As a martial god, Morax thinks he isn't exactly the best person to care for a child. In his six thousand years of life, he has only ever known bloodshed and contracts--especially during the Archon war, when his spear had skewered the bodies of hundreds of gods over a few days.
So, as he treks back up the snowy hill with a human child in tow, he wonders what has changed.
The ginger-haired boy, eyes blue and wide looks up at him warily. Blood speckles his cheeks. "Where are we going?"
The god keeps his gaze straight. "To my residence."
He doesn't say anything else, and the boy seems to take a hint and keeps quiet.
Morax sighs. Hopefully, this isn't considered abduction.
If he could, Morax would prefer to stay at Liyue, where the bustling harbour welcomes him home. Not nations away and across the world, inhabiting a cozy little cottage in the middle of a snowy woods in Snezhnaya.
With a...child. Covered in blood.
This is very incriminating. But in his defense, he was only on a business trip here because the Tsaritsa herself had requested it, and Morax had only been taking a stroll through the woods when he stumbled upon the scene; a little boy on his knees, crouched over in a clearing, clothes reeking of iron and clutching onto a rusted shortsword, seemingly hurt within an inch of his life.
It was only when he soundlessly approached the boy that he realised the blood most likely wasn't his. But even hardened as he is, Morax could not find it in his conscience to leave a young child out in the open in the dead of the night. The wolves would make a feast out of him, and more importantly, the ongoing snowstorm would bury him alive by daybreak.
So Morax takes him in. Draws a warm bath and prepares a scrub so that the boy will not reek of death, and takes out a smaller set of robes that once belonged to Xiao and offers it to him.
“I don’t want to.”
Hot steam rises from the water’s surface invitingly, and with the freezing weather outside Morax cannot see anything unappealing about having a nice, hot bath. So the god cannot understand when the boy looks at the wooden bathtub with distaste.
“A man should conduct themselves with dignity,” Morax says. “That means being kempt.”
“I don’t care,” the boy tells him, and then pivots to leave.
But he’s filthy. Morax intends to put him to bed after this. Tuck him in his bed that is covered with quality silken sheets. This won’t do at all.
If the child will not bathe, then Morax will bring the bath to him.
Vaguely five minutes later, a young boy stomps out of the bathroom dripping wet, somewhat cleaner and hissing at the most recent memory of having a tub of water foisted onto him.
So, Morax will shelter the child from the storm until it abates or when a parental figure comes looking for him. He’ll do his best in supervising it, if only to ensure that the child is reunited with his guardians in good condition.
Provided the damned child goes to sleep.
"No." The boy glares, still soggy and holding a grudge.
Morax holds out a blanket, or whatever it is that children need to sleep tight. "Why?" He asks.
"No," it says, and provides no further explanation.
Morax can never understand the whims of a mortal child.
"It's late," he adds, "Almost four in the morning. Judging by your worn-out state, you have not gotten sleep in days. It would be detrimental for your health if you were to stay up any longer."
"Says the man who was wandering the woods at the crack of dawn."
Morax has hobbies. Hobbies a mere human child could never perceive.
“You are tired,” he argues, and realises that he most probably wouldn’t like to see himself in the mirror right now, looking like a frazzled maiden trying to catch an insect.
If only the child would comply. Everyone would be happy by now.
“No I’m not. Go away,” the boy retorts, and the god very, very briefly considers throwing him back out in the snow.
It seems like words cannot get through. If there's anything he learned from his days during the Archon war, it's where negotiation has failed, use force.
The blanket that Morax once again tries to drape over the boy is viciously swat away along with every last bit of goodwill he once had. Maybe, if the child does not want to be peacefully put to bed, he could asphyxiate him with the covers until he does.
Raising a child is a nightmare. Understanding this fact is one thing; experiencing it is another. Morax has new-found respect for all mothers in Teyvat. He is an immortal deity, yet he feels as if ten years of his lifespan just got shaved off (ironically).
As outrageous as it sounds, the boy would not stop trying to kill him.
“What in the name of Celestia are you doing,” Morax says. A sharp twist of a wrist sends a shortsword clattering to the floor from where it had been held at his spleen just moments ago. It’s the same one he’d been clutching in the clearing.
"Let go of me," the child snarls. "What are you doing?"
"Self-defence," Morax smoothly replies, even though there is no actual need for it since stabbing him would be the equivalent of stabbing a rock. He kicks the shortsword across the room in one brief sweep. "Settle down, will you."
