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.
Fortunately, beings such as Adepti (and apparently Aether?) can use the Statue of the Seven for travel. They arrive safely near Zhongli’s hidden residence.
The house is hidden, only accessible if you know about its location beforehand. The barrier around it ensures that only those with Rex Lapis’ blessing may enter. It's one of the safest places Xiao knows of.
It has a beautiful view of Liyue - truly, Morax had chosen the location well.
Xiao sprints through the quickest route to the house. What he finds is Aether dutifully giving the place a glow up.
What was once a mediocre-looking, dust-filled, moldy house is now in the modern style of Liyue houses. It’s clean, it’s modernized and most importantly, it lacks the mold. Xiao has no idea how Aether did this in this short time-space but he won’t question it.
The house isn’t exactly small. It’s an impressive feat.
“Huh, you really are cleaning this place up.” Xiao is the first to arrive. He left Zhongli and his pet behind to check the house out himself.
“Oh! Xiao!” Aether turns around with a smile on their face. “You’re in on this too now?”
“Unfortunately.” It’s been some time since Xiao saw the traveler. The last time Xiao had saved them from falling to their death. “Tell me, how exactly did it happen? I only know about Zhongli’s temporary insanity.”
“Zhongli’s temporary insanity does fit.” Aether laughs as he dusts off a couch. Xiao didn’t even know Zhongli owns one. “Well, you know that those two are friends, right?”
Xiao nods. As much as he hates to admit it, the emotions Zhongli displayed are genuine. Childe better appreciates them or Xiao will… take care of him.
“Apparently, they still talk a lot after the whole…” Aether trails off, looking slightly uncomfortable. Xiao can’t blame them. He doesn’t quite know what he feels about the whole mess himself. “So that’s probably where the idea comes from. They must have talked about it in a joking way but Zhongli took it seriously.”
“I hate that I can believe that.” Xiao decides to sit down on the surprisingly comfortable couch. Xiao closes his eyes and sighs. “Tell me more about Childe and why I shouldn’t gut him.”
“Childe may be a bad guy but he’s not manipulative or anything. He’s also not exactly… smart.” Aether admits, scratching his head with a smile. “He couldn’t even tell that Zhongli is Rex Lapis.”
“...I see.” That’s pathetic. “Wasn’t he sent to get the Gnosis? That’s…” Zhongli never truly hides who he is, even when he's in disguise. To fail at that… maybe he can keep Childe alive for now, just to witness his lack of brain cells himself.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know. Instead, he became Zhongli’s wallet and got scammed out of 3 million mora.” Xiao isn’t surprised about this. That’s a very Zhongli thing to do. Xiao isn't the best with mora either but...
Oblivious to Xiao's mental monologue, Aether continues. “He’s a very simple guy. He just likes fighting a lot… and his little brother told me he would quit his job and travel with me if he could.”
At that Xiao raises his brow. “So the desire to leave the Fatui is there? Interesting. I will refrain from gutting him for now.”
Aether laughs and sits down next to him. “He’s not that bad of a guy… I think. He clearly loves his family a lot- oh shit.” Aether's face darkens so quickly that Xiao grows concerned.
Xiao tilts his head, “Hm? What’s wrong?”
“His family. They’re gonna think he’s dead.” Oh. Well. Thankfully this isn’t Xiao’s problem.
Except it’s Zhongli’s problem and therefore Xiao’s.
“Fuck.” Aether agrees. “...Let’s deal with that later?”
Xiao nods. He’ll just stay in denial about potential future bullshit for now. Makes his life easier. “So, let me get this right. Zhongli shapeshifted, attacked Childe out of nowhere, made the Fatui think he died, and kidnapped him.”
Aether nods. “Did he mention the part where he did that in the middle of Liyue Harbor, looking like a random traveler with a geo vision?”
Xiao wants to scream. “No, he didn’t.” He hisses out. Maybe he should have punched Zhongli harder. “Aether, where did his brain go. Why did it leave.”
“Maybe it rotted after 6000 years?” Aether pats his back sympathetically. “At least you’re here to stop him from doing stupid shit now?”
Xiao groans in despair.
Before they can continue shit-talking Zhongli, the man himself walks through the door, still holding Childe like a blushing bride. Except the bride is limp, unconscious, full of bruises, and- oh wow Xiao didn’t even notice the blood on his clothes before.
“You’ve done a wonderful job with the house Aether, I’m truly thankful.” Zhongli bows, which is probably a bad idea if you’re holding an unconscious man in your arms. “Are the bedrooms ready? I need to redress his wounds.”
“Are you finally going to put down Childe now?” Aether crosses his arms, looking somewhat amused. “You haven’t let go of him since Liyue Harbor.”
Xiao is starting to think there is something more than friendship here and he does NOT like the sound of that. At least Zhongli has the decency to look embarrassed. “Xiao mentioned I shouldn’t have brought a resting human up a mountain.”
Aether shakes their head. “Go upstairs. Paimon should be done with the beds by now.” The amused expression hasn’t left their face.
Wait a minute.
Zhongli nods gratefully and disappears upstairs.
Xiao blinks rapidly. “This house didn’t have a second floor before. How did you-”
“Trade secret.” Aether laughs at Xiao’s flabbergasted expression. “Wouldn’t be as fun if you knew!”
Xiao shakes his head. Humans truly are curious creatures.
When Childe awakens he’s in pain. God, what hit him- Wait.
Why is he awake in the first place? That weird guy stabbed him in the stomach? He shoots up, only to hiss and lie down again. “Ouch…”
Okay, no running then. Be calm Tartaglia.
Childe looks around the room instead. It’s fairly new looking - a bookshelf, some plants, dresser… wait, are those his clothes and all of his other stuff on the table over there? Even his weapons!
This is weird.
Childe glances down at himself. He’s naked- wait he’s still wearing underwear, thank god. His wounds have all been bandaged and taken care of. Most don’t even hurt anymore.
Why would that random traveler attack him like that, stab him- but leave him alive? How did he, Tartaglia, the Eleventh of the Fatui Harbingers, get kidnapped?
This is embarrassing.
Childe sighs and decides to examine himself closer. He glances over his stomach, no desire to see the no doubt giant wound- wait.
Wait. Wait. Wait wait!
There is no wound on his abdomen. Nothing. Like he never got stabbed in the first place.
What the fuck?
Maybe he’s dreaming? Or maybe that random guy is planning to torture information out of him or something. Too bad that Childe doesn’t know shit. Not a single fuck.
“Ah, you’re awake.” Zhongli’s voice startles Childe out of his skin. Zhongli??? What???
“...What’s going on?” Childe has absolutely no clue. He’s never felt so confused before. “Where is that dude that beat me up?”
“Well, about that…” Zhongli trails off, looking somewhat… guilty? “Do you remember what we talked about some time ago…? We talked about how easy it would be if the Fatui believed you dead?”
They did have a conversation like that some time ago. Childe remembers it fondly - he had admitted to Zhongli that he would love nothing more to go travel with his friends. Zhongli had decided to go with Aether, now that his duties are finished. Childe had joked that the Fatui would need to believe him dead for him to be able to do this though.
“...You were the random guy.” Childe realizes and his eyes grow wide. “You- you- why?” He hadn’t been serious. It was nothing but a fantasy. He had told Zhongli that. “Why would you do this?”
“You wanted me to. Your heart told me so.” Zhongli sits down on the chair next to him, his eyes piercing into Childe’s very soul. “I saw it in your eyes. You might have said it was a jest - but your eyes betrayed you. You yearned to be free. I knew so the day you accepted the chopsticks I gifted you.”
He remembers the dragon-phoenix chopsticks fondly. Zhongli gave them to him some time ago - Childe has been using them every day without fail. But still...
“Ah…” Childe can’t bear to look at Zhongli any longer, those caring, knowing eyes burn him to his core. “But I-” He stops himself. But what? Childe never voluntarily joined the Fatui. His father had made him after Childe has gotten too rowdy, too bloodthirsty.
All Childe wants is a good fight. He doesn’t need to be a Fatui Agent for that. He doesn’t need to be a Harbinger for that. Childe might be loyal to the Tsaritsa but…
She’s nowhere near as important to him as both Aether and Zhongli. The time he had spent with Zhongli has been enjoyable, almost freeing in some way. The thought of parting from his friend, not seeing him again for a long, long time? It’s almost unbearable.
Childe had never needed the Fatui, but he needs Zhongli.
That’s not something he’s equipped to handle right now.
“...Thank you.” Childe finally says after a lengthy silence. Zhongli hasn’t moved an inch while Childe was lost in his thoughts, giving him the time he so desperately needed to come to terms with his situation. “I didn’t expect you to do this, you didn’t have to but- thank you.”
Zhongli takes Childe’s hand in his own. It’s warm, it’s comforting and his grip is firm. “How could I let another be chained by duties when I just have been freed off my own?”
Childe meets Zhongli’s eyes again and sees nothing but gentle understanding. This time he doesn’t look away. “I see.”
The next few moments are quiet. Childe isn’t one for silence usually, but this time he can’t bring himself to break it. Something about Zhongli’s gaze, something about his firm grip - it’s soothing. Childe has never felt so calm before.
Soon, however, the soft atmosphere is broken by Childe’s stomach rumbling. That’s right, he was on his way to eat lunch when Zhongli pulled his stunt. “I don’t suppose you have some food here, wherever we are?”
“We’re at my house.” Zhongli has a house!? “I assume Aether made something for us. I expect almond tofu since Xiao is here as well.”
Adeptus Xiao is here too? Childe doubts the guy will be happy to see him. He never had the pleasure to interact with any of the adepti but he has seen them from afar. Xiao has struck him as a hardass - an incredibly strong one at that.
Childe is itching for a fight already.
“Almond tofu sounds good enough! I could eat anything right now, I’m starving!” He gets up, slower this time. Zhongli helps him up and fetches his clothes for him. Childe throws his clothes on with some difficulty.
Zhongli chuckles and Childe’s heart does a little jump. “I won’t keep you waiting then.” They make their way downstairs, Zhongli still supporting him.
Childe doesn't really need the support all that much but he doesn't have the heart to tell Zhongli that.
Zhongli ushers him into the kitchen, where Xiao, Aether, and Paimon are waiting for them. “Hey, guys!” Childe bursts in with his usual enthusiasm. Somehow, it comes to him easier than usual.
“Oh! You woke up!” Paimon stops eating just to wave at him but then gets back to stuffing her mouth full of food. There is indeed almond tofu on the table, but only Xiao is eating it. Did Aether prepare it just for him?
“Yeah, napping was getting old!” He cheerfully plops down next to Aether, Zhongli choosing to sit down next to Xiao, who has gone still.
Xiao’s watching him. Closely. There is a dangerous glint in his eyes. “So you’re the Fatui dog.”
“Not anymore!” Childe replies, pretending like the remark didn’t make him want to flinch. “Now I’m a dead man walking.”
Xiao doesn’t seem impressed, choosing to eat more of his tofu instead of staring at Childe any longer. “Hmpf, a masterless dog now?” His tone is icy. Childe can see Aether nervously shoving their food around their plate. “Don’t expect me to believe you’ll drop your loyalty to your Archon that easily.”
“How about we don’t talk about this at the dinner table?” Aether cuts in, frown on their face. “I put work into this food, especially that almond tofu you’re eating. Don’t make it go to waste.”
Xiao looks slightly chastised and nods wordlessly. Zhongli raises his brow at this and Childe wonders what’s going through his head right now.
“Sorry, comrade.” Childe can’t just let that remark weigh on them during the entire meal. “Just let me clear this up, and we’ll change the topic.”
Aether doesn’t exactly look thrilled, but they nod at him.
“Yes, I was loyal to the Tsaritsa. Big deal.” Childe frowns at Xiao, who looks ready to bite him. “But not anymore. I’m dead to her, I’m dead to Snezhnaya. I’m not going back - all I want is a good fight and an exciting adventure. That’s it. I never was interested in doing things for the Tsaritsa's sake.”
Xiao eyes him silently, his gaze frigid. “Your words mean nothing to me, Fatui dog.” Zhongli looks ready to cut in, but Aether shakes their head at him. Childe is grateful. “... but unfortunately, Zhongli vouches for you so I won’t kill you.”
Childe can hear the unspoken yet clearly.
“How generous.” Childe’s tone is heavy with sarcasm. Xiao doesn’t seem to appreciate that. Maybe he shouldn’t try to piss off one of Zhongli’s oldest friends.
If looks could kill, Childe would be dead on the floor. “If there is just one misstep, you won’t live to see tomorrow. Remember that.”
The atmosphere settles down a bit. It’s still tense, but the food is delicious enough that Childe digs in without problems anyway. He watches Xiao do the same.
After some moments Paimon starts up a lighthearted conversation and the earlier tension is forgotten.
Xiao hates all of this. Well, besides the almond tofu anyway.
Childe is digging into his food like a starving wolf. It looks disgusting but at least he seems to know how to use chopsticks in some capacity. Zhongli has an awful taste and should get better friends. Immediately.
But Xiao holds his tongue. This is Rex Lapis’ first selfish wish. He can’t just ruin it. His friend might deserve better, but he wants this.
So Xiao holds back, finishes his almond tofu, and leaves the kitchen. He’ll keep an eye on Childe since Zhongli can’t be trusted to do it himself - he’ll actually get himself killed this time.
He won't trust a Fatui slave. Former or not.
“You okay?” Aether followed him outside. Stupid human, it’s already dark outside - not to mention they’re in the mountains. It’s cold. They shouldn’t have followed him.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Xiao hisses, crossing his arms and looking away. He doesn’t understand the point of the question. He’s perfectly fine.
Aether frowns but lets it be. “You really don’t like Childe, don’t you?”
“He’s Fatui.” Xiao huffs, disgust clear in his voice. “He didn’t quit the Fatui out of his own volition. Rex Lapis severed the contract for him. I won’t trust him.”
“I guess that’s fair.” Aether replies with a shrug. “You don’t know him. You have no reason to believe he’s being honest.”
Xiao didn't expect Aether to give in so easily. He raises his brow. "Not gonna lecture me about how wonderful and innocent Childe is or some garbage like that?"
Aether has the guts to snort at him. "What? You want me to lie? Childe basically introduced himself to me as 'kind of a bad guy'. I totally get why you distrust him so much. I do too."
"Wait, you do?" Xiao fully expected them to come to Childe's defense or something like that. To find mutual distrust is something he didn't expect at all.
“I mean he is a Fatui agent - well, was now.” Aether says with a shrug. “Hard to trust him after all that. We do weekly fights too after all that happened but I could just never bring myself to fully trust him.”
Huh. Xiao is pleasantly surprised. There may be some humans with brains left in them after all. “That’s common sense.” He says, nodding. “You’ll keep an eye on him as well, I trust?”
Aether nods at him. “Yup, will do. Now we’ll have to stay low since the Fatui are probably searching for the guy Zhongli turned into. And. Well. Childe’s corpse.” He finishes his sentence with a grimace.
“I’m not convinced they don’t know it was Zhongli.” Xiao decides to voice his doubts out loud. It will only benefit them in the long run. “He was never a good actor. His disguises are always easy to see through as well.”
“Well yeah, if you spend time with the guy you’ll know it pretty quickly.” Aether agrees, “but I think he did a better job this time. He yelled something about wanting revenge against Tartaglia, stabbed him, and ran away with the ‘corpse’. Didn’t look like him at all either.”
Xiao goes still at that, the wheels in his mind turning. “...That sounds well thought out.” What if Zhongli actually planed this for a while, only to disguise it as an impulse decision? Or maybe he planed it and never intended to go through with it?
That sounds much more likely, now that Xiao thinks about it. Especially if Zhongli is interested in Childe in a romantic way. Zhongli would hesitate if it was an act with romantic intentions - especially if he’s unsure if the object of his affection returns his feelings.
“Say, Aether.” Golden eyes focus on him. “What do you think Zhongli intended to do with this?”
Aether’s eyes already tell Xiao more than he needs to know. “I can’t say I completely understand the guy, but this time it’s obvious to me.” He pauses, sighs and blushes slightly. “He’s trying to woo Childe, isn’t he?”
Xiao groans and hides his face with his hand. He hates being right. “He absolutely is, that bastard.” Zhongli, your taste is so bad. “Why did he have to find a potential partner in a Fatui slave?”
Aether shakes their head. “I guess Childe’s cute.” Xiao frowns. “Objectively speaking I mean! I wouldn’t wanna kiss the guy, his head is full of fighting. There is no space for romance in it.”
Xiao relaxes at that, unsure just why he was so displeased with Aether saying that. “Ugh, I hate this. This is awful. A mistake.” Especially since that damn mutt gets on his nerves already. “Traveler, would you help me throw him off a mountain?”
Aether laughs and shakes their head. “No way, Zhongli would stab me.” No surprise there. “However… if you really dislike him that much already, you could fight him.”
Xiao raises his brow. “Oh?”
“Yeah, Childe wants nothing more than to fight strong people. He wouldn’t say no - heck, I bet he would even ask you for one.” That does sound tempting, being able to brutalize Childe a bit. “But probably not while he’s still injured.”
“Tch, unfortunate.” Xiao turns away from Aether to look up at the sky instead. The night sky is beautiful so far out - the stars twinkling in the sky like shining beacons. “Traveler, will you take them with you?”
“Zhongli and Childe?” Aether clarifies. “Yeah, someone has to look out for them. I don’t think Zhongli set foot outside of Liyue for a long time either, so I figured it would be good for him too.”
When was the last time that Xiao left Liyue? He can’t remember. “...Would you mind if I joined you?” The humans no longer need him, but he still has to protect them.
Without his role, Xiao is nothing.
“To keep an eye on them?” Aether asks with a mischievous twinkle in their eye. “Sure! The more the merrier. It can’t hurt and I bet it will be fun for you too.”
“Fun…” Xiao trails off, uncertain. “Very well, from now on I will be joining you. If you cannot bring yourself to kill, speak my name and I shall appear.”
“...Thank you, Xiao. I’m glad to have you with us.” Aether holds out his hand for a handshake, which Xiao accepts reluctantly.
Is this really the right choice?
Xiao doesn’t know, but his heart is set.
“Well, that was a mess.” Childe laughs brightly, but on the inside, he’s screaming. He fucked up, didn’t he? And now one of Zhongli’s oldest companions probably wants to hunt him for sport.
Zhongli only shakes his head. “Don’t mind him, Xiao can be… difficult sometimes. I want you to get along, of course, but I understand that it will take some time for this to be the case.” He doesn’t even look disappointed or anything - just neutral.
Paimon looks between them a couple of times and then smiles brightly. “You ruined Aether’s dinner you know! They worked really hard on it! You should get the mess cleaned up as an apology!”
Before either of them can reply, Paimon is gone, most likely going to sleep in one of the rooms. “Well, I guess I deserve that for not backing down…” Childe moves to stand up but Zhongli pushes him down again gently.
Confused eyes meet Zhongli’s ember ones. “Rest, you are injured. I’ll take care of it.” Childe wants to protest - his injuries aren’t that bad - but the look in Zhongli’s eyes stops him.
There is hurt in them - he feels guilty, it’s written all over his usually stoic face. There is nothing his friend should feel guilty for - what is some injuries compared to freedom, after all? “I can help, it’s ok! Really!”
Besides, if Xiao comes in and Childe is lazing around while Zhongli is doing all the work… Well, he doubts the Adeptus will be pleased.
“No, I insist.” Zhongli’s warm hand is still on his shoulder, giving him a gentle squeeze. “I would be most unhappy if your injuries worsened because of mere chores. Please, allow me.”
Childe can’t look away from Zhongli’s entrancing eyes. The message is loud and clear - let me take care of you, to make up for what I’ve done. Even someone as dense as Childe can see it. “...Fine, alright. You gotta let me help you tomorrow though!”
Zhongli looks conflicted for a second before nodding. He then gets right to tidying the table up.
It’s odd, seeing him do such normal, mundane chores. Childe never could picture Zhongli as someone that does any house chores, be it cooking or cleaning. There was always this otherworldly air around him. At first, Childe had assumed Zhongli is a noble of some kind - oh, how wrong he was.
He watches Zhongli gather the dishes in silence. There are so many questions running rampant in his mind. Why did Zhongli go to such length for him, a Fatui Harbinger? Childe is aware they’re friends but would Zhongli go so far just for him?
There is also the issue of what to do now. They will have to lay low for a while before they can go travel with Aether. The Fatui are most likely searching for his corpse before reporting back to the Tsaritsa. When the info comes back to Snezhnaya it won’t be pretty- oh no.
Childe gasps out loud. “My family, does my family know I’m not dead?” If Teucer and Tonia think he’s dead they’ll be devastated. He can’t break their hearts like this, not for his selfish wishes.
Zhongli freezes in place. “I…” Oh no. “Forgive me, I didn’t think about this aspect… It slipped my mind.” Childe is trying incredibly hard not to panic right now. It’s not working. “We must send a message to them right away.”
“Until the letter gets to them they’ll already have the news.” No, no, he can’t hurt them like this. Ajax is their big, strong, indestructible brother. He can’t disappoint them. “Is there anything quicker?”
Zhongli is already bringing him paper and something to write. “I’m uncertain if that’s possible… I apologize, I shouldn’t have overlooked something so important.” The anguish is written all over Zhongli’s being. Childe can’t bring himself to be mad at him. “I will call in a personal favor.”
“...Don’t worry, it will be fine.” Childe already starts writing as he talks. By the Archons, what can he even say? Don’t listen to the Fatui, I’m not dead? I betrayed the Tsaritsa so don’t worry about me?
His parents will be so disappointed in him.
Childe’s stomach churns as he writes, dinner lying heavy in his stomach. He signs the letter, his signature looking slightly shaky, and hands it over to Zhongli.
Zhongli folds it for him and pockets it. “I will ask Barbatos if he can do something about this. Perhaps Dvalin can deliver it…? Do not worry, Childe, it will arrive as soon as possible.” It sounds more like Zhongli is reassuring himself than Childe at this point.
“Thanks.” Chide stands up. Before he can blink, Zhongli is by his side again. It should be annoying - but it’s anything but. It’s strangely endearing to have Zhongli fret like he’s some injured frail maiden. Zhongli is practically cuddling him; he's so close. Childe isn’t quite sure how this is supposed to help him walk.
Xiao chooses that exact moment to walk in. Childe feels his face heat up.
The absolute fury on Xiao’s face could kill a man. Childe dubs it the Judgmental Stare of Doom in the privacy of his own head. Damn, the Adeptus looks ready to gut him.
Childe has never been so invested in a potential fight before.
Aether walks in just a few seconds later, only to freeze and look at them in panic. Yeah, Childe doesn’t want to know how they feel.
Zhongli however, only blinks, unfazed. “Ah, Xiao. We’ve just discussed the situation and realized no one notified Childe’s family.” He doesn’t move away from Childe as he speaks - it almost feels like they’re moving even closer together. Uh. “I will go pay a visit to Barbatos right away.”
