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Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbbell

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He kind of still sucks with bows, but Childe thinks he has it mostly down by now. Even if literally throwing arrows does more damage than using one, he mentally ticks it off the list in his mind: bows, now at a somewhat passable skill level. There's a sense of satisfaction to that, even if he still has to practice.

 

Ah, but what challenge remains now?

 

...the answer comes to him in an unusual way. A rock to the face, specifically.

 

Ningguang’s brows are slightly knitted when she turns around, her face wearing the fake kind of sorry that politicians prize. "My apologies." She gestures to the bags of groceries weighing him down, star jades hovering in a circle behind her. "I was not expecting the likes of you on Yujing Terrace, but I see that you are busy."

 

Childe wants to roll his eyes, but he's still on the last few days of a diplomatic mission. "It's no harm done. I should’ve been looking where I was going." Childe cranes his neck past the pile of Stuff in his arms, eyes zooming in on the catalyst hovering in front of her. As it disappears in a flurry of gold, he realizes that he's never tried using one of those before. Uh. 

 

Well, he supposes he can make one more stop before the pile of items he’s bought topples over. (Why is he everyone’s sugar daddy again? Why does Paimon eat so much?)

 

Once he’s handed the groceries to Aether, he drops himself on the floor of his bedroom. The sound of cooking is unmistakable, though distant, as are Paimon’s enthusiastic shrills. Ah well. It kind of reminds him of home, so it’s fine. It’s the least he can do, allowing them to borrow his kitchen.

 

Childe lets his one personal purchase fall onto the floorboards. It clinks on the wood before floating up, rotating slowly.

 

He’s killed plenty of people who used Emerald Orbs. How difficult can it be to figure it out?

 

Childe calls upon the power of his Vision, letting it slip into the centermost gem. He’s good at control. He can have his power take any shape— This exercise lacks the physicality he’s used to, but that’s just one more challenge to conquer. 

 

The speed at which the gem rotates changes as he focuses on it. Cool. Okay. Okay. He’s good at channeling his power until it materializes, using a catalyst is going to be a piece of cake. Making a small water creature should do it, right?

 

He wills water into shape via the catalyst, but it just shows up in his hand instead. Ah. 

 

He tries again, and again, but he can’t even tell whether he’s actually using the puzzling weapon or not. He’s too used to fighting bare handed, Vision manifesting swords of water with naught but his imagination alone. What would a catalyst add to his style? Childe huffs, frustrated, but then Aether calls him for dinner and he flops backwards on the floor.

 

Since the Golden House fiasco, he hasn’t gone out to eat in restaurants everyday like he had before. He buys ready-made food, or he whips up something for himself, but he doesn’t eat outside anymore. It’s going to be a little more interesting to have company tonight, even if it’s only as thanks for letting Aether attempt to master a new dish (what’s so great about Adeptus Temptation anyway?). 

 

“I can’t help you,” Aether declares. “I’ve always used a sword. I’d offer to ask Lisa, but…” The Knights of Favonius aren’t exactly favorable to the Fatui, and there’s no way a Knight a country over would be willing to randomly give pointers.

 

Unfortunately, the only Catalyst user Childe knows of in Liyue is the one who “accidentally” knocked him in the face this very day, and he’s lucky(?) the Tianqian hasn’t hunted him for sport yet for the whole Osial incident. It’d be fun, but she probably wouldn’t give pointers, either.

 

“Maybe Zhongli would know?” Paimon pipes up, “He knows so many useless things!”

 

Childe answers her with a tone just a tad too flat to be truly neutral. “I am aware.”

 

They haven’t talked since the fiasco at the bank. Childe... has been telling himself he doesn’t particularly want to. Betrayal churns in his gut, and he pushes his food around his plate for a petulant minute before forking the rest of it to his mouth.

 

The box he keeps the chopsticks in lies closed right next to his forearm. Maybe he’s a little petty. Or a little pathetic. He can’t tell which. He retrieves it every meal, but he hasn’t opened it since his last meal with the fake funeral parlor consultant.

