like a moth to a flame

Published Dec 05, 2020
Word Count 2,817

Chapter 3

If anything helped with distracting herself, it was developing a new habit. Lumine had been spending her nights at the abandoned lighthouse as one of them. When she was alone, she would practice her meditation. But most of the time, she had company: in this case, a particular Fatui Harbinger named Childe. She hadn’t known sleepless nights since.

Another habit she developed: sparring with him almost every week. She considered it practice, a way to hone her skills. It proved to be effective; she hadn’t fought anyone else who could use two weapons simultaneously, much less three, as she later learned from another match with him. With the amount of skill it took to expertly wield three weapons, she doubted she would encounter anyone else like him. But still, they sparred like every match was their last. Simply disarming the other wasn’t enough, for real battles never ended until the other was dead.

Another habit: taking dips in the ocean, usually after a fight to cool them down. They would also take a leisurely swim, even though it was still a tad too cold for Lumine. Childe kept insisting anyway, saying it was to build up her endurance and stamina, but she suspected it was for a different reason. She didn’t mind, though; she wouldn’t deny herself the sight of a half-naked Childe. A little eye candy once in a while didn’t hurt, she admitted, though she would never give him the satisfaction of knowing she found him, well, attractive. Gods know he already had built a huge ego from all the Liyuean girls harboring crushes on him.

Another habit: stargazing, although it proved to be difficult with all the light from the bright city of Liyue obscuring the stars in the night sky. Truthfully, for Lumine it was just an excuse to talk. She would find out Childe was born third within five siblings, and he would learn she had a twin brother. However, even upon venturing in such personal topics, Lumine tried to keep the details as vague as possible.

Despite the routine they had inadvertently developed together, it was clear that he didn’t trust her, and neither did she. They had a silent agreement not to talk about the current events in Liyue during their nighttime escapades. Those were reserved for the daytime, when they would be back to their professional selves, pretending to be professional acquaintances. It didn’t bother her to hide their fraternizing like this; it would only save her from the judgmental looks and tirades Paimon would inevitably go on if she found out.

(Not that she didn’t appreciate Paimon’s protectiveness of her, albeit a little misplaced sometimes. It reminded her of Aether, which was a little comforting.)

Besides, it gave her a thrill to hide the battle scars they inflicted on each other. It gave her a thrill to make excuses to slip away every night. It gave her a thrill to hide from everyone and everything that needed her help, however small and insignificant it was. It was all starting to become a chore, and after all that, she still had no information on her brother.

The nights she spent with Childe, however, were different. He knew next to nothing personal about her. Even if he wanted something from her, at least he was actually treating her like a human being about it. Although, his definition of treating someone like a human being was a little... distorted. Unconventional to a sane person, perhaps. Lumine supposed she already lost half her rational thought when she agreed to spar with him the first time.

The thought of seeking comfort in the enemy was odd, even to Lumine herself. Though, it didn’t seem like ‘enemy’ was the right term for him anymore, but ‘friend’ didn’t seem right, either. Whatever the right term for their relationship was, it didn’t matter to her. Sometimes, things like these didn’t need names. What they had was a fair arrangement—an unspoken contract—and they both benefited from it; Lumine received the peace of mind she needed, and Childe, well, he was still a question that needed an answer.

What did he want from her? Lumine had known she was being tailed by one of his spies whenever she would go on errands with Zhongli. Whatever information she had, it would’ve been relayed to him by his spy, however poorly the spy had done their job of being discreet. There was nothing else she could offer to him that he didn’t already have. Plus, they had that agreement not to speak of anything related to their work, so what benefit did he get from these nightly affairs? Was he also looking for the same escape and distraction she did? Or did he simply enjoy her company?

Regardless of his motives, she knew this nightly routine they had would come to an end. She knew it was only a matter of time before Childe had to move forward with his Archon-given mission. She knew they would have to clash blades again, and this time it would be truly life or death. If she learned anything about Childe, it was that he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.

So when she found out the Exuvia, Rex Lapis’s body, was hidden away at the Golden House by the Qixing, she knew for certain their routine had come to a conclusion. Regardless, she still hung out at the lighthouse, possibly for the last time, hoping Childe would also do the same.

And he did.

It was almost the same nightly routine they had. Almost. They didn’t spar, they didn’t swim, and they didn’t talk. Tension hung thick in the air. What else was there to say, anyway? How would she even say goodbye to someone she would possibly have to kill the next day?

