It feels strange to be separated from Kaeya.
His absence makes Liyue feel empty despite the bustling crowds in the market, its theaters, and its restaurants. Their separation makes it realize how much they’ve been together since they’ve been named Harbingers.
They’ve never gone through a mission without one another. Childe’s never gone through a mission as a Harbinger without knowing that Kaeya would always be at his side and watching his back.
In his first few weeks in Liyue, he catches himself looking to his side often, with a ready joke or comment for someone who was not there, for someone who is miles away from him. In those moments, he feels the ache in his chest grow, and he’s also come to expect the soothing comfort from their bond that follows.
Really, it disappoints him, sometimes, that Kaeya is so much better at hiding his own feelings.
They write letters to each other. Childe makes sure to tell Kaeya about their new residence in Liyue, about his new administrative responsibilities in the Northland Bank, his debt collections, the operas in Liyue, and his new acquaintance--the funeral consultant, Zhongli. He likes to think that Kaeya would be just as amused at the audacity of the bank’s clients who believe that they can simply cheat the Fatui or by the consultant who seems to forget his mora every single time.
Kaeya’s letters, though, are sparser, giving few details in so many words. He might have been worried or sad if it wasn’t so very much like Kaeya to do such a thing.
It is alright, Childe thinks. He has enough stories for the both of them.
“Are you writing another letter to Mondstadt?”
Childe laughs and cradles his face in his hand as he turns to the consultant beside him. The private room of the Liuli Pavillion is a good place to have these meetings with the consultant, a place where Childe doesn’t have to worry too much about any eavesdroppers from a crowd of people.
“Are you curious, consultant?”
“I must admit that I am interested in learning what would capture the attention of a Harbinger for so long,” Zhongli says as he takes a bite of his meal.
Childe has abandoned his fumbling attempts at eating with chopsticks a few minutes ago when he had decided to finish his letter to Kaeya now that he has some of the information they need about Rex Lapis from Zhongli. It wouldn’t do for him to forget about it later.
“What else but another Harbinger?” Childe says with another laugh. He folds the letter in his hands before hiding it in his uniform pockets. He’s written what he needs for their mission. He’ll add his own embellishments and stories later.
“You must really care for them,” Zhongli points out.
Childe uses the chopsticks to push around the meal in his plate. His lunch meetings with Zhongli reminds him of several meals shared with the other Harbinger, except the two couldn’t be more different. Kaeya’s charm comes from his flirtatious jokes, his easy smirks, and tastefully unkempt appearance. In comparison, Zhongli is as immovable and steady as stone. Still, Childe thinks Kaeya would like Zhongli and his seemingly endless well of knowledge.
“I miss him,” he admits to Zhongli in a sudden burst of honesty. Though faint from the distance, he can still the bond that connects him to Kaeya, like something so divine and true that if Kaeya was to tell him that it is a gift from Celestia, he would be more than willing to believe it.
He fumbles with the chopsticks before placing it back down and taking on the spoon for the soup instead. The scent of Calla Lily from the soup reminds him yet again of Kaeya. “Have you ever been in love, consultant?”
Zhongli seems surprised by his question, suddenly going still before he relaxes yet again. “Once,” he says. “Quite a long time ago.”
“You don’t seem that old,” Childe jokes as he sips at his soup. “What happened?”
“She died,” Zhongli replies. “I was unable to protect her.”
Childe swallows, suddenly feeling as if he’s crossed a line he shouldn’t. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he tells the consultant. Still, Ajax has learned to be selfish the moment he crawled out of the abyss, has learned to take and to take, and so now, he turns the consultant’s words in his mind and thinks of Kaeya. He thinks of the distance between Liyue and Mondstadt, and he wonders if it will be too late before he realizes that anything has gone wrong with Kaeya’s own goals in Mondstadt.
“My apologies,” Zhongli says. “I seem to have affected your mood. If it makes you feel better, please understand that her death happened long ago. I have long come to terms with it, and my memories with her are all the more precious.”
“Ah, no,” Childe shakes his head, trying to clear any of the fears about Kaeya. It wouldn’t do to worry the other in Mondstadt. “Don’t worry about it, consultant. But we should speak of better things...I heard Miss Yunjin is performing at the tea house tonight. Should I get us a reservation?”
