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The Brushstrokes of Life

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Ah , Zhongli realised one day, as he was sipping on his chrysanthemum tea in Qingce Village with Granny Ruoxin as his company. The weather had just started turning chilly and clouds of mist were beginning to fall upon the mountains around them, creating quite an atmospheric experience. Even though Zhongli crafted these mountains with his own hands, he could still appreciate what a good job he had done.

“What’s wrong, my child?” Zhongli may be over six thousand years old, but to Granny Ruoxin, he was but a young man with slightly eccentric tastes.

“Just admiring the view,” Zhongli said smoothly, bringing the teacup up to his lips again. “It is soon to be autumn and the mountains will be bathed in a beautiful sea of brown and yellow.”

Yes, the feeling that was nagging at him for months, the unnamed emotion that had him considering putting down his title as Archon for good and choosing a life as just Zhongli. It occurred to him suddenly just what it was.

It was loneliness.

 

In the span of six thousand years, as Zhongli watched the rise and fall of civilizations and went through the passing of friends and loved ones, Zhongli no longer understood the concept of time and relationships.

People came and went, and he loved and mourned each of them all the same, but at the end of the day, each was only a brushstroke in his limitless painting of immortality. 

The Adepti did not make for good company, or perhaps over the course of a thousand years, they had grown tired of each other’s company. Ganyu was his secret favourite since he had watched her grow up but she dropped by far and in between now, having learned to respect him as Rex Lapis instead of a father figure once she was old enough. Where they used to get along like the closest thing he had to family, his title had since formed an unbreakable wall between the two, with Ganyu treating him like the Archon that he was, to be revered, to be feared.

It was this distance that had forged between him and his people that made him feel lonely. Lonely enough to want a change as drastic as forging his own death and abandoning the people who made him who he was. 






When Morax gave away his gnosis and became just Zhongli, he planned for many things. The first matter of business was of course to ensure the people of Liyue would be able to thrive in his absence, which he had swiftly planned out with Signora. A visit to Mondstadt and his old friend Barbatos further reassured him that people could be strong even without their Archon.

Evidently he had not planned enough, because he had conveniently forgotten about whether he himself could comfortably survive without being able to fall back upon a constant source of mora.

Another thing he did not consider was that he found himself hungry every other day, when his usual Archon form could go without food for centuries. He found out the hard way that he now needed decent sleep instead of the quick nap he took every few days just to refresh his mind. He gave poor Xiangling a scare when he dropped right into his suspiciously green bowl of Adeptus’ Temptation, sleeping through her frantic worries that she had somehow poisoned him.

Childe eventually found him like that, eyes closed peacefully with some violetgrass in his hair and a teary Xiangling wiping away traces of green soup from his cheeks. He slept through even Childe carrying him bridal style to his quarters above the Wangsheng Funeral Parlour, Childe expertly fishing the keys out of Zhongli’s pockets to let them both in.

 

Zhongli only woke up almost 13 hours later. Childe put down the book he was thumbing through - the Funeral Parlour ledgers it seemed - and hopped off the stool he was perched on to feel Zhongli’s forehead.

“You owe Xiangling an apology,” was the first thing Childe said, smiling down at him like all was normal. 

“I did not expect to fall asleep,” Zhongli admitted, relishing in the cool of Childe’s palm against his skin. Even though he had no fever or illness, the long sleep had warmed up his body and he was fighting against the drowsiness for the first time in his life.

“Has this happened before? You were snoring into your soup,” Childe asked curiously. He danced light fingers down Zhongli’s face, a caress to presumably check for any bruises or signs of injury. Or maybe, just an excuse to touch. 

Zhongli bristled and drew his face away. “I do not snore.”

Childe held his last finger out in the air and mimed a pinky promise. “Xiangling can be my witness.”

Zhongli sat up and smoothed down his robes. He was still in the same robes that he wore when he went for dinner the day before, so he was quite eager to change into a fresh set of clothes. “I was taken off guard by the sudden exhaustion. I believe when I gave away my gnosis, it was equivalent to me giving some part of my immortality.”

Childe’s eyes shone with curiosity. “Does it affect your battle skills? Can we test it out with a fight?”

“Withdraw your swords, Childe. There will be no unnecessary fighting in Liyue.”

Childe pouted and made his water swords disappear, but not before playfully stabbing one in the direction of Zhongli in protest. “As soon as you fully rest then.”

