Childe thought it would be just another day when he stepped outside to check his mail. He yawned as he shuffled over to the mailbox, idly shoving his hand in to see if there was anything new. He paused when his hand brushed against a thick piece of cardstock wedged in the back. Huh, he wasn’t expecting anything today. Thinking of it probably being a new assignment from the Tsaritsa, he unfolded the ink stained paper.
“Childe,” it was addressed in sloppy brushstrokes, “I requi need your assninstnce.” Childe struggled to read the writing with how cramped and shaky the letters were, like a toddler holding a crayon in their fist while trying to write in cursive. It took him a few passes of “ assninstnce ” to realize it was supposed to read “ assistance”. Dumbfounded, he looked to what he figured to be the signature near the bottom. It was just a scribble and a splash of ink on the paper, though with the varying lengths of letters, he could decipher the beginning letter as a “Z” and there being an “l” or a “t” near the end.
“Z… L… Zhongli?” Childe narrowed his eyes, flipping the card over. Nothing but a few more splatters of ink. With another scan of the signature, he came to the conclusion that it must be signed by the ex-archon himself; there was nobody else that would have a similar looking name and know where he lived.
But why was the letter written like that?
Scratching his head, Childe headed back inside with the card clutched in his hand. He tried to think of any scenarios where Zhongli would have written a short letter with such awful handwriting. The other letters he had sent him– all saved in a special box in his nightstand, of course– were all very meticulous, beautifully written and on the most pristine stationery possible. He had no idea when this was sent, either; it had been over a week since he last saw Zhongli.
Then, it dawned on him. What if Zhongli was in trouble?
Face flushing, Childe strode to his room and quickly dressed to go out. It was the only thing that made sense– the messiness was more than just from being in a rush. He must have been limited for time or movement or something– what if this was his only chance at a cry for help? Jaw clenched, Childe threw on his red scarf and burst out of his house, only stopping to make sure the door was locked. He all but ran towards Zhongli’s house, located on the other side of the Harbour, mind racing with possibilities of what could be wrong.
Finally, he arrived at Zhongli’s doorstep. The entrance to his house was wide open, to his dismay. “Zhongli xiansheng!” Childe called, running inside. Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he quickly checked every room, shouting Zhongli’s name out of pure panic.
“I am here, Childe.” After too long, Childe finally heard the smooth, deep voice of Zhongli coming from the bedroom. Not wasting any time, he whirled around and darted towards the bedroom, slamming the door wide open.
He was not prepared for what he saw.
Childe’s mouth hung open involuntarily, brow furrowed. “...Zhongli xiansheng?” he asked, hesitantly.
“Yes,” said… something. Childe could only describe what he was looking at as a very rotund brown blob with golden horns and a tail. It resembled Rex Lapis’ Exuvia, somehow– no, it looked like a children’s toy that he saw on the Liyue streets the other day, one that was meant to be a huggable version of Rex Lapis’ Exuvia.
“Is, uh.” Childe’s mouth went dry. “Is that you, Zhongli xiansheng?”
“Indeed, it is,” Zhongli spoke, lifting a very small paw to rub at his snoot. The deep voice in contrast with such a cute appearance was very jarring, an unsettling wave of confusion short circuiting Childe’s brain. As the harbinger stood at his bedroom door without a sound, Zhongli shuffled forward to the edge of the bed, his face turned up to meet his eyes. “Thank you for coming. I was having trouble getting my daily tasks completed in this form,” he continued, settling his round body comfortably in his new sitting position. One could not even tell where his head stopped and when his body began.
Archons, Childe wanted to poke him.
Suppressing that thought, Childe took a few steps into the bedroom. “Mind, uh… telling me why you look like this?”
Zhongli’s beady golden eyes narrowed, eying Childe’s form. “I certainly will, once you remove your shoes while inside my abode.”
Oops. “Sorry, I forgot–” Childe stooped down immediately to pull his boots off. He set them down by the door.
