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Lifelong partners does not mean lifelong friends, Childe

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Liyue is a land of rocks. And cliffs. And mountains. And ravines. And by god, if he saw another cliff he had to scale he was going to jump off it or destroy it, Childe resolved to himself.

“Childe, look,” Zhongli said, apropos of nothing. “A rock.”

Yes, Zhongli, Childe wanted to say. There is a rock. There are, in fact, many rocks all around us.

A whole fucking mountain, in fact.

Zhongli tilts his head slightly, looking at Childe’s face as though he was trying to read his thoughts. And Childe wasn’t sure whether that was one of Rex Lapis’ abilities or not, but he was not about to let himself be intimidated.

“What’s up?” Childe asked casually, his smile just as easy as his eyes curved up.

Zhongli’s eyes glanced up.

“The sky.”

Come get your god, Childe thought to himself, more than a bit hysterical, he’s not ready for the world yet.

Childe ended up laughing because otherwise, he would be crying.

Zhongli does that confused smile of his. Slightly tilting his head as he takes in Childe’s laughter with his usual grace, a mix of bemusement as he gentle petted the rock beside him.

Like it was a dog.

Someone, Childe begged, come get your god, please.

Zhongli’s smile widens slightly, as though bolstered by Childe’s laughter.

“The clouds are also up,” Zhongli said, a slight cheer in his normally serious voice. “And the mountaintops.”

Zhongli’s glance moved upwards once more.

“There are also qingxins up at the top, they like to grow there,” Zhongli explained. “Although it is a bit lonely, for them.”

Are you the god of dendro, now, Childe thought, his laughter dying down.

“Well, we ought to visit them, then,” Childe said easily, his eyes curving up into crescents again.

Zhongli smiles back just as easily, as he always does. Even when his smile was not as wide and his eyes never as curved. “Okay.”

“That’s not how you pet qingxins,” Zhongli said kindly. And that was the exact summary of what this outing had been.

“How,” Childe replied, on the tethering edge of breaking out in laughter again. Managing to save the very not rhetorical question and turning it into a statement instead. “Do you pet qingxin.”

Zhongli then proceeded to pet the qingxin.

“Like this,” Zhongli answered. Giving Childe a small smile and a ‘go ahead’ nod as he gestures towards the qingxin.

How, Childe thought again, having seen but not understand. How do you pet the fucking qingxin.

Childe places his hand over the qingxin as he tries to imagine it being a cute dog with his nonexistent third eye.

“You’re doing it too gently,” Zhongli chastised. As Childe was petting a literal flower.

“What,” Childe said aptly.

“They aren’t delicate flowers, you know,” Zhongli chastised again.

As Childe literally pets a fucking flower.

“So what are they?” Childe asked back, his smile a tad weaker than before from the mere mental exhertion of trying to keep up with this man.

“Qingxin,” Zhongli answered easily.

“Qingxin,” Childe repeated, again, his voice weaker than before because Zhongli. “A type of flower.”

“They are indeed,” Zhongli said, nodding in approval at Childe, then pointing at the flowers. “Very beautiful ones.”

“Yeah,” Childe agreed softly, because they were. And soft, too.

Zhongli, as though reading his mind, nodded. “Soft.”

“Well, I’m glad something can be soft and pretty upon these stiff cliffs,” Childe joked lightly, patting on the hard surface below him.

Zhongli seems to pause for a moment, staring at him and the qingxin before he nods. “Yes.”

That word felt profound, almost.

“The rocks of Liyue may be hard,” Zhongli started, after a moment of silence, apropos of nothing. “But with a steady stream, all stones soften, eventually.”

Childe raised an eyebrow as Zhongli turned his face away, opting instead to look at the blinding sun.

“That’s bad for your eyes, you know,” Childe commented helpfully, trying to start a conversation of some sort, after that nonsequitur.

Zhongli merely grunted.

Childe laughed, as he does, and he can see Zhongli’s small smile, even if the man was faced away from it.

It was a bit, cute- if Childe were to dwell on it.

One day, on one of their dinners where Zhongli never tires of adjusting Childe’s grip on his chopsticks, Zhongli hands him a book.

“What is this?” Childe asked, a smile already playing at his lips.

“A book,” Zhongli stated simply.

“It is,” Childe agreed, laughing softly. “On customs and traditions.”

Zhongli nodded, taking a sip of his tea.

“So why did you give it to me?” Childe asked, knowing that otherwise, Zhongli would assume that Childe knew why, even if he didn’t say a goddamn thing.

