like a moth to a flame

Published Dec 07, 2020
Word Count 3,080

Chapter 4

After their fateful battle, after the Rite of Parting, and after finding Zhongli willingly giving up the Gnosis, nothing else had been on Lumine’s mind but him. Her sleepless nights came back, but she dared not return to their abandoned lighthouse. She didn’t know if he would be there, but knowing was worse. If he wasn’t there, it would be disappointing but expected. And if he was there, she didn’t know what she would do to him. Hurt him, kill him, or something entirely different. She did not want to know.

So back to sleepless nights she was. When sleep did find her, the nightmares piled up. Aether, Venti, and now Childe, too. She watched as she lost her brother, as Venti lost his Gnosis, and as Childe drowned the entirety of Liyue.

With all the problems in Liyue all tied up in neat little ribbons, there was nothing left for her to do. She couldn’t head for the isolationist nation of Inazuma just yet, so she spent her days in Liyue relentlessly slaying every living creature she could find. She didn’t have Childe to distract her any longer, not that she wanted him to—he was the last person she wanted to see—and the meditations were no longer working. Not even Paimon or Zhongli could comfort her with extravagant dinners at upscale restaurants; she only had so much Mora to spend. The voices in her dreams were becoming too loud to silence, and she found only the shrieks of monsters being slain could drown out the noise, however cruel it would seem to the common man.

But he would understand, Lumine thought, but quickly dismissed it.

Ruin guards were her victims in one such expedition near Lingju Pass. A millelith guard had warned her of awakened ruin guards nearby, and she had volunteered to slay them, a little too eagerly, as was apparent from the horror on the man’s face.

She investigated the ruins, and found a young boy playing around a deactivated ruin guard. His unruly auburn hair, the freckles scattered on his face, and those deep blue eyes reminded her of a certain young man she’d much rather avoid. Still, this was a child, a literal child, and she couldn’t very well leave him with all these ruin guards around.

“What’s your name, kid?” Lumine asked, kneeling down to face him eye-level.

“My name’s Teucer! I came all the way from Snezhnaya to look for my brother in Liyue. He’s the best toy seller in the world! But I’m all on my own, and I don’t know where to find him...” he pouted.

Snezhnaya... It only confirmed her suspicion of this boy being related to Childe somehow. Just her luck, huh?

Paimon gasped. “You came all the way from Snezhnaya!?”

Teucer’s eyes lit up. “Wait, here, let me give you this!”

He brought out a bag of Mora and handed it to Lumine. The bag was small but it was still overflowing. Yep, he’s Childe’s brother, all right.

“So... much... Mora,” Paimon said, almost drooling at the sight of the gold.

The boy hid his hands behind his back innocently. “My big brother told me to find a nice person to give this to and said they’ll take good care of me.”

Paimon was still rambling about how toy sellers could make so much money and meanwhile, Lumine was already pocketing the bag of Mora. Sorry, Teucer, but I got beef with your brother.

“Let’s make a pinky promise, nice lady!” Teucer said. He began to recite what she assumed to be a Snezhnayan rhyme about the cold breaking pinkies if one broke a promise. Well, she expected nothing less from the ice cold nation of Snezhnaya.

Lumine hesitantly agreed. “Pinky promise.”

She took him to the Northland Bank, where she suspected Childe might be. She still had no idea what the boy was rambling about, calling ruin guards “Mr. Cyclops” and his brother being “the best toy seller in the whole world!”, but maybe Childe would enlighten her.

As expected, Childe was busy with his Harbinger duties in the bank, but as soon as he saw the boy, his face lit up like the sun.

“Teucer!” Childe ran towards him, wrapping him in his arms and carrying him. “I missed you so much!” He paused, the realization finally dawning on him. “Wait... what are you doing here!?”

Teucer giggled. “I saw a ship full of toys and thought that maybe you were on board. And then I kept walking and walking, and saw a bunch of Mr. Cyclops! Then this nice lady found me and took me here!”