“You should know better by now, Childe.” He could tell that Zhongli was frowning deeply at him– less from the expression and more from the overwhelming aura of disappointment. Not that it was his fault forgetting how important certain Liyuean customs were, he was worried that Zhongli was in trouble! To satisfy him, Childe stepped out of the room and placed his boots by the entrance, returning back to the bedroom right after.
“Sorry, xiansheng,” Childe repeated, feeling the slightest bit guilty.
Zhongli waved his paw, easing his nerves. “No harm done. Now, I have a number of tasks I must perform today…”
Before Childe could cut in to ask again why he looked like a pudgy puppy of a dragon, Zhongli listed off the various errands he had to do in and out of the house. Scrambling to make sure he caught everything, he dug around for the back of a sales invoice and a pencil to write down each task.
“Alright… let me read this back to you, xiansheng.” Childe cleared his throat. “You need to dust your house, shine your Mora collection, shop for groceries, drop off paperwork for Hu Tao, and cook dinner.” It was a lot to accomplish in one day, but at least Childe made it over to Zhongli’s place before noon.
“Mm. This will be enough to complete for today.” Zhongli toddled over closer to the edge of the bed, rearing back, his tail wagging in the air. He leapt off the bed and landed on the floor with a soft thump and all the grace of a fat cat. Childe hoped this wasn’t a dream.
Zhongli traversed the floor with a much faster speed than Childe expected. He was led to the kitchen, taking mental note of all the places that needed to be dusted. “The duster is in the closet by the entrance. I will wait here.” With that, Zhongli faced a chair at the kitchen table and began to clamber up the legs, heaving his plush body onto the cushion. He grunted, straining to wriggle up on the chair altogether, his short legs and tail flailing in attempts to push himself up.
This was too much. Childe gently picked him up from under his belly and placed him on the table. Disgruntled, Zhongli let out a snuffle as he readjusted himself.
“Thank you, Childe.” Zhongli knelt down into a sitting position, limbs tucked underneath him like a loaf of bread. Though with how small his limbs were, it looked nearly the same as if he were standing. While the little dragon got comfy, Childe shuffled off to locate the duster.
The apartment wasn’t as dusty as he thought, but he figured that Zhongli was the sort of person to dust at least thrice a week. Careful not to knock anything off the shelves, Childe swept the duster over the various furniture and knick knacks that complemented the otherwise simplistic decor.
“Childe.” Glancing over upon hearing his name, Childe noticed that Zhongli had perched himself onto his hind legs. “My Mora collection is on that shelf. Third one up, all the way to the right. Would you be able to bring it here?”
Childe picked up a heavy looking chest, turning and holding it out in Zhongli’s view. “This it?”
“Yes, it is.” Zhongli wobbled a bit on his squishy hind legs as he sat back down, resting on his tummy. Childe brought the chest over, setting it gently on the table. After a quick glance at Zhongli’s little paws, he opened the chest too, letting it sit ajar.
As this was one of Zhongli’s routine chores, there was already a shining cloth, a dish, and a small jar of fluid inside. Pieces of Mora from every millennia that Zhongli had been alive sat inside the velvety interior of the chest, sporting slightly different designs from over the centuries. The oldest ones were identifiable with how scuffed they were compared to the others, but Zhongli must have been very diligent with his cleaning if the oldest pieces of Mora were as shiny as the others.
It brought Childe back to the stories he heard when he was a young boy, of dragons that hoarded gold. Now that he was watching Zhongli clamber over to the chest and pull the pieces of Mora out like they were the most precious things in the world to him, he could see the resemblance.
He had seen Zhongli clean his collection before, so Childe knew what preparation was needed– a quick shake of the cloth to ensure there was no dust on it, and filling the dish with the contents of the jar. He set them both in front of Zhongli. “Here you are, xiansheng. I’ll dust in the meantime.”
