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“Have you seen that consultant from Wangsheng Funeral Parlour? Mr. Zhongli?”  

 

The ginger haired man sipped his cup of wine, swirling it around in the cup. 

 

“He’s so good looking!”

 

He rested his head on his palm. “What’s so special about this Zhongli ‘dude’.” He thought to himself as he sipped more of the crimson liquid, the tangy bitterness dancing on his tongue. 

 

The sun was setting slowly, the sky in various hues of reds and oranges, colliding into the dark blues on the east. The orange light was still emitting quite brightly, hitting his sharp features, highlighting them. 

 

The crowd grew larger as the cold night set in at Third Round Knockout, where Childe sat and enjoyed his wine, staring into nothing as the customers seated at the table next to him gossiped about this certain consultant. 

 

The restaurant was soon filled to the brim with hungry customers, or customers that were just there to have a drink. At this point they would have to have someone sit next to him since it was the only table available. If that really was the case, he wouldn’t mind having a drinking buddy; he needed some company after all. 

 

“We’re sorry, sir. You would have to sit at that table over there.” He heard the waitress say, somewhere behind him. Oh? Has his drinking bud finally arrived?  

 

“Holy cow, look look! It’s Mr. Zhongli!” One of the customers whispered quite loudly to the other. He turned his head back to see the person approaching him as the footsteps got closer. 

 

Then it happened. 

 

The tall man was walking towards him in slow, reserved strides. His amber eyes were stunning; bright and sharp, yellow pupils in the shape of diamonds. The scarlet red eyeshadow on his lower lids was beautifully contrasting with his pale, lantern lit skin. The other was dressed neatly in a dragon scaled tailcoat which was worn over a beige dress shirt and an amber vest, paired up with a tie and long black trousers. 

 

It was a sight to behold, really. The lights from the lanterns were hitting him in such perfect angles that he wanted to snap a picture to cherish it as a piece of artwork. 

 

“May I have a cup of fine Qingxin wine, please?” The older male spoke to the waitress as he settled down beside him. His voice was deep, formal, and it was music to Childe’s ears, truly. He has never heard anyone’s voice sounding that good before. Man, he wished he could hear it everyday.

 

He wanted to keep Zhongli all to himself, Zhongli being all his and vice versa, and he had a perfect plan for that. What better plan would there be than to just … strike up a conversation? Childe was certainly good at that.

 

“Hi there, comrade! You sure are popular among all the folks, huh? Zhongli, was it?” He waved enthusiastically at Zhongli, making sure to muster his brightest smile. 

 

Zhongli turned his full attention to him, hiding his small laughter behind his palm. “You flatter me. I’m not as popular as you make it out to be.” 

 

“Well, your popularity doesn’t matter, does it? I still would like to know more about you. Perhaps you can be my drinking buddy for the night?” Childe said sheepishly as the waitress brought Zhongli’s order over. 

 

“Of course. Go ahead, then.” Zhongli smiled as he sipped the wine he ordered. 

 

Perfect . His plan is working out perfectly so far. 

 

“Well, we can start with the simpler things! Say… What’s your favourite food?” Honestly, he didn’t actually know what to ask, but this information might come in handy sometime, right ...?

 

The cup clinked against the glass surface as Zhongli placed it down gently on the table. “I enjoy bamboo shoot soup that is cooked with the utmost care and technique, and such a taste could only be shared with those who know how to appreciate it.” 

 

Wow, this guy sure talked in a funny manner. It’s like he came straight out of a dictionary one would buy from Wanwen Bookhouse. 

 

“How should I address you, young man?” His thoughts were cut short by Zhongli’s deep voice. 

 

“Oh, how rude of me to not introduce myself! The name’s Tartaglia, code name Childe! The eleventh of the Fatui Harbingers.” He introduced himself as he made a move to salute friskily. 

 

Something shifted in Zhongli’s expression. He looked more serious than before, like Childe’s obviously unharmful introduction triggered some unpleasant thoughts in the other’s head. 

 

“I am sorry but I do not wish to meddle in the Fatui’s business.” Zhongli stated firmly. 

 

Well , Childe isn’t really surprised at that; the Fatui were really famous for their shenanigans, after all. But heck, right now, he had no bad intentions at all. Really, he just wanted to get to know Zhongli better. Okay, fine , maybe he shouldn’t go around telling people that he’s part of the Fatui but they would know sooner or later anyway, right?

 

“Oh, come on, comrade! I come in peace. Really! I have no ill-intentions nor motive. Is it wrong to get to know your fellow acquaintance more?” He waved his hands around accusingly. 

 

“A no is a no. I am not interested in the Fatui’s mischiefs, be it with bad intentions or not.” Zhongli spoke again, his tone unwavering as he stood up to leave. 

 

He had a dying urge to break Zhongli’s mask, to watch his formal facade crumble under his grasp. And he also had a perfect plan for that. He wouldn’t give up that easily; he was always up for a challenge after all, and he would gladly take up the challenge to win over Zhongli’s heart, no matter the amount of effort he would have to give in.

 

“You will be mine, Zhongli. Just you watch.” A sinister smirk carved itself onto his face as he sipped the last of his wine. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Oh, come on now, comrade! It’s only a small matter I need to discuss with Mr. Zhongli.” 

 

Childe was talking with the Ferrylady who stopped him in his tracks on the way into Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. 