 

“Didn’t he have a catalyst in his house?” Paimon asks, ignoring Childe’s foul mood. “The golden glowy cube he was poking at?” 

 

Aether hums, remembering what she’s talking about. “It looked rare and expensive. I’d never seen any catalyst like that before. Something right out of a really lucky shrine of depth...”

 

The two share treasure-hoarding grins with one another, before bursting into giggles.

 

Must be nice to be an adventurer.

 

“Maybe you should try with a different catalyst?” Aether hazards, “something with a more unique effect you’ll be able to feel out better?”

 

A few hours later, Aether is happily snoozing the night away in Childe’s guest room. The strange metallic parts of his clothes hold a soft glow, like a star captured in his ribcage. Paimon, too, is asleep, curled next to him like Teucer did when he used to sneak into Ajax’s bed, back home.

 

They’ll be safe here, so Childe is free to partake in a mildly spiteful heist.

 

It’s impulsive, and absolutely a bad decision, but if he does meet Zhongli while breaking into his house (he’s only been once or twice, but he hasn’t been able to forget the way) he might get to fight the ex-archon, and that’s a favorable outcome. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

...the mysterious golden catalyst thing is an excuse, and he is fully aware of that. He’s been bored since he stopped hanging out with Zhongli. He wants to confront the guy before leaving. He wouldn’t keep the damned box of chopsticks tucked near his heart if he didn’t. 

 

But Zhongli’s been avoiding him, he’s been avoiding Zhongli, they’re both utterly stupid, clearly. Or maybe it’s just Childe. Zhongli’s six thousands years old after all. He must know better. 

 

And it just makes Childe mad to know with certainty, that if he’d asked directly, he wouldn’t have been lied to. Zhongli’s too honest for his own good. At best, he would’ve changed the subject. At worst, he would have simply agreed and then changed the subject, like it didn’t matter, because what matters when you’re a dragon and almost twice as old as the country you live in? 

 

Certainly not Childe. He’s not important. He can’t possibly be important to the endearing fool. It’s all his fault that he’s been utterly bamboozled by this adeptus. Zhongli floats above it all, and Childe was stupid enough to believe gliding wouldn’t let him fall back to earth.

 

They’ve never been able to be on equal footing, and it enrages him. So much so that he’s on Zhongli’s windowsill now, not even cognizant of the journey up.

 

He’s been so taken by his thoughts, he hasn’t registered the rooftops or the stone path up the hill. It’s Zhongli Zhongli Zhongli living rent-free in his brain because of course he does, Childe’s paid for everything between them.

 

Well, it is time for him to collect payment.

 

He slinks inside, the security absolutely dreadful. (But who in their right mind would steal from Archons? Adepti? Spoiler: Childe, who hasn’t been sane since he was fourteen and gave up on fear.)

 

This place’s absolutely packed with priceless treasures and artifacts , Childe thinks as he carefully walks over a large gold statue of a winged lion, safeguarded by nothing more than paper over the windows, but nothing has been pilfered yet. If he was a little less annoyed and a little more curious, he’d ask Zhongli about it. Maybe there’s some magic at work there. Or maybe he’s just that lucky.

 

He’s looking for a golden floating cube, apparently. There can’t be too many of those, Childe muses, ducking underneath a beam— it’s an antique of some kind, not actually part of the house, what the hell. What if there’s five golden floating cubes? Does he take them all?

 

The house may be dark and cluttered, but Childe is light on his feet, creeping through hallways that make Zhongli’s abode. He checks one door: that’s the storage room. Next: another storage room, then something that could be a dungeon but is probably just some kind of armory, then another storage room, what the hell Zhongli why do you have so many oh there’s a bedroom.

 

...Or at least, probably a bedroom. It’s a large room with a huge pile of pillows and blankets in the middle, not a bed. The way the sheets are bundled together in a circular fashion, pillows scattered in the middle, reminiscent of the way mother birds scatter soft feathers... a nest? Archons above, how did he ever think this… this dork was a human being?

