Zhongli emptied the middle shelf of the refrigerator and deposited everything into his duffle. Cookies, sandwiches, small water bottles, and a few light snacks that Zhongli often overlooked.
The coldness gushing from the compartment shyly kissed his face like a wispy ghost.
Zhongli's fingers shivered - not from the cold - as he carefully but hastily took all the necessities he required. His eyes only strayed occasionally to the entryway, which led further ahead to the front door.
His alpha could be home any moment now. He could not dally.
Zhongli's other hand went to his belly. His palm flattened as he massaged his abdomen, where life was growing within.
"All will be well," he soothed gently. His voice a fleeting echo in the kitchen. Yet, Zhongli didn't doubt his shaky baritone could reach his offspring’s ears. One could call it a mother's intuition.
The life inside him didn't respond. As to be expected. It was only two months old for now. One day, Zhongli would feel his child's first kick. Would feel the tiniest of thump.
For a moment, the omega forgot the predicament he was in. His fingers stopped trembling and his heart was light again.
The clock chimed. And Zhongli exhaled.
Quick! Hurry! He could be home soon--
Once he was done packing, Zhongli zipped his duffle bag and ran towards the exit, donning nothing but a simple thick hooded jacket over a dark shirt and dark trousers. He gripped his gloved-hands. It was going to be cold outside.
Compared to being here, the snow or blizzard or the excessive coldness out there was much more preferable. Much safer.
One would call Zhongli selfish, exposing his growing baby to potential harm. However, at least his offspring would have even an ounce of a chance to live outside.
Zhongli held the knob tightly, looking over his shoulder one last time. His heart thrummed, the searing fear in his ribcage was clawing at him.
He took a glance at his once-home, feeling the heartache distend rapidly.
Zhongli had come to love his alpha in this very same home. Despite his alpha's wealth and position and power, they lived a humble life, as per Zhongli's request.
He had been truly happy, loving his alpha with his whole heart.
Zhongli loved his alpha still. Tremendously in love with him. But his baby--
"I'm sorry," Zhongli whispered. He pushed the door open. The snow was gentle against the earth, soft like feathers from a torn pillow. The cold was not dire, just a tiny poke on his skin like a mother's touch.
"I'm sorry," he whispered again. To his child this time. Zhongli did not remove the black collar around his neck. A symbol of possession.
("You're mine now, Zhongli. Precious, beloved omega of mine. Mine. Mine. Even the Gods cannot take you from me.")
Zhongli ran and he did not look back.
His alpha would hunt him down. Even if he must tear the entire world apart to find him.
'The subway in the northeast. Near the Dottore's abandoned factories. Right entrance. Fourth pillar. I'll be there.'
Zhongli reread the note for the second time, memorizing the instruction, and imprinting it into his mind before he crumpled the small note in his hand and threw it to the nearest bin.
He hastened his footsteps, pulling the hoodie to hide the long black ponytail fluttering behind him; amber eyes scanning the surroundings keenly.
The crowd was like an ocean, and the voices oscillating inside the subway were naught but a fleeting sound.
No one was staring at him. Zhongli breathed a little easier.
Zhongli wanted to believe his alpha wouldn't do anything drastic but the omega had spent years with his alpha.
He grew up with the man who wore a happy and innocent-like grin to shroud the bellicose jingoism and infernal bloodlust beneath. Something he shared with the rest of his siblings.
The omega knew his alpha well.
By now, Zhongli didn't doubt the man had noticed his absence. He'd utilize the authority he possessed and employ all the Fatui agents under him to scout the entire city.
Zhongli needed to leave Snezhnaya before it was too late.
His shoes tapped against the mosaic, hands curled in the hem of his jacket. Right entrance. Fourth pillar.
There! Zhongli spotted Xiao standing idly by, waiting for him. Almost inconspicuous if people didn't know what they were looking for.
Zhongli opened his mouth to call his friend's name, only to shut it quickly. The excitement almost blinded Zhongli to the fact that he might risk Xiao's safety even further by using his birth name.
Zhongli had already asked too much from his friend by asking Xiao to help him flee the corrupted city of Snezhnaya.
"Alatus," Zhongli said kindly. He stood behind the shorter man. Xiao jolted, surprised. He turned around to give Zhongli a dirty look.
"Don't sneak up on me like that," Xiao warned without heat in his voice. Zhongli only smiled at the beta. He was tired. His feet hurt but the adrenaline was like a snake around his body.