 

“I’m afraid not. If it’s a ‘small matter’ , you could always come back another time once Mr. Zhongli is, indeed, free.” The Ferrylady shook her head, keeping guard at the front door. In a blink of an eye, a hydro blade was raised up to her neck, pressing ever-so-lightly , too light to draw any blood. Her eyes widened in shock as the ginger spoke once again, voice low and dangerous.

 

“Let me in. Unless... you’re interested to know the consequences, hm ? A harbinger doesn’t like waiting, y’know.” Childe whispered, his head tilted to one side in mockery. He pressed the blade slightly harder, though it was still too light to cut into the skin; his intentions were merely just to scare the lady and not to do any harm. Yet. Action will only be taken if this woman did not comply.

 

“H-harbinger…? Y-you have my apologies. You... may enter, sir.” The Ferrylady stepped aside and away from the blade, signalling for Childe to go in. He kept the blade away in one swift motion. Gripping the door knob, he smiled at the Ferrylady menacingly. “That’s more like it.” 

 

He blurted out before swinging the door open, stepping inside almost instantly. 

 

“Well, well… Nice to meet you again, Zhongli.” A cheeky smile made its way onto Childe’s face as he waved and winked flirtatiously. 

 

Zhongli was sat at his desk, looking through a stack of paper before he looked up in surprise. “What are you doing here?” He said as he gripped the piece of paper he was holding tighter. 

 

“Me? Nothing, just wanted to see you~” Childe cooed as he approached the other in confident, strideful steps. Leaning against the desk, he tapped his feet as if waiting for the other to react. After a beat, he still got no response.

 

Furrowing his brows, he turned his head towards Zhongli, who to Childe’s surprise, was still looking at that damned piece of paper. 

 

“Are you really that busy?” He asked, pout evident on his lips. Zhongli looked up at him, unamused. “You came here to see me, didn’t you? I do not recall you needing to talk just to look at someone.” He deadpanned.

 

Childe was not happy with that statement. 

 

Snatching the piece of paper from Zhongli’s grasp, he said, “Hm… What’s so important about this paper that it took all of Zhongli’s attention off of me ?” He took a closer look at it; the paper contained information on possibly a new client who accepted the 50% discount. Zhongli stood up from his position, reaching for his belongings. Bad idea.  

 

Childe took the chance to push Zhongli to a nearby wall, hard. The impact was harsh on his back, making Zhongli wince. Childe threw the paper off to the side as it flung off to archons knows where. “ What do you want from me?” He snarled, back throbbing from pain. 

 

“Awh, don’t get too worked up now. What do I want from you? Simple. Be my boyfriend.” Childe lightly caressed the dark brown hair, tangling it between his fingers. 

 

He received a scoff from Zhongli. “You can continue to wait till the day Teyvat meets its demise and that still won't happen.” 

 

That ignited something within Childe. Was Zhongli challenging him? A loud, mocking laugh rang throughout the room. “Oh, really now? We’ll see about that~” 

 

Grabbing both of Zhongli’s wrists in one hand, he pinned them above his head against the wall and connected their lips together. The kiss was far, far from romantic and sweet. It was messy and rough… and one-sided. 

 

Zhongli refused to reciprocate the kiss no matter how hard Childe was going at it. 

 

That was , until he gasped when Childe bit his bottom lip, until the metallic taste of blood mixed in with their saliva. 

 

“Mmph-” 

 

Childe wasted no time in exploring every part of Zhongli’s mouth the very moment he slid his tongue in after the other gasped. The action deepened the kiss even more than before, clacking their teeth together. 

 

Zhongli tried moving away, but to no avail since Childe wasn’t giving him room to even breathe

 

After what felt like ages, Childe finally pulled away, allowing both of them to breathe. Zhongli's lips were red and swollen, and it was still bleeding from the bite earlier. 

 

Running a finger over the now wounded lips, smearing the blood onto Zhongli's cheeks, a sly smirk appeared as another idea popped into his head. 

 

He reached downwards for the white tie, pulling it loose enough to unbutton the collar of the dress shirt. Pushing the fabric aside revealed the smooth, pale skin of Zhongli's collarbone. 

 

"What are you-" Zhongli's words were cut off by a hiss, followed by a gasp. Childe had bitten his neck, giving no mercy to Zhongli’s pain tolerance. The mark will surely stay there for the next week or so. Lapping a few times on the forming bruise, he parted with his neck and looked at Zhongli with a brazen grin. 

 

"Oh? What's this? How is the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor's consultant going to cover this up?" He lifted a finger to press hard against the newly formed bruise, watching as Zhongli grimaced under his touch. "But why would he want to cover it up? It is living, concrete, and evident proof that his heart belongs to the one and only Childe, and Childe only . Are we on the same page, Xiansheng?" 

 

Childe leaned in for just one more bite-

 

“See ya later, Yanfei~!” A cheerful voice chirped from somewhere outside. 

 

Shit. He frantically scanned around for any spots that could hide two grown adults. His gaze then landed on a bookshelf. 

 

"Mhm! Don't forget about our dinner date~" A voice from another girl cooed.

 

Pulling Zhongli firmly by the wrists, he dragged him behind the bookshelf, safe from any prying eyes. 

 

"Aiya, of course I won't!" 