“Very well,” Zhongli agrees.
Childe feels Kaeya’s presence in their bond and relishes the comforting affection that comes from him. As always, he feels quite vulnerable and exposed, so unable to hide anything from the other.
He doesn’t need to worry about Kaeya. Like him, Kaeya is a Harbinger with the power of both the abyss and Snezhnaya’s prized Delusions with him. He wouldn’t fall so easily.
Childe would never let him.
Without Kaeya, the initiation of recruits unfortunately becomes Childe’s responsibility.
Ever since the Tsaritsa had named them Harbingers, Childe and Kaeya have shared the same team and subordinates. Kaeya had dealt with the initiation needed for them. After all, the silver-tongued Arlecchino was a much better welcome to any recruit when compared to the bloodthirsty Tartaglia.
Still, he’s seen Kaeya do the initiation enough times that the words still fall easily though awkwardly from his own lips. At the end of the speech, the recruits seem motivated enough, and Childe nods, deciding that he’s done that part of the job well enough. When he follows the initiation speech with an offer to spar with them, they all seem hesitant, nervous, and afraid.
“Are you certain, my lord?”
Childe snorts at the sight. The members of the Fatui were supposed to be fearless soldiers, yet here they are, shifting in their feet and unable to even meet his eyes. One recruit seems to look past Childe’s shoulder with widened eyes. Childe frowns and starts to turn, wondering if he’s missed a ruin guard or a hilichurl when he cleared the ruins out earlier, but he stops when he feels the arms that suddenly wrap around his waist.
“Did you miss me?” Kaeya whispers to his ear as he places his chin over Childe’s shoulder. Childe feels his face flush red, and he shivers, caught off guard, as always, by Kaeya and his schemes.
“Kaeya,” he says with a hitched breath, a tone laced with both wonder and disbelief.
In a louder voice that the recruits can hear, Kaeya continues, “Stop terrifying our subordinates with these challenges, Tartaglia.”
Childe feels something giddy bubbling from his chest, and a grin makes its way on his lips. He tilts his head back and to the side, pressing a kiss to Kaeya’s cheek. “How can they improve if we don’t teach them, Arlecchino?”
Kaeya untangles his arms from around him and moves to his side. Childe’s hands twitch at his sides, and he wants to reach out for the other Harbinger, to keep him close after so long without him.
Childe watches as Kaeya effortlessly gives out his orders to the new members, knowing everything about their operations in Liyue as if he’s never left Childe’s side at all. When they have all left after Kaeya’s dismissal, Childe is quick to embrace the other Harbinger, burying his face in Kaeya’s warm chest to inhale his familiar scent.
“You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to do this for so long now,” Childe mumbles.
He feels Kaeya’s laughter with the way his body shakes from it, and Childe relaxes into Kaeya’s hold when he feels the other run fingers through his hair and on his back. “On the contrary,” Kaeya says, smoothly. “I’ve felt a lot of things from you, Ajax.”
Childe answers that observation with his own laughter. He doesn’t mention that he barely feels Kaeya’s own feelings through their bond, that there are times when he wants the other to trust him more. He steps back, his hands still clenched on Kaeya’s shoulders. “Are you staying?”
“Not for long,” Kaeya admits. “There are things happening in Mondstadt that I need to take care of?”
Kaeya grimaces. “He’s come back to Mondstadt. Apparently, in his time away from the city of Freedom, he’s managed to almost kill Capitano, and as soon as he comes back to Mondstadt, he gets him entangled with Dottore.”
“Dottore’s in Mondstadt,” Childe frowns. He doesn’t like the idea of the mad scientist anywhere near Arlecchino when the doctor has expressed his interest in experimenting on Kaeya in the past.
Kaeya smirks and brushes his thumb over Childe’s cheek. Like this, Childe doesn’t need to use the bond between them to feel Kaeya’s affection and love. “Not anymore,” he says. “Diluc’s made sure of that.”
“If that’s all done then, why do you need to--” Childe sighs in frustration and tries again. “I thought Signora was in charge of taking Barbatos’ gnosis.”
“She is,” Kaeya scoffs. “And I have no plans in meddling with our Fair Lady regarding that operation. There are other things.”
