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Quite frankly, Childe had known this to be a bad idea from the start.

Aside from the fundamental fact of Zhongli’s deeply flawed judgement of what exactly constituted as a “casual” affair, if there’s anything that his near two-decades on this planet have taught him, it’s that nothing in this world comes without sacrifice.

Even still, it’s only when he finds himself hanging upside down, suspended some six feet in the air by the vine wrapped around his ankle that he realizes exactly how bad of an idea it had been. While he’s not opposed to helping the people of Liyue, between Zhongli apparently having accepted the commission without even pausing to hear the details of their assigned mark and his current situation, Childe decides that he’s definitely not getting paid enough for this.

“Hey,” he starts at his companion, wondering not for the first time what had possessed him to agree to embarking on this venture, all while attempting to keep his shirt from giving way to gravity and falling open entirely. “Don’t just stand there--”

He twists himself violently in the vine’s grasp, hoping to catch a better glimpse of what in the hells Zhongli is doing that could be more impossible than cutting Childe loose from a potentially carnivorous plant. Unfortunately, the movement does little to gain him a better angle to view Zhongli from and a lot to give said plant everything it needs to drag Childe closer.

An undignified sort of squeak escapes him as he’s hauled easily towards its open...mouth--or something of the sort--, the petals twisting open to reveal a thankfully toothless interior. In fact, if the regisvine is attempting to eat him,  Childe can’t quite see how, seeing as the thing lacks any sort of opening whatsoever.

“Huh--” Childe starts, which is when he’s promptly sprayed with some sort of faintly sweet-smelling secretion from within the vine’s petals. 

He flinches away on instinct, shutting his eyes and managing to avoid the worst of it, but the substance immediately dissipates into vapor upon contact with the air, cloaking his immediate surroundings and choking his next breath. His body contorts as he coughs against the tightness in his throat, and in the next involuntary jerk of his form, the vine’s grip on him loosens on him entirely.

He’s had his fair share of long falls, sure--although perhaps his time in the abyss had only felt like one--but as disoriented as he is, he doubts he’ll have the ability to maneuver himself in a way that protects his head from smashing into the stones. It doesn’t stop him from trying at least, twisting around midair and shutting his eyes to brace against the inevitable impact until--

“My apologies.”

An intruding force snatches him out of the air, Zhongli’s arms tucked securely beneath his upper back and the backs of his knees. In the confusion of it all, Childe reflexively reaches out, one hand curling around Zhongli’s bicep to steady himself as the other neatly lands some distance away from the regisvine.

There’s a moment, then, where Zhongli simply...stands there. Despite the both of them being in a position of relative safety, he doesn’t release Childe immediately, merely blinking slowly at Childe with a familiar tilt of his head, his golden gaze unsubtly shifting over Childe’s form.

As Childe’s come to learn, some six months into his stay in Liyue, Zhongli is either extraordinarily bad at recognizing when awkward situations have become so in the first place, or he simply doesn’t care.

Childe coughs again, both to clear his still spasming throat and to give himself a reason to look away. He swallows hard, his heart fluttering uncomfortably fast in his chest--probably from the adrenaline of having been very nearly...whatever the plant had wanted with him.

“You sure took your time,” he says lightly, hoping to disguise his unease as he shifts in Zhongli’s grasp. It’s more than a little unbecoming to have needed saving from a plant, but he supposes that everyone has their off days.

“Again, my apologies. I was, ah...handling complications of my own.”

Zhongli slowly sets him down, and Childe almost wishes he hadn’t, the world tilting rather unpleasantly as soon as his unsteady feet touch the ground. His legs make a valiant attempt at holding him upright for all of ten seconds before he finds himself pitching forwards once more, the rapid beat of his heart now accompanied by a prickling sort of heat, a kind that feels like it crawls beneath his skin.

He can see Zhongli’s impassive expression twist slightly with concern, but it’s hard to focus on the other’s face as he stumbles forward, caught only by Zhongli’s chest, the other’s hands going to hold Childe upright by his shoulders.

Oh, Childe thinks with another painful swallow, his heartbeat suddenly too loud for his own ears. It’s poisoned me.