 

The sound of a door creaking rang throughout the parlour. 

 

"Mr. Zhongli~ How is the paperwork goin-"

 

Silence.

 

"Hu-" Childe raised a hand to muffle Zhongli's attempt at calling for Hutao, glaring at the elder.

 

"Oya? Where is this old man off to this time…"

 

Childe suddenly caught Zhongli's lips in a rough kiss once again. Bold. The thrill of this risk he's taking enticed him. 

 

"Hmm… Maybe he's in the restroom? I'll wait here a little longer." A sigh sounded followed by a chair creaking.

 

This time he reciprocated the kiss; maybe if he complied once, Childe would leave him alone.

 

Zhongli’s lungs were running out of air, both from the adrenaline rush and also the… kiss…? Making out? He’s not really sure if it even were any of those anymore; after a while, it really just felt like Childe was eating him alive.

 

He finally got a breather momentarily , as he tried to gasp for air desperately, cheeks flushing a pale white. All that while trying to keep it low so Hutao can’t hear him; he didn’t want to get on Childe’s bad side at the moment since his main goal was the exact polar opposite for the sole purpose to escape this hell. 

 

“Chi-” He got cut off once again, but this time by fingers hovering over his chest. Well- more specifically his nipple . He widened his eyes, almost comically as he froze on the spot. 

 

Taking it in between the pad of a finger and his thumb, Childe pinched it. Hard. Zhongli winced and gritted his teeth, back arching as his immobile hands reached for nothing. He tried his best to force the forming blush on his face down so he didn’t appear weak in front of his enemy. 

 

“Hoo.. I’ll just ask him later. This silly old man...” The chair creaked again as footsteps slowly made their way to the exit.

 

Childe leaned in once again, now aiming for Zhongli’s earlobe. He bit down on the soft, squishy flesh, earning a breathy pant from the other. Satisfied, he lapped at it until the apparent sound of the door closing was heard. 

 

Pulling away, a deceivingly innocent smile made his way onto his lips. “Hehe~ I think I need to get going now… We’ll meet again, right? ” Childe said, mockery clear in his voice. 

 

Zhongli kept quiet; he did not want to give the latter the contentment of hearing an answer from him. Childe pecked him on the cheeks, in a way one would see it as lovingly. 

 

“I’ll make that a yes!” He rejoiced as he turned around, scarf swishing to the side in the process as he happily trudged to the door. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Hoo… Those hilichurls were a pain in the a- Mr. Zhongli!” 

 

Looking up from his desk, Zhongli saw Hutao hopping towards him, wearing her usual smile on her lips. “Director Hu.” He said as he pursed his lips into a thin line. 

 

Hutao’s gaze went up and down Zhongli’s figure, as if she was inspecting every inch of Zhongli’s soul. Her gaze stopped at Zhongli’s neck, a look of disquiet flashed on her features, disappearing just as quickly. “Where have you been?” 

 

Zhongli swallowed thickly before speaking up. “I had some… personal matters to attend to. Were you perhaps looking for me?” Hutao looked sceptical upon hearing Zhongli’s words. “Mmm…hm! I came here a few hours ago but then you weren’t here so… I went to help Lumine do some commissions.” 

 

“I see… I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. What was it about?” 

 

“Oh right, about that. Have you placed the order for the finest birch wood from Mondstadt? It’s for that new client, yeah? Only the best kind for those I work so hard to convince to take the offer!" 

 

He rubbed his temples to soothe the impending headache caused by none other than Childe. “Yes I’ve done it, Director Hu. Here.” He handed over the document he very irately tried to find after Childe threw it aside; it was a very narrow space under Hutao’s desk, a minus for his spine. 

 

“Oh, so crumpled! Aiya, it’s fine. At least it’s done and dusted!” Her gaze went back around Zhongli’s collar again. “What happened here?” She sat on the edge of the desk, reaching over to point at the bruise, which by then had fully bloomed. 

 

“That’s uhh… I- A hilichurl… happened to have attacked me from behind… w- with a wooden club. N- nothing you need to worry about…” The look of scepticism on the girl’s face was now more refined. "I see… Okay." 

 

Zhongli's face must've looked angry or annoyed without him realizing it until Hutao spoke up again. "Is something bothering you, Mr. Zhongli? You looked troubled." Zhongli looked off to the side, contemplating whether he should ask his boss these kinds of questions or not. 

 

“May I… ask you a question?” 

 

Hutao looked intrigued. “Of course! Ask away~” Zhongli hesitated before he spoke. "I am asking this as a friend, not as a co-worker, and I hope you can answer in the same manner." 

 

"More than delighted, Zhongli. " Hutao said with a cheeky grin, leaving out the 'mister' on purpose. Zhongli let out a deep chuckle. "Well then, Hutao ," He returned the cheeky smile that soon turned back into a frown. “What would your choice be if someone you’re not really… fond of, wants to start a… relationship with you; give them a chance or… no?”  

 

“Oh, so that's what the personal matter is about~” Hutao cooed while pointing to the bruise again, smirking. “Well, if you ask me… I would say it’s up to your own feelings!” 

 

Zhongli raised an eyebrow. “Your point being?” 

 

“If you like their presence and being around them makes you feel good then, yeah, give it a shot! The catch here is!… the person in question’s presence isn’t going to be something you’d like…” Hutao raised her fingers to her chin, fiddling with her non-existent beard while she hummed, seemingly deep in thought. 