Childe put the boy down and ruffled his hair. “That was extremely dangerous, Teucer. I’m happy to see you here, but please don’t do that again.” Childe’s voice was soft, even when he was chastising his brother. Lumine had never seen him this... gentle before. It was almost heartwarming.

Teucer pouted, his puppy eyes activated. “I’m sorry... Please don’t be mad at me.”

Childe knelt down to meet Teucer’s eyes. “I’m not mad, little one. I just want you to be safe.” He pinched his brother’s cheeks lightly, and he giggled.

He stood up and turned to Lumine. “If it weren’t for this nice lady here, you might’ve been in grave danger. I hope you thanked them, Teucer.”

The boy nodded. “I even gave them a bag of Mora, just like you said I should!”

Childe laughed awkwardly, trying not to meet Lumine’s eyes. “Good job, Teucer.”

Lumine didn’t need to talk; apparently, Paimon took the words out of her mouth. “So you did notice we were here, you were just ignoring us. Got it.”

“Sorry about that. Family first, as you already know,” Childe said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I know we’ve had some... differences recently, but we’re still friends, right?”

Friends? Lumine wasn’t sure if he was joking. Was passionately making out with friends and breaking their hearts a Snezhnayan custom she didn’t know about?

Regardless, she decided to ignore that comment. “Sure.”

This time, Childe’s grin got a little wider. “Great! I knew all was forgiven.” He sounded earnest, but she knew he himself didn’t believe it. If he did, then he would’ve sought her out already. But he didn’t.

Childe turned to his brother. “Listen, Teucer. I have some work to do. Why don’t you stay with this nice lady in the meantime?”

He is truly shameless.

“There’s no way we’re babysitting for you!” Paimon sulked. Times like these, Lumine was thankful for talkative Paimon speaking for her.

Teucer pouted. ”But... you made a pinky promise!”

Childe looked quite amused. “Looks like Teucer really likes you! And you made a pinky promise too. I’m sure you know better not to break promises, right?”

Lumine sighed. “Fine. We’re doing this for Teucer, not you.”

“Good enough for me.”

The rest of the day was spent looking after the boy. Teucer was just as restless as Childe was, running off to gods know where. Lumine and Paimon tried their best to entertain the kid, but there was only so much they could do before he would want to see his brother again.

They decided to follow where Childe had gone to do his work, only to witness him embarrass himself not once, but twice, trying to keep up the façade of being a toy seller in front of his little brother. Lumine would’ve found it cute had she not harbored some bitter feelings for him still.

Well, maybe she was melting. A little. The amount of effort he put in to keep Teucer’s innocence was heartwarming, after all. It reminded her of her own brother, so protective of her, though he was only older by a few minutes.

Teucer’s energy still didn’t wear off, even after all the running around he did. He asked Childe to give him a tour of this so-called Institute of Toy Research. Lumine was sure he would falter here, but it seemed she underestimated his determination... and stupidity. He brought the kid to a damn dungeon filled with ruin guards, and now Teucer ran off again, the door sealed shut behind him.

Despite Teucer being in possibly the most dangerous situation he’s ever been, Childe remained calm, traversing the dungeon and its traps so easily like he’d been here a thousand times, all the while giving his brother reassuring words.

If Lumine was in his situation, she was sure she would be losing her cool immediately. Not that Aether wouldn’t be able to get himself out if it was him trapped in there, but still. Childe’s calm demeanor seemed to soothe her, too; it reminded her why she sought solace in him in the first place, but that was then.

At last, they reached the end of the dungeon... except all the deactivated ruin guards started to awaken, one by one.

“Teucer, why don’t we play a game of hide and seek?” Childe offered.

The boy agreed, though it seemed he didn’t quite understand why. Lumine stood guard behind Teucer, making sure he wouldn’t see his older brother go berserk and destroy the ruin guards.

