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an emperor's duty

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Shortly after their entrance into the Imperial harem, the new Imperial Consort becomes the talk of the Snezhnayan Empire.

Commoners and nobles alike have taken interest in the person that has managed to steal the Emperor’s heart. While it is not a surprise for an Emperor to take in a concubine, the presence of Consort Morax was enough to shake the nation.

There are a few reasons. One is that the new Consort is an unrivalled beauty.

Hailing from the Kingdom of Liyue, the Consort is the epitome of elegance and grace. Their hair is described to be a flowing river of ebony, tips dipped in molten gold. Decked in finery—a symbol of the Emperor’s favour, their regal attire is adorned with gold and silver trimmings. Most iconically, a straight but gentle face, a cold and distant beauty. Hidden in the inner palace, their appearance remains mostly unknown, though accounts from the servants and Imperial Advisors of the palace fortunate enough to catch a glimpse spoke of amber eyes captivating enough to send them onto their knees.

But beauty is fleeting, not enough to make the citizens of Snezhnaya gape in shock. The biggest reason, perhaps the most shocking thing, is that the Liyuen beauty is the first Consort the Snezhnayan Emperor has ever taken in.

Snezhnaya loves their Emperor. They really do. Emperor Tartaglia, since his rise to the throne, has only ever brought peace and prosperity to their lands. Snezhnaya has been hailed one of the most successful nations in history under his rule, and it’s because the people especially love the Emperor that they desperately hope he’d get married.

It’s like having a child. A mother nagging their son to quickly settle down, almost.

In the few years of his reign, the Emperor has never even glanced in the direction of a lady, so much so that it was almost troublesome. The many blind dates and marriage proposals that the Imperial Advisors had painfully scraped together had either been shot down in an instant or utterly ruined by the man himself, who held zero (negative, it goes beyond zero) interest in love and marriage. One of the most famous instances includes the Prime Minister’s daughter, dressed in silks and ornate crowns, hoping for a match only to be challenged to a fight.

Snezhnaya did not ridicule her. Not even the juiciest of gossip columns bothered to make her unfortunate encounter into a sensation.

They pitied her.

Because, known to many, the Snezhnayan Emperor held a rather peculiar taste in hobbies.

An anonymous account of a retired maid who previously served under the Emperor:

‘I saw it. Seven to eight blades, all hidden underneath his robes. No one dares to guess what his Majesty does with them.’

Assassination? Perhaps, as long as his target gives him a good fight and wonderful thrill.

Tartaglia, the 11th Emperor of the Snezhnayan Empire, is what the people describe as battlesexual.

Out of the many things to be attracted to, Emperor Tartaglia is attracted to a good fight. A warrior at heart, his spare time is mostly spent at the training grounds where he kindly invites (intimidates) the highest of Imperial soldiers to spar with him. Of course, not just anyone gets the honour of sparring with the Emperor himself, therefore only distinguished generals from the recent Archon War are deemed worthy enough to cross blades with him. Being the most loyal of subjects, many of the chosen were afraid of injuring him, not knowing at the time that the Emperor takes delight in the thrill of a close fight.

And thus began the popularization of a punishment technique, invented by Emperor Tartaglia himself, where one is forced to plank with a dagger pointed at their most prized...family jewels. And several other creative punishments that were invented on the spot to punish (threaten) the soldiers (and their privates) who went easy on him.

In short, the Emperor was a man full of vitality who lusted after blood and thrill, and that is what made the appearance of the Imperial Consort all the more surprising.

Following the Imperial Consort’s promotion ceremony, newspaper headlines speculating on the reason for the Emperor’s favour: Could it be that the Imperial Consort has bent him? Was their overwhelming beauty enough to hook the Emperor’s soul away with one glance? The question that most had in their heads: did the Imperial Consort defeat the Emperor in a fight?

Tartaglia, rather Childe, doesn’t know himself. All three maybe?

 

 

 

Because his benevolence knows no bounds, Tartaglia, under disguise as Childe, likes to make trips to town to see the people’s suffering for himself. Except there usually aren’t many problems he has to deal with, so he takes advantage of these trips to add a few more off-days onto his calendar.

And on the most recent of these trips is where he finds a young man in the midst of the bustling streets, staring at a stick of tanghulu with an empty wallet and a frown.

