“And how do you expect this to work?”
That was a very good question. Unfortunately, Lumine had no answer.
She was sweating beneath her chest binding. After an hour or two there would be stains under her arms, and possibly a wretched smell coming from her general vicinity - but that would only add to the disguise. Teenage boys were usually stinky in some way.
And right now, Lumine was attempting to be a teenage boy. “I think I’m very convincing. Look at these sideburns.”
“You’re so lucky I have connections in the costume department,” Keqing grumbled.
The sideburns were glued on with a prosthetic adhesive, as were the extra eyebrow hairs. Lumine analyzed herself in the side-view mirror of Keqing’s car - she’d never seen her face so hairy. Nor had she ever seen her hair so long.
If only Aether kept his hair short, then she might not have to wear a wig. Frowning, Lumine yanked at the thick braid hanging over her shoulders, “I don’t know why he still wears it like this, he never even lets me put it in a bun.”
“You know, you don’t have to look exactly like Aether.” Keqing reminded.
That may be true, but when pulling off a scheme this complicated, Lumine wanted to be thorough. “What if there’s a picture of him in the school files or on the website? I don’t want people asking unnecessary questions.”
“At least do a fun hairstyle, your brother never lets me put it up.”
She would if she could ever sneak Keqing into her dorm. Generally, girls were not allowed in the boys dorm rooms - and Lumine was now, officially, a boy.
That very fact made her stomach clench in anxiety. She sighed and gazed out at the campus, watching the bustle of the crowd as they rushed to classes. She - Aether - was a week late for the start of the semester, and only allowed to join the elite school due to their family’s status.
Unfortunately, the school had only been able to accept one twin. Why they chose Aether, Lumine would never know.
“Okay… Okay,” she took a deep breath and clenched her fists, “I’m going in.”
“You don’t sound very confident.”
Lumine shot Keqing a glare over her shoulder. She only fake smiled in return, hands gripping the steering wheel. She was entirely ready to abandon her best friend on this school’s campus while dressed as her twin brother, as if this was a Monday.
“I’m not confident, you know that.”
Keqing clenched a fist, “You’re a boy. You’re Aether. You’re a manly man, the manliest man to ever man.”
“...Aether is none of those things.”
“Yeah, but you are.”
It’s true, she was. Lumine nodded to herself and hoisted her backpack over her shoulder. She was a boy, a man, a manly man.
Confidence. The arrogance of a teenage boy going to an elite school embodied. Lumine lifted her chin and took one step forward-
“H-Hey,” she was an immediate stuttering mess, “dude, my man, my guy. Homeskillet. What’s shakin’ in this… uh…” The guy who had greeted her with a simple ‘hey dude’ had already skated away on his board seconds ago. He was all the way down the block when Lumine finally completed her response. Hopefully, he’d heard none of it.
Did guys even call each other homeskillet these days?
What an utterly sad attempt at manhood. The only thing she could do was recover from her embarrassment, and keep moving forward.
Behind her, Keqing rolled her eyes, “You’ve got this!”
She’s got this. Lumine gazed out at the campus once more, though the sight of the school’s imposing towers and ivy covered walls only became more intimidating with each passing moment.
“I… don’t think I’ve got this.”
Keqing glared from her spot in the driver's seat, “Lumine, is this not your dream school?”
“Well, yeah but-“
“And is your brother taking this opportunity seriously at all?”
Aether was currently in Fontaine doing archons knows what. He had originally asked Lumine to simply call his school and pretend to be their mother while informing the faculty of his absence. Yet, Lumine had decided to take the opportunity given to her, even if it would only last for several weeks. The girls' dorm rooms were full, they wouldn’t have any place for Lumine. And as long as she could attend her dream school for a month or so, she would be happy.
Keqing had a point. Her eyes only narrowed in seriousness, “Don’t let fear stop you from doing this. You have to take the opportunity as it’s presented, or it’ll disappear forever.”
And then she’d wait years until they had a spot open, and that was if they even accepted her application. By then, she might already have graduated high school.
Lumine had to take this opportunity.
“You’re right,” she steeled her nerves with a heavy sigh, “I’m going to go in there, and I’m going to be the best boy the world has ever seen.”
“Just don’t call anyone homeskillet, okay?”
Lumine left Keqing’s car with her luggage in tow. She watched her friend drive away with a heavy heart. And as the car turned the corner and disappeared, it began to dawn on Lumine just what was happening.
She was alone on this campus of strangers, pretending to be Aether.
“I can do this,” Lumine murmured to herself, “I am Aether, become the Aether, be the Aether.”
She was his twin, after all, they knew each other better than anyone. She continued to mutter to herself in some attempt at confidence as she walked through the halls of the school.
For half a second, there was a sharp twinge of excitement in her chest. She was here, the place she’d always dreamt of. She could look at the portraits of professors on the walls and know that they would teach her classes. She could walk down the hallway and glance into the lecture rooms, catching glimpses of high education at it’s finest.
Yet, her excitement diminished after exactly 30 seconds. This was due to the fact that Lumine hurried to the boys dorm rooms. Upon climbing the steps and pushing open the entrance, she entered an entirely new world.