Teucer counted down to a minute. Whenever he heard crashing noises, he would shudder a little in fear, and Lumine would squeeze his shoulders to reassure him he’s safe. Surely, Childe couldn’t keep up appearances any longer to his brother, not with the way Teucer was shaking with all the ruckus Childe was making behind them.

Lumine knelt down and whispered comforting words to the boy’s ear. She had considered helping Childe out in taking them all out, but she didn’t want to risk Teucer running off again, and it seemed he had it all under control. He even switched to his Electro Delusion just to keep up. A part of Lumine enjoyed him suffering, anyway.

“Three, two, one!”

Three more ruin guards activated, as if in sync with Teucer’s countdown. Lumine was ready to summon her blade to join the fight, when Childe gestured for her to stop. Even in life or death situations, this guy just couldn’t help but show off. She rolled her eyes, turning back to Teucer, holding him steadily in place.

“Give me ten more seconds, Teucer! Still finding a place to hide...”

Lumine heard the familiar sound of Electro and Hydro energy fusing together. She didn’t need to look back to know he transformed again, this time to beat the ruin guards threatening his brother’s innocence. Her heart softened at the thought of him doing all this for his brother. Sure, he was kind of an asshole at times, but Lumine could definitely appreciate his valiant efforts for Teucer.

In the span of ten seconds, he kept his promise. By the time Teucer finished counting down, all the ruin guards in the dungeon had been deactivated. The boy squealed at the sight of all the Mr. Cyclops, and he ran off again, admiring his brother’s work.

Childe, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. While Paimon and Teucer were busy playing, she slipped away, looking for him. Lumine found him in a derelict hallway, sitting on the ground, looking beaten to death.

“You look like shit,” Lumine said.

“Totally worth,” he said, his voice merely a croak.

How quintessential Childe.

Lumine placed her hands on her hips. “I should end you right here, right now.” Her threat felt empty, even with the fiercest tone she could muster.

“Try it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You better be thankful little Teucer is out there. If it weren’t for him, I would’ve done it already.”

Now he definitely knew she was bluffing.

“Sure, you would.” He paused, before continuing, “Thank you, Lumine.”

“For what?”

Childe made an effort to smile, but in his battered state, it looked more like a wince. “For taking care of my brother, and for humoring me in this charade. I know how easily a child’s innocence can be shattered. So thank you.”

All his antics made her miss Aether even more, all their adventures and travels together, protecting each other because that’s all they ever had. Seeing Childe like this, it only gave her more resolve to find her own brother, no matter what it took.

Even if it killed her.

“Reminded you of someone, didn’t I?” Childe said.

She didn’t need to answer. He already knew.

Lumine brushed off the mist that was beginning to form in the corner of her eyes. “You better hurry up then, Childe. I can’t have you dying pathetically here, looking all sentimental and shit. I still need you alive so I can kick your ass again and again and again.”

Childe laughed, but not without coughing. “That’s why I’ve always liked you, little firefly.”

“Don’t, Childe. Just go. We’ll talk later.”

Childe fished a small toy from his bag. “Before I leave, I need you to give this to Teucer, to keep him company while I’m gone.”

She nodded. “Got it.”

At first, Teucer was disappointed when he found out his brother had left, but all was forgotten and forgiven when Lumine showed her the gift. She finally understood why Teucer still believed in Childe, despite all the danger he had almost gotten into today. Childe was Teucer’s very own Mr. Cyclops, protecting him from anything that dared to hurt him. As long as he was there, he knew he was safe.

She sighed wistfully. Oh, to be an innocent kid again.


It was time for Teucer to bid farewell.

At first, he pouted and sulked, as any child would do, even going as far as saying he did not talk to strangers.

“But Teucer, you’ve been with us the entire time,” Paimon interjected.

“Yeah, only because I’ve known who you were the entire time. My brother wrote about you in his letter to my sister Tonia,” Teucer replied.

Did Lumine hear that right?

Teucer continued. “I recognized you immediately, that’s why I didn’t hesitate to follow you around!”

