沉默不语 你 站成 爱的模样
It goes without saying that Childe puts an enormous amount of effort into his work. He does, after all, serve the Tsaritsa, and there’s more to lose on the line than just a botched job. When he was stationed in Liyue, he had dedicated no small amount of time to understanding the local history and customs — he already stood out for being a foreigner, and it wouldn’t help if he also didn’t bother to learn about Liyue.
It is for this very reason, that when Zhongli produces a pair of phoenix-and-dragon patterned chopsticks and gifts to him — bought with his own money, no less — that Childe understands what Zhongli is trying to tell him. Despite recalling with perfect and striking clarity all the books and notes that he had read on about Liyuen customs, it was hard to bring himself to believe that Zhongli knew what he was gifting to him, and knew that Childe understood the meaning behind it.
Childe takes exactly two days to examine the chopsticks in it’s pristine, hand carved box, then invites Zhongli out for dinner to Wanmin Restaurant.
“It is not that I do not appreciate your company, but what do I have the honour of having dinner with you today?” Zhongli’s voice is as calm and soothing as always, steady in the familiar lilt of his words, just slightly south of the modern Liyuen accent.
“I have something to ask you,” Childe says, and his chest tightens when he watches Zhongli smile at him, as warm as the tea in front of them.
“Oh? Please, ask me anything at your leisure.”
Childe isn’t one to struggle with his words. He’ll even say that he’s good at words, because he likes to be straightforward, and words are easiest when he’s being honest. But now — now, with Zhongli's hands delicately holding a cup of tea, eyeliner perfect and scarlet, still smiling up at him — words are so incredibly difficult to come by.
“You gifted me a pair of chopsticks the other day,” Childe finally starts, unsticking his throat. Their food is not to arrive for another eight-and-a-half minutes, so he has to finish talking before then. “You — I mean, you really intended on giving me that?”
Zhongli sets his cup down; it’s half-empty, and Childe forces himself to look up at Zhongli.
“I most certainly meant to. I apologise for purchasing it out of your own wallet, but it is a gift meant for you. I trust you understand?”
Childe swallows, and thinks of a world where he never opened that book about traditional Liyuen betrothal and wedding customs. Thinks about missing the meaning behind that beautiful pair of chopsticks, and how Zhongli had gifted them to him, with that small smile. Thinks about missing Zhongli entirely, of leaving Liyue behind and never returning to this golden warmth again.
“I do. I understand — but if we are to go through this, then I would also like to introduce you to how we do it in Snezhnaya.” Childe reaches out across the small table, palm faced up; without even being prompted, Zhongli places his hand in his, their fingers slotting in together like perfect puzzle pieces. “I want to… show you my home as well.”
I want to show you my family, and where I grew up. I want to see how you, my home, would fit in where I grew up, my home. I want you — I want you — please, let me have you, as I would let you have me —
Zhongli seems to understand what he means by it. “Of course, I would be delighted to learn about Snezhnayan customs. I trust you will lead where I am lacking,” He says, and his tongue curls around his words most delightfully. Liyuen with that traditional, long-lost accent; Childe wonders if he would speak Snezhnayan like that too, or if he would follow Childe’s accent as he learned.
Perhaps it's this one moment, this one warm, gleaming moment, that allows Childe to start dreaming. He has ambitions, to be sure, but dreams are different. Dreams are for the future days where he comes home to a house filled with love, where he will have a lover to kiss and hold, where he is able to call Zhongli his, and tell his family that he has his own family too.
Childe can’t remember how he gets through that dinner, not with how besotted he becomes. With the air cleared between them, their hearts meeting over a bridge they built with their own hands, there is hardly any reason to restrain his feelings anymore.
It’s only after the dinner, in the deep of the night when he’s escorting Zhongli back to his apartment, that Zhongli turns to him — and perhaps this is the moment that Zhongli starts dreaming as well.
“Will you start your preparations?” Zhongli asks, and now his voice is softer, quieter for the night and only for Childe’s ears.
“Immediately,” Childe says, and takes one step closer to Zhongli. The distance between them is closer than they normally would allow for, especially in the public eye.