Man is no match for a god, much less a youngling. The child has to understand that.
“Stop squirming,” he chides.
"As if I'll listen to you."
Morax wants to beat him.
He understands the hostility if trained from parents' warnings of stranger danger, but a child choosing violence, especially on a man that has never raised a hand against it in anyway, is unwarranted. Just who taught this kid how to hold a knife?
"May I inquire as to why you are relentlessly attempting to stab me?" he asks instead, looking the kid right in the eye. Dull, blue orbs stare back at him and the air around them seems to drop in temperature, but Morax’s face remains eerily calm.
The boy replies, eyes narrowed. “I won’t tell you.”
And then he stalks off.
A big, frustrated sigh builds in his chest but Morax swallows it back. Humans will always be well and truly, unfathomable.
When Dawn arrives, the storm shows no signs of abating. Cracks of sunlight filter through the flying snow outside the window, and Morax sits by his low table with a piece of ancient literature in hand.
A loud rumble breaks the peaceful silence.
It takes a while to register the sound. Embarrassingly, Morax’s first instinct was almost to reach in the direction of the noise and choke whatever dying animal was taking its last breath. But when the fact that he is currently housing a human and said human is most likely starving, if his scrawny figure is anything to go by, sinks in, the book in his hands snaps shut.
“It seems like I’ve forgotten about meal times. Are you hungry?” he asks, directing his question to the glowering boy on his sofa.
The kid doesn’t deign to reply, but another, weaker grumble from his stomach is answer enough. Mortal children are overly reliant, he thinks, and mercifully decides to ignore the blush crawling up the youngling’s cheeks.
Unfortunately, his cupboards are empty. As a god, Morax has no use for food to fill his stomach—another aspect in which humans are lacking. His days before his ascension as the Geo Archon consisted mostly of raw fowl roasted over a fire, even in the rare instance that he decided to indulge.
So, the only way to feed the child would be to hunt. The last time he did was, two...three? Maybe four hundred years ago, but it’s not like his skills will have diminished in any way. Morax is fully capable of providing.
He glances outside--the wind is strong, but nothing he cannot handle. Picking himself off the floor, a weapon manifests itself from thin air with the wave of his hand. An elegantly designed polearm drops into his palm like it belongs there, and right after that the god has a foot out the door.
He stops halfway over the threshold.
What do children eat.
Morax catches the gaze of the impudent child who currently looks at him with one raised eyebrow. “Weren’t you heading out?”
“Unfortunately, I am unsure of what is fit for a child’s consumption.”
“I am not a child,” the child barks, cheeks puffed out in annoyance.
“And the sky is green,” the Archon replies without missing a beat. “What do you usually have for a meal?”
"Meat," the human reluctantly replies, subtly cradling his stomach. "Boar meat. Or fish. Dad brings me ice fishing sometimes."
"I see." Morax gives a thoughtful look. "I shall go and procure food for you, child."
The polearm spins in his grasp with the practiced ease of a seasoned warrior. Morax slips through a crack in the door to keep the snow from covering his floor, and the elements warmly welcome him with a stinging cold blast of air to the face.
Swiftly, Morax pulls his hood up.
He returns in a jiffy, with a fat boar carcass slung over his shoulder and a couple pieces of fowl in hand. Morax slams the door shut and tosses his harvest onto the dining table which rattles upon impact.
Surprisingly enough, the boy hadn’t taken off while he was away. Considering his behaviour so far, Morax wouldn’t have been surprised if he came back to find the cottage empty. Instead, the youngling appears in the doorway of his room, lured by the sound of his return and looking extremely begrudging, but ends up approaching the table anyway, hesitantly reaching for the fowl.
“Eat,” Morax says (demands), nudging the boy closer. He is way too skinny for his age. “They’ve been roasted in advance.”
The human looks at him. Amusingly, he has to crane his neck upward in order to meet the god’s glowing, amber eyes. His expression turns doubtful, then curious, then morphs into suspicion again, but a grumble breaks his train of thoughts. Morax catches the growing embarrassment on his features right before he turns away.
Without complaint, the child starts to dig in.
“I find it slightly hard to adapt now that you are not attempting to assassinate me every other moment,” the Archon says, watching the youngling wolf down his food. He’d brought back enough yield to last them several days, including his share which he did not need, but apparently the child was hungry enough to eat a horse.
