There is a very common misconception, but in reality, Gods are not eternal. Nothing in existence is truly eternal after all, everything and everyone is bound to end at some point.
That is the absolute truth of this world.
So, when the Tsaritsa, still a young Archon back then, her love still untouched and unbroken, had looked at Morax and asked; “Do you think of yourself as eternal?” His immediate response had been to frown, perplexed, at her.
“I do not,” Morax had answered, tilting his head, expression shifting to mild concern. “You mustn’t indulge Baal’s ideas too much.”
The Tsaritsa laughed, her smiles as rare as they were always sincere, beautiful and radiant. “She is an interesting one.”
Morax shook his head. “Regardless,” he had said. “I am not eternal, nor do I seek such things. I too shall cease to exist in my time.”
“Would you? It is quite difficult to believe anyone will best you as old and as powerful as you are.” She stated, almost absently, as she knelt next to a shallow body of water to pick up a small restless Cryo Slime. The creature, as if sensing the energy of its God, stilled in her hold. “Would you give up your Godhood, Morax?”
Morax had paused to consider that for a minute, in all truthfulness, he had always envisioned himself to erode away as the Geo Archon, carrying his duties until the end.
“It is true that a few Archons had opted to willingly give up their status, but all of them did only because they had found a purpose in doing so.”
“So, what you lack is a motive?”
“Perhaps,” he had answered, even if the concept was only an oversimplification of all the layers behind what could fundamentally be considered a rebirth for them.
The Tsaritsa let the Slime return to the water, looking even bigger now and turned back to Morax, a pensive expression illuminating her face.
“Then I hope you as well can find a purpose to live your life and meet its end on your own terms.”
Morax had not understood the true meaning behind that phrase, not until hundreds of years later, on a drizzly day, when he overheard the spoken words of a merchant as if directed at him.
“You’ve finished with your duties, go ahead and call it a day.”
That shook him, unexpectedly and suddenly. He found himself beyond all, severely exhausted of the never-ending burden he had placed on his shoulders over three thousand years ago. Had the end of his time as Rex Lapis not come yet? Would it ever come?
"Have I... already finished my duties?"
Zhongli receives a letter weeks later after he had agreed to the terms of the Tsaritsa’s contract. A Tsaritsa much different from the one who had once, many decades ago, visited Morax in Jueyun Karst, a colder and more ruthless Tsaritsa but one who deep down still cared.
He pauses, brows knitting upon reading the last part of the letter, feeling slightly as if the Tsaritsa herself was poking fun at him.
I will be delivering my youngest Harbinger to you soon, please take good care of Tartaglia for me. He can be immature and reckless but shows a lot of promise. I would prefer it if you refrained from telling him your true identity, as I plan to use this opportunity to test him.
Her Imperial Majesty the Tsaritsa.
The Eleventh Harbinger, Tartaglia. He is a fairly new addition to the Tsaritsa’s personal force all things considered, and the only reason Zhongli can even recall the name is because he has acquired quite the infamous reputation as the Harbinger’s Vanguard who loves battle and bloodshed and unlike the other Harbingers doesn’t mind basking on the spotlight so as long as he can rip through her Imperial Majesty’s enemies.
He is the Tsarita’s perfect weapon, brutal, vicious, and efficient.
Zhongli wonders now if perhaps he had been mistaken by the notion that the Tsaritsa found him somewhat still likable if she was sending the one who was essentially her problem child to him. Never mind the fact that Tartaglia is apparently more than the perfect fit for the role he is supposed to play in Zhongli’s plan.
He carefully folds the letter, he will need to send a response at a later time, but the Tsaritsa is acting her part as per their contract, and as such Zhongli should not bewail her choice of help, he has no reason to doubt that she, as much as himself, has only the best intentions to see the contract through.
The first time he sees Tartaglia is not the first time he meets him.
Zhongli is walking by the Feiyun Slope stairs, when he looks up and stops, just in front of the Liuli Pavilion. Tartaglia, because the man sauntering down the street across from him can be no other than the Eleventh Harbinger, not only because he looks notoriously foreign and considerably out of place, but there is the blatant Fatui mask carelessly laying sideways a top his bright hair, he looks young. Far younger than Zhongli had imagined him to be, even considering he was by all intents and purposes the youngest of the Harbingers.
He deliberately looks Tartaglia over, Zhongli can admit to finding him eye-catching but not overly so, and definitely not threatening in the slightest. It’s hard to believe this young man is the same Tartaglia so many people fear. This Tartaglia, who looks boyishly charming, almost.
The last glance Zhongli manages is at his Vision, an Hydro Vision. That is... unexpected, to say the least. Of all possible Visions that could have been granted to such a person, a Hydro one is indeed a rare occurrence. He can’t but question what exactly the God of Justice had seen in Tartaglia to make her consider giving him her blessing.
But no matter that, Tartaglia’s abrupt appearance only a couple of months after Zhongli had sent his last letter to the Tsaritsa seems to signal all their planning is starting to be put into motion now.
Zhongli turns fully around, looking at Tartaglia’s back eventually disappear as he takes the steps towards the Northland Bank. He glances at his city and all the people in it, this city he had built with his own hands and feels something akin to nostalgia. It’s come a long way under his care.
But like a daughter who eventually grows old enough to become independent of their parents, it is time too for Liyue and all its people to carry on by themselves without Zhongli’s guidance.
Tartaglia introduces himself the very next day. Zhongli isn’t expecting to meet him so soon, having figured the Harbinger had arrived just yesterday, so when the Ferrylady approaches him, a bewildered look on her face, to inform Zhongli a guest is looking for him, he had merely assumed it was likely to be a client.
“Hello, you must be the famous Mister Zhongli.” It’s what Tartaglia starts with, a cheeky smile that doesn’t reach the dullness of his blue eyes. “I’m Childe, pleased to meet you sir.”
“...Childe?” Zhongli blinks, confused. “I was under the impression the Eleventh Harbinger was the one visiting.”
That gets a laugh out of Childe, he lifts a hand to hide half his face in what appears to be embarrassment. “I am the Eleventh, Tartaglia.” He laughs again, the sound of it airy and pleasing. “It’s sort of an official title so it would be a little weird if you have to call me that all the time, considering you are not even part of the Fatui you know.”
“Ah, I see.” Zhongli nods in understanding.
“So, you can call me Childe if that’s alright with you sir.”
“Of course,” Zhongli tells him. This close, Zhongli can take in more details about Childe. He speaks considerably more polite than Zhongli would have expected, but the energetic tone of his voice betrays just how young he really is.
He is also taller than Zhongli noticed the first time he saw him, still about half a head shorter than him but then again Zhongli is used to towering over most people so that’s already pretty exceptional. When Zhongli lowers his eyes to where he remembers the Vision is supposed to be he is met with stark pale, exposed skin, which he had not observed before.
Well, that is.... something, indeed.
He can even see a small, and more likely old white scar across Childe’s abdomen. Which, if he goes dressed like this everywhere it’s no wonder, Zhongli can’t imagine that it is that practical for him to leave his stomach so easily exposed, especially because he highly doubts Childe can shield himself using his Hydro.
“—ister Zhongli? Sir?”
Zhongli startles, glancing back at Childe who is looking at him with a slight scowl on his face, head tilted. “Yes?”
“Uh, I— I was saying that Ekaterina booked me a launch in this place, the Liuli Pavilion?” That gets Zhongli attention immediately, and Childe seems to take notice of it because his expression relaxes and he chuckles again, before continuing, “would you like you to accompany me, sir?”
“It would be my pressure,” Zhongli answers, meaning it. “If you allow me just a moment, I must inform someone I will be leaving.”
“Sure, sure! I’ll be waiting right here!” Childe waves at him as Zhongli thanks him, a merry smile back on his face.
Zhongli excuses himself once more, before disappearing inside the Parlor looking for the Ferrylady.
They walk the short distance from the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor with Zhongli signaling each of the places on the way and responding to every inquiry Childe throws his way. As expected, he is completely unfamiliar with the city and the culture but he does appear to be making a genuine effort to learn about it.
“Well, it looks like I will be staying in Liyue for a while so I guess I should better learn how things work around here, right?” Childe says after Zhongli points this out.
“Very commendable,” Zhongli tells him “It is the smart thing to do.”
Childe huffs an embarrassed laugh at that, his cheeks turning a light red. “Hardly anything deserving of praise. It’s just what anyone would do.”
Zhongli shakes his head. “You would be surprised. Not all visitors care enough to learn about our culture, regardless of how long their stay here might be.”
“That’s a real shame.” Childe says, looking around. “This city is bursting with life and colors. And their love for their Archon.”
“Is it much different from Snezhnaya?”
“Certainly, less cold,” Childe jokes. “The atmosphere is distinctly different, but all the activity, people coming and going, is very similar.”
“I see,” Zhongli hums. “I would certainly like to visit sometime, if I’m able.”
“Want me to take you there as a thank you?” Childe offers, grinning. “You will be my guide during my time here, is the least I can do.”
Zhongli lifts an eyebrow at the unexpected proposal, he suspects Childe won’t be all that interested in taking Zhongli back with him once everything is said and done but he still finds himself smiling, grateful for the offering.
“Thank you, I would appreciate that.”
Childe’s eyes go wide, for just a second, before he bursts out laughing. This time much louder and unrestrained than any of the times before.
“You are a fascinating one huh? Mister Zhongli.” Childe manages to choke out in between giggles.
Zhongli isn’t sure what he means by that, but they have finally arrived at Liuli Pavilion so he stops, motioning to the large building in front of them.
“We are here.”
“Ah, nice! I’m excited to taste the famous Liyue’s food.”
“Liuli Pavilion is the leading establishment for Li-style cuisine, I am certain you will find it to be satisfying,” Zhongli explains, leading them inside.
“If Mister Zhongli approves it then I have no reason to worry,” Childe says, looking around the establishment, a wide smile on his lips.
That gets a fond laugh out of Zhongli. Childe is, surprisingly, very endearing and pleasant. Zhongli finds himself looking forward not only to the meal but to spending more time with him as well.
Zhongli orders a plate of everything in the menu much to the shock of the waiter who thanks them profoundly before heading out. Zhongli thinks he might be trembling a little.
They make easy conversation while they wait for the food. Zhongli finds himself retelling the origins of Li and Yue style cuisine to an impressively engrossed Childe, who seems to find it interesting even hearing the many variations of Chilli that gave birth to the current genus of Jueyun Chilli. Zhongli is aware that he tends to go in... tangents, when he starts talking about many of the topics he feels passionate about, and he is fairly used to people zoning out at some point or politely pretending they are listening, so having someone who appears so truthfully absorbed is certainly unusual but treasured nonetheless.
“Wow, this looks and smells amazing!” Childe exclaims, once their table is full, eyes trailing over every one of the different dishes.
Zhongli chuckles, waving the hand currently holding his chopsticks. “Please, do eat.”
Childe nods and then he extends a hand and freezes, staring confusedly at the table.
“What is it?” Zhongli asks, looking for anything that might be amiss with the food.
Childe shakes his head, a faint blush painting his pale face. “I—I don’t think I know how to use... uh, chopsticks?”
“Ah. Of course, you don’t,” Zhongli says, understandingly.
Childe laughs under his breath, reaching for the chopsticks sitting right in front of him. His hold on them is positively hopeless, obviously completely at a loss.
“Allow me,” Zhongli tells him, putting down his own pair before leaning over to adjust Childe’s grip with his hands.
The moment Zhongli touches the bare skin of Childe’s forearm he feels the muscle tense under his fingers. He pauses, waiting to see if Childe will slap him away. Perhaps, he ponders, it could be that the Harbinger does not enjoy physical touch from people he is still unfamiliar with. But after a couple of seconds where Childe just stays still, his breathing coming just the slightest bit hurried, Zhongli moves his touch, gently, over the marred skin up to his wrist, adjusting the angle of the other’s hand. Childe shivers almost imperceptibly.
“You need to hold it just like this,” Zhongli instructs, patiently correcting Childe’s fingers on the chopsticks. “The lower one stays here, like this—” he shifts Childe’s thump properly. “And then you move this one to hold your food,” Zhongli mimics the movements, using Childe’s fingers holding the chopsticks and guiding his hand to take a piece of meat and then he brings it back to Childe who opens his lips obediently for it.
Zhongli nods, letting go of Childe’s hand, careful to not dislocate the grip of his hand and leans back into his seat.
“It will take some practice but once you understand the basics it will get easier for you.”
“Y-yeah, uh— T-thanks, sir.” Childe coughs, his face a deep shade of scarlet now. Zhongli frowns, looking down at the pork, he doesn’t think that specific dish should be spicy.
He reaches for his own chopsticks, taking a bite of the same meat and finds it to be just as delicious as it should be.
“Is something the matter?” He asks Childe, just as the other is drinking a glass of water. Childe jumps, heaves, and coughs some more. Without thinking Zhongli moves to, worriedly, place a hand over his back and Childe gasps, almost dropping the glass. “Master Childe?”
“I’m fine! Good!” Childe manages, voice rising vaguely higher than usual. “Just peachy, Mister Zhongli.”
Childe groans and then, as if in some type of pain, snickers, the sound of it almost uncontrolled and strained. “It’s really good. The food.”
Zhongli scowls, unsure and feeling rather like he is missing some sort of cue, but Childe moves his hand to shakily take another piece of ham, so he lets it go.
“Very well,” Zhongli acquiesces. “I’m glad to hear the food is to your liking.”
“Oh, it is. For sure it is.” Childe laughs, chewing on a new piece of meat.
They don’t actually part ways until much, much later in the day. Zhongli takes Childe around the city after they (Childe) paid for their meal, leaving a considerable tip for the great service and food alike.
“So, Mister Zhongli, what do you usually do to entertain yourself around here?” Childe asks, as they walk the North Wharf, one hand holding the Grilled Tiger Fish he bought from Chen the Sharp and the other arm holding several bags and items, most of them Zhongli’s.
Zhongli thinks that over, truthfully he can’t go into much detail since he is supposed to keep his identity a secret so he can’t tell Childe how he has seen all of Liyue several times in several forms already, has had a hand on creating most of what’s around them, but that being able to walk the streets and perceive the small changes people have made over the years has always brought him some sort of comfort.