“Will you tell me?” Childe asks. Long ago, he asked Kaeya to be honest with him, and he thinks or hopes that Kaeya hasn’t broken that promised yet.
“Not now,” Kaeya says. It isn’t a lie, just his own way of dodging the question. “Will you show me around Liyue?”
Childe understands the shift in subject. If Kaeya won’t tell him now, then he can wait for later. “What do you want to see?” He eagerly asks as they make their way down the road into the direction of the city.
“I stopped by the bank before I came here,” Kaeya says. “But I haven’t seen all the plays and restaurants you’ve been telling me about.”
“Great!” Childe links their arms together. “I have much to show you then.”
They end up spending the next few days visiting all of Childe’s usual haunts. Even though Childe knows that they should be working, he couldn’t help but feel giddy at how much it feels like a sudden vacation, an extended version of their usual habits after every mission. They dine at Liuli Pavilion, Xinyue Kiosk, and Wanmin Restaurant. At some point, they get drunk at Third-round Knockout, talking about what they’ve both been up to while they were separated.
While Kaeya helped him pick some gifts to send back to Morepesok, he even gets him to meet Zhongli. Kaeya is just as amused by the consultant and his forgetfulness of mora as Childe thought he would be. That particular shopping trip is one that he’ll think of fondly in the future. He doesn’t want it to end.
Later on, while entangled on the bed with Kaeya, still feeling quite relaxed and pliant with pleasure, he tells him as much.
“I do miss you too,” Kaeya admits. A rare show of honesty, Childe thinks with a breathless laugh as he nuzzles at Kaeya’s throat. He feels it too, the way Kaeya’s breath hitches in his chest with every drag of teeth and lips on skin. It feels like too much and not enough all at the same time. With their bond, all the sensations seem heightened, like their siren’s call to each other.
“So stay,” Childe says glumly as he balances on his elbows to look down at Kaeya. “The abyss order can do what they want with Mondstadt.”
He feels Kaeya’s sharp intake of breath as if it is his own as Kaeya reaches up and cups his face in his hands. His hands are gentle and kind, a stark contrast to the turmoil and ache that Childe can feel from their bond. “It matters to me,” Kaeya says.
Childe bites his lip. He knows, of course, that Kaeya still cares about his old home and family just as much as Childe does for his own. It is one of the things they both understand about each other, their love and loyalty for the very people, their family, who have long given up on them.
“I’m sorry,” Childe offers the apology and blinks away the tears that gather in his eyes.
Kaeya’s eyes widen before they soften, and Childe can’t help the wonder he still feels every time he sees Kaeya’s other eye. “Really, Tartaglia,” Kaeya clicks his tongue and smirks at him. “There’s no need to cry just because I’m leaving tomorrow.”
They both know that isn’t the reason Childe’s crying, that the sorrow and longing doesn’t only belong to Ajax but both of them. They both know the truth, and they both refuse to speak it out loud. Instead, Childe laughs as Kaeya brushes the tears away and he collapses beside Kaeya, trying to hide his face from view.
“Damn it, Arlecchino,” Childe says as he takes a deep breath, trying to process through both their feelings. “Talk about something else,” he asks of the other Harbinger.
Kaeya cradles his own hand, his elbow on the pillow as he rests on his side, looking down on Childe. He takes the hand that Childe is using to cover his face and laces their fingers together. “Did you know that you’ve gotten quite the guide here in Liyue?”
Childe frowns in confusion. “I know I asked you to change the subject, but I still think talking about another man while we’re in bed together is a bit rude, Kaeya,” Childe teases. “Why are we talking about Zhongli?”
“It’s not the first time we’ve talked about our plans for our target in bed.”
Kaeya’s smirk is entirely too amused and wicked. Childe wants to wipe it from his face with another kiss, but he is also too curious about the turn their conversation has taken. “Morax, who else?”
“I thought we were talking about Zhongli.”
Kaeya laughs then, loud laughter turning into uncontrollable snickers. “Morax, Zhongli, what difference is there?”
Childe finally catches up with what his partner is implying, and he turns a look with such disbelief towards Kaeya. “No,” he says, draggin the word out in his disbelief. Needless to say, their earlier worries and sadness have long been forgotten. “Zhongli isn’t Morax.”
