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"You are looking nice today."

The traveler can't make head or shoulders of what is currently happening. It would be more accurate to specify that this has been going on for some time now. There's a certain tension between him and Childe that he can't quite explain. It prickles his skin and twists his stomach. Childe grins, most likely knowing that this weird approach of his is throwing Aether off. 

He dodges another arrow.

It's hard to think about his current predicament when they are so focused trying to get at each other's necks. A Geo rock shields him from a barrage of hydro charged arrows. Childe is getting faster at charging those. 

"What about dinner later?"

He looks towards Childe's direction like he has grown a second head. 

What the fuck? 

He tries to crash a rock meteorite into his stupid, fluffy , red head. Childe jumps back expertly soon enough to evade it, as expected. 

"Can't you shut up?" Aether pants exasperatedly. 

He's not usually loud. Perhaps only with monsters and enemies he becomes just a bit violent, out of need, he tries to justify. He considers himself to be a quiescent person, -he doesn't relate barely knowing Teyvatian¹ to this. 

However, when he's around Childe, his being burns with a passion to battle the red haired Fatui. It grows from his chest and expands all over his body. It pumps his blood and shoots his adrenaline high to a point where he actually enjoys it. 

And he hates that sensation. Aether is nothing like Childe. Craving battle and violence. Seeking to become stronger. Laughing like a child at a playground. Childe looks more relaxed during battle than he does during social meetings. Aether does, at least, relate to this. Paimon does all the talking, he listens. Maybe a nod or a few words here and there when needed. 

Didn't he just ask him to have dinner? Admist the rain of hydro arrows fucking aiming at him? 

"Is that yes or a no?" Childe smirks. It's wide and pearly white, close enough to Aether for him to notice how his eyes shine for a second as well. The light lost to them twinkles amidst the battle. He looks so ecstatic. It makes Aether's chest tighten. 

Archons, he hates it . So, so much. 

Childe switches to close combat. He might not notice, or perhaps he has fallen into routine too, but he has a pattern to his attacks. Aether braces himself for the Hydro blades. He infuses his own blade with Electro to deflect the blades. The air feels electrified, he feels his hair stand and his skin tingle. 

Or is it Childe's cackle which quickens his heartbeat? It can't be, must be the heat of the battle, the strain of his body to keep moving.

Are those freckles across the bridge of his nose, splashing his cheeks? They are faint, only noticeable while their faces are this close when their weapons clash. 

Aether jumps back when he feels his face heat up. When their eyes encounter, he needs to look away, the butterflies in his stomach fluttering even crazier. Because Childe brushes his hair back so casually with his wet hands, and he looks even more attractive. 

Wait, more? Attractive?! Like hell. He is an idiot. A big battle-crazed idiot. 

"Don't avoid me," Childe is striding towards him and Aether snaps his head a second too late. His Hydro blades had been fused into a double edged weapon. The redhead carelessly pushes him, and he falls to the ground. The weapon is nailed next to his head, barely missing his face. Water splashes his cheek and rolls down his hot skin. "Can you keep a secret?" His smirk widens, yet his expression holds some seriousness to it. 

"What?" Aether breathes out. His face is close, way too close

Yes, those are freckles, confirmed. 

He has never seen his sky blue eyes this alive. It's so enthralling. It makes his heart swell with an inexplicable sensation.

"I wouldn't want to battle this way with anyone that isn't you."

Aether's breath stutters. 

Please don't , he thinks. He wouldn't want this with anyone else either. He can only let everything out in their battles. Give everything he has. 

This is bad

"Stop looking at me like that," Aether growls. Baring his teeth enough he hopes. He wants to push Childe away, but his arms are flat to the ground. They are heavy, he can't lift them. Or does he even want to? 

"Like what?" Childe murmurs. He feigns innocence. Were his fangs always this sharp? "Listen."

Aether doesn't want to, but it's not like he has anywhere else to be. He pretends he's not pinned by the other, his hips hold down by Childe's weight. He arches an eyebrow. 

"I like you, comrade."

He looks at Childe with complete disbelief. He searches for any sign that he might be lying -he has to be!-, and there's none. He despises the way his heart skips a beat, his breath shortens and his throat goes dry. He's torn between pushing him away with all his strength or pull him until their bodies are completely flushed together-

"As in really like ." 

Thanks for the clarification, it doesn't make it any better. Of everyone he has met, and believe him when he says he knows a lot of people by now across Teyvat, why Childe? The one person that has a crush on him, he doesn't trust to cherish him in a way he would enjoy. 

"You are crazy," Aether ignores the ache. If he doesn't think about it, then it's not there. He is not disappointed, of course not. He is doing this for their own good. What good will come from their relationship if they were to form one?

 "You are just pulling my leg. Haha, how funny. Laugh on the outlander's face." He laughs awkwardly. 

Childe, however, does not laugh. His smile is wiped and a serious scowl follows it. "I'm serious."

"Is it a fact or a threat?" Aether snarls. He doesn't like this. He feels cornered. He's not enjoying the needles prickling his body. His toes curl. His heart keeps betraying him. 

Childe sighs and whatever traces of light shone before in his eyes, disappear. He smiles, but it's outright fake. His muscles are tense and he doesn't part away. Aether's body also tenses in response. 

"It's easier if you just say no, you know." Childe is right. Of course, Aether knows he is right. And he hates all about it. 