“Aside from the usual restaurants, I like to visit the Wanwen Bookhouse,” Zhongli says, instead. “And there is the Opera House as well.”
“Oh! We should go there sometime, what do you say?”
“Of course,” Zhongli agrees. “I will look for when one of the best performances will be shown.”
“Best performances huh— oh! What’s that?”
Zhongli looks over to where Childe is walking closer to a display of shiny Starconches, eyes bright and excited, Zhongli feels himself go soft at the sight of him, so juvenile.
“Those are Starconches, empty seashells brought ashore by the tides of the Liyue’s sea. You are likely to find a few of them if you walk around the beaches,” Zhongli says. He picks one up and holds it close to Childe’s ear. “Can you hear the longing calls of the sea?”
Childe looks at him with wide eyes, as blue and as dark as the deep waters of the sea, and probably just as dangerous. After just a moment, though, he closes them, a small scowl in his face as he concentrates and really listens.
“I do...” he says, sounding in awe, an unguarded, sincere smile curving on his lips.
He has dimples, Zhongli observes, smiling back at him, he turns to the salesman.
“We will take one of these, please.”
Childe comes by the next day, and the next and the next. Soon Zhongli discovers they have fallen into a sort of pattern, a routine.
No one at the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor bats an eye when Zhongli leaves midafternoon anymore, not even Hu Tao who had teased him infinitely for the first couple of weeks. Although Zhongli still doesn’t see what was so entertaining about him assisting Childe to become more familiar with the city.
He takes Childe around Liyue Harbor, takes him to every restaurant and together they eat all the possible variations of food available. Zhongli, even after so many years, is surprised to find newly created dishes even he hadn’t tried before. They drop by every single establishment in the city and somehow Zhongli ends up acquiring way more jewelry and clothes than he probably should, especially considering how his new place of residence isn’t nearly as spacious as his former one.
They do in fact visit the Opera House, several times, as well as the Wanwen Bookhouse where Zhongli procures even more books for his own personal collection.
Childe pays for everything. Zhongli doesn’t really take notice of this particular aspect of their interactions until one afternoon when he is strolling down the Harbor by himself and stops to look at a masterfully crafted vase made from Jade, only to have the salesman gratuitously offer the price of the object to him. The realization that he hadn’t needed to worry about Mora ever since his meeting with the Harbinger comes as a shock. The expenses of all the items Zhongli has attained for the past several weeks have all been single-handedly shouldered by Childe alone.
Zhongli mentions this to Childe later that afternoon while they are walking down the Yujing Terrace, still feeling somewhat baffled by the revelation. Childe’s reaction is even more disconcerting. Zhongli stops, staring at Childe doubling down and shaking, almost violently, with laughter. Like this, eyes squeezed closed, and face flushed red, laughter spilling out of his mouth freely he looks almost harmless, almost like anyone else.
“I was wondering if you were ever going to realize—” Childe mumbles, still giggling, when he opens his eyes again the muted blue of them is a sharp contrast to the relaxed, joyful expression on his face. “You are a bit slow, aren’t you Mister Zhongli?”
Zhongli frowns at the statement, lips curving unhappily. “I apologize if it appeared as if I was deliberately taking advantage of your kindness, that was never my intention.”
Childe chuckles. “It’s okay, Professor,” he assures, waving a hand in a dismissive manner.
Zhongli scoffs, shaking his head. “Be that as it may, I shall pay back your generosity.”
Childe chuckles again although calmer now. “Pardon me for saying this Mister Zhongli, but how do you plan to do that?” He asks, smile soft and indulgent. “Do you even have any Mora on you right now? Actually, do you ever carry Mora with you at all?”
Zhongli could feel his face heating up at the statement, there is an answer to that question, and he is sure it is exactly the same one Childe had already predicted. It is rather embarrassing.
“Thought so,” Childe says, grinning, deep dimples in both cheeks, with the smugness of someone proven right. “It really is alright. I figured I should pay you back somehow since I have been taking so much of your time anyway.”
“There is no need for any kind of payment. I enjoy your company,” Zhongli tells him, and finds that he means it. He really does enjoy Childe’s presence.
Childe makes a curious noise, and the next thing Zhongli sees is Childe’s form crouching down, his face firmly placed against the palm of his hands. The tips of his ears burn a deep red.
“Is something the matter?” Zhongli asks, he bends forward, gently laying a hand over Childe’s hair to make him tip his head back. All Childe does is groan painfully, face still hiding behind his gloved fingers.
He tries to recall if Childe ate anything strange that could be making him sick now but before he can get too far with that line of thought he feels a hand close around his wrist and he glances down to find Childe looking at him with a strained smile on his very flushed face.
“I’m fine,” he assures. But examining the weary expression on his face Zhongli highly doubts that. “I really am fine, Professor.”
“If you are feeling unwell, we can—”
“No!” Childe cuts, sounding nearly desperate. “I’m okay, I promise I am!”
Zhonglil hums, uncertain. He moves his hand, still resting on Childe’s hair, towards his nape so he can cup the back of his head and then he quickly leans in, carefully pressing his forehead against Childe’s.
Childe whimpers, which only makes Zhongli scowl, worriedly. Thankfully his temperature is warm but not enough to be feverish. Zhongli pulls back slightly, still bending over Childe’s form to closely inspect him for any clues as to what could be wrong. Childe simply stays still, looking back at Zhongli with an agitated sharpness around his eyes and when Zhongli absently brushes the skin under them, trying to smooth away the tightness on his face, Childe flinches back, falling to the floor.
Zhongli startles, immediately reaching out for him but Childe holds his hands up, signaling him to wait so Zhongli does.
“You are— Professor, you. You can’t!” Childe snaps, voice loud and shrill.
Zhongli blinks, “I can’t?”
Childe sighs, body sagging heavily, he is sitting completely on the floor now. A few of the people passing by them are sending puzzled looks their way but Zhongli pays them no mind.
“Never mind,” Childe concludes, shaking his head tiredly. “Let’s go to the beach.”
The non-sequitur alone makes Zhongli do a double take, anxiety starting to surge at the pit of his stomach. “Pardon me? Childe, are you certain everything is alright?”
Childe barks a laugh. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he assures, standing up in a fluid motion. “I was just thinking it’s time I explore more of Liyue.”
Zhongli raises an eyebrow at that. “I do not mind. But why so abruptly?”
“Eh— I mean, I guess I know my way around the Harbor pretty well now— thanks to your great service, Professor,” he adds, bending at the waist in a bow. “But I— maybe I’m feeling a bit restless too.”
“Restless...” Zhongli repeats, a hand on his chin. “Ah. You desire to fight.” He says finally, deeply unimpressed.
“I’m just not very used to the peaceful life.” Childe defends, grinning cheekily.
Zhongli snorts. “Troublemaker.”
“Hey! I have been good, haven’t I?”
“You have,” Zhongli agrees.
“W-Well! What do you say? Beach?” He coughs, a faint blush on his cheeks.
Truthfully Zhongli isn’t all that surprised by this development, Childe is, after all, a fighter and a bloodthirsty one at that. And Zhongli would rather he blows steam up somewhere else before he begins to quarrel with the common folk.
“Why the beach?” He can’t help asking.
Childe shrugs. “I like the beach.” He simply says. “But maybe you can also take me to a spot where I can find some Treasure Hoarders? Ruin Guards? I don’t know.”
“Very well,” Zhongli says.
“Huh? Really? We are going?”
“Of course. We will need to depart early in the day to make the most of it however.”
“Yes! Mister Zhongli, you are the best!” He beams, genuine excitement coming out of him in waves just from something so simple, it’s almost, dare Zhongli say, sweet of him. Even if the source of his excitement is indeed the promise of a fight.
In many ways, Zhongli thinks, Childe is very easy to understand. The things that drive him at his core are his love for battle and his fierce loyalty to the ones he cares about. But more unexpectedly, he is endearing and charming, and against all odds Zhongli likes him.
Zhongli decides the ideal location for their impromptu excursion is the Guili Plains. It feels meaningful for some reason for Zhongli to take Childe here, where so much of his past has been buried, pain and happiness and regret all originating from the same place.
They begin their journey following the main road but go east towards the coast once they reach the Guili Plains. Zhongli is all too familiar with every region in Liyue and he knows they are bound to find enemies hiding in the ruins around here and as expected they come across a Ruin Guard after quickly disposing of a group of Hilichurls.
Zhongli brought his spear with him at Childe’s insistence, but he has yet to participate in any of the fights. He follows Childe’s fast movements as he leaps at the Ruin Guard. Zhongli keeps his distance; he is sure Childe is more than capable of destroying the thing by himself, but he also doesn’t want to get shot by any stray missiles.
Earlier he had found himself faintly dumbstruck when he saw Childe bring a heavy bow as his weapon of choice. A long-raged type of fight was far from what Zhongli had expected Childe to enjoy and he was swiftly proved right when Childe had completely disregarded the bow for the two water blades that appeared in his hands. So that’s how he uses his Hydro Vision, Zhongli muses impressed, so extremely fitting of him.
For all that Zhongli has seen an uncountable number of Vision holders during his lifetime he had never before seen someone, other than the Archons themselves, command a Hydro element with such an ease. Childe moves as if the water around him was just another extension of his own body, fluid and unfaltering.
Captivating is likely the proper word for it. Zhongli has always admired fighting prowess; he had been known as the Warrior God for a reason and while his own desire for battle isn’t as keen as it once was he can’t help but appreciate the evident work that Childe must have put into cultivating such an unique style. He is a whirlwind of lethal efficient power put into motion.
The Ruin Guard collapses heavily to the floor with Childe perked on its shoulders, a long water spear breaking through its one eye. Childe jumps down, landing a couple of steps from where Zhongli is waiting for him.
Zhongli nods in his direction once he is closer. “Good job,” He praises.
Childe laughs, a pink flush on his face. “Nah, that’s nothing.”
“Most people would disagree.” But then again, Childe isn’t most people, Zhongli thinks, smiling almost involuntarily in response to the wide happy curve of Childe’s mouth. He looks disarming under the bright afternoon sun. “Shall we?”
Childe salutes, still grinning as they wander around until they come across a group of Treasure Hoarders. Childe makes quick work of them too and the sight of the red blood clinging to his water blades, splattering around is equal parts fascinating and terrifying.
Later, Zhongli leans closer and cleans a splotch of blood from Childe’s cheek. Childe giggles, wild with adrenaline.
Zhongli doesn’t need to get involved until they reach the beach where a couple of Abyss Mages are congregating with some Hilichurls. It is not because Zhongli doesn’t believe that Childe can take care of them on his own, completely the opposite actually, he is moving away from the action when a Cryo Mage appears right in front of him.
He instinctively shields himself, and then in the same motion summons a Geo pillar to hit the Mage, breaking its shield in the process. He reaches for his spear while the Mage recovers from the shock, and with one hand, swiftly brings it down on the creature, rupturing its middle. It screeches painfully before dropping lifeless, Zhongli pulls out his lance, shaking the pale colorless blood from it.
“Oh, whoa,” Childe blurts out, sounding winded. There’s a expression edging between awe and shock in his face and Zhongli is suddenly worried he might have overdone it, he was sure he was holding himself back fine but maybe he—
Childe jumps. He quite literally springs himself towards Zhongli, who’s only able to catch him because he is strong, and fast enough, and not a mortal. He is certain a lesser being would have crashed to the ground along with Childe.
He feels Childe legs close around his waist and then there are gloved hands holding his face and Childe’s face, so close, in front of him, smile radiant and wild, dimples denting his cheeks attractively. “Professor! I knew it! I knew you were strong!”
Zhongli, madly, embarrassingly, feels color rise to his cheeks due to the sudden closeness. He brings his hands up to support Childe’s weight, right under his strong thighs. Zhongli opens his mouth to say something but feels, unexpectedly, completely at a loss for words. He is sweating.
Childe crackles, the sound explosive and feral. “Oh, we need to have a fight, you and I!”
That finally snaps Zhongli back to himself, that’s frankly the last thing they need to do. “Not right now,” he says, shaking his head, and at Childe’s immediate frown he adds, “perhaps another time.”
Childe purses his lips petulantly and Zhongli wants— he wants.
“Mister Zhongli,” Childe whines, still pouting and still clinging to Zhongli. He is wet, likely from his own Hydro usage, drops of water falling from his auburn hair to his face. And he is so close. “Please?”
Zhongli shakes his head again, more in an attempt to clear his own mind than anything else. “It’s already late and you have used your vision too much today. This can wait,” Zhongli tries to reason.
They can’t fight while Zhongli is still very much the Geo Archon, it’s too dangerous but especially Zhongli can’t have Childe figure out his identity so soon yet. He is already carrying Childe’s entire weight with no visible effort and that alone should be suspicious enough but luckily for him Childe seems too focused on the potential of a fight right now.
Childe scowls down at him, Zhongli evenly meets his dark eyes and, eventually, Childe sighs, letting go of Zhongli’s face and loosening the grip of his legs. Zhongli takes advantage of that to slowly put him back on the ground.
“Hungry?” Zhongli offers, lifting the bag with the food they bought earlier before departing the city. “Let’s find somewhere to eat.”
Childe, still visibly sulking, nods. “Yeah, alright.”
Zhongli holds back his own amused laugh at the display. Fortunately, they find another group of Treasure Hoarders on their way up the beach and that helps alleviate some of Childe’s mood.
Once they reach the Conch Lodge it only takes a couple of Cryo Whopperflowers and eating the delicious food they brought to have Childe back to his usual self. After that he goes around the beach, barefoot, his red shirt open, shooting at random Hydro Slimes, catching unsuspecting crabs, and picking up Starconches while Zhongli looks after him, waiting along with Granny Chu.
“He is a fierce thing, that one,” Granny Chu sighs, longingly. “Reminds me of my husband.”
Zhongli nods, raising a cup of tea to his lips, eyes never leaving Childe’s form. “He is certainly exceptional.”
He glances up at the sky, the sun will set soon, and they should start their way back to Liyue Harbor soon.
“Excuse me,” he tells Granny Chu, as he sets down the cup and steps in Childe’s direction where he is bending to grab yet another Starconch, even as his arms overflow with all the others he’s collected during the day. “Childe.”