Xiao finally looks away from him and pinches his nose. He breathes out slowly and carefully. “You… you do that.” His tone is incredibly forced, the sentence sounding like it was physically painful for Xiao to say.
Zhongli doesn’t comment on it, simply walking upstairs, taking Childe with him. Childe won’t deny he’s glad to be away from Xiao’s piercing gaze. If he didn’t know any better, he would think Xiao was some feral animal ready to tear out his throat.
Once they are in what Childe assumes is his room, Zhongli helps him down the bed. “I must apologize, I have to leave right away. Barbatos always was a free spirit - it should take me a bit of time to locate him I’m afraid…”
Zhongli looks so heartbroken that Childe wants to hug him. “Don’t worry too much, as long as they know I’m not 6 feet under I’m happy.” He pats Zhongli’s shoulder in what he hopes to be a supportive manner.
“Childe…” Zhongli looks at him for a moment - well, that’s an understatement. His gaze is intense, charged with emotion. Childe never has been the target of such a longing gaze before. His heart speeds up, he feels choked up.
“Yes?” Childe’s voice sounds somewhat strangled. He’s surprised he even got out as much as he did.
“...I am happy that you are here.” Childe’s heart is doing summersaults in his chest. “My actions were rushed and I did not give my plan proper thought but I am filled with joy regardless.”
How is it possible that someone enjoys being in his presence that much? Childe is unused to that - he’s certain not even his mother is so fond of him. He never had a friend that appreciated him that much.
Agh, fuck it.
With a quick movement, Childe pulls Zhongli into a hug. “...I’m happy too, okay? So don’t feel guilty about not talking to me before it and rushing into it.”
It’s obvious to Childe that Zhongli didn’t expect him to react in such a way. He freezes up for the shortest of seconds before melting into the embrace like butter. It’s adorable - it’s almost unnatural how much Childe enjoys having the other in his arms.
“Childe…” There is something intense in Zhongli’s tone, something charged with emotions Childe can’t identify. “...it’s most regretful that I have to leave, but I will make sure to come back as soon as I can.” Zhongli reluctantly breaks away, almost like it pains him to do so.
Childe feels the same. Suddenly, he feels so cold… “Then get moving. The sooner you go the sooner you get back.” He can’t help himself - he pats Zhongli’s head. The surprised expression he gets for it is worth it.
“You are right.” Zhongli’s smile is small but it could have lit a thousand suns regardless. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then he’s gone and the room feels much colder than before. Childe stifles a sigh and decides to look if Zhongli has some pajama’s stored around in this place.
Xiao is foaming at the mouth. Well, not really, but he feels like it. “The nerve of that Snezhnayan dog!” He hisses as he helps Aether clean the rest of the dishes. “Simply sitting there while Zhongli is doing all the work, cuddling up to him like that…”
Aether wisely doesn’t comment, only nodding along with his rant sympathetically. He makes a good listener, Xiao decides. “Pah, humans have no manners anymore.”
“Well, isn’t Childe technically a guest-”
“He’s a leach, that’s what he is.” Xiao cuts them off, not wanting to admit Aether is technically right. As long as he doesn’t acknowledge it, Xiao’s right and he can stay irrationally angry.
“Yes, sir.” Aether shakes their head and laughs. It’s a pleasant sound, Xiao notes. “At least we don’t have to worry about the family thing now? Zhongli left in a hurry.”
Zhongli hat practically ran past them without a goodbye. It’s highly unusual for him - he was never one to forget his manners. Childe must be a bad influence. Xiao ignores how he decides this on the spot without any real evidence. “Hm, at least he’s cleaning up after his mess this time.”
“Zhongli forgets the little things, huh? I’m still baffled he doesn’t have a retirement fund…” It’s unfortunate, but Aether is right. Zhongli tends to overlook some small important things and then Xiao has to take care of them. It would be more annoying if Zhongli wasn’t genuinely sorry for those mistakes.
Well, it’s hard to hate Zhongli in general.
“He has his faults.” Is all Xiao says in the end. There is a long silence. Then Xiao realizes something.
Childe went to sleep, didn’t he? Why didn’t Aether? “Aether, humans need rest, don’t they?” It seems like an adequate time for a human to rest. “Leave the rest of the cleaning to me.”
Aether looks surprised and Xiao feels insulted. He can be nice when he feels like it. “I didn’t realize how late it got… Thanks, Xiao. I’ll make you some special almond tofu tomorrow!” Aether smiles brightly and walks upstairs, throwing a cheerful goodnight at Xiao before they leave.
Now alone, Xiao mutters a quiet goodnight despite knowing no one will hear him.
His words are lost in the wind.
Zhongli's banner is so soon I'm like a feral animal in a cage. Head full of Zhongli heart full of simping for Childe so he becomes the beefiest character I have.
Help Genshin is rotting my brain
Xiao decides to stand guard for the rest of the night. Just because they’re hidden and protected by a barrier it doesn’t mean they should let down their guard. Nothing happens during the night - it’s uneventful and extremely boring. At least the view from the rooftop is nice.
Still, it gives him time to think. What exactly is his plan here? Cockblock Childe until the end of time? That doesn’t sound too bad. Except for the part that it will make Zhongli unhappy.
Xiao can cockblock them at least a bit he decides. He doubts Zhongli will need help with eventually getting Childe in his bed - Zhongli can be smooth if he wants to be. Damn, now that Xiao thinks about it, that what he walked in on was Zhongli making a move on Childe wasn’t it?
Unhappy, Xiao groans. Why must Zhongli be like This?
Hours pass - sometime in the early morning, Xiao hears a sound. He summons his spear, instantly alert. He waits a couple of seconds and then thrust the spear behind him, stopping just before he can hit the offending presence on the rooftop.
Childe lifts his hands in surrender and chuckles. “Good morning to you too.”
Xiao is so tempted to throw him off the roof. He doesn’t grace Childe with an answer, glaring at him before dismissing his weapon. “What do you want.” He hisses out, not even trying to hide his annoyance.
“To talk, of course!” Childe looks so relaxed. How dare he. “I realized we started on the wrong foot and maybe we should not try to kill each other? Well, it’s more you but-”
“I don’t want to kill you.” Xiao cuts him off with a hiss, tempted to take out his spear again. Don’t throw him off the roof yet, Xiao. Control yourself, Xiao. If he lives you can torture him more.
“Oh, great!” Childe exclaims with that irritating laugh of his. “Glad we’re on the same page. I don’t want you dead either, that would suck-”
“Get to the point.” Xiao’s glare is frigid. He has no patience for this bullshit right now.
“Fight me.” Xiao raises his brows. “You’re strong, right? All I live for is a good battle.” There is a dangerous glint in Childe’s eyes - one that Xiao is all too familiar with. Bloodlust. “If we fight, we can settle our differences that way. Easier than words. Besides, I don’t even know WHY you hate me.”
Xiao ignores the last comment. If Childe has even a bit of a brain, he’ll figure it out sooner or later. “Hm, you actually said something I agree with.” Why talk when you can simply beat the shit out of each other?
“Great, when do we-”
Xiao tosses Childe off the roof with his wind.
“-start!?” Childe yelps, but catches himself and lands on his feet. Like a cat, Xiao lets himself think for a moment.
He doesn’t waste any words, he simply dives after Childe, his spear already in hand. If a fight is what Childe wants Xiao is all too happy to deliver. He won’t hold back, so he gives Childe no time to recover, already going for a thrust right through Childe’s stomach.
Childe dodges with his hydro swords already in his hands and goes for a strike that would have taken Xiao’s arm off if he didn’t block it. Good to know they’re both taking it seriously.
Xiao forces Childe back, making him stumble dangerously close to the edge but the Snezhnayan catches himself and clashes once again against Xiao’s spear. Hmm, this is almost, dare he say it, fun.
Childe goes for a strike with his second sword but they get rudely interrupted by someone clearing their throat. They both freeze and move apart, dismissing their weapons.
Zhongli stands there in all his glory, looking less than impressed. “...I realized you like fighting, Childe, but must you do it in your pajamas while still being injured?”
Xiao didn’t even realize he was wearing pajamas. His tunnel vision might bite him in the ass right now. Now that Xiao is actually looking at Childe, he realizes the other isn’t even wearing shoes.
“It got my blood pumping! I’m not even cold!” Childe says, shivering like the little liar he is. “Let’s keep going!”
Xiao agrees with that sentiment but Zhongli doesn’t look like he does. So Xiao shakes his head and pretends like he wasn’t having fun even for a second. “Tch, I’ve lost interest anyway. The fight had a clear winner from the start.”
Childe frowns slightly before laughing. “Oh? So confident in yourself? I wasn’t the strongest Harbinger for nothing.” Xiao’s hand twitches. Ah, right. He got so caught up in the excitement of battle he forgot about that little tidbit.
“Such titles mean nothing to me.” Xiao turns around dramatically, only nodding at Zhongli as he enters the house. What a waste of time.
The house is drastically warmer than the frigid morning air. Xiao presses on, maintaining the image that the cold had never bothered him in the first place. It’s quiet, no one else seems to be awake yet. Surprising, considering what racket he and Childe made outside.
Xiao finds himself lost without anything to do. He isn’t one for wasting his time reading one of Zhongli’s old books, so he glances around the room for something to do.
The kitchen catches his eye.
“Did you send the letter? Did everything go okay? When will they know?” Childe can’t help the questions that are tumbling out of his mouth.
“Yes, everything went fine. My friend agreed. The letter is on its way, it should arrive at nightfall.” Zhongli calms his sudden anxiety down with his calm answers.
Childe relaxes slightly. Well, he would, if it weren’t so damn cold. “Good, good.”
“What were you thinking, coming out like this?” Childe rarely sees Zhongli concerned. It’s kind of flattering. “You’ll catch a cold.”
“I didn’t intend to fight him right away! It just kinda happened!” Childe pouts, only to yelp as Zhongli picks him up in a bridal carry. “Hey-”
Zhongli decides he’s too cool for doors and jumps through Childe’s open window. He must have forgotten to close it when he climbed on the roof earlier.
Zhongli sets him down but Childe almost falls flat on his ass, his face ablaze. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Get dressed.” Zhongli does an adorable little laugh that has Childe melting and warming up at light speed. “Do your wounds need to be redressed?”
“No, they already healed over.” Zhongli hadn’t seriously hurt him when attacking him. “I’m as right as rain!” Childe pats himself, smiling brightly. “Do you have something else that fits me? I need to wash my clothes and my other stuff is probably still in Liyue Harbor.”
“Of course, if you don’t mind wearing something from me.” Wearing Zhongli’s clothes? Childe swears his heart stopped. “We shall fetch your clothes later.”
“Thanks!” His reply comes out high pitched. How embarrassing.
In a matter of minutes, Childe is fully dressed in Zhongli’s usual clothes. He’s uncertain if they fit him all that well, but Zhongli seems pleased. Childe can’t deny it’s kinda nice to wear them either…
“Ah, marvelous. They fit you wonderfully.” Zhongli nods to himself and Childe can feel the smug aura coming off him.
Is this flirting?
The moment the thought comes up Childe banishes it. Zhongli isn’t flirting with him, there is no way! He’s the former Geo Archon, Childe doubts he’d go for someone like Childe anyway. It would make no sense. “Thanks again.”
They walk downstairs and Childe makes sure to grab his chopsticks from his stuff this time. It’s fortunate that he always carries them around just to use them in restaurants - wait, is that weird?
Whatever, Zhongli gifted them to him so he could use them. They weren’t cheap! Childe is just making use of his gift, that’s all it is.
Seeing Zhongli’s face light up when Childe catches up to him, chopsticks in hand is just a bonus. “Ah, you had them on you?”
“I promised I would use them every day, so I am. I forgot yesterday, sorry.” Childe scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. “Don’t worry, I’m making good use of your gift.” That I paid for.
Zhongli is practically glowing. Childe is blown away by the positive aura hitting him full force. “I see, that is… most wonderful.” Then Zhongli takes his hand, gently squeezing it.
Oh, by the Archons. Childe is certain his face resembles a tomato at this point. He’s too flustered to speak.
Zhongli laughs softly, squeezing his hand again. Childe’s heart is beating rapidly in his chest. He manages to walk after Zhongli somehow, his head lost in the clouds.
Maybe… maybe Zhongli is actually flirting?
No, that can’t be it, right?
“Childe?” Zhongli’s amber eyes are fixated on him. “Why did you stop walking?” The look he’s given is tender if not almost-
Oh fuck. Oh fuck Zhongli is totally flirting isn’t he.
Childe shakes his head, trying to will his blush away. It does not work. “Nothing! Nothing. Let’s get going.”
Oh shit. Oh, Archons.
What is Childe supposed to do with this information!?!?!?!????
Since when has that been going on?
And most importantly…
What should he do now? Is Zhongli just being overly friendly? Does he just want to bed Childe and get it over with?
Childe couldn’t bear it if that was the case. He’s been harboring feelings for his friend for a while now - keeping them closed off in the denial box so he doesn’t have to deal with them. He’s good at denial.
Fuck, he prays to all the Archon’s he knows that Zhongli wants more than a quick fuck. His gay little heart would break into pieces otherwise.
Childe is such a mess, what does Zhongli see in him?
Eventually, they arrive in the kitchen, only to see Xiao looking ready to stab the fireplace with his spear.
They should probably stop him.
what is this posting schedule you speak of idk her
“Fucking shit.” Xiao decides quickly that the kitchen is his enemy. He also quickly learns that he should never attempt to make something that isn’t almond tofu. “Piece of shit kitchen.” He growls, looking at the charred mess that was supposed to be bacon.
He doesn't even like meat! Aether better be fucking grateful-
“Xiao, what are you doing?” Xiao turns around only to see Childe wearing Zhongli’s clothes. With Zhongli holding his hand practically smelling like a smug bastard.
Suddenly, stabbing Childe AND Zhongli has gotten appealing.
“Sacrificing your soul to the Abyss.” Xiao says, sounding perfectly serious and threatening.
Paimon, who just flew in as well, squeaks at that and flies out again. Well then.
“...Neat.” Childe nods and shit Xiao can’t stop looking at his stupid clothes. Zhongli what the fuck. Why must you do this? Be possessive somewhere else with anyone else but CHILDE.
Xiao puts the pan down. Deciding to prepare anything with meat was a bad idea in the first place. Almond tofu it is. "Get out."
"Xiao." Zhongli says his name like a disappointed parent. Xiao instantly tenses up. "Childe is very accomplished in the kitchen."
"Absolutely not." Xiao knows where this is going and he does not like it. “That’s illegal. You can’t do this-”
“How about you cook something together?” Xiao is about to protest but the look in Zhongli’s eyes stops him. He’s serious about this. “I’m sure Aether would appreciate it as well.”
Xiao wishes he were anywhere else. “...Fine.” He gives in at the end. Xiao knows that if Zhongli wants something he’ll get it in the end. Well, if he wants things from Xiao anyway. He has always been terrible in denying Zhongli. That doesn’t mean he’ll come quietly. Zhongli will have to drag him through this bullshit kicking and screaming.
“Zhongli, did you just sign me up to show Xiao cooking?” Childe’s easy-going voice grates on Xiao’s ears. He wants that twink obliterated. Maybe he could throw him out of the window? He never promised to play nice.
Zhongli nods and produces a pink frilly apron out of nowhere. Xiao’s eye twitches. So that’s his agenda here. Xiao has to destroy that atrocity even if it costs him his life.
“Wear this, Childe.” Childe blinks rapidly at Zhongli’s words, taking the apron off his hands in obvious confusion. By the Archons, did Zhongli have to have feelings for such an oblivious bitch?
“Oh, yeah, don’t want your clothes getting dirty.” Childe puts on the apron, struggling to tie it in the back. Zhongli comes to the rescue, tying it with a cute bow.
Xiao wants to retch and claw his eyes out. Where is Aether? Someone save him. This is too sappy. Zhongli even pats his shoulder for fucks sake.
"I will go on a walk - perhaps Aether will want to come with me." Zhongli says, just as Aether comes down the stairs, blinking sleepily.
Aether takes a double-take as they see Xiao and Childe. They sigh, shake their head, and turn to Zhongli. "You know what? Sure, I should leave the war zone before something explodes."
Xiao supposes that's fair but he still feels betrayed. He glares at Aether silently, his eyes conveying the message Please don't leave me alone with that idiot.
Aether doesn't seem to get it or they value their mental health like a normal person. They leave the house with Zhongli, Paimon trailing after them like a lost puppy.
Xiao holds back a sigh and turns to look at Childe.
Childe puts down a rather fancy looking small box at the table and Xiao eyes it warily. It doesn't seem like something a Fatui would have, but he shall remain cautious. What if it's some kind of contraption designed to kill them all? Maybe poison to murder them with?
So, Xiao decides to call it out. "What's in the box?" He tries to sound nonchalant but it still comes out too curious. Damn.
“Oh, this?” Childe blinks at him like the slow idiot he is. “Ah, it’s a gift from Zhongli. I paid for it though.” Xiao isn’t terribly surprised about that fact - well until Childe opens the damn thing.
Beautifully crafted chopsticks stare back at him innocently. Truly an exquisite pair - except for one thing. They have a certain design that makes Xiao doubt his eyes. “You said Zhongli gifted you these.” He repeats, a slightly hysterical edge in his voice.
Childe blinks stupidly like the stupid Snezhnayan, ignorant of Liyuen customs he is. “Yes…? I’ve used them every day since.”
Xiao is going to have a heart attack and maybe go into cardiac arrest, just for funsies. Would be better than whatever the fuck is going on here. “Zhongli gifted you chopsticks with a dragon and phoenix pattern. That you paid for.” He’s going to go absolutely insane.
Childe nods again. “Something wrong with that?” He says ignorantly, not knowing he’s destroying Xiao’s entire world right now.
Deep breathes, Xiao. Deep breaths. In and out. In. and. Out.
“Hmpf.” He turns away from Childe, but on the inside, he’s screaming. “What do you want to make for breakfast?” The hysterical edge still hasn’t left Xiao’s voice.
How can it, when Zhongli already married the bastard but said bastard doesn’t know.
Xiao is going to tear his hair out and then punch someone in the face. Preferably Childe.
“Uh… I was thinking something like…” Xiao tunes the rest of Childe’s idiotic monologue out, deciding to focus on the important things.
Like Zhongi proposing through chopsticks to an ignorant Snezhayan.
Zhongli has to know Childe has no clue, right? He has to. His friend might lack some come sense but he isn’t stupid. He must know Childe has no idea.
“Just tell me what to do so Zhongli is happy and we get this over with.” Xiao cuts Childe off, he never listened in the first place. “Let me chop vegetables or whatever.”
Childe hands him a knife, moves a good distance away from him, and then gives him direction. That’s fair, Xiao wouldn’t trust himself with a knife either.
“Zhongli, are you sure this is a good idea?” Aether’s voice breaks Zhongli out of his thoughts. “You sure Xiao isn’t going to kill Childe?”
“He will not.” Zhongli is very aware that Xiao isn’t exactly fond of Childe, but his friend would never kill someone dear to him. Especially not once he sees the chopsticks. “
Aether stops in their tracks. "The what."
Ah, that's right. They don't know about this. "In Liyue, it is tradition to use the dragon-phoenix pattern for marriage. I have gifted Tartaglia a set of chopsticks with such a pattern."
Zhongli sees the understanding dawn in Aether's eyes. Then, confusion. “But why do that? I didn’t know the meaning and I doubt Childe does.”
“My intentions are simple.” Zhongli nods to himself. “The chopsticks are a declaration of intent. By the time he realizes what they mean, I will already have won his heart.” He has been attempting to woo Childe for some time now. Unfortunately, he has proven very oblivious to any romantic advances Zhongli made.
After a while, Zhongli had realized that he was simply being too subtle for someone like Tartaglia. Therefore, he had to make a big, bold, and forward move.
“...That’s bold.” Aether comments, clearly shocked. Zhongli can’t help but feel proud of himself. “How’s that coming along? Wait- is this whole thing part of your scheme to make Childe your wife.” Aether delivers the last line with a flat tone, their eyes gazing at Zhongli in disbelief.
“No, not all of it, but I have to admit my feelings were part of the reason why I went through with this plan at the end.” In the end, he went through with it for Childe’s sake alone. “I could tell being in that organization wasn’t what he wanted - it’s just a means to an end. He wanted out and be free.” Childe is - or perhaps was? - loyal to the Tsaritsa, Zhongli isn’t blind.
There is something Tartaglia wants more though, even if he’s not aware of it himself yet.
But that’s fine, Zhongli will take his time. Romance doesn’t bloom overnight. His attempts must be more forward now - he has to let Tartaglia know that he has won Rex Lapis’ heart without ever having to fight for it.
All Zhongli wants is his beloved heart in return.
A simple contract.
“...Yeah, I know.” Aether seems less tense than before. Zhongli understands - how would he react if his friend kidnapped their partner? Not well, he imagines. “I don’t know him that well yet, but you spend way more time with him, right? Just stop doing stupid things, Xiao will get a heart attack otherwise.”
“...Xiao will have to accept my decision at some point.” His friend has always been a stubborn one. “He may not be happy with it, but in the end, he’ll understand that Tartaglia truly makes me happy; that this is something I chose for myself. I hope you can help Xiao to come to terms with it.”
“Me?” Aether blinks, surprised. “But he doesn’t even know me that well yet, at best he tolerates me.”
Zhongli has to raise his brows at that. Xiao does not act like that when he merely tolerates someone's existence. “Xiao saved you at Liyue Harbor, did he not?” At Aether’s nod, Zhongli continues, “Then I shall tell you something. Xiao tried cooking breakfast this morning before Childe and I arrived.”
Aether looks surprised. “Really? He doesn’t seem like the type to do that. I figured you roped him into it when I walked in.”
Paimon, who has been silent the entire exchange, nods along. “Yeah, that’s right! Xiao has such a scary aura…”
“He attempted to make bacon this morning.” It still baffles Zhongli. “Xiao does not eat meat. He hates it. He would not make it for me, nor would he make it for Childe.”
“Are you saying he made it for me?” Aether blinks, flushing slightly. “What are you trying to say here?”
“Xiao is fond of you, traveler. He hasn’t been close to a mortal in ages and I shall bless this union should it come to be.”
An open mouth, red-faced stare of Aether is all Zhongli gets from that sentence. Ah, perhaps he was being too forward again. “Be careful with his heart, Aether. It’s been scarred in countless ways by the past - it is a good thing that he’s joining us.”
“...He’s kinda lonely, isn’t he?” Aether seems glad for the change of topic. Zhongli takes note that his friend most likely isn’t ready to deal with that information yet. He lets it be, for now, he has his own romance to secure. He can meddle in their affairs afterward. “That’s why I invited him - I want Xiao to see more of the world, I want him to have fun…”
“Xiao has not set foot out of Liyue for a very, very long time. It will be good for him.” Zhongli agrees, pleased that Aether had such pure intention from the start. They would make a good match for Xiao - he approves. “Now come, traveler. Let’s see if Xiao and my wife to be have burned down the house yet.”