Zhongli's hand went to his midsection as he stared at Xiao. "Alatus, Xiao," he whispered the name so quietly under his breath, "I'm sorry for getting you involved in this mess but I was desperate and I--... I'm sorry."
"You've apologized enough, Zhongli." Xiao waved his hand offhandedly. Though the gentleness in his eyes was prominent. "I'd be angrier if you hadn't come to me," the shorter man said as he fished for something in his pocket.
Xiao pulled out a small, spear-shaped silver keychain and put it on Zhongli's palm. He then enclosed Zhongli's fist around the small object when he stared up at the omega.
"Remember what I've told you before: when you reach the Northern harbor, go to the second pier, and walk to the edge. You'll see the stairs on the left. Take the stairs and keep going down until you see a faint lamplight and a small ship. Bosacius will be there. Show the keychain to him and he'll take you to Liyue. The harbor is abandoned so please, Zhongli, be careful. For your baby's sake as well. You're given three days to reach the harbor before he leaves forever. Do not be late."
Xiao was calm as he explained everything. Of course, he would be. He'd been helping omegas escape their... controlling alphas for so long. It was frowned upon, of course.
Most underground activities involved omegas. Hence, it was inevitable that some alphas and betas didn't like their source of income being spirited away.
Zhongli's eyes hardened. "How about you then? There's a chance he might know you're involved in this when he uncovers your plan. He won't be forgiving."
Xiao shrugged. Then he grinned. He kissed the back of the omega's hand before he released his hold.
"Your alpha won't be able to connect this to me. Don't worry," Xiao promised."I've been doing this for years. It's fine. I'm only sorry I couldn't do more. If I could, I'd have personally accompanied you to the harbor."
But there was a tint of concern in his gaze that didn't soothe the fear in Zhongli's heart.
"Do you want to be free? Do you want your baby to be safe?" Xiao questioned. Zhongli nodded. "Then this is the only way," Xiao assured. The concern in his voice lingered.
The Fatui would always know. The Fatui would always find a way.
And Zhongli's alpha was one of the Tsaritsa's eleven royal, precious children. Hence, Zhongli's alpha held a very large significant influence over the continent.
His alpha would know of Xiao's involvement. It was only a matter of time.
"Come with me, Xiao."
"I cannot. I'm sorry, Zhongli, but there are people here who still need me."
Xiao tiptoed and pecked Zhongli's cheek. He gently brushed his thumb under the omega's eye, wiping the unshed tears.
Xiao smiled. "I've wished you joy since the moment I first saw you, Zhongli. Be well."
Zhongli watched his friend go. He gripped the keychain tightly. Felt the coldness from the steel mirroring the icy spikes in his chest.
Reach the harbor in three days. Easier said than done.
Especially when Fatui had eyes almost everywhere.
Zhongli did not live in a good world.
Like most omegas, Zhongli was born a Sklave. Sold by his parents to the Red House where he would be nurtured and raised under efficient and strict masters. One day, he would be used as an instrument to soothe alphas' rut.
A whore, in a simpler sense. A Sklave. Not all omegas were Sklaves but all Sklaves were omegas.
A world without rules, without laws, and omegas were one of the precious transactions in the world. Properties to be leashed by alphas and betas.
Of course, alphas and betas tore each other apart as well. Ruthless and brutal. Sea of blood.
Zhongli would grow up accepting such a fate.
Until he was bought by the Tsaritsa herself, the queen of Snezhnaya - icy stare and icy smile and icy heart, whose corruption ran deep, even to the other continents - and gifted Zhongli to her youngest child as his playmate.
She didn't foresee her youngest child to fall in love.
Crystalline blue eyes found shimmering amber and the obsession bloomed like intricate knots, no end, and no beginning; sewn together for all eternity.
("Zhongli, when we grow up, I'll mark you, and I'll marry you, and I'll love you always. There won't be a day in which you don't want me. I'll make you need me."
"Oh. Okay. What do I need to do then?"
"Stay close to me. Never leave my side ever. If you do--)
It'd been hours since he last saw Xiao.
For now, Zhongli needed to find a place to stay for the night. A nameless inn probably tucked away from society, away from Fatui's watchful eyes.
Zhongli knew a place once. When he wasn't a Sklave yet. Just a runaway little boy.
He prayed the place was still there. Not a hotel. Not even an inn. But a gateway abode for homeless omegas to rest momentarily.