In a distant corner of his vision, he can see Zhongli’s right forearm, the sleeve torn away and a deep scratch running from the pale crook of his elbow and down to his wrist, blood slowly seeping into Childe’s own clothes.

Childe shifts his gaze to the rest of Zhongli as soon as he is able, concern twisting in his chest, but Zhongli looks largely unaffected by whatever substance is currently turning Childe into a useless blob. 

There’s that, at least--the perks of being an Archon, maybe.

“I don’t...know what it did,” he tries to say, his own voice sounding almost underwater with how distant it is, and Zhongli’s expression furrows as he examines Childe more carefully.

The man tightens his grip against Childe’s shoulders, whether he means to or not, and Childe is surprised at how suddenly comforting the solidness of his touch feels, a sharp chill arcing down his spine, intense enough to send a slow shudder through the rest of him.

Zhongli’s uninjured arm moves upwards, his hand tilting Childe’s chin up until they’ve made a vague sort of eye contact.

“Hm,” is all Zhongli says--or doesn’t say--studying Childe’s pupils with his usual intensity. 

Childe isn’t sure what Zhongli is looking for, or what he’s even seeing, but he allows the other to guide his next actions anyways, letting himself be walked backwards until his back finds the stable surface of the mountainside.

“Wait here.”

Before Childe can properly respond, Zhongli releases him, allowing Childe to slide slowly back to the ground, leaning dazedly against the cliff. The loss of Zhongli’s touch feels almost like a physical discomfort, the empty places where the other’s warm hands had been tingling against his oversensitive skin.

Childe tilts his head back, the rest of the world going with it, blinking up at the sky as he tries to gather his bearings, shoving aside the unbecoming part of him that so strangely craves Zhongli’s touch. He feels almost cold without it, the arctic touch of the rock against his back seeping through the thin fabric of his shirt, uncontrollable tremors making their way up his suddenly sore muscles.

It feels like a fever--maybe it is one. Childe isn’t exactly an expert on the consequences of being dosed with some of Liyue’s finest regisvine pollen.

Zhongli, though, quite possibly knows more than he’s letting on, if the haste with which he dispatches the plant is anything to go by, the earth rising up to form an unmoving cocoon for the plant, holding it in place as a large meteor abruptly arrives to squash it flat. The man stands there, watching impassively as the regisvine twitches in place before going lifeless and limp, then turns smoothly back to collect Childe.

“Can you walk on your own?” Zhongli asks, and Childe is rather tempted to meet the man’s question with one of his own, namely what on Teyvat he’d been doing before, if he could have simply done that from the start.

Whatever. He can ask Zhongli about it--and possibly for a fight, actually--later, after he manages to stand up.

“Don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to,” he tries lightly, but his words fall rather flat at his unsteady attempts to get back to his feet, the brief moment of respite having been nowhere near long enough to allow him to recover. 

He hisses out as he finds himself all but relying on the mountainside for support, largely in frustration at his own weakness. Physical injuries, he can deal with--at least with cuts and scrapes and broken bones, he’d always known what he was working with, and how to fix it.

Whatever this is, whatever is currently coursing through his veins with a burning heat and making the skin at the back of his neck prickle with an almost painful sharpness-- this, he doesn’t know what to do.

“If you know what’s going on, then...now...now would be a good time for one of your speeches, don’t you think?”

Zhongli pauses then, looking almost hesitant, his hands frozen halfway where they’re extended towards Childe once more. Uncertainty is a strange look on the man, on someone who always moves and acts with a graceful kind of purpose, and Childe has to wonder exactly how bad things have to be to curb even Zhongli’s honest tongue.

“Not here,” Zhongli shakes his head, then bends down and pulls Childe up against him before Childe can protest.

He’s not sure he would be able to, his head falling limply against Zhongli’s chest, the solid warmth of the other’s body immediately soothing to Childe’s own. The chills wracking his frame almost automatically subside, the steady beat of Zhongli’s heart lullling Childe’s own to an almost normal rate. 

It’s a temporary thing, though, he knows, whatever Zhongli’s presence is doing for him. Even as he closes his eyes, he can feel the building heat behind the backs of his eyelids, the discomfort that swells in the pit of his stomach only barely held back by this.