“It appears I need some time to get used to being a human still.” Zhongli mused, pressing fingers into his wrist to check his own pulse for any irregularities from the sudden passing out. He looked to Childe, holding his gaze steadily. “Will you help teach me how to live among humans?”

Childe raised his eyebrow. “Zhongli, I’m wanted across your land and disliked by ten out of the eleven Harbingers, who also happen to be the people I interact with the most. Even they find me a little, ah, unhinged. I’m not sure I’m the best person to acclimatize you to being normal.”

“I believe you are the most adaptable man and have made a name for yourself wherever you go. You have charmed Xiangling and Ying’er effortlessly. You handle matters of the bank with ease. I have even heard of how your siblings love you, which means you have redeeming qualities to be so adored. Aside from your abysmal chopstick skills, I find you absolutely suited to be my teacher.” Zhongli was earnest in his words, for he believed Childe to be a truly admirable man. He would not have spent so much time with Childe if he did not think so.

“And you?” Childe grinned, voice light and easy. He sat down on the bed next to Zhongli and scooted closer, bumping his hip into Zhongli's.

Zhongli cocked his head, prompting Childe to elaborate what he was asking.

“Have I charmed you?”

“What-” Zhongli cut himself off, not even wanting to dignify Childe with a response.

“This, dear pupil,” Childe suddenly swooped in, cupping Zhongli’s face tenderly in both his hands and drawing their faces closer until they were a breath apart. “-is a blush. So cute on your face, Xiansheng ."

He pulled back with a self satisfied smirk, enjoying Zhongli's stunned silence. "Lesson one, done.”

Childe was promptly launched off the bed by a sudden geo pillar shooting off the ground.

Zhongli rotated his wrists and nodded, satisfied.“Ah, my combat skills still work nicely.” 

Childe burst into laughter from where he had fallen onto his back, hands moving down to cradle his stomach. “Archons, you’re impossible. Will I have my hands full with you, Xiansheng .”







In the wake of the great reveal, Childe was angry at him for days and disappeared from Liyue completely.

A fair reaction for finding out you had been a pawn in a greater plan to give up a gnosis.

Zhongli spent the few days in meetings with the Qixing, outlining plans for every occasion they could think of. Even without their Archon, the Rite of Descension should continue, but as a memorial to serve as a reminder of what the city has been through. They would hold a more subdued Lantern Rite Festival this year but gear up for a bigger one next year, once it became clear if Liyue could continue to be financially stable. Zhongli would serve as advisor to the city matters, though he was more than happy to pass on that role, but accepted nonetheless to give his people - his former people - reassurance that he would not abandon them immediately.

 

As quickly as Childe’s temper rose, it faded away. To Zhongli’s surprise, Childe knocked on his door on day four.

“Hello,” Childe said, dressed more plainly than usual and with the addition of a few obvious cuts along his arms and a blossoming bruise on his side peeking through his cropped shirt. Unsurprisingly he must have fought his way through Liyue Plains to work out his feelings and clear his mind. 

Zhongli stepped away from the door and headed for the small cupboard hidden in the corner. “I will get the healing balm. Please sit.”

They sat in silence for a while, Zhongli carefully tending to the shallow wounds on Childe. His vision meant that he could naturally heal faster, but it was something short of a miracle that Childe could still be alive after the years of his reckless abandon.

Eventually, as Zhongli applied the last of the healing balm, Childe started speaking without preamble. “At first I was so betrayed, you know? All I saw was red, so much that I went on a rampage and thrashed an entire hillichurl village. But mostly I was disappointed.” Even though Zhongli was done with his wounds, Childe still moved his hand closer to where Zhongli’s was resting on the table and let his thumb just lightly brush Zhongli’s. As soon as their fingers touched, Childe’s shoulders relaxed and he let out a breath he was holding, visibly taking comfort in the touch.

Zhongli nodded, letting him continue.

“I considered you my closest friend in Liyue, my only friend maybe. I liked spending time with you, and thinking back, you were hardly subtle in hiding the fact that you were Morax. You! Zhongli without the wallet! Are Morax!” He did not say the words, but the hurt was clear to Zhongli’s ears. How could you deceive me, when I thought we were so close? Do I have the right to be angry, when I did the same to you? Does it matter if I didn’t know it was you? “For all it’s worth, I genuinely did not know you were Rex Lapis. I just thought you were strange but interesting company.”