Childe’s head snaps back to look at him, happy grin on his lips. There is a pink sunburn already forming at the top of his cheeks. His skin is so pale, Zhongli will have to remind himself to get some ointment to treat it. “Hey, Mister Zhongli.”
“I believe we should get going now, nightfall is approaching.”
“What? Scared of the dark?”
Zhongli scoffs. “It would be unwise to travel during the night.”
“Yeah, yeah. I hear you,” Childe says, straightening up, arms full of shiny Starconches. “Think Granny Chu might have something to help me carry these?”
“Surely, it can’t hurt to ask,” Zhongli answers.
“It must be lonely, outliving a loved one,” Childe says as they walk back to the city, one of his arms carrying a wooden basket full of Starconches.
“What do you mean?” Zhongli asks.
“Granny Chu, I mean,” he elaborates. “You heard about her late husband, didn’t you? They made a promise to grow old together yet she’s the only one left.”
“Ah.” Zhongli purses his lips. He isn’t sure he can completely understand Childe’s feelings about this matter. Mortal lives are fragile and short but for that all the most treasured. Zhongli has been a rock in the river of time for too long, the current of living beings passing by him and leaving just as fast. He has managed to remain alive even after so many others have departed.
Is he lonely?
“What do you think, Professor? Isn’t it sad?”
“Maybe from an outsider perspective it might look like that.” He replies, looking up at the mix of orange and pink hues of the sky. “Those who leave us stay in memory, perhaps talking about him is a comfort.”
Childe raises his eyebrows. “It almost sounds like you are talking from experience.”
Zhongli smiles, soft and wistful. “Maybe I am.”
After just a couple of months Childe has grown increasingly familiar with the city and its people. Even though he is part of the Fatui, and a Harbinger at that, and others own to be wary of him, his charm alone has allowed him to befriend quite a number of citizens.
Zhongli can’t blame them, as he too finds himself completely drawn to him. Like planets orbiting their star, people bend to Childe’s whims almost involuntarily.
He is a sun of a person, just as bright, and just as deadly.
This, however, is unacceptable, Zhongli thinks, as he frowns at the slack, atrocious grip Childe has on his chopsticks. How on Teyvat does he still struggle so much with them after all this time, Zhongli can’t comprehend.
“Childe,” he groans, his own hands moving to rectify Childe’s tortuous hold. Childe, all too used to this particular routine of theirs, laughs, allowing Zhongli to correct his hand’s position. “You need to practice more.”
“I am! I am!” Childe defends, reaching for a piece of carrot with his now corrected grip, even then all he still manages is a quivery hold at best. Zhongli shakes his head, dissatisfied. “Haven’t I been using them this entire time, Professor? It’s not my fault they are so hard to use!”
“It is not such an impossible task.” Zhongli insists.
“Easy for you to say, Mister Liyue Expert.”
Zhongli sighs, wearily, as Xiangling brings yet another plate to their table. He looks down at the food, it really does smell delicious, Xiangling never disappoints. He goes for his own pair of chopsticks when he pauses, hand midair, a sudden thought appearing in his mind.
“Excuse me for a moment,” he tells Childe, standing up. Childe briefly blinks at him before nodding and going back to his chatter with Xiangling.
Zhongli walks towards where Chef Mao is standing at the counter.
“Oh, hello Mister Zhongli! Is the food to your liking?” Chef Mao greets, a big friendly smile on his face.
Zhongli nods. “It is delicious,” he answers, truthfully. “If I may, I’m interested in purchasing some items.”
“But of course! What are you looking for this time?”
“I would like a pair of chopsticks.” Zhongli offers.
Chef Mao hums, and then bends down searching for something behind the counter. He straightens up with four wooden boxes in his hands.
“Well, these are the fanciest ones we have in the shop right now.” He explains, placing all four boxes in front of Zhongli. “Is this for yourself, Mister Zhongli?”
Zhongli shakes his head. “It’s for Childe. I’m hoping he can practice using them,” he clarifies, opening each of the boxes.
The chopsticks do indeed appear of the highest quality. He takes his time examining every single one of them, before pointing at a pair made of dark rich wood with a gold motif.
“These ones,” he says, glancing up at Chef Mao, who then looks at the chopsticks, eyes wide.
“Oh— Those particular ones. Are you, uh, quite certain, sir?”
Zhongli scowls, eying the pair again. The design is truly beautiful, a dragon and phoenix pattern delicately encrusted on them.
“Ah.” Zhongli feels understanding strike him, a self-conscious flush rising to his face. He had forgotten for a moment about those sorts of implications. Truthfully, he is rather surprised the old tradition is still somewhat practiced.
Although, all things considered, he very much doubts Childe has any knowledge about such an ancient custom. However, a wedding dowry— Something primal and hot inside Zhongli surges, irrationally, at the idea of gifting them to Childe, even if the real meaning behind the gesture will certainly be lost to him, or perhaps, especially because of that.
He ultimately nods, a satisfied smile curling his lips. “These ones will do.”
A few days later, and at Childe’s insistence, Zhongli finds himself in one of the upper private rooms in Xinyue Kiosk but, much to his exasperation, this time they are not there to simply enjoy the delicious food.
“I suggest you restrain yourself,” Zhongli comments, glancing at Childe take another slurp of his drink. “Baijiu is quite the strong drink.”
Childe lifts an eyebrow at that, making eye contact as he very slowly sips his refilled glass. “I don’t see you holding back.”
“I can take this much,” Zhongli scoffs. He can take way more than this in fact, if Zhongli really wanted, he is sure he could outdrink even Barbatos, but unlike that one, he is not one for alcohol overindulgence. “You, on the other hand, are not used to this liquor.”
“Eh. I have a pretty high tolerance, you know?” Childe says, shrugging one shoulder, already refilling his glass again. “We drink a lot of hard alcohol in Snezhnaya.”
“I don’t doubt you do,” Zhongli mumbles, draining his own glass in one swift motion. “But you won’t be able to follow my pace.”
“Huh? Is that a challenge, Mister Zhongli?” Childe grins, all sharp teeth, and deep dimples.
Zhongli sighs. “No, it is not.”
And, predictably, because Childe can be extremely foolish and unnecessarily brash, he takes that as a challenge anyway.
Zhongli can do little but stare in wonder at Childe growing progressively more and more intoxicated by the hour. He laughs a lot, even more so than usual, when he is drunk, sweet giggles spilling out of him like honey for no real reason. He talks a lot too, nothing especially noteworthy, just whatever seems to pop up in his head, his chatter is sporadic, changing subjects from one minute to the other.
Zhongli should take pity of him and stop their drinking session by now, but the way Childe is flushing red down to his neck, the loose curve of his back as he bends over, half on his body practically on the table in a terrible show of manners, has Zhongli helplessly captivated. He looks relaxed and so content, Zhongli is certain he would fight another war just to keep Childe like that, trapped in this one moment, just the two of them.
He is lovely, Zhongli thinks, and something must show on his expression because in that precise instant Childe abruptly stops whatever is he is babbling about and squints at Zhongli, a peculiar look on his face. And then— he smiles.
“Say, Mister Zhongli,” Childe slurs, and the way he says Zhongli’s name sends a hot burning shiver down Zhongli’s back. “Do you find me attractive?”
Zhongli blinks, completely taken by surprise. “Pardon me?”
Childe laughs softly, carefully standing up. Zhongli is frankly surprised he can even manage that in his current state. He walks the few steps between their seats until he is right next to Zhongli, his right hip leaning heavily against the table. Zhongli sees him lift a hand and then he feels it on his face, the rough material of the gloves caressing his skin.
“Do you? ‘Cuz I gotta say, Mister Zhongli. I do.” He leans even closer, body moving to fit himself between Zhongli and the table. Zhongli moves his chair back, almost by reflex, providing him with the space to do so.
“You do?” He speaks, looking up at Childe, the words coming out of his mouth by themselves. His mind— his body, feels disconnected from him.
“Yeah… I find you attractive,” Childe whispers, and Zhongli feels something solid and violent inside his chest tremble and crash. Childe gently brushes the back of a finger against his cheek. “You are so stupidly handsome. It drives me mad, Professor.”
“I—” Zhongli blinks, and blinks again. He feels dizzy, overwhelmed and if he didn’t know better, he would think it is the alcohol’s influence, but he does know better and he— he jumps because Childe is suddenly crawling into his lap and maybe Zhongli is having a hard time processing this, processing the last five minutes actually. “Childe, what—”
“So, what’s it gonna be?” Childe murmurs, a cheeky smile on his beautiful, flushed face. Zhongli feels Childe’s other hand slowly move over one of his shoulders, traveling down his back and he shivers, set alight with electricity. “Do you like me like this, Mister Zhongli? Do you want me?”
Does Zhongli want Childe? In all honesty Zhongli can’t remember ever wanting anything as fiercely, as instinctively, as how he wants Childe, certainly no one else before. There’s a dangerous pressure building up at the bottom of his stomach and somehow, it’s unfamiliar and uncontrollable and thrilling all at once. He doesn’t say anything, but his hands move, one closing around one of Childe’s thigh and the other dives under Childe’s clothes, just above where his vision is, to the bit of skin that has frequently tempted Zhongli’s sanity.
Childe shudders under his touch, a sweet high sound escaping his lips. That makes Zhongli pause, looking to the side at the closed door of their private room and finally realize the kind of situation they are in right now.
“Childe, you are inebriated,” Zhongli hisses under his breath, not putting any distance between them because apparently Zhongli might be an Archon, but he is a devastatingly weak one.
Childe clicks his tongue, rolling his eyes. “So what? It’s not like I’m lying.”
“This isn’t the place— anyone could walk in.”
“They won’t unless we call them, you know that.” Childe assures— slurs. His eyes are drooping slightly, long eyelashes casting shadows over his cheeks. He is beautiful, he is so beautiful, and he is so out of it.
“You are not thinking clearly. We can’t—” Zhongli insists, or tries to because Childe interrupts him, whining, his mouth curling unhappily in a pout.
“Please, Professor,” he begs, pressing their bodies even closer together, his thighs clenching around Zhongli. “Kiss me. Make me feel good.”
And so, Zhongli does, just like that, even though he shouldn’t, even though he should know better, knows better. But he is foolish and weak, and he wants so violently, so abnormally.
Kissing Childe is like nothing else he has ever experienced before. And Zhongli has kissed his fair share of lovers over the thousands of years of his very long existence, but it always felt like something that made sense to do, only what was expected of him by someone else.
Zhongli, because of his half dragon heritage, understands carnal pleasure and needs, unlike most Adeptus who don’t or do only as a foreign concept. But for the most part it had been nothing but an irrelevant and insignificant part of who he was, no more than a primal need, no different than thirst or hunger. He’s never ached for it, not like this, not in the way he feels his blood burn him from the inside out at the feeling of Childe’s clumsy tongue touching his lips.
He struggles to keep himself and the situation under control, but he manages to gently mellow Childe’s eager kissing to something slow and almost soft, making it so that Childe is pliant and hot under his hands. He is making noises, little helpless mewls that Zhongli drinks enthusiastically.
“Your teeth are very sharp,” Childe says once he comes up for air, he is panting, flushing hard.
“Ah,” Zhongli exhales, knitting his eyebrows. He has heard that one before, he usually tries to keep himself blunt in these circumstances, but his mind is still not all that functional it seems. “I apologize.”
“What, why? I like it, I like you.” Childe grins, raising his eyebrows. “I think you should bite me.”
Zhongli growls, involuntary clenching his hands still on Childe. Childe smirk widens.
“We must stop,” Zhongli tells him. This is far too unfamiliar of a territory for him, and he feels unprepared to deal with this level of intensity and wild need.
“No,” Childe says, taking hold of Zhongli's hand and moving it down his stomach, even lower. “What you need to do, Professor is touch me.”
Zhongli burns, burns, and burns. He swallows down the rough snarl forming from the deepest part of himself and glares at Childe who only laughs and pressed his erection more firmly against Zhongli’s hand.
Zhongli stares and then sighs in defeat, taking his hands off Childe and before the other can start complaining he quickly removes his gloves, putting them on the table. He makes sure his usual Geo marks are hidden from view; it takes a conscious effort to do so normally which is why Zhongli prefers to simply keep them out of sight with his clothes.
He moves to unfasten Childe’s pants next and Childe trembles, moaning long and high once Zhongli has his hand around him.
“Be quiet, Childe,” he commands, kissing the side of his face.
Zhongli strokes him steadily at first. He feels soft and hot to the touch, and he is considerably big, but Zhongli’s hands are larger still, so it is with no difficulty that he completely wraps one around Childe’s arousal, gradually speeding up the pace until Childe is breathing hard, both of his hands clawing at Zhongli’s back. He is so wet already Zhongli can feel the stickiness of him in between his own fingers, he presses his thumb down at the tip, where the wetness continues to overflow, just a bit roughly, just enough that it will hurt and Childe shudders, whimpering loudly.
Zhongli shushes him but doesn’t stop his ministrations. He closes his hand more tightly around him and increases the pace only for Childe to scream. Zhongli stops and promptly shoves two of the fingers of his other hand inside Childe’s mouth, pushing down on his tongue to keep the noise under control.
Childe moans around his fingers, spit dripping down his chin. There are tears in his eyes, clinging to his long eyelashes. He looks devastated and more beautiful than ever before.
“I need you to be quiet, Childe, can you do that?”
Childe shakes his head, crying even harder. Zhongli sighs, hopelessly fond, and adds a third finger to the inside of Childe’s soft wet mouth.
“You can bite.” That's all Zhongli says, before he squeezes Childe’s erection, nearly too tightly this time and starts moving again.
Childe’s eyes widen and one of his hands comes to pull at Zhongli’s, a wild look on his face. Zhongli ignores it and keeps going, even if Childe is still being too noisy, and then Childe’s body is arching and his teeth close hard on Zhongli’s fingers, it doesn’t hurt much but only because Zhongli was expecting it. He clasps his hand around the head of Childe’s member collecting his release, it won’t do to make more of a mess than they already have.
He reaches out for one of the napkins, feeling a little guilty about using the item in such a way but he needs to clean his own hands somehow. He is certainly more ashamed of himself when he looks down at them and finds the Geo marks back, black already showing up his wrists. Zhongli is just glad Childe is not aware enough to have noticed any of it.