"I don't like lying." Aether states. He sighs heavily and it's not enough to let out the weight that has settled on his chest. "You and me though, it's crazy." 

Childe's eyes widen. Well, shit. That is as good as a confession. Aether wants to punch himself. 

You are dumb and impulsive, you've spent too much time with this attractive idiot. 

"So you like me too?" Childe brightens up a little. 

"Do you even listen to me?" Aether finds enough strength to propel himself on his elbows. This causes their faces to be closer to one another. He feels Childe's hot breath caressing his face. "It wouldn't…" a sigh gets lodged in his throat and hitches. "...work…"

Is he getting closer? 

Definitely Childe is not listening. He can feel their noses touching. 

Is he going to kiss me…? 

"Why?" The question is barely a whisper. 

Aether can't look at Childe anymore, he is too close and he urges to turn his head the other way. He feels his cheeks burning with embarrassment, way too obvious. 

"I'm…" he swallows the invisible lump that makes his voice crack the moment he speaks. His arms still propelling him up start to tremble like mint jelly. "I'm an enemy of the Fatui-"

"I don't see the issue," Aether can't see Childe's expression anymore but he can feel the sigh he releases against his cheek. "Call it having connections." 

The audacity of this man. This type of answer makes it clear for Aether that Childe is being absolutely serious. His tone is enough to determine how insistent he's going to be about it. No matter what Aether says, he might be doomed. 

"Give me a valid reason," Childe sits back, far now from Aether's face and at that moment his arms give away and he's again laying flat on the floor. "Give me just one valid reason and I'll desist." 

"Like what?" He glances at Childe from the corner of his eye. He looks expectant and yet there's an air of anxiousness surrounding the harbinger which is not an usual thing. 

"If you hate me," Childe knows this isn't true so he speaks confidently. Aether doesn't think he actively hates anyone for that matter -despise, maybe. "If you don't want to spend time with me," their weekly sparring should be enough of an answer. Sometimes they have lunch or dinner together afterwards, Zhongli accompanying them as an intermediary. "If you loath the idea of a relationship for whatever personal reasons."

Aether opens his mouth, tempted to agree with this last statement, yet he can't. It would be lying, to Childe and to himself. His chest aches just thinking about declining this opportunity. He has the chance to form a meaningful relationship, perhaps even make his journey a little less solitary. Is it really that bad he wants to find solace in someone's arms?

"Your eyes betray you, comrade." Childe's hand is suddenly on his cheek, his glove is wet and cold but the touch feels warm somehow. 

What face am I making? 

His body also betrays his thoughts and unconsciously he leans into the hand letting out a sigh. He doesn't know what to say, his mind is blank. All he can think about is how incredibly soft Childe's expression looks. It has nothing to do with how he acts in battle, it's the complete opposite. 

"This is wrong," the blond forcefully closes his eyes to stop himself from staring at Childe. To stop noticing every little detail that slowly spirals him further into this madness. He doesn't want to fall for him more than he already does. "I… I don't know how it can work."

"Do you think I have any idea?" Childe chuckles amusedly. 

It's light, and soft , whatever is inside Aether's stomach is making summersaults. He wants to run away, his face is starting to hurt from strain and heat. 

"I've even been asking Zhongli about it. It's so embarrassing." 

Aether didn't believe him to be capable, but his face actually blushes at this, it's so faint but noticeable on the pale skin. He covers his mouth with his other gloved hand and his blue eyes shift away momentarily. It makes Aether want to know what type of advice the former Archon gave him to actually make the harbinger feel flustered. It's so adorable Aether wants to hug him. His fingers twitch with the urge but he manages to keep his hands to the floor. 

"You are… clearly trying," Aether murmurs. If he speaks too loud, his heart will spill out. He doesn't want to be that vulnerable. He doesn't feel ready. 

"I don't mind if I have to learn, if you'd allow me to." 

His words are cutting Aether deep. Deep enough for him to consider everything. His heart is screaming at him, reaching out to Childe, his carefully built walls had all been demolished by his pretty smiles and kind gestures. 

"You know I'm quite dexterous at learning anything!" His arms cross over his chest and he looks so proud about it that Aether feels a laugh bubbling up his chest. He snorts instead. 

What a goof. He loves it. 

"Aether, listen," Childe picks up his hands from the floor and holds them tightly between his. Aether suddenly wishes their gloves weren't in the way of their touch. His name coming out of those lips though, he has to refrain from sighing like a lovestruck idiot. "I know my hands aren't built to be gentle. I've been trained for war, to fight battles no one else would and I enjoy holding weapons between them-" he shakes his head and stops himself from going any further into detail. "I understand if you don't want to trust your heart into these bloodied hands, but I know you can trust me to protect it with all I have."

"Childe…" Aether is at a loss for words. It makes it so meaningful that Childe knows what the flaw is in all of this, what might make Aether shy away from a relationship with him, but he just took that and turned it into a strength. This man is really one of a kind and he's left with very little regrets about falling for him.

He hopes those won't come back to haunt him. 

"So I ask you again… What about dinner later?" Childe holds his hands tighter. He might be oblivious to the fact that he is making such a hopeful face. "It'll be good, I promise!" He laughs openly. It's so bright, like bells tingling under the sunshine. He is like a literal child asking for candy. 

Aether's heart swells. So hard to say no. 

I surrender.

"Fine, you win. Let's go have dinner together." 

For once, he doesn't feel bad about losing a fight.