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somebody to love

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Ever since he was a child, Xie Lian had found he possessed a natural affinity with animals and vice versa. For some odd reason, no matter the time or place, whether he was walking to the store or on a class trip,  Xie Lian would soon find himself accompanied by at least one or two little critters.


If he was walking to school, he’d find himself followed by a stray dog or perched on by a neighborhood cat. And it didn’t just stop with normal domesticated animals. Xie Lian would often go camping with his best friends and at best they would find their tent site visited by rabbits, deer and noisy birds. At worst, they would find themselves making a swift getaway once a baby bear decided it too wanted to cozy up to Xie Lian.


For the most part though, Xie Lian didn’t really mind all the attention he got from animals. He was a natural animal lover and whenever he could he would make sure to pay attention to any animal that came up to him--regardless of the danger it might pose. 


And so, once he had graduated from college, Xie Lian had decided to use this natural affinity for having animals trust him and his own passion for helping them, by running an animal shelter. The only problem was even though his heart was super big, his bank account was not. He didn’t exactly have the funds to open a shelter on his own.


Never one to give up before putting up a fight, he made a case to his two childhood  friends, Feng Xin and Mu Qing as to how the three of them running a shelter together would be good for all of them.


Feng Xin and Mu Qing had had their reservations at first, neither one of them particularly had a soft spot for animals,  but ever since they were younger they had always had a soft spot for Xie Lian. So it didn’t take long before they accepted his suggestion.


Pooling their money together, they managed to rent a decent sized building and had run a pretty successful shelter ever since. Mu Qing managed the funds including bills they had to pay and donations they received from the public, Feng Xin took charge of the media aspect--making flyers to advertise adoption events and keeping their social media pages updated--and Xie Lian was naturally the face of the entire organization. 


Not only did animals find Xie Lian extremely soothing, but so did people. He had a face that drew people in so it was unanimously decided that aside from being the main caretaker for the animals, Xie Lian would be the person to interact with potential adopters and pictures of him playing with the animals were plastered all over the shelter’s website as a way to entice people to drop in.


Once a month, the three of them would hold a photoshoot where Feng Xin took photos of every animal currently available for adopting--making sure to include Xie Lian in every shot.


“Just one more photo…” Feng Xin spoke softly so as not to startle the flopped over rabbit laying down beside Xie Lian.




“And we’re finally done! I think that was all the animals.” Feng Xin’s sudden loud voice spooked the rabbit he had previously been so careful about and it jumped right into Xie Lian’s open arms.


Xie Lian laughed as he nuzzled the fluffy rabbit in his arms and gently placed it back inside its pen. 


“What time is it anyway? It feels like we’ve been doing this photoshoot all day.” Feng Xin stretched his back and began putting all of his equipment away.


“That’s because we have.” An irritated Mu Qing said as he joined the two of them. “We’ve been at it since we opened and it’s already almost 6pm.” 


“Fuck. It’s seriously been that long? No wonder my neck is killing me. I’ve been laying at weird angles the whole day.” Feng Xin rubbed his neck as he finished putting the last of his equipment away.


“That’s your own damn fault. No one said you had to take the pictures as if you were actually a professional photographer.” Mu Qing rolled his eyes and sneered as Feng Xin shot a glare at him. 


Xie Lian could only sigh helplessly. Mu Qing really did like to antagonize Feng Xing whenever he could. He watched as Feng Xin stomped over to where Mu Qing was standing looking pleased with himself, and the two began their usual quarreling--Feng Xing’s face turning slightly red while Mu Qing’s retained as calm an expression as ever.


Xie Lian shook his head and laughed to himself. It might look like these two arguing was a sign of their dislike for each other, but Xie Lian knew them much better than that. “You guys go ahead, I’ll lock up by myself.” He announced as he filled up a medium-sized water bowl with water and placed it into the pen of the rabbit from before. 


“Are you sure?”Feng Xin and Mu Qing paused their squabbling to look over at Xie Lian.


“Yeah! I’ll be fine. It shouldn’t take too long.” He strolled over to the two and began pushing them toward the door when he saw them exchange a doubtful look with each other. “Go! Go!” 


They finally began walking on their own and Xie Lian decided to tease them just a bit.


“Plus, I wouldn’t want you guys to be late to the movie on your date night .” He smirked as he watched Feng Xin and Mu Qing simultaneously jerk at the mention of those last two words. The two of them were still in the early stages of their newly romantic relationship so there was still visible awkwardness when it came to navigating life as a couple.


They quickly recovered from Xie Lian’s statement and continued down the hallway. 


“Have fun!” He called after them as he watched them walk out into the main lobby and heard the jingle of a bell as the front door opened and closed. Grinning to himself, he turned his attention back to the animals and went about checking to make sure they all had plentiful food and water to last until the morning.


