'I'm getting too old for this.' He thinks to himself as he held his head in his hand and stared at the parchment laid before him. The pen he had pressed against the paper had long started bleeding blue ink from how long he had not been moving. His dim desk light casted dark shadows onto the desk he was hunched over.
He was dressed in a housecoat hung over his slumber wear as he sat at his desk. He had tied his long hair into a messy ponytail that hung low before moving to feel the growing stubble on his chin with his hand. He had been sitting there since he woke, hoping that at some point during the day some inspiration would come to him.
How long had he not showered? How long has he not eaten a proper meal?
Zhongli doesn't know. The full force of waves of demotivation crashed into him as the candle to his left started to go out, having melted the wick to its last moments. It was always the littlest action that would tip a person over the edge, but when his candle light went out he let his head sag onto the table below.
His publisher was pressing him for a new release. Three years ago, his book 'Fate and Fake Memories' had been a huge hit amongst Liutians, which eventually got famous enough for official translators to spread the title across Teyvat, his fans had been waiting for him to release more books, but he could never fully get into starting another.
As his eyelids fell heavy, exhausted from the overthinking. His dream lulled him into the recollection of a memory from the week before.
"’Fate and Fake Memories’ could be my first and last publication, Ningguang." He had told her over their lunch meeting. As she delicately cut her meat roll with her chopsticks, smiling to herself when she cut it in a perfect half, he knew she was not listening to her. They had been childhood friends, coming from the same village moving out into the big city in an attempt to make it big.
While she started a publishing firm that eventually grew from publishing small monthly magazines to becoming the owner of Teyvat's official newspaper, Teyvat Times, she had quickly become one of the richest women in the valley. However, she is still humbled by her origins, and that was what he loved about her.
When she decided she could publish his first book, he was astonished, starstruck to say the least.
"First and last publish, nonsense!" She shakes her head in a disapproving manner as she picks up the dumpling in front of her. Holding out her hand to Zhongli, as if it were an instinct, he passed his plate to her to place the dumpling onto.
"You speak as if you are so old. If you are old, that means I would be old. And I am not old." He watches as she puts her half of the meat roll into her mouth and chews, but when he was not eating, amber eyes glared at him. As if slightly intimidated, he lifts his half of the meat roll while meeting her eyes to eat it.
"I have a premonition." She says after sipping from her porcelain cup, the steam from the tea created a flowery aroma that surrounded them. Ningguang smiled happily, basking in the warmth of the refreshing tea after their heavy meal.
"Oh, I did not know you could do those." Zhongli pulled his cup away from his lips to tease her, corners of his gold eyes lifting with his smile, creating half moons.
"Shut up, Zhongli. I have a premonition.”
"Alright. Let us hear it."
"You will publish five series in this lifetime." When she put down her cup onto the table for the waiter to refill, she lifted her hand showing all her five fingers, decorated in delicate bands of gold on her ring and pinky finger.
"Does that not seem like too many?"
"Listen. You have already published the first book. And we can both agree who you wrote that about." Ningguang says the last part quietly under her breath. "What I am saying is that you have already written about your first love, but you have yet to write about the others."
Zhongli is quiet. He keeps one hand warm by curling his fingers around his cup, while the other balled into a fist on his lap where Ningguang could not see. He had told her a thousand and one times that his book was not about Guizhong, yet she insists that it was. Surely, it bothered him how she would not believe him, but he would not care to argue with her. After all, she was already doing him a huge favour of being his publisher. He heard that even Chang the Ninth had approached Ningguang to be his publisher, but she refused him, and he had been a Liyue's famed author long before Zhongli decided to dabble in writing.
"Your second book will be about a different love. Perhaps a twin flame, or someone who captivates you, bewitches you until your heart aches to be with them but they are like the wind, someone who cannot be caught." When the waiter was away, she practically swooned at the idea of the second love, which made Zhongli's eyes widen in surprise. He lifts his eyebrow slowly when she continues on.
"Perhaps you would like to write that book, Ningguang." He openly chuckles at her. Amber eyes snap open from it's yearning state to glare at him for laughing at her.
"I am giving you ideas, Zhongli." Her tone is angry, and that was his cue to stop laughing, choosing to cough behind his fist. Ningguang's expression softens as she pouts, bottom lip jutting out as she twirls her hair between her fingers, relaxing into her seat. "Everyone experiences five types of love in their lifetime. I am merely giving you examples."
"And what if I cannot find this man or woman who bewitches me till ‘my heart yearns for more’."
"You will. It is I who is making the premonitions, after all." She smiles at him, her eyes filled with a little mischief he recognised from their younger years. As glad as he is that his childhood friend is so comfortable around him to continue to be this playful, he was getting too old to be swept away by her plans yet again.
