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’Til our Compass Stands Still

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Kaeya feels the pain from the recent battle as he walks away from the only home he’s had in the last few years. 

The rain weighs him down as he clutches at his new vision and his old sword, the only things he had been able to take before he had ran and ran from the estate, from Diluc and his anger, from his own failures and his guilt. 

He doesn’t know where to go. He doesn’t know if there is anywhere left for him to go. He doesn’t know if he’d still be welcomed in the city once Diluc tells everyone the truth about him. 

Kaeya grits his teeth as he drags his feet forward. Liyue isn’t too far off, a part of him thinks. Perhaps, he’ll find a better home in their neighboring nation. Perhaps, in Liyue, he can forget about Kaeya Ragnvindr of Mondstadt, and he had long left behind that boy, the last hope from Khaenri’ah. 

This wouldn’t be any different. It shouldn’t be. 

Mindlessly, he walks unfamiliar paths into an unfamiliar nation. He remembers making a similar journey years ago, before he was left behind in Ragnvindr’s care. His hold on his sword tightens as he remembers the enraged look on his brother’s face and his father’s motionless body. The Cryo Vision he now holds feels like a mockery from the archons, an acknowledgement from the gods--a blessing-- when he’s already lost everything. 

When he hears the thundering sound of a ruin guard, he only has enough time to dive out of the way of its missiles. His vision clatters out of reach, and he winces at the way the movement aggravates the scratches and burns from his fight with Diluc. 

There isn’t enough time to go after the cryo vision. The ruin guard is already jumping towards him, and he can only roll farther away from his own elemental vision. He glares at the weak spot, and he knows that his sword will do him no good this time, not unless he can reach that high. 

It is just his kind of luck that he’ll have to face this now. 

He takes a stance with his sword before attacking and weaving out of the wild arms of the ruin guard, trying to get to where his vision has fallen. The bright blue glow of the cryo vision is just out of reach, and he quickly dashes towards it as the ruin guard tries to flatten him between its hands. It smells of rust and oil, something that quickly reminds him of blood. 

The power of cryo comes easily to him when he reaches his vision, and ice forms between him and the ruin guard, and it creeps over the metal, freezing what it can reach in its path. Kaeya thinks of Khaenri’ah, and he summons several icicles that circle around him the same way the mages of his homeland do. It feels like taking back the birthright he had long abandoned. It feels like reclaiming a part of himself. 

He almost deludes himself into believing that he can win against the ruin guard, that he can survive this encounter when one of the guard’s blows land on him, throwing him over several feet, his back hitting a tree. It knocks the breath out of him as he slips to the ground, the sword slipping from his grasp. He grits his teeth as he sees the flare from ruin guard, signalling its missiles yet again. 

He cannot move. 

He stares, waiting for that fatal blow when the ruin guard falters. It takes him another moment to realize it’s been shot. When it tries to move once again, geo constructs rise from the ground to halt its movement. 

Kaeya turns to look where the arrows have come from to see the familiar form of the Fatui Harbinger that Master Crepus has dealt with before. Master Crepus had warned him about the Fatui, had told him that they were not to be trusted, but even his adoptive father had made deals with the organization. Pantalone smirks as he delivers the finishing blow on the ruin guard, letting it fall with a loud thud behind him. 

When he turns to the teenager on the ground, there is an assessing look on his face. “Aren’t you that boy from the Dawn Winery? What are you doing so far from home?” 

Kaeya mirrors the smirk on the Harbinger’s face, trying to hide his own exhaustion and his fears. “I’m no longer welcome there.” 

“Oh?” Pantalone suddenly shows interest, giving the young man a once over, his eyes lingering on the vision that Kaeya still holds tightly in his hand. “So, you’ve been chosen by Her Imperial Majesty herself. Why don’t you come with me then?” 

Kaeya blinks in surprise at the offer. He doesn’t know what the Fatui Harbinger is doing in the middle of one of Liyue’s ruins. He doesn’t yet know why he is receiving such an offer, but he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. “Where?” 

“To Snezhnaya, of course,” Pantalone drawls. “You’ll be quite a useful asset for me.” 

Kaeya shrugs as he sheathed his sword. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps Snezhnaya was just the same as Mondstadt or Liyue, just another place for Khaenri’ah to set their eyes on. Then again, none of it should matter, for he hasn’t heard anything from that particular part of his past in ages. 

And his family in Mondstadt? Well, they’ve made it clear where Kaeya now stands. “Why not?” Kaeya tells the Harbinger. “Lead the way.” 

------

The grandeur of Zapolyarny Palace far surpasses that of the cathedral in Mondstadt. Kaeya’s eye linger on its marble floors and its crystal walls and fixtures. 

The city of Zapolyarny seem to mirror its distant archon the same way that Mond had mirrored the absent Barbatos. In the throne room, Kaeya stands behind Pantalone as they face the Cryo Archon. Where Barbatos had only provided freedom for the people of Mondstadt, Her Imperial Majesty expects nothing but loyalty and obedience from her subjects. 

She sits on her lofty throne with a crown made of diamonds and sapphires, dressed in white furs and gold satin, untouchable and powerful. 

Kaeya bows his head as she gazes upon him. Her eyes seem much too bright, like her power cannot be contained in the mortal body she wears. The air around them seems to get colder as she purses her lips. 

“A child of the stars,” she says as she stares at Kaeya. He freezes at his words, as if she had summoned her own ice to keep him in place, but there is no freezing cold around him and only the winter in her eyes to freeze him. “What an interesting child you’ve brought me, Pantalone.” 

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Pantalone murmurs where he stands, showing the archon the respect that she deserves by bowing. 

Kaeya has forgotten the same etiquette that the Harbinger had imposed on him on their journey in his shock, still staring at the archon who seems to know of him and his origins. He finds himself out of words with which to speak. 

She gives him a gentle smile, one that almost makes him think of the comforts of Ragnvindr home and all that he has left behind. He wonders what Diluc is doing now, if he has successfully taken over the winery that Master Crepus has left behind. 

He wonders if he is about to be killed by one of the Seven. 

She doesn’t kill him. Instead, she welcomes him into her nation as one of her soldiers. “Pantalone,” she says just before they leave. 

“Your Majesty?” 

Kaeya thinks of all the schemes he’s planned as Diluc’s sworn brother and confidant. He thinks of all the successful plans they’ve pulled off. Kaeya’s charm and his connections to people have always been an integral of their plans. He knows how to read people like no other. None of his experiences help him to read the look in the Archon’s eyes. 

“Introduce Kaeya to Ajax,” she orders her Harbinger. “That child has been wishing for a playmate, after all.” 

------

Ajax is apparently a lieutenant under the Fifth Harbinger, Pulcinella. He is the same age as Kaeya, and he wields his hydro blades with ease as he cuts up recruits and other officers who are older than they are, who should be more experienced than they are. 

Bloodthirsty and terrible, he is a monster in a human’s skin. 

Kaeya thinks that he feels like home. 

Not the Ragnvindr’s home with its scent of freshly squeezed grapes, crackling fires, and warm meals. Not the Ordo headquarters with its familiar halls and the sounds of knights training in the courtyard. 

No, Ajax isn’t any of that. Instead, he feels like the stars of a long-forgotten nation, he feels like the abyss that devours and feeds on the living. He smells of blood and fear, of Khemia and long forgotten abyssal arts, and he feels like the old forgotten dreams of the sinners that dream of dreaming.

“Impressive, isn’t he?” Pulcinella says from beside Pantalone with a smirk. “Useful.” 

Pantalone rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. “He’s nothing but a blunt instrument of war.” 

“The Tsaritsa likes him,” Pulcinella says with a bark of laughter. “And we need a vanguard just as much as we need strategists. Childe will play the role well.” 

“Childe?” Kaeya asks. He remembers that both the Tsaritsa and Pantalone had called the lieutenant Ajax. 

“A little nickname. Perhaps, a code name, if you will,” Pantalone says. He doesn’t look at Kaeya but sneers at Pulcinella. “You truly have grown too fond of that boy.” 

“Like I said, he’s quite useful, no?” 

Kaeya cannot tear his gaze away from the young man who wears the heretical teachings of the abyss like a second skin, who wears the foul legacy Kaeya has abandoned with pride. When Ajax finishes off the last of his opponents and turns to him, Kaeya finds himself searching for something more familiar in his stance. 

Kaeya is used to being the shadow in Diluc’s light. He wonders if he’ll have to play the same role with Ajax, with Childe. 

The first words out of Childe’s mouth is a challenge. “Are you here to fight me?” He asks with a bright and savage grin, and just like that, Kaeya throws whatever comparisons with Diluc out the window. 

“Oh? Do you think you’ll win, Lieutenant?” 

“Fighting words, I like it!” Childe says with a boisterous laugh. 

