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Hua Cheng had been following the creature for thirty-nine days and thirty-eight nights. 

When he first saw him, his white ears sticking up between the curtained brough of a willow tree and strong, tanned arms carrying the same wicker basket from all those years ago, he was sure that he was dreaming. The recognition was instant, but his velvet, lilied scent was what gave him away; the memory so intense it made Hua Cheng’s whole body twitch. It was unmistakable. He had peered through the bush that day, parting the soft leaves to find the creature he thought only lived in his fantasies picking blackberries from a nearby underbrush, as youthful as the day he had first laid eyes on him.

The first time they met, Hua Cheng had only been a pup, barely three years of age and full of fear. His cowardliness and the strange deformity in his left eye proved to be enough to get him kicked from his pack, leaving him to wander alone in the large forest, picking up scraps and hunting small prey, until he stumbled into a fox trap. It was unheard of for such a tiny animal like him to be so careless, but at that point in his short life, Hua Cheng hadn’t cared, watching as one of the grizzly bears that frequented the woods loomed over him, eager to dig his claws into his trachea and use his blazing orange tail as a prize to hang around his belt. 

That was when the creature, a bunny almost half his size, had come to his rescue, appearing out of nowhere from the edge of the clearing, jumping around and waving his hands, screaming at the top of his lungs.

It was quite ridiculous, really. Hua Cheng, if he hadn’t been sucked dry of the will to live, might have smiled at him, but somehow, the little bunny was successful. Rabbits were much more delicious prey than foxes, and the bear turned to growl at him, abandoning his freshly caught meal to chase after a new delicacy. Hua Cheng wriggled himself out after a few moments, but the imprint of the creature had already sunk into the back of his eyes, tattooed there for the rest of his waking life. 

Hua Cheng had grown into a fine young fox, making a name for himself amongst the pack members who had once scorned him. He was surprised at how simple it was to inspire fear in others, only having to don a few wolves’ teeth around his neck and grizzly pelts along his back to gain respect from the others around him. The forest was large, but full of gossip, and soon Hua Cheng’s name became known across the woods and beyond. He was given a nice cave covered in gold and hanging crystals, beautiful clothes made from spider silk, and hundreds of potential mates, but nothing satisfied him. He frequented hunts by himself, continuing to think of the little rabbit that had rescued him all those years ago, unable to escape the image of him in those simple clothes and bright, undefeatable eyes. 

Until, one fateful day—he found him again.

It had not begun as a pursuit. In fact, Hua Cheng had originally planned to simply meet him in the forest grotto, approaching him with all the gentleness and spontaneity of a passing butterfly, thanking him for his rescue and flitting away to allow the creature to continue his flower picking, but each time he gathered up the courage to step out from beneath his nest of bushes, he found himself mute, his mouth hanging open like an idiot.

The creature was much more beautiful than he remembered. 

One day turned into two, then three, then an entire week passed. Hua Cheng was relentless, continuing to follow the creature from grotto to grotto, unable to tear his eyes away from his soft hands and amber eyes. It was almost as if a collar had been fastened around his neck, dragging him along with the creature, refusing to let go. 

On top of that, an unfamiliar, blistering feeling was beginning to build in his stomach, and seemed to be worsening by the day, a strange heat that he couldn’t recognize flaring up in the hot pool of his abdomen whenever he stole a glance.  

His fantasies had been chaste until this point, dreaming of taking the creature by the hand and leading him into his beautiful cave, crowning him as his prince and showering him with gifts, but as time went on, his mind began to drift elsewhere. His imagination was rampant with ideas of what lay beneath the creature’s linen shirt, thinking about how small he was under his clothes, and how hard he would have to grasp them to tear them in his hands. He tried to keep his thoughts far, far away from those things, but he kept being drawn to his hands, his eyelashes, his small tail that wagged when he walked. He was addicted to every part of him.

Most of all, he loved his smell, as disgusting as it sounded. Like some sort of heavy spice. Lavender and sticky sugar candy that stayed on the tips of his fingers, dripped down between his thumb and pointer, begging to be licked off. 