So because his benevolence knows no bounds, what else can Tartaglia do other than pay for the candy? As a ruler, it is his duty to care for his people, and by buying this young man his desired treat, he has fulfilled his duty as the Emperor of Snezhnaya.

That does not begin to explain the next few hours, however. Somehow, Tartaglia lets himself be dragged around town by the man with amber eyes, visiting various restaurants and souvenir shops in the process. He also lets the man near-empty his wallet, though he couldn’t find it in himself to protest when Zhongli starts to ramble on about the origins of certain dishes in the Liyuen Cuisine, before ordering everything on the menu.

"This plate of Almond Tofu is rather exquisite. The taste is bitter, yet faint and not overwhelming. Kind on the tongue, the milk used enhances the flavour of the tofu and, when paired with the sugar, creates an even texture that softens the flesh and ripples like water when touched," the man says in one of his long speeches. "How fascinating."

Childe understands nothing. But Zhongli had made it sound so profound that he felt just shy of ignorant. So he keeps a smile and goes along with it, even when the man requests for him to leave a larger than required tip.

This is Childe's money he was using! But Childe lets it slide. Only because Zhongli seems so knowledgeable.

It is an Emperor’s duty. That is all to it, only a show of kindness when he foots the bill for Zhongli’s generosity, Tartaglia thinks to himself as he buys an expensive piece of Noctilucous jade for him.

"This Noctilucous jade is small, but a beautiful shade of translucent blue. It would be a shame not to buy it."

"Pasting a Windwheel Aster to wet glaze before it is fired in the kiln? Fascinating. The flower turns to ash, but its shape is forever retained. It would be a shame not to purchase this."

"Cor Lapis is itself hard to gather. It must have taken true skill indeed to unearth two pieces so alike. We should buy them."

And just what is he going to do with all of this? Display the fancy, shiny rocks? Does he hide a daily supply of Cor Lapis to rub into his eyes? Is that how he gets them to glow so stunningly?

He’s starting to think the latter is a conman who uses his pretty, naive face to attract unsuspecting nobles into splurging on him, considering all he has bought so far were fancy jades and useless trinkets with 4000 years worth of history to them, according to Zhongli, but he makes them seem so important. That probably explains why Tartaglia is so compelled to buy all of them for him.

Childe finds it hard to deny, though. Not when Zhongli gifts him a Glazed lily, a kind nod of his head.

On that account, he tries to forgive that it was bought with his own money. The gesture was sweet, and that's what mattered, right?

Either way, Childe is a nice man. He will not needlessly pester the man for something he could not help, so all he can do is detach himself from the situation when the time comes.

But just as he is about to put everything behind him and leave, Zhongli stops him with a tug on his sleeve and smiles. Smiles!

“Thank you for today, Childe,” he says, low and soothing. His poker face stretches into a small, gentle smile, and then Tartaglia’s heart skips a beat.

Oh.

Has Zhongli always been this pretty?

 

 

 

Impulse has always been in his character. There have been many instances where Childe acts on a personal whim rather than sound judgement, and such is when he'd smiled and said, "Do you want to come home with me?"

Childe doesn’t know what possesses him when he makes the decision to bring a man that he has only known for a day back to the Imperial Palace, but bad decisions are nothing new. He regrets phrasing it in a way that sounded like a proposition, though. Childe thinks he should be worried about Zhongli’s sense of self-preservation because the man just follows him back without question.

“It’s dangerous, Xiansheng,” he says, the nickname coined from the fact that Zhongli’s head seemed to contain an endless trove of knowledge and wisdom, “Are you just going to follow whoever wants to bring you home?”

To which the man replies, “Of course not. I do not follow just anyone.”

“Oh?”

“I will only follow you, because I think that you are of good character.”

He is sure that is hardly any reason to follow someone home. But he’ll let it slide this time because the one who Zhongli is following is him and not some random dick on the street.

One decree and half a day later, the biggest palace in the Imperial harem, previously empty and collecting dust, is now cleaned up, refurbished and occupied by a certain amber-eyed man.

"You have a big house," he'd said, and Childe only laughed.

Now, sitting in the courtyard and admiring the freshly bloomed bed of Qingxin flowers over tea is Tartaglia and a man dressed in silky onyx robes, hair loose and decorated with a hairpin made of Cor Lapis.

