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again and again, forever

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“Zhongli—”

“Childe, stop talking,” Zhongli hushes him. He holds the Childe’s hand close to his heart, cherishing the fleeting warmth of his beloved. “Save your energy, alright? We can talk more later—”

“Morax.”

The god looks down and is horrified to be met with grieving blue eyes. They shine with unshed tears— terrified, anxious, afraid of the unknown, but still so full of love . Zhongli doesn’t understand how he does it. He never did. 

He fails to understand how Childe has so much love to give; he gives it so freely, so gracefully, without remorse or guilt. Childe’s love pours onto every fortunate soul he meets. 

How an individual like him is fated to lose his life on such an unfortunate day is beyond Zhongli. 

The thought causes liquid fire to boil through his veins. Zhongli— no, Morax— bares his teeth in anger.

The world around him is in flames. Snezhnaya is in flames.

The country that has been frozen over for even centuries before Morax’s own existence now lays waste to the inferno brought upon by Tsaritsa’s own foolishness. Morax could scoff if he was not preoccupied by the dying body in his arms. Such a childish god she was, angering Celestia and tempting the divine into war— a war she so undoubtedly could not win. 

And now who has to pay? 

The innocent. The children. The elderly. Ajax.  

He should not have to pay. 

No one should.

“I will have her head on a stick,” Morax hisses, seething through sharp draconic teeth. “Her actions are unforgivable. You have paid the price, a price that you were not even indebted to—”

“Morax, please,” Childe wheezes beneath him. The gruesome wound across his abdomen bleeds with each breath. 

Morax is well acquainted with death. How could he not, when he has lived for over six thousand years? But to see Childe, usually so bright and bubbly and full of life, suddenly so pale and dying in his arms? 

The sight makes him sick.

“Tell me the story,” the former Harbinger whispers, “of the day you ascended as the God of Geo,” he pleads. Morax looks down at him with confusion

“I just want to hear your voice as I go,” Childe sobs, unable to control the full-body shiver that wracks through him as the words leave his mouth. “I don’t wanna forget it. Never wanna forget you, never—”

“Hush, my love,” Morax hushes him gently, running a loving palm across his face. He gathers him in his arms closer, much much closer. He maneuvers him carefully with his injury in mind, no longer paying attention to the dying embers that surround them. 

The world around him is in flames. 

There is a woman sobbing not too far from them. Houses have crumbled. The snow is bloodied and thinned from the blazing inferno that existed mere moments ago. Bodies lay waste all around them. The Tsaritsa has passed out a few feet from Childe’s side, exhausted by her own tears of remorse and valiant effort to undo the damage that has been done. 

Celestia was too strong. The power of three Archons was not enough. Not even the God of War, the God of Freedom, and the Cryo Archon was enough to stop the powers of the divine. 

Once again, Morax had been used as a pawn in their elaborate plan of control.

But nothing matters.

Nothing matters.  

There is nothing left for Morax after this day.

“I was around thirty years old when it happened,” Morax speaks gently. His voice rumbles comfortingly, a soothing baritone in contrast to the high whistle tones the wind creates around them. Childe hums and nuzzles closer with little strength. 

“I was very, very young. My hometown was under attack by a malfunctioning ruin guard shooting lasers at houses and people alike. It shot at anything that stood in its way. This was before they developed the missiles, mind you,” Morax tells the story while petting Childe’s hair soothingly. Golden eyes never leave Childe’s as he tells the tales of old one last time.

“I evacuated the women, children, and the elderly first. The men stayed and tried their best to defend the town, but their effort was for naught. They did not die in vain, however…” Morax trails off. Childe blinks up at him, a silent nudge to continue as he listens. 

Of course he listens.

He always listens. 

Morax’s throat closes up.

“I…” he tries. His resolve cracks and a beat of silence falls over them. Childe cradles Morax’s hand and presses a kiss into his palm weakly. 

“K- keep going,” he pushes, voice barely a whisper anymore. 

