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Childe hadn’t always enjoyed using a sniper. For the longest time he had scoffed at the long range weapon, done most of his work up close and personal. But over the years he found a meditative satisfaction in slowing his breath, waiting for the perfect moment and landing the precise shot. (“A single fatal shot is the mark of the best assassin.” His mentor had told him.) And Childe is the best. Out of all of the assassins (the official term is something like ‘termination agent’ or whatever, but literally no one on the field calls them that) Childe probably has the longest portfolio. Some might say it’s a bit fucked up that he started this line of work at fourteen and if anyone asks, Childe laughs it off and cracks a joke. The careful observer will note he never says anything about his early work, however. To be honest, he doesn’t recall a lot of it himself, only a few details here and there.

“Southwest corner, rooftop rendezvous.” Zhongli’s voice is soft and even in Childe’s ear. Technically, Childe didn’t need support. Before Zhongli had come on as an operator, Childe had mostly worked solo. Other operators found Childe difficult to work with and he found most people too slow or hesitant or just plain annoying to work with. Too often people mistook Childe’s easygoing attitude for being cavalier or unfocused. As if he would ever shirk work duties.

But Zhongli is different. His voice stays calm and controlled no matter what is going on and his directions almost preempt Childe’s movements. So far, Zhongli is the only person who can keep up with Childe. During long stakeouts where Childe sits for hours, occasionally stretching into days, huddled under a sniper’s net waiting for his target, Zhongli will keep him company. A slow and steady drone of myths, facts, stories and information. If Childe stays awake for 30 hours waiting for the perfect kill moment, so does Zhongli. And —

“Here.” Childe replies back, under his breath.

“Extraction in two minutes. Good job, Childe.”

— at the end of every mission, Zhongli says ‘good job’.

“It’s really unfair, how do you keep such a good figure when you’re an operator?” Childe teases as they both get ready for bed. Childe’s hair is still slightly damp from the shower but they’ve been casually dating for long enough that Zhongli knows not to worry about wet pillows. While Zhongli prefers to climb into bed earlier and read until lights out, Childe sits on the floor with his back against the bed doing his evening meditations.

“And really, how do you manage to be so thoughtful and focused when you’re a field agent?” Zhongli counters, amused.

Childe shakes his head, settles against the bed and shuts his eyes. Zhongli opens his book to a dogeared page — there are many books that he reads that are not to be treated as such, but something about the worn copy of poetry that had already come into his possession beaten and battered almost asked for him to continue such a fond and rough treatment.

After a few moments of silence, Zhongli shifts in bed so he can gently run his fingers through Childe’s hair. When he had asked if touch would disrupt the other Childe’s answer had been a simple ‘no’. It’s simply a way for him to go through the day’s events, organize his thoughts and give closure to himself. They’re in the profession of murder and despite the ease to which Childe takes lives, he’s hardly a thoughtless killing machine.

By the time Childe is finished meditating his hair is dry, but he waits until Zhongli sets his book on the bedside table before standing. “Perfect timing.” Childe says, as he does almost every night they spend together.

“I must imagine, at times, you’re cheating at the timing.” Zhongli smiles fondly and pulls the covers aside for Childe.

“You of all people should appreciate the orderliness of it.”

“I do, I appreciate you.” Zhongli turns out the light.

“Good night.” Childe says softly in the dark.

He would be lying, if he said that there isn’t a keen sense of anticipation before a kill. Childe’s aware that it sounds terrible to say out loud, but often he won’t hold back from saying it either. Perhaps it’s all of his training, the hours devoted to slowing his breathing and keeping his aim steady that puts his body into almost a drowsy lull. It feels like time dilates, slows down and everything lines up. Childe always knows when he’s got a perfect shot before the bullet even hits.

Then the warm satisfaction uncoils and drains out of him just as Zhongli’s voice sounds in his ear: “Good job, Childe.”

Easy jobs left Childe thrumming with adrenaline and no outlet. His tool kit is easy to stash in his locker, the barely used bag of ropes and carabiners in the bottom. He’d even cleaned his gun on the way out after extraction, carefully set each piece back into the briefcase that housed the sniper. That he keeps in his shared room with Zhongli. Childe is practically bouncing on his heels as he swipes his keycard on their door and throws it open.