Once he had finished ensuring that all the animals were good, and told each one goodnight, he began making sure the back and side doors were locked. Once that was covered, he turned off each light one by one, eventually ending up in the lobby of the shelter. One last light to turn off, and then he was outside carefully locking the door to the front of the building.


“Hm. I hope it doesn’t start raining.” Xie Lian mused as he took note of the dark storm clouds up above. “I didn’t bring my umbrella with me today.”


He definitely jinxed himself by commenting that out loud because not more than five minutes passed before a sudden downpour forced him to seek shelter under the awning of a store he was passing by. 


Great. He thought. Just my luck.


He stuck his hand out into the rain. It didn’t seem as if it would let up anytime soon so he was just about to steel himself to make a run for his apartment  when he heard a faint rustling coming from the alleyway next to the store. 


I should probably just ignore it . But almost immediately after thinking that, he heard the rustling again and his curiosity got the better of him.


He walked cautiously down the length of the alleway--making sure to scan his surroundings for potential robbers or other. But it seemed like the only presence in the alley was Xie Lian’s own. Besides himself, there didn’t seem to be any other living thing in there. There wasn’t even a lot of stuff. Just a dumpster most likely belonging to the store he had been using as coverage from the rain, and some garbage bags and pieces of cardboard surrounding it.


“Maybe it’s just rats running around the garbage.” Xie Lian laughed to himself, as he approached the pile. When he got close enough to see what was making the noise, but not too close in case a rat wanted to jump out at him, he let out a gasp as he registered what he was looking at.


“Oh my god. You poor thing.” It wasn’t rats at all but a soaking wet, shaking puppy that had taken refuge in one of the overturned cardboard boxes. It was too dark to make out what breed or how old it was but Xie Lian could tell it had been out here for quite some time. 


He considered taking the puppy back to the shelter, but thought better of it after imagining leaving the trembling thing alone overnight. No, it’d be much more sensible to take him home with him, at least for tonight.


“Let’s hope Ruoye doesn’t get too upset.” Xie Lian rubbed his forehead as he imagined his possessive cat’s reaction to a furry stranger in his home.


He quickly bundled up the shivering dog, tucking him into his coat and broke into a light jog, quickly reaching his apartment in half the time it usually took him.


He punched the code into the keypad on the lobby entrance, and quickly stepped inside--making sure the door closed shut behind him. Shaking from the cold, Xie Lian briefly shook off some of the rain droplet from his body before bounding up the stairs to his apartment on the seventh floor. 


Xie Lian had never minded how many flights of stairs he had to climb to reach his apartment before, but with the addition of the drenched furry bundle inside his coat--and thinking about the reaction of the awaiting cat above--the task of climbing them seemed much more grueling than usual.


As he finally reached his landing and walked up to his door, he couldn’t help but pray that Ruoye had fallen asleep early which would give him enough time to quickly hide away the new furry friend in his room. But, as he fished out his keychain from his pocket, he heard a familiar thud come from inside, followed by a soft meow .


Xie Lian sighed. He knew he had been too hopeful to expect anything else. 


He finished unlocking the door, swung it open and stepped into the dark room--quickly spinning around once more as he shut the door closed.


“Ruoye.” Xie Lian cooed in as soothing a voice as possible as he glanced over his shoulder. “I brought a little surprise home. But I need you to stay calm ok?”


Ruoye let out a small meow as he tilted his head 


Xie Lian turned around and walked to one of the cabinets in the hallway, pulling out a large towel before continuing on to the bathroom.


Ruoye watched him curiously as he knelt onto the ground, placing the towel in the bathtub before taking the fuzzy dog out of his coat and laying it inside.


Xie Lian tried to position his body in a way that would hinder Ruoye’s view but being the smart cat that he was, he simply jumped onto the ledge of the bathtub in order to get a better vantage point.


Xie Lian monitored the situation anxiously as the puppy in the tub finally stirred from its slumber and poked its head out from the towel.


Hisssssssss. Ruoye voiced his obvious displeasure as the fuzzy puppy let out a squeaky bark.


“Ruoye, be nice!” Xie Lian spoke firmly as he gently petted the cat’s head to try and calm him. “I know you don’t like it, but it’s only for tonight. I promise he’ll be gone by tomorrow. So can you please be good, for tonight at least? Please?” 


Anyone hearing Xie Lian pleading with his cat as if he were a person would think he’d gone crazy, but in actuality Ruoye was much smarter than normal household cats and seemingly understood Xie Lian as if he were human himself.


Ruoye stared at him for a couple of seconds before jumping off from the bathtub and exiting the bathroom. Xie Lian was sure he had just been given the cat version of a stink eye.


He sighed to himself and turned back to the puppy in the tub. The little thing was fully alert now and excitedly wagging its tail back and forth as it looked up at Xie Lian.