It was chaos. And boys are gross.
To her left was a student that attempted to exorcise a dorm room of evil spirits while holding a popsicle. Beside him there was another student who kept on reading a book as if nothing outlandish was happening at all. This dorm room number was 105, not hers. Fortunately.
Lumine moved on. In the next room was a shirtless man with an eyepatch, and a red haired student that was in the middle of a lecture about his shirtless-ness. Room 107, not hers. Again, fortunately.
It went on like this for the next several rooms. She checked both sides of the hallways, avoiding the rough-housing and teasing that echoed across the dorms. At the end of the hallway was the common room, kitchen, and what she could only assume were the bathrooms, judging by the half naked student walking out. How he was able to so casually stroll around in just a towel, she didn’t understand. Lumine did her best to avoid eye contact.
She was looking for room 111. It should be coming up soon, towards the end of the hallway and on her left. As Lumine approached, her heart began to race.
She hoped she had a good dorm mate. Preferably, he would leave her alone and never ask any questions. She spotted the number and sped up in her approach.
But not before she was stopped dead in her tracks by the door swinging violently open.
The handle crashed into the wall and left a dent. Someone stumbled out from the doorway and collapsed onto their bottom, making Lumine flinch in empathy. His nose was bleeding and his cheek was bruised, but the man who stood over him looked just as bad.
“Don’t worry, Scara, you’ll get me next time.”
The man on the ground, who she could now assume was Scara, sneered. He pushed himself up without much struggle, “Oh shut up, you look stupid when you brag.”
He lunged. His opponent stumbled back, blocked a hit, then attempted to twist his arm. The fight continued further into the dorm room as Lumine approached.
She was sure room 111 looked nice under different circumstances, but it was an absolute wreck right now. Chairs were turned over, pictures had fallen. One bed was neatly made, while the other was covered in suitcases and laundry. The two men continued to fight on one end of the room. The tall ginger one laughed this breezy and arrogant sound that made Lumine immediately frown. It was as if he was enjoying the fight.
“Uh…” She stood under the doorframe and clutched her backpack close, “Excuse me?”
Neither of them paid her any attention. Scara was much shorter than his opponent, but able to catch him with a punch to the stomach. He doubled over for half a second, before kicking Scara in the knees.
“Cheap shot,” the taller one growled, though he was grinning, “you only aimed for there because you couldn’t reach my face, huh?”
And the fight began in its fullest, most violent glory once more. Neither of them had noticed her.
Slowly, carefully, Lumine inched towards the bed that was not taken. She was in the correct dorm, she knew that, the plaque on the door said so. As if she was about to wake a sleeping beast, she set her bag down on the bed and sat on the edge.
No response. The fight continued.
“Which one of you is my roommate?”
Another punch, another kick. Even more cursing and insulting.
And no response.
Lumine’s anxiety was replaced by annoyance. She didn’t like being ignored, and she especially didn’t like how much blood was splattering from both their noses. It was unsanitary, and frankly quite rude.
With a glare, she stood up from the bed and stomped towards the fight. Lumine had taken self defense and kickboxing since she was young, and she knew how to break up two grappling men, even if they were bigger than her. In a flash, she shouldered the taller one’s ribs and knocked him back, then delivered a sweeping kick to Scara’s ankles. He stumbled to the ground.
They were finally separated. A stunned silence filled the room.
“Could you two take it outside? I was hoping to take a nap before having to go to class.”
In reality, she was hoping to take off her binder in peace and dry the sweat on her chest. She could not do that with two idiots pummelling each other on the other end of the room.
They both stared. Lumine could finally get a good look at their faces. She glared at Scara for a moment, and he only sneered in return. With him glaring daggers, she turned her attention to the other boy.
His eyes widened. Her eyes widened. They both froze in place, staring at each other in undisguised shock.
Red-brown hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones. He was bruised and bloodied, wearing a dark henley shirt rolled up to his elbows, and tan pants that were ripped at the knee.
Lumine hoped he was not her dorm mate. She would be in trouble if so.
The spell was broken by his incredibly pretty face falling into a flat, unamused glare, “Are you lost?”
Lumine snapped back to reality, “This is my dorm. Unless I was given the wrong number in my papers.” She scurried to her bed and dug around in her luggage, “They’re around here somewhere…”
“Your roommate looks like he’s 12.” Scara stated, his voice flat.
Childe rolled his eyes, “You’re one to talk.”
“I’m older than you, asshole.”
“You look like a 10 year old.”
“You look like a heaping pile of garbage.”
“Shut up!” Lumine snapped - she was trying her best to keep her voice low, but a feminine squeak might have slipped out just then. Clearing her throat, she kept her eyes on the wrinkled papers she’d stolen from her brother, “It says right here that this is supposed to be my dorm.”
She stopped the instant she met their glares. Both of them were staring flatly at her across the room, as if willing her to stop speaking with only an expression. Instead of fear, Lumine felt a surge of anger wash over her.
She was not going to let herself be bullied into submission. “So I’m going to unpack, and neither of you can stop me!”
“Neither of us were trying to stop you.” The ginger quipped. Lumine tensed in embarrassment, while Scara only rolled his eyes and pushed himself up off the floor.