Childe makes a mental note to give the maid who helped him dress a raise.

“Qingxin flowers are known to only grow on the highest of stone peaks, and yet you have managed to bring them here. I do wonder how you have managed it."

To be honest, he'd brought them out on a whim. Childe had heard they were mostly from Liyue and thought Zhongli would like them, though he never knew of their existence in his garden before that.

“Your praise should go to the gardeners, Xiansheng. They are the ones who manage and keep these flowers alive," he says.

Picking one of the white flowers, he slides it behind Zhongli's ear, brushing back a lock of hair in the process.

He grins. "The flower looks good against your hair."

Zhongli's fingertips brush against the petals.

"I see. You should reward them for their hard work. It is not every day that you see such dedicated people," he says in all earnest, voice coloured in mirth.

It is at these times that Childe likes to think he is subtle when he catches himself staring at the shine of a pair of pink lips.

He brushes it off. "Anyway, I saw a new treat added to the snack stall. Wanna go?"

He is positive that none of this is normal. Picking a man he found pretty off the street and giving him a new home like he was some stray cat wasn’t normal according to normal human conventions, last he checked.

Yet, every day seems to further prove that arbitrary can be just fine.

The man is, for the lack of vocabulary, interesting, from the ramblings of trivia he shares to the snippets of Liyuen history Childe is sure is far too ancient to have been recorded. He is also astoundingly airheaded, based on the many instances he has forgotten to bring Mora to their subsequent nightly outings outside the palace. Childe isn't sure how he has survived up till now, but there's something about his forgetfulness that is quite endearing. Frankly, he has come not to mind paying for the man at all.

In three days after their chance encounter, Tartaglia has quickly learnt of the curve of his lips and the shine of his Cor Lapis eyes when sipping on a particularly fragrant blend of tea.

And in three days and one night, Tartaglia gets to see a side to Zhongli that he hopes no one has ever had the chance to—leaning against the pillar of a gazebo, mouth parted ever so slightly and eyes closed peacefully in slumber. His eyelashes brushed over his cheekbones, hair curling over his shoulder and a book lies forgotten in his hands. Moonlight falling on his shoulders, it gave the slender figure an angelic kind of glow.

Childe damn near stops breathing on the spot.

That night, against his better judgement, he brings Zhongli back to his chambers. For a moment, the man had felt so breakable in his arms, that Childe wasn’t sure how to hold him in a way that wouldn’t hurt. He tucks him in his own bed, snuffs the candle out and then secretly sneaks in a kiss on the forehead.

Then once he’s absolutely sure that the sleeping beauty won’t stir, Child takes a seat on the floor, leans against the side of the bed, buries his face into his hands and groans.

 

 

 

He accidentally fell asleep.

He accidentally fell asleep, in Zhongli’s chambers. By his bedside.

Tartaglia wakes up to a pair of curious amber eyes in his face. Then he yelps and scrambles away, the realisation slowly dawning on him.

Sitting up, Zhongli opens his mouth to speak.

“I-I’m sorry!” Childe blurts out before the other could say anything, probably words of reprimand and ire.

Zhongli’s eyebrows pinch together, and he looks relatively confused as to why Childe was in his bedroom—then he smiles, a tiny quirk of the lips, like the truth has just dawned on him.

“There is nothing to be sorry for,” he says. “You must have brought me here after I fell asleep at the gazebo. If not for you, I would’ve slept in the open, so I must thank you.”

He blinks, eyelashes fluttering, lips stretching into a wider smile in a way that must be laughing at Childe’s expression right then. Which he cannot blame him for, because Childe’s cheeks must be a jarring shade of crimson from how warm his face is feeling.

“I, uh, i-it’s no problem?” says Childe, unsurely, but it manages to elicit a delighted chuckle from the other.

And mind you, that it was morning. Zhongli’s hair was tousled from sleep, robes in slight disarray, and from the arm that was propping him up, a pale shoulder peeks out from where the robe’s collar has loosened and fallen off.

‘Childe’ Tartaglia, 11th Emperor of the Snezhnayan Empire swears to fucking Tsaritsa that he isn’t a pervert. It’s a completely normal reaction when he barely manages to suppress a nosebleed (and a boner) by flashing memories of his grandmother through his head.