Oh, god’s above. In the name of all things holy, Morax is not sure if he can do this. 

“I went back,” he pushes forward and ignores the crack in his voice, “the men fighting only held swords and sticks. None of them had a shield. So I picked up the nearest pot lid— it kept the stew my mother was making from boiling over— and held it in front of me for defense. I asked the men to come by my side so I could defend them while they attacked, but no one listened. My voice attracted the ruin guard’s attention, however, and it shot its laser at me and paid no attention to the little damage the men’s swords did.” 

Childe pauses, waiting with a baited breath for the rest of the story. 

“But I did not stand down. Without thinking, I swung my arm and deflected the laser. The beam ricocheted off the flimsy pot lid and struck the ruin guard right in the eye and hit its weak spot, effectively shutting it down. Forever.”

As Morax tells the story, he is rather quick to fall into a ramble as he always does. His voice is a soothing sound, a familiar cadence to Childe’s ears. It is almost as if everything was normal. 

Normal was when Childe and Zhongli would walk the harbor exchanging stories and tales of their childhood and godhood respectively. Normal was when they would stroll mindlessly, uncaring of the time that passed as long as it was spent together. Normal was when the sun would set and they would still be sitting at Wanmin, plates already empty, bellies full, but hearts greedy for more. 

Those were days where Childe didn’t have wrinkles by his eyes or dark circles nestled beneath them. Days where Zhongli still felt the surge of power in his chest, unlike the feeling of helplessness that has been surging through his body since the battle with Celestia began. Days when there was light still left in Childe’s beautiful cerulean eyes, so different from the ones quickly losing their shine beneath him. 

“Celestia acknowledged my strength, courage, and ability to defend from above. I ascended that night and was blessed with the power of Geo and rose to the title of Archon. They foraged a gnosis before me and pressed it into my chest, letting me free into Teyvat as a divine being instead of the mortal I once was…”

Childe’s shoulders shake in his arms. 

Morax looks at him frantically, alarmed at the sudden movement. 

“My love, where does it hurt— are you laughing at me?”  

Childe chuckles harder, giggles coming out a bit more wet and ragged than he probably intended to, but Morax does not care. 

“I love you,” Childe says softly, “so, so much. Do you… b- believe in— in reincarnation?”

He stutters, and a drop of blood spills from the corner of his mouth. Morax is quick to wipe it away with his thumb. 

“I have seen it before my own eyes, yes.”

“Then…” Childe continues, “then I… I can’t wait… to meet you again. Again and again--”

“Ajax,” he assures him, “you are the love of my life. My soulmate— my twin flame. We are bound together by fate, do not fret.”

Childe hums, his eyes slowly closing. “Don’t forget me, ‘kay?” 

“I would never,” he promises vehemently, “we will be together again, Ajax, again and again. Forever.” 

“Don’t forget me,” Childe squeezes his hand with the last of his strength, “please, please don’t forget.”

“I will find you,” Morax says with finality. This time, he can’t help the rivers of tears that spill past the dam he’s so carefully constructed. He cries and cries, allowing Childe to witness his vulnerability one more time. His voice shakes as he pledges, “I will find you, my love, I promise. I swear it.”  

Childe smiles. Then—

The body in his arms goes limp. His final breath is released, and he dies in Morax’s arms. 

He’s gone before he hears the god release a wretched scream into the snow and fire. 

His world spins. 

Only moments ago he finished burying the love of his life.

Now he spends his time looking down at his bloodied hands, trying to process a thousand questions that run through his head. 

Morax doesn’t breathe. Doesn’t blink. Doesn’t speak. He simply sits. His feelings… the weight in his chest… 

It transcends exhaustion. It goes beyond fatigue. It isn’t even depression.

He has felt depression before. When his mother died, when his siblings passed, when Guizhong’s body was found after the dust settled. He mourned all of them. Loved all of them. Morax’s heart broke for them. 

But Ajax?