“I hope you get to see your family soon,” Lumine said, but the words felt empty.

Childe nodded solemnly. “I know I will.”

“I hope it’s all worth it,” she said, sighing.

He turned to her. It must have been the low light, but his eyes looked like they were filled with pity.

“Don’t pity me,” she huffed. “I know I will be kicking your ass tomorrow.”

He laughed. “Fighting talk! That’s why I’ve always liked you, little firefly.”

He leaned close to her. Too close. She held her breath, waiting. He smiled, then planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

She inhaled sharply. He smelled like the ocean breeze. The ocean who had comforted her by crashing cold waves over her wounds. The salty, unpredictable, turbulent ocean. An urge to plunge deep formed in her chest.

She could happily drown in his depths and let the waves crash over her, over and over again. What a dangerous thought that was. She really had lost it, huh?

Fuck it.

She placed a hand on his neck, pulling him closer for a kiss. He kissed her back with fervor, parting her lips with a light swipe of his tongue to deepen their kiss. Her pulse started racing. Despite the cold breeze, she could feel her body warm up from his body so close to hers.

Was this what he had wanted all along? Not that she minded, after all. It took her this long to realize she did, too. Her reasons for their late night antics became less important as time went by. There was nothing holding her to keep coming back, but she did. And she could keep pretending this was just escapism, or physical training, or whatever the fuck else. Or... she could simply embrace whatever this was.

No matter how short-lived and foolish this would become, she embraced the feeling. She hadn’t felt so free, so liberated, since she left Mondstadt. For now, for just this moment, she allowed herself to forget everything else and be selfish for once.

She felt inexplicably drawn to him, and just like a moth to a flame, she knew she would burn away.

Not that she minded.


Their final battle arrived.

It was a race for the Gnosis, and she came first. Predictably, he put up a fight for it. It was nothing like their previous matches. He must’ve been holding back before, because today, he was stronger and hit harder than usual. Still, she brought him down with relative ease.

Childe growled, like a wolf baring his teeth. “This is hardly a fair fight, little firefly. If you could fight with two elements, then it’s only fair that I do, too.”

What was fair in fighting someone who could wield three weapons simultaneously?! she thought, but decided to keep her mouth shut.

A huge bubble of Hydro energy encased him, obscuring him from her vision. When the bubble crashes on the floor like ocean waves, he had his Fatui mask on, and in his hand, a purple spear of Electro energy crackled.

He wasn’t kidding when he said she hadn’t seen half of what he could do. After all this time, he really was holding back still. Now who was being unfair?

In this form, he was a lot faster, too. She could still telegraph his attacks, but it took all of her concentration to dodge with perfect timing. A misstep, and she was hit by Electro lightning square in the shoulder. He didn’t stop. A ring of lightning encircled her, like a mark, and she knew he was coming for the final blow.

She ran. It was all she could do as Childe chased after her, closing the distance quickly. She reached the boundaries of the arena, enclosed by warm Pyro energy. The Electro mark vaporized, and she dashed away as Childe jumped to smite her.

He missed.

Lumine silently and quickly thanked the Pyro Archon for saving her. She took the opportunity and called a Geo meteor right above him, then proceeded to attack him with a flurry of slashes. He started to stagger, so she kept going, finishing her attack sequence with a blast of Anemo. This only seemed to anger him, however, as he unleashed Electro energy around him, throwing her on her back, her entire body feeling burnt from the lightning.

“Enough,” he snarled. “I came here for one thing, and it’s not you.”

He started to glide over to the Exuvia. “It’s a shame, truly, that our goals clashed like this. I would’ve loved to continue our... relationship. But you already know, the Tsaritsa comes first. Not even you are an exception.” He smirked, and in a mocking tone, he said, “Sorry about that.”

She knew whatever they had was doomed right from the start, and yet her heart still sank at his words. He was right; she knew his mission came first, but did she really expect him to spare her as if she was someone special?

They had a kiss. That was all it was, apparently.

Childe forced his way into the Exuvia’s throat to take the Gnosis. When he brought his hand out, it was empty.

I knew it. There was no way Zhongli wasn’t the Geo Archon. It was obvious in his extensive knowledge of Liyue’s history and in his quite careless treatment of Mora. Who else could he be but Morax himself?