The fight was over, thankfully, but there was still blood on the walls. Scara brushed past Lumine in his departure, “Enjoy living with this idiot, I hope you don’t go insane by the end of the week.”
She hoped not either, though it would be for an entirely different reason. He slammed the door shut, leaving Lumine and the ginger alone in a blanket of incredibly awkward silence.
The attractive one was her roommate. Wonderful.
Slowly, he wiped the blood away from his face. It now stained his wrist and forearm, leaving a smear of red across his cheek. With a sigh, he plopped down onto his bed and stared at the ceiling in thought. Lumine cast a sneaky glance at his side of the room.
He wasn’t much for decor, it seemed. There was a framed picture on his side table, though she could not see the picture from her current angle. Leaning against the wall was a heavy-looking compound bow with a logo she didn’t recognize on the side. He’d made space for himself on the bed beside the luggage and laundry that looked far too warm and thick for the climate of Mondstadt.
Odd. She looked away before he could catch her staring.
“What’s your name again?”
His voice broke the awkward silence like glass. Lumine nearly jumped and stuttered out her real name, but caught herself as soon as she could, “I-It’s Aether, my dude.”
My dude. My dude?
She was going to be discovered within seconds.
A weird name for a weird guy. She began to unpack her luggage as she spoke, “Why were you and that guy fighting?”
Lumine glanced at him over her shoulder, “Is that allowed in the dorms?”
“Probably not,” he shrugged, “but it’s just what Scara and I do, it’s good exercise.”
The school had a gym that was meant for exercise, not beating up other students in the middle of a dorm room. She eyed a dent in the wall disapprovingly, yet before she could begin her lecture, Childe sat up and stared at something at her feet.
His lips parted, his brows furrowed. He tilted his head like a confused puppy, “Why do you have tampons?”
Lumine froze. Her blood ran cold. Her heart began to race. Slowly, horrified, she looked at the little box of tampons that had fallen out of her luggage and onto the floor. She hadn’t even noticed it there.
“I, uh…” think, think of something to say. Her brain decided to stop working logically at that moment. With a shaking hand, Lumine leaned down to pick it up and clear her throat, “I do kickboxing, and sometimes I get bloody noses, so I stick these up my nose to stop the bleeding.”
Childe blinked, and stared.
Lumine, with her voice deep and her eyes avoidant, began to unwrap a tampon, “See, you just unwrap this thingy, and whatever this part is. I think you, uh, push it out like this. And then…” she pushed the hygiene product up a nostril and forced a smile, “bam, no more nosebleed. Cool, right?”
He continued to stare. “That’s…” Lumine flinched in expectation of an insult, but Childe only grinned, “That’s actually really smart, I’ll have to use that sometime.”
He wasn’t screaming in masculine horror. Relieved, Lumine yanked the tampon out from her nose and tossed it in the trash.
Perhaps sharing a room with this guy wouldn’t be so bad.
“So you do kickboxing? So do I, you should join the team so we can fight.” He shot her a boyish grin that froze her on the spot.
Lumine’s sentiment was immediately rescinded; Rooming with this guy would be very bad.
“We should fight,” Childe rolled over on his bed and propped his cheek up in his palm, still grinning, “I’ll give you some time to get settled into classes, of course, but we’ll definitely have to trade hits sometime.”
She didn’t want to ‘trade hits’ with this guy. She didn’t want to fight him, nor even be near him if he was going to grin at her like that. She wondered if it was too late to request a room change.
“Actually… I’m good, I just wanted to try out for the team and-“
“We’ll hold a tournament, I’ll talk to the coach about it and you can try out then,” Childe continued, “but for now just get settled in.”
He completely ran over her words. He had decided to fight his roommate, and while he seemed relatively friendly about it, there was an extreme risk in this entire ordeal.
One being that Aether was actually a girl. Two being that Lumine would probably beat him, and then risk the wrath of this crazed idiot. Three being that she had no idea how to handle this problem.
The most Lumine could do was settle in, as he advised, and hope he forgot about the fight.
(Spoiler: He did not.)
A week passed by rather easily.
And while Childe didn’t forget, nor seem to notice anything off about her, he was proving to be more of a problem than she initially thought.
First, there was when he decided to walk around the dorm room without a shirt. Lumine threw a pillow at him, and stuttered out an excuse that she was squeamish about other men’s chests. This only earned her an exorbitant amount of teasing and mocking.
Nevermind that the next day Kaeya caught ‘Aether’ in the hallway and asked if he had three nipples, and if that was why he was self conscious about chests. Lumine only glared, and stomped away.
The second instance was when Childe skipped out on classes for a bit, and almost walked in on Lumine wrapping herself with the binder. They stared at each other, until Childe asked if that was some kind of training thing, and she made up an excuse about how binding one’s chest and stomach for kickboxing helps the ‘airflow’. Childe seemed to believe it.
Then, there were the tampons, the incredibly girly ringtone on her phone, how she only took showers late at night when nobody was around. If Childe noticed anything off about his roommate, he didn’t say a word.
All was well.
The beginning of the end to Lumine’s sanity came two days later, in the form of stolen glances, and a massive amount of confusion.