 

He almost wants to trash the place, just to get back at Zhongli, but he resists the urge. He’s going to hit at his heart with precision . Steal something he won’t miss, learn to fight with it, and then rub it in Zhongli’s face… relish in the surprise he’ll show, getting his ass kicked because he’d neglected to follow what Childe’s doing behind his back, in his very own home.

 

Yes, this is an appropriate revenge. Childe cackles to himself. He probably sounds raving mad to anyone but himself.

 

He leaves the nest to a side room, the labyrinthine house leading him to a small side bedroom, which looks clean, but unused. A small bed, made but empty. A large window, and dried glaze lilies litter a table, each bearing a label— dates, in Liyuen. Childe examines them for a moment, sweeping the old, dried things for a faint scent, but he finds nothing but corpses in the faded flowers. He doesn’t hold any memory of them; they are meaningless to him.

 

There is a chest under the window, though it looks closer to a golden casket than a regular treasure chest. Childe has a good feeling about it. He opens it with a click. 

 

Bingo. He doesn’t question how easy this was, like it was meant to be; he calls the weapon to him, and it responds. Intricate squares criss-crossing in the middle of a bright halo... it’s beautiful, it’s old, and Childe doesn’t even hesitate to touch it. It’s warm too, the golden light almost like sunlight. He likes the two points on either side of the strange object, though he knows he’s not going to use them to stab people… probably.

 

When Zhongli checks the room next, he will initially believe the impossible— that he forgot something.

 

There will be no evidence of a break-in. His wards will have remained intact, as they only let the people he trusts through his domain; as they always have. None of the dried glaze lilies will have moved, and the boat to a freezing land will have left days and days ago. 

Then will he experience loss once more. He will realize he was unable to part with a memory until it was physically ripped from him, and only then will he laugh; it will be a mirthless sound, but his chest will feel lighter, if only because of an Outlander’s guilty hand silently squeezing his shoulder.

 

But for now, it’s Childe who is leaving the cluttered house, and the soon-to-be-lost puzzle hovers after him like a miniature star, a farewell to the dark night of Snezhnaya. 

 


 

Yeah. He still has no clue what he’s doing.

 

But! That’s normal, he tells himself when the boat lurches violently, the blizzard outside actively trying to destroy his way home. He’s only starting with this weapon, and it’s very different from what he’s used to. At least he clearly feels his power weaving with the ancient object. Especially when he spooks the officers with surprise showers.

 

(He doesn’t know how old it is, but if it’s in Zhongli’s house, the catalyst is either thousands of years old or something Childe bought him a few weeks ago, isn’t it?)

 

Zhongli… His face twitches. No matter what he’s doing, his thoughts always wander back to the fake consultant. That can’t go on , he thinks, and so Childe breathes in, and Tartaglia breathes out. 

 

He pushes them away, the verdant grass and the smells of Qingxin and the silhouette of Jueyun Karst. He’s almost home, after all. He can’t go back. 

 

He’s looking forward to seeing his family again. Teucer’s brief presence wasn’t something he got to enjoy wholeheartedly because of the whole… drama. Liyue tangled with him, warm and humid besides the sea, almost slimy with how much it wanted to stick with him. If his eyes didn’t look so lifeless, he’d have joked the view from the docks stayed trapped behind his eyelids.

 

He’s not looking forward to being a laughingstock after what La Signora pulled, nor is he particularly thrilled to be Tartaglia again for extended periods of time. He’s going to have supervision again, which means slightly less chaos than he’s comfortable with. Besides, he’s expected to show competency back home, and the challenge of mastering this new weapon has been his only break from boredom the whole boat trip, what is he going to do…? No sea monsters even bothered to try and eat them, and the blizzard he can’t do anything about. Boooring.

 

But, he’s going to see his family again. His three adorable little siblings. How much taller the two he hasn’t recently seen much have grown! Maybe his older siblings will drop by, as well, before he’s sent somewhere else. He hopes his parents don’t miss Ajax when he’s gone. He wonders if Zhongli’s good with kids.