Zhongli Isn't there yet, which is a surprise though not entirely unexpected. While the room is littered in knick knacks that Zhongli has collected over time (jewelry, statuettes, paintings and cuckoo clocks) the tiered shelf reserved for Childe’s belongings is always left immaculate. Compared to Zhongli’s hoarding habits, Childe’s belongings are relatively small in comparison but Zhongli treats them with the utmost respect.

Childe squats down and slides the sniper case into its spot on the lowest shelf. As he straightens back up he gets to catalog through the various items he considers most precious to him. His personal history is short, what Childe does remember of his life before working for the organization is hazy and in bits and pieces. He doesn’t dwell on it, instead working to build who he is in the now. There’s a pair of gloves Zhongli got him as a one year work anniversary. They have the organization’s seal stitched into the back. Childe doesn’t wear them often, not wanting to ruin them so they remain on his shelf. There’s a single book of Fontaine poetry that Childe has read cover to cover at least three times, three large blue seashells and a ridiculously ornate knife that Childe cannot even imagine actually using to cut anything — its blade is made out of gold. He’s pretty sure the knife is a gag gift, even though Zhongi had presented it with such a serious expression.

Last, there’s the equally ridiculously ornate chopsticks. Childe’s fond of the infernal things even if he never uses them to eat. They are some kind of exotic dark wood with (again!) gold inlays and delicate dragon and phoenix figures etched into them. They were the most recent gift, just earlier this year over a shared bottle of wine and bag of frozen dumplings. Probably the night that Childe had let himself fantasize most about having a proper relationship with Zhongli instead of their more casual one. It had almost been a perfect evening.

“You returned before I did.” Zhongli’s voice breaks him out of his reminiscing.

“It wasn’t even a warm-up.” Childe smiles fondly, waits for Zhongli to step inside and close the door behind him before striding forward and grabbing the other man by his tie. Like most things that Zhongli wears, the tie is elegant and made of fine silk and Childe’s fingers slide up it, thumbnail lightly digging into the knot. “I feel like I could run a marathon.”

“And yet, I find you in our shared quarters.” Zhongli leans back against the door, crossing his arms, but low enough on his chest Childe can keep a firm hold on his tie. “It seems, you won’t be running any marathons.”

“I’m sure we could find a metaphorical marathon.” Childe laughs softly, hooking one finger into the tie loop, tugging to both loosen the tie and bring Zhongli close to him.

“Is that way of saying you’re not working for a few days?”

“How can you say days off in such an appealing way?” Childe ducks his head under Zhongli’s chin so he can press a kiss on the tiny bit of skin revealed. His lips press over Zhongli’s pulse and also halfway catch the fabric of his shirt collar. He tugs more insistently at the tie, finally working to undo it properly.

Zhongli’s laughter reverberates through Childe’s whole being as he exposes the rest of Zhongli’s neck, undoes the first few buttons and is able to drag a line of quick kisses from Zhongli’s jawline to collarbone.

“Is that what you find appealing these days? Should I continue?” Zhongli clears his throat, “Agent Childe requests several days off in a row to . . . run a marathon.”

Childe snorts a laugh and bites Zhongli. The angle is more than a little awkward, his teeth scrape on skin just barely and won’t even leave a mark like that. Which is why Childe then sucks at Zhongli’s skin, hard enough to leave a mark even without his teeth. “What dirty talk from such a dignified operator.” He teases.

The soft hum Zhongli gives in response is paired with the man’s fingers gliding over the many buckles that hold extra magazines, holsters, tools and other weapons of the trade close against Childe’s body. He undoes the clasp across the straps across Childe’s shoulders but doesn’t otherwise try to remove them. Childe has no such restraint as his fingers eagerly work down Zhongli’s shirt, undoing the buttons as smoothly as he disassembles his gun — and with just as much care.

“Then I’ll be more dignified in speaking with you during our hopefully soon to be sexual encounter.” The laughter in Zhongli’s voice doesn’t eclipse his even tone but his amusement is clear, especially when he adds: “I am glad your work is done, for tomorrow’s dawn will be much brighter after you have laid yourself bare before me.”

There is really no way that Childe can let Zhongli keep speaking like that. He shoves his hand up towards Zhongli’s face, gloved fingers pressing against the man’s mouth while he left another red mark on Zhongli’s neck before finally lifting his head to kiss Zhongli properly. He knows the texture of his gloves chafe as he slides his hand from Zhongli’s lips to cradle his cheek but the tinge to Zhongli’s skin is definitely not because of that friction.