She began to catch Childe casting her odd looks during class. He always stared as if he was bewildered, a fact that she tried desperately to ignore.
In lieu of this, she attempted to focus on her studies, and ignore his breezy laugh that glued itself to her memory.
She attempted to spend less time in the dorms, but ended up running into him across campus anyway.
And attempted to seem as boyishly disgusting as possible. This seemed to only confuse Childe further.
The only reprieve from the ever growing tension between her and her roommate were Lumine’s late night showers. She had trained herself to stay up until two in the morning just so she could have the dorm bathrooms all to herself, and be a girl for 10 minutes in absolute peace. Rarely did anyone besides her use the showers at this time.
Yet, it seemed that her roommate was determined to test her limits.
“Why…” Lumine gulped down every emotion she was feeling; Embarrassment, fear, anxiety, curiosity, “Are you naked?”
He glanced down at the white towel wrapped around his waist and shrugged, “I’m not naked.”
“Yes you are! You’re super naked!”
Again, he glanced down as if to make sure that he was not, in fact, naked. But he was. He was very naked, in Lumine’s opinion. She could see his chest, his arms, his thighs, everything besides what the towel covered. She had buried her face into her hands the instant he walked in.
“We’re in the showers, Aether. People are typically naked when they shower.”
But it was two in the morning. Usually, the showers were very empty. It was exactly why Lumine decided to wash at this very time.
And it just had to be her roommate who stumbled into the bathroom as she was undressing. Fortunately, her shirt and bindings were still on, and none of her prosthetics or makeup had been taken off yet.
“I know we’re in the showers,” she snapped, still facing away from him and burying her face in her palms, “but why are you in just a towel?”
“Because I just got out, and usually people dry off with towels?” He said this as if it was a question. Lumine hadn’t even noticed one of the showers being used when she walked in - and she’d not expected her roommate to walk out either.
He ignored her odd embarrassment and walked up to the sink she was standing at. He leaned in for a second to run his hands through his wet hair, pushing it away from his head. In response, Lumine only glanced up from her palms.
Childe’s gaze caught hers. He froze, his eyes widened. She wanted to melt in place.
“...Are you still trying out for the boxing team?”
That’s what he wanted to know? Did he have to lean against the wall and invade her personal space to ask that?
“Yep!” She squealed - curse her high pitched voice, “But about our fight-“
“Oh yeah,” Childe interrupted with a grin, “I’m excited for that. You’ve had me curious ever since you knocked me down on your first day here.”
If only she hadn’t done that, she might possibly be able to fly under the radar.
All Lumine could do was give an awkward laugh in return. Childe leaned in closer as if inspecting her face.
Silence. Suffocating, tense silence. “Is something wrong, homie?”
Homie. The bad nicknames just kept coming.
Childe continued to stare. Lumine felt her cheeks heat up, and cast a glance at herself in the mirror. She was splotchy and red and obviously in distress, yet her dorm mate seemed as composed as ever. After a moment of his eyes lingering on her face, he let out a soft hum.
“You’re just a bit too pretty, Ae.”
He thought ‘Aether’ was pretty. Really. Lumine could hardly believe it.
“Well,” yet another nervous laugh as her stomach fluttered, like she’d gotten butterflies from that odd, backhanded compliment, “girls like pretty guys. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
He narrowed his eyes. His gaze lingered, and his body subconsciously shifted closer.
Another beat of silence. Awkwardness seeped into the room like a toxic gas and threatened to suffocate them both.
Finally, Childe cleared his throat and stepped back - Lumine wanted so desperately to sigh in relief. “I’ll go get dressed and let you get back to your shower.”
Thank the archons. She yanked a towel from a cabinet and held it to her chest, backing away slowly to an empty shower stall, “Okie dokie! I’ll be here, showering.”
Why Childe was even in the bathrooms at two in the morning was a mystery. He knew Aether’s odd schedule, but he was usually asleep by 10 p.m. Tonight he had stayed out later than usual. Lumine could only wonder what he had been doing, and what had brought him back to the dorms at this ungodly hour.
She headed for the shower stall. Before she could enter, Childe’s voice rang out, “You’re going fully dressed?”
Well she couldn’t possibly undress herself in front of him. It would get her clothes wet, but that was a sacrifice she was willing to make.
Her stomach fluttered in nervousness beneath his gaze, “I’m self conscious about my, uh… My muscles. You know? I have some, of course, they’re huge, but I just don’t like showing them off because I’ve had some dudes get angry before, it really ruined some friendships.”
Wonderful. A spectacular lie. A totally realistic and believable fib. Lumine wanted to bang her head against the tile walls.
Childe only stared as if he was trying to comprehend this 5’2 boy with huge muscles.
“Yeah, it was just jealousy,” she went on to dispel the awkwardness, “you know how we men get when we’re feeling the, uh, testosterone flowing. It’s like a war between barbarians. I don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself.”
He glanced down at his chest - which was sufficiently muscled - and then back to Lumine. His expression remained blank and unreadable, “I think I’m okay.”
He was very okay. Lumine didn’t like to admit that she was looking, but she was totally looking. “You’re fine, I guess, whatever.”