Speaking of Childe, he’s being awfully quiet now, a little too late for that he is afraid. Zhongli gently touches his back, leaning down to kiss him at the temple.
“Childe? Are you alright?”
Childe pushes his face to the side of Zhongli’s neck, he says something, but Zhongli isn’t able to understand.
“Childe?” Zhongli presses, moving some of Childe’s sweaty hair back from his face.
“I’m good,” he mumbles, speaking slowly as if struggling with every word. “Is your hand okay?”
“It is,” Zhongli assures him, and then curls both his arms securely around Childe’s slim waist.
Childe sighs happily, slurs “good.” and swiftly falls asleep in Zhongli’s arms.
Zhongli stays like that, unmoving, for several long minutes assessing their situation. Fortunately, aside from that one napkin, they managed to keep everything else to themselves. And the arousal down in between Zhongli’s legs is also residing. He puts his gloves back on and carefully buttons up Childe’s pants, and then he sneaks an arm under his thighs to stand up carrying his weight with him. He is far heavier like this, sound asleep as he is but for Zhongli even that barely registers.
He walks towards the door, hopefully they will be fine with putting tonight’s expenses under the Northland Bank’s tab.
Zhongli brings Childe to his home. He doesn’t know where in Liyue Childe is actually staying and he doubts Childe would appreciate it if Zhongli just dropped him at the Northland Bank in his present condition. So, it only makes sense for Zhongli to take him home with him.
There might also be a slightly possessive part of Zhongli that’s reluctant to part ways with him just yet, especially when Childe is in such a vulnerable state.
The walk to Mt. Tianheng takes longer than usual, with him carrying Childe along and trying not to jostle him too much in the process, even if Zhongli’s home is located just at the skirts nearing the city. He manages to not wake up Childe on their way and carefully deposits him down on his bed once they are inside the bedroom.
His new and current place of residence is small compared to his domain back in Jueyun Karst or even the set of private rooms he owned inside the Golden House so there’s only one room and one bed as Zhongli hadn’t felt the need to look for a larger space, even when his new home is slowly filling up with all the items he has acquired recently.
Zhongli does not really require sleep as mortals do, Adeptus in general rarely do, so after taking Childe’s boots and jacket off, followed by his own coat and vest, he opts for hauling a chair next to the bed and lets Childe rest comfortably in the mattress by himself. He sets a glass full of water on the nightstand and sits down with a book in his hands.
It can’t be much longer than a few hours when he hears Childe shift in his slumber, followed by a painfully sounding groan. Zhongli scowls, putting down the book and looking closely at Childe. He looks agitated, breaths coming fast, his expression tense. Zhongli moves to sit down next to him, pushing the sweaty bangs from his forehead.
“Shhhh, Childe. It’s okay,” he hushes, voice low and gentle as he cradles the other against his chest, carefully to not wake him up.
He feels Childe faintly tremble against him, he sounds distressed, and he is sweating more than he owns to with the current temperature of the room. Zhongli repositions himself so that his back is reclined against the headrest and then lifts Childe just enough to place him over his chest. He pets his head and down his back slowly, until he feels the tremors wind down and Childe’s breathing finally goes back to normal.
It’s worrisome to say the least, Zhongli is certain that was not a normal nightmare episode, and if he had let Childe wake up from it like that it most likely would have only caused him anguish.
He sighs, hand still stroking over Childe’s back, he appears to be peaceful now, luckily. Zhongli glances at the pleasant, relaxed expression of his face, his long eyelashes quivering every few minutes, before reaching out for his book once more. It looks like he will have to stay in his current position at least until Childe wakes up.
Childe wakes up later than Zhongli had expected him to, and it is a good thing today is Zhongli’s day off otherwise he would have found himself with quite the predicament in his hands indeed.
The sun is up, and Zhongli has already finished his book a long while ago by the time Childe twitches, a scowl forming in his face before his dark blue eyes blink open. He looks at Zhongli, or more probably past Zhongli, glancing around the room, a lost sort of look on his sleepy face.
Zhongli follows his movements as he straightens up, sitting in the bed, still in between Zhongli legs. He looks back at Zhongli, frowning confusedly.
“Professor? Wha— where?” He speaks, voice thick with sleep.
Zhongli nods in understanding. “You are in my room,” he clarifies.
Childe blinks, frown deepening. Zhongli can’t help but laugh softly at the disgruntled expression on his face.
“Hmmm… perhaps you don’t remember the events of the previous night,” Zhongli comments. That will certainly make things difficult to explain. “It is possible you were more inebriated than I initially suspected.”
“Inebriated…?” Childe repeats, bewildered. He tilts his head for a moment in what, Zhongli thinks, appears to be an attempt to recall his memories back. “Ah,” he finally says, a look of recognition showing on his face. “Last night yeah, we were drinking and then I—”
Childe’s voice breaks and his face abruptly colors, a shade of red so deep it could rival a Pyro Regisvine. He squeaks, hiding his burning face behind his hands.
“Archons above, what the fuck!?”
“Childe—” Zhongli starts, disapprovingly.
“Oh, shut up! You— What the FUCK!” He cries out, voice breaking yet again. “I can’t believe this— Professor, where’s your spear? Please put me out of my misery.”
“I will do no such thing,” Zhongli answers, shaking his head. “Please calm down.”
“Calm down!?” Childe half yells, and then winces. “Ouch— okay. My head hurts.”
Zhongli breathes out a weary sigh. “I will make some tea. Please drink this water for the time being.” He reaches for the glass of water he had left in the nightstand and patiently waits for Childe to take it from him.
He stares while Childe gulps down the water, he is still blushing a radiant, pretty red, his ears especially look hot. Zhongli resists the urge to touch him and instead takes the glass with him to the kitchen once Childe is done drinking.
He makes quick work of the tea, opting for a mix using mint and sweet flowers to help with the headache, already used to this particular task. Unfortunately, cooking is not one of Zhongli’s best developed skills, so his kitchen is mostly bare aside from a few fruits and herbs. He usually takes his breakfasts at the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor.
Zhongli finds Childe lying on his back, a pillow thrown over his head. The position of his arms has his half-open shirt riding up his abdomen, exposing his pale stomach to the late morning sun. Zhongli swallows, clearing his throat.
“Here, hopefully this will help alleviate the pain.”
Childe groans against the pillow, moving to sit up again. “Thanks, Mister Zhongli.” He says, face pink and eyes looking anywhere but at Zhongli.
“Of course,” Zhongli says, smiling adoringly at the unusual fidgetiness and shyness.
Zhongli sits down in the chair, still next to the bed, crossing his arms while he looks at Childe finish up his tea.
“I, uh. You are acting awfully casual about all this, Professor.” Childe says, after a moment, eyes down looking at the cup in his hands.
Zhongli tilts his head. “About what, exactly?”
“Y-You know last night. How I— we. Um.”
Zhongli smiles but doesn’t say anything else, enjoying the way Childe shifts, embarrassment flooding out of him in waves. He wasn’t expecting that type of reaction, surely, not after how forward Childe had been last night. The contrast is extremely endearing.
“I guess this might be normal, I wouldn’t know anyway.” Childe jokes, lifting a shoulder. “I have never done anything like that before.”
“No. I meant everything else.”
Zhongli hums, cupping his chin in one of his hands. “Public indecency? I have to confess I never participated in that before either.”
Childe chokes, clenching his hand around the cup to keep it from falling. “Well yeah,” he coughs. “That too. But in general.”
He waves his hand in a manner that Zhongli assumes must be meaningful somehow, but he can’t say he understands.
Zhongli furrows his brows, staring at the way Childe’s anxiety seems to intensify with every moment that goes by.
“Ah,” he utters, feeling himself blush, his blood boiling in equal parts shame and arousal. “Childe, are you— are you a virgin?”
Childe squeals, the sound of it uneven and embarrassed, but there’s a sharpness to his eyes when he finally looks back at Zhongli. “You don’t have to sound that surprised.”
But Zhongli is surprised, and pleased, and so foolishly overjoyed by this discovery he can barely hold himself from crawling back to the bed, get his hands on Childe because Zhongli is the first one— the only one who has ever touched him that way. It’s unbelievable, almost impossible to accept this as the truth, that no one has ever— that Childe is untarnished.
“I— how?” It’s all Zhongli manages, his voice stuck somewhere with what is possibly the last shreds of his self-control as arousal takes hold on him, inevitably, terrifyingly.
“It’s not for lack of offers!” Childe defends. “I just never saw the appeal.” He shrugs. “Fighting has always been more exciting to me. I just wasn’t interested.”
Childe groans. “Oh, come on! You are really going to make me say it?” When Zhongli only stares at him, he glares petulantly and throws a pillow at his face. Zhongli doesn’t even bother to dodge it. “You are fucking insufferable; do you know that Professor?”
Zhongli huffs a laugh. “I cannot say I have heard that particular accusation before.”
“I don’t appreciate how smug you are looking right now.”
“But Childe,” Zhongli says, giving in and making his way to Childe, who looks at him suspiciously but doesn’t back off, because he is Childe and that’s not something he knows how to do. “How wouldn’t I feel complacent after hearing that?”
“Don’t act as if I was saving myself for you, please,” Childe mutters, rolling his eyes.
You might have as well done so; Zhongli thinks but doesn’t say. Instead, he leans over Childe, a hand on his chin and kisses him, carefully but hungry. One of Childe’s hands comes to wrap itself around Zhongli’s wrist, squeezing in a brief warning, but he opens his mouth obediently, letting Zhongli relish on the full taste of him, exploring with his tongue every part of his delicious soft mouth. There’s a part of Zhongli that feels hollow with the acute desire to devour him, consume Childe until there’s nothing left of him. It is alarming to say the least.
Childe moans, pushing at him with his other hand until Zhongli finally releases him. He is drooling, his lips swollen a painful deep pink and there’s blood running down the corner of his mouth.
Zhongli blinks. Oh, his teeth. Right, he forgot again, he thinks, as he touches one of his sharp canines with his own tongue.
“Archons, you are intense.” Childe laughs, wiping at his mouth. And before Zhongli can so much as to try to apologize, he crawls over him, both hands pushing Zhongli’s shoulders down.
Zhongli falls on his back, more out of surprise from the sudden movement than the strength behind it. Childe makes himself comfortable, straddling Zhongli’s hips like he belongs there, and well— perhaps he does.
“I wanna try something, Professor,” Childe says, all teasing dimply smirk.
“Anything,” Zhongli answers, nonsensically.
Childe guffaws. “Charming.” He puts his hands just above Zhongli pants. “I wanna suck you off.”
Zhongli stares for a second too long and then promptly chokes. “Suck? You mean my—”
“Yes, your dick, Zhongli.” Childe interrupts, hands already undoing Zhongli’s belt and pants.
Zhongli swallows dryly, both of his gloved hands fisting tightly at his sides. “I— I believe you will find that quite the difficult task…”
“Oh, you of little faith,” Childe snorts, hand traveling under Zhongli’s pants. “Don’t you worry your pretty head, Professor. I’m known for being a fast learner…”
Childe’s confident voice trails off, eyes widening and Zhongli blushes embarrassingly, feeling Childe’s hand close around his arousal as best as it can.
“Dear Celestia, you are big,” Childe mumbles, as if in awe. “Can’t say I’m all that surprised, considering. You really are just big everywhere.”
He begins to stroke Zhongli, a curious calculating look on his face and then Childe smiles, shrugs, and says, “well, I do enjoy a good challenge.” and moves to lay on his belly and knees, face hovering over Zhongli’s erection.
Zhongli holds himself very still, hands tearing at his sheets with the effort. Childe is— well, he is insistent, and reckless, and extremely messy. There is not much of a technique to speak of, but that was expected. He just seems focused on taking as much of Zhongli as he can, regardless of how impossible that goal might be. It works, though, seeing him deliberately choke on Zhongli’s cock, over and over again, tears on his eyes, spit rolling down his chin, it’s more effective than anything else he could have done, and Zhongli's vision is already starting to blur.
And then, by some insane miracle or just sheer determination, Childe manages to take most Zhongli’s length, gagging, throat closing reflexively around Zhongli’s cock and Zhongli groans— or yells, and unthinkingly moves one of his hand to push Childe’s head down, keep him there while he releases deep inside him.
Childe whines, struggling against his hold, his hands pulling at Zhongli’s shirt desperately, uselessly. He coughs, a painful choked noise, spit and cum spilling down his lips once Zhongli finally lets go of him.
“Fuck, I thought I was gonna die,” Childe wheezes, and his voice sounds absolutely ruined. “Warn a guy, would you, Professor?”
Zhongli exhales, he is slowly coming down from the high and even though Childe’s wrecked state makes his skin burn with
excitement something in his chest pulls at him guiltily. He sits up, cupping Childe’s face gently in his hand and wipes his tears.
“Amazing,” Zhongli murmurs against his hair, feeling Childe tremble at the compliment. “You did splendidly, Childe.”
Childe huffs, shaking his head. “You are welcome?”
Zhongli hums, moving both his arms to hug him close, kissing Childe’s face downwards until he is kissing his neck, biting just barely, just to feel him shake and mewl against him.
“Let me reward you,” Zhongli tells him, biting harder at the pale flushed skin. Childe moans, not even flinching.
“Going to give me a hand?” He says, signaling at the obvious tent in his pants. At Zhongli’s nod he just shrugs a shoulder. “Sure, how do you want me?” He asks casually, already undoing his pants.
Zhongli lies back on the bed and waves Childe over. “Take those off,” he urges, and Childe does. He begins to move over towards Zhongli, he pauses, settling his full weight on Zhongli’s middle section.
“Look, as hot as your rough kissing is, I'm not about to let my dick go inside that sharp mouth of yours.” He declares, his red, full erection rising proudly directly in Zhongli’s line of sight, he is already wet and leaking.
Zhongli shakes his head. “That’s all right. Come here.”
Childe frowns but goes, stopping again once he is kneeling just above Zhongli’s face. “So, what’s your big idea?” He asks and then yelps when Zhongli reaches up spreading him open with both hands, pushing him forward in the same motion until he is essentially sitting on Zhongli’s face.
The only reason Zhongli isn’t completely crushed by his weight is because he can easily hold him up even like this, at least until Childe scrambles for support, clinging to the headrest. Zhongli licks over his rim and Childe nearly screams in surprise, his thighs quivering above Zhongli.