Now, this was intriguing. Lumine knelt down to meet Teucer’s eyes. “Tell me, Teucer. What did your brother write about me in his letter?”

“Well... he said you were shiny.”

“Uh... what?”

“Shiny!” Teucer repeated, a little too eagerly. “My big brother said you shined bright like the sun, and that no one else shined like you.”

Lumine felt heat rise to her cheeks. This was definitely not what she expected.

“He also said he’d love to go adventuring with you, only if he wasn’t so busy.”

Lumine couldn’t help but smile. She still had not forgiven Childe, but he certainly made it hard for her not to. “Well, being a toy seller is a very demanding job, Teucer. But maybe someday I’ll take him up on that offer.”

Teucer squealed with joy. “Yay! You better visit me in Snezhnaya, too! Pinky promise!”

This was going too fast. But well, it’s Teucer she was making a promise to. “Pinky promise.”

The boy giggled, and hugged her tight. She hugged him back. Teucer was a little annoying at first, but he sure knew how to warm up to her.

Just like his big brother.

When Teucer left, Lumine saw Childe peering at them discreetly from behind a pillar.

“Why didn’t you say goodbye?” she asked, approaching him. He still looked like shit, but a presentable one, at least.

“I... didn’t want Teucer to see me like this.”

Lumine crossed her arms. “Still as prideful as ever, I see.”

He shook his head. “Believe me, I would’ve loved to see him off or take him home, even. I know I can trust my subordinates to escort him, but I still feel a little uneasy. Although, somehow I didn’t feel the same when I left Teucer in your care. I knew you’d take care of him well.”

“Are you gonna keep buttering me up, Childe? I’ll have you know I don’t take bribes.”

Childe laughed. “It seems you found out about the letter. Gods, how embarrassing. Tonia surely must’ve misread some of it to Teucer, but yes, I did write that.”

“I can’t believe you sometimes.”

He approached her til he was only inches away. He tucked a stray hair behind her ear, smiling softly.

Here we go again.

His voice was merely a whisper. “Well, you better believe me, Lumine. You are my little firefly, after all.”

She took a deep breath, taking him in. He still smelled like the ocean, but this time there was a faint scent of blood and sweat mixed in. Still, it gave her the same comfort it always had. She stood on her tiptoes to reach his lips, planting a light kiss. His arms snaked around her hips, holding her steady.

Childe broke away from their embrace. “Listen, I don’t think I properly apologized for what happened. I would say I was only following orders, but I know that’s unacceptable for you. So, I propose to you a deal, to make it up to you.”

“If you’re offering Mora, or any material gifts for that matter, I already told you, I don’t take bribes.”

His lips curled up ever so slightly in a smirk. “It’s only a bribe if you want it to be. Seriously though, it’s not Mora or whatever gifts you could think of.”

“Then, what is it?”

He leaned close again, peppering light kisses on her lips, to her cheeks, to her neck, and down to her collarbone. Her heart pounded, threatening to burst from her chest. He whispered on her skin, breath warm, tingling her skin, “I promise to never let you down again, my little firefly. If you’ll still have me, then, I’m all yours.”

She held him close, his head on the crook of her shoulder. If she had learned anything at all, it was that he wasn’t one to break promises, or make them so carelessly either.

“I’ll break more than your pinky finger if you break that promise,” Lumine said.

Childe nuzzled closer to her. “If I break any promises at all, you can break me however you want, my little firefly.”

That was more than she could ask for. Still, their goals opposed each other like polarizing magnets. She could only hope that when the time comes, they would both make the right choice, whatever that would be.

But for now, she would be selfish.

Like a moth to a flame, she was more than happy to burn away, again. And again and again.


Notes

I admit, my writing throughout the fic hasn't been the most consistent at all, but considering the fact I haven't published any multichapter fics at all (and I had multiple drafts of different stories over the years, but never got around to finishing any of them), I'm proud to have at least finished this one.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it. :-)

If you liked this work, consider leaving kudos or a comment on AO3!

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