Kaeya has been in the Fatui long enough by this point to know that it is full of snakes and liars. He doesn’t wait for Childe to make the first move. He draws his sword and sends a burst of ice towards the other boy. Childe’s eyes widen in surprise, but he recovers quickly, dodging out of the way of Kaeya’s sword before recreating his hydro blades in his hands. 

Where fights with Diluc have always been straightforward, his blows always heavy and direct, the fight with Childe is different. Childe is as fluid as the water he wields, always changing the weapons and styles that he uses in ways that Kaeya couldn’t fully predict. Kaeya sees the echoes of abyss teachings in the way that the other moves, sees movements that even he has long forgotten in every savage blow and in the glint of bloodlust in his eyes. 

By the end of the fight, Kaeya lies on his back, with the sharp end of hydro polearm over his throat. Childe has a knee on his shoulder to keep him down, and the savage grin he started with has not left his lips. “That was fun. You lasted longer than the others did.” 

Kaeya barks out a laugh. “Now, now, that just feels like an insult coming from the winner.” 

Childe laughs, and the polearm vanishes from his hold. He stands up before offering Kaeya his hand. “What about a rematch then, comrade?” 

“Oh, I’m looking forward to this,” Kaeya says and takes the offered hand. 

He’s never expected to meet someone like Childe in the Fatui. He certainly doesn’t expect that he’d find any vestiges of the abyss in Snezhnaya. He’ll pry the answers out of the other boy even if it means having to indulge his need for battle. 

------

Kaeya should have expected the betrayal. It seems to be the one consistent thing in his life.

He may be a member of the Fatui now, but for many of them, he is still a brat from Mondstadt, a possible spy that should not be trusted. If only they knew the actual truth. On the other hand, Childe had been a lone wolf since he joined the Fatui. His bloodthirst and volatility is seens as a threat by many of the other officers of the organization. It isn’t a surprise that he’s been left behind with Kaeya. 

The Frostarm Lawachurl roars before it charges toward them. Kaeya’s gaze meets Childe’s before they both dive out of the way. The Lawachurl’s elemental infusion is a problem. Neither Hydro or Cryo would be a good way to destroy it, and they will be forced to try and kill it without breaking the cryo energy protecting the lawachurl. 

Childe doesn’t look like he’s bothered by the disadvantage. There is the same manic look on his eyes, and he is still grinning as he shoots several arrows at the lawachurl. Kaeya has yet to understand the other boy’s insistence on using a bow when most of the arrows he shoots skews away from his actual target. 

When the lawachurl moves to hit them again, Kaeya summons a wall of ice to shield them both. Childe laughs as the ice shatters, moving past it, already holding onto his ice blades to sink them into their enemy. 

Kaeya follows close behind, supporting Childe with his own blade. They fall into an easy rhythm, slowly chipping away at the lawachurl. It lets him appreciate the days he’s spent sparring with Childe just to get at the other’s secrets. 

As Kaeya moves away from the Lawachurl’s next attack, he finds himself slipping on a patch of ice. He curses as he goes down, seeing the lawachurl heading to his direction. The lawachurl raises its arm and Kaeya summons another wall of ice, even knowing that it was going to break under its weight. Before it can hit him, something crashes into the lawachurl from the side, tackling it down on the snow. 

The dark hulking mass pins down the lawachurl with a snarl, and Kaeya stares at the familiar red hair that sticks out from the shadows masking Childe’s face. 

Kaeya falters in surprise at the abyssal form. Since he’s met Childe, all his questioning and conversations with the other proves that Childe knows nothing Khaenri’ah and its legacy, yet the abyssal form says another thing entirely. He can feel the bursts of hydro and abyssal energy from Childe as the other completely destroys the lawachurl in a mess that stains the pure white snow in red. Kaeya watches, and it doesn’t take long for the Abyss Knight to tear the frostarm lawachurl apart. 

When Childe turns back towards him, his transformation falls apart--the shadows and pieces of fallen stars disappearing in a mist of hydro energy. Childe stumbles forward, and Kaeya hurries to catch him. 

His skin is cold as ice and so very pale. “Drat,” Childe groans. “That...could have gone better.” 

“You--” Kaeya sighs. “You can’t even use it properly, can you?” 

Childe seems to have passed out in his arms, and Kaeya carries him on his back. They need to find shelter and figure things out before they encounter any more enemies. They still need to accomplish the mission they were sent for, and once they come back, he plans to go after the Fatui officers who had set them up. 

Kaeya finds a small cave, and as he is lighting the fire, he hears a groan from Childe as the other wakes. 

“Am I dead?” Childe asks in a too soft voice. 

Kaeya huffs. “Not yet,” he jokes as he finally gets the fire started. He comes to Childe’s side, hesitating only for a moment before he places the other’s head on his lap. 

Childe grins up at him. “Disappointed?” He hisses as he tries to move from where he is lying down. “I can’t move.” 

Kaeya snorts and shakes his head. “Give it time,” he says, as he tries, for the first time in ages, to grasp at the fragments of the abyss that still linger around Childe. Absently, he cards his fingers through Childe’s hair and tries not to think about how close they both got to death. He tries not to think of similar experiences with Diluc when they’ve both been endangered in protecting Mondstadt. 

Instead, Kaeya turns his mind towards getting more information to form a better plan. “Why would you use the form of an Abyss Knight when you can’t even handle its strain?” 

Childe’s breath hitches in his chest, and he turns wide eyes toward Kaeya. “What?” 

“The form of an Abyss Knight,” Kaeya repeats, his hands stilling over Childe’s hair. “You don’t know how to use it without hurting yourself, do you?” 

Childe’s normally open expression shuts off, and Kaeya is surprised that his eyes can turn even more dull than usual. “What do you know about the abyss?” 

Kaeya chuckles and shakes his head again in disbelief. “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out about you,” he admits with a twist of his lips. He hesitates for a moment, but he figures that Childe would not tell him anything about his own connections to that ancient dark realm unless Kaeya reveals his own hand. 

There isn’t a look of shock or betrayal in Childe’s expression as he sees Kaeya’s revealed right eye and the mark of the Khaenri’ah’s curse on it. “Oh,” Childe breathes out, and he relaxes in Kaeya’s hold. 

“I’m an agent of Khaenri’ah, of the abyss. Was, maybe,” Kaeya says. He still doesn’t know where he stands when it comes to that particular legacy, that last hope. “Are you--” 

“No,” Childe laughs. “I fell to the abyss when I was fourteen.” 

“And you survived? Impressive,” Kaeya replaces the eyepatch over his eye and looks down on Childe again. The other is still watching him closely. “What?” 

“You said I was using it wrong, the foul legacy of the abyss,” Childe says. “Can you teach me how to use it properly?” 

It is Kaeya’s turn to freeze and to look at the other with a wide-eyed look. “In Khaenri’ah, before the cataclysm, an Abyss Knight would always work together with an Abyss Mage. That was before almost all the knights were wiped out and the mages were corrupted. They cannot easily survive without the other.” 

“I met one, I think, an Abyss Knight. She taught me to survive, but she didn’t tell me any of that,” Childe says. His gaze is distant as he turns away from Kaeya to stare at the crackling campfire. It is a night for secrets, for neither of them has felt the courage or need to tell anyone. Perhaps, it is an effect of the near-death experience, or perhaps, better yet, the idea of someone who understands something no one else could. 

“Well, aren’t you lucky we met, then, Childe?” 

Childe laughs, and looks back toward him. It seems he has regained the strength to move, for he sits up to face Kaeya. “Lucky indeed, comrade. Does this mean we’ll have to hunt down one of those little abyss mages?” 

“Why?” Kaeya has never thought that he’ll ever try to regain Khaenri’ah’s legacy, not while he was still in Teyvat, under the gazes of Celestia and the Seven. Even after he admitted the truth to Diluc, he never thought that he’d be free to be his own self. But Childe’s situation changes things. The other’s lack of regard for any rules and his recklessness would eventually kill him if Kaeya lets him be. “I’m here, aren’t I? Leaving me behind already? I’m hurt.” 

“You? An Abyss Mage?” 

Kaeya hides the dark thoughts that come to him behind another smirk, another mask. There were many things that he’d rather not dwell on, not now.“They were all human once, Childe, just like me,” he says. “Now, shall we go fulfill her Majesty’s will? Come on, let’s get moving. We don’t want to freeze, do we? I have a plan.” 

------

The Tsaritsa’s throne room feels different with all the Ten Harbingers present, darker and more foreboding. 

Childe stands tall beside Kaeya, and there is nothing but admiration and respect in his eyes as he gazes at his archon. Kaeya has never understood that kind of devotion, and he probably never will. Still, he looks back at the cold and arrogant Tsaritsa, and he wonders if she had brought him to her side for a purpose. 