A sound of several small tapping sounds shook him from his dream-like state. With bleary eyes, he sat up, unaware that he had fallen asleep against the desk. Well, he was still dressed in his sleepwear, so there was no surprise that Zhongli felt comfortable enough to fall back asleep.
But the sound of the small tapping continued to fill his ears.
Rubbing his eyes with his index finger and thumb, he attempts to wake himself. Blinking a couple of times and refocusing his vision, the desk lamp still projected a light onto his parchment, whereas candle light had gone out long ago.
'Right.' His hand reached to the left to grab the snuffed candle, but in the place of where his candle had been, and there sat a small creature on the rim of the shallow candle holder, tapping his foot against the wood of the table.
From what he could see in the dim light, the creature was exposed at his torso, only wearing a small red cloth around his neck like a scarf. His legs were a deep blue, sparkly scale-like texture, similarly coloured to the transparent crystal-like wings that fluttered behind him. Both parts of him glittered slightly from the little amount of light that reflected off it. A small ring of white crystals crowned his fluffy orange hair. The one feature that stood out the most to Zhongli were bright blue eyes, like freshly polished jewels, wide and round looking at him with wonder.
No, that is inaccurate. They stood out like sparkling jewels amongst dull stones, but they were less like jewels, and more like the open ocean. Glittering like the surface of gentle water pushing against the shore, but deep like the ocean's ends. There was a passion burning behind a thinly masked veil of the sparkling top, much like the dark waters that lie beneath.
When Zhongli tilted his head in curiosity, the creature tilted it the same direction. He did it again but the opposite way, and it mimicked his actions again. Using his index finger he approached it slowly to poke at his stomach, but small hands had slapped his finger away.
This was not a dream if the pain that could have been formed by a prick of a pin was very much real. Zhongli couldn't believe his eyes at the very human-shaped form sitting on his candle holder.
"Hello." He greets, unsure if the small humanoid could speak. If the creature could choose to hit him as he approached, surely it could have some mind to communicate, even if it were in gurgles or noise.
"Hello. My name is Ajax." Ah, so the creature could speak perfectly, his voice playful and a little mocking. "I've been waiting for you to wake up."
"I," Zhongli wanted to make an excuse about accidentally dozing off, but chooses not to. "I did not notice your presence when I had dozed off."
The small creature locks eyes with him, maintaining eye contact as they exchanged words. He kicked his legs, swinging it off the edge of the rim. The fairy, Zhongli assumes, was no smaller than the entire length of his middle finger.
"I only appeared just now. When you burned out this candle a couple minutes ago." He shifts in his seat on the rim so he could gesture to the remnants of a candle. The white wax had mixed in with burnt ashes where a burnt wick was pooling in the liquid.
Zhongli nods, affirming that he indeed do that. "I wore it out within two weeks." He's unsure, but he reaches his hands out to take the candle holder away from Ajax. He watched as Ajax's bright eyes noticed his cupped hands and hopped off the rim, his wings fluttering slightly as his small feet pad against the wood. Bringing the candle holder closer to himself, cradling the sides in his hands, he looks at the faint insignia at the bottom of the wick and ashes pooling in wax.
He wants to dip his finger in to see what it is, but two small hands holding his finger back prevented him from doing so. It was just a mere touch, but the hands that held onto his fingers felt too worried, too loving.
"The wax is still warm." Ajax's wings twitch, as if he cringed while thinking of what it would be like to touch hot wax. "I am here for that as well." His small fingers point at the same strange insignia he had noticed. Half his body leaned over Zhongli's finger that was supporting his weight, so he would not fall over into the candle holder.
"It looks like a sigil." Zhongli’s mouth moves before he could stop himself, unable to hold his tongue when he was sleep deprived. He does not want to explain to Ajax how he knew what a sigil was upon first sight of it. That story is too long and winding, even for him to tell.
"It is one." Ajax nods his head, laying his chin onto the expanse of Zhongli's fingers, just between his own hands. The crystal blue wings flutter fast, excited in nature as he eyes the golden paper sitting in hot wax. "I want to take this sigil." The fairy is curt about his intentions, but Zhongli does not mind.
Instead, he feels curious and asks. "Why?"
Ajax continues to rest his head on Zhongli’s finger, but turns his face upwards so that blue eyes meet with golds in the dim light. "Where did you get this candle from?" He asks as he raises a brow rather than answering the question directly.
"From a woman selling her wares up near the pavilion, Madam Ping." Ajax’s hold on his fingers is light, he could easily flick the little creature away. Instead he flexes his finger, causing Ajax to move away in favour of presenting his open palm, so he can rest easier. He’s glad the fairy took initiative and moved around the fingers, comfortably seating himself on his open palm. Those crystal blues flutter in delight, causing the corner of Zhongli’s mouth to quirk up fondly.