 

Archons damn it!

 

He shakes his head. It’s time to let go of the bright days of the land of Geo. They’re gone , they’re gone, a memory. 

 

They’re dust.

 

His eyes fall on the catalyst he stole. This revenge seems so silly suddenly. Petty. Of course Zhongli won’t care at all. Childe, no, Tartaglia shouldn’t care at all either. Maybe he should get rid of it? Or would that be admitting to the weight of the memory?

 

He groans and beckons the weapon closer, twirling it around absentmindedly. It makes a good fidget toy if nothing else, the glow of it promising a soothing warmth in the snow.

 

Maybe he can just… build something new with what he has and is now, bitter memories and all. He flops onto his back with another groan, and that’s how his subordinate finds him when they sheepishly ask him to come deal with a sea monster.

 

Finally, some progress .

 


 

“Woah!” Anthon is older than Teucer, and not nearly as obsessed with toys, but of the three fascinated siblings he’s the one who voices wonder. Ajax guides his palm onto the shiny catalyst, almost willing to just give it to his siblings— but it’s a weapon, and a powerful one at that, his siblings’ safety is more important.

 

“Can you really use it with your Vision?” Tonia asks, her mouth a cute little o. 

 

He can. He’s been practicing. He’s been terrifying, in fact, applying his special water seal with more ease than ever. It’s been even worse for his foes since he figured out how to create a shield of water through it. He’s not fond of keeping himself safe, nor would he particularly care for the notion in the first place, but coupled with the weapon it makes him hit harder; even better, he is harder to stop when the blows can hardly reach him to interrupt. Who knew self-care would become so destructive?

 

He says none of that, and makes a dragon out of water. It slithers around the air, twirls around a liquid glaze lily as Ajax recalls bits and pieces of Zhongli’s lectures about them. They leave a bitter taste in his mouth, but he can take a little bitterness if it’ll make him get over the fake faster. It’s information, history, nothing more, nothing less. It makes his siblings happy to learn about his travels in faraway lands, and this present is more important.

 


 

“This catalyst is called Memory of Dust ,” the Tsaritsa tells Tartaglia conversationally. “It is older than I am. I will allow you to continue to use it, but make sure to order your men to retrieve it and bring it to me, should you fall in battle.”

 

He bows, of course, but she senses a slight hesitation. 

 

“Is there a problem?” Her voice is ice, and it sends a pleasant shudder down the Harbinger’s spine, knowing she would destroy him for a slight. He shakes his head, grinning. 

 

“My siblings loved this thing,” he simply says, “I was thinking of leaving it to them instead. But it is as you command.”

 

It isn’t a laugh, or even a real smile, but amusement twinkles in her eyes. Perhaps she loves his irreverence against the sacred items of other archons, when he’s shown nothing but respect to her. Perhaps she simply finds the idea completely ridiculous, like Tartaglia does when it leaves his mouth. 

 

“I retract my previous order,” she says, “do as you please, my Tartaglia.”

 


 

He doesn’t think Memory of Dust is alive, but it responds to him in the way knives or a bow never have for him. He chalks it up to how he can move it with a thought, leaving his hands free to stab whatever he likes; it’s an extension of himself, whether he’s Childe, Tartaglia, or Ajax, dangerous but not inherently destructive just like his limbs are. He likes it. It suits his free-spirited fighting style.

 

He’s taken something old and made it his, lovingly refurbished the old memory (why did dust cling to it so easily? Did it have something to do with why it was named this way? Childe never asked, Tartaglia didn’t care, and Ajax would rather make it his own.) 

 

There’s a sense of pride in taking care of the old thing, too. He’d never understood why some warriors would get attached to their weapon, but he’s starting to understand now.

 

It isn’t the catalyst itself; what laces fondness with the object is how he’s grown as a warrior through it. Sure, it clashes with his color scheme, but aesthetic can’t be everything in life. He makes a compromise and switches out the grey of his wardrobe.