Today was different. The creature had stopped in a small clearing, hidden from the rest of the forest in a canopy of leafing trees, and knelt down to gather the daisies growing under the vents of sunlight. This wasn’t the different part. Hua Cheng knew that the creature loved to pick flowers to take back to his nest a few miles out, gathering all sorts of interesting fauna to place in his tiny  enclosure hidden from the world. What was different, however, was Hua Cheng himself.

His tail, which Hua Cheng had always made sure to keep in check, was flipping back and forth wildly from where he was crouched. The mild burning sensation that he had been passing off as sickness was scalding his insides with a particular intensity today, starting to make its way from his stomach to his throat, not stopping until it raked across his scalp. Making him pant. Making him sweat. 

The creature was so languid, so frail, like the honeycombs he used to devour from hives near his cave when he was starving, crushing the checkered-patterned sieve between his claws and watching golden syrup ooze from where he squeezed. Hua Cheng’s gaze trailed down his body, starting from his thin shoulders and moving down to the small of his back. He wondered what it would feel like to sink his nails into the flesh of his hips, stroke the inside of his thighs, run his teeth against the curve of that slender, unguarded neck—

Xie Lian’s ears twitched, standing straight to attention, and he whirled around. 

The blank expanse of the forest greeted him, not a single branch or rock moved from its spot. By all accounts it seemed peaceful, as quiet as every other day, but the violent shudder that had ripped its way through Xie Lian’s spine had left undeniable goosebumps across his arms, the hair standing up like stockweed. 

Despite the callow appearance he put on, blooming with all the grace and delicacy of a budding dahlia, Xie Lian was not stupid. Xie Lian had been born into a clan that had once promised him endless meadows and heaps of gold, rivers that flowed from the forest to the mountains, and all the sweet things he could desire. It was there that he learned that people were liars, and promises were as sturdy as sparrow bones, all too easy to be crushed in the right hands. His clan was ripped to shreds by a passing wolfpack in a matter of days before he even reached mating age, but the forest had taught him more than his small, soft kin ever could. How to find shelter in open fields. How to make three seeds last for ten days. How to fashion blackberries into camouflage paint. How to run faster than any other beast between the trees. And, most of all, how to sharpen his instincts to a point finer than glass.

Those instincts did not lie. He sensed another’s presence. 

Xie Lian’s eyes darted around between the patches of green, trying to find the source of the warning. There was nothing except a few tree trunks and rocks strewn here and there. Not a hair out of place. 

Hua Cheng was ducked so low in the bushes his face was almost in the dirt, heart beat in his ears, both hands pressed over his mouth. His eye remained trained on the creature’s form from between the purple-lined leaves, watching as the long white ears atop his head twitched back and forth, searching for another noise. 

He got to have a good look at his face from this angle. Big brown eyes, soft lips that tilted upwards at the ends, copper-colored hair that fell around his shoulders. Hua Cheng wanted to grab it in his hands and yank it back as hard as he could. Stuff his face in his shirt and breathe in his scent. Feel his body tremble underneath him. 

The creature, after one more look around, turned and went back to picking flowers, a little tenser than he was before. The pulsing in Hua Cheng’s ears rose to a roar. It was wrong. All of it. He shouldn’t be doing this. The creature was innocent. He could tell by his bare neck that he had yet to be mated. It wasn’t fair. There was no excuse for it except for the pressure between his legs growing more and more unbearable. The instinct that was turning his mind into hot nonsense. The hunger that he thought had long since been satisfied finally clawing its way to his tongue. 

This time Xie Lian definitely heard something. It was a feral sound, not anything frightening, but a low, deep whine. Like a wounded animal with its leg caught in a trap. 

You shouldn’t go there.  

His gaze settled on a bush, one that was just out of his line of sight. 

You shouldn’t look.

Something inside him was whispering in his ear. Xie Lian let it thrum, slowly getting to his feet.  

Get out of here. Run.