"This candle is special. At the end of its lifespan, it grants a wish." Ajax points at the sigil. "With that sigil at the very bottom. That lady you mentioned might not have been a normal human if she is able to craft such a timeless piece that you managed to burn out in a fortnight's time.” He huffs and crosses his arms, leaning against the fingers that are supporting his weight.
Even if his tone was somewhat pushy, Zhongli continues to press on in an attempt to dig out the fairy’s intention with said sigil. He had wandered Liyue for many years when he was younger, discovering many things including the power sigils hold. Left long ago by adepti, sigils are no longer around, but it does not mean they have become extinct.
"But this is my candle."
"Which means I could not give this to you."
The creature hesitates, crossing his legs nervously and placing his hands on top his knees. "Yes, but, I am hoping you will give it to me." He pouts, long lashes flutter against his cheeks, shy to admit his blatant want for the object. Zhongli continues watching Ajax with interest. With each close observation, he finds new features to him. Such as the silver sparkles of starlight that seem to catch on those lashes, giving him a truly ethereal look.
“If I give this to you,” He rests his chin in one hand, the other continuing to cradle a comfortable Ajax. “What will you give me in return?”
“You,” Ajax stands, fuming in anger that his ears turn red. There was a brief thought that entered his head that the fairy looked cute with his skin flushed. “You shameless human! What makes you think that I should give you anything in return.” His bare foot stomps angrily on Zhongli’s finger, but the man barely feels anything other than a light pressure.
“Us humans find that exchanging items and deeds of equality is considered fair. If this sigil grants you a wish, and I am giving it to you, shouldn’t you give me something equivalent to a wish?” He has to hold back a chuckle, hiding his smile subtly behind his hand when he watches Ajax, finding it adorable how the ginger haired fairy was rather expressive. He watches the interesting expressions as it morphs from anger, to understanding, to shame and returns to anger.
He is right the first time. Ajax’s mouth is agape, open and ready to fight back, and the flush that stains his fair skin gives him a youthful and human look. An unusual feeling bubbles from within him, wanting to further tease the fairy. “So I shall inquire once again, what will you give me in return?”
Ajax closes his eyes and thinks hard, hand placed on his chin in deep thought. His foot taps against Zhongli’s palm and his wings twitch.
“I could give you a suggestion?”
“And what might that be?”
“You should take a shower.” Watching Ajax’s disgusted expression combined with the way he scrunches his little nose, waving away the air in front of his face, Zhongli felt the damage taken to his ego. His hand curled slightly tighter around the fairy as he brought him to the open window beside him, pushing his fist outside into the cold night breeze with little Ajax, wordlessly threatening to drop him.
“I’m joking, please! I’m sorry!” As Ajax hugs Zhongli’s thumb, wrapping his arms around the base, he finds it in himself to plead. But he is laughing, tears brimming his eyes from laughing so hard, finding such glee in being cheeky. He continues to laugh out loud when he feels Zhongli loosen his hold slightly, squealing when he has to hug his whole body tighter against the thumb. His legs join his arms to wrap around the base of Zhongli’s thumb as he continues to bubble with laughter.
Bringing Ajax back inside away from the cold, he opened his palm to see the fairy on his back, laughing so wholeheartedly in his hand from the little deviousness he could commit. Zhongli could not bring himself to be upset at the fairy when he was so delighted. He sighs, deep and troubled, but the smile that forms on his face had an entirely different meaning.
He let the fairy hop back onto his desk, watching as Ajax moved to sit at the edge letting his legs hang off the side. Looking around the dark room with barely any light, there was no point in staying tonight. There was obviously no sign of inspiration that could come to him being cooped up in his home.
“I don't know what else I can offer.” Ajax pouts as he continues to swing his legs back and forth. Zhongli hums, acknowledging the fairies' worries, but the busy sounds of the bustling night market reach his ears. Turning to the open window, an idea occurred to him. There was life out there in the harbour. Perhaps he could acquire inspiration from a good meal and some company.
“Ajax, do you know if you have a human form?” He asks as he looks out the window. Ajax tilts his head as it rests between his hands, interested in his captors intentions. “You can join me for a meal tonight.”
When Zhongli turns to him, he’s greeted with the brilliant sight of the male, slightly illuminated by the yellow lights seeping in from the outside, as a lively music and chatter reach his ears. In that moment, Ajax realises that the man he was sent to was handsome, sharp jawline and prominent features stood out to him like his piercing yet warm gaze, combined with his handsome smile, kissable lips.
‘Wait.’ He blinks and drops the smile that he did not realise crawled onto his face, flinching at his thoughts.