But Zhongli was just so ethereal. And Childe wanted him for himself.

“Childe? Are you feeling unwell?”

What he thinks is, you are gorgeous. I love it when you tell me about Liyue and ramble on, even about the most useless of things, because you look extremely endearing throughout. I’ve never met anyone like you, and I think I’m starting to like you. Please be my consort.

What he says is, “Fight me.” You're beautiful.

And if Childe didn’t think Zhongli was a bundle of surprises before, he does now.

“Alright.”

 

 

 

He hadn't meant to say it. Childe didn't even know if Zhongli could fight. Contrary to popular belief, fighting wasn't everything. He'd much rather avoid hurting someone he likes if he could help it.

But that is where Zhongli continues to surprise him, again and again. And now he stands in the centre of the training grounds, shaking in full-blown laughter.

Their audience, a mix of servants and imperial guards, collectively flinch. Not that he could care less. Because he's utterly, genuinely overjoyed.

The subject of his favour twirls a polearm in his hand with practised ease, looking every bit like a seasoned warrior. His face remains impassive even when Childe charges at him, calmly sidestepping to dodge and occasionally lifting his weapon to block.

As the one with the more aggressive fight style, Childe relentlessly rains blows on Zhongli, looking for every opening to strike. But the latter's defence is airtight, and it holds up so well throughout the fight that Childe starts to feel hints of exhaustion seep into his bones.

"Xiansheng is amazing," he breathes as he moves, adrenaline pulsing through his veins.

Without breaking focus, Zhongli replies, "You are highly skilled as well."

"Hopefully skilled enough to defeat you!"

The polearm swings above his head the same time he ducks down. Childe takes the chance to lunge at Zhongli's torso, readying his training dagger for a strike to the gut. Zhongli manages to twist away, though barely, and it sends him tumbling to the ground, though not before Childe finds himself swept off his feet.

Taken by surprise and not able to recover in time, it is too late to evade the hand that wraps around his neck and slams him onto the ground, back-first.

The blade of the polearm drives through the ground beside his ear. Zhongli rests on his lap, shadowing over him with glowing amber eyes.

"It is my victory."

He declares with a command in his voice fit of a god. At that moment, Childe decided that he looked just like one, too.

"Haha...Xiansheng truly is the best."

He has finally found the perfect match, both in combat and love. Who knew there would be someone as perfect as Zhongli out there?

Childe grins maniacally. He knows his future wife when he sees it.

Tartaglia tilts his head to glare at a passing Imperial Advisor he knows had stopped to watch; he fully expects a blank edict and the Imperial seal on his desk by evening and no objections from the council.

 

 

 

And thus, the first and last consort to be ever taken in by the 11th Snezhnayan Emperor, Consort Morax, will be crowned.

But before that, Childe wants to personally deliver the news to the man himself.

He starts to get jittery outside the doors to Zhongli's chamber, disgustingly like a schoolgirl about to confess to their crush. But Childe refuses to act as undignified, and so through a series of deep breaths, he calms himself down and knocks before entering, keeping his head high like the monarch he is.

(Fake the confidence, La Signora had said, fake the fucking confidence.)

“Childe?” Zhongli had been trying on a new earring, one that Childe recognizes as a gift from himself. “What brings you here?”

“Am I not allowed to come to see you whenever I feel like it?” he cheekily grins.

“You are free to come as you wish.”

“Of course. This is my house, after all.”

Warm, light laughter spills out of his lips. Zhongli’s expression was dipped in seriousness.

“I jest. Should you not want to, I will not force you to entertain me,” says Childe. “Though I will be quite lonely,” he tacks on as an afterthought.

The tiniest of smiles. “Then it’s good that I enjoy your presence. Is that not why I agreed to follow you home?”

Pause, and his eyes widen.

"You...enjoy my presence," Childe dumbly repeats.

"Yes."

Suddenly, he's glad he's alive.

“Ah...you can’t just say those kinds of things so suddenly, Xiansheng…”

Childe mumbles a string of curses. He clasps the back of his hand over his mouth and hopes Zhongli doesn’t notice the growing flush on his cheeks.

"Childe? Are you unwell?"

Childe attempts to direct his attention away. “Anyway, I’m here for something else,” he decides to change the subject. “Uh…”

Sensing his hesitation, Zhongli tries to prompt. “Childe?” 