When he had first accepted Pantalone’s invitation, he had never thought that he’d become one of her Harbingers, but she seems to understand the need to keep him and Childe together. Sometimes, Kaeya thinks that he sees a spark of interest and amusement in her eyes when it comes to that topic. It makes wonder what exactly she knows of the abyss, what she’s seen throughout her years on the Snezhnayan throne. 

She’s made an enemy of the whole world, and Kaeya cannot help but draw parallels between her path and that of the dark abyss. He wonders if there is some connection he is missing. 

In that throne room, they are presented with new names and Her Majesty’s gifts, her Delusions. Kaeya receives the first one with relief. The Twelfth Harbinger, Arlecchino, is someone with no ties to either the lost nation of Khaenri’ah or the wonderful city of freedom. As Arlecchino, he can pretend that those things mean nothing to him. 

The second gift, the Delusion, he receives with a grimace. He thinks of his adoptive father and how the delusion had devoured him. He looks at the Pyro Delusion he’s been gifted with, and he thinks of Diluc and his dawn. 

Shine true, he remembers with a bitter twist to his mouth. What bitter irony. 

The looks from the other Harbingers are as cold as their archon. The Fatui is filled with snakes and monsters. Kaeya thinks that he fits just right in. 

He kneels and swears an oath of fealty to the archon who had chosen to give him both a vision and a new place to call home. The lie falls easily from his lips, and the Cryo Archon gazes at him with a knowing look in her eyes. 

Why would his lies matter when they both know the truth? 

After the ceremony is over, it is Childe, Tartaglia now, Kaeya reminds himself, who finds him in the training room, with a half-formed cryo shield around him. His vision lays on top of his sword where he had set it aside. It has been a while since he has called on the powers of the abyss, of the realm that needed no blessing from the gods to harness the element. 

Childe summons his own hydro weapons in his hand, and he grins at him. “Come on, Arlecchino, don’t keep me waiting!” 

“Tartaglia,” Kaeya greets with a smirk, summoning his icicles around him as his shield solidifies. He forms a sword out of ice in his hand, a replacement for the mage’s staff he should have had if he hadn’t been abandoned. “Ready when you are.” 

------

Chapter Text

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Somehow, Childe and Kaeya find themselves always assigned together on missions. 

Childe should find it strange or insulting. After all, the other Harbingers rarely work together. In fact, they are almost always expected to work alone. However, Kaeya doesn’t seem to find their partnership strange. The Twelfth Harbinger settles into the partnership as if it is something to be expected, and Childe finds himself wondering if it is because of their shared abyssal powers or Kaeya’s past in Mondstadt. 

Kaeya has only spoken of Diluc a few times, always with a distant pained look in his eye, and a part of Childe already wants to fight that so-called uncrowned king of Mondstadt. 

“Childe,” Kaeya scowls at him over the documents containing the information for their assignment. “Are you listening?” 

“Nope,” Childe grins at the unimpressed look the other gives him. “We can just charge in, can’t we?” 

Kaeya sighs though there is a hint of fondness in his eyes as he folds the papers in his hands. “Very well,” he says with a twist of his mouth. “You can charge in through the front gates and challenge whoever you wish.” 

Childe freezes. He never actually expected for Kaeya to agree with him. He’s become far too used to bantering with Kaeya regarding their missions. He has also gotten too used to following Kaeya’s lead and his schemes. Somehow, the Twelfth Harbinger always seems to know what to do to get what they need and to get Childe the most challenging fights. 

“What’s the catch?” Childe asks with a frown. 

Kaeya chuckles at the expression on the younger man’s face. “Leave the west wing of the estate to me,” he says. “You’re the distraction this time.” 

Childe cradles his chin on the palm of his hand as he rests his elbow on the table between them. The rest of their dinner lies forgotten between them. He watches as Kaeya starts to compose their report to Zapolyarny. “Are you going to let me use my foul legacy this time?” 

Kaeya’s hand stills over the paper and his eye narrow as he looks pointedly at Childe. His accursed eye is still behind his own Harbinger mask, and Childe wants to take it off of him, to see all of Kaeya’s attention on him. “As long as you’re careful, Childe, why not?” 

“So you do worry about me,” Childe teases with a laugh. He pierces a piece of meat with a fork before swallowing it. He does the same to another piece before offering it to Kaeya who has gone back to writing their report. 

Kaeya takes the offered bite as he continues writing and speaking. “We’re partners. It’s only natural,” he says with a shrug. Childe wonders if he thinks of Diluc when he says it is natural. The smirk he gives Childe as he looks up from his report is too charming and cheeky, something so inexplicably Kaeya, and he forgets to ask about those niggling thoughts in his mind. “Why? Would you rather I don’t? Or would you rather I show such worry better?” 

Childe snorts and chuckles. “They already call us the Innamorati. I don’t know what else any act of yours can do.” 

Kaeya blinks at him in surprise before a pleased smile graces his lips. “Why, Childe, I didn’t think you actually listened to rumors. They’re not exactly related to any battle, are they?” 

Childe huffs at Kaeya’s teasing, gaze turning to the windows of their room at the inn. The sky has turned dark, and the lights from the town’s lampposts have just started to turn on. From farther away, Childe can still see the smoke from the nearby factory, the one owned by the noble they’re meant to kill the next day, the traitor to Snezhnaya. 

“I didn’t exactly pay attention,” Childe says. “They just mention it too much.” 

Childe isn’t exactly sure where the combined title of the Innamorati came from. He and Kaeya aren’t exactly the lovers the title seems to assume they are. Perhaps, most people assumed such a relationship between them because of the way Childe has never really gotten this comfortable with anyone else in the Fatui. Unruly and volatile, he’s always been an outcast with the rest. But nothing can stop Kaeya once he’s put his mind to something, and the other had been far too curious about Childe’s connection to the abyss. 

It isn’t as if Childe couldn’t understand such curiosity. There is a reason, after all, why he has always been so willing to follow Kaeya’s plans despite how he despises schemes and lies. 

Childe pushes the empty plate away and stands up with a yawn. “I’m going to sleep,” he says as he stretches his arms over his head. “Wake me up when you need me.” 

“Does it bother you?” Kaeya asks before Childe can crawl under the sheets of his bed. 

“What does?” Childe says as he takes his own mask and Delusion from his head to place by the bedside. 

“Our partnership,” Kaeya gives a bitter smile, and Childe is reminded yet again of what he knows of Kaeya’s background in Mondstadt. One of these days, Childe is going to make Kaeya forget about his awful brother. “The rumors.”

“Why would it?” Childe laughs and leans back on the bed. Kaeya looks at him as if he is searching for some lie, but Childe looks straight back at him, earnest and true. “You should get some sleep too, Kaeya, or you won’t keep up with me tomorrow.” 

The melancholy look on Kaeya’s face disappears as he huffs and shakes his head. His hair falls over his face, hiding his expression from Childe’s view as he continues writing the report. “Later,” Kaeya says. “After I finish this report.” 

Childe hums and turns to his side, curling up on the bed. He stares at Kaeya across the room for a moment before he lets his eyes slip shut. A part of him wonders at how easy it is to sleep despite the other’s presence in the room. Even Childe is sometimes confused at how easy it is to leave himself unguarded in Kaeya’s presence the way he never has with anyone else in the Fatui. 

He lets the dark of sleep take him, and he dreams of blue eyes with the light of starbursts in them. 

------

Childe’s most recent use of the foul legacy form earns him a visit to the royal palace’s infirmary. It isn’t too bad. Since he’s started working with Kaeya, he usually no longer needs to rest for a day or so after using the form. He barely even needs the health check-up, but Her Majesty requires her Harbingers to be at their best. 

What else can Childe do but comply with his archon? 

Still, the moment he is given the all clear, he shrugs on his thick winter coat and runs out of the room before he even receives the final reminders from the nurses. None of their recommendations of rests or painkillers matter, not when Childe knows by now that the prickling sensation and aches left by his abyssal powers and delusion can be soothed by his fellow Harbinger. 

Childe finds Kaeya debriefing their subordinates in the training yard. 

Always so charming and courteous, it often seems as if most people have forgotten Kaeya’s previous allegiance to Mondstadt. While most people avoided Tartaglia out of fear of the Harbinger’s savagery in battle, most people seemed to assume that Kaeya was the harmless one of the pair, and thus, they relaxed their guard around him. Childe wants to laugh at the thought. None of them realize that Kaeya and his schemes were often more dangerous than Childe. At least, if Childe wants to kill them, they’ll immediately know. They wouldn’t just disappear without a trace one day, with no one the wiser.

The recruits and other officers tense as Childe arrives, and they all stare blatantly when Childe wraps his arms around Kaeya’s waist and hooks his chin over the other harbinger’s shoulder. Kaeya’s speech doesn’t falter though he does reach over his shoulder to pet at Childe’s hair. Childe relaxes and sighs with the touch. 