Still, he’ll take whatever he can get--his form goes limp, and then, somewhere between his last blink and the next, he loses track of things entirely. He allows Zhongli to take the lead, fairly stumbling after him as the other patiently leads him to their destination, too out of his own head to protest much.

“I require a room,” he hears Zhongli say, somewhere in the distance, and then Childe feels himself being tugged along weightlessly, drifting up the stairs and into the soft lighting of the inn he’s become so familiar with.

Zhongli allows Childe to stumble inside first, then pauses at the open doorway, his grip on the wooden edge of the door tight enough that Childe can see the tension in his pale hand.

“You will be fine on your own, then.”

What?

“You...you’re leaving?” Childe hears himself say, stepping forwards unsteadily to close some of the distance between them. It takes a few tries, given the way his vision is currently doubling itself before his eyes, but Zhongli is so perfectly still that he manages to get it in the end. “You got me into this mess. You don’t just—you can’t just leave.”

Zhongli’s gaze flicks downwards,  his expression shuttering and his lips pressing into a tight line.

With an almost painstaking slowness, the man removes his hand from the door to take another reluctant step backwards, already starting to shake his head again.

“I assure you, Childe. It is best that I...not be here, for now.”

A faint frustration bubbles up within him at the vagueness in the other’s words--that, at least, he’s used to though. He certainly isn’t accustomed to the almost painful twist in his gut, the almost-instinctual feeling that he shouldn’t, that he can’t allow Zhongli to leave. It takes no small amount of effort to swallow it down, to shove it aside in providing a hopefully more rational response, one that doesn’t sound as inexplicably desperate as he’s starting to feel.

“Well, at least tell me what’s happening.”

He almost sees Zhongli yield at that, the other clearly warring with himself before he turns away without a further word.

“Wait--” 

More out of impulse than anything, Childe blindly reaches out, and his fingertips just barely brush against Zhongli’s exposed arm. A deep shudder immediately passes through the other’s form at the contact, the muscles in his back tensing with the movement, and in the next instant, Childe feels his back collide with the wall as Zhongli presses him against it.

Childe freezes at the movement, one so sudden that he hadn’t even had the time to react to it, and time seems to slow as he blinks at Zhongli. The other is staring at him hard, the pupils of his golden eyes dilated, his breaths coming heavily through his clenched jaw.

After a moment, Zhongli swallows hard, seemingly forcing himself to loosen his hold on Childe’s shoulder, turning his face away and breaking eye contact.

“I...may have been affected as well,” Zhongli admits, almost to himself, and Childe follows his gaze as it drifts to the side, at the rough skin of his forearm, dried blood still marking the place where he’d been scratched by the regisvine’s thorns. 

“By what? Just tell me what the hell this is.”

He half expects Zhongli to evade him again, but the man looks back at him, at the way he currently has Childe shoved against the wall, and evidently determines--rather correctly--that things have come too far at this point.

“An...aphrodisiac. This breed of regisvine often chooses these months to procreate. It is logical that it would defend itself with whatever resources it had available.”

Oh.

Childe feels himself flush, the pink that creeps in his cheeks entirely separate from the pheromones weighing down his blood. Between always sharing a bed with one or more of his siblings and his many duties as a Harbinger, he’s never had the time to even consider anything remotely related to sex, much less demonic vine-related sex.

“So what do we--I’ve never…”

Zhongli looks at him, and his gaze is almost gentle, then, the restraint clear in each of his motions.

“I know. Thus why I cannot stay here.”

“And if I want you to stay here?”

The other freezes, another hard swallow preceding his next words. 

“Do not say such things,” he says lowly, a warning lining his voice. He must realize it, the strain in his words and the roughness in his tone, because he makes an audible attempt to soften himself. “You are not in control of yourself. The effect of the plant--it clouds your judgement. You do not fully understand what you speak of.”

“I understand just fine.”

Zhongli is probably right--it’s maybe the pollen that’s making him say this now, the desperate heat within him that demands more of Zhongli’s touch. Childe is inexperienced in this area, more than inexperienced, actually, and he hardly knows what he’s getting into.

But all things considered, the choice seems pretty clear.

“It got you too, didn’t it? Not as...not as badly, but you can’t pretend like you don’t feel anything. So your plan is just for both of us to sit in separate rooms and suffer it out? I’d rather just go and find someone else to--”

“You will not.”