Any other words Zhongli has to say — and Childe can feel what Zhongli is saying into his mouth — he swallows eagerly.

Childe pushes Zhongli back against the door without breaking the kiss, pressing their bodies together. The many angles of his harness and belt he can feel even through the two layers of ‘ballistic resistant’ fabric his shirt and undershirt are made of. There’s no way Zhongli doesn’t feel them even more harshly through his pressed button down, but the other man doesn’t protest at all.

Only when he’s breathless does Childe pull away. He knows his own pupils are wide, the whole world has focused in on Zhongli, the flush to his cheeks, the way his eyes are half-closed, the smallest hint of a satisfied smile that’s still buried under the face of composure.

“Then let's make it as bright as we can.” Childe tugs Zhongli away from the door, pushes him toward the bed and bends to unlace his shoes. In the time it takes to step out of them, and his socks, Zhongli has seated himself on the edge of the bed, shirt and tie discarded.

First, anything that could be explosive or dangerous gets set aside. If it was anyone but Zhongli, Childe suspects they would find this part somewhat irritating, but instead Zhongli’s rapt attention is focused on everything Childe does. Knives, climbing tools, extra bullets and small explosive devices all go onto his shelf in a clutter. He’ll organize them tomorrow, but if he takes the time now he’ll lose his mind.

Childe finishes the work Zhongli did on the buckles and clips, flicking them open one by one but not yet sliding the harness of straps from his body. He has the confidence to not balk at what he’s doing, but there’s no way to stop the blush that he knows has gone all the way up to the tips of his ears. Childe dips his head a little so he can look at Zhongli through his bangs, flashing a cocky grin and finally starting to slide off the straps around his upper arms and with them the extra padding on his elbows.

He hooks a finger under the bottom strap and lifts up, turning as he does so he can look over his shoulder at Zhongli as the rest of the harness gets pulled up over his head. It drops to the floor with a muted clink, the noise getting absorbed by the carpet. He completes the turn, steps close enough to Zhongli that he can raise his right leg and brace his bare foot against the bed edge between Zhongli’s legs.

“Not even halfway there.” Childe laughs softly, leaning so his chest is flush to his knee so he can kiss Zhongli again. “I can’t believe you’re so patient, as always.”

“Some things are worth waiting for.”

Childe catches Zhongli’s hands, guides them to the empty tactical holster on his thigh. Together they undo the clasp and loosen the strap. Childe pulls the belt down but Zhongli’s hand continues up his leg, over the top of his thigh, skimming over the hem of Childe’s trousers, even though his shirt is tucked in the gesture makes him shiver. He lifts his leg just enough to pull the holster’s strap off and then settles his foot just outside of Zhongli’s hip. Shifting his weight to the foot on the bed makes the frame creak slightly — they probably need to get it replaced, while it’s in no danger of collapse he’s certain their neighbors can hear it scrap and groan — but a necessary evil to drag his other leg forward so he can straddle Zhongli’s knee and keep his weight off of the other man’s leg.

“Flattery will only get you so far.” Childe tries to sound admonishing but even to his ears his voice is way too fond.

“Ah yes, you’re a man of actions, not words.” Zhongli agrees. Childe peels off one glove, throwing it behind him and running his bare hand through Zhongli’s hair, undoing the other man’s jeweled hair tie and also throwing that behind him. Neither of them wants to end up playing ‘what sharp object is hidden in the sheets’ later. On the same token he unfastens Zhongli’s earring, but carefully settles it on the bedside table. He dips in for another kiss, lingering just long enough to feel Zhongli’s capable fingers return the favor with his own earring.

It’s funny how these little things have become habit.

Finally, Childe undoes the collar of his jacket, flicking back the clasp to reveal the zipper and sliding it down. He takes his time in shrugging out of it, and lets it fall to the floor behind him. The sleeveless undershirt is just another layer of tightly woven bullet protection for all that it’s flexible enough he can grasp the bottom and pull it over his head in one smooth motion. That done with he presses both hands to Zhongli’s chest and pushes him down onto the bed.

“Good job, Childe.” Zhongli says without a single ounce of mocking and the sincerity rips through Childe faster than any rising desire could.

“You’re so unfair,” Childe laughs as Zhongli pulls him down closer for a kiss.