After Childe had revealed his abyssal form to Kaeya, the other had explained how it all worked. Childe barely remembers those explanations, but he does remember Kaeya saying that proximity is important, something about abyss mages drawing out any excess abyssal energy from their knights. 

All Childe understands is that any pain he feels from his transformations disappear the moment he touches Kaeya. 

“That is all,” Kaeya finishes the debrief with a smile. “You’re all dismissed.” 

Childe looks through half-lidded eyes at the wide-eyed looks of the recruits and other soldiers. Perhaps, there had never been any reason to wonder why most members of the Fatui seem to assume that they are lovers when Childe takes every chance after a harrowing mission to stay close to Kaeya. 

“Childe,” Kaeya whispers. “Everything alright?” 

Childe hums and stops glaring at the recruits that still lingered around the training yard. If they had any questions for Kaeya, they can ask some other time. He closes his eyes once they are alone and buries his face on the soft fur around Kaeya’s shoulder. “I’m just tired.” 

Kaeya chuckles. “What did I say about transforming several times in close succession?” 

“That you’ll help me?” 

“Tartaglia,” Kaeya says in a fond exasperated tone. 

Childe sighs and removes his arms around Kaeya so that they can face each other. “Arlecchino,” he says with a pleased grin. “We won the war, didn’t we?” 

Kaeya crosses his arms over his chest, his eye looking over Childe as if checking for any injuries. “What did the healers say?” 

Childe scowls and his shoulders slump. “Nothing,” he lies, and he returns a glare for Kaeya’s unimpressed look. “Let’s spar.” 

“No,” Kaeya says, resolute and with that same charming smile as always. He leans close, and Childe’s breath hitches at the look from the other. “They asked you to rest, didn’t they?” 

“It’s fine,” Childe says. He flexes his arm, and he doesn’t feel the same prickling sensation from his delusion. His body feels lighter, as if Kaeya has lifted the weight of the abyssal energy from within him. “I already feel better.” 

Kaeya hums and smirks at him. “Well, I’m tired,” he counters with a glint in his eyes. “I’m going to sleep until tomorrow, so I’m not sparring with you.” 

“Well then, I’ll just--” 

“I already told the rest of our team that they can go home, Childe. There is no one to fight,” Kaeya laughs at the sour look on Childe’s face. “Take a break.” 

Childe gives a long-suffering sigh. “I hate you,” he tells Keya who only laughs at him. He still lets Kaeya take his hand, pulling him towards the palace wing where the Harbingers’ rooms are. Anyone they come across make way for them, and Childe scowls at the back of Kaeya’s head. A part of him still hates how Kaeya always knows to get what he wants in the end. “I mean it, Kaeya.” 

They stop in the front of Kaeya’s rooms. The Habingers’ halls are empty of any servants or guards, for none of them need such things. “I’m sure you do, Childe,” Kaeya says, letting go of Childe’s hand. Childe digs his fists in his pockets, trying to keep the warmth from escaping. “Good night.” 

Kaeya leaves him in the hallway, ever assured that Childe will do as promised. Childe stares for a few heartbeats at the carved hardwood doors of Kaeya's suite. “Good night,” he whispers at the empty hallway before heading to his own rooms.

------

The music hall and bar is loud and warm compared to the cold and silent night outside. Childe easily pushes past the guards outside, ones that stare unabashedly at the Harbinger mask on the side of his head. Even so far from home, in Fontaine, it seems the Harbingers have a reputation. 

Kaeya is already holding court at the bar, surrounded by fawning admirers and sycophants. Without Kaeya’s own Harbinger mask, replaced by a plain eyepatch, none of said admirers seem to realize that they were courting the danger of the Twelfth Harbinger. 

Childe wants to tear them all apart, but Kaeya would be very disappointed if he doesn’t get the information he needs from them. 

Childe crosses the room to stand by the other Harbinger only to have Kaeya turn that flirtatious smile on him. He ignores it in favor of looking at the other people around them, relishing at the look of fear he sees in them. One man, a Snezhnayan expatriate it looks like, pales at the sight of the deep red mask pinned on his head. 

“Lord Tartaglia?!” 

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he says, giving them all the same friendly smile Kaeya would have. It is a pity that they seem to find his smile terrifying instead. Their reputation really preceded them. Kaeya is just too good at hiding himself in plain sight. “You’ll let me borrow my partner, won’t you?” 

“Partner? T-then--” Oh, and Tartaglia does like the surprise in their eyes whenever they realize the seemingly harmless flirt they’ve been confessing their secrets to is the Tsaritsa’s Twelfth Harbinger. The fame of the Innamorati has served Kaeya’s purpose well when most people choose to focus on the bloodthirsty Tartaglia instead of Arlecchino who prefers to remain in his partner's shadows. 

Childe ignores the rest of the men and women around him, and he turns his full attention to Kaeya. “Shall we go, Arlecchino?” 

“I was just finishing up,” Kaeya says as he uncrosses his legs and stands up. He finishes the glass of Death After Noon on the bar before turning to the rest of their company. “Thank you for the chat, everyone. It’s been a delight.” 

Childe laughs out loud once they are outside, in their heavy coats, with Kaeya putting on the mask over his accursed eye yet again. “Did you get what you need, or did I ruin it?” 

“Oh, you arrived just on time,” Kaeya says, with a pleased tilt to his lips. 

“But they know,” Childe says as he falls into step beside the other. “They’ll change their plans.” 

There is pleased glint in Kaeya’s eye as he hums in delight. “Even better,” he says. “They’ll be sloppy and much easier to take then. We can ambush their caravan tomorrow without a problem. But that’s for tomorrow. Didn’t you want to go somewhere tonight?” 

Childe perks up at the reminder before fishing in his coat for the tickets. “There’s a concert,” he explains to Kaeya, as if it was something new, as if they hadn’t been doing this little game for a while now, as if it hasn’t become a tradition to watch Tartaglia’s favored shows in any new town or city they visit. “And a magic show. It’s going to be fun.” 

“Magic show? Oh? Those sleight of hands?” As if to show off, Kaeya flicks a piece of mora in the air before catching it on the back of his hand. Childe watches, mesmerized, as the other Harbinger rolls the coin between his fingers before letting it slip beneath his sleeve. “Should be fun,” Kaeya agrees, taking the tickets from Childe’s hands. 

“Do you plan to join in?” Childe asks. 

“That’s your thing, not mine,” Kaeya says. “Feel free to do so.” 

“Oh, I will,” Childe grins, already feeling the excitement settling in him. It feels like the thrill before battle. It feels like the call of abyss. But unlike any of those, these feelings leave him feeling giddy instead of frustrated. 

Later on, after he’s ruined the show with his antics, he slips away with Kaeya, stumbling and giggling like the two teenagers they are. Like this, it is as if they aren’t the Harbingers of the Tsaritsa, her weapons of war. Like this, they are just carefree, breathless, and content. 

“Did you see the look on their face?” Childe says with a raucous laugh as he stumbles into Kaeya. He accepts the flask of alcohol from Kaeya and takes a swig of Fire water, relishing its burn down his throat. “Oh Archons, I think we’re gonna get banned from Fontaine this time, Kaeya.” 

Kaeya laughs and takes his flask back, taking his own drink from it. “We don’t need to come back once our job for Her Majesty is done.” 

“Still, we haven’t seen everything in this country yet,” Childe says. They walk the empty streets of the city, passing the flask of alcohol between them as they talk about the show, about Snezhnaya, about their families, and everything else they can think of. It is a familiar song and dance by now, these quiet, harmless moments in their trip where they can pretend that they aren’t soldiers cast out from the rest of humanity, where they can pretend that they aren’t the remnants of a shadowed nation that has long been lost. 

Later on, in the dim lights of their shared inn room, they sit side by side on the floor at the foot of the bed, trading stories and sips from the flask as they end up falling into each other’s sides. It is a common thing now, to be so close during these moments in their mission. It is a common thing now, to share secrets and promises, yet it still feels so new for Childe every time it happens. 

He wonders if it is the influence of the abyss. He wonders if it is the distance he’s placed between himself and others ever since he realized that he couldn’t control that beastly violence that the abyss had left in him. 

“Childe?” Kaeya looks good like this, Childe thinks, flushed and relaxed, with none of the walls he usually puts up. “Still listening?” 

Childe hums in agreement as he leans his head on Kaeya’s shoulder. “Just thinking,” he says. 

“What about?” 

I want to stay like this forever, Childe wants to say, but the words wouldn’t leave his mouth, too afraid that he’ll scare the other with them. “Come home with me.” 