“I don’t think I know how to eat.” Ajax is hesitant, unsure, putting a hand to his stomach. Did he have body parts for that? His image is only to imitate a human after all, he was not sure if all the features were functioning. But upon seeing Zhongli’s disappointed look, he flails his arms about, wings fluttering in a panic. “But I think I do have a human form! Give me a moment.”
Ajax hops off the desk, and in that darkness Zhongli momentarily loses sight of the small creature. But then came a blinding light, enough to attract the attention of those who were wandering right outside his building. In his place stood a male, completely human without his scaled legs nor fairy wings, just a fair expanse of white skin.
Some features stayed the same, such as his fluffy orange hair that twisted and curled in all sorts of directions. He could now see up close those blue eyes and thinks, indeed, they resembled ocean waves.
“How is this? Human enough?” There’s a playful smile on his face as Ajax too runs his palms over the length of his outstretched arm, feeling his skin that no longer shed starlight. It might be the light tricking him, or his sleep deprivation, but he still swears there are features to him that continue to sparkle in his eyes. As if the moonlight that bled onto his skin through the windows gave his human body a peek into the window of his real ethereal self.
“Yes. Very much human, although you would still stand out.” Zhongli strides across the room, his hand reaching out to touch him just underneath his eye, stroking Ajax’s cheekbone with his thumb softly. He watches as the other leans into his touch, closing his eyes when his fingers curl around his jaw. “Typical Liutians do not have features such as yours after all.”
“And you cannot leave this place naked, of course.” Zhongli tears away from touching his smooth skin towards his closet where he would pick out clothes for him.
“Lend me clothes then.” Ajax puffs his cheeks. Zhongli rolls his eyes when the creature can’t see him as he looks through a variety of his changshans.
“I do not think my changshans would fit you.” Ajax’s human body was very slim compared to his companion's bulkier build. He places a hand on his chin as he studies the clothes he had laid out for Ajax. He did not notice when the fairy had come closer to him, peeking over his shoulder and leaning his naked body onto Zhongli's clothed back.
“How about this one?” Ajax points at a white silk fabric with gold accents that shone with every rustle of movement.
“No, that’s not–” Without him finishing, Ajax had already snatched it up from the bed and padded away to another corner of the room where a mirror stood, undoing the frog clasps and wriggling his body into the article of clothing.
“Wow.” Ajax’s eyes sparkled when he sees himself in the mirror. He ran his hands over his clothed chest, feeling the form fitting silk cling against his skin. The white fabric was soft and it had a gold dragon embroidered on the side of his hip leading up to his chest while smaller flowers decorated the sides. The gold pankou knots decorated the collar of his qipao, three on each side trailing down to his sides. The length of the qipao was enough to cover his front, but the slits that ran up to his thigh on both sides exposed fair legs.
Even Zhongli who was changing into a changshan slowed down to admire the way Ajax looked in the qipao as the fairy turned left and right, admiring himself in the mirror. Despite being a male, he fit the dress so well, possibly due to his slim size. The form fitting dress clung to him in every soft place of him, sparing no imagination of Ajax’s form from Zhongli. The white silk too looked heavenly on his fair skin.
“You look lovely.” Slips from his mouth as he admired the scene before him. Ajax looks at him through the mirror before turning around to him and beaming a smile. How vibrant was that smile.
“Thanks!” He jogged over to Zhongli before taking his arm into his. “Now let’s get going!”
Zhongli was sure Liutians were staring at the duo because Ajax had chosen to wear a qipao that was traditionally for women. But from what he could hear from passing aunties and uncles that gossip too loud for their own good, they were merely amazed at the sight of a foreigner wearing their traditional clothes, and how pretty he looked wearing white silk, clinging to his body as the slits show off long legs.
‘At least people think he’s a foreigner.’ Zhongli thought to himself as he watched Ajax amuse himself in the night market, dragging him from stall to stall to look at various wares and goods traditional to Liyue. Despite it being late into the night, nearing the hours of midnight, the harbour was bustling as if it were daytime.
He loved watching the fascination on Ajax’s face. The other truly wore his expressions on his sleeve, concealing nothing about his feelings. When he looks up at the hanging lanterns that litter the street, he holds onto Zhongli’s bicep tighter to himself, as if telling him to look up as well. But he never looks at the scenes Ajax looks at, too busy looking at Ajax himself. The way his mouth turns into a little ‘o’ when he’s starstruck, eyes widening till those man-made stars shone in them.
Zhongli finds himself falling, his heart cut wide open, just enough to let the smallest inch of Ajax into him. Their night was spent like that, stopping at each and every stall of the night market. While Ajax fell in love with Liyue, he fell in love with an entirely different creature.