Step by step, he walked towards it, almost as if he were being pulled in that direction. The flowers he had been picking were left abandoned, the basket overturned on the forest floor. 

You’re going to be devoured.

He squatted down, looking into the bush at an angle, and saw one, glimmering red eye. 

But you want that, don’t you?

“Is someone there?” 

With his scent so close and his voice so sweet, Hua Cheng had reached his breaking point.  

Like a viper, he dove out of the brush, tackling the creature with all his force and tumbling him to the ground. The creature didn’t even flinch, only looking stunned for a second in mid-air, before they landed in a patch of grass with a loud thud. They were wrestling in moments, fighting and clawing and biting each other, Xie Lian thrashing around in Hua Cheng’s arms, flattening the golden flowers around them into long streaks of yellow.  

“Ah— Ah 

Xie Lian let out a strangled cry, snapping back to himself, his nails making long red lines on the assailant’s arms. The beast had wrangled his way on top during the struggle, gaining the upper hand by sheer force of will and overwhelming strength, and pinned Xie Lian face down in the grass, his body flush against his. At first, Xie Lian struggled, terrified that this was another forest creature planning to eat him. Rabbits were easy prey, and he had worked hard to learn how to keep his guard up, fleeing whenever he could. Now, stupidly, he had let himself be captured, and was about to meet his doom within the jaws of some wild fox. He braced himself for the feeling of fangs against his shoulder, tearing apart his muscles, the beast sucking his blood eagerly down his throat. 

But it never came. 

Instead, the beast was holding him. 

Quivering against him like a leaf, the beast’s arms were wrapped around his torso, his knees on either side of his hips as he clutched Xie Lian in his arms, trembling on top of him on all fours. His face was buried in Xie Lian’s shoulder, and instead of growling, the beast was letting out long, gasping breaths into his skin, as if he were sick with a fever. His crotch was pressed against the flat of Xie Lian’s ass, slowly rubbing himself against the back of his pants, small whimpering noises escaping him with each little movement. 

Xie Lian could feel the beast’s thighs shaking, his whole body taught as an arrow, and even though he had him forced to the ground, about to eat him whole, he seemed to be the one that was more afraid. 

Xie Lian knew what this was. Ruts were common knowledge in his community, and warned against more than black bear fangs. His Goushi, as kind as he was, warned him almost daily about how easy it was to be plucked like a marigold in a field by a hungry voyeur and have his innocence ripped out from between his legs. His own instincts were even at alert, flashing red flags as he felt the hot, labored breath of the beast against his neck, drool just grazing his skin in big globs, telling him over and over that this was dangerous. This was foul. This was disgusting.  

Much to Hua Cheng’s horror, his own arousal was so potent even he could smell it, shame and revolution coiling in the fox’s own chest, but it was drowned out by the fire that was burning in his stomach. The creature was so soft, exactly as he imagined. His scent was overpowering, Hua Cheng buried his nose in his shoulder to breathe it in. He couldn’t deny himself anymore. He wanted to fuck. He wanted to mate. He wanted to be enveloped in that tight, wet warmth, now, now, now. Shove his cock into the soft space between his legs and feel his walls squeeze him dry. His hips were moving on their own, grinding helplessly against the creature’s ass as Hua Cheng started to whine. He couldn’t stop. As he saw the creature’s hand move, he found himself begging in his mind.

Please scratch me. Please rip my eye out. Please stop me. I’ll ruin you. I’m disgusting. I’m awful. Please, please, please.

Xie Lian lifted his hand, reaching up to where the beast was buried in his shoulder, and patted his head. 

Hua Cheng froze where he was. 

“It’s… okay…” The creature said, his voice as steady as stone.  

Xie Lian couldn’t see the beast’s face, didn’t know who he was or where he had come from, but the way he trembled on top of him so powerlessly, like a pup experiencing their first heat, was nothing like the tales that Goushi had warned about. This beast was strong, that was undeniable, but there was no venom behind his actions. If Xie Lian were to move right now, he could probably slide him off, leaving him in a heap on the forest floor. That was, by all logic and reason, what he should do.