Zhongli walked to the location instead. He felt a lot safer when he was surrounded by options to run easily instead of being trapped in a vehicle.
Nocturnal dust unfurled in the sky, the clouds overcast, and the stars were veiled.
Down here, the neighborhood was dangerous. Cries and shouts and a palpable scent of something murky, something coppery swirled in the air like a warning.
Zhongli touched his belly.
The omega crept carefully. He was treated like an animal once, worse than a dog, skulking amongst the predators, before he was owned by his alpha, and so Zhongli knew how to avoid the dangers easily.
Old habits die hard, as the people said.
He reached the rundown building. Tomorrow, he'd venture to the harbor.
Zhongli entered the rickety building. Omegas' wary eyes found him, huddling together in the dark, hiding their faces from the world with the little candles to warm them. The snow wasn't too merciless tonight.
"Madame Ping?" Zhongli called out softly. No one answered. He tried again. Eventually, on the third time, a voice answered him.
"Shouri? Shouri, is that you? It's you, isn't it? I'd know those lovely eyes anywhere."
Zhongli smiled once he saw her. Old and weary, almost boneless, fatigue clinging to her like the weight of the world. She might plummet anytime and there would be no sound to accompany her fall.
"Madame Ping," Zhongli muttered. She went to him, weeping, as she wrapped her arms around him. Zhongli returned the embrace.
"Shouri, the last time I saw you… oh, it'd been so long, my boy. You were running away from your parents, and yet they still found you." she whispered, holding his hands in her much smaller ones. "I thought they'd sold you to the Red House."
She still used his false name so dearly. He didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.
Zhongli's smile was small. It didn't reach his eyes. "They..." he found himself at an impasse. He didn't wish to lie to her. To lace flowers in his words. But Zhongli didn't want her to worry.
"They took me back. Everything was fine," he assured her gently. Madame Ping had been very kind to him during his brief stay in her little rundown home.
She beamed at him. Her eyes didn't glisten in joy. She glanced at his collar. "If everything was fine, you wouldn't be here, among us, the wretched, trying to stay hidden."
Zhongli's little smile fell. His heart throbbed. "No, I suppose not."
Madame Ping hummed. "Come and rest. You'll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. Do not tire your heart. Tonight, you rest."
Zhongli acquiesced. His legs felt heavy.
Outside, the world was covered in a veil of white but it might as well be on fire.
("This is where the alpha touched you?"
"Please, she just bumped into me. I didn't mean--"
"Shh. It's okay, Zhongli. You're not at fault here. Just let me bite you to get rid of the stench "
"Should I find the alpha that 'bumped' into you then? What does she look like? What was she thinking when she touched what wasn't hers, I wonder."
"It was an accident."
"I think. I. Think. I think she'd bleed nicely under my blade, don't you think? Plump fat, soft skin cut open, eyes gouged from their sockets. Blood on my fingers, on my tongue. Do you think she'd scream nicely when I skin her like a fruit--"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, Keqing didn't mean to. It was an accident, I swear it was. She's just a friend."
"So you do know her. Where else did she touch you, beloved? Tell me so I can punish her properly, hmm?"
"Don't do this. Please. I am sorry."
"I know you are, Zhongli. Now be a good omega and let me bite you. Then you will tell me the rest of the other alphas you are familiar with. We have to get rid of all the unwanted vermins-- oh, lyubimy. Don't cry. All will be fine. I promise you.")
Zhongli left Madame Ping's home the next day. He had nothing to give her. No mora. No wealth to his name. Everything he had, belonged to his alpha.
The only thing he could give her was a small farewell and a tight hug and a promise to return. The last one would be hard to fulfill but Zhongli would never make a broken promise.
Zhongli curled into his thick jacket, pulling the hoodie to shield him from the snow. He ate while he walked, a peanut sandwich wedged between his fingers. A water bottle in another. His duffle collided softly against his back.
His boots left temporary prints on the pure flakes. Zhongli barely bit into the food before he swallowed it. Uneasiness pouring from his skin.
Something was coming. Zhongli walked faster.
With an apology to the life he was carrying, Zhongli began to run.
It was dusk when he reached the Northern harbor by foot. The snow wasn't deep.
Xiao was right. The place was abandoned. No lights within the vicinity. Overhead, the birds of winter cooed, watching him.