“I await, with all my heart,” Zhongli replies, and his voice is adorned so heavily with an emotion Childe wants to label as adoration.
Even though everything tonight points towards a direction they have never stepped towards, it all feels so familiar, as though they’ve walked this path in their dreams, in their past lives. It feels natural then, for Childe to reach forward, taking Zhongli’s hand in his; he presses his mouth to the back of this glove-covered hand, and thinks of the coming days when he will kiss bare skin instead.
“Goodnight,” Childe murmurs, spools the words so they form the cotton fibres of Zhongli’s gloves. “I will miss you until we meet again.”
To be completely honest, Childe isn’t quite sure at which stage of the betrothal process they’re at. He also isn’t devoted to thinking about that too deeply, because he has other matters to think about, such as chasing Shitou and Xingxi for the finest cuts of jade in Liyue’s history.
“I assure you, sir, that the batch of jade being cut right now is of the highest quality, the best we’ve ever had,” Shitou says, as Childe observes the stones with a critical eye. “Why, even before they are cut, I already know they will be perfect — it would be the only kind of stone worthy as an offering to Rex Lapis as a gift.”
That catches Childe’s attention. “And you will ensure that these stones are as perfect as you say so? I don’t take lightly to rescinding contracts, you know.”
“As is everyone from Liyue, I am sure. Come, come, have a look for yourself…”
Shitou starts talking about the jade again, and how it would look beautiful inlaid into any kind of jewelry; Childe listens to him with half an ear, because he already has in mind what he wants to do with this jade.
With the quality of the jade sorted, he leaves Shitou for another part of the city.
Xingxi is very good at keeping secrets, and doesn’t question his instructions after he retrieves the cut jade and hands it to her with specific details on how to treat it. He hands her more mora than it would need to craft the jewelry pieces, telling her that if more materials were required, only that of the highest quality would do.
“But of course. I haven’t received orders to make engagement gifts in a while now, it is rather refreshing to work on it.”
Childe laughs a little. “Am I really that easy to see through?”
“Well, these are traditional gifts… a jade necklace, and a hairpin crafted with phoenix-and-dragon motifs — perhaps not what the younger people use, but beautiful nonetheless. It will take at least two weeks for these to be completed.”
“Oh? What do the younger people use then?” Childe thinks it’s amusing that he’s not considered one of the younger people. Perhaps it’s because the entire city of Liyue Harbour has associated him with Zhongli, who is the image of timeless tradition.
“Rings are very popular these days, especially for the foreigners who have married locals. Of course, the other traditions of the banquet and return gifts are practised, but the betrothal gift itself differs.”
Xingxi starts explaining about the different betrothal traditions for different parts of Liyue. Perhaps for his benefit, she begins talking about betrothal customs that originated from Adepti customs hundreds of years ago, and how they had been changed over time. The base of these customs remained untouched, and traditional gifts consisting of jewelry for the bride, return gifts to the groom, as well as an intricately put-together dowry were to be expected.
“But I suppose you have already made arrangements for your end,” Xingxi says, smiling at him. “Please be at ease. I assure you the jewelry will be done within two weeks.”
“Thank you for your help,” Childe says, rapidly absorbing all this information. “Please contact the Northland Bank if there are any issues. A word to Ekaterina would do.”
Now that the jewelry is sorted out, Childe turns his attention to the other things he needs to prepare. There will be some things that need to be shipped from Snezhnaya with immediacy, and he will have to consult Chef Mao and Xiangling about the dishes he should offer. And of course, there is the matter of residency — he really shouldn’t get ahead of himself on this matter, but he’s got at least three choices picked out for Zhongli’s perusal.
“Pardon?” Zhongli says, as elegantly as always.
“As I’ve said, there are a few houses I’ve picked out that I thought would suit you most. Of course, if they are not to your liking, then we can go and look at houses together. I apologise for not informing you first, but I —”
“No, Childe,” Zhongli interrupts, smiling at him gently by his side. “It is quite alright. I wasn’t expecting you to make such an effort, that is all. I would have been delighted simply to be with you from now on.”
“Of course I would,” Childe says, the insides of his mouth dry from the brightness of Zhongli’s smile. “You — we will be together. I would have only the best for you.”