 

And so Childe cleaves through the battlefield, in Sumeru, in Natlan, in Snezhnaya, everywhere the Tsaritsa cares to send him. The Memory of Dust is covered in blood and gore again and again, but Childe cleans it patiently, deconstructing and reconstructing it best he can so that it won’t be damaged by the guts of his unfortunate victims. Only then does he go off to clean himself from the stains of the battlefield.

 

He never stops thinking back to Zhongli, because there is a permanent reminder of the liar adeptus next to him every single day. They’d talked about so many things, and he’d listened so intently, that the lectures were burned into his mind, fumbling on his tongue whenever they’re relevant. 

 

Still. Little by little, he stops feeling bitter over the reminders. He can remember Liyue fondly now, with or without (with) the ridiculous man. 

 

Eventually, he tells Tonia about him, and it’s only because she asks, but Ajax finds that he’s not as angry anymore. He’s moved on somewhat. So what if they never said farewell? So what if they never said sorry? Zhongli can just be a fond memory. They’ll never meet again.

 


 

They meet again on the battlefield, just like Childe had once hoped, and the anger comes rushing back, violence shaking him like an earthquake. He laughs, and he sounds a little deranged. 

 

“It’s been a while!”  he singsongs, and he drops right in front of the little group of interlopers. He salutes the Traveler ironically, makes a mockery of kissing Paimon’s hand like she’s a little princess. He doesn’t know the whole troupe, but he recognizes Zhongli, and he doesn’t do more than glance at him.

 

“I’m afraid I can’t let you kids through without a fight.” Aether’s gaze hardens, and Paimon’s eyes widen in fear. “I’ll consider playing nice if you just stop here.”

 

Zhongli strolls forward, a spear in hand. A protector to the younger members of this ragtag band. His expression is placid. “I will handle him.” He doesn't mention contracts, for once, and Childe wonders how he’s changed. If he’s changed at all.

 

Aether glances between them, hesitantly stepping forward. Tartaglia should stop him; but Ajax is fond of the not-quite-a-kid, and Childe doesn’t move. 

 

“Go,” Zhongli urges, and one by one they run past Childe, who doesn’t move a muscle. And then they are alone.

 

Childe smirks. “You know, Xiansheng... if you missed me, you could have just visited.” He doesn’t mean to sound bitter. Perhaps he hasn’t buried the sourness as deep as he thought he had. “I appreciate the effort to suit my style, though.” He spreads his arm wide, as if daring the god to embrace him. “We never did get to fight.”

 

“Indeed,” Zhongli agrees. His cor lapis eyes wander up and down Childe’s body. “You have changed your style of clothing,” he observes. 

 

“Well, altering just the color scheme was kind of lame. Might as well go through a full redesign.” There’s sparse elements from Liyue in his new clothes (tailor’s liberty, but he had found himself strangely fond of the concept), and the colors lean more on dust and gold than the dull stone-grey he’d worn last time they met. 

 

Zhongli nods appreciatively. “Maximizing the impact of changing one’s appearance by modifying the cut and patterns on top of the colors… yes, that is a strong choice. As expected of you.”

 

What the fuck does that mean. Childe can’t help but laugh. He’s wheezing out an ugly sound, the brief hysteria almost folding him into two.

 

“You think you know me?”

 

Zhongli doesn’t flinch, but he tenses, stance shuffling ever so slightly to lower his center of gravity.

 

“Xiansheng, we haven’t talked since before I left Liyue,” Childe says, the honey-sweet tone of his voice laced with sticky venom. “The clock doesn’t stop moving while I’m out of your sight.”

 

“I am aware of that fact. So long as there is someone to maintain and observe it, a clock will continue to tick.”

 

Childe scowls. “Well you tick me off. Less chatting,” he holds up his palm, and Memory of Dust materializes, resplendent like a miniature sun in the snowfield. “More fighting.”

 

When he sees it, Zhongli freezes up like he’s hit himself with his own meteorite. 