It’s not unheard of for him to go on a mission without Zhongli, but it’s certainly uncommon. Childe had gotten the request early in the morning after his jog but before breakfast. While the operators work in rotations the field agents have to be a bit more flexible, their line of work is dangerous and sudden substitutes can be needed. He mentally scrolls through the list of agents who could have been sent out recently and comes up empty handed. Someone might have fallen ill then, also unusual but not outside of the realm of possibilities.

It is odd to go without an operator, however. Ever since Childe had begun field work there had always been some kind of operator in his ear. Director Beidou had never given him the full backstory on it, but apparently before his time agents used to work in pairs on the field but something happened and now they work in pairs with one half back at HQ and one half out doing the killing. It suited him fine, working together with people can be difficult, he finds.

But he would never have guessed he would miss Zhongli’s voice during a mission. At least it isn’t a sniper mission or he would absolutely die of boredom. Instead it’s a far more ‘old school’ assignment for him. He wore the earpiece by force of habit, even though the briefing had said he could leave it at HQ. The GPS tracker he normally kept on him — part and parcel so operators have eyes on their agents — however he had remembered to leave behind.

Perhaps he simply found Zhongli’s voice more important than the information he fed back to the organization.

Childe is also glad the target isn’t at home, but rather apparently works long hours at the office. Killing people in apartment complexes is truly the bane of his existence and murdering people in their homes stirs something ugly in his chest he’d rather not think about. But bypassing an overly expensive yet ineffective security system to slip down the hall after hours? Perfect.

It is odd that the building is so empty. All of the security systems are engaged, but it’s only two hours after the theoretical ‘office hours’ and in all of Childe’s time as an assassin he had never known a private company to not have employees that worked obscene amounts of overtime or odd hours. Really, there’s something about corrupt political officials and seedy greedy companies that just makes it hard to predict the work patterns.

He half-wonders if he’s been set up, but he turns another corner, careful to slide right into the blind spot of both the cameras and the corner mirror and can see the lone lit office. No windows, at the heart of a cubicle maze but still with its own ornate mahogany trim and solid looking door. Childe’s glad he never worked an office job, even being in them is stifling. He settles next to the door, drawing his handgun from his shoulder holster, checking the carpet stripes. Three stripes to his left and he would be in the camera’s view.

The office walls must be thick, and while the small gap under the door shows him light from inside it doesn’t allow any sound to escape. If the briefing was right, there should only be his target inside. Fifty-seven, no military background, soft around the edges. No challenge. Low possibility that he had an aide with him, even lower possibility he had a bodyguard. Childe resists rolling his eyes as he recalls the brief’s memo. As if a bodyguard would matter.

When Childe throws the door to the office open, two things happen at once. The target’s bodyguard draws his own handgun, firing immediately, and Childe’s earpiece crackles to life with Zhongli’s voice — in a tone he’d never heard before.

“Childe?!” In retrospect, Childe will be able to tell it’s a barely-concealed panic, but in the moment he ignores the call, tunes it out in the same way he can ignore his heartbeat and breathing when it comes to taking the perfect shot. The bodyguard’s bullet indents into his jacket, over his ribs, and he can already feel a bruise forming. “Please respond, Childe.” Zhongli’s voice is a little quieter now, but Childe can still hear it over the second gunshot from the bodyguard. The second shot misses as he rolls, keeping his focus on the target, not the bodyguard.

It’s only after Childe squeezes the trigger, that he lets his gaze flick to the bodyguard, then back to his target. The red that blooms across the chest of the man’s suit tells him the shot hit and also that his target somehow had a bodyguard but hadn’t bothered to invest in his own personal protection. Typical, really. Childe hooks his left foot under the leg of the office chair, jerking it into the bodyguard and firing his second shot. Perfect hit, again, he is a professional after all.

“I’m here.” He says under his breath into his mic, taking the time to start his 180 second countdown.

“— status?” Zhongli’s voice has regained its calm.

“Perfectly fine, checking on mission progress.”

At his three minute mark Childe checks for breath and pulse of both victims. With both gone he can comm back to Zhongli: “Finished, extraction route was already prepared, so I’m following that.”

There’s a hesitation and Childe swears he can almost hear Zhongli’s relief in the silence, even if the voice that replies to him is as steady as ever: “Good job, Childe.”