Childe, however, even with his heavy involvement in this situation, didn’t see it coming. Lumine had thought he must have a clue, but she figured he was just... dense. His shock quickly turned into anger, evident in the way his Electro aura became just a little too volatile.

He turned to Lumine. “You beat me to it?”

Even in his mission, he treated everything with her like a competition.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

The Electro energy around him crackled once more, this time louder and stronger. “You still pretend to know nothing about this?” Hydro and Electro energy engulfed him all at once, his figure slowly growing, almost doubling in size. His hair grew wilder, too, with a tint of purple at the ends.

“Stop fucking around, Lumine.” Even his voice became deep and guttural. The sound of her name in that voice sent shivers down her spine. This wasn’t Childe anymore. Whoever this was, it wasn’t him. “Just give me the Gnosis and I’ll consider sparing you.”

Lumine spat blood at his direction and looked at him in defiance. “I don’t have it, you dumbass,” she spoke with the same fierceness he had.

He lunged at her with his Electro spear. This form was definitely terrifying, but his movements were sluggish, even slower than his normal form. It made it much easier for Lumine to dodge this time. He was starting to get predictable. She dodged and attacked in cycles, trying not to get hit by his spear or arrows.

His arrows shot Hydro energy like ocean waves, too wide for her to simply dash and dodge. The wave crashed into her, carrying her away and soaking her wet. He was relentless, as he should be; he shot another arrow, and this time Hydro pooled around him, and from the puddle an enormous whale made of Hydro emerged, flooding the arena. The whale dived back into the floor, threatening to drown her.

Lumine bolted to the side, careful not to slip. Still, the Hydro whale splashed over her, submerging her whole. She struggled to surface; she wasn’t the best swimmer, after all, but she still managed. Quietly, she thanked her opponent for improving her stamina in swimming. Even when they were fighting to the death, he was still saving her, in his own Childe-like way.

The flood slowly drained, and Lumine could breathe again, though she was still coughing up water. She had to keep moving; there was no telling if she could survive another hit. With the last of her strength, she kept running.

“Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint,” Childe had told her, his physique glistening with ocean water and sweat. They had just finished a swimming race, from their lighthouse to the nearest Liyue pier. It was a long and hard swim; Lumine had made the mistake of exerting all her energy early on and quickly regretted it by the time she was halfway through. Childe, on the other hand, kept a steady pace and rose as the victor.

And so she ran, her pace as steady as she could manage, which was admittedly not much. But by the looks of it, his form was greatly compromising him, too. Not only was he slower, but he was putting all his energy in every attack in a blind rage. At this point, Lumine saw no other point but to stall until his time ran out.

It took a lot longer than she predicted. When his transformation finally ran out, she was ready to collapse from exhaustion. Childe fell to the floor, coughing up blood. It took all of her strength to take a step closer, but she did anyway.

She placed the sharp tip of her blade under his chin, tilting his head up to look at her.

“End me, Lumine,” he said, giving her a weak smile.

This wasn’t how she wanted to hear her name from his lips.

She pushed the blade a little deeper, just enough to draw blood, but not too deep to slice his throat open. She paused, then took her sword away. “You forget, I owe you a debt,” she said. He had a puzzled look on his face, but he didn’t speak.

“You saved my life the first time we met, so consider this my debt repaid. Besides, kicking your ass was already enough.”

He let out a chuckle, but the smile on his face quickly faded. “Our fight may be over, little firefly, but my mission isn’t.”

Of course. Even when he was all bruised and battered, the closest to death’s door she had ever seen him, he would still go through lengths to finish what he started. Lumine couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment in his words, but still, she had to respect his determination. So when he got up and left, limping away, she didn’t argue, not that she had the strength, anyway.

At the end of the day, he was still a Fatui Harbinger following orders, and she was just an Outlander looking for her missing brother. Above all else, they had entirely different goals, no matter how similar they were in anything else.

Even so, Lumine felt like she was in a nightmare, paralyzed as she watched Childe speak in tongues as he summoned an ancient god. Another scene that would haunt her every night onwards.

When the earth quaked beneath them, a sign that he had succeeded, Childe slipped away. She followed, and from outside the Golden House, a torrential downpour threatened to drown Liyue.

When she had said she would happily drown, this was not what she meant.


Notes

Edit 06/26/2021: Just fixed a few grammatical errors. You know how it is.

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