“Ah— okay. Th-that’s new.” Zhongli hears him mutter, voice cracking.
Zhongli kisses him just where the curve of his bottom begins and then he cranes his neck and pushes his tongue in. Childe whines and his entire body shakes almost violently but Zhongli keeps his grip on him, lapping at his hot walls and feeling his own spit drip down his chin and collarbones. This is, as always, a very messy affair, but Zhongli can’t say he has any issues with that, not when Childe moans high pitched and delirious as Zhongli bites gently at his rim.
The noises. He sounds equals parts desperate and confused, and loud. He is so vocal; Zhongli completely adores him.
It doesn’t take long for Childe to start pushing down against Zhongli’s tongue, hips jerking urgently, and Zhongli can tell he is close, unfortunately though, Zhongli doesn’t think he can make him finish just like this. At least not with his human tongue alone, he can’t quite reach where he needs to the most. So, Zhongli lifts Childe off his face, even as the other moans in protest.
“Why,” Childe sobs, still trying to press himself back against Zhongli.
“It’s okay,” Zhongli assures, sitting up, and catching Childe in his arms when the other loses his balance. “Lie down for me.”
Childe is nothing more than a crying and shaky, eager thing at this point, so Zhongli gently deposits him back on the bed, hushing him all the way there. Zhongli slowly takes the gloves off his hands, making sure his marks are properly hidden, and bends down, kissing Childe’s hips and watching his cock twitch in response.
“Childe,” he calls softly, moving to continue his kissing to Childe’s lower belly, biting softly at the skin when Childe doesn’t respond.
Childe jerks, moaning. “Wh-what?”
“Would you give me some Hydro?” He asks, raising his right hand in Childe’s direction.
Childe makes an inquisitive confused sound, but Zhongli feels the heavy thick liquid gather in the palm of his hand after a minute. He hums in approval, sucking a bruise just below Childe’s ribs where a big nasty and old scar sits.
He sits back, spreading Childe’s thighs apart with his knees, Zhongli lifts one of Childe’s legs by the back of his knee, hooking it over Zhongli’s shoulder to get a better access to his entrance, where it’s swollen and clenching at nothing needily. Zhongli lowers his right hand letting the Hydro soak his fingers and very carefully pushes two digits inside Childe, feels his body close around them like a vice and Childe keens, legs spasming.
Zhongli kisses the inside of his pale thigh, opening his mouth to nip at the sensitive skin there and watches, enthralled, as Childe’s lower body lifts off the bed, trashing, not knowing what to do with all the attention. He pushes his fingers deeper until the full length of them is buried in Childe’s hot and tight hole.
“Nghn— more,” Childe cries, back arching. “More, more, more— Gimme more, Zhongli! Ah!”
“Of course,” Zhongli tells him, endeared. He doubts Childe is even aware of what he is asking for or saying.
He is, perhaps, still too tight for a third finger, Zhongli thinks, as he scissors the two already inside of him, but since he specifically asked for it Zhongli has no other option but to fulfill the request. He presses a third digit, as gently as possible, but he can tell it has to sting to some degree with how stretched Childe looks and feels. Childe, however, seems to relish on it, pushing down on his hand, he moans long and high as he fully takes all of the three fingers inside him. So good for Zhongli, he is so tight and warm and so impossibly full, and that’s only Zhongli’s fingers he is taking, he— Zhongli gulps, his cock already half hard with just the visual, just the feel of Childe squeezing around his fingers.
Zhongli could pull his fingers out, could replace them with his arousal and simply thrust into Childe like he so badly wants, force Childe to accommodate the size of him even if he is not ready for it yet. It might be too much, but he would manage it, Zhongli knows he would, wouldn’t be able to do anything else but lie there and fit all of Zhongli, open up for him and only him.
Zhongli could, he so easily could, but he doesn’t. It wouldn’t be right. Not when he is still not sure of how in control he can be and not when he is still not being completely honest with Childe. So instead, Zhongli thrusts his fingers in, deeper, makes Childe cry and fall apart with only that, grinds against his walls until he finds the bump of nerves that makes Childe shake violently under him.
He is screaming and when Zhongli looks at his face he is staring at the ceiling with wide teary eyes, drooling, with a completely elated look on his face. Zhongli smiles and presses even harder, over and, over again against that same spot until Childe’s legs are trembling, desperately clinging to him, trying to pull him even closer.
Childe looks back at him, and he seems almost scared for a moment, too overwhelmed with pleasure.
“Z-Zhongli I— I can’t. I,” he begs, sobbing.
Zhongli leans down, kisses the corner of his mouth, grinds his fingers one more time, deep inside him and says; “You can.” And Childe keens, his hands grasping at Zhongli’s back as he comes, body convulsing and absolutely ruining both of their shirts in the process.
Zhongli sits back and pulls his fingers free, he watches longingly at the quivery stretched out pink skin of Childe’s used hole, for the first time ever most likely, and so ready for him. Zhongli sighs, shaking his head to regain some of his composure back. He cleans his fingers on his shirt, it is a lost cause already anyway.
“Damn, Professor. I think I blacked out for a second there.” Childe hums, giggling, big smile, and big dimples. He looks ravaged, and so so beautiful, and Zhongli is enamored by all of it, all of him.
Zhongli leans over him and kisses him, deep and long before moving to stand up. He needs to find a change of clothes.
“We should go out for breakfast,” he says.
Childe burst out laughing at that, his voice is still quite affected by what he did earlier, so it sounds broken at best.
“Mister Zhongli, I think I need a bath pretty badly.” He says, lifting both eyebrows and waving at the entire mess that’s his current self.
“Oh,” Zhongli murmurs, blushing. “Right.”
“Yeah. So, tell you what, go get us some groceries while I clean myself up and I will cook us something,” he offers, casually shrugging off his shirt and looking up at Zhongli expectantly, as if he wasn’t sitting there in Zhongli’s bed completely naked safe for his gloves. “How does that sound?”
“Good,” Zhongli rushes to answer, clearing his throat. “Allow me to find a piece of paper for you to write down the list needed.”
“And don’t worry, I will give you enough Mora for it too!” Childe calls after him, laughing, as Zhongli makes a quick exit before he completely loses his mind and decides to keep Childe trapped in bed for as long as he can. “Oh, and bring me some clothes, will you!”
Zhongli grunts under his breath, it’s very possible he might have miscalculated this time.
He comes back home only to be greeted by the sight of Childe just fresh out of the bath, still faintly wet, and wearing one of Zhongli’s shirts (one that Zhongli himself gave to him before leaving, mind you), and clearly Childe is not by any means a small person but by whatever powers that be Zhongli’s clothes appear to be just the right size to look big enough on him. It visibly hangs loosely from his shoulders and while he rolled up the too long sleeves Zhongli is sure they must cover his hands when unfastened.
There’s also the fact that for some unknown mad reason Childe decided it wasn’t necessary for him to wear his pants. Zhongli can only hope he is at least wearing his underwear under the delicate shirt that rides down his thighs. For Zhongli’s own sanity of mind that’s it.
He clears his throat and for a moment he just stands there in the middle of his living room, feeling lost and not knowing what else to do, thankfully, he catches Childe’s attention, and the other rushes over to take the groceries from Zhongli’s arms.
“Did you get everything?” He asks, already making his way to Zhongli’s very small kitchen.
Zhongli follows after him, nods, then after realizing Childe isn’t looking at him, answers; “Yes.” It sounds strangled. Childe doesn’t seem to notice.
“Good, good,” he says, absently, rifling through the multiple ingredients. “Sit down somewhere and let me work my magic.”
For the next hour or so Zhongli watches, with wild fascination, as Childe moves around his now messy kitchen preparing their food. He is, in all honesty, mildly surprised Childe does appear to know what he is doing. Zhongli had assumed Childe must know how to cook at the very least a simple meal if he had offered, but this does not look like amateur work in the slightest. It smells divine.
Still, as good as the prospect of delicious food is, Zhongli is starting to seriously sweat beneath the collar, in a worryingly excessive manner. The thing is, Childe is in fact wearing his (extremely revealing and tight) undergarments, thank all the Archons. Zhongli knows this because he has seen it, multiple times actually, while sitting there at the kitchen table, waiting for Childe to be done with his cooking.
Zhongli truly believes he is a creature of much control and reason. He wasn’t, not always, a great amount of power and young recklessness lead to him behaving in a very unbecoming and imprudent way, back in his early years, both before and after he became the Geo Archon. However, Zhongli has matured, he isn’t proud of all of his past actions, and he has greatly improved himself over the many thousands of years he’s been alive but this— this, irrationally, makes him doubt if that’s really the truth.
He subtly checks his wrists to make sure the golden Geo marks aren’t gleaming and then touches the top of his head afraid his horns might be showing. He can feel his teeth sharpening inside his mouth, far longer than usual. There is no excuse for this, there is no reasonable explanation as to how or why Zhongli is apparently losing his grasp on his mortal features, over thighs. Exquisite muscular thighs, but thighs, nonetheless.
“May I have a glass of water?” Zhongli asks, feeling a little desperate.
“Hm?” Childe looks up from the pot he has been stirring for the last couple of minutes, the smell is familiar, but Zhongli can’t focus enough on it to chance a guess to what he could be making. “Oh yeah, sure. The food is almost done too, hold on minute.”
Zhongli nods, sweating and casually adjusting the collar of his shirt. Food may be enough of a distraction.
Childe comes back carrying a plate of Crystal Shrimps and another of Jueyun Chilli Chicken. “I’ve been taking notes from Xiangling.” He explains, winking. “They might not be as good as hers just yet, but I’m fairly confident in my cooking skills you see.”
“I’m impressed,” Zhongli tells him, honestly.
“Eh, these are easy dishes really,” he dismisses easily, walking back to the kitchen and pouring whatever is sitting in the pot into a pair of bowls. Zhongli is particularly impressed Childe managed to find all the cooking utensils, especially because Zhongli is sure most of them have barely gotten any use, if any, at all. “Maybe next time I will try cooking that Bamboo Shot Soup you like so much, but for now this is it,” he says, placing a bowl of Lotus Seed and Bird Egg Soup in front of Zhongli.
“I don’t recall ever mentioning my preference for Bamboo Shot Soup to you,” Zhongli points out, frowning and wondering if he might have forgotten— very unlikely.
Childe snickers. “No, you didn’t. Xiangling mentioned how you are extremely fastidious about the way that dish is cooked and your predisposition for ridiculous specific ingredients.”
Zhongli raises his eyebrows. “I think she did a great job with it.”
“Well, she thinks you are a bit of a pain.” Childe says, smiling joyfully. “But don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she enjoys the challenge.”
“I thought my request had been reasonable,” he sighs, scowling sullenly.
Childe laughs, loud and unrestrained, big dimples deep on his cheeks, and reaches out to casually pat Zhongli’s arm. “You are lucky Xiangling likes you,” he teases. “But hey, let’s eat, shall we?”
“Of course,” Zhongli agrees, taking a bite of the Crystal Shrimp, he pauses, eyes widening. “Jueyun Chilli?”
“Just a bit, you like spicy food don’t you, Professor?”
“I do,” Zhongli admits, taking another bite just as Childe sits down across him. “It’s a fitting flavor.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Childe says, grinning and reaching for a piece himself. Zhongli notes the improvement of his handling of the chopsticks, although his movements are still slow it doesn’t look as stiff anymore.
The food is good, more so than Zhongli had expected. Xiangling’s signature is obviously present, but Childe made subtle changes to all dishes, adding a particular and fairly unique taste to them.
“You are very proficient at cooking,” Zhongli tells him, once they have finished their plates and Childe has moved back to the kitchen to clean.
“I am,” Childe says, confident and matter of factly. “I bet you are surprised.”
“It is surprising. I wouldn’t have expected you to have interest in something so domestic.”
“Hah. Just who do you think I am, Mister Zhongli?” Childe drawls. Zhongli looks at the movement of his shoulder, shaking with light laugher. “My older sister taught me most of it. My mom as well. It started with me wanting to learn how to cook the fish I caught and then it just sort of became a thing, I guess.”
Zhongli hums, by now he is used to the way Childe always talks about his family, with open and undeniable adoration for them. It’s not something Zhongli can fully understand, family bonds are not something he had experienced, at least not the common way, but it is reassuring nonetheless, to know that for all that Childe can be detached and cruel he still deeply cherishes people in his life.
“You, on the other hand, Professor,” Childe continues. “I can tell you don’t cook at all, just by the state of your kitchen.”
Zhongli huffs. “You are correct, I am not very skilled in the arts of cooking.”
“That’s hilarious,” Childe snorts. “You sure act like you know what you are talking about when you go correcting other people’s cooking.”
“I do know what I’m talking about,” Zhongli retorts, frowning.
Childe smirks, cheeks dimpled, face tilting in cute mockery. “Do you?”
Zhongli shakes his head, so terribly fond of him and drops the subject instead. There is something else he is particularly curious about.
“Did you use to go fishing often?”
“Still do. Although it’s more of a hobby now I suppose.” Childe answers, shrugging while wiping his wet hands on a towel. “My dad used to take me ice fishing with him all the time, back when I was a kid and it stayed with me.”
“Not all that different from regular fishing, except you have to carve a hole in the ice to do it and well, endure the cold of course.” Childe explains, coming to where Zhongli is standing just at the kitchen’s entrance. He smiles when Zhongli offers a hand to him and allows himself to be pulled in Zhongli’s embrace. “We should go fishing.”
Zhongli indulges in the feel of Childe’s warmth against his body. He lowers his face to kiss Childe’s neck, just over his pulse and feels it quicken under his lips. He smells like Zhongli. It’s intoxicating.
“I’m afraid the climate here won’t allow for that particular pastime of yours.”
“Eh, it’s alright. Fishing will do.” Childe sighs, arms curving around Zhongli’s shoulders, breath shuddering when Zhongli presses sharp teeth to his skin. “What do you say?”
“As you wish,” Zhongli says, biting hard enough he tastes blood. Childe giggles, pleased, and clings harder to Zhongli.
“You had a nightmare,” Zhongli tells him, one afternoon while Childe half dozes off in Zhongli’s couch, head on his lap.
Childe yawns, blinking teary eyes. “What? Just now?”
“No,” Zhongli answers, gently petting his bright hair. “The first night.”