 

“But they must’ve done something wrong for you to dislike them, right?” 

 

A pause. 

 

“I believe there’s good in everybody. Sometimes you’ve gotta get to know them better to see their good side, y’know? You can take adeptus Xiao for example.” 

 

Hutao hopped off the table, grabbing a chair to sit beside Zhongli and making herself comfortable. 

 

“People always claim that Xiao is an unapproachable person, cold hearted and scary. But, in truth, he’s a really nice person!” 

 

“You know of Xiao?” 

 

“Mhm! We helped Lumine in a domain multiple times throughout the course of multiple days before, and every time we went there, I got to know something new about him each visit. His personality isn’t like what people make it out to be. Though, I have to admit, he was quite unapproachable the first few times… hehe…” 

 

Zhongli looked at Hutao, confusion written across his face. 

 

“I see… but… what has this got to do with my problem?” 

 

Hutao facepalmed dramatically and sighed. “You can be quite dense sometimes, Mr. Zhongli… You should give Mr. or Ms. I-don’t-know-their-name a chance! Maybe they’ll learn from their mistakes or whatever they did to make you dislike them and you two will get along well. But! If it gets all too much to handle, be sure to break it off immediately else you’d find yourself in a sticky situation, metaphorically, not in the bed~” Hutao winked slyly at Zhongli. 

 

“I’m not sure I understand the last part…” 

 

The playful expression on the girl’s face immediately dropped, replaced with an unamused one as she rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Mr. Zhongli…  Just- understand the main point.” 

 

Zhongli looked down at his desk once again, sorting out his thoughts. 

 

‘Maybe Childe isn’t that bad of a person… Maybe he really just likes him and has no further motive…’

 

“Alright then, thank you, Hutao, for the advice. You’ve changed my perspective on this person.” “No problemo!” Hutao shifted her gaze to the clock hanging on the wall. 

 

“Oh! It’s almost time for my dinner with Yanfei~” Standing up and smoothing out her clothing, Hutao waved a hand at Zhongli as she rushed to the door. 

 

“Goodbye, Mr. Zhongli! Look out for the spirits lurking around~” 

 

And with that, the room fell silent once again with Zhongli being the only one in it. He shook his head slowly, looking back at his documents. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

Childe was running into the darkness filled with nothing. An empty, never-ending void. He felt extremely cold, the air surrounding him biting and harsh on his skin. Puffs of condensation came out whenever he exhaled, as he clenched and unclenched his gloved fingers, trying to keep the feeling in their tips. 

 

The loud heartbeat coming from himself was resonating in his ears, pounding and ringing as he was running deeper into the dark void. He didn’t know where he was running to, he didn’t know why he was in the middle of a cold winter. 

 

All he did was just run… run… and run… until he came to a halt. The thumping in his ears stopped, fading away slowly into the distance. An eerie silence followed. 

 

“Get rid of him, right now.” The silence was filled by a lady’s voice, cold and piercing. It was familiar to Childe. That bold, unwavering voice that sends chills down his spine; The Tsaritsa. Was he in Zapolyarny Palace…?

 

A silhouette of a small, fragile figure appeared in front of him. “Teu- teucer?” The sight of his brother should’ve made him happy, if not for the gaping wound situated right at his brother’s heart. 

 

Scarlet blood was oozing out of it like a waterfall, with no plans to stop. Teucer had scratches everywhere, his lips were bruised with dried blood clinging onto it and yet, those eyes were still shining like the brightest star in Teyvat as they looked at Childe happily. “Big-” A dry, bloody cough. “-brother!” 

 

Teucer screamed, smiling brightly at Childe. Childe felt light headed. He gaped, eyes fluttering open and shut every second as his fast paced breathing picked up again. “Teucer… w- what hap- pened to you…?” He managed, voice cracking. 

 

Teucer never replied back, instead he was fading into the dark again, bits and bits of the image dissipated into golden dust. He frantically reached out for the disappearing hand, only for him to hold onto nothing. “TEUCER! COME BACK!! Come… back…” 

 

His head was empty, his heart felt empty. Everything felt numb. He tried to recollect on what had just happened, but to no avail. He couldn’t think of anything else. Dread filled him to the brim. His ears were ringing… ringing… until a soft chuckle cut through it. 

 

The scenery of a beach slowly filled his sight, the bright sky engulfing the dark void. Zhongli stood in front of him, smiling, before turning away to walk along the shores. Zhongli looked amazing, the view was akin to a painting. Childe stood there, admiring Zhongli from afar as a sense of calmness washed over him. 

 

But before long, he was running again, chasing after Zhongli with every inch of might as the void slowly ate up the pretty sight. The tall silhouette slowly faded… faded… and faded… “Zhongli! Don’t leave me! Zhongli! ZHONGLI!”

 

“Xiansheng!” Childe jolted awake, a shudder running down his spine. Sweat was pouring from his forehead, the back of his pajamas was soaked. His chest heaved as he panted heavily, out of breath. He looked around his peripheral sight wearily, finding only resounding silence in his ears. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

 “Xiansheng!” 

 

Zhongli almost tripped and fell from how hard Childe collided into him from behind. Childe swung an arm around his shoulders as he smiled brightly at him. Zhongli returned him a small smile. “Childe.” 