The snarl that tears its way from Zhongli’s throat stops him short, the hand still curling into his shoulder feeling almost painful. When Childe chances a look downwards, he swears he can see the first hint of claws, of nails longer and sharper than Childe’s ever remembered them being. It’s startling enough to halt the advance of the haze in his mind, to properly look at the rest of Zhongli, at the ridged scales creeping up the skin of his neck and starting to line his jaw.

He’s not sure how it escaped his notice before--that whatever Zhongli is feeling is quite possibly enough to make him lose control of his form altogether, for hints of his true self to creep into his mortal vessel.

Maybe Childe really doesn’t know what he’s doing. But that’s never stopped him before.

“Okay,” he answers steadily, an unusual sort of calm settling over him, as if he’s about to step over the edge of something. “Do something about it, then.”

A sharp tremor passes through Zhongli’s body, the muscles in his back rippling in a last attempt to restrain himself, but he lowers his head , almost gently nonetheless, resting his head against the curve of Childe’s neck. Childe feels the brush of Zhongli’s lips, then the sharp points of what might be fangs ghosting barely over his rapidly fluttering pulse.

“You are certain.”

It’s a statement more than a real question, the last barrier of defense standing between where they are now and where they might be, after all of this is settled.

Childe huffs out a breath, his words edged with the slightest laugh, the high of the pollen starting to cloud the rest of his thoughts. “When am I not?”

Zhongli lets out the softest of sighs, fondness and resignation tangled into the noise. Then, in one motion, he cards the fingers of his free hand into Childe’s hair, tugs his head to the side, and sinks his teeth into his neck.

The pain lasts for barely a second before the sharp sting of the bite is abruptly washed away in a sea of something else, a rush of pure adrenaline that shoots straight towards Childe’s head in a dizzying rush. He feels his legs nearly crumple beneath him, but Zhongli shoves him more firmly against the wall with another growl, his tongue--longer than Childe remembers--lapping at the broken skin of the bite.

Between the lazy pulse of the wound against the cool air and the spreading hypersensitivity he knows can’t be natural, Childe can feel what little control he’d thought he’d had slipping away altogether. The rest of his clothes feel suffocating in comparison to the exposed strip of his neck, and he finds himself instinctively pushing at Zhongli’s shoulder, squirming underneath him in an attempt to reach for himself, his fingers tugging aimlessly at the fabric of his jacket.

He doubts he can even remember how to undo the clasps on it anymore, but Zhongli neatly solves the problem for the both of them, the pointed tips of his sharpened nails tearing through the front of his clothes. A moment later, the man pulls away, and the loss of his touch is like a physical ache, an embarrassingly audible whine escaping him even as he bites at his own lip to force the noise back.

“I will not leave,” Zhongli reassures him--it’s bad enough that the man feels the need to speak up at all--then curves his hand firmly around the back of Childe’s neck. 

Childe immediately melts into the touch, allowing himself to be led forwards until he dazedly finds himself somewhat collapsed on the bed, the touch of the soft sheets almost too much against his heated skin. At the very least, laying here is much less effort than trying to remain standing had been, and Childe takes advantage of his new position to squirm properly out of the suddenly too-tight confines of his pants.

He’s never liked tight clothing in general, but as of now, he physically can’t imagine anything worse than keeping this much fabric around him, his breaths coming in shallowly as the air brushes against his now bare legs.

Zhongli is clearly still intent on employing some measure of restraint, if the slow way that he settles himself beside Childe’s legs is any indication, his hands paused halfway towards Childe’s hips. He looks at Childe for a long moment, his gaze unsubtly traveling up the length of Childe’s body, and Childe drapes his forearm over his eyes before the other can make eye contact with him.

Like this, in the artificial darkness behind his eyelids, it’s almost easier to think, to act despite the numbing heat that creeps into his cheeks in a dark flush. Even for all his inexperience, he at least has an idea of what is supposed to happen here, and he parts his legs slightly in what he refuses to admit is an invitation.

“Just...do something,” he says, half in impatience, and half in exasperation that Zhongli is still being so careful about this. But that’s just like him, Childe supposes with an odd rush of fondness, always giving entirely too much thought to anything he does. “Do whatever you want.”

