Childe’s whole deal was that he didn’t lose fights, so it was kind of embarrassing when a spinning Ruin Guard knocked him back so far he wasn’t even sure he was in Liyue anymore. He clambered to his feet and charged back in anyway, even though the Ruin Guard had now lost definition around its edges and the ground kept tilting alarmingly.
He won, is the point. Take that, Scaramouche, he thought vaguely from the ground as a distant figure jogged up to him and began feeling his pulse. He jerked half-heartedly. Whoever it was had soft, cold hands, and Childe clutched his bow like a talisman as they pressed against the throbbing ache at the back of his head and made a hiss of sympathy. He wished his eyes would focus.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Fifty,” Childe muttered sulkily. “You’re too tall to be Scaramouche. Are you working for him? I’ll kill you.”
“His pupils are dilated and his head wound’s big enough to kill him,” the voice said, nonsensically. Scaramouche’s lackeys were losing their touch. “We need to get him somewhere safe.”
“We’re on a mission.” This new voice was flat, immovable. Childe’s vision swam: he caught a glimpse of scarlet before he got the very distinct feeling that he would throw up if he kept holding his head up.
“He killed that Ruin Guard. It could have done us some serious damage.”
“I could have handled it.”
On and on they went, one voice rising higher and higher while the other stayed cold and unmoved. Childe lost interest: the grass at his feet was greener than green and his feet looked so far away fro his head that it was kind of concerning, and he was trying to will a sweet flower to float into his mouth when he realized that his face felt sticky.
“Look at that,” he said, holding his hand after he swiped it across his forehead. “I’m bleeding.”
He had just enough time for his eyes to focus in perfect clarity--see the two men arguing about him, one red-headed and fair, the other dark-skinned and lovely, the kind of beauty Childe had learned to be kind of scared of, after he met Signora--and wouldn’t Signora have a field day when she found out about this--
--and then he blacked out.
Childe fought back to consciousness with a jerk. He was on a bed in a little room he didn’t recognize, and there was something on his head. He ripped it off and stared at it, his panting breaths filling the room. It was a--cloth, he thought, though the texture was coarse enough to be sandpaper, and it was stained green from something that smelled acidic and faintly herbal.
The doorknob on the run-down door rattled and Childe plucked a knife from his boot, and immediately doubled over with what felt like shards of shrapnel wedging themselves in his head.
“Whoa, slow down, crazy,” a voice said, alarmed. When Childe gritted his teeth and raised his head, the man from before, gorgeous, eyes like frostbite and a waist to write poetry about. He had a sword at his hip that Childe was aware he should be worried about, though it seemed forgotten at the moment as he crossed the room in two strides and snatched the cloth from Childe’s hand.
“Keep that on,” he said, and pressed it to the back of Childe’s dazed head. Childe blinked at him through the star shape that his fingers made, trying to gauge how much of this was real, how much paid assassin sent by Scaramouche. There was a brittle undertone to the man’s smooth voice,rasping with what sounded like real worry.
“If Scaramouche sent you to kill me, you’re doing a really bad job,” Childe told him.
The hand on his head pressed tight, tight, for a moment before the voice rolled over him, calm as anything. “And why would Fatui Harbinger Scaramouche be sending assassins after you, hm?”
“Nice try,” Childe narrowed his eyes. “Like I’m spilling my secrets to you. Honeypots went out of style three hundred years ago and only Scaramouche would be tasteless enough to bring them back.”
All in all, it was a good, cutting speech--Childe was proud of coming up with it even through the haze overlaid over all his senses-- so it didn’t track when there was a soft snort, like his new friend had muffled a laugh.
“Would you believe me if I said I didn’t work for Harbinger Scaramouche?”
Childe stared at his hands. His head hurt very badly and he kept forgetting why, and that confusion kept rolling into a buildup of panic that surged at his throat, fear like he can’t remember feeling in a long time.
“No,” he said in a small voice, overwhelmed.
A breath of a sigh. The herbal smell came back, and Childe let himself be unfairly jostled as the man sat down next to him, his hand pressing the bandage back on his head.
“My name is Kaeya,” he said, and his voice was teasing but his hands were gentle, urging Childe to lie down, to relax. Childe was so tired he was seeing double, but his body held itself taut, ready for action, and it was slow to respond to the man’s --Kaeya? What kind of name was that?-- coaxing touch.
His nausea was pretty bad. Childe tried to focus on Kaeya and not on how very badly he felt like throwing up.
“Ch-Childe,” he said, and was proud of himself for not responding with something truer. “Wh-where are we?”
“You’re shivering,” Kaeya said, his mouth pinching into a frown. The way his pretty eye was watchful and anxious rattled through Childe terribly. No one outside his family looked at him like that. He should probably tell this pretty boy that he was a very bad man, not someone he should look so worried over. It felt like cheating.
“I wiped you down with a wet shirt while you were out of it, sorry,” Kaeya is saying, paying no heed to Childe’s serious and noble thoughts. “You were covered in dirt and blood and it scared the innkeeper. That’s where we are, by the way, in Jueyun Karst. I couldn’t drag you all the way to the Harbor to get you proper attention, so I thought you should probably rest. The herbalist in the village says you’ll be fine.”