“That was fun.” Ajax says to him as they reach the end of the night market, Zhongli leading them both to the restaurants. “Where are we going next?” In his hand, he held a plastic string that was tied to a bag, a single red and blue betta fish swimming in the water. Apparently the owners of that stall thought Ajax was adorable enough to give him items he was eyeing for free.
“Let us go feed you.”
“You mean feed you, right?” Ajax tilted his head as he walked by his side, their shoulders bumping on occasion.
“Yes.” Zhongli admits in defeat, giving the other a little show of his hunger and Ajax laughs, hand hovering over his mouth. They reach an open air restaurant where there were many people gathered to listen to a storyteller speak about the wrath of Haishan and the Crux Fleet. His tone is dramatic, deep and entrancing, Ajax doesn’t tear his eyes away from the speaker as he follows Zhongli to a vacant table.
“Zhongli-sensei!” A cheerful voice greets them. “Welcome back!” The bubbly girl bows, her starry eyes gleaming with mirth. When her eyes lock with Ajax's, she smiles brightly at him, leaning to Zhongli’s side.
“Zhongli-sensei, your guest is soooo pretty.”
“Thank you Xiangling. I think he knows.” He smiles, making eye contact with Ajax. When he looks away in favour of staring at the wooden table in embarrassment, both of them laugh.
Xiangling giggles at Ajax’s expressive nature. “Shall I get you our specials today? My dad said we have fresh fish and prawn today!”
“That sounds lovely, Xiangling. We’ll get the golden shrimp balls along with a stir-fried fish noodle, jueyun guoba,” Zhongli continued to list names of foods and Ajax seemingly gets worried, stroking the cold plastic with his new friend on the inside that was on his lap. The man was ordering so much food, was his stomach really a deep hole?
“Um, Zhongli–” Ajax reached to touch the arm that was resting on the table, but Zhongli did not turn to give him attention, instead continuing to order their food.
“A tianshu meat, black-back perch stew and ah, if you have some chicken tofu pudding.”
“Sure, Zhongli-sensei! I’ll be right back with your order.” The girl chirped as she hurried away to the kitchen to place Zhongli’s extensive order before she forgets.
“Zhongli, I’m not even sure if I can eat .” Ajax grabs onto Zhongli’s arm with a free hand. His legs shift, rubbing together nervously. At the same time, Zhongli’s eyes trail to his flat stomach that his hand rested on. Unusual enough, he reached over to let his hand rest on the flat stomach too, right above Ajax’s hand.
“I’m sure you need food in here. You are far too thin.” He says, recalling Ajax’s naked body from earlier. The fairy raises a brow when Zhongli squeezes his hand before pulling away.
Ajax makes a confused sound. Too thin for what exactly?
Their silence is filled with the chatter of nearby patrons and the voice of the storyteller. Xiangling eventually brings them whole trays of food and Zhongli uses utensils that were practically sticks to pick his food and eat, occasionally placing them onto the plate laid out for Ajax. He tries to hold them in his hand and imitate the way Zhongli holds them, but the noodles, fish and practically everything he attempts to pick up will fall back onto his plate.
It makes Zhongli chuckle behind his hand, but when Ajax shoots him a glare he stops.
“Come.” Zhongli holds a piece of fish up for him and Ajax leans in, happy to be spoiled and fed, completely ignoring the other patrons that are watching and giggling quietly at the intimate sight of their famed author and his guest.
Apparently his stomach was the one that was a black hole. Everything that Zhongli fed him, he graciously ate, and when he made a pleased sound when the flavours burst in his mouth, the man would order more. At this point, Ajax thought to himself as he rested his chin on the back of his hand, it was obvious Zhongli’s love language was gift giving.
Love language? Love?
“What made you so confident that I would give the sigil to you earlier?” He asks as he cradles his cup of tea in his hand, bringing it to his lips and taking a sip of the hot liquid. They had finished their meal a while ago, Zhongli feeling pleased at how much he had managed to feed Ajax. While it wasn’t enough to make his stomach bulge from underneath the thin fabric, he felt like it was enough judging by the euphoric expression on his face. He smirks against his cup when Ajax lets out a pleased sigh.
“I,” Ajax begins, but he falls silent. His hands move to fold underneath his bare thighs through the slits of the qipao. Why was it that he acted this way? He had just met Zhongli tonight, it was curious how intimately he was already acting with him. As he ponders his actions tonight, he continues to study Zhongli’s handsome features. While he had beautiful features such as his gold eyes and his long silky hair, the man also had quite masculine features. From the shape of his brow, to his broad shoulders and his sharp jawline, he was so handsome to look at.
Ajax realises he’d just been staring, moving to cough behind a fist, hoping the embarrassment does not translate too obviously onto his face. “I don’t speak honestly, I dislike speaking from my heart.” Zhongli glances at him in interest, giving the fairy his full attention. “But I will just do this once.”