Leaving Zhongli to shine his own Mora, Childe made his way through the other rooms of the house, ensuring that every surface was clean. While returning the duster, he even thought to sweep all the floors while he was at it– partially as an apology for treading inside with his boots on. It didn’t take him very much time, and before long Childe was returning to the dining room where he saw Zhongli seated on top of a glittery, golden pile.
“Ah… xiansheng?” Childe had to keep himself from laughing as he watched the ever dignified ex-archon of Liyue contentedly chew on a piece of Mora while he lounged atop a rather small pile of it. Zhongli quickly dropped the coin in surprise. He cleared his throat, and Childe decided against pointing out the tiny teeth marks now on the coin.
“You’re finished, thank you.” Rolling off the pile of Mora, Zhongli picked up the abandoned shining cloth. “I believe I can finish this on my own here; in the meantime, you may head out to complete the tasks outside.” Zhongli’s paw scrabbled to pick up a coin as he spoke.
Childe pulled out his notes from his pocket. “Okay, so… from the market, you need boar, bamboo shoots, carrots…” He read off the modest list of ingredients, watching Zhongli bob his little head slowly as he went down.
“Indeed. The paperwork for the director is on my desk.” Zhongli’s tail lifted from the table and gestured towards the location of his study.
“Alright! I’ll be back in a few hours, then.” His notes in his pocket and the documents filed carefully into a leather case, Childe was on his way.
Now that he was safely out of sight of Zhongli, the goofiest grin made its way onto his face. Gods , Zhongli’s chubby dragon form was so cute, he just wanted to pinch his cheeks and rub his belly! Thoughts of the consultant already plagued Childe whenever they could– especially after a drunken night together gone haywire, cough – and now the poor man had to deal with the sight of the otherwise stoic, well put together man bumble about as a mascot-shaped draconic blob. He never understood the idea of “dying from cute” until today.
The grocery store trip was rather uneventful, aside from the strained smile from the sales clerk. Childe gave them a sunny smile of his own, remembering why he always tried to do his shopping and friendly interaction around Liyue with either the traveler or Zhongli in tow; you know, people that are well trusted around here. He sighed quietly to himself, trying not to let it get to him. Next time, he was sure Zhongli would be able to come along.
At the very least, the trip to the Funeral Parlour was short. Familiar enough with the place, he exchanged pleasantries with the Ferrylady as he entered the building.
“Director Hu Tao!” Childe called, placing the briefcase on a counter. There was a crash of ceramic coming from one of the backrooms, accompanied by the sound of quickly approaching footsteps.
Her hat barely sitting on her head, Hu Tao darted into the lobby area, skidding to a stop just before Childe. “Oh! It’s you,” she said. “Finally here to redeem that 2 for 1 I gave you?”
“Nah, I’m good. Thanks for remembering though,” Childe said, waving a hand.
Hu Tao puffed her cheeks. “Awww. No suicide pacts awaiting you?”
If anything, Director Hu Tao was a shrewd businesswoman… probably. “Not on my schedule, no.” Childe made a show of thinking about it first, as if it was ever something to consider. “Anyway, I have something from Zhongli.” Opening the briefcase, he pulled out the documents and handed them over to her.
“Thanks! Geez, he’s late with this. Is he feeling any better?” Hu Tao asked while inspecting the documents at hand.
Ah. Childe wasn’t sure if Hu Tao knew what… or more importantly, who Zhongli was. If he gave off the idea that he was sick, he probably should roll with it. “No, he’s still pretty unwell. I’m just doing his chores today,” Childe replied, hoping that the vagueness would be enough.
Hu Tao put a hand on her hip, a rare frown on her face with concern. “Aiya… He’s been sick for a week now. I’ve never seen him get sick before.” The worry on her face quickly melded into a shit eating grin. “I mean, ‘s been a while since I saw your mug in here, so maybe he’s just lonely.”