It’ll be what Childe wants, too, so it works out for the both of them. Probably.

Even without looking, he can feel the way that Zhongli’s hesitance finally gives way to resolve, his usually refined, polite tone almost entirely absent from the growl of his next words.

“Lay on your stomach.”

He hastens to follow the command, dropping his forearm only to bury his face into the pillow, and hearing, rather than seeing, the way that Zhongli shifts behind him. The edges of Zhongli’s near-claws graze against his hips as the other pulls his lower half upwards.

“Wait,-” Childe starts, because as little as he knows about this, he doubts that he’s meant to just take what happens next, with almost nothing to prepare him. 

He lifts his head, about to twist himself around to make sure Zhongli hasn’t lost too much of himself when the other lowers his head, and his very forked tongue brushes against the rim of Childe’s entrance.

“Oh, f--” Childe stifles the rest of his gasp back into the pillow, his entire body seizing against the touch, a slow shudder rippling up the curve of his spine as Zhongli’s tongue laps at his oversensitive walls. His fingers curl into the sheets nearly hard enough to tear into them, the force of the sensation hardening his cock beneath him before Zhongli has even properly begun.

Zhongli makes no comment on the strength of Childe’s reaction, but his nails dig into Childe’s hips as he drags him closer, pushing deeper into him. The side of his tongue brushes wetly against Childe’s prostate, and Childe feels himself tighten reflexively around the motion, biting out his next moan into the sheets, his hips jerking downwards in fruitless search for more of it.

He can’t even be sure that any of this is normal, if whatever the pollen is doing to his head is merely amplifying every sensation or if Zhongli and his dragon tongue are simply this good at taking him apart.

“Wait, I--I’ll,” he tries to get out, gasping around the bursts of pleasure that are rapidly robbing him of his ability to string his words together. 

His body shudders, his hole spasming around Zhongli’s tongue, and then Childe comes messily against his own stomach, spilling his release out onto the sheets beneath him. Zhongli pushes him through the high, continuing to lap at him until his vision blurs with the first hint of tears, but despite his incredibly recent orgasm, he can still feel the brush of his cock against the mattress, still half-hard and being quickly pushed back the edge of arousal.

He’s young, sure, but in all of his experimentation with his own hand, he’s never once recovered this quickly. It doesn’t even feel like a recovery--in fact, it doesn’t feel like he’d even come at all, the brief flash of relief from his high rapidly giving way to a growing emptiness, a desperate kind of drive for more.

Zhongli releases him as Childe dazedly comes to this revelation, pulling away and fiddling impatiently with the clasps of his own clothing. When he next bends over Childe, Childe can feel the touch of the other’s bare chest through the thin layer of the back of his open shirt.

“The pollen,” Zhongli murmurs lowly into his ear, his voice pitched considerably lower than Childe is used to, and one of Zhongli’s hands wraps carefully around the shaft of Childe’s cock, stroking him as he ruts his own hardness impatiently against the back of Childe’s thigh. “For a mortal to receive such a concentrated dose of it…”

He trails off, sounding almost fascinated, and Childe might even protest were he not shuddering against every brush of Zhongli’s hand, his hips chasing instinctively after the man’s palm when Zhongli pulls away.

“I have you,” Zhongli says, then pushes into Childe in a slow thrust.

Childe nearly chokes on his next breath at the sudden intrusion, his walls only slightly loosened from the combination of his orgasm and Zhongli’s actions. Even still, he’s nowhere near prepared enough to take so much of Zhongli at once, even the tip of the other’s cock stretching him wider than he’s ready for. 

The heat snaking through his veins burns at the drag of Zhongli’s shaft against his oversensitive insides, and the pressure against his prostate momentarily whites his vision out, his eyes falling shut as he struggles to remind himself to breathe. He’s never been quite so full before, and Zhongli doesn’t pause despite it, pushing in until his hips are flush with Childe’s ass, buried completely within him, deep enough that it almost feels like an ache.

Even still, even with how much of Zhongli he’s feeling at once, the feeling of emptiness within him refuses to relent, demands that he shift his hips against Zhongli’s cock, forcing the man deeper inside of him before either of them can expect it. Zhongli hisses out sharply through his clenched teeth, one of his hands slamming into the mattress beside Childe’s head to keep his balance, the other digging into Childe’s hips hard enough for his nails to leave proper marks.