 

Childe looked surprised for a split second, before smirking playfully. “What’s this? Zhongli is finally talking to me?” Zhongli let out a playful scoff as he crossed his arms. “And what business might you have here?” He replied with no particular tone of aggression behind it. 

 

“I was about to ask you the same thing.” Childe pointed a finger at Zhongli, wiggling it skittishly. Zhongli raised an eyebrow. “I am merely here to window-shop, not that interesting, really.” 

 

They were situated in the middle of the line of shops under the harbour, where most souvenirs and trinkets from Liyue are sold. 

 

“And I am here to window-shop too! So why don’t we go window-shopping together?” Childe winked and pulled the other closer to him. Zhongli bit back a smile, putting on an unamused face instead and reluctantly followed along. 

 

They walked down the aisle filled with all different kinds of souvenirs, stopping occasionally to look at a few things that caught their eyes but not buying any of them. 

 

That is, until they came over a shop that sells intricate hairpieces. Rows and rows of carefully handmade hair decorations are laid out in front of them, each and every one unique to their own, the shiny gemstones reflecting the ray of sunlight hitting them. 

 

Childe reached out for one particular hairpin that stood out to him; one that had gold details all over it, sprouting from a golden glaze lily, with orange, brown and yellow small gemstones scattered thoughtfully all over the pin. 

 

Lifting it up to the side of Zhongli’s head, he gently pinned it on, careful to not pull on any of the locks accidentally. The ginger’s touch was unexpectedly gentle, Zhongli noted, pleasantly surprised. 

 

Childe grinned happily, eyes forming crescents. “It matches you, Xiansheng!” 

 

Zhongli stopped for a moment to take in the view displayed in front of him. Childe could be really adorable when he wasn’t acting malicious towards him. The way the sunlight was hitting him in all the right angles made the view jaw dropping, he never realized how handsome Childe really looked until now. And… he blames it on the fact that he never got a break from Childe’s dirty shenanigans… 

 

“We’ll take it!” His attention was diverted back to reality when Childe was handing the mora to the shopkeeper. 

 

“But-” His hands flew forwards to stop the exchange out of pure instinct. 

 

“No buts, Xiansheng… I’m gonna buy it for you, and you can do nothing to stop me!” Childe tightly gripped Zhongli’s wrist that was blocking the transaction and placed the mora in the shopkeeper’s palm. 

 

The shopkeeper muttered a small ‘thank you’ and turned away to keep the mora. After the purchase was made, Zhongli was helplessly pulled away to the docks above by Childe. 

 

Facing the sea while leaning against the wooden railing, Zhongli took in a deep breath of the salty air. “You look really beautiful with the hairpin on, Xiansheng.” He turned to look at Childe, who had a soft smile on his lips. 

 

“How cheesy.” Zhongli scoffed, trying to hide the blush forming on his face. “But it’s true! I was supposed to take…” The last part of the sentence was mushed into a puddle of inaudible words. 

 

“Pardon?” 

 

“Hmm? Nothing. I- I was gonna take… a picture! Of…you! Because the view is so pretty…” Childe muttered. A smile crept onto Zhongli’s face unwillingly as he crossed his arms and turned to walk away. 

 

“Right,” He paused and turned back to look at Childe. 

 

“Thank you, for the gift, Childe. I appreciate it, truly.” Childe let out a light laugh, the sound ringing throughout the harbour. 

 

“No biggie, Xiansheng! Glad you like it.”

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Her Majesty, this letter was sent directly from an agent located at the Northland Bank in Liyue.” The agent bowed his head low, handing the envelope over with both hands. The Tsaritsa was sat in her icy throne as she stared at the slip of paper being handed to her coldly. 

 

Opening the wax seal, she slid out the piece of yellowed paper containing rows and rows of messy handwritten words on it. 

 

To the one and only Her Majesty, The Tsaritsa.

 

I hope this letter gets to you safe and soundly, Your Royal Highness. I truly apologize for the  rushed writing, Your Highness, but this is a really urgent matter. A few days ago, I saw Master Childe together with the Geo archon himself, Mr. Zhongli at the docks. Mr. Zhongli seemed all too happy for Master Childe to have taken his gnosis. All this might just be a scheme by Master Childe and his own way of getting the job done, so this is just my humble opinion. Even so, it has been so long since Master Childe has been assigned this task. I am simply listing my observations from the past few days down respectfully, and I hope you can take my words into account for your plans in the mission Master Childe is assigned to, Your Highness. 

 

Yours sincerely, Vlad, a humble guard located at the Northland Bank. 

 

The Tsaritsa raised an eyebrow, looking amused. Throwing the letter onto the floor, she waved her hand, ordering the guards to move. 

 

“Get the brother, right this instance.” 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Xiansheng!” 

 

A series of knocks. 

 

“Xiansheng? Are you in?” 

 

Another series of knocks.

 

Childe’s arm dropped back to his side as a frown formed on his face. He was in front of Wangsheng Funeral Parlour once again, looking for Zhongli.

 

‘Is he really that busy?’

 

Gripping the door knob firmly, he twisted it and pushed the door open slightly, trying to be as silent as he could in case Zhongli was actually busy. 