 

But Childe only hesitates for a fraction of a second. If he’s not going to fight properly, it’s Zhongli’s loss, not his; at worst, Childe will be only disappointed. He leaps forward, knives forming against his palms.

 

Childe’s water weapons often freeze instantly in Snezhnaya. 

 

Zhongli’s spear cuts through ice like warm butter, eyes hardened to reveal his stony nature. “Childe. Why do you have this?”

 

Childe doesn’t answer, going for the throat with the knife Zhongli hasn’t destroyed. He’s dodged this time, and his leap forward is cut short by a stone stele manifesting straight from the frozen earth. Interesting. He climbs on top of it; but it suddenly vibrates, rattling Childe’s bones unpleasantly.

 

Wisely, Childe composes a shield of water just before the spear slices through his ribcage. It bounces off him, only doing minor damage. Memory of Dust hovers behind his back. 

 

If it wasn’t clear before, it is now; Morax will not spare Childe, he will spear him. All the better! Childe has some pent up frustration just begging for a good workout.

 

Neither of them holds back, so of course, Childe is losing. 

 

Nerfed? The ex-Geo Archon? If this is how he fights without a gnosis, Childe thinks dimly, just barely not beheaded for the hundredth time, he wouldn’t have had a single chance back when he had one. How exciting. 

 

Childe notices only by chance. Memory of Dust swivels between Childe’s body and the next blow, and the spear stops short instead of bouncing off. Uh? He’s certain his catalyst doesn’t have a forcefield feature. Did Zhongli stop? 

 

He tries it on purpose this time, and Zhongli almost slips to avoid hitting his precious dumbbell. 

 

There. This, this gets laughter to bubble all throughout Childe, wrecking his body in rhythm with the deadly steles littering the battlefield. He leaps backwards for some distance, wheezing. “You still care about this old junk?”

 

Zhongli narrows his eyes. He doesn’t lower his weapon, but he doesn’t go after Childe right away, visibly displeased that his opponent caught onto an inconvenience. “It is not “junk”. It is a memento of a dear friend. I do not wish to destroy it.”

 

“Please,” Childe snorts. “when I found it in your house, it was just gathering dust, no better than junk. You’ve never fought with it, have you?” Zhongli seems unphased. “At least I’ve made good use of it.” It’s annoying that his taunts have next to no effect, but it’s expected. “Ever heard of making something new with something old?”

 

Zhongli tilts his head slightly. “I am attempting to do so.”

 

“Well, you’re failing!” Childe throws, crossing his arms. “It’s like you haven’t changed at all.” He sounds exasperated, and that’s dangerously close to fond, but he can’t help it.

 

“Do you believe you know me?” Zhongli mirrors calmly, though he doesn’t lower his spear. He doesn’t attack, either. “You have never talked to Rex Lapis, or Morax when he was alive. ‘Zhongli’ is but a fraction of me.”

 

“I put my hand in the Exuvia?”

 

“That was but a shell. It does not count.”

 

Childe grits his teeth. “And whose fault is it that I don’t know you like I thought I did?”

 

Zhongli stays silent this time.

 

“I thought so.”

 

Never a goodbye or a sorry or an I care about you, actually , the words they shared were enjoyable, but shallower than that, symbols of deeper currents they never got to dive into. Zhongli robbed him of truth by hiding; if Childe robbed them both of closure by leaving without a word, it’s only fair, isn’t it?

 

Not to mention robbing Zhongli quite literally .

 

The rhythm of the fight has been thrown off by the exchange. Childe is acutely aware of Zhongli’s reluctance to risk damaging the Memory; he uses this advantage with a vengeance, swiveling it around himself wildly, forcing Zhongli to graze it several times. He almost gets to use one of the spikes on his weapon. The missed opportunity would have stung more if it was anyone else.

 

They come to another pause, a more natural one, to each catch their breath, on either side of a large gap in the snow and rock below. 

 

“Are you angry with me?” Zhongli asks, voice even.