“We are going back to Snezhnaya after this,” Kaeya says as he finishes the rest of the drink in the flask, turning it upside down to show nothing else inside. “I’m not staying here.” 

“That’s not what I mean,” Childe whines. He feels warm with the drink they’ve shared and perhaps more than a little tipsy. “Come with me to Morepesok. I want you to meet my family.” 

When Kaeya turns to him, there is something unreadable and too distant in his eyes, and Childe wonders if he has pushed too far, if this is too much for a relationship that was only meant to benefit them both. Sometimes, Childe wonders what Kaeya would think if he knows just how much Childe wants to hold him, to touch him, and to kiss him like real lovers do. 

As if they were the actual Innamorati people thought they were. 

“Are you sure?” Kaeya finally asks. 

“Why not?” Childe says with a laugh, closing his eyes as he relaxes into Kaeya’s side. “My siblings will love you.” 

------

“Wait,” Childe says, and he pulls Kaeya to a stop before they can reach his family home. Kaeya gives him a questioning look, and Childe tries to figure out what to say. “My younger brothers do not know about my work. Don’t tell them?” 

“What do they know then?” 

Childe shrugs, shifting his bags from one shoulder to another. He tries not to look in Kaeya’s eye, not knowing whether he’ll find judgement in them.  “I haven’t told them much,” he admits. “I don’t know what to tell them.” 

“Do you want me to lie for you?” 

Childe finally looks up. There is no judgment in Kaeya’s eyes, only understanding. Then again, Kaeya knows the importance of lies, more than Childe ever has. “If you’d like,” he concedes. “The rest of my family know.” 

Kaeya’s look softens at that, and Childe wonders which of his stories of home Kaeya is thinking of. “I know,” he says. “I’ll be on my best behavior, Childe. Don’t worry.” 

“Ah, that’s one more thing,” Childe says, stopping Kaeya once again before he can start to walk down the path. The snow is starting to fall around them, and for a brief moment, Childe sends a prayer to the Tsaritsa for things to go well during Kaeya’s visit. “Can you call me Ajax while we’re here?” 

That makes Kaeya pause, his eye widening in surprise for a moment. Childe doesn’t know what’s surprising about it, actually. Kaeya has always known his true name. “Of couse, Ajax,” Kaeya says in an uncertain tone, and the name sounds so new and strange from the Twelfth Harbinger’s tongue. 

They continue down the path, and Childe relaxes the moment he sees the familiar home. There is smoke coming out of the chimney, and someone has made a set of snowmen in the front yard. The fences are in a disarray, and he makes a note in his mind to help fix it during their stay. Before they can even reach the door, it slams open, and two boys rush toward them with a shout. “Ajax!” Anthon screams just as Teucer follows just as eagerly behind. “You’re back!” 

“I am!” Childe proudly says. He takes one of the bags he’s carrying, the one filled with parcels and all sorts of marvels from his missions and from the capital of Snezhnaya. “I brought gifts and a friend!” 

At the mention of a friend, both boys turn toward Kaeya with mouths agape. “Who are you?” Anthon asks, the first to recover.

“This is Kaeya,” Childe starts. “He’s--” 

“Number Twelve,” Kaeya answers, and Childe turns horror-filled eyes towards the other, wondering if Kaeya is betraying him like this. But Kaeya is crouched in front of his two younger brothers with his hand outstretched, and the smile on his face is kinder and softer than any of the ones he’s used in his schemes. 

“Number twelve? What does that mean?” Teucer asks with a frown. 

“I’m glad you asked!” Kaeya laughs. “See, I work with your brother in the Toy Research Institute of Snezhnaya, where we are expected to bring our toys to as many customers as we can. As such, I am now the twelfth best salesman in our institute. It’s nice to meet you.” 

“You sell toys!?” Both boys exclaim, and they turn towards their older brother in surprise. Anthon pulls at Childe’s sleeve harshly. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” 

“Well, that’s --”

“It’s a secret, you see. Ajax and I were working on some secret toy designs that we can’t let our competitors get their hands on, all so we can become the best toy salesmen in Snezhnaya,” Kaeya explains to the two children, ever so good at lying, but Childe has never expected him to be good with kids, to be so patient and soft. “But I decided we can trust you cause you're Ajax’s brothers. Do you want to learn more?” 

“Yes!” Both boys agree, already latching on to Kaeya and forgetting all about the older brother they actually missed. Childe shoots a look of mock betrayal to Kaeya and the other laughs and laughs as he answers the children’s rapid fire questions. Childe rolls his eyes when he hears Kaeya talking about his pirate grandfather at Anthon’s question about his eyepatch, remembering how he had fallen for that same story early on in their acquaintance. 

He hears his mother call from the entrance to their home, and at the sight of the guest, she starts to scold him about letting guests wait outside instead of the comfort of their home. He sees the small smile on Kaeya’s face, and he wonders if Kaeya is thinking of his own brother back in Mondstadt, of the home he’s lost. 

“Kaeya,” he says, pulling the other inside the house. “Welcome home!” 

Kaeya’s eye widens in surprise, and Childe feels him squeeze his hand. “Thank you,” Kaeya whispers as he presses a soft kiss on Childe’s cheek before moving past him to greet the rest of his family. 

Yeah, Childe thinks as he stares at Kaeya’s back, it was a good thing to bring Kaeya here. 

------

The flames are still crackling in the room’s fireplace as Kaeya presses Childe back to the window before fitting their lips together.

Childe smiles into the kiss as he loops his arms around Kaeya’s neck, shifting to sit at the window sill of the bay window in his room in Zapolyarny palace. It isn’t their first kiss. It isn’t even the first one they've shared in Childe’s rooms, but it still surprises Childe just the same. 

“I thought we were supposed to be preparing to leave,” Childe gasps as Kaeya presses a kiss at the underside of his jaw. He hisses as Kaeya playfully nips at his earlobe, and he moves to switch their positions, straddling Kaeya on the window. “Kaeya.” 

“We have time,” Kaeya says with a laugh as he wraps his arms around Childe’s waist. “You don’t have to worry. I have everything prepared.” 

Childe doesn’t say anything, only looking at the wild, trapped look in Kaeya’s eye. He can understand the other’s apprehension for their next mission. After all, Dragonspine is just a step away from Mondstadt, Kaeya’s old home. There will be time later to exchange stories and secrets over drinks, but it is not now. Even the brutal Tartaglia knows that, so he sighs before he captures Kaeya’s lips into their next bruising kiss. The embers of the fireplace are dying out, but it wouldn’t matter soon. They’ll be leaving Zapolyarny for one of their longest missions yet, and Childe will not see this room for several more years. 

He’ll miss it, but none of it really matters when he’s already got Kaeya by his side. They are the Innamorati--fearless, reckless, and inseparable. 

He presses their foreheads together as he breaks their kiss, breathless and flushed. Kaeya is the same way, with the wild look in his eye giving way to something softer and more familiar. “Promise me something?” Childe asks. 

“Yes?” Kaeya asks in confusion. 

“No matter what,” Childe says as he presses his lips over Kaeya’s cheeks, his neck, and his collarbones the way he did with Childe earlier. “Never lie to me, Kaeya.” 

“What brought this on?” Kaeya asks with a frown, and for a moment, Childe thinks he sees a flash of hurt in the other harbinger’s eye. “Childe?” 

Because Kaeya is a liar and a schemer, and he puts up far too many walls for Childe to see through the acts he puts through. Because even though Kaeya has shown him glimpses of his truth, Childe knows he hides more than he lets on. Because Childe has lost so much of himself in the abyss and he doesn’t know people the way he should have. 

Because he often feels that he has forgotten how to love in the abyss, and he doesn't know if he'll hurt Kaeya and if the other will just lie to him about it. 

Childe offers his smallest finger to the other harbinger. “Pinky promise?” 

Kaeya’s mouth moves, but he forms no words. The embers from the fireplace has died by now, and the room has grown dark and cold. Although Kaeya refuses to use his pyro delusion, Childe suddenly longs for its warmth the way a dying man in a desert longs for a taste of water. The twelfth Harbinger hesitates for a moment, one stuttered heartbeat, before he hooks his pinky finger with that of the Eleventh’s. “I promise.” 

Childe smiles. He can’t tell if Kaeya’s lying. He’s never been able to. He doesn’t care. 

------

Chapter Text

------

The chill of dragonspine reminds him of home. 

Kaeya’s breath stutters in his chest at the thought and his step falters for a moment, wondering when he’s started to think of Snezhnaya as home. It is a strange thing to comprehend when it took him years to get used to the Ragnvindr estate, Master Crepus, and Diluc. It is a strange thing to acknowledge when Mondstadt is so close at hand. 

“Kaeya?” Childe pauses in the middle of the path, head tilted with a smirk towards him. “Come on, if you stop moving, you’ll freeze.” 