A pink flush dusted Childe’s cheeks and ears. “I don’t think Zhongli xiansheng gets lonely,” he countered, though the thought of him getting lonely without him did wonders to the already erratic feeling in his heart. At the same time, Hu Tao always acted like she knew something they didn’t, giving them both a knowing look whenever they were together, whatever that meant. Sure, his feelings were probably one sided, she didn’t need to rub it in!
“Who knows,” was all Hu Tao said in reply. “Now, shoo, unless you’re a customer.”
The conversation over, Childe exited the Funeral Parlour feeling somewhat conflicted. He headed back to Zhongli’s place quickly so the meat would not go bad. Once he entered the place (and took his shoes off at the door this time), he quickly found that Zhongli was fast asleep atop his pile of Mora, though the pieces were notably shinier than before. Childe let out a quiet chuckle, striding past the dining room to put the ingredients in the icebox.
He supposed he could just get dinner cooking while he was asleep– the only thing was he was never told what to make for dinner. Idly, Childe opened the cupboards and the icebox to see what sorts of ingredients he had to work with.
“...Mm, lots of stewing ingredients,” Childe hummed, plucking some carrots and potatoes out of the small pantry. If Zhongli really was feeling ill, he supposed he could make some comforting sick food. He recalled how there was a rice based dish commonly made for breakfast that was also suitable for sore throats and colds– “congee”, he remembered. He also had the ingredients to make a decent zharkoye– a Snezhnayan braised meat and potato stew. One dish to soothe his illness, and a hearty one to fill his belly. With an apron firmly tied around his waist, Childe was ready to cook.
An hour or so passed by the time dinner was served. He had to admit, the congee looked a little strange alongside the zharkoye, but it all looked rather tasty regardless. Having only eaten congee a few times, Childe replicated the ingredients that were in congee the last time he had it, resulting in the traditional combination of ginger, spring onion, shredded boar meat. Last time he saw Zhongli eat it, he recalled there being a dark, jelly-like egg with a greenish black yolk– with a little digging around, he was able to find one in the cooler and cut it up. The “egg” was very interesting to him, and though he was intimidated by its look, smell, and texture, a little nibble of a slice intrigued him enough to toss a few chunks of it into his own bowl. The zharkoye stayed in the pot on the stove, letting it stew longer.
With dinner served on the table, all that was left was to wake Zhongli up. Childe crept over to the sleeping dragon and gently nudged him on the back. “Hey. Dinner’s ready,” he said softly.
Zhongli opened an eye and began to shift about, reaching back with his head to rub his cheek against Childe’s hand. The harbinger chuckled and continued to pet him, unable to stop himself. He let go for a moment, eliciting a quiet whine from Zhongli, and slid the bowl of congee over closer to the dragon.
“What did you make?” Zhongli asked, his voice uncharacteristically sleepy.
“Congee. I think I got the ingredients right,” Childe replied, placing a spoon next to the bowl. Slowly, Zhongli pushed himself up until he was sitting neatly on his butt, his legs and tail the only things keeping him from toppling over again. He picked up the spoon with both paws, carefully scooped up some congee, and lifted it to his mouth.
“Mm.” The praise was less in the sound of content and more in the little wags of his tail, quiet thumps on the table. Zhongli took another bite, savouring the taste before speaking again. “I am impressed, Childe.”
“Is it good? I’ve never made it before,” Childe dug into his bowl in the meantime, grabbing a spoonful with the egg first. He was surprised at how comforting he managed to make it, considering his lack of experience. The rice was cooked down just enough that it resembled a porridge over a soup, the ginger and spring onion were added in the perfect quantities to flavour the congee without overpowering it, the boar meat was not so cooked that it was chewy. Even the egg’s texture was delightful once it had been warmed through by the congee.
“Being your first time making this dish, I am surprised you remembered the ingredients, even down to the pidan.” Zhongli scooped up a chunk of the glassy looking egg white and delicately placed it in his tiny mouth.
“‘S that what it’s called? Pidan?” Childe asked, clumsily pronouncing the unfamiliar word.