“The owner was struck by his long, black robes, dark and solemn as the looming mountain peaks, and by his eyes, which were the color of amber.” Kaeya recites easily as if he is reading from the book. “She was dressed in a long, slender black gown and her eyes shone a brilliant amber in the light of the crescent moon hanging in Liyue's sky that night. Amber eyes, Childe. Who do we know that has those features, I wonder?”
“That doesn’t mean anything!” Childe exclaims. “How can the god of wealth lack mora every time? And did you really memorize Rex Incognito?”
“Just the relevant parts,” Kaeya says, and he rolls his eyes before placing a quick kiss on Childe’s lips. “And the Archon of Love has no love left for her people. It doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, is it?”
“We need more proof,” Childe insists as he sits up.
Kaeya smirks at him as he straddles Childe’s waist, and Childe loops his arms around the other in an embrace. “Well, now you have something to do while I’m away, don’t you?”
Childe groans at the realization. “You were just giving me another assignment, weren’t you?”
“You needed a distraction,” Kaeya points out. “And I really didn’t think you were that oblivious, Tartaglia.”
Childe glares at the other, but he knows that they both can tell that he really means none of it. “Is that a challenge, my love?” Childe grins as he captures Kaeya’s lips for another kiss. “Shall we see if I really am oblivious, Arlecchino?”
“Why don’t you try?” Kaeya challenges with a smirk, and he dips his head to leave his own mark on Childe’s throat. His breath is warm on Childe’s skin, and like this, they can forget for a while that it will be their last night together until Mondstadt’s little problem is resolved. “Show me that you can be observant.”
Childe huffs at those words, and he smirks. Kaeya doesn’t have to ask him twice.
After Kaeya leaves, Childe throws himself into his work, trying to find proof that the Geo Archon has been by his side all along.
It irks him that the more he thinks about it and the more time he spends with Zhongli, the more he is starting to think that Kaeya is right. Of course, Kaeya is right. He always is, but it doesn’t mean Childe can’t sulk about it.
When Kaeya taunts him about it in his next letter, Childe spends the next few hours clearing domains and hunting down those who still owed the bank some debts. The fights end up leaving him relaxed and sated, and he realizes then that even from miles away, Kaeya seems intent on pulling the strings and giving Childe what he needs.
Childe’s next letter ends up being shorter and filled with displeasure. He knows Kaeya has received the letter when Kaeya’s amusement comes through their bond.
Kaeya has always been much better at controlling his emotions and letting Childe know only what he wished for Childe to know. It was always frustrating. It was always so endearing. Childe misses him already, and it’s only been a few days.
He ends up continuing his lunch meetings with Zhongli though there are now a lot more pointed comments about Rex Lapis. He wonders if the consultant has realized these changes or if he is just as oblivious as Childe had been.
He still can’t believe it.
It has been two weeks since Kaeya left when he first feels that sense of dread. It happens during a meeting in the bank, and Childe ends up leaving the meeting to look for enemies hidden nearby. When he realizes that the emotion is coming from their bond, he almost rushes into Mondstadt.
He doesn’t stop pacing the bank until he feels the rush of reassurance and comfort from Kaeya. He doesn’t stop worrying until he receives his next letter.
It becomes normal, feeling that sense of danger from Kaeya. Childe doesn’t like it. Even though Kaeya says that everything is alright, he knows that these flashes of emotions that come through means that Kaeya is too busy to think of shielding Childe from himself. It means Kaeya is vulnerable and fighting something. It means that he needs Childe, but Childe isn’t there with him.
In those awful moments where Kaeya’s reassurance takes too long to come, Childe cuts a swathe through Liyue, getting rid of any monsters, hilichurls, ruin hunters, or treasure hoarders in his path.
When he ends up putting that restless frustrated energy into training with their new recruits, his aide-de-camp ends up sending him after even more domains and expeditions to avoid terrifying anyone.
One of his lunches with Zhongli starts out with that same feeling of dread in his chest. By then, Childe has grown used to these flashes from Kaeya that he pushes it back in his mind and prods Zhongli for more information over their extravagant meal in the Xinyue Kiosk. He wonders if Kaeya would be angry with him if he simply challenges the consultant to a fight.
After all, a warrior god like Morax would pose a challenge the Harbinger Tartaglia, wouldn’t he?