“First thing’s first. We should clean you up little guy.” Xie Lian remarked as he glanced over the puppy’s fur that was full of dirt marks. Scooping up the puppy with one hand, he removed the towel from the tub and turned the water on--checking periodically to make sure the temperature was okay.


He took his time gently scrubbing the puppy until he was squeaky clean and then patted him dry with the towel he had brought in with him. Once the puppy was fully dry, he scooped him back up into his arms and walked back with him to his room.


Most likely exhausted from his time outside, the puppy yawned sleepily as soon as Xie Lian placed him on his bed. It didn’t take long before he fell asleep and Xie Lian couldn’t help but melt at the absolutely adorable sight. He grabbed a blanket from his closet and gently covered the dozing puppy with it.


Usually Ruoye would spend the night curled up on the pillow beside Xie Lian’s own, but tonight the puppy would need to stay here so he could make sure he was okay, and so--although he felt extremely guilty--Xie Lian closed the door to his bedroom before getting into bed.


“Any second now.” He voiced out loud as he waited for the inevitable. He could just barely make out the pitter patter of paws making their way down the hallway and then as if right on cue once they reached his bedroom door: 


Meow. Meeeoooow. MEEEEOOOOWW.


“It’s going to be a long night.” Xie Lian grumbled as he covered his ears with his pillow, trying and failing to drown out Ruoye’s meows of protest. 


He wasn’t sure how long it took, but eventually it seemed Ruoye had exhausted himself and resigned himself  to sleep elsewhere because the apartment soon fell silent, allowing Xie Lian to finally nod off.



“And where did that come from?” Mu Qing questioned as soon as he and Feng Xin had arrived at the shelter and found Xie Lian rolling around on the floor with a dog they had never seen before.


“Oh Mu Qing, Feng Xin.” Xie Lian took a moment to catch his breath. “This is Eming! I found him alone, shivering on the street last night on my way home. Can you believe it? A small thing like him out in the cold rain?” He lifted up Eming and practically shoved him into his two friends’ faces.


“By the way, I just decided to name him that this morning, what do you think?” He poked his head out from behind the puppy’s head and smiled expectantly.


“I think it’s nice.” Feng Xin nodded in approval.


“And how did Ruoye enjoy this little surprise?” Mu Qing chose to ignore Xie Lian’s question.


Xie Lian rubbed his forehead as he recalled his rough night. “What do you think? He stayed up until who knows what time meowing super loud to let me know he didn’t like it very much.” 


“Well, what did you expect?” Mu Qing chided, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes. “The way you spoil and fawn over Ruoye? It’d make less sense if he didn’t feel threatened about you bringing another furball into your home.”


“Ha ha. You might be right.” Xie Lian laughed lightly and rubbed his forehead once again. “But still-”

He was about to defend himself when he suddenly felt a tugging sensation on his pants. Eming was demanding attention and not one to deny a puppy, Xie Lian quickly forgot about the conversation he was having and threw himself on the ground so that Eming could play attack him.


Mu Qing stayed standing there giving the scene a disapproving look, only to be interrupted by the telephone in the main lobby ringing.


Ring. Ring. 


Ring. Ring.




Answering the phone was usually Xie Lian’s job but he was currently distracted by his new companion--giggling as the puppy nibbled on his clothes.


Mu Qing sighed. “I guess I’ll get it.” He announced as he disappeared into the lobby.


Xie Lian took the opportunity to resume his play and even Feng Xin found himself joining in.


“Bad news for our new little friend here.” Mu Qing wore a frown on his face as he returned from answering the phone call a few minutes later.


“What do you mean?” Xie Lian asked as Mu Qing walked over, before pulling out a chair and sitting down. Feng Xin who had been trying to teach Eming how to “shake” stopped what he was doing and turned his attention to the current conversation. 


“I just got off the phone with the police station. Unfortunately, it seems our friend here bit someone during his time on the street.”


“Ah?” Xie Lian glanced back at the puppy who was staring at him with one ear perked up and the other drooped. The funny sight made Xie Lian laugh and he started scratching behind the ear that was drooped.


“Yeah, and it seems like the guy he bit is a real piece of shit too. At first he saw money signs, but once he found out the dog was a stray and realized he wouldn’t see a cent, he decided to be a petty asshole.” Mu Qing’s tone always had a hint of hostility in it but it was even more evident now.


“What do you mean?” 


“He’s demanded he be put down.”


“What?!” Xie Lian stopped scratching behind Eming’s ear, turning his whole body toward Mu Qing. “But, but he’s just a puppy! Puppy bites don’t even do any serious damage! And I’m sure he only bit the guy because he was hungry and scared. Animals lash out when they’re scared and hungry. It’s common sense! I mean, remember how I told you Ruoye behaved when I first met him ?”


Mu Qing grimaced. “How could I forget?” 


Xie Lian coughed as he remembered Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s faces when he had opened the door to his apartment covered in scratches all over his face and arms. Mu Qing looked concerned while Feng Xin looked as though he would spit out blood on the spot.