He felt the beast shift, and Xie Lian turned his head to look behind him, one red eye meeting his gaze. The beast was dressed in a myriad of fur pelts, probably from past conquests, a ferocious sight to the untrained onlooker, but to Xie Lian, it looked like a cub trying to play dress up, flaunting a fierceness that he didn’t possess. Fangs were poked out at his bottom lip, one eye covered with some sort of black eyepatch, his brow tense with a mixture of shock and pure arousal, cheeks flush and his arms still wrapped around his body as tight as he could, as if he were clinging to a stuffed animal. 

It wasn’t scary.

It was cute. 

Xie Lian smiled softly, caressing the man’s hair, all at once feeling the need to comfort this beast so afraid of his own body. 

“You’re in a rut… right?” 

There was a moment of hesitation. The beast looked down at him, unblinking, as if surprised Xie Lian would ever speak to him, before he nodded. 

“You need to put your cock somewhere warm… right?” 

A shudder ran through the body on top of him. The beast ground his hips again, a groan coming from his mouth, clamping his teeth shut as soon as it escaped. He met eyes with him, a red bolt of shame lighting up his cheeks, his trembling worsening. Almost like he was trying to apologize. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay, I know,” Xie Lian cooed, keeping his voice gentle as he continued to stroke his hair, his back still arched against the beast’s chest, “It must be so hard… You must want it so bad right now… to be inside something…” 

Xie Lian was genuinely trying his best to be understanding, unaware of the effect it was having on Hua Cheng’s body, his words going straight to his throbbing erection. It was suffocating to hear those filthy words come from his mouth, Hua Cheng dove into Xie Lian’s neck to hide, nodding to reply the best he could.

Old instincts sparked to life again as the beast’s fangs grazed against his neck, right where his mating gland was, warnings circling around the confines of Xie Lian’s brain. A cautionary siren that if he stepped forward now, it would be the last time he did. His mating mark was supposed to be given to him by someone precious and sacred, another prey animal whom he dearly loved, someone he swore to give his life to. His neck wasn’t supposed to be borne to some stranger. His legs were to remain closed. His body was to remain off limits so that no beasts could ravage it from the inside out. 

But something tugged at his heart. Taught and thin. Like a red string. 

He couldn’t help but trust this man. More than he trusted even the words of his closest friends. 

Slowly, achingly, Xie Lian let his body relax, and spread his legs. 

“You can have it...” Xie Lian said, his eyes hazy as he looked up at the beast drooling on his back, “You can… put your knot in me…” 

Hua Cheng stared at him. Not once in his fantasies did he ever imagine that Xie Lian would agree to his own defilement, or look at him with such kindness in his eyes. In his nightmares, he depicted himself as some awful monster, shrouded in black and stripping his innocent prey limb from limb, devouring him with all he had. Never this. Never so willingly. He was shaking all over, opening his mouth and then closing it again, a hoarse sound coming from his lips but no words being able to form. Trying to protest to him. I’m not good. I’m dirty.

It was then that Xie Lian moved just a little, pressing himself back against Hua Cheng’s hips. 

“Gege… can make you feel better…”

It was a line used by some of the seductresses in his old clan. It sounded wrong in his mouth, as if it were someone else speaking, and he felt a brief wave of embarrassment at his pathetic excuse for seduction. He didn’t have a big catalog for this kind of thing, preparing to be ridiculed. 

But the words, however silly they were, had an explosive effect on the beast’s weak heart, snapping the last bit of his self-control like a frayed wire.

Without thinking, Hua Cheng was tearing Xie Lian’s clothes, practically ripping his pants in half in order to get them open. He didn’t bother with his shirt or the rest of him, leaving his pants shredded and dangling around his legs, focused only on following that sweet smell. Much to his surprise, the creature was already wet, slick dripping down his thighs and leaving moist patches on the torn fabric. Xie Lian himself didn’t even know what turned him on, the adrenaline or the feeling of him grinding against his ass, but it was no use trying to remember it now. Hua Cheng was breathing hard, yanking his cock free of his waistband, unable to give Xie Lian a moment of respite before he shoved the head inside his entrance. 