Kaeya scoffs and rolls his eyes as he matches the other harbinger’s steps. “You’re more likely to freeze than I am,” he shoots back with a chuckle. He pretends that he doesn’t see the worried look that Childe shoots toward him, the same worried look he’s seen in those blue eyes in their entire journey into Mondstadt. 

Neither of them say anything about it, as if they’ve both already realized the flash fire waiting to spark and ignite with that particular conversation. Kaeya curls his hands in his coat, still remembering the promise Childe had asked him to make back in Childe’s dark and familiar room in Zapolyarny. Kaeya knows how seriously Childe takes his promises, how important they are to him just as his family and his devotion to his archon are. They are things that Kaeya will never understand about Childe, no matter how similar and inseparable they become. 

Kaeya jerks in surprise when Childe takes his hand and laces their fingers together. The Eleventh Harbinger isn’t looking at him but at the worn path beneath them, but Kaeya can imagine the sheepish look on his face. 
 
Kaeya huffs softly as he squeezes the hand in his own. A part of him wonders when he’s started thinking of Childe as something steadfast and unyielding. They aren’t descriptions that most would associate with the feral and bloodthirsty Ajax. The Tsaritsa’s Tartaglia is a storm of his own making, dangerous and volatile, a monster and a weapon all at once, and not at all a steady point for anyone to follow. 

But to Kaeya, Childe has become an inviolable sanctuary, a shelter from the storm, the true north he is to follow. His permanence is such a stark contrast to Kaeya, who is fleeting as the snowflakes that fall around them, whose oaths are as fragile and broken as the stardust and memories of Khaenri’ah. 

“Childe,” Kaeya calls out when they can see the Fatui camp in the distance. He has a faint memory of Dragonspine. He thinks that his father might have brought him here before they came to the winery, seeking answers from age-old ruins--the same answers that Kaeya now wants to find for Childe. For both of them.  

“What?” Childe turns to look at him, and Kaeya doesn’t know whether he should be pleased that Childe has learned to hide his emotions so well or if he should be upset that Childe feels the need to do so when facing Kaeya. 

He thinks of one rainy night, of fire and ice and a brotherhood broken, and he wonders when Childe would leave him just like everyone else. 

“Kaeya?” Childe sounds unsure, and Kaeya shakes away the thoughts that haunt him. It is the close distance to Mondstadt and the past, he thinks. Perhaps, there is reason for Childe to worry after all. 

The rest of their company continue towards the camp though a few stragglers shoot the two Harbingers some looks. Childe shoos them away with a laugh, and Kaeya smiles, thinking of how Childe has improved from the loner that everyone refused to associate with in the Fatui. The gossip and rumors that still follow the Innamorati wherever they go have served them well in this case, for many have stopped thinking of Childe as some mindless weapon with his connection to Kaeya. 

“It’s a shame there aren’t any theaters in Dragonspine,” Kaeya finally says when they are left alone.

Childe frowns in confusion. The morning light reflects on the snow around them and on Childe’s mask, and it gives him a strange ethereal glow. Kaeya wants to pull him into a kiss, to distract himself with the other’s warmth and his touch, to close the distance between them. 

“I’m sure we’ll find something new to entertain ourselves with,” Childe finally replies with a laugh. The eleventh Harbinger’s eyes narrow as Kaeya smirks at him. “You already have one, don’t you?” 

“Do you know what Dragonspine is, Childe?” 

“A mountain?” 

Kaeya bursts out laughing at the obvious answer before he shakes his head, blue hair falling over the mask on his right eye. “It’s a grave,” Kaeya answers. Once again, he wonders how Childe cannot truly feel it, the potent energies of the abyss that ran through this mountain like its own lifeblood from the still beating heart of Durin’s corruption, from one of Khaenri’ah’s many failures. 

The manic glint in Childe’s eyes is a familiar one, the same glint he wears when he is clothed in the savagery of war and battle. Though Childe is not born from the stars and magic of Khaenri’ah, he will surely be stronger with the power that remains in the mountain. Kaeya cannot help but mirror the Eleventh’s excitement, as if he can feel its own thrum under his skin.  “A grave for what?” 

“A dragon called Durin,” Kaeya answers with a sad smile. “And one of the last strongholds of Khaenri’ah.” 

“We’re going to explore the mountain then,” Childe says excitedly. Kaeya relaxes as he sees whatever worries and gloom vanish from the other’s expression. 

“Oh definitely, as much as we want,” Kaeya answers as he finally pulls Childe for a kiss. When they part, he rests his head on Childe’s shoulder, keeping time with every beat of Ajax’s heart. “Just like the the heroes from your story, isn’t it, oh dear Ajax the great?” 

“Kaeya!” Childe whines though he wraps his arms around Kaeya. “You’re so mean.” 

Kaeya lets several heartbeats pass, relishing in the warmth of Childe’s hold and the resonance of abyssal energy between them, before he pushes away from the other. “We should go back,” he says. “We need to delegate tasks.” 

“How boring,” Childe mutters with a grimace, but he walks towards the camp ahead of Kaeya. 

Kaeya pauses before he follows, feeling the chilling of the mountains down into his throat, into his heart, and into his very bones. He spares one last look in the direction of the City of Freedom before he follows after Childe into the depths of the remnants of a lost nation. 

------

They conduct their explorations with just the two of them, leaving behind their subordinates to watch the camps they have set up all over the mountain. 

It is a familiar dance now. Working with Childe has always been easy, each of them matching the other’s rhythm without any hesitation, without any judgment. With Childe, it doesn’t matter if Kaeya pulls on the abyssal energy present around them. With Childe, there is no need to hide any of his legacy the way he had to when he had worked with his sworn brother. 

“What’s the point of activating the brazier when you’ll just sit on the snow?” Kaeya asks as he approaches Childe. The Eleventh Harbinger is seated on the ground, with his back pressed on the ruin brazier behind him, the glow of it like a beacon in the howling winds and fog of Dragonspine. 

“You were taking too long,” Childe shoots back with a grin. “And it’s not that cold.” 

Kaeya snorts, and he crouches down beside the other, reaching over to brush his thumb over a scratch on Childe’s face from their recent battle. 

“What did you find?” Childe asks. “Anything interesting?” 

“Here,” Kaeya says, placing his recent find on the other harbinger’s lap. 

Childe blinks in surprise, and he straightens from his slouch to examine the bow on his lap. Gilded in blue and black and forged with starsilver, the bow is beautifully crafted, and it holds the familiar traces of Khemia and the carved star sigils of Khaenri’ah’s Eclipse Dynasty--Kaeya’s own birthright and legacy. It is fortunate that Kaeya even remembers the secret cavern where it was hidden. 

It is of no use to him. He rarely uses a bow, but Childe has always insisted on using the weapon despite his lack of skill. “You should have it,” Kaeya insists, and a part of him wouldn’t deny the wish to see Childe with his sigils and colors. Childe might not realize it, but it is a claim not unlike the Delusion gifted by the Tsaritsa. 

“Are you sure?” Childe examines the bow, turning it over in his hands with such reverence. “Shouldn’t it be yours?” 

“Have I ever used a bow in our time together?” 

“No?” 

“Then why would I take it?” Kaeya laughs as he stands up, offering Childe his own hand to take. As he pulls Childe to his feet, Kaeya smiles when he sees Childe replace his weapon with the Eclipse Bow. 

Before Kaeya can turn to lead the way to their next destination, Childe pulls him into a warm embrace. Kaeya clenches his hands around Childe’s coat behind his back, feeling the warmth from the brazier that Childe has been leaning into. He feels oddly giddy, a light airy feeling in his chest that doesn’t quite feel like himself. 

Back in the lightless desolation of the ruined Eclipse palace, Kaeya’s mother used to speak of the bonds between Mages and Knights, of a resonance of souls and hearts. She used to call it the most precious gift of the stars to its children who dared to rebel against the divine--the bond that was Khaenri’ah’s most powerful secret. 

Childe breaks the hold between them and steps back. Just as quickly as his warmth leaves, the giddy feeling in Kaeya’s chest disappears in a breathless gasp. Kaeya stares at Childe and wonders if Childe had felt the same connection he did. 

But all he could see in Childe’s expression is that same excited boyish grin and the echoes of past battles in the rare manic light in his eyes. Kaeya shakes his head and he presses a hand over his chest, dismissing the earlier feeling as his imagination. 

“What next?” Childe asks. “Is there anything we can fight in the mountain? The dragon?” 

Kaeya chuckles at the excited tone in Childe’s voice as they continue their journey in the mountain. They’ve been here for several months now, and some paths have become as familiar as Zapolyarny palace’s hallowed halls. 

“The dragon is dead,” Kaeya snorts. “But we can look for its heart if you’d like.” 

“Will it give me anything?” 