The two of them had almost tripped over themselves hurrying into his apartment. They had ushered him to his couch and Feng Xin had scurried to the bathroom to look for supplies to clean and treat Xie Lian’s wounds. As soon as he returned with them, he had gone about disinfecting all of the bright red scratches--cursing under his breath as he did so.


Meanwhile, Mu Qing had tried to talk some sense into Xie Lian about how time consuming and financially straining having a pet would be--especially since Xie Lian was living completely on his own--but Xie Lian had simply smiled and shook his head.


“I know, Mu Qing. Don’t worry. This isn’t some impulsive decision that I made.” Xie Lian had assured him. “Well, at least in the end I didn’t decide it completely on impulse. I mean sure, was it impulsive of me to bring home a stray cat? Yes. But, after having him around for only a few days, he made me realize something.”


“And that is?”


“How lonely I’ve been since my parents passed away.” 


That sentence had shut down any further desire within Mu Qing to argue and caused Feng Xin to momentarily cease what he was doing. 


“Don’t get me wrong. I’m normally fine throughout the day. I have you guys and all the animals at the shelter. But, once I’m here at night all alone, sometimes the silence is....suffocating. And then I met this little guy. And sure he lashed out at first, but he was all alone and scared. I can understand how he felt. And, just having him here with me these past few  nights has made me feel a thousand times better than I had been feeling since ....” 


Xie Lian had trailed off and Feng Xin and Mu Qing hadn’t been able to say anything back, and so they had reluctantly let the subject go. In the three years since then, Ruoye’s positive influence on Xie Lian had quelled any of their lingering reservations and they had even grown attached to him themselves.


Mu Qing shook his head as though he were recalling the exact same memory in his head.


“That was that, and this is this. Ruoye was lucky to meet such a weird guy who’d take him home after being scratched up, but you can’t expect every person to be as saintly as you.” Mu Qing pulled his apron off over his head and hung it on one of the hooks by the door. 


“Are you sure there isn’t anything we can do?” Xie Lian bit his lip in dismay and shot a brief glance toward the puppy busy chewing on a bone in the corner of his kennel.


“Xie Lian, the only way that dog can be saved is if someone adopts him.”


Xie Lian instantly perked up once he heard that, only for Mu Qing to quickly shut him down. “But whoever adopts him will be liable for the biting incident. And I bet that hardass will push for at least five digits.”


Hearing that, Xie Lian’s optimism completely dissipated. 


Feng Xin sighed as he saw the light leave Xie Lian’s eyes. “Maybe, we could try setting up a fundraiser for the legal fees? That way people won’t be turned off when they find out the price he comes with. There are probably a lot more animal crazy people like you out there that might donate.”


Xie Lian beamed at the suggestion. “Do you think that will work?” 


“I guess it won’t hurt to try at least.” Mu Qing’s face was skeptical but Xie Lian knew if he really thought it was a lost cause he wouldn’t entertain the idea at all.


“We’ll drop by your place later tonight to help you.” Feng Xin assured as the three began gathering their things, getting ready to head out for the day.


“Thanks, you guys. Have I ever told you how awesome you both are?” Xie Lian sighed happily as he wrapped his arms over Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s shoulders.


“You may have mentioned it once or twice.” Feng Xin smirked as both he and Mu Qing patted Xie Lian’s back.



“Well, we’re finally done designing the flyers for the fundraiser.” Feng Xin stretched his arms once he had finished saving the flyers the three had worked hours on, onto a flashdrive.


“I still don’t get why you guys ordered takeout when I made perfectly good meatballs. I came up with my own sauce and everything.” Xie Lian lifted up a bowl and moved it closer to Feng Xin and Mu Qing’s side of the table.


Feng Xin and Mu Qing frowned in distaste as they both eyed the bowl of dreadful looking meatballs that Xie Lian had brought out when they had first arrived. 


“We already told you, we ate before we got here, remember?” Mu Qing reminded him as he slowly backed away from Xie Lian and his bowl.


“Well, more for me I guess.” Xie Lian shrugged his shoulders, setting the bowl back down and analyzing which meatball he wanted to eat first.


“In other news, popular actor Hua Cheng has returned from studying abroad in Japan. The 23 year old supermodel ....”


“Blehh. This guy again.” Mu Qing sneered, turning his attention away from the horrors of Xie Lian’s cooking and focusing on the news report playing on the television instead. 


“Who’s Hua Cheng?” Xie Lian asked curiously as he popped the meatball he had decided on, into his mouth.


“Xie Lian, you really don’t keep up with pop culture do you?” Feng Xin sighed incredulously.


“Hua Cheng is only the ‘hottest’ celebrity right now.” Mu Qing rolled his eyes and made air quotes as he said the word ‘hottest.’ “He’s been taking time off from modeling for the past couple of years to focus on school. Now that he’s making his official comeback, people can’t shut up about him.”