“A stranger would not take a foreign child in on a snowy night,” the ginger mutters after swallowing his food, shooting him a complicated gaze. “A stranger would not bathe a filthy child and try to tuck him into bed, and…”
“...A stranger would not hunt in the middle of a snowstorm to feed said child.”
He doesn’t say anything other than that. It’s vague and the only explanation he provides, but at the end of his words, it occurs to Morax that perhaps his behaviour so far had been out of a kind of fearful skepticism brought about by self-preservational instincts. The realisation brings him back to when he found the boy in the clearing; rusted shortsword in hand, covered in the blood of some other living beings and eyes strangely lacking shine.
It’s the look of a child who has seen too much, Morax recognizes.
Perhaps he could afford to be a little more merciful.
“Then,” the god starts, “I trust that I will not open my eyes to a knife in my face the next time I meditate.”
The soft, barely whispered grumble of ‘yes’ does not go unheard.
So Morax ends up, bluntly put, babysitting a child. Six thousand years of battles hard-fought and thousands of contracts forged and equally as many friends lost, all watered down into hunting for meals and forcing the kid into promising that he’ll stop pestering him about his very cool spear. Morax thinks his life cannot get any more mundane than this. He wants to quickly return the human home so he can catch a break.
But picking up the child came with responsibilities. Morax is fully aware of this, and despite the headache he does not intend to shirk it.
The brat is shockingly bad at following instructions.
“I am going to read,” the Archon declares, sinking into his spot on the floor. He’d saved up a particular series of carefully selected novella to enjoy during his stay in Snezhnaya, which unfortunately has been gatecrashed by a nuisance with orange hair. “Sit down.”
The child, seemingly hellbent on disobeying him just for the sake of it, takes one look at him and opens his mouth.
“Do you think you could fight me?” it says.
Morax barely has to think. “I could, but I would not.”
“Why not?” The youngling frowns, and looks just shy of whining again. “Please fight me. You seem really, really strong. I want to defeat someone strong.”
How arrogant, the god thinks. Not once in his life has he ever met someone with the nerve to challenge him so blatantly. By a human child, no less. Either the boy has ambitions too big for his head or he’s just in need of a beating. “I refuse.”
“It’s a thousand years too early to be harbouring thoughts of defeating me,” Morax says. The arrogance rolls off his tongue so naturally that it almost irks him, but is it really hubris if it’s true?
The mortal lets out a breath. Then he grins, and if Morax didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought it looked crazed.
“It’s not all about victory,” he says, “Defeat in battle only allows me to grow stronger.”
Morax thinks it’s concerning how much this child is itching for a brawl.
He looks into it. Humans have always been so inherently weak; instinct often favours the flight response in times of danger. In most instances they choose diplomacy over violence, and their usually passive nature as described in his collection is what makes the Snezhnayan boy an outlier.
The brat is so hungry for a thrill that he non-stop tries to provoke the god into a duel, which Morax would’ve brushed off as another childish tantrum if not for the fact that it was constantly interfering with his life. Every attempt to enjoy a piece of literature or a cup of tea is rudely interrupted by a knife whizzing past his face and embedding itself in the wall.
“When I said I did not want to have a knife pointed at my face, I did not mean you could try and slice my face,” Morax says, but the brat only shrugs tauntingly in response.
He’s about to leave on a second hunt for dinner and firewood when a voice calls out to him.
“Take me with you,” the boy, who insists that he be addressed as Ajax, says.
It’s a nice name, fitting for a man of valor, but Morax does not want to test that philosophy out. Especially not with a wide-eyed brat begging to be buried by the raging weather outside.
“It’s dangerous outside,” the god tells him. “It’s best for you to stay indoors.”
“I can fight,” Ajax replies.
A boy, not older than fourteen stands in the midst of destruction, blood splattering his shirt and hydro blades all over and over. He has a vision, Morax realises. He’s not usually this absent-minded, but Ajax possesses an uncanny talent for hiding his cards--if only he could keep the bloodlust in check, the boy could be a decent assassin.
“Is this enough for dinner?” The brat asks with an unsettling grin as he holds up a dead boar by the leg. “We have about...five boars and some ducks.”
“We are on a hunt,” Morax deadpans, and his spear hasn’t been touched by a drop of blood at all. Apparently, the child had been more excited than him. “Not a massacre.”
“Hardly. They are animals, not people, so you can’t exactly call it a massacre, can you?”
Morax uncharacteristically squints. “I have not moved an inch upon arrival, yet I find myself standing right in a thick pool of blood.”
It’s not a massacre. It’s decimation.