She did her best to sound nonchalant. And Childe was either the most oblivious person in the universe, or he didn’t care enough to question him further. “Whatever. Tryouts are next week by the way.”
With his too-cavalier departure, Lumine was left to her own nauseous stomach and running mind.
Tryouts for the boxing team. Lumine wanted the full school experience, and didn’t care for any other sport. It was unfortunate that Childe’s lust for battle completely ruined her excitement of the matter.
They were going to fight.
Lumine buried her face in her hands and groaned to herself, “He’s so damn annoying.”
Aether: hey, I’m coming back early, I didn’t think Fontaine would be so expensive
Lumine groaned at the sound of her phone buzzing. Without another thought, half asleep and dazed, she swiped the message off her screen and collapsed back into her pillow.
She’d deal with whatever that text said later.
“Did you skip a few grades? You look a bit too young to be in our class.”
Curse her baby face. Curse her high pitched voice that was near impossible to lower into a proper man’s tone. Curse her scrawny arms and delicate cheekbones. She looked like a boy, but a young one.
And she stood out amidst her tall, obviously masculine classmates. Lumine could only force a smile, though it resembled more of a grimace, “Yeah I skipped a few, I’m just brilliant. Super smart.”
“Oh?” Kaeya raised an eyebrow and leaned in, “Then you wouldn’t mind doing my homework, would you?”
She would most definitely mind. She already did most of Aether’s homework, and she’d changed a few answers on Childe’s earlier this morning - though he was surprisingly intelligent, despite Lumine having never seen him open a textbook within their weeks of rooming together.
Fortunately, before she had to answer, Diluc hit his brother over the head with his palm, “Stop bothering the new kid, do your own work.”
“Come on, I’m just investigating the oddities of our new friend.” Kaeya defended with a cat-like smile. Lumine could only stare.
Out of all of Childe’s friends, it was Kaeya she was most anxious about. He looked at her as if he could see right through her, while everybody else glazed over her more delicate features. Even Childe, who had seen a box of tampons drop out of her bag, seemed to suspect absolutely nothing.
Childe, in fact, dragged her to the school gym to help him work out. He learned very quickly that Aether was not good at spotting while he lifted weights. This, still, did not clue him into his roommate's identity.
Kaeya was the perceptive one. Childe sat beside him, his elbow resting on the table and his cheek in his palm. He was barely listening to the conversation at hand, until Kaeya nudged him into focus, “Know any of Aether’s secrets? You’re the one that’s around him all the time.”
He blinked, then sat up straight. A slow grin spread onto his lips - the very sight made Lumine want to barf from fear. “Oh, I have a few theories.”
“L-Like what?” Lumine forced herself to speak. She hoped they did not hear the stutter in her voice.
A pause. Anticipation built up as if the room was filling with water. She wondered if this ‘theory’ of his was about how she never changed in front of him, and would run away if he so much as took his shirt off.
Childe broke the silence with an easy laugh, “You’re secretly… a girl.”
The table erupted with casual laughter and banter, but Lumine was frozen on the spot. He always acted so oblivious, as if he never noticed anything odd about his roommate at all.
Awkward, and rather angry, Lumine joined the laughter, though she faked it. “Yep! Come on, Childe, you don’t have to do me like that.”
He only shrugged, “A lot of signs point to-“
“Shush,” she snapped, panicked and searching her scattered brain for anything to throw him off the scent, “just because you think I’m pretty doesn’t mean I’m a chick, okay man?”
He froze. There was a chorus of mocking, with Kaeya snickering, “Hey, no judgement here Childe, Aether’s very pretty.”
“And I’ve said it before, chicks dig it.” She nodded along.
The mocking continued. Childe began to play along again, but he found moments to cast ‘Aether’ narrowed eyed glances, as if suspicious.
Lumine was on edge. All she wanted to do was disappear into the background, and enjoy her school in peace.
Unfortunately, that was not possible with Childe around.
The very next day, he caught her entirely off guard.
“Let’s go somewhere and talk.”
Lumine glanced up from her textbook, annoyance from yesterday still lingering, “Why can’t we talk here?”
He narrowed his eyes and held up a skateboard as if that answered everything, “I just want to test something. Besides, don’t tell me you’re going to spend the weekend studying.”
She was definitely going to spend the weekend studying. Lumine let out a very intelligent sounding ‘uhhh’, until she could find her voice again, “What’re you wanting to test? We’re bros, you can just talk to me.”
“Is it a crime to want to know more about you?”
It’s a crime when he uses words like ‘test’ to imply such things.
She felt her heart quiver for half a second, before straightening up and doing her best impression of a very cool dude. “Sure, let's go skate, man, sounds like a, uh, rad time.”
A very rad time. Chlide sent her an unamused glance, but asked no questions about her choice of vernacular. He turned to take his leave and gestured for ‘Aether’ to follow.
Lumine stumbled after him. Whatever Childe was planning, it couldn’t be good. He continued to send him odd, unexplainable glances the entire way to the skatepark.
The only problem with this endeavor is that Lumine had never been on a skateboard before, but how hard could it be? She could just stand on it and keep her balance, it didn’t look very difficult.