 

He peeped in to take a look, only to find out that Zhongli’s desk was situated conveniently, or in this case inconveniently behind a pillar, completely out of sight, much to Childe’s dismay. So he pushed the door wider and stepped in, holding a bottle filled with some sort of unidentifiable liquid. 

 

Approaching Zhongli’s desk slowly, he was ready to see a hardworking Zhongli with a table filled with files and documents. But instead, he was met with a sleeping Zhongli instead, along with the afore imagined state of the table. The frown on his face dissipated, replaced with a soft smile. 

 

He inched closer and tapped Zhongli on the shoulder, trying to wake him up gently. Zhongli flinched a little before raising his head up from the makeshift pillow that was his folded arms, blinking slowly in the direction of Childe. 

 

“Childe…? What are you doing here?” 

 

Childe smirked, a playful expression displayed on his face. “Wake up, sleepyhead… I have a gift for you.” 

 

“What is it…?” 

 

“I have a love potion for you~” Childe cooed, the smugness never faltering as he held out the bottle to Zhongli proudly. 

 

Zhongli grabbed the bottle gently, examining every inch of the reddish liquid swirling around in it. “Tea…?” Zhongli asked quietly, still groggy from the nap. 

 

“Mhm! Red ginseng. It’s good for your health so drink up!” Zhongli was slightly sceptical. Just slightly. But maybe this time he could trust Childe. 

 

So he popped the lid off and prayed that Childe wasn’t tricking him. He was too vulnerable right now, right in front of Childe. He still can’t trust Childe fully; any of these might be a dirty scheme by the Fatui. The tea might be poisoned and he wouldn’t even know. But just this once, maybe, just maybe , he could trust Childe. 

 

Bringing the edge to his lips, he chugged the tea slowly, feeling the warm liquid race down his throat. It didn’t taste too bad, maybe a little too concentrated than his usual tea, a little too sweet to his liking, and for some reason the texture was… powdery

 

“Did you like it, Xiansheng?” Zhongli nodded slowly. “It was nice.” 

 

“Hehe… You’re gonna feel even better after this, Xiansheng.” Zhongli raised an eyebrow, confused. “But the health benefits for delicacies like these take more than one day to work…” 

 

A sigh sounded from Childe. “Xiansheng… Don’t you feel it?” 

 

“Hm? What do you-” And there he felt it. The feeling of his body slowly heating up, contrasting with the cool air in the room. Childe gave him an innocent smile as he moved to settle on Zhongli’s lap as he pulled him into a deep kiss full of unsaid desires. 

 

Zhongli willed the growing heat in between his thighs to calm down, to stop completely. But he wanted this, Childe had his full consent even if he didn’t ask. 

 

He knew this was wrong. He knew being with a member of the Fatui was wrong, especially if they were a member of high rank such as a Harbinger. The Fatui was always up to no good, resorting to violence to get what they needed. 

 

But he couldn’t resist; Childe was undoubtedly good-looking, and paired up with such a bright personality, Zhongli couldn’t help but fall in love in the short time they spent together. So he let Childe do it. 

 

“Do you want to, Xiansheng?” 

 

“Yes. Yes, please.” 

 

He let Childe bring him to euphoria and back. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

He felt like he had the whole world in his palms. 

 

He had cleaned both of them up after Zhongli passed out due to exhaustion in the parlour, and had brought Zhongli back to his own place he was staying at. 

 

And right now, lying down beside Zhongli felt comforting, it made the place he was temporarily staying at feel like home. With the cheeks of a sleeping Zhongli in his palms, he slowly caressed it, the skin feeling smooth under the pad of his thumb. He wanted to stay like this forever. To just be by Zhongli's side forever. 

 

But he couldn't. The stupid mission he was on prevented it. Anger coursed through him as he recollected what happened that day. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Don’t- Don’t come near me!” 

 

Nadia backed up hastily, arms flailing around in defense. Childe approached her menacingly, his hydro blade gripped tightly in his hold. 

 

Nadia’s back was now fully flush against the wall, her eyes wide with horror. The ginger continued to stride forward, ignoring the protests as he slammed his open palm onto the wall, next to the girl’s head. “Tell me. Where is Vlad?” 

 

“I- I don’t know! I-” She shouted, voice cracking. “If you cooperate with me, I’ll let you go. Unscathed.” Childe spoke calmly, though the tone was deep and dangerous as he spun the blade idly. 

 

“Over my dead body!” She denied, on the verge of tears. “Do you have any idea,” He gripped her chin harshly, his nails leaving indents on her skin. “what your boyfriend has done?” 

 

Memories flashed like lightning in his mind, the disgusting photos the Tsaritsa sent him plagued him. “It was your own fault! Y-you were supposed to take the gnosis not- V-vlad! Vlad s-save me! Over- over here!” Nadia suddenly called out to someone behind Childe, her whole body shaking from fear. 

 

Childe turned his head around slowly, seeing the very shocked Vlad made him happy. “You’re here.” He teased, raising the blade to Nadia’s throat as a smirk made his way onto his face, still keeping eye contact with Vlad. 

 

“Vlad! P-please save me!” 

 

“Nadia!” Vlad started running towards them with all his might, hands reaching out to get a hold of Childe and- 

 

A sickening thud. 

 

Childe watched with amusement as water exploded out of the wound on the neck and mixed with the crimson red blood, the body marked with Riptide jerking around every time it happened. 