Zhongli didn't know whether to felt safe or not. The thought didn't linger for too long, though, as Zhongli quickly strode towards the pier. Second pier. Walk till the end. Stairs to the left.
Zhongli spotted the stairs easily despite the darkness that began settling in. He hesitated before he took his first descent. Going down and down until he arrived at a walkway leading to a small hidden ship.
It wouldn't be a comfortable ride but the ship could withstand the brunt of the waves. At least, Zhongli hoped.
He saw the faint lamplight first before he saw anything else. Zhongli breathed easily. The ship was purposely left without any other lights possibly to shroud it better in the darkness.
The silence coiled around him, the shadows changed shapes, and the sea swayed. Zhongli felt eyes on him even when no one was there.
He saw a short man standing near the railing. The man turned around once he heard a squeak. Sharp eyes found Zhongli's hesitant ones.
The omega swallowed. "Bosacius?"
The short man sighed. He straightened his ridiculously large hat. "Close. But not quite," the man said. Then he backed away and pointed at a… body behind him.
"This is the guy. A bitch to kill but whatever," the shorter man said, vexed.
Zhongli's words died on his tongue. Eyes wide, fingers quaked, and lips trembled. Zhongli quickly spun around to flee the scene--
--only to promptly run into a familiar warmth. Zhongli felt strong arms straightened him, keeping him in place. Protective. One hand went around his waist, chaining Zhongli close to the body.
"Hate to say this but I guess I owe one, Scaramouche," the voice spoke, obviously irritated.
No. No no no no!
Zhongli glanced at the man.
In the darkness, his face was bright as he leaned forward until their faces were only inches apart, their noses touching.
A twisted affection rose from those bright blue eyes as they stared lovingly at Zhongli, pinning him down with exuberant want and desire.
"Lyubimy, where do you think you're going?" He whispered against Zhongli's lips.
"Childe," Zhongli's breaths quivered.
"Who else, beloved? Are you expecting someone else?" Childe teased. A twinkle in his eyes. He didn't remove his arms around Zhongli.
"Let. Me. Go," Zhongli snarled. He writhed in the alpha's arms. Childe only tilted his head. He didn't budge from the force, content to watch the omega struggle.
Scaramouche laughed behind them. "I'll leave you two lovebirds alone then. Don't get killed, little brother," the shorter man sneered as he took his leave, but not before languidly kicking the body into the cold water below.
Now, they were alone on the old ship.
Then, ever so brusquely, the alpha let out a soft laugh as he pulled the omega for a sway. Chest to chest.
It wasn't a dance. Just an artless twist to smother the omega with a growing discomfort that Zhongli alone was feeling.
Childe hummed, pecking Zhongli's cheek once. Twice. His gaze was laden with the usual tamed madness and deep devotion.
Zhongli would have wept. His heart leaping from his breastbone if he wasn't so drowned by the painful constraint slithering over his body.
The omega truly thought he was used to his alpha's intermittent temper, viewing it as nothing but a normal equation in his life.
Yet, terror rooted Zhongli to the ground.
He was afraid for his baby's life.
On the pier, Zhongli heard the bustle of footsteps. Probably the Fatui agents that were under Childe's authority. Surrounded.
He had nowhere to run.
"You've been very naughty, haven't you, Zhongli? Worrying me like that. I almost burned the entire Snezhnaya looking for you. Of course, mother wouldn't like that," Childe declared petulantly.
With every little foolish resolve he could muster, Zhongli hissed and tried to claw at his alpha's face. He hesitated, though.
Childe easily caught his wrists. His eyes narrowed. Nonplussed by Zhongli's sudden hostility.
"Be still." The alpha's Command resonated gravely.
The weight of the order pressed Zhongli to the ground. His heart fluttered. And he'd have fallen on his knees if Childe wasn't holding him.
Zhongli's mind undulated. Barely coherent as Childe sniffed him.
The alpha harshly pulled his hoodie back, kissing Zhongli's exposed nape, and nipping at the skin behind his ear. Unmindful of the very collar Childe had put around his omega's neck.
Then the alpha growled. "Your scent has been soiled, Zhongli. You've let other people near you. And now you smell like something rotten. Fuck. Who else? Did anyone else touch you, Zhongli?"
Childe's voice dripped with poison.
"Tartaglia. Childe," Zhongli muttered. He needed…
He needed to fight the Command. Run. Run far away. For his baby.