The question makes Kaeya pause. He knows that some of the alchemists from his homeland had something to do with Durin’s corruption, and he now wonders the same way that Childe does. But he deems it too dangerous, not wanting to risk the steady control that Childe has come to learn over his abyssal form. 

“No, I don’t think so,” Kaeya says as he falls into step beside Childe, taking the other’s hand in his own. It isn’t quite a lie, he thinks, remembering his promise from Snezhnaya. Kaeya doesn’t truly know what power Durin still has, not until he sends some of their subordinates to check it later. By then, Childe would have as much authority as he does to access any information if he was so inclined. 

But Childe is rarely so interested in such trifles, his attention shifting as easily as the turbulent seas around Starsnatch cliff, and he probably wouldn’t remember to check yet again unless Kaeya reminds him of it. 

“But we can take on the mountain’s king instead,” Kaeya says with a chuckle as he lets go of Childe’s hand to lead the way. 

“A king?” Childe sounds dubious.

“Don’t get so excited,” Kaeya says, shooting a look over his shoulder at the other Harbinger. He stops at the sight of Childe, half-turned and looking interestedly at a crimson agate by his feet, with the blue and dark silver of the Eclipse bow slung over his shoulder. He is a vision that Kaeya would have expected from Khaenri’ah’s old tapestries and murals of their long-forgotten knights. 

In another life, if Khaenri’ah had not fallen and if Kaeya had been allowed to grow up as the son and herald of that famed nation, he wonders if they would have found each other still, if Childe would have sworn the formal oath of a Khaenri’ahn knight to his mage. Childe bears the colors of the Eclipse Dynasty well, and Kaeya blinks away the image of Khaenri’ah’s ruined palaces and thrones, of its torn tapestries and frescoes of old heroes. 

They are dreams better left forgotten. 

“Kaeya,” Childe peers at him curiously. “You were saying?” 

“Right,” Kaeya shakes his head, dismissing any fleeting images inspired by the sight of his family’s bow with Childe. “The true ruler of Dragonspine is the great Snowboar king.”

Kaeya almost laughs at the furrows that appear between the other harbinger’s brows. “A boar?” 

“A gigantic one,” Kaeya says, truly laughing this time. “Care for a little challenge, Tartaglia?” 

“Arlecchino,” Childe drawls, and the smile on his face is truly enchanting, a side of himself that only Kaeya is allowed to see. “You truly do know what I want. Should we make it a competition?” 

Kaeya presses his fingers to his lips, hoping instead to press their lips together, but there is a better time for that later. For now, he wants to sate that ever-present drive for battle in Tartaglia. For now, he wants to see Childe battle with the Eclipse Bow in hand, wielding Kaeya’s claim on him with no hesitation. 

“If you’d like,” Kaeya smirks. “I can’t promise I’d let you win.” 

“Oh-ho, fighting words, my love?” Childe says, and the endearment leaves Kaeya breathless and speechless. It is almost like that first meeting between them, when they were but two teenagers with no other place in the world, except everything has changed between them by now. “I like it!” 

Kaeya smiles then, fond and soft and so different from the chill of Arlecchino’s smirk. Everything has changed, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

------

The domain opens with a creak as Kaeya pushes through its doors. He can feel the tension and restless excitement from Childe who follows close behind. 

Vindagnyr’s remains remind Kaeya of the hollow and desolate halls of the Eclipse Domain in the abyss, abandoned and ravaged by the time since the cataclysm. The steps echo beneath their boots as the two Harbingers descend into its ancient halls. 

The petrified tree from the ley line, the Irminsul that feeds into the abyss, towers above them both, but before they can reach it, an abyss mage and a lawachurl appear in their path. 

Kaeya pauses and wraps a hand around Childe’s wrist to stop the other from attacking. “Let us through,” Kaeya demands. 

The Cryo abyss mage snickers and blinks until it floats in front of Kaeya. “We do not compromise with traitors,” the mage says. 

“Traitors,” Kaeya repeats with a scowl. He hates that if it comes to a battle, both he and Childe would have been at a disadvantage if they only had their visions with them. “I am a herald of the Eclipse Dynasty. I am not a traitor.” 

“You bear the mark of one of the archons,” the mage hisses. “No heir of Khaenri’ah would dare swear an oath to the enemies.” 

“We share the same goal as the Cryo archon,” Kaeya insists with the same charming smile he uses when gathering information. “The Fatui are useful for the order. Why shouldn’t I work with them?” 

He ignores the way he feels Childe tense under his hold, and he knows that there is much he would need to answer to after they have finished with this task. He doesn’t look forward to it, still remembering the last time he’s had to confess the truth to someone he loved and lied to. 

“An archon is an archon,” the mage says, and before Kaeya can even refute the words with his own silver tongue, the lawachurl has already jumped to attack them. “The Princess will not forgive such betrayal.” 

Both Harbingers curse as they dodge the attack. Kaeya hears Childe laugh before the younger man summons his hydro blades to attack the enemy. The sound of Childe’s laughter reminds him of another time, another frostarm lawachurl and his first look at Childe’s abyssal form. 

How ironic that they now face the same enemy that almost killed them before, together once more. 

When the abyss mage calls on their shield, Childe doesn’t hesitate to call on his foul legacy form. The Eleventh Harbinger had stopped hesitating long ago, trusting that Kaeya wouldn’t let him get hurt in the aftermath. Kaeya wouldn’t dare disappoint him. 

Kaeya hears the mage’s shriek of surprise at the sight of Childe’s form, and he has to question how long it has been since anyone in the order has seen a knight. He feels the abyssal energy beneath them as it answers the call of the mage they face, using it to strengthen the lawachurl like it is a substitute for its own knight. 

Once a mage’s shield breaks, they are vulnerable to their enemies’ attacks. In Khaenri’ah, the knights have always served as vanguards, the protectors of the mages who can so easily harness the magic of the abyss. In exchange, the mages are there to protect the knight from behind, to support them and deal damage to their enemies from afar. It is the exact opposite of how Childe, an archer, and Kaeya, the swordsman, would act when they aren’t using any abyssal energy in battle. 

It is something for him to consider at another time. The burst of abyss energy is enough for the lawachurl to overpower Childe, the electro energy not enough to melt through the cryo infusion on the lawachurl and the mage’s shield. Kaeya cries out as he sees Childe pinned down by the lawachurl, knowing his own cryo element will not do him any good. 

He’s refused to use his delusion before now, associating pyro with Diluc and his old home. But Childe trusts his mage to keep him from harm, to fill in the gaps of his own strength, and Kaeya refuses to lose another person in his life. 

The golden flames of his delusion remind him of the stardust and golden lights of Khemia as it forms into the shape of the bird, the shape of his own constellation--pavo ocellus. Kaeya almost laughs at the sight of it. Though it is more slender and elegant, it still reminds him of the phoenix that Diluc summons with his own vision. 

Instead of obliterating everything in its path the way Diluc’s phoenix does, the flames of the pavo ocellus wrap around the lawachurl, allowing Childe to attack it with his own electro, the overload easily hitting the mage’s shield. Kaeya hears Childe laugh as the other harbinger forms his polearm made of hydro and electro to attack the lawachurl. 

Kaeya feels it again at that, the resonance between them as if their hearts have started to beat as one. He charges into the mage, confident that Childe can now take of the lawachurl on his own. The bond flares between them, like a steady bridge that allows him to be aware of his knight’s presence. He knows how Childe will move before the other harbinger even does, can feel the spark of electro underneath his fingers as if he is wielding it in his own. 

He wonders if Childe feels the same thing, if the other feels the chill of cryo in Kaeya’s hold as he takes on the mage. Before Kaeya can land his final attack on the mage, he feels the burst of abyssal energy of a familiar spell. 

The lawachurl roars in sudden madness, easily pushing Childe away before charging at him. “Ajax!” Kaeya shouts in concern, and he tries to call on his own abyssal energy so that he can blink towards the other man’s position. He sees Childe throw his hand out as if to protect himself, and Kaeya feels a pull at his core. 

Between Childe and the lawachurl, the sharp edges of ice blades rise from the ground to pierce the charging lawachurl, killing it and turning it into energy for the domain’s petrified tree. 

The transformation disappears from around Childe, and he sways on his feet only to be caught by Kaeya. Kaeya feels the other relax into his hold, and he sees that Childe is still holding onto one of his hydro blades. Instead of the electro from his delusion, Kaeya’s familiar cryo creeps over the blade, making it much powerful. 

“Huh,” Childe says with a huff. “You have a lot of explaining to do, Kaeya.” 

Kaeya lowers them both to the floor of the domain, and he pulls at any excess abyssal energy from Childe, careful not to hurt him. The bond between them is still stable and true, undeniable now unlike before, and it makes his job much easier. He can feel Childe’s every breath and heartbeat with his own, can feel the exhaustion and awe that the other feels. 