“It’s just a concussion, of course I’ll be fine,” Childe said snootily, and Kaeya’s cheek dimpled inward, like he was holding in a smile. Childe really liked looking at him like this, was ninety percent sure it wasn’t just the concussion. There were stories in Fontaine about Seelies taking on exquisite human forms to guide lost princes home, and Kaeya was so heartbreakingly beautiful that he could believe it.
“Hey,” Kaeya said, tapping Childe’s nose as his eyes fluttered shut. “No passing out.”
“But,” Childe said, kind of dazed. He wanted Kaeya’s hand to stay on his face so he scrunched his nose, making Kaeya laugh and drop his hand to cup the curve of his jaw where it rested, long-fingered and cool on Childe’s clammy skin.
“Are you still cold?”
“Mm,” Child said, and subtly nudged closer to Kaeya, debated if he could get away with putting his head on his lap. That wasn’t too weird, was it? It seemed like a solid bro thing to do.
Kaeya took the decision out of his hands by throwing another blanket over Childe, effectively trapping him. “Now sleep for a bit,” he said, laughing at the face Childe made. “I’ll wake you up in a couple of hours, so don’t go into a coma on me. Anything you need to get comfortable?”
Childe thought frantically. His gut reaction had been to say you, like in the romance novels Tonia loved so much, except did that really make sense? His fuddled brain was unsure. When Kaeya made as if to climb to his feet, Childe scrambled, drew a blank, and blurted, “A kiss.”
Kaeya’s eyebrows went up so far his eyepatch nearly came off. Childe sweated under that cool, amused gaze.
“I mean,” he said, improvising wildly, “it’s a custom. Where I come from. For speedy recoveries, we, um. A kiss is supposed to be--you know. A home remedy.”
He shut his eyes. He would resign from the Fatui, he thought. Resign and live a peaceful life as a hermit in Sumeru. He clearly had no use as a Harbinger. Home remedy, he thought with bitter disgust. Back home they would laugh themselves sick over that one.
Unexpectedly, Kaeya hummed a little. “Well then,” he said, and there was that undertone of laughter that made Childe distantly suspect he was fucking with him, but mostly he was just grateful Kaeya didn’t laugh. “If it’s custom. ”
Childe opened his mouth to retaliate what do you know, but he didn’t get a chance because Kaeya had slotted his hand around his jaw again and kissed him, deep and hard and dizzying. Childe’s eyes snapped open and it was like getting hit on the head all over again, the sight of Kaeya with his eyes closed, his hair falling into his face as he kissed the last remaining sense out of Childe.
Kaeya gave one last parting bite to his lips before he leaned back, smiling, mouth bruised and red, spit-shiny. It ripped through Childe like lightning when he raised his gloved hand to wipe his lips.
“Enough to tide you over?” he asked.
Childe felt faint. “Unfair,” he said, sounding high-pitched and shocked to his own ears. “You didn’t warn me.”
“I promise to submit a written invitation next time,” Kaeya murmured, his lashes lowered demurely. He swiped his ungloved thumb over Childe’s pulse, soothing and gentle. “Come on, settle down.”
What a fraud, Childe thought. Then, stupidly: he’s so pretty.
“Can I sleep now?” he mumbled, his eyes already drifting shut.
“Yes,” Kaeya said, and he sounded pretty fond, like he thought Childe was cute, maybe. Childe hoped.
“Warn me next time,” he said.
“I will,” Kaeya said, and Childe held onto the ring of honest affection in his voice as he fell asleep.
Childe woke up from a fogged-up dream of an eye the color of noctilucous jade to a hand shaking him. The hands were rough, unfamiliar. Ungloved.
He pressed his dagger to an unknown man’s throat and stared down at wide, fear-struck eyes. “Who are you.”
“Please, I own this inn,” the man said, his hands held up placatingly. Childe slashed his eyes to them for a second, cataloguing the calluses. Farmer, unused to military work. Not lying, then, but he was calmer than Childe would have liked, for someone who had a dagger held at his throat. “Your companion asked me to wake you in four hours. He even warned you might react violently.”
Childe stared at him for a second. Then, almost against his will, his eyes dropped to the hard-backed chair that his bow was propped against.
On it was a plate of apple slices cut into perfect bunny shapes and a note.
“You’re dismissed,” Childe told the innkeeper softly. He picked up the note.
it read, next to a doodle of a face wearing an eyepatch.
Take better care of yourself, I won’t always be around to give you home remedies.
PS: consider this note your warning for next time.
“Huh,” Childe said to the empty room.
Blue hair, blue eyes, one covered by an eyepatch. Slick enough and smart enough to have warnings scribbled on the footnotes of every report about the actions of the Knights of Favonius. Nothing short of a massive head wound would have made him not recognize Captain Kaeya Alberich.
He slipped an apple slice into his mouth and it tasted sweet and fresh, left behind an acidic kick that shivered down his spine like the aftermath of a kiss.
He put the note in his pocket. He would have to ask the Tsaritsa if he could be assigned to Mondstadt for a while.