Zhongli didn't get to say anything else as Childe ripped his intrusive jacket, down to the dark shirt before Childe harshly sank his teeth into Zhongli's nape, where his Claiming mark was located.
The omega screamed.
The scent of blood permeated in the air. Thick and profound. He wanted to writhe in his alpha's arms but his alpha's Command didn't allow Zhongli to fight back.
Tartaglia. Childe. Ajax.
His alpha's canines dug deeper and deeper until the metallic taste bubbled in his mouth, siphoning the omega's strength, keeping him lethargic. Docile.
Zhongli struggled some more, attempting to push his alpha away. Curses hanging loosely at the tip of his tongue. Adamant and ferocious to the very end.
But such a thing meant nothing in the presence of an alpha.
Childe kept biting his darling omega until Zhongli went pliant in his arms, numb.
Tears moistened his eyes. Zhongli grit his teeth. He needed to at least stay coherent.
Zhongli always hated that about him. The omega part of him that would never fail to succumb to his alpha.
"Zhongli," Childe muttered once he backed away. Teeth bloodied and mouth red. Childe's arms curled around Zhongli, his cheek on the omega's shoulder as he inhaled the scent of his omega.
Then Childe wept. Face hidden.
"I was so scared when I couldn't smell you in our home. I thought… I thought someone had stolen you from me. I ransacked our home searching for you, calling out for you. I accidentally destroyed your favorite mug. I'm so sorry about that, I'll get you a new one so don't cry, okay?"
Zhongli's head lolled to the side. Mouth parted. Closed. Parted again. No words came out. His eyes were dazed. His legs gave out. Childe kept him afloat. Tired.
"But. Then I realized that you… you left and I-- oh. Then I realized that you wanted to play hide and seek with me. Like when we were children. Did you remember that? I always found you in the end. It made me both happy and angry. It was so silly," Childe admitted.
He laughed abruptly. Voice bright. The sadness diminished entirely.
"I thought for a moment, did you truly mean to leave me? But of course not! You love me. Gods, so obvious and I couldn't see it. You would never leave me. You need me. You'll die without me. You need me. So I forgive you this time. But no more playing, okay? The underground railway, the rundown home ran by that nice old lady, the park where you rested-- I had to burn those places down so you won't go there anymore. I still need to find Xiao though. That little rat got away."
Childe pouted, nuzzling Zhongli's face. The omega was barely awake. "But it's okay now, Zhongli. I found you. Again."
No. Let me go.
Childe backed away. Zhongli fell, only to be caught by his alpha.
His neck hurt and Zhongli felt the blood trickling from his Claiming mark. Childe didn't lick the wound to heal it, possibly to punish him again.
His alpha carried him away, one of his arms went under Zhongli's legs and the other under his back, pulling Zhongli close to his chest. Childe kissed his forehead lovingly, murmuring sweet promises.
"Sleep," his alpha ordered.
Through his half-lidded eyes, Zhongli saw the way Childe's eyes hover to his belly. Blue eyes darkened at the sight, raw fury smeared Childe's face.
"We're getting rid of this parasite inside you. No more delaying. I told you before, I don't like sharing you with anyone else."
Shadows pulled him down and sleep came to him like a gentle hymn.
Zhongli fell asleep.
"Hmm?" Childe kissed his cheek, pulling Zhongli close until the omega draped all over him, sitting in the alpha's lap. Childe brushed the dark locks from Zhongli's eyes, greedy to catch the sight of the omega's amber eyes.
Zhongli smiled softly at him. "I'm… I'm pregnant."
Childe's smile widened. "That's good. That's good, right? You're happy?"
Zhongli nodded. He was happy. Very much. He was worried his alpha would… react negatively, seeing that Childe could be terribly possessive of him.
Sometimes, a little bit too much to the point it frightened the omega.
"I am happy," Zhongli affirmed. He rested his face on the alpha's shoulder, sighing. Content. "I'm blessed to have both you and our baby to cherish. To love."
He felt Childe go rigid.
"You love? The baby?" Childe asked. Something in his voice sounded odd. Zhongli couldn't tell what.
The omega looked at his alpha, bemused. "Yes?"
Childe stayed quiet, looking absolutely lost. When he spoke, there was a resonant hiss to his voice that wasn't there before. Low and cold. "I have to share you?"
Zhongli nodded very slowly. Unsure of what was going on.
His alpha's eyes slowly went to Zhongli's abdomen, where their baby was growing, and Childe's stare would linger for a long, long while.)