Aether groans into their hands. “You shouldn’t call Childe that behind his back…”
Paimon nudges their shoulder. Aether tilts their head in confusion, but then she whispers, “You want to call Xiao that.”
Aether is going to die a horrible death and it’s all Zhongli’s and Paimon’s fault.
Ah, finally weekend I can write in peace now.
If you're curious how my Zhongli rolls went: Absolutely wild Zhongli rolls
Trust me it got wild.
Y'all can follow me on twitter if you want all I post is memes
Somehow, they managed to make breakfast without killing each other. Xiao’s kind of impressed with Childe’s skill in the kitchen - he did not expect a killer to make such fluffy pancakes. Xiao even managed to make one too - it’s a bit misshapen but it’s eatable. They made more things too, but Xiao had very little hand in that.
He hates that he had fun, Xiao is supposed to hate Childe’s guts.
EXCEPT HE’S REX LAPIS’ WIFE.
He’s still digesting that one.
Can you even be married if the other party doesn’t know? Is that scamming? Xiao has so many questions.
At least he managed to burn that offending pink piece of cloth. He might have accidentally blown it to the fire while Childe was standing near him. Childe might have screamed. Just maybe.
No one knows! They shared a silent agreement to not talk about it.
“Funny how we didn’t go with bacon in the end.” Childe comments as they set the table. Xiao doesn’t humor him with a reply. “I guess pancakes are better? Haha.”
“I don’t care for human food.” Xiao can sustain himself just fine with snow if it’s thick enough. Technically, he doesn’t need almond tofu either, but we all need our guilty pleasures now and then. “This lesson was wasted on me.”
“Why did you even try to make breakfast?” Childe has the guts to ask him.
“None of your business. Now leave me be.” Xiao takes a plate of pancakes and leaves the room. Childe doesn’t try to stop him. Good. Xiao has some things to think about - and he might as well taste if the awful misshapen things he produced taste well. He wouldn’t want Aether to-
Xiao stops that thought forcefully and jumps up on the roof. The pancakes are good enough, he supposes. He sets the plate down and sighs. “Fucking chopsticks.” He curses. It’s still early, the day barely started and he’s already feeling 30 different emotions at once.
They can’t be married. No way. Nope. Xiao refuses to believe Zhongli would trick someone into a contract like that. No, the chopsticks HAVE to mean something different, but what? All of this symbolism is wasted on that Fatui dog.
Unfortunately, said dog seems to be oblivious to all of it. Therefore, he wouldn’t have tricked Zhongli into gaining romantic feelings or something stupid like that. Xiao’s disgusted. Why did no one tell him Zhongli has bad taste?
Ugh, he supposes he will have to live with it. Xiao growls and digs into the pancakes again. Might as well drown his sorrows in something that’s not revolting.
Tartaglia is feeling incredibly confused on this fine morning. First, the whole conversation with Xiao was wild. After the whole fiasco with the chopsticks and the slightly burned apron, Xiao got eerily quiet. It was creepy as hell - Child figured Xiao was planning an assassination attempt or something, but nothing happened. That in itself is worrying.
Oh well, if he gets attacked at least they get to fight again!
But still, why did Xiao act like that? For some old Adeptus grandpa, he sure acts like a teenager in their emo goth phase.
Welp, whatever. Xiao hates his guts. Childe is aware of that - trust him, it’s hard to miss with the way the Yaksha keeps glaring at him. He isn’t quite sure what he did to earn such a level of contempt, but Childe has never been an individual with many admirers. Many in the Fatui hated him - Tartaglia is quite used to it.
At least with Xiao, it’s kind of fun.
Childe takes off the apron and gets his chopsticks from the kitchen. Why did Xiao react so weirdly to them? Is there something he’s missing? There is nothing he can think of. Oh well, if it’s important Childe will figure it out sooner or later.
“Tartaglia, we’re back.” Zhongli’s voice startles him out of his thoughts. Once his brain caught up with him, Childe blinks dumbly. Zhongli rarely calls him by his other code name - briefly Childe wonders how it would sound if Zhongli would call him by his actual name, but he dismisses that thought.
“Oh, hey guys! Xiao went up on the roof to eat.” He greets them with a smile. “I guess he had enough company for today?
“Oh…” Aether looks disappointed. Now that Childe thinks about it, didn’t Aether get along well with Xiao yesterday? “You think so?”
Childe ponders over the question for a moment. “Hm, might just be mine. He won’t send you away.” Maybe Aether will make Xiao into less of a sourpuss.
Aether looks between him and Zhongli for a moment. “...You know what, yeah I think I’ll keep him company. Paimon, come with me.” They take their plates, pile food on them, and leave the house.
Now it’s just Tartaglia and Zhongli.
Before Childe can say anything, Zhongli approaches him and cups his face in his hand.
He swipes something off his cheek. Ah, flour. “The food looks excellent.” All that’s left on the table is stuff Childe made. He made sure to avoid any seafood since he knows Zhongli isn’t exactly fond of it. “I was aware you’re no slouch in the kitchen, but I didn’t know you were this accomplished.” Zhongli is still tenderly holding Childe’s cheek.
Um. Uh. Ignore it, Childe!
Well, Childe has to admit he kinda went all out. “What can I say? I’ve been practicing.” He wanted to impress Zhongli a bit. His friend always has an eye for things like this so Childe figured it would be a nice surprise. “Let’s eat, shall we?”
“Of course, it would be a waste if the food got cold.” Zhongli’s hand retreats and Tartaglia finds himself instinctively chasing after the warmth. Zhongli, fortunately, doesn’t mention it.
That was very heterosexual.
After gathering himself, Childe sits down at the table and gestures to the food. He explains some of the dishes after Zhongli’s prompting. It’s nice to see his efforts be acknowledged.
Childe makes sure to save the best pieces for Zhongli, taking the uglier ones for himself. “Did you have a nice walk?”
“It was most illuminating.” Zhongli eyes him as Childe takes out the chopsticks Zhongli gifted him with. There is definitely satisfaction in his eyes as he watches Childe use them - but why? He isn’t exactly a friendship expert, is this normal?
Fuck, should Childe gift something to Zhongli in return? Did he miss some important Liyue custom? No, Zhongli would tell him - he loves trivia like that.
“How was your cooking lesson with Xiao?”
“He was really quiet. Kinda weird.” Childe sighs and puts his chopsticks down. “Do you have any idea just why he hates me so much? Did I offend him somehow?” He’s curious - and he wants to know if it’s fixable.
“Xiao is… difficult.” Zhongli starts and Childe knows that all hope he had to mend the situation just went down the drain. “He will not stop seeing you as a threat and a burden until you prove yourself.”
“Hmmm, I see.” Maybe if they had some life-threatening situation going on, Xiao would like him more. Good to know. Enough about Xiao for now though, otherwise Childe will lose his appetite. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask, since when do you have a house?”
The delighted sparkle in Zhongli’s eyes makes Childe’s heart skip a beat. “A wonderful question.” He knows that look in Zhongli’s eyes - he’ll go on a long-winded rant about trivia again. It’s great timing too - Childe has been missing those. “It all dates back to a very long time ago. Centuries ago even.”
Zhongli goes on and on, his eyes full of life as he describes all kinds of things to Tartaglia. The delight might not show on his face, but it’s so clear in his eyes that Childe wants to go over and kiss him.
He must have fucked up at thinking there. Hug. Childe meant hug, of course. Like dudebros. Friends for life. Nothing else to see here! Feelings go right back into the denial box.
Except you really want to kiss Zhongli’s stupid perfect face and hold his hand and cook for him-
Childe really wishes his brain would shut up. Except it doesn’t.
So he’s tortured with his gay little thoughts as he puts up his best poker face and listens to Zhongli explain.
Childe REALLY WISHES he could put his feelings back in the denial box.
Except he can’t.
This shit sucks! Ajax never learned how to deal with feelings! They suck actually, he can’t beat them up.
“Is there something wrong, Childe?” Zhongli asks, concern evident on his face. Oh no, Childe didn’t want to stop Zhongli when he’s enjoying himself. “You’re unusually quiet.”
“Ah, sorry. Got lost in my thoughts.” Childe chuckles nervously. “Say, Zhongli, I have to lay low, right?”
“Unfortunately, yes. It would not be wise if you came out of hiding now.” Zhongli tilts his head and the motion is so incredibly adorable that Childe can barely contain himself. He has it so bad. “Why? Is there something you need to accomplish?”
Quickly, Childe scrambles for any kind of topic change. “Do you have anything for us to do? It’s gonna be boring hiding in a secret hidden villa in some secret hidden mountain place after a while.” He pats himself on the back mentally. It is true that Childe tends to get stir crazy when there’s nothing to do, though.
“I have many books stored in this place - some lost to time and impossible to get now.” While Tartaglia was never a big bookworm he can’t say he hates reading. Maybe this is the time to distract himself from his gay thoughts with a good book. “I have a big selection.”
“Oh, neat. You have any board games and stuff too?”
“I do have some, but the selection is rather small.” Zhongli admits, a slight frown on his face. “The Adepti never once entertained many games when we come here.”
“Huh, makes sense.” Childe shrugs. It was worth a try. “Oh well. Actually, wait. I have another question - what about your job, do you still have it?” If Zhongli lost his job because of him, Childe would feel awful about it.
“Of course, I am just on a rather long vacation right now.” How convenient - but then again, Zhongli planned this. “Don’t worry about me, Childe.”
“I kinda lost my job so you’re the only one with income right now.” Oh, shit wait. His mora. Childe still kinda needs his money. “Zhongli, Zhongli you have to do something for me.”
The sudden serious tone must have startled Zhongli since he’s suddenly by Childe’s side and holding his hand. “Anything.”
Um. This has to be intentional. There is no way Zhongli isn’t flirting with him at this point.
“I need you to withdraw all my mora from my bank account. All of it.” Zhongli looks startled but then nods in understanding. “The Fatui have a special code for emergencies. You only need to say I miss the snow on this white morning and they won’t ask any questions.”
Zhongli nods. “Should I bring it here? I imagine it’s quite a sum.” The grip on his hand never wavers.
Childe thinks for a moment - he can’t think of a better place than this to keep his money. They only have to keep Paimon’s hands off it. “Yes, yes do that. You have to be discreet. Make sure no one follows you. It’s for the best that you go as Zhongli.”
At this, Zhongli blinks. “As myself? But why?”
“They know I’m friends with you. They won’t question it more than they already do if a close contact of mine does this - wait, do you have a piece of paper and something to write?” Childe smiles, his teeth showing. He just had the best idea.
“Yes, I do?” Zhongli is caught off guard by the change of topic. It’s nice to be the one with the plan for once.
Childe smirks, perfect. He squeezes Zhongli’s hand gently. “My friend, let’s write a will for Tartaglia.”
Zhongli’s eyes widen and Childe feels incredibly smug.
One of the best ideas he ever had.
fellas is it gay if you write a will with your crush
did you know that if the snow is thick enough, we can eat it?
Zhongli regrets not thinking about mora sooner. It was foolish to forget about Childe’s entire bank account. Thankfully Childe remembered this before it can become a problem - yet another mistake Zhongli has to apologize for.
“Okay, we’ll do it like this.” Pen in hand, tongue sticking out as he concentrates on the paper, Tartaglia is what Zhongli can only describe as adorable. Perhaps he’s biased, but how can he not be, with a partner as wonderful as Tartaglia? “You’re getting all of my money, Zhongli.”
Huh? “Childe, is that a good idea? Won’t it be suspicious if I get all your mora and your family none?”
“Heh! That’s where you’re wrong.” Childe looks so proud of himself - smiling as brightly as the sun. Zhongli is truly blessed to witness this moment. “You see, you’re going to be the one that gets the money to my family.”
Zhongli blinks. Interesting. “Ah, I suppose if you wrote a will you would not want the Fatui to handle your money. It would make sense if you bring in an outsider.”
“Not only that, you’re a close friend of mine. All the agents under me know that. They know how often I pay for you, they wouldn’t be surprised I trust you with my money.”
Yes, the more Zhongli thinks about it the more he likes the plan. He nods in acceptance.
“We’ll do it like this - you’ll bring in the will that I left you for safekeeping. Of course, they’ll check if it’s fake - but you’re the Ex-Archon of contracts. It’s gonna be impossible to figure out I only wrote it now.” Childe continues to fine-tune the plan with him.
It’s nice to plan together - it’s nice to be on the same side. Zhongli hopes it stays like this until the end of time.
“Xiao, you can’t keep running from Zhongli’s life decisions.” This is the first thing Aether says once he spots Xiao on the rooftop.
Xiao’s first instinct is to curse and throw Aether off the roof, but he controls himself. “I can.” He says instead, “And I will. Watch me hate Childe forever because he’s a horrible excuse of a human being and waste of space and just a general annoyance-”
Aether sighs and decides to interrupt him, “You don’t even hate him that much.” They sit down beside him, their plate of breakfast in hand. “You just hate him on principle.”
“Childe is an annoyance and a Fatui.” Xiao counters, disliking this conversation already. “I will not approve of him, not even when he draws his final breath.”
Aether winces at that and shakes their head. “Xiao, please think of Zhongli. He’ll be heartbroken.” They place a comforting hand on Xiao’s shoulder.
Xiao immediately tenses up. “The chopsticks…” How would Zhongli react, knowing that Xiao would never approve of the person he has apparently married? Zhongli would never say it out loud, but he would be hurt, immensely so.
Logically, Xiao knows he can’t keep being against Childe. He knows that.
But hurting Zhongli is something he wants to avoid - especially since it seems so serious that he married the damn guy- wait.
Wait, did they get married without inviting him?
Xiao has Words about that.
Once everything is ready, Zhongli decides to take Aether and Paimon with him. He would need help with carrying the mora back and since Aether is also Childe’s friend it shouldn’t pose a problem.
The scene he finds on the rooftop is most curious. Paimon is nowhere to be seen - only Aether and Xiao are there, sitting next to each other and speaking in quiet tones.
Xiao doesn’t look pleased - but not mad. Well, slightly mad. It doesn’t seem to be directed at Aether though. Zhongli wonders what they’re talking about, but they’re speaking too quietly to make anything out.
Once he steps closer Xiao jumps away from Aether like a frightened cat and shakes off their hand that was resting on his shoulder. Zhongli stifles a chuckle.
“What brings you up here, Zhongli?” Aether greets him with a smile as they get up and dust of their pants. They don’t seem upset, it likely wasn’t an argument then.
“Tartaglia forged his will and I’m on my way to the Fatui bank to get his mora.”
Aether blinks at him for a moment, then shakes their head and sighs. “You really didn’t think about all the consequences of your plan, huh.”
A slight flush dusts Zhongli’s cheeks. He did not. He acted rashly - but how could he not when Childe informed him just days before that he would have to leave for Snezhnaya soon? Zhongli only thought of taking a long vacation - it’s fortunate he even thought of that - and then he acted.
A rushed decision, made out of desperation.
“Perhaps.” Is all Zhongli says to the matter. “I will apologize to Childe once again when we get back- hm, Xiao, what are you doing?”
Xiao looks livid as he jumps off the roof and lands just a couple of feet in front of Zhongli. Then, his face forming an even stormier expression, he hisses, “Why didn’t you tell me you married that- that- Snezhayan!”
“Because I haven’t.” A short pause for dramatic effect. “Yet, that is.”
The relieved expression that formed on Xiao’s face is gone in an instant. It’s amusing to look at, Zhongli has to admit. “Only when he knows what they mean and he still accepts them, only then will we form the contract.”
“...I had a whole rant ready for you not inviting me to the wedding.” Xiao grumbles, still looking annoyed but less angry than before. The annoyance bleeds away after a moment, replaced with a serious expression. “You truly like Childe that much?”
“Not like; love.” Zhongli corrects. He had never intended to fall in love - not after Guizhong. Her passing had pained him immensely, he could not bear the thought of something similar happening again.
However, Childe wormed his way into Zhongli’s heart and stole it without him ever noticing.
Xiao looks at him for a long moment, his face set in a neutral expression. Not even Zhongli can tell what he’s thinking.
He knows that Xiao is very aware of how he felt about Guizhong. They never truly talked about it - it is an unspoken agreement to not open that can of worms. It would only hurt them.
Xiao has to know how important that is to Zhongli. “I don’t say that lightly, you know that.”
After a moment, Xiao sighs. “...I don’t like this and you’re very aware of this.” Zhongli waits. “...but I’m not against it. Not anymore.” Xiao looks disgusted with himself but Zhongli couldn’t be more proud of him. “You have my blessing, okay? But don’t ask for more.”
“Thank you, Xiao. Your acceptance means much to me.” Xiao is one of his oldest, closest friends. If he continued being stubborn Zhongli wouldn’t have known what to do.
“...I know.” Slightly red, Xiao looks away. “So we’re clear - I hate him. I would throw him off a mountain. I don’t like Childe.” Ah, the hard exterior once again. Xiao has an image to maintain after all. “You get my blessing very very reluctantly.”
“I won’t ask for more.” Zhongli is certain Aether had something to do with this, but he won’t dig. “Aether, let’s be on our way. We’ll take Paimon with us as well.”
Aether nods in acceptance. “I’ll fetch her.” They jump off the roof and run in the direction Paimon must have disappeared in.
Only Zhongli and Xiao remain.
“You could have done worse.” Xiao mumbles quietly. Zhongli almost didn’t catch it.
A small smile grows on Zhongli’s face. Upon spotting it, Xiao curses and turns around. “I’ll be around the area. Leave me be.” Like the wind, Xiao disappears, leaving Zhongli alone until Aether comes back.
The three of them make their way to Liyue harbor, never once noticing that Zhongli never once closed the front door.
It closes silently; like it was never open in the first place
Childe is feeling a lot of things right now.
He’s unsure how to deal with any of that he just witnessed.
Zhongli loves him. He just said it out loud. To Xiao. In front of Aether. He sounded perfectly serious too - that wasn’t a joke.
Childe might faint actually.
A bit lightheaded, Childe heads up to his room. He clutches the box with the chopsticks close to his chest. Zhongli...
He didn’t hear the entire conversation - only since Xiao asked Zhongli about his feelings for Childe. Zhongli’s answer hit him right in his chest and squeezed his heart in ways Childe can’t deal with.
Zhongli loves him.
The sentence repeats over and over in his head.
What does it mean to love?
Tartaglia loves the battle. He loves fighting - he loves the adrenaline it gives him. Tartaglia loves the way it feels when he crushes enemies under his feet, the way it feels to break their bones with ease. He loves the way their blood shines on the pure white snow, tainting it red.
Ajax loves his family. He loves them so much he would kill for them. They’re the only ones that love him. There is nothing else he let closer to his heart.
Did Childe ever love anyone? Is Childe loved by anyone?
Ajax is loved by his family, but they don’t know Tartaglia. They don’t know how bloodthirsty he is, they don’t know how the only thing on his mind is to fight and to kill on a constant loop. All he does is feed them constant lies.
Little Teucer has no idea all of his toys are the result of dirty money. People died for everything he has. His family has a better life because of him - but they don’t know just how much chaos Tartaglia causes daily.
There is also the fact of the mission in Liyue harbor. Tartaglia tried to steal Rex Lapis’ gnosis - he awakened an old god and Liyue harbor almost got destroyed in the process. Yes, it was Zhongli’s plan in the end - but he would have stepped in the moment he realized the Qixing can’t handle the situation.
He would have stepped in the moment people started dying. It was only luck that kept the situation from escalating.
How can Zhongli love him? Does anyone love Tartaglia? Is anyone capable of loving such a person?
Zhongli says he loves Childe, but what does that mean? Who does he love? Does he love Tartaglia? Does he love Ajax?
What does it mean to be Childe, to be Tartaglia, to be Ajax?
Ajax knows who he is - under Childe, under Tartaglia - he is simply Ajax. Does Zhongli know that? Does Zhongli even know that Ajax exists?
Another question - what does Childe feel?
How does one differentiate between romantic love and platonic love?
Yes, he’s aware that he has a crush on Zhongli as much as he likes to deny it - but love? Is that what love is? Or is it just lust?
It always was just a thought that would never be reality - it would never be real, it was never tangible. A relationship with Zhongli always felt unreachable - unobtainable.
Is this love? What is this?
Ajax doesn’t know - he doesn’t know if he’ll ever know. What does he know?
He sits on the bed quietly, his eyes drifting around the room.
What should he do? What can he do?
His eyes fall on the box in his hands. Maybe he should start with this. Ajax opens the box, taking the chopsticks within out delicately. They almost feel fragile in his hands, the pattern seemingly shimmering as Ajax studies it closely.
He needs to find out what the chopsticks mean.
They have to have some kind of meaning - Xiao’s reaction was a big hint to that. He’s certain Zhongli hid some kind of message here.
But for now, Childe won’t act. He’ll pretend he never heard about this in the first place. He doesn’t know how to react, or how to answer.
There are so many thoughts swirling in his head. Ajax has a lot to think about.
Can someone like him truly love someone? Can someone like him be truly loved in return? Does he love Zhongli? Before he can answer these questions, Childe will not act. Before he’s certain Zhongli knows who is behind Childe, behind Tartaglia, he will not act.
He closes the box again and puts it on the table. He won’t research them, not yet. Ajax has the feeling he isn’t ready to find it out.
He will not open the box again until he’s ready.
“I miss the snow on this white morning.” Once those words are spoken, the Fatui agents stiffen and open the doors for Zhongli, Aether, and Paimon without complaints. A most pleasing outcome - Childe was completely right.
A woman comes to greet them - Zhongli recognizes her. She’s a close coworker from Childe. He believes her name was Ekaterina.
“You.” She says, her posture stiff. “What do you want?”
Silently, Zhongli presents the will to her. Her eyes widen beneath her mask as she takes it from him, reading it thoroughly. “...So he wrote one after all - I’m not surprised he left it with you.”
Zhongli stays as silent as a statue until she finishes inspecting the piece of paper and hands it back to him. “You can take the money - I’ll have it carried out in chests.”
“Are you not going to check if it’s a fake?” Childe had been convinced they would check it thoroughly. He was certain they would call professionals.
“No, I would recognize his chicken scratch from anywhere.” Ekaterina shakes her head and sighs. Then, she walks closer to Zhongli and whispers, “I know he’s alive.”
Zhongli freezes in place and he can see Aether doing the same in the corner of his eye.
“Now now, don’t react visibly.” Zhongli forces himself to relax. “I won’t sell you out - I don’t care what he does but for the love of the Tsaritsa, take his kid brother with him.”
She moves away and tells something to the employees. Not even seconds after a small child runs up to them, ginger hair and freckles on his face.
“Didn’t we see him leave for Snezhnaya!?” Paimon whispers, which is more like shouting because she has no concept of volume control. “Why is Teucer here!?”
“Nice person! Mister Zhongli!” Teucer’s face brightens as he runs up to him, tackling Aether into a hug. “Can you bring me to my brother? Everyone keeps repeating that he isn’t here anymore but where else could he be?”