Unfortunately, it was difficult.
An hour later, she ended up at the bottom of a graffiti covered bowl, splayed out spread eagle and feeling every exposed inch of her skin ache and sting.
All this just for some cryptic ‘test’. Childe offered a hand. Lumine gladly took it, though as she allowed him to pull her up, her ankle throbbed in pain. The instant she put pressure on her right leg, she nearly fell again. Reflexively, Childe caught her by the arms and held her upright.
She’d fallen off the board she borrowed from Childe, and twisted her ankle. It was all Lumine could do to grimace in frustration, “Could you help me to a bench?”
Carefully, he stared. Lumine expected him to immediately help her across the pavement, but all he did was stare. She glanced up to find his eyes wide and his lips pressed into a thin line.
A beat of awkward silence. Her ankle was still throbbing, and all she wanted to do was sit down.
Childe blinked in confusion, “You want me to carry you?”
Yet another beat of that suffocating awkwardness. Lumine’s patience was running thin.
“Did I say carry me?”
“I mean,” he squinted in thought, “I could carry you, you look pretty light, but-”
“Just help me to the bench.” She snapped.
With a begrudging roll of his eyes, he did so. Lumine hopped to the bench and plopped down with a heavy sigh, “Did you figure out what you wanted?”
“Not in the least,” Childe knelt down in front of her, “I’m just more confused.”
He cast her a fake smile, “Nothing important.”
Getting him to reveal it was like pulling teeth. Giving up, Lumine stretched her head back and craned her neck, closing her eyes.
Peace, if only for a moment. The things she did in order to look like a boy.
Yet, before Lumine could regain her senses, she felt a cold set of fingers push up the jeans bunched around her hurt ankle. Instantly, she opened her eyes and looked down to find Childe kneeling in front of her and inspecting the newly formed bruises.
Her heart skipped a rather annoying beat, “What are you…”
“You sprained it,” Childe murmured, “I’ll wrap it up and get you some ice.”
Her dorm mate, who got in fights on a daily basis, was tending to her injured ankle. He handled her as if she was glass. He furrowed his brows in thought and stared, chewed on his lip, gathered bandages from his car.
Lumine realized, as she watched him, that he was much more pretty than she originally thought.
In fact, he was rather… nice. Sometimes. On occasion. He could be so utterly gentle.
Until he froze in shock, “...Aether?”
Lumine snapped back to the moment, “What?”
“Do you… uh, shave your legs?”
Archons. She forgot about that.
Despite the pain, she yanked her ankle out of his grip and turned away. “It helps me swim faster! It’s more aerodynamic, there’s nothing wrong with it!”
“I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it,” he defended, “you just always find a new way to confuse me!”
“Is that why you brought me out here?”
He glared. She glared. They were seconds away from an argument, until he broke eye contact in favor of staring over her shoulder.
“You’re just… confusing.” Childe mumbled.
Lumine could only snort. Of course she was confusing, she was a girl dressed as a guy. That was a pretty confusing situation.
She forced these thoughts out of her mind. Childe let go of her ankle and grinned at his shabby wrapping work, “Come on, I’ll help you back to the dorm.”
Their dorm, that they shared, the place where her suffering would begin.
Lumine would not allow herself to catch feelings for him. No matter how difficult he made it for her.
And he made it very difficult.
The day of the dreaded fight had arrived. Lumine woke up early enough to avoid having to speak to Childe, who was laying in the bed opposite hers and sleeping soundly. She slipped away in her disguise and found a secluded spot on campus to think.
She was going to have an authentic school experience no matter how charming her roommate was. If she couldn’t go to this school as a girl and join the girls boxing team, then she’d have no choice but to do it this way.
Little did she know, she never checked her text messages. And she had no idea that on the end of the campus, a taxi pulled up from the street.
While Lumine, in disguise, was hiding on a park bench and waiting for the fight to begin, the real Aether had just arrived home from Fontaine.
He felt rather bad having gotten into his sister’s dream academy. He was sure that if there were any open slots for girls they’d have taken her. Out of loyalty, he nearly refused the offer, though Lumine encouraged him to take it - after a several weeks long vacation in Fontaine first, of course. She was kind like that, truly the perfect sister.
It was mid-morning by this time. He dragged his luggage down the sidewalk, saying hello to the students who greeted him as if they were already friends. Everyone here seemed so friendly, like he’d already been attending school for weeks already.
His optimism lasted for the entirety of his journey through the campus and to the dorms. The hallway to the boys rooms was rather empty today, though the students present paid him no mind. Aether wheeled his luggage to room 111, opened the door, and found that his bed was already entirely set up for him.
There was no one else in the room. He had wanted to thank his roommate for making the dorm look so cozy, but was entirely ready to lay down and nap after his journey. He’d come back a week early simply due to running out of mora. Yet, before he could settle in, a handwritten note on his pillow caught his attention.
I see you left early, comrade. I hope you don’t have anything up your sleeve for today.
See you at the gym. 12 pm
“Who the hell calls someone ‘comrade’?” Aether asked aloud. He wrinkled his nose in confusion and re-read the letter, hoping to find understanding in the odd note. Whoever this Childe person was must have known that he’d left Fontaine earlier than he planned.