“It seems like you really hate him.” Xie Lian raised his eyebrows as he noted Mu Qing’s overt distaste for the guy.


“I don’t necessarily hate him. I  just stand by what I’ve always said about eating the rich. He’s one of the rich and so I think we should eat him.” Mu Qing stated his attitude matter-of-factly as he picked up one of Xie Lian’s  meatballs, placing it on his plate before beginning to pick it apart.


“Oh, as if you would  be saying that if you were rich.” Feng Xin pointed his chopsticks accusingly at Mu Qing.


Mu Qing’s head snapped toward him as his eye twitched slightly. “Are you calling me a liar?”


“Mm. Not really.” Feng Xin closed his eyes and rubbed his chin as if in contemplation. “More like, a hypocrite maybe?” Smirking, he peeked one eye open just in time to dodge a rogue meatball that came flying at his head.


“What the fuck! Don’t just start throwing food!” Feng Xin glanced at the meatball on the wall behind him as it slowly slid down onto the floor. He turned back around and just caught Mu Qing’s wrists in his hands as he reached out for him.


“That’s nothing. The next one’s going in your mouth.” Feng Xin’s face dropped at Mu Qing’s declaration.


Xie Lian chuckled as Feng Xin and Mu Qing continued their usual bickering. From an outsider’s perspective you really might assume they hated each other due to the fact they argued ninety percent of the time they were together, but Xie Lian knew better. Growing up, Feng Xin and Mu Qing had always fought like cats and dogs but Xie Lian knew that underneath that all they had much deeper feelings for each other. 


The most challenging part for Xie Lian had proven to be recognizing their feelings for each other before the two in question did. Fifteen years before to be precise. 


Mu Qing deftly picked up the pair of chopsticks lying on his own plate, scooping up one of Xie Lian’s homemade meatballs before swiftly plopping it into Feng Xin’s open mouth.


Xie Lian lightly shook his head as Feng Xin’s face darkened and turned back to the television to continue listening to the news.


Xie Lian’s eyes remained fixed on the back man being discussed, but just as he began to turn around, Xie Lian’s attention was called away by Mu Qing announcing it was time for him and Feng Xin to leave. Xie Lian watched as he grabbed the arm of a seemingly passed out Feng Xin before pulling him to his feet. 


Xie Lian glanced back toward the television, but the news segment had already finished--the focus turned to sports. Sighing, he turned it off and then stood up to see Mu Qing and Feng Xin off. 


As Xie Lian held the door open letting Mu Qing and Feng Xin pass through, Mu Qing abruptly paused and turned to him. “Xie Lian, are you lonely?” 


Xie Lian blinked a few times, caught off guard by the sudden question. “What do you-?”


“Just that.” Mu Qing regarded him with a look of concern. “I know you’re not one to let your true feelings show that easily. And if you do feel lonely, you can always tell us and we’ll make sure to make more plans together.” 


“I’m not lonely.” Xie Lian shook his hand back and forth trying to dispel Mu Qing’s worry. 


 “Are you sure?”


“I’m sure.” Xie Lian smiled in reassurance. “Now go. Feng Xin looks terrible. You should probably get him home as fast as you can and put him to bed.”


Mu Qing gave him one more pensive look before turning around and exiting the room.


Standing in the doorway, Xie Lian watched as his two friends walked down the hall--Feng Xin’s arm thrown over Mu Qing’s shoulder in order to support himself. It seemed Feng Xin was starting to feel better already because he reached over toward Mu Qing’s ear. Most likely, he said something provocative because the last thing Xie Lian saw before closing his door was Mu Qing slapping a hand over his ear. And once the door was closed, a crystal clear whack sounded out before silence in the building resumed again.


Xie Lian smiled to himself for a moment before Mu Qing’s question resounded in his head. “Xie Lian, are you lonely?”


If Xie Lian was to be one hundred percent honest with himself, he was lonely. 


Loneliness wasn’t a new concept to Xie Lian though, so he could get through it. After his parents passed away, he had spent many nights feeling beyond himself with loneliness. At times, it was so unbearable he just wanted to curl up into a ball, bury himself in a hole, fill it in, and cry forever. But that was only at night. During the day, he had Feng Xin and Mu Qing and the shelter to keep his mind preoccupied. And later, he had met Ruoye and taken him home, and Ruoye had been the one to chase away his night time loneliness. And for a while, he hadn’t felt lonely anymore.


But ever since Feng Xin and Mu Qing had made their relationship official, slowly but surely that loneliness had come crawling back to Xie Lian like an old friend. An old, unwelcome, toxic friend. It wasn’t Feng Xin or Mu Qing’s fault though of course. It was just that the more time they spent together, just the two of them, the less time they spent with Xie Lian.