Without blinking, Morax shoves a fist in his chest. He doesn’t even wince as he rips out his own gnosis. 

The action does not make him feel any more hollow than he already is. 

He’s been carved out and left for dead. Six thousand years into existence and he is reduced to nothing more than a vessel for Celestia’s own benefit. A pawn in their game. A puppet. He is nothing anymore. The world can find a new Lord of Geo. Morax is no longer interested.

There is nothing left for him here. Absolutely nothing. 

Liyue has been destroyed. All of his friends have long since passed. Guizhong is dead, and Azhdaha has been lost to his own erosion. Xiao is missing, as is Ganyu, Moon Carver, Cloud Retainer, and Mountain Shaper. They probably died, too. 

Celestia is cruel. 

So, so cruel. 

He looks at the gnosis with a burning disdain. This was never a gift. It was a contract, an unrelenting shackle to their game from the world’s biggest hypocrites. Tears form in his eyes once again, hazing his vision of the golden relic before him. Anger seizes up in his chest.

Morax closes his fist around the gnosis and squeezes. He lets out a pained sigh, tipping his head back and letting himself fall backward so he lays next to Ajax’s grave. 

He squeezes again. Tighter and tighter he goes, until he feels the first crack shatter the gold and his body weakens significantly. 

Tighter and tighter, still. 

The gnosis breaks beneath his grip. 

He dies next to Ajax. 

Please keep your distance of six feet.

Zhongli sighs. 

He stays rooted in the little plastic sticker beneath his feet. It’s his safe place. As long as he stays there, he will be six feet away from everyone else around him. He has his mask on, he’s fully vaccinated, and he’s six feet away. All is well.

A stranger with bright orange hair spots him from a lane away and smiles. Zhongli locks eyes with him and notices the red vest he wears, indicating his position as a cashier here at the grocery store. He’s enthusiastically waving him over, gesturing at Zhongli so he can move over to his line and check him out there. 

Zhongli clears his throat and shakes his head politely. He’d rather stay in line, thank you. Six feet away from everyone else and patiently waiting for the current cashier at the front of this line to finish with the customer—

Oh, no. The persistent stranger is currently walking toward him. 

Normally, it would be no big deal. Normally, he would go to the self checkout station and scan his own damn groceries and move at his own speed. But that was before COVID-19, before the virus, before the pandemic, before he found out that the virus can live on plastic and can be passed on from person to person through indirect touch. The thought was horrifying.

Zhongli has a cat at home. He can’t risk giving it to his cat! 

Still, the cashier walks closer and closer to him.

Six feet away six feet away six feet away—

“Hiya!” the ginger greets, “I can get you over here, if you’d like!” 

Well. 

There goes the six feet rule.

Zhongli is too polite to turn him down now, so he moves in tandem with this— Zhongli checks his nametag— Childe. 

Childe? What an odd name. Oh well, at least Childe is wearing a mask.

“Sorry for the wait over there,” Childe apologizes sheepishly and begins scanning his groceries.

“It’s no problem,” Zhongli answers. 

Childe smiles at him— at least he thinks Childe smiles, he could totally just be squinting— and continues to scan his items, slowing down his movements a fraction for reasons Zhongli does not understand.

Childe watches him with a careful eye. Zhongli grows wary under his gaze, but he can’t even bother being weirded out by it. Something about him is… comforting. Familiar. 

Zhongli cannot describe this truly peculiar feeling. 

Still, Childe stares and stares. He stares as if his gaze can see right through his mask and see his face with complete clarity. 

“Sorry,” Zhongli clears his throat awkwardly, averting his eyes, “can I help you with anything?” 

“No!” Childe snaps out of his reverie quickly, “sorry about that! I dozed off.”

“You seemed very deep in thought,” Zhongli comments without stopping himself. Something about his cashier makes him feel like he can be himself around him. Or maybe there was something about this Childe that compromised his inhibition. 

“Yeah, it’s just… have we met before?” 