“I had weighed the options over the centuries and came to the best and safest conclusion for Liyue. I did not expect you to release Osial, but I suppose I should have. It worked out in the end and I am truly sorry.” As Rex Lapis, he would not have apologised, but there was a reason why he was leaving that behind.

“If I had known it was you, I’m not sure if…” Childe trailed off, the confession too damning to say. It would mean true betrayal to her Tsaritsa, a fate worse than death.

It was a confession that called for one of similar weight. “If I knew you were in danger in any way, I would have put a stop to my plan,” Zhongli said truthfully. He had nothing to lose to confess that.

“Did you tell the Adepti?” Childe pushed, the answer seemingly important to him. “Did the Adepti know of your plan to fake your own death?”

“I could not have let them know, especially not your role in this plan. The adepti do not like you much,” Zhongli admitted. It was an understatement how much the adepti did not like Childe, especially when the Harbinger’s loyalties belonged to another Archon. They disliked his youth and cockiness and blatant disrespect for traditions. They would not have agreed with Childe’s love for fighting either, having the deep belief that each fight was only worth having if there was a purpose behind it, someone to protect, a city to save.

“If even Xiao didn’t know, I’m satisfied.” Childe leaned back with crossed arms and nodded. “Not entirely over being mad, but I’ll get over it.” As long as he was held in equal standing with these divine beings who devoted themselves completely to Morax, if it seemed like he was just as important as them, he would be okay.

And to Zhongli’s surprise, that was that. Childe’s anger had flown away in the wind and a flurry of water blades, replaced by an actual smile on his face as he looked at their thumbs on the table, just barely touching but twitching for more.

 

Childe was open as a book, genuine in his interactions and intentions. He fought for what he believed in and was pure to his devotion to his Archon, to his family. To him, everything was simple. Do what you love, whatever you want as long as there is growth, with no care for the judgement of the world.

This matter between them was the same. Even with the weight of a betrayal that caused him to be the villain in the eyes of all of Liyue, Childe moved on with just one honest conversation. 

In the centuries he had been alive, Zhongli had met many beings, eternal and human, but not many had captivated his attention like Childe had.

Even though Childe was brash at times and a little too trigger happy, Zhongli too had his own blunt side, painfully honest in a way that offended many. Childe took it all in stride and got along with him easily. He respected Zhongli’s history lessons, his stories and his profession. He was more than happy to take on new experiences together, exploring Liyue with the wonder and innocence of a child. 

Childe was a good teacher for being human indeed. 

 

Childe inspected the healing wound on his wrist then held out his hand, palm up. “I attempted to steal your gnosis, you used me to fake your own death. Let’s call it a fair deal. We’ve seen each other at our worst, so let’s be honest from now on.”

“I will promise you that,” Zhongli said fervently and clasped Childe’s hand in his, meaning every word of it. He would pinky promise Childe if he so much asked for it, utter the verse about being buried in ice, if Childe wanted it.

Childe tightened his grasp, then spread his fingers so he could lace their hands together. “No, I don’t need a contract for this. There will be a day where we will both need to break it, so let’s not make promises we can’t keep.”

Zhongli could not find himself to disagree. One day, Childe would return to his Archon. Until then, he had no doubt that he could trust Childe and know that every single gesture, conversation and smile was genuine.

They spoke late into the night, hashing out their thoughts and bitter feelings and telling each other of their history and their futures. By morning, as Zhongli woke up to find Childe curled up in bed beside him, both of them having fallen asleep sometime in the night, they had long left their hurt behind them.






Settling into daily life with new knowledge that his body was now weaker and questionably mortal made Zhongli see the world in a different way. Where he had previously kept a polite distance from the people of Liyue, he now went out of his way to strike up conversations, both confusing and delighting them.

It was a testament to just how much closer he had gotten to them when Chenxiang suddenly rushed up to him while he was checking out new stocks of rare stones at Mingxing Jewelry with Childe and dumped a baby in his arms.

“Mr. Zhongli, do meet my second child, Huaqin!”

“Oh.” Zhongli fumbled with the wriggling little girl he was suddenly given and grappled for compliments while Childe watched him with thinly veiled amusement. “She is certainly adorable. Congratulations on your child.”

“We are so blessed to have Huaqin of full health. I believe it is thanks to the traditional medicinal blends you recommended during my pregnancy,” Chenxiang gushed. “Hongdou has been doing much better too!”

Zhongli let the baby’s little hands wrap around his fingers and wondered how long since he had been so close to something so fragile. 