But he most certainly did not have anything up his sleeve. And he had no idea what was waiting for him behind the gym at 12, though Aether was not opposed to the idea of a welcome party. His heart skipped an excited beat at the thought - this school truly was hospitable.
He could take a nap later; It was nearing noon, and if he left now then he would make it to the gym building in time.
With an expectant smile, Aether left the dorm and walked across campus, asking for directions to the building along the way. He received a few odd looks for it - though he could only assume that everybody who cast him said look was only in on the surprise party.
The gym building loomed ahead. The grass was soft and the sun was shining. There was a spring in his step as he pushed the wide double doors open and-
The crowd around him erupted into cheers. Music played from the speakers overhead, while hands gripped at his shoulders in excitement. Aether smiled throughout the shock of so many people being here to greet him.
Except, they were wearing shirts for the school’s kickboxing and martial arts team. All of them were. And there was a fighting ring set up in the middle of the crowd, with a lone student standing in its confines. He was looking right at Aether expectantly.
“You’re here,” he greeted over the sound of the crowd, “I almost thought you’d be too scared to show.”
This was a very weird party. It was all Aether could do to stumble towards the fighting ring, the other students nudging him with shouts of encouragement and excitement. “What?”
“I’ve been waiting for this match since you joined the team.” He explained. As he did so, several others - who were possibly the team - cheered. They all acted as if they had known Aether for weeks now.
It was very intelligent sounding.
“Aether, don’t tell me you forgot,” he spread his arms out and smiled, “you’ve been as excited for this as I have.”
He’d just gotten here, and he’d never met this man before. “I have zero idea what you’re talking about.”
Instead of an explanation, the ginger only lifted his chin and let out a breezy laugh. It was mildly villainous, like Aether had just stepped into some cheesy movie. “Enough talk, let’s begin.”
He had no time to think. Immediately, there was a swivel kick aimed for his shins. Aether was knocked to his bottom, and the man’s mocking tone became inaudible as he was lost in his own train of thought. He had no idea what was happening, besides for the very fact that this guy was trying to fight him.
Lumine was the true fighter of the family. Aether knew how to defend himself, but he found very little joy in battling for fun. He blocked a punch, rolled to the side, and crawled to his feet.
This was apparently far too slow-going for the odd man, as he leaned in again to deliver a punch. Aether managed to dodge by just a few centimeters.
“Listen, I don’t know what I did to you,” he spoke, breath ragged, “but I really don’t understand why we’re doing this!”
“We’ve been planning this since you got here, Ae!”
“I just got here today!”
The ginger halted for a moment. This gave Aether the perfect opportunity to knock him down with an elbow to the ribs. As he fell backwards onto the padded ring, Aether turned on his heel to run. He slung himself over the ropes and through the befuddled crowd, towards the doors that led to freedom.
Yet, a familiar hand gripped his wrist and yanked him behind the bleachers and work out mats. He would have tripped over his own feet, if not for someone catching his fall and steadying him once again. They were out of view from the students, who were murmuring amongst themselves in confusion.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Lumine’s voice. Lumine’s familiar face, though it was far hairier than he recalled. He opened his eyes to inspect whoever it was that he’d run into, “...Lumi?”
“Shut up!” She clamped a hand over his mouth in panic, “I’m not Lumine! I’m you! And you’re you, oh my archons. I thought you weren’t coming back for another week!”
He didn’t bother to tell her that he was coming back simply because he thought it didn’t matter. Aether stared, wide eyed and shocked, at the get up his sister was wearing.
His hoodie. His pants. A long haired wig that resembled his own.
He paused. Lumine gripped the sides of her hair in frustration, “What am I going to do? You need to go, just hide here or something!”
“...Have you always been that hairy?”
“Aether!” She screeched, “Just shut up and stay here while I fight him!”
“Childe! My roommate, or your roommate, I don’t know anymore!”
He was beginning to get on her nerves. He had only been back in Mondstadt for a short time, yet he was already irritating her. Lumine gripped his shoulders and shoved him further back in the hiding spot. “Stay here!”
She ran from around the corner of the mats and back into view. The crowd cheered, she raised her hands and waved as she pushed her way through the sea of people, “Sorry, just got nervous there! You know how it is!”
Childe was standing in the fighting ring with his arms crossed. He raised a brow as his opponent climbed back in, “I don’t blame you, I’d be nervous too.”
“You won’t be smug for long,” she warned, voice fakely deep, “I was out of it at first, but now I’m ready.”
The fight began. The crowd cheered. A jab, a kick. She expertly avoided his assault, and returned it just as fervently.
Aether watched from his spot at the back of the gym. His sister was dressed as him, fighting another boy in what looked like an informal boxing match. She didn’t even go to this school, yet the crowd cheered as if they knew exactly who she was.
Just what had Lumine been getting up to?
“Okay, hold it!” He yelled and stepped out from behind the bleachers. The second his voice echoed off the walls, the crowd stopped and the fight halted.
Every eye turned to land on the real Aether. He held up his hands and made his way towards the fighting ring. Lumine looked more panicked and pale than he’d ever seen her, “W-What’re you doing? Don’t interrupt.”