“I don’t believe we have…?” Zhongli trails off. The more he stares, the more Childe feels less and less like a stranger. 

How odd.

“What’s your name?” Childe blurts.

“Zhongli,” he gives it without thought, “though I just say, I would remember if I met someone named Childe—”

“Zhongli,” Childe breathes. His eyes are wide and full of a childish wonder. What the hell?

He drops the scanner in his hand, the plastic tumbles to the floor and clatters loudly against the tile.

“I— yes?” Zhongli eyes him strangely. He’s wildly confused as to why this stranger is looking at him like he hung the stars in the sky and painted the night black and blue. 

“Zhongli,” Childe says again. He tears his mask down, revealing his entire face. 

Alarm bells ring in Zhongli’s head. 

He took his mask off?! In this economy?!

“My name is Ajax!” He all but shouts, “Childe is a nickname, a stupid nickname that my coworkers gave me because they suck and— Zhongli!” 

Ajax.

Ajax…the name sounds familiar. 

Ajax? 

Zhongli looks at him again, now that he pulled his mask down like a fool. Like a foolish, reckless, undeniably cute fool. 

Ginger hair (he’s noticed that already, he just wanted to take note of it again). Blue eyes. Pretty pink lips and freckles dotting the apples of his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. 

Ajax…

“My real name is Ajax,” he breathes against his lips, grinding hard against the thigh that’s between his legs, “don’t call me Childe in bed, that’s weird.”

“Ajax, then,” the name rolls off Zhongli’s tongue sweetly, “tell me what you want.”

The god noses up the Harbinger’s neck, leaving hot open-mouthed kisses along the line of his jugular. Once he reaches his pulse point he sucks hard, biting down slightly on the skin between his lips and licking over the bruise that forms rather quickly on his pale skin. Zhongli relishes the way Ajax bucks against him and sighs,

“Touch me.”

Oh, fuck. 

The gears finally click into place. 

This is the person he’s been dreaming of since he was a child. Ever since Zhongli was young, he’s been haunted by images of bloodied snow, dying flames, and a little golden hourglass crushed beneath his own palm. Zhongli has dreamt gods and goddesses, a town called Liyue, dragons and adepti— none of it ever made sense. 

Not until right now.

“Ajax,” Zhongli’s eyes widened comically, “Ajax.”

If the cashier could leap over the counter, he would. Alas, he’s a bit shorter than he was in his last life, so he runs around the counter and all but jumps into Zhongli’s arms and wraps his arms around his neck.

Screw the six feet rule. Screw COVID-19. He found him. 

Goodness, he’s so glad he’s the only one in Childe’s lane.

“Oh, Ajax,” Zhongli holds him close, tucking his face in the crook of his neck, “I found you, god, I finally found you.”

“Let me see you,” Ajax breathes desperately, “I want to see you, please.”

“I don’t know…” he hesitates. Ajax shakes his head stubbornly.

“I’m fully vaccinated. I’ve been home the entire time since quarantine started. I only landed this job recently, so I haven’t been exposed to too many people. I stay safe, I always wear my mask, I wash my hands obsessively—“

Zhongli rips his mask off. 

A chiseled jaw, prominent cheekbones, and an adorable nose. Beautiful golden eyes that are nicely lined with red ink, watching Ajax with a loving, curious, and almost bewildered gaze.

Ajax nearly sighs like a love struck fool. He covers his mouth with his hand in awe, tears building up in both of their eyes. 

“Zhongli,” he sighs. He leans forward until their foreheads knock together. “Zhongli, my Zhongli—“

“I’ve missed you—“

“I’ve missed you!” Ajax laughs wetly.

Zhongli reaches a hand up to cup his face gently. Ajax leans into the touch and melts under the warmth of his palm. Oh, what a lovely feeling it is to have his lover back in his arms. 

“Ajax,” he whispers, “you’re as beautiful as the day I lost you.”

(Ajax loses his job. He couldn’t give less of a shit.)