Zhongli did not plan for this.
Thankfully, Aether is here to smooth things over. “Sure we can.” They hug Teucer tightly before placing him back down on the floor. They pat his head as well. “Your big brother is on… a very long vacation. Just be a bit patient, okay?”
That’s one way to word things.
“We’ll take you to my house in the meantime,” Zhongli assures the child. “but why are you here? I heard from your brother that you took the boat back to Snezhnaya.”
Teucer’s eyes snap to him, sparkling in joy. “Oh! Mister Zhongli! Big brother told us so much about you in his letters! Tonia said you must be really cool and strong to keep him so interested! I really wanted to meet you, I was so bumped out when I didn’t run into you the first time!”
Zhongli does his best to suppress a blush. It’s nice to know that Tartaglia speaks so fondly of him.
“But yeah, the boat! It stopped mid-journey and brought us all back… Cuz of some unforeseen storm or something! The adults with funny masks told me my brother would take care of me until we can get another boat. But then we all got here and it got really confusing! My brother wasn’t anywhere so Miss Ekaterina took care of me for a bit!”
Zhongli withholds a sigh. No one told Teucer anything thankfully - Childe would have his head otherwise. “That’s nice of her, did you make sure to thank her?”
“Mhm! Big brother says you always have to thank nice people.” Teucer holds up a small pouch of mora. “So I gave her some mora!”
Aether facepalms next to him.
Before Zhongli can answer, Ekaterina approaches him once again. “We filled the chests with the mora and delivered them to the room Childe was staying in. I trust you’ll take care of everything?”
“Of course.” Zhongli nods and then looks over to Aether. “We need to get some things from his apartment as well - this is most convenient.”
They make their way to Childe’s room - it’s in an Inn not far from the bank. They pack everything - from letters to clothes to shampoo to weapons.
“Why didn’t big brother pack his stuff when he went on vacation?” Teucer tilts his head in confusion as he helps them pack. They don’t let him anywhere near the weapons. “Did he forget?”
Aether laughs nervously. “Ah, yeah! You know how Childe is. He was so excited that he left everything here but he can’t leave cuz…”
Paimon jumps in, “Cuz he got a cold! So we’re getting stuff for him!”
“Childe? Ah, Tonia said he’s going by that weird name here… ” Teucer laughs and nods. “ But okay! Let’s do our best for him then!”
They all laugh, some more nervously than the others.
Zhongli wants to bury his face in his hands. How will Childe react to this mess?
whoops i added angst to my comedy fic sry not sry
also i have today and tomorrow off so i can write 😎
Xiao stares up at the blue sky.
He gave Zhongli his blessing to court a human. His friend is mortal now - as mortal as the first Adeptus can be - but did he make the right decision here? Xiao thinks he did.
Ugh, whatever. It’s Zhongli’s problem in the end. Xiao is too tired to think about the consequences. Instead, he should worry about his other problem - actually trying to get along with Childe.
Bah, just the thought alone makes Xiao queasy. Still, if he wants to continue being friends with Morax, he has to play nice with his…. ugh, partner.
Xiao can at least TRY to be nice and not spit in his food when he isn’t looking.
With that thought in mind, Xiao decides to enter the house again, only to find it dead silent.
Well. That’s concerning. Maybe Childe is planning something? Maybe he’s just waiting for Xiao to let his guard down so he can stab him in the back like the Snezhnayan snake he is.
Carefully and silently, Xiao sneaks through the house. Childe is nowhere on the first floor - everything remained just as it was. Nothing has been tampered with.
Cautiously, Xiao ascends to the second floor. More silence, all the doors are closed- ah, no they aren’t. The door to the room Zhongli assigned to himself and Childe is wide open.
Xiao shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. He hates Childe, he should just count his blessings and get some damn peace.
Except Aether and Zhongli would be disappointed if they knew Xiao didn’t even try to interact with him. Ugh. Agh.
Xiao peaks inside the room.
He immediately wishes he hadn’t.
Childe is sitting at the table, staring intently at a piece of paper. There is something written on it but before Xiao can make out what it is, Childe’s gaze snaps to him. “Oh, it’s just you, Xiao.” He relaxes again.
Immediately this raises alarm bells in Xiao’s head. Why the fuck is Childe relieved to see him. That’s illegal. “Just me?” Xiao questions, leaning against the door frame.
Xiao has never seen Childe so tired before. Usually, there is always an idiotic smile on his face, but now all he can see is exhaustion.
Childe sighs and rubs his face. “I don’t think I can deal with seeing Zhongli right now…” Huh? Why would Childe not want to see him?
What if he cheated on Zhongli? That would be the perfect excuse to stab him- calm down Xiao. No murder, you promised it. Think rationally.
The answer comes surprisingly quickly. “How much did you hear?” If this messes up Zhongli’s courting plans Xiao will laugh his ass off. Of course, of course! It was just a matter of time before this happened - Childe would overhear them at one point. They live in the same tiny ass house and they literally had the discussion in front of it.
Fuck, maybe being around Childe and Zhongli is taking Xiao’s brain cells too.
“The confession.” Childe looks up at him. Their eyes meet.
Xiao didn’t expect to find the sheer frustration written all over Childe’s face. What the hell? “You don’t look happy.” Does he not like Zhongli back? Oof, that would certainly put a wretch in Zhongli’s plans. Xiao should stab him for that.
“It’s not that I’m not happy- I-” Childe groans into his hands. “What the fuck is love?”
That sure is a loaded question.
Xiao grabs the chair, flops down on it, and looks Childe right in the eyes. “I have no fucking clue.”
They share a moment of mutual emotional repression silence.
Finally, Childe breaks the silence and says the stupidest shit Xiao has ever heard, “Am I loveable? Do I deserve love?”
Xiao looks at Childe like he just killed 20 children in front of him.
“I know you don’t love me! Don’t worry.” Childe laughs like the stupid hyena he is. “I need an honest opinion, and I know you can give me that.”
“Ugh, fine.” Xiao isn’t getting paid enough for this shit. He isn’t getting paid at all. Maybe he should make these fuckers pay him as compensation for his pain and suffering. “Fine. Fuck, I hate you.”
Childe waits patiently. Xiao wishes to punch him.
“I guess to SOME people you’re loveable.” Xiao feels the bile rising in his throat. He swallows it and grimaces. “I have no clue what Zhongli sees in you, but apparently he likes you enough to kidnap you.” He probably shouldn’t mention the wedding thing just yet, if this is enough to fuck up the Snezhnayan like this.
Xiao says that like he wouldn’t have a mental breakdown if someone confessed to him.
“Yeah, but what if he actually doesn’t love me?” Oh by the love of all that is holy, something strike him down now. Xiao wants to DIE.
“No, nope. We’re not talking about that.” Xiao hisses, slamming his fist on the table. “Not that question. Fuck off.”
“That’s fair.” Childe laughs again, more nervously this time. “You wouldn’t know that anyway.”
Another moment of emotional repression silence.
“Agh, how the hell do you know you love someone?” It bursts out of Childe and his head meets the table. Xiao winces at the sound of the impact. Do humans get concussions from that? “How am I supposed to know what I’m feeling?”
“Well, if that ain’t a mood.”
It takes Xiao a moment to realize he said that out loud. Childe is staring at him. Xiao is horrified - he has to be losing the small scraps of sanity he has left. “I mean, fuck if I know do I look like I feel things regularly?”
“Wow, calm down there edgelord.” There is a bright red mark on Childe’s forehead. Xiao decides not to mention it. “Okay, so we’re both emotionally repressed bastards who don’t know what the fuck is going on here on this day.”
That’s a good description of their current situation. Xiao nods.
“...Aether seems like they aren’t repressed.” Childe states and Xiao nods again before his brain catches up to him.
He raises his brow. “You’re going to talk with Aether about your feelings.” If Childe is anything like Xiao he would never.
“I would never!” Ah, there it is. “What do you think I am? A functional human being?”
Huh, maybe Childe isn’t that annoying. Xiao shrugs. “Why else say that?”
“I’m going to sneakily ask them if they have a crush and then we’ll go from there!” Is it embarrassing that Xiao would do the same thing if he were in this situation? Probably. “This can’t possibly go wrong.”
Another silence. Then.“Fuck, did we just get along? I’m supposed to hate you.” Xiao curses. Bad Xiao, he let down his guard. Childe could have stabbed him.
Childe shrugs. “Don’t you get tired of the whole ‘I hate all you of you’ thing?”
Is he stupid? “No.”
Ah, fuck it. “Sure, why not.”
Xiao promptly opens the window and throws Childe out of it.
The fight they end up having is actually really fun and takes Childe’s mind off all the bullshit he’s been feeling.
Well, until he hears a kid yelling. A certain kid. That should not be here. That should be in Snezhnaya.
“Big brother!” Teucer yells and Childe is too stunned to dodge Xiao’s kick. Xiao doesn’t pull any punches either, the kick to Childe’s face sending him flying.
At least Xiao has the decency to look somewhat apologe- no that’s a lie. He looks smug, the bastard.
“Teucer!” Chide- no, Ajax jumps up, wipes the blood off his chin, and runs over to his little brother. “What are you doing here? Weren’t you supposed to be on a boat back to our family?”
“There was a storm or something!” Teucer jumps into his arms and hugs him tightly. “So we went back but then everyone acted weirdly and I didn’t know where you were! Everyone kept saying you were gone or something!”
No one told Teucer anything, thank the Archons. Ajax hugs his brother back tightly and catches Zhongli’s eye, who has been watching them silently.
“We got everything on our end. How is your cold, Childe? It’s most unfortunate you got one at the start of your vacation.” Zhongli asks and Childe needs a moment to realize what he’s getting at. Ah, well that’s a good enough excuse.
“Ah, I’m all better now. Thanks for getting everything.” Ajax sets Teucer down again and pats his head. “How about we get you inside now? I’m sure you must be hungry.”
“Are you gonna cook something!?” Teucer’s eyes are sparkling. His little brother is too cute for this world. “Can we have pelmeni? Please!”
“I’ll have to check if we have the ingredients.” Ajax shoes his little brother inside the house, who immediately starts exploring like the little rascal he is. It’s adorable.
Aether quickly explains what’s going on. Xiao doesn’t exactly look pleased. Childe isn’t pleased either but it’s… nice to have Teucer here with him, even if that creates new problems.
“I’d suggest we keep him here until the next boat to Snezhnaya is ready.” Aether says as they all help carry Childe’s stuff inside the house. “I got told it may take a couple of days - the storm is supposed to be awful.”
“I must apologize, Childe.” Zhongli’s head is bowed as he talks. Childe frowns. “Teucer was very lucky things went as smoothly as they did - had they not, had he had gotten hurt-”
“Hush.” Childe pokes Zhongli’s forehead. “It’s fine, he’s healthy and unhurt. Don’t worry about it.” Suddenly, he realizes how close he is to Zhongli.
To Zhongli. Who. Loves. Him.
Blood rushes to Childe’s face and he backs off before it can get weird. “Ah, did you ever try pelmeni, Zhongli?”
“No, I’m afraid I didn’t have the pleasure of trying it.” Zhongli doesn’t even blink at the topic change - but Childe can tell that he’s happy with this outcome.
“Then I’ll have to give it my all to give you the best pelmeni you can get in Liyue!” Childe practically runs into the kitchen and checks if they have everything. Should be fine. “Teucer, do you want to give me a hand?”
“Oh! Please!” Teucer is by his side in an instant, clinging to his pant leg.
“Oh, but we have to make some without meat too. Xiao - the guy with the funny markings on his arm - he doesn’t eat meat.” It would be bad manners if he couldn’t eat this stuff, right? And besides, they’re repressed buddies now. Childe can’t ignore his existence.
Oh wow, he’s buddies with Xiao. That’s weird.
“Okay!” Teucer smiles up at him brightly and Ajax can feel his heart melt. “I’m glad I get to be with you more, big brother.”
“I’m glad too, Teucer.”
Even if that means Ajax has to send another letter to his family that they don’t freak out about him not being home yet.
Oh man, when did his life become a circus?
Xiao b like YEET
Cooking with Teucer is an absolute joy. Ajax missed it, but even this simple joy can’t distract him from his current problems. Actually, it just reminds him more of them. Specifically, the apron does.
Why did Zhongli give it to him? Did he want to keep his clothes from getting dirty? Is he getting some pleasure out of seeing Childe in it?
There is also the fact that he’s wearing Zhongli’s clothes too. Is that also related to the feelings thing?
Agh, his head is smoking.
Stop thinking about it, Childe, you have to make sure your brother doesn’t burn the kitchen down.
At that moment, Teucer tugs on his apron. “Look, look! I formed some pelmeni!”
They look more like misshapen rocks but his brother made them, so they’re cute and the best pelmeni he has ever seen. “They look great! Let’s throw them into the water. Careful that you don’t hurt yourself.”
“Don’t worry! I’m a big boy now.” Teucer’s cheeks puffed up and Ajax just wants to pinch them. “Look!” He places his creation into the hot water, looking proud of himself.
“Good job!” Ajax ruffles Teucer’s hair and laughs brightly. “Let’s make some more.”
Teucer’s excited shouts echo through the entire house. At least they don’t have neighbors.
Watching Childe’s brother run around in the kitchen is an absolute nightmare. Xiao twitches every time the child gets too close to the fire. He does not want the house to burn down. He is not worried.
In theory, Xiao is reading a book. In praxis, he’s watching a child handle dangerous cooking utensils.
If Xiao ignores all of his feelings, they’ll disappear. He is not worried.
“You don’t seem all that impressed.” Aether tells him. “You kinda look… worried.”
He is not. “I’m not.” Xiao hisses, closing the book with a loud snap. “It’s irresponsible to let such a young child in the kitchen.”
“Is it?” Aether tilts their head and peaks into the kitchen. “Childe seems like he’s keeping a good eye on Teucer though.”
Xiao practically growls, but before he can say anything Zhongli walks into their conversation without an invite and says more horrifying things Xiao doesn’t want to process. “Ah, look how well he takes care of the young ones.”
No, no, don’t continue this train of thought, don’t do this to Xiao don’t DON’T-
“He would most definitely handle a baby with care, don’t you think?” Xiao can practically see the hearts around Zhongli. He wants to scream. “To be able to kill a man without remorse and yet still be so gentle with their own family is an achievement only few can claim to have reached.”
“Zhongli, please tone down the sap.” Aether says with a sigh. Xiao could kiss them- wait no. “I think Xiao will explode if you continue.”
“Am I being too forward?” Zhongli asks like he doesn’t know how much Xiao wants to kill him right now. “I am simply being honest with my feelings.”
“Be honest somewhere else.” Xiao hisses through clenched teeth. “I’m reaching my capacity for sap this week.”
“...It’s Monday.” Aether states. Xiao only glares at them. Aether raises their hands in surrender.
Zhongli shakes his head in disappointment. “It would be good for you if you were more honest to yourself, Xiao.” Please no lectures. Xiao doesn’t want to hear it. “Simply repressing your feelings won’t make you happy.”
“That won’t stop me because I’m deaf.” Xiao closes his eyes. If he wishes for it he can simply stop existing. That will solve all his problems-
Aether is poking his shoulder. Xiao cracks one eye open and glances at them.
“Zhongli is being so…”
“Derranged, hopelessly charmed, idiotic?” Xiao supplies helpfully.
“...he’s very in love that’s for sure.” And yet, Childe can’t see it. It would be funny if Xiao wouldn’t feel exactly the same way if he was in that situation. Not that he ever will be anyway. “You think Childe feels the same?”
How does Xiao answer this. “...Does the guy even know what romance is? All that’s in his head is fighting.” That’s a neutral answer. Perfect. Xiao pats himself on the back.
“That doesn’t mean he can’t feel love, you know.” Aether answers drily. Xiao does his very best to keep his poker face. “Sure, his head is empty but he’s not that stupid. Besides everything, he’s still human.”
“...I wonder, does he know that?” Xiao whispers to himself. What does it mean, to be human? What does it mean, to be an Adeptus? Louder, he says instead, “He is Fatui scum after all, who knows what their policy on this is.”
“Fatui are still people.” Aether frowns. “They have thoughts and feelings like everyone else. They might do bad things, but they aren’t monsters. They’re people.”
Xiao doesn’t know how to answer. “Hmpf.” He replies instead, hoping that’s enough.
Silence settles over them as they watch Teucer and Childe run around in the kitchen. Zhongli is lost in his own little world, having long since stopped paying attention to Aether’s and Xiao’s conversation.
Xiao hopes he never falls in love if this is how it makes people act.
“I think he does.” Aether cuts through the silence like a knife. “Childe, I mean. He might not know it but… he always looks at Zhongli like he’s his whole world.”
“Spare me the mushy bullshit.” Xiao mutters but quietly agrees. The way Childe looks at Zhongli is like a lovesick puppy. “Who cares about such nonsense anyway? Love won’t help you protect anyone.”
“No, that’s wrong.” Aether says forcefully, but they don’t look mad. “I’m on this whole journey because I love my sister. I want to find her, I need to. I’m on this journey because I love meeting new people - I love exploring new places, I love listening to new stories. Love got me where I am today. Their love for Liyue is what led to the Qixing to protect it in the first place.”
Xiao has never heard Aether talking so much before. “...I apologize, I didn’t mean to undermine any of your accomplishments.” The speech was inspiring, but Xiao won’t say that.
“I know you didn’t, don’t worry about it.” Aether pats his shoulder and stands up. “Oh, it looks like they’re done. Let’s go help set up the table.”
“Ah, a most excellent idea. Leave it to me.” Of course, this would get Zhongli to snap out of whatever he was thinking. He stands up and walks over to the kitchen, leaving Xiao, Aether, and Paimon in the dust.
“Wow,” Paimon exclaims, “that was fast. Is that how true love looks like?”
Xiao wishes he could run far away. “No, that’s what insanity looks like.”
“Tart-” Childe throws him a Look and gestures at Teucer. Ah. Zhongli nods, understanding immediately. “Childe, do you need help with setting up the table?”
“Oh, yes please.” Childe nods at him and Zhongli is struck by how relaxed he seems. During the years Childe has been in Liyue, Zhongli has never seen him that way. Is it because of Teucer?
The three of them set the table. Zhongli notes that the food looks and smells delicious - it’s most fortunate to know that Childe has great skill in the kitchen. While Zhongli can cook as well, he specializes in old dishes, lost to time. Modern dishes, unfortunately, escape his grasp. He never gets them right.
“Oh, Xiao,” Childe says as he brings the pelmeni to the table, “you don’t eat meat, right? We made some pelmeni without any. Just with potatoes and cheese inside.”
Xiao looks at the food, conflicted. Zhongli hopes he will at least try it. He knows his friend is stubborn about only eating almond tofu.
After a seemingly long debate in his head, Xiao nods and reaches over to put the food on his plate. Zhongli couldn’t be more proud.
“....Not bad.” Mumbles Xiao after he took a bit. He continues stuffing his mouth with food, so Zhongli concludes not bad actually means excellent.
“Indeed, the meal is lovely.” Zhongli is pleased to know that his words brought a blush to Childe’s face.
Dinner is a lively affair. They eventually come back to the topic of Teucer. Aether seems to like the child a lot - perhaps he reminds them of their own sibling?
“Weren’t you scared when you heard your brother disappeared?” Aether asks, curiosity written all over their face.
“Nope! Not at all!” Zhongli raises his brow. He would have thought any child in that situation would be frightened. Teucer however, only smiles. “I knew he would come back.”
“How were you so sure of that?” This time Xiao asks, seemingly interested in the conversation. Zhongli knows the other has a soft spot for children - but it’s still endearing to see in front of his eyes.
Teucer shrugs. “When I was little, my brother disappeared once too! For three whole days!” Zhongli can see Childe freeze in the corner of his eyes. “Mommy said they couldn’t find him anywhere! But he showed up real quick and he was fine. So, I wasn’t worried!”
Childe still isn’t moving.
It doesn’t look like he was fine. He looks vaguely sick.
Zhongli is officially worried now. “Oh, really?” Childe’s eyes snap to him. They look worryingly empty. “You’re brave, Teucer. Not many children your age would think like that.” He’ll stir the conversation in another direction. It’s not something he can leave alone, but he will ask Childe about it once they go to bed. It doesn’t seem like it’s an appropriate conversation for lunch.
“When you say it, it must be right!” Teucer laughs cheerily and the tense air seems to disappear. “Big brother told me you know lots of stuff! You must be really smart.”
“Did he now?” Zhongli gently stirs the conversation further and further away from the topic.
Childe’s eyes never once leave him during the rest of the lunch.
The moment lunch is over, Xiao and Childe stare at each other. There seems to be a silent conversation going on but Zhongli is clueless on how to interpret it.
Zhongli makes his way to Childe, fully intending to have a private talk about that moment during lunch, but Aether stops him. “Zhongli, would you mind taking care of Teucer with Xiao and Paimon? Childe wanted to talk to me about something.”
Hmmm, most curious. “I see.” He nods at Aether. “Could you tell Childe that I would like to speak to him later?” That look in Childe’s eyes won’t leave him alone.
Just what happened during those three days of absence?
“Can do, but he looks ready to bolt.” Aether says with a shrug. “You will have to corner him if you want to talk about that three-day thing - yes, you’re that easy to read.”
Zhongli shuts his mouth.
“Look, you’re clearly worried, which is fair! But Childe is fine right now. It can wait after I softened him up a bit for you, okay?” Aether pats his arm gently.
“Thank you, friend.” It’s a good plan, Zhongli has to admit. “I wish you luck in your conversation.”
“Maybe you should wish Childe luck instead.” Aether leaves him with those words as they and Childe leave the living room.
Zhongli is left alone with questions and a child tugging at his jacket.
teucer: pokes at childes trauma accidentally
childe: uhhhhhhhhhhh windows xp crashing noises
Xiao stares at the child tugging on Zhongli’s coat. He’s not fond of this situation - why does he have to babysit one more Snezhnayan?
“Big brother said you know a lot!” Teucer’s cheery voice echoes around the room. “Tell me something smart!”
Xiao watches as Zhongli tries to entertain the child with his trivia and it seems to be somewhat working - but Teucer keeps getting interested in something else, leaving Zhongli not enough room to breathe as he struggles to keep up.
It’s hilarious. Xiao doesn’t mind Teucer anymore - this is great actually. He watches in amusement as Teucer drags Zhongli around the house, pointing out various things and demanding a story.
Ah yes, sweet sweet revenge.
While Xiao is watching in poorly disguised delight Paimon decides to leave the house, mumbling something about finding more food or whatever. Xiao isn’t sure how she manages to still be hungry after everything she ate today, but whatever. Not like he cares that much.
After a couple of more minutes of watching Zhongli struggle, Xiao decides to intervene. He walks up to the pair and crosses his arms.
Teucer instantly snaps to attention without Xiao having to say anything. “Hmm? What do you want, mister?”
“Aren’t you getting bored in this stuffy house?” Xiao asks nonchalantly, ignoring the grateful look Zhongli shoots him. “We can go explore the forest outside instead.”