“I have been feeling a sort of intimacy,” Ajax starts, blue eyes meets gold again, but were less confident, his soul shaking and wavering hearing the confession leak from his lips. “With you. Despite this being our first meeting.”
Zhongli is surprised. Not because of Ajax’s sudden confession, but because he had also felt that way when they first met. Despite it being their first and only night together, Ajax’s openness drew him in like a moth to a flame. He was surprised that the attraction that he felt was one-sided turned out to be mutual. They were both instantly drawn to each other.
Was this the twin flame scenario that Ningguang had mentioned?
No. This felt different. This was different.
It would be accurately described by Ningguang’s second description, a love that bewitched him, till his heart ached and lusted for more of him. To drink from him, like the only goblet of water after being starved for days on end, taking his fill by force if he had to. He didn’t realise the lump he felt in his throat as he gulped. Ajax was waiting for a reply from him, eyebrows knit in worry as Zhongli stared at him unresponsive to his confession.
“I have only experienced desire for intimacy in my youth with a girl in my village,” He’s quiet as he confesses. He felt inexperienced, only ever loving Guizhong, repeating his love for her in his mind for the longest time in an attempt to re-experience it. Her love felt like she cupped him in both her hands, letting him rest in the comfort of her palm. As if he had been a small daisy in the palm of her hands, he had clung to her feeling of love that was so quiet and nurturing.
While Ajax was exciting. He wore his heart on his sleeve for all to see, there was not a chance anyone could not fall in love with him. But he was unused to Ajax’s vibrant type of love, intimidated even, from how quickly he had filled up his heart from the small crack he had allowed open for him.
He does notice the slight tension in their silence that had formed between them.
“Is that who you wrote your first book to?” Ajax hung his head between his shoulders, cocking his head, but leaning into Zhongli’s space.
Zhongli’s eyes widened in surprise, setting down his cup gently onto the table. “You know about the book?” He chuckles, hoping to ease their tension in the slightest, leaning in to crowd Ajax into his space. “I did not know they sold fairy sized copies of my book.” It seemed to work when Ajax gave him a wry smile, knowing the author was teasing him yet again.
“Yes. Of course I do.” Ajax smiles, obviously insulted but his smile drops a little, mind obviously plagued by the previous mention of his first love. “Our queen would read it to us on occasion when she was not too busy reading it herself. The tale of a god who yearned for his goddess who had died for him in the war while they were creating a world together…” Ajax hesitates. “He wanted to create a home for her. He had to finish everything on his own, but heart never forgot her softness. It fueled him, and killed him in the very end.”
“Who are you really, Ajax.” Zhongli feels astonished that he could tell him the contents of his book. He had even understood the part where he had subtly written that instead of a civilization they were building, his protagonist was building her a home.
“If you take me on a romantic walk, I’ll tell you.” He peeks at Zhongli from the top of his lashes, coy and a little playful. Zhongli couldn’t help the smile that graced his face for what felt like the thousand time tonight. Perhaps even in the millions.
Their winding paths and long conversations had led them out into Cuijie Slope, where a famed astronomer used to spend her time looking at the stars. From out here, on top of the hill where the wind blew hardest and coldest against their skin, the clouds would part to make way, specially for the duo to admire in the night.
“All those lights.” Ajax said as he held Zhongli’s coat close against his shoulders. The man had given him his coat earlier. He did not feel the cold despite his skimpy wear, but he appreciated the intimate gesture, so he graciously taken it from the gentleman. “I’m one of them.”
“You’re a star?”
“A child from the stars.” Without turning to the other, he gazes up at the millions of intricate patterns stitched into the night sky, woven by his queen and king, wondering if he could recognise anyone. He knows that he doesn’t, but can’t help but wonder anyway. “Each star is a creature that will be given a task to accomplish, before they truly burn out and die.”
“After this task… will you die?” The man felt heavy, but he was not sure if it was the weight of the information, or his heavy heart steeling him to his place in the grass, unable to move.
With a heavy heart pulling the coat tighter around his shoulders, he sighs. “Yes.”
“What is your task?” Zhongli is slightly worried, but it doesn’t translate too well in his tone or expression.
Ajax looks around avoiding eye contact. “I cannot tell you. My king merely sent me as a messenger in the likeness of him.”
“In the likeness of your king?”
“No. In the likeness of him.” Ajax approaches him, pulling his hand open and placing a crumpled paper in the center. Scribbles and ink stains litter the page along with rings of coffee stains. He begins to recognise the neat handwriting. It had been one of his first drafts for his second book after Ningguang had pressed him to write. Zhongli was sure he had scrapped this paper, how was it that Ajax had his hands on it.
“How can that be? I have yet to start the book, not a single element has been thought about let alone the characters.”