“I…”

All the confidence he previously held deflates in an instant, leaving Childe struggling to form words. He even had a tiny-speech planned out, dammit! What will Tonia say? He didn’t read 2 of her romance novels for nothing!

He can almost picture it. La Signora, in his head, you absolute coward. And Scaramouche adding oil to the fire. It's because he has a microscopic dick, isn't it? 

Childe momentarily regrets the time he teased the midget about how dick sizes translated to courage, just because he refused to fight him in the name of diplomacy. But it wasn't completely annoying when his next words only manage to dislodge itself from his throat from spite.

Childe makes a mental note to thank the Inazuman diplomat later. And maybe spit on his face.

“Zhongli. I say this as Tartaglia, and not Childe,” he begins. “I have fallen for you, Zhongli. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. No matter what you do, I find myself enraptured by you.”

His enamoured smile grows wider with the blush that starts to tint Zhongli’s ears.

“I like you. Please be my Consort.”

There is a long silence.

Childe starts to fidget. His mind swirls in panic, did he just mess up? Was Zhongli going to beat him up and leave?

Then Zhongli speaks. “I…” His lips part, then purse adorably, eyes darting to the side as if embarrassed. “I...am fond of you as well, Childe.”

Childe’s face lights up, heart swelling with affection. “Is that a yes?”

There is a shy nod from Zhongli, to which Childe responds with a grin. And a kiss. He leans over, caging Zhongli in his arms against the vanity table where he sat, then tenderly presses his lips against the other’s. Eventually, Zhongli, with inexperience, fumbles to kiss back, and Childe feels his heart swell in his chest.

Exchanging slow and shy kisses, they don’t part for a long time. But when they do, Childe’s lips are trembling with want.

No, he cannot act rashly. He wants to wait for the official ceremony so that he can ravish Zhongli as his Consort Morax. He’ll spoil him and dress him up in the finest of silks and the most magnificent jewellery, which Tartaglia will then make sure to take full pleasure in stripping his wife of.

(By Tsaritsa, he may just be a pervert. But only for Zhongli.)

 

 

 

With Tartaglia present, Zhongli is granted the title Consort Morax of the Snezhnayan Emperor. Languidly sprawled across his throne, he beckons his Consort closer, smirking at the ornate attire that billows around him so prettily.

Zhongli gracefully makes his way over to the arm of his throne, lustrous hair brushing against Tartaglia’s fingertips that come to cup his cheek.

He was in a good mood today. Tartaglia decides on the spot that the maids all deserved a reward, especially the ones who put that streak of red beneath his eyes. It made Zhongli’s eyes pop.

“My Consort,” he rumbled, pleased. “You look lovely, Zhongli.”

A hand cups the one over his face. “Thank you, Childe. Or should I say, Tartaglia?”

Everyone in the room gasps at the Consort’s audacity to address the Emperor directly, but Tartaglia shuts them up with a glare. He rather liked the way his name slid off Zhongli's tongue.

(But it wouldn’t be so bad either if Zhongli were to come undone underneath him, 'Your Majesty's falling from his swollen lips in a series of whimpers—Yeah, he is a complete pervert.)

Then he laughs delightfully.

“Let us retire to our chambers, my wife.”

And he whisks Zhongli away.

 

 

 

Several days later, as Childe licks a grape off the fingers that feed him:

“Recently, the servants have been addressing me as ‘Your Highness.’”

Childe's attention perks up, mainly at the reminder of Zhongli's new status as his wife.

“Of course. I’ll have them flogged if they don’t," he says. Propping his chin on his palm, “Are you still unused to it?”

Zhongli pops another grape into his mouth. Childe makes sure to run his tongue over the slender fingers a little bit. “Rather than unused, I am confused.”

“Eh?”

“I am but a commoner. Now, even as a noble’s spouse, I am not in high enough a position to be addressed as such,” Zhongli states with all the audacity in the world.

He’s...kidding, right?

“Zhongli,” Childe sits upright, blinking in bewilderment. “You are the Imperial Consort. Consort Morax.”

Zhongli looks up with puzzlement colouring his eyes.

“Imperial Consort…” Zhongli suddenly starts to engage in critical thinking, “You...are the Emperor?”

He swears he hears something in his head snap.

“Zhongli, you didn’t know?