“Ah,” Childe says and yawns again, so big Zhongli can see his canines poking out. “Sorry about that.”
Zhongli shakes his head. “It is all right.”
“They aren’t really that common, at least not anymore.” Zhongli raises a brow at that, Childe just laughs. “Don’t worry, Mister Zhongli! I never even remember them. I only know they happen because they wake me up.”
“How long have you been having these nightmares?”
“Hmmm? Probably since I came back from the Abyss?” He mumbles, sleepily and completely nonchalant.
Zhongli freezes. “…the Abyss?”
“Yeah, when I was about fourteen. I think?” He looks up at Zhongli and something about his expression must clue him into the sheer internal panic Zhongli is feeling right then. Childe’s eyes widen. “Oh. Oh! Of course, you wouldn’t know,” he says, snickering self-consciously. “It’s nothing, Professor, really! It was a long time ago.”
Zhongli stares, in silent shock. What? “What? Childe, the Abyss? “
“That’s where I got my Vision by the way.” He says, casually pointing at the glowing blue orb hanging at his hip. “Also, where I learned to wield it the way I do.”
“You learned to fight from the Abyss,” Zhongli says, incredulously. “When you were fourteen.”
“I’ve gotten stronger since then, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Zhongli repeats, shaking his head in shocked disbelief.
Childe gives him a tight smile. “You don’t have to look like the that Mister Zhongli. I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“I have a hard time believing that.” Zhongli admits. “You still have nightmares about it.”
Childe exhales, looking directly at Zhongli with those pretty dark eyes of his. Zhongli wonders if the lack of light in them is too, a consequence of the Abyss.
“Look, I would rather not go into details but to be honest there’s a lot of it I don’t remember anymore.” He pauses, just as Zhongli caresses the soft skin right below his dull expressionless eyes, feels Childe’s eyelashes tickle his fingertips. “All I care about is that it made me stronger.”
Zhongli bends down and kisses the arch of his nose, right where most of his freckles are, says “okay,” and leaves it and that.
After all, Childe is correct. It is very possible that whatever happened to him down in the Abyss is the reason for his unusual never-ending thirst for battle and without that Tartaglia the Eleventh Harbinger, and the Childe he knows now, might have never come into existence. Zhongli might have never met him otherwise.
Fate can certainly be a very curious thing.
Because they are, both, significantly serious and stubborn about keeping their word, one way or another, they find the time to go fishing just as promised. Zhongli concludes the Mt. Tianheng Waterfalls is as good a place as any, not only because it’s far away and secluded enough that no matter how stunning the scenery is, not many people visit that location anymore, but also because Zhongli personally likes it there. He hasn’t visited in several years but it’s a place he has always enjoyed.
They stumble upon several Treasure Hoarders spots on their way there, much to Childe’s immense delight and Zhongli’s annoyance. No wonder the common folk no longer come near these parts.
“Well, that should do,” Childe sings, turning around, his bloody Hydro blades vanishing from his hands. He looks around the camp that was settled just next to the largest waterfall. “If anything, we can use this for ourselves now.”
Zhongli nods, examining the few insignias and artifacts scattered across the ground. “It will serve as a good shelter from the afternoon sun.” Zhongli says, looking back at Childe. “You burn easily.”
“Oh, so caring of you, Professor,” Childe chuckles, and unceremoniously takes the outer layer of his clothes off. Zhongli stares after him as he walks towards the pond. There are dribbles of his own Hydro running down the back of his neck. “Whoa, this place is incredible!”
“Indeed, it is.”
“I’m surprised there aren’t more people around.” Childe says, tossing his boots aside. Zhongli watches as he rolls up his pants just before stepping into the clear water. “Other than the Treasure Hoarders, I mean.”
Zhongli hums, “it used to be a more populated area in the past, but the people started to move closer to the Harbor in recent years.”
“What a waste,” mumbles, clicking his tongue in distaste.
Zhongli laughs softly. “I agree.”
They don’t do a lot of fishing for all that that’s the main reason they are here to begin with. Zhongli sits next to Childe in one of the rocks in the middle of the lake, while the other holds his own fishing rod, no catch as of yet when Childe groans, suddenly standing up.
“This is boring!”
Zhongli lifts an eyebrow. “I thought you enjoyed fishing?”
“I do! I like it! But— usually it’s just me in the middle of nowhere you know! Not this—” he signals, arms opening as he turns around. “I don’t see how anyone can have a fun time just sitting around in a place like this!” He squints at Zhongli. “Actually, Professor, are you having fun?”
Zhongli smiles up at him. “I simply relish your company.”
Childe stares, mouth agape, flush high on his face. “I— That’s it! I’m jumping in the water.” He says, throwing both arms up.
The next thing Zhongli sees is Childe taking the rest of his clothes off and then just as he said, jumping into the pond. Completely nude.
Zhongli blinks, glancing down at the clothes Childe has so carelessly thrown into Zhongli’s lap.
“Ahhhh~ now this is what I’m talking about.” Zhongli looks down to find Childe grinning mischievously, sun reflecting against his dark eyes, hair wet and messily plastered to his head. “I bet I can catch fish faster this way, wanna bet?”
He doesn’t wait for Zhongli’s response, diving back into the water right away, which is probably for the best as Zhongli isn’t very certain he is in any position to form a coherent sentence at the moment. The image of Childe wet body, wet naked body, his pink nipples on full display, in the open, it’s suddenly all Zhongli can focus on.
Zhongli swallows, closing his hands tightly around Childe’s clothes, feeling his body, his blood sing and soar with desperate, senseless, desire.
“Look, Mister Zhongli!” Childe calls sometime later, swimming back and waving the fish caught in his hand around.
Zhongli merely nods, trying his best not to look too closely at the other, because the thing about this one lake is that its water is clear, clear enough for Zhongli to see Childe’s body with barely any difficulty.
Zhongli’s bite marks on him are particularly visible.
“You are going to get a sunburnt,” Zhongli tells him.
“The sun isn’t high enough yet— here.” He passes the fish to Zhongli. “I will even let you put that cool balm on me later.”
Zhongli huffs, putting the fish in a base. “Water makes it easier for the sun to come in contact with your skin, not the other way around.”
“Yeah, yeah— hey, how about you get in for a swim too, huh?”
“I don’t think so,” Zhongli says, shaking his head. If Zhongli comes any closer to Childe, especially without any clothes between them, he is afraid he might end up doing something he will later regret.
“Your loss.” Childe shrugs, and swims away. Zhongli can’t help but look at the provoking curve of his behind as he goes.
He drags a hand down his face, sighing wearily.
Oh, dear Celestia, help him.
For better or worse that pond had a very small number of fish, so after swimming around for a few hours Childe had announced they should head back.
“I shouldn’t have trusted someone with no fishing experience,” he mutters, pulling his pants up his still wet (and magnificent) legs. “This place is beautiful though, so it wasn’t all that bad.”
Zhongli looks down at the five fish Childe managed to catch. “I believe these should suffice for dinner.”
“Yeah, it should be okay.” Childe says, buttoning his shirt up. “So, your place?”
Zhongli nods and resists the urge to reach out for Childe, all pink from the sun and glowing with satisfaction.
He clenches his fists instead, hears them crack. And perhaps a couple of rocks fracture too, Zhongli is not too sure.
The dinner Childe cooks is as delicious as everything he has prepared so far. Zhongli no longer entertains any doubts about his competence in the kitchen, not after Childe had started cooking for him more frequently.
It is not, however, enough to quench the frantic fire that’s been steadily consuming Zhongli’s self-control. So, it does not come as a surprise that they soon find themselves in Zhongli’s bed with Childe on his knees, face pressed against Zhongli’s pillow, crying and shaking while Zhongli thrusts three fingers deep inside him.
This is something of a novelty to Zhongli too, the satisfaction he feels tearing down Childe’s usual easy, amused and slightly prideful disposition until he is nothing but helpless need and desperate desire. Only Zhongli has ever seen him like this, and that thought alone is enough to blind Zhongli with uncontrollable hunger, with the impulse to mark Childe and make sure no one else ever dares to put their hands on what’s Zhongli’s—
“Ah— e-enough! Enough Zhongli!” Childe whimpers. Frankly, he sounds miserable. “Enough! Let me come already.”
Zhongli hums, leaning over his frame and kissing the hot, flushed, and scarred skin of his back. “I believe you can hold it for a little longer.”
“No! I can’t— please.” He whines, loudly, as Zhongli grazes a fingertip over that sensitive spot, just barely, and then pulls back, once again. “I can’t.”
Zhongli shushes him, calmly. “You are doing so well.”
And he is. They are nearing the hour mark and the fact that, other than insistently pressing back against Zhongli, Childe hasn’t really tried to touch himself or even pull away from him despite the fact that he is already at his limit it’s pleasing to say the least. Zhongli wasn’t expecting him to endure it for quite so long. His stubborn obedience is as surprising as it’s endearing.
Childe shakes his head, sobbing. “N-no, no more.”
“Very well,” Zhongli allows, spreading his fingers open, caressing the hot walls squeezing around him. “This is, after all, a reward.”
Childe moans, fingers pulling at the sheets and then, suddenly, he stops, body tensing. He reaches back to push at Zhongli. “No, no. Hold on.”
Zhongli pauses but doesn’t withdraw his fingers just yet. His other hand stays where it is too, wrapped around Childe’s thigh and supporting most of his weight. He glances at Childe, waiting and frowning in bewilderment.
Childe cranes his neck to look back at him. He is a mess, face red and wet with a combination of spit, sweat and tears. His eyes are blown out so wide there’s barely any blue in them.
“I want to come with you inside me.”
Zhongli feels one of his eyebrows jump. “I am inside you,” he says, and bends his fingers deliberately.
Childe moans but glares at him, although, unfortunately, his current state does not allow him to appear very intimidating at the moment.
“You know damn well what I mean,” Childe spits, viciously through gritted teeth.
Zhongli knows, of course he does. This is not even the first time Childe has brought it up, but usually Zhongli can easily distract him away from the topic. He could right now too, just continue to finger him until Childe is too wild with pleasure to complain at all, but Zhongli has the feeling that this time it would not go so smoothly. Childe might actually try to kick him if he tries.
Maybe teasing him for so long it’s backfiring on Zhongli.
It is still not a good idea. Zhongli had not planned for their relationship to evolve into… this. And while he isn’t naive enough to pretend to want to stop it he knows he— they need some boundaries. At least for now.
Zhongli sighs, and slowly drags his fingers out. Childe gasps, and for a second Zhongli sees the conflict behind his eyes, the way his body still craves the pleasure. He is stubborn though, so he resolutely bites his lips and just glowers angrily.
“It is too soon for that yet.”
“Too soon? Too. Soon!?” Childe hisses, shaking his sweaty hair out of his face as he sits up, still trembling moderately. “Are you kidding me? I know you are big and all, Professor, but I’m pretty sure my ass it’s as loose as it’s ever gonna get.”
Zhongli closes his eyes. So crude.
“Childe you needn’t rush this, it is your first t—”
“Yeah, yeah. Excuse me if I don’t buy that after you bent me over your couch the other night and ate me out like a first-class buffet, again,” he snaps, rolling his eyes. “And after you just spent forever playing with my ass, driving me nearly insane with it I might add.”
Zhongli coughs, blushing and hastily looking away.
“It’s a little bit too late for you to worry about my “lack of experience” isn’t it, Mister Zhongli?” Childe continues, a wicked smile curving his lips. He lifts a brow. “Or would you prefer it if I find someone else to do it instead?”
The growl that tears free from his throat is almost animalistic in nature. Zhongli moves before he can even think better of it, pushing Childe down the bed and caging him in.
Childe leers, laughing, his tongue poking from the corner of his mouth playfully. “Oh? I wouldn’t? What makes you so sure?”
Zhongli snarls and leans in to claim his lips, biting furiously at them. He is shaking with aggression, doesn’t know how to appease the savage hostility flooding his veins any other way that isn’t marking and devouring Childe until there’s not part of him that doesn’t belong to Zhongli.
He hears the sheets tear in his sharp claws.
At this rate he is going to lose control.
“Don’t. Ever. Say. That. Again.” Zhongli barks through too long teeth, pulling back from Childe’s abused and bleeding lips.
His lips, which are still curved in a satisfied, infuriating smirk.
Childe, because in the face of danger he only grows more imprudent, coos at him, licking the blood flooding from his mouth. He cradles Zhongli’s face in between his bare hands. “Make me.”
Zhongli cranes his neck and bites him just below his jaw, hard and not caring about hurting him. It might as well scar.
“Don’t regret this,” Zhongli warns him, moving back so that he is kneeling on the bed and then in one swift motion he turns Childe around, pushes his face back against the pillow and crushes his body with his own. “I cannot promise to be careful.”
“Do your worst,” Childe moans, already spreading his legs. “I can take it.”
Zhongli exhales, feeling utterly defeated.
He sits up and quickly moves to unfasten his belt. It’s an interesting contrast, the picture of Childe lying completely naked and pliant, like an offering, in front of Zhongli, who aside from his coat, gloves and shoes is still fully clothed. Zhongli is not especially critical of showing skin, if anything in the past, he used to expose far too much skin, but taking his current circumstances into account it’s simply not worth the risk.
He manages to retrieve his claws but the black to yellow veins from his Geo marks traveling down the length of his arm and down his hands is another story. It’s shameful to admit that Childe has succeeded in provoking him to a point where Zhongli is barely holding his mortal form together.
That just means Zhongli will have make sure Childe is too overwhelmed with pleasure to pay attention to anything else. Not that difficult considering the noise he is already making when Zhongli presses himself against his entrance, the head of his cock narrowly breaching in.
“Fuck you are so big,” Childe sighs, shifting his legs and nudging Zhongli’s hardness closer to his rim. “You are going to tear me apart.”
“I might,” Zhongli tells him, meaning it, and with one long steady thrust of his hips he eases all the way inside him.
He does not wait for Childe to get accustomed to him, even as he feels the hot walls clench tightly and almost painfully around his cock, he pulls back and pushes in, immediately setting a punishing pace right from the start. Childe is shaking below him, his body tense and caught in a struggle of pain and pleasure. He is louder than ever, even as his shrieks and cries are slightly muffled from the pillow pressed against his face.