 

“N- Nadia!” 

 

Childe grabbed Vlad’s throat with one hand, preventing him from reaching his beloved as he slammed him against the cold, hard wall. “Why? Why did you do it? Do you like seeing photos of someone you care for being held captive?” 

 

“You weren’t doing your job properly anyway. What's the use of being a harbinger when you can’t even do a simple job like this? All you do is fight endlessly. But then again, you can’t even use a bow properly!” Vlad scoffed. 

 

“There’s no use doing this anymore. The Tsaritsa is sending agents to come get your ass back to Snezhnaya. To meet your dear brother.” 

 

Childe almost laughed out loud at the sheer audacity this dude had. Almost. Instead he pushed forward, squeezing his hand tight. Vlad clawed at the gloved hand, desperately gasping for air, to no avail. 

 

Childe’s hand was as still and unmoving as a statue, pressing harder and harder every second. The clawing slowed and weakened, eventually coming to a halt as the arm flopped down to his side. 

 

Childe let go of the strangled body, a thud sounded as it collided with the ground. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

Zhongli took a deep breath before shifting to turn onto his back. Childe loosened his hold on Zhongli’s cheeks, not realizing that he had held it a little too tightly. He let out a sigh, standing up to put on his clothes. He went for the door, about to leave: but not before looking back at Zhongli once again. 

 

He suddenly walked back, giving Zhongli a peck on the cheeks. He couldn’t help it. He wanted Zhongli so badly, but yet he couldn’t. Not with his mission uncompleted. Turning around again, he walked out and never looked back. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

Cold. So cold. Was he in Dragonsp- 

 

Zhongli’s eyes fluttered open, his body shivering from the cold. But he was not in Dragonspine. He had confirmed that when he saw the first thing he opened his eyes to: the ceiling. 

 

Wait.. This ceiling isn’t the one in the funeral parlour… 

 

He moved to sit upright, eyeing the room he was in confusingly. It looked like an inn of some sort. Though… he doesn’t remember going to one. He went to stand up, but his legs wavered, causing him to fall back onto the bed.

 

And then he realized he was completely naked, the blanket that probably was covering him was on the floor; which explained why he was so cold. But why was he-

 

Oh.

 

Oh. 

 

Memories from last night washed over his brain all at once like water rushing down from a broken dam. He covered his reddened cheeks as he remembered the sounds and screams he was making. And he flushed even more after realizing Childe had brought him here, and did he-

 

He looked down to see himself all cleaned up, not even a speck of strain could be seen. Well- except for the bruises and marks painted all over him, especially his thighs. Another thought popped into his head: Childe actually cleaned him up. 

 

Childe didn’t seem like someone who would do that. Gentle and caring just isn’t the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Childe. But he just proved him wrong. This just made Zhongli even more conflicted; so were there really no motives behind Childe’s actions? 

 

Maybe there isn't. Maybe Childe genuinely liked him. He doesn’t know, but he thinks he trusts Childe now. There was no malicious intent. He loved Childe, and Childe loved him back. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“Xiansheng~ I have lunch!” 

 

Childe walked into the parlour enthusiastically while holding a bamboo canteen. 

 

“Hello, Childe. What have you brought?” Zhongli inquired, standing up from his seat to walk over. His lower half was still a bit sore though, so he was slightly limping. “Bamboo shoot soup that was cooked with the utmost care and technique.” Childe lowered his pitch, trying to imitate Zhongli. 

 

Zhongli let out a laugh before settling down on the coffee table, Childe following suit. “Here you go~” Childe cooed as he opened the lid dramatically, raising it high up. “Thank you, Childe, for the meal.” For everything. 

 

“Of course, Xiansheng. Now dig in before it gets cold!” Childe flashed him a smile and while it certainly looked like Childe’s signature cheeky smile, Zhongli sensed it. The hint of…sadness? worry? nervousness? that laced it. 

 

“Is something perhaps… bothering you?” Zhongli asked, worried that Childe had something unpleasant on his mind that he needed to let out. “Nope! I’m perfectly fine, Xiansheng.” Childe gave him another smile. One that didn’t quite meet his eyes. 

 

Zhongli reluctantly gave a nod before reaching out for the spoon, ladling out some of the soup. He sipped it, savouring the taste in his mouth. The taste was just how he liked it; salty and savoury. “Xiansheng… Will you ever leave me?” The air felt sentimental all of the sudden, like there was a tone of sadness behind those words. 

 

“Of course I won’t, Childe. What made you think that?” 

 

“Nothing. Just…” His voice trailed off as he looked to the side. 

 

“You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to. Share it when you’re ready. Hm?” Zhongli comfortingly rubbed circles on his back. 

 

“...Okay.” 

 

Childe went to snuggle up against Zhongli’s side, burying his face in his neck. Zhongli lifted his hands to pat Childe’s soft, fluffy hair when he felt tears wetting his outfit. He felt thankful. Thankful that Childe trusted him enough to be so vulnerable in front of him. 

 

Childe knew it was too late. There was no turning back now; Zhongli had already drank the soup. He felt the hand that was patting his head slowly,

 

slowly,

 

slowly coming to a halt, falling limp beside him. 

 

Zhongli felt his vision get blurrier, 

 

and blurrier,

 

and blurrier

 

“I’m sorry, Xiansheng…”

 

before his vision went dark. 

