn't understand why Scaramouche is acting this way. "What does it matter?" he settles on, letting a bit of annoyance seep in, and shutting his eyes tighter.

Scaramouche doesn't reply. He won't answer even this. It's infuriating.

Childe exhales. "Yeah, I'm in pain, alright?" he grumbles. "But I'd rather not take anything, so I just have to deal with it."

After a moment, he hears Scaramouche take two shuffling steps forward. "Perhaps a distraction?" Scaramouche asks. The side of the mattress dips a little, and Childe doesn't have even a second to consider what Scaramouche might mean by that before one of Scaramouche's hands is on his thigh, and the other is tugging at his belt.

"Scara, what—?" He opens his eyes, not sure what he expects to see from a Scaramouche who is trying to proposition him. The man's sitting on the edge of the bed next to Childe, leaning in. His hair's a little mussed on top—he's taken his hat off—and his face… His face is still so very blank and guarded.

His hands freeze on Childe's half-open fly. "Not interested, then?" It sounds like he doesn't care one way or the other, but it doesn't make any sense. If he didn't care, why would he be doing this? Any of this?

"Of course I'm interested!" Childe scoffs, propping himself up on his elbows so he can sit up a little. If it had been any other time, with a Scaramouche that wasn't acting possessed, Childe would've shimmied out of his pants already and tackled the guy, no matter how much pain he happened to be in. But Scaramouche has never shown the tiniest bit of interest before today. And here, now… something is wrong, and Childe doesn't have the first clue what it could be.

"Then there's no problem," Scaramouche says, curtly. And then, before Childe can get another word out, Scaramouche proceeds, freeing Childe's cock with quick, efficient motions and getting his hand around it, running his thumb over the head.

Childe inhales sharply, his hips twitching up into the contact. For a moment, he can't feel any pain, only the moist warmth of Scaramouche's palm.

Blindly, he reaches out to grab Scaramouche's wrist with one hand and pull it away from his dick.

"Scaramouche, what are you doing?" he demands, sitting up properly. He doesn't let go of Scaramouche's wrist, even when he feels Scaramouche trying half-heartedly to pull away. And Childe can see the sarcastic answer on Scaramouche's lips, but he doesn't want to hear it—not right now, not in the toneless voice Scaramouche has been using all day, as though something had sapped the life and the fight out of him—so he interrupts before Scaramouche can get a word out. "No, nevermind," he says, "I know what you're doing. My question is: why? You've been acting like a goddamn automaton all day. What's wrong?" There has to be a reason that Scaramouche is acting so strangely. "Did something happen? To…" He wracks his brain for the right way to end that sentence, but comes up blank. He knows precious little about Scaramouche's life outside the Fatui. But maybe he has a family, like Childe does, or something like that? "To somebody, uh… important?" he settles on, awkwardly. Childe doesn't know what he'd do if anything happened to any of his siblings, but… maybe it would be something like this. Shutting down, and not letting anything through.

He's watching Scaramouche's face, so he sees the flinch, the tiny little tell the man lets slip. He latches onto it. "It did, didn't it? Did you kill whoever did it yet? I'll help. You don't have to do all this shit to try and get me on board, or whatever. I'm in, no questions asked. Soon as I can stand up reliably again."

Scaramouche just… stares at him for a second, then lets out a short, sharp breath and closes his eyes. He lets his head fall, bringing his free hand up to his mouth as a clenched fist. His shoulders are curled inward, and they're starting to shake. Is he laughing?

"You're an idiot, Tartaglia," Scaramouche says, in a muffled voice.

So he is laughing. "Hey, I'm trying my best here!" Childe exclaims, feeling vaguely offended. He lets go of Scaramouche's arm and crosses his own arms over his bare chest. He's injured, half-naked—more than half, his cock is still hanging out of his damn pants from whatever the hell Scaramouche had been trying to do a second ago—and he feels… vulnerable. "It's not like you're telling me anything," he mutters.

"I didn't think I'd have to," Scaramouche says into his fist. "I was afraid you'd look at me and know."

"Know…?" Afraid…?

Abruptly, Scaramouche scrubs furiously at his eyes. Then he snaps up his head to glare at Childe, frowning thunderously, his jaw tight. His eyes are… a little red, and more watery than Childe's ever seen them.

"Fine, if I have to fucking spell it out for you, I will," Scaramouche snarls. "I heard that—" He grimaces. "The first rumor I heard was that a Harbinger had been killed. Right here, where your next mission was supposed to take you."

Killed…? Those guys hadn't even gotten close to… Okay, he'd kind of passed out dramatically at the end there, and he knows how rumors are. But if that's what Scaramouche calls spelling things out…

Killed or beaten, captured, what's the difference? He'd still failed his mission, spectacularly. Why should Scaramouche care one way or the other?

Childe doesn't know what to make of it.

And then he tries to imagine it. What if Childe had been on a mission and overheard some gossiping locals say that Scaramouche had been killed? And the news was a week old and they'd heard it third-hand, but they swore up and down it was true, and there wasn't a shred of other information available to cast a shadow of a doubt. He imagines dropping everything and traveling straight for where they told him it had happened, certain that he was only heading towards Scaramouche's grave.

It feels like a gaping hole has opened in Childe's gut.

He looks at Scaramouche's hunched shoulders, the tension in his whole body, the pinched look on his face, and he starts to put together the pieces, turning them left and right and upside-down to see them all from new angles. And it feels like he's just about gotten them all into place, when the emotion on Scaramouche's face starts to recede back behind that mask he's been wearing all day.