Xiao expected Teucer to jump up in joy and say yes immediately - He didn’t expect Teucer to become hesitant instead. “Mommy said that exploring forests alone is bad! You’ll get lost for days! That’s what happened to my brother.”
Oh. Hm. Xiao notes that Zhongli is perking up with interest and Xiao is curious as well but- something is telling him Childe wouldn’t want Zhongli to find out this way. Much like Xiao, Childe would probably prefer to tell the tale himself.
Ugh, the bastard owes him for this. “You’re not alone, I’ll come with you.”
“Really!? But you don’t look that strong… What if something attacks us? I don’t wanna go missing…” Oh wow, Xiao’s gonna pretend his ego didn’t take a huge hit there.
“Hmpf, let that be my worry.” Xiao meets Zhongli’s gaze and says, “You will watch the house.”
His eyes shimmering gratefully, Zhongli nods. “Of course.” He then turns to Teucer, “The woods are dangerous, please stay close to Xiao. If you get hurt your brother would get very mad at us.”
“I don’t want him to get mad!” Teucer squeaks out. “I’ll be super careful! Promise! I’ll stay super close to mister funny eyebrows!”
Mister funny what now.
Teucer grabs Xiao’s hands and drags him out of the house before he can react, which is quite the feat for a small boy. “C’mon! C’mon! I wanna explore!”
Maybe this was a bad idea after all. “Slow down, you’ll trip.”
Teucer does not slow down one bit.
“What did you want to talk about?” Aether asks as they sit down on their bed in their room. Their room is decorated differently than Childe’s is - a lot more books, that’s for sure. There are also multiple flowers in the room - and a corner full of colorful looking materials. Childe briefly wonders when Aether had the time to set this all up before shrugging. Not that important.
Childe looks around and spots a nearby chair. He sits down on it with a quiet sigh. Aether is probably curious about what happened at lunch but unfortunately for them, Childe will not talk about it. Nope.
Instead, he’ll follow his perfectly laid out plan from before the whole fiasco. Yes, perfect. Xiao approved even.
“Aether, do you have a crush?” The question stumbles out of Childe’s mouth bluntly, not at all how he imagined asking. He’s so smooth. Not.
Aether splutters and throws a pillow at him, red-faced.
Childe narrowly dodges. “Hey! It was a serious question!” Aether doesn’t listen and only hits him with the pillow, face red. He has no clue what’s so embarrassing about the question. It’s not like Aether actually has a crush, right? Nah.
When the pillow assault doesn’t stop, Childe lets out a manly shriek and covers his face. “Aether!”
“Why! Are! You! Asking! That!” After a couple of more whacks, they seem to give up and hug the pillow close, pouting. They mumble, “You better have a good reason for this.”
Ah, here is the hard part. “I uh, just wanted to know how it feels like!” Aether squints at him. Childe panics. “You know! I never had a crush before so I was curious!” Don’t be suspicious.
Aether squints at him harder. Tartaglia tries very hard not to flinch. They will not find him out. They will not find him out. If Tartaglia believes it enough, it will come true. Don’t find out. Don’t find out-
Aether leans back, seemingly having found what they were looking for. Not that Childe has any clue what that could be. “Hmmm, fine, I’ll humor you.” Their embarrassment seemingly forgotten Aether tosses the pillow at him.
Childe catches it, confused. What is he supposed to do with it? At least it’s outside of Aether’s grab range now.
“Hmm… it’s like - you want to be with them at all times.” They start and Childe nods, yes that applies to his feelings about Zhongli. “You want to hear them laugh, you want to make them happy. You want to comfort them when they’re sad.”
That… also applies to everything Childe thinks about Zhongli. He squeezes the pillow in his hands and gestures for Aether to continue. Hm, maybe that’s why Aether gave him that. Emotional support pillow.
“There is this… feeling in your chest. You feel lighter when you’re with them.” Aether continues and there is a gentle smile on their face. Childe wonders if they’re thinking of someone specifically. Their eyes lose some softness, but they remain tender as they ask, “Childe, be honest. There is another question you want to ask here, isn’t there?”
Aether’s gentle tone doesn’t stop Childe from tensing up. He hugs the pillow close, unsure how to proceed. He never talked about his feelings with his family - he prefers to simply not think about them. He prefers to show his family his normal, happy side. They don’t need to know about his dark side, his honest feelings.
Once his father made him join the Fatui, not being able to deal with Ajax’s rowdy behavior anymore, Childe didn’t have the option to talk about them regardless. Heck, when his parents tried to make him get a therapist, he attacked them instead.
That’s why Childe doesn’t want to acknowledge his feelings - he buries them, deep inside. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s how he was able to keep moving after the Abyss. But.
“...How do you know it’s love, not just a crush?” Ajax whispers out quietly, almost afraid of voicing his innermost feelings out loud. This is making him too vulnerable. It’s almost terrifying.
The look in Aether’s eyes softens. “Oh, Childe.” Their tone is fond as they shake their head. “I don’t think you’re that bad at deciphering your own feelings. You know already, don’t you?”
Ah, so they’re done pretending it isn’t about his obvious crush now. “I- but what if it’s platonic-”
“Childe, look me right in the eyes and tell me you love Zhongli like you love Teucer.” Oh, that’s. Oh. Hm.
Aether bursts out laughing. “Oh man, you should have seen your face! I’ve never seen you more disgusted in my life!” They’re clutching their stomach, they’re laughing so hard.
Childe groans into his pillow. He’s so fucked. “Okay, okay fine I might, potentially have feelings for Zhongli, stop laughing.” This is embarrassing.
But, ugh, well maybe Childe should stop sitting in the denial box the whole time.
“Might potentially.” Aether says mocking, but then their eyes turn serious. “Hey, by the way - Zhongli looked worried earlier.” Oh.
Childe had noticed that - when Zhongli steered the conversation away from the A- from his disappearance, he was so grateful. His heart swells just thinking about it- oh, hm.
Hm. Maybe Aether wasn’t that wrong about the whole feeling thing.
“...I’m betting he wants to talk to me.” Childe had noticed Zhongli approaching him but he wanted to get his feelings in order first. It had been somewhat… awkward to interact with the mean as long as Childe wasn’t sure of his standing.
He feels more confident now, more sure of himself. Childe might not be sure that his feelings are actually love just yet but- He’s feeling something.
Okay, there is still some confusion there but Ajax is gonna work it out eventually. This is an improvement to his earlier meltdown at least.
“Wow, how did you guess?” Aether’s voice is dry as they stand up with a stretch. “C’mon, get out of my room and face the worried nagging of an old person.”
“Oh wait, before I go.” This has been bothering Childe for a bit actually, “Do you actually have a crush? You never answered me-”
Aether nails him in the face with a second pillow. “OUT.”
Childe leaves the room without a word, leaving the emotional support pillow behind.
hell yeah weekend, it's writing time
also i'm haunted by the image of mario getting stabbed by sephiroth help
Once Childe leaves the room he spots Zhongli in the kitchen who is making two cups of tea. Xiao, Teucer, and Paimon are nowhere to be seen.
Ajax is immediately filled with panic. “Zhongli, where’s Teucer?” The logical part of his brain is telling him Xiao is with him most likely, meaning there is no need to be worried, but Ajax has never been one for logic.
“Xiao took him outside to explore the forest.” Zhongli looks up from his tea making, looking as calm as ever. His eyes however are deeply concerned.
Why? Why is he so concerned about something that’s been history for so long?
“Ah, I see.” Childe wonders how Xiao is going to handle curious hyperactive Teucer alone in the woods. He doubts Paimon will be any help - as much as Childe likes her, she’s not exactly helpful… ever. “Is he going to be fine alone? Teucer is a bit of handful.” He loves his brother to pieces but sometime’s it’s difficult keeping him entertained.
“I’m already on my way.” Aether’s dry tone reaches Childe’s ears. He just came out of his room. “We’re gonna be gone for a while! Have fun having the house for yourself. Don’t destroy it and use protection.”
Use what now.
Childe takes a moment to process that sentence, his face ablaze. Aether is long gone once Childe’s brain turns back on. So he turns to Zhongli instead.
Zhongli is blushing. Oh Archons, who allowed the god of war to be so cute? The red dusting his cheeks fit him so well - maybe Childe should stop gushing in his head and start talking instead.
“You want to talk.” Childe forces himself to calm down. This is still the same old Zhongli - the one he keeps meeting with, even after the entire mess in Liyue harbor. The one that he can keep talking with for hours without getting bored. Zhongli, who is Rex Lapis but retired now.
Zhongli, who loves him, who cares about him more than Childe ever thought he would. But most importantly, he’s Zhongli and always will be - Childe needs to stop awkward about this and talk about it.
He wasn’t the eleventh Harbinger for nothing. Why should he, Tartaglia, run away from a conversation just because the concept of acknowledging his feeling is scary? His mother didn’t raise a coward.
You don’t survive the Abyss if you’re a coward.
“Indeed I do.” Zhongli nods at him, holding a tray of tea in hand. “Let’s move somewhere more private, shall we?” Childe nods, agreeing. He isn’t keen on the idea of being walked in during this conversation.
Zhongli leads upstairs, walking past their room, entering the room after it.
Man, Childe didn’t know this place has a cozy as hell library.
“Aether really outdid themselves with cleaning up this house.” Zhongli puts down the tray on a table, sitting down and gesturing for Childe to do the same. “I may not know how they did it this quickly, but I must properly reward them later.” Truly, the house has never been prettier.
Childe is still looking around the library as he sits down, looking impressed. Zhongli can’t help but feel somewhat smug. “This place is neat! I like the fireplace. Very cozy.”
They settle down as Zhongli serves the tea. It reminds him of all the times he drank tea with Tartaglia before - it has always been a pleasant experience. He pours the tea into Childe’s cup with a steady, calm hand, lost in pleasant memories. How he longs to make more…
“You wanted to talk.” Childe’s voice cuts through the pleasant haze his memories have created. Zhongli nods, sipping his tea. It has a pleasant temperature, warm but not too hot. The taste turned out fine as well - it’s supposed to have a calming effect and Zhongli finds himself appreciating it greatly.
“Yes.” He notes the way Childe tenses slightly and withholds a frown. His goal is not to make Tartaglia nervous, but it can’t be avoided with the topic of this discussion. Still, worry takes over his heart regardless. “Teucer mentioned you went missing?” He’ll press onto the topic lightly, letting Childe take control of the discussion. There is no need to pressure him into anything.
Zhongli won’t take anything that Childe doesn’t want to give him.
“...That he did.” Childe’s mouth twitches, settling into a frown for the shortest of moments before settling into a loose smile. Zhongli stays silent, waiting for Childe to continue by himself. He only watches Childe as he nurses his tea.
Silence settles over them, but it’s broken by Childe sighing. “You’re not going to make this easy on me, huh? Not prodding at all.” He sets down his cup of tea, sighing once again.
Zhongli feels compelled to explain his reason to Childe, but he settles for a short answer instead. “I will not force you to talk about it. Only talk if you want to share it with me.”
Childe looks… lost. Yes, lost is an apt description. “Huh.” He shifts in his seat, unsure how to proceed. “But you’re curious, aren’t you? I know I didn’t hide my reaction well.”
“I am.” Zhongli won’t deny that. “However, sating my curiosity will not come at the price of your discomfort. I dislike making you uneasy.” That’s why he had been hesitant about starting this conversation in the first place. All he wants is for Childe to feel comfortable here - in the best-case scenario, happy with Zhongli by his side.
“...That’s so like you.” Tartaglia whispers, looking at his reflection in the tea. “Zhongli, I know you’re worried about me.” Has he been that transparent? “I’m fine now, it’s all in the past. It’s been years - I was 14. There is no need to worry anymore.”
“And yet, it still bothers you.” It may have been almost 10 years - for Zhongli, this is an incredibly short time. It took him centuries to get over Guizhong’s death and his distaste of seafood never left him. “Time may heal wounds, but has that been enough for you?”
Childe tenses, silent. After a moment, he shakes his head. “...You saw right through me, huh?”
Zhongli sips his tea, not once looking away Childe. He has the feeling that he’s touching onto a topic that Childe never truly took the time to deal with. He has to tread carefully - he’s fully aware Childe won’t break, he’s strong. However, he would like to spare him from unnecessary pain regardless. “I simply know you well.”
Childe falls silent once again. He sips his tea - only to find his cup empty. Zhongli pours him more.
The conflict in Childe’s eyes is painful to watch. Zhongli wants to reach out and help him - but he doesn’t move from his spot. This is Childe’s decision to make. Zhongli won’t influence him in any way.
“When I was 14, I took a short sword, a piece of bread, and ran away from home.” Childe’s tone is nostalgic as he talks, lost in the sea of memories. “Life just… got boring at home. My two older siblings were busy with studying and my younger siblings were still too small to realize what was happening.” His eyes are cloudy, unseeing.
“I wanted adventure - and an adventure I got.” Tartaglia stops for a moment to collect himself. He absentmindedly drinks his tea. His hands are shaking. Zhongli desperately wants to reach out and holds Tartaglia’s hands, but he controls himself. That gesture wouldn’t be welcome now.
Instead, Zhongli will be Childe’s rock - supporting him silently in any way he can.
“I still remember how cold that day was - I entered the snowy forest, naive of what’s inside.” Childe isn’t deterred by Zhongli’s silence, instead, he seems to prefer the silent support. “I tripped over a twig and stumbled right into a wolf pack. Before I knew it, wolf packs and even bears were chasing me.”
“While I was running, I tripped again. I was certain I was done for - except I kept falling. I had the luck to fall right into a bottomless crack on the earth’s surface. A one-way ticket to the Abyss.”
Zhongli is certain he stopped breathing.
Childe fell into it when he was 14.
“...The Abyss?” Zhongli repeats, wide-eyed, face ashen. He must have misheard.
“The Abyss.” Childe repeats. There is no emotion in his eyes. They’re empty - bottomless.
Zhongli closes his eyes and nods.
“I was stuck there for 3 months.” Childe’s voice is even, not wavering in the slightest. “I met someone there - she taught me how to survive that hellish place.” A pause. Zhongli doesn’t dare to move. “Every day was a struggle to survive… at first anyway.”
“After a while, all I cared about became the battle.” There is a wistful tone in Tartaglia’s voice now. “I stopped being prey and became a predator instead. I killed, killed, and kept killing. The fight is the only thing that matters. I spend every day getting stronger, looking for my next prey. It didn’t matter how often I got injured, how often I died.”
Zhongli twitches, those words repeating over and over again in his head.
“I’m not arrogant enough to say that I was the strongest thing in there - far from it. I learned through trial and error. I didn’t even have a vision back then.” His cup now empty, Childe leans back in his chair. Zhongli doesn’t refill it this time. “I reveled in the challenge. All I wanted was bloodshed. I didn’t even care about getting home anymore.”
“But then, one day, I stumbled onto the place I first fell in. I kept wondering - could I defeat all of those animals that chased me? Could I kill them now?” He laughs, but it sounds bitter. “I wanted to try it. I wanted to challenge those beasts desperately. So, I started scaling up that bottomless crack.”
“I clawed my way out of the Abyss with my bare hands and a rusty knife.” Zhongli can’t describe the look in Childe’s eyes - there is something wild in them, something untamed. Zhongli is captivated, he can’t look away.
“That’s when I got my Vision.” He holds out his hand - a water sword appears. It’s shorter than the one he usually uses. “I went on the hunt. I chased all of those animals down that once chased me. They were easy to find. I dyed that snowy white field red. They were the first prey I killed with my Vision.”
The short sword disappears. He lets his hand fall in his lap. “Once everything was dead and only I was left I realized I made it out. Only then I realized I was back on the surface. I couldn’t move - I blacked out.”
Childe looks him right in the eye as he says, “That’s when my mother and my sisters found me. In the middle of a bloody clearing, surrounded by corpses of the animals I killed. I was covered in their blood. Later I found out that only 3 days passed over here.”
“That was Ajax’s first adventure. What do you think?”
Zhongli is stricken with sorrow. “That’s truly…” He trails off, uncertain how to convey his feelings. “Childe, I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“You’re sorry?” Childe raises his brow. “It made me who I am. I’m fine with it - heck, I’m grateful for it. Don’t be.”
“You are not.” It’s as clear as day, Ajax is still pained by it. “You may not regret it, but you aren’t grateful. I’m sorry that such a horrible thing happened to you. You were only 14…”
“...That feels like such a long time ago.” Childe finally looks away from him. All energy seems to leave him as he slumps against the chair. He looks far away, trapped in memories Zhongli will never be able to fully comprehend. “It shaped me - or did it ruin me? I don’t know.”
A lone tear falls from Ajax’s eyes. Before Zhongli realizes he’s already on his feet. He pulls Childe into a hug, holding him tightly as the other starts crying to the fullest, collapsing against his chest.
All Zhongli can do is hold his beloved in his arms, protecting him from all that wishes to harm him. Softly, he whispers, “You’re not ruined. The time in the Abyss changed you, but it didn’t ruin you.”
This only seems to make Childe cry harder as he holds Zhongli tightly. “Don’t let go.” The plea comes out as a silent whisper. Zhongli is uncertain if Ajax even wanted to say it out loud.
“Never.” He answers, pressing a kiss on the crown of Childe’s head.
we don't know when childe got his vision so i threw in headcanon
haha remember how this is a comedy fic
Xiao wonders why he’s doing this for Childe of all people. Well, it’s partially for Zhongli too but it still sucks. Teucer is dragging him through the forest, earlier fear forgotten. Suddenly, he lets go of Xiao’s hand and rushes to a nearby tree. Xiao almost trips over himself to follow the problem child.
“Look what I found!” Teucer excitedly shows him… a stick. It’s a long stick but it’s still just. A stick.
Xiao tries his best to look interested, which isn’t much but he digresses. “Oh? What’s that?”
Teucer waves it around, smiling brightly. “That’s gonna be my sword! I’ll protect you with it!” He’s going to what now. “Cuz! You look kinda weak and Tonia said you have to protect weak people! Also, big brother promised me he’ll show me how to fight when he gets home! This is like practice.”
Xiao wants to scream. Does he really look… weak? Does he have too little muscles? Is it because he’s so small? No, he isn’t small, everyone else is just stupidly tall - but anyway.
Stay nice, Xiao. This is a child. The little brother of a former Fatui Harbinger. Also probably going to be part of Zhongli’s family if he actually marries Childe.
Xiao forces himself to smile, “That’s… great. Your sister must be smart.” He sounds so incredibly fake.
At least Teucer doesn’t seem to notice. He nods enthusiastically, “Yep! She reads me stories sometimes!” He prattles on about his siblings and Xiao tries to remain nice.
It helps that the stories are genuinely very interesting and funny - especially once he realizes that Childe is spoiling these brats rotten. It’s kind of sweet in a way - there are some hidden sides to that idiot after all.
Ugh, Childe is growing on him. Xiao wants to cry.
As if sensing his distress, he hears a twig breaking in the distance. Grateful for the interruption of his horrible awful bad bad thoughts, Xiao whirls around - only to see that Aether arrived on the scene, bored-looking Paimon flying behind them.
“How did you talk with Childe go?” Xiao doesn’t bother with a greeting, taking on a more relaxed stance.
“Either they’ll finally get together or they’re gonna dance around each other even more than before.” Aether replies with a shrug. They don’t seem bothered in the slightest.
Paimon however, crosses her arm and huffs, “The moment those two blockheads actually talk their feelings out is when Paimon stops wanting to eat!”
Aether snorts. “You can say that again-”
“What do you mean feelings?” Teucer asks, wide-eyed and confused. Ah, fuck. Xiao knew he was forgetting about something. The boy gasps, suddenly excited. “Oh! Is it like how Tonia said?”
Xiao blinks, confused. “What did she say?”
“She said something about how brother keeps talking about mister Zhongli in his letters! She said he has a crush or something, but I didn’t get it.” Teucer frowns but then perks up. “Does that mean they’ll do that kissy stuff our parents do?”
“I sure hope it’s just that...” Aether mumbles quietly. Xiao will pretend he didn’t hear that. “If they get together, yes. They still have to talk it out though.”
There is a thoughtful look on Teucer’s face. Xiao suddenly has a very bad feeling. “Why can’t they just do that then? Is it hard? Can I help?”
That has the potential to turn out brilliantly or awfully. Xiao doesn’t want to find out. He squats down, pats Teucer’s head, and says, “This is an adult issue, alright? It’s reaaaaaally hard. You can help if by being a good boy and cleaning up all your messes.”
Aether squats down beside him and nods. “Yup! Don’t worry about it, it will all work out. Just concentrate on having fun, alright? Childe is a big boy and Zhongli too. They don’t need our help.”
“Okay…” The thoughtful look doesn’t leave Teucer’s face but he nods. “If you say so.”
Yeah, the horrible feeling Xiao has refuses to leave. He should keep watch on Teucer, just in case.
It takes a long time for Childe to stop crying. Zhongli never lets him go, as promised. Not that he wants to in the first place. All he did was shift them in a more comfortable position with Childe resting on Zhongli’s lap instead.
When the tears stop, Childe is quiet. Zhongli doesn’t move, still tightly holding onto him. His hold is loose enough that Childe could break away at any moment, but the other is still. Zhongli wishes he knew what he’s thinking.
“Zhongli,” Childe whispers, his voice slightly muffled since he’s speaking into Zhongli’s chest. “...I…” He trails off, uncertain. Zhongli can’t even begin to guess what he was going to say.
“...Can you make me more tea?” That doesn’t sound like what Childe originally wanted from him, but Zhongli won’t call him out on it. He most likely needs time to gather himself again. “There is some other stuff I want to talk to you about.”
That Zhongli didn’t expect. He had assumed Childe would retreat to his room. “Of course, wait here.” He lets go of Childe slowly and gets up with some difficulty. Before he can leave, Childe grabs his wrist.
Zhongli stills immediately, waiting for Childe to say anything. After several seconds of silence, Zhongli speaks up, “Yes?”
“...Nothing.” He lets go of Zhongli’s wrist as if it burned him. Zhongli frowns in concern. “Just go make tea, alright? I’m fine. No need to be so worried.”
Zhongli isn’t convinced, but he gathers the tea set reluctantly. “Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.”
Childe nods, staring into his hands. Zhongli leaves the room with great difficulty. All of his instincts are screaming at him to run back into the library and hold Childe in his arms again, but he restrains himself. He’s not going to use Childe’s emotional vulnerability for his own gain.
Instead, Zhongli practically runs into the kitchen. He takes his time while making the tea. Zhongli still makes sure it tastes well, but it’s more rushed than usual. He’s in front of the library in record time. He decides to knock before walking in.
“Come in.” Childe’s voice sounds more steady than before. Zhongli opens the door and walks inside.
Childe looks better than before - calmer, more relaxed. Much more steady than before. Zhongli relaxes, glad that his worry was unfounded, and sets down the tray of tea on the table. “Are you alright?” The concern in his voice is obvious. Zhongli hopes Childe won’t be offended.