“I wish to give her a trinket of blessing,” he decided, to Chenxiang’s gasps of fervent refusal. 

Zhongli turned to Childe expectantly and hiding a laugh, Childe handed him a pouch of mora, which he used to pick up a beautifully carved noctilucous jade bracelet that slipped loosely onto baby Huaqin’s ankles.

 

Eventually, he had to give the child back and reluctantly bid farewell to a very thankful Chenxiang.

“That was certainly some look on your face, Xiansheng,” Childe teased him as they walked back to Liyue Harbour, their shoulders bumping together. “I thought you were going to kidnap the child and take her home.”

“I felt this strong need to protect her,” Zhongli said slowly, thinking about what it meant to have a family and knowing he would never get the chance. It was not a sad thought, just a musing that crossed his mind.

“Tell me about your family again,” he said, just to see Childe light up as he recounted his ice fishing adventures with his sibling again.

Childe had a such a wonderful, loving family. He would love to meet them one day.





 

On the first snow of the season, Zhongli woke up to a runny nose and chills wracking his body. He hadn’t been sick for at least a thousand years, not since he had crossed paths with a furious Andrius and accidentally ignited a two-week long battle that almost decimated Mondstadt’s lands and had him caught in an icy whirlwind for three days. Barbatos wouldn’t speak to him for twenty years after that.

He was weak enough that he could not inform Childe, who he had made plans with to dine at Wanmin Restaurant.

Unsurprisingly, Childe burst into his room almost an hour later, having taken it upon himself to make a copy of his room key. (“I’m your only friend. What if something happened to you?” “You tried to steal my gnosis.” “I thought we agreed to move past that!”)

Zhongli could only offer a pitiful look from where he was bundled up in his thick blankets.

Xiansheng , you have a cold!” Childe’s initial playful fury at being stood up quickly faded into concern, the homely part of him taking over. He had to take care of his siblings many times back home and it was on pure instinct that he started fussing over Zhongli, quickly placing a wet towel over Zhongli’s forehead and getting started on a hot bowl of his variation of Shchi.

It was almost comical to see a Harbinger, so feared and infamous across the line, fret over whether a soup needed more salt.

 

The small room was quickly filled with the comforting smell of soup and in his delirious exhaustion, Zhongli was brought back to a scene eons upon eons ago, when gentle Guizhong had taken a small starving troop of soldiers in and made sure they were well fed before they rejoined the battle place. He remembered some soldiers weeping upon setting their eyes on the simple meal. He also remembered he did not quite understand why they cried over something as simple as food then, but now he thought they might have been crying over the warmth of finally being taken cared of.

“Sit up, you old rock,” Childe tried to nudge Zhongli up to eat his food but abandoned his attempts when it became clear Zhongli was too weak for it. He set the soup aside for later and fetched another washcloth to towel down his arms to cool him down further.

All the while, Childe chattered away about how cold it was back in Morepesok, how Zhongli wouldn’t even last a week in those freezing temperatures if he was falling sick now. “I’ll buy you a scarf, the thickest one I can find. Maybe we can match. We’d look cute together in fluffy red scarves, don’t you think?”

Zhongli could only close his eyes and let Childe’s words wash around him like a blanket. In their current situation, Zhongli was completely vulnerable, defenseless and with his body too weak. Childe was running his hands down his arms and across the small of his back with the towel to cool him down, sending shivers down his spine. He felt small, but also safe. 

With what remaining strength he could muster, he rearranged himself so his head rested against Childe’s thigh, and he could feel every word from Childe in a pleasant vibration that shook through him.

“You’re clingy when sick.” Childe sounded absolutely delighted and he combed a gentle hand through Zhongli’s hair, rubbing gently into his scalp. He started humming a soft nursery tune, one that sounded familiar to Zhongli’s ears and slowly Zhongli drifted off, feeling warm and protected and content. “It’s okay, I’ll be here to take care of you. I always will. Just sleep, Zhongli.”








Zhongli gave his affection in broad sweeping strokes. He loved Liyue and he loved his people. He loved the cuisine and the way the moon curved into a crescent then became whole again. He loved the Gods he met along the way and the Adepti he had watched flourish.

He had never loved like this, never concentrated the strength of his entire ability to love, into one person.

It was unfortunate that he learned of the new ways he could love along with another spike of strong emotion - fear.

This particular emotion he recognized, because it was impossible to not feel fearful in the face of war, even if he was the strongest being that roamed the land.

