Adeptus Xiao has seen a lot of things in his long life. Many of those things were frightening, truly horrifying scenes of his life. He had once seen a man tearing out someone’s heart mid-fight, crushing it to dust. He still remembers the splatters of blood on his cheek.
But that image doesn’t compare to this.
“Zhongli, excuse me but what in the actual fuck is this.”
Zhongli blinks at Xiao, the pure picture of innocence. It would be adorable and Xiao would buy it if he didn’t have the eleventh god damn Harbinger in his lap. A god damn Fatui. A fucking spy.
Why the hell is Zhongli patting that sorry excuse of a human like a pet?
“I don’t see what you mean, Xiao.” Zhongli answers straight-faced as he runs his fingers through the Fatui’s short ginger hair. Xiao feels his left eye twitch.
The Fatui is Zhongli’s lap is passed out and covered in battle wounds. They’ve been patched up, but Xiao doubts he should be lying in Rex Lapi’s lap on top of Mt. Hulao. Doesn't exactly seem healthy for humans.
Xiao briefly wonders if this is why Mountain Shaper called him. Why is he allowing this in the first place? Xiao shakes his head and dismisses the thought. Even without his Gnosis, Zhongli is still Rex Lapis. The Adepti can’t tell him to do shit.
Unless they’re Xiao that is. Xiao doesn't have any fucks left to give.
“I mean the unconscious clearly hurt Harbinger on your lap.” Xiao hisses, feeling exhausted by this talk already. This is why he hates people. He should go back to isolation. Unfortunately, he still likes Zhongli. “Why is he here and not in a jail cell?”
Zhongli blinks at him, his hand stilling and resting on top of the mop of ginger hair. “...He’s a friend.” He pauses for a moment, looking down at the slumbering Snezhnayan. His gaze is soft - in a way Xiao has never seen before. “I’m giving him shelter.”
“...On top of Mt. Hulao.” Xiao states, unimpressed. “I may not be an expert on humans, but I doubt they call the top of one of the highest mountains in Liyue shelter.” He sighs, running his hand through his hair. “Why are you giving a Fatui shelter, Rex Lapis?”
Rex Lapis is silent, merely staring down at his so-called friend. Xiao can feel his patience running out, but he holds his tongue. Zhongli has done stupid things in the past before - but Xiao has always been there to bail him out. This time it won’t be different. There is nothing Xiao wouldn't do for him.
“...I’ve grown attached I’m afraid.” Zhongli admits after a moment and turns to look at Xiao. His gaze feels almost fragile, it’s so soft and so impossibly fond. “He didn’t know who I was during my entire plan, nor did he know about it at all. Childe was merely a decoy through all of it. Signora never thought of including him.”
That doesn’t surprise Xiao. From what he’s seen of Childe, he’s a warrior, not a strategist. “So? He’s still an enemy, is he not?” In the past, Rex Lapis would have thrown his attachments away without a second thought if that meant Liyue would stay safe. He wouldn’t have hesitated, for Liyue is his child.
Zhongli sighs. “...I’ve decided to be selfish, this one time.” He gently caresses Childe’s cheek, the smallest hint of a smile on his face. “He won’t be my enemy anymore, nor will he have to for the Fatui anymore.”
Xiao’s eyes harden. He can’t deny he approves of Zhongli’s change of heart. He’s glad his friend is finally taking something for himself, finally being selfish for once in his life.
But did it have to be the eleventh Harbinger of the god damn Fatui?
“Zhongli, what did you?”
Zhongli doesn’t answer him. Xiao didn’t expect him to. He decides to sit down next to his friend instead. “I don’t know what you expect me to do, but I won’t abandon you just because you picked up a snezhnayan mutt.”
The tension in the air grows lighter. “...Thank you, my friend.” Zhongli looks so grateful and so happy that Xiao can’t bear to look at it. “When I put down my duties, I feared I would have lost you in the process.”
“I’m insulted.” Xiao huffs out, crossing his arms. “What do you take me for? You should have known my loyalty won’t be lost that easily.”
“I should have.” Zhongli replies fondly. “I’m sorry, friend, for doubting you.”
This is all getting too mushy for Xiao’s liking. He punches Zhongli’s arm with more force than necessary. “Just because I don’t disagree it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Zhongli has the gall to laugh at him. Xiao refuses to pout. “Of course.”