The night breeze of Liyue is cool, but he feels so warm by Zhongli’s side. Without a word, without a whisper, their hands become tangled together; for a moment, Childe thinks about a day when he will hold Zhongli’s hand, and feel the shape of a ring around his finger.
Archons, he is so beautiful. The burnt amber tips of his hair seeps into the city lights of Liyue Harbour, and the way his tongue curls around Childe’s name is so sweet, so precious. Childe thinks of the day when he will marry this man, and marry the whole of the city in extent.
“You are… such a vision,” Childe replies instead, and turns to face Zhongli fully, slipping an arm around him. “I wonder if you’d like Snezhnaya.” He thinks of the day when he takes Zhongli back to his first home, and how he would like the snow, and the cold, and his family.
“If you are there,” Zhongli says, and his other hand comes to rest on Childe’s chest, just above his heart. “If you are there,” He repeats, this time softer; his eyes glow brighter.
Surely Zhongli can feel his heart? Feel how it beats for him, how it speeds and quickens at his words, his actions. “Then I should hurry,” Childe murmurs, dipping down to kiss at Zhongli’s jaw.
“All of my time is with you,” Zhongli says, like he hasn’t reached into the centre of Childe’s heart and carved a space out for himself. “As I am, and I always will be — all of time is with you.”
Then, perhaps, it was inevitable that he would grow to love Zhongli. Just as he once read all those books about Liyue such a long time ago; just as he when he first arrived and then grew to call this city a home; just as when he first met Zhongli, and his respect and admiration grew into affection.
Perhaps for them, love was inevitable.
There is only so much he can do in the face of such sincerity. He covers Zhongli’s hand, brings it up from his chest to his mouth, and presses a lingering kiss to the back of his hand.
“Then I will bare you,” Childe says, “I will kiss your skin and show you how I love you. I will do this, at the very least.” He turns Zhongli’s hand over, and kisses his palm this time, feels the heat radiate even through the glove.
They must have been made to love each other. Must have, because Zhongli’s hand fits so perfectly around his cheek, pulling him closer. There is a world in the depths of the fingertips that trace his jaw, and there are untold stories in the gentle crease of Zhongli’s eyes, the small curve of his mouth.
“I wonder who made you,” Zhongli whispers. It sounds like a secret, a confession; Childe waits. “I wonder who made you, and who made me. I wonder if they fashioned love for us.” Beyond Celestia, beyond Archons, he seems to be saying, and his warmth is mortal.
“Perhaps we are made of love,” Childe says, smiling at this man, so beautiful, so radiant. Glowing like this, in his arms. “I will not make you wait any longer, I promise you.”
In the two weeks that it takes for the jewelry to be made, and for the things he ordered from Snezhnaya to arrive, Childe becomes so on edge that he can hardly concentrate on anything.
“You’re distracted,” Lumine says, frowning at him.
They’re at their usual weekly sparring practice, and Childe grimaces — she’s right, because he’s been so distracted that he’s been beaten up more than usual.
“I’m not,” He says, just to be contrary.
“If you’re not careful I’ll lob your head off. Zhongli will have to return to your head on a platter,” Lumine says, in that nonchalant but very sweet way of hers.
“Oh, hell no,” Childe says, and grins something feral. They spend the next half hour dodging and slashing, until Childe finally calls it quits.
“You gave up very easily this week,” Lumine says, observing the drops he’s given out. “Something on your mind?”
“A lot,” Childe admits. “But it’s fine. How was Inazuma?”
Lumine starts talking about her adventures there, with Paimon excitedly chiming in every so often; it’s enough chatter to distract Childe from his worries, and he ends up in a brighter mood than before. Not that he was down, but he certainly had more on his mind, and a lot of it depended on the items that were being made or delivered.
He cannot mess this up. He shudders to think about what the other Adepti might think about him if he messed up even a little bit of what he’s prepared — he had only just received their blessings after much grovelling and being put to trials.
But it’s all worth it for Zhongli. It’s worth it because it’s Zhongli.