”Gege

The feeling was everything he had fantasized about. It was so tight, and so hot. Hua Cheng heard a cry from below him as he slid inside him, but only just barely. A shiver made his way down his spine as he let himself sink into the pliant heat, his mouth slack and open, the soft touch of his walls wrapping around his cock almost more than he could bear. 

Gege— Ah Gege, gege, gege ...”

He’d never had a name for the creature that he’d met that day, referring to him as nothing but the object of his own personal paradise, until now. The nickname rolled off his tongue effortlessly, as if he was born to call him that, singing it to himself like a raving cuckoo calling into the night. He was buried deep in him, his single thrust plunging all the way to the hilt, and for a moment he didn’t move. His cock remained firmly inside him, relishing the pulsing of his velvet walls, the heat warming him to the core, the sensation that he’d sought after for so long finally coming to fruition.  

Ah Hah—” 

Xie Lian had to bite down on his tongue to keep himself from shrieking. The intrusion had been immediate, no touching or foreplay, going straight inside as deep as he could. He was so big, splitting him open down the middle, a sharp, painful pleasure going straight to his brain and the front of his teeth. Yet somehow, some way, despite the fact that it should have been horrifically painful, it felt good. Something new was opening inside him, Xie Lian feeling his entrance starting to loosen around his cock, caving into the instinct of being mated.

“Gege…it’s so wet—”

Hua Cheng stayed inside him for as long as he could before his body took over, dragging his cock out before slamming it back in. He liked the slapping noise it made, squelching in the center of his body, the creature’s cute rabbit tail bouncing at the base of his spine. The creature jerked, squeaking as he felt his cock rub against a bundle of nerves, making his legs kick out a little, barely holding himself up. It was invigorating. Overpowering. Hua Cheng was thrusting inside him madly, unable to control his pace, desperate to breed the tight little hole he was nested inside. 

Gege Gege you’re so beautiful Gege is sucking me in Ah Ah Gege I can’t stop I can’t It’s so good—“

The dirty words came out in an endless rush, loud and unfiltered, Hua Cheng moaning and whimpering openly as he gripped Xie Lian’s hips in his hands, fucking him back and forth on his cock. Xie Lian’s whole face was red, his knees inching across the ground with each hard, uncontrolled thrust, but listening to the beast on top of him keen and groan, so unabashed about his own pleasure, sent tingles down his back. He let his own voice out, whimpering against the grass as he bounced. 

“It’s okay—“ Xie Lian jolted, the thrusts so hard it made his voice come out in a skipping staccato, “Don’t stop— Keep going Mngh It’s big I can take it , it’s okay Aaah It’s okay

Hua Cheng was spurred on with just that, sloppily pressing kisses to the nape of Xie Lian’s neck. Xie Lian’s shirt was falling down to his shoulder, revealing the long, dipping curve of his back that left deep imprints where his fingers grabbed. They were making love. Even though it was far from the gentleness the word usually carried, the violent snap of his hips too rough and his grip too tight against Xie Lian’s trembling frame, the words were spinning around in his head. I’m making love to gege. We’re making love. We’re making love.

Suddenly, Hua Cheng had to see his face. In one motion, he flipped the creature over onto his back, yanking out a cry from Xie Lian as he did, an updraft of yellow pollen floating up around them as he slammed both his hands on either side of Xie Lian’s face, boxing him in. Xie Lian was still impaled on his cock, his fists open and curled above his head as his chest heaved, eyes wide and wild as he stared up at the beast above him. 

It was the first time he could see the beast in full clarity, adjusting to the sunlight coming through the canopy of leaves to be greeted with a needy, flushed face that probably mirrored his own. He was very, very handsome, enough to make Xie Lian’s heart jump, even with drool running down the beast’s panting mouth, his large frame swallowing up Xie Lian’s puny body from where he had him pinned in the grass. 