Now, faced with a man with a lopsided grin, a smear of blood across his teeth and an eye almost swollen shut, Zhongli realised the fragility of man for the first time.

“You,” he breathed at the sight before him. “are a magnet for chaos.” 

Childe returned a cocky smile, happy to take it as a compliment. “Thanks.” 

 

Zhongli quickly ushered him in, letting Childe into his bed despite his bloody outfit. Childe obediently allowed himself to be doted on, what remained of his shirt quickly stripped off and thrown aside. It was unlikely it could ever be worn again, more rags than the expensive outfits he usually wore.

“Well, this is certainly not how I thought the first time you saw my gorgeous, chiseled body would go,” Childe joked despite the words clearly taking the wind out of him. With his shirt off, the extent of his injuries were even more apparent, a few bruised ribs that when Zhongli touched gingerly made Childe wince - so, broken ribs then. His body was marked with scars, too numerous to count and almost impossible to tell apart old from new. They almost looked like tattoos on him, probably held the same sort of sentimental value to him as what a carefully chosen tattoo design had.

Zhongli fixed Childe with a look that made him fall silent immediately, though it did not wipe off the smirk on his face. “How did this happen? What sort of trouble did you get yourself into?”

“I bumped into the traveler and well, I might have used my delusion again-“ Childe said and quickly held his hands up to keep Zhongli quiet. “But I promise I won’t anymore unless I absolutely, absolutely have to.” Then, in a much softer whisper, “or if I feel like it.” 

“If you weren’t already injured so badly, I would send the Wrath of the Rock down on you,” Zhongli said calmly, putting pressure onto a particularly bad bruise to see Childe squirm. “Maybe if you were paralyzed in stone, you wouldn’t actively seek out death.”

“I would not survive that,” Childe said, and a contemplative look dawned on his face. 

“Do not consider it,” Zhongli warned, knowing full well that Childe was intrigued by the power his abilities held and ached to see it in person. “I would never put you in harm’s way.”

“You’re no fun,” Childe complained. He looked down at his body, awkwardly hunched over to avoid jostling his ribs and gestured at it while asking wryly, “Still want to be human?”

Humans were so fragile. Childe was so young, only twenty-few in age. Zhongli had a game of chess last as long as that.

Even if the Abyss had hardened Childe’s soul, the world above has not defied him yet. He still relished in the power that lay in wealth, good looks and charm. He was in the prime of his life, unshaken and unbeaten.

Taking in the man in front of him, full of his battle scars and his half swollen eye, Zhongli was struck with the scary thought that he was willing to be human if it meant he could stand beside a man like this. 

Zhongli loved Childe because he was so beautifully human. Childe was unabashedly open with his emotions, unafraid to voice his thoughts and feelings in any situation. It was a sign of how confident he was in himself, to not allow human emotion be seen as a weakness and instead taking full control of how people viewed him.

He was the definition of being human, a bright spark of true, extinguishable life.

Zhongli took a deep breath, knowing he was feeling more sentimental than Childe was prepared for. The words came to him slowly, carefully, testing the waters of how much he could say. “If it meant I could live beside you, I might consider it. I will teach you about Liyue and its history, and you can teach me everything.”

Childe’s smile softened. “Being human isn’t so bad. They said no human could ever survive the Abyss, but I’m here. So don’t let people box you up into their narrow understanding of what you should be. You can be just Zhongli, however you want to be.”

Despite his body looking mangled and his face so bruised, Childe’s eyes were as deep and affectionate as ever. Zhongli realised that while some people in Liyue had always gossiped about how the Harbinger looked dead in the eyes and calculating beyond fault, Zhongli himself had never seen that side of him properly. Instead, he had gotten the most unguarded version of who Childe- Ajax? allowed himself to be, just a man enjoying another’s company. 

“What do you think you are then? What do you think people think of you?” 

“I am Tartaglia the Eleventh Harbinger, the youngest of Her Tsaritsa’s elite, and I am Ajax from Morespesok, the favourite sibling of six. Liyue thinks I’m a war criminal and I think Ying’er finds my smile quite charming. To you, I am Childe and... well, who knows what I am to you. I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth,” Childe ended his little ramble so nonchalantly that if Zhongli didn’t know him better, he would’ve thought it was a hypothetical question. 