Silence settles over them. Xiao risks a glance at the Fatui once again. Childe seems to be slumbering peacefully - even if his body is littered with injuries. He can’t deny it anymore. He’s curious. Fuck.
Just what did Zhongli do?
“Are you actually going to shelter him here?” Xiao points at Childe with badly disguised disgust. “Because I doubt you can. Mountain Shaper is gonna snap at one point and trap him in amber.” He would love to see that.
Zhongli laughs and shakes his head. It seems like not all of his brain rotted away. “Of course not. I do have a residence, you know this.”
“You mean the place we go to once every thousand years? The one you barely use and is probably molding by now?” Neither he nor Zhongli ever truly had a home in the human sense. Xiao might stay at the Wangshu Inn, but it will never be his home. All of Liyue is - they’ve never been bound to a specific place. He's but a drifter, a distant guardian.
The same is true for Rex Lapis. He had a residence built in his younger years at one point. They only ever used it for rare get-togethers and some occasional important meetings. As far as he knows Zhongli never rests there - which is no wonder. They aren’t humans. They don’t need sleep or rest in the first place.
“Ah, I’ve started… cleaning it.” Xiao raises a brow. “...The traveler was kind enough to help me with this.”
“Aether is in on this?” Now that’s a surprise. Xiao expected Zhongli to do this on his own. “Why are you here then?”
“They advised me to… enjoy my retirement and let the young kids do the heavy lifting, I believe.” That sounds like something that the traveler would say. Xiao is mildly impressed that they got Zhongli to actually listen to them.
“So you took an injured man with you.”
Zhongli doesn’t have an answer to that. Xiao has one. Temporary insanity and attachment issues. Disgusting.
“Tell me, Zhongli. Why did you decide to come here?” Zhongli usually frequents other places when he wants to relax. Xiao wouldn’t have found him had Mountain Shaper not called him.
“The view is wonderful.” Zhongli answers, “It is far away from any disturbances, and… no Fatui would dare to come here now.” Oh?
Xiao squints at his friend. He’s starting to form a theory, one that he does not like in the slightest. However, he was never one to beat around the bush. Xiao prefers the direct approach. “Zhongli." He pauses. Please let him be wrong. "Zhongli, did you kidnap a Fatui Harbinger.”
“What the fuck.”
“They think he died.” Zhongli tries to assure him. It does not work. “Don’t worry, I shapeshifted before doing this. They don’t know it was me.”
So they know it was Zhongli. Xiao knows his friend sucks at disguises. There is no way they don't know. “And that’s why you’re hiding up here? Because they don’t know you ‘killed’ one of their own despite having dealings with them? Are you stupid?”
Zhongli flinches slightly. “I may have acted rashly but I could not help myself any longer…”
Xiao can feel his headache getting worse. “Don’t tell me this was an impulse decision.'' If Zhongli really kidnapped Childe against his free will he might kill someone. Preferably Childe.
“We’ve… talked about it before.” Zhongli sounds unsure. Xiao groans heavily. “Not in much detail but…”
Xiao’s hand meets his forehead. “Zhongli, you might be the dumbest god I ever had the pleasure of meeting. You didn’t even plan it out? Did you just attack him in an unfamiliar form and made him think you were going to kill him? That's unlike you.”
“...I now realize I haven’t handled this well. I plan to apologize to him.” He better do that. Xiao may not be fond of Snezhayans but this is another level of brain rot. "My emotions… overwhelmed me."
“Great. Now get off this mountain and put the injured man in a warm bed for fucks sake.” Xiao punches Zhongli once again, this time adding more force than before. “I’ll come with you. You clearly can’t be trusted with your impulse decisions.”
“You will?” The insults don’t even register, washing off Zhongli completely. “How wonderful. My heart feels at ease now that I know I have someone like you looking out for us.”
Xiao scoffs, turning away from Zhongli to hide the slight blush on his face. He can’t have Zhongli know that his words touched him, that would ruin his image. He has a feeling his friend knows regardless. “Stop flattering me and get off your behind. We have somewhere to be.”
“Of course.” Zhongli is getting up as well, Childe limp in his arms. It would make a cute picture if it was anyone else in Zhongli’s arms. Xiao feels like vomiting at the display.
The Fatui bastard didn’t even talk to him yet but Xiao already hates him.
Unfortunately, he’s doing this for Zhongli’s stupid ass.