He didn’t have time to process that his captor seemed familiar before the beast was kissing him, leaning down in a savage fervor to press his hot tongue into his mouth, trying hard to be as gentle as a hungry predator could and failing miserably. 

“Gege—” Hua Cheng whined, picking up his rhythm again as he moaned his name between kisses, “Gege, I’m sorry— It’s too much, you’re so good— I can’t slow down, I’m sorry— Gege—“

Being invaded from two sides, below his waist and now his mouth, was making Xie Lian’s mind go blank. His thighs were spread and hiked up to his chest, letting the beast ravage him with all he had. He was so full of him, every which way, and Xie Lian reached his arms around Hua Cheng’s neck to cling to him as he rocked him through, pressing their foreheads together.  

“Sh, sh, sh,” Xie Lian said, leaving little kisses on the beast’s eyelashes, “It feels good— g-gege feels good— it’s really, really good— I can feel it in my s-s-stomach—

He could tell the beast was starting to reach his climax. His thrusts were getting deeper, more erratic, starting to press him harder into the ground with his mouth open and poised against Xie Lian’s neck. Xie Lian’s eyes were glazed over, the pleasure making his gaze unfocused as Hua Cheng stirred his insides, getting closer and closer to reaching his peak. His body was already starting to prepare for it. Xie Lian could feel himself clenching around his cock tighter, milking the base and trying to keep him inside, readying itself for a knot. 

“I’m gonna— It’s gonna come out—” Hua Cheng choked, clutching Xie Lian’s hair. He was already past the point of no return, his teeth scraping the mating gland on his side, every part of him screaming to bite down and claim him as his own once and for all. 

“I- I’m cumming— Gege I’m gonna knot Tell me to stop— I can’t—”

“I k-know, I know,” Xie Lian was curling against him, wrapping his ankles around the small of Hua Cheng’s back. He wanted to take him so badly, he didn’t care about anything else, “It’s okay— You can cum inside— You can knot in me— L-Let it out— I’ll be your mate.” 

Hua Cheng keened into Xie Lian’s neck feeling high off of those words alone, pressing his legs back further as he felt warm pressure reach its boiling point in his stomach and cock. 

“T-This one will be a good husband, this one will be the best mate for for gege— I’ll build a nest for us— Ah— I'll make love to you every day— Ngh I’ll worship you, I’ll be good I’ll I’ll Gah—”

He couldn’t hold it back anymore. He came hard inside him, his teeth sinking into his neck in a blinding flash, fangs penetrating into his mating gland and the sweet taste of blood and metal filling his mouth. Xie Lian yelled, gripping onto him as his orgasm hit, his cock spurting out little white lines all over his stomach and torn shirt. Hua Cheng’s boots slid in the dirt, the pleasure making him limp and helpless on top of him as the base of his cock swelled, getting bigger and bigger as his orgasm went on and on, finally stopping when the knot had stretched Xie Lian to his capacity, snugly pressed inside him. 

Hah Hah…” 

They were both covered in sweat, Xie Lian feeling his entrance flutter around the fresh knot, burnt out completely from the intensity of his very first orgasm. Hua Cheng shivered, feeling his balance give way as he staggered on top of him, letting himself fall to the side in the patch of yellow flowers, Xie Lian still gripped firmly in his arms. 

His instincts still had a hard hold on him, his thoughts overtaken with the urge to protect and care for the creature above everything else, to shield him from some invisible danger that might come along and disturb their resting place. They were both lying on their sides, Hua Cheng licking at the mating mark, lapping up the blood he had smeared all over Xie Lian’s neck, stopping in between to press kisses down his jaw. 

Xie Lian was barely conscious, his tail flicking back and forth as he surrendered into Hua Cheng’s embrace, his senses returning to him just to see a beautiful man showering him with kisses, his small fangs making his neck tickle. 

“Mmm… What’s… your name…” Xie Lian asked drowsily, feeling his nose twitch with the irony of it all. Maybe he should have asked that first. Not after they had mated so feverously. 