There was always starlight that followed Ajax as they stood on the mountain of Cuijie Slope, watching the stars: “Your love created the image of me, in his likeness. The one who will be born from your hands,” He holds Zhongli’s hands between his own.
“From your lips,” He says as his warm breath ghosts his face, the smell of their tea still lingers there. He watches Ajax’s eyes stare at his lips before darting up to meet his eyes. “and from your vision.” Finally, their eyes locked.
“You will create me, in the likeness of him. He will become a creature that cannot go without your loving.” He whispers, so soft and gentle his words could have been easily taken away by the wind if she blew too harshly across the mountain tops.
Zhongli squeezed those smaller hands between his, they were warm in his, giving Ajax a sense of realness. He was real, bleeding and loving in front of his eyes, it did not make any sense to say that Zhongli created this very real and breathing, ethereal and beautiful creature from his desires.
“How can I make you in his likeness, when you are here before me? Would it make more sense to be making him from you?” Zhongli whispers back, bold to inch forward, drawn and attracted to those invitingly red bitten lips.
Ajax smiles, cheeky and cute as he leans away from Zhongli’s approach. “Truthfully, a child from the stars has no form. A star barely has a shape,” He pulls away, backing away from Zhongli as he feels his naked feet against the grassy hills below him. “This,” He gestures with his hands from the top of his head to his waist. “This image you are looking at, even I cannot see. It is merely the image you have given me.”
“I know not the colour of my hair, nor my eyes. That is all your doing.” I simply do not know what you’re falling in love with, he thought, but it went unsaid.
Zhongli does not move forward to chase him. Instead he stands there frozen, unmoving as he tries to wrap around the idea of Ajax. “That’s impossible.” He rejects. There was not a chance he could have created someone so beautiful. An artist that cannot recognise his masterpiece that had come to life, to give him a life. The way that he had given Ajax a figure, a face, and a heart to love him with.
Ajax looks frustrated with the way his brow is furrowing, mouth downturned. His hand grips his thin wrist that are behind his back, squeezing hard, frustrated. “Can you stop doing that?”
Zhongli is confused. He’s never been so for his whole life. He had been like a rock since the beginning, hard, knowing and stable . After meeting Ajax, he felt like he had been fit into a box and flung off a mountain to tumble on his own. “Stop…?”
“Stop rejecting the idea of me!” He angrily turns to face Zhongli. “Admit that you love me!” Childe shouts from across the grass to where Zhongli was, hurt blatant on his face, tears brimming his eyes. “All you have been doing tonight clearly showed me that you at least, in the littlest of ways, desire me.”
“Just say that you want me!” His shouts, his hands are balled up into fists. The mountains echoing his confession, the sound of trees rustling in the distance fill their silences, the cold air surrounding their passion heated bodies. He feels warm, as if the box he was tumbling in had fallen into an open flame. Any further than this, he fears he could be reduced to ashes. How could such a creature bewitch him in a night, setting his whole body ablaze.
“I love you.” Zhongli whispers, desperation seeping into his words as he feels so incredibly enraptured by this person. He feels his heart shatter when Childe’s tears drip onto his cheek, clinging onto his lashes.
“I love you so much.” He’s breathless. In a matter of seconds Ajax was in his arms, embracing him like he would never let him go. He feels the boy’s fist curl into the back of his shirt, clinging and creasing the fabric as he sobs openly into the nook of his shoulder. Zhongli shifts slightly, so he could turn to look at Ajax’s face. The boy remove himself from stuffing his face, his eyes rimmed red, wet with gathered tears.
Archons, he loves how expressive Ajax was.
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay. I want to be here,” Ajax cries, tears slipping down soft cheeks. Zhongli gathers his tear stained face in his hands, pressing the softest kiss he could muster onto his closed eyelids, before moving to press another upon his cheek, thumb moving to stroke over where his lips had just been.
“Don’t make the wish. Just be here with me.” He smiles fondly at those pouty lips. Ajax moves his head back into the crook of Zhongli’s neck where it meets his shoulder. He moves his arms to coddle Ajax closer to him.
Zhongli could barely get them through the door before Ajax was attacking his mouth. Smaller hands grab at his chin, forcing his head to tilt as Ajax slots their lips together in a searing kiss. He’s rough when expressing his desire in each bite to Zhongli’s bottom lip and licks into his mouth. Hands roam his body, aggressive about his desires and it translates into every kiss, tug of his hair and press of their bodies.
Ajax kisses him like he’s desperate, like he’s going to disappear if he does not grip onto Zhongli for his dear life. He hikes his leg onto Zhongli’s hip and he gladly takes it onto his larger hand, pulling the fairy closer as his hand grabs at soft thighs.