“I’m fine, really.” Childe smiles at him - it’s a soft, small smile. Zhongli almost spills the tea he’s pouring into the cups. He has never seen Tartaglia so gentle before. “C’mon, sit down.”
Childe takes a sip of tea and hums. “As excellent as always.” He sets down the cup and leans back in his chair. “I wasn’t quite finished earlier, sorry.”
“You don’t need to continue if you don’t wish to do so.” Zhongli reassures him, but Childe shakes his head.
“No, I want to tell you. I need to before I make my decision.” Decision? Zhongli raises his brow. What does he mean by that? Childe notes his confusion but doesn’t comment on it, choosing instead to keep silent about it.
Zhongli is most curious indeed. “I will listen, of course.”
This time, Childe starts talking without as much of a pause. “Remember how I said only 3 days passed? Yeah, my parents had no idea how to deal with me. In their eyes, I changed drastically over such a short time.”
“It must have been difficult for you. To have such a drastic change in environment after such a long time in the Abyss must have been quite difficult to navigate.” Zhongli can imagine how his family would have difficulties getting used to the new Ajax.
“Ha! You can say that again.” Childe chuckles slightly, but it’s devoid of humor. “I kept attacking everything I saw. Nothing could give me a challenge. It got pretty bad when they put me in school again.”
Tartaglia leans forward, a dark look in his eyes. “Zhongli, I tried to fight every kid I saw. Wherever I went, a conflict would happen.” He pauses, Zhongli doesn’t move. “I enjoyed hurting them. I almost killed them.”
Somehow, that doesn’t surprise Zhongli. He doesn’t react, his face is expressionless.
“After a big brawl and nearly killing lots of people, my dad decided to stick me into the Fatui, hoping it would mellow me out a bit. Instead, I beat the stuffing out of grown adults.” A smile forms on Tartaglia’s face, slightly unhinged. “It was fun, you should have seen the look on their faces!”
He laughs, this time joyfully. Zhongli doesn’t join in. “I eventually got attention from a Harbinger and here we are.” The smile on Tartaglia’s face turns bitter. “What do you think, Zhongli? Do I still deserve your worry? Your care?”
Ah. So that’s what this is about.
“Why should I not?” Zhongli counters calmly. “I was aware of your bloodthirst from the beginning. I find it quite charming, to be perfectly honest.” It reminds him of his younger days. “I don’t see it as an issue.”
Tartaglia blinks rapidly. “Huh?”
“I like you the way you are, Tartaglia.” Zhongli confesses without hesitation. “There is no need to change yourself simply because you don’t fit in - besides, you do realize that I’m Rex Lapis? The god of war? I have my fair share of battle lust as well.”
Tartaglia looks like someone slapped him. “Uh. Well, yeah.” He blinks more, shakes his head, and takes a sip of tea, only to burn his tongue. “...I’m being an idiot about this, huh.”
“...Slightly.” Zhongli has to chuckle at Childe’s offended expression. “I mean no harm. You’re simply dealing with a situation you aren’t familiar with.”
Now Childe crosses his arms, offended. “Hey! I’m not that much of a novice in regard with dealing with feelings, you know.”
“Of course.” The pout looks adorable - Zhongli has to stifle a laugh. “Now then, have you made a decision?”
“...I did.” A serious expression forms on Childe’s face. “I’m pretty confident that I made the right one too.”
“Oh?” Zhongli is unsure where Childe is going with this.
“Yep!” There is a confident glint in Childe’s eyes. “But I won’t tell you about it just yet. There is still some stuff I have to confirm first.” He finishes his cup of tea with a bright smile on his face.
Zhongli has no idea what got into him. “I… see?”
“Thanks for the talk, Zhongli!” Childe practically jumps out of his chair and walks over to the door. “You guys have dinner without me, I have some… reading to do.” He gestures to a thick book in his hand. Zhongli hadn’t even noticed that Childe had grabbed one.
“It’s no problem?” But Childe is already gone, leaving Zhongli alone in stunned silence.
childe: ok done with mental breakdowns time to get this party moving
zhongli: wait what
"Oh! Look! A slime!" Paimon points out. Indeed, there is a small water slime near a pond. It doesn't look threatening, it's mostly just chilling.
Xiao can practically feel Teucer vibrating next to him. Oh boy. This isn’t going to end well, huh?
“Okay, let us handle this-” Aether starts but Teucer already started running, leaving a little dust cloud behind. Xiao facepalms.
Aether is already running but Xiao decides it’s amusing to see a child whack the poor little slime with a stick.
It looks incredibly funny. The poor slime isn’t even defending itself, only staring at Teucer with wide eyes- Oh.
Oh, hello there, big papa slime.
Xiao has never seen a bigger slime before - and it looks pissed.
Well, time to save the child while Aether beats the shit out of the slime- oh it split in half. Xiao didn’t know Teyvat slimes can do that.
With a huff, Xiao jumps in front of Teucer and stabs the slime that split off, and ads some wind for good measure. The slime explodes, sending particles everywhere. Yuck. He then turns around, gathers a wide-eyed but unharmed Teucer in his arms, and jumps onto a nearby tree.
“Stay right here.” Xiao makes Teucer sit on the sturdiest branch he can find. “I’ll get you when there are no more monsters.”
“O-okay!” Teucer nods, still shook as he clutches his stick. Hopefully, the kid doesn’t have trauma or something. Childe is going to KILL Xiao when they get back.
Clearing up the remaining slimes that popped up is an easy task. It takes them less than a minute. Fighting with Aether by his side is a nice experience - it’s unlike fighting with Zhongli as his partner, but Xiao can’t explain how.
After the fight, Xiao jumps up the tree again. Teucer hasn’t moved at all. That’s probably bad. Xiao decides to get the kid off the tree first.
On the ground, Teucer is staring at him with wide, bright eyes. Hm. Then he yells, “That was so COOL!”
Oh. Oh no.
“You hit it and it went SWOOSH! SPLAT!” Teucer is gesturing widely with his arms, almost falling over. “You’re so strong! I was super wrong!” There are stars in Teucer’s eyes as he jumps around. “Can you show me how to do that!? I wanna cool and strong too!”
Aether shakes their head and chuckles. “Didn’t your brother promise you to show some fighting?” They don’t seem harmed either.
Would be pathetic to lose against slimes.
Teucer nods but deflates. “Yeah, but our parents never let us… Something about how it’s dangerous and I’m too young.”
“Well, they would be right.” Xiao doesn’t want to be responsible for Teucer poking his eye out with a stick. He crouches down and ruffles Teucer’s hair - he saw Childe do it before. “You’re too young to begin training just yet,” wrong, Xiao had started training when he was much younger, “and I wouldn’t it be… more interesting if you learned some secret techniques from your brother?”
Teucer deflates for a moment, but then nods, excited again. “You’re right! My brother is stronger than you too! I’ll get better with his teaching!” Ouch. “But! Please! Show me that cool attack again! When you made the slime go SPLAT”
Ho boy. “...Fine, but get back.”
And that’s how Xiao got roped into showing off cool moves and hunting monsters for a little child until dinner. At least Aether helps out, drawing some spotlight as well.
Childe is holding the book on Liyue’s traditions tightly in his hand, in his room once again. He made his decision. Zhongli seems serious about his feelings - he just wants Ajax, the real Ajax. Not the one that went missing years ago.
He wants Ajax just the way he is.
When was the last time someone ever wanted the real Ajax? Not even his family wants that one. They may call him that name - they may tell him they love him, but all they want is that cute, shy boy. The one that doesn’t know the Abyss, the one that wanted adventure, not bloodshed.
But Zhongli… Zhongli isn’t afraid of what Tartaglia craves. Of course, the god of war wouldn’t be.
He never told anyone about the Abyss before, not about his teacher Skirk, not about how he received his vision. Never about how he escaped.
Zhongli held him, listened to him, and never pushed him. It’s a first for Childe.
That’s why he decided to stop running. He’s going to be selfish and embrace whatever this is.
All he needs to do is to find out what the chopsticks are for. They have to be important - and he’ll find out by himself. It’s a bit embarrassing but Childe wants to impress Zhongli.
Agh, but where does he even start?
What about the chopsticks is so important? The color? The pattern? The material? Childe has no clue.
With a sigh, he opens the book. He used to read more when he was younger - it’s been ages since he touched a book. Staying focused is going to be a challenge, but it’s nothing Childe can’t handle.
Zhongli remembers the first time he met Childe well. He didn’t think much of the Harbinger at the time. He was but another face in the crowd, even if it’s an especially beautiful one. He can’t deny he wasn’t interested though - the tsaritsa handpicked her Harbinger’s after all.
Zhongli wondered why she would pick Childe but dismissed it.
But then, Childe kept inviting him out. After a while, Zhongli grew curious - does the other know he’s Rex Lapis? After some conversations, he dismissed the idea. It didn’t seem like Childe was the type to deceive him with such plans - no, if Childe knew, he would attack him upfront.
Zhongli admires such honesty. It’s not usual that such individuals rank highly in organizations like these. The tsaritsa has always been a smart one - she places high value in those who know how to plan, strategize, and succeed without the use of brawn alone.
Tartaglia was such a strange pick for a Harbinger.
Zhongli grew more and more interested - he enjoyed their outings more and more once it became clear that Childe had no other reason to spend time with him simply because he enjoyed Zhongli’s company.
Somewhere along the way, his life got brighter. Zhongli got used to having a meal with Childe every day. Their conversations never grew boring - even when Zhongli started rambling about a topic, Childe never lost interest. No, he always listened to what Zhongli had to say and would say something equally interesting in return.
Zhongli never wanted to fall in love again after Guizhong. It had hurt losing her - not that he knew what he was feeling at the time. It took him so many years to realize what his feelings are. It took him so many years to be able to move on from the pain.
All he wanted from Childe was companionship - but one day, Zhongli woke up and realized something.
He had gotten used to Childe’s presence in his life. He’s gotten attached to the way the Snezhnayan brightened up his life.
Somewhere along the way, he had fallen in love.
At first, Zhongli had denied it. How can he be in love after everything that happened? Shouldn’t he know better?
As soon as that thought crossed his mind, Guizhong’s voice whispered in his ear. Feelings aren’t something you can control, Rex Lapis. Let yourself feel.
He had never truly understood her words until that moment. It took him weeks to come to terms with his newly acquired feelings of affection for Childe.
Guizhong would want him to move on. She would want him to find a new love - Rex Lapis is certain.
He won’t waste his chance this time. He can’t afford to lose someone he loves again without ever telling them. This time, Zhongli recognized his feelings and he would act accordingly.
That’s why he gifted Childe the chopsticks. Zhongli decided that by the time Childe knew what they mean, he would gladly accept Zhongli’s unspoken proposal.
It’s supposed to be somewhat of a time limit for Zhongli. He knows that without it, he would take too long to start courting Childe. He knows it’s only a matter of time before the other would grow curious.
He hadn’t expected that day to arrive now.
It took Zhongli a moment to realize that Childe had left the library with a book on Liyuen traditions. The only reason he would want such a thing is for research - and there is only one thing Childe would need to lookup.
Zhongli takes a sip of his now cold tea. He wonders - did he do a good enough job? Does Childe love him?
Ajax is certainly fond of him, Zhongli is aware. Why else would he buy so many gifts for Zhongli without any ulterior motives? Had that been Childe’s way of wooing Zhongli in return?
Zhongli has no idea. He puts down his cup.
His hands are shaking - it takes him a moment to realize he’s nervous. How curious - it’s been ages since Rex Lapis had felt that emotion.
Zhongli closes his eyes and exhales.
He hopes Ajax will say yes.
Childe quickly realizes he’s utterly lost.
He has no clue what he’s looking for. He has to be overlooking something! It takes him until dinner time to realize he made absolutely no progress. La Signora would laugh at him and call him a stupid bitch.
The book is a sea of Liyuen trivia and he has no idea how to proceed. He started reading the whole book but quickly realizes that that’s a stupid idea. Childe groans into his hands.
Maybe he shouldn’t skip dinner. A break sounds like a good idea. Childe stretches and gets up.
He spots Zhongli in the living room as he heads down. Is it just him or does he seem… nervous? Childe frowns - he abandons his plan to head to the kitchen and approaches Zhongli instead. “Yo.”
Zhongli startles. Childe’s frown deepens. Zhongli usually isn’t this easy to spook. “Ah, Childe. I apologize, I didn’t notice you.” A short pause. Zhongli is frowning at his teacup. “How is your… reading going?”
“Haven’t found anything yet.” Childe can practically see the tension flying out of Zhongli. “But I won’t give up.” There is a soft smile on his face now - Childe relaxes.
“I see.” Zhongli nods with a smile. “I wish you luck then.” Childe wonders - does Zhongli know what Childe is looking for?
“Thanks. I’m taking a break now though… Wanna help me prepare dinner for everyone?” Only after the sentence left his mouth he realizes how domestic that is. Oh no, this was a mistake.
However, Zhongli is already nodding and standing up as Childe regrets his life choices. “Of course, I’ve been getting restless.” He walks to the kitchen and Childe walks after him like a lost puppy.
He’s going to make dinner with the man he knows loves him. That Childe also loves.
He could easily resolve it by confessing but that’s too easy.
“Okay, what do you want to make?” Childe has absolutely no plans. Good job, Childe.
Zhongli’s expression brightens like he was waiting for the question. “How does slow-cooked bamboo shoot soup sound to you?”
It sounds like it’s extremely complicated to make. “Sounds like something you would suggest.” Childe laughs and shakes his head. “Okay chef, what do we gotta do?”
Zhongli has that look on his face again - that one where he’s about to launch into an unnecessarily long explanation and get sidetracked by more trivia. Childe loves that expression. “Ah, allow me to explain…”
He starts explaining all these refined techniques Childe had no idea existed at all. Making this dish sounds like a challenge - Ajax was never one to back down from a challenge.
Noting his determined expression, Zhongli chuckles slightly. “I see you’re quite ready to try this?”
“I’m gonna show the soup who is the boss here!”
Childe, in fact, does not show the soup who is the boss. The soup is the boss and Childe ruined four perfectly fine bamboo shoots by over or undercooking them.
Zhongli takes pity on him and helps by the sixth attempt.
Childe has never felt so defeated in his life.
“Don’t be discouraged.” Zhongli is heating the damn shoots like a pro, doing things with his hands Childe didn’t think where possible. “This dish is old and complicated. It takes years to master.”
“How many did it take you?”
“Ah, around 500 I believe?” Zhongli says nonchalantly like that isn’t a giant number. “Even now I could still fail it easily if I don’t pay enough attention.”
“Then I’ll master it in… five years!” Childe decides, nodding to himself. “You’ll never eat a better bamboo soup!”
There is a slight pause, Zhongli is frozen in place. Then, he turns to look at Childe, his eyes impossibly fond. “I’m looking forward to it then.”
Childe flushes, the gaze too intense for him to handle. “You better.” He looks away as he mumbles. “I’ll uh… go set the table if you have everything handled here.”
“Please do.” The look in Zhongli’s eyes is still there. Childe can feel his ears burning. “The other’s should arrive soon.”
“Hm? Oh, yeah.” Childe has to admit he forgot about the rest. The last few hours have been such an emotional roller coaster - nothing but Zhongli and him had existed at those moments. Nothing else had mattered.
Reluctantly, Childe leaves the kitchen to set up the table. As soon as he’s done, the front door opens. Childe stops himself from frowning, fighting to keep a smile on his face. He shouldn’t be irritated that the other’s are back - it was just nice to be alone with Zhongli for a while…
“Brother!” Teucer runs up to him, dirty and holding a stick. “Mister Xiao is so cool! He stabbed a slime and it exploded!”
“Did he now?” Of course, they would run into monsters. He carefully checks Teucer over. No injuries - just a few scrapes from running around in the forest. “That sounds fun. I’m glad you liked your adventure, Teucer.”
“Mhm!” Teucer nods enthusiastically. “Oh! It smells really good… is mister Zhongli making dinner?” He jumps up, excited, and tries to run to the kitchen.
Childe grabs him and holds him in place before he can go too far. “What did I tell you about the kitchen?”
“...To not enter it when I’m dirty… and wash my hands first!” Teucer answers and then looks down at himself. “Oh... I’m gonna go bath then!”
“Do you want me to help?”
Teucer shakes his head. “Nuh-uh! I’m a big boy now! I don’t need help anymore!”
Ajax laughs and ruffles Teucer’s hair. “You are. Off you go.”
Teucer runs to the bathroom hastily.
Childe then turns to Aether and Xiao and raises his brows. “Teucer thinks you’re cool now?”
Xiao crosses his arms and huffs. “I just killed a big slime that attacked us.”
“Aha.” There is a big grin on Aether’s face. “You totally didn’t show off cool moves for Teucer. You totally didn’t do everything he asked of you.”
Xiao’s ears burn but he doesn’t reply.
Childe is so sad he missed that. He laughs brightly. “Man, I can’t believe I missed that. Teucer has you wrapped around his finger already, huh?” Not that he can talk. He shakes his back, swallowing his laughter once Xiao starts looking homicidal.
“Shut up.” Xiao hisses, his ears only getting redder. “You spoiled that child rotten. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Ajax starts laughing again. “Maybe!” He answers good naturally. “Dinner is ready soon, so get cleaned up, alright?”
“Will do.” Aether salutes with a laugh. Then they lean forward and whisper, “How did your talk with Zhongli go?” In the corner of his eye, Childe catches Xiao leaning in but trying not to seem obvious. Childe has to suppress more laughter.
“It went fine, I think.” Childe answers honestly. “We haven’t talked about the… thing yet, but I’m sure of my next move now. Don’t worry you guys.”
Xiao jerks back and hisses, “I’m not worried. Fuck off.” He turns away and Childe can’t hold back a smile.
“Love you too, Xiao.”
The shriek he gets as an answer is inhuman. Childe laughs again.
“C’mon Xiao, let’s go get cleaned up.” Aether shakes their head and pats Xiao’s shoulder lightly.
Xiao jumps slightly but nods, still glaring at Childe and leaves with Aether in tow.
Childe powerwalks back into the kitchen. “How’s the soup?”
Zhongli looks slightly flushed - no wonder, the room is incredibly hot. It’s a good look on him. “It’s done.”
Suddenly, Ajax has a horrible idea. Time to act on it before he can think about it.
Childe approaches Zhongli confidently, getting into his personal space. Zhongli freezes, his face turning redder. Childe hides a smile. “Lemme taste it.” He gestures to the spoon Zhongli is holding.
Was that a stutter? Adorable. Ajax says that like his ears aren’t turning red.
Zhongli looks at the spoon and then back up to Ajax, a dangerous glint in his eyes. He fills the spoon with soup and - oh. “Here, careful, it’s hot.”
Childe tries not to die as Zhongli feeds him soup. Oh my, he’s so gay. By the Archons, Zhongli is so gay too.
“It’s- it’s good.” Ajax barely even registered the taste, his face burning red. Zhongli isn’t fairing better - looking embarrassed.
It looks so cute…
“Childe-” Zhongli starts but gets interrupted by Teucer running into the kitchen at full speed.
Childe takes a step back from Zhongli quickly. “No running in the kitchen.”
“Yeah, yeah! Is the food done?” Teucer looks excited. “I need to know if mister Zhongli is a good cook. That’s important if he wants to get married.”
Childe laughs nervously, dismissing that mental image quickly. “Go sit at the table. You’ll see in a bit.”
Zhongli coughs into his fist, his face crimson. “I hope it will suit your tastes, Teucer.”
Teucer studies Zhongli for a moment, before nodding. “It better!” He runs off to sit at the table.
Childe blinks, unsure what to make of that. He shrugs after a moment - little kids are unpredictable.
They serve dinner and it goes fine - Xiao once again getting a plate without meat. He didn’t complain about not getting almond tofu. He just quietly accepted the food. Childe takes that as a win.
Once they’re done they decide to talk about the elephant in the room - sleeping arrangements for Teucer. Thankfully, the kid brought a change of clothes and pajamas with him so that isn’t a problem.
“I don’t mind if Teucer shares my bed.” Childe says with a shrug. “It’s been a while since we did that.”
The instant agreement Childe expected doesn’t come - Teucer is suspiciously quiet as he looks between him and Zhongli. “Nuh-uh! I can sleep by myself. I’m grown up now.”
Childe raises his brow. “You sure? It won’t be scary?”
Teucer only shakes his head.
Aether sighs and shakes their head. “Just let him, Childe. We have one empty guestroom left, Teucer can take it. It’s right next to my room. I’ll watch him.”
Teucer nods, looking up at Childe with puppy dog eyes.
Ajax gives in immediately. “Okay, fine. Call me if anything happens-”
Teucer already ran up the stairs, leaving them all behind. Childe shakes his head fondly.
“Alright, good night everyone.” Everyone splits up to go to sleep.
Zhongli follows him to his room.
At Childe’s questioning gaze, Zhongli explains, “This is my room. I choose it for you since it has the most comfortable bed and you were injured.” Oh.
“Oh, I can go sleep on the couch then-” Childe doesn’t want Zhongli to sleep on the sofa in his own house. That doesn’t sit right with him.
“No, keep the bed.” Zhongli shakes his head and Childe knows he won’t take no as an answer. As stubborn as a rock, that man. “I know you haven’t fully recovered yet and… I wish to see you comfortable after such an exhausting day.”
Oh… “...Thanks, Zhongli.” Childe scratches his cheek and smiles. “For today and for the bed I mean.”
“Anytime.” Zhongli’s smile is fond. He grabs his pajamas, a spare blanket, and a spare pillow. “Good night, Ajax.”
Childe’s heart is beating wildly. He shivers. “G-good night, Zhongli.”
With another loving smile, Zhongli leaves the room.
How long has it been since anyone but his family called him that?
Childe decides he likes the way it sounds when Zhongli says his name.
“Ugh, I can’t sleep now!” He’s blushing like a fool. Childe flops down on the bed and screams into the pillow.
“Okay, okay.” He says to himself in an effort to calm down. “How about I… keep researching until I fall asleep.” Ajax grabs the heavy book quickly.
He doesn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
Zhongli stares up at the dark ceiling. His thoughts are swirling in his head, building unimaginable chaos.
Mostly he’s thinking about the kitchen incident.
Childe certainly had been… forward. It’s not something Zhongli expected - he was caught completely off guard.
Childe got so close to him - it had been hard to keep himself in check. If Teucer hadn’t come in Zhongli would have acted rashly. It’s for the better that they got interrupted.
Still, Zhongli can’t help but find the loss of that opportunity painful. He would have- he would have…
What would he have done, exactly? Kissed Ajax? Have their first kiss been somewhere as mundane as the kitchen? Childe doesn’t deserve to be let down like that.
No, Zhongli has to make sure everything runs perfectly. Childe had brought color back into his long life. He only deserves the best courting the former archon can provide. Everything else would only taint what they have now.
Childe trusted him with his past. It was important to him and it left countless scars. Zhongli sees how haunted Ajax still is every time he looks him in the eyes. It’s very rare, but sometimes, when Childe drifts off during their time together, there is an empty look in his eyes.