The bond keeps him alert throughout the meal, as if he’s expecting an attack to come from anywhere. It makes him fumble with the chopsticks more than usual, and he can tell that even Zhongli has noticed.
“Is everything alright, Childe?”
“Everything is--” Childe starts to reply before he gasps and grabs at the edge of the table when he feels the sudden sharp pain in his chest. His vision blurs for a moment, and he bites at his tongue to keep from crying out, gripping the table tighter. Several emotions pass through him at once--panic, fear, grief, guilt, regret, and Kaeya’s familiar affection.
Then there is nothing.
Childe stares at his hands, suddenly feeling unbalanced and weak. He seems to have stood up throughout all that, and he is still gripping so tightly at the edge of the table. He uncurls his fingers slowly, blinking and searching.
He still comes up with nothing.
“Childe,” Zhongli frowns as he approaches him hesitantly. When he tries to touch Childe, the Harbinger turns to him with a snarl.
“Don’t touch me,” Childe hisses. He grabs at his own hair, trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest where he should be feeling the other half of his heart, where he should be feeling Kaeya’s reassurances and amusement at his worry by now.
Except, there is nothing. There’s always been something since their fight in the Peak of Vindagnyr, some trace of that one certainty in Childe’s life.
“Where is he?” Childe repeats over and over again, as if he is hoping that the echo of those words might somehow reach that other half of him, might somehow reach the person he had sworn to protect. He feels the edges of the abyss creep into him, feels his own delusion react to it, wrapping his hands into shadowed claws that dig into the table.
“Childe,” Zhongli’s call now is loud and steady, and the consultant does grab his wrist. The abyssal energy retreats and his own electro energy easy crystallizes under the geo energy poured into him. “Calm down. This abyssal energy--”
“Oh, don’t give me that, Morax,” Childe growls at him. “I need to find him. Let me go.”
“Who?” Zhongli doesn’t seem to react at all at the fact that Childe knows. It is very clear now that Kaeya was right. The consultant’s eyes seem to glow that bright amber, and there is something ageless and divine in the way that he stares fearlessly into the unhinged Harbinger.
“Kaeya,” Childe admits, not knowing why. “He--he’s gone. I need to--”
“You’re bonded,” Zhongli says as he releases his hold on Childe’s wrist. There is a look of realization on him, in the ways his eyes slightly widen and the slight huff of breath. “The synergy of stars.”
“I don’t have time for a lesson, consultant,” Childe grits his teeth and tosses his wallet on the table. “If you don’t need anything else, then I will be going.”
“Wait, Childe,” Zhongli calls out to him just before he leaves, stopping him yet again with a steady, unmovable grip on his wrist. “I can help you get to him faster.”
With Zhongli’s help, Childe is able to easily get to Mondstadt through the leylines and the old waypoints scattered around the country.
There is no doubt now in his mind about Zhongli’s true identity, and yet it matters little to him now when he still feels that hollow place in his chest where Kaeya should be. He feels untethered and uncertain. It feels like those few days and weeks after he had just crawled out of the abyss, when he had no direction for the boundless abyssal power he’s brought back with him.
The Fatui gave him targets for that energy. Kaeya made sure that he wouldn’t die because of it. Kaeya gave him a way back to being more than just a weapon.
And Kaeya was gone, and it feels like that storm within him has been unleashed.
It is far too easy to get into the City of Freedom. There is nothing that the knights by the gates can do when the Vanguard of Tsaritsa wishes to get into their city. He storms through the city, heading towards the Goth Grand Hotel where the Fatui in the city are stationed, where Kaeya should have been.
None of them know where the Twelfth Harbinger is. None of them have even realized that Kaeya had been in the city.
For the first time in ages, Childe curses Kaeya and his endless schemes and secrets.
“Tartaglia,” Signora tries to stop him when he turns to leave, but he easily dodges over the ice she sends him. He’s sparred with Kaeya enough times to know the tricks one can use with cryo. She would be at a severe disadvantage against him in a fight. “You will not ruin the work we have done in the city.”
“I don’t give a damn about this city,” Childe scoffs as he goes past the agents and cicin mages trying to stop him, slamming through the doors of the hotel.