“Please show me you love me. Please, I want it to be only me.” Ajax whispers, eyes hazy with lust as his arms wrapped around Zhongli’s broad shoulders, their faces close together. Zhongli pressed his forehead against the other, so close they shared the same air. Soon they will share the same home, the same last name. Zhongli would give it all to him, if he asks of it.
“It’s only you.” Zhongli trails kisses down Ajax’s naked torso, his hands moving to stroke the smooth skin of his thighs. “It will only be you, I promise.”
Ajax gives him a half-hearted smile through his tears that seeped out.
That night they held each other as they slept. Ajax’s body was colder to the touch, he had never realised until they had been laying in bed together as his hand lazily stroked Zhongli’s hair in an attempt to lull him to sleep. His eyes are closed as he listens to Ajax’s steady breathing and feels the colder fingers touch his neck and begins to thread through his long hair again. Zhongli slips into his slumber unknowingly, leaving Ajax awake in that darkness.
In the morning the sigil is gone, marks of fingernails digging at the hardened wax in its place. Zhongli stared at it for a moment, but no logic to why it happened registers in his head. He looks around the room, and it is as if no one else but him had been there. But as he sits at his desk, a spike of inspiration had run through him. The words came easy, the ideas came easier, flowing through his mind straight to his pen.
For some reason, the matter of Ajax was left behind.
"I'm glad you've found yourself again, Zhongli." Ningguang says as she eyes the finished book, skimming over the words. It had been two months since she had last seen him, but in that short time he had contacted her about drafting and finishing another book. She was surprised, but it was not unwelcomed.
This day was the day Zhongli debuted his book to Liutians, and soon when the translations were done, he could tour Teyvat once again. “Both characters you had written this round are lovely. I mean, I’m alright with you killing off Guizhong–”
“Not Guizhong.” He interrupts her.
“In the first book, this dragon character gains humanity and learns to love so vibrantly from this blind human. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.” Ningguang closes the book and presses it to her chest, as if desiring to hug the two characters inside. “It’s as if you experienced it yourself.”
Zhongli is quiet at her accusation, which raises further suspicion in Ningguang.
“No way. Who did you–”
“No one. He is not real.” Zhongli’s heart feels like there is a hole so small, but just big enough to bleed out of. Yet bleeding was replaced with yearning, the desire to be with someone was so strong it leaked throughout his body. In those two months, bits and pieces of his memory would come back of this ginger haired boy that swept him off his feet in a night. Never being able to recall a name, he had been falling in love with a figure, writing the most vivid image of him into his books.
Ningguang doesn’t press any further. Instead she looks around at the Liutian’s gathered around the bookstore where his books were first debuting. “Well, I’m glad you took my advice and began writing again. I have always loved your stories, even back when we were kids.”
Zhongli kept his gaze down as Ningguang spoke to him, unable to meet her eyes. How was he going to tell her that he had fallen in love with a dream. Creating such an elaborate scenario in his head, such a detailed and vibrant creature from his imaginations that he too had started to desire for his own creation.
“Ah, is that Childe?” Her voice perked up upon sight of someone in the crowd, pushing the book she was holding onto Zhongli’s arms as she waved down the figure. “Childe!”
His gaze follows Ningguang’s body as she walks over to a tall male surrounded by two guards on his left and right. As the guards made way for Ningguang to pass, they revealed more of their master. The figure had tousled ginger hair and a slim frame. Zhongli’s eyes widened in horror, or perhaps it had been shock.
“Ajax?” Zhongli approaches his friend and the stranger. Childe’s eyes met his and he immediately knew those oceans, the storms, the passion behind the veils. The exact ones that were burned into his memory, repeated into his dreams and nightmares every night, afraid he would lose them if he stopped thinking of them.
“Ah,” The figure looks confused, but in an instance his eyes light up in recognition. “Zhongli, right? Ningguang has told me all about you.” Childe leans in to bump his hip against Ningguang’s, who loses her footing slightly, but quickly regains it to push him back. They both laugh together as Zhongli stands there in shock.
“I’m a benefactor of Ningguang’s. She had told me you released another book and I came for the launch of your latest novel.”
“Childe, you can barely read Liyuan.”
“I’ll make you read it to me.” The bright smile blinds him. Zhongli feels his heart leak the desire he had been bottling up. Ningguang is a liar. She said there would be five kinds of ways he would fall in love. He felt his heart clench when the ginger haired man smiled at him.
Then why is he still so captivated now?
Ajax digs his fingernails through hard wax that night, pulling out the golden sigil underneath the candle. Zhongli’s quiet breathing fills the room.
My queen has foretold that you would touch many hearts with your kind writing. She was right, the events of tonight will be held so dear to me even when I am gone.
I hope tonight inspired you enough to write about a second love.
And with my wish, please remember us.