There is no light in those cloudy eyes then; trapped in memories. Each time Zhongli notices those rare occurrences, his heart aches for Childe.
It was one such moment that helped him recognize his feelings. The surge of protectiveness he felt that day was unmistakable. He wishes nothing more than to erase the pain Childe feels - but that’s not how the world works, it’s a foolish, irrational thought.
Ajax wouldn’t want to forget it anyway. It’s what made him who he is now.
Zhongli respects that. He knows all too well that painful experiences shape a person - no matter how painful they seem at first. He experiences many things in his life ranging from wonderful to heart-wrenching.
There is nothing that could make him want to forget about his experiences, however. Yes, he might suffer because of his past but it shaped him. All those people he met, all those people he lost. They mean something to Zhongli.
Yes, Zhongli understands that Childe wouldn’t want him to take the pain away at all.
All he needs is a shoulder to lean on. Zhongli wants nothing more than to be by Childe’s side and be the rock he needs. He’s certain now that Childe wants the same.
Why is he feeling so nervous then?
The proposal is very forward by human standards, Zhongli is aware of that. However, Zhongli lives by contracts- that’s how he’s always been, since eons.
He shall give his heart away, to get another in return.
But what if it’s too forward? What if Childe does return his feelings but isn’t ready for such commitment yet?
Then you two aren’t meant to be together yet. The logical part of Zhongli’s brain whispers. You love eternally and faithfully, until the end of time. You will never break a contract.
Is he being too rigid?
Zhongli sighs. His thoughts are running around in circles now. He sits up, giving up on sleeping.
As he stares out of the window, a thought comes to mind.
What would Guizhong tell him?
Zhongli ponders over that for a moment.
First, she would ask him if he was serious about Childe - a definite yes.
Then she would ask him what he wants to do.
The answer comes easily - Zhongli wants to marry Childe, the answer is that simple.
If Childe doesn’t accept, Zhongli will let him go. It may hurt, but it’s for the best.
Now more relaxed he lies down again. The nervousness seeped out of him - he’ll accept whatever Childe’s decision may be and act accordingly.
It takes some time but Zhongli falls into a dreamless, restful sleep.
Researching is a nightmare when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Childe’s gotten so desperate that he’s searched up everything he could think of. The book has tiny letters and countless pages - maybe he missed something.
Or maybe it means something that Childe didn’t even consider.
“Ugh,” He grunts as he flops down on the bed, exhausted. “I can’t find anything…”
It’s gotten late, most likely somewhere around 3 a.m. Childe is tired, but when he tries to sleep nothing comes out of it.
His thoughts keep circling back to Zhongli, the chopsticks, and the book.
Maybe he needs fresh air. Childe opens the window - it’s cold outside. It reminds him of home.
With the book in hand, Childe climbs on top of the roof. Xiao is there, staring up at the starry sky. He isn’t surprised to see the Adeptus. Xiao doesn’t need sleep after all.
Xiao seems surprised to see him though. “Oh, it’s you.” The usual bite in Xiao’s tone is absent. He seems calm. “Why are you still up?”
Childe sits down beside Xiao and shows off the book. “Research.”
Xiao raises his brow and snatches it out of his hand and starts looking through it. “Huh.”
“The chopsticks.” Childe clarifies and sees understanding dawn in Xiao’s eyes.
“Ah. Disgusting.” The insult seems halfhearted somehow. Childe is kind of worried now - what is Xiao, if not an angry, spiteful gremlin? What has him this distracted?
“Is it the right book at least?” It would suck if he’s just been wasting his time.
“...Why should I tell you?” Xiao scowls at him. “It would be much better for the both of us if I toss you off this roof right now.”
As much as the prospect of another fight - maybe a proper one? - excites Tartaglia, it’s not the time of that right now. “Oh, c’mon! Don’t be like that! We’re buddies now.”
Xiao looks like he swallowed a lemon. “Don’t ever say that again or I’m removing your tongue. Permanently.”
Childe can’t help himself, “Kinky.”
With the wrath of a raging bull, Xiao summons his spear. “Okay, tongue removal it is.”
“Sorry! Sorry, I’m sorry!” Childe raises his hand in surrender, hoping it calms the raging Yaksha down. “I just couldn’t help myself.”
With a disgusted glare aimed at Childe Xiao stays silent for a couple of seconds before dismissing his spear. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t rip out your heart right now.”
“It would make Zhongli sad.”
“It would make Teucer sad.”
“...Because we’re kind of friends and despite your prickly nature, you kind of tolerate me and like my food?”
Childe is about to scramble for something else to say, but Xiao sighs and shakes his head. “...Good enough.” His cheeks are slightly red.
Childe didn’t expect that one to work at all. He stands there for a moment, gaping at Xiao before collecting himself. That’s progress, right? Good progress to friendship. Zhongli would be so proud.
“Stop standing there like an idiot and sit down.” Xiao hisses, looking ready to throw the book at him. He’s still blushing as he says that, so it doesn’t come across nearly as intimidating as it should have been.
Childe wisely shuts his mouth and does as told.
“You have the right book.” Xiao thrusts it in his hands. “But it doesn’t seem like you got far.”
“I’m making no progress at all.” Ajax sighs, putting the book in his lap. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for. The text is so small and there is so much of it… I’m probably overlooking something.”
Xiao stares at him, looking oddly conflicted. He seems to have settled his internal debate when he sighs. “You know that I know what the chopsticks mean, right? Just ask me.”
“...That doesn’t feel right.” Childe’s surprised that Xiao even offered. “I feel like I should figure this out by myself, or I’m not worthy enough.”
There is an understanding look on Xiao’s face now.
“...but could you… maybe… help me out a bit?” Childe asks quietly. “Don’t show me the answer just… give me a couple of hints? Point something out I missed?”
There is no way Xiao will help him that much. Sure, they’re somewhat tolerating each other now but-
“...Fine, hand over the book.”
Childe blinks rapidly.
“Are you deaf?”
Childe hands over the book, not quite comprehending the situation.
Xiao takes it and looks him in the eyes with a determined expression. “We aren’t leaving this rooftop until you figured this shit out. I won’t let you guys annoy me with this shit anymore.”
Smiling brightly in response, Childe nods. “...Thanks, Xiao. I owe you.”
Xiao scoffs and looks away. “Make me more of that vegetarian food and we’re even.”
Xiao can’t believe he agreed to this. He’s not growing soft. He’s not. He’s not looking at Childe.
Childe is researching with new vigor after Xiao gave him some tips earlier. There is a strange sense of satisfaction in his chest.
Oh no, he’s growing soft.
Childe turns the page. Xiao stills. The answer he’s been looking for is on that page. Quietly, he waits for the outburst.
He isn’t disappointed.
The former Harbinger lets out a squeak, his entire face blazing red. The book almost falls out of his lap as he covers his face with his hands and whispers, “What do you mean he proposed!?”
It’s so hard not to laugh right now.
Childe looks over the pages again in disbelief.
Xiao takes pity on him. “He proposed, you didn’t misread.”
Childe flinches and looks at Xiao. He looks surprised - but not angry. “Dude… what the fuck.”
Ah, that was Xiao’s first reaction too. He smirks slightly. “So, did you find what you were looking for?”
“Xiao. Xiao what the fuck. What am I supposed to do now?” Watching Childe panic is absolutely hilarious. Suddenly, all the suffering was worth it.
“Find it out yourself.” Childe won’t say no, they’re disgustingly in love. Even Xiao can see it. But that doesn’t mean he can’t threaten Childe a bit for funsies. “If you break his heart, I’ll break you.”
Childe stares at him in disbelief.
Xiao can’t hold it in any longer. He starts laughing. “The look on your face is priceless, you know.” He shakes his head, amused. “Now get off my roof and think about your answer.”
Rapid blinking is the only answer Xiao gets.
“Fine.” Xiao then engages in his favorite new activity. Toss Childe off high places.
It’s unfortunate that Childe catches his fall and climbs back into his room, but Xiao supposes he had enough fun for today anyway.
It’s the last bit of fun he’ll have until those two losers get married and start being domestic all over the place.
Blegh, just the thought of that is revolting.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!
Have Xiao tossing Childe off high places again as present
What the fuck.
What the FUCK?
Zhongli proposed? To him? Childe?
Ajax is going to wake up any second now. This is a dream. There is no way that this is real. No way.
But there it is, black and white on the paper of the accursed book.
Zhongli had proposed to Childe months ago.
How is Ajax supposed to process this? Here he was, wondering if Zhongli even liked the real him only to find out the former Archon has been courting him for months.
Childe pinches his cheek and flinches. Yup. He’s awake.
“Holy shit.” He sits down on the bed, the book forgotten on the table. The window is still wide open. Xiao is probably still laughing at him.
Oh shit, Xiao’s reaction to the chopsticks makes so much sense now.
Shit, the chopsticks!
Childe gets the box and opens it carefully. The pattern is unmistakable - a dragon phoenix pattern. Someone as knowledgeable as Zhongli would never give these to someone by mistake.
No, this was very intentional.
But why did Zhongli never say anything? It was obvious that Childe had no idea what they were actually for.
That’s something he will have to ask the man himself.
Childe closes the box again and sighs heavily.
Is he ready for something like this?
He looks around the room like it hides the answer from him. Instead, he notes the Fatui mask he left on the table.
Ah, that’s right.
How can he even think about a new contract when he didn’t even let go of his old one?
His delusion seems to spark at his thoughts - almost like a warning.
What path does Tartaglia want to take? Who is he most loyal to? Can he agree to such a commitment? Will he betray the Tsaritsa like this? Didn’t he essentially betray her already?
No, Childe is sure that if he were to come back, Zhongli would vouch for him and he’d be accepted right back.
Ajax needs to sit down and think - what’s most important to him? What does he want? What will make him happy?
He had served the Tsaritsa for years now. He’s been her loyal tool, the youngest Harbinger.
The Fatui itself is an organization Childe never cared for. He had been saddened when his father had sent him away. Childe never wanted to leave his family - he didn’t want to be part of an organization full of snakes. Tartaglia might have thrived in the organization, but it was the Tsaritsa that held his loyalty, nothing else.
All that Tartaglia got out of the Fatui was plenty of enemies to fight and being able to serve the Tsaritsa.
He was content then - his battle lust sated. But was he happy?
Childe startles when he comes to the realization - no, no he wasn’t.
In the end, it had only driven him away from his family even more. He barely sees them now - only when he comes back for short breaks in Snezhnaya. Having Teucer here with him had brought him so much joy.
He greatly missed his younger siblings. Ajax misses being able to tease them, he misses being able to spoil them. Yes, he keeps sending Teucer toys but it’s not the same.
If Ajax truly severs his ties with the Fatui - if he destroys his delusion, his mask - everything that made him the loyal Harbinger - would he be able to spend more time with his family again? Would he be able to mend his relationship with his parents?
His parents and older siblings don’t hate him, Childe thinks. They have been… distant since the Abyss. Joining the Fatui had only largened the gap between them.
However, Ajax is ignoring the elephant in the room. He looks down at the box again.
What does Ajax feel about Zhongli?
He’s fond of him - loves him dearly. But is he ready for marriage without even dating beforehand?
There is also the issue of his loyalty to the Tsaritsa and his loyalty to Zhongli. He knows that in the end, the loyalty to Zhongli wins out, but…
But when Tartaglia looks at his mask, his old life - can he truly let go of it?
What about Zhongli? Can he let go of Zhongli?
That thought hurts his heart so much that it brings him physical pain. Suddenly, Ajax’s answer is clear. Childe can’t bring himself to leave him.
He can discard his old life - leave the Tsaritsa behind if it means he’ll get to stay with Zhongli forever.
There it is.
That’s what marriage is, isn’t it? A contract to bind them till the end of their lives- no, even beyond death. Now that Childe thinks about it, it makes sense for the god of contracts to jump to a contract to bind them.
It’s just how Zhongli is.
“Hey, Xiao?” The window is still open and Childe knows the other heard him.
“What?” The Adeptus appears before him, a gust of wind accompanying him. “Don’t tell me you got cold feet.”
“...No, I reached my answer.” Childe smiles softly. “Can you do me a favor?” Xiao looks like wants to do anything but. “It’s about Teucer - could you and Aether distract him tomorrow morning? I want to sneak out of the house with Zhongli.”
“Ah, privacy. Away from prying eyes.” Xiao shakes his head. “Fine, fine. Whatever. I don’t want to see you and Zhongli sucking face anyway.”
“Thank you so much.” Ajax doesn’t know what possessed him - but he reaches out and pulls him into a tight hug. “You’re real softie underneath that harsh exterior, huh?”
Xiao freezes in his arms, but to his absolute surprise, he doesn’t gut Childe like a fish. Instead, he’s as tense as a rock, awkwardly patting his back. “I’m NOT a softie.” He hisses.
“...Sure.” Childe squeezes Xiao one last time and then lets go of him. He awkwardly coughs into his fist. “Sorry if that was too much.”
“We’re not talking about it.” Xiao hisses, obviously embarrassed. The guy doesn’t seem like he got much experience with physical affection. Childe makes a mental note to hug Xiao more later. “Now go the fuck to sleep. It’s 4 a.m.”
Xiao is gone before Childe can reply. With a fond laugh, Childe closes the window and goes to sleep.
He doesn’t let go of the box until he wakes up the next morning.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” It’s early in the morning. Xiao is once again in Childe’s room. The former Fatui dog looks nervous. “You should pay me for this.”
“I’ll make you 10 portions of almond tofu.” Childe responds as he looks through his clothes. He holds out a shirt for Xiao to inspect. “Is this good enough?”
“No, the color is atrocious.” Why is Childe doing this to him? Someone have mercy on Xiao’s soul. “I don’t see why you can’t take your usual outfit?”
“Cuz it’s my Fatui uniform!” Childe shakes his head. “I can’t show up like that! It would look like I’m still loyal to the Tsaritsa!”
Good argument. “...Do you have a gray dress shirt or something?” Gray seems like a safe color. “You can stick with the red scarf, just remove stuff that makes it… Fatui.”
Childe looks thoughtful but then nods. He basically attacks the closet as he frantically searches for a good outfit, asking for Xiao’s opinion on each piece.
Xiao is now certain.
This is hell.
“How about this?” Finally, an outfit that doesn’t look like trash. “I think it looks good.”
“Hmm… good enough.” Xiao has to admit that it looks fine - even if Childe looks very similar to how he usually looks. Just less… Fatuiish. “Now get out of this fucking house and take Zhongli with you.”
“Yes sir!” Childe salutes to him with a bright grin. It’s more… energetic than usual, heck, even his eyes look brighter. Less… lifeless than before.
Xiao is forever going to deny that he likes that change. “Good. Fuck off.”
Childe does in fact fuck off.
Xiao is glad to be rid of him. He leaves the room as well and goes down the hall. He knocks on Aether’s door.
Aether still looks sleepy as they open the door. “Huh? Xiao? What are you doing here so early?”
“We,” Xiao starts as he walks into Aether’s room uninvited, “are going to distract Teucer while Childe finally fucking accepts Zhongli’s proposal.”
That turns out to be a mistake.
“Brother is going to what!?” Teucer yells, sitting innocently in Aether’s bed. He is not supposed to be here. Why is he there. All of Xiao’s plans are ruined now.
Eloquently and smartly, Xiao says, “Shit.”
“Don’t curse.” Aether whacks his arm slightly. Xiao curses quietly. “Also what?”
“Yeah, figured it out.” Xiao won’t mention he helped. That isn’t important. “And I’m 99% sure he’ll accept.”
“Big brother is going to get married!?” Teucer’s eyes are wide. “But I didn’t even get to see if mister Zhongli would make a good enough wife!”
“Kiddo, Zhongli isn’t the wife in that relationship.” Xiao snorts an Aether shakes their head. “Anyway, they’re going to leave the house and Childe wanted privacy-”
“We have to follow them!” Teucer speaks up, not letting finish. Of fucking course. “I wanna see!”
“Even if that means seeing your brother kiss someone?” Aether asks gently. They’re probably trying to scare Teucer off.
Teucer looks grossed out for a moment but then shakes his head. “Even then! Mister Zhongli makes him happy, right? I wanna see!”
Xiao can’t say no to those big, pleading eyes. “... Fine, but we’re going to stay hidden and you’re going to do exactly what I tell you to do.”
“Thanks! You’re so cool mister Xiao!” Teucer jumps up to hug him. Xiao catches him before he can fall on his face. What is it with these Snezhnayans wanting to hug him all the time?
“Don’t worry, we won’t get spotted.” Aether reassures him with a smile. “Paimon, that means you’re staying here.”
“Huh!?” Paimon yells, unhappy. “But Paimon wants to see it too!”
“You’re too loud. You would ruin it.” Xiao hisses and crosses his arms. “You’re not coming. I will stab you if you do.”
Paimon yelps and nods. Good, mission accomplished.
“You’re really invested in this, huh?” Aether tilts their head and smiles. It’s a nice smile. “I think that’s nice of you. You just want it to work out well.”
Xiao flushes, unsure why his heartbeat is speeding up. Maybe he’s getting sick? “Would be annoying if we ruined it. They would never stop holding it over our heads.”
Aether laughs. “I suppose you’re right. Let’s go get dressed before they leave.”
Xiao moves out of the door but stops. “Actually, why is Teucer here?”
“I got scared at night but I didn’t want to bother brother…” Teucer says quietly. “He would want me to sleep in his room then, and then he and mister Zhongli wouldn’t be able to share!”
Awwww. “You’re a good kid.” Xiao squats down and ruffles Teucer’s hair. “...If you get scared again, call for me. I’ll be there right away.”
“Even if you’re really far away?”
There are stars in Teucer’s eyes. “That’s so cool! Thanks, mister Xiao!”
Xiao pats Teucer’s head and leaves the room. “It’s no problem.”
When Childe enters the living room, Zhongli is already awake and fully dressed. He’s reading a book and sipping tea. He notices Childe immediately, smiling up at him. “Good morning, Ajax.”
“G-good morning.” Childe looks especially beautiful today. Almost… radiant. The blush on his face is only adding to that. Zhongli can’t bring himself to look away.
“You’re wearing something different today.” Zhongli notes. “It suits you.” The usual Fatui uniform Childe wears looks good on him as well - the outfit seems inspired by it. A good choice.
“Ah, I uh… figured it was appropriate.” Childe fidgets slightly, looking nervous. “Hey, would you mind coming with me before breakfast? There is something I want to talk to you about…”
Zhongli has an idea of what Childe wants to talk about. “Of course.” He puts his book away and finishes his tea. “Do you have a spot in mind?”
“I didn’t really get to explore yet.” Childe answers with a shrug. “Is there someplace nearby with a nice view? Somewhere we can sit, preferably.”
Zhongli stops to think for a moment before nodding. “Yes, I have a good place in mind. Follow me.”
The walk to that place isn’t long - it’s a nearby clearing with a small stream nearby. Occasionally, Zhongli likes eating lunch here when he visits. There is a table made of stone with stone stools in the middle of it.
“Oh, good choice.” Childe looks around, pleased. “Let’s go sit.”
They sit down. Zhongli can’t deny he’s getting nervous as well.
Childe sits down and takes three items out of his pocket. His Fatui mask, his delusion, and the box Zhongli is all too familiar with.
“You know what this is about.”
merry christmas here have blue balls
in other news, i've been grinding the hydro domain until my hands fall off. Please. I just need a gold flower for childe and then I'm done PLEASE
Childe doesn’t waste any time. He opens the box, bringing the chopsticks to light. He’s careful as he does so. He looks at them for a moment before asking quietly, “Why ask me like this?”
Zhongli ponders over how to answer. “...I realized you wouldn’t be able to understand my intention. However, I had my reasons as to why I asked you this way.” He pauses, studying Childe’s reaction. His face completely neutral Zhongli can’t even begin to guess what he’s thinking. “...You’re aware that I’ve lived for a very long time? I… I’m afraid that time passes me quickly. If I didn’t set some kind of time limit, it could take me up to 40 years I make a move. I didn’t want to be… too late.”
“Time limit?” Ajax repeats. “Hmmm, I suppose I could have looked up the meaning of these at one point. It’s pretty difficult to find if you have no idea what you’re looking for. It would have taken me a while.”
“I suppose.” Zhongli agrees. He hadn’t quite thought about that issue, but it resolved itself. “Now - my other reason.” He sits up straighter. “My goal is that by the time you know what the chopsticks mean, you won’t say no.”
“Oh?” There is a pleased glint in Childe’s eyes. “Sure of yourself, I see.”
“Do I have a reason not to be?” Despite his nervousness, Zhongli relaxes slightly and allows himself to smile. “May I hear your answer, Ajax?”
Ajax leans back, quiet. “...Zhongli- no, Rex Lapis. You might be mortal now, but you still were an Archon.” He gestures to his mask. “I can’t accept another contract when I’m bound by another.”
Zhongli tries to act like that sentence didn’t physically strike him. “I see.” His voice comes out even and calm, fortunately. “Is that your decision then?”
“Are you kidding me?” Childe snorts and shakes his head. “I just have to end my previous contract first before I can agree to another.”
The relief Zhongli feels immense. Then the implication of Childe’s words sinks in. Zhongli’s eyes widen.
“With this, I let go of my contract with the Tsaritsa, the Cryo Archon.” Childe smashes his mask. “The delusion might make me stronger - but I can do without. I don’t care for it.” Then, he stands up and walks over to Zhongli. “I don’t need it.” He drops it on the floor and stomps on it, shattering it to pieces.
There is no hesitation as he does so, his eyes are firm - determined. Zhongli finds himself standing up as well. “Then…?”
“I think you should know my answer by now- but don’t think I’ll let you get away that easily.” Childe crosses his arms, a self-confident smile on his lips. “I want to hear you say it.”
“Of course.” Zhongli takes Ajax’s hands in his, squeezing them gently. “Ajax, I love you.” Ajax’s cheeks turn red immediately and Zhongli finds himself encouraged by it. “I’ve wanted to retire from my duties for a while now- but I’ve only truly started enjoying mortal life once I met you. You’ve made this life worth living.”
“Zhongli…” There is a soft look in Childe’s eyes.
Zhongli smiles at him and caresses his cheek. “There is nothing else I want but to stay by your side. Would you engage in a new contract with me? A contract to bind us together, as long as our mortal lives will permit it.”
To his surprise, Childe laughs. “Only if you tweak that last part. Do you think death can keep us apart? Please. I didn’t survive the Abyss for nothing.”
Zhongli has to laugh as well. “If you so desire, I will change that part. A contract that will bind us eternally then. Ajax, would you do me the honor and marry me?”
“Yes, I will.” The answer is instantaneous. Zhongli almost collapses from relief. “But next time if you do something like this, just ask me like a normal person, will you?” Despite his words, Childe looks happy - radiant.
“I will keep that in mind.”
Both move forward, Zhongli pulling Childe closer. Their lips meet and Zhongli has never felt more blessed than he did at that moment. The moment ends all too soon, but the blissful feeling remains.