“I thought you might appreciate it,” Zhongli said. Taking another sip of his tea.

“Okay.” Childe laughed, hand moving through his hair. “I’ll read a bit of it.”

Zhongli smiled, gently, and Childe knew that he was going to read more than a bit of it.

“In volume fifteen,” Zhongli commented. “They talk of marriage.”

“Okay?” Childe couldn’t help but let the questioning tone leak from his utter confusion at the cut in towards the topic.

Zhongli glances away for a moment.

“You might be interested in that,” Zhongli said, apropos of nothing, as he usually does.

“I’ll read it all, don’t worry,” Childe reassured, already fourteen volumes deep.

It might’ve been his imagination, but, Zhongli’s ear seems faintly red.

Time passes like water, even if it were in Liyue.

Another day, another dinner.

“I find myself quite intrigued by Mondstat,” Zhongli commented. “With their dandelion wine.”

“Sounds fun,” Childe said.

“Indeed.” After having said such, Zhongli proceeded to pull out several jugs of wine. “Do you want to try some?”

Childe lets out a guffaw as he stared, wondering from what dimension did Zhongli pulled those from.

“These are…?”

“Dandelion wine,” Zhongli said. “My friend got them.”

“Friend, you say.” Childe played with the chopsticks. “How interesting.”

Zhongli nodded. “He flew all the way over here to give them to me.”

Zhongli, please, Childe thought.

“How?” Childe choked out.

“With his wind,” Zhongli said simply.

Zhongli, please, Childe thought again.

“Anyways, wine,” Childe said quickly. Because someone had to rescue this man.

Zhongli poured wine in his and Childe’s cup with practiced ease.

Childe took a sip.

“Well, it is good,” Childe complimented. Zhongli’s smile appearing again as he takes his own sip.

“Only the highest quality.” Zhongli nodded. His glances moving to and fro between Childe and the cup. And his ears a faint crimson.

“Childe,” Zhongli began. “You… read volume fifteen, already, yes?”

His voice sounded hesitant, almost.

“I did,” Childe replied with cheer in his voice. “Once again, it was very interesting.“

Zhongli seems to gulp, then, as he slowly pulled out some rocks and a multitude of flowers, once again, some interdimensional space. As there was no way those fitted inside this man’s nonexistent pockets.

Zhongli very unsubtly cleared his throat.

“For you.” His voice seems to be wavering. Different from its usual rock steadiness.

(In Liyue, Childe seemed to remember reading. An offering of nine things: cor lapis, noctilucous jade, jueyun chili, glaze lilies, silk flower, violetgrass, qingxin, starconch, and, last of all, a core crystal from a geo crystalfly represented-)

“Are you sure?” Childe asked.

(- a desire to be lifelong partners.)

Or, as Childe understood it: lifelong friends.

Offering to be forever friends with your Fatui foe doesn’t seem to be the smartest or wisest of choices, and vice versa. Childe was sure, somewhat, that there must be a rule somewhere about making friends with the archon you're supposed to take down.

Zhongli nodded. His ears a faint shade of crimson. And his face carrying a slight flush, not from the wine, Childe was sure.

Archons are not friends, Childe thought to himself. Especially not to a Fatui.

There are many other thoughts, but as Childe looked as Zhongli. Earnest and fumbling with his rocks and flower and chili-

“Okay,” Childe said, reaching over to grab the things.

“You are sure?” Zhongli asked, his eyes wide.

“Gimme,” Childe replied. Grabbing onto the things as he smiles, slightly crooked.

Zhongli smiled then, like all things good. And Childe might probably be very drunk because his heart decided to stop for a moment.

Zhongli refilled their wine cups. His hands were a bit shaky, but his smile stayed true as he finished by tying a red string between the cups.

He mixed some honey along with it, something he didn’t do before, and held up a cup to Childe.

Childe took a sip as Zhongli takes a sip of his own, then, Zhongli, in an odd gesture, switched their cups. Looking softly at him as he downs the rest of Childe’s cup.

Childe remembered reading about this, or so he thinks. He wasn’t sure, since he was drunk.

On Zhongli, his brain decided to state. And Childe, because he did not want his brain to work anymore, downed the cup.

Because fuck you, brain, he was definitely drunk on wine and an alcoholic.

Zhongli set down his cup, smiling softly at Childe.

“We are now bound for life,” Zhongli said softly. Setting his- once Childe's- cup down with grace as he smiles. A faint glimmer in his eyes.

“Yep,” Childe croaked. Once again drunk.

Life long friends, Childe thought to himself.

Husband, Zhongli thought fondly.