But it wasn’t like he could just impose himself on them out of his own selfishness. They were still in the beginning stages of their relationship and if he added himself in all the time, there’d be no push for them to go beyond friendship. Xie Lian had waited half his life for them to get together. No way was he going to hinder their progress.


In truth, aside from his love for animals, his loneliness was also part of the reason Xie Lian felt so engrossed by Eming. At first, he had thought that maybe a puppy craving attention 24/7 was just what he needed to keep his lonesomeness at bay. And once any hope of adoption fell through the cracks, the suggestion of a fundraiser made him believe that perhaps this could be a temporary relief. But it was just that, temporary. Honestly, he wasn’t sure what would happen once Eming was hopefully adopted. He didn’t want to think about it either. 


He sighed, plopping down on the couch--Ruoye taking the opportunity to settle onto his lap.


“Maybe I should just try and find my own special someone like Feng Xin and Mu Qing.” Xie Lian tenderly massaged behind Ruoye’s ears, eliciting a soft purring from the lounging cat. “What do you think?”


Ruoye continued purring.


“Yeah. I’m not sure how possible it is either.” He let out a faint yawn.


As the events of the day finally started to catch  up with him, Xie Lian closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. 



“What do you mean we only have one more day?” Xie Lian questioned frantically into the phone.




“Yes, I understand.” 


“Bye.” Xie Lian mustered a weak farewell before dropping his hand holding the phone defeatedly against his thigh. He had just been informed that if Eming wasn’t adopted by tomorrow, he would need to be surrendered to city animal control. 


For the past week, the shelter’s fundraising efforts had been going relatively well  and Xie Lian had genuinely believed that Eming was in the clear. But with just one phone call, his hopes had been dashed. 


Xie Lian slowly dropped into a sitting position on the floor. He closed his eyes and laid his head against the counter. “What do I do now?”


He stayed in that position in silent contemplation until the familiar sound of a bell rang out, signaling that someone had entered the building. 


Get a grip, Xie Lian You’re still on the clock. He chastised himself and shook his head as though that might help clear his mind.


“Hello! Welcome to Xian Le Trio Animal Shelter & Rescue.” Xie Lian called from behind the counter. “I’ll be with you in just a minute!”


He lightly slapped his face a few times to pull himself together. 


Hopping up, the sight that greeted Xie Lian’s eyes was the figure of a young man dressed almost entirely in black--black jeans, black and white converse,  a black oversized t-shirt, and a black mask pulled down to his chin--the only thing he was wearing that wasn’t black was a crimson red jacket. The man was standing at an angle so that only the left side of his face was visible to Xie Lian. His hair was crow black and went down the length of his neck but swept to the right side of his face, and he had three black piercings in his left ear. His face was on the pale side and featured a straight and elegant nose.


Although his outfit was pretty casual, there was an air of flashiness to it. 


As if finally registering Xie Lian’s presence in the room, the man turned to fully face Xie Lian which caused him to snap out of his thorough scrutinizing of the man’s features.


Xie Lian softly sucked in a breath as he noticed one feature of the man’s face that hadn’t been visible to him before-- a white eye patch covering his right eye. 


“Is there anything I can help you with sir?” He swiftly composed himself and inquired--making sure to put on his warmest customer service face.


“Oh. No, sorry. I just slipped in here for a minute.” 


“Ah, I see. Well, feel free to let me know if you need anything.” Xie Lian gave one more smile before continuing to ruminate over what could be done about Eming.


Maybe there’s still something I can do. Maybe….maybe I can dip into that fund. It shouldn’t be too bad. I’ll just have to save for longer than I had anticipated. Yeah. That’s it. Some things were more important than others anyway. He balled his hand into a fist as he determined to strengthen his resolve.


“What’s this?” In a flash, the unexpected question tore Xie Lian away from his thoughts.


“I’m sorry?” Xie Lian looked toward the wall the man was standing in front of, but couldn’t see clearly enough so he walked over himself. “Oh. This.” What had caught his attention was one of the flyers made for Eming. “It’s for a puppy here. He’s in danger of being put down and the only way to save him is for someone to adopt him.”


“And that’s what the fundraiser’s for?” The man cocked his head to the side in confusion.


“Sort of.” Xie Lian bit his bottom lip. “Before he came to us, it seems that he bit someone and that person wanted to press legal charges in order to be compensated for his injury.’ But there’s no one to charge for a stray so he’s settled for having him put down instead. The shelter doesn’t have enough to pay the fee so we were hoping someone would want to adopt him.” He let out a deep sigh. “But then that person would have to pay the man. So, we tried to raise funds in order to cover the legal fees for a potential adopter.” 


Xie Lian hung his head in sorrow.


 “But we were only able to raise half. And earlier I got a call from the city saying we only had one more day before we had to release him over to them.” 