Distantly, he feels Zhongli’s claws actually break through the skin, the heat of his own blood cooling against his hip, but the pain of it barely registers in his muddled brain--he wants to feel more of it, even, and he presses himself further backwards even as Zhongli growls out a warning behind him.

“I need it,” Childe almost snaps in answer, barely in control of his own words, of his own mind, and Zhongli shoves him roughly forwards, drawing his hips out until only the tip of him remains in Childe. 

He doesn’t bother to start slow when he fucks back into Childe, thrusting into him in a way that feels like it might bruise, and Childe arches his back against the sensation, his body instinctively shifting in an attempt to relieve the pressure against him. 

At some point, Zhongli’s thrusts grow more erratic, falling out of sync with his usual rhythm, and with a low grunt, he sinks his teeth into the exposed curve of Childe’s shoulder and comes within him. Childe shivers at the sensation of being filled, the fog in his mind lessening by just a fraction at it. 

It’s almost immediately replaced with the near-panic that Zhongli might be done, that he might leave Childe like this, and he desperately clenches around Zhongli’s cock with a muffled noise, a whine that he might later acknowledge as a plea of sorts. 

It takes several of his attempts to keep Zhongli within him to realize that the other’s cock is still hard, that Zhongli is pulling out of him only to flip him over onto his back, shoving his thighs against his chest in a way that nearly bends Childe in half as he shoves back in.

Childe’s body obediently makes way for the intrusion, parting easily around Zhongli’s cock to take him in this time, his head pressing back against the pillow and his damp bangs falling messily into his eyes.

There’s a moment where he can see almost all of Zhongli, of the hardened scales now fully lining the flesh at the sides of his chest and neck, the faint beginnings of what might be horns poking through the undone mess of his hair. The gold of his eyes is nearly gone, swallowed by the dark of his pupils, but the look of them is familiar in how safe they feel, anyways, a gentle warmth behind the heat of his want.

Oh, Childe thinks somewhat stupidly, his heart spasming in a way that has entirely nothing to do with the pollen, as much as he maybe wishes it did.

Then Zhongli bends over him, his long hair spilling over his shoulders and brushing against Childe’s sides and he begins to fuck into him once more. Childe’s hands scramble for any sort of purchase as Zhongli’s thrusts nearly shove him up against the front of the bed, his nails eventually digging into the broad planes of Zhongli’s back.

He drags harsh red lines down the other’s pale skin, unable to help the way he claws at the other with every hard thrust against him, and, somewhere between his blind attempts to ground himself, his nails sink hard against a rough patch near Zhongli’s spine. Zhongli shudders above him with a deep groan, his hips jerking sharply into Childe’s body and then coming to a stop, and Childe distantly registers the area as another scale formation, the places in Zhongli’s back where his wings might be, were he in his true form.

“S--sorry--” Childe starts, just barely aware enough to realize what he might have done, but Zhongli only shifts his face to the curve of Childe’s neck.

“Again,” he hisses out, and the want in his warped voice is almost thick enough to touch.

Childe swallows hard, then experimentally brushes the tips of his fingers over the spot once more, eliciting another hard tremble from Zhongli’s form as the other bites out a noise like Childe’s name into his neck.

Everything feels like a constant high, the wetness of his tears seeping into the pillow beneath him, his choked moans giving way to embarrassingly helpless little mewls whenever Zhongli’s cock angles itself just right.

It’s too much and not enough all at once, and Childe thinks he maybe comes again--or more than again--but the sheets beneath his stomach are already so slick with his leavings that he can hardly tell the difference.

“Just---another. One more,” Zhongli mumbles against him, somewhere after the point where Childe almost can no longer feel his lower half.

It’s nearly a plea at this point, his hips grinding aimlessly inside of Childe, and as exhausted as Childe feels, he nods anyways, his head falling limply to the side.

He’s too tired to do much more than take it, his faint gasps barely audible, his voice having cracked in his sore throat long before this. Zhongli is almost tender with him here, his motions only growing rough right before he finally releases in Childe once more.