She thought she’d told him to stay quiet and hidden. Yet, here he was, slipping into the ring and approaching Childe - who was currently in an uncomfortable headlock from Lumine.
He broke the two apart and stood between their bodies. Silence from the crowd, a heavy awkwardness in the air. Confused faces stood out from the onlookers.
“What’s going on here? Lumi, you need to explain.”
She froze. Her blood ran cold.
Slowly, Childe pointed at the twins. He counted: one, two. Two Aether’s. Two very identical roommates.
The tension was nearly suffocating.
“What’s going on?” Childe finally asked.
That’s exactly what Aether was wondering. Lumine realized, with the skip of her heart and the chorus of whispers from the crowd, that she would have no choice but to be honest. It would feel good to lose the disguise and charade, even if it meant leaving this school.
She only wished it didn’t have to be like this.
“Childe,” she sighed and looked at him, now using her naturally high pitched voice, “I like you. I think I like you a lot, actually.”
Childe froze. His shoulders tensed and his eyes widened, he took a moment to process her words. “What? Aether, what’re you talking about? I mean, no judgement, it’s fine, but-”
“I like you!” She repeated, now with more force and confidence than ever, “and I’m going to fight you, but not as Aether, I’ll fight you as myself.”
Behind her, Aether gawked, “Lumi, what’s going on?”
“Lumi?” Childe asked. He squinted at her as if analyzing every curve and angle of her face. She wanted to hide, but knew that there was no going back from this utter disaster of an afternoon.
Besides, Childe always did say that fighting was a form of bonding. And she wanted to bond with him, not as Aether, but as Lumine.
Instead of a verbal answer, she reached up to her wig, and yanked it off. It lay on the polished gym floor, and was quickly followed by her prosthetics. She wiped off her makeup, and ignored the gasps from her brother. (He muttered something about her being hairy again, she didn’t want to acknowledge that.)
With her disguise off, and her girlish features on full display, Lumine stood proudly before the boy she liked
And raised her fists.
“Excuse me,” Aether interrupted, “but what?”
What better way to explain than to be so bluntly honest that it was mildly insulting. She glanced over her shoulder at him, “I pretended to be you so I could go to this school for a while. Childe is your roommate. And yes…” Lumine looked back at Childe, “I did see your butt once or twice, but you really shouldn’t be walking around our dorm naked anyway.”
Yet another pause. The crowd murmured in shock.
Aether broke the silence with a gasp of absolute horror, “You saw his butt?”
She did. Lumine cast him a silencing glare, though Childe interrupted immediately, “Wait, how do I know you’re not lying? You made a really convincing boy.”
“No, she really doesn’t.” Aether deadpanned.
“I really didn’t,” Lumine seconded, “but if you want proof, then…”
She gripped the ends of her shirt and lifted it to reveal the bottom of her binder. Lumine began to unwrap the cloth, but not before Aether sprung forward to cover her body with his, “Stop! Stop it right now! You’re a girl, he doesn’t need to see anymore!”
It would be very convincing if she did manage to flash him. Yet, Lumine let her shirt down and sighed, now looking at Childe over Aether’s shoulder, “I’m sorry I’ve been lying to you, but I wanted to go to this school so bad. I wanted to be a student here, and they didn’t accept me as Lumine. So… I went as Aether.”
And subsequently formed a crush on her mildly feral roommate, as one does.
Childe blinked. He stared. The confusion on his face was quickly replaced with a grin as he ran his fingers through his hair, “Oh archons, I’m so glad.”
“What?” She asked, bewildered.
“You’re a girl,” he sighed heavily, “Archons, I was really confused for a while there.”
Aether gasped in horror, “Hey, what kind of weird stuff did you two get up to?”
Childe ignored him, “I had known something was up since the day you walked in and knocked both Scara and I down.”
Lumine stiffened, “How?”
“You hit like a girl.”
She hit like a girl. Childe thought that she hit like a girl. Lumine had never wanted to rescind the words ‘I like you’ so badly before.
Instead of storming off, or yelling, or starting an argument, Lumine knew what she had to do.
She raised her fists. Childe’s eyes widened. She took a fighting stance, “I know I won’t be able to go here anymore, but I still want to win this fight.”
He grinned with the excitement of a madman. Her heart fluttered, but she tried to ignore the wave of affection in order to focus. At her shoulder, Aether was begging her to not go through with this fight.
But Lumine was determined.
Instead of Childe preparing his own fighting stance, his expression darkened. He analyzed her for a moment, before closing the space between their bodies with several quick steps.
A hand on her arm, fingers tangling into her hair. Lips pressing against hers - a feeling that she never would’ve dreamed of.
Lumine wasn’t aware how badly she had wanted Childe to kiss her until now.
The crowd around them gasped in surprise. Aether was frozen with shock, but went ignored as Lumine reached up to wrap her arms around his neck. The kiss deepened, and the rest of the world melted away.
Finally, unfortunately, Childe broke their lips apart with a soft, satisfied breath. He and Lumine stared at each other in silence.
“...If I take you on a date, are you going to dress up as your brother?”
She just had to punch him now.