He can feel Childe staring at him without even looking up where he presses his thumb over the scarred palm of the Eleventh Harbinger. 

“Kaeya?” 

“My mother called it the Synergy of Stars,” Kaeya begins, trying to remember stories that he had long chosen to hide, that he had never thought he would revisit again. Once, they had all believed the knights to be gone, and with them, the synergy between a knight and a mage. “An unbreakable bond between a knight and a mage that work together, no, that trust each other, something that cannot be formed unless both are willing. She said it was Khaenri’ah’s greatest treasure, the entire reason for its golden age.” 

As a child, Kaeya has never understood how such an intangible bond can be considered a treasure. Not until now. 

“Is that why I can use your cryo?” 

Kaeya nods. “With the Synergy, both Mage and Knight are able to borrow from each other’s strengths, from their elements, knowledge, and abilities. I think it’s what inspired the Tsaritsa in creating our delusions--that knowledge that there is a possibility for one person to wield two elements. It made Khaenri’ah quite a threat to Celestia, as you can imagine.” 

“Is that why you’re upset?” Childe asks, and he cups Kaeya’s face in his hand to tilt it up until Kaeya meets those dark blue eyes with his own. “It’s you, right? That strange feeling in my chest that’s not quite mine.” 

Kaeya chuckles at the uncertain tone in Childe. “So you can feel the bond after all, unlike the rest of abyssal energy,” Kaeya takes the hand on his cheek and presses a kiss on the other’s palm. “I’m fine.” 

“Kaeya,” Childe scowls. “I can literally feel what you’re feeling.” 

“I’ll be fine,” Kaeya corrects himself with a roll of the eyes. “Oh, I can’t wait until the bond fades,” he drawls, pressing his lips into a displeased line, as he rests his forehead on Childe’s shoulder. The artifacts they came here for can wait until they’ve sorted themselves out, until he doesn’t quite feel like he’s bursting out of his own skin with Childe’s manic energy. 

“It fades?” Childe sounds so hurt by the prospect that Kaeya reaches up to press their lips together. The kiss feels even better with the bond between them, with the pleasure and contentment being amplified by two. 

“It’s usually only this strong in battle or in moments of intense emotions,” Kaeya explains, brushing his thumb over Childe’s bottom lip. He shouldn’t feel this pleased that Childe wants to keep the synergy between them, especially not when Childe would know exactly what he’s feeling. “But it’ll always come back as long as we both wish for it.” 

Childe perks up at that, and Kaeya feels the wash of relief from the other. “Always?” 

“Always,” Kaeya pushes back the damp hair from Childe’s forehead to press a kiss on top of his head. He feels Childe’s drowsiness from their bond, a common consequence of his abyssal form, and he regrets that they cannot do more than kiss right now with the synergy between them. The Eleventh Harbinger nods off, his head resting on Kaeya’s shoulder and his arms wrapped around Kaeya’s waist. 

Kaeya pets Childe’s ginger hair, and he rubs comforting circles on the other’s back. “As long as we both wish for it, Childe, I promise.” 

It is the closest thing to a declaration of love that he can give him. 

------

Kaeya holds out the letter over the campfire, watching it closely as the fire eats away at the parchment. 

“What did Capitano want?” Childe asks as he settles beside Kaeya, handing him a bowl of stew and a flask of alcohol. Their subordinates are wise enough to give the two harbingers a wide berth, to give them their privacy, now that the two have returned to one of their camps. 

“Information,” Kaeya admits with a smirk, as he takes a swig of the offered alcohol. 

“I can’t believe the others would actually ask for help.” 

“Oh, I don’t think it’s so much as a cry for help as it is a test of loyalty.” 

Childe looks at him in confusion, and Kaeya feels the other harbinger prod at the bond between them, no doubt trying to get a glimpse of Kaeya’s emotions.

“Childe,” Kaeya admonishes without much bite in his words, and he passes the drink back to the other. 

Childe gives him a cheeky grin before he takes his own drink. “Sorry, it’s just so fun,” the other admits. “So what does that mean, a test of loyalty?” 

“Did you know that we’ve been having some trouble with Fatui operations lately?” 

“I’ve heard complaints,” Childe says with a shrug. “It doesn’t concern us, does it?” 

“It concerns me,” Kaeya says, and he stares at the fire in front of them. When Childe passes the flask back towards him, he downs the rest of the drink despite the other’s protest. “It concerns Diluc since he’s been the one who’s been causing trouble.” 

“What for?” Childe asks. His earlier annoyance at Kaeya for finishing their drink seems to have been forgotten, and even without the synergy between them, Kaeya can easily identify the indignation in his eyes. 

“I expect it’s about revenge,” Kaeya admits. 

“On you?” 

“Oh no, Childe, haven’t I told you?” At the look of confusion on Childe’s face, Kaeya remembers that he has kept the information from the other, afraid of what Childe would think and where the other’s loyalty would ultimately lie. But it is just the two of them in the tent now, and secrets have always spilled so easily between them during these quiet moments with a drink shared between them. “It was the Fatui that arranged the attack on the Winery’s caravan. Dottore, I believe--” 

Childe shoots to his feet so fast that it almost makes Kaeya fall back in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” 

“I didn’t want to make you choose,” Kaeya admits, closing his eye to avoid that look of hurt and accusation in the other’s eyes. 

“And what did you choose, Kaeya?” When several moments pass and Kaeya doesn’t answer, Childe tries again. “Arlecchino, you promised not to lie to me.” 

Kaeya opens his eye and stares at the open and vulnerable look on Childe’s face. Like this, there is none of Her Majesty’s vanguard, none of Tartaglia’s ruthlessness in him. Just Ajax and his steadfast devotion and belief. 

“I’m returning to Mondstadt.” 

Childe sucks in a breath through his teeth, and it is the first time since the domain that he feels so distant. “I’m coming with you.” 

“No,” Kaeya says with finality as he stands up to match Childe. He takes the other letter that came for them, the one with the Tsaritsa’s own seal on it. “You’re going to Liyue. We have another assignment from Her Majesty.” 

Childe stares at the letter as if he couldn’t comprehend what it is, and Kaeya sighs before pushing it into his hand. The Eleventh’s expression crumples as he crushes the letter in his fist. “You’re leaving, just like that?” 

Kaeya sighs before he presses their lips together in a harsh and open mouthed kiss, letting Childe take out his frustration on it before the other pushes him away with a sound of frustration. “Stop distracting me!” Childe says. 

“I’ll follow you. You just need to set everything up in Liyue,” Kaeya says as he grabs at Childe’s wrist when the other attempts to throw the letter into the fire. “As long as we both wish for it. Always, remember?” 

Childe’s shoulders slump and he smooths out the letter in his hand. “You’re so unfair,” he says with a sigh. “Do you promise?” 

Kaeya smiles, chasing away any lingering bitterness between them with mischief and flirting. “Wait for me?” 

This time, it is Childe who brings Kaeya’s hand up to his lips to press a kiss on scarred and calloused fingers. “Always.” 

------

On the border between Liyue and Mondstadt, where they can see both the winery and the stone gate in the distance, the two youngest Harbingers face each other for the last time in a long while. 

“Do not challenge the Geo Archon to a fight, Childe,” Kaeya says. 

Childe snorts at the warning from Kaeya. “You act like that’s all I think about.” 

“It’s all you’ve said about the assignment since you learned about it,” Kaeya pointed out with a laugh. He removes the mask, his delusion from his right eye, and he replaces it with the plain eyepatch he prepares on his civilian disguises. 

“Fine,” Childe says as he rolls his eyes. “I’ll wait for you before I challenge Morax.” 

Kaeya shoots an incredulous look at the other harbinger who only grins even wider at him, shameless and relentless. Even though Kaeya knows that they’ll be reunited, it is difficult to think of parting from each other. 

“We’ll revisit this conversation,” Kaeya finally says. 

“Not with you in Mondstadt and me in Liyue,” Childe says as he presses a small chaste kiss on Kaeya’s lips. When they part, Kaeya sees Childe staring intently at him, and he feels the insistent press of Childe’s affection through their bond. “So, hurry back to me.” 

“Of course, can’t have you getting into trouble without me, can I?” Kaeya takes Childe’s hand, and he places his mask on it. “Keep this safe for me.” 

“Come back to me,” Childe says as he curls his hand over the mask. 

Kaeya smirks, already putting his walls up for what he’ll face in Mondstadt, but for Childe, he’ll share one last kiss and a parting promise, like a secret confession between them. “Always, Ajax. Always.” 

------

Chapter Text

------

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. 

“Lord Harbinger?!” 

“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?” 

“Your brother?” 

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.” 

“Our target?” 

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?” 

“Who?” 

“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.” 

------