A panic seizes Childe. He'd been too slow. He doesn't stop to think any longer before he reaches out his hands to grasp both sides of Scaramouche's head—as though that would pin the real Scaramouche there—and blurts out, "No, please, you don't have to hide."

Scaramouche is looking at him with a startled expression, and Childe is fiercely grateful for it. Anything but that awful blankness is something to be treasured. He relaxes his grip, carding one hand through Scaramouche's hair and letting the other slide down to cup Scaramouche's jaw. He tries his best to smile gently, even though his heart is still racing from that moment of unreasonable fear that Scaramouche might leave him behind to retreat into himself. As though, if Childe hadn't interrupted, Scaramouche might have disappeared, like he could have in that other world that Childe just imagined.

"It's okay," Childe says. "I understand. And I… if it had been you, I'd…" His throat feels like it's closing up. He swallows hard, trying to clear the obstruction, trying to tell Scaramouche…

And then Scaramouche's expression just… crumples, collapsing in on itself like a burnt-out building. Childe's heart clenches in his chest. The mask has shattered, and Childe is finally seeing what was underneath.

"Hey, hey, no, Scara, c'mon, it's fine," Childe says, aiming to soothe, though his voice cracks embarrassingly in the middle. "It's all fine," he says. "I'm okay."

"This time," Scaramouche replies, harshly. He reaches up and clutches Childe's hand tighter to his face, leaning into it.

Childe strokes a thumb over Scaramouche's cheek. "Hey, my track record is pretty good. I've made it this far, haven't I?" he says, attempting to lighten the mood. "And it's not like I have the market cornered on risky business. But we're both just fine right now, yeah?" He makes the mistake of trying to shift on the bed to scoot closer to Scaramouche, and his muscles very sharply remind him why he was really in bed to begin with. "Give or take a few aches and pains," he amends, wincing. "But in another week or two"—or three—"I'll be right as rain again, and just as annoying as ever, and you'll be back to wanting to strangle me yourself!"

Scaramouche lets out an unwilling snort at that, and Childe suddenly wants very badly to kiss him. His gaze drops to Scaramouche's lips. They look a little dry. Childe bets he could moisten them right up.

"This is a bad idea," Scaramouche says. He's still holding Childe's hand like a lifeline. "We're not supposed to get attached."

"Too late for that, I think," Childe says, flashing a hopeful little grin, dragging his attention away from Scaramouche's lips to look into those dark-blue eyes. "So why not live in the now instead of worrying about a future that might not come?"

Scaramouche is perched on the edge of Childe's bed, looking like a man teetering on the brink of a precipice. But if he chooses to take the leap, Childe will be there to catch him.

Scaramouche's expression shifts. He's made a decision. The bedframe creaks in protest as he stands up, pulling free of Childe's hands.

Childe's heart plummets into his gut. He'd gotten his own hopes up too high—of course Scaramouche would go with the pragmatic approach, no matter what he felt—and goddamn it, Childe has only had any idea this was even on the table for ten fucking minutes, why the fuck is he feeling so crushed, and—

And then Scaramouche turns and leans down, grabbing hold of his chin and kissing him, hard.

Childe melts into the contact, opening his mouth so Scaramouche can lick into it, so Childe can explore Scaramouche's in return. He tangles his fingers into Scaramouche's shirt and holds on tight.

They break apart after a few minutes, gasping.

"Just don't fucking die," Scaramouche says between heaving breaths. His lips are red, along with his whole face. "Or I'll drag you back here myself," he threatens, sounding almost like himself again. But, he doesn't seem to truly be asking Childe to make any promises, and Childe is grateful, since he's not sure he could actually do that. 'Forever' isn't something he can give. Only 'now.'

"Now, let go," Scaramouche says, reaching up to pull Childe's hands off of him, "and put your fucking dick away. I'm going to go find us some food." He turns on his heel, reaching for his discarded hat and pulling it back on in one smooth, practiced motion.

Childe manages to hastily yank a pillow over his lap a second before Scaramouche opens the door into the very public hallway—though thankfully no one happens to be passing just at the moment and looking in. "I'm not the one who took it out!" Childe hollers after Scaramouche, as the door swings closed once more.

In the silent, empty room, Childe lets out a breath. He sets aside the pillow and tucks himself back into his pants, then lies back down with a groan, staring at the ceiling.

If someone had told him yesterday that any of this was going to happen, he'd have… well, he'd have thought the prison guards had decided to engage in some sort of bizarre psychological warfare. But, even though it had been unexpected…

A smile curves across Childe's lips.

He'd gotten something he hadn't really known he wanted. Scaramouche not just wanting him, but caring about him. Worrying about him.

And maybe it's selfish to be happy about this. Childe spends so much energy making sure his siblings don't know to worry about him the way they probably should. But it's not that he wants to make Scaramouche worried, not exactly. It's just… having Scaramouche, someone who knows him, knows all the worst sides of him, and knows the shit he constantly gets himself into—who's maybe even the person who knows him best, for all they've bickered and fought—having Scaramouche care… it makes Childe's chest feel warm.

He closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath, savoring that feeling, letting go of the pain, the lingering fear that Scaramouche might have been right that they shouldn't get involved, shouldn't get attached, that this might end badly for one or both of them. He just focuses on that warmth nestled next to his heart, and lets it carry him off to sleep.