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

His head hurt. His eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks as his eyes pried open. He reached up to rub his eyes but he couldn’t move them. He looked down, finding his wrists tied up behind his back, and ankles restrained by ropes. He tried screaming for help but his mouth was duct taped. Looking around, he recognized this place; the basement of the funeral parlour. 

 

What happened?

 

Why was he here?

 

Was he kidnapped?

 

Was he- 

 

Zhongli’s fast paced breathing hitched, his eyes wide in horror. 

 

Has his nightmare come true? Has he fallen into the trap that was set by Childe? No, it must be; there was no other explanation for it. It had to be. 

 

He cursed internally as he struggled to get out of the binds, the harsh rope hurting his wrists. 

 

Childe betrayed him. Childe had all this planned out. Childe tricked him. Childe…

 

Left him. 

 

He shouldn’t have trusted Childe. He should’ve known it all would come down to this. Childe was a Fatui Harbinger. Why would he trust him? Why? Because… 

 

He loved Childe. 

 

But he shouldn't have. He was too naive. Too naive to think that this relationship would work out. Too naive to have fallen in love with him.

 

Too naive to think that Childe would love him back.  

 

He's sure Childe had taken what he wanted from him and left. A frown made its way onto his face as he looked around, trying to find a way to get out. He wanted to say a final goodbye. He needed to. He just needed to see the ginger one last time. Just one last time. 

 

"Mr. Zhongli?" 

 

Hu- Hutao?

 

“Mmph!” Zhongli mumbled, his voice muffled by the duct tape. And by some absurd miracle, Hutao appeared in front of him; he thought he’d have to spend the night here. 

 

Hutao walked to his side slowly, kneeling down to pull the tape off, which stung his face. 

 

Unlike Zhongli, Hutao’s movement wasn’t rushed, nor did she look like she was scared. She looked… sad? Zhongli knew this face of her’s; the complete opposite from her usual cheery composure, this solemn side of the brown haired girl was only shown when handling funerals or last rites, and when something bad had happened. 

 

Throwing the tape off to the side, she sighed. “Mr. Zhongli…” 

 

“Hutao, we need to get out of here. The Fatuis are dangerous to be around.” 

 

“They’re… gone.” Hutao said, seeming unsure of her own words as she reached out to untie Zhongli’s wrists. He frowned. 

 

He knew it. He knew Childe would just run away after obtaining what he needed. 

 

“Did they hurt you? Are you hurt anywhere?” Zhongli rubbed his wrists which were sore from the friction. “No but…” Hutao shifted, looking anywhere but into Zhongli’s eyes. 

 

“Let’s talk about it later. For now, let's get out before the Fatui comes ba-” He was cut off when Hutao handed him a slip of paper that was folded neatly. 

 

There was a familiar scent lingering from the paper; the cologne Childe wears almost every day. He hesitated on unfolding the letter. He didn’t know what he was scared of. He was just… scared. Scared to find out the truth? Scared to find out that Childe had done something bad to Liyue? 

 

No. Scared to find out that Childe had indeed, left him.  

 

He reluctantly opened up the letter, a waft of the fragrance filling his sinuses. 

 

“I’ll… give you some alone time.” Hutao said before standing up, taking the stairs back to the lobby.

 

─── ・ 。゚☆: .☽ . :☆゚. ───

 

“The ship has already sailed…” 

 

Zhongli walked along the dock, shoes tapping against the wooden surface silently. 

 

“He… gave me the letter and told me to… make sure you don’t get… taken away by the Fatui. I’m… sorry, Mr. Zhongli…” 

 

He stopped, turning to look out at the sea as he leaned on the railing. He felt dizzy. He felt numb. He felt… heartbroken. 

 

He didn’t understand why. Why did Childe do it? Why didn’t Childe just… take his gnosis? 

 

He would’ve given him the gnosis. He could’ve completed his mission and they could’ve stayed together. 

 

His grip on the railing tightened, his knuckles turning white. 

 

They could’ve been together. Happily. 

 

Tears welled up in his eyes, threatening to fall. He couldn’t think straight anymore. Not when he knew Childe did this to protect him. Childe sacrificed himself for him. 

 

He took a deep breath and screamed, throwing his agony out into the horizon as the wail resonated throughout the empty harbour. Memories of Childe flooded his mind, making him pull on his scalp in frustration. 

 

Come… back… ” 

 

He muttered, his legs giving up beneath him as he collapsed onto the ground. Tears were running down his cheeks, like diamonds basking in the light of the moon as it fell onto the ground, drop by drop. “ Please… ” 

 

He reached into his pocket, pulling out the hairpin. He cradled it in his hands gently, like it’s something so fragile, something that would break with a blow of the breath. He gritted his teeth, trying to fight back the tears that would not stop flowing. 

 

He felt a hand slowly patting him on the back, trying to soothe him. For one second he hoped. He hoped it was Childe. 

 

“Mr. Zhongli…” He heard a sigh from Hutao.

 

‘Is this fate?’ He thought to himself. 

 

He couldn’t stop anyone he cared for from leaving his side. History repeats itself, they say. It felt like it was 3,700 years ago once again. 

 

He closed his open palm into a shaky fist, enclosing the gift within it. 

 

Looking out to the horizon with teary eyes, he desperately hoped to see a ship that would never return.