They promised to be honest so Zhongli held nothing back, grasping onto the chance he was given. “You are Childe, the man who shared my meals and allowed me to experience how wonderful ordinary life could be. My plan was to give up my gnosis but I was having doubts until you came, unsure that I could fully put down my responsibilities to just… live. You showed me that it was a life worth living, a life worth ending my own over. For the first time in my life, I learned what it felt like to be just Zhongli.”

Distantly, he could feel Childe’s heartbeat pick up. The grip that fell on his arm was surprisingly strong, and as he continued speak, Childe’s nails dug in deeper.

“You are the only person I have considered a friend in centuries,  the only person I have considered to be something more for longer than that. You were the one who made me realize I was lonely, but only when I no longer was.”

“Zhongli.” The way Childe said his name, awed and hushed, made Zhongli feel revered. Who knew the admiration of one man could rival the devotion of a whole nation?

“I have told you what you are to me,” Zhongli said gently. They had already opened the box, so there was no reason not to push ahead. “How do you feel about me?”

Childe snapped out of whatever trance he was in and with a quick nudge, pushed Zhongli against the bed headboard and swung his leg over to straddle him. Zhongli opened his mouth to protest about opening up the wounds again but a brush of Childe’s thumb against his lips had him forgetting every word he wanted to say.

“Let me explain with a quick lesson about feelings.” It was a throwback to Childe’s first lesson, the one that sowed a seed inside Zhongli’s heart and made him relive those few seconds over and over each night, wondering when and where he had fallen for this dangerous man with the prettiest smile. 

Zhongli let Childe make himself comfortable on his lap and had to fight the urge to run his hands down Childe’s bare back, knowing it would be too much for the injuries he had suffered but unable to resist in the heat of the moment.

Childe ducked his head down to eye level and there was that warm gaze again, always sparkling around Zhongli, always watching him and seeing him as just Zhongli. “Look into my eyes, this is adoration.”

“And this?” Childe brought the back of Zhongli’s right hand to his lips and kissed his knuckles, “This is devotion.” He moved Zhongli's hand down to cover his own chest, letting Zhongli’s long fingers splay over his racing heart, “This is desire.”

Finally, he tilted his head, moving their faces close enough that Zhongli could feel the breath from Childe’s words upon his lips.

“And this is me showing how much I love you, as Zhongli, or as whatever you choose to be.” 

Zhongli was the one who leaned forward to press their lips together, mouthing hungrily at him without care for his injuries. Childe instantly parted his lips and let him in, a year’s worth of tension bursting into the air. They were both out of practice but it was instinct that drove them to escalate the kiss in intensity, holding each other closer and joining their hips in hot, delicious friction.

One of Childe’s hands reached up to tangle itself in Zhongli’s hair and Zhongli finally, finally got his wish to feel his way down Childe’s back, across every scar and groove. 

“Ah,” Childe moaned when Zhongli touched a particularly sore side and it was that moment that made Zhongli pull away, suddenly conscious that as a former Archon without a gnosis, he too needed to breathe.

“Sometimes,” Zhongli said breathlessly, knocking their foreheads together. “I want to keep you.”

“You know I don’t belong to you,” Childe said, without defiance, still with affection in his voice. “But it’s human to want. For now, you have me.”

He tried to pull Zhongli closer again but Zhongli turned his head to the side. “You are still weak and getting blood all over my sheets.”

Childe protested, the dear soul, he truly did. He made his displeasure loudly known and grabbed at Zhongli like a petulant child, but Zhongli was stronger and managed to manhandle them down to the futon to lie down, trapping him into being the little spoon. Childe huffed and puffed but with the exhaustion from his battle and emotions running high, he only made it barely five minutes before he passed out peacefully into the night, leaving Zhongli to marvel at the beautiful man in his arms.

 

It was because Childe’s life was so short that Zhongli remembered what it meant to be alive. 

Their love may be flawed, but Zhongli wanted for once in his eternal life to just love deeply and feverishly, because life was truly so short, especially when the person you are in love with sought out danger and belonged to another.

And when the time came for them to part - and Zhongli had no doubt that it would because they are truly on borrowed time - he was certain there would be no regrets. Sacrifices were to be made, but at least for a few years, even less probably, they would be happy and at peace.

Childe made a small sound in his sleep, his hands coming up to fist at Zhongli’s robe and pulling himself closer until all Zhongli knew was the warmth between them, the way Childe’s chest rose and fell with his in sync, the silence of the night promising many more hours like this. 

For now, that was enough. He would have Childe, in however ways he was willing to give.