Ajax doesn’t seem to feel much remorse, however. “It’s fine. We can stock up with this, so we don’t have to go hunting for a while. I even made sure to kill a little more so there’s enough for both of us,” he scratches his cheek.
“Both of us?” the god’s eyes widen a fraction.
“You skipped lunch, right? Because I ate everything.”
That’s...quite the misunderstanding. But it’s not like Morax can tell him about his godhood, so he keeps silent and leaves it up for interpretation.
“I won’t die if I eat less, you know? In fact, I’ve gone without food for several days before.” Ajax tells him. “I don’t want you to grow weaker than me before I even get to fight you, okay?”
Flicking the blood off his blade, the brat shoots him a cheeky smile. Then, he brings his elbow up and drives a newly materialised hydro javelin into an innocent crane over thirty paces away.
“I bet you can’t cook,” Ajax says to him.
Morax’s eyebrow twitches ever so slightly. “On what basis did you make that assumption?”
“On the fact that you roast every food item you find,” the child replies. “Who in Teyvat roasts a Sunsettia?”
In his defence, Morax is a millennia old god who didn’t have the luxury of cooking fancy meals during a war. He doesn’t even need to eat. But Morax cannot refute that, because the evidence of his mistake sits brown and crunchy on the counter.
“According to this cookbook, roasting fruits can cause their natural sugars to melt and create a thick, savoury syrup that deepens the flavours-”
“Okay, that’s only if you can pull it off.” The human gestures to his crispy object.
“Can you cook?” Morax redirects the question instead.
The child perks up. It runs to the cupboards and pulls out several pots and pans, some seasoning from some obscure corner, and then looks at him and smirks.
“I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”
He walked right into that one, Morax admits. And then the boy flicks the stove on and starts...cooking. Swiftly chopping up the spring onions and sprinkling the salt right where it’s needed.
“I have three younger siblings at home,” Ajax starts. “My mother taught me how to cook so I can care for them when she’s not home.”
The Archon hums, watching the boy crack an egg open. Ajax can cook, as much as he hates to admit it. The wafting aroma and the delicious sizzle of oil on steak is enough for him to know.
“I don’t usually eat,” he says, not missing the slight falter in the child’s movements before it’s back to seasoning the meat. “But I am not opposed to appreciating it.”
When he glances over, Morax finds a smile on the boy’s lips.
What a strange child.
By night time, the storm hasn’t stopped. Morax decides to meditate through the racket outside, and it's the only reason why he does not detect the frantic patter of footsteps approaching him from behind, which then clutches onto his sleeve like a lifeline in the form of a small, shivering boy.
His eyes are wide. The youngling’s eyes have always been a little dull, but for some reason he looks haunted. Fingers hesitantly, tightly clutch onto his sleeve, as if making sure he’s there and real, and it looks like he’s just been crying.
“I,” Ajax whispers, slowly losing his grip but not completely letting go. “The snow was hitting the windows too hard. It woke me up.”
It’s a lie.
Morax frowns. “Did you have a nightmare?”
“No. Just an unpleasant memory,” the boy says.
“A nightmare,” Morax repeats. “Are you afraid?”
Ajax bites his lip, but his shaky gaze betrays his true emotions. “...no.”
Only a fool wouldn’t be able to discern that lie. The hands grasping his sleeve quivers faintly, and then Morax is reminded that Ajax is still just a child. Small and frail and completely breakable, despite what his usual demeanour might suggest. And the way to calm a shaking child, as Guizhong had taught him several thousand years ago...well.
“Come,” Morax invites, arms open and glaringly empty for Ajax to see. The boy looks at him strangely, but the god masks his awkwardness with fake nonchalance. “You have difficulty falling asleep, no?”
“No, I’m fine,” Ajax says.
“I, I can go to sleep on my own…” he trails off.
Eventually, the boy gives in and clambers onto the Archon’s lap with his blanket and snuggles into his embrace. He’s...tiny, to put it simply, and Morax finds himself struggling and unsure of where to put his arms since it feels like Ajax would break.
“I shall tuck you into bed once you fall asleep,” he says.
“It’s fine. Honestly, I’m quite comfortable where I am right now.”
Ah, what an inconsiderate brat. He doesn’t think about how painful it would be for him to stay in an upright position overnight with a child on his lap. But strangely, Morax doesn’t feel like moving.
“Good night, stranger.” Ajax yawns, then his eyes flutter shut.