Perhaps the balm to his nervousness is Zhongli himself, because he finds them spending even more time together. No longer is their time restricted to dinner three times a week — every evening is spent in Zhongli’s company, and sometimes he has the pleasure of Zhongli coming by the Northland Bank looking for him.
“You’re very affectionate nowadays,” Childe says, just a bit of a teasing tone in his voice. “I like it very much.”
“It is appropriate,” Zhongli says simply, and sits down beside him in his office. “I had always longed for your company, but I do not see the point in denying myself of your presence now that we are together.”
Gods, strike him down where he sits right now. Zhongli is going to have him in the grave before they can solidify their relationship.
Zhongli had said he would wait however long that was needed and more, but Childe cannot. It’s like he’s been inhabited by the spirit of someone who loved too strongly, and he pursues the making and delivery of the gifts with a single-minded passion. The two weeks stretch infinitely long, but finally — finally, they are ready.
Childe takes a day off from work without preamble, and picks the jewelry from Xingxi immediately. Then, he’s off to the docks to convince the officers to let him pick his parcel up immediately, before he goes back home to go over the gifts.
Xingxi’s work is as intricate as ever. The necklace is a thin thing, a carved gold chain that comes together to form a circular charm in the front. Here, a jade pendant is housed, the loveliest shade of emerald and navy blending together. The jade is set into gold, and the edges curl up with delicate carvings, protecting the jade from any possible damage.
Satisfied, Childe sets the necklace back into its box and looks at the hairpin instead.
This hairpin, also carved of gold, is made with him in mind, and only him. Meant to form a pair with the chopsticks he gave Childe, the dragon and phoenix curl around each other, forming an infinite shape. The hairpin fades into darker amber at the end, a perfect match to his hair; here, small stones of cor lapis have been set into the metal, catching the light no matter how it is turned.
It would look beautiful — Zhongli would look beautiful with this hairpin, and the necklace. Childe’s heart leaps in his throat, and he carefully puts the hairpin down.
The packages sent from Snezhnaya are marked out as private, confidential packages, with the fastest possible shipping. With the same careful hands, Childe cuts them open, and ignores how his hands shake as he picks the contents up.
The most important is the ring. Carved from Snezhnayan starsilver and set with their traditional moonbright ores, it glows as it rests in the centre of his palm. Not yet accustomed to being near human warmth, the ring exudes cold; not enough to be uncomfortable, but is undoubtedly a reminder of Snezhnaya. It comes as a set, both rings with the moonbright stone as their centre stone, but one is surrounded with noctilucous jade, and the other with cor lapis down the band.
He can only hope that Zhongli likes these gifts as much as he does.
After pulling some strings, he manages to obtain which date would be the most fortunate for his endeavors. He even manages to wrangle the Adepti together to offer a gift of food and wine. He sits through the whole afternoon and evening of them once again asking him to complete challenges and trials, something that will apparently make him worthy of Zhongli.
“You seem to have regained your energy,” Xiao notes, and dons his mask again. Childe gives a sort of deranged laugh — spares a glance at Zhongli who is fortunately, calmly drinking his tea — and readies his bow once more.
Sure, he ends the day exhausted and more beaten up than he would have liked, but he’s received their approval and blessings, and Zhongli is smiling at him in that gentle, soft way.
After that successful — this is debatable — afternoon, Childe waits eight days to present Zhongli with the rest of his gifts. In the meantime, he takes Zhongli to look at the different houses, and even offers to have a house built in Qingce Village if he wants it. Peace and quiet, Childe had said, but Zhongli shook his head.
I don’t want to wait to see you for any longer than I have to, when you are dispatched on your missions.
So Zhongli had chosen a lovely house near the outskirts of the city; close enough to get to work and into the city, but also far enough that it afforded them privacy and tranquility. Childe, smitten with him, hands over some mora and tells him to decorate the house as he wants to.
The eighth day dawns dewy and cool, and Childe has been unable to sleep well for the past few days. He isn’t even quite sure what he’s so nervous about — Zhongli had assured him he would love the gifts, and he doesn’t even need to worry about whether Zhongli would accept them.
For now, he pointedly ignores the clench of his heart, and starts to get ready for his day.