Zhongli only increases the force behind his thrusts, he keeps going until Childe has no choice but to open for him, his hole desperately sucking Zhongli in. He is familiar enough with Childe’s body by now that it is fairly easy for Zhongli to find the lump deep inside him that makes Childe spasm when he comes into contact with it. And after just a couple of thrusts Childe screams and comes, body convulsing, squeezing even tighter around him and, even then, Zhongli does not stop.
He does not stop after either, not when Childe is shuddering with aftershocks and not when Childe whines, high and panicked, trying to crawl away from him, too over-sensitive and uncomfortable.
“No no no no wait, stop— Zhongli, I can’t! I can’t! It-it’s too much,” he cries, agitated. He moves to shakily push himself up with his arms, but Zhongli easily stops him with a hand on his back, he presses him flat against the bed.
“I remember you saying you could “take it”, did you not?” Zhongli hums right next to his ear and then hauls him back by his hips, thrusting forward, harder and faster. “You should know better than that, Childe.”
“Nooooooooo— ah! Zhongli, stop stop stop stop!”
He curves one of his arms around Childe’s stomach, lifts him up the bed enough to make it impossible for him to continue thrashing around and then Zhongli sneaks a hand to his front and grips his now softening member.
Childe jerks back, one of his hands coming to pull Zhongli’s away. “Don’t— it hurts.”
“Be good,” Zhongli orders, nipping at the back of his neck and hitting Childe’s prostate again, he feels Childe’s cock twitch in his hold. “You can come one more time.”
“I can’t!” Childe chokes up, desperate. He is crying so much, and Zhongli wishes he could look at him directly but it is safer if they remain in their current position. “Please, please Zhongli! It hurts—”
“But you enjoy pain,” Zhongli tells him, and then bites the space between Childe’s neck and shoulder, his hips never stopping. Childe’s cock is already starting to stiffen. “So good, so perfect for me.”
Childe sobs, tears running down his cheeks. He is slobbering all over the pillow, his mouth hanging wide open while grunts and moans continuously fall from his lips. One of his hands is pulling at the sheets above his head while the other clings helplessly to Zhongli’s arm.
Zhongli’s thrusts gain speed as he feels the hot burning pressure build up low in his belly, he is so close, sweating with the effort. He snaps his hips, harder, deeper, and roughly strokes Childe’s erection in his hand, feels him seize up and come like that.
His orgasm this time is far more violent and sudden. Childe’s entire body tenses, arching up the bed, he lets out a broken cry and then, like a puppet without strings, he goes completely slack. Unresponsive almost.
Zhongli hugs him close, kisses the line of his shoulder just as his hips stutter and he feels his own pleasure overcome him.
Truthfully the most satisfying part for Zhongli is filling Childe up with every drop of his seed. It is the closest thing to ownership Zhongli can afford right now, and if their circumstances were any different Zhongli would let his Adeptal Energy flow in and mark Childe up as well but that will have to wait.
“I can’t fucking feel half of my body,” Childe grumbles later that evening, his voice cracking.
Zhongli hums, squeezing his arms tighter around Childe’s middle and softly kisses the nasty bloody bite mark he left next to Childe’s neck. He doesn’t apologize, it would be the dishonest thing to do since Zhongli cannot bring himself to sincerely feel sorry about his actions.
He doubts Childe is all that bothered by it anyway, considering how he is still allowing Zhongli to hold him. Even if he did force Zhongli to pull out from where he had been, dedicatedly, maintaining his seed inside of him. The sight of his release gushing out of Childe’s gaping hole had been almost offensive.
“I thought you were just being weirdly gentlemanly about my virginity,” Childe continues, as spiteful as his tone is he is still resting his entire weight on Zhongli’s arms, head resting back against one of Zhongli’s shoulders. “Professor, who knew you were a beast to fuck.”
Zhongli groans, feeling self-conscious and pressing his face against the curve of Childe’s neck, he smells faintly like sweat.
“We need to take a bath.”
Childe chokes on a laugh. “Are you crazy? There’s no way I’m getting out of this bed today. My legs are completely useless!”
“No matter,” Zhongli tells him and swiftly shifts their positions so that he can stand up with Childe in his arms.
Childe yelps, his hands instinctively clinging to Zhongli’s back.
“Oh, you really are the worst.” He barks, face going perfectly red and hot.
Zhongli chuckles, adjusting his hold so he is carrying Childe more comfortably. “Is that it?”
Childe only rolls his eyes in response.
“You know, Mister Zhongli, Childe isn’t really my real name.” Childe grunts, one afternoon while they are in the middle of climbing another mountain near Mingyun village.
Zhongli stops, frowning. He glances down towards where Childe is very much struggling under the hot sun and what’s their fifth mountain today. As much stamina as he has, he is clearly not used to this type of activity, Zhongli isn’t either but for completely different reasons he presumes.
“I assumed as much,” Zhongli concurs, curious. “I don’t imagine Tartaglia is your real name either.”
Childe snorts. “No way!” And then promptly misses a step. Zhongli immediately reaches out for him, summoning a Geo pillar at the same time so that they can both lower themselves on it.
“Careful,” Zhongli says, pulling Childe closer to him while lifting his other arm towards the Violetgrass a few inches away. “This should do.”
Childe exhales, leaning his forehead against Zhongli’s chest. Zhongli gently strokes his back.
“There was no need for you to accompany me today,” Zhongli reminds him. Truthfully, Zhongli would have been done and back hours ago if Childe hadn’t insisted on coming with him as well.
Childe snorts again, shaking his head. “As if I have anything better to do anyway.”
Zhongli lifts an eyebrow; he is certain Childe does in fact have other things to attend to.
“Shall we go back, then?” He says instead, pulling away from Childe. He looks over his shoulder, normally he would simply jump down to the ground from where he is, but as normally that wouldn’t be a fall a person would survive, he is stuck climbing back the mountain once more.
Childe collapses to the floor as soon as his feet touch the ground, his back resting against the hard rock behind him, head tilted back. He is sweating much more than that one time he fought the Ruin Guards at Guyun Stone Forest.
Zhongli crouches down in front of him, examining the pink exposed skin of Childe’s forearms.
“It’s Ajax,” Childe says, dragging Zhongli’s attention back to his face. Zhongli stares, unsure of what exactly he is referring to. Childe snickers. “My name, Professor. It’s Ajax.”
“Ah,” he exclaims, feeling foolish. “Ajax,” Zhongli tries, the word feels unfamiliar on his lips. “Not a very common Snezhnayan name, is it?”
“Yeah, my father is a fan of old tales and named me after one of those heroes.”
“Hm. Quite fitting.”
“What?” Childe scoffs. “Me? A hero?”
“A unique name,” Zhongli murmurs, angling his face down and kissing Childe’s soft mouth, quick and gentle. “For a unique person.”
Childe grins, dimples denting the curve of his flushed cheeks. “Hah. What a charmer,” he teases, “but I don’t care about that name anymore, only my family uses it and the person they think of when they do isn’t really me… If anything, Tartaglia felt closer to who I am.”
“Felt? Is that no longer the case?” Zhongli inquiries.
Childe shrugs. “I like Childe now,” he answers, deep blue eyes looking directly at Zhongli. “I like the Childe who met Mister Zhongli.”
Zhongli smiles softly and completely charmed. Something unfamiliar and warm shifting inside his chest. “I do as well,” he says, and tilts his head for another, longer, kiss.
Their situation is good until it isn’t. Zhongli can recognize that this is, in no small part, due to his own carelessness.
The Rite of Descension comes and with that the Traveler arrives to Liyue signaling the beginning of Zhongli’s retirement plan. And aside from the few times Childe shows up to assist them with the Rite of Parting Zhongli does not see him for the following days. It is as expected, though, Childe, just as everyone else, has his own role to play.
Childe’s actions do not come as a surprise to Zhongli, apart from the Qixing’s level of involvement he had predicted most of the events. Childe summoning Osial had been something Zhongli had already foreseen happening too. He says as much once everything is settled, and he has revealed his identity to both Childe and Lumine (and Paimon). And that night, when he explains the reasoning behind his plan, he is talking strictly to Lumine not to Childe.
He wants to speak to Childe in a more private setting, ideally just the two of them. Zhongli knows Childe must have more questions that he is currently not asking, and Zhongli would prefer it if they can take their time defusing the situation from any possible misunderstandings than try to argue their differences right at the moment.
So, it does come as a surprise when Zhongli turns around, after finalizing his conversation with Lumine, only to find Childe gone.
Perhaps it had been pretentious of him to assume Childe would be waiting for him even after everything had been said and done but Zhongli had hoped— he had wished Childe would want to talk.
Zhongli had shouldered Childe’s absence like a deep, incessant ache for the last couple of weeks and the fact that Childe would simply walk away from him it’s… it’s disconcerting.
Zhongli goes home, tells himself that what Childe needs is time to process what happened and that once he feels ready, he will come to Zhongli, just as he has always done.
But then two weeks later Zhongli realizes, with a cold foreboding feeling, that Childe might not come back to him, that Childe might have already left. Zhongli had always known that Childe would need to return to Snezhnaya, eventually, someday, but even after what the Signora had said Zhongli had not expected Childe to just— leave, without speaking to him, without even a farewell.
It hurts. It hurts like it hasn’t hurt in a hundred of years. The familiar feeling of loss mixed with something else entirely. Zhongli had never had to face rejection, not like this, not dismissal done by choice, and it tastes bitter.
He did not lose Childe like he lost Guizhong or Azhdaha; due to circumstances out of their, and his control. This time, this might be entirely Zhongli’s own doing.
It feels like punishment, the idea of Childe existing without Zhongli. It’s almost too much to bear.
“Ahhhh~ I can’t look at you for another second!”
Zhongli starts, eyes jumping to meet Hu Tao standing right in front of him, wearing the most unimpressed face possible, her hands on her hips.
“Pardon me?” Zhongli asks, scowling.
“I don’t know what happened, but your mood is bringing us all down Zhongli! Do you know how bad that is? You are making everyone at a Funeral Parlor sad just by looking at you!”
“Ah! Ah! Ah!” Hu Tao interrupts. Zhongli clenches his fists, annoyed. “I’m giving you today off, please, please go fix things up with your boyfriend.”
Zhongli’s frown deepens, feeling irritation rise up his throat.
“Actually, you are not allowed to come back until you do!” And before Zhongli can try to retort she’s off as quickly as she came.
Zhongli sighs, massaging his temples. Hu Tao is usually a headache by herself but especially right now her imprudence is not something he appreciates.
He might as well take his lunch break now, he heard Xiangling is back, so he was planning to pay her a visit at the Wanmin Restaurant.
“Oh, Mister Zhongli! Welcome, it’s been a while!” Xiangling greets him enthusiastically when he walks in, as expected the Restaurant seems busy with her here.
“Good afternoon, Xiangling.” He tells her, smiling pleasantly and following her as she walks him to a vacant table. “I hope your last trip went well?”
“Yes! I have a new dish using Dandelion Seeds from Mondstadt this time, care to try it?”
“Of course,” Zhongli says, sitting down.
Xiangling beams at him. “Great! Childe enjoyed it quite a lot, so I hope you do as well.”
Zhongli’s hand freezes midair, hovering right above the napkin he was about to grab. “Childe?”
“Yes! I’m afraid you just missed him, he was here a few hours ago.”
“Ah,” Zhongli stutters, closing his hand shakily.
“I’m surprised you two didn’t come together, did you have a time conflict?” Xiangling asks, completely oblivious to Zhongli’s internal turmoil.
Zhongli clears his throat. “You could say that.” He says, and hurriedly adds; “I will take your recommendation for today’s menu.”
Xiangling nods. “Sure thing, Mister Zhongli! I’ll be right back.” And with that she dismisses herself.
Zhongli takes an unsteady, deep breath.
This means Childe has not left Liyue yet. He has been in the city all this time… but then, the horrifying realization that the only possible reason Zhongli hadn’t seen or heard of him since that night at the Northland Bank could only be because Childe has been actively avoiding Zhongli hits him in sudden, nearly violent waves. Zhongli feels it heavily, like a rock falling to the bottom of a lake, it sits inside his stomach, making him nauseous with unhappiness and dejection.
Childe doesn’t want to see him.
He wonders if this is, perhaps, what people call heartbreak.
Zhongli does not dare to go back to the Wansheng Funeral Parlor after that. His mood appears to have, impossibly, deteriorated even more so and he would rather not have to hear Hu Tao’s criticism if he can avoid it.
He feels… misplaced. There is, of course, the fact that he is no longer the Geo Archon, but what Zhongli misses isn’t his Gnosis nor his status. What— whom he misses is a person, and it hadn’t registered before just how much of his own time had been occupied by Childe’s mere presence, but his absence now is inescapable.
Zhongli, he— he is not sure how to go about mending their relationship. He is not sure Childe would want him to.
He had thought that Childe would be the one to demand answers from him, Zhongli had been prepared for that. He hadn’t thought of the possibility of Childe easily moving on, tossing Zhongli aside like a finished assignment. Although in fact, one could argue that’s all Zhongli was for him to begin with.
Zhongli sighs, exhausted. For all that he is older than this city, possibly older than anyone he knows, he is definitely not equipped to deal with these sorts of matters. He simply lacks the experience.
“There you are! Zhongli!”
Zhongli snaps back to attention, turning around to follow the voice only to find the floating little form of Paimon almost crashing into him.
He can feel a soft contented smile forming on his lips, he hasn’t seen the pair ever since that time they adventured down Havria’s sealed domain in Sal Terrae. Truly, he has missed them.
“Hello, Paimon,” he greets her, nodding towards Lumine as well. “Hello, Traveler. Please do take a seat,” he offers, signaling to the empty chairs around his usual table at the Third-Round Knockout. “Is there anything you need?”
Paimon huffs, crossing her arms. “Paimon isn’t here to eat today! No distractions!”
Zhongli raises a curious eyebrow, looking over Lumine for guidance. She chuckles, shaking her head and walking over to pull Paimon away from where she’s still hovering over Zhongli.
“What Paimon means is that we are on our way back to Dragonspine so we can’t stay for long but—” she pauses, making eye contact with Paimon for a minute before turning back to Zhongli. “We wanted to have a quick chat with you.”