Signora follows close behind, and her composure is starting to fray with her anger. “Arlecchino should be fine. Just because you’ve both had some sort of lovers’ quarrel that he’s left you--”
“He’s not fine!” Childe says through gritted teeth. He hates the contemptuous and pitying look on Signora. He hates that they do not understand how he knows exactly why there is something wrong and terrible with that emptiness in his heart.
Another part of him, that traitorous doubtful part of him, asks whether there is a chance that she might be right. Kaeya has always told Childe that the bond between them stays as long as he wishes for it, as long as they both wish for it. What happens if Kaeya no longer wishes for it?
What happens if Kaeya chooses Mondstadt, his old home and his family, over Ajax?
That thought gives him a new lead and he latches on to it like a lifeline. “Where is Diluc Ragnvindr?”
Before Signora can answer him, another voice answers from behind him. “What do you want, Fatui?”
When Childe turns to face the newcomers, he finds a woman with blonde hair that he recognizes as the Acting Grand Master from Kaeya’s description of her and the redheaded man he is looking for.
“You,” Childe glares and charges forward. The man tenses, and Childe wonders if he’s going to have to beat him in a fight first. But Diluc doesn’t take his sword out, not in the middle of his beloved city. “Where is he?”
“Kaeya,” Childe says. He can feel the abyssal energy like a live wire underneath his skin, waiting for his call. “Where is he?”
“Why are you looking for him?” The acting grand master, Jean, asks with worry in her eyes.
“I need to know he’s safe,” Childe says, turning to her. Perhaps, she’d be more amenable to his questions. Kaeya did tell him that Jean has always been a reliable person. Kaeya would have hidden his connections to the Fatui when he returned to Mondstadt. His own panic has made him too careless and stupid.
“Why should we know or care where Kaeya goes?” Diluc says and Childe almost tears at the other’s throat then, stopped only by the thought that it would upset Kaeya if his sworn brother should die.
“Why?” Childe’s mirthless laugh makes the many agents and knights around them flinch. Childe wonders how he looks at the moment, if he really is so terrifying. He wonders if they know just how much he’s been holding back because he knows some part of Kaeya still sees this nation as his home, that still sees these people as family.
Childe knows the importance of family just as much as he knows of the sorrows it can bring. Ajax knows what it is like to be found wanting and to be abandoned by the people you trust, but he returns to them and cares for them still. He loves his family, and there is little he wouldn’t do for them--for his younger siblings who adore him, for the older siblings who are terrified of him, for the parents who gave up on him when he was younger.
He knows that Kaeya sees Mondstadt and the people he left behind in the same way, and yet this is how they talk of him, with such utter lack of care. No wonder they both found it easier to be with each other.
“Why don’t you?” Childe says instead, an accusation.
“Kaeya has made his choices.”
“You pushed him to. You left him with nothing,” Childe sneers. “I don’t need your help to save him. I just need to know where he went.”
“Is Kaeya in danger?” The acting grand master asks. She looks even more worried now. “He said something about a domain the abyss order was using.”
“Where?” Childe demands yet again.
“Past Wolvendom, near Stormterror’s lair,” Jean says in surprise at the insistent demand from the Harbinger. “But that was--”
Childe doesn’t care. He is already running where he needs to go. He doesn’t look back.
He finds the domain easily enough after he interrogates an abyss mage near the Cecilia Garden.
Childe lets the anger in him take over when he enters the domain, slaughtering all those that came in his path. It doesn’t matter if it is the slimes or the hilichurls. It doesn’t matter if Kaeya has told him of the accursed and how they are what remains of Khaenri’ah.
He doesn’t care if it doesn’t bring him back to Kaeya.
He eventually finds Kaeya in the heart of the domain, bound and trapped within a shield right next to the Irminsul. He looks pale and weak, with blood still matted on his hair and trickling down the side of his face.
There are three abyss mages around him and something else that towers over them. Kaeya once told him of the leaders that controlled the mages of the order, the abyss herald, and he now wonders if this is one of them.
Childe doesn’t wait for any of them to attack. He calls on the abyssal energy that’s been seeping at the edges of his consciousness since he first lost the bond with Kaeya, and he transforms into his foul legacy form.
The mages all shriek when he tears into them, and they scream at the impossibility of his existence. Even Childe still remembers the wonder in Kaeya’s eyes when he first told Childe of their shared abyssal connection, of the extinction of the knight order of Khaenri’ah. He wonders if these mages are the very same ones from the cataclysm five hundred years ago who had lost their own bonded knights.