Zhongli had agreed for him to go over to his current apartment, and they would later make arrangements to move into their new house; everything feels almost surreal, especially when Childe picks the gifts up. He opens them all, checks them once more to ensure they’re just as pristine and perfect as when he received them, and then he heads over to Zhongli’s.
The path to Zhongli’s apartment is familiar, and well-taken. To now walk towards him with the intention of becoming engaged, when he clearly remembers walking along this path for the first time so long ago — perhaps his years here has softened him. There is hardly time to pause and try to calm his feelings; he can already see Zhongli’s apartment from here, and he’s certain the door is ajar.
“Zhongli?” Childe calls, knocking on his door.
“Childe,” Zhongli answers, opening the door immediately. “You are early.”
“I couldn’t wait,” Childe admits, and steps into the apartment. “I apologise if I’ve disturbed you.” This early, Zhongli is not dressed as he usually is. There is just a simple collared shirt, and some slacks; he’s devoid of even his usual jewelry, and his hands are bare.
“On the contrary, I have been waiting for you,” Zhongli replies, and he brings over some tea that he has already prepared. “I admit, I am just as excited as you are. It has been difficult to contain myself these days, even with the tasks that I allotted myself for our new house.”
Our. Childe will never tire of hearing that.
“Then I won’t make you wait any longer,” Childe says, and brings out the multitude of boxes he had brought with him. He arranges them on the small table in the order that he will present them with, and takes a deep, settling breath.
Zhongli smiles at him across the table, unwavering.
“Zhongli, thank you for waiting for me, for as long as you have had. I should thank you even more, for expressing your feelings first, when I didn’t have the courage to do so. I trust that you know how I feel, and that everything I do here and now is for you.” Childe pauses, trying to remember the words scrabbled up in the back of his throat; Zhongli is still smiling at him, soft and open in this early morning.
“With these gifts that I have prepared for you, I hope you accept my hand,” Childe continues, his voice settling into something lower, something so sincere it comes from the base of his chest. “Your gift to me, I have received with my whole heart, and my answer to you is yes. If you will have me, then these gifts are to be yours — if you will have me, then I will have the greatest honour of calling you by your name, and calling you my husband.”
“You know my answer,” Zhongli says, and his voice washes like a small stream over pebbles; lovely, soothing. “My answer to you is always yes — I would have said yes, even if you did not prepare all of this.”
“You deserve only the best,” Childe insists, and they’re having a reiteration of the same conversation that they’ve had for weeks. “Would you like to see your gifts?”
Zhongli shakes his head, fond and affectionate. “With all my heart.”
Slowly, with fumbling hands, Childe opens the first box. “It’s a necklace,” He begins, lifting it out of the box gently. “I had it made with gold and jade, as I read in the books, and from what I’ve heard. I hope it is suitable.”
“Childe, you are the only one I have ever received betrothal gifts from,” Zhongli murmurs, hands coming to cradle the necklace delicately. “This is… exquisite. You have outdone yourself, by far. I almost cannot accept it.”
“But you will?”
“But I will,” Zhongli assures him. “Will you come and wear this for me?”
Childe gets up, and goes around the table. The necklace feels fragile in his hands, but the bare sweep of Zhongli’s neck as he lifts his hair up is even sweeter. There’s the lingering fragrance of flowers and tea when he leans in closer to clasp the necklace around his neck, and he’s almost unwilling to step away, hands lingering on the reveal of skin there.
“Childe,” Zhongli murmurs, his voice low, honeyed. “You have other things to show me?”
“R - right,” Childe stammers, coming back to his senses. “I had a hairpin made for you — to match the necklace, but also it matches the chopsticks you gave me. I thought it would be a nice thing…” He trails off as Zhongli opens the box with the hairpin laid in it, all carved amber. “I know you don’t wear your hair up, but it will do as decoration, if you wish.”
“Now that I have this, I should wear my hair up all the time,” Zhongli says, his fingertips brushing over the delicate metalwork. “This is just as beautiful… Childe, I…”
“That’s alright,” Childe assures him, bringing his hands to settle on Zhongli’s shoulders, standing behind him. “As long as you like them, then I am happy.”