Childe almost goes limp beneath him, having reached his own, last orgasm some moments ago, but a sudden pressure within him tenses his muscles once more, his walls stretching open around the base of Zhongli’s cock as the other seems to almost swell within him, hard scales pushing against his sensitive prostate. He tries his hardest not to move, almost afraid of doing so, but his body jerks against it anyways, a reflexive motion that causes the new width of Zhongli’s cock to catch against his hole.

“Don’t,” Zhongli warns, something that Childe only hears after the fuzzy blank of his mind slowly seeps back into focus, the white of his vision returning to normal once more. “I cannot...move.”

Zhongli looks down, then, and Childe follows his gaze to where they’re connected, where the base of Zhongli’s cock is effectively preventing the other from pulling out. 

“What did--what did you do…?” Childe hears himself say, but perhaps he’s too tired to truly care about the answer, his eyes already starting to flutter shut.

The stifling heat of the pollen is finally starting to fade away, and Childe welcomes the cool air of Liyue’s now-night with sharp relief.

Zhongli leans over him, nearly collapsing on top of him, but Childe is so fucked out that his weight feels more comforting than anything, steady and almost safe to his dazed and likely highly deluded mind.

He doesn’t reply, instead lapping idly at one of the many bites littering Childe’s neck, a low sound starting to rumble in his chest. Childe’s never heard Zhongli sound this way before, but it’s an oddly familiar noise, one he easily recognizes as--

“...are you purring?” 

The man is indeed doing so, and makes no attempt to stop as he moves mouth at another bite, and Childe gives up on communication altogether, deciding to allow Zhongli to fully partake in whatever this weird post-sex ritual might be. 

It’s...oddly nice, anyways, the lazy motions of the other’s tongue soothing the sting of the bites, the gentle hum of Zhongli’s sounds lulling easily to a semi-sort of sleep. They should maybe talk more about this--more importantly, Childe really wants to know what the hell is going with Zhongli’s dragon biology--but a conversation like that can be saved later.

Perhaps when he’s actually awake.

 


 

When Childe blinks back into consciousness, some unknown amount of time later, he’s rather aware of two things.

One--over a day has passed, if the setting sun outside of the window is anything to go by, and two--fucking Zhongli is like getting hit by a truck, apparently.

He’s piled beneath at least three or four blankets, but he still feels rather cold, and any attempt at curling in on himself for more warmth is met with a sharp, encompassing pain radiating from his lower half. Even breathing feels sore, the slightest movement causing his muscles to flare up in pain.

In his entire career as a Harbinger, Childe doesn’t think he’s ever been quite so incapacitated by one person alone.

Stupid Archons.

Speaking of such-- his stupid Archon, more specifically--Zhongli is fairly passed out beside him. Or rather, his upper half is, the rest of him seated in a chair at Childe’s bedside, next to a small table holding a teapot and two cups.

Childe makes another futile attempt at sitting up on his own, eventually thinking better of it when his next breath escapes him in a hiss. He stares up at the ceiling for a long moment, contemplating the life decisions that have led him to this moment, this experience of being all but crippled by an excess of dragon dick. 

“Hey,” Childe says, and winces at how scratchy his voice sounds, dragging against the raw lining of his throat.

It’s not very loud, as a result, but Zhongli almost immediately bolts upright anyways, his gaze darting around wildly before settling on Childe properly.

“Ah,” Zhongli says, and Childe expects him to continue, if only because the man must have something to say for himself, after all this, but he doesn’t, instead blinking at Childe with an almost wide-eyed look until the silence between them grows awkward.

To be fair, Childe isn’t sure what he’d say, either. Now that the effects of the pollen have worn off, he mostly feels very tired, very sore, somewhat thirsty, and mortally embarrassed of his behavior of the past hours. 

What would he even start with? Thanks for helping me through that, sorry I asked you to fuck me, want to never speak of this again and go get drinks?

In truth, though, maybe he wouldn’t mind entirely if they spoke of this again. Or merely did this, again, to be quite frank.

But he can’t simply say something like that.

“...I made tea.”

Childe blinks, snapping back into focus to where Zhongli is now pouring his tea into a cup. He sets it on the table, then turns back to Childe, leaning forwards but stopping his hands before they can actually touch Childe, looking to him for some sort of permission. 