Morax frowns. What would be the proper response in this situation, again? “...Don’t wake up.”
The boy doesn’t stir. Softly, Morax settles a hand in the tuft of orange hair and clumsily combs through it.
It’s warm. Is he even doing this correctly?
Rex Lapis, Archon of Geo, ends up cradling the child as it sleeps, and although gods don’t need it he somehow falls asleep anyway, human in his arms and all that. When he wakes up the snow has stopped pouring outside and Morax finds himself alone with a blanket draped across his shoulders.
He sees Ajax at the dining table, breakfast nicely laid out and swinging his legs, taking a sip from a cup of hot chocolate. Morax nods at him in greeting but the boy looks away and looks somewhat shy.
“I don’t get cold easily,” Morax says. “You should’ve used the blanket on yourself.”
The child merely humphs. “You’re not as strong as you think.”
In response, Morax elegantly raises an eyebrow, which Ajax returns with a tongue stuck out.
The child is not without family, Morax thinks. Assuming that Ajax was found on the same day he was lost, it has been two days since he has left home. The child’s parents must be worried sick. Humans have always been creatures bound by blood and feelings so it’s inevitable that the boy will return to where he came from; the fond look in his eye when he spoke of his siblings was evidence enough.
“The storm has abated. It’s time for your return,” the Archon says. “Morepesok is not far from here, you should hurry before the sun sets.”
Ajax nods. He looks ready, presses a hand on the door and it inches open with a soft creak, letting sunlight stream through to reveal a path of white cutting through the woods. He pauses as though wanting to say something, but swallows his words back.
After that, Ajax leaves quietly, disappearing behind the door without so much as a farewell. And that’s it. Two days of their time together coming to a close. The crunch of footsteps in the snow slowly disappears and Ajax’s leaving figure blurs in the distance. It’s rather anti-climatic, no tearfilled goodbyes or ‘I don’t want to go’s. Morax doesn’t know what he was expecting, how absurd.
But the place will be quieter without the brat around, he thinks. There’s only one mouth to feed now; no need to hunt, no need to fluff the pillows (don’t tell Ajax he did that) and no more brat running around and provoking him with a knife all the time. Perhaps the absence of this child would take some getting used to, as much as Morax hates to admit it.
He good-naturedly keeps his eye on the boy through the window. For a lost boy finally returning home, he looks surprisingly down, shuffling through the snow. When he reaches the opening of the woods, he stops in his tracks, looks back at him, and Morax doesn’t know what possesses him to give a small wave.
In the end, Ajax does not even make it into the woods before he comes running back to the cottage.
The door almost flies off its hinges. The boy crouches over, gasping. “Wait! Wait, I-”
“Child?” Morax calls, and he is interrupted with a tiny body barrelling into his sturdy frame.
“I can’t go,” the boy exclaims, clutching onto his robes. “I still haven’t fought you yet!”
Morax sighs. Is that all this brat has in his head? “It’s a thousand years too early to be-”
“I know. You’re really, really strong. So strong that it’s my dream to face you in battle one day,” Ajax says, eyes are wide and determined. “That’s why I’ll come back. I’ll memorise the path to take, and I’ll make sure to bring my weapons and my vision. I'll bring lots of meat and fish and share my mother's special cake with you so you don’t have to give all your food to me. I'll find and pick the sweetest fruits so I can teach you how to properly roast them. We can go on hunts and I can teach you ice fishing and after all of this, you will be smarter and stronger. Once that happens, I can fight you and…"
He trails off. Then he takes a deep breath, and says, almost hopefully, “You’ll be here, right?”
The problem is that Morax does not hail from Snezhnaya. He is Rex Lapis, God of contracts and all things fair, most importantly, the Geo Archon of Liyue, where there are warm summers and bustling harbours and a land that he needs to protect. Morax cannot stay for long.
However, where contracts are concerned, he did make a promise, albeit one to himself, to keep the child supervised and safe while he is apart from his parents. That means, under Morax’s care.
Which is why it's completely reasonable for him to reply, “Yes.”
The relief and pure joy on Ajax’s face is blinding. The fingers hanging onto him dig further into the fabric out of sheer excitement and the Archon has to suppress a wince that stemmed out of respect for the tailor.
“Good. You can’t run from our challenge!” Ajax grins. A very one-sided challenge, the god thinks, but he doesn’t voice that thought.
Morax cannot stay for long, but he doesn’t have to go immediately. He still has to learn how to roast a Sunsettia.