“Yes, also known as “century egg”. It is a preserved duck egg. Many that aren’t from Liyue do not find it appetizing,” Zhongli explained. He continued on, discussing a brief history of how they were first created, how they don’t spoil in the preparation process, how it turned the colour it did, giving Childe plenty of time to finish his bowl.
Honestly, he could listen to Zhongli forever. After watching Zhongli struggle to consistently turn the spoon around towards his mouth, Childe picked it up for him and began to feed him spoonfuls of congee between bits of history.
Before long, both had eaten enough helpings of congee to empty the pot. Zhongli tasked himself with putting his Mora away, his already large belly noticeably rounder. Childe stored the zharkoye for another day, hoping that it would still taste good reheated.
“Alright, xiansheng, I should head home,” Childe announced once the dishes were all cleaned. Zhongli hesitated slightly in looking up to him.
“Ah, I suppose you must,” he said in response. For some reason, the cute appearance made his crestfallen expression incredibly hard to ignore.
...Childe didn’t need to leave, did he? He could try and stick around until Zhongli was back in his human form– and to find out why this happened in the first place.
Sure, he may get called for work, but he could afford to take a few days off altogether, couldn’t he? Especially if Zhongli was sick. His mind made up rather quickly, Childe gave a reassuring smile to the other. “Well, I don’t have to . I can stay here if you’d like, I’d just need to borrow some pajamas.”
Zhongli’s ears perked up. “Yes, I do have some spares– would you please bring me to the bedroom?”
After a quick change and improvised washing up, Childe laid back in Zhongli’s bed, trying not to remember the last time he was here. Zhongli curled up on the pillow next to him, his tail tucked towards his head.
“Mm… g’night,” Childe said, yawning. He looked over to the plump, round shape of Zhongli’s small dragon form and an idea popped into his head. An idea that had been on his mind the entire day.
He decided to go for it.
“Hey… actually, is it okay if I, like…” Childe tried to hide the tiny gulp in his throat as he hesitated, “Like… hold you? You, uh… seem like a good size to hug. I usually have a pillow back home.”
Zhongli glanced up, seemingly pondering this proposition. Childe readied himself to take back what he was asking, so prepared to get rejected when the dragon crawled over from his spot on the pillow and slipped into Childe’s waiting arms. His body was nice and warm to hold, squishy but firm enough to hug. Zhongli rested his head against Childe’s chest, a bit too close to his rapidly quickening heartbeat– not like he could do anything about it.
“Goodnight, Childe,” Zhongli said softly, seconds away from sleep. His deep voice rumbled from his tiny form against Childe’s chest. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Goodnight, Zhongli,” he said back, closing his eyes and drifting off to a calm and peaceful sleep.
The next morning, Childe felt incredibly crowded in the bed for whatever reason. There was no small lump anymore, just a mess of limbs, more than there should have been. Upon cracking open his eyes, he was greeted with an even more confusing sight.
The chunky little Rex Lapis was gone. In his place was a very large man– from the look of it, at least 8 feet tall– stark naked. Black and gold markings covered his body from head to toe, with glowing yellow extremities and black shoulders and thighs in a sort of gradient. Darker gold shapes decorated his neck, chest, belly. The tail was still there, much larger and longer now with scales that glowed faintly. Scales coated his body in patches along his limbs and on his face. Golden horns emerged from his head, swept back alongside black and glowing bronze hair.
Childe shifted as he finished taking in what was now holding him very tightly. He felt something hard against his hip– no, two hard things.
It was definitely an in-between of the Zhongli he knew and Rex Lapis that was still sound asleep. It was most certainly the man he has grown to care for over time that was also now subtly grinding his cock… cocks… against Childe’s belly. He gasped with its warmth, feeling something smearing across his skin as Zhongli moved.
There really was only one way out of this. Taking a deep breath, Childe nudged Zhongli’s shoulder to wake him up.