He doesn’t care, not when they have taken his own.
When he’s disposed of the mages, he turns to the herald. His clawed hands reach in an attack only to be stopped by a solid shield. “Interesting,” the Herald speaks in that distorted voice similar to Childe’s in this foul legacy form. “I was not told that the prince would have a knight bonded to him.”
“Not my problem,” Childe snarls, and he calls on his electro to try and burn through the herald only for it to disappear from in front of him. When the herald next blinks into existence, it is already by the domain’s exit.
“We do not wish to harm our nation’s last hope,” it says. “We simply wished to know of his plans.”
Childe throws the polearm in his hand towards the Herald, but it disappears before his construct can hit. The electro crackles in his hands as he waits for it to reappear, but it no longer does. The shield around Kaeya disappears a few moments after it leaves, and Childe doesn’t hesitate to cut his binds and to pull him into his arms.
At the disappearance of the shield, the bond between them returns, soft and muted, but undoubtedly present. The sheer relief he feels from that presence astounds him, but all he does is cradle Kaeya closer as he takes them out of the domain.
Outside the hidden domain, he collapses by the entrance, resting his back on the cold stone behind him, and he waits for Kaeya to wake, feeling the exhaustion of the entire day catching up to him as the fireflies gather around them. He lays Kaeya’s head on his lap and tries to wipe at the blood still staining the other Harbinger’s skin.
“Childe?” Kaeya weakly says when he wakes up, and he turns his head to peer up at Childe with both eyes. “Did you come find me?”
“Of course I did,” Childe says with a small smile. He feels something wet slide down his cheek, and he wants nothing more than to stay like this forever, so close to each other. “You sure don’t make it easy.”
“Such a disaster, Tartaglia,” Kaeya says with a weak laugh as he reaches up to wipe away Childe’s tears with calloused fingers. .
“Shut up, Arlecchino,” Childe chokes out through his own broken laughter. “You look as awful as I do.”
Kaeya hums, but he remains pale and cold. Childe laces their hands together, and Kaeya gives him a small, fond smile. The way Kaeya laid on his lap reminds him of their first mission together, when it had been him who was cradled on Kaeya’s lap. The Twelfth Harbinger’s eyes keep slipping shut from his exhaustion, and Childe worries at how their bond stays muted and faint. “I’m tired. Stay with me until I wake up?”
Kaeya has always said that he’ll stay as long as Childe wants him to, but the other Harbinger has never said anything of himself. Now, Childe wonders and picks at Kaeya’s old words. The same worries from earlier return, constricting in his chest. What happens when Kaeya decides he no longer wishes for the bond between them?
But it doesn’t matter to him. Childe has long ago decided to go after what he desires, to take so that nothing can be taken from him. It was the kind of love you’d really expect from the Twelve’s violent Vanguard. Perhaps, only the Tsaritsa, their sacrosanct Archon, so lovely and dreadful, would be able to understand the dreadful love that drowns out everything else in him.
He feels Kaeya respond to his worries through their bond, that familiar rush of love and trust that he refuses to ever let go of, even as Kaeya’s eyes close once again.
“Always, Kaeya,” he whispers and presses his lips over the Twelfth Harbinger’s forehead, pulling him close on his lap protectively.
Kaeya has always left the choice on Childe, the choice to follow, the choice to learn, the choice to keep their bond. Childe was different. He didn’t like leaving anything up to anyone else. He doesn’t want to leave anything up to fate.
“Always,” he whispers as he feels Kaeya go back to sleep. He starts humming an old Snezhnayan lullaby as he cards his fingers through Kaeya’s hair. The night is silent and still. He leans back and stares at the countless glittering stars on the dark sky, on Celestia’s might high above. None of them shall make the choice for him and Kaeya.
Later on, they’ll be together again. Later on, they’ll speak of what happened today, and they can decide what happens next. Together.
But for now, he relishes Kaeya’s comforting presence on his lap and the presence he feels in his chest, the half of his heart finally back home. To the silent night, he whispers a promise to himself and to Kaeya, an oath of fealty from a knight, a lover’s vow. “Always, for as long as I draw breath.”