It’s only then that Zhongli realizes that he neglected to buy rings.
Well, he’ll have to improvise then.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a ring for you.” Zhongli admits, breaking the comfortable silence that has come over them. “We can buy one as soon as we’re able to enter a store.”
“That’s so like you.” Childe lets out a fond chuckle and shakes his head. “I have an idea. Don’t move.” He takes off Zhongli’s earring and then his own. “How about we trade these? I don’t need a ring then.”
That seems more intimate than a ring could ever be - it feels more fitting for them. “Go ahead.”
They exchange earrings, beaming at each other.
“You know, you could have at least asked me out on an official date before marriage.” Childe pokes his chest, a grin on his face. “Did you forget how mortals do this whole dating thing?”
“...That may have not crossed my mind.” Zhongli blushes slightly. He knew he wasn’t being bold enough in the end. “I will make it up to you by taking you on dates now.”
“I look forward to it.” Childe leans forward to kiss him again-
Except they get interrupted by a high pitched scream, “Did we miss the question!? I wanted to see it! Unfair! They should do it again!”
Childe moves away from him as if burned. “Teucer!” His face is burning in embarrassment. “What are you doing here!?”
Zhongli turns around to see Aether, Teucer, and Xiao come out of the surrounding thicket.
At least they missed the most intimate part. Zhongli coughs into his fist, face bright red.
“Sorry.” Xiao looks incredibly annoyed. It’s not an unusual expression on his friend’s face, but this time he looks especially aggravated. “I couldn’t distract him. Managed to delay him though.”
Childe groans into his hands. “I wanted privacy! Privacy! I can’t do PDA in front of my little brother!” The idea of being physically affectionate in front of other people is immensely embarrassing. Zhongli could never - and Childe seems to share that sentiment.
Teucer runs up to his brother and tugs on his pants. “Are you married now? Do I get to be an uncle now!?”
An… uncle? No, no. That’s much too soon.
“We’re just engaged.” Ajax seemed to have shaken out of his embarrassment as he crouches down in front of Teucer. “No telling our family yet, alright? I want to tell them myself.”
“I can take the letter with me when I go home!” Teucer looks excited at the prospect of having such an important task. “Or even better! You and mister Zhongli come with me back home! I bet Tonia wants to meet him!”
“That… might not be a good idea just yet.” Childe scratches the back of his head. It would be hard for him to enter Snezhnaya when the Tsaritsa believes him dead, that’s true. “Just a letter for now.”
“Maybe I should write one as well?” Suggest Zhongli before Teucer can become upset. “It would be appropriate, I believe.”
Childe nods, looking pleased. “Sure. I don’t see why not - but first let’s go eat breakfast. I’m famished.”
“Am I invited too?” A familiar cheeky voice asks.
Everyone freezes. Zhongli slowly turns around to see Venti at the table they have been sitting on, grinning mischievously, two letters in hand.
Only then Zhongli realizes they never got an answering letter from Childe’s first letter. Of course Venti would be the one to deliver it to them. “...Venti, it’s a surprise to see you here.”
“Not as much as a surprise as seeing you be all sappy!” Venti’s amused laughter rings through the clearing. “I saw the whole thing. Really cute. To be honest, I assumed you don’t have a romantic bone in your body but I was wrong.”
Zhongli sighs heavily. “Venti… Please don’t tease me.”
“I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t!” He jumps up from where he’s seated and approaches Childe. “Here you go, a letter for you- delivered by the Anemo Archon himself!” He whispers the last part in Childe’s ear, whose eyes widen.
The second letter he saw Venti holding is gone now - he must have pocketed it.
“Oh, thanks.” Childe answers and takes the letter from him. “...You want breakfast too?”
“You’ll make my ten servings of almond tofu first.” Xiao cuts in, arms crossed. “I didn’t suffer only to not get paid.”
“Oh Xiao, you never change.” Venti laughs and then walks over to Xiao and Aether. “Good to see you too, Aether! I see you met Zhongli, the blockhead.”
“I sure did.” Aether looks amused by Venti’s antics. “And I’ll be making breakfast while Childe makes your tofu, how about that?”
Xiao nods, pleased. “Good.” He is the first one to leave. “It better be good, Childe, or you will meet the end of my spear.”
“Okay, okay.” Childe pockets his letter, most likely wanting to read it later. “Ten portions of almond tofu right in the morning right in the morning? What’s his stomach made out of?”
Zhongli shakes his head fondly. “Xiao has always been like this. Frankly, I’m surprised he ate the other dishes you made him. I never managed to make him eat anything but almond tofu.”
They both laugh and follow the others back into the house. Teucer occasionally asking him questions about when their wedding is and all kinds of other things Zhongli hadn’t even thought about.
Truly, children are miraculous.
Everyone else entered the house already, only Zhongli and Childe remain standing outside. They’re quiet, simply basking in each other’s presence.
“Zhongli, come to… our room later. So we can read the letter.” Childe tells him. “We still have a lot to talk about.”
“We do.” Zhongli agrees. “I would enjoy having some peace and quiet with you. As much as I enjoy everyone’s company, I’m afraid I simply can’t get enough of you.”
“What, don’t want to share?” Childe asks him jokingly. “But seriously, I get it. Now we even have one more mouth to feed.” He shakes his head in mock exasperation. “On that note- did you really make Barbatos carry my letter to Snezhnaya?”
“He owed me a favor.” Zhongli explains. “He’s been very embarrassing about my way of courting you. It’s the simplest thing he could do for me.” Venti always loved teasing him. The moment he heard why Zhongli was suddenly so interested in a Fatui agent he got teased mercilessly. “Ah, I should look if I still have that bottle of dandelion wine somewhere… Venti is fond of it. It would make a fine present.”
“We’ll buy one for him.” Ajax leans over and kisses his cheek. Zhongli could melt in a puddle right here and now. “Now, let’s go in and feed all these people, mister fiance.”
“That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” Referring to Childe as his fiance is something he can do now - wonderful. “Soon it will be husband.”
“What, not wife?” Suddenly, there is a smug smile on Childe’s face. “You know, I heard you confessing some time ago. When you told Xiao you love me.”
“You- you heard that?” Zhongli blinks, surprised. “I didn’t notice you.”
Childe laughs and shakes his head. “I’m sneaky like that- oh, that reminds me.” He moves closer to Zhongli. “I didn’t tell you yet, huh? I love you, Zhongli.”
Zhongli’s heart is beating so hard it might burst out of his chest. “And I you.” They share another kiss, just as wonderful as their first before they finally enter the house.
they're finally together nyall. after like. 34k words and 19 chapters
we still have some plot left tho, it's not over just yet
update: the hydro domain is still mean to me and is only giving my cryo feathers
Childe is the happiest man alive right now. He practically skips into the kitchen, humming a cheerful tune. Aether is already getting started on breakfast. Childe joins them in the kitchen, getting started on the almond tofu for Xiao.
“Isn’t that earring Zhongli’s?” Aether asks him after a while, curiosity evident in their voice.
“Uh, yes.” Childe almost drops the knife he’s holding. “Despite the proposing in advance thing, Zhongli never bought rings. We improvised.” It’s embarrassing saying that out loud.
“That’s cute.” Aether comments, their face set in a happy smile. “I have to admit, I’m baffled you guys just… skipped dating and jumped into marriage. I didn’t think you were a guy that would do something like that.”
“I didn’t think so either.” Childe answers with a shrug, slightly embarrassed still. “I guess there is just something different about Zhongli. I don’t regret agreeing.”
Aether looks thoughtful. “...Hey, you’re kinda friends with Xiao now, right?” They sound hesitant as they ask, almost bashful. “...I kinda…”
“...Wait.” Childe stops cooking, turning around to face Aether instead. “That time when we talked about your crush- you meant Xiao?” He makes sure to speak quietly, not wanting anyone else to overhear. “Really? Him?”
“Hey, don’t judge me.” Aether pouts, but nods. “I’m going to be honest, I don’t really know how to approach him with romantic intent at all. I don’t even know if he’s ready for that…”
Childe isn’t surprised by that issue. Xiao can be difficult. “I don’t think he has a lot of friends - or physical contact. I hugged him once and he froze up completely.”
Aether nods, frown on their face. “Do you have any ideas? I don’t want to mess him up somehow.”
Since when did Childe become the relationship expert? He literally got engaged like 30 minutes ago. “Uh, you probably won’t get far romantically for a while. He won’t even admit we’re friends.” Childe shrugs, knowing fully well that any advice he gives is probably going to be garbage. “Be friends first I guess? Hang out? Worry about love later.”
“You know what? You might be onto something there.” Oh no, please don’t take Childe’s advice. “I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks.”
Childe regrets speaking. “No problem, Aether!” He probably sent his friend into a long pining adventure now. Whoops.
Once breakfast is on the table, Xiao finds his almond tofu on his plate. They’re all made exactly how he likes it best. Maybe this stupid Childe hell was worth it after all. He digs in, letting out a satisfied sigh. It would be perfect if Venti wasn’t laughing at him. “What.”
“You haven’t changed, friend!” He giggles, looking so amused and giggly that Xiao wants to kick him. “Almond tofu is your one true love.”
“Shut up.” He hisses, threatening Venti with a chopstick. Why did that mess of an Archon have to sit next to him?
“Is almond tofu really that good?” Teucer asks him with a tilt of his head. “I never tried it.”
Reluctantly, Xiao slides a portion over to Teucer. “Try it. It’s too much for me anyway.” It’s not but the others don’t need to know that.
“Thanks, mister Xiao!” Teucer digs in happily, seemingly enjoying the dish.
Venti eyes him knowingly. Xiao throws a chopstick at him, but Venti, as always, evades his attack.
Aether shakes their head at their antics. Xiao feels that in his soul. “Anyway,” he starts, wanting to change the topic, “when’s the wedding?”
To his great delight both Zhongli and Childe choke on their food at his question.
“We- um- eh- I don’t-” Childe stammers, red-faced. He stops to catch himself. “We don’t have a date yet.”
“We will take our time with it.” Zhongli comments, looking equally embarrassed. “There is no need to rush.” He says that like they didn’t speedrun getting engaged but okay.
Xiao is too tired to argue with these fuckers. “Aha. Sure. Invite me or die.”
“Of course we’ll invite you!” Childe exclaims, looking at Xiao like he asked something dumb. “We’ll have a corner with lots of almond tofu just for you.”
Xiao will pretend his heart didn’t warm at that. “Good.” He says cooly because he has an image to maintain.
The table suddenly explodes in ideas and suggestions for the wedding that Xiao decides to tune out. Too sappy for him. He’s much more interested in Aether poking their food, looking somewhat down. “What’s up?” He whispers.
“Huh?” Aether looks at him and blinks. “Oh, nothing. Just thinking.” They poke at their food some more before sighing. “Do you think Zhongli and Childe are actually going to travel now? I think they’re too busy taking each other’s clothes off mentally.”
Xiao did not need that mental image. He grimaces. “I sure as fuck hope not. I don’t want to deal with that sappy bullshit.” Wait, didn’t he just agree to travel with Aether to keep an eye on the idiots? Hmmm…
“Hey, Xiao? Still wanna come travel with me?” It’s like Aether read his thoughts. “I know you have no reason to, but I think it would be fun.”
In the corner of his eye, Xiao can make out Zhongli kissing Childe on the cheek. Ugh. Disgusting. Xiao shudders. He does NOT want to deal with that and Zhongli won’t leave him alone, he can feel it in his bones. The best bet is to go with Aether. “...Sure. Someone has to protect your ass.”
Aether visibly brightens up, earlier off mood forgotten. “That’s great! What do you think about heading to Dragonspine next? I heard there’s some real though monsters there.”
Dragonspine? Xiao’s actually never been there, despite it being close to Liyue’s borders. “Hm, sounds like a challenge.” He never backs down from a good fight after all. “I’ll come with you.”
“Dragonspine, huh?” Childe suddenly says, making Xiao realize they’re still sitting at breakfast. “Sounds like fun. I heard it’s cold though. You may need to cuddle for warmth.” There is a weird glint in his eyes. Xiao does NOT like it.
Then Tartaglia’s words register. Cuddle for what now. “Shut the fuck up.” He hisses, chopstick ready to be thrown.
“No cursing in front of Teucer.” Childe has the gal to look disappointed. “But really, you two should prepare for the cold. I heard it’s almost as bad as Snezhnaya.”
Aether is about to say something but Xiao has to be a little shit. “Tch. I’ll be fine. I don’t feel the cold. I’m above such things.”
Venti giggles right into his ear. Xiao wants to wring his neck. “Hehe! Xiao always pretends to be a big tough guy. He’s making up for his height.”
“You’re smaller than me.”
“Tell yourself that!” Venti giggles again before hopping away from the table. “Breakfast was excellent dear Aether! I’ll be going now, don’t want to intrude on the honeymoon!”
“Ah, before I forget!” Venti walks up to Zhongli and hands him a letter. There is some special kind of seal on it, but Xiao can’t make out what it is from where he’s sitting. “Read this after reading Childe’s letter! I’ll get going now.”
Zhongli doesn’t visibly react to the letter, but Xiao knows it has to be important somehow. Instead of saying anything out loud, he pockets it.
“Oh, wait.” This time, it’s Childe. Ugh, why do they keep interrupting the menace when he’s about to leave? “Zhongli wants to gift you something for the help with the letters.”
“Oh?” Venti’s eyes are positively sparkling.
“Indeed.” Zhongli confirms, leaving the table and coming back with a bottle of dandelion wine. “While I… don’t appreciate your habit, you deserve a bottle of your favorite wine.”
Venti snatches it out of Zhongli’s hand, hugging the bottle tenderly like a lost lover. “Zhongli! I knew you loved me! Thank you so much!” He grins at them brightly. “That makes getting that letter to you worth it! That conversation was so awkward…”
With that cryptic statement, Venti leaves the house, waving at them before disappearing with the wind.
“I have some stuff to talk to Zhongli about, it’s grown-up stuff.” Childe tells Teucer once breakfast is over. “After that, we can play before your boat leaves.” The storm that has been delaying Teucer’s ride back home suddenly mysteriously vanished. He has a feeling Venti had something to do with it, but who knows.
Teucer doesn’t look happy, but nods. “You have to bring mister Zhongli home, you know! Mama always said she wants to meet the people we marry!”
Childe tries not to grimace. He’s sure his parents would be happy he’s finally getting married - but entering the Tsaritsa’s realm now? He isn’t suicidal. “Maybe later. Entering home got a bit… harder for me now. Don’t worry. I’ll make him meet everyone later.”
That family reunion is going to be a nightmare, Childe can already feel it.
“Okay! It’s a promise!” Teucer shouts and then runs over to Xiao, begging him to show off more cool tricks. It’s cute that his brother got so attached to Xiao - the guy is so lonely, Childe is happy to be of help.
“Let’s head to the library.” Zhongli is already waiting for him, a tray of tea in hand. Man, Zhongli sure loves his emotional support tea.
“Sure. It’s cozy there. I like it.” Childe can imagine sitting there near the fireplace, just lazying around with his fiance. The thought makes him giddy.
Once seated, Zhongli deciding to sit close by his side, Childe opens the letter Venti gave to him.
He almost drops the letter in shock once he’s done with it.
“What is it?” Zhongli looks concerned, holding his shoulder gently.
“My family - no one told them I died.” Childe says, baffled. “Instead some Fatui Agents came to their house and told them I would have a long undercover mission, assigned by the Tsaritsa.”
“She knows I didn’t die.”
hah get fucked tart
“She knows I didn’t die.” Childe looks worried now. “Shit.”
“Ah, this is why Venti told me to read this letter after yours.” Zhongli takes out the letter he pocketed earlier. “Here, it’s from the Tsaritsa. Her sigil is on it.” He had become slightly nervous once he saw it, but Venti’s attitude made him consider.
His friend wouldn’t give him earthshattering news with a smile on his lips.
“...Oh boy.” Childe snatches the envelope out of his hand, inspecting it. “Yep, it’s definitely from her. Should have known that plan of yours won’t work. They didn’t even send anyone to collect my corpse or anything.”
“The Tsaritsa has always been rather hard to fool.” Zhongli ponders as Childe opens the letter carefully. “My plan was rather… halfbaked as well. However, I have to apologize. I didn’t think about this. My thoughts were rather… preoccupied.”
“With trying to flirt with me.” Childe teases him, waggling his eyebrows.
Zhongli flushes slightly. “What does the letter say?”
Childe looks over the letter, his smile dropping as he reads its contents. A short silence falls over them.
“...Well, we’re not dying.” Ajax groans into his hands, a slight flush on his face. “Here, read it.” He hands it to Zhongli.
did you really think you could fool me with such an idiotic plan? The next time you wish to steal one of my Harbingers away for marriage, notify me first.
We both know that there is nothing that’s equal to a Gnosis. It’s a simple favor.
Take Tartaglia, he no longer is a member of the Fatui. In fact, I believe by the time this letter reaches you he’ll already have destroyed his Delusion.
You both are still welcome in Snezhnaya. I expect you want to meet Tartaglia’s family after all.
If you do something this foolish again, I won’t be as benevolent, but this threat means nothing to you, doesn’t it? Even without your Gnosis, you’re strong enough to kill me.
I will overlook this matter. I believe that’s the best course of action for you and for me.
As for you, Tartaglia-
Do invite me to your wedding.
There is no signature.
Zhongli sighs deeply. “I… see.” That would have been a wiser course of action, but his emotions have gotten the better of him. “It seems our problems have resolved themselves.”
“...I guess.” Ajax sighs and collapses against the chair. “Man, I didn’t expect her to let us off the hook that easily. She really doesn’t want to fight you, huh?” There is an excited glint Childe’s eye. One Zhongli knows too well.
“...You wish to fight me more than ever.” Zhongli states, satisfaction spreading in his chest. What can he say? He never lost his love for battle. “That can be arranged, of course. On a later date.”
“It’s a date!” Childe grins and Zhongli forgets his worries. “Alright, now that that’s over- let’s start with our honeymoon. I already have a project for us in mind.”
Zhongli raises his brow. “Oh?”
“So, Aether and Xiao. Mutual crushes, totally.” Childe nods to himself, seemingly very confident in his assumption.
Zhongli nods in agreement. “Yes, it’s obvious.” He says like they didn’t have this whole obvious crush thing going on as well. “Do you intend to do something about it?”
“Well, Xiao already said he’s going with Aether to Dragonspine, right? I don’t think we’ll have to. I just want them out of our house so we can… consummate our marriage.” Ajax says shamelessly, his grin suddenly seeming less innocent now.
Zhongli feels his whole face flare up red. “Ah, I see- well…” He stumbles over his words, caught off guard by Childe’s bold words. “We can... arrange that. Yes.”
“Great! We’ll spend the day with Teucer, bring him to the boat, and then we kick our friends out.” Childe jumps up from the chair, kisses Zhongli’s cheeks, and runs out of the door. “Good talk!”
“Good talk.” Zhongli echoes, slightly bewildered. To think that their situation has been resolved so easily…
It’s almost like his life is a cheesy romantic comedy story.
“Can’t you come with me?” Teucer asks as he gets on the boat that’s meant to take him back home. “Mister Zhongli has to meet everyone!”
“I’m sure. We’ll come later.” Childe crouches down and gives Teucer a tight hug. “Stay good now and don’t give mom so much trouble, you little rascal.” At Teucer’s protests, he only laughs. He then hands his brother a letter. “Here, hand this to mom or dad when you come home.”
Ajax decided he should probably warn his family that he’s engaged and quit the Fatui. Huh, now that he thinks about it, he’s basically jobless. He should fix that later.
“What’s in the letter?” Teucer’s eyes are big and curious.
“You’ll find out with everyone else.” Childe pats Teucer’s head and stands up. “I’ll come to visit you later, so it’s goodbye for now. I suddenly have much more time on my hands.”
“Cuz you’re on vacation from being a toyseller, right?” Ah, Tartaglia knew he forgot something. Well, he’ll have to break Teucer the news about losing his… toyseller job later.
“Right!” Teucer’s boat departs and they stand there, waving at each other until Teucer is nothing but a small dot in the distance.
He already misses him.
When they arrive back at Zhongli’s house, Xiao refuses to come in. “We don’t need to lounge around here anymore. Your stupid plan failed from the start.”
He had not been impressed when Zhongli broke the news to him. Not at all.
“Hmm, yeah. I’ve been taking too much of a break from my adventure anyway.” Aether is quick to agree with him, to Xiao’s relief. “Next up is Dragonspine. It’s gonna be a tough one.”
Zhongli nods, understanding. “Of course, don’t let us keep you. Take whatever resources you need and be on your way.”
“You’ll go with them, right Xiao?” Childe asks, a weird grin on his face. For some reason, Xiao feels a giant urge to punch the fucker in the face.
“Great. Great.” Childe nods, his smile suddenly turning gentler. Oh no, not more mushy shit. Xiao doesn’t want to deal with it. “You three take care. You can teleport here whenever you want or need help.”
Zhongli nods in agreement. “We’ll be in Snezhnaya at some point however, keep that in mind.”
“Snezhnaya?” Paimon asks, tilting her head. “Why there?”
“To meet Ajax’s family, of course.” Zhongli states without shame as Childe’s face takes on a slight red hue.
“Great. Whatever. Don’t die of frostbite in Snezhnaya or I’ll cut your throat.” Xiao directs that statement at both stupid mushy idiots. “We’ll be going now. Bye.”
He walks away, ignoring the cheerful waving the pair is giving him. Aether catches up to him quickly. “That eager to get away?”
“...They were getting annoying.” Xiao refuses to look in Aether’s direction. “Anyway, why Dragonspine?”
“Sounded like a good time, and well…”
“Treasure!” Paimon finishes for them, a bright smile on her face. “Let’s go! What are we waiting for!?”
And that’s how Xiao finds himself dragged off by an overexcited… whatever the fuck Paimon is.
“...I wish to make you happy and I wish to meet your family.” Zhongli smiles gently and Childe’s heart melts.
“I love you, you know that?” Ajax carcasses Zhongli’s cheek with a smile, kissing him softly.
Zhongli returns it eagerly. “I love you too.”
It’s so wonderful to be able to say that phrase freely, to know that his feelings are returned.
“But let’s worry about my family later.” Ajax kisses him again, a bit more forceful this time. “You owe me a fight and…”
“Of course.” Zhongli kisses Ajax’s forehead fondly. “We can get started on the fight right away, my love.”
Ajax turns bright red, but he’s smiling. “Let’s get started then.”
They kiss again, take out their weapons, and smile as they clash.
Nothing will ever be able to take this joy away from them.
It's the end guys! It's been a ride.
If I feel like writing for this again, I'll write about Xiao and Aether getting together on fucking cold mountain and Zhongli meeting childe's family.
I have another Chili fic I'm writing right now though so that probably won't happen for a while.
My other fic is a FGO AU! Please check it out:
Thank you so much for reading! Happy New Year!