“Oh. Uh, yeah,” Childe mumbles vaguely, the faintest flush creeping up his neck, and Zhongli at least correctly interprets his words for what they are, sliding one hand under his back and using the other to pull up one of the pillows, helping Childe settle against it.

Now that some of him is free from the confines of the blankets, he realizes he’s been cleaned and dressed--a process he’d apparently slept through the entirety of, somehow--the loose sleeves of an open coat that isn’t his own draping over the palms of his hands. It smells familiar, the subtle scent of earthy herbs and warmth, and a second-long examination of the fabric’s design proves it to be Zhongli’s.

Zhongli holds out the tea to him, an amber-colored liquid with some sort of dried red berry floating about on the surface.

“They are good for you,” Zhongli insists, when he catches Childe peering at the foreign berries for a bit too long. “And you should replace the fluids that you lost.”

Well. Childe’s never been very picky about these things. That, and Zhongli is starting to vaguely resemble a kicked puppy, a strange sort of guilt flickering in his golden eyes.

“Thanks. You...didn’t have to, but, uh...thanks.”

There’s a pause, as Childe sips his tea and Zhongli remains silent, impassive were it not for the occasional guilt-ridden glance to the side. 

Perhaps Childe should say something, then.

“Um. You didn’t do anything wrong, you know,” he tries, rather unsure of where to start. “I mean, I know you tried to separate us in the beginning--and maybe I should have gone along with it, but I didn’t. So...well, you just did what you had to do.”

“Oh,” Zhongli answers, rather eloquently, but despite the monosyllabic response, his somewhat morose expression shifts to something more thoughtful. 

Then, the man stands up, peeling back a corner of the blanket stack to seat himself beside Childe, and Childe barely bites back an unbecoming noise of surprise at how close the other suddenly is.

“Yeah. It’s not like we could help it, anyways. That plant really messed us up. Maybe even you more so than me, what with all of...that at the end.”

“Ah...no. That was not the pollen’s doing. That particular biological aspect is merely how dragons mate.”

“Okay,” Childe nods at the explanation, then pauses mid-sip, lowering his cup once more. “Wait, what?”

Zhongli tilts his head in something like confusion, blinking slowly at Childe, as if Childe is the one missing something here--and maybe he is, because he certainly doesn’t remember becoming Zhongli’s mate.

“You were not aware? I have been interested in you for some time, in fact, and I had thought I had made it quite obvious. But I never quite intended for you to find out in such an inelegant manner. Forgive me for that.”

Had he made it obvious? As much as Childe tries, he can’t recall ever having seen even the slightest of signs that Zhongli apparently wanted a relationship. 

Although he supposes that Zhongli had taken every available moment to interact with him. And there had been quite a few--or many--solitary dinners between the two of them alone, mostly on Zhongli’s suggestion. And maybe there was that one time Zhongli had taken him to the Yaoguang Shoal and presented him with the brightest of starconches, along with some sort of tale about a sea demon who had taken his bride to live beneath the waves. 

Huh.

Childe finds himself rather speechless, the heat in his cheeks devolving into a full blush as he averts his gaze, lifting a hand to tug nervously at his bangs, then down to rub at his neck. The latter is quite possibly a mistake, because the movement makes the skin of his palm brush against the veritable army of bites that Zhongli had left on him, and the reminder of it does absolutely nothing to quell his embarrassment.

“I...see,” he finally manages, cupping his hands unsteadily around his tea. “So then...you...you and I, we, uh…?””

“If you are indeed interested in pursuing a further relationship, I see no reason as to why we should not.”

Leave it to Zhongli to put such complicated matters into such simple terms.

Not that Childe’s ever given much thought to things like these--or to anything outside of the limited circle of providing for his family and looking for his next fight--but he supposes that what he feels for Zhongli is certainly...unique. He’s certainly never been so willing to follow someone around, to accompany the man on every shopping trip for fear that he might find himself suddenly penniless, to listen to Zhongli’s long and rambling explanations of things that Childe ordinarily wouldn’t think twice about.

Maybe this is a bad idea, as so many of his recent decisions have been.

But maybe, all things considered, his choice seems pretty clear.

“Sure,” he says, setting his cup to the side, meeting Zhongli’s patient gaze head on, and all the unspoken words with it. “Why not?”