“I love them,” Zhongli asserts, in a voice that Childe wants to label as choked-up. He turns around in his seat, looking up at Childe. “After we are wed — I am going to wear my hair up, and use this gift. I was already planning to do so, but since you have given me encouragement to do so…”
“Then I look forward to it,” Childe says, and he can smile now, affection taking over the nervousness in his chest. He watches Zhongli set the box back down on the table, only touching the hairpin and not picking it up, as though he was afraid it would shatter the moment he did.
“There is one more thing I have to give to you,” Childe says, picking up the last box.
“This is… not exactly how we do it in Snezhnaya, but we will have to make do,” Childe says, and his heart is finally calming down. “I would normally have introduced you to my family, and there would be a celebration, but I suppose we can do that later. These are for us.”
He opens the box, and places it in Zhongli’s hands; his own hands come to cup around Zhongli’s, holding him like that. “I had them made in Snezhnaya, with our traditional ores and jewels, then inlaid it with Liyuen jewels. I hope you like it, as… as I would like these to be our wedding rings, if you wish.”
Zhongli seems speechless like he never has been, not even when he was presented with the necklace and the hairpin. “I… these are incredibly beautiful, Childe.” He swallows, and seems to want to say more.
“I… yes — I would love to use these as our wedding rings. You have put so much time and effort into procuring these rings for us, how could I disagree? I cannot imagine anything else more perfect than this.”
“Thank the skies,” Childe sighs, leaning in to kiss Zhongli’s cheek. “I’m glad you like them all. I was… a little worried about you not liking them.”
“To the point of losing sleep?” Zhongli asks, pinching his cheek slightly. “You have gotten so many things for me, I really do not know where to begin in thanking you.”
Childe smiles at that. “Well, I suppose I have something to ask of you.”
“Then I will listen to you.”
It is so easy then, to lean in close to Zhongli, and drop his heart into his ears. Perhaps it is Zhongli that makes everything so easy, or perhaps it is because they love each other. Gods, he wants to marry this man soon.
Even so, the wedding is still some time away, and they have hardly started any preparations. Yet, Childe finds himself starting his vows right now, in this one moment. This time, when Zhongli nods his assent and leans into his touch, cheeks rosy and eyes bright. This time, when their hearts seem to beat at the same pace, a piece that has found its most matching half. This time, when Zhongli reaches out, intertwines their fingers like they have done this for their whole lives, filling the space between their fingers.
If this whole life was full of coincidences — if coming to Liyue was merely by chance — if his path to where he is now is merely trodden due to accident — then he can only be sure of one thing.
He has been made to love, and to love Zhongli, as much as Zhongli is for him. This, he is sure of; fate has tangled their strings together with her own hand, and Childe would be unable to let go of Zhongli, no matter anything.
He is sure of this — because it is the same thing Zhongli whispers to him.
one month later.
“Have you seen the funeral consultant? He’s tied his hair up!”
“Oh, really? I haven’t heard of a wedding being held, though?”
“Apparently, he got married overseas, because his spouse is a foreigner. Oh, how romantic…”
“Do you mean that man from Snezhnaya? The one that’s always around him?”
“Oh, you’re probably right! Imagine the ceremony being held there…”
“I see Liyue Harbour is as energetic as it ever is,” Childe remarks, observing the streets from his vantage point standing on the balcony. “We have hardly been away for a month.”
“Well, it must be a surprise that I’ve changed the way I wear my hair,” Zhongli says, coming to stand next to him. “Though I must admit, I did not expect many to know the significance behind it.”
Childe turns to look at him, and dips down to press a kiss to his forehead. “Well, all the better for me. I would have had to parade you around Liyue Harbour otherwise.”
Zhongli shakes his head fondly, and heads back in — presumably cold with how he’s only wearing a light robe. “You’ve had me all to yourself for a month, and you still want more? How greedy you are, husband.”
Childe smiles, and presses his body against Zhongli’s back, arms coming to wind around him. “Of course I am. The city has had you for centuries. I think it’s my turn.”
Zhongli only reaches back to hold his hand, occupied with fluffing the pillows with his other hand — but it brings so much tenderness into the cavity of Childe’s chest.
Their wedding rings, after all, make the prettiest noise when they hold hands.