 

Childe almost stops breathing for that. “Yes?”

 

Zhongli frowns, leaning his weight on his spear. “You are the one who broke the contract of our trust.” Ah, so he hasn’t changed so much. “I am livid that you would use my trust to rob me.”

 

The audacity ? “You used my trust to manipulate me into almost destroying Liyue!”

 

“Is that what you are angry about?”

 

Childe opens his mouth to yell an exasperated yes , but then he doesn’t. 

 

He’s buried that particular bitterness, reluctantly. It was all part of Tsaritsa’s plan, after all, for him to be a pawn. Before? Yes. But. This isn’t what he’s angry about now. “You should have cared about me,” he blurts out, spitting the bitter poison in his throat. Bitter, bitter, bitter. It’s not a bite, it’s not venom. Childe’s the one being poisoned by this thought. “Xiansheng, even now, you care more about my weapon’s health than mine.”

 

Zhongli’s eyes widen. “I…” He falls silent, and if Childe was just a bit meaner he would fire some kind of bolt at him right here and now. The hope isn’t dead, though, just half rotten, and cold, alive through stubbornness, so he stays still. 

 

“I apologize, Childe.”

 

Blink blink. “What.”

 

“I apologize for overlooking your well-being.” Zhongli sounds genuinely sorrowful, the fucker. “It did not occur to me that I was making you feel like I found you insignificant. I will be more careful in the future.”

 

Childe is still blinking rapidly. His eyes are going to be so hydrated despite the biting cold.

 

“What. You think I’m just going to accept your apology?” That’s so wrong. That’s so vile. Why is Zhongli sorry now when it’s too late and they’re on opposite sides of a war? Bitch? “We’re not even done fighting.”

 

 “What would you rather have me do?”

 

Childe pouts. “Let’s finish this fight. It was just getting good.”

 

Zhongli hesitates, his eyes fluttering to the catalyst. Childe snaps his fingers. “My eyes are up here! Stay in the present!”

 

“The present.” Zhongli smiles. “Yes. You are correct. There are matters that you, too, must answer for.” The next instant he materializes forward in a rain of spears, and Childe barely dodges.

 


 

He’s pretty sure Zhongli beats him within an inch of his life, but thankfully, he’s in a country with standards, so he has no idea how long an inch is. He’s just going to be sore for a week straight.

 

He’s not quite as sure where Zhongli took him after he passed out, but they’re not outside anymore. It’s pleasantly warm, in fact, and Zhongli prepared some tea, because of course he did, that’s what you do when you beat the crap out of an enemy general. 

 

They talk. It helps that it’s the only thing Childe can do painlessly right now, but it feels comfortable to talk with Zhongli again, no matter how long it’s been. 

 

“I had always intended to meet you again for drinks,” Zhongli says, much too casually for someone who should legally be his mortal enemy. “We have much to catch up to.”

 

“Aren’t you only interested in the past again?” Childe complains, but he’s too exhausted to sass more than that. “Urgh. Go ahead.”

 

“I would like to hear about what you have to say.”

 

Well that’s new, considering Zhongli is much more of a motormouth. 

 

“I am especially curious about the Memory of Dust.”

 

Ah. He’s not off the hook. Childe feels his cheeks heat with embarrassment. He’d been… horribly petty, after all, but he figures he might as well speak the truth, so he does. Zhongli only interrupts him to demand clarifications.

 

“I took it with me because I was bitter,” Childe admits, “but besides how good it is, I think I kept it to live in the present. Build on the bittersweet memories so there would be more sugar.”

 

Zhongli nods thoughtfully. “…there is much for me to learn, still.” His tone is surprisingly humble, considering the beatdown he gave Childe. “I would like it, if we could bring ourselves to do the same.” His amber eyes twinkle. “I do appreciate your company.”

 

Childe hopes the warmth on his cheeks only means he has a fever.

 


 

“Will you give it back?”

 

“NO. I’m attached now. Back off. It’s my baby. I refined it and everything.”