“Making such a big deal out of a puppy bite sounds pretty insane.” The man mused.


“It is!” Xie Lian furiously nodded his head in agreement as his eyes began to well up with tears of frustration.  “And the only reason the city is pressing for him to be put down so fast is because his breed is considered ‘dangerous.’ Which is complete bullshit! People just take one look at him and write him off as dangerous or terrifying when if they just let go of their biases they’d see they were completely wrong!”


He finally had had enough of bottling up his despair over the current circumstances and couldn’t stop all of his emotions and thoughts from pouring out. The intensity with which he had been speaking caused him to have to take a few deep breaths in order to calm himself down. As he finished his last exhale, he looked back toward the man and became aware of the fact that he had been being closely observed during his miniature eruption. 


Unsure of how to break the silence that had commenced, Xie Lian merely returned the man’s gaze.


As the two stared at each other, Xie Lian took note of how much warmer the man’s eye seemed than it had looked earlier. The two remained in silence, looking fixedly at each other and for a short second Xie Lian thought he saw the corner of the man’s mouth lift up into a subtle smile. But just as he took note of it, it was gone. He wasn’t sure if he had actually seen what he thought he had, and the man also had no reason to be smiling in the first place, so Xie Lian decided to write it off as a trick of the light or his imagination.


Ah .  Xie Lian mentally cursed at himself. What was he doing losing control of his emotions in front of a complete stranger and then just gawking at them for who knows how long.


The younger man wore a serious expression as if he was deep in contemplation and  Xie Lian was just about to ask him what the matter was before he suddenly pulled out his phone.


“Sorry, I have to make a phone call.” Dialing a number onto his phone, he swiftly slipped out of the front door.


“Great, Xie Lian, you scared him off.” Xie Lian didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He sighed and returned to his place behind the counter.   


“I guess some things in life just aren’t meant to work out.” As he was about to place the adoption paperwork in the shredder--resigning himself to accept the injustice of the situation--the front door swung open causing the bell to chime once more. Xie Lian shot up his head and saw that, true to his word, the man had returned. 


!!! He could apologize for his previous indiscretion. Ok, this time try not to make an ass out of yourself.  He silently reprimanded himself before clearing his throat.


“Ahem. I wanted to apologize for earlier. I just laid all my troubles on you and that wasn’t very professional of me. You don’t have to worry about it, we’ll find some other way to save him.” 


“That won’t be necessary. I want to adopt him.” 


“What….what did you just say?” Xie Lian had been about to offer more reassurances, but stopped mid sentence when he heard the man’s words. He couldn’t allow his hopes to get up in case he had heard wrong though, so he repeated the man’s statement. “You said, you want to-”


“I said, I’d like to adopt him.” The younger man’s eye was slightly twinkling. “Consider it an impulse decision after hearing how passionate you are.” 


“I’m not really a dog person, but something about your speech was really persuasive and I think you’re right. It’s not fair to punish the defenseless for lashing out.”


“But the legal fees...:” Xie Lian hesitantly reminded him.


“Ah, that. Don’t worry about it. I’ve already made some arrangements so there should be no problem.”


Xie Lian slowly blinked as his words set in. He didn’t even know how much this was going to cost him exactly. How could he be so confident he could pay it? Just who was this guy?


“Or, am I not allowed to adopt him because I don’t have any experience?” The man shot Xie Lian a quizzical look.


“No no no! Of course you can adopt him still! We have starter packages and care sheets with useful information and tips for that very purpose.” After realizing that the man was serious, Xie Lian regained his usual joyful demeanor and began excitedly explaining the adoption process.


“If you could just fill out this adoption sheet while I go grab him and the things you’ll need from the back. I’ll be just a second.” Xie Lian set the necessary forms on the counter before flitting to where the animals were housed.


He made his way to where Eming was being kept and opened his kennel. “Eming!” He scooped the enthusiastic puppy into his arms. “Oh, who’s a good boy? Who’s a good little boy?” Xie Lian’s voice he used while talking to the animals excited Eming even more and earned Xie Lian a few licks to his face causing him to chuckle. He closed the kennel and Eming shook excitedly in his arms as Xie Lian walked to the room where all the different food, toys, and other supplies needed for the animals were kept.


“Guess what?” Xie Lian asked as he set the puppy down on the floor. “Someone came in today and adopted you! 


He thoroughly went through all the drawers, grabbing things that a new owner would need such as starter food, a brush, a care sheet, and a couple of toys that Eming had favored the past few days, and placed them into one of the baskets normally given to adopters. 


Eming continued to wag his tail as he listened to Xie Lian and even barked a few times as though he were acknowledging what was being told to him. Feeding off the adrenaline of the sudden turn of events, Xie Lian packed the adoption basket faster than he ever had before and speedily returned to where the man was waiting in the lobby.