“…” The beast hesitated, as if nervous, before sucking on Xie Lian’s earlobe, whispering into it, “Some call me Hua Cheng… but I prefer San Lang…” 

“Mmm...” Xie Lian said, petting Hua Cheng’s head again, basking in the feeling of his warm tongue. “San Lang is a pretty name.” 

Hua Cheng twitched at that, giving him a dazed look, before moving to press their lips together again, kissing at his mouth in brief, desperate pecks, like a chicken eating rice. 

“…My name is Xie Lian,” he said between the endless kisses, “Do you want to call me that?”  

Hua Cheng shook his head, rubbing their noses together, stopping his kissing only to mumble back. “Gege is gege.”

“And San Lang is San Lang,” Xie Lian laughed a bit, his hands threading through Hua Cheng’s hair. “A good name for a husband.”

Breaking their kiss with a pop, Hua Cheng’s face suddenly looked ashen, staring at him as though he had said something unthinkable. 

“No,“ he blurted out, his voice going back to a soft pitch, “You can’t. You need a good husband. Not me. I’m not good for gege. I followed you—“

“I know.” 

That stopped him dead in his tracks. Xie Lian’s eyebrows raised.

“You didn’t really think you were that quiet, did you?” Xie Lian said, “Your boots jingle when you walk.” 

Hua Cheng flushed, hunching into himself at how stupid and obvious it was. 

“But,” Hua Cheng said, shaking it off to cup Xie Lian’s face with both hands, squeezing his cheeks a little too tight, “you can’t love me. You don’t know me.” 

“You don’t know me either,” Xie Lian retorted.

“That’s different.” 

“How is it different? Name one thing you know about me.” 

“You’re beautiful,” Hua Cheng said, leaning in to press their foreheads together, “And kind, and sensitive, and bugs get caught in your hair, and you don’t like blueberries, and— and—"

Hua Cheng kissed him again, at a loss of what else to do, realizing just how silly he sounded. None of those were personality traits, or things that weren’t generic information someone could associate with any old rabbit. Xie Lian hummed in his arms, leaning into the kiss, chewing and sucking on Hua Cheng’s lower lip. 

“And you have a hard time sleeping,” Xie Lian said. “And you’re scared of lightning. You know not to step on river rocks. You keep the flowers I leave behind in your belt.”  

The knot pulsed, the place where they were joined growing slicker again. They both really couldn’t stop kissing each other, two strangers clutched in each other’s arms. Xie Lian wished they could just eat each other alive. 

“But we’ve met before,” Xie Lian said, trying to catch his breath whenever they separated. “I know you. But I don’t.” 

Hua Cheng swallowed, shuttering before saying, “…I was different back then. I wasn’t suited for gege then either.” 

Xie Lian squinted, staring at him for a long moment, before it clicked in his head. 

“You’re the fox boy,” Xie Lian said, a little bit of wonder in his voice. “The one in the trap. So, we do know each other.”

“It’s not that simple.” 

“Isn’t it?” 

They looked at each other, this time both incredibly serious. Hua Cheng carefully reached out, stroking a strand of Xie Lian’s hair.  

“…Where does gege want to build a nest?” Hua Cheng whispered, echoing the promise he had made earlier. Xie Lian’s eyes grew wide. 

“…By the river,” Xie Lian said, “Where I can pick berries. And you can hunt.” 

“We can have a farm,” Hua Cheng said. “We never have to leave.” 

“I know how to cook, but I’m very bad at it.”  

“I’ll eat whatever you make me.”  

“I’ll put flowers everywhere.” 

“I’ll put them on the bed, and we can make love in them every day.”  

“Y-Yes, until I can’t walk.”

“Until you’re mine.” 

“I’m already yours.” 

“...How can we do this if we don’t know each other?” 

“We have time.” 

A breeze shifted through the grotto, covering the mated lovers like a warm blanket. Xie Lian smiled. 

“We have time.”