Zhongli nods, indicating her to continue. Lumine hesitates for a moment, making Zhongli frown, a little concerned at seeing her behave so uncharacteristically reluctant.
But then, Lumine opens her mouth, says; “it’s about Childe.”
Zhongli blinks, startled. He clears his throat. “I see.”
Lumine carefully observes him, most likely waiting for a reaction but Zhongli does not know what she’s expecting to see. She eventually heaves a long sigh, looking disappointed.
“He is sad!” Paimon interrupts, bouncing in the air and looking very aggravated.
Lumine reaches out to soothe her, gently petting her back.
“Sad?” Zhongli can’t help asking, his mouth curving down unhappily. “Did something happen?”
“We think he is a little upset,” Lumine starts, grimacing. “He got hurt using his Foul Legacy again so Paimon and I came to pay him a visit and check— he’s fine!” She rushes to add, most likely because the table under Zhongli’s hands started to break apart, cracking noisily. “It’s a long story, but he is doing okay.”
Zhongli takes a steady breath, fist unclenching, and doing his best to collect himself. He, very slowly, relaxes his tense muscles, calms the rapidly beating of his heart.
Lumine and Paimon stare at him for a long quiet minute, looking warily at Zhongli as if he was a bomb about to go off.
“A-anyway!” Paimon adds after a minute, waving her little hands around. “Childe seemed down. And Paimon thought maybe he was bored because he is still recovering and doesn’t have a lot to do so Paimon, being the considerate Paimon that I am—” Lumine snorts at that and Paimon stops, only briefly, to scowl at her before glancing back at Zhongli. “I suggested he could always come visit you!”
“Yeah,” Lumine says, a pitiful smile on her face. “He didn’t take it too well.”
Zhongli nods in understanding, looking down at his hands in front of him. He was right, after all.
“Look, we thought you two were on good terms,” Paimon continues, sounding exasperated. “Last time he was talking about how he was going to challenge you to a fight or whatever. Just typical Childe stuff!”
“But today,” Lumine says, and when Zhongli looks back at her, the expression on her face is suddenly earnest. “He tried to laugh it off but— Zhongli, you need to talk to him.”
“I do not think he wishes to speak with me,” Zhongli tells her, even though the confession hurts more than he would care to admit.
“And I don’t think you know Childe as well as you think you do.” Lumine retorts, hands on her hips, looking thoroughly unimpressed.
“Yeah!” exclaims Paimon next to her, mirroring her posture.
The sight of them sending matching glares in his direction is something he would normally find amusing but instead, he feels himself jerk back, shocked at both the accusation and the distinctly flat tone of Lumine’s voice.
“I do,” he says, feeling slightly irked. “I do know Childe.”
Lumine shakes her head. “No, you don’t. If you did, you would have realized that the last thing you should do right now is wait for him to come around.”
Zhongli gapes at her, loss for words.
“He is just a big kid!” Paimon says, stumping her little feet midair. “Paimon doesn’t know what happened between you two, but you must have really hurt his pride, Childe is usually too easy going to hold a grudge.”
“We won’t pry but promise us you will talk to him, Zhongli.” Lumine insists, face softening but looking as stubborn as ever. It is at times like this that Zhongli is reminded that she is far older than she appears, much like himself.
He is also surprised Lumine seems so genuinely concerned for Childe’s well-being, especially after the way Childe had used her for his benefit and then attacked her.
Whatever has changed, Zhongli is glad Childe has her for a friend.
“Very well,” Zhongli says, sighing. “I will heed your advice.”
Lumine smiles. “Good,” she says, and then they both bid their goodbyes, but not before Paimon threatens Zhongli with an ugly nickname were he not to keep his promise, as if she wasn’t talking to the former God of Contracts.
It’s late afternoon by the time Zhongli finishes his tea and food. The sky’s colors turn an orange color and the store’s lights start to illuminate the streets. He made sure to carry some Mora with him today, so he leaves the payment on the table and departs Third-Round Knockout.
He slowly makes his way towards the Northland Bank, Zhongli figures that’s the first place to look for Childe since for all that they spent a lot of their time together in Zhongli’s home he never visited Childe’s place.
“Hello, mister Zhongli,” greets the guard at the door. Zhongli wonders if he knows him from some time before, he cannot tell, especially with his mask.
Zhongli politely nods in his direction before entering the Bank. He walks directly to the front desk where can see Ekaterina.
“Good evening, Miss Ekaterina.”
Ekaterina’s head snaps up. “Mister Zhongli! Oh, thank all Archons,” she exhales, her frame seeming to bend over in relief.
Zhongli blinks, startled.
“Ah! Of course, my apologies, you must be here to meet Lord Childe,” she says, recovering and straightening her posture. “He just left but you should be able to find him in his room, hopefully resting.”
“Oh—” Zhongli stumbles, hesitant.
There is a long pause where Zhongli ponders his next steps when Ekaterina, no doubt sensing his uneasiness, offers; “follow me please, I can take you to where Lord Childe is.”
Zhongli sighs, grateful. “Thank you.”
“I should be the one thanking you. Hopefully Mister Zhongli will be able to talk sense into Lord Childe.” Ekaterina says, escorting him up the stairs.
“Is something the matter?” Zhongli inquiries, following her.
Ekaterina shakes her head. “He is overworking himself with needless tasks, even though he should be resting. I keep telling him that he must not trouble himself with jobs beneath his position, but he won’t listen.” She smiles at Zhongli. “I’m sure he will listen to Mister Zhongli. He always does.”
Zhongli does not answer. He doesn’t believe that is still the case anymore.
They reach a door with a short corridor and a second set of stairs at the end of it. Ekaterina stops.
“These will take you directly to Lord Childe’s lodgings. The rest of the staff resides in the quarters behind the main building but the rooms in the upper floors are reserved for Lord Childe only.”
Zhongli dips his head in gratitude and after taking a deep, slightly tremulous breath he crosses the threshold, walking towards the stairs. He hears the sound of the door closing after him and the corridor goes dark, only the few lanterns at the of the hall providing a source of light.
There is a big double door with glass-stained windows at the top of the stairs, Zhongli knocks on it and waits.
After a few minutes he makes out the sound of slow steps, the wooden floors creaking under the weight of a person just as the unmistakable voice of Childe calls from the other side. “What is it? Did I forget anything?”
Listening to him for the first time in weeks is exhilarating as it’s petrifying, Zhongli feels locked in place, his body set alight, and before he can even try to compose himself the doors open and his heart, his soul launches like a bird to the sky. Childe stands, his eyes wide and his hair ruffled, barefoot and wearing only his shirt and pants and Zhongli— he. He yearns. Like never before.
Zhongli wants to touch him.
“…why are you here?” Childe demands, voice ice cold, his stance, and the expression of his face unwelcoming and distant.
Zhongli mourns his easy bright smile. He never thought Childe would ever look at him like that, his blue unfeeling eyes looking right through him, like Zhongli isn’t even worth his attention.
“Well? Anything to say, Mister Zhongli? Or should I say Morax?” He sneers, his voice dripping venom.
Zhongli scowls, he does not like the way Childe says that name, so viciously. “I am no longer Morax.”
“Oh yeah, I guess you aren’t,” Childe concedes. “But what would the great Prime of the Adepti want with a lowly human such as me?”
“Do not talk about yourself like that,” Zhongli snaps, scowling. His patience running thin already, even knowing full well that Childe is deliberately trying to goad him does not help, it might actually have the opposite effect if anything.
Zhongli, it seems, just has a hard time not giving Childe exactly what he wants from him.
Childe laughs, loudly and mockingly. It sounds wrong, so wrong. “And why would you care? Wasn’t I just another piece in your oh so great Godly plan?” He smirks, the curve of his lips cruel, and sharp like a knife. “Why bother now? Didn’t you have your fun with me already?”
Zhongli scowls, taken aback. “Childe, you are misunderstanding—”
“Am I?” Childe interrupts, stepping closer to Zhongli. “Am I really? I think you explained things pretty clearly that night.”
“I took no pleasure in lying to you. The Tsaritsa requested that you should be kept in the dark, I had no choice but to agree to her terms.”
“Sure, you did,” Childe says, glaring. “I bet you also had no choice but to take me home that night,” he snorts. “Say, Mister Zhongli, was I good entertainment for the almighty Rex Lapis?”
Zhongli flinches, feeling the sting of the words like acid on his skin. “I never—”
“Oh please, be honest now. You don’t have to keep pretending on my behalf.”
“It is true I misled you about my identity as Rex Lapis,” Zhongli insists, voice hardening. “But, Childe, my actions towards you were nothing but sincere.”
Zhongli sees Childe halt, a flicker of something in his face, and then he lifts a hand and Zhongli feels the sharp end of one of his Hydro blades pressing dangerously against his throat.
“Don’t you dare make fun of me,” Child snarls, his face flushed in agitation.
“I am not,” Zhongli tells him, not shying away from the blade. “I would never.”
“Hah! You really think I will just buy that? It’s been weeks Zhongli,” Childe spits. “You made it crystal clear you got what you wanted and didn’t need me anymore.”
It’s subtle but Zhongli hears the way Childe’s voice falters at the end of that sentence, watches the way his cold facade shatters for a second and under all the anger Zhongli sees hurt, fresh hurt pulsing like a raw open wound.
Ah, Zhongli thinks, Lumine was right. Zhongli did miscalculate. Immensely, foolishly.
He leans over, feels the cold edge of the blade cutting his skin, his blood flowing free.
“I thought you needed time. I was trying to give you space. Childe, I promise you it was never my intention to upset you,” Zhongli implores. “And if spilling my blood makes you feel any better, then that you shall have.”
But before Zhongli can tilt his neck even closer to the weapon, Childe jerks back, eyes wide, his blade melting away. He looks at Zhongli, something nearly feral and raw in the expression on his face.
“Fuck you,” Childe hisses, and then he promptly turns around, stalking back to his room.
Zhongli rushes after him. “Childe wait—”
“No! I don’t wanna hear it!” He yells, his back shaking, both of his hands fisted at his sides. “I don’t— the game is already over, Mister Zhongli.”
“I miss you,” Zhongli blurts out. He needs Childe to at the very least know that much.
Childe’s shoulders tense, Zhongli hears the hiccup of his breath catching, and then Childe tilts his head back, groaning, hands coming up to frustratedly pull at his auburn hair.
“I hate you. I hate you so much.” Childe laughs, the sound of it self-deprecating and broken. He turns back, and he looks sad and tired, and Zhongli loathes that he is the cause of all that. “You are so unfair. What do you even want from me?”
Zhongli smiles at him, helplessly, adoringly. “Everything.”
Childe stares, shocked and angry, but Zhongli sees the fight slowly melt away from him.
“Seriously, so fucking unfair,” he scoffs, a tint of irritation still present in his voice. He starts to walk towards one of the couches in what appears to be the living room area. “I heard something interesting the other day.”
Zhongli inclines his head, coming closer to where Childe is sitting, waiting for him to continue.
“I was out eating at Su’s stall… when this old lady came behind me and started gushing over my chopsticks.” He raises an unamused eyebrow at Zhongli, who blushes in response. “It was all very confusing, sure they are a fancy pair but what does that have to do with me having a very “thoughtful partner” and how I was “very cherished” by them, right?”
Zhongli coughs, flustered, feeling heat up his neck. “Right.”
Childe chuckles, rolling his eyes. “Dear Su took pity on poor me and very helpfully explained that those particular chopsticks are commonly used as a betrothal gift,” Childe says. “Imagine my surprise, learning that pretty much everyone in Liyue thinks I’m engaged. Crazy huh?”
“I—” Zhongli tries, face burning in embarrassment. “My apologies, I shouldn’t— it was not my intention to cause any misunderstandings.”
“Yeah? Because I really doubt that.” Childe grins, Zhongli enjoys seeing the small, wicked indentation of his dimples again. “Who knew Rex Lapis was such a possessive God?”
Zhongli laughs, slightly mortified. He offers a hand to Childe, who looks at it, still scowling but, hesitantly, takes hold of it.
“I’m still mad by the way, furious even.”
Zhongli nods, bending over to kiss his knuckles. “I shall do my best to earn your forgiveness.”
“I would like to see you trying,” he says, curling his other hand around Zhongli’s nape and pulling him down. “Do your worst, Professor.”
“I must,” Zhongli tells him and dips his face, biting gently at Childe’s lips before he kisses him deeply. This time, he allows the full length of his tongue to explore the wet walls of his mouth and further down his throat.
Childe chokes, pulling back to blink at Zhongli. “Oh whoa, fun.” He shudders, grinning, and kisses him again, opening his mouth wider for Zhongli.
“I’m not stupid you know. I knew you weren’t exactly human,” Childe pants, later, as he is straddling Zhongli, bouncing on his cock. “You aren’t that subtle.”
“Oh?” Zhongli answers, distracted, looking at the flushed skin of Childe’s chest. He moves a hand, rubbing at one of his erected pink nipples. Childe moans, almost losing balance.
“Ah— yeah hhng. I—I thought you were half-Adeptus or something,” he continues, sweat running down his face. “Like the secretary of the Liyue Qixing or that Lawyer who keeps bothering Ekaterina.”
Zhongli nods, bending over to take Childe’s nipple between his lips. He nibbles at it and feels Childe trembles in his arms, pulling at Zhongli’s hair almost too roughly.
“Can’t believe I was fucking the Geo Archon all this time,” Childe sighs, arms curling around Zhongli, bending his back as Zhongli sucks on him.
Zhongli pulls back, licking his lips. “You do not know how a God makes love just yet,” he says, switching their positions so that Childe is lying down on the couch. Childe yelps, clinging at him. “But you will, now.”
He thrusts his hips, making Childe cry out, his long legs closing behind Zhongli’s lower back.
“Hhng! You aren’t even a God ah—” Childe hisses, hitting one of Zhongli’s shoulders. “You aren’t even a God anymore!”
Zhongli hums, snapping his hips harder, pushing deeper inside Childe's heated body until he is fiercely scratching at Zhongli’s back, drawing blood.
“I was one for long enough,” Zhongli promises, smiling with too long teeth, his claws growing sharper where they are forcefully holding Childe’s waist.
Childe looks up at him with wide blue eyes. He moans, his voice deep and thrilled. Shaking with excitement, always up for a challenge.
Zhongli adores him.