“Here you go! Everything to start you off is in here.” Xie Lian handed over the basket with his left hand. “And, here is the bundle of joy in question.” With both hands he handed over Eming to the man who held him with one arm just as Xie Lian had done. “He has his collar and leash on, but he hasn’t learned how to walk on a leash yet so I’d recommend just holding him for now.”


“Got it.” The man confirmed his understanding.


Xie Lian nodded once and looked at the small puppy in the man’s arms. He placed his hands on either side of his face and gently rubbed behind his ears. 


“I’m gonna miss you around here, boy. Be good to your new owner. ” Xie Lian could feel some tears well up in his eyes. Eming hadn’t been with him for long, but in those few days he had become incredibly attached to the small puppy. 


Feeling a gaze on him, Xie Lian looked up and his eyes were met by the intense gaze of the other man. For a moment, they remained standing there looking at each other just as they had done  before, until the other man finally broke the silence.


“You know, I really am completely clueless when it comes to taking care of a pet. I’d feel much better being able to check in with you a couple times a week, at least at the beginning…..but I’m not sure I’ll have time to drop by after work. I get off pretty late and I think I saw that your hours are only until 6pm.”


“Ahh, I see.” Xie Lian pondered over what could be done for a minute before a rather unorthodox idea popped into his head.


“Actually, if, if it’s alright with you, I could stop by your place every night after I close up the shelter?”


Hearing his suggestion, the man cocked his eyebrow. 


“I don’t mind at all, but is it not too much trouble for you?”


“It’s no trouble at all!” Xie Lian lightly waved his hand as if to wave away any doubts. “I have plans with some friends tonight, but starting tomorrow I can keep my evenings free.”


“Perfect. Tomorrow night, then.” He flashed one of the most radiant smiles Xie Lian had ever had directed toward him and Xie Lian thought he felt his heart skip a beat.


“I’ll get your address from the adoption papers.”


“Sounds good.” The man began to push the door open before stopping abruptly.


“Oh, I almost forgot.” He dropped his hand, letting the door close. “Does this little guy have a name?” He motioned to the puppy in his arms.


“Um, I had given him the name Eming.” Xie Lian scratched his chin. “But! You can change his name if you want. It was just a placeholder until he got adopted.”


“Eming, huh? Eming’s a very good name. I think I’ll keep it.” He flashed a grin at Xie Lian. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Once again he pushed open the door, this time fully exiting the shelter and walked out onto the street.


“See you tomorrow.” Xie Lian followed him out and  stayed waving after the man until his figure disappeared from Xie Lian’s sight entirely. After his eyes couldn’t find that crimson jacket anymore, he went back inside and returned to his place behind the counter. He picked up a cup of tea he had made before the phone call from earlier, and took a gulp as he readied the adoption paperwork to be filed.


Looking down at the papers the man had signed, Xie Lian involuntarily sucked in a breath, letting his tea go down the wrong tube and sending him into a coughing fit. What caused this was what was on the paper. Filled out on the lines was one of the worst cases of chicken scratch Xie Lian had ever seen in his life.


“I can barely tell what characters these are supposed to be….” Xie Lian mumbled incredulously as he analyzed what could barely count as writing. Aside from the shock, Xie Lian was honestly a bit impressed that such messy handwriting could come from such a seemingly perfect man.


After copying down the information again--and in a much more legible manner--Xie Lian glanced at the line next to “Full Name.”


“Hua Cheng.” 


Xie Lian’s eyes widened as he checked once more to make sure he hadn’t copied down the name wrong. 


“Hua Cheng.” 


“Hua Cheng?! As in the super famous model Hua Cheng??” Xie Lian had just learned about him the other night and today he had magically ended up at Xie Lian’s animal shelter. Do coincidences like this seriously happen in real life? Xie Lian thought. “I thought that stuff only happened in dramas.”


“I guess that explains why he wasn’t very worried about the money.” Xie Lian rubbed his forehead. “Rich people really are from another world entirely.” 


Regaining his composure, Xie Lian laughed silently to himself as he imagined what Mu Qing’s reaction would be tonight at dinner when he told him he had unintentionally become acquainted with the rich person he had mentioned eating the other day.


And tomorrow night, he was even going to go to that rich guy’s apartment...


He shook his head and began to close up the shelter. 


I’m not sure I’ll be able to act normal now that I know who he is. Xie Lian sighed as he turned the last lights off--his mind full of reservations. “But on the brightside, I’ll be able to see Eming.” An image of the puppily happily running to him flashed in his mind and Xie Lian felt his heart warm. Closing the front door, he stuck in his key and as he turned it to lock the door, the innocent image of Eming was replaced by Hua Cheng’s cool stare.


Xie Lian froze in place as he felt his face slightly heat up.


“Ahhh, I must be coming down with a fever or something.” He placed a hand to his forehead. 


Pushing the image of that face to the back of his mind, he turned around and made his way back to his apartment.